Acquiring the book was one thing, getting it out of the Library was another. While Cantrell sat at the top of his high-rise corporate empire, Daniel was the one taking risks, facing the fallout. Because how could this possibly work?
Taking a deep breath, he settled his thoughts. Never mind that now. There was no sense in second guessing, or postponing the inevitable. Closing his eyes, Daniel visualized the familiar niche between the marble pillars at the Library. Instantly the soft susurration of the waves, the smells of sea and sand disappeared, and he felt cool marble at his back, the unmistakable golden glow of the Library bathing his eyelids.
Opening his eyes, Daniel was surprised to see there was no one standing at the circular counter and no one in his immediate vicinity. He waited several heartbeats, then carefully solidified his body and walked quietly forward, his senses ready at a moment’s notice to disappear back into shadow.
Cautiously approaching, he reached out to take one of the cards from its slot. At the touch of his fingers a map glowed to life on the surface, highlighting the floor, aisle, shelf, the precise location of his own soul book—a book he had never called, not even to discover who his parents might have been, or why they had abandoned him—and yet now, here in his hand were the clear and precise directions, the opportunity to find answers. For the first time, he felt a yearning to know, to understand, rather than his usual anger at having been tossed away, not desirable enough to be loved or cherished.
The temptation was so compelling, it startled him. Quickly shaking away the unexpected distraction, Daniel checked his surroundings, uneasy that the vast, arched entrance and lobby area of the Library remained empty of both patrons and librarians. Hurriedly, he brought the card close to his mouth, then breathed across the crystal face, “Lilith.”
In the interminable wait, Daniel wondered if one of the Ethereal wardens would come to haul his ass to the pits, or worse. Though maybe Cantrell was completely full of shit after all, and nothing was going to happen.
He replaced the card and was preparing to leave, already anticipating the conversation with Cantrell, when he was taken aback by a beautiful, emerald green book suddenly appearing on the counter in front of him. The size of a standard hardcover, the delicate book had an intricate gold scrollwork pattern etched into the soft leather front, encompassing the single word: Lilith. Without moving closer, Daniel could feel a soft, barely discernible humming that seemed to fill his head, his body, tuning him to some kind of vibration, as if he were a musical instrument. Shocked, he stepped back. How could he actually touch this book? The mere sight of it--the resonance--was too much. Was this why books couldn't be stolen? They drove the thief mad?
Hearing a slight noise, Daniel quickly looked over his shoulder, marginally relaxing at the sight of a teenage boy standing at the threshold, staring with wide eyes at the words over the archway. It was now or never. Daniel had to leave without the book, or take it and damn the consequences. Returning his gaze to the ornate cover, he narrowed his eyes, briefly considering both options, but hearing the kid coming into the Library, he stopped thinking, grabbed the book and swiftly shoved it into the front of his shirt.
Hesitantly, the boy advanced, every line and tremble of his body warring in the primal instinct of fight or flight. Daniel knew the feeling, it was currently surging through his own body. Smiling, though judging by the kid’s response it wasn't a particularly encouraging one, Daniel tried for casual. “Lost?”
Shaking his head, the kid said, “I’m dreaming.” He cocked his head. “Right?”
“Sure, kid.” Daniel needed to go. The book was doing something weird under his shirt, against his skin. “Just close your eyes and imagine yourself all tucked into bed, and then you’ll wake up and think what a strange dream you had.” Patting the boy’s shoulder as he walked past, he headed back to the niche between the pillars.
Now came the part that could have repercussions beyond anything Daniel could imagine. What would happen when--if--the book left the Library? Leaning back against the wall, Daniel took a deep breath, hoping it wouldn’t be his last. Just as he felt himself calm, his body beginning to fade, a hand clamped around his wrist and a deep, familiar voice growled, “Well, if it isn’t Daniel Valentine. What mischief have you been up to these days, boy?”
Daniel’s eyes flew open to meet the dark, vivid blue of a warden’s. And not just any warden, but one of the best and a man he knew well; once upon a time his closest friend and confidant. Shit. Of all people. Taurin.
Evenly matched in height, both had dark hair, Taurin’s more sable than the near-black of Daniel’s. They also shared chiseled features and strong jawlines, though Daniel had a deep cleft in his chin, and though usually the warden was open and friendly, right now as he stared at Daniel with hard eyes, friendly was nowhere to be seen.
As their eyes locked, and Taurin opened his mouth to say something, Daniel wretched his wrist out of the man's grasp and shot out of the Ethereal faster than he thought was humanly possible. For a split second he felt a hand reach for him, touch his shirt, heard a roar of outrage, then abruptly he found himself sprawled on his back in the middle of the safe room, his head pounding with a furious thrumming beat.
And the book, with Lilith etched in gold on its emerald green cover, was burning deep into his chest.