Book 4, 35: Holy Avenger
“Please, sit.” If this was an Assistant Vice-Director of the Library of Babylon’s office, Charlotte couldn’t even imagine what a Director might use. Ms. Nazfre had led them through a tinted glass door into a room that was bigger than the kitchen at the Yurt. Now that she had followed Ms. Nazfre down from the Restricted Circulation, Charlotte had had plenty of opportunity to notice how small she was, probably less than four and a half feet tall.
\Ms. Nazfre’s office, on the other hand, was not small at all. The grey floor was made of something just less than metallic, so that it seemed to glow without being hard and cold. Windows faced down the whole length of one side, opening onto a roof garden, lit by a full (real) Moon. More windows opened into little rooms, crammed with tasteful furniture in a metallic style, all unoccupied, on the other side, so that even though they were in a light, bright room walled with perfect, shiny glass, they were in complete privacy. The windows of the little rooms, somehow set so that no-one could see directly into the Assistant Vice-Directorial office, were dark this late after quitting time, so that the light
Charlotte took a seat in the middle of the rank of chairs to which Ms. Nazfre had gestured. They were perfect, too. Wood, with tan tops, blocky in shape, almost like they were made of Lego, but glowing with their own internal, organic light. The one annoying part was that they had little writing tables sticking out, like at college, and she had to tuck herself in behind it. Instinctively, Charlotte reached around to adjust her clothes, forgetting once again that she was in her Tatammy fatigues. Her friends sat down around her, and she was grateful. The office, in spite of its elegance, was curiously cold. Right now, Charlotte would have liked to have Mr. Taurling and even Mr. Delver with them, but they had returned to the Smithe Mansion in Mr. Delver’s hired hansom cab.
Ms. Nazfre sat behind a table of polished metal, set at a funny angle to the door, so that it wasn’t obviously a table at all, except that it had three big monitors on it, all pushed out of the way so that the Assistant Vice-Director could look at her guests. A hooded, shiny thing, almost like a very wide microwave, sat on the floor at Ms. Nazfre’s feet, and a shiny glass tube spiralled down from the ceiling, and, after sitting down, Ms. Nazfre opened a lid on it. A faint, whistling sound came from it, as she popped a little capsule into it, and closed the door.
A moment later, there came a chime, and Ms. Nazfre pulled out a capsule very similar to the one that she had just fed to the tube. She opened it, unrolled a scroll of paper, read it for a second, and smiled. Looking directly at the teens, she gave a half smile, and said, “We shan’t be disturbed.”
Charlotte looked back at the Assistant Vice-Director. Her purple hair was in a severe bob to match the neutral-coloured blouse, with picked-out lace, buttoned up to the throat with the look that some men had, the ones who didn’t like to wear ties with their dress shirts, but who really should. Her blouse, a severe black, had shoulder pads that were just too small to work, and a gold pen sticking out of the breast pocket that looked both expensive and clunky. “Which is good, because I have a feeling that this will be a difficult conversation.”
Charlotte felt herself bristling. “I’m sorry that our being ambushed by some supervillains that got into the Library somehow caused a disturbance. Fortunately, we arrested them, and the police are recovering the books they stole right now. If we can just find out what happened to my sword, we’ll be on our way. We’re way past our curfew.”
Ms. Nazfre didn’t answer immediately, just carefully pulled one of those white gloves that careful people wear when they’re handling historical stuff, reached under her desk, stooped over, reached into the microwave-thingie, and pulled out a sword in a sheath.
Charlotte’s breath caught. It was the Pearl Harmony Sword.
“Unfortunately,” Ms. Nazfre said, “There is a matter of tone. While I am grateful that you did not initiate brawling in the halls of the Library, there is a right and a wrong way to do things. I do not expect children from a neglected background to grasp the nuances, but, nevertheless, nuances there are. The Library will be considering altering the conditions of your supervision, and the new procedures will be in place for your next visit.”
Charlotte looked at Ms. Nazfre, unable to believe what she was saying. She also noticed, for the first time, that somehow the chairs were set so that she was looking up at the diminutive library official. Charlotte had read about people who arranged their offices like that in so many novels that she almost couldn’t believe that she was running into it in real life. “The Police thanked us for our help. The City Government thanked us.”
Ms. Nazfre steepled her hands. “Ah, yes. Well, they are a blunt and direct people. It’s what you might expect from the layfolk. We are scholars. Or, well, some of us are scholars, and some of us aspire. Aspiration that I admire! It is only that it requires proper guidance. You may feel –discouraged, shall I say?—that such guidance turns out to be required. Do not be! Rather, it means that the Library has taken on the task of coaching you. Let the insult, if insult be felt, be directed at those in your life who have so far been remiss in mentoring you.”
Charlotte tried to smile like a lady, while inside she seethed. Uncle Henry and Auntie Ma weren’t perfect, but they were a damn sight better than Ms. Nazfre. “And the sword?’
“Ah, this is a delicate matter. Do you have a certificate of ownership?”
“I’m sorry?” Charlotte’s disbelief reached a new pitch. To her dismay, hot tears leaked out of her eyes, and a sob caught in her throat as she spoke. I’m crying like a girl, she thought. Well, you are a girl, said that part of your brain that’s always there, worrying about how you look in those pants.
Ms. Nazfre pursed her lips, as though she were tasting a lemon. “I thought not. Which does present some difficulties.”
“Charlotte’s a paladin!” Bruce blurted, a little too loud, a little too angry. “And that sword is her Holy Avenger! Reach out to it, Char-Char!”
Charlotte almost gave in to Bruce’s emotion and snapped back that she wasn’t a paladin. But, you know, the shoe fit, and you wore it. The Pearl Harmony Sword acted like she was a paladin. She didn’t even have to reach out to it with her hand, she thought, and, with a twitch of mental emotion, made the oricalchum blade hum, audibly, and shed perlescent light that leaked out at the join of hilt and scabbard.
“I’m sorry, the squalid, medieval squabbles of the followers of one sky god or another are of no interest to the Library,” Ms. Nazfre pronounced. “The Library is concerned with knowledge, not with sectarians bashing each other over the head with pointed metal sticks.”
“Wait a minute,” Twelve interrupted. “Just because Charlotte’s a little addled with the whole religion thing doesn’t mean that that sword doesn’t belong to her!”
“No,” Ms. Nazfre said, “The lack of a certificate means that it doesn’t belong to her, or whichever silly church she belongs to.”
Twelve threw himself back into his chair. “You make me ashamed to be an atheist!”
Dora held up her phone. “Want to find out what Eldritch thinks of this?”
“No,” Ms. Nazfre said, frowning. “I do not want to know what some jumped-up shaman of a backward dimension thinks of this. Until a certificate is produced, this sword is the property of the Library, and will find its way into the laboratories and properly curated displays of the Library, for the needs of future generations of scholarship.”
“Did the Overbrain have a certificate?” Rose asked. That was a good question, Charlotte thought, and her misery lifted a bit.
“Of course he didn’t. He stole it. And if whatever tribe or petty landlord he stole it from produces a proper certification of ownership, the Library will of course relinquish title. We live in a society, and so must subordinate scholarship to proper claims of ownership.”
The light coming from the Pearl Harmony now glowed right through the scabbard. In the polished room, or perhaps because of the scabbard, it no longer looked like pool lights seen underwater, and instead melded with the light of the Moon above. The direct hum modulated into a tune, that Charlotte vaguely remembered Mr. Vezina singing. Something about lying dreaming, and spearpoints gleaming?
Ms. Nazfre reached over and put the Pearl Harmony Sword away in the microwave thing. “A claim of ownership that does not devolve into some holy thug’s ability to do a bonus hitpoint of damage once per level.”
“Holy D&D nerd, Redeeming Daughter,” Bruce muttered.
Ms. Nazfre glared at Bruce for a moment, then turned her attention to her monitor, her hand nudging her mouse to bring up whatever was next on her agenda, her body language said. After a moment, she looked up. “I am sorry to have taken up so much of your valuable time today. I believe that if you will proceed to the bus stop now, you will be in time for the next Number 42.”
Charlotte bolted up from her chair, ready to give the woman a piece of her mind. But then she felt Bruce’s hand on one shoulder, and Dora’s on the other, and realised that she couldn’t. She couldn’t have a temper tantrum, and she couldn’t cry, because she was their leader. And that just made her want to cry even more.
As they turned to walk out of the door, Dora and Bruce gathered close around her. Somehow, the touch of their bodies made her feel a little better.