This is the second book of the series. Those of you who have read the first book can skip this introduction and move on. The rest of you, stay put.
I’d like to congratulate you on finding this book. I’m glad you’re reading a serious work about real world politics, rather than wasting your time on something silly like a fantasy book about a fictional character like Napoleon. (Either Napoleon, actually. They both have something to do, in their own way, with being Blownapart.)
Now, I do have to admit something. I find it very disturbing that you readers have decided to begin with the second book in the series. That’s a very bad habit to have—worse, even, than wearing mismatched socks. In fact, on the bad habit scale, it ranks somewhere between chewing with your mouth open and making quacking noises when your friends are trying to study. (Try that one some time—it’s really fun.)
It’s because of people like you that we authors have to clog our second books with all kinds of explanations. We have to, essentially, invent the wheel again—or at least renew our patent.
You should already know who I am, and you should understand Oculatory Lenses and Smedry Talents. With all of that knowledge, you could easily understand the events that led me to the point where I hung dangling from a rope ladder, staring up at something awesome that I haven’t yet described.
Why don’t I just describe it now? Well, by asking that question, you prove that you haven’t read the first book. Let me explain by using a brief object lesson.
Do you remember the first chapter of this book? (I certainly hope that you do, since it was only a few pages back.) What did I promise to you there? I promised that I was going to stop using cliff-hangers and frustrating storytelling practices. Now, what did I do at the end of that very same chapter? I left you with a frustrating cliff-hanger, of course.
That was intended to teach you something: That I’m completely trustworthy, and would never dare lie to you. At least not more than, oh, half a dozen times per chapter.
I dangled from the rope ladder, wind whipping at my jacket, heart still pounding from my escape. Flying above me, was an enormous glass dragon.
Perhaps you’ve seen a dragon depicted in art or cinema. I certainly had. However, looking up at the thing above me in the air, I knew that the images I’d seen in film were only approximations. Those movies tended to make dragons—even the threatening ones—seem bulbous, with large stomachs and awkward wingspans.
The thing above me was nothing like that. There was an incredible sleekness to it, snake-like but at the same time powerful. It had three sets of wings running down the length of its body, and they flapped in harmony. I could see six legs as well—all tucked up underneath the slender body—and it had a long glass tail whipping behind it in the air.
Its triangular head twisted about—translucent glass sparkling—and it looked at me. It was angular, with sharp lines, like an arrowhead. And there were people standing in its eyeball.
This isn’t a creature at all, I realized, hanging desperately to the ladder. But a vehicle. One crafted completely from glass!
“Alcatraz!” a voice called from above, barely audible over the sound of the wind.
I glanced up. The ladder led into an open section of in the dragon’s stomach. A familiar face was poking out of the hole, looking down at me. The same age as I am, Bastille had long, silver hair that whipped in the wind. The last time I’d seen her, she’d gone with two of my cousins into hiding. Grandpa Smedry had worried that keeping us all together was making us easier to track.
She said something, but it was lost in the wind.
“What?” I yelled.
“I said,” she yelled, “are you going to climb up here, or do you intend to hang there looking stupid for the entire trip?”
That’s Bastille for you. But, she did kind of have a point. I climbed up the swinging ladder—which was much harder, and much more nerve-wracking, than might think.
I forced myself onward. It would have been a pretty stupid end to get lifted to safety at the last moment, then drop off the ladder and squish against the ground below. When I got close enough, Bastille gave me a hand and helped me up into the dragon’s belly. She pulled a glass lever on the wall, and the ladder began to retract.
I watched, curious. At that point in my life, I hadn’t really seen much silimatic technology, and I still considered it all to be “Magic.” There was no noise as the ladder came up—no clinking of gears or hum of a motor. The ladder just wound around a turning wheel.
A glass plate slid over the open hole in the floor. Around me, glass walls sparkled in the sunlight, completely transparent. The view was amazing—we’d already moved beyond the fog, and I could see the landscape below, extending in all directions. I almost felt like I was hovering in the sky, alone, in the beautiful serenity of—
“You done gawking yet?” Bastille snapped, arms folded.
I shot her a glance. “Excuse me,” I said, “but I’m trying to have a beautiful moment, here.”
She snorted. “What are you going to do? Write a poem? Come on.” With that, she began to walk along the glass hallway inside the dragon, moving toward the head. I smiled wryly to myself. I hadn’t seen Bastille in over two months, and neither of us had known if the other would even survive long enough to meet up again.
But, where Bastille is concerned, that was actually a nice reception. She didn’t throw anything at me, hit me with anything, or even swear at me. Rather heartwarming.
I rushed to catch up with her. “What happened to your business suit?”
She looked down. Instead of wearing her stylish jacket and slacks, she was dressed in a much more stiff, militaristic costume. Black with silver buttons, it looked kind of like the dress uniforms that military personnel wear on formal occasions. It even had those little metal things on the shoulders that I can never remember how to spell.
“We’re not in the Hushlands anymore, Smedry,” she said. “Or, at least, we soon won’t be. So, why wear their clothing?”
“I thought you liked those clothes.”
She shrugged. “It’s my place to wear this now. Besides, I like wearing a glassweave jacket, and this uniform has one.”
I still haven’t figured out how they make clothing out of glass. It’s apparently very expensive, but worth the cost. A glassweave jacket could take quite a beating, protecting its wearer almost as well as a suit of armor. Back in the Library infiltration we’d done, Bastille had survived a blow that really should have killed her.
“All right,” I said. “What about this thing we’re flying in? I assume it’s some sort of vehicle, and not really a living creature?”
Bastille gave me one of her barely-tolerant looks. I keep telling her she should trademark those. She could sell of photos of herself making the face so that people could use them to scare children, turn milk into butter, or frighten terrorists into surrendering.
She doesn’t find comments like that very funny.
“Of course it’s not alive,” she said. “Alivening things is Dark Oculary, as I believe you’ve been told.”
“Okay, But why make it in the shape of a dragon?”
“What should we do?” Bastille said. “Build our aircraft in the shapes of . . . long tubey things, or whatever it is those airplanes look like? I can’t believe they stay in the air. Their wings can’t even flap!”
“They don’t need to flap. They have jet engines!”
“Oh, and then why do they have wings?”
I paused. “Something about air-lift and physics and stuff like that.”
Bastille snorted again. “Physics,” she muttered. “A Librarian scam.”
“Physics isn’t a scam, Bastille. It’s very logical.”
“Oh?” she asked. “And if they’re facts, then why are they so complicated? Shouldn’t explanations about the natural world be simple? Why is there all of that needless math and complexity?” She shook her head, turning away from me. “All of that is just intended to confuse people. If the Hushlanders think that science is too complicated to understand, then they’ll be too afraid to ask questions.”
She eyed me, obviously watching to see if I continued the argument. I did not. There was one thing about hanging around with Bastille—it was teaching me when to hold my tongue. Even if I didn’t hold my brain.
How does she know so much about what the Librarians teach in their schools? I thought. She knows an awful lot about my people.
Bastille was still an enigma to me. She’d wanted to be an Oculator when she was younger, and so she knew quite a bit about Lenses. However, I still couldn’t quite figure out why she’d even wanted to be one so badly in the first place. Everyone—or, well, everyone outside the Hushlands—knew that Oculatory powers were hereditary. One couldn’t just ‘become’ an Oculator in the same way one chooses to become a layer, an accountant, or a potted plant.
Either way, I was finding it increasingly disconcerting to be able to see through the floor, particularly when we were so high up. The motions of the giant vehicle didn’t help either. Now that I was inside of it, I could see that the dragon was made up glass plates that slid together such that the entire thing could move and twist. Each flap of the wings made the body undulate around me.
We reached the head, which I assumed was the dragon’s version of a cockpit. The glass door slid open. I stepped up onto a maroon carpet—thankfully obscuring my view of the ground—and was met by two people.
Neither of them were my grandfather. Where is he? I wondered with growing annoyance. Bastille, strangely, took up position next to the doorway, standing with a stiff back and staring straight ahead.
One of the people turned toward me. “Lord Smedry,” the woman said, standing with arms straight at her sides. She had on suit of steel plate armor, like what I’d seen in museums. Except, this armor seemed a lot better fitting. The pieces bent together in a more flexible manner, and the metal itself was thinner.
The woman bowed her head to me, helmet under her arm, her hair a deep, metallic silver. The face seemed familiar. I glanced at Bastille, then back at the woman.
“You’re Bastille’s mother?” I asked.
“I am indeed, Lord Smedry,” the woman said, the tone of her voice as stiff as her armor. “I am—”
“Oh, Alcatraz!” the other person said, interrupting the woman. This girl sat in the chair beside the dash of the cockpit, and wore a pink tunic with brown trousers. She had the face I’d seen through the Courier’s Lenses—long black hair, a little bit curly, with dark skin and slightly plump features.
“I’m so glad you made it,” the girl exclaimed. “For a while, I thought we’d lost you! And then, Bastille saw that light shooting into the air, and we figured it was from you. It seems that we were right!”
“And you are . . . ?” I asked.
“Australia Smedry!” she said, hopping out of her chair and rushing over to give me a hug. “Your cousin, silly! Sing’s sister.”
“Gak!” I said, nearly being crushed by the powerful hug. Bastille’s mother looked on, arms crossed behind her back in a kind of ‘parade rest’ sort of pose.
Australia finally let me go. She was probably around sixteen, and she had on a pair of blue Lenses.
“You’re an Oculator!” I said.
“Of course I am!” she said. “How else do you think I contacted you? I’m not really that good with these Lenses. Or . . . um, most lenses, actually. Anyway, it’s so wonderful to meet you, finally! I’ve heard a lot about you. Well, a couple of things really. Okay, so only two letters from Sing, but they were very complimentary. Do you really have the Talent of Breaking Things?”
I shrugged. “That’s what they tell me. What’s your Talent?”
Australia smiled. “I can wake up in the morning looking incredibly ugly!”
“Oh . . . how wonderful.” I still wasn’t certain how to respond to Smedry Talents. I usually couldn’t ever tell if the person telling me were excited or disappointed by their power.
Australia, it seemed, was excited by pretty much everything. She nodded perkily. “I know. It’s a fun Talent—nothing like breaking things, but I make it work for me!” She glanced about. “I wonder where Kaz went. He’ll want to meet you too.”
“Your uncle, actually,” Australia said. “Your father’s brother. He was just here. . . . Must have wandered off again.”
I sensed another Talent. “His Smedry ability is to get lost?”
Australia smiled. “You’ve heard of him!”
I shook my head. “Lucky guess.”
“He’ll show up eventually—he always does. Anyway, I’m just so excited to meet you!”
I nodded hesitantly.
“Lady Smedry,” Bastille’s Mother said from behind. “I do not intend to give offense, but shouldn’t you be flying the Dragonaught?”
“Gak!” Australia said, hopping back into her seat. She put her hand onto a glowing square on the front of what appeared to be a glass control panel.
I walked up beside her, looking out through the dragon’s eye. We were still moving upward, and soon would enter the clouds.
“So,” I said, glancing back at Bastille. “Where’s Grandpa?”
Bastille remained silent, staring ahead, back stiff.
“You should not address her, Lord Smedry,” Bastille’s mother said. “She’s only here acting as my squire, and is currently beneath your notice.”
“That’s nonsense! She’s my friend.”
Bastille’s mother didn’t respond to that, though I caught a slight look of disapproval in her eyes. She immediately stiffened, as if having noticed that I was studying her.
“Squire Bastille has been stripped of her rank, Lord Smedry,” Bastille’s Mother said. “You should address all of your questions to me, as I will be acting as your Knight of Crystallia from now on.”
Great, I thought.
I should note here that Bastille’s Mother—Draulin—is by no means as stiff and boring a person as she might at first seem. I have it on good authority that once, about ten years ago, she was heard to laugh, though some still claim it was a particularly nasty sneeze. She has also been known to blink occasionally, though only on her lunch break.
“Squire Bastille has not executed her duty in a manner befitting of one who carries the title Knight of Crystallia,” Draulin continued. “She preformed in a sloppy, embarrassing manner that endangered not one, but both Oculators under her protection. She allowed herself to be captured. She allowed a member of the Council of Kings to be tortured by a Dark Oculator. And, on top of all of that, she lost her bonded Crystin sword.”
I glanced at Bastille, who still stared straight ahead, jaw clinched tightly. I felt anger rise in me.
“None of that was her fault,” I said, looking back at Draulin. “You can’t punish her for it! I’m the one who broke her sword.”
“It isn’t fault that is punished,” Draulin said, “but failure. This is the decision of the Crystin leaders, Lord Smedry, and I was sent to deliver it. The judgment will stand. As you know, the Crystin are outside the jurisdiction of any kingdom or royal line.”
Actually, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know a whole lot about Crystallia in the first place. I’d barely even gotten used to being called “Lord Smedry.” I had come to understand that Smedries are held in great respect by most Free Kingdomers, and figured that my title was something of a term of affection for them.
There was, of course, a lot more to it than that. But, there always is, isn’t there?
I glanced back at Bastille, where she stood at the back of the room, face red. I need to talk to my grandfather, I decided. He can help sort this out.
I sat down in the chair beside Australia. “All right, where’s my grandfather?”
Australia glanced at me, then blushed. “We’re not exactly sure. We got a note from him this morning—delivered via Transcriber’s Lenses. It told us what to do. I can show you the note, if you want.”
“Please,” I said.
Australia fished in her tunic for a moment, searching through pockets. Finally, she found a wrinkled up piece of paper and handed it over to me.
Australia, it read. I don’t know if I’ll be there at the pick up point. Something has come up that requires my attention. Kindly fetch my grandson for me, as planned, and take him to Nalhalla. I will meet up with you when I can.
Outside, we rose into the clouds. The vehicle really seemed to be picking up speed.
“So, we’re going to Nalhalla?” I asked, glancing back at Bastille’s mother.
“As long as that’s what you command,” the woman said. Her tone implied it was really the only choice.
“I guess it is, then,” I said, feeling a slight disappointment, the reason for which I couldn’t pin down.
“You should go to your quarters, Lord Smedry,” Draulin said. “You can rest there; it will take several hours to journey across the ocean to Nalhalla.”
“Very well,” I said, rising.
“I will lead you,” Draulin said.
“Nonsense,” I said, glancing at Bastille. “Have the squire do it.”
“As you command,” the knight said, nodding her head at Bastille. I walked from the cockpit, Bastille trailing behind, then waited until the door slid closed. Through its glass, I could see Draulin turn and stand, still at parade rest, facing out the eyeball of the dragon.
I turned to Bastille. “What’s that all about?”
She flushed. “Just what she said, Smedry. Come on. I’ll take you to your rooms.”
“Oh, don’t get like that with me,” I said, rushing to catch up. “You lose one sword, and they bust you back to squire? That doesn’t make any sense.”
Bastille flushed even more deeply. “My mother is a very brave and well-respected Knight of Crystallia. She always does what is best for the order, and never acts without careful thought.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
Bastille glanced down. “Look, I told you when I lost my sword that I would be in trouble. Well, see, I’m in trouble. I’ll deal with it. I don’t need your pity.”
“It isn’t pity! It’s annoyance.” I eyed her. “What aren’t you telling me, Bastille?”
Bastille muttered something about Smedries but otherwise gave no response. She stalked through the glass corridors, leading me toward—I assumed—my cabin.
As I walked, however, I grew more and more displeased with events. Grandpa Smedry must have discovered something, otherwise he wouldn’t have missed the pick up, and I hated feeling like I was being left out of important things.
Now, this is a stupid thing to feel, if you think about it. I was always being left out of important things. At that very moment, there were thousands of people doing very important things all across the world—everything from getting married to jumping out windows—and I wasn’t a part of any of it. The truth is, even most important people get left out of most things that happen in the world.
But I was still annoyed. As I walked, I realized I still had on my Courier’s Lenses. They were very limited in range, but maybe Grandfather was close by.
I activated the Lenses. Grandfather? I thought, focusing. Grandfather, are you there?
Nothing. I sighed. It had been a long shot anyway. I didn’t really—
A very faint image appeared in front of me. Alcatraz? A distant voice said.
Grandfather? I thought, growing excited. Yes, it’s me!
Flustered Farlands! How did you contact me across such a distance? The voice was so weak that I could barely hear it, even though it was speaking directly into my mind.
Grandfather, where are you?
The voice said something, but was too soft to hear. I focused harder, closing my eyes. Grandfather!
Alcatraz! I think I’ve found your father. He came here. I’m sure of it!
Where, Grandfather? I asked.
The voice was growing even fainter. The Library. . . .
Grandfather! What Library!
Library . . . of Alexandria. . . .
And then he was gone. I concentrated. But, the voice didn’t come back. Finally, I sighed, opening my eyes.
“You all right, Smedry?” Bastille asked, giving me a strange look.
“The Library of Alexandria,” I said. “Where is it?”
Bastille eyed me. “Um, in Alexandria?
Right. “And, where is that?”
“Like, the real Egypt? My Egypt?”
Bastille shrugged. “Yeah, I think so. Why?”
I glanced back toward the cockpit.
“No,” Bastille said, folding her arms. “Alcatraz, I know what you’re thinking. We’re not going there.”
“The Library of Alexandria is extremely dangerous. Even regular Librarians are scared to go into it. Nobody in their right mind ever visits that place.”
“That sounds about right,” I said. “Because Grandpa Smedry is there right now.”
“How would you know something like that?”
I tapped my Lenses.
“They wouldn’t work at such a distance.”
“They did. I just talked to him. He’s there, Bastille.” And . . . he thinks my father is too.
That gave me a twist in my stomach. I’d grown up assuming that both of my parents were dead. Now I was beginning to think that both were actually alive. My mother was a Librarian, and worked for the wrong side. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to know what my father was like.
No. That’s wrong. I really wanted to know what my father was like. I was just afraid of it at the same time.
I glanced back at Bastille.
“You’re sure he’s there?” she asked.
“Shattering Glass,” she muttered. “Last time we tried something like this, you almost got killed, your grandfather got tortured, and I lost my sword. Do we really want to go through that again?”
“What if he’s in trouble?”
“He’s always in trouble,” Bastille said.
We fell silent. Then, both of us turned and rushed back to the cockpit.
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