So there I was, holding a pink teddy bear in my hand. It had a red bow and an inviting, cute, bearlike smile. Also, it was ticking.
“Now what?” I asked.
“Now you throw it, idiot!” Bastille said urgently.
I frowned, then tossed the bear to the side, through the open window, into the small room filled with sand. A second later, an explosion blasted back through the window and tossed me into the air. I was propelled backward, then slammed into the far wall.
With an “urk” of pain, I slid down and fell onto my back. I blinked, my vision fuzzy. Little flakes of plaster—the kind they put on ceilings just so they can break off and fall to the ground dramatically in an explosion—broke off the ceiling and fell dramatically to the ground. One hit me on the forehead.
“Ow,” I said. I lay there, staring upward, breathing in and out. “Bastille, did that teddy bear just explode?”
“Yes,” she said, walking over and looking down at me. She had on a gray-blue militaristic uniform, and wore her straight, silver hair long. On her belt was a small sheath that had a large hilt sticking out of it. That hid her Crystin blade; though the sheath was only about a foot long, if she drew the weapon out it would be the length of a regular sword.
“Okay. Right. Why did that teddy bear just explode?”
“Because you pulled out the pin, stupid. What else did you expect it to do?”
I groaned, sitting up. The room around us—inside the Nalhallan Royal Weapons Testing Facility—was white and featureless. The wall where we’d been standing had an open window looking into the blast range, which was filled with sand. There were no other windows or furniture, save for a set of cabinets on our right.
“What did I expect it to do?” I said. “Maybe play some music? Say ‘mama’? Where I come from, exploding is not a normal bear habit.”
“Where you come from, a lot of things are backward,” Bastille said. “I’ll bet your poodles don’t explode either.”
“No, they don’t.”
“Actually, exploding poodles would be awesome. But exploding teddy bears? That’s dangerous!”
“But Bastille, they’re for children!”
“Exactly. So that they can defend themselves, obviously.” She rolled her eyes and walked back over to the window that looked into the sand-filled room. She didn’t ask if I was hurt. She could see that I was still breathing, and that was generally good enough for her.
Also, you may have noticed that this is Chapter Two. You may be wondering where Chapter One went. It turns out that I—being stoopid—lost it. Don’t worry, it was kind of boring anyway. Well, except for the talking llamas.
I climbed to my feet. “In case you were wondering—”
I frowned, walking up to Bastille. “Is something bothering you, Bastille?”
“Other than you?”
“I always bother you,” I said. “And you’re always a little grouchy. But today you’ve been downright mean.”
She glanced at me, arms folded. Then I saw her expression soften faintly. “Yeah.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“I just don’t like losing.”
“Losing?” I said. “Bastille, you recovered your place in the knights, exposed—and defeated—a traitor to your order, and stopped the Librarians from kidnapping or killing the Council of Kings. If that’s ‘losing,’ you’ve got a really funny definition of the word.”
“Funnier than your face?”
“Bastille,” I said firmly.
She sighed, leaning down, crossing her arms on the windowsill. “She Who Cannot Be Named got away, your mother escaped with a pair of Translator’s Lenses, and—now that they’re not hiding behind the ruse of a treaty—the Librarians are throwing everything they’ve got at Mokia.”
“You’ve done what you could. I’ve done what I could. It’s time to let others handle things.”
She didn’t look happy about that. “Fine. Let’s get back to your explosives training.” She wanted me well prepared in case the war came to Nalhalla. It wasn’t likely to happen, but my ignorance of proper things—like exploding teddy bears—has always been a point of frustration to Bastille.
Now, I realize that many of you are just as ignorant as I am. That’s why I prepared a handy guide that explains everything you need to know and remember about my autobiography in order to not be confused by this book. I put the guide back in Chapter One. If you ever have trouble, you can reference it. I’m such a nice guy. Dumb, but nice.
Bastille opened one of the cabinets on the side wall and pulled out another small, pink teddy bear. She handed it to me as I walked up to her. It had a little tag on the side that said “Pull me!” in adorable lettering.
I took it nervously. “Tell me honestly. Why do you build grenades that look like teddy bears? It’s not about protecting children.”
“Well, how do you feel when you look at that?”
I shrugged. “It’s cute. In a deadly, destructive way.” Kind of like Bastille, actually, I thought. “It makes me want to smile. Then it makes me want to run away screaming, since I know it’s really a grenade.”
“Exactly,” Bastille said, taking the bear from me and pulling the tag—the pin—out. She tossed it out the window. “If you build weapons that look like weapons, then everyone will know to run away from them! This way, the Librarians are confused.”
“That’s sick,” I said. “Shouldn’t I be ducking or something?”
“You’ll be fine,” she said.
Ah, I thought. This one must be some kind of dud or fake.
At that second, the grenade outside the window exploded. Another blast threw me backward. I hit the wall with a grunt, and another piece of plaster fell on my head. This time, though, I managed to land on my knees.
Oddly, I felt remarkably unharmed, considering I’d just been blown backward by the explosion. In fact, neither explosion seemed to have hurt me very badly at all.
“The pink ones,” Bastille said, “are blast-wave grenades. They throw people and things away from them, but they don’t actually hurt anyone.”
“Really?” I said, walking up to her. “How does that work?”
“Do I look like an explosives expert?”
I hesitated. With those fiery eyes and dangerous expression . . .
“The answer is no, Smedry,” she said flatly, folding her arms. “I don’t know how these things work. I’m just a soldier.”
She picked up a blue teddy bear and pulled the tag off, then tossed it out the window. I braced myself, grabbing the windowsill, preparing for a blast. This time, however, the bear grenade made a muted thumping sound. The sand in the next room began to pile up in a strange way, and I was suddenly yanked through the window into the next room.
I yelped, tumbling through the air, then hit the mound of sand face-first.
“That,” Bastille said from behind, “is a suction-wave grenade. It explodes in reverse, pulling everything toward it instead of pushing it away.”
“Mur murr mur mur murrr,” I said, since my head was buried in the sand. Sand, it should be noted, does not taste very good. Even with ketchup.
I pulled my head free, leaning back against the pile of sand, straightening my Oculator’s Lenses and looking back at the window, where Bastille was leaning with arms crossed, smiling faintly. There’s nothing like seeing a Smedry get sucked through a window to improve her mood.
“That should be impossible!” I protested. “A grenade that explodes backward?”
She rolled her eyes again. “You’ve been in Nalhalla for months now, Smedry. Isn’t it time to stop pretending that everything shocks or confuses you?”
“I . . . er . . .” I wasn’t pretending. I’d been raised in the Hushlands, trained by Librarians to reject things that seemed too . . . well, too strange. But Nalhalla—city of castles—was nothingbut strangeness. It was hard not to get overwhelmed by it all.
“I still think a grenade shouldn’t be able to explode inward,” I said, shaking sand off my clothing as I walked up to the window. “I mean, how would you even make that work?”
“Maybe you take the same stuff you put in a regular grenade, then put it in backward?”
“I . . . don’t think it works that way, Bastille.”
She shrugged, getting out another bear. This one was purple. She moved to pull the tag.
“Wait!” I said, scrambling through the window. I took the bear grenade from her. “This time you’re going to tell me what it does first.”
“That’s no fun.”
I raised a skeptical eyebrow at her.
“This one is harmless,” she said. “A stuff-eater grenade. It vaporizes everything nearby thatisn’t alive. Rocks, dead wood, fibers, glass, metal. All gone. But living plants, animals, people—perfectly safe. Works wonders against Alivened.”
I looked down at the little purple bear. Alivened were objects brought to life through dark Oculatory magic. I’d once fought some created from romance novels. “This could be useful.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Works well against Librarians too. If a group is charging at you with those guns of theirs, you can vaporize the weapons but leave the Librarians unharmed.”
“And their clothing?” I asked.
I hefted the bear, contemplating a little payback for being sucked through the window. “So you’re saying that if I threw this at you, and it went off, you’d be left—”
“Kicking you in the face?” Bastille asked coolly. “Yes. Then I’d staple you to the outside of a tall castle and paint ‘dragon food’ over your head.”
“Right,” I said. “Er . . . why don’t we just put this one away?”
“Yeah, good idea.” She took it from me and stuffed it back into the cabinet.
“So . . . I noticed that none of those grenades are, well, actually deadly.”
“Of course they aren’t,” Bastille said. “What do you take us for? Barbarians?”
“Of course not. But you are at war.”
“War’s no excuse for hurting people.”
I scratched my head. “I thought war was all about hurting people.”
“That’s Librarian thinking,” Bastille said, folding her arms and narrowing her eyes. “Uncivilized.” She hesitated. “Well, actually, even the Librarians use many nonlethal weapons in war these days. You’ll see, if the war ever comes here.”
“All right . . . but you don’t have any objections to hurting me on occasion.”
“You’re a Smedry,” she said. “That’s different. Now do you want to learn the rest of these grenades or not?”
“That depends. What are they going to do to me?”
She eyed me, then grumbled something and turned away.
I blinked. I’d gotten used to Bastille’s moods by now, but this seemed irregular even for her. “Bastille?”
She walked over to the far side of the room, tapping a section of glass, making the wall turn translucent. The Royal Weapons Testing Facility was a tall, multitowered castle on the far side of Nalhalla City. Our vantage point gave us a great view of the capital.
“Bastille?” I asked again, walking up to her.
She said, arms folded, “I shouldn’t be berating you like this.”
“How should you be berating me, then?”
“Not at all. I’m sorry, Alcatraz.”
I blinked. An apology. From Bastille? “The war really is bothering you, isn’t it? Mokia?”
“Yeah. I just wish there were more to do. More that we could do.”
I nodded, understanding. My escape from the Hushlands had snowballed into the rescue of my father from the Library of Alexandria, and following that we’d gotten sucked into stopping Nalhalla from signing a treaty with the Librarians. Now, finally, things had settled down. And not surprisingly, other people—people with more experience than Bastille and I—had taken over doing the most important tasks. I was a Smedry and she a full Knight of Crystallia, but we were both only thirteen. Even in the Free Kingdoms—where people didn’t pay as much attention to age—that meant something.
Bastille had been rushed through training during her childhood and had obtained knighthood at a very young age. The others of her order expected her to do a lot of practice and training to make up for earlier lapses. She spent half of every day seeing to her duties in Crystallia.
Generally, I spent my days in Nalhalla learning. Fortunately, this was a whole lot more interesting than school had been back home. I was trained in things like using Oculatory Lenses, conducting negotiations, and using Free Kingdomer weapons. Being a Smedry—I was coming to learn—was like being a mix of secret agent, special forces commando, diplomat, general, and cheese taster.
I won’t lie. It was shatteringly cool. Instead of sitting around all day writing biology papers or listening to Mr. Layton from algebra class extol the virtues of complex factoring, I got to throw teddy bear grenades and jump off buildings. It was really fun at the start.
Okay, it was really fun the WHOLE TIME.
But there was something missing. Before, though I’d been stumbling along without knowing what I was doing, we’d been involved in important events. Now we were just . . . well, kids. And that was annoying.
“Something needs to happen,” I said. “Something exciting.” We looked out the window expectantly.
A bluebird flew by. It didn’t, however, explode. Nor did it turn out to be a secret Librarian ninja bird. In fact, despite my dramatic proclamation, nothing at all interesting happened. And nothing interesting will happen for the next three chapters.
Sorry. I’m afraid this is going to be a rather boring book. Take a deep breath. The worst part is coming next.