When the last of the librarians had finally vacated the corridor that led into the section of the Library that housed the books about weather magic, Lirael whistled softly for the Disreputable Dog. She had only to wait a few moments for her faithful companion to appear at her side, as if materializing out of nothing. Whenever she tried to ask about the Dog's ability to seemingly appear and disappear at will, the Dog always deflected the question. Usually, deflecting involved a plea for food. Eventually, Lirael had all but given up on discovering the answer.
"We haven't been in here in months, Mistress," the Dog said, as she trotted alongside Lirael down the corridor and into a massive room filled entirely with shelves of books. "Are we looking for something in particular?"
"I want to learn how to melt ice more quickly, to get into that room." The Dog would know the one Lirael was talking about, so she didn't specify. They had been trying to get in for three weeks now, since five days before Lirael's seventeenth birthday. The room – and its contents – had seemed a tantalizing present to herself, but they had proven more difficult to crack than Lirael anticipated. It had taken a day for her to work out the Charter-spelled locks on the door, only to step inside and find a thick layer of ice spanning a deep crevice in the Glacier, reaching from floor to ceiling and blocking the way except for the narrowest opening in the crevice itself. Even the most advanced Charter spells Lirael knew weren't enough to melt ice that thick, and her Charter skin wouldn't be small enough to fit through the opening. The only way forward was to learn new Charter marks.
That was the way of things, since she began to explore the Library. Each day was a new chance to explore, and the culmination of one adventure only led directly to another. She got older and the days passed one by one, but the pain of waking up every morning only to find that she still didn't have the Sight had begun to dull, over time. Now her days were filled with the Dog and the Library and Charter magic, and she could almost put her misery out of her mind. It lingered there, but the sting was not so sharp now that she had something to distract herself.
She led the Dog down a row of shelves until she came to a door, recessed into the wall between a collection of books about cloud creation and another about calling rain in times of drought. Neither of the collections had been touched in several decades at least; the Clayr had enough clouds and water on their Glacier, and these books were simply gathering dust. After a quick glance left and right, to ensure that they were still alone, Lirael pressed her palm against the smooth wood of the door and spoke the simple Charter mark that unlocked it.
The room beyond was much smaller than the one they were currently in, barely large enough to fit a table and chairs in the center. There were pedestals around the walls, each containing a single book. Lirael did a quick tally in her head and counted fourteen in all.
Once inside, the entire aura of the air around them shifted. The shelf-lined room of weather books was chilly, bordering on too cold, but this room was warm enough that Lirael wanted to shed her vest. Beside her, the Dog appeared equally uncomfortable in the sudden heat.
"I read about the book we're looking for in one of the catalogues of Charter magic tomes. It's just called Frost, and it's a green book with a gold border," Lirael whispered. Something about the room made her want to keep quiet. She felt like they weren't alone, and her time in the Library had taught her to trust her instincts. Reaching into her pocket, she readied the mouse the librarians all carried with them, just in case. Even after all this time, she hadn't yet had an occasion to use it. If she ever did, she knew, it would be too late for her.
"This one?" the Dog asked, sounding disinterested. She had gone to sit in front of one of the pedestals on the far side of the room.
It only took a glance for Lirael to determine that the Dog had found the correct book, and she rushed over to retrieve it. "I think we should leave now. I feel as if something is watching us."
"Very well. I hope it's not too late to get something to eat. We missed supper for this."
As the Dog complained, Lirael felt a change around them. The heat suddenly disappeared, as if sucked out of the room. The air became thick, almost liquid, difficult to breathe.
"Shh," she ordered, pressing herself back against the nearest wall, as flat as she could get against it. Surprisingly, the Dog obeyed, going absolutely still and silent at her side, and not a moment too soon. A wraith-like creature emerged from one of the walls, tall and gaunt, nothing more than a billowing robe of smoke, with tendrils that stretched out from its sleeves like claws. A silent guardian of the Charter magic contained within the books. Lirael shuddered, but she clutched the book to her chest and stayed still as it made its way through the room. It cast its gaze left and right, but never towards Lirael and the Dog.
Finally, the creature passed by her, seemingly unaware of her presence. She breathed a silent sigh of relief, but waited until long after it had disappeared back into the far wall before she allowed herself to move.
"Mistress, the sun is about to rise."
"What?" Lirael yelped – then clapped a hand over her mouth. "It was evening twenty minutes ago," she hissed. "I waited until after the librarians had gone for supper. How can it be morning?"
"There was a powerful Charter ward on that room that you failed to notice when you unlocked the door. Time passed more quickly while we were inside," the Dog replied matter-of-factly, as if it wasn't information that Lirael had sorely needed before they entered.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I thought you would notice," the Dog said, sounding and looking far more smug than any dog should.
"We need to go, now," Lirael said urgently. She gathered up the book, tucked it into her vest as best she could, and then rushed back through the cold Library and then the blissfully heated main corridors of the Clayr's Glacier. Few Clayr were about this early in the morning, but even so, Lirael kept to the least-used passages.
They were back in Lirael's room only moments before dawn. A few more minutes and Lirael would have been caught redhanded in the corridors, out of her bed in the middle of the night with no explanation at all for her actions. The last time, she had nearly been sentenced to three months of extra shifts cleaning the Clayr's robes, and only one of the other Third Assistant Librarians being called to the Nine Day Watch and leaving her post unfilled had saved Lirael. She couldn't expect such luck a second time.
"I should get changed and go to breakfast," she said, sighing as she eyed her bed, longing for a few hours of silence, comfort, and warmth. If she stayed here and slept past dawn, she would only find herself in trouble when she had spent so much effort avoiding it.
"Bring me some sausages when you come back, please," said the Dog, stretching languorously on the floor beside Lirael's bed while Lirael removed her vest and struggled into a fresh tunic.
"If I can hide any," she replied, slightly irritable at the Dog for failing to inform her about the ward, but she couldn't maintain her bad mood for long. Another successful adventure, and the book she'd brought back would hopefully lead to new discoveries once she worked out the Charter spells it contained. By the time she reached the Lower Refectory, her irritation would have died away, and she could always find a way to sneak a few snacks back to the Dog. No amount of irritation could ever undermine her gratitude at having a companion to explore the depths of the Library and share in her discoveries.
"I'll try," she amended, feeling slightly more charitable towards the Dog. "Remember to stay hidden until I come back." She gave the same warning every time she left the Dog alone in her room. It had long since become more like an affectionate good-bye than an actual concern. She shut her door firmly behind her anyway, in case the Dog chose not to conceal herself from anyone who might walk past, and then hurried on her way to breakfast. There would be time to begin to peruse her new book later, and then time to continue their exploration of the Library and its secrets together.