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Sword and Pen
Author: Rachel Caine

 

 

   EPHEMERA


Text of a letter from Scholar Christopher Wolfe to Callum Brightwell. Available in the Archive.


Mr. and Mrs. Brightwell,

   It is with the utmost regret and sorrow that I must inform you of the death of your son Brendan Brightwell upon this day in the city of Alexandria. I know that it cannot be a comfort for you in this moment of grief, but perhaps it will ease your heart in the future to know that Brendan’s courage in his final days and hours was exemplary, and inspired every one of us who had the pleasure of knowing him. He was at his brother’s side for the battle, and I assure you that Jess is alive, though laid just as low as you must be by this terrible loss. Jess was with him as he died, and Brendan’s passing was mercifully quick and painless.

   He was instrumental in the victory achieved today in Alexandria for the continued existence and protection of the ideals of the Great Library, and that is no small thing to remember. Brendan’s loyalty to, and protection of, his brother was extraordinary, and we will always honor his memory.

   I pray to my gods and yours that Brendan’s soul finds peace, and that you may also do so with this difficult news.

   Funeral rites will be prepared for him, and once the immediate emergency is past I will write to you to finalize these arrangements. We will welcome you to Alexandria for the honors the Great Library will give to your sons—both the dead and the living.

   With all my heart, I grieve with you. And I make you this pledge: I will fight to preserve Jess’s life with every ounce of strength I possess. For though we believe that knowledge is all, still we value every life entrusted to our care.

   Scholar Christopher Wolfe

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

JESS

   Brendan was dead, and Jess’s world was broken. He’d never known a moment without his twin existing somewhere, a distant warmth on the horizon, but now . . . now he shivered, alone, with his dead brother held close against his chest.

   So much silence in the world now.

   He’s still warm, Jess thought, and he was; Brendan’s skin still felt alive, inhabited, but there was nothing inside him. No heartbeat. No presence.

   He was dimly aware that things were happening around him, that the bloody sands of the arena were full of people running, fighting, screaming, shouting. He didn’t care. Not now.

   Let the world burn.

   A shadow fell over him, and Jess looked up. It was Anubis, a giant automaton god gleaming with gold. The jackal’s black head blotted out the sun. It felt like the end of the world.

   And then Anubis thrust his spear forward, and it plunged into Jess’s chest. It held him there, pinned, and suddenly Brendan’s body was gone, and Jess was alone and skewered on the spear . . . but it didn’t hurt. He felt weightless.

   Anubis leaned closer and said, Wake up.

   When he opened his eyes, he was lying in darkness on a soft mattress, covered by a blanket that smelled of spice and roses. Out the window to his left, the moon floated in a boat of clouds. Jess’s heart felt heavy and strange in his chest.

   He could still feel the sticky blood on his hands, even though he knew they were clean. He’d washed Brendan’s blood away. No, he hadn’t. Thomas had brought a bowl of water and rinsed the gore away; he hadn’t done anything for himself. Hadn’t been able to. His friends had helped him here, into a strange house and a strange bed. He knew he should be grateful for that, but right now all he felt was empty, and deeply wrong. This was a world he didn’t know, one in which he was the only surviving Brightwell son. Half a twin.

   He’d have taken large bets that Brendan would have been the one to survive everything and come through stronger. And his brother would have bet even more on it. The world seemed so quiet without him.

   Then you’ll just have to be louder, you moping idiot. He could almost hear his brother saying that with his usual cocky smirk. God knows you always acted like you wished you’d been an only child.

   “No, I didn’t,” he said out loud, though he instantly knew it for a lie and was ashamed of it, then even more ashamed when a voice came out of the darkness near the far corner.

   “Awake, Brightwell? About time.” There was a rustle of cloth, and a dim greenish glow started to kindle, then brighten. The glow lamp sat next to Scholar Christopher Wolfe, who looked like death, and also like he’d bite the head off the first person to say he looked tired. In short, his usual sunny disposition. “Dreams?”

   “No,” Jess lied. He tried to slow down his still-pounding heart. “What are you doing here?”

   “We drew lots as to who would be your nursemaid this evening and I lost.” Wolfe rose to his feet. He’d changed into black Scholar’s robes, a liquidly flowing silk that made him seem part of the shadows except for the gray in his shoulder-length hair and his pale skin. He paused at Jess’s bedside and looked at him with cool assessment. “You lost someone precious to you. I understand. But we don’t have time to indulge your grief. There’s work to be done, and fewer of us now to do it.”

   Jess felt no impulse to care. “I’m surprised you think I’m useful.”

   “Self-pity doesn’t become you, boy. I’ll be leaving now. The world doesn’t stop because the one you loved is no longer in it.”

   Jess almost snapped, What do you know about it? but he stopped himself. Wolfe had lost many people. He’d seen his own mother die. He understood. So Jess swallowed his irrational anger and said, “Where are you going?” Not we. He hadn’t yet decided whether staying in this bed would be his best idea.

   “The office of the Archivist,” Wolfe said. “You’ve been there. I could use help in locating his secure records.”

   The office. Jess blinked and saw the place, a magnificent space with automaton gods standing silent guard in alcoves. The view of the Alexandrian harbor dominating the windows. A peaceful place. He wondered if they’d managed to scrub the dead assistant’s blood out of the floor yet. The Archivist had ordered her killed just to punish him. And Brendan.

   Brendan. The last time he’d been in that office, Brendan had been with him.

   Jess swallowed against a wave of disorientation and nausea and sat upright. Someone—Thomas, again—had helped him out of his bloody clothes and into clean ones. An informal High Garda uniform, the kind soldiers wore at leisure in the barracks. Soft as pajamas. It would do. He swung his legs out of bed and paused there, breathing deeply. He felt . . . unwell. Not a specific pain he could land on, just a general malaise, an ache that threaded through every muscle and every nerve. Shock, he supposed. Or just the accumulated stress of the past few days.

   It might even be grief. Did grief hurt this way? Like sickness?

   “Up.” Wolfe’s voice was unexpectedly kind. Warm. “I know how difficult that is. But there is no other way but onward.”

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