When the Orb flashed, the people gathered in the library thought it was lightning, or the fireball from an explosion. A few of them cringed, waiting for a boom that never came. They had all gotten used to the Orb lighting up, like someone had just kindled a fire. This time was different, much bigger, and Sal heard a collective gasp pass through the Archives. She’d heard the sound before, many times, when she’d been a cop with the NYPD. There had been a fire in an apartment building once, and a crowd had gathered to watch. She was in uniform on the other side of a barricade, and she’d kept trying to get the people to move back. They wouldn’t listen to her. Then, behind her, the fire flared—maybe a floor had collapsed, or the wind shifted and fed the flames—and the people watching had made a noise almost like what she heard in the Archives now. She told everyone to move back. They did.
“What was that?” Liam asked. Asanti was sitting next to the Orb, still rubbing her eyes.
“I don’t know,” Asanti said. She blinked. The Orb hummed, throwing off enough light to illuminate the ceiling of the Archives. There were architectural features up there that Sal had never seen.
Frances appeared from behind a bookcase and looked at the Orb, obvious worry on her face. “Please tell me you were running a test of some kind,” she said.
Asanti shook her head.
“Have you ever seen it like this?” Sal said.
“No,” Menchú said. “How do we find out what happened?”
“The old-fashioned way,” Asanti said. They looked at each other, and then at Sal.
“You’re the cop,” Liam said.
Sal nodded. It was almost like she was putting on her badge again. Almost like she’d been promoted. “Okay,” she said. “If whatever happened is as big as it seems, it can’t be that hard to find out where it was. Someone must be talking about it.”
“Right,” Menchú said, “but most of those people don’t like to talk to us.”
“Well, some of them do,” Sal said. “Asanti, is there anyone you can call? Maybe someone from that conference you went to? You seemed to meet a lot of useful people there.”
“Useful?” Asanti said. “They’re not tools.”
“Cut me some slack,” Sal said. “I’m in command mode.” She glanced over at Menchú. He seemed pleased. “What about your friend in Mexico?” she asked Asanti.
Asanti nodded. “I’ll call.”
“Liam,” Sal said. “Liam, Liam.”
“I don’t have anyone who owes me any favors right now,” Liam said. “I think I’ve used them all up.”
“But you have people who’d be willing to talk to you,” Sal said.
“I don’t know. I’d say we’ve burned some bridges lately.”
“But not all of them. What about the people we talked to when we were under attack right here in the Archives for holding the Codex Umbra? The two who live right here in town?”
“Nicolescu and Marangoz?” Liam said.
“Yes, them,” Sal said. “I’d bet you they know something.”
“Hmm,” Liam said. “They might, but they’re mercenaries to the core, in case you don’t remember. It’ll cost us.”
“We’re the Vatican and we’re worried about money?” Sal said. Menchú gave her a disapproving look. “You’re going to disagree with me?” Sal said to him.
“No,” Menchú said. “It’s just that our goodwill with our superiors is . . . stretched rather thin.”
“I think we need to worry about that later,” Asanti said.
“You’re not the one who has to talk to them,” Menchú said.
Sal could see the tension between Asanti and Menchú rising. They’d been arguing more and more lately. It wouldn’t take much to set them off, and make this whole conversation unproductive. She interjected before Asanti could respond.
“Do you see any other way?” Sal asked Menchú.
Menchú sighed. “No.”
Sal breathed a little easier and turned to Liam. “Let’s set up a meeting with them, then.”
“Aye, aye, captain,” Liam said. He got out his phone and started texting.
“I’ll get Grace,” Menchú said, “and talk to the monsignors.”
“What are you going to tell them?” Asanti asked.
“That something has happened. Something bigger than we’ve ever seen, and we may need everything we have.”
Sal had seen Menchú worried before, and knew what that looked like. This looked worse.
“Good luck,” she said.
“I think we’ll all need the luck,” he replied.
“Are we going to fight about this again right now?” Asanti asked.
He shook his head. “We don’t have time.” Sal knew what he meant by that. We already know what we’re going to say anyway. Asanti would argue that a threat like this was exactly why the Society needed to use more magic. Menchú would argue back that the threat showed how useless all of Asanti’s work had been. The fight would end only when one of them backed off. Nothing resolved.
My team is shaky right now, Sal thought. Too shaky.
Menchú headed toward the stairs out of the Archives, but not before a last glance back at the Orb, still hot and throwing sharp shadows at the walls.
Liam was already off his phone. “Nicolescu and Marangoz are willing to meet with us,” he said. “In fact, they seem as eager...