“I can’t believe they’re letting you do this.” Sal eyed the closed door with unveiled concern. The door itself could’ve been any one of a hundred doors at the Vatican—eight feet tall, cunningly paneled wood bound with black metal hinges. Its sole claim to distinction was the number IV nailed to it in gold.
Asanti’s eyes shone. “To be honest,” she said, “I can’t quite believe it either. If you’d told me even a month ago that this door would open in my lifetime, I’d have called you a liar.”
From farther down the hall, Siggy the Swiss Guard tried to look straight ahead with utterly perfect professional detachment. It didn’t work very well. Sal caught him glancing their way yet again, and stuck her tongue out. He jerked back to attention.
Asanti’s new assistants buzzed about her. Frances set down a mop and bucket against the wall next to the others, consulted a thick binder, and helped another of Asanti’s new staff, Sister Theresa, with a crate. The junior librarians had already filled the hallway with an army’s worth of cleaning and archival supplies—brooms, cleaning fluids, feather dusters. Asanti held a caddy filled with an assortment of soft cloths, gloves, and tiny brushes—the usual accoutrements, Sal suspected, for entering a room that had been closed off for a few hundred years. And a tiny velvet sack full of antique silver crosses, because this was no ordinary library they were walking into.
This library once belonged to Team Four. Magical R&D. Emphasis on the once.
“You’re not planning to move in there, are you?” Sal picked up a feather duster and ran her fingers through it. She looked sidelong at the extension cords and floodlights. “Don’t you think that’s a little much?”
“It’s not like they were wired for electricity, Sal. We don’t even know if Team Four dissolved before or after the Vatican brought in gas lighting.” Asanti nodded to her assistants, and they both began to pull on their dust masks and gloves.
Dissolved. That was a nice name for it. Sal had poked and pried as best she could, but in the end she’d concluded that nobody on her team was keeping secrets from her; it was just that nobody really knew what had happened to Team Four. “Something terrible,” Menchú had said. But there were a lot of kinds of terrible, ranging from “They accidentally summoned a demon that ate the whole team” all the way up to “That’s why nobody lives in Atlantis. Anymore.”
“I don’t know precisely,” Menchú had said, when she’d pressed. His forehead creased. “There are no records. I can only tell you what my predecessor told me. Something unspeakably terrible happened to Team Four—or maybe they did something unspeakably terrible. It’s really not clear. Their quarters were sealed, their members excommunicated, and the Vatican got out of the magical research business. Until recently.”
Sal snapped back to the present, to the quiet Vatican hallway filled with cleaning supplies. “But why do you think anything in Team Four’s library would even help?”
“Years back, we found a manuscript jammed into the back of a shelf—more of a pamphlet, really—which suggests that Team Four built the Orb in the first place.”
“So you just . . . waltz right in, grab the blueprints, and leave?”
“Don’t be silly. We don’t know how long it’ll take to turn up something useful. This place could be meticulously indexed and cross-referenced, or we could be looking for a needle in a haystack.” Asanti sounded positively delighted at the prospect.
“Still.” Sal gazed up at the door. “It’s been closed up a long time. Why the change of heart?”
Asanti smiled politely. “It’s been a long time since our little corner of the Vatican was run by anyone but a cardinal raised from one of the other teams. Before now, it would have been futile even to ask. So are you ready?”
“All right,” Sal said. She bounced on the balls of her feet. “Let’s see what Team Four left behind.”
Asanti took a key from her pocket. It was a heavy, ornate thing made of gold and iron twined together. The archivist pressed it into the lock. It turned smoothly, with the sort of heavy, satisfying click only found in items manufactured long before the age of plastics. Asanti looked to Sal, as if to gather one last drop of fortitude, and then set her palm on the door and pushed.
Asanti frowned. From down the hall, Siegfried made a sound that might have been a cough or a chuckle.
“Is it stuck?” Frances pushed her glasses down her nose. Theresa pulled her dust mask off.
“It’s been closed for hundreds of years,” Sal said, “and everyone’s tried to pretend the place doesn’t exist. Just a bit of rust.”
She sized up the door, and then rammed a shoulder into it. The impact didn’t even make a sound; she felt as if she’d hurled herself at a mountain. She tried again, and again. Fruitlessly. “They don’t make ’em like this anymore.” She rubbed her shoulder. “Maybe we should pour some Coke on it to eat away the rust.”
Frances raised an...