While the athenaeum of the London law firm of Sequence Lord Goldman & Bozman was not nearly as legendary as what the Vatican had once hidden in its depths, it still possessed enough rare texts that the senior partners decided to employ several security measures, both conventional and magical.
Unlike the Vatican’s archive, the law firm’s athenaeum was electricity free, going through pains to keep the magical texts uncontaminated by technology. A sophisticated central air system kept the place appropriately dry for the most part, but the interior was lit with gas lamps and candles, and all of the firm’s files and ledgers were kept the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.
Senior partner Daylen Lord sat at her desk in the wheel-shaped room, writing slowly in a massive book that smelled of basement secrets. Her script was precise as she made her notes, ponderously marking the ledger of hours worked and monies owed. She dipped her pen into the bottle of ink on her desk. The bottle sat on a Mr. Coffee cup warmer designed for a mug, but here it helped keep a combination of holy water, blood, and Higgins Fountain Pen India Ink from congealing.
Her mother, Kendra Lord, had found that concoction worked best for writing magically binding legal documents, and Daylen kept the recipe to herself and didn’t tell the others in the firm that she bought the ink from Jackson’s Art Supplies. Many clients wouldn’t like to hear that their precious contracts had a hint of mundane ink within.
Kendra, the founder of SLG&B, had also told her daughter to cut costs where she could. She’d bought the ink in bulk in her day, but Daylen found that the modern large arts and crafts stores were the cheapest.
She put down her pen and rubbed her forehead to stave off a headache starting. Her head tended to pound if she worked too late into the night, but she really wanted to get these numbers down before bed.
The candles beside her desk flared, and Daylen squinted and turned away from the blast of heat that was much too intense for simple wax-and-wick tinder. After a moment she grabbed her massive ledger and wrestled it off the table. It fell to the floor, safe from the flames. Then all the candles and lamps in the room extinguished.
She blinked against the darkness, trying to acclimate her eyes. This would not be good. But Daylen had lived through plenty of earth-shattering incidents, and her clients appreciated it when she stayed calm during disasters. Incidentally, “earth-shattering” was not as apocalyptic as most people feared. When the earth shatters, people keep on being people when they can, adapting when they have to. As her partner Benjamin Goldman sometimes noted, “The earth shatters? So you don’t go near the huge rent in the ground. Go on, keep living your life.”
She hadn’t been plunged into darkness for no reason. The athenaeum would show her what she needed to see if she remained patient. And Daylen was nothing if not patient.
Finally, Daylen caught what she was looking for: A shelved tome on the circular bookcase that served as a hub for the vast library was glowing silver.
Despite her previous calm, a worm of anxiety burrowed through her insides. Only the most important clients were shelved in the hub, and if one of the books had manifested in this way, it could only mean a death. She rose from the table, her bones suddenly feeling old and creaky, and walked cautiously toward the case. As she got closer, she could see the book twitching, jumping, trying to wrest itself from the confines of its fellows. When she got to the case, it tipped off the shelf and fell to her feet, opening to the first page.
She crouched and read the glowing words.
“WITNESSETH I, Maitresse __________ (here her name had been smudged; it had been smudged from the moment she wrote it in the firm’s signature ink), being of sound mind and body, do proclaim these to be my final wishes regarding the distribution of my estate to my heirs. On the event of my death . . .”
Thus began the last will and testament of one of the most powerful beings in the world, deceased as of a few minutes ago.
“Ah, Maitresse,” Daylen said sadly. She’d seen many clients die—estate planners always did—but she never thought this one would happen during her life. She picked up the book and carried it back to her table. It was going to be a late night.
She would only know afterward what she had done to Sal, when the team sat her down and explained, looking at her with fear in their eyes.
From Asanti’s point of view, the shock hit her like a fist. She staggered back and her ears went strangely fuzzy. She was dimly aware of screams, of footsteps. Someone jostled her, and someone else put a hand on her shoulder.
She didn’t want to be touched. She didn’t want...