AUNTIE LEEN! AUNTIE LEEN! Look what I found!" Auntie Leen, also known as the Keeper of the Imperial
Archives, raised her eyes above the lenses of her reading
glasses as the three-year-old figure of her nephew skidded to an uncertain halt next to her desk. In the midst of a frenetic bustle of waving arms she could see that both hands were empty, and the pockets exhibited no more than their typical bulge. "Very well," said Leen. "I'm looking. What are you hiding, and where are you hiding it?"
He was tugging insistently at her hand. "Here! Come here!"
Robin had been rummaging somewhere off in the back, playing hide- and-seek with himself among the uneven aisles and coating himself with his usual cloud of grime. With her free hand, Leen slid an acid-free marker into the ancient book and closed the crumbly cover, leaving it perched on the reading stand, and picked up her lantern. Although her work area was liberally furnished with candles, thus slowing the deterioration in her eyesight, the deeper reaches of the archive had only the illumination one brought to them. How had Robin been able to see whatever he'd discovered?
As Robin trotted ahead of her off into the darkness, a blue glow spread out ahead of him, lighting his way through the crates and leaning piles of scrolls and books. Leen scowled to herself. She must be getting prematurely dotty, on top of blind, or perhaps it was mere engrossment in the book, although that was an excuse with more charity than Leen was usually willing to allow herself. Nevertheless, absentmindedness was the least dangerous explanation she could claim. Puttering about in the dust while mumbling non sequiturs was professionally expected of an archivist, but when you stopped backing it up with a lucid mind it meant trouble. One day you're forgetting the trick tunic you yourself had given the boy with the very goal of making it safer for him to prowl through your domain, as she had done at his age when it was her grandfather at the great desk, and soon you've advanced to fuddling the sequence for disarming the door wards, with the immediate sequelae of an expanding cloud of archivist-shaped vapor and, of course, the election of a new archivist.
Robin pulled up next to a long spill of books and more than a few freely floating pages and stood hopping impatiently from foot to foot. The glow from the runes on his shirt diffused out through a hanging cloud of fresh dust. Come to think of it, Leen did vaguely remember a crash and thud some ten pages earlier in her own reading, but it hadn't seemed nearly serious enough to rouse her. Leen took a look around. They appeared to have arrived at a wall, or at least a room-sized pillar. There were many similar spots around the catacombs. "Show me what you've found, Robin," Leen said patiently.
Robin flopped down on his knees and felt around under the next-to- lowest shelf.
The bottommost shelf was a single thick slab of wood extending to the floor, and the next shelf above it was only a book's-span higher, so Robin was about the largest person who would have been able to discover something that far down. Three or four books from the lowest shelf had been removed, judging by the gaps in the line of snugly fitting spines; without the added clearance, even Robin's three-year-old-sized arm wouldn't have had space for maneuver. "Watch!" Robin commanded.