I just didn’t get it. Why would she leave me a message telling me I had to find a book about magic that, according to T. A. Murtough of A Definitive Guide, didn’t even exist!
I opened the book and read the first footnote again. Was it possible there were people out there in the world who believed in a book of magic written a million years ago, and my sister had been killed because she’d gotten in the way of their fanatical search?
Jericho Barrons believed it was real.
I thought about that a minute. Then he was nuts, too, I decided with a shrug. No matter how well it had been made, any book would have begun falling apart after a few thousand years. A million-year-old book would have crumbled to dust eons ago. Besides, if nobody could read it, why would anybody want it?
Mystified, I began reading again, working through the second stack and into the third. Half an hour later I’d found the answer to that question too, in a book about Irish myths and legends.
According to legend, the key to deciphering the ancient language and breaking the code of the Sinsar Dubh was hidden in four mystical stones. [Four is a sacred number to the Tuatha Dé: four royal houses, four Hallows, four stones.] In an accomplished Druid’s hands, an individual stone can be used to shed light on a small portion of the text, but only if the four are reassembled into one will the true text in its entirety be revealed.
Great. Now we had Druids in the mix. I looked them up next.
In pre-Christian Celtic society, a Druid presided over divine worship, legislative and judicial matters, philosophy, and education of elite youth to their order.
That didn’t sound so bad. I kept reading. It went downhill quickly.
Druids performed human sacrifices and ate acorns to prepare for prophecy. They believed day followed night, and held to a credo of metempsychosis in which the human soul does not die but is reborn in different forms. In ancient times it was believed Druids were privy to the secrets of the gods, including issues pertaining to the manipulation of physical matter, space, and even time. Indeed, the old Irish “Drui” means magician, wizard, diviner—
Okay, that was it. I snapped the book shut and decided to call it a night. My credulity had been sapped. This was not my sister. None of it was. And there was only one explanation for it.
Jericho Barrons had lied to me. And he was probably sitting in his fancy bookstore in his fancy five-thousand-dollar suit, laughing at me right now.
He’d tossed me a red herring, and a whopper of a smelly fish at that. He’d tried to throw me off the trail of whatever it was Alina really wanted me to find with a load of tripe about some stupid mythical book of dark magic. Like any good liar worth his salt, he’d seasoned his deception with truth—whatever it was, he genuinely did want it himself, ergo the deception. Amused by my naïveté, he’d probably not even bothered to change the spelling of what she’d said very much. “Shi-sadu.” I sounded out the syllables, wondering how it was really spelled. I was so gullible. Maybe there was only a two-or three-letter difference between what Alina had said in Gaelic and what Barrons had pretended she meant, and those few letters were the difference between an object of pure fantasy and some hard-boiled, tangible item that would enable me to shed light on her death. If, for that matter, he’d even told the truth about the word being Gaelic. I could trust nothing he’d said.
Adding insult to injury, he’d tried to scare me with threats and chase me out of the country. And he’d bruised me too.
I was getting madder by the minute.
I left the library and stopped in a drugstore to pick up the few items I needed, then began walking through the busy Temple Bar District back to The Clarin House. The streets were packed with people. The pubs were brilliantly lit; doors were flung open to the temperate July evening and music spilled out onto the sidewalks. There were cute guys all over the place, and I got more than a few catcalls and whistles. A bartender, a young single woman and a music lover, this was my element. This was craic.
I didn’t enjoy a bit of it.
When I get mad I have imaginary conversations in my head—you know, the kind where you say that really smart thing you always wish you’d think of at the time but never do—and sometimes I get so wrapped up in my little chats that I end up oblivious to everything around me.
That’s how I found myself outside Barrons Books and Baubles instead of The Clarin House. I didn’t mean to go there. My feet just took me where my mouth wanted to be. It was twenty past nine, but I didn’t give a rat’s petunia about Mr. Barrons’ stupid deadline.
I stopped in front of the bookstore and snatched a quick glance to my left, toward the deserted part of the city in which I’d gotten lost the other day. Four stories of renovated brick, wood, and stone, Barrons Books and Baubles seemed to stand bastion between the good part of the city and the bad. To my right, streetlamps spilled warm amber light, and people called to each other, laughing and talking. To my left, what few streetlamps still worked shed a sickly, pale glow, and the silence was broken only by the occasional door banging on broken hinges in the wind.