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The Book of Opal

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A BOOKDEALER. A WARDEN. A TRIAL OF WILLS. In the port city of Trethias, Quillan works to sell kingdom approved books. But the bookshop is just a front for her real work, dealing in magic tomes that, if she was caught, could cost her life. Quillan plans to get caught. She knows who will be coming to collect her, the dangerous faction of wardens known as Sorrow’s. The kingdom has taken everything from her, and for that it will pay. Cohen is one of the youngest Sorrow’s, with no memory of his past and a lifetime of dead ends trying to find answers. Quillan might be the only person who can free him and his companions from their ties to the kingdom. Together, they will have to tread carefully, with the king absent from his throne, the Chancellor is vying for power, and he will do anything to get it. Even if it means breaking Quillan.

Fantasy / Adventure
Age Rating:

Chapter 1


The inspector was largely incompetent. Hired by the local council to scout for illegal books, he’d never stepped a foot downstairs in the years he’d been appointed. It helped that I had member’s of the very same council in my pocket.

“So you haven’t seen anything?” he asked. I continued herding him towards the front door of the shop, trying my best not to breathe in his acrid scent. Stale wine and sweat, I curled my lip in disgust. Benen could have at least washed up before coming here. I’d have to air the place out.

“Inspector,” I said tightly. “I told you I don’t know why they haven’t opened yet. There’s always a new store cropping up in the Paper District, I can’t keep up with them all.”

Eira was dealing with a customer as discreetly as she could. I was glad she’d moved them to the other side of the shop floor and away from Benen, but the sound of their conversation still trickled to our position. “I could show you the list of the latest approved books. We haven’t got them all in yet, but there might be something here. . .”

“I only thought to ask because it seems strange,” Benen said, stopping in the open doorway. I breathed out through my nose, my patience dwindling with each second.

“I understand what you mean.”

“If you hear anything . . .” he began to frown, trying to find the right words. “I’d like to know. The whole situation smells of an underground book trade.”

I blinked back my surprise. It wasn’t like Benen to actually follow up on complaints, at least until a few months had passed. There’d been a time when Ironhold Books was under scrutiny, right after I’d had to take over from my father. The new store had only appeared two weeks ago, and it seemed people were already uneasy at the darkened windows, the fact that it hadn’t opened its doors yet.

“Of course. I’ll send word if I hear of anything.”

The inspector stepped onto the cobblestone path, tucking his hands into the pockets of his stained trousers and tilting his head up to the sky before fumbling his way down the street. Drunk.

“I’m closing up,” I called over my shoulder, unlatching one of the double doors from where it was hooked outside. It was hot, the sun overhead already reaching this side of the street where it threw off blinding streaks of light from the windows.

“But your opening hours—”

“Better to listen to her, love. She runs the show here,” Eira told the woman.

“Well are you open tomorrow?” the woman asked. “I need a present for my niece.”

“Come and see me in the morning,” Eira said with a tight smile. She walked the customer to the exit, where I was already unlatching the other door. The woman gave me a curious look as she left, as if she wasn’t sure what to think of me.

“He really wants to find something in there,” I noted absently, fiddling with the bolt.

Eira reached out to touch my shoulder. “I understand if his coming here makes you uncomfortable, considering . . .”

“Considering I’m planning to get arrested?” I said with a laugh that sounded more nervous than I meant it to. I shook my thoughts away. Eira was right, the timing of his visit had me spooked. “I’ll recover. Benen hasn’t been able to pin anything on me after all this time, and there’s nothing for him to tie me to the new store.”

“If you’ve had a change of heart, Quillan, I’ll support that decision.”

My stepmother had taken a long time to forgive me for even having the idea to do this. I understood why—it was a huge risk—and even though she wasn’t my blood, she still cared for me. “You know I haven’t. I’m doing this for her.”

“Your mother wouldn’t want you to get yourself killed over it,” she said gently, stepping forward to wrap an arm around my shoulder. I breathed in her sweet perfume. “You saw the bodies. You barely came back from that. And now you want to make your way to the capital with your neck bared for their taking.”

I closed my eyes for a brief moment, trying to bring back the feeling of my mother. She’d stayed, Eira had stayed, even though my father left.

Shrugging her off me, I moved towards the center of the shop. “What point is there having a neck if you don’t have a backbone to hold it up?”

A knock on the door had me jumping from my skin.

“Sorry, love, but we’re closed!” Eira told the young man peering through the glass panel in the door. There was a hint of desperation in his wide eyes.

“Please,” he mouthed. I crossed the floor, trying to hear him through the window. “I need your help.” He fumbled for something in his doublet and I pulled the bolt back across, ready to tell him to leave.

I opened the doors wide. “Come back tomorrow.”

He braced an arm in the doorframe to stop me from closing them on him. “I went to lengths to get it here,” he said, lifting up a book so that I knew what he was after. I sighed. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this work, but I didn’t want the young man making a scene and attracting people to my doorstep.

Clearing my throat, I swung out an arm to gesture him inside. “Follow me, then,” I said. “I don’t normally receive people in the shop.”

He wandered inside, scanning the bereft shelves. Each volume was almost the same as the next. Unremarkable brown leather and gold block lettering on every spine. It wasn’t our fault the store was lacking—and it wasn’t where the money came in, anyway—this was the direct result of the kingdom controlling what we were allowed to sell.

“Then . . . where?” he asked.

I straightened my shoulders, trying to shake off the morning so that I could focus on the stranger. “I have a basement.”

Eira was locking up for me again. I risked a glance at him as we neared the main house, wanting to get a feel for who I was about to work with. Hooked nose, sharp cheekbones and dark, feathery lashes that matched the tones of his tight, curly hair. He was young, perhaps nineteen or twenty.

In the private quarters, I led him down the long, narrow hall, past the kitchen where I could just see a rack of bread loaves cooling on the bench. I fished the key out from a hidden pocket in my skirts when he spoke, “My family doesn’t know I’m here. If my father caught word of it . . .” he trailed off and it was enough to tell me he wasn’t confident he was doing the right thing by bringing it to me. I’d been in the trade long enough to know what he meant. The book was likely a stowaway—somehow kept from the kingdom’s hands even after the destruction of the First Library, where many saw their own private collections seized.

“It’s important to my sister and I that we keep it from the council,” he went on.

I paused as the key clicked into place, my stomach lurching. I knew exactly the father he was talking about—he’d been one of my biggest clients the past couple of years. I had to figure out what I was going to do next. If I would let Kasen Olphet continue, or shut this meeting down now.

He stopped close behind me, and I could feel his breath skittering down the nape of my neck. “Is there a problem?” he asked. I heard the smirk in his voice. He knew I’d figured it out.

“What happens to me if your father finds out we’re doing this?” I forced my limbs to move again. We took worn steps down, stopping short of the door leading to where my enclosed volumes were stored. My fingers paused on the handle as I looked up to him. He smiled at me, but I could see past the faux, self-assured way he held himself—right through to the way the corners of his eyes wrinkled uneasily. How had I not guessed it the moment I looked at him?

“Then make sure he doesn’t,” he said darkly. “I’m taking a risk coming to you. But this book is worth it. My father underestimates how much sway he has on that council. If he keeps it with their collection then surely it will be lost to us.”

Anger took hold of the blood in my veins. “You’re telling me the collection is unprotected?” I’d sent many from my own cache to Olphet—to the council, and he’d always assured me that they had the best security. It didn’t matter how well he paid, if those books were in danger I would go and get them myself.

I pulled the door open, enjoying watching Kasen stiffen in the presence of the old books that lined the back wall, and gestured for him to take a seat at the table. His mouth turned to a grimace as he surveyed the basement from where he was sitting, and he had his palms laid over the book protectively. “You have me mistaken. I’m sure the others are fine. They’re kept in an outbuilding that has a strict guard schedule. My only worry is for this one.”

“And why is that one worth more than the rest?” I asked as I slipped on a pair of black gloves and walked the length of the room. The action was like putting on my true face. That girl in the shop, following the rules and selling those awful books, was gone down here.

The bookshelf I kept here was a mural of color and material. There were volumes with silver clasps and latticework, leather and silk and cloth. If I swayed the conversation to the book’s value, then I might be able to negotiate a good price. “Is it that risky?”

“No!” he rushed out. “Surely no more of a risk to you than any of the ones you already work with. But for me, for my family. . . Well, we think it’s likely a grimoire.”

“Mmmm.” I pressed my lips together. A grimoire would explain some of his desperation, but. . . “What kind of grimoire?”

“Written when the sea-breakers were formed.”

Interesting. I wasn’t that knowledgeable about the mysterious coven of people that were native to the stretch of coastline Yrey sat on, but I knew enough about their constant disputes with our local council over land. Things were making sense to me now.

“And your bloodline—you actually come from the sea-breakers?”

His eyes widened. I could see him assessing the situation. Wondering if he could trust that I wouldn’t sell his family secret to the highest bidder.

He must have known what information was to me.

He sighed when I didn’t turn away from his gaze. “Yes,” His broad shoulders turned down in defeat.

I didn’t remark on the revelation, instead I changed the subject. “You’ve heard of my rates?”

“I was actually hoping we could talk about—”

I crooked an eyebrow at his tone. “Double the figure in your head. Then we’ll talk.”

His brown skin flushed a deep red instantly. I watched him struggle internally for some kind of leverage, something to say. Often clients had the upper hand. But the ones that didn’t . . . well, they just had to deal with my way of doing things.

“Zillah and I have been saving,” he said carefully. “But we don’t have that kind of money. And we need it opened before he finds out I took it.”

If he was asking me to do this out of charity then he couldn’t know how much the shop was struggling. People were weary of owning any kind of book now.

But I wasn’t a monster, not in that way.

“Twenty-five percent more than the standard rate,” I said with a tone that suggested I wouldn’t come down further. The muscles in his cheek relaxed but I still noted some concern in the way he held himself.

I ran my hands down my skirts as I finally sat at the table. “Now that we’ve agreed on the issue of my prices,” I went on, “I’d like to do a test breach of the book.”

He swallowed thickly, pushing it across to me. “Of course. It’s all yours.”

I was well-versed in my Bookcraft now, though it didn’t come without problems. Opening enclosed volumes could be difficult if I didn’t give them what they wanted. As important as it was to know the client I was working with, it was more important to know the book.

It was an unknown art, as much as the reasons behind them closing themselves away from the world was unknown to the common citizen. When the king had sent his soldiers to siege the First Library, when he’d declared the abysmal rows of texts heretical and had them sent to pits, the books had protested their fate.

A curse, and all those that had not gone to the earth would no longer open because of it.

I prodded the book with my mind, testing to see if it would react.

“Would you like to be told a story?” I said.

I could feel the way it yawned awake, a consciousness ebbing its way into my mind. “Yes, little one,” came the reply, slow and drawn-out. “I grow hungry from this slumber. I want to know what became of my kin. I want to know if the stories have changed.”

“I could recount something now for you if you’d like?” I’d told so many stories that it shouldn’t be hard to find something this one liked. I was about to speak of the one of a failed skirmish between the Baron’s fleet and the sea-breakers, an adventurous tale from our history, hoping the book would prefer something close to home when it let out a hiss, “I don’t want your lies.”

“Truths are what you wish for?”

“Oh, I know you like the feel of a little lie, sweet, but when one sits so long without a meal, one needs something more than stale cob bread. I should like a feast as delicate as braised lamb and buttered beans.”

Shivering, I forced my mind to sharpen. The toll of this book seemed heavy, as if its presence was not all that good.

It was rare that I broke concentration to regard a client mid-breach, but I did so now.

Kasen looked horrified. Like he was witnessing the book spitting flames. I wasn’t surprised by that, he wouldn’t have sensed its temperament until I’d opened up the channel. But was he feeling what I could feel? The stubbornness, the unwillingness to play pretty to get any little story from me? Only one other book had been this reluctant to let me work with it, and with the cost of my magic already causing my head to pound, I had to wrap this up quickly. “I need a few days,” I told Kasen.

“I can’t,” he pleaded. “I need to be out of the city by then. Maybe I can send Zillah, but even then we don’t have that kind of time.”

He wasn’t making it easy. The book was sending out tendrils of its own power, the magic bestowed on it by the curse. It wanted my attention again.

I paused, thinking of the other clients I had lined up, of my plan. Often it took a few sessions to crack one of them. “I’m not sure . . .” I admitted.

“I’ll get more money. What I just. . .” he paused, grappling with the words. “I’ve never felt anything like it.”

“Leave it with me,” I said quickly, running my fingers along the spine of the book and pulling it under my arm. “I’ll have it done by tomorrow.”

He rose from his seat near dizzily. “Thank you,” he said. “You have no idea what it will mean for my people to have this opened.”

Even if you stole it from your father and made the gamble to leave it with someone like me? I thought bitterly. I could feel my mood souring. I needed to get him out of here before I truly snapped. “Eira will see you out. She’ll give you my details too.”

Now that I could look at the book up close, I could see that the binding had been done with extravagance in mind. There were many whorls of golden patterns etched on the face of it. Sigils. The glue, if I was correct, was likely gelatine. Yes, this was a very old book.

Remembering my father’s advice over the years: always wear gloves to protect them from becoming marked, keep them away from sunlight, get their name first, I opened up the channel once more, pressing past the pain. The book was waiting, almost like it had known I wouldn’t stay away long.

“Do you have a name?” I asked. “Something you want me to call you?”

I could sense it mulling over the question, but eventually its voice sprang forth in my mind. “I was only known as a grimoire.”

At least Kasen had been on the right track. But I wasn’t done. “What would you like to be named?”

I waited for its reply, my body feeling heavy. As if I would topple over at any moment and stay sprawled on the cold stone floor until Eira came to get me. “Kavleta,” it said finally, as if it was amused by my request.

“Right then, Kavleta. I’ll find something worthy to tell you.” It was an overstatement, I didn’t know enough about it yet to guarantee I had the right story.

The book sighed, and I could feel its pleasure. “Something to ease the hunger, little one. Something big.”

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