Was it a good idea?
Late-night venturing never ended well.
Still, Tara stayed, to peer through the glass and marvel at the glorious library.
Honey-coloured lights trickling down walls and shelves, gathering in golden pools across polished surfaces. Rosewood tables nestled with velvet chair around a statue bathed in ocean blue sapphires. And far behind the tables were mazes of shelves, standing like hegdes among a garden of knowledge.
Tara gingerly tapped the glass. It disintegrated into crystal pixels that reformed when she entered.
The earthly smell of paper drifted all over the vacant room. Winter cold air-conditioning lapped at her skin.
"Woah." Tara mouthed. The girl had never seen that many books in one place.
This was monumental.
Tara headed straight into the centre of the maze. She ambled down the narrow paths stopping to open beautiful books emblazoned in platinum or bound in aged leather.
There was a particular extraordinary book, scrawled in feathery, silver words curling on the pages like tentacles.
Naturally, the adventurer decided to hold on to it.
"Just borrowing." Tara convinced herself. She kept the paperback delicately in her jacket, eager to venture on.
Except, she wasn't alone.
Tara didn't realise a pair of eyes were staring keenly, the whole time.
They were slanted but bright as a cat's in moonlight. Each silver as the font of the book.
But more importantly, they belonged to a boy in an obsidian suit. A cape the colour of fine wine fell over his shoulders and arms.
Blood drained from her face.
Tara had no other choice but to return the book. Sliding it back into its original slot, Tara raised her hands in surrender.
Please don't arrest me, Tara prayed.
Instead, the witness smiled and shook his head.
"Keep it if you like." He waved the matter away, dismissively. "I have to admit, that's a good find."
Tara couldn't believe what she just heard.
"What'd yah say?"
The lanky sixteen year old stepped closer. He was awful tall for his age.
Or, Tara was just unfortunately short.
"You can keep it." He repeated, an arm's length away.
"Oh." Tara looked the book. "I think I'll just leave it here."
"Are you sure?"
There was a frigid silence as they scrutinised each other.
"...you must be new here." He concluded.
"How would you know?"
"You don't know who I am." The boy explained it like a compliment.
"Wait--I'm sorry but--what would I know you as?"
"Pierce. Just call me Pierce." Tara watched him nervously run fingers through his dark hair. Strange.
"Sophie." Tara didn't trust him.
"Listen Sophie, " Pierce lowered himself so they met eye-to-eye. "You can't stay here."
"There are laws and...things against that."
Pierce just shook his head, silver eyes blazing with urgency.
"Okay, okay. I'll go." Tara reluctantly turned away from the shelves, only to spin around again, wringing her hands nervously.
"I...uh think I'm lost."
"Follow me. Closely."
Tara walked beside the stranger as they exited the library and rushed for the lift. She struggled to keep up. With numb, socked feet skidding on polished marble, she wished didn't take off her boots.
A couple times, Tara slipped, smacking face first on the ground.
"I'm fine, I'm fine." She held up her hand to wave away any help.
By the fourth time, Pierce got so worried he reached over to pull her up. He slid an arm firmly over her shoulders and the glossy cape fell over Tara's cheek.
So much for being short, she thought as they whisked out.
Tara held the arm over her shoulders, only because she didn't like falling. Nothing else.
After much struggling on Tara's part, they reached the fortuitously empty lift.
"Thanks." Tara nodded gratefully, entering the elevator.
"One last thing. If anyone tries to catch you-" Pierce reached into his coat and slipped her a royal blue card "-show them this."
The insistent tone in his voice (and maybe a hint of curiosity) motivated her to take the card.
"Thanks. Again." Tara tried a smirk.
Pierce smiled back. But the smile was too filled with worry, it made Tara uneasy.
"Promise me you won't come back. Okay?" Those shimmering eyes pleaded as the elevator door slid shut.
As the elevator raced down, she looked at the blue card. Carved on it was a Rank Number, just like Tara's 99.
But Pierce's was different.
His was an elegant 1.
Her insides fell faster than the lift.
But that would mean...
Pierce was Chief of The Order?
Tara was definitely going back. Even if it killed her, she was going to get some answers.