Darcy clenched the edge of the shelf and held her breath. She’d never been this close to a dragon, much less a copperhyde. Copperhydes could camouflage themselves against almost any background, but their preferred material was stone—rough, pitted stone, from the Terra Avstra, like the walls around them.
Once a copperhyde chose to be seen, though, it dazzled, tail flashing and scales glittering. It didn’t need much light to accomplish this, either. If it wanted, a copperhyde could use a single match to make itself reflect like a beacon in a storm.
But there was a catch—and it was a good thing. When copperhydes shut their eyes (which they must do to camouflage), all they see is bright light, so when they blink their eyes back open, they’re blind for about fifteen seconds, give or take. Darcy knew this was she and Madame’s chance to move out of the dragon’s line of sight, and a shared glance told her the librarian was thinking the same thing: it was now or never.
As the copperhyde detached itself from the stone cornice, Darcy and Madame Lobellia slid down to the next shelf by way of another book-spine. They backed up into the recesses of the shelf, freezing between two fat volumes of Roman history. The dragon above sniffed where they had lain only seconds before. They could feel its thick, warm breath blowing over the edge of the upper shelf, see the reflection of its glittering scales glancing over the walls. Darcy couldn’t help it; she tugged on Madame’s long, taffeta sleeve, pleading with her eyes that they get out of there. But the librarian’s eyes stayed focused.
“Humans…” growled the Copperhyde, and the dragons below all responded with their own separate rumbles and screeches. Two of them launched into the air and flew toward them.
One last yank on Madame’s sleeve brought her back into the present. Somehow, even in the direst situations, Madame seemed to let her mind stray into another place or time. Fully alert to the impending situation, now, Madame crossed her hands and shoved them against the giant book to the left of them.
A loud hiss of air rushed past Darcy’s ears and her oxford heels landed on a flagstone road. The intern shook the time-dust out of her red curls and found her balance, then observed the road was lined on both sides with white monuments and mausoleums.
Madame brushed off her long, full skirt, eyebrows slightly raised as though she had just walked out of a slightly disagreeable tea appointment. “Well, that mission was much shorter than what I had expected. Still, I believe we have the information we need to get started with our investigation.”
Darcy pulled her eyes away from the monuments to look at Madame. “You mean the invisible doors in history books?”
“Yes. It sounds as if D.A.R.K. knows more than we do. I know of time-doors in history books, these are easily detected by the good reader and the clever magician. But invisible doors…doors that can let a human into the dragon world? This is not magic I’m familiar with.” The librarian began walking, hands clasped behind her back. Darcy hurried to fall in step with her. “But Madame, I thought the only way for a human to enter the dragon world was through the door in the Octagrim, and only then by your guidance?”
“Well, now it appears the Octagrim is only one of the doors in. I unwittingly shook loose a secret by getting Prestor involved with researching Lewis. He and I are now both faced with our own mysteries. He with Lewis’ unnamed spell, and I with history’s unseen doors.” Madame lowered her chin, a sharp hunger entering her eyes. “If I were a betting woman, and I assure you I’m not, I would stake my fortune on the belief that these two mysteries are intertwined.”
Darcy nodded, hardly knowing what to make of the conversation. She glanced around at the mausoleums. “Madame, where exactly are we?”
“Rome. A.D. 70. Care for a bit of dulcia domestica? I know a perfect little market stall that sells the delicacy near the Aventine.” She picked up her pace.
Darcy pulled her pad and paper out of her skirt pocket. Of course. They were strolling along the Appian Way. One of the most well known roads in the ancient world. Why they had come to this point in time on this piece of the planet, she didn’t know. But Madame walked ahead with the surety of a hunting tigress.