Nightshade Page 43


SHAY FLIPPED OVER THE PAGE AND SCRIBBLED a few notes while I fidgeted in my seat.

“I can’t believe they don’t allow outside drinks in here,” I said. “How am I supposed to read this much without coffee?”

“You haven’t read anything, Calla,” he corrected without looking up. “You’ve just sat there and watched me read.”

“You haven’t given me anything to look for in the stacks.” My eyes darted toward the book that lay in front of him. “Have you come up with anything useful yet?”

His mouth flattened into a thin line.

“Look, I’m not being critical,” I said. “I was just asking what you’ve got so far.”

He leaned back in his chair. “Well, the book seems to be divided into three parts. De principiis priscis, which I’d guess is the origin story of your world. Then there’s a section called De proelio. . . .” He paused, watching me expectantly.

“‘Battle,’” I said.

Shay nodded, the corner of his mouth crinkling upward. “Somehow I thought you’d know that word.”

I smiled, stretching my arms over the back of the chair. Even the suggestion of a fight made my muscles twitch restlessly. I’d been sitting for hours, first at school and now at the library. Shay watched me with amusement and then turned back to his notes.

“Maybe it contains the details of the Witches’ War?” He glanced at the book. “I guess we’ll find out.”

“What’s the third section?”

He frowned, pushing strands of golden brown hair off his forehead. “It’s the one that makes the least sense. I can’t figure what it is.”

He opened the book, flipping pages until he had reached the end of the volume.

“It’s the shortest section by far. Praenuntiatio volubilis.”

“An announcement?” I picked up a pen and began doodling on the notepad that lay in front of me.

Shay turned his attention to the Latin dictionary. “I don’t think so. It’s more like a prophecy or an omen. But the second word, volubilis, implies that it’s not set in stone; you know, like the idea of fate or destiny. Whatever that section describes is something that can be changed, altered.”

“So the book ends with a description of something that is supposed to happen in the future?” For some reason the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

A disgusted grunt rose from his throat. “No. I skipped to the last page to see if it might have a conclusion that helped contextualize the rest of the book.”

He turned the pages until he reached the final lines of the text.

The prickling at the back of my neck traveled over my shoulders and arms. “What does it say?”

His voice was laced with irritation. “Crux ancora vitae.”

“What?” I stood up and paced alongside Shay’s chair.

“I think it’s a proverb or something. It means ‘the cross is the anchor of life.’ I didn’t know that your witches were Christians.” His finger moved along the lines.

I continued my restless path around the table. “They most definitely are not. And the contents of that book are not Christian. Whatever that proverb is, it isn’t Christian; it means something else.”

“You must be wrong, Calla,” Shay said. “If you take into account the form of the Latin and what I’ve been able to discern about this text by comparing it to other rare books: the script, the illuminations, all that stuff makes it fairly easy to date. It’s a late-medieval, early-Renaissance book, so it could definitely have a Christian influence. And then there’s the cross thing.”

“The book may have been created in the Middle Ages, but its contents were not. The Old Ones predate Christians.”

“But if this book is pre-Christian, not medieval, then what the hell does that mean?” Shay shoved the tome away from him with a disgusted snort. “Someone needs to talk to this fool about how to end a narrative. No conclusion, some lame proverb,” he said. “And a picture.”

I stopped just short of his chair. “A picture?”

“Yeah. A picture of a cross.” He pulled the book back toward him, staring at the final page. “I guess it does lend some credence to your idea that it’s not Christian. It definitely isn’t like any crucifixes I’ve seen.”

I inched closer, my heart fluttering. “What do you mean?”

“Why don’t you take a look?” He raised his eyes to mine. When he saw the fear there, he stood up and moved close to me.

“Calla.” He took both my hands in his. “I understand why you’re afraid of this book. But you’ve come this far. I think you have to look at it.”

I began to shake my head, but he gripped my fingers tightly. “I need your help.”

His eyes held mine, kind but challenging.

I wanted to object, but I knew that from the moment I’d committed to meeting Shay at the library, there was no point in turning back. “Okay.”

He drew me back to the table. My hands began to shake as he turned the book to face me. Shay sat down in the chair, crossing his arms behind his head.

“Weird, huh? I mean, the way the bars are different on two of the ends. It makes the cross seem asymmetrical even though the pieces are the same length.”

I stared at the image and then at Shay. “Don’t you recognize this?”

“Recognize it?” He glanced down at the cross. “What do you mean?”

“Shay, this is the tattoo that’s on the back of your neck.” I tapped the image with my finger.

He laughed. “I don’t have any tattoos.”

I blinked at him. “Yes, you do.”

“I think I’d remember if I’d gotten ink,” he argued. “I’ve heard it’s fairly painful.”

He flinched when I reached around his neck, pulling back the collar of his shirt. The tattoo was there, just as I’d remembered it. The cross, an exact likeness of the one that stared back at me from the Keeper’s text, lay etched in black ink on the golden skin along the nape of Shay’s neck.

“See, I told you. No tats.” He tried to twist out of my grasp, but I stilled him by gripping his shoulder.

“Shay—you do have the cross inked on your neck. I’m looking at it right now.”

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