The wait is officially over. Two years after the release of its predecessor, Painted Devils, the long awaited and highly anticipated sequel to Margaret Owen’s knockout YA fantasy novel, Little Thieves, has hit shelves and stores. To celebrate its release, we’re thrilled to be able to share with you an exclusive extract from Painted Devils, so you can dive into this sensational sequel asap.
Emeric holds up a hand, peering beyond the light. “Do you see anything, Vanja?”
I look around, a smidge baffled. We’re in a foyer of sorts; pale light glazes over stone columns and a vaulted ceiling embellished with an iron chandelier long gone cold. There are signs of a hasty exit everywhere, from scattered papers and abandoned cloaks to a forlorn porcelain doll swooning at the foot of a statue. The statue itself bears only the inscription THE FOVNDER on the base, but judging from its old-fashioned robes, I’d say it’s meant to be a friar, the kind who goes by something like Sextus and entirely deserves it.
I don’t know what Emeric expects me to find, but nothing’s leaping out. “No.”
We pause for him to quickly consult the floor plan and directory posted on a nearby wall, then head into the library itself. Given the size of the building, I expected it to be separated into different chambers. Instead, the only partition is a ring of waist-high walls that section off something like an open-air rotunda at the main floor’s centre. That area’s crowded with chairs and sturdy tables, some still bearing open books, parched inkpots, and half-written notes.
Radiating out from the rotunda’s rim is a towering forest of cylindrical columns—no, not columns, bookshelves, like massive tree trunks with scrolls and manuscripts for bark, rising all the way to the chandelier-dotted ceiling three stories above. Each one is spiral-bound with spindly staircases, and ruffs of narrow balustraded walkways offer brief respite before the next steps climb higher. Most of the shelves are bare above the second story, a few patches of books and scrolls clinging like lonely barnacles, but there’s clearly room for the various collections to grow.
“This way.” Emeric cuts an unyielding line across the rotunda, allowing only a wobble or two for avoiding furniture. “Vanja, you’ll have the clearest vantage in the middle. We’ll be just over at that section.” He points to one of the nearest columns. It’s still far enough away that I won’t be able to see what he’s searching for.
It can’t be easy for him to balance between Kirkling’s insistence on my exclusion and keeping me from feeling utterly useless, and for that reason alone I repress an eye roll. “Right then, lookout it is.”
Emeric passes me his coin. “Here. The grimling should show up before Vikram’s lights run out. Just shout if you see our luck change.”
I suppose that’s one way to say, Holler if we’re in mortal peril. The boys continue on without me as I scan the area and conclude only that there are probably about a thousand pounds of cobwebs in the unlit chandeliers.
Emeric’s voice floats over to me: “. . . looking for . . . before 398 BE . . . Hagendorn or Boderad’s Gorge.” There’s a formless query from Vikram, and I catch in reply: “. . . prefect accords.”
I shouldn’t eavesdrop, not if it could put his case in jeopardy.
But I really, really want to, is the thing.
I look around for a distraction. There’s a sort of dais in the chamber’s dead centre, with a stone pedestal right at the bull’s-eye, and bolted to that pedestal is a very robust-looking display case that stands no higher than my sternum. Something is glittering inside.
Something presumably quite valuable.
I am officially distracted.
I mince over, keeping one eye on Emeric and Vikram to make sure some hellion isn’t descending upon them, at least not unnoticed. When I reach the display case, I’m surprised to recognize its contents: a clear, intricately cut crystalline goblet identical to those the souvenir peddlers are hawking outside. There’s a polished bronze plaque affixed to the pedestal. It reads:
THE MOSTE HOLYCH CRYSTALL GOBELET
BORNE IT OF SANKTVS VVILLEHALM THE SCRYBE
This isn’t a display case, I realize with a start, but a reliquary.
There’s a shuffling rasp from behind me. I whirl around. Some deserted parchment sheets flutter into the air as a faint breeze rings the rotunda. It almost—almost sounds like a whisper.
Then it’s gone.
“We’ve been noticed,” I call to the boys. There’s only a brief grunt of acknowledgment. A little annoyed, I turn back to the reliquary.
Something catches my eye as I move the coin light. I catch my breath and wave the coin from side to side, watching rainbows dart through the goblet.
I check on the area Emeric and Vikram are picking over. No sign of a grimling, though, as I watch, one of Vikram’s glowing marbles winks out and disintegrates. All that hits the floor is a thimbleful of dust.
That’s enough of an all clear for me. I circle the pedestal, scouring the reliquary’s base until I see a narrow keyhole in the dull brass. I crouch for a better look. Sure enough, the coin light sparks on a few bright scratches around the keyhole—too new to have faded, too few to have come from anything but a seldom-used key.
Someone’s unlocked this. Recently.
I send one final glance over my shoulder, this time to be sure Emeric and Vikram are wholly occupied, because Emeric won’t like this and Vikram may not find it as amusing as a butt on formal paperwork. Fortunately, they’re both immersed in the bookshelves. Less fortunately, the remaining light-balls are flickering. Another two go dark. I’ll have to work fast.
I set the shining coin on the pedestal so I can see, then reach into my satchel and slip out my lockpicks.
It’s not a very difficult lock, especially because I’m not worried about leaving a trail. If I’m right, it won’t matter anyway. All it takes are a few prods of the pins and a flick of the tension wrench, and the base of the reliquary releases from its frame with a soft rattle.
“About a minute of light left,” I hear Vikram warn.
That’s enough time for Emeric to stop me, so I try to keep it down as I rock the case, easing it off its base. The light-cloud in my peripheral vision is shrinking, shrinking—the case comes free with a jolt—I hold my breath as I lay it on its side on the nearest table, nearly folding myself in half to do so quietly—
When I straighten, I see my face reflected in the dark glass—
And a twisted, grey, half-rotted face gaping over my shoulder.
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