Melanie Masters was running out of books.
Such a thing hadn’t seemed possible when she’d first started reading. The town library had seemed cavernously large, its selection not so much robust as it was daunting. She had started with suggestions from the librarian, a stooped old woman Melanie felt some affection for, but that had lasted her only two weeks. From there she had expanded her scope in other directions, first by getting recommendations from other people and then by using the books themselves to guide her. In The Cafard’s Contradiction the heroine Odessa was smitten with a book titled Eden’s Waltz. Melanie had loved The Cafard’s Contradiction, so she had sought out a copy of Eden’s Waltz, on the theory that if her favorite author had loving that book as a central character trait of the heroine, it must be worth reading. (It was with some dismay that Melanie realized Eden’s Waltz was an overly sugared coming-of-age story mired in its own unreality. The author of The Cafard’s Contradiction was using the book to say something subtly unkind about Odessa’s naivete.)
Eventually Melanie had hit her first wall. The library had thousands of books, but it contained only a small fraction of all books. Following trails often led to her frowning at two books like Frea’s Adventures in the Realm of Dust and Freedom from Death, thinking that if the alphabetization were any good The Freckled Fox should have been right between them. There were other books within Light’s Hollow, those held in private hands, and sometimes Melanie was able to borrow from those collections, especially when it became known that she read at an incredible speed and returned books both quickly and in good condition. It was still the case that Light’s Hollow contained only a small number of the total number of books that existed in the world. Worse, there were some books which had once existed but had fallen into obscurity, their authors long-dead and the last copy of the book eaten through with worms some hundred years ago. The supply of books was sadly limited, and it grew smaller with each one consumed.
In a way, work at the Black Mare was a blessing in disguise, because it meant that Melanie was spending time not reading. While this was not her preferred state of affairs, it meant that the dwindling supply of available books (and more importantly, books worth reading) would last much longer. She still brought books down from her room above the Black Mare, of course. There were long periods of time when the demands of the tavern were few and she could splay a book out over the bar with few interruptions.
William Wright was one of those interruptions.
“What are you reading?” he asked, a few minutes after she’d poured him a mug of sagewine. He’d given her just enough time to starting reading again. The question he’d presented to her was, in her opinion, one of the most annoying things that one person could ask another.
“It’s a turnabout,” said Melanie. “Vultures of the North.” She looked back down at the book, hoping that William would take the hint but knowing that he wasn’t the kind to stop so easily.
“What’s a turnabout?” asked William.
Melanie put a finger on the line she’d been reading to mark her place. “A turnabout is one of the elemental genres,” she said. “Someone gets into trouble, then gets out of trouble.” She paused slightly, weighing the choice of elaborating further or inevitably fielding another question from William. She took the lesser of two evils. “In this particular case, Larkspur is a cobbler who gets cast out of his city following an altercation with their mayor and ends up wandering through the wilds, until presumably gathering enough strength to come back and get justice against the mayor. But I say presumably because I haven’t finished it yet.”
“Does that appeal to you?” asked William. “Stories about glimwardens?”
William didn’t care about the answer. William only cared about her, and his questions were only his way of obtaining some of her attention. She wasn’t entirely sure whether he believed that this was a precursor to courtship or whether he simply enjoyed speaking with her, but his affections were most assuredly not mutual. Unfortunately, William came from a family of moderate wealth, and that was a fact worthy of some consideration for Melanie.
Stories had a way of making financial hardship seem exciting. When a pauper appeared on the page, he was inevitably full of pluck and ready to make a name for himself, which he inevitably did. There were exceptions to this rule, especially within the pitchover genre, but being poor was usually easily escaped through dashing heroics. Melanie had not found poverty to be so exciting. She held an enormous debt to the Colsum family, courtesy of her wayward father’s efforts to keep the Black Mare afloat. Barring a stroke of incredible fortune, she would be paying off that debt until the end of her life.
William’s family had money, more than most of her tavern’s patrons. Beyond that, a marriage would lessen her obligations by half. That meant the sensible thing to do would be to chatter away with William and convince him that she was a girl worth marrying despite the debt. Of course, she could wait to tell him about the debt until after they were married, but she didn’t think she could stomach doing that to him.
“Larkspur isn’t really a glimwarden, he’s a cullion, because he isn’t pledged to a town, at least not so far. But he’s not a bad cullion,” said Melanie. “So far he’s spent most of the book meeting various people in the wilds, either caravans or runaways or magical people. More than you’d expect, really. But generally I don’t like stories about the glimwardens, not unless they’re fighting each other. You can only read about the glimwardens making some heroic stand against the darklings a limited number of times before you have to put the book down and find another. I like conflicts between characters.”
William nodded along to this, though Melanie doubted that he cared about what she was saying.
“I’ve heard that they’re going to induct some new glimwardens in preparation for the eighth lantern,” said William. “I was thinking that maybe I should float my name.”
“What do you mean by induct?” asked Melanie. “I thought that anyone could become a glimwarden just by eating enough hearts. That’s how Larkspur does it.”
“Well, sure,” said William. “But that’s dangerous, going out on your own and trying to get lucky enough for long enough to obtain real power. It happens in stories, certainly,” he waved in the direction of her book, “But in Light’s Hollow new glimwardens are created by the existing glimwardens. They take you out into the woods with them and feed you the hearts themselves, so there’s no risk at all. All for free, if they decide that you’re worth having, so you don’t have to put in an order for the hearts like the runesmiths do.”
Melanie frowned. “Then how are you going to get them to accept you?”
“Well, the first thing I’ll do is let them know that I’m interested,” said William. “Then I think I’ll go track Sander down and talk to him for a bit, maybe at home where I might be able to meet his father.” He beamed at her with a look like a puppy dog seeking approval.
Melanie looked down at her book. She was well aware of the differences between stories and reality, but the problem was that her experiences accumulated from books dwarfed what she had learned from the world. She had never been properly courted and only knew a handful of married couples, but she had seen thousands of men and women come together under all sorts of circumstances in her books. It was only natural to defer to fiction in those situations where she had no worldly experience. Aside from running the tavern and being burdened with crippling debts, she had practically no experience with the world at all. Didn’t it pay to at least see what hundreds of authors had to say about such matters, even if they were only trying to entertain their readers?
In the stories, William would almost certainly have been a villain. Heroes didn’t seek out power, they had power thrust into their hands by a mysterious old man who had suffered a mortal wound. Or if they were seeking power, it was to fulfill some grand quest, not just because they wanted it. There was a world of difference between seeking the Elder Blade because you wanted to have it for yourself and seeking it because there was a tyrant that had killed your family and needed to be put down. But in the real world, maybe that was just how things went. Maybe most people got to their position in life simply by setting a goal for themselves and pursuing it, rather than because there was some strong compulsion placed on them.
Normally, Melanie cast herself as the heroine. She wasn’t pretty enough to be a traditional heroine, given that her eyes were too small and the hair on her arms was far too thick and dark, necessitating long sleeves to hide it most of the time. In one of her books, these aesthetic deficiencies might have been forgiven, as she was an orphan saddled with an enormity of debt by her wayward father. Part of the draw of stories was that things always got better for people like her.
In these particular circumstances though, Melanie recognized something unheroic in what she was doing. She had no interest in William, aside from the possibility of marrying him and thereby sharing (if not actually reducing) the debt she owed to Colsum. A shrew trying to marry someone for their wealth was an archetypal villain, usually of a small drama. That wasn’t to say that in the real world people never married for pragmatic reasons and learned to love each other afterward, but Melanie’s experience with stories eclipsed what she knew about common marital arrangements in Light’s Hollow. She felt a tug of wrongness at the thought that she might be doing something villainous.
“Well, I’ll let you get back to your book,” said William. There was something pained in his voice. Melanie realized that she’d been absently staring at the front cover of the book while thoughts were circling her head. That was a bad habit, but one that most people readily forgave.
There were things Melanie could have said to William, but she went back to her book instead. William left soon afterward without saying goodbye, but by then Melanie was too wrapped up in the adventures of Larkspur to notice.
It was nearing dinnertime when her aunt Linda came through the tavern doors.
“Melanie!” cried Linda. She had long gray hair and a wiry look about her, like one of the machines she had once done work on. She still had a slight hunch to her from years spent over a workbench. “Still with your nose in a book?”
“Hello Aunt Linda,” Melanie replied. She put her finger down to mark her place. “What brings you here? An early dinner?”
“If I eat, it will only be because I love the smell of your cooking,” replied Linda with a wide smile that made Melanie uncomfortable. “Can an aunt not visit her niece?”
In truth they were second cousins on her mother’s side and none too close. The Linwell clan had never liked Gavin Masters, partly because he was from a far away town and partly for reasons that Melanie had never probed too deeply at. Once Melanie’s mother had died, the Linwells began seeing her as nothing more than Gavin’s daughter. After her father left, she’d made one disastrous attempt at getting aid from them. Now Melanie had no one she considered a friend on that side of her family. Linda was the one exception, but she was friendly with everyone. The woman collected friendships like she meant to exchange them for something.
“Would you like some soup then?” asked Melanie. “It’s fiddlehead and river shrimp in a chicken broth today.”
Linda waved a hand. “Oh, don’t bother. I’m here because there’s something I think you might be quite interested in.” She leaned forward. “I’ve been talking to Colsum about your debt.”
“It’s my father’s debt,” said Melanie, almost automatically.
“Yes,” said Linda. “Of course, but you’re stuck paying it unless you want all this to go away.” She waved a hand to encompass the tavern and everything in it. You’re stuck paying it, unless you want to be homeless and jobless. “That’s just what I wanted to converse with you about.”
“You’ve gotten some leniency from Colsum?” asked Melanie.
“Well, in a manner of speaking,” replied Linda. “He agreed to lower your monthly payments a small amount to give you some breathing room, if you’re willing to do something for him — for us, really.”
“Go on,” said Melanie.
Linda leaned forward further and placed her hands flat on the counter. “You’ve heard that there’s to be an eighth lantern, yes? Well, I managed to get a very important concession from the chief glimwarden. I’ve just come from a meeting where we’ve agreed that the next glimwardens will be chosen by open competition rather than the arcane and opaque processes of the glimwardens. It seems likely that any young person who has any interest will be in the running. Colsum has expressed some enthusiasm for supporting a few likely candidates. And of course should you become a glimwarden proper, Colsum would offer some monetary compensation by way of congratulations.”
“You … want me to become a glimwarden?” asked Melanie.
“It’s in your blood, after all,” said Linda. “Your grandfather on the paternal side was chief glimwarden of Scinan, if I recall, and you the last of his line? It’s practically foreordained that you should follow in those footsteps.”
The cynical side of Melanie — a rather large side, truth be told — immediately saw this as a play for power. Aunt Linda rarely came bearing unconditional support, or at least no support so great as to cost her anything. Moreover, Linda was in league with Colsum, who held the debt that sat like a noose around Melanie’s neck. It would be useful for Linda and Colsum to have leverage over a glimwarden.
“Let Colsum know that I accept his offer,” replied Melanie.
Linda clucked her tongue. “It’s a pity no one taught you how to negotiate,” she replied, but she seemed happy all the same.
Melanie shrugged. “I made up my mind. I imagine if I tried to negotiate with a man like Colsum I would come away worse than if I accepted his first offer.”
“Well,” said Linda. “I’ll negotiate on your behalf. I’m afraid that with this little arrangement some deception might be required, if only to keep Seaborn and his cronies from prejudice against you. Better this relationship is kept secret. The competition is supposed to be fair, that’s the whole point of it, but I imagine that they’ll have their tricks. I also imagine that I’ll come up with some of my own.”
“I understand,” replied Melanie. Her mind was already elsewhere. She had no illusions about the glimwardens being beacons of goodness that selflessly fought against the darklings, not in the real world, but she had been offered a way out from under the debt, even if it had its own costs. As was her habit, she fell back to the stories of the glimwardens and the darklings, trying to find some handle on the new situation.
Melanie had been promised to the Black Mare from an early age. If everything had gone according to plan, she would have worked under her father, taking over the business with her eventual husband at the age of thirty or forty, after which she and the tavern would grow old together. Because things did not go according to plan, she was wed to the Black Mare early, at the age of fourteen, only barely old enough to take on her father’s responsibilities. At the time, there hadn’t seemed to be any alternative.
The Black Mare was now a prison, and Melanie’s marriage to the tavern was an unhappy one. She ended every day feeling drained by the work and woke up with a nervous dread that only new stories could cure. This was one of the reasons that she read during lulls. Her only true free time was at the end of the day, after the last patron had stumbled their way out the door and the chairs had been put up on their tables. That was always the nadir of her depression, because it meant that tomorrow was a new day, when it would all have to be done over again. Melanie stayed up late more often than not, reading by the flickering light bulb in her room that she couldn’t afford to have fixed.
Tonight was different. A path had opened up in front of her, one that was valuable mostly because it promised a change of pace. She wanted desperately to dive back into her books, but there was too much fresh thinking to do. She had never been one to shirk duty because there were stories to read and now was not the time to start. She went up to her room on the top floor of the Black Mare, then went out the window to sit on the tiled roof and think.
The story of Pater John and Lillis was about a man given a sword by a handsome devil. Pater John was instructed by the devil to kill a witch in the woods, but when he reached the witch he instead found that she was a beautiful woman. She convinced Pater John to use the sword to kill the devil, which he did, but after that was accomplished she devoured Pater John whole, sword and all. That had been the first story that Melanie had thought of. If she was Pater John, then Colsum and aunt Linda were, collectively, the handsome devil, and the darklings (or perhaps service to the glimwardens) were the witch. Of course, no one wanted to be Pater John, who was just a patsy for two evil people, but Melanie was having trouble thinking of how to prevent herself from facing the same fate. It wasn’t like Pater John would have been safe if he had only kept to his deal with the devil.
In the story of The Reclamation, Lysander was forced into stealing a mythic dagger from an expansive vault in a duke’s manor. The dagger eventually made him so powerful that the men who had forced him into stealing the dagger were mere pests to be swept aside with a wave of his hand early in the second act. Colsum and Linwell were big enough forces that they couldn’t ever be discounted, even if by some miracle Melanie were to become the chief glimwarden, but it was an attractive fantasy all the same.
Then there was the story of Counting Promises, which —
“Mind if I come up?” called a voice from the ground.
Melanie looked down to the dark street, where Sander Seaborn was standing in the dimly-lit street. He was looking up at her with a grin on his face and his hair hanging down so the curls of it ended just above his eyes. Melanie frowned at him, but she had no idea whether he would be able to make out her expression in the dark. It crossed her mind to object to his company, but she didn’t have the willpower for it, not at the end of a long day.
“Sure,” she replied. “I’ve locked up for the night though.” The city had gone dark and quiet, save for Sander.
“That’s no problem,” replied Sander. He ran to the side of the building, where there was a drainpipe, and began climbing up it, using the mountings as handholds and footholds. Melanie began to worry that something would happen, that he would break her drainpipe and fall to the ground, leaving her with an expense she didn’t have the money for, but soon he had a hand on the roof and heaved himself up. He brushed the dust from his pants and smiled at her, then sat down next to her and looked up to the sky.
“The stars look nice tonight,” he said.
“You always say that,” replied Melanie. She looked up at the stars for a moment, then leaned back until her head was resting on the tiles of the roof.
“Maybe I just come by when the stars are looking particularly nice,” said Sander. “Is there a reason you’re not reading?”
“Yes,” replied Melanie.
“Ah,” said Sander. He shifted around and took his eyes from the stars to look at her. “Well, if you don’t want to talk about it that’s fine. Did you want to hear about my day, or did you want to just sit here in silence? I might be able to distract you from whatever you were thinking about, if it’s something that you don’t want to be thinking about.”
“Sure,” said Melanie. “Go ahead. My thinking wasn’t going in productive directions anyway.”
Sander turned to look at the stars again and leaned back so his position mimicked her own. That was something she’d noticed about Sander; he often acted as her mirror, sitting how she sat and adopting whatever pose he saw her taking. She doubted that it was intentional, but it irked her slightly for reasons that she didn’t entirely understand.
“I fought a darkling today,” said Sander. “Went off into the woods with my mother’s sword and slew it. It wasn’t quite how I imagined it would be, but it felt good all the same, there was a rightness that my apprenticeships never had. My father was furious, naturally, but there’s not much that he can do about it. On top of that, when he came back from the city council meeting he said that they were going to go ahead with a new lantern, which means that I might have a shot at being fed the hearts instead of having to gather and eat them all myself.”
“You left Light’s Hollow?” asked Melanie. She was feeling more awake now and watching Sander more closely. He hadn’t taken his eyes from the sky.
“Just for a bit,” he said. “Only long enough for a darkling to come find me. I thought that I would be more frightened than I was, but I came away with just a scratch.” He rolled up his pant leg to show her what seemed to be a black wound in the dim light. Most likely it was just bloody.
“You can’t go doing things like that,” said Melanie. “Life isn’t like the stories.”
“Does that sort of thing happen in stories?” asked Sander.
“Well … yes, of course it does,” replied Melanie. She had told herself, when she’d heard him call up to her, that she wouldn’t let herself get flummoxed by him. “The Mulberry Millions, Specter’s Languish, The Payment of Abigail Long … if it wasn’t the stories that got in your head, what on earth made you think that you wouldn’t meet with your death?”
“Oh, well I got to wondering,” said Sander. He settled himself in. “The glimwardens are part of a system. New glimwardens are created by old glimwardens with a gift of a thousand hearts, or in some rare cases the purchase of a thousand hearts.” He moved his hands when he spoke and took on an animation that Melanie had rarely seen in anyone else. “However, if that’s the case, it really makes you — or at least, me — wonder who the first glimwardens were. By definition they couldn’t have been helped along by those who came before them. So they must have gone out and killed the darklings on their own, without any special abilities, right?”
“It seems a tenuous conclusion to pin your life on,” said Melanie.
“Oh, I was just giving the short version, of course I spent a lot more thinking time on it than just that,” said Sander. “Actually, it was partly that I was trying to get to the heart of a different matter, which is what people did before the lanterns, if there was ever a time before lanterns. There are all sorts of scholarly theories on what the world was like before them, sometimes even positing a time before the darklings, but it’s all just speculation, all hard to prove. At any rate, I came away fairly confident that people once fought the darklings without the benefit of the bind. Maybe going out there wasn’t wise, but I think the results speak for themselves.” He looked down at his leg. “Well, maybe they don’t speak for themselves as loudly as I’d like.”
The air was rapidly cooling, which left Melanie room to bid Sander farewell for the night. She found herself staying her tongue though. There was something grating about Sander and the easy way that he spoke to her. Melanie wouldn’t ever push him off the roof, but she’d read farces where that sort of thing happened, and she could understand it better now having experienced such visceral annoyance. It didn’t seem to matter that she gave him little in their conversations, or that she never encouraged him. He had simply decided that they would be best friends. No, worse than that, he had decided that they already were best friends, that it was a done deal, accomplished and final.
The sad fact was that in deciding that he would be her best friend, that was what Sander had become. There was no one else who looked forward to seeing Melanie, no one whose face lit up quite like Sander’s. There were regulars at the tavern and a vanishingly small number of suitors, but Sander was the only person she was able to call a friend, just as her aunt Linda was the only person that she could call family.
“Is your father terribly angry with you?” asked Melanie.
“Hrm?” asked Sander. He’d been looking at the stars again. “Oh, we haven’t even talked about it yet, that’s how bad it is.” He shivered slightly as a breeze swept over the rooftops. “When my mom and dad fought, he would stay silent for hours, then let loose some thought that he’d been brewing. Mom was more of a flash-in-the-pan type. She would roar at him until her face turned red from yelling, then after a few minutes she’d lose her steam and settle down, until she forgot all about whatever they were fighting about, right up until dad brought forth whatever thought he’d been working on. They ran in cycles like that.”
“I’m sorry,” said Melanie. This was exactly the sort of vulnerability that no one but Sander ever showed her. It was irritating, because she had never done anything to earn that from him, but it was also endearing, and all the more irritating because it was endearing. “I never knew that things were so unhappy in your home.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean it like that,” said Sander. “We were happy, by and large, but I think that being glimwardens put some strain on their marriage. Dad always wanted her to be safe, always wanted her to take as few risks as possible. I don’t know if you remember it, but when we were about eight years old they took a traveling lantern to the mine radial thirty from here. Mom wanted to be one of the glimwardens accompanying it, but dad forbade it, and he wasn’t even chief glimwarden then, so he didn’t have any more authority than that of a husband over his wife, which mom had never believed in in the first place. That was a fight that lasted for weeks.”
Melanie said nothing. What was there to say? What did Sander want to hear from her, if anything? Was this the time for her to express some sympathy, or to unload some of her own problems onto him in a show of solidarity? There was a part of her that wanted to talk about her own parents, one dead and the other gone, or the debt that she had taken on her shoulders, or the family that had abandoned her. Yet that would have been the same as admitting that Sander really had wormed his way into her confidence.
“Anyway, dad and I haven’t had our fight yet. He’s still stewing, but that’s what he does,” said Sander. “And I do understand where he’s coming from, he lost his wife to the darklings and doesn’t want to lose his son as well, but doesn’t that seem a little bit selfish? I can’t let the course of my life be determined by my father’s fear of me getting hurt or killed. At the same time, it’s hard to tell someone that you empathize with them but are going to go ahead and defy their wishes anyway. It feels disingenuous. Maybe it is.”
“Why do you want to be a glimwarden anyway?” asked Melanie. “Why is it so important that you’re willing to have this fight with your father? Why risk your life?”
“I ran out of books,” said Sander.
“You … what?” asked Melanie. The conversation had taken a turn in an unexpected direction, as it often did with Sander. This wasn’t the first time he’d said something to catch her off guard. Thinking back, it wasn’t even the first time that night.
“I ran out of books,” Sander repeated. “My mom always pushed me toward them, since she and dad weren’t intellectual themselves. She figured that if I wanted to wield a sword or fire a pistol they would have an easy time showing me how to do those things, but everything else I would need to learn from somewhere else. So she got a bunch of books for me and taught me to read early, to make up for the fact that it was one of their weak areas. And I loved it, I just absolutely loved it. The books had all the answers. They knew why the sky was blue, why lemons taste sour, how the trees grow, on and on until I was teaching myself calculus and going through Mr. Pellin’s book of human anatomy.” He paused. “Sorry, I’m talking too much.”
Sander let the silence linger. Melanie was supposed to tell him that he wasn’t talking too much, but she wasn’t sure whether that was true or not. This had been one of their better times together, in part because it seemed that Sander had real things that he wanted to talk about. It was alright if he talked.
“You don’t mean all the books,” said Melanie. “You mean … just the science books.”
“Well, in a manner of speaking,” said Sander. “Science is a little bit narrow, I mean math and engineering too.”
“Practical texts,” replied Melanie.
“Yes,” said Sander.
“It’s funny how different we are, don’t you think?” asked Melanie.
“Why do you say that?” asked Sander. “I’ve always thought we were two of a kind.”
“Nevermind,” said Melanie. If he couldn’t figure it out, she wasn’t about to tell him. Perhaps he thought that books were one of the things that made them friends, as though there was any similarity at all between the things she read and the things he read. “You were explaining to me why you risked your life,” she said. “And for some reason you started talking about books. I have some work to do in the kitchen tomorrow morning, so I’ll probably turn in once I’ve heard your explanation.”
“Hrm,” replied Sander. “What are you making?”
The problem with Sander — or at least one of the problems — was that he wasn’t just bad at taking hints, he was also bad at understanding her when she was being quite direct. She had met with him enough times now to know that he would spiral a conversation out until he had simply run out of things to talk about, then continue staying there until they were sitting in silence together.
“I’m baking plum bread,” replied Melanie. “Now tell me how you decided it was a good idea to go into the woods by yourself. You had run out of books.”
“I had run out of books,” Sander agreed. “There was nothing left for books to teach me. I don’t mean that to sound cocky, like I know everything that there is to know, but it’s hard for me to explain it without giving that impression.” He glanced at Melanie. “Right, so I had delved into the books. I raided the libraries of anyone who would listen to my pleas. I got done with all the books that Light’s Hollow had to offer. But I had loved the process of learning, that feeling of new understanding clicking into place, and I wanted more. So I started an apprenticeship, thinking that surely I would be going through a process of learning there. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be, since apparently apprenticeships are filled with processes more than they are with proper learning. When I was an apprentice runesmith I spent half my time filing away the flash on freshly cast runes or cleaning out molds. There was learning to be had, but most of what I was learning was how to be perfect at small, physical skills. It was all rote, even engineering.”
“But being a glimwarden isn’t,” said Melanie.
“No,” replied Sander. “For a start, you have a signature, an ability that’s unique to only you. There’s no one that can teach it to you, no one that’s gone over all the possibilities a thousand times before, it’s yours and yours alone.”
“I’m not so sure that’s true,” said Melanie. “In Bakers and Bollards it’s a plot point that any sufficiently skilled or powerful glimwarden can duplicate the signature of someone else. Iguro uses it to frame his brother. And in The First Liar, there are twins with identical signatures. There are other stories as well, but those are the examples that spring to mind.”
“Alright, maybe,” said Sander. “But those are just stories, so it’s hard to know whether the author did any real research. That just brings me to my other point, which is that there are practically no books on the glimwardens. It’s all knowledge passed down from glimwarden to glimwarden, very rarely written down for posterity because there’s always going to be someone to take up the mantle. Maybe it’s that a town without veteran glimwardens is quickly swept from the map by the darklings, or maybe the job just doesn’t attract strong intellects, but there’s so little to be found in books that they’re barely worth reading.” He paused. “I read them anyway, of course.”
Sander didn’t read stories. He looked past the books about the glimwardens like they didn’t even exist, all because they laid out their information in a way that he was unaccustomed to, or perhaps even actively disliked. Despite having two glimwardens for parents, Melanie was fairly certain that she knew more than he did. Yes, some of what she knew came from authors who had embellished or outright fabricated their details, but she had read enough that she felt she could make up for that.
“It’s getting late,” said Melanie.
“I know,” replied Sander. He stood up and looked out over Light’s Hollow, with a quick glance at each of the colored lantern lights that were in view. They shone on, into the darkness, marking a safety that he had decided to forsake — as had Melanie, now that she thought of it, if she really was going ahead with trying to become a glimwarden. “Thank you for talking with me,” said Sander. “I think it helped me straighten some things up. And hopefully I at least helped to distract you from your problems?”
Melanie gave him a noncommittal shrug, but the truth was that he had. She had forgotten about the debt, at least for a time. Normally that was a feat that only the best of books could accomplish.
“Well, I have to get going,” said Sander. “I’ve got a fight with my dad to prepare for.” He stretched slightly, then jumped down from the roof without another word.
Melanie stayed where she was, even though the cold night air was starting to get to her.