As convents go, St. Luac is a pretty sweet pad. Twenty five rooms, a grand hall for dining, an overstocked kitchen run by a local woman who doesn't speak a word of English, or French for that matter, and a conservatory in the back with a panoramic view of the village and hills beyond it. Sister Josephine led them to the conservatory then disappeared back inside with mumblings about lemonade and making themselves comfortable. Claire is lounging in the chair closest to the door while Michael is sprawled out on the settee, his eyes closed and his wings rustling with contentment.
"Tell me again what a grimoire is," Claire says.
Michael's eyes stay firmly shut. "It's a spell book. This one in particular is the Legemeton. Belonged to King Solomon at one time."
"And why does She care about it so much?"
Michael's mouth curves upward in a coy smile. "It's one of Lucy's oldest and finest. He misplaced it a few thousand years ago and he has absolutely no idea where it is, most likely because it's been hidden in a convent for the last ten years." He opens his eyes and turns his head to look at her. "And lucky you, She trusts you enough to get it out of here in one piece, without any damage to life and limb, before either the Franciscans or the Devil himself realizes it's been here."
"Right. Lucky me." Claire frowns. "I understand keeping it hidden from Lucifer, but why from the Franciscans?"
"Because zey are just as great a nusiance as zat horned goat." Claire starts at the Mother Superior's voice. She cranes her neck around to look over the back of the chair. Sister Josephine stands in the doorway to the conservatory with a tray of glasses and a pitcher of lemonade and Claire instinctively sits a little straighter. Michael, on the other hand, sinks lower into the settee.
"For zuch an old soul, Michael," she says as she sets the tray down on the side table, "you have zee maturity of a zmall child." She smacks the soles of his Converse sneakers. "Zit up, old man."
Michael obeys without comment, though the expression of mirth on his face says most of what he's thinking. Josephine hands Claire a glass of lemonade and motions for Michael to serve himself.
"How did you find the grimoire, Mother Superior?" Claire asks. The glass is sweating in the humid air of France in August. She puts it down for fear of it slipping out of her hand and crashing to the slate floor of the conservatory.
"We were having work done on zee vault, to expand it for zee Cardinal's vizit in zee autumn. Zee workman hit a looz group of bricks, and voila, zee grimoire tumbled to zee ground." Josephine takes a sip of her lemonade and her mouth puckers almost instantly. "Coraline haz an annoying aversion to sugar," she says and sets the glass down. "Anyway, Zsister Magdalene used to be an art forger in Paris and she knew what zee book waz and we immediately locked it away."*
"How is Maggie?" Michael asks with a barely concealed grin. "Still painting your bathroom walls with Da Vincis and Michelangeos?"
To Claire's immense surprise, Sister Josephine smiles. "She haz moved on to zee impressionists. I have a Monet on my bedroom wall at zee moment."
"Mother Superior, not to rush things, but may we see the grimoire?" Claire asks.
Michael's frown is instant and sharp. "Curiosity killed the cat, Claire. Remember that when you're in the vault with that book. Lucy may be a joke Upstairs, but the things he did down here still cause problems."
Josephine snorts and rolls her eyes. "You are alwayz zo dramatic, Michael. Zee girl iz a prophet. I zuspect she would not be here now if she waz inclined to zee dark zide." The words dark side are said with an accompanying eye roll and air quotes and Claire wants to laugh.
"Mike, I'll be fine. This isn't the Death Star, you're not Yoda, and that book most definitely isn't Darth Vader."
"I'm just saying it's evil."
Claire smiles. "Well, duh."
The book is gorgeous, despite the fact it's close to thirty thousand years old and glowing unnaturally in the darkness of the vault and overall very evil. Despite all those things, the Legemeton is one of the most beautiful books Claire has ever seen. She surreptitiously checks to make sure she isn't drooling.
"Beautiful, izn't it?" Josephine asks and Claire suddenly remembers she isn't alone in the vault. "Zere iz zomezing mezmerizing about it."
"It's glowing," Claire says.
"Because it's evil," Michael sing-songs from the back of the vault. He refused to come any further into the room than the doorway when they arrived. He's leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed and wings out and rustling aggressively.
"Technically, it's what's written on those pages that's evil," Claire says. "The book itself is just leather and linen." She turns to Sister Josephine. "Do you have cloth gloves, Mother Superior?"
"Please tell me you're not thinking of opening that thing up," Michael says, pushing off the wall and straightening. "Have you forgotten what happened with Pandora?"**
Claire frowns. "Don't worry, Mike. I'm a librarian. I can handle just about anything."
Famous last words, really.
Claire puts the gloves on, reaches for the book, and immediately drops it on her foot. She howls in pain, the book opens as it lands, and the lights in the vault flicker. Claire pauses in her hopping to look up at the antique light fixtures, wondering if it's a coincidence or something decidedly less easy to explain.
"Oops," she says and Michael sighs.
"I thought you said you could handle anything," he says. "And yet, you, the librarian, drop a damned book."
"The world didn't end," she says, bending down to pick up the book from the floor and set it, still open, on the reading table.
"Yet," Michael mumbles.
She rolls her eyes and turns to check on Sister Josephine, only to find the elderly nun doubled over with laughter. "Zat," the Mother Superior says, breathless, "waz zee funniest zing I have zeen in decades." She straightens, wipes her eyes, and pats Claire on the shoulder. "I zink you may be zee clumziezt prophet I've ever met."
"You should see what she does with roller skates and small children," Michael says.***
"Shut up, Mike."
* * *
"Now remember, don't read aloud anything in the book," Michael says from his position at Claire's left elbow. "There's no telling what might pop up unannounced."
Sister Josephine left them a few minutes earlier to call the sisters to dinner. They have about twenty minutes before she'll return and after a short argument regarding the fundamental morals involved in stealing a holy relic from a French convent (Michael was for, Claire was against - as per their usual debates), Michael relented and is allowing Claire to look over the book while he supervises.
"I'm your guardian angel, Claire. I'm protecting your ass from evil."
"Can you protect it from another foot to the left? Your wings are making my arm itch." He shuffles back a few inches and she breathes deeply at the newfound freedom. "Thanks." She runs her fingers over a set of symbols on the inside cover and immediately feels the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Note to self: don't do that again.
"So if the only reason Lucy doesn't know the location of this particular grimoire is because it's within the walls of a convent, what happens when we take it out of the convent?" She leans closer to inspect an inscription on the first page and flinches back when she realizes it's written in blood.
"He shows up and makes a stink and we fight. Maybe."
"I hate fighting. I've ruined more good clothing due to impromptu fights with evil than I ever did working for that children's library in Boston." She shudders at the memory of a $100 winter white wool dress and fifty tiny hands covered in finger paint. "That place was horrible."
He shrugs. "Or I can just take it now, head up without you and hope he doesn't get wind of it."
She suppresses a smile. "Sister Josephine is old, but I'm pretty sure she'll notice an angel shaped hole in her roof."
He thinks about it for a few minutes while Claire continues her inspection of the book. She's just come to the realization that the leather covering isn't really leather but something far nastier when Michael grabs the book from her.
"What are you doing?" she asks.
"Most likely something stupid and regretable." He flips through the pages, finds what he's looking for, and recites a few words in a language she doesn't understand. He puts it back on the table. "Now we wait."
"For what?" she asks, suddenly filled with the kind of dread she associates with evil and calculus tests.
The lights in the vault go off and they're plunged into darkness. Unconsciously (or consciously - Claire's never been good with psychology), Claire searches out Michael's hand in the dark and when her fingers find it, they curl around it. When the lights come back up a few seconds later, Claire instinctively tightens her grip on Michael's hand.
Lucifer adjusts his tie and smiles.
* How, exactly, does an art forger become a nun? By stumbling upon St. Luac while on the run from Interpol and impressing the Mother Superior with her knowledge of not only the great Renaissance painters but also the best American baseball players. Josephine has a weakness for the American past-time and Patricia Hart, formerly of Witchita, Kansas where she was an honest artist and daughter of the local Lutheran minister, needed a place to hide. As Josephine said that evening over tea, even St. Jude would have recognized a lost cause like Patty Hart, even if she was from Kansas.
** And he doesn't mean Pandora and the box, he means Pandora and Claire and the urn in Zeus' office. Pandora convinced Claire to open up the urn and look inside, forgetting that Pandora's Box was actually Pandora's Urn of Terrible Horrible Things. Claire's clumsiness got the better of her and she dropped the urn on the floor, where it broke open and released one final evil into the world: reality television. Truly and utterly terrifying.
*** You really should. It's hilarious and, at moments, gravity-defying.