Bridget watched the cars pass by outside the meeting room window. Even though it was only two o'clock in the afternoon, most of them had their headlights on. That only made sense in the dark, foggy weather, but she was relieved to notice that none of the cars had windshield wipers running. She remembered that Luis hated to drive in the rain. Too much time excavating in the more arid regions of Spain, he said.
One car slowed, paused before the driveway, then eased towards the parking lot. Bridget hurried to the elevators and made her way to the lobby.
She recognised Luis from his anorak more than from his face, which had been obscured by a beard since the last time they'd met. Indoors or out, the anorak rarely left his shoulders if he was in England.
"Never seen this place in the dark," he said by way of greeting. "I hope you weren't waiting long."
"Not at all," said Bridget. "Coffee first, or just head straight downstairs?"
Luis glanced around the lobby with a frown. "I thought downstairs was only for storage?"
"It is," said Bridget. "We found the site when we were expanding the east wing."
Luis raised his eyebrows. "A major discovery under the Department of Antiquities." He grinned. "This I have to see. Lead the way."
A few minutes later, Bridget was retrieving hard hats and shoe caps for both of them. "The room's in excellent condition," she explained as they donned the protective gear. "It's carved out of solid sandstone, so it should be. We'll need these too," she said, taking some cotton gloves and flashlights from a shelf before locking up the storage closet.
The end of the corridor was shrouded in plastic sheeting. "No security?" said Luis as Bridget pushed aside the sheeting and unlocked a very plain wooden door.
"You'll see," said Bridget, opening the door and turning on her flashlight.
Luis pulled the door shut behind him. "Excellent climate control," he said, waving a free hand through the air. "But surely the damp will get through that door sooner or later."
"We didn't have a door for the first two days," said Bridget. She pointed at some instruments set on the stone floor with her flashlight. "This room is always 62% humidity, seventeen degrees Celsius."
"A little chilly, then."
"Not to anyone used to living conditions in England during a mini ice age. Seventeen degrees would have been balmy for that climate."
Luis crouched by the instruments on the floor, pointed his flashlight at the door, then back at the instruments again. "It was damp in the corridor," he said. "It's been damp since I walked off the plane." He stood, his knees cracking audibly. "So how are you maintaining the climate?"
"Let's look at the second room," Bridget said, pointing out a short corridor with her flashlight.
The corridor was only wide enough to allow them to pass through it single file. As Luis stepped across the threshold to the second room, he played his flashlight around the walls. He whistled.
"How long did it take you to shelve all these books?" he said. He reached out and stroked the carved edge of a bookshelf. " Nice woodwork too. It fits in the stone recess perfectly." He stiffened and moved his flashlight to shine it on Bridget's face. "But where are the artifacts?"
Bridget squinted against the light. "This is it. And although it probably doesn't matter, if you're going to be touching things, you should put some gloves on." She stepped out of the range of the flashlight.
Luis snorted. "Please. These are obvious reproductions." He stroked the spine of a book with a bare hand. "Nice ones, though. I know calf leather when I feel it." He frowned. "It was a long way to travel for a prank, if that's what this is."
"Luis." He turned in the direction of Bridget's voice, the flashlight following his gaze. She'd placed one of the books on the wooden table in the centre of the room, its ornate carvings matching the designs on the bookshelves. "The college building above us was built in 1752. There's no record of this room, and this isn't the sort of thing you could build in secret. The doorway we came through is the only way in or out." She panned the beam from her flashlight slowly around the room. "At minimum this furniture, these books, they should be three hundred years old. But as you say, they're like brand new."
Luis scanned the tops of the shelves and the ceiling. "That doesn't add up." He traced the embossed lettering on the spine of one of the books. "This is what, medieval German, or Old English?"
"Old English. I take it you can't read it."
Luis shook his head and ran his finger along the row of books. "I can read most forms of Latin as if they're modern Spanish, but no." He shone his flashlight around the room. "A trove like this, there must be some Latin titles."
"You'd think so, but there aren't. Just Old English. Now watch this." Bridget lifted a page from the book she'd placed on the table, using just the tip of her cotton-gloved finger. She pinched the corner under her thumb, winced and tore the page from the book.
"No!" Luis stepped towards the table. "Even for a fake, there's some interest in the..." He gaped. The paper wriggled out of Bridget's fingers like a live thing, and flew back into place in the book. A jagged black scar formed along the torn edges, and then, as Luis stared, the scar faded. Bridget flipped the page back and forth. It was as if it had never been torn.
"We've gone over all of these books," said Bridget, her voice trembling, "and all of them are listings of incantations, herbal catalogues, recipes... they're all magical spell books. All of them. And then there's this one."
She turned and pulled a wooden-covered book off the shelf behind her and laid it on the table. Luis watched her flip past pages with drawings of plants and star charts on them, until she came upon two apparently blank facing pages. Bridget turned off her flashlight and stepped away from the table.
Luis's eyes widened as a blue glow grew from the pages, and a mirror-imaged, but otherwise perfectly formed, calligraphic script formed across the parchment.