An instant later, Danny was standing in the Library again, safely sandwiched between the towering bookcases. The books she had taken and piled on the floor had disappeared, as if some unseen librarian had reclaimed them. In fact, when Danny looked through the titles, she did not recognize any of them. It was as if she’d appeared in a different aisle altogether. But that was the way of the Library: ever-changing, ever-shifting, books moving or disappearing when one was not looking.
Danny strode back toward the front of the Library, repeating to herself the name she had stolen. As she emerged from between the bookshelves and into the wide sitting area, the smell of salty air reached her. Sunlight still shone in through the gaping cliffside entrance of the Library. Besides the mysterious disappearance of books, nothing seemed to have changed in Danny’s absence.
A small cart had been parked near one of the walls. It was the kind of cart left in libraries to deposit books that needed to be reshelved. One book lied on the bottom shelf. Danny crouched and rested it on her kness. The title read “Circuit Runner.” On the front cover was a painting of a woman whose face was overlayed with a circuit board. Her eyes glowed orange.
Danny didn’t allow herself to hesitate. She flipped the book open to the first page and laid her hand over it.
The smells were the first thing she noticed. Damp soil, wood smoke, and the stench of burning plastic. The air was damp and cool, and it thrummed with energy. Whether it was magic or electricity or something else entirely was beyond Danny.
Once more, Danny found herself standing in a dense forest. As she turned slowly in place, taking in her surroundings, her reality wobbled. Huge trees towered all around her, giving her the impression that she was standing in Saliy’a, surrounded by the forest she called home. That impression gave way to a wave of dread deja vu as memories of her recent nightmares washed over her — nightmares in which this enchanted forest, which she had been fighting for months, engulfed the city of “Circuit Runner” entirely.
But this certainly was not Saliy’a, and — although she had had many bad dreams about “Circuit Runner” since beginning this mission — this was not a nightmare.
The landscape had changed drastically since she had last been here. What once was a bustling city of the near future — all towering buildings and criss-crossing skywalks — now appeared to be an ancient magical forest. When Danny had first come to this world seeking to restore balance, the city was still recognizably a city — albeit, one that was being strangled by unnatural flora. Now, instead of buildings, trees of gigantic girth crowded together. Skywalks had given way to hanging vines and thick branches. Sounds of the city gave way to sounds of a forest.
Danny noticed that the ground was rocky and even. It was not at all like the loamy topsoil of most forests. When she looked down, she realized why: she was standing on pulverized asphalt. The great, ropy roots of the trees had erupted up through the streets and sidewalks of the city, turning the ground into a mess of crumbling concrete and tarmac.