“You’re not,” Nick snapped. “You’ll just get hurt.”
Mae started rolling up the floor plan. “Did you have a plan?” she demanded. “Besides ‘go in there and kill everyone I see’?”
“I only plan to kill two people,” Nick said. “Killing everyone isn’t part of the plan. Though it would be a nice bonus.”
“Oh, now you’re planning to kill two people?” Mae asked. “I thought Jamie and I were on our own. So I had to make my own plan.” She glared at him, and Jamie, amazingly enough, looked all sad and betrayed. This was ridiculous.
“My plan was just to get in,” Alan confessed. He was looking at Mae with appreciation. Nick could tell he was ready to let her have her way.
“This is about my brother,” Mae said. “I thought of the floor plan. I might be able to do something else when we’re inside. I don’t want to be safe. I want the chance to be useful.” She looked around for argument, and when it did not come she squared her shoulders, rolled the floor plan out again, and smiled. “This place is big,” she continued. “There are four of us; if we split up I think we could cover it more quickly.”
“Good thinking,” Alan said. “A group of two is quieter than a group of four. If we split up, we have a better chance of catching and killing two magicians before they realize we’re there.”
He and Mae had their heads bowed close together over the plans, talking about what Market charms Alan could bring with him.
Nick was trying to think. He should’ve considered Alan’s obsession with helping Jamie. Alan was never going to let his mark be taken off without Jamie’s being wiped away too.
Alan was right about splitting up as well. They would have a much better chance of surprising the magicians if they went in pairs. Only Mae and Jamie couldn’t be a pair. In spite of Mae’s bravado, they would be totally helpless without Nick and Alan. Those two weren’t fighters. Nick and Alan were the ones who knew how to kill.
Nick would kill a magician for Jamie first and get that out of the way, then. The whole house would be full of them. It shouldn’t be too hard. After that, Alan wouldn’t be able to put any more obstacles in Nick’s path. He could get Alan’s mark off, and once he did that it didn’t really matter what happened.
“I’ll take Jamie,” Nick said loudly.
They had no car because Nick had abandoned it on Tower Bridge, so they had to take the Tube to go hunting for magicians. None of them talked much. Nick stood braced as the train rattled through tunnels with a sound like bones shaking in a drum, and tried to ignore the feel of his blood pulling at his veins like a child tugging his sleeve to get his attention.
This way, his blood seemed to be whispering to him. Faster. He was going as fast as he could.
They changed from the Central to the Piccadilly line because Nick thought that was right, and Alan did not argue with him. Nick missed driving. Strangers were pressing all around him, and he had to be careful to keep his back to the wall. If anyone was pushed against him and felt the shape of his sword, fastened in a sheath along his spine, there would be trouble.
He just wanted to get to the magicians. He did not think beyond the relief of that, of ending this restless search, calming the new urgency in his blood, and making a kill.
When they reached Knightsbridge station, his blood tingled as if his whole body was a limb that had gone asleep and was now being punished with pins and needles. He saw Alan look up and swing the bag in his lap onto his shoulder.
“Here,” Alan said, and Nick nodded and started shoving his way through the post-lunchtime passengers. The others followed in his wake.
Once on the platform he felt a metal point brush his neck and he palmed his switchblade before he realized he was being threatened with the tip of a woman’s umbrella. The woman passed by indifferently, and Nick smiled grimly after her.
They came out at the entrance near Harrods and stood staring up at the heavy stone buildings with their white-casemented, rectangular windows, letting the flood of shoppers go by. Then they walked along the streets until they were past the biggest shops and moving by the hotels, stately white buildings with gilt fittings to mark the fact that they were not homes.
Nick’s blood pounded in his temples, urging him on. It took them twenty minutes until the rows of hotels and office buildings slowly turned into houses.
They were not like the House of Mezentius, hidden behind deep gardens and high gates. Along these streets, the houses were on display. They walked past houses more than five floors high that had darkened chandeliers in the windows and pointed roofs. Some houses had large carved doors with circular windows above them like crowns.
None of them were the house Nick wanted, until they turned a corner onto another wide west Knightsbridge street and saw before them the first house in another row. It had deep, polished-looking stone steps leading to the white front door, which had a shining knocker. All the windows were big, the wide expanses of glass reflecting the morning sunlight, except for one small window at the peaked top of the building.
There was nothing about this house to set it apart from all the rich houses surrounding it, except for the singing in Nick’s blood.
This was the lair of the Obsidian Circle. This was the house of Nick’s father.
“NICE PLACE,” NICK DRAWLED. “MUST BE GOOD MONEY IN feeding people to demons.”
He climbed the steps and found his smallest knife. He’d learned how to pick locks when he was nine. It had come in handy at times when they had to run and sometimes found themselves with no money and nowhere to go.
There was a difference between breaking into a deserted house so you could sleep for the night and breaking into a house full of magicians. Nick tried to be very quiet. He didn’t glance behind him; he knew that Alan would have the others casually arranged in front of him so nobody could see what he was doing.
After a while, the lock whispered a soft surrender and the front door swung open. Alan was beside Nick with his gun already out, but the hall was empty. Alan took an amulet out of his bag and rolled it into the magicians’ hall. The amulet was a minor one, meant to neutralize all small magics, such as an alarm set to warn the magicians of intruders.
With the door to the magicians’ lair wide open and the wards neutralized, they turned and walked away. They went around the side of the house. Nick put his shoulder to the garden gate and broke it with ease.
Inside was an overgrown garden. This one had no willow, only high grass and the dry, tangled branches of dead rosebushes.
“That’s magicians for you,” Jamie said, his voice wobbling. “Everyone gets all caught up in the demon summoning. Nobody mows the lawn.”
Alan knelt with a moment’s difficulty in the high grass and began to rummage in his bag. He took out a climbing rope with a grappling hook attached. It had been Daniel Ryves’s once.
He passed it to Nick silently, and Nick whirled it over his head and caught the iron gutter of the house first try. He pulled at the rope a few times, testing the strength of the gutter, and then nodded.
He could’ve made the climb without a rope, but none of the others could.
Rope secured, they waited. Mae and Alan had planned this out. They had to give the magicians enough time to notice that the door was open and their wards were down. Once the alarm was raised, the magicians should start combing the house from the ground up. It would be the perfect time to enter from the roof.
There were bound to be lone magicians shut up studying or summoning on the upper floors. With luck and speed, they should be able to pick two of them off.
It would take a lot of luck, and first they had to manage to get up there.
They counted ten minutes before Nick climbed the rope. It was as easy as he’d thought it would be, and once he was on the roof, Alan attached the harness to his belt and Nick drew the rope up, doubling it around his fists and drawing Alan up along with it. That was easy too. Alan had grown thinner and thinner in the last month, and now he hardly weighed anything at all.
He hauled Jamie up as well, and then Mae did not put on the climbing harness. She gave Nick a look that said she was still angry about last night in the garden, and began climbing up the rope herself. Nick looked away over a sea of pointed slate-gray roofs.
He didn’t see her lose her grip on the rope and fall. He heard Alan cry out, looked around sharply, and saw her suspended in midair, looking confused and terrified. He saw Jamie, braced on the edge of the roof, looking terrified as well.
Jamie pulled on the air as if it were an invisible rope, and as his hands moved, Mae was tugged upward, inch by inch, until she reached the gutter. She grabbed it in a convulsive movement and scrambled onto the roof tiles, and Jamie let out a deep breath and let his shoulders relax.
Then Jamie cast a deeply apprehensive look around at them all.
“Well, well,” Nick said. “What have we here?”
He thought of Mae when they’d first met, talking about the weird things that had happened when she was young and saying she was psychic herself. He thought about how easily Jamie had believed everything they’d told him, and about Jamie’s plate breaking when all the glasses broke. He remembered Gerald and how he’d looked at Jamie, how Jamie hadn’t been blinded by the magician’s sand in the bar in Salisbury, and he thought about the timid air Jamie always wore, deliberately receding into the background, purposely camouflaged.
He thought about his own voice back in Exeter when all of this had just begun, saying, A few people in this world are born with a certain amount of magic, but they don’t grow out of it. They either learn to control it and keep it a secret forever, or they try to do something with the magic.
He cursed himself for a fool.
“You,” Mae said in a shaking voice. “It was never me at all. It was you. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I—” Jamie said, and stopped. “I didn’t want you to know,” he said softly. “I didn’t want you to — feel any differently about me. I wanted it not to be true.”
“I’m sorry,” Alan said in a quiet voice. “But we don’t have time for this. We have to move.”
Mae looked as if she was about to snap at Alan, but she controlled herself with a visible effort. She rose on trembling legs and went over to Jamie, pushing his hair back the way she did every morning at breakfast.
“All right. We’ll talk about this later, but — it’s all right.”
“Let’s go,” said Nick, and carefully, one by one, they lowered themselves to slip in through the attic windows and into the house of the magicians.
It was a very fancy attic. There was an expensive-looking carpet on the floor, royal blue and goldenrod-yellow, and the ceiling was full of curves and shadows. They all stood looking at each other, panting in the silence, all a little uncertain now that the plan was about to be put into action.
Mae grabbed Jamie in a sudden hug.
“Don’t worry,” she said, holding his thin shoulders in a death grip. “I’m not worried. It’s all going to be okay.”
Jamie patted her on the back, looking shaky but enormously relieved, and said, “Okay.”
“All this time wasting is very touching,” Nick observed. “Shall we go?”
He turned his back on Alan without a word; next time he saw him, Alan would be unmarked and free to go and live in the world he had been born into. Nick did not plan to bother him again.
Behind him, Alan said, “Nick. Don’t — if you see Black Arthur, don’t talk to him. Don’t listen to a word he says.”
“Why?” Nick asked. “Will he lie to me? Imagine that.”
Twisting the knife worked. There was a significant pause before Alan was able to say, “I’m sorry.”
“For which lie in particular?”