Alan stood silent for a moment, and then he said, “You’ll see.”
Nick made a disgusted sound and jerked his head sharply in a summons at Jamie. Jamie swallowed again and followed Nick as he made his way down the stairs.
He hadn’t said much while the others were planning, but he had insisted on leaving the attic, and access to the roof, to Alan and Mae. That would give them the best chance of getting out.
The magicians’ Circle must have owned this house for some time. There were no signs of a rushed and recent move, and now that they were inside, it was obviously a magicians’ house. The place was filled with charms that would have fetched a good price at the Goblin Market. There were protective symbols cut into the glass of some windows. There was a chandelier in the shape of a dream catcher, feathers and net carved out of crystal and catching the pale noon light. Nick walked under it and along the corridors softly as a cat, glancing occasionally backward to make sure that Jamie was close behind him and not about to cause any trouble.
Once when he turned around, Jamie was not behind him but a few paces back, studying something on a table.
“What are you doing?” he snapped, but quietly.
“What’s this?” Jamie whispered.
He picked up the little glass shape in his hands, turning it over, and the glass, which had shown a flurry of golden autumn leaves, suddenly burst into green leaves and bright sunlight.
“It’s a season tetrahedron,” Nick said. “Like a snow globe, but depending what side you look at, it shows a different season.”
“It’s beautiful,” Jamie murmured. He turned the season tetrahedron again and got drifting white snowflakes.
“Yes, it’s lovely,” Nick agreed flatly. “And completely worth being killed because you were too busy looking at toys to keep an eye out for magicians. Don’t get left behind. Don’t think I will not leave you to die.”
Jamie put down the season tetrahedon in a hurry, the glass chinking against the marble tabletop. He took a step backward, toward Nick, and shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I know you would.”
Nick was mildly startled by Jamie’s tone. As they walked on, he glanced over at Jamie, whose face was pale above a dark hooded sweatshirt. Nick took a moment to be annoyed by the flash of his earring. He’d never blend into the shadows if they had to hide. That little glint would catch anyone’s eye.
“I can’t work you out,” Jamie felt the need to inform him, because he was an idiot who never stopped talking. He seemed determined and was speaking low enough, so Nick didn’t even try to stop him. “You’ve been okay to me sometimes, but I can’t tell if that means you like me. I don’t know if you like anyone, I don’t know if you can like anyone. I thought at least there was Alan, but then you hit him.”
Jamie was furious with him, Nick realized. He supposed it made sense. Jamie hated violence so much.
“I’ve never thought about you enough to dislike you,” Nick said. “I just think you’re useless.”
“And I think you’re scary,” Jamie snapped. “So we’re even.”
There was not a sound, not even the creak of a floorboard, but Nick popped the knife from his wrist sheath all the same. He felt more comfortable with a knife in his hand.
“We’re not even. You’re causing me a lot of trouble, and I am saving your pointless life.”
“You wouldn’t have lifted a finger to help us if Alan hadn’t insisted. Alan’s the one who wants to help people. You don’t want to help people. I don’t think you even see most people as people. You remind me of — someone I used to know.” Jamie bit his lip. “He was terrifying as well.”
There was a moving shadow down the hall, but after a moment of observation, Nick saw it was a tapestry fixed to the wall only by the top. It was fluttering in a breeze and covered with symbols to attract wealth and power.
“You only do the right thing because Alan wants you to,” Jamie continued, still sounding furious. “Without him, I’m pretty sure you’d be a monster.”
Nick bared his teeth at Jamie. “So I’m a monster,” he murmured. “Are you scared?”
Below them came the sound of running footsteps, sudden and clear. Jamie jumped and grabbed for Nick’s arm, making a small, startled sound. Nick whirled and pushed Jamie up against the wall, a hand over his mouth.
“Shh,” he hissed. “Try to remember there are monsters here. Besides me.”
Jamie nodded. Nick could hear his own heart beating far too fast as they waited, both tense, for another sound, for a door to open or a voice to speak.
Nothing came. After a moment he released Jamie.
“Sorry,” Jamie whispered. “I just wanted to talk to you. I wanted to say — that I think you should forgive Alan. We all have our secrets.”
“You certainly do,” Nick sneered, and Jamie bit his lip again.
He almost wanted to talk to Jamie about that. It was obvious that Jamie had as much potential to be a magician as Nick did. For days all Nick had been able to think of were images of Black Arthur and demons and death.
It was impossible to think of Jamie in those terms, though. Nick could ask him, perhaps, how he controlled his power. If Nick could find some way not to be like Black Arthur, Alan would be pleased.
Except that it would be impossible for Nick to be harmless and well-meaning, to be like Jamie. And Alan was a liar.
“I don’t want anyone to talk to me,” Nick snarled. “What difference do words make? He’s not my brother.”
“What does that matter?” Jamie demanded. “Don’t you understand—”
“No,” Nick growled. “I understood being brothers. I understood that word, but now I don’t understand anything and — Shut up and get behind me!”
Jamie went white and ran to obey him. Nick now had an unobstructed view of what he had seen bearing down on them over Jamie’s shoulder. He sheathed his knife, reached behind him, and drew his sword. Then he stood waiting.
Jamie’s voice quavered behind him. “Is that a magician?”
“It used to be,” Nick said.
A demon could animate a corpse. They didn’t like to do it. They preferred all the sensations that went with the living, and besides, the living lasted longer.
When there was no body but a dead one available, though, a demon would make do.
Nick recognized this one. She was the woman he’d killed last week as a wolf. Now her eyes were black and turning to fluid, her yellow hair was tangled, and the smell was worse than the sight of her.
Behind him, Jamie said, “I’m not all that accustomed to the walking dead. Is it all right if I cry with terror?”
Nick kept his eyes on the body. He stepped back a few paces, Jamie thankfully having the sense to step back with him, so he could get a proper look at her. She was shuffling rather than walking, hands limp by her sides even though her face was intelligent and purposeful. She was being careful, because this body was almost at its limit.
This was going to be almost too easy.
Nick grinned and waited, shifting the sword hilt in his hands. The body advanced, feet dragged forward by willpower alone, and as she did, her discolored lips twitched into a grin back.
Nick stepped backward again and took one hand off the sword hilt to beckon her on.
She lunged and he swung at the same time, the blow connecting powerfully with her neck. The body spasmed, and Nick had to swing and hit twice more, hacking at the neck, until her head came off. It rolled down that solemn, picture-lined corridor. Her hands clawed feebly at the air, trying to get to Nick, and then stilled.
Nick turned to Jamie before the body hit the floor. “They’re not hard to kill,” he said. “It’s just that most people panic, seeing the dead.”
“Oh, they panic, do they?” Jamie asked in a hollow voice. “I can’t imagine why.”
Nick knelt and wiped his sword clean with the charmed tapestry. Blood was much easier to clean off than the stuff that you got on your sword after killing the dead, and he was rubbing vigorously when he heard the voice.
It came from behind the nearest door.
It was a man’s voice, and it sounded like he was alone. Mae’s plan had worked. They’d caught a magician studying.
“Hellebore and belladonna in a true lover’s knot,” he said, as if he was reading aloud from a book.
This was a magician, all right.
“Get behind me,” Nick ordered again.
It was too good a chance to miss, but it could be a trick. He sheathed his sword and felt in the sheath at his belt for his throwing knife. A throwing knife was tricky; he might have only one shot, and that one from a distance. For a moment he wished for one of Alan’s guns.
The voice went on, quiet and familiar. Nick wondered where he knew it from, and then supposed it might be Gerald. He hoped it was. He wanted a chance to get even with Gerald.
“A child’s tear and a drop of running water blended. All these things make—”
Nick pressed his hand flat against the door, and the heavy slab of oak went back easily, its hinges moving smooth as silk. The swift glide of the door opening showed Nick an enormous room with a vaulted ceiling and a wide, polished expanse of wood floor.
Across the floor a dozen summoning circles were drawn, as if someone had decided to create designs rather than laying down a carpet. The lines for communication and the borders between the worlds cut the floor into gleaming slices. Walking on that floor would be walking into a minefield of magic.
In the center of the minefield was an indoor bonfire. Flames rose high from every line inside the summoning circle at the middle of the room and arched to meet up near the ceiling in a great golden dome.
Under the golden dome was Anzu, looking far more birdlike than he had at the Goblin Market. He had a pair of heavy, dark wings that made him sit hunched forward in the flame, and a sharp, curved beak on a human face. From that predator’s beak a quiet voice issued, sounding as if he was reading from a magician’s book.
“All these things make a trap,” finished Anzu, his beak stretching impossibly into a smile.
Nick stared and then, under the hiss of the fire, he heard a tiny stifled gasp. That was when he realized the trap was behind him.
He spun around, but a magician already had one arm locked around Jamie’s throat and a gun pressed against his temple. He was standing directly behind Jamie, and he was no taller; all Nick could see was the graying top of the magician’s head. Nick hoped for a moment that Jamie would do something magical, but then he realized that Jamie had probably used all his magic getting Mae to the roof.
Magicians didn’t have much power on their own. That was why they used demons.
Jamie was helpless.
If Nick tried to throw the knife at the magician, he would hit Jamie.
Fortunately, there was another option.
Standing beside Jamie and smiling was another magician. This one was familiar. This one was Gerald.
He looked as pleasant and foxy-faced as before, his arms folded and his eyes wide. He looked like the perfect target.
Nick badly wanted to throw the knife, and he would have done it, if the talisman against his chest had not stirred into sudden restless life. The talisman burned, and suddenly the world looked different.
Gerald’s harmless look was another trap. The way Nick’s talisman was reacting, Gerald was already working a spell, something building in the air and ready to be unleashed. It was obvious he had a lot more power than someone his age should. Enough to have hidden all of it before. Enough to make it clear beyond a shadow of doubt that he’d been captured on purpose before. Enough not to bother hiding any of it now as Jamie’s breath came too fast and Nick gripped his knife too tight and the talisman warned him about danger he could not escape.