Page 15

“See the future, young sir?” the old woman croaked theatrically. Merris Cromwell would have coldly recommended a cough drop.

The tightly interwoven blues and greens darkened. The impression Nick received was that of a shadow falling over a lake, a silhouette that grew more distinct, moving from a shadow into the lines of a face.

It was just his own face, his darkly reflected eyes staring out of the crystal.

Nick picked up the crystal in one hand and hurled it with vicious force at the nearest tree. The crash made Mae and Alan jump and look around. Nick caught their movement from the corner of his eye, but mostly he was staring at the glittering shards.

“I think I’ve seen enough,” he said.

They dropped Mae and Jamie home, Alan giving strict instructions for Mae to be put to bed and kept there. Jamie made solemn promises and held Mae’s hand tight with the air of an anxious nanny.

“You don’t need to worry,” he said, leaning into Alan’s open window. “And, er, Alan?” he added. “Thanks.”

He gave Alan a quick kiss on the cheek, and then disappeared through the gate with a struggling Mae in tow. It was rather a fancy gate, loops and swirls wrought in iron creating a picture Nick couldn’t quite make out. Through the intricate pattern he glimpsed an ivy-covered house, large and white, looming in the still-dark sky like a big expensive iceberg. The windows in the upper floors cast yellow light on the big garden and the tennis court.

These two had everything. They could have left Nick’s brother alone.

Nick crossed his arms over his chest and said stonily, “Quite a night you’re having.”

Alan said, “I’m not talking to you while you still have the fever fruit in your system.”

Not talking was fine by Nick. He stared out the window as Alan drove.

Usually the journeys back from the Goblin Market were all right no matter how long they were. It was not like moving; it was just the two of them without Mum. Alan played classical or country music and talked for ages about whatever his latest craze was, from vintage comics to philosophy. It was all just insane ranting to Nick, but he didn’t mind hearing it, and he always bullied Alan into letting Nick drive most of the way home.

This time there was silence. Nick did not offer to drive at all. He measured exactly where the halfway point was and when it came, he did not speak. Let Alan tell him to drive. Let Alan take care of himself for a change. Nick glanced over at Alan and saw his jaw set. He was not going to ask Nick for help; he was too proud to ask for anything that was not offered willingly.

Nick was viciously glad. It was Alan’s own fault. Let him suffer.

They continued to drive in silence, except for the tiny hitches of breath that began to rise helplessly in Alan’s throat. Nick listened to every stifled sound of pain.

Alan would never have let Nick hurt himself, no matter how angry with Nick he might have been. Nick knew that, but that was the difference between them. Nick was a jerk, and Alan was a suicidal fool.

The car drove into a lurid yellow morning, the terrible toxic color of leaden clouds filtering pale, sickly sunlight. There was a fine, continuous rain falling. Nick stared out at the wash of water down the glass and wondered if other people got as angry as he did. He’d seen Alan angry, but he’d never discovered in Alan’s eyes any savage urge for blood. He wished he wanted to yell at Alan or slam doors, wanted to do anything but lash out with extreme violence. He sat, fists clenched, too aware of the new sword at his belt and the knife against the small of his back.

When they pulled up outside their house and the purr of the car engine stilled, Alan let his leg relax and breathed out a sigh of pure relief. For a moment there was complete quiet.

Then Alan said, “While you were gone, I talked to Merris. She said she wouldn’t be able to help us with Black Arthur, but — I don’t know. I’ve heard stories about the experiments she does in her house. She won’t talk about them. What we need is an excuse to get into Merris’s house.”

That was just like Nick’s stupid brother, still worrying about Mum when he was the one in danger. What Nick needed was to get both marks off Alan, and that would be almost impossible.

“We need to kill a magician,” Nick snarled.

Dad had been killed by the magicians. They had spent their whole life running from the magicians, and now they had to seek them out.

“We’ve killed magicians before,” said Alan.

“When they came for us,” Nick snapped. “They live in magicians’ Circles. If we try to deliberately find one, we’ll find a nest of them. They have demons, they have magic, and they outnumber us.”

These were the facts. Alan knew them, and it maddened Nick to have to enumerate them. He did not add the next fact, which was that Alan was probably going to die.

“It’s a chance,” Alan said. “Jamie didn’t have a chance before. Now we both do.”

“Why should he expect you to die for him?” Nick demanded. “What would I do with Mum if you were dead?”

“I didn’t realize,” Alan said slowly, looking a little pale, “that your concern was so entirely practical.”

Nick stared at the dashboard. Alan was choosing now, of all times, to talk nonsense. Nick was in no mood for it.

“You weren’t being noble,” he informed Alan after a moment. “You didn’t want to give anyone a chance. Don’t lie to me. Don’t tell me it had nothing to do with that girl!”

Before Alan could tell him anything, Nick had wrenched open the door. He leaped out and slammed it shut behind him. He ran as he hadn’t run through the wood at Tiverton, as if he were being chased, down the gray side streets of south London.

He ran to the new garage he was working at. Nick found comfort in machines that were either working or broken, and if broken could be either fixed or destroyed. He found the garage as still as a graveyard, cars in various stages of repair like sad metallic specters.

Nick kicked a box of tools and sent wrenches and spanners flying out onto the cement. He wanted to overturn a car, and he felt sure he could. He was so angry he wanted to kill.

A car, winched up as high as it would go, collapsed with a crash behind him. Nick spun and drew his sword as a loose wheel rolled into the wall, and he noticed for the first time that the lock on the garage door was broken. Somebody or something had smashed it.

Nick was suddenly happy. He hoped this was an attack, that here at last was something he knew how to deal with. He turned in a slow circle, watching for a flicker of movement, for the slightest sound. Another car fell with a thunderous crash as soon as his back was turned.

“Got you,” Nick said, turning on the sound with his sword already arcing through the air. All he saw was a lick of flame leaping under the bonnet of the car.

It was a demon. It had to be. The crash had not been enough to start a fire and besides, Nick’s talisman was a prickling, harshly humming weight against his chest. There was a demon, somewhere close, and it would not show itself so he could kill it!

He thought for a moment that he needed to go warn Alan so they could all start packing, but then he remembered. They were chasing demons now. If there were magicians here, they had to stay and hunt them.

He should really go, he realized. He didn’t need to be caught and laid off for setting fires.

“So,” he said to the dying flame and the empty room, “I’ll get you later.”

He did not feel like going home, so he took a walk, and then returned to work, where everyone was wondering who the mystery vandals were. Nick nodded to all the theories, and then popped a car bonnet and got down to work. He worked grimly and silently, two shifts, until it was dark and someone told him to get out and enjoy what was left of his night.

Nick just nodded a final time and left. He went home at last and got into bed without seeing anyone. Sleep, black and consuming, swallowed him whole.

He woke late as usual and came downstairs to find Alan playing with a piece of toast. He looked pale and worn as an old bone, after only one night with a second-tier mark. There were violet shadows under his eyes, and he did not look up from his plate as Nick approached. Nick could usually sneak up on anyone but Alan. He went over to lean his forearms on the back of Alan’s chair and frowned at the back of Alan’s neck.

“Don’t,” he said, and saw Alan jump at the unexpected word, so close, and then relax. “Don’t do anything like this again,” he said. “All right?”

Alan reached behind him and grasped Nick’s upper arm. His thin fingers only half closed around the swell of muscle, but he held on.

“I promise I won’t put any demon marks on myself for the sake of any fetching pink-haired girls or their brothers ever again.”

Nick hung over Alan’s chair, uneasy but not exactly wanting to break away, and said in a rough voice, “You’d better not.”

Alan offered to run him to school, but Nick said he’d take the Tube. He knew Alan must really be tired when he agreed. Nick had no intention of going to school. He knew what he had to do.

Anzu had given him the name of a Circle. The Obsidian Circle: Black Arthur’s Circle. He knew that much, but he did not know how much power they had or where to find them. He did not have time to wait for the next Goblin Market. He could draw a basic circle of summoning. He would dance again and alone.

He needed answers. He needed his other demon.

He needed Liannan.

On one of the bleakest roads in Camden, there was a small gray lot behind the American Methodist Church. It was filled with builder’s dust and rubble years old, and there was a large metal Dumpster in it that was heaped with an assortment of rubbish.

On a Monday morning Nick didn’t think he would be disturbed here.

He drew the circle of summoning and confinement carefully with a white piece of chalk he had stolen from an art shop on the way. He’d taken a few protective charms from Alan’s bedroom, and he laid them carefully at intervals around the circle. The circle had to be secure. He was taking risks, but he would not take that risk. If a demon ever got out into the world, free of a magician’s control, it could mean the end of the world.

Nick was planning to take risks only with himself. He had no fever fruit, he had no dance partner, and he had never spoken directly to a demon before. If he slipped up, the demon would have him. If he could not manage to offer something she wanted, Liannan might not even come.

He was betting that she would come. She had always seemed like she wanted to come to him.

She was not a woman, of course. That was only a shape she chose to trick humans, but Nick thought it would be easier if he could pretend she was a woman. He had called girls to him before. There was nothing so easy whether you were walking into a classroom, a club, or down the street. All you had to do was send out the right signals, give her the right look, turn your body the right way, and never for a moment let it cross your mind that she might not be interested.

Nick was not carrying his sword, so he laid down his knives before he entered the circle. It was a gesture. He was surrendering and inviting the demon in.

He could not let himself worry about scuffing the chalk marks that showed the lines of communication, or the lines that meant the boundaries between the worlds. If he got distracted from the dance, she would never come.

Pushing away the reality of a gray sky in London, he thought about night, the taste of fever fruit, and the taste of a girl’s mouth. He thought about being in a nightclub and catching a girl’s eyes gleaming under the colored, moving lights. He thought about Mae’s skin under the lanterns of the Goblin Market.

The right words were, as ever, the hardest part. He swallowed and heard his voice come out rough, commanding a girl rather than coaxing her. That worked, sometimes.

“I call on the one who gave me the name Liannan! I call on she who loves water and lives in ice, she who follows men invisible and drives them mad. I call on the face men follow through a winter storm to their deaths. I call on Liannan.”

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