Page 36

Nick lowered the knife slightly, and the burning of his talisman eased.

Gerald ducked his head and smiled, for all the world as if he wanted to make friends.

“Should I cut the boy’s throat?” asked the strange magician, who turned out to be a woman.

Nick noted her cool, upper-class voice. He wanted details to remember her by.

“No, Laura,” Gerald ordered. “Wait a minute. I want to see something.”

So Gerald had authority as well as power. Interesting.

“Nick?” Gerald said in a careful tone, as if talking to a pet who showed signs of turning savage. “Would you put down your weapons?”

The magician called Laura snorted. “You must be mad. Why would—”

Nick smiled slowly. “What?” he drawled. “All my weapons?”

“Yes. Put down all your weapons,” Gerald confirmed, in his mild, patient way. “Or we cut Jamie’s throat.”

He’d never liked Jamie all that much anyway.

That was Nick’s first thought. His second thought was that Alan did like Jamie, that Jamie made him laugh, and that there had always been more to Alan’s protectiveness of Jamie than a desire to impress Mae. Blond, sunny Jamie was probably Alan’s idea of a proper brother, a real one, the one he could’ve had if his mother had lived. Alan would want Jamie safe.

Besides, Jamie was Mae’s brother. Nick found he did not want to think about how Mae would look if she learned that Nick had let her little brother die.

Nick would have preferred not to see Jamie die, given the choice, but he hadn’t been given a choice. It was not as if the magicians would let Jamie go if Nick put down his weapons. They would only kill Nick too, and then he would have committed a very noble and totally pointless suicide.

“We won’t hurt you,” Gerald promised.

“Oh, really? On your honor as murderous magicians?”

Laura made a choked-off sound of surprise or indignation, but Gerald kept his eyes trained on Nick’s face.

“Black Arthur doesn’t want you hurt. Do what we ask, and the boy won’t be hurt either.”

“Gerald, this is ridiculous,” said Laura sharply.

It could be true, Nick thought. Even if Arthur had been hunting them for Mum’s charm all this time, he might not want Nick killed. He was Arthur’s son.

He could use that.

It was a risk, though. The magicians might just want two intact bodies for the demons to possess. Nick looked down at the reassuring gleam of his knife and then over at Jamie.

Laura the magician had tight hold of Jamie, one hand in his hair, pulling his head back to bare his throat for her blade. The knife was so close to his skin that he could not even tremble in case he opened his veins against the edge. Jamie was keeping still, with his back arched taut as a bowstring and his eyes wide, scared and hopeless.

“All right,” Nick said. “I’ll put down my weapons.”

He knelt and put down the knife, then unsheathed his sword and laid it the ground, looking warily up at Gerald as he did so, ready to snatch the sword back up if he made any sudden movements. Gerald just smiled like a king well-pleased with the tribute laid at his feet.

He rose slowly, and Gerald murmured, “All of the weapons, Nick.”

Nick snapped one knife from his wrist sheath and threw it down. Then he reached into his pocket for his switchblade, and drew that out too. Gerald’s gaze was fastened on him, watching every movement, and Nick regretted putting any of his weapons down. Anything would have been better than this slow, enforced stripping of Nick’s defenses under the eyes of the enemy.

He let the switchblade fall out of his open palm. He made sure that every weapon he dropped landed within easy reaching distance.

He left the knife in his boot and the knife fastened inside his belt and jeans, against his thigh, where they were. What Gerald didn’t know might end up hurting him, if they were lucky.

“Now take three steps back,” Gerald said quietly.

That would put Nick across the threshold into the room where Anzu waited, and a safe distance away from the weapons. Nick checked over his shoulder and saw that three steps would not bring him anywhere near Anzu, waiting in his simmering flames.

He looked back at Gerald and nodded. He took three deliberate steps back.

He immediately felt the difference, a sudden sensation as if walls had slammed down all around him. Claustrophobia seized him, the feeling pressing on his chest and squeezing his lungs so he could only breathe in short, shallow pants. He looked around and saw that there was a circle of imprisonment chalked onto the floor around him.

Nick looked up sharply at Gerald and saw his eyes flash with triumph.

He wondered when magicians had learned how to trap a human in an imprisonment circle. This wasn’t one of those where you would die if you crossed the line; it did not even offer you that choice. Nick could feel the barriers in place. He risked it anyway, tried to step forward and simply could not do it, any more than he could have walked through a wall. This was a genuine imprisonment circle, and he was trapped inside as surely as Anzu was trapped inside his.

Inside his, Anzu was laughing.

The magician Laura had loosened her hold on Jamie. She had one arm looped casually around his neck, and it would have looked like a gesture of affection if she had not still been gripping the knife. Nick could see her properly now, a small middle-aged woman with an intelligent face. She looked surprised that Nick had put down his weapons, although not half as surprised as Jamie did.

“How did you know it would work?” she asked Gerald.

“I guessed,” Gerald replied, his voice as soft as ever, belying that hard, triumphant gaze. “I was assigned to watch them, remember? I wasn’t sure it would work, but I wanted to test my theory.”

Nick did not care what Gerald’s theory might be. He was busy calling himself a hundred kinds of fool for putting down the sword. It was becoming more and more obvious that they were outmatched. The magicians had tricks none of them were prepared for. The magicians had clearly planned this. Nick should have let Jamie be a casualty and got out of there. Jamie didn’t matter at all, not compared to what else Nick might lose.

He felt something colder and sharper than regret, turning in his belly as if he’d swallowed a needle, when he heard the footsteps coming down the stairs and down the corridor toward them.

There were at least four people, and one set of steps Nick knew by heart: fast as anyone’s step but with that slightly dragging foot. When the magicians came closer, he saw that one had a knife to Mae’s throat, and Alan’s hands were tied. The magicians had done just the same as they had with Nick and Jamie, targeting the weak one and using them as leverage. Of course it had worked on Alan, but it should not have worked on Nick.

Alan looked at Nick. His eyes widened slightly when he saw the imprisonment circle. His gaze traveled from Nick to Jamie. Nick saw him putting together what must have happened and he wanted to say he was sorry but then, incredibly, Alan smiled.

His eyes were shining as he asked, “Are you all right?”

Nick nodded. It wasn’t a lie. He was going to be all right. He was going to get out of this circle, and he was going to kill every magician in this house. He looked at Alan, and Alan seemed all right too, wrists bound tightly but unmarked. After a moment he looked at Mae and saw that she, unlike Jamie, had clearly struggled. The knife must have just grazed her. Her throat was bloody but not bleeding too much, and she looked steady on her feet.

Nick kept cataloguing these details, all the while hollowly aware that he could see no way they were going to survive this.

“Let’s all go inside and talk, shall we?” said Gerald, making an inviting gesture to the room of circles and pentagrams. “Black Arthur will be here soon.”

His eyes moved from Jamie to Mae to Alan, as if taking a survey, and then they turned to rest on Nick.

Gerald smiled and added, “He’s been waiting a long time to meet you.”


Black Arthur

THE SOUNDS OF LONDON WERE COMING IN FROM AN OPEN window. Cars were purring mechanically down the streets, and the evening sunlight was cresting the tops of the tallest buildings, crowning them with gold. The rest of the city was in shadow, miles of uniform gray stretching out and interrupted by the glittering lines of rivers.

It might as well have been another world. In this room there was no sound but the hiss of fire in a demon’s circle and Gerald’s quiet, pleasant voice.

The rest of the Circle had filtered in by now. There were ten magicians in the room with them, far too many to fight. Alan, Jamie, and Mae were in a small knot, guarded by Laura and the other magician with the knife. Alan had unobtrusively placed himself between the others and the knives and he kept edging forward, trying to see Anzu, trying to see more of the room. The magicians fell back as he moved, which meant they did not want to kill him yet.

Nick could not move from the circle of imprisonment, but he absorbed all he could. The room was paneled and dim, all light coming from Anzu’s fire and lightbulbs in faux candlesticks attached to the walls. The room was large, and it looked even larger because of the circles and pentagrams and amulets forming a crazy pattern that tricked the eye. The chalked lines and deep shadows stretched Nick’s vision until the floor seemed about to tilt into another world.

There was nowhere to hide in this room. Even if Nick could get out of the circle, it would be pointless. They had to wait until there were fewer magicians, but there seemed no prospect of there being fewer magicians anytime soon. Everyone was gathered here expecting Black Arthur, the leader of them all.

That was bad news, of course, and yet Nick could still sense the singing, tugging feeling of the call of blood in his veins. His heartbeats were pounding to Black Arthur’s approaching footsteps and, evil or not, spell or not, he could not help it: He wanted to see his father.

Then he looked at Alan, who had tasted his blood and who must be feeling the same things Nick felt, and as the door creaked open he saw Alan turn pale and sick with dread.

He wished his father a thousand miles away as Black Arthur came into the room.

The spell of blood to blood sang in Nick’s veins, as if there was a kettle somewhere bringing his blood to the boil. For a moment all he could hear was that singing victorious sound, and all he could feel was the tug of connection between himself and this man, the link formed of shared blood.

Its purpose accomplished, the spell ended. The link snapped.

In the sudden silence, Nick found himself staring at his father. He felt the same thing he had felt since he found out the truth. He felt nothing.

There should have been at least some feeling of connection, Nick thought, but instead he was left staring at his father as he would have stared at the page of a book, trying to make sense of what he saw.

Black Arthur did not look as much like Nick as Nick had imagined he would.

He looked a lot like Mum, as if they had chosen each other because they wanted to see themselves in each other’s faces and not just their eyes. He looked enough like Nick that Nick could see the markers of shared blood he’d never been able to find in Alan’s face. They were clear on the face of this stranger.

Arthur was tall and pale and had black hair. He had Nick’s broad shoulders and his strong hands, but something about his muscles looked too sleek and civilized, as if he had built them up for display rather than earning them by fighting. He wore his black hair longer than Nick wore his, and unlike Nick’s, it was curly. The ends almost touched his shoulders, and the effect was that of a mane.

He had Nick’s flat cheekbones and his brutal, full mouth, but the one thing Nick had expected, Arthur did not have. He did not have Nick’s eyes.

Black Arthur had eyes an even paler blue than Mum’s. They were pale enough to remind Nick of that dying wolf’s eyes, so pale that even the blue looked like an illusion, a trick of the light cast on ice.

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