Authors: Kat Richardson
“What damned thing?” I asked, eyes slitted.
“The puzzle. It belonged to your dad, yeah? It’s in your pocket. Show it me!”
That was when Michael stepped back out onto the dock and stared at us, lit from behind by the lamps of the floating restaurant. “What are you two doing? If you’re going to kill each other, can you do it later? There’s food in here and I, for one, want to eat it. Are you coming in or not?”
“Lad’s got a better head than either of us, I think,” Marsden mumbled. “Food first, eh? Fight later.”
“Don’t tempt me. . . .” I muttered, letting him up.
Marsden brushed at his moleskin collection and straightened his clothes. “I shall still want to see that puzzle.”
He started into the restaurant and I followed him as he followed Michael. “What’s it got to do with saving Will?” I hissed under my breath.
“Nothing. It’s for later. If you insist on being a bloody heroine.”
He cackled and ignored me until we reached the table. We eased into our seats and kept an ugly silence while we fell on the food Michael had ordered. Meat pies, salad, bread, and beer vanished and I didn’t even taste it. Marsden and Michael did theirs in with equal speed, though they seemed to enjoy it more. Marsden finally leaned back and patted his mouth with his napkin before holding up his glass for a refill.
As we waited for the new round, Marsden put his hand out on the table palm up. “C’mon, girl. Show it me.”
Glowering, I brought the little metal puzzle out of my pocket and put it on Marsden’s palm.
“What’s that?” Michael asked.
“It’s a puzzle my dad used to carry around. This guy seems to think it’s important.”
“It is,” Marsden said, fidgeting with the puzzle. He didn’t bend his head to look at it. It wouldn’t have done any good, but the effect of him scrambling the puzzle with deft fingers while he kept his head tipped back and his wrecked eyes turned toward the ceiling was still unsettling.
He grunted and scowled. “Here,” he said, forcing it back into my hands. “You’ll have to do it—it only likes you.” He put his hands over mine.
I wasn’t sure why he said it liked me—objects rarely have any “feelings” about people one way or another—but this one did seem to . . . fit me better than it had him. Maybe because it had been my dad’s, but I doubted that was the only reason. Where or when had my father gotten it? Somewhere in the Grey? But he couldn’t have. He would have said something about it in his journal. And it seemed to me he’d always had it, as far back as I could remember.
Marsden’s cold, dry touch guided my fingers. I repressed a frisson as the metal links slid into positions I’d never seen before, making low, sure clicks with every change. The little puzzle gleamed pale blue until something fell into place. Then it blazed gold and settled down to a dull humming in my hand that felt like a fistful of bees. Yet another strange link between my past and the present.
It didn’t look like a key—actually it looked more like a mutant fork or a lock pick—but the satisfied sensation it gave off left me with the conclusion that it was pleased with its current shape and ready to do something. I wouldn’t call it alive or sentient, but the odd, flat prong I now held did seem . . . ready for something, even eager.
The thought left me uncomfortable. My dad had never made such a configuration with the puzzle that I’d seen. If it was something only I could do . . . was that a sign of the direction in which Wygan was pushing me, of the purpose to which he’d already bent me? I didn’t like that. It stunk of Fate and Destiny and a lack of free will.
I pressed on the last puzzle piece that I’d moved and bent it back until it clicked again. The golden glow drained away, and the whole thing faded back to an inert collection of metal parts as I shuffled the surfaces around and wondered what it was meant to do. Or I with it. Besides the useless drivel Marsden had spouted on the dock, that is.
Michael had watched it like a hawk does a mouse.
“Did you see something?” I asked.
He hesitated. Then admitted with a drooping head, “No. I was hoping . . .”
“Haven’t you seen enough uncanny stuff for one day?”
Michael shrugged. “Not so much, really. I mean . . . there was Will—that thing that wasn’t Will—and the Tube station. . . . Everything else is just creepy stuff you and this guy have told me.”
He was trying to forget the extent of the weirdness and I wasn’t sure that was wise just yet. “That’s not enough to convince you something strange is going on?”
“Oh, I’m convinced! It’s just . . . y’know . . . if there’s vampires and witches and stuff, it might be fun to see—”
“Don’t think it, boy. That lot’s fun like being thrown off a cliff,” Marsden said.
The waiter brought our drinks and we set to them for a moment, each in our own thoughts. Or at least Michael and I were. Marsden somehow gave the impression of watching us both.
Michael shot him a nervous glance. “Why do I feel like you’re staring at me . . . ?”
Marsden snickered. “More perceptive than I’d have credited. I’m wondering what we shall do about you.”
“We who?” Michael demanded. “Do what about me?” He turned a furious expression toward me. “Who is this guy, anyhow? How do we know he’s not with them?”
Marsden patted at the air with one lazy hand. “We’ve been through that already.”
“Not with me you haven’t!” Michael snapped.
I sighed. “He’s not with the enemy. But that doesn’t mean he’s trustworthy, either,” I added, giving Marsden a sharp look.
Marsden almost smiled. “You’re getting smarter. But I am not going to do you any harm, boy. You’re a bystander in this—like your brother.”
I almost choked on my beer. “You two-faced rat bastard,” I muttered.
He made a little shrugging motion on one side. “All right. I admit I don’t give a tinker’s about this missin’ brother, but the lady here says she ain’t leaving without ’im. The sooner she’s gone and out of reach of certain people, the safer we all are. So. I’m for finding that brother quick and gettin’ shut of the lot of you.”
“Yeah? Well, isn’t that lovely of you?” Michael sneered.
“Michael,” I started, “he’s a lying, manipulative, sneaky—”
“Rat bastard,” Michael reminded me.
“Yes. But he knows the lay of the land and I don’t. I don’t know where to start looking for Will.”
Michael glowered at Marsden. “He does?”
“Of course I do. Mind, I don’t say I know where he is or who’s got ’im, so don’t get shirty ’bout that. But I have an idea where to start lookin’ . ”
I hated having to cooperate with Marsden. I knew I couldn’t trust him; he had an agenda and I wasn’t sure it had changed since we’d left St. Pancras churchyard. But he was the only resource I had left.
“Where should we start?” I asked.
“The Greek sisters,” Marsden said.
A couple of hours later, as I’d hoped, Marsden turned up at the canal side, alone. Unexpectedly, he was carrying a canvas sack that clanked. He stopped at the edge of the towpath and tapped on the side of the boat with his cane. “Here,” he called to me as I sat on the stern rail, watching him. “I need a hand with this.”
“What is it?”
“Hospitality, my girl. As we’re likely to be keeping to this . . . floating cigar tin for a while, it occurred to me we might be in need of food.”
“And you brought some?” I asked, surprised. Unalloyed generosity didn’t strike me as a Marsden trait. So far, when he’d offered anything, it had been for his own reasons and advantage. Even keeping me and Michael out of the hands of the demi-vamps had been in service to his plan to bottle me up somewhere until whenever he felt it was safe for me to rejoin the world of the living—or semi-living—whether I’d liked it or not.
“Yes, I did, Miss Skeptic. Now come take it or I’ll toss it in the canal and you can do for yourself.”
I swung over the rail and stepped onto the towpath to take the bag from him. He didn’t look any better in the daylight than he had in the dimness of the Underground or the screaming ghost-light of the graveyard. His pallor was more obvious with the morning sun on him—the color of someone who’s been very ill for a long time—and the scars around his eye sockets were livid and sickening, stretching into his hair and down his cheek on one side as if made with filthy claws. I couldn’t look at his face without considering the state of mind that would allow him to deal himself such damage. I felt queasy at the thought. I wondered for a moment why it hadn’t happened to me. Even in the best light, my dad had been a bit over the edge, and Marsden had apparently gone several miles into insanity before he’d come back out. If he had.
With the sack in my arms, I climbed back onto the narrow boat. Marsden followed, wary of every step. I couldn’t decide if it was the motion or the mere fact that it was a boat that upset him.
Michael stuck his tousled head out of the hatch. “What’s going on? Oh. You’re back,” he added in a cold voice when he saw Marsden.
“And bearing gifts,” Marsden replied. “So shut it if you want brekkie.”
Michael drew his head back in, muttering, “You’re a cranky old bastard in the morning. . . .”
“I am a cranky old bastard all the time, boy. As would you be were you a hundred and fifty,” Marsden added.
“I wouldn’t have pegged you a day over a hundred and twelve,” Michael snarked back.
I followed them down into the cabin and through to the kitchen—galley, whatever—to unpack the bag on the counter. Among the assorted largesse I found coffee and bacon, though I couldn’t say it looked like any bacon I’d ever had—more like a thinly sliced section of a large, boneless pork chop. But it tasted delicious once Michael had cooked it up with a half dozen eggs.
Michael withheld Marsden’s plate. “A hundred and fifty, huh?”
“Give or take a few decades.”
“Don’t look it.”
Marsden turned his head without raising his face toward the younger man. “Time moves very slowly when you’re spendin’ it in the comp’ny of the livin’ dead.”
“You mean vampires?”
“I mean all of ’em. Ghosts, vampires, lyches, banshees, wights, zombies, darkwalkers—things what ain’t quite dead but ought to be.”
Michael sent a skittish glance at me, and while he looked away, Marsden snatched the plate from his hands and cackled in horrible glee.
“It’s unwise to get between a cunning man and his breakfast, boy.”
“A cunning man? Isn’t that another word for warlock?” Michael shot back.
“Hardly,” Marsden replied around a mouthful of food. “Warlock means ‘oath breaker.’ That I am not. Nor any sort of mage—which is what the cunning folk are. Mind your terminology or you’re likely to bollocks up our job today. The sisters are empty heads, but if you give offense they’re as like as any to trap up and turn a cold shoulder. So guard your mouth.”
“Just who are these sisters?” Michael demanded.
“Oh, you shall see. . . .”
“How do we know this isn’t some trap or game of yours?” the boy snapped.
I rolled my eyes. “How ’bout you both shut up and eat? I want to get this over with as quickly as possible. I assume you guys do, too.”
Michael looked abashed while Marsden just kept his face down over his food. I didn’t think the other Greywalker was embarrassed; he just didn’t care. I wondered if he really was as old as he claimed.
Once we were done eating and had started walking under his directions, I asked him.
“I’ve given up countin’,” he answered. “I meant what I told the lad, though—time’s different when you walk in the Grey. When you’re in the thick, y’don’t age like normal. After a while, people start to notice you ain’t as old as y’ought to be. Had to leave me village and come here to the Smoke when they noticed. Hadn’t given it any heed till then—couldn’t see me own face anyhow.” He made a dismissive hacking sound in the back of his throat and went on. “You’d ha’ thought they’d take more umbrage at my going mad and tearing me eyes out, but that they took in stride. That I wasn’t as old as what I ought to be frightened ’em more than all the raving I’d ever done about the things in the fen and the battalions of dead tommies. There’s more ghosts and creatures of the Grey here, but at least they ain’t no one I knew.” His face had gone hard, the expression rigid as a wall to hide behind.
I broke his mood by scoffing. “You’re saying we’re immortal?” “Not a bit. We age and we die, but time does what it pleases round us and we’ve very little say in it. More I don’t know, but I know that bloody well.”
I thought a moment. “You said you were gifted with premonition—”
“Cursed with it. No sort of bloody gift. All me life. When it began to get worse—when it all started coming clear rather than hintin’ and dreamin’ and disappearin’ when I reached for it—that’s when the worst started.”
“That’s a function of time, though, isn’t it? Premonition? A glimpse forward.”
“And you have a way with the temporaclines that I certainly don’t. Maybe it’s the same thing. Maybe your . . . curse isn’t premonition, but something to do with time in the Grey. That’s why you look . . . seventy or so, not however old you really are.”
He grunted and walked on. Michael shot a curious glance at me and started to say something. I put a finger over my lips, shook my head, and caught up to Marsden again.
“I take it back,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“You might actually be clever enough to trip up that white-scaled bastard.”
“Who?” I wasn’t on board the same train of thought, apparently.
“Wygan. You might do very well after all.”
“So you’re glad you didn’t shove me into that tree?”
“We’ll have to see. You’re still too naive by half. Still . . .” he added, but said no more, shrugging one shoulder and continuing in silence.
Now I got it: Marsden was as bad at saying he was sorry as I was. The food and this odd admission were as close to an apology as I was likely to get. I wasn’t sure what to think of it. I still wasn’t sure how much I trusted him, though it might have been a bit more than I had the night before.
I could tell Michael wanted to ask what was going on, what we’d been talking about, but he took a good look at my face and kept his mouth shut. He was dealing with these inflections of strangeness much better than his brother ever had. I hoped Will was all right, wherever he was. And Quinton, too. My sense of impending crisis was growing.
We crossed a road and passed by a large terra-cotta-colored building that turned out to be part of the British Library, according to the sign. It wasn’t what I’d have expected, except for a glimpse of a much older building through the straight angles of the gate and the big red building. A little farther on, we crossed the large street we’d been following that ran from King’s Cross past Euston Station. I could see the big war memorials and remains of the first train station’s driveway just across the road as Marsden came to a stop in front of a wrought iron fence that stretched the whole block. A discreet sign mounted on the fence noted that the building’s architectural details were under renovation, and thanked some public trust and a list of donors in the name of the St. Pancras parish for their generosity. I guessed this must be the new St. Pancras church, though it certainly wasn’t less than two hundred years old to my eyes.
“Here they are.” Marsden waved at the soot-streaked building on the other side of the fence. A long, tall wall of once-white stone pushed up from the lawn around the building. Greek revival and very Georgian in design. A couple of bright red doors punctuated the wall. The nearest was just in front of us in a jutting corner under a sort of porch roof that was held up by three Grecian-style statues and one lump swathed in white Tyvek instead of pillars.
“The caryatids?” Michael squeaked.
Marsden humphed. “My Greek sisters. Or at least they look it. Very popular, the Greek look, when they was installed. Bit too short, mind—cut ’em off in the middle so they’d fit. Just mouthpieces, though. Not a decent thought in any of their own heads. They mostly let the dead speak through them, but they do have some personality of their own. You’d best be nice to ’em or they won’t say nowt.”
“But they’re statues!”
“Empty iron pillars, actually. The statue part’s just clay. But y’see, the pillars reach down into the crypt. What the dead know, they know.”
It sounded as likely as anything I’d encountered in the Grey, though it had to sound crazy to most people. I wasn’t going to recount my conversation with Sekhmet to Michael, who was still staring in frustration at the rank of caryatids, so I only said, “Things are often more than they seem. Especially old things that have been hanging around a while.”
“Most especially old things what have been hanging about over a crypt and across the road from a train station. We should go inside the fence so we don’t have to yell at ’em,” Marsden suggested.
Bewildered, Michael followed us around the corner and into the church’s entryway. We started up the stairs so we could jump down into the small side yard but got no farther as a woman emerged from the church and called out to us.
We all turned.
She was a round, middle-aged woman with muddy red hair, dressed in a bland, conservative dress and low-heeled shoes. “Hullo! Come to see the church?”
Michael was the quickest of us. He turned to face the woman, nodding. “Hi! I’m at university down the street,” he said, pointing south. “We wanted to take a look at the caryatids.”
“Oh. The one’s under renovation, I’m afraid. Would you prefer the south porch? They’re all four there.”
Michael cast a querying glance at us, and Marsden shook his head. “No. It’s the renovations we’re interested in.”
“Can’t see much with the shroud on her,” the woman said in doubtful tones. “Should be much more interesting once they’ve got the work further along.”
“That’s all right—we want to see the contrast. Y’know. Track the progress over time. Is it all right if we go look at them a little closer? Take some sketches and photos, make some notes about the progress?”
“Oh. Well. Of course. Yes. You can’t get up to the porch at the moment to take a really good look—ladder’s away for the weekend to discourage children from climbing about—but if you’re satisfied looking from the ground . . .”
“That’ll be fine. Thanks!” Michael added, waving the woman away with a smile. It was the same sort of reassuring blather his brother used with nervous customers, and hearing Michael do it made me sad and roused my worry over Will anew.
We hopped down and hurried around the building out of the woman’s sight.
“Nice work,” I said.
Michael grinned and took the lead to the crypt. Once in front of its red door, Marsden resumed command.
“That was cleverly done, boy. Care to be the lookout while we see who’s home?”
“Lookout for what?”
“Anyone as might think it odd that we’re talking to statues.”
Michael nodded and agreed to keep his eyes peeled. Marsden told me to lean back against the fence so I could keep an eye on the three uncovered statues while he tried to get their attention.
I put my weight on the fence and looked up. The three statues were identical except that one was the mirror image of the other two. They were all long-haired women wearing some kind of Grecian dress—not a toga, since I knew only men wore those—and each had an extinguished torch of reeds resting on the ground in one hand and a jug dangling from the other hand. They looked rather odd from my angle; like their legs were too long and heavy for their bodies. And the faces and hair didn’t seem like the ones I’d seen in museums; they were somehow more Western and smooth than I remembered.
Marsden spoke quietly. “Good morning. Anyone care to talk? We’re in need of some help.” I wouldn’t have expected such a deferential tone from him, but I suppose when you’re dealing with a potential cryptful of ghosts, you don’t start out by pissing them off.