Women never fight fair.
“I will agree to change the subject,” I said. “But only because I’m still waiting to hear what happened to me after I was stabbed!”
“Your spirit went to Limbo,” said Molly. “You weren’t, properly speaking, alive, but I’d seen to it that death couldn’t claim you. So Limbo took you until my magics could supercharge the healing process and repair your body enough for your spirit to return. You were in . . . spiritual shock. Neither in one condition nor the other. Limbo isn’t a place, as such. When you go there, your mind creates its own setting. It’s perfectly possible”—and here she broke off to scowl at Roger for a moment—“that all the people you saw there were really only parts of your own mind, talking to one another. Working out old issues and unresolved conflicts. Psychotherapy for the soul.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Some of them, maybe. But there was definitely another presence there. Walker . . . was very much Walker. He wanted to know things. Secrets . . . mine, and those of the family. He said he represented someone else. That he had new lords and masters now, and they were determined to rip every secret I had out of me. Whatever it took.”
“Walker is quite definitely dead,” said the Armourer. “I’ll show you the letter, if you like.”
“I want to see that letter,” the Sarjeant-at-Arms said immediately. “I never knew you had such close contacts with the Nightside.”
“Later, Cedric,” said the Armourer. “And don’t pout like that. It’s unbecoming in a man of your age.” He nodded to Molly. “Carry on, my dear. We’re all listening.”
“While you were in Limbo, Eddie,” said Molly, “and spiritually vulnerable, it is possible that some enemy of yours could have launched an attack on your spirit, trying to overpower your defences.”
“Did you tell them anything?” said the Sarjeant.
“No,” I said steadily. “I know my duty to the family.”
“Of course you do, Eddie,” said the Sarjeant. “My apologies. But we have to know; we need to find out: Who were these enemies? And how did they know you were in Limbo, and therefore vulnerable to this kind of attack?”
He turned his stern gaze on Molly, who actually stirred uncomfortably.
“Look,” she said, “I’m no expert on Limbo, all right? Don’t know anyone who is. But to reach Eddie, and enter the construct his mind had made there, and push him around . . . they’d have to be really powerful.”
“As powerful as the Droods?” I said.
“I thought we’d killed off everyone as powerful as us,” said Roger.
“There’s always someone,” said the Sarjeant darkly.
“Anyway,” said Molly, “as soon as I’d repaired your heart, Eddie, and got your body back in good working order, I was a bit surprised your spirit didn’t return immediately. That’s what’s supposed to happen. So I went after you. I’ve been to Heaven and to Hell; Limbo doesn’t scare me. I spent some time there myself, recovering from what the Drood mob did to me. I don’t remember what it was like, though. You won’t either, after a while. It’s not something the living are supposed to know about.”
I didn’t say anything, but I hadn’t forgotten a thing. The whole experience was as fresh and clear to me as when I was there. Every detail, every moment, every word. Because it was important that I remember. Someone had tried to steal my secrets, and those of my family, and I was determined to find out who. And . . . there was something else.
Charles and Emily?
Walker had said.
Whatever makes you think they’re dead?
Harry was talking. “You always have to be the centre of attention, Eddie. You can’t even die in an ordinary way. Though I did think we really might have lost you, for a while.”
“Disappointed?” I said.
“Oh, perish the thought,” said Harry.
“What was it like in Limbo?” said Roger. “I’ve never been there. I’m banned.”
Molly looked at him incredulously. “Banned? How the hell do you get banned from Limbo?”
“Boisterousness,” Roger said vaguely. “Bad behaviour. You know how it is.”
“The memories are slipping away,” I said carefully. “I have to say, I’m happy to see most of them go.”
“What do you remember?” said Molly.
“Cold,” I said. “So very cold . . .” I shuddered briefly, and Molly moved quickly back to hold my arm again. I smiled at her. “How long was I gone? It seemed like ages. . . .”
“Maybe twenty minutes,” said Molly. “Longest twenty minutes of my life.”
I had to fight not to shudder again.
There was a polite and very deferential knock on the Sanctity doors, which then opened to reveal two of the Sarjeant’s security men. I looked quickly at him, and he gestured for his people to close the doors and stay put. They did so, quietly and efficiently. The Sarjeant taught his people well. I glared at them anyway, on general principle, in case the Sarjeant had summoned them to take me away for interrogation. He can be very single-minded when it comes to the security of the family. That’s his job.
“My people are here to take away the dead Immortal,” said the Sarjeant, accurately interpreting my thoughts. “It’s important we examine the body thoroughly.”
“You mean dissect him?” I said.
The Armourer smiled happily, rubbing his bony hands together. “Know thy enemy . . . and make bloody sure he’s dead. We don’t know nearly enough about how the Immortals change their shapes to take on other people’s identities. I always assumed it was some form of projective telepathy, making us see what they wanted us to see, but this flesh-dancing thing they do seems more like shape-shifting: actual physical change, right down to the DNA. Now, I could provide you with any number of useful devices that could do that, but the Immortals did it through sheer willpower and inherited ability. . . . All right, I’ll stop talking now.”
“Some Immortals still remain at large, out in the world,” the Sarjeant said heavily. “Watching us with bad intent and no doubt plotting their revenge against us. We didn’t kill them all at Castle Frankenstein. Unfortunately.”
“I need to know everything there is to know about the Immortals,” the Armourer said briskly, “if I’m to build a reliable detector to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. And to make sure that everyone in this family is exactly who and what they’re supposed to be. I don’t want any more nasty surprises.”
“Hear, hear,” I said solemnly.
I moved over to look down at the dead Immortal. Molly stayed close beside me. The man who’d tried to murder me looked very young now. Almost harmless. Just another teenage boy, like all the Immortals who never aged. Black froth had dried and crusted round his mouth, from where he’d taken poison rather than be captured. His eyes were still bulging; his face was contorted, his body racked by muscle spasms. He’d fouled himself in death, and the smell was pretty bad.
“I usually know the people who try to kill me,” I said finally. “But I never saw that face before. Presumably he wasn’t at the castle when we went in; and that’s how he survived when the others didn’t.”
“He looked like my sister,” said Molly. “Moved and sounded like Isabella. I was completely fooled. He couldn’t have managed such a close match . . . unless he’d had access to the original. He must have known my sister.”
“Perhaps the remaining Immortals are holding her prisoner,” I said.
Molly grabbed hold of my arm so hard it hurt. “We have to go find her, Eddie!”
“Of course we do,” I said. “You came and found me. But where do we start? Any surviving Immortals will have scattered across the world by now. If they’ve got any sense. The only base we ever knew about was Castle Frankenstein, and that’s in the hands of the Bride now, and the Spawn of Frankenstein.” I stopped as a thought hit me. “Molly, could you use your magics on this body, and get some information out of him?”
“Not really,” said Molly, which I had to note wasn’t an unequivocal
. “My powers are life-based. Mostly. I was never that interested in necromancy.”
“I am,” said Roger. “Death and damnation are my business.”
I looked at him. “You can raise the dead?”
“I can make a corpse sit up and talk,” Roger said carefully. “There’s a difference. And only with the very recently departed, where the soul is still close by.”
“Walker could do it,” said the Armourer.
“He only did it that one time!” said Roger. “And he had the Voice. I’m only a poor half-breed hellspawn, so I’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.”
He looked around at all of us, making sure he had everyone’s agreement. Not that he gave a damn for our approval; he wanted to make sure we were all implicated in the unnatural and condemned thing he was about to do. None of us said no. My family has always been able to do the hard, harsh, necessary things. Roger crouched over the dead Immortal, smiling down at the corpse and muttering something under his breath in a language I didn’t even recognise. The air seemed to slowly darken around him, as he revealed the side of himself he usually kept hidden. His other, perhaps even truer self: his demonic aspect. Stubby horns thrust up out of his forehead. His eyes caught fire, sulphurous yellow flames leaping up from glowing eyeballs. His fingers grew sharp, vicious claws, and his feet were suddenly rough cloven hooves. Where he stood, the wooden floor began to smoke and smoulder. Dark shadows seemed to wrap themselves around Roger Morningstar, despite Ethel’s rose red glow. Where Roger was, the light seemed bloodred.
Roger’s father may have been my uncle James, the legendary Grey Fox, but his mother had been a lust demon out of Hell. I never did get the full story on that. But looking at Roger now, with all his evil aspect up front and in your face, it was hard to see how we’d ever been able to take him in as one of us. I’d accepted his presence in the family because he was Harry’s love and partner, and because Roger had fought on our side in the past . . . but now, seeing all the darkness in him let loose, I had to wonder if perhaps we’d made a terrible mistake.
He looked like what he was: a hellspawn set free from the Pit to walk up and down in the world, spreading horror and evil among us like some spiritual cancer.
Harry looked at Roger with something very like shock, and I realised Harry had never seen this side of his lover before. He watched, fascinated and appalled in equal measure, as Roger Morningstar pulled back one elegant shirt cuff and cut open a vein in his wrist with one clawed fingertip. Steaming-hot, dark blood streamed down into the corpse’s open mouth, quickly filling it and spilling out over the sides. Roger sealed the wound in his wrist with a touch, and then he leaned forward over the body. He was smiling a happy, satisfied smile, as though he was enjoying doing something he didn’t often get to do these days.
“Blood of my life for you, Immortal, for a time. My life to move within you and raise you up to do my bidding and my will. Sit up and speak, little dead man, and tell me what I want to know.”
The corpse’s mouth snapped suddenly shut, and its throat worked convulsively as it swallowed. The eyes turned to stare unblinkingly at Roger, and then the corpse sat up, the body making loud complaining sounds as it fought the stiffening of rigor mortis. The corpse looked into Roger’s burning eyes. And then the dead man screamed horribly, a lost, terrified, trapped sound.
“Stop that,” said Roger, almost casually, and the scream cut off immediately. The corpse worked its mouth, stained with the poison it had taken and Roger’s dark blood, and when the dead Immortal finally spoke, its voice sounded as though it travelled some unimaginable distance. It sounded like something trying to remember what a human voice sounded like.
“Who calls me back?” it said, and suddenly I didn’t want to hear whatever else it might have to say.
“I do,” Roger said briskly. “Talk to me, Immortal.”
The corpse’s mouth moved slowly, adopting an awful smile. “Do you want to know the secrets of life and death? Shall I tell you the awful knowledge of the Shimmering Plains and the Courts of the Holy, or perhaps the Houses of Pain, in the Pit?”
“Don’t waste my time,” said Roger. “I probably know more of that than you do, at this point. Stop showing off and tell me: Who sent you here to murder Eddie Drood? Are there other Immortals out there in the world plotting attacks on Drood Hall?”
“There are only a few of us left now,” said the corpse, still looking only at Roger. “Scattered. Hiding. I don’t know where they are. This was all my idea. If I couldn’t be a real Immortal anymore, a man of privilege and power, I decided I’d rather die, taking my hated enemy with me.” He turned his head slowly to look at me, and it was all I could do not to flinch back from the sheer hatred in that look. “We were masters of the world, and you took it all away. The barbarian at the gates of Rome. The savage who didn’t even understand the glory he destroyed. I wanted you dead, Drood, and I came so very close. . . .” He tried to spit at me, but nothing came out of his black-crusted mouth.
The Sarjeant-at-Arms moved forward to stand between me and the dead man. He was capable of small kindnesses, when he chose.
“How did you get in here,” he growled, “past all the Hall’s defences?”
“Rafe was one of us,” said the corpse. “He told us everything. Do you really think he was the only one?”
“I have got to get that detector working properly,” said the Armourer. “Sort out who’s who once and for all.”
Molly pushed forward to glare coldly into the dead man’s face. “You made yourself look like my sister Isabella. Where is she? Are you holding her somewhere? Where is she? Where’s Isabella?”
“Damned if I know,” said the corpse. “I never had her. Didn’t need her. I could duplicate anyone I ever met, and I knew Isabella of old. She worked with us several times on matters of mutual interest.”
“Your sister worked with the Immortals?” I said to Molly.
“Oh, hell, Eddie,” said Molly, “Iz has walked along with everybody, one time or another.”
“Even worked with us, on a few occasions,” the Armourer said cheerfully. “On matters of mutual benefit. I made some very useful devices for her, none of which she ever returned. You went out with her for a while, didn’t you, Cedric?”