‘Next, you add a pinch of aconite.’ Using his forefinger and thumb, Winter added a small amount of the pungent herb. I recoiled from the stench; the others drew nearer. ‘Then,’ he continued, ‘one part tansy and four bakuli pods.’
I waited three beats. Nothing happened. ‘Well, it’s hardly dramatic, is it?’
‘Hush,’ Winter commanded. ‘You are far too impatient for your own good.’ He took a long-stemmed spoon, held it up towards the display cabinet and gently blew. The combination of herbs scattered across the empty glass frame. ‘Everyone stand back.’
The group of librarians leapt about three feet in the air, clearing a large space around the cabinet. ‘There,’ Maidmont breathed.
I twisted round. He was right. A shadowy figure edged up. His features weren’t clear and his body was a barely visible facsimile rather than anything solid. He was, however, definitely male.
‘What is this?’ I asked, fascinated despite myself.
‘It’s a shadow of what’s gone past,’ Winter murmured.
‘So this is the guy who took the sceptre?’ As I spoke, the figure hunkered down by the cabinet and ran sausage-like fingers around its rim, as if searching for weaknesses. He turned away, his lips moving. Winter cursed as he vanished from sight.
‘What?’ I asked. ‘Where did he go?’
Winter folded his arms across his broad chest and glowered. ‘He’s vanished. He cast a spell to stop himself from being tracked like this. That means only one thing: the thief is definitely from the Order.’ There was a harsh note in his voice, as if he were personally hurt that a fellow Order witch would stoop to such an act.
‘So that’s it?’ I cocked my head, disbelievingly. ‘We’ve waited for two hours to get a bunch of herbs together which told us nothing more than that there’s one of them and he’s a male witch.’ I threw my hands up in the air. ‘What a waste of time. Can’t your herbs counter their runes?’
‘Obviously not,’ Winter said grimly. ‘And just because we can only see one doesn’t mean there is only one.’
‘There must be some other way of—’
‘Ms Wilde! Enough of this.’
I sighed. He really was very upset. ‘Okay, okay.’ I paused. The thought that Eve’s two intruders had cast this very same spell to see what she’d been up to in her flat was creepy as hell. It was like the witchy version of a secret camera. ‘What happens if you use the same herbs but with different amounts?’ I enquired.
‘It’s not going to change anything,’ Winter replied stiffly. ‘We won’t see any more than we just have.’
Maidmont answered for him. ‘If you add more aconite and use it as the last ingredient, you can see future actions.’
I blinked. ‘You can tell the future?’
‘Even in its strongest form and applied by the most talented witch, it only shows you the next twelve minutes and it’s hopelessly unreliable,’ Winter said. ‘If you saw yourself doing a jig in about six minutes’ time, all you have to do is not do the jig and then you won’t be jigging.’
His explanation was convoluted but I thought I understood. ‘The future’s not immutable, you mean.’
I pondered this. ‘And are there any other applications? Any other uses?’
Again, it was Maidmont who answered. ‘If you increase the number of bakuli pods then the herbs can be used to track people.’
Maidmont’s expression was animated. He seemed to really enjoy playing the role of knowledge-giver. No wonder he was a librarian. ‘If you can get close enough to someone to sprinkle some of the concoction onto them, you can use the remainder to follow where they go. It’s similar to the breadcrumb theory but far more advanced. Naturally.’
Winter snorted. ‘It’s a stupid application. Any witch beyond Second Level can easily create long-term guards against such spells.’
‘But, Adeptus Exemptus Winter,’ I pointed out, ‘not everyone is a witch.’
‘If anyone is worried about being followed in this manner, all they need to do is pay the Order to ensure they are warded against such a spell.’
Assuming they knew it existed in the first place. Seeming to read my thoughts, Winter jumped in before I could argue my point. ‘How do you know all this?’ he asked Maidmont. ‘This is higher Level magic.’
The librarian shrugged awkwardly and looked embarrassed. His librarian buddies also looked away, as if sharing in his apparent shame. Clearly Maidmont spent his free hours reading books that were normally off limits to lower Level witches. I suppose there had to be some benefits to lugging cartloads of books around all day long. The Order probably turned a blind eye to things like that. After all, it was one thing knowing such spells; it was quite another to have the ability to perform them. No doubt that was why they employed Level One librarians; even if they were curious enough to flip through the more complicated and dangerous spells, they wouldn’t be able to do anything with them. The Order seniors could be sneakily clever when they wanted to be.
I filed all the information away for future use and got back to the matter in hand. ‘Well, it’s obvious who our main suspect is.’ Everyone stared at me. I rolled my eyes. ‘The ward spell around the display cabinet is degraded,’ I reminded them. ‘The Ipsissimus is the one who bespelled it in the first place. No one else would believe that they could steal the sceptre so easily. And very few others would have the know-how to bypass the other wards.’
Winter grew very still. ‘You’re accusing the Ipsissimus, the esteemed Order leader, of stealing his own sceptre?’
I shrugged. ‘It’s not really his sceptre, is it? It belongs to the Order. He only uses it for ceremonial occasions and then it gets passed along to the next Order Head when they take office.’
‘You’re an idiot,’ Winter dismissed.
I pointed at him. ‘Call me names all you like. You know there’s a chance I’m right. I can see the doubt in your eyes.’ Actually, I couldn’t see anything beyond the brilliant blue of his irises but I liked to pretend I could read him like a book. I glanced at Maidmont. ‘Would anyone expect the ward to be dissipated so quickly?’
He shook his head. ‘No. Not at all.’
I smiled smugly. ‘There you go. The Ipsissimus is the prime suspect.’
Winter glared at me. ‘We are not interrogating the leader of our own Order!’
‘Oh,’ I said, the very picture of innocence. ‘I thought you liked to make sure your investigations were done right. You know that getting through the three wards downstairs would take the skills of someone Third Level or above. I think the Ipsissimus falls into that category, don’t you?’ I paused. ‘But if you’re too scared of him or too intimidated to question him…’
Fire sparked in his eyes. ‘I am not intimidated.’
‘Sure. Whatever you say.’
Winter ground his teeth. ‘Fine. I’ll make an appointment to see him first thing tomorrow – but I will do the talking. You, Ms Wilde, will keep your mouth shut.’
I beamed. ‘Brilliant. We should skip the gym tomorrow morning too.’ I fluttered my eyelashes in a manner that I hoped was vaguely appealing. ‘Now can we go home?’
I was unlocking my door when my phone started to ring. Hoping that it was Iqbal with information about how I could break the binding, I experienced a surge of energy and bolted in to answer it. I leapt for the handset, ignoring the puzzled look I received from Brutus at my uncharacteristic speed.
‘Hey,’ I said breathlessly. ‘This is Ivy.’
‘Ivy! How are you? How are things going?’
My heart sank. Eve. What the hell was I going to tell her? With any luck, someone had already been in touch and I wouldn’t have to break the bad news that I’d effectively stolen her dream job. ‘Things are … interesting,’ I said, prevaricating. ‘How about with you?’
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