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One of the witches said, ‘There’s the Daily Express.’

‘Uh, no, I mean magical papers.’ I ignored Winter’s frown. If Diall had taken the missing Cypher Manuscripts either they were here or his murderer had left with them.

The witch pursed her lips. ‘Nothing beyond what you’d expect. A few interesting treatise on the workings of Myomancy but nothing unusual.’ Her eyes grew sharp. ‘Why?’

Winter coughed. ‘On the way here Ms Wilde was wondering whether a layman might have broken in to steal some magical artefacts or books.’

‘We can’t say for sure whether anything is missing but nobody appears to have rifled through his possessions. There are no obvious gaps on his shelves.’ She paused. ‘We did find this, however.’ She held out a piece of paper in her gloved hands.

I glanced down, confused. It just looked like random numbers to me.

‘It’s the…’

‘Coordinates for the library,’ Winter finished. He pointed towards the last few numbers. ‘And here, minus three at the end.’ He pressed his lips together.

‘That could mean three levels down,’ the witch interjected helpfully. She flipped the paper over and I realised it was a picture of the sceptre. I drew in a sharp breath. As usual, Winter didn’t react but he had to be thinking the same as me.

‘And herbs?’ Winter asked. ‘Any sign of what magic he might have been working on?’

She shrugged. ‘Some brimstone and foxglove. There are some more jars in his office but we’ve not had a chance to look at them properly yet.’

Diall’s corpse took that opportunity to let out what I can only describe as a massive belch. I yelped and jumped, banging into Winter’s hard body. He reached out an arm to steady me. ‘That’s quite normal,’ he assured me.

Normal? Ickity ick ick. ‘I’ll have a look through his office and see what’s there,’ I said hastily.

A faint smile settled on his lips. ‘Good idea.’ He turned back to the others and started asking more questions.

I darted out of the kitchen, pausing only to ask a red robe where the office was. My shirt felt tight and uncomfortable and I was sure that Diall’s heating was turned all the way up. On the plus side, I’d kept the contents of my stomach where they belonged so things could have been worse.

Diall’s office was like a cupboard. It was crammed full of books and papers and, although there was a desk, the place was cramped and dingy. I sat down on his chair and contemplated where my life had gone wrong. This time last week I was driving happily around the streets of Oxford dropping off old ladies and businessmen. I sighed. Being a key part of a murder investigation was not what I’d dreamed of.

I ran my eyes along the shelves but nothing caught my attention. There was no flashing neon sign pointing towards the stolen Volume 9. I leant back and fiddled with the drawers. The first one contained a set of quills and a stained inkwell. The second was filled with small glass jars of dried herbs. Interested from a purely professional standpoint, I rifled through them. Some looked more than slightly past their sell by date. Helpfully, Diall had labelled each one – and they were in alphabetical order. Musk. Myrtle. Nettle. Oak blossom. Ossombe root. Parsley.

I froze and went back for a second look. Ossombe root. I lifted up the jar and stared at it. The jar contained three or four ounces of dried brown stuff. I unscrewed the lid and took a quick whiff. Well, it was certainly pungent.

It didn’t seem relevant to the investigation that Diall had this particular herb in his possession and he certainly didn’t need it any more. I placed the jar on the top of the desk and looked at it. It wouldn’t be missed. I weighed up my options then, without thinking about it any further, shoved it in my pocket. It would be good to be free from the Order – and it would certainly be good to be free from Winter and his tiresome work ethic.

Right?

Chapter Sixteen

‘Diall has to have taken the Manuscript. And hidden the sceptre.’

‘Of the sceptre, we can be almost certain,’ Winter replied. ‘But of the Manuscript, there’s no actual proof, although it does seem the likeliest scenario. It’s definitely not at his house though.’

‘How about his office at the Order?’

‘The Ipsissimus has people searching it right now.’

I gnawed on my bottom lip. ‘Do they know what they’re looking for?’

Winter ran a hand through his hair. ‘They will if they find it.’

And if they didn’t find it, the Order were going to have to tell the world that it was missing. They couldn’t keep something like that hidden for long. Instead of pointing out the obvious, I focused on something else which had been bugging me. ‘You didn’t like Diall, did you?’ I said quietly.

He pursed his lips. ‘For someone who professes not to care about the Order, you certainly pay attention.’

I didn’t comment. It might be entirely irrelevant to our case but I still wanted to know the reason behind Winter’s antipathy for his now dead colleague.

He sighed. ‘Second Level witches like myself are involved in the recruitment and promotion of others. For example, we sit on the board that decides whether witches like your neighbour are permitted to move into the next Level. Obviously the Third Level members have the final say but our opinions still carry weight. Adeptus Exemptus Diall had a bad habit of speaking up for those whose skills were not always up to par. I’ve been pushing to launch an investigation into his machinations for quite some time.’

I was intrigued. ‘Why would Diall do something like that? If he recommended someone who couldn’t do the job, it would surely come back to bite him in the arse.’

‘I have a theory.’ Winter fell silent.

I waited for him to elaborate further; when he didn’t, I prodded him. ‘Well? What’s your theory?’

‘It’s moot now.’

‘You don’t know that.’

‘I have no desire to speak ill of the dead. Or of a fellow witch.’ Winter’s manner was stiff and unyielding. No, that wasn’t going to work.

‘Winter,’ I said, ‘this might have something to do with our investigation.’

He snorted. ‘Unlikely.’

‘You’re too close to the subject matter because you’re emotionally involved. You need an objective ear.’

‘As much as you enjoy objecting, Ivy, I don’t think it could ever be said that you’re objective.’

The blue-eyed one certainly had a way with words. ‘Go on. I won’t tell anyone.’ I crossed my fingers and held them up to prove it. ‘I promise.’

Winter muttered something under his breath. ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Diall was ambitious.’ He said it with a flourish, as if it would explain everything.

‘Er, I hate to break it to you, but just about every Order witch is ambitious.’

Winter rolled his eyes at my inability to understand his point. ‘He was encouraging lesser members into positions they shouldn’t have held so that in the future they would be more likely to support him in return.’ He paused. ‘Or so I believe. Adeptus Exemptus Diall could be very persuasive when he wanted to be.’

I considered this. ‘So couldn’t one of those so-called lesser members have killed him?’

‘Why would you bite the hand that feeds you?’

‘Because,’ I said softly, repeating my earlier point, ‘every Order witch is ambitious.’ I skipped round him to avoid a ladder propped up against the wall of my building.

Winter’s mouth twitched. ‘It’s a possibility,’ he finally conceded.

‘Ha ha! You see? I can do this.’ I stretched out my arms. ‘I can be an investigator extraordinaire.’

‘It’s a theory. And not a very plausible one either.’ Winter stopped walking for a moment. ‘It’s important not to believe too strongly in any one idea without concrete evidence. Otherwise you start looking for evidence to fit the theory rather than the other way around. There are no shortcuts in this line of work. And ambition isn’t a bad thing. The desire to succeed and do better is what drives society forward.’

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