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Winter scratched a note to himself; it should be easy to check whether Marsh was telling the truth or not.

The witch continued. ‘I wouldn’t take them. I wouldn’t even know how to take them. Aren’t they warded?’

Winter’s lip curled. ‘Usually, yes.’ His jaw tightened. ‘But you found a way round that, didn’t you? You circumvented the systems, almost killing Ms Wilde and me in the process. What is it you’re really after, Marsh? Is it power? You might as well tell us. The Manuscript will do you no good in prison.’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’ve never touched it! I told you!’

‘Then why did we find clear evidence that you had in your home?’

‘I don’t know!’

Winter exhaled then abruptly changed tack, softening his voice. ‘What happened with Adeptus Diall? Did he threaten you? Is that why you killed him? We know it wasn’t premeditated, Oscar. Was it self-defence? We can help you if it was. We understand that Diall could be difficult.’

‘Diall’s a prick,’ Marsh grunted. Then he paused and looked up. ‘He’s dead?’ He snorted. ‘Good riddance.’

There was a knock at the door and we all jumped, even Winter. He got to his feet and opened it. There was a low murmur before he beckoned me. ‘You should hear this too, Ivy.’

I stood up. ‘Don’t go anywhere,’ I told Marsh.

He glared and rattled the chain linking his ankles together. ‘Unlikely.’

I padded over to Winter. He nudged me into the corridor and closed the door. A fresh-faced woman was standing there. ‘We’ve had the preliminary reports, Adeptus,’ she said. ‘The fragment you found is definitely from the Cyphers. We need to double check but it looks like one of the earlier pages.’

That was something; the further on you went in each Volume, the more power and magic there was. Maybe Marsh had only read the first section or two. He certainly didn’t seem to have much power or authority right now – unless he was waiting for the right moment to use the magic against us.

‘Thanks. And the rest?’

‘Adeptus Leith has been in touch. There’s very little they can decipher from Philosophus Marsh’s home. He has some effective wards in place that prevent us from casting a spell to see what he’s been up to.’

Winter nodded, unsurprised. I, on the other hand, felt differently. ‘But if he’s a Philosophus, then he’s First Level. You’ve said that only Second Level witches know how to put those kinds of wards in place.’

‘He stole an entire volume of the Cypher Manuscript, Ivy, and almost drowned us both in a sewer,’ Winter said. ‘I think we can safely assume that he has magical abilities beyond his supposed level.’

I thought of the man on the other side of the door with his bloodshot eyes and broken veins on his cheeks and nose. He didn’t strike me as someone with fabulous magical abilities but Winter was supposed to be the expert. All the same, it niggled me. This didn’t feel right.

‘The blood?’ Winter asked the woman briskly. ‘Do we have a match yet for Diall?’

She shook her head. ‘Preliminary testing tells us it’s definitely not Marsh’s own blood and it’s the same type as Diall’s, but we can’t say anything for sure yet.’ She looked troubled. ‘We’ve turned over his house and there’s no sign of the missing Cypher Manuscript. People are starting to panic.’

The cat was well and truly out of the bag. ‘So it’s common knowledge what we’re looking for?’

She nodded uneasily. Winter hissed in irritation. ‘In that case,’ he muttered, ‘we’d better find it quickly before all hell breaks loose and there are pointed fingers and harsh whispers in every corner.’

The witch’s mouth tightened. ‘I’ll do what I can to keep people calm. We’ll send out a statement as soon as possible.’ She turned and sprinted away. People around here certainly liked conducting everything at breakneck speed.

‘You’re expecting a large number of honourable Order witches to take advantage of this situation and start blaming their colleagues,’ I said to Winter.

He was silent for a long moment. ‘As you have stated on many occasions, Ivy, the Order is filled with ambition. Regardless of your opinion, ambition is a good thing. Everyone should want to better themselves and, yes, I do believe that the majority of the witches here are honourable in their ambitions. But they are also under great pressure to succeed. If a few can cast suspicion on others, they may have the opportunity to advance themselves.’

‘That’s why you need more people like me around.’ I wasn’t joking. ‘People who are content with their lot in life.’

He regarded me thoughtfully. ‘So you’re admitting that you’re glad to be here?’

I held up my palms. ‘Whoa! I didn’t say that. Besides, it’s clear you don’t really need me. What ever happened to good cop, bad cop? You’re the one asking all the questions in there. I wanted to be the tough guy while you played all sweet and nice.’

‘I’ve been trained,’ he pointed out gently. ‘It is probably better if I take the lead. Although it was a good idea of yours to probe Marsh about his other indiscretions.’

I wasn’t sure that describing murder as an indiscretion was appropriate but I wisely kept my mouth shut.

‘We’ll have to check out Marsh’s desk,’ Winter mused. ‘And it would be helpful to find his personnel file.’ He glanced at me sideways. ‘Perhaps you could put some pressure on that old boyfriend of yours.’

‘Tarquin?’ My lip curled. ‘He’s more likely to jump to your bidding than mine.’

The corner of Winter’s mouth lifted. ‘Just use some of that bubbly charm, Ivy. He’ll be eating out of your hand like everyone else in no time.’ Winter turned on his heel and went back into the interrogation room, leaving me with my jaw hanging open. Was Winter eating of my hand, then? I smoothed back my curls and blinked. Well, well, well.

***

I ambled over to Human Resources, taking advantage of the time on my own to shuffle instead of march like a soldier. There was no need to rush; Tarquin wasn’t going anywhere. When I arrived, the frowny receptionist seemed keen to put me off now that I wasn’t with Winter until I brandished his name around, together with insubstantial but dire threats about the might of Arcane Branch, and she let me pass.

Adeptus Price’s door was open. I peered inside but he didn’t seem to be there. I made a beeline for Tarquin’s desk. His floppy hair was bobbing around as he tapped furiously at his keyboard. He was probably playing Candy Crush – that’s what I would have been doing.

He didn’t notice I was there until I was standing right over him. It wasn’t Candy Crush; he was filling an application for Arcane Branch. I smirked. Too late.

‘Hey, traitor,’ I said chattily.

Tarquin grimaced, the expression giving his normally handsome face an ugly slant. ‘What do you want?’

I perched on the edge of his desk, making myself at home. There was a bag of mint humbugs next to the computer screen so I helped myself to one. It was a mistake because the sweet immediately attached itself to the underside of several of my teeth, making it difficult to talk. ‘I want Oscar Marsh’s file,’ I said. My words were indistinct but I thought he got the gist.

A sneer crossed Tarquin’s face. ‘Ah, yes. It’s all over the campus, you know. Why on earth would Marsh, of all people, want the Cypher Manuscripts? He couldn’t read even the simplest volumes.’

‘Just hand over the damn file,’ I said, unwilling to gossip with Tarquin.

‘We’ve been through this. His file was checked out. Your partner didn’t want to say who took it. It’s your problem, not ours.’

‘Let me see the logbook again,’ I demanded.

Tarquin grinned. ‘Make me.’

I shrugged. ‘Okay.’ I pulled back my shoulders and raised my voice, ensuring that everyone in the HR office could hear me. ‘I am here from Arcane Branch, investigating the most serious matter that the Order has experienced for decades.’ That was probably true; I couldn’t say for sure. Whatever: it sounded impressive. ‘If you continue to obstruct this grave investigation, I shall have no option but to arrest you and assume that you…’

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