With that thought bouncing around my head, I straightened up and abandoned my bid to search for a key to open Blackbeard’s den. No, I didn’t know how this door worked but I did know how glass worked.
I raised both hands. ‘Winter?’ I said calmly.
‘Duck.’ I flicked out the rune and the glass instantly shattered into a million pieces. I have to admit that the effect was pretty amazing although the sound was bloody loud. So much for my smiley face. Oh well. I rarely did subtle – Blackbeard would definitely know we’d been here now.
Winter didn’t move a muscle. ‘You just broke a mirror,’ he said.
‘A very large mirror.’
‘That’s seven years bad luck.’
I glanced at him. ‘Not according to you.’
‘I might not have faith in superstitions, Ivy, but you do.’ Winter’s blue eyes swept across the damage. ‘And both the police and Arcane Branch won’t be happy about what we’ve done to their crime scene.’
‘Neither the police nor Arcane Branch have got as close to Blackbeard as we have.’ I sniffed. ‘They’ll just have to deal with it. And I have faith in you. That will have to be enough.’ I pointed. ‘Look. There’s the secret door.’ I stalked up and kicked it open. I didn’t do that for effect – my hands were shaking so much that I didn’t think I could turn the handle.
‘We’ll catch him,’ Winter said. ‘His days are already numbered.’
I just nodded and walked into the claustrophobic darkness in front of us. It was Winter’s spell that lit the small room. To be honest, when I saw what Blackbeard had been concealing, I almost asked him to extinguish the light. If the flat outside was pristine, this was its natural opposite. After the bleakness of the other rooms, it almost hurt to look at it.
Every inch of wall space was covered with something. In some places, he’d pinned up yellowing news articles, all of them related to either magic, witches or the Order in some way. None of the headlines were positive. Other parts of the walls were plastered with sticky notes of all shapes, sizes and colours. Random words and numbers were scribbled on them, some as chilling reminders like ‘track down strong rope’ and others which made no sense whatsoever such as ‘here 6731’.
There were haphazard piles of books on the floor and several plastic bags that seemed to contain clothing. In the furthest corner, there was a towering stack of ornate boxes and urns similar to the container in which we’d found Clare’s ashes. Winter reached for one while I suppressed a shudder. He flipped open the lid and breathed out before showing me that it was empty.
‘There are still three missing coven members,’ he said. ‘Their remains have to be somewhere.’
I flattened my mouth into a thin line. ‘There’s been no sign of their spirits yet. They might not be here.’
Winter started searching through the rest of the collection. ‘Maybe there’s enough of Blackbeard’s null nature lingering here to hold the ghosts at bay. Or maybe he’s taken them with him. We have to check, though.’ His eyes met mine. ‘Their ashes are all the evidence we need against him.’
You could take the witch out of the Order but you couldn’t take the Order out of the witch. He was still thinking like an Arcane Branch officer. The truth was that we already knew Blackbeard was guilty and finding the rest of the coven’s remains would prove nothing. It would, however, give their families some small comfort. All the same, Winter still desperately wanted to do things by the book; he really was as orderly as the Order itself. I hoped he realised sooner rather than later that he belonged with them as much as he belonged with me.
I stepped back to give him more room, inadvertently knocking over one of the book piles as I did so. I was about to kick them out of the way but one of the titles caught my eye. I knelt down and examined it. Well, that answered one question.
‘Check this out,’ I said. ‘It’s a book on pagan black spots and their potential effects. It’s got to be at least a hundred years old.’ I flicked through the pages. ‘And there’s a bookmark in the section on Wistman’s Wood.’
Winter gave me a grim look. ‘He’s planned everything from the get go, hasn’t he?’
I bit my lip. ‘There’s a second bookmark.’ I turned the pages, sucking in a breath when I scanned through the text. ‘Uffington White Horse. That’s less than an hour away from Oxford.’
‘It’s the gigantic horse shape cut into the hillside. Is that pagan?’ Winter asked. ‘I thought it was just an Anglo-Saxon emblem commemorating a battle.’
‘No one knows for sure. But it does say here that nearby is the spot where St George apparently killed the dragon. There’s a bald patch where the dragon’s blood was spilt. It’s said that nothing can ever grow there.’
‘Sounds pretty damned mystical to me,’ he said. ‘Just like Wistman’s Wood.’
‘Yeah.’ I met his eyes. ‘It can’t be a coincidence that he’s made a note of this place. It’s so close to Oxford and the Order headquarters.’
‘Look through the other books. Maybe we can get more clues about what he’s planning.’
I nodded and started to crouch down. I was halfway to the floor, however, when my legs gave way completely and I ended up sprawled on my arse. Winter opened his mouth to say something and was forestalled by several loud shouts coming from further back in Blackbeard’s flat.
‘It took the cavalry less time than I expected to make this connection,’ Winter muttered.
‘Blackbeard’s dad was probably worried about his son,’ I said. ‘Either that or he suspects him. His own flesh and blood is a mass murderer – he must have some inkling about his son’s true nature. Maybe that’s why he really hired the security guard.’
Winter nodded and walked to the door, his palms splayed outwards to indicate he was unarmed. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to do much good; he was immediately body-slammed backwards.
‘Hey!’ I protested. Before I could get to my feet, however, a blank-faced, armed police officer waved a gun in my face.
‘Stay down,’ he snarled.
‘Secure the area!’ He made some complicated gesture with his hands; if he’d been a witch, they would have conjured up an effective rune. Instead of a spell, however, another suited and booted officer appeared, yelling for me to lie face down on the ground. For a split second I was tempted to cast a spell and get rid of this lot but I knew that it was probably wiser to cooperate. That was a very big gun and I’d already been in one more fight tonight than I’d planned. There are only so many times a girl can get knocked out before she ends up back in hospital. Right now I didn’t have time for that, which was a shame because hospital beds were pretty darned comfy.
There was the crunch of glass as several more officers stormed the area. Actually, forget about Blackbeard’s father; this was down to breaking the mirror. Seven years’ bad luck, I thought morosely. Starting right here.
We might still be in middle England but these officers were a lot warier and better trained than their counterparts at the crematorium. The first thing they did was to bind Winter’s and my hands behind our backs with clever knotting that prevented our fingers from moving. Even most witches weren’t that canny. I stopped admiring them when they yanked me sharply to my feet and all but dragged me back into Blackbeard’s living room and flung me on his sofa. Down. Up. Down. I wasn’t a yo-yo. They ought to make up their minds.
There was the faint ping of the lift opening followed by the most godawful yowling and screeching. It got louder and louder until three red-robed Arcane Branch witches appeared with Brutus in a cage.
‘We have secured the familiar,’ the nearest one said. This was followed by a nervous glance towards Winter, who’d been dragged over next to me. He might be tied up for the second time tonight but these witches were still scared of him. We could work with that.
Winter had obviously had the same thought. ‘Adeptus Minor Green,’ he said, in his best shiver-inducing voice. ‘Ms Wilde and I are both here for the same reason as you – to track down the killer of the Dorset coven. This is his place of residence. We entered it expecting that—’
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