‘We’re running out of time. We need something.’
‘Tell me something I don’t know.’
Winter reached into his pocket. ‘Calendula flowers. They’ll offer us some protection.’
Not much. I nodded, however. The energy I’d expelled in order to cast the three runes was costing me and my whole body felt drained and weak. Even if I wanted to run away and leave Winter to it, I wasn’t sure I could. ‘We have to work together,’ I said in a strained voice.
Winter shot me a quick look of concern. ‘Yes.’
‘We need to stop the thing. We don’t necessarily have to kill it.’
His left eyebrow twitched slightly. I had the feeling there was something he wasn’t telling me but there wasn’t time to pursue it now. ‘Not fire then.’ He paused. ‘Ice.’
That could work. I stretched out my hands. There was enough moisture in the air, I reckoned. Just.
The monster man began to growl. He was preparing for something. He threw himself down to the ground and began to scrabble in the earth at the base of the barrier, as if he’d decided that he couldn’t go through it so he might as well go under it. Every time he touched the ward, the magic flickered. We had seconds.
‘Use the calendula. I’ll release the spell.’
Winter agreed. ‘I’ll draw on the water in the air.’
‘And I’ll draw a rune to drop the temperature.’ I nodded. This could work.
Winter reached out, grabbed my hand and squeezed it. ‘We’ll be fine.’
‘Sure.’ I smiled unconvincingly. ‘No problem.’
‘Aim for its feet and legs,’ he advised.
The monster gave up on its scrabble and reared back before launching itself at the ward once more. The second after it crashed into it I sketched out the rune to dissipate the barrier; at the same time Winter threw the calendula in an arc in front of us. The monster grunted and heaved itself back onto its hands and feet. Winter drew his own runes and the molecules in the air almost immediately coalesced. The monster threw back its head, displaying a slashed, maniacal grin, then it lunged just as a wash of water rose up to meet it.
I wasted no more time. Hastily flicking out a double-handed rune, I forced Winter’s water to freeze. The magic was fast. Winter pulled me backwards as the monster’s claws scraped towards us. Then it fell heavily to the ground with its feet and legs encased in a large chunk of ice.
It groaned – but it wasn’t giving up. It stretched out its arms, flailing towards both Winter and me as if it thought it could still catch us. There was enough ice to hold it in place for an hour or two. That would give us time to work out what to do next.
I walked over and crouched down beside its head. It wasn’t easy; the smell of putrefying flesh surrounding it was extraordinary. A troubled thought pricked at the back of my mind but I pushed it away. This monster man was unlike anything I’d ever dreamt of but that didn’t mean I should start thinking the impossible.
I gave Winter a faint smile. For all the creature’s flapping, it was an easy thing to stay away from those claws now its body was trapped. I tilted my head towards it. ‘What are you?’ I asked. ‘Why are you doing this?’
‘There’s no point in trying to communicate with it,’ Winter said. ‘It’s not going to respond. It can’t.’
It appeared Winter was right – the only answer I received was a snarl. Just to be sure, I tried again. ‘Can you speak English? Did you kill Benjamin Alberts?’
I looked down, noting that the soles of its shoes had the same squiggle of a logo that Gareth had drawn for me. This was definitely our culprit. This … thing had ripped Benjamin Alberts apart.
I sensed rather than saw Winter come up beside me. Before I could say or do anything, he raised his hands. Too late, I registered the rock he was holding. A second later, he brought it down onto the monster’s head, smashing in its skull and spraying me with dark coagulated lumps of weird monster blood. There was one short spasm and then the thing stopped moving. Forever.
I stared aghast at Winter. He shrugged at me, although there wasn’t any ambivalence in his expression. ‘It was already a corpse, Ivy. It’s an animated anomaly. Whatever we’re dealing with here involves necromancy. Someone is raising the dead to attack the living.’
I felt like death warmed up. Given the circumstances, that probably should have been funny but I definitely wasn’t laughing. I managed a muttered good morning to Amy and that was about it. When we were ushered onto the bus pre-dawn, I simply kept my head down and ignored the speculation around me about whether Enchantment would be able to continue.
I’d spent almost an hour under the scalding shower and I was sure I could still smell the damn monster on me. Every time I thought about it, a shudder rippled through my very bones.
When we arrived on set, we gathered out by the main stage as we had done the previous day. There was no sign of any of the contestants but all the Enchantment bigwigs were there. No crew members were rushing around or making preparations; everyone simply waited to hear what we would be told. It might have been my favourite television show but, frankly, I was praying that they’d shut the whole thing down for good. I felt like I could sleep for a week.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t Morris Armstrong who took the microphone. He was there on stage but he gave the floor to Belinda. She was dressed more simply than yesterday but, as she was wearing a silk scarf wrapped in an elaborate knot around her neck, it was impossible to see whether she was wearing her vial necklace. Whatever.
I cast a tired eye around for Moonbeam and spotted him lounging against a tall box on the far side. He was doing his best to appear disdainful but his body language was too relaxed. He didn’t know any better than the rest of us what was about to be said – and he was just as curious. Mommy dearest wasn’t keeping him in the loop then. I wondered why. I closed my eyes and decided I really didn’t care.
‘Dearest people.’ Belinda’s voice filled the air. Despite her saccharine-sweet words, she somehow managed to sound wholeheartedly sincere. I opened one eye slightly; she was charismatic enough that I’d give her that much attention. ‘You all know, of course, of the traumatic time we have faced over the past few weeks. Losing one of our contestants was a genuine shock and I have no doubt that you felt the tragedy just as deeply as I did.’
She paused, as if in memory of the dear friend she had probably not even met, and continued. ‘Of course, things got even worse yesterday when our own set was attacked.’
Trevor Bellows reached forward and grasped her hand. As if to give credence to the sombre mood, he was no longer wearing fancy dress. Oddly, however, the high-waisted jeans and T-shirt made him look far weirder than the Halloween witch’s get-up that he had on yesterday.
‘I’m fine,’ Bellows said, bobbing his head up and down several times. ‘It was a terrible experience but, if I can find even some of the strength which you wonderful people have, I will get through this.’
Unfortunately for him, Bellows didn’t have the same aura of honesty that Belinda managed to convey. Perhaps it was because his words were so patently ridiculous. There was more than one scoff from the watching crew. If Bellows noticed, he didn’t react.
Any dregs of sympathy I might have felt for him at apparently being targeted by a murderer vanished the instant Brutus leapt on stage and curled up on one of his shoes. There was a soft murmur of delight from the crowd. I crossed my arms and glared. Not that it did any good; Brutus didn’t even glance at me.
Bellows passed the microphone back to Belinda and she continued. ‘What most of you don’t know,’ she said in honeyed tones, ‘is that there were significant developments overnight.’
There was a collective intake of breath. Even Moonbeam seemed to stand up straighter. I yawned. Significant developments? I’d say.
Belinda cleared her throat, more for dramatic effect than because she needed to. It was hardly necessary. You could have heard a cat’s whisker drop to the ground. ‘The murderer has been brought to justice.’