‘You look better,’ I told him.
‘I feel better,’ he admitted. ‘Thank you for your help. It’s made a difference.’
I beamed at him. ‘Good.’
He shoved his hands into his pockets. ‘I should get off,’ he muttered. ‘Your lot must be at the cabin, right?’
He wrinkled his nose. ‘I’ll cross the river further upstream.’
That was probably a good idea. I was about to wave him off when another thought occurred to me. ‘Actually, Gareth,’ I said, ‘do you happen to have a phone on you?’
I tilted my head and did my best to smile sweetly. ‘Do you think I could borrow it? Just for a moment?’
‘Where’s your one?’
‘I’ve been promoted to contestant. I’m not allowed any communication with the outside world.’
Gareth raised his eyebrows. ‘What are we doing right now then?’
‘You’re not supposed to be here.’
He considered this. ‘True.’ He reached into his pocket and tossed me his mobile. ‘There you go.’
I grinned my thanks and quickly put in Iqbal’s number. My scholarly friend had better bloody answer. It took several rings and when Iqbal finally did pick up, he sounded particularly unfriendly. ‘Who is this?’
‘Ivy of course!’
He breathed out. ‘Oh. I’ve been trying to get hold of you for ages. This isn’t your number.’
‘Nope.’ I remained cheery. ‘I’ve borrowed someone else’s phone. Is everything alright with you? You sound kind of … antsy.’
‘My supervisor’s after me,’ he said morosely. ‘He keeps threatening to pull my funding unless I show him some evidence of what I’ve done so far.’
I winced. ‘Idle threats?’
‘Alas no. I think he’s serious this time.’
‘I’d offer to help,’ I said, ‘but I’m not sure I’d be much use to you. If there’s anything I can do though, let me know.’
‘Oh, I will, don’t worry.’ He sighed. ‘Anyway, I suppose you’re calling because you want to know what I’ve found out about that vial.’
‘Yep. It’s not easy for me to call these days so I’ve got to take every opportunity I can.’
I snorted. ‘More like hard work. The real world seems to be encroaching on both our lives.’
‘We should form a commune and live in the wilderness where no one can bother us.’
I looked around. The wilderness didn’t offer much in the way of creature comforts. One day in and what I wouldn’t give for some quilted toilet roll… ‘Somehow I think that would be even more like hard work.’
‘You’re probably right.’ At least Iqbal sounded a bit happier now. ‘Anyhow, who did you say was wearing that vial?’
‘Belinda Battenapple.’ At my answer, Gareth’s head jerked up. Maybe he was more interested in the celebrity goings-on of Enchantment than he made out. ‘I’ve seen it close up this time.’ I described it in more detail for Iqbal.
When I’d finished, he hissed through his teeth. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘that answers one question.’
‘There was a good chance it was a decorative piece. I found reference to some necklaces which the Victorians used that contained mercury and were supposed to ward off evil spirits.’
Intriguing. I put a lot of credence into superstitions, especially some of the more obscure ones. ‘Did they work?’
I could almost hear his shrug. ‘Damned if I know.’
‘But you don’t think this one is decorative?’
‘Not the way you’ve described it now.’
I waited for Iqbal to continue but there was silence on the other end of the phone. ‘Iqqy?’
‘Look, I might be wrong,’ he said finally. ‘But this is what some of my research uncovered.’
Instantly wary, my fingers curled tighter round the phone. ‘Go on.’
‘It draws death.’
I quashed down my sudden nausea. ‘Draws death?’
Gareth looked even more interested. I gave him a tight smile and walked away, turning my back to stop him eavesdropping further. He didn’t need to hear this.
‘Yes. That’s why the different coloured threads you saw keep moving all the time. It’s constantly working. It’s like a well of magic which even a non-witch can use.’
I swallowed. ‘What does drawing death actually mean?’ Somehow I doubted it was akin to Picasso scribbling a picture.
‘I was hoping you would know. I found three separate references to it, none of which were in English so my translation might be a little murky. One was Latin, one French and one Hindi. Each one roughly seems to mean the same thing – drawing death or pulling death in. It could be that Belinda Battenapple doesn’t know what she’s wearing. Or maybe she’s got some kind of suicidal impulse. It’s not even clear from what I’ve read that I’m on the right track – it could be something entirely different and completely innocuous. It might mean nothing, Ivy.’
Or it might mean that she’s dabbling in necromancy. It seemed bizarre to think that she could have been responsible for what happened to Benjamin Alberts. If the murder was down to her, she was still wearing the vial now. Whatever her plans were, they weren’t finished yet.
‘That’s not good,’ I said.
Iqbal registered my concern. ‘Are you in danger?’
I thought of my strange hallucinations. It didn’t appear so. If touching the vial caused them, then they were purely accidental. Except everyone – including Belinda – now knew that I’d been seeing things. If she’d laid a trap around the vial to catch anyone who took too close an interest in it, she might well be on to me.
I nibbled my lip. ‘I don’t know,’ I said eventually. ‘Probably not.’
‘Probably not? I don’t like the sound of that, Ivy. Maybe it’s time you left Winter to sort this out for himself.’
I smiled at the mention of Winter. ‘He’d be lost without me.’ I paused. ‘Besides, he’s promised to make sure I’m safe.’
‘Has he now?’ A faintly teasing note entered Iqbal’s voice. ‘Is he going to wrap his big arms around you?’
With any luck. ‘I should go,’ I said hastily. ‘I’ve borrowed this phone.’ I could hear voices from down by the cabin. If I didn’t get back soon, there would be cameras after me trying to find out what I was up to.
‘Fair enough.’ Iqbal returned to serious mode. ‘But even if you do have Winter to protect you, keep a lookout. I don’t think my supervisor would believe me if I told him my best friend had died again and I had to go to the funeral instead of writing my next section.’
Wait a minute. ‘Have you told him I’ve died before? As well as your grandmother?’
‘Got to go Ivy! Bye!’ He hung up.
I rolled my eyes and returned the phone to Gareth, murmuring a thank you. It was definite now: Belinda Battenapple had just become the prime suspect.
When I got back to the cabin, I ignored the fact that Barry had reappeared and was throwing me suspicious looks at my prolonged absence. The others were up and ready. Harriet was clutching an envelope and looking more animated than I’d ever seen her. ‘We have our first challenge!’ she cried.
Despite the gravity of all that was going on, I still felt a small thrill ripple through me. This might be the new improved Highland Survival edition, but Enchantment still followed a set course. Teams. Tasks. Challenges. Voting. And the challenges were where it was really at. They almost always involved magic in some form or another and were completed by pairs or individuals. The winner was automatically protected from being voted out. Everyone else, regardless of their team, then decided who deserved to go.
The genius of it was that if you tried hard and won, you were safe. If you tried hard and only almost won, there was a great big target on your back. As the teams changed between every challenge, however, it wasn’t always wise to get rid of the strongest contestants because you might want them on your side for the next round. Everything was a gamble. But, hey, so is life. Besides, this was the one time when I could be sure that everyone was present – not just the contestants and Armstrong and Trevor Bellows. Belinda would be there too. And Winter.