He sat down heavily. ‘Raphael Winter has it in him to be Ipsissimus one day and he will be a damn good one. He has both the integrity and the ability. But that day is not today. I’m not convinced that there are any Third Level witches who could manage it either.’
I understood what he wasn’t saying. ‘If you do it and you die in the process, the Order will be thrown into chaos. Things are unstable enough as it is.’
He sighed. ‘Yes. Maybe in a year or two we will have made enough inroads into changing our laws and structures to manage my … abdication. However, I am deeply concerned about what would happen without a strong and ethical successor already in place. After what happened with Adeptus Diall and Price, the next Ipsissimus must be appointed with great caution.’
I nodded. The Ipsissimus wasn’t simply worried about his own skin. I’d already experienced first hand what problems a bunch of ambitious Order witches could create. The wrong person in charge could set the whole place alight – and not in a good way. Those witches needed a strong hand and, despite what had gone on in the past, I did believe the man in front of me was that person.
I pushed back my hair. ‘I can do this,’ I told him. ‘I will do this.’
The Ipsissimus reached over and took my hands. ‘I believe you. It might not come to your sacrifice—’
‘But if it does, I know what to do. Give me the incantation.’
He released his hold on me and reached inside his coat, drawing out a rolled-up scroll. He handed it over without a word; he was sensible enough not to express his thanks. I wasn’t a martyr just yet. I took the scroll from him and stuffed it down my dress. The paper was itchy against my skin but at least the leather corset was enough to manage to conceal the bulge.
‘I need to find the other Order witches. We’re going to try to triangulate our magic to see if we can locate any power surges in the area. It’s a long shot but we have to try something.’ The Ipsissimus passed a hand over his eyes. ‘This is so fucked up.’
Startled by his swearing, I flashed him a smile. ‘Hey, it’ll be fine. We’ll find out who the necromancer is and turn them into a corpse long before I need this. No problemo.’
He didn’t smile back. ‘I’m counting on you.’ He paused. ‘We all are.’
I gave myself a moment after the Ipsissimus left and then, telling myself that it was only because I had to save the world, I made my way outside. Both Brutus and Winter were there, seemingly in the middle of some kind of argument.
‘She needs peace, Brutus. She needs to sleep.’
‘I’ll get you food. Just let me check on Ivy and then I’ll find you some tuna or something.’
Brutus yawned and raised a paw in my direction. ‘Food.’
I shrugged at him. ‘I don’t have any. I’d suggest you go to your new friend for some but I suppose he’s still being interrogated.’
Winter turned in surprise then gave an irritated frown when he saw me. ‘You need to lie down. I can handle the investigation.’
I smiled at him. ‘I’m not going to let you steal all the glory, buster. Not after all this work.’
He wasn’t appeased by my light-hearted answer. ‘I won’t have you collapsing on me, Ivy. You look bloody awful.’
‘Well, thank you very much.’
He gritted his teeth. ‘It’s not a criticism.’
I crossed my arms. ‘It sounded like it.’ I couldn’t let Winter bundle me back off to bed. Not now. ‘You keep complaining that I’m too lazy. Now I’m taking action and you’re still complaining. I can’t win.’
He drew in a breath as if unsure of himself. ‘I’m worried about you.’
I waved an airy hand around, hoping I didn’t look as nauseous or exhausted as I felt. ‘I’m absolutely fine.’ I pulled my shoulders back. ‘We can’t hang around. We have to find who’s behind this.’
Winter’s eyes narrowed. ‘You must have hit your head. This definitely isn’t the Ivy Wilde I know.’ I let out a fake laugh, which only served to increase Winter’s suspicions. ‘What’s going on, Ivy? What exactly did the Ipsissimus want?’
I had a ready-made answer – and one which I was sure would prevent Winter from probing further. ‘He asked me to join the Order. Said that I’d done enough to prove myself and that I’d be welcomed in with open arms. I wouldn’t even have to begin at Neophyte again.’
He stared. ‘And you want to do this? I thought you were determined not to go near the Order with a barge pole.’
‘I am. And that’s exactly what I told him. He said that if I helped you find the necromancer and put a stop to his crimes, he would leave me in peace.’
Of course there was no logic to what I’d just said. That was why I reckoned it would work. If I came up with a more rational reason for not hiding under a duvet when I’d been given permission to do just that, Winter would continue to question what I was doing. Instead, he’d spend so much time puzzling about it that he’d stop asking.
Just in case, I rushed ahead. ‘We need to go and speak to Bellows. If Belinda and her vial have been ruled out, he’s the only other person who’s got any reason to be dodgy.’ My mouth flattened into a grim line. ‘And from those photos, he’s dodgy as hell.’ I swung a side look at Winter. ‘Has Belinda said anything about them?’
He was silent for a moment, as if he still wanted to ask more about the Ipsissimus and my reasons for springing up from my sick bed. Fortunately, his inner investigator took over. ‘Our focus was on the vial. The photos, distasteful as they are, don’t seem pertinent to necromancy.’
‘No,’ I agreed. ‘But they are pertinent to being a bastard.’ I still didn’t think Bellows was the bastard witch we were looking for but there were few other options at this point. ‘Where’s Tarquin?’
Winter stilled. ‘Why?’
‘He’s obviously good friends with Moonbeam. I imagine he has insights into all this which we can only guess at.’
Winter was only slightly appeased. ‘Unless he’s gone with the others, Tarquin’s probably around here somewhere. Many witches are. They’re using tracking spells to see if they can work out where the zombie came from.’ His expression was grim. ‘Not to mention making sure there aren’t any more of the damn things anywhere.’
I frowned. ‘Gone where with the others? What others?’
‘Other than Armstrong, everyone else in the crew has been shipped back to Tomintoul. No matter what Armstrong wants, it’s pretty certain that Enchantment is finished.’
‘Rampaging zombies are just a bit too much even for reality television?’
‘It appears so.’
I sniffed. After what had happened to Benjamin Alberts, they were lucky that no one else had died. Yet. All the same, it was a bit of a shame that my television career was probably over before it had barely started. I wondered if they’d use the footage of me after I died saving the world. I shouldn’t have played the bitchy role like Barry wanted me to; post-mortem montages of yours truly would be much more effective if I looked like I was a nice person. Oh well.
Then a thought struck me. ‘Wait a minute,’ I said slowly. ‘Everyone involved with Enchantment apart from Armstrong is back in Tomintoul?’
‘Then why did I see Mazza strolling around when I looked out of the window?’
Winter’s blue eyes darkened. ‘The runner?’
I nodded, feeling the sudden chill fingers of dread tap down my spine.
‘Where was he?’ There was a sudden urgent edge to Winter’s voice.
I tried to think. Pointing to the side, I drew an imaginary line. ‘He was walking from there over to there.’
A muscle throbbed in Winter’s cheek. ‘There are supposed to be Order witches guarding the entire perimeter. How the hell did he manage to avoid them?’
‘Let’s apportion blame later, shall we? We need to find out where he is.’ My tone hardened. ‘Right now.’ I took off in the direction where I’d seen Mazza and almost immediately regretted moving so quickly. My head swam and I was forced to take several shallow breaths to avoid passing out.