Brutus shot out in front of us, scampering across the clearing at full speed. I blinked. I’d never seen him run before, not since he was a kitten anyway. I exchanged a quick glance with Winter and then took off after my cat with my fingers crossed. I was going to look mightily stupid if he’d just decided to chase after a woodland mouse.
Fortunately, Winter also seemed to believe that Brutus was onto something. In less than a few heartbeats he overtook me, sprinting towards the tree line. I quashed my trepidation at the thought that the shy runner was out there with a zombie just waiting to chomp on him, and tried to keep up. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t. I slowed down in an effort to reserve some energy – not to mention to avoid throwing up – and did what I could to keep Winter in sight. At least the river was over in that direction so there was a natural barrier.
Winter had just disappeared behind a tree when I heard a strangled shout. Muttering a curse, I picked up speed again, reaching him – and Mazza – just in time. Winter had grabbed the kid by the throat and was holding him at arm’s length whilst Brutus hissed repeatedly.
‘Is it you?’ Winter demanded. ‘Is it you raising the dead?’
Mazza’s eyes bulged. ‘What? No! I didn’t have anything to do with that!’
I eyed him. He seemed more scared than anything else. But was that scared because he’d finally been found out or because he was being falsely accused? It was imperative we learned the truth.
‘Let him go, Rafe,’ I said softly.
Winter glared then did as I asked, releasing his grip. Mazza staggered backwards and rubbed his neck vigorously. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ he croaked.
I stepped forward. ‘We’re looking for a very dangerous person, Mazza. Someone who might not even realise how much of a danger they are. All the other crew members are back in town. Why are you still here?’
He mumbled something under his breath.
I leaned forward, ignoring Winter’s bristling fury. ‘I didn’t catch that. Say it again.’
I squinted. ‘Pardon?’
‘Amy lost her necklace out here. I was looking for it.’
Winter was incredulous. ‘After the carnage that happened here, you thought you’d come back to look for some girl’s stupid necklace?’
I put my hand on his arm. ‘Did she ask you to come and do this?’
Mazza wouldn’t meet my eyes. ‘No.’
‘How did she lose it?’
He shrugged. He was growing redder and redder by the second. ‘Dunno.’
‘How did you get back here from Tomintoul?’
‘I never left. I didn’t get on the bus.’ For all his embarrassment and awkwardness, he was being remarkably recalcitrant.
Winter folded his arms across his chest. ‘You’re lying.’
‘Wh – what?’ Mazza stammered. ‘I’m not! Amy lost her necklace and I want to find it for her.’
‘He is sweet on her,’ I remarked.
The glow on Mazza’s cheeks intensified. ‘She’s a nice person!’ he said, as if daring me to argue with him.
‘Yes, she is. But you’re still lying about something, Mazza.’
He glared at me. ‘I’m not.’
I tapped my foot impatiently. There really wasn’t time for this. Whatever he was doing out here, there was next to no chance it had anything to do with zombies. Maybe he was just looking for Amy’s necklace in a bid to impress her. Stranger things had happened.
Brutus, sensing my irritation, jumped up and sauntered over. He circled round Mazza like a predator, sniffing as he went. Then he sat back on his haunches and washed his face. ‘Blood,’ he said.
Mazza screeched, ‘That cat just spoke!’
I ignored him and focused on Brutus. ‘Blood? You’re sure?’
Brutus continued to wash himself as if he’d already given us every possible answer we could want.
A dangerous smile lit Winter’s lips. ‘Where’s the blood from, Mazza?’ he asked silkily. He sounded far scarier now that his voice was low than he had when he’d been shouting.
‘I… I…’ Mazza’s eyes darted from side to side as if he were expecting someone to appear and rescue him. Just to be sure, I glanced around as well. The Ipsissimus had said we had at least a day before we could expect another zombie but that didn’t mean the impossible couldn’t still happen. When there wasn’t even the faintest rustle of leaves, I relaxed.
‘Spit it out, Mazza,’ I said tiredly, ‘or I’ll get Winter here to turn you into a toadstool.’
His eyes went even wider. ‘You can do that?’
‘Oh,’ Winter purred, ‘I can do that and more. I’m a highly trained Order witch, Mazza. There are no limits to my magic.’
At those words I opened my mouth but Winter nudged me in the ribs. Yeah, okay. This wasn’t the time to point out that the limits to his magic included finding out who was raising the dead or getting Mazza to tell the truth.
Mazza’s entire body seemed to droop. ‘It’s not what you think,’ he said.
It never was. ‘Go on.’
‘It’s not human blood.’
I glanced at Brutus. He didn’t twitch so I reckoned Mazza wasn’t lying on that part. I tilted up my chin and stared at him. ‘Sheep blood?’
Mazza shrunk even further into himself. ‘Yes,’ he whispered. ‘I thought I’d washed it all off.’
He hadn’t been counting on Brutus. What most people don’t realise is that cats have a better sense of smell than bloodhounds. Yet again, our investigation seemed to involve white fluffy animals with less sense than lemmings. A deep unease filtered through me.
‘Where did the sheep come from? How did you kill it?’ The second question was particularly pertinent. If Mazza had used magic to rip life from the animal, that magic could have been used in turn to feed necromancy. As the Ipsissimus suggested, the truth of the matter lay in blood.
Mazza looked horrified. ‘It wasn’t my fault!’
I gazed at him in disgust while Winter inched forward, his eyes the colour of glacier ice. ‘Oh, I see,’ he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. ‘You accidentally killed it.’
‘No!’ he burst out. ‘I just found it! It was already dying. I didn’t do anything to it apart from…’ He halted abruptly.
‘Apart from what, Mazza? What did you do?’
He flapped his arms and began to babble. ‘Nothing! I didn’t mean to! I mean, I did mean to but only because he’s such a prick! No one would listen to me and I wanted to scare him off and make him stop, and when the herbs didn’t work I had to do something. I couldn’t just let him get away with that kind of thing!’
Winter shot me a glance and, interpreting the look, I nodded and put a hand on Mazza’s shoulder. He was visibly trembling. ‘Slow down,’ I told him. ‘And tell us from the start.’
He sucked in a ragged breath. ‘He wouldn’t leave her alone. He was using his position to get exactly what he wanted.’
There could only be one woman he was referring to. ‘You mean Amy.’
He nodded vigorously. ‘She told him no but he wouldn’t listen. I had to do something.’
‘Who are we talking about?’
He looked at me as if I were dense. ‘Trevor Bellows, of course. He goes after all the woman. Barry told me he was always the same but no one did anything about it because Belinda wanted to keep him around.’ He shrugged helplessly. ‘He’s been on Enchantment since the beginning. He’s got power and money and status and any time anything happened, it just got hushed up.’
My mouth was dry. ‘I need you to be explicit, Mazza. What was he doing? What did he do to Amy?’ She’d never given any indication that anything was wrong. But then, if she were scared of him she probably wouldn’t have. I cursed myself. She’d been my room-mate, even if only for a couple of nights. How could I not have noticed that something was up?
‘He wanted her to sleep with him. He said that if she didn’t he’d get her fired.’