The woman’s eyes were as wide as saucers. ‘I don’t know who you mean,’ she stammered. ‘No one lives here by that name. It’s just me, my husband and our two boys – Alistair and Gareth.’
Gareth. Winter hissed through his teeth. ‘Where is he? Where is Gareth?’ He took a step towards her.
The woman obviously felt threatened because she stepped back and he could see her trembling. ‘He went out after a sheep. It got lost. A woman came round looking for him. Blonde with crazy hair and crazier eyes. She…’ Her voice faltered slightly at Winter’s look. ‘She went after him. She said he was a good friend of hers.’
‘Where’s your husband?’
She swallowed. ‘In the pub.’
‘And your other son? Alistair?’
‘I … I … don’t know. Out with his pals, maybe.’
Winter’s fists clenched. ‘And where exactly did Gareth go to find the sheep?’
‘I don’t know that either! I…’
He spun round, abandoning her to return to his bike. Ivy wasn’t here. His next stop had to be Dead Man’s Hill. With his fear increasing, he ignored the woman who had altered her course of stuttering fear to one of rage.
‘You bastard! Coming into my house and threatening me! I’ll have the police on you! My son can do magic, you know. He’ll hurt you for what you’ve just done! He’ll turn your insides out!’
Winter revved the engine and took off without once glancing back.
He was still a long way from the cemetery and the hill behind it when he saw the lights. As far as he could tell, they were man-made and nothing to do with magic. All the same, he continued to gun the engine. What the hell was Ivy thinking? What was really going on? Winter pressed down on the accelerator. He’d ask questions later.
The moment he reached the entrance to the graveyard, he flung down the bike. Its wheels were still spinning when he took off in the direction of the lights. There were shouts and screams, each one sending a bloodcurdling chill down his spine. Then he saw Ivy, suspended in the air above a small group of people, her face contorted in an expression of pain and horror.
Winter ran forward, his hands raised. In quick succession he threw out every single protection rune he could think of. Each one bounced uselessly off Ivy’s body. Her mouth opened as if in a scream and her body began to shake violently.
Winter sped past a kid, who was pulling himself up from the ground with a dazed expression, and headed directly to her. Her eyes moved to him and for the briefest moment she seemed to relax. Her lips formed three unmistakable words that made his heart stop. Then the life seemed to go out of her, like someone had flipped a switch.
He was less than a foot away when she dropped like a stone. Winter held out his arms and caught her just before she hit the ground. There was an odd, beatific smile on her face.
For one brief moment, her eyelids fluttered open and his hope flared. ‘Benjamin?’ she asked. Less than a second later, her body went limp and her eyes closed.
Doing his best to quash his panic, Winter laid her down gently. He couldn’t feel a pulse. He dipped his head closer to her mouth. No breath. Shit. With his mouth dry, Winter began compressions, pounding on her chest. ‘Call a fucking ambulance!’ He breathed into her mouth. Then he continued compressions again.
‘Let me help.’ A youngish man with a Scottish brogue knelt down next to him.
Winter didn’t stop what he was doing but raised his eyes for long enough to scan the man’s face. ‘Name?’ he barked.
‘G … G … Gareth.’
Winter gave Ivy another breath. Then he took half a beat to draw a rune and send the man flying backwards.
The kid let out a cry and ran towards him. ‘Gareth! What did that bastard do to you?’
Winter paid them no further attention.
‘Adeptus! I know first aid. We can work together.’ Barry, Ivy’s erstwhile producer, fell heavily to his knees and took over the compressions. All the while, Ivy’s skin turned paler and paler and she didn’t move once.
The smell of antiseptic clung to everything but it couldn’t conceal the underlying stench of sickness and despair. Winter paced up and down the corridor, his shoes squeaking. Every time a door opened, he held his breath. It was never for him. There was still no news about Ivy.
He lowered his head and stared at his feet. He still didn’t understand what had happened. Why had she gone out there alone?
‘Adeptus Exemptus Winter?’
He sprang to his feet, only belatedly realising that it was Amy, the runner from Enchantment.
‘Hi.’ He slumped down again.
‘Have you heard anything?’
He didn’t trust his voice. He simply shook his head and sighed.
She thrust something in his direction. ‘She dropped this after she…’ Amy scratched her head awkwardly. ‘You know. She was reading it out when it all happened.’
Slowly, as if moving through sludge, Winter took the scroll. He stared at the words, then at the tiny insignia at the bottom. The Order. Ivy had got this from the Order. As he tried to make sense of it, another door opened. It wasn’t a doctor.
‘Has anyone told you how she is?’
Winter looked up at the Ipsissimus. ‘No.’
Amy swallowed. ‘I should go. When she wakes up, tell her I’m thinking of her.’ She scooted away down the corridor and out of sight.
‘I’ll talk to them,’ the Ipsissimus declared. ‘Someone must know what’s happening.’
Winter stood up. ‘You’re right.’ His voice was flat. He held up the scroll. ‘Someone must know.’
The Ipsissimus looked at it then at Winter. He let out a long breath and took the scroll from him. ‘Well,’ he said heavily, ‘I suppose the truth was going to come out sooner or later.’
‘You gave this to her.’
The Ipsissimus inclined his head. ‘I did.’ Winter waited for more. The Ipsissimus sighed and sat down. ‘Necromancy is a tricky beast, Raphael. You know that. If it’s not halted in the early stages, the consequences are devastating. We needed a powerful witch on hand to stop the magic from taking hold. Your Ivy didn’t hesitate.’
Winter didn’t look at him. ‘You should have come to me.’
‘You are needed in the Order.’
A muscle throbbed in Winter’s jaw. ‘You could have done it.’
‘I would have if I could. Ivy understood the reasons why I didn’t. Believe me, if I could have taken her place and been assured that the Order would remain standing and sane, then I would have.’
Winter gritted his teeth. ‘She wasn’t in the Order. We are trained for this, we accept this is our job. She was not part of that. You made her sacrifice herself. You used an innocent to fight your battle. And now she’s … she’s…’ He couldn’t finish the sentence.
‘Ivy Wilde was fully aware of the consequences.’ The Ipsissimus was silent for a moment. ‘She didn’t tell you because she wanted to save you from having to do it yourself.’
Winter turned his head to look at him. ‘She said that?’
‘She didn’t have to.’
Winter waited for several beats until he was confident he had his rage under enough control. Then he stood up. ‘You treated her like cannon fodder. You used her. You didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me what was going on or to give me the opportunity to take her place.’ He shook his head. ‘I cannot be part of an organisation that treats people like that.’
A furrow crossed the Ipsissimus’s brow. ‘Adeptus Exemptus Winter, I sincerely hope you’re not about to do anything foolish. I’d like to remind you that we now have a young boy in our custody who is going to need our help. Ivy could have saved herself and instead she chose to save him. She even suggested that he go to you for help. We need you in Arcane Branch. She needs you in Arcane Branch.’
‘No,’ Winter said simply, ‘she doesn’t.’ He lifted up his chin and looked the Ipsissimus in the eye. ‘I hereby rescind my position and resign from the Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment with immediate effect.’