D

Incredibly, impossibly, Dervish doesn’t believe me.

“It was just another guy in a costume,” he says. “You have to stop seeing demons everywhere you look. I know—”

“Don’t!” I snap. I’ve got him by himself, out of earshot of everybody. “That piece of scum killed my Mum and Dad. He slaughtered Gret. Don’t tell me I could ever confuse a movie prop for the real thing. Don’t you dare.”

“Grubbs, I know this is hard, but you’ve got to believe—”

“That was Lord Loss!” I cry.

“It looked like him,” Dervish says soothingly, “but that’s because Davida did a lot of research. She knows what real demons look like. Actually, I helped her out on this one. She had some of the details wrong. She didn’t know about the cracks in his skin, the colour of his eyes or that he didn’t have real feet.”

“Really?” I sneer. “And you filled her in on the facts?”

“Yes,” Dervish says, trying to sound modest.

“And her technicians were able to make the changes—” I click my fingers—“like that? They were able to take elaborate, mechanised costumes they’d been working on for months and alter them within the space of a few days?”

“Yes,” Dervish says evenly.

I stare into my uncle’s eyes but I don’t find him there. The Dervish I know wouldn’t smile at me glibly like this and dismiss my fears so carelessly. Chuda Sool has brainwashed him, I’m sure of it. I’ll have to look elsewhere for allies.

“Where are you going?” Dervish asks as I turn my back on him and march off.

“To find someone who’ll believe.”

I ask Juni to visit Bill-E and me in our room. I say it’s about Bo Kooniart, that I’m having problems with her and would like Juni’s advice. Naturally Juni’s only too happy to help. Promises to drop by within the next half hour.

Bill-E knows something big is up. He doesn’t know what it is, but he’s delighted to be involved, proud that I’m including him. He wasn’t happy when I skulked around the set without him, not saying why, but now I’m bringing him in on the secret, all is forgiven.

I say nothing until Juni arrives, getting things clear in my head, deciding how much to tell them, what to say and what to keep to myself. When she’s finally here, sitting on a chair, hands clasped on her knees, I begin by confessing that I lied. “I didn’t really bring you here to talk about Bo.”

“I guessed,” she smiles. “You’re not a good liar. Which is a positive thing—don’t think I’m criticising you!”

“Before I get down to the crazy stuff, have either of you noticed anything strange about Dervish?” I ask.

“What do you mean?” Bill-E frowns.

“I’ll take that as a no. Juni?”

She pauses. “I don’t know your uncle very well, but he’s seemed a little… unfocused recently.”

“You saw it when he was talking with Chuda about the search for Kik, didn’t you?”

“I saw… something,” Juni says cagily. “Dervish has been through a lot these last two years. The responsibility of having to look after you, the temporary loss of his mind, trying to readjust to normal life, the nightmares.”

“Nightmares?” Bill-E asks. We never told him about Dervish’s bad dreams.

“He’s had trouble sleeping recently,” Juni explains.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Bill-E grumbles.

“He finds it easy to share his secrets and fears with me,” Juni says. “He’s able to tell me things he finds hard to discuss with others. I’ve been trying to help him sort through his problems. We were making good progress but now he seems to have regressed.”

“Chuda’s messing with his mind,” I tell her. “Controlling his thoughts.”

“You can’t be serious,” Juni laughs. But her laughter dies away when she sees that I am.

“I’m going to tell you something that will sound insane,” I begin. “Bill-E knows some of it but not all. I need you to hear me out and at least try to believe me.”

“Of course,” Juni says, leaning forward, intrigued.

I take a deep breath. Glance at Bill-E, knowing what I say is going to hurt him, then launch straight in. “Demons killed my parents and sister…”

I fill them in on most of the details. My early encounter with Lord Loss. Escape. Madness. Recovery. Moving to Carcery Vale. The curse of the Gradys. Then the big one—Bill-E turning into a werewolf.

“So that’s it!” Bill-E cries. He’s trembling, his lazy eyelid quivering wildly. “I never bought your story that Dervish locked me up to protect me. I knew there was something you weren’t telling.” He glares at me accusingly. “You lied to me.”

“We didn’t want to hurt you,” I sigh.

“I can take hurt. Not lies. You should have told me.”

“Maybe,” I mutter miserably.

“So, am I cured?” Bill-E snarls.

“Yes.”

“For real? Forever?”

I nod glumly, then outline the deal which certain members of our family had going with Lord Loss, the chess matches, the battles with his familiars. I tell them how Dervish and I challenged Lord Loss on Bill-E’s behalf. The only part I leave out is the truth about Bill-E’s father. I don’t tell him we had the same dad. This isn’t the time to open that can of worms.

Bill-E’s rage dwindles as he hears what Dervish and I risked to save him. He’s staring at me with awe now, tears trickling down his cheeks. I find that more unsettling than his anger. He’s gawping at me as if I’m some kind of hero. But I’m not. I only did it because he’s my brother, but I can’t tell him that, not now. He thinks Dervish is his dad. If I told him the truth, I’d be hitting him with the news that his real father’s dead.

I finish quickly with the last few months, Dervish defeating Lord Loss in his demonic realm and regaining his senses, the nightmares, coming here to try and sort himself out, the demon which killed Emmet, overhearing Tump Kooniart and Chuda Sool talking, the appearance of Lord Loss.

“It was definitely him,” I tell them. “I wasn’t a hundred per cent sure before, but now I am. There are real demons in Slawter. Chuda and Tump are working for them, along with some of the crew. Davida might be one of their allies too. Lord Loss swore revenge on me, Dervish and Bill-E. So the three of us are for the chop, no doubt about it. Probably the rest of you as well.”

Silence. Bill-E is staring at me, torn between hero-worship, terror and doubt. Juni doesn’t know what to think or say. She’s probably heard all sorts in her time, but nothing like this. She’s trying to think of a gentle way of denying what I’m saying, without insulting or enraging me.

“It’s OK,” I smile. “You can say I’m crazy. I won’t mind.”

“People roll out that word too swiftly,” Juni objects. “It’s an easy fall-back. I try never to make such gross generalisations. But…”

“…in this case you’ll make an exception,” I finish for her.

She grins shakily. “I wasn’t going to say that.”

“But you were thinking it, right?”

She tilts her head uncertainly. “We have a lot to discuss. This goes back a long way. You have deep-rooted issues which we’ll have to work through, one at a time. To begin with—”

“Do you believe in magic?” I interrupt.

“No,” Juni says plainly.

“What if I could convince you?”

“How?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I knew words alone wouldn’t be enough. I haven’t done anything magical since melting the pen, but I’m sure magic is still in the air, surrounding me, waiting to be channelled. It had better be or else I really will look like a loon!

“Is that worth a lot?” I ask, pointing at the watch on her wrist.

“No,” she frowns.

“Does it matter to you? Would you miss it if you lost it?”

“Not really. Where is this going, Grubbs?”

“You’ll see.” I fix my gaze on the watch, willing it to melt. I’m anticipating a struggle, but almost as soon as I focus, the watch liquidises and drips off Juni’s hand.

“Ow!” Juni yelps, leaping to her feet and rubbing her wrist. “It’s hot!”

“Sorry!” I jump up too. “Are you OK? Do you want me to get some ice or—”

“I’m fine,” Juni snaps, then quits rubbing, stares at the red mark left behind by the melted metal, then at the puddle on the floor, then at me. “Grubbs… what the hell?” she croaks.

“That was just for openers,” I beam, confidence bubbling up. “Have you ever wanted to fly?”

In the end we don’t fly. Juni isn’t ready to open the window and soar over the buildings of Slawter. I’m not either, really. But we levitate a bit, to prove that the melting watch wasn’t a hoax, that this is real magic, not some stage trick.

“This is incredible!” Juni laughs as I make the light switch on and off just by looking at it, while juggling six pairs of balled-up socks without touching them.

“Bloody amazing is what it is!” Bill-E gasps. “Could I do that too?”

“Maybe,” I say, flicking the light on and off a few more times, then letting the socks drop. “Dervish said lots of people have magical potential. They just don’t know it. The magic’s thick in the air around us here, but you and the others aren’t aware of it. I am, because I fought demons and part of my mind—the part that’s magic—opened up. If you could open that part of your mind, I bet you could do everything I can.”

“I need to get me a demon to whup,” Bill-E mutters.

“Of course, it could all be in my head,” Juni says. “You could have slipped me hallucinogenic substances. I might be imagining the watch, floating, the socks.”

Bill-E wrinkles his nose. “You couldn’t hallucinate the smell of Grubbs’ socks!” he says and we all laugh.

“You don’t really believe that, do you?” I ask Juni.

“No,” she sighs. “But I want to keep an open mind, like you advised. That means not accepting your story about demons even if the magic is real.” She looks at me earnestly. “One doesn’t verify the other. I haven’t seen any evidence of demons yet.”

“You don’t need to!” I groan. “If demons aren’t real, where am I getting my power from?”

“I have no idea,” Juni says. “You might be generating it naturally, subconsciously. The demons might simply be your way of rationalising your powers.” She holds up a hand as I start to argue. “I’m not saying that is the case—just that it might be.”

Juni sits back, a troubled look on her face. “Actually I can’t tell you how much I hope that the demons are a product of your imagination. For Emmet’s sake, Kik’s and the others.”

“I know,” I mutter. “I wish they weren’t real too. But they are.”

She licks her lips, frowning deeply, trying to get her head around what I’m telling her. “I need proof,” she finally says. “I’m not sure what you want me to do, but I can’t do anything until I’ve seen direct evidence.”

“I want you to help Dervish,” I tell her. “Chuda Sool has some sort of mind lock on him. I want you to help me break it. You can do that without believing in demons, can’t you?”

“Perhaps,” she says. “But I don’t want to go anywhere near your uncle’s mind until I know for sure what I’m dealing with.”

“I think I can prove it,” I say softly, lowering my gaze. “But it could be dangerous. The sort of dangerous where we all die horribly if things go wrong.”

“I’m prepared to take that risk,” Juni says evenly.

“Me too,” Bill-E pipes up bravely, though the squeak in his voice betrays his fear.

I nod reluctantly. “Demons don’t appear out of thin air. They have to be summoned. Their universe has to merge with ours. A window or tunnel between worlds has to be opened. If Lord Loss and the other demon were real, there has to be a place where they crossed. A secret place. A place where nobody but their human partners can get into.”

“The D workshops,” Bill-E and Juni say at the exact same time.

“Got it in one,” I chuckle bleakly.

Juni keeps saying she must be crazy for going along with this, it’s a mad plan, she should have her head examined. But the magic unnerved her. She’s confused, not in complete control. I should give her a day to think things over and clear her head. But she might not play ball if I did. She might start rationalising and analysing, and decide nobody in her position should break into a building. Worse—she might tell Davida what I believe and tip our enemies off. So I rush her along, allowing her no time to think.

It’s impossible to sneak up on the D warehouse, no matter what time you come. Large, powerful lamps are trained on all sides of the building at night. You can’t approach it without your shadow preceding you, growing like a giant’s the closer you get.

But I’ve got magic on my side. I could have performed any number of miracles in our room to convince Juni of my power. I didn’t randomly choose to experiment on the light bulb.

Studying the lamps from the shelter of the closest building to the warehouse. Juni and Bill-E are quiet behind me. I can’t see all the lights from here, but I can imagine them.

Not sure if I have the strength to do this. Just have to try and hope for the best. Focusing, I close my eyes, keeping the picture of the lamps vivid in my thoughts. I visualise the lamps flaring and going out, all at once, like a flashbulb on a camera. Call on the magic. Try to extend it to the lights.

Doubting if I can really—

“Bloody hell!” Bill-E gasps. Then a chuckle. “Coolio!”

I open my eyes to darkness. “Let’s go,” I hiss, starting forward, not sure how much time we’ll have.

“Oh my,” Juni says breathlessly. But she runs after me with Bill-E, along for the ride even if she doesn’t truly want to be.

The guards come out of their hut with strong torches. We drop to our stomachs as their beams sweep the surrounding area. I think about quenching the torches but that would really stir up their suspicions.

Lying on the cool ground, head down. I hear one of the guards on his walkie-talkie, checking if the lamps are out all over. He doesn’t sound worried. The guards sweep the area a few more times with their torches, then return to the hut. One keeps his torch beam trained on the door of the D. There’s no way we could get in through it without being seen. So it’s just as well I didn’t plan on entering that way.

Rising, I hurry forward, trying not to make any noise, heading for a point about three-quarters of the way along the side of the warehouse, where it’s nice and dark, where we can’t be easily seen by the guards.

I rest when I get to the wall, panting heavily, more from fear than the run. Juni and Bill-E arrive moments later. Bill-E’s puffing hard—he’s not as fit as me. I can see their faces in the light of the moon and stars. Bill-E looks scared but excited. Juni’s just scared. Funny, but I feel like the adult here.

“What now?” Bill-E asks when he gets his breath back.

“The Indian rope trick,” I grin, then try to make a length of rope appear, dangling from the roof. Nothing happens. I try again, this time demanding the rope to simply appear on the ground. Nothing.

I frown, wondering if I used up all my magic quenching the lights. But then I recall my fight with Artery and Vein. Dervish supplied the weapons, laid them on the floor of the secret cellar, axes, swords, etc. He wouldn’t have gone to all that effort if we could have simply made weapons appear. Maybe magic doesn’t work that way and objects can’t be created out of thin air.

So the roof’s out. Fine. Time for Plan B.

I focus on the wall. Bare blocks, cemented tightly together. No chinks. Can’t tell how thick they are, but I imagine the wall’s more than a single block deep. I place my left hand on the nearest block and concentrate. Not sure if I can melt stone like metal, but I give it a go.

The block doesn’t melt. I try again but still it holds. I sigh—looks like I’ve run out of ideas. But as I lean forward, trying to think of some other way in, my fingers gouge into the stone. It’s like putting my hand in mud. I make a half-fist and scoop out a handful of mushy material. I smile at the muck, then at Juni and Bill-E. “You two clear the mess away,” I tell them. “I’ll get to work on the rest of the blocks.”

“Be careful,” Bill-E whispers. “We don’t want the wall collapsing.”

“No worries,” I snort. “Grubbs Grady’s on top of the situation!”

“This is madness,” Juni mutters, but digs her fingers into the semi-melted block and begins scooping it out.

It takes fifteen minutes to gouge a hole big enough for us to fit through. It feels like hours. All the time I’m aware of the threat of the lamps snapping back on, the guards sighting us, everything coming undone.

But the darkness holds and at last I melt through the third and final layer of blocks. I poke my head through the gap and switch on the torch I brought with me. This looks like an ordinary props room—puppets and moulds lying around, tools, mannequins, bits of material, tubes of glue. I switch off the torch and slide forward. Juni follows, then Bill-E.

Bill-E’s frowning when he steps in. He looks back at the hole. “What are we going to do about that?” he asks. “If they see it when the lamps come on…”

“We just have to hope they don’t.”

“And when we leave?” he persists. “They’ll know we’ve been here.”

“I’ll try to make the stones solid again and put them back,” I tell him. “But if I can’t, don’t worry. If I’m right and we’re dealing with demons, we’re not going to hang around like horror-movie victims, waiting for them to get wise to us.”

“And if you’re wrong?” Juni asks. “If there aren’t any demons?”

“Then we’ll wind up in a heap load of trouble,” I chuckle. “But it’ll be trouble of the ass-kicking, job-losing kind, and trouble like that I don’t mind so much.”

“So what now?” Bill-E asks, glancing around.

“We wander. Explore as much of the building as we can. Keep going until we find something strange or run out of rooms.”

“Perhaps one of us should remain here, to alert the others if the guards find the hole,” Bill-E suggests.

“How?” I grunt.

“Phone.” He roots out his mobile, flicks it on, frowns, shakes it, then scowls. “No signal. Damn.”

“It’s probably better if we stay together anyway,” Juni says, then lets out an uneasy breath. “I’ve never done anything like this. I never even stole sweets from shops when I was a child. I’ve always respected the law.”

“Welcome to the underworld, baby!” Bill-E chortles, trying to sound like a 1930s gangster.

“No more talking,” I whisper.

We advance.

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