Twenty-four

Tithonus coughed discreetly.

‘Yes, Gatekeeper?’ the Emperor asked.

‘Sire, there is the question of which portal we should use.’ When the Emperor looked at him without speaking, Tithonus went on, ‘We may use the House Iris portal, which I assume is what you had in mind – ‘

The Emperor nodded. ‘Yes.’

‘But we also have the option of using Mr Fogarty’s portal – with Mr Fogarty’s consent and co-operation, of course – which might give us some indication of where Crown Prince Pyrgus ended up when he used it.’

For the first time in an hour, the Emperor’s face lightened. ‘Sound thinking, Tithonus! So obvious now you’ve mentioned it, but that had not occurred to me.’ He turned to Fogarty, who was standing by the door now with his shotgun presented to point up at the ceiling. ‘Mr Fogarty, will you permit us to use the portal you constructed?’

Fogarty shrugged. ‘Don’t see why not,’ he said.

Blue thought she had it figured out, but she wasn’t sure. If she was right, the trigger she’d applied would make the staircase solid again. If she wasn’t, it would remain an illusion. She found another of Brimstone’s caps and tossed it on the stairs. This time it stayed. It looked as if she’d stabilised the illusion, but there was really only one way to find out. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and stepped on to the staircase.

She released the breath explosively. She hadn’t fallen. The stairs were real and solid now.

Blue opened her eyes and started downwards without a second’s hesitation. Brimstone’s house was far too dangerous for a return visit. If she was ever going to find out where this staircase went, it had to be now.

The stairs went down the full three storeys but didn’t stop at ground level. If her calculation was correct, they continued for at least another twenty feet. When she reached the bottom, she found herself in a long, straight corridor where glowglobes were already lighting automatically at her presence. She had a good sense of direction and, so far as she could judge, the corridor ran underneath Seething Lane in the direction of Brimstone’s glue factory. Which was probably exactly where it led. Heaven only knew what was brought from the factory to Brimstone’s rooms and vice versa. Pyrgus himself might have been marched along this corridor for all she knew.

Should she follow the passage? She didn’t think so. If Brimstone had information about Pyrgus in the factory, that would have to be another day’s work. She still had to find the attic room and search there. Blue headed back up the stairs. In minutes she was standing outside what she knew must be the door to Brimstone’s secret attic.

She pushed it open.

A long, carpeted corridor stretched directly ahead, illuminated by elaborate crystal chandeliers.

‘Not the chapel,’ murmured the Purple Emperor, ‘but clearly still the palace.’

‘I believe this is the east wing, somewhere near the quarters of your daughter, sire,’ Tithonus put in, looking around.

‘Yes, I think you may be right. So if we’re here, Pyrgus must have made it home safely.’

‘Assuming this man Fogarty has been telling us the truth,’ Tithonus said, his voice scarcely more than a whisper.

‘My instinct is to trust him,’ the Emperor whispered back. ‘For now.’ He raised his voice. ‘Are we all safely through?’

‘All accounted for, Your Majesty,’ said Chief Portal Engineer Peacock briskly.

‘Mr Fogarty, is this the same place you saw when you came through before?’

Fogarty sniffed. ‘Looks like it,’ he said.

‘It seems my son may have taken himself off somewhere. But at least he is back in his own world.’ The Purple Emperor gathered his cloak around him. He felt reassured by events, but there was still the possibility Pyrgus had set the portal wrongly and translated several miles away. The boy had a genius for getting into trouble. ‘Mr Fogarty, I should like you to go with Chief Portal Engineer Peacock. He will arrange to have you comfortably quartered. I appreciate it’s late and you must be tired, but first thing in the morning I hope you will be able to assist our engineers.’

‘Do my best,’ Fogarty said drily. He took a control from his pocket and switched off the portal.

‘Gatekeeper Tithonus, come with me,’ the Emperor said and strode off briskly in the direction of the stairs. They were approaching his private quarters when a harassed servant caught up with the news that his daughter had now disappeared as well.

The attic smelled of blood. Strips of animal pelt had been nailed to the floor to make a crude and nasty circle. There were weird bits of equipment at the far side of the room. She’d never seen anything like them before, but they had the look of machinery for trapping lightning. Some of them were lying on their sides and possibly broken. There was an ornate metal incense burner filled with ash. Several bowls were strewn around and somebody had inscribed a triangle on the floor at the far side of the circle. There was a bunch of asafoetida grass in one corner. The walls were decorated with banners displaying mystic sigils. The whole place reeked of magic of the most debased sort.

Was it a trap?

Nervous and impatient though she was, Blue took time to think. After careful consideration she decided traps were unlikely. This was Brimstone’s demonic workspace. It was well protected from intruders and she could imagine the grotty old sorcerer wouldn’t want protection or illusion spells interfering with his magic. If you had too many spells going in the same place, they set up peculiar resonances that could sometimes shake a whole building apart. Chances were the attic was the one room in the house that Brimstone would keep absolutely free of magic until he started calling up his demons. That’s if she was right. The only way to find out for certain was to walk in.

Blue walked in. Her heart was pounding, but nothing happened. She couldn’t absolutely rule out an illusion, of course, but somehow she didn’t think there was one in this room. The whole place was just too chaotic, as if some ghastly ritual of Brimstone’s had gone badly wrong. She started to search.

There was only one cupboard and it was locked with a simple protection charm, but she opened it easily with her pickspell -another sign that Brimstone considered his attic safe from intruders. The cupboard was packed with magical equipment – fire wands, blood chalices, pentacle discs, talismans, mandragores, air daggers and the like. A miniature humunculus began to crawl towards her, its sightless eyes turned towards the light, but what caught her attention were the books. There were two of them, pushed in towards the back of the cupboard and one looked suspiciously like a journal.

She pushed the humunculus to one side and grabbed them. The smaller of the two had a blank cover, but when she flicked it open, the pages inside were filled with Brimstone’s familiar ornate script. His magical diary! She’d found the sorcerer’s magical diary! It would have details of every demon he had ever conjured, every act of necromancy he had ever undertaken. She turned a page and the name seemed to leap out at her:

Pyrgus

This was it! This was it! Her heart was pounding as she looked around for somewhere she could sit and read under better light. Then a piercing sound struck her ears so forcibly it was almost painful. For an instant she thought she’d been wrong about the attic and had somehow triggered one of Brimstone’s protection spells. But then she realised the sound was coming from somewhere far below and suddenly her mind clicked into gear. It was Kitterick’s warning whistle. Somebody was coming.

Holly Blue tucked both books underneath her arm and fled.

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