Sean took another sip of his coffee, then looked up at the clock. 10:35 pm.
“Shit, it’s been ten hours already?”
I rubbed my eyes, but it didn’t stop them aching. Straight after Mum had sent us the book, Sean opened a portal to my bedroom. We’d sat at my desk, poring over the pages. Most of it was written in Dutch, and—though there was the occasional note in English in the margin—we were relying on Google Translate to make any sense of it.
“Do you wanna take a break?” I asked. I already knew his answer.
“No, let's carry on.” He grumbled down into his empty cup. That was his sixth coffee. “We don’t know how much longer we have before they realise this book is missing.”
I nodded, but my gaze was fixed on the window: the paranoia was starting to get at me. It was hard to focus both on the book and keep my senses sharp to detect any magic nearby. Tuatha Dé blood was sensitive: I could pick up on any spells being cast within a few hundred feet, but only if I concentrated.
I sighed and sat down on the windowsill. “Yeah?”
“You’re awfully quiet.”
“Just…” I pursed my lips. Everything was happening so fast. “Just thinking, I suppose.”
Sean nodded, but I could tell he knew how I felt. He probably felt the same way. He flicked to the next page of the book, then turned it to face me.
“This looks like Hindi. Can you read it?”
Most of the page was written in Dutch, but there was a small passage at the top that I was more familiar with. I pushed myself off the windowsill and stood over Sean’s shoulder.
“It looks like a strange mix of Tamil and Sanskrit. No one in India would write like this. It says ‘obligatory before striking the men of blood’, or something like that.”
“Men of blood. Vampires?”
“I’d guess so. Considering it’s at the top of the list, it might be the most important spell. The pronunciation’s a bit weird. Biyanun Kshetr Zar.”
“That’s a mouthful,” Sean said. “Wonder what it does.”
He muttered the spell under his breath a few times before trying to translate the rest of the page.
“I think we should both learn that one,” he said, ‘and then one each from this list.”
“Two spells each?” I sighed. It took a few days to get the grasp of a spell, but anywhere from a couple weeks to several years to master it.
“We can do it. So do you want the fire spell or the healing spell?”
My mind flashed back to holding Shay in my arms as he bled out. Never again.
“Alauf-sa.” He wiggled his finger as if spelling the word out in the air. “Guess that leaves me with fire. Behl.”
“Dad should be going to sleep soon. We can head down to the park and practice for—”
Shit. Shit. I clenched my fists.
“Someone just portalled into the back garden. They’re making a null-field. Portal us out, Sean. Now!”
Sean grabbed his backpack and shoved the book inside, while I snatched my coat off my bed.
He closed his eyes. “Bóthar Dé.”
The portal shuddered at his fingertips, struggling to materialise. I could sense the stranger’s magic growing around the house. If he completed his spell, we’d be trapped.
“Shit,” Sean whispered. His brow was already beaded with sweat. “The null-field is fucking with me.”
Sean’s hands shook; the panic was starting to set in. But my hands were steady. Now was the time to act. Pressure? I thrived under pressure.
I had an idea.
“Follow me.” I snatched Sean by the sleeve and pulled him out onto the landing. “Go downstairs into mum’s office. The bottom left drawer of her desk has a false bottom. Underneath is a knife.”
“A knife? What bloody good is a knife—”
“Don’t argue,” I hissed, “just listen. It’s an amplifier. It might give you enough magic to open a portal if I fail.”
I half-shoved Sean down the stairs before running into the bathroom. The window here faced into the back garden and, sure enough, a little prick in a white hood stood there with his arms in the air. The magic pouring from his hands was rising around the house; invisible save for a slight shimmer. At first, a null-field targets delicate magics—healing spells and portals—but once it was complete, Sean and I wouldn’t be able to cast a single spell.
I had to stop him.
The null-agent was so focused on his spell, he hadn’t noticed me glaring at him through the window yet. Good. But his kind are usually Tuatha Dé, so he’d sense my magic if I tried to attack him head on.
I raised both my hands, making a fist with one, and pulled out the magic deep within.
The dirt behind the null-agent started to rise, hardening into a wall of spikes. He whirled around, casting his own earth spell to counter mine, but kept one hand focused on the null-field. Big mistake. I yanked the window open.
“R̃oh!” I threw my open palm out, slamming him with a gust of wind. It lifted him off his feet and threw him into the fence.
His head must have knocked off one of the concrete fence posts because he didn’t get up. The null-field crumbled.
No going back now. We might have had a couple sanctions for stealing the book, but attacking an agent? Sean and I were officially rogues.
With one quick check of my pockets—phone, purse, did I need anything else?—I rushed down the stairs to meet Sean. He stood at the bottom, Mum’s knife in his grip.
“The null-field’s gone,” he said.
He raised an eyebrow. “Where are we going?”
“Anywhere,” I said. But before he could cast, another thought occurred. “Did you learn the bouncing technique?”
He groaned. “Fuck’s sake.”
“Better safe than sorry. It’s portal bouncing time, let’s go.”
I knew I’d regret it. I sat with my head between my knees, shivering. The taste of coffee, sandwiches and bile (not an amazing combination, mind you) was stuck in between my teeth.
Sean lay spread-eagled on his back. He probably wasn’t happy with the decision to have six cups of coffee earlier, now that he’d thrown it all up at the base of a tree.
He groaned and turned over to face me. “We’re never bouncing again.”
Agreed. I couldn’t nod. Moving my head even an inch made me feel sick.
Whoever invented portal-bouncing deserved a medal, as long as I could shove it up their arse.
Portals were easy to track by their magical residue. ‘Bouncing’ was a way to prevent that. By jumping through several different portals in quick succession, the tracker would keep ending up at the wrong location, and by the time they found the final portal, the residual magic would have decayed.
It was clever. But it made portal-sickness way worse. Somehow, I felt drunk, hungover and exhausted at the same time, while my stomach was practicing gymnastics for the next Olympic games.
“Let’s just nap here.”
“Don’t be daft,” Sean said.
He pulled himself to his feet, then stood there for a moment, swaying back and forth. Once he’d regained his balance, he walked over and offered me a hand. I groaned. I wasn’t ready to move yet, but I knew we should. Sean pulled me up and wrapped his arm around my waist. Together, we stumbled out of the woods.
“Where are we, by the way?”
“Hampstead Heath… I think.”
“And, uh. What now?”
Sean pulled out his phone to look up directions. “Now, we find the nearest hotel and get some rest.”
“Not sure if you got the memo, but the Convent is looking for us.”
“Neither of us are in any state to… well, to do anything right now,” he said, “so yeah. Rest. We’ll be up before sunrise, and discuss what to do then.”
I grit my teeth. Sean was right. Every step I took left me feeling dizzy. I could barely think straight. Rest…
Rest sounded okay.
Three hours didn’t seem like a long time, but I woke up with the kind of panic that immediately makes you think you’ve overslept. The time on my phone calmed me down: 3:46 am.
I rolled over to see Sean sitting up in his own bed. We’d booked a twin room, but it didn’t look like he’d made the most of the extra space.
“Have you slept?”
Sean glanced over. “Yeah. A little.”
I pushed myself into a sitting position and flicked the bedside lamp on. He had Van Helsing’s book in his lap, going over a section covered in lifelike diagrams. One depicted a giant bat, while another showed a man turning into smoke. Well, that looked mildly terrifying.
“What are you doing?”
Sean turned the book so I could get a clear view of it. “Reading about vampire biology. Specifically how vampires turn humans into their own kind.”
I scrunched my brow. There was a sketch at the bottom showing a man drinking from someone’s wrist, with scribbled notes around it.
“Turns out that only ‘High Vampires’ can turn people,” Sean continued. “They must drink from the High Vampire’s blood and then they become half-vampires, or vampire-spawn. But if someone drinks the blood of a half-vampire, they either die or become a ghoul.”
I’d never heard of that before. “A ghoul?”
“Yeah, look.” Sean turned a couple pages ahead.
The diagrams here showed men and women with strange deformities. Some of them were minor, like elongated ears or small horns, but others had skin like a crocodile’s, or spider limbs growing from their ribs.
I tried not to gag. Fucking nasty.
Sean flicked back to the previous page. “I’m pretty sure Shay is a half-vampire—Yolana mentioned that Jonathan Rose is a High Vampire. Each High Vampire has a unique power and their spawn inherits it.” He pointed with two fingers at the picture of the giant bat and the man turning into smoke. “These are just a couple examples of what those powers could be. Ghouls, however, don’t inherit any sort of special power.”
Well that’s interesting. High Vampires make half-vampires. Half-vampires make ghouls. So…
“Who makes the High Vampires then?”
“Fuck knows.” He threw up his arms. “Van-Helsing didn’t know, at least. And he was under the impression that the High Vampires themselves didn’t know either.”
“Great.” I shook my head and got out of bed.
While Sean carried on flicking through the book, I changed into the spare set of clothes I packed. I’d need to buy some more soon; I can’t survive with just two outfits.
As I rummaged through my backpack, my fingers touched something cold, and my magic flared in response. Mum’s knife. I pulled it out of the leather sheath and ran my palm over the blade. It was silver plated, with a shard of black running through the centre. Obsidian, or glass maybe. I had no idea. The ruby attached to the pommel glowed whenever I touched it.
Mum had described it as an amplifier, and let me use it occasionally when I practiced. Not all the time though: she didn’t want me to become reliant on it. When a sorcerer holds an amplifier it… well, the name is pretty self-explanatory. It amplifies their spells. At best, my wind spell, R̃oh, can summon a strong gust that can knock a guy to the ground. But with the amplifier, I could flip a car with the same spell. It’ll definitely come in handy.
I turned the knife over in my hand, trying to get a good grip on it, then gave a few practice swings. It was still a knife, after all, I could stab a vampire or two with it. Hopefully.
“What are you doing?” Sean called out from behind.
“Just…” I gave the knife another twirl. “Thinking.”
A moment of silence clung to the air. Now Sean was thinking about him too.
“We’ll save him,” Sean said.
I turned and went to sit at his side. Sean closed the book to face me.
“I’m just scared. Scared for him. Where did he wake up? In some dusty prison? Is he safe? Is he some sort of slave for this Jonathan bastard? Has he…” My next words brought a strange feeling of reality crashing down. Tears began streaming down my face before I could stop them. “Has he drunk blood?”
Sean put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me closer.
“I just… I don’t want to think about it!” I said, my tears soaking into his shirt. “I’m trying not to think at all, because every time I do, I can’t stand it! He’s out there, Sean. And he’s probably terrified or hurt. And, and—”
“Rosheen.” Sean’s voice was firm and strong. “I want you to listen to me.”
He pulled my head up and held it between his hands, pressing his forehead against mine.
“My brother is alive. That’s all that matters right now. Yeah, he might be scared, he might be hurt. He might even be completely fine. None of that is important, not yet. What matters is saving him. We are going to save him.”
He used his thumbs to wipe away my tears, then raised my chin so our eyes met.
“You don’t cry, Rosheen. You’re strong. You’re the same girl who beat the shit out of Terrence McCarthy when he called Shay a fag in year 8, remember? Prick came to school the next day looking like his eye had turned into a plum. Remember?”
My lips shook into a smile. Sean laughed.
“That’s more like it. Chin up. We’ve both done enough crying. Now’s the time to act. Yeah?”
He was right. Of course he was right, he always was. Right now, rescuing Shay was our priority. We couldn’t let anything else get in the way of that.
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“Good. We need to figure out our next move. We need to find a way to track Shay down.”
“There’s spells for that.”
He shook his head. “It could take months for us to learn complicated spells like those.”
“We could ask a sorcerer…” I trailed off, remembering that we were rogues now. Asking a favour from another sorcerer was off the table. Even those that weren’t part of the Convent wouldn’t want to get on the Convent’s bad side by associating with us.
“What we need to do is find people who know more about vampires than anyone else.”
Sean watched me closely, then grinned when I caught on.
“Yep, and how are we gonna get their attention?”
Now it was my turn to grin. I raised Mum’s knife. “By killing vampires.”