So, I promised in my last blog entry that I would post a bit of Dead Magic. What you’re about to read is the very beginning of the book.
Flesh and Bone
On balmy summer nights, Highgate Cemetery lay as still and silent as its residents, but not on this night. Footfalls echoed across the rows of vine-covered graves, their names impossible to read in the moonlight peeking through the trees. Crickets fell silent as the young man passed and the grasses on either side of the well-worn path rustled with life just beneath the surface. Reaching for the shuttered lantern at his side, Cecil Hale stopped and listened for any sign of his compatriots. He had been told not to open the lantern until he reached the Egyptian Avenue, but the graveyard was harder to navigate in the dark than he had imagined. The dizzying rows of cockeyed graves seemed to go on forever, all nearly identical to the next.
Closing his eyes, Cecil drew in a long breath. A wave of energy passed over him as the warm wind whipped a russet curl across his forehead. In the darkness beyond the curve of trees, he felt a faint pulse of power. So they had ventured into the vault without him. He reached for the pocket watch ticking against his side but let his hand drop. As he rounded the bend, his heart quickened at the sight of the obelisk and lotus-columned entrance to the Egyptian Avenue. Leafy boughs and Jurassic ferns spilled over the top of the mausoleum’s entrance, drowning out the tang of death with the scent of summer. The iron gate whined beneath his hand, and he paused, waiting for the light of a night watchman he knew would not appear. A smirk crossed his lips. No one thought to worry about the dead.
Cecil’s gaze swept over the faceless row of doors on either side of him until it came to rest on the wavering radiance of an oil lamp drifting behind the threshold. Pulling the door open, he shut his eyes against the harsh brightness of the lanterns.
“Did they not teach you how to tell time at boarding school, Lord Hale?”
Cecil Hale stiffened. If it had been anyone else, he would have cut them down to size for not only insulting a viscount but for daring to question the standing of the youngest magister in the third order, but when his hazel eyes adjusted, he found Lady Rose glaring at him.
“Do forgive my tardiness, Lady Rose, but it wasn’t easy to find my way here in the dark. Not all of us frequent graveyards,” he replied before he could stop himself.
A low chuckle emanated from where she stood, but Cecil swore he hadn’t seen her lips or chest move. Against the dusty grey of the mausoleum, her polished bronze hair and pale green eyes took on such an unnatural hue that he dared not question what he heard. Of all the practitioners he knew, she was the only one he feared. If he stared too long, he thought he could see shadows writhing and slithering around her, pulling at the flames positioned in a circle around her and the coffin at her feet. It was her power he felt when he cleared his mind’s eye.
As Cecil pulled the crypt door shut, a lanky, white-haired figure emerged from the neighboring chamber. He was accustomed to seeing Lord Sumner at the third order meetings, but seeing him standing in the mausoleum didn’t sit well. It felt wrong, like seeing one’s grandfather walk out of a Piccadilly brothel. He couldn’t imagine him with his carefully trimmed beard and Savile Row suit anywhere near a charnel house. The man had a lineage as distinguished as any king on the continent, so what could be so important that he would risk being found prowling around a graveyard with the likes of Lady Rose instead of sending an emissary? Maybe he didn’t trust her either.
“Will it only be us this evening?” Cecil asked, his voice reverberating against the vaulted stone as he looked into the darkened chamber.
Without looking up from the coffin edge, Lady Rose replied, “If you’re worried about discovery, my man is keeping watch outside, but the ritual only needs one. His lordship is merely here to supervise.”
“Let’s hope the ritual won’t be necessary.”
“Oh? Are you having second thoughts, Lord Sumner?”
“I think all of us would prefer to avoid such vulgarity. We can only hope his family thought it best to bury the damned book with him.”
“So resurrectionists like us could find it? I doubt it,” she said, running her bare fingers over the lid as if feeling for something.
“Did anyone check his estate and town home?” Cecil asked.
Lady Rose and Lord Sumner exchanged an incredulous look before turning their attention back to the casket. Her fingers slid over the decorative molding and around the brass bars affixed to either side, probing every cranny for hidden springs, but found nothing.
Resting back on her heels, she motioned for Cecil to come to her side with a curl of her finger. “Lord Hale, would you do the honors?”
For a moment, he wished they had left the door open to the crypt. The stale air pressed in as he drew in a breath and held it. Cecil steeled himself, ready to avert his gaze when the lid cracked opened, but when he tried to yank it loose, a bolt of pain shot into his wrists and up his arms. Howling, he staggered back, nearly kicking over Sumner’s lamp.
“The bloody thing’s hexed!” he cried, rubbing his burning, twitching hands.
“The duke’s underlings are smarter than I thought,” Lord Sumner murmured under his breath.
Grabbing a handful of dust from the floor, Lady Rose cast it across the casket top. A series of rings, lines, and scribbles appeared through the detritus. Cecil leaned in to get a closer look. He had never seen a sigil that actually worked. They were out of fashion and the order didn’t support the use of such an arcane technique, so there was no reason for him to learn about them. At the pulsing throb of his hand, he wished he had. Before he could finish tracing the twisting line with his gaze, Lady Rose pulled out a handkerchief from her reticule and scrubbed at the sigil. Cecil watched with wide eyes as she gritted her teeth and continued even as the arcane symbols crackled and arced with electricity beneath her palm.
She released a labored breath and wiped at her forehead with the back of her hand. “Open it.”
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Catch up on the rest of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series before Dead Magic releases:
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