Edgar ran through the Southern Quarter, keeping to the shadows, trying not to be seen. His hands were sweaty and his heart was racing. He hadn’t run this fast since … No. He wasn’t going to think about that. He felt like a coward. A collector had Kate and he was running in the opposite direction. Any ordinary person would have tried facing Silas, tried to fight him and force him to give her back. But this was not the first time Edgar had run from Silas Dane. Fighting him would get him nowhere. He knew what he had to do.
He kept running, ignoring the shouts of a few townspeople who were standing on doorsteps or leaning out of windows pointing at plumes of smoke rising from nearby fires. They must not have seen the wardens yet, but they were making enough noise to attract every one of them for a mile around.
Dark clouds brought heavy flurries of snow from the north, darkening the sky and filling the air with falling flakes of white. Edgar dodged between the houses, looking for somewhere to hide, somewhere to plan, whilst above him, soaring high in the air, Silas’s crow followed silently behind.
No one noticed the bird’s wide wings outstretched above the rooftops as it kept pace, following Edgar until he was forced to take shelter from the heavy snow in a decrepit old house. It watched him force his way in through a boarded window, then it settled on the corner-stone of a bakery roof like a perfect gargoyle, waiting for him to make his next move. And as it sat there, the town of Morvane changed.
The snow lay like a blanket across the run-down streets of the Southern Quarter. Ruined roofs became beautiful again, dirty roads were given a fresh new mask of white, and everything sparkled in the rare patches of morning sun. The crow sat patiently, watching the door of the house until a smart carriage, pulled by two grey horses, rolled into sight, drawing its attention away. It stood, suddenly alert, cocked its head and shook its feathers dry. The crow knew who was inside that carriage. It could sense the unwelcome presence of an enemy. Someone it had learned to fear.
Instinct told it to fly, but duty to its master kept it locked to its post until the carriage rolled by, oblivious to both the bird and the boy hiding in the house. Only when it had passed safely out of sight could the crow settle again and return obediently to its silent watch.
Across town, the carriage Kate was in was travelling fast. The windows were blacked out with thick cloth, so she could only catch tiny glimpses of the streets that raced by, but she saw enough to know that they were heading towards the Western Quarter - Morvane’s oldest and most dangerous district. She tugged secretly at her wrist cuff, trying to force it up over her thumb joint, but it would not budge.
A broken hatch at the front of the carriage looked out on to the driver’s back and biting wind surged through it, blasting snow into Kate’s face and forcing her to huddle deeper into her coat. Silas did not move. He had not spoken since they had boarded the carriage. The snow churned around him, sending flakes drifting across his face, but while the flakes melted instantly against the warmth of Kate’s skin, they clung to Silas’s face far longer before melting away. When they landed upon his eyeballs they clustered together in tiny drifts along his eyelids. He did not even blink.
By the time the high archway marking the change of quarter came into sight Kate’s cheeks were so cold she could not feel them any more. The carriage’s wheels bounced and jolted so hard along uneven roads that she had to grab hold of her seat to stop herself falling off and, without even glancing at his window, Silas gave an order to the driver. ‘Here.’
The carriage came to a gentle stop in front of a rough-looking boarding house. Silas unlatched his door and pulled Kate out into the open, where the chill of the snow made her ears burn. The boarding house was easily the tallest building in the quarter, with three floors of square windows reaching up to a cracked circular window tucked beneath the distant eaves. Silas did not bother to knock. He wrenched at the door handle and pushed Kate inside.
‘What are we doing here?’ she asked.
‘I have an appointment to keep and I cannot risk leaving you with anyone else,’ said Silas. ‘If you have any sense, you will keep your ears sharp and your mouth shut.’
The door led into a long corridor that was dark except for a single candle glowing at the end. A shadow moved in front of the light and a small man hurried up to meet them. He was old and plainly dressed, but Kate could not miss the gleam of a gold and ruby ring on his right hand. A ring like that could only belong to a man with powerful friends, so it did not surprise her when he greeted Silas by name.
‘Mr Dane,’ he said, casting half a glance at the ruined door behind him.
‘Has she arrived?’ asked Silas.
‘No, sir.’
‘Then I will come down the moment she does. As far as you are concerned, this girl is not here. She does not exist. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, sir.’
The boarding-house owner smiled creepily at Kate as Silas took her up the worn stairs to the upper floors. They climbed two dog-legged flights and then a third that led right up to the attic floor. A doorway, to which Silas already had the key, stood upon a landing at the very top and the room beyond was small and neat, with a narrow bed, an unlit fire and a wooden desk inside. Silas locked the door behind them and went at once to the circular window, swinging it open so he could lean out over the street.
‘What’s going on?’ asked Kate. ‘Who are you meeting here?’
‘Someone who has been looking for your family for a long time,’ said Silas, crossing the room and locking one end of Kate’s silver chain to the desk. ‘As far as she knows there is only one Winters rumoured to live in this town. I will tell her that your uncle is useless, just like the rest. If you stay quiet, there is a chance this day may not end badly for you.’
‘What does that mean?’ asked Kate.
‘Your parents never mentioned they had a child when the wardens took them,’ said Silas. ‘They were wise enough to know when to keep quiet and when to speak. A lesson you would do well to learn.’
‘What do you know about them?’ demanded Kate, but a look from Silas was enough to silence her.
‘What I know is irrelevant,’ he said. ‘All that matters now is what you know, and what you can do.’
A long silence followed.
Silas stood beside the open window, not caring that Kate was left shivering in the dark. She sat down at the desk, trying to prise her wrist cuff open on the corner of the wood, and was just about to ask Silas for the woman’s name, when a sudden pain burst between her eyes, like needles piercing the skin. A bright light flashed in front of her: pure white light, there and gone again in an instant. She blinked it away and had gone back to the wrist cuff when it happened again. The light shone more intensely this time, lasting for a few seconds and never weakening, even when she closed her eyes.
Silas glared at her with suspicion. ‘What is it?’ he asked.
‘Nothing. It’s nothing. I—’
‘The Skilled have far greater senses than ordinary people,’ he said. ‘Those senses can create visions of things the eyes cannot normally see. Tell me what you saw.’
The pain stabbed again and the light flashed once more, sharpening into a vision of something that Kate knew should have been impossible.
She was looking out of a carriage window towards the arch that divided the Western Quarter from the south. It was the same route that Silas’s carriage had taken, but she was not looking at a memory of her own journey. The window was arched not square, and the curtains were pulled wide open.
‘What do you see?’ Silas demanded.
Kate did not know what was happening. Icy cold surrounded her hands, chilling them until they were so cold that it felt as if her bones might snap. She tried to stand up, but she could not move. She tried to speak, but her throat made no sound. She could only sit staring at the same point on the black wall, eyes fixed in silent terror as her body refused to obey her.
Her first thought was that she had been poisoned, but Silas had not given her anything to eat or drink. She had not felt the prick of a needle or smelled gas in the air. The cold spread along her arms, numbing them completely as a thin layer of frost traced across her fingers. After that, all she saw was darkness. Deep blackness, more complete than any darkness she had ever known. She felt lost within it. Held tightly in one place. Unable to move or speak or scream. All she had was the pulse of her blood racing through her veins to let her know she was alive, but even that was slowing down. Becoming fainter. Weaker.
Silas’s voice spoke close by. ‘All Skilled have the ability to see into the veil,’ he said. ‘The boundary between this world and the next is opening around you. Let it happen. It will become as easy as breathing, given time.’
Kate could not have stopped it if she tried. The cold was so intense that she became numb to it. Then the vision returned and this time she was glad of it. Anything to force the terrifying darkness away.
She was back inside the carriage travelling swiftly beneath the quarter arch. She tried to look around, but her view was fixed upon the window as the dark stones that made up the archway blackened the glass, forming a mirror-like reflection within it. Kate focused upon it and found herself looking at a face. A woman’s face that was not her own.
Then everything stopped.
The vision froze around her and everything was still except for the face: the face of a woman who had sensed something other than herself inside that carriage. The cold eyes within the glass began to smile and the finely painted mouth whispered a word. ‘Kate.’
The shock of hearing her own name made Kate heave in a sudden breath. The vision broke and she was back in the boarding house with Silas standing right beside her. The frost melted quickly on her warming skin and she stared as her hands slowly regained their colour, still shivering with cold.
‘She’s coming,’ she said, as soon as she was able to say the words. ‘I think I saw her. She said my name. What … What happened?’
‘You used the veil to see through the spirit of another,’ said Silas. For a moment, he sounded surprised, but his cold eyes gave nothing away. ‘She is the hunter and you are her prey. Given the right conditions, the veil can link two Skilled minds if they are focused enough upon each other, but it normally takes a tremendous strength of will to make such a connection possible. What did you do?’
‘Nothing!’ said Kate, tugging on her wrist cuff in frustration. ‘I was just sitting here, trying to get this thing off.’
‘For her to know your name, she must have been aware of the link between you,’ said Silas. ‘When two minds join within the veil, it is possible for them to share memories. You will not let it happen again. I am surprised the Skilled did not find you long before I did. Your potential is even greater than I expected. How long have you been one of them?’
‘I’m not one of them.’
‘Who taught you the ways of Wintercraft?’
‘Where is the book being kept? Did you read from it yourself?’
‘What book? I don’t know anything about any of this!’ Kate was tired, confused and angry. Her head still hurt from whatever had just happened, but already logic was starting to take over. There was no way she could have actually seen that woman in the carriage. She couldn’t have been real. Her imagination could have created her by piecing together what had already happened that day with what Silas had told her. And as for the frost on her hands … there wasn’t even a trace of it left now. Perhaps it had never even been there at all.
‘Da’ru will arrive soon,’ said Silas. ‘She must not find out that you are up here. Do you understand?’
Da’ru? Kate remembered the name. Kalen had called Edgar ‘Da’ru’s boy’, but she was sure she had also heard it somewhere else before. ‘Why is she looking for me?’ she asked.
‘The Skilled are a dying breed,’ said Silas. ‘She has her plans for you. I have mine. You are going to help me find the book of Wintercraft and with it you will help me do something that most people believe to be impossible. That is all you need to know for now.’
‘This is wrong,’ said Kate. ‘I don’t know anything about the Skilled. I don’t know why this is happening!’
‘Few people are able to choose their own fate,’ Silas said coolly. ‘Even fewer learn to accept the path that they are given.’ He returned to the window and looked down on to the street.
‘She is here,’ he said, as the rattle of carriage wheels carried up from below. ‘Stay quiet and do nothing. If you are found here with me, there will be consequences for both of us. You will not leave this room.’
Silas stepped out on to the landing and closed the door. Kate waited until his footsteps were far enough away before sneaking over to it, letting her chain snake silently across the floor behind her. The metal handle clicked dully in her hand. Locked. She bent down to look through the keyhole and saw something dark sitting in the lock. The key was still there.
Kate crossed the room as quietly as she could and creaked open some of the desk drawers, hunting through them for something long and thin to push the key out. The few ink pens she found were too wide to fit in the lock. All that was left was a few loose sheets of paper. They would have to do.
Kate grabbed two pieces, tore one of them in half and rolled it tightly into a narrow strip that was thin enough to reach the key but strong enough not to bend against it. She returned to the door, knelt down and pushed the second piece under it to catch the key when it fell. Then she slid the rolled strip carefully into the lock, pushing the key gently, hoping it would not make too much noise when it hit the floor.
Gradually, the key worked loose. Kate tensed when it dropped, and the metal rang out hard against the wooden boards. She froze, waiting for someone to come up to investigate the sound. No one came. Once she was sure it was safe, she pulled the slice of paper back into the room with her fingertips, with the weight of the door key balanced precariously on one of the corners. She snatched it up as soon as it was in sight and dug it into the lock. The handle clicked and the door creaked open.
The length of her chain gave Kate just enough room to allow her to step out on to the landing, where she could hear distant voices talking at the bottom of the stairs. There was a woman’s voice and a louder one belonging to the boarding-house owner, but she could only make out his half of the conversation.
‘There has been no talk of the Skilled in this town for ten years or more,’ she heard him say as she edged closer to the top of the staircase. ‘If there was a Skilled girl, she has not come this way. The people here have been more careful than in the south. No. No meetings. If any of them had passed through this town, you can be sure I would know.’
‘Very well,’ came the woman’s voice, clearer now as Kate leaned out over the steps.
‘We will call you if we require you again,’ said Silas. ‘Leave us.’
Kate heard shuffling steps as the boarding-house owner walked away and a door closed somewhere down below.
‘These people are hiding something,’ said Da’ru. ‘What news do you have about the girl? Do we have her yet?’
‘It appears Kalen’s information was incorrect,’ said Silas. ‘The only Winters we found here was a bookseller with no family. He is already in custody and shows no aptitude for the Skill. This could all have been merely a futile effort in the hope of regaining your trust. Kalen is known to be a desperate man, but the harvest is proceeding well nonetheless. Our presence here may yet prove worthwhile.’
‘No. There is someone in this town,’ said Da’ru. ‘A girl. I have sensed her.’
‘If so, then you can be sure she will be found,’ said Silas. ‘My men are scouring every street and the town gates are locked. No one will get out.’
Da’ru’s voice fell quiet, and Kate had to strain to hear her words. ‘This is the closest we have ever been, Silas,’ she said, her words dark and dangerous. ‘I am certain the book is hidden somewhere in Fume. We will find it soon and with a Winters to use it … I do not have to tell you what that would mean. The book is mine. That girl’s family stole it from me and if it takes the rest of my life, I will discover its secrets. Do not leave this town until your men are certain there are no Skilled left. Check empty houses, cellars, everything. I want that girl, Silas. Find her for me.’
Kate backed slowly into the attic room, lifting up the silver chain so it did not scrape across the floor. Even if she could remove it somehow, Silas was right, there was nowhere to go - and as much as she feared him, instinct told her that she should fear that woman even more.
Kate locked herself in the attic room and pushed the key back under the door where Silas would find it. There was nothing she could do to help herself, not with so many people in the house. She stood in the shadows at the side of the attic window, forcing herself to concentrate upon anything other than the woman downstairs. From her viewpoint just above the rooftops, Morvane looked large enough to hide anyone. Anyone except her. She had been careless. After everything Artemis had taught her, she had allowed herself to get caught.
Thin pillars of smoke rose up from faraway buildings that had fallen prey to the wardens’ flames, and somewhere in the distance a crow was circling in the grey, snow-filled sky.
‘Edgar,’ she whispered. ‘Where are you?’
Two streets to the south of the boarding house, Edgar was lost. He had seen the carriage pass outside his hiding place and, just like the crow, he too had recognised it at once. Da’ru was in town. And if she was there, so was someone else who might be able to help both him and Kate.
He trudged through the snow, checking every street sign and house name, wearing a pair of stolen gloves and a stolen hat to keep him warm. Three years of living in Morvane had taught him enough to stay away from the Western Quarter. But with news of the wardens’ arrival travelling fast, the streets were empty, and there was no one around to ask for directions.
The Black Fox Boarding House. He knew the name well enough. The owner was known to be a whisperer - an information monger - willing to share any secret for a price. Most whisperers were loyal to their towns and refused to have dealings with wardens and their kind, but this one was known to be both reliable and indiscriminate in his choice of contacts, some of whom came from as far away as Fume. If anything important was happening in Morvane, the owner of the Black Fox knew about it. Da’ru was sure to stop there for information, if she had not been and gone already. But where was it?
At last, he spotted something familiar.
A gap between the houses gave Edgar a glimpse of a tall building with a circular window on its top floor. He squeezed down a narrow path and ran straight out in front of two grey carriage horses standing in the middle of the street.
He had found it.
He ducked back so the driver did not see him and spotted a boy a few years younger than him sitting alone on the boarding-house step, hugging himself against the wind with a holey blanket pulled tight around his shoulders. Edgar crept up to him. ‘Tom!’ he whispered.
The boy looked up, his face brightening at once. ‘Ed?’
Edgar dared to take a few steps closer.
‘Ed! What are you doing here?’ The boy scrabbled to his feet, still clutching his freezing hands beneath the blanket.
‘Shh!’ Edgar ran the short distance left between them and clutched the younger boy’s shoulders tight. He checked him over quickly, making sure he was in good health, then he scuffed his hair as both of their faces widened into matching grins.
‘Where is Da’ru?’ asked Edgar.
Tom pointed back at the boarding house. ‘If she sees you here, she’ll put the knife in you,’ he said. ‘She hasn’t forgotten what you did.’
‘I don’t care about that. It’s you I need, Tom. I need some information.’ Edgar quickly told him what had happened to Kate, but Tom just kept shivering and looking back at the boarding-house door, cringing whenever his voice raised above a whisper.
‘You shouldn’t have come here, Ed,’ he said at last. ‘Da’ru’s just in there. She’ll know.’
‘Just tell me, which way are they taking the prisoners out this time?’
‘She’ll know that I told you. She always does.’
‘I’ll be long gone before then.’
I won’t be.’
Edgar’s face fell. ‘You know I can’t take you yet,’ he said. ‘There are wardens crawling all over this town. Da’ru would catch us both before we were two streets away. One day … soon, I promise, but not now. I can’t risk you getting hurt. You do understand that, don’t you?’
Someone moved inside the building. Tom threw off the blanket and tugged at his torn clothes to make himself look presentable. ‘Go on!’ he whispered. ‘She’ll kill you if she sees you, Ed. She swore she would.’
Edgar took off his hat and planted it on to Tom’s cold head. ‘That is not going to happen,’ he said. ‘Now, are we brothers or not? Which way are they taking the prisoners?’
Tom looked nervous, pulled off the hat and stuffed it into his pocket. ‘They’re going to stop the night train,’ he said quickly. ‘It’ll pass through at sunset on its way back to Fume. But don’t go out there, Ed. You don’t know what’s happening. Silas is out there!’
‘We’ve already met,’ said Edgar, pulling off his gloves and pressing them and some of his matches into his brother’s hands. ‘Look after yourself. Stay warm. I’ll come back for you. You know I will.’
Tom clutched the gifts in his shivering hands. ‘Wait! Ed!’
Edgar looked back at the boy in the snow and then a door latch clicked, forcing him to dive into the darkness between two houses.
The shadows swallowed him completely as a well-dressed woman stepped out into the street; she could not have looked more out of place if she had tried. There Edgar was, crouching in one of Morvane’s poorest streets at one of its most desperate times, and there she was, pristine and perfect, her silvery dress snaking across the ground, her boots jet black and delicately heeled, her elegant shoulders poised and relaxed beneath a hooded shawl of grey and brown fur. Wolf fur. Only one woman in Albion chose to wear wolf fur, such was her low regard for any life other than her own. Her long black hair was tied back and pinned with a pointed bone, her cuffs were edged with tiny rubies and her lips were painted grey. The owner of the boarding house stood behind her, looking like a well-used penny next to a freshly minted coin.
Da’ru ignored him, raised the fur hood and let her perfect face disappear beneath its shadow, while Tom tucked his blanket into the back of his trousers, trying not to look over to where Edgar was hiding. Da’ru stepped aboard the carriage and Tom clung on to the luggage rack at the back, squeezing himself in like a lumpy travelling bag and tugging on his gloves as soon as his mistress was out of sight.
Edgar did not want to let his brother go with her, but there was nothing he could do. The horses pulled forward, and silently he watched them leave.
Anyone who saw that carriage would probably not notice anything different about it. The horses were standard greys, the wheels were plain and the doors were unmarked, giving no hint to the real identity of its passenger. But Edgar knew very well who she was. Da’ru Marr: the only female member of Albion’s High Council, and the only one who counted herself as one of the Skilled. Wherever she went she always brought trouble.
Edgar dug his bare hands into his pockets and tried to get his bearings. If the wardens were putting the prisoners on the night train, Silas would be with them and he would definitely be keeping Kate close by. The train station was on the opposite side of town, so he had some time. It would take the wardens a while to move everyone there, even in those cages, and the train would not arrive until after dark. If he kept moving, he should be able to make it.
It was risky. The last thing Edgar wanted to do was go up against a town full of wardens. It would have been a lot easier for him to just sneak out of Morvane and try to disappear again, or at least find somewhere safe to hide until it was all over. But Kate was far too important to him for that. He wasn’t about to just leave her behind.
His mind was set.
He had outsmarted the wardens once before. Now it looked like he would have to do it again.
Edgar was concentrating so hard on what he had to do that he did not realise that he was not the only one who had watched Da’ru leave. Silas stood at the circular window, watching him disappear into the falling snow. He had to admire the boy. He was even more daring than he had expected. He ran his thumb across a deep scar on the palm of his right hand. A curling brand made by searing hot iron into flesh, the same brand that had once brought him back to life from the furthest reaches of death. It had never healed. After twelve years it was still as raw as the moment it was made and sometimes he thought he could still see a few sparks of fire smouldering inside the wound, burrowing down a little deeper year after year.
He lurked by the window like a wolf in the shadows, waiting for the boarding-house owner to climb the stairs and, when the old man finally made it up to the landing, he opened the door before his knuckles had even touched the wood to knock.
The man smiled nervously on the other side.
‘Good work,’ said Silas, tossing a small coin pouch into his hands.
‘Thank you, sir. And … will there be anything else today?’
‘No,’ said Silas. Outside, the snow was easing and Kate was watching him warily from the desk chair. ‘It is time for us to leave,’ he said. ‘The girl and I have a train to catch.’