Kate was sure she had misheard him. ‘You want me to … what?’
Silas’s frown deepened. ‘It is not as simple as it sounds,’ he said. ‘This body can no longer die by any ordinary means. What I need is something extraordinary. Someone capable of reaching beyond this world to the place where the real damage was done. What I need is you.’
‘But if you can live like that, why would you want to die?’ asked Kate. ‘Surely for you … for anyone … not being able to get hurt would be a good thing.’
‘My body may heal quickly from the cut of a blade, but I still feel it,’ said Silas. ‘The tearing of metal against flesh, the hot smell of blood … Life is pain, Miss Winters. I am simply forced to endure it longer than ordinary men, and that is not acceptable to me. There is no cure for being human. Why I am looking for death is not the question you should be asking. For now all you should be concerned with is how.’
‘But … I can’t. That’s not—’
‘Your ability is not in question,’ said Silas. ‘Once we have Wintercraft, everything will fall into place.’
‘I’ve already told you. I don’t know anything about that book!’
‘Just because you do not remember it, does not mean you have not seen it. I think you know more about it than you realise. The answer is already there inside your mind. And together, we are going to find it.’
Silas moved before Kate knew what was happening, pressing his fingers to the sides of her head and bringing his face up close to hers. His grey eyes locked on to her own bright blues and then all of her energy was sapped away, drained so completely that it was an effort even to blink.
It felt as though a hood of ice had been pulled over her head. Her forehead prickled with cold and a deep chill spread through her bones, moving down through her spine and trickling into every muscle until she could not move. Her fingertips burned as frost spread across her skin, icing her eyelashes and making her lips turn blue. Her heartbeat slowed, unable to fight against the cold. Her lungs fought hard for every breath … tightening … slowing …
Silas slid Kalen’s silver dagger from his belt, pushed up Kate’s left sleeve and traced a shallow cut across the inside of her arm. Kate felt nothing except the cold as Silas captured drops of her blood in a thin vial and held it up to the light.
‘All blood holds power,’ he said. ‘Da’ru will use this to prove your identity to the High Council. Be glad that I have taken it from you. She would have taken a lot more.’
Kate tried to fight against what was happening, but the veil overtook her even more strongly than before.
‘Tell me,’ said Silas, corking the vial and pushing it into an inner pocket against his chest. ‘What do you see?’
Kate’s whole body stopped. Time stretched endlessly around her and then, in the midst of that wide unbroken stillness, her mind burst spectacularly into life.
First there were colours, lights and sounds. Kate felt like she was moving, but Silas was still right there in front of her. Then the colours merged into fractured images of places she knew and people she remembered: Edgar dropping down through the Night Train’s roof … Morvane’s market in full swing … the view from her bedroom window … and her father in the bookshop when she was young, teaching her how to spot a rare book from the ordinary.
‘There. Go back to that memory,’ said Silas. ‘Let me see it again.’
Kate was so lost in what was happening that Silas’s voice took her by surprise.
Her thoughts obeyed him, even though she did not want them to, and she was wrenched back into her memory of the bookshop, where her father was inspecting a book with a magnifying glass.
‘Your parents let you see many rare books that passed through that shop,’ said Silas. ‘Your mind can remember them all. Show me more. Show me this one.’
The view shifted to a place Kate had never seen before. She was standing in the middle of a room high up in a circular tower with windows all around her, looking out over the vast cityscape of Fume. A book lay open on a desk in front of her: an old book with curled pages and words written in faded ink, and Da’ru sat behind it - looking younger than Kate remembered. She wrote something on a piece of parchment, rolled it up and pressed it into Kate’s hand. But the hand that took it was not hers. It was a man’s hand, worn and strong.
‘Let the council know that I am ready to present my findings,’ she said. ‘Silas has been kept in isolation for two years and the results of every test continue to exceed all of my expectations. The council may not approve of my methods, but they cannot deny the results. It is time for them to see Silas for themselves. I am trusting you, Kalen. Convince them to speak with me again. Tell them what you have seen. Take the book with you as a token of trust, but do not let it out of your sight. Perhaps now they will finally recognise the value of my work.’
‘Yes, my lady.’ Kalen’s gravelly voice spoke from the place Kate’s throat should have been. His hand reached for the book and closed it, revealing a dark purple cover with silver studs around the edges and the shimmer of polished oyster shell running in bands across the leather. A title glistened in the sunlight. One word written in faded silver leaf:
‘Inform me the moment they send for me,’ said Da’ru. ‘And if any of them try to harm the book in any way … kill them.’
‘Yes, my lady.’ Kate’s mind swiftly left Kalen and Da’ru behind, already searching out the book within her memory. She returned to the bookshop - to Artemis this time - and found herself looking through the eyes of her younger self into one of her earliest memories, one she did not even know that she had.
‘I told you, it is too dangerous!’ said Artemis, arguing with her father over the bookshop counter.
‘This is not your decision, Artemis! Anna and I have already decided. It is the right thing to do.’
‘They can’t ask you to do this!’
‘They can. You, me and Kate are the only ones left that carry the Winters blood. The book belongs with our family. Why don’t you understand that?’
‘Because it’s not right. What about Kate? Are you going to risk putting her in danger for the sake of a stolen book?’
‘Nothing is going to happen to Kate. And this is far more than just a book, Artemis. It is history, and who knows what else it might be one day. We are going to do this. It doesn’t matter if you agree with us or not. That book will be safe here with us, where it is meant to be.’
Artemis thumped his fist upon the counter, the only time Kate had ever seen him lose his temper in that way. ‘This is wrong, Jonathan. How do you know they are telling the truth? How do you know they’re not just trying to protect themselves by getting this thing out of Fume?’
‘Because they stole it from a warden - from Da’ru Marr’s best man himself! They have already taken enough risks to get Wintercraft back. The rest is up to us now.’
‘So,’ said Silas, his voice breaking into Kate’s thoughts. ‘The book was stolen from Kalen and handed to your family. Da’ru always believed he had sold it to the Skilled to line his own pockets. She thought he was a traitor. It appears she was wrong.’
Kate was not listening to him. The veil was already taking her to the next memory she had of Wintercraft and, before she could stop it, her mind replayed the first night she ever spent in the bookshop cellar’s hiding place. A night that happened just a few days after that argument: the night the wardens took her parents away.
She remembered looking out through the eyeholes in the cellar wall, watching her parents taking Wintercraft out of a secret space beside the chimney breast. They were talking too quietly for her to understand them, but they were both afraid. Her mother hid the book in her dress pocket, wrapping it in a torn strip of cloth. Then a loud noise cracked up above them and the cellar door smashed from its hinges, clattering down the steps as four robed men broke their way in.
Kate remembered watching her father fighting them off and her mother drawing them as far away from Kate’s hiding place as she could, so her daughter would not be found. She saw the flash of silver as a blade was thrown through the air, stabbing deep into her father’s shoulder. She saw the warden who came to retrieve it and heard her father’s scream as he wrenched the dagger out.
That warden gave the order for her parents to be taken up to the cages and, as he carried the dagger held ready at his side, Kate saw the letter ‘K’ shining upon the blade, stained red with her father’s blood. Kate knew that man at once. Kalen. Only he was younger and healthier, before the madness had taken over his mind. Kalen had come to Morvane to find the book and clear his name. He was the enemy she had seen in the cellar that night. He was the one who had taken her family away.
The image faded. Silas was back in front of her and Kate could feel the prickle of cold on her skin once again. Her lungs burst into life, her heart raced up to speed and she was back in the museum, back in the firelight.
‘What … was that?’ she asked, her throat stiff and sore as Silas lowered his hands from her face.
‘That was a glimpse of the half-life,’ he said. ‘The first level of the veil that a Skilled mind learns to enter, where memory becomes reality. You cannot stop now. You must return.’
‘But I saw the book … and Da’ru inside a tower. I’ve never been there.’
‘That was one of Kalen’s memories,’ said Silas. ‘I took it from him in the moments before he died. I shared it with you here because it was important for you to see. Now go back. The veil must become familiar to you. You must travel even further along the path into death if you are going to be of use to me.’
‘No,’ said Kate, flinching away from him. ‘Leave me alone!’ She knocked her chair over and stumbled to the door, throwing back the bolts with shivering hands as Silas sat back and watched.
‘It took Kalen just a few weeks to find your parents, but he did not find the book,’ he said. ‘The Skilled were not there to help your family when it mattered most, just as none of them are here to help you now. It seems Artemis kept you away from them for good reason. Clearly he did not want to put you in any more danger. Your parents had already done enough of that.’
‘You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ snapped Kate, fighting with the door as tears sprang into her eyes.
‘The Skilled convinced your parents to risk their lives and yours to protect Wintercraft and Kalen took the wardens to Morvane that day because of them. From what I have heard, your uncle fled from the bookshop the moment the wardens arrived. That cowardice saved his life. If he had stayed, he would be dead.’
‘Artemis is not a coward!’ said Kate.
‘He ran like a rabbit, leaving you and your parents to your fate. I have seen him lie for you. He protects you and treats you like his own child, but he does it out of guilt. He gave in to his fears that night, saving himself and leaving your parents to face their enemies alone. Then again, perhaps he was happy to see them being taken away. Your uncle was powerless within your household before the wardens came. Perhaps he wanted your parents to die.’
‘That’s not true!’
‘Your family was the reason Kalen harvested your town ten years ago,’ said Silas, ‘and you are the reason I chose to harvest it this time. The Winters family has a talent for attracting danger and that danger has always been connected to the same thing. Tell me where Wintercraft is. Tell me what happened to it and you will have no reason to hide any more. It will all be over.’
Kate rattled the door. The bolts would not open. They were stuck tight.
Silas stood up and began walking towards her. ‘Since the night Da’ru unearthed the book she has been plagued by visions of the dead,’ he said. ‘They disturb her dreams and torment her days. She believes that ancient spirits of your family cursed her for taking Wintercraft from them, yet she still wants it back. She will do anything to find it and, if she does, you can be sure that you and your uncle will be the first to suffer. You saw what was left of Kalen. He was Da’ru’s closest ally, yet she poisoned him into madness just for losing Wintercraft. The man I killed in the barrow alley was barely a shadow of the warden he had once been. His mind was lost. If you insist upon making things difficult, I could easily do the same to you.’
Kate’s head swam with dizziness. The effects of the veil were still upon her and an old memory blossomed in the confusion. Silas’s link to her thoughts was already broken. This memory was for her alone. A memory Silas could not see.
She remembered being very young again, hiding between the shelves in the bookshop and pulling books out of place, leaving rough piles of them behind her on the floor. Artemis was there, but he had not seen her. He was too busy talking to a woman standing in the shop doorway. A small woman in a black hooded coat.
‘It is unfortunate that it has come to this,’ she said. ‘There was nothing anyone could do.’
The woman would have easily passed unnoticed in any crowd, but Kate remembered her eyes clearly enough. They were dark and strange, like black puddles of oil with rims of bright blue tracing around their edges.
‘Then … it’s true?’ Artemis looked at the woman, willing her not to give him the news he was dreading.
‘I am sorry, Artemis. They are dead.’
‘You have my word. We did everything we could.’
‘No! How? How could this happen?’
‘Anna was carrying the book of Wintercraft. She passed it to one of our people when the wardens moved her from the train, but she was seen. Da’ru Marr heard about what she had done and had her executed as a traitor. Jonathan tried to stop them. He stole a key and freed himself from his cell, but it was too late. Anna was already dead. He attacked the first two wardens that he saw, unarmed, and was killed that same night.’
Artemis walked blindly over to a chair by the bookshop fire and dropped down into it with his head in his hands.
‘What do I tell Kate?’ he said quietly. ‘How do I tell a five-year-old girl that her parents are gone?’
‘Tell her that they did what they set out to do,’ said the woman. ‘The book is safe. We will make a place for it in the ancient library, somewhere it will never be found.’ She walked to Artemis and placed a broken silver chain with a gemstone pendant gently in his hand. ‘We found this afterwards,’ she said. ‘It belongs to Kate now.’
Artemis’s fingers closed around the chain, but he did not raise his head.
‘It is not too late. You can still join us. We can protect you. Both of you.’
Artemis looked up, his eyes damp with tears. ‘Just like you protected Jonathan and Anna?’ he said bitterly. ‘We do not need your kind of protection.’
‘Get out,’ he whispered.
‘Perhaps, one day, you will change your mind,’ said the woman. ‘You will see that it is for the best.’
Artemis laughed coldly, and the woman turned to leave.
‘Tell Kate her parents carried the name of Winters well,’ she said. ‘Da’ru only learned who they were after their deaths. If she had known whom she had captured, I believe their lives would have been a lot worse. Death may well be a blessing for both of them.’
The woman nodded once, then swept out of the door as smoothly as the breeze, leaving Artemis hunched in front of the fire, weeping in the dark.
Kate opened her eyes.
‘What is it?’ demanded Silas. ‘What did you see?’
Kate was sure now of one thing. Her parents had died trying to protect Wintercraft. Artemis had warned them the book was dangerous, but they had protected it just the same.
‘It’s gone,’ said Kate. ‘The book is gone.’
‘You are lying.’
‘We kept a box … inside the cellar fireplace. Artemis hid the book in there when he heard the wardens coming. You destroyed the book. When you burned the bookshop, it burned too.’
The lie came easily to Kate, but Silas was not fooled. ‘There are two vital facts you should know before you lie to me again,’ he said calmly. ‘Firstly, I am a man of my word. I keep my promises and do not make them without fully intending to carry them out. And secondly, there is no secret you can keep from me, now that I know how to enter your mind.’
Kate felt the veil creeping around the very edges of her consciousness and she stepped back from Silas, trying to blink the feeling away.
‘If the book could be destroyed so easily, do you not think someone would have rid the world of it long before now? And do you really believe I would have burned your shop if I had not been absolutely certain Wintercraft was not inside? If it was there, I would have known. I would have seized it, found you and we would not be having this pleasant conversation. Your work would already be done.’
Silas’s growing anger smothered the room. Kate’s back reached the wall. There was nowhere else to go.
‘We have no more time,’ said Silas. He grabbed her arm, pulled her along the wall and snatched something down from a high shelf. ‘Remember, it is your fault that we have come to this.’
The point of a needle shone in the firelight and a vial attached to it glowed a deep dangerous blue as Silas stabbed it down into Kate’s arm, releasing a trickle of poison into her blood. She tried to pull away, but the liquid spread like fire through her veins. Sounds became distant, her limbs felt heavy and her knees weakened under her, sending her crumpling to the floor.
Silas’s crow fluttered up on to his shoulder and Silas stood over her as unconsciousness carried her senses away.
‘This could have all been much easier,’ he said.