I leaped out of the road as an oncoming car tried to nail me across its bonnet, skidding on the wet pavement in front of the British Museum. I looked around for signs of life, anyone who might have seen how I arrived, but other than the driver who was already speeding off, the road was empty.
Accidents like that were how Inquisitions started. I breathed a sigh of relief and pocketed Mars' hip flask, turning to the Museum. "I really shouldn't be here." I told myself as my feet brought me closer to the door.
I noticed with alarm that the door was swinging slightly ajar. I was right, they were there. They were doing- whatever they had planned tonight. I stepped closer and pushed it lightly. It swung open, revealing the British Museum in all its night time darkness.
I looked around, and jumped back in startled surprise. a man lay on the floor beside the door. My heart thumped in my chest as I stepped in, the strap of my bag gripped tightly in my hand. I crouched down beside the man and reached for his neck, placing two fingers on his throat. I didn't need to check, I could already feel it, I already knew; he was dead.
The only thing that I gained from touching him was a little blood on my hand and a sense of the fear and sorrow that went through him as the knife slit his throat.
My pocket began to vibrate, releasing that ancient Nokia ring tone that every phone still has to have and I jumped, letting out a small scream as I attempted to flee from my own pocket.
I landed on my rear, panting in fear, staring down at my chest. I shook my head at my foolishness and reached inside. I pulled it out and hit answer.
"Hello." I said quietly. There was static on the line, intermittent magical energies interfering with the call.
"Alex!" the voice growled. "Where are you? Are you at the museum?"
"Yeah." I whispered, standing up and starting down the corridor. I could feel the thrum of the faith that people put in the building, I could feel the light and dark of a variety of magical objects, but more importantly; I could feel magic being played with deep inside. "Sorry, Mars." I continued. "I didn't mean to, I just saw the map and the magic took effect."
"Come back, now." He demanded. I shook my coat and heard the sloshing of water. I had enough potion to get back but…
"I can't." I whispered down the phone.
"Why?" Mars asked, almost growling.
"It's happening tonight." I told him. "I'm inside the museum, I found a dead guard." He cursed. "Mars, I can feel it. I can feel it happening."
"Use the potion, I'll drive there now and do what I can to stop it."
I shook my head. "By the time you get here it might be too late." I sighed. I really didn't want to have to go in there. Sure I was foolhardy, sure I was a teenager, sure I'd love to be able to shove it in Mars face that the first time I went out into the field I saved the world, all on my own… but I wasn't stupid. I didn't want to die. "Sorry Mars, I have to try."
"Alex, what do you have with you?" He asked. "You don't have a blasting rod, you don't have a wizards staff, you have your school bag and your books."
I rounded a corner into a dimly lit area – dim light was better than I had so I took it – and found another guard. His face was torn apart, as if by an animal. I grimaced at the body and anger swelled in my chest. "You always tell me that a wizard isn't his tools, it's his knowledge." I said, stepping over the guard – careful to avoid the blood – and continuing on towards the source of the reverberations of magic. "You've given me a lot of knowledge over this past two years, Mars. I have my knowledge, I have chalk, I have half a teleportation potion, I have my shield bracelet – which you helped me make into one of the most potent protection bracelets ever – and I have my wits."
Mars was silent for a moment. "It might not be enough." He told me.
"It might have to be." I responded, pressing the off button on the phone and pocketing it again. Worst case scenario I could use my ancient brick of a phone to bludgeon the warlocks to death.
I continued through the museum, through exhibits, up some stairs – possibly several flights, I couldn't be certain in the dark – getting closer and closer to the throbbing of magic, coming across body after body of the Museum security. Some had been mauled, some had been stabbed and some had been killed with dark magic.
I stared down at the body of a guard who had been burned to death. There were no soot stains, no burn marks across the floor, he was simply engulfed in flame. It disgusted me. Magic shouldn't be used that way. Magic comes from life, from my life, from the dead guards life, from the warlocks life… Life just shouldn't be used to create death.
The anger that had swelled in my chest began to bubble as I stood and continued forward. I should have expected such dark magics but… it's hard to expect things you try not to think about.
That you try to forget.
I all but stomped through the museum until I heard the scuffling of feet. I found myself just outside the special exhibitions area near the south of the building. It was a tiny little room compared to the other exhibitions I'd walked through with only one way in or out.
I moved to the door and crouched down, reaching into my pocket for chalk. I took a breath and clamed myself. I was angry, so angry, but it wasn't helpful. I wanted to walk in there and kill them, but – and I can't believe I even thought it – Mars wouldn't have approved.
Chalk, a shield bracelet, a teleportation potion, knowledge and wits.
I'd like to say I'd saved the world with less, but I was sixteen. I'd not even saved the world.
I took a breath and risked a look around the door. Three men of varying ages stood within. Two of the men stood in front of a crown, on closer inspection I recognised the crown as the crown of the Queen, on loan from the tower of London for a month before her Jubilee.
The two men looked like older and younger versions of the same man. Like a forty-year-old father and twenty-year-old son who were trying to dress alike. They had clean, well-kept black hair, slicked back and gelled to the point that I was certain that you'd be able to snap pieces off. The older of the two had grey running through the sides of his hair, but the younger's hair was completely black. They both wore dark blue pinstriped suits like something out of a nineteen-forties mafia movie.
I could feel power, dark, corrupt power emanating off of them as they eyed the crown.
"Why are you waiting?" The third man asked, growling his words with a basso depth.
He was a completely different story. His clothes were torn, his hair messed to the point of a birds nest, he had about a week's worth of stubble growing on his chin and scars criss-crossing his face and exposed chest. The only things on him that hadn't fallen to disrepair were a steel collar around his neck and a furry, hide belt about his waist.
I slipped my head back out of the room, blood draining from my face as I realised what I was looking at. A Werewolf. A Hexenwolf to be precise. A man who could transform himself into a wolf-like creature using a talisman that had been created for him by a warlock, presumably one of the two stood next to him.
There was no way I could deal with a werewolf, not and live. Even if I got the talisman off him he'd still kill me. He was bigger than me, stronger than me, probably faster. The talismans are like drugs, he'd fight to the death for it, while I'd just die fighting.
I fought the urge to piss myself with fear and edged away. I got a meter towards the next exhibition and stopped. What if this was the only chance to stop it? I didn't know what they were doing. All I knew was that after a long month of practicing and practicing on lesser faith houses they had come here to London's biggest museum, a place that so many people had put faith in that my head was literally thrumming with the pain of it.
Tonight was their big prize, whatever they wanted it couldn't be good.
What if not taking the chance meant that millions would die? Meant that Melanie would die…
"The reason we are waiting, Lycan, is because the powers of this building have not yet been contained." The elder of the two Warlocks explained. His voice snapped me out of my questions like cold water being thrown over my head. I turned back and took a breath. I looked around.
Wits, Knowledge, chalk, a teleportation potion and a powerful Shield bracelet. I could do it. And if not I'd use my death curse to take them with me anyway. Assuming I could speak. I'd rather not think about events that would stop me from being able to speak.
I crept back up the corridor and crouched by the door again. I leaned forward and drew a circle on the ground – no harm being prepared to protect yourself, right? - listening to them as they continued to speak.
"Your name is of no importance to me, Lycan. My father might tolerate your presence, but don't push me or we'll spend the time until he returns seeing exactly how your collar works." The elder warlock said.
"I'm not afraid of you, brother." The wolf growled.
"Lorem!" The Warlock growled. There was a screeching of tearing metal and then the hexenwolf screamed out, dropping to his knees. He reached for his wolf belt and transformed from a large, scruffy man to an even larger scruffier wolf. The only things that remained were his eyes and his scars. It didn't help, however, the wolf writhed on the floor, howling and whimpering in pain until the warlock spoke again. "Ipsum!"
If it weren't for the horrifying situation I'd have laughed out loud. He was using Lorum Ipsum for his spell words? If his next spell was cast with dolor, sit or amet I might have to ignore the possibility of dying and actually let out a chuckle.
The collar reminded me of what Poppy had said about jewellery. They were enchanting jewellery to test whether their slave collars would work on something other than pure steel. From what I understand enchantments work best on the purest material. There's little purer than the Queens crown.
"You are not my brother." The older Warlock growled. "You are a beast, you will remember your place."
I took a breath and stepped away from the door. I wasn't going to get anything more out of them and I had work to do.
First, what did I know?
There were two, maybe three Warlocks and a hexenwolf in the British museum. They'd spent a good deal of the past month practicing stealing faith from buildings and were here for the main event. They were going to do the magic upon the queen's crown, if the werewolf's collar was anything to go by they'd be able to turn it into a slave bind, enslaving the queen.
Which would be bad.
Most people think that the monarchy is a pointless institution, that she has no power and therefore no function, but it's more than that, much more. It's not that she has no power, it's that her power is being focussed already. She is in a constant state of power, binding a million curses from the last thousand years of attacks on British soil and holding them back. Stopping them from doing their damage to the United Kingdom. That's why she always looks so unhappy. It's a strain on the heart and mind.
If a Warlock could bind her, he could break her hold. It would be a disaster, but they had to wait for the building's power to be contained to do it. Whatever that meant.
Second, what did I need to do?
I needed to make sure they couldn't cast the faith into the jewellery; I needed to get them away from the crown.
Getting them away from the crown wouldn't be enough though. I had to make sure that they didn't go back to it, but how- Mars. Mars was on his way.
I had to stall them until he arrived.
Third, how would I get them away from the crown?
I could show myself and run, but there's every chance I wouldn't be quick enough. I could put myself in a protective circle and then make myself known… but what's to stop them from breaking it down? Sure I might be able to outlast one of them, but two? Three? There was just no way, and even if I could, why wouldn't they just have the wolf watch me and then go back to what they were doing?
I looked back down the corridor, I could create a lot of circles, jumping between them, bringing up shields and continuing. I shook my head, sighing, the wolf would catch me so easily. I needed a weapon, some way to fight back.
"Father…" A third voice, the younger warlock, said tentatively. "The Lycan has a point." There was a growl from the wolf. "Though he's too foolish to know what it is." There was contempt in the younger man's voice. "Why are we waiting?"
"Because, Shaun-" Shaun? The evil warlock was called Shaun? Really? "Your grandfather told us to."
Shaun snorted. "The old fools passed beyond his years." He argued. "He's being over cautious for no reason."
"Son, you don't know everything, there are things in this world that demand caution. Your Grandfather's caution has kept him and us from the eyes of the white council for fifty years." The elder Warlock responded. There was a pause and then the man sighed. "Still… he has been longer than I expected."
I risked a look around the door again. The Wolf had shifted back to human form and was crouched to one side, not quite whimpering, but from his posture it's what I expected. The two Warlocks stared into each other's eyes, frowning. "How long are you going to allow him to control us, father."
"He doesn't control us, he protects us-"
"He needs us, he couldn't do this without us. We don't need him." The young Warlock rumbled. "We could cast this without him and remove him from the equation." I could see the ideas stir within the Warlock. The look in his eyes, caused by the possibilities his son was bringing to his mind frightened me. Maybe I didn't have as much time to work as I thought.
The elder Warlock looked up at his son and frowned. "You're young. You don't understand these things."
"I understand that you're scared to defy him." The younger said.
"Boy…" The elder rumbled, "Do not test my patience."
"That's not my intention, father. I simply wanted to point out that you have power. I can feel it, power greater than grandfather. You don't have to do as he commands." Shaun explained, walking around to his father. The indecision on the elder Warlock was intriguing. The younger was manipulating him like a professional. He placed his hand on his father's shoulder. "We can do this, Father."
He stared down at the determination in his sons eyes and, after a moment, set his jaw. "Prepare your staff." He decided. The younger Warlock grinned and I cursed, moving back out of the room.
I was out of time. Out of options. It was going to happen then and there and Mars was surely still miles away.
You remember when I said I was foolhardy, but not stupid? Yeah forget that. I stepped around the corner, into full view of the two mafia style warlocks and their pet werewolf with my arms raised.
None of them noticed me, they continued to prepare for their spell.
I looked between them all for a few moments longer before crouching and drawing a circle around myself with the chalk. I stood back up and eyed the men. "Evening." I said.
For a moment none of them reacted, as if they'd just imagined the voice, but then as one they looked up at me. The warlocks grabbed their weapons, the elder held a jewelled dagger and a blasting rod while the younger just held up his blasting rod. I kept my hands up but focussed on the circle, bringing up a shield and pouring energy into it. It wouldn't hold long, but hopefully I wouldn't need it to.
"Who are you?" the Elder of the two Warlocks said, a mixture of surprise and annoyance in his tone. "What are you doing here? How are-"
"We should kill him." The younger said. "He's just a kid, probably a thief. Nobody would know."
"That-" I said loudly, raising a hand, "wouldn't be particularly smart." I said.
The Elder frowned at me, turning to his son. "Find out how he got in."
"I walked through the front door. You didn't lock up."
"Yes I did… I-" Shaun looked from the elder to me. "How did you get by my spells?"
"Spells?" I asked, pretending I didn't know what he was talking about.
"Don't be an idiot; I can feel you doing magic right now." Shaun asked. "Answer my question."
"There were no spells." I said, honestly.
The Elder warlock stopped what he was doing and turned back to me. "What do you mean, 'there were no spells'?"
"He's lying. I put those warding spells down myself." Shaun said, turning to his father.
"I know, I saw you…"
"Maybe-" I spoke up again, lowering my hands. "They weren't set properly. I have trouble with chalk sometimes as well." Shaun opened his mouth to argue. "Or maybe your grandfather, your father, realised that you were going to turn on him and decided to leave."
The elder shook his head. "Father wouldn't do that."
"Why not? You were about to." I snorted.
The son looked from to back up at his father. "We should do this now and get out of here. We don't know what else could have got in."
"Agreed." The elder said, turning back to the crown. "We'll do this and then-"
"Don't you think it's a little odd that I'm here?" I asked. "Surely I didn't just happen to pop in for a quick root around at night on the exact same day you were attacking by chance… did I?"
The elder sighed and turned back to me. "What are you trying to say, boy?"
"Nothing. Don't worry." I said, turning away. "Just…" I turned back. "I'm sixteen years old. I figured out everything you're doing here; using the magic of faith that people have put into the building over the centuries to turn the queen's crown into a slave bind… I figured it all out and I'm not the White Council's representative in London."
The Elder frowned.
"What's he talking about?" Shaun asked.
"We don't have a lot of time."
I frowned and moved into a more comfortable position to run. I grabbed the hip flask from my pocket and downed the teleportation potion. I still had a few seconds before it took effect. "I really had hoped it wouldn't come to this." I sighed, taking a chance. They looked back at me and I charged. They raised their blasting rods and I heard them mutter their curses as I broke free of my protection circle.
I dodged around them, though it wasn't difficult. They had been startled by my sudden charge and it's hard to aim when you're in shock, and when you're trying to hit a moving target. I reached out my hand for the crown and felt it in my fingers. I gripped it tight and looked up at the wall, thinking of home.
Things don't always work out particularly well for me, I should mention that. For the second time that day my eye caught sight of a location I really didn't want to go to, and that's when the potion took effect.
I didn't go anywhere. I slammed into the wall and practically crumbled.
The poster above me was of this exhibit. I'd teleported myself to where I was.
I forced myself back to my feet before the Warlocks and the werewolf reached me and spun around, raising my arm and willing all the magic I could muster into my shield bracelet. The air around me condensed into a physical barrier. It would keep them out, but it would also keep me in.
I almost laughed at the anger on their faces. But at least it couldn't get worse.
"The protection spells cast throughout the Museum have been neutralised. It's time we got to-" An older man, perhaps in his sixties, also wearing a blue pinstriped suit, though he was more round than the others and his black hair was entirely grey entered the room and froze.
"Kill him." The grandfather growled, raising a blasting rod towards me. The Father and the son did the same.
Not every day ends with me trapped between three powerful Warlocks and their werewolf, holding a vital piece of their plan, with only solidified air standing between myself and death. Even the days that do tended to start out fairly mundanely. This one was no different, with one minor exception; a girl.