Alan fired again as Arthur threw the ball of light in what Nick thought was the right direction. Arthur leaped sideways at the sound of the shot, and the streak of magic flew off through the air at random. It struck harmlessly against one of the paneled walls.
After a moment the light of Arthur’s power faded into darkness, and once more the only light was that of Anzu’s circle. Acting from what Nick assumed was sheer mischief, Anzu had lowered his flames considerably, and the dull glow provided hardly any light at all. Nick had excellent night vision. He could not imagine how little the humans could see and how afraid they must be.
“Mae and Jamie got down,” he let Alan know. “Kill them all.”
The room was too small, and the magicians were too powerful. Sooner or later Alan would be caught, but Nick thought it wouldn’t do any harm to have the magicians hear that.
There was another scream and a burst of frenzied movement. Nick thought that someone had tripped over a body.
In the confusion, even Nick lost track of where Alan was. Then he felt a disturbance in the trap that had closed on him, a sudden living presence in the icy walls around him. There was breathing where there had been only silence, and the first thought that came to Nick, clear and calm, was that a human had strayed into his circle and he should kill him.
“Nick,” said Alan, under his breath.
He was standing close to whisper to him. Nick supposed that it was easier in the darkness. Alan had not even been able to look at him when it was light.
“Don’t worry,” Alan continued, his voice rapid and soft. “I’m going to get you out.”
Nick listened with detachment to his own whisper back, about as human and reassuring as a whisper from the grave. “I’m not worried.”
He could feel Alan trembling in the darkness, and for a moment he thought that Alan was simply afraid of him. Then Alan stepped in toward him, and he felt Alan’s hand, the one that was not holding the gun, gentle in his hair. He turned his face into the touch and Alan, as if he was leaning over Nick’s bed when Nick was very small, pressed a warm, swift kiss on Nick’s cheek.
Then he was gone, and the circle was cold, silent, and still once more.
“Someone go see what that wretched boy’s done to the fuse box,” Arthur commanded. “I’ll deal with him.”
There was a movement in the darkness, and then a silhouette against the open door, providing a perfect target. Alan’s gun rang out again, and there was another thump. “Sure about that?” Nick asked, grinning in the dark.
“Who was that?” Arthur demanded, sounding more offended than shaken, as if Alan had dropped a spoon in a restaurant rather than a person with a bullet. “Was that Charles? Charles!”
“I wouldn’t bother calling,” Nick advised. “My brother doesn’t miss.”
There was a mess of magic in the air, colors crisscrossing like scribbles of crayon over a black page. Magicians were hitting each other. There was more screaming, and in the light of magic, like the light shed by dozens of fireworks in the sky, Nick saw Mae and Jamie on the floor, Mae with her arm protectively over Jamie’s head, and Jamie with his arm around Mae’s waist. Right next to Jamie lay Gerald, holding on to Jamie’s shoulder.
Against the magic-stained darkness, Alan and Arthur were standing, looking at each other. Magic was coiled around Arthur’s fists and arms like bright, living ropes, and Alan had his gun pointed at Black Arthur’s face.
Alan’s glasses reflected the multicolored light. His voice cut through screams.
“I want you to know I appreciate this, Arthur,” he said. “You’ve made sure my plan worked out perfectly.”
Arthur was standing very still. He’d seen Alan shoot now; he wasn’t treating him as lightly as he had before, as a child whose tears he could wipe away while he laughed at him. He was working out how to bring Alan down without risking being shot.
“Oh yes,” he sneered. “I’m sure that getting your precious brother trapped in a magicians’ circle was your plan all along.”
Alan stared at him impassively. “Well, not all along. I was hoping that someone at the Goblin Market might be able to trap him in a circle for me, but she refused to try. So I had to do this on my own. I couldn’t let Nick know any of it — I wanted him to be human for as long as he could. We had humans in the house, and I was hoping he’d make friends with them. I knew you wouldn’t stop hunting him. I knew I had to make sure that no magician could ever touch him again. I took the second demon’s mark because I knew that he’d help me hunt magicians. You took him? I brought him to your damned house and your damned circle. I chose this!”
He took a step closer to Black Arthur, who was just waiting for Alan’s attention to waver. He was just one human, alone with magicians closing in on him, and Nick could not understand the blazing, triumphant look on his face.
It seemed to infuriate Arthur. “And why would you do that?”
“So I could do this,” Alan answered calmly, and continued in a clear voice, “I call on the one I gave the name Nicholas Ryves!”
It shocked the magicians enough so that the magic stilled in their hands, and the room fell once more into relative darkness. That was broken by a crackle of power and light from Black Arthur’s hands, magic resting against his palms like two lightning bolts.
“What are you doing?” he shouted at Alan. “You don’t call on demons like that. You have to call on them using their true names!”
“You’re an idiot,” Alan shouted back. “You’ve worked with demons your whole life, and you still haven’t figured it out? Why would demons have true names? They don’t even have a spoken language. That’s not how you call them. They don’t answer because they believe that’s their true name. They answer because you believe it! I call on the one they called Hnikarr in the west, I call on the one I call my brother. I call Nicholas Ryves!”
Alan was no dancer. It should not have worked, except that Nick was already in a magicians’ circle, drawn by magicians, calling on and reflecting the power of the true Obsidian Circle that they had moved from Exeter to London.
Just as Alan had planned.
The magicians’ circle tightened, as if the walls that Nick could neither see nor break through were closing in. It was more than that. It felt as if he had been in a trap all along that was formed of a dozen different steel strands, and he only realized they were there now, when every strand went taut. They held him at his wrists and ankles, they wrapped around his head. He felt for a moment as if he was on puppet strings; his throat constricted as if he was held on a choke chain.
He remembered Merris Cromwell’s voice, saying, Exorcism means naming the demon and commanding it.
The feeling was not entirely unpleasant. Now that his power had been called on, Nick could feel it surging within him. His body was thrilling to it, like a rush of adrenaline, and all along the lines in his circle there was magic rising.
He looked at Alan, and their eyes met over a sea of white balefire, glittering like snow and moving like light.
Soft as the crackle of the fire, Nick said, “What do you command?”
Tell me to kill them all, Nick thought.
He turned his head at the sound of Arthur’s voice, hoarse and desperate. “What are you going to do?”
It turned Nick’s head because it puzzled him. He did not think Arthur would sound that desperate if he were simply afraid for himself. Arthur was too arrogant for that, so that left the question: What did he think Alan was going to do?
Arthur was moving toward Alan like a hunting cat, deceptively slow and poised to leap.
“I don’t care what you think of me,” he said, begging now. “Not one of us would do something like this. You don’t know what these things are capable of. You would doom the whole world.”
There was something everyone knew about demons. Magicians called them into circles or into bodies, kept them trapped, kept their powers limited. Not even a magician would let a demon go free.
Alan’s plan was to make sure that no magician could ever touch Nick again.
“Don’t do this!” Arthur roared.
Don’t do this, Nick thought. Arthur is right. I don’t know what I would do. I cannot be trusted.
As usual, he could not find the words to say what he meant.
Alan ignored Arthur completely, his gaze fixed on Nick. He looked calm and absolutely determined.
“Nicholas Ryves,” he said, making the third time a charm, and then he smiled. “I set you free.”
Arthur leaped for Alan an instant too late, knocking him to the ground, his hand over Alan’s mouth as if he could stop words that had already been spoken.
The walls of the circle crashed down as if they had always been too light and fragile to hold anyone, and Nick’s magic came rushing in a white roaring tide over the floor. The flood covered magical signs and human bodies alike, and Nick found the center of this unlimited power and threw it at Black Arthur’s heart. Black Arthur screamed, and Nick spread his arms and broke free of his last prison. He rushed, complete at last and free at last, out into his new world.
He left the body behind him on the floor.
Knowing the Words
NICK WENT RACING THROUGH THE CITY. HE WOUND through the narrow lanes and broad streets of London, insubstantial as smoke, curling around humans, who shivered and looked around with wide scared eyes for the cause of their sudden fear. London at night was a glittering playground full of humans and the shiny toys they’d built around them. Nick could have leveled it all.
He went flying up around the spires of tall, aggressively new buildings and let himself plummet in the sheer, sudden drop down to the parliamentary houses that stood in lines of gray stone. There was a hum of human noise everywhere; Nick wasn’t used to understanding it.
He moved to a place higher up and farther away from the humans, to the familiar ground of Tower Bridge. There was a break in the clouds there, with the light of the setting sun still streaming through. Nick wreathed himself like mist around the medieval towers turned into fairy-tale gold by the sinking sun, connected by soaring blue arches. His shadow spread across the sparkling river, turning it into a deep, steady stream of darkness that snaked through the whole city.
It was his city now.
Nick spun, and spun the air with him, whirled sky and clouds around his fist and into a roiling gray mass. He clapped and thunder echoed in his ears; he broke dark holes in the clouds and sent lightning blazing through them. Light and sound crashed in the air around him, as if he were caught in some terrible car accident, and he rolled through the storm and laughed again.
The clouds formed layer upon layer of thick gray blankets, wrapping Nick up warm and safe in the broken sky. He could do anything he wanted. Every moment of fury, every impulse toward destruction that he had ever had, could now be vented on the world.
Thunder struck against the clouds, ringing out in triumph.
He’d taken the gamble and won. No magician had a hold over him now, nor ever would again. Liannan had been wrong to advise caution. Liannan…she had seen him when he was helpless and ignorant and bound to that human body. She had tried to be kind to him. He could find her now, do something for her, and tell her that he remembered everything. He did remember everything.
He did not remember ever thinking in words before. He did not remember ever thinking of himself as having a name before. Names were human things, important because humans used names in order to use you. A name was a collar and a chain. Nick didn’t have a name.
Nick saw the problem with that last thought almost immediately.
He shook it off irritably, reached down and tried to burn the realization away with a flash of lightning, burning in the sky over London. It crackled in the air below him and thunder rolled above him, a steady, soothing growl, the storm speaking to him without words.