Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
’Tis folly to be wise.
London is constantly being destroyed and recreated, old buildings improved, extended, knocked down, blown up and redeveloped into something new. Property prices are booming, and every inch of space is valuable, especially near the centre and in the nicest areas. So after the developers had converted pretty much every loft there was in the city, people started heading underground with cellar extensions and conversions.
Which is what Amir and Jacintha Hawkins were doing in their large Victorian semi near Northcote Road in Battersea. The plan was to create some extra space that would serve as a self-contained flat to let out and help with their mortgage, and when their children were older it would turn into rooms for them. It had a large basement, the full size of the ground floor and a bit more that had probably been extended during the Blitz as an air-raid shelter, five rooms off a central corridor, two on each side and one at the end, but was now full of junk and rubbish, apart from the air-raid shelter room at the end which had been boarded up.
So the builders were arranged to come and shift the junk and start converting the concrete floors and dark cold rooms into proper housing space. Everything looked promising until lunchtime on first day of work, when a middle-aged builder named Jim Hedges, no previous record, punched Amir Hawkins in the face so hard it laid him out on the floor, and then fled the scene.
The other builders, a mixed collection of Estonians and locals, came running and called for help, which arrived in the form of Jacintha, an ambulance, and the police. Amir was taken to hospital with a suspected fractured cheekbone, accompanied by Jacintha, and Jim Hedges was apprehended two streets away by a particularly speedy constable from the Lavender Hill nick's Primary Crime Unit.
Hedges, under caution, told the constable that everything had been normal with the job until he'd started unboarding the door to the air-raid shelter, when he had experienced a curious reluctance to proceed. He'd asked another man to help, but they got no further than taking away the boards before both of them decided to do something else. Amir came down to check on progress, and discovered that nobody had gone near the closed door. He remonstrated with the men on the grounds that he was paying them well to get the job done quickly, and told Hedges to get on with it. It was at that point that Hedges punched him in the face and ran away. The room, he said, was haunted and he wasn't going anywhere near it no matter how much Amir paid him.
The constable in question was Kate 'Special K' Cartwright, who had been a probationer at Charing Cross nick at the same time as we had, and had heard bits and pieces about what we did. After booking Hedges in at the station with the information that he was going to have more to worry about than someone's basement conversion, she had gone to investigate the scene of the crime and had found herself experiencing the same reluctance to proceed into the boarded-up room. So, remembering the use of the word 'haunted', she called Lesley.
It was a slow day at the Folly. We were stuck deep in a Latin lesson that was against all probability leading to Lesley and me knowing less about the passive voice than we had to start with, and Nightingale was almost as frustrated as we were with our inability to grasp something that, as he informed us, he'd known since he was nine. So when the call came and Lesley explained what was going on, Nightingale suggested we all take a break and head out to have a look together. Which is how we all came to be standing at the bottom of a dark and frankly spooky staircase, looking down an equally spooky corridor. Toby was with us too, as our official ghost-hunting dog, and his ears were pricked and he was looking around, but showed no inclination to dash off in any direction except back up the stairs. I didn't blame him.
"I'll leave you to it, then," said Special K, who also seemed very keen to be elsewhere. I was about 98% sure she had faked the call on her Airwave asking her to attend another incident. But the Met has enough of a manpower shortage that we don't usually stand around watching each other work, especially since there didn't seem to be anything she could do anyway.
"That's fine, we can take it from here," said Nightingale. He looked at us. "Tell me what you're sensing." He sounded for all the world like a teacher taking his class on a school trip.
Lesley and I felt for vestigia. It was an old house and had had a chance to build up layers, the usual background of people's lives and activities. But there was something else, too, a kind of aching sadness and loneliness and desperation, and a strain of old-fashioned music, pre-war, I thought.
Lesley shook herself. "I can see why they said it was haunted," she said, and I knew she'd felt it too.
"Hm," said Nightingale. He gestured to the rooms nearest us. "Let's take a look around." So I took the room on the left, Lesley on the right. Toby followed me, and Nightingale waited in the corridor.
The room was small and dark and smelt of dust and mildew and mould. It was full of the kind of junk that accumulates in disused sheds and cellars: boxes of forgotten clothes and toys, broken furniture, dust and empty mousetraps. Toby sniffed at a few things but stayed close to me. I had the same sense of loneliness and desperation in there. It was moderately strong, maybe half a yap, but not strong enough that it would explain the builder going berserk.
I went on to the next room, and that was stronger. There was less junk there, whether because it was further from the staircase or because of the haunted feeling I didn't know. Lesley was doing the same on her side, and we both finished at the same time.
Nightingale was still in the corridor, looking down at the door at the end. It was dark there; the fluorescent strip-lights that had been installed down here only ran as far as the doors to the second rooms.
"Anything interesting?" he said, and we both shook our heads.
"Then let's see what the fuss is all about," he said.
We'd barely taken two steps down the corridor towards the final door when Toby swung around in front of us, turned to face us and barked furiously. When we carried on, he actually snarled at me, and then tried to nip Nightingale on the ankle.
"Down, Toby," I said, reaching down to grab his collar, and then I felt it. It was as if the door at the end of the corridor was open onto a freezing winter's day and a blast of icy wind had just hit us all in the face. Except it was magic, not cold air. Nightingale raised a hand.
"I think you'd better wait here," he said to us.
"What is it?" I asked.
"What do you sense?" Nightingale said.
"I don't want to go down there," said Lesley.
"Precisely. That's a spell, a sixth-order one. It intensifies the closer you get. I suspect it's responsible for the incident earlier."
I was relieved to hear that. Ever since Lesley had relayed the story of a seemingly normal and non-violent man snapping and attacking someone, I had been trying not to think about Mr Punch and his influence on people's hidden emotions. I'd left him pinned to London Bridge at the founding of the city, but I had no idea how long he'd stay there. But up close, this didn't feel anything like that.
"But there's something else as well, isn't there?" I said. "What's that?"
"If I knew," said Nightingale, "then I wouldn't have to investigate. Stay here until I call you."
Toby followed Nightingale a few steps down the corridor, still growling at him, but then finally stopped and came back to us with his ears flat to his head. Lesley looked down at him. "Don't you think we should pay attention when the ghost-hunting dog tells us to stop?" she said quietly.
"Nightingale knows what he's doing." Lesley doesn't have as much faith in Nightingale as I do. I'd told her about the Tiger tanks and Ettersberg, but I'm not sure she really believed me, and I had to explain what a Tiger tank was first.
Nightingale reached the door. The planks covering it had been removed and stacked up neatly in the corridor, but it was still firmly shut. Nightingale put his hand on the handle. Toby whined and hid behind my legs.
The door was stiff and didn't move at first. Nightingale had to lean back and pull on it before it finally started to move. It didn't squeak or groan as it opened, or do anything spooky at all.
Nothing happened. I couldn't see in because of the darkness, but I could see Nightingale in the doorway. Then he slowly extended one hand into the room.
I felt it then, like the distant rumbling as a military jet comes over the horizon. Nightingale wavered.
"No, don't--" I called to him, and he lost his balance and staggered a step into the room, and then the military jet was right over us, howling and roaring. It knocked Lesley and me back, and I crashed into the wall. Toby whimpered. The magic wound into a final blast and all the lights blew out at once.
"Lesley," I gasped, and felt her beside me, also leaning on the wall. She got her torch out first and began to shine it around. I found my own and fumbled with the switch and pointed it towards the end of the corridor.
The door was open, and Nightingale was on the floor inside the room, face down, motionless. I lunged forward, but Lesley seized my arm.
"Peter, stop," she said. "Whatever got him will just do the same thing to you." Her grip on me was as tight as if she was arresting me.
She was right, of course. I let out my breath slowly. "Yeah," I said to her. "Thanks." Then I shouted, "Inspector! Are you okay?"
He didn't respond or move. Lesley called too, and Toby barked, but all I heard in response was a low breathy groan of pain, the kind familiar to anyone who's attended a road traffic accident or a mugging. At least he was alive.
"He needs help," I said, shifting from foot to foot. "We can't just leave him there."
"We'll get him help," she said, "but carefully." She sounded cool and professional, and I realised that I'd had this conversation with members of the public all the time, when they demand the police sort out all their problems this second and we have to make them wait for us to do a proper job. Or finish our tea, sometimes. I broke away from Lesley's hand.
"Yeah, I know," I said. "Don't increase the number of casualties." But I didn't think calling the Fire Brigade would work this time.
She looked at Nightingale in frustration too, and I knew that despite her coolheadedness, she wanted to rush down there as much as I did. Most people who become coppers have a strong urge to protect people, however much we might deny it, and Lesley was no different from me in that respect. That's the Job: you stop bad things happening to people.
We both shouted to Nightingale again, but he didn't move or answer.
I'd been here before, I remembered suddenly, in the Strip Club of Dr Moreau, standing in the darkness while Nightingale went in to do something dangerous. "I have an idea," I said to Lesley. "Wait here," and dashed back up the stairs.
Coppers always carry a lot of kit in their cars, because you never know when you're going to need it and when you do you don't want to be waiting around. I flung myself at the Jag's boot and nearly scratched the paintwork in my effort to get the key, the actual physical key, into the lock on it. Remote locking systems are a really good invention.
I was right. There were two neatly organised boxes of kit, and in there was Nightingale's climbing harness and several coils of rope. I picked them all up, and grabbed the first-aid kit too, and ran back down to the cellar.
Lesley was still calling to Nightingale, but he wasn't responding any more than before. She looked at me curiously. "I put this on," I said as I struggled into the harness and wondered whether I had it the right way around, "and if what got him gets me, you can haul me out." I took the other rope. "And if I can, I'll get this onto Nightingale so we can pull him out without going in."
I suddenly remembered the other thing Nightingale had said to me when he'd gone into the strip club. "And, um, make sure it's really me. And Nightingale. It could be ... something else."
"Oh, great," said Lesley. "That's just what I wanted you to say." But she took the ends of both ropes and wrapped them a few times around her hands. "Go quickly," she said. "He went slow. Maybe the time you spend exposed to it is important."
This is why the science of magic is important, I thought. We should know this stuff. Nightingale should know this stuff. Torch in one hand, I jogged down to the door and stopped a few steps away. There was nowhere near as much raw power as I'd felt before, but I could still feel the misery and desperation and hear the music, louder and clearer now. It was really old jazz from before the war, Jazz Age jazz, and with it came the smell of coal smoke and horseshit.
"Inspector, I'm going to try to pull you out. If you can help me at all, now would be a good time," I said tensely. He groaned again, and, amazingly, moved a bit. I crouched down cautiously and reached out and grabbed his ankle. Nothing happened. I tied the rope around it just in case, and then pulled. I heard him gasp as I dragged him, but this was definitely one of the situations where you have to move the casualty first and assess injuries second, so I kept on pulling. When I had him all the way out, I knelt down and shone my torch over him.
"What happened?" I said. "Are you all right?" I shone the torch on his face, and saw his eyes were open, though he winced and squinted into the light. He'd cut his lip and it was bleeding, but not much, and I didn't see any other sign of injury. Magical injury, now, that would be harder to spot. Or something else wearing his body.
"What happened?" I repeated.
"I don't know," he mumbled, and started trying to sit up. It sounded like him, more or less, the same RP accent and intonation.
"An update would be nice," shouted Lesley from the other end of the corridor, and she tugged on my harness for emphasis. "Can I come down there?"
"He's alive and conscious," I said. "I think we'll be able to come to you."
Nightingale was sitting up now, and I said, "We'd better get back to Lesley first, and then figure out what happened." I helped him to his feet, and he leaned on me. That was odd: even when he'd just got out of hospital when I'd been under stern instructions from Dr Walid to keep an eye on him, he'd done everything he could to avoid accepting help. Then he tripped over the rope still tied to his ankle.
"What on earth--" he said, and before I could stop him, he opened his hand and made a werelight.
The signare reassured me: it was definitely Nightingale, though a bit fainter than usual.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" I said, but he didn't shut it down, and the bright light made it easier to walk down the corridor without tripping again. We came to within a few steps of Lesley, and Nightingale stopped. He broke away from my arm and turned to look at me properly, and then at Lesley and Toby.
"What," he said in precise tones that sounded even posher than usual, "is going on?"
"You opened the door and went into the room, and there was a--a something, something magic and big, and you collapsed. Are you okay?"
He looked at me as if he hadn't heard a word I'd said, scanning my features, and frowned in what I thought was disapproval, or maybe even disdain. He turned to Lesley and quickly looked away from her mask. She stiffened.
"Inspector, what do you remember? What happened to you?" I said quickly.
"Why are you calling me that?" he said. "I'm not an Inspector."
Lesley and I looked at each other. "I think it must still be affecting him somehow," said Lesley. She took Nightingale's arm again, firmly but kindly. "Why don't you come and sit down," she said. Coppers deal with a lot of people who aren't quite on the same plane of reality as the rest of us, whether because they're drunk or high or aren't being Cared for in the Community very well, and Lesley's good at it: she can get them to calm down and get to a place of safety better than anyone else. It worked on Nightingale too, and he followed her. She gave me a meaningful look, and I remembered that there had been a basically intact chair in one of the side rooms. I got it out quickly and put it at the bottom of the stairs, where there was a bit of daylight filtering down from above. Lesley sat Nightingale on it and he stared at her as if not quite sure how that had happened. They always do that.
I took the climbing harness off, because it was annoying me, and coiled up the ropes while Lesley did sensible things like check Nightingale properly for injuries magical or otherwise. His werelight was still illuminating the corridor, floating above our heads.
"Perhaps if you shut that down it'll help," Lesley said, and cast her own werelight to replace it.
Nightingale's light popped, and his look of confusion intensified. "You can't be a practitioner," he said. "Who trained you?"
I was getting seriously worried now. "You did, sir," I said. People normally forget a bit around something traumatic, but not like this.
"This isn't good," said Lesley. "Ambulance?"
"I don't think he was hurt," I said. "I think it was the magic."
"That," said Lesley with emphasis, "doesn't mean he doesn't need an ambulance."
Yes, but his face hasn't fallen off, I didn't say. "I'm really not sure this is something they can fix at UCH. Are you sure you don't remember me or Lesley at all, sir? Or even Toby?" I pointed for emphasis.
Nightingale just looked at us and shook his head.
"Do you have a headache?" Lesley asked briskly. "Dizziness, blurred vision, difficulty with balance or coordination, anything like that?"
"Are you a hedge-witch?" he said in response, and then at her stern look, answered with surprising meekness, "No. I don't know what happened, but I don't feel unwell at all now."
He looked okay too, so long as you discounted the bit where he didn't know who we were. I looked back down the corridor thoughtfully.
"I didn't feel anything more from the room when I was down there," I said. "I think whatever happened was like a demon trap or something, when he opened the door and stepped in, and now it's finished. I want to go back and take a look, and see if I can figure out what did this to him."
"Can I say anything that will make you stop?" Lesley said.
"Probably not." I looked at Nightingale again. "Um, just sit tight, sir. We'll figure this out."
He looked at me as if he still didn't believe I was real, and I gave up and started walking down to the other end of the corridor. Given a straight choice between facing Nightingale with his memory magically fried, and going into a scary haunted room, I was all for the haunted room. I think Lesley realised this, because she gave me another dirty look. Toby, interestingly, followed me this time, which confirmed my suspicions: whatever powerful magic had been running down there had gone now. I could feel the vestigia from the spell that had blasted us, but it was only the echo now, and I only felt a normal human reluctance to go into a place where something bad had happened.
I reached the door and stopped outside. Still no particular magic. I shone my torch around the room.
It was fully furnished like a student bedsit: desk, bookshelves, bed, armchair, wardrobe, all thickly blanketed with dust. And not empty, either: there were books on the shelves, clothes hanging up, papers and pictures and dishes and all the paraphernalia that indicates an inhabited room, but long untouched. And there was something else in there too, something that I'd seen instantly but that my brain had refused to register at first. Tucked in bed was a body. Or the remains of a body: a skull and some tufts of hair on the pillow. The bedding was stained yellowish-brown and mouldering, but there wasn't any smell that I noticed. That body had been in this room a long, long time.
"I've got a body," I shouted to Lesley when I could make myself look away. "Decades old, maybe, nothing left but bones. Died in bed."
"What about the magic?" she asked when she'd processed that.
"I don't sense anything much. I'm going to go in now."
I took a single step into the room. When nothing happened, I took another, and another. I headed towards the desk instead of the bed with the body in it, and looked at the shelves.
They were full of serious magic books, four rows of them, most with titles in Latin, and a few English commentaries. I spotted a specialist magical Latin dictionary that I'd never seen before and instantly wanted a copy of. It looked like an outpost of the Folly's library. "I think he was a practitioner," I called to Lesley. "It seems to be clear now."
"I'll come and take a look," Lesley called back.
On the desk there was a book left open, covered in dust, but I could still read the name written on the flysheet. "Francis Pearson," I said aloud.
There was a sudden chill on the back of my neck. Lesley and Nightingale appeared in the doorway, and Toby sniffed them in greeting. Lesley held up a hand to stop Nightingale coming in.
"Master Pearson?" Nightingale said. "Is he involved in this?"
"You know him?" I said.
"Of course he does," said another voice, and I whirled around so fast I nearly gave myself whiplash.
There was a ghost standing by the bed, a short, round-faced white man, maybe in his early forties, dressed in an oldfashioned three-piece suit with an academic gown over it and carrying a cane like Nightingale's.
"Not much of a magician, the little Nightingale," the ghost said. "Always asking questions and daydreaming. I had much more promising students." The ghost seemed to shiver, and his appearance changed: older, stooped, much thinner and dressed in a badly-fitting and shabby suit. "So many better students. So why did he survive?" Another shiver, and he was back to how he'd originally appeared.
I couldn't think of anything to say to that. Nightingale stepped into the room, despite Lesley's attempt to stop him, but nothing happened, and she followed him in warily. He looked at the ghost in confused dismay.
"But--he was fine yesterday," he protested. "Is this some kind of ridiculous jape?"
Jape, I thought. Not even Nightingale would say that nowadays.
Nightingale's face changed to true shock as he saw the body in the bed. Seeing that, I realised for the first time that I'd never seen Nightingale shocked by a dead body before. Saddened, angry, weary--but not shocked, not even by the baby that we'd all seen thrown out a window. It was one of those insights that once you've had it, you really wish you hadn't.
But a suspicion about what had happened to him was starting to take shape in my mind.
"Did you do this to him?" I asked the ghost. "He's back in his own past, isn't he?"
"He's happy," said the ghost of Francis Pearson simply. Master Pearson. Nightingale's teacher?
I looked at Nightingale again, and back at the body in the bed. "Is that you?" I asked, just to be sure. Not that anyone would consider 'I asked the ghost and he told me' as a legitimate method of identifying a body. Even Nightingale and Walid might want a second opinion.
"Yes," said the ghost forbiddingly.
"When did you die?" This was going to be the strangest witness interview ever recorded. "Was it natural?"
"I died in 1926," the ghost said. "Nobody killed me."
I walked around the room again, thoughtfully. During World War II and afterwards there was a serious shortage of furniture, what with people being bombed out of their houses and a lot of timber being used for military purposes and the imports being torpedoed. The government responded by setting up a committee, and they designed and produced Utility Furniture. It was constructed to be robust and durable while using a minimum of wood, and had the sort of severe simplicity that would have looked at home in an ultra-modern warehouse conversion. The bed Master Pearson's body was lying in was in that style, as was the wardrobe and one of the chairs. And the flyleaf of the book I'd looked at was dated 1935, in Pearson's own handwriting.
"1926," I repeated. "You sure about that?"
Toby yelped suddenly, and I felt the magic shaping right next to me, pulling me down like the plughole of an enormous bathtub. Nightingale lunged and grabbed my arm, dragging me clear as a shower of sparks appeared in the doorway. There was a sound like an enormous cork popping, and the door slammed shut. "Be careful, Peter," Nightingale said irritably, and I cranked my head around to see him, because he sounded normal again.
"Sir?" I said, but the recognition had already gone from his face.
"In here, it's 1926," the ghost said firmly.
Lesley went to the door and tried to open it. It didn't budge. She put her shoulder against it and shoved, then looked at me and Nightingale.
"Isn't it 1926?" he said. "I don't understand."
"It really isn't," said Lesley. "And I'm not a fan of being shut in with a dead person. Two dead people?" She looked at the corpse and the ghost. "One dead person? I never used to have this kind of problem."
"I think he trapped himself in here and died," I said. "After the war. After Ettersberg?"
Nightingale twitched at the word, and another shower of blue sparks came from the door. Lesley and I ducked, and Toby whined. I looked back at the desk. In this job we go through a lot of desks, and people are boringly predictable about where they stash things they'd rather forget about. The bottom drawer was locked.
"Leave that alone," said the ghost.
I gave the desk a kick and jerked the drawer in the right way, and it popped open with only a little bit of splintering.
"You're screwing up the crime scene," Lesley observed.
"It's going to be a much worse crime scene if we don't find a way out of here." I bent down and rummaged around. There, at the back, were three medals and some paperwork. I pulled them out. I don't know my World War II medals, but two were campaign stars for France and Germany, and for Italy. The third one I did recognise, a Distinguished Service Order, for 'conspicuous gallantry' according to the papers with it. At Ettersberg.
Lesley came to look over my shoulder. "Oh," she said. "Him?" indicating the ghost.
"I think he's been here ever since. I think he's kept himself locked in the past, using his own magic. In 1926, to be precise. And when Nightingale opened the door, he got caught up in the spell."
Nightingale joined us at the desk. It was weird, now that I was paying attention, I could see the differences in how he moved, how he carried himself, how he looked around. He seemed more relaxed, more casual, almost naive. But there had been that moment when he'd recognised me.
I showed him the medals and papers, and he stared at them. I could see the flickers of memory on his face, appearing and disappearing. "He won a medal for conspicuous gallantry at Ettersberg," I said. "Did you?"
"No," said Nightingale sharply. "No."
Master Pearson swirled over to us, going right through me to position himself between us. "Leave him alone," he said to me. "He'll be much happier like this. I was."
"Locked in here until you died?" I said. "You really think that's better?" I reached through the ghost, deliberately, and gave Nightingale the medals to hold. "Inspector," I said. "It's 2013. We're your apprentices. And you need to help us figure out how to get out of here."
Nightingale shook his head, whether in denial or disbelief or something else I didn't know, but he poured the medals from one hand to the other.
"You have to remember."
Lesley was back to trying the door, still with no success. She banged and shouted, but I didn't think there was anyone within hearing range. Amir Hawkins and his wife were both at the hospital, and all the builders and police were gone. Sooner or later someone would come looking for us, but whether they could get through the door without magic I didn't know.
Ignoring the ghost, I met Nightingale's gaze and held it way longer than was comfortable. "You wanted to remember. You carved the names of everyone who died in the wall at Ambrose House. You're under a spell, and you can break it if you want to."
He turned away from me without answering.
I had an idea then. Lesley says it's dangerous when I get an idea into my head, and she's probably right, but it was the only idea I had. So I turned back to the ghost.
"I get it, I do," I said. "I don't know exactly what happened there, but I get that Ettersberg was really awful. So you decided to erase it from your memory and lock yourself in the past. But what good does that do anyone, really?"
I didn't know what the ghost of a seriously powerful magician could do, or how many more booby-traps were in this room, but it seemed reasonable to guess a lot. So I provoked him again, deliberately.
"It's just cowardly."
That got a reaction from the ghost, another hissing shower of sparks across the room, and the books rattled on the shelves.
"Peter," Lesley said tensely, "you're not helping."
"Trust me," I said in an undertone, and she rolled her eyes and carried on banging on the door.
"Nightingale knew that," I went on, trying to get him to look at me. "But you've been dead how long, forty, fifty years? And you're still trying to trap us here. It's pointless."
A book rose off the shelf and hurled itself at my head. "You know nothing," said Francis Pearson. "You're just a child. It's 1926 and it always will be, here."
"It's 2013," I said again, and two more books flew at me, and then a chair. I dodged the chair, but both books got me on the chest. Toby barked frantically at the ghost. Lesley tried to hit him with her baton, which did nothing at all.
"Ettersberg happened," I said. "It was real, and you can't make it unreal by locking yourself in the past."
The room went very cold, and I felt a swell of magic. Toby whined and dove under the bed. Here it comes, I thought, Master Pearson's last booby trap. Our torches went out, and the ghost of Master Pearson changed again, back to his older self.
"You want Ettersberg?" he said. "Then here you are."
The cold intensified, and I smelled something I've encountered only once so far in my policing career: the smell of a decomposing body. Many decomposing bodies. Terror washed over me, bone-shaking, soul-wrenching, and even as I tried to tell myself it was some kind of illusion, I was shivering uncontrollably. Lesley was there, without her mask; her ruined face was hideously contorted with horror. There was a red light of explosions, fire, and the smell of cordite. I've been in some scary situations over the past year, but never anything that terrified me like this.
And there was something coming towards us, something large and rumbling, and hideous screaming. I couldn't see it clearly through the smoke, but I knew that when it arrived, we would die.
Distantly, I heard a familiar voice saying, "No."
Then Nightingale was with us. "Peter. Lesley. Listen to me." He shook both of our shoulders. "Listen to me!" I'd heard that commanding, confident voice before, at the Coopertown house when Lesley and I had been too shocked to think. It worked now as well. The grim battlefield dimmed, and I could see the room as well, the two images overlaid dizzyingly.
"Peter," Nightingale said, "his staff is in the wardrobe. I need you to go and get it, crack it open and take out the core."
I forced myself to do as he asked, even as my brain tried to tell me I was walking over bodies to get there. Inside the wardrobe, the staff was untouched by dust, and as I picked it up, it thrummed in my hand. Opening it felt like peeling off the insulation on a live electrical cable, right down to the shocks it sent up my arms. But holding the core didn't seem to short-circuit it.
I looked back and saw Nightingale. For a moment he seemed to be in uniform, then he flicked back to the tweed work suit he'd been wearing today. He was standing by Lesley with one hand raised, protecting her from the illusion. She was shivering violently, and I could see that her mask had slipped off. He carefully replaced it with his free hand. As I got close to him, the illusion of Ettersberg faded further.
"Stay together," Nightingale said, and took the staff from me. It sparked silver as he touched it. He held it in both hands, and it began to glow red, then white. I kept my eyes on it even as the illusion of Ettersberg returned, but had to look away as it brightened. Then it shone like a sun, and both Lesley and I ducked and I grabbed her hand. There was a crack, and suddenly the room was in darkness again. But it was the room, and it felt empty and hollow.
"Inspector?" I said.
"Make a werelight," Nightingale said, and he sounded like he'd been sprinting. I opened my hand, and the room lit up.
The ghost was gone, and the staff was on the floor in two pieces, and the door was ajar. Nightingale's shoulders were stooped. I looked at Lesley. Her hand was cold, but she wasn't shivering any more. Toby came out from under the bed.
"Is it gone?" Lesley said.
"Yes," said Nightingale quietly. "It's gone. He's gone." He turned to face us, and he looked like himself again: tense and closed off and anything but relaxed or happy. His eyes were wet, and I looked away. I'd seen Nightingale cry once before, and I hadn't liked it then either.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I just thought if I pushed him--" I thought that if I put us in danger, you would have to protect us.
"I understand what you did," said Nightingale. "It worked. Don't do it again."
Lesley stumbled to the door and pushed it open. Toby bolted out, and she followed him. Nightingale went over to the bed and looked down at the remains of the body, and he didn't look shocked now.
"Master Pearson," he said quietly.
"Was he your teacher?" I asked.
"One of them. As you saw, he didn't think much of me." He sighed. "I lost track of him, afterwards. And he was here all along. At least he's at peace now." He looked up at me. "He wasn't a coward."
"I know. I'm sorry," I said again. "I just... had to push him."
"He was one of the first inside," Nightingale said. "He took the brunt of... what was there. He earned much more than that medal. But it broke him."
I didn't say anything. I felt cold and tired and sick, and I wanted to follow Lesley out and get back outside into the daylight. But I wasn't going to leave here until Nightingale did.
"Nineteen twenty-six," Nightingale said slowly. "It was a good year." There was a wistful note in his voice that, on balance, worried me more than anything else I'd seen today. He didn't move from the body, as if part of him still wanted to stay, and I realised I was going to have to push just a little bit more.
"Come on, Inspector," I said. "Let's go."
He looked at me squarely then. "Don't do that again," he repeated, "but... thank you."
I turned to the door, and Inspector Nightingale followed me out.
I looked up at the wall, my hand sweaty on the chisel. I'd practiced this on half a dozen pieces of scrap wood in the workshop at the Folly, but that had just been the rehearsal; this was the performance. Nightingale had been planning to do this himself, but I'd asked him if he would let me, and to my surprise he'd said yes. So now he and Lesley stood silently behind me as I traced the letters on the wall at Ambrose House.
It took an hour and a half of steady work to carve the name, and then I went on to the dates. Dr Walid had given us an estimated year of death, which was the best we could do. Nightingale stood watching the entire time. I didn't feel like he was watching in case I made a mistake, more that he was carving the name too, in his head. On the final 'T', my hand finally slipped and I cut my thumb. I managed not to swear, but I did have to stop working. Lesley put a bandage on it before I bled all over the floor, and Nightingale took the chisel and finished the carving, his work much more practiced and precise than mine. Finally he put the chisel down, Lesley swept up the shavings and sawdust, and we looked up at the final entry in the list of the honoured dead.
Francis Pearson, 1894-1957, Ettersberg.