Nightingale sat on a bench in the centre of Russell Square and tried to find the strength for the last few yards. Or perhaps it was the nerve he was lacking. There were craters on three sides of the square, rubble half-cleared and fenced off, and when he'd arrived he'd stolen one anxious glance at his destination, as if that too might have turned to rubble even though he knew it had survived. So much of the London he'd known was gone, blown up by enemy action. They were all scarred now.
It was starting to drizzle, and he wished he'd been allowed to keep his military greatcoat. The demob suit was thin and cheap, but at least seeing it, nobody would move him on just yet. He turned on the bench finally, and looked at the great double doors of the Folly, and pushed himself to his feet.
He hadn't called ahead, hadn't told anyone he was coming. Wasn't sure there was anyone to tell. The doors were shut against him, and he could hear the wards thrumming. He'd helped set those, five years ago. It seemed impossibly distant now. He crept up the steps and knocked. Nothing happened. He knocked again, and finally pushed on the door. It swung open, smoothly and silently as ever.
Inside it felt empty, musty, uninhabited and dark. He stared in the gloom and saw Sir Isaac Newton, as immovable and solid as ever, as if none of the forces of war and destruction had been sufficient to move him from his place. Nightingale walked towards the statue, and someone tried to slit his throat.
War-trained reflexes fired, and the forma was in his mind and his hand was in motion faster than thought. He spun around, placing his back to Newton. The fireball seared across the atrium and spent itself against the stone wall.
There was nobody there. Nightingale stared around wildly, then looked at his hand. He hadn't cast a spell since the war ended, hadn't been sure he could cast a spell again. But that fireball had been as strong and fast as ever. He leaned back against Newton and put a hand over his face. At least he hadn't done it out in the street. They wouldn't have let him out of the hospital if they'd thought he was still being ambushed by his own imagination.
His hand slid downwards and he felt at his throat, and then stared around the atrium again. There was blood on his neck, fresh blood from two deep scratches. He rubbed them, smearing blood over his fingers, then took a long breath and said, "Lux."
The werelight grew slowly brighter and brighter until every dark corner of the atrium was visible. It was empty. But there was one place he couldn't see. Slowly, he turned and stepped backwards, sideways, until he could see the other side of the statue of Sir Isaac.
His attacker was on the floor, curled in a tight motionless ball. Nightingale stared, catalogued the long tangled hair, tattered and shabby clothes that had once been a maid's uniform.
"Molly?" he said. "Molly, it's me."
She didn't move. He shut down his werelight and took a few careful steps closer. But not too close. It was Molly, and he knew how near to death he had just come. It seemed he wasn't the only one being ambushed by his imagination.
"Is there anyone else here, Molly?" But he knew the answer even as he asked it. She was alone here, and had been for--how long? Most of the servants had left when the war started, the men to join up, the women more gradually to war work of every kind, and the magicians had gone one by one into the various theatres of war, until the final departure to Ettersberg. Since then, he didn't think anyone had entered the Folly.
Slowly, Nightingale walked closer, and Molly shivered, then raised her head. Her face was drawn thin, and her eyes hollow and completely black. But there were tear-tracks on her cheeks, and Nightingale was not afraid. He said, "You were defending the Folly. I understand. But I have the right to enter here."
Molly shifted, gathering her feet beneath her as if to leap up, but Nightingale raised his hand and she sat back on her heels, leaning against Newton's pedestal. Her gaze kept flicking to his throat, his hand, and he stopped and took out a dingy handkerchief and wiped away the blood. Her tense shoulders slumped then, and she looked away.
Nightingale sat down on the marble floor beside her, not quite touching, his back to the cold stone of the statue. Molly went still, but it wasn't the stillness of a predator about to jump any longer. It was the same stillness he'd felt out in the square, of someone who's come to a halt and can't go any further.
"There's nobody else left now, Molly," he said. "Just you and me. We'll have to take care of each other."
She turned her head slowly and looked at his hand then, and he knew what she wanted. He extended his right arm in front of them, opened his hand, and made light. In the warming glow, Molly's eyes began to shine.