The train station was the newest building in Arkham.
It gleamed in steel and glass, showing off its recent upgrade. The dusty depot it replaced had sufficed for the quiet town of Arkham, but the growing university needed a suitable train station, and the city pulled together the funds.
Outside the station, there was a spacious, clean-swept square, lined with new and white-washed shops and houses. It was a beautiful front, showing off the best of Arkham’s prosperity, but it was nothing more. One block away from the station was enough for the city to abandon the facade of new, sparkling Arkham.
The city was old.
Trish didn’t know the history of the place, but she guessed it must be as old as Boston. It felt older.
There was a feel in the oldest cities on the east coast of a respectability built from age. She felt it the most in Boston. Three hundred years made a place venerable. All those solid brick buildings huddled together and gossiped about the young whippersnapper cities tugging at their apron-strings. Boston had secrets and scandals aplenty tucked into her history.
But Arkham felt older. It shouldn’t. It couldn’t be more than a few decades older than Boston, and even that was wildly unlikely.
Somehow, it reminded her of the oldest cities in Europe. Prague and London had that feel, with streets full of ancient stones, and layers upon layers of history and dust. All the houses in Arkham were wood or brick, just like all the other towns of Massachusetts, and of similar styles, but she still would have sworn that these houses had seen a thousand years go by.
There were a great many empty houses in Arkham. A great many empty houses everywhere, these days, while the politicians promised new plans and pretended that out-of-control inflation was a natural thing in an economy. Just bad luck, that was all. A whole country full of bad luck and dust.
Trish turned down a street in what seemed to be a respectable area in Arkham. The houses were clean and mildly ostentatious, but even here the colors of paint faded towards gray, and they breathed out dust every few minutes as they settled their aching bones.
She’d never been to Arkham before, but she knew the number of the house. On the train, she’d been careful to copy the map of the area into her memory. One pass by the front of the house was enough to convince her that the inhabitant was away. Not for long, but Trish didn’t need much time. There were a dozen little signs from outside that could tell a sharp eye whether anyone was home—the latch on the gate, the pull of the curtains, the dust on the mat. Trish was trained to notice these things at a glance.
A normal thief would take the day to case the place, and return by night to search. But then she’d have to be wary of waking the woman inside, especially since Trish expected that the item she needed might be hidden in the bedroom.
Her second pass by the house took her down the back alleyway. It was a quiet, dark place, even by day. No local spinsters peeking out the back windows for gossip. There was more interesting watching to be done by the front windows. Unseen even in broad daylight, Trish felt no hesitation in dropping her overnight bag by the front steps. She had the lock on the kitchen door picked in seconds, and then she was safely inside.
The home belonged to Patrice Hathaway. It was recently purchased, although it didn’t look recently anything.
Everything she knew about Patrice had been contained in a plain brown folder that she’d received that morning. A concert violinist, once considered a prodigy and the greatest talent of the era. She was a few years past being young enough to keep the title of prodigy, and aging fast. People didn’t have a taste for classical violin like they did five years ago when money was easy. And Patrice wasn’t doing much to keep up with the times. She still played the same exquisite classical airs that had made her name, but though her skill had only increased, the public had lost their taste for her. She kept a spot as first violin in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which should have been enough of a coup for anyone. A few weeks ago she had been featured in an extensive violin solo in a concert of Bach’s lesser-known pieces. Critics said she played the best violin of her career that night—until she broke down in a screaming fit in the climax of the piece.
The concert and Patrice’s career was ruined. She retired quickly to Arkham, despite having no known connections there, and the scandal faded away within a few days. No one cared, though she was only just out of her twenties and still beautiful.
It was a sensational little story. Trish wasn’t enough of a music aficionado to care, but she did find it sad that a career could die so young. It made her wonder what the shelf life was like for a career as a spy. Especially one who had come to Arkham with the intention of following up on some incriminating leads about her employers while she was working on the convenient little assignment they’d given her.
Miss Hathaway’s kitchen was bare. There was a shriveled apple in a cabinet and a little sack of flour that was more dust than grain. No domestic goddess, this one. Trish had been right to guess that the back entrance through the kitchen was safe.
The whole house was empty and unfamiliar. A few lonely pieces of furniture—sumptuous lounges starting to look the worse for wear and well out of place in sleepy Arkham—huddled in each room, standing sentinel against the loneliness that permeated the place. Trish made her way upstairs, careful to stay to the well-trodden paths of the house so that she wouldn’t leave footprints in the carpet of dust.
By contrast, the upstairs showed evidence of habitation. A music room and library spilled over with books and sheet music, with a violin set reverently on its stand in the center of the room. Trish glanced in, scanned the bookshelf, and left it alone.
The bedroom was a forest of sheet music and clothing, with every surface covered in awards and every wall lined with framed certificates and newspaper clippings of Miss Hathaway’s glory days. Several of them were tilted. Trish’s fingers itched to adjust them. Tip-toeing through the musical undergrowth, Trish dug under gauzy dressing-gowns and disturbed the colony of dust-bunnies flocking beneath the bed. It was her business to know all the favored hiding places where a person would keep a precious item. She checked the mattress and behind some likely picture frames, tapping the wall to check for hollow spots. None of the drawers had false bottoms. There was no safe, no locked chests. The only items Trish turned up in her search were some jewels in a box at the back of the wardrobe. She left them where they were, and went to search the music room instead.
Her dispatch had told her that she would know the book on sight. Bound in shagreen, with hasps of human bone. She didn’t know what shagreen was, but anything bound with human bone sounded like it would be hard to miss. The folder hadn’t told her what a washed-up master violinist was doing with a book like that. It also hadn’t told her what her employers wanted with said book. Neither was unusual. Asking too many questions was an unhealthy habit for a spy. If her employers didn’t offer the information, she was safer not knowing.
From the start, she’d been led to believe that she was working for the American government. For years she had believed it. But they’d never exactly said that they were the government, had they? And although the jobs she did were drops on a web, most unrelated and unconnected, every so often one of those drops vibrated along a string and made a connection in her mind. After ten years working for them, she’d begun to wonder. Was she working for the government, or against it?
The lock clicked on the front door. Silent as the house was, Trish heard it clearly. Leaving everything as she’d found it, she darted back through the bedroom and let herself out the second-floor window. Once upon a time, she’d been a gymnast.
Landing without a sound, Trish gathered up her overnight bag and strolled away down the street.
She got herself a room at a respectable little boarding-house, giving her credentials as a journalist by way of identification. The proprietor was an unsmiling woman of indeterminate age who insisted upon being called “Ma.” Trish made herself friendly, ignored her host’s comments on the untrustworthy nature of journalists, and obtained herself a room near the back with a window out toward the woods.
Taking her thoroughly-falsified journalist credentials along, Trish started her investigations at the newspaper office.
She had one name, and one lead. While on another assignment, she’d come across an old article with a face she recognized. It was a younger version of one of the high-ranking members of the organization that employed her, including his real name. A bit of research uncovered that he’d been a shop clerk in his youth before coming into sudden wealth and power.
As leads went, it wasn’t much. But it was the first real clue she’d gotten in ten years. She couldn’t afford to wait for the next one, especially not if it turned out she was on the wrong side.
Two hours passed without luck. She’d found years of him being a penniless shop clerk, and years of him being a wealthy and respected member of the community, but not a hint on either side about what had changed. She focused her search on the three-month period between the last reference to the shop-clerk and the first to the magnate, but found nothing.
“I’ve got a back-pager for you: the Curiositie Shoppe just collapsed.”
Trish didn’t lift her head, only her eyes. Two journalists conversed in the next room.
“Collapsed? What were they doing, holding up the walls with bric-a-brac?”
“Collapsed. In a great cloud of dust. Filled the whole street.”
“Weirdest news and yet barely worth printing, innit?”
“Filled the whole street? You don’t mean that.”
“I do. A great haze of dust, you can see it blocks away. I knew the old heap was dusty, but this!”
“Shoulda declared it condemned years back. Anyone hurt?”
“No one in the shop. Musta closed early.”
Trish’s nose itched. Dust again. There was too much dust in this town for her taste. Closing up her research, she left the newspaper and got directions on the street to the Curiositie Shoppe. It was getting dark, but there were still a few lingering authorities and curious onlookers.
The newspaper man hadn’t exaggerated. A simple building collapse, that was all, but the building hadn’t been condemned and the dust was phenomenal. She showed her fake credentials to get a closer look.
“Has anyone spoken with the owner?” she asked.
“Naw.” The cop on duty crossed his arms and shook his head. “Shop was open earlier today, but his wife says he never made it home. No sign of a body. Weird, though. Guy goes missing and his shop goes whumpf. Like something you’d read in one of those funny magazines with the spook tales.”
“Sure is,” Trish murmured distractedly. The wood of the collapsed building was warped and dry. It looked centuries older than the wood of either of the shops flanking it.
All of it reminded her of an investigation she’d done in Budapest years ago. There had been a ring of wine-counterfeiters, selling cases of ancient wine on the market. The provenance of the bottles was clearly faked, but the wine itself was exquisite. Wine connoisseurs swore that it tasted a century old, and the aging on the labels was expert work. But the wine’s existence was impossible.
Her employers had sent her to check it out. She didn’t know why they were interested. When she returned, she presented them with the names of the scam’s leaders and a binder on a string of unrelated disappearances. Each disappearance had been in a house that seemed to have aged a century overnight, and several of them had human-sized piles of dust on the floor. Trish didn’t like the business, but she received a commendation for her work, especially the binder that had come from a hunch.
How do you age something a hundred years overnight?
She had nothing to connect any of this but dust and unusual aging, but Trish had hunches, and this was connection enough. And yet she had so little to move ahead with. A lead going nowhere that she wasn’t supposed to be following, and a washed-up, crazy violinist possibly in possession of a creepy old book.
The shop ruins weren’t worth going through. Dust and bric-a-brac covered in rotting planks and rusting nails. She would keep an eye on the case, but she didn’t think that it was a lead on its own.
Thanking the cop on duty, she returned to the boarding-house by way of Patrice Hathaway’s street.
The upper window of the house was lit, and she could hear music spilling from the light. It was played very softly, but the sound carried well.
Trish had little appreciation for fine music, but the melody was exquisite. It was a great, soaring aria, played so softly that the sweeping drama of the tune was dampened into wistful sadness. Around the edges of it was something eerie and a little bit dreadful.
Straying to the edges of the street, Trish was able to get a glimpse of blonde hair and the movement of a violin bow, but then Patrice moved, and she could see nothing but bookshelves and the ceiling.
She dreamed that night of violins, and could not recall anything of the dreams when she awoke but that the music had been beautiful.
In the morning, she went to introduce herself to Patrice Hathaway.
Hat jaunty and skirt short, she made her way to Patrice’s neighborhood and promptly changed her plan of approach.
There was a man on Patrice’s doorstop—smartly dressed and hat in hand as he tried to wheedle his way into her parlor. Patrice was having none of this, and was engaged in a quiet but heated exchanged of words with her unwanted—ex-lover or hopeful suitor—visitor.
Trish believed that a good spy always took advantage of domestic disputes. Such things made up for any number of clumsy fumblings on the part of the agent in question, not that Trish was the sort for clumsy fumbling. (She prided herself on always fumbling rather gracefully.)
There was a car on the street in front of Patrice’s house which matched the degree of wealth and taste displayed in the man’s clothing (middling). Confident that her targets were distracted, Patrice reached over and deftly released the vehicle’s brake, then stood by and watched as the car slowly began to roll away. Once it had gotten a decent start, she trotted briskly up Patrice’s walk.
“Excuse me, sir?”
He glanced over quickly and scowled. “If you’re collecting donations, we aren’t interested.”
“No, sir, I think you’ve left your brake off.”
The unwanted suitor looked past her to the car, cursed, and rushed away. Trish watched him go, then grinned up at Patrice. “There’s a certain type of car that just doesn’t hold a brake, you know? Trish Scarborough.” She held out her hand.
Patrice’s expression was befuddled, but it warmed quickly into an amused grin. Trish liked her at once. “Patrice Hathaway.”
“Bless, you’re the violinist, aren’t you? I heard you in concert a few years back.” Playing her cards flirtatious with just a touch of star-struck, Trish turned up on tip-toes to see their common enemy catch his car at the end of the street. “You’d best invite me in for tea before he comes back.”
“Oh, I see.” Patrice shared a conspiratorial grin with her for a moment, then stepped back into the house. “Will you come in for tea, Miss Scarborough?”
“I’d be delighted, Miss Hathaway.”
Close up, Patrice was stunning. She was older than the information in Trish’s dossier suggested, but the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and the threads of gray in her golden hair made her no less beautiful.
Trish felt herself blush, and turned it to her advantage by lying. “I’ve admired you for years. I tried learning the violin when I was younger, but I don’t have an ear for music.”
Patrice smiled. “Thank you for the rescue. I didn’t think he would follow me here.”
“Gotta beat ‘em off with a stick, huh? C’mon, I’ll make you tea.”
It turned out that Patrice didn’t have tea. She had a tea-pot, at least, so Trish filled it and turned on the stove.
“I’m sorry, I’m a terrible hostess.” Patrice leaned against the counter, barefoot and with her blouse buttoned askew. Her hair was escaping from its french twist. The gorgeous but rumpled look was charming on her.
Trish stepped close, affectionately coy as she fixed the missed button on the blouse. She knew how to flirt with men, and with women. It was part of her training. Flirting with women was trickier. You never knew what you were going to get. “I think you have some mint growing wild by the side of the house. I’ll go get some.”
The doorbell buzzed at them.
“Stay inside,” Trish added.
To her credit, Patrice stayed.
Trish opened the front door and stepped forward before the suitor could push his way inside.
He scowled at the realization that the girl he’d taken for a passing stranger had earned entrance where he could not. “Are you a friend of Patrice’s?”
“I am now.” He had almost a foot of height on her, but she stared him down as though the physical advantage was hers. “I think you should get yourself back to Boston.”
“See here, miss, this isn’t any of your concern.”
“And I think you should get off this porch before I’m forced to sock you and you’d be forced to make up lies to hide that you were thrashed by a girl half your size.”
He frowned, unsure if her threats were genuine.
To help him make up his mind, she grabbed him by the bow-tie and twisted, choking him for a second and then shoving backward. He flailed, stumbling on the stairs and landing on his ass in the dust.
“Now scram,” Trish warned.
Pride hurt, he picked himself up in a huff and advanced on her. “You listen up, young lady—“
Trish took advantage of being a step above him and socked him. “Beat it.”
He reeled, hand over what would soon be a black eye. Dense though he was, he realized that he could neither intimidate her nor win this fight. He retreated in a sulk.
Trish took her mint and went back inside. “I ran him off.”
Bemused, Patrice sat down at the table. “You ran him off?”
“Sure. He might have a few unpleasant things to say about me if he comes back, but he’s gone for now. I figured you wouldn’t mind if I socked him.”
“You soc—you hit him?” Patrice laughed. “Oh, Christ. I’m sorry I missed that.”
Trish grinned and put a cup of soggy mint leaves in front of her. It wasn’t quite tea. Settling down across the table from her, Trish sipped at it and considered her approach. “Why Arkham?”
Patrice’s smile cooled. “Are you a reporter?”
“No,” Trish answered honestly. She pulled a badge out of her purse and tossed it open on the table. Her organization provided her with all the identification she needed. Today she was carrying her journalist credentials and—“Federal Bureau of Investigation. Missing Persons. I’m looking for a man named Eleazar Coakley. Nothing to do with you. I’ve been going through the newspaper archives, with very little luck so far. I was on my way to the newspaper office today when I saw your friend. Guys like that bug me.”
Picking up the badge, Patrice considered it. She seemed convinced. “You’re very young for an FBI agent.”
“I’m just petite. I was going to be a gymnast, would you believe.”
Patrice glanced over and smirked fondly. “Yes.”
“Right.” Trish gave her hat a tip. “I’ve never been to Arkham before. It seems so old.”
The word made Patrice twitch. “No older than Boston.”
“Well, no. Course not. Ay.” Trish stared into her tea. Tell me everything. What ruined your career? Why is your house so dusty and what do you know about a book bound in human bone?
She would get none of those answers today, but she could at least make Patrice her friend.
“Who was he?” she asked, softly.
Patrice didn’t look up. “Just a suitor. We shared a group of acquaintances—none of whom have recently spoken to me—and he got the idea that because he wanted me, the feeling should be mutual. He even once told me that I should be grateful for his attention. Not many men would want me old and ruined.”
“He can go fly a kite,” Trish said.
Patrice giggled weakly. “I keep telling him no, but he’s determined to wear me down.”
That made Trish frown. “Do you have friends locally? People who can keep an eye on you?”
“Then I will. I’m around for a few days, at least. As long as I’m here, I’ll drop by every day to make sure you’re fine.”
Patrice smiled. “I’ll have real tea when you return, I promise.”
Laughing, Trish pushed her cup aside. “It’s good mint. We could dry it, to make proper tea. I’ll show you how. Right now I’ve got to hit the streets. If you need to find me, I’m staying at Ma’s Boarding House. 574 Walnut Street.”
“Okay.” Patrice smiled and nodded. “I”ll see you tomorrow.”
Trish went first to the police station. The missing persons department on her badge served her in good stead there.
She flipped through disappearances from the last few decades, looking for cases that mentioned an unusual amount of dust. Nothing. Nor did she have any better luck on investigating Eleazar Coakley. The file the police had on him was thin. Too thin.
On her way out the door, she overheard a conversation about a lodger at a local hotel who had skipped out without paying his bill. Only, in his room he’d left a great quantity of dust.
Dust. “What was the name?” she asked, peeking her head in. “Sorry, missing persons.”
“Roderick Samson. Bohemian type, from Boston. Something ring a bell?”
“It might, at that.” She had more than a hunch that Patrice’s beau wouldn’t be visiting her again.
After lunch, she continued at the newspaper. More hours of nothing, until almost by chance she glimpsed the name Eleazar Coakley as a member of the Silver Twilight Lodge.
Interrogating a nearby stenographer, she learned that the Lodge was a local fraternal organization, very well-respected but very secretive. Rather like the masons, the stenographer thought.
It was something, at least. Trish started again, focusing on mentions of the Silver Twilight Lodge. A lot of weird things seemed to happen with them or in their vicinity. Weird things like the sort her employers constantly had her investigating. Nothing unusual about aging or dust, however, and not much info she could use in the newspaper. That made sense, given that they were a secret society. She would have to do more delicate research.
Making note of the Lodge’s street address, she walked back to the boarding house by way of the Silver Twilight Lodge—although they were at opposite ends of the city. The Lodge was an imposing old mansion. Light spilled out from the shutters here and there, but it was a cold, green-tinged light without any natural cheery warmth. Respectable or no, she wondered if the locals found the place creepy. She certainly did.
She didn’t have leads on much of anything other than befriending Patrice and planning a possible break-in to the Silver Twilight Lodge. Biding her time, she made a trip to Miskatonic University, since they were known for their occult section and she hoped to find something. She browsed indexes for references to dust or sudden aging, and found nothing but the occasional off-hand reference to the dangers of “The Treader in the Dust.”
“Look, couldn’t you make an exception, just this once?”
Surprised, Trish lifted her head. She knew that voice. That was Patrice’s voice.
Returning her book to the shelf, she snuck down the aisles to find a better view. Patrice was arguing, stricken, with a librarian, who refused to let anyone into the restricted section without approval from the dean.
“I only need to know if it’s the right book,” Patrice begged, to no avail. The librarian was inflexible.
“Patrice!” Trish called, when her new friend had just turned to go. “Imagine seeing you here!”
“Oh! Trish.” Patrice smiled warily. “Same to you. What brings you…?”
“My leads are getting more and more obscure. I’ll tell you…” Trish hesitated. Pumping Patrice for information was a worthwhile goal, but she didn’t want to be publicly digging up dirt on the Silver Twilight Lodge, or even tipping off passerby that she was looking for it. “Later. And you?”
“Nothing. I was just leaving.”
“I’ll walk with you.”
Trish walked her home, chattering innocently about the latest Errol Flynn movie to cheer Patrice’s spirits. When they got back to Patrice’s place, Trish made a cup of tea for them both (Patrice had gone shopping), and fished for information on the Silver Twilight Lodge. Patrice looked blank.
Before she went, Trish pickpocketed a scrap of paper from Patrice, finding a library call number written on it. The book.
At least she had one lead that wasn’t a complete failure.
The university was quiet by night. Unusual for a college campus, she thought. Plenty of windows were lit, but the campus itself was dark and deserted, and all of the windows looked empty. Trish didn’t look too long.
She let herself into the library by a second floor window, making her way back to the restricted section.
The library kept its own watch. Pages rustled as she walked past. Floors creaked and shelves leaned. Trish disregarded them. As long as they didn’t get in her way, she had learned not to pay any mind to things that crept in the night. If they weren’t coming for her, then they weren’t her concern.
There wasn’t any security on the restricted section but the disapproving glares of the librarians by day and a heavy locked door by night. The lock meant business, but so did Trish. She got it open in under a minute.
The books here were lined in glass cases, both individually and by shelf, all of the cases locked. There were dark, crumbling books bound in leather and bronze, aged scrolls and parchments and stacks of forgotten tomes that hadn’t been read in a century. She recognized tokens of grimoires and pieces of legends she’d picked up on her missions. Some of the books seemed to watch her in return, nudging out from their shelves in invitation to be picked up.
None of this unnerved her. She’d seen far stranger things than overeager books. These could be ignored.
Tracking the numbers on the shelves, she found a book with hasps of bone, laying in a case by itself. The cover was bound in skin that wasn’t quite leather—shagreen, it must be. Human bone and human skin. She felt ill. The label on the case read ‘Carnamagos’.
Her fingers itched to open the case and peek. Just a glimpse would make her the owner of valuable secrets. But in her line of work, curiosity into the supernatural got people killed or worse.
This was the book her employers wanted. No one knew it was here except her and Patrice. Trish wasn’t ready to close this case. She still had research to do in Arkham.
Leaving the books all untouched, she left the restricted section and locked it carefully. She knew her way around libraries from many other missions like this one. It didn’t take long to find the library acquisition records.
Carnamagos, Testaments of. Acq. May 1925. Public auction, estate of John Sebastian.
1925. Then Patrice could never have had the book, or at least not in the past few years, unless there was one copy. How did her employers know of it, and why did they think Patrice had obtained it, instead of Miskatonic? And yet Patrice knew the call number and had been turned away. What was her connection to the book?
Patrice was still her best lead. Trish made her way home past Patrice’s street. Even this late at night, Patrice’s lights were on. As she got closer, she could hear the sounds of violin music, played very softly.
Finding the right angle across the street, Trish could see her inside, playing exquisitely. Her eyes were closed, body swaying. She seemed transported by the music.
Behind her on the wall was a large stain, with a dull slickness to it. Trish noticed it with puzzlement, certain that she would have seen a stain that large while she was in the room. It wasn’t until it moved that she realized it wasn’t a flat shape on the wall. It was some solid form, with a head so sere and covered in wrinkles as to be featureless and alien. If it was a head at all. But it turned, as if its blind gaze had moved from Patrice onto Trish.
She felt a chill settle through her bones. Fear flooded through her, such as normally would have brought a rush of adrenaline. But instead her heartbeat slowed. Weary, she leaned against the fence at her side. Her mind told her to run, but she didn’t.
After what might have been minutes or hours, the thing moved back out of sight, and the web of sluggishness around her released.
Heart hammering now, Trish bolted.
Once before, she’d found herself in a situation that frightened her past all rational thought. Sometimes a spy’s survival came down to the instinct to run, especially in a business like hers.
She let herself into her lodgings by the window. Safe inside, she checked the locks on her door and pulled the curtains tight, turning on all the lamps.
Everything in her room felt old and dusty. It scared her. She wanted to fill her rooms with budding flowers and sneak into the maternity ward at Arkham’s hospital to watch the babies sleeping, as though all that newborn life would protect her from the untimely horrors of age and dust.
In the morning, she made a call to a contact in Boston, asking him to look into Patrice.
She put on her hat to hide the new gray hairs she’d found, and went back to the university.
There were a few books that made reference to the Testaments of Carnamagos. Their contents sounded like pulp-fiction stuff, about an ancient and evil necromancer and the varying gods upon whom he could call. Some of the references mentioned the Treader of the Dust, a god called Quachil Uttaus, around whom all things aged and withered to dust within seconds. One reference said that it could be read and copied safely only by an innocent child, such as had no concept of death, for anyone who harbored even the tiniest hope for death and destruction would fall prey to the Treader of the Dust if they read those passages.
Further research found a scattering of different ways to summon Quachil Uttaus, though she couldn’t imagine why anyone would ever want to. The book wasn’t the only thing in the world. There had to be something that had been passed around back in Budapest—they’d been summoning Quachil Uttaus on their enemies and stealing the wines from the cellars of their victims afterward—and something that linked to Patrice.
After lunch, she made another call. Her contact had a list of names of men who had been pursuing Patrice, and vanished without a trace. Almost all of them had references to dust in the police reports.
I could just take the book and go. Job done, case closed. Stop asking questions. Patrice doesn’t matter. The Silver Twilight Lodge isn’t any of my concern. Just… go.
She folded up the list of names and tucked it into her pocket.
Except that I came here for answers. I want to know who I’m working for. And I want to know if Patrice is guilty.
Easy way to find out that last one, at least.
Trish went to find Patrice.
“Your suitor,” Trish said, not touching her tea. “The one I saw that first day. He’s gone missing. I didn’t check, but I imagine I’ll find that his rooms were full of dust. With one particular pile, almost the shape of a body, with an impression like a footprint over the chest.”
Patrice paled. “Is he?”
“Are you doing it intentionally?” Trish asked.
It was a risky approach. If Patrice had that kind of power, she could kill Trish at once. But Trish trusted her own hunches, and her gut told her that Patrice was innocent. All the same, she kept a close eye on her friend, watching for any of the tells of a lie.
“No,” Patrice breathed. She looked terrified. “What do you know?”
Trish took the two scraps of paper from her pocket and laid them out on the table. The call number and the list. “It’s true that I’m investigating Eleazar Coakley, but I don’t work for the FBI and I wasn’t sent for Coakley. I was sent for the book.”
“Don’t,” Patrice warned. “Go, just go now. Leave me, leave the book. I’m lost. If you stay, you’ll die.”
Trish stayed. “Tell me how you’re involved.”
“Why do you have to know? Because of the deaths?”
“No. For the book.”
“I haven’t got the book.”
“No. You haven’t. It’s sitting in a case in the restricted archives of Miskatonic University, and I could walk away with it now if I wanted. Tell me how you’re involved.”
Patrice’s hands fluttered. She looked so very old and fragile. Barely out of her twenties, but her yellow hair was already mostly white. Nervous, she touched her throat, laid her hands in her lap, and finally clasped them on the table. “How much do you know about … him. The Treader.”
“Very little. I know mostly the effects of his presence.”
“After years of research,” Patrice admitted, “I understood what was happening. He takes Persephones. He’s a great connoisseur of art, you see. I don’t know what he is, god or monster, but I found records of women over the millennia who were beloved by the Treader. Always women, always young, beautiful and talented. He adores them and protects them, in a way. Things age decades around me, but I only age a little faster than normal.
“When I play, he comes. At first I only felt something lurking at the edges of the music. Eventually he came himself. He never touches me. Only listens. But anyone who shows interest in me, he kills. And when I have grown too old, when I am no longer his Persephone, he’ll kill me too.”
“And if you stop playing?” Trish asked.
“I’ve tried. I can’t. A thousand times I’ve tried to smash that violin. But every time, I pick it up instead, and begin to play.”
Leaning back in her chair, Trish thought it over. “You never had the book. You never had anything.”
“Nothing but my music.”
“And the violin?”
“It isn’t the violin. It’s me.”
“How did you know where the book was?”
“I’ve been looking for years. I knew it was at the library, but I’ve been too afraid to seek it out. Lately, I have nothing to lose.”
Trish ran her thumb through the dust on the table. This will be the case that kills me. "Pack a bag. I’ll be back tonight.”
There were two things left to do in Arkham before she was done.
She picked up the book first.
All the other books rustled at her—take me, take me. She ignored them.
The book was aged and flaking. Shagreen aged quicker than leather, and this book had been around for centuries or more. She tucked it into her bag, trying not to think about the flakes of long-dead human flesh settling into her clothes.
Locking the case and the restricted section behind her, Trish took the unopened book, and left.
The Silver Twilight Lodge was menacing and cold.
Tugging her jacket a little closer, Trish found a back window that wasn’t lit, and wiggled inside.
She found herself in some sort of library—books and grimoires, but not the very deadly sort, and records. She flipped through them, recognizing names of figures from outside of Arkham. The records suggested that the Silver Twilight Lodge was an occult organization of real and arcane power, deep-rooted and vast. Easily a branch—or the root—of the organization that employed her.
Searching the most recent records, she found references to her own name, or to items that she’d helped acquire.
So it’s true. These are my masters. And who are theirs?
There was chanting from somewhere below her. Trish decided to stay safely upstairs. She slipped into the hallway and chose another door.
This whole place was the culmination of her career. So many of the deadly things she’d hunted down were here. Gods and totems sat on shelves, horrible and patient.
Why all this? For power? For madness? I can’t go on. I won’t be theirs.
“Little Trish Scarborough.”
She couldn’t move. Everything in her fought to twitch even a finger, but she was helpless, staring at the shelves of idols in front of her.
“I heard you were in town. One of our best. And now here you are. To join us? To expose us? Don’t answer. Not that you can. There’s no need.”
The voice was hushed, but identifiable as male and triumphant.
“I can read your mind, Miss Scarborough. I can hear your thoughts—not the book, not the book, think of anything but the book. Think of dust, of anything. Anything but the book you brought here in your bag.”
Trish’s heart was pounding, the only part of her that was still willing to move. She wasn’t sure she was breathing.
Not the book. It’s dangerous. I’ll leave it, leave you, leave anything. With the book I can get away.
He touched her arm, lifting the buckle on the bag and drawing out the book. “Would you like to read it, Trish Scarborough? Is there a longing for death in your heart?”
No. Yes. Only a fool would call the Treader, out of all the gods in that book.
“Very true. I have a different one in mind.”
Just give me the book. I won’t leave without the book.
“Oh, the power in this book, Miss Scarborough. Did Miss Hathaway have it? No. Miskatonic. All this time. I ought to pay them a visit.”
Just let me go. I’ll do my job. I’ll be your spy.
The idols on the shelf in front of her blurred, graying at the edges.
Gray with dust.
That’s a very dangerous book. Are you sure you’re wizard enough to read it?
The bonds on her body loosened. She shut her eyes.
There was no sound, nothing but the creaks of an old house and the settling of the dust. She waited as long as she could bear.
When she opened her eyes, the room was empty. A soft snow of dust had fallen over everything.
The book lay shut beside a pile of dust, with an imprint at the center like that of two very small feet bound together.
She took two logs from the fireplace, and started a fire, setting the book neatly on top. Wiping her hand across the glass of a mirror in the hall, she smiled sadly at the gray-haired woman within. Trish had aged two decades in an hour.
Leaving the book to burn, she let herself out the way she’d come. The house groaned behind her, threatening collapse. Maybe if she was very lucky, the whole place would burn.
After all these years, she thought back at the dead wizard, did you think I’d never learned to control my thoughts? Please, no, don’t touch the book in my bag, sir. That book will kill you.
Her joints ached, but her bag was packed and lighter by the weight of a book. She rapped quickly at Patrice’s door.
“Trish.” She smiled, watching Patrice’s face fill with sympathy.
“Long story. We have to go now. It’s time to disappear. Get your things. Leave the violin. Hurry.”
“He’ll find us,” she said, as Trish pulled her out the door. “He’ll kill us.”
“Maybe,” Trish agreed, and smiled. “Maybe not.”
She showed Patrice how to sneak into a back compartment of a train in the dead of night, and they disappeared to the side of the country where everything was fresh and new and life was only just beginning.
She didn’t allow Patrice play music, nor even to hum.
“We’ll live,” Trish promised, admiring the way the silver braided its way through her hair. “We’ll age. We’ll die. Doesn’t matter when.”
Patrice set the braid in place with a ribbon, and pulled her close.
They slept back-to-back, and counted the seconds of their lives ticking away into dust.