London, like all cities, never truly slept. But there was a quiet moment just before dawn, when the late night brushed fingers with the early morning, after the black cabs changed shifts but before the buses accelerated to their more urgent daytime tempo. In that moment, the city was quiescent: pulse slow, breath steady and even.
The first rays of dawn pierced the fog to light the Thames near Greenwich, and a cleaning woman left the British Museum through a staff door. It was a little early to be going off the night shift, but most night shifts didn’t involve disposing of a burned half-eaten corpse. If the woman had been of her own mind, she would have felt quite justified in skiving off. From inside the woman, Hannah slipped Gerald’s sunglasses onto her face, letting the rising sun tint the lenses and obscure her too-white eyes. She had done what she could to save the experiment. Only time would tell if it had been enough.
Father Menchú stood before what had once been a Roman clockmaker’s shop. From the outside, it looked abandoned. The windows were boarded over, the boards covered in posters for manifestations, underground clubs, and concerts, which were in turn overlaid by a patchwork of graffiti. The palpable sense of unease about the place peaked as he forced the bolt on the front door, but his blood was too hot to let that stop him, or to bother with the careful work of lockpicking.
Inside, Menchú found and turned on the lights, ruthlessly banishing the shadows that clung to the interior. A heavy wooden table dominated the center of the room, its surface marred by gouges and burns, from what source Menchú did not want to guess. There were fewer books than he expected. Menchú thought of Asanti and her books as interconnected, as though she were part of the Archives she had devoted herself to maintaining. Looking at this room, filled with equipment, relics, candles, and powders, he realized that he had been wrong. The Archives, which he had thought of as Asanti’s calling, was simply her day job.
This was her work.
He thought she had been . . . not happy, but . . . settled, after the trial. That everything had gone back to normal. Or as normal as it could have been with a new cardinal, and the rising tide, and Grace’s defection. But no, standing amidst the detritus of a magical research and development lab, the truth of Perry’s confession could not be denied. Asanti had recreated Team Four.
Menchú’s knees shuddered beneath him, and he caught himself against the table, gripping until his knuckles went white. He held the rough edge as though clinging to solid certainties that had gone liquid in his hands. Which was foolish.
With conscious effort, Menchú braced his knees, released the table, reached up to his throat to adjust his collar. The familiar action centered him, and he strove to put his emotions into order. Asanti had lied to him, hidden her work for months. They had their difficulties; he had betrayed her, yes, but he’d thought they had reached an understanding. Apparently not.
By rights, he should call the rest of the team so that they could contain this location, and then report Asanti to Fox. But as certainly as he knew the proper procedure, he also knew he wasn’t going to follow it. Whatever else she might be, Asanti was one of his oldest friends and colleagues. She was not some sorcerer gone power-mad who desired to uproot creation. If she had gone to London as Perry had said, it was because there was work that needed to be done.
Menchú turned, left the shop, and secured the door behind him. He had work of his own.
Sal’s jaw cracked with the force of her yawn. Team Three had landed at Heathrow at roughly ass o’clock that morning, after a hurried departure from Rome under literal cover of darkness. Menchú had gathered her, Liam, and Grace and driven first to Pescara, where they’d caught a flight to Milan connecting to London. Sal had managed to catch a few minutes of sleep on the plane, but the longer they sat, the more she could feel the lack of rest catching up to her.
At that moment, they were in the back of a mini cab driving through greater London. They’d been wandering the city for the greater part of an hour, much to the confusion of their driver. For the fifth time, he glanced back over his shoulder to give his passengers a worried look. “Where did you say you were going again?”
Liam, hunched over his laptop, grunted, “Working on it . . .” Then: “Turn south here. Now!” The driver jumped at Liam’s tone and with a screech turned right across two lanes of traffic. The hour was early enough that this resulted in scattered honks, not the crunch of crushed fenders, but traffic was picking up, and the driver looked white beneath his tan.
He appealed to...