Chapter 10.2

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"What if I say no?" she said.

"Then you can't tell anyone," Ward said.

She nodded slowly. "I don't know. About Nick's story. And about this Oliphant thing. The Brotherhood will hold it against us whether we find it or not – whether it works or not. And if it does work? But I think I trust you." Her face coloured.

The other three were still watching her.

"That's a yes," she said.

Ward and Slops laughed, and the tension in the air seemed to evaporate.

"Well the first order of the day," Ward began, but was interrupted by Slops.

"Don't we have to make a pact?"

"Gerbil-boy's right," Mildew said. "A blood pact."

"I didn't mean -" Slops began.

"A blood pact's the only binding sort," Mildew said.

"Their word's good enough for me," Ward said.

"Wouldn't be for the Kidsman."

"Let's get it over with then," Carmen said.

Mildew gave her a curious look, then jumped down from the lintel and began pacing about the clearing, speaking to her hands, which were clasped before her. "You take this oath in the name of Saint Nick his self. To break it means death." She looked around. "So if you want out, now's the time."

Silence.

"Who's first?" Mildew said.

Ward was about to protest, to tell Mildew that this was all a bit extreme, when Slops said. "I'll go."

"Okay Gerbil-boy. Come over here and hold out your grabber. No, other way." She drew a small knife from her pocket and flipped it open. It had a point like a needle.

"Do I have to la-look?" Slops said.

"Nar, close your eyes." And without hesitation she ran the point of the knife across his palm, which immediately began to bead with blood. He let out a little yelp and cradled his hand at his chest.

"You're a gutsy cove, I'll give you that. Okay, your turn Ward."

He held his hand out and looked away as the blade stung across it. He felt no pressure at all, but the pain was immediate, and a grunt escaped his lips. He clenched his fist and blood trickled out from between his fingers. He could smell the blood.

Without any prompting from Mildew Carmen held her hand out. She let out a little whimper as the blade cut into her.

"Give me the knife," Ward said to Mildew.

"All good," Mildew said, and she ran the point across her own palm without a moment's hesitation. "Well that smarts," she said matter-of-factly. She held her bloody palm up to Ward. "Mash your grabber into mine and repeat after me. I do solemnly swear."

"I do solemnly swear."

"That I am bound."

"That I am bound."

"To the task set me by Saint Nicolas Faust."

"To the task set me by Saint Nicolas Faust."

"Or my life be forfeit."

"Or my life be forfeit."

They withdrew their palms. Ward's was sticky and smeared with blood. Perhaps it was the pain, but his mind was suddenly clear.

They each made the same oath three times. The solemnity of it didn't seem excessive. When Ward spoke again his voice sounded deeper and surer to his own ears, and his words seemed weightier. And he suddenly knew where to start.

"We know where the avory came from. David Nassar. And I know who David Nassar is."

Carmen looked up from her bloody hand, her eyes bright.

"See, I thought I'd heard the name before," Ward went on. "Then last night I remembered. Nick told me himself, the first time I met him. David Nassar was the sorcerer who escaped the Derricks."

"When the birds flew away with him!" Slops said. "I know that one! But that was -"

"Four hundred years ago."

"Then how could he've given it to my grandpere?" Carmen said.

"Your grandparents weren't born four hundred years ago by any chance?" Ward said.

"So either there's some other David Nassar," Mildew said, "Like maybe the ascendant of this wizard cove, or your grandmere's got snokeys in the attic. Or she's lying." There was a slight emphasis on the last word.

"Who could we ask?" Ward said.

"My parents," Slops said. "They wouldn't care why I was asking."

"Mine would," Carmen said gloomily. "But there's someone who definitely would know."

They all looked up at her.

"Corvus."

Mildew laughed out loud. "Why don't we ask Brother Tamerlane while we're at it?"

"Carmen," Ward said. "Corvus was planning to hand me over to the Brotherhood."

"Was he though?"

"Well I – oh wait, I know exactly who to ask! Why didn't I think of it before?"


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