Chapter 12.2

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They bumped into Lightfinger at the Cathedral. Ward introduced him to Carmen. A pantomime followed, culminating in a re-enactment, by Lightfinger, of the fight between Ward and Wrinkler. Lightfinger's version of the fight was far more terrible than Ward remembered, and what with the boy playing the parts of both Ward and Wrinkler, and attempting to throttle himself, he mainly succeeded in reducing Carmen to tears of laughter and Ward to an excruciating degree of embarrassment.

"We should check Flag Wood," Carmen said as they emerged from an abandoned building into the city. "It's not far. Slops might've changed his mind and gone back."

But Flag Wood was empty. The wind had dropped to nothing, and even the birds seemed to be asleep. The city's noise was like waves on a distant shore.

"Can we rest a minute?" Carmen said.

Ward hoisted himself up onto a half-submerged column and sat on its edge.

Carmen sat on the ground nearby, staring off into space. After a while she seemed to snap out of her reverie. She looked up at Ward. "That sign in the book."

"You've seen it before, haven't you?"

She didn't answer. Instead she said: "Do you trust Nick?"

"I guess."

"Why?"

He shrugged.

"He's very clever," Carmen said, but that was all.

A bird called long and low from deep in the Wood.

Carmen cast her eyes down and spoke to her hands. "That day I found you spying. I was coming back from the Old City. I got lost under it. I found a room full of books. You never saw so many books – and there was a statue, and a corridor. And a door. Hey," she said, looking up at him. "Do you think you could draw the Sign from memory?" 

"Maybe." He vaulted to the ground and searched about for a stick. When he found one he crouched beside her and began tracing lines in the dirt.

"No, that's not right," he said.

"Get rid of that line there," Carmen said, pointing. "And make that one longer."

"That's it," Ward said standing up. "Where did you say you saw it?"

"On a door. But I left and then Corvus found me."

Ward looked down at the Sign in the dirt. "You know, before I rubbed out that line it looked like a letter. I wonder -" He crouched down and drew the letter E in the dirt. "Now what if I flipped it? He drew it again, this time back to front.

"But that looks like -"

"Yeh. And this one here, before I rubbed out the line, was a D. And this one – maybe an A?"

Carmen took the stick from Ward, and began tracing in the dirt. Then she rubbed out one of the lines.

"N?" Ward said. "Do you think?"

In front of them in the dirt they now had two copies of the Sign:


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Below this were the letters they had taken from it:


DEN


"What was the first thing that popped into your mind?" Carmen said.

"This is going to sound stupid."

"No more stupid than what I thought."

"Eden," Ward said.

Carmen nodded.

"The door," Ward said. "What if it leads to...?"

"Oh come on."

Ward laughed nervously. A door  to the underworld? Ridiculous.

Then something occurred to him. "What if the sign came first?"

Carmen looked at him blankly.

"Think about it," he said. "There's a sign on a door that the Dark Traveller's stuck behind. The sign could've meant anything to begin with. And after a while people forgot what it meant. They began to think it meant the Dark Traveller itself. And maybe the name Eden came out of the sign."

"Or maybe we're completely off track," Carmen said.

Ward looked back down at the signs in the dirt. Suddenly his theory seemed stupid.

"But you know what else DEN could be?" Carmen said, looking up. "Someone's initials."

She looked off into the wood. "I wonder what his middle name was?"

"Whose?"

"David Nassar's."


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In retrospect I should have made The Sign of the Beast the golden arches.

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