Chapter Seventeen: The Offer

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There was blood smeared across the hallway. Red hand prints streaked on the walls. The door was open. The lock was splintered. A body lay broken on the stairs.

I could not move. I looked at the body and wondered if it belonged to anyone I knew. The young woman wore a Horseshoe uniform, but I had never seen her before. Her neck was broken.

She was only a few years older than me.

I looked in to the sitting room, where two living Horseshoe agents were cataloguing the scene, and I saw what my brain tried to tell me was a curled-up cat or a giant hedgehog.

It was a head.

The head of what, I don't know. It had thick green-brown hair that looked like spines, and a face like a bat's, with a squashed nose and a toothy mouth. Its open eyes were yellow, with pupils like slits.

Whatever the creature was, the rest of it lay on the sitting room carpet. It had a knotty, sinewy body covered in the same spiny hair, and its fingers narrowed to long points like needles. There had been a battle here, and both sides had suffered casualties.

"Don't touch it," said Grace. "The spines are poisonous."

"What is it?"

"A boggart. They're the attack dogs of the earthen courts. Your mum's not here, Ben. They took her. That means she's alive."

Not here.

The words echoed in my head.

Not here. Not in the house. The bastards took my mum.

"Do you hear what I'm saying, Ben? Your mother is alive."

Not here, but not dead? How could they know that?

"You don't know that," I said.

"They took her to get to you, because they want to know what you are. They won't hurt her. We will get her back."

The kitchen, two steps down from the sitting room, was flooded with about an inch of water. Someone called to Grace from the corridor. She said something to me and left.

I waded across the kitchen, turned off the running taps, and pulled the plug from the overflowing sink. The water around my feet seeped through my trainers and soaked my socks. I leaned against the sink and wiped my eyes with my sleeve.

My home. The madness had invaded my home, and I had let it happen, and now my mum was gone. The fey were powerful and unpredictable, and if their magic could not touch me, they had other ways. My mum was paying for my stupidity, and there was nothing I could do to fix it.

The water reached my ankles and continued to rise even though the taps were turned off. There had to be a leak somewhere in the pipes. I worried what Mum would say about her ruined kitchen, but then I remembered I had worse things to worry about.

The surface of the water trembled. Beneath the surface was a smooth oval stone that glowed with a faint blue light.

Magic.

I reached to grab it, but it shot up in front of me, trailing a corkscrew of water. The water shot up to my height and twisted into a familiar shape. A woman. The stone hung in her chest and pulsed like a beating heart.

No. Not her. Not here.

"Ligeia," I shouted. "She's here. Ligeia is here."

The figure unravelled its arms. Grace ran in to the room with a Horseshoe agent at her heels. The figure flicked a hand and sent a wall of water rushing up between the kitchen and the sitting room, cutting me off from Grace.

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