‘Oh, you’re only doing this to help me!’ I snapped, but for once I took a deep breath to push away my irritation. ‘All right then. We are allies in this. On that we can agree. It’s obvious that I can’t do this alone but neither can you, can you? That’s why you need me. So, let’s just find this thing and stop it.’
‘Don’t underestimate it. It’s dangerous.’
‘If it can’t touch me then how dangerous can it be?’
‘We don’t know what it’s capable of! It’s like nothing we’ve known before and it attacks for no reason.’ Ruth suddenly looked tired. She stirred up the fire with brisk strokes.
‘I assure you that I take no pleasure in the deaths of your friends and I would stop it if I could. You say that it had a hand in making me, which I might believe and I might not, I haven’t yet decided. It wants me. This seems true enough.’ I shrugged. ‘But the fact remains that it’s powerless to hurt me. Perhaps that fact gives me some advantage. What if I can communicate with it? If wants me, it might listen to me.’
‘I thought you’d already tried.’
‘Then I’ll try again. All it did was attack me and fail, perhaps next time I can reason with it. What else do we know? Is it really immortal? We know it can skip from one mortal body to another and that it can also survive as an intangible and malicious force, but what the hell can we do against it? Can we hurt it? Can we stop it?’
‘That’s what I want to know.’ Armand’s shimmering presence filled the room. ‘There is nothing that can’t be destroyed.’
‘The answers lie in the original magic.’ When I turned to Greg, he put both hands up just as if I was holding him at gun point.
‘I really do know how the original spell was done.’ He continued, quickly. ‘We can duplicate it. The Talamasca simply locked the demon into the body of Magnus and this diminished its power. When Magnus died, it was too weak to take possession of anyone else. As far as we know, it vanished for centuries unable to affect anything or anyone. It’s old magic. Really powerful stuff.’
I had to smile at his earnestness. ‘Ah, Greg, will you forgive me my ill temper? Please, go on.' He smiled weakly.
‘Greg is one of our most talented researchers’ said Ruth. ‘He’s found the means to do this and I will use it,’ she glanced pointedly at Armand. ‘It’s taken time, but now you must let us finish it.’
But Armand wasn’t paying attention. I felt it too: fear, a jumble of tired thoughts and urgency. A mortal was approaching the door. He solemnly pressed a large bundle of cloth into Greg’s hands, carefully avoiding any eye contact with Armand and myself. He left immediately, leaving behind the soft scent of rain. Greg unwrapped a large leather-bound volume. Terrific. More books.
‘I didn’t expect it so soon!’ Greg’s face was flushed with excitement as he reverently opened it on the table before him. He gently pried apart the brittle pages with the tip of a letter-opener. Each page was covered in uneven lines of faded ink. His lips moved rapidly as he read.
‘Is it there?’ Ruth moved closer. ‘Can we use it?’
‘I’ll need a day or so to be sure. It’s from our library at Rome,’ he said, for my benefit. ‘It’s taken weeks to discover that we even had it. This is not the original text, but it should be an accurate copy…’
Then Greg’s face registered sudden astonishment. What little color his skin had drained away.
‘What?’ I asked shortly, my gaze flicking to Armand who was watching him intently. If we were all going to talk Medieval Latin, I was out of here.
Greg staggered backwards, steadying himself against the wall. He shook his head, his skin glowing with sweat.
‘Help me!’’ Ruth had trouble supporting his weight. ‘He needs sugar. I’ll get it.’
‘What’s this to us?’ Armand’s silky voice sounded close to my ear, but I had already deposited Greg in the chair while Ruth rummaged through the pockets of a rucksack.
Ruth tore a chocolate bar into chunks. ‘He’s worked through the night and frightening him hasn’t helped.’ She sounded upset. Greg’s hands were shaking. His face was quite blank.
‘We will leave,’ I said gently. ‘Will he need a doctor?’
Before she could speak, a shudder went through Greg’s body, his face tightened and he pushed up and out of his chair, shoving at Ruth with enough force to send her crashing head-first into the fireplace.
She moaned, disorientated, as the fire flicked at her arm. I snatched her free and cradled her in my arms, catching sight of Armand’s intense face behind us. Greg was now on his feet, staring at his hands.
Then he picked up the ancient book and tossed it deep into the flames.