“My name is Mordecai, seventeenth prince of the Lower Kingdom,” he declared. His voice was not unpleasant—in fact it was quite rich and even, scratched only by the guttural inflection of someone unused to talking. Clothes formed on his body as he stood up; knee high, deer-skin boots, crimson velvet breeches, a black doublet, and a long, black surcoat embroidered with red trim. A gold fob watch hung from a chain at his waist and a pair of pince-nez appeared on the bridge of his nose; the effect of the latter was especially unsettling, like putting a cravat on a bloodhound.
Brigid blinked and saw that Mordecai wore a cravat as well, though the pale ruffles were half-hidden by his coat’s high collar. He looked like displaced English nobility—from decades past, if not longer. Brigid would have laughed were his countenance not so terrifying otherwise.
Brigid cleared her throat, marshaling her fears. This creature was her only hope of survival, and she had always been assured by her mother that demons were not evil, that they were neutral earth spirits. Not innocuous, but not intrinsically malicious, either.
She attempted to speak with a clear, confident voice, but the words spilled weakly into the air, infused with her exhaustion, her raw grief. She had not conversed with anyone in the short hours between now and the news of her mother’s death, and her voice was thin, reticent, wanting to remain in the safe harbor of her mouth.
“I’m Brigid Carroll. Of, um, the States.”
“So I’ve crossed the Atlantic?” Mordecai said. “How delightful.”
The demon spoke with a well-crafted English accent; like his clothes, it was something he wore. The practiced, drawling syllables could not disguise the rough undercurrent, the deep resonance that sounded like rocks tumbling in the earth’s stomach.
The last spell on the cellar door shattered. The Order had only to contend with the actual lock, which they would break in a matter of seconds.
“Please,” Brigid said. “They took my mother, and now they’ve come for me. Will you help?”
Mordecai strode forward. “Whyever else would I be here?”
Although her mother told her differently about demons, saying that there were certain aspects of the world beyond the church’s ken, Brigid recalled a sermon in that moment. The sermon asserted that demons were tools of Satan, deceivers sent to tempt and weaken men and women. Sent to eat their souls and offer them to the glory of their dark master.
Mordecai was equipped to devour—as he approached her, she noticed that his nails were claws, black and razor-like. All four of his canines were elongated into flesh-rending points.
But when he reached for her, she did not flinch or jerk away. Even if he did mean her harm, she preferred to die by her own mistake and in her own house, rather than in the confessor’s cells of some Order compound.
The door opened as Mordecai’s arms encircled her. The demon pulled Brigid tightly against him, covering her mouth with one hand and securing her waist with the other.
She inhaled sharply, but he murmured “Shh,” in her ear. She half-expected his breath to be sulfuric and rotten, but the scent was fresh and subtle, like hot mint tea. Her muscles went slack.
A young inquisitor descended the steps. Several knights followed, but the inquisitor dismissed them with a gesture at the cellar’s entrance. The knights bowed and turned back, stomping loudly into the corridor.
The Order’s hatred for witches and magic generally had led to the inquisitors, who were simply knights with the ability to perceive and unravel the threads of energy that held a spell together. Brigid was never sure why the inquisitors held command over the knights; perhaps because they necessarily tended to lead in battles, perhaps because they were more cunning than their fellows.
Brigid thought this in a detached and academic way, remembering the sessions with her mother in which Brigid learned about what her family was and who would hunt them. Anna taught her daughter in the cellar, where there were no windows to carry the sound to unsafe places and only the one locked, shrouded door.
They sat together on a workbench, among rows of small barrels filled with herbs and several casks of wine. The long table in front of them was covered with books, writing paper, ink pots filled with myriad colors, quills, wands of rowan and ash and bone, and several knives of varying lengths. Her mother passed down recipes, rituals and history; she demonstrated the proper usage of candles, she explained symbology and the basic theories behind what a witch could do, couldn’t do, and shouldn’t do. Brigid was a serious listener and a hard worker in all aspects of her life, to the point of seeming dour and bland to her peers. But the history and practice of magic was so ancient and detailed and her mother had only recently consented to lessons, on Brigid’s fourteenth birthday—the same week she had started her monthly bleeding. Up to this point, she had worked trivial spells: rituals to enrich the soil in the flowerbeds, a charm for memory to help her in studying. No wards. No attacks.
Mordecai’s claw rested on Brigid’s lower lip, biting into the tender skin. She wondered, distantly, if she would suffer a cut upon moving; she thought she could already taste the metallic tang of her blood.
The inquisitor reached the bottom of the steps. Brigid tensed. The detachment snapped like a dry twig. Mordecai hissed, low enough that only she could hear. She didn’t move, but her eyes cast about wildly, fearfully. She knew the inquisitor’s face: he was one of her classmates. A nineteen-year-old boy named Riordan, he was lanky and tall, with dark, wine-red hair and slate-colored eyes. Around town, he was considered friendly and polite, good with children. Brigid saw him every week at church. He had, she recalled, asked her to the harvest festival. She had declined.