Low Midnight Page 64

She’s wise, Amelia said. She shouldn’t blame herself. She couldn’t have known what Amy would do. Amy followed her own path in the end. Like I did.

“It’s a substitution cipher. It’s a different key for every page, and each page will mark what key to use. The code’s not totally unbreakable, but it’s rather difficult because we based it on syllables, not letters. Here’s the key.”

She handed him the little book. It felt like taking hold of someone’s soul. Maybe it was—Amy’s heart, her intentions, scribbled in lines of writing and symbols. He flipped through a few pages. It didn’t make any more sense than her book did, but he recognized the symbols, and there was a repetitive quality to it—symbols, and what they meant—that could be applied to the book of shadows.

This make sense to you? he questioned Amelia.

Oh, yes. This will do nicely. Give me a little time, I’ll have it. They seemed to have converted English to a syllabic script, then encrypted the text. A rather lovely system.

He put the book in his pocket before she could get too involved. “Thank you,” Cormac said, heartfelt.

“This isn’t just idle curiosity,” Judi said. “You need this for something. You’re on some kind of quest.”

“More like fighting a battle,” he said. “Amy’s book might have just what we need to win.”

Judi asked, “This battle—who are you fighting against? How bad is it?”

How to explain in just a few words? The things he’d seen, the battles he’d already fought—he couldn’t explain. Not without sounding crazy. Not without scaring them.

“It’s pretty bad,” he said.

“Oh. Well. Good luck, then,” she said.

He gave a wave and walked out of the shop.

Chapter 26

AMELIA WORKED for a week, printed pages from the grimoire on one side of the table, blank sheets where she deciphered the writing on the other. The stack of deciphered pages grew. For now, she didn’t worry about reading them, about picking apart the meaning. Just get it all translated, then read. Cormac had to force her to take breaks; she might have been disembodied, but he had to eat and sleep.

What they initially gleaned from Amy’s spellbook: She had written about the lore she encountered, the spells and rituals, and poured out her thoughts about what they meant, how they might have developed, and how she might use them. This was before she met Kumarbis. After she met Kumarbis, she wrote what she learned from him. The stories he told her, the spells he taught her. Her tone became starstruck early on, as she grew enamored of the sheer weight of history behind him—he’d existed for more than three thousand years, Kitty estimated. Amy wanted to be a part of the story. She embraced his quest and did what she could to solve the puzzle of what he was trying to do—exactly how, once the vampire had collected enough allies and power, he was going to assert himself on the world and defeatRoman. Kumarbis knew everything about Roman—up to a point. Amy had tried to examine everything about that point she could. The trouble was, Kumarbis simply didn’t know everything about Roman, Dux Bellorum. Once the two had gone their separate ways, Kumarbis was cut off.

It could have been me, Amelia observed, nearing the end of her decoding. If Kumarbis had found me in Istanbul or Baghdad or any of the other cities I spent time in, I’d have been just as starstruck. I’d have followed him just as eagerly as Amy did, so I could learn more. Learn everything. Perhaps we do have much in common.

The whole thing made Cormac a little bit sad.

When Cormac had some kind of handle on the narrative and the information it held, he called Kitty.

“Oh my God,” she said, before hello even. “Why haven’t you been answering your phone?”

“I’ve been busy,” he said curtly.

“Well yeah, obviously, but you can’t at least check in once in a while?”

“Were you worried about me?”

He heard amusement in her voice. “I only worry when I get calls from the police about you.” Well. That was fair. “And Ben drove by your apartment and saw your Jeep parked there, and he said that probably meant you were working and you’d call when you were good and ready.”

Also fair. Made him nervous sometimes, how well Ben knew him. Nervous, and lucky.

“We have to talk,” he said. “I got the key to decoding Amy’s book, and I think I found something.”

She paused a moment, then said, “You should probably come over.”

*   *   *

HE ARRIVED at their house and found a home-cooked dinner waiting. He felt another one of those moments of displacement. On the one hand, this wasn’t him, this house in the suburbs and dinner with glasses of wine and actual domesticity; on the other hand, he could get used to it. It left him standing at the edge of the kitchen, bundle of papers under his arm, torn in two directions.

Amelia nudged him to say “thank you” and take his seat at the table to share in salad and pasta marinara. By unspoken agreement, they waited until after food to talk. Even so, Kitty still had food on her plate when she leaned forward, eyes wide, and asked, “Well?”

“Where should I start?” Cormac asked. The story was a tangle that he was still working out.

“Start with the hundred-and-fifteen-year-old murder,” Ben asked. “You didn’t actually figure it out, did you?”

“I believe I did,” Cormac answered smugly, and told a trimmed-down version of the whole thing. He left out the parts where he committed arson, failed to report a suspicious death to the proper authorities, and beat the crap out of Anderson Layne. By the skeptical looks on their faces, he was pretty sure Ben and Kitty guessed he was leaving out details. They were smart enough not to push him.

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