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Dark Souls

Dark Souls

Dark Souls 20


  “Listen,” gasped Sally. “Listen!”

  She pointed above their heads, and Miranda looked up. Sally was right: There was something, very faint, like a hum. In the distance, high above their heads. Rhythmic and droning. Music. The orchestra, with their mother conducting.

  “Up here,” Rob said. His voice sounded groggy. He twisted to lean his head back and reach his hands up onto the low, arched ceiling of the passageway. Miranda stuck the flashlight into the neckline of her sweater, ramming the handle into her tank top so the beam shone upward. With both hands, she felt along the stones above their heads. One slab looked a little bigger than the others, a little flatter. Sally was pushing one end of it, grunting with the effort, and it lifted — just a fraction, but it lifted.

  “Okay,” said Rob, who seemed to be recovering himself, “let me stand in the middle. We might have to push it up and then slide it.”

  He pressed his hands flat against the center of the stone and heaved. When it lifted a little, Rob leaned forward, letting it settle out of place, a gap of a few inches visible. The distant music sounded a little louder, a little clearer, though still foggy and far away.

  “If Goth Boy could do this,” Rob muttered, “then I sure as hell can.”

  He reached his fingers into the gap and pushed again. The stone slid back — just a few more inches, but it moved.

  “Push me,” said Miranda. She pulled the flashlight out of its sweater holster and handed it to Sally. The gap was still small, but if Rob hoisted her, she could slide it open more as she climbed through.

  “I should go first,” he said, but then he seemed to swoon, slumping back onto the wet cobbles.

  “Rob!” Sally dropped to the ground, trying to cradle his head.

  “I’m okay,” he slurred. “Just … dizzy. I’ll be okay in a second.”

  “Can you get through?” Sally asked Miranda, and Miranda reached up, pushing the slab as hard as she could, shoving it a few more inches along. Then she heaved herself up, her legs swinging, using her shoulders to push the stone again.

  The air was different up here, almost fresh compared with the clamminess of the underground passageway. Miranda blinked, adjusting to the light of whatever room she was entering. It was dim, but nothing like the swampy darkness she was leaving. At first, all Miranda could see were flagstones, the base of a column, a vaulted ceiling. The slab they’d dislodged was right next to some kind of stone basin or trough. Propped against the next column was a huge slab of stone elaborately carved with ghoulish figures, their feet licked by pointy flames. The devils held up a giant pot crammed with dozens of contorted, howling skeleton-like people.

  Miranda knew that stone. She’d seen it before, sketched in Tales of Old York. That was one of the drawings she and her father had noticed the day Lord Poole dropped the book through their front door, what seemed like a hundred years ago.

  The carved slab was the Doomstone. The underground passage had led them straight into the crypt of York Minster.

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  Miranda crawled away from the dislodged slab and stood, shakily, with one hand resting on the pillar. The stone floor of the crypt was dotted with candles flickering in the gloom. There was no other way for light to get in, Miranda realized, because the stairs up into the Minster, one on either side of the crypt, were blocked. So were the grates that would let someone in the crypt see the feet of people walking along the aisles. Miranda glanced behind her: a pair of sturdy locked gates. At this time of night, with the Minster locked up, the only way in or out of here was the underground passage.

  She stepped slowly around the pillar, careful to avoid the candles. Her legs were still shaking from the journey here, and her hands felt dusty with drying mud. She was afraid of what was waiting for her on the other side of the pillar. Maybe nobody would be in here at all. Maybe they’d got this completely wrong, and Nick was out wandering the streets somewhere, looking for her. Rob always said Miranda had an overactive imagination, and tonight, possibly for the first time ever, she wanted him to be proved right.

  But no. As soon as Miranda rounded the pillar, she saw him. Nick was standing, his back to her, on the raised stone altar platform. He was wearing his usual jeans and frayed gray sweater, the leather coat discarded in a heap nearby. If he’d heard the slab moving, he wasn’t reacting to the arrival of an uninvited guest. He was totally focused on painting the bare stone wall with the same spiraling fire cloud Miranda had seen in the White Boar’s cellar, though this one was even bigger and wilder. Nick slapped on paint in sweeping, crude strokes. Heaps of sodden blankets lay at the base of the altar, banked up against its rails. One of the paint pots, dripping a scarlet trail, sat perilously close to a lit candle.

  Without his coat, Nick looked skinny and vulnerable. Miranda wanted to rush forward and grab him — hug him, maybe, or at least drag him away. But she had no idea about his state of mind. She stepped forward cautiously, conscious of the lamenting strains of music droning somewhere above their heads.

  “Nick,” she said. When he didn’t turn, she raised her voice. “Nick! Nick — it’s me. Miranda.”

  He swung around, staring at her without any sort of recognition, as though she were an apparition. His bloodshot eyes seemed to look right through her.

  “Miranda,” she said again, in case he hadn’t heard her. He seemed to be in some kind of trance. She took another step forward.

  The brush in Nick’s shaking hand dropped with a thud onto the altar.

  “No,” he said. His voice was trembling as much as his hand. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

  “Nick, I …”

  “You’re supposed to be at home. You’re supposed to be safe.”

  “I am safe,” Miranda told him, but even her voice was trembling now. The sight of him like this, so nervous and manic, was heartbreaking. “I don’t believe you’d ever hurt me. All you have to do is come back with me now, through the tunnel. Forget all this. Let’s just go.”

  Nick’s deadened expression didn’t change.

  “You don’t understand,” he said. He groped around on the altar for the paintbrush.

  “But I do.” She took another step forward. Her heart pounded in time to the pulsing music upstairs. “I know what this picture is, the one you’re painting. It’s from The Fall of Babylon. You painted it on the cellar wall, too. At the White Boar. I saw it, you know. I saw it tonight. And the ghost — Richard. He has it painted on his hand, doesn’t he?”

  Nick looked startled, his eyes widening at the mention of Richard’s name. His hand rested on the paintbrush, but he didn’t try to pick it up.

  “I’ve seen him, too,” Miranda said quickly. She was trying to stay calm. She had to stay calm if she was going to persuade Nick to walk away. It wasn’t too late, she kept telling herself. There was a lot of paint and mess down here, but nothing was on fire yet. “He’s been … appearing to me, in the attic window. Almost every night. I saw him. He showed me his hand.”

  “You’ve seen him?” Nick said softly. His face crumpled like a child about to cry. “You never told me. He never told me. He said that nobody else could see him, only me.”

  “There are other things he hasn’t told you,” said Miranda, sliding her feet across another slab. If she could just reach Nick, take his hand, he’d come to his senses. “You think he’s your brother, don’t you?”

  “He is my brother.” Nick sounded defiant. Miranda shook her head.

  “No, Nick. He isn’t.”

  “He’s my brother,” Nick repeated stubbornly. “He found me and asked me to help him.”

  “Please, you have to listen!” Miranda pleaded. “His name is Richard, but he’s not your brother. He’s the ghost of someone named Richard Martin. His father tried to burn down York Minster all those years ago and he’s been waiting for someone to help him … help him finish what his father started. He wants you to think he’s your brother because he needs you to do this. Isn’t that right? He needed you to ca
rry the blankets and the paint here, to light the candles. To light the fire. You’re the one who does all the dirty work. You’re the one who’ll have to go to prison.”

  “Oh, I’m not getting out of here,” Nick said, and there was an eerie calm to his voice. “It all ends in here, tonight. You’re the one who has to leave. Please, Miranda. I promised my brother that I’d do this, and I’m not going to let him down the way everybody else did.”

  “He’s NOT your brother!” Miranda cried. Why wouldn’t Nick believe her? “Think about it. The wound — it’s all wrong. Richard Martin didn’t hang himself, he cut his throat. You can see that on his neck!”

  Nick picked up the paintbrush. He wasn’t listening.

  “And why would your brother want to bring harm to you? He wouldn’t want you to put yourself in mortal danger. You were his little brother. He loved you.”

  “Living or dying,” Nick mumbled. “What’s the difference? It doesn’t matter.”

  “It does matter.” Miranda was crying with frustration now, smearing the tears away with the back of her hand. “When someone you love dies, it doesn’t mean you give up. And I don’t believe your brother would come back just to get you to kill yourself, too. Because that’s what you’re doing. That’s what you’re — ah!”

  An intense blast of cold shot through her body. Directly in front of her, the ghost of Richard Martin had materialized, floating against part of the altar rail. His shirt was open so the bloodied slash across the base of his throat was clearly visible. His pale face was serene, the hint of a smile curling his upper lip. He was so handsome, Miranda thought. She’d always thought that. But tonight she was seeing him differently. He’d lied to Nick — told him that nobody else could see him, when he knew that Miranda could. Lied when he’d persuaded Nick they were brothers. All week she’d been longing to meet him, longing to be in the same room with him. Now he was the last person Miranda wanted to see.

  “Sorry, Richard,” Nick said to the back of the ghost’s head. His voice shook with nerves. He was afraid of him, Miranda realized: Nick was afraid of the ghost. She was a little afraid of him as well. How far would he go to get his own way? “I didn’t tell her … You know I didn’t tell her anything about tonight. She found the passageway.”

  The ghost slowly raised his thin white hand and pointed at Miranda. An icy jolt gripped her stomach, like a punch to the gut.

  “Miranda,” the ghost said. His voice was faint, and there was a soft burr to it. “O brave new world, that has such people in’t!”

  He was mocking her, Miranda thought, quoting her namesake in a Shakespeare play, The Tempest. How dare he? She’d thought his smile was seductive, alluring, but now she saw the cruelty in it. In his eyes, too — they glimmered, steely and cold. He was a bully, she thought. A handsome, arrogant bully.

  “You’re not interested in a brave new world, are you, Richard?” she said, swallowing back her fear. She couldn’t just stand there and let Nick ruin his life, ruin the lives of hundreds of other people. “You’re obsessed with the old. With what happened in the past, to your father. You’re just using Nick. Why don’t you tell him the truth? Admit you’re not his brother!”

  The ghost smiled at her almost fondly, as though she were an amusing child entertaining him with a nursery rhyme. Miranda felt like slapping him, but she knew there was no point. How could she have been so taken in by someone so awful? How could she have daydreamed about talking to him, touching him, kissing him? The very thought of it disgusted her now. She’d been a fool — a silly girl with a crush.

  Nick stood transfixed, staring at the ghost’s hovering form. Some evil spell had been cast on him, Miranda thought, and she had no idea how to make it go away.

  “And who,” said the ghost, his smile fading, “is this?”

  Miranda glanced over her shoulder. Rob and Sally had stepped out of the shadows and were standing a few feet behind her. Even in the dim light, she could see they both looked bewildered. They couldn’t see the ghost, she realized. They couldn’t hear him. To them, Miranda was talking to a flickering candle.

  “All of you, get out,” Nick said fiercely. There was a desperate look in his eyes that Miranda remembered from yesterday — the look of a trapped animal.

  “No!” Miranda couldn’t leave him here, not with this malevolent, lying ghost. Nick had to believe her. “Ask him, Nick. Ask him right now if he’s your brother.”

  “It’s too late, Miranda.” Nick’s eyes pleaded with her. “Get out of here while you still can.”

  “Or stay,” said the ghost, surveying Miranda with gimlet eyes. How could she have thought they were so soulful? “You should stay, Miranda. Watch us complete my father’s work.”

  Miranda gasped.

  “Your … your father?” Nick stepped back, gripping the altar with one shaking hand. The ghost said nothing. He smiled at Miranda again, not even bothering to turn to look at Nick.

  “What’s wrong?” Rob’s voice, behind her. “Miranda, what’s going on?”

  “He just admitted it,” she said, not daring to turn around. She didn’t want to take her eyes off the ghost. She didn’t trust him at all. “The ghost. Richard Martin. Everything we pieced together — we were right. The ghost is sitting right in front of me. We’re talking to him, Nick and I. He’s just said my father’s work. He wants Nick to finish HIS FATHER’S WORK. He’s admitted it! Nick, you heard him!”

  Nick said nothing. He looked utterly anguished, gazing around the crypt as though seeing it for the first time.

  The ghost swept his arm through the air, and Miranda toppled over, knocked onto her butt by an icy wind. The candles near her teetered, and two fell over. He wouldn’t need Nick to start the fire, she realized. It was too late. Everything was too late.

  “The candles — out!” she shouted, grabbing the nearest one and extinguishing the flame with her fingers. She didn’t care if it burned her. Rob darted past her, pulling his sweater over his head. He was trying to reach the ones near the beer-soaked blankets, she realized, beating at them with his sweater. The ghost regarded him coolly for a moment, and then whooshed his arm through the air again. Rob was blown back, slamming hard into the base of a column.

  “Ow!” he shouted. “What the hell was that?”

  “Help!” Sally ran up one of the staircases and started banging on the boards with the flashlight. “Help us! Someone!”

  There was a thundering outside, like rain — applause, Miranda realized. The opera was over. Please, she thought, everyone get out. Her parents, Sally’s parents, Lord Poole. They all had to get out before the fire started. What she and Rob and Sally would be able to do — that might be a different story.

  Richard Martin rose into the air, floating high above the altar. Miranda, stamping candles out now, watched him warily. She couldn’t fight him, but at least she could extinguish the flames. Nick, still standing at the altar, framed by his lurid fire-cloud painting, watched him, too. Maybe the ghost was leaving. Maybe he was —

  Whhooooossssshhhhh.

  This time he used his whole body, sailing the length of the altar like an attacking bird of prey. Nick and Miranda recoiled from the cold blast, Nick raising his arm to protect his face. The long line of candles fell, one after the other, onto the hedge of blankets, flames rippling and dancing in their wake. The ghost vanished, his work finished: The fire had begun.

  Rob was back on his feet, beating at the flames with his sweater, without much effect.

  “Get back!” he shouted at Miranda. “How did all those candles fall over?”

  “The ghost,” she told him, crawling toward the altar where Nick still stood, trapped behind a line of flames. “He can push things, blow them over the way he just did with you — like a hurricane. But he’s gone now.”

  “Help!” Sally was banging with all her might, but nobody seemed to hear her. The concert was in the nave, a long way away. Hundreds of people were standing up, talking — they’d never hear her.

  ??
?It’s no good!” Rob shouted. “We should just get out of here. Come on!”

  Nick looked at her across the leaping flames, his face twisted with misery.

  “Your coat!” Miranda shouted at Nick. No way was she leaving him here. “Throw it to me!”

  Nick hesitated, as though he didn’t understand what she was saying. Then he reached down for the leather coat and threw it high in the air. It soared over the fire line, and Miranda scrambled to catch it, using it to start bashing at the nearest pile of blankets, thwacking the coat onto the flames over and over. Sally was still banging and calling, drumming the flashlight against the wooden barricades so hard, Miranda thought the wood might splinter. Smoke was filling the crypt, billowing up from the altar rail.

  “Miranda.” Rob grabbed her shoulder, overtaken by a coughing fit. “Go!”

  Miranda looked at her brother. The night of the accident, she’d sat there in the grassy ditch. Jenna dead in the car, Rob trapped for hours. Miranda dazed and stupid on the side of the road. Useless, useless, useless. Tonight she wasn’t going to be useless, or passive, or confused. If she was getting out of here, so was Nick.

  “Nick’s trapped,” she told Rob, choking on a mouthful of smoke. “We can’t leave without him. We can’t, okay?”

  “Okay,” Rob wheezed. He reached out a hand to Nick. “You’re gonna have to jump!”

  “Jump!” Miranda cried. “Nick — jump!”

  Rob stepped back, but Miranda saw what he couldn’t: The ghost was back. He soared through the air again, over Rob’s head and back over the altar. The force of his ice-cold wind pushed Rob backward, thumping him hard into a pillar.

  “The ghost!” Miranda shouted. Rob lay where he’d been thrown, his face contorted in pain. She glanced back at the altar to see that one of the paint pots on the altar had tipped over in the ghost’s ferocious wake, red liquid seeping toward the flames.

  “Jump!” Miranda screamed at Nick. He hesitated again, and then he was in the air, too — not flying, like the ghost, but hurtling over the altar rail just as the stream of paint caught fire. Flames leapt up the altar cloth and climbed the freshly painted wall. Nick rolled on the ground. He was on fire.