I have a new book coming out in July: "The Apocalypse Codex", #4 in Bob Howard's working memoirs, the Laundry Files.
UPDATE: UK publisher Orbit are running a competition! Do you have what it takes to work for the Laundry? (Jobs—or other prizes—for the successful applicants.)
(The official publication date is the 3rd—next Tuesday—in the USA, in hardcover and ebook. In the UK, a production delay means it's due on the 19th, two weeks later, but you have the options of a paperback and a lower-cost ebook. And as usual, dead tree editions may begin to show up in bricks-and-mortar book stores a week or so ahead of the official date.)
If you want to order signed copies, right now your only option is Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh, who call me in to sign books. (I will normally sign anything you shove under my nose except a cheque, but I don't have a signing tour scheduled for "The Apocalypse Codex" and this is a nose-to-the-grindstone working month for me.)
If you want to know which sales channel give the author most money, the order is: ideally an undiscounted hardback from a small retailer (like Transreal), followed by a discounted hardback from a big box store or Amazon or the undiscounted UK trade paperback, then an ebook, then a discounted trade paperback from a big box store ... the book will be available as a mass market paperback or discounted ebook in July 2013, which makes the author even less money, but more than a remaindered copy or a pirate download or library loan.
Want a taster of the contents? Orbit, my UK publisher, are posting extracts over the next week, starting here ... or you can look below the cut!
Things are getting better: It's been ten months, and I only wake up screaming about once a week now. The physiotherapy is working and my right arm has regained eighty percent of its strength. The surviving members of the Wandsworth Cell of the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh have been arrested and detained indefinitely at Her Majesty's Pleasure, in accordance with the secret supplementary regulations in Appendix Six of the Terrorism Act (2003); and every day, in every way, my life is getting better and better.
(The happy pills help, too.)
Please ignore the nervous tic; it's an unavoidable side effect of my profession. The name's Howard, Bob Howard: I'm a hacker turned demonologist, and I work for the Laundry, the secret agency tasked with protecting Her Majesty's Realm from the scum of the multiverse. The nightmares, scars, and post-traumatic flashbacks are the fault of the bad guys, some of whom also work (or rather, worked) for the Laundry--which fact is currently causing a shit-storm of epic proportions to rage through the corridors of government.
Ten months ago, while seconded to the BLOODY BARON committee, I stumbled across evidence of a leak inside the Laundry. That sort of thing is supposedly impossible (our oath of office supposedly binds us to service on peril of our soul) but, nevertheless, Angleton--whose assistant I am, and who is not entirely human--set a trap for the mole, with yours truly as the tethered goat.
Things got a little out of hand, and before the dust settled the Black Brotherhood attempted to raise and bind an ancient evil called the Eater of Souls, using a ritual that required a human body for it to possess. (Guess who they had in mind for the starring role?) Luckily for me they hadn't quite worked out that the Eater of Souls already is incarnate in a body--Angleton's--but before the Seventh Cavalry arrived I discovered the hard way that Nietzsche was right: if you stare into the Abyss for too long it stares into you, and likely finds you crunchy with ketchup and a little relish on the side. Bad dreams ensued all around, and it left me with a disquieting new talent that I've been doing my best to avoid thinking about too hard.
Well, they arrested Iris and her surviving minions and sent them to a camp in the Lake District where it rains sideways five days out of four, all technologies invented after 1933 are forbidden, and if you walk too far beyond the perimeter fence you find yourself walking back towards it. I imagine that's where they live to this day, when they're not answering questions in a room where the patterned carpet makes your eyes burn if you stare at it for too long, and your tongue writhes like a tapeworm in your mouth if you try to stay silent.
As for me, I got to go home four months ago. I finished writing up my confidential report, and the nightmares have mostly stopped: I only dream about the fence of living corpses around the step pyramid on the dead plateau a couple of times a week now, and the hole in my right arm has mostly healed. So I'm all right, at least on paper.
A month ago, I went back to work. I'm on light duty for the time being, but I'm sure that'll change once management decides to feed me back into the meat grinder.
Before I continue, I've got a confession to make.
A couple of years ago, Angleton told me to start writing my memoirs. Which should have struck me as really fishy--why on earth should a junior civil servant in an occult intelligence agency be required to write a memoir? (Especially as ninety percent of the stuff therein is classified up to the eyeballs and protected by wards that will make steam boil out of your ears if you try to read it without the right security clearance.) But I'm older and more cynical these days, and I understand the logic behind it.
The deadliest threat to any covert organization is the loss of institutional knowledge that comes with the death or retirement of key personnel. The long-term survival prospects for those of us who practice the profession of applied computational demonology are not good. Let me put it another way: I've got a really generous pension waiting for me, if I live long enough to claim it. As we drift helplessly into the grim meat-hook future of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the final crisis when "the stars come right," the walls between the worlds dissolve, and the monsters come out to play, we're going to need more sorcerers than can be trained by conventional methods; we're going to have to drop a lot of our existing security practices, allow the stovepipes between departments to melt, lower the firewalls, and get these sorcerers up to speed and mixing new metaphors as fast as possible. These memoirs are therefore intended to feed into an institutional knowledge base that, by and by, will help my successors (including new operations management personnel) to survive by allowing them to avoid my non-fatal blunders--blunders I only lived through because I made them in a kinder, more forgiving age.
(Also, there is this: writing down nightmares is a really good way to exorcise your demons.)
However, as I record this account of the events surrounding the Apocalypse Codex, I'm going to have to take some liberties. For starters, even if I'm dead when you read this, other people affected by the events in this document may still be alive--and what you learn from it may hurt them. So I'm going to have to redact some sections. Also, I'm in line management these days, and although I debriefed all the surviving participants and read all the reports, I didn't personally witness all the action. In fact, I spent much of my time following the trail of broken bodies, explosions, and general mayhem that BASHFUL INCENDIARY left in her wake--and praying that I wouldn't be too late.
(Praying? Well, yes--metaphorically speaking. As you doubtless know if you're reading this memoir, there is One True Religion; but I wouldn't want you to get the idea that I was a follower of N'Yar l ath-Hotep, or The Sleeper, or any of their nightmarish ilk. My prayers are secular, humanist, and probably futile. It's one of my character flaws; I was a lot happier when I was an atheist.)
Anyway, I'm going to use a simple convention in this memoir. If it happened to me, I'll describe it in the first person, from my own point of view. If it happened to someone else, I'll describe it in the third person, from the outside. And if there's something you really, really need to understand if you're to avoid having your brain eaten by gibbering monsters from beyond spacetime, I'll take time out to harangue you directly.
Finally, if it happened to one of us but it has the potential to be damaging if disclosed, you'll have to come back with a higher security clearance in order to check out the version with the spicy bits.
And so, to business.
A month later.
Dear diary . . .
No, scratch that. Two months ago I went back to work.
The first month was light duty, pottering around the office, catching up on a backlog of training courses and paperwork, filling in time.
And of course I let myself be suckered into a false sense of security, into thinking that everything was, in fact, getting better and better. Despite the nightmares and the security protocols and the ever-present awareness of the fast-approaching end of reality as we know it--I began to relax.
Big mistake, Bob.
A lot of things can happen in a month. In the context of the last month, I have . . . well, I'm not dead, even though I've acquired my first gray hairs. I'm not insane, or back in hospital, under arrest, or even slightly maimed. All things considered, that's a minor miracle.
A little light duty, filling in time. Ho bloody ho. "We want you to keep an eye on some departmental assets that are going walkabout," Angleton said, as if we were talking about paper clips or rubber bands. So of course I didn't think to ask what kind of assets he had in mind. Silly me.
The last month's asset-watching has been something of an eye-opener. I've got a whole new bundle of guilt, not to mention a bunch of secrets to see me through the sleepless nights. Assets, going walkabout. That's a euphemism, you know, as the actress said to the bishop. Sort of like the French prime minister describing an H-bomb test as "a device which is exploding."
So here without further ado is my recollection of the events classified under APOCALYPSE CODEX.
A clear spring night over Bavaria, cloudless and chilly. The setting moon is a waning crescent, the shadows lengthening to the southeast. A distant propeller drone splits the sky above the foothills of the Bavarian Alps as a late-flying Cessna 208 works its way slowly northeast towards Munich. The single-engine utility plane is nearly six kilometers up as it cruises over the forested slopes of the west Allgäu.
It's cold and noisy in the unpressurized cabin, which is unfurnished and bare but for anchor points and tie-downs: this is nobody's idea of business class. Nevertheless, three passengers, all with oxygen masks, crouch on the floor. One of them wears overalls, a safety harness, and a headset plugged into the crew circuit. He waits by the cargo door, listening for a word from the cockpit. The other two passengers wear helmets and parachute packs in the same color scheme as their midnight camo overalls.
At a terse instruction from the cockpit, the jump-master leans forward and tugs the door open. As he does so, the taller and heavier of the midnight skydivers leans his helmet close to his companion's ear and speaks. "Are you sure this is entirely safe, Duchess?"
"Come on, Johnny! A midnight HALO drop over mountainous terrain, then a rooftop landing on a madman's folly guarded by unholy nightmares?" Her laugh is a rich, musical chuckle. "What can possibly go wrong?"
"It's not that." Her companion raises a hand, adjusts the fit of the night vision goggles that half-obscure the front of his helmet, lending him the face of a giant cubist insect. "I mean, it's the payload. We're getting a bit too damn close to the deadline, if you'll pardon my French."
"Oh, really." She looks out the door, at the screaming midnight gale and the invisible forest below, as one hand moves to touch the bulge at her left hip. "Yes, we are very late. Blame the ash cloud from Grímsvötn: we should have been able to do this last week. But if you think I am going to abort now, and risk landing at Franz Josef Strauss Airport with that thing still in my pocket--"
The jump-master interrupts: "Sixty seconds."
"I thought you'd say that," Johnny says gloomily.
"Relax. Everything will be fine once it's back in its wards. Just try not to get hung up on the battlements."
Johnny gives the jump-master a thumbs up and stands, holding the rail beside the open side-door. His companion rolls to her knees and tugs the strap connecting her harness to a kit bag the size of a large carry-on, then stands up behind him. Pausing, she turns to the jump-master and hands him an envelope. "For yourself and Darren," she says, meaning the pilot. "With my undying love, Oscar."
"It has been a rare pleasure, Ms Hazard." The jump-master raises his hand. "Five seconds! Three. Two. One. Go--"
And then he's alone with the night and magic.
Persephone is falling into darkness.
Kilometers below her, the tree-shrouded slopes of the alpine foothills are growing rapidly closer. The wind is a constant roaring drag at her arms and legs as she stops her spin, then scans the grainy green disk of her night vision goggles around until she can see a light green St Andrew's cross perhaps a hundred meters below her, and Johnny, free-falling towards the target. He begins to crab sideways, and she checks her altimeter and the compact GPS receiver on her wrist. Off course by a couple of hundred meters: Johnny has noticed and is correcting. She makes sure to keep her distance to one side. Despite her nonchalant act, she's keyed up and apprehensive: she'd think twice before trying to pull a caper like this with anyone else.
Nearly a minute later she's just two thousand meters above ground level. The target is in view over the ridge line as her altimeter begins to beep. She brings her right hand in and pulls the handle. There's the usual moment of screaming tension, then the whoosh and lung-emptying jolt as the chute opens--cleanly, no messing, excellent. The falling stone has hatched into a drifting feather, gently circling towards the ground. She reaches up and grips the rigging handles, spots Johnny's chute. She's fallen past him and he's now fifty meters above her and off to the left. That's either too damn close, or not close enough--depending on how the landing goes. She spots a hand wave. He's aware of her position. Good.
One thousand meters up. The target is visible, sitting proudly atop a rugged hill overlooking the Alpsee and Schwansee lakes. Schloss Neuschwanstein was the last and greatest architectural folly of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, model for a million Disney fantasies. Today it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Germany, with a newly opened gallery of baroque art in the lower stories below the king's staterooms.
From the perspective of a nighttime parachute drop, the roofline is a nightmare--steeply pitched gables surrounded by pointed conical towers, like an enormous meat tenderizer poised to slam into flesh and bones.
Persephone focuses on the roofline, picks out the craggy pitch of the Palas with its gables and chimneys and turrets, and steers towards it.
Sane people do not go skydiving at night. They especially don't go skydiving at night over mountainous terrain, then try to land on the steeply angled tiles of a castle roof, with a twenty meter drop to a cobblestoned courtyard off to one side . . .
. . . But nobody has ever accused Persephone Hazard of being sane.
She flares and lifts her knees to clear the spine of the roof, spills air and drops towards the tiles, slides jolting sideways towards the cornice below--and is yanked to a stop by the cable attaching her harness to the peak of the roof by a specially shaped grapple. There is nothing random about the grapple: she and Johnny went to great pains to study the roof earlier, taking photographs and measurements from the Marienbrücke hillside. The grapple is locked to the roof, held in place by her weight. The chute, in contrast, drapes loosely around her. Persephone rolls, putting her back to the roof, and gathers in the chute with both arms. Thirty meters away on the other side of the roof, Johnny is doing much the same. She can see movement at the other end of the Palas, fabric sliding across tiles. Good. She relaxes infinitesimally. So far, the plan is on track.
Five minutes pass.
Persephone has rolled up her parachute, knotting it in its own cords, and secured it to the strap of the kit bag dangling below her. Now she begins to pay out one end of the loop of rope that runs through the eye of the grapple, lowering herself towards the edge of the roof. The nearest of the high skylights, surmounted by its own steep gable, is below her and only three meters to her left. Removing an anchor from her sling and reaching out sideways, she levers between slates, feeling for a roof timber to drive the anchor into. Working in darkness takes time: fifteen minutes pass as she crabs sideways in silence, driving anchors every meter and carefully moving her attachment away from the roofline grapple. Finally she is in position, ready to lower herself alongside the gothic arch of the window. And so she descends.
The window is leaded, with a cast-iron frame. There are no security contacts on the glass or its surround; who would break into a castle from the rooftop? Persephone peers inside, sees no telltale shimmer of infrared LEDs. The castle security is tightly focused on the lower windows and outer approaches, and the display cabinets and paintings. Up here there's nothing to worry about but the fire alarm. And the watchers.
A minute later, she lowers her kit bag and then herself to the parquet floor of the Hall of the Singers.
A shadow moves swiftly in the end gallery: "What kept you?"
"Bad positioning. Help me with this." She kneels and begins to unpack components from the bag while Johnny assembles them. He's still tightening bolts as Persephone removes her helmet, unfastens her harness, then unzips her coveralls. Beneath them she wears leggings and a black leotard; her dark hair is knotted in a tight chignon. She has a dancer's physique--but a dancer would not be wearing the equipment webbing and pouches, or the mummified monkey's hand strung on a leather cord around her neck. She puts her climbing harness back on over the leotard, dons the night vision goggles, then pulls a shoulder bag from the sack and stuffs her discarded overalls and helmet inside it.
"Okay, I think I'm ready, Duchess."
Persephone checks her watch, a Seiko chronometer, synchronized to a broadcast time signal. "We are running late--ninety-six minutes to the conjunction."
"Shit. Well, I suppose I'd better get moving, then."
Johnny pulls out a pair of bent wires from his pocket and walks to the end wall. Whistling tunelessly he paces backwards, holding them before him; then, having found his distance, he switches direction and moves towards the middle of the floor. "Let's see . . . just about here, I think."
Persephone, who is watching from the gallery, narrows her eyes. "Fifty centimeters closer to the window."
"If you say so, Duchess." Johnny squats and begins to work at the parquet tiles. They form a beautifully polished herringbone pattern in rich mahogany, glued to the floorboards below with hot bitumen. With less than two hours to do the job, there's no time for subtlety: Johnny systematically vandalizes them with the aid of a battery-powered jigsaw. First, he uses a cord to draw a circle a meter in diameter around his measurement point. Next, he carefully cuts a groove in the flooring.
Persephone, meanwhile, rolls the metal framework close to him. Then she pulls out a compact caulking gun, inserts a cylinder, and begins to draw a much larger circle on the floor around them. The oozing paste is silvery in the diffuse moonlight, gravid with metallic particles. She periodically pauses to draw arcane symbols around the outer perimeter. Once the circle is closed she retreats inside and then removes a ruggedized tablet computer from one of her pockets. It sports an expansion port, and this she attaches to the circle by a short cable.
"We're locked in," she announces calmly as Johnny pauses to empty the saw's dust bag again. The inner circle is two-thirds cut through.
"This will take another five minutes." He reaches into a pocket, pulls out a compact power screwdriver and a couple of attachment points, and screws them into the cut-out circle. Without looking up he threads a wire through the hook-and-eye attachments and fastens it to the metal frame. Then he picks up the saw and cuts out the rest of the circle. Another minute with a pry bar and then the hand-crank on the portable crane, and the disk of flooring is dangling on a wire.
"Allow me." Persephone leans forward and shines a penlight into the dark recesses below the floorboards. Thick timber joists as strong as a ship's yardarm run from side to side of the dusty under-floor space, half a meter apart; it stinks of mouse droppings and ancient history. About forty centimeters below the floor there is another surface--the ceiling of the Arbeitszimmer, the royal study.
She winces slightly at the thought of what she's about to do to the gloriously paneled and painted interior of the royal suite. Mad King Ludwig bankrupted Bavaria building this castle; he spent over six million marks on it--close to half a billion euros in twenty-first-century currency. But there's a job to be done, and the price of failure is even higher.
She reaches into the pouch on her left hip with one gloved hand and pulls forth a velvet bag. Opening it, she teases out a chain of bright-polished white gold, each link of which is encrusted with glistening emeralds. She lowers the bag by its chain over the dust-strewn roof below. It stirs slowly, dangling away from the vertical. "The amulet points to the warded containment," she says quietly. "We are out of position--at least two meters, perhaps three. Pass me the hand drill."
"Are you sure? It's no bother to raise another lid--"
"It may not bother you, Johnny, but I don't like desecrating a work of art. Pass me the hand drill and hook me up."
"It's your funeral." Johnny passes her the drill, then ropes her harness to the crane. Persephone takes a deep breath, then worms her way underneath the floor boards.
They have been on, in, and under the Hall of the Singers in the Palas of the Neuschwanstein castle for nearly an hour at this point. There are no burglar alarms on this upper story.
That does not mean, however, that there are no guards.
Persephone Hazard is at peace among the dust-bunnies of the under-floor spaces, mentally and physically in the zone as she worms her way towards the ceiling directly above the amulet's indicated spot. Every fifty centimeters she stops and uses the drill to tap a hole in the floorboards above her, then screws another anchor into the woodwork, and walks one of her load-bearing cables forward. It's slow, laborious work, and the palace is not cold--with the central heating running, so too is the sweat.
The amulet is dangling straight down now, and Persephone has begun to orient herself, rolling over to face the floor below, when the hair on the back of her neck begins to tingle. She reaches her left hand up to grasp the monkey's fist at the base of her throat. A thrill of terror washes through her for a moment before she forces herself to stillness. Whatever is happening overhead, she can't crawl backwards fast enough to be out of the hole in time to help Johnny deal with it. But there are other options. She rolls onto her back, raises the hand drill, swaps out the bit for a thirteen-centimeter-hole saw, and applies it to the boards above her.
Meanwhile, Johnny--Jonathan McTavish, accomplice and loyal lieutenant and sometime adjutant in the 2ème Régiment Étranger de Parachutistes--has become aware that he is no longer alone in the ballroom.
No door has opened, nor window slid ajar. No human lungs breathe the still, nighttime air with him. Nevertheless, he is not alone. He knows this by a prickling in the tattoo on the biceps of his left arm, by the warming of the warding amulet on the chain around his neck, by the goose bumps in the small of his back, by the strange blood running in his veins. And he knows it by the faint luminous glow coming from the warding circle that Persephone inscribed around him before embarking on her dive beneath the floorboards.
Johnny slowly scans the room, looking for traces. His nostrils flare. This is not strictly a visual talent, nor does he expect his night vision gear to spot the heat trace of a living body in the gloom. He and the Duchess are here tonight to lay something to rest; there are beings that will not appreciate this work. Entities that will go unfed if the amulet is restored to its rightful place in the display cabinet of King Ludwig's study, replacing the artful forgery that a long-dead cat burglar replaced it with decades ago. Things that do not appreciate the way amulet's power is blocked while it is confined in this place.
Johnny has what used to be called Witchfinder's Eyes by the old women in the highland village where he was born. And there are some kinds of trouble he can see in the dark with his eyes closed. The gothic architecture and baroque decorations in the Hall of the Singers cannot disguise one aspect of the design of the room--that it is essentially a box chock-full of right angles.
The Schloss is a museum and a tourist attraction by day, a small and significant part of Bavaria's cultural heritage owned and maintained at arm's reach by the agencies of the state government. But it wasn't built here, in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, solely for the picturesque view. Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm II was not known as the Mad King by reason of mere psychiatric diagnosis alone, nor was the coup and subsequent assassination that ended his reign a matter of mere realpolitik. The Schloss was not built to be a temple to the Moon King's Wagnerian fantasies. Tonight, on the eve of a certain recurring celestial alignment, the temple's night watch are padding through the passages and stairs of the castle on black velvet paws, their eyeless muzzles questing for the stink of fear.
There is movement at the end of the room.
Johnny raises his hands round the back of his neck: he draws a pair of strange knives from their sheaths, their twin blades carved from flat slivers of some black glassy material.
Claws click on the parquet floor as a doglike darkness stalks into the hall.
There is no panic, but Johnny wets his lips. These things have no ears or eyes, but rely on other senses to find their prey. "Duchess," he says quietly, "we've picked up a hound."
The dog-thing fades in and out of view as it walks towards the warding circle. Shards of leg and head and torso ripple and stretch, rotating and distorting around an invisible reference point as it moves. When in motion it is an occult blur, but when it pauses its entire body is visible: a nightmare-black dog-shape, a gaunt eyeless hunter that doesn't seem to be all there.
The ward is doing its work, for by its movements the hound appears baffled and uncertain. Nevertheless, Johnny tracks it tensely, throwing knife raised and ready. The knives snarl silently, eager to drink souls. They carry words of banishment, hopefully enough to send the hound back from whence it came . . . but perhaps not. One thing is sure: the instant one of the knives crosses the perimeter of the ward, the ward's protection will vanish. At this range, if he misses his target, the hound will be on top of him within two seconds. And while Johnny wouldn't blink at facing off against a timber wolf, these things are different. Even a momentary skin-to-skin contact with its rippling integument means death. He's only going to get one shot at it.
The hound casts its blind muzzle from side to side, then pauses a couple of meters short of the ward, right in front of Johnny. It lowers its head towards the floor, and freezes, muzzle pointing straight down.
He throws once, in a blur.
There's a blue flash as the knife splits the warding circle; simultaneously, a loud thudding noise comes from the vicinity of the hound. The dagger strikes the hound directly, splashing ribbons of green light from its flank. But it isn't the hungry knife that causes the hound to thrash wildly and keel over, huge jaws snapping at its own belly. There's another door-slamming sound. "Clear!" he calls, pitching his voice low as he steps over the shorted-out warding circle and approaches the hound, which is lying still now, limbs twitching tetanically. "It's not quite gone yet," he adds, as he sets the point of the other knife to the side of the hound's throat and pushes.
There's a moment of resistance, then he topples forwards, reaches out to catch himself with one hand against the floor. Of the hound there is no sign, save the knife and the splinters around the firing hole Persephone had drilled beneath it. "It is now," he adds.
The rest of the operation goes exactly according to plan.
Using the amulet as a guide, Persephone drills a thirteen-centimeter hole in the ceiling of the Arbeitszimmer. She fastens the amulet to a fishing line and lowers it through the hole. Peering through a compact fiber-optic probe, she lowers her payload towards a display cabinet in the shape of a grotesque miniature oak chapel that squats beneath a mural depicting scenes from the legend of the Holy Grail. There is a glass screen and velvet ropes to keep visitors from getting too close, and there are under-carpet pressure sensors and infrared body heat detectors--hence the ceiling approach. The amulet descends towards the front of the cabinet, tugging like a magnet beside an automobile. Then there's a sudden yank on the cord, a crunch of fine woodwork and a shattering of glass. The amulet slams into the center of the display, where its identical twin rests on a velvet pad; the replica is sent flying as the wards inlaid in the floorboards under the parquet around the cabinet flash lightning-bright.
Persephone tenses; but there is no shrill of bells. Pressure plates are seldom tuned to hair-trigger sensitivity, lest the security guards are called out every time a mouse scurries across the floor at midnight. Nor do body heat detectors work on pieces of extravagant jewelry, whether or not they are imbued with grotesque and unpleasant powers by their former owner. She permits herself a sigh of relief. Then she turns her attention to retrieving the replica of the Moon King's amulet from the bottom of the cabinet: a fiddly fishing job, but one familiar to any child who has wasted their pocket money on an amusement arcade grab-machine--and far more rewarding. It's just like old times, really.
Finishing, she coils up the fishing line, weights it down on top of the ceiling boards with her hand drill, and retreats back to the Hall of the Singers--making sure to take the spent cartridge cases from her silenced pistol with her.
"Done here," she says as Johnny pulls her out of the hole in the floor. "Just the one hound?"
"The next time I see 'em hunting in a pack will be the first." He checks his chronometer. "Thirty-two minutes to alignment. Is it in place?"
Persephone glances at him, scrutinizing his face: he's as stoical and imperturbable as ever. "Ever walked past a big electromagnet with a ring of keys? It knows where it belongs. The wards still work after all these years. Nothing to worry about." She smiles, buzzing with exultation. The amulet is back in place, another chink in this world's defenses repaired just in time. The replica installed in place of the stolen original by an uninformed but highly proficient jewel thief is safe in her bag, earmarked for delivery to its final resting place. The incursion will be exposed tomorrow, recognized for what it is by security guards boggling at the ingenuity of the cat burglars who came so close to stealing the Mad King's crown jewels the night before.
Persephone gathers her climbing ropes and stalks towards the windows, ready to abseil to the forest below in preparation for the long midnight walk to the rented safe house in Füssen. Tomorrow they will dispose of their equipment and meet with an agent who will take the not-invaluable forgery (itself containing over a hundred carats of blue diamonds and black fire opals, supplied to the jewel thief by a very special collector to whom the original was vastly more interesting than any collection of unenchanted gems) and make it disappear. Then they will depart by light plane, and it's back to the cover of the everyday whirl of the celebrity culture vulture circuit for her, and the adventure tour business for Johnny.
As she pauses on the window ledge to check her harness, Persephone feels more alive than she has in ages.