Spellmaker (Spellbreaker Duology #2) by Charlie N. Holmberg

CHAPTER 1



Brookley, England, June 1895

Elsie Camden sat on the edge of her bed, reading over something she most certainly was not supposed to have. Folded lines crossed it, one down and three across, the creases growing thin from how often she had opened and closed the page. The scrawl was red—the color of rational aspectors—and in the handwriting of whoever had died to create it. She might never know his or her name, and perhaps it was best not to know. By all means, she was translating a piece of the spellmaker’s corpse.

The Latin-to-English dictionary she’d borrowed from the vicar was worn and well used. Peeling along the spine. Elsie had confirmed her suspicions several lines ago, but felt the urge to be thorough. To study the spell all the way to its end.

It was a master spell, without a doubt. A master spell of forgetfulness, of memory stealing. Long term. Exactly how long, Elsie wasn’t certain, even as she went over the last words on the opus page, but one of the words translated to years. Years were tricky—the spell might not be as useful as Elsie had previously hoped, especially since Ogden seemed to have, more or less, recovered from his ordeal at the dock and her discovery of his secrets. He’d been under the spiritual control of another aspector for a decade, forced to help perpetrate crimes he would never condone. Elsie had been used, too, but their adversary had twisted her mind instead, tricking her into thinking she was using her spellbreaking ability for a good cause, when in fact she’d been furthering a perverse agenda. At least neither of them had been made to kill directly. Still, the knowledge that they had, however unwittingly, helped in the demise of so many weighed on them both.

Their adversary had arranged for the murder of several aspectors in order to steal their opuses, and this spell was from one of those books. That made it beyond dangerous to keep, and yet Elsie couldn’t bring herself to get rid of it. It was too valuable. But she couldn’t sell it, couldn’t use it . . .

Sighing, she tucked the spell securely back into her bodice, taking a deep breath to dispel residual anxiety.

Elsie still struggled to stomach the knowledge that Master Lily Merton, the cheery old spiritual aspector who spoke like a song and befriended everyone, had done such horrid things. Was she working with others? Others who knew what they were doing, like Abel Nash? There was no possible way Master Merton would be able to control multiple people at once. Had she already set her eyes on a new pawn now that Ogden had been released? Or would she try to get him back?

A week had passed since Elsie had pulled Merton’s controlling spell off her employer’s chest, freeing him from spiritual enslavement. And now . . . she kept expecting something to happen. Merton to turn herself in. Police to show up at her door. Bacchus to . . . to what? She swatted that thought away like an annoying fly. She had enough worrying thoughts without a big, hearty man infiltrating them.

But nothing had happened. Lily Merton had stayed to herself, and there’d been no more deaths or robberies. Which was good, of course, except it meant the law wouldn’t find her on its own. Ogden had left the authorities an anonymous tip five days ago, pointing to Merton. But there was nothing in the papers. The Wright sisters weren’t even gossiping about it. Which led Elsie to conclude the tip had been laughed off. Master Merton was a sweet old woman hopping from dinner to dinner to recruit nice young girls to her atheneum. Obviously she wasn’t secretly a manipulative assassin. Which meant Ogden and Elsie had to handle this themselves.

It was just . . . neither of them knew exactly how.

There was no possible way to turn in Master Merton without revealing themselves. Elsie was a spellbreaker, and Ogden a master rational aspector, both unregistered. Elsie might be able to maneuver herself into life in prison or at a labor camp. But Ogden . . . the courts wouldn’t be lenient with him.

Standing, Elsie strode to her window and looked out over Brookley, seeing a few passersby. Nothing and no one of import—no lurking henchmen, no bubbly killers, no constables or bobbies. She sucked in another deep breath, forcing herself to calm down, then smoothed her bodice and hair and left her room, heading downstairs toward the smells of luncheon.

Emmeline was just setting a grouse-and-carrot pie on the table in front of Ogden, who leaned hard into a fist, elbow propped on the dining room table, his reading glasses perched low on his nose as he went over a ledger. He looked up as Elsie approached and simply shook his head. Nothing on his end, either, then. Elsie wasn’t entirely sure she’d be able to eat, despite all Emmeline’s hard work. The maid’s pastries had greatly improved over the last year.

Emmeline turned about and lit up. “Oh, Elsie. Telegram came for you.”

Elsie’s pulse quickened as Emmeline fished around in her apron pockets and retrieved a small envelope. It had a grayish tint to it. Elsie’s stomach hit the floor. The Cowls’ letters had been the same color. Their orders—Merton’s orders, for they’d been from her—had always arrived in nondescript envelopes slipped into her things. Each had included information about how her actions would help the country’s poor, only most of it had been lies.

But no . . . she’d never get another of those letters. Ogden had penned all of them, and he was now free from his spell. Surely Master Merton wouldn’t attempt to contact her directly. Not that Elsie could use the evidence to indict her. Even if Elsie hadn’t destroyed all her letters from the Cowls, they implicated Elsie as a willing participant in criminal activities, and the handwriting could be used against Ogden.