The Empty Grave (Lockwood & Co. #5)(10)

So it was that when we saw the mannequin moving and the coils of ghost-fog looping towards us, we were – for a crucial moment – stunned and frozen. It took our brains a split second longer than normal to react.

This delay was enough. We lost control.

So thick was the mist, it was as if the coffin was filling up with white liquid. It pooled around the edge of the body in the shroud, lapping at its contours, swirling and spiralling as if being stirred by unseen hands. And the stiff yellow figure was infected by the movement. It juddered into life. Fingers hooked over the lip of the coffin. There was a cracking sound as the wax broke. The mannequin thrust itself upwards into a sitting position.

‘Back! Back!’

It was Lockwood’s cry. As one, we threw ourselves away from the plinth, away from the coffin. But panic breeds panic; mistakes escalate. Lockwood was fine – he was already twisting as he jumped, whipping a flare from his belt. He landed lightly, the other side of our iron chains, his right arm pulled back and ready to throw. The rest of us? We didn’t possess such finesse. We were just tumbling every which way, crashing down on hands and knees. Kipps knocked over a candle. I arched like a cat to avoid the ring of chains, then rolled unglamorously through a mess of salt and iron. Holly and George fared even worse. Both careered straight into the circle, twisting the links violently out of position.

Looped ends came away from each other; the circle was broken.

A cold wind blew outwards through the gap and across the vault.

I finished my roll in a crouch, and spun on my heels, grappling for a flare. As I did so, Lockwood’s canister flashed over me. It arced down towards the coffin, where a thin and faceless figure now sat, wrapped in grave-cloths, its smooth, misshapen head slowly turning in our direction.

The flare struck the edge of the coffin lid, just behind the figure.

Everything on the plinth disappeared in a bursting orchid of bright white fire.

I don’t know whether or not it was the acoustics of the vault we were in, but the explosion was more than usually loud. Brighter too. I looked aside. Kipps cried out – he’d been closest to the burst. My ears rang; a ring of heat buffeted me for a second, then expanded past me and away. It was cold again.

I opened my eyes. White-hot iron was fountaining down like a rain of needles, fizzing and bouncing on the flagstones. The coffin interior was a coronet of fire. Fragments of its red silk lining waved and stirred like seaweed, dancing in the centre of each flame.

A dark shape stood above the blaze, stiff, bent-backed, enveloped in a burning shroud.

‘The chains!’ I was scooping for the loose ends, trying to push them together. The others did the same. But the cold draught that blew from the coffin caught the iron links, sent them skittering apart. And the mist was already spilling over the edges of the coffin, pouring silently down in thick white ropes that uncoiled towards us on the floor. It pushed us back as we fumbled for the chains. We couldn’t repair the circle without the mist brushing against our skin. It wasn’t your usual ghost-fog, which is harmless. This was thicker and too viscous; you couldn’t risk it touching you.

‘Forget the iron,’ Lockwood shouted. ‘Move back! Hit it with your flares!’

The shape in the coffin moved abruptly, awkwardly, as if it didn’t know how to use its limbs. It gave a lurch, toppled forwards out of the coffin and landed head first on the floor of the vault in a spreading plume of ghost-fog. A moment later it vanished in a double explosion of magnesium fire. Two flares had struck it. A third (I guessed George’s) had missed completely, exploding against the far wall of the room. The noise buffeted us; we were scoured by a sunburst of violent silver light.

‘What was that thing?’ Kipps stumbled round to join us, one ear bleeding, his jersey a ragged colander of magnesium burns.

‘A Revenant,’ Lockwood gasped. ‘Got to be.’

‘But the wax—’

‘Its bones are hidden in the wax shell. The ghost is able to make the bones move, and that animates the wax.’ He took a canister from his belt. ‘Quick! Help me salt the floor.’

Nothing moved in the silver flames, but Lockwood and the others threw salt bombs onto the ground, lacing the stones in front. I didn’t help them. I stood motionless, my flare still unused in my hand. Up until this point my psychic Senses had been numbed with shock. Now, as the echo of the explosions died away, they’d suddenly kicked in. And I could hear a voice, harsh and hollow as a crow’s caw. It was calling out a name.

‘Marissa Fittes …’ it said. ‘Marissa …’

‘Fall back to the stairs,’ Lockwood said.

We retreated towards the arch, watching the flames. They were dropping swiftly, revealing a prone and broken figure on the floor.

‘Maybe we got it,’ Holly breathed.

‘No,’ I said. The hollow voice was still echoing in my ears.

‘I think we have,’ Kipps said. ‘Yeah … we have. We got it for sure.’

The shape lifted its head, began to rise with stiff, appalling deliberation.

‘How’s it doing that?’ Kipps cried. ‘That’s not fair! The Greek Fire should have been enough!’

‘Maybe the wax protects it,’ Lockwood said. He gestured for us to keep going; we were almost at the foot of the stairs. ‘Protects the bones and plasm. But that can’t last. As it moves, it has to break the wax. Look – it’s already cracking apart.’

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