The Empty Grave (Lockwood & Co. #5)(4)

He and Kipps pulled. At once, smoothly and without noise, the flagstone moved. It lifted up as if on oiled hinges, and a waft of chill air rose from the crack beneath.

Holly pushed the crowbars under it in case the others faltered, but there was no need. With surprising swiftness, Lockwood and Kipps pulled the flagstone upright. Now it was George and I who had to support its weight. Our rope went taut; we took the strain.

The hinged slab wasn’t nearly as heavy as I’d have guessed – perhaps it was some special hollow stone. Slowly we began to lower it on the other side.

‘Set it down gently!’ Lockwood hissed. ‘No noise!’

We eased the flagstone down. It met the ground with a sound like a mouse sighing.

Now we had a square hole in the centre of the floor.

When Holly shone her torch into it, we could see a flight of stone steps leading steeply into blackness. Beyond the steps the light was swallowed utterly.

A damp, dark, earthy smell rose invisibly around us.

‘Deep hole,’ Kipps whispered.

‘Anyone see anything?’


There was a brief silence. Now that we had gained access to the crypt, the enormity of what we were about to do fell over us. It was like the darkness hanging above our heads had suddenly, silently, shifted lower. Marissa’s face watched us from the wall.

We all stood there quietly, using our Senses. None of us got anything. Our belt thermometers showed a steady twelve degrees, and we detected no supernatural chill, no miasma, malaise or creeping fear. There was no immediate likelihood of an apparition.

‘Good,’ Lockwood said. ‘Collect your things. We’ll proceed as planned. I’ll go first. Then George, followed by Holly and Luce, with Quill at the back. We’ll turn our torches off, but carry candles. I’ll have my rapier; the rest of you keep your weapons ready too. Not that we’ll need them.’ He gave us his best grin. ‘We don’t believe she’s there.’

But a nameless dread had stolen up on us. In part it was the power of the iron face, and of the name inscribed in stone. And it was also the feel of the dank air rising from the hole. It coiled around us, entwining us with unease. We gathered our things slowly. George passed among us, flicking his lighter, igniting our candles. We lined up, hefting rapiers, clearing throats, readying our belts.

Kipps vocalized his thoughts. ‘Are we sure we want to do this?’

‘We’ve got this far,’ Lockwood said. ‘Of course we do.’

I nodded. ‘We can’t bottle out now.’

Kipps looked at me. ‘You’re right, Lucy. Maybe I’m being overly cautious. I mean, it’s not as if our tip came from an evil talking skull that probably wishes us all dead, is it?’

Everyone glanced over at the open rucksack I was carrying. I’d just put the jar inside. The ghost’s face had disappeared now; only the skull was showing. Even I had to admit that its death-black sockets and leering toothy grin weren’t entirely reassuring.

‘I know you set great store by that skull,’ Kipps went on. ‘I know it’s your best mate and all the rest of it, but what if it’s wrong? What if it’s simply mistaken?’ He glanced up at the wall. His voice dropped to a whisper. ‘She might be waiting for us down there.’

Another moment and the mood would have shifted irrevocably. Lockwood stepped between us. He spoke with crisp decision. ‘No one needs to worry. George, remind them.’

‘Sure.’ George adjusted his spectacles. ‘Remember, all the stories say that Marissa Fittes gave orders for her body to be placed in a special coffin. We’re talking iron inlays and silver casing. So, if the skull’s wrong and her body is there, her spirit won’t be able to bother us,’ he said. ‘It’ll be safely constrained.’

‘And when we open the coffin?’ Kipps asked.

‘Oh, that’ll only be for a second, and we’ll have our defences in place by then.’

‘The point is,’ Lockwood said, ‘no ghost is going to attack us on the way down. Right, George?’


‘Good. Very well, then.’ Lockwood turned to the stair.

‘Obviously there might be a few traps,’ George said.

Lockwood paused with his foot hovering above the top step. ‘Traps?’

‘Not saying there are. Just that there might be some.’ George pushed his glasses up his nose and gave an encouraging flourish with one hand. ‘Anyway, Lockwood – the stairs await! Off you go.’

Lockwood did a sort of reverse swivel. Now he was facing George. ‘Hold it,’ he said. ‘What traps are these?’

‘Yes. I’m quite interested in this too,’ Holly said.

We all were. We gathered around George, who did something with his shoulders that was probably meant to be a casual shrug. ‘Oh, it’s just silly rumours,’ he said. ‘Frankly I’m surprised you’re interested. Some say Marissa didn’t want grave-robbers interfering with her tomb, so she took precautions.’ He paused. ‘Some say these precautions might be … supernatural ones.’

‘Now you tell us,’ Holly said.

‘When was this little fact going to be mentioned?’ I demanded. ‘When a Spectre put its fingers around my neck?’

George made an impatient gesture. ‘It’s probably nonsense. Besides, it would have been a distraction earlier. It’s my job to distinguish between solid fact and rumour.’

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