The Empty Grave (Lockwood & Co. #5)(6)

However much we might distrust Penelope Fittes herself, it was clearly not easy to establish the truth of this extraordinary claim. But we could check one thing.

We could see whether Marissa was in her grave.

The stairs were steep and narrow. We descended slowly, step by careful step. Lockwood was at the front, then George, with Holly and me following. Kipps brought up the rear. Each of us held a candle raised at head height, and so our circles of light fused together, making a little radiant worm or caterpillar inching its way into the earth.

Behind us, the dim grey cone of lantern light seeping through the trapdoor faded from view. To our right was a wall of neat stone blocks, shiny and gleaming with moisture. To the left was an open, unknown space, which our candlelight could not penetrate. Lockwood risked a brief flick of his torch, revealing a shocking well of black that made us all flinch towards the right-hand wall. Then, disconcertingly, this wall vanished too, and we were descending with an abyss of darkness on either side.

Your head did weird things in such a place. Your legs shook; you no longer had full control over your muscles. You kept feeling you were about to lurch aside and plunge into oblivion. The problem was compounded by the need for high psychic alert, the fear of something rising towards you out of the dark. Every couple of steps we had to stop and use our Talents, and this straining against the silence made your head spin even more.

It didn’t help that the skull in my rucksack insisted on doing a running commentary, constantly adding little reminders of the peril we were in.

‘Ooh, this is a nasty bit,’ it said. ‘Careful you don’t suddenly step sideways and plunge horribly to your death.’ And: ‘What’s it like, falling in pitch darkness? I wonder.’ Or simply: ‘Crikey, don’t trip now!’ And so on, until I threatened to toss it over the edge.

The wall returned, and at that point the steps veered abruptly to the left, going down no less steeply.

The green glow at my shoulder flared with sullen light. ‘I’m bored,’ the ghost said. ‘It’s Lockwood’s fault. He’s such a dawdler.’

‘He’s being sensible. He’s checking for traps.’

‘He’s like an old granny crossing the road. I’ve seen algae move faster.’

It was true that Lockwood was taking it steadily. Down beyond the heads of the others I could see him, on the fringe of the candlelight, stooping, peering, patiently checking each slab before treading on it, inspecting the wet stones of the wall. That was where he always was – at the forefront of the group, standing between us and the darkness. How poised and graceful he was. His presence gave me courage, even in a place like this. I smiled at him. He couldn’t see me, of course. It didn’t matter.

‘You all right, Lucy?’ That was Kipps at my shoulder. ‘Got wind or something?’

‘No. I’m fine.’

‘Just saw you grimacing there. Tell you what, my goggles are misting up. Wish we’d get to the bottom of this wretched vault. Lockwood’s taking his time.’

‘He’s doing what he has to,’ I said.

We both fell silent. Down we went, with the coils of candle smoke binding us together, and Lockwood calm and tireless at our head. For a while there was nothing but stone and smoke and silence, and the shuffle of our boots in the dark.


That was the skull roaring like a howler monkey in my ear. The sudden psychic outburst made me cry out in fright. I jerked forward, jabbing my candle flame directly into Holly’s neck. She cried out too, and barged into George; George stumbled and kneed Lockwood in the backside. Lockwood, who had just been bending over to inspect the stair below, lost his balance entirely and tumbled down the next six steps, falling head over heels, bump, bump, bump. He dropped his rapier, his candle disappeared over the edge. He finished upside-down, long legs waving in the air.

Dead silence. Everyone stood frozen, listening for the creak of moving traps, for shifting stones, for the rustling of grave-cloths. Personally all I could hear was the raucous cackling of the skull. Nothing happened. Lockwood got stiffly to his feet. Picking up his rapier, we hurried down to join him.

‘I don’t know what you’re so fussed about.’ This was the skull, a few moments later. We were clustering around the jar, bog-eyed and livid, while the face grinned out in high delight. ‘You know me,’ it said. ‘I’m excitable. Can I help it if I get caught up in the action?’

‘You endangered us all,’ I snarled. ‘If Lockwood had triggered a trap—’

‘But he didn’t, did he? Let’s be positive! We now know those last twelve steps are safe because Lockwood’s bum tested them for us.’

Oddly, when I passed on these words of wisdom, they didn’t go down well.

‘It’s gone too far this time,’ Holly said. ‘I vote we take it to the furnaces tomorrow.’

‘Oh, don’t be so harsh,’ Kipps said. ‘I’m grateful to the skull. That was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I’ll treasure the memory on my deathbed. Anyway, I assume you haven’t brought the ghost along for its personality. The best thing is to put it to good use.’

There was much sense in Kipps’s words, and everyone acknowledged it. I moved to the front of the group, just behind Lockwood, with the skull peering from the top of my rucksack.

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