Fathomless

Sean Wyndham has tried to stay away from the lure of magic—the last time he tried to dabble in the dark studies, he inadvertently summoned a blood familiar, wreaking havoc on his town, and calling the attention of the Elder Gods. But now Sean has been offered the chance to study magic with a proper teacher, overseen by Helen Arkwright, a friend of Sean’s father and heir to ancient order of much power, who protects New England from that which lurks in the coastline’s unseen depths. But will learning theory be enough, when there is a much greater magical secret hidden in Helen’s vaulted library?

Accompanied by his best friend, Eddy, and their enigmatic new friend Daniel, Sean wades out deeper into mystical legend and shadow. With hints and secrets buried long in family lore, they turn to the suspicious Reverend Orne once more for assistance. But as Sean deepens his understanding of his power, a darkness is waking…

In Fathomless, Anne M. Pillsworth’s sequel to Summoned, Sean dips even further into his magical destiny, but will blood prove thicker than the mysteries of Innsmouth’s briny depths? Available October 27th from Tor Teen.

 

 

1

Sean and Eddy had hoisted their kayaks onto the roof of the Civic. They’d stuffed suitcases into the trunk, strapped bikes to the trunk rack, crammed the backseat with paddles and life vests, bike helmets and beach umbrellas. Now Eddy had gone home to pack books. She’d promised to limit herself to a single backpack, but even that was like shipping Coke to the Coke factory. She’d be working in the Miskatonic University Library, plus the Arkwright House had its own library, plus Horrocke’s Bookstore was five minutes from campus. Good thing the Civic could handle her fear of getting stranded on a bookless desert island between Providence and Arkham—Dad had made sure the car was in top shape before he handed Sean the keys.

Sean had expected to drive the Civic more after Dad got his new Accord, but for Dad to give it to him? That was the (forest green) cherry on top of a whole summer studying magic, another gift he hadn’t dared take for granted, even with Helen Arkwright and Professor Marvell arguing for it. The Servitor incident was a year behind them. Things had returned to normal, pretty much. So why would Dad risk Sean plunging them in another magical shit-storm?

Reason One: Dad would be in England all summer on a big restoration job, while Aunt Cel and Uncle Gus would be in Italy from mid-July on. Better Sean go to Arkham than poke around home alone. And Reason Two: Whether Sean pursued magic or not, the shit-storm that was Redemption Orne still rumbled over Sean’s head.

At Marvell’s request, an Order magician had come to Rhode Island to determine whether Orne still watched Sean. Right off, Afua Benetutti had felt brushes of too-sentient air, fluctuations in ambient energy, and with a puff of the dust that gloved her brown hands in sparkling silver, she’d revealed an invisible spy: a sinuous wisp of legs and feelers that cavorted around Sean, flicking its longest tail as if to chuck them an ethereal bird. Though the aether-newt had shaken off the dust and vanished from sight, Benetutti had continued to sense its energetic signature. Dad had exploded: Orne promised he’d leave Sean alone! Zap the thing! But Benetutti had said dispelling the newt would be wasted effort; Orne could simply resummon it. Better to ward the places where Sean spent the most time, his own house and his aunt’s. The newt couldn’t pass through the wards, so inside their perimeter, Sean would be safe from Orne’s observation.

Not the scorched-aether solution Dad had wanted, but he let Benetutti weave the defensive webs. Every month a paramagician— someone who couldn’t do spells himself but who could energize spells already in place—needed to reinforce the wards. Marvell and Helen had done the job. They’d have come anyway, because their other job was counseling Sean and Dad and Eddy, even Gus and Celeste, through their transitions from blissfully ignorant to people who could face the reality of magic without going nuts.

Far as Sean could tell, Gus and Celeste had needed the least counseling, Dad the most. Eddy, hard to say. She liked hanging with Helen—they talked about everything, not just the scary truth of the worlds. Obviously Helen thought Eddy was cool, or she wouldn’t have offered her a summer internship at the MU Library. But pre-Servitor, Eddy had never had trouble sleeping. Now, when Sean was staying at Cel and Gus’s, he’d look next door and see her “office” lights burning long after midnight. A couple times the blinds had been up, and he’d seen Eddy tilted back in her desk chair, clutching a book like a shield.

Sean dropped his tennis racquet through the Civic’s rear window, afraid if he opened the door, he’d unleash a junk avalanche. Eddy had better stick to the one-backpack deal, but he wouldn’t grouse if she didn’t. He got why she’d want to bring comfort books to Arkham; in fact, he’d stuck comfort books of his own under the driver’s seat. One was his duct-taped Lord of the Rings. The other was Marvell’s Infinity Unimaginable—the matter-of-fact way it treated magic had helped him chill whenever he started thinking too much about the Servitor or, worse, the god who’d sent it.

Sean backed the Civic out of the driveway. After that he had nothing to do but sit on the porch steps until it was time to drive Dad to the airport. Maybe he’d stowed Infinity too soon, because he lapsed into thinking about how, Servitor-possessed and mentally delivered to its creator, he’d come that close to teaming up with Nyarlathotep, the Master of Magic himself. If Dad hadn’t called him back. If Helen hadn’t broken the Servitor’s psychic grip by ramming a pitchfork, and herself, into its gut. Even now Sean could close his eyes and see the poison-green sky with its three black suns, the obsidian shore lapped by a protoplasmic ocean of shoggoths, the crystal-shard palace of a pseudo-Pharaoh who smiled because he understood the freaky hollowness inside a speck like Sean, a speck that longed to suck in the universe, to own the magic. He couldn’t do that unless, to earn the Outer Gods’ favor, he became their servant—

Servant or slave, like Orne. For everything Nyarlathotep promised, he wanted everything in return.

Everything was too big. Better to break magic down into specksized nibbles Sean could handle without divine intervention. Since dismissing the Servitor, he hadn’t done any magic. He’d been afraid to try, and besides, Infinity’s descriptions of spellcasting didn’t amount to much more than Obi-Wan telling Luke to use the Force. Marvell had explained that since Infinity was written for the general public, its vagueness was a deliberate precaution. Besides, Sean shouldn’t attempt further magic until he’d been properly trained. In Arkham, Marvell would handle theory, and the Order would assign Sean a magician mentor to handle practice.

This time tomorrow, Sean would know his mentor’s name. Maybe it would be Geldman—Helen had mentioned he sometimes took Order students. Geldman would be amazing, but Sean would be happy with any legit magician other than Orne. And maybe he wouldn’t have to wait until tomorrow, because Dad came onto the porch with his cell phone ringing, and when he dropped his suitcases to answer it, he said, “Oh, hello, Helen.”

Good old Helen. She must’ve gotten the advance scoop on Sean’s mentor and was calling with the news. He jumped up and walked over to Dad, to be ready to take the phone. But Dad didn’t offer it. In fact, he turned away, frowning. “Yes, my flight’s not for a couple hours, I can talk.”

Talk about what? “Hey, Dad.”

Dad shook his head, phone to ear.

“Let me say hi to her.”

Dad walked into the house and shut himself in his study.

It was either squash his ear to the study door or wait for bad news in the comfort of a porch rocker, and, yeah, Helen’s news had to be bad to drive Dad into seclusion. Sean opted for the rocker and speculation. His summer in Arkham was off because no Order magician would mentor him, and that was because the Servitor had been a fluke—Sean wasn’t magician material, after all. Or else he was, but in so hazardous a form that the black helicopters were coming to take him to Area 52, Magical Miscreants.

Half an hour later, the helicopters hadn’t arrived. Dad had left the study, though, and gone to the carriage house. Following, Sean watched lights come on in Mom’s old studio while Dad’s stayed dark. Not an encouraging sign. He dithered in the garden for a few minutes, then sucked it up and finished the pursuit.

Dad stood under the window he’d made while Mom was sick, eyes fixed on the Madonna who sat painting in a walled garden. Sean climbed the stairs as if he were sneaking into church after the funeral had started, but Dad heard him, and he said, “I was talking to Helen.”

“I know. I was there when she called, remember?”

Dad sat on a worktable and nodded at the stretch of unoccupied tabletop beside him. His hair was a pawed-through mess, and the jaw muscle that twitched when he was pissed off looked like it was jumping rope. Sean stayed put at the top of the stairs. “Something’s wrong about Arkham, right?”

“No, if you mean something to keep you from going. Helen’s still expecting you and Eddy tomorrow.”

“So everything’s okay.”

Dad looked him in the eye. “As long as you can study magic, all’s right with the world?”

“I didn’t say that!”

“But that’s how you feel?”

“No, because there’s still wars and climate change.”

“I’m glad you take a global view.”

“What did Helen say, Dad?”

The jaw muscle got tired of jumping. In fact, Dad half smiled. “Sean, you haven’t done anything wrong, and nobody’s mad at you.”

That was a first.

“What’s come up, it’s something Helen thought I should know before I went to England, but we agreed she and Professor Marvell should be the ones to tell you about it.”

“Why them?”

“Well, because magic’s about the same to me as quantum mechanics. I know it exists, but hell if I can explain it. Helen, Marvell, they’ll explain things the right way.”

“So, whatever made you come up here, it’s about magic in general?”

Dad heaved off the tabletop. “Why do I come up here sometimes, Sean?”

“To hang with Mom, when you’re worried.”

“And you do the same thing, except you can actually feel the part of her that’s still around. I’m glad we know that’s real now.”

He meant the buzz of her energy, in the cabinets. Sean looked up at the Madonna. In the halo that circled not her head but the tip of her paintbrush, Dad had tried to paint Mom’s magic onto the glass, and he’d made the window years before learning magic was real. “I always knew she was different. You did, too, Dad.”

“Yeah, I did.” Dad walked over and gripped his shoulder. “Look, Sean, you’re all right. That’s all you need to know before Helen and Marvell explain the rest.” He stood. “I’ve got some last things to pack. Ready for the airport run?”

“Whenever you are.”

“Okay. Hit the lights when you’re done here.”

And Dad knew what it would take for Sean to be done, which was why he ran downstairs and closed the carriage house door with thump enough to signal his exit. It was a shy and private thing to approach the cabinets where Mom’s unfinished canvases lived. Lived was the right word, too, because without opening the cabinet doors, just by resting fingertips on the cheerfully paintfreckled wood, Sean felt the low hum of magic. As magic had vibrated in her skin and breath, not pulse, not respiration, steadier than either, so it hummed in all her paintings, her, like no other sensation in the world. Yet the hum was strongest in the work she’d had to abandon, as if the residual magic knew there was more for it to do—it had to persist until she came back and directed it. No other artist, even Dad, could reproduce her brushstrokes or her sense of color and light. No other magician, even Sean, could match her hum—according to Infinity, each magician’s energy was genetic code unique, an absolute signature.

Sean sagged forward until his forehead pressed a door and absorbed its vibration. These days he rarely did more—he certainly didn’t throw the cabinet doors wide, as he’d done at age six or seven, weirdly unafraid, actually hoping to catch her ghost curled up in the linseed-scented dark.

It wasn’t that now, at seventeen, he was afraid to open the doors. He was cautious, that was all, because what if her energy were to burst out, to disperse, the last of her gone right when he was about to study magic? At the end of summer, he wanted to come back and demonstrate the legacy she’d given him. However unconscious her witness might be, he wanted it.

Dad yelled from the garden, time to go.

*     *     *

Going up to the studio hadn’t cured Dad’s unease over Helen’s call. Preflight, he’d tried to transmute it into standard Dad warnings, don’t drive like a nutcase, don’t spend your whole summer allowance the first week, but a deeper anxiety had kept his jaw muscle hopping. Plus he’d told Sean to call England anytime, not just when it was normal-human hours over there. After Dad’s plane had cruised, Sean considered calling Helen and teasing out the magical secret. He’d held off until he drove to Cel and Gus’s for the night, and then he’d had to wedge Eddy’s books—a backpack and three bags full—into the Civic, and then Eddy’s parents had taken them out to dinner. By the time they got back, it was too late to bug Helen.

Eddy doused her lights by eleven thirty. They stayed doused— Sean knew because he was too wired to sleep. The dark windows next door gave him a postapocalyptic chill: Sean Wyndham, last human on earth. Around one, he wandered down to the kitchen. Warm milk was supposed to be a natural sedative, but to avoid gagging, Sean took his cold, flopped on the living room couch. No dice. The mantel clock chimed two, and he remained wide awake, thinking of Mom’s energy in the cabinets, and how she hadn’t even known she had magic, it had just poured out of her, while he didn’t know his mentor yet, and now there was this other thing Dad wouldn’t tell him. Also, why didn’t brains come with an off switch?

He stared into his empty glass. Lattes were mostly warm milk, right? Maybe it wouldn’t kill him. But when he sat up, pursuing sleep became irrelevant. Something moved outside the living room windows. Flash back a year, to his own house and to Sean glimpsing enough of the Servitor to make him run, animal-intent on escape. He almost ran now, but before his shock-frozen legs could thaw, he realized this creature was no Servitor. For one thing, it was much smaller. For another, no one’s blood had solidified it into flesh—it was only a hint of a being, an elongated wisp that floated from window to window, then took a lazy U-turn and shimmied back as if swimming through air.

It was the spy Benetutti’s dust had revealed, an aether-newt. It wouldn’t eat him. It couldn’t even get into the house, thanks to her wards. Sean set down his glass, then sidestepped slowly into the window bay. The Necronomicon said that aether-newts rendered visible appeared to have glass or soap bubble skin. This one was more glassy, but with swift chromatic slicks that washed over it like the rainbows on bubbles.

As he reached the windows, the newt executed a tight figure eight, passing through itself at the juncture of the two loops to settle on the screen inches from Sean’s nose. No, not on the screen. The suction cups at the end of its stumpy caterpillar legs rested on an invisible surface farther out, the ward-barrier. In spite of its many-jointed skeleton, glass within glass, the newt’s body was also more caterpillar-plump than newt-sleek. Caterpillars didn’t have obvious necks, though. The newt had one it could stretch longer or corkscrew shorter; on it bobbled an egg-shaped head without mouth or nostrils, just two fan-shaped appendages like fleshy feathers. Ears? Organs of an obscurer sense? The eyes were more obvious: two bulging hemispheres with diamond pupils, and maybe those glossy winking spheroids on its sides and underbelly were eyes, too. The back sported more fleshy fans, the butt five tails, long one in the middle. The shorter tails had tiny waving hairs—what had they called those in Bio Lab? Cilia. The long tail ended in a wicked barb. If the newt weren’t ethereal, it could put a person’s eyes out with that.

What it did right now was flick the barbed tail at Sean. Again, like it was chucking him the bird.

He chucked it one back.

Impressed? Probably not—it kept flicking.

Sean pushed up the screen and leaned out past the ward-barrier—as always, he felt its mild sting as he broke through. “How come I can see you now?” he demanded.

The newt retreated a couple feet. Flick.

“Your boss Orne must want me to see you, right?”

Flick.

“Like, you must’ve heard me and Eddy outside the wards, how we’re going to study with the Order. So he knows I don’t need him to study magic.”

Double flick, plus a wave of the feathery head fans.

Yes? No? “Not that I care if he knows. It’ll be the last thing he finds out, because I bet the Order has kick-ass wards you’ll never get through. So yeah. He can fuck off. All right?”

The flicks stopped.

“All right?”

The newt retreated. Shimmying from head to tail-tip barb, it began to fade.

Sean watched until it was gone, or at least invisible again. He was breathing too fast, but it was because he was as pissed off as Dad had been when they first glimpsed the newt. Orne had promised to leave Sean alone, but instead he’d been spying, and now he was rubbing the spy in Sean’s face.

He ducked inside, pulled down the screen, slumped onto the arm of Gus’s favorite chair. His hand brushed his backpack, ready to go in the morning. In it was his wallet, and in his wallet was a much-folded printout, Orne’s last e-mail. Sean didn’t need to get it out. The text was stuck as deep in his head as the first poem he’d memorized for school. Sean, I can’t apologize enough for what’s happened. Got that right. I meant you and yours no harm. Bullshit. In time we’ll meet face-to-face, and you’ll know me better. That was so not happening, and time Orne knew it.

He carried his pack to the back porch. Night was all he could see beyond the screens, but the newt had to be out there. He fished Orne’s message from his wallet, unfolded it, and pressed it to a screen, so the newt could take a good look. Then he tore the thing in two, four, eight, easy enough along the worn creases. Cel kept candles on the porch table, protected from wind inside jars. He thumbnail-struck a match, lit the largest candle, and fed its flame the scraps of e-mail. Brief stink of paper mixed with vanilla, then there was just the vanilla, and Orne was officially gone. Maybe Sean was crazy to give orders to the night, but he knew for sure now that it had ears, or close enough. “Tell your boss what I did,” he said.

And maybe burnt paper and vanilla were better sedatives than milk, because when he flopped again on the couch, his eyelids finally slid closed and stayed that way.

 

2

Next morning, his near-sleepless butt dragging, Sean handed Eddy the Civic keys and reclined in the shotgun seat, armed with a quadruple-shot latte. By the time they hit Route 128, the caffeine had revived him enough to tell her about the aether-newt. “You think Orne showed it to you on purpose?” she said.

“Hell yeah, to prove he’s still stalking me.”

Without taking her eyes off the road, Eddy shrugged.

“Plus it kept flipping me the tail,” Sean added.

“Maybe that’s how it talks. One flick ‘no,’ two flicks ‘yes.’ ”

“Maybe, but how am I supposed to know the code?”

“Experiment. Ask, ‘Are you an aether-newt?’ and see if it flicks once or twice.” She spared him a microsecond’s glance. “I’m not sure you should’ve told Orne off.”

“He deserved it. How’d you like an aether-newt hanging around all the time?”

“I wouldn’t get naked anywhere without wards, that’s all.”

Sean thanked her for putting that idea into his head, a few months too late. “Anyhow, so what if I told Orne to fuck off? He’s been a dick for more than three hundred years. He must’ve heard it before now.”

“Probably.” Eddy pulled around a refrigerator truck emblazoned with the neon yellow message Shop Sal’s Dock-fresh Seafood. They had to be getting close to Gloucester. “But how many people have lived to brag about it?”

“I wasn’t bragging. I was just telling you what I did.”

Eddy shut up and concentrated on passing other trucks. It looked like time for a subject change. “I still can’t believe Dad’s letting me do this. And your mom and dad, letting you.”

“Really.”

“And Greg. Wasn’t he sorry you’d be gone all summer?”

“You know how many times I dated Greg?”

“No.”

“Twice.”

“Well, Joaquin, then.”

“Way old news. I haven’t even texted him since prom. And what’s with the sudden interest in my love life?”

“It’s not sudden.”

“It’s not?”

Conversationwise, he should have stuck with the aether-newt. “I mean, I couldn’t help noticing you went out a lot more this year. I was thinking you might go normal on me.”

“What’s that even mean? Wait—there’s our exit.”

While Eddy negotiated the ramp to the Gloucester bypass, then the sub-exit to the coastal highway, Sean tried to figure out for himself what he was getting at. His bad, running off at the mouth when he should have been snoring. “You know, normal. Like, not interested in geek stuff and magic.”

Eddy frowned at the innocent car in front of them, which meant she was really frowning at Sean. To give her space, he leaned out his window and caught the first salt breeze of their trip. Weird how much today’s drive was like their first to Arkham, down to the cloud-free sky and blue-green ocean lapping the seawall to their right. What if they really could go back a year, go back and change one thing? They could skip going to Horrocke’s Bookstore, where Orne’s advertisement for an apprentice had ambushed Sean. Maybe that would have discouraged Orne. Maybe he would have tried to lure someone else into magic—

“Sean.”

A fleet of cormorants paddled and dived among the mild waves. That meant there was a run of fish along the shore.

“Sean.”

He let the shoulder harness pull him back into his seat.

“I’m a born geek,” Eddy said. “That’s not going to change even if I do go all twu lub over someone.”

“Yeah, I guess you can’t change your genes.”

“Plus, how could I not be interested in magic? Like, I’m going to see something like the Servitor and go, ‘Oh, that was weird, now let’s forget about it’?”

Sean supposed Eddy saved her major angsting for Helen, like he saved his for Marvell, but he knew the Servitor had shaken her to the ground. Scary to think that the coolest person he knew was in the same boat as him. “No. You can’t forget. Unless someone hits you over the head.”

“Amnesia plots suck. Besides, we shouldn’t forget. I mean, a Servitor, a Geldman’s Pharmacy, you being a magician. Everything’s different. The whole universe, how it runs.”

What she was talking about, Marvell called a “paradigm shift”: a radical mental makeover that could inspire people to jump off bridges or drive cars into seawalls. Eddy would never crash a car, though. She’d be afraid of surviving and getting a ticket.

And sure enough, as the cliffs between Gloucester and Kingsport forced the road into climbing curves, she didn’t let the Civic swerve an inch from its lane. “Some people would go into denial about magic, though,” Sean said.

She snorted. “That’s hard where ‘magic’ equals a monster almost eating you.”

“Well, kind of.”

“And if you were in denial about magic, I guess you wouldn’t be going to Arkham to study it.”

“And you wouldn’t be going to work in the Archives. Whatever you tell your mom and dad about deciding whether to major in Library Science.”

“I don’t tell them that.”

“But you said—”

“That was my story before Helen came last week. We decided I better tell them the truth.”

“You told them about the Servitor?”

Eddy’s hands had slipped from the three and nine o’clock positions on the steering wheel. She quickly corrected the Driver’s Ed infraction. “We told them everything. Professor Marvell even joined in over Skype. Next day they went to Arkham to meet Dr. Benetutti.”

“She did magic for them? They must have freaked.”

“Not as much as I thought they would. And Mom’s all into the link between magic and math, which is one of Dr. Benetutti’s things.”

“And they’re still letting you go.”

Eddy nodded at the cresting road. “They know I’ve got to learn to deal with this.”

“Man, Eddy, you did deal with it. Better than me.”

“You got rid of the Servitor. You didn’t go over to Nyarlathotep.”

“Barely.”

“And you’re not too scared to study with the Order.”

“I’d be more scared not to.”

“Me, too, exactly,” Eddy said. “So shut up about me going normal on you.”

“Mouth officially shut. You’re deeply abnormal.”

Eddy pulled a huge fake smile, as if she were accepting a thirdrunner-up trophy. She accelerated over the crest, and summer dropped into place below them: antique Kingsport climbing the leafy westward hills, sailboats plying the harbor and ducking under the long bridge that spanned its mouth. Across the bridge, the coastal highway leaped up the cliffs between Kingsport and Arkham. Perched on the tallest was the cottage Lovecraft had called the Strange High House; below it, on Orange Point, was the Witches’ Burial Ground and a parking lot that glinted with excursion buses.

Beyond the lot was an overgrown path that led to Patience Orne’s grave. Last year he and Eddy had laughed about how crazy people used to be, thinking Patience was such a badass witch that she had to be buried apart from the others. They didn’t know anything yet about her husband, Redemption, but maybe his aethernewt had already been hovering around them, listening to their snark.

Sean hoped not, but maybe they’d better not stop at the Witches’ Burial Ground to use the restrooms, just go straight on to the Arkwright House, where, Helen claimed, the wards could bar a lot more than peeping newts.

*     *     *

The Arkwright House was on the corner of West and College Streets, facing the Miskatonic University Green. It stood on a walled terrace six feet above the sidewalk, a mansion of reddish brown stone three floors and an attic high. Eddy’s Arkham guidebook said it exemplified the Italianate style, what with its hipped roof and square cupola, its bracketed eaves and pedimented windows. Sean wasn’t sure which thingies were brackets and which pediments, but anyone could see the place was crazy historical, even if they missed the plaque on the gate that read:

THE ENDECOTT C. ARKWRIGHT HOUSE
ARCHITECT: THOMAS TEFFT
COMPLETED 1854

At over 150 years old, in a town famous for hauntings, the place had to have collected a ghost or two. Sean hadn’t noticed any when he had helped Dad take out the library windows last year, but that had been in broad daylight. Come nightfall, old Endecott might show up. Maybe Mrs. Endecott, dragging a gauzy train and a ghost-pug. Or did magical wards repel ghosts, too? If so, the Arkwright House would be spirit-free; an invisible barrier started a foot from the terrace walls, and an experimental probing had given Sean a hair-raising tingle on the verge of painful.

Inside the house, an unseen hand twitched lace curtains from a window. No ghost: Helen Arkwright emerged, and with her shorts and flip-flops, she was about as far as you could get from a Victorian specter. She ran down the steps and through the gate to join them. “You guys made good time!”

“Pretty amazing, with Eddy driving,” Sean said

Eddy was too busy hugging Helen to protest, but afterwards she punished him: “I had to drive. Sean was hungover.”

“Bull!”

Helen hugged Sean. If she was sniffing for alcohol, he couldn’t tell. “I vote bull, too,” she said.

Eddy clarified: “I meant from no sleep because he was talking to aether-newts all night.”

Would it have killed Eddy not to mention the sighting out on the sidewalk, where any lurking invisible familiar might hear? Helen must have read Sean’s mind, because she gestured them inside the gate and thus through the ward-barrier before saying, “Aether-newts?”

“Not plural,” Sean said. “Just the one we think is Orne’s. It let me see it last night.”

“Away from your house?”

“It was outside, I was in.”

“Did it communicate anything?”

“Flicked its tail, whatever that means. Then I kind of yelled at it, and it went invisible again.”

Eddy raised her eyebrows.

Helen asked no more. “We’ll talk about it later. Let’s have lunch first.”

Because the Arkwright House had been built way before it was fashionable for rich people to cook, the kitchen was in the basement. Luckily the basement was mostly above ground level, so Helen had been able to install a whole wall of windows to brighten up the long room. They ate chicken salad at a breakfast bar overlooking the back garden, which for now grew only Dumpsters and stacks of plywood—the carriage house was being remodeled to provide offices for the Order.

Lunch done, Helen led them through the first floor. Last summer it had featured stepladders and plaster dust and the frayed guts of knob-and-tube wiring. Now the marble floors, walnut woodwork, and plaster moldings looked like new. Eddy was impressed by the grandeur of the parlors and dining room, but when they walked into the library that took up the rear third of the floor, she went into near shock. At the east end were tall windows and a conference table with chairs as ornate as thrones. At the west end was a fireplace fronted by a leather couch and armchairs. Directly opposite the doors was a dais like an oversized pulpit or the upper deck of a ship. Computer stations ringed it, but on top was a massive antique desk, and above the desk were the stained glass windows Dad had restored: The Founding of Arkham.

Every other inch of wall space, from floor to fifteen-foot ceilings, featured bookcases, and every inch of every shelf was crammed with books.

Eddy came out of her bug-eyed catatonia and walked around the room, trailing her fingers across the book spines. “God, Helen. This is in your house.”

Someone who didn’t know Eddy might have mistaken her awe for horror, as if she’d opened a closet, and it had spilled out a horde of rats. Helen knew her well enough to say, “It’s great, isn’t it? None of my doing, except for the new workstations. Endecott Arkwright was the first collector. That’s his desk on the dais. My grandfather Henry and uncle John took over on the scholarly side. Theo Marvell says they built the biggest private collection of arcane literature in the country. The oldest and rarest books are in the Archives now, but still impressive.”

While she joined Eddy among the tomes, Sean climbed the dais to try out Endecott’s desk. The top was an acre of mahogany, with an inlaid monogram—ECA—wreathed in laurel leaves. It was more showy than useful, since once he’d sunk into the cushy desk chair, he’d have to stand to reach anything. He spun the chair toward the stained glass triptych and tilted back to look at it. Dad’s “after” photos hadn’t done The Founding of Arkham justice, but photos never did. You needed to see a window on-site, struck to life by the sunlight passing through it. He kept tilting until the chair back rested on the edge of the desk. The center window, twice as wide as the side ones, showed the future Arkham Harbor, with two Mayflowery ships on the water and Puritans on the foreground hill: a governor or mayor (he had fancier clothes than the rest), a minister on his knees praying, and soldiers with breastplates and helmets and muskets. The soldiers were the only ones who noticed the Indians approaching from the right window. No problem, they came in peace. The foremost Indian had his hand up, fingers practically in the Vulcan V-salute, and the other Indians toted a deer carcass and strings of fish.

Nobody in the center or right windows looked toward the dense forest in the left one. Sean didn’t either until disgust at his cowardice made him shift his gaze. The figure under the eaves of the wood had onyx skin and all-amber eyes. Add its Pharaoh getup, and it was totally out of place in a seventeenth-century scene on the planet Earth. And yet could Nyarlathotep ever really be out of place? Master of Magic, Soul and Messenger of the Outer Gods, wearer of a million skins—maybe a million skins simultaneously! He could be anywhere, at any time, doing business for his cosmic bosses and looking for dumb magicians to enslave. Or dumb potential magicians, like Sean.

Dad had restored the Dark Pharaoh down to the enigmatic faintness of his smile, but after all, this Nyarlathotep was harmless glass, not a true avatar of the god. Sean could look away, no problem, and he did, lifting his eyes to the crow-familiar Nyarlathotep tossed skyward. Pre-Dad, it had been a winged black blob. Now Sean could see every feather, every claw, the whiskers around its beak, the inky buttons of its eyes; though a minor detail, the crow dominated the Founding by sucking in sun until the excess brilliance seeped out its edges like one of the subliminal haloes in Mom’s paintings.

Mom’s paintings? And did it—?

To get a closer look, Sean got up and stood below the left window. The wall beneath was still under his palm. So was its wooden frame and the bit of glass he could reach, just the wildflowerstudded turf of the foreground. To touch the crow and check for a Mom-like hum to match that halo, he’d need a ladder.

In addition to the ladders that slid along bookshelves on steel rails, the library had stepladders that looked tall enough to reach the crow. But when Sean turned back to the windows, the crow had already lost its halo. It must have been the effect of a fleeting angle of sunlight, nothing magical after all, optical illusion, wishful thinking—

“Sean?” Helen said. She and Eddy stood at the library doors. “We’re going upstairs.”

“Coming.” After a last glance at the crow (no sneaky return of the halo), he jumped the three steps off the dais. It was time for real concerns, like whether Helen would stick him in a bedroom so museum-like, he’d be afraid to touch anything.

Excerpted from Fathomless © Anne M. Pillsworth, 2015

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