On a late spring day in Highgate, north of London, the warm air was heavy with the promise of rain. William Swift sat in a room on the third floor of Ludlow House and gazed with determined hatred at his father, who peered back at him with a demon’s eyes and a madman’s smile.
Evening was still hours away, but in that chamber darkness had already fallen. It was no ordinary darkness, no mundane arrival of night. It was a living, churning shadow that had swallowed the room and blotted out every bit of natural daylight, so that the windows were black as pitch and a fog of darkness pulsed and breathed, filling the space between the two living beings who sat facing each other on hard wooden chairs.
The only light came from thin white candles that had been placed every six inches in a rough circle around the center of the room, a circle that included both William and his father, Henry, within its boundaries. The candles had been made by virgin hands and cooled in holy water, and an unnatural blue tint engulfed each wick. The color was beautiful and calming and strong. The shifting shadows that swirled about could not touch that uncanny blue light.
The room had once been a nursery. Both William and his younger sister, Tamara, had slept here in their infancy. He was determined that once the demon was gone, and his father was restored, no one would ever use the nursery again. With his own hands he would board it up, nail it shut, and remove the knob. They were, each member of the Swift family, forever stained by their contact with the evil and the damned, and their home was equally tainted.
This infestation in particular, though, could not be allowed to remain. At the same moment as he and Tamara had inherited the abilities and duties of the Protectors of Albion—novices though they were in a perilous and eternal war—their father had been possessed by this demon Oblis. As they studied and practiced and honed their knowledge and their skills, each new triumph convinced them that now they would have the fortitude needed to exorcise the creature from Henry Swift.
Yet each time they tried, they failed.
William had been growing more and more restless. The knowledge that his father was trapped within his own body, enslaved to the demon that was housed therein, haunted the young man, awake and asleep. His work as manager of the family bank, Swift’s of London, had suffered. Too often he wandered around, little more than a ghost himself, dark circles under his eyes. At times he nodded off, waking to find himself in the midst of a conversation, or having walked into a room without remembering why he’d gone there or what he’d been seeking.
But now the moment had come. He would not rest until the demon had been extracted from his father’s flesh.
The creature sat across from him, grinning in the shadows that danced with the blue light of those blessed candles. The eyes that opposed him were not those of Henry Swift, but of Oblis. The demon often attempted to manipulate the members of the household by speaking in Henry’s voice, exhibiting the gentle kindness of a father. And from time to time, William thought that perhaps it really was his father, wrestling the demon down or slipping through when Oblis was distracted.
But he could never be sure, could never know if he spoke to the man or the beast.
All of that was going to end.
The darkness was cold. A rime of ice frosted the windows and the floors, the walls and the chairs. William and the demon stared at each other, both breathing evenly. Oblis’s expression was strangely curious.
In the center of the room, precisely midway between them, stood an elegant, handmade perfume bottle swirled with pink and red and blue glass and stoppered with a handmade glass butterfly.
“Well, now, this is lovely, isn’t it?” the demon said in Henry’s voice. “Just the two of us, and a pretty bauble.”
William glared at him. “We’re not alone.”
Oblis sat back in the chair, comfortable in spite of the chains that bound him to it. They were, after all, only physical bonds to prevent him from causing harm to Henry’s body, or attacking anyone who entered the room. Once the chains themselves had held many spells, binding magic. But he had managed to escape more than once, and William and Tamara had become very, very careful. The numerous spells that kept him prisoner were in the walls themselves; they would not allow him to leave the room while his demonic essence was within the flesh of Henry Swift. The young Protectors made no attempt to shackle his spirit alone—they wanted the demon to depart their father’s flesh, more than anything, and their spells would not prevent that—but Oblis was not quite through tormenting them yet.
“No, we’re not alone, are we?” the demon whispered, in his own voice now, a kind of serpentine rasp that seemed spoken just beside William’s ear. “Your father’s here with us, isn’t he? Though he’s a bit tongue-tied at the moment.” He chuckled at his own wit.
William remained impassive. He had learned not to rise to the demon’s bait.
Another voice flowed from the darkness. “This is a bad idea,” it said. “I wish to make certain that, later, you’ll remember that I warned you.”
The demon arched an eyebrow.
“When I said we weren’t alone,” William told him, “I wasn’t referring merely to my father.”
“Oh, I’m well aware of the presence of the ghost,” Oblis replied, not bothering to glance into the shadows from which the voice had come. “I simply take no notice. I don’t like to encourage this impression they have, that they are of some consequence.”
A low chiming sound filtered into the shadows of the room, and a figure began to manifest in the corner, beside a blackened window. The specter had one arm and was dressed in the garb of the Royal Navy, but the navy of years past, not the present day. Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson was one of many ghosts who functioned as allies for the Protectors of Albion, attempting to aid them in defending the mystical soul of England against sinister forces that would corrupt or destroy it.
“I’m also not sure what you hoped to gain from the phantom’s participation,” Oblis went on. “He cannot harm me. Not while I occupy the form of your dear, dear father.”
William opened his hands. “True enough. Oh, Horatio could hurt you a great deal, but he wouldn’t, as long as you possess my father. But we’ll soon have you out of there. And then you’ll find the fury of a ghost of far greater consequence than you’ve ever imagined. We’ve each a reason to make you suffer, but I suspect Bodicea’s vengeance upon you will last an eternity.”
The demon only scowled, but William saw a flicker of doubt in Oblis’s eyes that pleased him. The ritual ought to work, but if it went poorly and Oblis tried to escape, Horatio ought to be able to hold onto the vapor demon long enough to imprison him. He might even be able to destroy the demon once it had left its human host.
One way or another, they would cage him. And if they could cage him, they could destroy him.
But the ghost of that brave, if slightly pompous and effete, admiral had not been enlisted to take part in this ritual as a combatant. William had simply wanted someone there to watch over him, to warn him if he seemed to be falling under the demon’s influence, and to sound an alarm if the worst happened.
“William . . .” the ghost cautioned.
“I’ll remember, Horatio,” the young man replied.
“You don’t know if it will work.”
William stared at his father, his gaze locked again upon the eyes of the demon within. “No, I don’t. But I’ve run out of patience.”
Oblis smirked with Henry’s lips. “This should be interesting, then.”
Though there was a tremor in his heart, William kept his hands steady as he raised them, revealing the straight razor clasped in his right hand. He flicked it open with a flourish, the gleaming steel sliding out of the ivory handle.
Before he could begin to doubt, he drew the blade across his left wrist, hissing through his teeth with the sting. A line of blood welled up instantly and began to trickle across his palm. Several drops fell to the floor.
And then the blood began to pulse from the cut, the flow increasing.
When he spoke, the words were in halting German, memorized from a handwritten journal produced by a demonologist whose work William had discovered in the course of his research.
“With the blood of his blood, I summon you,” he said. “With the blood of his blood, I draw you out.”
Several drops that had begun to fall were abruptly arrested in mid-air, quivering there a moment. Then they began to flow across the room, sliding through the air slowly, like mercury rising. Before long, the string of blood stretched toward the center of the room, until it reached a point just above the perfume bottle—the receptacle—he had placed there.
For the first time, the demon looked concerned. Henry’s brow furrowed deeply.
“What do you think you’ve discovered, boy?”
William ignored him, massaging his left arm, running his hand down from the elbow to the wrist so that the blood flowed from the slit. More and more ran out and into the air, and the stream of blood that led from him to the center of the room thickened.
From that point above the perfume bottle, the blood began to streak outward in multiple strings, tracing the air in straight lines that led toward the white candles that circled them.
Excerpted from Witchery by Amber Benson & Christopher Golden. Copyright © 2006 by Christopher Golden. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.