Well, now here’s where that sends a mixed message. ‘Handpicking’ implies there were many to choose from. There was just me. So yes, I think you would’ve picked just any guy.
‘Who the fuck are you?’Winter and I sprang backwards in shock. Then, without thinking, I let out a war cry and ran headfirst towards Blackbeard. My head smacked into his not-inconsiderable belly and he let out a loud oomph of surprise. He reached down, grabbed a hank of my hair and dragged me upwards. It felt like my scalp was being ripped out. I shrieked in pain and writhed, trying to kick my way to freedom. My feet connected with solid flesh several times but Blackbeard wasn’t letting go of my hair for anything.
While I swung ineffectually round like a doll being held by a giant, Winter leapt towards the pair of us with his fists raised. Blackbeard let out a guttural, inarticulate yell of rage, confusion and fear. The sound reverberated round my skull while I stared dumbly at his face. Arse. Double arse. Triple arse. Arsing hell with an arsing cherry on top for effort. This was very bad.Unfortunately, before I got the chance to say or do anything, he flung me to the side so he was free to face Winter’s onslaught. I both felt and heard my head crack against the concrete wall. Pain shot through my body, rippling through me in waves that made it difficult to think coherently. I was dimly aware of Winter letting out a howl of rage of his own. I opened my mouth to speak but all that came out was a strange grunt. Blinking several times, I tried to focus but it was no good. My vision was blurred and two Winters and two bearded men were hovering and wobbling in front of me.Winter threw the first punch, slamming into Blackbeard’s face. His jowls juddered and blood spurted out from his nose, splattering onto the floor in front of me.
‘Wait,’ I tried to croak. ‘Stop.’Neither of them heard me – and even if they had, I doubt they would have paid any attention. I tried to stagger to my feet but I didn’t even make it to a crouching position before I collapsed again. ‘Rafe,’ I said.
Both versions of him ducked away from two swinging fists. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to clear my vision. It was making me incredibly nauseous but that was nothing compared to how I’d feel if either of these two got seriously hurt.
‘It’s not him.’‘I think that would be very wise,’ I said quietly. ‘And as for my theory…’
He turned and faced me. ‘If your theory proves to be true and Blackbeard is immune to magic, the situation is incredibly grave. I shall set the librarians to research the matter immediately. If there are amulets to negate the effects of spells or the supernatural, or any precedents for this kind of situation, we shall know about them soon.’Shifting slightly, I eyed him. I felt guilty for asking about myself considering everything else that was going on but I had to know. ‘Speaking of scholarly research,’ I said. ‘Has Philip Maidmont uncovered anything about my, er, condition?’
‘Hmm?’ For a brief moment the Ipsissimus looked blank then his expression cleared. ‘Ah, yes. You’re perfectly safe. Your ability to converse with the dead is indeed a side-effect of the necromantic magic you absorbed from the boy but, as all the energy you displaced is now focused towards the spirits, there is no need to worry. Unless you actually try to raise the dead, you are no danger to either yourself or to others.’I breathed a sigh of relief. It felt like a massive weight had been taken off my shoulders. An involuntary chortle of glee escaped my lips and I raised my hands, my fingers sketching a rune. The nearby fireplace roared into life, the flames dancing and writhing in an unnatural manner.