I found no mention of the Valgran codex in my little library, but I hadn’t really expected to. I was pretty certain I’d have remembered reading about a book written on poisonous snakeskin. I slept in the chair in the library again though, the door bolted and the tiny window locked and becurtained, and still I dreamt of the icy city three days north of Ilvo. This time I spent the night running through the corridors, every so often coming to the foot of a spiral staircase that I thought I recognized, but every time it had only another level of the city at the top; the exit to the surface eluded me constantly.
When I woke up, I had an unshakeable certainty that the staircase out of the city could only be found by someone with all their senses intact.
I made a couple of phone calls when it was nine o’clock. Agatha picked up on the second ring and put the phone down when I mentioned the name of the book. D’Amistad listened carefully and told me that no such book existed, with such conviction in his voice that I knew he was lying. Several more book-dealers turned me down or turned me away; it was only when I called up Stampel that I got an answer.
“Joe, you shouldn’t ask. That’s on the list.” I knew the list he meant, it was headed by Al Azif and was quietly circulated amongst antiquarian book dealers as being a list of books they wouldn’t deal in. Which of course meant that there was a list for a few unscrupulous dealers to learn what books would fetch the highest prices. “There are probably no copies in this country, and I don’t want to know how you know so much about it already. I’ve heard rumours that there’s one for sale in Europe, but you’d be up against the big boys there. It was printed in Finland, there’s a city in the north called Ilvo...” I dropped the phone at that point, and when I’d found it on the floor and picked it back up again he’d finished talking. I thanked him and hung up. Was this a coincidence too far?
There was another path open to me of course, but it was less certain. With a little bit of reluctance I took Crowley out of the glass-fronted bookcase, placed my copied pages to one side, and set out a thick sheaf of paper and a couple of pencils. Crowley gets very hysterical in places, and from time to time he’s clearly just making things up and laughing at the gullible reader, but here and there he listed some serious things, and his statement of the principles of binding spells is pretty top notch. Of course, if he’d gone into any real detail then his book would have made the list as well, and probably been burned or banned, so you had to do a lot of thinking for yourself, a lot of inferring, and at the end of it all, a lot of hoping.
I stared at the first paragraph and tried to think myself into the mind of a man who could come up with tattoo designs like this, to be painted onto a guitar intended to be played for an entirely unearthly audience.
Guldtronen’s nose just seemed to fall off. One minute it was on his face, the next it wasn’t.
I shook myself, not sure how I’d drifted off, and forced myself back to the page. I had the first four lines of the first design; I still had eight to go.
I’d barely touched him, it couldn’t have been my fault. I’d been asleep, and I’d woken up because the Ilmatu had leaned over me and her mouth had closed around my nose. Then I was awake, and I’d reached out to Guldtronen and his nose had fallen off.
I shook myself again. Eight lines done. Something was nagging at the back of my mind, at least when I wasn’t reliving Guldtronen’s disfigurement. I trapped my foot under the chair leg, hoping that the pain would keep me awake, and it seemed to work. I wrote the last lines, and there on the page in front of me was the first unbinding spell for the tattoo designs on the guitar. Of course, I had no idea what order the tattoos had been applied in, and unbinding one at random could be extremely dangerous, but this seemed like the only way to disable the guitar and get DeeDee away from Michael. Her mother wasn’t going to help me.
I carried on, deciding that having two unbindings was better than one, just in case it failed.
I woke up and reached out, and my hand brushed through something that shouldn’t be there. Immediately afterwards it touched Guldtronen’s shoulder, and then his nose fell off. It bounced on his chest and rolled off the bed, onto the floor.
I put the chair leg back on my foot, but I’d realised what was bothering me now as well. The unbinding spell for the Ilmatu wasn’t a full unbinding. It had let it loose from wherever it had been imprisoned, but it was still connected to me.