Kerry and her friends are targeted by soulless killers called wraiths who wish to steal back their long-lost bible, the Book of Truth.
In the restaurant of the Petit Palais art gallery in Paris, Sandrine Marquais waited for her meeting with the wraith. She had a club sandwich on a plate in front of her, but wasn't eating. Getting hold of a sandwich in the first place involved queuing behind a cluster of English tourists all middle-aged and clutching phrasebooks, all ordering exactly the same thing in inelegant French.
The place was packed. She almost didn't see Elodie come in, but then she emerged from behind the queue, taking off her too-big coat but keeping on her leather driving gloves.
Sandrine stood to meet her. Their eyes locked. The wraith's gaze was steady and controlled, and Sandrine was quietly thrilled. This was her, all right.
"Good to meet you at last," she began, taking a folder from her bag. "I won't shake your hand, if it's all the same to you."
"It's all the same to me."
Sandrine sat down and drew a notepad and pen from her folder. Before she could open her mouth, the wraith spoke. "I understand you're interested in joining forces in our search for knowledge about wraithkind," said Elodie, "but in your emails, you never gave much indication of how much you already know."
"I told you, I've been doing research for about five years," Sandrine answered. "Nothing on the internet, of course, but the books I found were pretty thorough."
Elodie raised an eyebrow. "Tell me what you know."
"Let's see. I know that wraiths are creatures in human form, totally emotionless and soulless, but not beyond reason or want. I know that wraiths have the power to drain the life force from a human with a single touch, and that some wraiths," Sandrine remarked pointedly, "are less motivated to do so than others."
The speech didn't seem to impress Elodie, but she nodded. "The problem is that every skin-to-skin contact brings about another death, which is most inconvenient."
Sandrine wrote this down. "Of course. You don't control it, do you? I can tell you don't care one way or another who you kill. But the risk of being caught... that must be an issue. Which brings me onto the next thing wraiths are the enemies of the Consortium of Silencers. It was difficult to find out about them, too, but as far as I can tell they're a group of trained assassins that have put themselves in charge of trying to wipe out all wraiths. And I assume," Sandrine said, leaning forward, "that they have existed as long as wraiths have."
"And do you know how long wraiths have existed?"
"No. Tell me."
Elodie said nothing.
"You don't know either, do you?"
"All right, so tell me what you know,' Sandrine prompted, pulling the notepad and pen closer to her. "I'll ask questions, you answer. When were you born?"
"I was born in 1986," Elodie said, matter-of-factly, "although I don't remember that young part of my life at all. I saw the photographs my mother holding the baby, my first steps but it wasn't me. It was somebody who looked like me."
"What do you mean?"
"I didn't exist until the age of six."
"So from years nought to six, you don't remember anything? That's quite common. Memory doesn't really kick in until the age of seven."
Elodie shook her head. "No, you don't understand. At the age of six, I became strongly aware of myself. I'd been gifted with something that was close to an adult mind. When I looked at the people around me, I could see a glow in each of their chests, although I had no idea what it meant. All I knew was that I didn't have it. Something was missing; something was different about me."
Sandrine wrote it down.
"Most of my family was dead by the time I was sixteen," the wraith continued. "I didn't want them to hug me, you see I still had a faint scrap of emotion then. They didn't believe me when I told them about my powers. My mother tried to hold me and died. Just like that. My sisters and brothers followed. Finally only my father was left, but he had become a cold and distant man by the time I decided to go. He hated me."
Sandrine peered at Elodie, looking for the merest flicker of feeling, but couldn't find anything.
"So I left at sixteen and stole a car. For a while that's where I lived in my car. It gave me enough shelter, but even so I moved around a lot. I made a habit of killing off meddlesome police officers, if and when the urge took me. The trouble was that I was young and homeless - I couldn't afford to draw that much attention to myself."
"Well, yes," Sandrine nodded, "the way you kill, there are always fingerprints or something, right?"
"One of these nights I found another homeless girl, Giselle, standing over the body of an officer. We talked and found that we were exactly the same whatever we were. After that, we shared the car. Giselle was bilingual and taught me to speak and write fluently in English. Of course now I'm multilingual, but even my knowledge of English was enough to get me a good job translating articles online."
"What languages can you speak?"
"French, English, German, Italian and Welsh. I hope to learn Mandarin next," the wraith added.
Sandrine suppressed the bubbling joy within her. This was better than she had hoped. The books had all given some indication as to the sharpness of a wraith's mind, but she'd read nothing like this. Perhaps Elodie was especially bright? "So what happened next?" she said.
"Giselle was killed by a Silencer - before I knew what was happening, before I even knew what a Silencer was. One wave of that weapon of his and she'd turned to dust. I was lucky to get away. I began to realise the reality of my situation we wraiths were being hunted. It was important to assume a more human guise, not to kill, not to arouse too much suspicion. I worked at a tourist trap for a few years, where my language skills were appreciated, and now I'm a professional interpreter and translator. What is it you do again?"
Sandrine picked at the corner of the forgotten sandwich. "I'm unemployed at the moment," she said curtly. "Moving on. Do you know why most wraiths have such an overwhelming desire to kill human beings, 'when the urge takes them'?"
"I'm afraid I can only speculate," Elodie said. "Besides Giselle, I've never even met another wraith. I wouldn't know where to look."
"That's the Silencers' doing. Do you feel any anger towards them for killing off your species?"
"Resentment, perhaps," Elodie sighed heavily a little too heavily, "but not anger."
The heavy sigh, Sandrine guessed, was the wraith trying to approximate an emotional response. Fitting in with normal people was probably wise when there were Silencers on the prowl. Fascinating. She took a few more notes before setting the notepad aside. Now was the time to reveal to Elodie why they were both here.
"You've already admitted you don't know much about your ancestry," she began. "It's been difficult for me to find information too. But a few years ago a man at this art gallery helped me. He was a collector, and when I asked if he had any artwork to do with wraiths, he showed me copies of some 15th century paintings 'of great historical importance'.
"We talked about wraithkind for a while before he told me that he'd been trying to track down the oldest known text, known as the Book of Truth. It's sort of legendary and nobody's really sure it even exists, but it's supposed to explain everything about your species its origin, the source of its powers, everything. It would answer all our questions."
Elodie raised both eyebrows, giving an air of curiosity to an otherwise dispassionate face.
"He didn't mention it again, but it sparked my interest. Elodie, I propose that we try to find that Book for ourselves. Maybe it contains information on how to make the most of your powers, or unlock powers still lying dormant in that brain of yours. It could even tell us how to get rid of the Silencers once and for all."
"Good." Sandrine packed her things away with the briskness of someone whose time was precious. "Now, the collector has done most of his searching in France, where the Book was last heard of fifty years ago, although I'm sure that the Book's owner at the time moved to Wales. That's where we'll be going."
"That's fine," Elodie shrugged. "I've got no ties here at the moment. I can leave whenever you're ready."
How professional, Sandrine thought.
"Now, if we're going to do this," she said, "there are going to be a few rules. Very simple one, don't try to dress smarter than me from now on. If we have to kill anybody along the way, you'll have to chase, and casual clothing would be best. Two, you don't tell anyone what our plans are unless I say so, and if anyone addresses you in Welsh or English, you must translate to me. Three..." Sandrine glanced over Elodie, quickly noting where her skin was bare. "No touching me. Keep the gloves on. Do we have a deal?"
The wraith stood, and gave a hard nod of the head which set her hair swinging. "We do." She held out a hand.
Sandrine hesitated. Then she took the gloved hand and shook it firmly. Now they were a team, and together there was nothing they couldn't do.