A Most Magical Girl - Karen Foxlee Page 0,1

the bonnets of long-dead babies. The machine made Mr. Angel smile. Its bellows huffed and sighed.

Through the leather slit, sad things went in. Lost things went in. Left-behind things went in. Through the funnel near the ceiling, moonlight went in. The more he fed the machine, the faster the cogs and wheels moved, the faster its black heart spun. It was nearly ready.

He strode across the room and examined the dark-magic gauge. He wiped the condensation from its glass face and leaned his crooked body forward, his monocle pressed to his eye.

One-third full.

His breath quickened. It was working. It was filling. He could begin.

He took his Black Wand. The Black Wand. The only wand that could channel dark magic. The only wand that could raise the shadowlings. He held it to a small valve at the end of the machine. It was an ordinary brass tap, yet when he twisted it, an arc of energy connected to the Black Wand’s tip and jolted him backward toward the wall. The machine thrummed loudly. The house shook. He held the wand high and marveled at the power he could feel. What would the machine be capable of at full moon? Thirteen years’ worth of full moons. Thirteen years’ worth of sorrowful things. Pure dark magic.

His elderly butler appeared at the door.

“I heard a commotion, Mr. Angel,” he said. “I came to see…”

But he stopped because Mr. Angel was striding toward him, a terrible smile stretched on his bone-white face.

“Jeremiah,” whispered Mr. Angel. “Perfect.”

He raised the Black Wand and aimed it at the butler, whose eyes widened as a single blast of mauve light shot toward him.

Mr. Angel stepped over the pile of dust that had been Jeremiah the butler. He went down the stairs, ignoring the frantic scurrying of servants, the hurried closing of doors. The wand was still heavy with dark magic, but he did not want more piles of dust. He went down—down past the parlor, down past the kitchen, down into the cellars.

He stood in the blackness and sensed them. He knew from his books it was a place they would exist. He could smell them in amongst the turnips and apples, the bottles of cider and sherry. They smelled of emptiness. He would raise one. He would raise one from its sleep with the Black Wand and put the dark magic in it.

He pointed the wand at the corner where barrels were stacked. He uttered his raising-up words—Umbra, antumbra—quietly, coaxingly, and the wand quivered in his hand. The wood bowed and twitched as he spoke; like a fishing pole, it shivered and snagged on something invisible.

“Come now,” whispered Mr. Angel, straining to hold the wand. “Come now.”

In the darkness he saw the arc of deep purple light disappearing behind the barrels and a grayness begin to rise. The thing emerged, its long shadowy body slipping silently from the gloom. It stretched out its thin gossamer arms toward him. Its long claws clicked. It breathed its first shuddering breath.

“Welcome, shadowling,” whispered Mr. Angel.

“A young lady should find, in all manner of circumstances and predicaments, a way to be both cheerful and content.”

—Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book (1855)

Annabel Grey arrived late in the afternoon in her best dress and her new red town cloak. She stepped down from the carriage and surveyed the street with her chin held high. She smiled. She smiled the way she had been taught to smile when things were terrible or even just a little bad. She smiled as though she’d just seen something lovely. A beautiful painting, perhaps, or a butterfly.

It was exactly the sort of street she had imagined, although she had never once been to this side of London. It was a mean street, the buildings leaning, holding each other up like a mouthful of rotten teeth. It was a stinking, wet place. There were cattle being herded across intersections, and stone buildings and churches and factories streaming black smoke, all crammed side by side. It was a damp and dark street, choked with wagons and carriages and filled with foul weather. A temperamental wind stamped up and down the road, slamming doors and stealing umbrellas and tugging at her bonnet ribbon.

She concentrated very hard on not letting her smile falter.

The costermongers were cowering under eaves, calling out, “Hot cooked eels” and “Pickled whelks,” above the sound of the wind. The shop signs read USURER and MILLINER and HABERDASHER. SHIP BROKER and GRAIN BROKER and SILVER BROKER. FALCONER and FEATHER PURVEYOR and