An excerpt from John C. Wright’s latest, Moth & Cobweb Book 5.
Wilcolac spoke in a soft voice, but made each word heavy with emphasis. “We have gathered certain scattered fragments of lore from the one place whence elfin lords never sought to remove it. In the Night World, which is their own, they can find and quell all who might know or guess their secret weakness. We of the Twilight World all vow when we come of age unbreakable oaths, intertwined with runes and curses, never to rebel. But among men, aha! In the Daylit World, the King of Shadows would never suspect the humans retain in rituals and rhymes, in old toasts or old place names, the clues of hidden things the men themselves no longer know!”
Gilberec moved restlessly. Matthias yet again raised his hand, but now Wilcolac spoke. “Your friend, my dear young man of the cloth, seems to be bursting to say something you don’t want him to say. Let us hear it.”
Wilcolac said, “There are those among the Cobwebs who are dissatisfied with the sneers and jeers of elfin lords and the sly looks of their ladies. The elfin blood is pure, their lives are long, and their magic is by nature what we half-breeds can only learn by art or by the crafting of bad bargains with dreadful entities. Their overthrow would please us. Do you support their reign?”
Matthias said wearily, “No one is going to give you a straight answer, Gil, not anyone who knows you are a living lie detector. You are wasting time.”
Gilberec said to him, “I would rather know for sure that he will not be straight with us than to suppose he won’t, without giving him a chance.”
Wilcolac raised both eyebrows. “Giving me a chance…? Your cross-examination is allegedly for my benefit…? I am not willing to say who my principals are. They are not sure whom to trust. That is why they come through me: the Cobbler’s Club is a bit like Switzerland. I have to be careful. If I even appeared to take sides, I would be ruined.”
Gilberec said, “There could be a simpler reason why you know how to break an elfish spell than all this talk of scattered books and Eskimo wizards.”
“And what might that reason be?” asked Wilcolac, assuming an innocent stare.
“You are an Anarchist. Do you deny it?”
Wilcolac took a moment to trim his cigar with a silver knife. He lit it with a spark of flame that seemed to come from the thumb of his white kid-leather glove. “A strange accusation. Here in my club, from time to time, I deal with parties on the wrong side of the law. I hear rumors of a Supreme Council of Anarchists. The oath we all swore to the elfs for some reason does not bind them. They use their supernatural powers to ruin all the institutions the elfs have erected among men as reins and chains, as hoods and horseblinkers. The Anarchists are said to have eyes everywhere, fingers in every pie, to control railways, shipyards, banks, communication nodes, and computer networks. They are said to be behind all the dark deeds that prevent the elfs from enjoying in peace their utter victory over men. But I hear rumors saying the opposite, that the Anarchists are mere agitators or died in the Great War. Supposing they were real: why would I serve them? Anarchy is bad for business.”
“That is not a denial,” Gilberec said to Wilcolac. To Matthias he said, “Come on. Let’s go. This is pointless.”
Yumiko had been listening very intently, glad that no one was looking at her.
But just then she shivered and glanced down. The collie dog had finished his caviar snack and laid himself down at the foot of Gilberec’s chair, placing his furry head on the carpet between his paws so that his bright eyes were staring straight at her.
When Gil stood up, the dog growled and coughed and made a slight sniffing noise. Gilberec turned his head, saw her in her scanty, snug costume, but this time, instead of averting his eyes, he looked at her face. A thoughtful frown creased his brow.
Wilcolac said wryly to Matthias, “At this point in the good-cop, bad-cop routine, you, as the boy good-cop, are supposed to restrain your hotheaded friend to sit again, and this will make me eager to show my cards.”
Matthias smiled and scooped up some caviar on a cracker. “I wish we were that organized. The Swan Knight is no hothead. He is slow to anger, but once he is angry, he is slow to forgive. He feels about truth the way I feel about forgiveness. Guilt and fear and hate tie men to their sins with heavy chains and long so that when they die, their tormented spirits remain on earth, haunting the scenes of their crimes. Without forgiveness, how can they be set free to go onward to their reward? So I have no qualms about entering the house of a Necromancer. You have more need of my services than any!”
Wilcolac said sharply, “What does that mean?”
“I saw a Jack-o’-Lantern in an upper window when I entered this house and smelled the spoor of many hounds. You flay the flesh of men for the benefit of wolves and expose the flesh of women for the benefit of men. Do you think I do not know who you are? What you do here?”
Wilcolac squinted at the young novice, and a look of true hatred appeared, if only for a moment, in his eye. “I think an innocent soul like yours cannot imagine the vices I sell, not even in your most sordid nightmares, little boy.”
Matthias smiled, but his eyes were sad. “You forget. Saint Jean Baptiste is only two streets away. Your patrons come to our confessional booth. My master has heard confessed every detail of all the sins you encourage. But they have been washed away, removed entirely from the dreadful scroll no man can read. I am familiar with your works and your ways, and familiar with how to undo them. You are bold indeed to invite me into your house. Unlike my knightly friend, my weapons are spiritual and cannot be bound in their scabbards. No do my weapons know any truce, nor rest.”
Wilcolac’s fingers tightened on his walking stick, but he said nothing.