Chapter no 12

Hell Bent

Mercy had peppered Alex with questions for the rest of the hour, all of them about magic and Lethe. It felt like an oral exam, but Alex figured Mercy was owed, and as she did her best to explain, she had to sit with the unpleasant truth that Mercy would have been a better candidate for Lethe. She was brilliant, she spoke fluent French, and she wasn’t bad on Latin either. But she hadn’t committed homicide, so Alex supposed that put her behind the curve on this assignment.

“Good luck,” Mercy said when Alex left to meet Dawes. “Try not to die or anything.”

“Not today at least.”

“Is Darlington why you don’t date?”

Alex paused with her hand on the doorframe. “What does he have to do with it?”

“I mean, he’s not your cousin and he’s one of the more beautiful humans I’ve seen.”

“He’s a friend. A mentor.” “So?”

“He’s … expensive.” Darlington was too beautiful, too well-read, too well-traveled. He wasn’t just cut from a different cloth; he was too finely made and tailored.

Mercy grinned. “I like expensive things.”

“He’s not a cashmere scarf, Mercy. He has horns.” “I have a birthmark shaped like Wisconsin.”

“I’m leaving.”

“Don’t forget you have to pick a book for our HumBrit section!” Mercy called after her.

Humor in the Modern British Novel. Alex had hoped for Monty Python but had gotten Lucky Jim and Novel on Yellow Paper. It wasn’t a bad trade. She left Mercy with a promise to meet up for dinner, glad to flee the inquisition. She’d been too busy trying not to die to think about dating or even hooking up. Darlington had nothing to do with it, no matter how good he looked with his clothes off.

Dawes was waiting at the entrance to Sterling, slouching by the sculptural slab of the Women’s Table as if she might doze off at any second. Alex felt an unwelcome rush of guilt. Dawes wasn’t made for this kind of work. She was supposed to stay safe at Il Bastone, tending to her thesis like a slow-growing garden. She was support staff, an indoor cat. Their ritual at Scroll and Key had been well outside her comfort zone, and it hadn’t exactly rewarded either of them with a feeling of accomplishment. Now Dawes looked almost like she’d been roughed up. She had dark smudges beneath her eyes from lack of sleep, her hair was unwashed, and Alex was fairly certain she was still in the clothes she’d worn last night, though with Dawes it could be tough to be sure.

Alex wanted to tell her to go home and get some rest, that she could handle this herself. But she absolutely couldn’t, and she didn’t know how much time they had before the bomb that was Darlington went off.

“Have you slept at all?” she asked.

Dawes gave a sharp shake of her head, fingers tight around the 1931 Yale Gazette Alex had fallen asleep with and a black moleskin notebook. “I was in the Lethe library all night, trying to find stories of people who walked Gauntlets.”

“Any luck?”

“There were a few.” “That’s good, right?”

Dawes was so pale her freckles looked like they were floating above her skin. “I found less than five records that can be substantiated in any way and that left any trace of a ritual.”

“Is it enough to get us started?”

Dawes shot her an annoyed glance. “You’re not listening. These rituals aren’t on record, they aren’t discussed, because they were failures, because

the participants tried to hide the results. People went mad, they vanished, they died horribly. It’s possible a Gauntlet was responsible for the destruction of Thonis. This is not something we should be messing around with.”

“Michelle said as much.”

Dawes blinked her bloodshot eyes. “I … You told her about the Gauntlet?”

“She came to see me. She was trying to warn us off trying.” “With good reason.”

“So you want to stop?” “It’s not that simple!”

Alex pulled Dawes over to the wall and lowered her voice. “It is. Unless you want to try breaking into Scroll and Key and opening another half-baked portal, this is all we have. We do it or we have to destroy him. There aren’t any other choices.”

“The ritual starts with us being buried alive.” Dawes was shaking.

Alex rested an awkward hand on her shoulder. “Let’s see what we find, okay? We don’t have to go through with it. This is just research.”

It was as if Alex had whispered a transformation spell.

Dawes released a jagged breath, nodded. Research she understood.

“Tell me about the scribe,” Alex said, eager to get her talking about something that wasn’t death or destruction.

“There are eight scribes,” Dawes said, taking a few steps back and pointing at the stonework above the Sterling doors. “All from different parts of the world. The more recent civilizations are on the right: Mayan, Chinese, Greek, Arabic. There’s the Athenian owl. And on the left, the four ancient scribes: Cro-Magnon cave drawings, an Assyrian inscription from the library at Nineveh, the Hebrew is from Psalms, and the Egyptian … the hieroglyphs were chosen by Dr. Ludlow Seguine Bull.”

Would that I might make thee love books more than thy mother. An apt inscription for a library but maybe something more.

Dawes smiled, her fear eaten up by the thrill of discovery. “Dr. Bull was a Locksmith. He was a member of Scroll and Key. He started out studying law but then switched to Egyptology.”

Quite a change. Alex felt a prickle of excitement. “This is the first step in the Gauntlet.”

“Maybe. If it is, we’ll have to wake the Gauntlet by anointing the first passage with blood.”

“Why is it always blood? Why can’t it ever be jam or blue crayon?”

And if this was the first step in the Gauntlet, what came next? She studied the scribe bent to his work, the hieroglyphs, the oars of the Phoenician ship, the wings of the Babylonian bull, the medieval scholar standing at the center of it all, as if making note of the clutter around him. Was the answer somewhere in all of this stonework? There were too many possibilities, too many symbols to decipher.

Without a word, they passed through the arched entrance and inside. But the interior of the library was even more overwhelming.

“How big is this place?”

“Over four thousand square feet,” said Dawes. “And every inch of it is covered in stonework and stained glass. Each room was themed. Even the lunchroom. There’s a carved bucket and mop above the janitor’s closet. They pulled from everything for the decoration—medieval manuscripts, Aesop’s fables, the Ars Moriendi.” Dawes stopped in the middle of the wide aisle, her smile evaporating.


Ars Moriendi. It … It literally means the art of dying. They were instructions on how to die well.”

“Research, remember?” Alex urged, that guilt washing over her again. Dawes really was terrified, and Alex knew if she stopped to think hard enough, she might have the sense to be scared too. She craned her neck, looking up at the vaulted ceilings, the repeating patterns of flowers and stone, the lights of the chandeliers like roses themselves. “It really does look like a church.”

“A grand cathedral,” Dawes agreed, a little steadier now. “At the time, there was a lot of controversy over Yale building in such a theatrical style. I pulled some of the articles. They aren’t kind. But the assumption was that Goodhue—the original architect—was continuing in the Gothic tradition set by the rest of the campus.”

Goodhue. Alex remembered his spiral-bound biography on the stack of books in Darlington’s bedroom. Had he sent her up there deliberately?

“But Goodhue died,” Alex said. “Suddenly.” “He was very young.”

“And he had no connection to the societies.”

“Not that we know of. James Gamble Rogers stepped in, and Sterling’s money paid for all of it. There’s a plaque dedicated to him by the entrance. It was the largest gift ever given to a university at the time. It paid for the Sterling Hall of Medicine, the Sterling Law Building, and the div school.” Dawes hesitated. “There’s a labyrinth in the courtyard. It’s supposed to encourage meditation, but—”

“But maybe it’s really meant to be a maze?” A puzzle to trap any interested demons.

Dawes nodded. “Sterling didn’t have children. He never married. He lived with a friend for forty years. James Bloss. They shared a room, traveled together. His biographer referred to him as Sterling’s longtime chum, but they were most likely in love, lifelong partners. Sterling’s will called for all his papers and correspondence to be burned at his death. The speculation is he was protecting himself and Bloss, but maybe he had something else he wanted to hide.”

Like a plan to build a gateway to the underworld.

Alex looked back at the entrance. “If the scribe is the start, what’s the next step?”

“Darlington didn’t allude to just any scribe to lead us to Sterling,” Dawes said, waving the Gazette. “He quoted the Egyptian. There are two rooms with stained glass windows referencing the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Thematically…”

But Alex had stopped listening. She was looking down the long nave to the reception desk and the mural above it, the colors clean and bright, at odds with the gloom of the building.

“Dawes,” she said, interrupting, excited but also afraid of making a fool of herself. “What if the next step is right in front of us? That’s Mary, right? Mother Mary?” Would that I might make thee love books more than thy mother.

Dawes blinked, staring at the mural and the golden-haired, white-gowned woman at its center. “It’s not Mary.”

“Oh.” Alex tried to hide her disappointment.

“It’s called Alma Mater,” said Dawes, her excitement making the words vibrate. “Nourishing mother.”

They took off at a brisk walk. It was hard not to break into a run.

The mural was massive and set into a Gothic arch. It showed a graceful woman with an open book in one hand, an orb in the other. She was framed by a golden window, the towers of some city floating above her. But maybe it wasn’t a window. Maybe it was a doorway.

“She sure looks like Mary,” Alex noted. The mural could have been an altar piece right out of a church. “There’s even a monk next to her.”

There were eight figures gathered around her. Eight figures, eight houses of the Veil? That seemed like a reach.

“Light and Truth are the two women on the left,” said Dawes. “The rest of the figures represent art, religion, literature, and so on.”

“But none of them are holding up a sign to what’s next. I guess we either go left or right.”

“Or up,” Dawes said. “The elevators lead to the stacks and offices.” “Literature is pointing to the left.”

Dawes nodded. “But Light and Truth are facing right to … the tree.” She grabbed Alex’s arm. “It’s the same as the one in the mural. The Tree of Knowledge.”

Above Alma Mater’s head, amid the arches of a building that might well be a library, were the branches of a tree—perfectly echoed in stone over the archway to their right. Another entrance. Maybe another step in the Gauntlet.

“I know this quote,” Alex said as they approached the archway. “There studious let me sit and hold high converse with the mighty dead.

“Thomson?” Dawes asked. “I don’t know much about him. He was Scottish, but he’s not widely read anymore.”

“But Book and Snake use it at the start of their rituals.” Beneath the arch was a stone hourglass, another memento mori. It might be a signpost. It might be nothing at all. Except … “Dawes, look.”

The arch beneath the Tree of Knowledge led into a corridor. There were glass display cases on the left, and on the right, a series of windows emblazoned with yellow and blue stained glass. Each column between them was decorated with a stone grotesque, students bent over their books. Most were playful—some kid drinking a jug of beer and looking at a centerfold instead of his work, another listening to music, another sleeping. One of the open books read U R A JOKE. Alex had just walked right by them without noticing, focused on the papers she had to write, the reading yet unread. Until Darlington had pointed them out.

“I feel like he’s here with us,” she said.

“I wish he was,” Dawes replied, trying to find the correct page in her old Gazette article. “Architecture is his specialty, not mine. But this…” She gestured to the particular grotesque Alex had pointed out. “The only description is ‘reading an exciting book.’”

And yet they were staring straight at Death, skull peeking from his cloak, one skeletal hand resting on the stone student’s shoulder. There studious let me sit and hold high converse with the mighty dead.

“I think we’re being led down the corridor,” Alex said. “Where does it go?”

Dawes frowned. “Nowhere really. It dead-ends in Manuscripts and Archives. There’s an exit there that would take us out of the building.”

They walked to the end of the corridor. There was an odd vestibule with a high ceiling. Ironwork mermen with split tails gazed down at them from the windows. Were they chasing phantoms? If demons loved games, maybe Darlington had given them just enough clues to get them stuck wandering Sterling, hunting secret messages in the stone.

There was another archway ahead, but it was strangely bare of decoration. To their right there were two doors and a panel of small square windows that looked they belonged in a pub. Some of them were decorated with illustrations on the glass—the Barrel Maker, the Baker, the Organ Player.

“What are these?” she asked.

Dawes was flipping through the Gazette. “Whoever wrote this made it impossible to find anything. If it isn’t deliberate, it’s a crime.” She blew a

stray strand of red hair off her forehead. “Okay, they’re woodcuts by someone called Jost Amman.”

As soon as the words were out of Dawes’s mouth they both went still. “Let me see that.” Dawes handed over the Gazette. Dawes had pronounced Jost as Yost, but seeing it spelled out on the page, there was no mistaking it. She remembered begging Darlington to tell her if he knew where to find the Gauntlet—and the odd desperation in his voice when he’d answered: Would that I did. But I am just a man, heir to nothing. He’d wanted to tell her, but he couldn’t. He’d had to play the demon’s game and hope that they would solve his puzzle.

Just a man. Jost Amman. They were in the right place.

So show me the next step, Darlington. To their left was a little stone mouse nibbling at the wall. To their right, a tiny stone spider. Was that a nod to fire-and-brimstone Jonathan Edwards? Alex only knew the sermon because it was a joke in her residential college. The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. It was why their intramural teams were called the JE Spiders. How’s that for Sunday school, Turner?

“Where do these doors go?” Alex asked. There were two of them, awkwardly wedged into a corner.

“This one goes to the courtyard,” Dawes said, pointing to a door with Lux et Veritas engraved in stone above it. Light and Truth, Yale’s motto, just like the figures embodied in the mural that had led them here. “That one goes to a bunch of offices.”

“What are we missing?”

Dawes said nothing, gnawing on her lip. “Dawes?”

“I … well, it’s just a theory.”

“We can’t spend years hammering this one out like a thesis. Give me anything.”

She tugged on a strand of her hair, and Alex could see Dawes fighting herself, always seeking perfection. “In the records of the Gauntlets I could find, four pilgrims enter together—the soldier, the scholar, the priest, and the prince. They make a circuit, each locating a doorway and taking up their

posts. The soldier is the last and completes the circuit on his—or her— own.”

“Okay,” said Alex, though she was struggling to see what that had to do with anything.

“At first I thought … well, there are four doors that lead out into the Selin Courtyard. One at each corner. I thought maybe the clues were leading us around the courtyard. But…”

“But there’s no way to complete the circuit.”

“Not without leaving the building,” Dawes said. She sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t know what comes next. Darlington would. But even if we figure it out … Four murderers, four pilgrims. We’re running out of time to find them.”

“You think the circle of protection won’t hold?”

“I’m not sure, but I … I think our best chance is to perform the ritual on Halloween.”

Alex rubbed her eyes. “So we’re breaking all of the rules at once?” No rituals were allowed on Halloween, particularly anything involving blood magic. There were too many Grays drawn by the excitement of the night. It was just too risky. Not to mention Halloween was only two weeks away.

“I think we have to,” said Dawes. “Rituals work better at times of portent, and Samhain is supposed to be the night the door opens to the underworld. There are theories that the first Gauntlet was built at Rathcroghan, in the Cave of Cats. That’s where Samhain originated.”

Alex didn’t like any of it. She knew what Grays were capable of when drawn by blood or powerful emotion. “That barely gives us any time to find two more killers, Dawes. And the new Praetor will be installed by then.”

“I’m not a killer.”

“Okay, two more reluctant but efficient problem solvers.”

Dawes pursed her lips but went on. “We’ll need someone to watch over us too, to keep our bodies safe in case anything goes wrong.”

Again Alex had the sense that this was all beyond them. They needed more people, more expertise, more time. “I doubt Michelle is going to volunteer.”

Her phone rang and she swore when she saw the name. Once again she’d fucked up.

“I’m sorry,” she said before Turner could lay into her. “I meant to get to the Bible quote, but—”

“We have another body.”

Alex was tempted to ask if he was kidding, but Turner didn’t kid. “Who?” she asked instead. “Where?”

“Meet me at Morse College.”

“Just Morse, Turner. You don’t say Morse College.” “Get your ass here, Stern.”

“Turner thinks there’s been a murder,” Alex said as she hung up. “Another one?”

No one had confirmed that Marjorie Stephen was a homicide, so Alex wasn’t anxious to jump to any conclusions. And even if there had been two murders, that didn’t mean they were connected. Except Turner wouldn’t be calling her unless he thought they were and that the societies were involved.

“Go on,” Dawes said. “I’ll keep looking around here.”

But there was something bothering Alex. “I don’t get it,” she said, turning in a slow circle, taking in the vastness of the place. She and Mercy usually studied in one of the reading rooms. She’d never been up to the stacks. Even the scope of a building this big was tough to get her head around. “Johnny and Punter’s friends built a Gauntlet. That’s what our buddy Bunchy said. You really want me to believe it stayed a secret this long?”

“I’ve been thinking about that too,” Dawes said. “But what if … what if Bunchy got it wrong? What if Lethe built the Gauntlet into Sterling?”


“Think about it. People from Bones and Keys working together? The societies don’t share secrets. They hoard their power. The only time they worked together was to form Lethe and that was only to—”

“Save their own asses.”

Dawes frowned. “Well, yes. To create a society that would reassure the administration and keep the other societies in line. An oversight body.”

“You’re saying the oversight body thought it would be a good idea to hide a secret door to hell in plain sight?”

There was color in Dawes’s cheeks now. Her eyes were bright. “Harkness, Whitney, and Bingham are considered Lethe’s founding fathers. Harkness was Wolf’s Head, and he’s the one who tapped James Gamble Rogers to build half of campus, including this library.”

“But why would Lethe build it if they weren’t going to use it?” It didn’t make sense.

“Are we sure they didn’t?” Dawes asked. “Maybe they knew they were messing with potentially catastrophic things and they didn’t want people to know.”

Maybe. But it didn’t quite hold together.

“Isn’t the whole goal to see the other side?” Alex asked. “To unravel the mysteries of the beyond? It’s why I was tapped into Lethe. If they’d gone to the underworld, they would have left a record. They would have talked about it, debated it, dissected it.”

Dawes looked uneasy, and that made Alex even more nervous. Something about all of this felt wrong. Why build a Gauntlet you didn’t intend to use? Why wipe away any record of it? They weren’t seeing the whole picture, and Alex couldn’t help but think someone didn’t want them to.

It was one thing to hurl yourself headfirst into the dark. It was another to feel like someone had deliberately turned off the lights. Alex had the same sensation she’d had the night she’d strolled through Eitan’s door and been tricked into revealing her power. They were walking into a trap.

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