The Chalice of Immortality

BOOK: The Chalice of Immortality
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Copyright © 2011 by Erica Kirov

Cover and internal design © 2011 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover illustration © Eric L. Williams

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and e
vents portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is on file with the publisher.

Source of Production: Versa Press, East Peoria, Illinois, USA.

Date of Production: March 2011

Run Number: 14865

To my children.
And to the memory of Fanny, who I never fully understood, but whose life in Russia inspired this series.

As always, to my agent, Jay Poynor, and to the extraordinary-in-every-way team at Jabberwocky. From the creation of the covers to the support for authors, they make it all a wonderful experience.

To the many kids who have taken the time to write to me—when an author feels like she can't keep up with her fan emails, that's a great thing. You have all been so incredible.

To the teachers and librarians across the country who have supported the series.

Finally, to all the kids in my real life—including the cousins, Pano, Eva, Sofia, Tyler, Zachary, Cassidy, and Tori. To my friend Jacob Phillips, who will always be special to me because he makes me feel like a real author. And to my breath and my life, Alexa, Nicholas, Isabella, and the Mighty Jack-Jack (future pirate extraordinaire)…you are the reason for everything.

There was something awesome in the thought of the solitary mortal standing by the open window and summoning in from the gloom outside the spirits of the nether world.
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Fear not, the child will not die.
—Grigori Rasputin
I have Immortal longings in me.
—William Shakespeare
It was on a bitterly cold and frosty morning, towards the end of the winter of '97, that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder. It was Holmes. The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face, and told me at a glance that something was amiss.
“Come, Watson, come!” he cried. “The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”
—From “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Undershaw Estate, Surrey, England, October 28, 1921

Harry Houdini maneuvered his sleek black car down the long drive protected by rows of tall trees, their branches vibrant with the red and orange flames of fall leaves. The route led to the stately red brick mansion of Undershaw, near the village of Hindhead. Night fell quickly here, and the rattling leaves of the forest lent the estate an eerie feeling befitting the night's activities.

Houdini parked in the drive, stepped out of his vehicle, and admired the peaked roof and many windows of the mansion that overlooked the surrounding countryside. He knew his friend's home had fourteen bedrooms and perhaps as many fireplaces to guard against the chill. Houdini's boots crunched on the gravel as he walked to the imposing wooden door and rang the bell. A butler answered the door.

“I am here to see Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I believe he is expecting me,” said the world's most famous magician and escape artist, clutching his hat in his hand.

The butler offered a simple nod. “Indeed, Mr. Houdini, the others have all assembled. You may follow me, sir.”

Houdini stepped into a great foyer with an enormous crystal chandelier that twinkled with shimmering light, following behind the butler, his footsteps echoing on the black and white marble floors. He passed suits of shining armor; swords crossed on the walls; and stuffed hunting trophies, including a large moose head, as well as a bear and a pheasant. Occasionally, a framed photo of the famous Sherlock Holmes author accepting one honor or another was displayed with prominence.

At the end of a long hall, Houdini was shown into a cavernous library.

“Mister Houdini, sir,” the butler announced.

“Splendid!” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle chortled. He rose from his leather chair by the roaring fireplace and crossed the room with three strides of his long legs, handlebar mustache twitching. “Harry, my dear friend, how are you?”

“Excellent, Arthur, excellent. And you are well, I hope?”

“Somewhat. Somewhat…” Doyle's eyes darkened for a moment.

Houdini knew his friend had been plagued by depression after the deaths of his brother and son. He had taken quite particularly hard the death of Kingsley, his oldest son, from pneumonia after serving in the war a couple of years previously. Houdini had often wondered if Doyle would ever recover and had worried that perhaps he might never return to his former self.

“I know, Arthur. I understand. After the death of my mother…well, you know how difficult it has been for me, as well. Grief…grief is a strange beast and an unwelcome companion, indeed.”

“Tonight, perhaps, we shall speak with Kingsley—and with your mother. Let me introduce you to the rest of our guests.” Doyle gestured with an outstretched arm. “You know my wife, Jean.”

Houdini nodded to his friend's wife. “Yes, indeed. Hello, Jean. Good to see you again.”

“And this here is a close family friend, Dr. Robert Shaw, who lives in Hindhead, not two miles away. We are also joined tonight by a dear friend from London, in for a fortnight's visit—Samuel Barker, a barrister and excellent storyteller, I might add.”

Houdini greeted each gentleman with a small bow, but his gaze was mostly fixated on the woman in a high-backed, ornately carved wooden chair near Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“And of course, our guest of honor. Mr. Harry Houdini, may I present to you Madame Bogdanovich.”

With a sweep of his hand, the author gestured toward the woman, who had elaborate velvet clothes and eyes made up like glittering butterflies. Her fingernails were lacquered a deep purple and as long as talons.

“The pleasure, Mr. Houdini,
all mine.” She spoke in a husky tone with a thick Russian accent and waved her hand slightly. Bracelets made of gold and encrusted with jewels—rubies, emeralds, amethysts, diamonds, and sapphires—clinked from her wrist to her elbow.

Doyle twirled the end of his mustache. “Madame Bogdanovich is a fortune teller and spiritualist of international renown. She has read for the crown princes of various nations and for the tsar and tsarina of Russia. Tonight, she has agreed to look into the unknown of the great spirit world to speak with our loved ones who have departed.”

Houdini narrowed his gaze. He was used to fools who believed frauds and charlatans. People were often so impressed by his own magic tricks, illusions, and feats of escape that they believed he was capable of speaking to the dead or could perform real magic, with gifts granted from some unseen force. Since he knew his tricks were achieved through mortal means, he cast a suspicious eye toward so-called psychics. He was deeply concerned that his friend Arthur was so easily taken in by wild claims of spiritualists. Grief had rendered his friend vulnerable.

“Pleased to meet you, Madame Bogdanovich.” Houdini spoke in measured tones.

“You may call me Madame B.”

“Excellent, Madame B. I shall be watching you very closely during this séance.”

“Indeed you will. Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Houdini. You, sir, are a doubter of magic—even as you create your own illusions.”

“Ah,” Houdini replied, enjoying the debate, “but therein lies an important difference between you and me. In my case, I freely admit to all gathered here that I do, in fact, create illusions. No real magic is involved. I have no claims to contact the spirit world.”

“Then we shall see,” Madame B. purred, “if I cannot make a believer of you yet, sir. This
be my greatest challenge!”

“You can try,” Houdini replied.

“Come, let us gather around the table,” Madame B. said. “Sir Arthur and Mr. Houdini shall be right next to me, at my left hand and right hand. That way,” she batted her eyes—with their long, false lashes—at Houdini, “you may keep a close
over me, to see if, as they say, I have something up my sleeve.”

The guests gathered around a mahogany table with elaborate claw-foot legs. Houdini took his assigned seat. He immediately ran his hands beneath the table, feeling the wood for a false bottom or hidden lever. He touched his own chair and then carefully examined the chair in which Madame B. sat. He studied the room. Books lined shelves from floor to ceiling, but he saw no place for a coconspirator to hide. The room had no closet. He also did not believe that Arthur would intentionally deceive him. Therefore, he concentrated on Madame B.

Next to her chair, Madame B. had a large, black leather satchel nearly four feet high and three feet wide. She opened it and withdrew a candelabrum and a crystal ball on a pedestal. She placed them on the table. Houdini peered closely at them. The pedestal was gold, and all around its circular edges were hieroglyphics—Egyptian symbols. The pedestal alone had to be worth a fortune! The crystal ball was clear and flawless, without a single scratch to mar its surface.

“Please, Mrs. Doyle, would you light the candles?”

“Certainly,” said Sir Arthur's wife. She rose from her chair and took a long match set from the fireplace mantle. She struck a match and carefully lit each of the white tapers.

“Now, if you would turn down your lamps. The spirit world, the world of magic, prefers the shadows.”

Mrs. Doyle turned down the lamps until the room around the table was almost pitch black, with only the flickering candle flames for light.

The mood in the room grew both somber and expectant. Even Houdini, trying not to be swayed by the theatrics of Madame B., had to admit something electrifying was in the air.

“Let us join hands,” Madame B. said.

Around the table, they all held hands. Houdini thought he felt a tingle of anticipation when Madame B. took his hand in hers, but he shook his head and fought to remain impartial. He was determined to expose her as a fraud preying upon his grieving friend.

“I call up the magic world, the world of wonders, the spirit world of my ancestors, the world of the Magickeepers, to speak to us. From the sands of time, speak to us. I ask that the magic world reveal secrets. These secrets will remove the doubters within our midst, will serve to show them that magic is real.”

The room was deathly quiet—as quiet as a graveyard, Houdini mused.

“Breathe as one,” Madame B. commanded. “In…out…together…united…in…out…”

Houdini heard Shaw, next to him, breathing in unison with Madame B. He glanced across the table. Doyle was a study in concentration. He breathed in…out…united with those next to him.

Then in the midst of the darkness of the study, illuminated only by the flickering candles, Harry Houdini saw that the crystal ball was glowing.

Houdini's eyes widened as he stared at it. The ball was perhaps the size of a large grapefruit or a small melon. It sat on the gold pedestal with the hieroglyphics around it. The glowing ball grew brighter, and he heard Mrs. Doyle gasp.

“Remain calm,” Madame B. intoned. “We must make the spirit world feel welcome.”

Houdini stared. What sort of trickery was this? How was she performing this trick, especially when he and Arthur held both her hands?

“Ancient Magickeepers, speak to me. Speak through me. You know what answers we seek.”

Madame B. shut her eyes. The ball filled with amber smoke and then with moving pictures. Harry would have rubbed his eyes was he not intent on holding firm to Madame B.

“It cannot be,” he whispered. There inside the ball was a moving picture of himself when he was nine years old. He thought his heart might stop. He had never seen such a thing.

“Harry Houdini,” Madame B. spoke, her voice dreamy, as if she were speaking from far away, calling to him from down a tunnel. “You called yourself the Prince of Air, performing on a trapeze as a young boy. Answer me! Was that so?”

“Yes! But surely this cannot be!”

Around the table, the other participants in the séance were transfixed. All of them stared intently at the little boy on the trapeze. He performed feat after feat, smiling, clearly reveling in his antics on the trapeze while trapped inside the crystal ball. He performed a flip off the trapeze and waved at an unseen person, beaming and grinning.

“There,” Madame B. continued, “the Prince of Air waves at his mother, who has since departed this world.”

Houdini's eyes filled with tears. He remembered that day, and he had indeed been waving at his mother, who had always been his biggest supporter, the person who cheered him on most heartily no matter what he did in life.

The smoke in the ball grew dark—almost oily—in appearance. Madame Bogdanovich's face paled. “Harry Houdini, mark my words this night: One day, you will come face to face with evil. You must be careful. On Halloween night, years from now, you will be paid a visit. You will know this visitor by his eyes. Fear him. Protect yourself. Or you will die.”

Harry felt as if a spider had skittered up his spine. He nodded, throat dry.

The ball changed color again. Inside was another moving picture, this time of a young man. The ball glowed an incandescent greenish-blue.

“It is Kingsley,” Doyle whispered, voice tremulous. He looked at his wife, then at Madame B., then at the ball. “My son is moving his lips. What is he saying?”

“He says he is with
. Do you know this name?”

“That is his mother, my first wife. She passed away.”

“This, he says, is the anniversary of his death. Is that so, Sir Arthur?”

Arthur nodded. “I did not tell you, but I…I thought perhaps his spirit might be strongest on this night.”

“He says, ‘Weep no more, Father.' He also says to beware of charlatans, to be careful where you place your trust, or your reputation will be ruined.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle furrowed his brow. “What does that mean?”

“I can only say what the spirit world allows me to say,” Madame B. responded. The ball flickered, its glow dying. Then suddenly, a magnificent goblet appeared in it. Now it was Madame B.'s turn to gasp.

“What is it?” Sir Arthur asked.

“Sir Arthur…beware. Beware, my friend. Beware. A goblet may come into your hands. Protect it at all costs, but fear it! Fear its hold on you!”

“But…I do not understand.”

The ball grew dark, again filling with an oily substance before it went completely cold.

Madame B. exhaled loudly and bowed her head as if asleep. She was silent for a full minute before lifting her head again and looking at the people around the table. “That is all for tonight, gentlemen and Mrs. Doyle. Perhaps we shall try again tomorrow evening. You may turn up the lamps again and extinguish the candles.”

Doyle did as he was told. Then he implored Madame B. to tell him more. “I am puzzled by your visions.”

The woman shook her head. “Magic, my dear Arthur—the magic I see in the ball—is an imprecise science. That is how you can tell a true Magickeeper from a fraud. I do not pretend to know all. I only tell you what I see. I know the goblet I saw is valuable—and powerful. But I do not know how it will come to cross your path.”

Houdini turned to Madame B. “May I hold your crystal ball?”

“You may.” She lifted the ball from the pedestal and handed it to him.

Houdini was surprised by its weight. He turned it over in his hands. It was perfectly spherical, without flaws—no cracks, no marks on its pristine, icy surface. There was no secret button, and when he peered inside it, he could see nothing. No moving pictures, no smoke, no light.

“You want to see the pedestal now, do you not?” she asked.

“Indeed, I do.”

She handed him the gold pedestal. Again, he held it in his hands and turned it upside down, looking for some trick, some ability to create the illusion he had seen. But he could find none. He ran his fingers along the hieroglyphics.

“What do these mean, these figures?”

“Magic is as old as time. Those figures recognize that.”

BOOK: The Chalice of Immortality
8.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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