“Don’t go into the Dark House,” Edwyn le Fay had been told. “The place is supposed to be haunted. It might be cursed.”
That was precisely why Edwyn wanted to venture inside this house in Lancashire. He had heard the legends about the house, and the young wizard and collector of arcane paraphernalia wanted to discover if it was true.
He had heard about the house, years ago, while he had still been training as a wizard at High Tor in Glastonbury. Of course it was a long way from Glastonbury to where the Dark House stood, by itself, on a hilltop in Lancashire. So all that the young Edwyn had been able to do was to listen to stories concerning the house, and file any useful information in the back of his mind.
The first legend which Edwyn had heard was that the house was haunted. But Edwyn was not sure if there were such things as ghosts, or not. He had grown up on the large, family estate in Yorkshire (the West Riding), in a stately home which had been reputedly haunted by the ghost of a crying woman, as well as the spectre of King Charles the First (like many other places). But Edwyn had never seen either ghost, when growing up, and he had begun to believe that ghosts were not real, despite what spiritualists like Madame Blavatsky might say.
But to have a house being cursed… Well, that was possible. The Ludgate House, near St Saul’s in London, was known to be cursed, a powerful spell keeping the place closed, not allowing any access from the outside world. The old house of the long dead witch Mary Hubbard, in Narrow Street, had been similarly cursed, until one day the house mysteriously collapsed in on itself. Curses were real, even if such Black Magick was never taught at schools like High Tor.
Edwyn, at High Tor, asked all manner of questions concerning this Dark House in Lancashire, trying to find out just what manner of curse might be on the house. But he got all manner of different explanations, from his fellow pupils. Some surmised that the house was Magickally sealed by the Black Magician who must once have lived there. Others said that the house was Cursed to appear gloomy inside (not much of a Curse, as far as Edwyn was concerned). Another theory was that the house drained you of Magickal power if you ventured inside it. It became clear to Edwyn that his fellow students had no real idea just what had gone on there, or whether the house was really Cursed or not.
There had to be something going on there, though, Edwyn reasoned, for the house to have earned such a name. There must be some sort of mystical secrets in the house. Perhaps, hidden away in the place, there were still the spellbooks of the Black Magician who must have lived there. There had to be something.
Edwyn’s tutors, back then, had become a little concerned about the fact that he had taken such an interest in the Dark House. They had taken him aside, and explained that wizards should only be interested in White Magick; and that he should not really be asking all those questions about something connected to the forces of darkness. So Edwyn had shut up. But the fact that he had been told not to ask about the house only proved that there must be some great secret in the place. He swore to himself that, whatever it was, he would discover it.
It was now five years later and Edwyn, qualified from High Tor, was stood on a lonely hilltop in Lancashire. The sun lingered on the western horizon, as the sky to the east turned a darker blue. A cold breeze ruffled the grass on top of the hill.
Edwyn stared at the house. He was miles from the closest hostelry, and he would have to spend the night in the Dark House. But Edwyn told himself that he was not bothered about the idea of staying in the house. To search the house was the reason why he had come here, after all. He wasn’t scared. Still, though, as he stared up at the Dark House, Edwyn could not help a frisson of fear from shivering down his spine.
The house looked old. From what little Edwyn had been able to discover about the place, it dated back to the time of the civil war, or just afterwards. Which made the house approaching some two hundred and forty years old.
Edwyn had not been able to find out who had lived in the house. According to one story which he had gleaned from locals in a tavern some five miles away, the house had been built by some ally of Oliver Cromwell, who had built in on the top of a hill so that he could look down on the land which he owned. But Edwyn had not been able to discover the name of that man. If it had been recorded down somewhere then it was in some place where Edwyn had not thought to look.
Edwyn had not found empirical evidence of the names of anybody who had lived in the house in between it being built, and being left abandoned, either. He had heard rumours that a wizard had lived in the house in the early eighteenth century, but different tales assigned different names to that man: in one local legend, it had been some wizard called Thomas Springer. But in another town, asking about the house, Edwyn had heard that the wizard who had lived in the place had been called Thomas Rackham, instead. Perhaps two different wizards had lived in the house. Or perhaps people had forgotten just who had lived in the place. Either way, it seemed almost certain that some wizard had lived in the place. In which case it was a distinct possibility that his spellbook was hidden somewhere inside the place, if it had not been stolen by some interloper.
Edwyn had not moved from where he stood. The house still towered over him, the full three storeys looking taller, close up, than they had when Edwyn ha been approaching the place. The house was nowhere near as big as the stately home where Edwyn had grown up. But it was certainly no small town house. Edwyn knew that it would take some time to search the place.
Edwyn was a little bit surprised to see that the windows of the place were intact. He had expected there to be holes in them. If it had been some abandoned house in London, for example, some vandal would have put a pebble through one of the windows by now. But it looked like nobody ever came here.
That was good. If the locals avoided the place just because it was old and abandoned, and had those silly stories told about it, it meant that there was a good chance that any spellbooks might still be in the house, and that they had not been spirited away in the past.
Edwyn decided to walk around the house. He had a lantern in his hands, as well as an ever-burning taper in his jacket pocket. He was prepared, he felt, for any measure of darkness. After all, darkness itself could not harm you. And only children were scared of the dark.
The outside of the house had elements of the Gothic revival style in its façade, but it was by no means the best building which Edwyn had ever seen. It did manage to look imposing, however. There were two doors into the edifice, one at the front, and one at the back. However, the ‘front’ of the building was only considered to be that because that was the part of the house which Edwyn had initially approached. It could just as easily be the rear of the house. There were no roads leading up to the house, after all. There was not even a path leading up to the Dark House. Perhaps there had been, once upon a time. But there was no trace of it to be seen anymore.
The top of the hill only had grass on it, although there were bushes on the side of the hill. The grass was surprisingly short. Perhaps things simply did not grow well on top of the hill. Maybe there was something wrong with the soil.
Edwyn decided to try what he though of as the front door, having completed one circumnavigation of the outside of the house. He wondered if the door was locked, and he would have to break a window to get inside. Spells which opened locks were supposed to be banned. They were not taught at places like High Tor.
The front door opened, however, although it did creak ominously. Obviously the hinges had not been oiled in many, many years.
“Just a bit of oil, that’s what it needs.” Edwyn muttered, as he stood in the threshold of the house. His voice was swallowed up by the darkness. He almost wished that he had not said anything, as it was as quiet as the grave in the place.
Edwyn shone his torch in through the open door. It picked out part of a hall, without carpeting or other furnishings. That was all that it was, just a downstairs hall, nothing to get scared about. Just a few cobwebs and the spiders which had spun those webs.
Edwyn went in through the door.
Edwyn slowly walked down the hall. The hall led to other passages, and stairs going upwards. Edwyn decided to search the ground floor of the house, before looking upstairs.
There was still furniture in the house, albeit very dusty. It looked like it was hundreds of years old. Edwyn did not bother to sit down on any of the seats, just in case they collapsed beneath his waste.
He was looking for the library. If the house had belonged to some old wizard then it should have had a library of sorts. Even if he could not find the spellbooks he might discover books on Magick. Some of the older books were worth a small fortune. Edwyn only had a very small research library. Perhaps tonight he might be able to add to it.
Why just tonight, though? If there were books of value in this place he could make several trips, until he got everything which he wanted. That was presuming that somebody else had not been hear in the past, though, and cleared the place out.
Edwyn, walking along one of the ground floor passages, almost jumped out of his skin when he heard that sound. For a second he did not know what it could be. Then he realised that it must have been the front door. Wind must have blown the front door shut. There had not been any wind when he had come inside the house. But he supposed that the wind must have picked up since then.
Edwyn did not find any library, or spellbooks, on the ground floor of the Dark House. There was room after room of old, dusty and rickety furniture, but nothing more than that. He had not discovered a single book, as yet. Edwyn decided that the library must be somewhere upstairs, unless there was some secret room to this place. Perhaps there was a secret cache, somewhere, where all of the valuable items were stored, like a priest hole or something.
Lots of wizards liked having secret places where they could store things. Edwyn had heard tales of wizards in medieval times who had had to hide away the fact that they knew Magick. That had been back when all Magick had been illegal, and even using White Magick could earn you being burned at the stake. But, even after Magick – White Magick – had been legalised, many wizards had remained secretive, hiding away their spellbooks or any Magick items which they might possess. Edwyn told himself that all that he had to do was to find such a possible hiding hole.
Edwyn walked back towards the stairs going up to the first floor. Then he stopped walking, and frowned. The light from his lantern seemed to be weaker than when he had first come into the house. But that shouldn’t happen: he had bought a Pullman lantern, in a leather case, especially for this escapade. It was the best which he had been able to acquire and, at over ten pounds, it had cost him a small fortune. Had he not come from such a privileged background, there was no way in which he could have afforded it. After all ten pounds was the sort of money that a maid might earn in an entire year.
Edwyn decided that he was imagining this. He decided to press on, in search of the spellbooks which he knew had to be somewhere in the house.
He began walking up the stairs. The wooden stairs creaked beneath him. One of the treads seemed to give a little, as though it was about to collapse. Or, perhaps, it was about to activate some deadly trap. Immediately he stepped back down, to the tread below.
Edwyn shone the beam of the lantern down on the wooden tread. There did not seem to be anything untoward about it. The stair looked very worn, however.
One thing, though, was that the beam from the lantern definitely looked weaker than before. There was no getting around it. Something must be up with the lantern.
Edwyn got his ever-burning taper out of his jacket pocket.
“LUMEN!” Edwyn commanded. The end of the taper lit up. A ghostly green light emanated from the taper, lighting up the hallway and the stairs. That was better, as far as Edwyn was concerned. But he did not turn off the lantern. He could hold the taper in one hand, and the lantern in the other. He could use the light from the lantern to focus on things which he was looking at.
Edwyn continued, stepping over the tread which had seemed to give a little. It was the seventh stair up. Edwyn committed that fact to his memory, so that he could avoid the tread on the way back down.
The upstairs was in the same state of disrepair and dirt as the ground floor. The only difference was that there were a lot more cobwebs on the first floor. It seemed that the spiders preferred the upstairs to the ground floor, for some reason.
Edwyn did not like spiders. He did not like anything like that. He tried not to touch the cobwebs directly, but broke them up with his lantern. Soon there were cobwebs hanging from the side of the Pullman lantern, as Edwyn began his exploration of the first floor.
His light seemed weaker. Not just the Pullman lantern, but also the ever-burning taper. it did not seem to cast its light as brightly as before. But, as it usually lit up an area with a thirty foot radius around the user, it was hard to tell, as none of the rooms were large enough to have such an area. Perhaps Edwyn was only imagining the idea that it had become a little dimmer.
It should be impossible for the light to dim, though. That was the point about these mystical, ‘ever-burning’ tapers: they did not dim. The Magick in the taper meant that they should carry on burning for years and years, without the taper reducing in size, giving out their cold light. When the taper went it was all in one go, as the Magick was finally exhausted. But the taper was relatively new, and Edwyn knew that it should last for a long time yet.
He considered casting a spell, just to see if there was some Magick still extant in the place. But he told himself that it was only his imagination. He would save his energies. He hoped that he would not have to use any Magick at all.
Edwyn le Fay continued to search the house. He found a pair of old suits of armour, standing in the upper hallway, the cobwebbed sentinels standing card. He found an old bedroom, where a four poster bed had rotted and collapsed. He found a library, but with no books on Magick, let alone any actual spellbooks. The books were mottled with mould, however, and the fastidious young man did not touch any of those tomes, as he had no desire to get any of the mould on his hands.
He did not find ancient books of Magick, White or Black. So he kept on looking. He had not come to this isolated location to go home empty-handed.
The light of his lantern was getting weaker. It was not just his imagination. It was now definitely noticeable. But what was worse was that the light of his ever-burning taper did not seem to be as bright. That should not be possible – not unless there was some Magick active in the house.
Edwyn le Fay put the lantern down on the dusty floor of the room which he was standing in, some second bedroom as abandoned as the first. He transferred the ever-burning taper to his right-hand, and got out his mythometer.
He cast a spell to detect and analyse Magick in the area. It should have revealed whatever was causing his ever-burning taper to lose brightness. Once he could find the cause he might be able to do something about it, as he had no intention of leaving the house without the spellbooks. And the fact that his light sources were becoming weaker proved – in Edwyn’s opinion – that the spellbooks must be somewhere in those old and creepy house. Otherwise, why set up some strange spell to protect them?
The needle of the mythometer moved to point at his right hand, where he held up the taper. Edwyn frowned, and concentrated to exclude the taper from the spell. The needle should have pointed towards the most powerful active Magick in the place.
With the taper excluded from the spell all that the needle of the mythometer did was to slowly spin around. Which meant that either there was no other Magick, or it was all around him, and there was no single source.
Edwyn tried moving some of the dials on the side of the mythometer, in an effort to analyse what type of Magick was being used. But he failed to sense the type of Magick. That meant that it could either be some unknown school of Magick; or that the Magick was masked against detection; or that he had simply failed to cast the spell correctly.
Edwyn sighed, and stopped concentrating on the spell of detection, letting it lapse. He put the mythometer back in his pocket. He had never really mastered detection Magick while he had been at High Tor. He had been more interested in things like Geases and geomancy. Well, actually he had been more interested in the various schools of Black Magick, but he had not told his teachers that.
Edwyn decided that he needed more light, as his mythometer was now less than half as bright as it had been when he had lit it. It was as though the house was leeching the darkness away. Perhaps it was absorbing the Magick. But, if that was the case, then why was the lantern not as bright as before.
“I’ll know, I’ll turn it off and back on again.” Edwyn said, holding the failing ever-burning taper up in the air.
“TENEBRIS!” Edwyn commanded. the light winked out, just as it should, leaving the only light in the room that from the lantern at Edwyn’s feet.
“LUMEN!” Edwyn commanded, expecting the taper to burst into light again, and hopefully as bright as when he had first lit it. But nothing happened.
“LUMEN!” Edwyn said, again. But, still, nothing happened. The ever-burning taper refused to come back on.
He didn’t have any matches with him. He did not smoke, and had not thought to bring any. He had thought that he would have more than enough light, with both the lantern and the taper.
Edwyn picked up the lantern. The beam was still getting weaker. If it carried on like that it might go out entirely in the next ten minutes or so.
Edwyn decided that he had better get out of there. He did not want to be in the house with no light. He did not want to have to wait until it got light in the morning, as the morning was hours and hours away. He moved out into the upstairs hall, and began retracing his steps.
Creak! That was from behind him. Edwyn spun around and shone the failing beam down the corridor. For a moment he thought that he saw something white moving. Then it was gone.
“Is somebody there? Show yourself!” Edwyn called out. But nobody did.
Old houses had all manner of creaks, Edwyn told himself. Perhaps it was just the house settling down for the night. Yes, that was it, there was nobody there. It had only been his imagination.
Edwyn continued walking along the hall, until he reached the stairs going down.
Creak. No, that had not been imagined, and it had not been a floorboard on which he had stepped. Edwyn spun around, shining the lantern down the hall. But if there was somebody there then the beam was now too weak to pick the person out.
Edwyn began to hurry down the stairs, now just wanting to get out of there. But he caught himself halfway down the stairs. There had been that tread which had given way a little, hadn’t there? Edwyn had some mental image of the stairs suddenly opening up to drop him into a pit trap full of spikes. Or of some blade slicing out of the wall or cutting him into two. Or of some fireball Magick trap turning him into a crispy thing.
Was it the sixth or the seventh tread? He couldn’t remember. He thought that it was the sixth. But he was not sure.
Holding on to the side of the wall for balance, Edwyn stepped down from the eight tread to the fifth, missing out both the sixth and seventh treads – just in case.
The light from the lantern was now very dim. It was only just bright enough to light up the floor beneath Edwyn’s feet. He had to get out of there before it failed.
The darkness around him now felt almost solid. Edwyn could feel it encroaching on him, the Dark House seeking to put out that little point of light in the lantern. Edwyn could now sense the hatred of the house for the light. He should really have noticed it before. But all that he had thought about was those dashed spellbooks. He had not seen the danger all around him. Now it was almost too late.
The lantern gave out halfway down the hallway. Edwyn did not bother using Magick to try to restore the light. He knew that there was no point. Whatever force was in the Dark House was more powerful than his Magick.
Edwyn carefully felt his way along the hall to the front door. Not being able to see where he was going, and having only the wall as a guide, made the distance seem longer than before.
Edwyn pulled on the door, expecting it to open. He pushed on the door, even though he knew that it opened inwards. He pulled frantically on the door, using every ounce of his strength. But the door would not open. It was locked.
Creak. That sound had come from the bottom of the stairs, right at the end of the hallway. Even though Edwyn could not see anything in the pitch dark of the house, he knew that somebody – or something – had to be standing there.
Edwyn worked his way back along the hall, every moment expecting to feel some horrible creature grab him, for only some monster could ever live in something like the Dark House.
Edwyn knew that the first door to a room was on his left. Edwyn reached the door, and went into the room. Some light came through the windows of the room, just enough for Edwyn to see by, but not as much as should have entered through the glass, as though even the windows were resistant to light coming in from outside.
Creak. That sounded closer, like the passage just outside the door to the room. Edwyn did not wait to see what was there. Instead he picked up a wooden chair – one of the few items of furniture on the ground level – and hurled it at the window. The glass shattered, as did a lot of the window.
Edwyn climbed out, throwing himself away from the Dark House, and onto the grass outside… just as a pair of ghostly, white, giant hands, larger than human hands could ever be, grabbed at where he had just been.
But Edwyn did not even see them, or realise how close he had come to his end. He picked himself up and ran down the hill, away from the Dark House, just wanting to put as much distance as he could between himself and the place, all thoughts of spellbooks utterly forgotten.