“You know, that’s not necessarily true,” Henry said, unable to restrain his inner pedant. “There’s an issue of translation from the original Aramaic—”
“Henry,” Charlotte said warningly.
“Do you really trap the souls of the demons you kill in a gigantic crystal?” Mortmain went on, wide eyed. “How magnificent!”
“D’you mean the Pyxis?” Henry looked baffled. “It’s not a crystal, more like a wooden box. And they aren’t so much souls—demons don’t have souls. They have energy—”
“Be quiet, Henry,” Charlotte snapped.
“Mrs. Branwell,” Mortmain said. He sounded dreadfully cheerful. “Please do not concern yourself. I already know everything about your kind, you see. You’re Charlotte Branwell, aren’t you? And this is your husband, Henry Branwell. You run the London Institute from the site of what was once the church of All-Hallows-the-Less. Did you honestly think I wouldn’t know who you were? Especially once you tried to glamour my footman? He can’t bear being glamoured, you know. Gives him a rash.”
Charlotte narrowed her eyes. “And how have you come by all this information?”
Mortmain leaned forward eagerly, templing his hands. “I am a student of the occult. Since my time in India as a young man, when I first learned of them, I have been fascinated with the shadow realms. For a man in my position, with sufficient funds and more than sufficient time, many doors are open. There are books one may purchase, information that can be paid for. Your knowledge is not as secret as you might think.”
“Perhaps,” said Henry, looking deeply unhappy, “but— It is dangerous, you know. Killing demons—it’s not like shooting tigers. They can hunt you as well as you can hunt them.”
Mortmain chuckled. “My boy, I have no intention of racing out to fight demons bare-handed. Of course this sort of information is dangerous in the hands of the flighty and the hotheaded, but mine is a careful and sensible mind. I seek only an expansion of my knowledge of the world, nothing more.” He looked about the room. “I must say, I’ve never had the honor of talking to Nephilim before. Of course, mention of you is frequent in the literature, but to read about something and to truly experience it are two very different things, I’m sure you’ll agree. There is so very much you could teach me—”
“That,” Charlotte said in a freezing tone, “will be quite enough of that.”
Mortmain looked at her, puzzled. “Pardon me?”
“Since you seem to know so much about Nephilim, Mr. Mortmain, might I ask if you know what our mandate is?”
Mortmain looked smug. “To destroy demons. To protect humans—mundanes, as I understand you call us.”
“Yes,” said Charlotte, “and a great deal of the time what we are protecting humans from is their own very foolish selves. I see that you are no exception to this rule.”
At that, Mortmain looked actually astonished. His glance went to Henry. Charlotte knew that look. It was a look only exchanged between men, a look that said, Can you not control your wife, sir? A look, she knew, that was quite wasted on Henry, who seemed to be trying to read the upside-down blueprints on Mortmain’s desk and was paying very little attention to the conversation.
“You think the occult knowledge you have acquired makes you very clever,” said Charlotte. “But I have seen my share of dead mundanes, Mr. Mortmain. I cannot count the times we have attended to the remains of some human who fancied himself expert in magical practices. I remember, when I was a girl, being summoned to the home of a barrister. He belonged to some silly circle of men who believed themselves to be magicians. They spent their time chanting and wearing robes and drawing pentagrams on the ground. One evening he determined that his skill was sufficient to attempt the raising of a demon.”
“And was it?”
“It was,” Charlotte said. “He raised the demon Marax. It proceeded to slaughter him, and all of his family.” Her tone was matter-of-fact. “We found most of them hanging headless, upside down in the carriage house. The youngest of his children was roasting on a spit over the fire. We never did find Marax.”
Mortmain had paled, but retained his composure. “There are always those who overreach their abilities,” he said. “But I—”
“But you would never be so foolish,” Charlotte said. “Save that you are, at this very moment, being that foolish. You look at Henry and myself and you are not afraid of us. You are amused! A fairy tale come to life!” She slammed her hand down hard on the edge of his desk, making him jump. “The might of the Clave stands behind us,” she said, in as cold a tone as she could muster. “Our mandate is to protect humans. Such as Nathaniel Gray. He has vanished, and something occult is clearly behind that vanishing. And here we find his erstwhile employer, clearly steeped in matters of the occult. It beggars belief that the two facts are not connected.”
“I—He—Mr. Gray has vanished?” Mortmain stammered.
“He has. His sister came to us, searching for him; she had been informed by a pair of warlocks that he was in grave danger. While you, sir, are amusing yourself, he may be dying. And the Clave does not look kindly on those who stand in the way of its mandate.”
Mortmain passed a hand over his face. When he emerged from behind it, he looked gray. “I shall, of course,” he said, “tell you whatever you want to know.”
“Excellent.” Charlotte’s heart was beating fast, but her voice betrayed no anxiety.
“I used to know his father. Nathaniel’s father. I employed him almost twenty years ago when Mortmain’s was mainly a shipping concern. I had offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tianjin—” He broke off as Charlotte tapped her fingers impatiently on the desk. “Richard Gray worked for me here in London. He was my head clerk, a kind and clever man. I was sorry to lose him when he moved his family to America. When Nathaniel wrote to me and told me who he was, I offered him a job on the spot.”
“Mr. Mortmain.” Charlotte’s voice was steely. “This is not germane—”
“Oh, but it is,” the small man insisted. “You see, my knowledge of the occult has always been of assistance to me in business matters. Some years ago, for instance, a well-known Lombard Street bank collapsed—destroyed dozens of large companies. My acquaintance with a warlock helped me avoid disaster. I was able to withdraw my funds before the bank dissolved, and that saved my company. But it raised Richard’s suspicions. He must have investigated, for eventually he confronted me with his knowledge of the Pandemonium Club.”