Kenneth Oppel

Such Wicked Intent



The books flew open like startled birds trying to escape the flames. One after the other I savagely hurled them into the hottest part of the bonfire, watching them ignite almost before they landed.

We’d hauled everything out of the Dark Library, every alchemical tome, every grimoire, every glass vial and earthenware mortar. Father had ordered that it all be destroyed, and he’d enlisted the help of only our most trusted servants. But even with their assistance it had taken us many hours to carry it all out into the courtyard.

It was well past midnight now. There were no more books left to add to the conflagration, but my body still craved things to tear and throw. I prowled the margins of the fire with a shovel, flinging half-burned debris back into the center of the inferno. I was hungry for destruction. I looked at my father, the servants, their faces pale and terrible in the dancing light and shadow.

Pain throbbed from the stumps of my two missing fingers. The heat seared my face and brought water to my eyes. There was nothing remarkable about this bonfire, no spectral lights, no demonic whiff of brimstone. It was just cracked glass and burning paper and ink and reeking leather. The smoke lifted into the dark autumn sky, carrying with it all the lies and false promises I’d foolishly believed would save my brother.

The next morning I woke to the sound of the birds’ dawn chorus and had my brief blissful moment-always the smallest of moments-before I remembered.

He is gone, truly gone.

There was only a hint of light behind my curtains, but I knew sleep had abandoned me, so I sat up, my body stiff from the previous night. The smell of smoke was still trapped in my hair. I put my bare feet against the cool floor and stared blankly down at my toes. The dull pulses of pain in my right hand were the only reminders that time even continued to pass.

In the three weeks since my twin’s death, I’d felt neither fully asleep nor awake. Things happened around me without happening to me. Konrad had shared my experiences for so long that without him as my confidant, nothing seemed properly real. My sorrow had folded itself over and over like a vast sheet of paper, becoming thicker and thicker, harder and harder, until it filled my entire body. I’d avoided everyone and sought out places where I could be alone.

We were a house of ravens, dressed in our mourning black.

I clenched my eyes shut for a moment, then stood and hurriedly dressed. I wanted to be outside. The house was still asleep as I made my way down the grand staircase and opened the door to the courtyard. The sky was just starting to brighten above the mountains, the air crystalline and still. The bonfire had all but burned out, leaving a low, ragged pile of faintly smoking ash and fractured earthenware.

“Can’t sleep either?” said a voice, and in surprise I looked over to see Elizabeth.

I shook my head.

“Every morning I wake so early,” she said, “and there’s always just a second when-”

“Me too,” I said.

She gave a quick nod. In the severe lines of her black dress, she appeared thinner and paler, but no less beautiful. As a small child she’d come to live with us, an orphaned and very distant relation. Quickly she’d become part of our family, and a cherished friend to my brother and me-but this past summer my thoughts for her had often been more than friendly. I forced myself to look away. Her heart had always belonged to Konrad.

“So it’s done,” she said, staring at the smoldering remains of the Dark Library. “I saw you all, last night. Did it make you feel better?”

“Briefly. No, not even that. It was something to do. You didn’t feel like burning some books?”

She sighed. “I couldn’t. I felt too heartsick, just thinking of all the hope we’d put into them.”

It seemed an age, but was scarcely three months ago, that Konrad, Elizabeth, and I had discovered the secret passage to the Dark Library. It was a hidden storehouse of arcane volumes collected by our ancestor Wilhelm Frankenstein. Father had forbidden us from returning and said the books were filled with dangerous nonsense, but when Konrad became desperately ill and no doctor could heal him, I’d taken it upon myself to find a cure. One of the texts in the library held the recipe for the legendary Elixir of Life. With our dearest friend Henry Clerval, and under the guidance of an alchemist called Julius Polidori, we’d sought out the elixir’s three ingredients, each more dangerous to obtain than the previous. I glanced at my right hand, my two missing fingers. But even after all we’d risked, it hadn’t helped.

Staring over the pathetic remains of the bonfire, for the first time I felt a pang of regret. So many yearning theories and recipes.

“I can’t help thinking,” I murmured, “that perhaps if I’d been faster, or smarter, or found some other, wiser tome…”

“Victor-,” she said gently.

“And then other times I wonder…” I couldn’t finish my sentence.

For a moment she was silent. Then she stepped closer and took my hands. Her skin was soft and cool. “You didn’t kill him. Look at me. We don’t know what killed Konrad. Whether it was the elixir we gave him, or just his disease, or something else entirely. You’re not responsible.”

“There’s no color or taste to things,” I said, “no hope of things ever being what they were.”

With determination she inhaled. “He’s dead, and no amount of wishful thinking will bring him back. It’s a struggle, but I’ve resigned myself to that. And you must too.”

“You think his soul is elsewhere, though,” I said, knowing that she often traveled to the church to light her candles and pray. “I’ve no such consolation.”

She stepped closer and hugged me. Gratefully, my arms encircled her. I could feel her heart beating against my ribs.

“Nothing will be the same again, you’re right,” she said. “We’re in the depths of grief. But we’re also built for happiness. That I truly believe. We’ll find it again. We must help each other find it.”

She lifted her head to look at me. The sun had just cleared the mountain peaks, and in its pure light I saw the three whisker-thin scratches that Polidori’s diabolical lynx had left across her cheek. The urge to kiss her dizzied me-and for the briefest moment I wondered if she might want to be kissed.

I looked at the ground. My voice was hoarse when I asked, “And how will you find it, do you think, this happiness?”

“When things are more settled here,” she said, “maybe when spring comes, I plan to join a convent.”

In utter disbelief my eyes snapped back to hers. “A convent?”


It had been so long since I’d laughed that the sound that burst out of me probably sounded like the cawing of a deranged crow. But I was quite unable to stop.

Elizabeth released me as I staggered back, and crossed her arms, eyebrows compressed.

“And why is this so amusing?” she demanded.

I struggled for speech, swiping tears from my eyes. “Convent… you?” And then I could only shake my head.

“Keep your voice down,” she growled. “I haven’t told anyone else my plans yet.”

“I can’t… imagine… why,” I gasped.

“I’ll have you know, I’ve given it a great deal of thought,” she said stormily. “And I’m determined to accept all that’s happened, and place my life in God’s hands.”

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry,” I said, finally regaining some control of myself. I let out a big breath. It had felt good

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