Unusually, Edmund was the last to arrive at Rafe’s townhouse the next day. He came in, slamming the door behind him, and went directly to the liquor cabinet. Pouring a whiskey, he asked Rafe,
“Can I move in with you?”
“Excuse me?” Rafe asked, incredulous.
Edmund slid a stack of books off the end of the couch before sitting. “It’s a rat’s nest, but it’s peaceful.”
Edmund’s assessment was accurate, if somewhat unfair. Rebecca Greyson made the townhouse a gift to her middle son on his discharge from the Navy; it had belonged to her uncle, and on his death it had mostly sat empty. Giving it to Rafe served a multitude of functions, not least of which being that it removed him from the house and the constant pressure of Edmund’s scrutiny while keeping him near enough for her sanity.
“There’s a reason I spent the day studying,” Stephen added.
“Domestic troubles?” Casmin asked.
“The country house needs a new roof, Willamina’s cat has taken off, and we lost our cook,” Edmund said. “My morning has consisted of five kinds of female hysterics, several unexpected bills, and the utter ruination of my New Year’s plans.”
“You chased off another cook?” Rafe asked.
“Third one this year,” Edmund said. “At least she’s staying until the New Year. The last one gave her notice at breakfast and was gone by dinner. Mother’s in a snit, Willamina is re-enacting Wuthering Heights over a flea-bitten tabby who couldn’t catch mice, the scullery maid has decided to pick every available fight with the cook now that she’s on short time… In the name of fraternal affection, Rafael, you have to let me stay here.”
Rafe stopped laughing long enough to say, “Sorry brother, but the answer is still no. The entire point of this place is getting away from you lot and I mean to keep it that way.“
Edmund groaned. “You know I’m still technically the one that pays your allowance until you’re thirty.”
“I have other sources of income,” Rafe said. “Blackmail won’t work.”
“If he moves in,” Stephen added, “I do too. You can’t leave me there alone.”
Casmin couldn’t help but grin. It was the first time, he reflected, that he had seen Edmund really smile. The shadows around him were, if not lifting, at least fading. Then he looked at Stian, who was watching the brothers with a wistful expression. It was a rare, unguarded moment for the duke, but it reminded Casmin of the first time he had seen him. He had been ten at most, and trying to look very much the man. The effect had been almost comical: a scrawny, half-grown boy surrounded by guards three times his size. He had never decided if it was funny or sad that every one of them, fearsome with their spears and wolf-pelt cloaks, were terrified of the child. Or, for that matter, that the princeling had been aware of it.
He let them banter on another minute before saying, “Terribly sorry to interrupt, but there was a reason for meeting here, if I remember correctly.”
“Right,” Mogen said as the brothers fell silent. “When Andre first contacted me about your difficulties four months ago, I told him to look at Charlotte’’s neck. I was looking for this mark.” He put a piece of paper bearing the now-familiar symbol on the table that sat between the couch and two chairs. “I was hoping not to find it, but we all know how that went.”
Edmund nodded slowly, mirth draining from his face. “You know this brand.”
“Yes,” said Stian. “This mark was first seen almost twenty five years ago, on a body that was found in Baghdad. Since then, it has appeared from time to time, but never more than once or twice every few years. We were suspicious, but had almost nothing to pursue. We couldn’t know why these people were killed, or how. There was no connection between them: the mark was seen in Persia, Russia, Japan, Mali… men, women, old, young. There was no logic to it, and we could do no more than note its presence. But now, three times in so few months? It is significant.”
“You think this is all the work of one man?” Rafe asked. “But we thought –”
Stian raised his hand to interrupt him. “You found one man responsible, yes. And he was how old again?”
“Thirty,” Rafe said. “We were at school together briefly.”
Robert Whitethorn had confessed to causing Charlotte’s death. He had also claimed responsibility for the near death of her ward, Amelia.
But Stian was shaking his head. “Too young.”
Stephen asked, “A… society, then? A kind of cabal?”
Casmin said, “It’s not just that Whitethorn is too young to have committed the other crimes.”
“He’s too young to have committed any of them,” Stian finished. “Forgive me, Edmund, but Charlotte’s death… it is not the work of an amateur. That kind of working, it requires years of training and experience. Great discipline. Dedication.”
Rafe leaned back against the wall and folded his arms, scowling. “None of that describes Rob Whitethorn. He was a drunkard at 16, and the fact that we found him in an opium den suggests his nature didn’t improve with age.”
They were all silent before Edmund said, “Are you telling me we got the wrong man?”
“No,” Stian said quickly. “But I do not think he acted alone. And whoever he was working in concert with has been slowly working for almost thirty years. And we were completely unaware of it. This makes us… greatly uncomfortable.” Stian frowned as he said the words, as if they, and the concept behind them, were new. “Anyone with this kind of power should have been known to us, one way or another. The fact that he has kept himself hidden, learned entirely in secret… it’s unprecedented. Completely,” he said, looking at Casmin significantly.
“You, what,” Rafe asked, a bit incredulous. “Keep a directory of every known magic user in the world?”
Stian shrugged. “My family has been around a while. We keep an eye on these things.”
“And that, students,” Casmin said drily, “is the definition of an understatement.”
“Be that as it may,” Stian continued, “He has been intentionally avoiding our notice. There’s a bit of debate as to what that means. My father is willing to consider that he merely escaped our observation: there has been rather a proliferation of magic users in the last one hundred years.”
Rafe blinked. “I thought your father was no longer with us.”
“You’re correct,” Stian said. “He died five years ago.”
Rafe and Stephen looked at each other, eyes wide. “Excuse me?” Stephen asked.
“We’ll discuss that later,” Casmin said before turning back to the duke. “I take it Beorn disagrees?” Casmin asked.
Stian nodded. “My grandfather maintains that concealment should be perceived as an inherently hostile act. On one hand, he has a tendency to take anything as a hostile act…”
“But you’re inclined to agree with him?” Edmund finished.
“This time, yes. He’s been dead for twenty years, but he’s still the sharpest of the bunch.”
Edmund twitched visibly.
“You talk to the dead.” Rafe said.
Stian paused, thinking, before he shrugged. “Only some of them. They’re not generally good conversationalists, but there are exceptions.”
“Right,” Rafe responded. “That’s really creepy.”
“I hate to even bring them up, but have you spoken to the Brotherhood?” Casmin asked.
“They asked me what I was doing in their territory.”
Casmin’s face darkened. “They did what?”
“We’ll worry about them later. Right now we need to figure out where this pack is, and what they are doing. Because right now, it’s all we have to work with.”
“And that’s not much,” Edmund said.
“No, it’s not. But I do not think we will have to wait long to find out more.”
The really irritating thing about Mogen, Casmin thought the following afternoon as he walked from his flat to the Greyson’s family home, was that he was so often correct. Another body had turned up: killed during the night, most likely, but not found until a barmaid carried out the garbage from the lunch rush. Once he reached the house, he was admitted and told to await Mr. Greyson in his study.
He passed Stephen on his way down the corridor.
“News?” Stephen asked.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Casmin said.
“I’ll be right down back down,” Stephen said.
It was then that Casmin noticed a cat sitting on the bottom step. He frowned. “Stephen? How long has that been here?”
“The cat? It showed up this morning. Wils must have let it in – hers hasn’t been back yet, and you know how she is about them.”
Casmin waited until Stephen was upstairs before glaring. “Are you out of your god damned mind?” he hissed.
The cat simply stared back.
“Be at my place by midnight, or so help me…” he broke off as Edmund began down the stairs.
“Ah, there you are!”
“Something’s turned up, I take it?” Edmund said.
“Another body. I’m off to take a look, if you care to join me.”
Edmund nodded. He turned, and called up the stairs, “Stephen, we’ll be out front. And Willamina?”
“What?” she called back from her room upstairs.
“Come get this cat. You know you’re supposed to keep them out of the rest of the house.”
Edmund simply shook his head as he grabbed his coat and headed out the front door. “I’m living in a mad house.”
Willamina came out into the hallway just as Stephen was pulling on his coat. She looked at the cat sitting on the stairs. She blinked. Rubbed her eyes. Looked again.
“Can people turn into other things?”
“No reason.” She picked up the cat, a buff colored, long haired creature, and carried it upstairs.
They met Rafe when they reached the lot where the body had been dumped. “Where’s Mogen?” he asked.
“Couldn’t find him,” Casmin responded. “Could be anywhere.” Stephen looked at him sharply, but said nothing.
Walking over to the corpse, Rafe grimaced. Kneeling down, he said, “I know this one.”
“How?” Edmund asked.
He scratched his head, and looked up, squinting awkwardly. “Remember that, er, bar I mentioned?”
Back at the house, Willamina went to her room and closed the door. She set the cat on her bed, and stared at it. Finally she said, “So who are you, anyway? You seem… familiar. Have we met?” She blinked. “I’m sitting here talking to a cat.” She leaned over to scratch its ears. The cat froze for a moment, then lazily closed its eyes and leaned into her hand, purring.
There was a quick rap on her door, and her mother came into the room. “Willamina, I need you to…” Rebecca paused, raised an eyebrow, and crossed her arms. “As I was saying, I need your help downstairs. But first, you’d better put that cat out before your brother gets home.”
An hour later, Andre Casmin was anxiously pacing the floor in his flat. Anxiety gave way to relief, then proceeded to anger when Stian opened the door and came inside. Casmin put both hands on the table and sagged for a moment. “Allow me to repeat myself,” he said. “Are you out of your god damned mind?”
“What am I supposed to tell your father when he comes back to haunt me? ‘I’m sorry, Dag, I promised to look after your boy for you. I know you’ve had an unbroken line of Mogens seated in the Hjelm for twelve hundred years, but I didn’t foresee the idiot risking it all on his infatuation with a redhead.’”
Stian scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. I was in no danger…”
“Have you met her brother?”
“And my interest in the girl is purely professional. I had only met her the once, and I had to get a closer look.”
“And?” Casmin asked.
“And I was right before. She’s absolutely astonishing.”
Casmin looked at his friend. He was grinning ear to ear and his eyes were dancing, and his frame could barely contain his energy. Professional interest my ass. “Is that so?”
“She knew me.”
“She…” Casmin grew alarmed again.
“Well, not exactly. She didn’t know it was me. But she knew I wasn’t a cat. Stephen didn’t even blink, you saw that.”
“You’re right, that is astonishing.” Damn it, Andre cursed inwardly. He was right again.
“How long did it take you to learn to see past a Form?” Stian asked.
“Your father taught me…”
“And she’s doing it naturally. That’s True Sight. Do you have any idea how rare that is?” He was practically jumping up and down.
Andre sighed. “I do. But how exactly does this information help us, Stian?”
Stian gaped at him. “What do you mean, how does this help us? This changes everything…”
“It changes nothing. We’re still stuck unable to do anything about it.”
Stian deflated, sitting heavily on the couch. “Greyson is that stubborn?”
“Again, have you met him? Yes. He’s that stubborn. And that afraid for her future.”
“Stian, you were raised to this.” He sat down next to the younger man. “And, I think, you’ve gotten used to the office. I know, you didn’t ask for it, and you don’t particularly like it. But you’ve grown accustomed to being the law. In this case, though, he has the right of it. He’s her guardian, and unless she specifically asks for our help, our hands are tied. And even then, we’d have to evaluate if the… political ramifications are worth it.”
“And this is all over her marriage prospects?” Stian asked.
“I’m starting to wonder. But you know, there’s one obvious solution here…”
Stian stiffened. “Have you been talking to Josef?”
“I had a letter from him a month or so ago, yes.” Casmin tried to keep his voice light.
“I will not be managed, Andre.”
He was startled by the anger in the duke’s voice. “It was a joke, Stian.”
“I’m a grown man.”
“Then act like one.” He grinned, hoping to lighten the mood. “Stop climbing onto girls’ balconies like a love-sick sixteen year old.”
It worked. “I did no such thing!” Stian smiled back. “I climbed down from her balcony, but I went in through the front door.”