Harrison had no idea how lucky he was.
Edmund had experienced by that point one of the worst days of his existence, one bordered by the deaths of loved ones and the day that Rafe had been sent away into the Navy. But whereas each of those previous days had provided moments of clarity, of purpose and definition, this one left him completely adrift.
It was not a condition that suited Edmund Greyson.
The day his brother had been sent away had been its own kind of horror. He hadn’t known at the time why Rafe had been expelled. He knew only that his father was furious, his mother quietly resolute in her decision to send her child away, and that his job was to calm his sister, distract Stephen, and not ask questions. His father stood at the rudder of the family, but he was the keel.
His father’s death was sudden but not wholly unforeseen: he was a hale man, but he was seventy-five and had been slowing down in the months that preceded the stroke that felled him. They all grieved, but it was in the natural order of things, and Edmund took on the burden of leading the family as he had been trained.
Charlotte’s death had been a white hot misery. It was an amputation, a loss of something vital that now vacillated between numbness and searing, phantom pain. With it had come a terrible purpose, though. His life was now a tidy box, precisely his height and breadth, and a short list of tasks to accomplish.
And then there was today. And for the life of him he could neither see where it had gone so terribly wrong or why it made him now so miserable.
When it came to choosing a husband for Willamina, he had promised their mother that the gentleman would be well to known to them all. He had promised himself that any suitor would be of an appropriate age. So when Thomas had expressed interest, he thought this great concern was neatly wrapped up.
And somehow it was Stephen’s anger that was the worst of all. In short, by the time Harrison came into his own rooms, Edmund would have just has happily thrashed him for the exercise.
Instead, he just said, “Here’s what we have yet to determine, John. Did the man who gave you this play you for a fool, or are you really that stupid?”
What he did not expect was for the man to collapse onto the bed, put his head in his hands, and begin to weep. Edmund closed his eyes, willing himself to not crush the whiskey glass, or throw it at the craven buffoon. Instead he tossed back the rest of the liquor and prayed he wouldn’t have to play nursemaid much longer.
Once Harrison had collected himself, he said, “I never wanted to get into this. I got in over my head in gambling debt. Graves offered to buy me out, and all I had to do was help him with a project. And hell, it sounded like fun at first. You can’t even imagine what a thrill it is, the change…”
Edmund repressed a shudder. “But now?”
Harrison said, “Now, he’s building an army. Not just here, either. He’s been traveling the continent, too.”
“Do you know why?” Edmund asked.
“No, but I know he’s working for someone else. Graves—he’s the man you’re after—kept saying that we were just one piece of the big picture, that we were a part of something greater. But the truth is, I think he was in it for himself. He thought he’d become a god.”
Edmund barked a laugh. “Did he happen to mention which one?”
That got a half smile out of Harrison. “Actually…”
After he finished speaking to Harrison, Edmund knocked on Dr. Casmin’s door. He and Stian were inside, reading.
“Waiting for me?”Edmund asked.
“Trying to stay out of the blast radius,” Casmin answered.
“Well, none of us believe in doing anything half-way,” Edmund said, ruefully. “Do you have any siblings?” he asked Stian.
“Not living, no,” the duke answered quietly.
There was a moment’s awkward silence then, before Casmin said, “You spoke to Harrison?”
“I did. The man he’s working for is named Graves, and he in turn certainly seems to be working for someone else. Whatever he’s up to here is, Harrison thought, only a small element of a larger plan. Again, no surprise there. But Graves seems certifiable; he thinks this ritual tomorrow night will make him a god.”
Stian groaned. “Not one of those.”
Edmund raised an eyebrow. “This happen often?”
“I get about one a year,” Stian said. “They’re all completely insane, but they manage to do a fair bit of damage before we take them down. Just once I’d like to see someone decide to attempt deification by means of extreme charity. But no, it’s virgin sacrifices here and mass homicides there. Which god does he want to be?”
“Wotan,” Edmund said.
“Oh, that’s an old classic.”
Casmin added, “Thank you, Wagner.”
Stian scowled. “Don’t even get me started on that pile of excrement. But as to this, ah Graves, I don’t suppose he’ll be hanging himself on a handy yew tree for a while.”
Edmund shook his head. “No, although Harrison said he was hoping to gain some influence over Yggdrasil.”
Stian’s grin vanished instantly. “Are you sure?”
“Probably still just a madman, Stian,” said Casmin.
“Most likely,” Stian agreed. He did not look convinced.
Casmin added, “But we’re now in shoot first and ask questions later territory.”
Edmund frowned. “Why the concern? It’s just a myth.”
“Some myths are more than metaphors,” Stian said.
“And some metaphors are a bit material,” Casmin said. “Stian, do you need to—”
The duke waved him off. “No, I spoke to Josef last night. If there were trouble, I would know.”
“Right,” Casmin continued. “Madman or not, we need to make sure that whatever he’s trying to do tomorrow night doesn’t happen.”
“Agreed,” Edmund said. “We’ve got tomorrow to plan.”
There was a knock on the door. Casmin opened it to reveal John Harrison.
“I just got a message from Graves,” he said. “Our timeline’s been moved up.”
“Of course it has,” Edmund said darkly.
“The artifact he’s been waiting for came early,” Harrison continued, “and I guess he didn’t want to wait.”
“So much for a carefully laid plan,” Casmin said.
“Well, god or not,” Edmund said, rising, “I’ve found a large bore shot to the back of the head will take care of most things.”