“Shit,” Rafe said, sitting up suddenly. “They’re still out there.”
“That just occurred to you?” Stian said. “They should be fine. They had a half-mile start on us, if they stuck to the plan. But Fetch will check on them.”
“And everyone else?” Rafe said.
Stian gave him a hard look. “We’re lucky that the weather turned so foul. A few sheep will probably be missing in the morning, but the Hunt had a quarry when they set out. Hopefully, that’s all they’ll take.”
Rafe sighed in relief and flopped back onto the floor. “So we’re all right then?”
“Well, the countryside at large should be safe,” said Stian. “Should be. Because we are very, very lucky in spite of your stupidity. And your brothers should be safe. But you, as you so eloquently put it a moment ago, are fucked.”
It wasn’t a full half hour later that Stephen and Edmund returned.
“What the hell happened out there?” Edmund asked.
“Your brother’s an idiot,” Stian responded.
Edmund gave him a sidelong look. “What, you’ve just noticed?”
Casmin, having heard the late arrivals coming up the stairs, joined the party. “How did it go?”
Stian crossed his arms and looked at his friend. “What’s the worst thing that this… example of humanity could have done in this scenario?”
Casmin looked between the duke and Rafe. “He didn’t.”
“He did,” Rafe said. “Now would either one of you explain why you’re looking at me like that?”
“You didn’t tell him?” Casmin asked Stian.
“Of course not,” Stian said jovially. “It was so much more fun to sit here and watch him squirm.”
Edmund frowned. “How did you two get back so fast?”
“Long, boring story,” Stian said. “Do you want to tell him, Andre, or should I?”
“TELL ME WHAT?” Rafe yelled.
Casmin rubbed his eyes. “Well, the good news is that you only blew the horn to escape an enemy. If you had done it frivolously, or for gain, the odds are good that you’d be the next target. As it is…”
“Wait,” said Stephen. “He actually blew the horn?”
“Do catch up, Stephen,” Rafe said. “You were saying, Professor?”
Casmin looked around at his audience before concluding, “There’s a fairly good chance there’s a god out there who now believes you owe him a favor.”
“It’s also possible,” Stian said, “that the Hunt was willing and eager to take down Graves and his wolves for their hubris.”
“In which case I’m home free?” Rafe asked hopefully.
Stian’s face was suddenly serious. “No, I’m afraid not, Rafe. Either way, you’ve attracted the attention of a god. This is not a good thing.”
Rafe mentally ran through the list of things Stian considered “not good,” and gulped. “How ‘not good’ are we talking?”
Stian shrugged. “I’m not exactly the right person to ask.”
“And there’s no way of knowing,” Casmin said. “But as a general rule, gods are enormously powerful, tens of thousands of years old, and possess a set of motivations that are completely alien to ours.”
Rafe gulped. “So what do I do?”
The two mages looked at each other and shrugged. “There isn’t much advice that is useful in a situation like this,” Casmin said.
“Except whatever you do, don’t sleep with them,” Stian added. Seeing the looks from Edmund and Casmin, he said, “What? It’s the best advice my grandfather ever gave me.”
“And he would know,” Casmin said darkly.
“Right,” Rafe said. “Now that this entire trip has been one disaster after another, can we go home now?”
After consulting with his mother and sister the next morning, Edmund agreed with the general consensus that a swift return to London was in order.
Actually, Rebecca’s tactful comment was that, Christmas being in ten days, there were a great many things yet to be done at home. Willamina was far more forceful, as she had spent most of the previous day in her room avoiding an angry Veronica. The weather had turned cold and snowy, preventing any further outdoor excursions, and in all, the removal of the party out of Bath’s environs and back to the city was easily accomplished. Things between the brothers were still tense, but were eased a little when Edmund insisted on riding with Willamina and Rebecca on the trip home.
On the train, Rafe was watching his younger brother. He appeared deep in thought. “What are you thinking about, Stephen?”
“Divine providence,” Stephen said.
That garnered a few raised eyebrows. “Well, you said before we left London that this invitation was either a trap, a coincidence, or a manifestation of the will of God.”
Rafe squirmed. “I’m suddenly finding my belief in coincidence reaffirmed.”
After a day of unpacking and relieved sleeping, they all reconvened at the house. “I’ve had word from Harrison,” Edmund told Stian when the duke arrived.
“He made it out all right?” Stephen asked.
“By the skin of his teeth,” Edmund said. “A bit at loose ends, now.”
“I’ll speak to Arseni,” Stian said. “His pack suffered significant losses in this as well. If Harrison is willing to take his guidance, he could be quite the asset to them.”
“There’s no chance of an exorcism, then?” Edmund asked.
“He probably wouldn’t want one, even if it were likely to work,” Stian said. “Which it usually doesn’t, in these cases.”
“Why not?” Edmund asked.
Stian shrugged. “Being a wolf is a lot of fun.”
“Except for that pesky losing your clothes bit?” Rafe asked, grinning at him.
“Yes, except for the socially awkward part,” said Stian. “It would be a hard thing to go back to being human after having that kind of power. Arseni’s pack can help him retain control, and take care of things if he fails.”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t fail, then,” Edmund said.
“Agreed,” Stian said. “Meanwhile, I have questions about that horn.”
“I gave it to you,” Rafe said, “and I promised to never touch it again.”
Stian quirked up a corner of his mouth. “Yes, but I thought it looked familiar. I sent back to Hjelm for a book, and it should be arriving…”
There was a knock at the front door, and Casmin scowled at the duke. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you.”
Edmund looked around. “It’s already crowded in here. Why don’t we move to the parlor.”
As the party made their way down the hallway, Stian drew close to Edmund. He took a deep breath and said, under his voice, “Have you ever heard the expression ‘There’s one in every family’?”
Edmund raised an eyebrow. And then Higgins opened the front door, and a man stepped through in his shirtsleeves and carrying an enormous volume.
“Stian!” he called. “I brought this thing, but for Christ’s sake, it couldn’t wait? I was supposed to be in Prague with Xun…”
Stian closed his eyes, sighed, and then looked to Edmund. “My uncle, Yevgeny.”
Edmund nodded. “I see. And sympathize.” More loudly he said, “The parlor is to your left.”
Yevgeny carried the book in and set it down none too gently on a table. Willamina, who had been reading by the fire, looked up, startled, and stared at him. Yevgeny gave her a knowing grin, and looked around.
“Not bad,” he said. “For London.”
Stian cleared his throat. “Yevgeny, behave. This is Mr. Greyson, the owner of this fine home, and his youngest brother, Stephen. Casmin you know.”
“Not introducing me?” Rafe asked.
“No,” said Edmund and Stian in unison.
“And this is my sister, Willamina,” Edmund said.
Yevgeny winked at her.
“As I was saying,” Stian said, pushing Yevgeny aside and opening the book, “I thought the horn looked familiar. And if I remember correctly…”
The volume was bound in leather and filled with parchment rather than paper. It was handwritten in a script that was scarcely legible and contained a number of pen sketches. Stian flipped to a page near the front and said, “Here it is.”
It was readily apparent to what he referred. The sketch, which filled the large page, was of a massive beast. It had something of a rhinoceros in its build, if a rhino were mated to a highland bull by way of something that would turn up on shore after a hurricane. And atop its head were a pair of curving horns, identical to the one they had taken back from Graves.
“What does this mean?” Edmund asked.
“What does it mean?” Rafe repeated. “I think the better question is what the hell is that thing? Sorry, Wils,” he added.
“I think it’s an appropriate occasion for obscenity,” Willamina said. She peered at the image, leaning in to inspect it closely as the men talked.
“It may mean nothing,” said Stian. “That is… well. It is a creature. It doesn’t have a name in our languages. It appeared here a little over 900 years ago. Beyond that I don’t know much. Yet.”
“I’m getting tired of hearing that,” Edmund said.
“I know,” Stian said.
They all stood silent. Then Yevgeny said, to Willamina, “What are you thinking, djevochka?”
She ran a finger down parchment next to the drawing and bit her lip. “It’s just. It has two horns, doesn’t it.”