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the shadows among the stars

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Lucy is quite sure that she is not going to sleep. Even after they have dismissed Amelie and the fun is over for the night, her mind is whirling madly with the weight of everything they have learned, and she is aware that Agnes and Lady Beaton are looking at her – well, not askance, exactly, though there’s still a sense of awe and wariness, as if she might be more powerful than she ever let on. But this has made it clear that she is of a strange and dangerous family line, that they could be meddling with a magical murder mystery on top of everything else, and that the identity of the culprit could be something that they do or do not want to actually discover. They have agreed to help her and teach her, but Lucy can feel them wondering if she’s been shamming, playing the naïve, ignorant newcomer, in hopes of getting them to reveal their powers and secrets, draw them off their guard. If it is going to be a question of calling Amelie up again, they may help her. Or they may not. They’re both Scottish, they’ve known each other for a long time as part of the same coven and sisterhood, and it is very clear that if need be, they will take each other’s side.

That is not even to mention the small facts that Jessica may have saved the Preston family in the past, that Lucy’s great-whatever grandfather could be the actual book they are looking for, and that vampires and witches can in fact, in some circumstances, interbreed. Lucy has no idea of the details or if there’s a certain kind of spell to achieve (or prevent) this result, or if there’s another tedious Congregation rule insisting that all half-breeds must die, because it seems like the sort of thing they would do. Or maybe it’s implicit in the rule against interspecies relationships. Now that she thinks about it, surely they wouldn’t be so paranoid about it if all the unions were sterile, right? Or maybe they’re just not a fan of tragic star-crossed supernatural romances? But if they don’t want creatures to mingle or marry, there has to be something to it, and this feels like one possible creepy racist pseudo-eugenics reason. But it wasn’t always the case. Richard de Prestyn and Anneke Proktor’s union may have been unusual, but there was no sense that it was illegal. So who did this? Why?

Lucy makes her way upstairs to the lady’s bedchamber in a distracted muddle, accepts Meg’s help to change into her nightclothes, then crawls into bed with her journal. It’s not that late, but there’s not much else to do, and she wants to make some sense of this, even by herself. Once Meg lights the candles on the sideboard and curtsies herself out, it is almost the first time Lucy has been completely alone since she landed in the sixteenth century. It’s odd. Lucy is an academic and an introvert, she is used to keeping her own company, but she’s slowly gotten used to the constant parade of parties and social engagements and servants and all the other reasons that mean actual private time is limited. When she’s in the bedchamber at night, Flynn is there, and now he’s not. She doesn’t mind it – it’s nice not to have her energy drained by constant interaction, not to be observed keenly, on a pedestal, the whispered scandal of London, the strange witch, whatever else people think of when they see her. But she does miss him. He is the one person she can let down her guard with, and they still only really have each other.

Lucy writes for a while, journal braced on a small portable desk designed for this purpose, dipping the quill and splashing ink on her fingers until they are stained blue-black. To say the least, this thing is not a modern rollerball, and it has taken her considerable practice to do so much as not leave blots everywhere. Lucy feels self-conscious about possibly getting drips on the sheets, aware that this is not truly her house, and that past-Maria might be angry at this evidence of dereliction on the part of her newly acquired daughter-in-law. Has Asher told his wife about all this? Surely he must have. Maria is back at Sept-Tours, presumably, along with Wyatt. (Is he named Wyatt yet? Doesn’t she remember something about him getting that name in the nineteenth century?) Maria doesn’t have her ancestral grudge against witches yet, but of course, Asher is still alive. Or is this messing with the future, changing memories, altering actions, in ways they cannot possibly understand or predict? Time travel. If Lucy ever thought it would be fun, from a historian’s point of view, to go to various different places and times as a sort of extra-chronological tourist, she is rapidly being disabused of that notion. The potential for extensive headaches is just not worth it. At the very least, she clearly has to avoid anywhere the de Clermonts are, and as they live so long, that is most of it.

Lucy writes steadily, finishes her journal entry, and puts it in a locked drawer. Then she goes over to the basin, scrubs her hands until the water runs ink-dark itself, and still has faint blue stains on her fingers when she’s done. Then she gets back into bed and pulls the covers up, settling down with a long sigh. She isn’t sure that she’s understood anything or actually sorted it out, and her feeling of missing Flynn has only gotten stronger, but it’s just one night and she’s not going to turn into some miserable, pining waif after twenty-four hours away from her husband. (Well, fake husband.) But the feeling of being by herself in 1590 is more anxiety-inducing than relaxing. It’s not like when you’re at home and can just space out and rest. You’re in a strange place with strange people, and anything could happen.

Reminding herself that Asher, at least, is in the house and unlikely to let anything get to her, Lucy closes her eyes and tries to drop off. But she’s just circling around the edges of real sleep when she hears something scratching softly at the window, like the branches of trees. Except the trees are all pruned back to sedate, civilized distances, and as she sits up, she can see some kind of shadow, darker than the deep blue summer dim, falling on the floor. She gets a whiff of something foul, like something dead and rotting, that makes her gorge rise, and all at once, she doesn’t think she should be lying here like a white-gowned damsel just waiting for the monster. If something is trying to get in, she’s going to –

Just as she kicks back the covers and raises a hand full of witchfire, the window breaks with a resounding crash, and something shoots in too fast for Lucy to see. She has a split-second impression of familiarity, the sinking sensation that she knows exactly what it is, before it dives at her, she screams and flings the fireball at it, and it misses, skittering off as ineffectually as if she’s tried to throw a peanut at an elephant. She still can’t get a look at all of it, but those gnarled teeth are unmistakable, snapping and biting at her throat, and hands like claws close around her arms, jerking her fully off her feet. It seems determined to fly straight back out the window with her, Lucy can see no good of letting it do that, and there are crashes and running footsteps outside her room, as other people obviously heard the window break. She kicks and flails, but her toes dangle as ineffectually as a puppet’s. Since the witchfire didn’t do anything, she winds up for a punch, which is likely to be even more farcical. She can’t get enough mustard on it from this angle, and the blow of a small historian is not likely to be a devastating one. That, or –

Lucy’s clawing fingers catch the edge of the hood, jerking it back, and she has the sense of something truly horrible beneath. A dry, desiccated thing, a zombie, looking as if it is slowly returning to some semblance of humanity, but is going to have to drink a lot more young blood to pass for that. Its eyes are blind and white, its teeth snapping at her, and for half a wild second, she thinks she recognizes it. Then it snarls at her, Lucy twists and thrashes and grabs onto the bedpost, but she’s not strong enough and it is going to spirit her out the window and away into the skies and she will never –

The next instant, the bedchamber door bursts open, and something else flashes across the floor too fast to see. Lucy only has a sense of falling, banging her head hard enough to make her see stars, as the newcomer leaps over her, twelve feet in a single bound, and grabs the zombie-creature as it tries to flap out the window. They tumble out together, as Lucy’s scream gets caught in her throat – it’s a three-story fall, and the landing below isn’t exactly soft. But she somehow scrambles to her feet, runs to the broken window, and looks out, not sure what is about to meet her eyes. A battle, or something much worse?

All she can see is the shapes of two indistinct figures, duking it out on the lawn among the elegant greenery and garden ornaments. They are both little more than blurs, but as the zombie-creature slams full-speed into one of the statues, smashing it off its plinth, the other one catches it as easily as a thrown baseball and flings it back. Lucy can make out just enough, by the light of the moon as it peers out from behind a cloud, to see that the second combatant is none other than Asher de Clermont himself. He fights with a lazy, effortless grace, a skill completely incomparable to any other warrior; they might have had ten or twenty years to practice, but he has had literal millennia. His movements are sharp and perfect and he seems to guess his enemy’s feints and lunges before it makes them. The rest of the house is woken, drawn by the ruckus, and candles and lights are struck in various windows, casting an eerie gold-umber glow on the lawn. The creature’s hood is still down, and Lucy recoils from its face. It looks like a man, but only barely. Especially as it tips its ghastly head up, those blank white eyes still fixed directly on her like a hunting shark, and she can sense that it has done anything but give up.

Asher is bare-handed, doesn’t have a sword or knife or anything else to administer the coup de grace, and as he grabs for it, clearly intending to break its neck if need be, the creature flies free. Asher leaps after it, gets hold of its ankle, and almost succeeds in dragging it down, but then one of the servants, clearly thinking that he’s being helpful and defending the master, aims a large blunderbuss at the centre of the confusion and pulls the trigger. The shot goes off, the resulting chaos causes Asher to lose his grip, and the creature shrieks, breaking more windows in the mansion. It hisses something that sounds like, “De Clermont,” and in another flash, like a smoky grey phantom, it takes to the skies and is gone.

Lucy stands paralyzed for an instant longer, then turns and sprints out of the bedroom, running down the stairs and out to the front door. She obviously cannot jump three stories out a window without a scratch, and she’s closely trailed by several members of the household, including Lady Beaton and Agnes. They find Asher on the lawn, uninjured but slightly winded, and wiping some unspeakable black residue off his face with a disgusted expression. Evidently the shot got a bit of zombie goo on him, and he sniffs it, then flings it aside. As Lucy comes hurrying up, he glances up at her and says, as casually as if he has done nothing more remarkable than chase off a nuisance dog, “Are you hurt, my lady?”

“I don’t – I don’t think so, but – ” Lucy is barefoot, wearing nothing more than her blowing nightgown, and one of the servants hands her a shawl in deference to modesty. She pulls it close, shivering for reasons that have nothing to do with cold. “What was that?”

Even as she asks the question, she has a feeling that she knows the answer, and Asher accepts the steward’s help to get to his feet. He aims a slightly severe look at the servant whose inopportune blunderbuss intervention cost him a chance to finish it off, and they cringe and shuffle their feet. “I suspect,” he says, “that it was the thing that my son noted to us before we left London. The – what was it called. David Rittenhouse.”

“It seemed to know you.” Lucy doesn’t know why it shouldn’t, the de Clermonts aren’t exactly random citizens, and the beast would probably be aware of who it was after. But there was something that seemed like real, personal, poisonous hatred in its snarl, and she grasps briefly at an unformed, unlikely thought. “I – I tried to fight it, but I – ”

“I’m not sure you could have stopped it,” Asher says. “It was very strong even for me, and something I have not encountered before. Come, now. Back inside, it could return.”

By dint of his calm and forceful orders, the household shuffles back into the manor, still agog over all this midnight excitement and exchanging worried looks and low-voiced speculation. Lucy is even less sure that she is going to get any sleep, and isn’t in the mood to go right back to bed, especially as her window is still broken. As the servants warm some spiced ale for them in the name of a restorative beverage, and even Asher looks as if he could use a tipple, Lucy says, “So that’s the monster? How did it get here? How would it know where we are, or – ”

“I have ideas. Theories, perhaps. Nothing of which I can be certain.” Asher steeples his fingers contemplatively, magnificent brow drawn in thought. There is still a little black gunk on his cheek, and he flicks it off, as Lucy thinks nervously of Gabriel getting poisoned by a seemingly trivial wound during his fight with Temple. She doesn’t think this is the case again, but she’d also prefer not to take chances. “It does seem, however, that it has a personal interest in you, my lady, and therewith also my son Garcia. It clearly did not mean to kill you, at least not immediately, but rather remove you to its own place of interest. That does not surprise me. You would, of course, be more valuable alive.”

Lucy does not find this comforting, even as she can’t blame Asher for trying to get to the bottom of this unexpected attack on his house. “Thank you for – for, you know.”

“Of course.” He inclines his head to her graciously, as if she need never be in any doubt that he would never stand for her being snatched by an evil flying zombie. “Nor, I must say, do I fancy explaining that to Garcia.”

She isn’t sure if that’s the hint of a joke, a dry, reserved humor, and holds her tongue instead, as the servants arrive with their ale and Lucy has several sips, discovering that she is more shaken than she first thought. She is still rather dazed from bashing her head on the bedroom floor, and a concussion would definitely be very low on the list of helpful things right now. After a long pause, she says, “Do you think it will come back?”

“We would be unwise to discount the possibility.” Asher speaks in a military commander’s voice, which he has so long been, even with his own sons. “It clearly has some manner of knowing our presence, or predicting our movements. I would go and search the grounds and heath, but I think it ill-advised to leave you alone. It could indeed be hoping that I go heedlessly after it, and leave you unguarded for a second assault.”

Lucy shivers. “So,” she says. “It did come after us. With us.”

“Not with you, surely?” Asher’s profile is impassive and sharp-cut in the low light, and it is a generous thing to say, even as Lucy doesn’t know if she deserves it. She feels obliquely responsible for visiting this danger and disruption on them. It would be one thing if Garcia returned here alone, although of course he couldn’t timewalk without her, but she is the fly in the ointment, the wrench in the gears, the person changing everything and drawing zombie-things down on everyone, who wasn’t here last time and has done only negligible good at being here this time. Whatever does get changed here, whatever does get ruined, it feels as if it ultimately falls on her.

“I don’t know.” Lucy looks down at the swimming golden surface of her ale, then takes another deep drink. “We’re the ones who traveled here and put you all in danger. We have good reasons for it, and we believe in what we’re trying to do, but it’s still because of us.”

Asher looks at her with startling gentleness, and for a moment, she thinks he is going to say something else. Whether to reassure her, or delicately ask for more information about when they came from, she can't be sure, but just then, they hear another distant crashing sound in the front hall. Events of the night being what they are, Asher drops his goblet and flashes to his feet, taking up a protective stance, and thus when the solar door bursts open and two shapes hurtle through in total panic, he is only narrowly prevented from throwing his eldest and middle sons directly through the wall. They skid to a halt, breathless, looking back and forth, as Lucy stares at them in utter disbelief. “Garc – Gabri – what are you doing…?”

“Jesus.” Flynn, as it indeed is, wipes his brow with the sleeve of his doublet. Both de Clermont brothers are grimy and windswept, looking as if they have outright sprinted the thirty miles from London to Essex in the dead of night, and stare around with slightly wild expressions on their faces. “We saw – broken windows, are you – ”

“Would you perhaps be in search of a particularly disagreeable monster resembling a dried corpse?” Asher asks. “Aye, it did pay a visit here, barely an hour ago. I saw it off.”

“You – ” It’s just then that Lucy notices that both Garcia and Gabriel are wearing swords, and not the fashionable, fussy dueling rapiers that are standard issue for every strutting Elizabethan peacock. No, these are heavy-duty, two-handed broadswords, probably the very ones they carried on any number of bloody medieval battlefields. They seem equally nonplussed that their use is not immediately called for, as Gabriel turns in a circle, Garcia blinks at his father, and then remembers Lucy, darting over to her in a panic and snatching her up off her feet. “Moja ljubav, are you – ”

“I’m fine,” Lucy says. “I knocked my head a little, and it broke the bedroom window, but your father got there before it – before anything worse could happen.”

Flynn shudders, clearly thinking of her narrow escape from Rittenhouse the first time, and she can practically see him resolving never to let her out of his sight again. He kisses her soundly, to which Lucy has no objection, and doesn’t quite let go even after they pull away, and she frowns up at him. “Wait. How did you two know it was here?”

“We raided Hubbard’s hive,” Flynn says tersely. “He is in fact harboring the monster there, but he insists it was because it ate several of his fledglings and it’s not by choice. Speaking of which, Jack – we think he’s a thrall for Rittenhouse, the way Jessica was for Temple. Must have used him to make sure we were out of the way, left the hive and attacked the Old Lodge first. Then when it didn’t find you, it must have come here. We guessed it would, at any rate, and it unfortunately appears that we were correct.”

“It attacked the Old Lodge?” Lucy is alarmed. “Is everyone – is Christian all right?”

“Yes,” Gabriel says curtly, speaking for the first time. “That was our greatest necessity to be certain of. Of course, my soft-hearted son was very concerned that we should find Jack, as the monster must have snatched him both for a drink and to be sure that he could tell no one else about it or where it had gone. There is good information to be had of the boy, so – Papa, did you say you frightened it off?”

“Indeed.” Asher raises an eyebrow. “I had nothing to kill it with, and one of the servants inopportunely intervened, but it did not manage to leave as it had planned.”

“Then the boy might still be around here.” Gabriel looks set to run back out into the night, in hopes of finding Jack stashed up a tree or behind a large rock. “If I find him, I can bite him and see what he knows of this.”

“Hold on,” Lucy objects. “Bite him again? I’m not suggesting we take him back into our house to keep spying on us, but – ”

Gabriel’s fangs flash at her, in a way that reminds her he will do absolutely anything to protect his family, already ran up here to Essex with Garcia under the fact that she grudgingly qualifies, and is not about to be gainsaid on this. “You leave that to me, sweet sister. I am grateful to see that you are unhurt, and Christian seems to have taken a liking to this poor lost puppy, because of course he has. I shall treat Jack gently enough, if I find him, but we must find a way to break the thrall. Papa, if you will pardon me?”

With that, not waiting for Asher’s answer, Gabriel turns and leaves the solar again, and the door bangs distantly as they see his dark shadow dart away across the grounds. There is a slightly awkward silence as Asher, Garcia, and Lucy try to avoid looking at each other, in the now-familiar shared judgment of Gabriel’s dramatics. Then Lucy says, “If you know now that it – that Rittenhouse is hiding out at Hubbard’s hive, you could go back there with all three of you and take it out, couldn’t you?”

“It is a thought,” Asher says, “but as Gabriel says, there is use to be had in seeing what our enemies know, before merely disposing of them. Besides, any attack by three heavily armed de Clermonts on Hubbard’s hive would very swiftly spill over into a vampire war, or impact upon all the folk of London, creature or mortal. Elizabeth’s deliberate ignorance and careful tolerance, possible only because she does not ask what we are and we keep the queen’s peace, cannot extend to pardoning rampant riot and disorder inflicted upon her unwitting human subjects. And when immortals of this caliber fight, humans always get hurt.”

Lucy can see that he’s right, even as it chafes at her that they can’t just go in guns blazing and drag the beast out. Then she supposes wryly that she has been fake-married to Garcia Flynn for too long, if that occurs to her as the preferred solution. Asher founded the Knights of Lazarus in part for this reason, to keep the supernatural-human balance and defend the daylight world from threats they would never see coming, and Lucy knows that he believes passionately in protecting the defenseless. She has seen in the present how Asher’s legacy and his philosophies about the dangerous nature of immortal power have influenced each of his sons. Surely he’s not suggesting that they leave Rittenhouse at large to terrorize London, and no matter the risks inherent in assaulting Hubbard’s hive, surely the alternative must be worse. She presses, “If you said that Hubbard himself didn’t agree to it, Garcia, surely he’d want help getting Rittenhouse out? Even if it came from you?”

“Doubtful,” Flynn says grimly. “As long as Hubbard makes himself compliant, raises no more objections to Rittenhouse’s presence and turns a blind eye to any indelicate feeding, he holds the key to the most powerful and dangerous creature in London. Nobody will dare attack or molest Hubbard’s hive as long as it is known that the beast resides there, and Hubbard is too damn good a politician not to get his money’s worth for it. He can force the witches or the daemons for concessions, and of course, he can discipline his fledglings, get them to see the mighty dark power that awaits if they set a toe out of line. Hubbard may not want it there, and he claimed that he wanted it gone, but I can guarantee that he doesn’t want it anywhere else. And given our track record, there would be war.”

Lucy chews that over. Yet again, there arises the question of how much is too much to change, the fact that they are interfering in a set matrix that has already played out to a particular conclusion, and starting a full-out fang war would be actively detrimental to future history. But how does that responsibility weigh up over what they need to do, what they have to do? Rittenhouse has clearly come here after them, but does that make them responsible for his presence? He is not going to be in the least constrained by tender considerations for following generations, and Flynn is, to state the obvious, not a man accustomed to fighting with the gloves on. He already suggested essentially torching history to save Asher and Christian. If he’s forced to tiptoe around and make neutered, safe, non-cataclysm-causing moves, is that really going to do anything against Rittenhouse at all? How did he get here? Lucy wishes suddenly she had Carol’s letters again, needs to know if she said anything else about this. Why would Rittenhouse be important to the Prestons? Is he part of the family too?

That is a horrible enough thought that she wishes she didn’t have it, even as the sneaking voice in her head whispers that it’s not implausible. If Rittenhouse is a timewalker and came here from another century, it’s possible that he too is descended from Amelie Wallis, and hence from Richard and Anneke. Lucy already noticed with Jessica that destiny seems to be clustering especially closely around this bloodline, a powerful and talented and troublesome lot, and while not every timewalking witch springs from the same root, everyone says it’s a very rare skill. With all this question of creature genetics, of the potential heightened abilities of cross-breeds, wouldn’t it make sense to be particularly strong in one branch of a family? Especially if that family was founded by the union of a vampire and a witch?

That reminds Lucy, however, that there’s something she should probably talk to Flynn about. If they aren’t going to stand here awkwardly waiting for Gabriel to return, with or without Jack, they might as well go upstairs and hash it out. She tugs at his hand. “Garcia?”

“Mmm? What? Yes.” He shakes himself and, for once, picks up on her unspoken intention – see, they’re getting better at this silent marital communication thing. He follows her protectively upstairs to the bedchamber, whereupon his mouth goes thin at the sight of the broken glass on the floor, the gaping dark hole in the window, and the clear evidence of a struggle. He clearly can’t quite trust that she escaped totally unscathed, and cups her head in both hands and seems to be checking her eyes for signs of brain damage. This is sweet of him, but unnecessary, and he frowns worriedly. “Did you – ”

“Garcia, I’m fine.” Lucy pulls him down to sit on the bed next to her. “Actually, I need to tell you about something else that happened this evening. Before… all that.”

With that, she explains their success in summoning Amelie Wallis – or, as she was at the time, Amelie Prestyn, and the many unsettling things that she told them. Flynn looks even less enthused about the idea of Jessica running around in Innsbruck and getting mixed up with Heinrich Kramer, who is a legendarily nasty piece of work, but it’s less clear if that is due to personal concern for Jessica’s safety (unlikely) or the further ripple effects that she could have on everything. “Wait,” he says at the end, once Lucy has gotten to the subject of Richard and Anneke and their marriage – and their son Henry, Amelie’s father, the one whose unexplained death may have resulted in him being skinned and made into Ashmole 782. “So vampires and witches – they definitely can have – ”

“I don’t know,” Lucy cautions. “I don’t know if it’s possible with all of them, or if it’s a special circumstance, or – whatever. But yes, in this case, it seems it is.”

Flynn remains frowning for a moment longer, before his eyes light up in total horror and he leaps off the bed as if it has suddenly caught on fire. “We have – twice, are you – is there any chance that you might be – ”

“I’m not pregnant,” Lucy says reflexively, even though it is obviously too early for her to be completely sure in any case. She doesn’t think so, for whatever reason, but she was not expecting unprotected sex to be an issue when sleeping with a vampire. If it’s true that they need to find some sort of magical birth control (she thinks the only option for condoms in the sixteenth century are socks, which no thank you), then they can do that, but Flynn is still looking horrified. “It would be ironic if I was, since Meg was so convinced of it – but no. No, I’m not. I’ll see if I can ask Lady Beaton about it, but – ”

“Are you – ” Flynn clearly does not want to interrogate her too untowardly about her feminine mystique, but he still looks wary and wild-eyed, pacing and waving his arms like a drunken windmill. “If you – you can’t –  ”

“No,” Lucy repeats, a little hurt at his apparent insistence that this would be the worst thing to ever happen. She is not remotely in the mood to risk anything passing for Tudor obstetric medicine, and she will be conscientious about tracking down whatever she has to, but it’s never completely flattering when the man you love looks as if he might have a heart attack at the thought of ever having a family with you. Lucy’s not made up her mind about whether she wants kids, not exactly, and to say the least, Flynn has issues around this subject stretching back a literal millennium and a half. This is not the time, this could not possibly be less of the time, and she supposes that they’re lucky they found out about this now, before they could in fact possibly have an accident. But every normal human grownup in a possibly procreative relationship has to talk about kids and birth control and family planning with their partner, and if Flynn is shooting bolts at the very mention of it, Lucy might be giving him too much credit to think he could handle anything else. “Garcia, I promise, it’s not – we aren’t even actually married yet, this is a while off, but – ”

“Maybe we should…” Flynn looks as if he is working himself up to suggesting something deeply unpleasant, that he nonetheless is honor-bound to put forth for the sake of form. “You know, not sleep together any more. Just to be completely safe.”

“Why am I not surprised that your solution to this problem is to immediately suggest total celibacy again?” Lucy can’t help it, she’s frustrated, and it shows through in her voice. “Trust me, I could not be in more agreement that it’s the last thing we need right now. But this idea that a woman can either have sex with the possibility of pregnancy or not have sex at all – I’m sorry, that is one thing I’m glad we have left in the past, thank you very much. I know there are herbal recipes and folk medicine if nothing else, but I’d be very surprised if witches, who are often women and have been for hundreds of years, never invented a birth control spell and anything else to do with fertility magic. Agnes is called the Wise Wife of Keith, I’m entirely sure she can help me. Unless this is just another excuse to back away, if you regret what we did, or – I’ve asked you a hundred times, but if you still won’t tell me, you won’t talk to me or trust me, then we can’t do this in any number of ways, and – ”

She is rising to the brink of a shout, and bites her tongue. Flynn looks stunned, as yet again, he has failed to grasp the emotional complexities of this situation or the fact that it might be hurtful for him to immediately suggest they stop having proper intimate relations, when they have only just, tentatively, actually started. Lucy wants to be angry at him, but she just feels tired. She does not intend to give him up just to avoid getting knocked up, she doesn’t want to be knocked up right now anyway, and she realizes why he would panic about everything to do with fatherhood, she does. Maybe he wants a couple decades to sort out his relationship with Jiya first, which would be understandable, but Lucy is mortal and will live an ordinary lifespan, and she’d be in her fifties by then. She doesn’t run on the luxury of unlimited time, the reason Gabriel and Garcia constantly put off fixing their broken relationship, apparently assuming that there would always be a chance later if they changed their stubborn, stupid minds, until it was too late. She doesn’t know, but she at least wants the choice.

There is a long pause as they stare at each other, Flynn clearly scrabbling to figure out how he put his foot in it this time. Then he snaps his mouth shut with a click, which is always his best option, and creeps back to sit down next to her again. “I’m sorry.”

“I shouldn’t have yelled at you.” Lucy feels numb, dull, drained, but she is under so much pressure that she feels like someone has crammed too many beads on a string and it’s about to break and scatter all over the floor. And in some sense, he is the only person she can shout at, knowing that he will take it and won’t hurt her or form a disparaging opinion of her manners or report to the Queen about her, that he is the only person with whom she is ever truly safe. She feels close to tears. “I’m sorry, Garcia, I – I’m sorry, I just – ”

“Shh.” He scoops her into his arms, holding her against his strong chest, clearly sensing that the best route to fixing this is a lot of cuddles and not saying anything else inflammatory. (On that, at least, he is not wrong.) “Shhh, moja ljubav, shh. I just – I was frightened. I couldn’t – I worry about you enough as it is. If it was you and a child – ”

“I know, I know.” Lucy nestles her head restlessly against his collarbone, exhausted and anxious at the same time, wanting desperately to collapse into paramount unconsciousness but too highly strung for that. “Besides, there’s always some obnoxious subplot about trying to kill it because It Is An Abomination To All Creaturekind or whatever. It’s already against the Covenant for us to be together, so I don’t imagine they’d take this well. But I – ” She hesitates. “I just didn’t – if you were completely repulsed by the idea, I – ”

“Shh, no, no, of course not.” He continues rocking her, dropping small kisses onto her hair. “I just reacted badly. Again. Shhh.”

Lucy appreciates his cuddling and his clumsy efforts to make up for it, but she is still too fractious to be easily calmed, keeps feeling the anxiety magnifying and sparking in her blood. It is very late; indeed, with the short summer hours of darkness, the night has already started to leaven with approaching sunrise. But she wants him to put his mouth where his money is, and there is a certain heightened need coming in the wake of both their argument and a near-death experience. Before she can think better of it, she says, “Bite me.”

He looks down at her, startled, but at least he doesn’t pull away. “What?”

“Bite me,” Lucy repeats. “You’re barely eating – I think you’ve, what, fed twice since we got here? Once on Gabriel and once on your father? It’s been over a month, I know you’re hungry, and for some reason, you – you won’t. With me. You’ve done it before, remember? I don’t know if you suddenly decided that I was made of glass again, but I – I just – please.”

She doesn’t want to beg, but her fists close on his shirt anyway, raw and desperate, and Flynn still looks as if it has never occurred to him that it would be anything apart from an unavoidable and slightly messy burden for her. Good God Almighty, this man has a strong claim to being the thickest that ever lived, and that’s a high bar to clear. But after another pause, he searches her face for any hesitation, doesn’t find it, and finally licks his lips and nods tersely. He lifts her up, laying her gently back into the pillows, and gets up to shuck his boots, swordbelt, cloak, and other dirty and poky accessories. Once he is stripped down to his shirt and breeches, he climbs back onto the bed and settles himself carefully on top of her, bracing his weight on his elbows. He extends his fangs, lowers his head to her neck, and kisses and licks lightly at the bumping thread of her pulse at the vein. Then, quick and sharp, so she barely feels the pain except for a brief burning sting, he bites.

Lucy arches her back, lifting herself up into him, as the lazy, giddy euphoria of the feed begins to ripple through her body. Flynn is apparently trying a few things, drinking quickly or slowly, changing the tempo of his little gulps as his hand runs down her side, cups around her hip, and then works its way between them. Lucy utters a slightly frenzied little whine into the side of his head as he pushes up her nightgown and starts thumbing her clit in time to his sucks. As ever, he is careful not to take too much, but as the deft, relentless work of his hand starts pushing her toward the edge, as he slides a finger and then two inside her and uses it to augment the efforts of his thumb, he takes two hard, deep sucks that send white sparks cartwheeling through her vision. She sighs, moans, and comes harder than she ever has in her life, clenching tightly around his slick fingers as he keeps wringing every bit of sensation out of her, takes one more drink, then pulls back. He kisses and licks the small puncture marks, encouraging them to close over, and sits up, wiping his mouth with his other hand and looking somewhat pleased with himself. “Better?”

Lucy feels hot, wet, and completely flattened, every inch of tension having run out of her along with anything resembling solid flesh or bone. She lies there, wrung-out and flushed, dewy and quivering, as he settles back down next to her, wrapping himself around her as if in personal promise that he will kill the next hooded hellbeast that comes busting in here. “Shh, ma lionne,” he says, kissing her ear. “Sleep. I’m with you.”

He is, he is, and god, he is so very frustrating, but she loves him so much, and she does not want to be anywhere else in the world than in his arms. Lucy is exhausted for any number of reasons, and can barely keep her eyes open an instant longer. So she closes them, and crashes beneath the surface of a deep, catatonic unconsciousness.

They both sleep several dreamless hours, and wake sometime late the next morning, still tangled together and knotted in the quilts. Lucy supposes that it’s an unfortunate way for it to happen, but she can’t object to getting her first proper lie-in in weeks. Once she manages to peel her sticky eyes open, she looks down at Flynn, regretfully decides that it would probably be a bad idea to have the full event before she makes those enquiries about magical birth control, and reflects that being a responsible adult is really a drag sometimes. That doesn’t mean they can’t have any fun at all, and she drags her mouth over him, waking him up with small kisses and light nips, until a crack of greeny-hazel shows under his lashes and he utters appreciative groans as she makes her way downward. Then she takes him in her mouth, and it turns into whispered, incoherent swearing.

Lucy is pleased with this effect, sets to her work with vigor, and within the span of a few minutes, has succeeded in reducing Flynn to the same speechless, trembling jelly state in which he left her last night. Once she has sat up and wiped her mouth, and he is completely cross-eyed and has torn actual holes in the sheets, it is another several minutes before he can finally work up the gumption to speak. “Jesus.”

“Mmm.” Lucy leans down, nuzzling his nose with hers, and they kiss again. She is glad that the idea of strict celibacy has died the swift, lonely death it richly deserves, but can’t be entirely sure that it won’t recur later, because Garcia Flynn. At any rate, they should probably get their hands off each other and actually get around to heading downstairs and dealing with the myriad outstanding crises that doubtless remain. “Should we go back to London today?”

“Our audience with Dee isn’t until Friday,” Flynn says. “You and Agnes and Lady Beaton probably have more work to do. I’ll have to get back and see what the hell is going on, I imagine, but if you return tomorrow, that gives you another day to practice.”

“I suppose.” Lucy kisses him again, then rolls out of bed, wondering if she should summon Meg to dress her in her clearly ruffled and post-coital state, but then, this is the sort of thing that one’s lady’s maid is trained to discreetly overlook. Once Flynn has thrown on his shirt and breeches and thumped out, Meg arrives to do the honors for Lucy, and looks at her flushed cheeks, tangled hair, and kiss-wet lips. “So,” she says delicately. “It has all – been sorted out, that is? With my lord? Saving your pardons, my lady?”

“Er, yes, I hope so.” Lucy coughs. “Actually, Meg, I had a question. If I wanted to – to not get a child, do you know anything that would be meant to do that?”

Meg’s surprise is obvious, as most Elizabethan married couples would be much more interested in ensuring they had children, rather than preventing them. Infant mortality rates are not as completely terrible as they could be, but plenty of children still don’t see the age of twelve, the family is the natural and expected unit of society, and children are valuable as heirs to estates and daughters for marriage alliances – or in ordinary working families, as part of the household economic production. That said, women have had strategies for managing or spacing their pregnancies in every age and era in the world. Lucy wrote her goddamn PhD thesis on the Voynich manuscript arguing that it was just that, after all, and Meg thinks for a moment. Then she says, “Is everything – I mean, my lady, is there something amiss? If it is a woman’s complaint, I could find a midwife, or – ?”

“Ah, not as far as I know, no.” Lucy can feel her ears heating. Meg is evidently not going to suggest Agnes, the wise woman already in residence beneath this roof; witches are known to slaughter babies and drink their blood in Black Mass sacrifices, after all, and it’s clear that Meg thinks no innocent child needs to be anywhere near Agnes, no matter how harmless and grandmotherly she looks, just in case. Meg seems to feel that Lucy’s reticence might owe itself to everything not working, or there being some kind of disease or vaginal tear or something else to make sex and childbirth uncomfortable and unpleasant. “I just – I would prefer not to, just this very moment.”

Meg is clearly not sure if this is something she should arrange without Flynn’s knowledge, in case she might be knowingly conspiring to deprive the lord of his rightful expectation to heirs. But she’s already agreed to overlook quite a bit more outrageous behavior from her employer, and finally nods. “There are certain herbs, my lady – tansy, pennyroyal – but they can be dangerous if taken in quantity, or cause bleeding that will not stop. But I will ask the old goodwife in Islington that saw to my sister’s confinements.”

“Thank you.” Lucy waits as Meg finishes her dressing, then turns to her. “I mean it. And I’ve discussed this with Garcia – my lord. So you’re not going behind his back.”

“The pair of you are – strange.” Meg bites her tongue. “But I’m glad to hear so.”

She finishes Lucy’s toilette, braids her hair and pins it up, and sees herself out, and Lucy makes her way downstairs, hearing voices coming from the kitchen. When she lets herself in, she finds Asher, Gabriel, and Garcia all keeping an eagle eye on a battered and scratched-up Jack, who is inhaling a bowl of porridge with honey as if his life literally depends on it. It might, for that matter, and Lucy shoots a questioning look at her brother-in-law, who returns it with an expression of blankness slightly too studied to be entirely genuine. There are fresh bite marks visible on Jack’s neck, but it’s not clear if those are from Gabriel or from Rittenhouse, and Lucy hopes that Gabriel at least would feel some qualms about chomping into a child like a Christmas turkey. She can’t really ask the obvious questions about his retrieval and/or disenchantment while he’s there, and waits until Meg arrives to take firm but kind charge of the boy and marches him off for a wash. Then she says, “So you did…?”

“I found him about a mile off,” Gabriel says. “I cannot be certain whether Rittenhouse forgot him in his haste to depart, or if he left him there on purpose to keep watch on the house. There was a thrall on the boy, a strong one, but I mesmered him so he did not feel a thing, and drained enough of the poison from him to break it. At least for now.”

Lucy remembers Agnes saying that she did not like something about Jack, that they should be wary of him, and wonders if that alone was it. “Should we still have him here?”

“I could return him to Blackfriars,” Gabriel says. “Strictly speaking, he is Hubbard’s responsibility. But I would be condemning him to a slow, draining death, as Rittenhouse seems to intend to keep him alive as long as he can to get the most blood from him, then dispose of him. And I have seen for myself what sort of father Hubbard is to his brood, and no matter my other flaws, I will not have truck with it. My son will be most upset if I let anything happen to his pet, and there is more use to be had from him.”

Lucy glances sidelong at him. “So you’ll tend to Jack? If nothing else, for Christian’s sake?”

“I would do anything for Christian.” Gabriel speaks utterly matter-of-factly; he does not need to boast or preen about it, but nor will he stand for it to be challenged or questioned in any way. “If that includes attempting to civilize grubby young urchins, or at least preventing them from being done to death in unfortunate fashion, then yes. From what I tasted of him last night, he has had no part in this, and tried to run away from the Old Lodge rather than suffer Rittenhouse to descend upon it and hurt us. We are likely the only folk to show him any sort of kindness in his short life, and while I know you may have good reason to question my honor, my lady, that does not extend to murdering innocent children in cold blood.”

Lucy flinches. “I was never suggesting you would.”

Gabriel does not answer, but picks up the nearest wine goblet and takes a drink, appearing neither to notice or care that it is yesterday’s sour dregs. He avoids the gaze of his father and brother, then gets to his feet. “I should be back to London. I mislike leaving the house without any of us for long, and I have other enquiries to make besides. Papa, I will leave the boy here for your examination, so you may contrive a more permanent way of undoing the thrall. Garcia, when you return, perhaps you shall do me the courtesy of waiting on me then? There is more to be done. Good day.”

With that, Gabriel bends over his father’s hand, exchanges air kisses with Garcia and Lucy fast enough to resemble a handsome blur, and once more gets the fuck out of there. They are left in that accustomed post-Gabriel state of mild stupefaction, not sure whether to be more annoyed or concerned, until Asher glances at Flynn. “Have you said anything to him?”

“I tried to explain last night, when we were at Hubbard’s.” Flynn looks frustrated. “I can’t help it that he seems set on being an utter – ”

Asher raises the other eyebrow, and whatever colorful insult Flynn was set to call his brother dwindles into unfortunate oblivion. Then the de Clermont patriarch rises to his feet as well. “I will remain here with Lucy if you also wish to return to London today, Garcia. We do of course hope that my services in defending her will not be called for again, but if they are, you may be assured that I will not fail in their execution.”

“I don’t doubt you, Papa,” Flynn says, with a slight and pointed stress on the ‘you’ that its target is not around to appreciate. “But if you are going to keep Jack here and try to undo his thrall, just – be careful, all right?”

“I would be nothing less.” Asher looks for a moment as if he might say something else, then decides against it. He and Lucy see Flynn to the door, where Flynn bends to kiss her, and both of them cling a little longer than necessary. Then Flynn bows to his father as well, only for Asher to completely startle him by pulling him into a proper embrace. No matter how demonstratively affectionate a father Gabriel is with Christian, it’s still not the norm, and Lucy gets the sense that Asher prefers to show his love by setting a strong example and holding the family together. Flynn freezes up, then hugs his father back, coughing rather a lot, and Asher steps back, taking hold of his shoulders and looking at him as if in all-too-terrible recognizance of the fact that someday, sometime in the unknown future, he will no longer be able to. “Go on, Garcia,” he says. “I will mind your wife.”

“Ah. Yes. Thank you, Papa.” Flynn harrumphs again, turning away in search of a discreet way to rub the back of his hand across his eyes, then gives Lucy one more kiss and pulls on his cloak. They stand there watching him until he is out of sight down the drive, and then Asher politely excuses himself to go see to Jack. For her part, Lucy decides not to waste the practice time, and goes to find Lady Beaton.

They make their way out to the long lawn where Rittenhouse and Asher were fighting last night, the turf still scuffled and torn up from the immortal cage match. Lady Beaton glances at it with lips pursed. Then she turns to Lucy. “Did ye ever ken what yon beastie was?”

“I… sort of.” Lucy isn’t sure how much information to share with the older witch, even though Lady Beaton heard everything with Amelie last night. She clearly doesn’t like Hubbard, which she can’t be blamed for, but she is also too good a politician not to profit from the situation, and she’s definitely not constrained by any desire to make things easier for Elizabeth. Lady Beaton might well welcome a full-scale imbroglio for the Protestant whore who killed Queen Mary, and if it comes at the vampires’ expense, all the better. “We’re working on it.”

Lady Beaton glances at her with one plucked eyebrow arched, but decides not to press for details. Lucy, eager to change the subject, goes on, “Before we start, I had a question. We learned last night that under certain circumstances, a vampire and a witch can procreate, and I was wondering if you knew anything more about that.”

“What?” Lady Beaton glances at her in surprise. “You dinna want bairns with your husband? True, he’s an idiot, and a bloodsucker to boot, but he’d give you strong children, and you could then have the charge of raising them.”

“I’m not sure, I just… not now.” Lucy rolls up her sleeves, preparing to return to the work of conjuring a familiar. Aside from the need to prevent herself from inadvertent motherhood, she is trying to delicately pry for information about the abilities of hybrids that might explain Rittenhouse, and why anyone would want to make Henry de Prestyn into a book, but does not want to say so directly. “Is there an edict against it?”

Lady Beaton shrugs. “Nay, no edict that I ken, but ‘tis a very rare thing, and the results unpredictable. The name for such creatures is the Bright Born, and they can have the long lives of vampires and the magic of witches. No very comfortable for those on either side, ye see. If your many-times great-grandsire was one such thing, then aye, someone could ha’ taken an interest in him, and sought to gain his abilities for themselves, by some dark and evil devising. Perhaps they killed him directly for that purpose, or perhaps he met his death by some other misfortune and some unscrupulous twa-bit huckster offered bits of him as a most magical creature. Ye ken what cannibals these men are, Lady Clairmont. They would care nothing for the manner or reason of his death, and only what could be gained from it.”

Lucy has to agree. Medical or research ethics are very far from any sort of thing in the sixteenth century, and if Henry de Prestyn dropped dead of unrelated causes, however unlikely that is, he could have fallen victim to someone selling him off, like relics of a saint, to educated gentlemen with magical or alchemical or occult interests. She has an odd feeling that she’s missed something, that the answer is right under her nose, but can’t bring it to mind. Educated gentlemen with magical interests. That certainly describes the School of Night, doesn’t it? She doesn’t think Sir Walter Raleigh would actually order a man murdered for the sake of scientific specimen or study, and she doesn’t want to think so, since she found him gracious and charming. But that’s a slender thread to dangle anything from, and they have to explore all possibilities. They have thought this whole time that the School would help them find Ashmole 782, but what if they made it? What if they have worked with Dee all along, and the reluctance to let them speak to the esteemed alchemist is not just a matter of judiciously avoiding Elizabeth’s wrath, but fear of what he might say?

No, Lucy thinks. Sir Walter himself got them the audience with Dr. Dee, he wouldn’t have done that if he wanted to avoid them meeting him at any cost. But if so, would that not be a shrewd maneuver on its own? Hedging too long about keeping them apart might provoke suspicion, and if he went and spoke to Dee privately beforehand, he could have warned him that some subjects were not to be broached, and that he needed to be on guard when Lucy and Flynn arrived. But Raleigh certainly seemed insistent that nothing could be discussed until the matter of Roanoke had been settled, and if he was hoping to put them off for months…

Lucy really hopes she’s wrong about this, and it’s possible that Raleigh neither gave the order nor had anything to do with its execution. But that would be comparable to Elizabeth’s studied ignorance of the supernatural world, where explicit guilt is avoided only by never uttering it out loud, even if the truth is well suspected. Would Marlowe know about this? It seems unlikely that he wouldn’t, and Flynn has certainly given the daemon no incentive to help him. Marlowe is both a leading member of the School and some sort of double agent, though for whose side is entirely inscrutable. He is in love with Flynn but sleeping with Gabriel, and still might sell them both out, as well as Lucy, if the price was right. Accusing him to his face would definitely backfire, and besides, accuse him of what? Lucy has no evidence that a crime has even been committed, far less by who. But she’s suddenly wondering if it’s a good idea to walk into their audience with Dee on Friday so unprepared. They might well need to ask several more questions first, but if they suddenly reschedule it at the last minute, will that also be suspicious?

Lucy tries to focus on the work, since Lady Beaton is giving her censorious looks urging her to pay attention, but all of this keeps running through the back of her head. Lady Beaton informs her that there are indeed women’s charms, things not for the knowledge or eyes of men, that she can procure, if Lucy is indeed serious about not conceiving. Lucy tells her that she is, and figures that between magical and mundane methods, something has to work. It isn’t the pill or Depo-Provera or an IUD or any of the modern medical options, but the human race survived for thousands of years without Big Pharma. They’ll get by.

The two witches practice for the rest of the day, until Lucy can almost reliably conjure a familiar, a fireball that has the shape of a dragon. She thinks it’s female (as Donkey would say, a girl dragon!) though she can’t say why. It’s a pretty thing, made of incandescent gold-glittering flame, that swoops and loops around Lucy’s head in lazy circles and perches on her shoulder with an almost insubstantial weight, claws digging in hot little pricks into her flesh. Lady Beaton eyes it approvingly. “Ye’ve made vast strides these two days, Lady Clairmont. I think ye have the makings of a great witch indeed. What shall ye call it?”

Lucy didn’t know that she was supposed to pick out a name for the creature, or if it has one that it will reveal to her in due course. She says that she’ll think about it, and as the sun has dropped low in the trees, she wonders if this is the time to give it its first order. “How far can it be separated from me?”

“It depends,” Lady Beaton says. “Some witches’ familiars can go out many miles across the countryside, gather the talk and gossip, and then return to their mistresses’ sides, but yours is newly made, and I wouldna tax it so just yet. All will come in time.”

Lucy supposes this is sensible, and that her first thought of ordering it to London to spy on Walter Raleigh can probably wait. Since this is enough work for the day, they go inside to change and sit down to supper, where Agnes, having kept an eye on their progress from an upstairs window, is complimentary of the results. “A quick study indeed, Lady Clairmont. Were ye thinkin’ to call up Mistress Wallis again tonight?”

“No, not yet. We need to find out more about what – what’s happened, before we do.” Lucy is also wary of annoying Amelie too much, in her old fear that she’s imposing on everyone, though they might call her up years since they last talked to her, on her end. Besides, they do need more solid information on Henry de Prestyn, and it’s clear that Amelie either doesn’t know or won’t say what happened to her father. Probably the former at this point, but still.

The witches retire to their respective rooms after supper, as Asher has been busy with Jack all day, and Lucy wonders if she should seek him out and/or pay a call in the name of politeness. Then again, if Zombiehouse does turn up again tonight, she might see him whether or not she does so or not. Everyone dearly hopes not, but still.

Lucy does not get much sleep that night, as she is entirely too prone to opening her eyes with a start at small noises, but it passes without any assaults from evil monsters. She wakes up relatively early the next morning, and decides that she’d like to get back to London as soon as possible. The meeting with Dee is tomorrow, and she wants to have time to confer with Flynn about her suspicions beforehand, see if there is any profitable intelligence to be unearthed in the interim. So she gets up and quickly packs her things, opens the drawer to take her journal out, and –

It’s subtle enough that she doesn’t notice at first. But there is definitely something disturbed around it, a slight magical aura that does not belong to her, and it is enough to make her certain that someone has been in here, someone has been reading this. If it was another witch, Agnes was in the house by herself all of yesterday while Lucy and Lady Beaton were working. Or it could have been Lady Beaton herself, though Lucy isn’t sure when she would have had the opportunity. Asher has had custody of Jack the whole time, and it is extremely unlikely that a feral street child has the least idea how to read. Could Rittenhouse have returned last night in a much more subtle and undetectable way? Is he getting stronger? But if he was here, why not just snatch her again and fly out the window, like he tried the first time?

Lucy doesn’t know, and isn’t sure whether to confront either of the older witches with her suspicions. Agnes is justified in wanting more information about this mess that she has been summoned into, but Lucy can’t help but feeling it is a breach of trust. This is her journal, her private thoughts, the one personal refuge that she has aside from Flynn, and she doesn’t like the thought of anyone reading it, especially for unknown purposes. She stuffs it into her bag, goes downstairs, and gives orders for the carriage to be readied.

An hour-odd later, they are all aboard and leaving the New Lodge, on their way back into London, Asher once more decorously accompanying them. This time it also includes Jack, looking scrubbed and meek and silent, so the ride is even more crowded than before. Meg, who seems to have taken a liking to the lad, lets him sit on her lap and points things out the window to him, as Jack listens in intent, solemn-faced attention. When he’s not inadvertently responsible for summoning demonic entities to kill them, he is pretty cute.

They take a lot longer getting back to London than they did getting out, since the road has flooded into a bog of mud in several places, and they are caught in an insanely slow-moving queue leading to Aldgate, since it’s a market day and people from outside the city are thronging inside with goods and livestock. Everyone is hot, hungry, and more than ready to get out of the damn carriage by the time they bump through the gates of the Old Lodge some six hours later, and at the sound of it, Flynn comes hurrying out. It was probably a nice run of no more than thirty minutes for him, and the delay must have had him worried. “There you are,” he says, lifting Lucy down. “I thought – ”

“No, we weren’t accosted,” Lucy says wryly. “This time. Just usual traffic.”

Everyone piles out like clowns from an overstuffed car. Agnes is shown inside, and Lady Beaton collects her maid and makes ready to retire to her own house in the city. Then there’s a sound at the far side of the courtyard, and Christian hurries out, looking completely distraught. “Grandfather, Aunt Lucy, I – it is my fault that the beast knew where to find you. I could have brought great harm to you, and I – I am so profoundly sorry, I cannot – ”

Lucy is both amused and sympathetic as Flynn’s nephew throws himself to his knees in the mud, clearly looking as if this is the worst insult ever wrought and there is nothing too extreme to ask of him in penitence. Asher, behind her, also surveys his grandson with a look as if he is biting his cheek so as not to smile. “It’s not your fault, lad,” he says. “You did bring Jack here, aye, but your heart was good. I have done what I can for him, on your father’s insistence.”

“I just…” Christian sniffs. “I could not stand to think that he had been left alone, and nobody to give a fig for him. It is not just that so many children and other innocents must suffer, when so many others have the means to care for them.”

“It is not,” Asher agrees, with a fond look in his eye as if this sweet, sweet boy is in some ways the de Clermont the most after his own heart, with Christian’s dogged insistence that they all do their part to make life better for others insofar as they can. “Your aunt and I are ultimately undamaged, as you can see, so you needn’t flog yourself for too long. Where is your father, by the way?”

“Oh, uh.” Christian goes that faint hue of pink that is the most that vampires can manage of a blush. “I think he may, er, have gone to commence, ah, indecencies with Master Marlowe.”

Asher looks tolerantly exasperated, but not surprised, at this news of his eldest son’s evening itinerary, and it is not clear whether he then intends to track him down and interrupt him from them or just leave him bloody to it. He helps Christian up and assures him that he is forgiven, as Jack steps out of the carriage, spots Christian, and Christian rushes over to greet him like a much-loved little brother. Lucy is the one who has to bite her smile this time, since looking at Christian could make anyone actually want children, then turns to Flynn. Low-voiced, she says, “I need to tell you something.”

He frowns, offers her his arm, and escorts her inside, the back of the house away from prying ears. Lucy economically spills her suspicions that Raleigh may have had something to do, intentionally or unintentionally, with acquiring the body of Henry de Prestyn for further magical study, and that he may have arranged for Dr. Dee to receive it and/or to write Ashmole 782 as an investigation of its nature. Flynn’s frown deepens, as he has obviously been spending a lot of time with Raleigh over the last several weeks, and she can see him resisting the idea that his friend would be capable of this to start with, much less deliberately concealing it from him. “There are certainly those who would do that, yes,” he concedes, when Lucy is finished. “But Sir Walter isn’t – he is not someone who strikes me as the sort, and I have known him a long time.”

“You used to know him,” Lucy corrects, as gently as she can. There are obviously over four hundred years separating this Flynn from his last acquaintance with Raleigh, and she also doesn’t see the man as the type, but they do have to think of everything. “And we’ve always known that the School of Night is involved with this somehow, and that they know more than they’re saying. We need to find more about Richard and Anneke de Prestyn, their family, and anything they were involved with. I assume that is Preston in Lancashire, like you asked me about that one time in Woodstock. Apparently my family is from there after all.”

“Apparently,” Flynn agrees, though he’s still abstracted. “But if we need to find information about creatures from Lancashire, we can’t exactly – ” He stops. “Oh, son of a bitch.”

“What?” Lucy frowns at him. He wears the look of a man who has just had a brainwave, and is wishing very much that he didn’t. “Did you think of something? Someone?”

“Unfortunately,” Flynn says, “I am afraid that I did. There aren’t that many creatures outside of London, so they all know each other at least in passing and have for many generations. Besides, Lancashire adjoins Yorkshire. Who do we know from Yorkshire who is a creature, who is experienced in the art of covert intelligence gathering, and very well could be friends or distant neighbors with the Prestyns at this very moment?”

It takes a few seconds for Lucy to put the pieces together, and then she is strongly tempted to echo his reaction. “Oh no,” she says. “Not him.”

“Yes indeed.” Flynn’s smile is as grim as winter. “Guy Fawkes.”