My dear Lord Peter Wimsey,
Or should I say favorite cousin? I think I should. Of all my bothersome relations you are definitely the least likely to berate me, sniff at me, or pout when I refuse to steal the thingummy from the whatsit. At least your adventures don’t end with me being chased by policemen. Or Spodes.
Your nephew is taking after the Wooster side of the family, by the way. Heard he convinced several of his mates to steal police helmets! Gets his damned luck from the Wimsey side, though, he got off scot free; I’m rather excited to see what happens when he finally switches on. Aunt Dahlia thinks he’ll be a Sentinel, Aunt Agatha thinks the “jackanapes better never bloom, he would destroy his parents’ Pride,” and the rest of the family is rather split down the middle. The bets are enormous by now, it’s quite barmy.
Of course I think he’ll be a Guide, the little blighter. Smooth as a silk tie, he is, much like you were, old bean.
But this is supposed to be a welcome home letter, so welcome back to bally old England! Missed you like mad, the old girl did (considering my position, I think I ought to know). Warning you now, old chap, gird thy loins before you go see your brother. Last time I saw Denver, he and Helen were talking about those special soirees, and possibly holding one around Christmas. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Reg and I didn’t tell them when you would be back, but you know Helen; almost as bad as Aunt Agatha, she is.
Things in London have changed a bit since we asked you to go to the Continent. While Reg and I were playing with politics in America—the new Alphas of the United States turned out to be old friends, I was quite chuffed to see Jim and Blair again—the Alphas of London died. Quite to be expected, of course, Judith and Margaret were getting on in years. I don’t believe you’ve met the new Alphas; they are Alonso Creed and Bartholomew Grey, only a few years older than you, I believe. Their appearance and subsequent assumption of Alphahood, if you will, was actually quite a surprise, but Creed is one of the Shropshire Creeds, you know, which means the House of Lords is quite happy about his presence in London. Reg, not so much, but then Creed remembers him as a valet, not the bloody Alpha Sentinel Prime of England, and made some nasty insinuations. Only took a momentary meeting though, and tickety-boo, Creed was practically groveling.
Reg is so very dashing when he puts other Alphas in their places. My heart was all a’flutter. I wrote a song about it; Reg was quite enthusiastic and actually slammed the piano shut and took me to bed before the first chorus even began!
The new Alphas have made their home in the bohemian district, of all places. Suppose they didn’t want to move in anywhere near Judith and Margaret’s old place; territory issues, etc. Still, it’s rather curious, considering the rather Bolshevik sentiments that tend to rumble through those old streets. Very few Sentinels make it their home, you know, and only a few Guides, but perhaps that’s their aim; keep an eye on the district lacking any Pairs. So they’ve plopped themselves in the middle of the artistic set, and have been rather helpful in the last year; I understand they’ve assisted the police in numerous cases, from theft to murder! It’s quite titillating, old boy, you should look them up. I’m sure they would be willing to assist you if you needed a Pair on one of your outings.
Though if you do want their help, do try to wait for a few months; I believe they were called in on a rather nasty bit of murder business, something to do with arsenic, I think. Those artistic types, honestly, dropping poison in a chap’s tea instead of a good old-fashioned knife in the back. I do believe your old friend Parker in the charge of the case, maybe he’ll have some juicy tidbits for you? I know you enjoy these sort of things.
And here I am blathering about and probably boring you to death, old boy, I’m terribly sorry! I’m sure you’re enjoying your home after so long on the Continent (they never do tea just right, Reg has to take over every time), but do pop over and visit soon!
Lord Yaxley, Alpha Guide Prime of England, blah blah blah
P.S. Give Bunter my regards!
Lord Peter Wimsey,
I appreciate your discretion with the business in France. Allow me to congratulate you on an exceptional job, and welcome you home to England.
I am sure you would prefer some days of rest and relaxation. However, I suggest you visit your mother; the Dowager had tea with us last Thursday, and mentioned an interest in the process of creating porcelain figurines. She ate nothing but the cucumber sandwiches. She also informed me that the Duchess of Denver has been asking her for assistance with a certain soiree. I understand that the Duchess is planning to visit your lady mother tomorrow whilst your brother is visiting the House of Lords. I believe the Dowager would be most agreeable to a jaunt to London’s Bohemia in the morning, and I am certain she would appreciate a visit to your friend Miss Phelps.
Sir Reginald Jeeves
Alpha Sentinel Prime of England
Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey laughed aloud and tapped his long, slim fingers on the thick paper in front of him. The sound of a door had him pick up the letter and wave it vaguely to the side.
“Not two days in London and already we are called upon, Bunter! Only cucumber sandwiches indeed, Mother must be quite vexed with Helen. As am I, come to think of it,” Peter mused, as Bunter carefully placed the lunch tray on his lord’s desk, then deftly plucked the letter from Peter’s hand. “Really, after over a decade of throwing the same acceptable Sentinels at me, you’d think she would understand they are simply not compatible at all.”
“The Duchess is quite focused on her goals, my lord,” Bunter replied, scanning the letter.
Peter snorted. “Pushy and intent on making me respectable, you mean.” He picked up the soup spoon, but only tapped it against his lips, ignoring the soup in front of him. “Well, Bunter, thou of the all-seeing eye, what do you think of this missive?”
“I think your lordship should eat your soup before it grows cold.”
“Cold as your nerves, my man, cold as stone! We are sent on a quest! Excitement, adventure!”
“Yes, my lord.”
“We shall enter the gates of Hell and bring light to darkness!”
“Of course, my lord.”
Peter stopped flourishing the spoon in the air and eyed Bunter. “Really, Bunter, do show some life. This is certain to be more interesting than France, in any case. Damn Continental spies and smugglers and politicians.”
Bunter placed the letter back on the desk, well away from the slowly cooling soup. “I shall do my utmost, my lord. Shall I make enquiries?”
“Hm.” Peter took a sip of the soup. “Oh, you have outdone yourself once again, Bunter! Yes, please contact the usual, if you would. We may have company for dinner; I shall send a letter out to Chief Inspector Parker and see if he will join us for—what are you planning, Bunter?”
“Veal cutlets, my lord.”
“Hm, very good. Charles quite enjoyed the veal at that restaurant he took Mary to, according to her letter.” As Peter went to take another sip, a sound brought his gaze to the window. “Ah. I shall probably be in here for a little longer than usual, Bunter. Please cancel my afternoon appointment with Freddy, reschedule it to the day after tomorrow.”
Bunter glanced at the window, saw the fluffy feline on the chair before it, and nodded in understanding. “Very well, my lord. I shall be back presently.” He left, and shut the door securely behind him.
Peter was silent for a long moment, then he left his desk and lunch, walking over to the window and kneeling in front of the well-stuffed armchair. The cat blinked back with large green eyes.
“This is quite the surprise, my friend. You don’t usually appear without warning.”
The cat mewed.
“Have I neglected you then? Aren’t you happy to return to London? Or is London no longer to your taste now that Judith and Margaret are gone?"
The cat stared at him for a moment more, huffed, turned his back, and began to wash himself. Peter chuckled and returned to his desk. He pressed back into his chair, his elbows on the arms and fingers steepled before his face. After several slow, deep breaths, he closed his eyes and reached.
Quietly, he touched the calm, methodical mind of Bunter, who acknowledged his lord’s mental presence even as he worked busily to organize a list of visits, calls, and notes. Peter pressed on, his mind opening, touching on the streets and towers and familiar crush of thousands of minds and emotions that made up London. After a moment to acclimate—the mental landscapes of Bayeux and Caen had been desolate in comparison—he pushed toward what he knew to be the “bohemian” district. The simple emotions of everyday life were slowly subsumed by the burning fires of passionate work, the brilliance of an epiphany, and the slow, sluggish rumble of minds in deep slumber.
Peter frowned. In his mind, London glowed like a candle behind frosted glass; Sentinels, Guides, and even powerful Sensitives like Bunter glittered like pinprick stars against the ambient light of a thousand more mundane minds. But here—here it was different. There were splashes of emotion, but the glow dimmed, and there were few stars. Even they were dim, with the exception of two that blazed in the gloom. This was entirely outside Peter’s experience. In the years since he had switched on in the middle of the bloody battle for Le Cateau, even a town full of civilians traumatized by a month of constant shelling had enough emotion left to gleam bright in the mental landscape. This was not—this could not be natural!
Even as he thought that, as he moved perilously close to the blazing lights in the middle of the wrong wrong wrong dimness, something landed on his lap with enough force that his eyes jerked open and his mind rose up defensively protect wrong protect when he met the green-eyed gaze of the cat just a moment before it head-butted his chest, disappeared, and Peter fell into blue.
When he opened his eyes, blue-tinted Scottish moors stretched before him, mountains rising in the distance, and the wildcat was seated on a hillock to his left. Here, in his natural habitat, it was easier to see his muscle mass and heavy claws, rather than fluffy fur and tabby stripes.
“You pest! Be glad Bunter wasn’t in the room, it’s quite possible I would have seen him as a threat after all that!” Peter exclaimed. The wildcat flicked an ear at him. Peter grumbled for a moment, then conceded.
“Very well, I would not have seen him as an enemy, not Bunter. Still, what was the meaning of that? I found something quite extraordinary, and not in a good way. I was attempting to investigate.”
The wildcat murred reprovingly, and as if in echo, a rough caw came from above. Peter looked up, startled. A large raven circled down and landed next to the wildcat. It hopped forward a few inches, cocking its head and watching Peter over its wicked black beak. Peter wobbled a moment, then sat abruptly in the thick blue heather.
“This is impossible,” he whispered, but he knew whose spirit guide this was. Most Sentinels and Guides found blue jungles when they visited the spirit world, but higher level Sentinels and Guides sometimes found themselves in a different geography entirely. It reverted back to jungle when other Guides had tried to contact him. Bertie had confided it was the same for him and Jeeves. Their winter landscape and hidden burrow was open only to Bertie, Jeeves, and their spirit animals. From what literature Bertie had retrieved for him from the SG Council, it was the same for every high-ranking Sentinel and Guide. Only a Guide’s Sentinel could share the Guide’s personal landscape, and vice versa.
Which meant that this was his Sentinel’s spirit. Peter could feel his heart practically stop in shock and a hope that had long been crushed under a decade of waiting.
The raven opened its beak, as if laughing at him. The wildcat began to purr.
And Peter felt himself tumble back into his body.
His neck hurt.
With a soft groan, Peter sat up from where he had slumped in his chair and rubbed the back of his neck. He rolled his head and listened to the bones creak.
Bunter stood before his desk, a look of concern on his normally impassive face. The lunch tray had been removed, and by the light outside, it was now late afternoon. Peter blinked at Bunter, then turned his attention to the desk and the still-open letter. He pulled it forward.
“I apologize, Bunter. I had not thought I would be so long.”
There was the faintest brush against his shields, and Peter quirked a smile. “Really Bunter, I’m quite all right, though also rather famished, I’m afraid I never finished that excellent luncheon you prepared.”
“Never mind the lunch, my lord. There will be plenty of supper. I also took the liberty of contacting Chief Inspector Parker. He shall be joining us for dinner.”
“Will he then? Marvelous!” Peter jumped to his feet, swiping the letter and moving to the bookshelves. “You are the eighth wonder of the world, Bunter, truly, I am astonished at your capacity for efficiency! Now, just give me a moment, and I shall prepare to receive the redoubtable Chief Inspector.”
Bunter watched his lord skimming through the books, tugging out volumes and subsequently discarding them as he moved through the rows. “Would you like some assistance, my lord?”
“No no, Bunter, I know what I’m searching for! Egads, where did that come from? I actually own a copy of this ass?” Peter dropped a copy of Percival Slope’s Amazonian Aberrations: Hysteria and Female Sentinels (1832) on a nearby table with a thump and a cloud of dust.
“You insisted, my lord. It is a first edition in pristine condition, and I believe you said it was best to have it on hand in case you needed kindling.”
“Oh yes, so I did!”
“My lord.” Bunter’s voice was hesitant. “May I ask what happened during your walk?”
“Ah, yes.” Peter stopped in front of a shelf of heavy, gilt-edged volumes, his eyes fixed on Defoe’s The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Sentinel of York (1719). “As to that—let us just say that suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.”
“Poe, my lord?”
“Poe is such a grim read, really, it seemed quite apropos, most excellent of Bunters.” A chime echoed through the house, and Peter perked up. “Ah, and here is Charles! Early even! Well, crime must be taking a holiday!”
“I shall see to Chief Inspector Parker. Shall I bring him here, my lord?”
“Yes yes, I should like to ply him with scotch before dining, makes him much more agreeable when I ask for ridiculous favors.” Peter heard the door close behind Bunter, and closed his eyes. The raven’s image flashed through his mind, and a shiver ran up his spine, even as a slow smirk curled his lips.
“On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before. Then the bird said, Nevermore.” He whispered, and turned to find his scotch and tumblers.