The basement had not returned to normal this time. Stefan checked it again and found the water even higher--the stench almost too much to bear.
Perhaps it was time to cut his losses and escape before Magdalen's downfall became his own. She had never seemed so close to failure.
And if, by any chance, she succeeded in her quest to control the Hunt, what then? Would he end up tossed aside like the elf she had killed?
He had talents of his own, after all. And since Gabriel had stolen one of his Hounds, a score to settle as well. Not to even mention the fact that Gabriel had stolen his swan, saved her life, and impregnated her with his seed.
It was almost too much to bear.
Without speaking, he summoned his remaining Hounds and walked past the parlor that was Magdalen's stronghold; the only room in the house that had not changed.
She had dragged the Hound's body into the middle of the room as if to cast a spell, but what kind of spells could you cast with a corpse?
"I will bring you an elf," Stefan said, hoping she would accept that excuse so he could slip away.
Magdalen waved her hand. "It doesn't matter; the Council's binding has changed. I can feel it."
"Then summon Gabriel here and end this!" Stefan snapped. "You cannot hold this spell much longer; you said that yourself!"
"In due time," Magdalen said. "I still need a hostage."
"Althea is not going to return here with Gabriel's whore," Stefan said, anxious to leave.
One of his Hounds whined and he snapped at it, growling.
"I can still summon Malachi," Magdalen said, almost purring. "And Althea dares not disobey me. She has a lot to lose, after all."
"He lives?" That was a surprise in itself. "How do you know?"
And it was just like her not to share anything with him; she thrived on mystery. And deceit.
"Do you still need elven blood for your spell?"
Magdalen waved him away. "If you wish to find an elf, feel free. If you find Kyren or his Cousin, all the better. But don't be long."
Stefan could be at the other end of the forest before she realized he wasn't coming back, and he intended to do just that.
Under cover of the darkness--and through Faerie to slip past the scouts who watched the house in the human world--he shifted into the form of a Hound and vanished into the forest.
His score with Gabriel would be settled soon enough. Until then, he would lie low and let the furor die down after Magdalen's defeat.
He had no true hope that she would win.
Josiah awoke to find he lay on the bench in the living room, not a comfortable bed by any means, but a marked improvement from the cell behind the mirror.
He heard soft voices first--an argument of sorts--his Master and Sennet; the former wanting to wake him and the latter protesting that he needed his sleep.
"Althea is dead," Malachi said, close by. "I thought you would want to know."
Josiah opened his eyes. Malachi sat on the floor on the other side of the bench, watching the argument. "You knew I was awake," he said. And then, "Althea is dead?"
"I killed her," Malachi whispered, and covered his face with his hands, as if he still could not quite believe that he had done such a thing. "It was an accident."
Josiah glanced at their Master--and saw a beautiful woman standing next to him. The woman smiled at him, then touched their Master's arm.
"I believe you can stop arguing now," she said. "He is awake."
"She is our Master's lady, Emle," Malachi said for Josiah's benefit.
"I remember her," Josiah said, and sat up. There were more people in the room as well--Amalea, sitting stiffly on the hearth, and Brenna, still a Hound, her eyes wide with fear. A girl who looked a lot like Gabriel sat on the other side of the bench. Thomas stood in the doorway leading to the cave, and Zechariah was there as well. Nathaniel, however, was nowhere to be seen.
"Nathaniel is guarding the cave," Malachi said. "And it was Seth's death we felt."
"And Althea is dead?" Josiah could not mourn for her, not after what she had done to him. "She trapped me, my lord. With a spell that Magdalen gave to her--"
"Yes. I know that now," Gabriel replied. "I am glad--no. I am much more than glad to have you back, Josiah." He crossed the room to where Josiah sat, and gently touched his face. "You are home now."
At his touch, the bond bloomed in his mind, whole and complete as if it had never been broken.
My lord-- Malachi reached out to their Master, and Zechariah as well. Thomas moved into his embrace, and even Nathaniel appeared, much restored, so the bond could be renewed.
"Without Sennet's aid, the bond would still be broken between us," Gabriel said. "So we owe her our thanks as well."
Sennet frowned, but did not argue, as if she had finally given up protesting.
Gabriel motioned to the girl. "This is my daughter, Erianthe. Eri, this is Josiah. We are family now."
Josiah glanced at Emle, and saw a smile on her face.
"Malachi, you told Brenna you would try to help her shift." In the corner where she had cemented herself, Brenna sat up and eyed their Master warily. "See what you can do."
Without speaking, Malachi rose to do his bidding.
Josiah watched--they all watched, in truth--as Malachi knelt in front of Brenna and held out her hand. She sniffed his fingers, still wary, but allowed him to touch her head, and he placed his hand right between her ears.
Less than a minute later, she screamed--a raw, angry shriek that trailed away into sobs as she curled on the floor in human form, her hair matted, her skin filthy, her clothes gone.
Josiah averted his gaze as Emle covered her with a blanket, helped her up, and led her away. Sennet vanished with them, her mouth set into a thin line.
Did the Hound he killed have a human form too?
As if he had read his mind, Malachi shook his head. "She told me that the others were Hounds, nothing more."
"Tell me what happened," Gabriel said. "All of you. I want to know the whole of it."
The story--in its whole--took less time than Josiah thought it would to tell it. Everyone said their part, the others listening in, until the entire sordid tale lay exposed and writhing in the light of their scorn.
Even Brenna said her piece in a halting, tiny voice, freshly washed and clothed, with her hair cut as short as Malachi's, right below her ears.
By dawn, after endless cups of tea and plates of food for everyone, there was no real decision as to what to do with Magdalen and to a lesser extent, Stefan, only that something had to be done.
Josiah had almost fallen asleep again, curled up against Nathaniel in Hound form, when something pricked at the edges of the wards outside.
He raised his head, but Gabriel had felt it too.
Friend or foe? Josiah asked, but the wards did not answer. Perhaps they did not know.
He followed his Master out into the garden with Zechariah and Amalea, where an elven horse had stopped at the edge of the wards.
There were two people riding on the horse, but only one of them was an elf.
"Kyren!" Amalea raced through the wards before anyone could stop her, just as her cousin slid to the ground. He wasn't conscious when Zechariah helped her carry him through the wards, but his charge--a young human boy--would not leave his side, even for Sennet.
"You are welcome here," Gabriel said to the boy, who seemed a bit skeptical until he saw Emle standing in the doorway.
"Oh." He glanced at Gabriel, then at Emle again. "I--I didn't know you were with the Hunt."
Emle smiled. "Why don't you clean up a bit and change your clothes, and then we can talk about finding you somewhere to sleep," she said. "I'm glad to see you, Jordan." She led him away, into the house.
As they passed through the doorway, Josiah heard Jordan ask about Malachi.
Which was odd, because Malachi had stayed inside.
Josiah drifted back into the house as Sennet worked on healing Kyren, expecting to see Malachi still asleep in front of the hearth, but he was gone. He wasn't in the cave, either, and Thomas swore he had not passed through the cave at all.
He wasn't in any of the bedrooms, the bathroom, the kitchen, or the library. He wasn't in the garden--Josiah stopped right outside the door. He had forgotten the bond.
Malachi, where are you?
But Malachi did not respond.
He tried again, with no better luck.
"My lord--" Josiah spoke aloud so that everyone could hear. "Where is Malachi?"
He asked that question just as Emle appeared in the doorway. "Where is Eri?"
And then he knew. No one had thought to check if Magdalen's spells had been broken; they had just assumed, and Malachi had not mentioned anything out of the ordinary. And perhaps--perhaps she had cast a spell to force his return to her stronghold, which meant he was trapped inside her dampening spell.
Had Eri followed him?
"He is gone," Gabriel said after a moment. "Damn her! But at least we know where he will be."
"And Eri?" Emle's fists clenched, as if she could not bear to think of her daughter captive again.
"Perhaps she followed him," Nathaniel said. "I did not see her leave, my lord."
Josiah was halfway across the garden before their Master stopped him through the bond.
"Where are you going?" There was no anger in Gabriel's voice.
"I'm going," Josiah said.
"So am I." Zechariah stepped up beside him. "This needs to end."
"Gabriel?" Emle appeared in the doorway. "What of our daughter?"
"Perhaps she followed Malachi," Gabriel said without much hope. "Either way, we will find them both, and bring them home. You are right. This has to end. Now."
(Last update: October 14th)
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