spirits of decay: chapter 10
Audun felt like a fool.
He’d known what was in that urn. He’d known and forgotten about it. Well not truly forgotten. Audun had just put it out of his mind because they didn’t have the resources to dispose of it safely at the time.
He left it on the study’s mantle – the stone mantle, which wouldn’t be affected by the aura of decay that the damn thing had been radiating. True, it would have been fine on a table short term, but given time, it would have rotted right through any wooden furniture, just like it had those stupid bookshelves. Beatrice or Blaire must have moved it. Audun wouldn’t have put it past Beatrice not to have identified the thing at all, and Blaire wasn’t experienced enough in arcane relics to have figured out what it was. He should have said something about it, not just trusted that it would be fine where it was. Now Declan was infected and there were two keres on the loose, and it was all on Audun.
“We should split up,” Declan was saying when Audun shook off his haze of guilt and actually started listening. “You and Ethan are both fine on your own. Normally, I would be too, but I figure I’ve only got about an hour before I start getting fever-stupid, so I should probably stick with Blaire and Stray.”
“Or just Stray,” Blaire said. “I can hunt alone too.”
“Like they’ll let you,” Declan scoffed. “They’re going to want to pretend they’re grownup and responsible. They think they’re adults.”
“We are adults,” Audun said, and it was true. He was older than everyone currently living at the Ironhorse Sanctuary put together, and Ethan . . . well, he was a completely different story, but still an adult underneath that mask of teenage youth.
“And you’re not ready to hunt alone, Blaire,” Ethan said.
“I am. I escaped from the fae on my own, didn’t I? And I’ve killed dozens since!”
“Three,” Declan said.
“You’ve killed three actual Eldritch since you came to the sanctuary,” Declan said. “Echoes don’t count.”
“No one asked you!”
“It’s too dangerous for you to hunt these things by yourself,” Ethan said, “And I’m not okay leaving three teenagers alone with keres around.”
“We’re hardly alone if there are three of us,” Declan pointed out.
“Nor do I like the idea of leaving Declan alone with two other teens,” Ethan continued. “He’s worse than the keres.”
“What do you mean by that?” Stray asked sharply.
“How about you take Blaire and search the house,” Audun suggested to Ethan rather than let him start on a rant about why he loathed Declan. “I’ll take Declan and Stray and search the grounds.”
“That’s not as efficient as what I suggested,” Declan said.
“But it’s safer for you three.”
“Not really, considering that unless we kill the one that scratched me, I’m going to die,” Declan said, much more cheerfully than he should have, given his situation. “Then poor Blaire and Stray will be traumatized for life.”
“We’re going to catch them, Declan,” Audun promised. “They’re trapped inside the barrier, and I have done this before, you might remember.”
“Yes, you have. By yourself. You think the keres are going to show themselves when they’re so outnumbered?” Declan asked. “Or that you’ll be up to your usual standard if you’re constantly worrying about watching out for Stray and me?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Look, send Blaire with Ethan if you must,” Declan said. “She might actually do okay with him and stop her angry stomping long enough for them to sneak up on one of the keres. But you are not going to see hide or hair of either of them if you’re trailing two teenagers behind you and you know it.”
He did have a point, Audun had to admit. He was most effective when he worked alone.
“We’re not stupid enough to trust you alone with Stray,” Ethan snapped before Audun could speak.
“What exactly are you afraid I’m going to do to him?” Declan demanded. “Use him as kere bait?”
“Or cave his head in,” Ethan growled.
Declan rolled his eyes. “You’re still on about that? Stray, are you worried that I’ll cave your head in?”
“What?” Stray looked confused and annoyed. “No.”
“See? He’s not worried –”
“Why, should I be?” Stray asked.
“Because he doesn’t know you like I do,” Ethan said at the same time.
“Enough,” Audun said sharply. “We’re wasting time. Declan, you and Stray will be going with me, and Ethan and Blaire will be working together. If things don’t work out, then we’ll try something different, but that’s what we’re starting with. Now, come on.”
* * *
“What’s the barrier thing you guys were talking about?” Stray asked.
“Huh? Oh, something Audun and Ethan set up before we got here,” Declan said. “It’s basically a trap for the Eldritch. A big one. Any Eldritch within the barrier’s bounds are stuck here until we take the barrier down – or until it falls apart. Which it will. In about a week. They don’t last too long.”
“Oh. I see.”
Stray didn’t bother asking how such a thing worked. By now he’d realized that it was easier just to accept that magic existed.
It was chilly outside. Soon it would be getting dark. Declan had told Stray his vision was probably better at night than a normal human’s, but they weren’t sure by how much. Declan had wanted to do some tests, but they hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Either way, Stray wasn’t thrilled about trying to hunt down one of those tiny, disgusting, naked women in the dark. Honestly, he wasn’t thrilled about trying to hunt them down at all, since he knew what would happen to them in the end.
It didn’t matter that they didn’t look very human anymore. They might have been human once. That was what mattered. Stray really was not okay killing anything that was human.
In his mind’s eye he could see Kelpie, a girl, only a little older than him, who’d somehow changed into one of the fae. Declan had wanted Stray to kill her. So had Blaire. At one point Stray had even wanted to kill her, but when he’d had the chance, he just couldn’t. That was before he knew that she’d once been human. Now that he knew, there was no way he could hurt her. These keres though . . . Stray wasn’t sure.
“I’m going to fly up and take a look around from above,” Audun said.
“Really?” Declan asked. “Really? You reject my plan in front of Ethan, but decide it’s a good idea as soon as he’s out of sight?”
“I won’t be leaving the two of you alone,” Audun said dryly. “I’ll be right above you.”
“You’d make more progress if you did leave us,” Declan said.
“I’m not leaving you alone. That’s final,” Audun said.
“That’s final,” Declan repeated to Stray.
Audun rolled his eyes then shapeshifted into a raven – just a regular raven, not a raven-wolf – and took flight.
“Stupid,” Declan muttered. “We’d have both keres dead in no time if people just did what I said.”
Stray watched as Audun gained height, struggling to believe what he was seeing. Even knowing that Audun possessed that power didn’t prepare him for actually witnessing it, and even having just witnessed it, he still couldn’t quite believe it. Declan was acting like this was nothing, though. Stray wondered how used to this kind of thing the older teen was – and he also wondered about some of the remarks Ethan had made regarding Declan as well.
“Are they not listening to what you suggested because they’re worried about us both, or worried about me if they leave me alone with you?”
“Neither, really,” Declan said, smirking. “It’s more the fact that I suggested it that puts them off. They don’t like me very much.”
“Ethan doesn’t, that’s for sure,” Stray said. “What did you do to make him hate you so much?”
“You’re wondering about that comment he made,” Declan said. “About me caving someone’s head in?”
“You really want to know?” Declan asked.
“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t,” Stray said irritably. He was pleased that he managed to keep his voice even. This new implication about Declan was a little unsettling.
“Well, if you really want to know the story, then you’re going to have to trade me one of your own for it,” Declan said, “because I want to know about what happened the first time you met Audun.”
Stray scowled at him. “Forget it. I’ll just ask Ethan.”
“You’re no fun.”
“Sucker,” Stray returned.
It was Declan’s turn to scowl. “I hate you.”
He might have said more but his phone began to ring, and his angry expression was quickly replaced by his usual smirk as he answered it.
“Hello, Thomas . . . Well, that’s unfortunate. No, it’s okay, you and Beatrice aren’t that useful. Honestly, I’m more upset that dinner’s going to be peanut butter and jelly again. Yes, yes, the truth hurts. Deal with it.”
Stray rolled his eyes and cast a glance around them, making sure that the keres weren’t sneaking up on them while Declan was baiting Thomas over the phone. He jumped at the sound of rustling feathers behind him, but relaxed when he realized it was just Audun.
“Who’s he talking to?” Audun asked as the shadows around him blurred, returning him to his human form.
“That’s fine. See you tomorrow then. Why would we need you? What? It’s a reasonable question. Okay, bye.” Declan hung up and put away his satellite phone.
“What’s going on?” Audun asked.
“The Jeep broke down right before they got to town,” Declan told him. “They’re not going to be able to get it fixed until tomorrow, so they’re getting a motel room and staying there tonight.”
“And you didn’t bother telling them you’d been scratched by a kere?”
“Of course not,” Declan scoffed. “Then they’d have come back, and we’d have two more people capable of being infected running around, scaring the keres away. Speaking of which, we need to get a move on. Are you finished wasting time now?”
“I wasn’t wasting time,” Audun said, “and you shouldn’t have lied to Thomas.”
“I didn’t lie. I just didn’t tell him what he didn’t need to know,” Declan said exasperatedly. “Now can we get back to hunting the damn thing down? I’ve got a headache. And a fever.”
Audun frowned. “A fever? Already?”
“Low grade, but it’s only going to get worse,” Declan said. “So if you’re still not going to do the smart thing and use your considerable powers to hunt down the damn things solo, then follow me, already.”
“Follow you?” Audun asked.
“Yes,” Declan said, heading toward the creepy looking graveyard. “Or don’t. It’s all the same to me.”
“And just who made you the leader of this little party?”
“I made myself leader. Stray confirmed it,” Declan said, “or did you not notice him following me.”
Audun shot Stray an odd look. Stray shrugged where he stood, right behind Declan. When they started walking again, Audun followed.