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spirits of decay: chapter 5
Everyone, with the possible exception of Audun, had probably expected Declan to go into full on interrogation mode as soon as the rest of them were gone. Declan felt almost insulted by their presumptions. He knew better than to try such an unsubtle way of wheedling information out of a centuries old valravn – and even though he was technically only one quarter Eldritch, calling him a valravn was appropriate enough. Audun had all the powers belonging to one.
Silently, he got to work in the study, as Audun went through the secret room he’d uncovered.
“Anything interesting in there?” Declan asked after a few minutes, genuine curiosity getting the best of him.
Audun came out carrying an armload of books, which he dumped out the window. “Like everywhere else in this house, it’s impossible to tell at a glance.”
“You didn’t do a very good job, you know.”
Audun paused and raised an eyebrow.
“Of saving Stray,” Declan elaborated. “Or at least of making sure everything with his parents was copacetic.”
Audun actually winced. “So, you actually already know.”
Declan wasn’t sure what it was that he was supposed to know, but nodded.
“I did what I could for him,” Audun said. “In the end, they were his parents and it was their call.”
Again, Declan didn’t know what this call that was made was. This time he bluffed. “It was the wrong call.”
“You know that for a fact, do you?”
“They slit his throat.”
“What?” Audun’s voice was tinged with horror.
“His parents,” Declan elaborated.
“No, they didn’t. They couldn’t have. I stuck around until – Wait . . . you . . .” Audun cast his gaze toward the ceiling. “You don’t really know who he is after all, do you?”
“No,” Declan said, “but I now know for certain that Stray was kidnapped by the Eldritch, and that it was you who saved him. You just confirmed that. But I already knew that his parents slit his throat.”
“Are you serious about that?” Audun asked, looking slightly sick.
“Yes, I am,” Declan told him. “You must have seen that scar on his throat. You’re an observant sort, after all.”
Audun stared at Declan, trying to read him. From his expression, he seemed to realize Declan was telling the truth. After a moment, he closed his eyes and exhaled. “I’m not saying another word on the subject to you, Declan. It’s not your business.”
“But it is my concern,” Declan stated.
“No, it’s not.”
“Interesting why you’re being so secretive over this,” Declan mused.
“Just get back to work,” Audun said.
“I am going to figure this out, you know.”
Declan scowled at Audun’s back, as his old acquaintance began walking back into the hidden room. Unlike most people, Audun was exceptionally good at not giving anything away when he was on his guard. It made it a challenge to get information out of him – not that Declan really minded. Most people were far too easy to read. Besides, Audun had already revealed some interesting details in that little slip up. Declan wasn’t sure how to best interpret them yet, but he was confident in his ability to figure that out.
“Making any progress?” Blaire asked from the doorway.
Declan looked toward her quizzically, but by the time his eyes landed on her, he’d already realized why she was there. Declan was a much better authority on all things Eldritch than she was, and she knew it – just like she knew he was a harder worker. She was the type to stare at an overwhelming problem, like the massive amounts of junk they had to get rid of for this job, complain about it, and then, when she finally got to work, drag her feet. He was the kind to give the task before him a cursory scan and then put together a maximum efficiency plan, even as he got started. Those reasons, added to the fact that she liked Ethan a lot, but rarely got to be around him, meant there was very little point in her coming around to ask something as inane as, “Making any progress?” Unless, and Declan realized his theory was right when he saw the suspicious look Blaire was sending Audun’s way, she was worried for him – for Declan.
“How sweet,” Declan said, smirking at her.
“What?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.
“You, coming to check up on me,” Declan teased. “Worried about me being left alone with the big, bad valravn.”
“As if,” Blaire sneered.
“Were you scared he was going to rip out my heart with his beak?” Declan wanted to know, then added in an aside, “And he does have a beak, you know. When he shapeshifts into his raven form. Or his raven-wolf form.”
“He’d be doing the world a favor if he did,” Blaire said irritably. She was clearly not pleased that Declan had discerned her intentions and had then decided to make fun of them. “One monster killing another sounds about right.”
“Ouch,” Declan said, full on grinning now. “That hurts. Right here.” He folded his hands over his heart.
“No, it doesn’t. You’d have to have feelings for that to hurt,” Blaire reminded him, “which you don’t.”
“Oh, right,” Declan said, as though only just remembering. “Good call.”
Blaire muttered something under her breath along the lines of, “Don’t know why I even bother.”
“Rest assured,” Audun said, walking through the hidden doorway again with another armful of junk for the pile outside the window, “I have no intention of ripping out Declan’s heart. There’s enough crap to clean up here without adding his blood into the mix.”
“Saved by the practicality of someone who really does know what a pain corpses are to clean up after,” Declan said. “Yay.”
“Shut up, Declan,” Blaire snapped.
“I’m sorry, have I upset you by mocking your concerns over my wellbeing?”
“Go to hell,” Blaire told him and stormed away.
“That’s it? You’re just going to leave me all alone with the scary valravn?” Declan called after her, running up to the doorway to shout at her retreating back. “I might die!”
“Good!” was Blaire’s only response.
“Well done,” Audun commented.
“Yes, I think so too,” Declan said, flashing him a smile.
Audun shook his head, dusted off his hands, then started back into the hidden room, and once again, Declan was left alone in the study. He was about to get back to work when something on the mantle caught his attention.
To the untrained eye, it looked like nothing more than a vase – and an ugly one at that. Someone more educated might recognize it as an urn. They might even have been able to pin it down as being Greek in origin, by the designs on the side. It was mostly black, but was decorated with orange humanoid figures that had wings growing from their backs, and twisted, almost skeletal faces.
Declan shot a glance after Audun, then, convinced that he was indeed gone, hurried over to the old fireplace for a better look. He’d seen images like the ones on this urn before. When he put his hand against its side, he felt an unnatural chill start to seep up his arm. Declan quickly withdrew his hand and stepped back, regarding the urn thoughtfully. Then, after a moment, a devious smile spread across his face.