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spirits of decay: epilogue
The aftermath of the kere incident was predictably dull and tedious. There was a good bit of complaining, from all the old people. Ethan and Audun were mad at Declan and Stray for being irresponsible and taking care of the problem all by themselves. Beatrice and Thomas were ticked about not being informed at all until after the whole thing was over. Blaire was furious that she hadn’t gotten to kill any of the keres – she was the only one whose reasoning Declan found logical.
“Don’t worry, I’ll make it up to you,” he promised, to appease her. “I’ll take you to kill something nice and supernatural, really soon.”
The rest of their time spent ridding the house of dangerous artifacts was boring, as Declan had known it would be. They didn’t encounter anything more dangerous than an angry raccoon, or anything more interesting than an Eldritch’s shrunken head. By the end of it, Declan was about ready to put red Kool-aide mix in the shower head, to freak someone out and liven things up a bit. He held off on that, since Stray still seemed a bit morose over killing his first fae. The last thing the kid needed was to be tricked into thinking the shower had started spraying out blood. Instead, Declan filled Ethan’s shoes with pudding. That was amusing too.
By Sunday evening, they’d cleared every room but the attic – cleared it of all potentially dangerous arcanna, at least. There were still piles and piles of junk, but anything dangerous, cursed, or capable of summoning Eldritch was disposed of, and now there was even space to walk in most rooms.
On Monday morning, Declan, Stray, and Blaire packed it up to head home with Thomas and Beatrice. Thomas was expecting Declan and Blaire to go to school on Tuesday, so Ethan and Audun got stuck finishing up the job.
“Sorry to leave you here like this,” Thomas said to Ethan and Audun, as they loaded the last of their bags into the back of the Jeep.
“It’s not that much left,” Beatrice commented. “They’ll be finished by the end of the day.”
“Yes, and there’s clearly nothing we’d rather be doing today than spring cleaning that filthy attic,” Ethan said, bristling at her dismissive tone.
“Oh, did you have something better to do?” Declan asked. “I didn’t think you did. I haven’t sent Audun any leads for at least three weeks.”
Ethan’s eyes widened and he looked over his shoulder at Audun. Audun scowled at Declan, his expression answering Ethan’s unspoken question.
“Oh, sorry, was he not supposed to know that?” Declan asked innocently.
Thomas frowned. “You send Ethan and Audun leads for hunts?”
“Audun, yeah. Not Ethan. He wouldn’t want my help.”
“You send them to the valravn but don’t report them to me?” Beatrice demanded.
“They’re wasted when I report them to you.”
“Declan, could I please have a word before you leave?” Audun asked.
“In private.” There was a steely glint in Audun’s eyes. Declan had a hunch that he knew what this was about – and it had nothing to do with letting Ethan in on the secret of where all their leads were coming from.
Declan and Audun walked a ways away from the rest of the group – to the other side of the house, where the graveyard was. Once they were definitely too far away to be heard by any of the three changelings they’d left behind, Audun gave Declan a suspicious look.
“It’s a funny thing. I know for certain that I left that cursed urn on the mantle,” Audun said.
“Did you, now?” Declan asked.
“You know I did,” Audun said. “I think you saw it when you were cleaning out the study.”
“Well, I certainly saw it when Blaire broke it open.”
“I asked Beatrice and Blaire about it,” Audun continued. “They both say they didn’t move it.”
“Hmmm. A mystery.”
“Ethan wouldn’t have moved it. Neither would Thomas –”
“Assuming he knew what it was,” Declan pointed out.
“And Stray was rarely alone, so I really don’t think it was him,” Audun said. “That just leaves you.”
“Audun,” Declan said patiently, “it almost sounds like you’re accusing me of moving an urn that I knew contained one or more very dangerous spirits of decay, from a stone mantle where it was relatively safe, to a wooden desk with a sunken floorboard right next to it – one that I myself had tripped on earlier. Putting it there would be like asking for it to get broken.”
“Indeed,” Audun agreed.
“So, why on earth would I move it there?”
“That’s what I’ve been asking myself for the past few days,” Audun told him. “What did you have to gain?”
“Other than a horrible fever and a really nasty, magically inflicted virus, you mean?” Declan asked. “I can’t think of anything. Can you?”
Audun regarded him with suspicion. “No. I can’t. Which is why I’m asking you. Did you move that urn there? Did you have some ulterior motive?”
Declan crossed his arms over his chest and gave him a disappointed look. “You’ve been hanging around Ethan too long.”
“You’re telling me that you didn’t move the urn?” Audun asked.
“I’m telling you that I’m not going to answer your question,” Declan said coldly. “Not unless you can tell me what I’d have to gain from doing something so stupid.”
Audun’s expression instantly changed – just as Declan knew it would. Audun thought he knew Declan. Declan knew just how well the valravn knew him, which meant he knew how to act when he wanted to make Audun believe his lies – including the lies he didn’t even have to bother telling.
“Declan, I –”
“Don’t expect any more leads from me,” Declan told him, and turned away.
“I didn’t mean –”
“Yeah, you did,” Declan said, and stalked off. With his back to Audun, the valravn couldn’t see his triumphant smirk, as he congratulated himself on a hand well played.
It was a shame he couldn’t share the story of his success with anyone, but Declan couldn’t risk letting Audun know what he’d really been up to. Audun, for all that he was supposed to be an evil Eldritch, had too much of a conscience. He was too likely to go and spill what Declan had orchestrated to Stray, and Declan couldn’t have that. Not now that he’d gotten Stray on board with the idea of killing Eldritch.
As a bonus, he had an excuse for why he wouldn’t be handing over all the leads he dug up to Audun anymore. That, and the guilt trip he’d just sent Audun on had cleared him of all suspicion, at least where Audun was concerned, and no one else, not even Ethan, suspected him of a thing.
He let his smirk slip away, replaced by a stony look as he returned to the others. He ignored them all and got into the back of the Jeep without a word, slamming the door and claiming one of the window seats.
Blaire immediately followed him, looking suspicious. “Are you all right? Did he do something to you?”
“No. I’m fine,” Declan told her.
“You don’t look fine,” Stray commented, climbing into the back as well.
“I am fine,” Declan said, and turned his gaze on them both. He felt his lips start to curl into a smile again – no doubt they thought it was forced, but in truth, Declan had rarely worn a more genuine expression. As he looked at the two members of his team – for a team was what they were going to be – Declan couldn’t help but think about how many Eldritch the three of them were going to kill together.
It was going to be great.