The Jennings – Chapter Seventeen

Reunion

Perry was ill inclined to proceed at what he called the breakneck speed his mistress had requested. The groom seconded his decision to travel at a more seemly pace, and, in light of the muddy roads and the threat of continued rain, Elizabeth eventually agreed as well.

“But we must make all possible haste, Perry,” she reminded him. “As quickly as the horses will safely take us.” She glanced up at the dark clouds. “We are scarcely two hours behind Mr. Jennings, and I daresay he will not be in a monstrous hurry, since he does not know about Ned and Isabelle. We may be able to overtake him.”

Perry handed her up into the carriage. “We may indeed, ma’am,” he said. He looked askance at her. “You are set, ma’am, on reaching the lake house tonight? It will be well past dark.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Time is of the essence, Perry,” she said firmly. “I do not yet know who it is that has been duplicitous, but it is clearly someone, and I believe since the lie was about the lake house, that my father and stepmother – and Isabelle too, I fear – may be in harm’s way, even this very moment.”

Perry could hardly gainsay her, since he had seen his master more than once take unusual actions that proved later to be the best course. But it concerned him that they would be travelling after dark, and he was glad beyond measure that they had thought to bring the blunderbuss. “As you wish, ma’am,” he said with an air of worried resignation. “I’ll take us quick as I can.” With this half-hearted assertion, he climbed up onto the box and steered the carriage onto the road.

____________________

Jennings stood, unable to do more for a moment than stare nonplussed at the lifeless forms of Sir James and his wife. He had no reason to berate himself – he had made all haste in coming here – but he could not help feeling, as he had when he found Elizabeth in the park, that he should somehow have been able to go faster, to arrive sooner. How long ago had the Carlisles been killed? He had stopped nearly an hour in Luton to escape hail and lightning; if he had braved it instead, would he have made his destination in time to save them? The knowledge that his horse would surely have foundered had he forced it to endure such a pummeling was of little consolation.

She was so sure her father was in danger, he thought. She cared about him, even after all.

The murmuring voices had stopped when he entered the front hallway, and he realized now that someone stood behind him, even before she spoke.

“You are Mr. Jennings, no doubt!” she said brightly. “I have heard so much about you!”

Jennings turned to face the woman. She was petite, not quite as tall as Elizabeth, but her golden curls were piled high on her head, giving her the illusion of height. She was extremely slender, and her skin was so pale that she seemed to glow in the dimness of the hallway. Behind her, the door to the study was open, casting the orange light of a roaring fire into the hall. She looked briefly over her shoulder into the study, then turned back to Jennings with a welcoming smile.

“I hope you will join us, Mr. Jennings,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for you.” Her smile became rather sardonic. “And for your lovely bride, of course.”

Jennings raised an eyebrow. “I am distressed,” he said, his voice as cold as ice, “to think we would have any place in such a matter.” He gave a small nod toward the Carlisles. “Were we expected to allow this? Or to be your next victims?”

The woman stood with her hands clasped in front of her. “It was unfortunate,” she said, her regret seeming almost genuine. “But unavoidable.” She frowned. “Mrs. Carlisle would not drink ale or wine!” she complained. “It was really most perverse of her, and quite vexing!” She glanced down at Charlotte’s body. “And since she could not be got out of the way, we were obliged, I’m afraid, to remove her entirely.” She beamed at him. “But now you are here, everything will soon be set to rights – well, for us, anyway.”

“Will I not also need to be ‘removed entirely’?” Jennings asked. He glanced toward the study; he had heard a man’s voice earlier, but its owner had not as yet come into the hall. “Especially since Mrs. Jennings is not with me?”

The woman revealed some surprise at this news. “Why ever not?” she asked. “What would possess you to come here by yourself?” She frowned again. “You weren’t invited.”

“Neither was Lizzie,” Jennings noted coolly. “Yet you expected her.”

“Because she has been tracking the rings,” the woman explained. “No doubt because of clues given her by you, sir. Your gifts are rather well-known in certain circles, despite your circumspection about them. When I stopped in London and learned you had travelled north, I knew that, if you had not yet deduced enough to lead you here, you soon would.” She tittered. “You do have an excellent property, sir! I’m sure I shall enjoy it very much!”

“How did you know she was tracking the rings?” Jennings asked. “We told no one.”

“Lizzie’s been casting about for weeks, sir!” the woman said. “First to our cousin Marcus Tate, and then to me. Poor Marcus,” she added with a disingenuous pout. “His little Eliza taken so suddenly, when it really ought to have been Lizzie. She must feel just terrible about it!”

“You must be Cousin Isabelle,” Jennings said drily.

“Why, yes!” she answered proudly. “Your gifts are indeed prodigious!”

Jennings’ expression was impassive. “I recognized your shallow heartlessness,” he said. She bridled at this, but said nothing, stepping back involuntarily as he moved toward her. “You’ve taken Eliza,” he went on. “And Annie Baker. What use is Lizzie to you now? And – I believe I already asked – what use am I? Do I not simply await some sort of execution, either by you or your winged henchman?” He remained in absolute control, but his anger was evident. “Why do you stand here chatting with me as though I cared a fig for anything you had to say?”

Isabelle pulled herself up as tall as possible. “There’s no need to be rude!” she announced haughtily. “I can’t help it if he picked me over all the others! I certainly can’t help it if others don’t quite measure up!” Her eyes shifted briefly to the floor. “Or if they are meant for other fates.” She turned and peered once more into the study, and broke into a delighted grin. “Do come, Mr. Jennings!” she cried, reaching out to take his arm as though he were a dear friend. Leaning toward him, she whispered conspiratorially, “There’s nothing for it, after all. No point in struggling.”

Jennings hoped fervently that Miss Fetherston was wrong about that, but he saw no immediate value in trying to escape. Isabelle was hardly able to overpower both Charlotte and Sir James; clearly the man whose voice he had heard was her accomplice, and was likely the one in charge of the beast and of the dark magic that had shielded the cave – without more knowledge, Jennings did not see by what method he could either stop or flee such a formidable opponent, and if he died in the attempt, he would not be in any position to help Elizabeth when she arrived.

And he could feel, as strongly as any message he had received through the slate, that she was indeed on her way.

He was pulled into the study by Miss Fetherston, who looked at him triumphantly before bringing his attention to the other occupant of the room.

It was Cedric Delacourt.

_______________________________

Elizabeth waited impatiently in the carriage for a change of horses. They had made good time, but she could see that they had just missed a great storm, and the roads ahead did not look promising at all. She leaned out of the carriage window.

“Are we very far, Perry?” she called.

Perry had been talking with the ostlers; he left them with a nod of his head and came to the carriage window. “We’re barely an hour behind ‘im, ma’am.”

She was surprised. “We’re overtaking him?” she asked incredulously. “In the carriage?”

He nodded again. “He was obliged to stop here for some time, ma’am,” he said. “There was a downpour of hail, and a good bit of lightning. Horse wouldn’t go through it.” He glanced at the muddy road and at the stormy evening sky; his expression suggested that he thought the horse was in the right of it.

“If we can overtake him, we should try to do so,” Elizabeth said. At her urging, they left Luton at a smart pace, but after only a few miles, the roads became almost impassible from mud, and Perry slowed the horses down to what seemed to Elizabeth to be a disastrously leisurely crawl. Knowing there were still above twenty miles to cover, she scowled at the sun that already hung very low in the sky. At this rate they would be lucky to arrive at the lake house before dawn, and, if the rain took up again, which it seemed very likely to do, Perry would no doubt put his foot down on the matter, and demand that he not be expected to risk the safety of either the horses or his mistress.

“I could walk faster than this,” she grumbled, but knew in her heart that, however pressing the matter may feel to her, Perry was doing his level best to accommodate what was in truth a very silly directive. Why, the only reason they had reached Northampton so early in day was that she and Jennings both enjoyed getting a preposterously early start on long journeys, and had left Brightwood at the first notion of daylight. Jennings liked to travel fast, as well, and Elizabeth realized with a pang of guilt that, if she were overtaking him, then she was probably pushing the horses.

Feeling rather like a murderess at the thought of hurting animals – who had been dragging her all over the countryside, no less! – Elizabeth leaned toward the carriage window with the intention of telling Perry to stop at the next village for an actual rest and some supper. But as her hand reached out, the carriage lurched hard to one side, and began to slide rather than roll along the muddy road. Elizabeth found herself flung first against the seat, and then onto the ceiling, as the carriage tilted off the edge of the road and tumbled ten feet down to a ravine.

_________________________

Cedric stood beside the fireplace, his hand resting on the edge of a small table upon which sat a number of thick candles, grouped around an ornate dagger that lay on a white cloth. The furniture had been pushed away from the center of the room, and the rug rolled up and shoved to the side; on the wood floor thus revealed were two enormous concentric circles, drawn in white chalk and studded with runes and cryptic words.

Jennings took in the scene at a glance, and gazed dispassionately at Cedric. “You have covered your tracks quite well, sir. My compliments.”

Cedric’s smile was as sincere and warm as it had always been. “I know you jest, cousin,” he said amiably. “But I must say that I have done quite a bang-up job of it, for such a very long time.” He ran his fingers along the hilt of the dagger. “I must say too,” he acknowledged. “That you are truly a capital fellow! If I were ever in a jam, I would call upon you, without question!”

Jennings realized that Cedric’s appearance was shifting, so that at times he looked like himself, while at others his face seemed to belong to another, or even to several others. “So the magic in the cave,” he said thoughtfully. “It was as I saw it in my vision: you have taken over more than Ned’s name and fortune. You have taken over his appearance as well.” He frowned, his eyes struggling to pin down Cedric’s true face. “Somehow.”

Cedric grinned even more broadly. “You had a vision of me?” he asked, apparently delighted by the notion. “With Neddy? That was a difficult one, I allow. I liked Ned very well, and I will miss him desperately! But you are quite right, Jennings, quite right; I have put a great deal of effort into protecting the cave. It is a sacred place – an anchor, if you will.” He raised an eyebrow and added in a conspiratorial voice, “It is the best possible place to transfer their essence to my own. Without that, my ruse would be discovered in a trice, I fear.” He noticed that Jennings was squinting at him, and blinking his eyes in irritation. “Oh, of course!” he said. “Your ‘gift’! It is allowing you to see me as I really am.” He stepped away from the table and stood with his shoulders squared. After a moment, his appearance solidified, and he looked now even more like the portrait of Elizabeth’s ancestor than before. “This is my true countenance,” he said. “I had been able to shield myself from your … talents … while the enchantment remained on the cave. But when you entered it and broke the spell, I suddenly found myself at quite a loss to maintain any sort of disguise whatsoever. And so I knew, you see, that someone had uncovered my secret, and I assumed it must be you and dear Elizabeth. Of course, since I could not keep any face but my own for more than a few minutes at a time, I was obliged to speed things up a bit from my original plan.” He glanced toward the entryway where Sir James and Charlotte Carlisle lay, and his smile dimmed considerably. “Poor Charlotte would not take a drink with me – for no good reason! – although, now that I think on it, she had been looking at me strangely all afternoon, and so I imagine she was very suspicious of my unsteady appearance. I considered sending her on some sort of outing with Isabelle, but the rain prevented it.” He sighed. “I was forced, in the end, to eliminate her in a most unseemly fashion!”

Isabelle moved to stand closer to Cedric. “It cannot signify, can it?” she asked him. “You could not have her anyway.”

Cedric took Isabelle’s hand and brought it to his lips. “I still liked her, my pet!” he explained. “I do not enjoy killing people. Especially when their deaths can do me no good.”

Behind them, a gust of wind blew the front door against the wall of the entryway, and leaves skittered across the floor, accompanied by the splash of heavy rain. Isabelle jumped, startled, and then laughed at her own nervousness. “She was trying to flee, you know,” she told Jennings. “As though anything she did would stop what will happen.” She scoffed at the notion.

“And what will happen?” Jennings asked. “Why do any of this?” He tilted his head to one side and eyed Cedric Delacourt with undisguised contempt. “It is you, is it not, who unleashed the monster that killed Ann Baker?” He frowned darkly. “And Eliza Tate? Did you contrive to eliminate her as well?” He stepped further into the study. “Why have you visited this dark legacy upon Lizzie’s family?”

“Not her family!” Isabelle interrupted angrily. “My family! She’s barely part of it at all! Her only value is in dying!” She folded her arms in front of her petulantly. “Which she should have done months ago,” she grumbled. “Annie Baker would have come most willingly, and all would have been done with no one the wiser! Now we must wait for Lizzie, who does not seem to want to come at all!”

“I’m sure Lizzie will apologize for inconveniencing you so selfishly,” Jennings said sardonically. “But I’m confused; I was under the impression that each generation paid a price of two women.” He turned to Mr. Delacourt. “Why are you waiting for Lizzie, when you’ve already taken Annie and Eliza?”

Cedric smiled, not quite as warmly as before. “Two females every nineteen years,” he said. “I’ve been following the cycles of the moon – earning my prize – for one hundred and fourteen years.” He sighed again, and his eyes gleamed in the firelight. “It’s been so long,” he went on, his voice filled with emotion. “Taking new identities, bequeathing my fortunes to my new selves by increasingly circuitous means, spending decades waiting for this magical immortality to be made permanent.” He gazed at Isabelle for a moment. “And to be able to share it now with my beautiful bride.” His attention returned to Jennings. “Six generations,” he explained. “Twelve females all together. But the requirement, of course, was thirteen. Cousin Elizabeth will be the final offering.”

Isabelle sniffed and rolled her eyes. “If she ever comes!” she said. “Since Mr. Jennings has seen fit to come here without her!”

“You’re very impatient,” Jennings noted drily. “You have waited over a hundred years; why is tonight so important?”

I haven’t,” Isabelle protested. “I’m only twenty-two!” Her pout dissolved into unabashed joy. “And now I shall be twenty-two forever!” she announced triumphantly. “Because Jon – I mean, ‘Ned’ – has picked me to be the eternal matriarch!”

“So you are Jonathan Fitzhugh,” Jennings said to Delacourt. “Your portrait hangs in Sir James’ house; Lizzie recognized you.” He glanced down at the chalk circles. “But I still don’t understand why you’re in such a hurry.”

“It is, in part, your own fault, Jennings,” Mr. Delacourt said with incongruous amiability. “You broke the spell at the cave – my anchor, as I said – and I was not able to achieve any consistent disguise. But in truth I have been rather surprised, all these years, that it has never been breached by some curious lad or fearless fox. So I cannot be too upset with you about it, I suppose, since the spell has certainly given its all.” He squinted at Jennings. “Your gifts, too, may have had a hand in it,” he realized. “Which were not of your design, after all, but were truly visited upon you. So you see,” he said, splaying his hands out in a helpless gesture. “It is really unfair to be irritated with you about it. But it was undeniably most inopportune.” He sighed and toyed again with the dagger on the little table. “Mostly, though,” he continued. “This final sacrifice must be completed before the next full moon, so we have barely a fortnight to do it. And since I have been compelled to remove Mrs. Carlisle, I have very little time indeed to perform the ritual before people begin asking a lot of pesky questions.” He looked around him a bit wistfully. “I suppose fire would be best,” he decided. “It is a pity to lose the lake house – it’s so delightfully located! – but no one will suspect anything, I would imagine.”

“Who would suspect anything anyway?” Isabelle said scornfully. “Who’s going to miss Charlotte Carlisle? She isn’t anybody!” She smiled archly. “My family deserve this reward!” she informed Jennings with an air of absolute superiority. “We’ve upheld the bargain all these years! Amassing a huge fortune through advantageous marriages, offering up our own people as payment – we’re the ones who matter!” She rolled her eyes again. “And I have certainly put up with all the Lizzies of the world for far too long!”

Jennings decided he had heard more than enough. “‘Bargain’!” he repeated derisively. “In exchange for what?”

Isabelle looked sincerely surprised at the question. “In exchange for immortality!” she said, as though she were explaining a rudimentary fact to an imbecile. She indicated her betrothed with a toss of her head. “He is the holder of great power!” she went on, her eyes lighting up. “And we were chosen to share in it. For generations, we have known that from our ranks would come the woman who gains immortality at his side. We’ll control a fortune beyond imagining! Our children will join us, until our family sways the whole world!”

Jennings snorted. “You fool!” he snapped. “Why would someone with so much power need anyone? Why would someone who is immortal require heirs? His practiced method of taking over other men’s lives does not sound like the sort of habit he would be likely to give up, simply because his youth had been made permanent. He will no doubt continue killing men and taking their fortunes, their homes and lands, their wives and families; he has no use for you or for your family beyond your willingness to sacrifice your own kind for his ends. I will be greatly surprised if he marries you at all, and if he does, it will be for the fortune which, once secured to him, will render your personal contribution completely unnecessary. He will dispose of you just as he has the others, and take over the lives of your father, your uncles, me … without a thought for you or your family, or for any bargain into which you have entered so passively and so naively!”

Isabelle’s outrage left her momentarily speechless. She turned to Mr. Delacourt for support, who told her soothingly, “You needn’t listen to him, my dear. It is he who is largely unnecessary.” He put one arm around her shoulders and hugged her to him. “I will transfer his essence to myself, and then we will have his fortune as well, and all of Brightwood, just as I promised.”

She looked slightly mollified. “I did like Brightwood,” she said. She looked up at him quizzically. “Will I be able to alter my appearance as you have done? Will people imagine that I am Lizzie?”

“I am quite sure you will be able to, my dear,” Cedric assured her. “A spell is a spell.” He looked apologetically at Jennings. “I am sorry, old boy,” he said. “But Charlotte is not the proper bloodline for the sacrifice, you see; it must be Lizzie. And of course, especially now that you are a witness to these events, you cannot be allowed to leave here.” He seemed truly remorseful. “You and I could have been great friends, I believe,” he said. “Pity.” His attention drifted into the wind-swept hallway. “You must believe Lizzie to be on her way here,” he guessed. “Else why would you not flee, since you have had every opportunity? You hope to afford her protection by standing between her and me. But it’s no use, I’m afraid, no use at all.” He smiled lovingly down at Isabelle. “I wonder how far away she is?”

_______________________________

“Mrs. Jennings!” Perry wrenched open the door of the carriage, which had survived its tumble largely unscathed save for a broken wheel. The door swung up, and Perry peered down into the depths of the carriage.

“I am quite all right,” Elizabeth replied. “Only a bit shaken up.” She came unsteadily to her feet, struggling to right herself in the tilted carriage. “Do you mind helping me, Perry?” she asked, raising her arms up to him.

“Good God, ma’am!” Perry exclaimed in relief. “When I saw how it rolled, I was fearful to find you!” He took her arms and pulled her as gently as he could from the carriage; there was little purchase on her side, but she did her best to help him, and soon she had climbed down onto the muddy ground. “Are you quite sure you’re all right, ma’am?” Perry asked anxiously. “It must’ve tossed you about somethin’ awful!”

Elizabeth managed a reassuring smile. “I am all intact, Perry, I assure you,” she told him. “I have certainly been through worse.” She looked around her. “Where is Tom, Perry? Has he been hurt?”

“Aye, ma’am,” Perry replied. He gestured a little way down the road, where the groom sat holding one arm cradled in the other. “He’s broken his arm, ma’am. But it could’ve been a lot worse, as far as he got thrown.”

“Heavens!” Elizabeth cried. “He looks as pale as death!” She hurried to the young man and crouched down beside him. “I’m so sorry!” she said, tears in her eyes. “This is all my fault!”

“No, ma’am,” Tom said. “Things happen. We were hardly movin’ at all, in truth, and I’m quite surprised it slipped.”

“The wretched mud!” Elizabeth said. “And all because I wanted to push through tonight!” She inspected his arm gingerly. “Does it hurt dreadfully?”

“As to that, ma’am,” he replied. “It barely hurts at all unless I try to put weight on it. It’ll be right as rain in a few weeks, don’t you worry about it at all.” He seemed more concerned about Elizabeth than with his own injury, and asked her solicitously, “Are you all right, ma’am?”

She nodded. “A bit bruised,” she said. “But I’ll be ‘right as rain’ as well in a day or two.”

“I’ll ride back to Luton,” Perry said. “The horses broke free of the carriage when it twisted over; they’re a bit spooked, but none the worse that I can tell. I’ll take them back and hire another carriage, and it’ll be here for you before you can wink an eye. We’ll be tucked up at the inn before ten o’clock, I wager!”

Elizabeth was instantly besieged by a feeling of dread. I can’t go back to Luton, she thought. I must reach the lake house. “I cannot explain it, Perry,” she said. “But I believe – most strongly – that something bad will happen if I do not reach my father tonight. I cannot return to Luton.”

Perry could see her sincere distress; whether or not he shared her belief, he knew that she would act upon it with or without his help, and he had experienced too many strange things while in Mr. Jennings’ employ to be dismissive of ‘bad feelings’. “We can press on tonight, ma’am,” he said, surprised himself to hear the words come out of his mouth. “But the horses can’t take all of us, and I think it would be unwise to leave Tom here by himself. So I’ll ride to Luton, and hire a carriage, and you and Tom can wait here with the blunderbuss. I’ll return as quick as I can, and then we’ll go on to the lake house.” He sighed gustily and eyed the muddy road. “If there’s a carriage or wagon or aught to be had, I fancy we might reach the lake house some time after midnight. I can’t make no promises, but we can try.”

“That will be excellent,” Elizabeth said. She stood and held her hand out to Perry, who took it in some confusion. “I know what I ask,” she added. “I know that Mr. Jennings would not countenance such urgency.” She glanced guiltily at Tom. “None of this would have happened if I had not stayed behind in Northampton, or if I had not decided to reach the lake house today. But it seemed to be a very sound plan at lunch-time, for many very good reasons, and although I had thought earlier to stop for the night, my heart tells me now that I must get to the lake house as soon as possible, even if I must walk there.” Great drops of rain began to fall as she spoke, and a low rumble of thunder punctuated her words. Her dread became overpowering, settling in her chest like a cold, angry fist; she could hear her blood pounding in her ears. “Mr. Jennings’ pistols are under the seat,” she said. “Unless they have been thrown clear of the carriage altogether. You must take them, Perry; you should not be unarmed on such a dark road.”

Perry had known about the pistols but had forgotten. He welcomed her reminder with relief, and made his way quickly to the overturned carriage. The sooner he got back to Luton the better, especially now that it was beginning to rain. After a few moments, during which he contorted himself through the canted opening of the carriage, he called over his shoulder, “They’re here, ma’am! Safe and sound.”

“Perry!” Tom cried out, and Perry turned in time to see Elizabeth, her skirts gathered up in a most undignified manner, sitting astride one of the horses. In one arm she carried the blunderbuss, while the other kept a practiced hold on the reins.

“Mrs. Jennings!” Perry shouted. Carrying Mr. Jennings’ pistol case, he ran up the hill to the road. “Ma’am, what are you thinking!”

She spun the horse around. “I’m sorry, Perry!” she told him over her shoulder. “But I can’t ask you and Tom to do anything more for me than you already have. I’ll send someone for you straightaway, I promise!” She took off then at a near gallop, skillfully keeping the horse on the driest parts of the road.

Perry stood looking after her, struggling to comprehend what his mistress had just done. He debated riding after her, but could not leave Tom alone and relatively helpless. Finally, his shoulders slumping in dejected resignation, he squatted down beside Tom. “The master won’t like that one bit,” he said.

Tom shrugged and gave Perry a half-smile. “He might be well pleased about it,” he said. “If Miz Jennings is right, and he’s in some kind of trouble.”

Perry raised his eyebrows. “I had not thought of that,” he admitted. “But then … do we hope he’s fine, or do we hope he’s not fine?”

Tom let out a bark of laughter. As the droplets of rain became more of a steady shower, he gestured with his good arm toward the carriage. “I think she had a parasol. It’s better’n nothin’, I suppose.”

“Aye,” Perry agreed, coming to his feet and heading back to the carriage. “And then we’ll put you on the other horse, and walk us back to Luton. If we’re gonna be stuck in the rain, it might as well be on the way to somewhere.”

Tom laughed again. “Can you imagine it?” he asked. “Me, bein’ escorted into Luton, carryin’ my parasol!”

______________________________

Jennings gazed with pity on Isabelle Fetherston. “You know, he promised Annie Baker a lot of things as well,” he said. “You should take care, I imagine.”

Before Isabelle could retort, Mr. Delacourt said smoothly, “Annie Baker was a sacrifice, Jennings. She was never intended to be anything else.” He stepped into the chalk circle. “Since I cannot take you unawares,” he went on. “I shall be obliged to let my pet do the honours. I prefer to do such things at the cave, but this will certainly suffice, as long as I have your blood.” He spread his arms out from his body, and lifted his face to the ceiling. Behind him, the fire built to a roaring crescendo, and the white lines of the circle began to glow faintly. Isabelle, watching with wide eyes, moved away from the circle, until she stood with her back against the far wall of the study.

Jennings felt a stab of fear in his chest, as well as the familiar sensation of otherworldly presence. Whatever Cedric Delacourt was doing, it clearly had nothing to do with this mortal earth, and Jennings waited with a mixture of apprehension and fascination.

He did not have to wait long.

Coalescing in the fireplace as though drawn from the stone itself, a great beast appeared in the flames. It was the beast Jennings had seen in visions – the one that attacked Elizabeth and murdered Ann Baker. It looked like no earthly creature, but its body had the form of a man, while its head resembled that of a wolf. Its massive arms rippled with muscle and sinew, and its yellow eyes shone even brighter than the fire in which it stood. It stepped over the hearth and into the room, trailing burning cinders behind it that fell sizzling to the floor, and its wings as it spread them out wide spanned the whole room from wall to wall. Miss Fetherston cried out in spite of herself, and shrank away from the towering monster.

The beast, pinning Jennings with a piercing stare, emitted a long, shrill shriek and advanced toward him.

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