Soot tumbled down from within the chimney, and St. Cyprian’s eyes narrowed. If Rawdon had noticed St. Cyprian’s tone, he gave no sign. “Do you remember that Felstead fellow? The Christmas Truce?”
“Vaguely. I was elsewhere at the time.” St. Cyprian said, recalling the whirlwind months following the death of his predecessor Carnacki at Ypres. He could still see Carnacki’s bloody fingers shoving the trio of rings that now decorated his hand through the mud of the trench towards him. He looked down at them, twisting his wrist so that the nearly invisible characters engraved on the rings caught the firelight. “You heard it then? During the truce?” he said.
“First Christmas I didn’t,” Rawdon said. “The first Christmas I was free of those damn bells.” His smile was crooked. “I didn’t hear it much, during the War.”
“But when you came back?”
“Old habits,” Rawdon said, making a loose gesture. “A man can’t be blamed. Especially one who went through what we went through.”
“The bells again, I trust?” St. Cyprian said.
“And the claws. Scratching over the windows and in the chimneys.” Rawdon paused, head cocked. “I say, do you hear that?”
“Yes. Go on.”
“It’s been seen to, Ozzy. Go on.” St. Cyprian tossed another log onto the fire.
“Drinking, gambling. The usual.” Rawdon wrapped his hands together and squeezed the air from between them. “Harmless fun.”
“Vice and sin,” St. Cyprian said. “Gossip as well, if I recall. How much did Lord Pettigrew pay you to keep silent on his son’s doings?”
“Enough,” Rawdon muttered. “A man has to earn a wage.”
“Most men do it honestly.”
“You’re one to talk Charles!” Rawdon said, pushing himself up out of his chair. “You’ve never met a lie you didn’t embellish!”
“All in the name of necessity,” St. Cyprian said, after a moment, clinking his rings together gently. It sounded hollow, even to him.
Rawdon grinned mirthlessly. “Necessity depends on perspective.”
“So it was your perspective that the younger Mr. Pettigrew was a threat?” St. Cyprian said. Rawdon jerked, and St. Cyprian nodded. “I have contacts at the Yard, you know Ozzy.”
“He intended to kill me! He said his father had disowned him!” Rawdon protested.
“So you killed him first?”
“No!” Rawdon shook his head. “I mean, I-it was self-defense!”
“Perhaps the Krampus doesn’t see it that way,” St, Cyprian said. “You know, you could have solved all of your problems by simply changing your ways, Ozzy.” St. Cyprian felt a momentary surge of pleasure at Rawdon’s visible flinch. “Given up the dirty deeds and damnable deals and done something with your life.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“Easy enough to do,” Gallowglass said, returning, a heavy electrical apparatus in tow. St. Cyprian winced as she drug it across the floor, leaving scratches in the wood. “If you’ve got the minerals.”
“Stones. Rocks. Testicular fortitude,” Gallowglass said. “One electric pentacle, as requested Cap’n.” She tossed off a lazy salute to St. Cyprian.
“At ease,” St. Cyprian said. “My predecessor created this device for situations such as this, when contact with an untoward manifestation could result in death. Or worse.”
“Manifestation?” Rawdon said.
“Monster. Spectre. Long-legged beastie,” Gallowglass said. St. Cyprian frowned and shot a glare her way. She shrugged in response.
“A manifestation of hostile intent,” St. Cyprian said as he sank to his haunches and began to arrange the diverse apparatus of the device, which was composed of a central generator and five vacuum tubes. He swiftly stripped a section of the rug away from the floorboards, revealing a dark pentacle scored into the wood.
St. Cyprian set the generator in the center of the pentacle, and arranged the vacuum tubes at the corresponding points of intersecting triangles. “If you-come here Ozzy-if you stay within the pentacle, you should be safe.”
“Should be?” Rawdon said.
“It’s not an exact science, I’m afraid.”
“It’s not a science at all,” Gallowglass said, snapping open the cylinder on a Webley-Fosberry revolver and spinning it experimentally. She loaded the pistol with brisk efficiency, and then flicked her wrist, popping the cylinder back into place.
“A good apprentice keeps her comments to herself,” St. Cyprian said, situating Rawdon beside the generator. “Don’t move, no matter what happens.”
“I was just pointing out the flaws in your reasoning, Mr. St. Cyprian.” Gallowglass rubbed her cheek with the pistol barrel.
“Duly noted, Ms. Gallowglass.”
Something banged loudly across the roof. Rawdon started, his eyes widening. “It’s here!”
“It’s been here for some time, Ozzy, scampering across my roof and testing the runes on the windows.” St. Cyprian flipped a switch on the generator and the vacuum tubes began to hum and spark. “Stay within the pentacle.”
“Soot,” Gallowglass said, simply.
St. Cyprian turned, loosening his tie and shrugging out of his coat. Soot tumbled down the chimney, and he could hear metal scraping against the brick. He strode swiftly to the fireplace and reached up, taking down the short-bladed sword mounted there.
Roughly two feet in length, and wide, the sword was a xiphos-a weapon that had been in St. Cyprian’s family for centuries, and had purportedly been carried by an ancestor in the Peloponnesian Wars. Unsheathing it, St. Cyprian swung it experimentally. It cut the air with a near-silent hiss and he nodded.
“Rag,” he said.
Gallowglass plucked a rag out of her back pocket and tossed it to him. The fabric was smeared with the juice of the holly bush. St. Cyprian rubbed the blade with it until the former was glistening. He sighted down its length.
The fire coughed and sputtered as chunks of brick and more soot fell into it. He stepped back, rolling up his sleeves. “I trust you took the proper precautions?” he said, glancing at Gallowglass.
“The bullets were prepared according to Alpine tradition.” Gallowglass cocked the pistol. “They should do the trick right enough.”
“Should being the operative word.” St. Cyprian frowned. “We only have to hold it until midnight. Then, it should depart.”
“There’s that word again,” Gallowglass said. St. Cyprian glanced at her. “Should,” she elaborated.
Smoke suddenly billowed out into the room, carrying with it a foul odor, like wet dog and rotten meat. The trio gagged as the smell swept over them.
And then, with a clatter of rusty bells and a shower of sparks, the Krampus erupted from the fireplace, howling like a lonely wind coiling through the Bavarian peaks.