The Devil's Drawing Room
There was a small stable located in the corner of Mottleham College, an exclusive school for the wealthiest sons of the British Empire in the heart of London's exclusive West End. It was a small stable, catering mostly to ponies used by the boys for riding or the occasional team for some teacher or visitor's stately coach. Sebastian Foxfire approached the stable and found its caretaker, a slovenly, apron-clad fellow with a mass of stubble cloaking half of his face, sitting in a pile of hay and snoozing in the mid morning sun. Sebastian rapped his hand against the wall, stirring the groom to sudden wakefulness.
"Pardon me, my good man." Sebastian gave the groom his best grin as the fellow scrambled to his feet. "I was wondering if you might perform me a service. You care for horses, do you not?" Sebastian indicated the steed, which had no bridle, which trotted behind him. "Well, I have a horse that I'd like you to care for."
The stable man stared at both the man and horse before him. Sebastian knew that he was wondering if he was still dreaming. Sebastian Foxfire was a tall, slim man with a pleasantly handsome face, dressed in fashionable garments gone shabby from wear. His brilliant crimson frock coat, golden weskit, tricorne set with a peacock feather and slightly askew wig marked him as a fop and a dandy. But the cold glimmer in his eyes, the lethally curved scimitar on his belt and pistol handles projecting from his coat showed him as someone used to violence. And there on his face, etched in solid black against his pale skin, was the blatant brand of a pentagram. It was the devil's mark and Sebastian knew that it frightened the groom – but not as much as the horse did.
Sebastian's horse had a brilliant black coat, with sleek muscles under the fur. It was a completely normal animal – except for its face. Instead of the usual muzzle, this horse's long face ended in a number of squirming writhing tentacles, of the kind that would belong on a squid. The tentacles wrapped around each other like twiddling fingers as Sebastian patted the horse's head.
"What…what is he, sir?" the stable master stammered.
"His name is Inky, my good man." Sebastian felt Inky's slick tentacles brush against his fingers. "Now, here are the terms of your free and easy employ under my benevolent command. You are to lead Inky to the corner of the field there, and stand with him, waiting for my command. I do not wish to leave him unattended in a place such as this. He may frighten the young students, after all."
"The students?" the groom repeated.
"Indeed." Sebastian pulled a single golden coin – marked the crest the Royal Spanish Treasury – and tossed it into the stable master's waiting hands. "And I wouldn't want that. Stand there, in the corner of the green and wait until I return for him or until he departs. Do that, and you will have earned your payment." Sebastian gave the confused fellow his brightest smile. "Are we in agreement?"
The groom was staring at the coin. "Yes," he managed. "Yes, sir."
"Splendid." Sebastian doffed his tricorne and turned to face the green. "I will take my leave now. I do not intend to be gone for long." He set off in the direction of the brilliantly green field that marked the middle of Mottleham College, the stable man trailing meekly behind him with Inky in tow.
All around the green field were the buildings of Mottleham College, looking like miniature cathedrals cast of sober gray stone and red brick. It was a school for boys twelve to sixteen years of age, of the most prestigious, wealthy and aristocratic families in England. If Sebastian's family had remained in England, it was undoubtedly where he would have attended. Sebastian's father, Lord Phineas Foxfire, had charted a vastly different course. As Sebastian looked at a small column of boys heading to class, servants trailing behind them, he wondered what would have happened if circumstances had been different.
His long stride brought him quickly to the largest building, a towering lecture hall with stone statues of angels staring out from the alcoves like watchful sentinels. Sebastian pushed open the door and strolled inside. The chamber was built like a great theatre carved of shining marble, with rows of seats looking down at a single stage. The pillars had been carved to look like oak trees, with Latin mottos inscribed on each bough. Sebastian stared around at the giant lecture hall, and the rows of curious young faces turning to watch him as he strolled to the stage. The teacher, a gaunt fellow in a long black robe and drooping wig, was drawling on from his book and hardly noticed Sebastian's sudden approach.
The wizened teacher was flipping through the large book, reading in an endless stream of Latin. Private tutors had taught Sebastian the language, but he had forgotten most of him in his adulthood. The teacher finished his first statement and then cleared his throat and spoke in English. "Ahem," he announced. "Now, for those of you dullards who have yet to become truly proficient in Latin, St. Alaric is herein discussing is the subjects of demons." He glanced up from his book, his tired eyes surveying the crowd of schoolboys. Most of them were watching Sebastian. "St. Alaric postulates that even the lowliest fiend of the Pit recalls their time as angels and longs for it. They can be reminded of this time and brought to their figurative knees. It is a unique and rather haphazard approach to infernal theology…" The teacher finally seemed to notice that his students were not looking at him. He turned to stare at Sebastian. "Who the devil are you?" he demanded.
"Sebastian Foxfire, my good man." Sebastian gave the teacher his best smile. "I am here for my cousin, a first-year boy by the name of Philo Foxfire." Sebastian turned to look at the assembled schoolchildren. "I am terribly sorry to interrupt your lesson, but I really must take Philo under my care and provide him with a hasty exit." He nodded evenly to the teacher. "You'll forgive me, I'm sure."
"In God's name!" the teacher wheezed. "You cannot merely abduct one of our students and—"
In a single motion, Sebastian pulled the scimitar from his belt. He placed the edge of the blade against the old teacher's throat. It was an Arabian blade, shining silver and marked with script of holy Arabic verse. "I'm afraid I can, my good man," Sebastian replied, his smile never fading. He looked back at the crowd of schoolchildren. Some of them were frightened now and shivering in their seats, while others merely stared in silence. "Come now, Philo!" Sebastian raised his voice. "Time is not a resource we currently possess, in any measure. Show yourself and let's be on our way."
A boy in the back came shakily to his feet. Sebastian watched him as he gingerly stepped into the light. He was a scrawny twelve-year-old, with very straight raven black hair framing a pale face. A pair of round spectacles rested on the end of his slightly upturned nose, glinting in the low light. Philo Foxfire wore a boy's dark frock coat and a vest with large shining buttons over a high-collared shirt, as well as breeches as stockings with a gentleman's polished dress shoes on his feet. The boy headed silently down the steps of the lecture hall. He reached the bottom with his eyes downcast, like he was afraid to look at Sebastian. His next steps made him stumble and fell down, emitting a slight yelp as he fell to the marble floor, landing at his cousin's feet. He looked up at Sebastian, as a few nervous giggles from the other boys echoed through the hall.
"My, my," Sebastian muttered. "You seem like some chicken without its feathers. Strange to think we're related, especially with your loathsome sense in fashion." He reached down and gripped the boy's arm, hauling young Philo to his feet. "Well, come along, then. We mustn't dally. Off we go now, there's a good little fellow." He headed back to the hall, dragging Philo after him.
"I shall notify the authorities immediately!" The teacher roared.
"Don't worry!" Sebastian replied. "I've run afoul of worse than them!" They reached the hall, Sebastian slamming the door behind him. He looked down at Philo, finally releasing his grip on the child. Philo instantly shied away from Sebastian, stuffing his hands in his pockets and shaking slightly. Philo's eyes were fixed firmly on the pentagram brand on Sebastian's cheek. His eyes were wide and watery. "There, there, little fellow!" Sebastian beamed at the boy. "You've nothing to fear from me! We're cousins, remember? Two noble sons of the Foxfire line, as it were."
Philo stared hatefully at his cousin. "My f-father told me about your side of the family, sir – the American Foxfires," Philo explained, a tremor in his voice. "You fled the polite society of England when the fortunes of your shipping company declined. And then you abandoned God and settled on the worship of the devil, using your remaining ships to bring in artifacts and arcane literature from the cursed corners of the world, until the devil gave you unimaginable wealth. You conduct dark rites in your hidden mansion in New England, spurning everything that is good and engaging in blasphemous worship of devils." Philo pointed at Sebastian. "And furthermore, sir, your gaudy clothes and rough manner mark you as a dandy and a fop."
"The care for my appearance is indeed a crime of which I am guilty of." Sebastian grabbed Philo's arm. He nearly hauled the boy to the wide doors at the end of the hall that led back to the green. "And I wish the world felt the same way."
"You can dress the devil in whatever silks and fine clothes you want!" Philo tried to free himself, but Sebastian's grip was iron. They neared the door. "But I still know that you're a rogue and villain of the worst order! You even have the Mark of Satan there on your face. My father told me about your father, Lord Phineas Foxfire, and I can imagine you two lurking in your manor in the colonies, conducting all manner of pagan ceremonies!"
They had reached the doors. Sebastian pushed them open. "I'm afraid you're wrong on both counts, my dear boy," he explained. "Firstly, I no longer have any allegiance to my father. And secondly – and most unfortunately for you – my father is no longer in the colonies." The Foxfire cousins stepped out of the lecture hall and walked onto the brick pathway that bordered the green.
But there was a coach and team of four horses waiting for them, perched directly on the field with its side turned to face the lecture hall's entrance. It was composed entirely of ebony wood, with silver inlaid on the spokes of its wheels and leering faces of demons peering out from the scrollwork around the doors and windows. Those doors were marked with a kind of crest, showing a horned goat before a pentagram. Two armed footmen sat on the roof of the carriage, with another pair standing by the door. They were dressed in long black cloaks and tricornes, with silver masks that mimicked the thin snouts of foxes. Sebastian stopped in his tracks when he saw them, childhood memories seething into his mind in a rush. These were the guards of New Foxgate, where he had grown up.
The Foxgate guards covered Sebastian and Philo with long-barreled flintlock pistols or muskets. One guard reached a silently hand to the door and pulled it open, then extended the step. Sebastian stared in silence at the man who walked out and stepped easily onto the grassy ground. It was Lord Phineas Foxfire. Sebastian's father was a tall and stately man, with a tuft of dark, gray-streaked hair forming a neat goatee at his chin. Lord Phineas wore a fine suit of dark velvet, all under a long cloak trimmed with bear's fur. He carried a lean silver walking stick in gloved hands. Lord Phineas' dark eyes settled on Sebastian and Philo with all the finality of a gunner's sights. They were cold eyes, shadowed by a furrowed brow and lacking any emotion but rage.
Lord Phineas nodded to Sebastian. "My son," he said softly.
"Good morning, father," Sebastian replied, keeping his tone calm. "You've come to take Philo away, I take it. You need an heir and I no longer fit the bill, so you've settled on this scrawny excuse for a boy. I am fully aware of your intentions. Mother sent them to me in a letter."
"Your mother is a very foolish woman," Lord Phineas replied.
"You would think so, wouldn't you?" Sebastian asked. "After all, she let me live when you would have had me killed. And now she wishes to protect an innocent child from being swept in the dark tide of black magic and evil that you surround yourself with." Sebastian took a step in front of Philo, a hand falling to the scimitar on his waist. "And I shall do the same."
"Excuse me?" Philo's voice was faint. "Lord P-Phineas, what exactly do you want with me?"
"To raise you, my child," Lord Phineas explained. "So that you may know the true glory that our line can aspire to." Lord Phineas raised his cane, twirling it around to indicate the entirety of Mottleham College. "Where do you think your place is, young Philo? In a decadent, scented cushion of a school like this, where you are smothered by false civility and the formal hatred of your peers?" He pointed the cane at Philo, like it was a loaded weapon. "You are of a soft and scholarly temperament, just like all Foxfires, and that makes you an outcast even amongst your friends and family. I know, for I am the same way. But come with me, turn against the callous evil of polite society, and you shall finally receive the happiness and belonging you desire."
Philo stared at Lord Phineas with wide eyes. Sebastian wondered what childhood had been like for a boy, raised by a distant father and packed off to a boarding school at the first opportunity. For all of the faults of his own upbringing, at least Sebastian had always been surrounded by his loving and supporting relatives – until he crossed his father, of course.
"I'm not sure, if I should, sir," Philo managed. "I think I'd better not."
"My child," Lord Phineas announced. "You don't have a choice."
He drew closer to Philo, his cane raised. Sebastian knew that this would be the only opportunity he had to save his young cousin. He raised his voice and shouted, as loud as he could, a single word that carried over the green. "Inky!" Sebastian cried, as he drew his scimitar and slid a single pistol from his coat. "Inky!" he repeated and stared across the green. His heart pounded. He could only hope that his horse heeded his command.
Just as he called, Inky left the side of the stable master and galloped straight across the green, his hooves driving deep into the carefully manicured grass. Lord Phineas and his guards turned to watch Inky's approach, staring in surprise as the squid-faced horse weaved around the coach and ran to his master's side. Sebastian kept his pistol trained at the guards, though he knew he was outgunned. It was all up to Inky now.
"An intriguing specimen of a horse, Sebastian," Lord Phineas muttered. "But we still have you outnumbered. Hand over the boy and I promise your end will be brief and painless. That is all a traitorous, idiotic foppish rogue like you can hope for."
"I'd rather not," Sebastian replied. He patted Inky's long neck. "And Inky is more than intriguing – he's bloody useful too." Sebastian fired his flintlock, sending a single shot whistling past the guards. It was a wild shot and it did not strike any bodies, but it gave the New Foxgate guards pause – and gave Sebastian precious seconds. He slid the pistol back into his coat, gripped Inky's mane and pulled himself into the saddle.
Inky did the rest. The horse swiveled its tentacle-tipped head to face the coach and let out a long spray of dark ink from the end of its muzzle. The ink splattered into the faces and chests of the guards in a clinging tide of tar. They cursed as their vision was ruined, several of them emptying their pistols and muskets madly in all directions. Sebastian settled into the saddle, grinning at their confusion. He reached down and grabbed Philo, hauling up the terrified boy and setting him in the back of the saddle. Then he gave Inky a slap on the side and sent the horse away at a frenzied gallop.
They pounded past Lord Phineas's carriage, Sebastian grinning with the joy of escape. "You foolish, errant child!" Lord Phineas roared. "I have a fortune, you know – earned from the blackest of black magic rituals – and power beyond belief! I shall set the hordes of London and Hell against you, and it will be difficult to say which is worse!"
"Dispense as much coin as you please, father!" Sebastian called back. "Philo will never be yours!" Sebastian looked back at Philo. The boy was clutching his older cousin's coat with white knuckles, utterly terrified by the proceedings. Sebastian could only imagine how frightened the boy must be. They rode through the green, past the other buildings and away from Mottleham College – to the wide streets of surrounding London. "Don't worry, my dear boy," Sebastian offered. "We'll head to the East End. There are rocks enough in the Rookeries for anyone to hide under."
Philo struggled to say something. "T-thank you," he finally managed. "For saving me."
"Oh, no trouble at all. And thank you for the gratitude." Sebastian grinned as Inky pounded down the broad streets that surrounded Mottleham College, even though he knew the boy's gratitude was misplaced. They were still far from being free of Lord Phineas Foxfire.
After nearly an hour of riding, Sebastian and Philo reached the Rookeries of East London – the poorest parts of the city that seemed to belong to another country, if not another world. They passed neighborhoods and streets famous for their squalor and poverty – the Gin Lanes of Spitalfields, Limehouse, Whitechapel and finally the Rookery of St. Giles of itself. It was a dismal world, with poorly constructed buildings clumped together like houses of cards, creating a strange forest above crowded streets gone slick with spilled filth and human waste. The residents of St. Giles lurked in alleys or crowded the streets, some begging for alms while other hurried about their way in frenzied masses. Many of them were terribly young. The Rookery stank with pungent aromas and seethed with harsh conversation, often ended in a petty squabble or brutal knifing. Sebastian found the nearest alehouse – a local called the Balladeer Boar – and finally brought Inky to a halt.
He swung down from the saddle and looked back at Philo. The boy was staring around at the poverty and darkness of St. Giles like he had wandered into some cemetery with the corpses coming out of their graves. Sebastian wordlessly helped the boy down from the saddle. He patted Inky's muzzle, motioning for the squid-faced horse to stay put. Then he put a hand on Philo's shoulder and steered him to the entrance of the public house.
Sebastian glanced down at the pale face of Philo. "You've never been to a place like this before," he explained. "Where poverty is so thick in the air?"
"Hmmm? Ah, no, sir. Not at all." Philo's eyes darted to a ragged beggar crouched in the entrance to the Balladeer Boar. He pulled a handful of coins from his coat and hurried tossed them into the beggar's cup. Sebastian saw the slow grin on the beggar's face and knew that this was one of the famed Tom O'Bedlams, who feigned madness to earn a few coins from sympathetic passerby. He said nothing, letting Philo think that his money had gone to a good use. "Have you, sir?" Philo asked, as they walked inside. "Been in places like this before, I mean?"
"And far worse besides!" Sebastian agreed. He surveyed the interior of the alehouse. It was a dimly lit, ribald establishment, with a number of rough wooden tables set on a floor pockmarked by spilled drinks and vomit. Swinging lanterns hung low from the ceiling, casting twisting shadows across the filthy floor. Some of the other drinkers were singing 'Down among the Dead Men' in the corner, mangling each drunken word. Sebastian sat down at an empty table lost in the shadow corner of the place, Philo quickly joining him. "Why, you should have seen the place where I acquired dear Inky – it was a decaying town, inhabited by ocean-worshipping creatures that could scarcely be called human." Sebastian raised a hand to signal a waiter. He was in the mood for a drink.
"Good heavens," Philo whispered.
A barmaid hurried over to their table. She had curly reddish hair in a wild tangle and an upper chest that seemed in danger of leaving its dress. She had arms swaying with fat as well, but Sebastian didn't mind. Rare indeed were the women who didn't earn his interest. "What can I fetch for you, then, my dears?" she asked, fluttering her eyes sweetly at Sebastian and Philo.
"I'd be afraid to guess at the varieties of wine you have available," Sebastian explained. "So let it be gin, then." He doffed his hat to the barmaid. "And I am certain that the lack of fine wine will cast no shadow over this public house that your fine figure, my dear, would not soon lift."
"Oh, don't gentlemen say the nicest things!" The barmaid covered her mouth and failed to stifle a giggle. She turned to Philo. "And the little lord? What will he have?"
"Water, madam," Philo explained. "If you have it."
"Water! I've got several younger than you, little lord, and they're happy with gin. But I shan't argue." She waved her fingers at Sebastian. "I'll have your drinks ready and return in just a spell and no mistake! Don't slip away now!"
"Even if I desired to, I don't believe I would have the power to remove myself from your fine features," Sebastian replied. The barmaid laughed as she walked away, heading for the bar in the back of the room. Sebastian leaned back in his rickety wooden chair, his smile fading as he saw Philo's hateful glare. If not for the boy, he might have had an enjoyable time with the barmaid. "What's raised your ire, cousin?" he wondered.
Philo leaned in closer. "Do you normally try to be romantic with everything clad in a skirt?"
"I have my needs," Sebastian replied. "And I satisfy them." He pointed to Philo. "It's no worse than your family, is it? Living like kings in your fine manor and sending you to the greatest schools in the empire while so many others scrabble by with nothing. And what exactly does your father, my uncle, the great Fredrick Foxfire do for his profession?"
"He's an Agent of the Crown," Philo replied testily. "A hero."
"Is he now? I've been to and fro in the world, my dear boy, and I know the kind of blood that stains our empire – and its agents." Sebastian tapped the table as he spoke. "Brutally crushing slave-revolts in the Caribbean plantations, massacring Indians in North America, exploiting the Irish and cheating Hindu rajas out of their kingdoms – I bet your dear father's had a hand in all of them. It's that kind of cruelty under the guise of civilization that my father rebelled against."
"Oh…" Philo's annoyance seemed to end when Lord Phineas was brought up. "I didn't—"
But Sebastian continued. He pointed to the pentagram on his cheek. "Would you like to know how he gave me this?" he asked.
"Sir, I didn't—" Philo shook his head. "I'm sorry if, I—"
"It was over a woman." Sebastian let his finger rest on the pentagram, marked on his cheek. "Or a girl, really. Her name was Elizabeth and she came from a fine upstanding family, just like yours, in patrician Boston. She taught me that there are more things in this world than cruelty and hatred. Together, we plotted my escape from my father, who wished to turn me into the heir to his dark crusade against Christendom. But her father refused to hide her. My father captured us. He killed her, young Philo, with a blade across the throat."
"Sebastian…" Philo lowered his eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm dreadfully sorry."
"My father would have killed me, but my mother stayed his hand. He marked me instead, with the devil's sign. Since then, I have been venturing around the world, in search of fortunes to spend on women and wine, so that I may forget everything that has happened to me." Sebastian rested his hands flat on the table. "So kindly refrain from looking down your little nose at me, if you please."
"I'm sorry," Philo replied. He reached out to touch Sebastian's hand, but his cousin pulled his arm away quickly.
Before Sebastian could reply, the door to the Boar Balladeer slammed open. A dozen men in gray cloaks strolled inside, all of them heavily armed with blades and flintlocks. Sebastian noted the scars on their faces and their wary, hateful eyes. Their leader pulled a musketoon from his coat and fired it at the ceiling, getting the attention of everyone in the public house. Even the drunken choir in the back fell silent. "Right!" the newcomer roared. "You know who I am, don't you? I'm Lemuel Cauldron, Thief-Taker General. And I'm here to find a boy by the name of Philo Foxifre."
They were Thief-Takers, the brutal mercenaries who served as private police for London's elite. In reality, the Thief-Takers often worked in hand in hand with the criminals they caught, planning heists and then returning stolen goods for massive profits. Now it seemed that a band of the Thief-Takers were working for Lord Phineas. Their leader, Cauldron, was missing the tip of his thin nose. It gave him the look of a lopsided weasel. He had expensive lacy cuffs and a silken cravat, with several pistols in his belt and a jeweled capotain hat covering his shoulder-length, colorless hair.
Soon as he spoke, Philo moved to stand up. Sebastian grabbed the boy's shoulder and slammed him down. He shot Philo a harsh gaze and put his finger to his lips, ordering the boy to stay quiet. Sebastian had purposefully picked a table in the shadows. Hopeful, the Thief-Takers wouldn't spot them and they could make a rapid exit.
Cauldron, the so-called Thief-Taker General, strolled further into the room. "Come on now," he muttered. "He's a pip of a lad and rich as Croesus. Can't be hard to spot in a den of iniquity such as this." Cauldron pulled another flintlock from his belt. "And I needn't warn you the trouble that me and my boys can cause if our desires ain't assuaged."
The Boar Balladeer's patrons stared at each other, saying nothing as they sipped their drinks in cold silence. None of them dared to meet Cauldron's eye. Finally, the barmaid who had served Sebastian and Philo stepped up. She walked over to stand next to Cauldron and pointed at his chest. "You and your kind think your princes of the city, don't you?" she asked. "Well, you ain't. Not in here at any rate. We won't go turning our customers over to a pack of scum who think they got the law behind them."
"Very well." Cauldron nodded to the Thief-Taker behind him. "Goliath – teach her a measure of respect, in your own, gentle manner."
Goliath was a hulking Thief-Taker, a mountain in a gray cloak and disheveled suit. He was completely hairless and wore no hat, his craggy face looking like a chunk of masonry with two eyeholes and a mouth in its center. Wordlessly, Goliath grabbed the barmaid's arm and spun it to the side, forcing her down and making her scream. Goliath increased his grip and Sebastian knew the poor barmaid's arm would snap like cordwood soon enough. Her shrieks rose through the alehouse, echoing off the shadowy walls. Sebastian stood still, knowing that an attack would be pointless, even if he wanted nothing more than to help. He had to think of some way to escape.
But then Philo whispered to Sebastian. "Sebastian," he said, pain in his young voice. "We have to help her. We have to." Sebastian looked into the boy's terrified eyes. There was no way he could let that poor woman be tortured, not with Philo staring at him.
"By the Black Crown of Hades!" Sebastian cursed. "Go outside, my dear boy. Stick to the corners and slip out before you are spotted." He muttered his order as he came to his feet. "Get onto Inky's back and ride as if the hounds of Hell were at your heels! Ride to your father and tell him everything – he must already have some idea of what is happening. And don't let my father take you alive!"
"I don't know how to ride, sir!" Philo pointed out, but Sebastian ignored him.
Sebastian Foxfire walked to the center of the public house, bringing up his scimitar and letting it catch the swinging lights of the lanterns. "Philo Foxfire is not here, you mercenary monkeys." He raised his scimitar. "Just me. And I'd suggest you find better employ than that of my father. Lord Phineas Foxfire is as poor a master as he is a parent."
Cauldron sneered at Sebastian. "Forgive me if I don't believe you," he explained. He nodded to Goliath, who tossed away the screaming barmaid. "Take him," Cauldron ordered, to Goliath and all of his Thief-Takers. "We'll find out what we want to know, if we have to cut it from his carcass." The Thief-Takers surged towards Sebastian, drawing their blades and clubs as they flanked the mammoth form of Goliath.
The scimitar swung up to meet them, humming through the air as it parried the first blow. Sebastian had learned many things in his childhood at New Foxgate. Chief amongst them was the handling of a blade. Sebastian hacked away at the Thief-Takers, slashing open an arm and driving his sword point through a shoulder. Two of the Thief-Takers went down, their blood joining the other fluids on the floor. Sebastian spun the face his next set of attackers, his scimitar poised to strike. He felt a rapier slash past his face and nearly hack off his ear, and then he struck down and drove the length of his blade into the terrified face of another Thief-Taker. Sebastian yanked out the scimitar in a spray of blood, when Goliath attacked him from the side.
The heavy fists of the giant Thief-Taker pounded into Sebastian's chest. Sebastian felt the impact race through his body, turning his bones to rubber and causing him to collapse on the ground. Goliath stamped on his sword arm, preventing him from raising the scimitar. Sebastian reached for his pistols, but then Cauldron leaned in and gripped his free hand, holding it back and leaning in close to show Sebastian his predatory grin.
"Well, well," Cauldron muttered. "Looks like we caught ourselves a dandy." He nodded to Goliath. "Let's start breaking him. We'll soon see where little Philo Foxfire is."
Goliath pushed down Sebastian's arm. Sebastian tried to keep from crying out – and failed. His shriek slipped up his throat and erupted from his mouth. His arm was going to snap soon enough, and then he imagined Goliath pounding the rest of him into bloody paste. Goliath kept the pressure on and Sebastian wriggled like a worm on a hook.
"Stop!" Even through the mist of pain, Sebastian heard Philo's high, clear voice. "Don't hurt Sebastian anymore! For God's sake, please let him go!" Sebastian looked up and saw Philo walking towards the Thief-Takers, his hands outstretched. Two Thief-Takers ran to Philo and grabbed his arms, nearly hauling the boy off the ground.
"You flea-brained little fool!" Sebastian snarled. "Why didn't you escape?"
Philo couldn't meet his cousin's eyes. "I couldn't stand to see you hurt," he said, his voice dropping to a whisper. "I truly couldn't. Not after you told me about your past and what you are risking, on my account. I couldn't stand to see you beaten."
Cauldron looked between Philo and Sebastian. "A touching moment," he said. "But it must come to its lamentable end." He nodded once to Goliath. The giant Thief-Taker's fist zoomed down again, aimed at Sebastian's face. Sebastian saw the knuckles, each seemingly the size of a pistol handle, coming straight for his face. Then the fist struck home and Sebastian saw no more.
Vision slowly returned to Sebastian's eyes. He blinked and tried to clear his blurred vision, as something in head pounded cruelly. Sebastian felt cold gray stone under his fingers. He glanced up and saw a similar stone ceiling and matching walls, in a wide room packed with strangely-costumed figures. The stone was truly ancient, carved to show skulls, hourglasses, Latin phrases and other emblems of death. The whole wide chamber seemed like a giant Memento Mori – not that Sebastian needed any help in that regard. He came shakily to his feet and looked at those around him.
Some were the Thief-Takers, including Lemuel Cauldron and Goliath. There were a few New Foxgate guards, with their black cloaks and silver masks. Two of them flanked Sebastian and let their swords aim at his throat. The rest of the residents in that stone chamber were finely dressed noblemen, their features hidden by elaborate masks. Sebastian stared at a grinning skull and then at the open, roaring mouth of a lion. The masks showed animals, mythical figures or demons, each one seeming strangely terrible over a pastel-colored gentleman's suit. These masked figures held aloft torches, which flickered and filled the stone chamber with shifting light.
At the far end of the chamber sat Lord Phineas Foxfire, on a kind of throne fashioned from a coffin. Philo Foxfire stood next to his uncle. The boy had a bruise on his cheek and looked like he was trying as hard as he could to be brave. Sebastian stared at Lord Phineas. "Hello, father. Good afternoon." Sebastian smiled weakly. "A nice residence you've chosen. I can help you rest comfortably in the grave, if you'd like."
"That will not be necessary," Lord Phineas replied. "The London Catacombs are one of the chosen meeting places for my associates in the Hellfire Club." He nodded to the masked men holding torches. "Their help has been instrumental in helping me operate in London – and in preparing this ritual." He nodded to the stone floor before his throne.
Sebastian noticed the inscribed altar on the flagstones for the first time. It was a series of circles, written in chalk and blood and marked with candles, all around some strange geometric shapes. Sebastian knew exactly what it was – a portal to Hell, one which would bring a demon roaring into the mortal realm. When Sebastian was little, his father had trained him to make such portals and summon demonic or pagan entities. Now it appeared that Lord Phineas intended the same for his nephew Philo.
"Bring my son to the altar!" Lord Phineas ordered. Cauldron and Goliath grabbed Sebastian's hands. They pulled him across the chamber and forced him down on the stone floor, so his neck craned out over the ritual. Then Lord Phineas came to his feet. He pulled out Sebastian's own scimitar and traced his fingers over the Arabic script on the blade. "I gave this to you for your birthday," Lord Phineas explained. "An enchanted Mohammedan sword forged of fine Persian steel. But you have spurned it, along with your birthright. It is only fitting that this weapon shall spill your blood." Lord Phineas turned to Philo. He held out the blade to the boy. "And your replacement should wield it."
"What?" Philo asked, staring at the scimitar. "You want me to—"
"To take the sword and slash open Sebastian's throat," Lord Phineas explained. He smiled at Philo. "It may seem odd to you, but consider your life and your world. You are lonely at school, an object of derision for your teachers and fellow students. Your father sees you as a weakling and you have barely earned your mother's affection. My spies are everywhere, Philo. Don't bother denying the truth. And furthermore, look at the world around you. Today, you saw how the poor of London live, while the rich exist in perfumed splendor. What kind of world is that to defend?" He spun the sword around, taking hold of the blade so that Philo could reach the handle. "Now, have I told you a single lie?"
"No…" Philo reached out and took the handle. He held the scimitar tightly, bringing up the blade and staring at it. Sebastian looked at his cousin, waiting silently for what would happen next. "You have not. There seems to be endless cruelty in this world – more than I could ever imagine."
"That is true. Christianity is a sham. God is a tyrant." Lord Phineas nodded to Sebastian. "And I have fought against all tyrants – mortal or divine – for the entirety of my life. Cut down this traitor, Philo, and you can join me in this struggle for a newer, better world. The blood of Sebastian will bring forth Marchosias, an archdemon of Hell, to show to you the power of infernal magic."
Philo looked at the scimitar in his hands and then Sebastian. "No." He let the scimitar fall. It hit the floor of the catacombs and clattered against the steel. "My cousin is a good man – a hero, who defends the innocent and battles for what is right. He proves that even in a world as cruel as this – a veritable Devil's drawing room – you can still be a kind and good man." He stared up at Lord Phineas. "And sir? I will follow his example."
Despite himself – and the horror that surrounded him – Sebastian felt a surge of pride for his cousin. He grinned at Philo. "Well done, my dear boy!" he said. "Rest assured that you have made the right decision!"
Lord Phineas came to his feet. He twisted his walking stick's handle and it left the cane's base to reveal a long, thin blade. "I should have expected this," Lord Phineas Foxfire explained. "I still intend for you to kill your cousin, Philo – but perhaps that event should highlight the culmination of your lessons, instead of their beginning." Lord Phineas stared at his reflection in the thin stiletto sword cane. "But I still wish to summon Marchosias, as a demonstration. I simply need someone to spill the necessary lifeblood to open the portal." He looked up at Cauldron and Goliath. "I wonder who it will be…"
Goliath said nothing. He didn't seem to understand what was happening. But Cauldron did. "Wait a minute, your lordship!" Cauldron cried. "We're your hired men! Even if you got more gold than Midas to spend, you can't just go and—"
But Lord Phineas's sword cane had already stabbed out. It punched through the throat of Goliath, piercing his bull's neck and spilling his blood. Goliath sank down to his knees, coughing and choking as his lifeblood spilled out from his neck and rained onto the altar. The candles began to smolder then, spewing up great clouds of choking red smoke. Cauldron stepped back, dropping Sebastian as he scrambled to run to his other Thief-Takers. Sebastian fell heavily on the ground, where he lay still and looked at the smoldering altar. If he tried to run now, he'd be cut down in a hail of bullets from the flintlocks of the Foxgate guards and Thief-Takers. But there was something hidden in his coat, nestled in a pocket that the Thief-Takers hadn't raided. He reached for it.
The smoldering red fire hung in an angry cloud in the center of the room. As Sebastian, the Hellfire Club and Philo watched, the cloud began to shift and break – and then to buzz. The bits of crimson smoke seemed to solidify, transforming into the shimmering forms of living locusts, flies and other insects. They still maintained a nearly solid shape, but buzzed and swarmed around in a horde of red insect energy. Philo was repulsed by the sight and turned away, until Lord Phineas grabbed his shoulder and forced him to look.
"Marchosias!" Lord Phineas explained. "Look at him, my child! Look at the power that can reshape the world of men!"
Sebastian dug madly into his pocket. His fingers finally closed around a cloth necklace, tipped with a wooden crucifix. He had been given the necklace in Italy as a gift, after he had inadvertently battled a local goblin that had been threatening nearby children while searching for ancient Roman treasure. It was supposedly carved from the wooden leg of St. Geronimus and possessed holy power. Now Sebastian would have to use it.
"Father." Lord Phineas looked down as Sebastian spoke. "You're as stubborn as I am, you know. But you still have your weaknesses. I think you've tried so very hard to renounce human feelings and give yourself over to the service of Lucifer, but you've never really succeeded. You still care for mother. Perhaps you still care for me. And you still desire to be loved. That's the real reason you're insisting on abducting young Philo, isn't it? You want yourself a son."
His words had the desired effect. Lord Phineas Foxfire glared at his son and raised his sword cane. He wasn't thinking properly now, his mind maddened by rage. It gave Sebastian time to pull his hand free from his coat, the wooden crucifix held between his fingers. In a single motion, Sebastian hurled the holy cross into the center of the seething demonic mass, then came to his feet and prepared to run.
Instantly, the buzzing cloud of insects seemed to boil over. The locusts, flies and beetles exploded outwards, some striking against the stone walls of the catacomb and splattering to juicy pieces while others buzzed in frenzied circles around the members of the Hellfire Club and the New Foxgate guards. Sebastian closed his mouth and darted to reclaim his scimitar from where it lay on the ground – and his cousin. He felt the insects crawling along his coat and brushing past his face and eyes. He ignored them. Nothing mattered but escape.
Blindly, his fingers reached the hilt of his scimitar. He drew the blade and swung it wide, forcing back the Thief-Takers coming to stop him. His other hand grabbed Philo's shoulder. "Come along then, my dear boy!" Sebastian said brightly. "I believe we've had quite enough of this wretched place!"
"Very true!" Philo agreed and then joined Sebastian in running down the long stone hall.
Sebastian's sword hummed through the air, hacking at the bugs or men that got in his way. Between the darkness of the chamber, the smoking torches of the Hellfire Club and the cloud of panicked demonic insects, Sebastian could hardly see what was in front of him. Still, he and Philo ran to the end of the catacombs, then down a long and narrow hall. Up ahead was a stone staircase and beyond that – welcome as sails on the horizon to a castaway – was the brightness of sunlight and the end of the catacombs. However, there was a rusted metal grate covering the entrance, denying Philo and Sebastian an easy escape. Beyond the grate, they could see a busy London street, with the poor crowds of any Rookery.
Behind them, Sebastian could hear his father roar. "Capture them!" His cries echoed over the stones. "Hire every rogue and reprobate in the city of London! Turn the streets into a prison and search everything beneath the gray skies! The house of Foxfire will have its heir! I will not be denied my champion!"
Footsteps came after Lord Phineas's order and Sebastian knew that they were being pursued. He and Philo had reached the stone stairs and were hurrying up, scrambling for the metal grate that covered the entrance to the catacombs. Sebastian wished that he had kept some of his pistols. He heard the clatter of musketry from behind, and then shots banged and cracked on the stone walls of the catacomb. The shots echoed like thunder in the stone hall, and Philo winced like the sound itself was causing him physical pain. Sebastian felt for the boy. He had to get Philo to safety and away from Lord Phineas Foxfire's clutches.
Together, he and Philo pushed against the metal grate. The rusted metal began to slowly give way. Sebastian looked down the hall and saw the first of the Foxgate hurrying down to stop him. "By the Black Crown of Hades!" Sebastian snarled. "If we can't get out of these cursed catacombs, we'll be finished! And even if we do get out, I have no idea how we are to escape my father's private armies!" He looked over at Philo and his manner softened. "You must think poorly of the American branch of our family, Philo."
"Not so poorly," Philo replied. He pointed past the grates, a smile coming to his lips. "And I think I just found the means of our escape!" Sebastian followed the boy's thin finger. There was Inky, his squid-faced horse, standing across the crowded street from the catacombs entrance with his tentacles waving in the light breeze. The horse's head perked up, its tentacles going straight. As Sebastian watched, Inky galloped straight through the crowd and hurried to the catacomb entrance.
Sebastian had always known that Inky was more than just an ordinary steed – beyond the tentacles on his face. Inky's intelligence and loyalty were proven again. "Come on, old fellow!" Sebastian cried, beckoning to the horse. Behind him, he could hear the Thief-Takers hurrying down the hall. He didn't have the strength or the time to defeat them. And behind the Thief-Takers, and even more terrible than their footfalls, came the endless roaring hum of buzzing insects.
Luckily, Inky reached the grate and knelt down. The dark tentacles that tipped Inky's face gripped the rusted bars and pulled. Flakes of rust fell from the shaking grate in a red rain. The metal screeched and groaned as Inky's muscles worked. The Thief-Takers were drawing closer and Sebastian could hear their boots pounding on the stone. Then, just as the Thief-Takers rounded the corner, the grate came free. Inky yanked it aside and let it clatter to the ground, raising a cloud of dust and rusty flakes of metal.
"A thousand thanks, you magnificent animal!" Sebastian cried, as he scrambled out of the catacomb and leapt onto the horse's back. He reached down and grabbed Philo, hauling up the boy as the Thief-Takers, Foxgate guards and Hellfire Club men came running out from the catacombs. Bullets burned through the air around them and Sebastian smiled as he pulled his extra pistols from his saddle and fired back. Philo was behind him, gripping his waist and hanging on for his life. Inky reared up, his hooves flailing in the air as Sebastian emptied his pistols at their pursuers and then cracked his heels against the horse's flanks.
Inky broke into a mad gallop. They charged through the crowd, scattering terrified Londoners from their path. Sebastian gripped the reins of Inky, grinning as his horse gained speed. Still, he knew his escape wouldn't last long. Lord Phineas would bring London's entire underworld – and the forces of Hell – to track them down. Sebastian had to find somewhere he could hold them off until work reached Philo's father.
He scanned the streets, recognizing some of the decrepit houses and collapsing statues. "Why, we're not two blocks from St. Eustace's!" Sebastian explained. He glanced back at Philo. The boy had his eyes closed and his teeth clenched, an expression of pure terror on his face. "It's an abandoned church. Resurrection Men frequently burglarize her yards for old corpses to sell to anatomists. It will be a fine place to make a stand."
"Oh…" Philo agreed. "Yes…"
"You know, I'm rather surprised that old Inky chose to tail our captors." Sebastian patted the horse's neck as he turned the corner and weaved through market stalls and slow-moving wagons. "I almost wonder why he returned."
"He cares for you…" Philo explained. The boy's teeth were clenched and his voice was pained. "He knows…that you're a good man."
For a reason he couldn't place, Sebastian wasn't sure how to respond to the boy's words. For once, he was lost for words. He simply increased his grasp of Inky's flowing mane and urged the horse on, riding like hell for St. Eustace's. They were far from escaping Lord Phineas Foxfire's clutches – and far from reaching any safety.
St. Eustace's Cathedral was an ancient mass of collapsing stone. It had somehow survived the Great Fire of 1666, only to fall into disuse and decay in the years that followed. Now the cathedral was home only to rats and derelicts, with a shattered roof, a broken steeple and windowless sills overlooking a main hall full of wreckage. Graves surrounded St. Eustace's, the ancient tombstones worn to illegibility by the march of time. Sebastian and Philo rode past these broken stones and entered the battered main hall. Sebastian slowed Inky and looked back at Philo – and that's when he noticed his cousin's arm was bleeding.
True fear struck into Sebastian's heart. "Hell's Bells!" he leapt down from the saddle and grabbed Philo, helping the boy to the stone floor by a pile of cracked masonry. "You must have taken a shot through the arm when they fled from the catacombs. Sebastian let his young cousin lean against the pile of masonry and returned to the saddle, grabbing bandages and healing herbs from a pouch by the pommel. "Why didn't you say anything? Why, you hardly let a pained word escape your lips!"
"I…didn't want to bother you," Philo explained. "When you were saving my life."
"Well, let's hope I still can." Sebastian crouched down. He pulled back Philo's sleeve and looked at the wound. The flesh was red and raw where the bullet had shot through – but it hadn't hit bone. Sebastian worked quickly. He applied the herbs, which he had received from a Maroon shaman of the Ashanti tribe, and then bandaged the wound. When he pulled away his hands, they were shaking and bloody. Sebastian stared at Philo. He truly cared for the boy and it made him sick to see Philo in danger. Sebastian didn't know that anyone could make him feel that way – not after Elizabeth's death.
Philo looked up at his cousin. "The wound is slight?" he asked. "It has stopped hurting, somewhat." Philo stared out through the ruined windows and then he emitted a nervous gasp. "Oh no! Sebastian – look! It seems that your father has found us. And he's brought all the criminals of London to follow his wretched command."
Sebastian stared outside of the window and then looked at the streets surrounding St. Eustace's Cathedral. They were now packed with the armies of London crime. The Thief-Takers were there, not just the gray-coated catchers of Cauldron's gang, but from a dozen different masters. Their clubs and garrotes were at the ready. Next to them were the Mohocks and Hawkubites, the notorious bands of rowdies who murdered and robbed more for fun than for profit. They were gaudily dressed, the Mohocks in red and with elegantly sculpted hairstyles mimicking the North American Indians and the Hawkubites in blue. Groups of Jewish and Irish gangs were there too, their belts bristling with knives. And even the River Pirates of Thames were there, bearing cutlasses and blunderbusses and stinking of mud and filth.
At the center of this motley army was Lord Phineas Foxfire, surrounded by his Foxgate guards. Lemuel Cauldron stood next to him, like a kind of lieutenant to Lord Phineas's general. Sebastian reasoned that Lord Phineas must have recruited all of these criminals when he arrived in London and summoned them now to do his bidding.
"My son!" Lord Phineas roared. "Perhaps you were right and I do care for you – if only a little. So let Philo join me and I will let you live." He tapped his cane on the pavement. "You know that you really have no choice in the matter."
"There is always a choice!" Sebastian cried. He looked back at Philo. He would not see his cousin corrupted. "And I will never let Philo fall into your hands. You shall have to enter this church and kill me first." Sebastian drew his scimitar and grabbed an extra pistol from the saddle. He cocked the flintlock and aimed it out of the ruined window, scanning the seemingly endless crowd of criminals. "And I shall slay the first man who makes the attempt!"
"Man?" Lord Phineas asked. He smiled slightly. It was always rare for Sebastian's father to have a smile and the expression looked strange on his bearded face. "I'll send no man to get you. I have something much better on my side." Behind Lord Phineas Foxfire, Sebastian could hear the sudden buzzing roar of Marchosias.
The demon stormed the ruined cathedral in the form of crimson insect swarm. The locusts, beetles, scarabs and flies came in through the ruined windows and seemed to crawl from the broken stones themselves. Sebastian rushed to meet the demon, his scimitar humming through the air. He watched as the insect storm shifted and moved like a column of smoke, and he could almost make out strange features of faces composed by the vermin. The insects drew closer and closer together, never staying in one shape for long. Marchosias was an eagle composed of buzzing insects and then a wolf and then a goat and finally a leering human face.
"You are truly a disgusting fiend!" Sebastian swung his blade at the shape of Marchosias. The Arabic scrollwork glowed as the blade struck the demon, piercing the carapace of countless insects. Inky snorted at Marchosias and lashed at the insects with his heavy hooves. "Why, I'd say you're even worse than other denizens of the Pit – at least they don't leave stains on my garments!" Sebastian leveled his flintlock at Marchosias and fired, blasting ruined insect bodies away from the main mass. They splattered on the ground, but thousands of insects were left. And then Marchosias fought back.
The insects surged against Sebastian, enveloping him in a wave of clawing little legs and biting mandibles. Sebastian was knocked onto the ground. His sword flailed uselessly as he felt the insects crawling under his clothes and reaching into his skin. They'd devour him, ripping his flesh apart before feasting on his soul and dragging whatever was left to rot in Hell. Sebastian almost didn't mind – but he knew that he would let Philo down.
Through a haze of pain, Sebastian saw Philo coming to his feet. The boy grabbed his arm as he hurried to the Sebastian and the swarming Marchosias. "Wait!" Philo cried. "Don't—please!" He waved his hands uselessly at the passing insects. "You don't have to do this! You may be damned, but you were something better once!" There was pain in the boy's voice. He cared about his cousin – just like his cousin cared for him. "Marchosias, demon prince of Hell, remember that you were once an angel! Remember that redemption is always possible!"
The buzzing stopped. Sebastian felt the insect teeth cease digging into his flesh. Then, just as soon as they arrived, Marchosias was swarming away. The locusts, flies and beetles sped away from Sebastian's body and left the ruined cathedral in a cloud. Sebastian watched them slip out through a ruined window and then soar into the gray London skies as a long stream of red smoke. Even that dissipated in seconds and then he and Philo were alone.
Sebastian stared at his cousin. "Reminding the fiend that he was once an angel…" he asked, as he weakly came to his feet. "Where'd you learn a thing like that?"
Philo shrugged. "Class, sir," he explained. "Just a normal lesson."
Outside, Sebastian could hear the criminals muttering to each other. And then Lord Phineas Foxfire raised his voice. "You dispatched a demon, Philo!" he called. "My child, you have a rare skill for the supernatural! You will more than equal my son in that regard. I know you have the makings of a great sorcerer about you and under my command you shall be molded into the greatest wizard that ever lived." Lord Phineas raised his hand to the assembled underworld army. "I will be leaving with you, Philo. You banished a demon – but you can't banish men."
The criminals of London bristled and fingered their weapons. They were waiting to go in and Sebastian knew he wouldn't last long against that many blades and guns. He looked back to Inky, wondering if the horse could carry away Philo and help the boy escape, while he stayed behind and fought. It would perhaps end in both of their deaths – but it was his only choice. Sebastian doubled his grip on his scimitar and waited for the attack.
Instead, he heard faint strands of music. The musical notes seemed to drift out of the air itself, like it was a welcoming breeze from the far-off river. Sebastian recognized the tune as the Royal Grenadiers. He exchanged a glance with Philo. Then the boy pointed out of the window and beamed.
"Father!" he cried. "Sebastian, my father is coming!"
A column of Redcoat infantry were marching for the church, complete with a fife and drummer keeping time. They moved in perfect military order, their uniforms crisp and muskets at their shoulders. Leading the column was a gilded coach. The coach stopped, just as the Redcoats did, and the carriage doors swung open. A somewhat portly man wearing a civilian red frock coat stepped out. He had his son's dark hair and upturned nose, though it was thinning and he had a growing gut under his vest. He was Fredrick Foxfire, Philo's father and Sebastian's uncle.
Fredrick nodded to his Redcoats. They leveled their muskets at the thieves. "Gentlemen," Fredrick explained. "Depart immediately and you will not be harmed. Stay and you will be fired upon and slaughtered. You are perhaps deft at knifing some fool in a back alley, but I doubt you will last long against trained British Infantry. If you survive our attack, I promise you will hang at Tyburn." Fredrick Foxfire gave another nod. The Redcoats cocked the guns. "Well?" he asked.
The criminals left. They ran from their positions, their crowds vanishing like morning mist on a hot day. Lemuel Cauldron was the first to leave, staring hatefully at Lord Phineas as he and his Thief-Takers ran down an adjoining alley. They were gone in seconds, leaving only Lord Phineas and his guards behind.
Lord Phineas Foxfire stiffened as the muskets were aimed in his direction. He nodded to Fredrick. "Good afternoon, brother," he said.
"Good afternoon." Fredrick returned the nod politely. "And I'll give you the same offer as I gave to the rest of these criminals. You must leave London immediately. If you ever return – or take more interest in my son – you will die. Where I work, in the Tower of London, I have access to a number of ancient torture devices. I would look forward to using them on you." He smiled at Lord Phineas. "Don't give me the chance."
Sebastian stared from his uncle to his father. He could see the anger radiating across Lord Phineas's face. His father hated to be defeated – and to be beaten by his own family must only hurt more. Lord Phineas nodded quickly. "Very well. We will leave and return to New Foxgate in the colonies." He looked to the church. "Philo, when you grow tired of the pompous hypocrisy of your father, you will find me waiting for you. And Fredrick, the offer is open to you as well. But not to Sebastian. There is no forgiveness for traitors."
"And none for devils either," Sebastian muttered to himself.
Lord Phineas and his guards left without another word. They headed into a nearby alley, keeping their guns leveled at the Redcoats. Lord Phineas himself was the last to leave, staring at his brother and then turning to the ruined church. Sebastian wondered if he was waiting for Philo to run from the ruins and join him – or if he was waiting for his own son to call for him. But neither Sebastian nor Philo moved or said anything until Lord Phineas was gone.
Then Philo scrambled out of the church. The boy slipped on the rubble, sank down and popped back up and then hurried outside. Sebastian followed him and watched as Philo ran into his father's arms. Fredrick and Philo Foxfire embraced and then Sebastian's uncle helped the boy back to his carriage.
"Come along, Sebastian!" Philo cried, looking back at his cousin. "And bring Inky as well! My mother would certainly like to meet you and you can have a place in our house! There needn't be anymore wandering for a hero like you." Philo looked up at his father and then back to Sebastian. He saw that his father's smile had faded. "What's wrong?" Philo asked. "He's a hero, father. He saved my life, countless times today."
"He's an American Foxfire," Fredrick explained. "He's a rake and a sinner. He even bears the devil's mark on his face. I won't have him in my house and I won't have him around you, my dear son – not with your weak and nervous constitution and carriage." Fredrick raised his voice, making sure that Sebastian could hear him. "Leave London, Sebastian. Never bother my boy again. You have my thanks for keeping him safe, but here your relationship must end."
"That's not fair." Philo stared at his father in disbelief. "That's just not fair."
"Our world rarely is, my dear boy." Sebastian clapped his hands. Inky cantered out of the ruined church to stand by his side. Sebastian pulled himself into the saddle, feeling the ache in his bones and the pain in his skin. "Still, it was grand to meet you, Philo. You showed me that there is hope – even for a demon."
With that Sebastian, patted Inky's flank. The horse broke into a gallop, riding away from the ruined cathedral. Sebastian Foxfire looked back and doffed his tricorne to his little cousin as he and Inky pounded away down the street. It was good, Sebastian thought, to have someone of his family that he truly cared about – and it was even better to have a friend.