“Gramps, could we nae go somewhere more private?”
Lord Maccon rolled his eyes around, as if only now noticing the crowd. He was a werewolf, after all; he naturally acclimatized to the pack around him, even if that pack had gotten a little bizarrely dressed of late.
“Well, what I know, my wife and Randolph know. And, unfortunately, what Alexia knows, Lord Akeldama knows. However, if you insist, we could put out the drone.” He paused while Tizzy tried to look as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, or on his trousers for that matter. “And the cat, I suppose.”
Lady Kingair emitted an exhalation of exasperation. “Oh, verra well. To cut to the crux of it: Dubh has disappeared.”
Lord Maccon narrowed his eyes. “That’s not like a Beta.”
Professor Lyall looked concerned by this news. “What happened?”
Alexia wondered if he and the Kingair Beta had ever met.
Sidheag Maccon was clearly searching for a way of putting it that would not make her seem in the wrong. “I sent him away to investigate some small matter of interest to the pack, and we havena heard back from him.”
“Begin at the beginning,” instructed Lord Maccon, looking resigned.
“I sent him to Egypt.”
“To track down the source of the mummy.”
Lady Maccon looked to her husband in exasperation. “Isn’t that just like one of your progeny? Couldn’t just let sleeping mummies lie, could she? Oh, no, had to go off, nosing about.” She rounded on her several-times-removed stepdaughter. “Did it occur to you that I exhausted my parasol’s supply of acid to destroy that blasted creature for a very good reason? The last thing we need is more of them entering the country! Just look at the havoc the last one caused. There was mortality simply everywhere.”
“Oh, really, no. I dinna want to collect another one. I wanted to find out the particulars of the condition. We need to know where it came from. If there are more, they need to be controlled.”
“And you couldn’t have simply suggested that to BUR instead of trying to manage the situation yourself?”
“BUR’s jurisdiction is homeland only. This is a matter for the empire, and I had the feeling that we wolves needed tae see tae it. So I sent Dubh.”
“And?” Lord Maccon’s expression was dark.
“An’ he was supposed tae report in two weeks ago. He never made the aethographic transmission. Then again last week. Still naught. Then, two days past, this came through. I dinna think it’s from him. I think it’s a warning.”
She threw a piece of paper down on the tea table before them. It was plain parchment of the kind employed by transmission specialists the empire over for recording incoming aetherograms. Only, instead of the usual abrupt sentence, one single symbol was drawn upon it: a circle atop a cross, split in two.
Alexia had seen that symbol before, on the papyrus wrappings about a dangerous little mummy in Scotland and later hanging from a chain around the neck of a Templar. “Wonderful. The broken ankh.”
Lord Maccon bent to examine the document more closely.
Prudence stirred, giggling in her sleep. Alexia tucked the blanket, one of Lord Akeldama’s pink brocade shawls, more securely about her daughter.
Lord Maccon and Lady Kingair both looked at Alexia. Lord Maccon, it ought to be noted, was wearing another pink brocade shawl wrapped securely about his waist. It looked like a skirt from the East Indies. Alexia supposed her husband, being Scottish, was accustomed to wearing skirts. And he did have very nice knees. Scotsmen, she had occasion to observe, often did have nice knees. Perhaps that was why they insisted upon kilts.
“Oh, don’t tell me I never told you about it?”
“You never told me, my little robin’s egg.” Lord Akeldama waved his closed feathered fan about in the air, inscribing the symbol he saw before him.
“Well, the ankh translates to ‘eternal life’ or so Champollion says. And there we see eternal life destroyed. What do you think it might mean? Preternaturals, of course. Me.”
Lord Akeldama pursed his lips. “Perhaps. But sometimes the ancients inscribed a hieroglyphic broken to keep the symbol from leaking off the stone and into reality. When inscribed for that reason, the meaning of the hieroglyphic does not alter.”
“But who would nae want immortality?” asked Sidheag Maccon. She had pestered her great-great-great-grandfather for years to be made into a werewolf.
“Not everyone wants to live forever,” Alexia said. “Take Madame Lefoux, for example.”
Lord Maccon brought them back around to the point. “So Dubh has gone missing, in Egypt? What do you want me to do about it? Isn’t this a matter for the dewan?”
Lady Kingair cocked her head. “You are family. I thought you might make some inquiries without having tae involve official channels.”
Lord Maccon exchanged looks with his wife. Alexia glanced significantly at Lord Akeldama’s massive gilded cuckoo clock that dominated one corner of the room.
“We should be getting on,” he said.
“I shall be fine without you, my love. I will take the train. Nothing unpleasant ever happens on the train,” assured his wife.
Lord Maccon did not look reassured. Nevertheless, it was clear he was more concerned by troubles among werewolves than summons from vampires.
“Very well, my dear.” He turned to Lady Kingair. “We had better adjourn to BUR headquarters. We will need the assets only the Bureau can provide.”