Part One

A large van comes around a bend in a narrow dirt road, with forest on one side and a fence hemming a field on the other.
Blythe Bonfils sits in the driver seat, holding a lit cigarette. He wears sunglasses and a bomber jacket.

Blythe cursed every increment of this glorified horse trail. He was too far from a reliable service area for his device to be of any use, and all the radio picked up was static, morning hymnals, and talk radio about feed prices or something. He settled for his thoughts and the plink of gravel against the underside of his camper van.

A tiny stone cottage appeared around the bend. He pulled up to it, and a chicken strutted out in front of him. He tapped the brake. The chicken pecked at his tire, then trotted back down the cottage’s flagstone path.

Blythe sighed, jammed his cigarette in the ashtray, and threw the camper into park.

An old man sat on a bench by the door, scooping feed from a sack and tossing it to a cluster of chickens. A cigarette dangled from his mouth, and the points of his ears peeked out through his mop of curls, denoting his fey heritage. A walking cane leaned next to him on the bench.

Blythe, in the foreground, smiles at Toto, who sits on a stone bench holding a lit cigarette. A cane leans against the wall behind Toto, and an open bag of feed on the bench next to him. Hens peck the ground at his feet. A trailing plant fills the window flower box behind him.

The pepper of Anatole Marchand’s hair had given way to more salt since they’d last seen each other.

Toto dashed some ash off the end of his cigarette. “Well, well, well. Do my old eyes deceive me, or has Monsieur Bonfils graced me with his presence at last?” He eased onto his feet. Height had never blessed Toto, and his slight hunch didn’t help. “Was starting to think you didn’t want this job after all.”

“Quit bullshitting, Toto. My watch says I’m right on time.”

“Of course you are,” he said, pulling Blythe in and pressing either cheek to his. “What in Dennon’s name are you driving? You too good for the train? Can you even back that thing out of here?”

“It beats the train and it beats renting. This is where you’re spending your twilight years, huh?”

“It’s cozy and cheap. Perfect.”

The chickens, with their source of feed predisposed, wandered off to more fruitful pastures. The late morning air reeked of their coop and other livestock. It burned at Blythe’s nose.

“Maybe if you don’t mind the farm smell,” he said.

“I’m living the pastoral dream!” Toto patted Blythe’s shoulder, and more somberly said, “Sorry to hear about your grandpa Eddie. Wish I could’ve made it to the funeral.”

“We’ll have a drink in his honor. He’d have preferred that, anyway.”

“Ha! Him or you?” Toto tapped the flagstone with the butt of his cane. “Anyway, come on. Mustn’t keep the client waiting.”

He led Blythe around a large pasture. Inside the wooden fence, sheep congregated in and around a sheltered hay feeder. Cows ambled through another pasture. Further along the lane, an enclosure opened to a large barn, and a tidy farmhouse peeked out from behind it. The surrounding trees dwarfed everything.

Sandy mud crunched beneath Blythe’s boots. He’d avoided stepping in anything worse, but from the suffocating livestock smell, odds were against him.

A woman in a wide-brimmed hat perched atop a ladder by the barn. She fiddled with one of the enclosure’s posts under the hawk-intense watch of an old herding dog. Bandages swathed the dog’s ribcage, clean and white despite the mud. It spared Toto and Blythe a brief glance.

A faint green glow filtered out between the woman’s fingers. Five total poles, equally spaced, jutted up from the enclosure fence. A competent enough design for a set of warding charms. Had Toto called Blythe all the way out here for another elemental chase?

The steady tap of Toto’s cane alerted the woman to their presence, and she paused her work. Toto leaned against the enclosure and said, “Hello, Geneviève!”

Geneviève disentangled a silver knife from the warding charm and tucked it out of sight. She thumped down the ladder, dislodging mud (and probably worse) from the bottoms of her boots.

Her feet hit the ground, and the dog limped over and pressed against her. Geneviève tossed her low ponytail over her shoulder. The points of her ears pegged her as fey, like Toto.

“Blythe, this is Geneviève Gauthier.”

Geneviève’s squint accentuated her crow’s feet. She wiped her hands on her overalls. “This the wizard?”

A framed piece of round glass marked with an eye-like symbol hangs from a nail stuck into the top of a post. A silver knife is laced into the charm’s cord.

“That’s me,” said Blythe. The warding charm she’d been messing with—a framed piece of glass marked with a simple sigil—hung off a nail with common twine. Blythe didn’t have a natural dowser’s senses, but he didn’t need them to see it lacked sophistication. Likely a mendicant’s work. He had no idea what the knife was all about. “So, you need me to beef up your wards?”

“If it was elementals giving me trouble, I’d call a dowser, not a blasted wizard,” she said. “I’d rather stay in the good graces of the forest spirits, thank you.”

Geneviève turned her back on him and marched into the barn, with the dog following at her heels.

Blythe exchanged a look with Toto. He followed Geneviève past empty stalls to the back of the barn where stacked hay bales reached the rafters. The dog peeled away from her and curled up on a blanket under the loft stairs.

Geneviève pulled on a thick pair of gloves and said, “Monsieur Marchand didn’t tell you what I’m dealing with.”

“No.”

“Not surprised. Everyone in the village thinks I’m crazy thanks to that—“ She hefted a hay bale by its straps and tossed it into a waiting cart. “Ever so helpful game warden.”

“The game warden’s involved?”

“No. Thinks she knows better.” Geneviève grabbed another bale. “Something’s killing my sheep, and no. It isn’t dogs.” Toss. Grab. “It isn’t bears.” Toss. Kick. “And it’s not just a big wolf.”

The last bale sailed over the cart and crashed against the wall. Geneviève scowled after it, her chest and shoulders heaving.

“So what is it?” Blythe asked.

Geneviève threw down her gloves, tossed her hat aside, and mopped the sweat off her face and neck with a handkerchief. She looked Blythe dead in the eye and said, “Werewolf.”

A dead sheep with teeth marks in its throat. Its tongue hangs out of its open mouth.

Blythe, with his nose and mouth buried in his sleeve against the smell, crouched over the “werewolf’s” most recent victim, elemental detection charm in hand. He checked for a second time that the scrap of paper hadn’t expired.

“Well?” Geneviève hovered nearby, arms crossed. Hugo sat like a guardian statue at her feet, accepting the occasional scratch behind the ears.

The charmed paper shimmered with a few colorless speckles. “There’s a trace of something. Just couldn’t tell you what.”

“Picking it up from the forest elementals, probably.”

“You know their affinity?”

“No.”

Not that he could match anything to these results, anyway. Blythe nudged the remains of the sheep’s throat with his toe. An elongated half-moon of punctures marked the otherwise undamaged side of its neck. It could be a wolf bite for all he knew, but the front marks looked flat, like a chisel head.

“What kind of bite is that?” he asked.

“Not a normal wolf’s, I can tell you that.”

Blythe agreed that this was not a normal animal attack. A werewolf, though? Shape shifting was impossible without intervention from the gods or saints themselves, and he needed to properly rule out elementals before blaming something out of a fantasy tale. He had encountered powerful ones that mimicked the forms of animals, though they typically left stronger traces of their magical affinity.

“What’d this thing look like?”

“Large,” said Geneviève. “Not bear large, if that’s what you’re thinking. Wolfish. But not entirely a wolf.”

“What about the forest elementals?”

“It walked on two legs.”

That still didn’t rule out elementals. This werewolf business had to come from somewhere, though.

“What exactly makes you so sure it’s a werewolf?” he asked.

She lowered her voice. “How familiar are you with the legend around here?”

“About as much as anyone that isn’t local.” That was to say, not very.

“You know the Garoux family?”

One of Biscar’s former noble families. They were still prominent in the area.

“Sure.”

“The legend’s about their ancestor. They’re cursed.” She nodded toward the forest. “Guess who I share a land boundary with.”

“The Garoux family.”

“Caleb’s been pestering me to sell. Almost all the farms around here have sold their land back to the Garouxs. Not me.”

Geneviève didn’t have a werewolf problem. She had a land dispute.

“You think they’re behind this?” he asked.

“Don’t got proof of that, but I trust my own eyes,” said Geneviève. “Florian’s got nothing but rocks between their ears, but they were right about what it looks like.”

“Who’s Florian?”

“Village’s expert on the legend,” she said, though with a sarcastic emphasis on “expert.”

“What’d they get wrong?”

“Claimed silver would ward it off. Worthless.”

That reeked of bullshit, but it explained the knife. Even when properly bound to a charm, silver wouldn’t do much against most elementals. Blythe couldn’t speak on its efficacy against werewolves. Neither, apparently, could Geneviève’s expert.

In Blythe’s own expert opinion, an elemental was the most likely culprit. He’d have to catch it to convince Geneviève.

Blythe scanned the tree line. “You saw it run off that way?”

“Yeah. Left a trail.” More to herself, she said, “Accursed thing moved too fast to shoot.”

Geneviève and Hugo returned to their work, while Blythe searched the forest’s edge.

One of the pine trees sported a circular scorch mark in its trunk. The pattern suggested a discharged stunner round, electricity based. A series of similar marks on other trees led deep into the woods. It was a wonder Geneviève hadn’t started a fire.

Blythe spotted an overgrown footpath through the branches. It traced the rough trajectory of the scorch marks.

Toto called out from behind him. “Find anything?”

“Gotta take a hike to know for sure,” Blythe said. “What’s the rumor mill saying about animal attacks? Anyone else see anything?”

“Last one I heard about sold off his land to the Garouxs a few years back.”

“You don’t say.” They wouldn’t be the first prominent family to buy up local land for their own use, but that was quite the coincidence. Maybe Geneviève was onto something. Blythe stuck a cigarette in his mouth and offered the pack to Toto. “Did Geneviève share her theory with you?”

Toto accepted one and asked wryly, “Which one?”

“That there’s something to that legend about the Garoux family.”

“Ah. That one. Yes.” Toto took a long drag. “What are you thinking?”

“I think I should talk to the Garouxs.”

“If you’re hungry for food and gossip, I know where to find one.”

That sounded far more appealing than trekking through the woods. “I could eat.”

They walked back to Toto’s little cottage. Blythe went to open the camper’s driver side door.

“Oh, you won’t find anywhere to park that thing in town,” said Toto.

“You’re not suggesting we walk there.”

Toto pointed out a pair of bikes leaning against the side of the cottage. “Lucky for you, I’ve got a spare.”

He hobbled past Blythe, secured his cane to the smaller of the bikes, and hopped on.

“You coming or what?”

Blythe stood over the extra bike, scowling. He eased onto the seat, and, with an awkward tiptoe, wobbled to where Toto waited.

“What’s wrong, City Boy?” said Toto. “Your aunts never teach you to ride?”

He shot off down the road, cackling to himself. Blythe found his footing and lumbered after him.

Blythe and Toto walk towards the Trou de Loup tavern, nestled in the town square. It sits directly across from a monument with a conical roof that houses alcoves with relief carvings of various gods, including Tepith with a wolf. Blythe and Toto’s bikes stand in a bike rack in front of the tavern.

Chatter and drunken singing spilled out of the Trou de Loup and into the sleepy village square. The smell of stale smoke, booze, and grease wafted out after it, warm and inviting.

Inside, the crowd held an equal mix of human and fey, with a peppering of alfar. A particularly rowdy group took up much of the bar. Toto cut around Blythe.

“Hey, Anatole’s here!” A chorus of cheerful shouts greeted him.

“Afternoon, all,” Toto said, grinning at the room.

He led Blythe to an empty booth in the far corner. The same faces that greeted Toto so warmly met Blythe with suspicion. He sent praises up to Tepith that their welcome amounted to nothing more than sour looks, though Toto’s presence probably didn’t hurt.

“You’re popular here, I see,” said Blythe.

“I’m popular everywhere I go.” Toto hooked his cane on the back of the bench, stretched his legs under the table, and nestled into the cushioned wooden seat.

“Good. You can fill me in on who’s who.”

“One thing at a time.” Toto flagged down a surly human youth and held up two fingers. “I hope you don’t mind me ordering for you.”

“I trust your taste.”

The kid snatched two bottles from behind the bar and plunked them on their table. Toto took a long pull of his and heaved a satisfied sigh.

“Refreshing as always, Dany,” he said. “How’s it going?”

The server answered with a shrug and a hair flip. He quietly took their lunch order and dove back into the crowd.

Snatches of conversation melded and cut against each other. Nobody said shit about werewolves or elementals. From the stolen glances that came Blythe’s way, many of the whispers concerned him. He ignored them and scanned the crowd for an out-of-place aristocrat.

Toto eyed him over the top of his bottle. “Who are you scoping out first?”

Blythe swallowed a mouthful of beer. Toto’s taste hadn’t steered him wrong. “You said I could find a Garoux here.”

A human man with sideburns laughs at the bar and holds a large glass mug. A fey woman with an eyepatch and a scar on her mouth grins at him.

The rowdy group at the bar erupted into jeers and laughter. A woman with an eyepatch caught Blythe’s eye and whispered something to a brawny man with impressive sideburns. The man slammed his mug on the bar, sending beer sloshing everywhere, and threw back his head, laughing. The rest of the group joined in.

Toto pointed to the muscular man.

Blythe raised an eyebrow. “Sideburns over there? That’s him?”

Toto took a sly sip from his bottle. “Mhmm. Caleb spends a lot of time here.”

So that was the Caleb Geneviève had mentioned.

“Right.” Blythe drained the rest of his drink. “Time to make some friends.”

He took the last empty stool at the bar, wedging himself between an older gentleman and Caleb Garoux. Blythe nodded to the bartender and ordered another beer.

Caleb turned his fierce grin on Blythe, showing off a gap where his premolars should have been. His pals continued their boisterous conversation without him.

“Haven’t seen you here before,” he said in a cheerful growl. Caleb’s icy blue eyes pierced into Blythe. “What brings you here?”

Blythe took a long drink, then said, “Hunting.”

“Yeah, well, good luck with that.” Caleb knocked back his own drink, sending a bit slopping over the side of the mug.

“Yeah?”

“LeBruin won’t give you a permit.”

“That the game warden?”

“Yeah.” Caleb slapped his empty mug on the bar top and gestured for the bartender to refill it. “I swear she has it out for me. It’s bullshit that I can’t hunt on my own land.”

A close up view of Caleb’s hairy fingers, and the large silver wolf head ring on his ring finger.

He raised the mug to his mouth. A silver ring shaped like a wolf’s head glinted from one of his thick hairy fingers. He mumbled something into his mug that sounded like “Poacher, my ass.”

“Poacher?”

“Never mind that. What’s your quarry? Maybe you’ll have better luck sweet talking LeBruin.”

“You hear anything about a werewolf?”

Caleb snorted into his mug, sending beer and foam spraying out. He hauled back and let out a hearty cackle. His cohort followed suit. Caleb pointed his mug at Blythe and said, “Sounds like ol’ Geneviève has gotten to your head.”

The woman with the eyepatch leaned back in her stool and asked, “She’s still going on about that? It’s LeRoi all over again.”

Another of Caleb’s crew, a gangly scarecrow of a man, sucked air and wheezed out a laugh. “Remember that last spirit she thought was one?”

“Ha! I heard it was someone’s dog!” This had come from a patron at the nearest table.

The bar exploded with another round of laughter.

“So it’s safe to say there’s nothing to the legend,” said Blythe.

Caleb watched him over the top of his mug with bleary eyes. He half turned on his stool, and would have fallen out had he not hooked his foot on the rung.

“Hey, Florian!” Caleb shouted into the room. “This guy wants to talk to you.” Caleb clapped Blythe on the back. “Thanks for the laugh.”

He turned, blocking Blythe out, and rejoined his drinking buddies. They snickered to each other over their drinks.

A dark haired alfar with large round glasses smiles at Blythe and holds up a hand in greeting. Blythe glowers at them over his shoulder.

Blythe grabbed his beer and spun his stool around. A scrawny person with large round glasses and the long ears of an alfar startled him, and he almost dropped his beer.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“Ah. Yes. Monsieur Garoux called me over. You wanted to know about the, ah…” They leaned in and, sotto voce, said, “The werewolf situation?”

“Go on.”

“Yes. Yes!” They offered their hand. “I’m Florian, by the way. Florian de le Coeur?”

“Oh.” Blythe sipped his beer, ignoring their outstretched hand. “You’re the resident werewolf expert Geneviève warned me about.”

Florian’s whole being turned buoyant. “You’ve heard of me!”

“I’ve heard you got a head full of rocks.”

They withdrew their hand with a deflated huff and, finding nothing better to do with it, tugged at their sweater. “That’s rather unkind.”

“Just repeating what I’ve heard. Your advice didn’t work for Geneviève, by the way.”

Florian pressed their long-fingered hands together and said, “Yes, well. I did tell her my interest in the lore is purely scholarly. It’s very interesting, the legend. I’m not from here, you see, but when I first heard about it, I was fascinated!”

They went on about the first werewolf, hardly taking time to stop and breathe. Blythe caught bits and pieces about the legend itself, and how the werewolf curse had supposedly passed down the Garoux line for centuries.

“But of course, that’s just a rumor.”

Toto waved to Blythe from their table. He pointed emphatically at the plates of food in front of him. Blythe’s stomach growled.

“So you don’t buy Geneviève’s theory that he’s a werewolf?” Blythe said, nodding towards Caleb Garoux.

Florian’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Absolutely not! Monsieur Garoux is very respectable.”

With his cohort cheering him on, Caleb chugged a beer, then another, and another. He thumped his chest and unleashed an ear-splitting belch, to the group’s absolute delight.

“Right.” Toto’s hand hovered above Blythe’s plate. “Thanks for the insight.”

“Oh, on problem—“ Blythe stepped around Florian, who called after him. “Do let me know if you need any assistance!”

Blythe reached the booth and checked over his shoulder. The werewolf expert had disappeared into the crowded room.

Toto swallowed whatever he was chewing and said, “That Florian is a character, aren’t they?”

Blythe eyed the gap on his plate. “This whole place is full of characters.”

He collapsed into the booth and started in on what Toto had left of his lunch, a dish of braised beef and root vegetables stewed in their own juices. There should have been a hunk of bread to go with it.

Blythe narrowed his eyes at Toto. Toto focused on his own plate, for once.

“Any leads?” Toto asked.

“Yeah. Is the warden’s station far from here?”

“It’s a bit of a hike.”

Blythe rolled his eyes. “What isn’t around here?”

“Keep to the road and you can’t miss it,” said Toto. “We passed it on the way here.”

“You coming along?”

“Go on ahead, I’ve got business in town.” A few tables over, patrons crowded around a spirited card game.

Blythe slipped into his jacket. He pulled out his walled, and, after a brief yet intense negotiation, conceded to putting lunch on Toto’s tab. He left Toto to his cards and made for the exit.

“Hey!”

Blythe paused with his hand on the door. Caleb leered at him from the bar.

“Good luck hunting that werewolf,” said Caleb. He elbowed one of his buddies, then threw back his head and howled. The laughter of his cohort and a handful of other patrons followed Blythe out the door.

He hopped on his bike and left Oulonde proper behind. The game warden would know more about that poacher Caleb had mentioned.

Blythe sits on his bike in the middle of a narrow dirt road surrounded on either side by pine trees. The road passes under an arched wooden sign. The peaked roof of a building peeks out through the trees.

Blythe pumped his legs, forcing the bike up yet another dirt drive. Tall pine trees arched overhead, forming a dappled tunnel, and the sharp aroma of sap assaulted his senses.

The gabled roof of a modern wood and glass building peeked through a gap in the trees, and a wooden sign ahead welcomed him to the Oulonde Forest Warden Station and Visitor Center.

He passed under the sign, and dirt turned to gravel. Blythe walked his bike to the rack at the front of the building, where a lone motorcycle rested.

Blythe sneezed into his elbow. He stepped up onto the long wooden deck that hugged the building and drowned out the smell of pine with a quick smoke.

He tossed the butt, and it landed under a “No Smoking” sign. Beneath that sign, another declared “Leave no waste!” and another “Do your part! Prevent forest fires!” Blythe checked left and right, then stooped and moved the butt into a waste receptacle.

Lost pet signs papered the station’s windows. They battled for space with faded trail maps and lists of hiking and camping Dos and Don’ts.

Blythe pushed through the glass doors, slipping his sunglasses into his pocket. He took in the atrium, a wide, well lit space with polished wooden floors, and almost as polished wooden walls. Very rustic in mood, if not in practice, like a theme park’s conception of a modern wood cabin. The wood paneling carried a more subdued scent than the cloying one outside.

How a village as small and remote as Oulonde secured the funding required to build a place like this was beyond him.

Wall recesses housed glass display cases of various farming and hunting artifacts, but the dominant feature was a large tapestry in the Middle Era style that lined the far wall. A helpful pedestal identified it as a reproduction of the Odo le Loup tapestry.

A man clothed in a fur holds up a bloody axe over a white deer. The antlered goddess Tepith holds up a hand to him. Mirrored to this is a wolf headed man faces a haloed and winged saint, who holds her hand out to him.

On one side of the tapestry, a man held a bloody axe above a white deer with a bleeding slash in its throat. On the other, the same man stood unclothed, his head now that of a grinning wolf. Depictions of Tepith and her saint framed the piece.

Blythe found an information board on the atrium’s back wall. Spinner racks loaded with maps and pamphlets stood on either side of it, featuring such subjects as “Hiking Safety Tips” and “The Best Hiking Trails in Northern Biscar.” A handwritten sign pinned to the board pointed out the Game Warden’s office.

A blonde human woman with her hair pulled up into a short ponytail glowers at a pile of paperwork on her small desk.

A clutter of filing cabinets formed a barricade around a small desk where a young woman, her blonde hair pulled into a tight ponytail, busied herself with paperwork. The mountain crowded out the blank computer monitor sitting on the desk beside her. The name tag on her gray-green uniform identified her as Warden LeBruin.

Blythe stepped into the dim office and cleared his throat. She didn’t look up. Another spinner rack stood in front of her desk. He turned it in a slow arc, making it shriek.

LeBruin raised her eyes in a warning glare, then lowered them again. She said, “We aren’t giving out any more hunting permits.”

“But I heard it was werewolf season.”

She pushed away from her desk. Her eyes flicked from Blythe’s face to his tool belt and then rested on the faded old sigil burn on his left hand. It served as evidence of failed spellwork, but Blythe had long ago broken the habit of hiding it. Most people didn’t notice.

“Whatever Madame Gauthier told you, I can assure you she did not see a werewolf.” She returned to her paperwork, signing a form with a flourish and a final jab of the nib. “And we have no need for a wizard’s services at this time, thank you.”

“I’m not here for you or the village. I’m working for Geneviève.”

“A wizard is overkill for an animal attack.” Meeting his eyes, she asked, mocking, “Unless you think it’s an elemental?”

“That’s my working theory,” said Blythe. He rested his hands on the desk and leaned in. “Geneviève says you left her high and dry out there. If this is a regular old animal attack, what’s kept you from doing something about it?”

“I have other priorities right now.” LeBruin gestured to her paperwork. A partially unfolded trap map marked with red circles poked out from underneath.

“The poacher issue, right?” Blythe snagged the map between his fingers and dragged it out. He stepped out of LeBruin’s reach before she could snatch it away from him.

“That’s government property!”

A penciled note identified the circled areas as Garoux land. Interesting. Blythe opened the map to its full size, and a series of instant photos tumbled out. He let them fall to the floor.

“Oops.”

LeBruin clicked her tongue, and her chair scraped the floor.

Blythe folded the map and gathered up the photos. Deer, mutilated in much the same way as Geneviève’s sheep. A closeup photo and a sketch showed a familiar pattern of tooth marks. He secreted the marked up map inside his jacket and slipped a fresh one off the spinner rack.

LeBruin’s boots invaded Blythe’s field of view. She loomed over him, fists clenched and murder in her eyes. He got to his feet, then held a photo out to LeBruin.

“Is it typical for a poacher to leave bite marks?”

LeBruin swiped the photos and the unmarked map out of Blythe’s hands. She said nothing, but her posture screamed, “I will do you bodily harm.”

“Just saying, if a dowser hasn’t already taken a look at the carcasses—”

“We don’t have our own dowser and the nearest temple is two towns away.” Her voice held a deadly calm. Polite, despite the unmistakable razor edge. “Even so, we do not require your services. Now, if you don’t mind, Monsieur…?”

“Bonfils.”

Eyes on Blythe, she backed around her desk and buried the map and photos beneath the pile of paperwork. “If you don’t mind, Monsieur Bonfils, I am very busy.” She collapsed into her chair. Her glare burned inter her paperwork, as though it—not Blythe—had been the source of her ire the entire time. “Have a good day.”

“Sure,” said Blythe. He turned to leave. Stopped. “Oh, how close to Geneviève’s property line was that last deer found?”

“I said, Good Day.”

“Can I take some literature with me?”

The scratch of LeBruin’s pen stopped. She jabbed it in the atrium’s direction. “The Visitor’s Center is out there.”

Blythe gave the spinner rack by her desk a pointed look.

LeBruin rolled her eyes and, returning to her work, dismissed him with a motion of her hand. “We have maps of the village and hiking trails. Help yourself.”

He took one of each, as well as a hunting safety pamphlet and one titled, “The Legends of Garoux Forest.” Blythe waved goodbye with his selections.

She didn’t wave back, but said, “I can’t stop you from searching out the Garoux property, Monsieur Bonfils. But I don’t have to.”

“Meaning?”

She plastered on a smile and her customer service voice. “Enjoy the rest of your stay in Oulonde, Monsieur Bonfils.”

A No Trespassing sign hangs from a chain strung between pine trees that crowd around a rutted dirt road.

Blythe dismounted his bike at a turn off the main road and consulted the marked up trail map. He’d used it to find the trails that most closely bordered the back end of the Garoux property. After all, he couldn’t just roll up to the estate’s front gate.

This trail wasn’t on the map, though it ran close to a public one. He would’ve ridden right past it if not for the bright yellow NO TRESPASSING sign.

He finished his cigarette, tucked his bike behind a tree, and ducked under the chain blocking his path. A more weathered PRIVATE PROPERTY sign clattered against the metal links.

Dried pine needled and the occasional stray leaf crunched beneath Blythe’s boots. Songbirds twittered in the branches above. Peaceful, if one were into that sort of thing.

A white deer stands in the middle of the clearing. Beams of sunlight filter through the trees onto it.

The narrow road opened into a spacious clearing, at the back of which sat a large wooden cabin with a covered porch.

A white flash cut in front of Blythe, and he startled backward.

“Fuck!”

A deer, almost completely white from its hooves to the tips of its antlers, stared, frozen in place. The ghostly creature flicked its ear and bounded off, fading into the woods.

Blythe caught his breath, willing his heart back down his throat. He marched toward the cabin, keeping a wary eye out for other wildlife.

A carved wooden crest of a wolf rampant over a banner. The name Garoux is carved above the wolf, and there are carvings of two crossed stalks of wheat below.

The cabin’s heavy wooden door had been carved with the Garoux crest, a wolf rampant holding a banner sporting the family motto.

Blythe mouthed it to himself. “That which is formed by mortal hands.”

He walked the perimeter of the cabin, eyeing its walls. A set of long scratches marred the wood beneath one of the shuttered windows. Not recent from the weathering, but worth trying to get a read on. Pressing his hand against the wall for balance, he leaned in and took a detection charm out of his belt.

A metallic click rang behind him.

“This is private property. Didn’t you read the signs?” Blythe raised his hands above his head and turned slowly. A woman with dark hair and heavily mascaraed eyes stared him down. She held a rifle trained on the ground at his feet.

A dark haired woman in a long black coat with a large fur collar scowls and holds a rifle. She wears a large silver ring.

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