âThere is one thing Iâve heard about Decresian,â said Delphi, âabout the screaming. Who screams there at night, Oland?â
âThe souls of Castle Derrington,â he said, and he told her about the failed experiments of Malcolm and Benjamin Evolent and the nine hundred and ninety-nine unsettled souls buried in the grounds.
âThat is horrendous,â said Delphi.
âAnd the Evolents are still alive,â said Oland. âTheyâre somewhere out there, walking the same land as us, breathing the same air.â He paused. âAnd so is the Thousandth Soul.â
âThere is a thousandth soul?â said Delphi.
âIn Decresian, we believe in the Fortune of Tens,â said Oland. âAnd, apparently, one thousand turned out to be fortunate for the Evolents: it was the one animal-human experiment that was a complete success. The creature, whoever or whatever it is, survivedâ¦ but escaped. Itâs known as the Thousandth Soul, and the Evolents are desperate to find him, so that they can work out how their experiment was so successful. They want to recreate that success and use it for all kinds of evil.â
âWhat will they do when they find it?â said Delphi.
Oland sliced his hand across his throat.
Delphi was silenced by the horror.
âMalcolm Evolent, Benjamin Evolent, Villius Renâ¦â said Oland. âThey no longer speak. Not for years. Even the Evolent brothers have gone their separate ways. No one knows why.â
As Oland spoke, a rope dropped down at the mouth of the cave and whipped from side to side, scouring the cliff face, sending stones pouring down.
Delphi reached out to Oland. âQuick,â she said, grabbing his arm, dragging him backwards.
A man dropped to the ledge outside the cave. A second man followed. They were black silhouettes against the light. But Oland recognised their form and, when they spoke, their voices. It was Wickham and Croft.
âTheyâre from The Craven Lodge,â whispered Oland. âThey must have come through Galenore.â
Delphi put her finger to her lips and they retreated into the corner.
âThis is like something out of one of your stories, Wickham!â said Croft. He was shouting over the water, the sound echoing through the cave. âWhat a surprise!â he went on. âWhat a dramatic turn of events! A midnight escape! Apparently, the boy was enthralled! What Oland Born did in that arena!â He shook his head.
Oland had never heard Croft so animated.
âYou can see how it could all go horribly wrong,â said Croft. âIâll say one thingââ
âYouâve been saying many things,â said Wickham, his voice weary.
âIâll say one thing,â Croft continued, âI have never seen Villius so wild with grief. Absolutely wild.â
Olandâs eyes went wide. Wild with grief? He waited for Wickham to confirm what Croft had said. Villius was wild with grief? Surely not.
âWell, Iâve done what he asked,â said Wickham. âChancey the Gold is dead.â
Oland went rigid. Beside him, he could feel Delphi do the same. He turned to her and, in that instant, her dark eyes had filled with tears. Why tears? Did she know her distant neighbour?
âWe have sent word back to Villius about Chancey the Goldâs death,â said Wickham. âHe may or may not seek mystic reassurance, but I donât think there is anything more for us to find here. It is time to go.â
âThereâs more to this,â said Croft. âVillius is just not saying.â
âWhatever it is,â said Wickham, âI donât expect that you would be Villiusâ first choice of confidant.â
Croft snorted. âWell, if he told you anything, youâd only put it in a story and tell the whole worldââ
âThatâs not quite how it works,â said Wickham. âBut maybe, to a man