Ambush

It had been a good workout, Luke thought as he walked down towards the station.  He’d pushed himself hard and set himself up for the rest of the day.  At least that part of his life was going well.  He wasn’t getting much closer to the White Hart.  There was something going on there, but he didn’t know what.  He weaved through the tourists and then down a quiet shortcut.  He needed to know what was going on there so that he could work out how to stop it.  He frowned, almost oblivious to the bright spring day.  Perhaps he could try and get a job there?  Luke slowed.  The hair on the back of his neck prickled.  Someone was following him.  He crossed the road.  Whoever was following him crossed the road after him.  Luke walked quickly towards the road on the left and at the last minute jogged back across the road and down an alley.  He had walked around York often enough and there were plenty of these tiny alleys and snickets.  All he needed to do was turn left and…

A hand on his shoulder spun him around and Luke instinctively ducked.  The punch glanced across the top of his head and Luke lowered his head and charged, slamming his shoulder into his attacker.  They went down with a crash and rolled apart.  Luke felt his world rock under him.  The man opposite him looked half starved and had fangs.  He had fangs!  Luke caught his breath as the man lunged.  He parried the kick and used the momentum to push the man the vampire away from him and punched hard at the side of his head.  He didn’t have a stake.  Then Luke grabbed the vampire, pushing him down as he slammed his knee into its side.  He didn’t have any garlic.  He tried another kick but the vampire pulled his legs from under him and Luke hit the ground hard.  He didn’t have holy water.  The vampire tried to kick him but Luke managed to catch the foot and twist.  It worked better than it had ever had in training and the vampire spun and landed on its face.  His cross was small and its chain was strong with a secure catch that was hard to undo.  Luke rolled quickly to his feet but the vampire was just as quick.  Luke noticed that the vampire’s face was livid and broken where he had landed the punch.  He was fighting a vampire.  Luke swung two quick punches at the vampire, just to keep him back.  He glanced around quickly and saw a broken pallet at the corner.  He could use a piece for a stake.  He glanced back to take a punch to the face from the creature and staggered back but kept his wits enough to dive for the pallet.  He felt the vampire land a kick to his ribs that stung but made it to the pallet and rolled around to see where the vampire had gone.  It had vanished.  Luke caught his breath and let his adrenaline subside.  He must have put up too much of a fight.  He pulled a few small pieces off the pallet and walked across to where he had dropped his bag, dusting himself down.  He had not expected that.

Steve put his phone away.  “Mrs Tuesday, you’re going to have to take over the Tarot cards for at least a day or two.  Dave’s hurt.”

“What’s happened?” Fiona stood up quickly.  “Is he okay?”

“How bad is it?” Mrs Tuesday asked.

Steve held up his hand.  “Another rogue vampire.  It threw him across a car park just off Gillygate and he dislocated his shoulder but he managed to get rid of the vampire.”

“That’s the third this year.” Fiona said quietly.

“Does Miss Patience know?” Mrs Tuesday asked.  “She’s supposed to be leading the vampires in York.  All these old revenants are getting out of control.”

Steve glanced around to make sure Jeanette couldn’t hear them.  “It’s the city.  York is basically built on York.  There have been people buried her for two thousand years.  It’s surprising there aren’t more revenants walking the streets.”

Fiona closed the door.  Jeanette and Ian were packing the last of the goody bags in the next room and the last thing she needed was to have to explain all about non-normals.  “It’s getting out of control.  Darren is working like crazy and talking about getting another exorcist here full time.” She looked at Steve.  “And I know Dean’s been proving himself to Miss Patience by hunting down rogues.  I daren’t ask him how many he’s destroyed.”

Steve changed the subject.  “Dave’s at home now.  He should be okay after a week or so, but Sir Ewan is going to have his hands full.”

“I’m sure he’ll have the sense to call in help.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “I’ll pop round to Dave’s place now and make sure he’s comfortable.  Adele can call his clients and warn them that it’s me for the next few weeks, until he can get rid of his sling.”  She shrugged.  “It’s a lot harder to palm cards when you’re in a sling.  You lose a lot of your fine control.”  She bustled out.

Fiona walked up to Steve and leant against him.  He wrapped his arms around her as Armani struggled out of Steve’s jacket pocket and flapped over to the window with a disgusted look on his face.  As the ugly imp struggled with the window, Steve stroked Fiona’s hair.

“It’s going to be okay.”

Fiona nodded.  “I know.  But all these revenants, they’re overwhelming.  How long before someone gets hurt?”

“Apart from them?  Dean is doing a good job, much as I hate to admit it, and I know Lord Ragnar is using it as a chance to knit his court closer.”

Fiona spent a few moments enjoying the feel of her husband’s arms around her.  “Dean hasn’t taken well to becoming a vampire.  Really, I think he belongs with Dave more than Miss Patience.”

“I’ve never heard of a vampire helping out a paladin, but there’s a first time for everything.” Steve dropped a light kiss on the top of Fiona’s head.  “I’m going to be away for a few days getting all those bags delivered, but Mrs Tuesday and the werewolves are still staying at our flat, so you’ll be safe.  I’ll be back before you know it.”

“We’ll all be safe.” Fiona said.  “Even Adele is staying here.  She and Callum are staying in Freydis’ old flat.” She smiled.  “It will be good for them to have time together.”

“They can’t become an item.” Steve warned.  “Don’t expect hearts and flowers.”

“Why not?” Is it because Adele is part Blue Cap?”

Steve shook his head.  “It’s a werewolf thing.  I’ve never met anyone who understood them that wasn’t a werewolf themselves.”  He frowned and sat down on the sofa, pulling Fiona gently next to him.  “It goes like this, I think.  Callum and Ian aren’t a proper pack.  They’ve both been expelled from their own packs and sort of let loose.”

“I know.” Fiona snuggled closer to him.  “And Kadogan said he took a real risk taking in Ian.”

“He really did.” Steve said, briefly grim.  “Anyway, Kieran isn’t taking them into his pack just yet, and he probably won’t for years, but he’s allowing them to be effectively a sub pack, a pack for themselves.” Steve stroked over Fiona’s smooth hair.  “Now Ian is in charge.  You can see it.  It’s something they’ve worked out between themselves and they’re fine with it.”

“Ian’s like Callum’s protective older brother.” Fiona said.  “It’s sort of sweet.”

“Hmm.” Steve mentally ran through a list of how many ways it could go wrong and decided not to share.  “But there’s a pecking order, a pack order.  Callum can’t have a relationship unless Ian is already partnered up and allows it.”

Fiona sat up straight.  “But Ian wouldn’t stop Callum matching up with someone, would he?”

“Of course he wouldn’t.” Steve said.  “And it’s very reassuring that he’s so concerned with Callum’s welfare.  He would have made a good pack leader.  However, he’s still not over Ann.  You saw him last month when she remarried.”

Fiona nodded and leant back against Steve.  “He was devastated, but happy for her.  He was a mess.”

“But as long as he is single, Callum can’t date Adele.” Steve held tight to Fiona.  “And I think someone needs to explain that to Adele.”

“I’ll ask Mrs Tuesday,” Fiona said quickly.

Jeanette waved to Ian as he drove off and walked briskly down the drive to her house.  Just for a moment she paused and savoured looking at her home.  It never wearied her.  She took a deep breath and almost consciously relaxed.  Then she walked past her car and into the kitchen door.

Luke looked up as she entered.  “Hi, busy day?”

Jeanette nodded and slid her coat off.  “But I’m only getting half days after this, 12 to 4pm.  They’ve got the big order out and now it’s just keeping the mail order stuff ticking over.  I’m glad of the money, and at least I’ll have mornings to concentrate on the garden and… What the hell happened to your face!?”

“I caught an unlucky blow in training.” Luke said.  This was the truth.  He’d been winded by an off target kick at the gym, but that wasn’t what had made a mess of his face.  “You know I do martial arts.” He hated to fudge the truth like this, but he wasn’t going to start talking about vampires to his landlord.  He was still working out what he had seen.

“Are you okay?  Have you got it checked out?” Jeanette stared at the livid bruise on Luke’s cheekbone.

“I’m fine.” Luke saw the concern in Jeanette’s eyes.  “Honestly, I’m fine.  I’ve made mackerel and mushroom risotto.  It’s ready to go.” He watched Jeanette slowly hang up her coat and wash her hands.  “Did Ian drop you off again?  He’s the warehouse manager, right?”

Jeanette nodded.  “It’s all very complicated,” she said, sliding into her seat as Luke put a large dish of risotto in front of her.  “Fiona’s busy with getting the White Hart sorted out, Steve is away delivering to important clients, Adele is nervous in the van, Mrs Tuesday says she is too old to drive, Kadogan and Freydis refuse to learn, Dave has a dislocated shoulder and Adele gets, well, she gets stressed out if Callum drives me and there’s no reason.  I don’t know why those two aren’t dating.  Oh, yes, Dave dislocated his shoulder.”

Luke bent his head.  “Our Father, we thank you for this food and ask you to bless it.  We pray for the swift healing of Dave’s shoulder.  Amen.” He took a sip of his water and then a forkful of risotto.  “How did Dave hurt his shoulder?”

Jeanette shrugged.  “I haven’t got a straight answer out of any of them.  I wonder if he was in trouble for his Tarot reading?

Luke chewed his risotto.  “I’m not sure about this recipe.  I don’t think it’s a keeper.  It’s very…” He took another mouthful of his water.

“It’s very fishy.” Jeanette nodded.  “It’s nice, but it’s fishy.  Perhaps you can try it with chicken on your next meat day?”

Luke took another forkful and chewed, then pulled a face.  “I think it’s time for the emergency soup stash,” he said, pushing his plate away.

Jeanette laughed.  “I think you’re right.” She stood and took the plates over to the sink. “I’ve been invited to go along to the church fair at St Agnes.  The White Hart has a stall there with the profits going to the church.  They said that I could maybe have a stall at the autumn fair, if I want, depending on what I’ve got made.”

“Church fair?” Luke pulled two portions of black bean soup from the freezer.  “They go to church?”

“You’re not the only one who goes to church.” Jeanette scraped the risotto into the bin.  “Apparently most of them go to the early service at St Agnes.  Though they still work on a Sunday.”

“I might look in tomorrow then.” Luke said, sliding the containers into the microwave.  “I haven’t been to a church fair in years.”

“I’m not sure about this.” Dave glared at Lord Ragnar.  “I can’t find anything like this in the handbooks, and I’m not sure about him.” He gestured at Dean and winced as the wild movement jolted his shoulder.

“We are both struggling.” Lord Ragnar said.  “My court is stretched thinly dealing with a lot of minor inconveniences that do not affect your world, and the faerie realm is becoming more dangerous by the day.  There have been reports from Harrogate of it contaminating their realm as well.  Miss Patience and her vampires are needed with us.  We recognise, however, that unregulated revenants cannot be allowed to stalk the streets of Leeds.”

“I’m not the same person I was.” Dean said softly.

“No, you’re now not just Fiona’s ex-boyfriend that set her up to be captured and nearly killed, but you’re also a vampire.” Dave spun around to face Dean and winced again.

Kadogan stepped carefully between Dean and Dave.  “Revenants have always haunted these islands.  There have been those who come back from the dead since the dawn of our stories.  It is not usually like this.” He took a pamphlet out of his pocket.  “Unfortunately, York is an excellent source of graves.  Did you know that according to this official leaflet there were 39 churches in York in 1428, and eight abbeys, plus chantries.” Kadogan sighed.  “It used to be wonderful seeing the priests arguing over who had the right to bury the deceased and get the burial fee.  But while not all these churches had burial grounds, most had some people of note buried inside the church itself.”

Sir Ewan ran a tired hand over his face.  “And most of these churches have been deconsecrated?”

Kadogan shrugged.  “Not all of them were properly consecrated in the first place.” He turned to Lord Ragnar.  “Do you remember that little chapel just down from the bridge where the old man sold…”

Lord Ragnar held up his hand.  “Paladin Dave Kinson, can you get no help from anywhere?”

Dave shook his head.  “We’re struggling. Darren is here as much as he can, and Mike Doyle, the paladin from the Village may be able to come over, but that’s it.  All the Knights Templar that can be spared are dealing with that mess in Carlisle, and you know that there will be another crisis overlapping that which means that, no, there will be no help.” He dropped down into one of the leather chairs and yelped as another jolt hit his shoulder.

There was a long pause and the crackling of the fire in Lord Ragnar’s study echoed.  Dave looked around.  The two elfen, Lord Ragnar and Kadogan, were expressionless but Dave wondered if something was going on between them he couldn’t see.  Dean stood at the back of the room against a shelf of leather bound GQ magazines, equally expressionless and unnervingly still.  Dave was not happy about him coming along for the fight.  It wasn’t just the whole business of him drugging Fiona.  It was like he was a different person.  The trouble was, Dean was a different person who had a lot of issues, most of them about him being made a vampire by someone who had tricked him and then been destroyed.  This left Dean as a dangerously loose cannon.  Dave exchanged a worried glance with Sir Ewan, the Knight Templar who had come with him into this part of the faerie realm.

Lord Ragnar finally stood. “I will keep faith with you, Paladin David Kinson.  Those who are under my rule but who work for the White Hart will aid you, together with the vampire Dean Mackenzie.  We are under siege in different ways.  We can offer little help other than this.  I suggest we meet together in seven days’ time to face our fate together with a more solid purpose.”

Dave stood carefully and held out his hand.  Lord Ragnar looked at it for a long moment before grasping it and shaking.  Dave nodded.  “On different battlefronts against a common enemy.” As ever, Dave had picked the perfect words and the eyes of Kadogan and Lord Ragnar shone with emotion.  Dave wished he could find the right words for himself to quiet the creeping unease sitting in the pit of his stomach.

Luke slipped quietly out of the house.  He still had a headache from the fight this morning, but he couldn’t stay home when there were dreadful things happening in York.  He threw a rucksack on the passenger seat and climbed into his car.  There was a vampire in York.  How could have not realised?  He rumbled gently down the track and then turned towards York.  At least he had a chance of parking this late at night.  He glanced at his bag.  He had a couple of makeshift stakes in there, an illegal knife and a spray bottle that held water with garlic granules in.  Luke wasn’t convinced about that, but it would take time to pull a better kit together.  He couldn’t wait that long.  He had prayed over it, together with the cheap, silver coloured cross he had picked up earlier.  He didn’t know if that would help, but all he could do was cling to his faith.

He knew where he would start looking.  He would start at the White Hart.  The vampire had to be based there.  He had gone past there a few times, taking advantage of the confusion caused by the roadworks, but he hadn’t had a chance to look in properly.  The roadworks meant that there was no parking anywhere near, but that also meant that he could come up to the building quietly and perhaps circle around the area.  Luke avoided the town centre.  York was busy on Friday nights and he wanted to stay away from attention.

Luke pulled up outside an office block and made sure his hood was up and obscuring his face and grabbed the stakes, water and cross and stuffed them in his pockets before getting out of the car.  He wasn’t sure if he was hot or cold as he walked as calmly as he could down to the White Hart.  He mustn’t draw attention to himself.  He needed to keep a steady pace and relaxed body language.  Luke nearly laughed out loud.  There was no way he could look relaxed.  He felt tension in every joint of him.  He kept remembering that hand on his shoulder, the unexpected weight of it and the crazy speed.  It took all his will power to keep walking without constant glances over his shoulder.  How did Psalm 91 go?  ‘Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day.’ Perhaps he should have gone to someone, just gone to the police station and said someone tried to mug him.  The streets seemed far too quiet and the lights of the roadworks and their contraflow system were too harsh for the empty road.  Luke turned down an alley.  But then some poor copper would have been stuck facing a vampire without any knowledge.  He would have sent someone into the arms of a vampire.

Luke slowed down.  There didn’t seem to be much CCTV here, and there were plenty of places to hide.  How did people do this?  How could he do this?  It wasn’t like this in the films.  There was movement to his left.  He tried not to be obvious looking towards those bushes.  The hand clutching the stake in his pocket felt far too hot and slick with sweat.  He should have worn gloves, he thought.  He kept moving, keeping straight and not too near the bushes.  The scraggly buddleia and rag ends of the weeds from last summer seemed far too full of shadows.  It was probably just a cat, Luke told himself, just a cat.  He tried watching the bushes while still keeping an eye out around him.  Soldiers trained for years to learn this stuff.  What did he know?  He had watched the videos on the internet and he had taken a cut price gym membership.  He wasn’t a hero.  He clutched the stake tighter.  He still wasn’t turning back.  He knew what he had seen.  He couldn’t sit back and do nothing.  He glanced briefly to the right and instinctively brought up the stake to stab the creature was leaping at him.

Everything seemed to slow down.  Luke found himself taking in more details.  This was a different vampire, with long, yellow hair, smaller but still gaunt faced and fanged.  The vampire grabbed his wrist, pushing the stake away from its bony chest.  Luke struggled, putting his weight on his shoulder, trying to keep his footing, trying not to think about why something so small and skinny was so much stronger than him.  He could smell the exhaust fumes, feel the sweat of fear on his back and his feet slipping on the dirt of the alley.  He wasn’t trained for this.  Then he remembered the training he had had.  The vampire was smaller and its grip couldn’t encircle his wrist.  He twisted his arm suddenly around, out and up, and stabbed the stake hard at the vampire.

Luke thought he would never forget the shriek that echoed out of the creature.  It was a shrill, whistling cry that didn’t seem human, just some tormented creature calling out in pain.  He fell to the ground on top of the creature and recoiled, scrambling out of the way, as what had once looked almost like a person collapsed into a heap of dirty, encrusted bones wrapped in rags.  Then he went to the side of the road and was sick.  Wave after wave went through him, convulsing heaves as he hung helplessly onto the wire fencing.  It felt like it would never end, but finally he pushed himself upright, spat out the acidic taste onto the side of the road and, barely glancing at the collapsing remains, walked off as confidently as he could towards the White Hart.  He had to keep going, he had to keep moving.  He clutched the stake even tighter.  There was more than one vampire in York.  The one who had attacked him this morning was different to the one he had just killed.  Luke took a deep breath and kept on walking.  That made sense, really.  You never got just one rat or just one cockroach.  There was always a nest.  Even if you only saw one rat or cockroach, you knew there was always a nest.

He got nearer the White Hart.  The road was empty and garishly lit from the temporary traffic lights and the lit cones around the holes dug across the pavements.  It seemed far too ordinary to be the source of such evil.  It looked a little forlorn, with the burned out windows and the scorched car park.  It looked like a once well-tended building had suffered a dreadful accident.  Luke stopped in the corner of the car park, trying to stay out of sight of the road while he worked out what to do.  Should he try and get in and see what was in there?  Would there be a nest of vampires in the cellar?  Maybe he should come back in daylight.  Luke’s mind raced.  He should have thought of this before he came out.  He should have known that there would be more than one.

As his sense of smell started to return and his senses settled down he realised something.  It wasn’t exhaust fumes that he could smell.  It was gas.  There was a gas leak.  What was he supposed to do now?

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