Ambush

Kadogan was counting the candles with an air of discontent hanging over him so strong it was almost visible.  “She isn’t marrying Steve Adderson.”

“You have no patience.” Mrs Tuesday was unpacking the replacement ornaments.  “It’s not been that long, at least, not for a normal.”

“But they have so little time.” Kadogan neatly stacked the last white, medium pillar candle and turned his attention to the tea lights.  “Their lives are short.  They don’t have time to waste.”

“So they don’t want to make a mistake and spend their short time with the wrong person.” Mrs Tuesday picked up a simpering angel figure and placed it on its shelf.  “Trust me, I think they are getting on, and their getting on a lot better than they thought they would.”  She looked thoughtful.  “I may try and advise them against it.  It’s surprising how often that works.”

“I worry.” Kadogan said, grouping the tealights. “…five, six, seven… She has become very dear to me.  And of course Lord Marius wants Steve Adderson to settle because…” Kadogan looked furtive.  “Now, how many tealights were there?  I think I lost count.”

“You nearly spilled some very interesting gossip.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “I can wait – for now!”

The door snapped open.  DS Tim Pierce strode in, closely followed by Sir Ewan.  “Where’s Dave?”

“He’s with a client.” Mrs Tuesday looked around the shop.  There were a few people browsing.  Adele was gift wrapping a crystal ball and Louise was wiping the tables.  She stepped closer.  “Is it business?”

Tim also looked around.  “Can he be disturbed?”

“He has been with the client for twenty minutes and he normally allows merely half an hour.” Kadogan said, catching the mood.  “How urgent is it?”

Tim lowered his voice and looked at Sir Ewan.  “It’s murder – and it’s almost certainly a non normal attack.  It’s a clear case of a vampire draining a victim.”

“We need to speak to Lord Ragnar.” Sir Ewan said.  “And we need Dave to take the lead.”

“You will have our unhesitating assistance.” Kadogan said gravely.  “I shall contact Lord Ragnar immediately.  He will be awaiting you as soon as Dave Kinson is free.”

Tim checked his watch.  “I know that a few minutes won’t make that much difference to the poor girl we found.  But we have a few missing persons reported, and they’re not the usual type.  There may be more being held.”

Sir Ewan held out his hand.  “It may be a complete coincidence,” he said, pacing, “But we can’t rule out vampiric predation, not now we have a body.  We can’t risk hanging around too long, just in case.”

A middle aged woman came down the stairs, holding a tissue to her face but looking optimistic through the tears.  Dave followed down after her.  He looked questioningly at Tim and Sir Ewan.

“I’ll cover your next reading,” Mrs Tuesday stacked the empty boxes and carried them towards the back room.  “You have duty.”

Fiona felt a little guilty taking an afternoon off, but Adele had picked the job up at record speed and everything was under control.  She was going to go home and get in some much needed pampering before meeting Steve later.  She smiled to herself.  The evenings with Steve were amazing.  They had agreed to wait until the end of May before making their relationship official, just in case, but she had never been happier.  They were going out to a little country pub just outside York where nobody knew them.  Then the plan was to come back to Fiona’s flat, dropping Armani off in the flat downstairs, before sharing a bottle of wine.  Mentally Fiona shook her head.  They had never managed to get as far as finishing a glass.

She took a quick right into a shortcut to Gillygate and suddenly she found herself falling down stone steps and bouncing off walls.  She landed in a winded heap.

“I was born under a lucky star.” The voice sounded horribly familiar.  As Fiona tried to clear her head, Rey Baxter leaned over her.  “I was born under a very lucky star.”

“What?” Fiona couldn’t think of anything else to say.  She looked around.  She remembered falling down some stairs, but there were no stairs near.  Instead she was sprawled on the floor of what looked like a Victorian parlour.  She shakily picked herself up.

“Welcome to my parlour, said the spider to the fly.” Rey quoted.  “I set a normal trap, dropping an unobserved snack pack at irregular intervals.  And look what a tasty morsel fell in.  Kadogan is going to be so upset.  What a pity.”

Fiona tried to work out where she was.  It looked like every parlour she had seen on every Victorian drama.  There was a patterned rug in the centre of the room, potted plants filled the corners and a fire flickered in a mahogany fireplace.  There was a heavy scent of incense in the air.  “What’s going on?”

Rey turned around and grinned at the others in the room.  Fiona tried to keep some mental notes of who was there.  Rey looked immaculate in a pale blue shirt and styled jeans but most of his companions were ragged.  They wore jogging bottoms and ragged hoodies.  Two dogs, or what looked like dogs, were sprawled in front of the fire.  They had matted fur and Fiona could see their ribs.  “I’m gathering my support.” Rey leaned a little towards Fiona who tried to back away.  “Some people are very happy to get rid of Ragnar and his bitch of a wife.  Others, well, I give them what they need.”

Fiona found herself backed into the chest of a tough looking man behind her.  He put a heavy hand on her shoulder and turned her round, looking her carefully up and down.  “Mr Baxter finds people like us who need something.  He’s got half a dozen…” the man looked carefully at Rey, “… vampires who are hooked on dragon’s blood.  You will be breathing the smoke from the dragon’s blood incense until it fills your lungs, and then Mr Baxter’s vampire friends will have a nice drink of you.  They’ll be high and happy and well fed.  In return, they do what Mr Baxter says.”

Fiona looked nervously up at him.  “What do you need?”

“A werewolf needs a pack.” The man shrugged his muscular shoulders.  “My friends down there are already far gone,” he said, nodding at the sleeping werewolves stretched out in front of the fire.  “Mr Baxter gives them smack.  Then there’s the boggarts who get…”

“Just take Miss Greene to a holding pen, please, Callum.” Rey interrupted.  “Because they will be looking for her and we need to prepare our ambush.”

Tension ran around the room and the werewolves in front of the fire lifted their heads, their ears pricked.  “Yes, sir.” Callum said.  “This way.”

Fiona was guided out of the parlour into a hallway.  Near to the parlour the hallway was equally Victorian with an ornate umbrella stand and black and white tiles on the floor.  As they moved away from the door, however, the hallway seemed to fade into a passage or corridor.  The walls were damp, moss covered stone and the uneven floor was lit by a faint glow.  Callum guided her into the passageway to her left, then left again, then right.  Fiona tried to remember her route but was getting more bewildered.  “Are you taking me the long way round so that I can’t remember the way back?”

Callum laughed.  “You won’t be able to get out through the parlour.  And, no, I’m not trying to confuse you.  We’re in a corner of a faerie realm and that is just confusing by its nature.”

They kept walking for a few minutes more.  It was now more like a tunnel with roughly hewed floor and ceiling with openings and sturdy wooden doors opening off the dark, smoky path.   Fiona found herself being glad of the warmth of Callum’s hand on her shoulder.  He may not be a friend, but he wasn’t hurting her and the presence of someone else was comforting.  He reminded her of Ian.  “You say you need a pack.” Fiona said carefully.  “I don’t really understand, can’t you just join another pack?”

“It’s not that easy.” Callum’s voice was a little rough.  “You can’t understand.  People look at werewolves as monsters or pets.  They don’t understand it’s not that simple.”

“I know Ian has it tough.” Fiona said.  “But he’s managing okay.”

“Ian?” Callum said.  “Do you mean Ian Tait?”

“Yes, he works for us at the White Hart.” Fiona tried to work out where they were.  She was pretty sure this wasn’t a natural tunnel, but it must lead somewhere.

“You know what he did, right?”

“Yes, he summoned a demon.” Fiona had never managed to understand the story but she knew that it still haunted Ian.  “So he works for us now.  Kieran Latimer knows he’s with us and apparently he’s keeping an eye out, but Kadogan thinks Ian will be okay.  What are you going to do with me?”

“I was told to take you to the holding pens and so that’s what I’m going to do.” Callum paused and turned Fiona to look at him.  His face looked drawn in the dim light.  “So, is he locked in at the White Hart?  What’s his quarters like?”

Fiona tried to organise her thoughts but the heavy incense swirling in the tunnel was making her head swim.  “He’s got one of the studio flats at the White Hart and there’s nothing wrong with them.  We rent them out, but of course Ian has a reduced rate.  I’m worried about him sometimes as I think he works a lot after hours and I never know how much overtime to pay.  Still, I know Dave goes to the gym with him.”

Callum slowly pushed Fiona back against the wall.  She could feel the uneven stone grinding against her shoulder blades.  The damp cold ran chilling down her spine.  “He gets paid?”

Fiona looked up at him.  “Yes, of course.” She tried to sound confident but she could hear the fear in her voice.  She cleared her throat.  “He’s an employee, just the same as anyone else that works.  He has a flat with a contract and everything above board.  We do his tax and National Insurance and everything.  Just like we do for everyone, except Mrs Tuesday.”

“But he hasn’t got a pack.” Callum had both hands on her shoulders, his strong fingers digging into Fiona.

“I don’t understand that.” Fiona said desperately.  “All I know is that Ian is lovely to me, works hard and sometimes hangs out with Dave.”

“And Dave is?” Callum was almost on top of her.  She could smell a faint hint of coffee on his breath and feel the warmth coming from him.

Fiona tried to pull her wits together.  Steve had said that there was a threat, so had Dave.  Ian would have been happy to walk her home and goodness knows what would have happened then.  But she had been practicing with Dave and Steve had given her some advice.  She shoved her frozen hands into her pockets.  “Dave’s the Tarot Reader at the White Hart,” she managed to say.  “And the paladin.”

She pulled the tiny phial out of her pocket and snapped it in Callum’s face.  He recoiled violently as the liquid splashed into him.  She could see him changing and struggling out of his clothes, pawing desperately at his face, then she turned and ran.

Steve walked overly casually into the shop to see Kadogan and Sir Ewan talking urgently in an undertone as Mrs Tuesday was breaking out a pack of Tarot cards from the shelf.  There was an air of tension in the room.  He kept his attitude casual. “Has anyone seen Fiona?  It’s just that she said I could use her washing machine but she isn’t home.”

Kadogan’s head whipped around.  “You called on Fiona Greene but she wasn’t in?”

“Yeah, she was going to let me…”

Kadogan held up his hand.  “When did you call in?”

Steve shrugged.  “About fifteen minutes ago.  It’s not a big deal.”

Mrs Tuesday took a careful breath.  “She left here an hour and a half ago.”

Ian and Dave came jogging down the stairs and into the shop.  Ian was looking tense and determined, Dave was looking worried and carrying a large sports bag.

“Kadogan, can you call Fiona, please.” Mrs Tuesday was shuffling the Tarot cards.  Steve could tell her mind wasn’t on it.  She absentmindedly cut the deck one handed.

“It’s okay.” Steve said.  “She’s probably just taking some time out.”

Ian took his arm and led him away from a couple browsing the crystals.  “There’s been a death and it looks like a vampire drained someone dry.  We’re about to go to see Lord Ragnar.  We need to know that Fiona is safe.”

Tim was glancing around the knot of people.  “We need to get moving.  There are other people missing.”

“Hang on.” Steve said.  “Who are you?”

“It’s the police liaison.” Dave said.  “Any luck, Kadogan?”

Kadogan shook his head.  “I’m getting static.  I fear she is taken.”

“I’m coming with you.” Steve said.

“Let us know what’s happening, please.” Mrs Tuesday suddenly looked a lot older.

“We’ll bring Fiona home.” Kadogan strode from the room, Ian and Steve on his shoulders and Sir Ewan, Dave and Tim exchanging worried glances as they followed.

Fiona stumbled into what looked like an old store room.  A battered table leaned drunkenly against one wall and some stained carpets were tossed in a heap near it.  She closed the door as quietly as she could.  The same dim glow pervaded the room, and the same cold dampness.  She checked her phone.  There was still no signal.  She opened the door a crack and listened.   There was a faint whisper and chatter in the distance but no footsteps.  The smell of the incense hung heavy here as well.  She waited a moment and then, closing the door gently she stumbled over to the carpets and sank down on them.  There was a hint of mildew but she didn’t care.  She had probably lost Callum.  The little phial was supposed to throw werewolves off the trail, according to Steve.  She remembered his face and the softness of the couch as she had cuddled close to him while he explained.  “There’s aconite juice to stun them and camphor to wreck their sense of smell.  It’s enough to buy you time to get out of there.”

Callum had told her that she couldn’t get back to the streets through the parlour and she believed him.  She may have fallen down a trap that felt like stone steps and have the aches to prove it, but she hadn’t seen anything that looked like an exit.  Fiona took a breath.  There had to be a way out, and one that she could use.  As far as she could tell, if a werewolf could get in and out then so could she.  The trouble was, how to find it  The tunnels twisted and turned, doubled back, looped and interlinked in a bewildering maze?  She remembered stories about will o’ the wisps and how they would lead unsuspecting travellers astray.  Perhaps that was something that the elfen did.

She didn’t have chalk or breadcrumbs.  She checked her pockets and her bag.  There wasn’t much there at all.  She tried her phone again.  There was no signal at all.  Fiona felt the cold settling in to her bones and her mouth was dry.  Over by the table was a flask that she hadn’t seen before.  It was one of the expensive thermos flasks and Fiona knew instinctively that it was full of delicious, refreshing, warming hot chocolate – just the thing she needed.  Fiona pulled out her phone again and flicked through her photos.  There it was, a picture of Steve.  He was smiling at the camera, a little self conscious, as he lounged against the drystone wall.  Fiona thought back to the day it was taken.  The sun had been bright and the fresh breeze had been tousling her hair.  Everything seemed to be golden and glowing and she and Steve had just wandered along, hand in hand, basking in each other’s company.  She looked again at the flask.  Callum had said that this was a faerie realm.  That meant it was elfen and no food or drink could be trusted.  She popped a mint into her mouth and pushed herself up.  It was best if she kept moving.

The tunnels kept changing.  Fiona was trying to keep track by scuffing the left hand wall with a loose stone but sometimes the scuff marks were in places she didn’t recognise and sometimes she recognised the places and there was no mark.  The place was playing with her, she realised, tossing the stone hopelessly to one side.  She had passed through what had looked like a hospital corridor and was now in what looked like a passage in a castle, stone built and narrow.  She opened one of the doors, hoping for fresh air and battlements but instead found herself in what seemed like an underground forest.

Hearing steps behind her she quietly closed the door and ran in further.  There was a beaten dirt track running between dark trees.  Glowing lights danced in the distance and a cavern roof arched far above her.  Fiona swallowed.  She had the sensation that she had found herself in a far more dangerous place.  She slipped another mint into her mouth and started following the track.  She didn’t recognise the trees.  Their leaves were very dark, almost black, and thinly pointed, but they were soft enough as she brushed past them and the track was lined with dark ferns and not brambles or nettles, so maybe this wasn’t as bad as it felt.  Small, pale flowers dotted the fringes of grass and the air had at least lost the scent of incense.  The track led gently down to a stream chuckling gently over polished stones.  Black dragonflies hung between the dark rushes.

Fiona felt so thirsty.  The mint was not helping.  The water looked invitingly clean and cool and so tempting.  She took out her phone and, shielding it as best she could, took another look at the picture.  It had been an idyllic day and she concentrated as hard as she could on the memory of the touch of Steve’s hand, trying to blot out the insistent call of her thirst.  If she was away from the incense then she was getting further away from Rey, she told herself.  Hopefully that meant she was getting nearer a door.

Once again a hand fell on her shoulder.  Fiona felt sick as she heard Callum’s voice.  “I could track that mint you’re sucking even through that stink bomb you dropped.”

She turned slowly around.  Callum had pulled his jeans back on but had not bothered with anything else.  He was barefoot and shirtless, his cropped brown hair glistening in the damp and his face was blotchy from the aconite.  Fiona carefully held her hands away from her body.  “I’m sorry, I was trying to get away…” Her voice trailed off.  She didn’t dare look away from Callum’s intent and red rimmed eyes.

“Is Ian your slave?” Callum asked.

What?” Fiona had not expected that.  “He just works for us.” She tried to work out what he meant.  “I mean, he can leave or stay as he wants.  He’s a great worker, we don’t want to lose him, but we wouldn’t stop him.  And we pay him wages.  And he gets cheap rent at the White Hart but he could live elsewhere, though he seems happy enough.,,”

Callum held up his hand.  “He’s just like anyone?”

Fiona nodded.  “I suppose so.” She took a deep breath.  She couldn’t lie.  “I know people keep an eye on him, and Kadogan gets worried sometimes, and I know there are times that he finds it hard.  I think he misses his ex-wife.” Callum’s gaze was unnerving her.  “Mrs Tuesday sometimes cooks for him.  She says it’s because she worries that he’s not eating properly, but I think that’s because it’s her way of showing that she’s looking out for him and not that he’s not eating.”

“You know he summoned a demon, don’t you?” Callum asked.

“I don’t understand that, either.” Fiona wondered whether she could edge away from him and how far she would get if she ran.  “I know he goes to church a lot.”

“What’s your name?” Callum asked.

“Fiona Greene.”

“Miss Greene, let’s do a deal.”

Fiona stumbled up the steep back, following Callum who seemed impervious to the cold mist that was making her shiver.  “Is it likely to be much further?”

Callum glanced over his shoulder.  “I don’t think so.  Perhaps another ten minutes and we’ll be out and just behind York Minster.”

“You’re not from York, are you?” Fiona caught up with Callum.  Mist swirled in front of them, lit by that dim glow that filled the tunnels and almost impossible to penetrate.

Callum smiled.  “I haven’t got a Yorkshire accent.  My old pack were based just outside Exeter, in Devon.” Callum said.  “I’ve been wandering for a while.”  There was a silence as thoughts raced around Fiona’s head.  Callum seemed to read them.  “I didn’t summon a demon.  I just fell in love with someone I shouldn’t have.  So I got thrown out of the pack.  I started wandering and managed for a while, but I missed it.  I mean, I missed belonging to a pack.  I did wonder about approaching Mike in Halifax or Kieran here but, well, I didn’t think I would be welcome.”

Fiona wondered what sort of love affair it had been.  It must have been bad.  She nearly bumped into Callum as he stopped suddenly.  “They’ve found us.”

Fiona strained her ears to try and work out where the pursuers might be coming from, but the mist deadened everything.  “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.” Callum looked around carefully.  “Stay close to me.  Any more tricks in your bag?”

“I’ve got some garlic essence.” Fiona pulled a small bottle out of her bag.

“Don’t hesitate.” Callum said.  “Throw it.  If they catch us, they’ll want to make an example of us.”

Fiona felt sick.  The path was winding between rocks, and as each rock loomed out of the mist it seemed to lean over threateningly.  “Is it much further?”

“Not far.” Callum sounded tense.  “And the good news is that Baxter doesn’t control this part of the realm.  It’s equally hostile to all of us.”

“Are you sure about that?” Rey stepped from behind one of the rocks and paused in front of them.

Fiona spun around.  Rey’s people had come up behind them.  A few rangy, hairy creatures were loosening their muscles and the werewolves between them were in wolf form.  She looked back.  Rey’s fangs were showing, as were the three figures next to him.  She pushed the small bottle into Callum’s hand.

Callum seemed calm.  “Let us go, Baxter.  You know that Fiona has friends.  She’ll be missed and when they come looking for her…”

“It will be hours before she’s missed.” Rey’s fangs gleamed.  “She won’t be missed until tomorrow.  We can have a lot of fun with her before then and they can find her remains.  I’ll make you watch, Callum, and then you’ll…”

Kadogan slammed into the side of Rey at speed.  Fiona could hear Steve’s voice chanting and a flash of light shot over the area, burning the mist away and making the rocks glow.  Dave was going toe to toe with a boggart along with Sir Ewan and a man Fiona didn’t recognise and she thought it was Ian in wolf form fighting the werewolves in a snarling ball of fury along with Callum who had changed and charged.

“Get back!” Rey yelled.  “We can’t win this.  Get back!”

And then Fiona was standing on what looked like a moor, surrounded by panting, slightly battered friends.  It looked like the werewolves had been destroyed.  Fiona felt sick as she saw their bodies returning to human form and saw the bloodied remains sprawled next to the path.  Callum and Ian seemed entirely unselfconscious as they returned to their human form, naked and smeared with blood.  Kadogan didn’t look entirely human and was snarling slightly as he looked around for any trace of Rey.  Dave looked on edge and one side of his face was swelling.  Lord Ragnar was spitting orders to a group of elfen but Fiona didn’t care.  She saw Steve, his face set as he checked around for stragglers and she ran to him.

Steve held her for a moment, burying his face in her hair as she clung on to him.  “I’ll always come for you.” He whispered to her.

Callum slowly approached Lord Ragnar and then carefully knelt on one knee before him.  “Lord Ragnar, let me make a deal.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *