Fiona kept herself busy. They had now been open four whole months and the shop was going in directions she had never thought it would go. Her pen flew over the paper as she jotted down ideas.
She wished she could get Dean’s face out of her mind. She couldn’t lose the memory of the look in his eyes as he tried to warn her about boggarts and werewolves. What if she was being manipulated? What if Mrs Tuesday and Ian were just playing? Fiona stared at her list. She could speak to Mrs Tuesday about the best containers for the carefully dried, magically grown herbs. And whether to sell them as a set or not. That’s what she needed to be thinking about.
Steve came in and dumped a large cardboard box on the counter, rubbing a hand over his tired eyes and leaving a long dusty streak. Fiona had been so busy caught in her own thoughts that she jumped and knocked the rack of astrological bookmarks onto the floor. She smiled wanly at Steve as she scrabbled to pick them up. “Hi.”
“Hi, sweetheart.” Steve knelt down next to her and helped her with the fallen cardboard. “I thought I’d call in and see you before crashing. It’s been a long negotiation and a long drive. I’ll show you what I’ve picked up and then I’ll grab a shower and some sleep.” He smiled, tentatively, twisting a Gemini bookmark around his fingers. “But before I do, here.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small ring box. He picked up Fiona’s left hand and slid the opal ring onto her ring finger. It glowed in the light and once again Fiona’s heart turned over.
“It’s so beautiful.” There was a catch in her throat and without thinking she reached up and kissed him.
“Not in the shop.” Kadogan said with disapproval. He looked into the box. “Interesting. I didn’t realise that there were elfen out there still doing this work.”
“What is it?” Fiona stood slowly, her hand in Steve’s.
“Elf shot.” Kadogan carefully sorted through the box. “They are very blunt, though.”
“Health and safety.” Mrs Tuesday came up. “Let’s have a look at the ring.”
Fiona held out her hand helplessly as Adele and Louise came in to admire it over Mrs Tuesday’s shoulder. “What’s elf shot?”
“Arrow heads made from flint by the old fashioned way.” Kadogan held one up to the light. “It used to be thought that these were the physical remains of elf shot, or the weapon that would cause stroke or seizure.” He spun the darkly gleaming arrowhead between his fingers. Fiona shivered.
“It’s okay, they’re safe.” Steve said, giving her hand a squeeze. “I checked.”
“They are also very blunt.” Kadogan said with disappointment. He looked around quickly. “Not that these sort of things would cause stroke or seizure.”
“I traded them for 20 solar powered singing daisies, forty keyrings with glitterballs on them and 17 kilos of dates.” Steve worked his neck. “They want to know what they can trade for bulk rose petals.”
“They got a good deal, then.” Kadogan said with disapproval. “Those glitterball keyrings will be highly prized.”
“You can buy fifty of those keyrings for what we can get for five of these arrowheads.” Steve said flatly. He shook his head. “I’m going home, getting a shower and some sleep. Ian and Callum can get the rest out of the car.” He handed Fiona the keys. “I’ll catch up with you later.” He bent to kiss Fiona, catching Kadogan’s eye at the last minute and brushing her cheek with his lips before leaving.
Adele looked into the box with interest. “Our Roz makes jewellery out of this sort of stuff. What price are you doing?”
“Steve will set the price when he gets back.” Fiona pushed a tired hand through her hair and shouted to Ian and Callum.
“Are you making lists for the wedding?” Adele asked, looking at the sheaf of notes on the counter. “Our Selene had spreadsheets and everything. She’s divorced now, but she still has the cordless drill.”
“It’s for the shop.” Fiona said. “I was wondering about re-doing the herb section. What do you think, Mrs Tuesday?”
“I think you’re looking too pale.” Mrs Tuesday looked Fiona up and down.
“I’m not surprised with all the stuff about the wedding.” Louise said. “But you can’t do anything once an elfen gets involved.”
The door jangled and Freydis wandered in. She still looked like a supermodel but today was wearing classy, low heeled boots, jeans and a tartan shirt tucked into her tight waistband. Her hair was in a ponytail and she was swinging a cute leather jacket as she walked. “Hi.”
Kadogan appeared with Ian and Callum. “What are you doing here?”
Fiona really didn’t feel up to this. Her head was banging and all she wanted to do was crawl away to somewhere dark. “Ian, Callum, could you get the rest of the stone arrowheads…”
“Elf shot,” Kadogan corrected helpfully.
“…elf shot out of Steve’s car and put them in the store room? Thanks.” Fiona held out the keys to Ian. The werewolves glanced suspiciously at Freydis and jogged out to the car park.
“I’m working here now.” Freydis announced.
“What?” Kadogan stared.
“I thought I could be of use.” Freydis said airily. “I’ll start by learning how to make lattes.”
“No.” Kadogan said flatly.
“Yes.” Freydis said calmly, drifting over to the café area. “Which bit makes coffee?”
Louise backed away, flushed. “Since when can you do anything except fornicate and shop?”
Freydis shrugged. “I’ve decided to change.” She strolled behind the counter and peered closely at the coffee machine.
“Freydis, no.” Kadogan tried to get between Freydis and the coffee machine and failed.
“What does this do?” A jet of steam shot out and Freydis jumped back, a gleam of fascination in her eyes. “This is marvellous.”
Fiona was sure Mrs Tuesday was swearing under her breath and Louise had gone from flushed to pale. Ian and Callum were bringing in large boxes of what looked like prehistoric artefacts, sagging under the weight, and exchanging glances before looking back at the elfen. “Freydis, why do you want to work here?”
“I need to prove to Lord Ragnar that I can be different.” For a moment Freydis paused and then pressed another button. The coffee grinder started working. Mrs Tuesday leaned over and switched it off.
“You wish to change?” Kadogan looked at her narrowly. “We will speak this evening. Until then, you may assist if you accept that Louise, Adele and Mrs Tuesday are all your superiors in this matter.”
To Fiona’s amazement Freydis didn’t pout, she frowned thoughtfully. “Acceptable for the first week with a review afterwards?”
“You are intrigued by the coffee machine, are you not?” Kadogan leaned forward. “I can see it calling to you. But there are other duties you must also perform.”
Freydis put her head on one side. She glanced over the coffee machine, then over the café area and the shop as a whole. “I understand.” She ran a manicured finger lightly over the steam control. “Agreed.”
Kadogan turned to Fiona. “Agreed?”
Fiona nodded limply. After last night she was deeply aware of how much she owed Freydis.
“Good. I shall speak to Steve Adderson. Also I shall assist in loading the elf shot.” Kadogan strode out to Steve’s car where Ian and Callum had taken stock of the boxes and had decided to load a trolley. Fiona wondered what on earth they were supposed to do with thousands of stone arrowheads.
The day dragged. For once there were no coach parties and business was slow. Fiona tried to get back to the lists but kept finding herself staring out at the car park. Ian and Callum had got bored in the store room and, after washing Steve’s car, were kicking a ball around.
Louise sighed. “I wish I had their energy.”
Mrs Tuesday watched carefully. “They’ll be settling down within a week or so.” She nodded in satisfaction. “They’re getting a ‘brother bond’. It happens sometimes. A couple of lone werewolves team up and look after each other. It can turn out well. Or badly,” she said, going back to the herbs she was sorting. “But they’ll probably do okay.”
“I took a werewolf as a lover once.” Freydis said, lounging elegantly against the café counter. “It certainly expanded my horizons.”
“I bet it wasn’t only horizons that got expanded.” Mrs Tuesday chuckled.
Freydis winced. “But it was worth it. Now, time for another practice at the Machine. Who would like a hot drink?”
Adele had a quick look at Louise’s face. “I brought a load of wedding magazines in from our Laura’s wedding. Do you want to look?”
“Sure.” Fiona forced a smile. “I might as well while the shop is quiet. Freydis, please may I have a hot chocolate?”
“Oh, I love making hot chocolate!” Freydis clapped her hands together. “I get to use spray cream!”
Fiona’s phone started ringing. She pulled it out of her pocket and went paler. “Excuse me.”
Mrs Tuesday stared after Fiona as she fled into the back rooms. “Is she expecting bad news?”
“It was from Dean.” Louise had been behind Fiona and had got a glimpse of the name coming up.
“I’ll make her a hot chocolate anyway.” Freydis said cheerfully.
Steve came in just as the store was about to close. He looked a little more refreshed and had got rid of the dust but there was still a tiredness in his eyes. Kadogan and the werewolves weren’t around, but the ladies were congregated in the café area surrounded by wedding magazines. He nearly tripped over as he realised that it was Freydis loading the dishwasher with dirty cups. “Um, hello Freydis?”
“Hello, Steve Adderson,” Freydis said brightly. “I work here now and I have contributed a great deal to the discussion concerning your wedding.”
Steve took in Fiona’s stunned expression and drawn features. “Thanks? But when did you start working here? Where’s Kadogan?”
“He’s meeting with Lord Ragnar.” Fiona said. “Steve, can I speak to you in private?”
“Sure.” Steve felt a shiver of worry slide down his spine.
“Don’t worry about us.” Mrs Tuesday said. “We’ll lock up. Freydis, why don’t I show you how to shut down and clean the coffee machine?”
“I adore the Machine.” Freydis sighed. “I would love to learn.”
Steve strode into the back of the bar. “Sorry I’m late,” he muttered to Darren, throwing a large sports bag down next to the table Darren had dragged into the centre of the room. Armani slipped out of Steve’s jacket pocket to flap slowly over to the top of one of the racks where he perched, glaring balefully as he hunched over one corner.
Darren quickly checked his watch. “You’re not late.”
“That’s lucky.” Steve pulled open the sports bag and started pulling out candles.
“You may not need to do anything.” Darren said, trying to get a clear look at Steve’s face. “It should be a standard exorcism. There have been noises, strange smells, people feeling uneasy – all the usual stuff. I normally find it’s a version of mass hysteria, but this time they’ve got ectoplasm leaking out of the walls and stories of it being built over a witch’s well.” Darren pulled off his coat. He was wearing a black shirt and dog collar with his well washed jeans and the bare bulb of the stock room gleamed on the silver cross around his neck. “I’d be glad of a hand if it turns out to be more magical than ghostly.”
“I thought everywhere in York was haunted?” Steve also pulled off his suit jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves. “It’s good for the tourists.”
“The café already has the story about the maid abandoned by her lover haunting the till.” Darren said dismissively. “This is actually getting in the way of the café running. Even if the staff were comfortable coming in here, you can’t say that the ectoplasm doesn’t affect the Food Hygiene rating.”
Steve looked around. Metal shelves held trays of paper cups and sugar sachets. A box of drip coffee filters had fallen and spilled its contents onto the plain concrete floor. The unplastered walls gleamed with oily liquid seeping out from the brickwork and dripping down where congealing gobs lay along the base of the walls. Some of it had splashed onto the boxes of coffee and teabags and the dark green stain spreading over the cardboard looked gangrenous. “So, what’s the deal?”
“I’ll do a basic exorcism.” Darren handed Steve’s candles back to him and started setting up his own. “And we see what happens.” He frowned. “I’m not usually susceptible to impressions,” he said, “But something feels off here. What do you think?”
Steve looked around. He had very little experience of ghosts or hauntings but he agreed with Darren. “I think that there’s something not right here, but I couldn’t tell you what.”
“I don’t generally approve of magic,” Darren said, “But in these circumstances, can you get a circle up. By the way, before we get started, have you decided on a date yet?”
“Fiona called the wedding off.” Steve said quietly. “She couldn’t cope with the pressure from Kadogan. I’ll get Armani into the circle. Will you start with a prayer?”
Darren had a bad feeling about the whole thing as he started praying. He was struggling to focus and the waves of anger coming from Steve didn’t help. He couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t a haunting. He opened his prayer book and began working through the service. Nothing happened. Darren was used to silence as a strategy on the part of demons, and he was used to strange noises as he prayed, but there was nothing. He could usually feel something to push against. He felt like he was pushing against empty air. He forced himself to keep going. At the back of his mind he was running through a checklist. The café owner seemed genuine. The room showed all the signs of a haunting. Everyone was expecting ghosts with all the vampiric magic being stirred up. Had he fallen for hysteria? Perhaps there was a rational explanation for the dark ooze on the walls. Darren struggled on. Doubt was a weapon in the armoury of evil. He splashed Holy Water on the walls. Nothing happened.
“It’s not a ghost.” Steve said quietly.
“I need to finish the service.” Darren turned the page in his prayer book.
“Be quick.” Steve was watching the walls, glancing down for only a fraction of a second as he rummaged for his tools. Armani was clinging onto the outside of his bag, looking wary and unnerved.
Darren struggled on, keeping the reverence and respect in his voice as he finished the service, with Steve praying alongside him, both watchful. “Amen.” Darren made a dignified sign of the cross. “So, what is it?”
“Lord Ragnar still hasn’t got full control of his faerie realm.” Steve was holding out a silver dagger at around waist height. Some of it is still under Rey’s control. And some of that vampiric realm is leaking through here.”
Darren began quickly but methodically packing up his improvised altar. “Deliberately sent here?”
Steve shook his head. “Deliberately sent out, but not aimed, if you know what I mean. As far as I can tell, Rey has just filled corners of the realm with malice and let them loose to leak wherever they like.” His lip curled. “As if the elfen aren’t bad enough without that.”
Darren gave him a sideways glance. “Okay, how do we play it?”
“I’m going to try pushing back.” Steve started pulling in his concentration. “It could get crazy but it should be okay in the circle.”
Darren watched Steve as he closed his eyes and started murmuring. He had heard a lot about Steve’s abilities and was professionally interested to see how he handled this. The light in the bulb was fading but the candles inside the circle seemed to be holding up. The ooze on the walls was starting to flow actively down the walls and outside the circle it was starting to drip from the ceiling. Darren took a quick glance at Steve as he pulled on his jacket and, after a thoughtful look at the ooze inching over the floor, pulled on gloves as well.
Darren hated dealing with elfen magic. It wasn’t his place and he didn’t understand it. He hated the mutability and illogical way it twisted and turned until you couldn’t tell left from right. Today was worse. It wasn’t just like trying to nail down mist, it was like trying to nail down malevolent mist. He could hear noises now. Armani was obviously getting anxious and was shifting uneasily on the top of Steve’s bag. Darren braced.
“Something doesn’t like me pushing back.” Steve muttered. “I think they’re getting ready to…”
Darren found himself crashing back against the wall. Steve had skidded along the floor next to him and Armani was hanging on to the last upright shelving and looking bewildered. “What the…?” He scrambled quickly to his feet to face what looked like an archway into the realm lit by the crazy, dancing light of the now bright lightbulb swinging wildly above the shattered candles.
“They pushed back.” Steve had a livid red mark down the side of his face and his shirt was ripped. He got to his feet with angry purpose. “They are sending their agents.”
Darren wanted to swear. “It’s gabble ratchets.” He looked around and grabbed a metal upright from one of the shattered shelving units. “You need to get this closed down.”
Armani grabbed one of the smaller struts and flapped upwards, struggling to gain height as a fetid wind started to hiss into the store room. “Gotcha back, boss.”
It was nasty. The chattering dark shapes started pouring out of the elfen doorway. Darren took a wide sweep and caught the nearest hard. They was a sound of breaking glass as it evaporated and another two took its place. The wind was blowing harder and the stink of it was making Darren retch. He kept swinging wide and hard, aiming as well as he could in the fluctuating light. He’d faced these creatures before and he knew that the only thing was to keep them at a distance. They were small and relatively fragile, but if they swarmed on you in any number then you were finished.
Behind him he could hear Steve muttering. Armani was swooping low to take hit and run swings at the gabble ratchets, and while he didn’t do much damage, he was distracting them. Darren squinted through the archway. It wasn’t easy. The image of the arch was dark with discoloured stonework and oozing carvings, with a dim view of misty moorland beyond. There were bigger shapes in the mist. “We’ve got to get this shut,” Darren yelled over the chatter of the gabble ratchets.
“I’m trying.” Steve snapped.
Darren didn’t dare risk looking over his shoulder. There were half a dozen of the gabble ratchets in the store room now and more in the archway. He flinched as Armani knocked one past his head and flew fast after it. “Try harder! It’s only bloody elfen, you’ve been dealing with them for years!”
A split second too late Darren realised that he had touched on a raw nerve. Armani crouched in a corner and pulled a tin tray in front of him as Steve pulled himself up to his full height. “I really cannot deal with the elfen right now.” Steve took a deep breath, muttered a few words and flung his hand out in front of him in a crisp, clean action that left an iridescent trail as it scythed through the air and that the very whip lash tip of the gesture through out an arc of pure, fury stoked power. Darren felt the magical charge go straight through him like a high pressure hose would jet through a shadow as the wave of energy ran through the room and smashed into the elfen arch like a storm driven wave. Once again he found himself picked up by a blast and thrown hard against the wall, pinned there as Steve gave an uncharacteristic howl of fury and watched as the arch was sandblasted away, fragments flaking off and peeling back and disappearing into the swamp, the gabble ratchets thrown back howling into the dark. It seemed to go on for a very long time.
Finally it stopped. Steve lowered his hand and gazed in satisfaction at the plain brickwork where the arch had been. Armani crept cautiously out from behind the dented tray and Darren picked himself up painfully from where the blast had dropped him. He wasn’t sure what Steve had done, or even if Steve knew what he had done, but it had been successful. The shelves had been shredded and scraps of fast coffee supplies lay in drifts, but the atmosphere was definitely more wholesome and the ooze on the wall was no longer glistening in the now stable light. What small traces that still clung to the wall were dried and lifeless but most of what had been seeping through was now part of the heaps around the room and nothing more was coming through.
“I feel better for that.” Steve stretched happily. “Do you think we’ll get a coffee on the house?”