Hazardous

“We have a rogue.” Dean said.  He looked around the table.  Dave had reluctantly called them together in his Tarot reading studio in the rented offices as there was no way he was letting a load of non normals into the Paladin’s house.  Kadogan was representing Lord Ragnar and lounged as much as he could in the cramped space.  Sir Ewan, Darren and Dave exchanged worried glances.

“I’ve not heard anything from the local churches.  The pagan groups are less formal so it’s hard to get information out, but I’ve heard nothing much from that side.” Darren ran a tired hand over his face.  “There’s nothing from the mosques and temples either.”  He looked around.  “We’ve all been pulling together with the dark hauntings going around, and while I’ve heard a lot about some of the exorcisms and issues that have been going on, I’ve heard nothing about a vampire hunter.”

“I think it was his first kill.” Dean said dispassionately.  “He showed some good moves, but it didn’t look like he was used to it.  He showed a lot of courage.”

“And he telephoned the authorities about the gas leak.” Kadogan added.  “I personally owe him a debt of gratitude.  While the fire was not entirely accidental, at least we now know how to deal with it.”

“We do not know how to deal with it.” Darren snapped, then held up his hand.  “I apologise.  That was out of order.”

“That is accepted, Darren King.” Kadogan nodded.  “You have been working extremely hard.  But now we know that the White Hart is on the edge of an old plague pit filled with unquiet dead, we can at least search for solutions.”

“But I can’t work out a solution.” Darren said, defeat showing in every inch of him.  “York is full of dead bodies.  People have been buried here for two thousand years.  It’s been a major city for most of that time.  I can deal with individual hauntings, but this is too big.  I don’t know what to do.”

“Indeed.” Kadogan nodded.  “I have always enjoyed watching arguments about burials.  Do you remember what happened during the cholera plague?  The height of the graveyard rose as they tried to keep up.”

Dave looked at him.  “We are all under fifty here.  What cholera plague?”

Kadogan thought.  “It was before the Great Exhibition, I know that, but I cannot remember whether it was before or after our Queen Victoria was crowned.”  He frowned.

Sir Ewan held up a hand.  “We can look it up if we need to.  We need to focus on the two big problems we have.  Our first problem is that we have a rogue vampire hunter.  I’ll call Tim and see if there are any reports of a nutter going around accusing goths of being undead or similar and see if he’s shown up there.  Otherwise we need to keep an eye out and if he is a genuine guy we need to bring him into the fold.  We could use the help.”

“What if he is not a genuinely good person?” Kadogan asked.

“We give him the hard word.” Sir Ewan said flatly.  “The bigger problem is this dark energy that Rey left behind.  It doesn’t seem to be fading.”

Darren shook his head.  “I’m at a steady two or three exorcisms a week.  That’s more than most parishes have in a century.” He grimaced.  “And then there’s the ghosts that everyone knows about, and who cause no bother and who I think it’s, well, rude to try and exorcise them.”

“They are part of the tourist walks.” Sir Ewan said with a grin.

“But not the ones that are showing up in all the nooks and crannies and causing trouble.” Darren said.  “I have no idea what to do.  I’m going to go out into the Dales and pray and meditate.  I’ll let you know if I’m given any guidance.”

“I’m really not sure about this.” Fiona said as she looked at the piece of rock nestled in a custom glass case.  “Kadogan didn’t say anything to us.”

“He told me because he knew I would cut you a good deal.” The goblin was lounging against the new counter.  Around them other goblins were rewiring the shop while Nick kept a close eye on them.

“It looks like blown concrete to me.” Steve said, tapping the case.  “Besides, don’t you ever watch TV?  Little meteors burn up in the atmosphere.  It would never have landed.”

The goblin drew itself up to it’s full height, to somewhere around the level of Fiona’s shoulder.  He wasn’t bothering with a glamour so looked incongruous with his sharp, grey suit and shirt with a neatly knotted tie under his knobbly chin.  “This is a genuine meteorite, guaranteed.  I went to great lengths to obtain this particular specimen and I object to your implications.  Besides, not all meteorites have come through the atmosphere.”

“Do you mean ‘implications’ or ‘insinuations’?” Steve asked.

“But all meteorites have to come through atmosphere because meteors are up there…” Fiona waved vaguely at the re-painted ceiling, “And we’re down here with atmosphere between us.”

“Don’t you worry about the details, miss.” The goblin blessed Fiona with his most charming smile and then turned to Steve.  “This is obviously far too valuable to sell, but I could rent it to you for a minor consideration.”

Fiona turned around as Kadogan came into the shop.  “Kadogan, what’s this about aliens?”

“According to my business course, we need to diversify our market and lots of people like aliens.  We should therefore have aliens.” Kadogan smiled happily.  “And we can fake alien visits so easily and we will be able to supply Lord Harold with rose petals in return.”

“What?” Fiona stared.

“Apparently there are remains of aliens all around Stonehenge and the Salisbury Plain but people hush it up.”  Kadogan shrugged.  “I never met any of them.  But people pay money for aliens.  That’s why I invited Ferdi to visit.  He has contacts.”

“No.” Steve said firmly.  “And we are not touching that bit of rubble with a barge pole.  Look, you can see the rust marks on it.”

“That is not rust.” Ferdi clutched the case to him.  “That is the traces of a very close encounter with something just past Saturn and covered by the Official Secrets Act.  But I won’t trouble you with this artefact any further.”

They watched Ferdi leave with dignity and the case tucked under his arm, then Fiona and Steve turned to Kadogan.

“What?” Kadogan said.  “It is a fake, of course.  All of Ferdi’s items are counterfeit.  But they are usually very good and barely discernible.  I thought we could use the area previously taken by the athames.”

“We need to get it drafted out properly.” Steve said.  “Let’s get into the back room.”

The back room still smelled of smoke, but the open windows and bowls of vinegar were doing their work and it was much more bearable.  Armani climbed out of Steve’s pocket and flapped lazily over to a window, pulling out his vape pen.  Outside the pigeons scattered.  Fiona stretched out a large roll of paper and sketched in the outline of the White Hart’s floorplan.  “I thought we could keep the cards and gifts over there,” she said, marking a corner with a cross, “We can get all the gift stuff like the fairy statues and ornaments over at that side and leave more room for the expanded café.  Have you seen the size of Freydis’ coffee maker?”

“We can use this wall here to display ritual items and keep the stock in the back.” Steve pulled out his pen and added a note.  “Most of that stuff is sold mail order or online anyway.  This leaves room for the books here and the herbs and spices here.”

“The herbs and spices are doing brilliantly online.” Fiona said.  “Maybe we should make a thing of it, you know, get some advertising set up.”

“That would be quite remarkable.” Kadogan said, tilting his head back and forth at the sketch.  “We opened the shop to sell gifts, cards and magical tools and we are making more selling herbs and spices.”

“And incense.” Fiona added a small cross at the end of the herbs.  “And we can put the more specialised stuff like the dog chews and biscuits over here.”

“Where shall we put the aliens?” Kadogan asked.

“If, and that’s an ‘if’ and not a ‘when’, we get aliens, we’ll have books about aliens.  They can go in with the other books.” Steve looked exasperated.  “We’re not going to have actual aliens in the shop, or pieces of alien ships or anything like that.  It’s all books.”

“Grain from fields with crop circles often fetches a high price.” Kadogan said tentatively.

“I thought that they had proved that crop circles were fake?” Fiona said absently as she studied the sketch.

“Indeed.  The men who had made the first fake confessed.” Kadogan sighed in satisfaction.  “And some people took their confession as a definite sign that there had been a cover up.  It’s wonderful.  Of course, some elfen had a go at it, and…”

“No.” Steve said.  “We’re too busy for you to make crop circles.”

“Indeed.” Kadogan sighed.  “And it is the wrong time of year.  However, there is a farmer up near Thirsk who has been very unsympathetic to one of the brownies there and I’m sure that a crop circle in his field wouldn’t hurt too much.”

“What did Darren say about the plague pit?” Fiona changed the subject, hoping that Kadogan would forget all about crop circles.

“It is most unsatisfactory.” Kadogan said.  “Darren King is not optimistic.  I don’t think that even he could exorcise an entire plague pit, at least not discreetly.  But something must be done.  The police now believe that it was the vibrations from the roadworks that caused the tiniest cracks in the gas main rather than disturbance from the unquiet dead buried beneath, which is a help, but those vibrations are likely to continue.”

“I’ve had a few thoughts about that.” Steve said.  “I’ll have a word with Darren.”

Fiona looked down at the floor and shivered.  The thought of all those dead bodies stirring underneath the shop chilled her.  “Those poor people.”

“They aren’t like Rey, or Miss Patience or Dean.” Kadogan said.  “There isn’t really anything there.  It’s just malice and darkness and the desire to destroy.  It’s nothing to do with the people that once were those bones.  It’s just pieces left behind that are being used.”

“I’m not sure that’s any better.” Fiona took a breath.  “Will we be safe to open?”

“The gas pipe has been fixed, at least for now.” Steve said.  “But I don’t think we can open while it’s still an issue.  We have to consider the safety of our visitors.”

Fiona looked at him.  “And us!”

“That is something I need to tell you.” Kadogan straightened the sketch.  “The person who smelled gas and called the appropriate authorities, well, there is more information.”

“He gets a permanent discount.” Steve said.  “Who is it?”

“It is complicated.” Kadogan said.  “His identity is unknown, but he apparently is a vampire hunter.  This could be awkward.”

There was a pause.  Fiona wondered what would happen if a vampire hunter knew about their store.  “Is he okay?”

“Apparently he killed a revenant, not one of the vampires that frequent Lord Ragnar’s court.” Kadogan said.  “He is likely to return in the hunt for further vampires so Sir Ewan and Dean are going to be patrolling around York for the next few nights to see if they can meet him.”

“And there is a good chance of more revenants coming out of the plague pit.” Steve said.  “I don’t mind helping out with that.  How stable did the vampire look?”

“It was Dean who observed him from a distance,” Kadogan said.  “But it seems that this vampire hunter was entirely sensible.  He wore reasonable clothing, used a normal sized stake and was apparently sick after destroying the revenant.”

“So, it’s someone who isn’t used to this.” Steve tried to think it through.  “He probably isn’t aware of the non-normal community or he would be working through them.  Goodness only knows what he thinks of the White Hart.  We’re lucky he called in the gas leak instead of lighting it.”

Luke lay on his bed and tried to organise his thoughts.  Calling in the gas leak was the right thing to do.  Someone unconnected with the White Hart could have been injured if there had been a proper explosion.  Deep down it felt like it was the right thing to do, but it still looked like that shop was going to re-open.

He was worried.  Jeanette was a sweet woman and she was working for those people.  She obviously had no clue about what was going on, and they were treating her well, but she was a good person and he was worried about her.  What if they were just feeding her lies and fake news until she was completely committed to them before getting her fed to a vampire or something.

Luke sat up.  Jeanette didn’t seem to be being misinformed.  They seemed to be behaving like a decent employer.  He’d caught a few glimpses of the man who usually dropped Jeanette off, and he seemed reasonable enough.

What was he supposed to do now?  He knew that there was another vampire out there.  He knew that there were strange goings on at the White Hart.  He knew that the people from the White Hart were behaving in a decent way to Jeanette and, well, he knew that he was completely out of his depth.  He rolled off his bed and dragged himself to his knees.  He would pray for guidance.

Ian was very aware of Mrs Tuesday’s gaze that was resting squarely on his back.  He was faintly uneasy, but the marvellous beef and mushroom casserole that Mrs Tuesday had just produced followed by Eve’s pudding and custard had left him feeling far too replete to worry.  He finished stacking the dishwasher and rinsed out a cloth.  Callum had taken Dave home.  Dave was on Mrs Tuesday’s orders to come to the flat for dinner, but his shoulder was still bad and he needed to rest.

Ian wiped over the cooker.  Things may not be settled, and all werewolves preferred things to be predictable, but life wasn’t bad.  He and Callum were sharing Freydis’ flat with Mrs Tuesday and were getting amazing meals every night.  Fiona and Steve were just across the hall and Darren and Dave ate here most nights.  He was getting to grips with the plumbing at the White Hart and once Darren sorted out the plague pit they could all go back to the White Hart.  It felt almost like the security of a pack.

“I need to have a word with you.” Mrs Tuesday said.

Ian froze.  There was no way that anything good could come of this.  “I need to finish cleaning the kitchen,” he said, scrubbing at a non-existent mark.

“The kitchen isn’t that dirty, and you can finish it off later if you want.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly.  “Now make us a cup of tea and come and sit down.”

Ian filled the kettle and rinsed out the teapot.  “Callum will be back soon,” he said.

“No, he won’t.” Mrs Tuesday folded her hands in front of her.  “I told him to call in on Adele on the way back.  I wish she would stay here, but I know she promised to look after her parents’ house while they were in Spain.”

“Umm.” Ian threw some teabags into the pot and got out the cups.  Did Callum know something about this?

“I didn’t discuss anything with Callum, though,” Mrs Tuesday said, reading Ian’s mind.  “But I know we are all worried about what’s going on.”

“Umm.” Ian poured the boiling water into the pot and pulled the milk jug out of the fridge.  He took a deep breath and placed the cups, teapot and mug on the clean kitchen table.  How bad could this be?

“You need to get a girlfriend, preferably a lover or wife.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“Umm.” Ian sat down and nearly missed the chair.  It was that bad.

“You’ve seen how Callum and Adele get on.  They are meant to be together.  And Callum has never had a chance.  His old pack leader needs a right talking to.  He’s really blossomed over the last few months, and you can take a lot of the credit for that.  You’ve encouraged him, help him find his feet, kept him steady and in shape and Kieran Latimer is very impressed with both of you.” Mrs Tuesday poured them both a cup of tea.

“Umm.” Ian picked up his cup and held onto it as if it could save him.  He gathered his wits.  “I can’t see a problem with Callum and Adele having a relationship.  Kieran wouldn’t object, and I think they would get on well.”

“But he can’t even date Adele if you’re single.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Kieran said that you were your own sub pack.  Now, I know that the White Hart has become your pack, and that’s a good thing, but when it comes to the werewolves, you’re the leader and Callum has to wait on your say-so.”

“I don’t want a girlfriend.” Ian said.  “I still miss my ex-wife.”

“Do you miss her, or do you miss being married?” Mrs Tuesday asked.  “I don’t see any pictures of her around.  I don’t hear you talking about her.  It’s like you cut that part of your life off when you came here.”

“She gave me my ‘Hope’ sign.” Ian said.

“And she is married to someone else.  She’s happy.” Mrs Tuesday gave him a hard look.  “And so are you, in a way.  You’re keeping busy, getting well fed, having a purpose and making amends – and so you should.  I can see why you don’t want to deal with the ladies at the moment.  You’re still healing after that business at Darke Manor.  Callum isn’t healing, though.  He’s healed, he’s happy, he’s settled and he’s in love with Adele.  And he can’t do anything about it unless you find yourself a girlfriend.”

“Who would have me?” Ian said.  He felt a weight settle on his shoulders.  Mrs Tuesday was right.  He was the leader and had a responsibility to Callum.  But how could he deal with this?  “I got thrown out of my old pack for summoning a demon to gain control of a pack.  No werewolf would date me.”

“I’m sure there are a few female werewolves that are…” Mrs Tuesday searched for the words.  “There are a few ladies in the same position as you.  They’re werewolves without a pack.  Most of them wouldn’t do you, but there may be someone.”

“I’m not dating a stray.” Ian said firmly.  He paused.  “But that’s what I am.”

“You’re not really a stray.” Mrs Tuesday tried to reassure him.  “You’re in a sub pack and you’re doing very well for yourself.  But perhaps you might find someone who understands but who isn’t a werewolf.  I mean, Adele isn’t even fully a Blue Cap but her and Callum are made for each other.”

“No-one is going to want a stray.” Ian sunk his head in his hands.  “And not just any stray.  I’m someone who summoned a demon.”

“Well, it’s not going to be easy.” Mrs Tuesday gave his hand a sympathetic pat.  “But you haven’t given up so far, so you mustn’t give up now.  You need to be a leader.”

“I need to keep busy.” Ian said.  He stood up abruptly.  “I’m going out to search for revenants.  Steve is across the hall and will help you if you need it.  I will see you later.”

Mrs Tuesday watched as he jogged out the room.  It had gone better than she had expected.

Luke stalked closer to the White Hart.  He had learned from last night.  He was wearing fingerless gloves and had spare stakes tucked into his belt.  He was still shaking, the cold fear sliding down his back and making him struggle for breath.  He still had to do this, though.  He couldn’t turn back.

The lights from the roadworks seemed even more garish in the empty streets as Luke walked past the White Hart, concentrating hard on keeping an even pace.  He slipped past a side street, down an alley and slowed down.  Now he was away from the streets and the CCTV he was vulnerable, and they could be waiting.  He pulled out a stake at slowly crept forward.

There was no noise in the gardens backing onto the alley.  The weeds that clung to the edges of the road were still.  The air was cold and he could see his breath hanging in the air.  Luke felt like every nerve was vibrating like a supercharged wire.  He paused.  It sounded like a fight.  Someone needed help.  He stepped around the corner, as quietly as he could with speed.  Someone else was fighting a vampire.

It was the man that dropped Jeanette off.  It was Ian, deftly batting the vampire’s claws aside, ducking a punch, blocking a kick, and then counterattacking with a hard punch, then another, keeping the vampire reeling until Ian kicked the creature’s legs from under it and knelt swiftly to impale the vampire with his stake.

Luke watched as the vampire collapsed into old bones and dust.  Then Ian muttered a few words over the remains, made the sign of the cross and pulled out a sack from his backpack.  Ian looked almost tender as he respectfully placed the remains into the sack, entirely focused on the task in hand as Luke backed away.

Luke walked back to the car in a daze.  Ian was from the White Hart but had killed one of these vampires.  What was going on?

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