Dave slammed into the side of his car and bounced across the country lane. Jack, having got the peacemaker out of the way, swung a punch hard at Martin who ducked, caught Jack’s fist and twisted. Jack somehow defied laws of gravity, momentum and anatomy and somersaulted around Martin’s grip but Martin was wise to his moves and caught him as he landed with a punch to the side of Jack’s head that slammed him into a gate post, which shattered.
Dave managed to pull himself to his feet. There were no witnesses in this deserted lane, but it was only a matter of time. Jack rolled upright and bounced over Martin’s head. Martin spun around before getting his legs swept from underneath him. He landed with a thud that dented the road, rolled out of the way of Jack’s stamp and grabbed his leg.
“Stop right now!” Dave yelled. It had no effect. He stumbled to the far side of his car for shelter, opened the door and grabbed something he had packed for the first time today. “Stop now! You are disturbing the peace!”
Martin grabbed Jack and hurled him into the hedge where Jack bounced and struggled, pinned in the centre of the brambles and hawthorn by the force of Martin’s throw. Martin advanced, murder in his eyes, when they were blown apart by a sharp, smoky explosion.
Dave had paid attention to the safety briefings on the flashbangs that the Home Office had reluctantly issued. He had mainly paid attention because he didn’t want to risk being on the wrong end of something allegedly non-lethal but still capable of blinding and deafening a man for minutes. He was pretty sure that he shouldn’t have thrown the flashbang quite so close to them, and he wouldn’t have dreamt of doing that with a werewolf, but with what appeared to be a force of nature going head to head with a vampire that came to York with the Roman Legions, he thought he needed to get their attention. It worked. Suddenly Dave was the focus of two powerful supernatural beings and it didn’t feel good.
“What did you just throw at us?” Martin said quietly, holding out a hand to Jack.
“Indeed, what was it?” Jack grabbed Martin’s hand and pulled himself out. “Because I really want one.”
“It’s not for the general public.” Dave realised that he had made a tactical error. “I mean, it’s government issue.”
Both of the men grinned wickedly. “That is so helpful. I can always get into the government buildings.” Jack’s grin widened. “And there are always so many people coming and going.”
“People are the weak point.” Martin nodded. “Working people is easy.”
Dave scrabbled desperately for ideas. “I’m a paladin. I cannot allow you to use military issue on unsuspecting normals.”
“Who said we were going to use it on normals?” Jack said with a sideways glance at Martin. “And is that what you call mortals these days? So insipid.” He looked at Martin who shrugged.
“I think Lady Freydis might have a few things to say about flashbangs going off in her domain.” Dave said, then regretted it.
“So that is what they are called! Flashbangs.” Jack clapped his hands together in delight. “I must find a score of them.”
“Lady Freydis wouldn’t need to know.” Martin said. “And, if we do it right, neither would the government.”
“That’s enough.” Dave pulled himself as straight as he could manage. His ribs hurt and his jeans were in tatters. “Do not fight like this in front of normals.”
“Or what consequence?” Jack asked, inspecting a deep graze running the length of his forearm.
“Or I will be forced to ask Lady Freydis for advice.”
Martin and Jack looked at Dave with respect. Martin nodded. “Well played.” He glanced at Jack. “I’m sure Jack and I can work something out.”
“If you get drunk, do it quietly.” Dave said wearily.
Jack shrugged. “Do you think we could actually get drunk?”
Dave held up a hand. “Don’t tell me anything. Just get out of here.” He shook his head. “And try not to be caught doing whatever.”
The two supernatural beings vanished, without smoke or noise, but were just suddenly not there. Slowly the birds began to sing again as everything in the area relaxed. Dave leant against his car and hurt. He had only been caught in a few of the side-swipes and it had been bad enough, so he wondered exactly what it would do to seriously hurt those guys. A skeletal hand skittered out of the ditch, patted Dave’s foot gently in commiseration and then scuttled back into the undergrowth. Dave ran a weary hand over his face. It was the most sympathy he had had all week.
At least Elaine was likely to be sympathetic. Dave tried not to look too injured as he turned up for his afternoon Tarot Reading appointments. After all, he and Luke were the only things standing between normal and non-normals and he shouldn’t show weakness. His ribs were only bruised, apparently, and the rest was surface damage, but he felt every ache. Lady Freydis ran over as he came in.
“Dave Kinson, what happened to you? You are injured!”
“I just have a few bruises.” Dave said. “Any chance of a coffee?”
Lady Freydis narrowed her eyes. “Have you disciplined any of my court? Do I need to defend them?”
“No, you do not need to defend them.” Dave said. He looked across at Elaine who was lounging against the counter next to Fiona who was re-stocking the greetings card. “I have not hurt any of your court today.”
“But you are injured.” Lady Freydis caught hold of Dave’s shoulder and he flinched. “Was someone from my court involved?”
“I’m not supposed to answer to you.” Dave wanted to keep Lady Freydis in reserve for dealing with Jack and Martin.
“So someone hurt you, but you did not hurt them.” Lady Freydis frowned. “I shall speak with Jack and Martin. Their arguments should not affect you.”
“What?” Dave stared.
“And I shall ask Mrs Tuesday to give you some of her special tonic, although after the Tarot Readings. Your judgement may be off after the tonic.”
Dave had had Mrs Tuesday’s tonic before. He had been barely able to walk afterwards but the glow that had surrounded him had been wonderful. “I’ll be fine.”
“I insist.” Lady Freydis said firmly. “Now I shall fetch coffee.”
Dave watched her dart back to the coffee machine and, ignoring the interested stares of the rest of the court, wandered over to where Elaine was lounging. It was a change to see her standing still instead of racing around the shelves. She ignored him and carried on chatting to Fiona.
“Is Steve seriously saying that he can’t make a deal work in Lancaster and he has to go back?” Elaine said. “I thought he could work any deal. He always could when I was with him.”
Dave blinked. There was something off with Elaine, and it didn’t sound like her. Those words had definitely hit Fiona hard, though she barely showed a reaction except for a slight tightening of the lips. She straightened a stand of ‘Get Well Soon’ cards. “It’s complicated, and as we’re moving to the house, he wants the money for renovations.”
Elaine glanced over to where Steve was dragging a box of flint arrowheads towards the back room. There was a gleam of hunger in her eyes. “And those arrowheads – you have so many of them. You need to unload them somehow.”
“Hi,” Dave said, standing in front of Elaine.
Fiona looked up. “Dave, you’re hurt! What happened?”
“Nothing much.” Dave said airily. “The weirdest was when one of those skeletal hands came and patted my foot in sympathy. I know we ought to do something about them, but they are useful, they’re killing the rats and they are kind of sweet.”
“Dead, skeleton hands are sweet?” Fiona said sceptically.
“Well, sort of cheeky.” Dave said. “And they can make some rude signs when they want to, but they aren’t harmful to normals.”
“I don’t know why you don’t just hack into the enchantment and give them a glamour.” Elaine was still looking at Steve who was manoeuvring the heavy box around a counter. “Make them look something like a cat. Then you have a reason why the rat population isn’t growing as quick as it should, no-one has a breakdown when they see a mouse speared on a bony finger and we can even pet the things.” She shrugged. “Easy.”
Dave frowned but was distracted as Martin and Jack walked in. He tried to look like breathing didn’t hurt. “Hi guys, everything alright?”
“I wouldn’t cause any trouble for my fair Fiona.” Jack said as he headed towards the counter. “And my good friend Martin would do nothing to upset the beautiful Lady Freydis.”
“Hmm.” Lady Freydis finished pouring Dave’s coffee. “Here, Dave Kinson, a mocha with a little hint of nutmeg. I think you will enjoy it.”
“Still trying to shift those arrowheads?” Martin asked. “Who would buy them?”
“At the moment I’m selling mainly to interior decorators, but I’ve been making a few calls to some film prop supply companies.” He shook his head. “I didn’t know they existed. But their back rooms look even stranger than ours. Next time I go to London, I’ll take Fiona with me and we can see if there is other business we can do.” He looked up at Fiona. “And maybe we can…” He trailed off, dropped the box and strode over to Elaine, grabbing her by the throat. “Who are you and where is the real Elaine?”
Elaine’s features shimmered and shifted and suddenly Steve was holding on to a slim, pale woman with a cascade of auburn curls and green eyes in her sweet looking, freckled face. Her expression was anything but sweet. “Sure, and you would like to know?” She said with a faint Irish accent, giving an artificial shiver. “And your touch is everything I imagined it would be. Perhaps I will let you know where Elaine is on our wedding night.”
Steve shifted his grip. “I’m already married, remember? I am married in the eyes of God.” He gave her a shake. “Do not push me, Leanne. Where is Elaine?”
“And your wifey so loyal?” Leanne shot a contemptuous glance at Fiona. “She never said a bad word about you, not even when she was sobbing her heart out. She would do better without you, and I’m sure your God would understand.”
Steve snarled. “I have ways of forcing you to talk that you would not like.”
“And you so sure about that?” Leanne tried a provocative tilt of her head despite Steve’s grip on her neck. Steve growled.
“Don’t kill her!” Dave said quickly. “Not until we find Elaine.”
“You were not prepared to hold me.” Leanne took a breath. “You should be more aware, Steve Half Elfen.” And then she was gone. Steve muttered some words and a fragment of green smoke issued from his outflung fingers, but it slowed and dissipated in the air.
Lady Freydis checked around the shop. There were a few wide eyed tourists but Mrs Tuesday was already ushering them towards free coffee. Everyone else was very watchful. “One of our own has been taken, one of us from the White Hart. I declare a Hunt!”
As Lady Freydis turned and started snapping out orders, Jack bowed low before Fiona. “My fair Fiona, do you truly want your rival back?”
Fiona nodded, her face white. “I didn’t understand why she was being like this. We were becoming such close friends. I hope she’s safe.”
“She’ll be safe up until now.” Steve said grimly. “That glamour was a close one. Leanne would have had to keep going back to Elaine to get a reference. And from the sound of it, Leanne will want to keep Elaine hostage to exchange for me.”
“Count me in.” Dave said. “Let’s find Elaine.”