The Hunt is On

Through the sudden lull in the party, Steve’s voice rang far too loud.  “Where’s Fiona?”

A dozen heads turned.  Lord Ragnar strode into the middle of the room.  “Who last saw Fiona?”

“Where are you going?” Mrs Tuesday snapped at Louise who was diving for the door.

“I need the bathroom.” Louise looked pink.

“Leave your phone.” Mrs Tuesday held out her hand.

“What?” Louise kept backing to the door.

“Leave your phone.” Mrs Tuesday stepped calmly towards her.

“What are you on about?” Louise knocked into the counter as she edged backwards.

“Leave your phone.” Mrs Tuesday took another step towards her.

Louise threw the phone hard at the nearest bookcase and turned and ran towards the door.  With surprising agility Mrs Tuesday grabbed the phone out of the air as Callum grabbed Louise around the waist.  Mrs Tuesday winced.  “I’m too old for this.” She rubbed her back and tossed the phone to Steve.  “And I’m too old to work these things.”

Lord Ragnar stood in front of the struggling Louise.  “You were betraying us.”

“I didn’t want to be elfen!” Louise looked for a moment at Ian and then back at her ancestor.  “I didn’t want to be non normal.  I wanted to be me.  And if you won’t fix it, Rey will.”

Freydis looked at Louise in amazement.  “You actually believed he could do that?  He’s barely competent with the most basic magic.  Even Steve Adderson, who is the most capable known sorcerer, could not take your heritage away.” She watched with indifference as the colour drained from Louise’ face then turned to Lord Ragnar.  “Rey has been trying to entice Fiona to his court by sending her former lover, that Dean person, to speak with her.  I believe he thought she would be good bait to trap you.  According to Fiona, Rey has been feeding from Dean regularly.” Freydis looked around the shop.  All eyes were on her, but she didn’t flinch.  “I shall be as brief as I may.  Dean was trying to give Fiona love potions.  I gave her the antidote each time but she found it draining.  Dean has been smuggling Dragon’s Blood in for Rey, which I never knew and would never condone, and I believe that Rey’s been assembling quite an army.”

“Why did you not tell me this?” Lord Ragnar towered over Freydis, his eyes flashing and his glamour slipping to show hints of an unearthly creature underneath.

“You told me that if I tried to speak to you again you would rip my head off and stuff an injunction between my lifeless lips.” Freydis said calmly.  “I thought at the time how much I admired your eloquence.  And, to be honest, Fiona was hoping that she would get some more information from Dean.”

“You put Fiona in danger.” Steve dumped the phone into Ian’s hand and pushed his way over to Freydis.  “You put her life at risk for your games.”

“It was an idea she had, I wish I could take the credit.” Freydis looked around.  “But it appears that she has been taken.”

“It was not supposed to be like this.  We were setting a trap, not Rey.  He was supposed to ambush here or on the way back to the court.” Lord Ragnar paced up and down as Kieran posted discreet look outs.  “It’s less protected, we would be in the open, we would apparently not expect it….”

“Looks like you got played.” Mrs Tuesday sank into a chair, wincing.  “And Fiona is the bait to get you into a trap.”  She looked worried.  “I hope she’s okay, wherever she is.”

Steve whirled around and strode over to Louise.  “Where is she?”

Louise shook her head.  “I don’t know.”  Her eyes were drawn to Steve’s clenching fists.  “I really don’t know.  Rey didn’t tell me.  He just said that he would take the bait to somewhere safe from elfen.”

“I don’t believe you.” Steve drew back a hand and a wave of magical energy ran over the room as he drew in power.

Dave carefully caught his arm.  “Hang on.” He eased Steve away from Louise.  “Rey played her as much as he played us.  She doesn’t know anything.” He looked around.  “Perhaps we can put her in a bedroom somewhere.”

Lord Ragnar waved an imperious hand at Louise.  “Sleep.” Louise slumped in Callum’s arms.

“I’ll take her upstairs.” Callum said, lifting her without effort.

“I’ll come up and keep an eye on her.” Mrs Tuesday pushed herself up.  “My back’s gone.” She looked around the room.  “I’m sure I can rely on you to bring Fiona back nice and safe without me tagging along.” Her hard stare added an emphatic ‘or else’.

“Armani, bring me the map of York from the office.” Steve was breathing deeply.  He snapped around at Freydis.  “What do you mean, putting Fiona in danger?”

“I did not think anything like this would happen.” Freydis looked genuinely worried.  “Fiona has become dear to me.” Her blue eyes filled with uncharacteristic tears.  “She is so in love with you.  It was breaking her heart and the traces that the love potion left behind were tearing her to pieces.  She was so brave.”

“She really loves me?” Steve paused for a moment.

“Of course you two love each other.  It’s been obvious to everyone around.” Kadogan said.  “But this isn’t finding Fiona Greene.”

Armani flapped into the room carrying the rolled up map.  Steve took it from him with a muttered thanks and spread it over the café counter, pushing the stacked plates casually to one side.  He weighted the corners down with espresso cups and patted his pockets.

“What are you doing?” Lord Ragnar looked at the map and back to Steve.  “We can’t waste any time.  We do not know whether Fiona is safe or not?”

Steve reached into the display of elfshot and pulled out one of the smaller arrowheads.  He wrenched the artfully tied jute twine from Freydis’ coloured grass displays and tied it quickly onto the tang of the arrowhead.  He held it between his hands, muttering, and all the elfen took a collective step back.  “She’s wearing my ring.  I wouldn’t let her leave without it.  And I was the one who enchanted it.  There’s a lot in that ring, and one of the things is a beacon.  I should be able to find her by dowsing.”

Darren looked warily at the map and the impromptu pendulum Steve was holding steadily.  “I’ve called Tim from the police.  He wants Rey for the murder of that poor woman that was found a few weeks ago and the other kidnappings. He’ll be another set of eyes.”

“There’s nothing on the phone.” Ian threw it next to the till.  “No previous calls, no history, no records, and only one number saved on it, with no name.  It’s a burner.”

Steve wasn’t paying attention to Ian.  He slowly moved the pendulum over the map, keeping his hand and his breathing as steady as he could, taking his time.  The pendulum shifted a little as it passed over the Minster, but that was just static, and there was a hint of movement over the entrance to Lord Ragnar’s realm and the location of the normal trap that Rey had set.  Armani sat hunched next to the map, his eyes fixed on the pendulum.  “Don’t worry, boss.  We’ll find her.”

“Is there any hint or is she shielded from magic?” Lord Ragnar shot an anxious look at Kadogan who was pale from white hot fury.

“She will not be shielded from my magic.” Steve pushed down on his emotions.  He couldn’t afford to lose his cool now.  “Got it.”  The pendulum slowly swung in circles over the map, tighter and tighter, and very definite.  Steve swore.

“What is it?” Kadogan leaned over Steve’s shoulder and then spun around, kicking a chair across the room with a crash.  “Damn them all to the darkest hell.”

“York Railway Station.” Steve dropped the pendulum.  “All that lovely iron.”  He turned to Armani.  “Go to her.  Keep hidden if you can, but go to her.”

“Sure thing, boss.” Armani flew with unusual speed into an air vent.

“There is too much iron for me to get close.” Lord Ragnar started pacing.

“Not to mention all the CCTV around there.” Kieran reminded him.  “And if she’s in the station itself then there’s plenty of CCTV covering the platforms and waiting rooms.  Every inch would be on camera.”

“She’s inside the station itself.” Steve said grimly.

“I’ll make a call.” Ian said.  “Nick can sort out the CCTV.  He can have a look around for us before he cuts them off.”

“I will owe him many favours for that.” Kadogan said through stiff lips.

“There are large storm drains that go from beneath the station to the river.” Miss Patience smoothed down the elegant but practical trouser suit she was wearing.  “I can lead you in there without being seen.”

“Does Rey know about them?” Lord Ragnar asked.

Miss Patience shook her head.  “He is a relatively young vampire and I never trusted him with all my secrets.  He moved to York after the railways were built.”

Dave looked over to where Steve was hunched over the map, his knuckles white as he clenched the edge of the counter.  Lord Ragnar was standing in the centre of a room, frustrated and helpless at the concentration of iron facing him.  “Listen up, I’ve got a plan.  Lord Ragnar, you can’t get to the station.”

Lord Ragnar shook his head.  “A perfect place to hide Fiona.”

“Rey has no reason to think you’ll look there.  He’s every reason to think you’ll forget all about it.  The last time you cornered him it was in your domain.  Is there a corner of your realm that appears shut off or you can’t see properly?”

Lord Ragnar shut his eyes and spread his arms a little from his sides.  Mist curled up from the floor.  “Damn his eyes, yes.”

“That’s where he’ll expect you to go.  And that’s where his toughest fighters and his scariest traps will be.  Going there will achieve nothing.”

“I will be able to hit someone.” Kadogan said.  “That will afford me a great deal of relief.”

“Here’s the plan.” Dave looked around and felt the weight of everyone’s gaze settle on his shoulders.  “Lord Ragnar, you and Freydis fake an argument near the front window…”

“We do not need to fake arguments.” Freydis sniffed.  “We can manage genuine arguments without effort.”

“The point is, all eyes must be kept on Lord Ragnar.  So you two have a big argument, you send for people to come here, you send people to search nearby, you have lots and lots of movement.  Keep them watching that.” Dave turned to Steve.  “They can’t see anything by magic, can they.”

“No-one sees anything that Steve Adderson wishes hidden.” Lord Ragnar took a breath.  “How will that help Fiona?”

“Because while everyone is watching you, they hopefully won’t see me, Ian, Callum, Steve, maybe a few others led by Miss Patience slip out the back and head for the station.”

There was a pause.  “That would work.” Lord Ragnar grudgingly agreed.

“You can’t get near to the station.  None of the elfen could.” Dave said.  “And we need to rescue Fiona.”

“But we call a hunt on them once Fiona is safe.” Lord Ragnar said.  There were satisfied nods from the elfen.

“Great,” Dave looked around the room.  “Get the argument started.”

Fiona drifted slowly out of a dark dream.  She shivered and as she tried to move to a more comfortable position she found she couldn’t.  She forced open her eyes and felt sick.  She was looking straight at Reynauld Baxter.

“I did consider keeping you asleep, but I thought it would be more fun to see you awake.” Rey stood a little way back.  “Do you like my place?  It’s full of iron.  Kadogan can’t even get here, let alone save you.  Of course, he’ll wear himself out trying to find you and I’ll be able to pick him off when I’m ready.”

Fiona looked around.  She was sitting in an incongruously modern IKEA chair, with her hands and arms tied to the wooden armrests.  The rest of the room looked like the Victorian parlour where Rey had told her he was going to imprison her and she had first met Callum.  Dean was slumped and shivering in the corner of a sofa.  Fiona’s heart sank.  He wouldn’t be a threat but he couldn’t be any help.  The ragged wounds on his neck were large and he was far too pale.  She wondered how much blood Rey had drained.

“I’ve been wondering about you.” Rey took a handful of incense and threw it on the fire.  There was a hiss and smoke coiled up and slid out of the fire, drifting lazily towards Fiona. “You inspire loyalty from Kadogan, which is remarkable.”

“I saved his life.” Fiona watched the loops of smoke as they eased their way towards her.  “He was stuck watching Christmas lights in the middle of the road.  He felt grateful.”

“But now he likes you.” Rey pushed himself away from the mantelpiece and staggered a little as he walked towards Fiona.  “It is rare that the elfen like anyone but themselves.”

“You’re high.” Fiona didn’t realise she had said the words out loud until she heard Rey laugh.

“I’m so high I could kiss the flag on the moon.” He bowed unsteadily towards her.  “I’m going to be even higher after I’ve tasted you.”

“No!” Dean tried to stand, but slumped back, clutching at the chair.  “You said you wouldn’t hurt her.  You said she was just to get Lord Ragnar here.”

“I lied.” Rey slowly stroked over Fiona’s face and down to her neck.  “And I would be quiet if I were you.  You were stopped and searched at the airport the last time you came back.  You will be watched, now, and I could find my incense confiscated or a prince tipped off.  You are of no further use.” He bent low over Fiona and whispered in her ear.  “But when I am a little less bloated and you have spent some time in this delightful fragrance, I’ll have a use for you.”

“They’ll come for me.” Fiona felt like a great weight was pressing on her chest.

“They don’t even know where you are.” Rey buried his face in Fiona’s hair and breathed in the scent of her shampoo.  His fangs were showing as he pulled himself a little away.  “I have hidden a force of those who loathe Lord Ragnar in a shrouded corner of his domain.  He’ll be heading there now.  Even if he isn’t destroyed tonight, he will be soon.” Rey gave an ecstatic shudder and held his hand loosely over Fiona’s throat.  “The thought of that has been keeping me warm at night.  Thinking about how I will take his throne, wondering how sweet you will taste and making that bitch Freydis beg.”

Lord Ragnar and Freydis were standing in the car park, facing each other at optimum drama distance.  Mrs Tuesday limped down the stairs and stood beside Adele.  “I’m not missing this.  It should be hilarious.  Could you fetch us some mullein, please?  I don’t normally indulge at times like this but my back is really acting up.”

Adele ran past the staring elfen and grabbed some mullein teabags.  She passed them to Mrs Tuesday.  “We used to have neighbours like this when we lived in Lime Court.  They really enjoyed the drama and we looked on it as entertainment.  My gran used to get a deckchair out.”

“It doesn’t get old for some people.  Thank you.” Mrs Tuesday sank gratefully onto the chair Adele had put behind her.

“It didn’t end well for them, though.” Adele shifted her angle slightly for a better view.  “He had a breakdown and she ran off with the man at the Co-op.  It turned out he’d been giving her more than two pence off a loaf of bread, if you know what I mean.”

“Why, Freydis, just why?” Lord Ragnar opened the argument.  “One minute you’re a pink-obsessed air head and now look at you!  You can even work the coffee machine.”

“It’s your fault.” Freydis spat back.  “It’s what you wanted.  The first time I met you, you had that Flavia on your arm, and don’t tell me she had more intelligence than a carp.”

“That was fifteen hundred years ago, and we weren’t even married.” Lord Ragnar snapped, stung by the unfairness of the attack.

“It’s seventeen hundred and thirteen years.  She used to giggle when she didn’t understand what you said and that was most of the time.  And she wore that washed out red thing all the time as if it made her look good.”

“She was pleasant company at the time.” Lord Ragnar tried to get back some momentum.  “But dull and she died eventually.  But what about that Rorik man you wore on your arm at any opportunity?  He was no scholar.”

“He thought I was attractive, which was more than I got from you.” Freydis stamped her foot.  “He created poetry for me.”

“It was awful poetry.” Lord Ragnar started pacing.  “And you started doing that awful flick of your hair.”

“You mean like that Elswyth that you seduced?  I hope you didn’t think you were alone in enjoying her favours.”

“I was not hanging around like some lovesick shepherd waiting for you.” Lord Ragnar was pacing quicker.

“You weren’t waiting for me at all.” Freydis snapped.  “You only married me because my father insisted.”

“You father only agreed to help me because he knew I loved you!” Lord Ragnar snapped.

“So you told my father that you loved me, but didn’t think to say anything to me?  I’ve spent all these centuries trying to be Flavia and now you say something.  And you have redecorated your domain badly.” Freydis’ glamour was slipping and her hair was waving in the still air.

“How was I supposed to say anything serious to you when you were acting like a Flavia?  And at least we don’t have problems with a glitterball anymore.”  Lord Ragnar roared.

“And how was I supposed to say anything serious to you when you were ignoring me?” Freydis yelled back.

There was a charged pause.  Lord Ragnar swung around to the watching elfen.  “We attack them in the domain!”  As one the elfen and werewolves strode off towards Stonegate, leaving the White Hart empty apart from Adele and Mrs Tuesday.

“Well, that took longer than I thought.” Mrs Tuesday pushed herself to her feet.  “Why don’t you run upstairs and check on Louise.  She’ll probably be fine and sleep until Lord Ragnar wakes her, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.  I’ll put the kettle on.  And we had better make a start clearing up any mess.  The brownies will be here in a few hours.”

Fiona shivered.  Her neck hurt and she felt a coldness that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room.  Dean had been right.  When Rey had fed on her the sensation had been amazing.  No matter how good it had been, however, she didn’t want to feel it again.

She shifted a little in her chair.  She was still tied there and she was feeling the stiffness.  Dean was slumped on the floor, his whole body limp and worryingly lifeless.  Fiona tried to be optimistic.  Perhaps he was just passed out, like Rey who was sprawled across a sofa in the corner.  She looked again at Dean and then looked away quickly.  Was she going to end up as a bundle on the floor with massive wounds on the neck and the choking smell of incense in the air?

She had worked out where she was.  She could hear the rumble of trains.  It felt like she was somewhere near the centre of the station.  A long goods train was passing and it sounded very close.  Fiona could imagine how it would be.  Rey would have found a corner or a gap in the brickwork and built in a magic realm.  Would Kadogan be able to get here?  She knew he was old enough to have trouble with iron, and the station was filled with it.  The endless iron rails for the trains, the engines and carriages, the metal containers on the sidings, the wires humming with electricity and even the exposed iron girders in the roof would all bar Kadogan.  Fiona shifted again.  That’s if Kadogan could guess where she was.  She wished she could see Steve.

Rey stirred, turning over with his face away from Fiona.  He seemed to be sinking into a deeper stupor.  Fiona froze.  Beyond him, in the shadows, two eyes blinked.  As she looked harder she could make out the unlovely countenance of Armani.  She had never been so glad to see him.  He was edging around the room but as he realised that Fiona had seen him he glanced quickly at Rey before flapping silently over.

“Hold on, miss,” the imp whispered as he landed on her shoulder.  “I’ll get you out.  The boss is on his way.”  His sharp claws made short work of the cord around Fiona’s arms and she stood up slowly and stiffly.  “Are you okay to move, miss?” Armani whispered.

Fiona nodded and hoped that she was.  She found herself hobbling as quietly as she could towards the mahogany panelled door.  Armani was ahead of her, pulling it open carefully and watching the room as she limped out before shutting the door silently.

Fiona looked around.  It was like the idea of a corridor.  There were walls and a floor, and the ceiling was in there somewhere, but it was all a dull grey, unformed and lit with a pale glow that seemed to leak from the walls.  Rey hadn’t bothered shaping this, Fiona realised.  She looked at Armani.  “Thank you for rescuing me.  Which way?”

The imp looked up and down the corridor.  “I’ve had a bit of a scout around, miss, and the boss is coming up the drains to the entrance that way.” He waved towards the right.  “If we go left then we come out onto the station platform, but there’s not many people about at this time of night and you haven’t got a ticket.”

Fiona almost laughed out loud and the worry the imp had about her lack of ticket.  “Let’s head towards Steve.” Despite herself, she couldn’t help asking.  “He is coming, isn’t he?”

“Course he is, miss.” Armani shot her an irritated look.  “Follow me.”

Fiona found herself walking a lot easier as she followed Armani quietly flying up the corridor.  Of course Steve would come, he was that sort of person.  Ian would help out as well, of course, and Callum, even if Kadogan couldn’t get here.  They were good men and she was lucky to know them.  A tear leaked down her face.  She had almost certainly blown it with Steve.  She couldn’t blame him.  But she couldn’t have handled anything more to do with the wedding, even without all the effects of the love potion running through her, and he’d probably be polite about it, but she really wished they had met before she had ever run into Kadogan.  She brushed another tear away.

“Don’t worry miss, not long to go and then the boss will look after you.” The imp gave an encouraging smile, “You’ll feel better in no time.  Just keep going, miss, that’s it.”

Fiona was far too aware of the noise she was making, the slight hiss of her jeans as she moved, the gentle taps of her feet on the featureless floor.  Even her breathing seemed to be echoing.  Armani was almost silent, moving owl-like through the air past the blank doors.  She glanced behind her.  It seemed to have taken forever, and even though the corridor was long, it seemed to be taking an irrationally long time to get to the end.  Her neck was throbbing.  She put her hand up to her throat and felt two gashes, damp and ragged.  Her stomach turned.

“Don’t touch ‘em, miss.” Armani said without glancing around.  “And don’t worry, he didn’t take too much.  I daresay you’ll be feeling it but it could have been worse.  We just need to get around that corner and…”

‘This is a nightmare,’ thought Fiona.  Suddenly the flat, undetailed walls bent and stretched, the floor slid away from her and the corridor was writhing around her like a bad special effect.  She looked back over her shoulder and icy fear fell through her.  Rey was following them up the corridor and the walls and floor were bending to his will.  She tried to scream but couldn’t make the sounds.

“Keep moving, miss!” Armani was flapping desperately against the air as he struggled to get away.  “Don’t give up.”

“Feisty little thing, aren’t you?” Rey snarled as he gained on them.  “Do you have any idea how much blood I’ve had today?  Blood is power and you are mine!  I was right, you are soooo sweet.  Struggle all you like.  It makes your surrender so much sweeter.”

Fiona struggled forward, clawing at the walls as she tried to force her way forward.  The corner that had been only a few metres away was now stretching away from her and the floor was buckling under her feet.

“Do you think I will treat you like Dean?  I don’t think so.  You are far more decorative and I am sure you can hold a decent conversation.  I look forward to our civilised discussions.” Rey was nearly on them, chuckling as Fiona swore at him.

“Stay away from her!” Steve rounded the corner and suddenly the floor and walls snapped into flat regularity and Fiona rushed forward to fall into Steve’s arms.  Steve wrapped his left arm tightly around her as she held on to him, leaning against his chest.  She was safe.  Steve took a second to savour the feeling, dropping a light kiss on top of her hair before raising his right hand towards Rey.

Rey held his hands up and started backing away.  “I don’t think you can touch me, blood bag.” He glanced quickly over his shoulder.  “It takes more than a rag tag of shopkeepers.  Perhaps Ragnar could, if he can catch me…”

“I don’t think so.” Steve gestured, as if gathering in invisible strings and wrapping them around his right hand.  Rey jerked and froze, unable to move.

“I have too many friends for you to risk this.” Rey snarled, struggling against the unseen cords.

“I said, I don’t think so.” Steve snapped his hand sharply and Rey jerked again, rising in the air.  “You should never have touched Fiona.”

“Sweet tasting little thing,” Rey snarled defiantly, “I should have taken her sooner.”

“Enough!” All of Steve’s pain and bewilderment since the wedding was cancelled, all his fear for Fiona’s safety and fury at the injuries on her neck were channelled and powered as his hand now seemed to pick at strings in the air.  Ian and Callum clasped their hands over their ears and sank to the ground and Dave fell against the wall.  Fiona, protected in the circle of Steve’s arm, felt a rumble in the atmosphere, like a silent waterfall, as Steve pulled power from the air and spun it around Rey.

Rey started screaming.  Steve pulled and tugged at the air as strands of colour seemed to be pulled from the vampire.  Fiona glanced up briefly.  Steve’s glare was inhuman as he pulled threads from Rey.  At first it looked like Steve was unravelling the fabric of Rey’s clothes but as Steve pushed Fiona’s head back against his chest she had a glimpse of dark red threads and realised that Steve was unravelling Rey himself, fibre by fibre.  The scream echoed around the unfinished corridor for a long time.  Then Steve dropped his hand and let out a sigh.  Ian and Callum pushed themselves to their feet.

“We need to get out of here now.” Ian snapped.  “This place isn’t stable, it’s going to collapse.  Callum, carry Fiona.”

Steve wanted to protest and felt a cold space as Callum grabbed Fiona and slung her unceremoniously over his shoulder, but he felt too light and empty after such a rush of power.  He could feel the magic that had held the corridors fading and he didn’t have any strength to hold it open.  Instead he followed the group racing for the exit.  It sounded like distant, delicate bells, tinkling softly as the edges of reality closed behind them as they ran down the darkening corridor and out through the storm drain and into the York dawn.

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