Building

You can read the story from the beginning here.

Richard sighed. He didn’t want to head to the domain, but he had better go again today. He only had a few days before he took it over fully and it needed a lot of work. He stood and stretched. Getting appointed as Prince of this domain was not exactly a prize but more like a poisoned chalice. And he was hungry again. The last thing the locals needed was a hungry vampire. All the work was taking it out of him and he needed more fuel. He paused. He should say that the last thing that the locals needed was another hungry vampire. Black Bridget was out there somewhere. Richard couldn’t risk being depleted and was feeding a lot more. Thank goodness he had built good relationships with local families over the centuries.

He strode out of the study and into the hall, where he stopped and looked at the miserable elfen huddled against the front door. “What now?”

Cowslip sighed sadly. “The lady in the kitchen has the pan again.”

Richard briefly closed his eyes. “I told you to stay out of her kitchen when she was cooking,” he said. Carol had found that her favourite cast iron frying pan was an excellent deterrent to the elfen.

“But she was making the white sugar cakes,” Cowslip said.

“They’re called meringues, and they are for the celebrations after I become Prince.” Richard stared at the confused elfen in front of him. “Let’s get down to the domain. I’ll have to link to here at some point, but tonight we walk.” He sighed again. “There’s a lot to do.” He picked up a backpack and pushed his way through the nervous elfen.

Richard led them out of the house, down the drive to the lane and then along to a stile. Automatically Cowslip checked around for trouble as he led the way over the stile, gesturing politely for Richard to follow. As Richard climbed, he saw Ragthan and Caelin watching before following him with the others. They were wary, and with Black Bridget around they had a very good reason.

Richard squinted uncomfortably at the sun. He would have preferred to journey by night, but that was too comfortable for Black Bridget. He wanted their next meeting to be in daylight where he had at least a slight advantage. He glanced over his shoulder at the ragtag elfen trailing behind him. The sun was at least doing them good. What had Lord Henry been thinking? These elfen, apparently nature spirits as well as royal pains in the neck, had been shut away from sun and growing things for centuries. Richard had to slow down to allow them time to point to a battered, late season tormentil or a leaf blowing along the road. He wanted to get out of the sun. No vampire enjoyed the daytime. He looked back again. Caelin was marvelling over a stand of ragged Michaelmas daisies. He hadn’t the heart to urge him to hurry.

The entrance to the domain was now locked by Richard. Lord Henry was a faint presence now and the last thing that they needed was Bridget barging in. He looked around at the elfen, much brighter eyed and far less pallid than even a weak ago, then touched the ancient way marker that opened the gate.

Already Richard could feel a difference. The caves now felt old rather than dead, and there was a hint of autumn leaves and moss. Today he needed to work on some defences, and the elfen were here to guard him and to reinforce his work. Richard checked the tablet he had brought with him. He’d played around with some code and managed some wonderful labyrinths to slot into place. He’d need to get advice, but he was fairly sure that he could set parameters to force the maze to change every time it was walked. He nodded to himself. “There’s lots to do today,” he said cheerfully to the elfen. “I hope Gareth has managed to get a fire going. And I have fudge for everyone when we get there.”

“What is fudge?” Cowslip asked.

Richard looked at him thoughtfully. Cowslip was a stupid name for an elfen whose glamour was male, tall, muscular and dark haired, but the vampire didn’t feel like mentioning it just yet. “It’s mainly sugar,” he said. “I chose a nice flavour for you. And I’ve got some meals for Gareth.” Richard frowned. The goblin was stuck here until Lord Henry released him or Richard took over, but the creature was looking thinner and more worn at every visit. Carol had sent supplies. Richard hoped that they would be enough.

They rounded a corner into what would become Richard’s Great Hall. It was still a cavern, but now there appeared to be a gap in the roof. Sunlight of a sort was flooding in and the floor of the cavern was green and softened. In the centre, Gareth stood, his eyes shut and his face tilted towards the warming light. Richard felt responsibility settle on him a little heavier. Such a little thing meant so much to the goblin. But there was no time and little energy to be maudlin. “Hello, Gareth,” Richard called. “Can you get a fire going?”

Gareth turned, a smile on his worn face. “I’ve one set up and ready to start, sir. I’ll get onto it now.”

Richard nodded. “I’ve brought some supplies for you and the elfen. If you find the cloth for the table, I’ll light the fire.”

Gareth scampered away as Cowslip drifted closer. “The domain is being reborn and renewed,” Cowslip said. “You must beware the taint of darkness, as you are undead, but it is still so much more wholesome than it was.” There was a glint of tears in his eyes, and he turned to where Gareth spread a clean cloth over a flat rock. “And I await with interest the taste of this fudge.”

Richard passed around packets of cheap, honey flavoured fudge to the elfen and then handed over a large hamper to Gareth. “My housekeeper said she thought the food would be sufficient for a few days,” he said. “But let me know if you need more.” He looked around and nodded. The air in here was fresh and the sunlight streaming in was warming the elfen. “I’ll be working in that corner if you need me.”

Richard placed himself safely out of the way of the sunlight on a stable piece of rock and settled down. The nexus he wanted should be there so he could start with an entrance here. He frowned in concentration, then looked up.

“Sir, sir!” Gareth hurtled towards him. “Sorry, sir, but I have to say it. Thank you and bless you and bless your housekeeper who must be a champion and a magician and thank you again for this!”

Richard stared for a moment at the ugly, tired face. “I’m glad you like the food,” he said. “Are there others that need food?” He looked around the cavern. The elfen were hysterically giggling as they licked up crumbs of fudge but he thought he saw shadows in the corners.

“There’s a few of us here,” Gareth said. “And food has been a little thin. There used to be farms, they say, with proper orchards and fields and hives and raspberries…” He trailed off. “It’s been hard, sir, but now this!” He swallowed and waved a hand to the basket.

“How many are there to feed?” Richard asked, looking at the spartan supplies that Carol had packed.

“There’s me, an old couple of brownies, but they’re very frail now. They can’t do much but they’re willing to do what they can, and they don’t take much, just a little milk will be fine – though we share and share alike down here,” Gareth added. He sighed with happiness. “Then there’s old Mr Jenkins. He’s from Wales and a boggart, but he’s not all bad. We’re all so grateful. This is festival food. Thank you!”

Richard held his anger back. Lord Henry had let his retainers starve down here, and Richard had stood aside without thinking about it and let him. A shadow passed across the sunlight and Richard pulled himself together. “I’ll make sure that some more decent food comes down tomorrow, and I’ll get the farms and forests ready as soon as I have the defences in place,” he promised. He looked across the cavern. An unfamiliar figure was standing on top of the rocks, arms raised to the welcome warmth. He took a deep breath and turned back to Gareth, choosing his words careful. “I am glad for your appreciation,” he said. “And after I become your prince, I will have a duty of providing for my people. However now, at the request of Lord Henry, I have a duty of building. I must build a place for us all. So please excuse me. I will call if I need you.” He watched the scrawny figure almost bounding away. He had a duty and, dammit, he was going to do it!

A Werewolf Problem

Welcome to the latest instalment of ‘Under Dark Hills’. You can read the story from the beginning here

Paul looked frantically at Mike Doyle, the paladin called in to show him the ropes. He had not expected this. “You go left, I’ll go right. We should be able to trap it.”

“Her!” the old werewolf behind him squealed from behind his face mask. “She’s not an ‘it’, she’s a ‘her’ and she’s frightened.”

Mike nodded, sweat dripping down his face. The chase was taking it out of him. “Hang on – are all the exits blocked?”

Paul nodded, equally exhausted. “That’s why we chased it – her! – here,” he said. No other exits, cupboards and windows are locked. There should be no other way out.”

“We thought that upstairs,” Mike said wearily.

“I didn’t think she could move that quick,” Paul said. “But this should be safe. You go left, I’ll go right and we should be able to grab her behind the sofa.” He looked over his shoulder at the werewolf wringing his hands. “It’s okay, Justin. I think we can catch her now.”

“Be gentle, please!” Justin called. “It’s not her fault.”

Paul exchanged a glance with Mike. Both of them were liberally scratched. “Okay, one, two, three, go!”

The two paladins charged around the sofa and in a whirlwind of arms, claws and hisses, Paul finally grabbed her. “Here she is,” he said, keeping a tight hold on the scruff of the cat’s neck.

Justin stared at the cat. “She has been my only true companion for years,” he said, looking piteously at the growling, hissing maniac that was swearing wildly in cat. “You know, I’m the last werewolf in Halifax, or I was, and I was always so careful. I spent so much time alone and Miss Cleo kept me company. She is such a gentle, loving sweetie. But you can find her a good home, can’t you, where they’ll give me updates?”

Paul nodded, exhausted. “But if she is so dear to you, why are you getting rid of her?”

“It’s that dreadful Covid,” Justin said. “I ordered some special masks at the beginning of the dratted affair, but I was too late. Ever since, I have suffered dreadfully from allergies. And I can’t keep on like this.”

Paul looked closer at Justin. The werewolf was looking pale and strained, and his eyes were rimmed red. “Have you tried antihistamines?”

“They don’t work on werewolves,” Justin said sadly. He pulled aside the face mask to blow his reddened nose. “And there isn’t a werewolf specialist around. Now I can speak to others of my kind, perhaps they can help and I can get my beloved Miss Cleo back.”

Mike looked thoughtfully at Justin and then at the pack of masks on the table, half empty. “These look expensive. May I have a look?”

Justin nodded. “But your colleague should wash his hands before he touches them. My skin is so sensitive these days. I seem to break out at the slightest thing, and I can’t risk touching anything with cat hair.”

Mike picked up the masks and examined the packet carefully. “Werewolves can’t get covid,” he said. “A lot of the packs did double duty in hospitals as porters and stuff at the height of the crisis.” He turned the packet over and over and then pulled out his phone. “I need to check something.”

Justin stared. “But look at me! I’m a wreck.” He sank helplessly into a chair. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve cleaned this house, again and again, and I have air purifiers and even essential oils – and that is not fun for a werewolf.”

Paul kept a hold on the spitting ball of fury called Miss Cleo. “You don’t have any family close?” he asked?”

Justin shook his head. “There was only me left, after, well, some unpleasantness. And I am not as young as I was. I was quite a young pup when I lost my parents, so perhaps this is just me getting older. I’m 74, which I believe is a good age for a werewolf.”

Mike flicked through the internet in search of the brand. “Why did you choose these masks?”

Justin stared at him. “They were marketed as having built in antibacterial properties that couldn’t be washed out. I know that covid isn’t a bacteria, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt.”

Mike frowned as he found the masks’ website. “Did you read the small print?” Mike asked. “Did you read why it is supposedly antibacterial?” Mike took a breath. “It’s because the fabric contains silver nano particles, Justin. You bought silver infused face masks. That’s what’s giving you a reaction. You were a werewolf wearing a mask full of silver.” Mike stopped with an effort. “It isn’t like it’s silver thread, which would have burned your face off. But according to the website, there are enough silver particles to kill bacteria. That would make you a poorly werewolf.”

Paul dropped Miss Cleo and stepped quickly back. “If you dispose of the masks, you should be fine now,” he said.

The cat ran straight to Justin who swung her into his arms. “My sweetheart! I can cuddle you again. I’ll get some tuna for you now.” Justin looked at the paladins. “I cannot tell you how grateful I am – I should pay you your fees, though, even if you don’t need to take away my darling Miss Cleo.” His voice broke.

Paul looked with disbelief as the cat-shaped demon from hell that had led them such a chase transform into a sweetly cute kitty, purring loud enough to rattle the ornaments on the mantlepiece. “There’s no fee,” he said. “But the leader of the local pack will be in touch, just to make sure that you’re alright and that you keep well.”

Justin pulled his face mask off and looked pale. “Is he very fierce?” he asked timidly.

“He’s a good man,” Mike said, “And he’ll keep an eye out for your welfare.” He watched the elderly werewolf fussing over the cat. “We’ll see ourselves out.”

“Before you go, at least take a bottle of my home brew,” Justin said. “It’s mainly blackberries, from an old boggart recipe. It will do you a lot of good.”

Out in the street, the two men took deep breaths. Paul turned to Mike. “I thought paladins battled evil and protected society.”

Mike shrugged. “Some days are busier than others,” he said. “But we did our good deed for the day.” He pulled out the bottle, unscrewed the bottle lid and sniffed. His eyes widened. “I think I know what this is.”

Paul leaned forward and caught the scent. He straightened up quickly. “It smells very…”

“Lethal,” Mike said. “It’s lethal. But it’s exactly what you need when you’ve had to chase a cat over a six bedroom, three story house with extra cellars.” He took another sniff and then reverently screwed the lid back on. “Why don’t we get back to your place and have a very small amount.” He thought for a moment. “While we’re sitting down. I think we’ve earned it.”

Paul looked at the scratches covering his and Mike’s arms. “We absolutely have.”

.

An Honest Conversation

You can read the story from the beginning here – Under Dark Hills

The rain had set in, and Paul was drenched from the brief walk from the cottage to Darke Manor. Carol answered the door and managed a strained smile when she saw him.

“Richard is in the study,” she said. “If you go in, I’ll bring in a tray of tea.” She took in the water dripping from Paul’s coat. “And I’ll bring some towels as well. You can leave the coat over there.” She gestured to a rack and looked back at him. “In fact, leave your shoes there as well.”

Paul smiled. “I’ll try not to drip on your clean carpets.” He grew sombre. “How is Richard?”

Carol paused. “He’s quiet,” she said eventually. “But I think he’s okay. He’ll be glad to see you.”

Paul took the hint and headed to Richard’s study. It seemed a long time since he had been interviewed there for the job to sort through the papers. Today had changed everything, though. He had seen Richard’s vampiric fangs. He had seen Mike and his pack drag a stray werewolf away and he had seen Richard come second in a magical battle. There was nowhere left to hide. He knocked on the study door.

“Come in,” Richard called, his voice measured and controlled.

Paul stepped into the study and closed the door behind him. It was warm, with an old fashioned open fire flickering in the grate. Lamps around the room shed soft light and there was a scent of cinnamon and smoke in the air. Richard was staring out of the window at the dark moors. Rain lashed against the window and the security lights outside Theo’s cottage could faintly been seen in the distance. Paul waited for a moment but Richard didn’t speak. “How are you?” Paul asked eventually.

Richard turned. “I’m well,” he said. He forced a smile. “And you are quite safe, I promise you.”

“I know,” Paul said.

“Take a seat,” Richard waved Paul into one of the leather armchairs by the fire, stepping around his desk to take the other chair across the hearth. “And thank you for coming on such a dismal night. I’m sure Carol will be bringing towels.”

Paul smiled. “She takes things like that seriously,” he said. “But her housekeeping isn’t why I’m here.”

“No,” Richard said. “You know that I’m a vampire. What are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing,” Paul said. “Except keep working on the papers and drawing my pay.”

The men paused as Carol bustled in. “Here’s the towels. I’ll be in with some tea in a moment.” She set a small bundle of towels on the arm of Paul’s chair before bustling out again.

Richard watched Paul pick up a small towel and rub it over his dark, cropped hair. “What would you say if I asked you to take your shirt off?”

Paul finished rubbing the water from his hair and deliberately folded the towel before answering. “You would be looking for a paladin’s mark. You won’t find it. I know magic. According to all that I have read so far, paladins can’t use magic.”

“It’s not unknown,” Richard said. “It’s not ideal, but a few paladins and Knights Templar have had gifts of that sort. Whoever or whatever sends the paladins, they send what is needed. You saw the magic today.”

Paul rubbed a fresh towel over his face. “Why me? I’m far from holy, and I’ve never been in the army or police force.”

Richard shrugged. “We should check. There are two ways. There is the mark – the sword on your shoulder. Or we could take you over to Oxenhope. There’s a corner in a churchyard that is considered most holy. If you stand on that, you’ll shine.”

“I’ve read a lot of the notebooks,” Paul said. “The paladins here were good men. I’m not sure where I fit in. But I’ll take my shirt off, if it makes you happy.”

“I don’t know if it will make me happy,” Richard said. “I’ve never been interested in men without shirts. But I need to know.”

Paul looked at him for a long time. “Because of what happened today?”

“Because something is happening here,” Richard said. “There are reports of sheep being savaged, but no signs of any dogs. There are children who are looking ‘sickly’ or ‘under the weather’ for no reason that a doctor can find. I can lead such non-normals that live locally against this force, but I need a paladin. I need to know.”

Paul stood. The rain had pounded through his jacket and soaked through his clothes to the skin underneath. He looked Richard straight in the eye as he unbuttoned the shirt and hung it over the back of the office chair at the desk. “Don’t play games, Mr Dark.”

“I don’t think I would dare,” Richard stood and came closer. “I saw how you reacted this morning. Turn your back.”

Paul gave him a long look and then turned. “I’ve never had a tattoo,” he said. “I spent too much time in foster homes to want to waste my money.”

Richard studied Paul’s well muscled back as it gleamed damply in the firelight. “You work out,” he observed. “Pass me your phone.”

“I keep myself in shape,” Paul said.

Richard took a picture of Paul’s upper shoulder. “You work out, obviously, and you know how to fight. You don’t flinch at werewolves and vampires and you know magic. Not bad for someone who’s just become a paladin.” Richard handed back the phone, the picture of the sword crudely etched on Paul’s shoulder was clear. “Why?”

Paul took the phone back and looked for a long time at the image. “I should be doing all the checks, and I know that you have a knack with technology, but I think I’ll accept my fate, at least for now.” He picked up another towel and started rubbing the cold rain from his torso. “What are you asking?”

“There are remarkably few men that can not only kick a werewolf into submission but that can also disarm a complicated trap spell.” Richard said. “It must have been an interesting journey to get here.”

The door opened with Carol, who froze at the wonderful view she had of Paul. She opened and shut her mouth a few times before putting the tea tray down on a side table. “You look like you are soaked to the bone,” she croaked. She cleared her throat, blushing. “I’ll go and get a spare dressing gown and I’ll dry your clothes for you.” She fled.

Paul looked at the closed door for a moment before looking back at Richard. “My parents were killed by a rogue boggart. I had an interesting few years until I stopped talking about what I had seen and started training to be what I am now. I had never, ever seen anything like the papers in the cottage down there, but it confirmed my experiences. It was something of a relief.” He watched Richard pour tea for him. “But what now? I can’t pretend I understand all of what is in those documents, but I’ve seen references to the Knights Templar and Princes…” Paul paused and stared into the fire for a moment. “I feel that I am suddenly in the middle of things that I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

There was a loud knock on the door followed by a pause. Richard shook his head and went to the door. “It’s okay, Carol, Paul is decent. We have a lot to discuss, so any damp clothing will be left outside the door in about five minutes.” He took a dressing gown from Carol, who was still blushing, and shut the door again. He tossed it over to Paul. “It’s complicated. Get changed. I’ll have a quick word with Carol and be back in around five minutes.”

Ten minutes later, Richard and Paul were seated comfortably at the fireside. Paul was relaxed in the dressing gown and glad to be warm. Richard was warier and drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. “I suppose I had better give you a quick run down,” Richard said. “You know, obviously that non-normals, like myself and Mike, exist. And you have learned about paladins. There are plenty of references to them in the papers. I’ll get in touch with the Knights Templar and they can explain their side to you.” Richard managed a grin. “They can pay your wages instead.” He hesitated. “But I’ll pay a premium for the paperwork stuff.”

“There’s a lot of work there,” Paul said. “More than I could have imagined.”

“We’re the forgotten realm, really,” Richard said. “There’s not that many people and it’s been quiet. The Prince, Lord Henry, has faded away for the last few hundred years. He put a ban on Halifax, so there haven’t been many non-normals there. Liz must have been one of the last brownies surviving.” Richard stared into the fire. “Lord Henry has decided that I’m going to take over from him at Halloween, whether I like it or not. The few elfen left have been staying here. They’re in the main living room at the moment, driving Carol scatty.”

“Is she safe?” Paul asked.

Richard pulled his gaze away from the fire. “She’s safe from them, although they are irritating her. They aren’t the risk. The problem is that when Lord Henry goes, someone else wants to be prince.”

Paul took a sip of tea. “You don’t strike me as someone rushing to become a leader.”

“I’ve never wanted that,” Richard said. “Unfortunately, I’m the best choice. I’ve already had to untangle the magic around Halifax, and I’m trying to contact all of the local non-normals who have drifted out of contact, but I’m not the normal choice for a prince. I’m a vampire. Princes are usually elfen – mad, psychotic bastards that will shred anyone in their path. I’m not exactly that type.”

“This Lord Henry chose you for a reason,” Paul said. He helped himself to a home baked biscuit.

“A few hundred years ago, around the time of the last plague, there was a challenger,” Richard said. He frowned. “That would put it in the 1660s, I think, when Charles II had returned. The challenger was a vampire and was vicious. I remember it all too well. I managed to keep myself out of their talons, but they were not exactly house trained. Nathan and I are the only local vampires. We have people who are happy to… They are happy to accommodate us. Some are families that I have fed on for generations. We also top up on some of the local livestock, for appropriate payment. Nathan and I play by the rules. This other vampire, the one that had me pinned this morning, they see normals, like Carol and Theo, as cattle. They are not kind. Lord Henry and the paladin at the time, Charles Goodman, they managed to confine the threat. They didn’t manage to destroy the vampire.” Richard sighed. “No-one had the magic. The whole country had been hit by the Puritans and the witchfinders. We’re not far from Pendle Hill and the infamous witches from there. Anyone who knew any magic kept it well hidden. I am a little more prepared now, and you seem to have useful skills. We may have more of a chance. You see, now Lord Henry is going, there’s going to be another challenge. I need to make an end to it. We need to make an end to it. They can’t hide in the shadows the way that they did all that time ago, not with smart phones and social media.” He looked sharply at Paul. “I’ve heard that Theo wants to be a vampire, although that may have changed after this morning. He isn’t alone. If word gets out about vampires here there will be a queue of idiots with no idea of what they are asking. And then there’ll be the would-be vampire hunters. It will be chaos. We have a quiet community here. We want to keep it that way.”

Paul nodded. “So we need to find this vampire and stake him, right?” he asked. “I mean, what is the catch?”

“There will be magical defences,” Richard said. “There will be magical attacks. And we have no idea where she is.” He stood and started pacing. “She’s incredibly old. They say that she came over with the Romans, though I don’t know about that. She calls herself Black Bridget or Bridget Du. And it is going to take everything we have to stop her.”

Unexpected Visit

You can read Paul’s story from the beginning here – Under Dark Hills

“You can’t keep breaking into people’s houses to clean!” Paul said. He rubbed a weary hand over his face. This was not what he wanted to deal with straight after breakfast.

“Why not?” Liz asked, putting the last of the breakfast dishes away. “It’s not like I took anything, not even a cup of tea. And the Bible says that a labourer is worth of their hire.”

“But you weren’t hired!” Paul said. “And people feel uncomfortable, that there could be someone breaking in at any time. They can’t sleep. And they feel judged.”

Liz sniffed. “I’m not surprised that they feel judged,” she said. “I would if I had left the kitchen in that state. The oven was like a midden. And as for the state of the fridge…”

Paul held up a hand. “You cannot keep going into other people’s houses and cleaning without their permission,” he snapped. “Just don’t.” He narrowed his eyes. “What’s that in the shopping bag?”

Liz lifted her chin. “Just a few rags and some of my home made cleaning spray. I’m going down to see Mr McGuire and he doesn’t mind if I have a bit of a wipe around in his workshop. He says he appreciates my efforts and will take me out to dinner.”

Paul frowned. “Be careful,” he said. “You know that Richard isn’t letting Carol go anywhere on her own. Do you want me to walk you down?”

Liz picked up her jacket and shrugged into it, fastening it defiantly and checking the lay of the lapels and the set of her scarf before replying. “I’ll be fine. I have hidden depths, Mr Kidson. I’m sure that I will be quite safe. Besides, it’s only down the lane and barely after breakfast. What could possibly happen?”

Paul watched Liz through the window as she marched down the lane and across the short cut to the cottage where Theo was staying. Then he picked up his cup of coffee and unlocked the paper room. Richard had thought that it could take a year to sort through the piles of paper in here, but that was an underestimate. He set the coffee down and locked the door behind him before switching on the small radiator. There was enough material here to keep a proper archivist busy for years let alone an amateur like him.

He sat down at the desk. It was looking better, though. There were still the heaps of letters and reports of various types, but the notebooks now had a sort of order and there were clear spots on the floor. He had even found a protective circle inked into the fraying matting. There was still no trace of the paladin, though.

Paul switched on the computer and stared blankly as it booted up. He knew that Liz was a brownie and that Mike was a werewolf and possibly head of a pack. He was fairly sure that Richard was one of the vampires from the notebook. Nathan was possibly a vampire as well, but he couldn’t be sure. Carol seemed to just about the same as him, a regular human. But he could feel something moving in the ether, something on the psychic plane was stirring. Unfortunately whatever it was had disturbed all of Paul’s attempts at scrying. He was no expert at scrying at the best of times, and the feedback he got when he tried was giving him headaches.

Theo wasn’t the paladin, Paul was sure. With the best will in the world, Theo wasn’t the calibre of the men that Paul found in the notebooks and papers. He was a good man, but he liked a drink a little too much and he got carried away. And who in their right mind wanted to be a vampire? Paul couldn’t see the attraction. Theo may want to be involved in all the strange things that the notebooks recorded, but show him a missing sheep and some suspicious paw prints, and Theo would be loading up with silver bullets instead of remembering that the important point was that a sheep was missing. He would never think of asking who was selling cheap leg of mutton in the pub last weekend.

But he needed to find that paladin. He kept finding hints and clues that something dreadful was hiding up on the moors. He needed help looking through the papers to find more information. He needed to know that Carol and Liz, and even Theo, would be safe. He realised that his phone was ringing.

“Hello, Liz,” he said as he picked up. “Is everything alright?”

“Mr Kidson, please will you let Mr Dark know that there is a werewolf here and not in a nice way,” Liz said, panic vibrating through her formal language. “I mean, I managed to get out of the way, like a good brownie, but it has Mr McGuire trapped behind his silver press and there’s something else there, but I’m too scared to look.” Her voice broke.

“I’ll let him know and I’ll be right down,” Paul said, unlocking the door as he spoke and locking it behind him. “Stay hidden and don’t panic.”

“But Mr Kidson…” Liz whispered, but Paul hung up. He grabbed thick gloves and a scarf from the rack in the hall and picked up a stout, silver topped walking stick. He slammed the door after him and rang Richard.

“Richard, it’s Paul. There’s a werewolf acting aggressively at Theo McGuire’s cottage. I thought you needed to know. Theo and Liz are trapped there.”

There was a brief hesitation. “I’ll be right there,” Richard said. “Don’t engage. Keep back.”

Paul hung up and started running.

He didn’t try to be quiet as he ran up. He could hear growling and snarling, and the best way to save Liz and Theo was to distract whatever was making that noise. “I’m coming!”

Richard passed him, running far faster than most mortals, and hurtled into the shed that was acting as Theo’s workshop. Paul followed him, straining his ears for any clue about what was there.

“I want the notebook,” Paul heard a husky voice demand as Richard reached the shed door. “And I know that you have it.”

“You!” Richard yelled, and dived in.

Paul was a long minute after. He raced into the brightly lit shed and took in the scene. In one corner there was something going on, something magical, where Richard and a presence were tangled in an arcane battle. More pressing for Paul was the huge, scrawny werewolf growling at Theo who was trapped behind the silver press. It took Paul two steps to get within reach of the creature and then he swung the walking stick – hard. The silver knob at the end hissed as it sank deep into the side of the werewolf, who howled and then turned, snarling.

“Paul, get back!” Theo yelled. “It’s not normal.”

Paul ignored him, spinning the stick around in his hand and using the momentum to hit the werewolf hard on the side of its head. It howled and staggered, fading and flowing into a skinny, naked man who rolled, groaning to his feet, a livid burn on his face.

“You are going to regret that, meat,” the werewolf snarled, swinging hard at Paul’s head. “I’m going to eat you slow.”

Paul didn’t waste time on talking. Instead he ducked under the man’s punch and punched back – hard. The man reeled back, surprised. Paul followed up with a swift kick in the ribs, and another, dancing around him and forcing the werewolf back, away from Theo and back toward the door. The werewolf shook his head and staggered a few feet backwards before snarling and bounding back towards Paul. Paul met him with a roundhouse punch, neatly placed under the creature’s chin. The creature fell back, his eyes out of focus.

Paul risked a glance behind him. There was still a magical tangle behind him, but it looked like Richard was getting the worst of it. He turned back to the werewolf who was coming back to its senses and glaring at Paul.

“I’m going to eat your beating heart,” it growled.

Paul let the words wash over him as he tried to get the measure of the creature. He feinted a high punch and then, as the werewolf raised its hands, stamped hard on its knee. There was a sickening crunch and the creature folded to the floor, snarling and flowing back into the shape of a lame wolf, snapping wildly.

Paul took a step back. “Are you hurt, Theo?”

“No, it didn’t bite me. What are you doing, man?” Theo sounded panicked. “And where’s Liz?” He staggered out from the press. “I need to find Liz.”

“I’m here,” Liz stepped out of a shadow and ran to Theo who held her tight.

Paul tossed the cane to Theo. “If it moves, hit it with the silver end,” he said. He didn’t wait to see Theo’s reaction. Instead he spun around towards the magical battle in the corner.

He was too late. Richard was pinned against the wall by magical forces. The gaunt shape of his opponent twisted, folded and disappeared with a sharp crack. Paul swore and, ignoring the snarling behind him, ran over.

“It’s magical,” Richard said. “We’ll need to get help. I could do it but I’m stuck on the inside of the damn charm.” He grimaced and his fangs showed. “I’m sorry that you got caught up with this. But I promise, I’m harmless, and so is Mike. He’ll be coming to take care of the puppy over there.” Richard gasped in pain as the magical bonds contracted. “You need to get hold of Ian Tait. Tell Mike when he gets here if I can’t.” He stopped and then swore loudly.

Paul studied the bonds. “You don’t have much time,” he said. “Hang on…” He frowned as Richard gritted his teeth against the shrinking bonds. “Theo, do you have white chalk? Or something that writes white?”

“It’s over in the cabinet in the corner,” Theo said, keeping an eye on the werewolf writhing in front of him. “Liz can get it.”

Paul didn’t take his eyes from the bonds contracting around Richard as he was held against the unpainted brick. “I’ve got this,” he said. He felt the whiteliner pushed into his hands and, muttering a quick thanks, stepped forward. He kept clear of the magical field itself as he carefully inked in the glyphs. “This magic seems about as dark as it gets,” he said as he inked in another glyph. “If you’re a vampire, it may sting a little when my spell activates, but it should free you.”

Richard grunted as the magical bonds cut deeper into him. “I can hear Mike coming,” he forced out. “You can wait.”

“You can’t,” Paul said calmly. He inked the last glyph, centred himself, muttered a few more words and there was a flash. Richard howled, then fell to his knees as he was released from the bonds, scorched but free.

Mike skidded into the shop with two large wolf like shapes bounding next to him. “What the hell!”

Richard pulled himself to his feet, the marks slowly fading as his vampiric healing kicked in. He looked gaunt and wracked with pain, though, as he stood and took a deep breath. “Thank you,” he said to Paul. He looked around the workshop. Scorch marks stained the walls and craft supplies were widely scattered. Liz was wide eyed and tearful and Theo looked deeply shocked. Paul stood, still calm and poised, watching Richard warily. There was a moment of silence as everyone caught their breath.

Richard broke it. “Mike, take the stray and deal with it. Theo, my apologies that you were so inconvenienced. We will speak later. Liz, we need to speak later but for now I request that you clean this workshop. Paul, my deepest thanks. Please come with me to Dark Manor to talk.” Richard smiled faintly. “You will  be quite safe.”

“Yes,” Paul said steadily, “I will.”

Blog Stuff

I am easily distracted, and far too easily bored. I found myself wondering how someone who found the blog for the first time would see it, and whether they would find the fiction easily or whether they would get bogged down by all the notes and articles.

That is why I spent most of this weekend going through the fiction and poetry on here. I found 170 separate pieces, which is a lot more than I expected. Most of those pieces have been collected together and you can find them on the menu above, on the right, under ‘Collected Fiction’. There is a drop down menu and you can find collections of poetry and fiction. Please feel free to have a rummage and see if you find any old favourites. I’ve also left them in place in the blog for anyone scrolling through.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing some blog housekeeping. I’ll delete any duplicate posts, junk any stuff that I think is below standard and I am going to force myself to go through and properly tag all the posts. I’ll do a little editing, tidy up punctuation and hopefully find a way of formatting that means that all the posts have the same line spacing.

I’m also considering removing some stories and perhaps placing them in an ebook. So many stories are lost in the crowd here, and I think thinning out some of the posts will make it easier to read. If I do put them in an ebook, though, I promise that I’ll add plenty of new material as well.

By the way, the pic above shows some of the notes I was making.

I’d love to hear any opinions you have on this, so please leave a comment if you have any thoughts.