Invitation Accepted Chapter Five

Image from Unsplash, taken by Andy Wang

You can find the story from the beginning here.

“You need to show me the mail,” Surjit said as Gareth strode in to work on Monday morning. “Luke said that I’d be sorting the post from now on.”

“And good morning to you!” Gareth said with a grin. “Let me get my tea first.”

Surjit smiled back. “Okay, I’ll be waiting. And I want to hear all about Friday night as well,” she added.

Gareth headed for the kitchen. On one hand, he felt confident in his new clothes that fit and looked good. He was definitely putting on muscle and feeling better. On the other hand,  his memory of the weekend after Friday evening was its customary blank. He remembered turning up to Jed’s rugby match and cheered him on, but apart from that there was nothing. He had also found some scratches in strange places in the shower and was tired in different ways. Please let whatever was possessing him not done anything extreme. He nodded to Syed as he grabbed a mug. “How was the hangover?”

Syed ignored Gareth’s light-hearted tone. “You got us out of there,” he said quietly. “And what were they?”

Gareth shook his head. “I don’t know, mate,” he said. “All we can do is forget about them.”

Syed looked uneasy. “Do you think we should talk to anyone about this?” he asked tentatively.

Gareth shook his head. “Who would believe us?” he asked. He filled up his mug. “Don’t worry about it. Worry about how much you can sell. Luke is scarier than anything you can find in a bar.”

Syed forced a grin. “I don’t know,” he said. “Tony got caught up with this lass once…” He broke off. “I’ll tell you next time we’re out drinking. Are you planning more campaigns?”

“I’ve got a few ideas,” Gareth said. “I want to see what Carli is thinking. Surjit is going to take over the post and that should free up some time for me. Speaking of which, I’d better go and get her started.”

Gareth powered through the day. It didn’t take long to get Surjit sorting the post, then he raced through the emails and orders from the rickety website before going back to his notes and working through the lunch hour. Then he was dragged into Luke’s office to get the details of the course that he was doing.

“You’ve got some catching up to do,” Luke said. “You should have started two weeks ago. But it’s all online and you can do it at work.”

“Thanks, Luke,” Gareth said. “I won’t let you down.”

Luke glared at him. “I heard that you were inviting Carli on a date,” he said. “I thought that you were just going to be working together.”

For a brief moment Gareth thought that the other Gareth was going to step in, but he managed to use his own words for a change. “I’m not planning on seducing her over a fish and chips supper,” he said coolly. “We’re going to be talking about work and I’m looking forward to her company. I want to see the direction that she’s taking so that I can work any marketing around it.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed. “A couple of months ago, I wouldn’t have been worried. Carli will soon see off anyone that bothers her,” he said. “But you saved her when the stacks of dye collapsed and that might have turned her head. And I heard that you dealt with some trouble on Friday as well.”   He tapped thick fingers on his desk. “Something’s changed.”

“I won’t take advantage of her,” Gareth said, awkwardly using the old fashioned phrase. “I mean, I won’t mess her around. And we probably won’t be doing that much work together, not once we get everything going. I just need to know where to aim stuff.”

Luke shook his head sadly. “I was desperate enough when I got a chance for Carli to come here,” he said. “Now you’re doing all these advertising things and the orders are finally starting to move. My mates at the club told me that I need a new website when I still can’t work out how to use the one that we’ve got. And now you are asking a lass for a date.”

Gareth thought back to how much he had changed. “But it’s for the better, right?” he said. “There’s more money coming in.”

“There is at the moment,” Luke said. “But we haven’t kept the business going for this long by being reckless. So you get those new advertising ideas going, and I’ll make sure that you get a bonus and that’ll do for now. And see you behave with Carli, that’s all I’m saying.”

Gareth got back to his desk feeling a little bewildered but dived quickly into his work before taking a laptop with him into Carli’s room. “Is this a good time?” he asked.

Carli nodded and pushed aside a sheaf of papers. “It’s perfect,” she said. “I’ve got some pictures of the new designs here and this is what I’m hoping to bring in.” She pulled over a folder. “Have you had any of the whiskey yet?” she asked.

Gareth floundered for a moment. Anything could have happened over the weekend. But then he remembered seeing the unopened bottle in his desk drawer this morning. “I’m saving it for something special,” he said. “Perhaps for Christmas. You didn’t have to get me anything, you know, but I’m grateful.”

Carli smiled at him and for a moment something hung in the air, some potential connection, before she opened the folder. “These are the colours that came down the catwalks this year,” she began. “I’m trying to reflect them.”

Gareth started making notes. “I can use some of these as themes for social media,” he said. “I’ve got some ideas saved.”

“Does Luke know how much work you’ve done on this?” Carli asked.

“He’s fine as long as it doesn’t cost money,” Gareth chuckled. “I’ve saved these posts here, but I wondered how you want to play it. What are the stars of the next batch, so I can do a proper lead up.”

Carli looked at him with respect. “Have a look here,” she said as she pushed some cards towards him. “I’ll email you a list of the shades to use, but this is what they look like.”

The afternoon flew by as they worked through the direction of Carli’s designs and how Gareth could work with them. By the time the rest of the office had left and the cleaners were pointedly vacuuming around their desks, Gareth was starving. “I said that I’d buy you fish and chips,” he said. “There’s a decent pub near Kirkstall, I’ll treat you there.”

Carli smiled up at him. “As long as I can return the favour some other time,” she said. “And I’m starving as well.”

“I’ll drive us there,” Gareth said. “And I’ll bring you back to pick up your car. If that’s okay,” he added.

Carli looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. “Yes, that’s fine,” she said eventually.

The pub was almost empty and Gareth gave the order at the bar and then settled down in a corner with Carli. “We should put this on expenses,” he said. “We’ve worked late enough.”

Carli laughed. “Luke would have a fit,” she said as she took her cola from him. “I swear he twitches at expenses. But he’s putting his money where his mouth is at the moment. You’ve got your course and he’s muttering about getting the website redesigned.” She laughed again. “Although he does look like he’s in pain when he talks about it. He’s a true Yorkshireman – he likes to keep hold of his brass.”

“Gareth Petersen?”

Gareth looked up. Standing next to him was a tall, bulky man. Tattoos ran up his neck and under his cropped hair and the thick leather jacket and sturdy jeans couldn’t hide the physical strength in his powerful frame. Cold fear ran through him as he met the man’s cold, assessing gaze. Gareth stood. “Yes, that’s me,” he said.

“No,” the woman behind him said. “That’s not him. I mean the other one.”

“I’m Sir Dylan,” the big man said, “And I’m here to speak with Bron.”

Gareth gritted his teeth as he felt the now familiar surge of the other Gareth taking over. “Sir Dylan?” Bron said. “Are you one of the Knights Templar?” He looked past the man to the woman behind. “Violet, this isn’t really the time.”

“I felt the Orache Stone move,” Violet said. “It’s working. Time is running out.” She looked over to where Carli was sitting. “He spent the weekend with me, you know,” she said, her dark eyes snapping.

“Violet!” Bron snapped. “We talked about this.” He turned to Sir Dylan. “I’m enjoying a meal with my friend. It wouldn’t be polite to abandon her. Perhaps we can meet later.”

“How much does your friend know?” Sir Dylan asked as his eyes swept over Carli.

Carli flinched back and Bron put a firm hand on Sir Dylan’s broad chest. “Stay away from her,” he snarled. He glanced over at Violet. “And you can stay out of my sight. I told you how it was.”

Violet’s lips pressed together and colour drained from her face. “Bron, you wouldn’t abandon me,” she whispered.

“I am not yours!” Bron said. “You know why I can’t.” He turned to Sir Dylan. “I’ll meet in two hours.”

Sir Dylan pushed Bron’s hand aside and looked him warily over him before nodding. “Meet me at Kirkstall Abbey,” he said. “You should bring the girl.”

“Don’t talk like that,” Bron growled. “This lady is Carli Sykes and not just some girl. Show respect.”

Sir Dylan’s eyes narrowed and he turned to Carli. “I’d be grateful if you would come with Gareth and or Bron to Kirkstall Abbey in two hours’ time, Ms Sykes,” he said carefully.

“She doesn’t need to be there,” Bron said.

“I think that perhaps she does,” Sir Dylan said, looking back at Bron.

“I can’t be there,” Violet whispered. “It’s too holy, too sacred.”

“Well that’s a relief because I am disgusted by you,” Bron snapped. “You went too far.”

Violet wailed and the part of Gareth watching this insane conversation nearly collapsed as she seemed to fade and dissipate into the background and was suddenly not there. Gareth turned to look at Carli who seemed as appalled as he felt. “I’m sorry about that, lass,” Bron said. “She won’t harm you.” He turned to glare at Sir Dylan. “And this big guy won’t hurt you either.”

Sir Dylan scowled at him. “Two hours,” he said, pointedly checking his watch and then handing over a card. “Just in case.” He spun around and stalked off, deftly avoiding the waitress bringing over their order.

Gareth felt Bron drain away as the waitress placed the fish and chips in front of them and then left with a curious final glance. “I’m sorry about that,” he whispered. Warrior spirit, he reminded himself. “But I’m not going to let it put me off my food. I’m starving.”

Carli’s hand trembled a little as she pulled the plate towards her. “We earned it, didn’t we,” she managed. “What is going on?” she asked. “Luke said that something had happened to you and now this. You sounded different.”

Gareth speared a large chunk of fish and bit into it, chewing thoroughly as his brain whirred. “A few months ago I wanted to get a better job so I tried to develop a warrior spirit,” he said finally. “But I think that I got a warrior spirit as a sort of timeshare in me. It was him that pulled you out from under the dye boxes, and him that got the lads out of trouble on Friday.” Gareth was faintly aware of Bron’s presence in the back of his mind. “I have no memories of huge chunks of time. I can’t remember most of this weekend, so I could have been with that woman. I didn’t know whether I’d drunk any of the whiskey you gave me or not, but I suppose he’s the one that should drink it as he earned it.” He stabbed his fork at a chip. “And I have no idea who that guy is or what’s going on.” He forced himself to look at Carli. “I’m sorry that you’ve got caught up in this.”

Carli took a breath. “What about the advertising?” she asked.

“That’s all me,” Gareth said, forcing a smile. “I can’t blame anyone else for that.” Then he felt the presence of the other Gareth – Bron.

“Don’t worry, lass,” Bron said. “That story stuff is all his. There’s a real passion there that I could never manage. And even as he’s getting a bit more muscle and standing up straight, he’s still thinking of you.” Bron grinned. “He hasn’t noticed the interest of the other lasses.”

Carli went scarlet. “I can hear the difference,” she said, battling for her composure. “I can tell.”

Gareth fought to speak. “I don’t need to talk about any love life,” he forced out.

Bron chuckled. “It’s always good to be clear about intentions,” he said. “Violet is a nature spirit from a long ago. We were… We were very close once. And I think she hasn’t had enough company recently.”

“So when you spent the weekend, you were catching up?” Carli said, still scarlet.

“In a manner of speaking,” Bron said. “I’m sorry, Gareth, I shouldn’t have indulged, but it’s hard for me too. I’m finding my way around.”

“Who are you?” Gareth asked.

“I was a warrior, a long, long time ago,” Bron said. “I’ll explain everything when we meet that Sir Dylan. Until then, you need to eat and keep up your strength. Dark days are coming.”

Gareth was aware of an emptiness in his head and sighed. “I think he’s gone,” he said to Carli. He looked at her carefully. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Hmm?” Carli looked at the chunk of fish on the end of her fork as if she had never seen anything like it before. “I think so. And when Jed was talking about monsters at that pub on Friday, they were real?”

Gareth nodded. “But it was Bron that got us all out, not me,” he said. He sighed. “I wish I had never started this,” he said. “But it is what it is.” He managed a smile. “Why don’t we enjoy our food, ignore the concerned looks that we’re getting from the barstaff and try and nail down that Instagram idea. That has to be worth a look.”

Carli answered his smile with a strained smile of her own. “If you can get it to work,” she said. “It will take some doing.”

“I can do that,” Gareth said, his smile broadening as he pushed the memory of Sir Dylan to one side. “I’ll get it sorted.”

Carli stared as they parked opposite Kirkstall Abbey. “When I first came to Leeds, I didn’t expect to find a genuine medieval Cistercian monastery in the centre of the city,” she said.

“It’s not quite the centre,” Gareth said as got out and opened the car door for her.

Carli had been staring blankly at the abbey and jumped a little before smiling and getting out. “Thanks,” she said. “It looks different at night. And it’s almost the centre. It’s surrounded by houses.”

Gareth grinned. “I never really notice it,” he said.

Carli shivered and allowed Gareth to lead her across the road and into the abbey grounds. “It’s too dark and quiet,” she said.

Gareth was carefully looking around. “I don’t like using my phone as a torch,” he said. “It runs the battery down. I should have brought the torch from the car.”

Carli swallowed. “We can use my phone for now,” she said, her voice strained.

“Do you want to wait in the car?” Gareth asked. “Or there are plenty of taxis around that can get you back to the mill. You don’t have to come here.”

“I think I do,” Carli said.

Gareth looked down at her set face. Something was going on, but he had no idea what. “This way,” he said. “I think I can see a light in the main building.”

He stayed protectively close to Carli as they walked along the paths and then over the grass to the entrance to the nave. The barred gate was swinging open and a glimmer of light shone in the depths. “Be careful where you step,” he warned Carli as he led the way inside.

Sir Dylan was waiting halfway down the stone flagged building. The ruined windows let in a little light with the sound of traffic, but the shadows were pooling deep in the corners. Gareth carefully guided Carli with a reassuring arm lightly around her shoulders until they finally stood in front of Sir Dylan. He was standing next to a small camping lamp and his shadowed eyes were watchful.

“I need to speak to Bron,” Sir Dylan said.

Gareth groaned as he could feel the familiar sensation of being pushed aside. Bron slid his arm away from Carli and stepped a little to one side as he stared hard at Sir Dylan. Even after all the exercise and changes in diet, Gareth was still slight compared to the massive, muscular shape of Sir Dylan, but it was Sir Dylan that stepped back. “Why did you need to see Carli?” Bron demanded.

“If she’s spending time with you then she needs to be aware of what is going on,” Sir Dylan said. “Your hands, they’re…”

Carli squeaked. “You’re a vampire!” she cried.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sir Dylan snapped. “But this is interesting.”

“It’s the mark of the Defender,” Bron said, turning his hands in front of them. A slight, glimmering glow spread over them and cast a faint light around him. “It was how we knew who the Defender was. Once a year we passed through the spring near the ford and it showed us who was chosen.”

“They’re called Paladins now,” Sir Dylan said. “They are the defenders, the ones who step between the normals and non-normals. They glow like that when they are in holy areas. A lot of non-normals can’t come here. Too many saints were buried at Kirkstall.” He looked at Carli. “It’s okay,” he said. “It means that he’s more likely to defend you if there’s trouble.” He frowned. “But it’s interesting that it’s only there with Bron and not Gareth.”

“I was a Defender, a paladin, long ago,” Bron said quietly. “I fought the wolf kin and the boggarts and the dark spirits and protected my village. Then an elfen, a nature spirit, enchanted the Orache Stone. It…” Bron stared for a moment. “It possessed the lead of a wolf kin pack, werewolves, and it drove him mad. It eats souls for power. It doesn’t kill the poor creature that’s ravaged, just leaves them without a soul and it takes their mind until someone else slaughters it and takes the stone. But it gives power. The elfen was malevolent because the stone will take more and more of a soul but give more and more power. As it grants more power, it takes more of the soul and the owner falls into madness. There is perhaps a line where you can get a lot of power but stop just short of losing your sanity.” Bron smiled grimly. “But that’s impossible to judge. I managed to get it away from the mad wolf kin – werewolf – that held it but…” Bron grinned. “I died from my wounds within a month.” His grin twisted. “It wasn’t pleasant. But from what Violet said this weekend, there are a pack of strays in the Dales.” He spread his hands out in bewilderment. “I can’t keep up with these new ways of describing things.”

Sir Dylan turned to Carli. “Most werewolves aren’t a threat,” he said. “They live in packs, keep good order and don’t bother anyone. Then you have what they call strays, that is, lone werewolves. They seem to go a little crazy outside the pack structure. Some keep their heads down but without others of their own around them they can get feral. When they get feral, they get dangerous.”

“I never really saw much of that,” Bron said. “They were all bloody dangerous in my day.”

Sir Dylan shrugged. “From what Violet said, a few feral strays have been banding together. There’s one calling himself Fang, previously known as Josiah Carruthers, who’s already a known problem.” He frowned. “If it had been any other territory, the local pack would sort them out, but Mark Davies, their leader, is having a tough time.”

Bron looked coldly at Sir Dylan. “People could have died on Friday,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty. Everyone has tough times, but if you can’t do your duty then you stand aside and let those who can get the job done take your place.”

“How bad can a few strays be?” Sir Dylan said. “I can have word with Mark, but I have a lot going on. He’s going back and forward to hospital with his wife and her cancer treatments, and I’ve got my hands full with just the day to day stuff. We’ve had elfen scammers and drugged up vampires and…”

“I may have been away for a while,” Bron said. “But I’m not a fool. Those werewolves meant trouble. And if one of them have got hold of the Orache Stone, it won’t be a few strays, it will be a whole village rampaging. And I don’t know how many you think of as a few, but there could be as many as a dozen and that isn’t a small pack.”

Sir Dylan looked at him sceptically. “Are you sure about those numbers?” he asked. “Most strays can’t work with more than one or two, especially if they’ve spent any time going feral.”

“Someone has dug up the Orache Stone,” Bron said. “And it has the power to grant leadership. Damn you, it’s dangerous! Especially if there are numbers.”

Sir Dylan looked at him for a long, tense moment, then nodded. “The pubs are still open,” he said. “Let’s go visit this Iron Sickle.”

4 thoughts on “Invitation Accepted Chapter Five

  1. I like how Gareth is becoming aware of Bron, so he isn’t just an empty vessel. This will be interesting to follow. Thank you for writing!

    1. Thank you for commenting.

      I’m glad that you’re enjoying this. I think Gareth is more than he thought he was, even without Bron, and, to be honest, I’m looking forward to their interactions. I am having so much fun writing this!

      LM x

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