Invitation Accepted Chapter Six

You can find the story from the beginning here

Sir Dylan never felt entirely comfortable in Lord Marius’ pocket domain under Quarry Hill in the centre of Leeds. He was too aware that he wasn’t exactly in the real, human, normal world and that the wide mansion and sweeping gardens were artificial illusions that hung on the whim of an elfen – a crazed, psychopathic, unpredictable, unreasonable elfen. Still, it could be worse. He had heard horror stories from other parts of the UK and there were definitely worse elfen than Lord Marius.

He sat at the polished table in the small council chamber and shifted uneasily in his seat. Elfen were the old elves and fairies, the ones that stole children, blighted crops and lured travellers into marshes. He had never got much sense out of them, but Lord Marius was as near to reasonable as they were going to get. He wasn’t keen on boggarts either. They were ridiculously strong, violent and lacked all impulse control. He’d seen boggarts throw cars at each other for fun. Some of the most feared loan sharks and drug lords were boggarts. Phil Neston wasn’t too bad, though, when it came down to it. He wasn’t bothering with a glamour as he across the table from Sir Dylan and the long, fur-covered, rangy limbs were sprawled as he watched the figures around the table. He looked like a monster from a nightmare as his fangs gleamed in the soft lamplight. Appearances were deceptive, though. While Phil may be the most feared boggart in Leeds and able to keep the locals in order, he was known for keeping a cool head and taking a long view. He grew prize vegetables in his allotment in Roundhay.

Werewolves had always been a natural ally, in Sir Dylan’s experience. They were usually steady, in favour of good order and could be relied on to take a sensible view and not rock the boat. The few strays and mutts that caused trouble on the fringes rarely reached the attention of the local paladin or Knights Templar because a pack dealt with problems in its own, often scarily savage, way. So why was the usually steady pack leader the least stable at this meeting? Mark Davis looked haunted and hollow eyed as he sat at the table, staring blankly into space.

“Sir Dylan, are you sure of this?” Lord Marius asked.

Sir Dylan nodded. “I went with them to The Iron Sickle and it was bad,” he said. He looked across at the werewolf. “I had to use silver, Mark. I’m sorry.”

Mark barely looked up. “If it was necessary, then you did right,” he said.

“How is your wife doing?” Phil asked gently.

Mark shivered. “At least the chemo has finished,” he said. “It’s just radiotherapy now. And she’s responding well.”

“That’s good,” Phil said. “And they can do so much with modern medicine these days, even for non-normals.”

Mark nodded. “But it’s because she wasn’t born in fur,” he said. “I converted her but it left her vulnerable. Sometimes this type of cancer hits those not born in fur hardest.”

“You can’t blame yourself,” Phil said with kind firmness. “Sometimes stuff just happens. Listen, I know that you want to spend time with your wife, and I know that Claire is relying on you. Why don’t you leave this to Rhys? He can take the pack, have a sniff around and get it all sorted.”

Mark managed a glare. “Rhys isn’t going to take them anywhere because I’m the leader of the pack, not him.”

Lord Marius smiled thinly. “You’re the leader for now,” he said.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Mark snapped.

“I told you about this spirit, didn’t I?” Sir Dylan said. “Let me see if I can repeat at least part of what he said. Something like – if you’re not dealing with these strays and you’re not letting anyone else deal with the strays, what are you good for?”

Mark lunged at Sir Dylan, but Phil was ready for him. “Take it easy,” Phil said, blocking the werewolf. “We’re in council, not a boxing ring.”

“And he talked about the Orache Stone,” Sir Dylan said. “It’s some sort of power, but like a curse. It seems to pull the crazies together because when we went to The Iron Sickle, we barely got out in one piece. There’s something holding those mutts together – and I’m using the word properly, Mark. They are strays, they are druggies, they are drinkers, they are bad, bad people. If they get out of control, it’s going to be nasty. Are you going to do something, or do I have to call the Knights Templar in. I can’t deal with it on my own. I could barely manage to get out of there with Bron as my backup.”

“Tell me about Bron,” Phil said. “He’s just some spirit that ended up with a time share in the skinny body of an office junior, right?”

Sir Dylan looked straight into Phil’s deep, dark eyes. “Bron scares me,” he said. “He’s put muscle on the lad over the last month, but there’s still not much of him. It doesn’t matter. He’s got years of experience, he’s fast, he’s clever and he will never, ever give up. I wouldn’t take him on in a scrap. And I’m telling you, Phil, that he’d take on a boggart without hesitation – and I wouldn’t bet against him. He fights nasty and it’s what got us out of The Iron Sickle.” He looked back to Mark. “Bron killed three of those werewolves,” he said. “He slit their throats with a silver knife and he didn’t even flinch. If the numbers had been more even, he would have taken out more. He did you a favour. You should be nice to him.”

“The Orache Stone?” Lord Marius said. He stood slowly and started pacing. “You are sure that is what he said?”

Sir Dylan looked at him narrowly. “You know about it?”

Lord Marius held up a hand and for a moment a brief blue glow enfolded him before he nodded. Suddenly he looked older. “Bron,” he said. “The spirit’s name is Bron and he was…” Lord Marius shook his head. “You would call him a paladin now. He was mighty and feared nothing or no-one. He seduced an elfen, all those years ago, then obeyed his father and married a mortal, a normal. It was heart-breaking to see Anwen fall to pieces over it. I don’t think that she ever recovered.”

Sir Dylan exchanged an uneasy glance with Phil. “He identified himself as Bron, and Violet, from the Dales above Otley, said that they had been lovers. And when we were in Kirkstall Abbey, you could see the glow of the paladin on him, except it was only when Bron was in control. When it was Gareth Peterson, there was nothing.” Sir Dylan hesitated. “Could he be a paladin for Leeds?”

Lord Marius shook his head. “He was only ever the defender of the small area around Otley and north to Norwood and Addingham. But he was fierce.” He looked hard at Mark. “If you don’t take care of these strays, then he will.”

“He has no right!” Mark snapped.

“I think that he has every right if you won’t step up,” Sir Dylan snapped back.

Lord Marius slapped his hand hard on the table. “If the Orache Stone is back, then we all have to take action. We can’t be caught by it.”

“Is it really that bad?” Sir Dylan said. “I mean, it’s brought order to some strays, and I was glad to get out of there, but how bad can it be?”

“Last time it was war,” Lord Marius said. “The Orache stone ran through the wolfkind pack, even through those who should have been better. It brought blood and fire to all the villages and ripped and tore the domain of Lord Skyrack. There was a reason he forbade all to mention the stone. He didn’t want any mortal, any normal, trying to find it.” His eyes were haunted as he looked around the table. “It was a dark time. The elfen who created it, he did out of malice.” Lord Marius frowned. “I can’t remember his name, I think it was taken from us all by Lord Skyrack. I know that Lord Skyrack tortured him for a year and a day as a warning before killing him. And many thought that the elfen had escaped lightly.” There was a long silence.

“Bloody hell,” Phil said eventually. “How did you deal with it?”

“We needed a defender,” Lord Marius said softly. “And Bron answered the call. He fought the last wolfkind that possessed the Orache Stone and killed her, and was the only one with the strength of will to resist picking it up. He died in pain and the Orache Stone was buried with him. Anwen cast enchantments over it, but they must have faded. I think that she is fading.”

“I think she had a new lease of life with Bron last weekend,” Sir Dylan said dryly. “But while I wouldn’t turn my back on Bron if I thought he was after me, he’s still just a skinny kid. The will might be there, but he can’t take on a rogue pack.”

“I’ll deal with them,” Mark said abruptly.

“Have you been listening to a word that’s been said?” Phil asked.

Mark pushed himself to his feet. “This is a werewolf problem and I will provide a werewolf solution,” he said. “Excuse me.” They watched him stalk out.

Phil looked at Lord Marius. “You need to get him back,” he said.

Lord Marius was still pale. “I have always allowed the werewolves their boundaries,” he said. “They have been loyal, capable defenders and good counsellors. I can’t get in his way.”

“He doesn’t know what’s going on,” Phil said.

Sir Dylan nodded. “And from the sound of it, he’ll get taken by the damned stone as well.”

“That is what happened before,” Lord Marius said. He took a deep breath. “Sir Dylan, call on all the aid you can. Tell them that Lord Marius is rousing Leeds to war. Tell them to bring silver.”

Phil nodded. “I’ll get the word out to my lot as well,” he said.

“And I will meet with Bron,” Lord Marius said. “It will be good to see him after all this time.”

Carli smiled at Surjit. “I can’t believe how this day is racing by,” she said. “I’ve been unpacking and I’ve finally got to the colour charts and I keep forgetting to bring them in from the car.”

“Do you need a hand?” Surjit said. “It’s quiet here at the moment and I could do with stretching my legs.”

“Thanks, that would be a help,” Carli said. “They aren’t heavy, but there’s a few boxes.”

“Of course, you moved up from Birmingham, didn’t you?” Surjit said. “Have you found somewhere nice yet?”

Carli wrinkled her nose. “I’m not sure about that,” she said. “I’m in a grotty flat near Elland Road, but it’s a start and I can find somewhere now that I can look around properly.”

Surjit followed her out to the neat Ford. “So, you and Gareth then?” she said. “Are you dating or what?”

Carli looked at her and shook her head. “Gossip – the only thing known to science that travels faster than light,” she said with a grin. She glanced a little shyly up at the offices. “I don’t know. He bought me dinner last night, but we were mostly working.”

Surjit looked appalled. “He took you for dinner and all you did was talk about work!” she said. “That’s awful! I thought he would be better than that.”

“It wasn’t meant to be a date, really,” Carli said, blushing a little, “but it was…” she thought about meeting the burly Sir Dylan and all the oddness that went with it. “I think if it was a proper date then it would be different.”

“Tell me!” Surjit said with a grin as Carli opened the car.

“He’s sort of old fashioned,” Carli said. “I mean, he opened the car door for me and that sort of stuff. I’m not used to that.”

“He’s always been polite,” Surjit said. “I mean, he always says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when I’m handing over the post and stuff, but these last few months, he’s been something else.”

Carli felt the blush growing. “He’s been very sweet,” she said. “And the ideas he’s got are amazing. It’s really fed back into some ideas for designs, and that’s why I need the shades.” She started piling small boxes into Surjit’s arms. “I wish I lived somewhere nicer. I would definitely ask him to come and do some work at my flat.”

“You wouldn’t!” Surjit crowed in delight. “You should just go for it.”

Carli shook her head. “Not unless I was somewhere nicer,” she said. “I mean, what would he think?”

“From what I heard, he doesn’t live anywhere fancy either,” Surjit said.

“And where exactly is that?” a voice said behind them.

For a moment the women froze, then Carli slowly turned around. The man standing so confidently between them and the door to the mill was tall, lean and had a mocking smile on his dirty face. It looked like blood smeared on his thin jogging bottoms and his hoodie was ragged. Carli swallowed. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean, where does the boy wonder live?” the man asked. “I’d like a word with him.”

“Who are you?” Surjit whispered.

“You can call me sir,” he said. “But you can tell the lad that my name is Fang and I’m waiting here for him.” He glanced at Carli. “I’ll wait over there behind the bin store and out of sight of all those interfering cameras. This girlfriend can stay with me to catch his interest, and I won’t lay a paw on her until after our conversation – if he’s quick. So run, girlie, and fetch the boy wonder now.”

Carlie caught Surjit’s eye. “Don’t say his name,” she said. “Just go and get him.” She could see the panic rising in Surjit. “You can do this. You can keep your cool and take the message now.” Surjit nodded, turned and ran into the mill.

Carli stumbled behind Fang as he dragged her around the corner. “You are going to be in so much trouble,” she gasped.

“Nope,” Fang said. “I’m just tidying up some loose ends.” He grinned humourlessly at her and licked his lips. “We’ll deal with that skinny boyfriend of yours and then I’ll show you a whole new world. One that you’ll never want to leave.”

“Surjit will call the police, you know,” Carli said, struggling to sound fierce. “You won’t be able to get away with anything.”

“The police will have to learn,” Fang said. He leaned towards Carli and her stomach churned at the stink of his breath. “I’ve got the power,” he said. “I listened to the pup that slept on top of the barrow and I dug it out. I’m the pack leader now. I’m in charge.” He leaned back. “I’ve got the stone of power. And I’m feeling a lack of bitches, if you know what I mean.”

“No,” Carli said. “I’m not available.”

Without warning, Fang backhanded her across the face. “You will learn to be available,” he snarled. He looked up. “But here’s lover boy. Nothing like a quick snack to get you in the mood, not that there’s much meat on him.”

Carli fought back a sob. This was Gareth, striding across the car park in just his office clothes. He wasn’t even wearing a tie, just a thin jacket over his shirt. She stilled for a moment. He hadn’t been wearing a jacket earlier. It looked like an old one that didn’t fit properly across the shoulders. She caught Fang’s suspicious glance. “Don’t you dare touch him.”

Fang laughed. “What are you going to do? Are you going to knit all over me?” He chucked and worked his shoulders. “Get on your knees and face the wall.”

“No!” Carli cried. Gareth was almost here and she was desperate to distract Fang. “And you can’t make me.”

Fang grabbed her by the hair. “I said, on your knees facing that wall!”

Carli cried out as he swung her around but she saw Gareth approaching and kicked hard at Fang’s knee. He swore and backhanded her again. She crashed against the wall, dazed from his blow and staring at Gareth with his jacket now wrapped around his arm and a knife in front of him.

“Get away from her,” snapped Bron. Carli recognised the sound of the spirit and relief flowed through her. She pushed herself a little clear of the wall and looked around for anything she could use to help.

“Who the hell are you?” Fang asked. He stood a little away from Carli, working his shoulders and sizing Bron up. “You walk into my bar and cause trouble. You interfere with my sweet date. And you walk out of that mill like you own me. Bad mistake.”

Bron didn’t answer but darted in towards Fang, swinging high at his face. Fang snarled and snapped his growing teeth at Bron who caught the attempted bite easily on his jacket-wrapped arm. Bron tangled the jacket around Fang’s head and stepped closer, slicing into him with the knife. Fang howled and fell back, tearing the jacket. “You’ve brought silver, you bastard!” Fang yelled. He glanced behind Bron to where Syed and Jed were leading out the lads from the warehouse and the factory floor, yelling wildly. “I’ll rip your throat out right now!” Fang growled, leaking blood from the slash across his chest and blocking Bron’s swing.

“I don’t think so,” said a new voice. Lord Marius seemed to appear from nothing, standing between Bron and Fang. He held out a hand and the air shimmered between them. “I am the Prince here.”

“Not for much longer,” Fang growled, pulling out a small stone and pushing it back at Lord Marius.

Lord Marius swore loud and long as he skidded backwards. He struggled to keep his feet before gesturing again at Fang.

Fang snarled and his eyes glowed red as he held the stone in front of him. Bron took the chance and stabbed upwards but Fang flinched back, falling hard against the wall next to Carli. “I’ll be back before you know it,” he gasped.

“Not here,” Lord Marius said. “And you will leave when I permit it!”

Fang flung a hand out at Lord Marius and the air exploded. Steam swirled and rolled over Bron, Carli and Lord Marius who were thrown back by the blast. When the steam dissipated, Fang was gone.

Bron shook his head to try and clear the ringing in his ears. He walked slowly to Carli who was wide eyed and hunched against the wall. “Are you okay, lass?” he asked gently. Bron looked at Lord Marius. “I have work to do,” he said flatly. “I’ll meet you here at six in the evening.” He turned back to Carli and gently helped her to stand. As Syed rushed up Bron nodded. “I’m glad that you have our backs,” he said. “It should be okay, but I’m taking Carli home.”

“He’s from The Iron Sickle, isn’t he?” Syed asked.

Bron shrugged as he carefully took Carli’s arm to steer her to his car. “He’s probably headed back there now,” he said. “But I think he’s been frightened off.”

“I shall speak with your master, Luke Ossett,” Lord Marius said as he dusted himself down. “He knows me.” He looked at Syed, Jed and the rest of them. “This place will be protected.” He glanced back at Bron. “It will be very well protected indeed.”

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