Invitation Accepted Chapter Fifteen

You can find the story from the beginning here

“Hey, Mark,” Rhys said, cautiously walking into the office. “I’m so sorry.” He looked at the werewolf sitting hunched at his desk. “The doctor has signed the certificate and the undertakers will be here any time to take Claire. The nurse is with her until then. I thought it was best that she was in a safe place.”

Mark managed a nod. “We don’t want weirdos going after our dead,” he said, his voice hoarse and raspy.

“Everyone’s here,” Rhys said. “All the women are getting together in the kitchen.”

“I suppose it’s what they do,” Mark said.

“The kids were hanging around so I got them tidying the car park and grounds. It will keep them busy so they don’t get caught up in things,” Rhys said.

“That’s good,” Mark said, staring blankly ahead. “We’ll need the place to look smart for the visitors.”

“And I’ve set up a rota to guard Claire until…” Rhys watched Mark warily. “She will need to be guarded until cremation. She won’t be alone.”

“I’ll be there,” Mark said. “I’ll keep watch with them.” He looked at Rhys, devastation in his eyes. “She’s gone. Claire’s dead.” He dropped his gaze to the picture of their wedding that was clenched in his hand. “What am I going to do now?”

“I’m so sorry,” Rhys said. “I’ll ring up the clients for the building work and let them know that there’ll be a lag, but we should be able to keep things mostly on track.” He leaned forward. “The minister will be here soon as well,” he said. “Do you know if Claire had any ideas about her funeral?”

Mark growled. “What sort of question is that? I wouldn’t let her believe that it was terminal. I kept telling her that she’d get better, that she’d be fine.” He looked up and his gaze burned into Rhys. “How could I ask her to think of a funeral when it was so important to think of life.”

“Well, you need to be able to tell the minister something,” Rhys said.

“Why?” Mark said.

“What do you mean?” Rhys asked warily.

“Why now?” Mark said. “If she had held on just a little longer…” He turned to Rhys. “I did everything I could, you know, everything. I held her, I prayed, and I…”

“We all know that you did all you could,” Rhys said. “You were devoted.”

“Claire was everything to me,” Mark said. “She was my heartbeat.” He stood and started pacing. “I wouldn’t have led the pack without her. She kept me whole.”

“She was a good woman,” Rhys said.

“She was sunshine,” Mark said. “She held my heart and was safe. And she did so much with the women.”

“She was a great leader in her own right,” Rhys said. “Everyone loved her.”

“She made such a difference to everyone,” Mark said. “And she took over a lot of the paperwork.”

“She really shook up the office,” Rhys said. “Her handwriting is still all over the papers and files.”

Mark snarled and swept the papers from his desk. “Why couldn’t she last a little longer?”

Rhys stared at the drift of papers swirling down onto the plain carpet. “Mark, sometimes it’s just someone’s time. We can’t answer that,” he said helplessly. “The minister will be here in a few hours. It’ll help to talk to them.”

Mark kicked the wastepaper bin hard. It crashed against the wall, denting the plaster. “All I needed was a little more time and I could have saved her,” he said. He stood there, panting a little. “Why? Why did it go this way, Rhys? Why was the timing so wrong?”

“Mark, it’s hard, I know,” Rhys said soothingly. “But it’s how things are. It’s not easy, it’s never easy, but you just have to keep your fur flat and keep going.”

“And how many wives have you lost?” Mark snarled. “You talk the talk, but what do you know.”

Rhys struggled to hold in his temper. “I know that I’ve not lost someone like this, but I remember losing my parents, and I remember how tough it was,” he said, pushing down his instinctive response. “And when all is said and done, we need to think about Claire. She’d want to see you keeping going. You know how much she cared about the business and the pack.”

“She cared about everything and everyone but her,” Mark said. Abruptly he upturned the desk. “If she had seen a doctor earlier, or if I’d noticed that she was failing before and made her go, it would have been different.”

Rhys looked around the wrecked room. “We can’t go back in time,” he said, slowly picking up the desk. “And you’re the pack leader. You have to show the cubs how it’s done and set a good example.” He glanced at the damaged plaster. “So we have the cremation as soon as possible, then the memorial at the next dark of the moon, as traditional.” He started gathering together the papers. “Stella can sort out the food, if you like. She knows what’s fit for the cremation. I’ll sort out the business side and we’ll just keep putting one paw in front of the other like we always do. And we keep remembering Claire in our hearts.”

Mark stared at him. “You don’t understand,” he said. “You really don’t understand.”

“Claire’s Bible is still in her room,” Rhys said. “You can look up readings before the minister gets here. You know that Claire had a lot of faith. She’d want something nice.”

Mark looked out of the window. “The undertaker is here,” he said. “I’m going to guard Claire. Just sort something out with the minister – you’ll know the sort of thing.” He pushed past Rhys and jogged down the hall to Claire’s room.

Rhys straightened the room and made a note on his phone to get the plaster patched. He leafed quickly through the papers, but there was nothing urgent or even important. All the main business had been coming through him for a while now and it was his desk in the side office that held the critical stuff. He placed the papers carefully back on Mark’s desk before running a weary hand over his face. He could see the shape of the future and it didn’t look good. He didn’t have time for that, though. He had to go and search the internet for readings suitable for funerals on top of everything else.

Kidder opened the door to Carli. “It’s good to see you, but are you sure that you want to be here?” he asked, grinning.

“What’s up?” Carli asked, then winced as Bron’s voice boomed from the living room.

“I’m doing my time and taking my share of the work,” he yelled. “But where is the support looking for Fang? Why am I the only one hunting him down?”

“We can’t risk The Iron Sickle on our own,” Gareth added. “But we’ve tracked all around there.”

“And surely you should be looking at this?” Bron said. “Violet’s dead! You can’t just wink at a murder just because it was an old and fading elfen.”

Kidder beckoned Carli towards the kitchen. “I was making the tea,” he whispered. “Mortimer is hiding in the shed in the garden. He doesn’t do well with arguments.”

“We’ve had our hands full with other things this week,” Sir Dylan said. “We had the vampires off their heads on dragon’s blood and not knowing which way is up and trying to camp in the minster grounds. That took a bit of sorting out.”

“And there was that outbreak of scarabs at the Royal Armouries,” Sir Philip added. “They mostly dealt with it themselves but they needed a bit of cover.”

“Lord Marius should be here tomorrow with Steve Adderson and they can start scrying for Fang,” Sir Dylan said.

“I’m not a fan of magic,” Sir Philip said. “But it may be the best chance of dealing with this.”

There was a long silence. Carli strained her ears as she helped Kidder lay out the mugs on a tray. “I’ll put something aside for Mortimer,” she whispered. “He must be upset.”

Kidder nodded. “I’ve half a mind to join him,” he whispered back.

“That’s where I went wrong then,” Bron said, his voice icy in the study and exquisitely clear and controlled. “I shed my blood and take my knocks for the people here, but you won’t even consider searching for the one who killed my lover. I see where I stand.”

“Hang on,” Sir Dylan said. “Lord Marius will be here tomorrow and that will make all the difference.”

“He’s right,” Gareth added coldly. “We know exactly how important we are to you. But we shouldn’t be bothering Lord Marius. If you are happy to disregard the relationship between Violet and Bron, then it becomes a matter for the Prince, not the paladin. And this is out of Lord Marius’ domain. Those are the rules, aren’t they?”

“It’s not as simple as that,” Sir Dylan said. “This is about the Orache Stone. You can’t ignore that.”

“But you can ignore the death of my lover,” Bron said.

Carli shot a worried glance at Kidder as she got the milk from the fridge. “I really don’t like the sound of this,” she whispered.

Kidder shook his head as he pulled the almond milk from the cupboard. “Neither do I,” he whispered back.

“You cannot consider going to Lady Mary,” Sir Dylan said. “She’s a vampire and to the best of my knowledge has hardly any magic.”

“You were the one who put her in that position,” Bron said. “Did you choose to set her up to fail? Or is she the best person for that title?”

“Regardless, it’s her domain,” Gareth added. “And she can make the decisions about allowing Lord Marius access to the hunt.”

“He really won’t like that,” Sir Dylan said. “He said that he remembers the last time the Orache Stone was around and he isn’t going to let it take hold this time.”

“I remember the time as well,” Bron said. “And he did service enough, but he was just a twig then, a stripling, a youngster at the back of the crowd. And I remember what it took to take the Orache Stone last time. It took everything.”

“We’ll talk to Lady Mary and take it from there,” Gareth said. “We’ll let you know what is decided.”

“You can’t do that!” Sir Philip said. “It affects normals as well. You’ll need the Knights Templar.”

“I don’t think you understand,” Bron said with careful control. “You may be concerned with the Orache Stone and I cannot stop you seeking it. But I am concerned with the murder of Violet, and that is apparently nothing to do with you, your Knights or Lord Marius.”

Kidder jumped at the knock on the door. “Don’t go in there without me,” he whispered to Carli. “It’s getting tense.” He tiptoed past the study and opened the front door. “Ewan?” He stared at the rangy stray that was fidgeting on the step. “Is everything alright? Are you alright?”

Ewan shuddered. “This is a scary place, dog,” he said. “It’s a real scary place.”

“Are you on stuff?” Kidder asked.

“I needed a bit of help to get here,” Ewan twitched a little. “It just keeps me going and it’s not been easy.”

“Don’t stand there, come in,” Kidder said, pulling the scrawny werewolf inside. Ewan may be in cloth but he looked like a rough sleeper and there was enough curiosity from the locals as it was. “What’s the matter, dog? What are you doing here?” He pushed Ewan into the kitchen. “You need coffee.”

Ewan managed a jerky shrug. “I’m fine, just fine,” he said, looking nervously at Carli. “But I had to come and get you. You were the only one who could get through to Fang.”

“You know what Fang did to me,” Kidder said. “I’m not going back there.” He saw Ewan’s doubtful glances at Carli. “It’s okay, you can talk freely. But there’s no way I am going back there. Fang was beyond mad. It was like white jaw and the fits and rabies all mixed together. I’m good here.”

“No, dog, you gotta come back,” Ewan said earnestly. “You were the only one that Fang ever really listened to and he needs it.”

“He listened to me because I wasn’t using,” Kidder said. “And look what happened last time I tried to talk to him.”

“But it’s different, Kidder,” Ewan said. “He’s lost the stone. He’s wanting to get us all together and to go after Violet. She’s the one who stole the stone, he said. He went up there to give her the hard word, because he said she was disrespectful, and then…” Ewan’s face screwed up. “This is hard, dog. But Violet got the stone and now Fang is kind of lost, or crazy but different crazy, and you need to stop him trying to make us be a pack. It’s not right, dog.”

“Would you care to repeat that?” Bron said.

Kidder whirled around, instinctively ready to go to fur before controlling himself. “It sounds like something bad has happened,” he said. “This is Ewan,” he added, waving a hand in the direction of Ewan who was trying to hide behind Carli. “I’d say it was a trap, but Ewan isn’t like that.”

Bron stared coldly at Ewan who was trembling as he retreated towards the cabinets. “Are you sure?”

Ewan gave a yelp as his back hit a cabinet and instinctively flowed into fur. As a wolf, he was skinny and scarred, with thin, dirty fur matted on his back. He cowered, tail between his legs and his ragged ears flat. Kidder put a reassuring hand on Ewan’s head. “It’s okay,” Kidder said.

“What was that about Violet?” Sir Dylan said from behind Bron.

“The kitchen is getting crowded,” Carli said pragmatically. “Perhaps we should move into the living room. Come on, Ewan, it will be fine.” She ignored Gareth’s wary look and ran a hand over Ewan’s ears.

“If you will all wait in the living room, I’ll get Ewan back out of fur,” Kidder said. “But keep it calm, please. He’s not good with people.”

It took time and patience, but eventually Kidder brought Ewan into the living room and coaxed him into a chair near the fire. “It’s okay,” Kidder said. “You can sit here and be safe. Just tell everyone what you told me.”

Ewan shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. “It’s like I told Kidder,” he mumbled. “Fang lost the Orache Stone to Violet. He said she beat him up and chased him away. He wants to get everyone together to get it back, but I thought that Kidder could maybe talk to him because Fang isn’t right in the head.” He thought for a moment. “I mean, he was always a headcase but now he’s gone Dagenham, you know, two stations past Barking.”

“Violet is dead,” Bron said flatly.

“No, mate,” Ewan said. “Fang said that she beat him up and took that stone – and good riddance because it did him no good and it didn’t do much for anyone near him.”

“I found her remains,” Bron said. “She’s gone.”

Ewan twitched. “I don’t know about that, mate,” he said. “But Fang was in a right mess when he got back to The Iron Sickle. He was covered in blood and his paw was half hanging off. It took him ages to heal up.” He glanced nervously around the people watching. “Now he’s just sitting and muttering about the stone. And he wants us all to go with him. But Barky’s already gone back to London and I haven’t seen Fleabag around for a while either. There’s only me and Yobber and Stee that’s around regular, and we can’t deal with an elfen.”

“It sounds like he is telling the truth,” Sir Philip said quietly. He leaned carefully towards the battered werewolf. “Ewan, would you like something to eat?”

Ewan’s eyes darted around the room, waiting to see if it was a trick before cautiously nodding. “I wouldn’t say no to a biscuit or two,” he said.

“Carli, please could you get Mortimer to make something for our friend here,” Sir Philip said quietly. “And then you and Ewan and Mortimer should perhaps stay in the kitchen while we discuss this.” He nodded carefully at Ewan. “But you can leave any time you like,” Sir Philip said. “It’s just that you may like to know if Kidder will be coming around later.”

“And there’ll be food?” Ewan asked.

“I’m sure that there’ll be plenty,” Sir Philip said, nodding at Carli who stood and held the door open for Ewan.

They waited until the sound of Mortimer fussing in the kitchen reached them, then Bron closed the door. “This is all wrong,” he said.

“Ewan is convinced that Fang has lost the stone,” Kidder said. “And he’s terrified of being taken to face Violet.” He glanced across at Bron. “I’m really sorry that you’re having to deal with this,” he added.

“Thank you,” Bron said quietly. He stood and started pacing. “Mark was very clear,” he said. “I remember every word. He said explicitly that Fang had attacked Violet and then fled, taking the stone with him. There wasn’t any doubt. And there was blood all over her room.” Bron ran a hand through his hair. “I thought the blood was from Mark or from Fang where Violet had resisted.”

“Fang was going to see Violet,” Gareth said. “He overheard Mark talking about getting the stone and using it to heal Claire.” He looked at the two Knights Templar. “I overheard the end of the conversation, but I didn’t really think about it. I asked Rhys about it, but he ducked the subject. We should talk to him again.”

“I can be quite persuasive,” Bron said.

Sir Philip looked thoughtful. “We should speak to Fang first,” he said. “As we’re going into Lady Mary’s domain, we need to get her permission and her aid if possible. We should be able to shake some answers out there.”

“If Fang has any sanity left, that is,” Bron said. “It’s a cruel toy, the Orache Stone, and from what Ewan said, there isn’t much of the old werewolf left.” He frowned. “If Fang doesn’t have the stone, if Ewan is right, then Violet had the stone when Mark was there.”

“I’ve known Mark Davies for years,” Sir Dylan said. “He’s always been pretty steady but he’s had a tough time recently with his wife.”

“She died the day before yesterday,” Kidder said quietly. “Rhys was called away to deal with things.”

“We should have a whiteboard in here,” Gareth said. “But let me try and get some sort of timeline. Violet was murdered three days ago. Mark said that he chased Fang away but couldn’t save Violet but Ewan said that Violet chased Fang away and didn’t mention Mark.”

“There’s no point talking to Mark at the moment,” Kidder said. “From what Rhys said, Claire died two days ago and Mark’s been mad with grief. I know that Luke is sorting out normal security, but Rhys wanted me to keep a proper watch over things, like a good wolf, so he handed over to me, in a way.”

“Mark could have taken the stone,” Bron said, his voice drained of all emotion. “If he reached Violet when she was weakened after battle, and she would have been weakened if she had fought the holder of the Orache Stone and won, then…” his voice trailed off.

Unnervingly, Gareth continued. “Mark could have taken the stone for himself, to try and heal Claire. But he would have been too late.”

“That would mean that he murdered Violet,” Sir Dylan said. “And that now involves two domains and two princes.”

“You can’t go rushing in and accusing him,” Kidder said. “It sounds like the pack is a mess after Claire’s death.”

“If Mark has the stone then we can’t leave it too long either,” Bron said. “The stone will be taking over.”

Sir Philip stood and stretched. “We call Lady Mary and then speak to Fang,” he said. “Lord Marius and Steve Adderson will be available tomorrow if we need to ask Mark some hard questions later. I don’t think that there will be anything to gain if we interrupt a funeral.” He reached over and put a hand on Bron’s shoulder. “If it’s the murder of an elfen by a werewolf, we shouldn’t interfere. It’s supposed to be strictly non-normal. But with the Orache Stone being involved, we have a reason to be part of it. Whatever happens, we’ll stand with you.”

Bron swallowed and then nodded. “Thank you,” he said. “He turned and stared into the fire. “I wouldn’t want to interfere with someone else’s grief. Perhaps the madness has taken Fang so far that he’s forgotten he has the damned stone.”

“I’ll give Lady Mary a call,” Sir Dylan said. “And then we can pay a visit to Fang. Things should be clearer after that.”

Invitation Accepted Chapter Fourteen

Image from Unsplash taken by Jannis Lucas

You can find the story from the beginning here

“And you never thought to tell me!” Gareth hissed.

Kidder edged his way towards the door of the empty mill room. “I’ll just go and get…” he said.

“I’ve never asked you about your love life,” Carli said. “What difference does it make?”

“You didn’t tell me that your last boyfriend was a werewolf,” Gareth snarled. “So when I was trying to work everything out, you just smiled and watched me struggle.”

“It wasn’t like that!” Carli snapped back. “By the time that came up I was too busy dealing with Bron.”

“Leave me out of it,” Bron said.

“But you could have said something,” Gareth said.

Kidder bumped into Rhys in the doorway. “You do not want to go in there,” Kidder said.

“They’re going to be bringing up the machinery after lunch,” Rhys said. “I thought I’d have a quick sniff around.”

“When was I supposed to say something?” Carli snapped. “One minute we’re working up to holding hands, the next minute we’re neck deep in this, this, this non-normal stuff.”

“I don’t know,” Gareth growled. “Any time you felt like it. You know, when we were looking after Kidder you could have said something.”

“But Kidder didn’t need to hear an argument then,” Carli said. “He was in a really bad way.”

“I’m not sure that I need to hear an argument now,” Kidder murmured to Rhys, who grinned.

“And I didn’t need to go looking through Sir Philip’s phone to find the map and find pictures of you,” Gareth shouted. “And looking like that!”

Kidder and Rhys’ heads snapped around to stare at Carli, who ignored them.

“You’re only after me for my looks, aren’t you?” Carli cried.

“You didn’t look like the photo when you first came into the mill,” Gareth yelled. “I hardly recognised you under that makeup.”

“I was a design student,” Carli said. “Of course I was going to experiment with my look.”

“You looked like an extra in a cheap vampire porno,” Gareth said bluntly.

Kidder and Rhys winced. “He’s never going to get back from that,” Kidder said.

“At least there’s only one of me in here,” Carli snapped back.

“And then I find, from Sir Philip and not you, that you had to leave Birmingham to get away from an abusive werewolf boyfriend,” Gareth snarled. “What happens if he follows you here? It would be great if I could have a little warning.”

“Because being ambushed by a werewolf is getting a bit run of the mill,” Bron added.

Rhys shrugged. “He’s got a point,” he said.

“You stay out of this,” Carli said. “I can look after myself, you wouldn’t need to get involved.”

“You could look after yourself so well that you needed a Knights Templar escort to get here, which is where you met Sir Philip, and if there was a werewolf problem, it would be me that had to deal with it,” Gareth yelled.

“Okay, I may have had a Knights Templar escort,” Carli said with dignity. “But I was coming up here after finishing my design degree. I’d been speaking to Uncle Luke…”

Silence rippled across the room.

“I didn’t see that coming,” Rhys murmured to Kidder.

“Luke is your uncle?” Gareth asked coldly.

“Listen, there was some sort of row between him and my mother before I was born,” Carli said. “It doesn’t matter, I just need you to hear me.”

“When were you planning on telling me?” Gareth asked.

“I don’t know!” Carli said. “It wasn’t important.”

“And knowing that I should be prepared for a potential werewolf stalker wasn’t important?” Gareth’s voice was icy. “Even if our personal relationship was unimportant to you, I would need to know as the paladin.”

“But he’s not coming,” Carli said. “Gareth, please, listen to me.”

“Are there any more surprises that I need to know as the paladin?” Gareth asked. “Because I don’t think it’s worth asking about the personal level. I can see that there’s nothing left there.”

“It’s not like that!” Carli yelled. “I was desperate, my stepfather was on the verge of war with the local pack leader and then Uncle Luke got in back in touch with mum about closing down the factory.”

“Are you sure about that?” Gareth yelled back, waving a hand around the room. “Because three industrial looms are coming out of storage and getting set up in here and that doesn’t look like the mill is closing to me.”

“No! Stop twisting my words,” Carli cried. “When Uncle Luke found out that I was graduating in clothing design, he thought he could maybe pass things on. I didn’t want anyone to treat me different, so…” She stared at Gareth. “You wouldn’t have taken me for dinner if you’d known.”

“Lass, that’s not the right thing to say,” Bron said. “What you’re saying is that you would have only gone out with Gareth as part of a lie.”

“That’s not what I meant at all!” Carli said. “And when Uncle Luke saw how Gareth was making a difference in sales…”

“No wonder he was so protective of you,” Gareth said. “And what’s that you said about your stepfather. Is he a werewolf as well?”

“He led a subpack over at Dudley,” Carli whispered. “He was good to mum, and like a proper dad to me. I won’t hear a word against him. And my ex, well, once the pack leader realised what was going on, he took action and he won’t be bothering us.”

“You,” Gareth said. “He won’t be bothering you. I don’t think that there’s an us anymore. After all, you’re the niece of a mill owner and likely to inherit the whole thing and your stepfather is important in the non-normal world. I know when I’m out of my league.”

“You’re a paladin, dammit,” Carli shouted. “And you wouldn’t treat me any different.”

“Are you sure about that?” Gareth said. “Even if I didn’t treat you different, would you always be looking out for it?”

“He has a point,” Bron said.

“Stay out of this,” Carli snarled.

There was a long pause as Kidder and Rhys inched away.

“Don’t cry,” Gareth said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

“I know,” Carli sniffed before breaking into full sobs. “But I’m so scared to lose you.”

“I’m going nowhere,” Gareth said softly. “Come here.”

Kidder glanced back and saw Carli leaning against Gareth as he held her close, stroking her hair. “You may need to stall the looms,” he said to Rhys.

Rhys grinned. “They’ll be fine in a minute,” he said. “I can’t remember when I last saw a pair so besotted with each other. They haven’t worked it out properly yet, but they will.”

Kidder nodded, a little shyly. “She’s a really good person,” he said to Rhys. “And Gareth and Bron are decent people. They’ve all been very kind to me and Mortimer.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Rhys said. “Or I’d be having words with them.” His phone rang. “Excuse me.” He strode off to a corner near the stairs.

Kidder peeked back at the couple before ducking quickly back. “It looks like everything’s alright again,” he grinned at Rhys as he returned before seeing Rhys’ expression. “Is everything alright?”

“Claire has died,” Rhys said. “That’s Mark’s wife. I need to get back to the pack. Can you have a sniff around and make sure that Romeo does a check as well, just to be sure?”

“Of course, mate,” Kidder said. “And I’m really sorry. Please pass on my condolences.”

“Thanks,” Rhys said.

Invitation Accepted Chapter Thirteen

You can find the story from the beginning here.

Kidder wandered into the garden, grinning at the Knights Templars. “When is the furniture going to get here?” he asked.

“It should have been here half an hour ago,” Sir Dylan said, checking his watch.

“This isn’t an easy place to find,” Sir Philip said. “I had a few problems getting here myself.”

“I’m glad that Lincoln sent you,” Sir Dylan said. “I think we’ll need all the help we can get. I’m just sorry that the accommodation isn’t the usual standard. I mean, you could stay in Leeds, but it’s better to be nearer the action.”

“Mortimer is having fits,” Kidder said. “He’s in a state about how we are going to eat dinner without a proper dining table.”

“Brownies are always having fits,” Sir Philip said easily. “We’ll manage even if we have to sit on the floor and eat with plates on our laps.”

“It’s not like he’s used to a lot of furniture,” Kidder said. “He’s been in a bit of a bad place, but now he’s been watching videos online about how to lay the table and, well…”

Sir Philip chuckled. “At least you’ll be well fed,” he said.

“I’m going to ring the store,” Sir Dylan said, pulling out his phone.

“It’s a charity shop,” Sir Philip said. “They aren’t going to have a strict schedule. The extremely cheap furniture will be here when it’s here. We may as well relax in the sun while we can.”

Kidder stretched in the late autumn sunshine. “I’m taking my chance to do nothing,” he said. “Mortimer will have us moving the furniture around for hours and then I’ll be busy moving stuff around at work next week.”

“How’s it going?” Sir Dylan asked. “Have you had any more problems with Fang?”

Kidder shook his head. “And Rhys has calmed down a little,” he said. A shadow passed across his face. “But the sooner we get Fang sorted, the happier I think everyone will be.”

“He’ll get sorted out,” Sir Dylan said. “We won’t let him get away.”

“Gareth is coming,” Kidder said, tilting his head and grinning again. “Wait until you hear Gareth and Bron arguing, Sir Philip. It’s weird.”

Gareth walked around the corner and out from behind the untidy hawthorn hedge. “There’s a van stuck at the bottom of the lane,” he said. “And it’s blocking the way. I can’t get past it. Apparently someone bought all the furniture in a charity shop and paid extra for delivery.”

“How can it be stuck?” Sir Dylan said.

Sir Philip looked at him. “Let me see, a volunteer driver in an unfamiliar, overloaded van down a narrow lane. What could possibly go wrong?”

“If it’s definitely for us, then we need to give her a hand,” Gareth said. “I don’t think that the van is well loaded, and if we just get a few bits out then it could make all the difference.” He looked at them. “How much furniture did you buy?”

“Not enough for Mortimer,” Kidder chuckled.

Sir Philip laughed. “We got so much that the charity shop threw in some tray cloths and doilies to help the deal,” he said.

“Great,” said Bron, making Sir Philip start. “We’re going to have a house full of young men but set out like an old lady’s place.” He shrugged. “If it’s warm, dry and clean then I’ll take it.” The phone in his pocket rang. “Excuse me.” He wandered off into a corner of the unkempt garden.

“Joking aside, sirs, but how much did you buy?” Kidder asked.

Sir Dylan shook his head. “I wanted to go to IKEA,” he said. “We’ve got a reasonable budget and we need practical, not fancy. But I was overruled.” He looked pointedly at Sir Philip.

“It seemed the right thing to do,” Sir Philip said. “We had a lot of money to spend and now it’s helping out a charity.”

Sir Dylan grimaced. “We got a lot of furniture,” he said. “But I’m sure that we’ll need it. I’m not sure about the tray cloths, though.”

“We have a problem,” Bron snapped, striding back to them. “That was Mark, the werewolf. He went up to see Violet and it looks like Fang paid her a visit before he got there. I’m on my way there. Follow me when you get the damn lane cleared.” Bron started running down the lane. “And get that Steve Adderson to turn up,” he yelled over his shoulder. “In case Fang comes back.”

“Get Mortimer,” Sir Dylan snapped to Kidder. “We need to get that lane cleared.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and pressed speed dial. “Steve, it’s Sir Dylan. I’ll send you the co-ordinates. It could be our chance.”

Bron raced up to Violet’s cottage and then paused, controlling his breathing with difficulty. The garden had seen a fight. Violet’s beloved plants had been crushed and tossed in some sort of struggle. The door hung from the hinges, swinging slowly. Bron approached carefully. “Violet, are you there?”

“She’s gone,” a voice said.

Bron headed to the sound of the voice. “Is that you Mark?” he asked. “And where has Violet gone.”

“I mean, she’s…” Mark’s voice trailed off and Bron heard him take a deep breath. “She’s dead, Bron. I was too late.”

“No,” Bron said with iron control. “The elfen do not die so easily.” He strode into the cottage and the truth hit him like ice.

“Fang was all over her,” Mark said. “I tried my best, but…”

Bron looked at Mark coldly. The werewolf had a lot of the marks of battle, the scrapes and bites slowly fading and the adrenaline was still seeping out of him. “You’re the leader of the pack,” Bron said. “And you couldn’t stop Fang.”

Mark snarled but then shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I heard that you and Violet were close. Fang has that stone. I drove him off, but I was too late. Violet had been too badly hurt.”

Bron looked around the fading cottage. The colours were starting to seep out of the wall and dust was settling. He could see all of the signs of a fight. The loom in the corner had been shattered and the warp had been tangled, caught in the battle. Ashes from the fire were scattered on the hearth rug and furniture was upturned. He reached out to a fading throw, tangled in the remains of a smashed chair. And mixed in with the chaos was a drift of dead leaves and splashes of vivid blood. “There’s been a battle here, alright,” Bron said. “Violet was fading, but she would not have gone quietly.”

Mark stared at him. “I was holding her. I got Fang by the throat but he wriggled out and went through the window,” he said, nodding at the window. “But Violet was hurt and I tried to hold her.”

“When elfen die, they return to nature,” Bron said. “They go back to leaves and dust and air.” His fists clenched and unclenched. “We should get out of here.”

Mark looked around. “Is it cursed?” he asked.

Bron shook his head. “Violet’s spirit filled this place,” he said. “Now she’s gone, it’s not so stable. Think – isn’t it a lot dimmer than it used to be? And look at the blood, look how bright it is next to the floor and walls.” His shoulders slumped for a moment. “The cottage will follow Violet. It’s best that we get out of here.”

Bron didn’t wait for Mark but strode out of the cottage and into the autumn sunlight. The garden, already fading and ready for winter, was losing what was left of its vigour and withering as he looked.

“I’m so sorry,” Gareth said into the back of Bron’s mind. “I know that you cared.”

“Thanks,” Bron said. “She had faded, and she was often silly, but…” He walked slowly down the cracked path and stepped over the crumbling gate and into the lane. He glanced up and down, checking for trouble. He had to show the boy how to behave like a man. He needed to be measured and keep his head clear of the red rage filling him. “She was my last true link with the old days, my old life.”

“Do what you need to do,” Gareth said. “Be who you are. I can feel the pain coming from you like heat from a furnace. I may not be an old warrior, but I know that you can’t bottle this up.”

Bron sensed Mark behind him. “Which way did Fang go?” he asked.

“He went out of the window,” Mark said. “He must have overheard me talking with Rhys in the mill. I talked about Violet having some control over the stone. He must have been worried.” He turned back to the cottage and squinted. “You said it would fade, but I didn’t expect that.”

Bron glanced back briefly. The outline of the cottage looked blurred and smudged, like it was seen through thin smoke or a heat haze. “Violet had lived here for many centuries,” he said. “It was mostly her will in the walls, keeping it standing for all these years. It was part of her. But which way did Fang go? That’s the important question.” He frowned as a car raced up the lane and pulled up next to the gateposts. “What do you want, wizard?”

Steve got out of the car and met Bron’s dark gaze before flicking past him to the cottage. “I see,” he said softly. “I’m sorry that I was too late.”

Bron turned back to Mark. “Which way did Fang go?” he asked again.

“He went to the north,” Mark said. “But that must have been fifteen minutes ago and he could move fast in the countryside, especially if he went to fur. He could have gone anywhere.”

“You can’t take on the Orache Stone,” Steve said. “And that’s probably all that’s left of Fang. You can’t take it one on one. We need to work as a team.”

“You’re mistaken, wizard,” Bron said. “I was the one who dealt with it last time.”

“It killed you last time,” Steve said. “And the stone wasn’t destroyed. It’s different now. Lord Marius has learned a lot over the years, and the Knights Templar are better trained than most would believe. Let us help you.”

“Have you ice in your veins?” Bron asked. “Can you turn away from something like this? Could you stop yourself from going straight after the one who killed your love.”

Steve met Bron’s glare without flinching. “I’ve always waited,” he said. “It wouldn’t help anyone if I went in without thinking and made everything worse. Or do you want Fang to take you as well as Violet, and Gareth with you?”

“No fight is without risks,” Bron growled.

“We can avoid the worst of the risks,” Steve said impatiently. “We can put plans and fallback plans in place. We have a better chance of taking down Fang and the Orache Stone as a group. It needs more than just brute force.”

“Brute force worked last time,” Bron said.

“Did it?” Steve asked, his voice icy. “Last time you ended up dead and the village was without a defender for decades. The people there suffered. And you only managed to use brute force because of magical help from Violet – who isn’t here. Magic won’t work on its own and neither will brute force, not if we want all of us walk away in one piece.”

“I’ll back you no matter what,” Gareth said in the back of Bron’s mind.

Bron stared at Steve for a long moment, then nodded. “I want the best chance of getting rid of Fang,” he said. “I’ll play by your rules. But I’m still going to track Fang.” He tapped the phone in his pocket. “I’ll keep in touch.” And, with a quick look around, he disappeared into the forest behind the crumbling cottage.

About Steve Adderson

I think the best way to describe my writing career is erratic. I’ve spoken how Forgotten Village ended up as an accidental self publish, and that I had the original inspiration for King’s Silver back in 1997, over twenty years before it made it to print. I have no idea to this day how I ended up being inspired by steampunk (though I’m glad I was) and, to be honest, I have no idea what I’m going to do next.

Steve Adderson was a character that I stumbled into back in 2013. I followed a writing prompt from Write on the Edge for a story prompted by a picture and limited to 500 words. Something about Steve Adderson seemed to work and so he ended up in the response to the next prompt, and the one after that, and the one after that. In the end, I had quite a collection which I pulled together and called Across a Misty Bridge. It was posted in a few places and added on to bits and pieces but it never made it to its own book. After that story ended, he became co-owner of The White Hart and found himself never far away from trouble. I have a soft spot for Steve.

After some very kind comments about Steve on the last piece of fiction, I went back and looked at his story. I’m a much better writer now than I was back in 2013 (though there is still plenty of room for improvement), and I’m not necessarily limited to 500 words. I would love to hear if you would be interested in me going back and rewriting the original series, giving it a bit more life and perhaps adding a chapter or two. It’s almost like I feel that Steve would deserve it. I may also have an idea or two for some stories about him as the main hero, which I also think he very much deserves.

I’m a little hesitant as it’s not new stuff, but it would be very carefully refurbished and shined up. With the shock of losing Three Furies Press, I’m shaking loose a lot of stuff and getting the old stuff properly organised to go forward into the new stuff with a little more energy. Giving Steve a little more polish would be part of that process.

As a reminder, here is the original from 22nd April 2013.

Exchange on a Bridge

Steve Adderson, call centre worker and now dealer with the Faerie Realm stepped nervously onto the bridge.  It was the same concrete bridge it had always been, however now there was a tall man in a motorcycle helmet standing next to his dark motorbike in the centre of the bridge.

The motorcycle rider removed his helmet.  “Are you Mr Steve Adderson?” He asked. 

Steve swallowed nervously.  What had possessed him to deal with someone who described themselves as elfen?  “I’m Steve Adderson.” He said, his voice almost breaking with fear.  “Are you Lord Marius?”

“I am indeed.” There was a hint of impatience. “Have you brought it with you?”

Steve swallowed again.  “Yes, I have.”

“And payment has cleared in your account?” Lord Marius asked.

“No offence, but when I was first contacted I read up a bit and they mentioned fairy gold…” Steve took a deep breath.  Lord Marius was a lot taller than him, and he had a dangerous edge that went beyond the trappings of a biker.

“As a kindness, and hoping for a speedy transaction, I will share some small information.” Lord Marius leant casually against the railings of the bridge.  “If you are dealing with the elfen, never take food, or drink or cash.  Cheques are usually safe enough, though nothing in any path is guaranteed.  And this treasure that you bring me, which has been bartered hard for, well, that is an illustration of elfen foolishness.  You were contacted by Lord Cerdig.” Lord Marius sighed.  “He does not see a great deal of the sunlight realm.  He ventures here rarely and his influence is waning, particularly amongst the younger members of his court.  He seeks to bolster his position so he finds something that his more powerful neighbouring prince covets to buy aid and support.” Lord Marius shrugged.  “However this neighbour is in the grip of a strange obsession.  It is a curse of our kind.  He is quite desperate for treasure such as you carry, no matter how odd it seems to others, he pines for it.  So Lord Cerdig offered highly for it, lest another find it first and win it from you.”

“I was a bit surprised.” Steve said.

“Your treasure has some value in your world, but it is not the same value as that to a desperate elfen prince, buying the heart’s desire of a much needed ally.” Lord Marius sighed.  “Please give it to me.”

Steve hesitantly handed it over.  Lord Marius took out the object, examined it with careful fingers and then finally nodded. 

“It is exactly as described.” Lord Marius said.  “Here is a bonus from Lord Cerdig, all the papers are in order.”

Steve’s reflexes caught the car keys that Lord Marius threw at him.  The very new BMW car keys.  And then he watched Lord Marius ride off into the mist carrying with him a package that would cost, at the best valuation, one fiftieth of the price of the second hand BMW he had been looking at longingly in the local showroom.  And some elfen was now the owner of a 1936 Rupert Bear Annual, mint condition.  He held up the keys to the growing light.  What was the car equivalent of fairy gold? 

Please let me know what you think – time for a spruce up?

My Writer’s Life 3rd May 2023

Look what I made! I’ve been sorting out a pic for the new story for Royal Road and I managed to do this! I’m speaking to someone incredibly talented who will do the proper one as things work out, but I think that this will do for a place holder. I’m still surprised that I managed anything like this! I fail at pictures.

Going forward, fiction will be posted here and on Royal Road. You can see where I’ve started here. I hope you feel able to have a look around the site. There’s a lot of interesting stuff on there, and some great stories. I’ll put chat and news on here and Substack, so that you can get a notification if you want one.

I’m looking forward to the Coronation. Yes, I am a loyal subject of King Charles III, and my ancestors would turn in their various graves and resting places if I didn’t show respect, but I also admit that I’ll be watching it as a writer. I’ll want to know what happens and when and there’s a chance that it will suggest ideas for scenes in books later on.

Image of Charlemagne and Einhard from WikiCommons

And I keep wondering about the coronation of Charlemagne as the first Holy Roman Emperor. He’d gone into Italy and down to Rome to help out the pope at the time, Pope Leo III. Apparently the Pope crowned him Holy Roman Emperor in a sort of ambush, without warning Charlemagne before hand. And apparently Charlemagne tried to refuse it. It’s hard to believe that a wily operator like Charlemagne wouldn’t know what was coming, and that he wouldn’t spot a large, shiny crown hanging around as he knelt to pray. On the other hand, being crowned the Holy Roman Emperor meant that Charlemagne and his successors kept getting dragged into Italy’s very complicated and fragmented diplomacy and regular warfare. And what the pope bestowed, the pope could take away and the struggle for authority didn’t encourage peace. The conflict between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV, for example, was epic.

Saturday will mark a change, a point in British history, a moment when it is officially done and seen to be done. I’m looking forward to it immensely (and I’ll be taking notes)

Invitation Accepted Chapter Twelve

You can read the story from the beginning here

“What the hell did you do last night?” Gareth groaned as he gingerly lowered himself onto the chair at the kitchen table.

“It’s complicated,” Bron said. “And it’s my turn to take the tea so it’s black with enough sugar.”

Gareth groaned again. “Okay, just get it over with. And what do you mean, complicated?”

“I have already searched the internet on removing bloodstains,” Mortimer said primly as he cracked eggs into the pan. “There shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Bloodstains?” Gareth said. “Thank goodness for long sleeved shirts. They’re going to be asking questions at work.” He rolled up his sleeve and inspected the long, sore gash along his forearm. “How badly did it bleed?”

“Perhaps you should keep a notebook about what each has done when in charge of the body,” Mortimer said, moving bacon from the rack to the warmed plates.

“He doesn’t want evidence,” Gareth said darkly. “And I think that there’s times I don’t want to know.” Bron chuckled and poured himself a mug of tea.

Kidder bounced in, glowing from his morning run. “That bacon smells great!” he said. “Hey, which of you broke up the fight at the boggart birthday party last night? Everyone’s talking about it.”

“Boggarts?” Gareth said. “But they’re really dangerous.”

Kidder stared at Gareth’s damaged arm. “Oh yes! They’re crazy strong and not usually good with reason, especially if they’ve been drinking.” He peered closer as he dropped into his own chair. “You should see a doctor about that. It looks like it should have been stitched.”

“I can’t go to a doctor like this,” Gareth said. “I think they have to report anything like knife or gunshot wounds, or anything with violence.”

“It wasn’t a knife,” Bron said. “It was a broken bottle. The party had spilled out of the house to the local shops and it got a bit boisterous. A cut from a piece of broken glass can’t be suspicious. It’s practically a household accident that could happen to anyone.” He took a long drink of his tea.

“It’s so weird hearing both of you speak out of the same body,” Kidder said. “I’ll never get used to it. And that slash must have hurt.”

“I was a bit busy at the time,” Bron said. “I didn’t really notice. Thank you, Mortimer.”

Mortimer smiled as he placed three plates on the table together with an extra plate for the surplus eggs and bacon and a rack with toast. His was a small portion but both Gareth and Kidder had loaded plates in front of them. “It’s important to start with a good breakfast,” he said. “And the food here is wonderful.”

Kidder looked at him thoughtfully, then down at the bacon, eggs, mushrooms and toast on the plate. “You’re a great cook,” he said.

“We never had eggs in the domain,” Mortimer said. “And bacon was only for Saturday. This abundance is amazing.”

“Thank you for cooking,” Gareth said. “Carli and I will take you shopping one night this week so you can get an idea of what’s available.” He winced as he stretched to reach the toast.

“You really need to see a doctor,” Kidder said. “Why don’t you ask Sir Dylan. He must know of someone who knows what they’re doing but that wouldn’t ask questions.”

“What happened with the boggarts?” Gareth asked, buttering the toast.

“It wasn’t anything serious,” Bron said. “A couple of youngsters had been drinking a little hard and were getting a bit rowdy. They calmed down after I dropped them on their heads a few times and had a word with their grandmother.” He grinned. “She laid the law down and promised that she’d send some snacks as compensation.” He looked at Mortimer. “She said that she owned a bakery so someone may be dropping off a box of bread or something. I’m sure that we can use it up.”

Kidder nodded enthusiastically as he polished off his last mouthful of bacon and started reloading his plate. “I can always find room for a sandwich,” he said.

Mortimer took a small mouthful of egg and stared as Kidder piled his plate again. “I’ll purchase further bacon,” he said. “And I don’t think that there will be a problem using an extra loaf or two.”

“I need the energy,” Kidder said, adding another egg from the serving dish. “They’re opening up the third floor and I’m helping them move the machinery into place.”

“Take it steady and don’t let them strain you,” Bron said. “You’re still not much more than a cub.”

Kidder grinned. “It’s all on hydraulic lifts,” he said. “And Brian and Keith are helping out, and they’re boggarts. The warehouse guys are helping as well, so we shouldn’t have a problem. Then the engineers will be testing the kit for the next few days. It’s going to be amazing. Luke said that I’ll get trained up on the looms.”

Gareth nodded. “Carli was talking about it. She has a buyer coming today to talk about the designs for the blankets.” He winced again. “I’ll have to give Sir Dylan a call about the doctor today. Anyway it’s turning into one of those complicated things. Lord Marius wants to buy blankets to trade from his domain. There’s some sort of complicated arrangement going on with them owing each other favours. A guy called Steve Adderson is coming to make the deal and check out the patterns and to confirm prices. The sales team aren’t happy that they’re missing out on commission on this, but it sounds like Steve will put some business their way.”

Kidder’s eyes were wide. “Steve Adderson is a scary guy,” he said. “I mean, really scary. He’s the son of Lord Marius and he knows everyone and I heard that he fried a load of strays with lightning over in York.” He looked at Gareth. “You won’t let me be alone with him, will you? I mean, you’re supposed to protect normals not us, but you wouldn’t turn your back on me?”

“I’ll be there for you,” Gareth said, “And I’ll let Carli know as well. Besides, it’s just sales. There won’t be any trouble.”

“You’re one of us now,” Bron said firmly. “We look after our own. And this Steve Adderson is some sort of shaman, is he?”

“I don’t know about that,” Gareth said. “But he’s red hot as a salesman. He had Luke beat and got a really good deal for all wool, all natural dye blankets in weird patterns. I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s going to be busy with Carli and the designs.”

“As long as it’s only designs he’s talking about,” Bron said.

Kidder shook his head. “I’ve heard all about him. He’s married and they have a shop in York. I think that Carli will be fine.” He frowned for a moment. “But even if you’re not there, I’ll look after her.”

“That’s the spirit,” Bron said. There was a knock on the door. “I’ll get it. Mortimer – make sure that you eat enough, okay. You’re working hard here.”

Kidder nodded as Bron headed for the door. “He’s right, you know,” he said. “You’ve been amazing. The house is getting decorated and everything’s clean and tidy. You’ve even started working on the garden, and that’s a mess.”

“I hope that I can give satisfaction,” Mortimer said. He looked anxiously at Kidder. “If I don’t get things right here, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

For a moment, all of Kidder’s fears showed on his face. “I know what you mean,” he said. “If I get it wrong here…” His voice trailed off.

“Hey, you two, give us a hand,” Bron yelled from the hall.

Kidder and Mortimer exchanged a glance and then went out into the hall. Kidder chuckled. “How much trouble did the boggarts cause?” he asked, looking past Bron to the four young boggarts standing nervously at the door.

“We’re really sorry,” one said. “And Gran has told us to tell you that she’ll keep you in mind.”

“You don’t want us to bring it in,” another boggart said. “It’s just that my mam said that I should never go into a Paladin’s Citadel, just in case.” The other boggarts nodded in nervous agreement.

“It’s okay, lads, we’ve got it,” Bron said breezily. “And don’t worry about it. It’s all done and dusted and forgotten. Just keep your heads next time, okay, and don’t try attacking the big dumpster bins at the back of the supermarket again. Even if you think they’re fighting back.” He chuckled. “And if you have to, and you think that they’re winning, walk away.”

The young boggarts flushed with embarrassment and shuffled away. Bron turned to Kidder and Mortimer. “Can you give me a hand with these,” he said. “I hope you know how to use it all up.”

Kidder stared. “Wow!” he said. “You must have really impressed the grandmother.”

“This is a challenge, though a welcome one,” Mortimer added. “I’m not quite sure where I’ll store it, but I’ll not let a crumb be wasted.”

Kidder looked at the four large boxes overflowing with a dozen varieties of bread, together with pastries, cakes and biscuits. The scent rising from them was almost intoxicating. “I’ll do my share to help you out with that,” he said.

Rhys led Mark up onto the third floor. “This place is huge,” he said. “And I swear that I haven’t found half of the corners.” He turned and looked at the pack leader. “If we are going to give proper security, we need a team. Anything could come crawling out at night.”

“We’re not proper security, dammit,” Mark said. “There’s a paladin here, for fur’s sake. You’re here to get Carli away from the paladin. Anything else is a bonus.”

“I can’t do that,” Rhys said. “She’s absolutely besotted by Gareth. She hasn’t even noticed me.”

“I know what sort of a dog you are,” Mark sneered. “You’ve had bitches all over the county following you. She would have been licking your hand if you had made a proper effort.”

Rhys’ lips curled. “I’m no dog, not like that,” he snapped. “And I know the orders. But I’m not forcing a woman and I’m not a murderer. Not when it’s just a bystander.”

“You’ll do as you’re told!” Mark snapped back.

“Or what?” Rhys growled. “You don’t even know where the new constructions are starting, you haven’t turned up to any of the planning meetings, you don’t know anything about the new supplier and you weren’t the one dealing with complaints to the neighbours up on the project in Armley. You owe me! While you’ve been hovering around Claire, I’ve been holding everything else together. Don’t push me.”

“I’ll give you a lesson,” Mark snarled. “Do you think that you’re up to my whiskers yet? I’ll send you off yelping and knowing your place. Deal with Carli, that’s all I’m saying.”

Rhys laughed bitterly. “I don’t think so,” he said. “How often are you in the gym? How often are you part of the training runs? When did you last lift a load of bricks? You are getting weak, Mark, and nobody is fooled. When it came to the scrap in The Iron Sickle, it wasn’t you who pulled everyone’s tails out of the fire. Face reality, Mark. You’re not the fighter you once were.” He fought to control his temper. “Ask Lord Marius for help. You know that he’d be there for us. We’ve been there often enough for him.”

“Violet will give me control of the stone, but only if I get rid of Carli,” Mark said. “She said it can heal Claire. We’ve got to get Carli out of the way. So do your job, dog.”

Rhys shook his head. “Mark, are you sure that this is what Claire would want?” he asked. “If there’s anything there of her to ask? There’s just a shell left, and it’s twisting in permanent pain. I hear her sobbing at night.” He grabbed hold of Mark’s arm. “Are you doing this for Claire or for you?”

“What’s this about Violet?” a voice said from the shadows.

The two werewolves whirled around as Fang strolled out. Rhys stepped up to him. “Get out of here.”

“Or what?” Fang said. “I’ve got the stone.” He held the stone up in front of him. It gleamed darkly under the harsh strip lights.

Rhys could feel the energy flowing from it in icy waves. “Congratulations, you have a shiny pebble. Get out.” He took another step forward. Behind him he could hear a low growl starting in Mark’s throat and his heart sank. The old leader was ready to lose control and this wasn’t the time.

“Do you really think that Violet can control this?” Fang said, holding the stone up to let its gleam spread. Blue and red tinted gleams of light sparked in the darker corners of the room. “Nothing controls this,” he said. “Not me, not anyone. I can only serve and feel that deep power through me like fire filled with silver.” His eyes were wild. “You are an inconvenience to me. I’ll deal with you first.”

“Keep your fur flat,” Rhys hissed to Mark. “Play it canny.” He stared into Fang’s mad eyes. “Do you think that you can face both of us? Get out.”

“If you thought you could take me, you would have already sprung,” Fang laughed. “Weaklings.” Mark leapt.

Rhys went to fur and followed Mark, snapping at Fang’s arm as it was flung up at Mark. Then everything went wild. Rhys’ fur bristled as magic and static filled the room and he was flung violently against the wall, landing hard and winded. He could hear Mark’s howls as he scrabbled to get on his paws, fighting to catch his breath.

“Does puppy want to play?” Fang sneered, then yelped as Mark caught Fang’s wrist in his jaws. Another wave of magic ricocheted around the wide mill and the strip lights flickered wildly. Rhys could hear Mark’s snarls through the ringing in his ears and forced himself upright.

“I’m coming, Mark,” he barked, and launched himself into Fang’s side, knocking him backwards and loosening the grip Fang had on Mark’s throat. This time Fang didn’t bother with a blow. Instead magic rang through him, burning into his mind and sparking out of his fur. His legs buckled under him and his paws skidded wildly on the concrete floor. He heard Mark yowl and then a thud. Rhys shook his head and tried to focus his blurred vision. They couldn’t fight this. They needed to get out of here. They needed to warn the pack…

“Stop!” an unfamiliar voice cried.

Rhys pulled himself onto his paws and headed towards Fang. He couldn’t let a bystander be hurt. “Give it up, Fang,” he growled.

“I have the stone,” Fang yelled, his voice high and cracking.

“No!” The unknown voice rang with authority.

Rhys staggered again, swaying and stumbling as the swirling magic was sucked out of the atmosphere and the static left his fur. His vision cleared and he could see Mark, in fur, lying sprawled and stunned against a wall. Fang was still in cloth, holding up the Orache Stone as he glared at the newcomer who was flanked by Gareth. Gareth looked purposeful and was holding a large silver knife, but it was the stranger that caught attention. A slim man in a sharp business suit, he held up his hand, multicoloured magic swirling around it, and he was glaring at Fang. “Get out,” he said quietly.

Fang stared at him with baffled fury. Rhys pulled himself onto his paws and got ready to spring, but Fang swore, flourished the stone and, with a sharp crack, disappeared.

Gareth rushed over to Rhys. “Are you okay?” he asked.

Rhys got out of fur and nodded. “I’m fine.” He looked over to Mark. “My pack leader…”

The stranger was leaning over Mark. “I think he’s just stunned,” he said, running a hand over Mark’s well furred flanks. “If we give him a moment, he should be fine.” He looked up at Rhys. “I’m Steve Adderson. What the hell was that?”