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?”