Gareth flew across the room and landed hard against the wall, wheezing as he slid down to the floor. He pushed himself to his feet and charged back to the fight. Beside him, Tyler snapped at a ghostly leg. He had gone to fur early on and was now snarling at the shapes forming around the central figure. Gareth body slammed into a disturbingly solid ghost before it could land on Tyler’s back then kicked out hard at the figure advancing on Darren. It barely staggered. Vaguely aware of Tyler’s growls and an unearthly shriek behind him, Gareth punched into the figure’s head and it reeled away, collapsing onto a display cabinet before fading away.
“Relinque hoc loco et numquam redire!” snapped Darren as he made the sign of the cross over the small statuette. “Relinque!”
There was a loud crack, a sharp smell of sulphur and then silence. Gareth looked around cautiously as he picked himself up and dusted himself down. Tyler got out of fur and reached for his trousers. “That was bad,” Tyler said.
Darren held up his hand and then prayed quietly for a few moments before turning around, relief on his sweat-streaked face. “That was tough,” he said. “You can come out now, Mrs Beasley.”
A thin faced woman crept into the shattered living room. “Thank you, vicar,” she said, looking around. “Is everything alright?”
Darren nodded. “There’s no trace of anything left in the statuette,” he said. “And if there was anything else affected in your collection, it would have shown. You can continue with your display.”
Mrs Beasley looked around her tiny collection and then back at the prize exhibit of a small Roman statue. “Actually, I think I may take up gardening,” she said. “How much do I owe you for this?”
Darren wearily shook his head. “Please, just remember me in your prayers, and if you have anything to give, please give it to a good charity.” He swayed slightly and Tyler quickly grabbed his shoulder.
“I’ll call in next week, if that’s convenient,” Gareth said. “I’ll just quickly check that things are staying quiet. And you have my phone number if anything else happens.” He looked with concern at Darren’s pale face. “We had better be going.”
He helped Tyler guide Darren out to the Range Rover and took the keys from Darren’s unresisting hand. “We need to get back,” Gareth said. “And Darren needs some decent food.”
“I’m fine,” Darren said, sagging into the passenger seat.
“I’ll get back to Lady Mary and give a report,” Tyler said. “She’s been dealing with her own problems up on the moors so she’ll be grateful that you’ve handled this.” He ran a weary hand over his face. “We can’t go on like this.”
Gareth glanced at Darren who looked ready to drop from exhaustion. “We should meet up later. We’re just reacting at the moment. We need to get ahead of things.”
Tyler nodded, exhausted. “But getting ahead of things means getting a breathing space to make plans.” He held up a hand. “I’ll talk later.”
Jasmine sat next to Darren, a frown on her lovely face as she watched him devour a large vegetarian curry with a huge baked potato. “You can go on like this, love,” she said. “It’s relentless.”
Darren chewed around a mouthful before answering. “There aren’t many options,” he said. “It’s the damned Orache Stone. It’s stirring things up.” He shovelled in another mouthful of baked potato. “And it’s stirring up the bad stuff. I can’t turn my back.”
Gareth nodded wearily. “It’s bad,” he said. “I have bruises on my bruises, but we can’t let innocent people get hurt.”
“Was Bron there?” Kidder asked.
Gareth shook his head. “He thinks I need to get some practice on my own,” he said.
“The lad did pretty well,” Bron said. “Once he learns how to not get hit, he’ll be fine.”
“And you’re so good at that,” Gareth said with a tired grin as he took a forkful of the curry. “Don’t think I haven’t seen the evidence of your fights.”
“That’s different,” Bron said. “I have evidence of mighty battles. You wait until you catch up.”
“I’m not in a hurry,” Gareth said.
“And that’s just as well,” Bron retorted.
Darren managed to hide his own grin but looked around the room. For once, everyone was home. Mortimer was bringing in extra curry and a pile of naan bread. Kidder was sitting next to Gareth at the table, slowly eating his own portion and looking concerned. He’d been caught up in a few scraps and Darren was worried about the young werewolf getting in over his head. Sir Philip was sat at Darren’s right, keeping his own counsel. There were some nasty scratches on the handsome face and Sir Philip was sticking to using his left hand after an unpleasant dislocation damaged his right shoulder. Both Jasmine and Carli had come to visit, and while Carli had the sense to keep out of trouble, Darren’s heart twisted with worry at the thought of Jasmine getting caught up. Jasmine was a werewolf and could look after herself, but she was so dear to him. He couldn’t bear the thought of her getting hurt. He turned as there was a knock at the door. “Please, not another incident.”
“I’ll go,” Mortimer said, placing the platters on the table and hurrying out.
“I’ve been in touch with Lincoln,” Sir Philip said. “They haven’t much to give but they’re sending what they have.” He hesitated. “And they’re talking about sending in regulars.”
“The last thing we need is squaddies freaking out in the middle of a scrap,” Darren said wearily. “I don’t have the time to get them through it.”
“We didn’t get much help, did we?” Sir Philip said, looking Darren in the eye. “We didn’t have a choice. We managed.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Darren said. “I know a few who didn’t manage at all. We shouldn’t risk people breaking as part of a numbers game.”
“It’s Lady Mary and Tyler,” Mortimer said. With a sudden burst of courage, he turned to Lady Mary. “Please join us in the dining room. It’s imperative that Sir Philip and Darren have something to eat. And I can offer you something if you wish.”
Lady Mary managed a weary smile. “A small portion of whatever you are serving would be wonderful. It smells delicious.” She sank down wearily at the end of the table. “And if you have some tea, that would be lovely.”
Tyler caught Mortimer’s eye. “And I know what a good cook you are,” he said. “So pile my plate high.” He sat next to Lady Mary and for a brief moment she laid her head on his shoulder before sitting straight.
“It’s not often a Prince comes to a Paladin’s home,” Darren said. “But these are difficult times.”
Lady Mary nodded. “Spirits of all sorts have been creeping out of the strangest places,” she said. “The big museums know how to police their own, but the items that have been so inoffensive in small collections are suddenly becoming animated.”
Tyler grinned wolfishly as Mortimer put a large plate in front of him. “Thank you! Lord Marius wants to call a meeting to discuss the matter. He’s taking this pretty seriously.”
Lady Mary picked up a fork as a plate was placed in front of her and smiled her thanks at Mortimer, who blushed. “Just because the situation is desperate doesn’t mean that politics aren’t involved.” She took a small forkful and smiled in pleasure. “This is excellent, thank you.” She looked around the table. “The worst of the effects is being felt here. The Orache Stone is tethered to this area. Unfortunately, it’s spreading and Lord Marius desires to take action.”
“He’s taking action,” Sir Philip said. “He hasn’t got a choice. I had a quick call with Sir Dylan last night. Leeds, especially in the North West of the city, is feeling the effects.” He looked around the table. “And so is Lord Richard, towards the West. He’s had enough to deal with, though as the area is mostly sheep, he’s had a slightly quieter time.”
“The paladin there has a good grasp of magic,” Tyler said. “So it’s not so bad.”
“I was talking to Zahra yesterday,” Jasmine said. She glanced at Darren. “I know her from before I got to York and we’ve kept in touch. Bradford is getting hit as well, but it’s being kept down, at least for now.”
“They have their own systems in Bradford,” Darren said. “They may be willing to help us, but I don’t know if they’ll have the people.”
“How much is the Orache Stone and how much is Edragor?” Darren asked. “I’ve heard too much about that freak to be comfortable about all this.”
“I’ve not had all the information yet,” Lady Mary said, a brief flash of irritation crossing her face. “Edragor has some power, but not as much as he would like. But he’s a slimy toad. He’ll burn Mark out and leave him a husk, then hand the Orache Stone over to another stooge.” She frowned at the fragrant curry. “Edragor unfortunately has a lot of knowledge. The consequences could be problematic.”
“Lord Marius is having fits about it,” Darren said. “And he’s having trouble holding everyone together. They can’t find either the stone or Edragor and a lot of his court are talking about a Wild Hunt.”
“You can’t have a Wild Hunt in a city,” Sir Philip said. “It could be lethal.”
“What’s a Wild Hunt?” Carli asked timidly.
Darren ran a tired hand over his face. “The local prince summons every non-normal to ride with them in a chase around their domain,” he said. “Some princes summon them regularly and they don’t do too much damage in the country.”
“As long as they stay under the control of the prince,” Sir Philip said. “And stick to the wilder areas. The non-normals can get caught up in a kind of madness. Anyone not part of the Wild Hunt can get hunted – that is, literally hunted and torn to pieces. It can get ugly very fast.”
“But it’s not a bad way of flushing out enemies,” Lady Mary said. “I’ve taken part in a few in my time.” Her mouth twisted with distaste. “They are a blunt instrument. But if we can’t find the Orache Stone or Edragor, we’re out of options.” She exchanged a worried glance with Tyler. “The Wild Hunt should be here, as the Orache Stone is tethered to this location, but it could easily cross into Lord Marius’ domain, and then things could get tricky.”
“What about Mark?” Kidder asked quietly. “Can he be saved?”
There was a silence and then Bron reached over and put a sympathetic hand on the young werewolf’s shoulder. “Mark has gone,” Bron said. “At least, the bit that was Mark. It’s my guess it went a little while ago and he was just treading water as his wife died. The Orache Stone will have taken all that’s left. He may have already been replaced.”
“There has to be a better way of finding the Orache Stone,” Sir Philip said. “Wild Hunts are dangerous and unstable.”
Lady Mary nodded. “I agree,” she said. “But our contacts within the police have found nothing and any attempt at magical tracing has hit the wards. Even Steve Adderson can’t get past them.” She sighed and put her fork down on her plate. “Mark wouldn’t have realised, but Edragor did. Anything that could be used to trace Mark using magic has been removed from the pack buildings. Rhys is furious as there’s a lot of documents missing and it’s added legal complications to everything else.”
Gareth frowned. “You need a link to Mark or the Orache Stone?” he asked. “If you could find something like that, you could punch through the wards?”
“Steve Adderson could,” Lady Mary said. “It would be a struggle for anyone else, even with the links. But all trace of Mark has gone and what could we use for the Orache Stone? Everything connected with that has vanished.”
“Not exactly,” Gareth said. “Bron shared a grave with it for a few thousand years. Perhaps Steve could do something with that.”
“I’m not sure that I’m going to enjoy this,” Bron said.
You can read the story from the beginning here