Sir Philip limped back into the house. “That was a bit of a challenge,” he said as Mortimer opened the door to him. “I don’t suppose there’s a chance of a cup of tea.”
Mortimer stared for a moment at Sir Philip. “What happened?” he asked as he looked over Sir Philip who was covered with leaves, mud and what looked like traces of blood. He shook his head. “Never mind that, sir, but come in and I will start a bath before making tea.” Mortimer shut and locked the door once they were inside.
“There was some sort of rogue spirit in the trees,” Sir Philip said. “I wish I had the knack of a priest or a paladin, but I managed to drive it back. The playground should be safe for at least a week or two.” He sighed and leaned against the kitchen doorframe. “I’ll just get a quick shower and I’ll be straight down.” He managed his charming smile. “I’d be grateful if you could make me something to eat – anything hot would do, or even a sandwich.”
Mortimer frowned. “A bath would be better for you sir,” he grumbled. “But I’ll make sure that you have something good waiting for you when you come down.”
“Thank you,” Sir Philip said. “I won’t be long.”
Mortimer rushed into the kitchen, shaking his head. The Knight Templar looked almost ready to break. At least he could do better than a sandwich. He looked up as he heard the front door.
“It’s okay, it’s me,” Gareth called out.
Mortimer heard the door lock and smiled as Gareth came in. The smile faded as he took in the scratches down Gareth’s face. “Sir! What happened?”
“It was just one Gabble Ratchett but it got stuck under a car,” Gareth said wearily. “It was far more effort than it deserved.”
Mortimer looked confused. “What’s a Gabble Ratchett?”
“They’re nasty packets of malevolent energy,” Gareth said, easing himself out of his jacket. “If they’re summoned by someone then they usually turn up in a pack, but this just manifested as a single creature. I suppose it’s just one of the side effects of Edragor throwing all this dark magic around. They’re not strong but they can be nasty and I couldn’t leave it. Didn’t Kidder tell you? I sent him ahead.”
“Kidder isn’t home,” Mortimer said. “But Sir Philip is here. He had a problem with some trees.”
Gareth ran a weary hand over his face. “Kidder said something about calling in to see Jasmine and Darren, but I thought that was tomorrow.”
Sir Philip appeared in the doorway. “What’s happening?”
“I was just wondering if Kidder was home,” Gareth said.
“You look like you’ve been in a fight,” Bron added. “You need to sit down before you fall down.” He looked at Mortimer. “We can sit in the kitchen until food’s ready, can’t we?”
“I insist, sir!” Mortimer said. “I’ve already got a pan of soup on the stove – home made and not some of this shop bought rubbish! It’s ready to serve if you’ll just sit. And while you get that inside you, I’ll get something together for a main course.”
Sir Philip sank gratefully down into a kitchen chair and Gareth joined him after a quick wash of his hands and face. Cleaning off the dirt had brought the scratches and scrapes into clearer relief on both of them. “We can’t keep going on like this,” Sir Philip said. “I’m exhausted.”
“I’m going to book time off work,” Gareth said. “Luke won’t like it, but I’ve earned it and there’s enough set up at work to keep going for a while.”
Bron watched Mortimer set a steaming bowl of soup in front of them and a heaped plate of rolls in the centre of the table. “Thank you,” he said. “That looks just what need.”
“Are you joining us?” Sir Philip asked.
Mortimer shook his head. “I’m not that hungry. I’ll share the main course,” he said.
Sir Philip bent his head and said Grace before taking a spoonful of the soup. “This is good,” he said.
“It is indeed!” Bron said with enthusiasm. “You’re a great cook.”
Mortimer glowed with happiness as he laid some cold cooked potatoes into the frying pan. “I’m happy to be of use,” he said. He cast a worried glance over his shoulder as he took in the weariness of the men behind him. “I wish I could do more.” He laid strips of bacon onto the hot griddle and smiled at their sizzle. “I’ve just got some cake for dessert,” he said. “But I could make some custard to go with it.”
Sir Philip broke one of the fresh rolls and took a hearty bite. “Normally I’d say that we wouldn’t need it,” he said. “But I think we’re using up the calories.”
Gareth swallowed the last spoonful of warmed ginger cake with custard and sighed. “That was just what we needed,” he said.
“It absolutely was,” Sir Philip agreed, leaning back in the kitchen chair. He sagged wearily but then straightened a little as he heard the front door unlock.
“It’s just me,” Darren called out as he walked into the kitchen and sank down into a spare chair. “I’ve been sorting out a shade just outside Ilkley.” He looked over at Mortimer. “Any food left.”
“Of course,” Mortimer said, offended at the lack of faith.
“Where’s Kidder?” Bron asked. “I thought he was meeting you?”
“I haven’t seen him,” Darren said. “We’re supposed to be meeting up tomorrow for werewolf stuff with him and Jasmine, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to make time.”
“Kidder was supposed to come home ahead of me while I dealt with a Gabble Ratchet,” Gareth said as a chill settled in his stomach.
Sir Philip frowned and pulled out his mobile phone. “He’s really not much more than a pup,” he said. “But he could overestimate his ability.”
“He can stand up for himself if he has to,” Bron said. “But you’re right, he’s not a full wolf yet.”
“The phone’s going to voicemail,” Sir Philip said. “It’s switched off.”
“I’ll get on the laptop,” Gareth said. “It’s easier to track the phone from there.”
“I’ll ring Tyler,” Darren said, ignoring the bowl of soup in front of him. “With all this dark stuff going on, he could have been taken.”
Sir Philip pushed himself to his feet. “Once you’ve checked the laptop, we can retrace his likely route,” he said. He looked at Mortimer. “You need to hold the fort here. Take phone messages, keep the place warm and ready. I’ll call Rhys and see if he can spare anyone.”
“You know that they’re stretched looking for Mark,” Gareth said as he strode into the study to fire up the new laptop. “But I think that he won’t begrudge help.”
Darren followed them, phone in hand. “And I get Jasmine,” he said.
Bron looked up from the laptop. “There’s no trace of the phone after he crossed the park,” he said and then hesitated. “I’m remembering the old days. The Orache Stone wears out its owner quickly. Mark would be at the end of his usefulness by now.” He took a deep breath. “If Edragor is using a werewolf as a proxy to use the Orache Stone without getting damaged himself then he may be looking for another werewolf.” There was a long silence before Bron continued. “Kidder would be a good target on the outside. He’s young, impressionable and he’s a stray without a pack to come looking for him.”
Mortimer clutched at Bron’s arm. “But sir, we’re his pack,” he said.
“Damn right,” Bron said. “I could be wrong, but let’s get moving, and the quicker the better. If I’m right and Kidder gets caught up in the Orache Stone then he’s finished.”
The cold didn’t affect Kidder so much but the dark was wearing him down. He lapped thirstily at the water dish and then took a few mouthfuls of kibble. There wasn’t much he could do in fur while he was kept in this cage. He jumped easily onto the bed and circled a few times before laying down with his head on his paws, pointedly away from the Orache Stone on the stand in the corner.
He could feel it calling to him. The insidious tug of desire. He could hear it whispering to him. Kidder tried to push his paws over his ears, but it didn’t help. Images of power seeped into his mind. He was a pack leader, gathering strays and sheltering them. He was surrounded by dozens of strong, young fighters with gleaming fur and sharp jaws. Someone soft and feminine was at his side, nuzzling up to him as the huge pack gathered for the feast, well fed and housed in warm, safe dens. He could do so much. He wouldn’t be chasing a dead woman like Mark. He could take this inexhaustible power and use it for all the right reasons. He could save so many.
Kidder whimpered and clutched his paws tighter over his head.
You can read the story from the beginning here