“I need to get all the permissions from you,” Steve said. “I can do a magical trace on him and, with all the stuff you’ve given me, I’ve got a decent chance of finding him.” He glanced at the men surrounding him in the living room in Gareth’s cottage. “But I won’t do it if there’s any doubt from you.”
“Why should there be doubt?” Gareth asked. “Kidder is missing. Everything is going crazy and the dark creatures are starting to creep out. He could be hurt or worse. What if Edragor has taken him to replace Mark?”
“Because we’ve no guarantees that Kidder wants to be found,” Bron answered softly. “And how many of us here will be giving Steve access to Kidder’s very soul without being able to check what he’s doing? No offence,” he added, turning to Steve. “But none of us here are really up on magic.”
“None taken,” Steve said. “You can’t check what I’m doing and that’s why I need you all to agree to this. Though, at the risk of sounding like I’m hustling, we don’t have much time. There’s been an outbreak of rogue ghouls at St James Hospital which Lord Marius and Phil the boggart are still sorting out while Darren has practically forgotten what sleep is. I’ve been working with the ifrits on the edge of Bradford as well as the princes of Wakefield and Hebden Bridge. We’re all struggling while Edragor controls the Orache Stone.” He looked away from the others. “And there’s a good chance that Kidder hasbeen taken by Edragor. It makes sense. So apart from wanting to rescue a half grown werewolf cub that doesn’t deserve half of what’s hit him, it may be the key to finally stopping this.”
“And you’re asking us,” Gareth said. “What about Kidder’s family – his pack?”
“That’s who we are,” Bron said softly. “We’re his family at the cottage with Mortimer and whoever else stays, like Darren and Sir Philip. Tyler is the chief of the werewolves in Otley and he’s been looking out for Kidder, and he also has the final say on the welfare of werewolves in that domain. Rhys is the chief of the Leeds werewolves and for a while he worked with Kidder. We’re his family and that’s that.”
Steve stared briefly at Gareth and Bron speaking from the same mouth, then dismissed it. “I need to start soon if it’s going to happen,” he said. “Things are coming to a crisis.”
Tyler looked at Steve thoughtfully. “I know your reputation,” he said. “But I don’t know you. None of us here do. And you’ve brought Ian Tait along to vouch for you. That makes things complicated.”
Rhys shook his head. “You should be glad to see him,” he told Tyler, his face hard. “Ian got things wrong, was a stray, took in strays, made things right and he’s a werewolf that can do magic. You should spend time with him.”
“I was never a stray like that,” Tyler snapped. He stopped and held up his hands. “No offence, Ian, but we need to be careful.”
“None taken,” Ian said. “You look after your own. That’s what a pack means. Kidder isn’t really in a proper pack, that’s why you’re asking questions. But we can’t sit around going over and over the same concerns. Halloween is approaching. We should do any ritual then.”
There was a long, tense silence. “Are you sure?” Bron asked. “That’s Samhain, the Day of the Dead, the turn of the year. That’s a tricky time to do a ceremony.”
Steve grimaced. “It’s not ideal, but it could mean that we get the power to break through the defences. Edragor is good, really good at this sort of thing. I’ve been unpicking layer after layer of misdirection looking for the Orache Stone and I’ve pushed through a few wards with just brute force, but I haven’t got enough to work with to really break through all the barriers. The scraps that we found at Bron’s grave site weren’t any help. Using Kidder’s clothing and the hair on his comb would give me a real advantage.”
“Edragor is delusional,” Ian said. “I mean, he doesn’t think that the world is flat or that Atlantis used to be at Milton Keynes, but he has some strange ideas about the old festivals.” He looked around the quiet group. “He thinks that he can control the power running through the old channels. You can maybe guide a little of it if you prepare well and keep focused, but you can’t take on the whole thing. Edragor is going to try and use the Orache Stone to channel more power than makes sense. He’s going to be too busy on Halloween to keep his wards up. It’s going to be our best chance.”
“That’s three days away,” Bron said. “Three more days for Kidder to wait for rescue. But is it enough time to prepare?”
Steve nodded. “I’ve been trying a few different things,” he said. “And I’ve eliminated a lot of angles. Ian and I can get something together and I have all the supplies.”
“I’ll need to speak to Lady Mary,” Tyler said. “Princes are always against this sort of thing at a festival.” He frowned. “But you’re making sense. She’ll almost certainly agree.”
“I’ll have to speak to Lord Marius,” Rhys said. “Although I guess that he’s already given you permission.”
Steve nodded. “You’ve got my number. Let me know by midday tomorrow if there are any problems. Otherwise we’ll go ahead with the ritual.”
“I know this is a bad night to ask,” Ian said. “But we’ll need you all there. We’ll need to have people to watch our backs. The ritual can’t be interrupted. And Steve and I may not be in any state to go after Kidder and Edragor. To be honest, we’ll probably be wrecks. We’ll need to have someone else take part in any rescue.”
“And if Edragor hasn’t got Kidder?” Bron asked
“We should be able to manage a second ritual before dawn,” Ian said. He glanced over at Steve. “For Kidder’s sake, I hope that he’s just out of it somewhere, though no-one can give a good explanation about why he’s missing. I wish my instincts weren’t telling me that we’ll only need one ritual.”
Dan carefully straightened the mouse mat to align perfectly with the edge of the desk and the laptop. “If the next subject doesn’t agree to take the Orache Stone then we will have problems,” he said. “The current subject is failing.”
“He’s dying,” Edragor said. “He’ll probably last until Halloween.” He frowned. “I can’t take the risk of the Orache Stone being without an owner. I can hear it calling as it is.” He whirled around suddenly and pointed a bony finger at Dan. “And you are far too knowledgeable for me to risk with that stone. If the new subject doesn’t take the stone willingly then I’ll force it. Once the power is running through the mutt then we should have no problem directing things in the way we want.” He whirled around. “Follow me,” he snapped.
Dan stood slowly and trudged after him. He had to get out of here. He couldn’t carry on. How long would it be before Edragor turned on him? And the experiments were beyond anything he had ever imagined. It had been bad enough with the rats, so bad that he had created computer algorithms to simulate the experiments. But watching Mark dwindle and Kidder confined and coerced was stripping Dan of his soul. He wanted to learn magic, he wanted to get power but not like this. He didn’t want to be Edragor. “Are you sure that you can make the subject take the stone?” he asked.
Edragor waved a dismissive hand. “If we force it into his hands then he’ll have no choice,” he said. He strode confidently into the confinement room. It took Dan all of his courage to follow him. On a cot to one side was Claire, her remains perfectly preserved and highlighted by a glow of magic. In the centre of the room was Mark who was hooked up to a bank of tubes and wires as the husk of a strong and vibrant man slid towards death. Dan had loathed him when they first met and had thought Mark’s obsession with Claire dangerously unbalanced. He still wouldn’t have wished this living death on the werewolf.
“How is he still alive?” Dan asked.
“With a help of a little magic and a lot of science,” Edragor said, ignoring Mark and striding over to Claire. “But it’s magic alone that keeps Claire perfectly preserved. I wonder if she is the best candidate for our first trial. The cancer severely weakened her and I think I need something a little more robust.” He glanced over at Mark. “Of course, I’ll have to keep her here until Mark dies. I don’t quite trust him, even in this condition.” Edragor frowned. “Perhaps I could find someone experimenting with drugs and arrange an overdose.”
Dan felt sick. “Murder could bring unwanted attention,” he said carefully.
“I suppose a little grave robbing can’t be helped,” Edragor said. He tapped a finger on his chin thoughtfully. “It will be easier if I can make the first attempt at reanimation early in the Orache Stone’s possession of the new subject, when he still has all his vital energy. On the other hand, finding a good subject for reanimation requires thought. No matter. Let’s see if our test subject has succumbed to temptation.”
Edragor walked briskly down the hall and unlocked a door. “Perhaps I should let him transform back to human shape,” he said. “What is it they call it? Coming out of fur?” He opened the door and switched on the light before striding down the concrete steps. “He may be susceptible to alcohol in a different shape.”
“It’s very hard to get werewolves drunk,” Dan reminded him. “It doesn’t seem to matter what shape they are. Remember, we’ve seen werewolves who are in their wolf shape happily drinking beer out of dog bowls.”
“I daren’t risk drugs,” Edragor said. “Although perhaps some valerian.” He paused in thought at the door at the foot of the stairs and then dismissed the idea. “Let’s see if our subject has succumbed to temptation. I haven’t felt a shift in the magical currents, but I may yet be surprised.” He opened the door into the cellar.
Kidder was still locked in wolf form, huge and muscled with gleaming fur. Here and there was a hint of youth but it was still an overlarge, adult, male wolf sitting on the floor of the cage. He was up on his haunches, his eyes gleaming like gold as he stared at the Orache Stone on its stand. He didn’t stand as Edragor approached the cage. Instead he tracked Edragor and Dan with his eyes as the men approached.
“You can hear it calling,” Edragor said. “You can hear it whispering to you. Should I pass it to you in the cage?”
The great wolf barely glanced at Edragor but kept his focus on the stone.
“There is no escaping this fate,” Edragor said. “You will take the Orache Stone, one way or another.”
The wolf remained impassive.
Edragor gestured to Dan who scampered to bring clothes over to Kidder. “After tonight you’ll find yourself able to switch back to human,” he said. “Perhaps when your more rational mind is in control we can come to a civilised arrangement.” He whirled around and stalked off.
Dan stared deep into Kidder’s luminous eyes. They were as rational as anything Dan had ever seen. For a moment he was caught in their amber glow, transfixed by the concentration and intent behind them. Then he dumped the clothes next to the cage bars and fled.
You can read the story from the beginning here