I stood up from my table, still wiping my mouth with the napkin and began walking through the packed Indian restaurant having just devoured a delicious chicken tikka masala. My favourite of the curries.
‘Sir! Excuse me! Excuse me, sir!’ the very un-Indian waiter called from behind me. I walked on, hoping I could get out before he caught up to me, but I could hear him closing the gap between us. His hand landed on my shoulder and I stopped walking reluctantly.
‘No, no, no,’ I said, shaking my head as I turned to face him. ‘We don’t touch.’ I pushed his hand off my shoulder and fixed him with a reprimanding look.
‘You have not paid your bill,’ he said, looking flustered as he looked up at me. I’m not a tall guy, 5’9, or thereabout, but this guy was really short.
‘Yeah, this one’s on the house,’ I informed him. I took in the look of bewilderment on his thin, hairless face before I turned and once again made my way towards the door. The miniature waiter must’ve made some sort of signal because the security guard moved away from the door and headed for me. This guy was not so short. He dwarfed me in both height and width. As he approached it was like a shadow had fallen over me. Now I was the one craning my head up to look into his bulbous face, topped with thick curly hair.
‘Problem?’ he said, not to me, but to the waiter behind me.
‘He has not paid his bill,’ said the waiter, a hint of smugness now in his voice. I resented that. the urge to hurt him crept up within me and I had to force it back down.
‘As I explained to this little fellow,’ I said, in my most restrained voice, which probably wasn’t that restrained at all. ‘My meal was on the house. You can check with the owner.’ Usually, when I tried this they’d go and check with the owner allowing me time to get away. Sometimes they even took my word for it. Other times, more than I would care to admit, it did not work and I had to resort to other methods. This was one of those times.
‘I am the owner,’ said the minute waiter.
‘Ah,’ I said, smiling awkwardly at the bloke blocking my exit. ‘Well, that complicates things.’ Only a tad, though. I raised my hand to the bouncer’s face, snapped my fingers and released a burst of magic that sent him to sleep. The great mountain of a man fell like an avalanche. As his body crashed to the floor the plates on the nearby table jolted up in the air and clattered back down again. Curry spilled over the green tablecloth.
‘Goodness gosh!’ shouted the waiter, leaping away from me. I turned to face him, still fighting the urge to hurt him for that slither of smugness in his tone before. I can be a petty guy sometimes. Ah hell, why resist it? I thought.
I flicked my wrist and sent him cartwheeling into the table behind him. The table flipped overtaking him with it. I saw him become tangled within the table cloth and then land in a heap, dishes falling him around him. Broken poppadoms fell down like a shower of confetti. I let out a contented sigh and then strode through the restaurant, very aware of all the stunned faces staring up at me from the tables around the room. All these lucky people had come out for a meal and got some free entertainment too.
As I approached the doors they burst inwards and a man dressed all in black charged in. Right behind him, two men gave chase. One of them lunged through the air, grabbed the man in black’s legs and tackled him to the ground. The other man leaped on top of him to ensure he didn’t get away. Diners and staff were screaming, and people were darting about to get clear of the brawl that was now going on in the middle of the restaurant. I was no longer the centre of everyone’s attention.
I watched with interest as they scuffled. There was something about all three of them that wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. They just looked odd. As I watched I realised it wasn’t all of them. The man in black looked perfectly fine but the two chasing him weren’t men at all. They both had pointy ears which angled up towards the top of their heads. Their skin was milky and every now and then when the light fell on them it seemed to shimmer.
As they scuffled a small velvet bag slipped from the man in black’s pocket and landed directly at my feet. I looked about but nobody else seemed to have noticed. I opened my hand and summoned the bag to me. It shot up from the floor and I closed my fingers around it. Whatever was inside was heavy. Was this what they were fighting over?
The man in black managed to fight his way up and shot off across the restaurant and through the kitchen doors before they could stop him. The other two bolted after him without a moment’s hesitation.
None of them had noticed that I now had the thing they were almost certainly fighting over. I contemplated going after them. Then I decided not to. If they were going to be so careless with whatever was in the bag then it was their own fault they’d lost it. Besides, it was obviously valuable if they were willing to fight in the middle of a restaurant over it.
I left through the front doors and as I walked down the chilly street I sent a little warming magic through my body. The January chill faded away quickly. I couldn’t wait until I got back to the place that currently served as home to see what was in the bag. I held out my palm and tipped the contents of the bag out. A heavy ruby fell into my palm. It was at least half the size of my palm and cut into an octagon. The ruby was rimmed with gold and although I didn’t know much about jewellery, I somehow knew that it was solid gold. Light from the streetlamp hit the ruby and mesmerising red strands of light cascaded off it in all directions. It was like have some sort of laser light display in the palm of my hand. Strands of liquid gold shot out of the ruby, one on each of its edges. They ran across my palms, through my fingers and down the base of my hand. They twisted around to the back where they all connected on the back of my hand. The gold solidified until it was as solid as the border of the ruby itself. Then the ruby began to glow. As the strange hand decoration shone I felt a small burst of energy pulse through me. It started up my arm and then spread through my whole body. It was like a burst of adrenaline. I felt lighter but stronger.
The thing still looked ridiculous wrapped around my hand like a cross between a glove and a bracelet. It was entirely impractical. I reached out to remove it, not that there was any clasp, but then I stopped, my fingers grazing the bands. It didn’t look that bad, and it made me feel so… there was no word for the feeling it imbued me with. Marvellous, fantastic, powerful, divine. None of them was sufficient.
I no longer wanted to go home. I wasn’t the least bit tired. No. I wanted to stay out. I walked down the road until I came to The Clairville pub. I didn’t usually frequent bars, not being much of a drinker, but I was feeling like it now. I pushed open the door and strode in like I’d been there a hundred times before. I’d actually never been there before. The building used to be a supermarket so it was a big pub. It was fairly busy for a Wednesday night, not that I knew how busy pubs usually were on any night of the week. Nobody batted an eyelid at my arrival. I liked it that way. I walked up to the bar and the serving girl came right over.
‘What can I get ya?’ she said in a heavy Scouse accent. That was the problem with living in Wallasey, it was right across the river from Liverpool so everyone was Scouse. The accent was a bit cute at first, on girls anyway, but after a month or two of not understanding what anybody was saying it quickly grew annoying. On this occasion, I understood her perfectly. It was a combination of a simple, obvious phrase and the fact that I was getting used to the grubby accent. I’m a Southerner, part of being from the South is getting to look down on those from the North.
Any sane person would wonder why I chose to live in a place I obviously did not like. Well, the reason is that nobody would ever expect me to live here. Therefore any unsavoury characters who might be looking for me would never bother looking in Wallasey. Most people have never even heard of the place, anyway. Not unless they’re from the area, and I can hand on my heart say that I did not know anybody from the area.
‘Just a coke please,’ I told her.
‘A coke?’ she repeated, looking at me with disdain. She obviously did not approve of my choice of beverage.
‘Is that a problem?’ I asked, adding a little attitude. I don’t like to be judged. Especially not for something so trivial.
‘No. Most lads that aren’t kids tend not to drink pop in a pub.’ Pop was one of those annoying Northern things. By pop, she meant a fizzy drink. In the local bakery, they called bread rolls batches. That annoyed me to no end. I could just about accept bap, but batch was going way too far. I ignored her comment and resisted the urge to throw one of the nearby dirty glasses at her. She poured me a pint of coke and then slammed the glass down on the bar hard enough to send a fair amount of the fizzy brown stuff spilling onto the side. I wondered what I’d done to deserve that. She was the one being rude.
‘Two quid,’ she said and held out her hand. now it was time for me to have some fun. I don’t have a job. I move around from town to town a lot, so finding work isn’t all that easy. Also, I don’t want to work. When you’ve got magic you don’t have to. My trick was to take what I wanted and if anybody protested I hit them with a sleeping spell as I did in the restaurant. Basically, I steal things. In this situation, I felt fully justified in not paying my bill.
‘I’ll be drinking for free,’ I told her with a small smile. I raised my hand ready to put her to sleep and the ruby in my palm glowed richly, casting my hand in warm red light. Her eyes, which had been annoyed, calmed down and glazed over.
‘Alright then, pal,’ she said and then she turned and walked away. The ruby stopped glowing and I stared at the palm of my hand in wonder. I understood why those three men had been fighting over this hideous piece of jewellery. I’d stumbled upon a stone that gave me mind control. Fucking fantastic.
I took my drink to a circular booth on the far side of the pub. The glass was sticky where the horrendous barmaid had slammed it down and spilled the drink. If there’s one thing I do not like it’s sticky fingers.
There were few people nearby so I would have some privacy. I didn’t plan on doing anything that required privacy I just preferred to stay out of the way. I slid into the booth and sipped my free Coke only to discover it was a Pepsi. Anybody who says Pepsi is as good is a liar, and anybody who says it’s better ought to be shot.
I wasn’t sitting for long before a woman with a striking resemblance to an otter came over. ‘Booths are for groups not for loners,’ she said in a crass voice that was far too loud. The pub was not busy enough to warrant such shouting.
‘I’m not hard of hearing,’ I told her. I made sure my voice was incredibly low to emphasise the lack of a need to shout.
‘Whatever. Just move so me and my friends can sit down.’ There was nobody near her which made me wonder which friends she was referring to.
‘I find it hard to believe that you have even a single friend,’ I told her. I took a long slurp of my Pepsi to celebrate my witty retort. She slapped both her palms on the table and leaned in close.
‘If you’re on your own you have to leave!’ I stared up at her, trying to think of a suitable spell to punish her with. I could set her hair on fire. Could make her shit herself, but then I’d have to put up with the smell. Could turn her temporarily blind. I liked that one. The fear on her face would be compensation enough for her incredible rudeness. I never got to put my plan into motion because somebody else came to my aide.
‘He’s not alone,’ a voice as rich as chocolate said. The woman and I both looked over at the newcomer. Her eyes grew so wide I thought they’d fall right out of their sockets. She took a huge step back. To be fair I was pretty shocked too. The man who’d spoken was about seven feet tall. He had long, black, wavy hair that hung around his dark skin like a mane. A craggy black beard dangled beneath his chin, tied with a band halfway down. His blue eyes were so bright in contrast to everything else that they practically glowed. He was wearing a long black trench coat and a heavy pair of Doctor Martens that looked like they could crush a skull. The guy looked like he could take on the whole pub and win. In a word he was hench.
‘He’s with me,’ the guy finished in his deep booming voice.
‘Oh, alright then,’ the woman said meekly before scurrying away. Then the giant turned his shiny blue eyes on me.
‘Mind if I join you?’ he asked. He didn’t have a Scouse accent so he wasn’t from around here. I wasn’t really sure what it was. It was English for sure, but there was also a tinge of American somehow.
‘Dare I refuse?’ I said and he cracked a small smile.
‘You probably shouldn’t.’ He slid in opposite me and even sitting down he still loomed over me. I had no idea what the guy wanted but I didn’t get the sense I was in any danger from him. Something about him just felt calming which was a complete juxtaposition to his size. It wasn’t like I needed to be afraid. I had magic and a hand bracelet that could make him do whatever I wanted.
‘What can I do for you?’ I asked him.
‘Why don’t you start by telling me who you are?’ I usually preferred to keep my identity to myself. If you didn’t need to know who I was then you didn’t get to. I’m a secretive guy and there were people looking for me who I’d rather not be found by. But there was something about this big fellow’s calm demeanour that just made me want to tell him.
‘I’m Eddie Lancaster,’ I said. He made a small noise in his throat and nodded his head thoughtfully.
‘Okay, Eddie Lancaster, what is a Southern warlock doing this far north?’
‘How do you know I’m a warlock?’ I asked him. My suspicion broke through the calmness and it was right then that I realised it was a spell he’d been casting. He was talented to cast a spell without giving away even the slightest sign of it, but now the spell was disrupted it would not work any longer. It was a shame because I was enjoying that sense of serenity. Now I was just on edge.
‘I can tell that you’re a warlock because I can sense your magic and I can sense that it doesn’t belong to you,’ he said judgmentally.
There were many different types of sorcerer. Warlocks were the only ones born without magic. Nobody was actually born a warlock. People became warlocks when they murdered a sorcerer and stole his magic. That minor detail made other sorcerers look down on them.
‘Before you get all judgy, I’m not a typical warlock. I’m natural,’ I explained, enjoying the look of confusion that passed over his face.
‘Forgive me, Eddie Lancaster, but I’ve never heard of a natural warlock.’ I could feel him trying to calm me with his spell again. It was like an invisible, snug blanket was falling over me. I waved my hand and pushed my own magic at the spell to deflect it. As I did I saw his eyes lock on the hand bracelet I was wearing.
‘I was born with the ability to siphon magic out of people. So I don’t need to kill people to steal their magic,’ I told him.
‘But you still steal it.’ He raised one bushy eyebrow at me. I shrugged.
‘Only when I have to.’ I’d only ever stolen magic from people who tried to use their magic against me. Or when I was forced to do so. Stealing magic wasn’t easy. I had to be able to overpower the other sorcerer which takes a lot of strength — unless they’re unconscious.
‘Hmmm,’ he said. He stroked his beard slowly.
‘So what’s your name? Or shall I just call you black Gandalf?’ I asked.
He let out a small chuckle. ‘Black Gandalf?’ he repeated ruminatively.
‘Well you’re tall, black, you have a long beard and you are some kind of sorcerer.’
‘A wizard in fact,’ he said. Wizards were one of the strongest types of sorcerer there was. Contrary to their representation in the media, wizards could be male or female, just like witches. Witches were weaker sorcerers. But that’s enough info-dumping for now. The important takeaway was that if this guy wanted a fight he would win. ‘You didn’t tell me what you’re doing up here?’
‘I just fancied a change of scenery. This place seemed like a nice fit.’
‘Wallasey isn’t a nice fit for anybody. Not even the people born here.’ He was not wrong.
‘Well I like it,’ I lied. ‘You still didn’t tell me your name.’
‘My name is Zeke.’ He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a can of Dr Pepper. He pulled open the ring pull and then tipped the can down his throat. I watched as he glugged the entire contents of the container down without even stopping to take a breath. He then crushed the item in his hand and dropped it on the table. If I were a school kid that would have been intimidating.
‘I don’t think you’re supposed to bring your own drinks in here,’ I told him, at a loss for anything else to say. I mean, who carried cans of drink around in their pockets? And who downed an entire can like that? His response was a tremendous belch that went on for an age. He didn’t even look away and his hot breath washed over my face like a putrid breeze. When he finished we both sat still, letting the silence hang over us. A couple of people had even looked over at the commotion that had come from Zeke’s mouth.
‘Grim,’ I said at last.
‘Listen, Eddie,’ he said, pulling another can from the same pocket. I peered over the table to try and see how deep his pocket was. It was like Mary Poppins’ bag. He placed the can on the table without opening it. ‘That fancy piece of bling you’re wearing on your hand does not belong to you.’
I turned my hand palm up so we could both see the ruby. ‘So this is what you’re here for.’ I hadn’t seen him at the restaurant but I guessed he must have been about somewhere.
‘Indeed I am. Witnesses saw you taking a velvet bag from the restaurant where all the commotion went down, and I tracked you here.’
‘That would be impressive if I’d walked further than three doors down the road,’ I said. I took a gulp of my drink and then let out a burp that was pitiful in comparison to what he’d just let out. He had the grace not to say anything.
‘Do you even know what that is?’ he asked me.
‘A mind control hand bracelet.’
He snorted. ‘Ignorance at its finest. That is The Kraticle.’
‘Sounds like a sea monster,’ I said, shaking my head. I’d never heard of it.
‘It is a legendary piece of jewellery and one of the Crown Jewels of the fay monarchy.’
‘Fay as in fairies?’ I couldn’t believe that I was wearing a crown jewel belonging to the fairy king.
‘Yes. The fay is the highest of all the fairy races. The Kraticle was created and gifted to the fay king centuries ago by Kratos.’
‘The Greek God Kratos?’ This was getting interesting now.
‘Well, he wasn’t really a god. But yes, him. It gives the wearer increased powers. Physical, magical and mental. In short, it gives a monarch the power to rule. It was stolen recently and I have been tasked with finding it, which I have now done. I need you to give it back so I can return it to its rightful owner. Before things get out of hand.’ Zeke held out his hand as if that meagre speech had been enough to convince me.
‘I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you go away and never come back?’ I said. The ruby in my palm glowed as I exerted my new, irresistible will.
Zeke shook his head slowly. ‘That won’t work on me.’
‘Why?’ I demanded, I stared down at the important jewel in frustration.
Zeke did not answer my question. ’The fay king isn’t the only one who wants it, Eddie. Others are looking for it. They aren’t as reasonable as me and they aren’t human. If they catch up to you they will skin you alive. If they’re feeling benevolent.’
‘I think we have different understandings of the word benevolent.’
‘Be that as it may—’ I was tired of him now and knew I needed to get away. Since the Kraticle wasn’t going to help me I had to rely on my own magic, which did feel considerably stronger, no doubt due to the royal garment wrapped around my hand. I concentrated on his can of Dr Pepper, sending my magic to the bubbly fluid within. The drink burst through the can, forcing the metal to explode. The liquid flew up into Zeke’s face. Whilst he was distracted I jumped to my feet and shot out of the pub like a dog that’s nicked a string of sausages. As I grabbed the door I saw Zeke getting to his feet, Dr Pepper dripping from his hair and beard. I charged outside and took off down the street as fast as my legs could carry me, which with the support of the Kraticle was pretty fucking fast.
I ran fast and far. I took every turn I came to trying to put as much distance between myself and Zeke as possible. There was no way I was going to give up a weapon like The Kraticle. This thing could protect me from anything. I had to figure out how it worked so I could avoid more embarrassing incidents like that one with Zeke.
I remembered that he’d said he’d tracked me. I wasn’t sure if he meant he’d followed me or if he’d used magic somehow, but I needed to mask my location from him. That meant a spell. It would take a more complicated spell than the sleeping spells, or the one I used to fizz up his Dr Pepper. I looked around to get my bearings and then headed in the direction of Central Park. I needed dirt.
Annoyingly, there were still people in Central Park, even at this time of night. Teenagers were lurking around the playing area. Young boys seeing how far they could get with the girls before they were told to stop. I knew their game, I was their age once. Even if I didn’t have a conventional childhood, or anything even close to a normal one. Since the age of thirteen, I was either in captivity or in hiding. Not exactly conducive to scoring with girls.
I walked past the kids who didn’t even seem to notice me. They were too occupied with getting their ends away. I walked through the park until I found a quiet area, surrounded by trees. I knelt down with only the moonlight to help me see. I could have conjured a light but I didn’t want to draw attention from the teenagers, or anybody else. I didn’t know how close Black Gandalf was. I rolled up the sleeve of my jacket to expose my left forearm and then shoved the forefinger of my other hand into the dirt. Magic is a natural phenomenon and so nature is naturally imbued with the stuff. A good sorcerer knows how to tap into it. I was a good sorcerer. I had a good teacher. Even if she was batshit crazy and totally evil.
I drew out the runic symbol for Perth - not to be confused with the city in Australia. Symbols held power. Runic symbols could be used for many different purposes. As I drew this one I focused on the power of concealment, willing the spell into place. As I drew a circle around the symbol on my arm I felt a snapping in the air around me as the spell took hold. The dirt melded into my skin, losing it’s muddy quality and looking more like a faded tattoo. I brushed at it with my fingers but it didn’t budge. It didn’t even feel like there was anything there, just skin. Zeke wouldn’t be able to track me with magic now. Not unless he had the strength and skill to overpower my spell. Considering he was a wizard it was possible. If he did catch up with me again I’d have to find a more forceful way to tell him to sod off than exploding a fizzy drink over him.
I heard movement in the trees and stood up. No way had Zeke found me already. It was probably the teenagers. If they were looking for trouble they were about to get one hell of a headache.
‘Whoever is in there better come out before I turn those trees into an inferno!’ I shouted. It wasn’t an idle threat. Although I did use nature when I needed to I had no respect for it. There wasn’t much I did have respect for. I’m kind of a dick. You’ll get used to that.
It was not the teenagers. A tall thin man with odd skin came out. Odd skin was the best way to describe it. It was a pale white with a sort of silver tinge to it. When he stepped into the moonlight it caused his flesh to shimmer in an oddly hypnotic way. When he stood in the dark his skin looked normal. He had curly, fair hair that stopped just above his ears and bounced when he walked. His ears were what gave him away the most. The tips pointed up in true Elven fashion. He was dressed in a black suit that fit too well to be off the peg. His shirt was open without a tie. As he neared I saw that his eyes were gold. I don’t mean a light shade of brown that looked golden, they were actually golden. They shone like the metal that now clung to my right hand. He stopped a few feet in front of me. He was not tall and had to look up at me ever so slightly to meet my gaze. I wasn’t tall either, only 5”9, so this was new to me.
‘That belongs to me,’ he said, pointing at my hand. Now that he was close I saw that the suit was much finer than I’d realised. It was decorated with a swirling pattern of a glossier black than the base material. He had what looked like solid gold cuff links on his shirt too. This guy was fancy.
‘This?’ I held up my hand to show him the Kraticle. His pupils dilated and locked onto the jewel.
‘Yes,’ he said. His voice was high and melodic, yet infused with a vicious twang. ‘Hand it over, human.’
‘Rude,’ I said. You can’t just go around referring to people by their race. It’s not polite. I’m not exactly the politest of people, but I dislike it when I’m on the receiving end of the rudeness.
‘Give me The Kraticle.’ He held out his hand demandingly.
‘Are you the fairy king then?’ I asked him. Zeke had said the item belonged to the fairy king so if this guy was claiming it was his then he must be the fairy king. ‘I mean, you look fancy with your suit and all, but I wouldn’t say you look kingly.’ His nose wrinkled in annoyance and his shiny eyes narrowed.
‘I am Prince Morgil, brother to the Fay King. This attire was created for my foray among your kind. When I am at home I look far more regal. Hand over the Kraticle or face my wrath,’ he warned. His lips curled back to reveal razor sharp teeth.
‘I’m not into biting,’ I told him. ‘Go back to where you came from,’ I ordered him, holding up The Kraticle for emphasis. The Prince sneered at me.
‘Did you truly believe you could command me with my family’s heirloom?’ I really wasn’t getting the hang of this magic jewellery at all. The first time I’d used it must have been a fluke. ‘It only allows you to command those of your own species.’
‘You know, this thing doesn’t work so well. However, it does give my own magic a healthy boost so I think I’ll hang on to it. Why don’t you run along before I burn you alive and eat your roasted innards?’ For the record, I’d never burned anyone alive, nor eaten their innards, but I thought it was a nifty threat to make. I had no intention of eating any part of him.
‘Eating fay innards is a privilege only given to upper classes. You would never be given such an honour. And you would never be able to burn me alive, even with the power of The Kraticle.’ He looked up at the moon and let out a heavy sigh. ‘I grow tired of this palaver. Hand over my property or I shall kill you where you stand.’
I looked at The Kraticle again, trying to decide how to proceed. Would the Kraticle even allow me to attack its rightful owner? Only one way to find out. I flicked my hand out, stretching my fingers his way and released a massive blast of magic. It was bigger than I’d intended, the hand bracelet was really amplifying my power. My arm shuddered as the magic was expelled. An invisible force shot through the air and whacked Prince Morgil right in the chest. He shrieked in pain as he was lifted up into the air and tossed backward towards the trees. There was an odd tearing sound and then two great wings protruded from his back and halted his momentum. He hung in the air majestically, gazing down on me. I stared up in wonder at the sight before me. Each wing spanned about three feet and was in a jagged spike design. They were translucent black with faint silver swirls that dazzled in the moonlight.
‘Wow, you really are a fairy,’ I said in amazement. I’d never seen a fairy before. My mentor had liked to catch magical creatures but true fairies were rare to come across. There were many different types of fairy, but Morgil was the highest order of fairy, the fay. The type you find in kids stories. Not all fairies were as pretty. My mentor had kept several unattractive species of fairy.
‘I’m a fay!’ Morgil screamed at me. Apparently not happy with the broader fairy term. He held out his hand and wiggled his fingers at me. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to cast a spell or if he was making some sort of crude fairy gesture at me. I was about to ask him when the answer become apparent. I felt a sharp drop beneath me and looked down to see that the grass had softened and was now devouring me. My ankles had already disappeared. I pulled against it but I could not free my legs.
‘My kind have a natural affinity with nature. Something your race could never comprehend,’ he boasted from above me.
‘No, maybe not,’ I said, still struggling against the earth. ‘But my kind do have a certain affinity for destruction.’ I opened my hand and conjured a ball of blazing fire. ‘Now, I’m just guessing here, but I’m pretty sure you fairy folk hate it when nature gets hurt. Release me or I’ll burn every tree in this park.’
‘Oh, please. You read too many stories, human,’ he said derisively. Maybe he didn’t care, or maybe he was bluffing. Maybe he thought I wouldn’t really burn the woods down. He didn’t know me. Eddie Lancaster did not bluff. Ever.
‘Stop!’ said an incredibly commanding voice. There was no magic in the shout but I stopped all the same. We both turned to see who had shouted and saw Zeke striding across the park towards us, his coat billowing behind him in the wind. He looked pretty awesome. I needed to get a long coat. And grow a few feet. I was going to ignore him but with a mere glance, he extinguished my fire spell as if he’d tossed water over my hand. At the same time, the mud stopped eating my legs, for which I was thankful. It did not release me, however.
‘Prince Morgil,’ he said to the fay. ‘Welcome to Wallasey.’
‘Thank you for the courtesy,’ he replied. His wings fluttered as he lowered to the ground. ‘I expected to see you sooner or later, Zeke.’
‘Can you let me out of the earth?’ I asked. It was like they’d both forgotten me.
‘I wouldn’t advise it,’ Zeke said to the fairy. ‘He’ll just pull some cheap trick and run away.’
‘I wasn’t going to release him. He’s impertinent and annoying. I intend to bury him beneath the earth as soon as I have what is mine.’ I did not like the sound of that.
‘Except it isn’t yours, and I can’t let you take it,’ said Zeke.
‘I’d like to know how you plan to stop me?’ Morgil was a midget compared to Zeke. He was almost half the wizard’s size, so seeing him talk with such confidence was more than a little amusing. The small snigger that escaped my mouth drew their attention.
‘Aren’t you two on the same side? You work for his family, right?’ I said. I shouldn’t really have been uniting them against me, but the smart-Alec inside couldn’t be controlled.
Zeke shook his head and Morgil made a serpentine hissing sound that must have been laughter. ‘Who do you think stole The Kraticle in the first place?’ Zeke asked, pointing a long finger at the fairy.
‘Oh!’ I said as I caught up. ‘Well, you must be wanted for treason then?’ I asked Morgil.
‘That he is,’ replied the wizard. He turned back to the fairy. ‘Speaking of which, your brother has dispatched a team to hunt you down and take you back to his court to stand trial. They’re probably closing in around you now.’
‘There is nobody in my brother’s kingdom with enough skill to subdue me and we both know they can’t kill me.’
‘He hasn’t dispatched a team of your own kind. If that doesn’t scare you then you should know that after your bungled attempt to sell The Kraticle, your buyer is now hunting for you too. She wants you dead. Unless you can provide the item before the assassins catch you.’
‘I am not scared of an elf,’ Morgil said, this time betrayed by his voice which was barely more than a whisper. I adjusted my leg and found that I was no longer trapped. Tentatively, I raised one leg and it slid easily out of the mud.
‘Enemies on every side. Do you think you’ll be able to fight both me and him?’ He gestured my way. ‘Even if you do kill us both, by the time you’ve managed it one of the others will have found you. Who would you rather get caught by, the elves or your brother's hunters?’
Morgil looked about shiftily, his brain working overtime to figure out a solution to his problem. I stood as still as possible, like a child trying to win at musical statues. I called on my magic, summoning the shadows to me, bending them to my will. I felt my spell taking effect. I saw the shadows of the night crawling in, encompassing me, and then with the subtlest of shifts, I was gone. Zeke’s eyes widened. Morgil stared at me with mild annoyance. I hadn’t actually moved, they just couldn’t see me. The shadows were cloaking me. Combined with the spell on my arm it should suffice for me to make my escape.
I backed away slowly, worried that any sudden movements might reveal my position. Zeke was still staring at the place I had been standing.
‘Humans can’t teleport, can they?’ Morgil demanded, turning to Zeke. The wizard shushed him angrily, still focussing on me. Then he tossed at a fireball right at me. I sidestepped the attack but my position was uncovered. Before Zeke or Morgil had a chance to react four people came running out of the forest and then there were spells flying in every direction. That was my cue to leave. So I ran.