“Would you like to join my fan club and be my pet?”

— Hibiki-tan

C’s Office, Camelot

In the harsh, unforgiving landscape of the Northern Skeleton Coast, where no one is permitted to enter, lies… something. The US Military, a delegation of which is currently standing in C’s office looking at a handful of Hunters with suspicion, has called in a favour: only if the Hunters accept the mission will they find out anything about it. This has got “TOP SECRET” and “If you talk about this we will kill you” stamped all over it. (Right there on the bottom right corner of the manila file, in red ink. They have an actual rubber stamp for that.)

Hibachi-chan, James Burke, Phil Nhiles and Elres stare back with expressions ranging from coquettish to sceptical.

Do the military not have their own special agents for dealing with spooky stuff? Well, yes. They do. The Men Who Stare At Goats would absolutely have been asked to deal with this. So what happened to them? Nobody’s talking.

“You haven’t accepted the mission yet.”

What could possibly lie in the heart of Forbidden Territory, the region the Bushmen call The Land God Made In Anger, that could interest the US Military so much?

“You haven’t accepted the mission…”

Why would the Covenant agree to help the US on a mission to one of the most hostile places on the planet? It’s not like they have any ongoing agreements. Do they?

“You haven’t accepted…”

Okay. Fine.

In the privacy of the Hunters’ thoughts, C says she’s not going to make them go. She’ll just keep scouring the ranks until someone says yes.

But of course, there’s no need. They all do.

C waits until Jakes has escorted the military delegation from her office. Just as she follows them out of the door, Jakes shoots a pointed glance back over her shoulder. C’s eyes narrow. She shakes her head, almost imperceptibly.

She taps the file. “As you know, in World War II the Nazis were keen to get their hands on anything that might give them a supernatural edge against the Allied forces. The Ark, Excalibur, the Grail… They even sent expeditionary forces to Iceland and Norway looking for Mjolnir and Gungnir, because nothing says Aryan Supersoldier more than wielding one of the weapons of the Norse gods.” She pauses, her gaze becoming distant for a moment. “Needless to say, we were very busy for a few years, even with help from the likes of Elizabeth St George.”

Her gaze focuses again, her expression sober. “The Americans recently uncovered some documentation that suggests the Nazis were looking for something of significance in Namibia, in what is now Forbidden Territory. They believed it to have been a secret cargo on the ill-fated Danish barque Kjøbenhavn, supposedly en route to Greenland, and carried into the desert by seven survivors in December 1928 or January 1929. Rather than doing the sensible thing, and asking us about it, they sent a team to look for it.” She sighs in the manner of a schoolteacher explaining to a parent that their child inadvertently murdered the class hamster. “That team vanished. They sent a spider to catch the missing fly, so to speak, in the form of a special forces unit. Two of them returned, in as much as the team sent to rescue them found two men in the desert. One of them was burned so badly he was mistaken for a corpse. He died three days later. The other had broken every single bone in his body and is still in recovery. He has not regained consciousness. Now they have asked for more specialist help, which the Covenant has agreed to provide.”

She projects a map of Namibia onto the wall. A red circle sits on the coast, around 70km south of the Angolan border. “This is your landing zone. Right on the edge of the Kaoko Belt. The US will provide equipment and supplies. As far as they are concerned, you are under their command while on mission. As far as we are concerned…” She shrugs, smiling a humourless smile. “Covenant business takes priority.”



Igraine opens the door to the Cardigan room. This isn’t the Maze — the meeting rooms here are decked out in wood panelling, with antique weapons mounted on the walls, old tapestries, cabinets hand-built by artisan carpenters sometime in the Nteenth century, and creaky floors. A heavy oval table made of oak polished to a dull sheen by centuries of use and care takes up most of the space. The chairs around it are high-backed, also made of wood, carved with knotted beading.

Standing at the far end of the room, looking out one of the leaded windows at what little he can see of the grounds from that angle, is a thick set, stern man with a military buzzcut wearing an American army uniform. Sitting at the table is another American soldier, in standard fatigues and sporting a dubious moustache. Neither of them looks comfortable, but dubious moustache man looks like he has an urgent need to be elsewhere.

“Do you need the bathroom?” Igraine asks brightly.

Moustache clears his throat with a grunt. “No. Thank you.”

The other man surveys the team with a thinly disguised look of disdain. “Colonel Moore,” he says. “Good to meet you.”

“Known in certain circles as King Kong,” says Moustache. “You might have heard of him.”

“And this is Master Sergeant Jon Cropredy,” Moore says. He keeps his face stern, but the more sensitive on the team get the sense he enjoys the epithet and Cropredy knows this. “We are here to brief you on further aspects of the mission that are important vis-a-vis getting you all adequately onboarded and intelligence-provisioned.”

Cropredy, staring at his own thumbs while he twiddles them, snorts to himself. Moore ignores him.

“We became aware of attempts made by the National Socialist Workers Party of Germany to penetrate the deserts of Kunene, an area of what is now known as Namibia, back in World War 2.” You can see him mentally adding, which we totally bailed you out of. You guys are basically French. “Initially, we thought maybe this was intended as revenge for the Herero Rebellion, but then we found notes and documents produced by Nazi scientists referring to some kind of artefact in the desert. We sent two missions to look for this artefact. The first one didn’t come back. The second one, made up of an entire unit of Special Ops, lost all but two men. Both of them came back severely injured.”

Cropredy doesn’t look up when he says, “There’s something in the desert that eats people, and I don’t mean the lions. There’s an anomaly there. I can sense it.”

The team realises that Cropredy is one of the Men Who Stare At Goats, a member of the Stargate Project. That makes Moore one of the Special Projects Division commanders.

“We had limited comms with the men on the ground while they were on task,” Moore says. “Much of what we could hear was garbled, with heavy interference.”

He puts a small device the size of a thick cellphone on the table and presses a button.

“KKKKKKSSSSSSSHHHHH-CLICK-SSSSSSHHHHHH What the fuck IS that? SSSSSSSHHHHHHKchurrrrrrrrr I’m out! I’m out! I’m jammed! SHHHHurrrrrrrrrr-CLICK-KSSSSSSS Me too! Me too! Fuck! Fuck! Nooooooo! I’m BURNING! KKKKKSSSSSHHHHHH

The recording disintegrates into static punctuated by screaming.
“There’s more,” Moore says, “but that gives you the flavour of it. As far as well can tell, there’s something in the desert that stops weapons working, and it’s well defended by means we have not previously encountered.”

“Can you imagine?” Cropredy says, still staring at his thumbs with a weird, crooked grin. “We could end war.”

The team share the same funny feeling that he doesn’t quite mean that the way someone else might.

“This is why we need your help,” Moore says. “This is Top Secret, with the highest classification. I was going to ask you to sign NDAs, but your commanding officer told me that she would not permit that. She has, however, agreed to let you come under our command while on task. We have a vehicle outside to take you to the airport, where we have transport waiting.”


A form suddenly appears by a shipwreck. The form is enormous, resembling a cross between a lion, a bear and a gila monster, apparently made of living woven black rubber. The figure looks around with an expression of puzzlement. A voice that might be made entirely of thought, or perhaps whispers on the wind, says, “What they intend for you need not happen. What could happen here need not happen. You can help. Wait here. They are coming.”

Vermifrax settles down on a handy piece of shipwreck. Thon had just been about to try the pastries at that new bistro. Thon had very much been looking forward to lunch. But that voice was not the normal, annoying, loud, somewhat deranged peanut gallery usually responsible for interrupting thon’s peaceful mental real estate. This voice was softer. Vermifrax hasn’t been around that long, just long enough to know that thon really likes those little pancakes you get with smoked salmon and caviar and start to wonder how thon has the means to pay for them, but thon thinks the words that go with that voice are kind and compassionate.

Maybe someone will be along with some lunch soon.


Merlin and Ffred are there to see the team off. This is unusual. They are all big boys and girls. Ffred rarely ventures outwith the Maze these days — makes it harder for people he doesn’t want finding him to find him

“Be careful,” Merlin says. “I don’t trust these Americans. I’ve fitted you all with bodycameras, and each of you take one of these. It’s an emergency beacon. If things go sideways, push the button.”

“Did you design these?” Elres asks suspiciously.

“For once, I am willing to admit that my devices can’t always be relied upon to do what you need them to in a moment of crisis, and so these are off the shelf. The only change I’ve made is to isolate them onto the Covenant network, so they can’t be received by anyone else, and nor can they be jammed by anyone else.”

“These American boys are up to something,” Ffred says. “There’s something important out there in the desert, and they want it. I don’t think they’ll want to share. So just be careful and watch your backs.”

Moore barks orders at his troops, extra loudly even though they are right there next to him. The team takes the hint and they get their gear on board.

The plane is an experimental VTOL craft. It has no insignia, so it’s not clear whether it’s a Covenant vehicle or it belongs to the SPD. It’s larger than an Osprey, and three jeeps are nestled in the hold in a line, as if waiting to be shat out. The accommodation is sparse, with most of the room being taken up by supplies, weapons, and the platoon of Black Ops soldiers who have come along to lend firepower. As well as the Black Ops, Moore and Cropredy, the SPD brought a translator with them, Warrant Officer Talia Sasser. She does her best not to stare at the Hunter squad, but there is a 17th century pirate, a Japanese schoolgirl, a bowtie-wearing nerd, and someone dressed as an Elfin warrior woman.

It’s not normal.

After several hours of flight, Cropredy calls, “If you would care to look out the port side, ladies and gentlemen, you will see the River Kunene. Make the most of it; it’s the last fresh water you will see outside of what is in those jerry cans until we’re done here.” He grins, and there is no humour in it. “It is HOT out there. If you run out of water, you die. A man dies of dehydration long before he starves. If you get separated from the rest of us, you die. If you get eaten by a lion, you die. There are many ways to die out there, and all of them involve you not paying attention and listening to what we tell you. Understand?”

He takes silence as confirmation.

“We’re coming in low to avoid the Namibian Defence radar.” Moore says. “No one is supposed to come here. It’s supposedly to protect the wildlife, but we don’t believe that and neither should you. If they find us, they will shoot on sight and shoot to kill, so the best bet is not to be found. From the moment you stepped on this plane, you came under my command, and I expect you to follow orders. You are here to assist us. We land, we get out, we offload, and the plane is leaving. If it stays here, we’ll be spotted, so all hands on deck to get the gear out.”

As he says that, the plane settles on a flat area near the sea, and everyone scrambles to get out and unload.

Burke takes one look at the shipwrecks and screams, “This coast be accursed!” Everyone looks at him. He’s not wrong.

Hibachi-chan unfurls the parasol she got from Merlin and skips daintily along the sand until she spots a strange figure sitting on one of the wrecks. “KAIJU!” she yells in absolute delight. She transforms into her magical alter-ego, Hibiki-tan, then star-steps over to the wreck in a cloud of pink glitter.

“Um, hello,” Vermifrax says.

Hibiki-tan offers a polite bow. “Konichiwa! Ikaga desu ka?”

Vermifrax is bewildered. “Konichiwa?”

Hibiki-tan squeals. “I FOUND A BABY KAIJU! I AM ADOPTING THE BABY KAIJU! Would you like to join my fan club and be my pet?”

“Is lunch provided?”

“I am sure the others have brought something to eat.”

“Then yes, lunch sounds marvellous.”

Hibiki-tan star-steps back to the others to tell them the monster is coming to tea. Burke takes one look at the shaggy behemoth ambling towards them and lets out a string of inventive 17th century expletives.

Moore sees Vermifrax and barks, “What the fuck is that?”

Immediately, an entire platoon of black ops soldiers bristles with weaponry, the business ends all pointed at Vermifrax.

A steely glint flashes in Hibiki-tan’s eye and Po-Po Kun, her magical racoon dog yokai companion, throws up a shield using his scrotum. Vermifrax peeks around the edge of the hairy, oversized ballsack and says, “Someone mentioned lunch?”

“Hello,” Elres says. “I’m Elres.”

“Oh. Thank goodness,” Vermirax replies. “Someone civilised. I am Vermifrax.”

“What are you doing out here?”

“It’s the strangest thing. One moment I was anticipating a rather splendid lunch appointment, and the next thing I knew I was here. And there was a voice — I often hear voices, telling me things, telling me what to do, so loud and so annoying — quite a lovely voice, really, telling me that I could help. Seemed very odd, but here you are, I suppose.”

“Yes. Here we are. You had better come with us.”

Hibiki-tan is obviously prepared to protect Vermifrax, and who is going to try to shoot something protected by a pink, sparkly, Japanese kitten girl and a magical yokai nutsack? Moore is not impressed, but Elres tells him it’s Covenant business.

Loading up the jeeps, Moore had intended to split the Covenant team across the vehicles, but no one else is willing to share a vehicle with Vermifrax, so Elres ends up driving one jeep with the rest of her team and Vermifrax on board. Moore and Sasser are in another with half the platoon, and Cropredy takes the third with the other half.

They head off into the desert, Po-Po Kun leaving a small pile of what looks to be gold nuggets behind him. It is hot, oppressive, like driving inside a giant oven with no respite. After a few miles they reach a scrubby tree and the convoy screeches to a halt. Sasser checks her watch.

“Where is she?” Moore demands.

“She’ll be here, sir. They have their own ways of telling time.”

“You can’t rely on primitive people,” Moore says. “Probably don’t even understand time. Can’t make a watch out of mud, Sasser.”

If looks could kill, Moore would be a pile of ash.

“She will be here,” Sasser repeats. “Sir.”

A few more minutes and then a beautiful woman steps out from behind a scrubby bush that could not possibly have hidden her. She is wearing a skirt made of calf skin and heavy strings of beads. Her skin, hair, and jewellery are covered in a paste of red ochre and butter, make her gleam like polished terracotta. There is something about the tilt of her smile as she greets Sasser, and the gleam in her eyes. This is a very intelligent woman.

“Watuwamo says we must move quickly,” Sasser says. “One of the village elders is very angry that she is doing this.”

“Why?” Elres asks.

“Women are not supposed to go to the Angry Land. No one is, but women especially so. It is the men who have the connections to their ancestors. Watuwamo is very unusual because she can speak to spirits. She has only agreed to help us find our lost men, but the man she calls Tate — his name is Mukuva — does not want her even to do that. He says we had no right to be there, so it is our own fault.”

“She will help us achieve our mission objective, Sasser. That was what we wanted her for,” Moore says.

“She is only helping us to look for our men, sir. The gods will not be angry with us if we only want to recover our men.”

“We’ll recover our men all right, assuming we find them on the way. Tell her we will do that.”

Sasser speaks to Watuwamo again.

“Why is the land angry?” Elres asks.

Sasser relays the question and the reply. “Mukuru — that is, God — was angry the day He made this place, and since then has come here whenever something has made Him angry. When you see God here, He is angry. It is a very dangerous place.” To this, Sasser adds, “Watuwamo’s village is about 12 miles that way.” She gestures with one arm. “If we really get into trouble, we may be able to find help there.”

Watuwamo leads them west, away from the coast. As the convoy sets off again, Hibiki-tan sees what looks like an old man on a mule watching them from a ridge about a quarter of a mile away. She star-steps over there, but he is gone. Mule tracks in dust lead in the direction of the village, and it seems Mukuva has been spying on them to see if Watuwamo would go against his word.

The way is slow going, although Watuwamo is a surprisingly fast walker given the terrain. The desert here is scrubby and stony, the ground hard-packed, although they can see the start of the dunes to either side of them. About an hour later, they are crawling over what might have once been a dry river bed when they spot a lion crouched over her kill.

Without warning, Vermifrax leaps from the vehicle and attacks the lion, cutting into the side of her with a huge sword. The lion fights back, biting deep into Vermifrax’s shoulder. Hibiki-tan leaps to Vermifrax’s defence and has no choice but to kill the lion, which is unlikely to survive with these injuries. Vermifrax sets about eating the lion.

The Special Ops soldiers bristle their weapons. It appears to be their standard response to anything.

Watuwamo shrieks. Some of the soldiers aim at her, confused. The convoy skids to a halt in a cloud of dust. Gesticulating furiously, Watuwamo yells at Sasser for about a minute and then walks away into the desert.

“What happened?” Elres asks.

“She says the lion was minding her own business, not hurting anyone, “Sasser explains. “That the lion belongs her, this is her place. There was no need to kill her, and now we have made the spirits angry. She did not come with us to hunt and kill, but to find out lost men. She will not help us any more.”

Moore swears, then glares at the Hunter team. “You wanted that thing. You got the thing. Keep it under control or I will shoot it myself.”

“I didn’t know I couldn’t eat it,” Vermifrax says mournfully. “I didn’t even really know what a lion is. I just thought maybe it was what counts as lunch around here. I am so hungry.”

Cropredy grins at them, and although it reaches his eyes, there is no humour in it. “We’re close enough for me to feel it, now. I can get us there.”

They climb back inside their jeeps and drive on, following Cropredy’s internal Stargate compass.

They leave the scrubland behind, and enter an area of stone and sand, mountains far ahead of them in the distance, the trunks of long-dead trees rising vertically from the desert floor like clutching, skeletal fingers. Lying on the ground is a skeleton. It is fully intact, an American-issue sidearm in one and a bottle of beer in the other. Draped across the collarbones is a set of dogtags. Cropredy lifts them with a stick, reads them, lets them drop.

“One of ours,” he says.

Phil climbs out of the jeep and scans the skeleton. The readings say that the bones have been exposed to some sort of reality tear, and the pattern resembles the one he saw when he scanned a pookle. These bones were living less than a week ago, yet the clothes are gone and the flesh is gone. It wasn’t scavengers — they would have scatted the bones. Something stripped everything from this man bar his gun, his tags and his beer, and left his remains lying in the dust.

They move on.

After a while, they see two piles of rocks, sitting in the middle of an otherwise barren expanse.

Burke feels a shiver in his bones. He leaps out of the jeep without waiting for it to stop and runs over to the ricks. Sure enough, his guts tell him he must take a stone from the ground and place it on one of the piles then pass between them without looking back. Having done this, unable to turn round lest he see the piles, Burke sends Wee Mara back to stop the jeep before Elres drives it through the gap.

Wee Mara runs back, jumps into the jeep, and bites Elres on the ankle. Elres stamps on the brakes.

“Ye need to take a stone and add it to the pile, pass between and NOT look back. It be a gateway,” Burke yells.

The others shrug. Could be superstition, or could be something else. It can’t hurt to do it.

Everyone except Elres gets out of the jeep and follows Burke’s example. Elres opens the door enough to lean down and pick up a rock, then drives slowly between the piles. She lobs the rock onto the pile with graceful accuracy and drive on through. Vermifrax finds a boulder and tosses it onto the nearest pile. The boulder is about twice the size of the pile it has now crushed into the sand.

“Ye need to tell the others to do the same thing!” Burke says, seeing the other two jeeps passing the boulder piles either side, neither of them even slowing down.

Elres picks up the radio and tells the other two jeeps they need to stop, come back, and follow Burke’s instructions.

“Ignore that!” Moore barks across the channel. “We are not here to pander to silly, primitive superstitions!”

Phil grabs the microphone from Elres. “You asked us here to help you. This is magic. This is Covenant territory. We’re the experts here. You’re not. You know nothing about this. We do. We are giving you good advice that will keep you safe, and you’re dismissing it as a primitive superstition as if you know all there is to know about it when really you know nothing. Do as we say.”

“You’re here to take orders, not give them!” Moore snarls back.

At that moment, they hear a strange noise. It sounds like thunder, like pigs at a slaughterhouse, like a pack of hungry dogs closing in on their prey. There is a pulsing, blood-curdling rhythm to it.

Hibiki-tan flies up above the jeep. Arrowing in on their location from either side and ahead are clouds of dust with something big and black galloping at the centre of them.

“Something’s coming!” she calls, then flies across to Moore’s jeep and snatches Sasser from the passenger seat. She jumps backwards, landing awkwardly, but dropping Sasser close enough to reach the rock piles. Sasser grabs a stone and adds it to the pile before closing her eyes tight and walking forward to join the others.

“I am telling you,” Phil says. “Get back here and do as you are told!”

“Listen to me, you jumped up little weirdo—”

They never get to find out what Moore has to say for himself. At that moment, a monster the size of a small rhino slams into the side of Moore’s jeep and rolls it over. Seconds later, another one hits Cropredy’s jeep. The third stops, looks at the team huddled together by the piles of rocks. It looks something like a rhino, something like a wild boar, something like a painted dog. It is a Namibian Dog-headed Pig monster.

Vermifrax rushes to where Moor’s jeep is lying on its side and shoots the DHPM in the head with a hand cannon. The monster totters back a few steps then shakes it off, snarl-grunting, and attacks Vermifrax, biting into him with huge, tusk-like teeth.

Vermifrax staggers backwards and collapses, seriously injured. Hibiki-tan squeals in horror and casts a heal spell on Vermifrax, wincing as it takes its toll, then special move GREEN REFLECTION to surround Vermifrax with a magical barrier. The DHPM examines its own reflection briefly, then returns to attacking Moore’s jeep.

As gunfire rattles the air, Elres tries to Banish the DHPMs. But these are not lesser creatures. They have a power and weight she has not experienced before. Instead, several small, silvery beings like anthropomorphic moths fly out from about her person, making Hibiki-tan clap with delight. They are spies put there by Queen Maedhbh, who no longer trusts Elres to report on everything. When Elres speaks to them, they tell her that the DHPMs are not of the Fae. They are protectors. They are supposed to be here. This is their job. They are not interested in the team because the team did the right thing when entering the Angry Land and paid their respects to the gate spirits. The men in the other two jeeps did not. The only reason the DHPM bit Vermifrax was because Vermifrax attacked it.

Cropredy staggers over, grabs a rock, adds it to the pile. “Come on,” he says.

“What about everyone else?” Burke asks. “What about yer men?”

“What men?” Cropredy asks with that crooked not-grin. “Look. There’s something out there, and I’m going to see it. With or without you.”

Vermifrax has to travel on the jeep roof to make space. They drive on until they reach a vast plain. The plain is home to coarse, wiry grass in which perfect circles have formed. They are everywhere, not a scrap of vegetation growing within them.

Phil takes one of his scanners and uses it on the closest circle. “The readings remind me of what I was seeing with the pookles,” he says. “Just like that skeleton, but much, mouch stronger. I think that means there is some sort of interdimensional reality tear happening here.”

At that moment, in the distance, they see a shimmering column of silvery-lilac form, perfectly cylindrical where it meets the ground, twisting into a more sinuous shape as it disappears into the atmosphere. Another one springs up not far from them, and for the briefest moment, a bayonet emerges.

“Maybe this is why they called it the Angry Land,” Elres says. “They saw these tears and thought it meant God was angry.”

“Let’s go,” Cropredy growls. “That way.”

They head out across the plain. Around them, reality vortices punch down to or up from the ground — sometimes simultaneously — at frequent but irregular intervals. When  column springs up right by the jeep, Elres manages to wrench the wheel to one side, avoiding it, but Vermirax falls from the roof, landing with a thud. They stop the jeep so thon can get back on, and in that twisting column of torn reality, see some distant, possibly far-future city being razed to the ground.

Vermifrax hoiks the cargo net over thonself and bangs on the roof.

They roll to a stop at the bottom of a ridge at the far side of the torn land. The jeep can go no further. Now they have to go on foot.

Vermifrax grabs water and some rations, easily able to carry one of the 30 litre containers. As the team climbs the rock, an aeroplane drones in over head, and they see a line of parachutes like specks in the sky.

“Namibian Defence troops,” Cropredy says, his grin widening for a moment. “We’d best get moving.”

The air carries the ypping, chattering call of hyenas. Behind them, half a dozen animals like large dogs with an odd, lopsided gait are heading towards the drop zone where the defence troops are coming down.

“They didn’t pass through the gate,” Burke observes. “Poor bastards.”

Hibiki-tan conjures Love Boomerang Melody and throws up a barrier between the Strandwolf and themselves.

At the top of the ridge they can see out across what appears to be a river of sand a mile or more across. Right in the middle, an island in the stream, an outcrop of rock gleams obsidian black.

“There!” Cropedy calls, pointing at it. He’s already most of the way down the ridge. “It’s over there!”

“Wait while I cast me bones,” Burke says, taking a small leather bag from around his neck and emptying its contents onto the ground. A fistful of knuckle bones tumble over one another into a haphazard arrangement. As he tries to focus on their destination, it feels like the inside of his mind is on fire. An astronomer might liken it to the Big Bang. A Trekkie might liken it to the Genesis Device.

Burke’s a 17th century pirate. “That feels like the Hand of God,” he whispers.

From the sands below, three giant elephants charge towards them. Another pack of strandwolf, coming at them from either end of the ridge, see the Onjou and trot back down to join the other pack defending their part of the territory.

The first Onjou tramples Cropredy into the sand without slowing. One of the others approaches Vermifrax at ramming speed, grabs thon with its trunk and slams thon into the ground. A great vibration comes from the Onjou, infrasound so loud it makes the sand quiver and liquefy. Vermifrax finds thonself up to the waist in the sand, the ground packed tightly around thon.

Another Onjou smacks Phil around the head with its trunk, and gores him.

Hibiki-tan screams.

Vermifrax digs thonself out of the ground and cries, “Wait!” The apocalypse engine within thon’s chest rotates once, reaching out with its innate power. Cracks shiver in the fundament of the world.

One Onjou turns and peers at Vermifrax.

“We mean no harm. What is this place?”

“This is the Cradle, where we protect the Earth Power of Life. It is one of the Great Powers, and it is the meaning of our existence to protect it,” the Onjou says.

“That sounds very fulfilling,” Vermifrax replies.

The Onjou stops. “Yes. It is. We only exist because of it. Our purpose is to protect it. Our being is to fulfil that purpose. In protecting the Life Power we find fulfilment.”

“We do not mean to harm it. There’s no need to kill us,” Vermifrax says, “although I suppose you must take some enjoyment from it, as it is a means of fulfilling your purpose.”

“Our fulfillment comes from ensuring the Power is protected.”

There is a muffled scream. One of the other Onjou has squashed Phil into the sand.

“You have no need to protect it from us.”

Vermifrax quickly relays what thon has learned to the others, then says, “Thank you,” to the Onjou.

The Onjou bows, bending one knee and lowering her head. “Well met, Vermifrax. I hope you find your own fulfilment.”

She moves away, leading the other two Onjou to stand.

Cropredy levers himself to his feet, draws his side arm and aims at an Onjou. Hibiki-tan yells, ” HONEY MIST THUNDER!” and smacks him on the head with her demonic yo-yo. Cropredy focuses on her, staring. His face turns puce with effort. He is trembling. Hibiki-tan feels a crushing pain in her chest. “HENTAI!” she screams furiously, and twats him over the head with her wand.

“We were here to help the Americans, were we not?” Burke says, looking at Cropredy. “For the only help we can give him now is to obtain the assistance of a sawbones. That place is touched by God, and I have no desire to approach any further.”

“Agreed, Burke-san,” Hibiki-tan says. “We must get help for Phil-kun. We should go no further. This place is protected, and rightly so. This is the time to use the emergency beacons that Merlin-san gave us.”

“Someone find Phil’s box,” Elres says, and they go through his pockets until they find it.

Vermifrax grabs Cropredy and drags him closer, bringing everyone close so they are ready for pick-up. Thon goes to Phil and lifts him out of the depression in the ground where he has been stomped into the dirt. No one stops thon. Hibiki-tan doesn’t see what thon is doing. Elres was raised by the Fae and was prevented from doing her first aid at work training by the arrival of pookles. Burke is from a time where they hadn’t even developed germ theory yet. Vermifrax simply hasn’t existed long enough to know not to move someone with suspected spinal injuries.

Phil had three displaced spinal fractures. Vermifrax’s well-meaning but ill-advised assistance severs Phil’s spinal cord at the C2 Axis, killing him.

Within ten minutes of pressing the button, a shape appears in the air. It is Dante, and they are carrying Kowalczyk, one of the Cleaners. Dante lands and Kowalczyk surveys the damage.

“What the fuck do you call this?” the Cleaner demands. “You are like children. You shouldn’t be allowed out without adult supervision.” They mutter some complex code into a radio clipped to their jacket near the collar, then take a gleaming metal device from a box Dante was carrying. In moments, Phil’s skull and what can be salvaged of his spinal cord are in a cryogenic preservation unit.

A chopper arrives not long after that, and the team departs, watched by three Onjou and a pack of Strandwolf.

“Oh no!” exclaims Hibachi-chan as they pass over the north African coast. Everyone turns to look at her. “We forgot the translator!”









A circular fortification on the coast

“Shouldn’t you be out sniffing in the woods?”

— Merlin


The Maze

Ana slouches at her computer, watching the debrief video of an undercover mission she and Elres carried out some months ago. A slice of Jackie’s lemon cake lies untouched on the desk. In the video, people in costumes seemingly assembled from thrift stores are clutching expensive-looking swords. A watermelon sits upon a pedestal. A short, stocky man with a two-handed broadsword steps up and swings confidently. The watermelon explodes with a satisfying ‘PLAPF’ and cheers ring out. The watermelon is replaced and a gentleman with a katana steps up. He strikes so swiftly that some onlookers are still waiting for him to begin. The melon appears whole; an oozing equator and the echoes of the man’s Kiai the only indication that something has happened. He bows and exits the stage to respectful applause. A fresh melon is settled into the holder and Elres takes the stage.

Ana leans closer to the screen.

Elres smiles demurely, looking around the assembled throng with doe eyes. Elres takes aim at the melon, and chops it neatly in two. There is a smattering of polite applause. The two halves of melon fall to the floor and promptly burst into flames. The audience erupts, whooping and hollering. Elres waves regally to the crowd and exits the stage.

“Show off,” mutters Ana. She rewinds and watches Elres again. And then a third time. Ana sighs, picks up the cake and slumps back in her chair. She’s just about to take a bite of the delicious, lemony goodness when suddenly she glares at the cake like it’s poison and flings it back down on the desk. She snatches up her sword and stalks out of the room.

Merlin is in the training room, tweaking the sensitivity on his newest laser-based weapon… to the detriment of the training dummies. His contraption resembles a section of deer antler, such as one might find in a pet shop, with a rotating dial on the end. The dial is inscribed with sigils that are probably better not enquired about. He aims the cervine laser pointer at a training dummy and rubs his thumb back and forth. There is a whumping sound and the unfortunate strawman is peppered with charred, smoking holes the size of golf balls. Merlin frowns, scratches his beard, and begins fiddling with the dial just as Ana shoulders her way through the door.

“ANA! WHAT HO,” cries Merlin.

Ana glares back.

“What brings you down here? Shouldn’t you be out sniffing in the woods?”

“Elres has better form that me. Figured I should practice,” Ana grunts.

“You mean you want to knock seven shades of Sunday out of a straw man to make yourself feel better? HA HA. EXCELLENT IDEA.”

Ana says nothing and begins hacking at the straw man.

“Want to know a secret?” says Merlin, in what he probably thinks is a whisper but sounds more like someone trying to help a deaf person understand them by TALKING MORE LOUDLY.

“Not really.”

Merlin continues on regardless. “I’ve been working on something for Robin’s birthday party. They’re special candles. They LOOK like normal candles but when you blow them out, they summon up a cohort of Satyrs to pipe the tune of ‘Happy Birthday.’ HA HA. It will be wonderful. PANDLES, I call them. HA. HAHAHAAAA!”

“Where’d you get the Satyrs?” Ana asks, suspicious.

“I found an incantation in some old book or other. Nobody was using it. I’m rather proud of how I worked the incantation into the wax.”

“Very clever,” Ana replies. “Robin’s favourite colour is blue.”

With that she stalks back over and resumes battering the training dummies.

“Well…” BAM “That’s one party…” WALLOP “I definitely won’t be…” CLOBBER “attending….” THUMP “Ah, that’s better. Where’s that cake?”

The morning of his birthday, Robin galumphs around Covenant HQ singing a version of Happy Birthday by Altered Images, so fractured and broken it is frankly unrecognisable. He eventually finds his way to the chorus, “If dey were me, if dey were me…”
He stops, his brow furrowed. “Steve always pretend be Robin on birthday,” he mutters loudly. “Pretend be Robin, do big bad, get Robin in trouble… Perhaps me tell someone, give warning? Me always give warning ’bout Steve. Who listen? Nobody! Always sigh and give Robin dat look. Me look for Steve in now time, but Robin never find. If me no find Steve, maybe Steve no find Robin?” Robin’s brow wrinkles even further with the effort of thinking this through, then relaxes. “Ok, no worry. Everyfing be hunky dory dis year.”
He resumes his carefree peregrination.

On the day of Robin’s birthday party, Elres (not invited — Merlin decided that invitations are way too complicated when it comes to the Fae, even those who are technically human), Phil Nhiles (not invited as on disciplinary for his behaviour with valued partner organisations), and Ana (invited, declined), were supposed to be the only Hunters in the Maze. Apart from them, there were some of the RaAD personnel (aka Maze Monkeys) and Jakes, Commander of Field Recovery, Containment and Sterilisation (sometimes shorted to recovery and Deposition, but most often simply “the Cleaners”). Elres was doing some boring E-learning on manual handling, with first aid at work lined up for afters. Phil was in the lab, helping Egbert with some projects, and Ana was in the gym, working out some of her frustration. Oddly enough, Robin was also in the gym — Ana assumed that he didn’t fancy his own birthday party. Either that or he thought the point of a surprise birthday party was for everyone to bring a surprise, and the biggest surprise of all was for him not to turn up.

They spotted the first pookle behind the dumbbell rack. As soon as it realised it had been spotted, it swallowed a 24kg kettlebell, which was almost 10cm taller than the pookle, then scarpered.

Ana sniffed around after it, and discovered it smelled mostly of magic. Robin declared it was probably Robin’s fault, “Robin being so stupid.”

In the lab, Phil was startled by the appearance of several adorable balls of grey fluff that proceeded to start eating… Everything. Scans suggested some kind of inter-dimensional anomaly, and he had to talk Egbert down from his latest rather-more-than-micro dose to get any sense of what this might mean. In short, these things were intrusions into this reality from somewhere else, the way a scientist’s hands would penetrate a glove box containing something they didn’t want to touch directly. Whatever these things looked like, it was unlikely to be a basketball-sized ball of fluff that made cute noises like a happy guinea pig.

Back in the training room, Elres had found a pookle behind one of the vents, and had tried to tempt it out with a rather dry cheese sandwich she had left over from lunch. Initially tempted, the pookle seemed way more interested in eating the computers and chairs.

The team finally got together in the labs, where Ana discovered the pookles were quite content and friendly unless anyone tried to get between them and their food. Robin said he was going to go down to the Archives and see what he could find out about them. He promptly disappeared without waiting for anyone to go with him. After a while, Ana and Elres decided to follow, leaving Phil to try to get hold of someone who could tell them what to do.

Down in Archives, Robin persuaded Rogers the Archivist to open the Archives, which he had sealed shut to keep the pookles out. Robin assured Rogers that he could put up a magic barrier that the pookles wouldn’t be able to get through. Although Robin is not normally well known for his magic skills, Rogers did not know this, and was therefore merely impressed rather than surprised when Robin stripped off his furs and conjured a barrier as promised.

By the time Elres and Ana turned up, Robin was trying to get Rogers to show him where the files were for the missions to which Robin had been assigned. Ana and Elres couldn’t understand why this was necessary or even useful, but they let him get on with it while Elres called the emergency number on the internal comms. This put her through to Jakes mobile, and Elres left a message because Jakes wasn’t picking up — she was already on her way up to see what Phil had to say.

Eventually, the team reconvened on the top floor, where Jakes had assembled a crew of Cleaners, probably pulling some of them in from being off-duty. She swore everyone to secrecy, explaining that they didn’t have clearance to access the parts of the Maze where they were about to go, but she had emergency authorisation to do it anyway, then handed everyone powerful electromagnets, split them up into pairs, then the assembled crew drove the pookles in to the central shaft where the emergency stairs and the cabling/pipework came up from the power generator and desalination units in the lowest level. They continued to drive them down to the bottom level, passing through the high security levels such as Heavy Containment.

The Covenant, it turned out, had a portal on the lowest level, presumably built by Merlin. Jakes activated it, then they drove the teeming throng of reluctant pookles inside.

Only then did “Robin” reveal his secret — he had been Robin’s sorcerous evil twin Steve all along! In the confusion caused by this revelation, aided by distraction from Steve’s pet Pleistocene Cave Hyena Fenella, he escaped, taking some of the Covenant’s files with him.

C’s office, Camelot

Jakes stands straight and stiff in C’s office at Camelot, the main HQ, arms clasped behind her back, gaze resolutely fixed on a point some distance above C’s head. C flips through paper reports, cross-referencing them with whatever she has displayed on her computer screen. The damage is devastating.

“Correct me if I am wrong, Commander, but I understand you permitted one C4 Hunter, a C5 Hunter here on placement from a partner organisation, an Intern on disciplinary watch, and our resident Neanderthal’s evil twin access to OHQ SG5 and SG6?”

“It does sound pretty bad when you put it like that,” Darling murmurs from her seat in the corner, where she is taking notes.

“Yes, ma’am. It was either that or lose everything not nailed down. And anything less than five metres across that was nailed down.”

“I understand that, Commander, but do you comprehend the potentially severe consequences posed by at least two of those present seeing we have access to that technology?”

“I assumed they had been vetted, ma’am. My priority at that moment was to clear the infestation before we lost anything more vital.”

“Can you reassure me that exposure to Asset 1277α is the only extreme security risk you permitted during the course of the incident?”

Jakes clears her throat. “With all due respect, ma’am, I did not permit the security breach. I contacted a senior officer and cleared the proposal.”

“You spoke to Merlin, Jakes! He was three-quarters of the way down his second bottle of rum, and it wasn’t even very good rum! You should have come direct to me.”

“Again, with all due respect, ma’am, you were incommunicado.”

C pinches her nose between her eyes, forehead furrowing. “Yes. I was.” She returns her attention to her computer screen. “Pookles. I hate the bloody things. I refuse to believe they evolved to look like that without intervention. Nothing that dials cute all the way up to eleven, despite coming from another Realm, can possibly have evolved that way without some sort of interference. Have we ascertained whether anything important is missing other than the Archived documents?”

“We have, ma’am,” Darling says, scanning her tablet. “We lost the subjects being held in Heavy Containment. Arctos Halkias, the Coppersmith. Jennifer Drayton, who Section 7 pulled in from the Proton Beach mission — she’s the one Gawain tried to convince you had found a Pandora Jar and sold it. We also lost Joshua Weber, AKA Doctor Keen.”

At that last name, Jake’s right cheek twitches.

“Don’t worry,” C says grimly. “I cannot imagine the inside of a pookle is better than what you had planned for Weber.”

“I beg to differ,” Jakes replies, the hint of a snarl putting an edge to her voice. “We don’t know what happens to things inside a pookle. I know what would have happened to him here.”

C nods. “It can’t be helped now. Did we lose any artefacts?”

“Artefacts remained sealed, and Merlin’s workshop was protected by Dante,” Darling says.

“I never thought I would be thankful for Dante, but I should know by now never to say never. Can you bring Rogers in, please?”

Darling leaves her tablet on her chair and goes out to her own office. “Can you come in now, please?” she asks, her voice slightly muffled by distance and the deadening quality of the magical wards around C’s office.

Rogers enters, his expression nervous. “Ma’am.”

“Have you discovered exactly what this Steve took with him?”

“All documents relating to the Abersky mission, ma’am, including those retrieved by the cleaner crew. He dropped the map with the ley line calculations on it when he escaped. The intern brought it back. Everything else is gone.”

“Just Abersky?”

“He asked about Wormsley, but he only took Abersky.”

“Did he get the photograph?”

“Whi… Which photograph ma’am?” Rogers’s skin appears ashen.

“You know which photograph!” C snaps.

“Uh… Yes. Yes, ma’am. He got the photograph.” Rogers is so nervous he stutters, but he carries on regardless. “All the archived documents were together ma’am, as per protocol. And he was a Hunter. I’ve seen him around. He put a magical barrier up to keep the furry round things out of the Archives, ma’am.”

“Which wouldn’t have been needed if you’d kept the damn door shut! All of that was so he could get in there and steal some files. We don’t even know what he wants with them.”

“He asked for missions involving Robin and the Fae. I had no reason to refuse. He was… I mean, the person I thought he was participated in those missions, so I didn’t see the harm.”

“No. Robin never thought to tell us that the infamous Steve was his evil identical twin.” C sighs. “Very well. You may go.”

“The barrier was really impressive.”

“I said, you may go.” C’s eyes glint like moonlight on a blade, and her voice is as sharp as a flint shard.

Darling offers Rogers a sympathetic smile as he scuttles out. Jakes has not moved a millimetre.

“Other than Heavy Containment and Asset 1277α, was there exposure to any other high security asset during the incident, Commander?” C asks. “And don’t try to avoid the question this time.”

“No ma’am,” Jakes says. “All other C1 classified assets remain secure.”

“Well. That’s something. We should at least be able to get the Heads of Bran off the premises without having to run a full decontamination cycle.” C taps some papers together and feeds them into a slot on her desk. A hint of burned paper drifts through the room, quickly disappearing under the aromatic cedarwood emanating from the ceramic diffuser on the windowsill and the waxy scent of furniture polish. “Very well. Best get on with sorting out this mess. Go and wake up Merlin for me. I don’t care how bad his head is. And you have my authority to requisition resources from available Hunter squads if you need them, but be parsimonious. The rest of the world doesn’t stop just because we’ve had a problem with pookles.”




“You would think that necromancy and taxidermy would be an obvious partnership. And yet…”

— C


The Maze, SW France.

The wind whistles through the courtyard, picking up some of last year’s desiccated autumn leaf-fall and sending it rattling around the cobbles with an insectile clicking. C, standing by the open heavy intake door for R&D, pulls her jacket more tightly around herself, the movement almost imperceptible. Merlin shuffles forwards to try to shelter her a little from the wind, but it is caught between the curtain wall and the castle, and so burls around as if dancing the Dashing White Sergeant all by itself.
Merlin glances at the dark hole into the castle, clearly uncomfortable. The door, made of 10cm thick ferritic stainless steel with a fullerite core, and outfitted with a triple deadlock and three hydraulic bar-locks made of 6mm duplex steel with an adamantium core, would normally open by the minimal amount for the shortest possible amount of time. It currently yawns wide, and Merlin does not like this one bit.
There is a reason for this state of affairs. Three nimble Cleaners are running around the courtyard, swearing, trying to catch some escaped animals. A couple of the beasts are bear-like, and three resemble artiodactyls, which bound around with gymnastic ease. The resemblance to either bear or antelope stops with their faces, which are human. In addition to these, four rabbits with antelope horns and wings scamper around, occasionally attempting to take flight.
“You would think that necromancy and taxidermy would be an obvious partnership,” C says. “And yet…”
Another gust of wind, this one carrying the memory of Pyrenean winter, hurls into the courtyard and pinballs.
“We should have brought in a sheepdog,” Merlin grumbles as C suppresses another shiver. “I could—”
“No,” C says flatly. “Where did these come from again?”
“Some place on the east coast of Scotland’s central belt. Sayles called in a Cleaner crew for their last job, and they came back with these things.” He gestures to the cage at C’s feet. “And that.”
C turns her attention to the cage. It is made of silver and copper, braided together with a dull, almost black metal that has no name outside Merlin’s lab. The cage holds something that looks like the offspring of a polyamorous relationship between a hydra, a crow, and a gooseneck barnacle. Its multiple heads droop, murmuring sonorously to themselves in an enforced slumber.
“What is it?”
“Give me a chance! I haven’t had a chance to examine it yet.”
“Any thoughts? Theories? Ideas? Anything at all.”
“Are you asking me if this is another Sìth thing?”
“I wouldn’t be so crass, Merlin.”
Merlin thinks better of arguing. “It could be anything. The heads are superficially common carrion crow, which makes it roughly European, but the rest of it… I don’t know. Let me look at it. You’ll be the first to know when I’ve got something.”
“Hmph.” C scowls at the sky as raindrops spatter onto the dry cobbles. She takes her left hand out of her pocket and murmurs a few words in an ancient tongue, drawing a sigil with her forefinger that glows briefly red-orange before fading. All of the escaped creatures come to a sudden halt and then topple over. “I don’t like this, Merlin. Humans shouldn’t have access to that kind of power.”
She watches the Cleaners collect the creatures and set them surprisingly gently back into their transport crates before carrying them into the building.
“I agree with you,” Merlin says, as they follow the Cleaners into R&D. He thumps the door lock with a loud sigh of relief. “But it’s a damn good thing some of you do.”

Later, C’s office, Camelot

C doesn’t need Darling to tell her that Merlin wants to see her. Her office door is reinforced and theoretically hermetically sealed, but there is a distinct odour reminiscent of wet dog whenever he is waiting to come in.
Perhaps wet wolf would be more accurate.
She opens her door and pours two glasses of good Scotch. It has been one of those kinds of Mondays. The kind that leads to tiring Tuesdays involving travel and meeting people who need persuading that some things are not worth the effort.
“What have you got for me, Merlin?”
“That artefact Sayles brought in. I know what it is.”
“Oh?” She nudges one of the glasses across her desk.
Merlin shakes his head, agitated, but then takes the glass and knocks back the contents. His hand trembles a little.
C frowns. “What is it?”
“It’s the Penaethiaid Bran.”
“As in Bran the Blessed?”
“No. Well, sort of. You know how Bran’s head was taken to the White Hill and buried facing France to ward off invasion, and that’s where the Tower of London now stands? They keep the ravens there. Well, there is a little known spell that involves the heads of ravens from White Hill being made to speak like Bran’s head did before they left the island of Gwales. Nobody thought it was real.” He accepts a refill gratefully and downs it before continuing. C pours another three fingers into his glass. “The Penaethiaid Bran was to be made from living birds, braided together ‘as hair is wound into a rope to hold a ship fast against the winds that come from the northern dancers,’ whatever that means. There are incantations, other things that have to be done, but we’ve lost the knowledge.” He takes a sip of whisky, calmer now. “It was said to be the Penaethiaid Bran that guided the ship that took the dying Arthur to Avalon. It can guide a traveller who knows how to use it between the realms. Any realms.”
“So how did Hartley manage to make it? How did he find the spell?”
“He didn’t. This thing is old. It might even be the one that took Arthur to Avalon. I don’t think he made it. I think this is what told him how to channel life force from one being to another.”
C drains her own glass and pours herself another. She notes the slightest of tremors in her hand and clenches it into a fist. “Where is it now?”
“In my private lab. I didn’t even want to trust it to heavy containment.”
“Good. I will escalate this. This is too valuable even for the Zoo. We need to move it where it can be guarded by…”
“A higher power?” Merlin’s relief is palpable.
C nods. “A higher power.”








“Come back, Fido!”

— Nigel


Ravenscraig, Scotland

A call for help from the police is never good. This one came from Scotland. Something terrible was taking place in the town of Ravenscraig. People had been turning up comatose, in a state unlike any coma the doctors have ever seen. The case report said seven so far, and medics could find no cause for it. None of the victims showed any sign of injury or disease. All appeared in perfect health but utterly unresponsive. Nothing identifiable connected the victims, although none was younger than the age of 40. Neither police nor medics could discern any pattern to gender, race, or other obvious categorisations. One victim was found on a park bench. One was lying next to a duck pond. One was discovered in a shopping trolley in a supermarket car park. The police searched CCTV after the last victim was found slumped next to a bus stop and saw what appeared to be some kind of animal leaving the victim there, before it disappeared into shadow.


An ape=like shape obscured by shadow near a bus stop at night


Keira, Ana, and Thomson were joined by the Rt. Hon. Nigel Fotherington Molesworth-Thomas III, who had seen what looked like the shadow of an animal he hadn’t yet bagged on some of the grainy CCTV footage. On arrival in Ravenscraig, the team went to the hospital to find out what they could from the existing patients. This involved Keira… distracting handsome Dr Ben Kidd in the supplies cupboard while the others checked charts. Ana sniffed some clothing and detected a strange chemical odour, a bit like death mixed in with the smell of magic plastic.

The team decided to try searching for the odour and used the locations of victims from the case file to decide on a search area. This led them to the park, where Ana had to contend with passers-by, Nigel’s comments of, “There’s a good doggy,” and having to get changed into wolf form in a bush. Not to mention the yapping little bichon that took an interest.

They lost the trail where it crossed the main road out of town, and went to the police station to have a look at their files and view the video.

Thomson, not being comfortable in the presence of authority, hung around outside, and met with Stu Collins, formerly of the police, but invalided out with PTSD after being bitten by a vampire. That was Thomson’s first mission, and Collin’s recognised them. After a detailed discussion on whether UFOs were more supernatural than vampires, Collins revealed that there had once been a tannery locally, owned by the Hartley family. They were pretty rich, he said, and kept themselves to themselves. Hartley House was out to the east side of town — in the direction the scent trail had led Ana, on the other side of the main road.

Inside, Keir was chatting up PC Amrit Khatri, who told her all about how the local crime boss, Big Tam, wouldn’t let any of his people try to rob Hartley House. Laughing, he explained that Big Tam thought it was haunted or something. Although Keira would have liked to chat to Big Tam, at the time he was serving at Her Majesty’s pleasure in Manchester, and wasn’t liable to be out for a few years.

Ana and Nigel spoke with DCI Mhari McLeod, who was in charge of the case. She gave them access to all the videos, including some CCTV footage that showed a suspicious shadow passing by the CCTV on the industrial estate on the eastern edge of town.

Reunited, the team headed out in that direction. At the gates to the Hartley estate, Keira pressed the buzzer. And kept pressing. It was eventually answered by a posh English accent that said they were not interested. Keira kept buzzing, but their ability to ignore an annoying noise outlasted her patience. Also, several large dogs came trotting over to the gate. Ana picked up the scent again, and it was clear there must be another entrance, as whoever left the trail wasn’t using the gate.

The dogs followed the team as they tracked the scent to a hole in the wall. Ana got a whiff of them, and realised that the dogs had the same chemical scent as the one they were trailing, although it wasn’t quite the same — whatever she could smell, the dogs were something else. While they were discussing how to get in, the dogs scrabbled their way through the hole in the wall, but they were reluctant to approach Ana, so wouldn’t come any closer.

Nigel phoned his batman, Jenkins, and ordered him to bring them some tranquiliser-laced sausages. These arrived only twenty minutes later, and Nigel and Keira tossed the doped meat to the dogs. Ana had to resist the temptation to eat one herself.

Once inside, the team entered the house through the French windows into a sitting room. It was old-fashioned, and chintzy, apart from the head mounted on the wall which, on closer examination, turned out to be a chimera of a deer and a bison with a human face. The face was warm, and the eyes moved. Shocked and horrified, the team levered the head off the wall, and it immediately oozed a stinking greenish ichor before dying.

Ana promptly rolled in it. Keira had to stop her.

When they opened the door into the main hallway, they were attacked by several large buck rabbits with antlers and wings. Ana let her wolf nature take over and quickly dispatched them, although she was then reluctant to leave her prey.

On the stairs, the team met Jeeves, a chimpanzee with the mannerisms, voice and dress of an aristocrat’s butler. They realised this was the animal shape they had seen in the CCTV videos, carrying the victims away. Above him, on a higher floor, they saw Cecil Hartley, the Hartley scion. Jeeves was not to be talked round, and before the team could go any further, they were attacked by several chimeras, including a lizard-headed man with the muscles of a blacksmith, a bear with a human face, several antelope with human faces, and a deer with a wolf’s teeth. Despite bringing heavy firepower in the form of Nigel, each team member was injured in the fighting, Keira seriously.

Once they had fought their way to the top floor, they found a taxidermy workshop where Hartley had clearly been making the chimeras. Hartley himself was just disappearing through a door at the far end. Jeeves tried to prevent them following, and the team killed him.

Two blue rings with eerie strands of light stretched between themThrough the door, they found stairs leading to an attic, where they found what appeared to be a dozen crow heads braided together on a fleshy stalk. The heads spoke in a language none of them could understand. Hartley was using a crystal lens to focus energy onto humself from a huge, shimmering orb. Without waiting to see anymore, Nigel shot the orb. Hartley withered before their eyes, and the orb began to give off a painful, high-pitched whine.

The team made a hasty exit, although Keira took the opportunity to grab the crow heads on her way out. When they reached the garden, the entire top floor of the house exploded in blue light that seemed to warp reality for a split second.

Next stop: the nearest place to give Ana a B A T H.



“I don’t think letting Merlin have this would be entirely sensible.”

— C


C’s Office, Camelot (Covenant main HQ), France.

C has hung the painting the team recovered from Wormsley Church on a wall in her office. She leans back in her office chair, head tilted to one side, staring at it.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not keeping it there,” she says. “A couple of our more robust R&D — that’s Recovery & Deposition, not Merlin’s mob, I don’t think letting Merlin have this would be entirely sensible — will be up presently to take it somewhere safe.” She glances at Keira. “Belial, Hyacinth said? Interesting. I thought we’d recovered all of his infernal artefacts when we disbanded that cult in the 80s. They were all big hair, bad attitude, and body odour. Nothing to give us any serious problems, but what they lacked in common sense and competency they made up for in funding. Quite the collection, they acquired. Belial isn’t very hands on, as arcane beings go, but I can’t say I like the idea of associated artefacts being in general circulation.”
A small light flashes on C’s console and she presses a button to open the door to her office. Two people enter, both illegally tall and made entirely of muscle. They wear gear that might have been designed by Rob Liefeld, considering the number of pockets, and shades so dark the lenses look opaque.
“The artefact, ma’am?”
“Over there, thank you.”
“None necessary. Magical containment with minimum Epsilon level clearance. Keep the graduate recruits out, will you?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
They present a PDA and C scribbles a sigil with many flourishes. Only then does the pair lift the painting off the wall, slide it into a protective case, then head to the door.
“One more thing,” C calls after them.
“Yes, ma’am?”
“The associated case is not entirely closed. Should it become necessary to dispose of the artefact, Robin here is to be given the opportunity to carry out that task.”
“Understood, ma’am.”
Once the Cleaners have left, C picks up the painting that had been there previously. It appears to be the Gustav Klimt painting “Medicine”, which was supposedly lost in WWII. She rehangs it, then sits back down at her desk.
“Assuming Agnes is now at rest, I think we can call this case closed. At least unless Black’s predicament becomes a problem for people other than Black. But let’s keep an eye out for any other artefacts that might belong to Belial regardless. Anything you wish to add?”
Nobody replies, apart from Robin, who mutters something about saving the day and wanting his picture on the wall as Hunter of the month this time.



A device resembling an old-school kaleidoscope

Ok, tanks Merlin… What clockwise?

— Robin


Heorot, the Maze (Covenant Operational HQ), south-west France.

Merlin enters the bar and nods to Ffred the barman, who proceeds to lift an enormous drinking horn down from the brackets up behind the bar and set it under Pilsner tap. Nobody else drinks the Pilsner. Everybody else knows who brews it.
“Did Karl go back to the States?” he asks Ffred.
Ffred shrugs noncommittally. “I’m not his mother, Merlin,” he says in his strong Welsh accent.
“Well, if you see anyone from the team that was in Abersky, tell them Emily found something interesting in the paperwork the Cleaners brought back with them, will you? Ooooh, lovely. That’s going to hit the spot.”
“Aberscasbethau, was it?” Ffred asks casually.
“That’s right,” Merlin says happily, his beard made even more enormous by a ring of froth around his mouth.
“Right you are, Merlin.” Ffred returns to polishing the bar.

As he leaves the bar, Merlin spots Robin in the corridor, and breaks into a grin as huge as Brian Blessed’s is when he’s in a Hawkman suit making pew pew noises. Merlin hands over a cylindrical object. It is black, shiny, and has three rings of different kinds of metallic substance Robin has never seen before. Probably no-one has ever seen before.

“Twist the front ring clockwise — clockwise from the back, that is, don’t look into the lens, never look into the lens — to turn on the light. Turn it anti-clockwise to turn it off. Has a bit of an odd cast to it, but it’ll do for seeing by, if you’ve got nothing else. You didn’t really want a torch, though, did you? Turn the front and second rings clockwise and it might light up invisible things. Like ghosts. Maybe. Look, Egbert said he saw invisible things when he used both front rings, but then he also said he’d dropped a tab with his coffee this morning to help him focus, so who knows? That’s not really the fun part, though.” He pauses, almost too excited to speak. “What you… What you do… What you do, right, is make sure all the rings are fully anticlockwise.” He forces himself to be stern for a moment. “This is VERY IMPORTANT. Then you agitate it, like this” — he holds it in both hands and shakes it vigorously, like a winning Formula 1 driver with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label — “then twist the second ring clockwise and the back ring three notches anticlockwise. Understand? I shan’t do it right now, because C will have my head. She just had the place redecorated. For gods’ sakes, man, don’t be looking at it when you do. It’ll melt your face off.” He clutches his ribs, so pleased he might explode. “It’s a MASER. Magma Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Not sure how long you can run it for before it melts, and Egbert said something about adding additional features to do with what rings you twist in what direction, but I’m not convinced it was only one tab he dropped this morning, so gods know what else it does. Have fun anyway. Let me know how you get on with it.”
Robin examines the object with some befuddlement. “Ok, tanks Merlin… What clockwise?”
Merlin strides off without hearing Robin’s question, too lost in thought of all the exciting things Robin might use it for out in the field.
Robin turns the magma-lite this way and that. “Ok, me figure out. Merlin say Robin twist bits then point, but me no look where point. Robin no forget shakey-shake bit. Was shakey-shake when look or no look?”
Oh dear.



“I am here to save the day!”

— Captain Chaos


Meet the Incompetents

Hunters do not arrive fully formed, in possession of all the skills and competencies they need to fulfil the Covenant’s mission successfully. There can be frustration when desire to get out and save the world exceeds the Covenant’s trust in someone’s ability to do just that.

Captain Chaos felt just such a frustration when he stole a file from the Mission Control Desk, where it was awaiting triage and assignment to a Hunter team. Along with Phil Nhiles the engineering student on a placement in Merlin’s workshop, and recent recruit James Burke, a chronologically-misplaced 17th century privateer, they took their provisional IDs and went hunting.

A black furry creature with pointy ears and a tailThe case was death by computer game. Phil managed to alienate every single person who could have offered them any useful information by insisting that his Covenant ID (provisional) meant he outranked anyone in a uniform. Regardless, with the help of police K9 Brutus and his handler Daisy  Fisher, they tracked the fae technomancer IRIDESSA to her factory, where she had some of the townspeople enthralled and carrying out the ritual to create enchanted USB sticks. These were distributed via pupils at the local school, with the help of Iridessa’s Black Phooka, who  was mimicking people the children trusted — imaginary friends, celebrities, YouTube stars, and anyone else who could influence them.

The team trapped Iridessa using a powerful electromagnet normally used for shifting machinery around the factory floor. Captain Chaos attempted to make her promise to leave and never return, which she refused on the basis that she could not promise not to do something if her Lady subsequently required it of her. She also said she would tell her Lady about the the affront to her person. Having dispatched Iridessa and freed the townsfolk, the team burned the rest of the USB sticks and closed down the factory.

An elf-like woman with cyberpunk stylingIf Iridessa is acting on the word of Queen Maedhbh, and her mission involved harming humans, this raises very serious questions about the Sìth queen’s attitude towards humans. Why would the Sìth do this, knowing that the Covenant would have to investigate? Or does something happen at the Mission Control Desk to protect them? When C sent the team to Abersky, it was with express instructions to verify and do nothing more (although the chances of the team she sent leaving well alone where slim to none). How is it that the Sìth can limit how far the Covenant pries into their affairs when it comes to how they interact with humans? And, if they are truly allies, why would they?



“Something given after death is still a gift.”

— Hyacinth


Professor Fantastic Has A Very Bad Day

Case file: Darren Black, stage name “Professor Fantastic”, is a street magician, illusionist and arch-debunker of those who claim to have supernatural powers. Famously ill-tempered, he delights in the misfortunes of his rivals, and loves to stick a metaphorical knife in when someone is already on the ground. He has a prize on offer to anyone who can demonstrate anything resembling magic abilities, but somehow nobody has ever won it. That means he’s cheating. According to the report, he recently investigated the most haunted church in England, the infamous Wormsley Parish Church. Now, the oddest, most inexplicable things are happening, and they are driving him mad. Probably couldn’t happen to a more deserving chap, but I suppose we should look into it.



Ana: a solitary member of one of the allied werewolf packs.

Hyacinth: powerful frost witch masquerading as a sweet old lady.

Robin: chronologically challenged Neanderthal

Keira Sayles: Bad girl, crook, mistress of sacrcasm.


After turning up at Black’s house, the team met Geoffrey Collins, Black’s PA. Black himself was not at home. Collins explained that, ever since the church, Black had been having problems. Wishes were coming true in the worst possible way. Pressed for more information, Collins tried to give examples: he’d wish for a parking space, and a truck would crash through the car park, shoving cars out of the way. He’d express the desire to have cheese after his evening meal, and a lorryload would be dumped on the drive in the middle of the night. He could no longer so much as think about getting a hair cut, for fear of what might happen, and have you ever tried NOT thinking about something? He was becoming paralyzed.

Both Keira and Hyacinth immediately recognised this as a curse and asked if they had stolen anything from the church. The answer was no. Did they talk to anyone? No. Was he sure? Yes. Well, other than the sweet little girl who appeared in the graveyard…

Black came home while they were discussing what the little girl had said, and he was furious. He tried to make the team leave, but when he opened his mouth to tell them to get out, no words would come. A chair slid through from an adjoining room and knocked his feet out from under him, so that he was sitting facing them all.

Keira tortured him a little by repeatedly demanding he tell them he did not want help. Either the curse prevented him from speaking, or he was paralyzed with fear of what might happen if he expressed even a negative desire.

The Hunters established from Collins that the little girl had told them there was a cursed painting in the church, and the cantrip associated with it. Black, of course, in his role of arch-debunker, had chosen to go into the church and recite the cantrip in front of the painting.

Belial once and Belial twice /  Where flames once were / You now find ice / Grant me a demon to do my will / Should I ask for good, it shall do ill.

After that, the team headed to the church. They found the painting, but it seemed to be stuck to the wall and there was no way to remove it. Outside in the churchyard, nosing around, they realised they were being watched by a fox with piercing blue eyes. Ana gave chase, and finally caught up with the fox in the woods. The fox transformed into a feisty redhead with a predatory grin and a strong line in flirting, to which Ana was entirely oblivious. She called herself Red.

A fox sitting in a cemetery

After some pressure from the team, which she seemed to enjoy hugely, Red explained that she was pissed off at Black because she’d tried to win the £1million prize, and he’d refused to acknowledge her power. She’s a god! How very dare he! All of this was her revenge. Said revenge wasn’t just getting him to activate the curse in the painting (which, by the way, she put there — it does not belong to the church), but also to set Black Agnes on him.

Black Agnes was a witch who was hanged in 1587. She escaped being burned only because she supplied fertility potions to the local Duchess, Eleanor of Lembury. She was accused of witchcraft by a local man who fell off a cart after he had been drinking and hurt his back, and could therefore no longer work. He accused her of cursing him, because she had been passing on her way to help deliver a baby. Eleanor and some of Agnes’s other clients arranged secretly for her to be buried in the cemetery. Her bones were dug up during some archaeological work and put on display in a local museum. Some years later, a local coven stole her skeleton and reburied it in a secret place within the church grounds. Red had taken the metal wire that had been used to articulate her skeleton and hidden it on Black. Now Agnes was on her way to hunt him down and get it back, because she considered it hers.

“Of course,” Hyacinth said. “Something given after death is still a gift.”

The team started tracking Black’s route back from the church, having got the details of where they had stopped from Collins. At the big Tesco on the outskirts of Eastbourne, where they had stopped for Collins to buy a cheese and onion pasty, they were met by DC Mark Rintoul and DCI Jane Reid. DCI Reid worked with Unit 13 on the Wendigo case in Scotland, and was more than happy to offer their co-operation. They were there because one of the security guards had attacked a colleague before walking out of the store. He seemed to be in some kind of fugue state or mental crisis, like several other people they had picked up that day already, and was currently still walking about 6 miles away while they waited for mental health support to come in and pick him up.

Keira said they would take care of it, then they drove as fast as they could to find the security guard. He was, as described, walking along the road, followed by a police escort.

Keira waved the police away and Hyacinth established that the guard had been possessed by Black Agnes. They persuaded her to get into their car on the basis that they could get Agnes to where she was going faster.

The drove where Agnes directed. Her host sat in the back and pointed with one arm straight out, occasionally demanding that they stop. Whenever they stopped, she would take her current host and find  new one — all people with whom Black had interacted.

Back at Black’s house, the team rescued Black’s driver from the shades Agnes summoned, then searched everywhere for the pieces of metal, but couldn’t find them. They called Collins and found out that Black was visiting his creative consultant — the man who designed his magic tricks for him.

Arriving at the warehouse containing the magical workshop, Keira shoved her way inside and yelled, “Oi! Dickhead! Bits of metal!”

Black had no idea what they were talking about. After a few minutes of arguing, Black’s booking agent, Cassie Foyle, revealed herself to be none other than Red the Fox. She said she might have hidden the articulation wire in Black’s jacket lining. With that information, they quickly found the wire.

Agnes still needed to go back to her resting place but needed a host to do it. Red eventually agreed to help, and turned up with a singularly intelligent looking cat. As for breaking the curse… All Black had to do was apologise and pay up, and then she would sort that out. As far as the team was concerned, this was between Black and Red, and so they left Black to stew in his own misogynistic, entitled bullshit.

Back at Wormsley, the cat led them to Agnes’s grave. The team buried the articulation wire, reuniting it with its owner, and so bringing to an end the haunting of Wormsley Church. They took the cat inside the church and had the bright idea of asking him how to get the painting off the wall. The cat extending one claw, inserted it into a very narrow slot on the side of the painting, at which point there was a click and the painting came free.

The team returned to base with the painting, with the exception of Hyacinth, who took the cat — now called Marcus Oliver Graves — home.




A woman shown as head and shoulders sitting in an ornate thrown


The Queen’s Court, Elfame

Elres is summoned to Court. The ruler of the people sits in a large, ornately carved throne, iridescent with colours only found on the wings of insects. The drapes that conceal the servants’ entrances are the colour of moss growing in a forest grove. Tapestries on the walls depict hunting scenes, bordered by intricate embroidery in the form of stylised animals, plants, and geometric designs. Around the court fringes sit or stand the courtiers, nearly all of them wearing animal masks in a mix of highly decorated silks bedecked with jewels, and headpieces so realistic that it looks as though they are, in fact, anthropomorphised animals. A hare whispers to a boar, giggling behind one paw as both of them stare shamelessly at Elres approaching the dais. A courtier, wearing a fluttering ruby dragonfly the size of a magpie over their face instead of a mask, sidles amongst the rest of the court, keeping pace, watching slyly. A fox, sitting somewhat separate from the others, black paws neatly together and brush curled round them, scrutinises her with eyes that glow sapphire blue when the light catches them. A bear, towering over the others, huffs and grumbles wordlessly.
“The humans know about the Pechts, child. I am disappointed that you could not prevent this. How did we not know that the old witch was keeping one of the gates alive? And how were we to guess that a human might find a way to make use of such a thing for his own, inexplicable purposes? I made Athena believe I would take her hunters’ heads and have them set upon spikes in our Great Hall, and so gained leverage over her. I will not be shy about reminding her of that.” She allows her gaze to wander over her rich tapestries and fine drapes, and to linger upon one or two of her more finely dressed courtiers. She laughs. “What paltry decorations they would make. We do not want the Pechts to gain a foothold in the human Realm. I trust you understand this. We did not pass beyond the Ninth Wave and leave our first World to the humans only for the Pechts to find a way back. Come closer, child. I would add to your instructions.”
The courtiers watch with more than obvious jealousy as Elres ascends the dais and kneels, so her ruler can whisper into her ear.

Astoria, Queens, New York, USA

Cut to a much less grand setting: a small house in Astoria, Queens, which is kept neatly, but clearly hasn’t had new furniture, curtains, carpet, or inhabitants in a very long time. Beige, brown, and faded green are much in evidence. Several of the chairs have clearly had their legs repaired with newer wood; expertly, but with no thought given to whether the new wood matched the old.
There’s a knock at the door. There’s a doorbell, of course, but Norman had disconnected it years ago. Everyone he wanted to see knew to knock; anyone who didn’t could stand out there and press the button until the cows came home, for all he cared. Norm opened the door to find a man with enough lurid scars to give the impression that he’d been torn to pieces and stitched back together. He had a personality to match.
“Jesus Christ, you leathery old cuss, you’re still alive.”
“Hell yes, Karl. Clean livin’. Ain’t drank nuthin’ but vodka for fitty years. Keeps the pipes clean. You want coffee?”
Karl had no idea how old Norm was. He’d been old when Karl’s dad had introduced them, and Karl’s dad never knew him when he wasn’t old, either, or at least never mentioned it if he had. He *did* mention that Karl’s grandfather had introduced *them*, and that if you wanted to be welcomed in ever again, you never refused the offer of coffee.
After the usual polite chat, Norm walked Karl down to the workshop he had in the basement; Karl hardly ever visited if he didn’t have a request. “Whaddaya need?”
“Teflon-jacketed with a magnetic iron core. Sidearm caliber, three hundred rounds.”
Norm looked at him for a long moment. “No shit.”
“No shit.”
“Got it. Swing by on Thursday, and bring some of that kielbasa you get from the Polish deli you won’t give me the address for, because you’re an asshole. You want them in mags?”
“Six mags, the rest in boxes. Braille-key the mags with an ‘F’ on the back.”

Heorot, the Maze (Covenant Operational HQ)

In the seemingly deserted bar at Covenant HQ, lit only by the shrinking glimmer of embers dying in the open fireplace, a gravelly voice suddenly shatters the silence. “Robin try to ‘member what Karl say he get for bang-stick to throw? Special type of metal rock him say. Me think it sound like… um… err… mag-something. Mag….mag… magma-light! Yes, magma-light sound like what Robin need.” A figure rises from the concealing shadow of a wingback armchair and approaches the fireplace. It leans over and Robin’s face is revealed, his heavy angular features softened by the sultry amber glow. After a quick, furtive glance to check he is alone he leans closer, then bellows up the chimney “Hey Santa, Robin want magma-light!” As the echoes of his cry scrabble up the sooty brickwork to freedom Robin turns away, then stops. “Xmas not soon” he ponders, “Maybe Robin ask Merlin for magma-light as well as thunder-rock. Yes, good plan Robin, me ask Merlin.” He takes a step, then stops again. “Maybe me ask her too, just in case.” With a slight shiver of dread at the enormity of the power he is about to address in supplication, Robin returns to the fireplace and inserts his head, once again, into its gaping maw. This time his voice is tens of decibels lower, as near to as whisper as he can get, and respectful. “Please may Robin have magma-light? Me will tidy room, take medicine, and even wash behind Robin’s ears. Thank you… Mary Poppins.”

RaAD Weapons Development, The Maze

Merlin glances up as Robin skulks into the workshop. “Duck!” Something resembling a boomerang with teeth whizzes over Robin’s head. A few hairs drift to the floor, wafting gently. “Sorry about that. Rogers there is really not a very good aim. That’s why he’s not allowed in the field. I SAID THAT’S WHY YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED IN THE FIELD, ISN’T IT, ROGERS? Deaf as a post.”
Rogers shakes his head. “I can hear you just fine, sir,” he says in a small voice.
Merlin juggles awkwardly with some crystals. They look suspiciously like the crystals Windsor was using to power his leyline accumulators. “We’ve just been playing around with these. The clean-up crew brought them back from bonny wee Scotland.” He puts on a terrible, see-you-jimmy accent to say it. “There was some paperwork as well, but R&D are looking over that. What’s that Emily? SPEAK UP WOMAN? Yes, quite right, that’s us. You ARE looking at it, aren’t you Emily? WELL THEN. Quite fun. I can think of things to do with them already. Anyway. What can I do for you, eh?”
“Last mission Robin see people me no see since me come from long time back ago when to now time,” Robin says. “Robin see Vadhagh. Me no see often back then, but they always walk round with nose in air going la-de-dah look at hairy man how amusing, but how smelly. Robin think nose so far up in air it go round and up Vadhagh’s own poop place. They big danger if angry, rock no hurt good, stick no hurt good, and pointed stick only make more angry. Robin find out they no like special rock, but me only have normal rock, stick, and pointed stick. Keira no let Robin drive and no let have rock go bang, so how me halp good if only have normal rock and sticks? Robin need upgrade. Robin need thunder-rock that go bang… go bang and make all who hear thunder go surprise poop. Me also need special rock thing that Robin think called magma-light. Me not know what it do, but Robin need for good halp if meet Vadhagh again. Merlin and Robin frens, so Robin let Merlin know me already ask higher powers Santa and Mary Poppins, so if Merlin say ‘Robin, no’ like Keira and C” — he drops his voice to a loud whisper that carries all around the testing lab — “who like Keira, but old,” — his voice returns to normal, which doesn’t travel much further than to Merlin’s ears over the general background noise — “then me get anyway. Santa only come once a year and Mary Poppins busy lady, so will be delay. Robin sad for delay, so come to frens Merlin. Robin know Merlin no like be beaten by Santa or Mary Poppins, so me come Merlin to get thunder-rock and magma-light first. Imagine look on Mary’s… me mean Santa’s face when Robin say ho-ho-ho me already got from frens Merlin, just leave by tree and be on merry way.”
Merlin runs his fingers through his massive, furry beard. His eyebrows thicken, his eyes gleam with flecks of amber, and is there a suggestion of teeth looking a little more sharp?
“YOU ALREADY ASKED MARY POPPINS? GOOD GODS MAN. DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME SHE AND C BUMPED INTO EACH OTHER? We can’t have the world’s most annoying nanny turning up here. We’re far too busy for C to be distracted trying double or quits on that sniper distance challenge. And less of the old. She’s a wonderful woman.” He grins in a way that suggests he knows exactly how wonderful she is. “That bloody umbrella-wielding witch cheats. Right. Thunder-rock, make surprise poop you say. Hopkins! HOPKINS! Get this man a whoopee grenade will you? Mark 2. Actually, better make that mark 3. The mark 2 was rather unstable. Not sure what a magma light is, but I do have some ideas. Give me a couple of days, will you? I’ve got a lad out collecting for me near Stromboli. Should be back soon. I’ll be in touch. And, Robin,” he pats Robin on the shoulder with an enormous hand, “best keep this on the down low, eh?”
Robin grins hugely. “Ok, Robin not tell. Surprise poop better if thunder-rock also surprise anyway. Me go now, but me come back for magma-light. Robin thank frens Merlin, so go fly kite ask Mary Poppins no come now.”
He skips merrily away singing the opening to Thunderstruck replacing the ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah bit with wet raspberry sounds.


A raven


A Tap At The Window

Not long after Hyacinth gets home, a raven appears at her kitchen window and taps on the glass with its great beak. In the sheen of its feathers, held only in the iridescence and not part of its colouring at all, are swirls and lines she recognises from the stones of Abersky and the Cigfrain who kept watch over the hunters as they fled the Sluagh and the Cù Sìth.

Hyacinth opens the window and the raven presents her with a vellum envelope.

“Corvids bring the most interesting letters,” Hyacinth says, as she takes the envelope. The bird bows, utters a soft croak, then launches itself into the air and flies away.

Hyacinth makes herself a cup of tea and sits at the kitchen table to read the letter. It is from the witch Dolmech, who lives on the lochside not far from Abersky.

Bran Croft

Loch Briste


Annwyl Hyacinth,

       The folk of the village told me of how you helped Old Morgan understand what was happening, so she could tell Queen Drusicc. It was a bad business. A very bad business. I was on my way over when that  twmffat English boy ripped  Aberscasbethau from its moorings and sent it spinning like a drunken buzzard over to the Ancestors. As you may have gathered by now, that did nobody any good at all. Aberscasbethau should only meet with her ancestral village at the Cyfodiadau y Twyll. That’s when those bastard guiodel  are blinded, although there are few places where it works at all. It happens at the time of what you would call the Great Conjunction, and a long line of women going back into the ages have made sure that this window never sticks. Quietly, with no fuss. I am just the latest, and you have my gratitude for your part in ensuring I will not be the last. For even if the guiodel try to stop us, we will continue to bring the light of the descendants to our imprisoned ancestors. If it’s war they want, then war they shall have, and we have a forge and iron aplenty.

I hope they will not  attempt to put a stop to our family gatherings. It is bad enough that they tried to replace the spirit of Coed ar y Ffin with one of their own, and now our dear Cerddinen must pretend allegiance to the enemy when they come to make sure our kin are still imprisoned. Ah well. Needs must when the devil comes calling.

If you are ever back by ours, drop in. I shall know you are around.  Mewn pob daioni y mae gwobr.

       Diolch yn fawr

       Domelch y Pritani


Hyacinth folds the letter carefully and puts it back in its envelope. She has no intention of going out of her way to share its contents. It’s not a secret, but it is a personal letter, after all. Neither Keira nor Karl would be especially interested, she thinks, and she most certainly will not show it to Elres, who is not to be trusted. Still, if Robin pops round for lunch, she might tell him about it.

Thoughtfully, she puts the envelope away somewhere safe. She would like to meet this witch Dolmech. Perhaps there are other witches out there, too.