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.”









“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.



“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 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.





The Covenant's HQ: a castle on a wooded hillside.


— Keira


C’s Office, Covenant HQ

“Well. You will be delighted to hear that Queen Maedhbh has agreed her current décor would not, in fact, be enhanced by the presence of your decapitated heads. Leaf green and blood red are not a good combination unless it is a battlefield, apparently, and she fears it might give some of her younger, more impressionable courtiers the wrong idea about the future she sees for her race.” C glares at them. She is not often visibly angry. She is so now. “I gave you very strict orders, yes? Can everyone agree that I gave very strict, very precise orders? Can we have that on the record? And I understand that it was Elres who made the initial decision to investigate further rather than returning as instructed? Yes? And by the time you made the decision to return as per orders and hand over the evidence you had collected, you were no longer able to leave?”

Everybody shuffles their feet and makes affirmative noises.

“Excellent. We have had suspicions about certain unsavoury practices on the part of our — ahem — esteemed allies for some time. You may consider, Mr Novac, that your team was an ill fit for this mission. I can assure you, it was carefully considered and absolutely fit for the job. Ms Sayles has the mindset to do unsavoury things where necessary. Robin comes from a time when the Sìth still lived in this Realm. Hyacinth — yes, I know she is not here — is an accomplished witch and as sharp as a tack. Elres is… Elres has a particular background that made her well suited to this mission. Mr Novac, you have the stopping power of an ill-tempered rhinoceros and little compunction about using it. Would you have suggested I send our intern? No. I thought not.

“There are only a few things I need to know at this point. The Sìth would have us believe that the Pritani — yes, Ms Sayles, those are what you would call the Picts — are a dangerous race. They say the tribes they have imprisoned were those who refused to give up their culture and integrate with changing society. They insisted on keeping their language, their customs, their martial practices, their pride. Their magic, ladies and gentlemen. Did they seem dangerous to you? What were your impressions?” Before anyone can answer, she continues. “And Windsor. Was there anything that might help us to ascertain how he found out about Abersky and its unique arrangements? Was he an opportunist, or do you think he had any additional agenda? Ideally we would have him in custody. As you know, we have agents who are very skilled at extracting information from even the most unwilling subject. Still. No matter, Needs must.”

Robin holds up one hairy hand. “Robin no do an investigate, me only throw rock.”

C sighs. “If you say so, Robin. I am sure you were more helpful than that. Or perhaps I should be speaking to your previous incarnation.”

“Keira no let Robin help. Robin want drive, Robin want rock go bang, Keira say no. Me only throw rock, sing song of Robin’s people… and me maybe mumble mumble mumble.”

Robin shuffles back behind Karl.

“All I wanted to do was have Keira get some pictures of the stone circle. Seemed like an important place to photograph. Not her fault that things went sour so quickly,” Elres says.

“This is not about fault,” C says sharply. “It is a record of fact. No one is being thrown to the wolves, or should I say Cù Sìth. I am establishing, for the record, what happened in what order. That is all. Anything more than that will come from your own people. At least as far as you are concerned.”

Karl grunts. “I’ve shared my opinions on the suitability of the team on a mission that wasn’t meant to go sideways; you didn’t throw us under the bus, and that’s really all I was worried about. As regards the Pritani, between them and the Sìth, they were the ones who didn’t attack us and in fact protected us while we were undoing the nutty professor’s work. They also aided us in keeping the villagers from getting fitted for body bags, and, excepting pointy-ears over there, I think we’ve made some tenuous inroads toward a functional working relationship. And they don’t seem to be shrieking assholes, which is more than I can say for our current Sìth allies. Ma’am.”

C almost manages to hide her smile. “Thank you for that carefully expressed assessment, Mr Novac. I am pleased you were less informative, not to mention expressive, when you approached me earlier. Elres, perhaps you can keep the ‘shrieking assholes’ part of Mr Novac’s assessment from official dispatches? Thank you so much. In your opinion, Mr Novac, is there likely to be anything left on site that makes it worth sending some forensic techs to run clean-up?”

“No worry, Karl leave plenty needing clean. He make big mess,” Robin cackles.

“Might be reasonable to gather up any equipment Dr. Wonko left, just in case any of it is potentially operational or instructive to like-minded dumbasses,” Karl says. “We were mostly concerned with shutting it down at the time; he might have more equipment tucked away under his bed or something. My sister-in-law is tenured faculty, and given what she makes, I have to assume these machines aren’t terribly expensive to make, if he had 8 or 9 of them. Might be an even ten, and again, see previous, re: like-minded dumbasses. And,” he says, jabbing Robin in the ribs. “as messes go, one sluagh tartare isn’t that bad.”

“I doubt anyone will replicate the work. It seems” — C pinches the bridge of her nose as if cutting off thoughts of even more complications — “Dr Windsor was born in 1843 and has been working on this problem for quite some time, aided by canny investments of an inheritance. Nevertheless, I shall send in the Cleaners. A sensible idea.”

“That’s a genuine relief, ma’am,” Karl says.

Robin leans out from behind Karl and holds up his hand. “Ok. Robin help, me go do clean.”

“No, Robin, we need someone sensible. As much as I appreciate your willingness, I am sure we can find something more suited to your talents.”

“C just like Keira and say no Robin,” Robin says, miming his idea of Keira telling him ‘no’ for the umpteenth time. “C Just like Keira, but old. Me bet second best stick C say no to Robin want rock go bang just like Keira.” He goes back behind Karl, muttering loudly. “Robin go Merlin and me get magic rock go bang. magic rock go bang better than just rock go bank, must have better name… hmmmm… Thunder rock! Yes. Thunder rock good name. Me get thunder rock from Merlin. If Merlin in good mood Robin get rock not only go bang, but when rock make thunder all who hear go surprise poop!”

Keira steps forward, obviously annoyed. “I took a LOT of pictures and distinctly a) reminded people we should not investigate; and b) prevented at least one Covenant Asset from jumping through a hole in the world; and c) managed to convince a local to talk to a relative to prevent an entire village being stuck in a fae prison. I DID GOOD OK?”

“Thank you, Ms Sayles. Your photographic evidence has already been passed to the Research and Archive Division,” C says, checking her computer screen. “We have a physiotherapist ready to assess your injury for any lasting damage, should you consent to medical support. Your intervention in the case of the villagers is duly noted and most appreciated, even though I understand Hyacinth mediated on the more technical aspects? A pity about Dr Windsor. I am sure we would have found placing him in one of our interrogation units most… edifying.”

“Dr Windsor’s demise was an unfortunate case of a ricochet warning shot. Won’t happen again.”

“Is that a euphemism for…” C checks her notes again. “Shot him in the talisman?” She offers a wink so subtle it might not even be a wink. “I cannot say I would have acted differently. A passing observation, no more.”

“All I can decisively say is a warning shot was definitely issued, and his talisman was hit by a bullet. Ma’am.”

Karl’s face is so impassive, the inside of his cheek must be a raw mess from being bitten to keep himself from laughing. His eyes have not so much as moved in Keira’s direction since she began talking, but after that last “ma’am” he was vibrating so hard that C’s tea resembles a water glass in Jurassic Park, and right now it’s 50:50 whether he’ll make it through the rest of the debrief without laughing or exploding.

Robin stops muttering for a moment. “Keira make bad promise. Man no here. Man already dead.. Hard to kill man already dead. Very hard if dead man no here,” he exclaims.

C fails to hide a chuckle by clearing her throat. “Very well. You are all dismissed. Thank you. Should there be anything else, I am sure I will be able to find you.”


A stone carved with Pictish symbols

“Keira’s Very Fairy Bad Day.”

— Hyacinth

Somewhere in the wild and desolate far north of Scotland…

Hyacinth Battle-proven frost witch with an irresistable old granny act.
Elres On secondment to the Covenant from… Well. That’s Need To Know, and so far nobody has needed to know.
Robin A Neanderthal who accidentally travelled from “long time back ago” after touching a magic obelisk.
Keira Sayles Nickname “The Smile”. Ended up working for the Covenant after charging them for her assistance on a mission. It’s cheaper to have her on the payroll than accept her freelance rates.
Karl Novac The Novac family has been providing private protection against supernatural creatures for generations. For a price. Karl works for the Covenant because he’s more interested in monster hunting than diplomacy.


Mission summary:

C sent the team to the tiny hamlet of Abersky in the far north-west of Scotland. One of the Covenant’s allies had claimed a Fringe Physicist was in the area, up to no good.  The mission parameters were quite simple: check it out. See if there is anything unusual. If there is, report back. DO NOTHING. It was not supposed to be an investigation. the only job was to verify that something needed investigating. Should an investigation be needed, the allies in question would take that on themselves.

C was very clear about this. Everyone said they understood.


On arrival, the team repaired to the village pub, where Robin explained to Karl that a “pint” meant a beer and Keira took some photos of the wall of fog about a mile offshore. The landlady, Mary Urqhuart, mentioned when questioned that there had indeed been someone odd in town — an English lad, she said, was renting the old McPhail farmhouse. “He doesn’t really talk to anyone,” she said. “He does a lot of hiking up the back hill, near the stone circle.”

Elres insisted that they investigate further, despite Keira’s objections. On leaving the pub to investigate the farmhouse, the team discovered the mist had come all the way into the village. As Keira drove the Covenant Range Rover slowly out of the village to the McPhail farm, the mists grew thicker until she could barely see a thing. Within the mists, shadows moved.

In the farmhouse, the team found various papers covered in calculations, maps, a few photographs, and some strange pieces of apparatus that looked like old valve radios hooked up to crystals by means of wire resembling flexible haematite. Despite their orders to leave well alone, they decided to go looking in the woods for the stone circle.

In the woods, they came across a reality tear — a blue, shimmering fracture that appeared two-dimensional from any viewpoint.

A blue, glowing object hangs in front of a background of misty trees

Robin, surprised, through his rock at it, and his rock vanished through the tear. It was his favourite rock. He was distraught. He immediately tried to go into the tear to find his rock, but Keira held him back on the basis this was A Very Bad Idea.

Hyacinth and Elres decided they would go through instead.

On the Other Side, Hyacinth and Elres became separated. Elres recognised the place as the Betwixt, the world that exists in the gap between the Land of the Fae and the Land of the Humans — between the Underworld of the Sìth and the Overworld of Earth. She called for Hyacinth, knowing how easy it would be for a human to become lost there, even a human as magically powerful as Hyacinth. When she did so, Hyacinth called back from somewhere in the misty gloom.

A giant black dog with red, glowing eyes against a dark, smoky background.But so did something else. A deep, throaty bark shattered the eerie stillness. Then another. Both Hyacinth and Elres could feel the burgeoning fear as the Cù-Sìth approached. Elres drew her flaming sword, seeing red eyes, twin points of flame in the twilight. She called again for Hyacinth, knowing that if she ventured so far into the Betwixt she lost sight of the portal back to Earth, neither of them would make it back.

Hyacinth found her, but the black dog was between both of them and the portal, and it seemed it would be impossible for them to pass. Although she had drawn her sword, Elres had a power that none of the team knew: she banished the Cù-Sìth, sending it far away. Ears flat, tail between its legs, whimpering, the great dog slunk away into the darkness like it had been scolded by its master.

Hyacinth and Elres made it back through the portal, Hyacinth now very suspicious of her team-mate.

The others had already gone.


Tired of waiting for Elres and Hyacinth, and with more and more shadows appearing in the mists, the other three had headed towards the circle. As they proceeded, they were stalked from above by a small, implike creature that fluttered through the trees above them, watching their every move.A small creature with bat wings and pointy ears.

On reaching the circle, they decided not to go inside the perimeter of stones. “That’s magic stuff,” Keira declared (not for the first or the last time). “Magic stuff is not my job. Where did Hyacinth get to? She does magic stuff.”

At that moment, a loud, deep bark echoed through the trees. The stone circle began to glow with a blue shimmer resembling the one they had seen in the forest.

The team made to scarper before being swallowed by some sort of proto-dimension. Behind them, figures appeared in the circle: a man and a woman, surrounded by a pack of lithe, restless hounds with white fur and red ears. The man was large and swarthy, carrying a short sword. The woman was tall and red-haired. Both were painted in complex designs of bright blue. They spoke in a language the team didn’t understand, but which sounded a little like Welsh. Their hounds began to pour from the circle in an undulating wave of shining teeth and panting tongues.

The team ran, almost colliding with Elres and Hyacinth, who had finally caught up. All of them headed back through the trees, only pausing long enough for Keira to shoot the bat-winged creature tracking them from above. The white and red hounds gave chase.

As they approached the outer edge of the forest, the shadows in the mist grew more numerous, more substantial. Finally, they caught sight of one — a terrible, cadaverous form with dead-fish eyes and the thin, greasy hair of a corpse. it screeched, running towards them, only for two of the white hounds to set upon it like lions on a gazelle. The white hounds continued to protect them as they made their way out of the mist-dense forest.

Upon reaching the farmhouse, they discovered it was occupied. A man was there, wearing a tweed suit and packing equipment into a bag. This man turned out to be Dr Gerald Windsor, who was unexpectedly co-operative when it came to explaining what he was doing, although his confident assertion that he was making a perpetual motion power generator from an astronomical conjunction didn’t make a lot of sense. Keira was finally reduced to shooting him, although this did no damage until Hyacinth’s magical senses determined he was protected by an amulet.

Amongst his papers, they found a diagram showing how his devices were connected to the stone circle, and decided to end this.

Outside, the cadaverous creatures were everywhere, and both Keira and Hyacinth found themselves overcome with terror at the sound of their terrible screeching, so both of them were unable to stop themselves fleeing. Elres, Karl and Robin were not affected. Karl laid into the nearest pair, aided by Robin. Karl’s serious firepower made short of work of his opponent, but Robin was bitten and was being drained of life until Elres stepped in with her flaming sword and stabbed the creature attacking him. She then banished them all, clearing the way for the team to regroup and head back to the circle.

Up at the circle, the entire population of the village had gathered and was heading towards the great rip at the centre of the circle. Local PC Kenneth McLeod was desperately trying to get them to stop. He and Keira recognised each other.

“It’s the wrong time!” he yelled.

With some effort, Keira was able to find out from McLeod that the circle was a gateway to the village’s ancestors, imprisoned by the Sìth in a kind of temporal limbo. Once a generation, circumstances arose that blinded their Sìth prison guards and allowed people from the village to meet with their Pecht ancestors — frequently becoming inhabited by more recent ancestors while this happened. Windsor had somehow found out about this and thought he could tap the energy created by tearing the village free from its temporal moorings. The problem was, doing it at the wrong time meant the Sìth guards could see it happening, which was why the area was swarming with Sluagh and Cù-Sìth.

Keira relayed all of this to Hyacinth, who managed to explain to one of the villagers, at that moment possessed by the spirit of her Great Great Great Great etc Grandmother, who could speak the language of the Pechts. She in turn explained it to the Queen, who ordered all of the villagers to leave the circle while the Covenant team found all of Windsor’s devices and smashed them, anchoring the circle back in the present where it should have been, and bringing the village back to the present.



An image of a wooden walkway approaching an old castle

“Hey asshole!” — Keira Sayles

“I’m busy!” —Karl Novac

Mission Briefing:

Our Intelligence desk received an anonymous report:

You need to look at Corvinus Castle. It’s in Transylvania. People go in. They don’t come out. No one ever comes out. We don’t know how many. No one will talk about it.

The Covenant has been unable to trace the castle’s current owners. We dispatched a Hunter Squad to look into it, reasoning that it is better to check and find nothing than not to identify a potential source of concern.



Corvinus Castle is a 15th century fortress in the deep forests of the Carpathians, long abandoned. It suffered from extensive fire damage in the 17th century, and  some attempt to repair it was made in the mid 19th century, but this was never completed. The Covenant holds scant information about the Corvinus family, who had the castle built while their patriarch was a Prince of Transylvania, but the site has not given rise to any previous reports, nor is there any reason to believe the Corvinus family was particularly supernaturally active.



Keira Sayles: One-time criminal, now working for the Covenant because the alternative is likely to be hazardous to her health.

Karl Novac: A scion of a long line of supernatural bodyguards and personal protection specialists. Notable for his custom chainsaw. Just don’t ask to see what he has in his case.

Rikka-chan: This Japanese, second year middle-school pupil transforms into the muscle-bound beefcake Subaru-kun.

Sally B.: An intern. An orphan of some means, she has demonstrated her persistence by convincing the Covenant to give her a chance to train as a Hunter. This is her first mission.


Note: interjections from Mission Debriefing officer labelled MD. Most of this interview was with Keira Sayles and Karl Novac. This has been abbreviated and redacted for clarity.

On arrival at the site, the weather turned rapidly from overcast to heavy rain of the kind that hurts when it hits you. It was cold, and we could hear howling in the trees. We collected our gear and proceeded at pace to the castle entrance. 

Immediately we entered the premises, the door shut behind us. There was a moment of disorientation. When we recovered ourselves, the door would not open. Some of our kit was scattered on the floor beside us. Karl’s weapons, Rikka-chan’s phone —anything that had been held in our hands or on our persons was on the ground, including the map provided in our briefing pack.

Rikka-chan attempted to pick up their phone, but their hand passed through it. Keira tried to retrieve her weapons, but again was incapable of going so. We spent approximately twenty minutes trying various ways to interact with our gear, but it was impossible.

At this point Karl and Keira decided the team should move on into the castle and try to find out what had happened. When we reached the chapel, we met a female human entity.

An image of a woman in black clothes with a pale face and dark make-up

MD: Sayles and Novacs both described this entity as “dead goth girl” — further analysis suggests the identity of this entity to be a member of one of the various Endless Dreamer cults, possibly Gitta Schulte, one of five self-described tourists reported missing by the owner of a self-catering lodge in nearby Deva in 1987.

She explained we were — not to put too fine a point on it — dead. It took some persuasion, but eventually Subaru-kun charmed this ghost into explaining how we might be reunited with our bodies. We were lucky, apparently, as it had not been long since we were relieved of them. We needed to find our bodies, and use some blood from the creature living in the tunnels below the castle dungeons.

MD: At this point I asked if the entity was more specific.

No, we don’t recall her being any more specific than that. Just find the bodies and use the blood. Anyway. We went back to where we’d left our kit, because that was where the map was. We could, if we concentrated hard, interact with physical objects with as much strength as a moderate breeze, so we sort of… Well. Wafted the map towards the Knights Hall and the Tower of Lament, because that seemed a reasonable option.

MD: Is this when you met Kel Lupu?

No, not yet. We heard the front door slam, though, and almost immediately  there was a shotgun blast and one of the ghosts we’d been seeing — the place was heaving with them, some of them degraded to the point where you could hardly tell they’d ever been human — exploded into shreds.

KS: I said it was a salt-loaded shotgun.

KN: You did. You totally nailed that.

We headed down the stairs and were attacked almost immediately by Mr. Tentacles—

MD: You mean Azazoth the Endless Dreamer?

KS: I mean Mr. Tentacles.

KN: You called it bloody Cthulhu.

KS: Same thing, isn’t it?

KN: You said, “It’s Tuesday, must be Cthulhu.” But it wasn’t Tuesday. It was Monday.

KS: It was the start of the week! I had a hangover! It might as well have been Tuesday! It’s not important!

Anyway. Karl said he’d go and sort out Shotgun Sam, or whatever. Sally B. said she’d stay with him, because he was her supervisory officer, but she came back pretty quickly saying there was a werewolf upstairs shooting at Karl. We carried on down and found our bodies. Which is when we were attacked — by the way, it’s really weird seeing yourself from the outside like that. Subaru-kun grabbed one of the tentacles and, while it was draining energy out of them, mashed it against the old castle wall. Bit of a wrestling match, and then Subaru-kun had to have a nap. Keira smeared her hands in the blood on the wall, then touched her body with it, and that seemed to put herself back in her body. She sent Sally B. back upstairs to tell Karl to get his ass down there and sort himself out. Meanwhile—

MD: was that before or after Sally B had resurrected herself?

KS: You know, I really can’t remember. Must have been after, because we’d worked out that you couldn’t do it for someone else.

Meanwhile, Keira grabbed part of Subaru-kun that was skin but not… Grabbed their leg well away from the tutu and got blood on it, then poked the ghost version, and that seemed to work.

MD: What was Karl doing while this was happening?

KN: I was playing space invaders with some hairy motherfucker. Just yelling at him every time he looked like losing interest, dodging behind pillars and whatnot. I sent Sally B. back down to the others because it wasn’t safe. This was supposed to be a cake walk, and here we were already dead and being shot by a werewolf with a salt gun. Nobody mentioned that in the briefing pack.

MD: And this would be the Covenant Hunter Kel Lupu?

KN: I mean, I didn’t know that at the time. It was just some hairy dude trying to shoot me in a way that I did not find endearing.

Once Keira was back in her body, she recovered her weapons and went to support Karl. He was back towards the chapel, and she could see another combatant, so attracted the opponent’s attention.

KN: You yelled, “Hey asshole!”

KS: And you replied, “I’m busy!”

MD: Note, at this point both KS and KN are laughing.

Kel Lupu recognised Keira and ceased fire. Karl went to get his body back.

KN: And my gear.

And his gear. Then Kel told us that we’d been disappeared for about three weeks. Which was a surprise. It had only been, what, an hour at most? He also confirmed that he had been unable to get out through the castle gate. We figured him being a werewolf made him less tasty to Mr Tentacles or something? He also seemed to know quite a bit about the cult. Called them a bunch of incompetents. Gave us some of the information that the Maze monkeys—

MD: You mean the Research and Archive Division, RAAD.

Whatever. You guys had been so busy while were were vanished! So sweet. We looked at all the stuff, worked out that Mr Tentacles lived underneath the castle, and that we had to do a ritual to send him back where he came from. That was pretty much all there was to it, bar the fighting.

KN: There was quite a lot of fighting. Those tentacles were bastards. It would have gone a lot better if Subaru-kun had actually used all 300lbs of muscle instead of waving that stupid damn wand every time anything needed doing. And taking naps all the damn time.

KS: Huh. Did you go in the bear pit in the end?

KN: Did I… Why the fuck would I have gone in the bear pit? We killed one of those fuckers and it blocked the door. We just hung on there to keep the rest of them from getting in while you and Sally B did the finding of the graffiti and the yelling of the magic spells.

KS: Yeah. There was a magical symbol on the wall under each of the towers, and we had to say some words while destroying the symbols, but do it in the right order yada yada. And you’re never in the right place to start with. It’s always the same. This is why you need magic type people along on these things. That’s what I say. If it’s a magic thing, leave it to the people who know what they’re doing.

MD: And how did Kel Lupu actually die?

KN: Cthulhu ate him.

KS: Well, Mr Tentacles got him, anyway. Shame. He was kind of nice, once he stopped shooting.


MD Conclusion

It seems obvious that Kel Lupu’s death in the field was as a result of an encounter with Azazoth, rather than by any act or omission by the assigned Hunter squad. Some materials, notably an image of the  page of the spellbook and Kel Lupu’s notes, as well as a map and scan of the castle and photographs of the symbols in situ, have been lodged in Archives. Subsequent inspections of the site have not resulted in any phenomena of the sort described here. The castle remains under Covenant scrutiny.

Recommendation: All Hunters who participated in this mission to be given a full physical and psych evaluation before being allowed back on operational duties.

A faded magical symbol on sandstone



“What’s his name? Spork?”

— Thomson



 Step 4 – Apocalypse

The woman’s name is Maxx, Ashley realises. They hurry after her as she strides swiftly into the depths of the cave, apparently unaffected by either the blue light, the sparkles, or the wisps darting around her.

They have almost caught up when Maxx enters a vast cavern. The floor of the cave is covered in rows of white-garbed cultists. They are chanting wordlessly, a great sighing sound that ebbs and flows as the tide. They sway in time with the chant, making the floor of the cave seem to surge and retreat.

Ashley stops, overwhelmed by the urge to join them. Beyond the carpet of seated people is a natural rock pedestal, and on that is a triple-legged stand, the legs curved like crescent moons. Nestled in the top of this is a bowl, and in the bowl is a fiery blue orb that gyrates and dances even though it seems to be still. Next to this, Blavatsky stands with her head thrown back in ecstasy, her arms raised to the heavens beyond the roof of the cave. Slightly behind and to her right stands Strunk, observing intently.

Thomson suppresses Ashley’s urges, but has a battle on their hands. They fight their own inclinations, and the internal conflict leaves them clumsy and struggling to think clearly. Strunk watches with interest as Thomson totters across the floor of the cave and stumbles close enough to speak.

“What… What’s happening?”

“This is the Interface,” he says, his tone suggesting that it happens every Saturday night and the whole world knows about it. “Interesting that you haven’t joined them. I can tell you want to.”

“Yes, yes I do, but I need to know more. What’s the Interface?”

“That is when we join together to create one will, one power, one focus.”

“What for?”

“Because we are more powerful together than we are apart.” He says this as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world and Thomson has disappointed him by needing to ask the question. They have the strongest feeling that he is aware that Thomson is not who they claim to be.

“Then why haven’t you joined them?”

“Oh, I would fry your tiny little fuses. I am too strong.”

“But if you’re so powerful, why do you need all of us?”

He sighs, as if bored. “Some things are better when the power comes from elsewhere. If you had a boat with an outboard motor, you wouldn’t hang on to the back and kick.”

Thomson is utterly confused. “But you that’s because an outboard motor is more powerful. You can’t swim faster than an outboard.”

“Not for steering, it’s not. A motorboat left to its own devices will go round and round in circles.”

Thomson feels like they are missing some aspect of this argument that would reveal some weakness, but is having a hard time thinking clearly enough to work out what it is. They approach Blavatsky. No joy there. Marina is entirely subsumed in whatever is going on.

“Why don’t you join in?” Strunk suggests, and his tone is oily now, sleek and mellifluous.

“My mind is my own,” Thomson says.

“Of course it is,” he purrs. “Everyone’s mind is their own. They have found a common purpose, that’s all. And once practise is over, they will go back to being their ordinary individual selves.”

With that, all of Thomson’s resolve crumbles in the face of Ashley’s excited enthusiasm, and they find a spot amongst the tightly-pressed, swaying cultists. Immediately, they are drowned in an ecstatic sense of oneness with the universe. Nothing seems important except love and compassion. Anything capable of harbouring hate and enmity seems small and insignificant compared with the great, universal consciousness that experiences and offers nothing but love. Time disappears, becomes meaningless against the great infinite Now. All is One and One is All and All is Love and Love is One.

The blue light in the cave immediately becomes brighter still, as if someone dialled a dimmer switch all the way up.

Uncounted hours later, Thomson finds themselves fading out of the collective ecstasy. All around them, cultists are murmuring quiet, joyous congratulations and expressions of mutual joy at this experience. Thomson threads their way through the milling crowd to find Blavatsky. Strunk is till there, and now he looks at them with an intense, predatory, hungry stare.

“Ashley!” Blavatsky exclaims. ” I was not expecting to see you here. You have only just joined us.”

“I know,” Thomson says. “I’m really sorry, but I felt somehow drawn to be here.”

“Please don’t apologise. With your sensitivity, it is hardly surprising that you should find your way here.”

“What was that?”

“The Interface. We join together as one.”

“What for?”

“To summon the Great Eel, of course,” she replies with a light, bubbly laugh. “She will arise and spread Her loving oneness to everyone in the world.”

“Oh? Oh! I see! I thought we were just becoming our best selves.”

“But we are, my dear.” Her eyes are bright, shining, ecstatic. “The Great Eel brings us to our best selves. Not just us, but everyone in the whole world!”

“Oh! Right, of course. When is that happening?”


“May I join you?”

“Of course! You would be most welcome.”

With that, she turns back to her conversation with Strunk.

Thomson does not wish to try persuading Blavatsky that Strunk is evil with Strunk and his bodyguard standing right there, so follows the rest of the cult members filing slowly out of the cave. When they reach the outside, they are startled to discover the sun has risen. Birdsong fills the air, along with the rustling of the leaves. The air is fresh, the soft breeze a delight after the thick, intense atmosphere of the cave. All around them, the cult members who made up the Interface are acknowledging their own and each other’s experience with soft exclamations of “Wow!” and “That was amazing!” while not polluting the experience by attempting to discuss it further.

Thomson moves a little to one side and speaks for the benefit of whomever may be listening on the airwaves. “Guys? Are you there? Can anyone hear me?”

Up in the cliff face, some 100m or so above and somewhat to the west, John is reading a file that was emailed to him by Darling only a few moments ago. It details what the Covenant knows about Strunk, which isn’t much, and includes such illuminating comments as:


His movements are difficult to trace. We know he spent time in the Urals in his twenties, having become interested in the Dyatlov Pass incident. He is known to have visited Nepal for an extended period, and to have attached himself to the family of a highly-regarded American diplomat for a time, in a relationship that one Hunter[1] described as:

“Fifty percent Rasputin, fifty percent Damien from that movie the Omen, one hundred per cent rotten as the inside of Satan’s ass after a dose of my Aunt Beryl’s hot chile tacos.”

[1] Jensen Colorado, Unit 34 (retired).

He was supposed to be in Covenant custody on a Russian island, and somehow nobody knew that he’d escaped. The Covenant had dispatched a team already, it says.

Bea and Maya are talking about how they could possibly retrieve John’s baseball bat from the car, so they can use its magnetic properties against the Orb.

“Have you got car keys?” Bea asks Maya.

“Of course I’ve got car keys. I wasn’t going to just leave them in the boat in the cave we might never go to again.”

“So, if we can get the keys to Thomson, they could go and get the bat for us.”


“They can hot wire a car, I bet. Drive over, get the bat.”

“Or maybe,” John says wryly, looking up from his reading, “Maya could fly back to the car with the keys that she already has.”

“But how would she carry the bat back? It’s way heavier than the maximum carrying weight of a shapeshifter herring gull.”

“But then she’d be In. The. Car. She could drive back.”

“And then would have to get into the compound somehow. It’s way too risky.”

“And Thomson hot-wiring a car and stealing it, then bringing back a baseball bat isn’t?”

“What’s that noise?” Maya interrupts. “Can you guys hear something?” She looks around, checks for pockets on the wetsuit, then realises the sound emanates from the mask in her hand. The other two have lost or abandoned theirs. “It’s Thomson!” She holds the mask up to her face while John scans the horizon for flying sharks. Or sharknadoes. “Hey Thomson!”

“Oh thank God. Where are you?”

“We’re in a cave not far from you, on the estate. I can see your tree from here.”

“You’re here?”

“Yeah. We came in through the cave system. Underwater.”

“There were sharks,” John grumbles loudly.

“Sharks?!” Thomson’s voice sounds oddly metallic through the mask’s speakers.

“We’ll tell you about it later. What are you doing? What happened after you picked me up and moved me out of your way?”

“Yeah, look, I’m really sorry about that. I don’t really remember doing it.”

“I was not impressed, Thomson. We’ve got to talk about personal space.”

“Yeah, I’m really, really sorry. I wasn’t myself.”

“I see. Well, we’ll talk about it later. What happened after that?”

Thomson hurriedly describes what happened in the cave, watching for any sign that anyone is paying attention to them, while Bea fires questions like bullets. “Was Gawain there? Were you affected by the sparkles? Were you being mind controlled?” They see the Landrover that brought Maxx to the cave drive past, Maxx driving with Blavastky, Obsidian and Strunk as passengers. They are heading for the main house. “I don’t know what to do, guys,” they say. “Should I come and find you? Can I get to you?”

“We’re about 100m up,” Maya says. “We could lower you a rope, though. Or you could try getting through the cave.”

John leans out as far as he can without being obvious. He sees a stream of white-robed cultists winding towards the farm buildings from somewhere to the left.

“They can’t be too far away,” he says.

“I don’t think we should leave Thomson out there by themselves,” Bea says. “I don’t like the sound of any of that. They are too vulnerable to Blavatsky’s mind control tricks.”

“That’s true,” Maya says.

“On the other hand, maybe they could find us a magnet, seeing as how John left his baseball bat back at the car.” She stares pointedly at John.

“All right,” he protests. “How was I supposed to know that Merlin’s heap of junk would turn out to be useful after all? I swear I am going to hurt that man. Freakin sharks.”

“Bea’s suggesting you find us a magnet,” Maya says, explaining that the Orb casing is potentially vulnerable that way.

“Well, don’t most cults have like PA systems?” Thomson muses. “I haven’t seen one, but I haven’t been looking. All I’d need to do is pull a big speaker apart to find a magnet. Also, I think that amulet is important, as well, and he can’t wear it all the time. Surely he takes if off in the shower? Maybe I should sneak in to his room and look for it.”

“Into Strunk’s room?” Bea asks. “That sounds dangerous.”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Thomson says. “What about you. What are you going to do?”

“We’re not far from the main entrance,” Maya says. “I think it’s important that we stop this ritual before it starts. If we get in there, we can maybe see a way to sabotage it. Maybe break the Orb or steal it or something. Is the cave where we were last night?”

“Yes. Just keep going.”

“There’s the plan, then. We’ll go and try to sabotage the Orb. You go and try to steal the amulet.”

“And find a magnet,” John says.

Thomson signs off and heads back across the estate to the big house. They approach from the rear, entering via a back door that leads through a boot room into a utility room. A door on the right hand side opens to reveal steps going down into cool darkness. Probably a wine cellar. They decide not to explore to find out.

Through a big farmhouse kitchen, where it looks like the cook has set up prep for breakfast before stepping out — Ashley provides a vision of a young man from the local village having gone off for a smoke behind the disused coal store — and then through a corridor into the front of the house, Thomson can hear Luna muttering under her breath at the front desk. Ashley senses Luna’s annoyance and upset at not having been invited to participate in the Interface.

They need to get past the desk — the stairs to the next floor, where Strunk’s room is, are past reception, on the other side of the small seating area.

Ashley takes a deep breath, then walks up to the desk. “Luna! Hi! I didn’t see you last night. I was so surprised!”

Luna frowns, creases furrowing her perfectly smooth brow. “You were invited? But you only just got here!”

“Well, I wasn’t invited so much as just turned up, but I was so surprised that you weren’t there. I was expecting to see both you and Topaz, you are such great people, but no. But I tell you who was there. That guy. What’s his name? Spork? I think he poisoned Marina against you. I think he’s evil, and I want to prove it. I need to get to his room. Could you maybe let me past and not tell anyone?”

“You know, I have always thought there was something off about that man,” Luna says, putting her hands on her hips. “Do you think he’s to blame for me not being invited?”

“I’m almost one hundred per cent sure of it,” Ashley says. “He said something not very nice about you to me, which I won’t repeat, so don’t ask me to.”

“Well!” Luna’s universal love and compassion apparently has its limits. “You go right ahead. His room is on the next floor, right at the end of the corridor. I won’t say anything. Unless he directly asks me. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself if he asked directly. He’s very powerful, you know.”

“I wouldn’t want you to put yourself in harm’s way. Just, maybe don’t volunteer that I was here?”

“I can do that,” Luna says, “if there’s a chance it will reveal the truth about him to Madame.”

“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have any big speakers, would you? Like for a PA or a sound system?”

“I mean, there’s this thing,” Luna indicates the portable CD player on the shelf behind her. “But big speakers? I guess there’s the old ballroom. They have musicians there sometimes for live events, and they have speakers and amps and things for that.”

“Great. Thanks!”

Thomson hurries up the stairs. When they reach the top, they hear voices coming from Blavatsky’s closed study. One of them is male and using words longer than grunts, so there’s a good bet that’s Strunk.

They pad quickly but quietly along to the room at the end. It’s locked, but Thomson is a dab hand with lockpicks and has the door open in a jiffy. The room is large, sumptuous, with antique furniture including a mahogany desk, bedside cabinets, and an en suite with a luxurious bath.

Wasting no time, Thomson flings open cupboards, rips the covers from the bed and upheaves the mattress. Then almost unbelievably, they yank open a drawer and feel a sharp, white-hot stabbing pain in their palm followed by the wet warmth of blood flowing over their skin. They look down, and the amulet is embedded in their hand. The blood flowing from the wound flows back towards the amulet, in defiance of gravity, and disappears into it.

Thomson swallows hard. This was unexpected. They hurry out into the corridor and find a fire escape opposite. The door opens with a shove of one shoulder, and they take the stairs as fast as they dare before running out of the house.

“Guys!” they yell, panting, breathless. “I’ve got the amulet! It’s stuck into my hand!”

From the house comes an enraged roar. A great wave of pain and anger and furious loss surges into Thomson’s back like a tidal bore made of raw emotion, nearly knocking them over.

They run.

The rest of the team uses the rope to get down and pick their way across another field of scattered boulders before climbing up the far side. The sparkles are growing in intensity again, as irritating and distracting as midges. They squeeze into a narrow, tall crack, which leaves them just enough room to sidle through crabwise.

Eventually, after what feels like hours of scrambling and spelunking, they emerge tired and bruised into the back of a large cave. Ahead of them, the cave system disappears into darkness, but here there is a high roof and daylight coming from an opening way off to their right, hidden by a curve in the rock.

“Hey, I know this place, ” Maya says. “This looks like where I was when I left Thomson.”

“Looks like there’s a way out over there. Might be able to get some reception. Guess we’d better try checking in to see if Igraine managed to get anything useful out of Merlin,” John says.

The team moves to the front of the cave, where the sunlight enters. John creeps far enough round the corner to get a couple of bars on his phone and fires off a quick text.

Igraine responds almost immediately. No, Merlin does not know how to stop brain-eating magical mosquitoes.

“Well that’s just great,” Bea says, irritated. “What use is he?”

They head back into the cave. There are plenty of footprints to follow, and it’s not long before they find the cave where the ritual must have taken place. There is a brazier in which the embers are still glowing, and a strange pedestal raised up on a natural rock dais.

But no Orb.

“Dammit,” Bea says. “Where is it?”

“Maybe they don’t keep it here,” John says. “Too easy to get to.”

“Or someone else has taken it already?” Maya says hopefully. “Maybe Gawain?”

“He’s addled,” Bea says dismissively. “I don’t trust him.” She examines the pedestal and finds a gap in which they could hide a magnet. If they had a magnet. “Do you think Thomson has managed to find a PA system?”

“I don’t know. And our comms gear won’t work down here,” Maya says. “I guess we’re going to have to hide out here and try to disrupt the ritual before it starts.”

Suddenly, Thomson’s voice sounds in their heads.

Guys! Hey! Can you hear me?

Maya holds her diving mask to her ear. It’s not coming from there. It’s inside her head.

“Did you hear that? Sounded like Thomson.”

John shakes his head and thumps himself above the ear with the heel of his hand, as if trying to dislodge water. “Not just me then. That was freaky.”

Can you hear me?

“Yes?” Maya says hesitantly. “Can you hear us?”

Yes! Thank God. I’ve got the amulet. And… Oh no. He’s coming. He’s coming after me.

“Run, Thomson. We’re in the cave where you left me. We’ll come to meet you. Run!”

Thomson runs as fast as they can. Their senses have expanded, their sense of personal space now covering acres. As the amulet throbs in their hand, they can pinpoint every single other living soul on the estate. Including Maxx and Strunk in the Land Rover behind, coming up fast. He is a red-black mass of seething fury, but she has the ice-cold, diamond hard emotional blankness of someone who cares nothing for any life other than her own and her master’s.

Their team is not far, now. They can see John coming towards them, at the mouth of the cave. They will him not to come any farther. Their only hope now is to find the orb and destroy it.

John stops, and Thomson sprints towards him. The Land Rover is mere metres away, churning up the grass as Maxx thrashes the gears and drives far too fast over the lumps and bumps under the trees.


As Thomson catches up, they both run into the cave, Thomson’s breath coming in hard, painful gasps. The whole team moves further underground, away from the squeal of a Land Rover coming to an abrupt stop. Away from Strunk.

Thomson senses him coming into the cave, senses Maxx pushing ahead of him. Perhaps something in their newfound telepathy offers a warning, perhaps it is merely a lifetime of training and finely honed instincts, but when Maxx arrows one of her throwing knives at Maya, it merely clips her arm.

Maxx lets out a strangled scream of frustration.

Bea unloads both shotgun barrels. The sound, trapped inside the cave with them, is physical, like being inside an explosion. Maxx staggers, falling to the floor.

Strunk races towards them across the cave floor. Sensing the power gathering around him, Thomson turns and combines the lessons they learned from Topaz and the power of the amulet. There is an almost silent whump, the sound made by the largest, fluffiest pillow landing on the softest duvet, and the air in the cave seems to crystallise for a moment. Strunk flies backwards into the cave wall as if yanked on a wire and crumples.

“Wow,” Thomson says. “Okay. That happened.”

“What’s going on with you?” Maya asks, shocked.

“I don’t know. Something about this place. And the amulet. I think it’s giving me powers.”

“Well we should get the damn thing off and destroy it,” Bea says decisively, taking Thomson’s arm.

Thomson pulls their arm away. Inside their thoughts, the amulet whispers seductively about all the things they could do together. “No, I think I should keep it for the time being. We might need those powers.”

Bea frowns. “Wrong answer. We need to destroy that thing. Look at it!”

“No,” Thomson says. “I’m keeping it. Just for a little while. Just until this is over. Did you find the Orb?”

“We went to the cave where they had the ritual, but it wasn’t there,” Maya says. “We don’t know what’s happened to it.”

“It’s definitely down here somewhere,” Thomson replies. “I can feel it.”

Bea huffs, unwilling to admit there might be value in Thomson keeping the amulet. “Can you lead us to it?”


“You go first, then,” John says.

“I’ll bring up the rear. With the shotgun,” Bea says.

They pass through the ritual cave. On the far side of the cave, they enter a passageway. As they press on into the dark, headlight beams illuminating the uneven rock in an ever-moving, shifting topology of brightness, the sparkles begin to grow dense again; but not only is Thomson immune, they seem to make the brain-eating speckles easier to tolerate for everyone else. Underneath the scrape and scuff of feet and clothes on the cave walls, behind the pants and grunts of effort, the cave system delivers the unmistakeable sound of someone else making their way through the cave, sometimes close, sometimes distant, sometimes both at the same time.

They have to hurry.

Further on, water emerges from the rock to their left, a narrow cleft of lambent turquoise.

“It must be down here,” Bea says. “I think the orb is making the water glow. It was so bright when we were in the lake because it was active. We must have been in that lake when Thomson was taking part in the ritual. When I saw the orb, it was over water like this.”

“I think it’s close,” Thomson agrees.

They emerge from an angled clench into an open area that Bea instantly recognises. This is the lowest part of the cave she managed to reach when they first encountered Bert. The water has re-emerged on their right, now, and shimmers with a pearlescent duck-egg blue that is so bright it fills the cave with something like daylight. Hovering over the water is the orb, back in its casing now, vibrating. In some ways it looks like a racehorse quivering in the starting gates, eager for the off.

Or a dog straining at its leash to get at a rabbit.

“I wish we had that damned baseball bat now,” Bea mutters. “I don’t suppose you got a magnet, did you Thomson?”

“No, I didn’t get a chance,” Thomson says, finding themselves drawn towards the orb. The amulet in their hand feels warm, almost alive, throbbing with a beat resembling a pulse. It whispers to them through their bones, urging them to pick up the orb, to touch it, to hold it. They reach across the water, take the orb in hand. It shudders against their skin, the casing moving, splitting…

“What the FUCK do you think you are DOING?” Suddenly Gawain is there, absolutely furious. He snatches the orb from Thomson. “Is that the damned amulet? Have you bonded to it? You IDIOT.”

“Which one are you?” Bea demands, shoving herself between Gawain and Thomson and releasing the safety catch on her shotgun.

“Which one do you bloody think?” Gawain responds with a snarl. “Do you want to know the colour of C’s underwear as proof or something? You need to get that damned amulet away from the orb.”


“Because the amulet will activate the casing,” he says with an exaggerated sigh, as if explaining something completely obvious to someone completely stupid. “The casing will activate the portal. If you want to summon a bunch of aliens masquerading as Elder Gods who will suck out your brains before going on to enjoy the delicious taste of the rest of humanity, then that’s the way to go about it. But I will kill you first if I have to.”

“Strunk’s behind us,” John says. “We need to destroy it.”

“Did you bring a magnet?”

“Did YOU?” Bea retorts.

Gawain looks sheepish for less time than it takes to blink, but Bea sees it.

“If we get out of here, then we can find one,” Maya says.

“Give me the amulet,” Gawain says.

“No!” Thomson cradles their hand protectively. “I won’t let you take it!”

“I can’t take it. But you can give it to me freely.”

“No. I’m keeping it.”

“We don’t have time to argue,” Maya says, exasperated. “You go ahead, show us the way.” She nods to Gawain. “I’ll take the Orb. Thomson, you stay at the back with Bea. Let’s keep these things apart.”

“All right,” Gawain says, after a slight hesitation. He hands it over and Maya feels a sting in her palm, like salt on a graze. “If he’s behind you, we’d better hurry.”

They follow Gawain as he leads them up out of the cave system. “Hurry!” Bea yells, hearing distorted footsteps and panting breath echoing in the twists and turns of the rock behind them.

They emerge in the clearing with the picnic table. Standing there is Blavatsky and Obsidian.

“Oh, Ashley. How could you do this?” Blavatsky cries.

“I had to. I know you had the best intentions, but Strunk is evil. He was usurping everything you were trying to achieve!”

“Oh, I can’t believe that. Did you not experience the ecstasy of the Interface?”

“He was tricking you!” Thomson says. “He was going to use the power of the Interface to summon a demon! Look!” They hold up their hand and show the amulet, joined to their hand like a leech, feeding. “This is his! I got this from his room!”

Obsidian grunts. “I knew it,” he mutters.

Behind them the gate swings open with a clang. Strunk pushes his way through, Maxx right beside him. Strunk’s face is murderous, rage reddening his features.

Thomson backs away from the power they feel gathering, the amulet pulsing as it gathers its own power. Gawain pulls his gun and fires, clipping Strunk; Maxx flings a knife straight as an arrow, and it plunges into Gawain’s neck. He collapses.

Bea unloads her shotgun into Maxx. At point blank range, the double-barrelled blast catches the woman in her chest and she flies backwards, crunching into the side of the mountain. As Bea reloads, John hefts his cudgel and swings for Strunk, catching him round the side of the head. He staggers and falls, dazed.

Bea walks over, stands astride him, and aims her shotgun straight down.

“Not his head!” Maya cries as she hurries to give first aid to Gawain. “Aim for the centre of mass!”

Bea shifts her aim downwards a fraction, then unloads both barrels. Strunk’s chest explodes.

John eyes up Blavatsky and Obsidian, then vanishes down the path.

“You felt that, right?” Thomson says to Blavatsky, almost pleading. “You felt that power, that energy. That was wrong. It was bad. And what you were trying to do… You can’t make that decision for everyone in the world like that. It’s tyranny, no matter how good your intentions.”

“I…” Blavatsky appears heartbroken. “I suppose you are right.”

“I am right. That kind of thinking is what makes people like him.” They nudge Strunk with one toe.

John returns, sweat beading his brow. He’s tossing a metal disc the size of his palm in one hand.

“Let’s see that orb,” he says to Maya.

She holds out the encased orb, and he touches the metal disc to it. The casing cracks and falls apart, dropping to the ground. The orb inside floats free, hovering like ball lightning. Maya grabs it from the hair and tucks it into a pocket.

“Can you do that?” John asks.

“Do what?” Maya asks innocently. “Where did you get the magnet?”

“Let’s just say some naughty vandals might have found Blavatsky’s car parked up on the road and smashed up the sound system. Terrible thing.”

“How awful,” Maya says mildly. “Can you get a medevac for Gawain? I haven’t got any signal on my phone.”

“Already done,” he says. “Got a special button.” He shows Maya the emergency call button he pressed as soon as he saw Gawain go down. “You need to get a better phone, Maya.”

“And we have to get that amulet off Thomson.”

“Can I not keep it?” Thomson wheedles. “Just for a little while. We could… We could study it. Take it back to a lab. See what it can do, what it’s made of.”

“Listen, Strunk just walked out of a covert Russian prison that was on a damned island. Do you really think that the Covenant can keep something like that safe? Do you think anyone can keep something like that safe?” Behind his back, he adjust his grip on his cudgel.

“And looks what it’s doing to you,” Bea says. “You’re just as likely to end up locked in a lab somewhere yourself.”

That seems to change Thomson’s mind. Being locked in a Covenant lab and poked endlessly by Merlin’s crew is not an attractive prospect for anyone.

They grasp the amulet with their free hand and, wincing, pull it off.

“Put it down there,” John orders, indicating a rock.

Reluctantly, Thomson does as they are told. John takes the end of his cudgel and pounds the amulet into fragments and dust.

“Now what?” they say. “Where’s the car?”

“At the other end of the cave system,” Bea says. “Miles away.”

As the rapid thwuk-thwuk-thwuk-thwuk sound of a helicopter announces the imminent arrival of the Covenant’s medevac chopper, John saunters over to Blavatsky.

“Any chance of a lift?”


“Don’t use the axe! You might puncture the boat!”

— John


The Same Thing But Aquatically

Ashley sets off after the woman. Maya tries to stop her, but Ashley grabs the seagull, firmly but carefully, then sets her down outside the cave before hurrying into the weird blue light inside.

Pissed off, Maya launches herself into the night sky and heads through the dark to where she’d agreed to meet John and Bea.

When they get there, they are standing outside the cave. There is no sign of Gawain.

“Hey,” she says, after transforming back into her human form. “Thomson took off into the caves to see what was going on. They were acting really weird. I tried to stop them, but they actually physically PICKED ME UP and MOVED ME OUT OF THE WAY.”

“Do you mean under the influence weird?” Bea asks.

“I don’t know. I tried to stop them once by flapping at them, and it worked. The next time, it didn’t. They were really determined, so I thought I’d leave them to it.”

“And you couldn’t tell whether they were being controlled by someone?”

“No. I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

“Well, we didn’t have much more luck with Bert,” Bea says, and then explains what happened when they met him.

“I think it’s time we report to C,” John says.

It’s a little after eleven, but Igraine answers nevertheless. “Good evening, John.”

“Hi. We’ve got some news, It’s pretty urgent. Is C available?”

“Just one moment.”

No hold music this time. C’s voice replaces Darling’s in a matter of seconds. “As you are calling this late, I shall not ask if it is important.”

“We managed to talk to Gawain again and get his real personality. He said to tell you that Sebastien Strunk is back. That you didn’t manage to deal with him properly last time, and he’s up to his old tricks.”

A moment of pregnant silence from the cellphone’s tiny speaker. Grasshoppers zing in the velvet darkness of the boskage.

“Oh dear,” C says at last, and in that understatement is carried a mere hint of how calamitous she has found this news. “Strunk is evil, or as close to anything in this world that could be described as evil as it is possible to get. He is powerful, he is cunning, he is intelligent, and he is ruthless. We thought we had managed to banish him for good. Apparently not.”

“Gawain said he was protecting the Orb from Strunk,” Bea says.

“And well he might. It is vitally important for the safety of the world that you stop Strunk. He has a penchant for summoning Elder Gods. Not the soap opera melodrama of the Ancient Greek gods or the Norse. The H.P. Lovecraft — misogynistic racist bigot that he was — limitless eldritch cosmic horror kind of Elder God. Will suck your sanity through the orifices in your head and leave you in a world of endless suffering kind of Elder God. I would not be exaggerating to say the safety and future of the human race is at stake.”

“No pressure then,” John mutters.

“Do you need anything? Our resources are at your disposal.”

“Information on the Orb would be handy, so we know how to stop it,” Bea says.

“Do you have any photographs?”

Bea’s expression turns sheepish. “No. The magical defences must have been interfering with me being able to think straight. I just attacked it. I can describe it to you.”

“Maybe Gawain has taken a picture?” John suggests. “Has he sent one in?”

“Not to my knowledge. I will have Merlin access his cellphone, assuming it is not too far underground for him to reach.”

“Just in case, though, it was about half again as big as a tennis ball, and had blue light coming from it, but it looked like a piece of technology, not magic.”

“Hmm. I know of devices that can be used to change the effect of a magical item, but it’s not like Strunk to use one. He is a sorcerer. Still, I will let Merlin know.”

“And it has a terrible effect on people. It made Gawain forget who he is.”

John and Maya exchange a glance. Didn’t Gawain just go so deep into his cover he wasn’t able to switch it off again?

“And it did different things to other people. Maya… And John, was… John, tell C what it did to you.”

John briefly describes what happened in the cave.

“Thank you for that,” C replies at last. “I will pass that information to Merlin. Now, do you need anything? Any equipment or help?”

“Could you get us a boat?” Bea asks.

“A boat!” John scoffs, but C does not treat this request as ridiculous.

“Of course. I shall arrange to have one sent out. Text the location you want it to be delivered. Anything else?”

“I need a knife,” Maya says. “Just a knife. Not one of Merlin’s. And we could use a couple of Maglights.”

“I understand. Again, text Field comms your requirements.”

“I’d like a cudgel,” John says. “Just an ordinary wooden cudgel. Nothing magical. Nothing enhanced. Just a heavy wooden stick for hitting things with.”

“I am sure we can manage that.”

“Can I get… What are those spikey metal balls? You know? For hitting things?” Bea asks.

“A mace?” John says.

“Yes! One of those.”

“No,” C says. “You may not. Far too much likelihood of you hitting one of your teammates.”

“Dammit. All right. A shotgun then.”

“Very well. I shall have those items sent to the location you specify. If you think of anything else, text it to the usual number.”

After C hangs up, the team spread their maps on the car bonnet.

“We’re here,” John says, his finger stabbing a point on the map. The solid beam of the torch makes the text difficult to read, and his hand throws a deep black shadow on the paper. “The hotel is here. We had been planning to try up here.” He points at a section of the cave system to the north-east.

“Yeah, but there’s no easy route to get there. It’s on the other side of the mountain,” Maya replies. “From what C says, we don’t have time. When I was with Thomson, that woman said they were doing their last practise before they attempt the ritual.”

“We could just go back to the hotel,” Bea says.

“Yeah,” Maya says. “Just push our way through.”

” I don’t think that’s a good idea after what happened last time,” John objects. “It’ll attract too much attention. We don’t know if that Figgs bloke would tell the Cult we were there.”

“True,” Maya agrees.

“What about here?” John says, moving his finger across the page to another entrance north of the hotel. “It even says it’s an entrance.”

“We’ll go there, then,” Maya replies. “We should go now. It’s at least half an hour to get there, and we need to scout it out before the Covenant delivers our equipment.”

This is the tourist entrance to the cave. Now, the digital clock on the Range Rover’s dash clicking over to 01:02, it is pitch black save for the stars overhead and a single spotlight illuminating part of a sculpture that sits like a giant arrow fletching outside the cave.


Within the gaping maw, they find a locked gate.

“Shame we broke the lockpicks, eh Bea?” John says.

“Yeah, but we’re getting new ones.”

They return to the car to wait and catch some much-needed sleep.

A couple of hours or so later, gravel crunches as a Range Rover identical to their own pulls up. It is towing a trailer. The driver gets out, cap jammed low over his face, and knocks on their window.

“Hi,” says John.

“Got any ID?”

“Our car is exactly the same as yours,” Bea exclaims. “Who else would we be?”

“We don’t have a monopoly on black Range Rovers, love,” the man says dryly.

Maya hold up her ID and her distinctive Covenant credit card. The man snaps a photo with his phone.

“Great stuff.” He goes back to the trailer, unloads a box that’s bigger than he is, then drives off without saying another word.

Maya gets out her axe and heads for the box.

“Don’t use the axe! You might puncture the boat!” John exclaims.

Without a word, Maya carefully uses her sharpened axe to first lift then slice through the plastic strapping, and they unpack the box.

Inside are a pair of collapsible canoes. Each comes in three parts, the parts nested inside one another. There is a wrapped bundle containing the other items requested, including a sawn-off shotgun and a sledgehammer handle.

John and Maya decipher Merlin’s instructions, which appear to have been written as a stream of consciousness in his native Norwegian while he was drunk, then translated into English using Google by one of his crew. Once the two craft are assembled, they have two Canadian-style canoes, with cargo compartments doubling as buoyancy in the fore, aft, and forming the middle seat. Each boat is light enough to be carried easily be any one of them.

“God’s teeth, these had better not be magical,” John mutters.

After shoving all the packaging into the car, they portage the two canoes to the cave entrance, where they pick the lock and file inside.

The first cave is filled with reproductions of the early cave art found in the depths below. Dim lights at ground level  offer just enough light to see by. They stick to the walkway, then find another door at the end of a long, artificial tunnel. Bea unlocks this, and they descend into the deep.

They find water quickly. It is cold but doesn’t have the bone-freezing chill of a melted glacier, and there is nothing ominous or oppressive that they cannot ascribe to merely being deep underground. Bea and John climb into one of the boats, Bea taking up her station at the prow with a Maglight and her shotgun. Maya has the other boat to herself. They find caving helmets with lights in one of the cargo spaces, the high beams picking out the gnarled surface of the rock.

They set off into the cave.

Time loses its meaning. John grumbles, but it is only his stomach complaining about not having had much more than a bag of crisps and a ham and cheese sandwich. The only other sounds are their own breath, the splash of the paddles, and the soft lap of water against the hulls.

They gradually become aware of a blue glow beneath them, and sparkles dancing in the air. The glow is dim, not enough to see by, and the sparkles are widely separated, like stars seen through high, thin cloud on a moonless night.

Suddenly, the boats bump into a wall, the collision nearly sending Bea into the water. Below them, the blue light shines brightly from what looks like a gap in the rock .

Maya rummages in the cargo holds and finds a slick, grey outfit. It resembles a wetsuit, but is both more flexible and yet somehow more robust. She also finds a mask with a tube sticking out the top like a snorkel, and an inner mask that seems to go over the mouth and nose.

“Looks like we’re going in,” she says.

John finds another couple of suits in a cargo space in his and Bea’s boat.

“This doesn’t seem like a very good idea,” he says.

“I don’t see what option we have,” Bea says. “We’re not going to be able to get in via the Cult’s estate. God knows what’s going on with Gawain. The hotel’s a write-off and only gets us to water in any case, and the other entrance is on the other side of the mountain.”

John pushes his boat away from the wall. After a few seconds, it once again bumps against the rock. A current definitely flows into the gap below them.

“Well, I’m going,” Maya says, wrapping her phone in a waterproof pouch. John holds her boat while she strips off and wriggles into her suit. “What about you, Bea?”

“Oh yeah,” Bea says, holding up a rubbery garment. “This looks like it should fit.”

“What about you, John? Are you coming, or are you going to sit here in the dark by yourself and wait for us to come back?”

“You know, that’s not my only other valid option,” John protests, but he takes off his shoes and, once Bea has finished struggling into her suit, he takes off the rest of his clothes and works the other suit over his body.

Bea finds a larger drybag and seals her shotgun inside, while Maya forms a loop in the end of a length of Merlin’s light, thin rope. John packs another length into the same tow-bag that Bea is using for her shotgun. Fixing the loop around a rocky outcrop, Maya slips into the water.

“Should we try to bring one of the boats?” Bea asks.

“We’d have to flood a couple of compartments,” John says, “And I don’t fancy trying to get it out at the other end. We need to move fast and light. Better off leaving it here.”

Maya pulls her mask down over her face and ducks under the water. The other two follow suit.

The gap is a narrow tunnel. There isn’t enough room to turn around, and they have to move through the space with their arms out in front of them. Maya goes first, then John, followed by Bea. The masks have bone-conductor speakers built into them, and the inner masks are rebreathers fitted with mics, so they can talk to one another, but mostly all they can hear is the rasping of their own breath and the occasional grunt of exertion.

John is claustrophobic, and for a while he wrestles the burgeoning panic into submission, but when they have been working their way through the tunnel for at least twenty minutes, it starts to get the better of him. He slows down, breathing in short, hard, panting gasps. His rebreather starts gassing out, and bubbles drift from the snorkel above his head, covering the tunnel roof in rippling patches of liquid silver.

As Maya tries to talk John out of his impending panic attack, they hear something underneath her voice. Or is it in the water? It sounds like… A cello?

Dun DUN. Dun DUN. Dun DUN.

Bea twists her head  to look over her shoulder as far as she can. She thinks she sees a swirl of movement out of the corner of her eye. It’s a shadow where no shadow should be, something making the dim blue glow surrounding them dimmer still.

There’s a tale, a story, a rumour told by Hunters who have been fortunate — or unfortunate — enough to have encountered Merlin’s particular brand of support. A tale told in bars, when they should happen to find themselves sharing war stories, or to amuse each other on long flights to obscure places. A tale of a Hunter unit once dispatched to infiltrate an island fortress, or to recover a mysterious object from a sunken ship, or to dispatch a sea monster in its watery lair. These Hunters were given equipment to enable them to operate underwater. Rebreathers.

Only, as is so often the case with Merlin’s equipment, there was a fatal flaw.

The rebreathers summoned sharks. Even where sharks could not possibly exist.

Especially where sharks could not possibly exist.

“I don’t want to worry you guys,” Bea says. “But MOVE!”

She pushes against the tunnel walls with her feet, and shoves John’s feet with her hands. Ahead, Maya accelerates, using fingers and toes to push, pull and thrash her way to the tunnel exit.

The three of them emerge into a vast pool of ultramarine. John strikes for the surface in a frantic scramble of powerful but clumsy breaststroke. The suits maintain neutral buoyancy, and Bea turns to watch the tunnel as Maya swims up to John at a more leisurely pace.

John has ripped his mask off and is gasping in deep, wheezing breaths.

“Bloody fucking MERLIN!” he swears.

They are in an underground lake around 200m in length by 50 in width. It glows with an intense, pure blue. Above them, in the air, silver sparkles dance in drifts like mayflies made of mica. The water is deep, and goes right to the cave wall, apart from where there is a dark, irregular slash at the far end.

Bea pops up a metre or so away. John turns, alerted by the noise, and behind Bea he sees a dark shape; a fin in the water.

He drops his mask and sprints for the other end of the lake in an untutored front crawl. His mask, transparent silicone, is quickly lost as it drifts down into the light.

Bea looks round and sees what might be a moderately sized sturgeon breaching the surface before diving back down into the water.

“Is there such a thing as a cave shark?” she asks.

“Maybe,” Maya asks. “And if there wasn’t, there is now.”

They follow John to the other end of the lake, keeping hold of their masks.

When they get there, John is lying on his back on the gritty, fine silt of the beach.

“There had better by a way out of this cave that doesn’t involve going in the water. I am NOT going back,” he says.

He picks himself up, and they follow a narrow, tall gash in the rock until it opens out into a vast boulder field. The sparkles are growing denser, but the light here is more orange than blue. At the far side of the boulder field is a steep slope up to a ledge, and the shadow above the ledge suggests there might be a way through.

They pick their way across the boulders but find that the rubber booties of their suits lack enough grip to climb the slope . The ground there is soft and slippy. It’s like trying to climb a hill covered in knee-deep, damp talcum powder.

Bea takes the other rope from her drybag and then, with Bea on the bottom, Maya in the middle, and John on top, they form a tower against the slope, giving John just enough reach to get his fingertips around a rocky edge and pull himself up.

The sparkles swarm him like hungry mosquitoes, but this time he somehow is able to brush off their influence. He finds a sturdy looking stalagmite and ties the rope around it, then throws the loose end down the slope so Maya can haul herself up.

When she gets to the top, the sparkles swarm her. She tries to brush them away, almost squealing, then runs in a mad panic further into the cave, just as Bea approaches the top herself. The swarm attacks Bea; Bea heaves and heaves on the rope, somehow not managing to make progress, until suddenly she overcomes whatever is holding her and sprawls onto the ledge.

The shotgun tied to her waist had become trapped between two boulders. The waist strap snapped, and now her shotgun is still down at the bottom of the slope.

“We have to get Maya!” John says.

“I’m not leaving without my gun!” Bea yells, and starts slithering back down the slope.

John hesitates for only a moment before running after Maya. There is a short, wide, low-ceilinged tunnel, then another great cavern. The floor of this one is perhaps ten metres below the balcony ledge on which he stands. The whole cave is flooded with light coming from his right. Instinctively, he heads in that direction, and finds Maya standing in an opening in the cliff, looking out over the estate.

He takes in the view. The sun is low on the horizon, but already blazing yellow white with the promise of a warm day. The birds are singing in the trees, which shiver and rustle in the wind. John has never heard as sweet a sound as the territorial avian yelling and the gentle psithurism; nor felt anything as glorious as the warmth of sun on his cheeks. This is his way out, even if it does mean going back for the rope.

“Got a message on my phone, ” Maya tells him. “It says, ‘We have lost your signal. We are unable to reach you. We have pertinent information. Contact ASAP.’ I haven’t got a signal, Is yours any better?”

John’s phone is Covenant standard, rather than Maya’s Nokia 3210. He fishes it from inside his suit, and it starts buzzing.

“Same message here,” he says. “But I want to go and get Bea, first. She’s freaking out as well. Turns out she suffers separation anxiety when she doesn’t have any weapons.”

They head back into the cave. As they make their way along the balcony, they spot Bea lowering herself over the edge, as if she’s found a way down to the cave floor.

“Bea!” John shout-whispers. It echoes around the cave, weirdly distorted. BEAbeabeabeabeabeabea.

Bea looks round. Stones scatter as she adjusts her grip. She makes no attempt to climb back up. John realises she has the rope. He can see it bulging at the top of her pack.

“BEA!” he yells.


“John!” She starts climbing back up, and he hurries over to help. “I got the rope. I bet you’re glad I went back for my shotgun now.”

“We could have got the rope anyway!” he tells her. “We’re all at the top of the rope. You don’t need to climb back down a rope to retrieve it. You just reel it in. Good grief, those sparkles must be eating your brain!”

He takes her by the elbow and all three of them go back to the opening in the cliff face.

“Wow,” Bea says. “Is that the estate?”

“Yeah, ” Maya replies. She points with one finger. “That’s the tree where I met Thompson.”

Bea’s phone buzzes as it finds a signal, and, remembering he is to call in, John hits his speed dial. Jane Darling picks up before the phone has had a chance to ring.

“John!” she exclaims, her voice oddly muffled. “Sorry, I’m just eating a pancake. I’m so pleased to hear from you. We were worried. You’ve been dark for hours.”

“We’ve been in a cave,” John says, putting her on speaker. “It was indeed very dark. I got a message saying there is pertinent information.”

“Let me see what comes up against your team… Right. Information flag. Says Merlin retrieved a single photo from Bert’s data. Has identified what appears to be an adaptogenic casing around a portal orb. He has heard of similar devices found in Russia, which is where they last had a confirmed sighting of Strunk. Such a casing can be used to modify the target of whatever magical item is inside. His best guess is the orb is meant to provide access to one thing, but this will change that to another thing. Like opening a door and finding Penge instead of Mornington Crescent”

“Well, that sounds terrible.”

“Is there anything you need?”

“Information on how to stop this orb, with or without the casing, would be helpful.”

“Apparently these casings can be vulnerable to strong magnetic fields.”

John remembers his baseball bat, currently back at the car where he’d left it as the useless lump of Merlin crap he’d thought it was. “Grrreat.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes!” Bea exclaims. “How do we deal with the sparkles?”


“Yes! They’re like mosquitoes, but magic.”

“There are magic mosquitoes?”

“No! They’re not mosquitoes. They’re like little sparkly things. They do things to your brain. I think they’re the things that got Bert.”

“Very well. I shall pass a message to Merlin that you need advice on… magic brain-eating mosquitoes that may or may not have affected Gawain. Anything else?”

“No,” John says tiredly. “Not right now. Just tell C that we’re heading back into the cave, so if you lose signal, we’re underground.”

“Wait, John. Don’t you think you should stay where you have a signal until I can get the answers to your questions from Merlin?”

John and Maya exchange a glance. John looks at the sun. They don’t know when the ritual will take place, but if the rehearsal was at night, surely the main event will be too? It can’t be much after 7am.

“Sure, Igraine,” he says. “We’ll wait until you call. Just… Be quick, aye?”


Black Forest Gateau

“You brought a rock to a gun fight?”

— John


The Cake Is Not A Lie

Marina takes Ashley down to reception and asks Luna to fetch them more appropriate clothing. Luna comes out with a bundle of white clothes.

“I’m pretty good at telling size,” she says, “but if anything doesn’t fit, let me know and I will find something else for you.”

“I’m sure these will be fine, thank you.”

With clothes in hand, Marina leads Ashley to the first row of terraced cottages. There are about three rows in this part of the estate, although there are more elsewhere, and each row has about twenty houses in it. Each ‘house’ is little more than a cell containing a bed, a desk, a storage chest, and a bare shelf. A small bathing area and toilet has been added to the rear of each cell; presumably, the richer members didn’t enjoy the concept of a shared bathroom. Either that or the cult doesn’t want to make people feel too uncomfortable. At least, not at first.

Thomson has been assigned number 11.

“Now, Ashley, you know we don’t allow any electronic devices on site. Anything you brought with you, I will take and lock away for safekeeping during your time here.”

“OK. I’ll just go and get changed first, so I can go through my pockets properly and make sure I haven’t missed anything.”

“Very well. I’ll wait here for you.”

Thomson goes into the tiny house and shuts the door. They quickly change and then scan the space for somewhere that might prove safe from snooping eyes. Under the storage chest, they see a suspicious floor tile. Lifting it, they find an old Sony Walkman cassette player containing Donna Summer’s I Feel Love – The Collection. The tape barely moves when they press play — it has been there a long time.

Thomson stashes everything they don’t want found, debating for a while whether to try concealing their gun under the yoga pants. The material is baggy, but it’s also fairly thin, so they decide to hide the weapon. The only thing they keep is the earpiece and a burner phone. Luna knows they had a phone, but it’s unlikely Marina is going to check whether the phone they give her is the one they showed Luna.

Ashley goes back outside and hands the burner over to Marina.

“Thank you,” Marina says. “Now, let’s go and find Topaz. I believe she has developed some exercises that should help you work through your blockages while being adapted to your intense sensitivity.”

“That would be great!” Ashley says with enthusiasm.

In the cave, Bea holds up her hands in a placating gesture. “Quartz,” she says. “Bert! Thank goodness we found you. What are you up to?”

“Who are you?” he demands, gun never wavering.

“I’m… Look, you don’t know me. C sent me. How much do you remember?”

“What do you want?”

Bea swears. “Great. Look. Do you remember C? Do you remember your name?”

“I’m Quartz. Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?”

“C sent us. You were here to infiltrate the cult, but you went dark. So C sent us to bring you back. One of our team has managed to infiltrate the main compound, and we came here to see what was what.”

“Are you spies?” He seems agitated. “Spies and traitors!” he yells, taking a step forward. “We have enough spies and traitors! Get out! Get out!”

“Okay. Okay. I’m going.” Bea turns to leave and allows herself to stumble. She grabs a rock from the cave floor and then whips round and hurls it at Quartz’s head.

He leans slightly to one side, and it whistles past his skull, parting his hair. His eyes narrow. He aims the gun between Bea’s feet and fires. The shot reverberates around the vast echo chamber, the loudest thing Bea has ever heard in her life. It feels like it has ruptured her eardrums. The bullet kicks up dirt, turning the air gritty.

“Try anything like that again,” Quartz says, although Bea can barely hear him over the ringing in her ears, “and next time I will not miss.”

He gestures with the gun to indicate she should precede him.

“All right. All right! I’m going!”

She makes her way back to the cave entrance, still trying to convince Quartz she’s on his side.

Maya and John hear the gunshot from where they are sitting outside at the picnic table. It is so loud, at first they wonder if there has been a cave collapse, or Bea has set something off down in the depths of the cave. They move cautiously towards the cave entrance, and before too long see Bea edging her way out, talking to someone over her shoulder.

“It’s all right, QUARTZ,” she says loudly, so Maya and John can hear. “I’m leaving. You don’t need to HOLD THAT GUN ON ME any more.”

Quartz waits until she has stepped through the gate, then closes the gap. “You’re right,” he says. “I don’t.”

He heaves the gate shut with a clang and locks it, pocketing the key, before retreating far enough into the cave that they can no longer see him.

“DAMMIT!” Bea exclaims. She peers through the gate. Is that the dull glint of a gun she can see just as the light fades completely? Maybe.

“What was that? What happened?” John asks.

“That was Bert. He’s completely forgotten who he is!”

“What happened down there? You said something about a gate to hell and then told me to leave,” Maya says.

“Well, I have a magical armour, and I could protect myself from the effects of the magic down there, but I couldn’t protect you. I got way down deep into the cave and there was this orb hovering over the water. The weird thing about it was that it looked like a piece of technology, not something magical. Even with my armour, I physically couldn’t get close to it. Lost my damn bolas trying to knock it off its perch. I could only stay down a couple of minutes. Then, on the way back, Bert attacked me.”

“That gun didn’t look too good,” John says.

“Well. To be fair, that was my fault. He wasn’t listening to me, so I threw a rock at his head.”

“Wait. You brought a rock to a gun fight?”

Bea rolls her eyes at him. “What I want to know is, how is he surviving that? He seemed completely unaffected.”

“Maybe that’s why he can’t remember who he is,” Maya suggests. “Maybe that’s the effect it has on him.”

“It didn’t have that effect on you, though, did it? What did it feel like to you?”

“I don’t know about you two,” John says, “but it felt to me like my bones were turning inside out.”

“Same here,” Maya agrees.

“I didn’t get as deep as you, but it got me all turned around. Just as well you did send Maya out,” John says. “I was stuck in there until she grabbed me and brought me out, but I didn’t forget who I was, just where I was.”

“I just don’t think that it was what caused him to forget. He just seems to have gone really deep into his role. I don’t understand how he can be down there,” Bea says.

“Maybe the Orb has chosen him as its guardian or something,” Maya says.

Bea looks dubious, but it’s as good an explanation as any.

“So what do we do now?” John says.

“We should probably report to C,” Maya replies. “Then we can think about where we go from here. There’s no point trying to get back into the Cult. Oh, and we got the report back from Dakota on the amulet. He says the picture was of a page from a book. Some of the text is Enochian, which is the language used by angels, and the symbols are something that could be used for summoning an Elder God. It’s really old, and the god hasn’t been summoned in a very long time.”

“Oh. Right. Not good,” Bea says.

“I’ll do the honours then, shall I?” John says reluctantly.

Covenant issue phones have encrypted calls and C’s office on speed dial. It rings for a few moments and then C’s PA, Jane Darling (codename IGRAINE), answers.

“Hello John,” she begins, “do you—”

But John is already giving her a run-down of what they’ve found so far. Darling waits for him to finish, then says, “Do you want to speak to C?”

“Do I have to?”

“No, John, you don’t have to. I can’t force you to. I do not have a gun to your head. Bullets do not travel down the tiny holes in a microphone to emerge from the not-so tiny holes in a speaker.”

“I suppose I’d better,” John says, as if he doesn’t quite believe her.

“I will see if she’s available.”

Darling puts him on hold, and John turns on the speakerphone so they can all listen to the acapella yodelling Darling currently has set to torment people.

“John,” C says. “You have something for me?”

John is obliged to repeat it all again.

“Going native is always a risk with Gawain. I’ll have a word with his…” she pauses, as if looking for the right term, or a term that will do for the present company “…counsellor. And have you heard from Thomson? Is the only contact you’ve had from them when Maya dropped off the communicator?”

“Pretty much,” Maya says, “although they sent us a photo of a book they found. I sent it to Dakota and he says—”

“Yes, he sent me a copy for the file. I have read his findings. Well, keep up the good work. Let me know if you make any further progress. I’ll be in touch about how to handle Gawain.”

She hangs up, and John looks at his phone in disgust. “Fat lot of help that was, ” he says.

They head back down to the car. Maya rummages around and finds a GPS unit as well as several maps of the area — including what appears to be a simplified map of the caves. The writing on it is old French, faded copperplate and careful block lettering. The hotel entrance is at the west end, and the cult’s compound nestles in the middle  of the almost-horseshoe shape formed by the two main arcs of the system. Another branch heads off to the north-east, and there are some side branches and additional complexes to the south. Where they have just been is part of the south-east branch.

“We could try getting back in through the hotel,” Bea says. “Or look for another entrance. See? That could be one there.” She indicates a mark up in the north-east branch.

“Sounds like a plan,” Maya agrees.

They lay the cave plan out and compare it to the other maps, trying to find a route that will get them to what they think is another entrance. It’s on the other side of the mountain ridge. They’ll have to find a way round.

“Maybe we should just go back to the hotel,” Bea says. “Do you think Merlin has put a portable canoe in here somewhere?”

“Not sure I’d want to use a portable canoe that Merlin had built even if he has,” John mutters.

“Look. Why don’t we go and get something to eat while we think about it?” Maya says. “I’m starving.”

“You’re always peckish!” John replies, eliciting groans from everyone else. “Let’s go then.”

Back at the compound, Marina takes Ashley to meet Topaz. Topaz leads Ashley on what turns out to be quite a long walk across the estate and through the trees to the edge of the mountain. They avoid the main entrance to the cave system and go to a smaller cavern further along the cliff. It goes back about 10m into the rock, and is a rough, irregular teardrop in shape, the space overhead narrowing into a crack that disappears into the mountain, just as the rear of the cave pinches into darkness. The floor of the cave has been covered in a thick layer of pristine white sand, and crystals and windchimes hang from irregularities in the cave walls. Candles have been stuck everywhere there is space to stick them, and the flickering light reflects from and refracts through the gently swaying crystals, covering the white sand in dancing colours.

Topaz sits Ashley down and takes them through a couple of hours or so of various exercises involving lots of different breathing patterns, visualisation, and self-awareness exercises. To Ashley, it feels both as if hardly any time has passed and it is years later when Topaz finishes with a final relaxation exercise.

“Before we go, has Marina spoken to you about the Great Eel at all?” Topaz asks. She speaks easily, but Ashley can tell there is some hesitation here, a slight nervousness or wariness, as if she is taking a risk in asking this question.

“No, not really. Why?”

“It’s just that, well, some people can become confused about what we are trying to achieve here. They can let their own gifts, their talents, blind them to the reality and lose their groundedness.”

“I don’t understand. What do you mean?”

Topaz stands and brushes sand from herself, then starts pinching out the candles, each one darkening with the slight hiss of dampened fingers and a smell of carbonised wick. “You are very new here,” she says. “It’s just that, with you being so sensitive, I was concerned that Marina might try to accelerate your path into one of the more advanced groups. It’s good to keep somethings in mind, to stay grounded, even if we are granted extraordinary gifts.”

Ashley can’t tell for sure whether Topaz is referring to them or not but is inclined to think she’s talking about Marina.

“What sort of things? It would be good to know, so I can make sure not to stumble from the right way.”

“Let’s just say that it’s important to remember that this is all metaphorical. Some of us might be tempted, might even have succumbed to the temptation to consider it real. But the Great Eel is not real in the sense that you or I are real, Ashley. The exercises we do here, the work we do, is about personal empowerment, not literally summoning an actual giant eel. Do you understand?”

“Yes, yes I do,” Ashley says, relieved. “Thank you for that excellent advice. I will remember that the work is metaphorical and stay grounded.”

“Good.” Topaz finishes snuffing out the candles. It’s dark outside, the moon glimmering shyly through the leaf canopy .

“If it’s all right, I would like to walk back by myself,” Ashley says. “Take the long way round, to give myself a chance to process.”

“Of course. Stay away from the entrance to the main cave system, though. It’s very, very easy to become lost.”

“I will.”

Topaz sets off towards the residential area with a purposeful stride.

Thomson leaves the cave and follows at a slower pace and on a slightly less direct path.

“Can you hear me?” they say, assuming that anyone noticing them talking will think they are talking to their spirit guide.

After a while, Maya responds, her voice weirdly distant but close at the same time. “Hey Thomson! How are you?”

“I’m good. Just walking back to my room. Thought I’d better check in. By the way, you’re my spirit animal now.”

“Your what?”

“Spirit animal. I had to come up with a reason for you visiting me as a seagull, and they bought it.”


“I’m hoping there’ll be something better for dinner than the leaves and berries we had for lunch. I’d better go.”

“Okay. Keep in touch!”

As Thomson arrives back at the accommodation, the man who spoke to them at lunch approaches.

“Hey. Remember you said you’d let me use your phone,” he says.

Thomson’s phone is hidden in the floor of their room. Feeling like it would be unwise to lie and say they’d handed it over to Blavatsky, they say, “Are you sure that’s what you want? You’ve already been here for two weeks.  You’ve made so much progress in that time. Do you really want to undo it all now? And for what?”

The man looks taken aback. “I mean. I suppose… When you get down to it, the internet is a dumpster fire of hissing scorpions. I’m only here for another two weeks and… I have to confess, I haven’t really missed facebook. Certainly not twitter. I just wanted to look at kitten photos. But once I get out of here, I could get an actual kitten instead.”

“You absolutely can do that. Then, instead of looking at vacuous photographs that are little more than clickbait to trip a dopamine signal in your brain, you can form a meaningful relationship with another living being and bring light and joy into the world.”

“You are so right. Thanks. Thank you!”

He walks away, dazed, looking like someone who has had an epiphany.

Later, with no dinner in sight, Thomson decides to go for a walk to stave off the hunger pangs. It’s approaching 11pm, and everyone else is in bed. They fetch their gun out from its hiding place, then debate whether to put their own clothes on. It would probably be less suspicious if they were found and were wearing their cult clothes., though, so stick with obvious white.

Out into the cool night they go, following a vague instinct and trying to avoid any smelly man camps.

As they set off in search of some food, John’s phone rings. The caller ID says MERLIN.

“Oh gods,” John says. “What the hell does he want?” He thumbs the call accept button. “Hi Merlin.”

“John! Team!” Merlin bellows. “I understand you’re having trouble with Gawain. Not at all unusual, this is why we put a tracker on him, of course.”


“What you need to do is say the following: Looking at the cake is like looking at the future. Until you’ve tasted it, what do you really know? And then, of course, it’s too late. Then give him some cake. Ha ha ha ha ha.”

“Excuse me?”

Looking at the cake is like looking at the future. Until you’ve tasted it, what do you really know? And then, of course, it’s too late. Ha ha ha ha ha. Then cake.” There is a pause. “Oh, you don’t have to laugh, that’s not part of it. I amuse myself, that’s all. Doesn’t matter what cake. Any cake will do.” Another pause. “Best if you can get him to eat it, though. Right? Great stuff!”

There is a long beep and he hangs up.

“I guess we’d better find a patisserie,” Maya says.

“I don’t think even French bakeries are open this late.”

“Well, a supermarket then. He said it didn’t matter what kind of cake. We can just pick up some chocolate buns or something.”

They drive into town and find a supermarket. They are about to go in to find some food and some cake when a voice hisses from somewhere in the back of the car.

“Hey guys!” They sound like they’re trying not to make too much noise.

Maya rummages through the road trip detritus, piles of maps, and scattered kit for the comms box.

“Are you there? Can you hear me? I can’t be too loud in case someone hears me.”

“Hey Thomson!” Maya says, finding the box and thumbing the switch. “How are you?”

“Oh, I’m good. This place is amazing, but I think the dude with the amulet is trying to take over and do something bad. Although they don’t seem to serve dinner. I’m starving. Thought I’d go for a walk.”

“Fancy some company?” Maya asks.

“Yeah. That would be good, actually.”

“We’re heading to a supermarket to get food. We need to take cake to Gawain.”

There’s a long pause before Thomson’s voice sounds, slightly treble-heavy through the speaker and clearly confused. “Right?”

“I’ll tell you later. I can bring you something if you like?”

“That would be great.”

John is already inside, and Maya can just about hear him through the open door, yelling, “Excusez moi! Je cherchez le gateau!”

“Get some roulade!” Maya calls to him, before saying to Thomson, “OK. Don’t walk too fast.”

Maya heads inside, where John and Bea are choosing cakes. They grab a selection of pastries and savoury snacks then head back to the car.

“Will you be able to find the cave entrance?” Bea asks.

“It’s a long way to fly to the new entry point,” Maya says, putting a couple of cupcakes into a small plastic bag.

“No, we’re going to the last one, to find Bert,” Bea says.

“Are we?” John is surprised.

“We might as well.”

“Oh, sure. I can find that okay,” Maya assures them.

“Right. So you’ll go see Thomson and we’ll go get Bert.” Bea repeats the plan, as if needing the confirmation that they all have the same one in mind.

“Yes,” Maya agrees. “I just need a plastic bag or something to take some food to Thomson.”

John digs around for a small bag while Maya gets changed. He puts a couple of cakes and un demi jambon-beurre into a bag and Maya grabs the handles in her beak. She flies once round the car to test the weight and balance, then heads off towards the Estate.

Avoiding the rookery, even though corvids are better sleepers than seagulls and are unlikely to be up and about, Maya soars low over the trees, looking for a solitary figure wandering through the trees. Soon enough, Thomson’s ghostly white clothes glimmer through the darkness near the tree where Maya had found them earlier.

“Oh, you’re a life saver,” Thomson says as Maya lands and drops the bag at their feet. They cram bread and cake into their face. “Mmm. Oh yeah, this is good.”

Maya transforms herself back into a human. “So, how’s it going?”

“It’s going great!” Thomson says. “The woman who runs this place, Marina, she’s amazing. She is super cool. And all she really wants is for people to be their own empowered selves, you know? I feel like I could learn so much here. But there’s this dude with the amulet, and I’m almost completely sure he’s up to something, although he hasn’t done anything actually to me, you know? He could have said something about me finding the book, but he didn’t, and I actually find that really suspicious. And there’s Topaz, who is also really cool. She was giving me some one-to-one training earlier, and she told me I had to beware not to fall into the belief that what’s happening here is real. She said that it’s important to remember that what we’re doing is metaphorical, and it’s about personal growth. She said there are some people here who believe they are really summoning something, and I think that might be what the man with the amulet is trying to do. I think he’s trying to use people here, people Marina has trained to use their power, and he wants to summon something. Something bad.”

“You think that this Blavatsky woman is okay?”

“Yeah! She is really trying to look after me. ”

“Are you sure you’re all right, Thomson? This doesn’t sound like you. This is a whole other side to you I’ve never seen, all this meditation and stuff.”

Maya doesn’t try very hard to conceal her scepticism, but Thomson is oblivious.

Thomson waves a dismissive hand. “Oh sure. My parents were into all of this stuff. I basically grew up on a commune. It’s kind of nice to revisit it.”

Maya tells Thomson what Dakota said about the book page Thomson photographed.

“That kind of supports my thoughts about what’s going on here,” Thomson says thoughtfully. “Maybe the amulet dude is trying to summon the Elder God.”

“Oh, and we found Gawain. He’s gone deep undercover and nearly shot Bea.”

“Oh wow.”

“Yeah. Merlin gave us a code phrase to use to try to snap him out of it, which is why we were buying cake.”


“Yes. It’s part of the technique for trying to get him to remember himself.”

Thomson bites into a blueberry muffin. “Sounds like a very specific post-hypnotic suggestion. You know, so no one could accidentally force him out of deep cover by saying something like ‘heliotrope’ at just the wrong moment.”

“Could be.”

They carry on walking, following a path that leads — eventually — to the main part of the estate, where the big house and the accommodation blocks are, but which currently runs parallel to the rocky foot of the mountains.

Thomson becomes aware of a pull, as if they were a compass needle held close to iron. As soon as they pay attention to it, it becomes stronger, more alluring, less resistable. It feels important.

“Sorry, Maya, I have to…” They don’t know how to explain this. “I feel like I have to go over in this direction. There’s a strong draw. I don’t know how to describe it, but I have to go.”

” I’m coming with you.” Maya transforms herself back into a seagull.

“Fine,” Thomson says. “Maybe just walk or something, though? Having a companion animal is one thing, but I think they might suspect something if you start living on my shoulder like a pet parrot.”

They begin walking in the direction their internal compass is pointing, and Maya takes to the air to follow.

John hefts his baseball bat. It’s their only weapon. They wander up the path to the gate to where they last saw Quartz, and Bea sets at the lock with the picks.

“DAMMIT!” she exclaims, as the pick breaks in half, the pieces falling on the ground. Unseen, sparkles drift in the darkness of the cave, some of them even passing through the bars of the gate. “Now what?”

“I could have it with my baseball bat?” John suggests dubiously.

“I don’t see what other choice we have,” Bea says with annoyance.

He takes a few steps back, then attacks the gate. A the bat swings, the enchantment kicks in. It accelerate, smashing into the hinges, and smacking the gate back against the wall of the cave so hard it bends with a loud CLANG and a screech of tortured metal. Sparkles swirl in its wake, and John finds he can’t pull it free and, suddenly, his watch slides off his wrist to stick to the bat. All of Bea’s pocket change shakes free from her jacket and flies to stick on the bat, even though it’s non-ferrous. John finds himself being dragged towards the bat by his belt buckle. All metal is affected. The gate groans and creaks as it tries to fold itself around the bat.

“Shit!” he yells. “Bloody Merlin!”

“What’s happening?” Bea exclaims.

“It’s the bloody base bloody ball bloody bat!” John says, fumbling with his phone and trying to hit speed dial without losing it to the intense magnetic attraction.

Merlin picks up almost at once. “What what?” he booms.

“Your bloody baseball bat has turned super magnetic! What do we do?” John yells.

“Oh. Sorry about that. Thought we’d ironed that one out.” He audibly strokes his beard, then catches his own unintended pun. “HA HA HA HA HA. Ahem. Use a minor cantrip to de-enchant it. That should solve the magnetism problem, although it will lose the enhanced qualities as well, of course. You should get them back in an hour. Probably. Cheerio!”

“Bloody Merlin! Bea. Can you do an enchant weapon on this thing and, I dunno, unenchant it instead?” John asks, desperately sliding across the ground, pulled by belt buckle and phone.

Bea mutters a cantrip as another coin works free from her pocket and flies to the baseball bat. That last coin takes just enough pressure off John for him to hold his ground until the cantrip is done and the baseball falls in a dead weight to the ground.

He picks it up. It no longer feels light and lively in his grip. It’s the weight of a medium sized sledgehammer, and he can feel every gram of it.

From the depths of the cave comes the sound of footsteps. More than one, by the rhythm, although that might be the echoes braiding around one another in the cave’s complexity.

“Uh-oh,” John says.

Bea motions for him to go on the other side of the cave entrance, where he won’t be seen. He hefts his deadweight baseball bat, regretting having brought it. She stands on the other side of the cave entrance, cradling cake. John mugs a SERIOUSLY?? expression and Bea shrugs. Her bolas is gone. What else is she supposed to do?

As the footsteps grow closer, they sound heavier, louder. It’s not a person, it’s a giant.

John tightens his grip on his baseball bat.

After what feels like a lifetime of waiting, an enormous figure emerges from the cave. It spots Bea.


“Wait…” Bea says, holding up one hand. “What?”

This is Twin 2, whom Bea afflicted with a bad case of wet shitty trousers before the team unceremoniously barbecued his brother. And he’s not stopping.

John whips round in a crouched swing at Twin 2’s ankles. The giant is moving fast, attention entirely on Bea, and doesn’t see him. He falls fast and hard, sprawling in the dirt until a collision between his head and a particularly sharp rock brings him to a stop with a meaty, sickening thud.

“Oh,” John says. “That’s… Not really had I had in mind.”

“Oh well,” Bea says. “It was him or us.”

“You.” They both turn at the sound of another voice. It’s Quartz, and he’s looking at them both with unconcealed contempt, his gun a slick black source of death and pain.

Bea holds out the cake. It’s a Black Forest Gateau. She has cut a slice.

“Looking at the cake is like looking at the future. Until you’ve tasted it, what do you really know? And then, of course, it’s too late.” She proffers the plate. “Go on, have a bite.”

Quartz’s gun wavers, the muzzle drifting to point towards the ground. His expression becomes conflicted, confused.

“What… What did you say?”

“Looking at the cake is like looking at the future,” John repeats, slowly and carefully. “Until you’ve tasted it, what do you really know? And then, of course, it’s too late.”

Bea breaks off a piece of the cake and practically forces it into the Section 7 agent’s mouth.

“Who are you?” He swallows part of it, but spits out most, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and eyeing it suspiciously, as if he’s expecting poison.

“More to the point, who are you?” Bea asks.

“I have no reason to tell you.” His eyes are sharp now, suspicious rather than paranoid.

“Are you Bert?”

“That depends on who is asking.”

Bea starts to get exasperated, but John says, “Is your name Bertram St Joh Cholmondleigh Featherstone-Hawe?”

Gawain relaxes a little, his stance going from say one thing wrong and I will kill you to this is a dangerous situation, but you are not my enemy. “You’ve read my personnel file. What are you doing here?”

“You went dark, man,” John tells him. “We were sent to find out what had happened to you.”

“Just you?”

“No, there are another two of us in the team. One of them has infiltrated the cult.”

“Infiltrated… Are you mad? Does this hunter have any magic powers? Are they powerful in the occult?”

“Not that we know,” John says with a shrug.

“Listen to me. Tell C that Sebastien Strunk is back. We didn’t take him down last time as we thought. Tell her. She will know what I mean. He is subverting the cult to gather enough power to summon his abomination of a god Yigg. If he succeeds, it’s the end of everything. The human race is finished. I’ve been stopping him getting close to the Orb, because without it he can’t enact his plan, but he needs to be stopped. Permanently.”

“The Orb!” Bea exclaims. “How are you able to be close to it?”

“Does it matter?”

“Well, maybe,” Bea says, angry now. “We’ve got a job to do here too , you know.”

“I…” He breaks off, uncertain again. “I don’t know. Something that Marina did. I can’t explain it. Something to do with blood, perhaps…” He stars at the ground for a moment. “You said there were two others. Where is the other one?”

“She’s flying in to check on our undercover hunter,” Bea says.

“Flying? Is Merlin supplying microlights to hunter teams these days?”

“Not exactly.”

“Explain.” He almost barks this order, and Bea finds herself explaining almost without deciding to.

“She can transform herself into a seagull. She’s flying in as a seagull.”

Gawain’s expression turns dismayed, then hardens. “You fools! You are sending someone who is capable of that kind of magic in there and you think they won’t be able to tell? They will take her and use her to fuel their plans. Why the hell is C using such barely competent hunters?”

“Harsh,” mutters John.

“You need to get them out. Both of them. There’s no time to waste. Get in touch with C and give her my message, but get your teammates out!”

He turns and starts heading back into the cave.

“Wait. What are you going to do?” Bea asks.

“I have to make sure Strunk doesn’t get near the Orb. Right now, there’s nothing more important than that.”

“What if you lose yourself to your cover? Again?”

“That’s a risk I’ll just have to take. But for future reference, I can’t stand chocolate.”

He returns to the cave and forces the gate shut again.

Ashley’s sixth sense leads Thomson and Maya to the main entrance to the cave complex. Ashley goes inside, drawn by the potent signal. Maya hangs back until she can no longer see Thomson, then heads into the cave.

Ashley sees the cave filled with a blue light. It is intense, the colour of the third-eye chakra, Ajna, the chakra of intuition and imagination. It fills them with excitement, a desire to belong, to participate. They hear chanting, a glorious, endless sound ; numerous voices with one aim, one goal, their combined effort washing through the cavern with no pause for breath.

As they move deeper into the cave, the feeling grows, this desire to belong, and they begin to see wisps of light flitting through the blue, like swallows made of mist.

Maya jumps up in front of Thomson, flapping and squawking, trying to turn them back. She can see the blue light, and hears some deep chanting noises, but that’s it.

“Get off!” Ashley says. “I need to see.”

Maya keeps flapping, and the ghostly swallows grow in number as the chanting grows louder and the blue becomes more intense, almost to the point of tingling on their skin. Sparkles form in dancing clouds like mayflies.

Maya stops, unwilling to progress any further, sure that Thomson wouldn’t go on alone.

Just as they are about to turn a corner that would put Maya out of sight, Thomson kicks a corner of Ashley’s mind into paying attention and they decide to turn back. Maya can’t wait to get out of there and goes on ahead. Thomson follows, wondering if this is the right thing to do.

As they exit the cave, a jeep pulls up. A woman clambers out. She is tall, blonde, dressed to enhance her naturally generous curves, and has a smirk on her carefully-painted lips. Knives glint at her belt, and she carries herself with the ease of someone trained in martial arts.

“Hello, pretty pretty,” she says huskily. “What are you doing here?”

Ashley swallows. They are not supposed to be here. “Well, I was walking back to my accommodation when I experienced the profound feeling that I should be here,” they say.

“Really?” The woman arches one eyebrow. “Well I think you should be here, too.”

“Why? What’s happening in there?”

“It’s the big Interface practise before the main event, darling.”

She smiles the kind of smile that could bring susceptible persons to their knees. and then walks into the cave.

Ashley realises that this woman means them no harm. Her one and only priority in life is looking after… Sebastien. She might be prone to jealousy, but only if she believes someone is intruding on her space, and her space is Sebastien, whoever that is. The man with the amulet. She is his bodyguard, lover. Paramour.

And she’s going inside to keep him safe while he makes sure he has the people he needs primed to help him summon Yigg.

And now Ashley wants to go back inside, whether Maya agrees or not.