The dog skittered off in a circle for another attack, but he never had to make it because a ring of burly men emerged from the wooded marsh with pikes and muskets.
‘Be still, witch,’ cried one. ‘And bear the manacles.’
No thanks, pal, thought Chevie, and kicked the guy in the knee, which is not an obvious choice or an easy target, but if the kick is dead on then the pain caused is immense.
The man went down howling with agony and clutching his popped joint.
Chevie managed to deck another swarthy gent with a punch in the neck, which again would not be considered classy fighting, but there was nothing noble about the odds here, so Chevie didn’t feel too bad about it.
What she did feel bad about was the sack, which was pulled down over her head by a third man and swiftly tied off at the ankles. And it doesn’t matter how good a martial artist a person is, there is no kung-fu’ing your way out of a sturdy sack.
Dammit, she thought, toppling over. Now Garrick has us both.
Chevie realized that she should have listened to Isles and made like a statue.
The Isles in question was roused from slumber by a furious crackling in the antechamber, which he recognized as Professor Smart’s signature I’m excited noise. And Professor Smart being excited was rarely a good thing, as in: Look, everyone. I’ve found the way home. Usually the prof was excited in an anxious way, as in: Look, everyone. Doom and catastrophe are about to descend on us all.
Isles rolled out of bed and padded into the main area. The ghost of Professor Smart was literally fizzing in front of his monitor.
‘Hey, Prof,’ whispered Isles. ‘What’s up?’
Smart did not take his eyes off the screen. ‘Doom and catastrophe are about to descend on us all,’ he said, as predicted.
‘I thought so. And what is it this time?’
‘The rift,’ said Smart. ‘It’s wide open. Visible to all. I have destroyed the earth.’
Isles decided to take this seriously. ‘Destroyed the earth? Seriously? I always thought that was, you know, Scottish hyperbole.’
Smart glowered, which he could do most effectively by speeding up his particles. ‘There is a gate between two dimensions that were never meant to be joined. The other dimension, or more accurately –’
Isles was getting a little impatient. ‘Inter-dimension. I know, Prof. Get on with it.’
‘The inter-dimension is stuffed to the gills with giant beasties and dark energy. All of which are about to be poured on to this marshland.’
‘That does not sound like hyperbole,’ admitted Isles. ‘Sounds like you were underplaying it, actually. Can’t you do anything?’
‘I can detonate the electromagnetic pulse and that might send the rift energy into recoil, but not for long. Perhaps twelve hours. No longer.’
Isles hurried round to look at the monitor, which was almost covered in swirling red tendrils. ‘ OK, good. Great. Let’s do that. How many of these EMPs do you have?’
‘One,’ said Smart miserably. ‘And we built it years ago. It might not even work. I’ve been using the field to protect the office, so I don’t get dematerialized altogether.’
‘But what about you?’
‘I’ll be fine, probably. Anyway, we have no alternative.’
Isles did not like this plan, but there were no alternatives.
‘ OK, prof. Do it.’
The professor sent his fingers into the computer itself, rearranging power flows and powering up the EMP built into the coils that wrapped the office.
As Smart worked, Isles muttered to himself. ‘ EMPs, dark matter. It’s like some Saturday-morning cartoon. Like Scooby-Doo.’ This reminded him of something. ‘Where is Pointer anyway? He’s been gone all day. I swear if he’s off chasing rats again I will kick his tail.’ This reminded him of something else. ‘Hey, prof. Where’s the girl?’
The professor was halfway into the monitor now, but he popped his head out to say, ‘She went out. Through the floorboards, I think.’
Isles knelt. The see-saw floorboard was still see-sawed, and there was light coming from below.
He peeped down to see two hounds that were not Pointer clawing at the oak’s trunk and a group of Puritan militiamen with lanterns clustered round the base of their treehouse.
‘Egad!’ said one. ‘’Tis the traitor, Isles.’ Musket barrels swivelled Isles’s way.
‘This be the witch’s lair,’ said another voice from below. ‘Grenadier!’
Grenadier! thought Isles. Oh, crud!
Then instinct took over from thought as a dozen musket balls peppered the planking around the gap, two making it through and one grazing his shoulder.
Isles rolled away from the hole and almost immediately wished he had closed the gap first as an apple-sized metal sphere spun neatly through it and plonked on to the wood.
That grenadier has got a hell of an arm, thought Isles, scrambling away.
This thought was confirmed when two more grenades joined the first, rolling to form a deadly hissing cluster.
‘We gotta go, Professor. Time’s up.’
‘One more second,’ said Charles Smart. ‘One more second.’
Five seconds later the entire field office went up in a roiling mushroom of flame and black smoke, which set the dogs running scared and the militiamen chortling, clapping and stamping their feet.
‘Good throwing, sir,’ said the captain to the pock-faced, lanky youth who had tossed the bombs. ‘Good throwing indeed. The Witchfinder will shake our hands for good fellows after this day’s work. The witch is ours and her familiars have gone to meet their maker. Or rather, their master.’
Inside the sack, Chevie bucked and elbowed, but she was as trapped as a salmon in a net and her struggles made the militiamen’s chortles all the more hearty and their self-congratulation all the more sickening.
From his vantage point high above the fens, Albert Garrick saw the red rose of explosion bloom in the forest and heard the strange clang that accompanied it and almost immediately the rift released its grasp on him. Albert Garrick did not know how or why but he was glad nonetheless. He would dance with the devil himself if it meant escaping the wormhole.
Praise be, he thought, then plummeted the five full seconds to earth.
Garrick landed with a thump that shattered his collarbone and dislocated two of his vertebrae. While he lay on his twisted back feeling the pain lance through his body as the bones mended, he watched the rift recoil above him as though wounded.
Wounded but far from vanquished.
‘How does one kill a werewolf?’ he asked the stars, still mulling over his question of earlier that day. And when the stars did not answer he said, ‘Put a silver bullet through its heart.’
Garrick smiled at the rift.
‘Oh, my ancient enemy, I think you have shown me your heart,’ he said.
Riley ran like Lucifer himself was on his heels, which in a very real way he was – for when the mysterious explosion lit up the night sky Riley felt his own pace suddenly increase as the explosion’s shock knocked out whatever beam of attraction the wormhole had thrown around him.
And, if I am freed, then so is Garrick.
But he could not stop to look, for there was no time to spare as, in Riley’s experience, wherever there was riotous mayhem it was either Garrick or Chevie at the nub of it. Since Garrick was to the rear, hopefully incapacitated, then it must be Chevron who was close to this latest havoc.
Not too close, Chevie. Not too close.
For it would be heartbreaking to be almost in sight of the girl and then to lose her.
Riley had a sudden horrifying thought that almost halted his gallop.
Could I bear to see Chevie’s dead form? Could I stand to feel her grow cold in my arms?
Riley increased his pace and weaved through the trees, feeling dread like an icy fist gripping his heart.
I will not allow that to happen.
So he ran on, prayi
ng to the Lord above that his feet, made careless by desperate haste, would not snag on a root. His bones would not heal like Garrick’s. If he stumbled into a rut or a sinkhole while running at this peg, his ankle would snap like kindling and he would be forced to lie in the mud till Garrick toddled over to do the job he’d been hankering after.
Lady Luck smiled on Riley for once and allowed him to dodge disaster as he ran, virtually blind, over the treacherous ground and dodged between trunks that loomed from the mist like the masts of long-abandoned ghost ships. In Riley’s mind the trees creaked and groaned as he flitted past.