In London, England, meanwhile, the return of night brought Winston back to the cottage. The wiry Englishman was more than he seemed. He was Angel’s contact with the underground in more than one way, a bridge between the Brotherhood and the London criminal element. At the moment, with the maps Brendan had retrieved spread out across the dining room table, he was consulting with Angel, explaining the history of the various tunnels.
“This here tunnel, guv?” He asked, pointing to one of the maps. “It was the only passage to the area under Number 10. Got knocked out in the Blitz. The war, don’t you know.”
“What if we tunnelled in from here?” Alvaro questioned. “Bypassing the collapsed section.”
“Need a digger for that guv,” Winston replied. “Someone familiar with tunnels and such.”
“Who did you have in mind?”
“Chalky’s your man,” Winston replied without a moment’s thought. “Spent twenty years in the coal mines before he did a spell in Balmoral.”
“And how did he wind up with a vacation at government expense?” Angel asked sarcastically.
“Accidentally tunnelled into a bank, he did,” and Winston laughed, a half wheeze, half cough.
“Are there any empty buildings or retail space along this stretch?”
“Might be guv,” Winston replied. “I might be able to get my hands on a petrol station right here. Yes, I think that would do nicely.”
“Okay,” Angel concluded. “Make the usual arrangements. How soon can you find this Chalky?”
“Be here for morning tea,” Winston assured him, adding, “a bit of a fry-up might be in order, guv. Chalky likes to tuck in.”
After Winston had left, Alvaro went off to check on Brendan’s shoulder. Even with his accelerated healing rate, he still had to watch out for infection. Bits of cloth often followed the bullet into the wound, and this could cause a vampyre as many problems as their human counterpart. With little in the way of pain-killer, Alvaro had cleaned the wound out as best he could. Fortunately, it was a through and through, and there had been no need to dig out a bullet. They did not have the facilities or the resources here at the cottage. They would have to be more careful in the future.
He found Brendan in one of the bedrooms, exchanging angry texts with Crystal.
“I warned you not to tell her about getting shot,” Alvaro teased. “Women already think we men are incapable of taking care of ourselves as it is.”
“She tricked me,” Brendan muttered darkly.
Laughing, Alvaro checked his bandages. Already the wound showed signs of healing that was equivalent to a week’s worth in a human. Exchanging fresh gauze for the old, he bandaged the wound and gave his patient a clean bill of health. To be that young again, Alvaro thought as he made his way downstairs.
At the first blush of dawn, Winston showed up with Chalky. The man came as advertised, falling into a plate of half a dozen eggs, a side of bacon, a full pot of tea, and most of a loaf of bread. He was a massive man, touching seven feet, and so broad he fit through the door sideways. His boast of ῾all muscle᾿ was only a slight exaggeration – and whether muscle or fat, no-one there could picture this man tunnelling anywhere with that bulk.
“Grandda was a sapper in the war,” he explained between bites, “until they kicked him out. Only fifteen, you see. Grandda taught me all he knew and a mite more.”
When his prodigious breakfast had disappeared, the men retired to the dining room to review the maps. Chalky huffed and hawed, pulling his nose as he studied the Brotherhood documents through a pair of glasses that looked too small on his large face. After a five-minute review, he set the papers down with a dissatisfied sigh.
“This won’t do, mate.” He announced. “Number 10 was built on swampy ground, see. And then there’s the River Tyburn running here under the Treasury on Parliament Street. No, we want to dig right here.”
“That’s another twenty feet,” Alvaro muttered sourly. He really hated digging, memories of the last time, the bodies buried in the mud in the insanity that was trench warfare, rising like bile in his mind.
“If we must,” Angel concluded, “we must. Did you secure the garage?”
“Then, let’s go take a ride and see what we’re going to need.”
With six of them, the interior of the van was crowded, especially with Chalky’s hulking figure filling most of the front seats. Winston drove crowded to the left side of the vehicle, looking decidedly uncomfortable. As he stared out the back window, Drake shot looks over at Jaime, wondering if he were worth all this? The Brit Goth had been quiet over the last few days of preparations, withdrawing into some personal hell he either could or would not share. What was it he was not telling them?
When Winston parked in front of a squat structure of an abandoned service station, Chalky looked up and laughed.
“Old Albert’s place,” he boomed, “Winston, you sly dog.”
“Aye,” Winston replied, shrugging at the others to show that he was as mystified as any.
Winston led the way inside, unlocking a small office door. From here, Chalky led the way into the repair bay, fumbling for a light switch whose location he vaguely remembered. The moment the overhead fluorescents flashed into life, he continued, jumping down into a pit with a loud bang. He reached towards a grate covering the grease trap, first bending at the waist before surrendering to his girth and kneeling.
“You young lads,” he called. “Give us a hand with this.”
Drake and Jaime jumped down to his side. A plate metal sheet imprinted with anti-slip studs, it was surprisingly heavy. Six by three feet, it covered the majority of the space in the centre of the pit’s floor. When it was removed, Chalky reached into the sludge at the bottom of the sump, yanking on a ring and chain, pulling up a hidden door. Beneath, deeper darkness stared up at them, one side lined with a set of wooden rungs.
“The lads and I started our dig here,” Chalky explained, “until we ran into a hitch. One of those British postal lines. Blighters and their wee trains are everywhere beneath the city.”
“Are we going to run into the same problem?” Angel asked skeptically. If what young Jaime was hiding was what he suspected, it was vital that they reach the tunnels beneath 10 Downing Street.
“No worries mate,” Chalky assured him. “What we were after then was across the street. We need to drop a shaft straight down three-quarters of the way along. Save us weeks.”
“And what will we need?” Angel asked.
“Hard hats with lamps, four by fours, quick-dry cement –.” Chalky listed. “Electric lamps are safer when you can get away with it, like here.”
“Shovels,” Drake threw in, winking at Jaime.
“Don’t be cheeky lad,” Chalky warned, “ain’t bloody well going to dig clay with our claws now are we?”
“Give a list to Winston,” Angel instructed. “We’ll get started tonight.”
“Then how about a pint to celebrate, mate?” Chalky suggested.
“Can we, Angel?” Drake asked, hopefully. He had heard that a British pub would serve you at sixteen. At eighteen, he was too young for the bars back home.
“Just this once,” Angel relented, “as long as no one mentions a word of this to April.”
Alone with his most trusted advisors in his throne room, Shax watched as the child killer sobbed out her last breaths. He was no longer bored now that Crystal Raven was here to amuse him, his mind occupied with a dozen plots he spun like the webs of a schizophrenic spider. Still, small diversions did help the time go by when he was waiting for one of his ploys to play out. He would have to find himself a new toy to play with – perhaps something young and strong, and not necessarily human.
“My Lord Shax,” the remains of his doctor intruded on his thoughts. “The doppelganger has not returned. I fear he has failed.”
“Not a worry, my dear friend,” Shax replied, distracted. “He was never expected to succeed. These little trivialities are merely meant to annoy her – force her to draw on the Pranic energy. A thousand pinpricks. The more she draws on that energy, the less control she has over it.”
“Ah, I see,” the doctor replied, but he didn’t.
Shax smiled. “It’s time to step up my other project. I can feel the Pranic energy every time she nears the gateway through which I came to this plane. So sweet of her to choose to live in the same house.”
Helmand returned to the home of the American girls the next day. Dressed in his overalls and tool belt, he worked quietly in the office finishing his repairs on the window. Crystal and Aiko found him here when they came to have a quiet word.
“Lotus Blossom!” He greeted. “How does the shoulder feel today?”
Helmand nodded, smiling as he stood up and wiped his hands on a rag.
“I meant to thank you for what you are doing with the floor and window,” Crystal interjected, giving Aiko a puzzled look. She was not acting like herself. “It looks beautiful.”
“I hate to see these antique oak floors destroyed,” Helmand shrugged off the compliment. “It took real craftsmanship to create it.”
“Can we offer you a coffee?” Crystal offered. “You and Aiko can visit in the living room if you don’t mind the mess. We’re working on a little project.”
“A coffee would be greatly appreciated,” Helmand smiled kindly. “And I won’t mind neither the mess nor the company.”
They led him back into the living room, where the girls were spread out over the entire room with papers, laptops and cell phones. Helmand helped Aiko take a seat on the couch and joined her. Crystal disappeared into the kitchen to fix a cup of instant coffee. Her talk with Aiko had to wait until later. Returning, she found Aiko snuggling up against the old man, unsure if she was getting ready to bite or kiss him. She rolled her eyes and handed their guest the coffee with an apology for its quality.
“This will be fine,” Helmand replied. “What is it you are working on?”
“It’s a journal I found,” Aiko replied before Crystal could stop her. “It is written in a language we do not recognize.”
“May I see?” Helmand asked. “I have an eye for languages.”
Reluctantly, Crystal crossed the room and fetched the journal from an end table. She took a seat on the other side as she handed it to him, her eyes never leaving its leather cover.
“No wonder,” Helmand chuckled.
The girls all looked up from their work to glare at him.
“That you did not recognize it,” Helmand explained. “It is written in a Cyrillic alphabet, but the language is a rare one from the Balkans. Only about one hundred people speak it today. Funny, though.”
Now all the girls were gathering about Helmand and the couch. Even Cantara found herself sitting like a child at his feet. He had that effect on them all.
“What?” She asked.
“Well,” Helmand explained. “It never really had a written component. A local Orthodox monk had tried to create one back in the Sixteen Hundreds, but the Latin grammar he imposed on the language was rather cumbersome.”
“Does that mean you can’t read it?” Gwen asked, trying hard to hide the disappointment in her voice.
“Dear me, sweetheart, I think I might manage,” Helmand teased.
These words are not for the uninitiated, nor those of faint heart. Ward this tome well, lest it falls into the wrong hands and evil escape into the world.
“Well, now,” Helmand announced, “this first part seems to be instructions for whomever the book was written. Shall we skip ahead?”
“Yes!” They found themselves chorusing. Crystal and Cantara shared a troubled look. Who was this man to have such an effect on them all?
“Let me see now,” Helmand shifted position, letting a sleepy Aiko rest her head on his chest.
Powassan was the wise woman who taught Becky Hawthorne the secret of the crystal. A grandmother from the Wyandot tribe near Windsor, she had moved to this area to care for the Hawthorne girl after her mother’s death. She was at the farm the day Master Hawthorne’s plough unearthed the star crystal.
The crystal is a two-inch diameter octagon about eight inches in length. It is easily recognizable by the gold and silver striations. Those impurities make it unique among Wiccan crystals.
“A Wiccan treatise, this is rare,” Helmand interjected. “Did you know Wiccan’s pass on their lore only through oral tradition?”
The girls held out their crystals and collapsed, laughing.
“You wouldn’t be related to a Jean-Claude,” Gwen teased. “He’s another silly old man who cannot tell a story without interrupting himself.”
“I don’t believe I have had the pleasure,” Helmand replied in mock outrage, winking at Gwen to let her know he was teasing.
Not all can use this crystal. It is attuned to only a certain individual, and to a bloodline. The impurities make it dangerous to all, especially those not of the blood.
Powassan tells of a native legend passed on from mother to daughter for a thousand years:
In the dawn time, the Great Spirit wore a necklace of seven stars around his neck. The Spirit Crow envied him the necklace and coveted it for his own. One night while the Great Spirit laysleeping, resting from his labours of crafting the world, the Spirit Crow crept into his lodge and stole the necklace.
Powerful was the Great Spirit’s anger at the theft of his beautiful necklace. It shook the heavens and the earth. Frightened, the Spirit Crow threw the necklace to the earth to hide his crime. The necklace broke, and the seven star crystals were scattered – but they always remember that they had been linked.
To this day, whenever the Spirit Crow comes to steal a soul, the crystal will frighten this bad spirit away. Confront the Spirit Crow with the proof of his crime. The reminder of the Great Spirit’s wrath and his own cowardice will be too much for him.
Remember: this crystal is one of a set of seven. A crystal from the same rock will retain the same harmonic resonance, linking it to all its sisters. In the wrong hands, something this powerful can create great evil. The Three-Fold Laws dictate that we do no harm – to prevent an even greater harm, you must be ready to kill when necessary.
“That bit doesn’t sound very Wiccan to me,” Helmand commented. “This tome must date to the time of the Great Schism.”
“I’ve heard about that,” Gwen commented. “You remember Crystal? What is the Great Schism?”
“One of those scholarly rumours that may or may not be true,” Helmand began tentatively. “In the Eighteen Hundreds, immigrants often brought cholera from the ships. Ellis Island in your own city came into use because of it.”
“This area experienced a rather severe cholera scare in the mid to late eighteen hundreds. How many actual cases there were, who knows? Persecution and secrecy had long ago forced the Wiccans into an oral tradition. A plague or epidemic can play havoc on lore passed down in this manner.
Local legend suggests these Wiccans were hiding a terrible secret – maybe this crystal – and there was fear knowledge of it would be lost. Conditions in the area were rougher, less civilized. A debate broke out among the traditionalists and those who wanted to commit the secret to writing, and that feud led to a breaking of the coven.”
“Yeah,” Crystal sighed. “That’s pretty much what we heard.”
“Ah, but did you hear about the banishing ceremony,” Helmand teased. “And the twelve Wiccan’s who disappeared one night. Some claim they were murdered, and their ghosts haunt the woods where the ceremony took place. Others say they were banished to Hell.”
“No way, silly old man,” Gwen complained. “Wiccans wouldn’t do anything like that. There are no Wiccan ceremonies to banish people to hell.”
“Perhaps amongst those who hold to the Three-Fold Laws,” Helmand replied, more teasing than serious. “But, there is always the Black Wiccan.”
His voice grew grave, “there are thirteen seals to Hell, one for each gate. All but one has been opened at some point throughout history. If a mainstream religion – Wiccan, Christian or Hindu – does not believe in something, that does not mean it does not exist.”
“Any way you choose to believe,” Helmand concluded, rising from his seat, “the twelve women who split from the local covens all disappeared on the same night. A rash of runaway wives – and on that note, I have to run.”
When the door closed behind Helmand, Crystal turned towards the others, “does anything strike you as odd about him?”
“Well,” Morgana teased, “he is a dinosaur, but as long as I don’t have to kiss his mouldy old lips, I like him.”
“His lips are not mouldy,” Aiko hissed, sulking.
“I don’t care if he’s old,” Ember put in. “I think his eyes are dreamy. I’ve never seen eyes that shade of grey.”
“Me neither,” Crystal cut in, “do humans have grey eyes?”
“Well,” Cantara replied, “my man has grey eyes, and he is as human as they come. But I get your point. What do we know about him?”
All eyes turned towards Aiko, who shrugged. Other than his name, she knew almost nothing about him.
“He must be some kind of scholar,” Gwen offered. “Maybe a professor of languages at the local university.”
“How do we know this is what he said it was?” Crystal demanded.
“It is a Cyrillic alphabet,” Morgana offered. “I checked on Google. And it’s not Russian, Polish or any of those languages because Rosetta Stone can’t translate it.”
“Okay,” Cantara decided, “next time he comes over, everyone makes a point of asking him one question. In the meantime, watch what you say to him. If he is a civilian, remember we have secrets of our own to keep.”