This episode is number 27 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, you can read from the beginning here.
In his sitting room above Goddess Rising, Rev Beresford was on the phone.
'Yes, Your Grace, I am still working on it, but the witch seems somewhat distracted at present.' He paused, listening. 'There have been developments though. Pardon, Your Grace? No, on another matter I have been unable to inform you of as yet.' Another pause. 'Of course, Your Grace, as soon as I can get away. On the original matter, did you receive the video footage I sent you? You did? Good...'
Rev Beresford's voice trailed off, his eyes drawn to the wooden cabinet on his sideboard that had begun, very gently, to vibrate.
'My apologies, Your Grace, I will have to call you back.' Rev Beresford replaced the receiver and struggled to his feet, his arthritic knees creaking in protest. The vibration had become a rattle and he began to worry the cabinet would shake itself onto the floor. Not wishing to risk damage to its valuable contents, Rev Beresford shuffled towards it as fast as his old legs would carry him, absently picking up his copy of The Daily Telegraph newspaper as he went.
By the time he reached the sideboard, heart pounding and palms clammy, the vibration had become quite violent. Resting his hip against the sideboard to roll up the newspaper, Rev Beresford felt the vibration coursing through his whole body. Steadying himself with one hand, he carefully reached into his waistcoat pocket for the small, brass key and reached out towards the cabinet.
'Hold still,' he muttered as the cabinet tried to escape its key, jiggling across the sideboard top.
Eventually, he managed to insert the key into the lock and, taking a deep breath, opened the lock. The cabinet doors shot open, Rev Beresford staggering back with a gasp clutching his cane. Something flew out of the cabinet like a bullet, buzzing around his head, easily eluding the newspaper he swatted ineffectually at it with. With a high-pitched squeaking cackle, the old fairy flew straight at the Rev's face, raking his cheek with razor sharp claws. Rev Beresford cried out in equal measures of shock and pain and the fairy, still cackling, sped off, flying a tight spiral course that took it straight up the chimney.
As Rev Beresford hobbled over to his armchair and poured himself a large whisky the fairy, trailing smoke from its wings shot out of the chimney pot with a “phut” like a cork from a bottle and climbed into the cold morning air. It was last seen riding a very recalcitrant seagull towards the climbing eastern sun.
After a few minutes when the whisky had taken the edge of the Rev's jangling nerves, he risked approaching the cabinet again. How on earth did Oberon escape he wondered, the thought freezing as he spied the fairy, wild-eyed and thrashing as it attempted to loose its bonds.
'My goodness!' said Rev Beresford reaching into his pocket for his spectacles. Bending forward, he took a closer look at the cabinet's new incumbent. Similar in size to the previous occupant, this fairy, he noticed, seemed a little more richly dressed, though the stain on the front of its trousers seemed a little suspect. And it looked drunk.
'Well, well,' Rev Beresford straightened up slowly. 'I'll have a proper look at you later, my lad,' and with that he shut the doors of the cabinet, locked them and dropped the key back into his waistcoat pocket.
* * *
Swazzle bumped into Salkeld on his way to the hospital to see Rushalka.
'Captain Swazzle,' Salkeld waved and hurried toward him. 'I've been looking for you. There's something at the hospital I think you ought to see.'
'I was just on my way there now,' Swazzle fell into step with Salkeld. 'I was meaning to ask you, how did you survive that fairy attack?'
'It was a close run thing,' replied Salkeld, hoisting up his shirt to reveal an ugly scar. 'Still hurts a bit, but I'm getting better day by day.'
'I also owe you an apology, and my thanks for rescuing us. How did you find us?'
'That was the Goblins,' chuckled Salkeld. 'I've been spending quite a bit of time with them since we got here. Their healer is,' he lowered his voice to a whisper, 'Better than ours. I owe my good health to him really.'
Swazzle raised an eyebrow.
'No, seriously. I've no idea what he did to me, don't remember much of it, but it seems to have worked.' Salkeld flexed his arm. 'See?'
Swazzle saw and looked suitably impressed.
'You'll have to meet him,' Salkeld continued, 'He's quite something. From the Balkans originally, at least that's what I think he said, my Goblintongue's a bit rusty. Came over here after the siege of Sarajevo apparently, which is where he learned his doctoring, so he says.'
Swazzle and Salkeld chatted in amiable companionship as they walked to the hospital. Once Swazzle got Salkeld off his hero-worship of the Goblin healer, he began to explain his predicament with the Draig.
'Aha!' beamed Salkeld, 'I know someone who might be able to help.'
Swazzle looked questioningly at him.
'Another of the Balkan Goblins who came over with Mratic, that's the healer's name by the way. Anyway, this other chap's a dab hand at make do and mend, so he's bound to be able to scrounge you something up. You know the Goblins have installed gas heating in their burrow?'
'No I didn't. How'd they manage that?'
'Broke through the building's gas pipe and rigged up something involving garden hose and tap fittings apparently. I'm still a little hazy on the details. We should go and have a word when we're finished at the hospital.'
Reaching the large tented hospital, Swazzle and Salkeld ducked inside, a ragged cheer erupting from the patients when they saw Swazzle. He was on the point of asking where Rushalka was when a nursing Pixie bustled up.
'Captain Swazzle? Yes? Good. Follow me please.' She turned without waiting for Swazzle's reply and led him and Salkeld to an alcove, curtained with blankets, in the corner. 'In here,' she whispered, holding the blankets back for them to enter.
A strange creature inhabited the alcove's only cot. Thin and gangling, the creature was apparently covered head to foot in soft black fur. Its emaciated arms lay on top of the bedclothes, ending in wide, spindly hands, each finger tipped with a sharp black claw. The large eyes were closed tight, a sheen of sweat dampening the fur of its forehead.
'It has a fever,' the nurse explained. 'We're not quite sure what to do with it.'
'What is it?' Swazzle asked, aghast.
'A Night Packer,' whispered Salkeld. 'It was with the prisoners you rescued.'
Swazzle was shocked, 'Why would the fairies take it prisoner, I thought they were allies?'
This week also marks the release of the tenth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 10 over at Cecilia Dominic's blog Cecilia's Random Writings. Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.