This is episode 31 of my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, or have missed an episode, you can find a full index of the episodes here.
Bishop Barclay watched the entirety of Rev Beresford's video footage in silence, his eyes glued to the TV screen. When Pogmorton's hand emerged from the cauldron he jumped, rattling his tea cup, and smiled apologetically at Rev Beresford. Only when the video had finished did he speak.
'Very interesting, Austin. I think we may be able to use this witch.' The bishop glanced over his shoulder at the imperfection hanging in the air. 'There's the Book for a start.'
'I am not sure she will be able to help us with that, Your Grace.'
'Why ever not, my dear man?!'
'She said something about only the one who wove the original enchantment being able to dispel it...'
'In that case,' Bishop Barclay interrupted, 'She has aided us immeasurably by raising that, that...'
'I believe it is a pixie, Your Grace.'
'Yes, quite. By raising that pixie from the dead. It sounds to me as though we are already halfway there. She just needs persuading to get it to aid us a little further.'
'I'm not so sure...'
Bishop Barclay flapped his hand for Rev Beresford to be quiet, cocking his ear towards the fireplace.
'Austin, is it me, or is your fireplace singing?'
'Pardon, Your Grace?'
'Shush and listen, man.'
Together they both listened, straining to catch any hint of sound emanating from the fireplace. Rev Beresford, being a little hard of hearing, heard nothing. Bishop Barclay by comparison, became quite animated.
'Where does the chimney run in this building?' he asked, beaming.
'Err...there's a fireplace in the shop, Your Grace, but it was bricked up before I bought the building. There might even be one in the cellar, I believe that was once servants' accommodation, but with these old legs,' he indicated his walking stick, 'I haven't been down there for years.'
'No matter.' Bishop Barclay dismissed Rev Beresford's frailty with a wave of his hand. 'Perhaps I ought to take a look myself.'
'Oh, I wouldn't want to put you to any trouble, Your Gra...'
'Nonsense man! It would be my pleasure.'
'Well, only if you're sure. Access to the cellar is through a trapdoor in the floor of the shop.' Rev Beresford held out a key from his waistcoat pocket. 'This opens the connecting door to the shop at the bottom of the stairs. Just inside the front door.'
'Jolly good,' Bishop Barclay beamed as he rose and took the key. 'Thank you, Austin. I shall return shortly.'
* * *
Swazzle and Jamieson stood rooted to the spot, eyes wide in terror as the Draig's song drifted up the chimney. Suddenly, Jamieson sprang into action, wrenching open Mistress Botchett's larder and proceeding to shovel handfuls of bacon and sausages in to the stove's firebox.
'Och, c'mon laddie, give me a hand.'
Between them, they managed to get through Mistress Botchett's entire week's stock of breakfast ingredients before the Draig stopped singing, its song replaced by the sound of munching. The aroma of a cooked breakfast wafted out of the stove and Swazzle was beginning to wonder if he shouldn't put some eggs on to fry when Jamieson froze.
'Shite! There's somebody on the stairs,' and with that he vanished.
Swazzle was rummaging around for a frying pan when Jamieson re-appeared moments later.
'This is serious laddie. Get everyone up, wands at the ready,' he urged, 'While I go and prepare a little something of my own for our visitor.
Within moments Swazzle had assembled most of the basement residents at the bottom of the stairs, dismissing their questions with a wave of his hand and shushing them into silence. Jamieson appeared shortly thereafter, explaining the Bishop was having trouble getting the key to turn in the lock. He winked.
'It won't hold him for long,' Jamieson continued. 'Now here's what I need you to do...'
* * *
Bishop Barclay cursed under his breath. Why on earth didn't Rev Beresford maintain this old lock, he wondered as he jiggled the key. Eventually he managed to get it to turn and was soon hauling up the trapdoor to the cellar. Snapping on the torch from his pocket, Bishop Barclay set his foot on the top stair and tentatively began to descend.
* * *
As the Bishop's foot made contact with the illusory floor Jamieson had created, a group of Pixies shuffled forward and pointed their wands at the sole of his shoe, just in time to stop it sliding straight through the illusion. A second group did the same thing with the Bishop's other shoe, and together they began an awkward dance as Bishop Barclay set out to explore the apparently deserted cellar.
After several tense minutes of wandering to and fro, Bishop Barclay headed back to the stairs and began to climb, calling up towards the shop, 'You were right, Austin. There's no sign of anything down here.' The assembled Pixies grinned, breathing a collective a sigh of relief.
* * *
After exchanging pleasantries with Rev Beresford, Bishop Barclay bade him farewell and headed back to his car. Sinking into the air conditioned warmth of the leather seats he sighed.
'Thomas?' he called to his driver.
'Yes, Your Grace?'
'When we get home you'd best call the cleaner. It seems Austin has an infestation in his basement.'
The black Jaguar slid out of Gallows Close into the morning traffic.
This week also marks the release of the final episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 15 over at Nishi's blog Breathing With Butterflies. 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.