This is episode 34 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.
Twinkle examined the air brick in minute detail but there appeared to be no opening mechanism, magical or otherwise that she could find. She pulled it, pushed it, swore under her breath at it, but the brick wouldn't budge. She was on the point of trying a particularly explosive kind of magic when the brick swung open and Twinkle only just had time to dive into the shadows.
Salkeld emerged, whistling to himself as he upended a rubbish bin off the back step. Twinkle took the opportunity to slip silently inside. Salkeld was sure he'd caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye, but when he swung round he found himself alone. He shrugged and ducked back inside, tapping the lock with his wand and hearing a reassuring “click” in response. Salkeld sauntered back up the passage towards the basement.
Keeping to the shadows, Twinkle crept into the basement. She had seen Salkeld lock the door behind him and her throat tightened with the knowledge she was going to need help to get out again.
* * *
Upstairs in the shop, Gardner was pacing. Crowley leafed through yet another ancient tome, desperately searching for a method by which he could re-create the ritual to restore his human form. Gardner's pacing was beginning to get on his nerves.
'For goodness sake! Will you stop that?'
'Eh? What?' replied the cat, still pacing.
'You're wearing a hole in the bloody carpet! How am I meant to concentrate?'
'But I'm hungry,' wailed Gardner. 'I always pace when I'm hungry.'
Crowley rolled his eyes. 'You were fed not three hours' ago. Where do you put it all?'
'It's not my fault I have a fast metabolism.'
'Ha! Fast metabolism? Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? The only thing fast about you is the speed with which you clear your dish. Now do me a favour, would you?'
'Sod off and pace somewhere else so I can concentrate.'
Grumbling, Gardner set off to pace in the corridor instead. Crowley sighed, and turned back to his book.
* * *
Twinkle eased open the door to Swazzle's hut, marvelling as she did so at the shoddy workmanship of Pixie construction. Slipping inside, she pulled a small pouch from her clothing and sprinkled its contents liberally into the pottery cup next to Rushalka's bed.
'Hey, what are you...,' murmured a sleepy voice behind her.
Her heart hammering, Twinkle spun round to find Pogmorton sitting on the edge of his bed, staring bleary-eyed at her. She was on him before he could finish the sentence, the tip of a wicked looking dagger held to his throat. Pogmorton's Adam's apple wobbled up and down in an attempt to avoid the tip of the blade.
'Not another word,' hissed Twinkle, 'Or I'll open you from ear to ear.'
Pogmorton nodded gingerly.
'I must talk to you about The Book. But not here. Somewhere private. Let's go.'
Motioning with the dagger, Twinkle followed Pogmorton outside.
'The shop,' said Pogmorton keeping his voice low. 'It should be nice and quiet up there.'
Good idea, thought Twinkle. And closer to an escape route.
'Lead the way.'
Pogmorton, dressed in his nightshirt, lead the way over to the stairs, his curly-toed slippers slapping against the floorboards as he walked. Every footstep sounded to Twinkle like a drum being struck. She wondered how on earth Pogmorton hadn't wakened the whole basement.
'It's this way,' whispered Pogmorton, absently scratching his behind and yawning.
Twinkle shuddered, trying not to think what lay under the nightshirt as they reached the stairs. Soon they were at the trapdoor, which swung open a few inches to Pogmorton's touch and they clambered through the gap into the shop.
'Evenin' Pogmorton. Who's your friend?'
Twinkle was sure her heart would burst as she desperately scanned the shop for the source of the voice.
'Evening, Master Crowley,' replied Pogmorton as Twinkle caught sight of the large, grey rat on the shop counter.
Twinkle's mouth opened and closed, the rat seemed to be, no, it couldn't be. It was, the rat was reading a book.
'Allow me to introduce Mistress Twinkle, a fairy of my,' Pogmorton paused, fixing Twinkle with a steely gaze. 'Acquaintance. She needs to speak to me in private, apparently.'
'Oh, don't mind me,' replied Crowley, 'Once I get my nose, err...snout in a good book, I'm dead to the world. You carry on. Pretend I'm not here.'
'Right then,' said Pogmorton, turning to face Twinkle. 'What's all this about The Book?' He wiggled his fingers in the air to emphasise “The Book.”
'It's a long story,' Twinkle began. She caught sight of Pogmorton's expression. 'But I'll keep it short,' she added, 'Under the circumstances. The Book contains a very old and complex ritual which, if performed correctly...,' Twinkle bit her lip.
'Which if performed correctly, has the power to rob my people of their magic and power of flight. We, the fairy kingdom that is, need to destroy The Book, but there's a snag. You are the pixie who sealed The Book in its vortex, so only you can break the enchantment and retrieve it.'
Pogmorton did not look convinced.
'My right hand is in there too and I'd quite like it back,' she added with a weak smile, glancing at the crystal appendage poking from the right sleeve of her tunic.
'I seem to remember, and correct me if I'm wrong here, dying to stop you getting your hands on The Book,' Pogmorton said flatly. 'Why on earth should I help you get it now?'
Twinkle's eyes gleamed. 'If you want the antidote to the poison I slipped into Rushalka's cup, you'll help me. The spell of thirst I placed on her should be working just about,' Twinkle paused, 'now. She'll wake desperate for a drink. And before you get any bright ideas, it is a formula of my own invention, and only I have access to the antido...'
The rest of Twinkle's sentence was cut short as she pitched forward with a grunt, a large cat's paw planted firmly in the middle of her back.
'Oooh, Pogmorton! You brought me a snack.' Gardner smiled. 'You're too kind,' he mumbled as he clamped his jaws to the back of Twinkle's neck.
'Nooooooooooooo!' wailed Pogmorton.