Mark pounded on the door of the cottage. He hated going behind Ewan’s back, but his friend was in over his head this time. ‘Kate! Open up!’
‘Good Goddess!’ The door flew open, revealing the Witch – as she was known to nearly everyone. Most people didn’t want to know her name, or any more about her than they needed to. At this moment, Mark saw why. Her arms were covered up to the elbows with leaves and sap, and in her left hand she held a bundle of twigs which was crawling with spiders.
‘Kate, I need your help,’ panted Mark. ‘It’s Ewan.’
‘Get in here.’ Kate hurried back inside.
Following her, Mark glimpsed something steaming away in her stillroom, before he was whisked into the kitchen. She threw the twigs out of the window, then scrubbed her arms at the huge Belfast sink.
‘Tell me,’ she commanded, ‘While I get this stuff off.’
Mark decided against asking what the ‘stuff’ was. ‘Ewan’s been seeing a girl,’ he began. ‘Someone new to the town. She went to explore the House, and got taken. Now Ewan’s gone after her – on his own.’
Kate dried her hands, and frowned at Mark. ‘Someone new? Mark, no-one new has moved in for months. You know I keep track, because of our – vampire problem. Where did Ewan meet this girl?’
Mark’s brow furrowed. ‘Just in a bar, I think.’
‘Have you met her? Do you know her name?’
‘No…they’ve only been together a few weeks.’ Mark looked down at his feet. ‘And he was really soppy about her…I kind of didn’t want to be a spare wheel. Oh – she’s called Cara.’ He raised his head sheepishly, to a blazing stare. Alarmed, he asked, ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Cara!’ Kate was throwing off the robe she always wore when conjuring, and marching towards the stillroom. ‘That…oohh, I knew I sensed something, but I couldn’t see it!’
Mark scurried after her as she grabbed a small bag and slung it over her shoulder. ‘You know her?’
‘She’s a vampire.’
Mark recoiled. ‘What?’
‘An old acquaintance.’ Kate was filling a bottle from the cauldron. She stepped into the circle of protection chalked on the stillroom floor, and held out her hand. ‘Come on! And grab one of those.’ She nodded at the long stakes leaning against the wall.
Mark seized one. She pulled him in close, and reached into her bag. Rubbing her fingers together, she scattered a red powder all around them, forming another circle inside the chalk. Mark wrinkled his nose. The powder had a cloying, coppery smell, almost like…
‘You might want to shut your eyes.’
Mark forgot about the powder. ‘Why? What are we doing?’
‘Getting there fast.’
The world tilted and threw Mark across the room – or at least that was how it seemed. When his vision cleared, they were standing at the main door of the House. Kate’s eyes searched his, and he nodded. They darted into the hallway, Mark holding his stake like a quarterstaff. No-one about. Kate pointed at the stairs, and the two of them ran up silently. As they reached the landing, they heard whimpering cries.
‘That’s Ewan!’ Mark made as if to dash forward, but Kate stopped him.
‘You know what we might find?’
Mark’s eyes narrowed. ‘We’ll save him, or avenge him.’
‘Good lad. Come on then!’
They raced through the furthest doorway, Kate calling out words in spell speech. Three vampires jumped to their feet, leaving what resembled a pile of bloody rags on a bed. Cara flew into the air, shrieking with rage as Kate’s magic pinned her to the ceiling. Mark screamed obscenities at the other two as he charged at them.
Ewan’s eyes flew open as the pain and pleasure were torn away. He stared around wildly. Where had Cara gone? A dark figure had the acolytes trapped against the wall with a wooden staff. Ewan glimpsed Mark’s black hair and flashing eyes as the weapon was twisted and used to stake both of the vampires at once. Strong arms were gathering him up. He looked into the face of the Witch as she lifted him, as though he weighed nothing. He tried to speak, but his mouth might as well have been sandpaper. The room swirled around him, and everything went dark.
Mark left the pile of dust that had once been the acolytes, and ran to the bed.
‘Here!’ Kate held out her hand, the other arm wrapped round Ewan. She glanced up at the screeching Cara. ‘I can’t hold her there for long…’
Mark took Kate’s hand, and the world dissolved as all three of them were pulled through the air. It was as disorientating as the first time; like being on a scary fairground ride. When his surroundings took shape again, they were back in the stillroom. He felt sick and dizzy; it had all happened so quickly.
‘Take Ewan out of the circle!’
Kate’s voice jolted through him, and he half-carried, half-dragged his friend from the chalked area. Ewan was a mess. His shredded clothes revealed bite marks all over his body, blood trails striping every inch of skin in shades of red.
‘Kate – Ewan, he needs…’
‘I know! I have to do this first.’ Kate stood in the circle, drawing symbols in the air and muttering. The red powder rose from the floor in a cloud and surrounded her – and the figure taking shape beside her.
‘So you stopped me before I could finish off my little lover.’ Cara’s mocking voice came from a distance. ‘I see age hasn’t slowed you down. And you have a new warrior. Such a pity for me he and Ewan are friends – you might not have made your rescue in time, otherwise.’
Mark gulped as he realised who Cara meant by warrior. He had known his family’s association with the Witch Clans was dangerous, but…
‘You were very sneaky, getting into town without me seeing you.’ Kate’s voice was calm, but Mark knew she was furious at having missed a vampire entering the boundaries. ‘Care to tell me how you did it?’
‘Not really.’ Cara sounded nearer this time.
Mark could hardly see Kate now for the red mist rising from the floor. On the contrary, Cara was becoming more visible by the second. He clutched Ewan closer.
‘Didn’t think so.’ Kate reached into the bag strapped across her body. ‘So you’re just going to follow me in here and finish what you started?’
‘Of course. Your pathetic circle of salt can’t stop me.’
‘It’s not supposed to. You’re not the only one who can work tricks unseen.’ As Cara materialised, Kate held up the stake.
Cara laughed. ‘You know that won’t stop me either.’
‘Depends whose blood is on it.’
Mark had never seen a vampire grow pale before, but he swore that Cara did. The red mist rushed towards the weapon as it was plunged into Cara’s chest.
The vampire’s scream was so piercing, Mark let go of Ewan and clutched his head, sure this time he really was going to be sick. He clamped his mouth shut and breathed through his nose, and the dreadful sound died away. Kate appeared beside him, her hands stained red. She laid them on Ewan’s abdomen, murmuring unintelligible words.
Ewan’s wounds began to close, and his skin took on a healthier pallor. As her hands moved over his friend’s body, the red on Kate’s skin faded.
She caught Mark’s questioning eye. ‘A spell,’ she stated. ‘The powder contains my blood. Stronger than a vampire’s – although not much stronger than hers. But enough to put her out of action for a while, and heal him.’
‘She’s not dead?’
‘No. She’s too powerful.’ Kate stroked Ewan’s matted hair away from his face. ‘Come on; let’s get this young man to a comfier place.’
‘Is he going to be okay?’
‘Well, that depends what you mean by okay.’ Kate scooped Ewan up, and Mark scrambled to his feet and followed her to the living room couch. ‘For one, in spite of our rescue, he’s not going to be happy that you came to me. You know how his family feels about witches.’
‘Stupid,’ muttered Mark, gazing at his friend with affection. ‘Narrow-minded, idiotic…’ He looked away as Kate peeled off Ewan’s ruined clothes.
‘Also,’ she continued, ‘there are consequences to healing him with my blood. His own removed by a vampire, then replaced with mine? Do you know what that makes him?’
‘Neither do I.’
Oohh. Well, that’s where we leave the story – for now. What will happen to Ewan? Don’t worry, there will be more in the future, just wait and see…