The Tome of Levelling (Part 1) is the sixteenth installment in my on-going flash fiction serial, The UCF Stories. If you'd like to read the story from the beginning, please go here.
Back in Botchett's quarters at Goddess Rising, Swazzle and Pogmorton are just settling down for a nice cup of tea. Mistress Botchett is baking while her husband is making sure the Wyrm in its travelling box is securely stowed away.
Swazzle and Pogmorton sat at Mistress Botchett's kitchen table in the basement-below-the-basement of Goddess Rising. Botchett was busy securing the travelling box in the cupboard under the stairs.
'Look at the state of my hat.' Swazzle poked his finger through the neat hole left by the Banshee rifle bullet and wiggled it. 'And it's my best one. Where am I going to get a new one from now?'
'Give it here, hinny, I'll get my needle and thread.' Mistress Botchett bustled past with a huge steaming leek pudding. 'You'll never know there was a hole when I'm done with it.'
Swazzle wasn't convinced and glanced over at Pogmorton for reassurance. Pogmorton sat in Botchett's rocking chair, his back to the fireplace, cuddling a pint mug of tea and staring vacantly into space.
'What do you think, should I let Mistress Botchett have a go at fixing my hat?'
Pogmorton didn't seem to have heard him.
'I said,' began Swazzle again, nudging his friend, 'Shall I let...'
'Yes, I heard you,' snapped Pogmorton. 'The fairies have Rushalka in one of their prisons and you're sitting here, banging on about your bloody hat!'
Swazzle threw his hands up in a placatory gesture. 'And as soon as it's fixed we'll get working on a plan to get her out.' He handed the hat to Mistress Botchett as she passed.
'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' Pogmorton shook his head sadly, 'It's just that...'
He was interrupted as Jamieson the house spirit dashing through the wall next to the fireplace, worry writ large upon his face. 'You'd better come at once,' he wheezed, dabbing his sweaty face with a large floury hankerchief, 'The Reverend has the witch upstairs. He's showing her The Book.'
Jamieson's emphasis on the last two words snapped Swazzle's mind back to the task at hand from where it had been wandering, idly contemplating how house spirits could get out of breath when they didn't actually need to run anywhere. Even Pogmorton was taking an interest.
'Lead on Master Jamieson,' Pogmorton instructed, jumping to his feet, 'We're right behind you.' The three of them bolted for the stairs, nearly sending Botchett flying as he emerged from the cupboard under the stairs.
'Gan canny, bonny lad!' Botchett grabbed the end of the kitchen table to steady himself. 'What's going on, like?' Jamieson repeated his message as he took the stairs two at a time.
'I'll be right with you,' called Botchett, diving back into the cupboard.
* * *
Aveena shuddered. She could sense the contents of the museum cabinets lining the walls of Rev. Beresford's study. She also sensed a certain amount of unease emanating from the Rev himself, as though he knew that she knew what they held.
'Welcome. Welcome,' Rev Beresford beamed. 'Come in, Miss Murphy. I have something to show you.' He glanced over Aveena's shoulder into the doorway. 'Simeon, would you mind putting the kettle on, there's a good chap.'
Simeon trudged down the landing to the small kitchen at the rear of Rev Beresford's rooms and, after shaking the kettle to check it was full, flicked the wall switch and waited. As the kettle burbled away in the background, Simeon busied himself setting out the tea cups, sugar and milk jug on a tray and trying not to wonder about whatever it was Rev Beresford wanted to show Aveena.
* * *
Rev Beresford was just reaching over to hand the book to Aveena when Simeon appeared in the doorway, the tea things rattling and chinking on the tray. At precisely the same moment, Swazzle, Pogmorton and Botchett burst through a small door in the wall next to the fireplace that apparently no-one had noticed was there, almost tumbling over each other as they skidded to a halt on the polished oak floorboards. Master Jamieson, it appeared, had decided discretion was the better part of valour and had vanished the second the door began to open.
Simeon let out a small squeak of surprise and dropped the tea tray. Rev Beresford jumped and put his back out, collapsing back into his armchair, grimacing. Aveena neatly snatched the book from mid-air as Rev Beresford dropped it, and in the aftermath of the tea things hitting the floor, no-one said anything for a moment or two.
Rev Beresford was the first to recover his composure, squinting over the top of his bi-focals at the intruders. Swazzle and Pogmorton stood stock still in front of the fireplace trying to look innocent, with Botchett a pace behind them.
'Good God above!' Rev Beresford stared excitedly at Botchett, 'Can it really be?' He wiped his glasses. 'A Gnomus vulgaris, right here in my front room? I had thought you extinct. What is your name, my fine fellow?'
'Now see here,' Botchett replied indignantly, shouldering his way forward. 'Who're you calling vulgaris? Gnomus Officinalis Mackemii, if you don't mind, bonny lad.' Botchett put his hands on his hips and puffed his chest out.
Rev Beresford just stared, his mouth hanging open in amazement.
'Aye,' chuckled Botchett, 'We still exist, like. Not the myth you thought I was, eh, bonny lad?'
Rev Beresford opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by the front window to his rooms disintegrating in a blossoming cloud of glittering fragments of glass, which rained down over the assembled party. Instinctively, they covered their eyes with their hands.
Once the glass had settled and they dared to look again, there on the windowsill, framed by the remains of the broken window, stood six fairies, five of them levelling Banshee rifles at the assembled company while their leader strode into the room.
Pulling off her helmet, Twinkle advanced on Aveena, her eyes riveted to the book in Aveena's hands.
'I'll take that,' said Twinkle, holding out her hand, a grim look on her face.