Chapter Two: Macon
London is made for walking, for seeing and being seen. Which is why, after closing the shop early, I paid ninepence for a ride on the omnibus. I would escape the confines of the city and what my place in it had become, if only for the afternoon.
The omnibus cad, a dandy in his white top hat and green coat, assured me there was room in the better seats on the roof, but I declined climbing the narrow iron stairs and sat in the cloistered section below, near an attractive woman who wore a red dress and coat.
The omnibus’ velvet seats were deceptively luxurious. They failed to hide how the air held you by the throat when you tried to breathe. I ran the risk of getting my pocket picked or my personal space compromised in some other unappealing way, but I didn’t only want to go unseen. I wanted to crawl under a rock.
The cad was still swinging from his leather strap at the back of the bus, packing in more passengers, when a lighted blue orb stopped outside the window beside me, another fairy. Wonderful. It was Pea Blossom, and she looked mad as blazes.
The other passengers couldn’t see her, their eyes unattuned to that sort of thing, so they didn’t notice when she buzzed around back, through the door, and hovered three inches in front of my face.
I couldn’t help flinching.
“You stay away from him,” she said. Her voice was surprisingly stout for such a small fairy. “And you keep that juice to yourself.”
I sighed. This too was about dragon venom.
I performed my best ventriloquist act, trying to look as though I wasn’t talking to myself. “You got it wrong. I don’t sell that.”
The attractive woman in the red dress gave me a look. I tipped my hat. The omnibus cad closed the door, and the omnibus lurched forward.
Pea Blossom persisted. “That’s not what I heard. And it’s not what I seen, either. I seen him at your shop.” She shook her tiny fist. “You stay away from that one.”
“Fairy love,” I mumbled under my breath. “The plot thickens.”
I looked her straight in the eyes, hoping I was pointing out the obvious. “Well, if you saw him in my shop, then you know I didn’t give him anything.”
She remained stumped only a moment. “Don’t matter. Stay away just the same.”
I knew there would be no debating that sort of logic.
The other passengers now eyed me with suspicion. I tried to pass it off with a friendly smile, but the little fairy kicked me in the face a few times, so all I could manage was something like a grimace as the metallic taste of blood seeped into my mouth.
Watching me, the attractive woman’s eyes grew round.
“I am warning you,” the tenacious fairy said. “You don’t know whom you’re messing with.”
I couldn’t resist. I said, “That would sound a lot more intimidating coming from someone a bit taller.”
Pea Blossom’s eyes flared. She reared back, and the orb of blue light around her grew.
Me and my big mouth. This wasn’t going to be good.
The tiny blue orb crashed through the side of the omnibus like a steam locomotive. Shards of dark wood rained into the cabin. The other passengers didn’t have to be attuned to anything to see that. They panicked, thinking perhaps they were under fire.
The fairy burst through the omnibus wall in another place on her way back, creating another explosion of shattered wood. The bus rocked up onto two wheels, and a woman with the voice of a Valkyrie screamed.
I couldn’t sit there passively. Someone was going to get hurt. I weighed the options and swallowed the blood that had pooled between my cheek and gums. I concentrated, shaping the fear and confusion of the passengers to form a wall of protective energy around the bus.
When my new little friend tried to blast the omnibus a third time, she hit that wall and bounced off it like a shuttlecock.
That’s when Pea Blossom turned her attack on the horses. The horses had no idea what was attacking them, which according to horse logic, meant they should go crashing through the crowded streets of London at full speed.
Pedestrians dove out of the way, and a coffee stall barely avoided a crash that would have reduced it to rubble. The passengers fought towards the door for escape. I wasn’t feeling too calm myself. Then we all experienced the sickening feeling of sliding out of control as the omnibus whipped sideways, taking out a vendor or two and grazing an iron lamp post.
When the horses had grown tired of terrorizing the streets of London, they stopped, their nostrils steaming and hooves stomping, and for a moment, the entire menagerie sat in stunned silence.
The cad threw the door open. His face was nearly as red as the rose he wore in his lapel, an unlikely shade against his blue and white gavotte. He surveyed the passengers and the extent of the damage. The driver soon joined him, peering wide-eyed through the door.
The attractive woman in the red dress pointed to me. “It was him,” she said with a heavy brogue. “I seen him. He turned an eye on me, flaming eyes like a demon from Hell, then he whispered an incantation, in Greek, I think it was, and blazed two great holes in the side of the wagon with just his eyes. Then he put a hex on the horses, trying to get us all killed so he could drag our lifeless bodies back to Hell.”
Both the driver and the cad gaped in awe, as did I.
The driver lifted his whip, hand trembling, and choked back his fear. “Get off,” he said. “Get off the omnibus, or I call the police.”
What do you say to a mob of angry Londoners who just saw you practicing magic in the public streets? You don’t say anything. You leave when you are told, and try to do so with as little fuss as possible.
Christmas may have been coming, but my goose was already cooked.
The Council would hear about a wizard who wreaked havoc on the city’s public transportation system, and it wouldn’t take them many guesses to figure out that it was me.
I walked. I didn’t care where. I wanted to leave before any police might arrive. As I passed under a tree, I heard a familiar little fairy voice up in the branches, laughing.
I didn’t look up. I knew who it was and that she could hear me.
“Don’t think I won’t drag you down with me,” I said. “You know this is going to get the Council’s dander up.”
Pea Blossom stopped laughing and stood with one hand on her hip. “But they’re not going to get reports about a fairy,” she said in a sing-song voice. “They’re going to get reports about a wizard trying to get everybody killed on an omnibus. As far as anybody knows, as far as the Council will hear, I was never even there.”
And then she wasn’t. Fairies are good at disappearing.
What made it worse was that she was right.
As I rounded the next corner, I changed my mind. What made it worse wasn’t that the fairy was right. What made it all worse was that Solicitor Smyth approached just up the block.
Hoping I hadn’t been seen, I turned on my heels and retraced my steps, but in doing so I became aware of two men who had apparently been following me.
I locked eyes with one of them, and the man broke into a dead run toward me.
I ran too, but back toward Solicitor Smyth. I tipped my hat to him as I ran past. Solicitor Smyth looked surprised, but probably even more so by the two men chasing after me.
I have established that London was made for walking, but it certainly wasn’t made for running, especially in the snow. I struggled to keep my feet underneath me and hoped the two men faced the same issue.
As I rounded another corner onto a less-crowded sidestreet, three things became crystal clear. This new street was a dead end, the two men were getting closer, and there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell I would be getting away.
All I could do was brace myself, again.
It started snowing, huge flakes that made it difficult to see, and the taste of blood still lingered from the attentions of my little fairy friend. I blinked to keep the snowflakes from my eyes.
The two men followed me around the corner, then seeing me stopped in the road, they quit running. No need wasting extra energy. They had me.
I could feel my pulse in my teeth. My lungs ached from gulping the cold midday air.
I had no idea who these men were or what they wanted. They must have followed me from the shop, no small feat considering the omnibus ride, but I had given up any hope they were collecting for charity.
The shorter of the two men walked towards me. I couldn’t tell if the man was smirking because he knew he had me or because his lungs hurt as much as mine.
“Why was you running?” the man said in a voice like a snake. “We just want to talk to you.”
When somebody wants to talk to you, the effort they’ll make to arrange it depends upon the urgency of their message. Judging from the effort these gentlemen had extended, I guessed they had a fairly urgent message.
“Right?” I said. “Then talk.”
I had hoped my reply sounded tough, but really, it was all I could choke out.
“We got a message for you.” The thug’s beady eyes made him appear even more snakelike. “A message from Bobby Pancrackle.”
Bobby Pancrackle? The name sounded like someone out of a Dickens novel. I had no idea who Bobby Pancrackle might be.
“Right?” I said, thinking I might be able to spit out a full sentence now. “What’s the message?”
The little thug slithered closer. “The message has got two parts to it,” he said. “For the first part, quit trying to take Mr. Pancrackle’s clients.”
Just like I didn’t know who Mr. Pancrackle was, I didn’t know who his clients were either. But I just wanted to get the rest of the message and get on with my life, such as it was.
“Alright,” I said. “And what is the second part?”
He pulled out a knife. I guessed that I didn’t really want to hear the second part. For lack of a better option, I tried stalling.
“So who is this Mr. Pancrackle?” I said.
The snake graciously accepted the momentary delay. “Mr. Pancrackle is a businessman.”
“I had assumed as much,” I said. “And what exactly does he do for his clients?”
The man frowned. “He provides a service.”
I shrugged my shoulders.
The short thug exchanged looks with the taller thug, who had been standing there looking thuggish, then the short thug condescended to answer.
“Mr. Pancrackle supplies his clients,” he said, his voice meaningful, “with dragon venom.”
Of course. There it was again. I could only wonder how my name became associated with something as heinous as that, but somehow, that is exactly what had happened.
The messenger took another step forward, brandishing his knife. Its well-polished blade flickered in the daylight. He coiled back an arm, preparing to strike.
What the hell? I had already been seen practicing magic in the streets. Why not add insult to injury? I tensed my body, attempting to summon up another protective shield, but to my surprise, the little thug froze, mid-lunge.
I mean that literally. He froze. Not only him, but everything else froze as well. Even the snowflakes stopped falling, mid-air.
I knew I hadn’t done it. I did, however, have an idea who had. I could hear him breathing behind me.
“Hey, Bill,” I said.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Out of the frying pan and into the fire?”
The man’s real name wasn’t Bill. Like the fairies, and like any sensible creature from the never world who had the occasion to deal with a wizard, he had withheld his real name from me. So I called him Bill, after Bill Sikes, the bad guy in Oliver Twist.
“Fry,” Bill’s voice thundered. “I have been searching for you.”
Bill was a great brooding hulk, everything I had imagined his namesake to be, malicious, murderous. Except of course, he wasn’t a man at all. I didn’t know what Bill’s true form might be. Like most beings from the never world, Bill took human form when he entered the human world. I imagined Bill must have been something like a horse or an ox, something big and a bit slow around the edges.
“Thanks, Bill,” I retorted. “I’ve been missing you too.”
Bill never understood my humor.
“You have been performing magic,” Bill said. “It is forbidden.”
Bill always got straight to the point.
“I know,” I said. “I had to. Pea Blossom was out of control and someone was going to get hurt. I had to do something to protect . . .”
Bill waved my words away like swatting at a slow fly. His face was expressionless, which was pretty much how it looked all the time, but I could see Bill hadn’t heard about my latest little magical escapade.
I shifted gears.
“You know, none of those potions I’m making are real. They just give people the courage to do what they could have done on their own anyway.”
Bill looked at me like I was a firecracker spinning out of control, which wasn’t too different from how I felt.
“Must you always speak?” Bill said.
I responded with reluctant silence.
Bill cleared his throat as though interrupted. “I am here to deliver charges,” he said. “How do you plea?”
Bill must have missed that he hadn’t actually stated the charges. I almost brought up that point, but decided to go with a stock answer instead.
“Not guilty?” I said.
Bill narrowed his eyes. “Not surprising.” There was almost the trace of an emotion on his face, but I wasn’t certain what that emotion might have been. “Then you shall face the judgment of the Council in three days time.”
I needed a little more information than that. I said, “Can you remind me exactly what those charges are again?”
Bill glanced at me with his customary patronizing look.
“You are charged with practicing magic despite the current moratorium,” Bill said, “thereby jeopardizing the lives of creatures whose existence depends upon the preservation of each remnant of the diminishing magic supply in this and all other realms.” He took a breath. “If you are found guilty, you will be executed. Do you have questions?”
I stood blinking, wondering if Bill understood half the words he had rattled off.
“No,” I said. That wasn’t exactly correct, but I knew I wasn’t going to get any real information from Bill.
Bill nodded toward the Pancrackle thug, still frozen and appearing more ridiculous than menacing. “I will give you thirty seconds before action within this realm resumes.” He looked at me, and I thought I saw a gleam in his eye. “We would not want this man exercising justice before the Council had taken the opportunity.”
I sighted the distance back to the main road. Thirty seconds would get me back around the corner, but would hardly give me an advantage.
“Could you make it . . .” I said. But Bill was gone.
I wondered if the thirty seconds had already begun. I started off, but stopped after a few steps, returned to Mr. Pancrackle’s messenger, and pried the knife from his frozen hand.
I had just made it around the corner and joined the throngs on the street when the world’s great clock resumed ticking.
End of Chapter
The preceding is a weekly fiction series, first-draft chapters of a work-in-progress Urban Fantasy and Suspense Novel set in Victorian London, Chronicle of the Raven, by Terry Heath.
To follow this story as it is written, subscribe at terryheath.com/newsletter and select Early Editions or subscribe to the podcast. Follow Terry’s behind-the-scenes writer’s work through his weekly podcast, Indie Author’s Journey.