Shona Stewart came into the Hub to find it in an unusual state of excitement. Everyone was gathered around Munroe’s workstation looking at an overlay map of Glasgow and its environs while Munroe plotted information into it to produce an interactive schematic with scrolling data down the side, all of which was causing intense speculation.
Darius turned from the computer and smiled warmly at her – as warmly as a vampire smile could get, anyway. She slipped the khaki coloured kangaroo sling off her shoulders and passed the baby to him. He cuddled the child happily. Shona gave him a look of disdain just because old habits die hard. Gabrielle seemed to find his cold embrace comforting. She gurgled contentedly in his arms.
“She’s been driving me mad,” Shona complained. “Crying half the night. I just got her off at half past four and we have a bloody earthquake, of all things. An earthquake in fucking Scotland!”
“It’s not impossible,” Munroe told her. “After all, most of our mountains are long extinct volcanoes and there are many faultlines beneath the surface.”
“I felt it here in the Hub,” Darius said. “Everything shook for nearly two minutes.”
Dougal looked about to share his experience of the Earth moving for him and Sandy, but Shona’s harsh expression made him change his mind.
“It was 3.5 on the Richter Scale,” Munroe reported. “Centred on Doune, thirty five miles from Glasgow. There are reports of broken gas mains at the epicentre and there’s an old bridge that’s been closed to traffic until it can be structurally examined....”
“It’s not exactly the end of the world, is it?” Shona pointed out.
“Some people think so,” Toshiko said. “There was a man on the radio when we were driving in, going on about it being some sign from the book of Revelations.”
“What a load of crap,” Shona responded. “A gas main and a fucking old bridge! Get a grip.”
“I agree,” Owen said in a commanding voice. “We’ve wasted enough time on geology. Let’s get on with some work. Darius, put the baby in her day crib and come with me. We’ve got a lovely dessicated alien corpse to examine. Everyone else knows what they’re supposed to be doing, so fucking well get on with it.”
“Does Toshiko ever tell you how masterful you are when you crack the whip like that?” Dougal asked with a cheeky grin.
“All the time,” Owen replied. “It’s a wonder we only have two kids, really! You and Shona are meant to be going up to Edinburgh to investigate the UFO sighting over the castle. Fuck off and do it.”
“Can everyone stop swearing in front of my baby daughter,” Darius said as he laid the child in the crib by his workstation and bent to kiss her cheek.
“If I think of a swear word she hasn’t already heard from Shona, I’ll be careful not to use it,” Owen replied. “When you’re ready, Darius!”
A sort of normality settled over the Glasgow Hub as everyone went about their appointed tasks. With Shona out and Darius busy in the mortuary, Toshiko assumed responsibility for Gabrielle’s needs, and at eleven o’clock Munroe left a cup of coffee and toast on her desk while she gave Genkei a non-spill cup of milk and held the two month old in her arms to feed her expressed breast milk from a bottle.
“She’s a lovely child,” Toshiko said. “Darius is nuts about her.”
“So is Shona, but she won’t let anyone know it,” Munroe added. He went to take a phone call and then delivered the message to Owen.
“There’s a body coming in, boss,” he said. “The police think the circumstances of death are unusual. Apparently there’s some other evidence, too.”
“I wish the authorities around here would stop assuming that every unexplained cause of death is a Torchwood case,” Owen complained. “Can I get my elevenses first?”
Munroe glanced at the reptilian creature on the autopsy table, the chest cracked open to reveal organs that oozed a strange yellow substance and wondered how Doctor Harper could think about food at all.
“The coffee’s fresh, boss,” he said. “And there’s some of my daughter’s home made fruit scones in the fridge, if you’re interested.”
Owen had time for coffee and a fruit scone and to play a game of peekaboo with his son before the ‘unusual’ body arrived. He switched his mindset back to autopsy mode and put a fresh lab coat on over his t-shirt and jeans while Darius opened the body bag and laid the corpse out on the table.
“Well, at first sight I’d say he was Human,” the vampire said. “But what did that to him? It looks like...”
Owen glanced at the body.
“What were you going to say it looks like?” he asked. “Out of interest.”
“It looks like the man pecked to death in The Birds,” Darius finished. “You know... The old Hitchcock film... where all the birds went mad. I... saw it when it was new... in 1963.”
“I saw it on a late night classic horror double bill on Freeview,” Owen countered. “But same difference. Do you think it could have been birds? Where was he killed?”
“In the grounds of Doune Castle,” Darius said, reading the notes. “He’s a gamekeeper there. Sounds rural. Could be birds.”
They both looked again at a body that barely had a shred of skin left on it. The face was a bloody mess and the eye sockets were empty. It wasn’t difficult to imagine birds pecking away until the man succumbed to blood loss and shock.
Owen set to work on the corpse in a careful, methodical way, establishing that most of the wounds, including the mutilation of the eyes, were ante-mortem. The man had been alive and in agony as something possibly a lot of them - with very tiny teeth or a very sharp beak – he wasn’t ruling out either – tore at his flesh and ripped out his eyes. Shock and pain might have rendered him unconscious eventually and blood loss and exposure was the eventual cause of death.
“But what the fuck was it?” Owen asked out loud, not expecting any answer at all. Birds... I don’t think so. The shape of the lacerations doesn’t seem right. Rats, or even cats, I could believe.” He looked up at the wall display where one of the thousands of wounds on the body was magnified. “These look more like bites than pecks. But even rats don’t do this to a living being. They’re scavengers, not predators. I’ve seen bodies that have been left in empty houses for days on end, nibbled away at by all comers. But I put the time of death around five-thirty to six o’clock this morning. It doesn’t fit.”
“Boss...” Darius had opened the evidence box that came with the corpse. “You should see this. It might answer your question.”
Owen turned from the autopsy table and looked in the box. He used a swear word that he had picked up in his favourite Cardiff bar and which Darius’s offspring might well need to be shielded from.
“This was with the body?”
“Apparently,” Darius confirmed. He showed Owen the scene of crime pictures sent by the police. A creature some eight inches long, with long black wings, one of them badly broken, was lying across the victim’s chest. “I thought at first it was a bat. But if it is, it’s not a species I have ever seen. And...” He grinned toothily. “I know bats.”
“It’s not a bat,” Owen said as he lifted the small body and laid it flat on the desk. “The wings are batlike, but the body... it’s practically humanoid. Ugly little bastard.”
The body was black with a dull leathery texture. The face was twisted in an expression Owen would easily have described as murderous. Black eyes with no whites at all were glassy and dead. The mouth, little more than half a centimetre wide, proved to be full of small sharp teeth when Owen opened it with a pair of tweezers. He used a hand held scanner to take an accurate photograph of the mouth and another one which gave an x-ray of the jaw. It took only a few minutes to compare the images with the bite marks.
“It was the killer,” Owen concluded. “It must have been a frenzied attack. It completely overpowered the poor bastard.”
“But what is it? A fairy?”
“No. I’ve come across fairies in Cardiff. Ugly, lanky green things that steal children and murder anyone who gets in their way.”
“Up the Airy mountain, down the rushing glen...” The trite little poem sounded sinister when it was recited by a Lithuanian vampire.
“Something like that. Do me a favour. Go and ask Munroe if he knows anything about Scottish pixies.”
Darius nodded and went to do his bidding. He came back a few minutes later.
Munroe said there’s no such thing as Scottish pixies. That’s just a generic term for various sorts of supernatural folk. But he has information about...” Darius was Undead, so his deep breath before continuing was purely for effect. “Ashrays, Boobrie, Black Angus, Brownies, Buachailleen, Dryads, The Fachan, Fin Folk, Gnomes, The Gruagach, Ghillie Dhu, Heather Pixies, Kelpies, Ly Erg, Merpeople, Nucklelavees, Red Cap, Selkies, Shellycoat, Shopiltees, Trows, Uilbheist and Urisks.”
Owen looked at him with what he hoped was a stoic expression for several seconds.
“That list is in alphabetical order,” he said. “I can well believe that you are capable of repeating it verbatim. It’s probably a vampire trait. But Munroe must have Googled it.”
“He didn’t have to Google, it’s in his Favourites,” Darius responded. “He found the site as soon as I asked.”
“What sort of wee folk do you need help with?” Munroe stepped into the room and glanced at the dead creature. “Ah, it’s a Urisk.”
“It’s a what?” Owen demanded. Munroe went to the computer terminal and typed quickly. A page of information appeared on the screen along with a line drawing of something very like the specimen they had.
“Urisk are an extremely ugly variety of Faery people. They have been blamed for frightening people to death. They are wrinkled, hairy in patches, and emaciated. They have duck feathers on their backs and necks and misshapen heads. They are active all year. Their element is Earth, and they are known to hibernate in caves for many decades. Seek them out in isolated woodlands or call them to your circle by invoking the four directions. Approach them carefully and expect their loathsome appearance. This will guard against the sudden shock of the encounter.”
“What sort of website is that?” Owen demanded. “It gives advice on how to call these things into your ‘circle’.”
“It’s for Wiccans,” Munroe explained. “They believe in communing with the spiritual creatures of the Earth.”
“Once, I would have signed myself in for a CAT scan for giving this a moment’s attention,” Owen said. “But I’m discussing a homicidal variety of fairy with a Vampire and the man who looks after the Loch Ness Monster, and I know I am completely sane.”
“Just keep telling yourself that, boss,” Munroe told him. “I take it you’ve identified the Urisk as the cause of death?”
“The bite marks match, and I’ve extracted tissue from the mouth that matches the dead man’s DNA. It bit him to death. Not sure how it died. Maybe it choked on his eyeballs.”
“Urisk is a plural as well as singular,” Munroe said. “When I said ‘you’ve identified the Urisk’ I meant the species. One would not have done that much damage. It must have been a tribe of them. As to what killed the creature… Its wing is damaged – probably knocked about by the others in the feeding frenzy. I would guess that it died of exposure when the others left it behind.”
“So you’re telling me there are more of them out there… and they’re ruthless enough to leave one of their own when it was wounded.”
“Then people are in danger. We need to catch the rest of the little buggers. Munroe, call Shona and Dougal. Tell them to stuff the UFO. Get on over to…” He stopped talking as something else struck him. “Shit… Doune Castle. That’s where the body was found. The earthquake this morning was centred on that area. Tell them to get over to Doune. Munroe, you’re the pixie expert. Darius, it’s still six hours till dusk. You’ll have to hold the fort here.”
Darius nodded. There was no point in resenting the restriction that daylight put upon his movements. It had been that way for more than two hundred years. Besides, it meant he had all afternoon to be with Gabrielle. If he could prise her away from Toshiko, anyway!
Shona and Dougal were already on their way back from what had proved to be a wild goose chase in Edinburgh when they got the call, so even though they were slightly further away from Doune than Owen and Munroe setting out from Glasgow, they arrived before them and had begun investigating the wooded area between the castle and the gently meandering River Teith where the man had been killed. When Owen stomped along the riverside path, grumbling about the mud he had already accumulated on his wellington boots, grumbling about the necessity of wearing wellington boots, and generally expressing his dislike of rural scenes, they already had plenty to report.
“Down there at the river bank, boss,” Dougal said. “There’s a hole. It might have been a natural underground spring originally. It ran dry and the entrance closed up years ago, but the earthquake caused a lot of damage along the river. The entrance is exposed.”
“Could be any bloody thing,” Owen pointed out. “A rabbit hole or otter, water vole... whatever it is they have out here in the countryside.”
Shona Stewart held up a specimen jar. Owen noted with the dispassion of the medic who had already performed an autopsy on the rest of the body that it contained a Human eyeball covered in blood and mud.
“Ok... so it’s the lair of the Urisk,” he accepted.
“They must have been woken from their hibernation by the earthquake,” Munroe surmised. “The gamekeeper was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“What the fuck do we do about it?” Dougal asked. “Block the hole again? Put poison down like they do with badgers?”
“Bore down into the warren,” Shona suggested. “Then gas them.”
An outraged shout interrupted her. All four Torchwood people turned to look at the woman who was pulling at the police incident tape that ineffectively sealed off the area. As she stalked towards them, they all noted her long black skirt and blouse with a lace shawl over it and several kilograms of silver jewellery in sun, moon and pentacle designs. Descriptions like ‘new age’ and ‘aged hippy’ sprang easily to mind.
They all tried to avoid the word ‘witch’.
Munroe stepped forward and spoke to her in a dialect so broad Owen thought he was speaking in Gaelic. The woman replied in the same. She was very agitated and spoke so fast Owen knew he had no chance of understanding a word even if it was, technically, English. Munroe spoke soothingly. Gradually he seemed to be bringing the woman around to a point where she was no longer angry and at least tentatively co-operative.
He brought her to meet Owen.
“This is Mòrag MacMhaighstir,” he said. “She is the head of the local coven.”
“Coven?” Owen’s eyes narrowed. “You mean she’s a…”
Mòrag’s gaze fixed on him.
“Yes, I am a witch,” she said in the softer Scots accent Owen was accustomed to hearing from people who regarded him as a Sasanach who needed help with translation. “But we do not use the word in a pejorative sense.”
“Are you a black witch or…”
Munroe made a sound in his throat that suggested Owen had asked the wrong question.
“There is no such thing as a black or white witch. There is merely magic and its application for good or bad.”
“Mòrag can summon the Urisk,” Munroe said while Owen searched for something polite to say to a witch. He reminded himself that he worked with a vampire, a man who couldn’t die and the keeper of the Loch Ness Monster. Talking to a witch shouldn’t be difficult.
“Summon, how?” he asked. “And what does she think we’re going to do when they turn up? They killed a man, you know. They’re dangerous. We have to deal with them, if not with poison or gas, or whatever, then some other way. But we’re not going to dance skyclad under the full moon with them.”
“Urisk are misunderstood,” Mòrag told him. “People assume that their outward appearance mirrors their soul. But it is not true. These ones... the earthquake disturbed them. They were upset. But I am sure they didn’t mean to kill.”
“You know, I met a lady in Cardiff once who thought faeries were sweet creatures. The little bastards killed her.”
“Faeries are another matter,” Mòrag told him. “They are ruthless and deceptive. But Urisk just want to be understood.”
“I understand them perfectly well,” Owen responded. “I understand they can’t be left here, where any innocent family on a picnic could be ripped to shreds by them. So if you know how to get those things out of the ground short of sticking a canon down and blasting them out, then do it, right now.”
“You give out a negative aura,” Mòrag said. “You cannot be near me when I invoke the corners.”
“Fine,” Owen said and turned away. Munroe stayed near her. So did Dougal. Shona Stewart followed Owen.
“She’s serious? She thinks she can do some kind of ritual and these Urisk things will come out of the ground?”
“That’s what she says.” Owen sighed. “At least if it doesn’t work, she can fuck off and we’ll still have time to do it our way before nightfall.”
“You don’t think it will work?”
“I wish I didn’t,” Owen responded. “I’d like to be a sceptic. But I’ve seen too much supernatural shit in my time. I’ve got to be bloody well opened minded about it. But it sticks in my throat. I’d rather just laugh her off as a tree hugging loony.”
Shona nodded in understanding. It was all a bit too much for her, too. Aliens she had known about for a long time. As a U.N.I.T officer she had been a part of the offensive against the Cybermen a few years ago, and the Sontarans, as well as a couple of operations so top secret that only the senior staff knew what they were really fighting. There was nothing supernatural about aliens. They made perfect sense.
She had come to accept the existence of vampires. They made a certain kind of sense. Their night time Undead world was an extension of the Human world.
She accepted Dougal’s peculiar nature – his immortality and his homosexuality. Neither got in the way of him being a good soldier and a trustworthy comrade-in-arms, which had come as a surprise to her.
But now she was being asked to believe in fairies and watch a witch summon them out of the ground.
She just wished she had a couple of smoke grenades in her pocket.
Mòrag’s preparations were complete. She stood in the middle of a circle she had scored in the leaf litter and turned to the North. Shona pulled a compass from her pocket and noted that the direction was perfect. That was impressive, she had to admit.
“Hail, Guardian of the WatchTower of the North,” she intoned. “Powers of Mother and Earth. I greet you now in perfect love and perfect trust. Changeless power of unending change, in steadfastness and strength, I bless the elements of Earth, and call upon you to gather here with me.”
She turned forty-five degrees. Shona’s compass confirmed she was facing due East.
“Hail, Guardian of the WatchTower of the East. Powers of Air and Intuition, I greet you now in perfect love and perfect trust. As you carry the seeds of the plants across the land; as you bring the moisture of the storms to the shore; join me in all your gentle and powerful ways. I bless the elements of air and call upon you to gather here with me.
She turned due south. Shona confirmed it.
“Hail, Guardian of the WatchTower of the South. Powers of Fire and Feeling, I greet you now, in perfect love and perfect trust. Flaming One; Apollo, Bright Warrior, Wild courage, Lion-strength, I bless the elements of Fire, and call upon you to gather here with me.
She turned to the west. Shona put the compass back in her pocket.
“Hail, Guardian of the WatchTower of the West. Powers of Water and Intervention, I greet you now, in perfect love and perfect trust. Water - soft and yielding, formless and flowing, You are the blood coursing through my veins. I bless the elements of Water and call upon you to gather here with me.”
Nothing obvious happened. There was no change in the air. The birds in the trees carried on singing. The river quietly flowed by. A light breeze rustled the leaves.
Owen Harper allowed himself a moment of satisfaction. Shona had the ghost of a smile on her tightly pressed lips.
Then the birds stopped singing. There was a stillness and a silence for several seconds before a strange rustling noise got gradually louder.
“Fucking hell,” Owen groaned in a low voice only Shona could have heard. “She’s done it.”
The Urisk weren’t the best fliers in the world. They hopped and leapt into the air as they emerged from their hole and flapped their wings madly to get up to about three feet from the ground. There were thirty of them, maybe a little more. In mid-flight they could be mistaken for bats. It was only when they stopped moving that their supernatural form was obvious.
They stopped moving long enough to look at Mòrag. They hissed angrily and then let out a wailing keen and flew towards her. At first she held her arms outstretched, welcoming them in a soft voice. Then she screamed and covered her head with her arms as they bared their small sharp teeth and attacked.
“No!” Dougal Drummond rushed forward, waving his arms wildly. He actually swiped two of the Urisk out of the air. The anger of the creatures turned from Mòrag to him and they bore down on him, their hands grabbing at his face and arms, teeth biting down on the soft flesh.
Shona Stewart stepped forward and threw something that looked like a skimming stone with elaborate markings on it. The stone fell at Dougal’s feet and humming energy pulses emerged from it. Owen watched with satisfaction. Toshiko had worked on the old ‘portable’ cell that they brought up from Torchwood Cardiff. She reasoned that containing a dangerous alien wasn’t always enough. Sometimes they needed subduing. So once this one had enveloped the Urisk it administered a powerful electro-magnetic pulse that would render anything with a cerebral cortex unconscious.
Which meant that, when the field switched off, Dougal folded into a disturbingly still heap on the ground with the Urisk falling softly around him.
“You killed them,” shrieked Mòrag. “You killed them. They are creatures of the four elements... creatures of nature. And you killed them.”
“They’re not dead,” Owen said picking one of the creatures up by one wing. “They’re just unconscious, and staying that way until we get them into a crate and ship them back to Torchwood.”
“We’re taking them back to the Hub?” Munroe asked as he assisted Shona in putting Dougal into a recovery position with his coat folded under his head. “In the middle of Glasgow, where they could cause all kinds of havoc among the population.”
“Not from one of our time-locked isolation rooms with nuclear shielded concrete walls,” Owen replied. “They can hibernate in there till the cows come home, whatever the fuck that means.”
By the time Dougal recovered consciousness he was lying across the back seat of his own car. Shona was driving. He struggled upright and noted that the Ford Escape, Torchwood Glasgow’s official car was ahead. They were approaching the outskirts of Glasgow. His head ached and his throat felt dry, but the nanogenes in his bloodstream had done their work while he was out of it. He touched his face and felt unbroken skin where he remembered the Urisk biting lumps out of the flesh part of his cheeks.
“You’re fine,” Shona assured him, glancing at him in the rear view mirror. “Your boyfriend will still fancy you.”
“Sandy loves me for more than my looks,” Dougal replied. Then he yelped out a warning. Shona already had her foot on the pedal. In front of them, the Ford Escape had swerved so acutely it was facing the opposite direction before the rear wheels mounted the pavement and the momentum carried it backwards until it crunched into a brick wall. The front doors opened simultaneously and Munroe and Owen scrambled out, slamming the doors shut again. Owen grabbed a Urisk that was tangled in his hair and smashed it down on the flagstones repeatedly until it was quite obviously dead.
“The bastards woke up,” he said as Shona and Dougal approached. That much was obvious. Inside the Ford Escape the creatures were flying about, throwing themselves against the windows in a rage.
“How much do you like that car?” Shona asked Owen.
“It’s a car,” he answered. “I’m not emotionally attached to it.”
“Then step out of the way,” Shona told him. “And keep those people back.”
The crash had attracted a small crowd of onlookers. When Shona pulled a gun from inside her coat there were cries of consternation. She ignored them and took careful aim at the crumpled rear of the car where petrol was leaking from the busted tank. Her colleagues all ducked as the tank exploded, engulfing the Ford Escape in flames. Escape, in fact, was a misnomer as far as the Urisk were concerned. She watched without any particular emotional involvement as the creatures burned.
“Mòrag wouldn’t be happy about that, Munroe said.
“Fuck Mòrag,” Owen replied. “Besides, fire was one of the ‘corners’ she was rabbiting on about.”
“Serves the vicious little buggers right,” Shona commented.
Owen was in agreement. So was Dougal. Munroe was regretful about the necessity of killing the Urisk. Shona scathingly asked if he had any better ideas, but he didn’t.
“Ok,” Owen sighed. “I suppose I’d better hang around here and explain what happened to the fire brigade. But you three can get on back to the Hub. Munroe, tell Toshiko we’re going to need a hire car for a few days. Dougal, you need a medical exam to make sure there are no after effects of the electronic pulse. Grab yourself a coffee and wait for me to get back. Shona, you go and prise that baby out of Darius’s clutches. He’s had enough time for vampire-daughter bonding.”