The next few minutes were spent in a blind scrabble through narrow, empty lanes, that terrible croaking growing fainter as he fled. At length, Jimmy halted at the junction to wider street, Marsh Street according to the faded, green-streaked sign on the lamppost. Avoiding the pale glow of the street lamp, Jimmy turned right and made a crouched run, passing the dark windows of what looked to be abandoned houses. 
            A cool breeze from ahead carried the scent of sea; Jimmy reasoned he could maybe find and steal a boat and escape this madhouse. The dark entrance to an alleyway appeared ahead on the left and Jimmy darted into it. He risked a quick glance over his shoulder, the street behind remained quiet and empty. The far end of the alleyway opened out onto the sea front and Jimmy allowed himself a brief pause to draw breath. His shoulder was beginning to throb, his feet were sore and sweat stung his eyes. However the fresh ocean breeze helped revive him somewhat and, checking left and right, he crossed the open space to the low sea wall. Sliding over it, he dropped to the soft sand below and paused once more. 
            The coastline stretched away to each side. Not so much a beach as what looked like deposited sand, piled up between the breakwater and the shore. To his right, ruins of wharves jutted out from the shore to end in jagged, broken timbers. To the left, the coast curved round towards the harbour. Just beyond the mouth of the Manuxet River,  Jimmy could just make out the vague outline of a few fishing boats visible in the clear night air. He was about to make for them when a sound caught his ear; that unholy croaking, clicking cry. Worse, it was echoed from more than one  place, and as he watched, a group of figures burst onto the seafront, between him and the harbour..... 

       The young thief slid through the open window and, unhooking the grapple from the ledge, wound the rope swiftly up behind him. He glanced outside but all was quiet, save for the distant whisper of the sea and a soft night breeze that carried the scent of jasmine up from the garden below. As he was returning the rope to his backpack, the soft chink of harness and a low cough alerted him to the approach of  Palace Guard.  The youth moved quickly into a darkened alcove as two armoured figures strolled slowly by, talking softly as they went. Fortunately for the thief these weren’t the elite Talons but older City Guard nearing retirement age, given easy duties to see out their service. 
           The thief waited until the corridor was quiet once more then, with a quick glance at the rough map he’d prepared earlier, set off with slow, silent tread towards the Royal Chambers. The time spent wooing one of the Palace maids had not been wasted and had been far from unpleasant, a most agreeable way to prepare for tonight’s excursion. 
            The youth was tall and lithe, his long blonde hair restrained by a plain cloth headband. He wore a simple dark blue tunic, breeches and sandals, carrying nothing except a dagger and the pack slung over his shoulders. Two turns, another check of the map and he found himself outside the large door of what should be one of the Royal treasure rooms.         
            Holding his breath, he tried the handle and gently pushed the door. It moved to his touch, the door was unlocked, swinging silently open on oiled hinges. The room interior was dark and the youth paused to allow his eyes to adjust from the soft torchlight of the corridor. Then, keeping his movements careful and deliberate, he crept forward, closing the door behind him. He almost immediately froze, some sixth sense warning of him of impending danger; was there was a slight smell of burning, perhaps? But nothing moved, the room was still. 
         He crouched and, reaching into his pack, brought out a flint and candle, lighting it after a couple of strikes. Holding the candle aloft, he looked around, taking a sharp intake of breath as he noticed two things. The first was the light reflecting back from a heap of jewels in an open, wooden chest. The second was the figure of a man, half hidden in the shadows. No features were visible, just the vague outline of a wide shouldered frame. A gruff voice spoke with a lilting accent.
         “And who might you be, boy?”     
    Quick as a flash, the thief responded. “My name is Laertes, I’m a serving boy. It’s my first day here, I got lost in the corridors.”  
     There was a low rumble of laughter from the dark. 
       “Bel’s balls, you are no serving boy. You are a thief!”    
 The youth shifted nervously, hand automatically seeking the hilt of his dagger.   
         “Are you a thief also, then, come to steal the Royal gems?”    The figure moved forward into the dim light, the youth gasped and his hand dropped away from the dagger. The powerfully built man wore a plain but finely tailored, knee length white tunic. At his belted waist was a poniard in an ornate green sheath. Cold, grey eyes regarded the thief from a scarred face, framed by long, dark hair and silver-shot beard.    
     “I’m no thief, boy. I’m the King.” 

       With a snarl Llorc covered the last gap in a mighty leap then, drawing his sword, dropped from rooftop to awning to ground. Charging forward like a mad bull, he hit the group around the door like a hurricane. His first stroke bit into a Militia man’s neck, the return swipe cut another deep in the back, then his thrust caught a third under the chin as the man turned to face the new threat. A gout of bright scarlet glistened in the torch glow as the man went down, choking on his own blood.
    The rest of the group turned to face Llorc. Without pause he hurled himself into them.  It was not as reckless a move as it seemed, in amongst the group Llorc had the advantage of a target rich environment. By contrast, his enemies got in each other’s way and none could get a clear swing at him. The leather armour absorbed many cuts and slices, while Llorc’s sword weaved an ever-moving web of steel; a thrust into a belly, a vicious upward cut that took off a hand at the wrist, followed by a flick across the eyes of another attacker. Within seconds he had disabled several of the men and at a command from the red headed warrior, the Milita fell back.      
            Llorc took advantage of the pause to shake the blood from his sword and wipe the sweat from his eyes. Another shout from Redhair and Llorc heard many footsteps approaching from behind. No matter, if he was to die, at least it would be in battle, fighting to his very last breath. A savage smile played upon his face and the blood pounded in his ears. A song of old heroes rang in his ears as he pointed his sword at Redhair and prepared for a death charge…


      The team were out of the truck and sprinting forward in a flash, as three figures came bursting out of the booth. Tahir tripped one and Armstrong was on him immediately. Slade shot off like a rocket and tackled the second, he hit the tarmac with a grunt. The third was light on his heels though, he was off and sprinting towards the main building like shit off a shovel. Chen raised his assault rifle and took careful aim but before he could fire there was a faint crack and the goon went down pole-axed. Another strike for Devlin! 
            I shouted into the comsnet “Go! Go! Go!”. Almost immediately there were crumps from the near distance as the fences were blown. Tahir already had the two guards cuffed and Slade raised the barrier as I rolled the truck in. Jumping out, AK at the ready, I joined the team as they advanced in assault formation, scanning nearby doors and windows. 
            One doorway opened, framing a Cartel man who snatched at his waist for a pistol. Chen’s burst took him in the chest and he wheeled and fell back into the interior. I waved Chen over and he and Armstrong headed for the door, throwing in a flash grenade before disappearing inside. 
            A shot whistled past my head from above. I instantly turned and sprayed an upper window. Glass shattered as a figure disappeared from view. I heard more gunfire from ahead and the thump of a grenade. Armstrong and Chen popped back out of the doorway, signalling all clear. 
            We focused ahead on the main entrance to the factory building itself. I nodded and Chen kicked the door in, crouched, SMG at the ready. There was no response so we entered quickly, each covering a separate arc of fire with our weapons. More gunfire, followed by shouts, sounded from ahead, then a figure came racing towards us, another Cartel goon. On seeing me he shouted an expletive and raised his weapon. He was immediately cut down by the fire of our three guns. 
            Within five minutes we had linked up with Koenig’s team and had the main building secured. The second team were mopping up the rest of the compound. Doc had followed us in on the other truck and was seeing to the hostage families, they looked in a right state. The remaining goons were soon rounded up and disarmed, Haugen was covering them as they knelt, hands on heads, on the tarmac at the front of the building. Max was among them, eyeing us nervously. We’d been told not to blow his cover, so we had to treat him the same as the rest. Kaur was leading some equally nervous looking science types out, blinking, into the daylight. 
            I gave the all clear to Abomo, who told me Schrader and our back-up were already on the way. Sure enough, within about thirty minutes, the shadow of our transport fell over the compound, followed by a group of Canuck hovers. They landed in a nice square formation, surrounding an unmarked hover that landed in the centre. Troops piled out of the four, forming a protective cordon around the central vehicle, from which two figures emerged, both civvies from the look of it. All very impressive but totally unnecessary. Haugen looked up from guarding the prisoners and laughed. 
            “Who the fuck are these guys?”

Lethbridge waits until the group is assembled then,  closing the heavy door, takes position by the desk.
     “What is it, I wonder,” he asks, “that makes a man run howling from a building to his doom?” He pauses, taking another draw on his cigarette.
   “And not from some gothic mansion or haunted castle on a storm-ravaged night. No, this was from a room in a library… in fact, the very room in which we are now gathered!" 
   The group shifts impatiently. Dean Heywood glances at his pocket watch. The cadaverous Head Porter Dollond tugs on his ear and stares fixedly at a point on the wall. 
    “And it is because of  what happened then, and subsequent events, that I now strongly advise this room be sealed.” Lethbridge seats himself on the edge of the large desk. 
    The room in question is a library. The simple plaque on the door proclaims it the Manby Rare Books Room. On entering the room you first see, to your left, the desk on which Lethbridge currently sits. Behind the desk, the room’s large, sole window looks out onto a quadrangle. To the right, on either side of a central aisle, several large, dark, old, empty bookcases stretch away into the gloom.
     The jowled, bespectacled Vice Chancellor Beaumont is the first of the group to  speak.  
     “Come, come,  Lethbridge, surely what happened then was just an accident;  why should this  be of concern to us now?”
    “Ah well,” Lethbridge stubs out his cigarette in the ash tray 
on the desk, “some nows are connected with particularly germane thens  and it may well be prudent to be cognizant of those connections. I have pieced together as best I can, from Parker’s own notes and from various lines of enquiry, what I believe to be the facts of the case. But, please,  won’t you be seated gentlemen? ”             “Will this take long?” enquires the bird-like Reverend Lowe.  “Only I have evensong to attend presently.” 
       “Not to worry Reverend, we will be finished before it gets… dark.”
    The group shuffles, chairs scrape on the wooden floor and soon all are seated. Proctor Barcroft takes the opportunity to have a quick nip from his hip flask. Lethbridge remains still as an owl, perched on the edge of the desk. The only sound is the dry ticking of a clock. Then Lethbridge clears his throat and begins...

         Suzy walks slowly across the deserted beach. The sea is calm and quiet, just a regular ripple disturbing the shiny surface. The large, full moon gives everything the colour of bone. To left and right the shoreline fades into the distance. Looking north, she thinks she glimpses the outline of a figure atop the low cliff. For a moment it stands, silhouetted against the sky. When she looks back to check,it is gone. But now there is a figure on the beach, hundreds of yards away. It is indistinct, little more than a shape, but seems twisted, distorted. She can make out no features but has the sense it is watching her.   
        Her heart is pounding now, louder than the surf. She turns southward and begins a hurried walk away from the figure, shingle grating underfoot. After about twenty paces she glances over her shoulder. The figure is nearer. It moves with a curious shambling gait, awkward, broken, rising and falling. She turns and begins to run, her progress slow on the shifting surface, almost as if she were running on the spot. She hears it now, ragged breathing, the crunch of its progress, drawing nearer. 
      Suzy is at full sprint. Ahead the pale strand leads on; there is no hiding place, the vague shape of the  power plant looms in the distance. She risks another look over her shoulder - the thing is less than ten feet behind her! Impossibly tall, a pale, grinning  face, black rags streaming out behind it. She falls awkwardly, knees grazing on the sharp stones. The thing reaches out bony hands, clawed, curved bony hands that reach for her, reach for her...