The Buccaneer Chronicles:
By Karen Dunn (Despite Interference by Keith Dunn, Andy Simpkins, Adam J Purcell and Tony Gallichan)
Chapter Four - The Woods
"It doesn't matter where I go with Mac; it doesn't matter what wonders I see and what amazing places I visit, I still can't get used to the trees.
You didn't get no trees in London unless you went to the parks or one of them posh houses on the edge of the city what had oaks and elms and sycamores in their gardens.
They didn't like to see the likes of me in the parks. Said I was up to no good, looking for an easy mark to con out of a fat wallet. They were usually right but I think the main reason they kept kicking me out of the park was because I made the place look untidy.
And if anyone ever saw me within a mile of those posh houses they summoned the law and I found myself up before the beak where I would swear and scream and tell them I had done nothing, but end up with a thick ear for my trouble anyway.
No, I can't be doing with trees. Nothing good ever come of hanging round trees.
I liked London. I liked the houses that loomed like stone giants over the cobbled streets and the way the horses' hooves gave a hollow 'clop-clop' as they pulled heaving carts from one market to the next.
I liked the dark, damp alleyways that could swallow you up invisible and safe from prying eyes, but could bounce an echo loud enough to be heard from Cheap Side to Westminster.
I liked the people.
You knew were you were with the people of London. There was no falseness - no pretending to be mates when really you wasn't.
If someone was your friend, you were friends for life. But if someone didn't like you they made sure you knew it.
Mac made me read Oliver Twist once by that Charles Dickens bloke.
I think he found it funny to see me reading about places I've been and things I've done.
I think he wanted me to get cross with Mr Dickens and rant and rage about how he was a fool who knew nothing.
But he got a lot of it right.
I've certainly met my share of Fagins in my time - right evil bastards to a man.
I tried to tell Colin about Mr Dickens. I tried to explain the oddness I felt reading about my city, my time.
I tried to tell him that, although Mr Dickens got so much right, there was an awful lot he missed out.
I suppose the people of my time were more delicate about these things than Colin's are - at least, the ones what could afford books were.
Why would they want to face up to the cruel facts of what was happening to the street kids who shivered and coughed and died outside the door to their safe little world when they could just gloss over it in a pretty story with a happy ending and pretend it wasn't there.
It was a good book. But there weren't enough girls in it and wimp-boy Oliver would have got a right kicking if I had met him.
I saw that musical version they made. Colin watched it with me with a big grin on his face as he sang along to all the songs.
I couldn't stand it for long.
When Colin asked why, I just got cross and locked myself in my room for a week.
Try imagining a chirpy, bouncy, happy musical about the killing of them people at Auschwitz when you had actually been there and seen the horror and you'll know how I feel.
But when I tried to tell Colin this, tried to explain how Mr Dickens had got it right but so very, very wrong, he muttered something about being a Pratchett man himself and left it at that.
I don't think he understands that I need to talk about things occasionally.
I can't talk to Mac any more and Cre'at doesn't usually stay still long enough to pass the time of day.
Besides, I'm not sure how much a floating metal head would understand about the pain of growing up in the gutter with no one to hold you close when life became too hard to face.
I tried talking to him once and he almost analysed me to death. I'm not sure I could face his Sigmund Freud impression again. It's disturbing.
He told me I had issues with my mother.
I told him of course I bloody well did - that was the bleedin' point. The woman had gambled me away before I was old enough to talk proper and the tin brainbox was telling me I had issues with her.
After stamping around and slamming doors I spent another week locked in my room refusing to come out.
Colin's a great guy, don't get me wrong, but he's a soldier. Apart from the occasional bout of big brother over-protectiveness he's not too comfortable with 'emotional stuff'.
I just wish there was someone around who was.
I need to talk to somebody.
Colin watched Blanche from the corner of his eye as they traipsed through the trees, weaving a path through bracken and brambles in search of a road.
She seemed pre-occupied, her earlier enthusiasm evaporating like so much steam.
The woods around them were truly beautiful. Towering species' he had never seen before loomed overhead, their branches inter-twined in a leafy embrace, their canopy all but obscuring the sky.
Dotted between them grew what looked like oaks and cedars, their leaves alive with birds and crawling things.
The place was a botanist's paradise, but to a soldier it was hell.
There were too many places to hide; too many chances for an attacker to leap out on them.
And he knew for sure there was at least one killer on the loose around here.
An explosion of leaves from a bush in front of them startled him and he stepped in front of Blanche, knocking her backwards, gun cocked and aimed as a rabbit darted across their path, its brown eyes huge with fear.
Blanche looked at him, "Bit jumpy, ain't we?"
Colin lowered his gun, a blush creeping up his neck and colouring his cheeks, "I'm alert."
"Yeah, 'cos that rabbit could have given me a nasty nip."
Blanche grinned, "Don't you worry, soldier boy. Next bunny we see I'll let you shoot it for supper."
"You can be a brat sometimes."
Shaking his head, Colin pushed on through the undergrowth, "Come on."
And they trudged on.
Colin estimated they had battled through almost a mile of branches and brambles before they hit the road.
Before they hit the dirt track, more like.
But it was a sign of civilisation that had been noticeably lacking up until then.
Blanche stood in the middle of the track looking back and forth, "Which way d'you reckon?"
Colin looked around. The track was dwarfed by the surrounding woods, giving no clues that would lead him confidently towards the lights and life of a town.
But the sun was going down, painting the sky a hazy purple, and he had no desire to wander around in the dark.
He pointed towards a bend in the track, his face set with a confidence he didn't feel, "This way."
Blanche shrugged, "Lead on, Tex."
Matthias watched the odd couple from the safety of the trees.
These two were new.
He had been the town's protector since he was old enough to walk and he had never seen these two before.
Stackmore had a thing for fresh blood and no sane person from the town would go near him or his horde of the undead.
He must be hunting further from home. Must have caught these two unawares.
Pity. They looked like nice kids. Shame he couldn't have got to know them before the beast sucked their souls dry.
One arm wrapped securely around a branch, Matthias reached into his coat and pulled a stubby black club from his pocket.
He gave it a practice swing and smiled, dark eyes glinting beneath a mess of curly brown hair.
Incapacitation was nowhere near as much fun as the kill, but Eleanor needed live ones if she was to find her elusive cure.
With a stealth borne of years of hunting, Matthias inched his way from the tree and stalked his unsuspecting prey as they chatted amiably.
For vampires they had very peculiar ideas about keeping hidden.
Definitely new blood.
They didn't notice as he drew level with them, just continued their inane banter.
The male was armed, though his weapon was held in the loosest of grips as he watched the female and made a pitiful attempt at scrutinising his surroundings.
Matthias wondered briefly if the creature had been a hunter before the Bite. He had the bearing of one trained for stealth but his execution of the skills was poor.
No matter. He could tell Eleanor all about his old life while she cut him open.
With a feral growl, Matthias burst from the trees and slammed his club down on the male's arm before crashing an elbow into his temple.
The weapon flew from the creature's grip.
The male fell to his knees clutching his head, "Blanche! Run!"
But she had left it too late, her eyes wide as her companion fell.
Matthias flashed her a grin, his eyes bright in the rising moonlight, and was pleased to see a cloud of fury darken her face.
He let her run towards him, arms outstretched, fingers like claws, ready to tear out his throat.
Side-stepping as she reached him, he brought his knee up into her stomach and cracked his club down onto the back of her head.
She fell without a sound, blood oozing from her scalp and matting her hair.
Matthias stepped back and wiped the club clean, returning it to his pocket.
A good night's work.
Eleanor would be pleased.
"This is ridiculous." Macfadyan hurled an armload of clutter to the floor and dived back into the cupboard, "I know it's around here somewhere."
Cre'at pootled into the room, a string of garlic looped around him, and surveyed the chaos with an impassive metal eye, * I have brought garlic. *
* Legend states that garlic is most effective when dealing with vampires. *
Macfadyan's voice was muffled as he continued to delve deep into the cupboard, "Really?"
* Indeed. Also advisable are sharp sticks, holy water, bright sunlight and silver bullets. *
"Silver bullets kill werewolves."
* You are mistaken. *
The rummaging intensified, "I am not mistaken. Silver bullets are used to kill werewolves. You must have a crossed file in your mythical creatures database."
* I will amend it at once. *
Cre'at's eyes dimmed and he whirred gently, the garlic bobbing beneath him like a pendulum.
"You do that...Aha!"
Macfadyan burst from the cupboard in an explosion of bric-a-brac, a narrow grey metal cylinder, about a foot long, with a bulbous attachment at one end clutched in his hands.
He smirked at Cre'at and hefted the device into firing position, like a Wild West sheriff about to pick off a bad guy.
"There's one other thing guaranteed to finish off a vampire."
Cre'at scanned the weapon, * I am unfamiliar with the design. *
Macfadyan's smirk widened, "Dalek gun. Mark 2. Lethal from a mile away - devastating from close range. If our pointy-toothed friends are immortal, let's see how they like spending eternity as dust."
Adding the information to his database, Cre'at buzzed over to the door, * Blanche and Captain Curtis have been gone for two hours and seven minutes and it is now night time. I believe we should effect a rescue. *
Macfadyan was polishing the gun with his sleeve, "What makes you think they are in trouble?"
* They left the Ship. *
Opening his coat, the Time Lord slipped the gun into one of its deep pockets, patting the line of the material back into place before striding past Cre'at, "You stink, by the way."
The Head drifted after the Time Lord, flakes of garlic floating to the floor behind him, * My aroma is good for the neck. *
"You don't have a neck."
* But you do. *
Colin stumbled for the third time in as many minutes but refused to allow himself to fall.
The throbbing ache in his head was matched only by the leaden heaviness thumping across his shoulders.
Pausing for a second, he hefted the unconscious Blanche into a more comfortable position, his breath hissing through his teeth as he felt the barrel of his own gun jab sharply into the base of his spine.
The weasely little man who had so effectively and embarrassingly mugged them, put his mouth to Colin's ear and cackled, "You stop again and I'll stake you both here and now."
Colin flinched away, the man's rank breath turning his stomach, "As I have told you five times, we are not vampires."
Matthias gave Colin a hefty shove and followed as he trudged along the track, "Then why were you in the forest?"
"We were looking for a town."
"You were looking for pure souls to suck dry. Well, that was a mistake, friend. We're not scared of your type here."
Colin sighed, "Good. Great. Glad to hear it. Tell me, are they all as stupid as you in town or is there the chance of speaking to someone with a brain?"
Matthias growled, his face reddening with fury, and he slammed the butt of the gun down hard on Colin's back.
With a cry of pain, the soldier stumbled forward, Blanche spilling from his arms as he fell to his knees.
She hit the ground with a hefty thump, groaning as consciousness smacked back into her, and she found herself blinking up into Matthias' leering face.
"What the bloody hell..?"
Matthias reached down and hauled her to her feet by the front of her jersey, the gun held inches from her nose, "I've learned a lot today," he hissed, "I've learned vampires feel pain."
Even as she held her breath against the stench of decay wafting from his mouth, Blanche found herself absurdly fascinated by the man's yellowing teeth.
They filled her vision as he spoke to her, the gun so close to her nose she went boss-eyed trying to bring it into focus.
And they loomed toward her like mouldy tombstones when he shook her roughly and yanked her forward, all the better to yell at her, "Are you listening to me?"
Blanche blinked fuzzily, "Not really, no. My head kind of hurts."
His eyes sparkled and suddenly the gun was replaced with a pointed stake of wood. Spittle flew from his lips and his grin tightened, "I could kill you now..."
"The gun would be a lot more effective."
"Against your kind? I'm not an idiot."
He raised the stake and Blanche closed her eyes. There was an ominous click very close to her face and then Colin spoke, "I beg to differ."
Matthias didn't move.
"Let her go."
The grip on her jersey slackened and Blanche cautiously opened one eye.
Colin was standing behind Matthias, his reclaimed gun aimed, rock steady, at the back of the man's head.
Colin's eyes were like flint, his body rigid, his lips tight with fury.
For a fraction of a second Blanche was afraid of him.
And then he winked at her and she grinned, "Nice one, soldier boy."
* We are going the wrong way. *
Macfadyan dismissed Cre'at's fears with a wave of the hand and pushed aside yet another curtain of leaves, "My sense of direction is only bettered by my tracking skills. They went this way."
* I disagree. *
"There's a surprise."
Cre'at hovered on the spot for a moment, conducting one final and totally unnecessary scan of the area.
Blanche and Captain Curtis were quite clearly 2.71 miles east of the thicket through which Macfadyan was struggling, curses flying from his lips as his coat caught on yet another bramble.
There was one other life form with the elusive duo, but Cre'at's sensors had no way of determining whether or not it was friendly.
He chose to believe it was not, saving himself any future disappointment in that area.
If he and Macfadyan continued on their current course they would come to a building.
If Blanche and Captain Curtis continued on theirs they would come to a town.
Zipping after the advancing Time Lord, Cre'at analysed the worrying probability algorithms his security programme had automatically started running.
According to the laws of averages, likelihood and pure bad luck, something nasty was due to happen.
Logging his friends' co-ordinates for later retrieval, he turned his sensors onto the building that lay just ahead of them.
It appeared to be deserted. No life signs from anything larger than a rat were registering.
Cre'at prepared the appropriate responses to Macfadyan's predictable declaration that he had known all along that there was a building nearby and he had known all along that it was abandoned and let's take a stroll through the forest again to find Blanche and Colin.
The Time Lord burst through the final tangle of undergrowth and frowned at the building.
It was a tumbledown house, set into the side of a hill. One wing had been designed to look like the battlements of a castle and there was no doubt that, in its day, it would have been a fine-looking building.
Macfadyan puffed out his chest, "As I suspected."
* It is deserted. *
Cre'at scanned the building again, allowing his motors to whirr noisily, drawing a raised eyebrow from the Time Lord, * There is no life here. *
Macfadyan spun round and found himself face to face with a dapper-looking man. He was dressed from head to toe in black, his jet hair framing an alabaster face, his eyes as black as the encroaching night.
He had his hands clasped behind his back and bowed slightly, a small smile playing at his lips, "It's not often I receive visitors."
Macfadyan shook himself, dragging his gaze away from the man's face. He stepped forward, hand outstretched in greeting, "Yes, hello. Interesting home you have here."
The man stared at him, making no attempt to shake the proffered hand, "It fills my needs."
Macfadyan lowered his hand, "Indeed."
There was an awkward silence which the Time Lord felt curiously compelled to fill, "We're looking for a couple of friends. Wandered off. Probably lost in the forest."
"I have seen no one."
"Would you care for a bite to eat before we seek out your friends?"
Macfadyan grinned back at Cre'at, "Excellent. Yes. Excellent. Lead the way, Mr...?"
The man smiled at him, "Laurence Stackmore, at your service. If you'll just come this way, Mr Macfadyan."
Cre'at watched as the Time Lord followed the strange man into the ruin that had once been a house.
His sensors clicked, * There is no life here. *