It was seven o'clock before Sir finally let Siobhan go - and frankly she was relieved. It turned out helping for Parent's Evening involved talking for hours on end to the parents' young children and toddlers about learning French. Sir had suggested that she show the young children and toddlers the array of French language worksheets he'd laid out, but the young children and toddlers were more interested in running around and hitting the desks rhythmically. Siobhan had managed to get a few sat down and taught them a few colours and number in French, but doubted any of them would remember.
Never mind. Sir seemed impressed at her determination, and he'd given her a few merit points. And she'd gotten a few hours away from the stresses of home life.
She called her grandma's mobile.
'Siobhan, where have you been? You were supposed to be home at four thirty!'
Oh no. She'd forgotten to tell them she'd been staying at school late.
'I said I was helping out at Parent's Evening, Grandma.'
'You did?' A pause. 'First I've heard of it.'
'I told you on Wednesday,' Siobhan said. She didn't like lying to her grandma, especially given she'd been caring for her Mum all day. 'Would you mind picking me up from school please?'
'Well, OK.' She sighed. 'I'll see you in about ten minutes.'
'Bye Grandma,' Siobhan said, and hung up. Trying not to feel guilty, she put the phone in her pocket and sidled to the back gates. She waited.
Warloc hung up his cloak again. Outside it was getting dark and cloudy. He was already dreading the time when the next apparition would wake him up and start belching into his ear. Hopefully the Somnolence Draught would help.
He took the book of Charms out and re-read the Fordigation, and then entered his chamber. Waiting for him was Jocosa, his wife.
He froze. She was bruised. A gash on her face was leaking blood.
He stepped forward warily. 'Jocosa?'
Jocosa looked at him, and an eye fell out. He gagged as his wife began to change. Her hair fell out, and more grew on her chin and down her chest. Her fingernails grew sharp and yellow, as did her teeth. Her head rippled and melted. She became a monster.
Warloc stepped back, still gagging. The apparition had tricked him into thinking it was his wife. He couldn't believe it. He felt sick. The monster advanced. There was nothing left of his wife now - it was all green skin and sharp, gnarly claws. Warloc grabbed his staff and backed away slowly. He'd seen this apparition before. It was a particularly violent one. It didn't mess around with words and try to aggravate him - it would kill him if he let it.
It lunged. He swiped out with his staff but nothing happened, and he careered backwards to avoid its claws.
He ran downstairs and out the house, aware all the time of its quick and clever clacky-clacky footsteps behind him.
A feather came loose from his hair and spun away, but he didn't stop. The monster was still following him and gaining speed. Holding the staff while running was slowing him down, but he didn't want to let go of it. He ran faster and faster, and tripped on a tree root. Warloc felt himself flying forwards before the air in front of him burst apart. He had time only to shield his face as he flew through to the other side.
Siobhan was standing by the back gates, feeling hungry and hoping Grandma would arrive soon, when she heard a bang. Her head swivelled. Across the road from her was a small field. Some of the boys played football there before and after school. There was nothing there now though.
She shrugged, turning her gaze back to the beetle she'd been watching. For two minutes it had been walking around in a circle. It was a very big beetle, but she wasn't really interested in the beetle. She was wondering what sort of state her mum and dad would be in when she got home.
There was another noise in the field and she looked again. She frowned. It looked like there was a rip in the air. She could see the field, but one of the trees was obscured, and she could see other trees in the distance.
'Is that a portal?' she said to herself. She started walking towards it.
A man fell out of the portal. He wore a long blue robe, and a dark blue sash that had some gold badges pinned to it. He had some sort of bag with him. His hair was a greyish shade of purple and had three feathers sticking out at the top. Siobhan felt her eyebrows raise of their own accord, and walked more briskly.
The man got up, rubbing his knees and looking around. He looked back through the portal, then around at his surroundings, a look of awe and confusion on his face. And then he spotted her, and his face slackened.
Siobhan approached. 'Are you OK?' she asked.
Before the stranger could answer, something else jumped through the portal, and she screamed. It was a huge green thing with claws and teeth. It stood on its four legs and growled up at her. The man brought up a stick he'd been carrying and directed it at the monster. It kept growling.
The man glanced at her a few times and threw her the stick. 'Quick,' he said. 'Use it.'
Siobhan stood frozen for a few seconds, but then used the staff. She hit the monster on the head with it. It growled at her more fiercely, so she swung it into the side of its head this time, and it wailed and fell to the floor. It then slowly disappeared.
Siobhan stared at where it had been, and then looked at the stranger for answers. But he was still just looking at her curiously.
She breathed out heavily, her mind spinning. She didn't know what had just happened, and worse, her grandma was about to come and pick her up and she'd have to A) Leave hurriedly without ever knowing what she'd just found out, B) Run the risk of her grandma seeing her with a strange man with feathers in his hair and hear her squawking about paedophiles, or C) -
She didn't get time to finish her train of thought, because the man had grabbed her by the collar and pulled back through the rapidly contracting portal. Siobhan tried to yank his hands away, but there was nothing she could do. She watched as her school was swallowed up by nothingness.
Warloc held his breath, feeling the rushing sensation again as he went through the gateway, and then he landed on wet grass. It was raining back in Augura.
He hadn't had time to see much wherever the invisible gateway had taken him, but he had recognised the green grass and trees. He had certainly recognised the red haired girl when he'd seen her. Warloc wasn't sure why he'd dragged her back through with him. All he knew was the girl was important, and he had to find out why.
A few seconds after he landed, Siobhan landed on top with a thud. She quickly crawled off, and Warloc stood up, straightening his feathers.
'Oh, Jesus,' she said, panicking. 'Where am I now?'
Warloc took a few seconds to respond. 'You've passed through a gateway.'
'Well, where is it?!'
Siobhan whirled round, arms outstretched. There was no portal to be seen. She stamped her foot in exasperation. She stayed facing away from Warloc, forcing herself to remain calm. Her breathing slowed. She saw trees all around her, and a few stony buildings.
What just happened. What had she just seen. Was it magic? She turned to the stranger.
'Listen, you, Sir. Are you a Wizard?'
Warloc grumbled. 'I'm a Mage. I practice magic.'
‘Well, you need to get me back through.'
'I can't. I don't even know how it got there.'
Siobhan stared pointedly at him. ‘But you’ve got to take me back home, I’ve – Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr, I’m so annoyed!.'
Warloc sighed. 'I should have guessed that. I am sorry to have, well, stolen you like that, but it felt like the right thing to do.'
She took a step closer where what she hoped was an expression of authority and defiance. 'What's your name?’
'Warloc. And yours?'
'Siobhan. Now please take me back.'
'I can't,’ he replied.
There was a pause. Siobhan felt the rain wetting her hair and her clothes. She wasn’t happy. Actually, that was an understatement –she was very unhappy indeed.
Warloc spoke. ‘Now you need to come with me.'
Siobhan brushed herself down. Her jumper was wet and covered in a sort of yellow grass. 'Where are we going? Are we going to try and open the portal?'
Warloc started walking, making her follow. 'What's a portal?' he asked.
'That rip in space/time we just went through.'
'Oh. The gateway. No, we're going back to my house. You need to sleep.'
Siobhan stopped. 'I don't want to go with you. I don't know you.'
‘You have to stay with someone until the gateway reappears. You can’t stay out here by yourself.’
‘Nor do I particularly want to,’ Siobhan said, crossing her arms and scowling.
‘Come with me. I promise I won’t hurt you.’
‘I am not going anywhere until I see a portal.’
Warloc sighed. This girl was going to be difficult to deal with, he could tell. He was already regretting his decision.
He crossed his arms too. ‘Listen, Siobhan. I’m sorry you got dragged out of your world. It’s very unfortunate. But I’m only a Mage. I’m not powerful enough to open another portal and I don’t know how the first one got there. I might be able to help you get back, but until morning I can’t do anything.’
Warloc didn’t want to explain about his apparitions. ‘Because I’m very, very tired,’ he said wearily.
Siobhan sighed. ‘Fine,’ she growled. They started walking. ‘But you’d better not be some sick paedophile.’
Warloc led the way back to his home, wondering briefly what a paedophile was, and Siobhan dragged her feet behind him. At first, she kept her eyes fixed on the ground, and then started looking at her surroundings. She tried to look as grumpy as possible, in case Warloc turned round and saw her.
Admittedly, her surroundings were interesting. There were a lot of trees, but none of them were green. Most of the ones they were walking through now had peach-coloured leaves. Another one they passed had a bluish, woolly trunk. She resisted the urge to reach out and touch it.
Thankfully, Warloc made no attempt to strike up a conversation as they walked. He was too busy thinking to himself. She looked at the feathers sticking out of his hair, and wondered what on earth they were doing there. She was also curious as to how they stayed in one place. Maybe they were held in place by magic or something. Maybe he used some sort of glue.
They arrived at a tall, stony building. There was no handle or lock on the door. Warloc pushed on it and they both stepped inside. It was slightly warmer in here. Siobhan saw a small fire, some pictures and one very small mirror on the walls, a desk, and several bookshelves. There was, as she’d suspected, no TV, no electrical lighting and very little furniture. About six feet away was the beginnings of a flight of stairs.
‘This is where you’ll be staying until I can find out how to get you back,’ Warloc said to her, resting his staff near the door. ‘There’s a bathroom upstairs, and a bedroom. Don’t go in there unless I say you can.’
‘Indoor plumbing,’ Siobhan remarked. ‘Thank God for that.’
Warloc turned to her. ‘Would you please stop saying stuff I don’t understand?’
‘What? What did I say?’
‘Portal, paedophile, God... what the clag does that mean?’
Siobhan was about to say something, but stopped. ‘Clag? That’s not a word.’
‘Yes it is.’
‘What does it mean?’
‘It’s a bad word, don’t use it.’
Siobhan sat down on one of the two chairs. ‘You have a bad word and it’s “clag”?’
Warloc wearily took the other seat. ‘Yes. Don’t you have a bad word where you live?’
‘They’re called swearwords.’
‘They? You have more than one bad word?’
‘Yes. I’m considering using some right now,’ Siobhan said, glaring at him.
Warloc stood up again. ‘Look, I’ve already apologised. Now go to sleep.’ He strode towards the stairs.
‘Wait!’ Siobhan called after him. ‘Where am I supposed to sleep?’
‘On the floor,’ Warloc said gruffly, and went upstairs.
Siobhan slumped back into the chair. This wasn’t right. He had no right to drag her out of her world and into his, and refuse to offer an explanation. And now she was supposed to stay here and be grateful and wait for him to take her home. And sleep on the floor of this dump. It wasn’t fair.
‘Stupid,’ she grumbled, moodily kicking at the leg of her chair. She wondered what to do next.
She didn’t want to stay here. She didn’t know who this Warloc was. He could be an evil axe murderer for all she knew. But what was the point of leaving the building if there was no portal out there?
Siobhan wondered if she should put the fire out. She decided to leave it to burn out. It was cold enough in here as it was. She found a cloak hanging up, sat back in the chair, draped it over herself, and tried to go to sleep.
She woke up again in the middle of the night. There were noises coming from upstairs. She got up slowly. The fire was just a glowing pile of cinders now. She padded across the floor in the dark, nearly tripping over the rug, and reached the bottom of the stairs. She listened intently, hearing Warloc’s voice.
‘Just clag off, will you? Please just go away. No, it’s not you. It’s not you. No, go away, it’s not you.’
Siobhan shrugged. Sleep-talking. Grandma used to do that. Siobhan had been getting a glass of milk one night and, passing her bedroom, had heard her mumbling in her sleep about putting a fire out, over and over again.
But Grandma was all the way back home, she remembered. Siobhan wondered if she’d get to see her again. She groped her way back to the chair, and stared into the cinders, willing her magic to work. Slowly a wedge of air enveloped her head, and all noises cut off. She managed to keep it up for longer than usual, and when she finally allowed sound to flood back at her, the voice upstairs had stopped. She fell asleep again.