ENTER THE DRAGON

          Inside the house, all was a chaos of cardboard boxes, shredded newspaper and familiar objects made unfamiliar by their new surroundings.  One of her mothers favourite horse ornaments sat incongruously in the middle of the kitchen table, flanked by a cracked casserole dish and the rather twee china lid from the rabbit biscuit barrel.  Tania stepped around, over and through boxes until she reached her mother, who was perched on the edge of an old wooden chair, carefully unpacking crockery.  She looked up and smiled as Tania came over; a large grey smudge decorated one cheek and her hands were black with newsprint.

            "Five saucers broken," she mourned.  "Five! And your brother managed to unpack the biscuit barrel in one piece, then dropped it.  I've sent him to sort out the books."

            "Have we eaten all the sandwiches?" Tania asked, but without much hope.  Her mother raised an eyebrow.

            "Nick and your father finished them in the car while the removal men were unloading the lorry," she said, reaching for her handbag.  "Look, there's a chippie down the road.  Why don't you get us all cod and chips?"

            "Great," Tania said happily, her stomach growling at the thought.  Clutching the ten pound note her mother had given her she walked through to the hallway where Nick was sulkily unpacking a crate of books.

            "This is so boring!" he said mutinously as she reached him.  "Mum won't let me help her with the china anymore.  That old rabbit biscuit barrel was wet anyway.  Where are you going?"

            "Chippie," Tania stepped around a teetering pile of books, watching her brother as he bent over the box again.  "Nick," she said quietly.  "What did you see, over the fence I mean?"

            "Nothing," he said into the depths of the box, then straightened up, frowning at her.

            "But what got your shoe?" she insisted and Nick shrugged.

            "There was a big thorn bush on the other side," he said.  "Growing right up the fence.  I got my foot caught in it and when that stupid git dragged me off the fence it ripped my shoe clean off."

            "He didn't drag you off the fence, you fell off," Tania pointed out.  Nick shrugged, losing interest and turning back to the box.  Tania looked at his back for a moment, chewing her lip, screwing the ten pound note up in her hand.

            How do you know there was a wolf? The voice in her head spoke, sly and insidious.  You never saw it, it could have been anything.  You are stupid if you believe everything people tell you.

            "Shut up." Tania said aloud and Nick looked up indignantly, a book in either hand.

            "I didn't say anything," he protested, but Tania ignored him, walking past him to the front door.  Once outside she leant against the door, closing her eyes briefly, breathing in the warm scents of the summer evening.

            Open your eyes now!  The voice in her head snapped at her, sounding more terrified than Tania had ever felt.  She could smell the very faintest whiff of burning, feel a tremendous heat in front of her…..

            Her eyes flicked open; there was a man standing on the path in front of her.

            "Ah," he said smoothly, his voice betraying the very faintest hint of a foreign accent.  "One of the new neighbours."

            He was very tall, dressed in a severe black suit, looking down at Tania as if from a great height, his pale grey eyes almost seeming to glow as he looked down at her.  His face was thin, ordinary, distinguished almost.  His iron grey hair was neatly combed, swept back from a high forehead with a single black stripe of hair trailing back from his left temple.  Tania pressed back against the door, feeling the smooth, glossy paint against her fingers, not wanting this man to get any closer to her.  There was nothing about his outward appearance to scare her at all, but he terrified her.

            "I found these in my garden," he said in that same smooth voice, and held up Nick's training shoe and sock.  Tania took them from him automatically, clutching them to her.

            "Thank you," she managed.

            "You're welcome, I'm sure," he said suavely.  "My name is Gideon.  And you are?"

            Tania stared at him, gripping the trainer hard enough to whiten the tips of her fingers.  She did not want to tell him her name, she wanted him to go away.  He smiled at her, showing white teeth like tombstones.

            "Cat got your tongue?" he remarked, and held out a hand.  "We really should be introduced to one another, don't you think? After all, we are neighbours."

            Tania had reached out her own hand and placed it in his without really thinking what she was doing, caught by the dim glow in his eyes.  He grasped her hand hard, smiling even more broadly when she tried to tug her hand free.  His skin was smooth and dry; and it burned.

            "Please let me go," she whispered, trying to loosen his grip.  He merely smiled and leant forward.

            "It is such a pleasure to meet you at last," he said as she stared at him with wide, terrified eyes.  "Such a great pleasure."

            He let go of her hand just at the moment when Tania would have screamed aloud.  She looked down at her hand, expecting to see redness or blisters.  It looked perfectly normal, the skin wasn't even marked by the pressure of his fingers.

            "Yes," he said, chuckling to himself as he turned on his heel and walked off down the path, his boots clicking on the concrete.  "Very nice to meet you."

            Tania stood there trembling as his front door opened and closed.  The trainer fell from her numb fingers and she bent down to pick it up, freezing in the act of reaching for it.

            The trainer had fallen on its side and she could see the punctures through the leather, dark holes against the white.  They had the regularity and shape of teeth marks, teeth from something big.

            "Thorn bush," Tania said aloud, and had to bite her lip hard to stop the hysterical laughter that threatened to bolt free.

*******

            Vincent passed his hands over the crystal ball, covering its pristine surface carefully with a black velvet cloth.  Behind him Farrell was rummaging through the bookshelves, selecting a book here and there, opening each at random and sliding his finger down the page before closing the book and replacing it on the shelf.

            "He's not very subtle, is he?" Vincent turned round in his chair.  Farrell carefully closed the book in his hand and slotted it back in place on the shelf.

            "Subtlety has never been one of Gideon's strong points," he said.

            "So, what do we do?" Vincent asked, idly pulling at a loose thread on his jeans.

            "Nothing for the moment," Farrell selected another book, easing it from its place on the shelf.  "You should keep an eye on her for the time being, gain her confidence, that sort of thing.  I thought you started well enough," he added snidely and opened the book, whistling soundlessly through his teeth.  "Where does Felix get these from? I thought that the last one of these was burnt a thousand years ago."

            Vincent glared at Farrell's back, selecting an apple from the bag on the table and biting into it viciously.  This kind of thing was always happening to him, he had never been very good at saying 'no'.  All he really wanted was a quiet life, reading the books his master left him, carefully learning his art, perfecting the spells he needed to pass through all the levels to become a Grey Sorcerer.  But Farrell had a knack of propelling him into the kind of situations that involved an enormous amount of physical, as well as mental effort.

            "Thank you so much," he said around a mouthful of apple.  Farrell, deep in his book, totally missed the sarcasm, raising an acknowledging hand.  Vincent made a face at his back and ate the apple down to the core, throwing it accurately into the bin and brooding on all the past interruptions to his studies.

            There had been all that trouble persuading a knight now known as St George to ride out and kill a dragon (there had been problems getting him to believe in the dragon in the first place, but he certainly believed once he had almost been roasted alive in his armour).  Vincent couldn't recall liking the man very much, he had been so teeth-grindingly noble.

Then there was the demon that had rampaged around London in the 1880's.  It tore the unfortunate idiot who managed to summon it to pieces, then went off looking for better prey.  With no master it had been almost unstoppable, and gruesomely imaginative.  The papers of the time had christened it Jack the Ripper.  The police had never caught it, but Vincent and Felix had, even managing to exorcise it although it had been a close thing.  That had been the only time Vincent had ever felt that his soul was truly in peril.

            "Don't forget the good Witch finder General," Farrell remarked, looking up from his book.  "You know how much legwork that involved."

            "Stay out of my head," Vincent snapped and Farrell grinned. 

            "I'll stay out if you can keep me out," he said, closing the book. 

            Vincent shook his head slightly, turning his thoughts back to the present.  He wanted to find out about Tania, and wandering down memory lane in a bad mood wasn't going to do that.  Walking purposefully towards the shelves he selected a plain black leather bound book and opened it at random.  The pages were bright white, shiny and completely blank.  He reached into his pocket and took out the single strand of hair that he had managed to catch when he and Farrell had stood in the garden of Tania's house.  Placing the hair on the page, he touched both page and hair lightly with his fingertips and muttered something that sounded at once like a passage of intricate poetry, and then like nonsense syllables.  The pages in front of him filled rapidly with small, closely packed writing; commendably fast, actually.  Vincent often complained about Farrell taking him away from his studies but there was no doubt that his power and knowledge were rapidly increasing.

             "You never mentioned any of this!"  He looked up from the page he was reading.  Farrell's eyes gleamed for a moment as he looked at Vincent's taut features.

            "I thought it was more fun for you to find out for yourself," he said.  "And it would explain why that little spell you tried to cast back there didn't work."

            "I don't like this," Vincent grumbled.  "Haven't we got enough with Gideon without a fledgling sorceress trying out her powers on the world."

            "It's what we do," Farrell pointed out calmly, although he looked as worried as Vincent.  Tania's unexpected appearance a few days ago had been sudden, and in a world where there was so little magic left she stood out like a lantern on the dark side of the moon.  She was the first inherent sorceress to be born for over a thousand years, and someone had been concealing her.  That was what they found so worrying.  There were not many in the world who would have the power to hide such potential, and Vincent worried about her sudden emergence, apparently connected with Gideon surfacing again.

            "Three books," he said and Farrell looked up at him.

            "What?"

            "I had three books left to read." Vincent ran a distracted hand through his hair.  "Now I'll never get to read them."

            Farrell grinned.  "Surely actually practising magic is better than merely reading about it?" he said.

            "You would say something like that," Vincent said sourly, and marched into the kitchen with the vain hope of finding some food.