Of the many shades of black, Elizabeth had no doubt that it was the deepest black of all that formed the coat of the approaching barguest. Its blood-red eyes glowed like smouldering coals and appeared to be fixed in their direction. She hastily unwrapped the parcel she was holding.
“Think you could buy us a little time here, Gemma?” she asked calmly.
Gemma touched Paul and reached towards Elizabeth, she halted midway. “Something’s wrong -– I can’t get near you. What are you holding?”
Elizabeth raised one of the horseshoes in her hand, “Just a few of these -– Tashriel said they would come in handy if we happened to come across our friend there.” She nodded towards the beast, which was now about 60 yards away.
“That explains why I couldn’t sense it!” Gemma hissed. “Those things are made of iron -– they work against Fae too!”
Elizabeth looked down at the objects in her hands; they offered the only defence she had against the approaching creature.
“What are we supposed to do with them?" Paul asked, reaching out and taking one.
“According to Tashriel, we need to place them on the ground at our feet and stand in a circle with our backs together,” Elizabeth stated calmly whilst looking in Gemma's direction. “Is that going to cause a problem for you?”
“Not as much as the one I’m going to create for you when we get out of here!" Gemma snarled. "I'll be fine as long as they don’t touch me,” she added almost as an afterthought.
Paul placed the one he was holding on the ground beside Gemma and reached over for another one. Elizabeth mischievously considered using her own to whack Gemma with before reluctantly placing it at her own feet.
The barguest howled as if to summon the devil himself, its foul smelling breath hurled the leaves nearest to them in the direction of the surrounding gravestones. Elizabeth clasped Paul’s hand and offered her other hand to the contrary Gemma. Baring its drool-coated fangs and gums, the hell hound rushed towards them with razor sharp claws unsheathed.
Elizabeth, aware of the magical connotations associated with iron and horseshoes, was curious to discover how they would offer protection against the barguest. Within seconds of placing all three on the ground, a thin, almost crystal-like veil had appeared and formed a protective layer around them. It was immediately obvious to all that the horseshoes had created a sort of Celtic trinity knot around them and Gemma was clearly uncomfortable.
The air was acrid and tainted with sulphur. The barguest, frustrated at being unable to break through their defences, sliced the surrounding graves with its razor sharp claws and intermittently threw itself against the protective shield, testing it.
Elizabeth’s concentration was momentarily taken by a hearse and its procession winding along the snaking road to the cemetery chapels, and then returned to the impassioned creature.
“I wonder why it’s so riled,” Elizabeth commented. “Aren’t these things supposed to be guardians or something similar?”
“Technically, yes,” replied Paul. “I’ve never heard of one making an appearance in daylight either. What about you, Gemma?”
“I’m beginning to think we're mistaken. I don’t think it’s trying to harm anyone. It’s trying to tell us something.”
“WHAT?!” Exclaimed Elizabeth and Paul in unison.
“No, seriously. Think about it for a moment. There’s only been one so-called victim and he never even heard it coming and only actually saw it after the event. Why the big show for us? I’ve no doubt if it wanted to, it could have picked us off quietly at any time.”
“I hate to admit it but I think you may be on to something there, Tinks. What do you think, Paul?”
“It makes sense, but couldn’t it just have rolled over or something?”
“Probably would have done if Lizzie Schwarzenegger here hadn’t turned up all heavy handed and brandishing the hardware.”
Elizabeth muttered something undecipherable under her breath.
“Look, ladies, whatever the hell’s going on between you two let’s leave it to another time and place, shall we?” Paul tilted his head towards Gemma. “Do you have any idea as to how we can test your little theory?”
“Yeah. Move this poison from in front of me and whiz it over there.” Gemma nodded in Elizabeth’s direction. “I’ll happily approach the barguest and see what happens next. If it tries to attack me, I should be able to muster up enough magic to save myself and get some help. You two can remain here for now.”
It sounded like a good plan. Piqued, Elizabeth conjured up a mental image of Gemma as a bone with the barguest happily munching on the marrow. Paul prepared to remove one of the horseshoes but hesitated when the beast threw itself against the part of the shield directly facing Elizabeth.
“I’m not moving it until the barguest moves away,” Paul announced firmly.
The barguest fell back then, and made a move towards Paul. Paul threw the horseshoe and Gemma broke free.
Paul and Elizabeth tensed as Gemma dashed away at lightning speed and put a great deal of distance between herself and the barguest which, much to everyone's surprise, did not follow after Gemma, but moved away from Paul and took up a firm position some five yards distant.
“She’s not all that bad, you know,” Paul said almost apologetically.
“Says the man who likes to make a quick exit!” Elizabeth snapped.
They both watched in silence as Gemma leisurely made her way back to their location, her auburn hair bouncing jauntily on the late afternoon wind. Time was working against them; though only just after 3 pm, it was already beginning to grow dark.
The barguest howled as Gemma approached, but then he crouched close to the ground and permitted Gemma to touch him. Elizabeth noticed a subtle change in her appearance and watched in amazement as she appeared to glow.
“Come out and throw the horseshoes as far away as possible,” Gemma ordered after what seemed like ages. “Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe.”
Paul was the first to move and did as requested. A reluctant Elizabeth noted where they fell just in case they should have a need for them later. They both moved closer to Gemma and the dog-like creature. The mourners began emerging from the chapel below, totally unaware of their presence.
“He’s searching for something that's been stolen by the Living. Something which is his duty to guard," Gemma told them while putting a little more distance between herself and the barguest. Her voice sounded feebler than before, and her footsteps looked slightly unsteady. "He needs our help to find whatever it is and return it to its rightful place. I'm sorry, I wasn't strong enough to sense more.” Gemma appeared to physically crumble and Paul rushed towards her.
Elizabeth, although barely able to make out her features in the diminishing light, was convinced that the earlier glow had been replaced by one of a much darker shade.
"Of course, you’re correct,” stated Gemma, leaning heavily on Paul and making eye contact. "Every time I use what little magic I possess there’s a price to pay. There's always a price to pay, isn't there, Elizabeth?”
For the first time in a long time, Elizabeth felt something other than pure dislike towards Gemma. Paul studied them closely and then looked in the direction of the watching barguest.
“Perhaps you could try and see what you can find out, Lizzie? I suspect there’s going to be a lot of bloodshed if we don’t get to the bottom of this soon.”
Labels: Billy, Elizabeth, Present Day, Refuge of Delayed Souls, Web Fiction