Wrote this one a day or two ago, but I’ve either already got stories in submission to all the paying fantasy markets I know of or they don’t accept stories with swearing, so I’ve put it up for 99 cents on Smashwords and it’ll be available for Kindle (US) and Kindle (UK) later today. I may write more Peculiar Branch stories if people like this one…
It’s always the way, just when you’re in the middle of a collar, that’s when your radio goes off.
Charlie and me were in hot pursuit of an elf who we’d caught selling pixie dust to the local pre-teens, when I get a buzzing from my radio.
“Bill, you there? Over”
“Can it wait, Liz? We’re a bit busy here. Over.”
“We need you to come in as soon as. Tony just made an arrest, and we think it has to do with the Densmore case. Over.”
“Copy that. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Over.”
While I was talking with Liz, Charlie had grabbed the little bastard, and was holding him off the ground by his ears.
“You are under arrest. As a non-human sapient lifeform, you have no rights except the right to choose your deportation destination. Do you wish to be deported to Fairyland, the Misty Worlds, or Faraway And Longago? ”
“Fuck off, copper.”
“Fairyland it is. Do the honours, Bill.”
I pulled out my magic truncheon, waved it a couple of times, and opened up a portal to the Queen of Fae’s dungeons, and Charlie threw the elf through.
“Did you get the name of his dealer? ” I asked.
“Course not. He said the dealer wouldn’t tell him his True Name. Just knew that he was a goblin.”
“What a surprise. Oh well. Back to the station.”
As you can probably tell from the foregoing, I’m a copper. But as you can probably also tell (I can tell you’re bright by the way your lips aren’t moving while you’re reading this), I’m not your typical plod. I don’t get called out when your telly gets nicked, then go round to whichever local scrote was most likely to have done it and tell them I know it was them and can’t arrest them, but have my eye on them. That’s not my job, and I’m very glad it isn’t.
No, I work for Peculiar Branch. Officially, we’re the Anomalous Occurences Department, but everyone calls us Peculiar Branch. We enforce the laws of nature, rather than the laws of the land.
More often than you might think, this universe is breached by ghosts, goblins, fairies, elves, wizards and so on. When they come over, they bring their magic with them. And magic is no good for anyone.
Society lives by rules, and magic is all about breaking rules. If you spin straw into gold, you do end up with real gold – but you’re still destabilising the economy just as much as if you were a forger. Offer someone three wishes and within ten minutes you’ve got someone with a sausage for a nose. Flying carpets are great until you get sucked into a jet engine and cause a crash.
In worst-case scenarios, magic actually becomes a weapon of mass destruction. We in Peculiar Branch are just thankful that al-Qaeda won’t work with genies because of their religion – a genie with a bad instruction could wipe out the whole world, or even the universe, before we had time to blink.
But thankfully, most of what we have to deal with is petty stuff – unicorns on the rampage (fortunately for us, unicorns seem to have very medieval ideas of virginity, so many of our more sapphic WPCs end up on unicorn duty), political refugees from the Goblin Wars (we feel sorry for these, but we can’t take them in. Our neutrality is too important), shops selling mysterious items (the reason they have always gone two days later is that we raid them and close them down the second we get wind of them), that sort of thing.
So we keep the world running smoothly, and according to the laws of physics. But occasionally, there’s a big problem. We’d had one that year.
A bloke called Tim Densmore, a nerdy little accountant type, had got hold of some grimoires from god knows where. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem – while your actual magical artifacts can sometimes cause trouble, a grimoire is only of any use to anyone if it’s used by someone from the magical realms. A normal human from this universe can put on all the mystic robes they want and chant ’izzy wizzy let’s get busy’ as much as they like, but they won’t actually do any magic. We’re not made of the right stuff.
Except for Densmore. No-one has any idea how he did it, but he managed in a very short time to raise himself to the level of a Class Eight Mage. Now, admittedly, that’s not much – you can do the odd rain of frogs, or mystic whirlwind, but Class Eights are hardly Gandalf. But the highest level anyone from this universe had ever previously attained was Class Thirty-Nine (ability to inflict a sneezing fit with a curse, if the victim already had a weakened immune system). A Class Eight was a real problem.
All the laws regarding magic users had been crafted under the assumption that we’d be dealing with illegal immigrants. You just get them and chuck ’em back where they came from, and let them be someone else’s problem. They very rarely came through a second time – the Misty Worlds and Faraway And Longago operated on a different time scale to ours, so one second here was a decade there, while the Queen Of Fairyland is not keen on people who’ve tried to escape her realm, and tends to make her displeasure known in a variety of nasty ways – so chuck ’em though, job’s a good’un, onto the next one.
But Densmore was from this universe, and even from this country. He wasn’t technically breaking any laws, because no-one had planned for anything like him.
Then all of a sudden, just as he was calling down the winds and rains to destroy the town of Basingstoke for an imagined slight some twenty years earlier, his powers disappeared. We had him quietly locked up in a loony bin, and hoped that’d be the end of it.
But now the case was apparently getting re-opened, and it was muggins here who had to deal with it.
I got into the station and asked Jill, on the front desk, what the trouble was.
“Troll in cell five,says he’s got information on Densmore, won’t talk without a lawyer.”
“What for? Does he think we’re going to breach his inhuman rights? ”
“Don’t ask me, I just work here.”
I went into the cell, and was confronted with a fifteen-foot tall troll, bent nearly double even in our oversized cells, with a small bloke sat next to him who I assumed must be his brief.
“Mind telling me why I shouldn’t just open up a portal and send you back right now? ”
“For much the same reason I shouldn’t tap you on the forehead with my little finger and turn you into a small smear on the ground. We both have something the other needs.”
“Oh yes? ”
“My client,” said the lawyer, “wishes to claim asylum on this plane of existence.”
“You do know that’s out of the question, don’t you? ”
“Indeed. In normal circumstances that would be the case. But I think once you have listened to my client’s story, you will be inclined to agree that he is an exceptional case.”
“Even if I wanted to give stonearse there asylum – and I don’t – I don’t have the authority.”
“We understand that. All we ask is that if you listen to my client’s story, and if you think he has a good case, you will refrain from deporting him long enough that we can come to some arrangement with the government.”
“I can’t promise anything. But I’ll see what I can do.”
“Good enough. Mr Qualgus, do tell your story”
The troll’s story explained a lot. Qualgus had been a courtier in the court of the Queen of Fae, but had heard that he was falling out of her favour. Rather than submit to one of her notorious show trials, he’d opened a portal and come through to our world, and he’d brought information.
Fairyland was losing the Goblin Wars, and was desperate for allies. So desperate, that the Queen was even considering Earth. But she knew that we wouldn’t go into the war voluntarily. Even if we’d favoured Fairyland over the Misty Worlds or Faraway And Longago (and opinion on that was very much divided within the world’s governments – strong leaders are not always preferred, especially strong female leaders) we know what happens to the little bully who hangs around with the big bully once the big bully starts to lose, and none of the world’s leaders fancied dangling from a lamppost.
So the Queen had taken drastic measures. She’d got hold of a few grimoires from the Misty Worlds, and had them delivered to a patsy on Earth – it’s not hard to find some gormless pillock who thinks he’ll be able to do magic if he just reads a few books – in the hope that they’d act as a ’smoking gun’ so it’d look like the Misty Worlds had attacked us.
Then she sent over a Class Three Magus, Carillian The Ebon, and had him cast a spell on Densmore, granting him some limited magical powers for as long as the spell lasted. It was never Densmore doing the magic, but always Carillian.
However, Densmore had cracked under the strain, and Carillian and the Queen had decided he was too much of a liability. The Queen’s a fairly nasty piece of work, but even she gets a little queasy at handing weapons of almost unlimited destructive power to people who get so angry when their shoelace comes untied that they blow their own foot off. So they’d turned Densmore’s supply off, and gone in another direction.
Carillian was a shapeshifter, and he’d disguised himself as a goblin and started producing the immense quantities of pixie dust that had been turning up. The idea was that we’d blame the gobboes for getting our kids hooked on the stuff, and go to war to protect the children.
Qualgus had the address of the flat that Carillian was dealing out of, and he was willing to give it to us, in exchange for having his case for political amnesty looked at favourably. If the Queen didn’t like returned refugees, she really didn’t like returned traitors.
I could see his point, and agreed not to deport him for the moment.
It may surprise you to learn that protocol when dealing with a major magic user is to send in just a single copper. Either the wiz in question is going to come quietly, in which one’s all you need, or he isn’t, in which case you want to get as few people killed as possible. Fighting someone as powerful as Carillian would be as effective as trying to disarm a nuclear warhead by headbutting it, and about as advisable.
So there was no midnight raid, no breaking down the door. I just went, alone, to the scuzzy little flat that Qualgus had told us was Carillian’s HQ, in full uniform and in broad daylight, and knocked on his door.
The door opened, and a goblin wearing a rugby jersey that dangled to his knees, and nothing else, looked up at me and sniffed.
“Can I help, copper? ” the goblin asked, before wiping his dripping nose on his sleeve.
“I’ve come about the pixie dust.”
The goblin looked relieved “Yes, it was definitely me what done it all right, copper. You caught me fair and square. Just deport me to the Misty Worlds, my beloved home.”
“You can drop the act, Carillian.”
“Ah. I see.”
The room suddenly darkened, as the goblin grew three foot taller, and changed from a small goblin in a rugby jersey to a tall, imposing, berobed and bearded wizard. His voice dropped about two octaves, as it changed from a nasal wheedle to a booming baritone.
“You leave me no choice. Barakatathan…”
He was beginning the Curse Of Excruciating Protracted Death. I couldn’t let him finish, but I had less than a second to react. In the nick of time I realised what to do.
I waved my hand, and he burst into a protracted bout of sneezing that lasted long enough for me to open a portal into Fairyland around him. Never mess with a Class Thirty-Nine magic user.
Normally, we never get any response from Fairyland when we deport anyone back there, but I was told later that the government had received an official communication from the Queen herself, expressing her regret for the totally unauthorised actions of the rogue agent and traitor Carillian, whose actions the Queen had of course known nothing about.
I heard as well that it included conclusive proof that Carillian would never be able to return and cause any more damage. I didn’t ask what kind of proof, and I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unimagined.
Qualgus was given asylum on Earth, and now lives in a remote part of New Zealand, making a decent living hiring himself out to fantasy film-makers, who are of course all sworn to secrecy.
And as for me, I just went back on the beat. Someone’s been selling powdered unicorn horn as an aphrodisiac, and that stuff’s powerful. We’re getting a lot of corpses with big smiles on their faces, so I’m busy tracking down the dealers.
It’s a living, I suppose.