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Authors: Pete Townsend


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In Search of Four


Copyright © 2013 Pete Townsend

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study,

or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents

Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in

any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the

publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with

the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries

concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.


9 Priory Business Park,

Wistow Road, Kibworth Beauchamp,

Leicestershire. LE8 0RX

Tel: (+44) 116 279 2299

Fax: (+44) 116 279 2277

Email: [email protected]


ISBN: 9781783069422

Matador is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd

Converted to eBook by

For Billy


Immense thanks to Billy for his constant encouragement, doodles and persistent madness that have helped bring this novel to fruition. Huge hugs to my lovely, Ruth for her neverending support and patience as the novel crawled toward completion. As ever, much appreciation to my friends and family for simply being my friends and family!

Chapter 1

‘Did you see that?' rasped the voice.

‘See what?' snarled another voice in reply. ‘How do you expect me to see anything at this time of night?

‘I'm telling you I saw something,' insisted the first voice angrily.

At that moment, the minute hand of the Town Hall clock decided to twitch to its lowest position. While beneath, a shadow, darker than the others that lurked around the fringes of the buildings, flickered momentarily before disappearing into the anonymity of the night.

‘There it was again,' growled the first voice. ‘Underneath the clock.'

The owner of the second voice merely grunted. Cold and irritable, he stamped his feet as the chilling wind wrapped itself like a scarf around his neck.

Smiling, a cloaked figure moved cautiously in the depths of the shadowed building. Peering into the darkness the figure could see the faint outline of the aged brick buildings leaning against the night sky. Everything was as it should be.

Keeping the wall against its back, the figure edged itself along the building until the wall disappeared around a corner and into the darkness that occupied the town-square. During the day, the square would have bustled with gaudy market stalls and dowdily dressed traders, as shoppers haggled and tussled for bargains. At night, the square settled into a fitful sleep, quiet and peaceful to the inquisitive eye yet ready to lurch into life at the slightest noise.

Pausing, the figure reached inside its cloak and gently brought out a small silver ball. Gently tapping its surface, a shimmer of pale blue light illuminated a young face. The face grinned as the timepiece indicated that an earlier act of timely intervention had worked and that Achnacreadie must still be asleep. Replacing the timepiece inside its cloak the figure was grateful that the darkness would continue for a little while longer. Taking a final look around, the figure edged itself towards a pair of enormous wooden doors that stood at the front of the Town Hall. Studded with black rivets and embraced by elaborately ornamented metal arms with hands clasped tightly together, the doors firmly forbade entry at most times of the day and particularly at night.

The figure stood silently in front of the doors. The building seemed to emanate a sort of darkness that chilled the air and caused the observer to shiver involuntary. From beneath its cloak the figure brought out a second round object. This time the metal ball was darker than the first, and had a queer sort of key protruding from the top. Smiling as it took a final look up at the building, the figure turned the ball in its hand and quickly twisted the key clockwise. Counting to three the figure drew back its arm, ready to throw the ball towards the large space beneath the windows of the building.

Two things happened almost instantaneously. A momentary flash of light broke through the darkness, quickly followed by a strange vibration disturbing the air. Before the figure could react, a sharp pain enveloped its arm, causing it to drop the ball and hunch over in agony. Clutching its arm, the figure rolled itself against the base of the building, hoping the shadows would conceal its form. Grimacing as the burning sensation threatened to engulf its entire body, the figure tried to see where the dart had come from. Somewhere, across the square, one of the Jaresh guards prepared to fire a second dart. Blinking through the pain, the figure glanced at the glowing ball a few feet away. Realising that it only had a couple of seconds before the ball would explode, the figure grimly pushed itself backwards with its feet.

A loud thud above its head announced the arrival of the second, expected dart. Across the square, gargled grunts could be heard along with a shuffling sound that would result in capture and permanent injury for the tiny figure. Desperately trying to dig its heels into the ground and push itself deeper into the darkness, the figure was suddenly aware of being roughly grabbed around the waist and hauled through the air. Just before it lost consciousness, the figure saw a huge explosion of light as the ball erupted in a shower of fluorescent blue stars.

The two Jaresh guards, sensing their quarry was injured, shuffled quickly towards the town hall. Just as their serrated lips were beginning to form a smile of victory, the guards saw the cloaked figure being raised into the air followed by a sharp, flash of light that obliterated their vision.

Had the guards been able to use their eyes, they would have seen the whole square lit up in a brilliant blue light. Hovering in the air, just below the large windows of the town hall, tiny flashes of lightening fizzed and spluttered. Minute explosions ripped through the still of the night, as an acrid, burning smell filled the square. At first, the lightening appeared to flash randomly in the air until gradually a pattern of glowing letters began to form. As the lightening continued to scorch the air, the letters became more defined so that within seconds two words radiated across the square. For a few more seconds the words shone against the dark sky and then, suddenly, another explosion ripped through the night and the words disappeared in a shower of sparks.

Once the night breeze had blown the whispers of smoke away, all that remained of the explosive display was a dark outline of the words burnt into the once clean wall of the town hall. To many the words meant little other than being a pointless demonstration of annoyance. To others the words were the symbols of defiance, a way of showing resentment, while to those who were the intended target of the fiery outburst the words were abusive and almost certain to cause an outrage. More importantly for those responsible for the insulting words, burning graffiti onto the town hall, supposedly under the protection of the Jaresh, was a moral victory.

As the night lingered on, two Jaresh guards sat dazed and bemused below the two words smouldering offensively on the town hall: “Fish Heads”.

Chapter 2

Ignorant of the commotion in the town below, Achnacreadie scratched his bulbous stomach, mumbled sleepily and sucked in sufficient air to begin a shed-shaking rumble of a snore.

Achnacreadie slumbered in a shed that was almost as old, draughty and damp as his socks. He preferred to sleep there rather than in the comfort of his own bed, which sat across the valley in a large house that he shared with his wife, Nomora. He often explained that sleeping in the shed was economical, it didn't cost him anything and it saved the time spent walking up and down the steep hillsides that somehow grew steeper with each passing year.

The shed had been built when the now towering oak tree was no more than a stubbly little upstart peering out of the soil. Over the years, the shed had watched the oak gradually climb skywards until, one day the shed could only sense the lofty presence of the huge tree. The oak, on the other hand, observed the gradual aging of the shed with a feeling of awe and respect, slowly wrapping its arms protectively around the ancient building. Stretching, as far as any eye could see, were similar oaks and other various trees and bushes that formed a verdant canopy across the valley. Occasionally, small patches of pale blue or pink rhododendrons punctuated the mottled shades of leaf green that spread over the horizon. The small glade, where the shed nestled in the arms of the oak, lay almost on top of the hill looking out towards the western mountains and distant seas.

It was from this sheltered abode that Achnacreadie's nightly task was performed. His job, should he remember before sleep embraced his consciousness, was to ensure that the mighty timepiece, that stood in a woodland clearing a little way from the shed, was maintained and working properly. Normally, the timepiece ran like clockwork. A little lubrication here, a spot of grease there and a quick polish of the giant hourglass left Achnacreadie well prepared for a night of hard snoozing. Unfortunately, on this occasion, things were not running like clockwork.

Achnacreadie, waking himself with a particularly loud rumbling snore, belched, scratched his chin and shuffled his legs towards the edge of the bed. With an effort he levered himself into a sitting position and allowed his head to become accustomed to being vertical rather than horizontal. Eventually, when he'd finally accepted the fact that his body was in a posture generally unacceptable for sleep, he gently took hold of his left eyelid between his fingers and slowly prised it open. It was still dark. Achnacreadie tugged on a chain that stretched across his stomach and pulled out an old, careworn timepiece. He gradually lifted it closer and closer to his eyes. He blinked, screwed both eyes tightly shut, blinked again and then stared at the face of the timepiece. An uneasy feeling swept over his body, causing his brow to crease into little ploughed furrows and his stomach to wobble briefly. Something was wrong. He rubbed each eye in turn, stared again at the timepiece and slowly dragged his tongue across his lips. Something was definitely wrong.

Ignoring the insistent throbbing in his head, Achnacreadie walked gingerly towards the door and pulled the piece of short, stubby string that acted as a handle. With the night air breezing into the shed, he stepped outside and gazed into the blackness. For a few seconds he stood frozen, as if the effort of moving from his bed had temporarily exhausted his body. He allowed the cool night air to caress his rugged face, with an effect similar to brushing silk across the bristles of a yard-brush. After a few moments of acclimatising his body to the night, he blew out his cheeks and sighed.

Slowly stepping into the darkness Achnacreadie became aware of a dull, monotonous sound coming from somewhere in front of him. A rhythmic tapping seemed to mimic his footsteps, becoming louder and louder as he walked. Pushing at a few stray branches that had relaxed with the night, He strode into the clearing where the master timepiece stood. The noise was deafening, dully echoing off the tree trunks and swirling around the clearing like a chiming whirlwind. Cupping his hands over his ears in an attempt to deflect the assault on his ears, Achnacreadie gazed upwards.

The master timepiece towered above him, a wooden skyscraper of meticulous construction, made by craftsmen whose skills could still be seen long after they themselves had disappeared. Trying to ignore the thumping pressure battering his head, Achnacreadie gave the structure a smile of greeting and carefully placed his hand against one of the wooden pillars that supported the timepiece. The whole construction shuddered with a sickening regularity. Allowing his gaze to climb slowly upwards, he discovered the cause of the annoying reverberations and exactly why the sky was still dark. Half way up the giant wooden structure, two enormous cogs were being frustrated in their attempts to push each other around. Protruding from between the two cogs was a large spike of wood, which had been placed precisely to prevent the giant teeth from connecting. At each attempt a dull wooden click would announce their failure to interlock and turn the large hourglass upside down to begin another daily cycle.

Achnacreadie reached up and tapped the underside of the hourglass. The absence of an echo confirmed his worst fear; the hourglass was still full of sand with only an occasional grain trickling down its narrow waist. With a glance at the interrupted cogs, he gave the wooden structure a swift kick. The cogs paused in their rhythmic clicking for a moment as the wooden spike squirmed a little then settled back into position once again. Achnacreadie let out a deep sigh. Tugging at his beard in frustration, he took a few paces to one side in order to get a better look at the wedged culprit.

The spike had been forced between the cogs from the inside of the framework, making it impossible to hammer from outside of the framework in case the force of the hammer blow caused the spike to hit the large hourglass and shatter it. Neither was there sufficient distance between the hourglass and spike for Achnacreadie to prise it out of its lodging place. It suddenly dawned upon him that this wasn't simply a mischievous act or someone with a vendetta against his snoring. There were other forces at work and Achnacreadie knew at once that there was a purpose and reason behind the apparent vandalism.

With a shrug of his broad shoulders, he walked over to a pile of tools that usually lay discarded at the base of the timepiece. Selecting a small bow saw and a metal bar he carefully climbed up into the framework and began to cut through the wooden spike.

Achnacreadie blinked away the sweat that trickled into his eyes and slowly continued sawing at the spike. Time passed and the night remained as he stuck at his task. Across the valley, Achnacreadie could hear the sound of people stirring, with doors creaking open and windows opening and being slammed shut. The townsfolk were puzzled. Many had woken expecting to see daylight streaming through gaps in their curtains or to feel the warmth of the sun on their faces as they opened their front doors. Much to their amazement the sky was still dark and several inhabitants began to mutter about the end of time and eternal gloom.

Still Achnacreadie pushed and pulled at the bow saw until, with a splintering crack the protruding part of the wooden spike fell to the ground. Wiping the perspiration from his forehead, he reached into his waistband for the metal bar and slowly prodded at the remaining piece of the spike that lay annoyingly between the cogs. Gradually the spike began to succumb to persuasion. With just a fraction of the spike still in place, Achnacreadie withdrew the metal rod and reached around to the other side of the cogs. From his precarious position he could just about get his fingers to the end of the spike. After a few moments of wrestling the spike abruptly gave up its position and fell to the ground.

Silence. Nothing stirred. Achnacreadie held his breath and listened for any hint that his efforts had been successful. Still nothing moved. Gradually shifting his weight, he peered at the previously obstructed cogs. They were perfectly still, their motionless outline silhouetted against the night sky. Achnacreadie was just about to reach for the metal rod when, suddenly the structure groaned and shuddered until it seemed as if it would shake itself to pieces. Quickly Achnacreadie shimmied down the framework and took several paces back, trying to get a safe distance away from the shaking timepiece. Without warning the shaking and groaning stopped. The wooden structure sighed, the cogs meshed together as they were designed to do and the large hourglass began to slowly turn upside down.

As the hourglass arced across the skyline and the sands of time resumed their fall, the stars scurried out of sight and the night sky folded away to reveal a bright sunlit dawn.

Achnacreadie nodded his satisfaction. ‘
he thought to himself.
‘It has begun. The long process of placing those that have been misplaced back to where they belong.
' He clicked his tongue in annoyance. She shouldn't have sabotaged the timepiece though. He determined to have words with that little madam the next time he saw her.

With a shrug he started his walk back along the path to begin preparations for his walk home to Nomora.

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