Lovely people, the seventh and final (*sniffle*) instalment of the Gobbelino London series is almost here! In just over two weeks the end times will be coming to Leeds, with only a handful of very scruffy resistance to stand in its way …
I have had the most extraordinary amount of fun writing this series, and I’m so very grateful to you all for joining me in discovering the exploits of Leeds’ best magical PI team. It’s hard to say goodbye to them, but to stretch the series beyond its natural arc wouldn’t be fair to you or them (they both need a good rest and a decent feed, to be honest).
I do have to admit to having a sneaking suspicion that it maybe a farewell for now, rather than forever, though. We shall just have to see where the story pot takes us, since I for one have very little idea of where that might be.
Right now, though, that story pot is taking us back to Leeds, where things have got distinctly apocalyptic. There will be angry weres. There will be scheming magicians. There will be fire fights and floods and tears in the fabric of the world.
So what are we waiting for?
You can pre-order your ebooks at Amazon or your favourite retailers, and it’ll explode onto your ereader with a whiff of suphur (okay, hopefully not that last bit) on Friday 28th of July. Paperback details will be coming soon!
And until then – read on for the first chapter in Gobbelino London & a Collision of Chaos!
Note: If you haven’t read the previous Gobbelino books, I strongly recommend it before starting A Collision of Chaos. Otherwise there’s going to be a lot of questions about zombies, unicorns, and well-dressed trolls, among other things. And to help you get started, the first book, A Scourge of Pleasantries, is only 99p / 99c for all of July. Grab yours at your favourite ebook retailer!
“Ay up, Mogs. Bringer of mad tidings. What is it this time?”
“End of the world,” I said.
“Can’t get much madder than that.”
We hadn’t planned to return to Leeds. Not yet, anyway. The place was dicey. After all, half the Folk in the city want us dead, and apparently have no reservations about making that happen.
But our friend Gerry is missing, so we’re heading back to find him. Never mind the fact that anyone who can take out a troll is operating way above our pay grade. It’s not like anyone pays us anyway.
It doesn’t take long to discover a missing troll is the least of our worries, though. Leeds has blown straight past dicey and into end times. The necromancers are back and as power-sotted as ever, and this time it’s not just a few cats they want dead. It’s everyone.
So if we want any chance of life as we know it to continue, we need to stop them as well as save Gerry. Easy, right? We only have to get past Callum’s dodgy family, my dodgy past, hopped-up magic-workers, feral weres, shady magicians, and the ever-present, ever-treacherous Watch.
Oh, and did I mention the sorcerer’s still giving me out of body experiences? Yeah. Good times.
At least it can’t get much worse. Can it …?
A Collision of Catastrophes
Ch. 1: Leeds Has Teeth
There comes a time in every cat’s life when one needs to take stock of where one is, and where one’s road is leading. To meditate on times past and times yet to come, and to consider paths to be taken or not, dreams to be lived or shared or laid to rest.
Or so I’ve heard. Mostly people keep killing me off before I get to such a point, and since that seemed unlikely to change anytime soon, I figured I might as well get a jump on things in this life. If I had time, obviously, since right at that moment I was being forcibly removed from my body, thrust across a bone-chilling void, and deposited unceremoniously at the feet of a sorcerer.
Which was made only marginally less alarming by the fact I knew the sorcerer concerned.
“I’m done,” I said.
Ms Jones looked at me, eyebrows raised.
“All this. Out-of-body experiences. Every Folk and their familiar trying to kill me. I resign.”
She waited, although one corner of her mouth quirked up slightly.
“This was never in the job description,” I pointed out.
She folded her long-fingered hands together, her elbows resting on her knees. She was sitting on a roughly hewn stone bench and wearing bright blue Doc Martens that were luminous against the dull grey floor. “I wasn’t aware you had a job description,” she said.
“Well, if I did, it wouldn’t include this,” I said, and pressed my claws experimentally into the flagstones beneath me. They didn’t feel quite right. They looked alright, if a bit damp and grimy, and with dubious things growing in the cracks, but there seemed to be a strange give to them. Maybe they were actually some sort of sorcerer laminate flooring. It was hard to be sure of anything in the smoky, uncertain light of the sconces on the wall. “Where are we?”
“You tell me. It’s your subconscious.”
“It is not,” I said. “You’re the one dragged me out of my body.”
She gave a little maybe sort of shrug. “I called you. I didn’t bring you anywhere. You’re just seeing what you expect to see, and so am I.” She looked around, and while I wasn’t a fan of the whole stone dungeon and squidgy floor vibe I had going on, I very much did not want to know what a sorcerer’s subconscious meeting place looked like.
“So?” I said, before she could decide to share any details with me. “What is it?”
She turned her gaze back to me. Her eyes were dark and distant in the low light, but I’d seen them as pale and clear as spring frosts, and I don’t think either were the truth of her. I could smell that truth, though, even in my own subconscious or wherever we were. Ancient and deep-rooted and vaguely feral. “You took your time leaving wherever you were,” she said.
“Whitby,” I said. “And not my fault. We tried to leave, but there were Black Dogs keeping us in, and then there was a whole thing with Reaper Leeds and the pirate captain and the Sea Witch, plus there was a kraken and this bloody mermaid who Callum still owes a favour to, and don’t forget the damn parrot—”
She held up a hand. “Sorry I asked. I can’t keep you here too long—”
“Why?” I asked. “Where are you? What’s happening? We’ve—”
“Because at some point you won’t be able to go back into your body,” she said, which made all my questions about where our missing sorcerer had been hiding out – and what an ancient, powerful being had to hide from in the first place – suddenly very unimportant.
“Hurry up, then,” I said, and she gave a very un-sorcerer-like snort.
“I need to know the situation in Leeds,” she said. “And I need you to locate Malcolm.”
“We already did that, then he ran off with a pack of weres.”
“So go and find where he’s run to. I need you to keep hold of him for me.”
“Why?” I still couldn’t understand why a creature who reeked of power, who could make reality dance and physics shudder, had such a thing for a balding, pot-bellied dentist.
“Because you I can find easily. Him, I currently can’t. The weres must be keeping him hidden, and I’m not about to trek about chasing down every were pack in the north when you can just get on and finish the job you started.”
I wrinkled my snout, but it didn’t seem to be the time to argue. Not when I was at risk of becoming permanently disembodied. “Alright. But we’ve got our own things on, you know. Gerry’s missing. And Gertrude’s in trouble with Grim Reaper North Yorkshire, so we need to check on her, and—”
“Why’s she in trouble?” Ms Jones frowned at me. “And why was she in Whitby? She’s Reaper Leeds, isn’t she?”
“Mini-break. But at least she didn’t lose her scythe—”
“Someone lost their scythe?”
“I’m trying to tell you, if you’d let me finish—”
The sorcerer got up abruptly. “No time. I’ll be in touch. Find Malcolm.”
I opened my mouth to say that a little help might be nice, maybe some sort of charmed wolf whistle or magical were muzzle or something, but it was too late. The terrible, bone-chilling grip of the void laid into my bones, and the dungeon was torn away from me, but not before I saw Ms Jones give the smallest grimace of pain, as if standing had hurt more than she’d expected.
But before I could wonder what secrets our friendly local sorcerer was hiding, I thudded back into my body with a stomach-churning crash. For one horrified moment I thought I was going to bounce straight back out again, that I’d already been away too long and my body had moved on without me. My paws didn’t seem to fit right, and my ears were too cold, and I felt like I was about to be jostled straight back out of my skin again. I blinked around, trying to get the world to make sense, and realised I was being carted at a sprint across a frozen field of churned earth, clutched to Callum’s chest by one of his hands while he flailed wildly for balance with the other.
A sharp, hungry crack rang out behind us, and Callum yelled, “Don’t shoot!”
“What?” I squawked, and tried to twist in his grip so I could see what was going on. All I encountered were the bright eyes of Green Snake, staring at me with alarm. Or possibly disapproval, or delight, or who knew. Snakes don’t give much away.
Another crack snapped behind us, and now I could hear dogs barking. Callum hit a gate and scrambled over it onto a weed-strewn, rutted track sandwiched between drystone walls, half crushing me as he slipped on the rungs.
“You want to be dog dinner?” he managed, stumbling as he landed then taking off in a gangly, long-legged sprint as the clamour of the dogs reached the gate. I still couldn’t see them past his flapping coat, but I decided I was better not to. There was a lot of snarling and I will tear your throat out barking going on that didn’t sound like empty threats.
“And stay out!” a woman bellowed behind us, and punctuated it with another potshot with whatever firearm she was carting. Callum yelped and ducked, stumbled, managed a few more unsteady strides, then his borrowed wellies slipped on the frozen ground and he went down hard, rolling into a clumsy half-somersault. I threw myself clear, skittering over the hard ruts and coming to a stop next to a clump of nettles growing out of the base of the wall. I peered back down the lane and spotted a head topped with a soft, faded purple felt hat glaring over the gate at us. Multicoloured crocheted flowers decorated the hat, and under it all I could see was a red nose and an angry scowl. A couple of dogs had their heads through the rungs, and two more had their paws up on the top. Their barking went up a notch when they spotted me, but they didn’t seem to be about to come after us.
“Bloody cat people,” the woman hissed, and rested what looked an awful lot like a rifle on the top bar of the gate.
“We’re going,” Callum shouted, scrambling to his feet. He’d torn the knee of his jeans and his hands were grazed. “I just wanted to use your phone!”
“Likely story,” she shouted back. “I know your type! Preying on defenceless old ladies!”
“I’d hate to see what she calls un-defenceless,” I muttered.
“Our car’s broken down,” Callum called. He was backing away up the track, so he obviously wasn’t holding out much hope of being invited in for a cuppa. Which, as I recalled, had been one of the motivations for walking to the creepy farmhouse we’d spotted from the road as the reluctant February dawn had spread across the moors. We’d made it to the gate that led into the yard before Ms Jones had unceremoniously summoned me, so I’d evidently missed all the fun. “I’ve lost my phone, and it looks like snow.”
“Oh, boo hoo,” the woman shouted. “Go tell your sob story to someone who cares, and get off my land!” She punctuated that by swinging the gun in our direction, and Callum turned and bolted back up the track, wellies flopping wildly.
I decided I definitely needed to revisit the bit where I was rethinking my life choices, but that it would have to wait. I sprinted after him.
Our car was where we’d left it, pulled into a lay-by not far from the entrance to the farm track, but still far enough for cold paws and an out-of-body experience. We’d pulled into it last night when the engine had started making unhappy noises and even worse smells, and it had steadfastly refused to start ever since. Traffic had been non-existent, and our decrepit phone had no signal out here, even if we’d known a car doctor to call.
I scrambled to Callum’s shoulder as we walked, coughing pointedly when he fished his cigarettes out of his pocket and paused to light one. Other than the murderous old lady’s dilapidated house, dribbling smoke from one chimney and with a sagging, mossy roof as patchy as a shedding snake, there were no other buildings in sight. No cattle either, and no sheep, just the curling tails of old stone walls to divide the rocky fields. It was a scoured and disinterested landscape, snow coating the heather and spackling the black skeletons of stunted, wind-twisted trees, griming the tumbled rock and hard edges of the land. There was no colour anywhere I looked, the world turned two-tone under a low grey sky and the snow just making things starker rather than softening it. I couldn’t even see any birds circling to pick our bones after we died of exposure.
All of which was either the fault of the weres, the mermaids, or the sorcerer. Or possibly the troll. I hadn’t decided yet.
“What happened?” Callum asked me, once he’d sucked down a couple of lungfuls of smoke. “Was it Ms Jones?”
“As no one else seems inclined to drag me out of my skin, that’s a good guess.”
“And she still wants her dentist,” I said with a sigh.
“That’s all she said?”
“Pretty much. She threw me back pretty quickly. But apparently she can’t find him because the weres are hiding him, so we have to.” I looked at Green Snake as he poked his head out of Callum’s pocket to look at me. “So now we have to find Dental Dan as well as Gerry.”
“His name’s Malcolm. Or Walker. Not Dental Dan.”
“He should be called Pain in My Tail.”
Callum made a non-committal sound and unlocked the car so that he could pop the bonnet. It had been running perfectly when we left Whitby, but I had a feeling that was due to a little non-typical mechanical help from someone at the boarding house we’d stayed at. Evidently non-lasting help, too.
“I’m thinking about my life choices,” I told Callum, jumping to the ground.
“Are you?” he asked, without much interest. He propped the bonnet up, and poked around inside with more hope than expertise.
“I don’t want to be a PI anymore.”
He straightened up and looked at me. “Oh?”
“It’s bad for my health. Stress levels. All that sort of thing.” I inspected the soft black fur on my flanks, which was flecked with white dust. “I think I’m having an allergic reaction to it.”
“That might be from the salt water.”
“Also something I want to avoid in the future.”
“It wasn’t so bad.”
“I wouldn’t say flaky,” Callum said, leaning against the front of the car and puffing smoke into the chill air. “A bit fickle, maybe.”
I glared at him, and he grinned. The thin, keen wind rumpled his mess of copper-streaked hair and pinched my ears, and the winter sun was small and pale and ineffectual as it drifted across the edge of the sky.
“Have you fixed it yet?” I demanded.
“Would I have gone to get shot at if I could?”
“You’re not even trying.”
“Would you like a go?”
“Don’t be a parsnip. I haven’t got thumbs.” I twitched my ears at him pointedly.
“If only that was the only thing you didn’t have,” he said, and I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Shall I point out who saved you from the kraken?”
The snake in question bobbed his head, and I huffed. “Well, other than him.”
“I really am done,” I said.
“Honestly, I’d like a change myself,” he said, staring down the empty road. “It’s been a year.”
It had been a year. It had started with a simple enough job: find a stolen book. Only that had very quickly gone pumpkin-shaped – pumpkins with tentacles and teeth – when it turned out that the book was a Book of Power, the client was our sorcerer Ms Jones, and the thief was her very human Dental Dan ex-boyfriend, more technically known as Malcolm Walker. The book had tried to turn reality inside out, and I’d finally dumped it in the void that runs within all things, the Inbetween, which cats use to move from one place to another without bothering about annoying things like doors and walls and so on. That had almost got me monster munched, since the void is anything but empty, and had resulted in us being somewhat indebted to a very displeased Ms Jones, who had had a huge chunk of her power tied up in the book. Hence my being subjected to out-of-body experiences at alarmingly regular intervals.
Then there had been the outbreak of undeadness in Leeds, including Callum getting all grrr, brainzzz on us for a bit, which just took going undercover a bit too far. We’d fixed that with help from Ms Jones and Gertrude the reaper, as well as a couple of cats, one Watch, one not. The Watch being the cat council who keep the human and Folk worlds separated, and also the ones most likely to ensure I did get monster munched in the Inbetween, as they had it in for me for reasons I couldn’t quite recall, and had already fed me to the beasts at least once. As it happened, though, Claudia of the lovely mismatched eyes might’ve been Watch, but she had a slightly more lenient attitude toward me than seemed to be typical.
We’d followed the zombie hunt up with a unicorn hunt in the pocket town of Dimly, which had ended in a pitched battle in an underground warehouse against Callum’s sister and a bunch of goons, since it turned out he wasn’t quite as clueless a human as he liked to pretend. He was a North, a human family that had run the north of the country with a mix of muscle, money, and magic for centuries. He just wasn’t so keen on the whole thing. Unlike his sister.
Then more of Callum’s past had come calling, in the form of his dead bestie who turned out not to be dead, and whose magician dad, with the help of some necromancers, had tried to pull an ancient god through from another realm to basically rule the world. Well, mostly the magician wanted his son back, but the necromancers definitely wanted to rule the world. And we’d kicked that in the teeth too, which should have earned us a bit of a break, but had instead landed us dealing with hairy bloody werewolves and trying to find Walker. We’d found him, but not Ms Jones, who was currently missing along with Claudia, and then we’d had to flee Leeds before things got really dicey.
I’m not sure what scale of dicey we were using anymore. Anything less that imminent annihilation was starting to seem pretty stress-free.
Anyhow, fleeing had got us to Whitby, which should have been a quiet little backwater to recoup in, but instead mermaids had stolen Gertrude’s girlfriend; the drowned dead had stolen three other reapers and their scythes, which was unlikely to be a good thing; Callum had ended up indebted to a mermaid; a Sea Witch had got the hump and sicced a kraken on us, and I’d had to sort the whole lot out again. Well, with help. I’m exceptional, not super-cat.
And now we were meant to be on the way back to Leeds to look for a missing friend, but were instead sitting by the side of a narrow, empty road high in the North Yorkshire Moors while our old car collected little drifts of blown snow and we worked on our frostbite. I’d like to say I expected more from life, but it all felt pretty much situation normal.
“Try it again,” I said to Callum. “Maybe it just needed a rest.”
“For the whole night?” Callum looked dubiously at the engine, but ground his cigarette out in the snow and tucked the butt back into the pack before slamming the bonnet down. “And it can’t exactly have overheated in this weather.”
“Under-heated?” I suggested.
“Pretty sure that’s not an issue for engines.”
“Is for me,” I said, jumping past him into the driver’s seat then across to the passenger side. Callum swung in after me, tucking his long old coat around him. It still smelled faintly of seaweed, and I really wished we’d been able to leave it with the mermaid. He patted the dashboard encouragingly, pulled at a knob, pumped a couple of peddles, then tried the key again. The engine hiccoughed and gave the groan of a dying buffalo.
“Don’t think it was rest it needed,” he said.
“Call the AA?”
He gave me an amused look. “Gobs, we can barely keep fuel in it. How d’you think we can afford AA?”
“I thought it was like a charity thing. You know, meet in church basements then go and tow cars as penance or something.”
He snorted. “Different AA. We need the Automobile Association, not the one you’re thinking of. And the car AA definitely charges.”
“Could we try the other one then? Since they tow cars anyway?”
“They don’t have anything to do with cars.”
“That’s very misleading.”
He started to say something, then shook his head and took a packet of cat treats from the open front of the glovebox. “Snack?”
The dying of exposure outcome was starting to look more and more like a possibility, and despite the empty skies I was actively watching for circling vultures when a tractor appeared on the road, puffing and grumbling and jolting along the tarmac. It pulled in behind us in answer to Callum’s enthusiastic waving, and the short, muscular woman who swung out looked at me, curled under Callum’s spare jumper on the front seat with Green Snake just visible peering out of cover, then at Callum, shivering in his hoody and coat and a very bright striped scarf as he asked if we could get a lift to a bus stop or something. She grunted, pulled her wool hat tighter down over her ears, opened the car’s bonnet, clattered around for a moment, then pointed at the driver’s seat.
“I already tried,” Callum started, turning the key, and the car bellowed into life with something like alarm, as if it had already resigned itself to a cold death and wasn’t sure about being revived so unceremoniously.
The woman clattered something else, making the car rev and belch black smoke, then slammed the bonnet, nodded at Callum, nodded at me, and retreated into the enclosed cab of the tractor. A snatch of rousing opera drifted out as she opened the door, then was cut off as she closed it after her. A moment later she was rumbling away down the road again, not looking back.
Callum revved the engine cautiously, then wrestled the car into gear and pulled back out onto the empty road.
“Are there car magicians?” I asked, as the heater started to dribble marginally above-freezing air. “Because I think she was a car magician.”
“Possibly,” Callum agreed. He was hunched over the wheel as if he suspected the engine might fail if he relaxed for an instant.
“Much better than the AA.”
“Cheaper, too,” he said.
“I still think we should have tried the church basement one. I mean, it’d be a challenge for them, right?”
“You’re a challenge for anyone,” he said, more to himself than to me, and I decided to take it as a compliment. My nose was still too cold for arguing.
The car kept going, although Callum was so anxious about it that we almost ran out of fuel before he finally stopped. Which wasn’t that different from our usual situation, to be honest, but this time it was due to lack of confidence in the car restarting rather than our normal lack of funds. Being pirate ship crew in Whitby had been surprisingly lucrative by our standards – at least until the boat sank. Tips had been good and accommodation provided, and other than the mermaids and hungry kraken, it had been a good job. It was amazing how often the PI trade paid in gnome-made fungi drizzle scones or pixie-crafted carnivorous pens, none of which exactly paid the rent.
Callum rushed out of the garage and back to the car with a takeaway cup of tepid tea in one hand and a couple of promisingly greasy paper bags in the other. He wedged the cup between the seats, dumped the paper bags unceremoniously on top of Green Snake and myself, and grabbed the key, looking at me.
“At least we’re at a garage,” I said. “Seems like a good place to break down.”
He gave a small nod, closed his eyes, and turned the key. The car grumbled into life with a few less coughs and splutters than usual, and we looked at each other.
“Car magician,” I said, and we pulled back onto the road, seeking out the quieter routes down toward Leeds as the wide bleak expanses of the moors crumbled to tame fields and old stone towns, then to the scraped swathes of subdivisions and industrial estates and the endless sprawl of the cities, resolutely, furiously human.
I thought it would feel safer than the hostile expanse of moors and the press of the endless, hungry sea behind us, but it didn’t.
There were too many things waiting for us in Leeds, and most of them had teeth.
Lovely people, I hope you enjoyed that sneak peek at A Collision of Catastrophes. There’ll be another chapter next week, just in case you’d like another taster of the trouble brewing in the north!
Now tell me, lovely people – have you ever had a vehicle breakdown somewhere completely inconvenient? How did you manage? Let me know in the comments!
I have had numerous boat-based breakdowns that had to be hidden from paying guests, with varying degrees of success. But it’s amazing what you can get away with if you supply enough fruity rum drinks … 😉