'Our archivists are quite certain these were not there before. They've appeared in the past few days.'
Ms Darben, Head of the Department of Historical Disturbance, looked at both of the recently discovered copies of Fairies Hate You. They were similar to the other they'd located: a single sheet of paper, typed, copied, and distributed as a rudimentary fanzine, detailing Rainith's feelings about the gigs she'd been going to while trapped in the 60s.
'Still wishing violent death on almost everyone.'
Agent Glade nodded. From the evidence of her fanzine, Rainith's views on 60s music had not mellowed. The paper was made up of one vitriolic review after another.
'If Rainith had her way, British motorways would have been strewn with the mangled bodies of innocent young musicians.' Ms Darben raised her eyebrows. 'Who were Ten Years After?'
Agent Duluth didn't know.
'Whoever they were, I'm sure they didn't deserve to be run over by a giant lorry carrying concrete, and ground into paste on the road. If she hated all these bands so much, why did she keep going to gigs? Or why does she keep going to gigs?'
With the travel that now existed between the present and certain periods in history, it was difficult to think of Rainith existing entirely in the past. For Ms Darben, and the others in the department, more than one time period now seemed to be happening at once.
'She's trying to meet up with Fourteen Trees, I suppose. They don't seem able to communicate directly.'
Ms Darben's computer was open at a page on a Beatles website, an eyewitness account of the opening of the Beatles Shop in 1967. She had been refreshing the page occasionally, to see if it might have changed. She fervently hoped that it wouldn't, but Nakishdan and Mixt had been sent back there, and something might happen.
'Are we going to talk to this other fairy?' asked Duluth.
'I haven't made up my mind. What do you think?'
A fairy called Sowena, claiming to be a friend of Rainith's, had contacted the department, offering help. None of the people in the department had met any other fairies apart from Rainith. No one had, for more than fifty years. Contact was very infrequent, and would have remained so had Rainith not been banished by the Fairy King, and subsequently become involved in their present troubles.
'I don't think it's a good idea. The less people that are involved in this, the better.'
'She might be a more stable character than Rainith. And she might be able to make the journey back in time. Though, as you say, that might not be a good idea. I have a bad feeling about the current mission. Where is Agent Glade? Shouldn't he be here by now?'
Glade had not turned up at headquarters, nor had he contacted them to explain his absence.
'It's the day after his normal visit to the woman in Lewisham,' said Agent Duluth.
'The woman in Lewisham? You make her sound quite sinister.'
'Sorry. I couldn't remember her name.'
'Lydia,' said Ms Darben, who never forgot names. 'Lydia the bank clerk. Promoted recently, I see. She's on her way to branch manager.'
Ms Darben had a photo of Lydia in her files, part of Agent Glade's personnel records. Ms Darben liked to know details of her staff's activities. Lydia seemed like an attractive young woman. Intelligent too, and ambitious. Ms Darben could not quite imagine why she enjoyed being whipped by Glade, though that was the nature of their relationship, initiated on a fetish dating website.
'Perhaps enjoy is the wrong word,' she mused. 'I suppose it's her business anyway.' It troubled her slightly that she didn't quite understand the nature of Lydia's attraction to Glade. Agent Glade was a borderline alcoholic these days, frequently depressed, and not much to look at, as far as Ms Darben could see.
'This other fairy is a princess.' Agent Duluth interrupted her thoughts.
'How does she know Rainith?'
'They were childhood friends. Rainith was quite respectably born. Before she… went off course.'
'And killed the Elvish fencing master?'
'Does this fairy princess have violent tendencies too?'
'Not as far as I know,' said Duluth. 'I remember Rainith described her as very peaceable.'
It was Nakishdan's business to suppress the sight of dangerous events from bystanders, using the psychic powers he'd developed as a result of his displacement in time. However, with Granyu threatening Mixt, Mathematician Girsin threatening Geeda Lala, and the terrifying winged snakes threatening eveyone, he found himself with his sword in his hand, leaping forward into combat. There was so much going on he didn't know if he'd be able to suppress it anyway. Besides, Mixt was in danger and he needed to protect her. Granyu was a huge man and he carried a huge broadsword. Even as Mixt was obliged to use her naginata to defend herself from the first flying snake, the broadsword was slicing down towards her unprotected back. Nakishdan made it there in time, parrying the blade. Granyu was taken by surprise. He glared at Nakishdan with loathing.
'Get out of my way,' he roared, though it wasn't easy to make out his words. There was a lot of screaming going on in the background as people ran from the scene, or ducked for cover under the tumbled racks of clothing that now lay over the floor. Psychedelic lighting, projected onto the walls, added to the confusion.
Nakishdan was dwarfed by the huge ancient British warrior, but stood his ground. On their left Rainith had changed into her fairy size and flew to intercept another of the snakes. Granyu aimed a tremendous blow at Nakishdan. Fearing that his own sword might shatter, Nakishdan stepped back quickly, avoiding the blow, then lunged in to attack. Granyu was fast despite his size, and avoided the thrust in turn. At that moment they were forced to break off as Rainith and another of the snakes flew between them, engaged in violent arial combat.
Mixt had dispatched the first snake she faced but now found herself confronted by the agents from 102 Woo. She fought with them vigorously, though she was aware that somewhere behind her Granyu was stalking her with his broadsword. She dispatched one of her assailants and forced another one back but the third managed to outflank her. Mixt saw the movement from the corner of her eye and flung herself out of the way before his blade struck. She avoided injury, though it had been very close. It might have gone worse had at that moment another snake not appeared from nowhere. It dived at the 102 Woo agent, causing him to retreat towards his companion, defending himself from the winged attacker.
Mathematician Girsin had so far avoided all involvement in the melee. He stood apart, examining the scene.
'This,' he muttered to himself, 'Is far more entertaining than I envisaged.' He laughed. Geeda Lala, daughter of the Director of the Research institute, really was bringing chaos to this world.
'I should probably bring it to an end. I am being paid to eradicate Geeda, after all.'
He looked down at the small screen in his hand, and tapped in a few entries. He frowned, then tapped it again. 'What?'
'Not working as well as you thought?' said Fourteen Trees, materialising by his side. The small girl looked quite triumphant at having successfully interrupted his operation. Two other girls appeared, each dressed similarly to Fourteen Trees, and each carrying a tiny, transparent screen like the one used by Girsin.
The Mathematician scowled at them. 'Shouldn't you be in school?'
'47 Jeng will go wherever necessary to protect Geeda Lala.'
At that moment Nakishdan was sent flying by a blow from Granyu's fist. He crashed into Girsin and they sprawled on the brightly coloured carpet. Mixt, temporarily free of her assailants, leapt to confront Granyu. She raised her naginata and sank into her fighting crouch.
'Now I'm going to kill you.'
Granyu laughed, and brandished his huge broadsword.
Princess Sowena flew towards the Secret Intelligence Service headquarters in Vauxhall. She flew rather warily. She'd already had an encounter with an unfriendly hawk over Battersea Park. It had dived towards her, talons outstretched, taking her completely by surprise. In the fairy kingdom of Mercia, a hawk would never have attacked a fairy. It was unheard of. Sowena had been obliged to defend herself, sending the hawk spinning away through the air, dazed from the power of her fairy defence. She felt rather offended.
'I knew London was a hostile place but I didn't expect the hawks to be so rude as to attack me.'
She wondered who the leader of the local hawk tribe might be. If she knew, she would put in a strong complaint. But perhaps the hawks in London parks didn't even have tribes, or leaders. Everything was so uncivilised here, you never knew what to expect.
The fairy princess descended, landing on top of the intelligence headquarters. She looked around for a few seconds, collecting her bearings. The Princess's senses were so acute that she could detect any human who'd ever encountered a fairy, and immediately sensed Ms Darben and Agent Duluth, both of whom had met Rainith the Red. She flew down to the third floor and entered through a small window, finding herself in a large office occupied by two people.
'Hello,' she said.
Hearing the unexpected voice behind him, Agent Duluth leapt in alarm. Ms Darben, seated at her desk, remained calm.
'You must be Princess Sowena. We've been expecting you. Though not through my office window.'
'You shouldn't just fly in here,' said Agent Duluth, who was embarrassed by the way he'd jumped in alarm. But really, it was a very secure building, and he'd never encountered an unexpected visitor before.
The fairy princess changed size, becoming human. 'I was told I might have trouble entering through the front door.'
Ms Darben studied her guest. The Princess looked younger than she'd expected. Perhaps all fairies looked young; Rainith did. She had blond hair and wore a dark blue dress which was long, floaty, and more fairy-like than anything she'd ever seen Rainith wearing.
'Please take a seat,' said the head of the department, politely.
'The King asked me to visit. I bring a message from Origath the Wise.'
The Princes paused. She noticed a feather on her dress, and brushed it off with a frown. She was still irritated by the rude behaviour of the hawk, and wondered whom she she might speak to about it.
'Origath the Wise says that if Rainith and these fools in London keep traveling around in time then the world is going to end.'
There was a brief silence.
'Those were his exact words,' added Sowena.
Agent Duluth looked at Ms Darben. 'Even the fairies know that Mixt and Nakishdan are fools.'
'Perhaps he meant us.'
They looked to the fairy for clarification.
'Origath had a great dream. He dreamed that Rainith the Red destroyed the past and the future, assisted by foolish acquaintances and foolish employers.'
'That seems to cover us all,' said Ms Darben. 'Did this Origath the Wise suggest any solution?'
'He hoped you could all start acting less foolishly.'
As Mixt and Granyu moved to engage each other, Rainith triumphantly overcame the last flying snake. it writhed in agony, sending a rack of loon pants cascading onto the floor in front of Granyu. As it died, the snake vanished. Rainith hovered beside Mixt, while Granyu glanced at the debris that now separated him from his opponent. There was a pause. Mathematician Girsin and Nakishdan picked themselves off the floor. Nakishdan leapt to Mixt's side while Girsin and the remaining agents from 102 Woo faced Fourteen Trees and her companions from 47 Jeng.
'What's that horrible music?' said Rainith, incongruously.
'The sitar player downstairs.' Mixt glanced around. 'Why are they still playing? Haven't they noticed we're fighting?'
'Maybe they've taken really a lot of drugs,' suggested Nakishdan.
It was odd, but the battle didn't seem to have disrupted proceedings in the shop as much as might have been expected.
'Did you suppress it?'
Nakishdan shook his head. He'd been too busy fighting to use his powers to hide the events from the public.
'I did.' Flavia, previously uninvolved in the affray, stepped forward.
Mixt frowned. 'Since when did you have psychic powers?'
'They developed over the years.'
'You did a really good job,' said Nakishdan.
'Much better than I'd have done, probably.' He looked towards Flavia. 'I'm Nakishdan.'
'My name is Flavia.'
'That's a nice dress your wearing. Is it Roman?'?
'Will you stop that!' Mixt exploded.
'Stop flirting with our enemy when we're in the middle of a fight.'
'I wasn't flirting! I was just being polite.'
'You always do this! First sign of an attractive girl and you forget everything else. Any minute now you'll be offering her a laser pistol.'
'I'm sure laser pistols don't exist in this time period,' protested Mathematician Girsin. 'Who are these people anyway?'
'Remnants from the past. Like me.'
'It's odd. I don't have any information on them.' Girsin frowned, and studied his screen.
'That's because your historical mathematics aren't as good as you think they are,' said Fourteen trees, who looked smug.
'Your mathematics won't stop 102 Woo from chopping your head off,' growled Girsin.
'You'll be in big trouble with the Kesh,' said Geeda Lala, coming to the defence of her friend. 'You're not meant to be back here either. You're a criminal.'
'The only reason I'm back here is because of you.'
'I like your orange suit,' said Flavia, looking at Nakishdan.
Nakishdan smiled. 'Thanks. It's modelled on George Harrison's outfit from Sgt Peppers. I had it made specially.'
'It suits you.'
Mixt seethed. 'Stop swapping compliments. How many people did you poison before you were exiled from Rome, Flavia?'
'One or two.' Flavia smiled, and didn't look as harmless as she had previously.
'To hell with all of you, whoever you are.' Granyu stepped round the pile of clothing on the floor. 'Mixt, prepare to die.'
At that moment Paul McArtney walked into the middle of the group. He looked round at the assembled combatants, many of who still brandished their weapons. He laughed.
'What's going on?'
'Now this feels a bit awkward,' muttered Mixt, though she didn't lower her blade.