There was a moment of silent confusion, Kevin looking from Bret to Patricia Rossiter and back again.
"Ms. Rossiter," Bret said very formally, "We sincerely believe that Wendy is in great danger."
"In danger?" Rossiter senior replied, clearly extremely agitated, "How? Why? What's going on?"
"It's Demaz," Bret replied, "I think Wendy has got in contact with him, and is somehow mixed up in some great conspiracy."
"Him? But what's he doing that's so dangerous?" the older woman demanded, leaning forward.
"He kidnapped Tanji," Kevin interjected angrily, leaping to his feet and waving frantically in her direction and forcing her back into her seat, "Bret and I risked our lives to rescue her. Is that dangerous enough for you?"
Bret took a deep breath, signalling energetically at Kevin to simmer down. Realising that he was not, in point of fact, actually helping very much, Kevin subsided into his seat, whereupon Tanji moved closer to reassure him.
"Demaz appears to be linked to a group, some secret organisation," Bret resumed, "Who we believe are trying to force the closure of the Lyndesfarne crossing."
"Someone - we're not sure who - killed a member of the staff at NISSA, a young man who was being directed by your daughter. The dead man's body turns up in the middle of the bridge - our bridge - and, when we start and investigate, Demaz - or some of his goons - snatch Tanji here in the middle of the night."
It occurred to Kevin that, despite his earlier admonitions, Bret was getting quite steamed up too.
"The dead man turns out to be a microbial epidemiologist," Bret went on, "And we suspect he had found out that someone - possibly Demaz, or at least people associated with him - has created some kind of disease which could kill thousands - perhaps millions - of people."
Bret took another deep breath.
"And Wendy," he concluded, "Your daughter, she appears to be on her way to meet with this man."
At the end of this diatribe, Patricia Rossiter looked aghast, sitting back speechless in her chair with an expression of utter horror on her face.
Kevin, now feeling a little calmer, leant forward and asked in a quiet voice, "Has she contacted her father before?"
"She's tried to," she replied, "Many times when she was younger. But I'd thought she'd always been unsuccessful." Rossiter senior looked very serious, deep in thought.
"I'm not sure," she said after a while, "But I think they have in fact been in contact, had some kind of communication."
Kevin could not be sure, but he got the impression that the communication was through the medium of the magic slates that had so confused him on first acquaintance, and that Wendy and Demaz had been corresponding for weeks, perhaps months.
"But I don't think they've met," Patricia Rossiter continued, "Or at least I didn't. Now I'm not just sure..." She tailed off.
"So you think that Wendy has managed to track down her father somehow?" Bret interjected, also having regained some of his equilibrium.
The older woman nodded in response. Bret looked seriously at her.
"So, now she's headed off into the Other World to confront the man? And probably knowing rather little about him," he continued, "Perhaps even having been fed untruths?"
Patricia Rossiter sat stock-still for a few minutes, apparently digesting all she had been told. Abruptly, she turned to Kevin, who was still leaning forward earnestly in his seat.
"Please find my daughter," she begged, a sudden note of pleading in her voice.
"We will, I promise," Kevin promised, "But you will have to help us too."
"We want to help," he said earnestly, "Is here anything that Wendy might have said, even a throwaway comment or gossipy remark, which might give us some idea of where she is?"
He paused then added, "Perhaps a mention of somewhere, anywhere, where she has been recently?"
"Well, there was something," she replied slowly, "Wendy did go somewhere. She said for a break - just to relax, or at least be distracted for awhile. I thought it was good - I thought she needed to get away. She was looking tired and careworn."
She paused, and then added, "She went to..."
Patricia Rossiter then said a word which Kevin thought he recognised, in the way he so often did when a Lyndesfarne name was mentioned in his hearing: the impression that he was not entirely sure that he had heard correctly but, at the same time, a visceral feeling that he ought to remember what it meant.
It was very clear that Tanji recognised it too, judging by the way she reacted when Rossiter senior had spoken. After a few seconds frantic thought, Kevin realised that it was the place in the world of Lyndesfarne that he and Tanji had visited as dragon-watching tourists.
Bret said something to Tanji in, unusually, the language of Lyndesfarne, the words coming too fast for Kevin to follow. Tanji answered immediately in the affirmative, as far as Kevin could tell. He then turned to Kevin.
"You've been there," he demanded, "Do you remember what it was like?"
"Well, yes," Kevin replied immediately, although he realised he sounded very slightly unconvincing even to his own ears. He took a deep breath and tried to assemble his recollections into some kind of coherent expression.
"It's a desert, or nearly so," he began, "An area of dry canyons, low brush and some wooded areas. Apparently the dragons like it, because it is..."
"Dragons?" Bret interjected.
"Yes." Kevin had assumed that Bret knew this was a reserve for the flying lizards he had become so fascinated with.
"Tanji and I visited there, to watch the dragons," he explained.
"So people rarely go there?" the other man demanded.
"I guess so," Kevin replied, glancing at Tanji, who nodded vigorously.
"So it would be a good place to hide?" Bret added slowly, eyes narrowed.
Before Kevin could answer, Tanji said, "There are caves all over the place. Often in places that would be difficult to access."
"So we might just be able to track down Demaz - and Wendy," he added, turning to acknowledge Rossiter senior in a reassuring way.
A few frantic minutes later, Kevin, Bret and Tanji were in the back seat of the chauffeur-driven Range Rover, travelling at a very fair speed along the narrow hedged lanes towards the crossing, and followed closely by Sergeant Graves and the other Guardians in the second car.
They had rapidly said their goodbyes to Patricia Rossiter, Kevin repeating his assurances that they would do everything possible to track down her daughter. As they sped towards the causeway, he ruminated that, while he had not particularly warmed to Wendy Rossiter during their brief acquaintance at NISSA, even so, it seemed he had committed them to a course of action he would never have anticipated.
Bret sat in the front seat, next to the driver, and spoke into his mobile phone - something he had been doing more-or-less continuously since they had left Patricia Rossiter's cottage. He gave the impression of being urgent and animated, but spoke in such a low voice that Kevin could not hear what was being said.
Eventually, Bret put his mobile phone back in his pocket and twisted in his seat to address Kevin and Tanji.
"Time is of the essence," he said earnestly, looking from one to the other, "Wendy's definitely crossed over to the Other World, using the Old Bridge. No-one paid very much attention at the time and there's no trace of where she might have gone after that."
Tanji stirred uncomfortably.
"Have you considered using a..." she hesitated, then used a phrase in the Lyndesfarne language that Kevin did not recognise.
"A Finder?" Bret said, looking thoughtful, "Well, as it happens, my friends in the Guardians on the other side did try that a few moments ago."
"And?" she pressed.
Bret smiled and shrugged.
"The results appear to be vague and confusing," he said, "Perhaps she is using some magic which is obfuscating her location or, more likely, no-one knows enough about her, about her appearance, to make the Finder work properly."
He paused, then continued slowly.
"So, all we can do it to follow the suggestion from Wendy's mother and explore the Dragon Country. Once we're there, we can try out a Finder - I've already asked for one to be released to me. I should be able to collect it when we get over the crossing."
Bret paused, again looking deadly serious, then returned his attention to the back seat passengers.
"It's vital that we track down Demaz, and find out what he knows," he said, "I have a feeling that Demaz is a key link - perhaps our only chance of finding out what is really going on, and whoever is behind it."
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