Andrew didn't immediately recognize the seven diminutive men in the front doorway as leprechauns. Unlike the popular North American stereotype made famous by Lucky Charms cereal, these leprechauns were wearing red coats with either bright gold buttons, or gold embroidery in celtic knotwork, green trousers, shiny black shoes with large gold buckles and hats of various bright colors cocked to one side.
"Look for the red outfit," Jack had told him at the top of the Tree.
"You're here to help?" Andrew asked. "Did Charles, John and Jack send you?"
"Aye, they did," the leprechaun in front replied. He smiled, and then his eyes went wide, he grabbed his hat from his head and gave a deep bow. "Here I am forgettin' me manners. Finn MacChuail at your service," he announced. "Our apologies for barging in like this. We're sort of an unexpected party."
An unexpected party, Andrew thought. The opening chapter to Tolkien's Hobbit was called "An Unexpected Party" which featured a group of dwarves...but these weren't dwarves, at least not what he'd imagined dwarves to look like. Yet it was clear what their purpose was...to guide him in traveling the Tree.
"Are you my guides to travel the Tree?" Andrew asked.
Finn wrinkled his brow, as if thinking about this, and then said, "We've come to be of whatever assistance we can be. I think traveling will have to wait until we've done cleaning this lot," he gestured to the car wreckage and ruin of the shop.
"Excuse me, but travel the tree?" Lara said, jumping into the conversation. "As in climb its branches?"
"Well, that's how it starts, yes, but it leads to other places. Yer man looks like someone belted him in his dangly bits," Finn said, pointing at Blackout, who was standing at her shoulder.
"He's not my man," Lara replied. "And he's fine, he's just..."
"Concussed," Blackout finished.
"Not yer Man?" one of the other leprechauns said appreciatively. "Game on!"
"No time for a bit of slap and tickle Jimmy," Finn said. "Besides, she's too tall for ye."
"Never stopped me before," Jimmy said sulkily.
"Amputation wouldn't stop ye," Finn replied. "Let's set to work boys! Coll! Grab Brady and get this car out of here. Jimmy - you and Hoyt get rid of that pile of chum on the pavement there! Ryan and Culley, fix the window. Let's move!"
The small men moved with alarming speed; even as Finn jumped down from the trunk of Blackout's ruined car, Coll and his team were lifting it out of the shop and carrying it away down the street. In the distance, Blackout could hear the sound of approaching sirens.
"Where are they taking my car?" Blackout asked.
"Down the street a ways. Probably drop it in an alley. Don't worry, they'll make sure there isn't anything linking you to the wreck. File off the serial number, get rid of the plates, all of that." Behind him Ryan and Brady were rapidly gathering up the broken pieces of glass and putting them back together like an insanely difficult jigsaw puzzle.
"You said you can to travel the tree," Lara interrupted. "How exactly are you going to do that? And...where will you end up?"
"Well, normally we leprechaun travel by rainbow," Finn explained, sitting down at one of the tables. His companions followed suite, putting their feet up on the assorted debris and chairs. "But there isn't exactly what you'd be callin' an abundance of rain this time of year in these parts."
"Wait." Ripper said, running a hand down his face, squeezing it enough that as his hand slid past his eyes, he pulled all the skin down. "You're supposed to be leprechauns? St. Patrick's day isn't for another two weeks."
The leprechauns all looked at each other. "Look here Boyo," Finn said, leaning forward with an air of seriousness. "We aren't supposed to be anything. We are what we are. And what we are...is leprechaun."
Ripper laughed and let go of his face. The bottoms of his eyelids slowly moved back into place. "First a golem and a succubus, and now leprechauns. What next, the Easter bunny?"
"That's actually why we're here," Finn said. "We've been hired by her husband to find her and bring her back."
"You've been..." Ripper couldn't finish the sentence.
"Hired by Dieter Rabbit to get his wife Eostre back," Finn said. "Those little bastards at the 'Pole thought it would be clever to go and kidnap the girl and hold her ransom. An extra long winter doesn't bother them none."
"The bastards at the Pole being...?" Once again, the sentence hung in the air.
"The elves," Finn said matter-of-factly.
"Right." Ripper smiled in a way that pulled his whole face tight. "And does Santa know about this?" Blackout could tell that her new boss was dangerously close to breaking into hysterics.
"We don't think so," Finn replied. "He's usually on vacation this time of year. Goes down to Mexico for a few months."
"There's something I don't understand," Lara said.
"Only one thing?" Ripper asked, incredulous.
Lara ignored him. She had the three fates in the basement, had just turned a succubus into ground chop, then dropped an espresso machine on a golem's head, what were a couple of Irish faeries in the mix? "You said something about an extra long winter. What does that have to do with the Easter bunny?"
"Eostre," Finn corrected. "If she and Dieter--"
"Isn't it Peter?" Ripper asked facetiously.
"Common error," Finn said. "If Dieter doesn't have Eostre all banged up before long, it'll stay winter. That's why it's so damn cold so late in the season."
"Nothing to do with air currents or our position to the sun," Ripper said under his breath.
"And you need to go and get...uh...Dieter, back from the North Pole?" Lara asked.
"You're a sight more on the nose than he is," Finn said, nodding once at Ripper. "We get her back, the rabbits do a bit of effing, and Jayney Mack! It's Spring."
"And you need the tree..." Now Lara was having trouble ending sentences.
"To get to the Pole," Finn said. "Should take about a week to get there traveling the tree," Finn said. "Then we storm the workshop and beat seven shades of shit out of those northern fairies--giving us all a bad name I'd say."
"I thought you were here to guide me in traveling the Tree," Andrew cut in.
Finn nodded. "That we are. Your three chaps knew we'd be making our way along to the Pole, and figured it was a good way of killing two birds with one stone, if you take my meaning. But we do need your permission to travel it."
Andrew hesitated a moment. "If you've been sent, then why do you need my permission?" Andrew asked.
"Because you're the door warden of this gateway to the Tree," Finn replied. "If we were entering through another gate we'd previously traveled, it wouldn't be a problem. But we need your say-so to travel through this way. And we came this way, to pick you up for the trip!"
"Is that why I've never traveled like that?" Lara asked. "I've been in the Tree's branches many times, and I've never traveled outside the shop."
"That is correct," Finn said. "You need Andrew's permission. And so do I."
Andrew nodded. "All right. You can use the Tree."
"That's the first time you've spoken of it properly," Finn observed. "Which only leaves one matter to be settled."
"The matter of payment," Finn replied. "Will ye be wanting cash, or do ye accept gold treasure?"