Darkness threatened. It had been a cloudy day, with little light to be seen through the grey, massing clouds with their sinister pointing fingers; but now real darkness approached, of a kind that covered all and let nothing breathe. It was silent and cold, and left lingering trails of damp along all that it touched. Mists of steam rose through the close air, and drifted lazily about above the living. But there were some that night who did not breathe white mists. Their breath, if indeed they breathed at all, went unseen; invisible in the darkness of which they were so surely a part.
It was with a sense of laziness that these creatures seemed to hold onto their existence; a sense that life was too much strain to be bothered with and had been cast aside. Deprived of it they had become something else; something less than living, less than warm, less than caring. Theirs was a reality of drifting, of moving with the wind, spreading a listless chill wherever they went. Hearts ceased to beat when these creatures bade them; oxygen turned to carbon monoxide in the lungs. Their long, white fingers waved in the air as they walked, searching for warmth to sustain them; but all was ice in their path, and everywhere was darkness. They did not care. To care was to live, and to live was to care. It was all a part of warmth, and exacting existence; something from which they had hidden long ago, and of which they no longer wished any part.
"Time whispers." The first of the creatures, tall and once clearly a man, turned his head slightly to stare into the mists drifting uselessly above him. "All falls into place as it was written."
"As it must be." The figure beside him, that of something which had once been female, pushed back the heavy black hood that hid her face, and stared into the oncoming fog. Her blood red lips were the only marks of colour in her whole form, for her skin was as ghostly white as her long, claw-like hands, and her eyes were empty and grey. Even her hair seemed colourless, faded by the years and the empty existence. "We must be fed."
"And so we shall be." The man turned to face her, raising one of his hands to take hers. She gave it gladly, and their fingers intertwined together, their bodies shuddering at the suddenness of the cold that filled them both.
"How long?" Another of the creatures, for there were four in total, stepped forward. He, like the leader, was a male; or what had once been so. His face was thin and gaunt, his eyes sunken deeply into a greying face, his cheeks hollow. He was a nightmarish figure, more so even than his three companions, and he hugged his thick black cloak around his body as though scared of the cold which was so much a part of them all. "I am weak. I need sustenance."
"You shall have it." The leader let go of the female's hand, turning about once more to face the road ahead. "Time whispers, and there is not enough of it left for our usual feasting. But there are Six. Three shall give us the strength of Twenty. Three more will give us all that we have waited for. Our exultation draws near."
"You had better be right. The prophecies had better be right." The third figure pushed past, striding into the lead on legs so thin they seemed barely strong enough to bear his weight. Perhaps he did not have a weight; there certainly did not seem to be anything of the corporeal about his emaciated form. Despite his apparent frailty his steps grew faster, carrying him far into the lead and towards the sluggish, dreary water of the Thames. There was nobody in sight as he stepped off the walkway beside the river, walking in mid-air above the grey and murky swirl. The mists swallowed him as he reached the middle of the water, and by the time they had cleared he had gone. There was no longer any trace of him. Left behind, his three ghostly companions stepped after him, walking likewise on the emptiness above the river. Just as their colleague, as they reached the middle of the flow, they were consumed by the chilled grey mass of the mist. It lifted slowly, clearly unwilling to relinquish its hold upon the world beneath it, but when it had gone it left no indication that the foursome had ever stepped that way. All that remained was a single patch of ice that floated down river, its surface rippled and cracked as though marred by the scuffing of booted feet. And as the morning sun rose slowly above the concrete horizon, the ice itself melted, and all was bathed in new warmth; but there was something cold beneath the sun, and even though it was now dawn, the birds did not sing.
"Hey Ripper." Sauntering into the lounge with a look of uncommon brightness about him, Ethan Rayne threw himself into the nearest easy chair and slung his feet up on the coffee table. It was faced with glass, but somehow managed to put up with the strain of so many pairs of shoes constantly assaulting it.
"I told you not to call me that." Rupert Giles, his attention firmly riveted on the book in his lap, did not look up. Ethan laughed.
"It suits you. Don't you think it suits him, Deirdre?"
"Of course it does." Deirdre Page, an attractive yet oddly forbidding young woman in her early twenties, was sitting cross-legged on a low table several feet away. An open book lay on her lap, and she was making strange motions with her hands. Her hair moved softly in a non-existent wind.
"It does not suit me. It lacks style. It has no... no finesse." Abandoning his attempts to concentrate, Giles threw the book aside, tipping his head back so that he could languish at his ease. "I don't want to be named after some dead guy."
"But what a dead guy!" Ethan got to his feet, leaning over the back of Giles' chair. "Besides, that's not where the name comes from. Don't pretend you don't know, man. I mean, you were there." He giggled. "Like, where else would you have been? Hey Deirdre, sister, you shoulda been there."
"Yeah, so everybody keeps telling me; but I was somewhere else, okay? I can't help that." She closed her spell book with a snap. "It's not like I've never seen you lot in a fight before."
"But this was something else." Shaking his head, Ethan knocked Giles' legs off the arm of the chair so that he could sit there in their place. "There were seventeen of them. Seventeen. I thought I was doing well getting three of them on the floor, but then I turn around and Giles has got his flick-knife out, and man. It was, like, wow. You know? Blood and gunk all over the floor, and they were crying. Big guys, like six feet tall. Coulda played rugby for England. They were on their knees."
"Yeah, I know. You've told me a hundred times since yesterday." Deirdre unfolded her crossed legs and stood up, waving the spell book at her two friends. "And it's not even like it's the first time. There was that pair of kids who tried to take my bag last weekend. They wound up in casualty having their faces stitched back up; and that drunk last month..."
"What's your point, man?" Looking up at her from his slouched position in the chair, Giles frowned. "You have a problem?"
"I just want you to make a choice, Giles. Magic or fists, which is going to be? You can't have it both ways." She brandished her spell book a little more violently in his direction. "When we got together, we made a vow to use our knowledge and our skills to get where we wanted to be, right? We agreed that we were going to use our magic and your knowledge of the dark ways to really do something. Seems to me that just lately you're more interested in beating people up than in increasing your knowledge. You used to do three or four hours of research a day, and now look at you. This is the first time I've seen you with a book in a fortnight. What is it? The Playboy Annual?"
"You're way out of line." He was on his feet in seconds, his face showing his anger. She laughed.
"Yeah, sure. Of course I'm out of line. I mean, far be it for me to criticise you, right? You never do anything wrong. You're the great Giles. The Ripper. The guy everybody else is afraid of. Well I'm not afraid of you. Why should I be? You wanted style, finesse. Just take a look at yourself. Where's the style, hey Ripper? Where's the finesse? You're just a thug." She walked to the door, throwing her book onto the bureau nearby as she did so. "Get back to me when you make your mind up."
"Deirdre!" He followed her to the door, but by the time that he was there she had already gone. The front door swung open in the sudden cold breeze, and he kicked it shut, watching the shudders that raced up and down the frame. "Damn it."
"Don't sweat it, man. I don't know what came over her." Ethan was beside him again, shaking his head in confusion. "Boy, she can sure blow a fuse when she wants to."
"That wasn't a fuse blowing. That was everything." Giles wandered back into the lounge, picking up the discarded spell book and staring morosely at the front cover. "It's like something is coming between us. I nearly bashed Philip last night. I mean, where did that come from? All he did was ask me to close the window."
"I don't know, man." Ethan slung an arm across his friend's shoulders. "I think it's this wind. It's getting to us - like it gets into everything. Comes out of nowhere. We're heading well into winter now, and I guess this old place isn't as weatherproof as it could be."
"Yeah, I suppose you're right. It does get kinda cold around here lately." Giles shivered, and as if in answer another gust of the periodic wind ran through the room, chasing itself about the pair and disappearing almost as soon as it had come. It was bitingly cold, sinking through their clothes before they were even aware of its touch, chilling them in just that fleeting moment of its existence. Then it was gone again. Ethan shuddered in response to its breath, rubbing his arms.
"Damn it that's cold. I swear, man, that wind could freeze anything."
"Or anyone." They left together by sudden, unspoken agreement, heading out of the house and towards the shops which lay beyond their sight. Behind them the house stood empty and still, but the gusts of icy wind still chased each other through its draughty corridors. They grew in intensity as the hours passed, and in the fireplace the flames slowed to a halt. Soon the fire was gone and a row of icicles hung in the chimney, ignoring the still smouldering ashes which lay beneath them. The red coals shifted slowly, and one by one their glowing shells faded. Soon there was nothing left of the fire but a pile of ice crystals, sending plumes of lazy mist drifting towards the ceiling; but despite the cold there were four figures crouched beside the fireplace, their long white fingers stretched out as though to grasp at the vanished heat.
Detective Chief Inspector Harold Wilkes closed the book which lay on the desk before him, and rubbed his eyes with his right hand. It was stained with the ink from his leaky biro, but the stains had dried hours before and were no longer in danger of imprinting themselves onto his face. The pen itself lay by his elbow, catching the light in sudden patterns which picked out its octagonal shape, throwing it in huge format on the far wall. A single rainbow spread itself across the face of the queen, hanging in her place directly opposite the door, and he watched it for a while. It was so perfect, so bright. So normal. For thousands of years, people had marvelled at the colours that exploded from broken light, and they would continue to be entranced by such things for many generations to come. It was one of life's little certainties. He reached out for the pen, knocking it gently to set the rainbow dancing, then almost voiced his disappointment aloud as the patterns of light shifted, and the rainbow blinked out of existence. The walls were grey once again.
"You need to take a break..." He whispered the words aloud, although he remained forever unsure if he had heard them, or had just thought them to himself. Either way they brought a smile to his lips. He had needed a break for a month, but he had not taken one. He had not had an unbroken night since the episode in the deserted house on Bishop Street, when he had seen an apparently unmanned crane destroy a house full of people. He remembered the icy breath which had tickled the back of his neck; remembered the feeling that somebody was stroking the back of his hand. More than anything else, he remembered the ghostly figures dressed in black that he had seen standing behind Ethan Rayne and Rupert Giles. They were cocky, those two. They were certain of themselves, and detached from the rest of the world to the point of psychosis; but he was sure that they had not seen those four figures. Whatever they were, the two boys did not know about them. Wilkes wished fervently that he didn't either.
"Damn coffee's cold." He took a mouthful of the stuff, and grimaced at the sensation of it touching his mouth. He hated cold coffee; especially as made by Tony Gardner, his latest CID trainee. The kid put way too much sugar in, and it never dissolved properly, leaving a coating of hard, grimy grains around the bottom of the mug. They showed themselves fully when the liquid was cold, and he stared down at it now, wondering if he had ever seen anything less appetising. The truth was, it was still better than anything that the canteen could manage; and as for the vending machines... His mouth twisted in displeasure at the mere thought of the murky brown liquid that came out of that particular wonder of modern technology. He abandoned the coffee and reached instead for the pile of roughly-cut sandwiches lying on the desk. The top one seemed to have tuna fish in it, although to be honest he wasn't sure. The science lab might have other ideas; he was reserving his judgement. He tried one from lower down the pile, and discovered that it was cheese. It had the consistency of plastic, but it was recognisably a dairy product. He had his doubts about the health of the cow though.
He took a bite, leaning back over the books spread over much of the top of his desk. With food in his hand he felt more fully awake, and therefore better able to tackle the vast weight of reading material. Dust drifted in plumes from the pages of many of the volumes, but it only improved the flavour of the cheese in his sandwich, and he carried on turning the pages. Faded type went past his eyes, all the pages looking alike. Pictures caught his eye, but none of them meant anything. A sound outside his office caught his attention for a second and he looked up, determined that none of his colleagues should catch him reading such books as these; but the sound passed by and he returned his eyes to the musty old pages. He had ceased to flick through them when the sound had alerted him, and the book lay open on the middle page.
"Well what do we have here?" He bent closer to the book, staring at the mass of tiny words and blurred illustrations. This section of the book seemed more faded than the rest, and the pages looked scarred, as though by fire. He could still read the words though, despite the damage, and he could still pick out the details of the picture now mere inches from his face. Four figures, standing in a line. They were dressed in black, their cloaks drawn about them as though to protect them from the cold, their faces drawn and gaunt. He recognised them, despite the basic style of the drawing. They were faces that he would never forget. He turned his eyes to the words beneath the picture and read them aloud, letting his tongue dwell on each syllable. "The Order of the Black Heart... Responsible for a trail of murder and destruction leading across Europe throughout the sixteenth century, culminating in their eventual imprisonment on New Year's Eve, 1599 by the demon-hunter Claus Kinseki. The original Order is thought to have been set up by mortals wishing to study the dark ways, until the souls of the members were stolen in the fourteenth century by a demon they were trying to ensnare. After being forced to spend the next two hundred years in torment as formless beings, without strength or minds of their own, the unwitting actions of a young scholar eventually led to their inception as demons of the flesh." He rubbed his eyes again, unaware of the cold sweat beading up on his forehead, as he struggled to read a section where the print was even smaller, and as spidery as drunken handwriting. "Their powers weaken with every moment spent upon the Earth, and on a pre-ordained day which occurs every twenty years, they require the replenishment of their beings, by means of a feasting on the warmth and strength of twenty living humans..." He broke off, no longer wishing to read the words. They resounded within his mind nonetheless, telling him tales that he did not want to hear. Could he believe all this? Could he really believe that the ghostly forms of four demons were shadowing Giles and his friends? That these same creatures, imprisoned at the close of the sixteenth century by someone whose sole purpose in life was to track such beings down, had somehow resurfaced in London, in 1976? He groaned to himself. Of course he believed it. If he didn't, he wouldn't be sitting here now, alone in his office, reading through a pile of ancient books on magic and demonology, and searching for the answer to whatever question it was that he had asked himself. He thought about the strange old man who had sold him the books; a wizened fellow at some hidden stall at Kensington Market. He had seemed to know something. Wiles rubbed his eyes one last time and shut the book with a bang. Clouds of dust rose into the air, but he did not sneeze. He did not even cough. Instead he stared into the depths of the rising grime and tried to gather his thoughts into some kind of order. The order would not come. There was something, he was sure of it; something else that the books must be trying to tell him. This had to be more than just a regular twenty-year feed; but all that he could see was chaos, and all that he could think of was those four figures, standing behinds Rayne and Giles, their eyes wide open and staring. He shuddered and headed off to make some more coffee. He needed the warmth. Suddenly it was inexplicably cold in his office.
"Have I messed up, Ethan?" Turning a corner in the street, Giles and his companion reached an area strewn with people, where the confusions of conversation drowned out their own words and kept them to themselves.
"Messed up?" Ethan frowned at him. "What do you mean? Do you think you've messed up?"
"I don't know." They wandered on for several more paces, the younger man dragging his feet slightly. "It's just... you know - what Deirdre said. She's got a point. I have been neglecting our work recently."
"No you haven't. Our plan was to cause chaos; to make people notice us. I'd say you've been doing an admirable job there, pal." Ethan grinned, slapping him on the back. "It can't all be magic. I mean, I know you're not as interested in playing with this stuff the way Deirdre and I do. We can handle the real magic. You can approach this from any angle you want to."
"Maybe you're right." He sighed heavily, staring about at the people around them. Everybody that the pair passed seemed to shiver as though suddenly chilled. "I just feel like reading is too much work right now. Like something inside me would rather have violence; loads of violence; so that the fighting would never stop..." He rubbed his eyes. "I can't decide if that's really the person that I am."
"Giles, man. You have got to stop worrying so much." Ethan smiled at him, a broad, happy smile designed to impart some of its good cheer to his friend. "Look, let me buy you a drink, okay?"
"No. Thanks, but I'm not in the mood. I think I'm gonna go to the library, if that's okay with you. Do some of this research Deirdre thinks I've been missing out on." He smiled. "I'll see you later, okay?"
"Sure." Ethan looked up at the sky. It looked clear, and although it was cold, the world was dry and bright. He had a mind to find an off-license, and buy a few bottles of wine. He would wander along beside the Thames and look for girls willing to party for a few hours. He didn't want to go home on his own, for the big, draughty old house was too quiet, too still. It had never seemed that way when he had first moved in. He wondered what had happened to the strange spirits that had once seemed to wander through the corridors when all the lights were turned out. Lately it was almost as though something had scared them away.
"Hello? Anybody home?" Pushing open the front door Deirdre entered the house, peering through the doors on the ground floor to see if there was anybody about. "Come on, there must be somebody here. Randall? Philip?" Nobody answered her, and she sighed. She had been hoping that Giles at least would be home, so that she could apologise for her earlier outburst. She had no idea why she had flown so far off the handle, but her hours of walking had dulled her anger leaving her anxious for a cease fire. Just because Giles no longer wanted to spend every waking hour studying black magic didn't mean that he was any less dedicated than her. It hurt to think that she could have doubted him so easily, especially after everything that they had been through together. Morose, she wandered into the front room, and was so caught up in her thoughts that she did not at first notice the four figures crouched before the quiet fireplace. She shivered, surprised at the cold in the room, then realised that with nobody there to tend it the fire was sure to have burned low. She turned towards it and frowned. Four strangers, their hands outstretched towards the long cold coals, looked back at her, their faces showing mild interest. One of them rose to its feet, smiling at her in a way that did not seem not entirely friendly.
"Hello." Her smiling filled her face, but not her eyes. "Do you live here?"
"Yes." Deirdre frowned. "Look lady, this is my place. I'll ask the questions if it's all the same to you."
"It's not your place." The woman smirked at her. "It's owned by a millionaire - Louis Chase. Old money, inherited it in 1956. He got a notion to move to Africa about two years ago, just as if somebody put the idea into his head to get him out of the way." She shrugged. "Can't imagine who."
"What do you want?" Suspicious, Deirdre moved forward. "You cops? Or taxmen or something? 'Cause we're clean here, lady. We're all unemployed, don't owe nobody nothing. You can check out our paperwork."
"We're not cops." The woman moved away from the fire, allowing Deirdre her first look at the piles of ice which were all that remained of the flames of earlier. "We just wanted a chat."
"You want to talk with me, you've got to do something a little more exciting than freeze flames, sister. Any fool can do that." She strode forward and clicked her fingers to return the fire to normal; but found that nothing happened. Instead one of the icicles dangling from the chimney broke in half, and fell to the ground at her feet. She scowled.
"The fire froze on its own. I didn't make it happen." One of the other three strangers stepped towards Deirdre and put a hand on her arm. She felt his fingers in the same way that she would have felt the touch of ice. His mere presence seemed to burn her arm, and she gasped.
"Something very cold must have passed through the room to have made the fire freeze itself. Wouldn't you agree?" The woman smiled again, taking hold of Deirdre's other arm so that the girl could feel the full force of the intense cold that was now filling the room. "You've been studying magic, Deirdre. You've been building your knowledge and abilities. I've watched you. I've seen you turn from being a clown into a very accomplished witch. I can help you to become so much more."
"You, you know my name." The cold filling her to the point where she no longer felt it, Deirdre was not aware that the strange sound she could hear was that of her own heartbeat growing louder. It seemed to fill the room. "You really want to help me?"
"We want to help all of you. You and your friends." The woman seemed to be coming closer and closer until her face filled Deirdre's vision. Her smile swum before the girl's eyes.
"But who are you?"
"Who am I?" A distant laugh echoed through the room, as though born by a cold gust of wind. "You can call me... Rebecca. Meet my friends; Matthew, Mark and Luke."
"I - I--" The world seemed to be swirling in rapid motion, and Deirdre was no longer sure of her hearing. "I don't know--"
"Don't worry about it, dear." Rebecca passed a cold hand over the girl's forehead, and Deirdre's legs gave way. She fell to the ground, staring up at the four faces which had begun to spin about her. "Don't you worry about anything at all. It'll all become clear eventually."
"Provided that you don't die first." Deirdre tried to frown at these words, which she thought had come from one of the men; but she could not be sure even if she had really heard them. The voices of the four seemed to have faded into disjointed chatterings, more like laughter than conversation. She felt so cold - so distant. Nothing seemed to matter much, and she could not focus her mind for long enough to worry. Her consciousness slipped away.
"Number one." Rebecca laughed gently, then scooped Deirdre up in her arms and threw her onto the overstuffed settee in the corner. "I feel better already."
The house felt cold and unnaturally quiet when Philip Henry and Thomas Sutcliff returned home. They had been out casing another neighbourhood, making plans for the future robbery they had in mind. There was a particular house, the front room of which they were now certain was invisible from much of the street. The owners spent their weekends at a country retreat, and their security was minimal. It was an easy mark, as far as the two young men could see, and they were already planning how much money to demand from their fence when they delivered the goods. They were in high spirits as they stepped through the doorway of their home; but the good feelings evaporated as soon as they were over the threshold. It was bitterly cold in the building, and it did not take long for them to spy the film of ice covering the glass inside the front door.
"Bloody hell!" Philip jammed his hands into his pockets and whistled. "It's like a bleeding freezer in here. What's going on?"
"Search me." Thomas walked further into the hall, looking this way and that and trying to ignore the vast clouds of white mist that poured from his mouth. "Hello? Is there anybody home?"
"In the lounge, Thomas." It was Deirdre's voice, and both men headed towards it at once. They reached the front room at the same moment, looking in surprise at the four guests.
"What's the story, man? This whole damn place is freezing." Shoulders hunched, Thomas headed for the fireplace. He stared at the icicles clinging to the mantelpiece and frowned. "What's with you? Why no fire?"
"Don't need a fire. Our guests prefer it this way." Deirdre's voice sounded distant, although she was smiling happily. Her eyes seemed strangely bright, and her skin rather more pale than was usual. "Don't be such a killjoy, Thomas. Sit down, be cool."
"I'm bloody freezing. I don't want to sit down." He glared at the foursome. "Can I help you? Are you lost or something?"
"No Thomas. We know exactly where we are." Rebecca started towards him, and for reasons that would forever remain unclear to him he did not back away. Instead he stared deeply into her eyes, and marvelled at the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen. Her long, lustrous hair fell almost to her waist, her bright blue eyes fluttered their lids at him, her soft brown skin picked up the glow of the nearby fire which was warming him so pleasantly... He nearly frowned. Hang on; there wasn't a fire - was there? Wasn't that why he had been feeling so cold? The woman was coming nearer to him, and he could not drag his thoughts away from her. She was so beautiful; so warm and alluring. He felt himself smiling and hoped that he did not look too dopey, too infatuated.
"Thomas?" Philip started forward, frowning at the woman in the centre of the room. As far as he could see, she was throwing herself at his friend, but through the jealousy and the amusement there was something else. For a brief moment he thought that he saw her face change. For just the most fleeting of seconds, he was sure that he had seen her smile fade, and her skin turn grey beneath the healthy glow. He thought that he saw the gaunt and emaciated face of something decidedly unpleasant, and yet - and yet she was smiling at him too now, and the last of that dreadful cold was fading away from his body. He felt so warm, so relaxed. He knew that he was grinning, but he wasn't sure why.
"This is Rebecca." He could hear Deirdre's voice now, drifting to him as though blown by some languorous summer breeze. "And these are Matthew, Mark and Luke."
"Mmm." Thomas nodded at her, uncaring. All that he was interested in was Rebecca's smile. So wrapped in her was he that he did not even notice when he lost consciousness, and the world fell away beneath him.
The library was almost deserted, which was hardly surprising given the time. Giles went to his favourite place, a small niche where nobody else ever ventured, where the shelves were covered with inches of dust and the books were written in a variety of languages most normal people did not know how to read. The books were harmless for the most part, but to anybody who knew what they were looking for - and who really knew what to do with it when it was found - there was all manner of forbidden knowledge and many a dark secret hidden in this strange corner. The light was bad and the silence almost disturbing, but Giles felt strangely at home there. He had spent so much of his early life lost in his father's vast library, and the world of ancient tomes and unreadable prose was the foundation stone upon which many of his memories were built. There was something about a musty old book that meant more than he could adequately describe; not that he would ever try to explain it to anybody else. None of his friends would understand.
"Let's see what you have to tell me." He stood on a step and lifted down a large book which appeared to have been bound in calfskin. The feel of it was strange against his fingers, and he set it down on the nearby table, allowing his ready hands to run over the title page instead. It was in the old style, with huge and flamboyant letters at the start of each chapter, the other letters neatly arranged in geometrical rows of outdated print. He was halfway through the first page before he realised that the book was not written in English; but he could not for the life of him remember the name of the language he was now reading so fluently. It was faintly disturbing that he should speak a tongue and yet not know what it was called. Had the Watchers really trained him that well? All this time trying to forget them, and yet he still found himself grateful for all that they had given him. The thought of that stung.
Time passed in total silence, undisturbed by so much as a cough. Giles turned the pages slowly, enjoying the feeling of solitude and contemplation. Maybe he had been denying a part of himself when he had abandoned study in favour of so many late nights looking for trouble on the streets; and yet a part of himself bristled at that suggestion. He liked trouble, and the thought of it was almost enough to make him eager for a confrontation now. He liked the look of fear that he could bring to a man's eyes; he liked the feel of his flick-knife in his hands. It gave him a sense of accomplishment. Fighting was something that he could do; and do well. There were few others as skilled and as talented in that department as he was himself. Lately, with the spells that had once been so much fun now seeming like cheap parlour tricks, the magical life that he had once craved had drifted away. Ethan and Deirdre practised their powers, and had become talented and skilled; but there was nothing for them to experiment with. The world that they so much wanted to be a part of seemed to be ignoring them, and they could find no backdoor in. The fights - to say nothing of the bloodbaths that they usually turned into - gave him something to do besides sit around with the others and wonder when their lives were going to start getting interesting again. They had reached the limit of their magical potential, for now at least.
"Dammit!" Pushing the book away, Giles slumped in his chair. He had been hoping for something. Anything. A new spell to try that might give them something to do during the long nights. The endless sťances and experimental sessions were beginning to drag. As always in such moments, his mind drifted back to the book that he had once owned, which had been filled with promises of conjured demons and spells of thrilling intensity. But the book had been stolen, and without it his dreams stayed simmering on the back of the stove. It galled him to think that somebody else might be using that book right now, to do something that he should have been doing instead; to create the chaos that his heart yearned for, or to summon the powers that he wanted so much. Despite his frustration, at that moment he would have settled for a chance at discovering the most bland of spells or summonings hidden in this mighty tome before him. Anything that was new.
"Rupert Giles?" He looked up, surprised to hear the voice of another in his secluded little refuge. It took him several seconds to recognise the man looking down at him, and when enlightenment came he groaned.
"What do you want?"
"Rupert Giles?" Repeating the question, Wilkes, flanked by two uniformed men, sounded authoritative and precise. Giles sighed.
"You know who I am."
"Just going by the book, Mr Giles."
"Yeah, I'm sure. Listen, when you call me Mr Giles I know I'm in for trouble. What is it this time, huh? TV license? Parking tickets overdue? Or was it that mass murder and the million pound jewel heist? Damn, I knew I should have worn a mask."
"Don't get clever, Giles." Wilkes held out a piece of paper, which the younger man could see at a glance was something official. He sighed.
"A warrant? Come on, Wilkes, I haven't done anything."
"Yeah, and pigs might fly." Wilkes put the warrant away. "Rupert Giles, you have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right--"
"Forget it. I know all that junk." With surprising care, Giles picked up the book that he had been reading and returned it to its place on the shelf. "We're going to the cop shop, right? I'll come quietly officer, I swear; but don't forget I've got an old mother back home, and if I'm not there to put that extra log on her fire, she's gonna be dead by morning."
"Shut up and move it, Giles." Wilkes shoved him forward, and almost smiled in delight at the nettled look on the face of the younger man. It was clear that it would not take much to annoy Giles; and if he was provoked far enough he would walk his way into a charge that was far more convenient than the trumped up one the chief inspector had used to get the magistrate to sign his arrest warrant. Giles hesitated, looking from the detective to the two uniforms. Both men were looking as though they were ready for action. He wondered if he could take them, and imagined how pleasing it would be to slash up those stiff blue uniforms just a little. His hands played with the heavy wooden chair before him. Just one quick dodge, and he could have the whole place in chaos. Trouble was, Wilkes knew where he lived. Half of the Met did.
"Just come quietly, lad." The bigger of the uniforms stepped forward, and in the same instant Giles' green eyes blazed. How dare the overgrown bluebottle patronise him? He made a grab for the flick-knife in his jacket - and found himself looking into the barrel of an automatic pistol.
"Armed police!" The second uniformed officer was holding the gun mere inches from Giles' chest. "Put down your weapon. Now!"
"Okay, okay. Don't sweat it." He put the knife down on the table, glowering all the while. He felt like such a jerk to have been outclassed by Harold Wilkes. To think that the by-the-book detective would bring an armed colleague with him. Still, the thought improved Giles' mood a little. Clearly the Met now thought him a force to be reckoned with; and that was mildly pleasing.
"Put your hands behind your back." He did as he was told, and made no further objections as the other uniform clicked on a pair of cold metal cuffs. The feeling of notoriety that he gained as he was manhandled out of the library, with the other patrons staring on in wide-eyed wonder, improved his mood still further. Maybe cops had their uses after all.
"I don't know anything about the robberies in Kingsditch. And even if I did, I wouldn't go blabbing about it to you." Staring at the far wall, pointedly avoiding eye contact, Giles shifted his position in the chair and let out a long, impatient sigh, calculated to show just how tired he was getting of this whole issue. "Do you have any evidence to prove that I was there? Or that any of my friends were?"
"Your friends include some of the nastiest pieces of work currently in the city." Wilkes allowed his distaste to fill his voice. "I'm sure one of them was there, or knows something."
"You can't hold me for what one of my friends might know." Giles grinned at him. He was weary from the repetitive questions, and their equally repetitive answers, and his shoulders were stiff and painful from the cuffs still on his wrists; but he was beginning to feel a sense of certain triumph. "If you're very polite to me from now on, I might even skip making a complaint."
"Now you listen to me, you--"
"Hold it, sergeant." Laying a restraining hand on the arm of his associate, Wilkes pushed Detective Sergeant Martin back into his chair. "There's no good in stooping to his level, is there." He smiled at Giles, keeping his eyes gentle and soft. It annoyed him having to keep the DS in the room, for he could not ask the questions he really wanted answers to whilst his colleague was around. Procedure, however, called for two of them to be present. He considered the violent way in which Martin had just tried to act, and wondered how by-the-book the other man was likely to play things. He decided to find out.
"We're all a little tense." He smiled at both his colleague and their prisoner. "Why don't you go and fetch us some coffee, Larry. Take your time, go and check on the football scores. I'm sure we'd all like to know how the game is going."
"Sure, guv." Martin grinned, rising to his feet without needing to be asked again. He smirked at Giles. "I'll leave you to it."
"Thankyou." Coming to the conclusion that he had always disliked the DS, Wilkes watched him leave. Giles also stared after the other man, the hint of a frown showing on his forehead.
"If you've got some scheme going here, Wilkes, you can get this straight right now. I'm not confessing to anything, whatever you try."
"Shut up." Wilkes stood up, going around the table to sit on the corner beside his prisoner. "This isn't about robberies. You and me both know that your mates Henry and Sutcliff are behind those; but I'm happy to admit that I don't have a single piece of evidence to tie them to it. This is about something else."
"Like what?" There was rebellion and arrogance in the younger man's eyes despite his situation, and Wilkes smiled at the sight of it. He disliked this obnoxious reprobate, but right now he had to ignore that feeling; even though he had the other man at so much of a disadvantage. He longed to indulge in a little of the violence that Martin was expecting him to use.
"Like the Order of the Black Heart." Wilkes searched for a response, but saw none. Either Giles was more in control of his emotions than he appeared to be, or he was still in the dark about the Order.
"The Order of the Black Heart." With a deep sigh, the detective rubbed at his eyes. Even the mention of the group was enough to bring back that sensation of the deepest chill. He did not want Giles to see him shiver, even if it was just through the cold. "They're a group. Three men and a woman who were turned into demons in the fourteenth century by a - by a something, I don't know exactly what. All that matters is that this foursome are here, now. From what I've read they've been gathering their power for some time. According to the diary of Kent Jaynes, some demon hunter or - or witch burner or something, there are certain prophecies concerning the times we're in now; including this year in particular."
"This is supposed to mean something to me?" Giles leaned back in his chair, looking as arrogant as he was able in the handcuffs.
"Shut up and let me finish. The Order needs something. I - I'm a little vague as to what exactly... Probably some kind of a sacrifice. The Order is cursed, by whatever power it was that first turned them into whatever the hell it is they are. They were only granted a limited time in this dimension, and in the next few days that time runs out. They'll be sucked back into hell unless they can gather the strength they need to resist that compulsion. I don't know much about it, but it seems to involve indulging in some sort of massacre; a chaotic feast of blood and carnage. The books don't list the exact details. At the exact moment designated, the gates of hell will open to receive the four again, and if they have managed to gain the necessary powers, they'll resist the forces pulling them. The gates will be unable to close, and the forces contained within them; all the powers and the spirits and the - the evil... things - will all be able to escape into our world."
"Cool." Giles nodded, clearly impressed. "So what's this got to do with me? I mean, I'd like to claim responsibility, but I've never heard of these Black Heart cats. I never even heard of Kent Jaynes."
"But you do know all about bad magic. I've done my homework, and I know where you're at."
"Knowing about magic doesn't make me a demon." Giles grinned. "Of course, it doesn't prove I'm not either..."
"Now you listen to me!" Wilkes' reserve snapped before he was entirely aware of it, and he moved like lightning. His hand tightened around the prisoner's lapels, jerking him forward in his chair. "This is not one of your little games. The way things are going, the whole world could be in trouble. Now whatever you say, we both know that your group has certain powers, certain abilities, that make you very useful. If this Order thinks that it can use you, it will. You won't be able to resist them. They will use you as they see fit; strengthen themselves through taking your powers, your energies. They will use you to do something - some act of great violence - and that will be the trigger that could destroy the whole world. You have to listen to me!"
"I'm listening." Sounding sullen, Giles shook his head. "Man, you have got to lighten up. They're just demons, chief; nothing major. Think of a world without any light, or flowers. Where evil and chaos reign supreme. Could be kind of groovy."
Whether it was anger or just plain disgust that raged through Wilkes' brain, the detective was not entirely sure. Without warning his pulse raced and his frustrations broke loose, his last shreds of reserve snapping in a sudden burst of vicious fury that turned his face into a mask of hatred. He lashed out, catching Giles with a stunning backhand across the mouth that sent the younger man crashing over backwards, knocking him out of his chair. Rage flashed through the dark green eyes of the student magician, and he was on his feet in an instant.
"You fool!" He advanced on the chief inspector, blood running down his chin, his shirt torn where Wilkes' grip on it had been pulled free by the force of the detective's own blow. "You don't know what you're dealing with."
"And neither do you! Do you really think these people are going to have any place for you in their new order? Can you honestly believe that you'd be anything other than a slave; if you're even still alive? This isn't about rebellion, or hating the world, or whatever the hell it was that turned you onto this game in the first place. These creatures mean business. Right now they're weak. They're looking for something to sustain them. They'll take you in and they'll suck you dry. Is that the way you want to go?"
"You shouldn't have hit me." Gone was the arrogant young man, and in his place was something else. Sulky fury raged in the green eyes; outrage glowed fiercely on the strangely youthful face. Wilkes found himself looking at the man he had heard of; the one that so many stilted and unofficial stories were about. For all his intelligence and cold resolution, Rupert Giles clearly had another side to his nature; an immature and violent side that could lose control at the slightest provocation. This was the side of him that got into all those bar fights no one would talk to the police about; the part of him that liked to take people apart with his bare hands. Wiles was hard put to know which side of the kid's personality he was more cautious of.
"What are you going to do about it? Hit me?" Rising to his feet to make the most of his height, Wilkes tried staring the other man down. "You're the one in the cuffs, sonny. Now sit down."
"Make me." They were barely a foot apart now, one cool and calm, the other burning with all the heat of his unchecked fury. "Come on, copper. Be a big man. Show me what you can really do, huh? Come on..." Giles' eyes were bright and intense, a half smile lighting his face as he goaded the other man still further. "You know you want to. I can see it your eyes. Come on, copper."
"You idiot!" Wilkes struck out, no longer able to help himself. He watched, almost as though he were a spectator on the sidelines of his own life, as his fists moved. He saw one strike Giles in the stomach, felt his own distress at his actions whilst knowing that he was not going to stop, and then saw the other fist slam with all his strength into the side of the prisoner's head. Giles fell, his head striking the wall of the interrogation room, his shoulders slumping as he dropped to his knees. He looked up; and Wilkes saw the broad, menacing grin now turned towards him. He froze.
"You asked for it, copper." Giles' voice sounded drained; as though he were weak and helpless and close to collapse; but the light in his eyes denied that. For the briefest of seconds it seemed to Wilkes as though those intense eyes flashed with a sudden red glow; then everything erupted around him. He felt a fist strike his jaw - a non-existent, impossible blow that came out of nowhere. Barely had the cotton wool faded from his brain when a second blow struck him. He felt it in its solid certainty as it hit him in the face. He felt the blood running down the back of his throat and dribbling into his mouth. He felt it running in warm rivers down his face. He choked.
"Are you sorry yet?" Giles was still on the floor, weak and resting on his knees, but it seemed to Wilkes as though, momentarily, the other man was on his feet, standing in mid-air and towering over his confused victim. Another blow struck him, and another, and still his mind screamed for reality. What was hitting him? What was there in the room save for himself and a kid in handcuffs? He tried to raise his hands to protect himself, but the blows kept coming and he felt himself sinking to the ground.
"Stop it..." He hardly recognised his own voice, so weak and broken did it sound. Another blow struck him; this time something that felt like a foot, which slammed into his kidneys and brought tears to his eyes. Breath came in fiery gulps and he tried to tense himself up; to prepare himself for whatever was to come next. Nothing happened. He opened his eyes and looked about at the room; but it was just as deserted as it had been before and still the only person there save himself was Rupert Giles. The latter was grinning, his eyes alive with merciless scorn.
"Had enough, copper?" That sarcastic drawl with its cutting East End overtones filled Wilkes' ears. He blinked, focussed, and finally managed to get his breath back.
"I don't know how you did that, but I swear I--"
"Swear nothing, chief. Like anybody will believe you." Giles pushed himself to his feet. "What were you gonna tell them, huh? That I fell down a flight of stairs? Well you can say the same about yourself too, can't you. We fell down together. Except that you hit every step and I got lucky." His grin broadened and his tone of voice changed abruptly, coloured now by the mark of a threat. "I told you you'd made a big mistake trying the rough stuff with me."
"Whatever powers you have, they aren't enough to deal with the Order." With a supreme effort, Wilkes forced himself upright, making his way shakily over to his chair so that he could sit down in some form of comfort. "You think using spells to beat up a policeman is enough to help you defeat the horrors of hell?"
"What makes you think I want to defeat them?" Giles swaggered closer, insults bright in his eyes. "You don't know as much as you think you do, Wilkesy; and you never will. Whatever sacred duties this life might have shaped me for, I've renounced them all. Everything. All responsibilities, all lessons and all ties. I live for chaos, and I will do whatever I can to see that the life I choose is better than the one that was chosen for me. You can keep your Black Hearts and your prophecies of doom. When this world falls, I shall be in the vanguard. Want me to keep a place for you?"
"You fool." Wilkes pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and used it to wipe the worst of the blood from his face. "You're playing right into the hands of those prophecies. Who gives a damn whether the Order of the Black Heart succeeds or fails? With you here to do their work for them, we're doomed anyway. You're the real blackhearted one. Whatever they do, they have an excuse. They're demons; creatures of evil; but what are you except for some thug looking for glory?"
"Don't try my patience." Giles was moving towards him again, but this time Wilkes ignored him. He watched in silence, waiting and wondering if the violence was to begin again; then the younger man spun on his heel, turning to head for the door. Clearly he was certain that their conversation had come to an end. Wilkes pushed himself onto his feet once more, leaning heavily on the table for support. He looked towards Giles, and his grasping fingers gripped the large, bulky tape recorder positioned so close to where he stood. He lifted it slowly and turned about to face his prisoner. Giles still had his back to the detective, and was waiting patiently for the other man to free him. Wilkes could see that smug face in his mind's eye, and an ugly smile crossed his face. He hadn't played his last card yet. Raising the tape recorder high into the air, he brought it crashing down on Rupert Giles' head. The handcuffed man swayed momentarily, his body jerking forward from the force of the blow; then the life went out of him in a rush and he fell to the floor. Even before he was halfway down, he was deeply unconscious.
The moon was full, and it lit the streets ahead of Ethan as he staggered homeward. He dimly recalled the earlier part of the day; when he had first got the idea of buying some wine and looking for a good time; but quite when the couple of bottles that he had envisaged had become several crates, he had no idea. He thought that he had originally been planning to spend the rest of the day with a pair of girls, too; a couple of willing and interesting types, who didn't ask too many questions. Instead, as with the wine, two had become two dozen; then three dozen, then four... and before he had known quite where he was, the docks had been alive with shouting young voices and drunken carousal, and he had wound up spending much of his time demonstrating to increasingly impressed young women how he could summon flames from out of nowhere and turn one bottle of wine into two. On reflection, that might have been where his problems had started. Every time he had doubled their alcohol supply, some grateful partygoer had poured him another drink.
"Gotta find me somewhere to party... Gotta find me someplace with a lot more soul... Gotta find me some chicks to rock with... Gotta find me--" A shadowy shape, clearly as drunken as he was himself, staggered out of an alleyway and crashed into Ethan, breaking off his essentially tuneless improvisation so suddenly that he was too surprised to be annoyed.
"Hey, man! Watch where you're going, okay?" He rubbed his bleary eyes and eventually focussed on the man before him. "Hey, Randall, my man - is that you?"
"Ethan?" The other reveller stared back at him, rubbing his own drink-addled eyes. "Hey, it is you! Ethan!" He encircled the other man with his long, enthusiastic arms. "You on your own?"
"Yeah. The others are at home." Ethan managed to extricate himself from the other's embrace, and began to lead him in the direction that seemed the most likely way back to the house. "All 'cept Giles. He went to the librararary." He frowned. "Nah... He went to the - to the place with all the books."
"Oh." Randall James, the final member of Ethan's little group, nodded a little too hard for the comfort of his neck. "Cool." He yawned deeply. "I haven't been home since the night before last. Did you miss me?"
"No." Ethan matched the other's yawn with one of his own. "Didn't notice you were gone. We were all pretty hung over from that party at the Dive." He frowned. "You were there, weren't you?"
"Sure I was. I met this girl called Mary-Ann." Randall whistled, managing to giggle suggestively at the same time. "Man was she hot, brother. I swear, we've hardly stopped since..." He chuckled to himself, clearly remembering some particularly enjoyable part of the last forty-eight hours. Ethan rolled his eyes.
"I don't wanna know, pal." He slapped his friend on the back. "Come on. Let's get kicking it, huh? I'm hungry."
"You don't wanna go home if you're hungry. I'm not in the mood for way greasy sausages with six days worth of green stuff growing on them." Ethan frowned, trying to get his drunken mind to co-operate. "There's an all-night diner near here. I say we go there and grab something edible. You never know; we might get lucky."
"Do you ever think about anything except women?"
"Yeah, sure." Randall laughed to himself, somehow managing to get his fumbling hands to dig out his cigarettes and successfully coax one into his mouth. He lit the tip and blew a cloud of smoke into the chill air. "I think about lots of stuff. Marijuana. Vodka. Whisky." He giggled to himself. "Sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll."
"I'm glad you're so easy to please." Ethan smiled and allowed himself to be diverted to the nearby diner. Had he known what was awaiting him at his home, he might have been more enthusiastic about the change of plan; or maybe he would have been all the more anxious to get back there, and to be a part of all that was brewing within those ageing walls.
Deirdre lay on the settee, staring up at a whitewashed ceiling that seemed an inordinate distance above her. She could see the dust and the cobwebs that criss-crossed its ancient paint work, but they looked so far away that she was not entirely sure if she could truly see them, or if she was just imagining their presence and in reality the ceiling was clean. Maybe she was not even looking at a ceiling... Images changed places in her mind, and she could almost see clean fields of snow stretching out before her, instead of all that paint. She was lying on a blanket on the top of Cleeve Hill, looking down at all the whiteness of a recent snowfall. Everything was covered, from the distant roofs of Cheltenham to the slow moving clouds above her. A cold, fresh wind blew through her hair, and she had the distinct feeling that, if she were to let herself go, she would drift away on that very breeze; that she would fly through the cold air, above all those rooftops and the school that she hated so much. She would fly away to London, where the streets were paved with gold and all her dreams could come true... She blinked, and the ceiling came crashing back into view, once more in its proper place barely seven feet above her. Had that been a flash of memory, or just a daydream? She seemed to remember there being a snowfall once, when she had been lying on a hill somewhere... but thoughts like that belonged in another lifetime, and they were not a part of her now.
"Where am I?" Sitting up, she swung her legs around, glad to feel the solid floorboards beneath her feet. They were the only part of the room that did not seem to be spinning. She rubbed her head, and the icy touch of her hands startled her. She did not remember ever being so cold, except that day back in '67, when she had been lying on that hill watching the snow fall... She rubbed her head again, and then blew on her hands. "What's going on?"
"Why Deirdre. You're awake." The voice was soft and gentle, but when she turned her head and saw Rebecca bending over her, she no longer saw the illusions that had been in place before. Instead she saw the colourless, decrepit suggestion of humanity, with the claw-like fingers and aura of ice that was the truth behind the earlier disguise. She gasped.
"Who are you? What do you want?"
"I'm Rebecca. We discussed that earlier." The old creature smiled at her, the lines of the face suggesting that, whatever she was now, she had once been the attractive and warm person she had pretended to be for Philip and Thomas. "Just relax, my dear. Nobody is going to get hurt."
"But I feel so cold." She shivered, looking around at the same time in a sudden desire to see her two friends and make sure that they were alright. They both lay slumped in armchairs, dead to the world and as pale of colour as she knew herself to be. A small icicle hung from the forefinger of Philip's left hand. It was not alone, she saw that now. The walls were hung with larger formations; long, glistening sculptures of ice that clung to every horizontal surface that would hold them. Even the dusty bookcase filled with Giles' collection of dark knowledge; even the spell books that she and Ethan had used to learn their craft; even the ageing collection of voodoo artefacts that Randall had discovered in a trunk in the attic; all were covered with a film of ice, and carried their own collection of freezing fingers that reached towards the ground. There was no sign of a thaw.
"Welcome the cold, my dear. Embrace it." One of the men; Mark, she thought, although she could not be sure, sat down on the settee beside her, leaning close and letting one of his freezing, skeletal arms hang around her shoulders. He pulled her to him, and she felt his glacial breath on the back of her neck. "There is nothing to be afraid of in the ice and the frost."
"But I'm getting colder."
"Of course you are." He hugged her to him, but she only grew colder still. His presence, far from warming her as the touch of another might, merely seemed to draw even more of her energy from her, and to leave her feeling more weak, more delicate. She felt as though she were about to become an icicle herself; another part of the cold collection of arctic art that hung so liberally about the room.
"What do you want?" Her voice was losing its strength, and thoughts of hypothermia came to her. She was not sure why she had not succumbed already; all that she could imagine was that this chill was not like any normal one. This thought scared her further, but she could not move. Mark's touch had taken the last of her resistance from her.
"You'll see. When the others come, and we have you all, you'll see." Luke stood before her, and she saw his eyes glowing red. They no longer seemed sunken as deeply into his skull as they had been earlier; as though he had gathered some strength and some sustenance from somewhere, and was no longer as weak and as tired as he had been before. As she watched, it seemed to her that the other three were changing too. Mark's arm, supporting her shoulders, seemed to have more flesh to it; more form and more size. Rebecca's face was less hollow. They still seemed colourless and grey, and still there was nothing but ice behind their touch; but clearly they were changing in other ways. Dimly she could not help but think that she would soon run out of energy to give them; and what would happen to her then? Would she become as they were? - or as they had been? She tried to push Mark's hands away from her; to fight her way past Rebecca and Luke, and to break past Matthew who was standing beside the door. She had to rouse Philip and Thomas, and to get away; to warn Ethan and Giles and Randall. She had - she had to - she... Her mind was slipping away, and although she knew that she had to do all those things, she had long slipped away into a dead faint. Her mind went on her missions for her, but alone it was incapable of action.
Giles awoke slowly, and was considerable regret. To sleep was to lie in oblivion, in a place where pain could not reach him; but to be awake was to feel all. Something inside his head was hammering violently against his skull, as though some wild creature were imprisoned inside, and was trying to affect an escape. He opened his eyes, marvelling at the patterns of swirling lights and flashing stars that met his confused mind. It was like smoking rather too much grass, after drinking several glasses too many of homebrewed vodka.
"What the hell happened?" He tried to sit up, but his inability to do so did not surprise him too much. He was fairly sure that he was lying on the floor back home, probably suffering the after effects of yet another wild party. Ethan was probably flaked out next to him, and the room would be filled with semiconscious strangers who had been close friends the night before. Odd assortments of people who had wandered in at the promise of a party and been sucked in by all that went on within the old walls of the house. This morning nobody would be able to remember the name of anybody else; quite probably they had never even known them. It was quite likely that after the mixed assortment of unknowns had departed, neither Giles nor any of his friends would ever lay eyes on them again. That was the way that it went in partyland.
"Stay still." He thought that he recognised the voice. It was filled with authority and was well-spoken, reminding Giles rather too much of his father. He blinked in its approximate direction. His father was dead, and although that had not prevented a series of uninvited visits, Giles had not laid eyes on him since the earliest days of his relationship with Ethan Rayne.
"Where am I?" His vision was becoming more reliable now, and although he had still not managed to focus on the source of the voice, he was able to see that the walls around him were a pale shade of blue, marked with what appeared to be violet. Wallpaper undoubtedly, and certainly not the most attractive that he had ever seen. There were no rooms like that in the house that he shared with his friends. Memory began to return, and with it his anger from earlier. He remembered being arrested, and the repetitive and boring interrogation at the police station. There had been two men in the room with him; Wilkes and another policeman named Sergeant Martin. Martin had left them alone and there had been some kind of a fight... After that he remembered nothing. He wondered if the handcuffs had been removed, but his uncoordinated attempts to move his arms met with failure. His senses were still so confused that he was not altogether sure where his arms were. He did not seem able to feel them.
"You're in my study, at my house." He recognised the voice now, certain that it belonged to Wilkes. With this realisation came a flood of renewed strength and consciousness, and he managed, finally, to raise his head. Orientation returned to him with a jolt powerful enough to leave his head spinning, and he realised finally that the walls he had thought he had seen had been the sides of a couch on which he was lying. His hands were still cuffed behind him, and this time his feet were tied too. He could see the ropes around them, with a sense of detail that had been denied to him before. An off-white ceiling hung above his head, with a single light bulb covered by a plain blue shade casting a muted glow across the furniture. Books were everywhere, covering the floor, the desk, the windowsill - everywhere were hard- and soft-backed volumes, some covered in leather, some with gilt-edged pages. He itched to touch them; to turn their pages and to discover their printed words. They seemed to be calling to him.
"They didn't think it was a little bit weird, having you taking me out of the police station?" Giles managed to struggle into a sitting position, ignoring the gymnastics that his brain appeared to be attempting to perform. Wilkes gave no answer. "Look, what is this about? I've already shown you that it's not a good idea to mess with me. Do you want a little more fun?"
"Take a look about you." There was a detached tone to Wilkes' voice. Giles got the impression that the policeman had long stepped out of his depth, and was working now in the midst of powers that he was accepting out of necessity, but had no true belief in. He could no longer comprehend what was going on. The young student of darkness followed the look cast by the other's eyes, and stared at the floor surrounding the couch on which he sat. A rough chalk circle was marked out on a plain, dark blue carpet, and there were runes drawn crudely about it. Giles recognised them all, although none of them were ones that he had ever felt inclined to draw himself.
"Does it look familiar?" Smirking, the detective strolled closer. "Try to stand up, or to cast one of your spells. It won't work. As long as you remain in that circle, you're as harmless as a kitten; and so long as the runes remain outside the circle, you can't cross the chalk lines. You might as well be in a steel cage."
"Liar." Giles swung his legs around, making it to his feet despite the difficulties in standing with his legs tied. The anger was clear in his face as he stood, his muscles screaming against the steel cuffs on his wrists. "I'm going to tear you limb from limb, you--"
"Just try it." There was a broad smile on Wilkes' face. "Come on, sonny. Try it."
"You're gonna die, copper." Gathering his strength, Giles hurled himself towards the other man, feeling the muscles in his legs push him forward with all their not inconsiderable force. He thought that his eyes were closed as he leapt, but even so he saw the chalk circle beneath him as his head and shoulders crossed the line. There was a flash; a brilliant arc of light that leapt around the circle, and his body slammed into something that felt like solid glass. Sparks flew from the chalk runes and a sheet of flame leapt from the floor surrounding the circle. Frantically Giles stumbled back, falling against the couch. The fire threw leaping, dancing shadows across the walls, reaching towards him with hot fingers of flame that sucked the sweat from his forehead and threatened to singe the hair from his head. He felt the cuffs growing hot around his wrists.
"Enough." Wilkes waved a hand in the air and the flames vanished. Gone were the fierce shadows and the overpowering heat. Instead there was just the circle. "You see? There's not going to be any magic here. No spells, no illusions, no nasty little surprises - except for the ones that I choose to spring on you."
"What do you want?" There was resignation in the voice; a slow acceptance of his fate. Wilkes smiled.
"I want your help. I've read books; lots of books. But I don't know nearly enough to handle this thing on my own. That's where you come in."
"I've already told you that I know nothing about this Black Heart Order. I can't help you."
"A technicality." Wilkes was smiling unpleasantly. "You can help me because you know things. You know stuff that nobody else does. You live for all of this. Magic, madness, depravity. You can't deny that you live with these things all of the time."
"Hey, what can I say? I'm just a fun loving guy." His pride had taken a knock, but Giles still had enough arrogance to make the detective's blood boil. The lazy grin made him want to tear the obnoxious little oik to pieces. Instead he smiled back.
"Exactly. Now if you want out of that circle, you'll tell me everything you know that might be of some use. I have books here that I'm willing to bet you've never read, and that seems a fair trade-off to me. Agreed?"
"Pass them over here." At the mention of the books, Wilkes saw a light in the other's eyes that brought to mind a drug-addict in need of a fix, who had just been offered a ready-prepared syringe.
"Yeah, I agree. Anything to get out of this thing." Giles shifted position uncomfortably. "You're gonna let me out, right?"
"Yes. Much against my better judgement, and in the certain knowledge that I'm seriously going to regret it, you have my word. As soon as I'm sure that the Order of the Black Heart are not going to succeed, you're a free man." He dug a key out of his pocket and threw it to the younger man. "Here. Now that I know you can't get out of there, you might as well cut yourself loose."
"You're all heart." Giles scrabbled around for the key, which had fallen behind him, and managed to unlock the cuffs. He made short work of the ropes around his ankles, then rose to his feet.
"Okay, let's get started." All business, Wilkes turned to the piles of books on his desk and picked up two or three. "I haven't been able to read these. They're in some weird language. All symbols and no proper letters.
"Just give them here." The excitement was clear in Giles' tone, and Wilkes handed the books across to him. It pleased him to see that, whilst his own hands passed easily over the chalk circle, Giles himself hung back and made sure that he did not go near that mystical white line. The policeman could not help but wonder if he had perhaps succeeded in conquering some part of that violent heart. He wished that he could believe it were true.
"You can read them?" There was no spoken answer to his question, but Giles had sunk to the floor the moment that the volumes were in his hands. He sat cross-legged, turning the pages of the first book in slow, enthralled movements that suggested rapt attention. "I'm guessing that's a yes?" There was again no answer. With a smile that spoke of the first true hope that he had felt in several weeks, Wilkes turned back to his desk and the piles of other books. He was feeling cold again, and this time the sensation of icy wind blowing through his clothing was stronger than ever before. He ignored it and turned the heating up, but his focus on his work was so great that he did not notice that the radiator was not working. Had he been able to look inside it, he would have seen that the water was frozen solid. The ice was creeping its way along the pipes, almost as though it were alive.
Ethan swallowed the last of a huge pile of chips, and stared at the remains of his fish. He wished that he could manage to finish it, for the batter was easily the best that he had ever tasted; but he was quite convinced that one more bite would cause him to explode. He flopped back into his chair, heaving a contented sigh.
"Not bad, hey. Told you it was worth the walk." Randall yawned, a huge, cavernous stretching of his mouth that came close to cracking his jaw. "Now all we have to do is make it home. Wonder if they've left the lights on for us."
"We'll be lucky if the outside lights are even working. I swear something else falls apart everyday in that place." Stretching, Ethan climbed to his feet and threw some money onto the table. It was not often that he paid for a meal. "It's nearly midnight. I wonder if they're up to anything back home."
"Without us?" Randall sounded put out. "They couldn't. Anyway, there's nothing to do. All those spell books you've got, and all that research Giles has done, and nobody can come up with anything new. I'm getting bored of this whole game. Maybe it's time to move on."
"Split up the gang?" Ethan shook his head. "No way. Stick with it a little longer, buddy. Something's coming, I just know it. We've just got to wait a bit, that's all. Let things simmer."
"I sure hope so." They turned for the door, and had almost reached it when it opened. A tall, gangly man in his early twenties entered, brushing road dust from his leather biker's jacket. He nodded a greeting to the pair, lighting a large, home-rolled cigarette that he had taken from his shirt pocket.
"Hey guys. How's tricks?"
"Malcolm." Ethan was in the mood to be friendly, although it was not often that he felt so charitable where Malcolm Last was concerned. The man was a born loser, who was convinced that he was the coolest person on the planet. He lived for his own ego, and it was the only friend that he had.
"Hey, I'm sorry about your friend. Still, he's going to be okay, though, right?"
"Our friend?" Randall frowned. He had little patience with Malcolm, and had no idea what the fool was blathering on about. Few people ever did.
"Your friend - Giles. He was arrested earlier on. Must have been pretty rough; I mean, something heavy must have happened. My girl - she works in the civilian section - typist, you know? Well she says one of the CID guys took him to hospital. I reckon they were trying it on with him; trying to get him to confess to something, or maybe--"
"They took Giles to hospital? A cop took him?" Ethan was frowning. "Cops don't take people to hospital. Ambulances do that."
"Yeah, weird huh. My girl, she said it was real strange, 'cause Giles was out like a light, but he was still wearing handcuffs, and she reckoned the other cops didn't know anything about it. She said it looked like this guy was trying to sneak Giles out the back way. But I reckon she was imagining this, you know? She's pretty kooky." He grinned. "Still, I gotta get something to eat. I'll be seeing you around, yeah?"
"Yeah." Ethan turned back to the door, then hesitated for a moment. "Say, Malcolm?"
"What?" He turned back, pleased to have been hailed a second time. Clearly it made him feel important.
"Did your girlfriend say which cop it was?"
"Yeah. One of the higher ranking ones. Wilkes, his name is. She used to be his secretary and she knows him pretty well. Least, she used to. She says he's been acting pretty weird lately, but I think she just reads too many books. Agatha Christie, you know? She's seeing menace in her own shadow. Thinks the neighbours are enemy agents."
"Thanks." With a suddenly accelerated step, Ethan left the diner and strode outside. A row of streetlights illuminated him momentarily, but the bulbs dimmed as he walked past them, and had almost blacked out entirely by the time Randall had joined him.
"What's up man? You look like somebody just slapped you." Randall still sounded blasť, unconcerned as always by the world around him. Ethan was silent for several seconds.
"Wilkes," he said finally. "He's that cop who was hanging around before; when we had that tussle with the Ottomans. He came pretty close to catching on to what we are. I don't trust him."
"You think he's up to something?"
"Yeah." Ethan rubbed his jaw, a thoughtful frown almost hiding his eyes completely. "And I'm willing to bet that wherever it was he took Giles, it wasn't to the hospital."
"Then we'd better go find him." It was Randall's turn to frown. "Big city though, man. You got any idea where to look?"
"Yeah. Wilkes' place." Ethan smiled a hard, unpleasant smile. "It's not far from here."
"You know where he lives?"
"You bet I do. I told you, the guy's dangerous. I like to know where all my enemies live. That way, if I decide I want to do something about it, there's nothing stopping me." He glanced towards the phone box standing by the door of the diner. "I'd like to call the others first, but I don't think we have the time."
"We don't need the others, man. You and me. We can take out one lousy cop." Randall reached into his jacket, drawing out a bulky six-shot pistol with a polished wooden handle. "Easy, see?"
"Yeah, I guess." With a sudden smile, Ethan clapped his friend on the shoulder. "Come on, let's get going. It's high time somebody had a little word with that cop."
It was cold in the room. Giles had not noticed the decrease in temperature, and it was only as his breath began to mist that some awareness of the situation began to sink into his brain. He frowned, staring at the clouds of white that floated into the air about him. He shivered.
"Hey chief, it's a bit cold in here, ain't it? Can't you do something about the heating? You know, I'd kinda like the chance to raise a family someday, maybe; and you're seriously cutting down on my chances, you hear me?"
"Shut your trap." Wilkes rose to his feet, surprised at the chill that enveloped him as he did so. "Blasted heater must be on the blink." He fiddled with the controls, then slammed his hand against the master unit. "I only got the damned thing fixed last month."
"I'd ask for your money back, if I was you." Giles waved his hands in the air. "Course, if you really want to get warm, I'm a dab hand at fire starting. I could represent my country in the Olympic arson event. If somebody would let me out of this bloody thing."
"Shut up and read your book." Wilkes shivered, kicked the heater, then shivered again. "Bloody hell it's cold. I thought they said on the forecast that it was going to be getting warmer again. I mean we're not even in December yet."
"At least you can pace up and down to keep warm." Giles pulled his leather jacket tighter around his shoulders. "I move about, I'm gonna be warmer than I ever want to be."
"I told you to shut up." Slapping his arms with his hands, the detective sat back down at his desk. "Great. The coldest day in living memory, and my heating has to malfunction. Plus, just to make the day really perfect, my only companion for these cold, dark hours is the delinquent from hell. The guy who makes the Kray twins look like my little old aunt Betsy. Mr Charisma."
"There's no need to be insulting." Stretching out his legs as far as the circle would allow him, Giles rested his head on the couch. He had tried sitting on it, but had decided that sprawling on the floor was more cool, and displayed more attitude. "I could be just as complimentary about you, copper. I mean, I didn't choose to be here. I was gonna spend tonight with my friends. Shoot some pool. Drink something; maybe have a little smoke, invite some friends round. Instead I get to sit here, in a chalk circle, with a guy who makes my dad look like Mr Outgoing Fun Guy. Let me tell you something, Wilkesy. When I get out of here, I'm going to--" He broke off. "Did you hear that?"
"Don't change the subject." Wilkes advanced on him, eyes bright with rage. "You were going to threaten me, so don't stop now. Go ahead. Scare me."
"I'm serious. Shut up." Giles stood, his head cocked on one side. "I swear I just heard something. Voices."
"You're hearing voices. What is it now? Withdrawals for something?"
"Shut up! I swear, man, I am not freaking out here." Giles frowned, turning towards the pipes leading into and out of the heater. "There; the pipes. There's something in them."
"There is nothing in the heater." Striding towards the object in question, Wilkes tapped hard on the nearest pipe with his foot. "Hello? Anybody home? See, I think that illustrates my point. Now listen, you little--"
With a crash that resounded about the room and brought books crashing to the floor, the pipe burst open. Fragments of metal sprayed outwards in a shower, cracking the plaster and shattering the glass in one of the windows. The light shade on the ceiling jerked about on the end of its cord, causing the light to wobble violently and the shadows to run up and down the walls.
"What the hell...?" Wilkes turned, arms flung up to protect his face from any further onslaught of broken pipe pieces. There was a loud cracking noise, and clouds of steam began to arise from the torn section of piping. A river of ice had burst forth from the wall and was pouring into the room. He took a step towards it, peering at it in confusion. It looked like ice; and as he reached out a tentative hand he discovered that it felt like ice. It was hard and cold, and it stung his skin; yet it moved like a fluid, seeping into the room at a surprising rate. It engulfed a chair and the wood snapped, turned suddenly brittle from the decreasing temperature.
"Wow." Staring at the drama unfolding before him, Giles advanced as far as his circular prison would allow him. "Man, you put on one hell of a party, chief. I take it all back."
"Shut up!" The detective had retreated until he was almost in the circle with his prisoner. "This - this is not real. I - I mean, I mean this isn't... normal. It can't be. This is - this is--"
"Paranormal, yeah." Giles was grinning, enjoying the fear on the face of his foe. "And so cool. It's gonna get you, Wilkesy. It's gonna sweep you off your feet and turn you into cop flavour ice cream."
"You too, idiot." Turning about, Wikes reached into the circle, grabbing the younger man by the throat. "If this is something that your friends cooked up, you better call them off, or I will take you with me."
"Just try it, chief." His eyes sparking with the challenge, Giles tried to break the other man's hold. He was being pulled dangerously close to the chalk marks, and had no wish to be engulfed in the flames that he knew would spring up once more, as soon as any part of him crossed the line. The pair glared at each other, each of them smouldering in the heat of the other's rage; before a sudden splintering of glass caused them both to turn their heads. The window, already damaged by the breaking pipe, was now collapsing under the new assault hurled upon it by somebody standing outside. A huge piece of stone sailed into the room, closely followed by a flaming piece of rag. It burned fiercely for a second, leaving a large black mark on the carpet, before it was swallowed up by the encroaching ice, and the flames ceased to exist.
"You in there? Hey, Wilkes?" It was Ethan's voice, and the nearness and the clarity of it caused a grin to spread across Giles' face. He let a whoop of delight.
"Ethan? Hey, I'm in here, man!"
"Giles?" There was a momentary pause in the yelling and a face appeared in at the window, framed by the edges of broken glass. "What the hell is going on in there?"
"Rayne." Wilkes advanced on him, throwing Giles aside without further thought. "This is all your fault, damn your cocky little hide. Call your friends off, or I'll have you in court facing every charge my department can throw at you. I promise you it'll be the next century before you get out of prison."
"Me?" Ethan's expression of innocence was so complete that Giles laughed out loud. "I haven't done anything." He scrambled up, taking in the splintered pipes, the spreading ice and the chalk circle in one, easy glance. "My my. You boys have been having a fine old time in here, haven't you. And at this time of night, too." He wagged his finger at Giles. "It is long past your bedtime, young man."
"Just get me out of here." The humour sliding aside to make way for impatience, Giles was itching to be free of his prison. "Scrub out the chalk lines."
"I'm on it." Walking past Wilkes as though he did not exist, Ethan kicked out a large section of the chalking, pulling Giles through the opening. "Just what has been going on in here?"
"I don't--" Giles broke off, looking towards the window where Randall had just appeared, his hands bloodied from gripping the edges of the frame. The wild looking figure scrambled up into the room, ignoring the policeman and looking towards the other two. He rubbed at his forehead, leaving streaks of blood across his face.
"Ethan, Giles. Outside."
"What's going on?" Pushing past Wilkes just as Randall had just done, Ethan went to the window. He peered out into the street. At first glance everything appeared normal, if a little quiet; and then his eyes travelled upwards. He whistled. "Take a look at this, Giles."
"What?" Giles elbowed Wilkes out of his way, leaning out of the broken window to scan the city. It was bitterly cold outside the house, and a powerful wind was beginning to blow. He stared around at the streetlamps. All were festooned with icicles, the long, cold fingers reflecting the lights about the road as though Christmas had come early. Even as he watched, the lights began to flicker; and one by one they exploded as the cold became too great. The street was plunged into darkness. Giles tipped his head back to look up at the sky. Clouds, thick and grey, were swarming about above him, cutting off the moon and the stars. Streaks of red cut through them, painting patterns that gave the illusion of blood. The wind was blowing more strongly than ever, and the clouds started to spin. A mighty whirlpool in the skies, raging in ever tightening circles, gathered up all the light and seemed to suck it out of the world. The chill deepened. A tree branch snapped in the cold.
"We've got trouble." Squinting into the wind, Giles could not prevent a sudden shiver from taking him over. The intense cold ripped through his clothing and chilled his skin. He could feel the wind caressing him, stealing the breath from his lungs.
"What in Heaven's name-?" Finally snapping, his anger at the treatment he had received in his own house knocking aside what little of his patience remained, Wilkes stormed towards the window. He pushed the three younger men out of his way, staring out into the icy darkness that lay beyond the dubious sanctuary of his home. His face paled. "It's beginning..."
"What's beginning?" Ethan turned on him, surprised that the policeman knew something about the situation. "What's going on?"
"It's the Order of the Black Heart. Their ceremonies must be about to begin." Wilkes ran to his table, reaching it just in time to grab at one of the books before the ice overwhelmed the rest. He fumbled through the pages. All had become brittle from the cold, and several crumbled as he touched them. "Here. It's - it's a part of their energy-gathering ritual. Sucking heat from the living is a characteristic of theirs, and... here." He began to read aloud. "Every twenty years they require the living essences of twenty humans, in order to maintain their strength until the next time ... Er...Here. Their feasting causes the cold that dwells within them to break free, and to rage unchecked over all that lies nearby..."
"Yeah. All very interesting, I'm sure." Ethan took the book from him, reading quickly through the pages. "But do you think we could get somewhere a little safer before we do the lecture thing? I'm not looking to get squashed by the living glacier over there."
"It's not alive." Wilkes stared towards it. "It's weird, certainly; but it's as dead as any other piece of ice."
"It's dead, huh? Then where are all the voices coming from?" Ethan took a step closer to the ice. It had expanded so much that there was little floor left to stand on; but suddenly he was unable to re-summon that earlier desperate desire to escape. "Giles, what do you know about this?"
"Only what he told me." Standing alongside his friend, Giles reached out towards the ice. He could almost feel it vibrating, as though it were charged with some powerful living energy. "This Order... They've reached the limits of the time they were allowed on Earth. They have to return to hell tonight, unless they can collect enough energy to withstand the pull when the gates open to suck them back inside. It's all pretty cool stuff - in more ways than one."
"How do they collect this energy?" Still staring at the ice, Ethan glanced down at the book in his hands. Another page fell apart as a gust of cold wind blew across it, yet strangely he felt no real sense of fear at his predicament. Only seconds before he had been afraid, but now his worries were dimming. His whole body seemed to be relaxing. A circle of strange voices rushed through his brain, and all seemed to come from the very heart of the ice. He shivered.
"Some kind of a massacre. Large scale death; blood and all the rest of it." Giles might have been smiling; but for some reason Ethan could no longer see him. Mist covered his eyes. He took a step back away from the ice, his mind finally warning him that he had allowed it to come too close. His feet carried him back towards the window, back towards Randall. He knew with a sudden clarity that he had to get away.
"Ethan?" He heard Giles' voice and turned towards it; then realised with a jolt that he had no idea where his friend was. He frowned. He had moved... hadn't he? Away from the ice. He was now standing beside the window. He was climbing out of the window and into the street. But some part of him knew that he had not moved. He had not moved at all. He was still standing in front of the ice, still staring into its milky white depths, entranced by the voices that came from within it. It was barely an inch from his toes now.
"Ethan?" It was Randall's voice now. Ethan tried to turn towards it. He tried to make his mouth obey him, so that he could do something to get them all away from this room; this ice. He felt hands on his shoulders and was surprised to realise that it was Wilkes holding him, trying to drag him back.
"We have to get out of here!" The voice was loud and powerful, and it was filled with an intensity that Ethan instinctively knew he no longer possessed. His mind answered, but his own voice no longer belonged to him. He felt the ice touch his body and he knew that he was lost.
It was dark in the house, for the lights did not seem to be working. A fuse had gone; he dimly remembered thinking that he should replace one in the cellar, but he did not remember ever having got round to it. That had been a long time ago, back... this morning. It had been this morning. Or possibly even more recently than that. Just when had he and Giles left the house? There had been that argument with Deirdre. Or at least, he thought there had.
"Ethan?" The voice came from beside him, sounding awkward and strange. He turned his head towards it and discovered, to his surprise, that he was standing up. They all were. They were in the living room, watching a gyrating crowd of strangers of indeterminate age dancing in circles and waving their arms about. The air was thick with marijuana smoke, and the false ostrich feathers in their livery of dyed psychedelia blew gently from side to side. The heat was oppressive, and yet somehow Ethan could not help feeling cold.
"Giles?" He reached out with his hands, finding his friend in the darkness. "How the hell did we get here?"
"I don't want to know." The younger man was rubbing his hands together, obviously feeling the cold has much as Rayne himself. It was still there, beneath the new heat. "Wilkes reckoned the Order needs us to complete their rituals. Something to do with sucking souls dry. I didn't really listen to that part."
"Great. Well I'm not planning to get my soul sucked dry by anybody, demon or otherwise." The self-styled cult leader straightened his collar and his cuffs, and smoothed out his shirt. "Okay. My plan is simple. We find these Order jerks, and we rip them up. Into very, very little pieces. Tiny. Then we go party."
"Sounds good to me." Randall was toying with his handgun. "Point me at a demon. I'm feeling moody."
"Don't be stupid. You can't shoot these things." The sound of Wilkes' voice surprised them, for they had never figured him to be a part of their equation. Nevertheless, he was there. His clothes were torn, and his skin had faded to a shade even more pale than the near-whiteness it had attained back at his house. His hair seemed suddenly to be going very grey.
"So what are you planning to do, huh? Stand back and get eaten?" Rolling his eyes, Giles pulled the handgun from Randall's grasp. It fitted neatly into his hand, and he liked the feel of it. He had been feeling distinctly undressed without a weapon. "Way I see it, they brought us here for a reason, so I say let's not stand around waiting to find out what that reason was. I say seek, find, and then blow to hell. Agreed?"
"Agreed." Without further words Randall headed out into the crowd. He had got no more than a few strides before he froze. "Er... guys?"
"What?" They joined him, surprised to find him stilled so completely in the midst of a gang of overly-energetic dancers. As if in answer to their questions, the crowd parted. Instead of the merrymakers, four people now stood in a row in the centre of the room. They were dressed in long black robes, and their skin, grey and taut, matched the uniform grey lifelessness of their eyes. Even their hair was grey. One of the figures, a woman, stepped forward.
"I am Rebecca," she announced, in a voice that seemed to echo. The music of the party still blasted on around them, but somehow the group heard her clearly, as though the music no longer mattered.
"You're the head of this Order thing." Randall smirked. "If I'd known a chick was in charge, I'd have come on my own. Move aside everybody."
"Not so fast Randall. We don't know what's going on here yet." Ethan looked about. "Where are the others? Deirdre, Philip, Thomas. What have you done with them?"
"Your friends are a part of us now. We took them into ourselves." The four parted, and in their centre the three humans appeared. They were as grey as the four, and their breath moved in chilled mist. They looked cold and desperately forlorn.
"What do you want?" Moving forward, Wilkes tried to push past the three younger men, but found that he could not get close to the Order. He was being deliberately shut out of the conversation, as though he did not warrant a part in it.
"Be silent. This does not concern you." Rebecca smiled. "Although, your presence is appreciated. Every soul counts in the final sacrifice."
"You're going to kill all these people?" Ethan did not much care for the fates of all these dancing strangers. If there was anything to gain from the planned massacre, he would be in the forefront to gain it; he was interested only in the plans that these four had for his friends. "What do you need us for?"
"To guide us." Rebecca smiled at him, and he saw her face and body change. She gained colour and vitality, and a strange sort of warmth seemed to glow from within her. "We are the Order of the Black Heart. We have no form, no souls. We have no focus, save that which our powers give us. To stay on this Earth we must perform the final rite of sacrifice; but that is something that we cannot do ourselves."
"You can kill. You must be able to. The books say that you have to kill every twenty years just to stay alive." Suspicious, Ethan was watching her carefully. He was sure that she was heading closer towards him, even though he could not actually see her move.
"To kill is one thing. We suck the life energy from others, and still their breath with our touch. This ritual calls for something more." Suddenly she was standing right before him, and her hand caressed his arm, but it did not seem as cold as before.
"Don't listen to her." Wilkes was trying to make himself heard, but for some reason, whenever he opened his mouth to speak, the hammering music going on nearby swelled in volume and drowned his voice. "Don't look at her. She doesn't really look like that!"
Rebecca laughed, a low throaty laugh that made new waves of ice cold air blow through the room.
"You see what I'm asking you? To make this happen - to allow us to remain here, in this dimension - you have to do our work for us. You have to kill these people. You three. You have the strength, the knowledge and the dedication. You alone have the readiness and the need." She smiled at them all. "Yes, the need. I see it in you - in each of you. The desire for strength, and for power." She whirled aside, grasping Randall by the hand. "You. You want power. You want everybody to look up to you. You want them all to fear you, and to fall down before you. You want riches, and you want women. Am I right? What will be denied you, when you sit at the right hand of the new rulers of the Earth? And you--" She caught Giles' hand now, her long fingers pressing hard as though threatening to crush the bones. "You want knowledge. You crave knowledge. You need to know all that can be known. You want to use your skills, your powers. You want freedom. Freedom to break free from your destiny once and for all. I can give it to you. All of it. I can raise you above the world, and destroy the Watchers with one blow of my fist."
"Why us?" Giles was moved by her words, perhaps more so than he was aware himself. His hands clenched at his sides. "Why come here?"
"Because we need you. You are willing. Who else in London would be prepared to murder hundreds of people in the name of evil?" The three other members of the Order stepped forward. One grabbed Randall, holding him in a vicelike grip. "You will join us."
"Don't listen to them!" Finally managing to fight his way through, Wilkes stood now between the two groups. He looked wild and unkempt, as though his very sanity was preparing to desert him. "Think! In Heaven's name, think about what they're asking! To murder all of these people - to rip them apart in order to release untold evil into this world. If there is any shred of decency left in any of you, then--"
"Shut up." With a hard shove, Giles pushed the policeman aside. "I've had enough of you today. This doesn't concern you. You're not a part of it. This is about us. This is our chance."
"I can't believe that you're really that stupid." Wilkes lay on the floor, not bothering to climb back to his feet. He stared up at the three humans and the four demons, repulsed by the sight of the frozen figures of Deirdre, Thomas and Philip standing motionless in some horrible spell of binding. "It's not too late. You're not like them. They're evil. They'll betray you."
"If we kill them..." Ethan looked around, watching the partygoers, all of whom remained blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding so close to where they danced. "If we kill them, if we release you... how do we know that you won't just kill us? When you rule the world, you won't need us anymore."
"Trust me." Rebecca was smiling at him, and her eyes now glowed with a soft, intense blue. She was bewitchingly beautiful, her long, dark hair lustrous and thick, her smile so perfect, so captivating. He wanted to take her into his arms.
"Trust... you." He frowned. "But... you're demons."
"Yes." She reached out and took his hand. "We're the future." He felt himself relaxing into her embrace.
"And you will join us." Matthew, his large, powerful hands snatching forward, seized hold of Ethan's neck. The young man jumped in surprise, but did not struggle. Even as the grasping fingernails cut into his neck, he did nothing save gaze longingly into the eyes of the woman before him. She was holding both of his hands now, and he could feel her touch freezing him. Still he did not try to break free.
"Ethan..." Giles stepped forward, strangely frightened by the blood on his friend's throat. Strong hands gripped him, and he realised too late that the third male demon had come at him from behind. He felt the clawed fingers digging into his arms. He saw his own blood. He watched, detached, as it dripped in two large drops onto the floor. The drops struck the floorboards and broke apart. A thousand tiny droplets rained out across the wood. He thought that he heard them scream.
"Don't fight it, Rupert." He looked up, and saw Rebecca coming towards him. She was so beautiful, so loving. He frowned. There was something wrong with her smile, something wrong in the way that her eyes twinkled and her laughter bubbled. There was something wrong with him too, and he could feel it now as never before. It was something... dark, like a great, empty hole inside of him. A hollow, black nothingness where there should have been a heart. "Join us..."
"Help me." The voice was small; so small that he was not even sure it existed. It was inside him, and then it was elsewhere. It was all around him, and then it was nowhere at all. "Help us."
"Deirdre?" He spoke the word in his mind, certain that he had recognised the voice. It was so small, and so lost; but there was something in it nonetheless. Something that only he could see or hear.
"Help me Giles." He could see her inside his head, held in the unbreakable grip of Matthew, Mark and Luke. He could see their clawed hands dragging at her, tearing her shirt, cutting her skin. A wind began to blow, and he felt it on his skin even though it existed only in his mind. It was colder than anything he had ever felt before. "They're hurting me."
"Deirdre!" He thought that he was running towards her, but suddenly she was not there, and he was alone in a black corridor. All was black, all was dark. He could see nothing, but he could hear everything. A loud, heavy beating. A constant, rhythmic pulsing that filled his ears and hurt his head. It was a heartbeat, and he knew that it was his own.
"Deirdre!" He broke into a run, pounding along corridors that he could not see, through rooms that he was not sure were even there. The walls scraped at his shoulders, and his feet hit stones and holes. He was no longer wearing any shoes, and his feet hurt. His elbows hurt from knocking against the walls. His chest hurt. There was so little air, and he was so cold. His head hurt. He could feel blood running down his face, but could find no injury. He knew that it was blood. He knew the feel, knew the warmth, knew the smell. He looked up. Deirdre hung above him, upside-down and blown by the frigid wind. It was her blood that he felt on his face, dripping down from her body. Her wide, sightless eyes stared at him, her face accusing.
"Giles." He heard her voice again. "You did this, Giles. Your heart is dark. Dark inside."
"No. Deirdre, you can't be dead." He broke into a run, desperate to get away from her, to get to a place where he could no longer see those eyes. They were still there, inside his head. They echoed in his mind with her voice.
"Help me, Giles. Help me."
"Join us." It was Rebecca's voice, cutting through his consciousness with a suddenness that was startling. He stared towards her, disturbed by her closeness, frightened by the terrible ice of her breath and her skin. He no longer felt the grip of the creature holding him, although he knew that his blood still dripped onto the floor. He could see it there, red and glistening. He could feel his shirt starting to stick to him, but the pain meant nothing. It was not there. It was no longer a part of him.
"No." His legs felt weak, and his head hurt. He had never before felt so... so drained - as though some part of him were being ripped out. It was as though he were stepping through a door that would never again be open. Some part of him was being closed off. He didn't want to lose it, but he had no choice.
"Giles?" Ethan sounded shocked. "What's wrong with you? This is everything we ever wanted; everything we ever looked for. You can't turn it down."
"Deirdre..." He could barely get her name out of his dry, constricted throat. His voice did not want to obey him. Clearly it too wanted what was on the other side of that door; that door that he was now trying to close. "Ask her what happens to Deirdre."
"She is of no use to us. We need you." Rebecca sounded deeply scathing. "She's just a second class witch; a girl who wants to be something that she's not. The other two are just small time criminals with delusions of grandeur. They taste good, and they give us the strength that twenty of those who walk the streets might not be able to grant us; but it's you. You three. You have the drive, the commitment to help us now. You have the powers and the strength. We need you, not these others. Abandon them. Leave it all behind. Choose me."
"It must begin." His grip on Ethan's neck tightening, Matthew spun the young human to face him. "We must start now. You have to make your choice."
"I want power." Ethan felt the words slipping from his throat. "I want the world at our feet."
"I want to lead the charge." Randall was giggling, sounding insane. "Come on Giles. These people are nothing. They're just strangers who came here for a party. We're gonna give them the biggest party of all..."
"I--" He could feel his strength failing him, his resistance fading away. He wanted this. It was what they had all wanted. He wondered whether Thomas and Philip and Deirdre would think twice if they were in his shoes. He looked about at the dancing strangers, and at Wilkes still lying on the floor. The policeman was staring up at him with an expression of undisguised hatred. Giles felt the hate within him. It was as much a part of him as it was a part of Wilkes himself. Their eyes burned into each other, and Giles felt the black emptiness in his chest gape wider. Wilkes had been right. His heart was black. He was in this as deeply as the members of the Order. Given a different situation, he would have been the first to step forward, to take part in the mass murder of these innocent people. He would have killed them all, and revelled in the flow of their blood. He would have leapt to help the Order to complete their rites. It was what he wanted. He was the Ripper.
"Come on, Giles." Ethan was staring at him, clearly unable to feel the deep, grasping hold of the demon at his throat. The outside world, the real world, no longer seemed to exert any hold on Rayne, and Giles wanted to join him. He wanted to give himself in to that sense of wild abandon. He wanted to be free. He remembered what Rebecca had promised him - the chance to be free of the Watchers forever. He had made himself a promise once, that one day he would make the Hierarchy bow down before him. He was being given the chance to do that right now; and yet he was holding back.
"Let me go." The words burned his throat. He tore free of the demon's hold, leaving much of his jacket behind. He was at the fireplace before he was truly aware of it, grabbing the axe which lay there. He had used it only the night before to cut wood, but now it lay in his hands as a creature of true life. He could already see the blood dripping from its blade. He walked towards the dancing hordes, mesmerised by their constant movements, by the music in the background and by the thudding of the heartbeat he could still hear above all else. He raised the axe above his head.
"Go Ripper!" Ethan was laughing, but the laughter moved in circles. It came from a great distance, but was also close by. Randall was laughing too, standing free now, no longer held by his demon. A flick-knife was in his hands. Giles could see excitement in the other man's eyes, and could feel it in his own heart. He wanted to kill. Before he had always revelled in violence, and here was violence in its purest form. He wanted it. His hands began to shake.
"Don't do it." He could not see Wilkes' lips move, but he could hear the other's voice nonetheless. His shoulders slumped. Why did everything have to hurt so much? Why did one second have to feel like a night of endless nightmares? Why was everything so frighteningly, intensely cold? He stared down at the axe in his hands. It was a snake. It was a flaming brand that burnt his hands. It was a demon that laughed in his face. And then it was Deirdre, hanging upside-down, staring at him with those open, dead eyes, her blood running from her body and dripping onto the ground. He turned back to face the Order, all watching him with steady, longing stares. They knew what was in his heart even before he did, and to see their anger was a blessed relief. He let the axe fall from his hands.
"I - I can't... I--" He felt nothing for the dancers. There was no pity or sense of charity. Something inside him hurt with the realisation that he would have killed them, if it hadn't been for his friends. Something inside him seemed almost to shrink back from the realisation of who he was. He rubbed his eyes, aware now of the pain in his arms from Mark's earlier grip. It seemed to fill his body and his mind, reaching into the depths of his very soul. He turned his eyes to Ethan. "I won't let them kill Deirdre."
"She's already dead!" Her voice screaming with venom, Rebecca lashed out, sending Deirdre's frozen body tumbling across the floor. The young woman rolled to a halt at Giles feet, staring up at him with eyes that did not react. She did not seem to be breathing.
"We must begin!" Matthew pushed Ethan towards Giles, causing the young man to stumble and almost fall as he tripped over the motionless body of Deirdre. He regained his balance, staring at his hands. He was holding the axe now, although he had no idea how he came to be doing so. It lay in his hands, the blade gleaming in the intermittent light, the wooden handle smooth and curved to fit his hands.
"I don't understand you, Ripper. This is what we've been waiting for. A real chance, to do something. Something beyond... beyond all of this. Do you want to spend the rest of your life caught in this dimension, with people who don't understand you and never will? We belong somewhere else! We need magic. We come from magic. I can't let anybody stop me. Not even you."
"I'm sorry, Ethan." Giles could feel his shoulders slumping. "I... I know this is our best chance. You can't know how much this hurts. But I can't stand up there above the world, and know that I helped to bring it to its knees, when three of my closest friends are no longer with me. It doesn't mean anything without them. It can't mean anything without Deirdre." He shivered, enclosed by the icy wind that still raged about them. He could no longer feel his hands, and as he raised them to his face he saw that they had turned a deathly white. Blue tinged his fingertips. He felt that one hard blow would make them shatter into a million shards.
"But they'll kill you, man." Ethan seemed to have forgotten the axe now. "They'll kill you. You'll be gone." He frowned. "I don't think I can do this without you. You started it. You led us to this. It doesn't mean anything if you're not there. You have to come with me!"
"We're six, Ethan. Power is in numbers. Six makes us who we are. If one of us dies, part of all of us dies. We cease to be what we are. Alone we wouldn't have a chance." Giles raised his freezing, dying hands and tried to make them grip his friend's shoulders, but he could not make his fingers curl. "We have strength. We have power. But we are six. Six is the number that brought us together, and holds us together. It won't be the same if we're four, or three, or only one. Do you think I don't want a shot at the things she offered? Do you think I don't want to be sure that the Watchers will never find me? That they'll never come after me? That I'll never have to be bound to a Slayer, and follow some chosen path? I just can't do this. Not this!" A violent shudder ran through his frame. "It hurts, Ethan. Everything hurts."
"We must begin." Matthew and Mark were towering over them. They seemed to have grown, as though their time were nearing and the moment was almost upon them. Ethan looked down at his hands. The axe was no longer in his grip, and he did not have to wonder at where it was now. Randall was loose among them, his weapon already reddened by the first signs of blood.
"We have to stop him." Ethan turned sharply, the first signs of the effects of the cold beginning to grip him. His fingertips were already turning blue, and he knew that his heartbeat was beginning to slow.
"They're running out of time." Why was it so hard to get the words out? Giles did not know or care; he only knew that the demons were angry, and were desperate to get their quota of blood. He wondered if Randall alone would be powerful enough to kill so many people in so little time. "We have to... to slow Randall. To stop him. If we can make him stop for just another few minutes, we might have a chance."
"Yeah." Ethan was still for a moment. He stared at his friend. He stared down at Deirdre. He could no longer see Philip and Thomas. Part of him wanted to run to join Randall, but part of him wanted to stop him. He felt as though he were being torn in two. "I never thought I'd be fighting on this side."
"It's not for the good of mankind, Ethan. If we don't do this, we'll be dead before the Order are completely free. As six, we might of some use to them. As three our only use is to be their butchers. They'll kill us, don't you see that?"
"I see it. I just don't want to believe it." Ethan was stepping forward. His legs did not want to work, and they were becoming slow from the effects of the cold. All that he could see now was Randall; blood dripping from his hands, his hair, his clothes, the axe whirling in a frenzy. People were dying, but Ethan felt nothing. Giles felt nothing. The emptiness was confusing.
"Randall..." Giles was fumbling around on the floor, his movements slow and clumsy. He lifted something in his hands, although Ethan could not tell what it was. He saw it only as his friend raised it higher, and the pulsing, throbbing light that filled the room illuminated it for just a second. It was a gun; the gun that Randall had had earlier. In the harsh white light it looked wicked and alive; then it was lost in the darkness again. Giles pointed it at his friend. He had no wish to kill Randall, but he knew that in his current state a fatal shot was as likely as a total miss. He wanted to wipe the sweat from his brow, but it froze as soon as it appeared. He thought no more, and pulled the trigger.
The bullet struck the axe blade, knocking the weapon from Randall's hands and sending it spinning out of control across the room. The young man stared at his hands, confused and surprised; then rage passed across his face.
"Why you--" He flung himself forward, his hard, powerful body moving with a speed that was now denied to his friends. The cold that held them had slowed them into uselessness. Neither man could move aside in time. Randall crashed into them, hurling them both to the ground. Giles saw the contorted, angry face just inches from his own. He saw the axe in Randall's hands, its blade stained and wet from so much blood. His eyes slipped in and out of focus. He heard Ethan beginning to chant.
"Spells!" With a scream, Randall threw up his hands, clenching them over his ears. "Spells hurt me!" The axe hit the floor, a clear, ringing note filling the room. It cut through the music, and it cut through the dark. The music stopped and the dancing ended. Somebody screamed.
"No!" It sounded like Rebecca, but it was no longer possible to hear one sound above the others. Screams resounded from every part of the room, bouncing from the walls, hurling themselves back at the screamers in a frenzy of agonising noise. Everybody was moving at once. The floor was a mass of panicking feet, slipping and sliding on the blood. Randall growled.
"You can't leave!" He was on his feet again, snatching for the passers-by, grabbing at their clothes, their hair, their skin. "You can't go! I need you!"
"No!" Rebecca's scream cut through him and he turned his head. He seemed to want to go to her, but Ethan held him back. Giles was on his feet as well now, the gun still in his hands. He could not see Rebecca, or her three companions, but still he stared straight at her. He raised the gun.
"I could have made you great. You could have been the most powerful man on Earth!" Her voice was a high-pitched shriek, that hurt his ears and battered his head. "The end of the world could have been yours to command!"
"Liar!" He did not want to think that he might have given up the chance of all that; that he might have been wrong about her intention to kill him as soon as his work for her was done.
"You'll burn in hell for this." She was coming towards him, her long, grasping fingers reaching for his throat. He seemed able to feel them even before she was close enough to touch him. "You'll scream in torment beside me for the rest of eternity."
"Not this time." He could see the hot, fiery light burning around her feet, and he knew what it meant. The gates were opening. It was time for her to leave. She was staring up at him, that unbelievably beautiful face contorted with the pain and the fury that filled her.
"One day..." He could not hear her voice, but he could see the words on her lips. "One day..."
"One day." His echo followed her as she sank down, flames consuming her as she vanished. There was silence. His hands began to shake and heat and ice rushed through his brain at once. He lost consciousness.
"Ripper?" Ethan's voice was far away and tired, and Giles opened his eyes to its sound. He smiled.
"I don't feel much like the Ripper right now."
"I'll bet." There was a smile behind the voice. "I... Well I know why you did it. I don't blame you. I just wanted you to know that."
"Thanks." Giles sat up, looking around at the quiet room. Deirdre, Thomas and Philip lay slumped in a corner, but he could see more clearly now, and he knew that they were breathing. Randall lay nearby, the axe in his hands, the blood still covering his body and his clothes. There was no telling what they would have to do to protect him from this; to stop the story from getting out. Giles would kill anybody before he would let them arrest Randall, or any of his friends. He would not let anybody blame them for all of this. At least Wilkes was on their side. Unwilling though he might be, the policeman would not have a choice. He would have to help them come up with some kind of a cover story.
"I wonder..." He stood up, pulling Ethan to his feet, looking about at the room. The bodies of the dead were gone, taken whole by the Order in their hunger, and there was an air of unearthly still and calm. "I wonder if we'll ever get a chance like that again."
"One day." Rayne wiped his brow. "But next time, brother, you better be on the other side. I'm not fighting any more demons."
"Next time we won't need demons to help us." On unsteady legs Giles went to Deirdre, turning her over onto her back. He thought that he saw her eyelids flutter, and the ghost of a smile cross her lips; but it was only for a second. He sat down beside her, drawing his knees up close to his chest. His whole head was spinning with the magnitude of all that had happened, and yet inside him there was a new strength, a new certainty. It was bright inside of him, and the strength and wonder of it warmed him from within. That darkness, that emptiness inside of him, no longer felt so vast. He no longer felt quite so cold inside; as though something had fallen into place inside his heart. Whether or not the heart itself was black, he didn't know; and neither did he care. Nothing really mattered, not anymore - for he was the Ripper; and outside the dawn was breaking.