Click Here For Part Two

It wasn't much of a flat, but it was home at least; two damp-ridden rooms connected by a doorway covered with a beaded curtain. It hung there, a testimony to all that was cheap and tacky; rainbow-coloured spheres of plastic, dangling on nine long plastic strings. It rattled in the slightest breeze, the strings clattering and clacking like rats playing under the floorboards - not that there was any shortage of the real thing to create more noise. They crept out at night, crawling up through holes in the walls, and sat in rows on the desk and the windowsill. He was convinced that they were laughing at him. Either that or they were spying, for whatever reasons a rat might have to spy on somebody. He had grown accustomed to the rows of little yellow eyes blinking at him in the gloom of the early hours. The rats were company if nothing else.

Giles turned another page on his notebook, and stared at the rows of scrawling letters that were inked across the paper. He wrote in a shorthand that he had devised for his own use; a careful array of numbers, symbols and ordinary letters that, for added security, would be equally cryptic even once translated. Underneath the code he wrote, not in English, but in the most obscure of all the languages in which he was fluent. There was little real need for such precautions, but he preferred to be careful. When you were dealing with magic - particularly black magic - it paid to be careful. He had learned that the hard way.

"Damn." The rows of neat ciphers on the page before him were swimming in front of his eyes, and he pushed the pad away. Sometimes it was just too much to spend eighteen hours poring over the same set of books. His back protested as well, and he straightened it with an impatient hiss. Nearby, a rat squeaked, and he threw his pen in its general direction. He did not see the creature, but he heard it as it scurried away. It sounded indignant.

"You think you've got problems." He rose to his feet, kicking aside the chair, and wandered over to the single, guttering candle that provided him with light for his work. He had no electricity, for even if he had been prepared to pay for such luxuries - which he wasn't - the building's ancient wires and sockets were no longer capable of dealing with the stuff. There had not been any repairs or renovations done on any of the flats since 1953, the year written in faded black ink on the inspection tag clipped to the light fitting that was screwed to the ceiling. Given the amount of moisture that dripped from the masonry, Giles would not have been at all enthusiastic at any attempt to use electricity even if it had been on offer, for he was sure that it could not be safe. Danger didn't usually bother him to any great degree; but the dangers with which he was familiar were far removed from the risks involved in faulty wiring and sodden electrical fittings. He knew where he was when the enemy had fangs or horns, or when he had to use all of his wits to save himself from the forces and darknesses of hell. Technology was a different matter altogether.

His eyes seemed determined not to do any more work tonight, so he slouched his way across the room to the swathe of stolen stereo equipment that took up a large part of one wall. It blinked at him in several different colours, the speakers glowing a faint green in tandem with every beat of his heart. It was powered by magic; a simple spell that he had adapted for the purpose. He had tried to use it to get some decent lighting, but the result had been nothing but a series of exploding light bulbs, and flames that had burnt holes in the ceiling. Wallpaper now dangled in singed strips, and he had abandoned his attempts to adapt the spell further. The flat wasn't up to much, but it was the best that he had had in some months. He didn't really want to burn it down.

"Damn night." The darkness was his friend, but it grew boring after a while. This night in particular seemed to have lasted for ever. He fumbled through his record collection, finding it hard to see the titles and the artists in the bad light. He had no more candles, so he couldn't light any more; had no more money to buy any more, and couldn't find the energy for stealing. It was too much like hard work. He brought the candle closer, tipping it to bring the tiny flame closer to the records, and swearing when hot wax dropped onto them. He threw it aside in the end, letting the flame obliterate itself amongst the dust in the carpet. Hot red wax pooled on the floor, mingling with the mess of cigarette butts and beer bottles. Lost in immediate blackness, Giles grabbed the first record in the pile and dropped it onto the turntable. He didn't need to press any switches, and the faintly glowing speakers in every corner of the room burst into instant life. He felt the floor vibrating beneath his feet, and flung himself onto the bed to relax to the music. A raucous beat washed over him, and the bed springs creaked and twanged as he settled himself. A rat ran across his legs. Water dripped onto his face. He didn't notice. All that he was interested in was the music, and the lyrics that he knew so well.

He was working too hard - spending too many hours in his study. He knew it, but he did not feel at all inclined to change the state of affairs. Without work there was nothing - even though it was work that had no apparent motive. Sometimes he told himself that he was studying dark magics because they were his destiny - something that he had been born to study and oppose. The truth was that he might just as well have been studying them because they were something he wanted for himself. Since his early teens he had been studying magic for his own good, learning how he could conjure dark powers for ill deeds. It had all led to ruin; long nights of evil doings; mad hours spent possessed by the demon Eyghon. He had experienced great strength and greater power; had dabbled in arts that most humans could never have imagined existed. He had also been driven to murder one of his closest friends. When Randall James had been taken by Eyghon, the only possible course of action for Giles and his companions had been to kill their friend, and hopefully Eyghon along with him. The terrible precaution did not seem to have succeeded, however, for even though Randall himself was most certainly as dead as any mortal man could ever be, the same could not be said of Eyghon. That much Giles could be sure of, every time the Mark on his arm burned with a strange kind of heat. It terrified him, and yet he could not turn away from the very arts which had led to such events. Magic was life, and it seemed to be all that he knew.

He reached out one arm, waving with a grand gesture in the air that signalled the volume control to rise. Music flooded his ears, setting his pulse racing. Somewhere, in the distant recesses of the building, someone was hammering on a wall. They might have been complaining about the noise, or the hammering might well have had some other purpose. He imagined some hapless victim, living out their last hours in a scene of great violence, whist a giant attacker beat him into the dust - or a monster, summoned from the horrors of hell, tearing the rooms apart on the lower floors, bursting through the rotten doors and walls, searching for people to devour, or blood to suck, or just looking for the lonely young Watcher at the top of the building, who lay in the dark waiting for its approach. He smiled to himself. There were plenty such monsters in the world; creatures of hideous appearance, born from evils too great to name. He had fought some, watched others for mere amusement. He knew the haunts and hiding places of a thousand more; creatures that lived on the very doorsteps of the human race; a race of people that remained entirely oblivious to their very existence.

The hammering ceased. Beneath Giles, in the many flats that separated him from the angry noise, somebody had clearly given up hope of ever being heard. Perhaps he had decided that no complaint of his would cause the music to be turned down; perhaps he had realised that his desperate calls of assistance would never be answered. Perhaps the murderer had struck the final blow, or the demon had taken whatever prize he had sought. Giles lit a cigarette, and let his mind dwell on the many possibilities. The world was too full of evil things for him to ponder on pleasant thoughts. Perhaps a string of battered bodies now lay in the flats beneath him, already being devoured by the countless rats. Perhaps the perpetrator of those foul crimes was even now making his steady, laborious way up the damp and reeking stairs, searching for the one final inhabitant of the building who remained alive. Perhaps even now he was reaching for the door handle, opening the door, reaching out his huge, misshapen hands in order to close his fearsome, blood-caked claws around the young, but certainly not innocent, neck. Outside the door the floorboards creaked, and Giles sat up with a start.

"Giles?" The soft voice in the corridor barely rose above the volume of the music, and Giles snapped his fingers to turn his world to silence. The pressing hush hung about him in folds, more stifling than the volume of the sounds which had preceded it. The bright tip of his glowing cigarette lit up one small patch of the room, but Giles could see nobody in it. He rose to his feet and crossed to the door.

"Who's there?"

"Steve." The voice was that of a man, a little older than himself, who lived in one of the other blocks of flats nearby. It was a palace compared to the one that Giles called home - a place with running water, and electricity that sometimes worked. The walls were almost as damp, the wooden stairs and banisters almost as rotten, but a fresh coat of paint every couple of months helped to hide the worst of the mould, and to at least give the building an appearance of cleanliness. It didn't fool anybody, but it was an improvement on the thick, dank blackness that covered everything in the place that Giles called home. That made it a place of luxury, at least in Steve's opinion.

"Come on in." Giles didn't bother opening the door. It didn't lock anyway, so there was nothing to stop his guest from entering. It barely shut for that matter, the frame being so swollen by leaking moisture that on the rare occasions when the door actually did shut, it generally refused to open again without the application of a large chunk of furniture. Fortunately Giles had a chair that he particularly disliked, which had served that purpose on more than one occasion.

"Door open is it?" The smiling face of Steve Madden was the last thing that Giles wanted to see, but he refrained from throwing something at it as the new arrival sauntered over the threshold. Jokes like that one had met with physical force once or twice in the past.

"Funnily enough the door is open, yes." Giles sat back down on the bed, stubbing out his cigarette against the much-scarred bedside table. "Now what did you want?"

"And hello to you too." Steve sat down on the bed beside him, handing over a paper bag filled with doughnuts that he had bought in one of the neighbourhood cafés. They were heavily sugared creations filled with an amalgam of half a dozen different flavoured jams, made very cheaply from the leftovers in the kitchen cupboards, but somehow they managed to taste rather good. Giles scowled.

"You shouldn't bring these things in here you know. Sugar can have an unpleasant effect on some spells." He managed a rather wan smile that came up from somewhere very tired deep within him. "But thanks."

"No problem." Steve ran a hand through his shoulder-length, straw-coloured hair. "There something wrong, Rupert?"

"More wrong than usual?" The troubled, murky green eyes of the rebel Watcher glanced across at him, and for a moment their usual hardness was softened. "No, nothing much. I just think I'm going stir crazy. It's being cooped up in here all the time, with nobody but the rats for company. And that prat on the ground floor complaining every second day that I've done something to offend him doesn't help. He swears that he can smell my cigarette smoke in his flat, and he's going to try to have me for causing a nuisance."

"He wouldn't dare. Rupert my man, you may be a weird bastard, but you can be a pretty bloody scary one, too. Nobody around here is going to make any official complaint, because they're all too scared of the consequences. There are rumours, pal. All kinds of rumours. Mostly about you and that guy they reckon killed all those people just round the corner from here."

"Yeah, I know. The police tried the heavy-handed stuff on me the other night. Great way of thanking the guy that handed the whole damn situation for them." Giles considered lighting up another cigarette, but refrained in a rare moment of consideration for his companion. Steve hated Giles's harsh mix of legal and illegal tobacco, and although the blond Liverpudlian was an irritatingly friendly soul capable of driving his host up the wall and back with his constant attempts to be cheerful, Giles felt in the mood for a friendly gesture or two. It was an old habit that he hadn't quite managed to school himself out of. "Anyway, you know that it wasn't any guy behind those killings. If they're looking for the thing that was responsible, they're not going to find it interviewing humans. Their 'guy' was a blood demon, as they'd know if they bothered looking a little further afield than the usual suspects. Not pretty feeders, blood demons. You'd think somebody would have noticed the claws marks on the victims."

"Doesn't matter now anyway. You killed it." Steve took a doughnut and bit into it, spilling jam onto the floor. He didn't think that Giles would mind, given the many other kinds of debris already spread over everything; and it was doubtful that he would ever notice anyway. Even in the daytime the room was rarely a great deal brighter than it was now, when the only lighting came from a single candle on the landing. It was not the most efficient method of illumination, and represented the proprietor's soul concession to the needs of his young tenant on the top floor.

"Yeah, I killed it." Glancing sideways at his guest, Giles frowned. "But what's that to you all of a sudden? This is old news, alright? I'm not raking over past conquests for any kind of an audience."

"Nothing. It's just... It's just that I haven't been able to sleep lately. I keep... seeing it. And it just impresses me, that's all; the way you handled it. The way you handled everything that night. I can't even stand up against the skinheads that try to knife me every Friday night. You fight demons. You kill murdering beasts from another dimension. Sorry, but that kind of thing requires a little admiration, at least in my book. It certainly seemed to require doughnuts, since I couldn't sleep again."

"Huh." There was a long silence, during which Giles reached for one of the doughnuts, and began chewing on it thoughtfully. "It's too bloody early to sleep, anyhow. As for that demon... 'There are more things in heaven and earth', and all that rubbish. It's my scene. I thought I explained that to you at the time." He scowled, and downed the rest of the doughnut in a particularly large swallow. "Dammit, I'm bored. No wonder that demon took to eviscerating the local population. They're about as interesting as my mother." He waved a hand at Steve. "Present company excepted of course."

"You're so kind." Steve flashed him another of his characteristically cheerful, if, on this occasion, somewhat sarcastic, grins. "If you're bored, it's only because you seem to stay here all the time. We could go out somewhere instead. How are you at dancing? Or maybe there's a concert we could go to? I did hear that the Stones are playing in the West End this weekend."

"Bully for the Stones." Giles leaned back against the wall beside the bed, staring at the patterns of mould on the ceiling above him. They looked like giant black hands, poised to descend. The hands of Eyghon, talons outstretched, ready to bear him up to the waiting, fanged mouth. An unpleasant smile drew patterns in the shadows on his face. Steve frowned.

"Listen mate, I know you prefer to be alone, and I know that I annoy the hell out of you, but there is something wrong, isn't there. Really wrong I mean." The dark green eyes turned to stare at him, although Giles himself did not move. His body remained resolutely still, as though determined to prevent him from turning away from the giant hand-like apparitions on the ceiling. "Come on. You can talk to me. We're mates."

"Are we?" A dark eyebrow rose, and the expressive face twisted into a sardonic smile. "You've known me barely a fortnight, Steve; and what sort of things have happened in that time? The day you first met me you were nearly drained by a vampire. The second day you were attacked by a blood demon. The day after that you found what was left of your neighbour plastered all over the walls of the local laundrette. Now tell me exactly why it is that you want to be my friend."

"Because I like you." The honest eyes were warm and welcoming, but Giles merely shook his head. Friendship tired him. Company of any kind drained him. He needed the fellowship of others like him, not that of innocent civilians seriously afflicted by hero worship. Steve was a well-meaning pain in the neck - the latest in a long line - and the only thing that distinguished him from those others who had tried to turn Giles's life around of late was that Steve Madden had no dog collar. It wasn't Giles's soul that he was trying to save.

"You don't like me." Giles rose to his feet, growing weary of lying beneath the waiting fingers of the giant, shadowy hands. He positioned himself instead at the window, staring out at a great cloud of bats that was busily swooping and gliding just beyond the glass. An owl shrieked, and somewhere nearby a door slammed. Somebody shouted something, but there were no human screams. Not tonight. "You don't even know me."

"I know enough." Steve stood, crossing to the window and putting his hands on his companion's leather-clad shoulders. "I watched you use magic to kill a monster that was pretending to be a woman. I watched you cast a spell that caused what I thought was one of my next door neighbours to burst apart and reveal a... a - a thing, with great horns and teeth and claws..." His voice trailed off as he remembered watching the illusion of humanity that had been the housewife from the flat next door to him, as its innocuous disguise had unravelled, revealing a slime-covered beast seven feet high, with hands that stretched almost to the ground, and claws several inches in length. It had turned its mighty head this way and that, hissing and spitting in the cold night air, before a second spell, barked out by the strange young man in the leather jacket, had caused it to collapse into sheets of blue flame. Steve remembered feeling the heat of it washing across him; remembered the almost overpowering smell of ammonia; remembered the unearthly scream of a beast returning to hell. After that there had been nothing, save waking as if from a dream, to see Rupert Giles walking away down the road, looking pale and strange in the faint light from the area's sole, and extremely unreliable, streetlamp. It had been something of a turning point in his life.

"All that I did was to recite a spell, and even that was something that would never have worked on anything else." For a second Giles's reflection in the window looked extremely angry, although he regained control smoothly enough. "I didn't fight it. I didn't overcome it. There was no skill involved; no strength; no agility. I'm no Slayer."

"Slayer?" Steve looked interested. "Are you telling me that there's some guy whose job it is to go around killing things like that? 'Cause that's a career I have every intention of avoiding. I can't open a tin of cat food without cutting my fingers to the bone. I wouldn't have a chance going one on one with a monster." His words coaxed a small, almost unwilling smile from his friend, and encouraged by this he continued. "You should consider giving lectures at the working men's club. How to kill demons, or magical solutions to everyday problems or something. You'd make a fortune."

"I can turn fire into ice and make my stereo work without needing to plug it in first. I don't see any professional magicians running scared." Giles stepped away, breaking the gentle grip on his shoulders. "Look, I appreciate the friendly overtures, Steve, and I know that you feel you owe me your life - but it's not necessary. Really. Now I have work that I should be doing. Why did you come here exactly?"

"To find out if you were still breathing. All I ever see of you is the brooding-in-the-dark look, and it's becoming ever so slightly passé."

"So you decided to offer me a night on the town?" Giles couldn't suppress a grin. "Thanks Steve, but we don't exactly frequent the same night spots, if you get my meaning. I prefer a more female form of entertainment."

"We don't have to go to my local." Steve looked slightly offended, although it didn't last for long. "I've known you a fortnight, and have I made a single move on you? Have I even suggested that there could be something more to our relationship?"

"We don't have a relationship." Giles scowled at his desk, invisible in shadow. He didn't have any more candles, and there wasn't enough left of the one he had just thrown across the room to do anybody any good. He picked it up and glanced it over, finding the wick irretrievably lost under a wave of wax cooled in mid-leap. No amount of witchcraft or simple bad language was going to make it light again. He threw it back onto the ground.

"There you are you see. No more work tonight." Steve seemed determined to make a party animal out of him, and Giles did not seem to have the energy to resist. Too many days and nights without sleep; too many long hours of backbreaking study had left him without the wherewithal even to demand to be left alone. He couldn't remember the last time that he had gone out for an evening with something beyond work or mere research in mind. The last time that he had been just a guest in a club or a bar had surely been when he was last in the company of Ethan Rayne? The thought of his friend brought to mind the grim presence of Eyghon, and once again the dark patches on the ceiling were grasping hands. He became angry with his own fears, and kicked out at the chair that stood by the desk. Its leg cracked under the force of the blow, and a nearby rat squeaked in alarm. Outside the window the bats circled more tightly, as though reacting to the high pitched sound within the room. Steve sighed.

"There's no point taking it out on the furniture." He turned around and headed for the door. "Look, I'm going. If you want to come, fine. If you don't then you can sit here for another night and mope. Whatever it is that you're studying must be pretty damned absorbing for you to want to put yourself through that."

"It's not." For a second there was no anger or sullenness in Giles's tone; merely a brief, fleeting moment of comradeship. It passed as quickly as it had arrived, but Steve seemed to take heart from it all the same.

"Then maybe you'll tell me one day just why you spend so much time at it then. If you don't enjoy it, why give every moment of your life to it?" He glanced down at the title of the nearest book, but it was written in a language that he did not understand. "What it is? Mrs Beeton's Easy Cookery Course?"

"No." Giles seemed to have shaken off a little of his depression, although Steve was not sure how he managed it given his surroundings. In his opinion, Giles's flat was enough to turn the world's most cheerful man into a depressed recluse. "Just the rudiments of the family business."

"Oh. Studying to take over from your father?" Steve seemed to understand, although he appeared more than a little surprised. Giles shrugged.

"I don't know. I used to do the work to avoid the position, rather than with a mind to take it up. Now I do it out of habit. It's... addictive. Like cigarettes."

"Cigarettes, my dear fellow, are bad for you." Steve clapped him on the shoulder and began leading him towards the door, as though anxious to press-gang him into a night's fun before the curtains of melancholy folded down upon his friend once again. "Knowledge isn't. You can't really compare the two."

"Yes I can." Giles's eyes trailed to the title of the book that Steve had been unable to read. To his eyes the words were as clear as if they had been written in English. Attaining Darkness Of The Soul had been a gift from his father, on the occasion of the young Rupert's twelfth birthday. It was meant, naturally enough, as a point of reference, and not as a path to be followed; but given the hypnotic nature of the text, and the inherently dark leanings of the apprentice Watcher's nature, the gift had been a magnet to a world more dangerous than any that Giles senior had ever encountered himself. Steve's eyes narrowed.

"One of these days I'm going to understand you." He pushed his companion through the doorway, directing him along the corridor before he could object. Giles shook his head.

"You don't want to." Shrugging off the other man's hand, he took the lead with a suddenly purposeful stride. Taken by surprise, Steve had to hurry to catch up. "But if you really want to try, maybe I should be the one to decide where we go tonight."

"You have a regular place?" Steve sounded delighted, perhaps eager to see new haunts, or just to gain a better insight into the man he had chosen as an unwilling friend. Giles shrugged.

"Nowhere in particular. Just places. Places where people like me go for a night on the tiles. Places where things happen."

"Lead on." Steve sounded enchanted, and Giles had to smile. He liked his companion, in a way that he had not liked anybody in months; but if the man was determined to hang out with him, there were things that he had to see; things that he had to learn; before his lack of knowledge became a risk to his life. Maybe after tonight he would never want to see either Giles or London again - which could be no bad thing. On the other hand, after the night was over he might want to see a good deal more. Giles didn't know yet if that was good or bad. That was something that only Steve himself could decide - once he had seen the many dark truths that lay beneath the world famous exterior of the labyrinth that was London Town.


Emily Paignter had been eleven years-old when her sister, then herself aged only seventeen, had been activated as the Slayer. Her family, a quiet, comfortable, well-to-do slice of suburban ordinariness had been shocked by the appointment. Emily's father had threatened to write a letter to his local MP, and had been dissuaded by the Watcher Council only by the assertion that anybody who read such a letter would consider its author insane. Richard Paignter had a reputation to uphold, and a respectable position in an insurance company to defend, and had let the matter drop rather swiftly. If his daughter wanted to go off fighting vampires every night, then that was her business and not his. He wanted no further part in it. He had shaken her hand, given her what he considered to be an extremely generous cheque, and had sent her on her way with the complete stranger who had arrived one evening claiming to be her Watcher. What a Watcher was, Richard had had no idea, but he assumed that the title was self-explanatory. Why a grown man would want to spend his time watching a teenaged girl was a different matter, but the Council, insistent as always, had told him to get on with his life, and let his daughter get on with hers. That had been the end of it, until the day, eighteen months later, when a simple, neatly presented letter with a tasteful black border had informed the family that Rachel Paignter, henceforth referred to as the Slayer (deceased), had died on the 19th January, aged eighteen years. Her death had been part of a struggle to defeat the forces of evil, and her sacrifice was greatly appreciated by those that guarded the safety of the people of the world. There was to be a small service at the nearest place of worship - in this case a Church in western Wales - followed by a small, select gathering at which, if they so required, the parents of the Slayer (deceased) would be permitted to meet their daughter's replacement. She, they were informed, was a young Kenyan girl, whose name it was clearly beyond the abilities of the Watcher Council to spell. Henceforth to be referred to as the Slayer (current), she was very lucky, most honoured, extremely pleased with her fortuitous heritage, etc and so forth. Emily remembered her father folding the letter up very neatly, after reading it aloud at the breakfast table, and then slipping it inside his wallet. As far as she knew it had gone to the grave with him, two and a half years later. In all that time he had never spoken the name of his elder daughter, and had strictly forbidden Emily to do otherwise.

But she was fifty now, and her father was long gone. Any influence that he had once had over her life was over, and she barely remembered the sound of his voice, or the authority clear within it, as he had demanded that she forget the very existence of the girl she had grown up with. The second bed in her room had been removed; the clothes in the other chest of drawers had been spirited away one morning when she had been at school. Even the photograph of Rachel that had always stood on the sideboard in the lounge had vanished, to be replaced with a picture of Emily and her younger brother on a family holiday some years before. It was a smaller picture than she remembered, for Rachel had once been in it too, standing just beside her brother with a dripping ice cream cone clenched tightly in her hot, eight year-old hand.

It had been hard to find a way into the world that her sister had inhabited. Emily was not a Slayer, and nor was she a Watcher. She knew nothing of magic and demons, save the simple fact that her sister had been taken away to live out some sacred destiny in opposition to the mystical forces of evil. Emily had always thought of evil as being nothing more than a subject for discussion at Sunday school; and yet its forces, whatever they were, had caused her sister to be taken away from her and killed, for reasons that she did not understand. She had felt it only natural to investigate further, and had bought books about magic; had watched every film on the subject from serious, in-depth documentaries to the horror films beloved of so many studios. She had turned her home into a library, driven her mother to an early grave through worry and fear, and had utterly failed to notice her younger brother turning to alcohol in his failure to handle the new world to which his sisters had exposed the family. All that Emily had noticed had been the growing collection of books, and the gradual realisation that there was very much more to life than she had ever been led to believe. After that, nothing else had mattered. She had sold the family home, left the leafy, sheltered safety of Surrey, and had headed into the deepest reaches of London. A whole new world had awaited her there, and she had lost herself in it almost immediately. These days she hardly ever thought back to her old life, or even to her long dead sister. She knew who the present Slayer was, for she always made a point of knowing; but beyond that time had changed her drastically. The people that she hung out with in her new life were the kind that drank the health of whoever or whatever had dispatched the latest Slayer to join her predecessors. Emily did not share those sentiments herself, but then she felt no real sorrow either.

It was to Emily's place that Giles had resolved to take Steve. It was a small night-club on London's seedier side - or beneath it, to be more exact. Accessible only by a descending staircase of some hundred and twenty steps, the club was beneath the cellars and many of the drains; a large, cavernous space lined with blocks of grey-white stone, the walls a mass of exposed lead piping and holes filled with rats. Alongside the beer and spirits available at the bar were drinks fashioned from all manner of chemicals, and blood served hot or cold. It came fresh from the slaughterhouse, in tanks guarded by Emily's most trusted employees.

Emily Paignter's place was a pub, or so it appeared when first one crossed the threshold. There was a larger dance-floor than in most such establishments, but the wood panelling was the same, and so were the accoutrements behind the bar; the huge, wood-edged mirror; the chrome and oak that clashed just enough to be stylish, where old-fashioned beer taps met newer drinks dispensers in between the coldly sterile blood taps. There were five of the latter; large chrome and glass canisters kept perfectly airtight beneath the bar. They contained pigs' blood for the most part, although on days when the supply was low the clientele seemed more than happy enough with goats' blood instead. Perhaps there was some subtle difference, the way that there was between the milk of different animals; but if there was, then nobody ever seemed to notice it. They could choose their blood from a range of varying temperatures, a luxury that was not available to those customers wanting alcoholic beverages. These came only at room temperature, slightly too warm usually, and edging towards unpleasantly so. In contrast blood came iced, or at body temperature, or hot enough to remove the chills of the resolutely gloomy world outside. Foaming tankards of hot, mulled blood went down a treat at Christmastime, and especially in the winter weeks that followed it. It never ceased to amuse Emily to watch rows of pale-faced vampires, usually dressed in clothes several years out of fashion, huddling together around the bar with their mugs of hot blood, moaning about the weather like a group of businessmen in one of the ordinary clubs above ground. Occasionally they turned on each other; occasionally they turned on the rest of the clientele. Sometimes she was forced to pay damages to one or two beleaguered humans, who barely escaped with their lives when some of the vampires became too eager for blood that was fresher than the stuff served at the bar. Not that there was any legal requirement to pay such compensation. It wasn't as if the law courts were ever involved. She just liked to keep everybody happy; liked to make sure that the humans kept on coming, and the vampires kept on visiting, and that the ever-changing array of other demons and monster called by whenever they were in town. It gave her life meaning, somehow. In the old days she had told herself that she was finding her own way to carry on her sister's work, but she had long since accepted that she really didn't care about any of that. She just cared about the club, andthe people liked to visit it; bearing witness to a world that they had never believed in before. She had been called upon eventually to provide booths in the back; secret places where the humans and the vampires could go together, for a little surreptitiously nibbling. She had employed a gang of locals; would-be heavies with little intelligence; who came in just after dawn to clear away the bodies of those who had been drained too much. The others she left to sleep off the blood loss, preferring to leave them to their own devices. It soon became clear that they did not want to be disturbed, for in the morning they behaved much like embarrassed husbands, who had been caught playing away from home; as if they had had an illicit encounter with a prostitute, and wanted it glossed over. She was happy to oblige. The only interest that she had was in seeing that the last traces of drying blood were washed off the carpets and upholstery.

Rupert Giles didn't know why he found the club so attractive. After all that he had been through with Ethan and the others, he had tried at first to have nothing to do with demons. He had hidden in the streets that had been his home in those days, with no way to defend himself save the few spells he still dared to use. The Mark of Eyghon, just above his left elbow, had burned constantly, reminding him of his treachery in abandoning the others, and increasing his fear, making him even more determined never to go back. It hadn't worked. It had soon become clear there was no hiding from the demons of London. Once you knew that they were there, there was no avoiding them; no denying their existence. Whilst people who knew nothing about them could walk past any number of vampires without even noticing their presence, he found that he saw towering monsters and brooding demons hunched on every street corner. He had followed them once; a great crowd of them, laughing and joking like a gang of teenagers heading home from the cinema. They had talked in a language that he didn't recognise; had completely failed to keep their voices down; but nobody had seen them. They were invisible. He had learned that quickly. Nobody saw them because they protected themselves with spells; spells that had no effect on him, because he had gone so far past all of that. He could hardly even sleep anymore, with all the truths that he had seen. The blissful ignorance of the ordinary people of London had been something that he had first been envious of, then frustrated by, then finally something that he had grown to detest with real vigour. He was proud of who and what he was. He was proud of the Mark on his arm; of the spells he had learnt, and the things that he had done. All the joys and glories of his life with Ethan had come back to him, and he had returned to the dilapidated mansion house that they had once all lived in together. It had been empty; a lifeless shell of a place, without a sign of the people who had shared his life there. They had all gone. He had walked away from the building, dejected and alone; lost in a unique existence that seemed halfway between the world of humans and that of the demons; halfway between darkness and light he supposed, during his more philosophical moments. That was why he had followed the crowd of demons to a small, nondescript back street, through a rusty gate set in a crooked parade of jet black, cast iron railings, and down one hundred and twenty stairs to a large wooden door. It was painted black; but so completely black that it seemed to suck all the light of the world into its surface, so that it was impossible to see it as just a door, but rather as an unending nothingness. There was a faint sign above the door; a painted board depicting a chaste, white unicorn burying its long, spiralled horn into the chest of a beautiful maiden. The paint was old and faded, the gilt edge of the board chipped and forlorn. It swung on a piece of tarred rope, banging against the old brick of the building. There were houses above, filled with old couples living out their last years in increasing deprivation, and penniless families trying to eke out a living on insubstantial benefits, with no heating and a supply of electricity that had long been cut off. Children cried in bedrooms without curtains, and sad housewives sat on unsafe balconies reading cheap paperbacks about nineteenth century romances. Everybody drank too much alcohol, or smoked too many unfiltered cigarettes, and gazed out of dirty windows onto even dirtier streets, lined with rubbish that hadn't been cleared since the end of the three day week. The buildings were thick with worry, and yet beneath it all was something so very different. Giles had followed the crowd of demons through the door without really caring what was on the other side of it. He was just the good kid trying to be evil - or the evil kid trying to be good - living all on his own in a damp alley with nothing to look forward to. Even Eyghon had deserted him, which was probably what he had wanted, and the Mark on his arm no longer burned. It didn't even tingle anymore. He had no books to study from; no friends to aid him in his adventures; no mother to annoy with his rebellions. All that he had were whispers in the breeze, telling him that the Watchers were after him. He was the renegade; the one who had turned against his own. They probably wanted him dead. He had tried to tell the others who lived on the streets. Had tried to tell them what he knew; about the things that he had seen and the dangers he still had to face; about the myriad glinting eyes that watched him from the shadows when he tried to sleep, and the demons that whispered about him when his back was turned. He tried to tell the tramps and the drunks and the homeless about the demon dimension, and about the places where the two worlds could sometimes collide. Nobody listened to him, and he was bored. He wanted to go home. He wanted to go back to the endless study he had once run away from. He wanted to go back to learning more and more about the world he had touched. So he had stepped through the jet black door, expecting any number of things, except for what he had actually found. A vast room filled with smoke from illegal cigarettes, and demons of every size and shape enjoying a night on the tiles alongside humans of equally diverse description. Pale vampire women danced on a wide, polished floor, their long arms wrapped around fashionably dressed young humans lost in the mood. Demons with horns arm-wrestled three-legged demons with scaly hands, whilst vampire men in leather and PVC kept up an eagle-eyed vigilance over their human and non-human prostitutes. The floor trembled with the hum of music a decade old, played at a volume not quite high enough to be too loud, but just loud enough for the stone deaf tunnel demons to feel the beat vibrating through the woodwork. Giles had blinked around at it all, staring with eyes more hungry than he had realised. A woman dressed in a long black gown had approached him; a woman aged about fifty, tall and slight and very pale, with a minimum of make-up and clothes that looked straight out of the nineteen-thirties. She wore a silver crucifix very overtly around her neck, and a broad belt with a long wooden stake stuck into the front. White gloves with lace frills hid her hands, and her long red hair was fixed in place with a gleaming silver clip that showed pictures of dragons writhing and intertwined. He realised that he was expecting her to open her mouth; to reveal fangs or a forked tongue; but when she had turned to speak to him he had been surprised to discover that she was human.

"Hello." She had shaken his hand, pausing for a moment to admire the ring he had worn for so many years. He had got the impression that she recognised it, although he couldn't imagine how that would be possible.

"Hello." He had tried not to stare too much at the room around them. He had seen such places before, on a much smaller scale. Places where sad and lonely humans went to have their blood sucked by equally sad and lonely vampires. Places where demons went to buy blood the way humans bought beer. He had even frequented some of the bars, getting to know some of the more passive demons that worked there. Ethan had spent many hours trying to convince the vampire waiting girls to go home with him, although by his own admission he had had no idea what he would have done if any of them had ever accepted. A place like this, though, where so much was going on, and on such a grand scale... It had been like entering a wonderland; a vast research library come to life.

"Blood or beer?" She had asked him his preference as though it was a perfectly natural question, which, to her, presumably it was. "Or would you prefer a cocktail?"

"A cocktail?" To him the idea was more revolting than the suggestion of drinking blood. Rich kids drank cocktails. Rich kids who went to fancy wine bars, and listened to washed-out pop music or too much Wagner. The type who wouldn't know Keith Moon from John Bonham, or Jimi Hendrix from Eric Clapton. "Er... no. Beer thanks."

"This way then,"

He had followed her to the bar, through throngs of demons oblivious to his presence, slapping down a crinkled pound note onto the counter. He had stolen it that morning, using one of Deirdre's most playful spells to charm an annoyingly respectable looking businessman's wallet right out of the inside pocket of his coat. The woman in the long black dress had taken it, and pushed a pile of improbably shiny coins back towards him alongside his drink.

"Name's Emily." It was a blatant come on, which surprised him. She was older than at least one of his aunts, and couldn't be that much younger than his mother.

"Ripper." He had never even considered using his real name. He had been the Ripper for so long that it had become a personality, as well as a person. She had smiled.

"Really? I'm pleased to meet you, Ripper. So what do you do?"

"Do?" It wasn't something that he had ever considered before. What was he? What did he do? He had shrugged. "I'm a Watcher. But sort of... lapsed."

"I see." Several pairs of eyes - or rather sets, since eyes did not always come in pairs in a bar like this one - had looked up rather sharply at the mention of the Watchers, and the fact had not escaped either Giles or his hostess. "Lapsed, huh?"

"Yeah." He thought about Eyghon, and the years of toying with dark knowledge. The reasons behind his unpleasant sobriquet. "Me and the Council kind of had a falling out." He had smirked at that, and reached for a cigarette. She had lit it, by clicking her fingers to make a flame burst, bright and blue, from the tip of her lacy-gloved thumb.

"I had a falling out with the Council myself once." She had fluttered her eyelashes, thinking back forty years to her sister's hapless Watcher; a man with horn-rimmed spectacles and endless layers of tweed clothing, who had gone to his death with just one little push from the younger sister of his late charge. "They have long memories."

"Too long." They had shared his cigarette, watching the dancers sway, watching the young female vampires nibbling surreptitiously at the warm necks of their human dancing companions. Somebody had called out for a pint of chilled blood, and Emily had wandered away, returning seconds later with a bowl of peanuts. It hadn't escaped Giles's notice that she had left a similar bowl, filled with bloody nuggets of raw meat, at the other end of the counter. Several demons were feasting on them, throwing them up into the air, catching them in their mouths the way that young humans toyed with their own brand of savoury snacks.

"How are you at pulling pints?" She had asked him the question in a tone that hung somewhere between genuine inquisitiveness and blatant flirtation. He had shrugged. The only pints he had ever served had been measures of doctored absinthe, or ingredients for Deirdre's bizarre potions. The thought of Deirdre made Emily's flirtation repellent, and he felt a strong pang of sorrow for the girl he had lost to a demon he himself had summoned.

"Lousy." He had shrugged at her, and she had laughed.

"That doesn't matter. Ninety percent of the customers are too stoned to know the difference. Just so long as you can tell blood from beer you should be okay." She had lifted up the flap in the counter. "Need a job?"

"Yes." He had been surprised by his own honesty, but then maybe he was just sick of all the long nights hiding in alleyways. He wanted a house with a threshold; something that the vampires couldn't cross without his permission. Somewhere where he could have a library, or a study, and resume the task he had started under his father's guidance, shortly after his tenth birthday.

"Good." She had eyed his black leather jacket and grubby jeans, as though pondering whether or not to suggest that he change, then had shrugged it off, and gestured to the nearest set of taps. "You're hired."

"Thanks." He had been oddly pleased, the way he had been when he had got his first job, the first time that he had run away from home as a boy. Fourteen years-old, cleaning windows with an illiterate old man stunned by the book-learning of boy too small to lift the buckets of soapy water.

"Blood." A extraordinarily pretty vampire, who had morphed smoothly into a more human countenance as she stepped up to the bar, smiled at him from across the counter. Emily had stepped back, letting him take his first customer before it had really sunk in that he was on the payroll. He had smiled.

"What temperature?" It wasn't a question that he would ever have thought to ask, but from his side of the bar he could see an array of temperatures above a number of gleaming chrome taps. She had smiled at him, doe-like brown eyes with fiery centres gleaming in the hot lights.

"Body temperature." She made it sound like an invitation, and he had poured it for her swiftly. A strong, thick smell of blood rose from the mug, and the handle felt warm against his hand. He passed the drink across the counter, accepting the pile of coins in return. He didn't bother asking where she had got them. Where did any vampire or demon get their money? There were a hundred different routes, most of them illegal. He didn't care.

"Thanks." He tossed the money into the till, and watched as the attractive vampire sipped at the mug. Her lips glistened red, like thickly-applied lipstick. He had almost fancied his chances, despite the obvious hunger with which she had stared at his neck. Two months later, and she had been staked by a priest who took his calling very seriously, and Giles was living in her vacated apartment. Half of her ashes were still on the carpet, crushed in by passing feet. The stake lay on his desk, beneath the piles of books. He used it as a doorstop, or as a novel tool for opening beer bottles. Steve, unsuspecting of its real reason for being there, had made all manner of jokes about its possible uses; but then Steve made jokes about everything. It seemed to be his raison d'être.

It was to the club that they went now, Giles leading the way, Steve following on behind like a kid with wide eyes. He didn't look like the type that would easily fit in, with his tight satin trousers, pristine and white, and his purple velvet jacket. Like Giles he wore his left ear pierced, but instead of a simple gold ring he wore a long, dangling crucifix, with a tiny gleaming diamond at its centre. Beneath his velvet jacket he wore a ruffled shirt of pale grey silk, with enough of the buttons standing open to reveal the black silk cravat around his neck, and the several necklaces hanging beneath it. Only one was worth anything; a silver pendant that looked like a St Christopher, but wasn't. Steve claimed that it was a likeness of Judy Garland, whom he swore was the patron saint of gay men, but Giles thought that it looked more like Marc Bolan. Either way it didn't help to make Steve look any more like a member of the regular clientele at The Virgin And The Unicorn.

"Wow. What is this place?" Staring up at the sign, Steve whistled under his breath. "I knew there were some quirky joints in London - I've been to most of them - but this...?"

"Yeah, it is a little different." Giles reached out, grabbing Steve's wrist as his companion made a move for the door knob. "It's not what you're expecting."

"You don't know what I'm expecting, Rupert." Steve was all smiles, just as always, his eyes bright in the weird lights that illuminated the stairwell. Everything looked strange in the vicinity of that deep, black door, but Steve seemed unaffected by it.

"Whatever you're expecting, believe me this isn't it." Giles managed a smile of his own, a rare event these days, but one guaranteed to make Steve even more cheery than usual. "Just bear that in mind. Remember the blood demon?"

"Oh. Right." Steve was in that curious place now, between belief and non-belief, remembering the demon he had been exposed to whilst not quite certain that it had really happened. Giles turned the door knob with a wry smile on his face. If Steve was really that uncertain of the events he had witnessed, he was about to be put straight on rather a lot of matters. The young Watcher was still smirking when he pushed open the door.

There was a hot rush of air that always blasted from the door of The Virgin And The Unicorn. It was the warmth of many creatures; the heat of close body contact; the warm, expelled air of demons still hot from the fires of hell. Tonight was no exception, and the sudden gusts of unnaturally warm air blew Steve's long, straw-coloured hair into a mass of spikes and peaks. His ruffled shirt swirled around his shoulders, and the silver medal hanging around his chest dulled abruptly. Condensation formed on its surface, and the smiling face of the Judy Garland/Marc Bolan facsimile seemed to turn solemn. It was as if a frown had passed across the frozen silver countenance depicted on the pendant; but of course it went unseen. Giles stepped over the threshold.

"Come on." He glanced back at his friend, who still looked faintly disorientated. The club could do that, the first time. It had an unearthly energy. Sometimes it seemed almost alive.

"Huh?" Steve blinked, his eyes seeming to return to him as though from a great distance. "Oh. Yeah." He blushed, partly from the heat and partly from embarrassment. "I, er... yeah." He stepped forward, tripping slightly on the step. "So this is your local, huh?"

"Yeah. I guess." Giles led the way to the bar, pushing past a group of seven foot mud demons that hung around by the entrance. They were broad creatures, the colour of river silt, and their skin was moist and gleaming. It left a residue on anything that they touched; a thin layer of grainy dirt that was almost freezing. Steve stared up at them, unwilling to pass.

"You waiting for something?" The tallest of the demons; a truly vast creature dressed in cheap disco gear, leaned down to get a better look at him. Pale yellow eyes gleamed in the overhead lights, and the demon's face split into a massive grin. Its vast, toothless mouth breathed cool, crisp air into Steve's face, surprising him as much by its freshness as by its origin. He gulped.

"I'm Graham." The demon smiled at him, its lidless eyes narrowing in what appeared to be a gesture of flirtation. "Hi."

"Er..." Steve stared up at him, searching his mind for something to say, and coming up with nothing but blankness. A hand caught his arm and he jumped.

"Come on." It was Giles, looking amused. "Ignore him." The demon, Graham, looked faintly affronted.

"I wasn't going to hurt him." His voice was silky and soft, like a stream bubbling through rushes. Steve swallowed hard.


"Yeah, I know. It's a demon. There are a lot of them about." Giles pulled him past the crowd, into an empty space against the bar. A pair of beautiful girls, neither looking much older than nineteen, stood a short distance away, fluttering their eyelashes. Giles ignored them, knowing them for what they truly were. Steve simply wasn't interested. The two girls hissed their displeasure at being ignored, turning away as one to flounce across the dance-floor. A tail flickered through the air behind the second girl, and Steve's shocked eyes dropped from it to the floor. What he had at first taken to be a pair of black shoes were in fact nothing of the kind, and resolved themselves now into a pair of glistening black feet, hard-soled and scaled, tipped with curving claws. The latter had been painted with bright red nail polish, but were nonetheless still fearsome talons, that scratched the shining, hard floor with every step. He sat down hard, meeting a comfortable barstool with a hard thump. Giles couldn't help a rather cruel laugh.

"You'll get used to it." He leant on the bar, and rapped smartly upon it with his knuckles. A flustered looking man of about sixty, small and round, glanced up from where he was engaged in some furious haggling with a pair of thin-faced vampires.

"Ripper!" He sounded like a grandfather, pleased to greet his favoured grandson. "I don't usually see you on that side of the bar! The usual?"

"Yeah." Giles held up two fingers, to indicate that he wanted two drinks instead of the usual one. The old bartender nodded his understanding, before bending down to fetch two clean glasses from the underside of the bar. Steve rubbed his forehead, glad for a few moments to collect his thoughts.

"Rupert?" He didn't recognise his own voice for a moment, but then it was difficult to hear it amidst the sound of pounding music and laughter. Too much conversation in languages he could not even begin to understand were throwing his mind off balance. "What is this place?"

"My local." Giles sat down on the next barstool, reaching out for one of the bowls of peanuts. "It's perfectly safe. Only thing to watch out for are the vampires. Most of the other demons are the civilised sort. The mud demons - that's the crowd by the door - they're mostly harmless by nature. Some demons are like that. You've got your librarians, your magicians, your sorcerers... the violent demons don't tend to come to a place like this. They like something a little more lively."

"Mud demons." Steve managed a faint smile. "When you said that that... that blood demon thing wasn't alone in London, I thought-- Hell, Rupert, I mean, okay, so I saw the thing... whatever it was. But I didn't think.. I mean, there's any number of explanations. He could have been a weird-- well I don't know." He shrugged. "People have accidents, or they get diseases that make them go... you know. Like the Elephant Man or something. I didn't really think he was a... a..."

"He was a blood demon, like I told you. But you won't run into any of them in here." Giles glanced up as the bartender slid two drinks over towards them. "Look, maybe I should have warned you before we came in, but I figured if I did you wouldn't believe me. Either that or you'd split. I fancied some company, and around here the only people I get to talk to are upwards of thirty years older than me. That or they're trendy types, who come here because they think it's fun. I don't come here for the fun. You've seen the other side of life. You saw at least one of that blood demon's victims. I wanted to spend some time with the nearest I've got to somebody like me." He raised his glass in a sloppy salute. "Tonight that's you. Everybody else I know went looking for bloodier shores."

"That so." Steve looked away, concentrating on his own drink. It had a strong, distinctive smell, and was a particularly lurid shade of green. He recognised it immediately, although only from photographs. "This is absinthe. Isn't this stuff illegal?"

"Yeah." Giles knocked back the rest of his drink. "Try it. It's my own special combination. Three quarters absinthe to one quarter brandy. Takes the enamel off your teeth, but it takes you straight to the source of your inner magic. Just don't forget to breathe."

"I think I'll give it a miss." Steve pushed the glass across to his companion, not meeting Giles's cold stare. "You know, I'm beginning to suspect that you're not the guy I thought you were. You were good to me, Rupert. You probably saved my life. I like you - more than like you - and you know that. But maybe I should have walked away that night we met. Maybe I shouldn't have stuck around to introduce myself."

"I'd second that. In fact I warned you about it at the time if I remember rightly." Giles downed the second drink without a pause, then took a deep breath. His grin was lopsided, and a little thin, and when he spoke again his East End accent was thicker than before, with more of an edge. He sounded like the young troublemakers that Steve had encountered on so many dark nights, walking home from the clubs that he frequented. His eyes narrowed. Giles had so far given him no sign that he was that sort of person, but it was hard to ignore the grimness and the hints of malevolence that coloured his companion's expression. "You catch what the bartender called me?"

"Yeah." Steve had wondered about that at the time, although he hadn't commented on it. He had assumed, at first, that the greeting had been meant for somebody else, and then that it had been just some joke. Now he was no longer so sure. He had seen shadows before; suggestions of something beneath the indifferent exterior that he had so far encountered. "So would it be too much to ask how you came by it? Or does it involve too much of this sort of stuff for me to want to hear it?" He waved his hand around the room, indicating the myriad demons and other creatures that filled the room, making it clear what he had meant by 'this sort of stuff'. Giles shrugged.

"It came from a little of this, and a little of that." He waved to the bartender for the glasses to be refilled, before lighting up a cigarette. It didn't smell like ordinary tobacco, but the thickness of other scents in the air made it too difficult for Steve to be sure. He was used to illegal cigarettes, for they were hardly rare in the circles in which he moved; and yet somehow, here, and when mixed with the vivid green alcohol, it all seemed so much worse. He had once thought to corrupt Giles, and yet now it seemed so very much more likely - certain even - that he would be the one that was to be corrupted. "But then what's in a name, hey?"

"In your case, something tells me quite a lot." Steve reached out, stopping Giles's hand before it could close around the closest of the two new drinks. "And I want to know about it. You can't go dragging me across town, to a room filled with creatures that look like they belong in one of my weirder nightmares, making out like it's all just an ordinary day in your oh-so-mysterious life - and then throw some tough guy madman act my way and expect me to play along. People told me you were trouble, Rupert. I guess I believed them. Hell, you'd have to be as blind as a bat not to notice that you've got one almighty problem with the world. But this? Drinking with demons? If I had half a brain I'd be out of that door now, or sitting here swearing blind I'd been hypnotised or some such crap. But you... you just sit there with your hard man absinthe mix and your cannabis cigarettes, and grin about some creepy nickname this freaky world of yours knows you by. You want to tell me anything, Rupert? Or should I just get out of here?"

"Oh lighten up." Giles broke Steve's grip on his wrist, although lightly, and took a drink from his glass - a more sedate sip this time, compared to the thirsty gulping of before. Perhaps, thought Steve, even terminally weird tough guys had to put a limit on their intake of controlled substances. "Okay, I apologise. I should have told you something about the place before I brought you here. I should have made sure that you knew what you were expecting. But it's hardly as if you're a novice, so don't give me any of that rubbish about hypnotism. You can try to convince yourself that the woman you saw being torn in half by a slimy green thing with a lumpy head was all just a trick of the light, or that it was just some poor confused disfigured guy trying to be understood - but you don't really believe it. This isn't Frankenstein that we've just walked into. There aren't any disfigured sweet monsters begging for acceptance in the mean, cruel human world. There are just monsters - demons - who'll slice out your liver without you being able to do a damn thing about it. I'd really suggest that you believe it, too. Hiding from your life is the best way to lose it."

"But this is London." Steve reached for the second glass, taking an extremely tentative sip. Even so small a volume of the vivid liquid felt like a hard punch to the back of the head. He gasped. Giles smiled.

"I told you. Breathe. Don't let it take control."

"Yeah, sure. Breathe. Now forget the drinking lesson and tell me what's going on here. This is London, damn it. Now I know that there are some places in the world where weird things happen. Mystical convergences of lines or whatever. But here? London is weird, sure. It's an old city with lots of fables and legends and all the rest of it. It's full of ghosts, everybody with a pair of eyes and a brain behind them knows that. But demons? Vampires?" His eyes trailed over to the bizarre mud demon, allegedly named Graham, which had accosted him as he had walked into the club. Dressed in his cheap disco costume, the demon looked like a tasteless executive at a Halloween party. Looked at that way, nothing in the place seemed real, and yet it was impossible to deny the fact that, no more than a stone's throw away, a girl with a heavy brow ridge and a pair of very sharp looking teeth was licking blood from the neck of a young man as they danced in blissful oblivion to a track by Procul Harem. Giles looked away.

"I don't know what's going on." He sounded embarrassed. "A few years ago it all made sense. Yes, you're right. London isn't usually much of a demon magnet. They prefer the temperature in warmer countries these days, particularly America. One or two will always prefer cooler climes, but in the main London has been a ghost town these last two centuries. Literally. Practically every street has its spirits and its ghouls, and just about every building above a hundred years-old has at least one apparition haunting its corridors. It's a fact of life in a place like this... or a fact of death, if you prefer. But these last few years..." He drained his glass, then sucked in a long breath through his cigarette. He sounded distant, which was hardly surprising given the combination that he had just ingested. Steve began to worry even more than before, and yet there seemed no point in saying anything. All that he could do was listen.

"It was the Slayer at first." Giles sounded reflective; sad even. Even though he had mentioned the Slayer before, Steve still had no real idea what or who it was, but could see that now was not the best time to interrupt. He sat silently, waiting for his companion to continue. "She refused to come to London; didn't come here since '72. Bad vibes. Suddenly the streets started filling up. It was a haven, and everything came here. We had everything from fungi demons to vapour demons hiding in alleyways and floating up out of the sewers. The local powers were very focussed. Every spell my friends and I cast had a hundred times more power than it would have done otherwise." His eyes shone, then abruptly the light went out. He took another long drag on the cigarette.

"But the Slayer is dead now - has been for nearly a year. Her replacement has no problem with the city, and she's been here a couple of times - a month ago she was barely a stone's throw from this very joint, or so the locals say. Might just be the people who run this place, looking to drum up custom with an added bit of mystique. Either way, I figured as soon as Lin died, the demons would get out of town. London isn't a haven anymore, and there are far bigger fish to fry - far better places to go to than here. It doesn't make any sense that they should stick around."

"And you come here in the hope of finding out what's going on?" Steve, who was finally beginning to accept some of the sights around him, leaned heavily against the bar and drained his glass. His head swam and his throat burned, but he found that if he took his companion's advice and concentrated on his breathing, it helped a little. The world stayed in focus, or at least most of it did. Giles was nodding.

"Yeah. I thought if I could find out why they're all still here, maybe I could do something about it. Leaves me two choices about what to do with the information. I haven't decided which one to take yet. Whatever the demons and the vampires and the rest of these creatures are after, I might want a slice of it. It's likely to be something big. Either that, or I go to tell my... my enlightened superiors about it, and let the Slayer and her Council of old men stop it in its tracks."

"Join the evil or fight the evil." Steve raised an eyebrow. "I can see why it's taking you so long to decide." Giles flashed him an irritable look.

"If I'd been expecting you to understand, I'd be pretty bloody disappointed around now. Of course it's a difficult decision to make." He upended his glass, which was apparently a sign for the bartender to come to refill it. "I've spent the last... what... thirteen years, maybe more, studying everything to do with magic. Not by choice, mind you. Not because I thought it might be a bit of fun. Just because some shrivelled old has-been in a musty old library somewhere decided that it was my destiny to spend the rest of my life with my nose in a book." He turned his head, and Steve could see the very real anger and pain that filled his murky green eyes. "So when the opportunities starting arising for me to use all of that knowledge for my own ends, I took it. I made a lot of things happen. I took control of my destiny and I made something of my life. So yeah, it's a big decision to make. If I try to get in on whatever these creatures are up to, it could make me. It could give me more power, more strength and more magic than I've ever come close to in my life. But if I decide to go to the Council, and tell them everything that I've learnt - which I damn well hope they already know themselves, although they don't seem to be doing anything about it - I'd probably be signing my own death warrant. Do you have any idea what the Council does to renegade Watchers? Particularly Watchers who are intended to one day guide a Slayer? It's not a choice to be taken lightly." He glanced around, disturbed by the hostile stares currently being directed towards their tiny gathering, and a faint hiss escaped him. "Damn. I hoped that I wouldn't be overheard."

"I don't think that many people can have heard you." Steve frowned. "And what's it matter anyway? I'm sorry, but you're still not making any sense. I still don't know what a Slayer is. And what's a Watcher? What do they Watch?"

"What do you know about the Slayer?" The voice came from above him, too high to be coming from someone at a normal human standing height. It took him a moment before it dawned on him that he was being spoken to, for the softness of the voice did not rise far above the raucous music playing throughout the room. He turned, stiff and slow, faintly disturbed by Giles's lack of interest. The other man had not so much as thrown a glance towards the figure now menacing his companion. Steve looked up. 'Graham', the tacky-looking mud demon, was towering above him, his lidless eyes glowing their pasty, unhealthy-looking shade of yellow. Steve blanched.

"Don't look at me, mate." He tried to ignore the ham-sized fist that hung so close to his face. "This time yesterday I didn't even believe in fairies."

"The Slayer is no fairy." A slight hiss leant new menace to the creature's words. Giles glanced up.

"Nobody here knows the Slayer." His voice was forceful, not at all the kind of tone that Steve would have used towards a creature so very much bigger than any human. "Just get back to your dancing. Take a drink on the house, whatever."

"I don't drink with humans." The demon turned around, flouncing away like a prima donna with damaged pride. Steve shook his head.

"That's it. I've had enough."

"Enough of what? The night's young." Giles caught his wrist. "Okay, no more surprises. I've already said I'm sorry. I was showing off when I brought you here. It's a bad habit of mine. I'll answer your questions later, when we've left."

"We're leaving now." Steve slid off his stool, wondering if he was supposed to pay for his drink in pieces of leprechaun gold, or the shimmering scales of sea demons, or something equally bizarre. Giles, however, merely threw a few very ordinary looking coins onto the bar. It did not look nearly enough to pay for the drinks, but the bartender scooped them up in passing, making no comment about outstanding amounts. If anything he seemed pleased by an excess.

"Cheap place," Steve observed. Giles shrugged.

"Just as well. I only lifted enough for a couple of rounds." He nodded towards Graham, now busy swaying to a pounding track by the Stones. He was dancing as though it were some sweet, enchanting ballad, despite the crashing drums and hammering bass. "Graham's treat. It's his fine for acting like a jerk. Come on."

"Where are we going?" Steve looked extremely apprehensive, but Giles merely laughed.

"To the back. There are private booths where we can talk properly. I'll answer all your questions, I swear. I'll even apologise for acting like this is the most mundane place in town... if you'll agree to stop being so offended by everything."

"I'm not offended." Steve managed to stave off a shudder as a three armed creature with a horn on its nose brushed past him. A powerful stench of rotting fruit filled the air for a moment, before it was washed away by the ever present scent of hot, dancing bodies. Giles cast a glance back at him.

"Yeah you are." He stopped by a set of thick, scarlet curtains, and pulled them aside. "You were offended by Graham, you were offended by the drinks I ordered. You even looked offended by my brand of smoke. If I didn't know better I'd swear you were some kind of a stick in the mud." He led the way through the gap in the curtains, letting the heavy material fall back into place behind them. A long corridor awaited, tiled in black, and lit at intervals by candles in gold-coloured chandeliers. There were many paintings along the length of the corridor, all enclosed in gilt-edged frames of scarlet painted wood. Steve saw scenes of chaos and carnage, and demons of every size and shape doing battle against each other against a landscape that seemed almost pre-Cambrian. Giles was walking on by them, however, unmoved by the content, or too familiar with it to notice.

"Where are we going?" Hurrying to catch up, Steve tried to ignore the smoke of a fresh cigarette. Giles pointed up ahead.

"I told you. There are private booths." He was gesturing to a row of doors set into the far wall. One or two were closed, clearly indicating that they were occupied, although Steve could hear no sounds coming from inside them.

"Do I want to ask what's going on in there?" He jerked a thumb at the doors in question, but his only answer was a smirk. Far from seeming inclined to talk, Giles merely nodded towards one of the wooden doors. Inexplicably nervous, Steve stepped over the threshold.

It was dark inside, even with the door open; and considerably worse once Giles had slammed the door shut. Steve heard a scratching noise, followed by a sharp click. Immediately the room was washed in a cool blue light. He looked around.

It was not a large room, but neither was it small. It was furnished in oaken panelling, with a carpet of thick scarlet pile, and had a ceiling painted the same shade of deep red. Paintings hung on the walls, mostly depicting scenes from fairy tales - Jack halfway up the beanstalk; Hansel and Gretel being pursued by a frightful, misshapen old hag; Snow White lying in state, the poisoned apple resting on her pillow. There was a Gothic air to all of the pictures; something that lent them a sense of extreme menace. There was nothing there that carried any fond nostalgia for the stories of youth. Steve turned his back on them, merely sinking in growing fatigue onto one of the four large chaise-longues that rested on the thick scarlet carpet. They were black, with gold trim and gold tassels, and stood on intricately carved wooden legs. It seemed to him that there were patterns embroidered deep within the material of the seats, but whenever he tried to look more closely at the details, the embroidery vanished into the deep, rich velvet. He dismissed it as an optical illusion.

"I like this place." He closed his eyes, thinking pleasant thoughts of slaves bringing in bunches of grapes, or pouring red wine into a golden goblet that he would lazily hold outstretched. Giles smirked.

"Make yourself comfortable." He sat down on one of the other seats, crossing his legs in a stiff, businesslike fashion that reminded Steve, when at last he opened his eyes, of his father seated on the train when he headed off to work. He chose not to smile at the comparison.

"So do I get an explanation now?" He stared hard at Giles, but his infuriating so-called friend was relaxing into a sprawl of determined indifference, puffing on his cigarette and listening to the music being piped in from the dance-floor via two large speakers. It was a song by the Doors; a favourite of Steve's; and yet still a considerable irritation to him at this moment. He cleared his throat. "Answers, Rupert. Lots of them."

"You wanted to be my friend." The willingness to please had gone, much as he had expected it would. "You wanted to get to know me. I'm showing you my world. If you can't take it..."

"Enough posturing, okay?" Steve folded his arms, trying to look determined. He was well aware that he had little chance of forcing Giles to do anything, for although they were of much the same height, Giles possessed a far more robust build, and had noticeable muscles beneath the material of his shirt. Steve himself had little real strength, and what he did possess was more the type of stamina-bearing muscle good for playing squash on Saturday afternoons when he was very bored, rather than threatening a recalcitrant acquaintance with a moody streak. Giles offered him a lazy smile.

"Relax." He sat a little more erect, his new posture giving him an increased appearance of well-to-do studiousness. A fit of ill-timed laughter rather destroyed the illusion, increasing Steve's annoyance and leaving him thinking that he had been a fool to stay this long. He rose to his feet.

"Forget it. I don't know why I ever thought that I wanted anything to do with you. You're a jerk, Rupert. You have the potential to be so much more, but you just don't give a damn, do you. You don't care about anything or anybody, and you just sit in your weird bar room, making conversation with a load of fanged freaks, thinking that you're something special, just because you know a few spells. You're nothing special. Nothing at all."

"That so?" For a second a real malice lingered in the young Watcher's eyes - then in a moment it was gone, replaced by the familiar, lazy good humour. When he spoke again, his voice was gentle but insistent. "Sit down. I can't tell you what you want to know while you're storming out of the building. Besides, if you walk out of here right now, you'll be selling yourself short. Missing out on the chance of something pretty special."

"You feel like telling me why?"

"Yeah. Yeah, why not. I reckon it's about time I came straight with you, to a degree at least." Giles also stood up, using his superior strength to pressure his companion back down into his seat. Despite his still-present irritation, Steve had to laugh.

"You? You haven't been straight with me since the day we met."

"Maybe, maybe not." For a second the anger burned again, but again it vanished as quickly as it had arrived. "I've been doing spells, Steve. Small stuff, just games. I can't do the big stuff on my own, and I was never that good at it anyway. But since you came along, things have been going... differently. The day we first met, I was spinning a little spell to heat my flat. I shook hands with you, remember? Afterwards I tried to finish the spell, and I fried the electrical wiring. That's never happened before. I don't have enough power channelled through me to get that big a reaction. It's not the last time that it happened, though. The second time we met, when you bought me coffee at that café round the corner from your flat? We shook hands again, and afterwards I tried out a spell I'd been struggling with for weeks. It went off smooth as silk, and I hadn't even been able to get it off the ground before then. It's you, Steve. You've got something, I know you have. Something magical, or some kind of power. Something. Maybe your dad was a sorcerer. Or your grandparents? Do you have some weird great aunt who collects herbs at midnight?"

"My family, something to do with magic?" Steve laughed out loud. "They're about as magical as a wet weekend. My father used to read me Thomas Hardy novels when I was small, because he didn't approve of fairy tales. He said they were for people with too much imagination, like imagination was a bad thing. There's no magic there."

"And your mother's side of the family?"

"I never knew my mother." He frowned. "No. I know what you're getting at, Rupert, but it's not going to work. I am not some magician in disguise, and neither am I a previously undiscovered species of demon. Damn it, you're like a kid with a new toy. I thought you wanted to be friends because you liked me, not because you wanted to find some way to bottle my non-existent magical powers. I am not going to help you weave spells." He shuddered. "Damn it, this place is getting to my head. Spells? Listen to me. I'll start seeing leprechauns next."

"I doubt it." Giles handed across his cigarette, heartened when Steve accepted it, and took a long drag. "Listen, there's nothing wrong with believing in spells. Okay, so maybe I shouldn't have brought you here cold, but you can't deny that those things out there are real. If there are demons and vampires in the world, why shouldn't there be real magic? And people born to real magic, whether they know it or not. Your mother could have come from one of the old magical lines. They used to be quite strong in Britain - descendants of the old Druid practitioners millennia ago. Most of them died out, but--"

"I am not some Druid prince-in-waiting, Rupert. For goodness sakes, listen to yourself. You're a wreck. You spend too many nights smoking cannabis and drinking absinthe. You don't know real from make-believe anymore, and it shows."

"I don't know real from make-believe? Are you kidding? We're in a pub that serves hot and cold running blood to a clientele straight out of the pages of a Gothic horror novel, and you're telling me that I'm imaging things? We're talking about demons here, Steve. Demons that are filling a city that they should be trying hard to get out of, and out of the middle of that comes you, a guy who manages to make all my spells go supernova without even knowing that you have any magic juice yourself. This has got to mean something. I have a feeling that it does, but there's something that isn't connecting yet. If I had access to the Watcher records - the books of prophecy and the like - I could find out if there's anything in it. It must mean that something is getting ready to happen."

"A clientele straight out of a Gothic novel?" Steve laughed. "Yeah, sure. Okay, Rupert, I believe in demons. I believe in vampires. But horror? We're talking about a demon called Graham. It's not exactly Dracula, is it."

"Okay, at this point I'm really wishing that you'd met one of the other regulars first. Graham is a mud demon. We're talking a double figure IQ and serious personality problems. Mud demons live in mud. That's what they do. They eat it, they burrow in it, they suck the occasional unsuspecting passer-by into it. That's all. Occasionally they use adopted names as a way of aiding communication with other races, but usually only in the hope of making a quick profit in something un-mud related. They have a weakness for loud music, no sense of rhythm, and they make lousy party guests. They never pay their bar bills either. You can't base your beliefs or non-beliefs on the basis of one weird member of a very weird species. Especially Graham, for pity's sakes. We're talking about a seven foot mountain of mud that flirts with everything on legs - and several things that have tentacles instead. Go back out there and take a look around. Look at the creatures you can't see for shadows, even when the lights are shining full on them. Look at the women with fangs, drinking blood from spaced-out young execs looking for the next big thrill. Look at the things with horns and tails in the corners of the room. Tell me that you still think this is all some big joke."

"Yeah." Steve snatched the cigarette back again, but this time only to grind it out on the thick carpet beneath his feet. "And you tell me that this isn't all some turn on for you. You tell me that you really believe this is all some terrifying 'horror novel' of a situation, and not just some blast. You're playing some stupid game here, Rupert. You come to this place all the time. You call it your local. You know some of those creatures by name, and the bartender knows you so well that he doesn't even need to ask what drink to send your way. You love this stuff. You want to know how to turn any weirdness that's going on here to your own advantage. Maybe there's no joke in demons called Graham. Maybe I should be scared, and I should be glad of your patronage; maybe I should be filling my pockets with garlic and holy water. And maybe the best thing would just be for me to walk away, and never speak to you again. Truth is that this place may well be the scariest thing I ever see, and maybe I should be quaking in my boots about what those creatures might do to me - but the truth is that it's you that's got me running scared. You're the one who makes the ice crawl down my neck, Rupert. Demons fresh out of hell I can understand. I wouldn't expect them to be anything other than evil; but you? You want to give me a damn good reason why I shouldn't be trying to forget that I ever heard your name?"

"Me? You're scared of me?" Giles sounded almost flattered, which did little to strengthen Steve's failing confidence. "I'm the least of your worries. I brought you here to improve your education, not to throw you to the dogs out there, or suck your blood or something. I'm the one person in this joint that you don't have to be scared of."

"But you brought me here." Steve groaned, shaking his head. "Why didn't I just stay away? They told me - everybody I met told me. 'He's dangerous, you've got no chance with him, he's a bloody liability'. I always knew they were right part of the way. So tell me something, Giles. If they were wrong - if you're not the one I have to be scared of - just why did you bring me to a place filled with creatures you say are dangerous?"

"Because I--" He broke off, shaking his head, leaning back against the chaise-longue. Beside his head, the nearest of the speakers was piping out a throbbing track by the Kinks; something that Steve did not recognise, but which Giles was clearly singing along with, inside his head. His lips moved silently in answer to the rhythms of the song. Apparently he was searching for an explanation, or for an excuse. His hand reached instinctively for another cigarette, but Steve slapped the packet from his hand, sending it, the cigarettes and the lighter rolling away across the floor. Giles sat up straight, fired by a moment of anger; but something in Steve's eyes made him back down. He scowled.

"I brought you here to see what would happen. I know that there's something going on in London, and every instinct I have for these things says that you've got something to do with it. You don't need to be aware of it. It's something that's inside you, but it's sure to be something that others can detect. 'Others' meaning that bunch out there."

"So you brought me here to see what your demon drinking buddies made of it?" Hurt made his words louder than he had intended, and he knew that his anger showed in his face. He felt stung by a strong sense of betrayal, and yet somehow he wasn't surprised. Somehow that simple fact hurt more than did the betrayal itself.

Giles smiled at him. "You're too sensitive. Anything that I'm doing is for your good as well as mine. Listen, if I'm right about you, this is all for your benefit. Imagine it - if you really do have some kind of magical power. Think of it."

"I'm thinking, but I don't feel at all tempted. All that I want is to leave here right now, and I don't expect you to try to stop me."

"Fine." Giles shrugged. "If you're sure. I didn't take you for the yellow type, though."

"Yellow?" Steve shook his head, turning to an annoyed pacing up and down the room. "I'm yellow now? Why is that, Giles? Because I don't fancy throwing in my lot with some weird, drug-addled demon lover? I may be yellow, but at least I'm not anything like you." He turned his back. "I was a fool to go anywhere near you. That day in the alley when I saw you deal with that freak... I should have turned my back and walked away, like the others who were there that day. None of them even believed what they saw, let alone got themselves mixed up in it later. Whatever it was that made me try to talk to you... I should just have ignored it. Shut it out. Just like I'm doing now."

"You're really leaving?" Giles sounded as though this was the last thing that he had expected, no matter how clear his companion had made his intentions. Steve turned back, eyeing him sourly.

"Yes, I leaving. I'm going back to my flat, and I'm going to pack up and move out. This place - this whole city - has been nothing but trouble to me. I should never have left Liverpool. People warned me not to come to London. People told me that there was more to this place - and its inhabitants - than met the eye. I never knew how right they were going to turn out to be."

"But you can't leave." For the first time there were holes in Giles's tough guy façade. "Look, I'm sorry. Okay, so I've been showing off, and I've maybe put you at risk. But I didn't mean..."

"I really don't care what you meant." Steve stared back at him, softened a little by the look of complete dejection. He sighed. "Listen Rupert, I have a life to live. I know... I know you've got yourself all mixed up in something here. However you found your way into this lifestyle, it's clearly something that you're not finding it easy to get out of. It's just that I have no intention of getting stuck in all of this with you. This isn't my world, Rupert. I don't belong here. I'd rather go back to how I was before, when I didn't even know that all of these creatures existed."

"You can't go back." There was venom in Giles's voice, and his face and eyes were dark with a bitter malice. He seemed to bear Steve himself no ill-will, however, and even seemed about to soften. Something held him back. "You can't ever go back, and you can't ever change what you were always supposed to be. You can't change what you are, or what you come from. Maybe you don't believe me when I say that I see things in who you are. Maybe you don't want to believe that you might have powers, or auras, that you've never been aware of - that you don't want to be aware of now. I can't help that, and I can't help you to turn away from it all - any more than I can turn away from what I am, and what I was meant to be. You see, you're wrong about me, Steve. I didn't fall into any of this, or get myself into it, or look for it for whatever reason. This - all of this - is what I am. Who I am. And what I was always supposed to be."

"If that's so then I pity you, even though I don't have a clue what you mean. One thing that my life has taught me, Rupert, is that a man is always in charge of his destiny. To be honest, I didn't get into the Eastern thinking during the early part of this decade the way that some people did, and maybe that's why I don't really believe in destiny at all."

"You're not me, and you don't have the burden of somebody else's destiny hanging around your neck every day of your life. You don't know what true destiny means." Giles smiled. "Although you may soon be about to find out."

"Destiny?" Steve didn't understand, and felt his confusion like a millstone around his neck. Keeping up with Giles, and his many mood swings, was becoming increasingly difficult. He shook his head. "Why don't you just explain it all to me, Rupert? Why don't you just tell me the truth? Who are you, what is all this that you keep going on about? Why is it that you seem to feel caught up in some kind of inevitability? Speak to me, Giles. Please."

"You're not ready yet." Giles lowered his head, letting the music wash over him, blocking Steve out completely. "You don't understand. More importantly, you don't want to understand."

"Yes I do."

"No you don't." Giles took a deep breath. "And until you've seen the world through my eyes, you can't begin to."


"Well?" The figure that spoke was tall and white-faced; a white the colour of sun-bleached bone, weathered by years of exposure to the elements. His answer came from the shadows that were flung across the floor by his own tall and spindly shape.

"They have met." The voice was a hiss; a sharp sound, but soft in its way. It was incipient; insistent and cold, yet warm and muted, like curdled milk turned to sound. The shadows moved as the voice spoke, shaping into spider-like fragments of the main body of the darkness, yet never truly taking the form of anything recognisable, nor yet really visible. "What do we do now?"

"We wait." The first speaker stepped forwards, closer to his insubstantial companion. A ray of bright moonlight illuminated his features for a moment, emphasising the unusual whiteness of his face. His eyes burned in that moment; hot and red as the unexpected light picked out the myriad stark blood vessels, all vivid in the bloodshot white - then his long, thick eyelids blinked, and the odd light was gone. He smiled, showing teeth exposed by long receded gums, discoloured by the years. Two golden fillings in the back of his mouth showed up brightly in the darkness and his grin stretched his mouth wider. "Do they suspect anything?"

"He does." The shadows fell apart and melted back together as they spoke, and for a second it almost seemed as though there was a figure hidden within them. Something that was man and yet not man; human-shaped, perhaps, if one did not look with too discerning an eye. "But then you expected that. He knows that his new friend has something magical about him, but he doesn't know what. His friend doesn't suspect anything at all. Rupert does... and there's a chance he might remember something... but half the time I don't think he can even remember where he was last night. He just knows that there's some reason why the demons are still in London. He wants to know what they're up to, but they're not telling him anything."

"They don't know anything." The tall man smiled again, turning about to wander back into the darkest recesses of the room that enclosed him. Deprived of its master's shadows, the presence that he had been speaking to flowed away, black mist turned to water, into the drains beneath the stone-flagged floor. The tall man knew that it was gone, but paid no attention to it. Its passing was of little interest to him. Instead he fastened his bony, gold-encrusted fingers behind his back, bowing his head in deepest thought. His sharp eyes flickered open and shut, staring at the thick cobwebs that hung over everything; staring at the many rat holes, and the twisting, writhing figures of the creatures that had made them, pattering about the cold floor on their tiny feet. He seemed oblivious to it all, and merely breathed out, long and hard; a great, dry, dusty breath that disturbed the spiders and made the rats dance in panic. Then he smiled.

"Soon." It was a pleasant word to his ears, for it told him that his long wait was nearly at an end. He felt like some great games-man, who had spent years placing the pieces of a chess game into the most advantageous positions about the board. Now at last he was ready to make use of them, and take the final steps to making victory his. It was a pleasant feeling, and one that might have brought a warmer flush to the pallor of his cheeks - were he human enough to feel true pleasure. In reality he had ceased to be tuly human a long time before.

"Very soon now." He wandered forward all the while, reaching out with one long, thin finger to the dust-covered pane of a window set into the wall just before him. A swathe of dust fell away at his touch, bursting into tiny speckles of flame as it fell earthwards. Beneath it a broad streak of glass was revealed, showing him the world beyond his room; a grey London street, at ground level, for his home was a cellar that looked out only upon passing feet and clouds of car exhaust. Rain fell in dark puddles, and the glinting moonlight shone through the falling drops, showing all the greyness of dirt and pollution. The figure waved his finger a second time, and the world beyond the dirty window blurred. Instead of the street he could now see a room; a room lined with oaken panelling, furnished with four black chaise-longues, set on a thick scarlet carpet. There were two young men in the room, both in their early twenties, one dressed in clothes reflecting the fullness of the gaudy fashions of the decade, his shoulders cloaked in his own long hair. A sparkling cross hung from his left ear, and highly polished shoes leant him an extra two inches of height. His companion was smaller, with a stronger, tougher build, his dark hair short and his clothes the antithesis of the first man's flamboyance. Blue jeans with frayed seams and a plain black shirt faded to a murky grey, gave him the appearance of a street hood; not the scholar he had once been, and sometimes seemed to be now. The sharp eyes spying on him, through a dirty window pane enchanted by dark magics, could see the expensive pair of glasses stowed in one of the pockets of Giles's leather jacket, lying alongside a wicked looking flick-knife that shared the same resting-place - and the small, leather-bound book of summoning spells that shared a second pocket with an exquisitely hewn wooden crucifix, inlaid with pure silver, hand-made for the shadowy young man fifteen years before by a priest with an uncanny eye for the future. The inhuman apparition stared at these secreted items with a wry smile on his deathly pale face. So many contradictions; so many attempts to be both good and evil; scholar and sorcerer. It might well strengthen his hold over the young man, if the fool didn't even know his own mind. The pale figure reached out again, brushing over the strange image of the two in the distant room.

"My two disciples." His voice was like a hot, dry wind rushing through a desert, and his teeth clicked together like the snapping of dried, dead wood. "It will all be over soon. All over." And he breathed on the glass, and the mist that covered it obliterated all trace of the two young men. As if in answer, the old cuckoo clock fixed to the wall opposite burst into life for the first time in twenty years, as its dust-laden hands began to move their way around the faded dial. The thin man turned his head to watch this unexpected movement, smiling all the while at the oddness it described. He watched as the rattling hands made their way around a full circle, marking out their passage with thin grooves worn in the thick dust that clung to the clock face; then just as the cuckoo inside prepared to leap out to chime midnight, a ball of blue flame ignited the tendrils of moonlight that filtered through the cracks in the dusty covering of the windows. The clock fell dead once again, and the rats set up a tumultuous squealing, as the old man that was no longer really a man at all, turned an stomped away into the night.


"Did you feel something?" In the room behind the bar it was suddenly cold. Steve glanced about, watching in alarm as the lights flickered, and the Cream song blaring over the speakers broke up into several seconds of static. Giles frowned.

"Interference." He glanced about, searching for any sign that they were being overheard, then shrugged. "Somebody's watching us, probably by magical means. I don't know who, but it's not as if there aren't plenty of suspects. Maybe we should go somewhere else."

"The only place I'm interested in going is back home." Steve shrugged off the moment of foreboding caused by the strange chills in the air. "There's something weird about this place - and I don't just mean the clientele."

"You can sense it." Giles looked smug. "There you go, you see. You do have powers, even if they're only of a sort. With my knowledge and your... whatever it is..."

"Rupert... let it go, alright? I've already told you that I'm leaving, and that I have no intention of getting myself any deeper into this other-world of yours. Whatever your reasons for getting into all of this yourself - and no matter how unfair or tragic they may happen to be - they're your reasons, and it's your life. I have to live my life, and I want it to be demon-free. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is."

"And that's your final word?" Giles looked so downcast that Steve was almost ready to turn back on his recent vow, and agree to anything that his companion suggested. He shook the sudden feelings from his mind, and tried to focus on his own determination.

"It's my final word, yes, and I really don't feel like repeating it yet again. Now please... I don't want to walk through that lot on my own. I'd appreciate it if you'd come with me."

"Of course." Giles didn't meet his eyes, seeming now more subdued than Steve had ever seen him, or had ever expected to see him. He knew Giles as a sullen character for the most part, wrapped up in his thoughts, or his studies, or just in his usual attempts to be vicious and uncompromising. Now he seemed withdrawn and tired; sorrowful even; and strangely shy. "I'll walk you past the monsters that don't exist, and help you get back to your safe, boring life so you can pretend none of this ever happened." He smiled; a light, strangely boyish smile, that did not hide a certain malicious humour. "And then we'll see how long you survive. If I'm right, and you do have powers, pretty soon something is going to come after you."

"Somehow I doubt that. You're the only person I know of who's likely to try that."

"Rubbish. London is full of people who know about the dark arts. You think this is the only bar like this in town? Plus there are the others. The users, as opposed to the doers. People who use vampires the way physicians used to use leeches. There are half a dozen joints in this part of the city alone where you can pay a vampire to take a drink from your neck. Some places offer the service for free, but you'd be amazed how much people will pay for the privilege. They don't even seem to mind the risks they're taking. You'll always get a vampire somewhere who sucks just a little too much." He shrugged. "And that's just the sad cases. There are plenty of others, human and demon, who would know exactly how best to use what you've got, either the friendly way, or just by sucking it all out of you like a vampire with a baby. But that's London for you, especially right now. Magic is cool, hadn't you noticed? It comes from the drugs, and the new world all that stuff opens up. Shows people things, let's them into secret places. But come on. If you're that desperate to leave, we might as well get out of here. I have other things I could be doing."

"Why? Why bother with all that?" Steve reached out suddenly, impulsive in his desire to save - as he saw it - his friend who had become lost in his own vices. "Come with me, to Liverpool. Try living a normal life, Rupert - away from all this... this craziness. Have you been to university? You speak like a man who might have been, or at least some of the time you do. There must be any number of jobs you could do. I know how well read you are, and how many languages you speak. You could do anything."

"Yeah." Giles smiled at him, in his often surprising way - warm and mellow and filled with good humour. "I suppose there are, or might have been. I wanted to be a fighter pilot once, or lead guitarist with a rock band, or a writer. But like I said before, this is the way I was always supposed to be, and nothing can change that. I tried to hide from it for long enough, and all that I managed to do was to get myself even deeper into everything that I'd ever tried to hide from."

"Maybe you should ease up on the absinthe and cannabis. Maybe then you'd see the world a little differently. Maybe you should find some friends that don't have fangs." Steve shook his head. "You say that I might have powers. That I might not be like the rest of the world. Well okay, maybe you're right. Maybe I am different. But isn't that even more reason to go back to Liverpool? Isn't that even more reason to get out of this city? You may be interested in the dark side, Rupert, but I actually happen to think that evil is rather unpleasant, and that it should be stopped, or at the very least slowed down. I don't plan on giving it any head-starts by being here, just when something is apparently about to happen, that I might wind up mixed up in. Weird though it may sound, I don't want the demons to get whatever it is that they're after, and even though I don't plan on stopping them myself, I certainly don't plan on helping them." He sighed. "And now I really am leaving. Sorry, but I've just... I just don't want to be here anymore. It's not safe. It's just not..." This time he merely shook his head, for he had no words with which to finish the sentence. "Goodbye, Rupert."

"No, wait." For a second the emotions chased across the young man's face; everything from desperation to sorrow to pain - then finally resolving into a familiar, steady impassivity. "Look, you've got a point. A-at least, I understand what you're getting at. For myself... I don't know which side I stand on yet - whether, once I find out what's going on, I want to stop it o-or to be a part of it. That's something that I have to work out for myself. Just don't go home yet. Come back to my place, and we'll talk."

"Your place?" Trying to bring some much needed lightness back to the atmosphere, Steve forced a smile. "Are you sure that's safe? From what I've seen of the place, I'm not sure that it's structurally sound."

"It's not." There was no humour in Giles's voice; no trace of sarcasm or amusement, or anything else save blank honesty. "But it's home. And until it falls down around my ears, it's staying that way." He pushed open the door. "Now let's get moving. It's pretty certain that somebody has been eavesdropping, and if that really is the case, I want to be somewhere else before we speak anymore."

"You have something else that you want to say to me?" Steve was delighted, beginning to wonder if his recalcitrant friend might actually be about to open up. Giles shot him a hard stare that shot down his hopefulness even before it had fully begun to bloom.

"You're one of the good guys, Steve. There are a lot of people - and a lot more besides that fall rather short of that particular category - that I'd much rather didn't see me speaking to you. The night's still young to the demons, and this place is still only half full. I don't want to be here with you when the serious crowd arrives. Now get moving." He pulled open the door. "And we're leaving by the back way."

"Nice to know that you're so happy to be seen with me." Steve made to push past him, but Giles seized his shoulder and froze him in his tracks.

"It's not a question of choice, Steve. It's a question of living. I'm trying to keep you alive. The only thing you have to worry about is why anybody should want you otherwise. This thing that's coming... I should know it, I'm sure I should." He frowned, and for a second Steve could see something of the student he was sure that Giles had once been, buried deep in his eyes. It looked as though he were trying to remember something, that was lost too far in a drug-confused past.

"You know, just for once, I wish you'd say something that didn't sound like part of a riddle." Angry again, made more so by his companion's vastly irritating habit of refusing to speak straight, Steve turned away. Giles reached out an arm as though to stop him, then let his hand fall back to his side. He forced a smile, albeit one that did not reach his eyes, and then managed a careless shrug.

"They're not riddles. Not really. Perhaps I just don't explain myself so well. I'm not all that used to talking to people... not people who don't understand, anyway. My friends have always understood."

"Maybe that's why you have so few friends." Steve took a long, deep breath. "Look, Rupert, it's getting late. You said we were leaving, and really that's all I'm interested in now. I want to go home and relax. Maybe read a book for a bit, have a drink that doesn't blow the back of my head off... Just relax. It's been an... interesting evening. Thanks for... trying to show me all this stuff. Maybe another time we can try again."

"Yeah." Giles headed for the door, opening it wide. The corridor stretched away before them, one way leading back to the bar, the other leading up to a street level rear entrance. "Home, sure. Just don't go there right away. Come back to my place first. I have some books there that I really ought to be looking at. There are things we honestly do have to find out, Steve; and I really do mean that. There are things that are going to happen..."

"Rupert for goodness sakes, enough already! No more of this 'things are going to happen'. What? What exactly is it that we're supposed to be in the middle of?"

"I don't know... not exactly. There are certain possibilities that I don't like very much. Certain bells that are ringing... one or two old tales that I remember... Just please, come back to my place. Smoke a cigarette, have a drink, and just let your mind be a little more open. Please?"

"I'm going to regret this." Shaking his head in exasperation at his own foolishness as much as anything else, Steve nodded his head. "Okay. Just for a while. An hour or two, Rupert - nothing more. And I mean that."

"An hour or two is all it'll take." Giles was smiling again. "Come on, we'd better hurry. It's not safe to linger on the streets. Not anymore."

"Yeah. Sure." Wishing that he had never gone to visit Giles that night, Steve let his friend lead him away down the corridor. An odd sensation of inevitability hung over him, and he wished that he could shake it. He wished that he was asleep in his own bed. More than anything else, he wished that he had never left Liverpool. But it was too late to change anything now.


They lay on the floor, the cannabis smoke floating into the air in long, grey fingers. It spread out when it reached the ceiling, mingling with the great spreads of black mould that marred the plaster and paint work. Giles watched the familiar shapes of reaching, snatching demons form in the mass of darkened stains above his head, and tried to take a mouthful of whisky to chase them away. Drinking from the bottle whilst flat on his back proved not to be a very good idea, and he succeeded only in thoroughly dousing his head. He coughed. Steve glanced sideways at him, and giggled.

"Shall I light a match? You'd look great with flaming hair. Sort of a fiery Medusa." A thought occurred to him. "Say, did Medusa really exist? I mean, was that all demon stuff back in ancient Greece, or was it just myth - or something else?"

"Bit of each so far as I know." Giles sat up slightly, leaning on one elbow so that he could take a drink without soaking himself for a second time. "There's certainly at least one race of one-eyed demons that might have started the whole Cyclops thing, and the Minotaur might well have come from something similar." He frowned. "But you're not interested in that. You don't even believe in demons."

"No." Another giggle bubbled forth. "I just left a whole bloody night-club full of them, and I still don't believe they exist. I just shared a drink with a baying horde of delusions." He frowned, taking a long breath in through the tube of his hand-rolled cigarette. Although he had tried cannabis before, it had mainly been through passive smoking. He had never been exposed to so much before, and the effect that it was having on his brain was unexpected. For the first time everything made sense to him, including everything that Giles had told him about magic and darkness and the light. He truly believed, lying on the litter-strewn floor of a damp-riddled flat in one of London's seediest regions, that he had some fantastic destiny, intertwined with a hundred lifetimes of other people's magic - that he was part of a long line of sorcerers, or even demons, leading him on into some fantastical future. Maybe it was the hedonism of London in the seventies. Maybe it was just the clouds of cannabis around his head. Maybe it was the lingering rush of adrenalin that had filled him as he had begun this truly bizarre evening. He smiled to himself, and let his head fall back against the flooring. Fairies and nymphs skipped gaily through the black stains that covered the ceiling, and the vast clouds of smoke that hung in the air danced and swirled into galloping grey stallions bearing knights in curious armour. Feathers plumed in magnificent crests from the helmets of the men, and the manes of the horses streamed and flowed in the hot air rising.

"You know something?" He wanted to tell Giles everything; about all that he saw in the stains and the smoke; about all that he was imagining and dreaming, and all that he found he now believed. Instead he felt another giggle well up in his throat, and had to give vent to the sudden hilarity that filled him. Giles turned his head, frowning.

"What's so funny?"

"You are. This place is." He pointed up at the mould in the corner of the ceiling, where it was quite clear that something very like a toadstool had taken root. "This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the sorriest excuse for a living place that I have ever in my whole life set eyes upon. Those mud demons of yours probably have more wholesome living conditions than this. Hell, I've known dung beetles with snappier interior decorating. Actually I think there are a couple of them living under your bed. I mean, you have books in this place that must cost a fortune on their own. You come from money, Rupert. It shows in your breeding, even if you do try to hide it behind that ghastly accent. I swear, man - there's a tweed suit under all that leather. So why the mouldy hole? Surely there's some family mansion somewhere around? Something suitably large and impressive, with a library that you must have taken most of those books from?"

"Yeah." He struggled to his feet, turning his back on the monsters on the ceiling, and wishing that he could find something within them to laugh at, the way that Steve had so obviously done. "There's a mansion, and yeah, I nicked a fair few of those books out of it. There's also a bank account somewhere with my name on it, and it's got enough money in it to keep me very comfortable for at least the next two hundred years - provided that I don't go trying to buy the Cullinan diamond or something."

"I doubt the queen would sell it." Steve shrugged. "Although I suppose you could cast a spell on her or something. Wonder what you get for enchanting a monarch?"

"A straitjacket, probably." Having made it, finally, to his feet, Giles swayed uncertainly, then took another long pull from the whisky bottle. It ran dry halfway through his second gulp, and he tossed it to the floor. It rolled under the bed, the sound of it striking many others of its kind impossible to miss in the temporary silence. Somewhere nearby a rat scurried and scratched in indignation, presumably at the effrontery of the human who had dared to throw whisky bottles at its place of rest. Steve jumped.

"Rats. I hate rats. I used to live on a council estate in Liverpool. Bloody lousy place. Depressing. It was full of rats, so in the end they pulled it down. Probably the last bit of money the government's ever going to spend on Northern England." He looked around for an ashtray, anxious to stub out his dwindling cigarette before it diminished even further and burnt his fingers. There did not appear to be an ashtray, at least that he could see, so he dropped the cigarette to the floor instead. For a second there was a flash of orange on the carpet, as the pile almost ignited; then in a sprinkle of dying sparks and a sudden stench of singed fibres, the cigarette died. He ground it out with his heel to make sure.

"This place is definitely worse that the old place in Liverpool though. That might have been ghastly, but at least it had running water. Well, most days it did."

"This place has running water." Giles threw his cigarette lighter at the nearest rat, then cursed when he realised that he was going to have to go to fetch it. Steve laughed.

"Yeah. But at my place, the water runs out of the taps, not down the walls." He wandered closer to one of the cold streams that bothered him so, trailing his fingers through it. Heavy drips fell onto the carpet. "I mean where does this stuff come from?"

"Condensation mostly." Giles's tone of voice showed that he didn't much care. "And yeah, I could get a much nicer place. Problem is, though, that any withdrawal might get noticed. The money is mine, no strings attached, but if I take some out of the bank, anybody who's trying to find me would get a big hint."

"There many people after you?" Steve asked it as a joke, but his answer was a sullen shrug. He frowned. "Like who? I mean, I've heard you give hints - this thing about the Watchers. You did promise me that you'd give me some answers. You said that you'd come straight with me, and it was a promise. You know - one of those things that you're supposed to keep?"

"I never keep promises. It's this particularly irritating habit of mine." Giles finally managed to summon up the enthusiasm to pursue his errant lighter, and swore at the pair of rats that were also showing an interest in it. They ran away, their snaking tails lashing at the grimy carpet. "I caught it from a friend of mine. Least reliable man on the face of the planet." He looked momentarily distracted, and Steve could almost see his mind changing gear. He got the impression that, whoever this unreliable friend was, Giles hadn't seen him for some time, and regretted that fact. He frowned. Where had that thought come from? How could he suddenly know what Giles was thinking? He shrugged, and tried not to shiver, telling himself how stupid it was to get carried away by a momentary sensation. He had had moments of insight before. Everybody had them. Giles had him jumping at shadows, that was all, with his stupid talk of magical gifts.

"Then today, my dear fellow, is the day you're to change the habit of a lifetime." Steve marched purposefully towards him, and gripped him by the arms. He was rather surprised when Giles did not shrug him off. He didn't even look angry. "So?"

"So...? You know, I'm sure we came here to talk about something else. Didn't I say I needed to consult my books?" Steve glared at him, demonstrating most firmly, albeit without words, that he would not take any more brush-offs. They had both lost any sense of urgency once the cannabis and the whisky had joined in the conversation sometime earlier, and the only research Steve was interested in now was the life of his friend. Giles seemed likely to protest, and as Steve's obvious determination showed no sign of waning, a frown made his murky eyes look even more sulky than usual. He glowered. "Okay. Okay, fine. If you're that determined, I... Look, just sit down." He gestured to the bed, and Steve obediently sat. It creaked ominously at him, and he tried to ignore the scurrying of rats directly beneath. Instead he focussed on Giles, beginning to pace before him with an anxious look on his face. His lighter flared as he lit up another cigarette, and for a second his face was illuminated fiercely by the flame. His eyes were hard in the bright light, and his face was set like stone.

"I'm a Watcher." He said it in much the same way that an alcoholic first admitted his condition. "And I know that you don't know what that means. I, er, I'm getting to that." His voice had changed, Steve noticed. The East End harshness was still there, but something else was shining through. Something more Home Counties - more precise and modulated, like that of a public school boy. He seemed to have picked up a slight stammer too, that echoed in the resonance of his words. "I - I didn't want to be... what I am. It's hard, having your who-whole life laid out for you. Everything, like you don't have a mind of your own. They even try to control that. They govern your education, your thinking, your leisure time. Make you into what they want. I turned against them. I used their education for my own ends. They taught me about darkness, and I decided to go a little deeper into it than I was supposed to." He smiled, and blew out a long plume of hot smoke. It hung above his head, refusing to dissipate, and Steve saw monsters in it. He wondered where the fairies and nymphs of his earlier daydreams had gone, and realised with a jolt that he was seeing through Giles's eyes this time. He blinked, and turned his mind to his companion's words instead.

"They tried to stop me. O-over the years, they even tried to kill me. Or-or they threatened that they were going to. M-m-my mother tried to make me see what they were going to do, but I didn't listen to her. Couldn't. She wasn't one of us. Not like me at all. And there was so much to learn... That was one thing that was good about being a Watcher. So much learning. So many books. I was always good at that, even when I didn't want to be. So I learnt more and more, and I did more and more with everything that I learnt. It was exciting. More than that. It was... it was wonderful. Enthralling, i-inspiring. Incredible. I went to Oxford like they wanted me to, and I learnt more and more, but they were pulling me apart, trying to m-make me do what they wanted. So I ran away. Met Ethan. He was crazy, and he thought that chaos was all that mattered. Chaos and darkness. But by then I was something more. Something darker even than he had thought to be. We made more magic. More darkness. I-I learnt things, and I saw things, and I found things... things that mean you can never go back. Not really. Not properly. I could maybe go back to Oxford. Even be a Watcher, if I could get them to trust me again... but I-I'd have to pretend to be something else. Something other than what I am. How I am." He smiled. "I'd have to pretend to be like you."

"So I take it that these Watchers don't go in for..." he hesitated, not willing to think of Giles really involving himself in anything all that bad. "For black magic and stuff."

"You could put it that way." There was a silence. "The Watchers came about because of the Slayer. In all the world, one girl is born with the powers to fight evil. Vampires, primarily, since they're more abundant than other demons, but it all falls into her area of expertise. She has incredible strength and agility. Recuperative powers that go far beyond human. All kinds of heightened senses and the like. And in the earliest days, when Slayers first began - when humanity first began - she had a Watcher. A person, like herself, born to a special destiny. It was his job to train her. To help her to hone her-her skills. To practice, to-to learn. He had to know a-all that he could about demons and vampires, and the prophecies relating to each, so that he could best serve her, as-as an advisor and a tutor. In time the Watcher became a Council of Watchers. Many people, c-coming together, to pool resources and minds. O-only one would serve the Slayer, usually picked even from birth as-as prophecy dictated. All Watchers are identified at birth, or-or very early childhood. U-usually they begin their education at around the age of ten. Languages, histories, demonology, vampirology, prophecy... weapons training, many different arts of battle. A hundred and one ways to kill; a hundred and one things that need killing. You study until there are no more hours left in the day, and then you study all night as well. It becomes the focus for your whole life. More than that - it becomes your life. There isn't anything else. Unless you slip away, and become everything you've been learning about. Unless you rebel. And then you become a liability. So much knowledge can cause a great deal of damage, if it's being put to use on the wrong side of the lines. Rogue Watchers have to be taken out. The others, they're out there, and they're after me. I see them sometimes, and when I do I have to move on again. I was safe when I was with Ethan and the others. Nobody came near us then. Maybe we were strong enough to be unseen, or maybe the Watchers were just too scared to come close, but I'm alone now, and they know that. That's why... that's why I want this now. Whatever it is that the demons are here for - and you. Whatever use it is that we can put your powers to. It's my last chance, to really break away from the Watchers. Otherwise it's only a matter of time before they catch up with me, and then I only have two choices. Join them, or die."

"Not such a tough choice." Steve's voice was soft and gentle. Giles met his eyes, holding them in his cold stare.

"Yes it is. Do you really think that I can have lived my life; seen what I've seen, learnt what I've learnt, done what I've done... and still be afraid of death? Believe me, Steve - in this world, death is the least of our concerns. There are far greater things to fear than that. But to join the Watchers again would mean turning my back on everything that I've worked towards for my entire life. I don't want the power and the darkness as much now as I used to. Not after one of my friends died recently, because of a... a conjuring that we were working on together. But I would still be denying a part of me, if I was to turn in their direction. I'd have to hide everything that I am... keep it hidden... for the rest of my life."

"I don't understand." Somehow Steve felt that he had failed his friend, having made him open himself up in such a fashion, only to find that he didn't understand it all anyway. Giles shrugged.

"I didn't think that you would. Nobody does really. You'd have to be a Watcher, or a Slayer, to be able to understand, and even then, most of them come ready brainwashed. Least that's how it seems. But then, I don't even know how much I understand myself. Not these days. I've spent so long in my own world; me and my friends, all sealed up in our house together, shutting out the rest of the world... Everything all decided by magic and drugs and-and potions. I've forgotten how to think in the real world. Can't make anything connect, not really. I-I think I'm turning into Macbeth. I've forgotten how to sleep..."


"No." He looked up, frowning. "We're in danger, you know that don't you. Real danger. We're going to die, both of us, in the next day or two. It's all up here, I know it is." He tapped his head, shaking it all the while, apparently trying to stare into his own past. Steve saw the sights himself for a moment - whole libraries filled with books, and scrolls opened on a desk before him - but everything obliterated by smoke and blood and headaches. "I have to find it. I have to remember, or find somebody else who already knows. The Watchers... they probably know, but I can't go to them. They'd kill me. Kill you too, I'm sure of it. Don't know why. Can't remember."

"Rupert this is crazy. You need to sleep. Maybe get a square meal inside you, and swear off this liquid diet of yours for a while. How can you expect to remember anything, or even think of anything, when you're head is full of this much junk?"

"Can't sleep." He pushed the other man away, and sat down on the floor. "Can't sleep 'cause of the nightmares. Sleepwalkers don't sleep, they walk. They wander, and they see everything. Awake or asleep, it doesn't matter anymore. Nowhere to go, nothing that can help." He smiled, looking dreamy and uncoordinated. "It'll make a bit more sense in the morning. Bound to."

"It's almost morning now."

"Not quite." Giles sounded very much in earnest. "It's not morning until the last of the night spirits crawls away. They're still here. Maybe in the morning I'll remember why it is that we're in danger. There's a spell being spun, and I recognise it. I know I do. I just have to think that little bit harder... I just have to... Never mind." With that he began fumbling for another cigarette, and Steve felt the younger man's resolve fading away. It was like watching a friend recede into the distance on the platform of a train station; everything seemed to be getting further and further away. He reached out for Giles's cigarettes, and took one himself. Maybe things looked better on the other side. At least then there might be a hope that he would understand.


The knock at the door dragged Giles back to the land of the living in something of a rush. He lay awake, staring up at the ceiling, listening to the banging as it increased in volume, and trying to remember why it was that he had woken up. He had been enjoying his dream. Ethan had been hosting a party in a half-ruined castle, with hundreds of guests dressed in black tie and tails, all drinking camomile tea pepped up with one of Deirdre's favourite spells. They had all been laughing, having fun, tormenting the well-dressed guests with their neatly oiled hair and their expensive cologne. Ethan had been in a particularly rousing mood, planning mischief at the expense of his guests, running wild in the vast kitchens with an array of herbs, spices and wickedly constructed potions, planning all manner of ill deeds and sneaky tricks. Everything had been going wonderfully, until some late arriving guest had announced their presence by means of a furious pounding on the front door, at which point half of the other guests had run away in a panic, and Ethan and Deirdre had gone chasing after them. Giles had been left alone in a room full of people, listening to the cacophony of a dying party, staring helplessly after his friends as they had faded into the distance. He had tried shouting after them, but there was too much music playing, and too much heavy knocking on the infernal door. He stared up at the ceiling, wondering whether his guest was real, or if he was still confused by the dream just abandoned. He decided on the former, and rose to his feet.

"What's going on?" Steve, who had spent what had remained of the night sprawled on the bed, opened a bleary eye and stared up at him. "What's all the racket?"

"Guests." Giles rubbed at his head, wishing that it didn't feel quite so hollow, and stumbled across the startlingly uneven floor. Pale daylight was filtering through the grimy glass of the window now, but it didn't seem to have improved his vision any. As far as he was concerned it was still dark, and there seemed to be a thick fog swirling through the room, adding to the darkness and increasing his disorientation. Knocking things from the desk with one scrabbling hand, he managed to grab the cross from inside his jacket, hefting it experimentally. He always felt a bit daft answering a door with a cross in his hand, but somehow it seemed the thing to do. His hackles were up, which was either because his sixth sense had been alerted, or because he was feeling decidedly ill. Given the amount of whisky that he had drunk the previous night, he was inclined to think it was the latter, but decided to err on the side of caution.

"Yeah, okay." He reached the door just as it swung open, the sellotape that he had stuck on the frame the previous night, in a vague attempt to keep out the draughts, finally giving way under the steady onslaught. A low, loud creaking flooded the room as the door swung wide, before crashing to a halt as it hit a nearby chair. A pile of books and papers slid off onto the floor, and Giles's pen, which had been balanced precariously on top, flew with steadfast determination into the nearest hole in the skirting board. An indignant rat scurried out, abandoning its home to this unexpected intruder. Steve threw a shoe at it.

"Hello?" The voice beyond the doorframe was ponderous and hoarse, like that of an old man out of breath from the long climb up the stairs. Giles lowered the cross, rather embarrassed to have raised it in a confrontation with some doddering old fellow who was probably lost. He moved slightly, so that the largely useless light from the window better reached his guest, and finally managed to persuade his eyes that the night-time, and the fog, had now departed. He blinked.

"Hello?" His greeting was more of an inquiry; an echo of the old man's own salutation. A foot scratched on the landing, and a figure stepped into view. He was old, certainly, but he didn't look lost. His eyes, beneath a shock of white-grey hair, were razor-sharp and fiercely blue. They were fixed upon Giles, their expression one of fearsome determination.

"Rupert Giles?" He seemed to have recovered a little of his breath, and the hoarseness had gone from his voice. Giles didn't answer. "You are Rupert Giles, are you not?" The continued lack of a response made him sigh in irritation, and he dug around in the pockets of his dusty black suit, finally coming up with a notebook. It was leather-bound, bearing a scarlet ribbon that marked a particular page. He opened the book to that page, and peered at it very closely. "Hmm. Yes, I thought so." The fierce blue eyes leapt up again, this time settling upon Giles with a determination that was not to be avoided. "You are Rupert Giles?"

"Depends on who you are." The air of menace was cold in Giles's voice. Steve, still a little bewildered, scrambled to his feet. A moth-eaten blanket that he had managed to wrap around himself the previous night tangled now in his legs, and he almost tripped.

"Ellery Gray. Doctor Ellery Gray that is." He fumbled in his pockets again, this time coming up with a card - a very sombre affair bearing a simple black border. The card read, in a rather pompous looking font, Doctor Ellery Gray, MD, PhD. Consultant, Investigator, Interpreter. My Results Impress. At the bottom of the card, providing the sole means of decoration aside from the words themselves, was a decidedly unostentatious line drawing of the face of what appeared to be a werewolf. There was something written beneath it, in Latin it appeared, but the words were too small for Giles to make out. He frowned at the card, then made to hand it back. Gray shook his head.

"No no. You keep that. That's what cards are for, and I do have plenty more of them. Besides, you might find that you need it one day."

"For what? In case I want something investigated?" Giles grinned, and tossed the card onto his desk. "Listen pal, whatever it is that you want, spit it out and get moving, okay? I've got things I should be doing."

"Really?" Gray did not sound offended, but neither did he sound impressed. "I was under the impression that the sort of things that you do, Mr Giles, were best accomplished under cover of darkness. Deep darkness, moonless nights and all that. At the stroke of midnight perhaps."

"Maybe so." Giles reached for a cigarette, and lit it with a gleam in his eye. It was the sort of gleam that threatened violence, but Gray did not seem at all perturbed. if anything he looked faintly amused.

"My dear Mr Giles, we really do seem to be setting off on the wrong foot, don't we." He sighed, then dug out a large pipe and slipped it into his mouth. Do you mind if I smoke? I do hope not. It helps me to think." Without waiting for an answer he pulled out a large tobacco pouch, and began to cram dark leaves into the bowl of his pipe. The procedure finished, he crammed it all down well with his thumb, then clicked his fingers, and lit the pipe with a flash of blue flame that leapt from the wrinkled skin of one fingertip. Steve gasped, but Giles did not flinch.

"Parlour tricks, old man. If you want to make me listen, you'll have to give me more than simple fire play. Now what do you want?"

"Not much, my boy. Not much. A pleasant home in which to retire, a grandchild or two to make my latter days more filled with joy... to save your soul from eternal damnation." He shrugged. "Little things, little things. Now where were we? Ah yes." He puffed long and hard on his pipe, filling the room with the most curious, sweet smell, like that of cannabis resin burning in a bowl full of sugar. The heavy, cloying scent of tropical flowers floated freely on the air, and a faint purple smoke began to rise from the bowl of the pipe. It spread out, hanging like some tangible thing, refusing to disperse and fade the way smoke was supposed to. It seemed to Giles that it was forming a giant Mark of Eyghon in the air, floating silent and accusing right before him. He tried to swat it away, but it resisted his attempts to dislodge it, and he felt it sting at his hands. The touch of the smoke was hot, and it made his skin tingle like the application of a warm poultice, filled with herbs for healing. His glaring eyes stared back towards Gray.

"More parlour tricks. You're trying my patience old man."

"Patience is a virtue, Rupert. You'd do well to learn that." For a moment the pair stared at each other; an undercurrent of icy tension lingering between them, before the odd visitor broke into a bright, warm smile.

"Now." Clapping his hands together with a sound like a thunderclap, Gray looked around the room with his vivid eyes. They alighted on a chair, and he settled himself into it as though it were the most luxurious resting place in all of the world. "Why exactly did I come here?"

"If you don't know that, old man..." Giles was beginning to get annoyed at his guest's continued indifference to his tough guy act. Gray smiled up at him, eyes now twinkling and kind.

"I know why I'm here. I just wondered if you did. I..." His voice trailed away as he seemed suddenly to notice Steve for the first time. "Ah. Yes. Now you're the problem one, aren't you. Don't quite know what to do with you, do we."

"You don't?" Steve wasn't entirely sure what to say in answer to that. "Um... sorry. Should I leave?"

"No no no. No that won't be necessary." Puffing contentedly on his pipe, Gray suddenly whipped it from his mouth and stowed it away in his pocket. It continued to smoke, but he did not seem at all concerned. "You're Stephen Madden, yes?" Steve opened his mouth to reply, but Gray cut him off. "Yes, I thought so. Your mother was Melanie Whitcombe. Came from a long line of witches, did Melanie. Her grandmother was a consultant for the Watcher Council during one of their more liberal phases, about... well, a long time ago, anyway. Tall woman, Melanie was. Had rather lovely black hair as I recall. I always feel that that's how any self-respecting witch should look, although she didn't have an especially long nose. Shame about that." He sighed, and sunk his hands into his pockets, snatching them out again rather suddenly when his right hand encountered the still hot pipe. "Anyway, it's just as well that you're here, even if you're not really supposed to be. The Council would be furious, but then they usually are. A less amicable bunch it would hard to find." He sighed and drew in a long breath, then frowned. "What was I saying?"

"What do you have to do with the Council?" Suspicion was dark in Giles's eyes. "Are you a Watcher?"

"Me?" Gray gave a spontaneous laugh. "Good grief no. And I couldn't be more glad about that, believe me. No, I'm just a... a consultant." He produced another of his business cards, apparently from thin air. "Like it says on the card here, I'm a consultant, an investigator and an interpreter. I just happen, at this particular point in time, to have been hired to supply my particular brand of assistance to the High Council of Watchers. Actually I was hired by Alexander Walton himself. Strange fellow. Very old. Very stubborn." He sighed. "So entrenched he hardly even believes in magic. I mean, what good is a Watcher who can barely bring himself to believe in the very things he's supposed to stand against? Anyway, I digress, as usual. Actually I was brought in to advise the Council on a prophecy that they've recently uncovered. You know the sort of thing, my boy, I'm sure. All prose and crackly old Latin. It seems to indicate that you'll be returning to their ranks before much longer." He smirked. "They're not quite sure what to make of it."

"Me? Returning to-- Well what do you make of it?" Giles had sunk his hands into his pockets, the glowing end of a now tiny cigarette coming dangerously close to his tight lips. He looked, thought Steve, vaguely like he belonged in a remake of On The Waterfront. Gray frowned up at him, and slowly withdrew his pipe from his pocket. The pocket itself, and much of the jacket, continued to smoke. Part of it appeared to be glowing, and Steve was almost positive that it was about to burst into flame. Somehow, however, it didn't seem right to interfere just now, in order to mention it. Gray's eyes were locked upon Giles's, and it did not appear likely that he would notice any outside attempt to attract his attention.

"Would it be so bad, to return to the fold?" Gray had raised an eyebrow in gentle inquiry, but Giles did not appear to be watching him. Instead he was turning away, looking towards the grimy window. A rat was standing on the guttering just outside, watching him with beady little eyes that seemed to gleam in the daylight. It looked evil, even to Steve, who was still unsure quite how much he was prepared to believe in such a concept. The creature waved its tail, dislodging some of the muck in the gutter, causing some of it to splatter against the glass. Somehow - predictably almost, at least to Steve's way of thinking - the residue left upon the window looked very much like a grinning demon. Perhaps he was just being too paranoid.

"I've thought about it." Gray's question had been so long ago that Steve had almost thought Giles was not going to answer, but he did in the end. He spoke very softly, his voice sounding strangely indecisive and young - not at all the way that Steve had become used to hearing him. He didn't imagine for a second that it would be long before the hard edge returned; and he was right. Giles turned around, looking back once again towards his strange old visitor, and when he spoke again he sounded like somebody different entirely. The softness was still there, but it had an edge of hardness; of viciousness; of outright danger. "But it's not for me, old man. Look at your prophecies. Look at who I am. Look at what I am, and what I've done. Returning isn't an option. Not given everything that I'd be taking back with me."

"It doesn't have to go that way." There was an unspeakable kindness in the old man's voice, although his eyes, whilst still kind, also held a terrible hardness. Giles smiled unpleasantly.

"Yeah, sure. I know them, old man. Maybe rather better than you do. They'd rather have me dead than back on their side. I've been too far; done too much. I can't see old Walton welcoming me back into the fold. Do you know what I am, old man? Really am? Believe me, all of that puts a whole new spin on whatever prophecies you've been brought in to interpret."

"Then tell me." Gray folded his arms, resting them on the uppermost knee of his neatly crossed legs. A cloud of pipe smoke momentarily obliterated all view of his face, but his eyes still seemed to shine through. Giles turned his eyes towards Steve.

"He shouldn't be here." This time his voice was like a razor's slash; harsh and sharp and cold. Steve almost jumped at the sound of it.

"Oh yes he should." Still that steady pleasantness from Gray. Steve wasn't sure how the old man felt beneath all those smiles. Surely there were only two ways that he could be feeling; either anger at the way that this young man was speaking to him, or fear over what he might do. Maybe it was a bit of both. He was still smiling, though; still holding that same expression of fatherly affection and concern. His eyes were bright with interest, lit by the lights of curiosity, fading in an out of view through the ever changing masses of faintly purple smoke. Giles met his gaze, staring back at him, contempt curling his lips around that ever diminishing cigarette. Finally he looked away; not bested, just not caring.

"Fine. Let him stay." He shrugged. "Doesn't mean anything to me." In the same air of complete disinterest, he threw his cigarette stub to the floor, not bothering to stamp on it, instead letting the smouldering end transfer its dying heat to the carpet. A faint stench rose up from the pile; burnt carpet, heated remains of all the accumulated debris ground into the fabric. Giles didn't notice, or didn't care. Steve got the impression that he was planning to leave the place soon anyway; that he felt he would have to, after receiving such a visitor as this. Perhaps he wouldn't care if the whole building burned down.

"So can we talk?" Gray was sounding more and more like a mild-mannered teacher addressing an awkward pupil. "Why don't you go back to them, Giles? You know what's coming. Maybe not exactly, but you know that something's going to happen soon. You shouldn't be out here, alone, when it comes. Neither should he." He nodded towards Steve, but did not look at him. Steve opened his mouth to ask him to elaborate, but was frozen into silence. He didn't know why, but somehow he felt sure that this conversation, for now, had to be about only Giles. Quietly, very slowly, he took a few steps, hoping to take himself out of their line of sight, and thus leave them entirely to each other.

"I can handle anything. I have before. Whatever's coming, it can't be worse than some of the things that I've handled before on my own. You should have seen some of the things I've dealt with. The past few months I've killed demons that most of the Council have only ever seen in books. There are hundreds of them out there. Blood demons, vengeance demons, ice demons; Torans, Eyals, Kiruks. Now you're trying to tell me that I can't handle some little battle that's going to come soon? I can certainly deal with it better than a bunch of ancient scholars who have hardly seen the light of day in half a century. Reedy librarians, the lot of them. Skin so white that they look more like creatures of the night than the vampires do. All of them in their three-piece suits with watch chains and monocles, or little opera glasses with lenses so thick it's a wonder they can see through them. And you want me to go and join them?" He laughed, and with a strangely expansive gesture, threw off his leather jacket. Steve thought for a moment that he was going to challenge the old man to a fight, but instead he began unbuttoning his shirt. It was the last thing that Steve had expected, and a faint frown showed upon Gray's already lined forehead. Clearly he was not certain what was coming either.

"Me." Giles shook his head, tugging the shirt loose, almost tearing it from his shoulders in his anger and his haste. "Join them, be one of them, be like them. You think that I can do that? That I'd want to do that?" The shirt finally came away, and he hurled it to the floor. Beneath it his skin was quite pale, marked once or twice by small scars, showing where he might have done battle, from time to time, with foes both human and demon. A cross hung around his neck, wrought in silver, looking very much as though it might be an antique. It was none of this that he was drawing attention to, however, and as he stalked forward it was his left arm that he held out, apparently for closer inspection.

"Do you know what this means, old man?" There was a measure of pride in the voice; and a measure of something else, beneath that guttural East End accent. The well-spoken voice of a well-educated man, brought up to riches and privilege. "Do you know why I have this Mark on my arm?" Steve saw surprise on Gray's face, and a certain amount of shock registering there as well, and wondered what in Heaven's name that strange, spiralling, twisted tattoo might mean. It was black, not overly large, not overtly conspicuous - but was nonetheless extremely distinctive. It looked vaguely like a devil's trident, warped by something; bent out of shape as though by the forces of hell. A peculiar feeling flooded through Steve, and he shook his head. These strange flashes of thought were coming more frequently it seemed; odd images in his mind; strange ideas that he could not explain. He rubbed his eyes, and in the brief moment of darkness this caused, he saw a scaled demon staring at him from inside his head; a yellow-eyed creature with a madly grinning face, surrounded by excited, erratic young people dressed in black leather. They were chanting in a language that, bizarrely, Steve recognised as Etruscan. He knew that he had never heard it before, and had no idea how he was able to know with such certainty what it was. He was not able to understand the words, but he knew that this was no great loss. He didn't want to understand. The looks of rapturous bliss on the faces of one or two of the young crowd around the demon; the looks of drugged out insanity on the faces of some of the others, told him that he had no wish to know anything of what was going on in their circle. He stopped rubbing his eyes, letting the light return, making the images leave his mind. The sight of Giles in the real world, his face so very close in appearance and emotion to that crowd of other young people was almost more disturbing than that hallucination. He was grinning, eyes hot with malice and mockery.

"You know this Mark, old man. Anybody connected with our kind of work would know it, especially somebody with your obvious expertise. I'm a Sleepwalker. I can't be a Watcher as well." His right hand reached up, straying across the tattoo, reacting as though it were burning hot to the touch. "I've made my choices, old man. I am what I am. Now go back to the Council, and tell them that their prophecies must mean something else. I'm not one of them. I'm something else."

"So I see." Very slowly, as though his bones were not up to the exertion, Gray rose to his feet, crossing to the bed to retrieve the wrinkled shirt. He lowered it across the younger man's shoulders, performing the act in the gentlest of ways. "I have to admit that even I didn't foresee this twist in the tale, Rupert. A Sleepwalker... of all things, my boy - why? Eyghon is one of the worst of all demons. He insinuates himself into your being. He can take you at any time, without any warning. Once you wear his Mark, you are his for all time. He can be reborn within you - destroy you. It's how he lives. What he is. His disciples believe that they can control him, but they never can. He sees to that. Rupert... you must seek the advice of the Council. They can help you through this. Help you to remove the Mark, and perform certain cleansing rituals. You can turn your back on the Sleepwalker. Otherwise, you'll never be free. Twenty, thirty - fifty years from now, he could come back, and he could take you. Kill you, or worse. It was fun for you perhaps - a game, yes? You enjoyed the thrill of it all, the power of the possession. I've known others who felt the same, about other demons in other places. It never leads to anything--"

"Worthwhile?" Giles pulled the shirt back on, doing up the buttons with hot and furious hands. "You think I don't know that? Eyghon killed one of the greatest friends I've ever had. He destroyed the only family I've ever really been a part of - lost me the only people who ever meant anything to me. You think I like living in this slime pit? You think I wanted to spend the rest of my life battling two-penny demons on street corners, serving pints of warm blood to vampires in a tacky little underground bar?" He grabbed up the leather jacket and headed for the door. "But I've made my choices, and I'm not that sorry about them. Maybe Eyghon will come back for me one day, but if he does, I'll be ready for him. No matter when it is, or where it is, I'll give him a fight before he takes me. That's more than any member of the Council can say, with their books and their parchment scrolls, and their wasted, worthless bodies. Fifty years locked up in their chambers, getting one little girl to do all their living for them; getting her to fight all their battles for them. Whatever happens, I'm better than they are." He dragged on the jacket, settling it into place, straightening the collar and sinking his hands deep into the pockets. "I'm more of a man than the whole cowardly bunch of them, with all their prophecies and rot." He gave the door a heavy kick, causing it to swing wide open, extinguishing the solitary candle on the landing outside. Steve made as though to intercept him; to stop him from leaving the room; but the look that Giles shot in his direction was one of pure poison. Ice ran through Steve's veins, and he froze in his tracks. Gray reached out for him, touching him gently on the shoulder, standing with him as Giles stormed away. The door swung closed after him, hanging just short of a slam, the swollen frame preventing it from shutting completely. A gust of cold wind made it rattle on its hinges, setting up a squeaking nearly as insistent and chilling as the racket causing by the panicked rats. They scuttled about, bothered by the raised voices, or by the atmosphere in the room, running over each other in their confusion, making the curtain of plastic beads rattle loudly in addition to the further noises. Above it all the sound of Giles's footsteps echoed away down the corridor, then thudded rhythmically down the stairs. It was a hollow, empty sound; dull and somehow sad. Steve let out a long breath, not very surprised to hear it shaking in his lungs.

"I didn't--" He shook his head. "I knew he was crazy, but I didn't imagine--"

"He's not crazy." Gray slipped his pipe back into his pocket, before crossing to the still smouldering cigarette butt, and stamping it out before it could burn anything else. He waved a hand, sending the rats scurrying into the skirting-board, stilling the clattering curtain and clearing away a good deal of the smoke that still hung in the air. When he was finished he gestured for Steve to sit down on the bed.

"I think he's gone for good." Feeling oddly depressed, Steve gestured around the room. "You don't think he'd leave without his stuff do you? His records at least, and all these books..."

"He'll be back for them, although I doubt that we'll see him when he comes." Gray sat back in his chair, once again crossing his legs. "But before then, there are one or two things that we need to discuss, you and I. Things that I came here to say to Rupert, but which need saying to you as well. You're realising now that you really are different, aren't you. You didn't think it at first perhaps - didn't believe it when it was first suggested to you. But you believe it now."

"Yes." Steve was surprised to hear himself saying it, but knew that it was true. "I think I do. Maybe being here with Giles has... done something, I don't know. Maybe the cannabis opened something up. Either way I've been seeing things."

"Undoubtedly. And you'll see a lot more, as time goes by..." He trailed off, leaning back in his chair. "Something is coming, you know. Giles... well he's got the brain to figure it out, but he doesn't seem to know the half of it, and never will at the rate he's going. The prophecies are all very plain, and so are the signs. You can see them anywhere, if you'll only look." He sighed, shaking his head. "I expected him to be difficult. The Council warned me of that much. They told me what a tearaway he was, but from that I expected... well, perhaps you can imagine. A difficult boy perhaps; sullen, awkward, rude. He's certainly that, and I knew that there was something more. But Eyghon? They didn't tell me about that. Didn't know of course. He's right about them at least. They're a bunch of old men who have forgotten what the world looks like. All that they ever see save for each other, is the pages of ancient books too fragile to touch. They could never have imagined that one of their own would fall so far." He tutted softly, shaking his head this way and that. "And it's not even as though it's never happened before. Rupert isn't the first Watcher to choose the opposite to his supposed destiny. He's not the first to tread the wrong paths. He wouldn't be the first to be killed by his own, either. With all that's to happen in the next few days, an order has been put out to eliminate him if necessary. I don't know if the Slayer is in town yet, but I doubt that they'll ask her to do it. They have their own band that they send out to handle cases like these. They may lack super strength, but they have one gift that even the Slayer doesn't possess. Utter remorselessness. A total lack of pity or compassion." He frowned suddenly. "You do know about the Slayer and the Watchers?"

"Rupert explained some of it to me. I know what the Slayer is, and he told me something of the Watchers. I still don't really understand... not entirely... He seemed so angry."

"Perhaps he is. They're hardly the most accomodating group of people in the world, and on top of that is all the responsibility... A Watcher's life is very hard, no matter how easy it is to be rude about them all. They have to learn so much about the dark side. They read and research every aspect of demonology and the dark arts. They learn languages forgotten by the rest of mankind, and immerse themselves in texts and practices unknown by anyone else. They learn war-craft - the fighting arts. They learn how to kill every creature that ever came out of hell. Most Watchers are identified at birth, and from then onwards their lives are shaped even before they're aware of it. Then when they reach adulthood, after an unnatural childhood studying things most children would be terrified even to learn of the existence of, they join the ranks of the Watchers, and spend the rest of their lives learning more and more, and reading more and more, interpreting this, cataloguing that; wasting away in the dark giving orders to the Slayer, avoiding any sign of the hardships and the terror she faces every day of her life." He shook his head. "They make me angry, and I'm not even one of them. I certainly have very little time for the Council. They are the heart of the Watchers. They give orders to all the others, and shape policy and tactics - or like to think that they do. They're all so old now, and so set in their ways. So right wing and rigid. It's no wonder that Rupert scares them so."

"He certainly scares me. All of this does. And to think of spending my whole childhood learning about things like... things like that." Steve felt his mind being dragged back to the dark alleyway where he had seen Giles kill the blood demon. He remembered the horrific appearance of the creature, and the way that Giles had known exactly what it was, and exactly how to kill it. The thought of being immersed in that since early childhood was enough to make the hairs on the back of Steve's neck rise in involuntary fear. "But why would they want to kill him, if they spent so many years training him?"

"Precisely because of that. Think of the knowledge that he has, and imagine how he could use all of that knowledge for the other side just as effectively as he is supposed to be using it for his masters in the Council. He's already proved what a troublemaker he can be, using his training and his knowledge to summon creatures and practice magics that he would otherwise never have had access to. And with what's coming now, he's certainly too great a liability. If I know them, they'll have sent for the taskforce; and they'll kill him if they can."

"What do you mean, 'with what's coming'?" Steve's voice was hesitant, and a little suspicious. "I want to know what's going on. You say that I'm a part of it, and Giles seemed to think that I might be, too. I want the truth now."

"Quite right." Gray nodded slowly, chewing on his lower lip all the while. "Quite right. You see, there are a lot of demons in the city at the moment. Many more than would ever be here otherwise."

"Giles said that. He thought that they were after something."

"And so they are. Truth is, that there's something else in town too. A demon of a kind - but the human sort. Another lapsed Watcher, just like our friend Rupert, but a man far, far more deadly than Rupert himself is ever likely to be. Rupert has the potential for great evil, I can't deny that. But he also has the potential for great good. I don't believe that this other fellow has that."

"Who is he?"

"Just a man, although altered a great deal by the powers he's dabbled in over the years. More demon now, perhaps, than human. You see, when he was still a Watcher, before he left their ranks for good, he became fascinated by a prophecy; one of the most important, feared prophecies in the whole of the Watcher Lexicon. Its text is very clear. It tells of a Watcher who will turn against his fellows, and with the assistance of another very like him, and a young magician whose destiny is just beginning to unfold, he will change the balance of the shadows, and win himself unyielding power. The prophecy suggests that a Hellmouth will be opened, somewhere in Europe, allowing this individual to draw great forces into himself. Whatever happens after that, it'll spell the end for the Watchers. They'll be destroyed forever, and possibly the Slayer along with them. Perhaps even the whole tradition of the Slayer - no further callings; no more Chosen One. You can see why the Council is so afraid. Why they feel that it would be better just to kill Rupert, and perhaps remove the threat. A prophecy is not a certainty, you must understand that. It doesn't have to happen, just because we're told that it will. It can be changed. Killing Rupert would prevent it from coming to pass, at least for now. There's always a chance that the signs will be right again, in some other time, but that's unlikely to happen for centuries." He fell silent, apparently lapsing into thought, but and Steve was happy to let him have his moment of peace. His own mind was burning with enough over-use to make the pause in conversation feel like a glorious refreshment, and despite the apparent urgency of the visitor's tone he was tempted to wish the peaceful moment to continue. Gray was not silent for long, however, and looking up with a fiery expression in his eyes, he continued as though he had never stopped speaking. "He's here now, in London; Philip Valoran, the true fallen Watcher. As far as I know he's been aware of Giles for some time, at least since the days when he left his friends and struck out on his own. Perhaps even before then. There was a priest - a Watcher collaborator - that Rupert used to visit, and he was found murdered several months ago. His skull was crushed. I believe that Philip was responsible for that, although whatever his motives were is anybody's guess. Now he'll be coming after you. I don't know what he's planning to do with you, but I would assume that it'll be some kind of ritual sacrifice. Nothing pleasant, at any rate."

"R-ritual sacrifice?" Steve was staring at him in helpless fixation, sure that every muscle in his face was paralysed. "You're kidding?!"

"No. No, I'm afraid not. Basically it usually works along roughly the same lines, although human sacrifices are rare these days. Blood, chanting, death, fire. People get hurt, and bad things happen. The conclusion is never good. Not for anybody."

"And for me in particular." Steve rubbed the back of his neck, confused by thoughts and feelings that he could not entirely comprehend. "And that's why all of the demons are in town? Because they think that they can get something for themselves out of this? Out of - out of my death?"

"Possibly. But one thing you have to understand about demons; they read signs better than any human. They're not human, you see, and that makes a difference. They may be here because they think that Philip's rituals could be worth something to them, or it might just be that they're here by instinct, because they can sense the gathering tension. Or maybe they've all read the same prophesy. If so then they'll know what's predicated to befall the Watchers, and they'll want to be here for that."

"Great. So maybe I'll get an audience for my ritual demise. I certainly hope I can give them all a good performance." Steve might have frowned at his own misplaced levity, had he not felt quite so numb. Gray's hand alighted upon his shoulder, squeezing gently in a manner that was curiously comforting.

"I plan to do all that I can for you, my boy." He lowered his head slightly, staring at the floor. "I can't promise anything, you must understand that - but I have no intention of allowing this prophecy to come to fruition. Neither does the Council, although that won't help you." His voice became sad. "They'll kill you, just like they'll kill Giles, to help prevent all of this from happening. They've thought about killing Giles before, in the hope of preventing this day from ever arising, but now that events are beginning to spiral out of their control, they can't afford to debate the issue any longer. I'm very much afraid that if they've guessed your rôle in all of this, they'll already be after you too." He shrugged, smiling despite the severity of the situation. "But I will do what I can for you, young man. I have my own reasons for standing by the Council, and I certainly have no desire to see this prophecy unfold. No doubt if I reported back to the Council right now, they'd frown and tut and shake their heads, and then sit back and wait for the Slayer to deal with the situation - or more likely for their own bloodthirsty taskforce to hande it instead. Them I can't protect you from, and wouldn't dare try. Believe me when I tell you that they would destroy an entire street - perhaps even an entire district - in order to be sure of killing you or Rupert; or Philip, if they can find him. Which they can't." Gray's hand tightened its grip on Steve's shoulder, feeling a faint tremble that would not go away. "Our main hope right now is to keep you and Rupert out of Philip's hands, although given Philip's powers..." He sighed, looking towards the door. "I want to protect Rupert from the Watcher taskforce as well. He doesn't deserve to die at their hands, no matter what he's done. If only he hadn't left. Out there on his own I'd almost put money on his certainty to wind up in the enemy's hands. I should go after him."

"I'm not sure that I want to stay here alone." Steve didn't like to make the admission, but there was really no hiding from it. Gray nodded.

"And it wouldn't be safe for you to do so. No, you must come along with me."

"Where to? The bar? It struck me as the sort of place that Giles might go to. Sort of a second home."

"Perhaps. Yes, perhaps." He nodded, heading towards the door with a speed that belied his obviously increasing years. "Come along, my boy. Come along. We have time to race against now."

"Oh. Great." Wondering how he had gone from lazy drugged-out bliss to tense and urgent haste in just a few short minutes, Steve stumbled out into the corridor after his new companion. The building was dark, and the dripping of water down the already wet walls had taken on a sinister tone. He could feel pools of water beneath his feet, and knew instinctively that the building was not long for this world. It would collapse soon, borne by its own weight. He wondered if anybody would be inside it when that moment came, and decided then and there that he never wanted to return to it. The vast, decaying hulk of a building had an air of evil about it that seemed entirely in keeping with the events that he was beginning to see unfolding around it. His increasingly over-active mind sent him images of crumbling black stone, and ghastly cellars filled with mould and cobwebs. Water was pouring down from leaking pipes, and a shadow that seemed to be alive flitted about across the floor and the walls, lingering in the patches of damp, tracing the lines of black mould with long fingers that did not seem to truly exist. He shivered.

"Are you alright, my boy?" Gray, now some way ahead, glanced back in obvious concern. Steve shook off the unpleasantness of his thoughts, and nodded.

"I'm fine; or will be, once we get out of this place."

"I concur absolutely." The kindly smile seemed to lighten the murk, even though it was for just a moment. Both men speeded up, spurred on by a shared anxiety. Outside the daylight was growing stronger all the while, and there was a warmth that was entirely welcome. For all the dangers that might lie in waiting out on the streets, they suddenly seemed the most inviting place in all the world.


In his underground room, the tall, barely human figure with the ash-white complexion was turning the pages of a book as ancient as much of London itself. It was hand-made, the words written by the neatly spaced markings of a quill pen dipped in indigo ink. Needless to say, the words were not in English, nor even in Latin, but were inscribed in an ancient Celtic tongue that could be read by few people in the modern world. A long and bony, ring-covered finger traced the words, and the thin, tight lips, colourless and dry, marked the shape of each sound as it escaped the equally dry throat. The voice of Philip Valoran sounded like coarse paper crackling, being torn and rustled in a hot, dry wind.

"And then it shall come to pass..." He breathed the words almost silently, speaking them in English despite the language of the text. "As the night becomes deeper, and the moon becomes darker, the one who Watches and waits shall join with the one that Watched and fell; and he who fell first and fell furthest shall be greeted by those that were ever Watched against, and the Other who is not One with all that Is and Does shall be given to those who come; and the Two who have fallen will accept all that is offered, and the One shall devour the Other, and all shall be revealed, and made anew. Then shall the Doors be opened, and the Forces released. Then shall the darkness be made more dark, and the depths be made deeper and, and the One will then no longer be the One, but shall be the All." He sighed once, a sound of infinite peace and gratification, then closed the book, stroking its hardened, gold-inlaid covers with reverent hands. A smile twisted his lips, and his bloodshot eyes lit up with excitement and delight.

"Soon." He nodded to himself, causing his thin, iron-grey hair to move like wisps of curling smoke. "Very soon." Then he rose to his feet and turned to look once again towards the grimy window that was his viewing glass to the rest of the world. Outside in the street, there was rain splashing into the gutter, but that was not what Philip Valoran saw. Instead he saw shadows; fires and dark splendour - and the blood-soaked corpse of Steve Madden. He licked his lips, and absently began to polish one of the many golden rings upon his fingers. Around him the damp walls of his underground lair began to drip with more urgency, until the moisture was running down them in rivulets. Philip did not care. The building was approaching its natural death, just as the city around it would soon also begin to decay and fall. It didn't matter. All that mattered now was what was coming. All that mattered now was the end.