The streets were howling. Everywhere the rain was pouring, the ground white with froth from the fury of the lashing water, with its foam-filled and spring-loaded rebounds. Thunder rolled between the houses, filling the buildings with the inescapable intensity of its roar, hiding every sound beyond its own. There was fear in every raindrop, terror in every flash of jagged light that tore up the sky. Perhaps it would have been less terrifying, less furious, had it been any day other than October 31st - but somehow the spirit of such a fabled night gave the storm an added emphasis; a greater power to impress. Glass rattled in window frames, doors banged as though struggling beneath the onslaught of ghosts seeking entry. There was no electricity, no phones were working. Every house was alight with the flickering quiver of candle flames, doing nothing to diminish the atmosphere of Halloween gloom. The silence beyond the raging of the storm seemed fitting; a part of the feel of the night. It was a part of the mystery; a part of the shared sensation of fear. Everyone, it seemed, was huddled together, imagination fuelling expectation. It was a night when things were supposed to happen; a night when things were intended to happen. A night when everyone was too scared to remember that they no longer believed in monsters and ghouls. Childhood nightmares were reborn in every darkened corner.

Elizabeth Giles sat alone in her husband's library, listening to the rain on the windows, and trying to convince herself that there was no danger to the world at Halloween. She had not believed her husband when he had first told her that vampires, ghouls and demons treated the night as a kind of holiday, and did not walk abroad. She still wasn't sure that she did believe it, for what other night of the year was more perfectly suited to bad magic, to witches and to other evil creatures of the night? Even the air felt creepy; heavy and still despite the storm. She couldn't stop herself shivering, and she wished that she had thought to bring something warm to put on. Like most of the house the library was draughty and chilled, and whistling winds sailed through the shelves, rustling the papers and the pages of the books. She liked to convince herself, during her more imaginative moments, that the sounds were those of her husband, still somewhere in the room, prowling through his beloved Ancient Demonology section, or cross-referencing his many hand-written records. He had called them his Vampires Spotters Guides, and she loved to sit amongst them still, pretending that she could read the complex lines of the Sumerian and Greek texts. They all belonged to her son now of course. Rupert, the apple of her eye and the bane of her existence. It was hard to accept the sorry truth when your beloved only child was a wanton troublemaker; a violence-led yob who seemed to care only for havoc and mayhem. He was rude and arrogant, he caused merry hell at school - and had only avoided expulsion thanks to the behind-the-scenes wrangling of the Watcher High Council - he fought constantly and paid no mind to any rule or law that might otherwise have kept him in line. She didn't know where she had gone wrong, or even if she had. Perhaps things might have been different, had his father survived to give him guidance now - but she doubted it. Rupert was more than just the problem child he had once been. Sulky teenaged rebellion had led to something rather darker, and something that was beginning to turn even darker still. Had she been like that as a teenager? Would she have dared to speak to her parents the way that he spoke to her? But the question, of course, was rhetorical. When she had been her son's age - seventeen - it had been 1947. The world had still been recovering from a war it had promised could never happen. There had been no time for moody teenagers waging their cultural battles. Elizabeth had been too busy with too many other things. She had lost a brother in the war, and an uncle. She had seen her home town in flames. In 1947 she had never given a thought to piercing her ears, or donning black leather and stalking the streets armed with a flick-knife. Nobody she had known had thought like that. Nobody at all.

She stirred in her chair as these thoughts filled her head, and managed not to jump as a loud, overhead burst of thunder took her by surprise. 1947 had been the year that she had met her future husband - Rupert's father - although at the time he had been nothing more than a casual acquaintance. A friend of a friend, who had captured her imagination with his apparent eccentricities, and odd habits. William Giles had possessed two first class degrees and a doctorate from Oxford University - although at the time of his first meeting with his future wife it had been only one degree, with a doctorate on the way. Despite his remarkable intelligence and qualifications, not to mention a sizeable family fortune in which he did not seem to be at all interested, he had chosen to take an unpromising research job at a little college in London, and live in a huge, draughty house that was a cleaner's nightmare. When he had first married Elizabeth it had been all library and practically nothing else. The kitchen had had no electricity, the bed had been an overstuffed sofa in a cobweb-festooned living room. Even by the time their son had arrived on the scene the inside of the house had still resembled the bombed-out streets that had once surrounded it. It was clean and tidy now of course, and well painted and maintained. The floors were polished regularly, the many shelves of the library dusted each day by a long-term family retainer who could be trusted not to ask too many questions about the odd contents of the bookshelves. When Elizabeth closed her eyes though, she could still remember the way it had been, when she had moved in for the first time. She could still remember the smell of the dust, the feel of the damp on the walls. She could even hear her laughter, mingling with that of her husband, as they had begun their mammoth cleaning operation. The mess the painting had made, the smell of the newly polished banisters and stairs, the crackle of the first log fire, after they had finally managed to fix the chimney in the vast old living room. She could even remember carrying Rupert into the house for the first time, taking him to his nursery with its new paint smell. Her hands had been shaking, for a representative of the Watcher Council had visited her in the hospital, and had told her of her son's destiny. She laughed bitterly at the memory now. Her beautiful son, once so small and precious in her arms, was in that very same nursery room now - but it was no longer the room she had once decorated so lovingly with his father. It was a vision of hell in cracked black and red paint, the walls a mass of psychedelia and hand-painted symbols; the door invisible beneath layers of cigarette cards picturing rock stars and scantily-clad ladies of the big screen. Somewhere beneath the piles of LP records, and clothes she was sure were stolen, was a bed he rarely slept in - and when he did sleep it, his mother was never sure who might be with him. Whenever she thought to get close enough to find out, she was met, and usually conquered, by a wall of sound emanating from the powerful speakers attached either to his record player or to one of his three electric guitars. There was a skimpily dressed redhead who often turned up to play drums - or so she said - and a very tall, very thin man of at least thirty who played bass, and who never seemed to wear anything other than an ankle-length robe-like affair painted with swirls of clashing colours. He sported a wild Afro in shades of brown, and small goatee that leant his round face a curiously pointed look. His little round glasses bore lenses of impenetrable black, and the nails of his fingers were all painted different colours. He wore rope sandals, smelt of incense, and always intoned his words like a prophet of doom. Whenever he turned up at the house it was always with his bass guitar in one hand, and a copy of The Iliad in the other; and there was always a girl with him. She was about Rupert's age, with straight, jet black hair that reached to her waist, and she was always dressed in a plain, long blue dress. Elizabeth had tried to speak to them both, on more than one occasion - had tried to find out what they wanted with her son - but she had met with nothing but strings of meaningless poetry, and then silence. She had tried banning them from her house; had tried getting her friends, her uncle-in-law - even her housekeeper - to deny them access. Somehow, however, they always got in anyway; and if they didn't, Rupert would slip away to meet with them elsewhere. She had given up. At least if they met in her house she had some hope of keeping an eye on them all. Anything was better than not knowing where her son was. In the last year or so she had had enough of that to last her a lifetime.

"Oh William." She spoke the words aloud, surprised to hear her voice so loudly above the sound of the storm. Perhaps the initial violence of the weather was wearing down, ready to restore some sense of calm to the world. She could not believe that she would be the only one glad to have the storm gone, for it seemed to fill every shadow with ghosts, and make her pulse race faster than could possibly be healthy. She wanted to shiver with every breath. As if in answer to her thoughts the thunder rolled closer still, chasing itself across the heavens. Disappointed, she slumped back into her chair and stared mutely at the books spread out on the table beside her. Books that Giles was reading, no doubt. Books on vampires and demons, along with a history of the Slayers hand-written on sheets of A4 paper, kept in an ancient cardboard ring-binder with a profusion of stains on the cover - port and whisky stains for the most part, since many Watchers tended towards strong drink. She flicked idly through the pages, reading a few sentences, wondering who had copied them all out, and where the original collection was kept. The words that she read made the shadows darker, and caused the illusions of watching spectres to grow more powerful in her mind. She closed the book with a snap and listened to the ephemeral silence.

It ended with a pounding at the door that made her jump even more than she had done in the face of the furious thunder. Again the knocking sounded, the vibrations carrying through the wonderful ancient acoustics of the house, reaching her in her book-lined retreat. She waited for a second, thinking that somebody else would answer the door, before she realised that nobody else was in. They had all gone out, for all manner of reasons, and tonight she was alone with her son. She doubted that he would answer the door, for it was doubtful that he would even hear it. She couldn't hear his music this far from his room, but she had no doubt that he was playing it, as loud as ever. One day she would give up, and creep into his room in the middle of the night to smash his record collection. She wondered what he would do; but the truth of it was that he would probably just pack up and leave, and then she would never see him again. Troublemaker or no, she didn't think that she could bare that. He was all that she had left.

"I'm coming, I'm coming." She muttered the words to herself as she made her way out of the library and down the long winding stairs to the hallway. The knocking sounded again and again, with increasing impatience, and she quickened her step. "Alright! For goodness sakes, I've only got one pair of legs..." Almost as if the unknown guest had heard her, the knocking ceased, and the silence that followed was startling. Elizabeth faltered, uncertain, and then moved on. The thunder rolled in to fill the gap in the noise, and the rain began to beat a little harder. Suddenly feeling sorry for whoever was outside the door, she walked that little bit faster, and began to draw back the bolts.

"Who's there?" Her suspicions came flooding back to haunt her as she began to ease the door open. Thoughts of thieves and murderers filled her head, added to thoughts of Rupert's strange friends. There was no answer, but the door was opening now, and it seemed too late to stop it. As she pulled it wide she peered out into the stormy night, straining her eyes to see into the sheets of rain and the lashing wind. All that she could see was darkness - at first.

There was a girl on the doorstep. She was dressed entirely in black and had been all but invisible as the door first opened. Elizabeth gasped, shocked to see the girl there, so cold and wet and downcast, her hair plastered to her head and her soaking clothes clinging to her body. She raised bright, almond eyes to stare at Elizabeth, her pretty face exhausted, and whispered something that might have been a greeting. The words were lost in the newly replenished thunder, but a brilliant streak of lightning lit the doorway in the same moment. Elizabeth saw a beautiful smile, glass beads reflecting the electric-blue light, and a gentle pattern of red and blue in the midst of the jet-black hair. Spurred on by instinct, she reached out to grab the girl by the arm, and dragged her into the house. The door slammed shut in her wake, and the house descended once again into a relative silence.

"Thankyou." The girl managed a breathless smile, all the while seeming to recover from her unpleasant soaking. She glanced down at her clothes. "I'm afraid that I seem to be dripping on your carpet."

"A bit of rain won't hurt it." Elizabeth took her shoulders, leading her into the nearest room, stoking up the fire into a more impressive blaze. "Stay here and get warmed up. I'll fetch you something to change into. There must be something around here that you can wear."

"Thanks." The girl had an accent that Elizabeth could just make out - Chinese, she thought, which certainly went with her looks. "But I really didn't come here for a change of clothes. I'm looking for Giles."

"Giles?" Elizabeth's voice went harsh with the word, surprising herself for a moment. Giles was the name so preferred by Rupert, who seemed to think that his first name wasn't good enough for him these days. He used his surname instead, the way that the teachers did at school. She wasn't sure why she hated that so much, except perhaps for the way it seemed to underline his growing estrangement from her. "What do you want with him?"

"We have to talk." The girl brushed some of the excess water from her clothes, and the fire hissed and spat. "I have to see him."

"How do you know him?" Suspicions returned to Elizabeth's mind. "You don't look like one of his crowd. You certainly don't speak like one. You're much too polite..."

"I'm not here to cause trouble, Mrs Giles." The girl frowned. "You are Mrs Giles aren't you? You look sort of like him..."

"I'm Mrs Giles." Elizabeth wanted to glare, but found that she couldn't. It was too hard to dislike this pretty young girl, with her strangely ethereal eyes and her innocent smile. She looked about eighteen, tall and built like an athlete or an acrobat. There was a natural, cat-like grace to her movements, and no hint of the inflamed attitude that so governed everything about Rupert and his friends. The girl nodded, clearly glad.

"Good. My name is Kwan Li-Tai. I'm the-- I'm a friend of your son's. I have to speak to him." She reached out, taking one of Elizabeth's hands. "Please say that he's here, or-- Oh. He's not at school is he?" She looked as though she was unsure, as if school was something too far in the past for her to remember. Elizabeth found herself nodding.

"He's upstairs in his room. I think he's asleep. I can fetch him for you?"

"No. I'll go to him." The girl frowned, as though trying to remember something. "Up two flights of stairs? He did tell me once, but I'm not sure."

"Yes. Up two flights of stairs." Elizabeth glowered, unable to stop herself wondering just how many other young girls knew the way to her son's bedroom. Her only answer was a grateful nod, and a sudden, impulsive grip on her hand. She faltered, resolve wavering, and then stood aside. "Go on up."

"Thankyou." In a whirl of black material and a shower of cold droplets, the girl hurried from the room towards the stairs. Elizabeth followed her, her step slow and hesitant, anxious to see what the girl wanted and yet not quite willing to admit, even to herself, that she was spying on her son. Her feet echoed on the stairs.

The girl reached Rupert's bedroom door as though led there by some psychic message, her feet not hesitating in their onward path. For once there was no music pounding its way through the door, which surprised Elizabeth. She still hung back, watching and waiting, and wondering what her son's reaction to his guest would be. Kwan Li-Tai paused for a second, as though she was wondering the same thing; and then she knocked. She didn't wait for an answer, but pushed open the door and went in. Elizabeth followed, but at a distance.

The room was dark, lit only by the fire in the hearth. It leant all it touched an unearthly glow, filled with reds and yellows that joined with the intermittent lightning. Draughts from the fire and the chimney and from the loose-fitting windows sent gusts of wind flustering about the room, making the brightly-coloured false ostrich feathers dance in their black-painted umbrella stands. Trails of incense floated before the fire, and a plume of smoke rose from an improvised ash tray on the bedside table, where a smouldering cigarette breathed its last in a pile of cooling ash. There was a collection of bedclothes and assorted garments spread about the floor, the latter mostly black and the former largely rainbow-coloured, matching the psychedelic posters that festooned the walls. Elizabeth stared about at the alien decor - the guitars standing beside a giant amplifier she didn't think could ever have fitted through the door; the life-sized posters of Hendrix, Morrison and Warhol's Marilyn; the swirling masses of colour that she vaguely recognised as album covers pinned to the walls - Cream, The Who and Santana, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Steppenwolf. It was like a shrine to some dark-hearted rock god, and for some reason that she didn't understand, it made her blood run cold. At the centre of it all, sprawled on the bed, was her son. The seventeen-year-old stranger she had once known so well - or had thought that she had - who lay before her now clothed in his blue denim and black leather, his single golden earring flashing madly with every spark from the fire, or burst of lightning from outside the rattling windows. Halloween, it seemed, had taken up residence in her house, in this room, filling every part of it with its strange and ghostly presence. Every corner was alive with dark spirits, and the shadows that the flames sent racing over Rupert's sleeping face seemed to be laughing, playing fire sprites, manic and mad and ungodly. Elizabeth couldn't help the small gasp that escaped her throat. The girl looked back at her for an instant, apparently not surprised to see her in the doorway, then crossed to the bed and leaned over the still-sleeping boy. Her touch was gentle but firm as she laid hold of his shoulders, and gave him a brisk and insistent shake.

"Giles. Giles wake up."

"Get offa me." He shook her off without waking, rolling over slightly. A stronger burst of lightning lit the room, and the flames in the fireplace waned abruptly.

"Giles." She shook him harder this time, and he muttered something that Elizabeth couldn't catch. The fire spat and sparked furiously, a glittering array of multi-coloured lights rising upward from the white hot coals. "It's Li. Please Giles, wake up."

"Li?" His eyes were open in an instant, bright green in the darkness. "Where the hell did you spring from?"

"Latvia." She smiled down at him, and for a second he smiled back. Elizabeth saw her husband in that smile, and answered it with one of her own - before her son saw her standing in the doorway, and the smile was chased away by his sudden fury. He stood up, glaring at her.

"What the bloody hell are you doing in here?"

"She let me in." Li sounded slightly reproachful, and for that Elizabeth silently thanked her. Giles, however, did not seem at all grateful.

"You shouldn't be here." He pointed at his mother, anger bright in his eyes, the sulky teenager poise lending a kind of immature threat to his hunched shoulders and bulky black leather jacket. "This is my room, and you're not allowed in."

"I wanted to meet your friend." Elizabeth kept her voice even and friendly, trying to reign in her anger. There were times when she wanted to let loose with the rage she had always possessed as a child, which had scared her with its intensity. She had passed it on to her son, and that scared her too. "It is my house, Rupert. I have a right to know what goes on in it - and until you're an adult I have a right to know what you're getting up to as well."

"I don't want you to know that. It's not safe for you to be here." He turned to look at Li, and for a second Elizabeth saw something else besides the boy - something within him that had the look of an adult. There were lines of experience and shadows of responsibility that she knew were placed upon him by his destiny. It shocked her.

"Why did you come here?" For Li he reserved a special kind of courtesy; a softness in his voice that he had never shown his mother. "What's going on?"

"Rosemary's dead." She looked aside, and Elizabeth saw in her eyes the same things she had seen in Rupert's - age beyond her years, responsibilities and long years of experience that had no place in so soft and pretty a face. There was a sadness that should have belonged to a world-weary fifty-year-old, and not a girl barely eighteen. "A--" Her eyes trailed to Elizabeth, and then seemed to shrug, as though suggesting that secrets didn't matter anymore. "A vampire - last night. We were on our way back to meet with the Watcher Council. There was a test... my eighteenth birthday. Some kind of a trial by fire." She looked away and shuddered. "It went well, apparently, but it's all still a bit of a blur. Rosemary was bringing me back to England to report to the High Council, and we'd just landed in Dover. The vampires were waiting for us there. Six of them. I killed two or three, but Rosemary couldn't fight them. I couldn't protect her..." She gave a sob, but fought it back inside herself. "Giles, they were after me. They want to kill me. I was scared, and I didn't know where else to come. I thought they might be waiting for me at the Watcher Headquarters, but I didn't think they'd know about you. I didn't even know if you'd be here."

"Or if I'd want to see you." He smiled sardonically. "We didn't exactly part on glorious terms, did we. I thought we agreed that it wasn't a good idea for us to meet again?"

"We did, didn't we." Li looked away. "Giles, I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry. I led you to believe that we could have some kind of a future together, and it was wrong for me to do that. I was confused..."

"Yeah. So was I." He turned away, running a hand through his hair, causing the fringe to stick up as though it had a life of its own. "And I was angry. I still am."

"Too angry to help me now? You're the only person I can turn to, Giles. Rosemary wasn't only my Watcher, she was the only friend I had. The only person in all the world that I was friends with - except you. I don't know anybody else."

"The Watchers will be looking for you." Giles sighed, turning away and beginning to pace. The floorboards creaked under his feet, and the coal rumbled and slipped in the fireplace. Sparks flew from the chimney, catching the half-empty bottle of vodka that stood on the edge of the hearth. Elizabeth saw it for the first time, and her eyes widened. She wanted to say something about it, to confront her son - but something about his manner with Li forced her into silence. There was something between the two of them that she didn't understand, and she knew only that she did not want to interrupt them.

"They're already looking." Li sat down on the bed, amidst a pile of tie-dyed bedding and peacock feathers. Her movement caused a set of jet-black wind chimes to play a ghostly strain. "I think I saw one of them as I came into London... But I don't trust them. Only the Watchers knew that Rosemary and I were going to be in Dover last night, Giles. Nobody else. How could those vampires have been waiting for us?"

"There are any number of ways they could have known you'd be there, not that I'm at all inclined to stand up for the Watchers." Giles sat down on the windowsill, ignoring the furious rain that was still trying to break through the glass. "At any rate, you should be safe tonight. Legend has it that vampires don't feed on Halloween, and they say even the Watchers sleep too." He grinned. "It's dead out there tonight."

"I hope so." She sighed and looked away, turning instead to Elizabeth. "What about you? Are you one of them?"

"A Watcher?" Elizabeth wanted to be able to walk over to her son, to put her hands on his shoulders and stand alongside him, and answer that question in the affirmative. She wanted to understand his destiny more fully, to know everything he knew, and to experience his sorrows and responsibilities. The truth was that all she could share with him was his hatred of the Watcher High Council. She shook her head. Giles glowered.

"She's nothing to do with the Council. Doesn't know the first thing about it." His green eyes smouldered with greater force. "You'd better leave us alone now, mother. Go and find something to do."

"This girl is in danger, isn't she." Elizabeth was scared, and all her worries of ghosts and demons came back to haunt her. Halloween had always seemed like the one night of the year to be really afraid - and she was afraid now as she had never been afraid before. "Rupert, I want to know what's going on, and I'm not leaving here without hearing the truth. Are there vampires outside?"

"No." His voice was scathing. "There's nothing outside except the storm. Go and finish your tapestry, or whatever the hell it is you do in the evenings. Li and I have things to talk about."

"Rupert..." She put more force and feeling into her voice than she had bothered to use in ages. "I won't be dismissed like this."

"Fine." He raised a hand, and for a moment she wondered what he was going to do. Strike her? Break something? Throw a tantrum? All kinds of possibilities flooded through her head, but all that he did was point at the door. It swayed in its hinges, the flames in the fireplace flashed bright green to match his eyes - and the door slammed shut. Elizabeth was standing alone in the corridor, staring at the suddenly closed barrier before her. Her eyes read the spells written across the cracked paintwork without understanding their meaning. She knew that they were spells, from all that she had seen her husband reading. She wanted to reach out and touch them, as though that would somehow tell her whether they were good magic or bad - but even as she thought about it she felt her heart longing to be elsewhere, and she let her feet turn her about and carry her away. Suddenly she wanted to be back in the library, where her husband was sure to watch over her. She had a feeling that this Halloween was going to be rather more like those of her childhood fancies than she could ever have wanted. Several floors beneath her, as if in answer to her thoughts, the front door crashed violently open, and the rampaging rain began to pound against the hallway floor.


"So what happens now?" Getting up from the windowsill, Giles wandered over to the fireplace, prodding half-heartedly at the glowing coals with a long and blackened poker. Li shifted uncertainly on the bed.

"I don't know. I-- I suppose I should report in. I didn't think... I thought that one of the Watchers had betrayed me... I never even considered the possibility that I hadn't been betrayed." She shivered violently, cold and wet after her long walk in the rain. "I was just so scared. You have to understand the bond there is between a Slayer and her Watcher, Giles. You can't imagine how powerful it is."

"And I hope I never have to find out." He turned to face her, green eyes ablaze in a way that she knew so well. Odd that they had spent so little real time together, and yet being with him now felt like being back in the company of her oldest and closest friend. "I'm never going to be the Watcher, remember? I'm never going to be a part of that. I quit." His shoulders seemed to slump a little. "I thought you did too."

"Yeah." She stood up, crossing towards him, wanting to move close and hold him tightly. Instead she changed her direction, going to stand before the fire that loked so inviting The warmth felt good, but not nearly as good as Giles' embrace would have done. "I was scared, and I didn't want to be the Slayer anymore... and then I thought that it was what I did want." She smiled, feeling horribly young and horribly insecure. "And now I don't know again. I've never seen somebody being killed by a vampire before. I've seen them afterwards, when they're already dead. I've seen some of them rise again. But I've never actually seen the bit when they die. I saw her going all limp. I saw her face change colour. She went so white, so pale. Everything changed. I could see her life just fading away." Another shiver ran through her, and this time Giles reached out, touching her on the shoulder as though wanting to pull her close to him. He hesitated at the crucial moment, and then his hand fell away from her, back to his side.

"Vampires aren't supposed to be nice." He might have meant it to be comforting, or just to be matter-of-fact. Either way it came out in his usual tough guy tones, and for some reason it hurt her more than she could have imagined. She gave a deep, convulsive shudder.

"She's dead Giles. Gone. She was my best friend - my only friend - and now she's dead. I watched her die, and I couldn't save her. I suppose you think that's nothing. You've probably watched people die hundreds of times before. I know you're always so bloody blasé about everything. I know you don't give a damn about anybody. But she meant something to me."

"Yeah." He turned away slightly, terribly downcast, finally looking his age for what was practically the first time since she had met him. "I'm sorry."

"Are you." She sighed. "I'm sorry too. I'm sorry that I came here. I shouldn't have done. I should never have bothered you. You probably have better things to do than worry about me and my dead friends. You must have spells to cast, and gangs to fight. You probably have rock concerts to go to."

"Yeah." He was staring at the ground, watching the steam rise from the water she had dripped onto the hearth rug. The steam loosened the incense lost in the fibres of the priceless Persian patterns, and an exotic Eastern fragrance drifted into the air. "I said I'd meet my friend Tony later tonight. We were going to have some fun in the West End. I'm due back at school tomorrow."

"School?" She frowned, as though this was something she hadn't considered. "I thought you were on holiday?"

"No such luck. The new term started a month ago. I had special leave. You know." He shrugged. "Watcher stuff. There was a seminar on Claude Townes, and a series of lectures on eighteenth century demonology, that sort of thing. There was even a practical workshop on combat techniques. I wasn't going to go, but it was worth it to see a bunch of septuagenarian Council members pretending to be the eight-legged demon hordes of Vitnar." He flashed her a nervous smile, and she found herself smiling back. "But I don't have any plans that can't be changed... if there's reason enough to change them."

"School's important. You should go back." She glanced away. "I miss it. I was good at school. I used to love science and history. Art was my favourite subject, and maths. I used to love maths..." She smiled. "That's all over now though. Why bother with school when you have a world to save? It doesn't work out, trying to keep a proper life running at the same time as being the Slayer. School, parties, having fun... there's no time for any of that anymore. But I'd give anything in the world for a chance to go back to it."

"And I'd give anything in the world to give it up. School's a drag. They don't teach you anything worthwhile, and what they do teach you is outdated by the end of term. Why do I have to spend several hours a week learning Shakespeare, and learning to quote poems by Coleridge? What bloody good is that going to do me later in life?"

"You don't know how lucky you are, Giles."

"Lucky?" He laughed rather bitterly, and turned away. "That's one way of putting it I suppose. If you believe in luck."

"I'm not allowed to go to school anymore. All my friends, all my hopes, got dragged away from me. I was taken away from my home, my country, from everything I knew. I haven't been back to China since my destiny was revealed to me. You don't know how that feels, Giles. You don't know what that's like. Nobody does. Being the Slayer, losing all you ever hoped you might be. Having the fate of the world resting on your shoulders before you even become an adult. You don't know what that's like."

"Don't I? You think I didn't have plans before I was told about my destiny? You think I didn't have things I wanted to be? They're always watching me, Li. Everywhere I go, everything I do, the High Council is watching, trying to govern my life. I've been taking extra lessons, working extra hours, since I was ten years-old. Believe me, I know all about losing real life to destiny. You try getting half a dozen assignments done in a week, when you've got another half a dozen to be done for the Watchers on top of everything else. You try learning Latin and Greek for school, when the Watchers have got you learning Sumerian and Swahili and half a dozen other languages as well. And then there's the extra hours in the library, memorising demon names and rituals of the undead, and all the time trying to learn Ozymandias for some English test a week on Thursday. Maybe I don't have the fate of the world on my shoulders, but I'm supposed to have the fate of the Slayer resting there instead. If the Watcher doesn't know their job, the Slayer's dead in the water - and that can mean the difference between victory and the end of the world. I've had that responsibility hammering on my shoulders since I was ten. Maybe I do shirk my responsibilities, maybe I do play around too much. And maybe I don't know what it's like to have your kind of millstone around my neck. But I do know all about pressure, and problems, and danger. And I do know what it's like to be screwed by fate. So don't give me that 'the world doesn't understand my problems' crap. I've seen people die, and I know it isn't pretty. I've even lost one or two people I rather liked." He turned away very suddenly, as though to hide the tears that she thought she had seen in his eyes. "I like to play at being free, but the truth is I'm no more free than you."

"Quite eloquent when you want to be, aren't you." She was glaring at him with a force that almost equalled his own powerful stare. "Okay, so I was unfair. Maybe you do understand - a little."

"A little." He smiled, suddenly taking her hands in an impulsive gesture that startled her. It was what she had wanted him to do from the start, but it still surprised her that he had taken the initiative - espeically since he seemed to prefer glaring and staring and standing his ground to displaying any kind of softer emotion. "I'm sorry. I was a little... explosive."

"You know, when you're not trying to be tough... you're actually kind of sweet."

"Don't tell my mother that. Please." He let go of her hands as abruptly as he had taken hold of them, and then turned away. "We have a problem, don't we."

"Such as?"

"You. What we're going to do with you. Do you want to go back?"

"To the Watchers?" She was silent for a second, and then drew in a deep, long breath that shook in her throat. "No. I don't want to go back to them. I don't want to do this anymore, Giles. I saw Rosemary die, and I felt so scared - so much more scared than I've ever felt in my life. When I turned eighteen they tested me - they drugged me and made me fight a demon without my Slayer strength. I was terrified, but I wasn't as scared then as I was when I faced up to the vampires that killed Rosemary. I panicked. I was a little kid again."

"You are a little kid." He turned back to face her, and his eyes were more fierce than she had ever seen them. "And I hate them for not seeing that. They can't defend themselves, and they expect some little girl to do it for them."

"I'm eighteen Giles. I am actually an adult now. I'm older than you."

"You're still too bloody young to die." He grabbed her hand, hurting her with the sudden violence of his grip. "Are you ready to die? Are you ready to let some vampire suck your blood, or have some demon tear you apart limb from limb?"

"Giles, you're hurting me." Nervous, she tried to pull away, but didn't seem able. She didn't want to use her Slayer strength on him, but normal force didn't seem to be discouraging him. "Giles..."

"Are you ready for that?" He was pulling her closer, his wild green eyes just inches away from her face. She could feel his fury in his trembling hand. "Are you ready to die?"

"No!" She was shaking even more than he was, and the tears were beginning to flow freely down her cheeks. "No, I'm not ready. I don't want to die."

"Then it's time to turn your back." He pulled her closer still, and finally she was in his embrace, pressed against him as he held her tightly, fiercely, as though to protect her from all the vampires and demons in the world - and from all the Watchers. "It's time to let the world take care of itself."

"But my destiny..." Her words were muffled against his shoulder. He smiled, coldly and curtly, so that she could hear it in his voice.

"Sod your destiny. It's time to be what you want to be."

"But where can we go?"

"It's Halloween." He pushed her away, holding her at arms length, staring into her eyes until her gentle sobbing ceased. "We can go anywhere, do anything. It's a magic night."

She had to smile then. "Magic? It's the one night of the year when there's not supposed to be any magic at all. When every self respecting demon is curled up in its coffin."

"Not all of them." He grinned at her, full of bravado and childish pride. "I'm still here aren't I?"

"For how long?"

"As long as you need me. If you want to get away from the Watchers, you know I'm your guy. I've made a career out of driving them crazy. We were meant to find each other, Li, any fool can see that. We're both after the same thing."


"Maybe." He went to the window, dragging it open, letting the violent rain pound against the sill and against his chest. It hit the floor too, soaking the carpet in seconds. Li went to him, holding his shoulders.

"What will they do to us if they catch us?"

"I don't know. I don't know that anybody has ever tried this before. I've run away more than once - but never with a Slayer."

"Rosemary was disappointed in me last time. I think she must have reported it to the Council. This time..."

"What can they do? Sack you?" He smiled, pulling her close to him again, throwing an arm around her shoulders. She could feel the spray from the rain at the window, soaking into her clothing just as it had begun to dry. "What's the worst they can do?"

"Prevent us from seeing each other again." She pressed closer to him, staring into the night, seeing only her dead Watcher in the midst of the sheeting rain. Rosemary's pretty, studious face was pale in death, bloodless and cold, the lines of approaching middle age made deeper by her taut, shrinking skin. Li shuddered.

"They can't do that. I told you, we were meant to be together. The Slayer who doesn't want to Slay, and the Watcher who doesn't want to Watch. Soul mates."

"Not exactly. I want to help people. You want to hurt them."

"Yeah." She was surprised that he didn't deny that. She had hoped that he would. "But I might be prepared to listen to reason."

"Like hell you might." She smiled. "At least it's safe here. We can talk about it all in the morning."

"No we can't. We have to be far away from here in the morning. Far away."

"But I'm tired."

"No problem. We can take my car." He went to the wardrobe in the corner of the room, pulling the door open and shovelling clothes onto the floor. "There's bound to be some stuff in here you can wear. Warm stuff. Stuff that isn't soaked through. If you really ask nicely, I might even turn my back while you change."

"You'd better do that anyway. I might have resigned, but I still have an incredible punch."

"Good point." He smirked, then held up an assortment of jeans, T-shirts and jackets. "Not exactly fang-proof, but they should do."

"Thanks." She tugged off her top, moving closer to the fire. "Where are we going to go?"

"As far as the car will take us." He moved away, sitting down on the bed with his back to her. "Somewhere where there aren't any vampires."

"The Arctic Circle?"

"Yeah." He grinned, glancing over at her to share the joke, then turning sharply away again, when he remembered why he had turned his back in the first place. "Or behind the Iron Curtain. Maybe Communists don't allow vampires."

"I'm Chinese, remember? We get vampires there too, believe me. And I've just come from Latvia, which has the biggest vampire problem this side of Southern California."

"Southern California has a vampire problem?" He whistled. "I never knew that. Always wanted to go there, too."

"You should pay more attention at Watcher lectures. And why should it stop you going there? Surely the great Rupert Giles is impervious to bloodsucking creatures of the night?"

"Of course."

"Yes. Of course." She had finished changing, and climbed onto the bed beside him, taking his hands and leaning close. "Did anyone ever tell you that you have a big head?"

"If you were as cool as me, you'd have a big head too." He pulled her around in front of him, kissing her hard. "Now come on. Time to get out of this place. We can hit the bars downtown. I've got friends there. People who can help us."

"Do they know about you?"

"Some of them do. There's more going on in London than you'd think, especially amongst the homeless people. A lot of them know more about magic than the High Council. They're first on any vampire's menu, and they know it; and they want to be ready just in case. There's a whole other world out there."

"I guess there is. I've just never had a chance to see it."

"Well you're going to see it now." He stood up, pulling her after him, then grabbed a heavy leather jacket from the back of a nearby chair and slung it around her shoulders. It hung to her knees, belted with a long piece of material that looked like leopard skin, but felt more like cheap wool. "There are night clubs where they sell more Holy water than cocktails, and more garlic than burgers. There are dance clubs where they hang herbs on the doors to make sure that the undead can't cross the threshold. Clubs run by warlocks, cinemas where they only show horror movies, where the projectionists make the special effects for real. There's a club about a mile from here, six storeys underground, where you have to chant spells just to get in, and where the bartender is a werewolf. His wife has the scars to prove it, or so they say."

"You're serious, aren't you."

"Maybe." He propelled her to the door, pushing her out into the corridor. "Come on. It must be heading for midnight, and I want to be out of here by then. One of my father's old servants still does a tour of duty every night around then, chanting banishing spells in case a stray demon has sneaked down the chimney."

"Banishing spells?"

"Yeah." Giles pulled his bedroom door shut behind them. "Eager sort. My father attracted eccentrics. It's kind of a family trait."

"I can imagine." She began to giggle, although she was not sure why. "Shouldn't we look for your mother?"


"So you can say goodbye. We're not coming back, are we."

"Not if I can help it. But what reason is that to look for my mother? She'll be breathing sighs of relief once she realises I'm gone. She thinks I'm trouble."

"You are."

"Yeah. But my mother keeps looking for the reason why, and she's not going to find it in her tapestries and cross-stitch. I've got nothing to say to her."

"She's your mother."

"Yeah, big deal. Here." He gestured to a small winding staircase that lead downwards. "Come on. Like I said, I want to be shot of this place by midnight."

"I think we're too late." She glanced down at her watch. "According to this it's already three minutes past."

"It can't be, the clock downstairs hasn't struck. It isn't midnight until then - and Greenwich sets its time by the clock in our hall, so I know what I'm talking about."

"You're daft." He grabbed her suddenly by the shoulder, and she thought for a moment that her joke had angered him. A gasp escaped her, but he pushed her into the wall to stifle her surprise and hissed sharply in her ear.

"Keep quiet."

"What is it?"

"I don't know. My father's servant probably, banishing pixies. Just keep still."

"But I thought you said it wasn't midnight yet."

"Shut up!" There was real urgency in his voice, and she lapsed into silence. Only then did she feel the strange sensation in her body that told her something she did not want to know - somewhere nearby, the undead were lurking. The Slayer could tell a vampire with ease - could feel them in her toes and smell them in the air - and one of them was very close to her now. She fought down a whimper, and wondered if they could sense her the way that she could sense them. Giles' hand released its hold on her shoulder, and this time she could not stifle the gasp.

"Giles!" There was no answer, and fear filled her. Had the vampire got him? Desperate she fumbled at the walls, searching for a light switch. Her fingers found only smooth plaster and polished wood. "Giles!"

"Over here." His voice came from some distance away, downwards slightly. A second later she heard a click, and saw the blue flame of his cigarette lighter. He was standing below her, a few steps down the winding staircase, staring at something that lay on the floor at his feet. She ran to him, reaching him just as the lighter went out.

"Where's the switch?" She was still searching the walls for a light switch, still verging on panic even though the sensation of vampiric presence had now departed. Giles reached for her hand and she jumped, then forced herself to calm down and squeeze his hand in return.

"There isn't a switch here. Besides, I think the power's out. The storm must have blacked out half of London."

"Great." She gripped his hand more tightly. "Giles, I have to tell you something. Up there I felt--"

"I know." He flicked the wheel of his lighter again, and once more the little blue flame danced before them. She looked down. Lying on the steps beside her, twisted and slumped in the awkward pose of death, was a man. He looked about sixty, and was dressed in an old-fashioned black suit with a pale grey cravat. The collar had been torn away, and what remained of it was stained pink with spilled blood. Even in the weak and flickering light, Li could see the two tiny holes in the dead man's neck.

"Henry," Giles said softly, actually sounding subdued. "My father's servant."

"Making his spells of banishment." Li nearly didn't complete the words, for her throat seemed ready to seize up. The cigarette lighter went out again, and she felt her strength beginning to follow it into the darkness. "But it's Halloween. They're not supposed to feed tonight."

"Maybe they're really hungry."

"Or maybe they're after something special." She sank against him, glad of his presence, yet still regretting it. "I'm sorry Giles. This is my fault. I shouldn't have come here; shouldn't have brought them..."

"They're here now." He took her chin, forcing her head around to face his, even though it was too dark for them to see each other. "Question is, what are we going to do about it?"


"If that's what you want." It wasn't what he wanted though, she could tell that. It showed in his voice, as loud and as clear as his fury from earlier.

"You want to fight them." She shook her head. "Giles, we can't even see them."

"There must be some candles somewhere. I have a few in my room."

"No." She caught him as he tried to move past her. "The vampires went that way."

"How can you tell?"

"I just can. Please. Don't go."

"If you're sure." He shrugged. "The kitchen then. We'll get some candles, and then we'll get some weapons. My father kept a lot of that kind of stuff. Most of the weapons we keep in the house are just for training, though. Not the real thing."

"We'll find something." Her training was calling to her, even though she had wanted to forget all about it. "We should get everybody together. How many people are in the house?"

"I don't think anybody is. My mother of course, and Henry, but nobody else."

"Then we should get to her." She took a deep breath, trying to focus. Much though she wanted to throw her destiny away, it still laid claim to her mind, and she could still feel it ready to lead her forward. "I just wish it wasn't so dark."

"We'll be okay." His cocky self-certainty was not as reassuring as it might have been, and she could only manage a wan smile in answer. It went unseen, for the darkness was without respite. In the midst of her growing unease, she could feel the presence of vampires again. It was growing stronger with her every breath.

"Giles?" Her voice had dropped in volume, and he caught her urgency, answering in the same vein.


"They're coming." Her hand was hard in his, gripping with more strength than she would ordinarily have used, hurting him. He winced but did not pull away.

"You're sure?"

"Yes. I don't know how many. More than one." She felt the sensations grow, and felt her muscles tense in readiness. "They feel... different to usual, but I can still sense them."

"Do you know how close they are?"

"Too close." She could hear footsteps now, her extra-powerful hearing catching sounds that were inaudible to her companion. "And they're getting closer."

"We..." He paused, uncertain. "We should--"

"Run." She pulled hard on his arm, dragging him down the stairs almost before he had a chance to get his footing. Behind her she heard a growl of fury, then the sound of pounding feet. A snarl echoed in her ears, what felt like a hand snagged on her shoulder - and then she lost her footing on the highly polished wooden stairs, and the world rushed past her all at once. There was a fleeting image - a thought or a dream - of six men walking as one. A notion of a group dressed the same, where only one had the aura of humanity. And then the growl became a roar, and the hand in hers was gone. After that there was nothing but silence.


She woke to the sound of flames crackling, and opened her eyes slowly. She was in a library, lying on an old couch with a suspiciously fifties chintzy pattern of flowers and creeping ivy. Off to her right was a huge wooden table that looked at least a hundred-years-old, the floor beneath it stacked high with books of every description. She recognised a few of the ones she could see, but many of the others were entirely new to her. All around the room yet more books were piled, with many, many more lining the walls in bookcases that towered up to a high white ceiling. There were chandeliers in that distant ceiling, dark now that there was no power, but still sending shards of refracted light earthward as the flames caught their swaying crystals.

The fire was in a hearth as big as most ordinary rooms, framed in stone columns and hung with spells of protection. They were written on ribbons that were showing their age, in beautiful calligraphy that swirled and twirled in spreading patterns. Marble statuettes stood on a low wooden mantelpiece; gargoyles, demons and dragons all in poses that were grimly defiant. In the flickering firelight they looked horrific.

"Giles?" She sat up cautiously, unable to detect any vampires nearby, but no more relaxed for that simple mercy. She could see Mrs Giles, sitting at the table with her back to the fire, a book open in her trembling hands. Li couldn't catch the title, but she was sure that it was something the woman shouldn't be reading; certainly not in her obvious state of fear. The woman glanced up as Li called out, but her eyes were cold and unhelpful, and told the young Slayer nothing.

"Over here." His voice came from the fireplace, where she had not seen him before due to the towering shadows. He sat on the hearth, looking as demonic as the statuettes above him, the dark light doing nothing to chase away his ever present air of threatening menace. He was carving a chair leg into a stake, using a wicked looking blade at least five inches long. Several other stakes lay on the floor at his feet, along with several dismembered chairs. They looked old and priceless, but Li shared his disinterest in fancy furniture when there were vampires on the loose. From the expression on the face of Elizabeth Giles, however, Li decided that his mother did not share the sentiment. She was studiously refusing to look at her son, who didn't seem in the slightest bit bothered by her iciness.

"How did I get here?" Standing up, Li tested her legs before putting her weight on them. She wasn't too concerned, since her healing rate was faster than any normal human; but sometimes it was hard to remember that, when instinct still demanded restraint.

"I brought you down the shortcut. Secret passage in the wall by the grandfather clock." He smirked. "Well not all that secret actually. I think the Watcher Council knows about it, and every estate agent in London certainly does."

"This house is incredible." She went over to him, watching him carving his stakes. They were lengthy and stout, the points tapering to a vicious-looking tip some two inches long.

"So my mother keeps reminding me." He gestured to the broken furniture at his feet. "Apparently that's pretty incredible too. It was saved from France in the 1790s, by some departing aristocrat with a thing for fancy chairs. Only ten left in the whole world."

"Seven now, apparently." She sat down beside him. "Any sign of our friends?"

"Not a peep. Maybe they gave up and went home."

"I doubt that. They're after me."

"It certainly looks that way." He shrugged. "Maybe it's all a part of your eighteenth birthday test."

"No. Rosemary promised me that that was all over when my strength returned. She wouldn't lie to me. She never does..." She smiled. "Never did. I'm going to miss her."

"Somebody obviously wants you to be reunited." He tossed another finished stake onto the pile beside him. "But I feel ready for anything."

"Are there any other secret passages they might use?" The sudden thought made her look about at the shadows in the room with new concern. Funny how she had never been so afraid of vampires in the past - and now, just as she had chosen to give up her life as a Slayer, and look for something safer, suddenly she was very scared indeed. It was as though fate were trying to kill her, before she could reach the safety and happiness she so longed for. So cruel was every twist of fate that she could not help believing that her death was more likely to come now, when she was finally on the verge of freedom.

"One or two. None that lead directly into the library, at least that I know of." He pointed at a large bookshelf that was not quite pushed properly against the wall. "We came in through there, and I'm rather expecting them to do the same."

"They know about it?"

"I told you the entrance was by the grandfather clock. Well it was smashed to hell, and so was a fair bit of the wall around it."

"That's why the clock never struck midnight..." She shivered. "So they know about the tunnel."

"Must do. Unless we've got giant-sized woodworm, I don't see that anything except our vampires could have made that much mess."

"But how could they know?"

"Followed you maybe? They've probably been on your trail since Dover, or more likely before then. I'd say you were right earlier. You were betrayed."

"By the Watchers." She hugged her knees. "Well that's always nice to know. At least I haven't hated them all this time for nothing."

"It probably wasn't all of them. Just one, who was promised something for his help. Dark magic has all kinds of attractions." He grinned at her. "I should know."

"But you wouldn't make deals with vampires." His eyebrows were raised, and she couldn't help a shiver. "Would you?"

"Would and did. But not these ones, and not now. I'd make a deal with just about anybody or anything, if I thought it would give me freedom, and power. I like magic, and I understand the attractions it has for others. Dark magic can give you anything you want - and it's so much more fun than the pure and perfect kind."

"You make it sound alright. Somebody has sold me out to a bunch of vampires, and you're making it sound like it's the most understandable, acceptable thing in the world."

"If I didn't know you, maybe I'd sell you out too." She glared at him, daring him to take his stupid tough guy act further - but rather got the impression that he was not acting at all. She didn't like the eerie glow in his eyes. Nearby his mother laughed aloud. It was a bitter sound, derisive and yet still strangely afraid.

"He would too. Proud of that, aren't you Rupert."

"Don't call me that." He turned away from her as he spoke, and grabbed another chair leg to begin making another stake. She turned around in her chair, tossing her book onto the table, where it skidded away across the polished surface and nearby toppled over the far edge.

"Why not? It's your name. But you're so busy playing the juvenile delinquent all the time, you don't remember who you really are at all."

"I know who I am mother." One stroke from his wicked looking knife sent a chunk of wood flying from the chair leg. A shower of sawdust blew into the fire, but the sparks that flew in response were bright green and metallic. "And this really isn't the time."

"It's the only time since you got home from school in July that we've been in the same room long enough to talk. If not now, when?"

"When there's not an angry mob of vampires hiding somewhere in the house waiting to kill us." He lowered the knife momentarily. "Mother, just sit down. Better still, go and hide in a cupboard. Keep your head down and stay out of my way."

"There are vampires on the loose. We should call somebody."

"We've got the Slayer here. Who else are you planning to call? The police? The RAF? Or maybe the Evening Standard?"

"Don't be rude." She stood up, looking unexpectedly tall in the bad light. The fire illuminated her features in just the way that it did those of her son - but where Giles' face turned into shadow and wicked green light, her face was bathed in cool yellows and gentle oranges. Li saw wide brown eyes searching for understanding, and she felt a burst of compassion. Giles, clearly, did not.

"I'm not being rude. And if I am, who cares? I certainly don't. What are you going to do, mother? There's nothing you can do to me that I can't meet head on." He flexed his fingers, as though eager to begin casting spells. "I can do stuff you know. I could burn the house down with a click of my fingers. I could call malice-faeries, or dark sprites. Small magic, maybe - but give me time."

"I should have handed you over to the Watchers when you were born. They wanted me to. They didn't like the things their books of prophecy were telling them about you." Elizabeth shook her head, looking bitter and pained and exhausted. "If you hadn't come from such a distinguished line of Watchers, you'd have been raised by the Council. There wouldn't have been any magic then, or any earring, or leather, or rock music played too loud. Maybe I only have myself to blame that I turned their offer down."

"Maybe you do." His grip shifted on the knife, as though he might have been considering making a show with it. Li couldn't believe that he would, but still her uncertainties flourished. She reached out a hand and put it on his shoulder.


"What?" His eyes flashed towards her, and so, for a second, did the knife. He smiled though, and she saw softness in his face in place of his childish anger. "Never mind."

"Never mind? We're about to face a gang of vampires, and you're ready to fight us first."

"Not you." He smiled then, and she found herself smiling back through her anger. So much for leading a sensible life, and following Rosemary's advice to steer clear of bad influences. Here she was falling in love with the worst influence of them all.

"You wouldn't really have fought your mother? Or cast a spell on her?" They were drifting away from Elizabeth now, and she was drifting away from them. Maybe she wanted to give them a chance to talk alone, or maybe she was just losing interest altogether. Either way it seemed like a moment to take advantage of.

"I wouldn't waste good magic on my mother." Giles sent a hard, dark glare in Elizabeth's direction. "She's not worth the energy. The world's full of evil, and not all of it is caused by demons - and yet she treats me like some kind of Charles-Manson-in-training, just because I listen to music she doesn't like. I listen to Disraeli Gears and she thinks the world's going to end."

"Western rock music." Li couldn't help a giggle. "I shudder to think what my mother would have thought of it. She only ever listened to traditional Chinese folk music - and I think she found some of that too racy."

"You miss her don't you."

"Yes." She looked away for a moment, back towards Elizabeth, wondering just what it might take to bring the traditional, reserved woman back into touch with her rebellious son. Not a lot, if Elizabeth could only see this side of him for a change; when he was quiet and thoughtful, and even fairly sensitive - if you ignored the vicious-looking knife in his hand, and the sour gleam in his hard eyes.

"If you weren't the Slayer, she'd still be alive."

"Yes, I know." Li glanced once again at Elizabeth, wondering if she ever worried about the world her son was a part of - or if she ever worried that it could get her killed as well as him.

"This time tomorrow we'll be out of it." He took her hand, squeezing it hard in his enthusiasm. "Far away where the Watchers can't get us."

"We might just as easily be dead, if those vampires get in here."

"Yeah." He pulled her into his embrace and kissed her. "But either way we'll be out of it, and we'll be together. You're not afraid are you?"

"I'm the Slayer. I should be asking you that." She smiled and returned his embrace, glad to be so close to him at last. "And no, I'm not afraid. Even though I should be." She caught sight of Elizabeth watching them, her face twisted into an expression of deepest disapproval. It was a blatant hint to break the kiss and step apart - but she paid no attention to it. Instead she pulled Giles closer still, and wondered where they would be this time tomorrow.


The lightning outside the windows seemed brighter than before, the flashes more frequent and more powerful. Even the rain seemed more angry, affected perhaps by Giles' own simmering rage. The fierce-eyed young Watcher was sitting apart from the others now. spinning a stake through his fingers like some surly drummer playing with his sticks. Li wanted to go to him, but now really didn't seem the time. Any displays of affection he might be inclined to put on were very evidently reserved for those times when his mother was nowhere nearby, and since the atmosphere between the pair of them seemed to have frozen to irreparable levels, Giles was stonier than ever. Li caught his eye as he sat cross-legged on top of a heavy oaken bookcase, but his gaze merely flicked sharply away from her, lingering instead on the doorway to the 'secret' passage. He was eager for action, and that worried her. It seemed likely that he would jump at the chance of a battle, and was unlikely to give much thought to his own safety. Obnoxious he could be - cowardly he most certainly was not.

"Rupert?" Toying with a book on the table, Elizabeth was starting to look distinctly uneasy. Li could hardly blame her. Giles was sending out enough hostile vibes to unnerve the most stout-hearted of people.


"I think we should call Watcher Headquarters. It's all very well you playing warrior, but--"

"I'm not playing, mother." He gestured around. "Besides, I don't see any reason to call Headquarters, do you? There are no vampires here that I can see."

"They could be on their way here now. If I call the Watcher Council they might be able to send people to help us."

"They won't send anybody. The Watchers wouldn't know a real fight if we took it to them. They're librarians, not warriors. Li is the Slayer, and she's all we've got - all we're going to get. Accept it."

"I can't, Rupert, and I won't. She's a child."

"Yeah." He jumped down from his bookcase vantage point, and idly spun his stake. "Tell that to the Council. They've been hiding behind her for two years now." He took the book that his mother was playing with, and glanced at the tile imprinted on the spine. "You really shouldn't read this stuff you know. It'll give you nightmares."

"I can't stay here and wait for a pair of children to protect me from a gang of vampires."

"Then don't. Go out there and fight them yourself." He smiled. "No, I was forgetting. You can't, can you. Because you're just a civilian. You don't have a sacred duty to live up to." He waved his stake at her. "So keep out of the way."

"Perhaps I should go out there." She was looking towards the door with the same kind of determination that Li was used to seeing in Giles' eyes. "I might not have your training, and perhaps I haven't spent the last seven years reading about magic and demons - but I know more than you give me credit for, Rupert. I sat up with your father late at night, when he was studying. I even heard him talk once or twice about how he resented his duty. About how he had once had other plans for his life. I don't have first hand experience perhaps - but believe it or not, I do actually know rather more than you think." She smiled rather grimly, and her eyes flashed as though to rival those of her son. "Li, can you... can you feel anything, or whatever it is you do?"

"I'm not sure. There's been something in the back of my mind since I woke up, and I think it's getting stronger. Maybe." She shrugged. "I'm sorry, but I can't be sure. Maybe it's these walls. They're very thick."

"Yes, they are." Elizabeth headed towards the entrance to the secret passage. "Perhaps it's time we went down the tunnel and found out where they've got to."

"I don't think we need to bother about that." Giles was looking towards the back of the library, where a pair of massive bookcases did not quite fit together, and a gap was clearly visible in between. There was darkness beyond this space, and a pair of giant candlesticks standing guard on either side. The candles were unlit, each one at least a foot long, with long wicks that were white and new. As the threesome watched, a long-fingered hand pushed out from between the two bookcases, and knocked against the nearest of the candlesticks. The stick wobbled, and the candle toppled from its perch to the polished wooden floor.

"Show time." Giles was starting forward before Li had had time to consider her first move. She reached out to grab him, and prevent his doing something stupid, but her fingers closed on empty air. Already he was striding towards the short flight of steps that led up to the place where the hand was erupting. As he came closer more of the limb came into view; a long, muscular arm that pushed at the bookcases and made the gap wider.

"Come on out." Giles spoke with all the brash confidence of a teenager eager to make an impression. There was a clear swagger in his walk, and the stake and the knife both added to his aura of bravado and resolve. There was a low laugh from somewhere inside the wall, and the arm pushed harder. Before Giles could reach it the bookcase had been pushed away from the wall, and a tall figure emerged into the library.

He was taller than Giles - much taller - and was dressed in a dusty suit bestrewn with cobwebs from his trek through a passageway that was long disused. His skin was like parchment, faded and dry, and his yellow eyes had a light all of their own. They shone fiercely in the dark room, even sunk as they were so deeply into his skull. Long fangs hung over a thick lower lip, and his enlarged brow ridge cast shadows across his face that darkened his scowling visage and leant greater effect to the menace in his poise. He turned his head sharply from side to side, almost as if he were sniffing the air, testing for the presence of his prey. He might well have been doing just that, for his long, knife-like nose twitched noticeably, just as a thin tongue flickered into sight between his lips.

"Giles, be careful." Li was hurrying forward, the long, graceful lines of her body showing her instincts and training to their full effect. The newly-emerged vampire swung to face her, his eyes and mouth twisted into a grin that was more the leer of an uninvited admirer than the expression of a demon on the hunt. Giles, however, merely smirked with contempt.

"I can deal with this guy." He brandished the stake as though to do so was something he did every day of his life. "Come and get it."

"With pleasure." The vampire started forward, its long, thin hands flexing as though in anticipation. "I haven't eaten all night."

"So much for a night in over Halloween. What happened? Your wife kick you out?" Giles also started forward, his lesser battle experience showing in the way that he moved. Li vaulted up the steps to land beside him.

"Let me handle this, Giles." She moved to push him aside, but before she could do so he had done the same to her. She slipped, falling back down the stairs with a jolt that she only just managed to lessen.

"I said I can deal with him." He only took his eyes off the vampire for a second to make this statement, but the vampire, in that short moment, made a swift dart forward. Giles dodged, governed more by instinct than any real awareness of danger, crashing into a small shelf of books that rocked dangerously. The vampire growled in bestial enjoyment, his fierce yellow eyes rolling madly. Giles recovered his balance in an instant, lunging back towards his foe with a remarkable speed. The vampire snarled, arms flung up. Elizabeth screamed.

"Look out!" It was Li's voice, but in the confusion it was difficult to tell who had spoken - for as Giles raised his stake to strike at his enemy, the entrance to the other passageway suddenly flashed with a burst of light as three vampires dashed from within. The leader, armed with a flaming torch, let out a yell that rang with premature triumph as he flung himself towards Giles' mother. She threw up her arms to protect herself, at a loss as to what else to do, and found that the expected attack did not materialise. A fine shower of hot, musty ash rained down on her arms and head, and she looked up to see Li, a stake in each hand, stepping back after administering the killing blow. The last snarl of the dead vampire still echoed in the dark, still air.

"Thankyou." The mother of the rebellious Watcher stumbled backwards, tripping on the fallen torch and almost falling over. She saved herself by catching hold of the table, and then caught up the flaming brand from the floor and held it above her head. In the improved light she could see the Slayer battling with two vampires, keeping them at bay with a fine display of martial arts. To her left, on the next level, Giles was struggling furiously with his own assailant, locked in hand-to-hand combat at close quarters. Elizabeth tightened her grip on the torch and set out to go to his assistance.

"Well what have we here?" She was not aware of the presence of any more people in the room, but the hard, large hand that closed about her neck was proof enough that another vampire had entered through the secret passageway. She could feel hot, fetid breath on her neck, and could smell the blood of a recent kill. Giles had told her about Henry, and her stomach turned.

"Let me go." She struggled furiously, trying to land a blow with the torch, but found her wrist gripped tightly by a hard and callused hand. It felt as though the bones might break, and there was nothing that she could do to break free.

"You're Elizabeth Giles." The voice in her ear was soft and sibilant, and yet filled with something as hard and as sharp as broken glass. "Wife of William Giles. Daughter-in-law of Mary Giles. You fell in with a long line of Watchers, lady. That's something you're not likely to live to regret."

"I said, leave me alone." Free arm flailing, she threw her weight against the creature, swinging both her legs in an ungainly effort to strike at least one blow. A loud grunt told her that she had stuck home, and she twisted to one side. There was a loud cracking sound and her wrist wrenched unpleasantly. Pain flooded through it, but she was free again. Instead of rage, however, she heard a low laugh from her erstwhile captor.

"I smell blood. Are you hurt, or is it somebody else?" The voice broke apart into manic cackles, and Elizabeth swung at it with her torch. She caught a glimpse of a tall young man with a brown Afro, and a pair of glasses with round lenses of an impenetrable shade of black. Incense filled her nostrils and she saw a swirl of a brightly coloured robe. Revulsion burst through her like a charge of electricity, and she made a vicious thrust with the torch. The flames leapt towards that long, flowing robe, and with a shriek of pain and rage the vampire erupted into a ball of light. Its arms flailed desperately at the air, and a burst of lightning illuminated its desperate passage as it barrelled away across the room, beating at its clothes and body in a vain attempt to put out the fire. Elizabeth fell back against the nearest bookshelf, gasping for breath.

"Gotcha!" The unexpectedly gleeful shout from Li signified the departure of another vampire, and Elizabeth turned in time to see a second shower of ash fall upon her nice clean floor. The other vampire looked nervously at the pile, stared about as though for inspiration, and then ran back to the attack. Li was ready and waiting for it, her twin stakes raised in defence. Elizabeth did not wait to see the inevitable conclusion, but instead looked back to check on the progress of her son. He had successfully beaten back his own attacker, but in the process had lost his stake. It lay on the floor some feet away from him, lost to his sight. He was in virtual darkness at such a distance from the fire and the torch, and only the intermittent lightning gave him any added vision at all.

"Ready to quit yet?" Advancing forward with his yellowed eyes narrowed into tiny slits, the vampire let out a hiss that seemed to fill the room. Giles offered a hard smile, stake forgotten in his growing unrest.

"Not likely." His hands twitched, thoughts of schoolyard brawls running through his head. He had fought three or four neatly uniformed sixth-formers before, Prefects as well as the rank-and-file. One vampire was nothing - or so he hoped.

"Then die." The long, thin tongue licked at the lips once again, and this time the accompanying hiss carried with it undertones of thirst and desire. Giles tried not to think of Henry's corpse, sucked of its life and draped across the stairs. Not a good way to go. As the vampire darted to the left, eyes grinning with mockery, so Giles made a move to the right. A snarling shout of battle-glee filled his ears, and with a growl that was pure jungle beast, the vampire sprang for his throat.

"Rupert!" Giles only heard his mother's cry with the back of his mind, but even so it annoyed him. Some tiny part of him might have been glad to hear her concern and her fear, but the biggest part of his consciousness was insulted by her scream. He lashed out, borne to the ground by the weight of his attacker, but still keeping a firm grip on his knife. There was a snarl, a snap of teeth that came terrifyingly close, and then a yelp like that of a wounded dog. The weight on his chest shifted.

"Get off me." Throwing all of his strength into his arms, Giles hurled the snapping, gnashing vampire away from him, seeing a trail of spraying blood colour the air. Instinctively he waited for the pain to hit him, sure that the blood must be his - before he noticed the yellowed, drooping hand lying on the ground beside him. He sat up, struggling to move away from the dismembered limb. It still moved its fingers, for all the world as though desperate to seize hold of him once again.

"Ow." The vampire spoke it less as an exclamation of pain than as an indication of its rage. It rose to its feet, towering over Giles now, its face shining out of the darkness. Giles shuffled backwards, hands reaching out for the stake he knew had to be somewhere nearby. He couldn't see it, and it seemed that he was not going to find it in time. The vampire reached down and snatched at his lapels.

"I'm going to feast on your blood, boy." The words spat themselves out between the tight, thick lips, the creature's rancid breath making Giles' head feel light. He struggled, but felt himself being lifted into the air. His fingers made one last, frantic scrabble at the floor, and just as he was whisked up from his resting place, he felt his thumb strike wood. He grasped at it, sure that his fingers were going to be dragged out of reach before he could take a proper hold. Desperation made his heart strike a furious beat, and he closed his fist as tight as he could, praying without any real hope that his luck would hold. It did.

"You're mine." The vampire was dragging him closer, lifting his feet from the ground, the long, powerful teeth ready to bite into his neck. Giles clenched his own teeth, drew back with his fist, and let the stake sink home. Heat rushed through him, ash blew into his face. He coughed, breathing at the wrong moment and sucking more of the hot, fine dust into his lungs. It flew into his eyes, blinding him even more effectively than did the all-pervasive darkness of the black-out.

"Nice Slaying!" Li was beside him before he realised it, but her touch on his shoulder sparked the battle instinct in him once again. He whirled, still blinded, eyes burning with pain from the dust caught within them. His left arm raised itself for a blow, and the Slayer, her own preservation instincts even faster than his own, lashed out. She sent the stake spinning from his hand.

"Easy Giles. I'm the good guy, remember?"

"Li?" He blinked at her, still unable to see. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it. Easy mistake to make. People are always confusing me with undead demons with pointy teeth." She stared at the pile of dust which had so recently been a vampire. "You've got some nice moves. There's going to be one very lucky Slayer training with you some day."

"Not if I can help it." He wiped at his eyes, trying to ignore the lingering sensation of burning. Li couldn't help but laugh.

"There's no dampening your spirit, is there." She led him down the steps towards the table, where Elizabeth was now sitting in a state of clear exhaustion, fanning herself with a magazine entitled Studies Of The Occult. It was dated December 1952, which suggested that it was hardly a modern favourite; and very likely not a purchase from the newsagent's on the corner, either. She looked up as the twosome came nearer, and managed a rather wan smile.

"I always wondered what it would be like to be confronted with a vampire. Now I know why we're supposed to leave such things to the Slayer."

"Yeah. Why save your own life when there's somebody else to do it for you? Especially some poor kid who'd rather be in school." Giles threw himself into a chair, his back to his mother. "Heroics are so overrated."

"Rupert, I didn't mean..." She shrugged and gestured dismissively with her hands. "Never mind. Some days there really is no talking to you, is there."

"Speak for yourself." He stood up, his previous good mood sliding away. With the recovery of his sight came the recovery of his harsh attitude, and he turned to Li in a simmering rage. "Can you sense anything?"

"No. But that didn't mean anything last time."

"Well maybe this time it does." He took her hand. "Come on. We're getting out of here."

"Where to?"

"Was 'where to' a question before? We're just going. Somewhere with no Watchers." His flaming green eyes jerked towards his mother. "Somewhere where there's no her."

"You're not going anywhere." Smouldering in the corner, his eyes still hidden behind his glinting black glasses, the recently roasted bass player was climbing to his feet. Smoke poured from his blackened robe, but only seemed to strengthen the smell of incense. It rose in sweetened, perfumed clouds from his body and his burnt skin, his Afro now a blossoming of singed hair that rose up above a head more bone than skin. The glinting teeth of a grinning skull protruded through the sides of his face, where the flesh had been burnt completely away. Li winced.

"This guy takes some killing." She picked up a stake from the table and took a few steps forward. "I won't be a second."

"You won't kill me." The horrific apparition pointed one still burning hand at her, and the stake burst into flame. Li yelped and dropped the wood, watching as it burnt itself to ash at her feet. The polished floor beneath stared back at her, irrevocably marred by the heat, and the Slayer rubbed thoughtfully at her hand.

"Okay, slight change of plan."

"Be careful." Giles caught her arm as she started forward again. "He was a lousy bass player but he's one hell of a demon."

"He was your bass player?" She smirked. "Your mother was right - your music is dangerous."

"Smart alec." He reached for his knife again, sure that the long metal blade and twisted bone handle should be essentially fire-proof. "You take the right, I'll take the left."

"I'd prefer to take the middle and leave it at that. You're a reluctant Watcher, not a Slayer."

"I know. Wrong sex for starters. Quite glad about that actually."

She rolled her eyes. "Just keep back, Giles. Slayer time. I may be some kid who would rather be in school, but I do have the super-strength and the special powers. You just have the burgeoning magic skills and the bad attitude."

"They have their uses."

"Against teachers and parents, not against vampires." She pushed him very firmly to one side. "Keep back."

"Fine." He folded his arms, brow furrowing into something approaching a malevolent scowl. For a moment she could almost imagine what he would look like as a vampire - but she threw the thought aside as the long-toothed bass player came in for his next assault.

He hit her high, and she rolled aside with a move learnt in the earliest days of her Slayerhood, coming back up to her feet before he had realised she was gone. She grinned at his back, throwing in a quick, ill-prepared kick that staggered him slightly, but was not nearly powerful enough to take him down. He roared, spinning on his heel, coming back towards her with his hands held out. Fires crackled at his fingertips, but she ducked aside once again, this time punching him in the kidneys. Her hand struck the blackened bone protruding through his scorched flesh, and she had to try hard not to gag. He yelled aloud in pain, however, and Giles let out a yell of his own.

"Alright!" Apparently his sulk was already forgotten, for he was practically jumping in the air with exuberance. "One nil to the Slayer!"

"Giles..." Trying not to be distracted by his bouncing excitability she prepared herself for the next manoeuvre. The snarling demon came towards her once again, and this time she was reaching for him just as he was reaching for her. There was a flash of flame as they met, and Li ducked, throwing herself into her assailant, taking him down with her to the floor. The heat of his touch was hurting her, but she could bear the pain for a while at least. He struggled against her, and just as she felt sure that her fingertips were about to ignite, Giles was at her side. She felt a stake slide into her hand, and before her squirming victim could set fire to this new weapon, she had thrust it into his chest. He roared aloud, and then the ashes flew. Giles closed his eyes this time, remembering not to breathe at the vital moment. Li grinned.

"And once again the relief takes over." She glanced about. "Are we quite sure that they're all dead this time?"

"I think so." Giles pulled her into another of his unpredictable, impulsive hugs. "Nice going."

"And you." She straightened her clothing rather absently, running a hand through her long black hair. It was beginning to feel rather straggly, and although she had never really considered that before, suddenly now it seemed oddly important. The thought made her smile, although the smile itself a strained one. Rosemary would be turning in her grave at the idea that her protégé was thinking more about boys than vampires - especially when the boy in question was this boy in particular. The smile became a wince. Rosemary, as far as she knew, didn't have a grave to turn in, and was still lying alone and unburied somewhere near the Dover coast.

"Congratulations." Elizabeth, looking even more exhausted than before, smiled weakly in their general direction. Li returned the smile, once again feeling rather as though she were caught in the middle of the tension that had built up between mother and son. As usual Giles made no response to his mother's comment.

"Maybe we can get moving now." He checked his watch. "It's a little past two in the morning. It won't be dawn for some hours yet, so we could probably get a good head start in all this dark. The Watchers will be taking the night off."

"Like those vampires were supposed to be?" Li frowned. "I'm not happy about all this, Giles. Something must be going on if they're out hunting tonight. I think we should check in with Watcher Headquarters."

"Are you kidding? They'll have somebody round here before you can say 'wasted opportunity'. Li, if you call in now there can't be any escape. You'll be given a new Watcher, and they'll pack you off to some godforsaken corner of the Earth to go and fight some other demon hell-bent on destroying the world. I'll probably never see you again."

"I--" She broke off, sighing and smiling all at once. "I'm sorry. You're right of course, I-- I guess I'm still thinking like the Slayer. The training takes over."

"Only if you let it." He took her hand, holding it so tightly that it soon began to hurt. "Forget them. Please. Just come with me right now. Right this very minute. No more waiting to kill a few more vampires. No more hanging around here in case something else turns up. I can't help thinking that if we wait any longer it'll be too late."

"Do you know something, Rupert my boy - I think you could be right." Footsteps sounded behind them and they turned. Jumping out of the mouth of the tunnel, suit immaculate despite the ruined collar, was Henry, the old family servant. He swept the dust from his clothes as he walked forward, using an old haberdashery brush he evidently kept for just such a purpose. "Why Mrs Giles, where are my manners? I should have brought you your cardigan from the hall. You must be needing it at this late hour."

"Henry." She blinked at him, clearly unsure. "I-- Rupert said you were dead."

"Did he?" With a great show of surprise, the servant swung about to look at the young Watcher. "Well I never. Of course he always did have rather a vivid imagination..." He shrugged. "I confess that the technicalities escape me. It's a shame that I never read your husband's books, and only dusted them. Here I am turning into a vampire, and I really don't know much about me." He swung around to face Giles, eyebrows raised in an expression of exaggerated interest. "Tell me, should I avoid garlic? Or is that just an old wives' tale?"

"Keep back." Thrusting Giles behind her, Li raised her stake. Henry laughed.

"So you're the Slayer. It's not a great pleasure to meet you. To be honest I have no plans to be killed just yet. I'm rather enjoying all of this. It makes such a nice change from dusting the furniture."

"My husband trusted you for years." Elizabeth sounded as though her servant's death was a personal affront to her dignity, apparently unaware that the being she was now confronting was just a demon inhabiting a familiar body. Henry raised an eyebrow.

"And I took pride in my position, Madam. I still do as it happens. When I kill you all, and suck out your blood, I'll be sure not to spill a drop on the floor. Especially since I spent all of yesterday getting such an admirable shine." He frowned, turning about to scrub with a pristine white handkerchief at a mark on the wall beside him. "And I'll make sure that your clothes are clean and tidy and neatly pressed. You can't go to meet your Maker with creases showing."

"Okay, this one is giving me the creeps." Li took a step towards the fastidious vampire, stake upraised. "How about you come over here and let me straighten out your creases."

"I don't think so." He moved towards her with a suddenness that was quite startling, and before she was entirely aware of his intentions, he had slapped the stake from her hand. "I'm not a servant anymore, and to be honest over the last fifty years I've had quite enough of being told what to do. I think it's about time I took charge." He smiled at her, and once again his manner became affable and courteous. "That is, if you don't mind."

"Let me handle this one, Li." Giles was pushing forward again, once more apparently determined to handle the rough stuff. Li tried to force him back, but he side-stepped her. "Let's get this clear. You're a vampire, not the family retainer. So if you want to suck our blood, just do it. Lose the courtesy."

"Courtesy? I'm surprised you can say the word." Henry's tone of voice was bitingly derisive. "You know, being a servant is all very well - or was anyway, before I developed this urgent desire to suck blood and destroy the world - but the one bit of my job that I always really hated was having to clear up after you. Do you have any idea what it takes to get vodka stains off that table? I have to pay the laundry woman extra to get the blood out of your clothes, and what thanks do I get for it?"

"What thanks do you expect." Giles looked about for a stake, wondering if he would have time to make a grab for the one Li had just dropped. The Slayer herself was beginning to edge away, hoping that Henry was too preoccupied to notice. "Gratitude isn't really my style."

"No, I had noticed. But then I have new ways of dealing with unruly children these days, Rupert. All kinds of new ways." He stepped forward, eyes agleam with his renewed interest in the world, and suddenly the genial figure was transformed. His brow ridge was suddenly protruding, his soft blue-green eyes harsh and yellow. His teeth lengthened and sharpened and glistened at the points with saliva and traces of blood. "You always were an ungrateful little sod. Different when your father was alive of course. He ran this house like he meant business." Unimpressed Giles struck out again, but Henry caught his wrist and held it.

"I may have the body of an old man, Rupert, but you know that's only show. The old man has gone. I'm a vampire now." His hard fingers, so recently those of an arthritic old man, tightened their grip until it felt to Giles as though his wrist were about to snap. He struggled in vain to break loose.

"Henry, I don't understand what's going on." Elizabeth, already confused, was increasingly out of her depth. "What is all this?"

"Nothing for you to worry yourself with, Madam." His tone was again polite, and as he turned to face her the demon within him faded from his face. Instead he was once again the man she had known for so long. "I'm sorry to inconvenience you in this way, but it really is unavoidable." He pulled Giles towards him, making a vague attempt to straighten the boy's hair and collar. "You don't have any objections to me killing him do you? He only ever keeps bad company..."

"You're not killing anyone." Li had snatched up another stake, and was heading back with a cold look in her usually tranquil eyes. Henry laughed.

"The Slayer, rushing to the defence of her star-crossed lover. They'll never let you have him, Miss Kwan. They'll never let you stay together. Give him up and let me kill him. His blood should taste special, with all the things he fills it with - and the world will be a much better place without him."

"Rupert?" Elizabeth took a few steps forward, but Giles, trying to turn around to face her, found himself spun into the dubious embrace of the vampire. A long, hairy arm clamped around his throat, making the veins bulge in a way he could only assume would be most inviting.

"Keep back, Mrs Giles. I'd hate to get blood on that blouse of yours. It can only take a cool wash, and there's no way we could get the stains out."

"Alright! We've had enough domestic tips from the world's weirdest vampire. Time to shut up and fight me." Li spun her stake in her hands, earning a grin from Henry so wide that it seemed able to suck all three humans into its tooth-filled depths. "I'd appreciate it if you'd start by putting my boyfriend down."

"Your boyfriend?" Henry laughed out loud, giving his fierce prisoner a hearty shake. "This? You're the Slayer. You think they'd let you take off with a useless piece of filth like this? He casts bad spells to hurt people, and he enjoys doing it." He laughed roughly, and his face turned once again into that of a hungry demon. "I could almost congratulate him, if he wasn't such an arrogant waste of space."

"I told you to shut up and fight." Li was heading towards him once again. "I know what he's like, and I know what he's capable of. And I don't care."

"No?" Henry made a last stab at straightening the rebellious collar of Giles' leather jacket. "Then take him. He's yours and welcome." He sent Giles spinning towards her, and the pair crashed awkwardly together into the table. Henry turned his back on them, apparently unconcerned by the potential threat of their presence, instead merely strolling towards the door. "I hear voices in the corridor, and guests about to knock. I hear the approach of new magics. Opening doors always was one of my duties." He flashed them a toothy, deranged-looking grin. "And after all, death is no excuse for slackness."

"No, wait!" Li regained her footing in seconds, but although she was starting forwards, ready to fight and Slay, he was already turning the handles of the massive doors. Li froze. A huge streak of lightning lit up the room, improving the glow of the dying fire for long enough to allow her to see what stood beyond the library. In the doorway, arranged in neat formation, stood six men. They were dressed identically, in suits of black with shirts of grey, five arranged in formation around the sixth. He was taller than the others, with shoulder-length hair of a bright snow white. A glimmering golden crucifix hung around his neck on a long chain, and there was a carved wooden cross in his right hand. In the other was a small crossbow, small enough to be operated with one hand alone. It was ready to fire, loaded with a long wooden missile with a deadly point. He aimed this in the vague direction of Henry, as though the fact that the old servant was a vampire worried him only a very little.

"Thankyou." He spoke politely to the vampire, but did not move the crossbow. Henry nodded in response.

"Come on in." He stood aside, gesturing to the dark expanses of the library. Another flash of lightning lit up the room, and the rain outside began to pound louder than ever on the windows. The sound was huge and powerful, threatening to drown out all else.

"Don't mind if I do." Sauntering closer the long-haired man surveyed the room, taking in Elizabeth with her shocked and tired expression, Li with her stake at the ready and her ruffled but defiant appearance, Giles still looking as though he were ready to fight the whole world. "Good evening ladies and gentleman. I trust you're enjoying the show?"

"What are you doing here?" If Giles was surprised he did not show it, nor did he demean himself by allowing his hate to colour his voice. Instead he merely found his way between this new arrival and the young Slayer, and made a determined show of keeping them well apart. The new arrival smiled, his eyes as hard and as bright as diamonds, with more than a hint of cruel amusement.

"Do you know him?" Li was aware that this new arrival was not a vampire, for her senses told her that even without the added clue of his crucifix and wooden cross. Giles scowled.

"His name is Gregory."

"Mister Gregory." The white-haired man strolled closer, the crossbow now wavering slightly between the vampire and the boy. "Dear dear, they really don't teach you much respect at that fancy school."

"Who is he?" Li was watching everybody now, on edge and nervous, her body unable to leave its poise of battle-readiness. Her words turned themselves to face Giles, as her eyes darted about the room.

"He's a Watcher." Giles spoke it as though it were an insult or great crime, but Gregory laughed at the venom in his voice, untouched by the sense of ill-feeling.

"A Watcher?" He smiled, his face taking on a strangely skull-like appearance as the skin stretched around his highly prominent cheek bones. "Not anymore I'm afraid. The High Council has rather less patience with grown-ups than they do with their younger reprobates." He chuckled as he gestured towards Giles. "My young friend here dabbles with the dark arts and earns himself a fistful of reprimands, whilst I do the same thing and get thrown out of the organisation. Stripped of my credentials, left to fend for myself in the big wide world. I was responsible for European Research and Operations - but now I run my own division." His chuckle became a darker, deeper laugh. "And arrange my own entertainment."

"Entertainment?" Giles' fingers itched to reach for some kind of weapon, but the crossbow was deterrent enough to make him think before acting too rashly. Gregory turned away, pacing the room with an air of restless contentment.

"A spell or two. A little magic blowing in the cool evening breeze. I'm actually rather pleased with myself."

"Pleased with yourself?" Pushing Giles aside, Li stepped forward. The crossbow swung about to point squarely at her chest, and she stopped short. "You're working with vampires - your sworn enemies. You're supposed to be dedicated to destroying them all."

"Oh they're no longer my enemies, my dear. My new line of business has made friends of old foes. What can I say? I'm a diplomat at heart." He clicked his fingers, and the five men surrounding him each took a step forward. One by one their faces changed into the bestial images of vampires on the hunt. "Change of allies, change of fortune. The dark side has so much more to offer." He gestured once more to Giles. "The boy here will tell you that. Right Rupert?"

"Maybe." Giles looked around at the assembled vampires, most particularly at Henry. "But I'm not fool enough to work with creatures like this. They'll suck your blood as soon as look at you."

"Very true. Hence the crucifix." He waggled the cross in his hand. "And the cross, and the crossbow. Call it protection, call it paranoia, but I like to be prepared." He grinned. "Especially in the face of all that's walking the streets tonight."

"What do you mean?" Almost forgotten Elizabeth stood at the other end of the table, one hand closed tightly around the magazine she had been looking at before. Her knuckles were white, and her growing exhaustion was written across her face in deep lines on pale skin. Gregory raised an eyebrow at her question, looking faintly amused.

"Any manner of things, Mrs Giles, any manner of things. Chaos and destruction, power and darkness. I have to confess to a certain flair for the dramatic, but it is amazing what a simple spell can do. A few chants at the sinking of the sun, a few herbs burning at twilight, a little blood of the innocent sprinkled in the right places... and you have the makings of a truly memorable Halloween. Even the night before Halloween can be extra special... or at least it was in Dover." He smiled at Li in a strikingly paternal fashion. "Wouldn't you say, my dear?"

"You were in Dover last night?" She looked back towards Gregory, searching for answers in his deceitful face. "You had Rosemary killed?"

"I don't want to lose myself in technicalities, Miss Kwan. If you want to talk details, her death was as much your fault as mine. If you weren't the way you are, I'd never have become interested in you."

"Interested in me?" She sounded suspicious, as though words were fine for the moment, but only until she got the chance to do something rather more decisive. Gregory seemed to see this, and he smiled even more patronisingly than before.

"Of course. After all, you were planning to abandon your destiny even before you fell in with this surly individual." Here he gestured at Giles, earning himself a glower in reply. "And I do so like to exploit the odd windfall. A Slayer strays, and all kinds of new opportunities present themselves."

"You sent those vampires here to kill us?" Giles was stepping forward, heedless of the crossbow that swung to face him. Henry licked his lips, clearly expecting bloodshed, and began toying excitedly with his clothes brush.

"Kill you? Certainly not. I have no reason to want the Slayer dead; at least just yet. Besides, I was not exactly the one who sent those other vampires here tonight. I rather think you need look closer to home for the cause of that."

Giles shook his head, looking confused. "You're speaking riddles, and you're not making any sense. None of this is. You come here with a bunch of vampires, risking half the population of London, just because Li doesn't want to be the Slayer any more? What happens if one of your friends here decides to go for an easier meal? This city is full of people who wouldn't be able to fight back."

"Very true." In the blink of an eye Gregory had halved the distance between them, and now stood towering over the angry boy. "But why should you care about it? You don't hate the dark powers. You're just a hair's breadth away from working for them yourself." Mocking laughter filled his words. "Do you really care so much for the Slayer that all of a sudden you're remembering your own obligations?"

"My obligations are my concern, and they have nothing to do with anything I might happen to feel for Li."

"How very ungallant - but no less than I've come to expect from you, dear boy. The truth of it is that the Slayer's disillusionment is my passport to great things, and I have no intention of allowing her boyfriend's sudden reawakening of conscience to prevent my plans from going ahead. I've taken it upon myself to appoint her new Watcher, and in accordance with the ruling of my own High Council - which is me incidentally - I have decided that right now the best person for that job is me. Miss Kwan needs encouragement. She needs protecting, and guarding against any attempt by my former colleagues to bring her back into their fold." He held his arms wide, as though welcoming them all to him. "And a little corruption shouldn't go amiss."

"You're not taking her." Giles tried to push himself between the two again, but this time Li resisted to some extent. "We're leaving here, her and me. We're not going to be used anymore, by the Watchers or by you."

"Brave words, Giles, as ever - but you haven't yet heard my terms." He gestured to the door. "How about a little stroll up to the roof? I want to show you the way London looks tonight."

"We're not interested." Li looked around at all of the vampires, from the five well-trained disciples of the disgraced Watcher, to old Henry who still hovered nearby. In between listening to the proceedings he was absently polishing a glass-fronted portrait on the wall, using a duster he seemed to have taken from his pocket. He had a small can of spray polish as well.

"You won't come and watch my little show?" Looking wounded, Gregory gave his head a doleful shake. "And I went to such trouble to set it all up for you. You only need walk as far as the roof."

"The only place I'm going tonight is out of this house with Giles. I'm not going with you or your friends. I've had enough of doing what I'm told."

"Fair enough." Gregory shrugged. "Can't say I didn't try. Can't say I didn't give you the opportunity. You go ahead, Slayer, and walk on out of here. You can go anywhere you want, and I'm not going to try and stop you. But don't expect to make it more than a hundred yards down the road." He chuckled to himself. "Well go on, go ahead. What are you waiting for? There's only a flight of stairs between you and the main door."

"You're bluffing." Stake still held in her hand, Li went hesitantly towards the door. Giles moved to go after her, but before he could reach the door two of Gregory's vampires closed in to intercept him. They held him back, teeth bared.

"Not you, Giles. This sort of show works best when viewed alone." Gregory leaned on the door post, watching Li as she raced towards the stairs. Giles struggled, but his normal human strength was no match for that of a vampire, and certainly not for two such creatures working together. He gave up.

"What's going on?"

"Oh, just a little of this... little of that. I decided to give London my kind of a Halloween, and it's all going off out there right now. You've grown up with the knowledge that tonight is the least dangerous night of the year; but can you remember the days when you thought differently? When you believed that tonight was the night when spirits walked, and witches rode their broomsticks?" He saw the lights change in Giles' eyes, in a way that had nothing to do with the lightning, and he gave a little giggle. "I see that you do. Well for the people of London, Giles - the normal people, who haven't had your education and experience - tonight is still that night. It's a night when every creaky floorboard has a gruesome tale behind it; when every shadow hides a ghoul or a demon; a night when witches hide beneath the stairs, and ghosts roam the wild places at the bottom of the garden. And tonight every one of those thoughts, every one of those dreams, is being made real. If somebody hears a creak and thinks that it might be a demon - that's precisely what it is. Every child who thinks there's a monster under the bed better watch out tonight, Giles... because tonight that monster is really going to be there." He stepped forward, and dropped his hand onto the boy's shoulder, bringing his face in close so that the flashing lightning reflected in his eyes threatened to blind the young Watcher with its madness. "And that monster is going to tear every person it meets limb from limb."


Li reached the front door in a panic, although she was not altogether sure why her state of mind should be so unsettled. Gregory had unnerved her in ways that she did not understand, and she didn't know why she was alone as she stood in the great hall. Why Giles had not followed her was a mystery, but she was sure that Gregory was involved in that; which only served to make her more worried still.

The front door stood open, and the floor in the hall was soaked by the pounding of the intrusive rain. It bounced back up again as it struck the walls and the floor, filling the air with a powerful spray that soaked her clothing. She ignored it and leant out into the darkness, feeling the rain strike the back of her head with a force that sent tingles down her spine. Her hair was a mess in seconds, and the glass beads in her fringe clanged tinnily as the raindrops struck them against one another. She looked up. Far above her the wild black clouds swirled and mingled, moving far faster than was normal for any cloud formation she was familiar with. Her imagination painted faces in the black mists; Rosemary, dying slowly and in pain; her parents bidding her farewell when her destiny had been revealed; the first vampire she had ever confronted, towering above her with its evil smile and long, vicious talons. It was several moments before she realised that it was not her imagination painting such pictures, and that the faces really were forming in the clouds. As she watched the face became people - sixty feet tall in tke sky, striding around in the midst of the lashing, crashing lightning. She saw a huge vampire taking shape above her, watched it as it turned around, saw her, reached down. Its huge face came closer and closer out of the sky, and teeth framed in lightning clashed together only inches from her face. She screamed, and the vampire vanished. All the clouds were suddenly smooth and featureless, and the figures no longer stalked through the skies. She took a deep breath.

"Okay, Gregory. If you want to play games..." Closing her eyes briefly, and focussing determinedly on anything but the clouds, she stepped out into the rain. Her feet rang out on the garden path, and she looked left and right at the flowerbeds and towering bushes. They had looked no less threatening when she had arrived earlier in the night, and she remembered them as she walked amongst them now. There were tall, spiky bushes, of the kind one could imagine giving refuge to all manner of unpleasant creatures. Deep flowerbeds that looked like marshes in the rain - expanses of lawn without cover or feature that looked terrifyingly bare in the harsh light of the storm. Even as she watched she saw shadows walk across the grass, and she knew that once again the images in her mind were taking substance. She knew now why Gregory had been so cocky - so certain that she would not make it to the end of the road. Even as she stood stock still on the garden path she could hear screams and cries from all around her. Neighbours begging for their lives as the demons of their dreams confronted them in bedroom and hallway - animals screeching in terror as the dark shadows raced to consume them. All around her the marshes she had imagined in the flowerbeds seemed larger and larger, reaching out to suck her in, and as she looked she saw that others had already fallen victim to their embrace. She saw children sinking into the black waters, crying out for help. She saw men and women waving their hands in desperation above the surface as their bodies were sucked down into the depths. The screams became muffled, choking sounds. For a second there was silence.

"Is there anybody there?" Staring into the storm, blinded by the rain, Li tried to see beyond the confines of the garden. She thought that she saw a man run past, chased by a horde of shrieking hags, their flowing grey hair streaming in the wind and their long fingernails reaching almost to the ground. The man looked at her for a second, his eyes wide with the terror of a man pushed beyond sanity by impossibilities made real. Then suddenly he was gone as the hags consumed him, and Li saw blood mingle with the rain on the road. Slowly she felt her shoulders beginning to slump.

"Ready to come back inside yet?" She turned to the sound of Henry's voice, and saw him standing before her. Impossibly he had contrived to remain bone dry, and was carrying a huge black umbrella over one shoulder. He shook it open, holding it above her head. She stared up at him, looking into the face that should have belonged to somebody's grandfather, thinking hopeless thoughts about the demon that had taken his soul. Henry, however, seemed patient and polite, and brushed in a gentle, fatherly fashion at the leaves sticking to her wet clothes. "We'll soon get you warm and dry miss. You just come on inside."

"I don't want to." She looked up at the house, with its dark windows and its looming shadows, and shook her head. "I really don't want to go in there."

"You have to." For a moment the demon showed its face in his kindly blue-green eyes, and she shuddered. She wanted to stake him, but she didn't seem to have the energy. She felt as she had felt on her birthday, when the Watcher test had taken her strength and left her human and helpless. Henry was taking her arm though, taking her weight, taking her worries. "If you don't come inside, Mr Gregory will kill Rupert and Mrs Giles." He smiled then, and his human teeth flashed in the moonlight. "And I'd help."

"I'm coming." She followed him back up the steps, thinking about reducing him to ash, wishing that she could find it in herself to make a blow for his chest. Instead she merely lowered her head and walked back into the hall. Henry folded up the umbrella and pulled the front door closed, and as the lock clicked loudly into place, Li felt as though she were cut off from everything.


The roof of the house was lit by five huge candles arranged in a pentagram, the rain and wind deflected away from them by an invisible shield that hung in a dome above the little gathering. Li stared out across London, visible to quite a degree courtesy of the high roof, with its inspiring panoramas. The storm had not been quelled by time, and even though the first light of dawn now coloured the eastern horizon, still the night-time held the city in its thrall. lightning gashed open the sky with every few seconds that passed, and the thunder made speech inaudible with a regularity that was almost like clockwork. Up on the roof the screams the Slayer had heard in the street could no longer be distinguished from the wind, but she knew that they still continued. She could see the terrified forms of people, a few here, a few there, some huddled together in fear for their lives. Most houses were deathly still, and she could only imagine what was going on behind the closed doors. How many people were trapped inside? How many creatures were crawling through the suburban sitting rooms, or clawing their way through the cut flowers and three-piece suites and the brand new colour televisions? She shivered, and beside her Gregory laughed.

"I'm glad you like it. It was a difficult spell to perform, but a worthwhile one. Halloween should be a time of mystery and magic, don't you think? I never did hold with all that rubbish about vampires taking the night off. Fortunately I don't seem to be alone in that view." He gestured about him. "I never would have believed that there was such inventiveness in the minds of the people of London, would you? But look at the skies tonight. There are dragons in the clouds, and witches on broomsticks. I never believed that I would see something like that in my life." He gave a gleeful chuckle. "Much less that I would be the cause of it all. Hags, demons - and whatever that long pointy creature is over there. "What do you say Giles? A vampire unicorn?"

"I think you're mad." Despite his words, Giles was impressed. The scale of the magic was incredible, and he could not help but feel admiration for the man who had put it into practice.

"Perhaps I am mad. Perhaps the city is." Giggling like an excited school child, Gregory pointed down into the street. A huge beast, very like a crocodile, was prowling along the road, its huge teeth gnashing as it waved its head and crunched on anything that came close enough to be snapped up. "They're drowning in monstrosities down there tonight. There are crowds of vampires filling every building - just like the gang one of you three dreamed up to make your evening so interesting earlier." He frowned suddenly. "Do you suppose there's a collective noun for a group of vampires? I always wondered, but the Watchers never seem to teach about things like that. What do you think Giles?"

"Get stuffed." The young Watcher looked out across London with an expression of muted respect. He had never had much pity for the ordinary people of the world, who lived their whole lives in ignorance of the powers that touched their lives every day; but admitting such things to Gregory was out of the question. The former Watcher smiled rather frostily.

"I really think I'm going to enjoy giving the order to end your miserable life. However in the meantime I have more pressing matters to attend to." He gestured at London, darkened, terrorised and helpless beneath him. "One city, lost in its own nightmares. And it's waiting for you to save it, Li."

"What do I have to do?" She didn't know where to begin, save perhaps for attacking Gregory, and her helplessness was clear on her face. Her tormentor laughed.

"Do? That's simple my dear. All you have to do is join me. You don't want to be the Slayer, and as long as you live no other Slayer can be called. Your position would remain without equal. I'm offering you all the freedom you want, all the security. You'd be on the side of the vampires, so there'd be no danger of them killing you. Imagine it - no longer having to fear for your life, no longer having to worry if you'll ever reach twenty-one. You could do whatever you want - study, marry, have children - all without fear. No more Watchers to return to, no more patrolling graveyards... You'd like that, wouldn't you. It's what you want." She lowered her eyes and he laughed still louder. "Of course it is. And it's all yours if you just say the word."

"And if I don't?" She was shocked by the yearning his words had awoken within her. Were her desires really so easy to guess? And was she really considering selling her soul for such a price? He regarded her silently for several seconds.

"See beneath you. Watch what's going on. You were down there, you experienced it first hand. How much more of that do you think London can take? If you refuse to join me, I'll strengthen my spell. I'll send the whole of London mad, and there'll be nothing anybody can do to stop it. There comes a point beyond which even the Slayer is helpless, and we're fast approaching that point now. Or perhaps you want to watch all those people die?"

"All of them?" She gestured about her, at the shrieking city. "You'd let them all die?"

"They're of no importance to me. But you, my dear - you do care for them, don't you. You want them to survive. And to make that happen all you have to do is follow your heart. You've already proved that you care more for your dark friend here than you do for your Watcher masters; and that you were prepared to walk out and leave his mother to the mercy of the vampires. You've also proved that you care nothing for your destiny or your calling. You want freedom, my dear? Then ask for it, and it's yours. Refuse it, and London dies. I see no reason to ponder further."

"But if I agree to help you there's no telling what could happen." She stared down at the city, unsure whether the things she were seeing were real, or were just her own fears made real. It didn't really matter. A flock of shrieking owls with human faces flew past her, their teeth dripping blood and their long claws bearing traces of clothing ripped apart. "I can't just agree to this. Not without thinking about it - without asking somebody. I - I have to have some time..."

"Choose now." Gregory reached past her, gesturing towards Giles. "Join me, or he dies too. It wouldn't take much to send him into the hell I'm creating down there. Who knows? A screwed up weirdo like him might just enjoy it."

"No." Her voice filled with pain she stared back him, uncomprehending. "Please. Don't hurt him."

"Li!" Astounded Giles turned to her, eyes wide with disbelief. "You can't just give in to him. He'll use you. It won't be like we planned it. It was going to be just the two of us, remember - like we've wanted since we first met. You can't just throw all that away."

"He'll kill you." Her voice sounded small, and she felt herself curling up inside, tiny and helpless and alone. She didn't feel like the Slayer right now, and she wasn't sure that she would ever feel like it again. Where was her strength and power now?

"Better that than see you become his servant. Are you ready to do the bidding of a man like this? It'll be no better than serving the Watchers, except that his way you'll be turning against everything within you. I was ready to take you away from your destiny, but I would never have made you turn against your nature. He'll do that. He'll make you do things that you can't let yourself do. People will get hurt, Li. I can't let you have that on your conscience. I can't see you hurt yourself that way."

"And you don't think that she'll be hurt if she chooses to go with you?" Gregory's laugh was growing more demonic, more powerful, as he seemed to be gaining a greater control of the situation. With a flourish of the cross in his hand he nodded to his vampires, and together they converged on Giles. The boy stood in their midst, flick-knife in one hand, refusing to show the fear he was beginning to feel. "Think about it Li. If you choose to do as Giles says, it's not just London you're failing - it's yourself. If you let the city fall into its own darkness, you may escape joining my service - but you'll never be free. You know Giles can't give you the things I can. If you go with him you'll wander together for a few weeks - maybe a month if you're lucky - and then somebody will find you and bring you both back. Perhaps you could avoid the police, perhaps you could avoid the Watchers - but can you avoid them both, all of the time? Would you be able to avoid the vampires? They'll know that you're out there, alone, and they'll be looking to take advantage of that. They know who you are, and there'd be no escape." He moved closer to her, voice dropping, becoming gentle and soft and frighteningly persuasive. She wanted to shrink away from him, but was determined not to. "And what about the rest? Magic is drawn to Watchers and Slayers. We have an aura about us, my dear, stronger than any charm. Dark magic especially will always know you, and will always be able to hunt you down." He put his hands on her shoulders and looked deep into her eyes. "You know that I'm right, don't you. If you want to be free; if you really want a release from your Slayer's obligations, you must co-operate with me. There is no other way."

"He's lying." Giles, flick-knife still held in a grim and determined hand, had backed away from the encircling vampires until he was almost on the edge of the roof. One heel struck the guttering, and he almost lost his footing. Li looked back at him, her eyes rimmed with tears.

"He's not." She suddenly couldn't look her comrade in the eye. "He's right, and you know it. What plans do you have, Giles? How do you think we can stay ahead of the authorities? If our people don't get us, the police certainly will. You're not eighteen yet so they're bound to get involved, and there's your school to think about too. They'd be bound to contact somebody if you don't go back there. We'd have to hide all the time, and he's right about the vampires. We wouldn't have a chance."

"Yes we would. We always have a chance. You believed that before, so why not now? This is just a spell, all of it. We can find another way to break it, without you agreeing to go with him." Giles looked from Li to his flick-knife, ridiculously small when confronted by Gregory's pack of five hungry vampires. "I know this stuff - I know the magic he used. Human blood will break the spell. It's part of the enchantment. We could kill him, and that would end it."

"Kill him?" The Slayer shook her head. "I can't kill humans. I'm supposed to defend them, not hurt them."

"You're not supposed to do anything." Teetering on the edge of the roof, Giles was apparently oblivious to his danger, and focussed entirely on the object of his passions. "You're leaving all that behind you, remember? You can do what you want." His expression turned nasty. "And if you can't kill Gregory, I certainly can."

"You'd do that?" She was staring at him now, and he saw the flashes of fire in her eyes that marked her out as something apart from the rest of the human race. Danger signals sounded in his head, but he didn't want to change his path now.

"Yeah. I'd do that. And why the hell shouldn't I? In case you hadn't noticed he's planning on killing me. Who knows how many people he's already killed tonight, just to make you go with him? He doesn't deserve your protection."

"As long as he's alive I'm afraid he does." She turned away from him, shaking her head, her eyes downcast towards the maelstrom that was London. Above her another flash of lightning lit the roof, and she saw Henry fussing over the sleeves of Elizabeth's blouse with his ever-ready brush. He glanced up at her, his eyes meeting hers, and she watched as his face changed again. Once more the inner demon was looking back at her, his long teeth and vicious eyes strange in his kindly old face. Somehow the sight seemed to be the final straw. All around her she could see and feel the gradual departure of her hopes and dreams. Tonight, on this rooftop, in the middle of an enchanted storm, she was finding herself forced to abandon plans she had clung to as a lifeline. She was confused in a nightmare of someone else's making, unable even to think straight, let alone make any sort of decisive manoeuvre; and yet that was exactly what she had to do. Maybe this was the last step to adulthood, or maybe it was just the final acknowledgement that some dreams were always to remain out of reach. Either way it felt as though her insides were being torn apart. Gregory moved closer to her still, until she could feel his breath on her face.

"Have you made your decision?"

"I--" She looked about - at Giles close to the roof's edge; at his mother leaning back into the arms of an old and supportive servant, who so clearly was about to take her life. There didn't seem to be anything left that she could do for either of them. If she couldn't save somebody she loved, why should she care about saving a city full of strangers? And yet, all wishes to escape her calling aside, she knew that she could not turn her back on the people her destiny had chosen her to protect. She couldn't let London fall.

"Make your decision, Li." Gregory sounded more threatening now, more cold and cruel as his victory drew nearer. He cast out an arm across London. "I can recant my spell over this pointless little city, and then you and I can leave here together." He took her hands, and she felt his skin deathly cold against hers. "When I look into your eyes, I see the soul of a girl locked on a path that will never let her grow old, and you know that as well as I do. If you refuse my offer you'll have no choice but to return to your life as the Slayer, and if that happens you'll never see the close of this decade. It's not just London you'll be throwing away - it's your own life as well."

"Don't do it, Li." Backed as far away from the vampires as he could now go, Giles' danger was increasing with every second. He seemed to have moved out of the sphere of Gregory's power, and the rain was reaching him, drenching him, making his position all the more precarious as the roof became slippery beneath his feet. "You have to go. This is your last chance. All our dreams..."

"Our dreams?" She stared at him, thinking back. She had known him such a short time, spent such a short time in his company - and yet she knew that she would never look at anybody the way that she looked at him. He was a part of her the way nobody else could ever be. She wanted to be with him, and to follow her own path in life, and never have to be responsible for anyone else ever again. She wanted to grow old, and live without fear - but to do so meant leaving a city full of people to perish in the midst of a Halloween nightmare. Could she live with herself if she made that choice - and could Giles? Was he really the kind of person who would walk away from his own city, and leave it to die, just so that he could follow his own dream? She thought about the aura of dark magic in his bedroom, and about the shadows and menaces that filled his eyes. Perhaps she already had her answer.

"Do you really want me to abandon London?" The others had ceased to exist now, and there was only her and Giles in the whole of the world.

"No." His knuckles were white around his flick-knife, and his feet were just seconds away from slipping over the edge of the roof. He stared back at her, heedless of the advancing vampires. "But there has to be another way."

"Your way." She smiled rather sadly, and wondered if she would be able to stand watching him die. "What about my way, Giles? Yours, his... it's all a question of breaking free of the Watchers to do your own thing - to have the freedom to play with your dark arts and your creepy magic. Maybe that's not what I want. Maybe what I want is to be free of magic altogether. And I can't ever have that with you, can I. Magic will always be a part of you, even if you turn your back on the Watchers forever."

"Then we'll follow your way." One of the vampires lunged at him and he stabbed back, slashing the creature on the arm but not hurting it in the slightest. It growled at him, and its companions reached out as one. The young Watcher felt his feet lose their footing, and for a second caught a glimpse of his mother standing just outside the pentagram. Henry had his arm around her, his tongue licking his newly pointed teeth as he watched Giles over her shoulder. His intentions were clear, and his hunger was written in his eyes. He was smiling nastily, but Elizabeth, clearly unaware of her likely fate, was merely watching Giles. Something very like despair was stark on her face, and with a strange kind of fiery pride the young Watcher saw the clarity of her understanding. It came years too late, but finally she was seeing that their two worlds could never be the same. She had that look about her, as if she was beginning to realise that he was something she couldn't comprehend, and didn't want to. How typical that he had to be facing death before she had been able to get a handle on that one. He turned his eyes back towards Li, and saw the tears soaking her cheeks. From the look in her eyes he could see that there was no decision left to make, and he felt as though the bottom had dropped out of his heart.

"Li please--"

"Forget it Giles. It's over. I would have liked to try and run away with you. I really would."

"Then do it!"

"No." She was staring at him now with a coldness that he knew was forced, but which hurt him all the same. "I'm sorry Giles. Your way doesn't work, and any other way would never work for me. I'm the Slayer. I have to do what I can to save as many lives as possible. It's not about my freedom anymore. It's about saving London tonight."

"But it's not real! This is all about summoning nightmares, making Halloween come to life. Dreams can't hurt people. You can't give up now to save people from monsters that don't exist!"

"Dreams can be very real." She thought about her own, which had sustained her for so long; about fleeing the High Council and living somewhere safe with Giles, where they could both be what they wanted. "Get away from the edge of the roof. There's not going to be any more killing tonight on either side. I just want all of this to end."

"You're sure?" Gregory sounded smug, which didn't surprise her. "You're ready to join me, to save London?"

"No." She stared back at him, wondering if it always hurt this much to turn your back on your dreams; and if she really had the strength to turn against her soul to save a city of strangers. How many people would die if she joined Gregory? And how many would die if she didn't? "But I'll do it. I have to."

"Very true." With a smile as cold as ice, Gregory reached out and took her hand. "Then come with me. I have to make sure that you can't ever leave me once you've joined." His hands were on her shoulders, pulling her into a freezing embrace. Above her the canopy of magic protecting them from the rain was beginning to wane, and she could feel her hair growing wet. Water ran down the back of her neck, and her body began to feel chilled.

"Let Giles and his mother go." Her voice was muffled against his bony chest, but her only immediate answer was the vibration of a man laughing in delight.

"Let them go? Hardly. Do you think Giles would rest whilst he still had you to save?" He spun her around, and she was treated to a dizzying view of a city full of storm-lashed monsters turning towards them. Snakes and serpents, reptiles and furred beasts of all description, were rising into the air, coming closer and closer with a shared screech of blood-crazed joy. Still balanced on the edge of the roof, blown and buffeted by the increasing wind, Giles almost fell. The approaching hordes wailed and whistled their excitement as his danger increased by the second.

"No!" Seeing the approaching onslaught Elizabeth was beginning to struggle, but Henry's grip on her shoulder was no longer one of support. Instead he was dragging her back, his arms choking her, his teeth scratching her throat as he prepared at last to drink his fill. "Please! Not my son."

"I'm not your son." Giles was staring at her now, his eyes as cold as she had ever seen them. She wondered if his hate was the last thing she would ever see, but even as she watched him the hate became something else. Some other light was shining through that fierce green fire, and for the first time in a good many months she thought she saw something that she understood. "I don't belong to anybody." And as the vampires reached out to take him, and the demons and denizens of London's storm-charged depths flew up to play their part, he turned his back on them all and let gravity take him.


"Giles!" Eyes open wide with horror, Li dashed for the edge of the roof, staring down into the howling maelstrom of dream creatures. She could see nothing for the lashing rain in her eyes, and the thunder, mingled with the screams of the creatures, stole her cries as they broke from her lips. Unable to hear even herself, she knew that she would not be able to hear Giles, even if he was in any position to answer her. She felt her shoulders slump.

"No." There was anger spitting from Gregory's eyes as he came towards her, and for a second she flinched, expecting to be sent to join her boyfriend. Instead, however, Gregory swung about to face his vampire horde, still standing in a row together on the rooftop, and staring down into the mists that had taken Giles. "You fools! Do you know what you've done? I told you to hold him. I told you to kill him!"

"How were we to know he was going to throw himself off?" The largest of the vampires, and clearly some kind of leader by mutual consent, faced up to the former Watcher with yellow eyes aglow. "You said he was a waste of space. You didn't tell us he'd be prepared to make a sacrifice like that."

"You were supposed to be ready for every eventuality." Gregory spun around, holding out his hands, feeling the rain that was collapsing his temporary shelter. "The rain is slowing. The storm is coming to an end. Don't you see what you've done?"

"We don't care." The vampire pushed him away, although it moved cautiously to avoid the crucifix around his neck. "We did what you asked. Now we just want to be paid."

"Paid?" Gregory turned back to face his undead associates. "Why should I pay you?"

"Why shouldn't you." Li, crouched at the edge of the roof with her hands in the gutter, stared up at him. He could see wetness in her eyes that went far beyond the moisture of the rain. "You've got what you wanted haven't you?"

"You'll still come with me?" He leaned over her then, his eyes hot and bright and his voice a hushed and excited whisper. She saw madness in his face and tried to push away from him, but his hands were on her shoulders and they were clinging on tight. She struggled.

"I said I'd do what you wanted didn't I?" She could hardly get the words out for the pain in her throat. "I still have London to save."

"You still--" He began to laugh, and as he held her tighter still she saw his hands beginning to glow. Words spewed forth from his tongue, in a language - many languages - that she did not understand. Overhead she thought she saw the lightning flash with a lesser intensity than before, and as she watched, forced back almost to the point of falling from the roof, she saw a handful of the terrible beasts around her disappear. She gasped. All about her the creatures were vanishing. Flying hags ceased to exist in mid-shriek, their eyes flaming for a second after their bodies had gone. Furred creatures with hands that could tear a man in two were staring deeply into her eyes one minute - and the next had gone. She saw a fluttering of feathers, and watched as blood dripped down out of an emptying sky. The mangled bodies of victims were still there, left to fall back to earth; but their attackers were vanishing into the departing storm clouds. Far in the east the light of dawn was suddenly brighter.

"You're mine. I claim the Slayer." She could hear Gregory still speaking in his unknown languages, but all of a sudden she could understand his words. She felt a pain in her mind, and knew that she was losing herself to him. With all the strength of her Slayer self she pushed away from him, and felt his hold on her beginning to break.

"We had an agreement." He was spitting the words at her, his eyes brighter than ever, and his hold on her as hot as she could stand. She tried to shake him off.

"We had an agreement. Your spell's been broken. Human blood, just like Giles said. That's what he did, isn't it, when he threw himself off the roof." With an almighty effort she dragged herself free, and rolled away from the edge. Gregory spat fury, struggling to catch hold of her again.

"Very clever." He stared around at the others; his five vampires watching him with clear uncertainty; Henry still poised over Elizabeth's neck. He had paused before taking his first bite and was watching events with close interest. "But it won't do you any good. You can't get out of here alive."

"Seven against one? That's nothing." She clenched her fists. "I'm the Slayer. I can fight anything."

"You're a girl who wants to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. You haven't got the heart to fight us." Gregory stumbled back to his feet. A roll of thunder broke overhead, quieter now, some of its vehemence lost.

"Don't bet on it." Li shot a glance across at Henry. "How about you? Do you want to try it?"

"I didn't ask to be here tonight." The old servant stared at Gregory with something approaching disdain. "I'm not a part of his plan."

"Then leave. Now." She didn't look at him again, and knew that she didn't have to. He started to walk away across the roof. "But make sure that you really do leave. If we meet again I'll Slay you without a pause."

"If we meet again I'll bite first." He wiped his mouth, as though hoping that some taste of his intended target might be lingering on his hands. "Next time no talk."

"I'm glad to hear it." She turned her attentions to Gregory five disciples. "How about you?"

"They'll do what I tell them." Gregory pointed at Li, his hands trembling. "Take her. Bring her to me."

"Are you crazy?" Staring at him with clear disbelief, the leader of the vampires shook his head. "Get her yourself. We're out of here."

"No." Gregory stepped forward, grabbing hold of the vampire by the wrist. "Damn you, don't you walk away from me. You work for me."

"We don't work for anybody." The vampire tried to push him away, but Gregory raised his cross to make the creature flinch back.

"You work for me, and you'll do as I say."

"Like hell we will." With a final burst of strength the vampire broke the hold on its wrist and tried to retreat. Gregory let out a yell of rage, sounding more like the nightmare creatures he had summoned than any kind of human being. Filled with fury at the betrayal he lashed out with the cross, and it stuck deep in the vampire's chest. There was a scream of pain and rage, a burst of heat, and then the vampire was gone. Gregory gasped in shock.

"What about the rest of you?" Trying to look strong and determined, he faced up to the remaining four. "What'll it be? Are you with me?"

"You killed Simon." The other vampires, stripped of their leader, had suddenly been stripped of their fear. Gregory backed away.

"Keep away from me. Go on, stay back."

"You killed Simon." Advancing with a horrible kind of finality, the vampires moved in closer. Gregory tried to back away. Li stepped forward, wondering how or if she should intercede. To her surprise she felt hands on her arms, and realised that Elizabeth was clinging on to her.

"Stay back." The woman sounded crushed and exhausted, but her grip was still strong. "Let them finish."

"But--" Li let the resistance slide away. There was nothing she could do, and she knew it well. Instead she watched as Gregory reached the edge of the roof, paused, and then realised that he had nowhere else to run. The vampires were swarming at him, and in an act of desperation he tried to throw himself into the blackness below. The vampires were too quick for him, catching him and dragging him back from the edge. He felt his head flung back, and felt teeth at his neck. They were on his legs, on his arms, dragging at him, pulling him, their fangs puncturing his skin and sucking the life from within him. He continued to struggle, long after he knew that he was beyond help. Soon he was unable to struggle at all.

"Now what." Slumped back against a chimney stack with Elizabeth on her arm, Li closed her eyes so as to shut out the last seconds of the former Watcher's life. She could hear the sucking, lapping sounds of the hungry vampires as they finished their meal, but she couldn't think of anything to do. She felt too drained to consider killing them, but she knew that they would be strengthened and refreshed after their kill, and would undoubtedly turn on her and Elizabeth without a second's thought. She held the older woman more tightly, and tried to remind herself of the burst of Slayer strength that she had called upon to escape Gregory's clutches. There had to be some reserves left. There had to be something left. She couldn't seem to find the energy even to reopen her eyes.

"Now?" There was a gentle kind of amusement in Elizabeth's eyes. "Why don't you just let them worry about that?" She seemed to be gesturing at something, and Li turned her head to look. Blurred images made their way through her half-closed eyes, registering only vaguely in her mind. Three men, dressed in black. Expensive suits, stakes, crosses. She frowned. She knew at least one of them, a powerfully built man with a dark beard streaked in grey. Watchers. Filled with a sudden sense of dread, she tried to back away across the roof.

"Easy Li." The man with the beard was leaning close to her, his hands covered in a fine ash. She could hear no sounds, and she knew that the four vampires were dead. "Just relax."

"I'm not coming with you." She tried to get away, but his hands were soft and strong, and his arms felt safe and warm. She knew that he was smiling, even though she couldn't see his face.

"Of course you are. I'm your Watcher."

"I don't need a Watcher." Again she tried to get away, but she could feel herself sinking. She had felt the sharp sting of a needle in her arm, and she knew that he had drugged her. Taken away her strength perhaps, the way Rosemary had done on her eighteenth birthday? "Leave me alone. I have to leave. I have to find Giles."

"He's not here." The strong arms were helping her to her feet, even though all that she wanted was to sit on the roof. It was only a little wet, only a little cold. Getting warm and dry required far too much energy. "He was taken away."

"He's alive?" Her strength returned a little at that piece of news, and she struggled to find her footing. "I have to see him. I have to speak to him."

"I don't think so." She recognised the hardness in the voice as the strength of the Watcher's authority over her. It burnt deep. "You're not going to be needing to speak to Giles again."

"But I have to. I love him. I have to see--"

"No you don't." There were other arms now, other hands, increased strength. "You have to go to Asia. There's a demon about to rise in the Persian Gulf."

"But Giles..."

"No." The hands were pulling her back towards the door that led downstairs. "He's gone. You're not going to see him again. You're the Slayer, Li." The words were starting to spin in circles around her, and she knew that by the time she had recovered from the drug they had given her, she would be far away from this place, and far away from Giles. She wondered about the way he had broken Gregory's spell, and she wondered if he had known that in saving her from the former Watcher's power he was condemning them both to a life apart. Somehow she was sure he had known, and it touched her that he had made such a gesture - and yet still she resented his actions. She had to see him again. She had to... do something. Above her head she could still hear the three Watchers talking, telling her that she was the Slayer, telling her about her responsibilities. Telling her that she had to go with them, and stay with them, and be with them, for the rest of her life. Somewhere in the back of her mind she heard Gregory, warning her that she wouldn't survive to the end of the decade if she stayed with her job as the Slayer. Deep in her heart she knew that he had been right.

"Come on Li." The voice of her new Watcher cut through her consciousness, sending the voices spinning away. "We have a plane to catch."

"Yeah. Sure." Why not? She couldn't resist them, and she couldn't fight her destiny; she saw that now as she had never seen anything before. But through it all was a startling clarity that she clung to, just the way she had once clung to her dream to break free. By the end of the decade she really would be free, because just as destiny demanded her life now, in a few short years it would be demanding her death. And she sagged into the arms of her Watcher, and let them carry her downstairs.


Across London the storm played on, just as it had throughout the night. In Oxford Street a young woman found herself suddenly sitting up in bed, eyes wide open, staring out into the darkness that filled her bedroom. Beside her, her husband moaned softly in his sleep, disturbed by her rude awakening. She stared down at him, gasping for breath, aware that she was coated from head to foot with a cold sweat, but unable to remember just why it was that she was filled with such terror. Trying to convince herself that it had all been a dream she lay down again, shaking like a leaf against her husband's strong frame. He didn't wake, and she tried once again to join him in slumber. It didn't come easily, but when she did fall asleep her mind was filled with a young girl's tears, and with thoughts of hopeless dreams torn asunder.

In the West End, in a fashionable club near the Palladium, a young man awoke from a dream about man-eating demons, to find his arms criss-crossed with scars that cut deep into the flesh. His head was light, his body weak from accumulated fear, and it took all the energy and strength he had to find his way to the nearest hospital. The doctors that treated him saw claw marks that he couldn't explain, and found a tiny piece of one such claw embedded deep in his bicep. It was yellow and hooked and unlike any ever seen before - and the young man wore it around his neck for the rest of his life. He knew that he was lucky to be alive, but he never found out why he had survived, or what it was that had so nearly taken his life from him. All that he knew was that his fevered dreams were full of a young Chinese girl with glass beads in her hair. Without fully understanding, he got the impression that she was desperately sad; but he didn't know who she was. Neither did he know why she looked so crushed and alone.

And on the banks of the Thames, where the new and fashionable restaurants clashed loudly with the older, more rundown buildings of a forgotten age, the bodies of the Londoners who had not made it through the night began to drift slowly out to sea. They went past ships moored in the harbours, and guards set out to watch for such things, and still they reached the open ocean almost unseen. Each one was torn beyond recognition, each one carrying a disaffected soul twisted beyond hope. A scattering of children, dragged from real dreams of monsters that didn't exist, stood together on the river banks and watched the ghosts depart. They each went home separately, one after another, and without understanding why they spent the rest of the night staring towards the north, where a large house formed a silhouette against the darkness. It was a big house, old and angular, with five huge candles on the roof, and a middle-aged woman standing amongst them. She was staring out across a city beginning to emerge from a storm, watching the new dawn with tears in her eyes. The children didn't understand; they just watched. Around them the storm was blowing itself out, and London was awakening to a sense of terror that it would never understand. Elizabeth didn't understand it either, and as she stood on the roof of her house, watching the last of the nightmares drifting back to dreams they had grown from, she wiped the tears from her eyes and blew out the five drooping candles. Darkness descended upon her despite the coming dawn, and she turned away from her view of an unsuspecting city. She didn't want to see it anymore, and she didn't think that she would ever want to see it again. The only thing she wanted to see was her son.


Rupert Giles awoke to the sun flooding in through his window, and the sounds of the birds in the trees outside. He moaned, annoyed that such an inconsequential thing as the start of a new day should have intruded upon his sleep, and was aggrieved to discover, as he rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand, that he was hungry. Being hungry meant getting up, and getting up required not being asleep any more. He scowled at the ceiling as he finally allowed his eyes to open. Where the hell was he, and why did he feel so bruised and drained? He wasn't in his bedroom, he could see that at once. There were no occult charms, no wind chimes, no posters and incense and feathers. Instead all he could see was sterile whiteness, of the kind so beloved of hospitals. Slowly, finding his strength coming to him only in patches, he sat up.

He was in a room all on his own, bare and cold, with a minimum of furnishings and a complete dearth of decoration. There was a window in the door that stood opposite his bed, and he could see somebody on the other side, staring at him. It was his mother, he realised, and she was smiling at him in the maternal way he hated so much. Frustrated he pushed back the bedclothes and stood up, surprised at how cold the floor was beneath his feet. Elizabeth opened the door as he came towards it, and she reached out her arms for her son. Surely after everything he had been through, he would not turn her away now?

"What are you doing here?" There was only coldness in his voice, and with a jolt of pain she thought back to the way she had heard him speaking to Li. She remembered the softness and the hope in his eyes, and the gentility with which he had touched the girl. There was no trace of that now.

"I came to see you." She reached out for him, wanting to straighten his hair and the collar of his pyjama jacket, but he flinched away from her. Even dressed as he was, there was no escaping the street hood image, and the harsh hospital lighting gave his eyes the suggestion that dark magic was soon to erupt from his lips. Her breath rattled in her lungs. After all they had seen together - all they had experienced together - her son was further away from her than he had been before that terrible night had begun. "Please don't turn me away, Rupert."

"I'm not turning you away." Instead it was him that turned, crossing to the cupboard that was the only furniture in the room save for the bed. He pulled his clothes from it, bedraggled and bloodstained, and pulled them on over his pyjamas. She wanted to run to him, but her feet were frozen to the floor.

"Rupert, you nearly died. You--"

"Nearly died?" He turned to her in a fury. "You don't know anything, do you. I should have died. I should be dead now, don't you see that? The spell was supposed to kill me. It would have been better that way."

"I don't understand..." Her face was as white as the sheets on his bed. "Rupert please."

"You don't understand." His voice was mocking. "No, of course you don't. You never understand. I had to give up everything for her. I had to throw away the life we had planned together. All I wanted, I gave up to save her. I wanted to be dead, so it wouldn't hurt so much. I cast the spell to end it all, but something must have gone wrong."

"You can cast spells that powerful?" She retreated a little then, scared by him as she had never been before. He stared back at her, cold and terrifying in his fierceness.

"It's what I do. What I am. Not a Watcher, not a student, not a son. I'm a sorcerer, and that's never going to change." He headed back for the door, pushing past her. "Now leave me alone. I have to go."

"You're not going after Li?" The thought made new fears erupt inside her, but he merely shook his head.

"I've got no way of finding her now, not unless they let her get in touch."

"Then what--"

"School." He stared at her, eyes hot and bright. "In case you hadn't noticed I'm due back there now."

"Not yet. Stay with me for a while. We'll get to know each other again..."

"No thanks." He was already heading away down the corridor, his booted feet striking a harsh percussion from the hard, tiled floor. "I don't need to get to know anybody. I don't need anybody. Not anymore."

"But Rupert please." There was such pain in her voice, such desperation, that for a moment he almost faltered - then he set his shoulders more firmly, and increased the speed of his step. He didn't care if his mother was upset. He didn't care about anything - except Li, and she was too far away now for him ever to get the chance to care for her properly again. Well that was the last time he was going to put himself out for a Slayer. The last time he was going to put himself out for anybody.

The Watchers in reception called out to him as he left the hospital, but he ignored them and walked on by. He reached the street without incident, looking around at the passers-by as they milled about on their own, inconsequential business. Fools, all of them. They didn't know that he possessed enough magic inside him to send each and every one of them tumbling into a premature grave. The thought made him smile. It felt good to be more powerful than other people. Good to know that he had the means to do anything he wanted. He felt the darkness swirl and deepen within him, and he let it caress his mind. Darkness, after all, was the only thing in the world that the Watchers feared - and if that was the case, then he was going where it was very dark indeed.