SOCIETY OF NIGHT

The streets, in all their shrouds of darkness, were still. In some places the streetlamps shone, filling the roads and the skies with a muted brightness, trying to illuminate the pathways and the gloomy buildings; in others there was nothing. No lights burned in the windows, no lamps lined the roads. There was nothing to brighten the shadowed alleys, nothing to chase away the looming presence of gloom. There was a feeling of a darkness that went beyond that of mere night; a sensation of some constant presence, hovering above the grim greyness with its claws poised in menace. There was a feeling of evil.

Ethan Rayne, self-styled leader of a gang of London's most sinister dropouts, leaned back in his threadbare chair and gazed up at the ceiling of the dilapidated mansion he had made his own. He had found it just a few weeks previously, standing in stately silence in the midst of a failing garden, overgrown with weeds and crawling ivy. He had fallen in love with it immediately, attracted to the air of mystery, and to the feeling he had felt from his first moments there. There was something else in the house. Not just him, not just the five other members of his gang. There was something which walked about at night, blowing out the candles and rearranging the books on their shelves. It tripped people in the dark and threw knives about the hallway in the dead of night. It was dark and it was dangerous, and it made him feel at home.

"It's dark out. No moon." Filling a glass with homebrewed vodka, Deirdre Page threw herself down onto the thick rug beside the hearth. She was the only female member of the gang now that Rayne had cut loose the hangers on. At one time his front room had been a hive of activity, filled with hazes of marijuana smoke and the dull drone of drunken conversation. Things had changed since those early days. He was no longer a magnet for dropouts and would-be hippies, and instead lived his life in virtual seclusion. The wild parties still rocked the rooms until the early hours, but now the guests departed quickly, suddenly chilled by inexplicable sounds, or terrified by ghostly fingers which reached out to grab at them when all was still. The haze of marijuana smoke remained, but there were fewer people now to breathe in its aroma. The gang was no longer about mere rebellion against society; it had a purpose.

"Pity. I have a mind to try a new spell, and it calls for a full moon." Ethan folded his hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling through the gloom of smoke drifting from the nearby fire. The mansion was not connected up to mains electricity, and from the look of many of its rooms it never had been. "You'll like this one, Giles. It has style."

"Yeah?" Rupert Giles, Ethan's most trusted friend and associate, whose very appearance on the scene some three months earlier had been the major cause of the gang's new approach to life, stirred but did not look up. He was sitting on the windowsill, trimming his fingernails with a flick-knife, his dark head bowed in mute concentration. Ethan smiled. He was growing adept at reading his companion's silences, and knew that such a display of studied indifference was tantamount to a shout of excitement.

"Yeah. I've been looking into summonings. Real summonings, not sťance stuff. I don't want to talk to ghosts and wandering wraiths, I want a demon. A real demon."

"Where would you keep it? You wouldn't even let me get a dog." Deirdre lowered her head onto her hands looking disconsolate. Ethan's successes in the world of black magic depressed her, since her own attempts had met with almost universal disaster. It had become something of a joke amongst the gang that when she tried magic it was bound to end in ways other than she had intended. So far her attempts to prove them wrong had resulted in nothing save a few vague puffs of smoke; and the exploding of the garden shed. Fortunately there had been nobody in it at the time. She still wasn't sure quite how it had happened.

"Demons. Now you're talking." Looking up, Giles stretched out his long legs, turning towards them so that they could see his face through the low light of the room. He clicked his fingers, sparking a bright, flame-like glow of red which hovered above his hand to give some illumination to the proceedings. "Do you remember that book that we lost? That was all about the summoning of demons. Some of the most ancient and feared demons ever brought forth by man are listed in that book, along with the details of how they came to be incarcerated, and how that incarceration can be revoked. Demons born of chaos; fire-demons; creatures of stone with hearts of ice."

"Yes, I know." Ethan stood, wandering over to the fire to gaze into its centre. In his mind's eye he could see the creatures of which his friend spoke, and could imagine what wonders would be revealed if only he could summon something of that power and strength. A shiver of excitement lit him from within, and his heart cried out for the book that Giles had described. It had gone, three months previously, barely twenty-four hours after he had first held it in his hands. Since Giles had stolen it in the first place, they assumed that its owners had returned to take it; but so far the gang's attempts to find it had been in vain. One day, Ethan had promised himself, one day he would get hold of that book again; and then he would summon a demon so terrible that the world would quake, and his name would become inscribed forever in the books of the feared. Then he could take his place on the dark side. If he could find that book.

"Ethan!" The sudden shout which echoed about the room shattered Rayne's thoughts and forced his mind away from its darkest corners. He glanced up, his eyes meeting with those of Giles. A question hung unanswered in the air between them, and they moved as one to the door. It burst open as they reached it, and three bedraggled looking figures all but fell into the room. In the dim red light of Giles' magically improvised torch, the figures were almost invisible, and Ethan fired up his own ball of make believe fire. It flickered in the air above him, shining a new dull green glow onto the faces of the three; Thomas Sutcliff, Randall James and Philip Henry. The three final members of the gang were bespeckled with mud, marks of blood showing on their faces and their hands. Their clothes were torn and the darkening shadows of bruises were beginning to swell on their skin.

"What the hell happened to you?" Guiding the nearest of the three - Philip - to a chair, Ethan stared down at him in amazement. "You forget to look both ways before you crossed the road?"

"Don't joke, man." Philip seemed to find the mere act of talking painful, and he winced as he spoke, trying to massage his own shoulders with his bruised hands. "We were jumped. Six or seven of them, with bicycle chains, crow bars; the works."

"Jumped, huh?" Giles wandered to the window, staring out into the darkness of the night beyond. All seemed to be deserted, but he could see shadows moving out there that most others would not have been able to detect. Shadows shaped like people, that moved about in groups, huddling and talking and separating again. "Must be a local gang..."

"I did hear that we had moved in on somebody's territory." Deirdre hovered beside Randall, bothered by his silence and clear signs of fatigue. Randall James was a natural born hardcase, whose propensity for violence was known to policemen throughout the Metropolitan area; and quite possibly beyond. Even he seemed to be subdued all of a sudden, as though, for the first time in his life, the fight had been knocked out of him. "I didn't think it was anything special, or I'd have said something."

"It isn't anything special." Giles, still at his post by the window, could make out the rough shapes of people now; his eyes adjusting to the darkness and allowing him to see things that had been invisible to him just moments before. He saw the unmistakable glint of a light; the flicker of a match struck for the briefest of seconds; and in its momentary glow he caught a flash of its reflection on leather. His sharp eyes caught finger-less leather gloves as well, encasing the hand that held the match. "Yobs, nothing more. Just a local gang."

"Normal people." Deirdre sounded disappointed by this; clearly she had been looking forward to a proper challenge. "Maybe they're into magic too?"

"Nah." He shook his head, drawing the thick and dusty curtains across the windows to shut out the spectators' view of the room, then clapped his hands. The dull glow hovering above him expanded into a bright, intense light which flooded the room with all the efficiency of a electric bulb. The red light had an eerie tone to it, glinting in the eyes of the six; but the faintly demonic tint which this gave to their appearance seemed entirely natural. "What do you want to do, Ethan?"

"Get rid of them." The tall, well-spoken young man, with his neat hair and well-groomed appearance, looked suddenly cold, as though some intense hatred had been sparked within him; then the moment passed and he merely shrugged. "We can't let them get away with what they've just done. We have an image to project."

"Fine by me." Giles clapped his hands again, and the room descended into abrupt darkness, lit only by the faint green glow still hovering above Ethan Rayne. "There's six out front from what I could make out. Possibly more."

"Then you and I will take the front door." Ethan gestured to a corridor leading around the side of the house. "Deirdre, Randall, take that way. Philip, Thomas - go around by the west door; if you think you're still up to it."

"Nothing wrong with me, man." Thomas tried to look slightly less exhausted, without entirely convincing anyone including himself. "Come on, Philip."

"Right behind you." They set off together, moving quickly, whilst Deirdre and Randall positioned themselves by their own assigned door. Ethan nodded at Giles.

"You want to make the first move, tough guy?"

"Why not?" With a flourish born of true menace, Giles reached to the back of his belt and drew a pistol. He had owned the gun for some time, although so far circumstances had not allowed him to put it to much use. He checked the load, smiling arrogantly at his friend. "Don't get too close, man, or I might blow you away by accident."

"I'll remember that." They shared a swift, cold smile, then the younger man laid his hand on the door handle, counting under his breath. It was a short countdown, from three; and as he reached zero, his fingers tightened around the handle. A quick, curt nod from Ethan was all the signal that he needed.

Outside it was dark. There was no longer any light around them, and the distant stars were almost entirely blocked by cloud. A half-mist hung in the air, and Giles felt its icy fingers stroke his cheek. He looked no longer to Ethan, but instead took off on his own through the garden. He heard the rustling nearby of enemies in the bushes, and he saw the quick, momentary flash of a match flame; heard the swift scratch of its birth, then saw it blink back into extinction. He smiled, and his fingers curled reflexively about the butt of his gun. It fitted so neatly into his palm, and gave him a feeling of cool, steady self-assurance.

"Looking for something?" At first he thought that the voice was Ethan's, before he realised that he could no longer see his friend. Rayne must have headed off in another direction, and was no longer visible in this part of the garden. Giles half turned towards the sound, seeing a dark shape standing before him. It was the shape of a man; or a boy, perhaps, for there was something vaguely adolescent about his figure and his stance. Giles' keen eyes could make out an unlit cigarette dangling in the scowling lips, and the faint spark of anger in shadow-ridden eyes.

"Just taking a stroll for my health." Giles was standing in a way that he knew was blocking the gun from the other's sight, and he decided to play upon that advantage. "Nice evening, isn't it."

"This is our part of town." The figure folded its arms, glaring fiercely back at the man confronting it. "Somebody should've warned you about that when you moved in."

"Maybe somebody did." Giles shrugged, his demeanour insulting, his smile - although largely invisible - calculated to annoy. "Maybe I don't care."

"Then you're a fool." This time it was a different voice speaking to him, coming out of the shadows near to the first figure. Giles glanced in this new direction, shielding the gun with his body to keep it out of the sight of the new arrival. The three of them stood together in a rough triangle, all bristling with determination, the air thick with antagonism. "You must have heard of the Ottomans? Well that's us. This is our turf, man, and we don't like intruders. You'll get the message."

"I doubt it." Giles slid his right hand into his pocket, drawing out his flick-knife and extending the blade. It was a casual action, and one which was a clear invitation for trouble. "See, there's been a change of management around here. You're going into retirement."

"And you're going to make that happen, huh?" The first of the shadowy figures moved closer, and this time Giles was able to see details; a jutting jaw marked with an ugly scar; a tangled goatee beard and a heavily patched denim jacket. The man wore a thick silver chain around his neck and heavy boots on his feet. They looked as though they might be the kind with steel toe-caps; just right, thought Giles with a smile, for kicking somebody when they were down. The man looked to be in his early twenties, but there was still something about him that suggested he was much younger. He clearly had far too much attitude for his own good, and more aggression than he knew what to do with. He was the classic image of a man who had started out in the juvenile gangs of the sixties, and had now graduated to something a little more powerful. "We're not alone here, you know. One word, and our friends tear your stupid head off."

Giles smiled, his green eyes glittering dangerously.

"I'm not alone either." He held up his flick-knife, brushing the tip of the blade down the lapel of the other man's jacket. It left a long score mark, slicing through the stitches of one of the largest patches. A flare of rage passed across the man's face, and he raised a heavy hand, slamming it down on Giles' wrist and sending the knife flying away into the weeds. Giles grinned, and without giving his attacker time to move again, he raised his other hand, placing the gun almost tenderly against his foe's neck. The hammer snapped back with a clear, cold click.

"Surprise," he murmured gently. The man froze, his body stiffening as though he were trying to distance himself from it; to deny that it was really him being threatened with such a weapon. "Now, we seem to have a minor conflict of interest. Wouldn't you say?"

"I - I really don't--"

"Wouldn't you say?" This time there was real force behind Giles' words, and the man, staring back at him, saw ice burning in those intense, green eyes. His breath caught in his throat.

"Yes. Yes, I would. We seem to have a - a minor conflict."

"Good. Now, we have to resolve that conflict, don't we."

"Yes." His voice very small, the man closed his eyes briefly, wishing that he were somewhere else. His friend moved closer, trying to edge around behind Giles, but Giles moved with him, swinging his captive around so that he was still a barrier blocking out the rest of the world. "You - you're not going to kill me, are you?"

"Dunno." The Watcher flickered his eyes toward the other man, letting him see the gun and the clear threat that it represented. "Did you get the hint yet?"

"You're a dead man." With the bravado born of distance, the other man clenched and unclenched his fists, evidently thinking hard. "Nobody pulls a gun on an Ottoman."

"The Ottoman Empire fell years ago. If you're naming yourselves after them, you're as out-of-date as they are." A movement nearby had already caught Giles' attention, and with a sudden whirl, he spun his prisoner away, sending him stumbling across the few feet of tangled grass towards his partner. The two gang members collided with each other, sprawling on the ground in a rough mass of limbs. In the same instant the Watcher turned, dropping low, gun raised to point at the new sound. There was a rush of air, and he moved aside in just enough time to avoid the knife which had been flung towards him. It slammed into the ground at his feet.

"Naughty." He stood again, ignoring the pair behind him now, and moving in towards this new source of attack. He heard footsteps, two or three sets, all moving in his direction, and he backed into the trees. Three shapes moved into his vision nearby; all of them appeared to be armed, and he saw the sudden flash of torchlight. Stealth was being abandoned. He looked for Ethan and the others, but could not see them.

"Come on out." It was a sing-song voice, coming from very close by. Clearly whoever was calling to him could not actually see him yet. He raised his gun, and with a feeling of great pleasure, brought the butt down hard on where the head should have been. He heard a low grunt, and a body crashed to the ground at his feet.

"Nick? Was that you?" A soft whisper came from just a few feet away. Giles moved out of his cover, gun levelled at the sound.

"No. It was me." He saw a pale face turning towards him, the eyes mere inches from the muzzle of the gun; then something hard and heavy slammed into his back, striking him between the shoulder blades. He saw the grass rushing up to meet him.

"Gimme that shooter." He recognised the voice as that of the man that he had first encountered; the one that he had held under the gun for several moments. He tried to roll away, but a foot stopped him; then hands dragged him to his feet. The torchlight was flashed into his eyes, and he felt it burning into his retina, blinding him.

"He don't look like much," a deep voice said. The words stung Giles, and he struggled, but could not break free. Again he wondered where exactly Ethan and the others had got to; but the garden was a very big place, and some parts of it were almost completely overgrown. In the place where he now stood, even the torchlight would very likely be invisible from six feet away.

"You'll regret this," he told them, his voice low. The others laughed. To them his anger was a source of amusement, and even the rage clear in his eyes did not scare them. The ice, the fire; all meant nothing so long as it was they who had the upper hand. Giles clenched his jaw, consoling himself with thoughts of what he would do to them next time. It was the only thought that meant anything, when the first blow fell.

**********

The sound of the huge, carved doorknocker banging against its wooden rest filled the house with a loud, repetitive dirge. Ethan Rayne went swiftly to answer it, his natural curiosity making his feet move fast along the passage. Nobody knocked on the door; those who knew that they lived there had no reason to come in the middle of the day, and those who didn't know that they were there had no reason to knock at all. He flung open the heavy door, listening with relish to the satisfyingly atmospheric creak of the hinges. Two uniformed policemen and a heavyset man in a grey suit stood on the step. Ethan forced a smile onto his face, wondering which laws he was to be accused of breaking this time. He didn't have a terribly good record with the police.

"Good morning." He put on his best face of respectability and stepped aside. "Would you like to come in?"

"Thankyou." The plainclothes man stepped over the threshold, looking about in evident interest. "Lovely place you've got here, sir. Very old."

"Yes, I know." Ethan led them through into the sitting room, wondering what the hell they wanted, and whether they were planning to stay long. He had been about to call a Council of War, and wanted to get started. He and his people had a lot to sort out before nightfall, when they came into their own.

"It your place is it sir?" One of the uniformed men, a sergeant to judge by his stripes, had taken his cap off and was hugging it to his chest. The other, a helmeted constable, was staring at Deirdre with clear interest. She smiled at him, batting her eyelashes. He interested her not at all, but she was bored enough to reciprocate. He clearly misread her smile as one of pleasure, and edged closer to her. She edged away, turning instead to gaze out of the window.

"No, it's not." Ethan folded his arms. "It was derelict, so we decided that no one would mind."

"No one will, sir, no one will." The plainclothes man reached into his pocket, withdrawing the wallet that contained his ID. "My apologies. I'm Detective Inspector Wilkes, sir. Harold Wilkes. I wondered if I might have a word with you all?"

"This is us all." Ethan gestured around at the group, which currently consisted of himself, Deirdre and Thomas. The latter was deeply engrossed in a copy of Don Quixote, and had thus far not bothered to acknowledge the arrival of the policemen. He glanced up momentarily at this most cursory of introductions, and then turned back to the heavy volume in front of him.

Wilkes smiled, the gentle, humouring smile of one who is entirely unconvinced. He glanced towards the young constable, still gazing with ill-disguised longing at Deirdre, and cleared his throat to catch the man's attention.

"Read your notes to the gentleman, would you Moxon?"

"Er... notes, sir?" The words sunk in, and the young man nodded hard. "Oh, yes sir. My notes." He fumbled about in one of the pockets of his tunic, and eventually produced a small notebook, spiral bound and dressed in a black cover. He flicked through its pages, all the while with an expression that begged forgiveness for his tardiness, and eventually came up trumps. "Ah! Here it is sir." He coughed. "Er, interview with Mr Philip Hughes, sir, and Miss Laura Manion. Interview reads as follows. Me: 'And did you know that there was likely to be some conflict with said gang--' the, er, the Ottomans, that is, '--now that they have some rivals in the area?'. Mr Hughes: 'Yes, Constable, I did.' Me: 'And did you try to warn your friends about it?' Mr Hughes: 'Yes, Constable, I did.' Me: 'And who were these friends of yours?' Miss Manion: ' Well, Constable, there's Ethan Rayne, the leader of the group, and then there's his friend Rupert Giles, who's really rather sweet; and then there's Randall James, and Philip Henry, and Thomas Sutcliff. They're the boys. Then there's Deirdre Page.' Who's really rather an attractive young lady, if I might say so." He glanced up. "Er, she didn't say that last bit."

"Thankyou, Constable." Wilkes rolled his eyes, as if despairing over the future of the force, then looked back towards Ethan. "So you see, sir, there are other members of your gang. I can't see Mr James here anywhere. Him I do know."

"Fine, I'll get them." Acting nonchalant, Ethan strolled to the door and called up the stairs. Philip appeared first, wandering across the landing with a book in one hand and a glass of their homebrewed vodka in the other. He saw the uniforms, knocked back the vodka in a rush, and left the glass out of sight on the landing windowsill. Randall joined him as he came down the steps, puffing on a large, curved pipe that he had found in one of the rooms upstairs. Ethan hoped that it was only filled with conventional tobacco. He waited until the pair were at the door, then glanced back up the stairs.

"Where's Giles?"

"Coming." Philip said it as though it were unimportant, and walked without purpose to the hearth, cold now in daylight. He sat down beside it, stirring the grey ashes with a finger. At almost the same moment there was the sound of footsteps on the stairs, and a second later Giles came into the room, hands in his pockets, shoulders slouched. He bore a black eye of impressive proportions, and what looked suspiciously like a home-stitched gash across his forehead. Wilkes stared at this newcomer, who seemed to have hostility burning in his every vein, and raised an eyebrow. There was something odd about the boy - for he seemed little more to the policeman - something in the way that his eyes glowed, and in the way in which he walked. He was, Wilkes thought, in his practised and experienced way, worth checking out with the Juvenile Branch, or maybe Social Services. His eyes lingered on the gold earring and the silver cross on its battered chain, and he frowned. The cross was clearly an antique, and doubtless worth a small fortune. Perhaps he should check the records and see if it was stolen. The idea of finding something worthwhile with which to charge this gang pleased him a great deal. They had already annoyed the hell out of him, with their attitude and gentle mockery.

"Rupert Giles?" he asked, by way of confirmation. Giles raised an eyebrow, glancing towards the policeman, showing no sign of the respect to which Wilkes thought he was due.

"Yeah. So?"

"I'm here about an incident two nights ago. We arrested a member of the Ottoman gang last night; a nasty piece of work by the name of Ice-pick - or at least that's the only moniker we've been able to get out of him so far. He was high on something; contaminated batch to judge by the effect it was having. He said there was a fight here Monday night."

"A fight?" Giles shook his head. "No fight here, Chief." He glanced towards Deirdre. "You see a fight?"

"A fight?" Her echo was a clear sign of more mockery. "No, I didn't see any fight." She looked over at Thomas. "Did you see a fight?"

"Alright, alright, enough." Wilkes held up a hand to forestall further comments. Instead he pointed at Ethan, his finger like a mark of judgement. "You. I want to know what happened here on Monday."

"Monday... Monday..." Ethan frowned. "Er... Two days ago, right? Let's see. There was no moon that night, and you can see for yourself that there are no electric lights in this place. So we all went to bed early." He grinned. "Separately."

"You went to bed early." Sarcasm dripped heavy in the detective's voice. "So the Ottomans didn't come here, there wasn't a fight out back, nobody pulled a gun, and this kid here--" he gestured at Giles, "--didn't get worked over by a bunch of yobs with bicycle chains."

"You said it Chief." Giles smiled, his eyes glittering dangerously with the suggestion of a challenge. "I fell down a flight of stairs, that's all. No big deal. I wasn't looking where I was going."

"No." Wilkes stared back at him, meeting the younger man's gaze and holding it. "And you still aren't. You're heading for trouble if you think that you can take on the Ottomans. They're bad news. They have dealings with some big names in the local Underworld; drugs, racketeering, you name it. You don't want to get involved."

"Well thankyou for that warning, Inspector." Ethan's voice was rather too polite to be real, his eyes filled with mock sincerity. "We're very glad that you came here, and if we see any Ottomans hanging around, we'll be sure to call you. Or we would, if we had a 'phone." He frowned. "We're looking for what? Guys with turbans? The Ottomans were Turks, right?"

"You really think you're clever, don't you." There was disgust in Wilkes' voice, and he shook his head. "Come on, you two. We've said what we came here to say. If this lot want to get annihilated, London's probably better off without them." He turned about, heading for the door. "We'll see ourselves out."

"Be seeing you." Ethan waited until they heard the sound of the door shutting, then went to the window to watch the threesome depart. He grinned. "Boy, that's a new one. The police coming to warn us about somebody else being bad news." He slung an arm around Giles' shoulders. "I was kinda worried then, when he asked to see all of us. That black eye is a dead give-away, man." He glanced towards those others of his group - Philip, Thomas and Randall - who had also met with violence at the hands of the Ottomans. "And you're not much better."

"It's no problem. Even if they do suspect anything, there's nothing they can do to us." Giles sat down on the broad windowsill, watching the progress of the three policemen as they finally vanished out of sight into the undergrowth. "Even when we sort the Ottomans, nobody's gonna be able to prove it was us did it." He pulled a cigarette from the breast pocket of his shirt and set it in his mouth, not bothering to light it; and in the shadows cast by the midday sun, he had a look about him even more dangerous than his usual demeanour as he turned back to look at his friends. "Time to make some plans. We have to decide what we're going to do to these people, to show them who they're dealing with. I say we have to shut down these Ottomans for good."

**********

It was the second night without a moon, but this time there was no unrest in the house over this state of affairs. The darkness was ideal for their purpose, and they welcomed it, drawing the thick and musty curtains in their front room to intensify the sense of total blackness. A single candle burned in the centre of the room, its flickering flame marking the central point of a pentagram, drawn with mathematical precision by Deirdre, using an appropriately red piece of chalk. One by one the gang made marks around the outside of the sign; runes representative of some long dead language, spoken now only by those who practised the shadow arts. They sat cross-legged in a circle, their hands touching their runes; then one by one they reached out to trail their fingers in the flame of the candle. The air filled with the smell of singed flesh.

"I speak of the Ottomans." Deirdre began to rock backwards and forwards, holding her hands, clasped together, above the runes in her place at the circle. "I speak of the ones who came here two nights ago, and tried to drive us from this place."

"I speak of the Ottomans." Randall's face was lit with an unearthly glow which did not seem to come from the candle. "And of the people that they hold dear."

"I speak of the Ottomans." Thomas closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of the night, and the deep, rhythmical breathing of his fellows. "I speak of lessons that must be learnt by all."

"I speak of the Ottomans." Philip rose to his feet, beginning to pace out a circle around the forms of the others, his arms outstretched to either side of his body. "I speak of darkness that must fall."

"And so it must be." Ethan reached out, taking Giles by the hand. One by one they completed the circle, all seated together with their faces turned towards the candle, staring into the very depths of its dancing, yellow heart. "The Ottomans must suffer, and darkness will enter them."

"There will be vengeance." Giles was the first to break the circle, rising to his feet and stepping forward to enter the pentagram. He lifted the candle, ignoring the scalding sensation of the hot wax on his hands. "We speak. And so it shall be."

"So it shall be." The others echoed it together, their voices as one. Each laid a hand on Giles, all closing their eyes, all beginning to chant in muffled tones. Latin words, mingled with other ancient tongues, rising and falling in volume. The candle fluttered and went out.

"It begins." Ethan turned towards the window, opening his eyes to see the curtains as they began to dance. A wind, born of nowhere, began to build in strength and power, tearing through the room and chilling the blood of the six. It ruffled their hair, dragging at their clothing; freezing all that it touched for all the world as though it were the breath of some mighty demon, fresh from where the sun had always chosen never to shine.

"Tonight the fires fall." Giles started to laugh, and one by one the others joined in. Soon there was no sound in the room beyond that of their laughing; and the raging of the wind as it finally began to fade away.

**********

London slept. All across the city there was darkness; of a kind that could not be lit by any streetlamps. London lay in silence, and of all those who stirred, few chose to linger in the sudden chill. Night-watchmen, and policemen who patrolled the darkened streets, thought longing thoughts of tea and coffee, and of warm fires that lay beyond their reach. They all felt the sensation of something new; something that was just beginning. It was a cold sensation, and one that was entirely unwelcome. The mere sound of the breeze was enough to run fingers of terror down the spines of the most seasoned policemen. They all wanted to get inside; but somehow it did not seem as though even the warmth of a roaring fire could dispel this night's chill. Maybe even daylight could not do that.

Ian Faulkes, leader of the Ottomans and onetime resident of half of Britain's juvenile detention centres, left his digs when the night was at its darkest. He was a pillar of the community, with business connections in everything from organised crime to the fencing of goods resulting from petty theft. The local prostitutes paid him protection money, or risked beatings they were likely never to recover from, and most of the drug dealers in the vicinity paid him a percentage of their takings. He was also barely twenty years old. Most of the local kids idolised him, and those that didn't had learnt the hard way to avoid him and his kind. He shrugged into a leather jacket as he left his home, pulling a cigarette from behind his ear and slipping it into his mouth. It was strangely difficult to light the end, for a persistent wind seemed to have come from nowhere, and was apparently doing its best to get on his nerves. He succeeded in his task finally, and ran a hand through his wavy dark hair. Green eyes shone out at the world from beneath an intelligent forehead, and a single gold ring set in his left ear caught the light from a nearby flickering streetlight. Ian Faulkes could almost have been the twin of Rupert Giles.

"Dammit." The cigarette lighter slipped from his fingers as he stepped away from his house, and he bent to pick it up. It was dark, and he could barely see the faint glint of the metal case on the pavement. As he reached out for it, the ground around him was suddenly flooded with light.

"What the-?" He stood up, turning, and saw a pair of hot, white lights burning brightly before him. Behind them he could just make out the face of a truck driver, pale and wide-eyed, as he struggled to regain control of his vehicle. There was a screech of brakes. Faulkes took a step back, but there was nowhere to run to. His only hope was that the truck would stop in time. He heard the roar of its engine, heard a distant shout which could have been a million miles away; and, somewhere, he thought he heard a laugh. Falling from his shattered fingers, the cigarette lighter rolled beneath the wheels of the truck, and in the blink of an eye it ceased to exist.

**********

Warren Michaels was sixteen, a dark and quiet boy who had not spoken since his eleventh birthday. He had been sitting in the gardens of a London pub when a bomb had obliterated his parents and younger sister, and had taken his right leg along with them. Ever since that day he had sunk into his own world, not hearing or seeing anything save those who managed to penetrate into his shadowy domain. Such people were few and far between; but one of them was Rachel Callow. She had found him when he was fourteen and she was nineteen, and she had taken him under her wing. The rest of the world chose to see no further than the fact that she was a member of the notorious Ottoman gang; but in her own little world she was something different. Inside the security of her three room flat she was the woman she had always wanted to be, before circumstances had led her to the Ottomans. Before they had forced their way into her life she had been starving and desperate, and heading for a life on the streets. It was hard to be entirely sure whether she appreciated or regretted the fateful day which had taken her to Ian Faulkes; but there was no going back to what was already history. Her course in life had been set since the day that her father had been killed in a road accident, and she had been sent to live in one of the many Homes scattered about the country, where children were to be raised by caring and trusted professionals. Twenty years later some of the truth of what went on within those respected walls would begin to leak out; but all too late for Rachel Callow.

Yawning with unwilling wakefulness, Warren Michaels stumbled off the sofa, heading for the kitchen area to put the kettle on. It was a simple task, but one which had eluded him until just a short time ago. It was with some small feeling of pride that he began to spoon tealeaves into a teapot, in preparation for the water as soon as it was ready. With his back thus turned, his attention occupied elsewhere, he did not see the flames on the gas stove flicker and die; although he felt the breeze which had killed them. It was cold and intense, and it brought a frown to his usually smooth and impassive face. The kettle covered the stilled hob, blocking the view that might just have saved his life.

In her bedroom, Rachel opened her eyes, a strange smell assailing her senses. It was only as she sat slowly up that she recognised the smell for what it was; gas. Her eyes snapped open, and the last sensations of sleep faded from her brain. She jumped up, running for the door, her mouth already forming the words that it was never to shout. She saw Warren turn back to the stove, match poised to strike its box, ready to light the grill for breakfast. The flame sparked into life, and emptiness roared into everything.

**********

Detective Inspector Harold Wilkes stared thoughtfully at the mangled remains of a red Ford Popular. Its single occupant, a seventeen year old kid by the name of Ellen Kilmore, had been taken to hospital mere moments earlier, finally cut free from the wreckage by a team of firemen who had been working for almost half the night. She was alive, and likely to remain that way; but she had left her right arm in what was left of the car, and most of her lower jaw was gone. Her name meant something to Wilkes, and as he stared at the wreck it gradually came to him. Kilmore. He had once arrested somebody by that name; a teenager named James Kilmore, who had served a six month sentence in some juvenile establishment for selling drugs to the children at his local primary school. James had joined the Ottomans not long after his release, and had been in the midst of their reign of terror for nearly eighteen months now.

"Kilmore..." Wilkes pulled his notebook from his pocket and wrote this new name at the bottom of a list of five other names. Faulkes, Callow, Michaels, Jefferson, Boyden. Strictly speaking Michaels didn't count, since he had never actually been a member of the Ottomans; but then, neither was Ellen Kilmore. Wilkes read the names aloud. Six people - three of them dead and three injured - all either members of the Ottoman gang or closely connected to them. All involved in accidents within three hours of each other. It seemed as though the world had been torn apart for the Ottoman gang, the minute that the clocks had struck midnight.

"Alright, guv?" He turned to look at the detective constable standing behind him, and nodded mechanically.

"Fine." He gestured at the wreck. "What a bloody mess."

"Yeah..." The DC shrugged. "Pretty girl. Probably."

"Probably." Wilkes sighed and slipped the notebook into his pocket. "I've got some people to see, Hardy. See you later."

"People? At this time of night?" The constable stepped aside, bowing to his senior's judgement despite his surprise. "See you back at the station then, guv."

"Yeah." Wilkes climbed into his car and started up the engine, his mind beginning to tick into gear. It was preposterous of course; the six people living in that house could not possibly have managed to be responsible for all of these incidents. He could see no way that they could have caused the truck to go out of control at just the right moment to strike Ian Faulkes; or for something to go wrong with the gas stove at Rachel Callow's apartment. How could they also have caused Ellen Kilmore's car to crash, or Lee Boyden to be electrocuted by a faulty heater? One of the incidents, yes; they could have been responsible then. But for six people to have been killed or injured in five separate freak accidents; how could Ethan Rayne and his people have been responsible for all that? And yet, somehow, he knew that they were. He knew it as he had never known anything before.

**********

The heavy knocking on the door startled Ethan, who had been sitting cross-legged in the middle of the pentagram reading one of his favourite books; a study of known demons and the tales of their powers. He threw the book aside and rose to his feet, glancing past the curtains to see who was at the door.

"Damn it. It's that bloody policeman." He looked towards Giles, who lay on the hearth rug reading a book of basic spells. A ball of light hung above his head, like some strange illusion that could not be real, and yet had to be. It blinked out at Ethan's words, and Giles slung his book under the table and rose to his feet.

"Wilkes?" he asked. Ethan's only answer was a nod. "Let him in." As his companion went to open the door, Giles grabbed one of the rugs and dragged it over the pentagram. It would have been easy to scuff it out, but he did not want to do that until he was sure that its work was done.

"Giles! Our old friend Detective Inspector Wilkes is back!" Presenting the policeman as though his arrival were some grand surprise, Ethan lit a series of candles arranged on the mantelpiece. "You'll have to excuse the dark, Inspector. Damned inconvenient not having mains power; and with there not being any streetlights outside we're rather at the mercy of the elements. No moon - no light."

"I thought I saw a light in here earlier. Shining through the curtains." Wilkes glanced about the room, feeling a strange chill touch his blood as he stood there, to all intents and purposes alone, with the darkness enshrouding him. He managed to suppress a shiver just in time.

"No light in here," Ethan smiled, thinking of the implications of his words. The room was lacking in light in so very many ways, and judging by the look in Wilkes' eyes, this fact had not escaped him either. "So what can we do for you, Inspector? It's very late."

"Yes, I know. Still, I don't seem to have woken you." He looked them both up and down, thinking how unearthly they appeared in the flickering of the candles; although, to be fair, he couldn't help thinking that the room and its shadows would have had that effect on anyone. "It's about the Ottomans."

"Oh really, Inspector." Ethan gave an exaggerated sigh. "I've already told you that those little oiks won't be any bother to us. We're simply not interested in these tiresome little feuds. We just came here for some peace and quiet."

"No doubt." Sarcasm tinged the detective's words. "But all the same, sir four members of the Ottoman gang were involved in serious accidents during the course of the night; two of them were killed. Two friends of theirs were also involved in accidents, one of them fatal. A boy of sixteen."

"How tragic." Ethan raised his eyebrows. "Strange form of justice I suppose, when you think about it. All the same, I imagine that their families will be sad to see them go." He smiled. "Not you though, hey Inspector."

"That's beside the point. I still have to find out who is responsible." Wilkes frowned, staring towards Giles, who had yet to speak. There was something about the boy's demeanour which was beginning to feel oddly threatening. "And I will find out."

"But you just said that they were accidents, Inspector. Surely nobody is responsible for accidents except Chance. And you can't arrest her, can you." Ethan's words hung in the air between them for several moments, before finally Wilkes managed to tear his thoughts away from Giles, and back to the other man present.

"That's true; if these really were accidents. I'm not entirely convinced."

"So you came to us." Giles came closer, the light from the candles illuminating him more closely, and reflecting back from the depths of his eyes. He was smiling in an openly hostile manner, his whole face tinged with the idea of a threat. "Did you think that we were responsible?"

"Not necessarily." Wilkes smiled back, managing this time to hold Giles' gaze only through sheer willpower. "But you have to confess that you're the only ones likely to have a motive."

"Us, sure. And half of London. Anybody with half a brain would want to wipe out the Ottomans, from the Mob to the Met. You know that same as us." Giles shrugged. "Course, if you want to arrest us, that's fine with me. You'll look a right prat leading us in front of the judge without a hook to hang your charges on."

There was a silence. Ethan giggled. Wilkes felt a flash of anger burning inside him, and fought down a strange desire to slap Rupert Giles across his arrogant little mouth. Instead he took a long, deep breath, listening to the sound of it hissing between his teeth.

"I know that you're responsible," he said at length, staring straight at Giles, although his words clearly took in Ethan as well; and the four members of the gang who were not present. "And I will prove it."

"Good luck, Chief." Giles grinned. "You can see yourself out."

When the policeman had gone, Ethan threw himself down into the nearest chair, watching the low fire fluttering in the hearth. Its flames spluttered green and purple, and he found them faintly hypnotic.

"What do we do, Giles?" he asked softly. Giles shrugged.

"Nothing." He picked up a log and threw it onto the fire, then dragged the rug away from the pentagram and placed one of the lighted candles at the centre of the dangerous design. "He's got nothing on us. There's no point in asking for trouble." He smiled, and he eyes seemed to glow as he looked back at his friend. "But if he gets too close..." He reached out with his right hand, and snuffed out the candle flame with one, demonstrative snatch. The meaning was very clear, and Ethan grinned. He was beginning to enjoy this battle.

**********

"You mean it worked?" Deirdre whistled, her head shaking slowly in complete surprise. "I don't believe it."

"Yeah, man. It couldn't have been, like, some kind of a fluke?" Thomas was frowning at the front page of one of the national dailies. "I mean, a gas explosion? And a couple of car crashes? Not to mention the electrocution. That doesn't sound like what a demon thing would do."

"The spell utilises whatever is available for its greater efficiency." Ethan flicked through the pages of his precious spell book. "These accidents were us, man. All of them."

"Cool." Randall reached for another newspaper, staring at the grim photographs of Ellen Kilmore's car, spread out across the front page. "This is so cool."

"What about the cop?" Glancing up from yet another newspaper, Philip met Ethan's gaze with a vaguely troubled expression. "You said that he suspected something."

"Yeah..." Rayne shrugged. "But it's no big deal. I mean, how's he going to prove it, right? He's lost in the maze without a map, man. Doesn't know which direction to look in."

"I hope you're right." Deirdre stood up, heading for the stove to replenish her cup of tea. It did not occur to her at all that her actions were mimicking those of Warren Michaels almost exactly. "I don't dig prison."

"They don't send you to prison for witchcraft." Giles laughed, seeing humour in the situation despite his grim words. "They burn you. You know? The stake thing. Chanting priests, trial by fire, all that jazz. More likely they'd let us go, anyhow, and lock Wilkesy up in a padded cell."

"Maybe we could go visit." Ethan chuckled, the sound low and dark, the humour behind it corrupt and tainted. "Take him a little demon all of his own."

"After we deal with the rest of the Ottomans." Thomas leaned back in his chair, resting his feet on the breakfast table amongst broken egg shells and jars of marmalade. "What's the plan, Ethan? Do we try the ritual again tonight and see where it gets us?"

"I don't know. I hadn't thought." Ethan was frowning, but Giles sat up straight.

"No. We've done the magic bit, and it did what we wanted it to do. Maybe we'll call it in later to finish the job. Fact is I've got a score to settle with some of those jerks that I want to handle myself. I don't want to get magic to do all my dirty work."

"Hear hear." Randall stood up, heading for the stash of marijuana in one of the cupboards, to begin rolling a morning smoke with a little more sting in its tail. "I say we take today; maybe tonight; to go out there and do it the old fashioned way. Break a few heads." He cracked his knuckles in the best descriptive fashion. "Right?"

"Right." Thomas and Philip rose to their feet almost as one, and Ethan nodded.

"Fine. Then we're decided." He checked his watch, musing over the dial for several moments. "We leave here at midday, and meet back here at midnight. That should give us plenty of time to shake up the neighbourhood." He smiled. "And the neighbours. We'd better split up into teams. Philip and Thomas can take the east side, Deirdre and Randall, you take the west. Me and Giles will head towards the inner-city, see what we can dig up." He gazed at the breakfast table, with its piles of dirty crockery and its mess of sticky jars. It looked as though it hadn't been cleared in close to a fortnight. "Somebody do something about this mess first, though, okay? We may be corrupt, evil and thoroughly devoid of moral principles, but we're not animals. Come on Giles." He gestured to his friend and they left the room together.

"Your turn, Deirdre." Philip headed for the door leading to the garden, a grin plastered across his face. Thomas and Randall followed. The girl stared after them, anger clear on her face.

"How can it be my turn?" she asked them; but they had already gone. She sighed, her mind working back over the spells that she knew. There had to be something; although given her record so far, she did not rate her chances too highly. A possibility came to her, and she stood beside the table, moving her hands over the mess in a complex series of movements. The words that she spoke were unfamiliar, and did not come smoothly at first; but soon the rhythm settled, and the chant came easily. She closed her eyes.

When she opened them again, the mess on the table had gone, and its surface was clean and tidy. It even looked polished. She smiled to herself, although she did not check the cupboards to be sure of her success. Things, she mused delightedly, were looking up. Soon, if she carried on working hard enough, Ethan would not be the only sorcerer with power in their little group; and then, she well knew, their gang could begin to create real havoc.

**********

Giles and Ethan strolled through the streets, idly window shopping, exchanging insults with passers-by, and generally inconveniencing as many people as they possibly could. It was fun to be without a care in the world, as they were; to worry about nothing and to be afraid of even less. A tall, strikingly beautiful woman of about thirty passed by them, rather closer than might have been advisable, and Ethan let out a low whistle. She stared towards him, her expression cold, and he shrugged.

"What? What you staring at?"

"You." She adjusted the strap of her bag, as though suspecting that he might be planning to steal it, and he grinned.

"Just can't take your eyes off me, can you."

"In your dreams, jerk." Her accent was American - Californian as far as he could tell - and he liked its sound. He sidled closer to her, pleased that she had not yet walked away.

"You wanna take me home with you, baby? We could sit on the beach and watch the sun sink into the sea..."

"Do I know you?" The tone of her voice was scathing, but still it did not dissuade him. He shrugged.

"Maybe you don't know me now. But tomorrow morning when we wake up together, you'll know me then alright. All of me." He giggled, and heard Giles echoing his mirth. The woman looked from one to the other of them, her eyes showing the faintest suggestion of concern. The pair had disturbed her, and as soon as it was born, they saw the fear in her eyes. It was still young and undeveloped, but the possibilities were there nonetheless. Ethan moved closer to her.

"You want to tell me where I can meet you tonight?"

"Get lost." She turned away from the window display she had been admiring, and began to walk on down the street. Ethan and Giles kept pace, walking no more than three yards behind her, conferring in voices calculated to be fully audible.

"She's hot, Giles, man."

"Yeah." Giles grinned, recognising the stiffening of the woman's shoulders as an indication of her growing unease. She quickened her step, and they matched her change of speed. "But what's she really like?"

"You mean would she play ball?" Ethan shrugged. "Who can tell, man. But I aim to find out." They both laughed. The woman changed direction down another street, and they kept up, enjoying their sport. "First chance I get..."

"That's enough!" Suddenly stopping dead in her tracks, the woman swung around, staring back at her two sinister shadows. "Now I don't know who you are, but if you don't leave me alone, I'm going to call the police."

"We're just walking, lady." Giles moved closer towards her, toying idly with the flick-knife that was now in his hand. He did not pop the blade, but nonetheless there was a clear threat implicit in his every move. "There's no law against where a guy can take a stroll." His eyes burned into hers. "Is there?"

"Just leave me alone." She felt vaguely sickened and turned about, heading straight into the nearest store. Giles shrugged, turning back to Ethan.

"Hell. Win some, lose some, hey brother."

"Yeah." Ethan chuckled softly, but his eyes were hooded, and did not reflect his humour. He stared after the woman, and raised his left hand into the air.

"I speak," he whispered softly, and moved his hand in the air in a complex, invisible pattern; then he turned about and began to lead the way down a side street.

In the store across the road, the woman turned to look out through the glass, and saw with some relief that the two boys were walking away. They had scared her, but she could not understand why. A feeling of light-headedness came over her, and she sat down suddenly in one of the chairs by the door.

"Are you alright, ma'am?" one of the shop assistants asked her. She frowned up at the young man, recognising his green uniform and striped tie, and yet somehow seeing the face of Ethan Rayne pasted in above the boy's own. She frowned, and gradually the young man's features blurred back into their proper place.

"Yes. Yes thankyou, I'm fine." The pair must have got to her more than she had thought, she realised with a jolt, and she took a few deep breaths, pausing to straighten her clothes and her hair. Something caught her eye, and she frowned, staring at the back of her left hand. There was something there, marked out in red on her skin; some strange and complex design that she did not recognise. She had no idea how it could have got onto her hand, and she shivered involuntarily. Rising to her feet, she turned back to the glass door to look after the sinister pair who had caused her such unrest; but they were no longer in sight. Her eyes travelled back to the mark, and she scrubbed at it, trying to remove it. It did not so much as fade. Slowly, with an increasingly heavy feeling in her heart, she turned away from the door and walked deeper into the interior of the shop. With every step that she took, she felt hotter; and the skin on the back of her hand began to burn.

**********

Darkness fell quickly, for the evenings were growing shorter with the advent of winter, and grey mists were beginning to replace the haze of the year's earlier heat. Ethan and Giles, who so far had seen nothing of the people they sought, found themselves strolling along beside the Thames, watching its grey, sluggish progress through its equally grey surroundings. Everything seemed so bleak, especially with the added colourlessness of night. Ethan scowled and kicked at a loose stone, which bounded away from him as though it, like the woman he had met earlier in the day, could not stand to be anywhere near him.

"I'm bored," he groused, his voice sullen. "We should have stuck to the magic; let it do our work for us. What's the point in all of this?"

"I'm bored with magic." Giles caught his friend looking at him with incredulity, and he smiled. "Not altogether. I just want to do things differently sometimes. Listen, if I can get my hands on that jerk who tried to brain me with my own gun the other night... Well I'd feel a lot better, that's all. I don't want to let some dark spirit handle all my revenge."

"Dark spirit." Ethan smiled. "We don't know, do we. It could be spirits, or demons, or just... some kind of psychic projection from within ourselves. We really don't know what it is that we're messing with."

"Does that put you off?" A sound had attracted Giles' attention, and he turned away slightly to listen for it again.

"No..." Ethan shrugged. "I just wanna know more, that's all. I want to find out everything... know everything. I want to be the one who writes a book that kids like us learn from a thousand years from now."

"Some chance. We'll probably end up getting nine to five jobs in offices somewhere, and forgetting all about the time we've spent here." The sound had not come again, and Giles relaxed slightly, wondering if he had imagined it. Ethan laughed.

"Not you, man. You've got a destiny."

"Huh." The young Watcher shook his head. "I'm through with that; I told you. I don't want to help some bloody woman kill vampires. Why the hell should I? It's not my problem if they start taking over the world. Maybe I want to help them instead."

"Yeah..." Ethan smiled, considering the possibilities inherent in this. "It was a good day brought us together, man. Just think, if I hadn't been standing on that street corner that night..."

"It wasn't chance." Giles sounded forceful, and strangely knowing. "There isn't much chance in my life. Something brought us together; all of us. Something that keeps throwing all these other opportunities in our way. I'd swear it."

"You reckon?" Ethan frowned, staring up at the cloudy sky. "Wonder what."

"Someone or something that has something to gain. Some power our lives are set to influence; some demon we're destined to be a part of. Hell, I don't know. I don't really even care." The noise had come again, and this time Giles stopped in his tracks, losing interest in the conversation. "So long as I get something out of the arrangement, I don't give a damn." He frowned, and Ethan frowned back at him.

"What's up, man?"

"We're being followed. Come on." Giles led the way into the shadows of a nearby wall. "Keep your eyes and your ears open and try not to look like you suspect anything."

"Who died and made you head commando?" Ethan obeyed, and the pair of them slipped soundlessly into the invisibility offered by the wall. From nearby came the unmistakable sounds of footsteps. The pair grinned at each other, and nodded as one.

"You looking for something, jokers?" Steeping out into what little light was left, Ethan folded his arms and blocked the path of the two people he now found himself confronting. They were both male, and aged about twenty-two; and from their torn jeans and leather jackets he assumed that they were up to no good. The two smiled.

"Maybe we're looking for you." One of them stepped forward, drawing a flick-knife from within his jacket. "Gimme your wallet, or I'll--"

"Hello." Giles stepped out of nowhere, or so it appeared, his left arm levelled at the knife wielding thug's head. There was the clear sound of a gun hammer being drawn back with a click. The man froze, his knuckles whitening around the handle of the knife.

"We were just..." he began, but Ethan silenced him, reaching out for the knife and putting it into his own pocket. He patted the pair down, coming up with nothing more dangerous than another two blades.

"You were following us," he commented lightly. "Why?"

"Because..." The second man, who had not previously spoken, looked even more nervous than his friend. "You looked like an easy mark. Couple of guys, alone. That's all, honest."

"So it wasn't because, say, you heard we were out looking for Ottomans tonight?" Giles gave a short, humourless laugh. "You don't follow people very well, you don't jump people very well, and you sure as hell don't lie very well. You want to start listing reasons why I shouldn't shoot you both now and have done with it?"

"I--" The first man began to stutter helplessly, his eyes blinking hard and fast in rapid succession. "I-I-I-I-I--"

"Spit it out, jerk." The words were Ethan's, but Giles backed them up by pushing his gun harder against the man's skull. The man took a deep, shaky breath, as though trying to get his fear under control.

"Alright," he said finally, his voice now tinged with a kind of sullen humility. "We're Ottomans. We were supposed to follow you, put you off. Nobody messes with the Ottomans the way you punks are trying to."

"Nobody huh?" Ethan grinned. "Okay, here's what we're going to do. You're going to tell us where the gang is hiding out tonight. Where the action is, dig? Then you're going to take us there. Otherwise - and I don't think you're going to like this option very much - I leave you here with my associate Giles and his little metal friend." He smiled. "And Giles, believe you me, makes Jack the Ripper look like a pussy-cat." His eyes seemed almost to mist over in contemplation of this fact. "You know, old Jack's first murder was committed about six feet from where you're standing right now. Pretty girl, I hear. Till Jack got his mitts on her."

There was a silence. The two gang members exchanged a look of clear anguish, then slowly their shoulders slumped. The second man nodded.

"Okay." His words came out slowly, as though each one were being wrung from him like the last drops of moisture from a cloth. "You know Bishop Street, about a mile south of here? Well they're there. All of them." His eyes dropped. "The ones that are left."

"Electing a new leader, huh?" Giles grinned. "Good choice boys." He lowered the hammer back into place, letting the gun drop to his side. "Now you two just be good and stay here."

"You're not going to kill us?" There was new hope in the eyes of the second man, and Giles smiled back at him, the expression of gentle humour accentuating his youth and giving him an appearance almost of innocence.

"Why should I need to kill you?" he asked. "Any of your people we happen to leave walking around are gonna do that for us, once they know who sent us to them." He saw this sink in, and saw the fear that grew in the eyes of both men. The first clenched his fists.

"You're not going to get away with this," he said darkly, his eyes bright with rage and fear. "They'll kill you. You won't get with five hundred yards of the place. You're dead, man."

"Oh we'll get there alright; and we'll do what we set out to do." Ethan smiled at him, his eyes filled with promised insults. "See, we're not exactly your run of the mill thugs, boys. We're... a little different. We have ways of doing things that'd make your hair curl." He patted the man on the cheek. "Next time it gets dark, sunshine; think of us. 'Cause we'll be thinking of you..."

The man stared back at him, his eyes widening slightly. Maybe it had been just a trick of the light, but he could have sworn that he had seen someone - or something - standing behind Rayne, for just the briefest of seconds. A tall, shadowy shape enshrouded in black - which did not seem to be alone. But the moment passed, and he tried to contain his fear, before it became too easily recognised.

"See you in hell," he spat. Giles smiled.

"Probably." With the briefest of movements, he raised his gun and slammed it down on the nearest Ottoman's head. The man crumpled and fell, his head striking the pavement with a thud. The second man took a step back.

"I - I won't say anything," he tried desperately. Giles grinned.

"I know." He reacted with speed, catching the man by the arm and throwing him up against the wall. "Just be thankful you never made it to the meeting place tonight, 'cause they're gonna get roasted." He raised his gun again. "Sleep tight."

"Nicely handled." Dragging the pair into the shadows, Ethan dumped them one on top of the other. "You know, I'm beginning to suspect that there might be an unpleasant streak in you, my friend."

"You think?" Giles checked the load in his gun and then slipped it away into his belt. "Come on. Let's go bag us some Ottomans."

**********

Bishop Street seemed even more murky than the rest of the roads they had found themselves in that night. A lone street lamp was positioned at the entrance to the street; but the glass was broken and the post was bent. A feeble glow escaped the sorry looking landmark, but it was barely enough to show up against the shadows. Ethan leaned against the post, lighting a cigarette as he stared towards the large, well-lit house further down the road. It was the only building which showed any sign of being lived in; of having seen any kind of habitation at all that decade. The rest of the houses were clearly marked for demolition, and work had already begun on several of them. A crane, a giant wrecking ball hanging silent and still from a mighty chain, stood at the end of the street. Ethan raised his eyebrows.

"I'd like one of them."

"I'll buy you one for your birthday." Giles wandered a short distance down the road, looking out for any sign of Ottoman spies. There was no one in sight, and he smiled grimly. Everybody was inside, secure in the secrecy of their meeting place, all ready to elect some new leader to take the place of Ian Faulkes. Giles wondered whether they suspected foul play, as Wilkes did; or whether they assumed that the accidents had been just a quirk of fate. Part of him wanted them to know the truth, but part of him did not. He had discovered the magic - he and his friends together had begun to use it. Most others did not even believe in the kind of power he played with every day, and he wanted it to stay that way. If everybody learnt about it, it would no longer be so special.

"I wonder where the others are." Drawing alongside his partner, Ethan blew out a long stream of smoke, almost as though he were sending a signal to the Ottomans, and wanted to be discovered. "Philip and Deirdre and the others, I mean."

"Drunk in a pub somewhere." Giles was not worried about their whereabouts. "It looks as though we can probably get in round the side there; you see the window with no light in it?"

"I see it." They headed towards it carefully, their silence complete. The faint glow of Ethan's cigarette tip should have given them away, but there was no shout of alarm. Giles considered making his friend stub it out, but in many ways he wanted to be discovered. He wanted a fight; a big, bloody battle here in the street. This silent commando-style raid might turn out to be more successful, but it lacked the necessary ingredients to make his revenge perfect. He wanted pure, unchecked violence in which to satiate his anger and his desire for revenge.

"Do you actually have a plan?" Ethan, having helped his companion to open the window and gain entrance to the house, stood with him now in a dark and silent room. The sounds of muted conversation drifted to them through thin walls. Giles shrugged.

"Jump them," he said, somewhat optimistically. Ethan's eyebrows raised, although Giles could barely see them dance in the darkness. Only the cigarette lit their way now.

"That's it?!" Rayne could not help but smile. "Great. Next time remind me to stay at home."

"Sure." Giles slipped closer to the door, feeling for the handle in the murk. "Are you going to put that cigarette out, or are we going to let them all know that we're coming?"

"Well..." Ethan smirked, and stubbed the cigarette out on a painting hanging from one wall. It looked like a Monet, although only a print; he could tell that from one glance at its surface. His father's rich art collection had been one of the first things that the young Ethan Rayne had seen when he was growing up; and a particularly large Van Gogh had hung before his cot. He had grown up detesting both the painting and the painter, and had felt no small amount of pleasure when he had finally found out how Van Gogh had gone mad. "After you then."

"Good." Giles twisted the door handle, pulling hard against what appeared to be years of rust and dust. A crack of light appeared in the opening, and he peered through, seeing some nine men and women gathered together around a collection of gas lamps. Most were smoking, all were dressed in black. He saw shaved heads and unshaven faces, and smiled. These people had no style, no panache. They were no match for him and Ethan. It would have been surprising to find a triple figure IQ anywhere in the room, let alone some person worth being afraid of. He drew his gun and glanced back at Ethan; to find a large, bearded man holding his friend by the arm, a knife jammed against his throat.

"Hello." The man - a veritable giant, bearing a Stars and Stripes flag tattooed on his forehead - was all smiles as he pressed his knife blade harder into Ethan's neck. "The others would like a word with you."

"Oh good." Ethan's voice sounded strained, and the smile that he flashed at Giles was thin and hard, a sure sign of his unease. "I certainly wouldn't like to keep them waiting."

"Then move." Giving Ethan a shove, the big man propelled the pair through the door and into the room beyond. All nine of those seated in the room looked up; and Giles saw a slow smile spread across the face of one of them.

"Told you we'd deliver." He stood up, slapping hands in triumph with the tattooed giant. "You've got to make me leader now."

"We'll talk about that later." One of the women stepped forward. "Which one of you was it that killed Rachel?" Her eyes burned into Ethan's, but he merely smiled at her, unimpressed by her anger and her grief.

"Wouldn't you like to know."

"Yes. I would." She moved closer, driving a surprisingly forceful fist into his stomach. He doubled over in pain, gasping for breath, and her smile grew wider. "Jerk." Her eyes travelled to Giles, her expression coolly appraising. His own features were set into a mask as empty of expression as hers, and this seemed to amuse her. "Just who the hell are you two?"

"My name is Ethan Rayne." Finally getting his breath back, Ethan fixed her with one of his most charming, and yet most evil grins. "This is Giles, my associate."

"Now we're getting somewhere." The man who had previously claimed the credit for their capture moved closer to them, reaching out with a ginger hand to take Giles' gun. "I want to know how you set up those accidents, and I want to know why you did it. Why kill them?"

"You're moving in on our turf." Ethan's voice had dropped almost to a whisper. "We like to protect our assets."

"We were there first. We use that house as a rendezvous with one of our contacts in the Drug Squad." The girl frowned at them both. "You really love trouble, don't you."

"It doesn't matter who was there first." Staring into her eyes with a look that suggested deep hatred, not to mention something rather more intense, Giles allowed a faintly mocking smile to decorate his face. "We're there now. And we don't like competition." His smile widened. "We meet our own contacts in that house, and they aren't the kind who like being disturbed. Trust me on this."

"That's just hard luck, isn't it." She took a step back, no longer feeling entirely safe standing before them, and looked towards the rest of the group. "What do we do with them?"

"Nothing." The voice came from the door, where a single, grey-suited man was standing. He was holding a wallet in one hand, which he flashed at the assembled company with an expression of marked dislike. "You have lousy security."

"We were only expecting these two." The girl shrugged. "We'll know better next time."

"Sure you will." Wilkes advanced further into the room. "I'm going to have to ask you to hand these two over to me, Sandra. I'm sorry."

"We don't have to do that." She looked from the Detective Inspector to the two captured men, and frowned. "Why do you want them?"

"For questioning. I believe that they were involved in the accidents that occurred last night." Wilkes narrowed his eyes. "I could run all of you in. I see possession of a deadly weapon, possession of illegal substances - there's any number of charges I could pull out of my hat, ladies and gentlemen. Do you really want that?"

"Think again." The door slammed shut with a bang, and one of the other gang members positioned himself in front of it, arms folded. "We're dealing with these two, and if you're sensible you'll shut your mouth and look the other way."

"Don't be a fool. Do you really think I didn't tell anyone I was coming here?" Wilkes walked towards Ethan and Giles, wondering quite how he had come to be standing on their side. He hadn't expected the Ottomans to be so outwardly hostile to a police officer; but evidently the deaths the previous night had got to them rather more than he had counted on. "Just let us walk out of here now, and nobody will say anything more about it. You'll get your revenge - in the courts."

"Like hell we will." Sandra shook her head. "You didn't really think we were going to hand them over to you?"

"Not really." He shrugged. "But I had to give you the chance." Even as the words came from his mouth there was the sound of a distant siren. Its noise was still faint, but as it sounded again, it was clear that the car was coming closer.

"Damn you..." The big, bearded man with the Stars and Stripes tattoo went to the window, peering out into the night as though he might be able to catch a glimpse of the approaching vehicle. Wiles shrugged.

"I'm sorry, but the way you people are going, London is likely to end up in the middle of a gang war. I wasn't about to let that happen." He looked to Ethan and Giles. "You two can consider yourselves under arrest; for your own protection if nothing else. And I'll arrest anybody who gets in my way." He stared towards the Ottomans, daring them to make a move. "Come on, everybody, just accept it. This is over. Now."

"No it isn't." Ethan spoke very softly, his eyes on the clock on the wall. It stood at two minutes to midnight, a swinging pendulum marking time with Swiss precision. "Not by a long shot."

"Meaning?" The look that Wilkes gave him was somewhere between confusion and distaste. Ethan smiled.

"It's nearly midnight," he said, as though this simple statement answered all the questions in Christendom. Giles glanced towards the clock.

"You think that's still important?" he asked. Ethan raised his eyebrows.

"Why do you think I told everybody to be home by that time? So long as the pentagram is still there, the spell still lasts."

"Oh." Giles smiled, turning slightly to look at Sandra. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" She was confused now; confused by the sudden appearance of Wilkes, by the revelation that they were about to be swamped with uniforms looking to make arrests; confused by the fact that it all might be about to end. She didn't need this strange and somewhat creepy guy making matters even more complicated with futile apologies at the oddest of moments.

"You're about to meet our colleagues." He stared at the clock, watching as the minute hand ticked ever onward. There was something transfixing about its circular motion; something enthralling about the inevitability of it all.

"If the rest of your gang is coming here, they'll just get arrested with you." Wilkes, who had taken Giles' gun from the Ottoman holding it, checked the load and looked about at the group. "Everybody out. Come on, out into the street. I'm going to make this as easy as possible for my men. You've had your chance to walk away from this, and you're still looking for trouble."

"Forget it." Ethan, staring at the clock with as much fascination as Giles, took the time to flash a quick grin at the detective. "Time's up."

The chiming of the clock made everybody jump, such was the tension in the room. There was a long silence before, in the distance, the sound of an engine came, roaring closer and closer; and as it grew in volume the house began to shake.

"What the-?" Expecting nothing more than the police reinforcements, Wilkes stared in amazement towards the window, although he could see nothing out there suggesting at the source of the noise. He took a step back nonetheless; some sixth sense warning him that there was danger afoot. Beside him Ethan grabbed at Giles' arm, pulling him back across the room.

"Keep back," he warned, although his companion did not really need to be told. A suspicion was forming in both their minds, about the source of the noise as well as its clear consequences. They moved aside only just in time.

With a crash that seemed to tear the world apart, part of the front wall exploded into smithereens, disintegrating into nothingness as the giant wrecking ball parked outside whirled into action. It smashed again into the house, sending chunks of masonry tumbling down into the room. Several of the Ottomans fell, including Sandra, and Ethan whistled in amazement.

"Look at that!" A towering outcrop of brick and mortar wobbled precariously, then fell with a sound of thunder, sending clouds of dust high into the air. Somebody screamed, but whether it was a person or just the terrible grind of gears within the crane - or even the powerful wind which seemed to have sprung up from nowhere - it was not possible to say.

"We've got to get out of here." Giles dashed the brick dust from his eyes. "Otherwise we're going to get killed by our own spell."

"It won't hurt us." Ethan sounded confident enough, but his partner was not reassured. "We're charmed, remember buddy? Something wants us for something."

"Well tell something that!" Seizing his friend by the arm, Giles pulled him back. "Come on."

"You're not going anywhere." Suddenly standing before them was the immense, tattooed man who had captured them earlier. He folded his arms in a gesture of his own immovability. "I'm gonna tear you apart; you and whoever it is you've got up there driving that thing."

"I don't know what's up there." Ethan tried to get past the big man, but found a huge arm blocking his path. "Get out of my way, man, or you're going to regret it."

"Forget it!" It was Wilkes now, struggling towards them through what was left of the room. "Whoever is up there, call them off! Don't make this any worse than it has to be."

"You think we have any control over this?" Giles turned to face him, an arm flung up to protect his eyes from the sharp fragments of stone and glass being blown about by the growing wind. "This isn't anything to do with us! We're in as much danger here as you are."

"I just don't find myself believing you." Wilkes grabbed him by the arm. "You're going to get us out of here, boy, or so help me I'm going to make sure that thing hits you."

"Try it." Suddenly inspired by Ethan's words, Giles pulled his arm free of the angry policeman, his face set in an expression of fierce determination. Ethan's eyes widened in disbelief, but heedless of the likely danger, Giles, his frustration bursting out of control, made a move towards the wrecking ball. It swung towards him, carried by its momentum, fixed on a certain path that it seemed unable to change. Ethan let out a yell of warning, but Giles did not hear him, the wind forcing all sound away from his ears. He stared up at the ball, uncertain exactly what the emotion was that was currently pumping itself through him. All that he was sure about was his own certainty. He knew that the ball would not hurt him.

Wilkes, staring after him with a feeling of something akin to pity, yet mingled with disgust, prepared to turn his head aside at the last minute. He did not want to see the boy being crushed by the ball. And yet something made him look, forcing him to keep his eyes glued to the scene. He saw the ball coming closer, saw it move inexorably, seeming to take an age to travel such a short way. It was moving so fast, and yet it seemed to be moving so slowly. Onwards it rushed; and then, at the last possible moment, it swung aside. It was as though some invisible magnetic wall had sprung up before the boy, forcing the ball to change its direction. It whirled away, flying faster and faster, and without the slightest warning smashed straight into the tattooed giant. His body flew through the air, borne by the irresistible forces, and disappeared out of sight in the rubble. The wrecking ball slowed and was still. The wind faded.

"Bloody hell Giles. I was scared silly. I thought you were going to--" Ethan shook his head. "What the hell got into you?"

"I was showing off." Giles shrugged, the truth no more than that simple fact. "I knew it wouldn't hurt me." He rattled the crucifix hanging around his neck. "I was wearing this when we cast the spell, remember? It made me immune."

"You sneaky sod." Rayne could not resist a laugh. "Come on, let's get the hell out of here, before something else happens."

"It won't." Giles glanced around at the scene of utter devastation. He had no idea how many of the Ottomans were alive and how many were dead, but it seemed to him very likely that the feud was over. It was rather satisfying. He resolved to call an ambulance as soon as he was able; it was only fair, now that the fighting was over. Some strange part of him still seemed inclined towards what was fair and right; and although it was slightly disturbing that it should be so, he had no problem with bowing to the wishes of that side of him, when it chose to assert itself.

"Not so fast." Wilkes, covered in dust from head to toe, emerged from the rubble with Giles' gun clasped firmly in his hands. "You're not going anywhere."

"Now really Inspector..." There was frustration in Ethan's voice. "It's over. Just give in gracefully."

"You're responsible for all of this." Wilkes' hand tightened on the gun, and the pair heard the sound of the hammer clicking back. "I don't know how, but I'm going to find out."

"Not tonight you're not." Ethan shook his head. "Look, you've got no proof, no real motive; not even any reliable witnesses. What are you going to say that you saw? or heard? My dear Inspector, if you're planning to go before your superiors and tell them that my friend and I told you we staged this with the aid of a pentagram painted on our living room floor, and that the reason we're still alive is because Giles here was wearing a crucifix... Well I don't think they're likely to listen. Now give my friend back his gun, and we'll say no more about it."

"Give him back-?" Wilkes sighed, the fight going out of him in a sudden rush of fatigue. He heard the sirens of his approaching colleagues, this time close enough to hurt his ears; but he didn't feel as though he could even hold out long enough for them to arrive. His hand dropped to his side, but he was damned if he was going to hand an almost certainly psychotic man a gun that he would very likely use to spread even more terror than he had already. He looked up, staring towards the two with as much anger and hatred as his growing exhaustion would allow; and his jaw dropped open. There, standing behind the pair, wrapped in black and pointing straight at him, were four figures. Their faces were hidden by hoods and their robes reached down to their feet, lending them an ethereal quality that was at once both terrifying and strangely incongruous. He stepped back a pace, gaping at the figures in undisguised terror; then with a shout of fear he dropped the gun and ran, stumbling away from the two young men and their unearthly guardians as fast as he possibly could.

"What the hell was that about?" Climbing over the fallen bricks to reach his gun, Giles stowed it away. "What got him so spooked?"

"I haven't got a clue." Ethan turned, certain that Wilkes had seen something which had been behind them; but there was nothing there that he could see. He shrugged. "Come on, brother, before those other coppers get here. They might not have anything on us, but I'm not taking any chances."

"I'm right with you." They clambered out of the wrecked house by the back way, pausing only when they were far enough away to warrant no fear of pursuit. The police were already swarming all over the wreckage, their eagerness very likely endangering the health of what survivors there happened to be.

"Was that really our spell?" Giles asked, as though, after all that he had seen and believed, his convictions now failed him. Ethan slapped him on the shoulder.

"You'd better believe it, old son. And that was only the beginning." A self-satisfied smirk was growing on his face. "Just you wait a few months, when we've got the practice and the strength to really do some damage. Our little society is going to make the whole world sit up and take notice."

"They bloody will, if this is the sort of havoc we're going to cause." Giles felt a giggle erupt from within him, but for a moment the darkness and the evil sound of it startled him. He shrugged the moment off. All the same, as he turned away from the ruined building and set his sights on home, he couldn't help but think that the world was growing darker, as though suddenly the night was becoming more complete.

**********

Midway over the Atlantic, midnight at last caught up with the large commercial airliner on which an American airhostess sat alone and in pain. She had almost called in sick, but for a while she had thought that her hand was getting better. Now however, as the ever-changing clock marking their passage through the Timezones clicked onto midnight, she felt the pain burn more strongly than ever. She gripped her hand tightly, a shiver running through her body, and a single tear ran slowly down her cheek. Hundreds of miles away a tiny light marking the plane's progress flickered on the radar, and then blinked out of existence; and in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the aeroplane exploded. As the debris rained steadily into the sea, and the last whispers of the explosion faded, only one sound filled the now empty sky. Somewhere, somebody - or something - was laughing, and the laugh echoed on in the silence.

THE END