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In a Corner of My Soul

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“In a corner of my soul there hides a tiny frightened child, who is frightened by a corner where there lingers something wild.” ― Shaun Hick, The Army of Five Men

There are two techniques by which discarnate demons, pure or, more accurately, impure spirits, may obtain influence within the human realm. The first and more common technique, one I expect every student in this class is already familiar with, involves the possession of a human body by a demonic spirit, for example as in vampirism.

The second technique is known as domination. Unlike possession, in which a demon takes over a human host, domination entails the creation of a psychic bond between the demon and its host. The demon does not inhabit the host but is, instead, connected to the host’s mind. Think of a boat tied to a dock. Like the boat, which remains in the sea, the demon continues to be discarnate, existing in a non-material plane, but a persistent connection between the demon and its human host remains. It may sound trivial. I assure you, it is not. The demon is, in effect, always in the back of the host’s mind, whispering directly into the host’s thoughts, always exerting its pernicious influence.

The greatest challenge of domination is detecting the presence of the discarnate demon. Unlike possession, domination does not create physical changes in the human host. There are no fangs or claws to reveal the demon's presence. Psychological changes are, however, inevitable under domination. The presence of a demon in the host's mind generates tremendous mental pressure. In every case of which we are aware, the human host has undergone a significant personality transformation. The effects are not dissimilar to psychological trauma. An ignorant host, one uninitiated in demon lore and hence unaware of what is occurring, may well end up in a mental institution. Such a situation, while serious, is not our worst-case scenario. Detecting domination becomes a true challenge when the host is cognizant of demon lore. In an astute host, one shrewd enough to avoid detection, domination allows the discarnate demon free-reign within the human realm.

The bond forged under domination, once created, cannot be broken. The human host is forever corrupted. Much like the host who embodies, say, a vampire, the human victim of domination cannot be saved.

from Advanced Demonology 305, Watcher's Council Lecture Series

 

The heavy stone walls of the church were more appropriate to a fort than to a temple of God. Rupert needed it to be both but knew that, for him, it couldn't be either. He found a seat at the back before the service was due to begin without stopping to sign the registry. His clothes, the tweed he'd returned to after rejoining the Council, wouldn't raise a second glance. Nothing identified him as Randall's wild, bohemian friend. Nothing identified him as Randall's killer.

Mozart's Requiem charmed the air as the church filled. Rupert mused over the parallels, certain that no one else here would appreciate them: a gifted young man, misunderstood by those who'd raised him, who'd died tragically and far too young. The music, instead of celebrating Randall's life, invoked memories of his death, memories not of Randall but of the demon he'd become, memories of Eyghon breaking free of the circle, memories of the spell Rupert had cast to destroy the demon, and memories of what had come after. Wrenching his thoughts off that track, Rupert closed his eyes and focused on the music. His mind wouldn't still. He wondered who had selected the Requiem. It was an unlikely choice for Randall's working-class parents. Perhaps the priest had made the selection for them as a kindness, not forcing more choices on the family in their time of grief.

Randall's parents walked down the aisle slowly, painfully, as if their very bones ached. The mother's head was turned toward her husband, and Rupert could see little more of her than a babushka and what was likely her best coat. He felt vaguely relieved he couldn't see her face. He wasn't sure he could stand her grief. The father's anger was easier to handle. The man's eyes were red from crying but fury blazed from his brow. The one time Rupert had seen a bullfight, the bull, wounded by a half-dozen lances, had tried but failed to rise. Rupert saw that same look on the old man's face, not an acceptance of impossible odds, but a hopeless raging in the face of them.

Over the priest's consoling tones, Rupert heard a sound like that of water dripping from a faucet. It was quite persistent, drowning out even the words of the service. Rupert scanned the church, searching for the source. He stopped, staring at the altar. Blood flowed down from the cross, the tiny drops giving way to a trickle, a stream, and finally to a flowing river. The blood, stinking and coppery sweet, poured through the nave, splashing in waves over the pews. It flowed over him, past him, and then every trace of blood was gone. Rupert could hear the service again but what he saw was something quite different. Randall's mother had fallen backward onto the pew. Blood spurted from a gash in her throat. The father sat, staring straight ahead, covered in gore. The priest, still speaking, looked as if he'd just taken the worst beating of his life. His face, black and blue, was swollen beyond recognition. “Oh God no.” Rupert didn't bother to close his eyes. Eyghon had been forcing such images into his mind, replacing Rupert's day-to-day life with vision of gore and blood and pain ever since the night that Randall had been killed. A woman sitting in the pew before him turned and shushed Rupert. Her blue eyes glared at Rupert, admonishing him from behind the bleached bones of her skull. Rupert dug his hands into his legs as he forced himself to stillness. You can't make me flee, he told the demon in his mind. If I do run, screaming, from this funeral, the Council will find me, they'll tie me to Randall's death, and they'll kill me. You'll lose your only anchor to this world.

Rupert forced himself to sit through the service. Bolting wouldn't do any good. He couldn't run from what was in his head. But still, the moment the service had ended, Rupert found himself fleeing the church. Keeping his steps down to a fast walk, he strode between the roily water of the Thames to his left and a sooty industrial park to his right. Five blocks and one bridge fell behind before Rupert stopped to lean heavily against a chain link fence. Rupert looked down, expecting to see his hands dripping with gore, but that was one illusion Eyghon had never given him even though, or perhaps because, that was the one illusion that would have truth to it.

My priest. Rupert shuddered as Eyghon's guttural voice filled his mind. Eyghon's words brought forth images of unholy and forbidden rites, of himself laughing as the demon crawled under his skin.

“I'm. Not. Yours.”

Eyghon's laughter thundered through his thoughts. You were. You are. You always shall be.

I'm not yours. The words, unspoken this time, had lost their force. He had dedicated himself to the demon. They all had. He'd never expected that Eyghon would get loose. He'd been so stupid. He should have known that Eyghon would escape. He hadn't even prepared for the eventuality. He'd created a spell on the spot, one that had destroyed the host and had driven Eyghon from the physical plane. Against all expectations, the spell had worked, but it'd had one unforeseen side-effect. It had left Rupert open. The demon had forged a connection between them. It was always there now, in the back of his mind, manipulating and scheming. Rupert had tried dozens of banishing spells. Nothing had worked. Nothing could work. Nothing could ever dislodge Eyghon from his mind.

He'd returned to the Council in desperation, hoping they'd have some method of banishing the demon. It wasn't until that final moment, when he'd been on his way to confess his sins, when he'd been climbing the weighty stone steps leading up to Council HQ, that he'd remembered what the Council did to humans infected by a demon. Death, in comparison, would have been a blessed relief. He'd rejoined the Council but had kept his secret to himself.

Eyghon's mocking laughter brought Rupert back to the present. The woven wire of the fence felt cold against his hands. “I could still tell them about you,” he snarled. “It is my duty.” He'd taken the afternoon off to attend the funeral, but the Council never closed. He could go now.

They would keep him alive to study the link, extracting data with spells, with sharp and bright instruments. They wouldn't sedate him. It might mar the data. Once they were satisfied they'd gotten everything they could, they'd dissect him, leaving him lying there on the table, helpless, feeling them tearing away his life, inch-by-inch.

“Tomorrow,” he told the demon. “First thing.”

Eyghon laughed in the back of his mind.

 

The depictions of demons in the ancient texts, particularly in those associated with the Etruscan civilization, had always fascinated Rupert. He should have been hanging onto the professor's every word. Instead he could barely hear the lecture over the screaming. He knew the other students were focused on the lecture but Eyghon was showing Rupert something different: maggots eating through rotting flesh, bones piercing through human skin, eyeballs melting down faces, and more. He'd sat through the same hell in over a dozen lectures but finally it became to much. Rupert bolted to his feet, shoved his way through the narrow passage of writing desks and knees, and sprinted out the door as if the hordes of hell were chasing after.

He never did recall how he made it back to his own rooms. Sprawled on the floor as if he'd tripped or been shoved, Rupert's pounding fist sounded hollow and weak against the aged wood. “Please, please stop.”

Release me. A face flashed through Rupert's mind, that of a very bad man, one the world could well do without.

“No, I won't hurt anyone, not even him.”

Suddenly, unexpectedly, Rupert saw Ethan. His skull had been smashed in. The brains had spattered across the carpet. Ethan's lips moved. Release me.

“I won't. You can't touch him, not while you're only in my head.”

“Ripper, please, help me.” It was Ethan's voice, but he knew it wasn't Ethan. “Please.”

Rupert's eyes dragged behind, glancing backward out of his periphery, as he head swung around to face Ethan. He snapped his eyes forward. Maggots were weaving through a hole in Ethan's cheek. It didn't matter that it wasn't Ethan. Rupert couldn't stand it, not any longer. “Alright, but lose the visions,” he told Eyghon. “I can't think and I can't plan, not like this.”

 

Despite his caution, Rupert stepped over the threshold, two nights later, with a sense of nostalgia. Ethan, upon hearing that the pub's name referred to a temple of Janus, had claimed it as their new watering hole. Rupert suspected that Ethan had been put off by how much of a dive the bar had actually turned out to be, but if so he hadn't let it show. Ethan's enthusiasm, whether feigned or real, had dragged their circle back to The Portae Belli at least twice a week.

George had been a regular then and Rupert was willing to bet he still was. It was a bet Rupert would have won. Only a scattering of the tables were occupied. Men sat together, in groups of three or four, to get down to the serious business of drinking. George, scrawny and disheveled, sat alone at the bar. Even these dregs would have nothing to do with him. Rupert could wish that his own friends had been either more principled or less naive but that was behind him now. For this job, George was exactly what he needed.

Rupert settled down next to George and grabbed the bartender's attention. “Bottle of Jack and another of what he's having.” Glancing over, Rupert saw George was drinking a Stiff Tart and hid his disgust. Paint remover tasted better. “And a Guinness.”

“I'll take a Guinness,” George interrupted, “if you're buying,” Rupert nodded and they sat in silence as they waited for the drinks. Rupert took his time pouring the Jack out into two shot glasses, aware of George's unwavering gaze. George downed the offered shot in a flash as if afraid it'd be taken away. “What do you want?”

Rupert pushed the second shot over, picking up his Guinness and the empty shot glass as George downed the Jack. “Not here,” Rupert said gesturing toward an empty corner. Once settled at the table, Rupert poured out another shot and pushed it over toward George. “I need someone who can fit through a window.”

With the shot glass just shy of his lips, George paused. “A job?”

“Something like that.” Rupert watched as George downed the shot. “Too many ears here but there's no rush. Let's have a few more rounds and then we'll find somewhere quiet to talk.”

He sat, watching George drink more than drinking himself, until the pressure from his bladder told Rupert he'd had more than the one beer. Damn. That hadn't been part of the plan. He slapped his hands on the bar as he got to his feet. “Back in a bit.”

“S'not my fault.” George's words were slurred. “The guy came outta nowhere.”

“The mishap at the bank? Could have happened to anyone.”

“No one'll work with me. My fault they say.” Leaning onto the table, he looked over one shoulder and stared up at Rupert. “How come you wanna work with me?”

Damn. “Because no one else will. I'll get to keep more of the dosh with you than with someone else.”

George looked more resigned than happy with Rupert's response.

“Buck up,” Rupert said. “Time to head round to yours and work out the details.”

Rupert waited until they were alone in an alley. One sharp kick to George's ribs and the git was already crying. Rupert kicked him, again and again, lost in the fierce joy of making someone else bleed until the crying stopped. Rupert dropped down, close to the body. The pulse was strong and steady if a bit on the quick side. Good. Rupert cast a spell to keep him that way, alive but unconscious, until Rupert was ready.

 

Finding the Thundercat had been easy. Back before Rupert had run off to play at being Ripper, Robson's uncle had taken them racing about the Bristol Channel. The boat was still in place. Hauling George onto the powerboat had been more problematic. Rupert had a spell that could make the man invisible but not any lighter. However the water had been calm and pulling the inflatable boat onto the beach had been simple enough. The island was small, too small for anyone to live on, but that meant Rupert didn't have to hide, even if it was a good hour until sunset, as he pulled George out of the boat. Rupert used magic to paralyze George before dropping the spell that had kept him knocked out. “Georgie porgie, pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry. Wakey, wakey.”

“I can't move. Why can't I move?”

“Can't have you squirming, old chum. The Mark has to be perfect.”

“Mark? What mark? What the hell is this?”

Rupert ignored the question. “If I were a true traditionalist, it would be tattooed on, but you won't be around long enough for that to make a difference. A marker will do well enough.”

“You can't get away with this. I have friends.”

Rupert raised the marker up from George's arm. “No, you really don't.”

“Lamont, he saw us at the pub.”

“Nobody saw us and nobody will care when you're gone.”

“Gone? You mean dead gone?” Ah, he finally understood.

Rupert started in on the Mark again. “I suppose you want to know why.”

“Help. Help.”

Rupert squatted down and put a hand over George's mouth. “It's no use shouting. No one can hear you. And, if you are interested, the bank job.”

“What? Ripper, man, there wasn't supposed to be anyone there. The bank was supposed to be empty. We had to kill him, man. It was that or the slammer. And anyway, I wasn't the one who killed him. That was Butler, man, he did it.”

“Perhaps,” Ripper said as he finished sketching out the edges of Eyghon's Mark. “But you were the one stupid enough to brag about it. Killed a copper, you said. It's not, in the final analysis, that you're evil. You're merely too stupid to live. Looked at the right way, I'm doing the world a favor.”

The sun had set but there was still light to see by when Rupert finished the tattoo. He'd given up cigs but paused for one last smoke. It wasn't as if lung cancer would be killing him, now was it. The island was empty. There was no one else for Eyghon to kill. It would be messy and it would be painful but soon it would be over.

The ritual went without a hitch. The demon's energy tore through the spell, releasing the body. Where George had been bound, Eyghon rose to his feet. “Where am I?”

Rupert wasn't sure why he grinned. Eyghon, still in his head, would know how terrified he was. “A small island in the Bristol Channel. I'm afraid there's no one else about.”

The demon's fist hit his jaw. Rupert stumbled back but kept to his feet for three more strikes. As he hit the ground, darkness grabbed ahold of him. Rupert smiled. It had been an easier death than he'd expected.

 

Rupert came to wondering if the Greek myths about Charon were true. He remembered a loud buzzing and a sense of movement, but after that he'd felt as if he were in a boat being propelled forward by waves. He seemed to by lying in water although that didn't discount a boat, not if water had splashed over the edges, but the surface below him was stable now. He opened his eyes, half expecting to see a ferryman demanding his fee, but Rupert was alone and he recognized the boat. It was the Thundercat he'd stolen.

Rupert sat up. “Oh Good Lord.” The small island he'd picked was gone. Here he could see, by the light of a few solitary bulbs, a dock, a boathouse, and a road. Eyghon hadn't killed him. Eyghon had found other victims.

There were a couple of oars, one hooked on to each side of the boat. Rupert grabbed one and took a couple of swings. The damned thing was aluminum, lighter than he'd prefer for a weapon. It would have to. He paused to listen but the island was quiet outside of the waves lapping against the shore. Not knowing where Eyghon had gone, Rupert chose to follow the road. If he couldn't find the demon, perhaps he could warn the occupants although how he was going to explain this …

The cliffs, which had been back far beyond the boathouse, angled in toward the road until they towered over Rupert as he jogged forward. The night was darker here but the road glowed, a pale white against the vegetation to one side and the darker shadows rising above on the other. By the time Rupert cleared the cliffs, his eyes had adjusted to the darkness. He could clearly see the girl. She was seven or eight at most, sitting in the center of the road with her knees pulled up to her chest. She seemed unharmed. Her nightgown wasn't torn and her ash-blonde hair was pulled back in a tidy pigtail. Rupert put down the oar. He didn't want to frighten her. “Are you alright?”

She didn't move. She didn't even flinch.

“Hello?” He called out again. Still no response. “Can I take you home? Where are your parents?”

“Dead.” Her voice was flat, devoid of emotion.

He held out a hand. “Come with me.” He'd put her in the boat and send her out onto the water. She'd be safe there.

She looked more fae than human, almost ethereal as if she didn't belong to this world. When she turned her head toward him, her expression wasn't anything that belonged on the face of a child. “I've been very naughty. I deserve a terrible spanking.”

Rupert held very still. “I know you've seen terrible things, but none of them are your fault.”

“Gods, Ripper. You just don't change, do you?”

Ripper? How had she know his … Good Lord. No.

She spoke again, still in the piping voice of a child. “It's not safe. Take my hand. You're like a woman, Ripper. You cry at every funeral. You don't deserve me. But guess what? You've got me.” The child's voice gave way to the rough growl of a demon. “Under your skin.”

Rupert stepped back. He was close enough to grab the oar but, no, he couldn't. Eyghon had taken over Randall and he'd killed it then. Eyghon had taken over this child. No, he couldn't. Not again. Not to a child.

“What's the matter, Ripper? Not man enough to take me on?”

Rupert couldn't. He couldn't beat a child to death even if Eyghon had taken her over. Rupert couldn't, but Giles could. He reached down for the oar, grabbing it tightly, both hands at the ready. “You won't get past me, demon. I've killed you before and I can do it again, no matter what form you take.”

The demon rose to the child's feet. “How often do you think you can kill me? You can kill a child but can you kill your mother? Your lover? Rupert's weak. He can't stand the pain. He'll free me again.”

“You won't get near him again.” Giles swung the oar but didn't hit the demon. “Not if I bash you into a pulp.”

Eyghon's laughter ran eerily out of the child's throat. “You can't stop me. I'm in his head. You can't reach me there, but I can reach Rupert. I can tie him up in knots. And you, you're as weak as Rupert. Can't even bring yourself to hit me.”

Giles shut his eyes against the child and listened to the demon. Eyghon wasn't right but he wasn't wrong either. Giles could, probably, hit the girl but beating a child to death, even the thought made him ill, but there was another way. “I don't have to hit you,” he told Eyghon. “I'm not Rupert's only guardian.”

Ripper swung the oar hard and fast. It smashed against the demon's head. Blood splattered into the air, hanging like fireworks for one frozen moment. The oar swung around again. Blood streaked red in the ash-blonde hair. When it was done, Ripper dropped the oar and stepped back from the green ooze that had been a child's body. Giles stepped carefully around the gunk as he scanned the island. It was unlikely that Eyghon had left anyone alive, but Giles had to be sure. There couldn't be any witnesses.

 

Ethan opened his eyes and winced against the sunlight. “Alright,” he shouted toward the door. “Just give me a moment.” The pounding, it actually sounded as if the door was being kicked in, if anything grew louder. Just as he'd thrown on a t-shirt, the door flew open. The words, do you know how hard it was to get that lock on in the first place, died on his lips. Ripper stood in the doorway.

He wasn't wearing the wife-beater Ethan was used to seeing him in or even the tweed he'd donned after he'd left. The dark pullover and jeans looked good on him, but then again pretty much anything did. Ripper pulled a cigarette from his lips and blew out the smoke. “Do you know how much trouble it was to find you?”

Ethan faked a nonchalance he didn't feel, one he could never feel in Ripper's presence. “You never wanted to see me again. Why should I make it easy?”

Ripper tossed his cigarette to the floor. As Ripper's eyes raked over him, Ethan wished he'd had time to don more than a t-shirt and underwear. “Aw, you didn't have to dress just for me.”

“Well, yes, perhaps if I'd known who was bashing through my door …”

Before he could finish, Ripper came at him, shoving him back, and Ethan found himself stumbling until he hit the wall. Ripper pinned him. “You're mine. Always will be. Never make me hunt you down again.” Ripper's lips were on his before Ethan could reply, pushing against his hard, so hard he knew they'd bruise. He pushed back, kissing Ripper with everything he had.

Ripper had never been a gentle lover but this, it was like being held by a hurricane, like being fucked by by a tidal wave. It was almost, but not quite, too much. When Ripper shuddered and fell on him, Ethan thought that neither of them would be able to even think about moving for hours. He was wrong.

A hand landed on his face, moving about as if exploring his features. Well, if this was how it was going to be. Ethan licked along the palm of the hand. “Come on, Ripper, if you're gonna …”

Ripper pushed himself up and off of Ethan so fast that he fell backward onto the floor. “How did you get here?”

Not this again. Ethan's words were cold and sharper than he'd intended. “I live here. You came looking for me, remember?”

“No, no, I don't.”

“Don't what? Want me? One good fuck and you're done?”

“Don't remember. How did I get here?”

Ethan watched as Ripper's eyes turned cold.

Ripper's arm came down on Ethan's throat, pinning him to the bed. “Get out.”

“It's my flat,” Ethan choked out. “You came looking for me.”

Ripper scrambled to his feet, putting on the pants he'd grabbed as he'd risen from the bed. “Don't let me in again.”

Ethan sat up, raising his legs and twisting his body into a ball. He raised a hand to his throat. “It's not as if I let you in this time. I don't suppose you're about to pay for the broken lock?”

Ripper grabbed his boots in one hand. “Leave London. Go someplace I'd never think to look for you.”

“Damn it, Ripper, what's wrong? Tell me this time. Don't just run the fuck off again.”

“Better you don't know.”

“I won't stop until I've worked it out.”

“Leave it, Ethan. If you want to live, leave it.”

“Tell me what's going on.”

“No.” Ripper, his boots still in his hands, bolted out the door on bare feet.

Ethan looked out the window until Ripper appeared in the street. He looked up, saw Ethan watching, and dashed off. Ethan fell back onto the bed. What the hell had that been?

 

Rupert found himself in his flat, sitting on the couch and blowing smoke toward the window. He stared at the cigarette for a moment before dropping it into a mug on the side table. There were a half-dozen butts in the mug. He'd given up smoking months before, shortly after he'd returned to the Council. He couldn't recall smoking any of them. In fact, the last thing he remembered he'd been in London. He didn't know why he'd been there. He didn't even remember going there. He had memories of Ethan, naked and well fucked, but in a room Rupert had never seen before. He wouldn't have gone to Ethan. With Eyghon in his head, Rupert was too great a danger. He wouldn't have exposed Ethan to that danger. He wouldn't have.

The dishes from at least one meal had been left out on the table. Rupert hadn't left dishes dirty since he'd come back to the Council. Cleaning up after himself had been part of bearing the yoke again. In fact, the only time Rupert had left the dishes out … Rupert dropped to a chair. First Ethan and now this. What the hell?

Across the far side of the table he saw a newspaper with his glasses planted firmly in the center. He absentmindedly rubbed the glasses before putting them on. There didn't seem to be anything unusual in the paper. No, wait. The date. This was the Sunday paper. It couldn't be. Just last night had been Friday. Rupert looked at the date again. It hadn't changed.

It couldn't be. He'd lost a whole day. How had he lost a whole day?

No explanations were forthcoming. Rupert let the problem mull in the back of his mind as he washed up the dishes and fixed himself tea. Losing a day, he had no idea what to do with that. Rupert took his tea to his desk. He'd already been behind on his studies. That at least he could work at.

He was fully engrossed in his paper, Dark Lords: A Study of Near Eastern Religions and the Appropriation of Power by Krnashath Demons, when the doorbell rang. Damn, just as the work was getting interesting. Rupert popped his head out the window to see if he could get rid of the annoyance quickly. Or not. “Ethan?”

“Hello, Ripper.”

Rupert stared. Ethan. Of course. Ethan had been in London. Ethan had stolen the day from him. He grabbed Ethan, dragged him into the house, and threw him against the wall.

“Oh, this is better, although you should shut the door. Unless you do want to give the neighbors a show that is.”

Rupert pressed his forearm against Ethan's throat. “What the hell did you do?”

“You'll have to be more specific. I've done so many things.”

Rupert pressed down harder with his arm.

“Ripper,” Ethan choked. “Please. Can't. Breathe.”

Rupert loosened the arm until Ethan started gasping for breath. “I lost a day. What did you do?”

Grief ran like a shadow across Ethan's face. “Yesterday then, I take it. I should have known better.”

“Better than to mess with me? Yes, you should have.”

Ethan grabbed Rupert's forearm with both hands and pulled down. Rupert let the arm drop. “Better as in nothing with you can be that simple. You came to me, Ripper. Whatever happened, I didn't do it.”

But that meant … Eyghon. No. The demon could force hallucinations on him but it couldn't steal his memories. It couldn't force him to lose time. Rupert shrank back.

Giles stepped forward and punched a shot straight into Ethan's gut. As Ethan fell forward, Giles struck his elbow across the side of Ethan's face. Then he backed off. Rupert cared about the git. Giles couldn't hurt him too much. “Get out. Leave London. Don't look back.”

Ethan pressed a hand to his jaw and winced but held his ground. “Something's wrong. Tell me what.”

Giles shoved him out the door and looked down on at Ethan sprawled on the sidewalk. “If I ever see your face again, I'll break every bone in your body.”

I'll break him.

Oh bloody wonderful. Eyghon had woken up. Giles slammed the door shut on Ethan.

He'll die screaming.

“If you hadn't noticed,” Giles said, “I don't particularly care.”

Rupert does.

“I can keep you from Rupert.”

No. You can't.

Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. “What do you want?”

Give me the Slayers.

Giles closed his eyes and let his head bang against the wall. “I'm a student. I don't have access to a Slayer.” Images of Ethan, broken and dying, flashed across his mind.

He'll see this. Every time you let him out, he'll see this.

Meaning Rupert would see the images. Eyghon would force them on him. Giles thought it through. Rupert's duty was to guide a Slayer, assuming he was given the opportunity. Giles' duty was to protect Rupert, but he couldn't keep Eyghon away from Rupert. They shared the same head. “It's possible I can get Rupert assigned to one of the Slayers.”

All of them.

Giles shook his head. “There's only one.”

An image formed in Giles' mind, a weapon with a stake at one end and a blade at the other. “What is it?”

A way to get all of them.

 

If Merrick's Slayer had been called in London, the Council would have arranged for facilities. In any of the other cities he was truly familiar with, Merrick would have rented a warehouse. In Los Angeles he found houses, and affordable ones at that, with rooms large enough to train in, however training seemed to have been taken off the agenda. He watched her from behind the curtains of the second floor window. Buffy had stopped at the bottom the walkway to the house.

Disappointment settled in his chest. Her attire was completely inappropriate. Oh, the blue jeans weren't entirely unsuited for fighting but that blouse would get her killed in a heartbeat. It might have been passable had it been buttoned up to the neck and tucked in but no, instead she'd left all the buttons undone and had tied her shirt tails together into a large knot at her waist creating more handholds for an enemy to grab onto than Merrick cared to think about.

She turned and walked away as Merrick watched, and he honestly couldn't understand why she was leaving. She'd fought off two vampires the night before. She'd been having the nightmares. She knew she'd been chosen, but it seemed she'd rather play at being a cheerleader than live up to her calling as a Slayer. He let the curtain drop. He couldn't confront her here, out on the street, but it wasn't difficult to predict where she was heading.

The bright orange of the lockers made the pale green walls look even dingier than they were. Merrick was, as usual, amazed at how unaware people could be. Neither of the two girls gossiping by their lockers noticed him as he slipped in. “Oh, hi. Wow, you're late,” one of them said as Buffy came in through the doors.

Buffy waved. “I'm going to practice.”

“Cool, see you later.” The girls left and the door fell closed behind them. He and Buffy were alone.

Merrick waited until she'd opened her locker before stepping into view. She didn't notice him for a moment. He could have killed her in that moment if he'd been a demon. She jumped when she saw him. “What are you doing here?” She ducked behind the open door of her locker. “This is a naked place.” He wasn't sure why she'd bothered to point that out, given that she was fully dressed.

“You were supposed to meet me an hour ago.”

Apparently he wasn't as imposing as he'd hoped. She came back around and started rummaging through her locker. “I told you that I had practice.” She threw two pom poms on top of the locker.

“And I told you to skip it.” The last Slayer had been identified when she was five. He could have had a girl who'd already been trained but no, he had to make do with this American.

“Listen, I think there's been a big mistake. Alright, I mean, I appreciate that there are real vampires and that you're on this big, holy mission but obviously somebody read their tea leaves wrong 'cause I'm not your girl. I don't think I'm up to it. And just between you and me, neither do you.”

Hmm, perhaps she was more perceptive than he'd first given her credit for. “It is true that you have missed years of training.”

“See?”

Still that didn't mean he could go easy on her. “And you are undisciplined, frivolous.”

“Don't I know it.”

“You are, quite probably, the most vacuous Slayer …”

“Okay, okay,” she interrupted. “I think we both get the point.”

He waited. She was going to tell him to go but he could tell she wasn't entirely confident she'd made the right choice. She wanted him to convince her.

“Then I don't think there's anything more for us to say,” she added.

He decided to agree. It would put her off her guard and make the demonstration that much more effective. “I guess not.” He took one step away to vanish behind a row of lockers.

“Good luck and all,” she called out.

Oh, yes, she did want convincing. He stepped back into view but she was staring into her locker. “There is one thing.”

“What?” She looked ready to tear into him as she turned back. Aggressiveness was, of course, a positive attribute in a Slayer but it was far too easy to rile her up. He'd have to train that out of her.

“This.” He gave her only one moment to identify the knife before throwing it at her.

She caught it, one handed, mere inches from her face. She hadn't moved; she hadn't even blinked. Her reflexes were quite remarkable.

He clapped once. “Bravo.”

Her gaze bounced between him and the knife as he stepped toward her. “Y-you threw a knife at my head.”

“Yes. I had to show you.”

She gestured toward her head as she spoke as if the emphasis would tell him something new. “But … you threw a knife at my head.”

“And you caught it. Only the chosen one could have caught it.” That should have settled the argument. It didn't.

“Well, I don't want it.”

He paused, only for a moment, to think about the Slayer he could have had, the Slayer he would have had if Buffy had been identified at a proper age, before jumping back into the fray. He would make her see that she was born to be the Slayer. It was his duty and he would not fail.

 

Twenty years of his life, spent working on three degrees and playing Council politics, had all led to this one moment. Rupert sat outside of Quentin's office. The carpet here was new and the walls free of scuff-marks, unlike the halls where the rank and file worked. Mrs. Livingston, an old gargoyle of a woman, guarded the entrance. She'd been part and parcel of the Council as far back as Rupert could recall. He amused himself thinking that she was a construct, an entity created ages ago to protect the Council Head from interlopers hoping to gain access to his time. It was highly unlikely. The Council didn't use magic for mundane purposes. At some signal that Rupert hadn't seen, she told him that he could go in.

Quentin rose from his desk at the far side of the room, but Rupert took a moment to appreciate the office. The walls were filled with fine art, many of them from the Romantic period, images of vampires and demons falling at the hands of men, but they couldn't hold his attention, not when the Council's seal lay before him. The rug's gray background was just pale enough to enhance the image of the familiar double-headed black eagle holding a pen in one golden claw and a sword in the other. Feeling the thrill of being in the Council's inner sanctum for the first time, Rupert read the motto spelled out at the edge of the rug. “ Et portae inferi non praevalebunt.”

“The gates of Hell shall not prevail.” Quentin crossed the room to shake Rupert's hand but didn't offer his congratulations yet. He gestured toward a chair, one of two placed just past the seal. “Would you care for a drink?”

“Whisky if you have it.”

Quentin handed over the drink as he sat across from Rupert. “You, of course, know why you're here.”

“I would hardly dare to presume.” The modesty of Rupert's words were belied by his next question. “I take it the new Slayer isn't expected to live long?”

The shake of Quentin's head was more purposeful than regretful. “Merrick doesn't expect much of her. She wasn't identified as a Potential and has no training, no discipline. He'll do his best to keep her going, of course but, no, we don't expect her to last long.” Quentin sipped at his drink. “The next Slayer goes to Roderick Ashworth,” he added unnecessarily. Every Watcher knew who was in waiting for the next Slayer.

“But the Slayer after Ashworth's?”

“Hopefully Ashworth's girl will be longer lived but the Council prefers to prepare for the worst-case scenario.”

“Of course,” Rupert agreed. “Still, I can't imagine I was a popular choice.”

“I won't deny there was more than a little debate. Your early rebellion did give a number of members pause.” Giles held back a snicker. Trust Quentin to refer to abandoning the Council and invoking demons with as mild a term as rebellion. Of course Quentin didn't know about Eyghon. “But a good many believe your little stint with the dark side has enhanced your qualifications, has given you a better idea of what you'll be facing. They brought the others around.”

They damned well better have, Giles thought. The bribes he'd paid out had been more than he'd expected, personal favors rather than money, but those favors had cost him.

 

In its heyday the building, abandoned now, had been an asylum, a dumping ground for the unwanted: the insane, the old, and the merely inconvenient. The gray stone of the walls was made even dingier by the scraps of white paint that hadn't completely peeled away. The upper levels had contained suites where the wealthier clients had been locked away in relative comfort. The poverty stricken unwanted, some of them lunatics but some of them merely unlucky, had been locked in cages in the basement. The stone was thick and there weren't even windows to let light in. It suited Giles' needs perfectly.

When Rupert had invoked Eyghon, he'd called the demon into an acquaintance, into someone who could be tied back to him. Giles wasn't about to make the same mistake. He'd sent Ripper out to bring back a couple of drifters, men who wouldn't be missed. It didn't matter whom they were as long as they both remained unconscious.

Ripper had left both men outside the cage. By the light of the KingCamp lantern, Rupert chose to leave the lanky, middle-aged man where Ripper had dumped him. The older man, whose untamed graying beard fell halfway down his chest, was shorter than the other but hefty enough that dragging him into the cage was something of a chore. Branding him with Eyghon's mark was simple in comparison and took little time. Giles closed the cage door, locking the man in before chanting the spell to invoke Eyghon. As the demon stood and stretched his arms out to the side, Giles watched and wondered if he's succeeded.

Eyghon threw himself against the cage. The bars held. “What is this?”

“I can't have you jumping bodies and rampaging about London. The Council would track you down and then they'd connect you to me. You'd never gain access to the Slayer line.” Part of the experiment had worked. Even with Eyghon's access to his mind, Giles had kept his plans hidden from the demon.

Eyghon's body fell to the ground and dissolved into a pile of green goo. Interesting. Nothing in Giles' research had suggested the demon could break his tie to a body at will. Giles moved closer to the edge of the room. If Eyghon got free of the cage, the door would contain the demon.

The goo spread out toward the second body. Giles waited. Eyghon did not rise again.

What did you do?

“I told you. I can't afford to allow you to jump bodies. It's to your best interests as well.”

Giles fell to the floor as knives stabbed in just behind his eyeballs. He clutched at his head, more in a vain attempt to stop the pain than to confirm there were no knives. The solitary lantern, which had lit the room dimly up until then, became so bright that it hurt Giles even even through his closed eyes. Curled up on the floor, he clenched at his head, not moving because moving brought more pain, until a blessed darkness took him.

 

The walls were screaming in a thousand voices all telling her to get out. Liz stood with her back to the heavy stone walls with her eyes turned toward the door. She shouldn’t of followed but the bad man, he'd beat up Doc and then he'd beat up Billy and he'd left their bags as if they wouldn't need them anymore. She couldn't of gone for help. They'd have been gone, vanished, by the time she'd come back, and that was only if she could of gotten help at all. She heard a scream, louder than the thousand voices. Risking a peek back into the dungeon, she saw the monster stabbing knives into the bad man's head but the monster was in his head now. It had been in Doc before but Doc was gone. Billy was still there though, past the bad man, at the far end of the room.

The bad man had stopped screaming. Even the inside of his head was silent. Maybe he was faking. The walls were still shrieking, “Get out! Get out! Get out!” She stepped into the dungeon. The bad man didn't move. She took another step forward, watching him carefully. The bad man still wasn't moving, but as she inched forward she went far around him. She didn't want him between her and the door but she couldn't leave Billy there. She inched past the bad man and then scuttled backward, keeping her eyes on the bad man the whole time. He still wasn't moving. She shook Billy. He wasn't moving either. The room was screaming at her to get out, that it wasn't just her life on the line. The bad man was the boogey man, the candy man, the devil himself and he'd steal her soul if he got her. Oh, this was bad, bad, bad. She grabbed Billy by the arms and started dragging him toward the door.

 

Rupert woke to cement and stone, cement underneath him and stone walls around him. The only light came from a camping lantern. He could see that his pants were of a very fine weave, finer than anything he usually wore and he could feel the scratch of a turtleneck against his skin. Rupert sighed. When he'd first found the clothes sitting out in the open toward the front of his closet, clothes that weren't his, clothes that fit him to a T, he'd taken to throwing them away. He'd even burned a set on one memorable occasion. It had been a futile gesture. New clothes had appeared, clothes that had been billed to him. They served as a reminder that Eyghon could mess with him at will. Rupert had chosen to ignore them as best he could.

Release me!

And as if on cue, the demon spoke up, the Hyde to his Jekyll. Rupert didn't know how the demon could erase his memories – nothing in the literature suggested such a thing was possible – but he'd never been called in by either the Council or the police. Whatever he'd missed, it couldn't be too horrific. Eyghon wasn't one for subtlety. He would have left a trail a mile wide if he'd done any damage whatsoever.

Release me!

The voice brought back memories of blinding pain, Rupert held his hands to his head, shutting his eyes against pain more imagined than real. Giles, opening his eyes, dropped his hands back down to his sides. The second drifter, the one he'd left outside the cage, was gone. Escaped. Giles cursed the demon.

Release me!

“I will,” he told the demon, “but now I need to think.” He'd have to let Ripper hunt the drifter down, but that could wait. First he needed to vanish before any cops showed up. Then Ripper could have his fun, and after that … “I will let you free, on one condition.”

Giles felt pain welling in the back of his head. There will be no conditions.

“There will be,” Giles replied. “I've found no information on this Scythe of yours in the Council texts. If I'm going to learn anything, I'll need access to the Slayer but there's a Watcher in the queue ahead of me. The next Slayer is his if he's alive. I need you to kill him.”

The chuckling in Giles' mind was assent enough.

“His name is Ashworth, Roderick Travers Ashworth.” Giles brought the image to mind, an older man, one who'd sported a walrus mustache ever since he'd been assigned to India as a youth. Roderick was a year or two older than his cousin Quentin, balding where Quentin had a full head of hair, but getting slightly chubby, just as Quentin was, from sitting at a desk all day. “I'll set it up. You'll be released near his London home.”

And then I kill.

Giles knew better than to ask Eyghon to stop at one death. Limiting Eyghon to one body would limit the damage. His human form could only last so long. With any luck he'd have dissolved back to the ethereal plane before the Council found his trail.

And then?

“After Ashworth is dead?” Giles felt more than heard the demon's assent. “Then I ensure that a new Slayer is called.”

 

Quentin remained seated at his desk, putting his pen down reluctantly as Cecil entered the room. He'd rather considered not giving the lad the time of day but Cecil had been rife with wild conspiracy theories ever since Roderick's death. Perhaps it was time to have a quiet chat with cousin Antonia about her son's behavior. A certain amount of grief could be tolerated but when one started ranting like a common street preacher, well, that was simply taking things too far. “Cecil, what is it that can't wait until the next meeting of the Council?”

At the center of the room, three feet out from Quentin's desk, the Seal of the Council was depicted on a rug. It was ignored for the most part, except for the more ritualistic Council traditions. Cecil walked up to the rug and bowed. Oh Good Lord, he wasn't about to … . And then Cecil Dabney Ashworth stepped onto the center of the rug, crossed his arms over his chest, and said, “Our son has lifted his heel against us. I accuse Rupert Edmund Giles of betraying our brotherhood. He has murdered my uncle and your cousin Roderick Travers Ashworth.”

Quentin considered stabbing his letter opener through the young fool's heart, but no, Antonia would never forgive him. At least the imbecile had invoked the ritual when they were alone. If there had been witnesses Quentin would have had no choice but to act.

A worried frown crossed Cecil's face as Quentin stepped around the desk, violating the ritual. Quentin yanked him off the rug. This had to be nipped in the bud and quickly. Rupert Giles had far too many allies for a member of Quentin's own family to be seen leading an attack against him. “If the family were not in mourning, I would have you debarred from the Council. As it is you are taking a leave of absence, a year and a day, in honor of the deceased. You will spend this time indexing the demonology texts in the Ashworth family library. The resulting document will be dedicated to Roderick.”

“But Giles killed him. Honor demands …”

“Honor?” Quentin slapped him. “Your honor belongs to the Council. Your duty is to the Council. The deaths have been investigated. Some young fool invoked a demon for fun. He paid the price, as did a number of others.”

“Cui bono,” Cecil said.

“What?”

“Who benefits.”

Quentin wished he'd slapped Cecil harder. “I know what it means, you fool.”

“Rupert Giles benefits from uncle's death. He is now next in line for a Slayer.”

“He was already in the queue. All he had to do was be patient. Miss Summers can't last much longer. Roderick's Slayer might have been one of the longer lived ones, but that doesn't matter. Being a Watcher is a burden, not a picnic in the park.”

“The man isn't what you think he is,” Cecil said. “He's ruthless. He's …”

“Enough.” Of course he's ruthless, Quentin thought. You don't get assigned to a Slayer if you aren't ruthless. “A year and a day, Cecil. I expect to be obeyed. In fact, I'm driving you to the manor myself this evening.” He would speak with Antonia that night and in person. The boy was getting out of hand. Even grief didn't excuse such behavior. Attacking Rupert Giles. Quentin felt himself shudder. Did the idiot want to ruin the family's good name?

 

The church had been deconsecrated so long ago that even the Council had forgotten its ancient purpose and the secret passage that provided access into the sacristy. Rupert, finding an interesting reference in an ancient tome, had worked out the history of this place. Giles stood in the passage just outside the sacristy. He could hear the vampires. By their undisciplined chattering, they had to be minions. He'd have to step into the church to learn if their master had accepted his invitation.

The cross had long since been removed from the apse but still the vampires waited below in the nave. They stood grouped together like a pack of animals and not at all like a disciplined fighting team. Once Giles stepped into view, one strode through them, heading straight for Giles, but stopped at the end of the nave. His hair, long enough to hang down to his shoulders, was unkempt and wild as if he were trying to project the image of a feral beast. Taking in what was almost certainly a red velvet shirt under the leather jacket, Giles suppressed a shudder and ran a thumb over his own jacket, grounding himself in the silky feel of the vicuna. The vampire raised one arm out in a grand gesture. “My master awaits. Will you not come?”

Giles grinned. “I do believe I'd prefer it if he came to me.”

The vampires growled in response. Giles knew they couldn’t approach, that they were kept back by an ancient warding. Giles had strengthened the spell himself before sending out the invitation.

Based on ancient descriptions, the vampire before him could have only one name. “Amilyn, call your master or we are done here.”

“And why should he come to your beckoning?”

“Perhaps he's curious?”

“Perhaps he is.” The minions stepped back, fading into the darkness, as another vampire stepped forward. Giles recognized the face from an old sketch, one that was surprisingly accurate. The black greatcoat swelled dramatically as Lothos raised his arms and bowed. “A parley and after so many centuries.” He scanned the apse. “And you came alone, Mr. Giles. How unusual. Don't you, as your predecessors did, fear your petty magic will fail you at a crucial moment?”

“Not particularly.”

“Or perhaps your associates aren't aware of our meeting.”

“If you aren't interested in what I have to say.” Giles let the rest of the sentence hang unspoken.

“I'm here, aren't I? What paltry offering are you planning to serve?”

“The Slayer.”

Lothos grinned. “And what would I want with your toy doll?”

“For centuries you were the only vampire to have killed two Slayers.” Lothos' face darkened. “I don't have to continue, now do I.”

“Why would the Council's dog give me the Slayer?”

“My reasons are my own. Do you want her or should I meet with Spike?”

Lothos studied him as if looking for the trap. “Tell me.”

“She's in California, Los Angeles to be specific.”

Lothos turned with a dramatic flourish of his greatcoat. The minions scrambled after.

“That went about as well as could be expected.” It shouldn't take long for Lothos to kill the girl. She was untrained after all.

The Slayers will be mine.

“There's a further need for patience,” Giles replied to Eyghon. “Only with this Scythe of yours, which I still don't know how to locate, can we tie your essence to the Slayer line. Only then will the Slayers, each and every one called, be yours.”