Chapter 1: Chapter One
It's two days after the last full moon, and Leo is still in bed. Hal's long since given up hoping that his friend will recover after each new transformation, and though he would never say as much to Pearl, he's amazed that the werewolf is still alive. The shop is closed; the regulars have gone elsewhere, and there is nothing to do save nurse Leo and keep the routine going. Pearl spends too much time cooking, making vast pots of soup and dishes of lasagne and more cake than either of them could ever eat. Both of them are clinging on to the vestiges of the only life they've known for the last 55 years.
When the doorbell rings, Hal looks up from his Tolstoy and waits for it to stop. On the fourth ring, Pearl sticks her head around the door and demands that he answer.
“It's only someone wanting a haircut,” Hal argues, his finger on the line he's reached. “I can't help them and neither can you. Leave it and they'll go away.”
The bell rings again. “It's disturbing Leo,” Pearl says. “Answer it, Hal. Get rid of them.”
He finds a bookmark, puts it in the book, and gets up. “Politely. I'm getting rid of them politely.”
“Well, yeah.” Pearl gives him a scowl. “How else would you do it?”
Hal decides it's better not to answer that question, and goes downstairs.
He gets a feeling that something's up when he enters the salon, but he's promised Pearl now, and goes to the door. Whoever's ringing is hidden behind the blind, but he hesitates just one moment before flicking the Yale lock and opening the door.
“We're closed ...” he begins, and then sees who the visitor is.
Half a millennia previously, Hal had been sitting in the hall of a newly-won castle. The walls had only been cleaned of the blood drenching them a day or so before, and he was still relishing the taste of victory. The castle had been the culmination of a long journey home across Europe, in which he had learned the power of what he had become and the joy of slaughter; choosing a fiefdom and taking it on his return to a place where he had previously only known poverty and drudgery had been an equally potent drug. He was looking forward to the future, particularly as the castle's former lord – bones now mouldering at the bottom of the moat – had been both rich and miserly, and had amassed chests of coin.
He was in the process of counting, slowly and carefully, the contents of one of these when one of his new and newly-terrified servants crept into the hall to announce a visitor. Hal had not been expecting visitors, but he straightened his doublet, adjusted the collar of his shirt and nodded for the guests to be brought in. If useful, he reasoned to himself, he could keep them alive; if vexatious, well, he hadn't eaten much that day.
The visitor, in a dark and outdated tunic and hose, was tall and pale. Alone, he stood just inside the doorway and examined Hal from a distance.
“You're the one they call Henry of York?”
“Aye.” Hal rose from his seat. “Welcome.”
The man came further into the hall. “You may call me Snow.”
“May I?” Hal offered a short, slightly mocking bow. “Will you take a cup of wine, Master Snow?”
“Wine isn't my drink; nor is it yours,” Snow said. “But I'll take that boy who answered the door.” He smiled, an unpleasant smile of stained teeth. “I'll accept him as your tribute.”
Hal sat down. “Tribute?”
“Did that surgeon who made you teach you nothing?” Snow asked, pulling a chair out opposite and sinking into it. “I am your elder, Henry of York. I am everybody's elder. You owe me a tribute. It is what is done.”
“And if I don't give you the boy?” queried Hal, fiddling with a coin.
“Then it would be my sad duty to put a stake through your heart,” Snow said, “although from what I've heard I would much rather not. You, it seems, have potential.”
There had been little to argue with that, and Hal had handed over the servant willingly enough. Snow had stayed long enough to impress on him what should be done. That had been the first meeting; over the long years there had been others, as Old Ones had died and Hal himself had risen up the ranks. Hal had never quite got used to the unnerving sense of compulsion around Snow.
And now, Snow is standing before him at the door of a barber's shop in Southend. “Won't you invite me in?” he asks, as cool and calm as ever, and Hal does, because it's Snow and how can he refuse? It feels a little dreamlike, as the door closes and Snow stands before him in the shaded light of the mirrored room.
He resists the urge to sink to one knee and kiss Snow's hand. Instead, he puts his hand in a pocket and finds a domino there.
“How did you find me?”
Snow laughs, softly. “I've always known where you are, Hal. Did you think you were hidden from me?”
“I'd hoped,” Hal says, honestly.
“Come, come,” chides Snow, “you were my lieutenant, once upon a time, Henry Yorke. How could I let such a trusted adviser go that easily?”
Hal turns the domino in his fingers, once, twice, three times. “What are you doing here?” he asks.
Turning, Snow finds a chair, sits down, spins it so he is staring at an empty reflection. “It's our time,” he says. “Half a century ago, when you and I met, the humans were willing to be cowed by us, but you remember the calls of witchcraft and the need to go into hiding. Now is the time to come out of hiding. I've come to take the world back, and I want you at my side, Hal, as you used to be. The others are all here, but you – how can there be our revolution without you?”
The domino turns faster in Hal's fingers. He feels light-headed and a little sick; he thinks desperately of Leo and of Pearl in the flat above. “I don't want a part of it,” he says, knowing he sounds only half-convincing. Knowing he's only half-convincing himself.
“Rubbish.” There is no doubt in Snow's voice. “Your life here is ended, Hal. Your werewolf friend will die at the next full moon, or before. You'll lose your very reason for being here.” He swivels the chair around again so he is looking directly at Hal with those pale eyes.
“Hal, I've allowed you your foibles because you have always been, the rest of the time, one of our best. I need someone who can lead a battle if need be, who can plan a campaign and execute it.”
“Ask Ivan,” says Hal, grasping at straws.
“Ivan's dead,” Snow says, unexpectedly. “Killed in Bristol, in a bomb, last year.”
“Wyndham,” Hal suggests.
“I tried that. He got himself staked by a werewolf,” Snow says. “Who else can I ask? Not Hetty, surely?”
Hal does not answer that. The domino is slippery in clammy fingers. Sighing, Snow gets to his feet and goes to the door; Hal hopes that perhaps he has given up and is leaving, but instead he opens it, beckons and steps back.
A boy comes in, just a skinny teenager with messed-up hair and scruffy clothes. “A gift, for you,” says Snow, closing the door.
The boy's thin enough that Hal can see the pulse in his neck beating. His t-shirt shows blue veins prominent under pale skin. It's the closest he's been to a human for over half a century. He clutches the domino hard enough that he can feel the edges digging into the palm of his hand.
“It's not right,” he manages, swallowing hard, “for you to be giving me gifts.”
“Come now,” Snow chides. “The traditions allow for a visitor to pay tribute to an Old One whose home he is visiting. This is your home, and while you may have been, shall we say, out of circulation for a while, you are still one of us. Drink, Hal, and then go upstairs, pack your bags and say goodbye to your friends.” He pushes the boy towards Hal. “We are on a schedule, you know.”
The boy stands mute, waiting, picking at a scab on his left arm. His eyes are blank; Hal wonders if he's half-faint from blood loss or drugged. Neither would surprise him. He can hear the scratch, scratch of the boy's fingernail on skin – and then, suddenly, the air is filled with the taint of iron as the scab comes loose and a drop of blood is exposed. Despite himself, Hal's appetite is roused, and he fights in vain the change.
There are no drugs, it turns out, in the boy's system, but he makes no struggle as he dies. Hal sinks to the floor with the body in his arms and takes deep, gasping breaths, the fresh blood coursing through his own dried up veins.
“There,” says Snow, almost paternally, “I imagine that's better. Up you get.”
He helps Hal to his feet, and hands him a clean handkerchief before pushing him towards the door to the flat.
Hal climbs the stairs automatically, in a daze. Pearl is waiting at the top, arms folded with her most irritated look on her face. It turns to horror as she takes in his appearance.
“What happened, Hal? Your face! You're covered in blood.”
“It's not mine.” With an effort, he retracts his fangs and meets her eyes. “It's not mine.”
Pearl's expression moves to relief, before she evidently puts two and two together and comes up with four. “Hal, what happened down there?”
He cannot answer, and she vanishes. Hal staggers on, to his bedroom, where he finds his only suitcase – battered, something he'd picked up before the war – and starts to fill it. In truth there's not much to fill it with. He folds, meticulously, two shirts and two of his preferred long-sleeved t-shirts, adds a pair of trousers, a suit and some underwear, but the case is still half-empty. From the bookshelves he picks out some Dickens and Goethe and Dostoevsky. All that's really left that's his is the dominoes set, but after a moment's contemplation he puts the domino in his pocket in the box, closes it and leaves it on the little table by the window.
Leo is sitting up in bed listening to the radio, but he turns it off with a wide smile when he sees Hal, only for the smile to drop when he sees the suitcase.
“Hal? What's going on?” he asks.
“I've come to say goodbye,” Hal says.
“Are you well?” Leo says, concern on his old face. “You look … ill.”
“Vampires don't get ill,” Hal returns, automatically, but he can feel the sweat beading on his brow. Focusing on Leo, he repeats, “I've come to say goodbye. I'm leaving.”
“But you can't leave!” exclaims Leo. “What will you do? What about your routines? Hal, what's happened to you?”
Hal shifts his weight and is about to speak when Pearl appears in the room, on the other side of Leo's bed, visibly shaken.
“What is going on with you two today?” asks Leo.
Pearl points at the floor. “There's a vampire down there. And a dead body. He knew who I was, knew all about us.”
“The body?” Leo says.
“No, the vampire. The boy's already gone through his door. He says he's waiting for you,” she says, to Hal.
Two sets of eyes examine him, and he puts the suitcase down. His hand is shaking, so he clenches it. “I've got to go with him,” he tells them. “I don't have a choice.”
“Did you kill that boy?” Pearl asks, a tremor in her voice she's trying to conceal. Hal nods. “Oh God,” she says, sinking down on to Leo's bed. Leo takes her hand in his. “You killed someone! In our house!” she exclaims.
Hal nods again. “I would be lying if I said I hadn't wanted to.”
“But you killed him!”
Suddenly he finds that he's tired of being gentle with them. Snow is waiting, and the clock is ticking. “I've killed hundreds of boys like him,” he says. “I'm a vampire, Pearl, it's what we do. We drink and we kill.”
“You don't,” Pearl insists.
“I've spent 55 years not killing,” Hal agrees, “but it was never going to last, Pearl. Better that I leave now, rather than wait for the end. There's going to be a revolution; we will win and humanity will yield. At least I know neither of you will be here to see it.”
Pearl stands up, folding her arms. “Excuse me?”
“Leo's dying,” says Hal, “and you'll fade, or pass on, I expect, once he has. It won't be long now. And they want me back - he wants me back – so I am taking the chance.”
She turns away from him, to the window, but her shoulders are heaving. Leo gazes at Hal. “I guess I thought he'd vanished for ever, that man I first met,” he says. “I hoped.”
“That you'd broken the cycle?” Hal asks. “I told you – I told you he'd return.”
“But I thank you anyway,” Leo returns. “You gave me my life, and your friendship, and I will not forget that. There is a good man in you, Hal.” He extends his hand.
After a moment, Hal takes it. “Goodbye,” he says.
Leo nods, and lets go.
Pearl does not turn around as Hal picks up his case, but she's standing at the window still when he looks up on leaving the building, a pale figure in a blue dress, and does not move.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
There's a car waiting for them, a sleek limousine with a driver who jumps out and opens the door for them and takes Hal's case from him.
Hal has only been out occasionally in recent years, driving Leo somewhere but never getting out of the car. The world seems strangely busy and colourful and noisy after the quiet peace of the barber's shop – and none of the people hurrying about their business on the streets of Southend seem aware of the impending storm about to be unleashed.
They drive for an hour, out of the town and into the countryside. Snow says little, leaving Hal to his own thoughts. The blood is still coursing in his veins, but he's calmer now; the trembling in his hands has eased somewhat. He's even getting used to the feeling of being near another vampire again.
The car pulls up outside an old house, signs proclaiming it to be a country house hotel. It reminds Hal of days gone by. A porter hurries to take his bag and they are bowed through and up to a room furnished in brocade and velvet.
“We are convening in room 412 in twenty minutes,” Snow says, as Hal takes in the room. “The others will be expecting the Hal Yorke of old. Remember who you are.”
Hal is still not sure who he is, but he changes anyway into the suit he has brought and fiddles uselessly with his hair before the blank mirror. Mostly, he is hungry; investigating the room to see what there might be to eat he discovers a carafe of fresh blood in the tiny fridge. It's gone before he's considered it, and there's a wry smile on his face as he wipes his lips with Snow's handkerchief. Everything, it seems, is under control.
The blood makes him feel much more sure of himself as he straightens his lapel outside room 412 and knocks. He wonders who Snow's found for this revolution – who else has joined Ivan and Wyndham in proper death in the years he's been gone.
The door opens. It's a large suite, this one, but it's busy with vampires. The Old Ones are, mostly, seated on various sofas and chairs, although Hetty is curled up at Snow's feet on the floor. The younger crowd are standing, but as he comes in most of them kneel. Save for one, who stands as if frozen before taking three quick steps across the room and throwing his arms around Hal.
Hal allows the embrace for a moment. “Nice to see I've been missed,” he says, moving out of it. “You can all get up,” he adds, to the room at large.
“Brothers and sisters,” Snow says, from his seat, “rejoice, for one that was lost has returned to us.”
“Fifty-five years, Hal,” says Nick Cutler, looking as though, having hugged Hal, he would now hit him. “Fifty-five years.”
Snow arches one eyebrow at Hal – the message is clear. Not now.
“I needed a change of scene,” Hal tells Cutler. “Some time off, as it were. That's all. Now I'm back.”
“And it's good to have you back, my lord.” Fergus has had his hair cut at some point in the last half-century. “Now we can really get started.”
A chair is produced for Hal, at Snow's right hand, and he sits with Cutler hovering behind him. Someone puts a table with a glass on it next to him, and the planning begins.
He listens, mostly, as Snow outlines the days ahead. It seems the plan is first to destabilise the country politically, by eliminating the Prime Minister, before taking control of the media. There are to be strategic executions and any outright rebellion, human or supernatural, is to be immediately stamped out. Each in the room has his or her role to play already; Hal is to join Snow on the trip to 10 Downing Street before leading a group including Fergus to Broadcasting House. Once this stage of the revolution is complete, they will move on to take control of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, and work outwards from there.
“I still think we need to use the werewolves,” Cutler puts in, as they reach this stage of the discussion. “I mean, as damage limitation.”
“To which we have already said no,” says Jacob, across the table, making notes on a map. “Your job is legal advice, Mr Cutler, as Lord Harry there recruited you for. If you're not offering legal advice, kindly shut the hell up.”
Hal looks over his shoulder and sees the anger and pain on Cutler's face. He stands up. “We won't be long,” he says, and steers the lawyer into the bedroom half of the suite, closing the door behind them.
“I thought you were dead,” Cutler says, as the door closes. “I thought you were proper dead, that that werewolf had got you.”
“I wasn't. But I believe if you continue along the route you appear to be on, you will be soon. I thought I had taught you about the simple things, like respect for your elders. Do not tread on Mr Snow's toes, Nick.”
He fidgets. “What about your toes? If you weren't proper dead, where were you?”
“Taking a break,” Hal says, “but the break is over and I would recommend not treading on my toes either.” He fixes Cutler with what he hopes is the same look that used to intimidate anyone he used it on. “I'm glad you're here. What have you been doing with yourself?”
“Duty solicitor in Barry,” Cutler replies, with a look of distaste. “Pulling lowlifes out of gaol and setting up a holding company for you lot. Not getting killed by werewolves, unlike half the rest of 'em.”
Hal nods. “Mr Snow told me about Wyndham.”
“And Griffin,” Cutler says. “Same wolf. Father to the War Child, if you believe Regus and his stories.”
“The War Child? Really? In Barry?”
It is an ancient myth, one of the first; a child born to two werewolves who will save humanity from vampires. Hal knows of it, but has never seen the parchment the myth is said to be written on. He had never been one to believe in myths, and is inclined not to trust this one.
“She's not a werewolf herself,” adds Cutler, “just a kid, it turns out, but Mr Snow brought the last bit of the myth with him. Apparently the secret to our survival is her survival. If we kill her, we all die too.”
“Remarkable,” Hal agrees. “We had better not kill her, then. Now, back to business. Behave yourself, or I shall have to do something about it.”
Cutler nods. “I will. I want to know something, though – why didn't you tell me you were off?”
“I didn't think I had to report to you,” Hal says, and Cutler bows his head in submission. The old order is restored.
In the main suite, the younger vampires have been dismissed and only the Old Ones remain. Cutler scuttles off somewhere to sort out the ownership issues of taking over the BBC. For a few moments, they savour the silence.
It is broken by Jeanne, who was recruited in the fires of the French Revolution and retains her air of haughty aristocracy. Hal remembers she had never quite trusted him, and it appears nothing has changed.
“So, you think you can manage your little lawyer?” Jeanne asks him.
“Quite sure, thank you,” Hal returns.
Jeanne shoots a look of dislike at Hal. “Why have you brought him back?” she demands of Snow, leaning forwards in her chair. “Who knows what he has been doing?”
“I know,” Snow returns, calm as ever, “and I know Hal. There may have been times when he has vanished from view, but in all the years I've known him he has never once betrayed us. We need him, madame.”
Hal raises his glass to Snow, and then to Jeanne, with a slight bow of his head, knowing that the deliberate curtness of the bow will infuriate her, but not caring. He realises that what Snow has said is true; even in the years when he's tried not to kill or tried not to drink, he's done it alone. He's never worked against the vampires. He's unsure what it would take to make him go to such lengths.
They dine in the suite. There's a main course of venison, potatoes and greens, and dessert of the staff who came to pick up the plates. Although he drinks only briefly, leaving the killing to the others, the slightly drunk feeling Hal has had all day intensifies, so he excuses himself after the meal and returns to his own room, pulling out a book and reading until he falls asleep.
He dreams that night of years long gone, those first years of rampaging across Europe when he bathed in blood and earned his reputation and thought he was eternally invincible. They were the years before he got older and more tired and then bored, before the first cycle of trying not to kill had arrived. But Leo and Pearl had not been there in truth, and now they appear in the dream; Pearl in plain servants' garb, and he drains her again and again, while Leo, chained to a wall, howls at the moon.
Hal wakes barely refreshed, the sheets clammy against his skin. Automatically he rolls out of bed and into his morning exercise routine, before remembering it does not matter any longer – he's back on the blood, so are press-ups really essential? Nevertheless, he completes the cycle and follows it with a hot shower, then calls room service for continental breakfast.
The meal is brought up by one of the newest vampires from the suite the night before, a young woman who can barely raise her eyes to his and hurries away as soon as she's put the tray down. Hal examines it; in addition to the fruit salad and yoghurt, the croissant and the coffee, there's another carafe of blood which tastes entirely fresh. It seems Snow's people have taken over the kitchens. He eats and drinks by the window, looking out over pristine gardens, wondering what the day has in store.
Planning, it turns out, is the main activity. Hal and Jacob spend most of the morning writing the radio broadcast, arguing over the finer details. While Jacob wants to pull no punches, Hal – with half a mind on the knowledge that Leo will surely be listening to him speak – prefers a subtler approach. They eventually manage to meet halfway. Next, Hal has a briefing from a broadcast journalist who happens to be a vampire about what to expect from the equipment. Most of the technical aspects are alien to him, but he makes notes and makes sure the journalist will be with them.
In the afternoon, Cutler drags him and another of the Old Ones through some of the knottier legal aspects of the revolution. Cutler appears to have taken the warning of the previous night to heart, and is throwing himself into the law in quite the old fashion. They discuss, the three of them, the prospects of recruiting a High Court judge to the ranks, and decide to save it for a last resort.
There is spare time before dinner in the evening and it is a beautiful day, so Hal takes his book and heads into the gardens for some peace and quiet. Sitting on a bench he finds he cannot concentrate on his book, and sits gazing at the calm waters of the ornamental pond instead.
His reverie is broken by footsteps and the unmistakeable scent of a werewolf. Hal knows that smell; it brings back the Southend flat in a sudden flood of memory. But this is not Leo – this werewolf is younger, taller and there's a hard look about his face.
“Just Hal will do,” Hal says. “Yes.”
“I'm Milo,” the werewolf says. “Just got here. Mr Snow said I was to come and introduce myself. Heard a lot about you.”
“I am sure you have,” agrees Hal.
Milo sits down next to him. “Mr Snow said you used to manage the fights, in London.”
“The dog fights?” Hal says, expecting the grimace at the word which crosses Milo's face. “I did. I do not recall any werewolf offering to join us before, though.”
“I'm choosing a winning side,” Milo says. “You lot need someone around who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty; I'm your guy. I'll try and bring other wolves on board too, if you want. Apparently you've been living with one.”
“Mr Snow told you that too, did he?” Hal wonders what sort of stories have been spreading in the past years.
Milo shakes his head. “No. I can smell it on you. What's that all about? He likely to join us?”
“He's dying,” Hal says, shortly, “so no, he will not be joining us. He offered me a place to live at a time when I needed it, that's all.” He raises his book again. “Do you need something from me, Milo?”
The werewolf stands up. “No, sir, just wanted to say hello. But if you need anything, I'm here.”
The next two days follow a similar pattern. Hal practises his broadcast, they plan routes and timings until Snow is confident little can go wrong. They have a vampire inside Downing Street, one of the Prime Minister's staff, and he calls to confirm that Snow's name has been added to the list of accredited journalists able to attend the regular press conferences.
The day before, half of the Old Ones head off to cover the rest of the major cities of the country. Jeanne goes to Edinburgh, much to her dislike; Mohammed is sent to Birmingham; the old Jamaican, Aaron, to Leeds; and, exploiting his birth three centuries before in the hills of Wales, blond Dylan goes to Cardiff. They will, it is hoped, act as focal points for the local vampire communities when everything begins.
Everything is planned to such an extent that there is nothing to do the afternoon before they are due to leave for London. It is drizzling; welcome rain in a dry spring, but too wet to be outside. Hal paces in his room for a while before falling back on the habit of 55 years and going through his exercise routine. He is halfway through the sit-ups when the knock on the door comes. It opens before he has a chance to invite the visitor in, and Cutler puts his head around. “Am I interrupting?”
Hal does another five sit-ups, but Cutler is clearly not going away, so he rolls to his feet and opens the door fully.
“I could go away?” suggests Cutler, hovering.
Hal sighs, and steps back. “Come in.”
Cutler does so, and Hal closes the door before picking up the towel he has been using as a makeshift mat and slinging it around his neck. He opens the minibar, and after a moment's hesitation takes the flask of blood out instead of the water he had originally intended.
“Drink?” he offers.
Eager as ever, Cutler accepts, but as they drink he's watching Hal over the rim of his glass. “How long were you off the blood?” he asks, abruptly, putting his down.
Hal swallows, deliberately, and licks a smear of red from his lips, equally deliberately, before answering. “Since I left London, until I came here. Fifty-five years.”
“Why?” Cutler says. “Why torture yourself like that?”
“You may understand in time,” Hal says. He knows why Cutler is asking, and he could give an considered answer – because there are years when the memories overwhelm, because he gets bored of a life of slaughter and gore, because he was beguiled by a werewolf who refused to be afraid – but he does not want to show Cutler that vulnerability. He left that Hal back in Southend; he's irrevocably tied, now, to Snow's revolution. Henry Yorke, Lord Harry of York, who wielded sword and shield as well as fang, does not owe answers to anyone, least of all Nick Cutler.
They travel over to London early in the morning, the atmosphere in the car tense and silent. Much effort has been put into today, and nothing can go wrong. The script for the broadcast later is in the inside pocket of Hal's suit, crackling every time he shifts, although he's practised it enough times now to be nearly word-perfect.
At the gates to Downing Street they give their names to the policeman on duty and are allowed through; a sign that their inside man has done his job properly. They're directed to a side entrance, past the famous black door Hal has seen on the news so many times, and find their contact waiting.
“You're just on time,” he says, juggling a clipboard to shake hands with Fergus. “Mr Snow, sir, it's an honour.” He hands them all passes with impressively accurate fake photographs, and ushers them inside. “The press conference is due to begin in fifteen minutes. There's a statement on the situation in Syria, and something on the Olympics, and then I think it's question time. You'll have to let Nick Robinson from the BBC ask his question, but you should be good to interrupt after that.”
“Why must we let the BBC ask a question?” Snow queries, clipping his pass to his lapel.
“Well, it's the done thing,” says their inside man, “but also I believe it'll buy you the time you need to get up to the PM.” He glances at his clipboard. “Right. Here we are. Good luck, sir.”
Snow smiles thinly, and, pulling a notebook and pen from his pocket, goes to take a seat. Fergus and Hal hover near the door with their contact, who keeps checking his watch as journalists file in past them. TV cameras are setting up, lenses pointing at the podium at the front of the room. For them, Hal thinks, it's just another working day.
The Prime Minister – somewhat shorter in real life than he seems on the television – comes in and, after greeting the assembled journalists, begins to speak about the civil strife in Syria. The journalists listen, attentive, making notes, while the cameras record. A statement about the latest preparations for the Olympics follows, and the floor is opened for questions.
The neat, bespectacled man from the BBC asks the first question, as promised, about plans to reform the House of Lords, and the Prime Minister answers in a considered fashion. Fergus fidgets next to Hal as the answer finishes and Snow's hand is raised.
Snow stands up. He's found himself a place at the end of the third row and it's natural to step into the aisle. The Prime Minister is waiting for the question, but the question never comes because Snow has moved and has his hand clamped firmly around the politician's neck, eyes black and fangs bared.
Hal's had his eye on the security detail all along and even as they react to the turn of events he is moving too, blocking their path to the Prime Minister. “Take another step and he dies,” he warns, knowing the threat's useless because the Prime Minister is about to die anyway, but hoping the guards take him at his word. They do, freezing at the sight of Hal's teeth.
The journalists seem to have frozen too, but the cameras are still rolling. Snow grins at the audience, as the Prime Minister bats ineffectually at the hand around his neck.
“My name is Snow,” he tells the journalists, “and you are witness to the dawn of a new age. We are today staging a coup. It will not be a bloodless coup, I am afraid; my kind are fond of spilling your blood. You will leave this place and report what you have seen.”
One of the journalists raises a tentative hand. “Excuse me? What are we seeing?”
Snow bares his discoloured teeth. “Work it out.”
Hal is ready for the security guards, who move again as Snow sinks his fangs into the Prime Minister's neck. They rush at him in desperation, and it's easy enough to knock them both out. All the press-ups and sit-ups pay off, and his reflexes, unused for so long, kick in. By the time the guards are on the floor unconscious the Prime Minister is on the floor, dead.
Their inside man has the door behind the podium open and is ushering them out, down corridors and back to the side entrance, where the cars are waiting. “The police will be moving – go!” he urges, and they go.
Cutler leans round from the front seat of Hal's car. “Well?”
“No hitches,” says Hal, and finds himself smiling, the adrenaline coursing through his body.
Police cars race past them as they turn left down Whitehall, but they seem to have managed to take advantage of the element of surprise and are not stopped. Hal watches London go by; the city has changed and yet not since the 1950s. Old, recognisable buildings are emblazoned with bright neon signs and the streets are packed with traffic and tourists.
They go around Trafalgar Square and up Regent Street and pull up outside Broadcasting House. Hal straightens his suit, checks that the speech is ready, and looks at his companions. “Ready?”
“Ready,” says Cutler, echoed by Fergus and the broadcast journalist, Paul.
Masquerading as a programme producer, Cutler has managed to arrange a meeting inside the BBC, enabling them to get past security. They had been worried that perhaps the events at Downing Street would have caused them problems, but any activity on that front seems to be confined to the newsrooms for the time being, and their meeting is still on.
The building is packed with technology, and Hal feels the years weighing heavily on him – none of it makes any sense to him whatsoever. The others, even Fergus, are more comfortable and are able to talk easily to the BBC producer who meets them. En route to the meeting room the producer has booked, they talk about the proposed documentary they are pitching, until they pass a studio with the “On Air” light illuminated outside. Paul nods, and it is easy, quick work to deal with their guide and then with the staff inside the studio.
Hal hangs back, letting the younger vampires do the dirty work while he takes out the speech and glances at it again. In a few minutes Paul has him installed behind a desk flashing with a number of confusing lights, earphones on his head and a microphone in front of him.
“Just talk normally, m'lord,” he says, “we'll deal with the rest. All right. We're live in three, two, one ...”
Taking one last glance at the script, Hal begins to speak.
“By now,” he says, “many of you will have seen the footage from inside number 10 Downing Street. It will have been confusing; as though your Prime Minister was a puppet, controlled by invisible forces. But we are not invisible, and shortly we will be in control.”
From behind the glass window, Paul gives him a thumbs-up.
“My name is Henry Yorke,” Hal tells the microphone, “and I was born in the year 1489. In 1514 I became what I am now, a vampire. We are not your creatures of myth and legend. We have walked among you for millennia, unseen and immortal, but now we are stepping from the shadow into daylight. The human race will surrender.
“To my brothers and sisters, I call on you to join us. The Old Ones have travelled here from our long exile and we can be found in the major cities of this country. Here in London, you can find us at the old dogfight hall. We welcome, too, other supernaturals who may wish to join the revolution, but we will not be kind to those who stand against us.”
Hal and Jacob had had a long argument about the location for the call to arms. Jacob's point had been that it needed to be somewhere discreet, where they could amass their forces without fear of attack. Hal had countered by pointing out that the London fights had not run for several decades – Fergus had told him that they had petered out a few years after his own disappearance to Southend – and the venue could have been forgotten. A call to someone in the capital had proved him wrong on the latter point, and the hall was being readied for the arrival of the vampire army.
The broadcast is nearly done. Hal leans into the microphone. “Know this: we are expecting resistance. Know this too: we will crush it. I bid you welcome to a new age.”
The light above the glass window goes out, and a moment later Paul bounds into the room, grinning widely. “Amazing. Brilliant. You're a natural, m'lord, completely. I bet Mr Snow will have you doing all the broadcasts.”
Hal takes off the headphones. “First, we need to get out of the building,” he points out. “There will be someone who will try to stop us.”
They make it to the lift and down to the foyer without seeing anyone. Hal is conscious of the other three fanning out around him as they leave the lift.
A small crowd has already gathered in the foyer, people on their mobile phones, many gazing at the footage from Downing Street which is playing on the televisions on the wall. The receptionist, in the middle of a phone call, looks up at the sound of the lift and points at them.
The humans turn as one. Hal can hear their hearts beating with the accelerated beat of fear, but feels the old familiar calm in his own mind. None of them are armed with anything useful – nobody has had the intelligence to find a stake. Even as he thinks this, Cutler laughs behind him. “They don't make furniture out of wood these days, you know. No chairs to break.”
One of the women lets out a strangled scream, and Hal looks to his right to see that Fergus has both bared fangs and produced a gun from his waistband. “What?” Fergus asks, at Hal's raised eyebrows. “I'm a copper. Signed it out before we left Barry. Perfectly legal.”
“I suggest you let us pass,” Hal says to the crowd. “We don't need a slaughter.”
A man, tall and skinny, fumbles at his collar and brandishes a silver crucifix at him. “How much of the myth is true?” he demands.
“We drink blood,” Hal confirms, approaching him and taking the crucifix in one hand. The chain breaks easily. “Apart from that ...” He sees no point in revealing that the power of faith has more effect on the others than him, and drops the mangled cross on the floor. “Fergus, put that thing away.”
Cutler hands a card to the man, who is gazing in horror at his broken trinket. “Happy to arrange future interviews.”
The crowd parts to let them through, and they make it to the car with no further obstacles.
Fergus is laughing. “Did you see his face? Priceless. Well-played, m'lord.”
“Interviews, Nick?” asks Hal.
“Well, can you see Mr Snow sitting down for a nice chat with one of them?” Cutler reasons. “You're our best shot at being the public face – or, well, voice. Chuck in a few anecdotes about ye olden days, convince 'em you're not bluffing. A good media campaign in this country is worth its weight in gold.”
Paul nods, earnest. “He's right. Trust me on this. I'm a journalist, after all.”
A portable siren which Fergus had also purloined from the South Wales police force helps them get through the London traffic, which has become deadlocked after the morning's events. But the old warehouse, in a run-down industrial area of the East End, is free from police. It looks semi-derelict from the outside, but then, Hal remembers, it always did. The last time he saw this place, it was with a battered and bruised Leo in tow, and they were running away to Southend.
He gets out of the car determined to banish that memory. That Hal had been bored and vulnerable to the tempting thought of a peaceful life – Leo's “big fat life”, of a small flat by the sea and endless gnawing hunger. Peaceful, it had been, but, he admits to himself, it had never been easy.
Two of the younger vampires from the planning sessions are at the door, and they open it with congratulations. “Busy inside,” one of them adds.
Entering the hall, Hal finds they are not exaggerating. The place is packed with vampires – in suits, in casual clothes, in uniforms of all varieties. Behind a large table sits Snow, who stands as Hal and his team come in.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he says, in a voice that carries over the hubbub, “the voice of our revolution. Lord Henry Yorke.”
The applause and cheers are deafening, but as Hal makes his way to Snow he barely hears them. Snow embraces him, congratulating him in a soft voice, and it's as though the past half-century has not happened. This is where he's supposed to be.
Some AU-ness from real life in this one - according to the series 4 episode 8 prologue, the Prime Minister was killed live on air on 12 April 2012. Our PM, David Cameron, was actually visiting Burma on that date, but I expect the writers weren't to know his calendar in advance ...
However, some real life 'canonical' stuff too. BBC journalists do routinely get to ask the first questions in press conferences. It just happens, and everyone kind of lets it happen.
They expect the next stage of the revolution to be messier than it is, but faced with what has become a veritable army of vampires – several hundred gathered in London alone, while the Old Ones in the regions reported similar numbers grouping together – Britain's authorities prove weak. It's easy to fill the power vacuum left by the death of the Prime Minister, and recruiting judiciously among the armed forces and the police ensure that they retain control. Parliament is dissolved and martial law, with Snow calling the shots, is imposed.
Many of the humans try to flee. Snow puts Hal in charge of making sure they either cannot leave, or stopping them from doing so. The first time he orders an attack, on a massed group seeking to escape on boats from Cardiff docks, is hard; for a moment Leo's voice echoes in his head, asking what he's doing. But the order is made, and the resulting chaos proves so effective at limiting future refugee attempts that somehow it seems easier the next time he sends one of the attack squads out.
They are running the country from Downing Street. It seemed fitting, and the Prime Minister's old quarters has all the necessary equipment for coordinating things.
The main challenge, as Cutler had predicted – and is happily reminding everyone that he had done so – is the media. Managing the BBC was simple, but persuading the major newspapers that they too should toe the line has been trickier. They are stopping just short of inciting outright rebellion, but are questioning every move and continue to push a line of scepticism.
It was partly to end this that Hal, after several days of persuasion by Cutler, agreed to be interviewed by a journalist together with a historian. The interview had been a long affair, with Hal finding himself correcting several of the historian's more erroneous assumptions, and he ended it exhausted, irritable and ravenous. He had grown even more irritable when he had been unable to find any humans wandering the street. A call to Cutler had produced a beautiful blonde, who had sated his appetites even if she had not removed all his irritation.
He is having a breakfast of scrambled eggs in the flat above number 11 Downing Street, into which he has been installed, when Cutler comes in with the papers.
“Daily Mail's come into line,” Cutler says, laying papers on the table. “Leader column on how we can end the financial crisis.”
“Can we?” asks Hal, amused.
“Only because we're taking over anything that's valuable,” says Cutler. “No Financial Times. Rumour has it someone ate the editor. And here's your interview.” He puts a paper down, open at a page with a sketch of a young man with dark hair. “Good picture, really.”
Hal stares at it. “Is that supposed to be me?”
“It's pretty much like you.”
“Get me a hairdresser,” Hal says.
Cutler rubs his eye. “Erm, that girl I sent you the other day ...”
“A hairdresser that isn't dead,” Hal returns. He picks up the paper.
The interview runs over four pages. Hal reads it dispassionately, appreciating the skill with which the journalist has woven together the long interview and the long years of his life. It does not, he notes, portray him as likeable – but then he had not been aiming for likeable during the interview. He had been aiming for assured and calm, a man in control of the situation, while leaving no doubt that the vampires were prepared to carry out any threat made. At the end of the four pages he folds the paper and picks it up. It is 10am, time for the daily meeting at number 10 with Snow.
Their leader has, predictably, already read the interview by the time Hal arrives. “It's good, Hal,” he says, as Hal comes in. “Perhaps a little more … menacing … would have been helpful? I do hope you are not turning soft on me again?”
Hal bends to kiss his hand. “Not in the least,” he assures Snow. “I wanted to present to them something they would understand.”
“Well,” says Snow, “we shall see.” Behind Hal, the rest of the council file in and take their seats around the long table. “Now, down to business.”
The meeting lasts two hours, with the matters on the agenda ranging from what should happen to the Royal Family – most of whom are currently under 24-hour guard in Buckingham Palace – to the messages they have received from vampire groups in other countries, and how to begin the work of extending the revolution to those places.
Afterwards, there is another meeting in the City with the corporate law firm Cutler has brought on board to handle some of the larger matters. It amuses Hal that, a century before, the same law firm did some property work for him, although the glass offices they draw up alongside are a significant change from the ornate sandstone building the firm used to work out of.
“Slaughter and May?” Jacob asks, looking up at the discreet sign next to the door.
“I thought the name was appropriate, once,” Hal says.
“Haven't chosen them for the name,” Cutler puts in, straightening his tie. “They're the best there is, and they're proper old-school professionals.”
Indeed the lawyers are the model of politeness and efficiency. Hal and Jacob countersign a number of documents relating to the control of various assets, and talk through the technicalities of several more transactions to come.
Outside, it is a calm, grey day. There is nothing more on Hal's schedule of things to do for a couple of hours, so he sends Cutler and Jacob back to Downing Street in the car and elects to walk back instead. Cutler protests, with warnings about Hal's safety which he dismisses.
“Nick, it may surprise you to learn that I've been in far worse places than a deserted City of London,” he points out. “And yes, I have my telephone.” He takes it out of a pocket to prove it to Cutler. “If I need you, I will call. Go. That's an order,” he adds, as Cutler opens his mouth again.
The car drives off, and Hal is alone amid the forest of concrete and glass that is the City in the twenty-first century. There is little life to be seen, save for a few lights in the windows of offices. The Square Mile's usual inhabitants are mostly fled, or dead, and those who are around are more likely to be some of the newly-recruited vampires, picked for their usefulness.
He turns right along the deserted street, passing the concrete mass that is the Barbican, and turning left again, down towards St Paul's. The great cathedral looms against the grey sky; Hal looks up at it with interest. He's passed the building several times, and once saw its predecessor, a church since destroyed by the Great Fire, but has never been in. Checking his watch against the clock on the West Front he decides he has time.
The visitor's door is open and someone is playing the organ – Bach, Hal decides, after a moment. The nave is empty so he takes a seat in a pew and simply listens to the music while looking about him at the ornate decoration.
There had been a time when being in a place like this would have made Hal run a mile. He had once been trapped in a monastery for months, and the very fabric of the building, quite apart from the crucifixes which had kept him confined, had made his spine crawl and his mind scream. Nobody had ever managed to explain to him satisfactorily what it was about faith and the symbols of faith which were so abhorrent to vampires, but there had come a time, at the turn of the nineteenth century, when Hal realised he no longer needed to tear crosses from the necks of Christians or pull the karas from the wrists of Sikhs. In the last years, in Southend, he found deep pleasure in religious music – in the dark passion of a Dies Irae or the raw power of a mass. He knows he will never be a believer in whatever it is that drives people to faith, and indeed was never been a churchgoer before his recruitment, but, sitting listening to the organ, he appreciates the beauty created by it.
Footsteps break him out of his reverie, and he looks up to see a priest in black robes approaching.
“Welcome,” the priest says. “We haven't had many visitors recently. What brings you to St Paul's?”
“I was passing, and I heard the organ,” Hal says, simply.
“It is good to have music, even in these dark times,” agrees the priest. “Was it busy, outside?”
Hal shakes his head. “Almost dead.”
“And where were you headed?” The priest looks almost embarrassed to ask. “Forgive the curiosity, but as I said, we have had so few visitors to St Paul's – even our regular congregation are too scared to leave their homes. It's only those who have taken sanctuary here we've seen, really, since ...” He waves his hand.
“Just on my way home, from a meeting,” says Hal, intrigued by the talk of sanctuary. “Have many people taken refuge here, reverend?”
The priest sits down in the pew in front of Hal, leaning over it to talk. “Perhaps twenty. I don't think many people have thought of it, really, but I am sure faith remains a powerful weapon against these monsters. Don't you?”
“Only insofar as it gives you strength,” Hal says, thoughtfully. “Most weapons can be overcome, you know, and some weapons have no power over those you wish to fight.”
“Everyone knows that the demons hate crosses and holy water and the like,” argues the priest. “It's in every vampire story ever written.” He regards Hal, with what looks like pity in his gaze. “You do not sound like you are a man of belief.”
“I believe in something,” Hal replies, “but it is not your God.”
Hal thinks. The organ music has ended, and the cathedral is quiet save for their voices and the steady, regular beat of the priest's heart.
“The power of power itself,” he says. “The power of fear. Fear makes men do astonishing things.” He smiles, letting the fangs show. “And I believe in blood, too, as you do, I suppose, but in a different way.”
The priest leaps up and stumbles backwards, fumbling for a Bible from the pew and holding it before him.
“Don't tell me to begone,” Hal admonishes, calmly. He is unsurprised at the man's reaction – it is hardly the first time. “And I don't think I am going to kill you, either, so you might as well put that down. In any case, we are in a church. Waving a book at me is not going to harm me.”
Lowering the Bible, but clutching it to him, the priest stares. “But … why are you not affected?”
“I believe that signs of your religion won't hurt me, and they don't,” says Hal, shrugging. “Perhaps I have seen too much, over the years. I saw men be tortured and killed because they adhered to one branch of Christianity over another – it does not give one much to believe in, at the end of the day. Listen. Those you've given sanctuary to, tell them to get home. We will not tolerate it for long. I'll come back next week, and if they are still here, I will have them executed, or recruited.”
The priest is pale. He looks down at his Bible, as if realising its uselessness. “What gives you that right?” he demands. “How can you deal out life and death in this way?”
Hal stands up, buttoning his coat. “Five hundred years gives me that right,” he says, looking down at the priest. “As I said, I believe in power. I'm giving you and your people a choice. Make the right one.”
He leaves the priest standing helpless and alone in the centre of the great Nave, and steps back out into the empty city.
The handful of people he passes on his walk down Fleet Street, past the closed-up Royal Courts of Justice, and on to the Strand are all vampires. Some of them recognise him, and greet him with cautious deference; Hal finds he does not mind that the others merely greet him with a cheerful wave. But he is hungry, the bloodlust rising as he heads towards Trafalgar Square. He keeps an eye out for a passing human and, outside Charing Cross station, finds one. The young woman is hurrying towards Trafalgar Square with her head down. She tries to speed up as Hal catches her up and matches her footsteps, but for her it is a hopeless effort. The woman dies quickly.
He leaves her in a doorway, calling Fergus to arrange clean-up, and walks the short distance left to Downing Street with renewed vigour.
Inside the hallway of number 11 Cutler is hovering. “Oh good, you're back.”
“Were you worried, Nick?” Hal smiles at him, and pats his shoulder. “I told you I would be fine.”
“No, it's not that.” Cutler gestures towards the flat upstairs. “You've a visitor.”
Hal knows who it is before he opens the door. He would know that scent anywhere. He braces himself, squares his shoulders and enters the living room.
“Hello, Hal,” says Leo.
Again, a mixture of real-life reality - Slaughter and May does exist, and is probably the bluest of the City's blue-chip law firms - and hand-waving. Normally you have to pay to get into St Paul's, but I'm pretty sure they'd waive that in times of crisis!
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
(Sorry for the looooong delay for the update. Real Life interfered).
Leo, Hal thinks, looks dreadful – scrawny and with a grey tinge under his skin. But there's still a defiant light in his eyes as he stares up at Hal from his armchair.
He's alone in the room. Hal chooses a seat across from Leo, and sits down. “No Pearl?” he asks.
A flash of pain crosses Leo's face. “She's gone. She said she couldn't bear it any longer. She just … faded away. Never found her door.”
“So why have you come here? I'm surprised you are still alive,” Hal says.
“To ask you to stop,” Leo returns, leaning forwards.
Hal laughs. “Isn't it a little late for that, Leo? We are too well-advanced now to stop.”
Leo shakes his head. “Not this,” he says, “but you. You can still stop.”
“And do what? Go where?” Hal asks. “No, Leo, I cannot stop, even if I wanted to.”
There is sadness on Leo's face.
“What happened to the man I knew?” he says, almost to himself. “Where did my friend go?”
“The man you thought you knew was a caged animal,” Hal retorts, suddenly angry with him. “Origami, Leo? Exercise? I'm surprised I stayed as long as I did. Did you really believe that you had turned me from blood for good?”
Leo shrugs. “I hoped.”
“You always hoped,” Hal says. He stands up, goes to the door and calls for Fergus. “You should go, Leo. Go home.”
“And wait to die?”
“When I left, I was glad that you would not see this,” Hal tells Leo. He remembers the pain of leaving, the certainty he was saying goodbye to one of the few people who had genuinely cared for him in 500 years.
Getting slowly to his feet, leaning heavily on a stick, Leo meets his eyes. “And now?”
“And now I'm offering you the last bit of mercy I can find in me,” says Hal.
Leo nods. “I see. All right. I am going.” Stiffly, he bends down, and straightens with a plastic bag in his hand. There is something heavy and square in it. “But I brought you these. You left them behind.”
When Hal makes no effort to take the bag Leo puts it down in the armchair he was sitting in, and without a further word leaves, accompanied by Fergus.
The domino set is just as Hal remembers, carefully-looked after but bearing the signs of much use. Almost automatically he begins laying the dominoes out on the coffee table in the middle of the room, and he is absorbed in the task when Fergus returns.
“Put him in a taxi. Gave the driver some cash. Fucking werewolves.”
“He was my friend, once,” Hal says, standing another domino up. “Some respect for the dying, please, Fergus.”
“Sorry, m'lord.” Fergus watches. “What are you doing?”
Hal places the last few dominoes, completing the neat spiral on the coffee table. He stands back and admires his handiwork. “Breaking a habit.” Bending down, he taps the end domino and watches with satisfaction as the spiral collapses in on itself.
The next week is a whirlwind of activity. He makes good on his promise to go back to the cathedral, taking Jacob with him. Most of the sanctuary-seekers have left, but two or three remain, cowering in the vestry. They choose death instead of recruitment. The priest is defiant to the last, and Hal leaves his body limp and bloodless in the pulpit. They lock the cathedral doors and take the key back to Snow.
From Cardiff, Dylan sends word that the War Child and her protectors – a young werewolf, with a reputation for killing vampires, and a ghost girl – have fled their home in Barry and are on the move. Snow orders that they be followed but not harmed, and summons Hal to number 10 for a meeting.
On the desk in what used to be the Prime Minister's office, there is a piece of parchment and, nearby, an overweight vampire is hovering protectively. Hal recognises him. “Hello, Regus.”
“Lord Hal.” Regus, a noted vampire historian, nods his head in a half-bow. “How's it going?”
Snow cuts through the smalltalk. “Hal, do you know what this is?”
Hal approaches the table and bends over the parchment, realising as he does so that it is not parchment but cured skin. Human skin, he decides. Looking at it more closely, he realises what he's seeing.
“It's the third part of the War Child myth,” he says.
“Yes.” Snow seems pleased at the identification. “It's the part which says we cannot kill her. But we know nothing about her, nor her parents, nor her guardians, save for name and reputation. The ghost, it seems, has quite a reputation.”
“She was pretty fierce,” agrees Regus. “And the wolf, too. Good guardians for the kid.”
Reaching out, Hal touches the edge of the parchment lightly with a finger. It is dry and cool. “They will protect her?”
“We hope so. But we need more information,” Snow says. “There is a man ...”
Regus pulls out a piece of paper and consults it. “Bloke called Owen,” he reads. “Fiancé to the ghost – Annie, that is – and also, we think, her murderer. He's incarcerated in a mental hospital in Bristol. Quite loopy. But he and her mum are about the only people I've been able to find who knew her. Her dad died in one of your crush-the-refugee efforts, Hal. And nobody knows the werewolf 'cos he was brought up by a crazy loner type.”
“So you are going to Bristol,” says Snow.
The mental hospital is a forbidding-looking building with excellent security, but they have been pre-warned of Hal's arrival and he is ushered through the checks to a bare room with chairs bolted to the floor on either side of a plain table.
Owen is brought in a short while later – a tall man, good-looking, but with haunted eyes under his strong eyebrows. He sits down, twisting his hands together, but is able to look up and meet Hal's gaze.
Introducing himself, Hal sits opposite. “I'm here to talk about Annie Sawyer,” he says.
“Annie's dead,” Owen returns. Lowering his voice, he adds, “I killed her.”
Already confirmation of something they had not known for certain. Hal nods. “But I need to know what she was like,” he pursues. “Was she brave? Selfish? Reckless?”
“She was sweet,” Owen says. “Easy to manipulate. She loved me. She'd have done anything for me, and I pushed her down the stairs.”
“These things happen,” Hal says.
“Then she changed,” Owen goes on. “She got cold.”
“After she died?”
Owen leans forwards. “She came back. As a ghost. Tried to haunt me and my new girlfriend, but I wasn't having any of it. I think I scared her.”
None of this is tallying with the little the vampires know about the ghost Annie. Hal presses further. “How?”
The other man laughs, a slightly unhinged giggle. “Told her I couldn't see her. That she was a nobody.” His face crinkles. “But she got fierce. Got all tough. Got her friends on to me too. A vampire and a werewolf, can you imagine that?”
Hal smiles. “Oddly enough, I can.”
Owen's expression darkens. “But she told me they'd never leave me alone, that they'd follow me beyond death. That I'd never ever escape. It's all right, though,” he grins, nervously, “I'm safe in here. They're looking after me.”
Hal looks at him, and decides there is nothing more to be learned from Owen. He stands, taking off his coat and laying it over the back of the plastic chair. “Annie was right,” he says, “they will never leave you.” He shows his teeth, and the sight sends Owen sliding off his seat, shrinking into the corner of the room with gibbering fear. It's far too easy to haul the man to his feet and sink fangs into his neck, and Hal lets the body fall to the floor with the thought that there is little joy in killing in this way.
He orders his driver to drive up to the address Regus had unearthed – the place where Annie had lived and died. It is an odd, shabby house painted pink on the corner of a slightly run-down street. When he tries the door it swings open. This house has not been a home for some time.
Inside, however, much of the detritus of an everyday life remains. There are pots and pans in the kitchen and crockery left on the draining board. A mug has grown green mould on the kitchen table. In the living room, there are old newspapers and a magazine left open at a TV guide page and another mouldy mug.
Venturing upstairs, Hal finds more evidence of the characters of those who had lived in this house. A narrow bedroom, smelling still faintly of wolf, with a surprising number of books in a surprising number of languages on the shelves and an unmade bed.
In another room, he finds old film posters and records, a sepia photograph of a man in First World War army uniform, and hidden in the wardrobe, a plastic bag with bloodstained clothes – evidently the belongings of Annie's vampire housemate, John Mitchell. Snow had wanted to bring Mitchell in, he had said, but Wyndham, despatched to collect the errant youngster, had failed. Hal would have envied Mitchell and his true death, only a couple of months earlier.
Finally Hal opens the door on a room that is almost empty, save for an armchair. It smells of nothing but dust. He sits down in the armchair and looks about him at the place where she must have spent her long lonely nights, while her housemates slept. But it has little character or personality and he cannot get much of a sense of Annie from it.
Back in the car he consults the list of addresses Regus has given him, and directs the driver to a place a little way outside Bristol. It is a small town, with nice houses, but like so many other places since the revolution it is deathly quiet. There is no certainty, of course, that Annie Sawyer's mother is still alive, or still here, but it is worth the effort.
The curtains are drawn in the windows as he walks up the garden path and the grass is growing long on the lawn, but when he knocks there is movement inside the house and a short while later the door is opened on a chain. He can just see a thin, drawn face looking out at him from inside.
“Yes? What do you want?” She sounds tired.
Hal summons all the old charm. “To talk to you about your daughter, Mrs Sawyer.”
“What do you want with Annie?”
“I only want to find out what she's like,” he returns, deliberately using the present tense to see if she reacts. “May I come in?”
Annie's mother takes the chain off. “I suppose you need inviting?”
Hal smiles, and shakes his head. “No. I am what you think, but past a certain age some rules no longer apply. But it is polite to wait for an invitation into someone's home, is it not?”
She sighs, and stands aside. “Come in.”
The house is dim inside, and full of a sense of grief and loneliness. Pictures on the mantlepiece in the living room Carmen shows Hal into depict a happier time, a time when there was a family living here. One in particular strikes him; a girl on the cusp of womanhood, laughing at someone behind the camera, her eyes bright and her curls bouncing.
“That's my Annie,” her mother says, as he examines the picture. “Do you know where she is?” She takes a seat in one of the armchairs and Hal follows suit.
“We don't, no,” he admits. “Mrs Sawyer, you are talking about your dead daughter as though she is alive.”
“She's gone,” Carmen says, “but I know she's still here. I met a medium, a couple of years ago. Annie was there. I hoped … I just wanted to see her again. Why do you want her, Mr …?”
“Henry Yorke. She is looking after a baby, a child of two of her friends – a very important child. We want the baby to live, and we need to know if Annie is a good guardian for her.”
She looks down at her hands, twisted together. “Annie never got to have children of her own.”
“But now she has this baby,” Hal pursues. “Will she be able to care for it?”
Carmen nods. “Yes. She will. She would have been an amazing mother. Much better than me. She cared so very much, for everything and everyone. But she was strong, too.” She raises her eyes, red-rimmed with crying, to Hal's. “If she wants to stay away from you, I think she will. My Annie will protect that child with everything she has.”
Standing, Hal thinks he rather agrees. Meeting Annie's mother has taught him much about the girl herself. He holds out his hand. “Thank you.”
She looks at it. “Is that it? Is that all you wanted?”
“That's all I wanted,” Hal agrees. After a moment, she takes his hand; he turns it with the ease of years of practice, bends and brushes his lips over the back of hers. “Goodbye, Mrs Sawyer,” he adds, and lets himself out of the house.
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
“I've barely seen you in ages,” says Cutler, walking in on Hal as he sits reading papers in his office.
Hal marks the place on the document he is reading with a finger. “I beg your pardon?”
Cutler pulls up a chair and sits down, steepling his hands and resting his chin on them as he looks at Hal. “You never come out with us. Like you used to. You're always stuck in here, working.”
“Revolutions don't happen without a bit of effort,” Hal says.
“But you used to make the effort!” exclaims Cutler. “The work used to be outside, not inside.” He leans forwards. “Come on, Hal, come and have some fun. There's still loads of people out there just begging to be recruited.”
“I thought you liked being my most recent recruit,” says Hal. None of what Cutler is saying surprises him – he had been wondering, in fact, when this conversation, or one like it, would happen.
Cutler fidgets. “Well …” he says, “I'm not saying you need to do any of the recruitment, but you should get out, enjoy the atmosphere. It's what you enjoyed, right?”
Looking down at the papers, Hal shrugs. “Perhaps I changed.” He waits for Cutler's reaction to the suggestion, which is only half tongue-in-cheek, for he has changed. The years in Southend taught him more than he would ever have thought about human nature, for despite their afflictions both Pearl and Leo had been so very human. But he's not yet sure exactly what the extent of the change is, and there is a part of him which is nervous – even scared – about fully letting the old Hal out of the cage he has been locked in for so long. He is keeping a tight lid on that part, and hopes that if he screws the lid on tight enough it will wither and die.
Cutler laughs. “Nah, I know you haven't, not really. Or maybe you had, but you're back now. I can see it. Look, Fergus and me and some of the others are going for a few pints tonight ...”
“Beer or blood?” asks Hal, amused.
“Both,” says Cutler, “and we thought, well, you should come along. For every human who's too bloody scared to go outside, there's one who would throw themselves at your feet.”
“That would be … quite like old times,” Hal muses, remembering days when people had done just that. He makes a decision. “Yes. All right, I'll come. Now leave me alone so I can work in peace.”
Cutler stands up, bobbing his head in the funny little half-bow he had always adopted, and grins. “Yes, m'lord. See you later.”
The work goes well that day, and at four Hal hands over a thick folder of documents all marked with his initials to one of the staff, who takes it off to Snow. Then he takes a long shower and dresses, carefully, in a dark suit and deep maroon shirt. There is still time to kill, so he sits down on one of the sofas and gets out Leo's domino set again. He still finds pleasure in setting up the pattern, carefully standing each domino on its end, but unlike in Southend his fingers are rock-steady. He's able to place each tile closer to the previous one than he had ever been able to before.
When Cutler knocks on the door he's ready, and sends the spiral falling without a backwards glance.
They head into Soho, a small group of vampires with Hal and Cutler at the centre, and Snow's tame werewolf Milo tagging along. Cutler, Hal notes with amusement, is basking in his reflected limelight, relating anecdotes from the 50s with relish. Hal considers, briefly, throwing in a comment along the lines of “and remember when you couldn't face killing your wife?” but decides to let it pass and let Cutler have his fun, for tonight. In this, at least, he has grown more patient.
In a dingy Soho pub, where the landlord has grey rings around his eyes and a bandage on his neck, they order pints and Fergus clears a group of humans off the best table in the place. “To the revolution!” says Cutler, lifting his pint to the vampires in general and Hal in particular.
“Some of us have been wondering,” ventures one of the younger vampires, over the rim of his glass, “whether we're going to start up the dog fights again? I mean, are you going to start them up again?”
“Do people want them to be started up again?” queries Hal. He looks at Milo. “I cannot see our canine allies approving.”
Milo drinks for a moment, considering the point.
“Might be a good way of keeping those of my brothers and sisters who aren't in line, in line,” he suggests. “We've got a fair few locked up anyway.”
“We could televise it,” Cutler suggests.
Fergus groans. “Not again. You're all about the television, you.”
“It's the 21st century!” exclaims Cutler. “Can't run a country without telling the people what's what.”
“Rubbish,” says Hal. “They used to manage perfectly well with no television, no radio and no internet.”
“Telegraph,” Fergus puts in, wisely.
“And no telegraph either,” Hal says. “The day Henry VIII died they sent riders all around the country to tell the people of the king's death. Anything important was always spread around – it just took a little longer sometimes to find out what was going on.” He smiles benignly round at the group, who, as often happens when an Old One says something relating to age, are looking as though they have just had a reminder of how brief their existence has been.
“Still,” says Cutler, breaking the silence, “we could televise the dog fights. People could bet online too.”
Milo shakes his head. “Nah. You're talking as though normal life's still going on, Nick. Nobody's watching telly now. Or gambling. They're mostly still trying to get out of the country.”
“Or sitting in a pub,” someone else puts in.
Hal considers the idea of the dog fights. “If there really is demand, we could try running a fight again. I suppose we would be able to find a good venue, now. No need to hide any longer.”
The group falls to speculating as to where the fights could be held. Listening, Hal reflects that their enthusiasm is refreshing; they find it easy to get excited about simple things, which have long grown past the mundane for himself and the rest of the Old Ones, although he has not yet got to Snow's calm acceptance of everything the world throws at him. He wonders if he ever will. Few, after all, reach Snow's great age.
Fergus gets up and goes to the bar for another round, and the conversation shifts to past lives. It turns out one of the vampires, a youngster by the name of Mike, had been a soldier before his recruitment. “Kuwait,” he says, with a shudder. “1991. Hell on bloody earth, mate, hell on earth.”
“Hal was a soldier,” Cutler pipes up, “weren't you?”
“Briefly,” Hal says. “Not a particularly successful one.”
Mike seems interested. “Where?” he asks.
“Lithuania. At least it was Lithuania at that time. Now they say it is in Belarus. I was fighting for Poland.”
“Why Poland?” Fergus queries. “I never did work that one out.”
Hal shrugs. “They needed fodder for the Russian pikes. They paid. I wasn't really a soldier, I was just a young man looking for an adventure.”
“And?” prompts Mike.
“And I got a pike in my chest and a recruitment offer from the surgeon who pulled it out,” says Hal. “War since then has been an opportunity, but had it not been for that surgeon my bones would have long since rotted under the soil at Orsha.”
“Speaking of opportunity,” a new voice puts in, and Hal looks round to see that the four men who had been quietly drinking close by had stood up, “we're wondering if we might be able to take this one.”
The vampires exchange glances, and all eyes turn to Hal. “In what sense?” he asks.
The speaker, who looks to be in his late thirties and has the smooth, groomed appearance of an office worker, shifts uncomfortably. “The way we see it,” he says, “is that you lot have taken over, right, and there isn't no coming back from it. Right?”
“Correct,” agrees Hal.
“So we thought, maybe, we could join up, or whatever? And seeing as you're in here, and we're in here ...”
“What do you do?”
Hal's question seems to strike the man by surprise. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, what is your profession?” Hal clarifies. “Are you useful?”
The men look at each other.
“I'm an accountant,” the speaker says. “Martin here, he's in IT. Larry was a civil servant ...”
“Revenue and Customs,” Larry adds.
“And Tim was a teacher, before the schools closed,” the accountant finishes.
“Mostly useful,” Fergus says, to Hal.
Hal examines the men, putting his beer down to stand up and get closer to them. They fidget under his scrutiny. Martin in IT meets his gaze head-on, fearless, and Larry at least does not flinch when Hal stops by him to listen to his racing heartbeat. The accountant holds himself fairly still, but Tim the teacher has stuck his shaking hands in his pocket and cannot raise his eyes from the ground. Hal guesses that this was the accountant's idea, urged on by Martin, with the other two dragged into it. Tim at least wants to run, far and fast and soon.
He reaches out and takes the teacher's shoulder. “What subject?” he asks.
“His … history,” Tim stammers. “Secondary school.”
“I don't know that we need history teachers,” says Hal, to the accountant. “We are a walking history book. Can you tell me what a plague pit smells like, Tim?”
“N … no,” Tim admits.
“Then I regret that you are no use to us,” Hal says. “Not much use, in any case.”
The teacher only struggles as Hal draws him close enough for the bite, as though he has suddenly realised that this is it, this is the end. One of his companions exclaims a “no!” but Hal ignores them. The sharp taste of iron mingles with the taste of beer still in his mouth, and then the blood banishes the malt and Tim's heart slows and finally stops. Hal straightens, finding a handkerchief in his pocket.
Several of the younger vampires are looking envious and hungry, but have enough restraint to wait. Hal sits down again, and turns his attention to Tim's friends. “So, you have your choice,” he says.
They look at each other, and at the body of their friend, and at Hal, wiping Tim's blood from the corner of his mouth.
“I'm in,” says Martin, stepping forwards, and the others nod.
Hal looks at his little group. “Fergus. Nick. And, let's see, Mike.”
“Me?” Mike seems surprised. “But I'm … I've never done it before.”
“I'll guide you through it,” Hal says.
“My lord.” Mike makes a clumsy bow.
Mike makes a good enough job of the drinking and the feeding, but half Hal's attention is on Cutler through the process. He suspects it's the lawyer's first attempt at recruitment – 55 years previously, Cutler was still happier drinking from a glass than a vein, and despite Hal's best efforts, had proven squeamish at best about killing. But, possibly from a desire to impress his maker, Cutler barely hesitates when it comes to biting into his own wrist and forcing the accountant to drink.
They call the cars to fetch them home as nobody particularly wants to be carrying the deadweight of three corpses through the streets of London. Hal gets in Cutler's car, the accountant stowed in the boot, for it will be several hours before he awakes to his new life.
Cutler seems to be on the verge of saying something, but he waits until the car has drawn up outside Downing Street and Hal is getting out.
“For?” asks Hal, pausing by the car door.
“You know.” Cutler gestures towards the boot. “Trusting me. You never used to.”
“You were younger then,” Hal says, “and I … well, I have learned some patience.” He pauses, and adds, putting a hint of threat into his tone, “but make sure you get the next bit right, Nick. Look after him when he wakes up. Good night.”
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
(Sorry for a very long gap between updates. Real Life somewhat took over. Frustrating.)
By the next full moon the dog fights are running again. They're using a vast space at the Earls Court exhibition centre, bigger than anywhere the fights have ever been held before. Hal visits the day before the full moon and is awed at the sight. But he takes care not to betray the awe to the team preparing the venue, instead pointing out things which could be better and testing the audio system.
Milo is with him, and after they have viewed the cage and the audience space the werewolf takes him backstage, where a series of smaller cages have been set up – werewolves on one side and humans on the other, four or five of each. Most of the occupants are lying listlessly on mattresses or curled up in a corner of the cage, but some stand as Hal and Milo move down the line.
“Traitor!” spits one of the werewolves. Milo, Hal notices, barely reacts, with just a twitch of his mouth showing he's heard the comment.
One of the humans is standing too, a fit-looking young man who looks as though he might be worth putting some money on. “Why are you doing this?” he demands.
Hal turns, to look at him properly. “Why not?”
“It's … you're treating us like animals!” the young man exclaims. “All of us.”
“They are,” Hal says, indicating the line opposite. “Or they will be, tomorrow night. Animals with no sense of reason and no desire but to kill. Such animals need prey.”
“Is that all we are to you?” asks the young man.
Hal considers the question. It would be easy to say “yes”, but not entirely truthful. The vampires' relationship with humanity has always been more complex than that – sometimes prey, sometimes lovers, sometimes friends – and he has known humans who have been all those things to him over the years. Leo had asked him a similar question, once, and he gives a similar answer now.
“You're an investment,” he says. “Win your fight and I can give you the world.”
The young man eyes Hal sceptically. “Big claim. So who do I ask for, when I win, to get the world?”
“Henry Yorke. I'll be there watching.”
“All right,” says the young man. He holds his hand out, through the bars of his cage. “I'm David Swann. Can you do me one thing, Mr Yorke?”
“It rather depends on what that one thing is,” Hal returns.
David Swann indicates down the line of cages. “Take that girl out of here. Even you cannot expect a woman to fight whatever it is you want us to face. Do that, and I'll fight for you, give your audience a show, whatever you want.”
Hal glances across at the end cage. The woman in it is young, and pretty enough that he agrees it would perhaps be a shame to have her torn to pieces by a werewolf. He nods at Milo, who produces a set of keys and goes to unlock the door.
“I expect you to make good on your promise,” Hal tells David Swann. “Try and sleep. You'll need your energy.”
Milo has to carry the girl, who is dazed and groggy, up to the car. It looks as though she hit her head at some point, for there is a line of dried blood on her forehead.
“Wouldn't have put up much of a fight,” comments Milo, looking at her critically.
“We shall see.” Hal gets into the front seat. “Downing Street, please.” As they set off, he turns around to where Milo is uncomfortably perched on the bit of the seat not occupied by the girl. “Tomorrow night I want that man out, with whichever wolf you think will put up the best fight. Tomorrow night must be one to remember.”
“You didn't seem bothered by those taunts,” Hal says.
“I've heard them all before,” Milo returns. “Ever since I first joined Mr Snow. They're true enough, I am a traitor to my kind. But you know the old saying, sticks and stones and all that … we'd never have been able to do what you've done, you and Mr Snow and the rest of them. We're too human. We'd argue and fight and that would get in the way of what we needed to do.”
Hal turns forwards again, considering what Milo has said and the truth of his words. There is nothing much else to add.
At Downing Street, he orders that the girl be taken up to his flat and asks one of the young female vampires to look after her while he reports to Snow on the progress at Earls Court. Snow is due to make an appearance at the fight, and there are timings to be bashed out and dealt with. Then a variety of other small matters come up, and it is mid-afternoon before he returns to his flat.
The girl, dressed in clean jeans and a top, is flicking through a magazine; there's a cup of tea on the coffee table. The domino box is open and a few tiles are scattered next to the cup on its coaster. Hal takes in the scene for a moment, before crossing to the table and putting the dominoes back in their box and putting the box away on its shelf.
Closing her magazine, the girl picks up her tea and cradles it carefully to her chest. She looks up at Hal. “Why am I here?” she asks, her voice carefully controlled. She's Scottish, it turns out.
“Because a man gambled with me,” says Hal, taking a seat in the armchair opposite. “He took pity on you.”
“I don't really remember what happened. I was walking, and then I woke up in a cage. Did I wake up in a cage?”
“You did.” Hal watches her, as she sips her tea, brow furrowed in confusion.
“And now where am I?” she asks, lowering the cup.
“Number 11, Downing Street,” Hal tells her. “What brought you to London?”
The girl shrugs. “There's nothing left, up in Scotland. No jobs. Not even that many of you lot. My family are gone. I thought I'd come down and see what there was here. I'd only just arrived when I was grabbed.” She meets his eyes. “I don't suppose you know where my bag is?”
“I can find out,” Hal says. He takes out his phone and calls Fergus, making it clear that the girl's bag will be returned to her or there will be consequences. She watches as he makes the call, finishing her tea and curling up on the sofa with her legs underneath her.
“So you're like some big vampire cheese?” she asks, as he puts the phone away in his jacket pocket. “No, wait – I read about you. You're what-d'you-call-'im.”
“Henry Yorke,” Hal says coolly, finding he does not like to be described as 'what-d'you-call-'im' by a young human.
The girl laughs, short and humourless. “Fancy that. I come to London looking for a job and find myself entertained by a celebrity. Well, bloody hell.”
“Entertaining you was not exactly the plan,” Hal returns, standing up. Her nonchalance is beginning to bother him.
She stands up, proving to be almost as tall as he, and folds her arms. “Well then, what was the plan, Mr Yorke? Did you even have one?”
Her perceptiveness bothers him too. He had succumbed to David Swann's courage; this girl is demonstrating a similar refusal to give in to fate.
“You were going to fight a werewolf,” he says, tidying away the magazine on the table and picking up the empty tea mug. He takes it through to the kitchen and leaves it neatly in the sink, for one of the staff to wash up. “You would probably have died, quickly and painfully. Most do. But the man who gambled with me asked me to release you.”
“So you did.”
“So I did,” Hal agrees. “And now I find you here, in my flat, and it has been a long day.”
The girl stands her ground as he approaches her. “I don't have to be here. I could go.”
He nods. “Yes, you could. You could try. But there are guards at the bottom of the stairs, and more at the door, and others at the end of the street, and they would all lay their lives on the line for me.”
“Great,” she says. “It's good to have loyal staff, if you're a big cheese.” Her voice is brave, but she takes a step back now.
Hal grins at her, through the change in focus that comes with the moment before the bite. “And I can always do with more.”
She tries to run, but he's seen the way she'll move and sidesteps her. She screams, but there is nobody who would dare interrupt Lord Hal at work. She batters at his chest with weakening arms as he takes her throat and pulls her down to the floor. Her blood is rich and vibrant, the blood of someone young fed on sweet, fatty foods. It's tempting to drink her dry, but he stops in time and tears a gash in his wrist, forcing it to her mouth. She resists, weakly, but the last of her lifeforce is leaving her and his blood is irresistible.
The girl drinks, and then she dies.
Hal takes his wrist from her mouth and binds a handkerchief around it; it will heal in moments. He pulls the girl's body over his shoulder and carries her through into the spare bedroom.
She does not wake until well into the next morning. Hal is working in the living room when he hears her move and then gasp for unneeded breath; he puts down his pen, pours a glass of blood from the carafe he had had brought up, and takes it to her.
The girl is sitting up on the bed, still gasping, but she looks round with black eyes as the scent of the blood reaches her. Hal hands her the glass and watches as she downs it.
She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. “Yes. What the hell did you do to me?”
Hal looks down at her. “I recruited you. You're one of us now.”
The girl's eyes shift back to hazel. “I'm a vampire. I'm a bloody vampire. Why didn't you just kill me?”
“I admired your spirit,” Hal says, “and it is the best way to show my gambling friend I mean business.”
Climbing off the bed, the girl goes to peer at herself in the vanity mirror; Hal smiles as she discovers the lack of reflection, and then finds himself ducking as she aims a punch at his nose. He catches her hand and holds her until she stops struggling.
She slumps back on the bed. “Christ. You bastard.”
“It's been said before, by many people. In a sense it's entirely accurate,” Hal agrees. “I never did find out who my father was. Or my mother. And I have never been known for my kindness, though others believe I have an indelible streak of mercy in me. I'm afraid you will have to get used to it.” He picks up the glass. “You have today to do so. What's your name?”
“Alex,” she says, looking at him with resignation. “Alexandra Mayhew. If it matters, any more.”
Hal bends, takes her hand and bestows a kiss on it. “Of course it matters. Be ready by six.”
During the day she somehow finds some more clothes, because when he returns Alex has shed her borrowed top and jeans for opaque tights, big boots, a short skirt and a deep purple vest top under a denim jacket. The combination seems to suit her and she is more relaxed – she even smiles as Hal offers his arm to her.
Downstairs, Cutler is waiting with the car. He scowls when he sees Hal is with someone else, and scowls even more when he realises the someone else is a newly-woken vampire.
“Alexandra Mayhew, Nick Cutler,” Hal introduces them. “You are, in a way, siblings.”
That just makes Cutler scowl further, but he opens the door for Hal anyway. Some habits will never be broken.
In the car Alex asks what he meant.
“I made Nick, half a century ago. You both have my blood in you. It's a privilege, you know.”
“Yeah, right,” Cutler snorts, from the front passenger seat. “A right honour, running around after the great Hal Yorke.”
“Sharing the spoils,” Hal reminds Cutler, sharply. “And the glory. You've always been fond of reminding people who made you, haven't you?” He turns back to Alex. “But that's not what I was saying. I'm old, and that makes my blood stronger. You in turn will be stronger for it, in time. For now, I'm powerful and those around me share in that too.”
“Politics,” says Alex, with a sigh.
“Exactly. Politics.” Hal smiles at her, and after a moment, she returns it.
The noise from inside the main hall at Earls Court is deafening. It sounds as though all the vampires in England have gathered for the dog fight. Hal and his companions are bowed in, literally, through to the backstage area, and Alex is visibly impressed by this demonstration of his influence.
Snow is already there, waiting calmly in a green room outside which attendants hover nervously. Hal accepts the offered hand, kisses it, and introduces Alex to Snow.
“A new child, Hal?” Snow says, raising cool eyes to Alex. “Was that wise?”
Hal shrugs. “Possibly not. But I believe she has potential. Ow!” He turns to Alex, who has hit him on the arm.
“I'm right here!” she says. “Stop talking like I'm not.”
“Spirited,” comments Snow. “Hal, this appears to have been a successful idea.”
“Thank you.” Hal bows. “I had a feeling it would be.”
One of the staff approaches, nervous, and fidgets until they turn to regard him, when he informs Hal that all is ready. Outside the curtain, the noise is peaking. Hal allows Alex to straighten his collar and Cutler to brush fluff off his shoulder before shrugging them away. He glances at Snow one last time, receiving a nod in return, and steps on to the stage.
The roars from the crowd are deafening and the spotlights blinding. Hal walks to the microphone in the centre of the stage and leans into it. The cheers amplify, and then die out.
“Good evening,” he says. In the darkness he can see hundreds – thousands – of faces looking back at him. His voice echoes into the vastness of the hall. “My name is Henry Yorke,” he says, to the darkness, and after a second's pause there comes a reply of resounding approval. Hal waits, lets it sink in. “Welcome,” he continues, “to Earls Court. Welcome to our new world. Before we proceed with the evening's entertainment – full moon is in 43 minutes – I would like to present to you its architect. I owe him much. Mr Snow.”
Snow emerges on to the stage, the lights making his skin even paler and more luminous than usual. For a moment Hal feels as though the audience are not sure what to do, but they respond with even louder cheers and relief courses through him. Together, he and Snow accept the adulation. There have been times like this in the past, but never on the same scale. It is, he admits to himself, intoxicating.
Snow does not speak to the crowd, but steps back and sits down in one of the seats ready for them.
“Let us begin,” Hal says to the microphone. The lights in the centre of the hall come up, illuminating the cage in the centre. Big screens around the hall flicker into life.
“Tonight's contenders,” he continues, pulling out a card which was pushed into his hand when they got to Earls Court. “In the furry corner, Dr Martin Shaw. Full-time general practitioner. Part-time lycanthrope.”
The guards haul Shaw into the cage through a passageway from the holding cells. He already looks like the change is approaching, and curls into a ball in the middle as soon as the door is shut.
“And in the red corner, Mr David Swann, a chivalrous student.” He watches with no small degree of pleasure as Swann is brought into the arena, walking calmly into the cage. Swann looks about him, spots the stage and gives Hal a small, ironic bow, which Hal returns before checking the giant clock suspended above the cage. “Thirty-five minutes,” he announces.
To kill the time, while Shaw writhes in the cage and Swann waits calmly, there are some dancers, and the big screens show news highlights and music videos. Hal sits next to Snow and watches. With fifteen minutes to go, the crowd is dancing along, the thrumming bass beat of the music sending them wild.
Swann has moved to the edge of the cage, away from the werewolf. The tension is beginning to show in the line of his shoulders and his clenched fists. With a word to Snow, Hal descends into the arena and approaches the cage.
“Holding up?” he asks.
David Swann snorts a laugh. “Yeah, right. I'm in a cage, surrounded by vampires, with a … well, whatever he's going to become, about to attack me. I'm holding up fine, thanks.” He eyes Hal. “So you're the boss around here, are you?”
“One of them,” Hal says.
“Got a bet on me?”
“Not a monetary one,” says Hal. “But I do think you can win this. And I made you a promise; win it and I'll give you what you want.”
Swann just looks at him. “Did you give that girl what I wanted you to give her?”
“Which was?” Hal glances over at the stage, and beckons to Alex.
Alex bounds up, somehow managing not to be clumsy in her boots. “Hey.”
“Alex, this is David Swann. You've him to thank for being here.”
She and Swann look at each other, and Swann turns back to Hal. “The idea was to release her, not keep her like some sort of pet.”
“Release her to what?” Hal asks. “Into our world? How long do you think she would have had?”
Swann folds his arms, leaning against the bars. Behind him, Shaw is curled into a shuddering, whimpering ball. There are perhaps 10 minutes until the full moon.
“That's what you thought he'd do?” Alex puts in, scornfully. “C'mon, look at him!”
“I said I'd fight for him if he let you out,” Swann tells her.
Alex flashes her fangs at him. “Yeah, well. Thanks. He says it's all going to be good.”
Resting his hand on her shoulder, Hal nods. “Trust me. I've had half a century's practice. Think about what you might ask for, Mr Swann.” He gestures at one of the guards, who comes running over and produces the knife requested. Hal passes it through the bars, hilt-first. “Here. You do not have to wait until full moon.”
Swann takes the knife and does not move. Hal turns Alex away, steering her back to the stage.
The crowd quieten as full moon approaches and the tension in the hall rises. In the cage Swann stands still, turning the knife in his hands. Alex bends low to speak in Hal's ear.
“What will he ask for?”
“You're assuming he'll win,” Hal says.
“Don't you think he will?”
Hal looks at the spotlit cage. “Perhaps. I think he'll ask to join us.” She gives him a look. “Really. Many here have chosen to be vampires. I did, though the choice was this or death from infection in a stinking tent. Fergus did. Cutler … Cutler did not, but the young man with him tonight volunteered with his friends, just a few weeks ago. They saw this was a better way of living.”
She still looks sceptical. “I think you've forgotten what being human is like.”
“Yes,” he agrees. “But I've tried living in many ways over many years, Alex. For most of my life I have masqueraded as human. I've pretended to be what I'm not. It is nice not to have to pretend any longer.”
The clock ticks down to five minutes, then four, then three. Shaw has almost completely transformed now, his fingers elongating to claws and his body covered in dark, dense fur. He raises himself, baring yellow teeth as he howls at the full moon.
And David Swann plunges the knife into the werewolf's body.
The crowd erupts in noise. Some are cheering the swift victory, others booing the loss of a true fight. From somewhere backstage, Hal hears the combined howls of the other werewolves as their transformations also complete.
He stands, and goes to the microphone, asking for silence.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our victor, David Swann!” he says, and waits for the cheers to subside again. “Mr Swann agreed to fight for you tonight on the condition that should he win, I would grant him what he wished for. Bring him out.”
The guards open the cage, and drag Swann out, forcing the bloody knife from his hand as they do so. They bring him to the stage and, at Hal's nod, on to it. Hal turns back to the microphone.
“I therefore give our champion tonight a choice,” he says, looking at Swann as he does. “His freedom, and my guarantee of safe passage to any port he so chooses. Any vampire who attacks him would be punished, by my own hand if necessary.” He waits for the import of that statement to sink in. “Or he can join us, and have forever as a favoured member of our society.”
He meets Swann's gaze. “Or you can be locked away again for another month, and you can fight again, until a wolf mauls you to death,” he says. “Your choice.”
The audience are silent. They may have been deprived of the promised battle to the death, but in its own way this is just as enthralling. From the wings Hal can hear Fergus and Cutler, engaged in a whispered argument over the choice Swann may make. Alex is biting a nail.
Finally Swann moves, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Can I ask you a question, Mr Yorke?” he queries.
Hal assents with a nod, wondering what the self-assured young man would ask of him.
“Are you happy?” Swann asks. He swings around, facing Snow, who has been watching still and silent. “And you? Are you happy?”
“Perfectly. Thank you,” Snow says, calmly.
It is a serious question and, Hal thinks, deserves a serious answer. He considers. Had the question been asked only a few months before he would have said no; despite the simplicity and quiet of the half-life with Pearl and Leo it had been only that. Half a life. Snow had woken him from slumber. But was 'happiness' the right way to describe it?
He thinks back further, to a time before the blood but not before violence. There had always been violence. Men taking their pleasure with his mothers, roughly and without tenderness. The women slapping him, for something or other. Public executions at Tyburn. The boy Hal, named hopefully for a great king, had never know true joy. It had been no wonder, really, that when he had had the chance to take what he could he had grabbed that chance with both hands, with teeth and the strength of the undead.
“Well?” Swann demands.
Hal brings himself back from his memories. “Yes,” he says, deciding aloud. “Yes, I'm happy. I would never have predicted I would be here, but now that I find myself here, I am glad.”
Swann nods. “My freedom. Fighting for you. Or joining you.”
Around them, everyone is watching, tense with Swann's choice. He raises his head, and deliberately unbuttons the collar of his plain pale blue shirt. The audience roar their approval of the choice. Hal extends his fangs and waits for the noise to rise and die, as Swann closes his eyes.
There is something impersonal about drinking in front of such a crowd, Hal thinks briefly, in the second before teeth pierce soft flesh. But the moment is more than just him and Swann. It is a sign for those watching that they have won. The world, for the moment, for the foreseeable future, perhaps forever, belongs to them. It belongs to Hal, and to Snow, and to the Old Ones leading regional revolutions around Europe. He lets the approbation wash around him as he drips his own blood into Swann's throat.
When it is done, Fergus and Cutler appear from the wings and take Swann away to wake up. Snow stands from his chair, comes to Hal's side, and kisses him formally. “And there he is,” he says, softly, in Hal's ear. “My lieutenant. Well done, Hal.”
Snow steps back, and leaves Hal alone at the front of the stage. There is a spotlight blinding him but he knows how the hall is filled and he can hear their chant, growing in volume: “Lord Hal! Lord Hal! Lord Hal!”
He raises his arms to them and breathes it in. For this is where he belongs.
Apologies for the eternal wait for an update. Real Life overtook me this summer in a major way, as will happen when the Greatest Show on Earth rolls into town and you get involved in it. This was always going to be the last chapter, but I'm planning a couple of short related pieces.