Fan Fiction

Chronicles of a Demon
by Mawgan Dell
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8 / Part 9 / Part 10 / Part 11
-Art by Joe.-

A shape could be seen walking down the dark streets. Streets painted shades of black and blue by the night, and punctuated evenly by cones of dirty yellow street lamps. The shape's shadow stretched from one to the next, moving along at a steady pace. The shape itself was quite attractive, lovely to look at, and its name was Natasha.

Each time she passed under the glare of a street lamp some of her features were made partly visible. An onlooker might have made out the tip of a demure nose, a soft chin and delicate curve of a jaw. Her hair was styled short, almost shaved at the base of her neck, but longer as it moved from back to front until it became a fringe ending just above her eyebrows, and framed her face with delicious and sharp looking strips to either side. Any colour was impossible to discern, swallowed by the night, and swamped by the lamps.

She reached an intersection and stopped, leaning against the nearest lamp pole as though it were a bright and sunny day, taking in the sights. An onlooker might have been confused at this somewhat casual behavior of a young woman, all on her own at night. And as it happened, there was an onlooker, watching from a window on the fifth floor of the far corner building. Natasha apparently didn't notice the attention she was attracting, but in fact she was totally aware of it. Had the watcher been keen and intelligent, he'd have known this due the fact that Natasha was very carefully not looking in his direction.

Fortunately for her he was not keen and intelligent.

"He's watching me. I sense it." she thought.

"Can you tell where he is?" came the reply.

"Far building, fifth floor, third window from the left."

" . . . Got it. I'll be there soon, let me know if he moves."

"You know I will lover." Natasha replied with a smirk. She could feel a smirk in return.

Such an exchange would have seemed odd to any that could hear it. Certainly it seemed as though Natasha were holding a conversation with her own mind. However, in actual fact she was speaking telepathically to someone who was now making his way to the rear-entrance to the building. The bond between them was constant, a fortunate by-product of their relationship. They could communicate over extreme distances with ease, be aware of the other's feelings and intentions, and with some concentration, see and hear what the other could.

"Can you tell if he's alone?" he asked her. He was at the door, pressed against the wall to one side.

"I think so, he's afraid. In fact Nate, I'm not sure he even knows what he is."

"Really? Then perhaps we don't have to kill him. We could make friends, teach him the ropes." Nate reasoned optimistically.

"No way." she stated flatly. "You know who his sire is, innocent or not his future is evil. We cannot let him live through the night."

"Y'know, someone once told me not to use the 'evil'."

"Shut up and get on with it. I want to get on with this and go home. The pups are probably pining as we speak."

To that she got no reply, but sensed that he opened the door and slipped into the building, silent and unseen.

Time passed slowly, and although Natasha looked for all the world that she was simply admiring her surroundings, she was growing more and more impatient. Nate's progress was excruciatingly slow due to his attempt at silence. Because of the nature of their frightened watcher, even the smallest sound, sounds that a human would never notice, would alert him to Nate's approach. Natasha knew all of this, but she was still impatient. She pressed her hands into the pockets of her jacket, which was zipped up to her chin. She wasn't affected by the cold, but it was prudent to keep up appearances.

Suddenly she felt the attention of the watcher in the widow stray from her, and she concentrated her mind to find out what had drawn away it attention. He'd heard something, and was now scared and suspicious. She heard Nate give a telepathic curse. In the blink of an eye, the creature leaped from the window, landed heavily on the concrete below, and start running very, very fast up the street.

"Dammit." Natasha whispered, and ran after him.

"Can you catch him?" Nate asked, not bothering to apologize for alerting the creature to his presence, since he knew to do so would solve nothing.

"I should be able to. He doesn't seem to realize his power, and therefore isn't using it."

"I'll see if I can head him off, just in case."

"If you must." she snapped, and concentrated solely on catching up to the inhuman creature ahead of her.

He knew he was being followed, and took as many twists and turns as he possibly could, ducking into narrow alleyways, jumping over walls and even climbing up the walls of the buildings themselves to scurry over the rooftops. But always Natasha was there behind him, getting closer no matter what he did. Nate, ever aware of their location, endeavored to stay ahead of them, to cut off their prey.

Eventually their efforts paid off. The creature turned into a narrow alley barely wide enough for one person, only to find Nate waiting at the other end. He turned to go back, but Natasha was blocking the entrance. The creature was breathing hard, sweating and desperate. Neither Natasha or Nate showed signs that they'd done anything more strenuous than talk a leisurely stroll. Natasha however was not happy at the merry chase she'd been forced to take part in, and was not willing to spare the wretched thing any mercy. She pointed at him with a rigid finger.

"You. Fire." she said, and just like that, the creature between them burst into flames. He screamed, flailed and ran along the alley first one way then the other. It ran into Natasha, who didn't move, and bounced right off of her. As he rose to try again his whole body spasmed and he froze. Slowly he looked down at the ten or so inches of steel protruding from his chest. Even on fire, even pierced through the heart, the creature still managed to look bemused.

"No!" he screamed. Then Nate tensed his muscles and yanked his sword up, slicing the creature's collarbone, neck, and entire head right up the middle. The moment the sword cleared the body, the flaming corpse then seemed to glow from within with a fierce inner flame. The glow intensified, then all at once the body disintegrated into ash, which fell to the ground in a heap, teased by the light breeze that flowed through the alley.

Nate grunted in disgust and wiped the ash from his sword, which had previously been stained with blood, but like the rest of the creature, had turned to ash.

"One less vampire to deal with." he muttered.

"What happened?" Natasha demanded.

"There was a broken window in the hall. I stepped on the glass on the floor."

Natasha gave a humourless laugh and turned away, making her way back to the street.

"Idiot."

Nate frowned, but didn't say anything. Instead he sheathed his sword and followed her. By now he was used to her short temper, but he still hated being on the receiving end of it as much as ever.

Together the two of them haunted the streets of the city, lit by the lamps like a pair of forgotten ghosts. Slowly they made their way home, this time unobserved, they thought.

They thought wrong, as their progress was marked by someone on a nearby rooftop.

* * *

"A vampire!? Wow." Rowan breathed excitedly, pausing in his work to picture the scene.

"Hey! I agreed to tell you this story so long as you kept working." Alex snapped at him. Rowan, unabashed, quickly resumed swinging his one handed sickle to cut down a whole sheaf of wheat in one swipe. He quickly tied it together with a few strands that had fallen from it, and tossed onto the pile behind him. Alex grinned at his lack of remorse, and continued her work as well.

"I thought this was a story about you." Rowan said as he wiped his brown between swings of his sickle. "Who's Natasha?"

"That's me." Alex responded. "It was the name I went by in those days. As an immortal, it was important that no one ever find out what I was. So every so often I would change my identity, my looks, to whatever I felt like at the time."

"Ah. So who's Nate?"

"It's short for Nathan. You know him better as Mike."

"Oh, your boyfriend!"

Alex chuckled wryly.

"Yes, my boyfriend."

"What happened to him?" Rowan asked, unaware of Alex's change of mood.

"That is another story, but I thought you wanted to hear this story first."

"I do! I'm sorry, please continue."

"Hehe, very well, I will."

* * *

Later, Natasha and Nate left the confines of the concrete and glass forest that was the city, and entered the suburban outskirts. Eventually they made their way to a house that looked no different than any of the others around it, two stories, a small yard and a fence. Natasha unlocked the door, and both of them gladly went in, locking the door behind them. Inside, the place looked a lot bigger than it did from the outside. Outside the house was only two stories tall, but inside the ceiling of the front room soared high above them, more like a cathedral than that of a suburban home. The walls were elaborately decorated too, carved in places to look like different things in a never ending bas relief. Here it resembled water, there a tree, and in others it seemed almost alive, shaped like a living thing. Wherever the walls weren't carved or painted, pictures were hung. Some matched the auspicious decor, landscapes painted by someone who clearly was not looking into this world for inspiration, fantastic creatures heard of only in stories. Then there were some pictures which strangely didn't seem to belong, yet were treasured more than any of the others. Pictures of people, posing in pairs or on their own. They seemed out of place because they were so . . . ordinary. Not at all in place in such an impossible dwelling.

"I see Jade's been busy." Nate commented, indicating to the walls. Neither of them had said a word to each other the entire journey home, even telepathically. He was eager to put their latest confrontation behind them.

"Hmph, as if she didn't have her hands full already. She's hardly been sleeping because of them."

A commotion started up from one of the next rooms, coming closer. It was the sound of dogs barking.

"Speaking of which." Nate whispered with a sigh. Both of them couldn't help but smile though when the puppies came tearing around the corner and running at them as fast as they could, their tongues lolling out of their mouths, ears back and tails wagging in desperate enthusiasm. Both Nate and Natasha allowed themselves to be swamped by the three puppies that were almost as big as they were. They were bowled over, and subjected to a frenzy of face-licking and deafening barking.

"That is enough!" came a shout from the far doorway. The barking immediately stopped, and the puppies turned to look at the imposing figure, now trying their best to look meek.

"How many times must you be told? If you are to keep those shapes, to keep the noise DOWN!"

The speaker walked towards the pile of fur, arms, legs and paws that were Natasha, Nate and the three puppies. He walked with the aid of a cane, but his posture was rigid and proud, the only sign that he required aid was a slight limp in his left leg. His hair was stark white, a distinct and impressive pouf reaching up from his forehead. His face was lined, set almost like stone in a stern expression, eyes aflame. The puppies whined and crept towards him, keeping low and their ears flat.

"If you're going to apologize, you can do so properly, not like dogs."

And then, in response, the puppies' shapes began to shimmer and shift, then mold into different shapes, similar to when they'd started, but still distinctly different. Now, instead of three very large puppies cringing before the tall man, there were three young children, two boys and a girl, all in their pre-teens, looking a little scared and sorry for themselves.

"We're sorry Master Warlock. We won't do it again." One of the boys whimpered.

The old man harrumphed impressively, and gave a short nod. The three children immediately broke out into smiles and began squealing in joy, jumping up and down around Nathan and Nate, who by now had raised themselves to their feet.

"Where did you go this time?"one of them asked.

"Did you meet any bad guys?"asked another.

"Did you get me anything?"

Natasha cut them off with a wave of her hand.

"Nowhere, yes, and no. Now go away, go bother your mother."

"We were, but when she heard you come home she told us to bother you."

Nate laughed loudly.

"That sounds like something she'd say."

"Quiet you."Natasha said as she shot him a look, but he saw the hint of a smile on her lips, so he said nothing, just smiled back.

Once the children had happily bounded away the tall man approached them.

"You are well?"he asked them. His face and voice betrayed no emotion, but he two of them knew him well enough to detect genuine concern.

"We're fine Alback."Natasha teased him.

"Don't call me that. You know that's not my real name."

"What about Jabin?"Nate joined in. The tall man fixed him with a deadly glare.

"Shut up."he told him. "You're annoying."

At that Natasha laughed and put her arm around the stern and determinedly unhappy man.

"Now that's the Jack that I remember."

Jack harrumphed again, and tapped his cane on the ground a few times.

"He's just a big softie really."Nate said as they all headed into the next room. It was just as large as the first one, and here there were lots of comfy looking chairs and couches. A large screen TV held a place of worship on one wall, surrounded by expanding circles of chairs. There was a man sleeping soundly on one of the couches. They found the children swarming around a young woman who had her hands on her hips, and was looking extremely put out.

"Well that didn't take long."She said when she saw them come in. "I thought you'd be able to occupy them for much longer."

"We've seen through your clever plans and made them backfire on you."Natasha said with a giggle. "You can't fob your kids off on us Jade."

"No, but it was worth a shot."

The children gave a chorus of an indignant and childish 'MOOOOOOM!!' at that, and she scolded them gently for being so noisy. She may have been the mother of three children, but she still looked as though she were in her twenties. She was blonde, and like Natasha wore her hair short, except that, like Jack, she had an impressive tuft poking out from her forehead, pointing up.

Jack cleared his throat.

"I'd like to speak to the two of you, privately."he said, adding the last part with an apologetic glance to Jade, but she only gave him a wave of her hand to let him know that she understood. She shooed the children out of the room, up a set of stairs. Now it was just the three of them, not including the slumbering man.

"It went well I take it?"Jack asked them.

"We found a vampire, but not the vampire. The one we're looking for sired the guy we found, but it was very recent, the poor schmuck didn't even realize that he was a vampire."Natasha told him.

"But that means that Maledict would have been very close by, keeping an eye on things."

"Not so close it seems."Natasha told him. "I couldn't sense anything other than the one we killed."

"Still you underestimate him."Jack scoffed. "He is incredibly powerful, and most probably has the ability to hide himself from your mind."

"I've been able to track him in the past."Natasha said indignantly, putting her hands on her hips and fixing Jack with a hard stare.

"In those encounters we later found out that he wanted to be tracked. Did you take the necessary precautions on the way home? Were you followed?"

"No." said Nate with a sigh. "We took every precaution, there's no chance that we were followed. Besides, aren't there supposed to be spells around the house to prevent that anyway? Y'know, like the ones you used to make it bigger on the inside."

"First rule of magic Nathan, nothing is absolute. My spells are strong, but that doesn't mean that there isn't something bigger and stronger out there that can take them out."

Jack looked away and slammed his cane down on the floor hard, the sound reverberating throughout the room.

"Another night, another failure."he said.

"Hey, it wasn't a total loss. We still got rid of his underlings." Nate put in.

"One of his underlings. We have no real clue as to how many there may be."

"Jack!" Natasha yelled, and grabbed his chin to force him to look into her eyes. "We'll get him. Don't give up on us just yet."

She let her hand drop, and backed away from him. A smile crept to her face.

"Besides, you know what happens when you try and take your frustration out on me."

"Yea that's true. The vampire tonight didn't stand a chance."Nate said. Jack looked at him, and then at Natasha.

"You set him on fire?"he asked, then looked her up and down, as though he were now seeing her for the first time. "Why?"

Natasha shrugged.

"He pissed me off."

At first Jack looked as though he were about to say something. Then he shrugged and turned away.

"Of course."he muttered as he made his way to the stairs.

* * *

Tomie was waiting for Jack when he got to his room. This wasn't hard, since Tomie was a book, and was physically incapable of anything other than sitting around doing nothing. When Jack closed the door behind him Tomie spoke.

"They're back?"he asked.

"Yes." said Jack as he removed his thick jacket. He seemed to need it more and more these days. "Yes, they're back."

"You don't sound pleased."

"That's because they didn't find him, just one of his minions."

He sat down heavily at his desk, where Tomie lay, and carefully leaned his cane against the wall to one side. He ran a hand through his hair and grumbled.

"I'm just tired of the lack of progress!"he yelled, and slammed a fist down on the desk. Tomie jumped slightly from the impact, but it was only because of the force of the blow, not through any will of his own. He barely felt it.

"That sounds less like you Jack, and more like Albin."he said.

A long time ago, in an alternate timeline, another version of Jack had progressed so far in his magic that he'd ascended from plaid to white, missing a whole level in between. The metaphysical force of such a thing caused his entire personality to shatter, and send his body hurtling into an alternate reality. He had no memory, no idea who he was. All he knew was that he hated Sandra, and wanted her dead, and that he had ascended. So he named himself Albin, which meant white in another language. He encountered the indigenous versions of Sandra, Jack, Crystal, and Sam, and set himself against them, acting on the impulse that drove him. Later it turned out that these feelings stemmed from his feeling of guilt over the accident that had turned Sandra into a demon. Even after he'd regained his true memories, he discovered that if he wasn't careful, he tended to react violently to even the most minor setback.

Eventually the indigenous Jack ascended to the white level, and because he and Albin were the same person, the universe couldn't allow two of one person to exist at one time, so the ascension pulled in both of them, combining the two of them. Jack awoke to find that he now had two sets of memories contained in a single head. It was only weeks later that he was able to function normally.

"It shouldn't be so hard to control."Jack mused quietly as he nursed his hand. "After all, we were the same person."

"Technically you weren't Jack, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that you realize that catching Maledict will take time. Getting frustrated won't help or speed things up. You need to relax. Come with me to the spectral realm. That always cheers you up, and it's been ages since you last went."

"Alright." said Jack after considering it for a moment. He rose from his chair, and limped to the centre of the room. After a few grunts and groans, he eventually managed to lay down on the floor, flat on his back. The more traditional meditation positions were getting to be too much of a strain on his aging bones.

Moments later, his mind was freed from the confines of his body, and roaming aimlessly through the plane of existence above this one, with the spectral representation of Tomie by his side.

* * *

Dawn. It crept across the sky, lighting the world and banishing the night. Natasha left the house on her own as the sun was just peeking it's shining face over the horizon, and headed over to the nearest bar. Sure enough, she found him.

The bar was dimly lit, all of the windows were closed and shuttered to block out the outside world. A small fire was crackling in the fireplace, making the place almost too warm for comfort. It was one of those old fashioned bars, where everything was made of wood, and Natasha had to admit that she did feel oddly at home here in this place. It was crowded, but she managed to squeeze her way through to the bar. A small pixie of a girl was there serving drinks. She smiled when she saw Natasha.

"Hello darlin', here for the usual I take it." she said as she approached her. The young girl was from London, and had the cutest little accent. Natasha saw the flutter of the girl's pixie wings behind her. They were almost transparent, but could still be seen by the oily rainbow hue that was visible if the light hit them just right. At the moment they were folded up on her back, because even though the girl was quite petite, there wasn't much room behind the bar. Otherwise Natasha knew the girl would show them off all the time.

"I'll get a drink this time too, Angie." Natasha said, and sat down on the only stool available. Angie smiled again and bustled away.

"One coffee coming up." she said over her shoulder. As Natasha waited patiently, she opened her mind to her surroundings, to the minds of the crowd. She knew that she didn't have to worry about being vulnerable to any mental violation, it was another perk of being what she was that she was substantially gifted in that department. The crowd of people around her were eclectic. Many different people from different places, as well as the regulars who lived in town. But none of them seemed to be particularly threatening. There were one or two wizards at the tables, just relaxing over a drink. She found the mind of a werewolf sitting at the other end of the bar. He was nervous, and was trying like hell to act casual. After a brief peek into his mind, Natasha found that he wasn't anything to worry about, he was new in town, and nervous about being the only werewolf in town. Maybe it would be worth introducing them to Will and Jade, she mused.

Angie placed a steaming mug of coffee in front of her, and Natasha took it up gratefully.

"Thanks Angie." she said, and closed her eyes to savour the first sip. Mmm, good coffee. "Now, about the usual. Is Kell here?"

"Of course, where else would he be?" Angie said with a laugh. "The master storyteller is regaling his audience with fantastic tales of bravery and glory."

Angie leaned closer to Natasha and lowered her voice.

"I don't know where he comes up with most of that stuff. A lot of it sounds far-fetched. Like a demon with a soul saving the world. Ridiculous right?" she asked, giving Natasha one of her pixie smiles. Natasha just smiled back and shrugged.

"Anyway, he's over there." Angie said indicating with a nod toward the back of the room. "I'm surprised that you haven't spotted him already."

Kell was there, sitting at a table near the back, surrounded by men and women, all of them laughing. Even through the crowd she could tell he was there. No one else in the place was sporting a pair of long fluffy ears. Natasha finished her coffee and stood up, then little by little she made her way to his table, and as she got closer she could make out the conversation taking place between Kell and his friends.

"So he sat down at the desk, and took a moment to compose himself. Then he looked into the camera, and gave the city the most inspiring speech that you could hope to hear. I couldn't possibly retell the entire thing to you now, for I wouldn't be able to do it justice." Kell was saying.

"That means he doesn't remember it." someone in the throng of listeners pointed out, but he was shushed into silence by those around him.

"Anyway. Once he was finished, he left the building and made his way to the tower. When he got there he immediately saw the demon woman out on the wide balcony at the upper levels of the building, in heated battle with the soulless monster Tool."

Natasha groaned inwardly as she listened. She hated it when Kell told this story.

"Before long, hundreds, thousands of people gathered in the streets around the tower, every one of them touched in some way by Sam's glorious speech, all congregating together to show their support to the demon turned hero who fought their tyrant. But then, the battle took a sudden and ghastly twist. Tool, harnessed in his diabolical mechanical spider contraption, took a heavy swipe at our hero, and sent her hurtling over the edge of the balcony. Every person watching gasped in disbelief. Could this be the end of our brief but hopeful struggle against Tool?"

With a growing feeling of dread Natasha doubled her efforts to get to Kell. She knew what was coming next, and she would rather that it didn't.

"The striped heroine tumbled through the air, head over heels and steadily heading towards the ground. But suddenly, there was a faint sound of tearing cloth, and once again the entire crowd gasped in astonishment. For there, right above us the demon had managed to stop her fall. How did she do this? It was because of the . . ."

"Time to come home, Kell." Natasha said, interrupting him by putting a hand over his mouth. Kell, a short and very human-like talking rabbit, at first irritated, but then settled to a state of calm resignation at the sight of Natasha, her blue-black strips of hair on either side of her face pointing at him like knives.

"Sorry everyone." he said to the crowd around his table. There were a series of groans, but Kell let himself be dragged from the bar without another word.

"Wow, you weren't kidding. It really is time to go home." he said when he saw that the sun had already risen. The two of them ambled down the street, going home, but in no real hurry.

"You were telling that story again." she told him. "I hate it when you tell that story. Or any of the stories from that time."

"What's wrong with those stories, Nat?"

"You mean besides the fact that it all happened over a hundred years ago?" she snapped.

"I mean it. You whine about it every time, but you never tell me why. Not really, anyway. You never explain, you just . . . whinge."

Natasha laughed.

"Winge?" she asked incredulously. "What kind of word is that? How do you spell it?"

"It's like it sounds, but it has an 'h' in it, like 'while' or 'where'. Angie taught it to me. It means to whine or complain."

"Hmm, you like Angie don't you."

"Well she likes me, and you're avoiding the question. Again."

Their ambling took them through the park. They passed a pair of young women, one of them was holding up a short stick, and both were marvelling at it.

"And you're sure it works?" one of them asked the other with the stick.

"Yep, I made it myself, but I had it tested by Celeste. She made her own wand years ago, and now she's the only one alive that knows how to make them."

"Coo."

Natasha chuckled as she and Kell passed the two girls by. Kell leaned into her.

"You're not getting out of it this time. I want a straight answer out of you. Why don't you like those stories?"

Natasha laughed again, but this time it had a nervous quality. Finally she was silent as they continued walking through the park.

"Alright. Fine. It's because someone might actually believe that your stories are true . . ."

"They are true." he interrupted, but she ignored him.

" . . . and then does some snooping and might eventually find out about me, and you, and all of us."

"What? You're still not over that? Sandra, geez, look around. Kids are doing magic like it's the new marijuana. Eventually it'll be the new Pokemon. It's not just us anymore, you know? And, oh... hey. I'm a giant talking rabbit. If our cover were that easy to blow, it would have been blown by now. It's been a freaking century. Lighten up."

"Alright, I admit that magic may be common now, but so are demons. And no one likes demons, Kell. If anyone were to find out I were a demon it would mean a whole lot of inconvenience. I'd have to kill the slut that pokes their nose in out business, but more than that I'd have to change my name and appearance again, then we'd have to move, and I don't think the pups could handle such a change again."

Kell sighed.

"I really, really wish you'd stop using the word 'slut' to mean 'bad person'. I'm beginning to think that you've forgotten what it really means."

"I'll have you know that it's a cool and hip thing to say."

"Yea, seventy years ago maybe."

Neither of them said anything as they cleared the park and continued down the street.

"Look," Kell said eventually, "So you're a demon. You've been one for a very long time now. I doubt that you still have trepidations about it."

"No it's not that. I've long since come to terms with that. But there are other demons out there, evil creatures bent on the suffering of others. The agreed course of action with those guys is 'kill on sight'. So if word gets out that I'm a you-know-what, then that's what'll happen. Kill on sight."

"As much as I hate pointing out the obvious, you are the only demon, now or ever, to have a soul. Which is what makes you different from the rest of them."

"So you're saying you'll try and explain that to one of your adoring fans when he comes to cut my head off?"

"I'm saying that even if someone takes my stories seriously, you've gotten so good at hiding what you are that they'll have a hell of a hard time finding any evidence."

"I'm tired of talking about this, I want to just go home." she said grumpily. "You're stupid."

"You're stupid."

Although childish, their last exchange was actually an ancient form of apology and make-up between them. In normal terms it meant 'let's not fight anymore. Friends?'

So they continued their walk home in silence, as slowly more and more people left their houses to carry on with the new day. There were a few hybrids around, people who had used magic to change their appearance to look more like a kindred animal. There was even another large rabbit, locking his front door behind him as he started on his morning jog, dressed as he was in red spandex. His high-heeled feet bopping up and down humorously as he jogged on the spot and he checked his pulse, then he bounded down the street at an impressive speed.

"Hey, maybe you should take up jogging." Natasha suggested.

"Shut up." Kell snapped, but Natasha just laughed.

* * *

"Oh good, you're home. Now at last I can begin." Jack said as both Natasha and Kell came closed the front door and took off their coats.

"What's going on?" Natasha asked. She saw that everyone was in the living room. Jack and Jade were there, along with Will and Nate. The pups were most likely at school by now, which explained the peacefulness that was immediately noticed by everyone.

"Jack's found another one of Maledict's hiding places." Jade piped in. "He's poked around its aura and says that there's vampires there right now."

"Yes." said Jack. "And now that the sun's up, we have the perfect opportunity to dispose of some of Maledict's scions, and possibly Maledict himself."

"Hmm, easier said than done, Jack." Natasha put in, settling herself on a sofa next to Will and Jade. "We've had an opportunity like this before with him, and he still got away."

Will leaned in close to Natasha and whispered.

"By the way, I'm sorry I didn't welcome you home last night. I heard that it went well."

Natasha looked into his eyes, each one a different colour, and smiled.

"Don't worry about it Will, I know that looking after the puppies can be a full-time job."

Jade leaned in too and wrapped both of her arms around one of Will's.

"Perhaps. But it's worth it, isn't it honey?" She said, and kissed him, running a hand through his scruffy blonde hair. A noise brought all three of them back to reality, and saw Jack there clearing his throat in a manner that suggested that he didn't really have anything in his throat to clear.

"If you're quite finished, I'll continue."

"Sourpuss." Jade muttered. Jack didn't appear to notice.

"This time I don't want to take any chances. I want you all to go."

Silence met this comment, until,

"Why am I going?" Kell asked.

"Not you, Kell, but the rest of them." Jack said to him without turning his head.

"I beg your pardon?" said Jade. "You want all four of us to go"

"Precisely."

"May I ask why?" she said, in an 'I'm about to lose it' tone of voice.

"Because all four of you will be needed. Natasha and Nathan for their experience and equipment suited to the job, and you and Will because, when it comes to magic types, werewolf always trumps vampire."

"Sounds like overkill, just a little, don't you think?" Nate suggested.

"Yes it does, except that there are at least a dozen vampires at this particular haven."

More silence.

"A dozen." Will whispered.

"At least." Jack replied.

"Are you sure that all of them share Maledict as their sire?" Natasha asked.

"Absolutely. The stench of that fiend's aura is as familiar to me as all of yours. It's presence at this place is prominent."

Nate stood up.

"When do we leave?"

"As soon as you can. You cannot waste a single minute of daylight. If Maledict is there, we cannot squander this opportunity.

"Agreed." they all said at once. Within a few minutes, all four of them were out the door, on their way to the address Jack had given them. Only Jack remained behind. He rubbed a finger along the handle of his cane nervously.

"Good luck." he whispered.

* * *

"Hey, wait a minute." Rowan blurted. Alex sighed impatiently.

"What is it now?"

By now it was dusk, and the two of them were in the living room of Rowan's house. Naida, Rowan's mother, was in the kitchen making dinner. Rowan was sprawled over the sofa, and Alex was sitting in her armchair, cross-legged.

"So, you're Natasha, and Mike is Nate."

"Yes."

"And Jack is still Jack."

"Yes."

"And I'm pretty sure that Jade is really Crystal, and that Will is Wally. And Kell is definitely Sam"

"That's right."

"But you said that it was a hundred years after you became a demon. I know that you're immortal, but how could everyone else be around that long?"

Alex sighed, and then chuckled.

"Oh, that's right. I never told you that story. Let me see if I can explain. So I'm immortal, and Nate was, not just my boyfriend, but my mate."

"Ew." said Rowan with feeling.

"It's a term that became proper once magic became common. It meant that the two of us were compatible, and were joined forever. So our souls were linked, and we were forever connected. That meant that if one of us were immortal, then both of us would be."

"And the others?"

"Well we had a pleasant surprise when we found out that Wally, as a werewolf was also immortal, just like vampires are. No one was more surprised than Wally, I can tell you. And Crystal, well, after a few years, she managed to convince Jack to turn her into a werewolf too, so that she and Wally could share a real life together. And have puppies.

"Jack wasn't immortal, but as a warlock, he was naturally long lived."

"And what about Sam, or Kell?"

"Well, both he and I share the same soul, so for some reason that only Jack could understand, he was immortal too, because I was."

"Ah."

"May I continue with the story now?"

"Yes ma'am."

* * *

"What we have here, is a failure to communicate."

"Settle honey." Will said quietly. The four of them were walking through the streets of the city, now filled to capacity in both the roads and the sidewalks. The thronging crowd was noisy to a level of almost deafening, and moved and undulated like a living thing. However, the four of them had no problem dodging and weaving between people as they moved against the tide. Unnoticed. Unseen.

"No, it has to be said. Jack's telling us less and less as time goes on. Before you know it he won't tell us anything at all, just who to kill."

"Jade!" Nate exclaimed, and everyone looked at her.

"Don't pretend you don't see it. He holds back information that he thinks we don't need to know. Before you know it he'll sprout wings and call himself Abryl."

Will interrupted her by placing a hand on her shoulder. She looked back at him, but he just blinked calmly.

"Jade you need to stop this." he said. "He's your twin. You're supposed to be close."

"We used to be close." she told him as she shrugged him off. "But he's changed. Sometimes I don't even know who he is anymore."

"Yes he's changed. What do you expect after so many years? But that said, we've all changed too."

"Yea for the better!" Jade blurted. "I mean, I know that I'm not the same person I was back then. I know that I've changed. But the changes I made were so I could have a life with my husband." she said, and reached out to grab Will's hand, despite the fact that she'd shrugged it off a moment ago.

"He hasn't tried to better himself. He's just gotten old and cranky."

"Reminds me of someone else I know." Nate whispered so that only Natasha could hear. She shot him a grim look, but had to turn away so that he wouldn't see her grin. Sometimes he would refer to her as an 'old lady', and it cracked her up every time.

"Gotcha." he said in the privacy of their mental link.

"Fine, so you got me. What do you want a cookie?"

"It'd be nice. So do you forgive me?"

"Oh alright." she said, and sent him a spine-tingling warm feeling that made him smile. "But don't tell the others how generous I am. I wouldn't want have to give out fuzzy feelings all day."

"And I don't want to share." he replied with a mental chuckle. Natasha laughed out loud.

"Stop it you two." Jade snapped. "I'm trying to vent my frustration, and you two are having whispered conversations behind my back."

"They're not ignoring you, honey." Will told her. "They're just settling a dispute of their own."

Both Natasha and Nate gaped at Will, but he just smiled and shrugged, then winked at the two of them. Somehow, neither of them ever seemed to be able to take Will seriously. But, over the course of their friendship with him, they found that while didn't take him seriously, he'd been taking in . . . well everything. They knew fully well that he treasured their friendship, and was absolutely devoted to Jade, but it was easy to forget that underneath that simple and easygoing exterior, was a keen mind that was constantly watching, and listening.

"Jade, I know you're concerned about your brother." Natasha said, waving a hand dismissively. "But just put yourself in his shoes. He's worked almost his entire life towards one goal. And then, just as his dream was about to be realized, it turned against him, and became a perverted form of what it could have been. Don't you think that, if it were you, you'd be just a little cranky too?"

They walked in relative silence, as the people around them jostled one another, but somehow never seemed to touch the four of them.

"I hate it when you're right." Jade said eventually.

* * *

Kell spent some of the morning watching TV, but only half paying attention. Mostly he was just maintaining the semblance of doing something as he organized his thoughts. The pups were at school and Jack was meditating in his room, so he had the rest of the house to himself.

Kell wasn't always his name. It's actually derived from his real name, because he couldn't be bothered to make up another one. At least that's what he told everyone else. The truth was that any of the others that he had considered when the time came, just didn't seem right. His real name was Sam Sprinkles. Sam had served its purpose, and it was time to change it. 'Spring' just didn't fit, despite Crystal's immediate affection for it. But Kell, that had a sound to it that Sam liked the sound of. He could see himself buying a drink for a guy named Kell.

So that was his name, and had been for the past forty years now. It doesn't sound like a long time, but recently, whenever any of the others would mistakenly call him Sam, he'd spend a moment trying to work out who they were talking to. Somehow he felt that this should bother him, but it didn't. And it bothered him that it didn't bother him.

It wasn't as if it was necessary for him to change his name. For the others it was very easy to see why, they all had lives. Maybe not in this city, but in this country, this dimension. Sam had never had a life in this dimension. His first years here had been spent almost entirely in one house, with occasional trips to the local bar. He'd been snatched from his home, not by a malevolent being, but by fate. He'd just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not that he regretted it now, of course. He'd had over a hundred years of contemplation to come to terms with his situation, with the added bonus that with the standardization of magic, he was no longer a freak to those he'd been hiding from. Now he was considered one of them: Human, with modifications to his body. Now he could enjoy uninhibited trips to the bar, not that he'd ever actually worried about that before, but the others had, and although he cared about all of them, sometimes the call of alcohol was just too strong to disobey.

But now it was something else, something that had set him apart from his friends, who he now considered his family. Magic had broken out. It had become like the guns, cars, electricity. Another scientific discovery that, after a few years, had become almost a household name.

The whole world was dabbling in the occult. But the thing that made it so interesting was the fact that it was so easy to use, for anything. He'd told Natasha that it was the new Pokemon. And it was in more way that one. It could be anything for anyone. Whatever any one person believed magic was like, that's what it was like for them. So that meant that there were as many varieties of magic as there were varieties of people. To some it was a tool, and others it was a natural force, like light or gravity.

To Kell, old Sam Sprinkles, it was nothing. He'd tried it out, just like everyone else, but unlike everyone else nothing had happened. When he'd complained to Jack (he'd thrown his brand new crystal ball at the wall, and it'd bounced off to strike Jack in the head. Jack had asked if something was bothering him), he'd reacted as though the answer was obvious. Sam was from a different reality, with a subtly different set of physical laws. And magical laws. The result of this circumstance meant that Sam was unable to wield magic, and was unaffected by it.

This did not mean that he was completely invulnerable. He could still be easily strangled by a person who had been physically enhanced with magic, or blown apart by a spell that caused an explosion. But any spell that tried to affect him directly simply wouldn't work. So he'd let it go, and carried on with his normal life, which as time wore on became less and less normal.

Then Maledict came along. Kell thought about it with a wry chuckle. That whole thing was an enormous fly in Jack's ointment, and as usual, he'd taken it personally. He'd gone out on his own trying to fight the fiend, but eventually after decades of failed attempts, his body began to fail him, so he relied more and more on the help of his friends, who gave it gladly. Except for Sam, who couldn't.

"Hmm, we'll just see about that, won't we?" Kell said aloud as he got up. He walked through the expansive living room into the corridor beyond. It was narrow compared to the rooms of the house, and each of the doors along the walls were spaced suspiciously normally. But each room was the large enough to fit a house of its own, and one of these was Kell's room.

Once upon a time he'd have bound across the room in a few jumps, but now he just walked for a minute or two until he reached the computer. It was one of the signs that he was getting old. Not so much because of discomfort, but because didn't see the point in rushing things anymore.

"I may not be able to do magic, but I can google with the best of them." he said, and sat down.

* * *

It was noon before Natasha, Nate, Jade and Will made their way through the centre of the city to the suburbs on the other side. It was annoying to go straight through the busy streets packed with rude people and solid noise, but it was quicker than going around.

They passed a few suburbs, picking up their pace as they realized that they were wasting daylight. Eventually, after a few wrong turns and dead ends, they found the right address.

"So," Nate said once they found the place, "this is the den of evil, sinister blood sucking fiends."

The house in question was only one story, but with a small space build on top of it that could only be an attic, because it was too small to be anything else. There was a wooden verandah spanning the entire front side of it, with steps leading up to it from the driveway.

"Looks like a bungalow." Jade offered.

"A what?" Natasha asked, looking at her. Will shook his head.

"Don't mind her, she looked up the word 'bungalow' the other day, and has been dying for a chance to use it."

"Hee."

"Well, ignoring that, we should go inside."

"Are we sure this is the right place?" Will asked.

"Absolutely." Natasha said instantly. "I can feel them from here. This is a place of evil."

"Well in that case we should just walk right in." Nate said cheerfully, unsheathing his sword. It was specially made for him, by a master sword-maker in Japan. Nate and Natasha had left home and came back a year later with the sword in hand. It was custom made for Nate, based on his hight, weight and the length of his arms, a perfectly balanced steel katana. But what made especially effective against vampires was the edge. It'd been gilded in silver, which after much study on Jack's part, was discovered to be a universal magical inhibitor. Silver couldn't be enchanted or charmed, and it couldn't hold a spell. And any cut made by silver could not be healed magically.

They all fronted up at the door, and didn't bother to knock. Natasha just kicked the door in, sending it spinning down the hall. Unfortunately it didn't hit anyone, because no one was in sight. Silence was the only response to their arrival.

"I think they know we're here." Will whispered. He took off his jacket, shoes, and pants, to expose a tight-fitting bodysuit underneath that completely covered his body from neck to toe. It sported a familiar colour pattern in shades of white and light brown. After a moment of hesitation, Jade did the same. She was wearing the same thing, but with a slightly different colour pattern.

"It's about time Jack finished those." Nate said as he held his backpack open so they could put their clothes inside.

"They haven't been tested yet." Jade said.

"Well they're about to be." Natasha murmured, and motioned for them to move forward. After a brief search of the rooms they checked the attic with not much hope to find anything there. The only place left was the basement. As they stood at the top of the stairs they were distracted by a deep growling.

"Will!" Natasha whispered harshly.

"I'm sorry, it's just that Jade's wearing a skin tight bodysuit. It's distracting."

"Down boy." Nate said trying to suppress his giggle. "We have a job to do."

He and Natasha led the way downstairs while Jade and Will followed behind them.

"So you really think I'm distracting?" Jade asked Will in a whisper.

"You know it."

"That has to be the nicest thing I've ever been told. You're pretty distracting yourself."

"Well I've been working out."

"Shh!"

Natasha looked back at them with steel in her eyes. The happy couple took the hint and stopped. There was a hint of purple in those eyes, their true colour. A demon's eyes.

Before long they reached the bottom of the stairs, which ended at a closed door. They stopped in front of it, and Natasha signalled them to wait as she listened. She couldn't hear anything, but could feel the evil emanating from behind the door like heat, and with a quick probe with her mind, she could feel several minds. Some of them reeked of fear, others of anger. But all of them were alert. Natasha opened her eyes and looked to the others behind her. She held up three fingers, and they all nodded. She lowered one finger, leaving two, then another. Then she kicked in the door, which just like the first door went spinning across the room. The only difference this time was that it struck someone that had been waiting on the other side, sending them sprawling. The four of them ran inside and within a split second took in their surroundings. The walls of the basement had been dug out to make the space much larger than it was supposed to be, causing it to look more like a cave than a basement. Lit torches were hung on the walls, illuminating the figures scattered around the cavern. They were all dressed in the same clothes, red shirts with black jackets and pants. All of them were pale, and all of them charged at the four vampire hunters. Nate decapitated two of them with one stroke of his blade, sending their bodies falling to turn into piles of ash. Will threw a punch that made the vampire's face concave, and he fell to the floor bleeding. As he moved on to the next one Jade crouched down to tear out the prone vampire's throat. Natasha began fighting by creating fireballs in the palms of her hands and throwing them at the oncoming horde. After the first few vampires fell the others became more wary, and kept their distance from Nate's sword, dodging Natasha's fireballs. Jade saw an opportunity with one vampire keeping his distance, and ran at him, tackling him to the ground.

Almost instantly another vampire, a young woman, leaped over them and directly onto Will. He stopped her by catching her, but she clawed at his face. The scratches healed almost instantly, but the vampire in his arms screamed in agony as she watched the tips of her fingers give off smoke as they burned.

It should be said that there are as many varieties of vampire as there are varieties of people. Each one, upon creation, has a unique set of abilities, strength and weaknesses, not including the ones that apply to all vampires. In an instant a light went on in Will's head as he realized that this particular vampire was particularly vulnerable to werewolves. So much so that it hurt to even touch them. The downside of this was that he was almost completely covered with only his head exposed, but he came up with a solution straight away.

"Feel the burn, baby." he said, and kissed the screaming harpy. Her screams became muffled but also more desperate as smoke erupted from their embrace like steam from a kettle. Then the vampire glowed from within and turned to ash. Will smiled in satisfaction. His smile soon faded, however, when he saw that Jade was watching him, her mouth agape.

"Um . . . I can explain." he said.

"Did you . . . Is that ash on your neck?"

"It's not what it looks like." he spluttered.

"Oh we are SO talking about this when we get home."

"Later!" Natasha shouted at them. "Little help?!"

Jade didn't respond, but just transformed. She almost doubled in size, and crouched down on her hands. Lush, voluminous hair grew over her entire body, the colour of the fur matching the pattern of her bodysuit, and she developed a snout and long pointy ears. She was a werewolf, now in wolf form, and she was beautiful to behold. She barked once, deafening in the enclosed space, and pounced into the fray. With a sigh, Will did the same and followed his wife.

After that the fight finished quite quickly. Both Will and Jade literally tore through the vampires with tooth and claw. Nate spun and danced with his sword, every move creating another cloud of ash. Natasha, worn out from her magical exertions was now wielding a short silver dagger, and she dispatched each vampire with a quick series of stabs and jabs that caused each one to stagger to the ground and explode into ash. Soon the four of them were the only ones in the cavern. Will and Jade changed back to their original shapes, covered from head to toe in ash, breathing heavily, and their eyes glowing with a dim golden light, typical to werewolves just after a shape-shift. Although Will's eyes were glowing different colours, one gold and one blue.

All four were breathing hard, standing tall in the centre of the room. Nate was holding his sword by the handle so that it came up behind his arm, just like he'd been taught. Natasha simply held her dagger loosely at her side, and the two werewolves, although they held no weapons, at that moment looked just as dangerous.

"Maledict wasn't here." Natasha said eventually.

"That's a shame." Will replied. "But now he has fourteen less minions."

Another moment of silence passed between them.

"Shower time." Nate announced, and headed back toward the stairs.

"Ugh, I couldn't agree more." Jade said, and followed him, wiping the thick layer of ash from her face.

* * *

It was three o'clock, and that only meant one thing.

"HOME TIME!" chanted the classroom, and they all packed away their things swung their bags onto their backs and filed out of the room. Mr. Kane stood by the blackboard, his hands hidden by being tucked into his large sleeves in front of him, turned to face the class, and sighed. He looked like a sensei, or some other form of wise man, with his long flowing robe. He always stood with his hands clasping each other, invisible within the wide sleeves.

"Alright. Everyone remember their homework tomorrow. I won't accept any excuses such as 'my dog ate it.' Especially you three, Emmy, Jason and Tyran."

The three children laughed and waved goodbye to their teacher, and soon the classroom was empty, with only the sound of hundreds of feet and voices echoing in the hallways. A piece of chalk that had been floating in the air drifted back down to the base of the board where it fell into place in the groove. Mr. Alister Kane sat back down at his desk, and a drawer opened all on its own it seemed, and a book floated out. It landed lightly on the desktop in front of him, opened itself and started flicking its pages, trying to find the right place. All the while Mr. Kane's hands remained hidden within his sleeves.

It had been a point of interest by the principal and other teachers when he'd applied for the job. Every one of them, at one point, asked the question: 'Why don't you ever use your hands?' Alister had long ago given up trying to provide any kind of answer, so instead he'd taken to simply shrugging and saying 'Magic', as though that explained everything.

And in a way, it did. There were some people in the world that, in exchange for their magical power, were forced to give up something in return. This seemed somewhat unfair, considering there were many many others that made no such sacrifice for their power. But that was magic for you, it was fickle and unpredictable. And it was different for everyone. So the explanation of 'magic' was enough to curb anyone's curiosity on the subject, which saved Alister a lot of time, effort and trouble. Besides, they probably wouldn't have hired him if they'd known the true reason.

Luckily Mr. Kane was telekinetic, which more than made up for the loss of the use of his hands, so his actual work performance never came into question. It was just . . . one of those things. The kids made fun of him from time to time, but not as much as they normally would. There was a rumour going around that he kept his hands hidden because he didn't have any hands, that there were only bloody stumps where his hands used to be. Or that they weren't hands at all, but tentacles, or claws or even the human heads of his brothers that were never born. He laughed at some of these. Half of them he had made up himself, but some had just come from nowhere. It was amazing the things that children thought of.

Then he found the right page, where he'd placed a folded piece of paper between the pages. It lifted up and unfolded itself in front of Mr. Kane so he could read it. At the top was the title 'My Auntie the Devil'.

Yes, he thought to himself, his face grim. It is amazing the things children come up with.

* * *

"Maybe we should eat our homework." Jason said to his brother and sister. "After all, it's almost believable that we would."

"Yea, for you maybe." Emmy replied. She poked Tyran in the ribs with her elbow, he smiled widely but didn't laugh, but it was enough for her. The three of them were walking home from school, each of them with their bags over one shoulder. Emmy struggled to get comfortable with hers, so Tyran took it from her and slung it over his other shoulder with minimal effort. He was easily the biggest of the three, taller by the others by a head, and although he was only twelve years old, he was already developing visible muscle. Emmy was the smallest of the three even though she was older than Jason by a year. At ten years old she looked very much like a normal ten year old girl. Except for her eyes, which seemed to hold a deep intelligence that was unexpected by any that talked to her. Jason was thin but wiry, like a sprinter or long distance runner.

All three of them were more than they looked, because they were werewolves. It wasn't a secret, considering the state of the world, when werewolves, mediums and the occasional dabbler in the occult coming out into the open and not hiding anymore. Werewolves over the past seventy years, although seen as savage and primal at first, have grown to be perceived as people, only different.

In times past, when werewolves were only a myth in the minds of the populace, it was not out of the ordinary within werewolf culture to be in either shape. Now in more modern neo-werewolf culture, being in wolf form was kept to a minimum, and only in the presence of other werewolves. The only exception to this rule was in extreme circumstances, such as self defense. And so far the status-quo has been maintained between humans and werewolves, neither causing much trouble for the other.

"Hello kids."

All three children turned to face the voice that called to them.

"Oh, hello Lucas." said Emmy, and smiled. Her brothers smiled too and waved. The young man in front of them seemed to stand awkwardly. He wouldn't look at them directly, but always at the ground in front of him, and his hands were always up by his chest, twitching occasionally. This was normal, and the children were accustomed to it. Lucas Meyer had a nervous disorder, one that left him physically handicapped when it came to functioning normally in society, although his mind was mercifully unaffected. He was also their neighbor, and often walked with them to and from school.

"H-how was school?" he asked with a characteristic stutter.

"It was fine." said Jason as all four of them started walking, the three kids curbing their pace so that Lucas could keep up. "The teacher told us not to eat our homework."

Lucas chuckled.

"H-have you given him r-reason to think that you w-would?"

"Nah." said Emmy, skipping from side to side as she walked. "I think he's just jealous that he never had that excuse when he was a kid."

"Y-you're talking about Alister right?" Lucas asked.

"Yup."

"Well then I know he's j-jealous."

"You know Mr. Kane?" Emmy asked.

"Yes I know Alister. I-is he a good teacher?"

"He's ok." Jason asked, turning to walk backwards so he could face Lucas. "But since you know him, do ya think you could shed some light on something?"

"I'll t-try."

"Why doesn't he ever show his hands?"

"You mean he hasn't told you yet?" Lucas said with a frown.

"No." Emmy cried, suddenly seeing an opportunity to find out the secret to their teacher's hands. "What is it?"

"W-well, you know those chinese finger traps?"

A moment's silence fell over the group. Each of the children traded looks with one another.

"No." Jason eventually whispered. Of course he knew what finger traps were, but he just wasn't willing to accept the possibility that one could be behind the mystery.

"Yes. Got himself s-stuck years ago and n-never figured out how to get himself out."

The four of them shared a laugh, and continued talking as they made their way home. Eventually they all made it to the driveway to the children's house.

"Would you like to come in, Lucas?" Emmy offered. "Momma's gonna make some pizza for dinner. I'm sure there'd be enough for you too."

Lucas shook his head, stepping from one foot to the other.

"I couldn't."

"We insist." said Jason, and led Lucas to the front door. Before they could open it however, it opened from the inside to reveal Natasha, wearing dirty but nice looking clothes and a smudged face, smiling at them.

"Hello kids, welcome home. Lucas, can I assume that the dear children have once again shanghaied you into dining with us again?"

The kids laughed as they dumped their bags by the door and running through the enormous room into the next one. Lucas laughed too, and looked at the floor around him as he twitched his hands again.

"They have. I hope it's not an inconvenience."

"Nonsense Lucas. You've been living next door to us for six years now, you know that you're always welcome here." she said as she ushered him inside and closed the door. Wally came and welcomed Lucas as well with a careful handshake, and the two of them chatted while Natasha made her way upstairs to the bathroom. She knocked on the door.

"Jade, are you done? The kids are home, and Lucas is staying for dinner."

The bathroom door opened abruptly, and Jade stood there wrapped up in one towel and drying her hair with another. The bodysuit was flung over her shoulder.

"I forgot about dinner!" exclaimed Jade as she threw her hair drying towel to the ground. Natasha grinned at the image that she saw of Jade standing in a towel, with still damp blonde hair sticking out at odd angles and a panicked look in her eyes.

"Don't worry." she said. "We can still order out."

"We did that last night."

"Would you rather go to the supermarket now, with all of those other mothers with their bratty kids just out of school following them around demanding candy and treats and screaming their heads off in front of you in the checkout line, as well as behind you, either side, and in all likelihood all over you too?"

"Where's the phone?"

Natasha held the cordless phone out and Jade snatched it up, hitting speed-dial for the closest pizza delivery place. Natasha opened the nearby sheets cupboard and picked out a clean towel, then brandished it at Jade, who was still standing in the bathroom.

"Oh sorry. Bathroom's all yours." she said, and fled to her room, phone pressed to her ear, then closed the door behind her. Natasha smiled, locked the door, undressed and then changed her shape.

This was a normal procedure for Natasha, whenever she took a shower. After all it took effort for her to hold onto any form that wasn't her own, and it was nice to let go once in a while and just, literally, be herself. Her feet lengthened to stand on their toes, which turned into large black hooves. Her skin's colour drained away to reveal a stark pattern of black and white stripes. Her fingers became more than twice as long, and razor sharp. Horns grew from her lengthening purple hair like black and white snakes. Finally, and perhaps creepiest of all, another eye opened and blinked at the sudden light in the centre of her forehead. She preferred to shower in her true shape because it was her true form, that of a demon. Also because for some reason, doing so in any other shape just seemed wrong somehow. Besides, it was more relaxing to wash oneself without having to concentrate about what shape one was in.

Her hooves clunked loudly on the tiles that lined the bathroom floor as she stepped into the shower. With practiced ease she used one fingertip to spin the hot water tap, and relished as scalding hot water cascaded over her body, melting away the tension that she'd been holding ever since she'd entered the vampire house. The hot water would normally be too hot for anyone else, but to Natasha it didn't matter. She wasn't affected by extreme temperatures, at least not harmfully. It came with the territory.

She proceeded to lather some soap in her hands and rub her body down all over. She felt a familiar tug as her finger caught on her nipple ring. She toyed with it for a moment. To this day she still didn't know why she'd gotten it in the first place. It'd seemed like such a good idea at the time. It'd been over a hundred years since she'd gotten it, and she knew that if she removed it it would heal in moments as though it had never been. But for some reason she never did. Not once in a hundred years. Funny really, if she felt like it, she could take it off right now.

"Nah." she muttered eventually and continued to have her shower.

An hour later pizza had arrived and Jade had set the table for ten people. The kids picked the seats closest to Lucas, Emmy chattering, Jason laughing, and Tyran just sitting and listening. Everyone eventually converged on the dinner table. There was pizza for everyone, and plenty left over, but between bites everyone found something to talk about and laugh at. This was a normal dinner at Natasha's home. Lucas being there was nothing new. He laughed and joked with the rest of them, even if Emmy or Jade, sitting on either side of him had to help him once in a while to get a slice of pizza into his mouth. Everything was as it should be.

Except for the person waiting outside, across the street.

* * *

It was after dark when Lucas finally left to go home. Since he only lived next door he insisted that he didn't need any help to make his way there, so he waved goodbye to Emmy who stood at the front door, and walked at his usual unsteady pace across the lawn. As soon as he crossed onto his own lawn something heavy fell on him, and he fell to the grass with a thud that knocked all the air out of him. He struggled to get back up, but moving was always difficult for him at the best of times, so he didn't manage to do more than writhe on the ground. Something grabbed him around the throat with an iron grip that felt as cold as steel. It lifted him up by his neck and he could feel something razor sharp pressed against his skin on either side of his neck. He blinked, trying to see what it was, but his eyes refused to focus. He choked, the relentless grip cutting off his air.

" . . . Lucas?" came a voice, and whatever it was that held onto Lucas let go, sending him falling in a crumpled heap on the grass. "Oh my gosh are you alright?"

Lucas struggled to rise again, and was helped to his feet, this time by a gentle force that came from all around him.

"W-w-w-who a-a-are y-y-you?" Lucas croaked, rubbing his injured throat as best he could. At that moment he cursed the problem from his birth that wouldn't let him see properly. He couldn't make out anything in the darkness. And even if it were still light, it would've all been a blur anyway.

"Lucas, it's Alister. I'm so sorry I thought you were someone else."

"A-Alister?"

Then, after a couple of attempts, Lucas managed to concentrate and gather an image of his friend Alister Kane standing in front of him with his hands tucked into his sleeves

"What the hell's wrong with you?" Lucas demanded, managing not to stutter. "You could have k-killed me."

"I'm sorry my friend. I've been watching this house for hours, waiting. I think that there may be a demon living there."

"And just w-what the hell made you think I was a d-demon."

Alister shook his head and looked thoroughly sorry for himself.

"I don't know. I've been watching this place for a while. You know Emmy, Jason and Tyran?"

"Of course, I w-walk them home from school almost e-every day."

"Well I'm certain that there's someone there that shouldn't be."

Lucas tried to make sense of what his friend was saying, but nothing seemed to come together.

"Why would you think that?"

"Because of an essay Emmy handed in one day called 'My Auntie the Devil'. There's someone here, a woman in fact, that might be a demon in disguise."

"I haven't seen anyone there like that."

"Well why would you?"

"I have dinner there at l-least once a week. I think I m-might have noticed something by now."

"You didn't tell me you ate dinner there."

"You d-didn't ask." Lucas said, sounding hurt. As though he were supposed to let his friend in on absolutely everything he did in his own time. Alister shook his head and started to walk his friend back to his house.

"Maybe I'm over thinking this." he said out loud. But in the privacy of his mind he thought, or perhaps not.

* * *

"Mommy, Natasha just told us that you helped her kill vampires today!"

Emmy bounded up onto Jade's lap as she settled into her favourite armchair to read. Once Emmy made her appearance however, she calmly put her book aside and folded her arms.

"Yes I did, and I'm very disappointed in her by telling you this so late at night, when you should be getting ready for bed."

"It's not her fault. I made her tell me."

"I'll just bet you did." Jade said with a chuckle, then hugged her daughter.

"She said that there was an army of fifty vampires running at you across a blood-soaked field. She said that she got most of them, but you helped hold down a few of them while she cut their heads off."

Jade stared blankly at her daughter for a moment, then called out towards the kitchen.

"Hey Nat. Have you been exaggerating again?"

"No." Nat replied from where she stood in front of the sink, washing the dishes.

"Is that true or are you lying again?"

"Yes."

"Should've known."

"Well, is it true?" Emmy pestered. Jade sighed and shrugged.

"Sure, why not."

"Yay!"

"Now go to bed. I'll be up to tuck you in shortly.

"Aw mom."

"Don't argue! Now get going."

Sulking, Emmy slipped off of her mother's lap and marched up the stairs, followed by Jason and Tyran. Jade, in an attempt to reclaim the moment's piece she'd almost had, picked up her book and tried to find her place.

"Speaking of today, you looked amazing in that were-suit. I think you should put it back on and let me have a closer look."

"No way, I'm still mad at you." Jade said, not looking up from her book. Will seemed crestfallen.

"What? What for?"

"Don't you 'what for' me, you know perfectly well what for. You kissed her."

"The vampire? Honey, it was the only way."

Kell, as he passed through the room with a beer in his hand, chuckled.

"Not the smartest thing to have said, but I suppose kids these days have to learn somehow."

"We're over a hundred years old." Will sneered at him. "We're only a few years apart."

"Still older 'n you, jock."

Will growled deeply. Kell just laughed without looking back and continued on his way through the corridor. When Will turned back to his wife, she wasn't there. He turned this way and that to try and see where she'd gone, and saw her just disappear through the doorway to the dining room. He sighed and wiped his face with his hands.

"Guess I'm sleeping on the couch tonight." he muttered. Kell poked his head from behind the corridor doorway.

"Yea, you're in the dog house now."

He vanished through the door just as Will leapt over the couch and ran through to catch him.

Natasha, now finished with the dishes, washed her hands and made her way upstairs as well. She and Nate had a bedroom set up in the attic which, through the power of Jack's space warping magic that dominated the inside of the house, was large enough to accommodate the large double bed, a wide square of padded floor, and two walk-in wardrobes. Nate was sitting in the far corner, legs crossed, eyes closed, and hands resting easily on his knees. His posture was rigid and breathing slow and even. he was meditating. Years ago, Nate had studied under a true kung-fu master. It was an attempt to fit in with the group of magical creatures he'd found himself a part of. They'd more often than not have to solve some of their problems by fighting someone/thing, so Nate had tried to find something that could give him an edge, a way to contribute. Through his studies, he learned about what his teacher had called the 'mindful breath', a way of breathing and sitting that allowed him to relax completely and calm his mind. It brought him closer to that state known well by the competent kung-fu practitioners, and coveted by the incompetent ones. The state called 'no mind'. This allowed him to master the technique of controlled spontaneity, to react instantly to any situation with complete control and focus. Handy for a fighter in a chaotic battle.

Natasha had tried to learn alongside him, but unfortunately couldn't find the patience to sit still for extended periods of time. As a result she didn't spend long under the wing of Nate's teacher. That was why he got the sword, and Natasha got nothing.

Who cares, she thought to herself, I can fight as well as he can anyway.

"Hey Mike." she said, calling him by his real name. Nate opened his eyes and smiled.

"Hey Sandra." he replied, using her real name in return. Without another word, she knelt down and crawled into his arms, which he wrapped around her gratefully.

"I missed you." she whispered.

"I haven't gone anywhere."

"Not like that. I've missed calling you Mike. I miss you calling me Sandra. I miss using our real names, instead of changing them. I hate it."

"You never mentioned this before."

"Well it never bothered me at the time, and every time we used them I thought 'I can handle this, I can deal with it'."

"And?"

"And it does bother me. I can handle it, but it still bothers me. I just want to use our real names tonight, sort of remind me of who we are."

"You know who we are. You girlfriend, me boyfriend. We go-getting crime-fighting team."

"You know what I mean idiot."

"Yes I knew what you meant." Nate said with a smile. He lay down on the floor and Natasha crawled up next to his so that she was nuzzling his chest. She lay a hand over his stomach and threw a leg over his, and closed her eyes to enjoy the comfort of his body against hers.

"I could scratch you up good y'know, if you keep up being a moron." she said.

"And I'd heal up straight away, before you got any more bright ideas."

They lay still for a while, not saying anything. Several minutes of contented silence passed.

"I've been thinking about Abryl a little bit recently." she said eventually.

"Mm hmm?"

"Jade . . . Crystal mentioned him earlier today, and I haven't been able to get him out of my head."

"Do you miss him?"

"Pff, no. But there's something about him that I just can't quite put my finger on. Something about him that's bugging me."

"What is it?"

"I don't know, and that's the thing. I can't help but feel that I'm missing something important. Something subtle but crucial, but I can't think of it and it's driving me nuts."

"Well I'm sure you'll think of it. You're a smart girl, and when you grow up you'll probably be the envy of those around you."

One of Natasha's fingers lengthened instantly, striped in black and white, and flicked up to scratch under Nate's chin. A vivid red line appeared and then disappeared almost as quickly.

"Ouch."

"You deserved that you know."

"Yea I did." he said, still smiling. "I love you Sandra."

"I love you too Mike." they whispered to each other. Their lips met in a kiss, and they held each other closer.

"Just don't make any more jokes about my age. You know I hate that."

"Yea." Nate replied with a chuckle. "You and every other woman out there."

"I'm serious. If you make another joke like that I won't be held responsible for the consequences."

He threw his hands up in mock surrender.

"Alright, I'll try."

This time all of Natasha's fingers took on their natural, razor sharp length.

"You'll do more than try." she said. There was no room for argument in her voice.

"Yes ma'am."

Then they kissed again and held each other even closer.

Fifteen minutes passed in silence as they lay in each other's arms. Then Nate got something out of his pocket and handed it to her.

"Here." he whispered. "I got you something."

Natasha took it from the palm of his hand and examined it closely. It was a locket, made of a metal that she didn't recognize, but was beautiful to look at. It was as though someone had turned ink into crystal, then turned that crystal into metal, and then made this locket out of it. It was deep blue, so blue that it looked black at first glance, and it shimmered in the dim light. It was a long oval shape, with a long engraved line cut across both of its sides diagonally. It hung from a chain that was connected to it right where the line met the edge, making it hang on an angle.

"It's beautiful." she said with a wide smile, and tried to open it. She tried again, but it didn't open. She tried harder, but it wouldn't budge.

"How do I open it?" she asked. Nate just smiled.

"It's a puzzle. You have to figure out how to open it."

"Why can't you just tell me?"

"Because that wouldn't be anywhere near as much fun."

"For you or for me?"

"Ha, figure it out."

Natasha scratched him, then laughed and kissed him again.

"I love it. Thank you."

* * *

Once again Jack floated in the astral plane. The astral plane resembled outer space, because there were what looked like stars everywhere in all directions. There were two important differences though. One was that instead of black, like space, everything was varying hues of blue, which faded to purple, then red. It was always changed and shifting. The other difference was that the points of light that speckled the astral landscape were actually nodes. They were collections of memories, or clusters of knowledge, or even caches of information that had been left behind for safekeeping by a long dead mage.

The condition of Jack's physical body had no bearing here, only his mind. As such he appeared in the astral plane was somewhat more efficient, functional . . . sleek. It hadn't always been, it'd changed slowly over time as his mind became more and more accustomed to existing in a plane of existence with a different set of physical laws. At first, many many years ago, he appeared in astral just as he did in real life. But as time wore on, his subconscious seemed to cotton on that it didn't really have hair, or legs since if nothing was physical why walk at all? Eventually all that remained of Jack's astral self that remotely resembled his real self was just a floating torso, with attached arms and head. Nothing else. Where his legs had been there was a faint white energy trail which almost resembled a form of propulsion, although it wasn't. The rest of his body, if one could call it that, was elongated and thin. A chest that was half the width of any chest should be, arms as thin as bone, long and elegant hands, and a slightly elongated head. As for the head, the only features that adorned it were a pair of slanted eyes that glowed white with suppressed power. In fact, if any of the others could see this Jack's representation of himself, they'd most likely admit that it looked, if nothing else, cool.

Tomie floated alongside him, still looking the same that it ever had, a book with static face on it.

"You can still feel him, can't you?" asked Tomie. Jack nodded.

"I can, but he's masking it somehow. I can no longer feel its origin, only that it is there." he said, in a voice that was generated directly from his will, and not via the use of a physical method that in this place would be redundant. Over time he'd been able to transcend his physical five senses here in the astral. Most things in this plane couldn't be seen, heard, felt, smelled or tasted. But they could be sensed in other ways, ways that cannot possibly be described using words, since no words exist to describe them. But in this case, the closest anyone, even Jack could come to describing how he could sense this person's energy, would be 'feel'.

"I'm not surprised." Tomie muttered. "After all he's had a long time to learn."

"Fifty years to be exact."

"Fifty two years, eight months and twenty seven days, to be actually exact."

Jack sighed, a physical habit that even after more than a hundred years, he hadn't been able to break.

"Sorry." said Tomie sheepishly.

"It's not you. It's this situation with Maledict. The whole goddamn mess is my fault."

"Whether or not it is is beside the point. You can't keep blaming yourself Jack. It's a waste of energy, energy that should be spent on fixing the problem."

"You're right of course."

"Of course."

"When I look back, I know I should have seen the signs. His decision to change his name, his ideas for the direction of our work, his methods. They were all indicators, all of which I chose to ignore, obsessed as I was on our goal. So it's easy for me to blame myself Tomie."

"Still, don't."

"If you say so my friend."

Just then there was a spike in Maledict's power, and Jack jerked his head in the direction that it came from.

"What was that?" Tomie demanded, having felt it too.

"Maledict's just sired another fledgling."

"He's making more vampires? So soon?"

"Well it makes sense that he would want more after we'd killed so many of them."

Another spike peaked, then another moments after that, then another. Neither of the them moved.

"He's obviously in a hurry."

Jack said nothing.

"Jack?"

Still he didn't move, but remained staring into the distance.

"Jack!" Tomie yelled.

"Huh?" said Jack, snapping out of it.

"Get it together! Find out where he is and get him. By the look of things, he's creating an army. Go warn the others!"

"Right. You're right."

A moment later Jack disappeared, gone back to his waiting body. Tomie lingered a moment longer, watching the distance, sensing spike after spike of the horrible, familiar energy. Then he too was gone.

* * *

"How many?" Natasha demanded. She and Nate were still on the floor of their bedroom, sitting up in the corner. Jack stood before them, breathing heavily and leaning heavily on his cane. He'd run up the stairs two at a time, not bothering to borrow energy that he'd stored in the house over time, and not for the first time felt the effects of being old.

"At least half a dozen, but he showed no signs of stopping. There could easily be a dozen by now, and who knows how many he plans on making. It might be twenty, or a hundred for all we know."

"But how is that possible?" Nate argued. "How could he be siring so many so quickly? By the sound of it he'd have to have all of these people in one place, going from one to the other. Twenty or more people together, being bitten by a vampire one by one, faced with the certainty of eternal night? How do you think he managed it?"

"I don't know." Jack panted, shaking his head. "But we have to go NOW! We have to stop him from hurting these people. If we're lucky we'll catch him in the act, and be done with him."

Natasha stood up and approached Jack, counting on her fingers as she talked.

"First of all, I don't think Maledict will be so easy to 'be done with'. Secondly, we have no idea where he is."

"That's not true. He slipped up, and I know exactly where he is right now."

"Where?" Nate asked, standing up as well.

"Come with me, I'll tell you along with Jade and Will, they'll need to come too."

"You're right. But don't wake the kids. We don't want them to worry."

All three of them quickly but quietly hurried downstairs and went to find the two werewolves. After several minutes they discovered that the ground floor was empty except for them and Kell, who was sitting in front of his computer.

"Have you seen Jade or Will?" Natasha asked hurriedly. Kell shook his head without taking his eyes off of the screen.

"Nope. Will and I had a small disagreement earlier, but after that I haven't seen either of them."

"Ok." she said, and was about to dart back out the door, but then stopped and looked back at Kell. "Define a small disagreement."

"He had me in a headlock and I bit his knee."

"Right. Thought so."

The three of them converged in the living room, and Natasha could see that neither of the others had any more luck than she did.

"They're not here." Nate said.

"Well where could they have gone?" Jack demanded angrily.

"They went for a run." said a voice by the stairs. It was Jason, in his pajamas and looking bedraggled.

"Really? How do you know?" asked Natasha.

"Mom tucked us in, then talked with Dad outside our room. They thought they were being quiet be we could hear them." he said with a smirk.

"Do you know where?"

"The park I think." he said with a shrug. Jack swore.

"That's in completely the wrong direction. And with the two of them off on one of their wolf runs it'll take far too long to get them and get to the rec center in time."

"Is that where we're going?" asked Nate, pulling his arms into a jacket and strapping his sword onto his back.

"That's right, all three of us."

Both Nate and Natasha blinked, and hesitated in what they were doing. Nate in zipping up his jacket, and Natasha in sheathing her dagger. They shared a glance and then looked back to Jack.

"You're coming?" Natasha asked, quietly incredulous.

"Yes. I have to."

"But Jack, you're not as . . . young as you once were."

Jack grunted and pulled himself up to his full hight.

"That may be, but I'm not useless yet. I still have some power in this body of mine. Besides, I can't possibly send the two of you alone."

"We can handle ourselves Jack." said Nate reproachfully.

"You don't know that. Don't try to argue with me. I've made up my mind."

Natasha shook her head and made sure that her dagger was secure, then pulled on her jacket.

"Stubborn old coot." she muttered, then ran back into Kell's room to tell him that he was being left alone to take care of the kids. Nate finished zipping up his jacket and looked Jack up and down. The old man was dressed in a plain shirt and slacks, both a dirty grey. His coat had at one point been white, but after years of use was now just a shade lighter than the rest of his clothes. He held Tomie in one hand and his cane in the other. Nothing else whatsoever to suggest that this person was ready for combat.

"You ready?" Nate asked him. Jack nodded curtly.

"I have all I need."

"If you say so pops."

"Don't call me that."

Nate grinned.

* * *

Alister Kane was crouched in the bushes opposite the house. He didn't really know what he was waiting for, or even if anything was going to happen. But this was something that he had to do. He had to at least check up on the possibility. He'd sworn an oath.

Before long the front door of the house burst open and three people spilled out, two younger looking people and one much older. The older one waved a hand behind him without looking back and the door slammed shut, then all three of them set off down the street. Alister was surprised, but also pleased, something was finally happening. But what to do? Should he follow these people in an obvious hurry, or stay behind and watch the house?

"You need to follow them." said a voice behind him, and he spun around. He stopped midway through the motion of pulling his hands out of his sleeves and quickly put them back again. A hint of steel was visible for a brief second between his sleeves.

"Lucas! What are you doing? You can't sneak up behind me like that."

"Sorry Alister."

"Why should we follow them?"

"Because Will and Jade are already gone, and with those three leaving now the only people left in the house are the children and Kell."

"Kell?"

"The rabbit guy."

"Oh, ok. I'm glad to see you brought your bandana. Does this mean that you're coming with me?"

Lucas jerkily raised a hand to his forehead where he had wrapped his bandana around his head. It wasn't anything special really, just a regular piece of cloth with no magical influence at all. Still, it served its purpose for Lucas.

"Yes I am. I decided that even if you're wrong, we at least need to find out for sure."

Alister cracked a grin and nodded.

"Devor." he said.

"Devor." Lucas responded, and with that they both followed the trio making their way down the shadowy streets.

* * *

Minutes later Natasha, Nate and Jack arrived at the rec centre. It was a large building, housing a handful of classrooms and a large basketball court that also functioned as an assembly area. The door was locked, but Natasha quickly took care of that with her set of lockpicks that she had made herself. They all knew that this was the right place. Natasha and Jack could both feel the concentration of evil that emanated from the very walls, and even Nate could sense something that he couldn't fully describe. He tried anyway.

"Bogus." he whispered. Jack and Natasha looked at him funny, but he just shrugged in return. The door clicked open and slowly swung outwards. Darkness seemed to flow ooze the inside like thick honey. Nate silently drew his sword, Natasha her dagger, and Jack tucked Tomie up under his arm. One by one they went inside, not going further than a few steps before they were all side by side.

"This doesn't feel right Jack." Tomie told him. "It's too quiet."

Jack didn't respond right away, but eventually nodded, feeling that breaking the deafening silence of the hallway would be unwise. He focused his will and carefully thought the words of a minor incantation, something that practically all other magical practitioners had to do aloud. The spell took effect, and he and Nate could now see as well as Natasha in the inky blackness. Nate nodded his thanks without taking his eyes from dead ahead.

"Jack, can you hear me?" came a voice in Jack's mind.

"Yes I can. A bit disquieting really."

"I've linked your mind to the connection between me and Nate, that way none of us have to speak."

"Good idea. However, I trust that this is only temporary."

"Of course it is you old fart! I wouldn't want you having access to my mind like this twenty four seven."

Nate very quickly clamped a hand over his mouth and trembled slightly as he fought not to laugh out loud. Jack just gave him a black look.

As they made their way forwards, Natasha let the barriers of their minds bleed away, allowing the three of them to freely see what the others saw. They were becoming a single mind, while each still retained their own memories and personalities, they were now thinking together. One person's thoughts was another's thoughts. Each saw what the other saw, and could hear what the others could hear. Jack could hear nothing, but could penetrate the darkness with his magic. Nate's hearing, over time, had become more and more acute as a result of working so closely with a demon. He could hear only the roaring of the silence around them. Natasha took up her accustomed position at point, crawling forward on two feet and one hand, with the other hand holding her dagger ready in front of her.

Together they neared the basketball court, and still encountered nothing. But all three of them could still feel the evil presence all around them. They stepped onto the varnished wooden floor and slowed their pace so they could listen even more carefully. Natasha heard almost nothing, which worried her. She thought she could hear something, almost like the rustle of cloth somewhere nearby, but the acoustics of the vast empty space made it so very difficult to place where it could be coming from.

"I think I hear something." she told them.

"I hear it too." Nate responded. "Like the tinkling of a very small chain."

"I smell something too. Something . . . stale." Jack said.

"Yea, like unwashed clothes or greasy hair."

Then they all heard it. A sound like a low chuckle, barely even above a steady breathing. But they heard it.

And it was coming from above them. Natasha cursed. Not once did any of them think to look up, three vampire hunters didn't think to look up for vampires hiding on the ceiling. She looked up now, and paled at what she saw.

The whole high ceiling of the basketball court was covered, absolutely covered with bodies, each one clinging with claws and heavy boots wedged in the many gaps in between ceiling tiles. It was an absolute blanket of white and black. Black clothing and hair clashed with white skin wherever it was visible. As one they all dropped to the floor, and landed with one deafening thunderclap of leather and rubber soles slapping on the wooden floor. They all smiled and hissed gently, basking in the fear of their trapped prey. Natasha brought herself up onto her haunches but remained crouched, held her dagger ready and hissed in return. It was a bodily instinct that she wasn't always able to repress. Her demon body was reacting to the danger around it, and for the time being she agreed with it. Nate swung his arms so they were down by his sides, his sword held up along the back of his right arm, head hung and eyes closed as he entered his kung-fu meditation. The absence of his thoughts was prominent to the other two, but the sudden feeling of calm also had an effect on them.

Jack was looking from face to face in acute horror. Each vampire before them bore absolutely pale skin, white as bone. Their eyes bore dark black rings around them, and the eyes themselves were red-rimmed. They were by far the scariest vampires he'd ever seen.

"How can they all be so far advanced?" He thought, half to himself. "I had no idea that there were this many, they must all be at least five years old. There must be at least a hundred of them."

"They're not. They're all fledglings." Natasha replied. Jack could feel her calming down through the link that she had created. Nate still hadn't moved from where he was poised, ready for anything that came his way.

"How can you say that? Look at them. Look at their skin!"

"That's makeup"

"Vampires don't wear makeup!"

"Exactly. These people weren't vampires fifteen minutes ago. They were already wearing makeup before they came here, and all of them willingly let themselves be bitten."

What she said struck true for Jack, and he actually looked at the vampires hissing around him. The pale skin, the dark clothes. The greasy hair, heavy boots and small chains. The long coats and even a cane somewhere near the back.

"Goths."

"Yup. They must have thought they'd hit the jackpot."

One of the fledglings stepped forward.

"Now my brethren, you shall see that finally the true darkness has fallen, and the end to all things under the sun has begun."

The young man was tall but weedy. No doubt he was now stronger than five men with his new powers, and feeling high a like he'd just had a red bull and a sugar cookie, but he looked like he always had, a skinny boy with baggy black clothes and hair in his eyes.

"To me my brothers and sisters!" he called, and as he did his voice broke. "Together we shall do away with these mere mortals whom our master has offered as our first meal. Our first meal as immortals. As the true heirs to the world!"

Natasha rolled her eyes and threw the dagger with demonic speed. It imbedded itself to the hilt in the centre of his forehead. The young man groaned and slumped to the floor. With a flick of her mind, the dagger flew right back into Natasha's palm handle first, and she wielded it again, ready for battle. A young girl who had been behind the speaker, screamed and fell to her knees next to him.

"Jeremy?" she whispered, and ran a finger across his face to push the hair out of his eyes. Here eyes were sad but no tears came. She could never cry again. Her face was splattered with his blood, and as she looked up at the three hunters she brought a hand to her face, smeared some of the blood and then licked her fingers.

"Get them!" she screeched. "Get those . . . those CONFORMISTS!!"

Although stunned, the vampires around them soon came to their senses and all charged at the trio standing back to back. Nate, without opening his eyes, swung up with his sword arm and letting it pivot between his fingers as it sliced right through the neck of the first to pounce at him. Two more flicks of the wrist and two more headless bodies turned to ash at his feet. Then he opened his eyes, and really got started. Natasha was alternating between slashing with her dagger and pointing to some near the back to set them on fire. Jack still stood with his cane in one hand and Tomie tucked under his other arm. He didn't move a muscle, but just stared directly in front of him. Any who tried to attack him were fielded by both Nate and Natasha, so deep in their concentration of what they were doing but still able to keep half an eye on their friend. Within seconds of the fight starting a narrow rift opened up before Jack, vertical in mid-air. The narrow crack glowed pale blue, and suddenly the sound of strong wind could be heard. Several vampires in front of Jack were dragged off of their feet and several feet into the air. They spun around each other, colliding into other vampires and knocking them off balance. When this happened Jack pointed his cane at a group of fallen vampires and a tendril of energy shot down his arm, through his cane, and cracked through the air like lightening, exploding on impact within the pile and sending bits of goth flying everywhere.

They fought for a full half hour before Jack began to tire. The ones that attacked first were easily dispatched, but the ones afterwards were progressively wary, and not so easy to kill. He fell to his knees, sweating profusely and breathing raggedly. Both Natasha and Nate moved to put him between them as they still fought back to back, protecting him. With Jack out of the fight, the other two struggled to keep the remaining vampires at bay. Yes they were young and inexperienced, but they were passionate in their bloodlust. They had been waiting for this moment their entire lives. Natasha was forced to take a step back as one of the bigger guys grabbed her knife by the blade and twisted hard and fast, forcing her to let go.

"Nate?" she called as she forced an explosion to manifest outward in front of her, sending bodies flying.

"Yea babe?"

"I think we're losing."

Nate waited until he decapitated an oncoming fat goth chic and booted her head right into the face of the guy behind her, breaking his nose, before replying. The decapitated head and body turned to ash as two more came really close and tore strips out of his jacket with their claws.

"Yup."

Two more died before Natasha, but the others behind them were wary, and watching her carefully.

"Well . . . shit."

There was a sudden feeling about them, like the air around them thickened and compressed. Then it reversed itself so quickly that it was almost audible. As a result all of the vampires surrounding the three of them were thrown back, leaving a wide circle occupied only by Nate, Natasha, and Jack, and lots of ash.

"Thanks." said Nate.

"That wasn't me."

"Well then thanks Jack."

"Not me either." Jack wheezed.

"Then who?"

They heard footsteps, and three pairs of eyes were drawn to the door through which they had entered. Someone was coming, someone eerily familiar. He was wearing jeans and sneakers, a nondescript t-shirt and a bandana over his eyes. The three of them felt a bolt of recognition at the sight of him, but none of them could think of where they'd seen him before. The blindfolded man walked confidently and surely, as though he weren't blindfolded at all. He swung his head this way and that, like he was taking in the scene around him. He approached the group and smiled.

"You know, I never would have guessed that you three were vampire hunters." he said. Natasha squinted.

"I know you, don't I."

"Of course, in fact we shared dinner only this evening."

Natasha's jaw dropped, and Nate actually dropped his sword. He hurriedly picked it up again, as the vampires were already picking themselves up and approaching them once more.

"Lucas!" Natasha shouted, absolutely astonished that this was the same person she'd seen only a few hours earlier, that she'd known for several years. Gone was the twitching and the staggering, gone was his jerky movement and unstable walk. The man that stood before them now was cool and confident, balanced and solid as a rock. "How is this possible?"

"I'll explain later, but for now let's just say that the blindfold helps."

At that moment a vampire leapt high and aimed to land on Lucas from behind, but before it could something big struck it and changed its arc through the air to land nearby. That big something was another man, who threw off a long coat and spread his arms wide. His hands and forearms were covered by thick gauntlets, made of something so black that it was like his arms had been coated in solid night. The fingertips glinted in Natasha's vision however as the man swiped both hands across the vampire's face, and the front half of his head came clean off.

"Who's that?" Natasha asked, too shocked to do more than ask.

"That's my friend, Alister Kane. You two rest, we'll take care of the rest of them."

Natasha could do no more than just not, and knelt down beside Jack. She was exhausted and could see that Nate was in no better condition. Some of the cuts he'd taken were bleeding badly. She pulled him into her arms and immediately dumped her remaining energy reserves directly into his body, willing it to heal him.

Alister moved his hands with a speed that would have put Natasha to shame, causing one vampire's innards to spill with a slice of a finger while he stabbed his whole hand right into another's mouth and out the back of their head with the other hand. He felled vampire after vampire in a similar manner, never stopping. Lucas, however, didn't move from where he stood, but cupped his hands together close to his chest and blew. A small bright light appeared in his hands, and grew brighter and brighter, creating stark shadows on the walls and causing the walls, ceiling and floor where the light fell to glow. The vampires that remained screeched and shielded their eyes from the sudden light. Their skin blackened and smoked where the light touched them, and they tried to find places to hide. Lucas, Alister, Jack, Nate and Natasha were unaffected by the light in Lucas' hands, and Alister chased after the ones that hadn't turned into small piles of ash, and quickly put them out of their misery.

Once they were all gone, the light went out, and the three in the middle of the court were left blinking in the sudden darkness. A hand was thrust before Natasha, and she looked up into Lucas' smiling face, his eyes still covered by the blindfold.

"Come on Natasha, we'll take you home.

* * *

The wind buffeted tooth, claw and fur as both Jade and Will ran through the park. Both were in wolf form, running, jumping on each other, and wrestling playfully. Like all werewolves, their shape wasn't the only thing that changed between forms, their minds were affected as well. It was similar to the duality that's native to all people, but is especially present within werewolves. Everyone, no matter their shape, has some form of duality inside them. It always differs from person to person, but the effect is always the same. Whenever you catch someone talking to themselves, that's who their talking to. A person is basically a walking argument, two sides constantly squabbling about absolutely everything. Every decision is flanked by either side. Good or bad, hard or soft, thin or fat, light or dark, should I bring a sweater or is it warm enough?

With a werewolf, it's different. The mind of a werewolf is divided between two fundamental sides which are, funny enough, human and wolf. The wolf side is driven almost purely by instinct and primal urges, such as: Eat, Fight, Flee, Mate, Sleep. Whereas the human side is made up of the consciousness that is constructed bit by bit as a person grows up. No one is ever born with a fully formed consciousness, it's put together from experience and memories, creating a personality. All people have similar shades to their duality, sometimes it is instinct vs. reason. For a werewolf that's what it's like constantly. When in human shape, the primary driving force is reason, or the consciousness, with the instincts at the back seat, shooting out instructions with the consciousness interrupting them and taking them under consideration before acting on them or discarding them. In the wolf shape, it was the other way around.

Things were different, the way things looked, sounded, felt, and smelled. Oh god was that different. To smell as a werewolf was like having a second set of eyes, eyes that could see into the past. A single whiff of the air would tell Will what animals had passed through the park, how recently they had, and how they'd felt at the time. Glorious.

Jade leapt and landed heavily on Will, causing him to tumble onto the grass. They wrestled for a while, each trying to get on top, tongues lolling all the while, which is the canine equivalent to laughing. Because Will and Jade were mates, they were linked, just like Natasha and Nate. However, in their wolf form, their conversations came out a little different than normal.

"Love." said Jade through the connection of their minds. It was the wolf side talking, but the human side had taught it some new words.

"Mate." said Will. Jade growled and crawled off of him.

"Stupid." she said, and walked away. Will, tongue still lolling, trotted after her. The park was deserted at this time of night, with their heightened and sensitive hearing and sense of smell, both knew that the only living things nearby were the pigeons nested in the trees, the squirrels, and the insects. Jade sat down on the grass and stared up at the clear sky, the stars shining and sparkling brightly with the moon only a thin curve. Will could tell that all was not right with his wife, and approached her carefully.

"Sad?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Why?"

Jade just shook her large head from side to side, and looked at Will for several moments, not saying anything. Then she trembled violently and growled as she changed. Her wolf side was trying to howl at the sudden shift, but her human side kept it to a low growl. Once it was done, she was human once more, on her haunches and leaning on her hands. She was still wearing her bodysuit that matched her werewolf fur pattern. Will didn't change, but just tilted his head as he looked at her.

"How long has it been since our last run together, Wally?" she asked him. He seemed taken aback at the use of his real name, and hung his large head as he thought. Thinking wasn't something that came naturally to a werewolf in wolf form, but Will had had a lot of practice.

"Long." he said eventually.

"That's right, honey. I thought that maybe going for a run with you would help clear my head, but it isn't working."

"Run more." was Will's instant reply. Jade laughed at his response, and scratched behind his ear.

"It's not that, sweetie. I've just been feeling uneasy lately, and I can't place where it's coming from. Do you know what I mean?"

Will nodded and nudged his wife's cheek with his wet nose, making her giggle.

"Worry." he told her. "Mother. Natural."

Jade stroked along his neck and tangled her fingers through the thick fur as she scratched there too. Will growled deep in his throat at her touch.

"Too much." he told her. "Relax"

"That's what I'm trying to do here silly. That's why I'm out here running with you."

She wrapped her arms around Will's neck and hugged him tightly. In the beginning of their relationship it had seemed weird for them to show affection for each other when they were in different forms. Now after so long, nothing was awkward between them. Jade felt the same hugging Will as a wolf as she did hugging him as a man.

"I just hope Natasha and Nate are doing alright."

And just like that, even though she'd spent hours of effort trying to place the source of her unease, Jade did what countless others managed to do when they worried about some elusive fact just on the tip of their minds. She relaxed and let down her guard, then all at once it arrived in the front of her brain.

"Please let them be alright." she whispered.

* * *

Emmy blinked blearily as she wiped her eyes and yawned. She was making her way downstairs to answer the front door. Someone was knocking loudly and she couldn't figure out why Kell hadn't answered it already. Walking quickly her bare feet padded over the floor and she opened the door to see who could possibly be knocking at this time of night. The porch light was off for some reason, even though Emmy knew that Natasha, Nate and Jack had left it on before they left, so outside the door was just darkness of a overcast night. Standing out from the darkness was a figure who seemed to be shrouded in the night itself, but to Emmy's werewolf eyes she could just make out the vague features of the person's face. It wasn't a face she knew, but there was something else that she seemed to recognize, something that made her inner wolf want to bite and rend.

"Hello little girl." said a voice in a low and husky whisper. It seemed to be a part of the night wind that whistled through the trees that lined the street. "Is your mummy or daddy home."

Emmy backed away from the door. She could feel the fear welling up inside her, but both the wolf side of her, as well as the lessons she'd learned from her parents, Kell, Natasha and Nate combined kept her face impassive. All that showed of her inner fear was a small pinch between her eyebrows.

"You're a bad man." she said. Already she could feel her teeth trying to grow, her fur trying to sprout and her feet to lengthen, but she kept it at bay, knowing that giving in would be a bad idea. The dark figure reached inside and laid a pale hand on the doorframe. Emmy could see that the hand was quite thin, but she could pick out every single muscle that ran through it, as though it were all muscle and bone with a tight layer of skin covering it. Its sharp and blackened fingernails left marks on the painted wood.

"Are you going to invite me inside, little girl?" asked the cold and dry voice. The figure laughed softly, sounding hollow, raspy and full of menace. Emmy stood her ground and tried to scream, not just out of fear, but to call her brothers, and for Kell. Where was he?

"There's no need anyway." said the voice. "That part at least isn't true."

A black shoe stepped into the light inside the doorway, but something whizzed past Emmy's ear and struck the figure square in the chest. It burst in a cloud of white powder, and the figure coughed and gagged violently as it stepped back.

"FIGHT SCENE!" Kell yelled as he leaped right over Emmy's head to stand between her and the figure at the door. He held a bundle of loosely woven cloth balls in the crook of his left arm, and idly threw one up and down in his right hand.

"Garlic powder?" asked the figure between coughs. "Clever bunny, but inefficient."

"Just getting started, sweetheart."

A hissing sound came through the doorway, sounding like a rattlesnake only somehow more wet. Something leapt into the light, and the image was bizarre to both Emmy and Kell. It was a man, looking gaunt and thin, but also looking undeniably powerful. He was wearing an expensive pinstriped suit. He even had a velvet cravat with a diamond pin. The clothing made a stark contrast to what skin showed of the person wearing it. Like his hands, his face had absolutely no fat, but seemed to be just deathly pale skin stretched over dense and powerful muscle. Huge white fangs slick with saliva gleamed at the two of them from the gaping mouth, and evil glowing eyes were narrowed to slits.

He reached for Kell as he sailed blindingly through the air in mid leap, but Kell threw the ball he'd been tossing straight into his face.

"Essence of silver." Kell muttered under his breath. The vampire gagged again and landed ungracefully just as Kell sidestepped out of the way. Kell didn't wait for him to recover, but threw another one. He was just in time because the stricken vampire was caught in the face again just as he lashed out at Kell with snake like speed.

"More silver, sunshine dust, garlic again." Kell muttered each time he threw a ball, counting down through his inventory. Each cloth ball exploded right on target and exploded in a cloud of dust, splashed or flashed brightly each time it struck.

"Garlic, more dust, werewolf urine."

"Ew, stinky." said Emmy despite the danger of the situation.

"Tell me about it." said Kell.

"You're running out of balls, rat." spat the vampire. His face was a mask of burns and melted skin, revealing glistening muscle underneath. But even as they watched they could see the wounds healing at an incredible rate.

"Like I said, fugly, I'm just getting started."

And with that Kell threw his last ball, the one that was a mixture of all the other ones. The vampire's face was hit dead centre and burned so badly that the flesh turned black and fell away like ashes. All that was left was just a glistening red skull with raw red eyes. They fixed themselves on Kell and approached, step by step. Even as he did his face was beginning to remake itself around the edges. Kell suppressed the urge to vomit, and reached into his coat pocket. He brought his hand up above his head, brandishing a sharpened stake of wood. The skull's jaw opened slightly, and Kell could see the hint of a black tongue. The vampire laughed.

"A stake? Yea think that rill helt yea?"

"Why is he talking like that?" asked Emmy in a shaky voice.

"No lips." Kell answered, and stabbed at the creature's chest with the stake. It snapped off in his hand as it came up against the vampire's chest. Kell looked at it in disbelieve as a iron-like fist came up and shattered his jaw. He ended up on the floor and was lifted up and slammed against the wall. The vampire was holding Kell there with one hand, and lifted up the remainder of the stake with the other. Even without the tip there it was still quite long, but ragged and covered in splinters where the sharpened tip had broken off. By now rudimentary muscle had spread back over the naked skull, and skin was starting to form in irregular patches here and there. The vampire smiled at Kell.

"Your turn." he said, and thrust what was left of the stake right into Kell's shoulder, sending it piercing through right to the other side to jam into the wall, pinning Kell like a butterfly. Kell screamed as the blunt and ragged end of the stake tore through him. Emmy screamed too, high and piercing. Kell didn't flinch as his senses started to shut down, but the vampire clamped his hands to his ears and hissed painfully. Running feet could be heard upstairs, and the vampire hissed deep in its throat and closed in on Emmy.

* * *

I was 19 when I left home in the mountains and set out to make my way in the world. I walked, of course, because the concept was romantic and I didn't have a car or any money. I didn't know where I was going, and at the time that didn't matter, because wherever I went, it would be my adventure, and at that age that's the most important thing.

I met her a few months after I'd made my way down the mountain track and onto the main road. I stopped in every town I came across to organize a few meals in exchange for a bit of work here and there. I'd save up food and money then move on. She was in one of those towns, in a small cafe by a small road in a small neighborhood. I was immediately smitten, but I can't in all honesty say that the feeling was mutual. My first words to her were asking how her day had been and she sneered and walked away. She was so charming in her black faded denim jeans and faded work apron, her tanned olive skin and strong, determined eyes that seemed to swear at me even though she wasn't saying anything. I immediately asked the cafe owner if I could work for a week or so, just for some food and spare change, he shrugged and agreed.

Her name was Valeria. Although she was a full-blooded italian princess (as I thought of her) she'd never been outside the country, state, or even the small highway town. She retained all of her fire though, and it was several days before she even told me her name. But she grew to like me as the days passed, and one day she deigned to let me walk her home after working the late shift. When we arrived at her front door, my head still swirling with teenage romantic ideals of adventure, I leaned in to kiss her and she struck me hard across the cheek. The ring that she wore on her hand left a scar, which I've treasured ever since. She let me walk her home the next night too, and night after that, and it was only after three more nights of accompanying her home that she let me kiss her hand. She smiled at me then, for the first time. To this day I have known no greater joy.

Before long the weeks had passed and I felt the need to move on. I said my goodbyes to Valeria, to my friends at the cafe, and headed off down the stretch of highway. I was surprised to hear running footsteps behind me after several hours of silence, and when I turned it was to see Valeria running to catch me up, wrapped in warm walking gear and a large backpack slung over one shoulder. She didn't say anything about why she was coming with me, or what she was leaving behind. She didn't say much at all in fact. She just greeted me cheerfully and we walked together as though we always had been. I didn't push for an explanation, but smiled like a fool and took her hand in mine. She let me, and smiled back. Glorious.

A few years passed, and it was just the two of us. Walking side by side down the road, stopping at every town for work, food, and rest. We were having an adventure, and loving every minute of it. We didn't always follow the road of course, sometimes we headed off into the deserted plains and grasslands, where it was just the two of us in the whole world. During those times, when we'd stop to rest for the night, we'd make a fire, whisper in each other's ear and make love under the stars. As adventures go, it wasn't so bad.

Then we found the valley. We'd reached some mountains that were different from the ones that I'd grown accustomed to back home. The rock was different, and the peaks were sharper, more forbidding. We had to cross them though, and made our way through on the narrow and spindly track. We got lost, and had to double back so many times that I doubt we made any progress at all. Then suddenly the valley was stretched out before us. It was a barren and lifeless place. Ever since we'd entered the mountains we hadn't seen the sun due to the thick and heavy clouds that were ever present around the peaks. It rained often and sometimes it hailed too if we were higher up. The valley seemed to match the mood of the mountains. Forbidding, murky. Dead. But we had to cross it, because our food was running low, and we saw on the distant far side of the valley a thin line that was a slightly lighter shade of grey, the track leaving the valley on the other side. So we scrambled down the steep decline, sending rocks and pebbles tumbling and skittering down before us. Often one of us would slip and end up much further down the slope and wedged against an outcropping of rock too frightened or tired to move. When we finally reached the bottom, the flat ground didn't seem to be any easier to traverse. The whole valley seemed to be made of solid rock, and the ground was uneven, cracked, and broken in places, making for careful walking lest we wanted to twist an ankle or break a leg.

But then, against all reason, we found signs of life. A house, built out of wood that came from god only knows where, because neither of us had seen any vegetation since entering the mountains. It was nestled between two great hills of stone, pressed so tightly up against one side that the house almost seemed to delve deep into it. It was late, and we were tired, and we didn't hesitate about going into the house. It was empty. Completely bare of anything that might resemble a sign of occupation. It was just four walls, a floor and a ceiling, with not even dust to keep us company. We settled down to sleep, promising ourselves that we'd only stay as long as necessary before moving on. We ate the last of our food and fell asleep in each other's arms.

Time passed. It must have been hours because the sun had set, and absolute darkness had settled within the valley. No moon, no stars, just solid inky blackness that seemed to press in on them like a wall. I awoke to a sound that I don't think I could hear. At least when I tried after I sat up I could hear nothing. But there was something. It felt like a sound, only it seemed to negate my ears and reach my brain via my bones. It was coming from the floor. In the absolute darkness I saw what we'd missed when we'd first arrived. Light, ever so very faint, was glimmering from between hairline cracks in the floor. They outlined a square in the floor, when meant a trapdoor. I fumbled for Valeria in the dark, and woke her up. Our breathing was so very loud in the heavy silence of the night, and somehow it didn't seem right to talk, so I merely held her chin and made her look at the faint glimmer of light.

We opened the trapdoor and the light was still very faint, but to us after the palpable darkness it was as bright as daylight. We saw a set of stone stairs leading down into the rock. The light was coming from beyond the stairs. I took Valeria's hand and lead the way down. Somehow the thought of not following the light didn't enter our heads. I wish now that it had.

The stairs ended after about fifty steps, and the corridor of stone carried on, ever twisting and turning so that the source of the light was never visible, but it carried on in the same general direction. After I don't know how long, we came to the chamber, which had a vaulted ceiling, and various nooks and holes in the walls where the vague shapes of things could barely be made out. Here was a line of books, and there was a series of crystals. Other things were stored here, filling the niches and crannies. It was like study, built into the living yet somehow dead rock. Against the far wall we saw the source of the glow. A stalagmite rose out of the floor and melded with the sloped wall to create a pillar of stone. Leaning against the pillar was a black and rotten skeleton. The sight of it seemed to break the spell over us and we immediately wanted to leave, rest or no rest, night or no night. But then I noticed something curious. The skeleton's arms were wrapped around the pillar, and disappeared around the other side. The glow was coming from behind the pillar. I moved to get a closer look, and Valeria pulled on my arm, begging me to leave, to go with her. I told her that I only wanted to look, and against her better judgement, she let me go and looked back apprehensively at the doorway. I crept closer to the pillar, leaning down low due the slope of the ceiling and the wall. As I got closer I saw that the skull was unusual. It had sprouted four sharp protrusions from the top of its head, like a horned crown, and there was a heavy dent in the centre of its forehead. I managed to squeeze up against the wall enough to see behind it, and I saw what it was that had killed this poor person. There were tattered and decomposing rags clinging to the ribs and bones of the dead man, the remains of clothes that he'd been wearing. But his arms had been sheathed in thick black gloves that ended at his elbows. They hadn't fallen apart like the rest of the poor man's clothes, but looked like they were new. The fingertips were embedded in the rock pillar, and I could see slight cracks around each one. Somehow this man had dug his fingers into the rock, and died here, unable to get away. Why hadn't he just taken the gloves off?

Valeria was now shouting at me, yelling that we needed to go, but something stopped me. That sound again, but much stronger this time. It was coming from the gloves. For some reason I didn't seem to think that this was strange, and I reached for them. As I touched them the glow intensified, and I saw that it was coming from the gloves. The gloves themselves didn't seem to glow, but it was as though the glow was coming from inside, penetrating the material without affecting it. But my skin tingled as I touched them, and lines of blue light traced themselves over the surface of the gloves, drawing symbols and words that I couldn't understand. But the noise was stronger now, and it was like a soft but desperate whispering in my mind. Somehow taking the gloves was important. Without really thinking about what I was doing, I pulled the bony arms from the gloves, and the fell out, along with several much smaller bones that must have been the hands. The skeleton fell apart from the movement, and I grabbed the empty wrists of the gloves and pulled. They came out from the rock easily, slipping out as though stuck in butter instead of solid rock. Valeria screamed at me but I didn't hear what she said. I put the gloves on, not really noticing anything. The fingers of the gloves were pointed, and seemed to be made out of a metal that was just as black as the rest of them. The very next thing I remember after I'd slipped on one glove, then the other, was the pain.

It was as though I'd dipped my hands up to the elbow in acid. They spasmed and clenched but they pain was tremendous. I screamed and thrashed on the cold stone floor. I could smell burning flesh, and heavy chemical smoke was pouring out from the gloves between the material and my arms. The gloves seemed to shrink and tighten on my arms, squeezing what felt like my very flesh out of them. Then the voice came, from somewhere deep inside my head so that it seemed to reverberate through the entire world.

"You're late." it said, deep, malicious, and evil. "I've been waiting for centuries for another host!"

The pain didn't stop, but all at once the trembling and thrashing did. I moved to stand up, but it wasn't me doing it! Valeria backed away from me, scared out of her mind and unsure of what to do.

"It's been a long time." said my voice through my mouth, but I could do nothing to stop anything from happening. "I'm famished!"

I saw through my own eyes as I approached Valeria, saw her cower in the corner, saying my name over and over again, begging me to stop. Tears streaked down her beautiful face as I got closer. I felt my mouth smile, even though I tried to run. Everything that happened after that was a blur. There was fast movement, and lots of screaming. Valeria's screaming. Blood everywhere, across the walls, and all over the floor. Eventually the screaming stopped abruptly, and I could feel a warm wetness sliding down my throat. It was like a nightmare that I couldn't wake up from. A nightmare that I couldn't control or stop. All the while, through all the movement and the screaming, I heard myself laughing. It wasn't an evil laugh, I remember, and that was the worst part. If anything it sounded happy. Inside I was screaming, but outside I laughed, unable to control any of it.

Then there was more pain, deep inside this time.

"What!?" I yelled, but it wasn't me, it was the thing that had taken me over. "Why? What have I done?! I haven't broken any rules! I've only just started!! NOOOOOO!!"

The thing screamed with my throat until it hurt. The pain inside intensified and then it faded slowly. The screaming went on, and it was a moment or two before I realized that it was me screaming, with my own mouth.

I fell to the floor, exhausted to my very bones. When I looked up I saw Valeria, and crawled over to her. There was nothing I could do for her. She was dead. Her ribcage had been torn open and gaped to reveal most of her organs, still wet and steaming in the cold air of the cavern. Her head was missing, and I found it much later in the far corner. I vomited, to say the least. And up came the pieces of my Valeria that the thing occupying my body had eaten. I kept vomiting long after my stomach was empty and aching from the strain. Then I wept. I cried without stopping for god only knows how long, cradling her severed head in my lap and stroking her hair.

I cannot tell you how long I sat there, crying and stroking her hair. I can only tell you that it was hunger that drove me to leave the cave. It wasn't thought that made me leave, because what was left of my mind at that time was incapable of thought. It was instinct that drove me. I don't think I at what remained of Valeria's body, possibly something in my shattered psyche remembered what had happened the last time.

All I remember after that is some vague images of a path moving under me, rain, and just walking. Never stopping, never slowing, just walking. After days I finally made it through the mountains and out the other side. The grass was green and so wonderfully alive, but at the time I didn't care, and just kept walking. I eventually reached another town, and people saw me coming and screamed. The very next thing I remember is walking up in a hospital of some kind, looking up at the white ceiling. No one else was in the room, and as I raised my hands I saw the gloves.

They wouldn't come off. I saw deep scratches and bruising where other people had tried to get under the edge of them, but they were too tight. Everything came flooding back to me, and I suppressed a scream. Instead I got out of bed, and tears in my eyes I lifted up a chair, smashed the window and escaped into the night. I raided a few homes that night, taking some clothes and some food, and then just ran. I didn't know where I was going, and somehow that seemed to comfort me. Nothing would ever be the same again. I knew that.

* * *

Alister took a deep breath as he finished his story and leaned back against the wall of the rec centre. All five of them had helped each other leave the building, but Lucas had stayed behind a moment to dispose of the ash left behind. He did this by willing it to all compress into a single point in front of him, until the ash of over a hundred vampires was contained in a small ball the size of a marble. It landed heavily in Lucas' outstretched hand, and he tucked it away in his jeans pocket. He joined the rest of the group as Alister told his story to the others. They listened in an awed silence. When he was done, looked at each other for some kind of support or confirmation. Jack alone seemed to understand, and nodded.

"Did you ever find out what it was that took you over?" he asked. Alister nodded.

"Once I managed to settle somewhere and hide these things," he started, holding his gauntlets up as evidence, "I did some research. It was a demon. I don't know which one, but it was one of the more powerful ones. Once I did a bit of digging, I found out what happens to people who become possessed. I checked as soon as I got home and saw that even though it was only inside me for a short time, it had started to take root."

Natasha got up and walked over to Alister, and started to examine the top of his head by parting his hair here and there. Alister didn't resist, but just stared at the ground as she rummaged.

"Yup, there they are. You can't find them if you don't know they're there. You've got the start of a set of demon's horns."

She ran her fingers over his forehead, again without resistance, and found a very slight, almost imperceptible dent in the bone right in the middle.

"One more day and you'd have had yourself a third eye." she told him.

"I know." he replied dryly.

"But if the demon was in control of that person you found in the cave, why would it trap itself to the pillar?" Nate asked. He was feeling much better now that Natasha was able to replenish her own strength from the earth beneath her and use it to replenish his own.

"It wasn't just anyone. It was a druid." Jack informed him. Alister looked up at him sharply.

"How do you know that?" he demanded.

"Because I'm a warlock. It's like a druid, except that I deal mainly with pure magic and summoning, whereas a druid needs to rely solely potions and nature. The cave you described sounds like a druid's workshop to me."

"Strange place for a workshop." Alister said with a dry chuckle.

"By the sound of things the one you found was a rare breed of druid. Most are in tune specifically with a common natural force. Things like water, earth, gravity or magnetism. This one sounds to me like a stone druid. Rare, but not unheard of. More than likely he got his power from the living stone of the mountains and the valley that you described."

"I told you that that place was barren and lifeless. There was nothing living about that stone."

"Not when you saw it, but when our druid was alive it would have been. It's not uncommon for the surrounding energy in a druid's vicinity to evaporate instantly when that druid dies. Especially if that death is unnatural and violent."

Alister chuckled again. He was not as cheerful as Natasha remembered him the few times they'd met. Then she'd had absolutely no clue that anything unusual had happened to him in the past. Now it was written all over his face, there for everyone to see. It must be the retelling of his story. The story alone would be enough to sour anyone's good day.

"If only I'd met you 9 years ago. You'd have saved me an awful lot of wasted research effort."

"I've only ever heard of three stone druids. All of them were around hundreds of years ago, but the only one that would have been in this country is Karrell. That's probably the one you encountered. And to answer your question Nate, Karrell was a powerful druid on his home turf. He'd have had the power to overcome the demon, but only for a few seconds. More than likely he used that time to make sure that the demon couldn't get out to wreak the havoc that it wanted."

Alister nodded. Lucas was standing up, listening intently to the conversation. After a while he sat down and slipped the blindfold up onto his forehead. The change in him was immediate and sudden. His hands snapped down close to his chest and the fingers twitched visibly. His breathing for a moment became erratic and strained before it returned to normal. His eyes rolled back in his head and then glazed over and stared at nothing. He rocked gently back and forwards while Jack, Nate and Natasha watched, fascinated.

"Lucas," Natasha whispered, "if the blindfold helps so much, why take it off at all?"

"It makes me tired if I have it on for too long. I tried once but it just drained me."

Lucas was interrupted by Alister who gasped and leapt to his feet. He waved his gauntlets in Jack's face.

"If you know so much, does that mean that you know a way to take these off?" he asked. He looked desperate now. It was clear that his 'research' didn't yield any clues as to removing the things.

"Now that you've told me how you found them, I know what they are now." Jack said, and shook his head slightly. "They're the war talons of Zoleb, enchanted and bonded to a demon by a . . . ahem . . . warlock in an attempt to grab more power for himself. It didn't work out however, because he'd made a poor choice of demon, and it consumed his soul and took over his body."

Alister grabbed Jack by the shirt, neatly poking holes in the white fabric, and pulled him close to his own face.

"But is there a way to take them off!?" Alister screamed. His anxiety was so sudden and violent that Lucas started and tried to stand up. He fell over in the attempt and Natasha ran over to help him. He pushed himself into her arms and trembled, much to Natasha's surprise. So much power, she thought herself. Yet he's still like a child.

"I'm sorry, but there's only one way that the talons are removed." Jack told him, the tone of his voice hadn't changed despite the close proximity of a man with magically sharpened fingers right by his throat.

"And what is that!" asked Alister, breathless. Jack shook his head apologetically and gently pushed Alister's hands away.

"They come off when you die." he said softly. Alister's expression changed very slowly. It maintained the look of manic desperation and gradually shifted to crestfallen sadness. Jack continued talking softly.

"As long as you're alive, the talons cannot be removed."

Eventually Jack, Nate and Natasha got up and started heading back to the house, inviting Alister and Lucas to come with them so that they could be thanked properly with a drink. Alister put on his long coat and tucked his hands into his sleeves, hiding his gauntlets once more. They walked without talking for a while, until Nate decided to break the silence.

"I'm sorry about Valeria, Alister."

Alister hesitated, and Natasha noticed that the irritable and manic person that had been there before was gone and the old Alister, the calm and thoughtful teacher to Jade's children, was back.

"Don't worry about it. Every year, on the anniversary I think about her. It gets a little less painful every year."

They chatted for a little while about small, inoffensive things for a while. They passed by streets of shops and a huge shopping centre. All were dark and deserted, except for the smaller shops that had living spaces on top for those that ran the place. Natasha could hear them breathing and the steady beat of their hearts as they slept. Their street was just around the corner.

"What's your story then Lucas?" she asked once there was an acceptable pause in the conversation. Lucas laughed.

"Well, unlike Alister, I was born like this. I found out about the blindfold when . . ."

"Shh!" Jack interrupted him and waved him into silence. Their house was now in sight, and the front door was wide open. Three matching cold tingles of dread ran down their spines as the three vampire hunters ran madly towards the house. The lights were still on, and the yellow glow flooded the fronts stairs and part of the path leading to them. Natasha dashed ahead of the others and sprang inside, dagger at the ready. The whole room seemed deserted as she quickly scanned the three walls in front of her with quick movements of her head. Her ears were aching with the strain to pick out any sounds, like the heartbeats of the children upstairs, which she realized with growing dread weren't there. Instead there was a heart somewhere behind her, very weak, other than those of the others still running towards the door. She spun around and got ready to slash at whoever was waiting there, but almost dropped the dagger in shock and horror. Kell was there, feet off the floor and pinned to the wall by a wooden stake through his shoulder. An alarmingly large pool of blood was collecting under him, and his head hung limp over his chest, and if it weren't for his unsteady heartbeat, Natasha would have thought that he was dead.

She carefully approached him as the others piled in through the front door. Nate and Jack both gasped and swore, Alister and Lucas both looked impassive as they saw Kell. Gingerly, Natasha reached out and gripped the stake. Kell immediately lifted his head and screamed, causing everyone to jump. Kell looked around, dazed and in pain. The fur under his eyes was dark and damp, and everyone could see that under his fur his skin was deathly pale. He looked at everyone there, his gaze lingering slightly longer on both Lucas and Alister.

"Maledict." he whispered eventually. He was having trouble breathing.

"I have something in my study that will help." Jack told them. "Get him down and see if you can stop the bleeding. Try not to remove the stake if you possibly can."

Then he ran across the room, up the stairs, and he was gone. Natasha and Nate quickly organized getting Kell off the wall and onto the floor, communicating with their minds much faster than talking would have allowed. Natasha held onto the stake with one hand, and Kell's feet with the other. Nate looped an arm under Kell's legs and around his back and as one, they both pulled him and the stake off the wall. Kell grunted as they did, and groaned heavily as they lowered him to the floor. Natasha sat down and let Kell be leaned back against her chest, so that the stake sticking lewdly from his back would be manipulated as little as possible. They were shocked to find that the end of the stake wasn't sharpened or pointed, but broken off. She then concentrated on pouring the energy she'd only just recently replenished into his body. Already his heartbeat and breathing were stronger, but he was still weak.

Jack came back down the stairs, his cane missing and a bottle of neon blue liquid in his hand. He limped over to kell and removed the stopper from the bottle.

"Ok, get ready to take out the stake. Make sure that nothing of it is left behind." he said, and held the bottle over Kell. Natasha gripped the base of the stake once more, with her mind as well as her hand to make sure that any splinters didn't come off.

"Do it quickly, not slowly." Jack warned. "He doesn't have a lot of blood left."

Natasha nodded and readied herself.

"One." she whispered, and stroked Kell's cheek to reassure him. Kell reached out blindly, and Nate immediately took his hand and squeezed it tightly.

"Two."

Kell closed his eyes and braced himself as well as he could. Lucas and Alister watched on, still impassive.

"Three."

Natasha yanked the blunt stake out of Kell's shoulder, and Kell screamed weakly as blood spurted from the wound on both sides. Jack immediately poured the liquid directly into the gaping wound, and it all began to glow. The blood that covered Kell glowed neon blue and soon the veins and arteries under his skin glowed through his fur. Kell stiffened and dug his head into the floor as he arched his back, balanced completely on the tips of his toes and the top of his head. Natasha backed away from him, too frightened to know what to do. His mouth was a gaping hole that tried to scream but his lungs were empty. He fell to the floor as his muscles relaxed themselves and he sucked in a deep chilling breath. Then another spasm came and he arched again, his arms thrashing against the floor and his fingers clawing at the air.

Once again he fell to the floor, and he sobbed briefly as the glow faded. He still felt weak and tired, but the pain was gone, except for a dull ache that consumed his entire body. He touched his shoulder with a shaky hand and found soft fur where the wound had been.

"Thanks Jack." he croaked.

"You've lost a lot of blood. You need to rest, but you'll be fine now."

"I'll take him." Nate said, and moved to pick him up.

"Wait." Natasha yelled, and put her face close to Kell's. "Kell, where are the children?"

Nate and Jack glanced at each other, alarmed. As did Lucas and Alister. Kell swallowed thickly and tried to look at her but his eyes wouldn't focus.

"He took them." he said, the croaky whisper the only sound in the room.

"Where!?" she demanded, but Kell shook his head slowly.

"Didn't say. Took them. Gone."

He passed out. Nate, hesitating only for a moment, picked him up and took him to his bedroom. Natasha wasted no time whatsoever, and ran to the front door, hung off the doorframe and sent out a deafening mental call. It was tuned so that only one person would hear it, so everyone else simply watched her, confused. Within seconds she got a reply, and before long two large shapes game loping out of the darkness and into the light.

"My word." said Alister as he looked at the two werewolves approaching, he'd never seen Will and Jade in their wolf form before. He'd seen the children on one or two rare occasions, but the sheer size of their parents in this shape was breathtaking.

Jade transformed before their eyes, and came to Natasha with anxiety etched solidly into her features. In a few words, Natasha explained what had happened, and Jade immediately screamed and fell to her knees. Will, still in wolf shape, barked once in surprise, and then lifted his head and howled. Natasha knelt down and held Jade tightly, rocking her back and forth as the woman screamed and wept. Will's howl grew and grew until it filled the night.

* * *

"Why would Maledict take the children?" Nate asked.
Almost everyone had gathered in Jack's study. It was right next to Jade and Will's bedroom, and that was important because Jade was asleep. Jack had magically induced a deep sleep after she'd become hysterical and almost panicky. Natasha and the others couldn't blame her. Natasha and Nate stood by each other, comforting each other with their mental connection, standing in the corner of Jack's study. Will was pacing around the far wall, listening intently but unable to hold still. Alister and Lucas had been introduced to Will and they were now making themselves comfortable near Jack's desk. Jack held the floor at the centre of the room.
"That's not important right now." said Will, still pacing. He glanced up and pointed at Lucas and Alister. "At the moment I'd like to hear more about you two."
"We told you what they told us, Will." Jack said with a shake of his head. "Your children's lives are in danger. We need to concentrate on them, and on where they are now."
Will didn't stop pacing, and let out a deep, rumbling growl that set the hair on everyone's necks to stand on end. It was a growl that told the inner primate that swift death was near.
"I would ask for their help. But if I do, there is more that I need to know about them. You've told us your story Alister, but there are some things that don't make sense. You are a schoolteacher, but you can fight vampires as easily as hold a pencil." He took a fleeting glance at Alister's sleeves. "As it were. And we still don't know about Lucas."
"If Lucas doesn't want to tell you his story, that's his choice." Alister stated. "But I will tell you this, and I hope that it answers all of your questions. We are demon hunters."
Everyone present reacted to Alister's statement. Will's pacing slowed for a beat, before resuming as normal. Jack made no physical reaction, but felt his hear skip. Natasha was holding Nate's hand, and squeezed it harder, and was grateful when Nate squeezed back. Furiously Natasha thought of all of their previous conversations with Alister. Had anyone told or let slip about her? Not likely, she was always careful about that, they couldn't possibly know.
"Lucas, like me, had an unpleasant experience with a demon before he found out about the potential of his power. A few years ago, we found out about each other and, our mutual hatred of demons. So we started what you might call a vigilante group, called Devor."
"Devor?" Will asked.
"Yes. D.V.R. It stands for 'Demon Victim Retaliation'. Lucas and I know firsthand the evil of demons, and have made it our sworn purpose to kill them when we find them. We're always on the lookout for other surviving victims that we could recruit, who like us would do whatever it took to eradicate them. So I turned my demonic mark into a tool for their destruction, and learned to fight."
He held up his talons and bunched them into fists.
"So did Lucas, and we intend to kill as many demons as we can."
Natasha was grateful that she was sitting down. Her legs felt weak, and she didn't think that she'd be able to stand any time soon. Will paced for a while longer, then stopped and faced the two demon hunters.
"Thank you." he said. "Now I ask you: will you help us get my children back?"
"Absolutely." Alister replied instantly. "They're my students, and I'd be remiss as a teacher if I didn't do what was in my power to protect them."
"Alright then." said Nate, speaking for the first time. "So what do we do now?"
"I don't care." said a voice by the door, and everyone looked to see Jade leaning heavily on the door frame, with dark rings under her bloodshot eyes, and a snarl on her lips.
"I don't care what we do. Only that we do something, that we do it now, and that it brings us closer to my babies." she said, and stumbled into the room. Nate, who was nearest to the door rushed to help her but she shot a hand up to stop him. Gradually she made her jerky and clumsy way towards Jack in the middle of the room, who was watching her with an expression of mild surprise. Jade lifted a finger and pointed at him.
"You." she growled, and exposed her teeth in a primal snarl. "If you ever sedate me like that again I'll remove your penis with my bare hands and feed it to you."
Jack's eyes widened as she said this, but he shrugged and nodded.
"Sorry sis."

* * *

Over the course of the next few hours several things were discussed and established. First of all, the goths at the rec centre had merely been a distraction, to lure everyone away from the house, leaving the children vulnerable. In retrospect it was clear that abducting the children had been Maledict's plan in the first place, but to what end no one could even begin to guess. Because of their nature, holding them prisoner would be dangerous for him and any other vampires near them. Alister pointed out that it was much more logical that he had taken them to be killed, as a message to the rest of them. Jade immediately sprang up and punched Alister in the face the moment he suggested this, and wouldn't stop screaming at him until Natasha pulled her off of him. After that it was generally agreed that, until proven otherwise, the children were alive and being held captive. Therefore the main goal was clear: Rescue.
Once this was established, Jack was called upon for his encyclopedic knowledge of magic and its history, including vampiric lore.
"It should go without saying that vampires have been around for centuries." he explained. "Their origin is lost to the dark mists of time, but much has been learned about them over that time. A lot of the stories written about them have been somewhat hit-and-miss about the facts, but I believe I can enlighten you on most of it. They are magical by nature, but aren't able to use magic themselves. Instead they rely on their substantial strength and speed to survive. They need to drink blood to survive, that part is true, but it's not the blood itself that is their source of energy, rather the energy of the blood."
"What's the difference?" Lucas asked.
"When you eat food, your body digests it and coverts the nutrients, proteins and substances into chemical energy. But when a vampire drinks blood, it is not digested, but rather the magical energy of the blood is tapped, and drained."
"I didn't know that blood had magical energy."
"It's ancient knowledge, and ancient magic. So ancient that it probably isn't even magic anymore. Blood magic is an arcane art, and with study and practice it can be a formidable source of power. Magical creatures need an intake of magic of some kind to survive. Vampires have developed, or evolved if you like, to draw their energy from blood.
"Because of this, somehow it affects their sensitivity to sunlight. I'm not quite certain how this works, but sunlight hurts them. Newborn fledglings can tolerate it, but as they get older, more powerful, they become more and more sensitive until direct sunlight burns them."
Jack kept talking, rattling off the facts as he remembered them. He mentioned their magical resistance, and rapid regenerative powers. Everyone was listening intently, even though most of them had heard it all before. But Nate's mind began to wander, and didn't really pay attention until Jack said something that struck a chord with him.
"While they're resistant to magical attacks, they are weakened by physical attacks from other creatures that are magical in nature, but different from them. For example, werewolves are magical by nature, but their nature is so different from that of a vampire that they clash. No one knows exactly how or why, but it's a proven fact that werewolves can inflict severe damage to a vampire, and receive negligible harm in return."
Nate's mind started to race, echoing those two words again and again. 'Magical nature'. An idea started to form in his mind, but he didn't try to push it too hard. He let it collect and settle on its own, like falling snow on a branch, knowing that if he tried to force it it would all collapse, never to be brought back.
Taking care that no one noticed, he left the room, and stepped out the front door into the pre-dawn light. He checked his watch. Way too early for anything to be open, but luckily he knew some people that owed him a favour, and they could get him in early. He began running.
If he was right, and his idea could work, he already hated it. He was cautiously optimistic that one of the others would be able to figure out something else by the time he got back. He knew they wouldn't though, and was dreading what he'd have to do if they had any hope of stopping Maledict.
Hopefully it would be worth it.

* * *

Emmy shivered in the dark as she huddled in the corner of the small room she'd been thrown into. Tyran had given her his jacket and she had it wrapped tightly around her shoulders. Tyran was sitting next to her, his arms hooked around his knees, and head bowed, but his eyes were wide open, looking around the room. Jason was at the bars, trying to get one of them to move, but it was no use. As well as the vertical bars there were also a set of horizontal bars welded at the joints, creating a solid steel grid. The best Jason could do was reach an arm through one of the gaps.
The cell was big enough to hold twenty people, but the three of them were alone so it was just a big empty cell. It may have been Emmy's imagination, but to her the cold stone walls echoed with moans and screams of the people who had been kept in this room before them.
The people that had put them in here had smelled strange. Emmy knew about the existence of vampires, in a vague and faraway kind of way, but the man that had taken them away was far scarier to her than anything she'd ever imagined. He'd burned himself when he touched them, dragging them out into the street where some more people were waiting. They were wearing thick gloves and heavy clothes, and some were even wearing masks over their mouths, as though the children were contagious in some way. They'd all smelled strange. It wasn't really a bad smell, Emmy thought, but it was different and almost intoxicating. She didn't like it. She wanted to go home, to see if Kell was alright. He didn't look too good when the scary man had finished with him.
Footsteps outside their cell disturbed her thoughts, and Tyran started to growl. Jason backed away from the bars as a group of vampires entered into view. The one that had taken them was with them, smiling with thin lips. Emmy didn't like him. His face looked too much like a skull.
"Hello children." he said, and they could all hear the hissing rattle as he spoke. "I trust you are comfortable." he said with a dry chuckle. He was still dressed up as though he were attending a fancy dinner, with an expensive looking blue suit, a pink cravat, this time with a ruby pinned in the middle. The other vampires on either side of him kept their distance from the bars, still wearing their thick clothing and masks, but he was standing right up close to the bars.
"My name is Maledict, and I've come to have a little chat with you. Isn't that nice?"
Jason approached the bars with shaky legs, clearly scared out of his mind, but he surprised everyone there by spitting suddenly through the bars. The other vampires flinched, but Maledict just opened his mouth and clamped his teeth shut around the gooey projectile. His teeth were the whitest that the children had ever seen, and they closed with a solid, audible 'click'. Everyone heard the hissing noise as the werewolf saliva burned the vampire flesh, and steam rose from between Maledict's teeth as he smiled.
"Jason," he whispered, "You always do what's expected of you, don't you? You do as you're told, but don't you wish you could do what you'd like to do? You'd love to do that wouldn't you?"
Jason didn't respond. In fact he didn't say or do anything. He just kept staring into those deep, dark, empty eyes. Emmy and Tyran watched, both wondering what was going on as for several minutes Jason stayed where he was, rooted to the spot and staring at Maledict. Suddenly Tyran growled again and ran to stand between them. Maledict's gaze snapped directly to Tyran's eyes, and smiled even wider. Tyran growled louder, and without looking away, nudged Jason with his elbow. Jason didn't react at all, and simply stared at the back of Tyran's head.
"Tyran." said Maledict, and smiled a smile that on another face would have been kind and warm, but on his it was like a scar filled with teeth. "You never say much do you? In fact I think you've yet to talk at all. Don't you wish you could speak, Tyran? What would would you say if you could? Tell me."
Emmy watched in horror as Tyran succumbed to the vampire's stare, and became completely trapped in his own body. She trembled with fear, and clenched her eyes shut as she tried to wedge herself further into the corner.
"Emerald." Maledict whispered with a chuckle. Emmy gasped. No one outside her family knew about her full name, not even Mr. Kane at school. How could he have known? He couldn't read her mind without magic, and she remembered from Master Jack's lessons about vampires that they couldn't do magic at all. The memory clicked effortlessly into her mind as she remembered the lesson. The three of them were sitting cross-legged on the floor, listening attentively as Jack taught them about vampires. It was one of the few times that he'd insisted on teaching all of them, instead of just her. He'd paced back and forth with his cane and said that while vampires were magic, they couldn't DO magic.
"Yes Emerald. You're a smart girl aren't you?" Hissed Maledict's voice in her ear. She felt a sudden urge to open her eyes, but she kept them clamped shut, knowing that if she did open them, she'd end up like her brothers.
"You like to learn about all kinds of things. You go to school to learn about the normal things, but then when you get home, you go to Jack to learn about the other things. Tell me about Jack, Emerald. Tell me about what you learn about. Tell me about what you see."
Suddenly, without meaning to, Emmy let her eyes flutter open, and all at once her vision was filled with a pair of eyes so dark and deep that she could feel herself falling in, being swallowed up by the utter, complete darkness.
"Tell me."

* * *

Natasha slipped a hand under Kell's neck and lifted his head so he could drink. The small cup that she held in her other hand was empty after a few small swallows, and she gently let him lie back down again.
"Don't worry Sam, Jack says that this should help you feel better. It should take care of the pain." she said, and looked at the small yet heavy glass bottle that she'd been given. "I don't know when it's supposed to kick in though."
Kell muttered something unintelligible, and Natasha put her ear close to his mouth.
"What did you say?"
"This bed sounds yellow."
"Ah." she said as she stood up. "I guess it's pretty fast acting stuff then."
She placed the small glass and bottle on the nightstand next to his bed, turned off the light and left the room. Everyone else was in the living room. Will was sitting on the couch, staring into space, while he stroked Jade's hair, who was laying with her head in his lap. Jack was slumped in an armchair, Lucas was cross-legged on the floor, and Alister was on another couch opposite Will and Jade, sipping from a cup of tea levitating in front of him and with his hands tucked into his sleeves as usual.
"Where's Nate?" she asked. Everyone looked around the room, expecting to see him lounging somewhere, but he was nowhere to be seen.
"I didn't see him leave." Jack said as he slumped back into his chair. "It's morning anyway, so I doubt he can be in too much trouble."
"Yes, but . . . I can't feel him."
"Is that normal?"
"Well, normally I can always tell where he is, or how he feels. But whenever we want to be alone, or are doing something private, we can close the link temporarily."
"That's probably what happened then."
"What link is this?" Alister asked, all curiosity. Natasha immediately realized her mistake, and mentally cursed herself for letting such a telling thing slip in front of a pair of demon hunters.
"When Nathan and Natasha wanted to make their relationship more solid and deep," Jack put in, "I suggested that they let me bond them on an intimate level. It allows them to 'sense' each other, if you like."
"That sounds risky, and potentially dangerous." said Alister.
"Yes it is, but I felt that the two of them were up to the challenge."
"Thank you." Natasha whispered to Jack telepathically. He gave her an almost imperceptible nod in return.
"Tell me about your strange powers, Lucas." Jack said suddenly, eager to change the subject. "How did you first realize what you were capable of?"
Lucas, swayed and twitched as he felt the eyes of everyone in the room on him.
"I don't know if I should." he said. "It's not a nice story."
"Please." said a hoarse voice. It belonged to Jade, who looked up at Lucas with red rimmed eyes. "I'd like to hear it."
Lucas blinked and twitched some more, torn and uncertain.
"It's ok Lucas." Alister said soothingly. "Go ahead."
"Alright." he said with a sigh, and began to tell his story.

* * *

My family have been cops for more than three generations. My father was a cop. His father was a cop, and his father before him. My two older brothers became cops too, and even my mother worked in the precinct as a secretary. The only one in my family who wasn't a cop was me.

The doctors said that I was born with a brain that didn't work properly. I can still think just like everyone else, but for some reason the internal communication between my mind and the rest of my body is compromised. My parents still loved me though, and for the most part treated me normally, my brothers picked on my the way all brothers do. As far as my family was concerned, I was a normal person.

Believe me when I say that you don't know what it's like to not be able to do things for yourself. You could say that you do, and you might even believe it, but you just don't know. It's difficult for me to speak. I can't see properly, and it's always in a direction that I don't want to look. I can't do anything with my hands except pick things up on the second or third try. I couldn't even go to the bathroom by myself until I was 12 years old. My entire life has been spent having things done for me, not because I want it but because I can't do it myself. I'm a part of an honest and hardworking family, each of whom contributing meaningfully to society. But not me, because of a crappy brain.

My father and brothers all worked in the same department of the police in our city. Dad was a Captain, and both my brothers had made Lieutenant. The three of them were working on the same case. They never talked that much about it when they were home, but whatever it was about they worked on it for months. All I ever learned from eavesdropping and prying them with questions was that they were looking for someone. I never knew who it was they were looking for, or why, and looking back I guess I wasn't really that eager to know. I just liked hearing them talk about their work. It made me feel like I was a part of things too.

A few years ago my birthday was getting closer and closer, and I was so excited about it. Everyone always made a big deal about my birthday, more than anyone else's I guess. They probably thought that it made me feel special. Well it did, and I loved it. I got up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, and had to fumble my way down the hall in the dark, so I wouldn't wake anyone up. When I got to the kitchen the lights came on, blinding me, and several people shouted 'SURPRISE!' It really was a surprise too, since it wasn't my birthday for another day yet.

"We know silly," my mom said when I told them so, "But if we'd given you a surprise party on the day it wouldn't have been much of a surprise then would it?"

My family was there, along with some of our friends, and there was cake, and ice cream, and mom's famous lasagna, corn chips and dip, and candy. It was the middle of the night, and all of us were pigging out as though it was lunchtime, it was wonderful.

Suddenly there was an loud noise, and everything turned white. Something heavy hit me and pushed me to the floor. It was the table that the food had been on. I tried to move but it hurt when I did, plus all I could hear was a faint droning that drowned out everything that was happening around me. When the droning faded away, I could hear gunshots, angry yelling, and people screaming. The table was lifted off of me, and someone called out,

"Here's another one."

"Put him with the others." answered another unfamiliar voice. I was picked up painfully by the arms, and felt what was unmistakably the muzzle of a gun press against the back of my neck.

"He looks retarded." said the one who'd picked me up. "I don't think we even need to tie him up."

He laughed dragging me out of the kitchen and into the living room.

"Well do it anyway, we don't want to take any chances."

My hands were tied painfully behind my back, and my ankles were tied together. After that I was left alone against the wall. All I could do was listen as I watched the blurry shapes of the men with guns walking around the room. I heard my mother crying and screaming, calling out to her friends who didn't answer back. My dad was there, swearing and thrashing around, as well as my brothers. I realized that they'd all been tied up too, but I couldn't hear the others. The other people that had been in the kitchen when the men broke in were silent, and the horrible realization occurred to me that they'd been killed.

Several minutes passed, and I learned that there were three men with guns, rummaging around the rest of the house, trying to find anyone that had gotten away. They must not have found anyone, because one of them said,

"All clear."

Then I heard another set of footsteps. But these were strange. They were heavy, and solid, as though whoever it was they belonged to was wearing wooden shoes. A large and unnatural shape walked into the room, and everyone suddenly fell silent.

"Captain Meyer. We meet at last."

The voice was deep, as deep as the bottom of a lake, and just as dark. The voice wasn't human, but sounded more like the death rattle of a tiger. Hearing such a sound form words made my hair stand on end and want to be someplace far, far away.

"Who the fuck are you!?" my dad yelled, clearly just as scared as I was by the creature in front of him.

"Tut tut, Captain. I would have thought you'd have recognized me. After all, you've only spent the last several months hindering my operations in this city. In fact you've set my plans back quite a bit now."

" . . . Tirone?" dad whispered.

"Got it in one."

"But . . . I thought that you were a . . . a man. Not a . . . a . . ."

"A what, Captain Meyer?"

" . . . A demon."

"Really? And would you have left me and my little organization alone if you had known?Either way it doesn't matter. I've come to deal with you Captain, you and your family. You've become too bothersome for me to put up with, and I intend to make sure that you never do so again. Blindfold him."

The last thing had been directed at one of Tirone's men, who grunted and did as he was ordered. My dad started swearing again, and tried to fight him off, but the ropes around his wrists were too tight.

"Soften him up for me." Tirone said, and each word made my spine tremble. All three men advanced on my dad, and I saw them swing their guns up and bring them down hard, accompanied by the dull and flat sound of fists hitting flesh. My dad screamed and continued swearing, but they just kept going. The didn't seem to get tired or even slow down, and dad's cries of pain gradually became more and more desperate and urgent.

Finally they stopped at some signal from Tirone, and he approached him with those heavy solid footsteps. There was no sound now except from the groans and sobs coming from my dad, who probably had a couple of broken bones after the beating he'd taken. I strained my ears for any other sound, when I heard something sickening. It was a slimy gagging noise, like someone slowly sticking their tongue out as far as it would go. Then there was a faint hiss, and a sharp, acrid smell, then my dad started screaming in pain again.

It went on for a while, the slimy noise, the hiss, and my dad's screams for mercy. It stretched on for eternity before I hear Tirone start to laugh. My heart stopped each time he laughed, it was such an unnatural and hellish laugh.

"Fire." he said, and suddenly everything I saw turned orange, and I felt my skin tighten as I felt and intense heat. Mom and dad started screaming hysterically at the same time, and my brothers were swearing and screaming with them. I didn't know how it had happened, but somehow this monster had set fire to my dad, and he was being burned alive. I cried and screamed as well, calling out to my dad until suddenly he stopped screaming, and the fire slowly died.

Mom was hysterical now, and she didn't stop screaming as one by one, Tirone did exactly the same thing to each of my brothers. He blindfolded them, beat them, made them scream as something hissed, and set them on fire. I screamed with my mother while they were tortured. I begged for him to stop doing this to my family, but he didn't listen.

Finally he told them to blindfold my mom, and he did the exact same thing to her. She fought and screamed and begged for him to stop but he wouldn't. He didn't.

"Fire." he said with glee, and her screams took on a whole new pitch as she was consumed in flames.

"MOM!" I screamed, my voice hoarse from screaming all night. She screamed for seemed like hours until suddenly she stopped screaming, the flames went out, and the only sound left was Tirone laughing.

"What about this one?" said one of his men. Tirone paused, as though thinking his decision over. He didn't think long.

"Blindfold him."

I tried to struggle as they grabbed my hair and forced my head up, but I couldn't even manage to slow them down. They tied the blindfold around my head and roughly pulled the knot into place.

I cannot begin to tell you what happened next. It was like waking up for the first time after dreaming for years at a time. I became aware of everything around me. The three men in the room, the colour of the furniture, the thickness of the walls, the insects and rodents that lived throughout the small spaces of the house, the emptiness of the sky above, the greenness of the grass outside, and the heat of the earth far below. But most of all I became aware of Tirone. The blindfold covered my eyes, but I could see him with perfect clarity. He was easily ten feet tall, with striped black and white skin and the high heeled hoofed legs of a horse. His fingers were long and sharp, and his hair was bright, shocking violet. He had a set of four horns growing around the top of his head, and a third eye in the centre of his forehead. I could also see the aura that surrounded him. It moved, pulsated and fluctuated, but all of it was centered around his third eye, within which was just darkness, the nexus of his demonic aura.

Instinctively I flexed muscles that I never knew I had, and tried to push the three men away from me. I really pushed. I pushed so hard that they liquidized instantly, and all of their flesh and organs flew across the room, leaving only their skeletons standing in place before collapsing in a pile of bones. The ropes that kept me tied up melted away, and I stood up. It was surprisingly easy, because I was fully in control of my movements.

Tirone looked at me quizzically for a moment, trying to size me up.

"What manner of thing are you?" he asked, but I didn't bother answering. The clarity with which I saw went deeper than just seeing, or knowing, it gave me understanding. I didn't just see Tirone, I understood everything that I saw. I didn't just see his aura, I understood it. While that aura was in place, Tirone could come to no bodily harm, and any injuries he suffered would be no more than a nuisance to him. I understood this somehow, even though I didn't know how or why, but I acted on it. One of the dead men's guns flew into my hand, I raised it and took aim within a split second, and pulled the trigger. Tirone's third eye exploded in a cloud of demonic blood, which I instinctively kept away from me by sheer will. He screamed and lifted a had to where his eye had been, and I saw his aura fade.

"What did you do!?"

"This." I said, clearly, and without having to force it. I touched his leg with my mind, and the thigh bone snapped like a twig. His screams were deafening, and somehow comforting as I saw all that was left of my family.

I didn't let him die until the sun had risen, and morning had come. Once his twisted and mangled corpse lay still, my head was throbbing and I couldn't see things as clearly as I could only a few hours before. I took off the blindfold, and suddenly it was all gone. I was back to my normal self, trapped inside a brain that didn't work properly.

I stumbled over to the blackened and charred remains of my mother, and didn't move until the police came to take me somewhere safe.

* * *

Nate emerged into the street, and he let out a heavy sigh as he raised his face to the sky. The horizon in the east was just starting to pale with the hint of the approaching dawn, and it brought no joy to his heart. No, his heart was heavy and felt like it had dropped into his belly. His idea had turned out to be solid, there was no denying now what had to be done. He'd tried, really tried to think of an alternative, but he'd just wasted his time. He'd been methodical, and approached the scenario from every angle. In the end he'd confirmed that there was only one way that his plan would work.
A heavy depression boiled up from inside him, and threatened to consume him. He spun around and kicked the brick wall behind him.
"FUCK!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. Why did it have to be like this? he though miserably. Why does this have to be the only way? He forced himself together and started to make his way home. He had to force each footstep, make his legs move. With any luck, what came next would be the worst part.

* * *

"That's a powerful story." Jack remarked. Everyone else nodded their agreement. Lucas' eyes were damp, and the strength of the memories had made it difficult for him to talk for the last part of his tale. Alister's hand on his shoulder had given him the courage to carry on, and even though it was over, he still couldn't hold back the tears.
"I know that this doesn't make anything better," Jade said, "but I'm sorry for what happened."
"It's OK, Jade." Alister said. Lucas was too upset to be able to talk, so his friend had taken the liberty of speaking on his behalf. "Thank you for your kindness."
A few moments passed in silence, until finally Jade stood up from the couch.
"We need to go. We should go and try to find my children." she announced.
"We have absolutely no idea where they are." Natasha pointed out.
"I don't care." Jade replied curtly. "I just can't sit here doing nothing any more. I have to do something, anything, that would help bring them back. I don't care if we're wandering around town all day, at least there'd be a chance of finding them."
"I agree." said Jack. "But I'm afraid that I can't go with you. I'm not as young as I used to be, and I'm still very drained after the rec centre."
"I thought you could use magic to replace your expended energy." Lucas said, wiping his eyes. Jack shook his head.
"No matter how much magical power you have, the human body needs food and rest. Ultimately there's no substitute for it."
"Fine then." Jade said. "The rest of us will go. We can pick up something to eat as we go once the shops open."
"I want to wait until Nate comes back." Natasha said. She was worried about him. He didn't normally leave without telling her, and almost never cut himself off from her like he did. She couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong.
"We don't know when that will be." Jade snapped. "My babies are missing, in the hands of that THING. I have to find them, with or without Nathan. I don't care!"
At that moment the front door opened, and Nate stepped inside. Natasha smiled and ran to him, flinging her arms around him in a big hug.
"There you are." she said softly, so only he could hear. "What happened to you, why did you block me out?"
Nate pushed her away as hard as he could and looked away in disgust.
"Get away from me you old hag!" he shouted. Natasha stumbled from the force of his shove, but also from the force of his words. He'd never yelled at her like this before. Something was terribly wrong.
"What . . ?" she said, but didn't get much further when he started yelling again.
"Can't you just leave me alone for a single minute!? You're always smothering me. You don't seem to realize that I need my own space!" Completely hurt and shocked, Natasha took a step toward him. A sharp smell tickled her nose, and she recognized it right away.
"You've been drinking?" she asked, astonished. She took a closer look at him, and sure enough saw the signs of intense intoxication. He was staggering and sweaty, and seemed to have trouble seeing straight. She didn't know what to make of this. Nate had always enjoyed the occasional drink, but she never once suspected that he ever had a problem.
"You're damn right!" he snapped. "I've had to put up with your shit for year after year, and I've had enough. I'm sick of you Sandra! You're always on about 'me me me', it's always about you isn't it?" He was gesturing wildly with his hands, and by now everyone else in the room was watching the two of them intently.
Natasha had never felt so betrayed. Tears were welling up in her eyes and she clutched at her chest. The pain of his words felt like a knife in her heart. She tried to say something, but her lips were trembling. She couldn't believe that he was behaving like this, that he really felt like this.
"You can't mean that." she said eventually. He just laughed, and that hurt most of all. He laughed right in her face.
"Oh yes I do. You're just a selfish bitch. Everybody knows it, but they're just being oh so very nice about it and don't say anything." Will approached him, staring at him with just as much surprise as Natasha, and reached out with his hand.
"Nate, sit down. We can . . ."
"I'm leaving!" Nate shouted. It took the breath right out of Natasha. Suddenly she couldn't breath. It was like she was dreaming, trapped in a nightmare somehow. This couldn't possibly be happening. It couldn't possibly be real. With a trembling hand she gently reached for his, hoping to connect with him again, but he snatched his hand away.
"Fuck off!" he screamed. As he did something snapped inside Natasha, something right in the centre of her mind. It was like a door slammed shut inside her, and all that was left outside was rage.
"Fine then!" she screamed back at him. "Get out. Get out NOW! You want to leave so badly, fucking do it! Don't you ever, EVER come back."
she reached down her shirt and pulled out the locket that he'd given her. She pulled it so hard that the thin delicate chain snapped, and she threw it at him, hard.
"Take this with you. I never want to see you again. If I do see you again, I will kill you. Do you hear me? I'll fucking KILL you!" The locket hit Nate in the head so hard that he staggered from the blow, and his head started to bleed. He picked it up from the floor and left the house without another word. Natasha followed him out the door.
"Run!" she yelled, picking up a rock and throwing it at his back. "Start running!"
He did, making his way up the street in a drunken zigzag until he was out of sight. Jade and Will tentatively approached Natasha, who was still staring at empty street. The gentle light of dawn was slowly lighting everything up, and birds were singing somewhere. Jade tried to hug Natasha, but she shook her off.
"No. Let's go. Let's go now. We need to find the children, so let's go find them, right now."
No one felt inclined to argue with her, and quickly got ready to set off. After a few minutes, Natasha, Jade, Will, Alister and Lucas headed off down the street, going in the opposite direction that Nate had gone. They walked in an uncomfortable and awkward silence, the ugly nature of what had just happened still fresh in the air. Jack stood in the doorway and watched them go, and glanced once more up the street where Nate had run before closing the door and locking it. He shook his head as he went upstairs to rest.
Meanwhile Nate slowed down once he was sure that they couldn't see him. He was a little bit light headed from the small mouthful of whisky that he'd drunk, and he could still smell it where he'd splashed it on his face and neck. Now that no one could see him, he didn't need to pretend to be drunk any more, and he looked down at the locket in his hand for the first time. He started to cry as he looked at it, and he held it tightly in both hands as he fought back the tears. The worst part's over, he thought miserably. Everything that happens from now on is a walk in the park compared to that.

* * *

"Mike left you?" Rowan asked, eyes wide and mouth agape. It was now well past midnight, and his mother had long ago gone to bed. The entire village was still and asleep except for Rowan's living room, where a fire was slowly shrinking in the fireplace. Alex stared at it with a strange expression.
"Yes." she said eventually. "He did."
"Did you ever see him again?"
Rowan looked at her when she didn't answer right away, and suddenly he felt bad. Right at that moment she looked the saddest that he'd ever seen her. A tear rolled down her cheek, interrupted by the scar that crossed her face.
"I did. One time. After that he . . ." she said, but had to stop and wipe her eyes. Even after all this time the pain of those memories could still sting. "It's part of the story later anyway."
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to." Rowan said, even though he was desperately curious. Alex smiled and patted his cheek affectionately.
"Don't worry, I'll tell you. But not right now. Right now you need to go to bed. If you don't get enough rest you'll be no use tomorrow when Naida asks for your help in the fields.
Making grumpy and disappointed noises of displeasure, Rowan reluctantly put out what was left of the fire, and went to bed. Alex got out of the armchair that she'd been settled in for the better part of the night, and stretched herself over the large fluffy couch, which had been laid over with a sheet so that Alex could sleep on it. Rowan's house was small and had nothing that could be used as a spare or guest room, but the couch was more than adequate to Alex's tired muscles. She pulled a blanket over her shoulders, and curled up on her side, ready to sleep. Before she dozed off, she touched the hard lump under her shirt where her locket sat, hung around her neck. Once again warm tears began to roll down her face, where they landed on her carefully placed hand. She didn't want to ruin her hosts' sheets.
"I miss you Mike." she whispered under her breath, then finally drifted off into merciful oblivion.

* * *