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Monico Episode Fourteen: Nemesis Part I

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  • Monico Episode Fourteen: Nemesis Part I

    Episode Fourteen:
    Nemesis Part I

    Disclaimer: Oz isn't mine; everyone else is.
    Feedback: Yes, please tell me what you think.

    With thanks to Sue

    Previously in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Tales from the Monico:

    Oz: "I know what it's like to have power you can't control. I mean, every time I start to wolf out, I touch something?deep, dark. It's not fun."

    Professor Staunton sees a concussed Oz wolf out, and is amazed.
    Staunton (absolutely awestruck): "I don't believe it! It's a werewolf. An actual werewolf!"
    He prevents the Master shooting Wolf-Oz.
    Staunton (alarmed): "No! You can't kill it. Do you have any idea how valuable a discovery like this could be? An actual werewolf?."

    Elli: "I promised the Doc I'd keep a weather eye for Staunton, make sure he doesn't get up to anything too terrible."

    Elli: "I've been watching Staunton for months now, and all he's done so far is bore me rigid."
    Oz: "So you think it's safe to drop the surveillance now."
    Elli: "It would be really nice to think so?. Except that every time I start to think that, I get this nagging twinge at the back of my mind, saying 'not yet'. So, I struggle on."

    Oz: "You actually see that? See things in the future?"
    Elli: "My mother was a visionary. Is a visionary. But what I have is only the tiniest fragment of her power. Flashes and feelings, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that won't fit together."

    Leaving the university canteen, Oz sees Professor Staunton with Mary MacBride. Seeing Oz, Staunton whispers something to Mary, who turns and gives Oz a curiously intense look.

    Mike: "We've been looking into that professor you mentioned. He's keeping some strange company just lately."
    Elli: "Let me guess: Mary MacBride."
    Mat: "Your mysterious benefactor. Paying for the university's new science block. Family money, not earned, and she's got a clean record."

    Elli: "She's heavily into the occult scene. Lots of scandals of the very black magic variety, all very much hushed up, but there's enough evidence left to point right at her, if you know where to look."

    Oz: "Yeah, you know, I don't really feel so connected to any kind of power."
    Elli: "But what's shape-changing, if not magical power? It may not be a magic you have any real control over, but it is a magic you're connected to."

    Oz: "You don't know everything about me."
    Anouk: "But I want to. I want you to talk to me, Oz."

    Anouk: "And since you're ditching me in favour of patrol tonight, I'll see you tomorrow."

    Oz receives a letter from Master Sheng in Tibet.

    Standing in front of Jim's house, Oz checks the address he's got written down, and rings the bell.
    Oz: "I had a, a mutual friend suggest I come."
    Jim: "Strikes me that you and I have a lot to talk about. And, quite possibly, a lot of work to do."

    Jim: "You're never going to have the kind of control you need, long-term, with your concentration as scattered as it is today. And therein lies our dilemma, and there we have our first flaw to be fixed. Yes?"

    Anouk: "You'll come by in the morning?"
    Oz: "I can drop by on my way to Jim's."
    Anouk: "Tomorrow? You're seeing him again tomorrow? You were just there this afternoon."

    Anouk: "It's just?you're juggling way too much right now. Something has to give, and if that something is going to be me I'd rather you told me now, because it feels like every time you have to make a compromise, it's me that gets shunted down the list of priorities. And now you've added training with this 'sensei' to the juggle-fest, and I just don't understand why you needed to do that. You told me you were safe, that you were in control and it wasn't a problem, but you won't talk to me about any of it, and I just don't know any more what's real and what isn't."
    Oz: "I do have control. I can hold the wolf in, and it is safe, but ? it's something I have to reach for. Doesn't come naturally."
    Anouk: "So??"
    Oz: "So, working with Jim is about ? it's about: what happens on the day something throws me off balance, and I can't reach far enough?"

    Oz: "I don't think this is working."
    Anouk: "No. It really isn't, is it?"




    "So you're seeing her tomorrow?" Jim remarked in a conversational tone.

    First night of the full moon.

    Holding the wolf down, repressed deep within him, had never been harder, after the rigorous mental gymnastics Jim had put him through during the week or so they'd been training together. But success had never felt so exhilarating.

    Mental gymnastics, and also a whole lot more intense and deeply personal conversation than he was strictly comfortable with. Jim was a firm believer that the two could and should go hand in hand. And it was impossible to hold anything back from him, no matter how much you might not want to talk about something.

    Oz nodded.

    Jim raised an eyebrow. "Do you think that's a good idea?"

    He'd had been asking himself that same question all day. A little over one week on, and despite their time together having been so short, the split still hurt. So when Anouk had called and asked to meet, although they were no longer together and although that still felt like it had been the right decision, he'd been glad of the opportunity to see her. No matter what it was she wanted to say.

    "Well," he said. "I guess I'll find out."


  • #2

    Part One:


    "Are you sure we haven't left it too late?" he asked for what must have been the dozenth time.

    She smiled her sultriest, maddest smile. "How could it be too late? Today is the day our dreams come true."

    "We don't even know that he'll be here today." Fretting was in his nature, especially at a time like this: a time so crucial, when so much hinged on the events of the next 24 hours. "I haven't seen him for days."

    Nothing, it seemed, could daunt her now. Not even the prospect of failure, which haunted his every waking ? and sleeping ? moment of late. "He will be here. We'll make sure of it."

    "Yes, of course. We'll find a way." He was suddenly nervous of allowing his anxiety to be too obvious. She was so unstable?. "To act any sooner would have risked drawing attention to ourselves before our preparations were ready. Uh ? we are ready now, aren't we? This is it?"

    "But of course." She was serene, lovely, and quite, quite insane. But she was also his last, best chance of finally fulfilling those hopes and dreams that had seemed so hopelessly out of his reach. He had to go along with her, at least until she had given him what he wanted. "The moon is ripe, the planets in perfect alignment. Tonight is the night."

    She started to laugh, a merry, happy laugh with an edge brittle enough to send a chill down the spine.


    "I know I overreacted," said Anouk. "I blew things out of proportion and was a total drama queen about everything."

    They'd gone back to that tacky little 24-hour coffee place again, the one they'd previously come to for breakfast and werewolf revelations. It had felt appropriate, inconspicuous, suitably neutral, and also kind of ironic.

    "Everything that went wrong with us," Anouk continued, as though this was a speech she'd prepared, which ? chances were it was. "It was as much my issue as it was yours. After the way we met?I knew from the start what your life was, and I should have ? I couldn't deal with it."

    That was a little unexpected. Pretty much what Oz had suspected, but he hadn't expected her to actually admit it like that.

    "I wanted to," Anouk carried on. "I wanted to be able to just take it all for granted, the way the others do. I tried to. But I couldn't. And then when I got zapped like that, being in danger again ? it was the final straw. And I should have been honest about it, should have said that, instead of just blaming you about the never being around thing, even though that was absolutely true as well. And you should have been honest with me, too, about ? well, about all the things I said before. You never did have that much time to spare for me, and that was getting worse all the time, but?"

    She seemed to be getting wound up again, but caught herself, paused, took a couple breaths, and then continued a little more calmly. "But I didn't come here to moan about that again. I shouldn't have made it such a big deal; I was just so zonked out post life-sucking leech experience."

    And then she pulled a face at him. "Hey, this is me apologising here. You could at least meet me halfway."

    She was too cute to resist. Always had been. Oz smiled at her. "Well, I'm sorry, too. But I think I said that before."

    "I don't think I was in the mood to actually listen properly before," Anouk admitted.

    Oz wasn't sure what she wanted here, or was expecting to get out of this. Nothing had really changed, except that he had even less available time than before. Since arranging to train with Jim he'd been cutting back on just about everything. Devoting all his energies to that training was something he kind of had to do.

    "Thing is, though," he said, a little hesitantly. "I think it was right."

    "What was right?" Anouk looked unhappy. "That splitting up thing that we did?"

    He nodded, and Anouk sighed.

    "I know it was for the best. I don't want it to be. But I think it was."

    Oz felt confused now, wondering what this meeting was all about, in that case.

    "I just ? I didn't want it to end like that," said Anouk. "With a fight. I miss you ? I want us to be able to speak, still, at least."

    He had to smile again. Way too cute to resist. "I'd like that."

    "It just isn't a good time for us to be together right now."

    "No." He had wolf issues he needed to work through, again. And, since Anouk had admitted now that she was struggling to deal with all that, she'd be much better off keeping her distance. Definitely not a good time to be anything more than friends.

    "What with all your stuff, and my stuff, and the frequent danger, and everything." Anouk looked anxious. "You'll be careful, won't you? I'd hate for anything to happen to you."

    "Well, I try to be." He'd only died that one time, so far.

    An awkward silence fell over them. Anouk fidgeted, and glanced at her watch. "I have to ? I have a meeting. Final preparations and last minute crises for the Spring Fair."

    "Of course." He'd forgotten about Spring Fair. Judging by what Anouk had said about it, pre-split, it sounded like some kind of giant bake sale, the kind of lameness he generally took perverse pleasure in observing. But, of course, now they weren't together he wouldn't actually be required to go.

    Picking up her jacket, Anouk started to leave, but then stopped and turned back. "I'm glad we could meet, have this talk," she said. "Maybe some day?"

    Her voice tailed off, and she made her way out of the coffee shop without a backward glance, leaving the thought un-voiced.


    Scheduling conflicts were pretty much routine these days. Just one of the reasons the split with Anouk had been for the best, for both of them.

    After breakfast with Anouk, Oz had come straight round to Jim's for their first full full moon session together, which was in fact more of a debrief on the previous night's almost full moon. The real full full moon session would come later that night ? later than Jim was entirely happy with, truth be told, since he wanted to observe the full effect a full moon had on Oz. But David had asked him to work that evening so he could take Emma out for her birthday. And, since his availability for work seemed to be decreasing all the time, he hadn't felt he could refuse when asked for a favor like that. So he was going to Jim's for the partial full full moon observation session straight after work, despite how late that would be.

    It was going to be a long day.

    "How do you manage all night?" Jim asked, curiously. "Sleep-wise, that is? Gotta be hard to maintain the control you need, unconscious. Do-able, but hard."

    "Full moon, don't always get that much sleep," Oz admitted, and Jim nodded, looking thoughtful.

    "Sleep deprivation isn't such a good thing, you know," he said. "Tell me what it feels like, holding it in at full moon. How it feels right now ? it's daytime, sure, but still full moon. That wolf wants out; you aren't letting it: there's gotta be kick-back. What's that like?"

    Jim's schedule seemed to be a lot more flexible than Oz's. Morning, afternoon, evening, night ? he was putting himself to a great deal of trouble, for little or no reward, for Oz's sake. That made it pretty difficult to avoid discussing deeply personal but hugely relevant matters.

    Fingering the charm he wore twisted around his hand, Oz eyed his feet and longed for a way of evading this conversation.

    "It's kinda ?" All but impossible to put into words was what it was, but if he wanted this to work, he had to try. "It's like?being torn in half."

    Elli was the only other person he'd ever said that to, and he was pretty sure she felt that repressing the wolf the way he did wasn't healthy, long-term. She'd never said so out loud, though, because ? what other choice did he have?

    "Gotta give you your props," said Jim, scrutinising him critically. "Looking at you right now, wouldn't have guessed that. Been a good long while since you learned how, though. Getting any easier with practice?"

    He had to shake his head. "Varies. Harder, some months." That wolf he worked so hard to keep buried deep within him liked to put up a fight, and the being torn in half feeling grew stronger with each non-changing full moon that passed. Anxiety about what that might mean was a part of the reason he'd written to Master Sheng asking for advice in the first place.

    "So, the wolf does not like being held inside, then." Jim inhaled deeply on his cigarette and then nodded. "Okay, something to think about. Now show me what you do about that."

    And again with the mental gymnastics.


    "So you're actually going to class this afternoon?" Charlie looked highly amused. "Isn't that just about the first time all week?"

    After such a packed morning, it was kind of a relief to be able to just sit and have a quiet lunch with someone who was willing to stick to safe, if not exactly simple topics such as school, and had enough tact not to ask about how the anti-wolf sessions were going.

    "I haven't skipped all my classes," Oz mildly pointed out, and took another bite from his burrito. He had been cutting class more regularly just lately than he had all year, though, and he guessed it would be hard for the others not to have noticed. The new commitment he'd taken on meant that choices had to be made. He couldn't afford to be half-hearted about this: it had to be all or nothing.

    He'd also been cutting back on his shifts at the caf?, and would no doubt soon be starting to feel the financial pinch accordingly. But he'd got by without much money before, and could again. He badly wanted ? needed ? to make this work, and, having already ended things with Anouk, was prepared to make whatever sacrifices were necessary. This was pretty much his last chance.

    Charlie looked even more amused. "No, just most of them."

    Oz finished chewing his mouthful. "Well," he said. "That's kinda why I thought I should show my face today."

    "Show your face where?" Elli dropped onto a vacant seat at their table and pinched a couple chips off his plate.

    "School," he said, and she frowned. "Something wrong with that?"

    "No. There shouldn't be, should there?" she murmured, looking uncertain.

    "The look on your face says there might be." Charlie raised an eyebrow and eyed the other girl curiously.

    "No." After a moment's silence filled with bafflement, Elli shook her head. "I'm going mad. Ignore me."

    She was very quiet while they finished eating, though: she just sat there, picking at her nails and looking pensive while Oz and Charlie continued to chat. It was Charlie's turn on vampire patrol that night, going out with Mat, since he wasn't working. And, since Ed seemed to have been stepping up his activities just lately, she was feeling a little demoralised and nervous about it. There wasn't much Oz could say to reassure her, either. It wasn't a good situation for any of them to be in, but was hardest of all on her.

    Lunch over: checking his watch, Oz reached for his jacket. "I should probably make a move."

    "Is that the time?" Glancing at her own watch, Charlie bounced to her feet. "I'll walk with you."


    They both turned to see Elli slowly rising, brows slightly knit, looking more unsure than ever.

    "What's wrong?" Charlie asked.

    "Oz." Elli looked at him. "You know I don't often get a deep, dark sense of foreboding, right?"

    Nodding, Oz gave her a quizzical look, wondering where this was leading.

    She looked anxious. "So if I asked you to skip class today, would you do it? For me?"

    Normally, cutting class wouldn't be too much of a problem; he always managed to catch up on anything he missed easily enough. But today, after missing so much school lately due to scheduling conflicts, he didn't love the idea of missing still more just because of a bad feeling, because ? what about tomorrow, or the next day?

    "I kind of need a bit more than that," he said, dubiously.

    She pulled a face and fidgeted. "I don't know any more than that. Something's been nagging at me today, and then when you talked about going to class it got worse. So I thought maybe that's it. If you don't go to class then maybe whatever's going to happen that's bothering me won't happen. Yes?"

    She'd always had an uncanny ability to make him do just about anything, just by asking. "So if I skip class, that'll make you happy?"

    Elli nodded vigorously, smiling and wrinkling her nose in a beguilingly apologetic manner. "Insanely."

    "Okay then." He was still puzzled, and unsure what to make of this, but was willing to go along with it. He'd seen that instinct of hers work out too often to argue. "I guess I have some work I could catch up on here, if it'll put your mind at rest."

    "Good." Elli looked relieved, and he wished, not for the first time, that he understood more about how these 'feelings' of hers really worked.

    "But it's okay for me to go still?" Charlie raised an eyebrow. "'Cause, not that I'm not feeling left out or anything, but I'm going to be late if I don't leave now."

    "I'll come with you." Elli seemed completely at ease once more. "I have a practical exam to get to."

    "Why are they making you take exams in March?" Charlie sounded incredulous as they headed for the door.

    "Because they're sadists?" Elli suggested.

    The door closed behind them.


    "He isn't here." He paced nervously around his office. "Hasn't been here all day, not likely to turn up now. I knew we should have done something sooner. Should never leave things to the last minute like this ?"

    "Quiet! I'm thinking." She seemed to be growing a little anxious herself, at last, and turned fierce eyes upon him. "We still have time. Time enough to find some way?"

    "A way to bring him here." He tried to think of some way to engineer that before it was too late. They were on such a tight schedule tonight. "A way to bring him here before nightfall."

    "Long before nightfall," she hissed at him, fretfully. "As soon as can be arranged. Do it ? do it now!"


    One good thing about having this unscheduled free afternoon: it was giving him plenty of time to catch up on unfinished assignments while preparing himself for another round of his monthly full moon wolf-battles.

    Oz checked his watch, and then turned his attention back to his notes. He had time to finish this before going downstairs for his shift.

    He would have had, that was, if Emma hadn't put her head around the door at that moment.

    "Knock, knock," she said. "Phone message for you."

    He glanced up to see her entering without waiting for his reply. And she was only half-dressed: clearly in the middle of getting ready to go out for her birthday dinner. Not sure where to put his eyes, he hurriedly looked back down at his notes.

    "Someone at the uni called," Emma blithely continued. "One of your professors?damn. What did he say his name was again? Colic?"

    "Cholich?" Oz suggested, trying to keep his eyes on her face, or the wall, or his notes ? anything rather than her state of undress, which she didn't even seem to have noticed.

    "That was it," she cheerfully nodded. "He wants to see you right away, something about an overdue assignment, or falling grades, or something. Said it was real important. I didn't think your grades ever fell below 'excellent' even if you didn't turn your work in on time. You want to watch that, you know. Don't want them to kick you out."

    Oz frowned. "I don't have any assignments overdue." He might have been cutting back on class attendance, but his work was up to date.

    "How would you know?" she pointed out, rolling her eyes. "You haven't been there all week."

    "Emma!" David appeared, and looked horrified at his wife's wandering around in her underwear in front of another man. "Clothes!"

    "What?" Emma glanced down at herself, and shrugged. "I'm decent; Oz isn't looking."

    He was trying very hard not to, and now couldn't look at David either. In fact, he felt a sudden, pressing need to get away from both of them right now, and figured that a quick trip up to the university to visit one professor in his office should be safe enough.

    "You know what?" he said, jumping up. "I should go find out what Professor Cholich wants. Enjoy dinner, and uh, happy birthday."

    He made a hasty exit.


    Professor Cholich wasn't in his office. Oz couldn't find out that he'd been in all day, in fact ? it certainly hadn't been him that phoned and left that message for him,

    An alarm bell started to go off as he remembered Elli's bad feeling earlier, that she hadn't wanted him to come here today?.

    This part of campus was oddly deserted for late afternoon.

    He headed back to his van and tried not to feel anxious. Full moon today: that always made him feel more jittery than in-between-times. Nothing to worry about. He'd get back to the caf?, work his shift, and then head for Jim's for that full full moon session that, the way he felt right now, he could probably do with, and then ?

    A whiff of something caught his attention without his even knowing what it was; maybe a scent he was barely aware of yet his subconscious identified as dangerous? Or maybe some other sense entirely?.

    Wary, he half-turned ? too late, as something sharp hit his arm and he looked down, noted the tranquilliser dart sticking into him and had just enough time to think 'not again' before he knew no more.


    Something's wrong.

    Sitting in her exam working on a still life portrait in charcoal, Elli tried to ignore the thought when it first arrived in her head. That kind of nagging itch at the back of the mind was one of the most maddening parts of having just a hint of premonition-ary instincts without possessing anything approaching the full works. One of the other maddening aspects was, of course, the frequent inability to pin that nagging itch down into something more tangible that might actually be useful.

    Something's wrong.

    The thought was becoming more insistent by the moment. But this exam wasn't exactly the kind of thing she could just walk out of. Being trapped in limbo in this world, she'd had to set herself goals in order to avoid going mad. The first goal had been surviving in an Australian High School, never having experienced anything like that before. Actually managing to graduate with a half decent grade was something she was still proud of herself for achieving. The goal she was aiming for right now was completing her degree in fine arts, and this exam was an important part of that. And yet there was this persistent feeling.

    Something's wrong.

    She rubbed at the back of her neck as she tried to examine the feeling. It wasn't the kind of easily identifiable, sledgehammer warning she had when the Morruth was in town last month. This was a much more vague, nagging itch at the back of her mind, but it wasn't going away now it had found voice.

    Something's wrong.

    Too persistent to ignore, and possibly too important to ignore, as well. The feeling she'd had at lunchtime had seemed to be connected to Oz, but he'd agreed not to go to class, and the feeling had subsided. So what was wrong now?

    Something's wrong.

    The feeling was getting stronger. There was nothing else for it ? she was going to have to fake an illness of some kind, escape from the exam, and go find out what in the hells it was that was wrong.


    Elli arrived back at the Monico in what felt like record time, and was greeted by the wrath of Shanei.

    "Well, thank god someone's here at last."

    "Why?" The alarm bells were really starting to clang now. "What's wrong? Where is everyone?"

    "David took the missus out on the town for her birthday, remember," Shanei curtly reminded her. "And Oz was meant to be here to cover, but he hasn't shown up, and where does that leave me? On my own, getting slammed, trying to do everything, that's where. I've got orders backing up, customers coming out of my ears, and you'd think he could've called, or something, at least. You have to give me a hand here."

    Something's wrong.

    That vague suspicion begins to crystallize into cold, hard certainty.

    "I hate being right," Elli murmured, dismayed.

    "What?" The look Shanei threw at her was frazzled, to say the least. "I don't know what is going on with the guy, but you'd think he could be dealing with it on his own time, instead of mine. His head has been all over the place lately: cutting school, cutting rehearsal, cutting work ?"

    "No," Elli defended Oz automatically. "I mean, yes: Oz can be a bit slapdash about school. But he'd never blow off a shift when he knew David was relying on him."

    "He probably stopped by to see his girl." Shanei was supremely unconcerned except insofar as her workload was affected. Living in ignorance of just how quickly, easily and badly things could go wrong must be nice. "Lost track of time."

    "They broke up," Elli pointed out, trying to think.

    "You think that makes a difference? Mike and me are broken up, too: it don't stop us fooling around together."

    It took a couple of beats before Elli could respond. "I didn't need to know that."

    "So are you going to help me out here or what?" Shanei was getting impatient, and the customers were getting loud. "I'll make sure the boss pays for your time."

    "No," Elli murmured, distracted and thinking hard.

    Shanei's eyebrows shot up into her hairline. "No? You're not going to help?"

    "No." Elli was barely even listening. "I'm going to try and find out where Oz is."

    She headed for the phone.


    There were no windows down here, but the clock on the wall said that moonrise had arrived.

    They'd chained the werewolf in the centre of the room, in the spot they'd prepared in readiness for him, and now watched him nervously: waiting for the change to come. He was under sedation still, but it had been such a mild dose he'd be waking up any time now.

    He wondered if that would make a difference. Did he need to be awake to change? Did he have to be in sight of the moon to change? How did it work?

    So many questions. He longed to get his hands on the creature to find out, yet had to wait his turn, wait until she was finished and what was left would be his. So near, and yet so far, and he'd waited so long for this opportunity already.

    The air was almost electric with anticipation as the werewolf started to stir, limbs twitching and contorting as the change began.

    And then there was a moment of great tension, and the change abruptly stopped, mid-way through. After another moment of enormous effort it had reversed completely, and then the now fully human once more werewolf opened his eyes.

    Alongside him, Mary stamped her foot and screamed with frustration.



    • #3

      Part Two:


      "Should I be worried?" Anouk asked when Elli called, just in case Oz was with her. He wasn't, and she hadn't seen him since breakfast that morning.

      "No," Elli automatically reassured her. There was still a chance she was worrying about nothing, and no point at all in alarming Anouk. "He probably just got held up someplace. Thanks."

      She hung up, and drummed her fingers on the sideboard and fretted, and then went up to Oz's room to try and find a phone number for Jim.


      Oz woke up, groggy and confused, and almost naked, and knew that he'd changed. Or almost changed. He was too groggy and too confused to be sure what had happened, but he'd felt the wolf coming out as he woke, and forcing it back down at that late stage and without full consciousness had been one of the hardest things he'd ever attempted. It had worked, though. He told himself vaguely that Jim would be proud. And so would Master Sheng, and?it hurt, all over, every hair and every pore tingling and prickling while the moon sang in his veins and stirred his blood almost to boiling point.

      He dredged his memory, trying to figure out what had happened.

      It took a surprisingly long time to work out that he was in chains, a prisoner, which brought back all kinds of bad associations, and then the memory of being tranq-darted, again, came rushing back.

      Need to get better at escaping, he fuzzily told himself, as he belatedly realised that rather than losing his clothes due to the change effect, he'd been stripped down to boxers, which kind of added to the whole feeling vulnerable aspect of being held captive.

      It was only then that he realised his captors weren't too worried about him seeing their faces, which wasn't a good sign. No danger of his not recognising them, either: Professor Staunton and his occult-obsessed benefactor, Mary MacBride.


      Mat was whistling a jaunty little tune as he drove, looking and sounding perfectly casual and unconcerned, but Charlie knew him well enough to know that he was as nervous about patrol as she was. They all were, every time. They'd been lucky so often, but human against vampire was never good odds.

      Neither of them was saying it out loud ? they rarely did when they were out on patrol together, not any more ? but they both knew it was Ed they were looking out for. Ed Patrol, rather than a more general Vampire Patrol. Ed, who was the cause of the spate of murders and disappearances there'd been around the university in recent weeks, and who they'd been completely unable to find and stop. To kill.

      Talking about it didn't help, not when everything that could possibly be said on the subject had already been said, so they didn't. They talked more randomly while Mat drove along an equally random circuit, keeping a sharp watch out for anything that could possibly be vampire activity.

      Charlie wondered, at times, if Mat ever longed to have his normal life back: a normal life where a night out with his girlfriend meant dinner and a movie, rather than a futile hunt for the dangerous stalker vampire who'd spent the last few weeks increasing the workload of his department tenfold. For herself, she could barely remember what a normal life was. Vampires and demons were pretty much all she'd ever known.

      "I've never really said thank you, have I?" she said, suddenly feeling that it needed to be said.

      Mat glanced at her. "What for?"

      It was so sweet, the way he completely took it for granted, just accepted her vampire-related situation as part of the package: baggage that she brought with her that he was prepared to deal with for her sake. There weren't many men who'd be that understanding. "For being so rock-like. Most guys get a whiff of the issues and run a mile."

      "Well, that can I say?" Mat grinned. "I'm granite." And then he braked sharply. "Over there."

      Alerted by the sight of a struggle that was taking place in the shadows of an alleyway to the side of the street, he pulled over and, weapons at the ready, they both dashed out to help. Maybe tonight would be the night. Maybe tonight would be the night she'd finally be freed from the vampire that had once been her brother?.

      But no. The young man in the alley was the victim, not the vampire, and the female vampire attacking him fled when they challenged her, making no attempt to stay and fight. But Charlie recognised her, from the brief glimpse she managed to catch, and after soothing the panic-stricken young man down and sending him on his way, she bitterly explained to Mat.

      "I saw her picture in the uni paper last week. Can't remember the name, but that was definitely her. One of the murder victims, it said ? neck injuries. God, he's turning people now."

      "Which also means that Ed isn't the only vampire operating in this area anymore," Mat grimly added.


      Oz didn't appear to have a contact telephone number for Jim, or if he did it wasn't anywhere obvious and searching too thoroughly through his belongings for no really good reason felt wrong. But he did have the address written down so, cursing how long all this investigative work was taking and with alarm bells ringing loudly about his non-appearance anywhere he should be, Elli went to Jim's house to find out if that was where Oz was.

      He wasn't.

      "You think there's a reason to be worried?" Jim took a deep drag on his cigarette and eyed her with shrewd hazel eyes behind which she could almost see the cogs whirring with deep, analytical thought.

      "I know something's wrong." She had no intention of explaining how, but got the distinct impression that she wouldn't have to. "I just don't know what."

      Jim looked concerned. "Locating the lost isn't exactly my thing," he said. "Analysis, now ? analysis I can do. Advice, counselling, spiritual guidance, training ? anything along those lines, I'm your man. If we'd been working together a little longer I could maybe try?. Could maybe try that anyway?." He looked thoughtful for a second and then scrawled a number down on a piece of paper, continuing to talk without bothering to explain that cryptic comment. "Call me if you hear anything. Got me worried now."


      "You're disappointing me, little wolf."

      He'd never gotten a real close up look at Staunton's mysterious lady-friend, Mary MacBride, before now, and could've quite happily gone the rest of his life without ever getting this close, since she was so obviously stark, staring mad. And dangerous: that much was painfully obvious. She was circling him, eyes glittering, hissing under her breath, and muttering curses and dire imprecations against him for not changing.

      She wanted him to change, needed him to change ? but why?

      There were occult and black magic-y items all around the dark, candle-lit room they were in, incense burning over some kind of altar, strange symbols painted on the floor, mostly around his feet. That had to be a bad sign.

      Trying hard to stay calm, Oz surreptitiously tested his chains again, and again was disappointed to find them solid. No breaking free: not in this shape anyway, and, if they'd done their homework properly, not in his other shape, either. And, since changing was what they wanted him to do ? presumably for not good reasons ? that wasn't a theory he felt any inclination toward testing.

      He looked around the room again, eyes scouring every dimly lit corner for any clues as to where he was, or some way of escaping, but found no hint of either. There was something familiar about his surroundings, though, something familiar that he couldn't quite place.

      "I know this place?." he murmured.

      There was something frighteningly peaceful about the crazed smile Mary gave him. "This is my shrine. My temple. A reward for my benevolence and the scene of my rebirth."

      Interesting, and high on the freaksome meter, but not so helpful. But behind her Staunton shifted slightly and looked guilty, and the connection was suddenly made.

      "University." No windows, but otherwise the room was the same style and design as all the university buildings. So they were somewhere on campus still, and add Mary's involvement, and you got?. "This is the new science block."

      The new science block that hadn't yet been opened, although building work was pretty much completed now. Which meant the chances of them being discovered before it was too late were fairly slim.

      Mary scowled and snarled at him. "It was?convenient."

      "What about Professor Staunton?" Trying hopelessly, almost desperately, to stall Mary from getting on with whatever it was she wanted him for, Oz tried a different tack, wondering if he had any chance of driving some kind of wedge between them. "I guess he was kinda convenient, too."

      He wondered exactly what Staunton's angle in all this was, anyway. Wondered exactly what either of them wanted with him. Well, no ? he pretty much knew what Staunton wanted with him, and it wasn't pleasant to anticipate. But he was getting the distinct impression that Mary's intentions were very different, and was unclear how exactly their two separate agendas came together.

      "Be quiet!" Mary's patience suddenly snapped, and she slapped him hard, raking long, curved nails across his face, and the scent of his own blood began to mingle with that of the incense that was thick in the air. Somewhere deep inside, the wolf started to growl.

      He'd been along to a couple of Jim's Aikido classes, one for absolute beginners and one more intermediate, since he'd already learned a bit during his time in Tibet. A lot of the teachings had to do with the way you breathed. He focused on that thought. Long deep breaths: searching for that peaceful centre, not allowing the wolf out no matter what they did, no matter what the provocation. No matter how badly it wanted out.

      "Stop fighting it," Mary hissed at him. "I can feel it, holding it in when I need it to come out. Let it out!"

      Defiantly determined not to, Oz met her eyes and kept silent, concentrating on his breathing. One breath after another: don't allow the wolf even the tiniest of openings to escape.

      "He had a head injury." Staunton had remained quiet throughout, leaning against the wall and watching proceedings impassively, but he now spoke up in clipped, clinical tones. "Last time, when I saw him change. He had a head injury at the time ? could be a factor."

      Mary turned back to Oz, and that glint in her eyes was more dangerous than ever. "Is that the secret then, little wolf? The blood is needed anyway. So if we damage you a little, will that bring it out?"


      Elli got back to the caf? at the same time as Charlie and Mat, and, to Shanei's obvious dismay and annoyance, instantly bustled them out back to explain her worries about Oz's disappearance.

      "You knew this was going to happen." Charlie took her seriously at once.

      "No I didn't," Elli automatically corrected. "I had a bad feeling that something was going to happen. My bad feelings don't come with pictures and explanations attached. It would be nice if they did." She felt like kicking herself out of sheer frustration. "They're just feelings. Warnings. But I knew something was wrong; I just didn't know what. If I'd known I could've?. I should know by now not to ignore myself."

      "You know, technically," Mat put in. "It isn't missing persons until twenty-four hours is up."

      "I'm not waiting twenty-four hours," Elli told him, flatly, leading the way down to the cellar where the weapons were kept. "Something's wrong and we need to find Oz."

      "Want me to call David?" Charlie worriedly asked, following her down. "I mean, if you think it's bad??"

      What to do?

      She shook her head unhappily, feeling torn. "I don't know. It's Emma's birthday." She started sifting through the weapons supply selecting or discarding the suitable or not so suitable. "I don't want to disturb that until we know for sure what's going on."

      "Why the weapons?" Mat looked a little anxious at the thought of civilians carrying armaments around the streets.

      "Because I know something's wrong," Elli grimly said. There'd been too much time wasted already this evening, and she wasn't willing to take any more chances. "And I'm not ignoring myself any more."

      Charlie was also packing weapons of the small and easily concealed variety. "It's a big city," she pointed out. "How exactly do you expect to find him?"

      "I just will," Elli said, picking up the tranquilliser gun and looking around for the darts to load it with. Some things were impossible to explain or describe, especially now that she was giving up on futile detective work and moving toward more intuitive avenues of investigation. The kind she should have allowed full reign from the start. After all, she had at least a fair idea where to start, at least. "If he's in the city, I'll be able to find him."

      "How?" Mat was intrigued. "I mean, unless you've got a homing device on him, or something??"

      "People that I know well I can always find," she impatiently told him, loading the gun and stuffing spare darts into a pocket. "Eventually. If everyone stops talking and lets me concentrate!"

      As they headed back upstairs and toward the exit, Charlie hesitantly said, "This is a wolf night, isn't it? That means this could be a wolf problem. Moon's out now ? could he have changed?"

      It was possible, and worrying, and Elli couldn't pin down that 'something's wrong' feeling enough to be sure. "It's possible. Right now just about anything's possible. That's why we need to find him."

      "My car's right outside," Mat helpfully put in. "Just tell me where you want to start."

      "I can't direct," Elli anxiously said. "I can find him, but I can't direct you, I have to follow ?" She broke off; unable to explain how it worked.

      "Follow what?" Mat looked bemused.

      "Me. I have to follow me. My gut, my instinct?I can't describe it." It was frustrating, the way that intuition tended to work best when she wasn't actually thinking about it. "Do you trust me?"

      "Yes," said Charlie. "Mat, give her the keys."


      The wolf was raging furiously in time to the pulsing of the moon in his veins. Holding it down, inside, was getting harder with every minute that passed. Being prepared for it did help, somehow ? knowing that the compulsion to change was coming meant you could brace yourself again it ? but in these circumstances that small advantage could only help him up to a point, and he'd pretty much reached that point now.

      Oz wrapped his hands around his chains, and wondered if he could bring himself to kick a woman, even an evil and insane woman. And then he saw Mary moving toward him once more with a knife in her hand, mad eyes purposeful and threatening, and he knew that yes, he could. And would.

      Hauling himself up, using the chains for leverage, he got exactly one kick in before Mary, regrouping full of cold fury, muttered some kind of quick spell under her breath, and he was suddenly unable to move.

      That fear he could feel, trickling down his spine, was cold as ice. And he still didn't know what she wanted him for.


      "We're going in circles," Mat pointed out. "Do you even know where you're going?"

      "Shush." Elli was clearly not in the mood for niceties. Tuning her intuition into the right frequency, or whatever it was she was doing, apparently involved lots of snapping at everyone around her to be quiet and stop distracting her. But it was still his car, and he had no idea where she thought she was going, and the ever-decreasing circles they were driving in didn't give him much in the way of grounds for optimism that she had all that much actual idea where she was going.

      She spun the wheel abruptly, taking them around a corner with a screech of tyres without bothering to indicate or even check that the way was clear, and in the passenger seat alongside her Mat inhaled sharply, paled, and closed his eyes.

      "Rules of the road, rules of the road!" he anxiously muttered, and heard Charlie softly chuckling behind him.

      "Stop panicking," she said, leaning forward and snaking a hand between the seats to gently rest on his arm. "I think I know where we're going."

      "I'm glad someone does," he grumbled, and then a moment later realised that he knew where they were going, as well. "The university? What makes you think he's here?" he added as Elli slowed, braked, and peered around looking uncertain.

      That uncertainty vanished a moment later.

      "That does," she said, moving the car forward again and driving only a short distance further before coming to a halt in one of the parking bays. Alongside Oz's van.


      It was a real battle of wills. Mary was doing everything in her power, both physically and magically, to drag the wolf out of him, and Oz, ever more desperately, was doing all he knew how to hold it in. It was exhausting, and painful. More than once already he'd reached what felt like the point of no return, but without really knowing how had managed to dredge up a little more resistance from reserves he hadn't known he had. But he couldn't go on like this indefinitely.

      Breathing hard, Oz closed his eyes and pressed his lips tightly together as the terrifyingly insane witch used her too long and too sharp nails to trace a pattern across his skin. Feeling the blood trickling down his chest and churning in his veins, he wondered how much longer he'd be able to hang on.

      He tried not to think about it, tried not to even look at her, never mind what she was doing to him. Somewhere behind her, Staunton was busily fussing around with a bunch of effigies, and other odd looking occult-type items around the altar, apparently setting up some kind of ritual that Oz didn't really want to think too hard about the possible meaning of. But watching him and trying to figure out what he was doing was a good distraction both from what Mary was doing and from the wolf struggling for freedom within him.

      "Perhaps," Mary brought his unwilling attention back to herself once more, breathing the words right into his ear. "I may not need your changed state after all. Yet, anyway. You are still a werewolf, are you not? Whatever face you may be wearing. What I need is your blood, and that I can take easily enough." She held up the knife she'd been waving around, and it glinted in the candlelight. "Do you know what this is?"

      He guessed she wasn't asking if he knew what a knife was. There was something about the way it caught the light?.


      She smiled an unpleasantly childlike smile. "And do you know what silver does to a werewolf?"

      He did, from painful experience. That chill running down his spine grew colder still.


      It was definitely Oz's van.

      "Okay, I'm officially impressed," said Mat. "And a little weirded out. How'd you do that, and have you ever considered a career with the police?"

      Elli gave him a withering look. "This way."

      She was a woman on a mission tonight. Without wasting any time explaining how she'd known to come here, she glanced up at the full moon, now rising high into the sky, and then took off on foot across campus. All Mat and Charlie could do was trail along in her wake.

      Again, Mat wasn't entirely clear whether she had any actual idea where she was going or not. She was striding along fairly purposefully, but paused frequently as if trying to get her bearings, and there was doubt in her eyes.

      They eventually came to a halt outside a tall, dark building.

      "That's the new science block, isn't it?" said Charlie, and Elli nodded.

      "We need to get inside."

      Mat's heart sank. Emergency or not, he was still a police officer, and there was nothing official about this investigation. "Y'know, breaking and entering is ?"

      "Not what we're going to do," Elli reassured him. "There's always a way in."

      They walked around the outside of the building in search of potential ways in until Elli found a door that had apparently been left unlocked and called the other two over.

      "You do realise this is still illegal entry," Mat couldn't help pointing out as they made their way inside. "Just without the 'breaking' part."

      Charlie smacked his arm in fond exasperation. "It's not as if we're going to steal anything, even if there was anything in here to steal."

      "Unless we find Oz," Elli put in.

      "Unless we find Oz," Charlie agreed. "In which case we will steal him."

      Elli led the way again, wandering through the deserted, unlit corridors, her head turning in all directions to peer through doors and windows with a worried expression. Eventually she came to an absolute halt standing in front of a long, bare wall and stared at it, baffled and dismayed.

      Charlie nervously peered all around, caught Mat's eye with a confused little shrug of the shoulder, and then approached Elli. "What's wrong now?"

      "I don't understand," she murmured, perplexed.

      That made at least two of them, and probably all three. "Join the club," said Mat. "What don't you understand?"

      "I can't find him." She looked completely bewildered. "I know he's here, but I can't find where."

      Mat sighed. "So this was a wild goose chase, then?"

      "No." Elli shook her head, stubbornly. "I know he's here, somewhere."

      "So we'll keep looking," said Charlie. "If you're sure. Go back through the building and check every single room."

      "Because that won't take long, at all," Mat muttered, and then when both of them started to protest quickly held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. Complete building search it is."


      The silver burned horribly: a deep, smouldering pain, like acid eating into his skin.

      There was a lot of blood now, and Oz could feel himself weakening, in more ways than one. The ringing in his ears and intense prickling beneath his skin, the pounding and boiling of blood in his veins, and the churning sensation in his stomach ? they were all symptoms of the same thing: a wolfy metamorphosis about to take place, and he knew he wouldn't be able to hold it in much longer now. The wolf was desperate for release, even if it meant ripping him apart from the inside out, apparently, which was pretty much what it felt like right now. He was about ready to burst with the effort already expended, and was growing too dizzy and was in too much pain to be able to maintain that effort.

      The only thing keeping him going right now was the intense desire not to give either Mary or Staunton the satisfaction of success. Whatever they wanted him for had to be so much worse. But, at the end of the day, the moon would come out the winner. He knew that now. The power it held over him was too deep and too strong to resist in these conditions, and that failure ate away at him even before it had taken place.

      The paralysing spell had long since worn off, for all the good that did him. His hands and wrists were slick with blood, mangled and torn as they were from his attempts at pulling free from the chains holding him, all to no avail. The chains held firm and were far too tight to be able to work his hands free, even with bloody lubrication. Mary seemed amused that he'd even try.

      Staunton, at least, was now showing signs of deep distaste at what was happening here. He was a scientist, and there wasn't much scientific about all this. Probably also starting to realise that by the time Mary had finished there wouldn't be that much werewolf left for him to study. Too bad for him, after he'd gone to so much trouble.

      Mary, on the other hand, was absolutely revelling in her work, using Oz's own blood to paint mystical symbols on the floor around him, over her altar and the items there, and on his own skin. Chest, arms, back, face. Using her silver blade, with the agonizingly caustic effect it had on him, to carve more of those symbols into his flesh?.

      Whatever ritual it was they were performing, it was beginning to kick in powerfully now.

      Oz gasped for breath, chest heaving with the effort. The blood was pounding behind his eyes and throbbing in his ears, and if his hands had been free he might just have tried to tear his own skin off it was prickling and itching so as the change began, despite all his best efforts. Skin and bone: every fibre of his being was twisting and contorting, and transforming, and there was no longer anything he could do to stop it.

      And at that moment a tremendous flash of oddly dark yet luminous light flooded the room and he could feel raw power being ripped out of him, through him, an enormous overload, setting him on fire from the inside out?.

      His last conscious thought was to wonder if anyone had even noticed yet that he was gone.



      • #4

        Part Three:


        Something's wrong was fast turning into hurry up and if she thought stamping her foot and screaming with frustration could have helped at all, that's what Elli would have done at this stage. It was certainly what she felt like doing.

        The intuition worked best without any direct thought behind it, and she'd allowed it free reign and followed that guidance blindly. But the dead end it had led her to was bewildering, and deeply worrying, and she didn't know what to do about it. That instinct had never been wrong before.

        And they'd wasted so much time searching every room, every cupboard, every tiniest nook and cranny of the new science block, only to find no signs of life whatsoever. Yet she knew, deep in her bones, that it was the right place.

        It was confusing. So that maddeningly vague intuition was now going to have to be abandoned in favour of common sense once more, which meant investigating the only connection between Oz and the new science block that she could think of.

        "You know, this building is in use," Mat observed, staring up at the towering height of the main university building. "I mean, not right now, obviously, it being the middle of the night and all, but in general. No chance of any doors being left unlocked over here."

        Elli was almost amused, somewhere beneath her deep anxiety. She'd noticed that they didn't seem to have realised how she'd got that door open earlier, either of them.

        "There weren't any doors left unlocked over at the new science block, either," she told him in her most matter-of-fact tone, and rested a hand over the handle of the securely locked door they were stood in front of.

        Mat frowned, clearly not knowing how to take that. He looked from her to the door, up at the height of the building again, and then back to the door. "So now we're back to the breaking and entering thing?"

        Elli sighed. "I'm not going to break anything," she said, and opened the door.

        There was a moment of absolute silence.

        "How'd you do that?" Charlie asked, at length.

        "I'm very clever." Elli distractedly offered her usual non-explanation as she led the way inside.

        "Well yes, obviously." Charlie rolled her eyes. "But how?"

        Peering around to get her bearings before once more leading the way toward their destination, Elli gave in and explained, as best she could. "I can make things work. Came in very handy when I first arrived in this world and found it full of all kinds of machines and things I'd never dreamed of that everyone expected me to already know what they were and how they worked. But locks have always been my specialty."

        "How do you make a lock work?" a befuddled Mat wanted to know.

        She turned a corner and headed upstairs. "By making it be unlocked."

        Another silence followed as they both tried to work that one out. Which she knew they wouldn't be able to, because no one had ever really understood how she did what she did, least of all herself.

        "Are you sure you know where you're going?" Mat asked at last, changing the subject completely.

        A flash of amusement, mingled with deep irony, briefly lightened the tension Elli had been feeling all night.

        "See, this is why I've been torturing myself taking math class with that creep all year," she said. "Of course I know where his office is."

        "Professor Staunton?" Charlie wasn't usually so slow on the uptake.

        "He's been wanting to get his hands on Oz since last summer," Elli pointed out. "We know that. And we know he's been involved with the plans for the new science block. We also know he's heavily involved with Mary MacBride, who paid for the new building, for no good reason."

        "It still seems like an awful leap," said Mat, dubiously. "You've got no evidence that he's involved in any way."

        "The last time I felt like this," Elli snapped at him, willing them to understand and believe. "Was the day my husband died. I asked him not to go into work, and he kissed the top of my head and said that he had to. They were short staffed. He said it would be fine, that he'd make sure to take extra care, and then he went out and he never came back."

        And getting angry about that all over again wasn't going to help anyone here. She stopped, drew a breath, carried on. "I've got no proof that anything's happened at all. Apart from the fact that Oz is missing. But I know that something is badly wrong, and I really need you to trust me on this. Here we are."

        Staunton's office door was locked, of course. But making it unlock so they could gain entry was no harder here than it had been outside. Elli paused with her hand on the door.

        "Why?" she asked, suddenly feeling desperately worried about what they might learn from whatever they found in there.

        Charlie raised an eyebrow. "Why what?"

        Elli turned to look at her, troubled. "What is it about Oz? What do they want with him?"

        "Biology experiments." Charlie pulled a face. "We already know that, don't we?"

        "Well, yes ? that, obviously." Elli nodded, but still wasn't satisfied by the answer. "But that doesn't explain Mary. I'm sure there's something more going on. Something worse."

        "I don't like the sound of worse," said Charlie, as Elli pushed the door open and headed in.

        "Neither do I," she grimly agreed. "But even if we don't like it, hopefully we'll find something in here that'll tell us what's going on exactly. Always supposing we have better luck than the last time I searched this place."

        Mat seemed a little taken aback. "You searched your professor's office before?"

        "I knew he was up to something." And, therefore, she'd had no compunction at all about rifling through his files, and only regretted that she hadn't been able to finish the job before this happened. "But I didn't have time for a proper search, and I haven't had the chance to try again until now."

        Charlie and Mat looked at each other, and then Charlie glanced quickly at her watch and pulled out her cell phone. "Okay, I'm calling David," she said, firmly. "They must be through with dinner by now, and Emma's birthday or no, they'd never forgive us if we didn't tell them what's going on now we've come this far."

        Elli nodded, and turned her attention to a thorough search of the room in hopes of finding anything in the way of useful information. And ? with the air of a man who'd conducted many such fingertip searches before ? Mat joined her.

        A few minutes later Charlie also joined the search. "They were about to go home anyway, so now they're jumping in a cab and coming straight here," she said, helping Elli wrestle with an oddly positioned filing cabinet that seemed to have got jammed shut.

        Mat also came across to lend a hand, and then they all had to quickly jump out of the way as the very heavy cabinet over-balanced and fell to the floor with a crash. And, dislodged by the fall, a false back fell off it, causing a thick stash of papers concealed within to come tumbling out.


        "I really don't understand why more people don't realise that demon worship is just plain wrong," said Elli with deep distaste, sitting cross-legged on the floor in Staunton's office, the papers and documents they'd found scattered all around.

        Those papers that Staunton had kept so carefully hidden had proved extremely revealing, and not in good ways.

        "Who's worshipping a demon?" asked a slightly breathless new voice from the doorway.

        David and Emma had arrived.


        "So why would this Mary chick want to summon a demon anyway?" David asked, pulling a face.

        "Why does anyone try to summon a demon?" said Charlie, looking every bit as discomfited as Elli felt. "Power, money ? the more important question is: 'how is the demon likely to react when it gets here?'"

        "But what Mary's doing ? or what she's trying to do ? it's more than just a summoning," Elli explained, scowling at the document in her hand and not liking what it had to say in the slightest. She'd known that Staunton and Mary were up to something ? if only she'd been able to find out earlier what that something was, all this could have been prevented. "She wants power, and she wants recognition. Her family have written her off as a crackpot. She's an embarrassment to them, and she wants to prove them wrong. She wants to prove that she does have power, that she was right all along, and that she's someone to be reckoned with. That she's important."

        "And this demon lord Ravyon seems like he's got some pretty nifty abilities that'd make the unbelievers think twice," Charlie chipped in, holding out another of the papers for David and Emma to read for themselves.

        "But if she's not summoning him, what is she trying to do?" Emma looked deeply troubled.

        Charlie and Mat looked at uneasily at Elli, seeming content to leave that one for her to answer. Trouble was, it was hard to explain things clearly and logically when you had a nagging voice at the back of your mind screaming at you to hurry up.

        "It's about power, right?" she said, feeling more and more desperately worried by the minute now that she understood what it was all about. "Power and recognition that she wants for herself. It looks like what she's trying to do is make herself into a ? a vessel for Ravyon, for his power, but without actually allowing him to bodily cross over onto this plane."

        "I don't like the sound of that," Emma murmured.

        "You'll like the rest of it even less," Mat told her.

        "The thing is." Charlie took up the tale now. "That it's incredibly difficult, and dangerous, and she needs a hell of a lot of power to achieve it, especially if she wants to stay in control as herself. And she doesn't have that."

        Seeing that David and Emma still looked confused, Elli added: "She's a black magic variety witch, got all the techniques, and the lack of ethics, but she doesn't have the kind of power behind her that she needs. There's no way she could have. She wouldn't need Ravyon if she did."

        "So where does Oz come into it?" Emma asked.

        That was the worst part, the part that made their failure to actually find Oz so much worse.

        "Power," Elli grimly told them. "That's what it's all about."

        "We already had that part," David observed, and Elli shook her head.

        "She wants to harness Ravyon's power through herself, yes? To channel it into herself. But to do that she needs to generate a tremendous amount of magical energy, and that energy has to come from somewhere. And that's where Oz comes in. Power. See, a werewolf is connected to a very deep, very ancient power. Raw power. And according to this, with the right rituals performed ?"

        "Oh God," Emma cut in, looking distressed. "I don't think I want to hear this."

        "No," she agreed, furious, and more desperate than ever to find a way to get Oz out of there and stop it from happening, if only they could work out where there was. "You don't want to hear this. It says that with the right rituals performed, and I won't show you the picture, that raw power can be accessed and channelled, and used."

        "That's what she's doing," Charlie picked up the explanation once more. "She wants to siphon off Oz's werewolf mojo to open a path between herself and Ravyon and create a conduit, to pour those nifty powers of his into her so she can show the whole world how important and powerful she is."

        "It sounds horrible." Emma looked like she was going to burst into tears, and Elli couldn't take any more and stood up and went back over to the filing cabinet in search of anything they might have missed.

        There had to be something here, somewhere, to explain where all this was taking place. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to let go of logic again, to that maddeningly vague intuition guide her once more. What had they missed??

        "It is horrible," said Charlie, despondently. "And it's also dangerous, and I don't just mean for Oz, although mostly that. Thing is, you see, this is ? it's two hugely complex and dangerous rituals rolled into one, and all she's got for backup is Staunton, and what does he know about anything like this? There's so much that could go wrong."

        "And we're sure this is going down now? Tonight?" David asked, putting an arm around Emma and hugging her close.

        Mat nodded, and waved a bit of paper at him. "Seems pretty clear." The documentary evidence had convinced him completely. "There's all kinds of stuff here about full moon, and planetary conjunctions, which ? not an astrologer. But it gives the date, as well. It's tonight."

        "Plus, Oz has disappeared," Charlie added. "Which lends even more weight to the whole 'happening now, must be stopped' theory."

        With half an ear on the conversation, Elli reached deep into the dark recess at the back of the damaged filing cabinet. And there, tucked away so securely they'd remained in place, far too well hidden, when all the rest fell out, was another sheaf of papers. The missing link, perhaps?

        "So where are they then?" Emma wanted to know, sounding almost frantic.

        "That's the bit we're missing," said Charlie with a sigh. "We thought they'd be over at the new science block, but we've been all over it and there's no sign, so ?"

        "They are there." Elli spoke up urgently, with a mixture of deep relief and equally deep anger and frustration. She'd known they were there, all along, just hadn't been able to work out where or how. Furious at how close they'd been, too long ago, she spun around, waving the papers she'd found. "Look ? gods bless Professor Staunton and his cursed scientific brain needing to keep records of everything. He's got all the plans for the building. I know where they are. Come on."

        Without waiting to see if the others were following, she dashed back out of the room.


        They'd met purely by chance.

        It seemed strange to remember that, now that he was in so deep. He'd been drunk and unhappy, and that drunkenness and unhappiness had loosened his tongue, and he'd said more than he should, and she'd believed him. As simple as that.

        So he'd talked. It had been a relief to get it all out, to tell someone everything he'd believed he would never be able to tell anyone. Why would anyone believe such a fantastic story unless they'd seen it with their own eyes?

        But she'd believed him, and that belief had been like a drug.

        He'd soon learned that she had good reason to believe him, being who she was, what she was. A witch: a beautiful, captivatingly insane witch. Rich, powerful, and mad, and it had proved such a seductive combination that he'd been utterly unable to resist.

        He'd told her about everything, including the werewolf he'd caught such a tantalising glimpse of the previous summer, the night that all his hopes and dreams had shattered, and had then seen around campus time and again, flaunting its freedom. He'd told her how much he longed to be able to capture it, to study it and dissect it, to be the first to prove, publicly, the existence of such a fantastic beast, and to thus gain the fame and professional notoriety he craved so deeply.

        But he'd never have dared to act alone.

        She'd encouraged him, cultivated him, manipulated him ? he could see that now. It was fate that had brought them together, she'd said. It was meant to be. Here she was, possessing wealth and influence in abundance, but in desperate need of a mystical beast for a little spell she wanted to cast. And here he was, a man who knew exactly where she could find that mystical beast and who badly needed and desired that wealth and influence she could offer in exchange. She'd confided in him her own hopes and dreams, had suggested that perhaps they could help one another out, had explained that the ritual she wished to perform needed two, and had persuaded him to join her as an acolyte.

        Her money had paid for the new science block, a coup that had earned him great favour and prestige in academic circles. And in return he'd arranged for a secret room to be created at the heart of the building, and it had become Mary's shrine to the demon lord Ravyon.

        A compact of mutual benefit to them both, they'd agreed. But it was the werewolf that had been her overriding interest all along.

        He'd known that from the start, of course. The werewolf was what they were both interested in, the common cause binding them together, but it had been Mary who set the rules and timescale. There was no need to rush, she'd said. They could bide their time, make careful preparations and wait for the most suitable moment to strike: a moment chosen by herself, when the moon was full and the planets in the appropriate alignment, and the timing was just right for the ritual she wished to perform.

        She'd told him exactly what she intended: to use the werewolf as a sacrifice, to tap into the well of ancient power it was connected to and then to use that energy in her attempt to harness the demon lord Ravyon for her own purposes. Blood magic: deep, dark blood magic. And he'd still believed there would be enough left over to study and analyse and make him famous at the end of it.

        He no longer believed that.


        There was a fairly spectacular storm springing up now. That was either a really bad sign, or Mother Nature was in an incredibly ironic mood.

        "It's a wall," said Charlie when Elli came to a standstill in front of that long, bare wall she'd first led them to so much earlier that night.

        Elli nodded. "It's a wall. But it's also an entrance. Says so on the plans. Can you see it?"

        "I can see a wall," said Charlie. "What can you see?"

        "I can see the wall," Elli admitted, squinting at it and frowning in deep concentration. "But there's something else ? you can just about see it if you know it's there."

        "If you know what's there?" asked Mat, frustrated.

        "I think ? it's a glamour of some kind," Elli decided. "Really well done. I can only just make it out and I know what I'm looking for. I can usually see anything like that?."

        Her voice tailed off and she moved closer to the wall, holding a hand out in front of her and just barely stopping short of actually touching it

        "Careful," she added when the others moved closer. "If she's got any sense she'll have rigged it to set off an alarm, at least, if anyone tries to get through. Or a booby trap. Of course, that's if she's got any sense."

        She was feeling along the wall as she spoke, hand still hovering over it but still not quite touching, brow furrowed and tip of the tongue sticking out as she concentrated deeply while the others waited and watched.

        "Can't you do whatever you're doing any faster?" asked Emma at length.

        "No." Elli sounded extremely grouchy and shot her a dirty look. "I would if I could, believe me, but I don't see how all of us getting flattened by some magical booby trap would help Oz at all."

        "I don't want to get booby trapped at," said Mat, taking a step back and catching Charlie's hand to pull her away, too.

        "None of us do," Elli murmured, absent-mindedly. "That's my point. Aha!"

        "Aha what?" David raised his eyebrows hopefully.

        "Aha, I've got the door," she said, sounding deeply relieved.

        "Where? How?"

        It was David's turn for the dirty look. "I looked for it. And I can't find any booby traps, so?you might want to stand back a bit anyway. Just in case."

        They all did, and watched with baited breath as Elli reached out and touched the wall, reached into the wall. And then the wall shimmered, and disappeared, and there was an open door revealing a flight of stairs leading down.

        "No booby traps, then," Charlie murmured. "So is it good or bad that she doesn't have any sense?"

        "I knew it." Far from being pleased at her success, Elli sounded more frustrated than ever. "I knew they were here. And it's been so long?."

        "This is it then." David let out a long breath. "Search and rescue, here we come."

        "But quietly," Elli cautioned. "No loud heroic cavalry charges until we're sure that witch doesn't have any nasty surprises lurking for us."


        It was surprisingly quiet down there. Too quiet. Worryingly quiet. Everything had been worrying tonight.

        The journey down the stairs and along a short corridor was also quiet. None of them wanted to be the one to lose them the element of surprise, and everyone was apprehensive about what they would find on the other side of the door they were approaching.

        Moving closer to the door, though, the quiet started to dissipate. The sound of the storm outside had become muted once they were indoors, but now grew louder once more, as though the storm itself were concentrated in the room on the other side of that door.

        Scared to think what they were about to walk into, Elli checked to see that everyone had weapons at the ready, just in case. Then she steeled herself, opened the door and quickly scanned the room, forcing herself not to falter as her heart sank on taking in the scene before her.

        Mary's ritual was going wrong. That much seemed fairly obvious, and was confirmed by Staunton, who ran around the outside of the room to get to them, with fear in his eyes, and shouted as much in panic-stricken tones, too afraid to care that he'd been caught out.

        Filling most of the room, with a vicious wind whipping out from it, was a huge triangle of pulsing, oddly dark yet luminous light connecting Oz, Mary and an altar against the wall opposite. Oz was in chains, in wolf form, and dripping blood, while Mary was twisting and contorting and shrieking as her body failed to contain the power she was channelling into herself.

        It was unstable, and it was dangerous, and it had to be stopped. Somehow.

        Mat had grabbed Staunton to prevent his escaping, which was good, and everyone was exclaiming in dismay and horror, but Elli ignored them because figuring out how to stop this now it had started but without damaging Oz any more than he already was had to be the priority.

        She carefully edged her way around the outside of the room, around that horribly impressive light show, to get a closer look at the altar, trying desperately to remember the details of what she'd read about the ritual up in Staunton's office. There had to be something she could use: some detail, some snippet, anything.

        The altar was covered with burning incense and a variety of effigies: carved images of Ravyon, and of werewolves, all daubed with blood. The largest of these effigies were linked into that power flow flooding the room, were part of it, and there'd been something about that written in those documents?.

        "What are you doing?" Emma appeared at her side. "Can you make it stop?"

        "I think so. Maybe." But she couldn't be sure. There was no way to be certain.

        "Then do it." Emma sounded frantic. "Do it now!"

        "I don't want to hurt Oz." That was the crux of the matter. Making it stop was one thing. Making it stop without causing further damage was something else entirely.

        "He's already hurt." Emma was almost in tears. "You have to make it stop now."

        And that was absolutely true. There was no other way of ending this, for good or for ill.

        Wishing she could be certain about what she was doing, because empirical testing where lives were at stake was never the preferred option, Elli reached out and drew a deep breath before plunging her hand into that light stream, grabbing the werewolf statue, and quickly pulling it out.

        It had an immediate effect, as the werewolf went rigid while the stream of power flowing out of him started to sputter and throw out sparks, faltering?.

        Feeling encouraged, Elli threw the effigy to the floor and stamped on it, smashing it, then swept all the other symbols ? both werewolf and Ravyon ? from the altar, likewise smashing them.

        And the werewolf was knocked out of the loop of the ritual, that stream of light releasing him completely.

        Oz was free now, from the ritual, at least, although still hanging from his chains and frighteningly still. Out of the corner of her eye, Elli saw Mat thrust Staunton at David and hurry across to check on him, with Emma and Charlie close behind but casting wary glances at Mary along the way.

        Because it wasn't over yet. Oz had been released, but a pulsing, sparking blue-green stream continued to flow between the altar and the shrieking and contorting figure of Mary. Breaking the connection had released Oz, but it seemed Mary's part in the ritual was far too advanced to be ended so easily. Ravyon had hold of her now, had a path to this world, which meant that the job was only half done. But despite being forced to focus on that problem, Elli was too worried about Oz not to call urgently across to Mat.

        "How is he?"

        "We've got pulse and we've got breathing," Mat called back.

        "That's a good start." Relieved, Elli returned her attention to Mary and her unstable ritual gone wrong, and to trying to work out what in the hells she could do to break that link between the witch and the demon lord who seemed to be invading her body. She wasn't sure there was anything that could be done at this stage.

        "But what we don't have is a key for these chains," added Charlie.

        And Staunton was clearly not going to be any help there.

        Elli felt torn between needing to help her friend and needing to find a way of stopping the Mary-Ravyon transfer. Oz won, and she hurried over to him. Getting those chains off was the work of an anxious moment, and then the limp, bloodstained werewolf was carefully lowered to the ground.

        Then a burst of blue-green sparks drew their attention, and the altar abruptly exploded, showering them with hot, dirty fragments. Mary fell to the ground, where she continued to writhe and convulse and contort, and they stared at one another in dismay, not knowing what to do.

        Before anyone could act, her contortions subsiding, Mary began to clamber back to her feet. But she wasn't Mary any more. She wasn't Ravyon either, but something midway between the two, her figure stretched and distorted, and convulsing still, even as she stood, and hissed at them, and fled toward the exit.

        David and the still struggling Staunton were in her way, and she simply knocked them both aside with terrifying ease. She, he or it ? whatever she was now ? was powerful, and unstable, and on the loose.

        Emma rushed to David, while the others looked at one another in fear.

        But Oz had to be the priority for now. He was unconscious, and injured, and still wolf-shaped, and Elli realised she was going to have to do something she'd hoped she'd never have to do for him. If he woke up while wolfy and injured and uncontained?.

        She placed a hand on either side of his wolf-face and concentrated, reached inside, searching for that morphological switch that had to be in there somewhere?found it, flipped it, and pulled back instantly.

        The transformation looked painful, but he became human once more ? a badly injured and naked human covered with blood. And her head was now pounding furiously; it had been a long time since she'd had to draw so heavily on those half-formed abilities she'd inherited from the mother she'd never met. She gently stroked his hair, letting out a long, deep sigh of relief. And then she glanced over toward the door to make sure that David was okay, and saw that something was missing.

        "Where's Staunton?"

        In all the confusion, it seemed, no one had managed to keep track of him, and the Professor had made good his escape.

        Mat sighed. "Must've hightailed it out of dodge while our eyes were other-where."

        Satisfied that David was all right, Emma returned to the group clustered around Oz, and started to fuss and croon. "Can we worry about him later? We need to get Oz out of here. And us. This place is creeping me out."

        They were all agreed on that point. David and Mat between them gently lifted Oz and moved toward the exit, Emma fluttering around anxiously, with Charlie close by, and as Elli moved to follow she spotted something lying on the ground and went to pick it up. It was a knife, made of silver, stained with blood, and she felt a blaze of fury at the realisation of what that meant. Tucking it into a pocket, she hurried to follow the others.

        "You know," Mat was saying as they headed for the stairs. "Every instinct I have is telling me to preserve the crime scene here, but ?"

        "Mat, this really isn't something the police can be brought in on," Charlie quickly stressed.

        Mat pulled a face. "I know. I was just saying ?"

        But before he could continue, Oz started to stir, struggling against the hold Mat and David had on him, as his instinct for self-preservation kicked in before he was aware enough to realise that they were friends, not foes.

        "And now we have awakeness," Mat continued without skipping a beat, quickly shifting his grip on Oz so as not to drop him. "Hey, hey. Easy, man."

        "Shh," Emma soothingly murmured, as Oz's eyes snapped open and he very warily looked around at them, relaxing only slightly as recognition dawned. "It's okay ? we're going to get you home and fix you up."

        "And then what?" David wondered.

        Elli sighed. "And then we have a very unstable Mary-Ravyon hybrid problem to deal with."


        ? J. Browning, March 2006

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