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Monico Episode Fifteen: Nemesis Part II

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  • Monico Episode Fifteen: Nemesis Part II

    Tales from the Monico
    Episode Fifteen

    Nemesis Part II

    Disclaimer: Oz isn't mine, but everybody else is. I'm writing for my own amusement and enlightenment, and make no profit from it.
    Feedback: Yes please, I'd love to hear what you think.

    Previously in Tales from the Monico:

    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?."

    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.

    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."

    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."

    Anouk: "I just ? I didn't want it to end like that. With a fight. I miss you ? I want us to be able to speak, still, at least."
    Oz: "I'd like that."
    Anouk: "It just isn't a good time for us to be together right now."

    Elli: "Oz. You know I don't often get a deep, dark sense of foreboding, right?? So if I asked you to skip class today, would you do it? For me?"

    Emma: "Phone message for you. Someone at the uni called, one of your professors?. He wants to see you right away, something about an overdue assignment, or falling grades, or something. Said it was real important."

    Hurrying across campus, Oz is hit in the arm with a tranquilliser dart.
    As the moon rises, Oz wakes mid-transformation and manages to force it back down, remain human. He wakes to find himself in chains in Mary's secret shrine.

    Jim: "You think there's a reason to be worried?"
    Elli: "I know something's wrong. I just don't know what."

    Mary: "Perhaps 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 holds up a knife, and it glints in the candlelight. "Do you know what this is?"
    Oz: "Silver."
    Mary: "And do you know what silver does to a werewolf?"

    Elli: "But what Mary's doing ? or what she's trying to do ? it's more than just a summoning? 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."
    Charlie: "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."

    The gang burst into Mary's shrine to find her ritual in full flow: filling most of the room, with a vicious wind whipping out from it, is a huge triangle of pulsing, oddly dark yet luminous light connecting Oz, Mary and an altar against the wall opposite. Oz is in chains, in wolf form, and dripping blood, while Mary is twisting and contorting and shrieking as her body fails to contain the power she's channelling into herself.

    Emma: "What are you doing? Can you make it stop?"
    Elli: "I think so. Maybe."
    Emma: "Then do it. Do it now!"

    Elli smashes up the effigies on the altar, and Oz is released from the ritual.
    In a burst of blue-green sparks, the altar explodes. Mary falls to the ground, writhing, convulsing and contorting. Then she clambers back to her feet ? Mary no longer as the demon Ravyon has taken over her body. She escapes from the room.

    Oz wakes up as he's being carried out of the shrine.
    Emma: "Shh. It's okay ? we're going to get you home and fix you up."
    David: "And then what?"
    Elli: "And then we have a very unstable Mary-Ravyon hybrid problem to deal with."




    "Come on, let the girls fix you up, man," David was anxiously saying. "Goth just doesn't look good on you."

    Oz knew that he needed to sit still. But he couldn't sit still. He also knew that he needed to stop bleeding all over the floor. But he couldn't sit still. It was still full moon, and all his senses were on fire.

    "Maybe we should have taken him to the hospital after all?"

    The light was too bright, the voices too loud, and the smells overpowering. Caf? smells of food, coffee and cleaning product; the individuals clustering around him; and overriding all else the musky odour of the wolf, mingled with the metallic scent of blood, thick in the air, clinging to his body, and tangled up with the oily car smell of the blanket they'd found to wrap around him for the journey back, rough and scratchy against his skin.

    "Do you honestly think a hospital would know what to do with him right now?"

    Fidgeting and flinching was making the pain worse. It was also making Emma and Charlie's attempts at cleaning up some of his injuries that much harder. But sitting still also made the pain worse, and he was too jittery to manage it, although actually standing was beyond him right now. Sitting, standing, would-be helpful hands on flesh that felt too much like recent intrusions for comfort, even the simple act of breathing: everything hurt.

    "They could put some stitches in, at least."

    All his senses seemed unnaturally acute, sharpened to a point that was almost unbearable.

    "I'm not sure stitches are what's needed here?."

    But that sharpness was coming and going in flashes, and the voices were fading out again now, ebbing and flowing?.

    He felt as though he was falling, caught himself with a start, and awareness of his surroundings flooded back once more. Back at the Monico. Safe. Hurting. Spaced out yet buzzed. And it was full moon. Still full moon. The wolf was lurking so close to the surface he could feel it almost as a physical presence. Yet he didn't feel as though he was going to change any time soon.

    "I don't know what to do." Emma looked at David with fear in her eyes. "Where did Elli go?"

    Exhausted, highly agitated, and in pain, Oz was only slowly starting to work out what had happened. It felt like?he didn't know what it felt like. Like nothing he'd ever experienced before, or ever wanted to again.

    "Upstairs somewhere, I think." Charlie then addressed Oz directly. "Will you please sit still and let us do this, Oz. You look like hell on the rampage." To Emma she anxiously added, "This won't stop bleeding."

    "It's okay." Oz found his voice at last and it was husky.

    "No," Emma said in a very small voice. "It isn't okay. It isn't okay at all."

    And now, as abruptly as if a switch had been flipped, he did feel as if he was going to change, and was tired and in pain, and surrounded by people he cared about, and the urge was strong. Closing his eyes, he concentrated, forced the feeling back down again, and it was hard.

    No more changing, not tonight. Not here, not now?.

    The feeling subsided again. Something was wrong there. He couldn't think about it right now. Tried to think about something else. What had happened ? something he needed to know.

    "They got away, right?" He looked up at David.

    "It's okay," David assured him. "We're on it. Mat's on the phone to his cop buddies right now, trying to get an address for Staunton."

    Oz wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. He guessed it should be. The thought of coming face to face with either one of them ever again made him feel sick to his stomach, and yet it would have to be done. They needed to find them, both of them. After what had happened?.

    "We figured we'd start there," David continued. "See if he has any idea where the, uh, the other one might have gone. Can you remember what happened?"

    "I know what happened." He didn't want to have to say more than that, and no one asked. They knew what had happened, and he knew what had happened, and that was that.

    "This still won't stop bleeding," said Charlie. "It's better but it won't stop completely. And it looks more like a burn, except for the bleeding."

    "No." Emma frowned. "What it looks like is ?"

    "Silver burn." Elli reappeared, and she looked furious on his behalf. "That bloody witch used a knife made of silver." She put an armful of clothes down on the table.

    "God!" Emma looked at her in alarm. "But that's okay, isn't it? You can make up some more of that gunk of yours?"

    Elli was shaking her head. "No. I mean yes, but not right away. It needs the fresh ingredients and we don't have those here. I checked. And it's the middle of the night, so?."

    "Stores are closed." David nodded, understanding.

    "Exactly. Not that I have any problem at all with letting myself in and leaving payment on the counter, but ?"

    "You can't do that," Mat wearily protested, putting his phone away as he came back into the room.

    She gave him her patented 'poor, foolish child' look. "Yes I can."

    "More important things to worry about." Feeling a little steadier now, Oz reached for the clothes Elli had brought him, since Emma and Charlie seemed about done with the patching up work. As much as could be done for now, anyway.

    "Like what?" Emma asked.

    "Need a hand?" David offered simultaneously.

    He shook his head, determined to manage alone since, despite everything, there was still such a thing as pride. Then he tried to stand up, wobbled badly as the room swam around him, and changed his mind. There was pride, and then there was foolish pride, and sometimes dignity just had to take a back seat to necessity. "Please."

    David instantly moved to help, and although having to take an arm just to accomplish a simple task like standing up made him feel kind of like a little old man, it was many times preferable to instantly hitting the floor. With his free hand he clutched at the blanket that was preserving what little modesty he had left.

    "What's more important than fixing you up?" Emma repeated.

    "Her." He felt cold inside just at the thought. "That thing she turned into. It's out there and it's dangerous."

    David frowned at him. "But when you say you know ? you were unconscious when all that was happening."

    "I was connected to her." It sent a shiver down his spine, knowing as much as he knew without having been aware in any way. "I know what happened. I know she's unstable?she'll need to feed?."


  • #2

    Part One:


    "I'm bored."

    She was whining again. Probably just as well she had other things going for her.

    "Are you listening, Ed? I said I'm bored. You promised me I'd never be bored, and I am."

    She was never satisfied. Their best kill yet ? thrilling chase and dramatic take-down, and victims who put up a fight were always going to be his favourite ? and she still wasn't happy. There was just no pleasing some people.

    Ed grabbed her around the waist and swung her against a wall, pinning her there, his body pressed close against hers. "Bored, huh?" he breathed into her ear.

    She giggled. "I wanna go to Vegas. Maybe LA. Come on, Ed. Take me to LA."

    "No." He kissed her, hard, and for a long, blissful moment there was no other sound.

    "Why not?" She gave him a coy look and started to kiss his neck, nibbling at his earlobes. And this was why he'd wanted her, why he'd made her, so he gave into it, open air and middle of the street or not ? they were vampires, after all, and at night the streets belonged to them ? and only later returned to her request.

    "You're crazy, Jane."

    She rolled her eyes. "My name isn't Jane," she growled into his ear.

    "LA is full of vampires," he told her. "You really want to be just another one in the herd, when you could be queen of San Francisco?"

    Another eye roll. "What's so great about San Francisco?"

    Ed threw his arms out wide, gesturing all around at the streets they'd been walking through, mid-night dark and deserted. "Minority population, Jane. Go someplace like LA, you can't swing a cat without hitting one of us. There's some kind of danger sense the people grow. They know, even when they don't know. And that really is boring. But here we can rule ?"

    He stopped, hearing shouting nearby. Motioning to her to be quiet, he went to see what was going on.

    A few streets away they found the source of the commotion. Vampires were a minority population in San Francisco, but it seemed like half of them were gathered here tonight, challenging ? and, without exception, being beaten back by ? a newcomer. A vampire. Just another vampire: dark and stocky, and nothing much to look at. But powerful, throwing his weight around with enormous success. Out to make an impact ? out to rule the roost.

    "What was that you said about ruling?" she whispered in his ear.

    Ed was disgusted. "Oh bloody hell, that's all we need."


    Not gonna change?not gonna change?not gonna change?.

    He was locked in the library book-cage, and the silence was absolute. He turned, slowly, warily, looking all around for any sign of life. There was none.

    Do you feel it? It's like blood boiling.

    A whisper, like the rustling of leaves, far off in the distance. He knew that voice?. He span around.

    No one there. Silence again.

    He looked up at the tiny window, up near the ceiling, and saw the full moon high in the sky, felt that familiar prickling: intense, under the skin.

    Not gonna change.

    A bang, loud, behind him. He span once more, saw the gun pointed right at him. The book-cage contracted, pressing in tight. The library was gone.

    He was in a military facility, locked up tight in his cage; soldiers all around, their guns trained on him. No escape.

    The wolf growled and snarled, and the human was gone.

    Not gonna change.

    Human again, strapped to a table flat on his back. Naked. Vulnerable. Scientists and soldiers all around. Poking. Prodding. Jabbing. Cutting. Pain shot through his body.

    He was a wolf.

    He was a man.

    The wolf was free. Rampaging. Revelling in the revenge it now brought upon those tormenters in white coats. Ripping. Tearing. Biting. The scent of blood grew thick in the air.

    The blood was his.

    Chains wrapped around his wrists, tight, burning. He was back in that cage, contracting ever more tightly around him, pressing him down. Smouldering heat in his veins.

    Mary MacBride stood nearby, laughing as she spilled his blood and daubed it across her face, before she underwent that painful transformation that was so familiar to him, her limbs twisting and contorting.

    And now a demon stood before him, looming, immense. A demon with the face of a woman: a woman who was no longer human. The cage fell away as the demon-woman reached toward him, thrust her claws deep into his body, ripping him apart.

    You want to be free? You will never be free?.


    Oz woke with a jolt to the sound of whispering.

    "?least she cleared the place up before she went," David's voice murmured, somewhere out of his eye line. "Might have to give her another raise, keep her sweet."

    "You can't do that." Emma now. "She'll end up making more money out of this place than we do. Just give her a bonus." A slight pause, punctuated by the sound of rustling paper, then: "This one looks like it might be useful."

    Echoes of a nightmare reverberated around his head. He felt cold, despite the blanket thrown over him, this one clean and blood-free, and despite the burning sensation he felt in too many spots to pinpoint, the as yet untreated toxic after-effects of a silver blade on the body of a werewolf. Stiff, sore and shivering, he pulled the blanket closer, and felt the attention of the others in the room shifting in his direction, alerted by that movement to the fact that he was awake. He wondered when he'd fallen asleep and what had happened while he was.

    "Wow. They really did a number on you, huh, Dan."

    Jim, of all people, came and stood in front of him, arms folded across his chest, with an expression of worried exasperation. Maybe not the last person Oz might have expected to see here, but still kind of a surprise.

    "Which, of course, you already knew," Jim continued. "And didn't really need me to point out. Fair enough."

    "What time is it?"

    "Too late to be turning in," Jim ruefully told him. "And too early to be getting up."

    "You weren't asleep all that long, really," said Emma, coming over. "But we thought you probably needed it. You lost a lot of blood, and I'm still not convinced we shouldn't have just taken you straight to the hospital?."

    Oz levered himself into a sitting position and tried not to notice how many aches and pains the movement triggered. "What's happening?"

    Emma pulled a face. "At the moment? Research, research, research. For us here, anyway, trying to figure out how to get the demon thing out of that witch. If there is a way. We haven't found one so far. Mat and Elli went off to look for Staunton, and for information, and to pilfer supplies, and stuff. Although how much pilfering Mat'll let her get away with remains to be seen. He's such a cop. How are you feeling now? Or is that a really stupid question?"

    It was a question he didn't feel capable of answering right now.

    "Give the man some space," said Jim, coming briskly to his rescue. "In fact, why don't all of you take a break? Go make coffee, or something, boost those caffeine levels. Go on ? shoo."

    David and Emma being ordered out of the room in their own place was kind of amusing. They exchanged rolled eyes with Charlie, but all three accepted Jim's attempt to get rid of them without argument, and left the room.

    Jim looked back at Oz with an eyebrow raised, and was characteristically blunt. "You don't have to go into any gory detail. Which, obviously, you weren't going to anyway, but I'm just making the point. I've heard a lot of gory details already. That's not what I'm interested in. It's the other stuff that concerns me."


    It was wolf-details Jim was after, since Oz had been forced to change and had had his werewolf mojo messed with in such a big way, and long-term impact was clearly at the back of his mind although not directly alluded to.

    Oz said as little as he could get away with, his mind skittering away from painful details. He managed to convey the gist of when he had and hadn't changed, but could manage no more than that. Not tonight, with both memory and injuries so raw.

    "You woke up mid-transformation and still turned it back?" Jim looked impressed. "So what the hell do you need me for? Don't answer that. Rhetorical. A refinement thing, I know that. I did look for you, you know."

    He was watching Oz very closely, eyes shrewd and thoughtful.

    "Not physically, of course, although maybe I might have turned out for the search party if any of your little chums had bothered to call me. Not their fault. They don't know me; I don't know them; all happened in kind of a rush. It's been quite a night. I did look, though, after my own fashion."

    So who had told Jim he was missing? For that matter, Oz realised he had no idea how anyone had known where to come looking for him. He shifted a bit, trying to get comfortable. But his discomfort wasn't entirely physical, and that was worrying. It was still full moon, and that under-the-skin prickling wasn't going away.

    "Interesting point," Jim continued. "I don't know how much you know ? one of the places many years of meditation experience can take you? Astral. Trance-type thing, you know? Looked for you there. Not much help with the physical pinpointing, not being exactly my thing, but I figured it couldn't hurt. Found you, too."

    He paused, eyeing Oz to see how that was sinking in. Uncomfortable, and not completely clear where this was leading, Oz picked at the bandages on his wrists, and avoided meeting the other man's eyes.

    "Fact is," Jim went on. "Given what was going on, I'd have to be blind in all my senses not to have spotted you just then. Bushfire on the virtual horizon ? couldn't miss it. That was some heavy mojo."

    He stopped again, sucking in his breath a bit, and pulled out a box of cigarettes. And then he remembered where he was and put them away again. "Now, we haven't been working together long, you and me. Not long enough ? I got my limits, you know. Tried, though ? did what I could, reaching out kind of thing. Couldn't say if it made any difference??"

    He was eyeing Oz almost hopefully now, and Oz remembered being down in Mary's shrine, although his mind quickly shied away from the details once more?remembered reaching the limits of his endurance and control more than once, only to find reserves of strength he hadn't known he had bolstering him just a little longer, and then a little longer again?. And he realised now what that had been, where those extra reserves had come from: Jim, reaching out somehow, trying to lend a little strength. He felt ever so slightly awed.

    "Yeah," Oz murmured. "Yeah, I think it did."

    "Good." Jim nodded slowly to himself, looking pleased. "That's good. Now. Your friend, oh ? name?? Emma, bless her well-meaning heart, asked a very relevant question just then. How do you feel? Tell the truth."

    That was a complicated question to answer. Right now his skin felt too tight, while every tiniest knick inflicted by that silver knife burned like fire, and the wolf was just there as an inescapable presence just beneath the surface. But over and above all else was the sheer exhaustion that refused to lift.

    "Right now?" he said. "Kinda tired.

    Jim gave him an exasperated look, but nodded. "I could get all medically scientific and say that's a blood loss thing, except that it probably has more to do with the mojo after-burn. Either way 'take it easy' would be fairly standard advice for now. Much pain?"

    "A bit."

    "Tell the truth." Jim looked stern.

    "A lot."

    "Doesn't surprise me." Jim narrowed his eyes, deep in thought. "And the wolf?"

    The wolf was right there, still, just beneath the skin. Oz drew in a breath; let it out again. "It's close."

    "Sun'll be up soon. That should help, although, granted, not with the pain. That's outta my field," said Jim. "Until then, maybe I can lend a hand."


    The first hint of dawn was starting to bring a tinge of grey to the blackness of the sky as Elli and Mat let themselves out of a tiny herbalist store, tucked away in a quiet corner of an equally quiet street. While Elli carefully closed the door behind them, Mat clutched at the brown paper bag she'd thrust into his hands and peered worriedly all around in case they were spotted. Gaining illegal entry to locked stores in the middle of the night was not his idea of fun.

    "Is that it?" he worriedly asked. "You've got everything you need now, right?"

    "No." She shook her head, looking perturbed. "This guy has a lot of it, but not all. The one I really need to get to is right the way across town?."

    "So which is the biggest priority, then? Fixing this silver thing for Oz or finding that Mary-demon-thing?"

    "Both," she replied, peering distractedly around the street.

    Frustrated, Mat shot an impatient look at her. "That was an either-or question."

    Elli didn't seem to be listening, standing stock still in the middle of the street slowly turning her head this way and that with a puzzled frown, and something about her wary attitude made Mat even more nervous than ever.

    "Give me an armed siege any day," he muttered to himself. At least something like that he was trained to deal with. "What's wrong now? I thought you'd have calmed down now we found Oz."

    "So did I." She still seemed distracted and worried, not giving him her full attention, and before he could make any response an agonised yell tore through the air. "This isn't over yet," Elli urgently continued, breaking into a run.

    Heading toward sounds of trouble, rather than hotfooting it away, was a matter of instinct. For a police officer, it was something that was ingrained. But in this kind of situation that wasn't always a good thing. As they grew closer to the source of the shrieks, they stopped running, adopted slightly more caution and peered carefully around the corner of the alleyway the desperate screaming and vicious snarls were coming from.

    The Mary-Ravyon-demon thing was there, and it looked a hell of a lot worse than it had down in the basement of the science lab: swollen and bloated, twisted and demonic, almost nothing of the woman left at all. Mat clamped a hand over his own mouth when he saw the condition of the man it was biting huge chunks out of and devouring hungrily.

    A moment later it had bitten the head clean off, and what was left of the man exploded into dust. A vampire. Not a human victim. Yet.

    Mat let out a long sigh of relief, only to catch his breath once more as Mary-Ravyon let out an immense bellow of rage at the loss of her prey and demolished a nearby wall. Just like that.

    He pulled his head back and flattened himself against the wall, breathing hard, and glanced at Elli. She looked as scared and uncertain about what to do as he felt, and then stiffened, catching at his arm and pulling him backward. A moment later again and he realised why: the heavy, clumping footsteps and loud sniffling sounds were moving closer. It had sensed they were there?

    They moved rapidly in search of cover, diving out of sight behind a group of dumpsters just in time as the demon rounded the corner, sniffing and snuffling in search of the fresh prey it had smelt or sensed. But the instability of its transformation was painfully visible as the figure twisted and contorted continually. Apparently frustrated with its own condition, it began to flail around as it grew closer to them, smashing holes in walls and tearing up the sidewalk, and the two of them had to hunker right down and put their arms over their heads for protection as bits of debris rained down around them in their hiding place. It was too close.

    And it was still bearing down on them. Seeing Elli reach for the knife she was carrying, her face taking on a determined set, Mat pulled out his gun, and hoped like hell it would make a difference. He waited till the demon was close, then stood, aimed, and fired, over and over and at close range.

    Mary-Ravyon stood stock-still, swaying only very slightly as the bullets hit it. Then it roared in rage and the wounds started to heal over at once, having no apparent impact on her at all. More than terrified now, and having visions of becoming its next meal, Mat was all but frozen to the spot until Elli hauled him back behind the dumpsters, where he hunkered down and tried to think heroic-last-stand thoughts.

    Elli looked at him, glanced between the dumpsters to see what the demon was doing now, and then frowned.

    "Look," she hissed, and he peered very cautiously through a gap to see what was happening now.

    The bullet wounds had almost disappeared completely, but the demon was juddering and contorting more than ever. It was grotesque.

    "It's weakening," Elli murmured.

    "It's healing itself," Mat countered, appalled at the thought that it could do that after being shot in the chest at point blank range. If bullets couldn't harm it?.

    She shook her head. "No, look. It's regenerating, yes, but that's taking too much energy. It's too unstable. It's weakening?."

    And then all at once it let out an enormous howl and flickered out of sight completely.

    Mat gaped, and tried to remember how to breathe.

    "And that would be why it isn't leaving a coherent trail to follow," Elli remarked, a lot more casually than she had any right under the circumstances.

    "All this demon stuff is just not good for the nerves." Mat tried hard to come down from 'horrified' and move toward 'rational'. "What the hell are we supposed to do about a thing like that?"

    Elli looked thoughtfully at the knife in her hand. "Having very big and very sharp weapons in our hands the next time it comes near us might be a good start."


    The wolf hadn't protested this much against the meditation exercises designed to keep it under control since Oz's earliest days at the monastery. Being in good physical condition was a fairly important factor in the non-wolf process, which made the fact that it was so much more important when not in good physical condition frustratingly ironic.

    Oz thanked his lucky stars that he'd written to Master Sheng when he had, that he'd been put in touch with Jim just in time. He never needed his wolf-discipline more than when he was least able to achieve it, and Jim's support in the meditation session as they worked through it together was immeasurably valuable. Crucial.

    By the time they rejoined the others in the caf?, Oz was feeling a lot calmer. Still horribly ragged at the edges, still in pain, those silver-burned cuts and abrasions burning madly, and still with the wolf too close to the surface for comfort, but more in control of himself. It was a big relief.

    "Told you, didn't I?" Jim had remarked. "Knew the moment I saw you life was going to get more interesting. Wasn't expecting anything like this, mind. Might be a good idea not to make a habit of it."

    And then he'd gone on to say that he'd stick with them until the crisis was over, despite this kind of hands-on work not being his thing ? his strengths lay in other directions. He was a guide and facilitator, not an activist. But here and now, and for Oz because of what had happened, he would throw his skills into the mix and, knowing what they were up against ? what Mary now was ? Oz was grateful.

    He sipped at a glass of water, and tried to concentrate on the research conversation raging all around him. Ravyon, it seemed, was a very obscure demon, possibly because he wasn't generally able to exist on this plane. Mary's werewolf-powered ritual had changed that, kinda ? he was now at least partially here, but in her. It was troubling to think about, especially the bits that related to Oz himself. Being used as a human ? or werewolf ? battery was unsettling in more ways than one.

    There didn't seem to be any way of safely extracting the demon from its human host now they were so deeply entwined, that was the main upshot of the debate, and Oz was a little disturbed to realise just how glad he was about that. If Mary and the demon were one, then they could also be destroyed as one, without any ethical dilemma, and after what she'd done he wanted that. Even as he felt disgusted with himself for thinking that, he still wanted it, and he'd never thought of himself as especially vengeful before.

    And at that moment, the caf? door opened. Mat and Elli were back, and they had Professor Staunton with them.

    Oz froze, feeling everything inside him turn to ice as just about every eye in the room turned in his direction, anxiously looking to see how he reacted. He tried not to react at all, couldn't react at all, couldn't take his eyes off the man who'd been responsible, in part at least, for everything he'd been through that night, was still going through. It hadn't occurred to him to wonder how he'd manage if the others did manage to find Staunton and bring him here for questioning.

    Emma broke the silence. "Did you get the stuff, El?"

    Elli shook her head, and shot an anxious glance at Oz, who suddenly remembered to breathe again. "Some but not all. We ran into Mary." She nodded at Staunton. "And then this came up."

    "Ran into Mary?" David spoke up sharply.

    "This is outrageous," Staunton protested before they could explain, but weakly ? he had to know there was no talking his way out of this one. "You can't arrest me. You can't bring me here. You've no right."

    "I already explained this," Mat wearily replied. "You aren't being arrested. You're being apprehended. Arresting will come later, believe me."

    "You can't prove anything," Staunton expostulated.

    "I'll find something." Mat spoke firmly.

    "Why did you bring him here?" Emma asked. "Of all places."

    "Where else could we go?" Elli looked at her. "There was nowhere else, and there's so much we need to know. Mary's already leaving a trail of destruction around the place, and chowing down on anything that moves ?"


    "That was really gross," Mat put in. "Kinda lucky it was only a vampire. Kinda lucky she didn't get hold of us?."

    "But we couldn't find any pattern to it," Elli anxiously continued. "No way of working out where she's going. And she'd have left a lot more than just damage behind her if it wasn't the middle of the night, and it won't be soon."

    "So where do you want him?" asked Mat, looking at his watch. "I can make sure he's secure for you, and then I'll have to make a run for it. I need to freshen up before work."

    "You're going into work?" Charlie was incredulous. "Now? While all this is going on?"

    "Have to," Mat protested. "It's the best way. I go to work ? trying hard not to fall asleep on the job ? bring Mike up to speed, and then we can both keep eyes and ears open for reports of potentially Mary-Ravyon-thing related oddness. Or, God forbid, carnage. Give you all the heads up."

    Charlie subsided, unable to argue with that logic. "Okay."

    "Just be careful." Mat reached for her hand, looking worried. "Really, really careful. Please. Promise me."

    "We'll try," she said. "I can promise you that."

    "Cellar downstairs we don't use much," David quietly said, and Mat nodded and hauled the protesting Staunton away.

    The brief silence that followed was broken by an enormous yawn from Charlie. "Sorry. Energy levels starting to bottom out here."

    Emma stood up. "I'll make more coffee. And then Elli can explain exactly what happened with that Mary-thing."



    • #3

      Part Two:


      It was Jim who went and took point with Elli on the Staunton questioning, throwing himself into crisis resolution with gusto now that he was on board, despite everything he'd had to say about being more of a hands off, mopping up in the background kind of person as a general rule.

      The two of them headed down into the cellar to do the questioning thing, and Mat headed off to work, and everyone else became very quiet.

      "If getting shot at point blank range doesn't kill it?." David eventually broke the silence in tones of deep foreboding.

      "But Elli said it was weakened," Charlie reminded him, apparently determined to remain optimistic. "If it's that unstable, if diverting power to regenerate makes it even more unstable ? we can use that. Can't we?"

      The quaver in her voice suggested that optimism was giving way to uncertainty, and she looked to the others for reassurance, and they continued to talk around the subject, but Oz couldn't take part in the conversation ? couldn't even focus enough to listen properly. He felt as though he was boiling up inside: wondering what that man was saying, if he was trying to justify himself and what he'd done, wanting to know?.

      He knew, deep down in his gut, that the Mary-Ravyon demon-hybrid was dangerously unstable and capable of terrible things, and had been on the loose for too long already ? all night now. Finding it before it had the chance to cause any real damage was all that mattered right now.

      And he really wanted to hear what Staunton had to say for himself, wanted to look him in the eyes while he said it.

      He stood up.


      Staunton was belligerent, defiant and scared. It wasn't a good combination. Securely tethered down in the cellar, he looked at Elli with undisguised hatred as she and Jim came down to talk to him. "You?I-I could?I could fail you."

      As threats went, that one wasn't the best ever.

      "I'm dropping your class." Elli rolled her eyes to think that he'd believe she even cared at this stage. The frantic sense of something's wrong that had propelled her search for Oz might have died down considerably now that they'd found and got him out of there, but she still felt deeply uneasy. It wasn't over yet. She pulled out the silver knife she'd picked up in Mary's shrine, dried blood on the blade and handle still, and held it up so he could see. "This isn't nice."

      "It was necessary." Staunton was unrepentant.

      Necessary for Mary's purposes, it was true. But not so much for his. "Not for you, it wasn't," she pointed out, tucking the knife away once more. "I don't understand what you thought you were going to achieve."

      "I wanted to study it," he said. "Analyse it, to publish ?"


      "He has a name," she fiercely interrupted. "And is a person."

      "And is a werewolf," Staunton defiantly stuck to his guns. "Do you have any idea how valuable?? The world has a right to know ?"

      "The world will never know." Jim stepped in now, speaking with quiet authority. "You can't make your career off the back of someone else's affliction?. I take that back. You clearly can, since so many do. Standard capitalist practise. But standard capitalise practise and the world of werewolves and demons don't mix."

      His voice became very stern. "And they shouldn't. Those that need to know already do, and those that don't are better off, and will never believe. No matter how much evidence you throw at them. What you did to that boy was indefensible, but the consequences could still prove worse. So if you have any idea at all where your partner-in-crime may be headed, or what she's likely to do next, now is the time to start talking."

      "Do you honestly think that you could stop a thing like that?" Staunton's tone was deeply scornful now.

      "I honestly think we're going to try," Elli retorted, and then heard the door behind them open. She turned to see who it was, and was taken aback to see Oz coming in.

      Staunton's reaction was quite telling. He blanched and became visibly anxious as Oz quietly took up a position at the back of the room, leaning against the wall wearing his best graven image expression.

      For an unthreatening and unassuming guy who wasn't very big, Oz could look surprisingly dangerous at times. Right now, after the night he'd had, he was skating very close to the edge and it showed. He'd shut down completely when Elli and Mat had arrived with Staunton, which wasn't a good sign, although neither unexpected under the circumstances nor unusual for him. He didn't seem entirely steady on his feet still, and was very pale, with dark shadows beneath bloodshot eyes, while spots of blood were starting to blossom here and there on his shirt, soaking through the bandages beneath from silver-burned wounds that weren't going to heal without help.

      But he had a right to be there for this if he felt up to it, and if his mere presence was going to make Staunton so nervous, that was something they could use. Elli glanced at Jim, and the little nod he gave told her that he agreed.

      She looked over at Oz once more, trying to gauge his mood and how he might react to being used as a lever. And then she decided to go for it; he was a lot tougher than most people gave him credit for on first glance.

      Turning back to Staunton, she nodded at Oz. "You see my friend over there? He's a werewolf. You already knew that, of course. Now, he's very good, most of the time, about not letting the wolf loose. But he's had a really bad night, which, of course, you also already knew. So I'd imagine his patience is wearing kind of thin."

      "Already pretty much out," said Oz, very quietly but with a note of menace in his voice. She glanced at him again. Still one hundred percent human, and yet he'd never looked more wolfish than he did right now, with that very dangerous glint smouldering in his eye. Coming face to face with one of his tormentors was not an easy thing for him, that much was obvious. No one could expect it to be, and she wished they'd been able to avoid the confrontation. Wished they'd been able to avoid all of this.

      "Do you know what happens to someone who gets caught by an angry werewolf?" Jim picked up her tactic and ran with it, his light and curious tone managing nonetheless to convey a deadly warning. "Or would you like Daniel to let go of that very tight leash he keeps on his inner wolf so you can find out?"

      "I don't know where she is!" Staunton squeaked. "This wasn't how it was meant to happen."

      "Here's a handy hint," said Jim. "Messing with dark arts? Never turns out how it was meant to. So anything you can think of ? anything she might have said, what her plans were originally, before the going wrong started to happen. Start talking. We're all listening."

      "Anything she might have said?" Staunton let out a scornful laugh. "Nonsense most of the time. She was insane, you know."

      "And you didn't see that as a clue to not get involved?" Elli asked in disgust. That sense of foreboding that had died down overnight was starting to build back up again. This wasn't over, not by a long shot, and could still get so much worse. Would, if the way she was feeling was anything to go by, unless they could find out how and stop it from happening. Mary-Ravyon had left a lot of damage behind her, dotted around the streets, but randomly, jumping erratically from one location to another. Searching for something, or waiting for something, perhaps? The streets had been all but deserted at that time of night and, vampire aside, they hadn't found any evidence that she'd killed yet, but it was early morning now?.

      Staunton glared at her. "She made me an offer I couldn't refuse. An offer she never intended to fulfil."

      His gaze flicked to Oz, eyes filled with both hatred and longing, and Elli moved to stand in his line of vision. "You're still not telling us anything that matters."

      Staunton gave her a long, hard look, and then capitulated. "There was one thing she kept saying. About a demonstration, how it wasn't enough to have power. She had to be seen to have power. She wanted an audience, said she'd have one right there, on tap, at the university this morning ?"

      "Spring Fair." Oz spoke up with a note of alarm in his voice.


      "I'm going," Oz firmly said. And then, recognising his own limits, added, "Someone else can drive."

      No one looked entirely convinced, but no one really argued, either. He knew he was still in pretty poor shape, but there just wasn't time for proper wound-looking-after, or for rest and recuperation. This was an emergency, although the sense of urgency he was feeling wasn't something he could really explain.

      It was hard even to describe it to himself. He'd been connected to Mary during her ritual, connected on a very deep level. And while that connection, now broken, might not allow him to know where she now was, it did mean that he understood her current condition. Her instability. Her needs. He could feel it, deep down. This was no longer about demonstrating power. It was about reinforcing that power, about shoring up an incomplete and unstable transfer. About refuelling. About needing to feed?.

      "They won't have started yet, though. Not for hours," Charlie pointed out, and then looked at her watch and wrinkled her nose. "Okay, not that many hours now, but still a couple."

      "There'll be people there setting up, though." Elli seemed to be picking up Oz's own sense of urgency. "And if there's enough of Mary left in there to know that?."


      They'd stopped only to stock up on weapons. They couldn't afford to take any risks. But those weapons would only be useful if they encountered Mary-Ravyon. And that meant finding her. Knowing she was likely to be headed for Spring Fair was a start, but?.

      "I've got a really bad feeling," Elli murmured as they pulled up in the university car park. It was way too quiet, even for this early hour. "Does anyone remember where they were holding this wretched thing?"

      "Taylor Court, isn't it?" Charlie looked unsure. "By the auditorium."

      "The Quad," said Oz at the same moment, and they looked at one another with dismay.

      "Both." Heart sinking, Elli pointed at a sign. "Spread over two locations."

      "We'll split up then." Jim looked calm. "And check both."


      Splitting up meant making rapid decisions about who went where in terms of an equal division of strengths. Jim went with Charlie and Emma to check out Taylor Court, while Elli went with David and Oz to the Quad.

      Elli found herself picking up speed with every step she took, propelled by a sense of urgency and foreboding that grew stronger with every passing moment.

      Faster. Faster, faster, faster?.

      Too late.

      "Oh God," David murmured, horrified, from somewhere behind her. "Oh God, oh God, oh God."

      Spring Fair was intended to be a bright, brilliant, gaudy affair: that much was apparent from the preparations that had been so rudely interrupted. Brightly coloured banners, streamers and bunting were strewn here, there and everywhere amid the chaos of upturned tables, scattered mess of wares intended for sale, and bodies.

      The Fair hadn't opened yet. But there'd been a sizeable committee of volunteers involved in the preparations, volunteers who'd got up early that morning to come and set up, who'd been here when the Mary-Ravyon demon staggered through in search of an audience for her demonstration of power ? in search of fresh meat to replenish her diminishing strength.

      Some were dead, and some still alive, some merely flung about, some torn at with claws and teeth, and still more partially devoured. Blood and gore were splattered everywhere. The air was completely still. Silent.

      After barrelling to a halt at the first glimpse of the devastation before them, the three slowly drifted through the Quad, taking the scene in and struggling to process, to react, to work out what to do. Elli had seen similar scenes of carnage before, more often than she liked to remember, but it hit just as hard every time, and it had been so long now, she'd forgotten the smell?.

      A moan, off to one side, caught her attention and she hurried over, David close behind.

      "She's still alive." He pulled out his cell phone and started to dial 911.

      And then Elli realised that they'd lost Oz, and turned to see him standing stock still with a look on his face that she'd never seen before. Staring, eyes fixed on something across on the other side of the grassy courtyard.

      "Oz?" She called his name almost fearfully, feeling a sudden chill, deep down inside. As bad as this already was, there was always potential for worse, much worse.

      The sound of her voice roused him, but instead of responding in any way he broke into a run, dashing across the grass as fast as his injuries would allow, and then dropped to his knees beside a couple of heaped corpses.

      Very, very afraid, she followed and stood behind him, saw what he was looking at?. And then David caught up, emergency call completed, and gasped. "Oh my God, its Anouk."

      Elli ignored him and focused on Oz, reaching a hand toward his shoulder, but stopping short of actually touching, unsure of his reactions. Tensed up, breathing hard, already skating close to the edge, and now with grief and maybe even a touch of blood-lust added ? it wouldn't take much to push him right over into 'snap' territory. And that would make an already bad situation so much worse.

      "Oz?" She called his name again, very softly, kneeling beside him. At first there was, again, no response, but then he glanced sideways, very quickly, with that dangerous, wolfish glint back in his eyes. Skating too close to the edge, right on the brink and about to snap?.

      Alarmed, Elli snapped her fingers in front of his nose. "Hey, hey. Come back."

      He blinked, and that wolfish glint subsided just a little as he looked right at her at last, eyes full of pain, rage and confusion. Then he stood up, almost visibly bristling, nose twitching: his wolf-side far too close to the surface for anyone's comfort.

      He looked all around, nostrils flaring, and then turned and stalked away. The hunt was on and although, somehow, he was still human, the wolf was clearly in the driving seat right now.

      Elli stood and stared after him for a second, mind racing.

      "What do we do?" David asked, almost frantic. "All these people ?"

      "Go find the others," Elli told him, starting to hurry after Oz as he picked up speed ? she didn't dare let him out of sight now. "I'm going to follow that nose."


      For a man who was still not completely steady on his feet, Oz moved surprisingly fast. Anger and adrenaline would keep him going a lot longer than anything else could in his current condition, and Elli had to almost run to keep pace with him.

      He came to a halt at a crossroads, sniffing the air and looking worryingly wolfish as he tried to decide which way he should go now.

      "Oz, slow down before you fall down," Elli called, since he looked like he was about to take off again. He showed no sign of having heard. As she drew level, she reached to gently touch his shoulder, and he snapped around, almost snarling ? teetering on the brink of complete loss of control. And while she wasn't afraid of his wolf-side, never had been, she was determined not to let that happen and glared at him. "Don't you dare."

      That seemed to work, for now. Taking in that it was her, he hesitated, relaxing only slightly but enough.

      And she hesitated too, realising that she had absolutely no idea what to say. "Oz?."

      He looked at her, meeting her eyes at last, and she fell silent. She'd never seen him so distressed, and her heart ached for him. Then before she could find any words even remotely suitable, he spoke in a very low voice.

      "She thinks it'll help."

      "Who thinks what'll help?" Elli's mind was still full of the bloodbath back at the Quad, of Anouk?and of worry about Oz himself. Cryptic-ness only served to increase anxiety levels.

      "The blood," he said, urgently. "Feeding. It isn't helping enough. That's not what she needs."

      "Mary? You know that?" It was a stupid question, and she quickly switched to one that was more immediately relevant. "What does she need?"

      He gave her a helpless look, unable to reply, and then shrugged and shook his head, and started walking once more.


      Was it a scent he was following, or something else: some instinct that was deeper, darker ? more primal?

      It was only a fleeting thought that found time to wonder about that, quickly drowned out by the mass of seething emotions churning in his mind, impossible to keep in check, and by the furious howling of the wolf within.

      Whatever sense was guiding him, it belonged to the wolf, and he followed it unquestioningly. Aware that the streets were starting to become busier; aware of people moving around and past him, most unheeding, some pausing to stare; aware of a friend close behind, following him doggedly. But all that was peripheral. Mostly all he was aware of was that furious instinct that was driving him onward in search of the one responsible?.

      Who was there: right there in front of him, in the middle of a busy street, terrifyingly demonic, and publicly creating murderous havoc. The street was cordoned off, with armed police all around, aiming their weapons at her in a tense standoff while she rampaged almost blindly. Ambulance and police, people screaming and running, blood and confusion ? and no way through.

      Oz came to a standstill and stared at the scene before him in dismay.

      Do you know what silver does to a werewolf??

      Smouldering pain, like acid eating into his skin?.

      Let it out! Holding it in when I need it to come out. Let it out! You are still a werewolf, are you not? Whatever face you may be wearing?.

      Anouk's scent, wafting across the Quad, mingled with odours of blood and death and demon. Lying so still. Face pallid and waxen, eyes open, staring, unseeing?.

      Blood, blood, more blood?.

      Death and pain and suffering, caused by this creature?.

      The maelstrom of memories tumbled through his mind in rapid succession, churning and boiling and whipping his wolf-self into a frenzy. Whipping his whole self into a frenzy, and he wanted to fly at her and tear her apart, wanted it with his whole being, and there was no control, no discipline in the world that could hold the wolf down in that moment.

      And yet it didn't come.

      He didn't change. Felt himself freezing inside, shrinking, curling up into a tight ball behind eyes that refused to look away from that thing he wanted so badly to take revenge on, only for his wolf-self to let him down this one time he'd have welcomed it.

      Elli came up beside him as the police urged them away, and took his elbow to pull him back. And, with eyes firmly fixed on Mary, or Ravyon, or whatever she was now, Oz allowed himself to be guided and let the noise and bustle and confusion all around just wash right over his head. Heart pounding, breathing hard, his eyes never left her as police marksmen began to fire, again and again, and she staggered and swayed and fell back but remained upright, screeching at them in fury.

      She turned, saw him standing there and screeched again in furious recognition. Their eyes met, and locked.

      That werewolf-powered ritual that had turned Mary into this thing had created a connection between them, and Oz could feel the turmoil in her mind ? the already unbalanced human now tipped over the edge into complete madness by the demon inhabiting her body ? could feel how strongly she was drawn to him, who had powered her transformation, by that connection. The transformation was unstable, and her power weakening now, pain from the bullets slamming into her coursing through her body, and for a moment it looked as though she might plough straight through everyone that stood between them in order to get to him.

      But then he felt her attention shift, drawn elsewhere by a related memory that, with her mental state so fractured, pushed all thought of him out of her mind. And then she flickered out of existence, leaving consternation in her wake.

      Oz looked at Elli, grim. "I know where she's going."


      "You wouldn't think they could get so far," David grumbled. "Shouldn't Oz have collapsed in a heap by now?"

      "Never underestimate the motivating power of grief and revenge," Jim quietly said, sitting beside him, in the passenger seat of the van.

      "They weren't together any more." Emma spoke up in a very quiet voice.

      Jim turned in his seat to look at her. "Do you really believe that makes a difference right now?"

      Biting her lip, Emma shook her head and looked down at her hands, twisting them together in her lap. Charlie put a hand on her arm and gave it a quick squeeze, sympathetic, and the two women shared an unhappy little half-smile.

      Turning his eyes back to the road, Jim leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "This looks like it. Seems we're a bit late."

      Easily lost on an unfamiliar campus, by the time David had got back to the Quad with the others, sirens had been loudly blaring to announce the imminent arrival of ambulances and police, and there'd been no sign of either Oz or Elli. No sign of them anywhere on campus, so they'd been forced to return to the van and drive around in hopes of spotting them. And then Mat had called Charlie about a disturbance with armed police in attendance that sounded very much like the witch-demon they were looking for.

      And now they were here it was already over. No witch-demon, and no Oz or Elli either.

      "It was definitely here," Charlie murmured, looking around at the aftermath with deep distaste.

      "But not here now," said Emma. "So where do we look next? They could be anywhere, right?"

      "But how far could they have got?" Re-starting the engine, David returned to his original point. "I mean, really? Oz was injured ?"

      "Somehow, I don't think that's the biggest factor right now," Jim said, frowning.

      "Could he have changed?" Emma nervously asked. " I mean, I know it's daytime now, no moon, but after everything?. 'Cause ? he looked pretty edgy, and that was even before?." She couldn't finish that sentence and broke off, biting her lip, before quietly adding, "He always said emotional disturbance could be a trigger."

      Jim held his hands up, shaking his head and looking worried. "I don't have all the answers. I'm sorry. I would really like to find him."

      "But he's with Elli," Charlie pointed out. "Or should be. She could stop him changing, right? She's done it before, and she flipped him back last night, and ?"

      "Really?" Jim looked interested now, but before he could enquire any further, David braked sharply and pulled over to the side of the road.

      "There they are."


      "Don't argue," Elli wearily cautioned. "If he wants to drive, let him drive."

      The net result of an agitated Oz was to set everyone else keenly on edge, as well.

      "So where are we going?" David asked as he reluctantly slid out of the drivers seat and let Oz take the wheel.

      Everyone in, Oz started the engine. "Your place."



      • #4

        Part Three:


        Mid-morning, and with everyone elsewhere, the Monico was closed. Or should have been.

        The van pulled up outside, and everyone piled out to find the coffee bar slightly less closed than it should have been due to a large, demon-sized hole in the door.

        "Oh my God," David moaned. "That's my door!"

        "That's our shop!" Emma was equally horrified. "She broke our shop! Why would she break our shop?"

        Oz looked grim. Also pale, and a little shaky, but mostly very grim. "Staunton."

        "Staunton?" David parroted, weakly. They'd left the Professor locked up down in the cellar, but?.

        "But Staunton's no use to her." Elli wrinkled her nose. "Is he?"

        Oz raised an eyebrow, restlessly tense still. "He's no use to her," he agreed, heading through the hole into the caf?, his movements stiff but purposeful. "But he's why she's here."

        The others cautiously followed, and their wariness levels increased when they heard the noise drifting up from down in the cellar: panicked shouting, and smashing ? followed by sudden silence.

        "She's here," Emma whispered, shrinking closer to David, who wrapped a protective arm around her. "She's here, and she's killed people, and how are we supposed to ??"

        "There you are, sis," an unexpected voice interrupted, and Ed, of all people, appeared from the direction of the back yard. "I've been looking everywhere. Need a quick word."

        "Ed?" Charlie stared, incredulous, while everyone else automatically tensed up, apart from Jim, who looked curious. "What are you ??"

        The vampire rolled his eyes. "I just told you ? I need a quick word. There's this ?"

        He almost jumped out of his skin at a loud crash behind him, and scooted forward into the caf?, taking as much care to avoid the sunlight pouring in through the hole in the door as the others took to stay well out of his way ? and well out of the way of the thing that followed him into the room. They all scattered, falling back against the walls and gripping weapons for grim death as the Mary-Ravyon demon lurched into the caf?, dragging a surprisingly undamaged but unconscious Staunton by the wrist. Bullet holes were clearly visible across her twisted torso: only partially healed, oozing thick demon blood, the injury adding to her dementia.

        Everyone fell back, that was, except for Oz, who stood directly in her path as though turned to stone, and Ed, whose eyes almost popped out of his head.

        "What the hell kind of a creature is that?"

        His answer came in the form of a vicious backhander that broke his nose with an audible crunch and sent him crashing into a patch of sunlight. Instantly starting to smoulder, he frantically scrabbled his way back into the shadows, cursing. Growling deep in her throat, Mary-Ravyon turned her attention to Oz, who still hadn't moved, hadn't taken his eyes off her.

        David and Jim grabbed an arm each and dragged him out of the way, just in time as the demon lunged for him, while Elli dived forward to swipe at it with a knife that she seemed to pull out of nowhere, raking the blade across the arm reaching for Oz.

        The demon howled in pain, the superficial knife wound apparently distressing her far more than any police-issue bullets had. And then she disappeared into thin air, taking Staunton with her.

        "You lot of bloody do-gooders." Ed was back on his feet, all traces of fire extinguished. Streamers of blood trickled from his nose as he stared in disbelief. "Go ? get rid of that demon-thing! Last thing I want running around the place. I can come back to kill you all. Everybody wins."

        With that grim parting shot, he disappeared out back again.

        "How the hell does he get in and out of here in broad daylight?" David stared after him, while Jim seemed likewise distracted.

        "Vampire. You lot know some interesting folks."

        Emma ignored them both and turned to Elli. "What the hell did you hit that thing with?"

        "First thing that came to hand." Elli held out the knife she'd used ? it was the silver one that Mary had previously used on Oz, and she looked apologetically at him. "Apparently she's as allergic to silver as you are."

        Oz nodded, and said nothing, and sat down heavily on the edge of a table, breathing hard and looking worse than ever.

        "Are you all right?" Emma anxiously asked. "You look kinda?. You aren't going to change, are you?"

        He shook his head, staring down at his feet. "Right now ? don't think I could."

        Jim looked at him sharply. "Do you mean that? Explain."


        It was impossible to explain. Impossible to even attempt to verbalise the rage and despair bubbling away inside him, the frenzy that the wolf had knotted itself into, closer to the surface than he'd ever known without changing. Closer than he'd ever experienced by day ? except for that one time, with Tara, when he had changed by light of sun instead of moon. Impossible to describe senses that felt sharper than a human's had any right to be, but inconsistently so, fading in and out at random, or that he was hurting all over still, more fiercely than ever. He didn't feel safe. It was too unpredictable.

        And yet he hadn't changed. Not even in that first, horrific moment of realisation, when he'd caught Anouk's scent, seen her lying there, and?.

        He should have changed. More than one time today he'd come close, and should have changed, but hadn't. Ordinarily he'd feel proud about that, proud that his control had held so firm, except he was pretty sure that right now it had very little to do with how much control he did or didn't have.

        He'd got pretty good at holding the wolf in, as long as he knew the urge to change was coming and could steel himself against it. It was being taken by surprise that did for him, every time. And today especially, after everything that had happened, he knew that his control wasn't strong enough, and had slipped more than once, and he hadn't changed. Couldn't change, because somewhere beneath all that rage and grief, and wolfiness and pain was a layer of enervation almost like a blanket, heavy, and muffling, and stifling.

        "I don't know," he said at length. "Just?kinda feels burned out."

        "I'm not surprised," Elli murmured, frowning in deep thought.

        Everyone looked at her, and when she failed to continue, David said, "Care to elaborate?"

        Elli glanced up at him almost in surprise, as though she hadn't realised she'd spoken out loud, and then said, "You remember when I said that a werewolf is connected to a very deep, very ancient power?" She turned and looked at Oz, and in her eyes he saw how deeply she felt for him, knowing as she did how it felt to lose someone close. She knew and understood him better than any of them, even Jim, for all his uncanny insight. "Your connection to that power is what Mary tapped into, right? The power you use to transform. And she tapped so much of it that ? well, no one was meant to have that much power pulled through them like that. That connection would have been ? well, like you said: burned out."

        "Complete overload." Jim nodded, looking thoughtful. "Like tripping a circuit-breaker ? shorted it out. Makes sense."

        "Does that mean he won't ever change any more?" Emma looked hopeful.

        "No." Elli shook her head, and Oz felt almost hopeful, just for a second, before common sense reasserted itself, backed up by Elli's next words. "I mean, no ? that's not what I mean. It'll restore itself in time. He'll always be a werewolf. The full moon tonight will probably help. But for now at least, spontaneous daytime changing is probably a lot less likely."

        Spontaneous daytime changing had never really been likely, as far as Oz could see. Before today, that was. Not since that one time with Tara, an experience he'd learned enough from for it to hopefully never happen again.

        Or so he'd convinced himself, until today. But now?he had to admit that today just about anything was possible. If he hadn't been so burned out, if he'd been capable of changing, it would have happened, moon or no moon and in spite of all his efforts and everything he'd learned and struggled to achieve. It was a depressing thought. And even more disturbing was the knowledge that twice now he'd come face to face with Mary-Ravyon, and both times he'd wanted to change, wanted it badly, wanted to fly at her with tooth and claw and tear her to bits.

        And if he saw her again, he'd still want it, whether he could actually achieve it or not. After what she'd done?.

        Somewhere inside, the wolf was growling, continuously. Right now, with access to his shape-changing power effectively cut off, it couldn't just slide out from under his control, and here and now that was something to be thankful for. But it was there, and it was furious, and in that respect they for once were united.

        "You seem to know a lot about the subject." Raising an eyebrow, Jim gave Elli a quizzical look.

        Elli looked at him for a long moment, and then shook her head again. "Not really. Educated guess."


        "We're losing momentum here." David was fretting, pacing the room anxiously. "What do we do now?"

        "What we do now is try to figure out where she might have gone, what she might do next, and how to stop her." Charlie ran through the list in flat, leaden tones.

        "Is that all?" David flung himself into a chair with a heavy sigh. "Did you see the people she??"

        He stopped, a guilty look creeping across his face as he glanced quickly at Oz, who deliberately didn't allow himself to react to that half-spoken inference that cut to the quick, kept his eyes firmly fixed on the floor beneath his feet.

        Did you see the people she??

        The people she'd killed. Anouk lying motionless on the damp grass, the scent of her blood filling the air. So many other people, the scattered dead lying all around.

        Long breaths in. Long breaths out. Trying hard to remain calm, because even though he didn't feel he was likely to change any time soon, he also didn't enjoy having the wolf's reactions in control.

        "We can do it," Elli quietly said. "We can. We already know her weaknesses ?"

        "Not much weak about her from where I was standing."

        "This isn't the demon Ravyon itself," Elli mused, sounding tired but determined. She massaged a temple, as though trying to rid herself of a headache. "The manifestation wasn't complete. So it's like?a really bad facsimile of it, a partial transformation. She doesn't have its full powers. I mean, for one thing we know she can regenerate when injured, but it takes more energy than she can spare. That's something we can use. If we play it right?."

        "And the silver," Charlie added. "That seemed to damage her."

        Do you know what silver does to a werewolf??

        Smouldering pain, like acid eating into his skin?.

        Every time he thought he had himself under control, had his thoughts and reactions under control, he remembered what Mary had done to him, what she'd done to Anouk, and the anger started bubbling back up once more, uncontrollable. But this wasn't the place.

        Long breaths in. Long breaths out. Eyes on the floor.

        "So it's kind of a shame we don't have any more silver weapons lying around." Elli picked up the silver knife she'd appropriated from Mary's shrine and eyed it thoughtfully, shooting a worried glance sideways at Oz. "But it's still a weakness we can use. What we can't do is leave her running around loose."

        "Agreed," Emma quietly put in. "But ? and as much as it scares me to think about it ? how do we find her?"

        "Daniel has been the best lead so far." Jim had been watching Oz silently throughout the discussion with a 'my student, my responsibility' air about him, but now spoke up, eyes still fixed on him. "Dan?"

        It took a while to sink in that he'd been directly addressed. Only half following the conversation, Oz glanced up.

        "You knew she was coming here to get Staunton," Jim gently prompted. "And it would be useful to have some idea where she might have gone now. Any thoughts?"

        It was hard to think much about anything. Oz felt exhausted. All he wanted to do was sleep, but he couldn't. Not till this was over. Not while that thing was still out there, on the loose and killing people.

        Where would she go next? That wasn't something he could know, not for sure. And yet he had known that she'd come here for Staunton, as weird as that was, and as useless as the professor was to her now. He'd looked into her eyes and he'd known it. And now?

        Where would her fractured mind take her now?

        Mary had felt hard done by, belonging to a family that failed to take her seriously, who had been embarrassed by her. And now that she was no longer Mary?she'd want revenge.

        "Home," he said, quietly. "She'll go home."


        The MacBride family mansion gave the impression of being a high security kind of place. Unfortunately, the designers of said security had failed to take into account the need to secure the property against angry, insane demon hybrids.

        The large wrought-iron gates hung forlorn from their hinges. The CCTV camera had been torn from its moorings and trampled underfoot. The guard paid to man a booth at the gate was dead. And so was Professor Staunton, his mangled body abandoned just inside the grounds.

        Oz stepped over it, completely impassive. The others walked around.

        "Remind me about the plan. What's the plan?" Emma whispered, clinging to David's arm as they warily made their way toward the house, weapons in hand. "Please tell me we have a plan. One that doesn't involve being eaten."

        "I don't know if I'd call it a plan, as such," said Elli. "But?I have an idea that if she takes enough damage she won't be able to heal herself anymore. That's already started; we've seen it. And when she's too weak to fight back, we can take her down."

        "And we're meant to cause this damage?"

        "If we can."

        "Without getting eaten?"

        "That's the general idea."

        Emma looked up at David. "I had a lovely time at dinner last night. I want you to know that."

        He kissed the top of her head, and nervously looked back toward the demon-shaped hole in the door they were headed for. "We need a shotgun. If we survive this, someone remind me to get a shotgun."

        "I still can't get hold of Mat." Charlie put her phone away. "Or Mike. Which is a shame because those police issue guns of theirs would be really useful at this point."

        "Looks like we're on our own." David swallowed hard. "It's quiet. Shouldn't there be screaming?"

        As if on cue, an ear-piercing shriek rang out from inside the building, but was cut off almost at once.

        "Ah. That's more like it." He sounded dazed, and clung to the axe in his hand for grim death as they hurried toward the sound, fear for their own lives warring with the desire to prevent any further loss of life. So many people had already died because of this thing.



        • #5

          Inside, the house was suspiciously quiet. Too quiet, the kind of stillness that made hairs at the back of the neck stand on end. The group advanced slowly and warily, feeling more like trespassers than rescuers with every step.

          The silence didn't last long.

          Emma almost jumped out of her skin as a gunshot rang out somewhere inside the house. Frozen with fear, she clung to David's arm as the others reacted faster. Jim and Elli were the quickest; both dashing in the direction of the sound with barely a moment's pause, and Charlie was close behind, although she seemed more cautious. And Oz reacted just as quickly, but moved more slowly. He wasn't up to speedy movement. In fact, as far as Emma could see, he wasn't up to any of this. He looked awful: ashen, with dark circles around his eyes and the spots of blood soaking through his shirt starting to join up in places. But he also looked determined, and so far that seemed to be keeping him on his feet.

          There was a man running toward them, presumably either a MacBride or someone who worked for them. The 'we're trespassing' feeling vanished at once as he seemed not the slightest bit concerned about who they were or what they were doing in the house. He was almost hysterical, babbling incoherently and waving a pistol around blindly. Jim quickly ? and very neatly ? removed it from his hand before he could accidentally shoot someone.

          "Where is it?" Jim asked, very simply, and the man waved an arm wildly at the door he'd just run through, and continued his sprint toward the first available exit.

          The door led them into some kind of large lounge-room, kitted out with wide-screen television, stereo system quietly playing romantic music, fridge, comfy couch and pool table. There was only one door, not many windows ? and a large, insane demon hungrily devouring a part of her most recent victim. Other body parts were scattered around the room in bloody chunks that made Emma's stomach churn, and she had to bite back the nausea that threatened to overwhelm her. This wasn't the time.

          And there they were, and this was it.

          Clutching the crossbow she only just knew how to use in hands suddenly slick with sweat, Emma took an involuntary step backward as the demon that had once been Mary MacBride saw the new arrivals. Her wavering, unfocused gaze fell on Oz, and her eyes lit up.

          "You." Nothing human had a voice like that. "Make me more. Complete me!"

          Werewolf energy had powered her transformation. But it wasn't complete, so now she wanted more? Wanted to finish the job?

          Terrified, for herself, for David, for Oz ? for everyone ? Emma's heart started to race, and her stomach felt as though it was tying itself in knots.

          Oz, on the other hand, the one Mary was most interested in, barely seemed to react to her words at all. Face set like stone, he simply raised the crossbow he was carrying and fired at her, then dropped the bow and pulled out the other weapons he'd tucked into his belt.

          Hit dead on by the crossbow bolt she'd made no attempt to avoid, the Mary-demon reared up, screeching angrily at this new wound to add to those she'd been unable to complete the healing of: wounds oozing thick, demonic blood that didn't seem to be slowing her down noticeably.

          Then Jim discharged the contents of his purloined pistol into her, and Emma found herself dimly wondering where he'd learned to handle a gun like that, Zen master that he supposedly was. The demon staggered as the bullets thumped into her, her misshapen figure twisting and contorting, but she remained upright.

          Jim then tossed the now useless pistol aside, and gripped the makeshift staff ? it had once been a broom handle ? he'd unearthed from somewhere down in the weapons cellar in both hands, and then the battle really was on.

          Emma had never learned how to fight. She'd never wanted to learn how to fight. She wanted to help, wanted to take the demon down and prevent it killing anyone else, but?but she was terrified. She found herself hanging back, almost dancing around the edges of the skirmish, trying to keep her crossbow trained on the demon, trying not to get in anyone's way as the more experienced fighters took centre stage.

          Jim's Zen master-y-ness was showing through slightly more now, as he seemed to mostly be defending the others rather than taking on the demon directly himself. His style was hugely impressive, though. Elli was an excellent fighter, but Emma remembered seeing her in action before once or twice, and realising the same thing then, while Charlie and Oz both knew enough to hold their own ? Oz in spite of his injuries ? and it was always fairly awesome to see Charlie bringing her telekinesis into play. David was weighing in as best as he could, as well, which, as always, made Emma proud and scared simultaneously.

          They were holding their own, the demon taking damage faster than she could fight back or regenerate as a result of the multi-pronged onslaught, and she was visibly weakening, little by little. It wasn't much of a plan, but it might actually work?.

          And then a young woman none of them had realised was there took advantage of the distraction to crawl out from behind the sofa and try to make a break for it. And that changed everything.

          Too terror-stricken to think straight, the woman ran smack into Charlie, sending them both crashing to the ground and causing Charlie to abruptly drop the mental stranglehold she had on the demon, while Jim had to quickly jump out of the way to avoid being caught up in the sprawl.

          Released from Charlie's psychic grasp that had made it harder for her to fight back, the Mary-demon's attention snapped around, focusing sharply on her downed opponents with a deep growl of delight. As she lunged for them, teeth bared, Charlie grabbed the woman and rolled, and Jim and Elli reacted fastest out of those combatants still in play, intercepting the demon with staff and knife. Elli ducked and roll, leaving the silver knife sticking out of the demon's arm while Jim knocked the Mary-demon back with a couple well placed blows, only to have his staff grabbed and twisted out of his hands.

          David and Oz then renewed their assault on her from behind with axe and sword, drawing her attention away from the more vulnerable others, but she was now more enraged than ever, and David had dropped his guard in all the panic, leaving himself open to attack. Which the Mary-demon was not slow to realise and capitalise on, and she grabbed at him with those wickedly curved talons she'd developed since her transformation, and threw him across the room. And he hit the wall hard and fell to the ground, and there was blood.

          Emma heard a scream, and realised it had come from herself. Then she fired her crossbow at last and hit the creature dead on, right in the back, and ran to her husband, heedless of anything else.


          Too many variables and even the best-laid plans came unglued. And this had been, from the start, a long way from being the best laid of plans.

          So much damage ? too much damage ? because of this creature. Such pointless death, and pain and suffering, and it had to stop.

          It had to stop.

          The rage and pain that had been simmering away all day, that he'd tried so hard to keep under control, bubbled back up, fast reaching boiling point once more. That thing had killed too many people already ? Anouk ? and now it was hurting his friends. It could kill his friends.

          It was pretty much the final straw. He couldn't allow it to carry on like this. It had to be stopped, right here and right now, and if he'd wanted to fly at it and tear it apart with tooth and claw before, that desire was doubled ? tripled?many times multiplied ? now as the rage built up and up into a crescendo of white noise inside his head and beneath his skin.

          It was daylight, the middle of the day. But it was also full moon. And he was a werewolf. Always a werewolf, even if his connection to his shape-changing power was shorted out because of what she'd done ? because of what she'd done that had caused everything that had happened since, pain and suffering leading to more pain and suffering. And death.

          No spontaneous changing. And yet?

          Shorted out ? but it was still there. He could feel it. And, as much as it hurt, he could reach for it if he chose.


          "Everyone out!" Elli ordered, seeing the situation around them turn on its head yet again. Too late to do anything else but retreat and remove the humans from harm's way until it was over, one way or another.

          It was the other way it could end now that sent a chill down her spine.

          The demon's attention was now entirely focused on Oz as he transformed from man into wolf, and he was focused intently on her, and there was no stopping the change ? or the inevitable fight ? now. But anyone else in the room with them while it went on would be at risk.

          They had to half-drag, half-carry David. Elli grabbed an arm of the woman who'd been hiding in the room and hauled her out with them; she was quick to take the hint and once safely out of the room didn't stop to ask questions but continued to flee at speed.

          Jim paused to snatch up the silver knife that had fallen to the ground, and as he reached the door he turned and threw it, over arm ? perfect aim. The demon reared up, roaring with pain as the silver blade embedded itself in her back. It wouldn't kill her, not quickly enough, anyway, but it would help weaken her still further, giving an extra advantage to Oz that he could probably do with.

          And then they were all out, and Elli slammed the door behind them and leaned against it, holding onto the handle, just in case, and listened grimly to the sounds of battle commencing on the other side.

          "You didn't stop it." There was a tremor in Charlie's voice. "You didn't stop him going wolf."

          "No." She leaned her head against the door and tried not to think about who was most likely to win the battle currently raging in there. "Not this time."

          "I thought you said spontaneous daytime changing wouldn't happen." There was an almost accusatory note in Emma's voice as she sat hugging a very dazed and pained David, Jim helping her check his injuries.

          "I said less likely, not impossible," Elli distractedly corrected. "And that wasn't spontaneous; that was a decision. How's David?"

          "Dislocated shoulder," said Jim, sounding briskly unconcerned. "Cuts, bruises, maybe a touch of concussion ? he's fine."

          Emma buried her face in David's hair, and Charlie paced fretfully as Jim straightened up and moved to lean against the wall opposite, eyes fixed on the door.

          "Are you sure about this?" he asked, quietly.

          "No." How could anyone be sure about anything right now? But what else could any of them have done?

          Silence, apart from those appalling noises coming from the other side of the door.

          Jim's shrewd hazel eyes flicked from Elli to Charlie, regarding them both with deep curiosity and something else that might almost have been calculation ? trying to work out exactly who or what they were, based on what he'd seen ? but his attention remained always focused on that stout, securely closed door separating them all from the combatants within.

          "I'll have to thank Sheng." Not such an obvious tremor as had been in Charlie's voice, but if you listened closely the waver was there. He was anxious. "I never dreamt that contact he sent me would bring so much new interest, and, uh, event to my life."

          It was interesting, and a little awe-inspiring, to think that even a Zen master, or whatever it was he called himself, with all his skills and experience, didn't have all the answers. He was worried, beneath that air of nonchalant flippancy he tended to affect: worried about the situation they were in, and worried about Oz, who he'd taken on so recently as his responsibility ? a responsibility he clearly took very seriously.

          Behind the door, silence had fallen. That was either a very good sign or a very bad sign. Possibly both.

          Elli turned and took hold of the door handle once more, drew a deep breath.

          "Let me." Jim moved to stand just behind her, but she shook her head.

          "No. It'll be safer if I do it. Wait here."

          Then she opened the door, and went inside.


          Deliberately walking into a room containing an enraged werewolf and insane demon wasn't, perhaps, the most sensible thing to do, but Elli did it anyway. It had to be done.

          Inside that lounge room, now in a state of post-battle disarray, the werewolf and the demon had fought each other to a standstill and were now collapsed on the floor, inert, covered in each other's blood.

          Experience and common sense said to check on the enemy first and make sure of it. If still alive it could still be dangerous, despite appearances. But in spite of knowing and understanding that, Elli instead simply kept a cautious watch on it while she hurried to Oz.

          The werewolf was semi-conscious, and there was not even a hint of human understanding in his eyes, yet he made no move to attack her as she knelt beside him for a quick examination. No wild thing ever did. He was now torn up worse than ever, blood everywhere, but he was alive and apparently in no danger of not being so. And now that she'd satisfied herself on that score, Elli returned her attention to the demon.

          It too was still alive, but in far worse shape than Oz, damaged and weakened and failing. That flawed transformation was incomplete and irreversible: it was neither one thing nor truly the other, and its condition had long since deteriorated far beyond any hope of repair. The most that anyone could do for it now was to put it out of its misery sooner rather than later. A relatively clean ending might, perhaps, be more than it deserved after the death and destruction it had caused, but was also the safest and quickest way to end this whole, bloody mess.

          The silver knife lay on the floor nearby, coated with blood. With deep distaste, Elli picked it up. The demon was vulnerable to silver, and although fatal weak spots had been hard to identify and reach in the thick of battle, it was now but the work of a moment to grimly finish the job. Then she quickly returned her attention to Oz.

          He was still wolf-shaped, eyes half open, watching her, and she wondered if he even could turn himself back in his current condition. It would be better for both of them if he did it himself?.

          Kneeling on the floor beside him once more, she gently patted his wolf-cheek, and softly murmured, "Come on, Oz, come back to me."

          There was still not even a glimmer of human understanding in his eyes and yet, almost as if her words had reminded him which shape he was currently wearing, he started to change almost at once. The transformation wasn't pleasant to watch, and probably even less pleasant to experience, but a few moments later he was human-shaped again, and eyes that were now Oz once more held hers just for a second before rolling back into his head.

          And he was naked and injured again. Elli glanced around the room at the remains of the clothes he'd been wearing, and sighed. "Bang goes another perfectly good outfit."

          She found a coat to cover him with, and as she placed it over him he stirred once more. Eyes flickering open, he struggled to sit up, taking in Elli, the now dead demon, the state of the room, the state of himself?. He looked at her again, dazed and confused.

          Elli offered him a reassuring smile. "Welcome back. You look shocking."


          They had to make a speedy getaway once it was all over, before the authorities started to arrive.

          And, now that it really was over, the reaction was starting to set in. Such a horrific, horrendous day. Just 24 hours, less than 24 hours ? it felt more like a week.

          Charlie had taken David and Emma to the hospital, and Elli had sent Jim out ingredient shopping while she set about patching Oz up. Oz sat quietly and let her do what she had to do, and was grateful that it was Elli and not Emma and that she made no attempt at meaningful conversation. There was nothing to be said, even if he'd been capable of forming words. To form words, he'd have to be able to form thoughts and even that seemed to be beyond him. Somewhere behind the fog currently clouding his brain there was pain and anger, grief and guilt ? a seething mass of conflicting emotions ? but just at the moment the fog was enveloping them all, and for that he was grateful.

          Jim returned with ingredients for Elli's silver-burn cure, and the two of them had a short conversation in very low voices, out of range of his hearing. Oz watched them talk, and knew that they were talking about him, but couldn't summon up any energy at all to care or to ask to be included in the discussion.

          Jim then turned to Oz with deep sympathy in his eyes, nodded a farewell, and left without any further ado. Elli set about making up a large batch of her silver-burn cure, and not before time because the burning was starting to become unbearable, and there was silence once more.

          Silence. Time to think, to digest, to react.

          Time to think about everything that had happened. About what had happened to him, and what had happened as a result, about what had happened to Anouk and all those other people. About the choice that he'd made.

          Anouk was dead, and it hurt just to think that. David had been injured, Emma had had to take him to hospital, Elli had to patch Oz himself up again, they'd all had to fight, and none of them had had any sleep in what felt like forever.

          "I'm sorry," he murmured.

          "That's all right." Tip of her tongue sticking out just slightly, Elli was concentrating on dressing his wounds. "I lived through a war; I've seen worse."

          That wasn't what he meant and they both knew it. A moment later Elli paused what she was doing and looked at him.

          "It's okay," she said, softly.

          "No, it isn't." He shifted uncomfortably as she carefully daubed her mixture over another painful laceration.

          "No, it isn't. But it is. It's over now." She picked up the bandages again. "There's no rush for anything anymore. You need to ease up on yourself, take it slow."

          Another silence, in which unwelcome memories insisted on intruding. Oz closed his eyes, tried not to remember ? tried to block it all out. He wanted to sleep, and yet feared it.

          "What did Jim say?" Conversation was preferable, in the end, to the free reign of those memories.

          Elli hesitated slightly. "To keep an eye on you," she said at length. "Which I was going to anyway."

          It was Oz's turn to hesitate, eyeing his toes, feeling uncomfortable.

          "Thanks." He sounded awkward even to his own ears. Remembering everything that had happened, thinking about what had been said, and what hadn't been said?it was hard.

          She looked at him, one eyebrow lifted slightly. "You're welcome. What for?"

          It was hard to fight through the layers of fatigue and pain and confusion to get to what he meant. But it felt important. "For not saying anything."

          "Nothing to say," said Elli, very quietly. "I know that. Been there."



          • #6



            Oz slept the third night of the full moon away, a deep, dreamless sleep. He slept the rest of the day, the whole of the night, and most of the day following, and if his friends took turns to look in on him he was oblivious to the concern.

            When he finally awoke he kept to his room. Elli's magic mixture was having a positive effect, but he was still hurting all over, physically and mentally. He didn't want to go downstairs, didn't want to see anyone, or ? worse ? talk to anyone. He needed time and space, alone with his thoughts, needed to try to come to terms with what had happened, somehow. If that was even possible.

            He felt stiff, but the pain was no longer sharp, no longer burned quite as badly, resolving itself instead into aches, twinges and general soreness. But the exhaustion wasn't going away, even after so many hours of rest. And the knowledge of what had been done and what had happened as a result would never go away.

            Voices in the corridor heralded the imminent arrival of visitors, and Oz glanced up sharply, recognising both voice and scent.

            "I'm sorry ? listen, you can't just ?"

            That was David, protesting, and the other?.

            The door flew open, and Gil McKenzie stood framed in the doorway. He looked to have aged about a decade since Oz had last seen him. David hovered just behind, one arm in a sling.

            "Sorry, he wouldn't listen?" he started to apologise.

            "It's okay," murmured Oz, eyes fixed on Anouk's father, and David nodded and withdrew, left them to it.

            Gil looked at Oz for a long, silent moment, taking in his battered appearance, and his chin wobbled.

            "Tell me you killed the thing that did it." His voice was pitched lower than usual, gruff with emotion.

            I can't lose my little girl, he'd pleaded when they first met, when Anouk had been in such grave danger. And they'd saved her, that time, but now?.

            This time she'd been all alone, but for her fellow victims. No one there to save her; they'd arrived too late.

            Oz found it hard to respond, but finally managed to get the words out. "We did."

            Gil nodded. He looked as though he wanted to say something else, but his lips were trembling and he pressed them tightly together, eyes suspiciously moist. Then he turned and walked away.


            ? J. Browning, April 2006

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