Vulcan's Bane Series
Part 2 - Who Needs To Dream

written by Sandra Pascoe





The cellar was clean and brightly lit - yet still managed to convey that air of dank foreboding that is the purview of cellars everywhere. A hooded man sat cross-legged on the floor, his back against a wall as he picked through the various books and papers beside him. Occasionally, he glanced up; frowning first at a chalk circle that had been drawn with great precision in the centre of the room, his eyes then flicking towards the television that was mounted on the opposite wall. He sighed, opening a rather battered looking diary and running through a list of necessary items.

"Acacia leaf - check. Calamus Root - check. Liquorice Root - check. Mullein Leaves - check."

He broke off, his attention caught by the programme that had just started on the television. He chuckled softly, reaching for the remote control and turning up the sound.

"In 1888 a series of murders took place in the Whitechapel area of London. The reign of terror had begun: Jack the Ripper had arrived."

"Ahhh Jack," he murmured, turning back to the diary. "Such death - such Chaos - such precision. I'm impressed. I know you now. I know your true identity. Time for you to return for a while, my friend. Time for a little poetic justice. A bit of Chaos is needed to test Vulcan's Bane and its new host."

He stood up, stalked forward and turned off the television. 'Damn you. You should have been a servant of Chaos. We were awaiting your return.' He sighed and picked up his herbs. 'If only you knew the shockwave that went through us when you merged with THAT. A Watcher - you HAD to go and pick a Watcher - and if that weren't bad enough, you bloody picked HIM.'

The hooded man stepped into a chalk circle, placing his herbs carefully at various points around the circumference. He straightened up and moved to the centre of the circle, chuckling to himself.

"I'm looking forward to meeting you, 'Jack'."

* * * * *

Rupert Giles sucked thoughtfully on a Mint Imperial as he stepped out of his car and gazed up at the Council's "Country Retreat". The large granite Mansion was impeccably maintained and set in over 100 acres of exquisite grounds. Two lakes, herb gardens, sweeping lawns and dense woodland all contributed to the atmosphere of peace and serenity for which the retreat was well known. 'I love it here,' he smiled, 'I always have.' He locked the car and walked slowly along the gravel drive towards the house. 'Your affection for this place is the very reason Quentin Travers chose it for this meeting.' The "presence" as Giles called it, had developed a soft, almost lilting voice in his mind and Giles shrugged.

"I know," he murmured, having found it easier to speak aloud whilst conversing with Vulcan's Bane. "A part of me is very glad to see that Quentin is as astute as ever."

'And a part of you is prepared to fight.'

"Yes, well, I can't help that," replied Giles. "I'm sure Quentin won't need any explanation from me. He knows about you already, doesn't he?"

'The minds I examined certainly confirm your suspicions. Quentin Travers arranged your employment at the Museum and Gerald Montague's mind contained an in-depth knowledge of myself, together with a deep-rooted hatred of both you and Quentin Travers. Of course, as I did not examine the mind of Quentin Travers directly, his motives are somewhat unclear.'

"Oh great," Giles increased his pace. "NOW you tell me. I think you need to work on your communication skills."

A flash of amusement swept through his mind and the reply came: 'If I had told you earlier, you would have talked yourself out of this meeting. I believe that would have been most unwise.'

"You think we need this meeting?" Giles tried to swallow his irritation.

'I think YOU need this meeting. Even here, in this place where your happiest memories are centred, you felt like an outsider - as though you didn't belong. You believe your brief flirtation with Chaos prejudiced their minds against you?'

"It did," muttered Giles, shuddering slightly as he recalled the looks, the whispers and the multitudinous accusations.

'And yet, you were assigned a Slayer.'

Giles paused; gazing across the lawns and watching two swans swim serenely on the lake.

"Only because she wasn't expected to survive for long - and they wanted me out of the way."

'Have you considered that you were simply the best man for the job? Maybe Quentin Travers and his associates saw in you then what I see in you now.'

"And what might that be?" Sighed Giles, thrusting his hands into his pockets.

'Potential. There is a great deal of untapped potential in you, of which I am certain the Council were aware. Maybe assigning you a Slayer was an attempt on their part to help you uncover that potential. In a way, it worked. You became much more than you had been.'

"But that's not enough, is it?" Remarked Giles. "You need me to be more than I am NOW."

'In order to face the coming darkness, we will BOTH need to be more. You cannot, however, move forward until you have vanquished your demons.'

"Starting with the Council." Giles turned and walked to the house, opening the door and stepping inside. "I hope you know what you're doing."

"I beg your pardon, sir?"

Giles jumped slightly, blushing guiltily as he noticed the Receptionist staring at him, a question in her eyes and a fixed smile on her face.

"Oh, um - sorry - nothing," he stammered.

The Receptionist's smile faltered for a moment and Giles sighed inwardly. 'How many times recently have I talked to "myself" in public? It's a bloody wonder I haven't been locked up yet.' The Receptionist took a deep breath and readjusted her smile.

"Welcome to Clunewic House, sir," she said with a touch of weary boredom. "How may I help you?"

"I have an appointment."

* * * * *

"Rupert!" The bellowed shout interrupted his explanation and Giles turned his head to see a dark-suited, thickset, middle-aged man running lightly down the stairs towards him.

"Bernard, you're looking well," grinned Giles, "have you been eating monkey glands?"

Bernard laughed and clapped Giles on the arm.

"Hardly. The new Doctor says I have to get fit. Its all part of his 'healthy mind in a healthy body' obsession. Don't see the point myself. Once a pen-pusher, always a pen-pusher."

"You're a bit more than that," smiled Giles. "Are you still dining with the devil?"

"I'm using a very long spoon," he grinned.

Bernard nodded to the Receptionist then, lightly gripping Giles' elbow, he ushered him towards the stairs.

"Seriously though, Quentin HAS mellowed," He continued. "It's not an easy thing you know, to face the fact that much of what you've done, what you've worked for, has been - I hesitate to use the word 'wrong' - maybe 'misguided ' is more accurate."

Giles glanced at Bernard, frowning when the latter wouldn't meet his eyes. 'He knows,' came the soft voice in his mind and Giles sighed.

"I AM still me, Bernard," said Giles with a touch of irritation. "Or did you expect my eyes to glow red?"

"Actually my money was on gold," smiled Bernard nervously. He sighed with relief as Giles grinned. "Can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Did you actually 'merge' with it?"

"Well it would be more accurate to say that he merged with me."

"What does it feel like?" Bernard was intrigued at Giles' use of pronoun.

"It feels," Giles paused and smiled widely, "interesting. Very interesting. He's a part of me yet, at the same time, he's not. We are one, yet separate. Bit of a paradox really and very difficult to explain."

Bernard nodded and continued to lead Giles to Quentin Travers' office. He studied Giles surreptitiously. 'He could be the one eating monkey glands,' mused Bernard. 'Rupert looks younger; more relaxed . much less haggard. He still has that steel behind his eyes but he seems happy. Whatever it is that Vulcan's Bane does - maybe this is just what Rupert needed.'

* * * * *

The chained demon sat perfectly still, eyes closed and his breathing shallow. Occasionally, an ear twitched as if to send out a signal that he was still alive. Suddenly, he tensed; eyes snapping open, nostrils flaring as he sniffed the air. 'So,' he mused, relaxing back against the chains, 'the wheel has turned full circle once more. I can never refuse. That is part of my curse. They come here, somehow finding their way to this realm, and make their demands. I must agree. A prisoner cannot say no to his captors. A slave cannot refuse his masters. It has been a long time since one came to me - over 100 years - but one is coming now. I can feel his presence. He brings the stench of humanity with him. I will agree to his request - I must agree. Maybe this time I can win my freedom. Maybe this human will be different.'

The hooded man approached the chained demon warily; taking great care not to look for too long at the constantly changing landscape that surrounded him. A multitude of colours drifted through the air in a seemingly endless and random procession, whilst hills, mountains, deserts, oceans and ice appeared and disappeared almost at whim. Something that resembled a chuckle came from the creature as he watched the hooded man.

"My prison is the Realm of Dreams, human. It is in a constant state of flux." A forked tongue flicked out from between sharp, pointed teeth. "Is it not to your liking?"

"I like to think my tastes are more refined," replied the hooded man as he continued to watch the demon. 'Why do demons all look so stereotypical? Can't they come up with something other than lizard-like skin, pointed ears, long razor-sharp claws and pointed teeth? The forked tongue is a nice touch though.' He moved closer, taking care, despite the chains, to stay out of reach of the demon's claws. 'This may only be a representation of myself,' he thought, 'but what happens here is reflected upon my body lying on the floor of the cellar so I'm not going to take any chances.'

"You are compelled to answer my questions, is that not so?" The hooded man smiled with satisfaction as the demon nodded wearily. "And to do my bidding?"

"When your mark is upon me - yes."

"A human put his mark on you about a hundred years ago - do you remember that?"

"I do," replied the demon evenly.

"And what did he have you do?" The hooded man took a step closer.

"At first he wished to talk, he wished to learn. Then I killed for him."

"Why did he want you to kill those women?"

"I do not question my masters," snapped the demon. "I merely do as I am bid."

"Good, if there's one thing I hate it's chatty demons." The hooded man reached out and placed his hand on the demon's shoulder. His fingers were as shadows; they seemed to pass through the flesh but the effect of his touch was instantaneous. The demon screamed and arched against the chains, trying to pull away from the hand that was burning like the fires of Hell. The hooded man stepped back, both arms by his sides once more. He nodded with satisfaction at the black and blistered handprint on the demon's shoulder. He drew a pattern in the air and the chains dropped away from the demon.

"What - what is your bidding, Master?" The demon gasped for breath as the pain gradually receded.

"You will kill. You will use the same methods as you did for my predecessor. You will ONLY kill the ones I select and only at a time of my choosing. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Master."

"You will wait here until you are summoned." The hooded man slowly faded from sight and the demon sighed, sinking wearily to the ground, wincing at the pain in his shoulder.

'So once again I return to that realm - and once again I must kill. Must I always be at the beck and call of these humans? Have I not paid for whatever mistake I made? Will this never end?'

* * * * *

Henry Rochester would normally be described as an easy-going and cheerful man; however, at this particular time he was having great difficulty in keeping hold of the tattered remnants of his temper. He winced as one end of the large crate hit the concrete floor with an audible thud.

"Be careful, you idiots!" He roared. "If that's damaged I'll have your damn guts for garters!"

"Yeah, yeah," replied one of the four deliverymen, "keep your hair on, granddad."

The other three chuckled and Henry glowered and stepped forward.

"Now, look," he began, stopping when an instantly recognisable voice interrupted before he could allow his temper free reign.

"Problems, Henry?" Nicholas Goldsmith had, as usual, walked in unnoticed.

'I'm sure that dratted man levitates,' thought Henry as he turned around. 'I wonder just how soft his soles are?'

"Oh no problem at all," began Henry. "If we employ such a 'cheap' delivery company then we should expect slipshod service. Have you ANY idea what is in that crate?"

"None whatsoever," smiled Nicholas. "I never claimed to be an archaeologist."

"No, you're more of a bean counter. Well, to put it in terms that you would understand, the items in that crate are valuable. Should any of them be damaged then the Museum would have to pay compensation - a LOT of compensation."

The smile slipped from the Curator's face.

"I see," he replied thoughtfully. "I'll look into it."

Henry nodded; watching intently as the crate was deposited in a corner of the room. A short, rather rotund man in overalls peeled away from the others and wandered over to Henry, pulling a grubby piece of paper out of his pocket.

"Sign here, mate," he said, pointing a dirty and battered finger at the bottom of what turned out to be a delivery note.

Henry gingerly took the paper between thumb and forefinger and placed it on a table. Spreading it out, he signed and then carefully added a note at the bottom:

'I hold your company entirely responsible should these artefacts be in less than perfect condition. Upon delivery, your employees dropped the crate and treated the consignment in an entirely slipshod manner.'


Henry handed the note back, receiving a scowl and his half of the delivery note in return. The rotund man stalked away and Henry allowed himself a small smile.

"I need a word," said Nicholas softly, putting his hands in his pockets.

"Of course - what's wrong?" Henry thrust the delivery note into his pocket.

"How has Rupert seemed to you recently?"

"He seems fine," shrugged Henry. "Does his work with his usual efficiency - no problems."

"He seems to have been a bit distracted - you know the type of thing: not listening, talking to himself."

"Oh good Lord," interrupted Henry. "My dear chap, EVERYONE talks to themselves - it's a fact of life. I not only talk to myself but I also regularly converse with televisions, books, kettles." Henry shrugged. "Although I will admit my 'conversations' with kettles usually consist of me snarling 'boil you bloody thing' at them."

"Uh, yes, well," stammered Nicholas. "Getting back to Rupert though - would you have a chat with him? Make sure he's not ill or something. I'll have to check his employment contract - it would be a bad thing were the Museum to be liable."

"I'll have a word when he gets back," replied Henry.

"Oh? Where's he gone?"

"Taken a couple of days off. Said he had personal business to attend to."

* * * * *

Giles placed the sheet of paper on Quentin's desk and sat back in his chair.

"I see," he said quietly. "Well, it's beginning to make more sense now."

"It's not entirely what you think," replied Quentin. "That prophecy was really the only clue we had. We didn't know if Alistair Butler had found all the pieces of Vulcan's Bane - and if he had, how were we to know he'd keep them at the Museum? We weren't even sure about our interpretation of the prophecy, but as it appeared that the future of the Council was at stake, we had to do what we thought necessary."

"And you never thought to tell me?"

"Telling you might have clouded the issue. You might have walked away from this and we couldn't afford that. Rupert, I WILL do what I consider is right for the survival and growth of the Council - and if that means stepping on a few toes or putting certain people in the line of fire, then I will not hesitate."

"I never doubted it for a second," replied Giles, calmly sipping a cup a tea. "I just needed to know precisely how involved you were in all this."

"I understand that, but we do have more important things to discuss."

"I wondered when we'd get to that," Giles smiled slightly and put his cup down. "And the whole reason for this meeting is for you to discover as much as possible about Vulcan's Bane and the effect its had on me. Not to mention how you can turn it to the Council's advantage."

"Well of course we need to know!" Quentin snapped irritably. "Like it or not you are a part of this Council and there are larger concerns here, not just your hurt feelings."

"These 'larger concerns' are one of the reasons I agreed to this meeting." Giles put down his cup and leaned forward. "Quentin, I am still discovering what Vulcan's Bane does or can do. We are still exploring one another but he IS here to fight against the forces of Chaos and evil. You'll just have to take my word for it."

"Do I have a choice?"

"Not really," Giles grinned. "I get the impression you need me - and him. And to be brutally honest, we need the Council."

"Oh?" Quentin raised an eyebrow.

"There's some kind of darkness coming, Quentin. He doesn't know what it is but it IS coming." Giles paused, his head slightly to one side. 'I believe the darkness could be connected to the Council,' came the voice in his mind. 'It would make sense as regards the prophecy. Does it not say 'the tower will fall'?'

Quentin watched with interest as Giles appeared to be listening to something. His eyes had lost their focus as though he were concentrating intently. 'Fascinating,' thought Quentin, 'quite fascinating.'

"I take it you had nothing to do with this prophecy?" Giles muttered softly, not noticing the slight frown on Quentin's face.

'Not directly. However, my presence whilst in the sphere can have unusual effects upon those who come into contact with it. It can open the mind, allowing access to those areas that are underdeveloped or blocked off in the human brain. It is entirely possible that a human who was close to the Sphere developed precognitive abilities.'

"What about after merging? Do you have those effects then?"

'To a much lesser degree. You may find your instincts are sharper... you might feel your intuitive abilities increase. However it will merely be a slight enhancement of abilities you already possess. You will feel no dramatic changes.'

"Interesting," muttered Giles, glancing up and flushing slightly when he caught Quentin's eyes. "I, um, I prefer conversing with him aloud. I'm still learning to 'think' in the right way."

"I found it quite fascinating," replied Quentin with a smile. "What did he say?"

"He said that the coming darkness could be connected to the Council. The prophecy after all stated the possibility of the 'tower' falling."

"That doesn't give us much to go on," remarked Quentin. "It could mean anything."

Quentin paused and stared intently at Giles, noting the determined look in his eyes, the sense of purpose that emanated from him. 'Purpose,' thought Quentin, 'that's what was missing from him. Purpose and a sense of his own worth. I hope this helps him find it.'

"Very well," Quentin nodded. "We'll start researching - see if we can turn up anything. In the meantime, I have a question."

"Just the one?" Giles remarked in surprise.

"For the moment, yes. I need to know what happened to Gerald - whether he still poses a threat."

"Let's just say he's indisposed. He no longer poses a threat."

"Do I have your word on that? He's a dangerous man."

"You have OUR word." Giles deliberately allowed a touch of steel to enter his voice.

"Then it appears I will have to accept it." Quentin sat back and drummed his fingers on the table. "And now we come to you."

"Me?" Giles raised an eyebrow.

"Another reason for this meeting is to discuss your role in the Council."

'Do not interrupt,' came the voice just as Giles started to open his mouth. He closed it again and sighed. 'Let him speak. Your role in the Council is a grey area that has been bothering you. It makes sense to hear what they are prepared to offer. And remember - they DO have extensive facilities that could be of considerable use.'

"With Gerald's disappearance, the Council is in confusion," continued Quentin. "He had bribed and influenced a number of staff, including a few Board Members. The important thing though is that he was held in high esteem and great regard by many of our younger Watchers, who listened to his views not only on how the Council should be run but also on the role of the Slayer and her Watcher."

'Gerald Montague believed the Slayer was a weapon that should be controlled by the Council. The Watcher would train the weapon - use it when instructed to do so - at targets of the Council's choosing.' The voice paused and then added: 'he did not understand the nature of the Slayer nor that of her Watcher. For Gerald Montague, it was all about power.'

"Thanks," muttered Giles under his breath before saying aloud: "So where do I come in?"

"I would like you to spend some time with the trainees. Talk to them - tell them of your experiences. Most of them have never seen a Slayer, never met an 'active' Watcher." Quentin shrugged. "I suppose what I am trying to say is that I want you to play an active role in training them."

"I see," replied Giles evenly.

"It's not a full-time position, Rupert," continued Quentin. "A couple of days a week in London - I'm sure you can arrange that with the Museum."

"In return, I want top level security clearance and access to ALL of the Council's libraries and records." Giles spoke firmly, leaving Quentin with the impression that he would up and leave if he didn't get what he wanted.

"On one condition," Quentin matched Giles' tone. "You will share with us any information concerning the Council or the Slayer that your, um, 'partner' should reveal or discover."

"Fair enough," nodded Giles, feeling a sense of satisfaction and anticipation from Vulcan's Bane.

Quentin stood up and held out his hand.

"The prodigal son returns," he smiled. "Welcome home, Rupert."

* * * * *

The hooded man waved a hand over the scrying glass and the images that seemed to float on the mirrored surface slowly faded from view. 'Ah, decisions, decisions,' he mused. 'Which of you will die first?' A soft giggle came from beneath the hood and he held up a finger. 'Eanie, meeny, miny, moe - catch a Watcher by his toe - when he squeals let him go - eanie, meeny, miny, moe. Perfect. You'll do nicely.' A sudden surge of pain swept through him and he doubled over, clutching his stomach, wincing and panting. 'Oh shit, not now - please not now.' He stumbled across the cellar, his fingers scrabbling and fumbling with a drawer. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of pain, the drawer opened and he grabbed the syringe and small bottle that nestled inside. With shaking hands, he filled the syringe, quickly pushing up his sleeve and jabbing it into his arm. There was the familiar burning sensation as the fluid entered him and then, seconds later, he felt the pain receding. 'Thank God this still works,' he thought, taking deep breaths, 'but for how long? No - don't think of it. Think about him - think about revenge.' He smiled and straightened up, taking out the syringe and replacing it in the drawer. He pushed his sleeve down and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, wiping the sweat from his face. 'That's better.' Pulling the hood forwards, he moved to the chalk circle and raised his arms above his head, palms facing up.

"You are summoned to this Realm. Come - do the bidding of your Master."

* * * * *

He took a step backwards, folded his arms and watched as the tall, imposing form of the demon gradually coalesced before him.

"Not a bad response time," remarked the hooded man and the demon bowed.

"As thy will, so mote it be."

"Good to see we understand one another. Now," the hooded man paused briefly. "You have a name do you not?"

"You may call me Sceleratus."

"Sceleratus - yes, very apt."

The hooded man rubbed his hands together and Sceleratus' eyes flicked downwards. He noted with surprise the multiple scarring that covered both hands. 'So,' he thought, 'signs of evident ill treatment. Does this mean he will be sympathetic to me? Grant me my freedom? Or has his heart hardened? Have any feelings of compassion been stamped out?'

"I have questions regarding my predecessor," remarked the hooded man softly. "First of all, were the identities of the victims important?"

"No," replied Sceleratus. "I was told it was WHAT they were that was important, not WHO they were."

"So you were given no specific target?"

"No."

"I have very particular targets in mind. As I said before, you will kill the person I show you and none other." Sceleratus nodded and the hooded man continued. "Now, as to the manner of their deaths - were you given free reign or were you instructed as to method?"

"I was instructed to a certain extent."

"You will use the same basic modus operandi upon the victims I choose. Come here."

The hooded man moved back to the scrying glass, waved a hand over it and muttered softly. Sceleratus stood at his shoulder, watching silently, no flicker of emotion showing on his face. The mirror rippled and darkened to the accompaniment of a short burst of staccato mutterings from the hooded man, before slowly clearing to reveal an image that appeared to solidify on its surface.

"That is your first victim," the hooded man remarked.

Sceleratus leaned forward slightly, studying the image before him. A middle-aged man was in bed, fast asleep. 'Not much sport there,' he thought, 'but he looks so peaceful, so innocent.'

"I have one other condition," the hooded man continued and Sceleratus turned to face him. "You will allow yourself to be seen."

"To be seen?" Sceleratus looked at the hooded man in surprise. "You wish these 'humans' to see me?"

"Oh yes. Let them get a good long look at you. I want your appearance burned into their minds."

Sceleratus straightened up and bowed.

"It will be as you command."

* * * * *

Giles opened his eyes and gazed blearily at the alarm clock. '3am - why am I awake at 3am?' He sighed and rolled onto his back, staring up at the unfamiliar ceiling. He glanced towards the curtains, which seemed to be almost shining in the moonlight, his gaze drawn to the ceremonial daggers on the wall that glowed in the half-light. He was waiting. Waiting for that oh-so-familiar voice to sound in his mind - a voice that at the moment was conspicuous by its absence.

"No need for YOU to keep quiet," he muttered. "I can feel your disapproval."

'It has been a tiring day for you. You should be asleep.'

"I don't have one foot in the grave yet," replied Giles with a smile. "I do have a lot to think about though - maybe that's why I can't sleep."

'Perhaps. You were quiet at dinner. You were uncertain of acceptance by your associates yet you did not feel uncomfortable in their company. As the evening progressed you felt considerably more relaxed and peaceful. Are you satisfied with what Quentin Travers has offered?'

"I expected him to push me. I expected him to demand that I return to the Council full-time."

'I believe Quentin Travers is attempting a compromise. He is giving you the freedom he thinks you need, by accepting your work with the Museum, yet, simultaneously, he is gradually drawing you back into the Council with his earlier offer. He is an intriguing person.'

"Yes, he is," Giles chuckled softly. "I had a feeling you'd find him stimulating."

'As do you. Your bitterness at some of his past actions is tinged with a certain admiration.'

"Well, it's never been easy to put one over on Quentin," replied Giles, getting out of bed. He put on his slippers and shrugged into his dressing gown.

'Why do you feel the need for this? You have never shown any previous inclination towards solitary nocturnal wanderings.'

"You make it sound like some disgusting personal habit," grinned Giles as he tied his dressing gown. "I just fancy a walk. Maybe the fresh air will clear my head."

'Maybe it will. At the very least it will allow us to explore the reasons behind your wakefulness tonight.'

"I simply have things to think about," replied Giles as he opened the door and stepped out into the brightly lit corridor.

'It may not merely be that. I told you earlier that you might experience 'changes' due to my presence.'

"You also said there wouldn't be any dramatic change," muttered Giles as he jogged downstairs, waving casually at one of the many security cameras. "In fact, you implied it would be negligible."

'That is quite correct. In my experience the changes that occur have only a small effect upon the human in question. I merely feel, however, that it is wise to explore the possibility of this being the cause of your wakefulness.'

"Very well," muttered Giles as he smiled at the security guard who was sat near the front door. "Good morning."

"Good morning, sir," replied the guard, standing up and permitting himself a brief grin as he took in Giles' night attire. "Nice night for a walk, sir."

"Yes, it is," Giles opened the door and stepped outside, heading off down the gravel drive without a backwards glance.

'You were surprised to see a guard.'

"They never used to have one," Giles slowed his pace, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his dressing gown.

'The forces of Chaos have grown stronger. It is as well to be careful.'

Giles left the main drive and started walking along the lake path, grateful that the Council had seen fit to install little nightlights along the route. Giles smiled, his footsteps the only sound to break the silence. He felt happy, relaxed, and he was aware of a feeling of contentment sweeping through his mind.

"I see," he muttered with a grin. "You approve of solitary nocturnal wanderings now?"

'There is something to be said for it - but I would suggest that you do not make a habit of it.'

"I only do it here," replied Giles. "There's something untouchable about this place, a feeling of innocence. It's as though evil has never set foot here."

Giles sat on a bench, gazing out across the lake to where the mansion was barely discernible against the night sky. The reflected light from the lamps set along the drive shone indistinctly against the granite facade.

"This darkness that's coming," he said softly. "Tell me precisely what you know or feel."

'As you are aware, my purpose is to ensure there is a balance between light and dark. At this time, I have been called forth and darkness is in ascendance. I have faced the forces of darkness on countless occasions, conversely I have also frequently been called to battle the forces of light. This has happened many times - so it is with a degree of apprehension that I tell you I have never felt such a build up of Chaos before. I feel them coming together - combining. We have to take care. The Council stands with light and I fear we will all be brought to our knees before this is over.'

"How close is it?"

'It is still some way off. They are merely beginning - we do have a little time and we must use it wisely.'

* * * * *

Bernard's eyes snapped open and he sat up, looking around in alarm. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, the blood singing in his ears. 'What the hell woke me up?' He sniffed the air. 'What's that? Smells like - sulphur - something burning.' He turned, fumbling for the lamp on the bedside table. Bernard flicked a switch, bathing the room in light and, as he turned back, he felt a large hand grip his throat. The hand was cold, clammy and he could feel claws - immense claws - digging into his neck. He was pushed back onto the pillows, a demonic face looming over him: expressionless and calm. Bernard struggled to draw breath and he fought, scratched, gouged and kicked at any part of his captor he could get near. The hand never once loosened its grip and Bernard's frantic efforts to escape lessened - his lungs felt as though they were going to explode out of his chest, spots danced in front of his eyes as his captor's impassive face faded from view. Darkness surrounded him, icy tendrils clutching his heart and Bernard's body slumped as he let Death finally claim him.

Sceleratus slowly released his grip on Bernard's neck and stepped back, gazing down at the body before him. 'One more on my conscience,' he thought, 'one more death to be counted against me.' Sceleratus picked up the body and laid it on the floor almost reverently. Kneeling down, he extended a razor sharp claw and deftly drew it across the corpse's throat. Nodding in satisfaction at the precision of the laceration, he cut through the pyjama jacket and pushed it aside, exposing the chest and stomach. Without hesitation, he sliced deeply into the abdomen and, in one movement, thrust a hand inside the wound, feeling around almost eagerly. Using his claws, he cut through tissue and veins, pulling a large section of intestine free and holding it up triumphantly. 'So,' he thought, 'you want these humans to see me. Very well - as thy wish, so mote it be.' He placed the i ntestines carefully just above the right shoulder of the body and then clinically removed a smaller section and placed it between the left arm and the body. Sceleratus stood, blood running down his arm and dripping onto the floor. He looked around the room, eyes settling upon the tea service on the dressing table. 'That should make a nice, loud noise,' he thought, walking across and, with a sweep of his arm, sending it crashing to the floor. Sceleratus threw back his head and roared loudly, exultantly, the sound echoing off the walls. 'Now - come to me.'

* * * * *

Giles snapped out of his reverie as a piercing roar seemed to vibrate through the air, cutting through the silence like a hot knife through butter. All movement ceased and Giles felt himself go cold, a shiver running up his spine and the hair on the back of his neck standing up. Lights flashed on in the mansion, the shrill whine of the alarm system replacing the last echoes of the roar.

"Do I want to know what caused that?" Asked Giles as he jumped to his feet and started running back along the lake path.

'Probably not. It was most intriguing. There was triumph and exultation but with an underlying note of sorrow - such sorrow as I have rarely heard. There is one thing we can be sure of: whatever caused this, there can be no doubt that it is a tormented being.'

"Nothing human," Giles remarked as his feet crunched along the gravel drive.

'Indeed. Nothing human.'

Giles slowed as he reached the house, gently opening the front door and slipping inside. The first thing he noticed was that the guard was issing - the second thing was the now almost deafening whine of the alarm system. He frowned and closed the door.

"I can't hear a damn thing over this racket!"

'Then use your other senses - use your instincts. Concentrate.'

* * * * *

Sceleratus listened to the commotion in the corridor outside and chuckled softly. Raised, concerned voices competed against the incessant and invasive alarm. 'Time to emerge,' he thought, casting one last glance towards the bloodied body on the floor before dramatically flinging the door open. He stepped into the corridor, relishing the panic and terror that his appearance caused. Some took to their heels; others stood still - watching with expressions of slack-jawed shock - 'which is to be expected,' thought Sceleratus. Shots were fired and his flesh rippled as the bullets passed through, embedding themselves in the door behind him. He shook his head almost reproachfully at the shaking guard. 'You cannot kill me here,' he thought, 'not in this realm.' He chuckled and stepped forward, catching the eyes of a man walking along the corridor towards him. Confusion ripped through Sceleratus as the man looked back impassively. 'Something - something behind his eyes. He is different - not like these others.' He stepped forward, a questioning look in his eyes. 'Are you my death? Are you my freedom?'

Giles didn't move as the demon stepped towards him. He no longer heard the alarm - didn't see the people around him. All that existed was himself and the demon before him. He felt a connection - some kind of recognition.

"Is it you he knows?" He muttered softly.

'I believe he recognises something. However, I feel that he is your destiny.'

"Destiny?"

'There comes a time when decisions create ripples into the past and into the future. The decision you make, the road you choose, as regards this demon will have consequences - important consequences.'

"And the right decision is?"

'There is no right or wrong. You will make your decision. The time is not now. You will know - you will follow your heart.'

Giles sighed as, with an almost pleading look, the demon shimmered and slowly vanished.

"Seems you were right," he muttered. "The time is not now."

* * * * *

"Why did you summon me back?" Sceleratus advanced angrily on the Hooded Man.

"Patience," replied the Hooded Man calmly, holding up a hand. "I still have work for you."

"Ahhh, so," Sceleratus nodded, "that human IS my death."

"Oh no," chuckled the Hooded Man, "you are HIS."

"He is different. He is not like you - not like ordinary humans."

"He used to be - until he allowed that parasite in. But no matter, they will be separated soon enough."

"There is strength in him - there is purpose. He was unafraid. I am unsure if I could defeat him."

"You will defeat him. If all goes according to plan, he will come to your Realm and you will kill him."

"Plan? So that human's death was incidental? You were merely." Sceleratus stopped, struggling for the right words.

"Merely issuing a gilt-edged invitation: 'The presence of Rupert Giles - and guest - is requested.' " the Hooded Man chuckled softly.

"He may not accept - and I may not be able to defeat him."

The Hooded Man pointed a finger at Sceleratus. "If you still doubt then think on this: the only one who can give you your freedom is me. Remember that."

"I remember - human."

"Oh such disdain, such hatred in your voice. And from someone who used to be human himself."

Sceleratus' eyes flashed at the mocking tone.

"What do you know of this?"

"A great deal. A lot more than you do it seems. Let's just say it's one of the reasons I selected you for this." The Hooded Man giggled, "in fact, it's the main reason. It all ties in so neatly: you, him, it. Tell me - do you remember your previous life at all?"

"Only - only in dreams."

The Hooded Man waved a hand. "Then return to your Realm - and dream of what might have been."

* * * * *

Giles sat quietly in Quentin's office, gazing out of the window at the sunlit sky. Hours had passed since he'd found himself staring down in shocked disbelief at Bernard's corpse whilst all around him Council staff had swung quietly into action. Like cogs in a well-oiled machine, they had efficiently photographed, inspected and questioned until, finally, with reverence and respect, the body was carefully removed. There was silence in Giles' mind. Ever since his realisation that it was Bernard who had been brutally murdered, he had felt and heard nothing from Vulcan's Bane. Sensing his need to be alone with his thoughts, it had withdrawn, giving him the privacy he needed. 'Grief is such a solitary thing,' thought Giles. 'We are touched in different ways by those around us and on so many levels that each one holds a special place in memory, in thought, in heart. Loss makes you feel as though those special places have been ripped out - leaving you with such a feeling of emptiness.' Giles smiled slightly as recalled the words said to him by Bernard many years previously: "Don't judge a man by his words - judge him instead by the tears that mark his passing." 'I can't shed tears for you, Bernard - not yet. To do that would mean I accept this - and I don't - not by a long chalk. So, forgive me, my friend, but you'll have to wait a bit longer.'

"So," muttered Giles, tearing his gaze away from the window, "how do I call you back?"

'It is merely a question of intent.'

"Thank you," murmured Giles, feeling the soft touches on his mind once. "I' m glad you're back."

'Technically, I have not been anywhere. I simply withdrew.'

"I didn't ask you to."

'No, but you needed me to. You wished to be alone with your thoughts.'

"Not any more," sighed Giles. "I'm tired of always grieving alone."

'Neither of us is alone. Not anymore. However, think on this. When you die and I return to the Sphere, I take your knowledge, your experiences and your memories with me. That includes your memories of your friends. Therefore, through us, they will never be forgotten. I realise it does not bring him back, but it may provide some comfort.'

"At the moment, I need answers rather than comfort."

'In order to find answers, we need to ask the right questions. There are features of note, which, individually, seem almost insignificant. However, put together, they start to form an intriguing picture.'

* * * * *

"Well let's see what we have so far," Giles sat up and began counting off points on his fingers. "First, the roar. You said there was sorrow in it - as though the demon was in torment. That would fit with the expression in his eyes - he almost appeared to be begging for something. Would it also explain the handprint on his shoulder?"

'Possibly. Traditionally there are many such marks of ownership. Handprints have been used in any number of cultures and therefore it is a logical extrapolation that the demon was either instructed - or acting under orders from a third party.'

Giles nodded and took a deep breath. "Now - Bernard's room. Would you agree that the blood visible on the broken crockery would indicate that it was smashed to the ground AFTER he was killed?"

There was a flash of enthusiastic approval in his mind. 'Yes,' came the voice, 'which indicates that it was done deliberately to attract attention.'

"And," continued Giles, "this creature seemed to be able to appear and disappear at will. He could have vanished from inside the room, instead he chose to draw attention to himself - but why?"

'There are a number of possibilities, however, due to the connection you felt, I believe he was being used as bait. Why and for what is unknown. We must examine all the evidence closely - the smallest detail could provide the key.'

Giles glanced up as the door opened and Quentin Travers slipped inside, closing the door firmly behind him. Giles' eyes widened slightly. Quentin looked haggard and almost unkempt. His tie was askew; his shirt untucked in places and his hair was unbrushed. For someone as fastidious as Quentin, there was one obvious conclusion to be drawn: 'he cares,' thought Giles, 'and this has hit him hard.' Quentin dropped a folder on the desk and sat down.

"When do you leave, Rupert?"

"Well, I was supposed to be leaving this morning," Giles frowned slightly. "I gather the Council will be undertaking an internal investigation?"

"Oh lord, yes," replied Quentin. "We can't trust anyone else with this and we DO have a very efficient team."

"And I would be more of a hindrance than a help if I stayed. You'll keep me up to date on the investigation?"

"Of course. Any insights you can provide could prove invaluable." Quentin opened the folder in front of him. "The Doctor has now completed his Post Mortem. Cause of death was strangulation."

"Strangled? He was strangled first?"

Quentin nodded. "All the other 'injuries' occurred after death."

"That could be significant."

"Indeed. I've ordered immediate research into killings of that nature - see if we can find a match. We also got some rather good pictures from the security cameras, so the team are going through the database to see whether we have any records of this particular demon."

"May I have copies?"

Quentin nodded. "I'll make sure you get copies of everything before you leave. The funeral is arranged for Friday at St Enodoc Church. I trust you'll be there?"

"Yes, I'll be there."

"Good. I'll talk to you more then." Quentin sighed and stood up. "Now I have to go and do something that I usually left to Bernard - and to be frank, I'm dreading it."

"Oh?"

"I have to go and tell Bernard's mother that she's lost her only son."

* * * * *

Sceleratus sat down next to his previously abandoned chains and sighed loudly. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, trying desperately to grasp the memories that floated agonisingly just beyond his reach. 'I was human once - I know that - so why are the memories hidden from me? What purpose does it serve to keep me ignorant of my roots, of myself? I want to know who I am. What did I do to deserve this punishment? I know I made a mistake - but what?' Sceleratus opened his eyes and lifted his head. 'And this Rupert Giles - why does he seem familiar? What is so different about him? He appears average - average features - except his eyes. I KNOW those eyes. I know that piercing gaze. Well I will have my answer soon enough. He will talk before I kill him. I will make him talk.'

* * * * *

Giles squinted against the bright, morning sun as he got into his car and drove towards the Museum. Winding down the window and turning the radio on, he stifled a yawn.

'Maybe you should not work today. You have had your sleep interrupted for two consecutive nights. Last night you were restless - continually waking. It is not good for you.'

"Yes, thank you, mother," replied Giles. "You know why I kept waking."

'You were thinking of your friend.'

"Yes, I was. I'll miss him."

'But you are not ready to let him go yet. Is that what will happen at the funeral tomorrow? Is that the time for letting go and moving on?'

"You've never been to a funeral?"

'Not one that had significance for my 'partner'.'

"Well I think funerals have different meanings for different people. To most, it is a time to remember - to say goodbye. Once you can do that, you can slowly move on. You don't forget, but as time goes on, it becomes less painful to remember."

'So it is a symbolic farewell?'

"Yes, I believe it is, in a way but as I said, funerals have different meanings for different people." Giles drove into the car park and stopped the car, leaning back with a sigh.

'You are tired and emotional. As such, your judgement and research abilities may well suffer. I can help. If we are to solve this mystery then you need to be able to concentrate - close your eyes.'

Giles did as instructed and immediately felt a series of soft ripples in his mind. 'Rather like an internal head massage,' he thought with a smile. There was a sudden rap on the window and Giles eyes snapped open. He turned and saw Henry peering at him, an expression of gentle concern on his face.

'We will continue this later.'

"Mmmmm," muttered Giles, getting out of the car.

"Are you alright, old chap?" Henry looked closely at Giles and frowned. "You look rather tired."

Giles grabbed his case and locked the car.

"It's been a rough couple of days but I'm fine - really."

"Anything I can do to help?"

Giles shook his head. "No, not really. I recently lost a very good friend."

"Sorry to hear that, old man."

They walked slowly across the car park, Henry glancing continuously at a distracted Giles. 'This might explain his recent behaviour,' he thought. 'He's not ill as Nicholas thought; he's reacting to the loss of a friend.'

"I'll need tomorrow off, Henry," said Giles as they reached the doors. "It's the funeral."

"Of course, Rupert - and if there's anything you need then please let me know."

* * * * *

'How much time do you need, Rupert? How many clues? You should hurry or you won't have any friends left.' The Hooded Man stared intently at the scrying glass, watching as Giles and Henry entered the Museum. He absently scratched his hand and then glanced down at the scarred flesh. 'You did this to me. You and that Slayer of yours. Maybe once I've finished with you it'll be her turn. The question is, though, when she learns of your death will she actually give a damn? Will she mourn the loss of a good researcher - or a good friend?' The Hooded Man chuckled. 'We will find out soon enough and, forgive the pun, but this is going to slay you, Rupert.'

* * * * *

Quentin glanced at the young, eager-looking man sat opposite him and raised an eyebrow.

"Summarise this," he said; pointing to the small pile of papers the young man had placed on the desk. "I'm not ploughing through all that, Charles, in order to find one sentence of relevance."

Charles Grant contrived to look rather hurt and then launched into a breathless explanation.

"As I said, we've found a match as regards the, uh, modus operandi. That match is Jack The Ripper. The Ripper's victims were all strangled first and then mutilated. Now, three of the Ripper's victims, Annie Chapman, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Kelly, had their intestines removed and placed near the body. The particular one that matches our, um, case is the murder of Catherine Eddowes."

"And the link between the Ripper murders and Bernard's death is?" Quentin raised an eyebrow as Charles' face fell.

"We don't know - we haven't been able to find one."

"I see," Quentin sighed, tapping his fingers on the desk. "I'll give you access to the sealed records - you'll find more information about the Ripper and his victims there."

"Sealed records?" Charles sat forward eagerly. "But, a Watcher was involved?"

"Indeed. And the information goes no further than this investigation - understood?"

"Of course, sir," nodded Charles eagerly. "How involved WAS this Watcher?"

"Very involved," replied Quentin. "If I remember right - we had him executed."

* * * * *

Giles threw down his pen with a sigh and rubbed his eyes.

'You need a break. You have been working for hours.'

"Well, even with your assistance, for which I am grateful, this translation is tricky."

'And it doesn't help when you do not concentrate. You keep thinking about your friend - and the circumstances surrounding his death.'

"I can hardly help that. I was hoping to clear this work quickly then I could concentrate on trying to find that demon."

'You were away from here for two days - and yet you have returned to enough work to last a week. Is that normal?'

Giles smiled slightly, glancing up as the door was pushed open and Henry peered in.

"Sorry," frowned Henry, "I thought I heard you talking to someone."

"Oh, yes - I was on the phone," replied Giles, trying not to grin at the amusement that flashed though his mind.

"Ahhhh, I see," replied Henry as he pushed the door open further and walked in, carrying two mugs. "Well, as you haven't been out of this room for hours - I thought you'd like a cup of tea."

"Oh, you have no idea how much I need that," replied Giles with a smile. "Thank you, Henry - most thoughtful."

Henry handed Giles a mug and leaned back against the wall, sipping his tea thoughtfully.

"So what's on your mind, Henry?" Asked Giles, raising the mug to his lips.

"Nothing, old man," replied Henry evenly. "Just wanted to be sure you were okay."

Giles raised an eyebrow and Henry sighed.

"Very well. Our lord and master is concerned. He thinks you've been a tad distracted recently."

"He's probably right," shrugged Giles, sipping his tea.

"Well that's entirely understandable under the circumstances," replied Henry. "Losing a friend is never easy. Were you close?"

"Fairly close," replied Giles. "We were at University together."

"I see," Henry paused briefly, waiting to see if Giles would elaborate. When he remained silent, Henry shrugged and continued. "Well I have artefacts to unpack. Can't stand around here chatting all day."

"Thanks for the tea, Henry."

"You're welcome. Don't work too late, Rupert. I know you - you'll be here until midnight to catch up."

"I won't be here that late - important day tomorrow," replied Giles softly.

* * * * *

'You know, Rupert, I was going to have Quentin Travers killed next. I thought that might stymie your budding new relationship with the Council. But they're not important - YOU are. And I rather think I've found another target.' The Hooded Man chuckled as he watched Henry leave Giles' office. 'A bumbling fool - but you like him. Like attracts like, perhaps? This time, however, I need to be more obvious. I neglected to allow for your natural stupidity. Really, Rupert, I'm disappointed. Leaving SO much to the Council researchers? You need to look closer to home. Who was it who said the past always comes back and bites you on the ass? Ah well - never mind. There is one thing though: I honestly thought that you and your new-found friend would prove more of a challenge to me. Maybe you are BOTH over-rated, eh, Rupert?'

* * * * *

Quentin entered Bernard's office, carrying a large, empty box. He closed the door and leaned back against it with a sigh. 'Dear lord, why can't they leave me alone? Stop bombarding me with their false sympathy and calculating eyes. You've been gone for less than two days, Bernard, and some are already canvassing for your job. It's disgusting - watching them try and outdo one another in the sympathy stakes.' He walked across the room and put the box on the desk. With slightly shaking hands, he started filling the box with Bernard's personal effects, pausing as he picked up a framed photograph. Quentin smiled at the proud mother and slightly embarrassed looking son in the picture. 'You never did like having your photo taken, did you, Bernard? I used to wonder if you believed the camera would steal your soul.' Quentin carefully placed the photograph in the box and sat down. 'What am I going to do without you, Bernard? Who will talk sense into me when I go flying into a rage? Who will pick up the pieces? Who will watch my back? Who will be my conscience? I valued your advice - I may have ignored a lot of it but I DID value it.' Quentin sat back and smiled slightly. 'Remember the Cruciamentum? You said it was mistake - an outmoded system. I disagreed - I still do. It had been effective for Centuries - there was no reason to change it. I thought it was sour grapes on your part - I thought you were trying to protect Rupert. That was the first time I ever saw you lose your temper. My God, you let me have it with both barrels. I think most people expected me to fire you but I admired you for it. You had the courage of your convictions and you fought for what you believed in.' He sighed. 'And where does that leave us now? Whom can I trust? Rupert? No, he has other concerns. I don't think the good of the Council is - or ever will be - uppermost in his thoughts. There will be no shortage of applicants though. There are roomfuls of people falling over themselves to help solve this - and purely to put themselves one up on those around them - to give themselves a better chance of promotion.' Quentin opened the desk drawers and smiled at the neatly organised contents. 'A place for everything and everything in its place. I envied you that. Envied your ordered mind - your efficiency. You were the perfect right-hand man.' He closed the drawers and glanced into the half-full box. 'Not much to show for a life, is there? No medals, no citations, nothing to show the impact you had on those around you. The outside world may not know - but we do, Bernard - and we'll remember.' He picked up the box and walked to the door, opening it and taking one final look around the office. 'I'll miss you, my friend.'

"Mr. Travers, sir?" Charles Grant positively quivered with excitement. Not even the glare and string of muttered curses thrown at him by Quentin could dampen his enthusiasm. "We've found something."

Quentin opened his mouth, closed it again and then sighed. "Precisely WHAT have you found, Charles?"

"The answer - the connection," smiled Charles, pulling papers out of his briefcase.

"Not here," muttered Quentin, moving along the corridor and opening his office door. He stepped back, allowing Charles to shuffle past him. "Well, I hope this is worth it."

"Oh it is," Charles sat down, waiting patiently as Quentin put down the box he was carrying before handing him the papers. "Don't worry, I'll summarise!"

Quentin dumped the papers on the desk and sat down. "Carry on."

"We searched through the sealed records and may I say they are most fascinating! To think that an active Watcher was responsible for those murders."

"Get to the point, Charles."

"Oh, yes, well." Charles paused briefly to gather his thoughts and then continued: "As you are no doubt aware, the Watcher in question was interrogated by the Council and his diaries used as evidence. Going through the diaries, we found references to a demon but the problem is that one of the diaries - the one that specifically details the murders - is missing."

"Missing?" Quentin glowered and Charles held up a hand.

"It doesn't matter, you see we found the interrogation transcripts and not only is there a detailed drawing of the demon in question," Charles leaned forward, scrabbling through the papers he'd given Quentin and holding one up, "but there's also a name."

Quentin narrowed his eyes as Charles paused for effect before adding dramatically: "Sceleratus."

"That's the same demon," muttered Quentin, taking the paper from Charles and gazing at it.

Charles nodded. "Recorded sightings go back to the 16th Century and that's where we discovered the, uh, common denominator. In 1546, a Watcher called William Giles disappeared without a trace - leaving behind a wife, Anne and a son, Edward. Months later, the first sighting of Sceleratus occurred. He almost killed a Slayer and he was heard to say 'forgive me, Anne, my love,' before disappearing."

"That's a bit tenuous," remarked Quentin with a frown. "I suppose you're going to tell me that this William Giles is the ancestor of Rupert Giles?"

"Yes he is. And the connection may well be tenuous but it's the only one we've managed to find."

"Hmmm," Quentin dropped the drawing onto the desk. "What do we know about William Giles?"

"Not a lot," shrugged Charles. "His diaries are rather on the sparse side. They state facts not theories or thoughts. The Council were obviously concerned about him though - there's a note on his file - it seems there was doubt about which side William Giles was actually on."

"Rupert might be able to discover more," murmured Quentin. He frowned and then glanced up. "Thank you, Charles - good work. Keep looking."

"There is one other thing."

"Yes?"

"During the interrogation, reference is made to a spell that either summons or controls the demon. I would assume the missing diary details this because we can't find any more information about it."

"And therefore whoever has the diary is the one behind all this - thank you, Charles."

Quentin waited until Charles left the office and then he picked up the phone. He dialled quickly, tapping his fingers on the desk as he listened to the seemingly endless ringing tone. 'Come on, Rupert - come on, come on - pick up the phone. Bugger.' Quentin slammed the receiver down. 'Where are you? Surely you're not still at the Museum?' Quentin flicked through his diary, locating the number and dialling again. 'Damn it, Rupert, why can't you get a mobile phone like everyone else?' He frowned as an automated response cut in.

"Thank you for calling the Museum of Ancient Antiquities. Our office hours are."

Quentin cursed and hung up, sitting back and fingering the papers in front of him. He glanced at his watch. 'Maybe we should speak in person anyway.' Quentin picked up the papers, stuffing them into his briefcase. 'This isn't really the kind of thing we can discuss over the phone - and Bath isn't THAT far away.'

* * * * *

Giles tossed his pen onto the desk, sat back and stretched.

"Thank you for that," he murmured.

'I enjoyed it. It was most intriguing. It appears to have elements from a variety of cultures interwoven in a pattern that seems rather elusive.'

"In other words, you can't work it out." Giles smiled slightly.

'I am sure that, given time and access to detailed reference work, it will all become clear.'

"I'm sure," replied Giles. "Henry's theory is that the various cultures represented, together with the intricacy of the carving, is indicative of an advanced, sea-faring race that existed prior to our current understanding."

'An interesting theory and one that certainly has points of validity.'

"Henry will be pleased to learn that he has a supporter."

The office door suddenly opened and Nicholas Goldsmith peered in.

"Ahhh, you ARE still here," he said, closing the door behind him. "Henry tells me you've requested the day off tomorrow."

Giles narrowed his eyes. "Yes. I have a funeral to attend."

"Of course," Nicholas held up a hand. "Not a problem. It's just that you've been a bit distracted recently. I was getting rather concerned."

"I've had some things on my mind," replied Giles and Nicholas sighed, thrusting his hands in his pockets.

"Tell me honestly, Rupert," he said, "have you received another offer?

"Offer?"

"For your services. You must be in demand and the Museum can't pay as well as some could."

"No," smiled Giles. "No other offer and, for the record, the money isn't important. I have no intention of leaving, Nicholas."

* * * * *

Sceleratus stood in the middle of the cellar, gazing impassively at the Hooded Man.

"You have need of me?" He asked.

"Yes. I have someone else for you to kill. Same method as before - and no one else is to be harmed, especially not Rupert Giles - not yet. Do you understand?"

Sceleratus bowed his head. "Yes, master."

The Hooded Man nodded briefly and picked up the phone.

"Time to set the scene," he said as he dialled a number. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "Henry? It's Rupert."

"Oh, hello, old man," came the reply. "Are you alright?"

"Yes, fine thanks. I've found something important. I need you to come over to my place immediately."

"Uhhh yes, of course." There was a slight pause. "Rupert, you don't sound too good. Are you sure you're alright?"

"Hurry, Henry."

The Hooded Man put the phone down and giggled.

"You wish this one to be killed in the home of Rupert Giles?" Asked Sceleratus with a frown.

"Of course. Maybe now Rupert will realise that this is all about him." The Hooded Man glanced at Sceleratus. "This could be the last time I call you here. After this, I expect Rupert to pull out all the stops to find you."

"Why do you wish him to travel to my realm? I can just as easily kill him here."

"Tut, tut," the Hooded Man giggled and waggled his finger at Sceleratus, "that's a secret. He HAS to die in your realm - that's all I need to say. You will follow your orders and I will consider granting you your freedom."

* * * * *

"There IS one thing though, Nicholas," said Giles, glancing up.

"Oh?" Nicholas frowned. "What's that?"

"There may be times when it's necessary for me to take the occasional sabbatical and I would also appreciate a degree of flexibility when it comes to my working hours."

"I can't see that being a problem," replied Nicholas with a smile. "I'm sure we can come to mutually beneficial arrangement regarding your working hours."

Giles groaned slightly. "Why do the words 'mutually beneficial' send a shiver up my spine?"

"I'm not a complete ogre, Rupert. I merely try to obtain the best deal I can - in the interests of the Museum of course."

"Oh, of course."

"And the considered opinion of the members of the Board - and myself - is that it is in the Museum's best interests to keep you here. We are prepared to negotiate certain concessions but." Nicholas paused and looked hard at Giles, "don't push it too far."

"Now that's better," remarked Giles, standing up. "For a while there you were entirely too amenable."

Nicholas smiled slightly. "We'll schedule a meeting for next week and sort out the details."

"That's fine," replied Giles, picking up his briefcase. "Forgive me for rushing off, Nicholas - I have an early start in the morning."

"No problem, Rupert - and I'm sorry for your loss."

* * * * *

He stood in the shadows; his eyes closed as he patiently waited. He tensed, nostrils twitching and eyes opening at the sound of an engine getting closer and closer. 'Is that him? Is it the one to die?' Sceleratus relaxed back against the wall, closing his eyes once more as the engine continued on its way without stopping. 'Obviously not,' he sighed. 'Please hurry. I wish for this to be over. He said this could be the last - with the exception of Rupert Giles of course. And then what? I have followed his instructions - will he set me free?' Sceleratus opened his eyes as another engine interrupted the silence. Closer and closer, louder and louder, he willed it to stop, his body as tense as a coiled spring. He relaxed, relief flowing through him as the engine drew to a halt outside. He stepped closer to the lounge door, ensuring he had a clear view of the hall and front door. A shadow appeared at the door, accompanied by a firm knocking and Sceleratus stepped back into the shadows.

"Rupert? Are you in there?" The voice sounded slightly puzzled and Sceleratus permitted himself a small smile. 'The door is unlocked. Come inside.' Another series of knocks, the rattle of the door handle, the creak of the door opening and closing again.

"Rupert?" The voice was closer, no longer muffled by the door. Footsteps advanced slowly along the hall, tentative and uncertain. Sceleratus stood just inside the lounge, watching as the shadow in the hall drew closer and closer. A face peered around the lounge door, eyes widening in horror as Sceleratus stepped forward and grinned broadly.

"Boo!"

Henry emitted a high pitch shriek, his eyes rolled back and he slumped limply to the floor. Sceleratus tutted and stepped forward. 'These humans - no stamina. This one makes it too easy. Where is the challenge? Where is the sport? Pathetic.' He knelt on the floor and gently placed his hands around Henry's throat. He began to squeeze, gradually increasing the pressure. 'Are you watching, sorcerer? Do you like what you see?'

* * * * *

Giles pulled into the drive and frowned.

"I wonder what Henry is doing here?" He muttered, stopping behind the other car.

'I do not like this.'

"Neither do I," murmured Giles, getting out of the car. His neck and back were tingling madly, his muscles as tense as a coiled spring.

'Your instincts ARE sharper. You can feel that there is something amiss.'

"By the pricking of my thumbs." whispered Giles, moving quietly to the front door. He curled his hand around the door handle, taking a deep breath and slowly pushing the handle down. There was no resistance, just a soft, barely noticeable click as the catch drew back.

'Interesting. You locked the door this morning.'

Giles pushed open the door, his eyes narrowing at the sight that met his gaze: Sceleratus was kneeling next to Henry's motionless body - its hands wrapped firmly around his throat. Giles didn't hesitate. He grabbed an umbrella from the stand, reversed it, took one large step forward and executed a near perfect straight drive, catching Sceleratus full on the chin. Sceleratus roared as his head snapped back and he fell backwards on the floor. Giles stared briefly at the broken remains of his umbrella before tossing it aside and advancing with a kind of angry determination. Sceleratus scrambled to his feet, trying to ignore the pain in his jaw. He stared intently at Giles, bowed and, before Giles' angry eyes, he slowly faded from view.

* * * * *

"Mr. Travers?" Nicholas frowned and spoke louder into the phone. "Mr. Travers, can you hear me?"

A burst of static greeted his question and he sighed. 'Why is it that, in the X files,' he thought, 'they can get a signal anywhere - and over here it 's almost impossible?'

"Nicholas? Is that you?" The voice was slightly muffled but its owner was unmistakable.

"Yes - can you hear me now?"

"Yes, I can hear you."

"Good, um, I just wanted to tell you that, as you expected, Rupert has brought up the subject of his working hours. I'm meeting with him next week to discuss it."

"Good, good," came the reply. "The Museum will be fully compensated so you will be flexible."

"I understand, but we DO need this work done. We can't have it lying on Rupert's desk for when he's got the time to look at it."

"So what are you suggesting?"

"Well," Nicholas took a deep breath. "We were thinking about an assistant - and you will admit that the Museum have been VERY co-operative with you so far."

"And you want us to pay this assistant's salary?" Interrupted Travers evenly.

"It seems only fair," replied Nicholas, trying to keep his voice level.

"In that case, WE will employ someone. Send me a report of the kind of qualifications and experience this person should have and we'll take it from there."

* * * * *

"Very good," the Hooded Man patted Sceleratus on the shoulder. "You showed admirable restraint and followed my instructions well."

"I did not complete my task."

"I think the point has been made." The Hooded Man looked at the wound on Sceleratus' chin. "I thought that, whilst you were in this realm, you were impervious to harm?"

"I am impervious if I am alert - prepared for the threat. In this instance, I was not."

"Having too much fun killing a human to notice Rupert come in?"

"Death is not...fun."

"You enjoy it. Oh maybe not before or after, but." the Hooded Man grinned, "DURING, you feed off it. You enjoy killing and yet you feel such guilt afterwards, such disgust. You are more human than you might think."

"You know who I was? You know what I did?" Sceleratus stepped forward. "Tell me please."

"Oh no, no, no, no." The Hooded Man waggled his finger. "We can't have that. I wonder how much of what you were still resides in you today? How much of the Human condition is alive and kicking within that demonic frame of yours?"

"I am no longer human. No part of me is human."

"Whatever you say," replied the Hooded Man, gently patting Sceleratus on the shoulder once more. "Now return to your realm and wait for Rupert Giles."

"When I have killed him, then will I be free?"

"It's a very good possibility."

"Then I will be content with that."

* * * * *

"No permanent damage," said Giles quietly as his fingers gently explored Henry's neck, "but you're going to have some lovely bruises."

Henry groaned and looked up from his slumped position on the couch. He swallowed and then winced.

"Don't try to speak, Henry. Just relax."

"No," croaked Henry. "I need to know. What was that...thing?"

"It was a demon," said Giles succinctly.

"And its name is Sceleratus," said Quentin as he entered the lounge, tossing his briefcase onto a chair.

"Good evening, Quentin," remarked Giles, "do make yourself at home."

"The door was open, Rupert," replied Quentin disapprovingly.

"Um, a demon?" Asked Henry, glancing between Giles and Quentin. "Oh come on, you can't be." He paused and looked closely at the two men standing in front of him. "Good grief - you're both serious."

"Deadly serious. It's already killed one of my friends - and for a few moments I thought I'd lost another."

"Another attack so soon?" Quentin raised an eyebrow. "Interesting."

Henry sighed and slumped back again. "I trust one of you is rushing towards an explanation because all this 'Secret Squirrel' talk is decidedly tiresome."

"I don't do explanations," remarked Quentin, sitting down.

"Well you're going to have to," said Giles, looking hard at Quentin, "and whilst you do that, I'll make us a pot of tea."

Quentin sighed. "Well as the Museum employees have all been cleared by security then I suppose there's no harm."

"Security?" Henry raised an eyebrow. "What have you got yourself into, Rupert?"

"You're about to find that out," Giles smiled slightly as Henry looked expectantly at Quentin and, as he left the room he heard Quentin clear his throat and start to talk.

"Into each generation..."

* * * * *

'Ahh the three wise monkeys. Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil. I wonder which one is which? I take it you come bearing news, Mr. Travers? Well it's about time. I'm starting to lose my patience.' The Hooded Man stepped away from the scrying glass and coughed suddenly. He frowned at the metallic taste in his mouth and rummaged in his pockets, finally producing a clean, white handkerchief. He spat into it, staring down at the blood that dotted the material. 'Sorcerer, heal thyself,' he thought and then sighed, 'I wish it were that easy. They knew what they were doing - did you, Rupert? Did you have any idea? It doesn't really matter - but if I'm going to die then I'm taking you with me.'

* * * * *

"And this person sounded like me?" Giles finished his tea and put his empty cup on the table.

"Well, yes," replied Henry, "but a distracted and possibly ill you - if you see what I mean."

"I think there's little doubt that you're the target here, Rupert," said Quentin. "The question is - what does this person want? They've had ample opportunity to kill you before now."

"I would have thought that was obvious," shrugged Henry. "They want that flibbertigibbet that's residing in Rupert's head."

"Possibly," replied Giles, "but my understanding is that upon my death, he returns to the Sphere until it's time to choose another."

'That is correct. Should you die, then I return to the Sphere - and whilst you still live, I am a part of you. I am not an appendage that can be removed.'

"Well let's look at this from another angle," Quentin picked up his briefcase. "We've discovered something, Rupert."

"Oh?" Giles frowned as Quentin handed him a sheaf of papers.

"To summarise - the demon is called Sceleratus and it would seem he used to be human. His name was William Giles." Quentin nodded at Giles' sharp look. "William disappeared in 1546, leaving behind a wife, Anne, and a son, Edward. Council records note that William was.under suspicion. No one seemed sure which side he was on. Those papers also mention a spell that can send you to wherever this Sceleratus is - but the diary containing the spell appears to be missing."

"Dear God," murmured Giles, dropping the papers on the table and moving across to the bookcase. He took out a large, leather-bound book and flicked through it. "Here we are - William Rupert Giles. In 1540 he was assigned a Slayer - no record after 1546."

"So, if you can find this spell," remarked Henry, "I take it you could then, um, 'whoosh' to where this creature is?"

"Yes," sighed Giles, "but it could take weeks, even months, to find the particular spell we need. We don't have that time."

* * * * *

'There is another way.'

"What other way?" Giles frowned as a variety of emotions flooded through him. "And why does it worry you so much?"

Quentin glanced at Henry and held up a finger for silence. Henry nodded and then stared intently at Giles.

'It worries me because it could carry a great risk - and because I believe you will want to attempt this.'

"Well I won't know until you tell me."

'You share blood with this demon. You are of his line. I can use this blood link to find him.'

"And what else?"

'He used to be human - he was therefore cursed in some way. The name he uses suggests that. Demons of this sort do not usually reside here. He would be on another plane - another "realm" so to speak.'

"Ahhh," Giles smiled slightly. "And you can get me to wherever Sceleratus is?"

'It is possible. However, as I said, there are risks. I cannot enter another realm - you can. I can create a bridge to allow you to pass through. Your body would remain grounded here and your mind would travel to confront the demon. We would still be linked, but it would be a tenuous link. I would be unable to assist you - I could only keep the bridge open for your return. You would, in essence, be alone.'

"I've been alone before," replied Giles. "As long as you can get me there, I can deal with it from then on."

'You do not understand. Should you die there - your body here would die as well.'

"Yes, I realise that."

'What you do not realise is that should you die there, I will be unable to return to the Sphere. I will be trapped between planes. I will be alone.'

* * * * *

'I KNEW you wouldn't let me down, Rupert. You start slowly - you can be a bit of plodder - but eventually you get there. And it would seem that I don't have to do anything as crass as "plant" the spell where you will find it.' The Hooded Man giggled. 'So you've arranged your own transportation, Rupert? Good - I wonder if you have any conception of what will happen when you're there? Jumping dimensions isn't like catching a number 9 bus, you know. There are rules - laws you cannot break. You can't win - not this time. Whatever you do - you are bound to fail. You will die alone, Rupert.'

* * * * *

"You're out of your mind!" Quentin stared incredulously at Giles. "You seriously expect me to let you go in there alone? To walk into an obvious trap?"

"There's no other choice," replied Giles quietly. "This is our only lead - we HAVE to pursue it."

"We could wait - do some more research. Find out MORE about this."

"We don't have time," Giles sighed. "How many more deaths will there be if I wait?"

"Well YOUR death is practically certain if you don't," replied Quentin urgently. "This has obviously been well planned. Whoever is behind this WANTS you to go there - it all adds up: the demon being one of your ancestors; making sure we take a good look at him; your friends being targeted. A trail of breadcrumbs has been left and you're blindly following it."

"Not blindly. I know it's a trap - the problem is I have no choice but to walk into it with my eyes open. We need information and this is the only way."

"Rupert, look," Quentin took a deep breath. "What if our mystery man has found a way to retrieve Vulcan's Bane from the void? What then? What of the consequences - for ALL of us?"

'That IS a concern - however whilst you live, I am connected to you and this cannot be severed. Should you die our connection would cease and I would be at extreme risk.'

"So what do YOU suggest?" Giles turned away from Quentin.

'I suggest you stay alive.'

Giles couldn't help the smile that crossed his face. "So despite all the risks - you're willing to do this?"

'We are partners. We work together - in everything. We are building trust and faith between us - this will need to be unshakeable. I am willing to do this - as an expression of trust - and of faith in your abilities.'

Quentin glanced at Henry. "I think we just lost the argument."

"Actually," replied Henry, "I happen to agree with Rupert. IF this story you two are spinning is true then his friends are being threatened and this is the only lead that anyone has come up with. So unless you plan to lock up every one of Rupert's friends and acquaintances in an impenetrable bunker whilst you investigate further, I suggest you support his decision and do whatever you can to help."

Giles turned back to face Quentin and Henry, a determined expression on his face.

"We're going ahead with this."

"Yes," sighed Quentin, "I gathered that. When do you propose to make the attempt?"

'Not now. You have had a long day - you are tired and emotional. You need to be rested - you will need all your strength for this. You also need to let go and move on. Your friend is never far from your thoughts - it is a distraction you do not need.'

"Tomorrow? After the funeral?"

"Fine," replied Quentin. "We'll go to the Retreat after the funeral and you can do it from there."

"In that case," said Henry calmly, "I'm coming with you."

"Oh, liberty hall," snarled Quentin. "We'll just let anyone in off the street."

"Well, you two have landed quite a story on me," replied Henry. "I want to see this for myself. I want proof of the pudding before I accept what you're saying."

"Wasn't the demon proof enough?" Quentin glared at Henry, who looked back with a smile.

"To play Devil's Advocate for a second - with the technology available today, it is entirely possible that the demon was somehow 'fake'. I'm not saying it was, but." Henry shrugged, "in my line of work you have to explore ALL possibilities."

"Henry," smiled Giles, "you've believed far more incredulous theories on much flimsier evidence than this."

"Yes, but that was somewhat sterile. Merely carvings on stone, paintings on cave walls. It all seemed so distant.so untouchable. Those theories are not walking, talking or trying to throttle the life out of me." Henry briefly touched his neck. "It makes a big difference."

"Yes, I suppose it does."

"And I AM coming with you tomorrow." Henry glanced at Quentin. "I have no wish to argue with you, but I've been attacked once by this 'demon'. I'm involved in this whether you like it or not and besides, Rupert is a friend and I want to help."

"Help?" Said Quentin incredulously. "You'd be a hindrance not a help."

You will need someone you trust to watch your body whilst you are not in this realm.

"You've told Henry all about it, Quentin," replied Giles. "I don't see how you can keep him out of this. Besides - I'd like him to watch over me when I'm away."

* * * * *

The Hooded Man stepped back from the scrying glass and clutched the table, steadying himself. 'Deep breaths - take deep breaths and be thankful that at least it doesn't seem to be getting any worse. I can wait a day for you, Rupert - hell, I could wait a few weeks if you were so inclined but no longer than that. I really think I'm beginning to run out of time here. My body weakens whilst my mind remains strong. Will there be an end? Will this deterioration stop - or will it keep going until, until I have nothing left? Even my magic is affected - spells weaken me further but I can't stop now - not when I'm SO close. It's so near - I can almost TASTE your death, Rupert. So sleep well tonight. Awake refreshed and ready to face your final day - and it WILL be your last - I can promise you that.'

* * * * *

Sceleratus stood up and began to pace up and down, the landscape changing and colours swirling around him. 'Why now? Have I earned this? Have I satisfied you enough that you allow me a glimpse into my past? IS it my past? I'm presuming it is - but what is it? What does it mean?' Sceleratus sighed and stopped pacing. As he did so, the colours ceased their agitated changing and swirling, settling once more into their slow and almost casual meandering through the air around him. He sat down, closing his eyes and concentrating upon the picture that had drifted unexpectedly into his mind. 'A human female - staring at me with what appears to be affection, even love? Was I loved? Did I love? And what of the other? The human child that stands next to her - and stares up with such serious eyes - familiar green eyes. What memory is this? What does it mean? Can it be that my release is near? Have my pleas for forgiveness finally been heard? We shall see. Should Rupert Giles find his way here then I will have my answer - one way or another.'

* * * * *

Giles stood at the graveside, staring fixedly at the coffin as it was slowly lowered into the grave. He was aware of Henry and Quentin, flanking him on either side, but they seemed inconsequential and unimportant. The soothing presence in his mind was silent and respectful, although Giles was aware of a certain amount of fascination at the proceedings taking place before him. He tried to block out the dull and monotonous tone of the priest; the sounds of impatient shuffling of feet; the bird song that seemed so incredibly out of place and the faint sounds of waves breaking on the nearby beach. 'Life goes on,' thought Giles, 'it's no respecter of death or sadness or pain. It 's life - and life just IS. Probably a lesson to be learned there, Bernard - if I could be bothered to think about it. I don't want to think but I'm going to have to. I don't have a choice. Do any of us? Would you have made different choices, old friend? No, of course you wouldn't. I can 't get into this - not today. Today, I need to be focussed. No distractions. I know I should say goodbye - but the time isn't right. There's too much happening - I'm sure you understand that. When all this is over, I'll come back and say goodbye properly. So for now - farewell, Bernard.' Aware of eyes on him, Giles looked up to see Bernard's mother, an elderly, frail-looking lady watching him with more than a hint of concern. He nodded slightly in an attempt at reassurance but it was met with a deeper frown and a flash of the eyes that convinced Giles that, unless he made a quick getaway, he would be facing a rather difficult conversation. With a shock, Giles realised that not only had the priest finished speaking but also that people were starting to drift away - and Mrs. Hodgkinson was making her determined way to him. There was an almost guttural groan from Quentin, who stepped forward to try to forestall the surprisingly spry elderly lady. 'Like King Canute trying to turn back the ocean,' thought Giles as he watched Mrs. Hodgkinson stop and look up.

"Now Mr. Travers," she said, never breaking eye contact with Quentin, "young Rupert is only going to escort me to the car. I'm sure you can spare him for a few moments."

Quentin looked hard at the lady staring impassively up at him before nodding and stepping aside, an unreadable expression on his face. Mrs. Hodgkinson moved forward, her thin hand gripping Giles' arm.

"I haven't seen much of you recently, Rupert," she said, taking one long lingering look at the grave before they slowly started walking towards the gate.

"I've been away for a while, Mrs. H," replied Giles. "Business - you know."

"Ah yes - and how is the export business, Rupert?" The barely perceptible emphasis on the word 'export' caused warning bells to ring in Giles' mind.

"Oh as busy as ever," he replied evenly.

"Yes, that's what Bernard used to say." Mrs. Hodgkinson glanced behind and lowered her voice. "He was a worse liar than you."

"Mrs. H." Giles began, his voice trailing off as she gripped his arm tighter.

"Rupert, I never pried. I never asked Bernard for the truth - maybe because I didn't want to know. But now." she stopped and looked up at Giles. "Now, Rupert, I've just buried my only son and they won't even tell me how he died. All I get is platitudes - empty words, Rupert, nothing but empty words."

"I don't know if there's anything I can say that will help," replied Giles with a touch of despair.

"The truth, Rupert. I don't know what Bernard was involved in - but I know that you and Mr. Travers are part of it. I'm not going to question you about it - I know you can be as stubborn as Bernard when pushed. I just need to know." She trailed off helplessly and shrugged. Giles nodded as understanding finally came to him. A phrase from the service drifted to mind and he put an arm around Mrs. Hodgkinson's shoulders.

"Bernard fought the good fight, Mrs. H. He made a difference. And that's not a platitude - that's the simple truth."

"Thank you, Rupert," she smiled slightly and patted his arm. "I needed to hear that."

With a brief nod to Quentin who, together with Henry, had remained at a discreet distance, Mrs. Hodgkinson left the graveyard, walking purposefully towards the line of cars parked along the road outside. Giles watched until a middle-aged couple helped her into a car and then he turned to face Quentin and Henry.

"Are you alright, Rupert?" Asked Henry with concern.

"Yes, I'm fine. Let's get this over with."

They walked to the car in silence. Quentin and Henry getting in the front and Giles settling himself in the back. Giles put on his seatbelt and leaned back, closing his eyes. He felt the car pull away, the gentle motion relaxing and soothing him.

'That is better. You are rested and prepared.'

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," muttered Giles. "Have you located him yet?"

'I have not tried. Should I have done so last night, you would not have rested.'

"Fair enough."

'You have a question.'

"Yes," Giles smiled, "I have. Once I'm in that other realm, is there any way I can release you so that you can return to the Sphere?"

'That would leave you stranded. That is not an option.'

"Is there a way?"

'No, there is not. We can only be severed by death. '

"Would you tell me - even if there were?"

'Of course. Trust and honesty between us are important.'

"So, our friend has done his homework."

'Indeed, but now is not the time to dwell on that. Now you should be relaxing - and preparing for the task ahead. The funeral helped - it appeared to give you a certain amount of closure.'

"A certain amount - yes. It's not something that you can accept overnight. It takes time."

'I understand. It was a peaceful occasion - your memories showed me that it would be; however, actually to experience it was fascinating.'

"You sound a bit disappointed though."

'I carry many experiences - these have influenced me in ways I cannot begin to understand. I change and adapt as much as you do. I rather think I have developed more of a sense of the dramatic - and for exhilaration and drama a Viking funeral is the pinnacle.'

"I think Bernard would have liked that - and I would have paid to see the expressions on certain faces if we'd chosen that method."

"Rupert?" Quentin switched off the engine and turned in his seat.

Giles opened his eyes and raised his head. "Hmm?"

"We're here."

Giles looked around, his eyes widening at the large number of security guards he could see patrolling the grounds.

"You've been busy, Quentin," he said, getting out of the car and instinctively loosening his tie.

"I merely made a few phone calls," replied Quentin as he and Henry clambered out of the car. "I wanted this place locked down and security so tight that not even a mouse could get onto the grounds without us knowing about it."

'He is certainly organised and efficient. It is disappointing not to have had the opportunity to examine his mind closely.'

"I'm sure he would have liked the opportunity to examine you at close quarters as well," muttered Giles as he followed Quentin and Henry into the house. Snippets of their muted conversation drifted to him and Giles smiled, finding it reassuring that Henry was more interested in questioning Quentin about the history of the house than anything else.

"I thought you'd find this easier in here," said Quentin, nodding to the security guards flanking a large, oak door. He opened the door, ushering Giles into the room he'd slept in days previously.

"This is perfect," replied Giles, taking off his jacket and draping it over a chair.

"I say," said Henry, looking around, "this section of the house appears slightly older than the rest."

"I'll get you a bloody guidebook later," muttered Quentin, causing a slightly hurt expression to cross Henry's face.

"Only showing an interest, old man," he said calmly.

"If you two are going to keep this up," interrupted Giles, taking off his tie, "then I'm rather glad my mind is about to trot out of here."

'Lie down - you will need to be comfortable. Your body must not be a distraction.'

"No last minute change of heart?" Asked Quentin. "You're sure about this?"

Giles nodded and lay on the bed, shifting around to get comfortable.

"What do you need us to do?" Henry pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed.

"Just watch over me - don't let anyone come in - no distractions."

Quentin grabbed a chair and sat on the other side of the bed. "That's it?"

'If you are wounded, the wounds will appear on your body here. They could try and soothe your injuries - it may help - it may not - but it will give them something constructive to do.'

Giles raised his head and looked at Quentin.

"You could try bathing any wounds I happen to pick up."

"Be careful, Rupert."

Giles nodded and lay back down, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. Henry opened his mouth to comment, then frowned and closed it again. Quentin glanced at Henry and motioned for silence. A mouthed "I know" from Henry had Quentin rolling his eyes and briefly wondering how on earth he was going to be able to cope with Henry's interminable questions over the next few minutes, hours or even days. Quentin glanced down and noted Giles' shallow breathing and state of complete relaxation. He glanced at Henry.

"Here we go."

* * * * *

Giles sucked in a breath - or tried to - until he realised that he was travelling, disembodied, through what seemed to be a colourful wilderness. He could feel Vulcan's Bane wrapped around him, shielding and protecting him as it searched restlessly, following the call of blood to wherever it would take them. They were speeding now - faster and faster - colours, lights and darkness whipping past them.

'It's like holding onto the tail of a comet,' thought Giles as a flash of amusement pulsed through him.

'You are encased in a bubble of thought - of energy. The void cannot harm you.'

'That's as maybe,' thought Giles, 'but I thought voids were, well, what their name implies: nothing.'

'They are. Some are pure darkness - others are brightly lit - but they still consist of nothing. What you see unfolding before you are millions of voids. All interconnecting - separating different worlds, different realms.'

'Easy to get lost then.'

'We will not get lost. We have your blood before us and your blood behind us. We will find our way home.'

'I'm glad you're so confident,' thought Giles, feeling them start to slow down. 'You've found him?'

'Yes. We are nearly there. Remember what I told you - you must follow your heart.'

Giles suddenly found himself pushed forward, thrust out of his protective bubble. He was falling; dropping like a stone, severed, feeling like a part of himself had been ripped out. He screamed soundlessly until, with a jolt, he could suddenly feel ground underneath him. He lay for a while, panting, eyes firmly closed. 'God, there's a trip I don't want to repeat in a hurry - wait a minute - eyes? I can breathe - I can feel the ground beneath me.' He tentatively tried opening his eyes and then scrambled to his feet, looking down.

"Eyes, Feet - I have feet again - thank god for that." He paused and then smiled slightly. "So, this is a representation of me - never mind, at least I have what passes for a body again - even if I am still dressed for a funeral. Good job I took the jacket and tie off earlier."

Giles looked around, noting the swirling colours, the changing landscape - and what appeared to be a tear or rip in the shimmering air. 'My way out,' he thought and then frowned. 'Oh God - I'm alone - I can't feel you,' he felt the panic start to rise and then, suddenly, he felt it - the softest of touches, the lightest of thoughts. It was tenuous, barely there and Giles latched onto it, cradling and protecting the contact as best he could. 'Stay with me,' he thought, 'don't leave me.' There was no reply - not that he really expected one and he sighed, tearing his eyes away from the almost beckoning rift before him.

"Okay, William - where are you?"

* * * * *

Sceleratus reared up, his head held high as he sniffed the air. 'How can he be here already? Why did I not sense him as I did the other human? What trickery is this? No matter. He is here now - I can feel him - the fear, the determination, the familiar stench of humanity. Wait - something is not right. He is protecting something - guarding it from harm. It is within him - merged - linked with him. Fascinating - but unimportant.' Sceleratus flexed his claws and stood tall. 'The important thing is that he dies. His death will buy my freedom - that is the only thing that matters.'

* * * * *

The Hooded Man sighed with relief and slumped against the table. 'You're there - at last. Finally, after all this time, I have you where I want you. I meant what I said, you know, there IS no escape - not this time. Whatever happens I win. Either you will kill Sceleratus or he will kill you. Simple enough, right? Well not really - because there's something you don't know, Rupert. Something that only Sceleratus and my predecessor know. You knew it was a trap - of course it was - but it was much more subtle than you thought. I can't wait to see your face, Rupert, if you DO manage to kill Sceleratus. I'll have to be quick though, because once Sceleratus dies, the entire realm, including you, old friend, will be destroyed along with him. His lifeforce powers the realm - he is the reason for its existence. I wonder what will happen? Will your mind implode leaving Quentin and Henry staring at a corpse? Or will it simply be nullified? Either way it should be quite a spectacle - and something I have no intention of missing.' The Hooded Man moved to the centre of the room and sat cross-legged in the middle of the circle. 'My last spell - each one drains me so much now - this one will be my last. It is too dangerous to travel - I could end up like you, Rupert. I might have to miss the actual moment of your death - but I will see your final few seconds of life - looking out through the eyes of the one who will kill you. Trust me - this is going to hurt me almost as much as it will you.'

* * * * *

"Do you think he's there yet?" Henry whispered, tearing his eyes from Giles' motionless form and glancing at Quentin.

"There's no way of knowing," Quentin kept his voice low and then frowned. "What on earth are we whispering for? It's not like Rupert can hear us."

"You never know - and besides, it seems appropriate," Henry paused and looked down at Giles once more. "He looks asleep, doesn't he?"

"Let's just hope he wakes up again."

"And if he doesn't? What happens then?"

"We find a way of getting Vulcan's Bane back - and try and discover who's behind all this. For the Council's sake as much as Rupert's."

"So tell me, this 'Council' must do other things besides supporting this Slayer person?"

"We do all manner of things, Henry."

Henry smiled. "Translated that means 'you're not a fully paid up member of the Tufty Club so I'm not telling you'. Has anyone ever told you that you can be rather tiresome?"

"Constantly," replied Quentin, staring down at Giles.

Henry sat back, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.

"You have the look of someone who has flown too close to the sun and been rather burnt, Mr. Travers."

"Maybe I have, Henry, maybe I have."

* * * * *

Giles walked steadily in one direction, deliberately keeping the rift directly behind him. He muttered under his breath, cursing the vagaries of the unpredictable landscape which, rather inconveniently, tended to change at the most inappropriate moments. The current grass-covered surface was firm and yet, somehow, spongy. 'Easy to walk on,' he thought as he continually looked around, 'and why shouldn't grass be blue?' Raising his hand, he trailed his fingers through the colours that twisted all around him, creating bright, glowing lines in the air. He smiled.the smile slipping as he suddenly found himself knee-deep in sand as the grass-covered surface was replaced by what seemed to be a large sandbank.

"Oh, bloody great."

Giles staggered on, sweating and panting, climbing the bank and sliding down the other side. 'This feels SO odd - not having you here with me. I know I can just about feel you but that small contact isn't enough. I miss you - and I'm starting to realise just how alone I was before. We're part of each other now, we belong together - it feels right. I'm aware of the changes within myself - small ones admittedly - and I think you're changing as well. The question I have, though, is - why did I pick this direction? Instinct,' he thought, 'I merely felt that this was the right way to go. Let's call this a test - if I'm right and I do find Sceleratus, then I'll agree that you've had an effect and my instincts are sharper. If I'm wrong,' Giles stood up and brushed himself off, staring at the demon who watched him impassively. 'I'm not wrong.'

* * * * *

"I think we have our answer," said Quentin, staring down at Giles.

"Hmm?" Henry leaned forward. "Dear lord - he's sweating like a pig."

"Breathing has increased as well," Quentin frowned and stood up, walking to the adjoining bathroom.

"Come on, Rupert," muttered Henry, "you can do this. I know you're alone but - why am I talking to you? I'm not even sure you can hear me."

"Personally, I don't think he can," Quentin emerged from the bathroom, carrying a flannel and a small bowl of water. "I think that comment about no distractions and bathing his wounds was only to keep us occupied."

Henry looked at Quentin and smiled. "But you're not 100% certain, are you? Hence the Florence Nightingale routine."

"No," replied Quentin, sitting down and putting the water on a side table, "I'm not sure - but if what we do here can make even the slightest difference."

"I agree. Our actions might help - our inaction definitely will not."

Quentin dipped the flannel in the water and then gently wiped the sweat from Giles' face.

"If Rupert could see me now, he wouldn't believe his own eyes." Quentin glanced up at Henry. "We've had what you might call a tempestuous relationship."

"Well I know how stubborn Rupert can be," smiled Henry, "and from what I've seen, you're not exactly a walkover, Mr. Travers. Hardly surprising the two of you lock horns from time to time."

"Please - call me Quentin."

"Very well - Quentin."

* * * * *

Giles approached Sceleratus warily, his hands raised in the air.

"I'm only here to talk," he said firmly, stopping a few feet away from the unmoving demon.

"It is my duty to kill you."

"Yes, I'm sure your orders are quite clear - but whose orders are they?"

"That is not important. Your death is."

"Tell me, William - do you have any memory of your past?"

'He knows me? He knows my name? How can this be? Does he speak truth - or is he lying to save himself?'

Sceleratus frowned and stepped forward. "I am Sceleratus."

"Not always. Your name WAS William Rupert Giles."

"You lie!"

Sceleratus sprang forward, his arm sweeping down and his claws fully extended. Giles instinctively moved backwards, stumbling on the uneven ground, feeling the whoosh of air as the claws missed his face by mere inches. He straightened up and backed away, not taking his eyes from the enraged demon stalking him with such purpose.

"I'm not lying, William!" yelled Giles. "You disappeared in 1546. What did you do? What happened for you to end up like this?"

"I will not listen to your lies." Sceleratus circled around, watching intently, waiting for one slip, one stumble, one moment of carelessness that would give him the opening he needed.

"Your name - Sceleratus - do you know wha t that means?" Giles raised an eyebrow. "No? Well it means 'cursed' - and that's what you are, isn't it? Cursed to follow the instructions of those who mark you? Is that it? Is that what you are now? A slave?"

Sceleratus roared, the colours in the air becoming agitated and jagged in response. 'I think I might have pushed him too far,' thought Giles, slowly backing away. Sceleratus leapt at Giles, his face twisted with anger, teeth bared and eyes blazing. Giles screamed as claws slashed him, shredding his shirt and slicing into his chest. He fell to the ground, writhing in agony at the pain that lanced through him.

"You are weak. All humans are weak." Sceleratus knelt beside Giles, running a claw along his cheek. "And now you will die - and I will have my freedom."

* * * * *

Dear God!" Henry stared in disbelief as Giles' shirt ripped and three long slashes appeared on his chest, blood bubbling up out of the wounds.

"NOW do you believe?" Snarled Quentin, dropping the flannel and rushing into the bathroom.

Henry leaned forward, fumbling with the remnants of Giles shirt, cursing as he tried to push it aside.

"No time for niceties, Henry," said Quentin as he emerged from the bathroom and dropped two towels onto the bed. He grabbed one of the ceremonial daggers mounted on the wall and sliced Giles' shirt, pushing it away from the wounds.

"Have a care, Quentin," Henry picked up a towel, pressing it firmly on Giles chest. "Who do you think you are? Zorro?"

"Oh just be quiet - and help me stop the bleeding."

"Zorro," muttered Henry with a frown. "I wonder."

"What are you babbling about now, man?"

"Take over from me," Henry lifted his hands from Giles' chest and stepped back.

"What the hell are you doing?" Quentin quickly pressed down on the towel.

"I've had an idea," replied Henry, picking up the dagger and placing it in Giles' hand, curling his fingers around the hilt. "Action is better than inaction, remember?"

* * * * *

'Yes! Now! Do it now! What are you waiting for, you idiot? You have no idea how long I've dreamed of this moment. I have been close to death so many times and the one thing that kept me going, that helped me through the pain, was the thought of revenge on Rupert Giles.' The Hooded Man watched through the eyes of the demon as its claws neared Giles' throat. 'I thought you'd win, Rupert - I really did. In a way I'm pleased, because this means I can now watch the moment of your death, the moment that life is taken from you. You'll die in ignorance - confused and alone. Killed by one of your own and never knowing who was really responsible. It would have been nice to face you again, to stand in front of you, to watch the recognition on your face as you took your last breath. ' He grinned as Sceleratus wrapped his hands around Giles' throat. 'See you in hell, Rupert.'

* * * * *

Giles struggled against the pain in his chest, eyes closed, breathing deeply, wrapping his arms around himself in an attempt to stem the flow of blood. He was only vaguely aware of Sceleratus kneeling beside him, talking to him. The words seemed so far away, so distant. 'Wait a minute - the blood - it's slowing - the pain is not as bad as it was. Quentin and Henry,' thought Giles, 'so they CAN help - they can make a difference.' He frowned as he felt metal touching his hand, his fingers quickly exploring the object. 'A knife - but how? No time for questions,' he thought as he felt the first touch of hands on his throat. Giles wrapped his hand around the hilt of the knife and opened his eyes, staring directly into the face of the demon looming over him. Sceleratus froze, gazing down into green eyes - familiar green eyes. 'Son of my son - blood of my blood. He spoke the truth. He knows my origins - he is of my blood. I cannot do this - I cannot kill him - but I must - it is the only way I can be free.' Giles saw the confusion in the demon's eyes and swept the knife up, aiming directly for its heart. As he did so, a familiar phrase drifted into his mind. 'Follow your heart - you will follow your heart.' At the last second, Giles shifted, angling the knife up so that it plunged hilt deep into the black and blistered handprint on Sceleratus' shoulder. Suddenly, it seemed as though two voices were screaming in pain and, for an instant, Giles caught a glimpse of something hauntingly familiar behind Sceleratus' eyes. Then there was only one voice, one pair of pain-filled eyes, one demon staggering to its feet before collapsing beside him. Wincing in pain, Giles struggled to his knees, staring down at the mortally wounded form next to him.

"My time of release is approaching," whispered Sceleratus. "You have severed the connection - I am no longer a slave to the Hooded one. Thank you - blood of my blood."

"I wish - I wish there was another way."

"I remember," Sceleratus smiled. "I remember it all - and now there is no pain - I can rest - finally, I will know peace."

"How did you end up like this?"

"My Slayer - I made a bargain to save my Slayer. I was tricked - betrayed." Sceleratus suddenly arched up, pain etched on his features. Giles watched in amazement as the demon's flesh rippled and started to alter. The skin became smooth, claws and teeth retracted and within seconds, he was staring down at a prone, human male. Lightning suddenly ripped through the air, the colours around them dissipating. Violent rolls of thunder seemed to cause the ground beneath them to shake and a fierce wind blew up, whistling through the landscape.

"What's going on?" Yelled Giles, clutching the ground.

"This place is part of me - it dies with me. You must leave!" William grabbed Giles' arm. "I will give you what time I can. Go - now!"

Giles got to his feet, an arm wrapped protectively around his chest. He looked down at William.

"Thank you."

"Beware the Hooded Man - the sorcerer - now go!"

* * * * *

"Why did you do that?" Asked Quentin, intrigued.

"It seemed logical," shrugged Henry.

"I fail to see the logic in it," replied Quentin, keeping pressure on the towel.

"His shirt," Henry smiled slightly. "Whatever it was, it ripped through Rupert's shirt. Therefore, it is safe to assume that wherever Rupert is, he 's wearing those clothes. If he can take those with him."

"He can take other things," interrupted Quentin. "I'm impressed, Henry."

"IF it works."

"Worth a try. Take over for me, Henry, I'll call the doctor."

* * * * *

'I must hold on - must give him time. He must escape - he has to be free. Blood of my blood will live - he will find you, hooded one.' William shuddered as pain ripped through him. 'Hurts too much - I, I can't - I can' t hold on. I want - I want to be free.'

"William."

The soft voice tore at his heart and William looked up at the woman who appeared beside him, eyes widening in recognition.

"Anne," he sobbed. "You waited."

"Of course I waited," she smiled, kneeling beside him and taking his hand in hers. "Now it's your turn to wait. A little while longer and we will all be together again. You must do this, William. You must give our blood, Rupert, the time he needs. We have waited for centuries - what are a few moments more? Repay your debt, William."

"Stay with me - please?"

"I never left, my love."

* * * * *

Thunder and lightning rolled and crashed, the landscape was changing constantly at breakneck speed. One moment, Giles was staggering on grass, then slipping on ice, wading through water, clambering over rocks and struggling through sand. He was getting weaker and weaker, panting and sweating, trying to ignore the throbbing pain in his chest. 'One foot in front of the other,' he thought, 'concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.' He could see the rift, but his changing surroundings gave him no perspective of distance. 'Just keep going - William is buying this time - I can't let it be for nothing.' Giles kept his eyes fixed on the rift, part of him convinced that if he looked away it would disappear, leaving him stranded. He struggled on, trying to ignore the irritating buzzing in his mind, a buzzing that was getting increasingly louder the closer he approached the tear in the air ahead of him. Giles grinned suddenly. 'It's you - I can feel you calling to me. I'm coming - I'm coming.' With a final effort, Giles staggered to the rift and dived through it. There was a burst of brilliant light and he suddenly felt the familiar touch in his mind. It wrapped itself around him, soothing and protecting, rejoicing in their reconnection.

'You are tired and hurt. You must rest. I will take us home.'

* * * * *

William braced himself as another surge of pain ripped through him. Steadily worsening, it seemed to be pulling him, drawing him closer to the freedom he so craved. 'No - I mustn't give in - must hold on.'

"William," Anne gently touched William's face. "It's time. You can let go now."

"He's free?"

"Yes, William. He's free. Now it's your turn." Anne stood and held out her hand. "Come, William. Edward is waiting for us."

"Edward." William reached up and grasped Anne's hand, "our son - our beautiful son. He waited as well?"

"We have waited such a long time." Anne smiled. "Come home with us, my love."

"I'm coming," whispered William as his eyes closed. His breathing grew erratic and sections of the realm around him were swallowed into nothing. The darkness increased, getting steadily closer and closer. William Rupert Giles smiled - and died.

* * * * *

"Henry," murmured Quentin, "look. He seems more relaxed."

"He's certainly got more colour in his cheeks," Henry replied, "and his breathing has evened out."

Quentin glanced at the towel pressed over the wounds on Giles' chest. Blood was beginning to seep through the material, vivid red against the whiteness of the towel.

"How long is the doctor going to take?" Henry asked, glancing down with concern.

"He won't be long," replied Quentin. "Believe me, he knows that when the Council says 'jump', his proper response is 'how high?' "

Giles' sudden groan startled the two men standing either side of the bed.

"Rupert?" Quentin leaned down. "Rupert? Can you hear me?"

Giles groaned again and his eyes slowly fluttered open.

"I'm not - doing that - again," he whispered, wincing at the pain in his chest.

"It's okay, Rupert - the doctor will be here soon. What happened?"

"He's free," murmured Giles, closing his eyes. "William is free."

'You did well. William is at peace now - and you obtained more information. Rest now - regain your strength - let them take care of you. I chose well. It is a privilege to be with you.'

Quentin glanced at Henry. "It's over."

"No," Giles opened his eyes and stared up at them. "It's not over. It's only just begun."

* * * * *

He lay in the centre of the chalk circle, curled up in a ball, shaking with pain. 'Oh god - it hurts - I can't stop it - not this time. Why did you let them do this to me? Did you get out? Did you survive? I need to look - need to see for myself.' The Hooded Man dragged his pain-wracked body across the floor, fingers digging into the stone, never taking his eyes from the scrying glass on the table. 'I must find out, Rupert - I must be sure.' He reached up a trembling hand, straining and stretching, willing his fingers to grasp the glass. He screamed as his head suddenly exploded with pain and he slumped back down, clutching his head with both hands. The hood slipped off and Ethan Rayne stared up with bloodshot eyes, a solitary tear trickling down his cheek.

"Help me, Rupert - please help me."

END (Author indicates series will continue)