Will sat by the fire and got warm, as instructed, while anxiety mounted in him and no one did anything useful. He could hear the women dressing across the hall—he heard Darla scold Dru for the state of her hair. Downstairs, he could hear Henry fumbling with the fire. He kept expecting to hear horses, but didn’t.
Angelus had gone up to the roof, which at least meant he was watching, and would see when they came. Will kept an ear tuned for the sound of feet on the stair, but heard nothing. The wind hallooed outside the walls, and snow pelted the windowpanes with a sound like small pebbles.
He was rubbing his neck and staring at the ceiling, wondering where he could put Dru to save her, when the footsteps finally came. At the same time, the door to the main bedchamber opened and Darla stepped out. Will scrambled to his feet and went to stand in the doorway.
Angelus was coming down the hall with snow in his hair and Caitlin in tow.
“They’re coming,” he said, smiling at Darla as he passed.
Darla smiled calmly back, and turned her gaze on Will.
“You’re a very lucky boy,” she said. “This will be something for you to remember.”
“What will, Madam?” he asked, but she was already following Angelus. He watched her take hold of the back of Caitlin’s coat and twitch her effortlessly into the wall.
“You’re not invited, little one,” Darla said, and passed on without breaking stride.
Drusilla emerged smiling and held out her hand to Will. He took it and held it tightly.
“Whatever happens,” he said, “stay close to me.”
“Darling Will,” she said. “You have your sad face on. Don’t worry—it’ll be pretty. Bright lights in the hallway.”
“Stay close,” he repeated, wrapping her hand around his wrist and taking hold of her elbow. They went down the hall together, leaving Caitlin on her knees in the dark.
The main hall was still cold, but there was a large fire laid, and somehow Henry had managed to replace the candles in the chandelier, so it was light enough. It would be dark for the humans though, Will thought. The boy himself was slumped against a wall in the shadows, breathing like a bird.
“Very nice,” Darla said, surveying the room with a satisfied air. Angelus held out his hand and she went to him and let him kiss her fingers. “One should always make guests feel welcome. That’s a lesson for the pair of you.” She glanced over her shoulder at Will and Drusilla.
“Yes Madam,” Will said. “Is there anything else we ought to know, before we’re overrun?”
Angelus scowled, but Darla laughed.
“Not even you can annoy me at the moment, Will. What’s that boy’s name?”
“Henry,” Will said, when no one else seemed to know.
“Tell Henry to go and answer the door,” Darla said, just as the first boom echoed down the hall.
Will jumped and looked at Angelus, who gave him back a cool stare.
“You were asked to do something,” he said.
“Henry, go and open the door,” Will said, without taking his eyes off Angelus. Henry dragged himself up and went down the hall. Will tightened his grip on Dru’s hand and kept his eyes on Angelus.
“You’re pinching me,” Dru whispered. He loosened his hold a fraction.
“Twenty against four,” Will said, staring at Angelus. “And one of them the Slayer.”
“Twenty-one,” Angelus said, with the barest hint of a smile on his lips.
“Stand behind us, Will,” said Darla. “Really, you have no grasp of etiquette at all.”
“Forgive me, Madam,” he said, and led Dru around to stand behind Darla and Angelus. They made a matched pair that way, Darla’s hand still in Angelus’s and Drusilla’s trapped tight in Will’s. Darla gave them a dubious look over her shoulder.
“Try not to look as though you were waiting to be hanged,” she said. Angelus glanced back too, and they shared a private smile.
Down the hall, Henry opened the door. There was a brief pause, and then footsteps began to approach. Will took a rapid count—ten, fifteen, twenty—all men, and the smells were strange. There was leather, horse, sweat, and snow; that he expected. But there was also the dull fetid familiar smell of Purwall. And now there were well more than thirty men approaching.
Drusilla whimpered slightly, and he prised his fingers out of her arm.
“There’s thirty at least,” he whispered. “More than we counted—“
“Shut up,” Angelus hissed, and an instant later the men came into the hall.
The first face Will saw was St. John’s, grim and dirty, with a bloody scrape on the chin. As he came into the hall he gave them all a look that might have been extreme fatigue or simply hatred. A pair of Purwall men walked behind him, similarly battered; after them came a group of Frenchmen who looked even worse. More Purwall men followed, and then more Watchers—some French, some English. They all looked tired and furious. In a few moments the room was full of men, and the air smelled dangerous.
Looking at them, Will had only one thought—Purwall had turned on Darla. The Slayer’s force had been increased by thirty or more, and here they stood in the tower itself. In a moment they’d come in a rush, and everything would have been in vain.
But none of the men made any move, and Darla was smiling. Will shifted his weight on the balls of his feet and tried to smell some sense in the air.
“Bienvenue,” Darla said. “Nous sommes enchantés de vous avoir chez nous.”
“What happened to the boy?” St. John asked. Darla’s gaze flickered to him and passed on.
“Je m’appelle Darla,” she said.
“I know who you are,” a clear French voice said—a female voice. Will looked for the speaker; she was standing in the front of the group, a little behind St. John. In the general press, he’d taken her for a man.
She was the first Slayer he’d ever seen, and he took a moment to look at her properly. Caitlin had said she was very small, and Darla had said she was ugly. They were both right. She only came up to St. John’s shoulder, and he wasn’t a tall man. What she lacked in height she made up in a stocky peasant’s build; her shoulders were wide and her chest broad as a barrel. Her cheeks were freckled, her eyes were black, her nose was flat. She had a heavy, beetled brow, wet with snow—and she was giving Darla a calm level look from under it.
Seeing her, Will felt some of his fear dissolve. She couldn’t be more than fifteen at most; a fifteen year-old girl dressed in her father’s riding clothes, spattered with mud and melted snow. A fifteen year-old girl, he noticed finally, whose hands were tied together and lashed to her waist.
Will blinked, and looked at Darla.
“You speak English,” Darla said. “I’m glad—that makes things much easier.”
“I know who you are,” the girl repeated.
“Just the one phrase?” Darla asked. “I hope not. That would be tedious.”
“You’ve deceived these people,” the girl said. “They think you’re their protector.”
“I am,” Darla said.
“What happened to the boy?” St. John asked again. There was an edge in his voice now.
“They think I’m in league with the Devil,” the girl said.
“Aren’t you?” Darla asked.
One of the Watchers shifted, and Darla glanced at the group. “I thought there were twenty-one,” she said. “I only count nineteen.”
There was a slight embarrassed pause, and then one of the Purwall men spoke. “We took their arms and brought them, as you said—but a few had to fight. Even after we had the girl. And, well—“ He broke off and shrugged.
“I see,” Darla said. “Well, these things happen.”
“The boy—“ St. John started.
“They bit him,” the Slayer said. “How do you say—Ils se sont nourris de lui.”
“Fed off him,” one of the English Watchers murmured, somewhere in the group.
“Yes. Thank you.”
St. John glared round at everyone. “Of course they did. Just as they did with us.” He lifted his arm and showed the bandage on his wrist. “Off a boy. Look at him.” He waved toward the wall where Henry slumped. “Look at him, you gaumless fools.”
Everyone in the room turned and looked obediently at Henry. He ducked his head with an uneasy smile.
“And you still call her our Lady?” St. John asked. “She’s half-killed the boy.”
“He’ll be all right,” one of the other Purwall men said hesitantly. “He’s a stout lad—aren’t you, Henry? And she lost her own boy, St. John, to this gang—“
The Slayer gave him a confused look and opened her mouth, but Darla intervened.
“Where is John Maitland?” she asked coolly, looking round at the assembled Purwall men.
“Dead,” St. John said at once, with a sadist's pleasure. “Died in his sleep, Lady.”
There was a silence; Darla didn’t shift at all, but Will smelled a change in the air nonetheless. There was an edge of caution about her now. Angelus and Dru caught it too, and without actually moving all four of them seemed to draw closer together.
“I’m grieved to hear it,” Darla said. “He was an old man, and faithful.”
“Aye,” St. John said. “And dead.”
Darla gave him a sharp look. “We all die, St. John,” she said. “Some well, some badly. John Maitland died well. I hardly think my own boy died half so well in these imps’ hands.” She raised her hand. “Bring the girl here.”
There was an immediate commotion among the Watchers, and the Purwall men standing nearby lifted cudgels and began to use them. Two Watchers—a French and an English—half-wrestled the club from a villager’s hand, and were promptly brained by his fellows.
“Suffit!” the Slayer cried, a pained expression on her face. “Stop it—it’s enough.”
“We cannot allow—“ an English Watcher began importantly, and was punched in the mouth.
“Bring the girl here,” Darla said again.
St. John took hold of the girl’s shoulder and walked her forward. She came willingly enough, her hands helpless at her sides, her eyes trained on Darla’s face. When St. John halted her, she let her gaze travel slightly to look at Angelus, Will, and Dru in turn. Darla smiled.
“My family,” she said, holding out a hand to indicate them all. “I imagine you’ve heard of Angelus, at least.”
“Yes,” the girl said, looking at Angelus with a clear steady gaze. “In France, we call you le fléau.”
Angelus cocked his head and smiled with genuine pleasure. “’The scourge,’” he said. “I quite like that. Thank you very much.”
The girl nodded, then looked curiously at Will and Dru. “These are younger,” she said. “I forget how you call them—“
“Fledglings,” Darla supplied.
“Yes, thank you. But there is still one more, no? The girl of Rebecca—“
“She wasn’t able to attend,” Darla said. “She sends her compliments.”
The Slayer stared straight at Will for a moment; he felt the back of his neck prickle, and raised his chin to return her an insolent glare. Her face was expressionless. She took him in, studied him, and dismissed him. In a moment her eyes were on Dru, and he stood in a helpless rage while she did the same thing over.
Then she shifted her attention back to Darla. He held tight to Dru’s hand, feeling uneasily as though the girl had gained an advantage.
Darla put out a hand and took hold of the Slayer’s shoulder. “Thank you, St. John,” she said. “You may return to the others now.”
St. John didn’t move. His face was fierce.
“St. John,” Darla said, “I must warn you. I am losing patience.”
“I don’t know what’s happening,” he said. “I don’t understand any of it, and as God is my witness I hate the French, but—“
“I’m not afraid,” the Slayer said, her eyes on Darla. “Je vais vous tuer. En nom Dieu.”
Darla gave her a look of mild surprise. “My goodness,” she said. “Aren’t you about four hundred years too late?”
“We will burn you,” the Slayer said, “as we burnt Rebecca. Toute la famille. And these people will see—“
“Yes, yes,” Darla said, her tone at last annoyed. “I never liked a zealot.” She pulled the Slayer close and pushed her head back.
The Watchers surged forward, and the villagers began to lay about themselves with their clubs. Darla looked up with irritation, the Slayer still cradled in her arms. For a moment all was chaos and Will stood clinging to Dru’s arm, holding demon face down with a painful effort, trying to keep an eye on everything at once. Then there was a sudden shout from within the mass of men, and it all came to an awkward, stumbling halt. Someone had noticed a figure standing in the door to the stairway.
Will looked. It was Caitlin, her face contorted with fear and hatred, her eyes on the Slayer.
“The lad—“ someone said.
St. John looked from Caitlin to Darla and then back again. “Not dead—“ he said stupidly, then shut his mouth. The Slayer looked over her shoulder at Caitlin with a mild expression of recognition.
Darla gave Angelus a look, and Will stood on the balls of his feet, telling himself that all wasn’t lost yet, there was still a chance Darla could devise some story and get them out of this.
And then Caitlin went to demon face.
One of the Purwall men uttered a high girlish scream and dropped his club, and a Watcher immediately stooped to pick it up. In a moment it seemed that half of Purwall had surrendered its arms to the Watchers. A couple took the opportunity to swing round at the men who’d just been beating them, but most started forward at once with grim purpose.
“Stop,” Darla said, jerking the Slayer’s chin up.
The front men pulled up short, so that those behind ran into them.
“Good,” Darla said. “Come any closer and I’ll take her throat out.”
Angelus had taken a step away from Darla, giving himself room to strike out. He glanced back over his shoulder at Will, but Will held stubbornly to Dru’s arm and didn’t move.
“This has taken an unexpected turn,” Darla said. “Though I imagine the end result will be the same.”
“He’s a de’il—“ St. John said, still staring at Caitlin. She hadn't moved; it occurred to Will that she probably didn’t even realize she’d changed face. Her eyes were fixed on the Slayer with a mad intensity.
“That one is yours, I believe,” Darla said, addressing Angelus. He smiled at St. John, allowing his fangs to show. “And this one—“ She ran a finger up the Slayer’s throat. “You’ve been foolish, my dear. I wouldn’t have bothered with you, but now—“
She shrugged and went to demon face. Angelus changed too, and Dru followed suit, and before he knew it Will had done the same. The instant he made the shift, he felt impervious.
“Bonne nuit, petite Chasseuse,” Darla said softly, and bent her head to the Slayer’s neck.
The girl had been lying docile, almost entranced, in Darla’s arms—but as Darla’s head came down, the Slayer snapped her own head up. Will caught a glimpse of bared teeth, and then Darla screamed. Everything was confusion—he couldn’t see what was happening. Then Darla twisted and he saw; the Slayer had sunk her teeth into Darla’s jaw and was clinging doggedly, while blood coursed down her face.
It only lasted a moment, and then Darla struck the girl a tremendous blow that sent her crashing into St. John. They hit the floor together, the girl rolling easily to find her feet, although her hands were still tied. Darla touched her jaw, where a strip of skin was hanging loose.
“Little bitch,” she said in a tone of wonder, looking at the blood on her hand.
Then the Watchers were rushing them, and Angelus stepped in front to take the first wave. He struck a man full in the face with a sound like a breaking plank.
“Cover your eyes, Will,” Dru said. “It’s bright.”
“Not now, love,” he said, and wheeled to face a Watcher who’d run round their side. The man had a stake somehow, which was perplexing, but there wasn’t time to think about it. He rushed in suddenly and Will ducked and punched him in the stomach. The man doubled over and Will kneed him in the face, then caught the stake out of his hand and buried it in the back of his neck.
The man fell and Will stepped sharply away and stood by Dru again. After a second he realized he was still staring at the body. His first Watcher. And it had been easy.
“Will—“ Dru said, and he turned just in time to see her swipe at another one on her side; a weak-looking blow, but a dark seam opened in the man’s throat, and began to spill down his chest. He made a gargling sound and fell to his knees.
“Behind me, love,” Will said, yanking her arm. He put himself in front of her and looked round quickly.
Angelus was in the thick of it, surrounded by Watchers—as Will watched, he caught hold of one of them and yanked him off his feet, breaking the man's arm neatly and then hurling him into the group. Darla stood only a foot or two away, still staring at the blood on her fingers. On the floor beside her, St. John was cutting the Slayer’s bonds.
“Darla—“ Will said. “Darla, quickly, she’s—“
Darla looked up with an annoyed expression, and at the same moment the Slayer shook off the ropes.
“Christ,” Will said. “Look out.”
The Slayer called something to a nearby French Watcher, and he tossed a stake to her. She caught it and turned to Darla.
“En nom Dieu,” she said, and started forward.
Will stepped into the girl's path, but she didn’t spare him a glance. She had Darla’s blood on her face and neck, and a cold light in her eye.
“Angelus—“ Will called, and swung.
She caught the punch easily on her forearm, circled her arm and took hold of his wrist at the same time. He realized an instant too late that he was trapped—the stake was already singing down.
Something caught his shoulder in an iron grip and yanked, and then he was free and stumbling over his own feet. When he looked up, Darla was standing where he had been a moment ago, her face bright with fury. Her hand whipped out and closed around the stake, and it splintered.
“Little beast,” she spat. “You odious little mongrel. I’ll break your jaw off for that.” She drew back and hit the girl across the face, sending her flying.
Will scrambled back to Dru, who was staring fixedly at something on the far side of the room. He looked; the villagers there were handing weapons back to the Watchers. That was where the stakes were coming from, he realized—and even as he watched, one of the men loaded a bolt into a crossbow and raised it.
“Get down,” Will barked, pushing Dru behind him. “Angelus, look out—“
Angelus was in the middle of breaking a man’s neck, but he looked up and saw where Will was pointing. He snarled and hoisted the dead man’s body in front of himself; an instant later, a feathered shaft sank into its back. Angelus tossed the body aside, and another Watcher rose up behind and clubbed him in the neck.
Without thinking, Will threw himself into the group. A Watcher was raising a cudgel two-handed, waiting for an opening, and Will simply plucked it from his grasp and brought it down on his skull. It made a surprisingly crisp sound, like biting into an apple. The man fell, and Will swung the cudgel in a small arc, catching another Watcher in the back and dropping him like a stone. Then something smashed into Will’s side and knocked him clean off his feet.
He toppled over the Watcher he’d just felled and lay for a second, half-stunned. When he gathered his wits to look up, he found St. John standing over him, holding a club high.
Will kicked out at once, aiming for a knee and half-connecting with the heel of his boot. St. John’s face contorted and the club came down weakly; Will grabbed for it but missed. St. John was already heaving it up again, so Will simply heaved his legs sideways and rolled out of the way. The club dropped with a crack onto the Watcher he’d been lying across.
Will was up already, his whole body singing, an unconscious grin on his face. He felt quick and savage; he’d killed a pair of Watchers already, and was ready for more. Dimly he was aware of a burning in his side where the club had struck him, but he ignored that and looked for Angelus.
He was perhaps five feet off, swinging a cudgel into a mass of Watchers like a man scything grass. The floor around him was blood-black and littered with bodies. Just beyond, Darla had backed the Slayer up against a wall. The girl had a crucifix out, and she and Darla were contemplating each other across it, ignoring the chaos round them.
Will turned back to St. John, who was just raising the club again.
“Bugger off,” Will said. “I’m not allowed to kill you.”
St. John swung the club with a grunt, and Will tore it out of his hands. He looked round for someone else to use it on, but there was no one handy. In fact, the room seemed suddenly to have cleared. The Watchers around Angelus had melted to the front of the room as if on a silent signal, leaving only a few stragglers trapped between him and the rest of the group.
Oblivious, St. John threw a wild punch at Will’s head. Will batted him aside without looking at him.
Angelus had noticed the retreat; he looked first to Darla, who paid him no attention, then turned to Will. There was a gash in his forehead, and blood had run down the right side of his face.
“A very bright light in the hallway,” Drusilla sang from the far wall, where Will had left her.
“What—“ Will said, just as a look of comprehension crossed Angelus’s face.
“Get out,” he barked, jerking his head at the door to the kitchen. “Out, out—get out.”
“What—?” Will asked again, turning but not starting for the door. Then he smelled oil, and understood.
“Cover your eyes,” Dru sang as he grabbed her. He ran to the kitchen door and thrust her through it, then turned back to stare in horrified fascination.
The Watchers had collected by the hallway that led to the great front door—the only true exit. They’d pulled the Purwall men back with them, or as many as they could reach. A few were still scattered around the room, injured or scared witless, staring round with wide eyes at the Watchers who called to them, trying to coax them to safety.
The Watchers in front were kneeling, pouring out flasks of dark stinking oil. Behind them, the others were arguing in pidgin French and English, pointing, gesturing, and crying out with impatience. One was telling a rosary in loud French; several others were clumsily fitting bolts to their crossbows. It was a scene that would have afforded Will a great deal of amusement under any other circumstances. Meanwhile, the oil ran out across the floor.
He looked back to the room. The arguments, he realized, were due to the fact that the Slayer was still in the path of the oil. She stood with her back to the wall, the crucifix held out before her as a shield. Darla stood watching her. Neither of them moved as the stink of oil increased.
Angelus was still on dry stone, plagued by a last pair of Watchers and a villager too stupid to understand the danger. As Will watched, one of the Watchers leapt forward with a stake, and Angelus swung the cudgel into his chin almost negligently. The second Watcher tried a weak, bookish punch, and Angelus broke his skull the same way. That left the villager, who stood frozen, staring at Angelus like a beaten dog. Angelus smiled.
Belatedly, and with a kind of vacant interest, Will realized that Caitlin was still in the room. She was on the opposite side, near the doorway to the stairs, clutching a Watcher by the throat. As Will watched, she gave the man a fierce shake and then began to bash his head against the wall.
The oil had come more than halfway across the room now, almost cutting off Darla and Angelus’s retreat. St. John too was almost trapped; he’d remained standing in the center of the room where Will had left him, and had fallen back as the oil advanced toward him. The Watchers called to him, but he only glared.
“Come on—“ Will muttered, watching Angelus reach for the hapless villager. St. John took a few hopping steps backward, and suddenly Will realized what was going to happen. Despite himself, despite everything, he smiled thinly.
Angelus caught St. John’s movement in his peripheral vision and paused; the peasant he’d been reaching for took the opportunity to turn and run, splashing, to safety. St. John half-turned but was too late to stop himself, and collided with Angelus.
His expression, when he turned to look up, was sadly lost to Will. Angelus smiled down with all his fangs.
“Hello again,” he said. Then there was a delicate tearing sound, and a feathered bolt stood in Angelus’s shoulder.
“Angelus!“ Will called, shaken out of his momentary trance. “Quickly, come on—“
Angelus threw him an irritated look, just as something struck the stone by Will’s face and snapped. He looked down; a broken bolt lay in the oil. When he looked up again, a Watcher was staring straight at him over the sight of a crossbow. Will jerked back through the door and the bolt thudded into the wood.
“The little girl has blood in her hair,” Dru said conversationally, from a few feet away.
“They’re going to light it,” he gasped, and yanked the door open again.
“Get out,” he shouted. “Christ, get out—“
Angelus had taken hold of St. John’s neck, and was looking around at Darla. The oil was almost to them now; Will couldn’t see how they were going to clear it. The Slayer yelled something in French, and the French Watchers began to remonstrate. One of the men with a crossbow was wrapping wadding round the head of a bolt.
“Oh God,” Will muttered, clenching his fists in an agony of helplessness. “Get out, get out—”
Caitlin stopped beating the dead Watcher into the wall just as the oil formed a circle around her. She dropped the man’s body and stood looking about with a shocked expression; then she gathered herself and leapt. The doorsill was slick where she landed, and she almost lost her balance and fell backward into the oil. At the last moment she caught hold of the doorframe, yanked herself around it, and disappeared.
The French Watchers jabbered excitedly, and Will cast a glance their way. Someone was fumbling with a flint. The wrapped bolt was lit; it burnt bright and greedily, casting the men’s faces in a hot glow.
The Slayer shouted again, and again the French Watchers shouted back. The arm holding the crossbow wavered. The Slayer looked over Darla’s shoulder at the group of men; her face twisted slightly, and then, with a careless flick of her wrist, she tossed the crucifix aside.
Darla lunged forward and dealt the girl a vicious blow that knocked her back into the wall. Her skull made a sharp report against the stone, and she collapsed.
There was a moment of almost pure silence—and then the Watchers erupted. The French wailed, the English barked orders, and Will caught the faint deadly tearing sound of crossbow bolts just as another shaft buried itself in Angelus’s arm.
Darla swung round with the Slayer in her grip, and she and Angelus shared a look. Without a word, he shifted his hold on St. John’s neck, and there was a dull crack. For a moment St. John’s body dangled limp in Angelus’s hand; then Angelus tossed it a few feet away, into the oil. He held out his hand, and Darla gave him the Slayer.
Will stared, hardly noticing the bolt that hit the stone by his face. Darla gathered her skirts and stood a moment gauging the distance; then she leapt and landed on the dead man’s back. Will realized just in time what she was doing, and kicked the door wide open. She leapt again and landed on the sill, wavering a little so that he reached out instinctively and grabbed her arm.
“Thank you, Will,” she said calmly, and stepped onto the dry stone floor of the kitchen.
The room was a chaos of loud panicked French, and Will looked back to see that Angelus was just making the leap to St. John’s body. At the same moment, the lit bolt was loosed. It struck the far wall and fell into the oil.
The flames leapt up in a blinding yellow curtain, and ran around the room with a sound like tearing cloth. In only a few seconds, the hall was an inferno. The heat was hideous; a villager still crouched in the corner gave a shrill scream. Standing at the door, Will felt an actual physical push of hot air, like a giant fevered palm thrusting him aside.
Then he was genuinely thrust aside—Angelus had made the second leap and cleared the sill, the Slayer slung over his shoulder like a sack of meal. Will was knocked sprawling. He sprang up at once and heaved the door closed.
“You see?” Drusilla said to no one in particular. “A very bright light indeed.”
“But it’s more the heat that concerns us,” Will said, pressing his back to the door. Already it was hot to the touch.
“That won’t hold,” Angelus said, dropping the Slayer’s body and nodding at the door. “Damn it, I wish I hadn't had to kill that one so quickly.”
“Never mind,” Darla said. “We’ve still got the Slayer.” She bent over the girl’s body. “That is, if I haven’t killed—“
The girl’s arm swung up and drove into Darla’s throat. Angelus lunged forward at once, but the Slayer was already on her feet. She paid no attention to the grab he made for her; instead she ran immediately to the hearth and caught up the poker. The moment it was in her hand she wheeled and clubbed him in the temple with full force, driving him to his knees.
Will launched himself at her without a thought, grabbing her about the waist. She brought the poker down on his back, but he hardly felt it. He fastened onto her wrist and twisted until she dropped the poker with a clatter, but at the same time she put her foot in his stomach and sent him flying backwards into the wall.
Darla was up again now, walking forward with a grim set to her shoulders. She reached the poker, paused, and stooped to pick it up. The Slayer straightened and faced Darla with an expression that was both stolid and slightly dizzy. She’d been cut by the knock against the wall; her hair was soaked in blood.
Angelus got up slowly, a hand to his head. He too was bleeding heavily, from the wound on his temple, and he looked at his bloody fingers with disgust.
“This shirt is ruined,” he said to Darla in a peevish tone. She glanced at him and hefted the poker.
The Slayer’s eyes shifted from Darla to Angelus and back again, and for the first time Will thought he saw something like fear in them. He scrambled to his feet and went to stand just behind Darla and Angelus.
Angelus turned and regarded him.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yes sir,” Will said. “Dru’s fine too.”
“Good.” Angelus turned back to the Slayer, one hand absently stanching his temple. Darla lifted the poker and pointed it at the girl.
“En nom Dieu,” she said, “I’ve had quite enough of you.”
She swung the poker in a killing arc, and the Slayer dropped gracefully below its path, caught her weight on her hands and then snapped upright again. Before any of them could react she had spun on her heel and run through the door to the spiral stair.
Angelus gave Darla an annoyed look.
“What do you think she hopes to accomplish up there?” he asked, as they listened to the girl’s feet pound up the stairs.
Darla shook her head, nonplussed.
“It’s turning foul,” Drusilla said. An oily black smoke was seeping in from under the door to the main hall, and the door itself was starting to burn.
“Come on,” Angelus said. “Up we go.” He gave his shirt an irritated look, then seemed to notice the bolts in his arm and shoulder for the first time. “And the coat, too—they’ve holed it!”
“Carefully,” Darla said, leading the way to the staircase. “Keep your wits about you, all of you.”
Angelus yanked the shafts out with a snarl and broke them under his heel, then followed. Will pulled Dru away from the burning door.
“We’re going up for fireworks,” she whispered excitedly.
At the top of the staircase, Darla stopped and listened intently. Will followed suit, but there was too much noise from the fire, and the Watchers were still making a racket in the main hall, so he couldn’t tell whether the Slayer was about. He swallowed and kept a tight hold on Dru, and at the same time found himself edging closer to Angelus.
Darla tilted her head and smiled back at them.
“She’s in the chapel,” she said. “And she’s not alone.”
She turned and strode quickly down the hall, ignoring the half-open doors on either side. The chapel door was ajar, and as they neared it Will could make out the sound of a struggle coming from the other side of the door.
Darla pushed it open and stepped in, and Will crowded in close behind Angelus. This time he didn’t give a thought to the fact that it was a holy place. He was too curious, and then he was too confused.
He had expected to see the Slayer, facing them with the same cold stalwart expression she’d worn so far, or perhaps with a little more of the fear she’d shown downstairs. Instead, the room seemed practically full of people—and at first glance, none of them was the Slayer.
Someone was struggling with a pair of Watchers in the far corner—in a moment, he realized it was Caitlin. He remembered seeing her disappear up the far staircase in the main hall. A few stray Watchers must have done the same, because there were several in the chapel. They were mostly gathered in a group by the windows, grappling violently and incomprehensibly.
“What is happening here?” Darla asked, and several of the Watchers turned automatically to face her. That opened up a little space, and Will saw that the Slayer was in the middle of the group—and that one of the Watchers seemed inexplicably to be attacking her.
Darla gave Angelus a perplexed look, just as the Slayer hit the Watcher a sharp blow that felled him. The other Watchers glanced at him, then at the Slayer; and then they collected themselves and began to spread out into a wary circle in front of Darla and Angelus.
On the other side of the room, Caitlin let out an infuriated, strangled scream; one of the Watchers had a hand on her throat, and the other was attempting to force some piece of cloth into her mouth. It was one of the stupidest things Will had ever seen a human do. Caitlin bit down and snapped the man’s fingers clean off, and he fell back with a howl. The other Watcher punched her in the throat, and she spat out the cloth and fingers, and began coughing.
It made no sense at all, but Will had no more time to consider it, because the Slayer had walked across the room to the little table he’d stumbled on and broken—it seemed like a lifetime ago. It still lay in splinters and shards in the middle of the room, and the Slayer stooped and gathered up the sharpest, stoutest pieces. She tossed a few to the Watchers, and kept one for herself.
Angelus turned and gave Will a look.
“Sorry,” Will muttered.
Then three of the Watchers rushed in, well-coordinated for once, and Angelus and Darla stepped forward to meet them. That opened a gap, and a fourth Watcher slipped in with his stake raised. He went straight for Dru.
Will grabbed the man, who turned with surprising speed and struck out with his free hand, catching Will full in the mouth. Will stumbled back and into someone who’d been standing unnoticed against the wall.
He wheeled instinctively to strike out, then caught a glimpse of the terrified white face, and the whiter bandage below it. Somehow Henry had found his way up to the chapel, and now he was pressed cringing against the stone as if trying to disappear through it.
“Christ—“ Will shoved him away and turned back to the Watcher. He was too late; the man was already bringing his stake down over Dru. Will shouted, and Dru gave him a sweet puzzled look and sidestepped neatly.
“It’s all right, Will,” she said. “Look, he plays nicely.” She caught the man’s arm and pulled it round behind his back, then dipped her head and yanked his throat out in the middle of his first scream. Blood slapped the floor.
Will started for her, but someone grabbed his shoulder. He shook it irritably, taking it for Henry, but then another pair of hands seized hold. He turned and someone belted him in the face. Then a boot cracked into his left leg, and it went instantly numb. He staggered and found his hands on the floor. There were Watchers around him all of a sudden, and between them they managed to lay hold of him and haul him away from the others. He yelled and fought, uselessly.
“Will—“ He sent a desperate look back and saw Dru staring after him in confusion, the dead Watcher still in her grip.
The Slayer gave an order of some kind, and he jerked his head round to see that they’d carried him right to her side. She was looking down at him with that same implacable expression, her stake raised. One of the Watchers got a hand under Will’s chin and jerked his head back.
Time stopped. He heard Angelus snarl, heard Darla snap something in French, heard a Watcher cry out in pain. He couldn’t see them. Instead, he saw Caitlin, shoved against the far wall by the two Watchers she’d been struggling with. The fingerless one had his shoulder in her chest; the other was holding her by the throat, and reaching up to hook the cross from the wall above her head.
The Slayer said something to Will in a gentle tone, and he felt her touch a finger to his chest, over his heart. He wasn’t afraid; he was angry and embarrassed. He ought to have turned at once when he was grabbed, instead of stupidly assuming it was Henry.
The Slayer’s arm went up out of his view, and he tried once more to buck free, but the Watchers held him. Angelus roared. Will stared at Caitlin, who seemed to be staring back at him. It struck him as vaguely unfair that the last thing he should see was her, instead of his Sire.
Then Caitlin wrenched an arm free and pushed away the Watcher at her throat. He immediately leapt up and snatched the cross down, breaking the arms off it in the process, but she ignored him. Her eyes were on the Slayer.
“Stop!” she shouted, loud enough to carry over the confusion. “Lâche!”
The grip on Will’s throat loosened, and he jerked his head free to see the Slayer’s arm waver momentarily. Her expression clouded for just an instant, as though she had forgotten what she was doing. Then she shook her head and tightened her grip on the stake.
It was a good try--he had just enough time to think that, as the stake began to come down. It had drawn the Slayer's attention for a moment, at least.
Then Angelus cannoned into them, a furnace of blood and rage, scattering the Watchers and knocking Will free.
He rolled to his feet as Darla pushed past him, on her way to the girl as well. Behind him, Dru stood in a circle of broken bodies. He looked to the far side of the room, just in time to see the Watcher plunge the broken cross into the center of Caitlin’s chest.
Will made a small involuntary sound of shock, expecting to see her fall to dust—but she didn’t. She looked down at herself in astonishment, and the Watcher who’d staked her stood back blinking. The fingerless one was still holding her to the wall with his shoulder; he glanced down and then began to jabber furiously at his fellow.
Caitlin opened her mouth, and coughed a bubble of blood.
Angelus had killed two of the three Watchers and pinned the Slayer to the floor. He was kneeling astride her, pummeling her with great swinging blows while blood leapt off his fists in arcs. She tried to kick him, but couldn't gain leverage. The last Watcher launched himself at Angelus’s side, and Angelus hammered him into the floor without a glance.
In the corner, the Watcher who’d staked Caitlin was scrabbling at her chest, trying to pull the cross out. She watched him dumbly for a moment, then suddenly took him by both shoulders and pulled him close. Her fangs snapped closed in his throat.
“Angelus—“ Darla said. “Don’t kill her, love.“
Angelus ignored her. His own blood was raining down on the girl, and he was snarling with wordless rage. She got a hand up and blocked one of his punches, and he caught hold of her hair with his free hand and began slamming her head into the floor.
“Angelus!” Darla snapped. “Enough!” She grabbed the back of his collar, and he fell back with some of the Slayer’s hair still clutched in his hand. The girl choked and rolled clumsily away.
Angelus’s face, when he looked up at Darla, was a mask of blood and fury. She got her hand on the back of his neck and stared at him until he dropped his eyes.
“That’s enough,” she said quietly, and let him go.
There was a cracking sound from the far side of the room, and they all looked over to see Caitlin drop the second Watcher in a heap. The cross was still standing upright in her chest, and she gazed at it in mild consternation. Then she looked up at them, and opened her mouth as if to speak. Instead she brought up a gout of dark blood, and sat down suddenly on the dead Watcher’s back.
“What—?” Angelus said, momentarily distracted by the sight. Then he shook his head in dismissal and stood up. He wiped his face and turned to Will. “Come here.”
Will limped quickly over, casting a look around the room as he did so. There were no more Watchers; no live ones, at any rate. The only thing moving in the room was the Slayer, who was crawling slowly and painfully away from Darla’s feet. For the first time, Will realized that the room was dim with smoke.
Angelus caught hold of Will’s arm in a hard grip and yanked his shirt open. He ran a finger over Will’s chest, over the same spot the Slayer’s finger had touched. Will watched him do it with a kind of numb bafflement.
“I’m fine,” he said. Angelus stared at him, his eyes almost unrecognizable, half-hidden behind a veil of blood. He tapped the spot as if to mark it.
“Let me kill her,” he said, still looking at Will but addressing himself to Darla.
“No,” she said. She stood with a meditative expression, watching the Slayer crawl. After a moment she put a hand up to her jaw, which was still running with blood. “You know very well that she’s mine.”
“Then do it,” Angelus said harshly, turning and looking round at the thickening smoke. “Unless you’d like us to be burnt after all.”
She gave him a cold glance over her shoulder. “You’re agitated,” she said. “And you forget yourself. Go and see to your childer.”
Angelus snapped his head around and glared at her with black fury, and Will took a step back. Darla met Angelus's eyes evenly, while the Slayer coughed and struggled to her knees.
After a long moment, Angelus dropped his gaze. He stared at the floor and breathed in deeply despite the smoke—when he looked back up, he wore a tight rueful smile.
“Of course,” he said. His voice was thin but calm. He took Will lightly by the shoulder and turned him around. “My apologies.”
Darla nodded and returned her attention to the Slayer. Will stole a backward glance; the girl’s face was badly battered, and her breath came in sobs. She looked and sounded ready to die. Darla put a hand to her own jaw, frowned, and tore away the dangling strip of skin where the girl had bitten her.
Angelus walked Will back to Dru and looked her over quickly. She was completely uninjured.
“What’s that boy doing here?” Angelus asked, glaring over Will’s shoulder. Will turned and saw Henry sliding away along the wall.
“He must have come up earlier,” Will said. The smoke was starting to make his eyes water. “He’s harmless, he’ll suffocate soon enough.”
Angelus cast a frustrated glance at Darla, who still hadn't approached the Slayer. His eye wandered impatiently and landed on Caitlin, squatting motionless on the Watcher. He frowned.
“And that one—” He gestured at Will to stay put, then walked quickly over and hauled Caitlin to her feet. She let out a low choking cry and vomited up more blood, but he ignored that and dragged her back.
“She’s staked,” Will said as they approached. He was trying to keep one eye on the Slayer, who had wiped her face and struggled to her feet. Darla merely watched. Angelus held Caitlin up and they all looked at her critically, while she writhed and gagged.
“Why isn’t she dust?” Will asked, fascinated despite himself. The blood at her mouth was dark and foamy. Angelus bent and studied the broken cross in her sternum.
“A better question,” he said, “is, why is she breathing?” He gave her a little shake. “Stop that.”
Caitlin stared at him in terror, her fingers plucking weakly at the cross.
“It’s in her lung,” Angelus said matter-of-factly. “The idiot missed. Stop breathing, you halfwit.” He put an experimental finger on the wood, as if to test whether it were hot. Then he simply took hold of it and yanked it out. She screamed and he let her fall, his attention taken up by the broken cross in his hand.
“Shouldn’t that—“ Will asked, looking at it as well. It didn’t appear to hurt Angelus at all.
“Yes,” Angelus said. “I’d have thought so.” He lifted it and touched the spot where the arms had broken off. “But then, it’s not really a cross anymore, is it?” He studied it a moment longer, then tossed it away. “An interesting tidbit, for future reference.”
Caitlin was hunched in a spasm of coughing at his feet, while a dark pool spread slowly out around her. He prodded her with his toe.
“Stop that.” She looked up, her hands clasped over the wound in her breast, her face agonized and spattered with gore. “I told you, stop breathing. It only makes it worse.”
She stared at him, her mouth open and brimming with blood—then she made a visible effort to master herself, and suppressed the coughing. The blood still came up, and she spat it out messily, then wiped her mouth with a shaking hand.
“Good,” Angelus said. “Is that Slayer dead yet?”
“No,” Will said. The smoke was thick now, but he could still see the girl staggering, and Darla stepping back to give her room.
“Give Drusilla your handkerchief, Will,” Angelus said, and Will noticed that Dru’s eyes were streaming too. He dug in his pocket and was amazed to find he did indeed have a handkerchief to give her.
Angelus pushed him toward the door, then turned back as an afterthought and picked Caitlin up by the scruff of her neck.
“Darla—if you please,” he called, keeping his tone civil.
"Are you still here?" she said with some surprise, turning to face them through the haze. "Ah well--the fledges can learn something, perhaps." She looked briefly around the floor at her feet, then toed aside a dead Watcher and stooped to pick up the stake he'd let fall. "Though it won't be much of a lesson, I'm afraid. Someone has been rough with the girl."
She gave Angelus a glance, and he pressed his lips together and said nothing.
"Come now, take hold of this," Darla said, turning back to the Slayer. The girl was stunned, hardly able to hold herself upright; the right side of her face, Will could see now, had been crushed to a tight wet ruin. She was coughing miserably in the smoke. Darla pressed the stake into her hand and she dropped it.
"Oh really," Darla said irritably, bending to retrieve it. "Allons, prenez." She folded the Slayer's fingers closed over the stake again, and this time the girl held on. She lifted her hand and looked at it, and in a moment her grip tightened and she seemed more alert.
"You see?" Darla said, glancing back at them. "All it asks is a little patience."
Angelus let Caitlin fall to the floor again, and crossed his arms in an attitude of polite expectation. Will glanced nervously back out the door behind them. The hall was dark and thick with smoke, and the Watchers sounded closer.
"Now then," Darla said. "Pay attention, children. You're about to see a Slayer killed, and it's not every fledge who can say that."
The Slayer raised her arm and wiped her face along her sleeve, leaving a trail of blood behind. Her eyes were bruised and swollen, but she watched Darla with a sharpness she hadn't had a moment before, and Will wondered how quickly she could heal.
"You'll be my third," Darla mused, touching her jaw absently. "I wonder how we'll celebrate."
The Slayer came forward quickly, striking out with her left hand and bringing the stake up from below in a smooth arc. Darla batted her away, but the girl was already retreating. She took up a position a few feet from Darla, and they regarded each other.
"Slow," Darla said. "I think you can do better than that."
The girl's expression didn't change, but she took a step to the right, and then another. Darla turned with her, smiling.
"Are you trying to corner me?" she asked, casting a quick glance over her shoulder. She had the windows behind her, and the wall to her side. "If you like, I suppose."
The girl took another sideways step, then seemed to waver and almost fall. She put her hand to her forehead and stared at the floor.
"Oh, don't faint now," Darla said. "That really would be anticlim--"
With a sharp cry, the girl raised the stake and rushed forward. Darla grinned and raised her own arms to receive her.
There was a loud crack and a momentary flash—and blood splashed out across the windows, the floor, and Darla herself. The Slayer stumbled and pitched headfirst into Darla's embrace.
Darla held the girl’s body in silence, staring down at the black wound in her back.
“What—?” she asked, staring at Angelus.
He was looking at the other side of the room, where a small figure was crouched on the stone. Henry’s eyes were red and he was half-weeping, his arms held out straight and shaking before him. In his hands was the flintlock pistol, a wisp of powder smoke coiling from the pan.
He dropped the gun with a clatter, then wiped his hair from his forehead and gave Darla a hopeless, shrinking smile.
“That’s our Lady,” he said softly, as if speaking to someone else entirely.
Darla’s lips worked and her hands twitched—she looked down at the dead Slayer and tossed the body aside suddenly, with revulsion and rage.
“Firecracker,” Drusilla whispered confidentially to Will.
“Get out,” Darla said, her gaze riveted on Henry. “All of you, get out now.”
“Darla—“ Angelus began.
She almost never called him boy in front of Will and Dru. Angelus hoisted Caitlin and pushed the pair of them out the door in front of him.
“Is she coming?” Will asked, struggling to make his leg work properly. Angelus glanced down at him and hooked a hand automatically under his arm.
“When she’s ready.”
The corridor was thick with smoke, worse even than the chapel—and Will could hear the remaining Watchers downstairs, perhaps as close as the kitchen. If the oil had burnt itself out, they might start up the stairs any moment. They didn’t know the Slayer was dead, and even if they did, that might not stop them.
Angelus pushed in front when they reached the staircase, checking quickly to make sure it was empty before he motioned Drusilla in. “Up,” he said simply, and she went skimming up like a bird to the clear air above. Will glanced back into the smoke.
“Darla—“ he said, and Angelus shook his head.
“She’s all right,” he said. He looked back himself, and his face lifted. “Here she is now.”
Will saw nothing, but a moment later Darla stalked out of the smoke. Her face was set, and the front of her dress was soaked in blood.
“Darling,” she said calmly, “you ought not to have waited.”
“It was Will,” Angelus said. “He’s convinced we need his protection.”
Darla gave Will a tight smile, and slipped a hand under his free arm. “I’ll take him,” she said, “since you’ve elected to bring the girl.”
Angelus gave her a quick questioning look, which she ignored. He shifted Caitlin into a more comfortable spot on his shoulder and led the way up. In a minute they were standing in clean cold air on the roof. It had stopped snowing at some point, and the wind had died down to a breeze. The sky was pricked with stars.
Drusilla was standing by the low stone wall, peering down. “There are horses there,” she announced with pleasure. “Very small ones.”
“They’re the standard size, Princess,” Angelus said. “Just far away.”
Drusilla looked doubtfully back over the edge.
“How do we get down?” Will asked, disengaging himself from Darla and giving her an absent little half-bow of thanks. He could stand well enough on his own, if he kept his weight on his right foot.
Angelus walked over to the edge of the roof overlooking the main hall. The drop there wasn’t nearly as long, Will remembered—only a single storey. Still, it had seemed a great distance when he’d looked at it before. Angelus turned and smiled at him, and Will swallowed.
“Not really,” he said warily.
“Oh, I think so,” Angelus said, and raised an eyebrow at Darla. She walked to him and looked over. Her dress dripped blood in the snow.
“A fair drop,” she said, “but possible. Come here, Drusilla.”
Dru came obediently, and Will limped over in a hurry.
“Let me give her a hand down—“
Angelus shoved him back with an annoyed expression, as Darla helped Dru up onto the wall.
“Bend your knees,” Darla said. “And roll when you hit.” Then she pushed Dru over, and Will ducked under Angelus’s arm and ran to the wall. Dru was lying in the snow on the roof of the main hall, laughing.
“See?” Darla asked, turning to Will. “She’s fine. Do you intend to bring that girl, Angelus?”
“All right, drop her down to me.” Without another word, she stepped over the wall and disappeared. Will and Angelus leaned over and watched her hit the roof and roll neatly to her feet.
As soon as Darla was up, Angelus held Caitlin out over the drop. Her face was dazed and puffy, and she regarded them without comprehension. Then she glanced down, and her eyes livened with fear.
“What do you think, Will?” Angelus asked, with a sly sideways look. “Will she bounce?”
Will half-smiled, and Caitlin began to cough and scrabble at Angelus’s hands, and he dropped her. They leaned over together to watch her fall.
“That was cruel,” Will remarked, as Darla caught her.
“And amusing,” Angelus said. He waved Darla aside and put a leg over the wall. “Try not to put my eye out, flailing.” He disappeared with a rustle; when Will looked over, he was standing up and brushing snow from his coat. Drusilla had already made the second leap down to the ground; Will could see her against the snow like a little black bird, clapping and laughing.
Angelus looked up and gestured impatiently, and Will put his bad leg over the wall. For a moment he teetered in midair, then let himself overbalance and fall.
The air was cold and sharp, and he had just a moment to wonder whether he’d live if Angelus missed him. Probably.
Then Angelus caught him with a curse, and they were both knocked down in the snow. Will found himself lying on his back across Angelus’s chest, staring up at the stars.
Darla deposited Caitlin in a heap by the edge. “When you’re quite ready, Angelus,” she said caustically, “you’ll drop this one down, won’t you?” She stepped out and disappeared with a rush of skirts.
“Yes Sire,” Angelus said wearily. Will laughed and heaved himself to a sitting position.
He was dazed and exhausted, and he was beginning to feel a deep ache in every bone—but at the same time he felt a giddy, belated exuberance. He’d killed Watchers, more than he could count just now. He’d had the Slayer’s stake at his heart. He felt a strange, delightful kind of nausea at the thought. The laughter kept bubbling up in him, and he covered his mouth to hide it.
Angelus gave him a heavy-lidded stare, then got slowly to his feet and went over to Caitlin, who was spitting blood into the snow. “Once more,” he said, picking her up and peering momentarily over the edge before dropping her. This time he didn’t bother to see whether she was caught.
“Come on,” he said, putting his hand out to Will. “Stop that, come here.”
Will got weakly to his feet and went over, still giggling. Angelus took hold of his head and stared at him.
“Stop it,” he said. “We’re not finished yet. There are still Watchers about—“
As if to illustrate his point, there was a shout above them, and they looked up to see figures on the roof above. There was some excited gesticulating, and then one of them produced a crossbow.
Angelus spun Will around and yanked him up onto the wall that edged the roof. Below them, Darla was heaving Caitlin onto a horse.
“You go first,” Will said, the hilarity drained out of him. “I’ll be—“
The first bolt sang down and struck the stone beside them, and Angelus simply wrapped his arms around Will and tipped them off the edge together.
Again Will had the cold rush of air in his ears, and a quick vision of himself laid out with a broken back in the snow. Then Angelus’s feet hit the ground and they both went sprawling. Will’s bad leg was crushed in the roll, and he yelled.
Angelus was on his feet in an instant, looking for Darla. She was already starting for the tower door, and she gave him an impatient summoning wave over her shoulder.
Angelus grabbed Will up under his arm, and slung him roughly into the shelter of the tower wall.
“Drusilla,” he barked, gesturing her over. She came quickly and stood next to Will. “Stay here, don’t move.”
Will tried to stand up, and his leg flared white and folded.
“Where are they going?” Drusilla asked, crouching down beside Will with a worried expression. He looked up to see Angelus disappear through the front door of the tower.
“Inside,” he said. “They’re going inside to finish off the rest.”
Drusilla put her fingers in his collar and chewed her lip thoughtfully. “Those men—they ought to have remembered to lock the door,” she said after a minute.
“Yeh,” he said, and put his head down on his knee.
A few more bolts arced down around them, frightening the horses. Will reflected that Caitlin was still on one of them, slumped where Darla had put her—but he couldn’t be bothered to think further about it. She’d survived one staking; she could take her chances with another.
They sat quietly and listened to the sounds from inside the tower—faint crashes and a few screams, and once a roar from Angelus. It didn’t take very long. The men on the roof tried calling to the village for help, which was mildly entertaining. Then a couple of them came sailing down headfirst.
“I want to do it again,” Dru said excitedly, watching one of them crab weakly about for a minute. “Please, Will—let’s go up and ask if we can.”
“We can’t,” he said, still holding onto his leg. “Sorry, love.”
“Perhaps in London,” she said thoughtfully. “There are some lovely tall buildings there. St. Paul’s, for instance.”
“For instance,” he repeated.
The screams diminished, and the crashes became less frequent, and then there was silence. After a short while the front door opened and Darla stepped out, followed by Angelus. The pair of them were smudged with smoke and blood, and Darla had some small dark object in her hand, which she stooped to clean delicately in the snow. They both had an air of relative satisfaction.
Angelus looked over and frowned slightly, and Will let go of his leg.
“Give me your hand, love,” he said to Drusilla, who’d already stood up beside him. She gave it, and he pulled himself upright with his left foot an inch off the ground.
“Broken?” Angelus asked, without preamble.
“No sir,” Will said automatically. “What’s that Darla’s got?”
“Such big eyes you have, Will,” Angelus said, and grinned. His teeth flashed white in his streaked face. “Let me see you put your foot down.”
Will put his foot down and winced. Behind Angelus, Darla stood up and examined the object in her hand. It was curved like one half of a cup, with a line of white stones along one side. Then she turned it another way and he saw they weren’t stones, but teeth.
“Is that the Slayer’s—“ he asked, and Angelus poked him in the shoulder. He staggered, tried to take his weight on his left foot, and fell.
“Might be broken,” Angelus said, frowning now. “In any case, you need to feed. Fortunately, there’s plenty to go round.”
“Will said you were finishing the rest of them,” Drusilla said. “But I’m still hungry.”
“That’s all right,” Angelus said. “There’s plenty to eat in Purwall.”
“Actually, I think most of them were inside,” Will muttered, standing up carefully with a hand on the wall behind him. His left leg hurt with a deep hot nauseating ache. In his numbed and befuddled state, the possibility of its being broken struck him as more inconvenient than anything else.
“The men were, yes. But the women and children—“ Angelus smiled and winked. Drusilla gave a coo of happiness. “Go and get up with Darla, Drusilla.”
She got up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek without asking permission, but he didn’t scold her. He and Will both watched her run over to Darla, who was storing her prize in one of the horse’s saddlebags.
“All right,” Angelus said. “Come on.” He put out his hand, and Will leaned on it and let Angelus half-carry him over to one of the horses. It was the same all over again, Will reflected sourly, as the horse blew and ducked its head, and tried to step away. Angelus got up and heaved Will up in front of him, and Darla mounted another horse with Dru.
“What about her?” Will asked, seeing Caitlin struggle to sit upright on her own horse. Darla looked over with some surprise.
“Oh—what did you want with her, Angelus?”
Angelus gathered his reins in one hand and sat gazing in silence at Caitlin. They all waited. Caitlin pawed some blood from her chin, and tried to fit her feet in the stirrups.
“You meant to kill her properly, I think,” Darla prompted. “We could bring her with us until we have some leisure—“
“But she’d be slow,” Angelus said. Caitlin looked round at all of them in turn; in expression, Will could see the dawning consciousness that her fate was being discussed. A faint panic began to grow in her eyes.
“Yes,” Darla said. “Well, you could simply do it here, if you prefer.”
“I could,” Angelus agreed. The horse sidestepped and Will lifted his leg clear with a grimace. Angelus tapped an absent little rhythm on Will’s hip with his free hand, then abruptly put his knee to the horse and steered it over to Caitlin’s.
“Look at me,” he said, when she dropped her eyes. She looked up. Her face was stripped raw—bloody, bruised, and stupid with fear and weariness.
“Now that,” Angelus said, “is how a minion ought to look.”
Darla clucked in surprise. “Don’t tell me you’re going to accept her?” Caitlin’s eyes grew even wider and more horrified at the suggestion. Angelus laughed.
“What do I want with a minion?” he asked, and shoved Caitlin off her horse. She fell with a bone-bruising thump, and the horse shied and almost trampled her in its retreat. Angelus leaned his head on Will’s shoulder and gazed down at her.
“You attacked my Sire and you attacked my childe,” he said. “I told you I’d kill you for that. But—“ He paused. They all waited while he stared at her, tapping Will’s hip again as he thought.
“You may have saved Will,” he said at last, his tone grudging. “You tried, at least. I don’t know why she allowed you to distract her, and I don’t care to know.” He paused again, and Will thought of how the stake had wavered, just for an instant, while Angelus was still too far away to help. He felt a thrill of the same sick elation he’d felt on the roof.
“In any case,” Angelus said, drawing himself up as if he’d reached a decision, “it’s enough to earn you your life. Which isn’t worth much, so I suppose it’s a fair trade. I won’t kill you. And I hope never to see you again.”
Caitlin gazed up at him with a dull sick expression, as if she hadn't understood. A line of black blood ran from the corner of her mouth.
He took up the reins in both hands, and raised an eyebrow at Darla.
“We’ll take horses for the fledges,” she said, as if nothing of particular importance had occurred. “We can feed in Purwall, and continue south till morning.”
“Morpeth by dawn,” Angelus agreed. “How long till then, Will?”
“Er—four hours,” he guessed, and winced as Angelus cuffed the back of his head. It wasn’t much of a blow, though--it might almost have been a pat.
“We’ll have a lesson tomorrow,” Angelus said, wheeling the horse. “Or the next day, perhaps. After we’ve had some rest.”
“Yes sir,” Will muttered. They began to trot out of the courtyard, Darla leading the spare horses by their reins.
“How long do you imagine she’ll last?” she asked, as she passed one of the pair to Angelus. He glanced back and shrugged.
“A day or two, perhaps.”
Will ducked his head and looked round Angelus’s shoulder at the dark little bundle, motionless in the snow. For just a moment he felt a thread of sympathy. Then Angelus kissed his temple and pushed his head back round, and his thoughts moved on to more important things.
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