By Niels van Eekelen


I try not to cry very often, and with just a few exceptions, I think I get along very nicely. That day was a prime example of why I won't let myself get down with the tears. Once I started crying in earnest, I didn't stop. Afterwards, I was never really sure how much of the story Maria got out of me. I might have blurted out the entire story in between sobs, but somewhere I doubt it. I suspect that I only gave my Watcher the most bare and necessary facts.

Either way, Maria never asked me about it later, in the short time we had left together. How much she guessed, I never had the chance to find out, but she could tell that I couldn't have taken the questions, and didn't press the matter.

For the next two or three days, Maria never left my side. We never ate food that wasn't delivered, and Maria never opened the door without a crossbow in hand. Yeah, there were some pretty freaked-out pizza guys in Boston those few days.

Slowly, I was healing. Or at least my body was. The... encounter with my father had ripped all the walls I'd placed in my mind wide open to face the sunlight, and I faired little better in that light than most vamps did. That time is rather vague in my memory. I slept a lot, but never for long. And when the nightmares started me awake screaming, Maria was there to hold me. Every single time. She made me feel protected like I hadn't been since I was a toddler. I had never had anyone like Maria in my life before.

Which didn't mean that I could stand letting even her see me so vulnerable. On the Third or fourth day after the incident, I woke up, soaked in my own sweat. I was panting like I'd just run a double marathon, and perhaps that is why I did not scream and wake Maria. M was sitting on a pillow on the ground, her head perched on the edge of my bed, sound asleep. She looked absolutely exhausted; I can't imagine that she'd got much sleep over the past few days. She'd certainly earned her title, Watching over me.

Careful not to wake Maria, I got out from under the sweat-soaked covers and stood up. I planned to shower, get dressed and bring Maria a meal, for a change. Simply put, I wanted to show the both of us that I was a tough bitch and could take care of myself. It wasn't as easy as I'd thought.

I stood there next to the bed, and my legs were shaking like something crazy. I'd not managed to eat much over the past few days, and my bruised and battered body was still only half-healed. Trying to put on a brave face but failing, I stumbled my way to the bathroom, supporting myself on whatever I could get my hands on.

Turning on the hot shower, I suddenly felt inhumanly filthy. Maria had washed me after she had brought me home, bathed me like an invalid, or a baby. But suddenly I could smell my father on me again.Quickly, I tore off my shirt and underwear and stepped under the hot, cleansing spray. I saw on Maria's alarm clock that it was 4.30 AM. The hot water running over my body felt wonderful, but it did little to help me feel any cleaner. I lathered and rinsed. Then I did it again, scrubbing harder each time until my skin was red like a sunburn. It was probably the cleanest I've ever been in my life, and still my body felt dirty.

I didn't even realise that my tears were mingling with the water from the shower until I snapped out of my daze when Maria shouted my name.

Automatically, I responded to the controlled panic in her voice. "Here! In the shower!" I heard Maria rush into the bathroom and I shared her panic for a moment when she swung open the curtain. Maria relaxed the moment she saw that I was all right. Then she struggled with her Britishness for a moment about whether to close her eyes until I got dressed or help me. Fortunately, the Britishness lost. My Watcher turned off the water and quickly through a towel around me. As Maria helped to dry and clothe me, I focused on calming my breathing. The alarm clock said it was almost 6.45 AM.

Neither of us spoke a word while we ate brekfast, but it was clear that something had changed now. I had recovered enough to get busy, and keeping myself so busy that I couldn't think was the only way that I was going to put this behind me.

When we were sure bright sunlight lit every corner outside, we left the apartment to go train. Trick hadn't followed through on his threat to kill Maria yet, but that was probably only because we had both been dug in safely in the apartment. Our doormat did not read 'Welcome'.

There was a bankrupt gym not far away which we used for training. Still not speaking more than stricly necessary, we started out with some simple exercises. You know, just punching and kicking some padding Maria wore. At first, my coordination was so off you could have put a small country between it and me. Maria scolded me mercilessly for every miss, and I was glad for it.

Well, more accurately, now I'm happy for it. Back then, I grew more furious with every word. That is what brought me back from the edge, as far as I ever get from it. I'm not one to wax philosophical, but if you ask me, that's part of the primal power that makes a Slayer a Slayer. Fighting, or being near demons just pisses us off on a fundamental level, and we take strength from that or any other kind of anger to kick some serious ass.

We took no brakes longer than it took for us to catch our breaths, and then went on, slugging away. Any other day, and Maria would have been doing the opposite--trying to get me to use my head more instead of my gut. She claims that that is a lesson straight from the Slayer Handbook--I wouldn't know, I never cracked open the book myself--which doubles as a lesson for Watchers that you can't accomplish everything with your Slayer.

Around lunchtime, I was so angry that I'd forgotten not just the past few days, but most of my childhood with it. I knocked Maria on her ass for the fifth time in as many minutes, and reflexively, I put out my hand to help her up. I didn't even look down at her until I realised that she wasn't going to take the hand.

"What?" I demanded from her very annoying smile. Maria just sat there on the ground, looking at me.

"Fuck, M. What?" I demanded again, now almost laughing myself.

Finally, Maria took the hand I was still holding out and pulled herself to her feet. "Welcome back, Faith dear."

I grinned back at her. "Yeah, I guess I am. Wanna go dust some vamp butt?"

Immediately, Maria's face turned stern again, but this time she meant it. "We don't have any choice when it comes to that, Faith. But don't get cocky. You've pulled yourself together--and for that, I'm proud of you, very--but as much as I know you'll hate to think so, you're very fragile right now."

I shrugged of the uncomfortable feeling my Watcher's words gave me. My father--the vamp who'd taken his body (small difference)--was gone, dusted in the sunlight as I'd escaped through the window. I didn't believe anything could possibly shatter me the way he could. "'s cool, M," I assured Maria. "I'm five by five." The worried look in her eyes stayed with me, though. To cover, I grabbed our stuff and put it back in the bag. "Lunch?"

"Mexican," Maria said in her Watcher-resolve voice. I didn't object. After practice sessions, I was usually famished enough that I'd eat anything, and Maria could have her pick.

While we were eating, my mind was churning. Not on any dangerous topics, mind you. I stuck with thoughts of kicking ass and taking names. The trouble was going to be in finding this particular ass.

When, during my second burrito, I glanced at Maria, she gave me the raised eyebrow. "We need a plan," I admitted grudingly. "Trick seems to know every move we make, and we still know squat."

Maria nodded. "True. About the plan. I was hoping you would realise that catching Trick--not to mention his master--is going to take more than storming in blindly. Good. But we're not completely in the dark."

"We're not?" I asked, surprised.Try as I might, I had not been able to come up with a single useful clue Trick had left us.

"I, em." Maria smiled at me gently. "I've had some time to think over the past few days, and while I couldn't leave the house, I did make some phonecalls."

In a hurry to not to dwell on those past few days, I looked at her askance.

As always, Maria understood. "Two men were sent here by the Council to take care of Mr Duke's ..."

"... remains," I supplied.

"... funeral," my Watcher corrected me tersely. "Anyway, I went to college with one of them. Saunders. Good man." I could have sworn she was blushing. At least she didn't meet my eyes while she spoke. "I asked him to do some investigating on our behalf. Luckily, Henman agreed to assist." Noticing the look of panick in my eyes, Maria quickly clarified. "It was an old favour to me, no questions aked. And I implied that we had an emergency to attend to."

I leered at her. "Old favour, riiight."

This time I was certain. Maria blushed. "Faith!" she admonished me. "As glad as I am to see that you have recovered your sense of humour, this is no time for jokes."

"Sorry," I lied. "They find anything? Where'd you have them look, anyway?"

Maria frowned as she explained her reasoning. "Well, firstly, I found out why some of the victims had their tongues removed. It is an ancient vampire ceremony. Once, it was done to honour Shallek, an elder god of the Rondhe pantheon--he was apparently once insulted by a mortal man, and granted his strength to those who punished mortals in this manner. But the Rondhe gods have lost nearly all power on this plain, I'm sure the taking of tongues is merely ceremonial now." Great research work by Maria, no doubt. But this wasn't getting us anywhere fast. And honestly? I could have done without the whole image of torn-out tongues. "Anyway, my point," Maria concluded, thank god, "only truly ancient vampires would know of this ceremony. As far as the Council is aware, there are less than a dozen vampires in the world that are old enough to have actually worshipped the Rondhe gods. None of them have any ties with Boston, or this entire state, that we know of. So I reckon that Mr Trick's master has only come to town recently."

"I get where you're going. Powerful vamp like this moves in, there's gotta be one heck of a lot dust blown up in the local hellcommunity."

"Precisely," Maria agreed approvingly. "Secondly, Trick and his master seem to know our every step, down to where Mr Duke was staying, while Mr Duke never actually said to me that he was staying in the mansion. That is another reason why I wanted my request to Mr Saunders to stay off the record."

I frowned. "You believe this vamp has an ear in the Council?" I was shocked.

Looking very uncomfortable, Maria shook her head. "I refuse to believe that unless I see absolute proof. But at this stage, we cannot afford to disregard any possibility. Anyway, Mr Saunders is most discrete. No one will find out he's working for us, or for the Council."

"Unless they're tapping our phones," I shrugged. I swallowed my last bite of burrito, and when I turned back to Maria, I saw the worry written all over her face. "What?" I asked. "I was only kidding. They're still vamps, right?"

Maria got up. "Let's go home." I kind of thought that Maria was overreacting to the idea. The only vamp I'd ever staked who even lived in the twentieth century had been Mordred, and his brain hadn't supported more than plain and simple violence. Still, I guessed that as Maria had said, we couldn't afford to ignore any possibility.

We all but ran home, and Maria picked up the phone and dialled the number of Saunders and Henman's hotel. They weren't in, so Maria left a message. "Please tell them that Ms Bandera called. Mr Saunders and Mr Henman are not to call me back, under any circumstances. Tell them I will call them from a phone booth in the morning... Yes, all of that... Thank you." She hung up and turned to me.

"I don't think we discussed anything over the phone yet that would be valuable to our enemies," she said. "Saunders said they were close to something, but he did not tell me what."

"Well, M, maybe someone rented a big castle with no windows," I quipped. I really felt much better, now that I was up and fighting again.

Maria smiled at me. "You'd be surprised, Faith dear. Sometimes it really is as easy as that, once you know to look in the right places."

The rest of the day was pretty much torture. Maria wasn't going to call the Council operatives until morning, because she figured they would be out until nightfall, and neither of us wanted Maria to go out at night. We remembered Trick's threats all too well. So we were stuck doing booky research. Normally, I don't do research. There's usually some way to get out of it, for instance, running like the wind. No such luck this time.

We found that only four of the ancient vampires had any links to America. Of those, one was currently under observation by Council operatives in the castle he had imported from Europe, leaving a Mr Hart, a chick by the name of Serpentia... and Kakistos. Then there was the Master Heinrich Joseph Nest, whom you know--him being trapped for decades under the library and all--but since his bones had been ground into powder with a sledgehammer, the chances of him coming back were slim.

They were all as nasty as you can imagine, as far as the books can do such creatures justice, but non of them seemed particularly well-adjusted to modern times, so we figured that part was Trick's work. Everywhere we looked, all we could find on the vampire's were stories of their cruelty. I put on a brave face, but I have to admit that reading those stories shook me. Some of it was close enough to what had been done to me... It sucked. Let's leave it at that. Maria was lost in her bookishness, and for once didn't see through me.

I guess we figured out that Kakistos must be our man then, though there was no way to be absolutely certain. His modus operandi fit, and those cloven hands of his could have easily have been what mutilated the corpses in the mall and in the mansion. The day seemed to last forever, but finally, the sun went down. Slayers aren't built to sleep at night, at least not full nights, but I wasn't at full strength yet, and I was looking forward to a good sleep before going on the warpath the next day. The nightmares I had been having worried me, but the idea of vengeance was giving me a tingly kind of feeling, so I figured I'd be all right.

It was just minutes after sunset that there was a frantic knocking at the door. We exchanged a curious look, but then Maria went to see who it was. It was still very early for vamps to be out already, but M grabbed a crossbow anyway. I had been shrpening the point on a wooden staff, and stood ready to back Maria up if necessary.

After opening the door a few inches, I saw M start. "Billy!" she exclaimed--I didn't know it before, but that was Saunder's first name, obviously. Quickly, my Watcher unlocked the chain and opened the door wide enough for the guy to enter. Nervously she looked around the hallway, but apparently, it was empty. "I thought I told you you couldn't come here! Well? Hurry, come in."

I failed Maria three times. This was the first. And those three times? I'll never forget them. I'll never forgive myself for them. Even when I was at my most craziest, right before the Ascension was supposed to go down, these times I failed the only one who ever cared about me so completely and selflessly, they still haunted me. To this day, and to the day that I die.

The invitation had no sooner left Maria's lips than that Saunders's face changed. "Why thank you," the vamp said, grinning past his fangs, "don't mind if I do!"

Maria gasped, retreating backwards. I leapt forward, the staff thrust out before me. We were too slow. In the fraction of a second that surprise cost us, the vampire grabbed Maria's arm and flung her out into the hallway, into the hands of a veritable army of vampires that had appeared out of thin air. Trick was among them. As was my mother. It all seemed to happen in slow-motion, but time snapped back into its regular rhythm when my customised staff punched through Saunder's chest.

Saunders screamed. I'd missed the heart, but the vamp was out of the fight anyway. Before my brain kicked in, I was already moving on adrenaline. Knowing that the staff was no weapon for close combat against so many opponents, I used it to swing Saunders away from the door, and drove its point into the wall deep enough to keep Saunders upright. Then I snapped off the end, instant stake.

Which is when my brain kicked in. My eyes were going over the vamps outside, assessing the threat, and suddenly I recognised him. Kakistos. I looked down to see that his hands were really cloven, but I was certain before that. Because I recognised him. Like Trick had said, Kakistos had been there that day with my father. Why I didn't remember him before, I don't know. Maybe I repressed it. Maybe I was just to fucking preoccupied to give a shit. But all of a sudden, I was remembering. Kakistos's cold, sadistic laughter as he watched my pain. The hard feel of one of those cloven hands as he lifted my near unconscious body off the floor.

I realised that I had frozen, standing there with my stake at the ready. Kakistos was goading me to come out, but I didn't even understand his words. I had to strain to catch the meaning of the words Maria was shouting at me. "Faith! Faith! First rule of slaying! Remember--" Kakistos backhanded her, and she slumped, unconcious. But I knew what she was going to tell me, anyway. The first rule of slaying: stay alive. And she was right. With so many vamps outside, our only chance was for me to stay where they couldn't get in.

I knew it. She knew it. Hell, the vamps knew it.

But none of that was the reason that I stayed in the appartment, that I stumbled backwards, fell on my ass, and couldn't even try getting up until long after Kakistos and the other vampires were gone, taking Maria with them.

That was the first time that I failed Maria.

Some time later--I honestly wouldn't know how much--I suddenly turned over and vomitted. While I was still retching, I heard a painful moan, and I realised that the vampire I'd staked to the wall was still there. Tears in my eyes from anger, at myself more than anything else, I broke Saunder's face on my knuckles.

"Tell me where they went," I demanded, death rays shooting from my eyes. "Tell me where they took her!" The vampire looked back into my eyes. Perhaps he was bred with that utter loyalty that vamps sometimes seem to have to their sires, or perhaps he was simply too afraid of Kakistos, but he fought of the pain and refused to talk. I fixed that. The rage I was in, it didn't take me long. Afterwards, I dusted Saunders, snatched up some weapons, and I ran out of the door.

I was still terrified, but had it hidden under the mask I usually have up. Nothing mattered now. Saving Maria was it--even the painful death I had put aside just for that bastard came second right now.

Kakistos and Trick were operating from an building in an industrial park Trick had rented over the Internet. It wasn't far--actually, I'd passed through the industrial park on patrol once or twice. It was maybe half an hour from the apartment, on foot. That night, I did it in ten minutes, tops.

The place was a large shed, one in a row of many. Even if I'd taken a closer look at it one night on patrol, nothing gave away that this was a vamp hideout, not on the outside at least. There were loading facilities for trucks out front. Big crane, containers stacked twenty feet high. That sort of stuff. It looked like it was still in use.

Reining myself in, I circled the place twice before I picked the best entry point. Then I climbed onto the third-storey roof of the shed to the right of the one I wanted. From there, I leapt across the gap against the opposite wall. Clawing for any purchase I could get, I pulled myself up. It was a cheap construction, and the gap left between the wall and ceiling was just wide enough to squeeze though. The jump was easy. It was landing without making enough ruckus to literally wake the dead that was the tough part.

The top storey of the shed was dark. I dropped to the floor and waited a moment. No vamps jumped out at me, and that was all the checking I wanted to take the time to do. There was a big freight elevator in the centre of the building; the elevator itself was all the way at the bottom, but that was fine. I couldn't use it anyway--too much noise. I grabbed the ledge, and swung myself over. I landed in a roll one storey lower, stakes in both hands as I bounded to my feet.

By now I was getting worried, because there was no sign of vampires on this floor either. With everything that had happened so far, there was no way I was going to believe that I was catching Kakistos and Trick completely by surprise. Some sounds were drifting up from the ground floor, but not clearly enough to tell if they were from vampires.

Lying down on my stomach, I lowered my head into the elevator shaft and glanced around the ground floor. The room was cloaked in darkness like the two floors above. I could see nothing that indicated the place was inhabited. I frowned, worried, because I knew I'd heard sounds coming from here--and if Saunders had been wrong about this place, I'd lost my only chance of ever finding Maria. Slowly, I lowered myself through the hole. The storeys in those sheds are pretty tall, so I was still several feet from the ground when I hung from my fingertips. In the dark, it was impossible to tell exactly.

I let go, ready for anything. I could have had weapons in my hands the instant I hit the ground. If there had been vamps down there, and they'd jumped me, I would have been ready for them. A scream rang out through the air. An ear-splitting, tortured scream. In Maria's voice. I tried to twist around in mid-air, towards the sound, but I only managed to get my own feet out from under me. I banged into the floor face-first.

For a moment I thought that the flash of light I saw was just from the force of impact, but when I raised to my hands and knees, the lights were still on.

That was the least of it.

There were vampires all around, maybe thirty of them. Above me, I glimpsed more vamps on the edge of the elevator shaft, cutting off any hope I would have had of escape.

But there was only one vampire I was paying attention to. Kakistos stood mere feet away, lurking over a bloody heep of a human being. It screamed again, and I swear that the sound of her voice was the only thing that was recognizable about Maria. The things Kakistos could do with those claws of his... There are no words to describe them, and I honestly don't want to try. Kakistos looked at me, his face and body covered in M's blood. He looked as if it had been centuries since he'd had so much fun.

"Nooo!" I shrieked. I had a battle axe sheathed on my back, and I swung it out as I mindlessly stormed at the monster. The axe was the real thing, heavy enough that it required a two-handed grip. It ripped through the air with all the adrenaline-driven force I could put behind it. Kakistos punched out with the flat of his hand and snapped the handle in half, sending the double blade scything through the room. Unable to halt my momentum, I lurched forward, and Kakistos's cloven hand to my gut sent me flying into a stack of crates. The wooden boxes shattered at the impact, and I landed among the shrapnel, splinters everywhere distracting me from the dull pain in my gut.

Two of Kakistos's minion rushed in to drag me to my feet. Striking out blindly with the shards of wood I had snatched up, I managed to stake them both. None of the others approached me.

I looked up, and Kakistos smiled at me. Guess what? It wasn't a friendly smile. It was the kind of fang-showing that will send shivers down your spine. "Welcome, Slayer," he said. "You were a good prey--the best I've had in centuries. But now it's time to end the hunt." He touched Maria's mangled form--it looked like no more than a simple touch--and once again she screamed in agony. That sound caused a reaction of almost physical pain in me.

"You son of a--" I stormed at him again. Like with every other encounter I'd had with Kakistos or any of his gang, the sick fuck knew exactly what my buttons were, and how to push them. If I'd thought about it, I'd have realised then and there that Kakistos had purposefully lured me there just so that he could have an all-out one on one battle before killing me. All the other vamps there were just an audience, to prevent me from fleeing. Maria, everything... it was all part of numbing down his 'prey' for that final moment of victory.

This time, when Kakistos struck out at me, he knocked me down on the floor. Ignoring the impact as best as I could, I swung my legs and scissored his legs out from under him. Ancient and powerful as he was, Kakistos fell down just as good as any vamp. I rolled over, straddling him, and raised a stake I'd kept in my sleeve. Kakistos brutally stabbed me with one of his cloven hands, piercing the flesh of my thigh. I screamed my lungs out from the pain.

Kakistos batted me aside. I managed to roll with the punch, and end up squatted on my heels. When I rose to my feet, though, my injured leg buckled beneath me.

The monster touched Maria again, and again she screamed. Taking out my last stake, I limped at Kakistos as best as I could. Tears were running freely down my cheeks. I knew deep in my heart that all of Maria's pain was because of me. Kakistos was only torturing her to rile me. Even worse, I knew that if I hadn't been weak, if I hadn't let Kakistos break me, it would never have come this far.

And I cried because I was deadly afraid that I would be next. I attacked, not because I really believed I had a chance anymore, but simply for it to be over one way or another. Kakistos hit me in the arm, knocking the stake out of my hand, but I rolled along the punch and leapt, half-rolling, half-jumping over the vampire's shoulder. Back on the ground, I kicked in the back of his knee, but he did not go down. For a while, I was all over Kakistos, kicking and punching every part of his body that I could find, dodging whatever he threw back at me. The fight seemed to be turning my way after all.

But Kakistos wasn't even slowing down, and my leg was killing me. Literally, 'cause I was bleeding pretty bad. In the end, all it took for Kakistos to take back control was one solid hit.

I don't even remember the hit itself, only lying on the ground gasping for breath, sure, for one instant, that my hand was all that was holding my guts in.

Did you know that being shot in the stomach is supposed to be one of the worst ways to go? I know this from experience. Trust me, bullet or claw makes no difference.

It turned out that, though I was certainly losing twice as much blood now, the wound in my stomach wasn't as bad as I feared. I needed to use my hand to get up, and no guts fell out onto the floor. I needn't have bothered trying to get up. Kakistos was towering over me. He put a heavy foot on my shoulder as was trying to raise from my knees to my feet and crushed me back into the ground. With a sickening sound, something cracked. I tried once more to get up, but couldn't.

Kakistos knelt down on the floor beside me, and let me feel his cloven hands. I think the bastard might have had poison on his claws. Either that, or in all his centuries of unlife he had learnt something about inflicting pain that I've never found anywhere else. Those are the only possible explanations I have for what he could make you feel with a single touch. I did little more than writhe in agony on the floor in response.


The softly-spoken word came to me while gasping in between screams. My head shot up in shock. Maria. She had regained consciousness, and was watching me with the one eye she could still force halfway open. Her lips were moving. In hindsight, I think that Maria was just gasping for breath, like I was. But then, I was sure that my Watcher was trying to tell me something. I focused through the pain.

There was no voice to hear, or if there was, the laughter coming from Kakistos's minions drowned it out. But I heard Kakistos swing his claw at me, inches from my body. Drawing on reserves of powers I didn't know I had, I huddled up, rolling away and escaping the blow by a hair's breadth.

When I opened my eyes, I was looking right at the razor edge of a steel blade, half an inch from my face. It took a moment before I realised that it was the blade of my own axe, that had been sent spinning through the room when Kakistos had broken the handle. The axe was a heavy weapon--it'd had a two-handed handle on it for a reason--and wasn't a throwing axe. It suddenly came to me that with Kakistos's strength behind it, it had still proven quite aerodynamic. I was certain I was as strong as he was.

I tore the blade out of the floor. It sliced through the air with a high-pitched whistle, and landed with the sickening crunch of breaking bone. Kakistos had been one his way to pounce on me some more, but the blade of the axe gouged out a deep hole in his face and sent him toppling over backwards.

The bastard's scream of pain was as inhuman as he was. It was the most satisfying thing I'd ever heard in my entire life.

Grinding my teeth, I got back to my feet. Kakistos's wound would have killed a human, and though I knew that a vampire would eventually recover--and given enough time even regrow the eye--but even a vampire would be out of it long enough for a solid staking. To my surprise, the guarding minions still left me alone. I guess they'd been instructed not to interfere no matter what. Trick, as far as I could tell, was out taking a hike. Small surprise there. Taking a sliver of wood from the floor, I stood over Kakistos's body, savouring the moment. Then I jammed the stake into his chest.

But with Kakistos's bulk, the sliver of wood just wasn't enough to reach his heart. At least, I imagine that was it. Kakistos didn't dust. All I did was wake him up. Kakistos's remaining eye snapped open, and he let loose an ear-splitting, animal howl. One hand reached up with lightning speed, catching my right arm. He crushed my arm so hard that the bones snapped, breaking through the skin. My voice was already hoarse, but I quickly found out that I had a few screams left in me.

Kakistos got up, lifting me easily as if I was a baby. I tried to twist free, but that hurt my arm so much worse that I can still feel it. With his free hand, he pulled the axe out of his face, then turned to look at me. The bloody pit where his one eye used to be looked less scary than the naked, feral rage in the other. The pain had made Kakistos go wild. There was no trace of his cold, sadistic nature left, but somehow this was even scarier.

Before I had the chance to realise what was going on, I was flying through the air. This time, though, Kakistos had flung me away with all his strength. For a fleeting second, I was just relieved that he had let go of my arm. Then I crashed through the door and hit the asphalt outside.

It seemed to me that so much time had passed that it should have been at least noon the following day. The blazing sun would have solved all my problems, then and there. No such luck. The sky was still pitch black, and would remain so for almost another hour.

Dazed, I got up to my knees. To my surprise, I was at least a dozen yards from the door to the shed. I had almost hit the driver's cabin of the nearest crane. Meanwhile, while I was getting my bearings, Kakistos wasn't wasting any time. The creature came stalking towards me from the building like a bloody, rabid bear. He seemed more enormous than ever.

It was pure luck that I saw my opportunity. I had one chance of surviving the night, and I grasped it with both hands. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Realistically, my right hand wasn't doing jack. Limping, shaking my head to focus my eyes and cradling my arm to my bodies, I made for the driver's cabin. I breathed a sigh of relief when the door opened under my hand. By some act of providence, the cabin wasn't locked. Once inside, I fell to the ground and began to shake. I couldn't stop.

Kakistos kept coming like a force of nature, growling like the beast that he was. His minions followed him out of the shed--at a safe distance. I watched him coming, praying to whoever was listening that my plan would work.

It did. Kakistos was nearing the cabin, and showed his fangs and raised his claws to give me one last fright before killing me. Imagine the bastard's surprise when he leaped forward and collided with an invisible barrier, bouncing him right back. He was infuriated. He rammed into the barrier time and time again, but it made no difference. If it wouldn't have been so painful, I would have laughed.

Instead, I looked around the cabin once more. It was obvious that this crane was operated by just one driver in particular. There were pictures taped to the wall: some of a nice, Afro-American family, some of the person I assumed to be the driver, surrounded by a group of his colleagues. There was a portable radio, even a little succulent. It was almost... like a home.

Eventually, Kakistos exhausted his rage, and the shadow of ration returned to his one-eyed glare. He finally realised that there was no way he was gonna get into the cabin, and before long, the sun was going to put an end to that seemingly everlasting night. Without taking his eye off me, Kakistos summoned two of his minions. "Fetch the Watcher," he growled.

"No more games, Slayer," he said to me. "For this"--and he dragged his claw through the blood welling up in the wide-ass scar on his face--"you will die. No more games." The minions returned, dragging Maria along. Kakistos took her from them.

I had no fight left in me, but I swear that if I'd realised what that monster was about to do, I would have jumped right back out of the cabin. With one quick movement, Kakistos tore Maria's head from her body. "NO!" I screamed, but I was too late.

The worst part... the worst part is... just before it happened, Maria and I looked each other in the eye. She was pretty far gone already, and the look she gave me was unreadable. It could have been relief at seeing me still alive, it could have been shared pain, it could even have been nothing, a numb look with neither thought nor emotion behind it. Or it could have been blame. I'll never know, and that is worse than anything the answer could have been.

I cried. My eyes glued to Maria's corpse, I cried. Dimly, I heard Kakistos's words before he and his minions left to find their shelter for the day. "The next time we meet, Slayer," he threatened, "there will be nowhere for you to hide. And it will be soon."

That was the second time I failed Maria. And this time, she died because I could not kill Kakistos. To top it all off, I was about to fail my Watcher, the mother I never had, one last, third time. I should have done anything in my power to kill Kakistos then--swallow my pride and beg the Watchers' Council if I had to--to at least have vengeance for everything that monster did to her. I didn't. Instead, I fled.

to be continued

Story written by Niels van Eekelen. © Copyright 2004 Telltale Productions.

In a perfect world, I would own the series 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'Angel'. Alas, it is not, and I bow my head to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Ah, well. It's probably for the best, me not having a contract to put the show on the air and all.

A special thanks to Paul Leone and Teresa Owens, from whose story 'The Deliverer' I nicked the name of Faith's Watcher, though not the character.