In the Morning of the Magicians

By Indri

SUMMARY: Giles and Ethan, the electric Kool-Aid funky Satan groove year, in the early seventies.
SPOILERS: Band Candy.
RATING: M. Drug use, sexual situations, coarse language, nudity, violence, political insurrection and black magic.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The title is from a track on Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips, and also refers to the 1960 book on occultism Le Matin des magiciens by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier. Section titles and two lines of dialogue are from "The Dark Age" by Dean Batali and Rob Des Hotel. Spoilery further acknowledgements are given after the story.
DISCLAIMER: The young Ethan Rayne and Rupert Giles are extrapolations of characters created by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Randall, Diedre and Philip are briefly introduced in "The Dark Age" by Dean Batali and Rob Des Hotel. All other characters are my works of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. They especially do not resemble any of my former housemates, my housemates' former housemates, or anyone I ever attended a house party with.
WRITTEN: Begun November 2009, completed September 2010. Edited and published in installments from October 2010 to October 2011.
PLEASE NOTE: This is probably best read after Halfway There.

PART 1: The Worst Crowd That Would Have Me - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 /11 / 12 / 13 / 14 / 15 / 16 / 17 / 18 / 19 / 20 / 21 /

PART 2: Pleasure or Gain - 22/ 23/ 24/ 25/ 26/ 27/ 28/ 29/ 30/ 31/ 32/ 33/ 34/ 35/ 36/ 37/ 38/ 39/ 40/ 41/

PART 3: An Extraordinary High - 42/ 43/ 44/ 45/ 46/ 47/ 48/ 49/ 50/ 51/ 52/ 53/ 54/ 55/ 56/ 57/ 58/ 59/ 60/ 61/ 62/ 63/ 64/ 65/ 66/ 67/ 68/

PART 4: Fools - 69/ 70/ 71/ 72/ 73/ 74/ 75/ 76/ 77/ 78/ 79/ 80/ 81/ 82/ 83/ 84/ 85/

PART 5: Way Back - 86/ 87/ 88/ 89/ 90/ 91/ 92/ 93/ 94/ 95/ 96/ 97/ 98/ 99/ 100/ 101/ 102/ 103/ 104/ 105/ 106/ 107/ 108/ 109/ 110/ 111/ 112/ 113/ 114/ 115/ 116/ 117/ 118/ 119/ 120/ 121/


Part 1:
The Worst Crowd That Would Have Me


The note was in Evelyn's clear, if untutored, handwriting. It read, simply: "Ethan, I'm at the canal." She'd left it propped up on the kitchen table, next to an empty vodka bottle and Diedre's unwashed lunch dishes. He wrote on the back of it, "I'm going out," and left it there for the others. He washed himself up a little, changed into clean clothes, and headed out of the house.

It wasn't a long walk to the canal, and the weather was very pleasant, clear and sunny and unseasonably warm for spring. Couples were out promenading on the towpath, and dogwalkers dawdled under the willow trees as their pets sniffed around.

He didn't have any trouble finding her barge, which was moored perhaps a quarter-mile from the lock. A previous owner had painted it red and black in a mock-gypsy style which appealed to Evelyn's sense of humour. She wasn't gypsy, of course, but the daughter of a Manchester schoolteacher, a fact he wasn't supposed to know; Evelyn would have preferred to have sprung fully-formed.

She'd set the door wards to let him straight in, but he paused at the threshold anyway. He always had to brace himself for the reek of the magic inside.

The interior was long and narrow, cluttered with lipped bookshelves and hanging baskets piled with miscellanies. There was a small kitchen at one end and a large bed at the other. Evelyn was at the stove, putting butter in a frying pan. She was in her early thirties, some ten years older than he was. She was fat and fond of long, low-cut velvet dresses; today's was coloured a deep crimson. "Ethan," she said, "what good timing! Would you like some supper with me?"

"Love some," he said. "How's tricks?"

It had been quite some time since Evelyn had last come his way, so they had plenty to catch up on. She told him what she'd been up to and where she had been. She was often circumspect, of course, "a West Indian in Brentford", or "this fabulous dolmen", for serious information rarely came free. As she spoke, she cracked eggs into a bowl and sliced up bread. Ethan, meanwhile, stepped along the cabin, picking up the latest books and gewgaws, trying to work out which were worthless and which were worth more than the barge. He sifted through dog-eared packs of Tarot cards, carved wooden boxes, and figurines made of wire and semi-precious stones. Evening light rippled over the water outside.

Over a spinach and cheese omelette and a bottle of wine, he told her the expurgated version of what he'd been getting up to. All minor magics, but executed with some flair, he liked to think. She laughed with him and poured him more wine.

"But my real find," she said, once the sun had set and the lamps were lit, "is a conjuration tome of Dargoth's."

Ah, now they were getting to the meat of the conversation. "Is that a demon name or a human one?" he asked.

"Neither," she said, leaning in close and speaking more quietly. "A demi-god, mainly worshipped by demons. Not as well known in this dimension, but sometimes his work slips through."

"How did you get the book?" he asked.

"Oh, come on," she said, "you know I can't tell you that."

He tapped his fingers over the tabletop. "Can you tell me what's in it?"

"It's supposed to be filled with useful titbits on summoning and binding essences. Tasty spells, Ethan. Nutritious and delicious."

"'Supposed to be'?" queried Ethan. "Haven't you looked?"

"Only worshippers of Dargoth may read his words," she said.

"You need to find a demon to read it?" he asked.

"No," she said, "I need to worship Dargoth."

The penny dropped then. Really, he must be a little drunk not to have seen this coming sooner. "So, this is a business trip?"

"Business and pleasure, Ethan."

He looked out at the street lights reflected in the waters of the canal, feeling his good mood drain away. "What do you want me for?"

"Well, now," she said, getting up from the table to search through a pile of cookbooks and a copy of the Kalevala, "I found this rite." She pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to him.

"Ah," he said, as he glanced over it, "I can see why you've asked me, then. This takes three. And," he said, after flicking over another page, "you need some of my blood."

"Only a little," she said.

He looked up at her sourly.

"I'd owe you a big favour," she said. "My favours are good currency, Ethan."

"I'll also need some time to sober up," he said. "Some of this takes a great deal of coordination."

"Oh, Ethan," she said, "I knew I could count on you."

"Don't get used to it," he said.


The last note of the encore hung in the air. It had been a good gig. The lead guitarist had been nothing to write home about, but the bass player had put on a show. Ripper could feel the chords flex through his fingers as he downed the last of his beer.

"You like music then?" asked a girl who appeared at his elbow. "I was watching you from back there. You were really getting into it."

"It's all right," he said.

"I like that," she said. "It's means you're not just here on the pull."

Ripper took a proper look at her then: sandals, jeans, a tight top, and a halo of curly hair. She was on the tall side. It was impossible in the light to tell her precise age or hair colour, but she looked good enough to him.

"I'm in a band," he offered. "I helped found Pink Floyd."

"You are funny," she said.


He put a cigarette between her lips and lit it for her, then lit one for himself. The crowd was clearing out of the cellar, heading to the bar upstairs. Pub staff were picking up glasses.

"Fancy a drink?"

The narrow stairs were well-worn and sticky with beer. He bought her a spritzer that she dipped her tongue into before grimacing. There was a loud group of lads in the next booth, making it difficult to talk.

"I thought the bass player was pretty good," the girl shouted.

"I should ask him to join my band," said Ripper. "Our one's crap."

"What do you play?"

"Guitar," he said. "And I sing."

She had another go at the spritzer and then put it to one side. "Want to go out?" she asked.

Ripper thought that was a little fast, even for a lucky night. He took a drag at his cigarette and glanced down at a chunky ring on his finger that had a chip of mirror in it. If he moved his hand right---

She had a reflection. Well, that ruled out one of the more likely possibilities.

"Well?" she said.

"All right."

Outside it was mercifully quiet. Ripper looked around, but couldn't see anyone following them.

Around the block was a shopping street, with a bank and a bakery and an Indian grocer's. It was deserted at this hour. On the pavement next to a postbox, she stepped up on her tiptoes to kiss him. Her tongue went in his mouth and her arms wrapped around his waist. She started to grind her jeans against his.

They got as far as a doorway alcove before the unbuttoning and unzipping began. He pushed up and she pushed down, bracing herself against the shop window. It was pretty quick but pretty satisfying.

Her face was sweaty, and orange-coloured from the street lamps. The back of her head pressed against glass. Behind her were newsagent cards about rooms to let, furniture wanted, and local lost dogs.

"Want to come back to my place?" she asked, which made him feel like he'd passed an audition. "It's not far."

"All right," he said.

The house was an end terrace, with dead pot-plants in the front courtyard and a boarded-up porch. She took him in the back way, through a gate and past long grass to an unlocked door into a kitchen. None of the lights were on.

It was the smell that raised the hairs on the back of his neck. Of course, the place smelt like every other cheap digs he'd been to, of toast and tea and mildew, but there were other scents too: candlewax and incense and herbs.

The girl lit a candle on the kitchen table and then opened a nearby door. The room she walked into was in total darkness; Ripper couldn't see what was in there. He strained to hear, but the only sounds were from outside, his own breathing, and a slight rustle from where the girl had gone.

Suddenly wary, he grabbed the candleholder in his left hand and took a stout wooden stool in his right. With a martial stance, he stepped into the room.

There was a mattress, piles of books and papers, and a curtain rod hung between walls as a makeshift wardrobe. The girl was pulling off her top, her skin and hair made yellow by the candlelight.

"Are you OK?" she asked.

He hoped his smile didn't look too forced as he put the stool down with the candle on top of it. "Yeah," he said.

She came towards him, raising her arms.


Evelyn's bed was more comfortable than Ethan's own. He lay there for a while, enjoying it, but feeling weak and weary. He thought he might stay there with his eyes closed for as long as he could, but he could smell coffee and his face was growing warm from sunlight. So he pulled himself up on his elbows to look around. Their third was long gone, but Evelyn was at her desk, with her glasses on, already working her way through her tome. Ethan's clothes were piled at the bottom of the bed. The pentacle was still chalked onto the floor in a hastily-cleared space between the bed and her desk, but its lines had been deliberately smudged to remove its power.

"Breakfast!" Evelyn said, when she noticed him awake. "And stout. Nutrients to help with the blood loss." She brought him some peanuts, a pint of flat Guinness and some toast, quite the oddest breakfast he'd had in a while. "The book's gorgeous," she said, pressing his hand affectionately. "Thank you."

"A large favour," he said.

"Of course!"

He finished eating and she went back to her book. After he dressed he had a further look through her things. He picked up a Baedeker's guide to West Germany, a coffee tin encrusted with seashells, and a tiny jade cat.

"Don't take anything home now," Evelyn said, without looking up.

There was a scrap of paper tucked into the coffee tin. In Evelyn's handwriting, it read, "Ciccarello, 131 Esplanade". Ethan looked at it and wondered why the name was familiar. Of course, it could just be a restaurant or a dentist's...

"Midsummer should be good," Evelyn said. "You should come this year."

"Waste of time," he muttered, putting down the tin.

"Depends who you know, sweetie," she said, "and I know people."

He buttoned up his shirt. "Randall and Diedre might go."

"Oh!" she said. "And how are the rest of the Bash Street Kids?"

"We're all quite well. You should come over. They'd love to see you."

"How about the day after tomorrow, in the evening? I'll bring the usual. And do a party trick."

"If you would," Ethan said.

The air outside felt thin after the magical miasma of the barge. The lunchtime crowds were coming out and the weather was still holding, so it was probably a good time to busk. He wasn't in the mood though; he'd rather just go home and sit with his eyes closed for a while. And he had enough cash for a couple of days at least.

The house was quiet when he got back. Adrienne had her door shut. Stan would be downstairs. Diedre and Tom were nowhere to be seen. Randall was up on the second landing, finishing off a Boschian tableau he was painting on the wall. It was better not to talk with him when he was working.

Perhaps he should spend the afternoon on some minor conjurations, the magical equivalent of playing scales. He felt calm but not up to anything strenuous. He fetched himself a cup of tea and a biscuit and then settled into the old drawing room with his wishing-stones and candles.

Water first, he thought, closing his eyes and extending his hand. He imagined the taste of it in his mouth and its flow over his skin. Water, the fluid in every living thing, the substance of mist and the strength of the oceans. Water, bring it to me.

He turned his face upwards to the small shower of indoor rain.

Then he reset the stones in a different pattern. Earth, he thought, from dust to dust, the ground beneath our feet. Pebble and stone and soil and wormcast.

A grind of fine rocks appeared outside the circle.

Wind next, and as it pulled at his hair and breathed over his neck, he thought that perhaps he was in better condition than he'd expected. The power was there, singing just underneath his skin.

He started to set up the circle for the fourth time. As he did so, he heard someone come up the stairs and then pause on the landing. Ethan was intent on the pattern when the man came into the room. He didn't look up; it was probably Stan.

Then a bare foot extended into the circle and nudged the last stone into place with a heel. The foot wasn't Stan's. It belonged to a tall young man clad only in jeans who blinked rather sleepily down at Ethan. The man had thick wavy hair and an ugly ring on his finger.

"Ripper!" came a shout from below, from Adrienne. "Ripper!" Or that's what it sounded like, but no-one calling themselves "Ripper" would have much success picking up women in London, surely?

"He's up here," Ethan shouted back down. He considered. The man was better-looking than most of her catch. "Are you a communist?" Ethan asked him.

The man blinked at him in surprise, which Ethan took to be a "no".

"He's in a band," Adrienne said, as she came into the room. "Aren't you, Ripper?"

The man nodded.

"You were out late too," Adrienne said to Ethan.

"I was visiting Evelyn. She's around for a few days. She'd like to come over tomorrow night."

"A party," said Adrienne. "Ripper could come to that. He could play guitar."

Ethan made a gesture with his hand of not caring very much, although he was looking thoughtfully at the completed circle. "If you want."

"You'll come to that, won't you, Ripper?"

"Yes," said Ripper, in a surprisingly crisp accent, "I think I will."

She led Ripper back downstairs, promising him that the cafe around the corner made good egg and bacon rolls.

Ethan tried to settle back down to his conjurations, but his concentration had gone. He packed up his kit and then mopped up the water and earth.

Then he went upstairs to watch Randall paint. Randall was just putting on the final touches to a Bacchannal. Tiny painted figures held tiny painted goblets and danced over tiny painted dogs. Ethan watched him until Randall finally put down his paints and reached for the brush-cleaner.

"What was that ruckus downstairs, then?" Randall asked.

"Fresh blood," said Ethan.


They were waiting for him when he got home. He should have expected it: they'd been talking behind his back for a week. And now here were Jim and Alison standing in the flat's doorway, blocking his way through. Alison had her arms folded over her pregnant belly and she had her serious expression on. Jim had his hands in his pockets and his shoulder had nudged the print of Skegness askew.

"It's been three weeks, Ripper," Jim said. "You said you'd only be here a couple of days."

"I'm looking for my own place," Ripper said.

"And how's that going?" asked Alison.

"It's been hard..."

Alison reached behind her to grab something from the telephone table. It was a newspaper. "I've called around," she said. "I've circled the ones still free."

"And we know you've got money," Jim said, "from the gigs last week."

"I'm just sleeping on the sofa," Ripper protested. "I'm barely here at all."

"Well, you can be barely there somewhere else then," said Alison.

He gave her a stare.

Jim said, "Please, Ripper."

He realised then that they were afraid of him. They were expecting him not to go without a fight, or without breaking up some of the furniture. They'd both been there the night he clobbered a pickpocket outside the pub.

"You'd better give me my stuff then," he said.

Jim helped him carry everything he owned down the three flights of stairs to Ripper's car. It all fit in the boot. Alison watched from an open window upstairs.

"Look," said Jim, "no hard feelings, right? It's Alison, you know what preggers women are like. Let me know where you end up."

"You traitorous prick," said Ripper.

Jim backed off towards the dubious safety of the flat's stairwell. "Right, well, we'll see you Thursday, at The Cap. We're on at eight, Ripper. Setup at seven?"

Ripper took a step forward and Jim fled. Ripper didn't follow -- he did still want to play with the band -- but he settled for kicking the gate.

He went back to the car, wishing he'd at least been given the chance to wash. He was aware that he smelt of egg and bacon roll, and of himself and Adrienne. He drove around the corner to get out of Alison's gaze.

He crumpled up the newspaper page they'd given him. He didn't have enough money left for a week's rent, not after petrol, a few LPs, a couple of t-shirts, a carton of cigarettes, food, drink, and the cover charge for last night's gig. He practically only had pocket change left.

It was Sunday afternoon. The streets were quiet but there were kids out on the children's playground. Ripper wondered what to do. He could stay in his car one night, he thought, then go back to Adrienne's. Maybe he could talk her into staying at her place for a few nights, until he had the money from the next gig.

Strange bloody house, though. He'd had a bit of a look that morning. Candles everywhere, stairwells painted obscenely, that bloke casting the fire spell. But everything looked human, no signs of anything demonic. New age hippies, worried about their chakras? But no, that conjuration had looked real enough. Ripper had cast that one himself once, on a very wet training trip in Epping Forest. Dabblers, then, or dilettantes.

But the odd thing was that the smells which had put him on edge when he first arrived had had a different effect on him in the morning. Waking to them, they were familiar and almost reassuring. Part of him thought that all buildings should smell that way.

That night he slept in the car. It wasn't too bad, on an unseasonably warm night, curled up in the back under his jacket. Except that his legs were too long and he got a crick in his neck and the old jumper he'd rolled up as a pillow kept slipping out on to the floor.


"Ciccarello," said Randall, frowning. He was sitting on the attic's window seat next to Diedre; they were eating ice cream together with little wooden spoons from a paper cup. "Sounds familiar, but I can't place it."

"I've heard of her," said Diedre. "I mean, enough that I know that she's a she. But I don't even remember why I know that."

The attic had been a nursery once. Shreds of carousel wallpaper still clung in places. Ethan was sitting on one of the beanbags next to a wall.

"Do you think it's important?" Diedre asked.

Ethan shrugged. "It caught my eye," he said. For a moment, that scrap of paper had been the clearest object on Evelyn's boat.

"Your instincts are good," Randall said. "I'll get out my scrapbooks so we can go look."

Adrienne came up the stairs then. "Does anyone know when the electricity will be back?"

"I paid the bill," said Diedre. "Maybe Tuesday? It always seems to take a couple of days."

"We won't need power for the party tomorrow," said Randall. "Cold food and cold drinks will be fine."

"Ethan said you brought home a cute guy last night," Diedre said, a question in her voice.

"She's paraphrasing," said Ethan.

"He's OK," Adrienne said. "I've invited him back."

Diedre tried hard to hide her surprise, but didn't manage it well enough for Ethan not to notice. It had been a long time since Adrienne had invited home the same man twice.

"Well," Diedre said. "Must be a bit of all right then."

"He might know some magic," said Randall. "We're going to have to check him out."

"Then I shouldn't have let him meet you," Adrienne said. "I should have kept him tied up downstairs."

"That's new," said Ethan, a little surprised himself now.

"Metaphorically speaking."

Randall had finished his icecream. "I'll go get those scrapbooks," he said.

Randall had been compiling his scrapbooks for years now. He scoured the popular press for odd little items that might be of magical interest. They were thick books, heavy and brittle with old newspaper and advertising flyers. He had dozens of them now. It took a a couple of trips to bring them all upstairs.

They took a volume each at first, apart from Adrienne, who was heading out for one of her meetings. Diedre got bored halfway through hers. Randall worked through two, then decided it was time to go out and fetch dinner. Ethan kept going, lighting candles when it got dark and then casting a light spell when he started to find the candlelight annoying. The others brought him something to eat.

He found what he was looking for some time after midnight. It was an article about the New Egyptian Hall, shortly before it was to be demolished. "In its heyday, the building saw many famed performers," Ethan read, "including Harry Houdini, Long Tack Sam, Nevil Maskelyne and Eusapia Ciccarello."

Ethan rocked back on his heels. Ciccarello was a stage magician? How disappointing: he was not remotely interested in legerdemain and trick boxes. It was all superficial, mechanistic frippery; it taught you nothing about the inner workings of the world. Why would Evelyn be interested in her? Most stage magicians knew very little of true magic. Still, some did, and a few true practitioners made a living out of performance, as Ethan himself well knew.

He could hear Randall's record player, turned low, and people talking downstairs in the drawing room. He realised he was cold and stiff from sitting on the floor.

He still wasn't sure whether this was worth following up, but it might be worth a go. He should go and see Terry as soon as he could.


Ripper arrived deliberately late to the party, not wanting to look too keen. He'd half-hoped that Adrienne would be looking out for him, but there was no sign of her from outside, just some flickering lights from an upstairs window.

The stairwell up was lined with candles, which made the paintings even more disturbing than they'd been in daylight: now they merged together into a writhing mass. He could hear music from upstairs.

The party was being held in the same room where he'd seen the spellcaster, only it had been transformed. The bare floorboards were still there underneath, but they were now covered with throw-rugs, beanbags, and what were probably gingham tablecloths. There were very few chairs. A record-player in a corner was playing The Grateful Dead. The room was lit by more of the ubiquitous candles and some paraffin lamps. Trays of food and alcohol lined one wall.

It didn't seem to be much of a party yet. There were only a dozen people or so, and only one couple dancing. Perhaps it would liven up later.

Adrienne was over by the drinks, pouring herself something. She waved him over.

"Vodka?" she asked, handing him a glass. "I'm glad you brought your guitar." She nodded at the rest of the room. "It's not jumping yet, but this way you'll get to meet people."

He put his guitar down, being careful to keep it in his line of sight. Adrienne took his arm, swaying in time to the music. Ripper wondered if she was always like this or if she was drunk.

"So," she said. "I should point out my housemates to you." She pointed at one of the dancers, a gamine girl with waist-length dark hair who was wearing an orange dress. "That's Diedre. I went to school with her. The man she's dancing with is her boyfriend, Tom." She pointed next to a long-haired, moustachioed blond man in a purple military-style coat. "That's Randall, he's American. His brother was engaged to Diedre. And that's Ethan, you've already met him. He went to school with one of Diedre's cousins--"

"So you all know this Diedre."

"Not everyone." She motioned then to a skinny, freckled man in a cheap safari suit. "Stan lives in the basement flat. He's our bartender, I mean, he was, but then he got fired, so now he lives with us. And I should probably tell you that Diedre wants to be called Dee. She thinks 'Diedre' sounds too old."

"She's right," said Ripper. He looked at the sparsely-populated room. There were a few knots of people having stilted conversation, plus the dancers. It didn't look any fun yet.

"Can we go back to your room for a bit?" he asked her.

She tightened her grip on his arm. "OK," she said.

When they came back up an hour later, the party had livened up a bit. The music was louder and the party more thronged. Even the air was thicker, going smoky from cigarettes, pipes and joints. Ripper felt much less conspicuous. He went to fetch himself another drink and watch the crowd.

The moustachioed, purple-coated man came up to pour himself a drink too. "I'm Randall," he said, extending his hand. "I hear you know something about magic."

"A little," Ripper said, warily. "Why?"

"A few of us here have a deep interest in the topic," he said, "and we're always happy to meet someone new."

"I play the guitar now mostly," Ripper said. "I'm supposed to be playing something now."

The LP on the record player was drawing to a close. Ripper lifted off the needle but couldn't find a way to turn off the turntable. He unplugged it, but it kept going. Battery-operated, he supposed. He gave up, and turned to face the crowd.

He thought he'd start with something by The Byrds.


Evelyn always brought the best hashish. Ethan pocketed most of what she gave him, but took a little in a pipe. Small amounts made him feel mellow and expansive, two things he seldom felt without pharmaceutical assistance.

The party seemed to be going well. Stan had brought a crowd of people and Evelyn had invited a few of her local friends. Adrienne's new boy had sung a few songs quite probably in tune.

"Not bad at all," he said, as Adrienne walked past, "as far as I can tell."

"You have a beautiful voice," said a girl sitting on the carpet scrap next to him. Ethan had no idea who she was. "Are you on the radio? You sound like you should be."

Ethan decided to kiss her, but Evelyn pulled him off. "Just make sure you save some for me," she said mildly. "I don't often visit."

Randall came over. He'd been trying to sound out the new boy about his knowledge of magic, without much success.

"We're strangers to him," Ethan said. "What did you expect?"

His head started to clear again around one a.m., which was when Evelyn decided it was time for her party trick. She cleared the middle of the room and laid out her circle, chanting. Ethan strained hard to hear the words, but she was deliberately speaking too quietly to be heard above the music.

She did a sort of party-streamer-firework-light-show. Multi-coloured, and bright enough to leave one flinching. Stan's friends, who knew fuck-all about magic, stood there with their mouths open, thinking it was all a trick. Which it was, in a way.

An hour later, someone tripped the wards on the second floor landing. Diedre, Randall, and Ethan all felt it and looked at each other across the room. Ethan happened to be closest to the door, so he motioned that he'd be the one to investigate.

At the top of the stairs he found Ripper coming out of one of the spare rooms. He was hardly trying to be stealthy: he was tipping cigarette ash onto the floor and was carrying his guitar.

"Not light-fingered, are we?" asked Ethan.

"Just looking for Adrienne."

"She's asleep on one of the beanbags downstairs," Ethan told him. "I'll show you." He gestured that Ripper should walk in front of him, back down the stairs.

"You've got a few spare rooms," said Ripper. "It's a good house."

"Adrienne found it," Ethan said. "She's resourceful."

"Your girl looks like a handful."

"She's not my girl," said Ethan, "but you're right. She does sex magic and pagan tantra."

"Pagan tantra?" said Ripper. "She's making that one up."

They reached the lower landing. Ethan pointedly opened the drawing room door for him.

That was when Stan shouted, "Oi! He's taking my stash!" and one of the male party-goers dashed for the door, bag in hand.

Ripper didn't even move from where he was standing. He just extended a fist and then a foot and the thief fell sprawling onto the ground. Pills and joints and chunks of resin scattered across the floor.

It was practised and highly efficient: Ethan really ought to have been alarmed. But then Ripper swept his hair back with one hand, and took a drag of his cigarette from the other. He lifted an eyebrow at Ethan, and turned on his heel before anyone else had made it as far as the doorway. It was the faux nonchalance that Ethan found hilarious. Ethan thought, I'm going to fuck him.

The party didn't wrap up until almost light. Randall took on his usual task of shepherding out the last of the guests while Ethan went upstairs.

Evelyn had changed into a Japanese silk dressing-gown and was doing the last of her stretches. "Nice party," she said.

"Complete with drama and acts of of derring-do."

She laughed. "That Ripper guy was trying hard to chat me up later on."

"Well, I may have strongly implied you were very good in bed." He opened the curtains a little because he wanted the light to fall over them as the sun rose.

"That's sweet, Ethan," Evelyn said, "but if I wanted him, I'd take him."

He sat down next to her and took off his sandals.

She pulled her hand through his hair. "Tie it up, this time? It gets ticklish."


Adrienne still wasn't quite asleep when dawn came. She stirred against Ripper, looking sleepy and sated.

"You got on OK, tonight," she asked, "with my friends?"

"They're all right," said Ripper.

"They've got me through a lot," she said.

He got up to piss, and when he came back she seemed to be asleep. He thought he'd look at some of the piles of papers she kept around, but when he picked one up it was all small print and he didn't have his glasses. The light was still too thin for him to read without them.

"Oh no," said Adrienne, from the bed. "Don't read those, not yet."

He put them down, thinking of what he'd seen that night. The record player, which he'd taken a good look at, which wasn't battery-operated at all, and which still ran when unplugged. The fat woman who'd cast the light-show spell. The occult symbols on the walls. He had a feeling that if he'd stood there reciting demon lore, her friends wouldn't have found that odd at all.

"Do you think they'd mind if I stayed a few days?" he asked her. "I've a gig nearby on Thursday and I think my flatmates need some space."

"I could ask. I think so. In fact, I think they'd be rather keen."

He settled back next to her. "Did you say that Dee was going with Tom?" He was sure she'd said so, but then he'd seen Dee tongue-kiss Randall in front of half the crowd.

"Yes," she said. "Look, Ripper, some of my friends have known each other a long time. You'll find it easier if you just assume that everyone's slept with everyone else by now. And if that's not OK with you, then you probably shouldn't stay here."

"You and Dee?" he asked, elbowing her.

"Go to sleep," she said.


Ethan needed money before he could go and see Terry, but he didn't have much left, so he went out busking. It was not a good day for it: squally, grey and cool. He laid down his mat outside the Tube station in the partial protection of an overhanging roof. He started, as always, with the sort of common-or-garden sleight-of-hand that he was contemptuous of, just to gauge the crowd: vanishing coins, joined hoops, some juggling. He reached the point where he normally shifted into actual conjuration and transmogrification, but looking at the audience, it just wasn't going to be worth the effort. There were only a few people willing to stand under the rather limited shelter, with every second gust of wind dowsing them with horizontal rain. He packed it in after half an hour.

He took the change to one shop and swapped it for a one pound note. Then he went to the supermarket, picked up some groceries and paid for them with something that now looked more like a five pound note, if you didn't look too carefully or too long. He pocketed the change.

Ethan didn't like using the five pound note trick because he rather liked living where he did, and it was something he could only do at the local shops every so often without arousing suspicion. Still, it was a very useful technique when he travelled.

He dropped the groceries at home and made himself some lunch before heading off to see Terry. He tried to time the walk to avoid the worst of the rain.

The windows of The Crescent Book Exchange were grubby with dust. Faded paperbacks in plastic bags were sellotaped to the windows. From the outside, the shop very nearly resembled a respectable second-hand bookshop, but inside its stock consisted mostly of pornographic magazines and the racier sort of paperback.

There was a curtained-off doorway at the back, next to a magazine rack marked "Swedish!" As Ethan approached, a hooded man came out, holding a book. The book stank of magic the way Evelyn's demon tome had. Ethan couldn't take his eyes off it.

"Afternoon," said a voice behind him, as the hooded man left the shop. "How can I help you today then?"

Terry was reputed to be a demon of some sort. He outwardly looked human, in an ill-proportioned way: gangly, long-limbed and tall. He had dark hair and a drooping moustache that partly covered his thin lips. Ethan could sense a hum of other-worldliness around him, but that might have been the shop. Ethan had never been impolite enough to ask.

"Do you sell books like that one?" Ethan asked. He'd never seen one in stock before.

"Only to special customers," Terry said.

"Special how?"

"The kind with money."

A dishevelled middle-aged man came into the store and started to look over the magazines.

"You better go in the back," Terry said to Ethan. To the other customer, he said, "Just browsing? I'll be back in a couple of minutes."

Ethan stepped through into the back room. It was windowless and lined with wooden cupboards and drawers, all of them locked. There was a counter and a cash register to one side.

"What are you after this week?" Terry asked.

Ethan ordered his usual: candles, herbs, and rarer pieces of kit, like robin eggs and badger teeth, things he was unlikely to find roaming central London. "And do you have," he asked, "anything by or on Ciccarello?"

Terry didn't blink any more or less than he usually did. Instead he stepped behind the counter and unlocked a drawer, rummaging through at some length and frustratingly out of Ethan's sight. Finally, he pulled out an aged paperback. "Here," he said.

Living Magicians! the book was called. It was badly printed on poor stock by some obscure small press that Ethan hadn't heard of. Some of its pages had come away from the binding.

"How much?" he asked.

The total came to almost exactly the amount that he had left. He was going to have to borrow pub money from Randall again.

Terry handed him the bag.

Ethan asked,"Seriously, that book before, how much would something like that cost?"

"They start," said Terry, "at fifty quid."

Ethan tried not to blanch. That was not really a busking-for-beer-money kind of sum.

The rain had got worse. Ethan sacrificed one of his new candles for a spell to keep himself dry on the walk home.


Stan helped Ripper move in. "That's me," he said, "Stan the man. Least I could do after last night, yeah?" He looked in the boot of Ripper's car. "Is this all you've got?"

"It's what I've got with me," Ripper said. "I'm only staying a few days."

He let Stan carry his clothes, but Ripper insisted on carrying all his LPs and music gear. He'd had the choice of dumping his stuff in Adrienne's room or in the spare room on the second floor.

"This is why I live in the basement," Stan said, as they climbed the last sets of stairs. "Fewer steps and I get a bit of privacy. That, and these walls are creepy. What bird's going to come up here past that?"

"A creepy one?" suggested Ripper.

"Yeah," said Stan, "but Dee's already taken, yeah?" He nudged open a door with his shoulder. "Here you go."

Ripper stepped in and looked around at the high ceiling, the peeling paint and curtainless windows. "Looks OK."

"Right then," said Stan, putting Ripper's things down on the floor. "Now, I've got to run, but if you need anything, just let me know. Anything. I'm often out, but you can just slip a note under my door. All right?"

"Yeah," said Ripper.

Too late, he realised there wasn't a lock on the door. He thought of his small fund of money and the cost of buying a padlock for the sake of a two night stay. He'd have to cast a spell instead when he left the house. He didn't have a mattress either, but he'd probably be sleeping with Adrienne.

He sorted out his stuff a bit and then settled down to practice his guitar.


Ethan heard music when he got home. At first he thought it was one of Randall or Adrienne's records, but the music stopped and restarted at unpredictable intervals. Ripper must have moved in then.

He went downstairs for a cup of tea and found Adrienne in the kitchen, sitting on a stool and eating a sandwich.

She looked over at him. "Diedre said you're going to invite Ripper to a casting tonight."

"If that's all right with you. Or would you rather we left him alone?"

She shrugged. "He's just a guy," she said, "even if he is in a band."

Ethan smiled. "How long do you want to keep him tonight?"

"Not past one," she said. "I'm on early shift tomorrow."

"One it is then," Ethan said. He paused. "We're just testing him out."

"I know," she said.

"If you get fond of him--"

"Don't," she said. "Don't be worried about me, Ethan."

He nodded and went up to his room to unpack his shopping.


Ripper left Adrienne sleeping and went upstairs a little before one a.m. He found Dee and Randall just finishing the clean up from last night's party: Dee was sweeping and Randall was shaking crumbs from a rug out of the window. Everything was still candlelit and lamp-lit.

Ethan was sitting on one of cleaner parts of the floor, laying out a circle. This was one Ripper didn't recognise. It all looked pretty ad-hoc: cheap kit and no permanent pentacle. Wax candles and a chipped ceramic bowl sat on top of a sheet of black felt, and the wishing-stones were nothing fancier than sandstone. Hedge magic by amateurs.

Ethan didn't look up as Ripper approached, but he did wave a little with the hand that wasn't laying out the stones. "So how much magic do you know?" Ethan asked him.

"Some," Ripper said.

"Any particular kind?"

"Not really."

"And where did you learn it?"

"Here and there."

"Well," said Ethan, "I'm glad to know that you feel so comfortable and effusive."

Ripper had half a mind to kick the stones at him. "Look, I don't know you and you don't know me. All right?"

"Randall first learnt magic in the Haight-Ashbury," Ethan said. "I'm home-grown. Diedre learnt from both of us. We all know people who know a little bit more than we do. If at any time you'd like to say where you fit in, please do."

Ripper didn't think he could tell them, not while he still felt he was on the run. "What about Adrienne?"

"She doesn't do this. She's not interested."

Ripper blinked in surprise. "Why not?"

"You'll have to ask her," Ethan said.

Dee and Randall were finishing up. The overhead lights suddenly came on.

"Bloody hell," said Dee, who went to switch off the electric lights in the drawing room and the hall.

"It could be worse," Randall called out to her. "They could have come on in the middle of the spell."

"We should have checked the switches first," Ethan said.

"No harm's been done," said Randall.

Dee came back into the room and sat down next to Ripper. "We're doing an illusion spell tonight," she said. "It's quite simple, but pretty."

Randall sat down on Ripper's left. "No Tom tonight?" he asked Dee.

"He's too tired," Dee said. "He has lectures in the morning."

Ripper noticed how Ethan rolled his eyes and how Dee shot him a look.

Randall passed a fat bottle around, from which each of them took a generous swig.

"What is it?" asked Ripper, sniffing it first.

"Polish fig vodka," said Randall.

It was foul but very alcoholic. It burned down his throat.

By now Ethan had the circle ready and was lighting the central candle. He took a needle and held the tip in the flame.

"We're going to conjure the illusion of an animal," Dee said. "We'll all support the illusion, but only one of us will control it at a time. We usually start small, then work our way up."

Ethan took the needle and pricked himself in the thumb, squeezing a single drop of blood into the bowl. He put the needle back into the flame for a few seconds, then passed it on to Dee.

"We all need to do this," Dee told Ripper.

"Is there a chant?" he asked as his drop of blood fell into the bowl.

"Yes," said Ethan. "Bugger, I almost forgot." He rummaged around in his bag for a piece of paper and a pencil. He wrote the words down and then passed them to Ripper. "See if you can say that."

Ripper read it out. It was in Latin.

Ethan seemed amused for some reason. "Perfect prononciation," he said. "We can close the circle now. There's no need to hold hands, touching a knee or elbow is fine." He sat cross-legged so that his feet touched Dee and Randall's legs. Ripper followed suit. "Are we ready?"

Ripper nodded as the others murmured assent. He was curious to learn how this would go.

They began the chant. The room seemed to darken, except in one spot, just above the bowl, where a vague blurry glow grew over time.

After a few minutes, Dee stopped chanting. "OK, I'm going to start with something small and innocuous now. Maybe a guinea pig."

The blurry glow shrank and darkened, taking shape into a fur-covered oval. It stretched a little, growing appendages that looked recognisably like a snout and four legs, but there was something oddly flat-looking about it, like a cartoon sketch. Dee frowned and it filled out a little. It lowered to the floor, seemingly near Dee's feet. It scuttled hesistantly, still glowing a little.

"Behold," said Randall, deadpan. "The guinea pig ghost of Camden."

Dee stuck her tongue out at him.

"May I?" asked Randall, and the guinea pig squashed back into a furry ball. Then it elongated, grew and stretched into what Ripper first thought was a large, slavering dog, its features a bit misty and ill-defined. Randall grinned and the apparition coalesced more firmly into what was definitely a wolf. It stalked behind Randall, its snout coming to rest near Randall's ear, to stare malevolently at the others.

"Your turn," said Randall to Ripper.

Ripper tried to grip the apparition with his mind. The wolf shape became distorted, twisting and stretching like squeezed plasticine. He concentrated, restoring the wolf's proportions and then fleshing them out, making it larger. Its fur turned golden and its face cat-like. It gave a low purr.

"Excellent," said Ethan. "Guinea pig, wolf, lion."

"It's a good lion," Randall said. "That's good work for a first time with this spell."

"Rock, paper, scissors," said Ethan.

"Ethan--" said Dee, with a warning note in her voice.

"Your turn then," said Ripper to Ethan.

"Randall, he's going to--"

Suddenly, Dee and Randall, who had only loosely touched Ripper before, seized his wrists tightly. "What are you--" he shouted, but then the world exploded.

The lion ripped itself apart. Its fragments flapped and soared, became a hundred birds: ravens, doves, robins, hummingbirds, parrots. Ripper tried to lift his arms up to protect his face, tried to scramble backwards away from the flock, but Dee and Randall held him as tightly as they could, and his panic subsided long enough for him to remember it was an illusion.

The birds slammed back into one another, reshaping. Its body returned to that of a lion, but its head changed to that of an eagle as its wings extended.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Ripper said.

Then it vanished and the lights came up, and Dee and Randall let go of his wrists. The three of them sat upright while Ethan lay on his back with his eyes closed. The room was filled with his strange, barking laugh.

"You ever seen anything like that?" Randall asked Ripper, a note of admiration in his voice.

Actually, Ripper had, but only under controlled conditions by senior practitioners using superior equipment.

"How, how did you learn that?"

Ethan opened his eyes and sat up on his elbows. He raised an eyebrow. "I think we need a two-way exchange of information here..."

"I, I learnt magic from my grandmother," said Ripper, which was true in part, if very far from the whole truth.

"I've practised a long time," said Ethan. "It's really just practice. And picking up tricks from others."

Ethan must be one of those natural mages he'd heard of. Really, dear God.

"You said you weren't going to do that," said Dee, getting up to stand over Ethan. "What if he'd injured himself or banged his head? Do I need to remind you that Stan pissed himself the last time you tried that sort of stunt?"

"Stan should know better," said Ethan. "And Ripper did just fine, didn't you, Ripper?"

"That was remarkable," said Ripper, "and entirely unexpected."

"Yes, it was," said Ethan. "Let's drink to that."


Randall and Diedre were dancing in the candlelight to the music from the demonic record-player. Randall was in his shirt-sleeves, swaying in time to the music with his eyes closed. Diedre danced actual steps, her long hair swaying behind her.

The fig vodka was long gone, so Ethan had moved on to Diedre's stash of gin. He poured some more for Ripper as they sat together on the floor. Ripper was still enthusing about the spell. It was almost endearing.

"I mean, I know how to do basic castings by hand," Ripper was saying. "Simple wards and chants and so on. And I can do ritual magic if there are clear instructions. But the instantaneous transcendence of a routine form is, is something I've simply never attempted."

Ethan badly wanted to kiss Ripper, but he didn't think this was the right time. So he savoured the sensation of wanting, but did not act on it.

"That was much better than the party's light show," said Ripper.

"Evelyn didn't have three other adepts to draw from," Ethan said. "And she didn't want to cause a stampede."

They watched Diedre and Randall dance. Ethan poured more gin.

"You're very odd," Ethan said, after a while.


"Most people use words of fewer syllables when they get drunk."

The comment seemed to annoy Ripper.

"Maybe I prefer you when you're drunk," Ethan said.

"I'm going downstairs now," said Ripper, "to Adrienne."

"Don't wake her," Ethan said. "She hates that."

With Ripper gone, Ethan got up to check that he was still capable of walking upstairs. It seemed so, so he waved goodnight to Diedre and Randall.

Up in his room, he pulled out the copy of Living Magicians! and turned to the section he'd read that afternoon: "Eusapia Ciccarello, born near Rome in 1898, has long been regarded as the world's greatest exponent of ectoplasmic conjuration..."

"Hm," said Ethan, and fell asleep.


Ripper went for a walk around the neighbourhood the next day as it wasn't an area he knew well. Most of the streets were like Adrienne's, lined with terraces two or three stories high, each with steps down to a basement and steps up to the main door, with everything behind black metal railings. Other streets had newer blocks of flats. There was a busy main street running northish to southish and a canal running east-west to the north. He passed two or three tube stations and saw plenty of buses. He also passed by pubs and clubs with good reps for music. And he could walk to the park if he really wanted.

He found a spot near the busiest Tube station which looked good for busking, so he went home to fetch his guitar. That way he could get some practice in and maybe raise a couple of quid. He needed a bit of cash for that night, as he'd invited Adrienne out for a pub meal after work.

The weather wasn't too bad and he had a good collection of coins in his guitar case after a couple of hours. Things started to pick up as the rush hour came on, but he had to pack up then so he wouldn't be late to meet Adrienne at the pub.

She'd gone there straight after work and was still in her shop clothes when he met her. Her shop clothes turned out to be exactly the same as her weekend clothes.

"What sort of shop is it?" he asked, as they settled into a booth. The pub was fairly quiet this early on a week night.

"A bookshop," she said. "A radical political bookshop."

"Ethan said you were a communist."

Her nose wrinkled. "Ethan is sometimes wilfully ignorant. I'm a dialectal materialist." She sipped a beer. "Will that worry you?"

"No," he said, mostly because he wasn't entirely sure what that meant.

"How'd you get into music anyway?" she asked him.

Ripper recalled his room back at Oxford, with its cluttered desk and heavy curtains. He remembered staring at the pages of a tome on well-documented sub-species of werewolf, which sat on top of other books on Byzantine despots and the politics of eighteenth century East Asia. After three fruitless hours, at five a.m., he'd packed his bags.

He said to Adrienne, "I thought it was something I might be good at."

"I don't play," she said, "but I really love it. I used to feel guilty about how much I loved it. I used to think that I had to spend every minute of the day working for a better world: at the bookshop, handing out leaflets, writing letters and, I don't know, arguing with random people on the street. Going on marches." She sighed. "But you can't live like that. There's got to be something outside of that which you love, to keep you going. For me, it's music.

"It's worthwhile," she said, "playing music. It's a good thing for you to do."

"Thanks," he said, but it wasn't heartfelt.

"Is there a band playing here tonight?" she asked.

"Don't think so."

"Then I'm going to put something on that jukebox over there. Be back in a sec."

Night had fallen and the pub was beginning to fill up. Ripper moved his hand so that the mirrored ring scanned across the room, and he immediately wished he hadn't. Sitting over on one of the other tables was a woman without a reflection. She was deep in conversation with a man in a suede jacket.

Ripper drank from his beer. What was he supposed to do? Confront her? Go up to the man and say, "Sir, I believe you may be drinking with a demon?" Go around behind her and hack at her head with a dinner knife?

Adrienne stepped in front of him, blocking his view of the other table. "Dance?" she said. She'd picked a song by The Who.

Dinner arrived as the song was ending. "How did things go last night?" she asked.

He told her and she seemed faintly interested. He asked, "But you don't do any magic?"

She shook her head.

"Why not?"

"I think it's a waste of time. You can't change the world with magic, can you? I mean, not the world's real problems, like poverty or prejudice. If you could, there'd be someone standing in Africa right now making loaves and fishes. It's small-scale. It doesn't change the system."

"It can be fun," Ripper said, thinking of the night before.

"Then it's like music. It's there to distract people long enough that they can hope. But some people think it's an end in itself."

Ripper wanted to say that some of the world's ills could only be fought with magic, but he didn't want to reveal quite how much he knew. He glanced over at the vampire woman, who was still deep in conversation.

"Could you excuse me a moment?" he asked Adrienne. "I think I see someone I know."

He got up and walked over to the vampire's table. She and the man she was talking to looked up as he approached.

Ripper looked at the vampire and swallowed. She would have superhuman speed and superhuman strength. She said, "Can I help you?" and Ripper heard the threat in it, the predator tone. Dear God, why did no-one else hear that?

She had only to casually reach out her hand to crush his windpipe. He had no stake, no holy water, and, he thought bitterly, no courage at all.

"I'm sorry," he stammered, "I thought you were somebody else."

The vampire resumed her conversation and Ripper went back to his seat, where he held his head in his hands.

"Not feeling well?" asked Adrienne.

"Tired," he said. "I really was up very late last night."

She touched his hand. "Then we'll go home soon, get an early night."

By the the time they left, there was no sign of either the vampire or her prey.


Diedre had made them all something she called vegetable stew. Diedre was the least worst cook of all of them, but that wasn't saying much. Supposedly she excelled at jam. Ethan wondered if he ought to learn how to cook: it couldn't be that difficult.

They were all in the kitchen, sitting on chairs and eating from bowls in their laps. Tom was wolfing his down so that he could get back to his studies. Randall, Diedre, Stan and Ethan were chewing a little more slowly. It wasn't that it tasted bad, it was that it didn't taste of anything much at all. Ethan got up to find something to put through it.

"What's the best way for me to make some money?" Ethan asked. "I need about fifty quid."

Stan opened his mouth, so Ethan said, "I'm not working for you, Stan."

"I wasn't going to say that," Stan said. "I was going to suggest stealing cars. They're easy to nick and you can sell them off for spare parts if you know the right people."

"Then why don't people do that more often?"

Stan shrugged. "Beats me," he said.

"What do you want fifty pounds for?" asked Diedre. "Do you want to buy a car?"

"No," he said, finding some curry powder and spooning it through his stew. "It's Terry. He's selling proper magic books now."

"I could lend it to you, if you need it," said Diedre.

"No!" spluttered Tom. "Dee--"

"I don't want to borrow money, I want to make money," said Ethan. "In the longer term, I would like to buy more than one book."

"Expensive hobby, sounds like," said Stan.

"Couldn't you do, you know, something magic?" asked Diedre.

"Light shows at festivals," said Randall.

"You know how to unlock doors, don't you?" said Stan. "I've seen you do it. Cat burglar."

"Don't be silly," said Randall, "only demons buy cats."

"Demons buy cats?" asked Stan.

"They eat kittens," Ethan said. "Or some of them do."

Stan looked quite ill. "Kittens?"

"Yes," said Ethan, "little ickle kittens."

"Why don't they breed them then?" asked Diedre. "Why aren't there giant kitten farms run by demons?"

"I heard," said Randall, "it's because cats don't like demons. They don't breed anywhere near them."

"Then the demons should spend all their time at the Cat and Dog Home," said Diedre.

"Or hanging out by the canal looking for little mewling bags."

"Look," said Stan, "I can't eat while we're talking about this."

"I'm done," said Tom, standing. "I'll see you later, Dee."

"Don't work too hard," she said, leaning her head up so he could kiss her.

Adrienne and Ripper came back then. Adrienne said, "Ripper's not feeling well," and it was true, he did look a little green around the gills. "I'm going to make us some tea and then we're going straight to bed. Does anyone else want something while I'm boiling the kettle?"

"I'll have some tea," said Ethan. Ripper was pulling himself up to sit on the kitchen countertop, resting the back of his head against a cupboard and keeping his eyes closed.

"Ethan wants to know where he should steal fifty pounds from," said Diedre.

"The rich, obviously," said Adrienne.

"That's from whom, not from where," said Randall.

"Banks, then, and other usurers and parasites in the City."

"Ethan wants to steal what?" asked Ripper.

"Diedre, you are the opposite of helpful," Ethan said.


"Help-free. You are the Anti-Help."

"No, seriously," said Adrienne, as she came over with cups of tea for Ethan and Ripper, "do you need money, Ethan?"

"'Need' is too strong a term at the moment."

"Well, I know someone who might want your help. Shall I ask him?"

"What kind of help?" asked Ethan, warily.

"To unlock a few doors and thereby take up arms against tyranny," Adrienne said.

Ethan saw that Ripper laughed weakly around his tea-mug. That would be because he thought Adrienne was joking.

But Ethan knew her better than that.


The next day, Dee and Randall took Ripper out for a meal. They caught the Tube down to Leicester Square and walked to a small ratty-looking coffee house near Covent Garden which nevertheless served a decent high tea. They sat at an outdoor table, watching the tourists watching them.

Randall insisted on paying for everything, which made Ripper feel as if he were being courted. Perhaps also, it was the odd formality of his companions' clothing: they were in full regalia, Dee in a long pink cardigan and white dress with a boa draped around her, and Randall in another of his long antique military-style coats. Ripper felt defiantly scruffy next to them in his jeans and leather jacket. He ate his cucumber sandwiches in a deliberately uncouth manner and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

"We just wanted to thank you," Dee said, "for joining our game the other night."

"Fact is," said Randall, "we were impressed." He looked to Dee, who nodded emphatically. "And Adrienne told us you might be looking for a permanent place to stay."

"So we just wanted to let you know," said Dee, "that you're welcome to stay on as long as you like."

Ripper bit into Victoria sponge. "What's the rent?"

Dee and Randall laughed, but quietly and fairly politely. "Oh, none of us pay rent," said Dee.

"But we do ask," said Randall, "that we each put cash into the household kitty sometimes, for bills and liquor and to keep us in good cheer. But it's... What's the phrase?"

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," said Dee.

"So while you're looking for your big break, we'll take it easy."

"But when you make it, it'll be your round," Dee said.

Ripper leant back on his chair, stretching his legs out over the pavement. Pigeons pecked around his feet. Across the street, an old lady was having trouble with the door of a hairdresser's. There was a man standing nearby at the bus-stop, but he didn't move to help.

"You've only known me a week," Ripper said. "Are you sure?"

"We're confident of our judgement of character," Randall said.

The man at the bus-stop had been on the Tube with them from Camden. He must have followed them for streets. Ripper wondered when the surveillance had returned. Why couldn't they just leave him alone?

Randall said, "What do you say?"

"I'm in," said Ripper.

Randall reached out to give him a vigourous handshake. "Welcome aboard."


Ethan spent the day practising spells to lock and unlock doors. He could do the household locks easily -- indeed, he seldom used his keys any more -- so instead he wandered around the neighbourhood, looking for things he could surreptitiously tamper with. Car doors and postboxes weren't any problem. A back door to a Post Office opened at his touch. Standing on the a railway platform, he managed to unlock the briefcase of the besuited man standing next to him. But he was not made sanguine by these small triumphs: if this was all that was needed, wouldn't a standard locksmith do? What would Adrienne's friend want?

He headed home a little after the time when she'd usually be back from dinner, but she wasn't there. He wanted to know whether she had a job for him at all. He checked the kitchen and her room, the drawing room and the attic.

"If you're looking for Adrienne," said Diedre, who was sitting reading in the attic, "she's gone out. Her man in a band is playing tonight."

"I thought that was Thursday," Ethan said.

"It is Thursday," she said. "And Ethan? He's agreed to stay here. We'll have an extra for spellcasting now."

"Well," he said, "that's good. And where is he playing tonight?"

Ethan knew The Cap, if only by reputation. It was only a few streets away, but it wasn't their local, so he seldom had any reason to be there. There was a poster up outside: "Tonight - Wave Two". The pub looked pretty busy inside and, bugger it, there was a cover charge. He did a trick with some coins and came away with more than he started with. He looked through the crowd, found Adrienne at a table near the front, and went to buy both of them beer. She smiled in thanks as he sat down next to her.

"How are they?" he asked when the band paused for the interval. "Any good?"

"The drummer's good, Ripper's good and the bass guitarist is OK. Their covers are great. But their original songs?" She shook her head. "They need some better song-writing."

"So the verdict is?"

"Good for weddings and pubs," she said.

"Ah," he said.

"You'll want to know about the job," she said. She slipped him a piece of paper with a telephone number on it.

"What do they want me to do?"

"Open a few doors. It's not top-security or anything. Just a government building."

"Should I know what it's for?"

"They want some documents on money that may have been transferred between the Home Office and a local firm that we think is a front for the South African government. You unlock the doors and then you get out."

"And if I decide not to call them?"

"Then they don't know your name or how to contact you, except through me. And I trust these people, Ethan. They're doing the right thing."

"I'll try to feel reassured," he said.

"Fifty pounds up front and fifty pounds if they get the documents."

"Right," he said. That was more than he'd hoped for.

The band came back on stage, holding half-drunk glasses of beer. Adrienne waved at Ripper, who waved back.

"You should stay for the rest of the show," she said.

"No, I'll get going. I haven't had anything to eat."

"Oh, Ethan? These people don't believe in magic, so take a screwdriver with you or something."

"Fantastic," he said. "So I'll be carrying around my bag of beads and candles for the hell of it?"

She made some sort of reply, but a guitar chord drowned it out. Ethan glanced up at Ripper, shook his head, and went home.


Ripper glanced over at Gary, who gave a nod. One, two, three, four-- and then Ripper went into the final chorus. Jim was going strong on the drums behind him, and Gary wasn't yet so tired that he was dropping notes, which he sometimes did. Ripper didn't have to think about the chords or the words any more, he just played and sang.

"Goodnight everyone," he said finally. "We're Wave Two."

He could see Adrienne clapping wildly from near the front. He gave a quick bow and then went offstage with Gary and Jim. There wasn't a backstage to go into, just a back corridor that led through to the kitchen and then back out to the bar.

"God, I'm parched," Ripper said.

"I thought that went all right," said Gary. "I got a little fumbly in Waterloo Sunset but I came good later."

"Do we have to keep that one in the set?" asked Ripper.

"Crowd pleaser," Gary said. "Audience loves it. It's Cygnet Committee we should drop. Makes no sense and too long by half."

Jim was oddly silent. When Ripper first arrived, hours ago, for the setup, Jim had been visibly nervous and it had taken Ripper a while to remember why -- that stupid fight on Sunday and Jim asking him to leave the flat. Ripper had said to reassure him, "Found a great new place near here," and Jim had nodded and looked a little more comfortable.

Ripper went to pick up some beers from the bar and then took Gary and Jim to meet Adrienne. She'd dressed for the part tonight, in a low top and a short skirt that showed off her thighs. Ripper hadn't even known she owned a skirt. But he couldn't help thinking that she was also taking the mickey slightly.

She extended her hand to Jim. "I'm Ripper's new girl," she said.

"Fast work," said Gary, under his breath.

They all pulled up seats next to Adrienne, who crossed her legs and smiled.

"How was it from the front stalls?" Jim asked her.

"Very loud," she said.

"Good crowd," said Gary. He rubbed his fingers together to indicate money.

"Flat fee," said Jim. "No share of the takings tonight."

Gary grumbled.

"You're a good drummer," Adrienne said.

"Thanks," said Jim.

"So when and where next, then?" asked Ripper.

"Jesus, Ripper," said Gary. "We only just finished this one."

"Have to know where my next drink's coming from."

Jim put his beer down. "It might be a while," he said.

Adrienne glanced around the table and then stood up. "I'm going to powder my nose," she said.

That left Gary and Ripper sitting there, staring at Jim.

"I've got to take a break," said Jim. "Alison's going to need help with the baby."

Ripper put his beer down too. "You can't do this," he said.

"Put an ad in the paper for a temporary drummer, that's all."

"What sort of tosh are we going to get out of that?" He could feel the anger rising in him. He had to close his eyes and breathe slowly.

"A temporary drummer," Jim said. "I'm taking a few months off because I can't work my day job, be in the band and have a new baby in the house all the same time. I'm not going to be doing anyone any good that tired."

"Get your mother-in-law to come and help," said Ripper.

"No, I want to help Alison, I want to be home for my kid, I want to take a break from the band."

Ripper stood up.

"What are you going to do, Ripper?" Jim said evenly.

Ripper forced himself to breathe. In-and-out, in-and-out. He could hear Gary saying, "You're giving up, Jim."

"Not giving up," said Jim, "growing up. I've got a perfectly good job at the post office. What kind of job is a drummer?"

"So what do you think the rest of us are doing?" Ripper asked, in a voice that was very low and quiet. "Do you think we're just playing games?"

"I think," said Jim, "that we have different priorities right now."

Adrienne came back then. She saw Ripper standing and came and took his arm.

"I'll call you in a few months," said Jim.

"I don't have a phone."

Adrienne found a napkin and wrote her address on it. She handed it to Jim.

"Let's go home now," she said to Ripper.

"Yes," said Ripper, "let's."


Ethan didn't go straight home from the gig at the pub. Instead he walked down to Euston Station and found a telephone. He stood there for a minute, trying to calm himself down and hoping that he wouldn't be spotted by anyone he knew. Then he dialled the number Adrienne had given him.

The phone on the other end rang out five times and Ethan began to wonder if anyone would answer. Then someone picked up and said, "Hello?" in a South African accent.

"I was given your number," said Ethan, as evenly as he could. "I'm a friend of--"

"We know who you're a friend of," said the voice. "Are you willing to help?"

"Yes," he said, "for the terms offered."

"Good. Can you meet me tomorrow at eleven thirty? Opposite the shop?"

"Yes," he said, thinking crazily for a moment that the speaker meant Terry's magic shop. He must mean Adrienne's work.

"Then I'll see you there. Dress for the office." The speaker hung up.

Ethan put down the phone and found that his hands were sweating. He felt slightly faint and also a little ridiculous. He really should get something to eat, but he was too nauseous to look for anything close to the station.

He went home and cooked some sausages on the grill, cutting them up to put through the remains of Diedre's stew. Then he went upstairs to see Randall.

Randall was in the drawing room. He was drawing, appropriately enough. Large expansive curves on butcher's paper, quite unlike his usual style at all.

Ethan sat down nearby and ate his stew. Eventually, Randall sniffed the air and turned around.

"Are those sausages?" He came over to pick a chunk out of Ethan's bowl.

"There's more downstairs," said Ethan, "on the griller. But I want to ask you a question first."

"What's that?"

"Do you have a suit I could borrow?"


Adrienne held his arm on the walk home. She didn't say anything for streets. Then, just as they reached the last corner before the house, she turned to face him.

She said, "You're angry now, Ripper, but tomorrow you'll see this was a good thing. You've got a good voice and you'll do better on your own. They weren't the right band for you."

"You're right," he said, "I am angry."

She let go of his arm and walked ahead of him after that.

They got to the back of the house and as Adrienne opened the back door, he heard a sudden scream. He dashed forward, but all he found was Dee waving excitedly at Adrienne. The kitchen smelt of sausages.

"Rock chick!" Dee was screaming. Adrienne did a twirl in her outfit and then the girls collapsed with laughter.

"What?" said Ripper. He was not sure that this improved his mood.

"Rock chick!" Dee said again, pointing at Adrienne. She seemed incapable of saying anything else.

Adrienne tried to regain her composure. "Sorry, old joke. Back at school, Diedre was going to grow up to the Lady, and I was going to be the--"

"Rock chick!" said Dee.

Ripper felt as he were perhaps the butt of someone else's joke. He made his expression as surly as possible and went to carry his guitar upstairs.

"Your man in a band," said Dee.

And then Ripper could just make out, from behind him, Adrienne saying, "Well, actually, I think they just broke up."

"How rock and roll!" Dee said.

Randall was on the first floor landing, smoking a cigarette, standing next to the (closed) bathroom door. He nodded as Ripper passed by.

Ripper dropped his guitar in his room without turning on the lights. It was colder up here than it had been outside. He kicked the wall of the room a few times, until he started to feel it through his boots.

When he went back downstairs, he found that Ethan had joined Randall on the landing. He was wearing a dark suit that was a little too loose around the shoulders and far too short in the legs.

"Doesn't fit you," Ripper said.

"Thank you," said Ethan, "I'm aware." He looked Ripper up and down. "I don't suppose you have a pair of dark trousers you could lend me?"

Rising up from below came twin soprano voices singing "With a Little Help from My Friends".


The Action Now bookshop was one street west of the high street and opposite a fishmongers. At eleven-thirty a.m. precisely, Ethan stood outside the fish shop, as if considering the relative merits of lemon sole versus cod. He was wearing Randall's jacket, Ripper's trousers, and his own shirt and shoes. He had decided against a tie. He was fairly certain that some people in offices no longer wore ties.

A man in a suit came up next to him, to look over the kippers and smoked trout. He said, "You're on time, good," and it was the same South African voice that Ethan had spoken to last night on the phone. The man was coarse-featured, shorter than Ethan, and quite thin. The man said, "Go east around the corner and find the blue sedan. The passenger door is unlocked. I'll be there in two minutes."

Ethan nodded and then did as he was bid. He walked past a barber's and the chemist's on the corner. He found a dark blue car and got in. Then he sat there, breathing shallowly, wondering why Adrienne hadn't mentioned a car.

The man appeared and got in on the driver's side. He shook Ethan's hand. "Thank you for helping our cause," he said.

Ethan wanted to nod and look sincere, but he knew his face didn't do "sincere" very well. Diedre had pointed this out to him not long after they had met, dragging him to a mirror so that he could see first-hand how he looked when he thought he was the very soul of sincerity. Whether it was the face he was born with, or what he had done with it since, he didn't know. But he aimed instead at an expression he thought he could manage, which was "mildly bored".

He wetted his lips. "There was money up front," he said.

"Of course," said the man. From his wallet he drew out a fifty pound note and handed it to Ethan. Ethan suddenly felt foolish. What was he going to do with it now? There was nowhere for him to keep it except with himself. If they were caught, he'd be found with it, a huge and obviously criminal sum.

He saw the South African giving him a sidelong look. "What?" Ethan asked.

The man shook his head. "You're just younger than I expected."

He started the car then and took them through a u-turn back towards the high street. Ethan wasn't sure whether he was supposed to know where they were going, or whether he should ask. At least no-one had tried to blindfold him.

The man said, "All these precautions are probably not needed here," he said. "But I learnt to be careful, back home."

Ethan nodded, as if he knew what the man meant. Then he saw the man's fingers on his left hand. Two of them ended with knuckle-joints. A third seemed permanently twisted and without a nail.

"In the glove compartment," the man said, "there's a map."

The map was nothing more than a few pencilled lines on the back of an envelope. Ethan studied it as the man said, "We go in a side door and up the emergency stairs. On the second floor, we take the corridor on our right. They'll be a door marked 'Storage' and we go in there."

"How many locked doors?" asked Ethan, glad to have something to talk about.


"Do we know what kind of locks?"

"Nothing unusual. It's not top security, but we've had trouble finding someone in the department to pass us the documents."

Ethan wondered what "nothing unusual" meant as the South African took them in the rough direction of Whitehall. Then he took a sudden right and parked outside a lawyer's office.

"Put the map back in the glove compartment and take everything you brought with you," the man said. "You won't be coming back to this car."

They walked the final mile to an anonymous-looking brown office block. The South African was carrying a clipboard. On the clipboard was a piece of paper with a government department stamp and a series of illegible, inked lines.

They followed a gravel path around a corner to an unmarked door in the wall. "First door," said the man, as he adopted a scowl and an air of impatience, as if he were wondering why Ethan was fumbling the keys. Instead Ethan was reaching into his pocket for a birthday candle, a lump of quartz and a cigarette lighter. He angled himself so that the man couldn't see the tools he was using. Then he blanked out for a terrifying couple of seconds until he remembered the truncated chant.

The door unlocked. Ethan pinched the candleflame out and put his toy kit back in his pocket.

Inside was a dingy concrete stairwell. They stopped two stories up. There was no-one else in the stairwell with them to accidentally see.

"I'm faster when you don't watch me," Ethan said, and the South African helpfully took the hint by looking back down the stairwell. Ethan had the door unlocked almost instantly.

"Two down," he said.

The corridor was wood-panelled. Many doors opened from it, each with a pane of frosted glass and a black name label. There were many people walking around, carrying lunchboxes, purses or wallets. There was office chatter and the sound of a few persistent typewriters.

They reached the door marked "Storage". The South African stood behind Ethan, pantomiming impatience again, as Ethan attended to the door. Flame, candle, chant -- in.

The room was full of steel filing cabinets. There was a woman at the other end, squatting in sensible shoes next to an open drawer. She wasn't paying them any attention yet.

The South African motioned towards a filing cabinet marked "D". Ethan looked at him blankly; wasn't his job done? But no, the man wanted him to open the filing cabinet. Of course he did, that's what offices have, filing cabinets, and this would surely have been obvious to Ethan if he'd ever set foot in an office in the past five years. They were there to steal documents and documents were stored in filing cabinets.

Ethan had never unlocked one. He couldn't visualise their locking mechanism. Was it more like a door or a briefcase or was it something else instead? Seconds were passing, it was getting awkward, surely the woman was going to notice them?

He made himself pause and close his eyes. He reached inwards and outwards of himself for the long, low note, for the music which was always there. The sensation of connection, of unity, of the awareness that made everything transparent and malleable.

The filing cabinet unlocked.

Ethan went to look through the frosted glass window as the South African looked through the drawer. Ethan could see all the dim silhouettes of office workers going out for their lunch.

They went out the way they came in. The South African was now clutching several thick manila folders to his clipboard. When they reached the street, they went in a direction away from the car.

When they reached a Tube station, the man passed him a plain envelope and then dashed ahead, down the stairs into the station, without looking behind. Ethan looked in the envelope and there was the second fifty pound note.

He walked down to a platform and sat on a bench with his eyes closed for half an hour, hardly able to believe that it was done. The clocks had said when he arrived that it was one o'clock. Ninety minutes, he thought, and a hundred pounds. The two fifties weren't the crisp, clean, virgin notes that he'd imagined, but seemed to be good currency. And they were more money than he'd seen in one place in years.

Trains and crowds of people came and went. Eventually he realised that he was on the wrong platform and got up to go to another. He changed trains at Holborn and soon he was walking his home streets.

He went to Terry's. In the curtained back room, he drew out the two fifties and placed them on the counter. Terry's face registered no surprise, but Ethan thought he moved with an extra note of respect. Terry nodded once and then opened a cupboard door, drawing out three books for Ethan's inspection.

Ethan looked at each of them in turn, as if he were considering their relative merits. But in truth, there was only one he really wanted. "I'll take this one," he said.

It was sixty pounds, a fantastic sum of money. But he left the shop clutching his book and with forty quid still in pocket.


They took Ripper to their local that night. He supposed they wanted to make him feel better after the band's temporary breakup. On the other hand, maybe they did this every Friday night.

Ethan shouted them the first couple of rounds. Adrienne left soon after that, to go to some political meeting or other. Then it was Randall's round, then Dee's, and finally Ripper decided it was probably his turn. By then Stan had gone, and Tom, so it was just four of them staring at the empty pint and gin glasses on the table: Ethan, Randall, Dee and Ripper.

Randall was telling some story about California when Ripper came back with the drinks. Ripper only caught the end of it, something about stampeding bison in Golden Gate Park.

"So how come you're in London?" Ripper asked him.

Randall took his pint. "Well, my parents moved here. They weren't happy with the crowd I was with back home and they hoped a year in a good school far away would straighten me out. So my dad took a job here."

"Randall's father's a top surgeon," Dee said.

"But my friends back in the Haight knew some people in London and put me in touch. So I fell in with the same kind of crowd here. It doesn't matter where you are, so long as you're with your people, you know? And I know when I meet my people."

"I met Randall shortly after I moved here," said Ethan. "We shared this terrible bedsit in Cricklewood. Bloody miles from anywhere."

"Oh, it was horrible. I couldn't believe it when I first went to visit," said Dee. "Mold everywhere and you had to go down a corridor and then down some stairs for the bathroom and you had to share that with total strangers. I said there was no way I was moving into that."

"You couldn't have moved into it anyway," said Ethan. "It was the size of a postage stamp."

"More the size of this booth," said Randall, to Ripper.

"So I asked Adrienne," said Dee, "who was my friend from school--"

"I know," said Ripper, tiredly.

"Where would there be a good place for us to live. And she found us our house."

"Terrific, isn't it?" said Randall.

"Who owns it?" Ripper asked.

"Absentee landlord," said Dee. "Lives in Qatar. It's completely legal for us to squat. Adrienne checked it all."

"English law," said Randall, appreciatively.

"Whose round is it now?" Ethan asked. "Mine again?"

"You're flush tonight," said Dee. "Helped Adrienne's friend out, did you?"

Ethan grinned. He was still in his cobbled-together suit. If he got any drunker he'd be spilling best bitter over Ripper's only good pair of trousers. Ripper watched him carefully as he brought back another tray from the bar.

"So tell us about your grandmother then," said Ethan, as he passed Ripper his beer.

"Well," said Ripper, considering. "She was a very brave and very kind woman. She--"

"Tell us about her magic, I mean," Ethan said. "How did she learn it?"

"Well, it runs in my family, I suppose," said Ripper. He was trying to be careful, despite the volume of alcohol he'd now consumed. "She taught me -- the basics of ritual magic, some wards, that kind of thing."

"Did she teach you directly, or did she have books?"

"Both," said Ripper. "We did have quite a lot of books."

"Do you still have them?"

Ripper looked at Ethan warily. "No. They were, ah, passed on to some other members of the family."

"How disappointing for you," Ethan said, "to have lost that."

"No," said Ripper, "no. I have a good memory. I still remember most of it."

"Then I look forward," said Ethan, "to getting it all out of your head."

"Or as much as you feel comfortable with," said Dee.

Randall laughed. "It hardly hurts at all."

Part 2:
Pleasure or Gain


Ripper took the bus back from the hotel, carrying his guitar case. The bus wasn't busy: it was too late for people going home from lunch and too early for the schoolkids. He found a double seat, sat across it, and had a cigarette.

Dee had found him the job. Dee, of all people, whose sole conception of music since Beethoven was "can dance to it" or "can't dance to it", which was the only way she could distinguish between "Helter Skelter" and "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun". But someone in Dee's family knew someone who owned a hotel whose lunchtime pianist had run off with the wife of the maître d'. Would an acoustic guitarist be considered as a replacement? So now Ripper was playing anodyne hits of the Fifties and Sixties from Wednesday to Saturday, with a set list that the hotel manager routinely scrubbed of anything interesting. But it was an all right job: it would tide him over.

He stepped off the bus into misting rain, a block from the house. He thought the squat would tide him over too.

It was not clean and it was not warm. He'd mopped his room's floor, but the dirt did not seem to shift and splashes left grey streaks on the walls. The electricity ran some days and not others, and the hot water frequently wasn't. He could sit at the bottom of the stairwell, smoking a cigarette, watching the ceiling paint drift like dandruff to the floor as mice ran through the hallway.

But he could do anything he wanted. He could get up at any hour of the day. He could read or not read, he could play guitar or stare at the wall. He could spend the whole day drunk if he wanted. He could do anything or go anywhere he liked, if he had enough cash in hand, and wasn't going to be late for work.

His housemates though had surprised him by being stick-in-the-muds. He'd thought a squat would be chaotic, with people coming and going, parties and noise, and girls passed out on sofas, but no. Weekday afternoons, for example, were always the same: Stan out, Adrienne at work, and Tom at university. Dee would be up in the attic, asleep with an opened book on her chest. Randall would be painting the upstairs landing and Ethan would be casting spells in the drawing room. Thoroughly predictable, the lot of them.

He'd go out this afternoon, he thought. He'd live it up. No reason for him not to. He'd had enough quiet days and he was through with them. He had the whole of London before him.

But first he went to see what the others were doing.

He found Ethan in the drawing room, sitting in the exactly same spot he'd been in when they'd first met, and wearing the same sandals and jeans. He had the same intent expression as he laid out the spell components, and he was just as oblivious to the movements of others.

Randall was there too, sitting inside his own circle of sorts, with a scrapbook and copies of The News of the World surrounding him. He had scissors and a pot of glue. He asked Ripper, "How was work?"

"All right," Ripper said.

So there was nothing happening here, again. He should head out. Only there was something wrong with Ethan's set-up, even if Ripper wasn't sure what.

Today Ethan was working with Spivak's Compendium, a volume Ripper knew only by reputation, but which was probably suitable for someone at Ethan's level. The spell involved cards laid out three by three within a rectangle with corners marked out by small stones. Ethan scattered a pinch of sand over their backs and muttered a chant.

Ethan suddenly looked up. "Pick a card, any card," he said.

Ripper pointed at one.

"Turn it over."

Ripper did so. It was an ace of spades.

"Now pick another card."

This one was also the ace of spades. So was a third. And a fourth.

"Is that what the spell's supposed to do?" asked Ripper.

"Now pick one up and remove it from the circle."

Ripper took the first of his upturned cards. As soon as it left the marked-out space, it flickered into a two of diamonds.

"Dammit," said Ethan. "I can't get the bastards to hold their shape." He rubbed at his forehead, looking tired.

Could be the chant, Ripper thought. Or the kind of sand or the alignment of the cards.

"Doesn't sound much like a useful spell," Randall said. "Or a fun one. Can't you skip it?"

"It's an exercise," said Ethan. "It's not supposed to be either useful or fun."

It could be due to a lack of concentration of Ethan's part, Ripper thought, although, in all honesty, that seemed unlikely. The kind of stones?

"Then skip it," said Randall. He turned a page of his newspaper and laughed. "Poltergeist of Brighton Pier! Part-time model June Guthrie was..."

"Put it in the scrapbook," said Ethan.

"That's what I'm doing. Say, did you ever find out more about that woman you were looking for in the scrapbooks?"

"Turned out to be a dead end," Ethan said. "She died twenty years ago." He glanced over at Ripper. "Do you see anything wrong?"

"Well," Ripper said, but Dee came in then, saying, "Oh for God's sake, Ethan, are you still playing with those bloody cards?"

"It's not playing, it's practice."

"Can't you do something fun? Can't we? It's been ages since we did some fun magic."

"I whole-heartedly endorse her sentiment," Randall said.

"All right, all right," Ethan said. "I'll try and think of something."

"Good," she said. "And now Randall and I are going out to see a film."

"A film?" asked Ripper. So they might actually be doing something different this afternoon.

"Theatre of Blood. It has Vincent Price and Diana Rigg in drag. Want to come?"

"Er, no," said Ripper.

"No," said Ethan.

"Suit yourselves." She kissed the top of Randall's head. "Let's go, dear."

"So what's wrong with the spell?" Ethan asked again, as soon as Dee and Randall were out of the room.

"It's the stones," said Ripper. "The sandstone won't project the spell outside the rectangle. You should use quartz."

"Quartz," said Ethan.

"Or something else highly crystalline. Gypsum or halite, even."

"You know this, or you're guessing?"

"I know this," Ripper said.

Downstairs, the kitchen door slammed shut. Ripper could hear Randall and Dee heading out the back gate. The rest of the house was quiet. There were just the sound of Ethan's jeans sliding over the floor as he stretched his legs out, and the small cracklings of the cards as they were picked up and shuffled. Ripper realised that they were the only people left in the house: that was unprecedented. Tom and Adrienne wouldn't be back for a couple of hours.

He watched Ethan's hair swing over a shoulder as he lent over to sweep sand into an envelope, and thought that he looked a very little bit like David Gilmour. Any moment now, Ethan might turn around to say something mildly suggestive and Ripper would have to think of a reply. Ripper reminded himself that he was neither naive nor, as it happened, completely inexperienced, but that he had to think of Adrienne.

So Ripper said, "We could find you some quartz."

"Yes," said Ethan, suddenly cheerful. "There must be some sort of mineral tat shop somewhere."

"I know a place," said Ripper. "It's south of the river, near where I used to live. It's rather 'Age of Aquarius', but it would have what you need."

"Well, excellent," said Ethan. "We'll go now, unless you have something more pressing?"

Ripper fetched his jacket.

On the Tube he had a sidelong look at his fellow passengers, trying to memorise their faces so that he could recognise them again later on in case he was still being followed. Perhaps he should have taken the car instead.

"So, what were the main books you learnt from?" asked Ethan.

"Oh, this little primer my... grandmother put together," said Ripper. "And then Kreyszig's Introduction. And I had access to Stegun and Abramowitz's Handbook of Applied Magic for a while but I didn't really understand much of it at the time. You?"

"I had this old handwritten thing," said Ethan, "and I worked out some of it myself. Randall brought over a copy of Morse and this translated Ogata. And I've traded here and there for individual spells and techniques."

"Traded?" asked Ripper.

"Yes," said Ethan.

"I thought sorcerers were, well, apprenticed."

"Oh, Evelyn asked me, but I turned her down. I'm not very interested in her speciality."

"Which is sex magic."

"Yes," said Ethan.


"It's just hard to imagine it being useful in an emergency."

New Dawn Bookshop and Gifts wasn't far from where Jim and Alison lived. It was a long and narrow little store sandwiched between an antiques dealer and an Oxfam shop. Ripper had checked it out a couple of times to see what it had, but this wasn't his game anymore. It had the usual incense, candles, bongs, and dragon statuettes. There were fake Celtic bangles and posters of Hawkwind. None of this seemed to perturb Ethan, who looked keen-eyed around the room, with his head slightly tilted as if he were listening for a sound. Then he ambled along the aisle, picking up all sorts of complete rubbish.

The only other customer was a middle-aged woman in a long floral skirt. Ethan looked her over too but then shook his head. "No-one I know," he said. "And I don't recognise our proprietress either."

They reached the table that was laid out with crystals of various sorts. "What do you think?" Ethan asked him.

Ripper picked out some unassuming but effective looking pieces of quartz, feeling rather self-conscious about it. Ethan looked like he belonged in the shop, with his collar-length hair and second-hand clothing, but Ripper didn't. Ripper thought he must look like the sort of person who would only go into a place like this in order to shoplift. He vaguely considered doing so. Ethan though, had moved on and was inspecting a moon-shaped candelabra.

Ripper caught up with him at the bargain bin. "Look at that candle-holder," said Ethan. "It's the only genuinely magical thing in this shop."

"You can just tell, can you?" asked Ripper.

"Yes," said Ethan, very matter-of-factly. "I haven't the faintest idea what it is though."

Ripper did. In fact, it rather astonished him that one of his old exam questions was turning out to be actually useful. "It's for warding off scryers," he said. It was slightly chipped and was going for fifty pence. Ripper wondered if the chip would make any difference to its efficacy.

"Well now," said Ethan, "aren't you full of interesting information? I'm not sure if I need it though."

"I'll buy it," said Ripper. "You take these," and handed him the quartz.

Ethan wanted to go to the pub after that, so they could avoid the worst of the rush-hour crush on the Tube. He found them a booth in The Saracen's Head and they sat opposite each other with their beers.

"This can't be where you're from originally," said Ethan, meaning south London. "You don't have the accent."

"Right," said Ripper, warily.

"So where are you from then?"

"Here and there."

"So we're back to that again, are we?"

"Where're you from then?" asked Ripper.

"There and here," said Ethan.

They lapsed into a pointed silence.

Ripper fished around for a less charged topic. "What about Dee?"

"Oh, she's pure Home Counties," said Ethan. "You can call her Diedre, by the way. It's her actual name." He reflected. "Not that you use yours, I suppose."

Ripper was quite keen to steer him off that topic too. "How'd she come to stay with you?"

"Paul," said Ethan, "one of Randall's older brothers. He and Diedre got engaged and Randall went home for the engagement party, because this is about the time when he and his family were almost reconciled. But what you have to know is that Diedre's family are mostly solicitors, and Randall's family are mostly doctors. They have their eccentricities, but you can imagine the party was quite staid--"

"You've met them?" asked Ripper. "Their famillies?" wondering what they'd made of Ethan.

"Oh yes," Ethan said, "several times. But then Randall shows up, dressed as he does as if he's from another world. And Diedre takes one look and decides that Randall's world is much more interesting than hers. So she runs off with Randall. The first I know of it is when this woman in an A-line skirt and pearls shows up at our flat, which wasn't big enough to swing a rat in."

"She's not still with Randall though," said Ripper.

"No," said Ethan, "well."

The conversation shut off again, like a tap.

After a while, Ethan managed, "How are you going then, looking for a new band?"

"I'm going to meet some people on Sunday," said Ripper.

"Right," said Ethan. After that they decided it was probably time to head home.

Outside the pub, though, Ripper bumped into Jim. There was a wary moment when Ripper considered punching him out for breaking up the band. But it didn't look fair: Jim looked exhausted.

"Alison's had the kid then?" Ripper asked.

Jim nodded. A boy, it turned out, seven pounds, here's the photo (it looked ugly and pink-faced). Ripper remembered to ask after its name. Jim said, they'd thought Donald at first, but that hadn't seemed right for him, so they'd gone for Stephen. Stephen Donald Cox. And how was Ripper these days? So Ripper told him about the hotel gig and how terrible it was. He didn't say, and it's your fault I have to be there.

Ripper looked around, thinking he'd have to introduce Jim to Ethan, but Ethan had wasn't there. Jim said he had to get home to Alison and little Stevie now, stay in touch. He looked a little relieved.

Ripper ducked back into the pub, but couldn't see Ethan there either. Maybe he'd gone on to the Tube station and was already on his way home.

In fact, Ethan was still in the station. He'd laid out some cards and the quartz pieces on a countertop. A small group of people had gathered around him.

"I'll bet you a pound," Ethan said to the man at the front, "that you'll pick the two of spades. You can shuffle and you can lay out the cards if you like. Check and see that they're an ordinary pack first."

Ripper loitered in a nearby doorway as five people lost a pound each. The spellcasting was faultless, even when people threw their two of spades angrily onto the floor or tore them up.

The first man came back. "This is a trick!" he said.

"Of course it's a trick," said Ethan. He just stood there, smiling slightly, as the mood got uglier. Couldn't he tell, or did he not care?

Ripper moved forward to pick up and the cards and quartz pieces. "Time to go," he said.

Someone tapped him on the back. "So, are you his accomplice? Are you how he does it?"

Ripper turned around to face someone who was considerably stockier than he was but not as tall. "Piss off," he said. "You've lost your bet, that's it."

"I think you'll be giving me my pound back," said the man.

This seemed doubtful, as Ethan was somehow halfway to the stairs. So Ripper said, very quietly, "I think you'll get out of my way."

The stocky man raised a fist but never got to use it. Ripper kneed him in the groin, then punched his jaw. The man keeled over. Ripper kicked him, then kicked him again.

Passerby stared as Ripper tried to walk away casually. Someone shouted, "Police!"

But there was no police officer nearby and no-one else seemed willing to accost him. He reached the stairs, and then he went down them, and at the bottom, coming into the platform, was a perfectly-timed train.

Ripper got on board, wondering if, at any moment, he'd hear the toot of a policeman's whistle. But all that happened was that the train moved off, and Ethan came through from another carriage.

"Good work," said Ethan. "I have to thank you for that."

"I'm not doing that again," Ripper said.

Ethan laughed. He laughed in these loud bursts that had everyone in the carriage turn and look at them. And Ripper found himself laughing too, partly because it had been a bit of a rush, but also a little hysterically. He'd never beaten anyone up in full public view before.

When Ethan finally got a grip on himself again, he said, "Those quartz pieces really did help."

"You are bloody insane," said Ripper. "I'm telling you that next time you are on your own."

Ethan didn't say anything, but he grinned. It made Ripper want to punch him too.


Ripper was grumpy that evening. He refused to go out to the pub with the rest of them, and instead declared that he was taking Adrienne out to see a film. So he missed entirely Ethan's excellent rendition of their day's escapades, and the attentive way in which it was received. Stan, Diedre, and Randall thought it was hilarious. Tom had looked rather aghast but then, he usually did.

Ethan wanted to go back to working on the Spivak as soon as they got back from the pub, but he knew he should pace himself. He killed a few hours with some of the hoarded hashish and some minor illusion spells. Then he started to crave a cheese sandwich, and went down to the kitchen to grill one. He could clearly hear Ripper and Adrienne having sex, not because either of them were screamers, but Adrienne did vocalise and the door to her room, which opened onto the kitchen, had been damaged at some point. The usual household practice when Adrienne was at it was to switch on the radio, but they were later than usual tonight and Ethan couldn't even find the shipping forecast on the dial. Instead, he sat on the back porch, looking out at the garden, while he waited for the cheese to melt. The garden had gone wild, its lawn uncut and its plants unpruned in the years since they had moved in there. He wondered what there was in the way of wildlife. Foxes, badgers, shrews? What crawled, what ran, and what flew past? Then he smelt a faint burning smell and went back in to rescue his toast.

Ripper was avoiding him the next day. He didn't come home straight from his lunchtime gig at the hotel, but stayed out until dinnertime, saying curtly that he'd gone for a walk. Adrienne was out at one of her Friday night meetings and Ripper disappeared upstairs to play on his guitar. This sort of behaviour was just of no use to Ethan, especially if it carried on to tomorrow night, when Ethan had scheduled the fun spellcasting that Diedre had asked for, so Ethan decided to go up and apologise.

"I'm sorry about what happened. Everything got out of hand very quickly. I really didn't mean to put you in any danger. It won't happen again."

Ripper was sitting a wooden chair, with his guitar in his lap. He looked as if he didn't believe Ethan.

"Don't worry about my expression," Ethan said. "My face just does that, I can't help it."

Ethan hadn't actually been inside Ripper's room since Ripper had moved in, even though it was on the same floor as his own. No-one had picked it before because it was up all those stairs and rather draughty, particularly in winter. Ethan supposed they should really come up there and help Ripper stuff rags into the cracks. It had a nice window though. He looked around saw that the chair was pretty much all the furniture that Ripper had. He had his musical gear and his clothes and that seemed to be about it. The man had a record player but didn't have a mattress.

Ethan also noticed that the anti-scrying candleholder had been set up. He wondered who Ripper was trying to avoid. On the Tube yesterday, he'd been looking over his shoulder the whole time too. Maybe he'd stolen something? He'd have to ask Ripper at a better time: it was almost interesting.

"So, I'm sorry," said Ethan.

"All right," said Ripper. And after that the guitar music was a little happier.

Ethan went down to see Stan next. Stan's basement flat was quite separate from the rest of the house. Ethan had to go out the back door as the front was kept permanently locked and walk around to the front, opening the gate and walking down the half-set of stairs to Stan's sunken front yard and front door.

For a miracle, Stan was in. He let Ethan into his front room. Stan's place had actual furniture, much more than the rest of the house. It had intact wallpaper and looked like a proper flat. It had a new bar, Ethan noted.

He waved some money at Stan. "Can you get me some hash? I'm getting low."

"No problem," said Stan.

"And can you get Ripper a mattress? He doesn't seem to have anything at all."


"And tell him it fell off the back of a lorry."


Ripper came home on Saturday to find an entire team of renovators ready and waiting for him. Randall had Polyfilla and a ladder, Dee had sandpaper and a broom, Tom had a wood-plane and a pot of varnish. Even Stan made it all the way to the top of the stairs, carrying a a still-wrapped mattress that he'd "found". Ripper cleared his stuff out into the hallway and then helped where he could. Together they filled the worst of the cracks in the wall, smoothed out the floor and windowsills where the wood was splintering, and cleaned out the more aggressive spiders. Ripper turned down an offer from Randall to paint the room and thanked Diedre but told her he probably wouldn't get any curtains until the winter.

Adrienne came home just as they were doing the final sweep and clean. She stood in the doorway with her arms folded as Randall mopped. Dee went downstairs and came back with a sheet and pillow set as a housewarming gift.

"Isn't this wonderful?" said Ripper quietly to Adrienne. He was deeply moved and very grateful. "They just showed up and started work."

Adrienne nodded and looked around the room. "Where's Ethan?" she asked him.

"What? Oh, I think he's in the drawing room, setting up for tonight. He certainly hasn't been helping out here."

"No," she said. There was something a little odd about her expression.

"What is it?" he asked, suddenly concerned.

"Nothing," she said. She kissed his forehead. "Will you be much longer?"

Ripper shook his head. "Dinner's at the pub tonight, once we've all washed up."


"I think I've found a dead pigeon," said Tom, who was leaning out of the window.

Adrienne went downstairs as Ripper went to look.


Ethan was trying out different combinations of herbs, burning small quantities over the altarcloth to see what worked best. He could hear a constant clatter from upstairs, but it took considerably more than that to distract him.

"Hello, Ethan," said Adrienne as she came into the room. She fetched herself a chair and moved it next to where he sat on the floor. He smothered the flame and looked up at her.

"I heard about your escapade on Thursday," she said. "And I didn't hear it from you and I didn't hear it from Ripper."

"Well, you should have come to the pub on Thursday night then."

"Was he in any actual danger? Were either of you?"

"Maybe," Ethan admitted. "Ripper's pretty good with his fists, though."

"I don't want to ever have to pick you up from hospital again."

"No," he said, "of course not."

"And what's all that going on upstairs?"

"Ah," he said, airily. "I just thought it was time to have his room fixed up."

"And Stan just happened to find him a bed?"

"Merry Christmas?" Ethan offered. "Actually, what month is this?"


"Happy May Day then. More appropriate for you, anyway."

"Are you going to go after him?"

"Why, would you mind if I did?" He studied her expression carefully.

Adrienne thought for a moment. "I like him," she said. "And he's a lot smarter than he looks." She paused. "But I could do with some more time to myself. I don't think he's got enough to occupy him at the moment."

"Well then," said Ethan, smiling.

"I'm not sure he'd be interested though."

"Oh, I'm fairly sure," said Ethan.

"And there was one other thing I wanted to talk with you about. I might have a job for you again soon. I was going to ask Stan, but I'm not sure now that it's something he could handle. It's something you might want to take Ripper for too."

"More work with your South African?"

"No, something else this time."

"And what was that earlier about wanting me to stay out of trouble?" Ethan asked.

"It's for the greater good," said Adrienne.

He laughed. "If you say so," Ethan said.


Almost the entire household turned up that night for the casting. Ripper turned up a little before the nominal midnight start time, to find Dee, Tom, and Randall sitting on the floor around a large square cloth decorated with pentagrams. Ethan and Stan were having a heated discussion in a corner. A very pretty woman whom Ripper didn't know was standing next to the window, looking rather uncomfortable.

"Stan's brought an extra," Dee said.

"Anyone know who she is?" Ripper asked.

No-one did.

Ripper looked at her. "I'll go and ask."

She was petite even in heels, with floppy dark hair that half-hid her face. She was wearing a lot of make-up, but she looked very young underneath.

"Hello," said Ripper. "I'm-- Would you like something to drink?"

"We brought some," said the girl. Her accent was from south of the river. She pointed towards a box that turned out to be full of discounted vodka. A large brown envelope was tucked into the box. Ripper could smell what was inside it without opening it.

"I'm running tabs tonight, Ripper," Stan said cheerily, interrupting his own conversation with Ethan. "Go ahead."

Ripper found them some glasses. "Have you been to a casting before?"

She shook her head. "Only ouija boards."

They could both hear Ethan saying, "...complete newcomer... not safe..."

"I think the spell's new to almost everyone here," said Ripper. "That's why he's concerned. It's potentially dangerous."

"Pour me a drink?" she said.

He passed her a glass.

"My name's Mandy," she said.

"That's a lovely name," he said. Then he found himself saying, "I'm Giles. Ah, but that is, people here call me Ripper."

"That's a funny name," she said. "How'd you get that?"

Ethan stalked up. "Are you likely to panic at loud noises and bright lights?" he asked her.

"No," she said, scoffing slightly. "I work in a nightclub."

"Will you do exactly as I ask, without interruption or deviation?"

"Sure," she said.

Stan came up now and slapped Ethan on the shoulder. "She'll be fine."

"We'll see," said Ethan, tightly, and he went back to the altar cloth.

Stan topped up their drinks. Then he waved the envelope in Ethan's direction. "What's good for tonight, then?"

"Alcohol and cannabis," said Ethan, without looking up. "I don't recommend LSD, at least not on the first casting."

"Poppers?" asked Stan. Ethan shrugged.

"Why don't we take a seat?" Ripper said to Mandy. "We all need to sit in a circle."

She nodded. "I've seen it on TV."

"Right, everyone, it's almost time," said Ethan.

"Does it have to be at exactly midnight?" Dee asked, "because it's already five past."

"It doesn't have to be exact, no," said Ethan. "Otherwise no-one would have been able to cast spells in the Middle Ages."

"Maybe no-one cast these spells in the Middle Ages," said Randall. "Maybe magical technology has progressed."

"Do they always talk like that?" Mandy asked Ripper.

"I think so," said Ripper. "I haven't really been here all that long myself."

Mandy smiled at him. Ripper hoped that neither she nor Stan thought he was chatting her up.

They formed a circle, with Ethan taking the position closest to the window. Stan passed around the vodka bottles and the envelope. Ripper paused when the envelope reached him.

Mandy reached her hand in, taking out a joint. "He'll give me one of these for free," she said. "We could share."

"Are we all ready?" Ethan asked. "I need everyone to be quiet."

Everyone was looking at Ethan now, Ripper included. He watched as Ethan lit the candle and then went to turn out the electric lights.

"All right," said Ethan. "I have to cast a conjuration first and then we'll throw to the main spell. I need complete silence."

He went to the window then and pushed it open. The candles fluttered and Ripper felt the cooler air over his skin. Ethan stood to one side of the window, looking out.

Ethan started a soft, repetitive chant, just a few syllables long. Ripper found himself mouthing the words, trying to remember what they were for.

When Ethan stopped speaking, the silence seemed absolute, as if no-one fidgeted or breathed. As if London had stopped and the wind had fallen still.

Something large and soft came in through the window. It seemed too large to fit, but through it came. It passed Ethan, glided over the floor, and came to rest in the centre of the altar cloth. It was an owl.

Ethan came back to sit down and close the circle. He picked up a needle, held it in the candle flame, then pricked his thumb so that a spot of his blood fell onto the bird.

"Onto the owl?" asked Tom.

"Yes," said Ethan.

The needle was passed around. The owl sat unpeturbed.

"Now," said Ethan, "tonight we will be sharing senses with this bird. We'll share sight, and hearing, touch and smell--"

"Taste?" asked Mandy.

"I thought I'd skip that one," Ethan said. "Unless someone wants to know what a live mouse tastes like."

Ripper decided against speaking up.

"Randall, Diedre and I will start the chant as I burn the herbs. The rest of you need only recite the last syllable of each phrase. But keep the circle tight or we'll lose it."

The spell began.


The bird lifted its wings and beat them -- once, twice -- and it was a miracle that the circle held, that not one of them lifted their arms in sympathy, to stretch and reach for themselves. Ethan held on firmly to Randall and Diedre's wrists.

How strange they all looked to the owl, as pale and shimmering surfaces in the candlelight. Their every sigh and fidget was was a roll of sound. Their smell was both musky and unnatural.

The wings beat again and the owl left them behind.

But oh! the sensation of falling, followed by the beat of the wings and the impossible fact of failing to die. Out in the night air, gliding over the back garden, then the beat and beat as they -- it -- rose higher into the air. The land below was bright and clear, their gaze held by the movement of grass in the wind, the skitter of a rat, or the drifting of wind-blown litter.

They rose and fell and ate with the owl. They saw the canal as the owl saw it, a braiding of light. They felt the air currents on their arms and cheeks, and grimaced as they scented other birds. Branches curled under their feet, mice tore in their hands. Warm meat slid into their mouths and gullets.

When the spell broke, Ethan didn't see who caused it. He had his eyes closed, and he was leaning forward over his knees. Opening his eyes, he saw only that the candles had gone out and that everyone was sitting quite still in the dark. His limbs felt long and heavy. The room was cold and his back felt stiff.

Slowly, people stirred. Diedre and Randall re-lit the candles. Tom got up to close the window. Stan reached over for a fresh bottle of vodka. Only Stan's girl and Ripper stayed as still as Ethan. Ripper seemed to be watching Ethan carefully. The girl still had her eyes shut, a small smile playing over her lips.

"Is that in Spivak?" Ripper asked.

"No," said Ethan. "I made that one up."

"How?" asked Ripper.

"I have a spell for summoning small rodents. I have a second for seeing through another's eyes. And a third requests small favours from birds."

"I've only ever used cookbook magic," Ripper said. "Do you think you could show me how to do that?"

"Maybe," said Ethan, "if you have an ounce of talent in you." He rather hoped there was.

Randall was at his record player now, picking out a disc. Diedre was fetching some snacks. But Ethan stayed motionless a precious few seconds longer, still savouring the sensations of having been an owl.


Ripper still felt pretty trippy at noon the next day. He'd stayed up too late, drank too much, had too strong a joint, and underneath all that he was still half-convinced he could fly like a bird.

He was deeply unconvinced that this would improve his chances at the audition.

Plus, at some point in the wee hours he had actually considered leaning over and kissing Ethan, which, well, should he count the reasons why not? One: In front of other people. Two: Adrienne. Three: He wasn't even sure yet if he liked the man.

All this was very distracting, as was Adrienne, who had mercifully agreed to drive him to the audition. She was in her rock-chick drag, which this time consisted of a pair of tight jeans and a low-cut top. A very low-cut top. Ripper eyed her from the passenger seat.

"Are you still drunk?" she asked him.

"Or stoned," he said, "I'm really not sure."

"Are you going to be able to hold it together?"

"I suppose we'll find out." He peered at her. "You're very chirpy."

"I had a fantastic night's sleep," she said. "You were all very considerate and quiet after midnight."

"We were being owls," he said.

The audition was being held in a Working Men's Institute near Ladbroke Grove. It had been advertised in the paper. The Grins were still unsigned as a band, but they had a good reputation on the pub circuit: Ripper had been to one of their shows and had come away impressed. But rumour had it that their lead singer and guitarist was now on permanent holiday in Spain after an incident involving half a pound of TNT and an Islington hotel. Why an Islington hotel, Ripper didn't know.

There was a small crowd outside the Institute, if eight people could be considered a small crowd, which Ripper thought they could. One of them was Gary. Gary! He could barely play bass, let alone lead guitar. What was he doing here?

Gary came up to talk with them. "He's looking a little under the weather," he said to Adrienne.

"Who's 'he'?" demanded Ripper. "The cat's mother?"

The audition was supposed to start at twelve-thirty, but the doors were still locked. People started to mill around, looking for another entrance. Gary went back to his car to check the time in the paper.

At quarter to one, a van pulled up in a sidestreet. Out stepped the four remaining UK-resident members of The Grins. They were long-haired, skinny, and lanky. It was perhaps his imagination, but he thought they looked rather hungover too. They unlocked the front door and waved people in.

Ripper was very interested to see what kinds of guitars his competition had brought. There seemed to be quite a mix. Unfortunately, a few had ones much more expensive than his. "Don't you worry," he said to his guitar.

Adrienne whispered, "You know that you're saying that quite loudly?"

The Grins asked everyone to take turns playing a favourite song. Everyone's favourite song seemed to include a solo by Eric Clapton, except that, well, Eric Clapton was not in the room. Indeed, Eric Clapton did not appear to be sharing the same continent with many of these people.

Now it was Ripper's turn. Adrienne gave him an encouraging pat on the thigh. He went to the front of the hall, hung his guitar over his shoulder, and took a seat on a wooden stool. He decided to play a song that he used to practice quite a bit back in Oxford. He felt relaxed and peaceable, and as if he were back in his rooms during a term break, when his room-mate was on holiday, and only the porters were likely to complain about the sound.

When he stopped, there was a scattering of applause. Ripper couldn't remember if the earlier entrants' music had been applauded.

Then it was someone else's turn. While the next entrant sang, Ripper went to sit back with Adrienne. The Grins' drummer came up and handed him a beer.

"Can you play bass?" asked the drummer, "even a little?"

"Why?" asked Ripper.

"Because our bass guitarist wants to play lead sometimes."

The Grins' bass guitarist waved at Ripper from across the hall.

"Ah, yes, I can," said Ripper. "I can play bass."

"Can you play it when you're drunk?"

"Drunk or sober," said Ripper.

"Good, 'cos Tim can play when he's sober, but he's shit when he's drunk." Then the drummer got distracted by Adrienne's breasts.

"So?" prompted Ripper.

"We've got to pack up here, but we'll see you in the pub over the road in fifteen, yeah? Three gig trial, to see if we can stand you when you're not playing guitar."

"Great," said Ripper.

The drummer went back to sit with the rest of The Grins.

"Well, congrats," said Adrienne.

"Yes," said Ripper, wondering when it would sink in.

"I can't stay for the pub though," said Adrienne. "I've got things to do. If I take the car back, will you be OK to get home?"

Gary said, in a loud stage whisper, "Shhhh!"

Adrienne took Ripper's arm and took him outside to sit on the steps. She gave him a cigarette and lit up one for herself. Ripper took a swig of his beer.

"That went all right," he said. "I wonder when our first gig is."

"Not next weekend, I hope," said Adrienne. "I'm going to be away."


"It's my mum's birthday. I'm going to go home for the party."

"Oh," said Ripper. "Do you want me to come with you?"

"No," she said.

Ripper looked at her, thinking she was going to say, "No, not yet," or "No, it's too soon," or even "No, my parents hate all my boyfriends." But she didn't, she just said, "No," without modifier or explanation. No, Ripper was not going to meet her parents, now or anytime soon.

"All right," he said. He stared into the bottleneck of his beer for a while. When he next dared to glance over, she was looking cool and unconcerned. She stubbed out her cigarette onto a concrete step.

"I'll see you at home," she said, leaning over to kiss his cheek.

He could hear the auditions finishing inside. He swallowed the last of his drink and then walked over the road to the pub. He spent the afternoon celebrating with his new bandmates and getting very, very drunk.


Randall was lying on his back on the stairs, blocking the way down. Because of the angle and the dim hallway light Ethan couldn't see his eyes, couldn't tell whether Randall was awake or asleep. It was late at night, so he ought to have been asleep. His position looked uncomfortable, but Randall could sleep anywhere, on chairs, under tables, curled up on pebbled beaches, even on one occasion standing up against the fridge. Ethan would probably be able to just roll him to one side of the stairs without waking him at all.

"What do you think," Randall then said, at once making it clear that he was awake and had heard Ethan, "I should paint next?"

"Not the ceiling," said Ethan. "You won't sell your work that way."

"I don't paint for money," Randall said.

"What about recognition?"

"Not that either," said Randall.

"The joy of sharing your art with others?"

"I think," said Randall, "I do it because I like to paint."

"Then paint the bloody ceiling," Ethan said, mildly, "but let me get downstairs."

Randall shifted himself to one side, but as Ethan walked past, he seized one of Ethan's ankles. "I want to paint something about magic, about what it means to us, how it links us together and to everything else in the world. I want to paint that."

"It's good to have an ambition," Ethan said.

Randall starting stroking his ankle, in that same sexless way he had with Diedre. Ethan really rather Randall didn't, and pulled his foot free.

"If I paint it with magical symbols, in some kind of pattern, like the warding sigils, only, I don't know, more powerful..."

Against his better judgement, Ethan sat down on a stair next to Randall. He looked up at the smooth, white-washed boards that Randall had cleaned up more than a year ago. "You want to paint a painting about magic that's also magic in itself."

"Yeah," said Randall.

"Do you think that's technically possible, Ripper?" Ethan asked. Ripper had appeared on the lower landing and was now stepping very carefully onto the first stair. He was carrying his guitar and looked very, very drunk.

"Hm?" asked Ripper.

"Hey, congratulations," said Randall. "I heard you got into the band."

Ripper tottered visibly on the step. Ethan and Randall stood up and went to help him, supporting him on either side until they got him upstairs and into his room. Randall took his guitar from him and helped him off with his jacket. Then they got him to lie down onto the mattress. Randall went downstairs to fetch water while Ethan untied Ripper's boots.

"However did you get home on the Tube in this condition?" Ethan asked him.

"Didn't," Ripper said. "Had a few more drinks with Stan when I got home."

Ethan pulled off Ripper's socks. He liked Ripper's feet, actually. He started to idly massage the ball of one foot with his thumb. When he looked up, Ripper either hadn't noticed or was pretending not to. Then Ripper made a sudden lunge over towards his jacket, groping in the pockets. Ethan leant over to help, brushing against him. In the pocket was a packet of cigarettes, so Ethan lit one up for him. Ripper lay back on the mattress with the cigarette between his lips.

He was just in his jeans and t-shirt now, stretched out long in front of Ethan. Ethan ran his hand along the inside of one leg, up to the thigh, and Ripper kept on pretending not to notice, just looking up at the ceiling and smoking his cigarette. The pretence at once amused and annoyed Ethan.

What a pity Ripper was too drunk to be of any real use right now.

Randall came back into the room with a tray. He'd brought a jug of water, a glass, four painkillers, and a tiny bottle of vodka. Randall could be a very thoughtful man.

"We'll leave you to it," said Ethan.

Randall went back to lying on the stairs. Ethan had intended to spend the evening working through the next spell in Spivak, but he doubted he'd be able to concentrate now. He decided to go out instead.


"Hey, Ripper!" shouted Stan. "Hey, Randall! You gotta come and look at this."

Ripper wished that Stan wouldn't shout. He was feeling much better than he had this morning, but he was still a little under the weather. He was fetching himself another glass of water from the kitchen tap. He wondered what on earth would get Stan so excited. It seemed to be out the back.

Adrienne was already there, sitting calmly on a kitchen chair, reading a book. Randall and Stan were standing on the back steps, looking into the garden. It took Ripper a moment to realise what they were looking at.

It was Diedre, gardening. She had waded deep into the undergrowth with a pair of secateurs in one hand and a bucket in the other. It was unclear to Ripper what she intended to do with either.

Her bicycle was leaning against the garden wall. It was something she rode about in to go shopping or to visit the library. Today its saddle bags were stuffed full of small gardening implements and some freshly-battered pot plants.

"It's time," Diedre intoned, waving her secateurs. She was wearing an old hat and a denim jumpsuit, which made her look like a mad apiarist. "The weeds must be weeded! The wild must be tamed!"

"Did you know she was doing this?" Stan asked Randall. Randall shook his head.

"Why are you starting there?" asked Randall, but Diedre shook her head, then leant over and vanished into the brush.

"Do you think someone should go in after her?" asked Ripper.

"I'm getting a beer," said Stan. "I'm settling in to watch this."

Ethan turned up then, walking through the back gate and looking rather chipper. Ripper wasn't a hundred percent sure, but he seemed to be wearing the same shirt he had on yesterday. Did he never go to the laundrette?

"What's going on?" asked Ethan.

Diedre stood up again and became suddenly visible. "I'm clearing a clearing," she said.


"I want a garden I can sit out in during the summer."

"I rather like it wild," said Ethan.

Stan came back with a crateful of beer. Ripper forced himself to decline.

Then Stan said, "Don't look, but we're being watched," so of course everyone turned to look. There was a black BMW parked on the other side of the road and someone was sitting in the driver's seat. "That's been there before."

"Could be the neighbours," said Randall.

"Our neighbours across the road have a light green Morris saloon," said Adrienne, finally deigning to look up from her book.

"It's the police," said Stan, "it's got to be. I won't be able to go out. I'm done for."

"It might not be for you," said Ethan.

"It's more likely to be for me, though, isn't it?"

"Not necessarily," said Adrienne.

"Well," said Ethan, "why don't we go and ask him?"

"Yeah," said Randall, "let's do that."

"No," said Ripper, suddenly and firmly. "I'll go." He stood up. "He'll be less likely to drive off if just one of us goes up."

"OK," said Randall, "but we're right behind you."

Ripper walked out of the garden and across the road to the car. It was Jeremy Stockton behind the wheel. Stockton was only a few years older than Ripper. Ripper had very briefly dated his sister.

"Why are you here?" asked Ripper. "I'm not coming back."

"Nice friends you've got," said Stockton.

Ripper looked back over his shoulder. Stan and Randall were standing on the back steps, early afternoon beers in hand. Ethan stood next to Adrienne. Diedre was still in her clearing, holding her secateurs as if they were a defensive weapon.

"They don't have anything to do with this," said Ripper. "You'll leave them alone."

"Oh, don't worry," said Stockton, "I'm here unofficially today. There are some people back home who'd just like to know how you are."

"I'm fine," said Ripper. "In fact, I'm in a much better band now."

Stockton made a sound of abject disbelief. "Do you have any idea how moronic you sound? That's what you've given up your calling for? A band?"

"My life, my choice," said Ripper.

"If you say so," said Stockton. "We'll be waiting for you when you come back."

He drove off, leaving Ripper standing on the roadside, trying to swallow his own anger.


Adrienne and Ethan watched the car drive off. "It's Ripper they're after," she said, quietly enough that only Ethan could hear.

"Yes," he said, "but we don't know why."

Ripper walked back towards them, looking as if he'd been kicked in the stomach. Adrienne sighed and put down her book. "I'm not going to get any work done this afternoon," she said, and got up to console Ripper.

Ripper was saying, "It's nothing to do with this house at all..."

Ethan went inside and ran himself a bath. The bathroom was like the rest of the house, run-down but patched together with some care. He shaved at the chipped sink as the water ran into the tub.

The water was just a little too hot as he lay down in it. He looked up at the small window, high up above the door, that let in fresh air and spiders as it saw fit. The room was an odd shape, almost certainly a retrofit of a dressing room for the bedroom next door. Randall had whitewashed it. Ethan was a little concerned that it might be his next project after the stairwell ceiling.

Much earlier that day, Ethan had showered in the very modern bathroom of the man he'd gone to bed with last night, just before the man had decided that he might ring in sick after all. It had been all smoked glass and avocado formica. The whole flat had been like that, routinely flash. He thought the man was perhaps someone with a minor job in the City, but he hadn't asked. He'd been thirtyish, keen and competent enough.

Ethan lay in the bath until Diedre starting banging on the door, saying she was very grubby from gardening and she desperately needed a wash. Ethan wondered exactly how much she'd achieved out there.

He walked upstairs in his towel to look for clean clothes, then went back down to the drawing room. Ripper and Randall were sitting on the floor. Adrienne was lying on her back, with her head resting on Ripper's leg, still reading her book.

"A magic painting?" Ripper was saying. "I suppose that could be done. I have heard of such things, although they tend to be malevolent in nature."

"I want it to be a good thing," said Randall, "I want people to be able to bask in it, I guess."

"Ah well," said Ripper, "I could try and think of some suitable glyphs. Glyphs of good fortune."

"And friendship," said Randall.

"And friendship," echoed Ripper.

"What kind of paintings have you heard of?" Ethan asked, joining them.

"Um, well the Egyptians, of course, curses at tombs and so on. And China where it's more equivocal, for good and ill, but spells may be instantiated through fine calligraphy alone. It's less common in European contexts, I think."

Ethan rather enjoyed these mini discourses from Ripper.

"So maybe I could incorporate Chinese elements into my work?" Randall asked.

"Or I could try and think of something more universal."

"Thank you," said Randall. "Thank you, that would be great."

Ripper smiled. Ethan extended his foot to tap Ripper on the knee and get his attention.

"So, are you still wanting to learn how to mix spells?"

"Oh definitely!" said Ripper. "And I think my head's clear enough now."

"So what are you going to trade?"

"Trade?" asked Ripper.

"Well, magic isn't free," said Ethan."

"Ah, but, I just promised to help Randall."

"That's between you and Randall," said Ethan. "Although, now you come to mention it, we are letting you live in our house."

"Yes," said Ripper, "all right. Trade, then. What sort of trade?"

"An interesting spell. Or many interesting spells, since I'm about to teach you something very useful."

Ripper said, "I know a lot of spells for warding off demons."

Adrienne put her book down on her chest and looked up at Ripper. "Is that something you have to do often?"

"It's just what my grandmother taught me," Ripper said. "Ah, spells for minor telekenesis?"

"Now, that sounds like something we can trade," said Ethan.


Ripper couldn't work out how Ethan sat. Ethan always looked entirely comfortable sitting on the floor, whereas Ripper found it drove him to distraction after just a few minutes. He would have blamed it on his long legs, but Ethan was only a fraction shorter than he was. He studied how Ethan was sitting, one leg stretched out, one leg underneath him. Ripper tried surreptitiously to copy him, and ended up folding onto the floor.

"Hey," said Adrienne, who had been briefly disturbed from her book.

Ripper had decided that he'd over-reacted the day before. Adrienne's avowal that she did not want him to meet her parents next weekend meant nothing more and nothing less than that. He had been reading far too much into it. After all, here she was, just the next day, companionable and comfortable next to him. He really had nothing to worry about there at all.

Ethan was leaning forwards now, drawing out figures in chalk on the wooden floor. "Now, the owl spell on Saturday was three spells in conjunction with each other, which is a little hard for a beginner. We should really start you with just combining two. And it's easiest to start with two spells you're already very comfortable with. Can you think of a couple?"

Adrienne sniggered, which was not a sound Ripper had heard from her before. "Just something in my book," she said, which was odd for a work of political economy.

"A door-locking spell," said Ripper, considering. "And one for conjuring fire."

"The door is set on fire when you lock it," said Adrienne.

"Aren't you reading?" Ripper asked her.

"Can you think of something else?" Ethan asked.

"A spell for remembering where you put something," said Ripper.

"It's behind the burning door," said Adrienne.

"You said you knew some spells for telekenesis," Ethan prompted.

"Yes," said Ripper.

"How about a spell for moving small objects that you've lost?"

"Isn't that going to be hard to test?" asked Adrienne. "You'll have to deliberately forget where you've put things."

"Repelling small insects?" Ripper said. He heard a note of desperation creeping into his voice.

"Right!" said Ethan. "We can create a spell for repelling small fires."

Adrienne looked up at Ripper. "Are you often menaced by candles?" she asked him.

Ethan said, "Could you possibly go for a walk?"

Adrienne closed her book. "Actually, I have a meeting I might go to tonight. It's a bit of a trek so I'll probably be back late." She sat up and kissed Ripper quite fully. He found himself blinking at her in pleasant surprise. "Have fun," she said.

Ripper watched her backside as she walked out the door.

"So," said Ethan, "we need to start with detailed descriptions of both those spells..."


Ethan and Ripper worked late into the night on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, working together on Ripper's improvised spell, and with Ripper showing Ethan a couple of telekenesis ones. Adrienne would go out in the evening, come back late, and still find them working. Ethan wondered why she was going to so many meetings lately: it suggested that things would shortly be going wrong for someone.

It was fun working with Ripper. He was less pedestrian than Randall, less clumsy than Diedre, and Stan and Tom did not compare at all. (Evelyn was quite different again, she was so far ahead of the rest of them.) He knew enough about magic to be properly appreciative of Ethan's skills, and displayed an admirable concentration and attention to detail. It was a delight, really.

On Thursday morning, Adrienne packed a suitcase and headed off to her parents' for the weekend. Ethan had been asleep when she left, but he'd found Ripper moping around the kitchen, having a desultory piece of toast before heading off to his job at the hotel. Ripper had a rehearsal that afternoon and evening with the his band, from which he would no doubt return dead drunk, so Ethan had a long and quiet day ahead of him.

He decided to spend his afternoon in the park. It was good busking weather and he wanted to try out the spells he'd just learnt from Ripper. Plus, it was just a nice day for a walk.

At first he looked for a quiet spot where he could lay out his gear and practice the spells. He veered away from the zoo and the football fields, looking for somewhere a little out of the way but not so private that it invited propositions. He found a grove of trees with lawn underneath and decided that was good enough. He sat against a tree and laid out his cloth and candles.

The first spell Ripper had taught him assisted the movement of something that was already moving. Ethan gathered up a few twigs and stones and then threw them one by one into the air. The first stone he threw without the needed chant and it didn't get far. He pitched the others, chanting, and watched them glide in ever greater distances.

The second spell was the genuine levitation of a light object. If he could get this one right outdoors, he could use it as the finale of his busking routine. He started with a leaf, but it proved to be surprisingly difficult, hard to get off the ground and wavering around everywhere. A spare candle didn't prove to be any easier. It was remarkable in the way that it completely defied all known laws of physics but it wasn't very impressive from a theatrical point of view. He'd have to stick with his usual routine a while longer.

Speaking of which, it was probably time to get moving. It was school closing time and he might get a bit of custom from parents and au pairs shepherding their kids to the children's playgrounds and the zoo. He set up shop out on one of the main paths and soon had a good little crowd going. No-one was being particularly generous but the coins added up. And then, towards closing time, he got a couple with kids who paused for a while. The man seemed to want to impress the woman with his generosity and threw Ethan something that folded.

It was a good afternoon's work. He packed the money away and then followed the busiest paths out of the park to dissuade anyone who might consider robbing him. He cast his eye over the parts of the park that he walked through, sizing them up, as he was looking for an outdoor venue for spellcasting on warmer summer nights. The park was locked overnight, but he didn't think that would present much of a problem.

The house was quiet when he got back. Stan's light was on but other than that the house was empty. Ethan found himself something to eat that he could heat up in a pot and took it upstairs. He paused on the first floor landing, which was where people piled old books in huge piles under the window. The paperbacks changed frequently, as Diedre, who was an indiscriminate and omnivorous reader, swapped them in and out of book exchanges. Ethan sometimes brought a box home too, if Terry was giving away excess stock. Ethan fished out a few titles that he hadn't read and which didn't sound completely mindless. Then he spent a quiet evening reading in bed. He heard Diedre, Randall and Tom come home around ten, and Ripper wobbled in about midnight.

Ethan spent a last hour or two practising the telekenesis trick in his room. At home, he could levitate small objects perfectly. Why then was it so hard outdoors? Was it because of the outdoor air currents, or because part of his concentration had to monitor what else was going on around him in the park? He didn't know. Perhaps Ripper would.

He got a good night's sleep. He wanted to be fully rested for tomorrow.


Ripper woke up in Adrienne's bed the next morning. It smelt of her, but when he rolled over he didn't find her warm and smooth skin, because of course she wasn't there. She was somewhere in Wiltshire, apparently, rather than, say, pulling him on top while reminding him to be quick because she had to be at the bookshop by ten. This didn't seem fair, especially when he rolled over onto his stomach and found himself sleepily nuzzling a pillow rather than her hair.

He was hungover again, but not badly. He thought he felt able for bacon and eggs. He pulled on some jeans and a t-shirt and set to restoring enough order in the kitchen to make breakfast possible, all the while cursing inconsiderate and anonymous housemates who left unwashed pots on the stove and dirty dishes in the sink. Then he found himself praising all equally anonymous housemates who left edible food in the fridge and bought loaves of fresh bread.

He sat down to his breakfast, thinking about yesterday's rehearsal. It had gone all right, although not as well as he might have liked. He was now fifth junior band member, despite being expected to do most of the singing. Two of the band members were called Dave: Dave the Drums and Dave the Bass. Alan, a Scot, was another guitarist. Andy played keyboards and gizmos, grey-and-black boxes with their electrical innards hanging out. He was studying electrical engineering and the band's schedule was currently constrained by his looming exams.

Ripper felt he'd played OK, but not nearly as well or as confidently as Dave the Bass or Alan. A lot of it was new material for him but was played-so-often-we-could-be-asleep for the others. He was going to have to work bloody hard.

Diedre came down then, wrapped in a long pink dressing-gown. Ripper felt a sudden fear that maybe the food in the fridge had been hers, but she just made herself a bite of toast and jam and a pot of tea. She waved at him but made no conversation before taking her breakfast upstairs.

He timed his trip to the bathroom badly and had to wait for Randall to finish shaving, which seemed to take an inordinately long time given that he had a beard. Perhaps it was tricky to do the corners. When he finally got into the bathroom, he shaved himself and had a basin-wash because the bath took so bloody long. Even trying to be quick, he soon had Ethan banging on the door saying it was his turn.

He brushed his teeth downstairs at the kitchen sink instead while Randall looked on in mild distaste. Randall spent so much time looking through the fridge that Ripper's conscience got a hold of him and he wrote a note that he pinned to the front: "I owe someone bacon and eggs".

"Well, if you're going out shopping," Diedre said, reappearing in a yellow frock and black scarf, "I have a list." As Ripper looked at it, she said, almost apologetically, "I think it's technically your turn."

Ripper checked the time. He should be easily able to get to the supermarket and back before he had to leave for his job. Dee fetched him a couple of string bags and then asked him if he could also pop into the off-license on the way back for some gin.

It was overcast but not quite raining as Ripper walked to the shops. He went to the bigger supermarket on the high street, which was further away but had more of a selection. This was fine as far as it went, except that Ripper went far more often the local corner shop and didn't really yet know his way around the supermarket. The shopping list was maddeningly vague in some places ("meat") and over-specific in others ("muesli with fruit and nuts but absolutely no dried banana or raisins") or both ("that light blue shampoo"). It was written in a variety of hands and Ripper wondered why he hadn't known of its existence to add to it. The list included an enormous variety of requested packets of crisps.

He had four separate bags by the time he left the supermarket. Then he got halfway back to the house before he remembered he'd promised Diedre her gin, so he had to walk back a block and then found that the off-license wasn't open until the afternoon anyway.

He half-ran back to the house. Ethan was finally having his breakfast now, tea and toast, with his bare feet up on the kitchen table as he read the newspaper. He in no way offered to help as Ripper unpacked the shopping and fought to make room for it in the fridge and kitchen cupboards.

Ripper ran all the way up to the second floor to fetch his guitar and pull on a button-up shirt. He realised he'd have to go to the laundrette soon. Then he was back down the stairs and out the back door to make it to the bus stop. He reminded himself he could always drive if he missed it, even though finding parking was hellish near the hotel.

But he made it, the bus rounding the corner as he dashed across the road, and then he was suddenly at a standstill, with nothing to do but sit and smoke for the twenty minute journey. It started to rain as he looked out the window at the passing streets. He played through a couple of Grins songs on his fingers in minimal air guitar but he wasn't convinced he was getting one of the bridges right.

It was raining steadily when got off the bus a block from the hotel. He pulled his jacket over his head and headed for the awning of a jeweller's, then walked-dashed between covered and uncovered sections of pavement to the front door.

He had five minutes before he was scheduled to start, so he went into the gents. His hair was only a bit wet and he shook his head to get the worst of the raindrops off. Then he went out to take his seat and found that there wasn't one. He checked with the head waiter, who said it might have been taken for the large birthday booking over near the window. He promised to fetch Ripper another.

So he took his jacket off and started playing the set standing up. Today's list began with a selection of songs from Rogers and Hammerstein. Fridays were always the busier days, with business lunches and early weekend tourists. Halfway through "Oklahoma", Ripper started to wonder how quickly he'd be fired if he slipped in a Grins song.

Then the requests started. The birthday group wanted "Happy Birthday" of course, followed by "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow". Ripper was still standing and his signalling to the head waiter had so far resulted only in hand signals of "Look, I'm busy, it's Friday."

Then the requests started to get more baroque. Now, Ripper didn't strictly have to agree to guests' requests, but he did when what they asked for was more interesting than what the manager had asked him to play. He didn't have to sing the lyrics if he thought the manager might object.

So, the acoustic version of "Paint It Black" it was. Then "Rocket Man" and "She's So Heavy". Then some card requested "Walk on the Wild Side".

"I don't think so, mate," said Ripper, but played "Perfect Day" instead.

The manager came out to look at him and he went back to playing "Edelweiss" for a bit.

Mind you, it was good day for tips.

The rain had eased by the time he caught the bus home. As always, he was starving by the time he got back. But there was food in the fridge that he had put there himself. A ham, cheese and tomato sandwich it was.

He took his sandwich up to the drawing room. Ethan was back practising the levitate-objects spell, so the room smelt as always of candlewax and chalk. Today he was doing something complicated with flying formations of playing cards. It was frightening how fast he picked things up and then turned them into something else.

Randall and Diedre were leaning over the gig guide in the newspaper. "We're thinking of going to a show tonight," said Randall.

"It's meant to have really good lights," said Diedre.

"Lights?" said Ripper, doubtfully.

"In time with the music," said Randall. "A light show."

"The music's supposed to be good too," said Dee, but when Ripper looked at the paper himself he didn't recognise the name of the band.

"Wanna come?"


"Dinner at the pub tonight, then out to the show," said Diedre.

He finished his sandwich. "Well, I'm out for a bit," said Ripper. "Be back in an hour or so."

"Where are you going?" asked Ethan, although he didn't move his eyes from the flying cards.

"The laundrette."

"I'll go with you," Ethan said, and the cards all landed neatly, one by one onto the top of a pack. "I need to go and I want to talk to you about something."

Ripper didn't actually want to go to the laundrette with Ethan but he couldn't think of any reason why which he could say out loud.

He went through the reasons why as they walked the two streets to the laundrette. Firstly, there was the whole Adrienne-away but Ethan-here thing, which was continuing to disturb him. Secondly, Ethan had been pulling far more information out of him than Ripper had any desire to reveal, particularly about magic. Thirdly, it was remarkably difficult to have a conversation with Ethan on any other topic than magic. Ethan could manage only three sentences worth of conversation on any of the following topics: football, music, food or cars. It was sometimes possible to provoke a short discussion on cinema or current affairs, but Ethan's opinions always turned about to be at right angles to any of Ripper's in ways that Ripper felt he often failed to grasp.

"Well, I don't know," said Ripper, a little tiredly, "it could have been the air currents. Was it windy?"

"Not perfectly still, but hardly gusty," said Ethan. The laundrette was otherwise empty as they loaded their respective washing machines.

"Or was your concentration divided in some way?"

Ripper tried to think of positive things about Ethan. He was hard-working. While it was often hard to tell, given the hours he kept, Ethan must be regularly spending seven to ten hours a day practising magic, with a determination that was either admirable or medically unsound, and perhaps both. And there was every indication that he had been doing this for years, without pay or much else in the way of external motivation.

Other good things about Ethan included: he got along well with Adrienne, and Adrienne seemed to trust him, which seemed to indicate that Ethan was in some way trustworthy, although clearly not in a way that would preclude him flirting with Adrienne's actual boyfriend.

Also: creative, highly intelligent, and limber. In fact, he was sitting now cross-legged on top of a dormant washing machine, staring pensively out of the window. His cheap sandals hung from his feet. Ripper wondered if he wore them all through the winter too.

A girl in her late teens came into the laundrette just then. She looked in their direction and gave them a hesitant smile that Ethan returned with a perhaps over-welcoming grin.

"How is your girlfriend?" Ripper asked Ethan loudly.

"Girlfriend?" Ethan appeared genuinely confused. "Do you mean Evelyn?"

Ripper nodded.

"I haven't the faintest idea," said Ethan. "It's not like she writes to me. And she only visits when she wants something."

Ripper couldn't think of anything to say to that. Instead he thought about his own girlfriend. "Have you met Adrienne's parents?" he asked.

"Yes," said Ethan. "They came around to the house to help her move out."

"Move out?" asked Ripper. "When was that?"

"Last year," said Ethan, "but she moved back." An odd tone came into his voice. "Don't ask her about that, please."

"What are they like, then, her parents?"

Ethan shrugged. "Tweedy. Her father's in banking and I think her mother was a nurse."

"Are they fire-breathing or anything?"

"Not on any occasion that I have observed," Ethan said, "but they don't come down here very often. They don't approve of the life of squalor she has chosen. What are yours like?"

"They're very nice people," said Ripper, "but they're disappointed that I decided to go into music. I, I call them sometimes but I haven't seen them for quite a while. Yours?"

As if by magic, Ethan's washing machine went "ping". "Time for the dryer then," said Ethan.

Ripper searched for a more neutral topic. "Know anything about this gig Randall and Dee are going to?"

"I may have mentioned it to them," Ethan said. "It sounded like the sort of thing they would like."

"But you're not going?"

"No. Are you?"

"Yes," said Ripper.

"Then I hope you enjoy it," Ethan said.

Back at the house, Ripper spent a couple of hours in his room practising on his guitar. The next rehearsal was Sunday and the Daves were hoping to soon fix the date of their first comeback gig. Ripper was going to have to practice until his fingers bled.

Then it was time to head down to the pub. He could tell this because Diedre ran up and down the stairs shouting, "Pub time!" until the entire household assembled at the back doorstep. He watched as Randall, Ethan and Diedre renewed the wards on the door, as well as locking it. Then they were off down the road to the local.

"Everyone has to buy Tom a drink tonight," said Diedre. "He has his exams soon and needs to get very drunk."

Ripper had a bit of a conversation with Tom about his studies, which were in economics. Tom explained the difference between macroeconomics and microeconomics while Diedre hung her arm around him as she chatted with Stan. Then she turned and stage-whispered to Tom, "Oh, don't bore Ripper." To Ripper she said, "It's very dull when he talks like this, isn't it?"

"Actually..." said Ripper, although she was, in fact, quite correct.

Tom gave an uneasy smile and Diedre kissed the top of his head.

Stan was saying, "So there I was, at the back of the club..."

Ripper went to the bar for half a dozen pints of bitter. "And one for yourself," he told the barman. When he got back to the table, Diedre had taken his seat, and Ripper found himself sitting between Stan and Randall.

"Do you like cricket?" Randall asked him.

"A bit," said Ripper. "Do you want to know the rules?"

"Oh, I know the rules," said Randall. "I'm looking for someone to go with me. Diedre will go, but she won't watch it, she'll sit and read instead. I'd like to go with someone who I can talk to about the match."

"I'm not sure I can spare the time at the moment," Ripper told him. "I have my job and the band. I've spent my whole day running around and it still doesn't feel like I've done anything."

Randall shook his head. "See, that's the problem. You have a job. I hated working."

"What did you do?"

"I sold shoes," said Randall. "I was good at it but it's not what I would call a vocation."

"Shoes," said Ripper, with some surprise. He hesitated over a potential faux-pax. "Would you mind if I possibly asked what you do for money now?"

"I came into some money when I was twenty-one," said Randall. "Not much, but sufficient to keep me in the style to which I have become accustomed." He laughed. "My needs are few."

The food arrived then. Then there was beer, followed by more beer, followed by a round of gin "Generously provided by Diedre Page," as she herself declared. It was the first time Ripper had ever heard her surname.

"To Diedre Page!" he said, raising his glass.

"To Diedre!" the others echoed.

They went home to change before going out. Dee and Randall dressed up in their most theatrical clothes while Tom and Stan went for a more standard jeans-and-t-shirt look. Everyone was drinking vodka from a bottle. Then Dee and Randall took half an hour to paint each other's faces up like clowns.

"You two look dead creepy," said Stan.

That just left Ethan, sitting up in the drawing room, working through the next spell from Spivak. Ripper poked his head through the doorway.

"We're off now then," he said.

"Have fun," said Ethan. "Don't stay out too late." There was something about his tone that made Ripper flush.

Back downstairs, they all tumbled out of the house. Ripper was feeling a bit discombobulated, but everyone else seemed tipsily happy.

"Stan has some LSD," said Diedre, suddenly seizing his arm. "I think we should all take some."

They all stood together in the train carriage, talking too loudly and laughing so hard that the other passengers looked everywhere except at them. Then they reached their station and climbed the stairs up to the stale London air.

There was a long queue to get into the gig and it was a bit cold. They took nips of whiskey from Randall's hip flasks as they waited. Stan hadn't brought a jacket, so he was moving on the spot a bit to get warm.

Ripper asked him, "Are you still seeing that girl you brought to the party last week?"

"Mandy?" asked Stan. "No. To tell you the truth, I think she's a little younger than she was letting on. She enjoyed that spell though. Tu-whit-a-woo!"

They paid some money and stepped through a door. On the other side was a cavernous room lit up with red lights. It wasn't busy once they were inside, and the room seemed too big for the number of people in it. Stan and Randall went to fetch everyone drinks from the bar. Diedre handed out some pieces of blotting paper but Ripper didn't feel up to it right now and pocketed his. Randall came back and passed him a beer.

The show began. Ripper didn't know if this was the support act or the main gig. He didn't know if there was a support act. The band had three separate keyboard players and only one guitarist.

Dee said, "I'm not sure this stuff is working," and Stan replied, "Give it time."

Ripper went up to the stage to give their gear his professional appraisal. Much to his surprise, he found his new bandmate Andy at his elbow.

Andy pointed out a few of the black boxes. "That's what I want to make, man," Andy said.

"What are they?" Ripper asked.

Andy tried to tell him, but the quiet opening few chords suddenly went forte. Ripper tried to lip-read and make out Andy's enthusiastic gestures, but could make no sense of them.

"I can't hear you," Ripper mouthed.

Andy nodded vigourously, gave him the thumbs up sign, and then turned back to watch the band.

The hall was slowly starting to fill up. The light show had begun with the very first note, but Ripper had barely noticed. Coloured lights swirled in sometimes geometrical patterns, but it all looked pretty pedestrian compared to the sort of things he'd seen Evelyn and Ethan conjure. The lights made it harder for him to find his way back through the crowd. Dee, Randall and the others weren't back where he'd left them. Ripper scanned the faces of the swaying, dancing crowd, trying to find their familiar faces. He spotted Randall on the other side of the room -- the clown makeup certainly helped there.

When he got there, Tom was doubled over. "Whoa," Tom said, "whoa," but nobody was helping him. "I'm all right," he said, when Ripper tried to touch him. "I'm all right."

Diedre was standing nearby with her back against a concrete pillar. She was staring at the ceiling. Stan and Randall were tripping too.

The music was OK. Ripper stood and listened to it for a while. They did some interesting things with the output from the guitar, although the chord progressions were pretty standard.

A girl came up and tried to dance with him. He gestured towards Diedre and the girl danced away.

He fingered the drug-infused piece of paper in his pocket. That would be one way to spend the evening.

He went up to Diedre. Her clown face swivelled towards him.

"I'm off," he said. "Not my scene tonight."

Diedre nodded as if he had said something very wise. She planted a kiss on his lips, leaving thick red and white face paint.

On the train back he felt very tired and very sober. The ride seemed to take forever. Parties of people would get on board, shout drunkenly at one another, then get off two stops later.

He was really going to have to tell Adrienne about Ethan, he thought. She deserved to know what sort of a friend he really was. She'd be unhappy to hear this, but then she would laugh at Ethan's obvious stupidity. Maybe she'd say it was just a joke, Ethan's odd sense of humour, what had he been so worried about? Why had he been worried at all? There wasn't anything to be worried about, was there?

So perhaps he couldn't tell Adrienne at all.

He could keep on ignoring the man. He was bound to get bored eventually. Yes, Ethan, who could spend five hours in a bare room with a pentagram and count it a fine evening's entertainment.

Or, well, he could just give in. Ripper's previous experiences suggested that this wouldn't take long and would effectively end the whole thing. Get it over and done with, move on, back to normal, back to Adrienne and practising his guitar.

He was aware he was talking himself into something, but he couldn't find the flaw in his logic. He was clenching and unclenching his hands as the train pulled into Camden Town station.

The house looked much the same as when he'd first seen it. All of the lights were off, and the only sign of life was the candlelight from the first floor. Ripper came in through the kitchen and made his way up the stairs.

"There you are," said Ethan. "I was beginning to think you'd missed the last train. How long until the others are back?"

Ripper found he had lost the ability to speak. He gave a small shrug.

"Never mind," said Ethan. "It'd be more polite to go upstairs anyway."

Ripper stood there, feeling slightly sick and not at all sure of what he was doing, as Ethan packed away his spellbook and casting gear.

Then Ripper was suddenly in a panic. If he was going to do this, he was going to do this now, what was Ethan doing wasting time and fucking around with his stuff? So he crossed the room in three strides and shoved Ethan up against the wall, pushing his hand up Ethan's shirt and his tongue into Ethan's mouth.

"Upstairs," said Ethan, slightly hoarsely.

They went up to Ripper's room.

Five minutes later, Ethan walked out.


Well, thought Ethan, what a crashing disappointment that had been. He was in his room, crouched down, looking through a box for his hashish and homemade pipe. God knows, but he needed something to take the edge off that disaster.

Inept, inhibited, and unwilling to take instruction was not a combination he could do much with. And yet, Ripper couldn't be that bad with Adrienne, or she'd never have kept him. It wasn't as if he were being asked to do something difficult.

There were footsteps along the corridor and Ethan thought, for fuck's sake, Ripper, please just go away, but no, he tapped on the door and tentatively opened it.

"Erm," Ripper said, standing in the doorway and staring at his shoe. "I didn't quite finish you off."

"Please don't worry about it," said Ethan.

"But, but I am worried about it," said Ripper. He stepped further into the room, and still without looking at Ethan, took off his leather jacket and laid it on the floor, perhaps to indicate that this time he might be willing to get even partially undressed. Then he sat on the floor and started taking off his boots.

And Ethan looked at him, wondering how Round Two could possibly be worth it. He should really just throw him out and forget about it, apologise to Adrienne that he wouldn't be able to take Ripper off her hands after all.

Ripper took his socks off and finally managed to look at Ethan. He was looking to see whether Ethan would say yes.

And Ethan considered whether to cut this dead or give it another chance. He rubbed at his forehead with the heel of his hand. At least, he thought, this was unlikely to be a world-ending decision.

"All right," Ethan said.

Much later, Ethan woke to the sounds of the others coming home. It was already light, so they must have taken one of the morning trains. He thought he could hear laughter from the kitchen, and a while later he heard Randall's heavy tread up to the drawing room below.

Ripper was sprawled on his stomach next to Ethan, still quite asleep, his bare right shoulder protruding from the blankets. Ethan considered running his hand along it and across Ripper's back, but he decided not to wake him up quite yet.

Instead he sat up and reached for Ripper's jacket. He went through the pockets, one by one, to see what was there. Most of it was what he'd expected: car keys, cigarettes, a guitar pick and a wallet. More surprising was, oh dear, an ornate and heavy cross on a chain. There was also a rather fetching pair of glasses that Ethan would love to see Ripper wear.

The wallet contained a little money and several hard-to-get reader's cards from academic libraries. There was a driver's license that Ethan unfolded onto his knee. Ripper's name was Rupert Giles. The out-of-date address was for an Oxford college. He was two years younger than Ethan, twenty-one and quite legal.

Ethan packed it all away carefully, as he had found it, and put the jacket back on the floor. He looked at Ripper. He was a Rupert, then, like the investigative teddy bear in the red top and yellow check trousers.

Ethan leant over to wake him up.


Ripper woke a second time to find Ethan sitting on the mattress next to him, reading the paper. He looked freshly-washed and had a cup of tea next to him. It felt like the late morning.

"Oh God, what time is it?" Ripper whispered.

"Around eleven, I think."

Ripper groped for his watch. "Oh God, oh God," he said, when he saw the time. "The bus is in five minutes and I've got to get washed and dressed and, and..."

"Why don't you drive?"

"It's impossible to get a park on a Saturday," Ripper said. "I'm going to be late! I'll be fired."

"I'll drive you," said Ethan. "I'll drop you off and you can catch the bus home."

"All right," said Ripper. He pulled on his jeans and hesitated at the door.

"They're all downstairs," said Ethan, so Ripper left for a wash and some clean clothes. Everyone else seemed to be in the drawing room. He bumped into Randall on the first floor landing.

"Dee's still tripping," Randall explained, looking very tired. Most, but not all, of his facepaint had been washed off. "We're looking after her."

"Right," said Ripper. "I have to go to work."

Ethan was waiting for him downstairs, next to where Ripper's car was parked out front. Ethan sat in the driver's seat, took the keys, and then stared at the dashboard for a long moment.

"You do know how to drive, don't you?" asked Ripper.

"Why would I not know how to drive?"

"I haven't seen you driving."

"I don't have a car."

"When did you last drive then?"

"1968," said Ethan. "No, wait, I'm wrong. 1970."

"I could call in sick," said Ripper.

Ethan put the key in the ignition and turned. "There we go," he said. "But you'll need to give me directions. I don't know where this place is."

Ripper couldn't think of anything to talk about on the drive, so it was Ethan who kept up the conversation, sometimes breaking off mid-sentence as he changed lanes or turned a corner.

"She's all right," Ethan was saying, "but maybe the dosage was a little wrong. She's only winding down now."

"That's one of the reasons why I didn't stay at the gig," Ripper said. "I had terrible nightmares the last time I took that stuff."

"She seems to have enjoyed it," Ethan said. "It just went on a little long. They had a hard time keeping her from shouting in the train station."

"Is shouting a normal side effect?"

"I'm not sure that I would know."

"It's the second on the right from here," Ripper said.

He stuck to the set list through lunchtime, playing by rote, but no-one seemed to much care. Once he'd finished, the manager gave him his week's wages. As always, Ripper took the cash and then wondered how he'd managed to spend all of last week's.

He deliberately missed his usual bus home and went for a walk through the city streets. There were a couple of decent record shops a twenty minute walk away. Still carrying his guitar, he edged his way down the narrow aisles, taking his time to pick something out. He bought a Nick Drake LP just as his stomach started to remind him that he hadn't eaten anything since the pub meal the night before.

He found a bakery near the Tube station and bought a pie and a bun. He ate them as he waited for his train, then read the record's liner notes as headed towards the nearest Northern Line station. But he had run out of things to distract him by the time he changed trains. Last night had not been entirely what he had envisaged, but it was over with and no-one seemed to have noticed. He was pretty sure that Ethan wouldn't say anything to anyone else. Pretty sure, yes.

Back at the house, he found Ethan heating up several cans' worth of chicken soup on the stove. "Make us some toast?" Ethan asked him. "They're all feeling poorly and don't feel well enough to cook."

Up in the drawing room, everyone looked trashed. Pillows and cushions had been piled up for people to rest on. Tom was fast asleep on a rug, but Dee, Randall and Stan were at least nominally conscious.

Dee was explaining what she'd seen and felt. "And all the way through," she said, after swallowing a mouthful of soup, "was this sense of extension, of being a continuous piece of a world-spanning whole." She looked uncertainly at Ethan. "Do you know the kind of thing I mean?"

"Every time I'm in the magic," Ethan said.

Everyone went to bed very early, even Ethan. Ripper stayed awake for a while, trying to read a book. He could hear Randall snoring in the room next to him.

After a while, he put down his book, left his room, and crept along the corridor to Ethan's. He tapped very quietly on the door. Ethan opened it, looking at Ripper inquiringly.

"Um," said Ripper.


Adrienne was due to come back Tuesday morning. Ethan woke at some unusually early hour to find Ripper dressing. "I'm going to go and meet her at the station," Ripper said.

"That's really not necessary," Ethan told him, but away Ripper went, depriving Ethan of a mid-morning encore.

Still, they had been fucking pretty much non-stop since Saturday night, apart from Sunday evening, when Ripper had dutifully gone to his rehearsal. Ethan had decided he very much liked Ripper's rather gangly body, and Ripper was certainly getting the hang of things. Ethan had to congratulate himself on making the right decision in giving him a second chance.

It had kept Ethan away from his magic, of course, but he was probably overdue for a holiday of some sort. He had a hard time remembering the last time he'd taken a proper break. It would probably improve his concentration in the longer term.

But he'd have to see now what decision Ripper would make, whether he'd go back to Adrienne or keep up with them both. That might be the holiday over already.

Before he left his room that morning, he wrote down Ripper's real name and former address on a piece of paper and put it in his pocket, in case Adrienne didn't already have it. He thought it well past time to find out more about Rupert and whether he posed any threat to the household. Adrienne knew someone who could do basic background checks, for a fee. He'd ask her when there was a quiet moment.

He worked in the back garden for a while, still trying to get the hang of the telekenesis trick outdoors. Diedre was gardening again, and from time to time she gave him a heckle.

Ripper came back from Waterloo around one. "She wasn't there!" he said. "I waited for the eleven o'clock and there was no sign of her, so I thought I'd wait for the next one, but it came and she still wasn't there. She did say Tuesday, didn't she?"

"Yes," said Diedre.

"Yes," said Ethan.

"Then where could she be?"

Diedre took Ripper down the road to the phone box then, so they could call Adrienne's parents, but when they returned they said no-one had picked up.

"She'll be fine," said Ethan, but Ripper was visibly upset.

"How can you be so calm?" Ripper demanded.

A Range Rover pulled up outside the house then and Adrienne stepped out. She had that expression she usually had after a trip to her parents, tense and short-tempered but putting her best face on it. And then her parents got out of the vehicle too.

"Ethan. Ripper." said Adrienne, coming up to them both and giving them a kiss on the cheek each. She deadpanned, "I'm looking for two burly men, but you'll just have to do."

They followed her back to the Range Rover, where her father was unlocking the back. Her mother had gone to talk with Diedre. Ethan could hear Diedre shouting, "Randall! The Wrights are here!"

Mr Wright gave him a nod. "Ethan," he said. He looked then at Ripper.

"I'm, ah," said Ripper, extending his hand, "very pleased to meet you, sir."

"Well, give us a hand, then," he said. "It'll need both of you to carry it."

Ethan didn't know what "it" was.

"It" turned out to be a television.


Ripper felt that he hadn't acquitted himself as well as he would have preferred. He was, at least, in clean jeans and one of his better button-up shirts. But he had forgotten to say his name, had realised there were reasons why he might not want to, and at no point had it been clear to him whether her parents knew he was sleeping with their daughter.

He and Ethan had carried the television into Adrienne's room and the Wrights had followed. Their eyes had darted about and Ripper was suddenly very aware of how it must look: no real furniture, dusty boxes, clothes on the floor that were mostly hers but which had a couple of his things mixed in. Half-melted candles sat on saucers, left over from the last time Dee had forgotten to pay the electricity bill: he and Adrienne had been using them as ashtrays. And Adrienne's diaphragm box was clearly visible next to the bed.

It was only slightly better out in the kitchen, where Diedre was hurrying to find enough clean teacups and a fresh packet of biscuits. Everything that needed to be kept clean generally was, but anything that wasn't essential was never cleaned at all. The floor was filthy, there were spiderwebs in the corners, and the cabinets were spattered with cooking fat and coffee.

Adrienne had herded her parents upstairs, where Randall had done his best to ready the drawing room. He'd even found a few chairs.

Ripper sat uncomfortably on a floor cushion while Mrs Wright discussed gardening with Diedre and asked after Randall's health and family. Neither Adrienne nor Mr Wright said a word and Ethan had buggered off somewhere. Tetley's and Penguins were passed out on a tray.

The Wrights looked prosperous and middle-aged, tending a little to fat. Adrienne's mother had the same long face and her father had her dark blonde hair, although in his case, he kept it cut short. They wore day-in-the-country type clothes and practical shoes.

Then Adrienne took them back downstairs and to the Range Rover. Some sort of argument broke out then between her and her parents, all heated sotto voce. There were gestures, but Ripper couldn't hear any of the words. He saw Diedre take a deep breath next to him.

"I'm going in!" she said. She walked over to Adrienne, took her elbow and waved farewell to the Wrights. The argument ended as Dee came into earshot, the Wrights smiled tightly, and were off.

Dee steered Adrienne back into the kitchen and onto a stool. "Don't just stand there!" Dee said to Ripper. "Fetch a pint glass."

Ripper did as he was bid while Diedre fetched a bottle of red wine. She poured most of it into the glass and passed it to Adrienne.

"Oh, thank God," said Adrienne, and sculled a good portion of the wine. "Oh, thank God." She looked at Diedre. "You know I love you, don't you?"

"Now and for always," said Dee.

Ripper still hadn't had a chance to properly say hello to Adrienne. He came up and kissed her. She tasted very strongly of cheap Bordeaux.

"Oh, Ripper," she said, "I missed you too."

Randall and Ethan came downstairs then. "Have they gone?" Ethan asked.

"Yes," said Adrienne, "no thanks to you."

"What do you imagine I could have done?"

"Suffered with the rest of us," said Diedre. "Kept misery company."

"What was the argument about?" asked Ripper.

"How can you live in that filthy squat?" said Randall.

"Why don't you ever ring?" said Ethan.

"You should meet a nice boy and get married," said Diedre.

Adrienne sculled some more wine.

"We could have cleaned up the house if you'd warned us they were coming," Randall said.

"I didn't know," said Adrienne. "They were only supposed to be giving me a lift to the station. And then they said they'd just let me pick a television. And then it became, 'We might as well buy the television and drive you home.'"

"Why did you get a television?"

"I liked watching the news on theirs at home," she said, "and Panorama."

"I thought television was the opiate of the masses," said Ethan.

"Opium is the opiate of the masses," said Randall.

"God!" said Diedre. "That's a joke too, by the way. It's very succinct."

They went to look at the television. After some messing around to find a spot near a plug, and then fiddling with the antennae, they got a picture.

They heard an actress's sonorous voice: "...a solitary stroll by the sea. She saw the moon rise and start his lonesome journey through the night."

"It's Jackanory," said Ripper.

Randall looked at him inquiringly.

"A children's television show. Actors read aloud from books."

"The moon and the night and all the sadness there is..." said the television.

They all sat in Adrienne's room, watching children's TV. Shortly before the grownup news started, Tom came home and joined them. Someone went to fetch fish and chips during a light entertainment show. Stan wandered in and then out again during a Tuesday's Documentary on Belfast.

All the while, Adrienne leant against Ripper, propped up with pillows against the wall. Ripper watched the television but couldn't seem to take anything in. He felt sick with guilt. He had no idea what he would say to her, if he would say anything, or what he was going to do. Surely if anyone found out, they would throw Ripper out of the house. He imagined Adrienne looking hurt, Diedre's accusing stare, the unforgiving frowns of Randall. He had to get up, go upstairs, and throw up all his fish and chips.

He must have been rather pale when he came back downstairs, because Ethan said, "You don't look very well, Ripper."

Everyone turned towards him, so Ripper said, "I don't feel particularly well."

"You'd better sleep in your room then," said Adrienne. "I have work in the morning."

So Ripper spent the night awake upstairs, and no-one came to bother him at all.


There was somebody already in the telephone booth, so Ethan had to wait. It was drizzling slightly and Ethan hadn't bothered to bring an umbrella. He stood underneath the awning of a nearby greengrocer's until the booth was free.

He rang the number Adrienne had given him. "Adrienne Wright," he said. "Do you need the money up front? How long will it take?" Then he gave out Rupert's details.

Diedre and Randall were in Adrienne's room, half-watching the television, while working on a series of costume sketches. Ethan peered over Randall's shoulder.

"New outfits for Midsummer," said Diedre. "We have to be spectacular."

Ethan eyed the drawings. "You'll look like George Clinton."

"Good," said Randall. "He's who I want to be when I grow up."

"That's going to be difficult," said Ethan.

"The George Clinton of Art," said Randall.

"That's a little easier to achieve," Ethan allowed.

They watched the lunchtime news and an animated programme called Mr Ben. Mr Ben dressed up as a wizard in a costume shop and then stepped through a side-door into wizardly adventures.

"We didn't see you much over the weekend," Diedre said.

"No," said Ethan

"Or of Ripper."

"No," said Ethan.

"Are you shagging him?"

"Yes," said Ethan.

"Does Adrienne know?"

"Yes," said Ethan.

"And she's OK with it?"

"Yes," said Ethan.

"Well, that's all right then," Diedre said, and she went back to work on her costumes designs with Randall.

Ethan stayed to watch Pebble Mill at One and then decided that he really should get to work.

But he dawdled, and he dawdled, and then Ripper came home from work. Ethan met him in the kitchen.

"You're looking much better," Ethan said, hopefully.

"I'm not really feeling better," Ripper said. "Look, could we go for a walk?"

"It would be much more comfortable upstairs," said Ethan.

"A walk," Ripper said.

Ripper took them along Regent's Park Road. It had stopped drizzling, and the weather now looked more like scattered showers: clumps of cloud sliding across the sky, threatening rain one minute but letting the sun through in the next. Fortunately, Ethan didn't believe in those sorts of portents.

They reached Primrose Hill and Ripper found one of the drier park benches.

"Look," he said, "I can't do this. It isn't fair on Adrienne. She deserves better than this."

Ethan looked at him, trying to work out what he meant. Rupert looked very distressed, sitting all hunched up with his hands between his knees.

"Do what?" asked Ethan. "What are you doing to Adrienne?"

Ripper turned and gave him a horrified look that suggested Ethan ought to know.

"You mean sleeping with me? That's really not a problem."

"I think it is," said Ripper.

"It really isn't. I spoke to her about it."

"You spoke to her?" said Ripper, his voice rising half an octave.

"Well, of course I did," said Ethan. "Did you think I'd make a pass at you otherwise? I've known her a lot longer than I've known you."

Ripper looked in every direction except Ethan's. He looked up at the sky, down at the grass, and over towards the path home.

"You mean you haven't talked to her about this?"

"No!" squeaked Ripper. He looked rather green.

"Are you going to throw up?" asked Ethan.

Ripper shook his head. Ethan tried to work out whether putting his hand on Rupert's arm would be a good thing or a bad thing.

"And what about the others? Do they know too?"

"Some of them," said Ethan. "They're not stupid."

"And do they care?"

"No," said Ethan, finally annoyed. "If they were the sort of people who cared, they wouldn't be my friends, would they?"

Rupert didn't say anything for a long time. Then he said, "Would you mind going home? I'd really rather be by myself for a while."

So Ethan went home.


Ripper walked up to the top of Primrose Hill. He looked out over London, not really seeing any of it. He walked back down. He sat on a park bench for a while and then went walking through Regent's Park. He walked past the zoo, through the lawns, to the boating pond and back. He hadn't eaten all day but he didn't want anything to eat or drink. He went to a pub anyway, and bought a beer that he stared at for hours, long after the sun set. Then he went back to the house.

Randall, Diedre, Tom and Stan were all in the kitchen. Ripper tried to tell if they were looking at him any differently, but he couldn't see any change. That made him feel worse: they must have thought he was that sort of person all along.

Adrienne was sitting on her mattress, watching The News at Ten. She'd tidied up and swept the floor. The ash-filled saucers were gone and she'd bought herself a proper ash tray. She patted the spot next to her on the bed.

He sat down in his usual spot and took his boots off. She passed him a cigarette and then put her arm around him as they watched a segment on a plane crash. Ripper couldn't see the screen very well, so he pulled his glasses out of his pocket.

"I spoke to Ethan," Adrienne said, her eyes still mainly on the television. "It really is all right." But that just made Ripper feel sick again.

"You never said anything," he said.

She said, "Neither did you."

Once the news was over, she got up to turn the television off. She crouched over him when she came back to bed. "I'm going to be very busy in the next few weeks," she told him. "I'm going to be out a lot in the evenings and on weekends. You can do what you want." And then she leant over to start kissing along his jawline while she undid the buttons of his shirt.

"Would it have been any different," Rupert asked her, "if you'd been in love with me?"

"I don't know," said Adrienne. "I've never been in love."


Ethan caught the train to Oxford late on Saturday morning. Adrienne's contact had required cash on delivery, and she had to go to work. She'd said to him first, "I think he's one of your lot, actually. I think he's a wizard." And then she'd given him her share of the money. Ethan taken a bit extra out of the household kitty because this was a household concern, to see whether Ripper or his surveillants might constitute a threat.

He spent a little while looking around Oxford first. His Latin Master and his mother had been very keen for him to go there. He supposed that if he had, he might have met Ripper a couple of years ago instead. But it was with a sense of disinterest that he walked the town streets, taking in the spiny architecture, the manicured lawns, and the other tourists gawping about. This was a possibility he'd turned his back on without regret.

The contact went by the name Mr Grey and he had a shopfront not far from Blackwell's. It sold tourist tat: mugs and spoons and placemats with "Oxford" printed on them in blue.

Mr Grey was of average height and hair-colour. He had an unmemorable face. There was nothing about Ethan's sense of the man that suggested he might be a wizard. In fact, Mr Grey didn't feel human at all.

Ethan handed him a wodge of cash and Mr Grey gave him an envelope. "You'll want to read it before you go back to London," Grey said. Ethan thought that if Grey looked like anyone at all, it was Eric Morecambe.

Ethan found a nearby pub and ordered a pint and a ploughman's. He read through the document, section by section. It had Rupert's birthplace and the names of his parents and siblings. His father worked for a council and his mother was an archivist. He'd had an excellent education and an interest in martial sports, particularly fencing. School prizes, and a mention of a second family home in Devon. At university he'd studied history with a focus on the mediaeval period and he'd joined a band. There was a list of known lovers (all women, Ethan noted), and the comment, "No serious vices." Blah blah blah blah blah.

And then there was a single sentence at the end that made Ethan eat his lunch rather faster than might have been wise.

He went back to see Mr Grey, who had of course been expecting him.

"What's a Watcher?" Ethan asked.

On the train back to London, Ethan read and reread the second document he'd bought. It had cost all of the cash he'd had left on him, plus half a pint of blood. But it had been worth it.

So Rupert belonged to a family of Watchers, an organisation dedicated to the control and eradication of demons, particularly vampires. They trained and supervised a line of mystical beings called Slayers, who resembled teenage girls but had supernatural strength and speed. Watchers were raised from birth to learn demon-lore, magic and combat skills. Watchers were intelligent, highly-trained, well-organised and ruthless. "Do not fuck with them!" someone had written in pencil on the bottom. Ethan wondered if that had been Mr Grey.

Ethan found himself considering Rupert anew. Rupert, with his obvious magical ability, his depth of knowledge, and his fighting prowess. Rupert, who had been brought up and brainwashed by a quasi-military sect, and yet had been courageous and clear-sighted enough to leave them. And he'd stayed away, though even now they hounded him on Tube stations and in unmarked black cars.

Rupert, who turned out to be someone quite different from what Ethan had first assumed. Not just an amiable guitarist.

Ethan thought about this all the way home, on the train, in the Tube, and walking along the streets. Standing outside the house, he could hear Ripper practising his guitar.

Adrienne came home soon after and found him sitting on the back step with his eyes closed, leaning against the door.

"So what did we find out?" she asked, "about our housemate."

"He has over-protective parents," Ethan said, not looking at her.

Adrienne snorted and went inside. And Ethan was left wondering why he had just lied to her.

Part 3:
An Extraordinary High


There were five people in Ripper's car and that was at least one person too many, but Ripper wasn't certain who that one person was. It could be Randall, who had shown up for a twenty-four hour trip with a trunk almost larger than the car's boot; it could be Stan, whose luggage was much more compact but which was probably of considerably more interest to the police. Perhaps it was Diedre, who was repeatedly singing all the lines she knew of "Magic Bus" and "Magical Mystery Tour" (three lines each, it turned out) in her admittedly flawless soprano. Or it could well be Ethan, who had spent the trip so far telling them about all the things they would hate about the festival. And it wasn't as if Ripper didn't see enough of them all already, back at the house.

It had all seemed like such a good idea when Randall had described it: music, like-minded people, the mystical experience of dawn at Stonehenge. But it had rained solidly for the previous three days and while the weather had improved today, the site was surely going to a mudbath. Plus, there was the not inconsiderable fact that he was losing half a week's pay from the hotel restaurant, and while Ethan seemed to be able to live off cheese sandwiches, Ripper would certainly prefer a more varied diet.

"Too much, the Magic Bus!"

Now they were crawling through traffic near Andover, flat green fields on either side of them. Many of the vehicles heading in the same direction were elderly rustbuckets, covered with bright paint, or both.

Ethan waved out the window. "Seven hundred combi vans in a field," he said. "That's what this will be."

But, when they finally got a view towards Stonehenge, it looked more like two hundred combi vans and five hundred tents.

"Going to take you away," sang Diedre. "Going to take you away-ay!" She gave the whole thing an operatic trill.

"Where should we park?" Ripper asked.

"Wherever we want," said Ethan. "It's a field."

"The bands usually set up on the left there," said Randall, rather more helpfully. "So it depends on how much talk and sleep we want."

Ripper opted for a middling distance. He parked. Stan and Diedre, who'd sat through the trip with his guitar on their laps, passed it carefully to him. Randall went straight to the boot.

Ripper stood and looked at Stonehenge, which was perhaps half a mile away. He'd never been there before. "Well," he said, "that's really rather remarkable."

"Wait until you see it up close," said Ethan, which was the first positive thing he'd said all day.

Randall had pulled an assortment of bright fabrics out of his trunk. He and Diedre shucked off their travelling clothes down to their knickers (and, no, Diedre, was not wearing a bra) before pulling on their midsummer outfits. Randall wore a patterned purple tunic over white trousers, with a long, sleeveless yellow jacket of a light, fringed material. He had a white leather hat, sort of cowboy style, with a bandana tied around it. Diedre peeled on a skintight top in an eye-watering jade-and-purple harlequin pattern, with a feathered flowing white skirt that was surely going to be covered in mud in about fifteen minutes. She had thigh-high boots and half-a-dozen yellow boas.

Once dressed to their satisfaction, they took a few more things out of the trunk. Diedre picked up a tarpaulin. Randall started with five glasses and a bottle of not-quite-warm champagne.

Stan peered into the trunk. "That's a TARDIS you've got there, is it? Very handy!"

Randall poured everyone a glass. "To midsummer solstice!" he said.

"And a fine waning of the year!" said Diedre.

Everyone took a sip.

"We should pay our respects to the stones next," said Randall.

They walked in that general direction, but it was slow going, as they were stopped at every other teepee, tent and caravan by someone keen to see Randall. Men clad only in jeans came to shake his hand and reminisce about that gig three years ago; women in peasant dresses embraced him and buried their heads in his hair. Roaming packs of naked toddlers were enjoined to remember Uncle Randall and Auntie Dee. His hat accumulated flowers, feathers and peace buttons.

"Why's Randall so popular here?" Ripper asked Ethan.

"He remembers people's names. He's been here every midsummer since he moved to England. And people always remember meeting him."

Stan did a brisk trade. Ethan looked around, pointing out caravans and tents belonging to people he knew. He explained how he'd met each of them, their magical interests and their utility as contacts, plus which of them wasn't speaking to whom for reasons known or unknown. Ripper tried to take it all in.

"So it all boils down to who slept with whom, who lent money to someone else, and who accidentally snubbed someone twenty years ago?"

"Pretty much," said Ethan. "Or who stole someone else's demon."

"That happens a lot, does it, demon-stealing?"

"More than I had once imagined," Ethan said.

At the next caravan, the others were invited in to see a new baby and a dog. Ripper didn't know the couple, so he circled around a few tents, whereupon he almost walked into a girl he thought he knew.

It took him a few moments to place her. She wasn't wearing any make-up this time, her dark hair was pulled back into a pony-tail, and she had a throw-rug draped around her shoulders like a cape. It was Mandy, the girl Stan had brought to the owl spell.

"Oh, it's you again!" she said, and she threw her arms around his waist. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" She appeared to be part of a pack of other similarly-dressed girls who now surrounded him.

She had turned up at the squat one day, asking for "the wizard", quite desperate to take part in another casting. Ripper had fobbed her off, saying that Ethan didn't live there any more, but her crestfallen look had made him tell her of the upcoming gathering at Stonehenge. Clearly, she had managed to get here.

"This is fantastic!" she said, looking up at him. "This is everything I ever wanted. Magic, it's all real."

She let him go then, and he watched as she was reabsorbed into the pack, who ran away through the crowds.

Ethan and the others emerged from the caravan as Ripper stood there.

"Come on now," said Ethan. "It's time to visit Evelyn." He pointed towards a sturdy two-chambered tent in chocolate and red.

Ripper tried to refocus. "Is it going to be awkward, seeing her here?"

"No," said Ethan, "but let me do the talking." And he touched Ripper's chest in a gesture just intimate enough to make Ripper uncomfortable in public, even if the public was a field full of hippies.

"Randall!" came yet another shout from behind them. "Dee!" But this time it was a voice Ripper thought he recognised. It was Evelyn.

She was in a long green dress, with the hem pinned up to avoid the worst of the mud. She had a necklace of beaten gold leaves. Randall took his hat off and gave her a deep bow. Diedre curtsied and laughed.

"And Ethan, sweetie! I thought you weren't coming."

Ethan consented to be kissed theatrically on the cheek. "I changed my mind," he said.

"Really, that's wonderful. Now I see that all your glasses need to be refilled. Come with me."

The tent was large enough to have two rooms. They stood in the front one, which had a small fold-out table and chair. Ripper noticed as they went in that she said a chant as she unfolded the tent flap, to shut down some fairly substantial wards. The back room was sealed off from the first by a flap of plastic.

She poured them all glasses of a very strong syrah, the kind that would kick you in the head afterwards. And she tossed Ethan a brownish cube.

Ethan held it into the light. "Stan," he said, "how come Evelyn's hash is always so much better than yours?"

Stan shrugged. "Either she's got a better supplier," he said, "or, it's magic. Take your pick."

There was some chit-chat about the household, Adrienne and Tom, plus Evelyn asking Ripper what his name was again.

"How's your magic coming along then, Ethan?"

Ethan was dabbing a piece of the cube into a pipe. "I'll have to come around and show you later."

"We're on our way to the Henge," said Randall. "We haven't paid our respects yet."

"Well, I won't keep you. But pop by later, won't you?"

Outside, they started to near the stages. A few people were jamming on bongos but there didn't seem to be any actual bands playing yet. Ripper adjusted the weight of the guitar case on his back and wondered if he'd have the courage to play.

Randall waved at a few of the people nearby who had instruments with them. He said to Ripper, "If we come back in the next hour, I can introduce you to the people you should know."

It was barely perceptible, but Ethan had started to weave a little as he walked. Ripper wasn't happy to admit it, even to himself, but he actually found Ethan rather more likeable when he was just slightly stoned. He was more relaxed and more normal somehow. The downside was that the drug made him stupid.

They passed the last of the cars, then the last of the teepees, and were at last in the section of clear grassland that surrounded Stonehenge.

Ripper had seen photographs of it, of course, many times, but seeing it in person was not the same thing at all. Nothing had prepared him for the massiveness of the stones, their height, their gravity, the way they towered over him, Randall, Ethan, Diedre, Stan and the hundreds of other people here. He stretched his hand out to touch the nearest one, craned his neck back to see its top high above. And each stone, through its form and posture, seemed to possess a personality distinct from every other. Not even the Watchers knew how the circle had come to be.

Randall and Diedre bowed and curtsied low before entering the circle. Stan gave the stones a respectful nod and Ripper followed him in. Diedre found a spot to lay the tarpaulin over the mud, gesturing for Stan and Ripper to sit with her. Ethan had paused at the edge of the circle, as if bracing himself.

Randall called out, "Ethan," and Ethan at last strode in.


He shouldn't have taken the hash. It had dampened his ability to shut down his sense of magic. Even from far outside the circle, the Henge roared like the sea scouring a cliff. Standing at the edge of the circle felt like teetering on a ledge above the smashing waves.

He heard Randall call out his name, very distantly. He clamped down on the noise as much as he could and stepped into the circle.

The sound, the sense, smashed up against him. He was underwater and his mouth and ears were choked with magic. He felt himself stagger as the currents buffeted his body.

He felt Diedre and then Randall seize his arms. He was able to use them to balance himself a little and the noise retreated somewhat. He reached for their wrists, because the skin contact helped.

He could see now that a plastic square had been laid out on the ground. Rupert and Stan were waiting for them there. Ethan sat down and held on to Stan and Randall while Diedre and Rupert set up the spell. Everyone lit a candle and gave a small offering of blood.

"I'll run the spell," said Diedre to him, "if you're not feeling well."

Ethan still didn't feel quite able to speak, so he just nodded. The sound was still there, more of a pressure now, at the back of his head.

They formed a human circle within the stone one. Some people gathered to watch.

"We thank the stones for allowing us to visit here and be among them on this solstice day and solstice night. We thank them for the year past and ask their blessings for the year to come. We ask that our lives be put to their best use."

A song was required then, Latin words in a Gregorian-style chant. Ethan felt himself mouth the words but could not hear his own voice. He heard Diedre's chorister fluting, Randall's uncertain tenor, then a voice he belatedly recognised as Rupert's. He was confused for a moment by other voices singing around him, until he realised that a few members of their ad hoc audience were joining in.

But then the roaring sound began to come back and Ethan tightened his grip until Stan and Randall gave him looks. Ethan hoped the spell would finish soon, because he wasn't sure how much longer he could hold on. He wondered what to do. But then he realised that there was no need for him to hold on, he could just let go and be washed away by the metaphorical tide. His physical body was safe, and he could pull back the rest of him once the spell was done.

Fucking trip, though.

He let himself go, and then he didn't know where he was. Eyes open or closed, it didn't matter. Adrift, floating, then slammed this way and that. He sensed the stones, not as stones, but as beings, shallow-rooted in the earth, but deep-rooted in magic. Old but still wanting, but who could understand what a stone would want? For a microsecond, he thought they were aware of him, and just as aware of Randall, Rupert, Diedre and Stan. What did the stones see and think of them? He slammed back into himself. The human circle had broken.

"What the hell was that?" Randall was laughing.

"Did, did everyone feel that?" Rupert asked.

"That was really trippy," said Stan.

Ethan managed to stand up. The sound was still almost overpowering and he had to get away. He staggered out of the stone circle, managed ten or twenty yards more, then sat down heavily in the mud. The sound was only a whisper now. He remembered how to breathe.

He felt hands pulling him up, wiping him down, sitting him back. He started to see and hear things properly again.

"What was that?" Randall asked him.

"That's how it sounds to me always," Ethan said, gesturing back towards Stonehenge.

"Some sort of transference of extrasensory recognisance of the magical field," said Rupert. He looked particularly adorable when making pronouncements of this kind. "I take it that doesn't usually happen with this spell?"

"That was wild!" Randall said.

Ethan grabbed on to Randall's arm to pull himself upright. He didn't feel too wobbly. "I think I need a walk," he said.

Randall said, "I'm going to take Ripper to meet a few musicians, if you want to come."

"No, I'll catch up with you later. I should probably go and see Evelyn."

"If you're sure you'll be OK," said Rupert.

Ethan walked around the camp for about twenty minutes, until the dizziness subsided. Then he set off for Evelyn's tent, which wasn't very far away.

"You got a good spot this year," he said when he arrived.

"I've been here a couple of weeks already," she said, as she ushered him in. "It's a good place for appointments."

She took him through to the back room, where he sat on an inflatable mattress as she poured them both more wine.

"You look a bit peaky," she said.

"It got a bit intense up at the Henge," he said.

"And you could do with a wash." She had a large plastic container full of water and she poured a little into a basin. She fetched a cloth and started to wash the last of the mud from his hands and the knees of his jeans. She leant over to kiss him and he kissed back, feeling himself start to respond.

"I'm not having sex with you today," he said.



"Would you mind telling me why?" She was leaning across him and he could feel her breath on his face. He had to move his leg.

"Because I brought someone and you've got plenty of others."

"True," she said. "We would have had to have been quick. Carrie's coming round in half an hour." She kept fondling his leg though. "So, who'd you bring?" He watched as she went through the possibilities in her head. "Ripper," she said.


"Any good?"

"He is now."

"Are you smitten?"

"A little."

"Is he?"

"No," he said slowly, and he pulled himself away from her to sit up straighter on the bed. "So I'm not really enjoying this as much as I might."

"Oh, poor Ethan," she said. "Don't worry, these things never last very long. You'll get through it and then you'll ask yourself what all the fuss was about."

Ethan was not exactly reassured.

"You were going to show me how your magic was going?"

Ethan set up for his magic card trick and soon had flocks of them flying around the tent. He watched Evelyn's face intently and thought he caught a hint of surprise or even envy. He felt a stab of pride.

"Who taught you that trick?"

"He's good at quite a number of things, actually."

Evelyn gave him a sharp glance. "He's not just a tourist, then, hanging out with us wizards?"

"Not at all. The magic's in his bones and he was brought up in it as well. He'd have found us one way or another. He's one of us, Evelyn."

"If you're sure."

He brought the cards in for a landing and pressed the packs back into her hand. "Your other friend will be visiting soon."

"Ethan," she said, just as he was leaving, "There might be something on tonight. If there is, I'll see if I can get you in."

"Do you want me to meet you somewhere?"

"I'll find you," she said. "After all, I am a witch."


They sat together in the endless twilight, leaning against one another, forced close by the limited size of the tarpaulin and the press of other bodies. A psychedelic folk group were up on stage, playing a set that had seemed interminable to Ripper, if only because their guitars were ever-so-slightly off-key. And his arm was starting to go numb where Stan's back pressed against it.

He'd spent the afternoon meeting Randall's more musical acquaintances. Ripper had to admit that Randall knew quite a few interesting people. He'd spent two or three hours talking and jamming with a folk rock couple from Kent, a German synthesiser enthusiast who he should really put in touch with his bandmate Andy, and a cute girl guitarist from Yorkshire who played possibly very slightly better than he did. Her name was Carol, but unfortunately she was determined to return to Yorkshire and already spoken for.

Ethan had popped by at one point to say that he'd recovered sufficiently to do the rounds of catching up with the various people he knew at the festival, and did Ripper want to come with him? Ripper had been deep in conversation with the folk rock couple and waved Ethan away, and Ethan had been pissed off with him ever since.

And the downside of Randall knowing quite a few interesting people was that Randall knew huge numbers of very uninteresting people as well. The very bad bongo troupe, for example, or the man who knew the name of every song ever written but couldn't accurately hum any of them. Many of these friends of Randall might actually be interesting under other circumstances, but after a tab of acid or a couple of hot knives they had lost the ability to string together a coherent sentence, which had made meaningful conversation a sadly unattainable goal.

Then there had been dinner with the Wallys, a diverse group of people who had all taken the surname "Wally" in order to confuse the police. They had an entrenched encampment not far from the stage, where they intended to stay for good. They had actual toilets and a kind of shower where you filled a bag with hot water. They'd had some trouble with their firewood though after the torrential rain of the past couple of days, and when Ripper got there, Ethan had been relighting their kitchen fires using magic to a very appreciate audience.

The psychedelic folk group finished their last song. Ripper wondered who was next up. Diedre tried to pass him a bottle of gin and Randall tried to pass him a joint. The air was taking on a chill.

"Does anyone have the time?" Ripper asked. "Do we know how long it is until sunset?"

"Where's your watch?" asked Diedre.

"I think someone stole it."

"The sun will set," said Randall, "when it falls behind the curve of the earth, in its own good time."

"Actually, I am perfectly well aware of elementary astronomy. I understand it will, in fact, set in the west."

"What's got into you?" Diedre asked.

"The last band gave me a headache," he said. "And I think the food disagreed with me."

"Think about something else then," said Diedre. "Think about the coming year and what you want to do in it, your aims and ambitions."

He thought for a moment. "I want to be a better guitarist." And he wanted to stop feeling so bloody guilty.

"I want to be a better painter," said Randall.

"Yes," said Diedre. "And do you know what I want? I want to have a fucking ambition."

"Diedre--" said Randall.

"It's all very easy for the rest of you, isn't it? Randall's got art, Ripper got music, Adrienne's got... the overthrow of the government. That's why she didn't come, you know, she's plotting the overthrow of the entire bloody government. We'll get back to London and Westminster will be on bloody fire.

"I don't think--" said Randall.

"Oh, shut the hell up," she said to him. "You don't know what it's like, not knowing what you want to do."

"You'd be a pretty good witch if you ever practised," said Ethan.

"And thank you for yet another characteristically unsupportive comment."

"That was a supportive comment," said Ethan.

"So you're an ordinary person," said Stan. "Why's that a problem? You and me both. We're only outnumbered because we share a house with freaks."

"I'm in a field full of fucking freaks," said Diedre, waving her arms wide.

"Well, exactly," said Stan.

"I'm not exactly a freak," Ripper said.

"Sometimes," said Diedre, ignoring him, "I think should go back to university."

"You dropped out? I did too," Ripper found himself saying.

"I studied modern European languages for three months. Voulez-vous couchez avec moi, ce soir? What did you study?"


"Really?" said Stan. "That's what I'd do if I ever went. I like reading about battles and stuff. I've got books on them."

"I know some people really into that," said Randall. "I could introduce you. They do battle games."

"Toy soldiers?" said Stan. "I reckon I could get into that."

"But what should I do?" pressed Diedre.

"You like reading," said Ethan. "English literature? Journalism? Jackanory?"

"They all sound like work," said Diedre. "Maybe I'm just monumentally lazy. Maybe I should just get married after all."

The next band was finally set up on stage. This one had a warbling female vocalist and a man on a harp. They were rather eerie, actually.

"I think the sun's set," said Ethan.

"I might have to make some changes this year," said Stan. "I can't keep doing what I'm doing. Well, I mean, some people can, but I don't think I'm one of them. If I got any better at it, I'd have to get nasty, and I don't want to do that." He laughed. "I only got into this line of work as a favour to friends, really."

"Very civic-minded of you," said Ethan.

"What would you do instead?" Diedre asked.

"I don't know. I've been thinking about that a lot, lately."

"Community service?" suggested Ethan.

Stan gave him the bird.

Patchy cloud was moving slowly over the sky, giving glimpses of the waning moon, Venus and a few early stars. Ripper felt cramped and cold. His foot had gone numb. "I think I'm going for a walk," he said.

"Try heading southeast," said Ethan.

"Why there?"

"That's the way the wizards are headed."


Ethan couldn't see all that well, what with the scant moonlight and the jumble of people, but he spotted Old May. She was seventy if she was a day, had a hip operation a few years ago, and walked with a very distinctive gait. So when he saw her heading away from the Henge and the stages, he turned to see where she was going. And when he saw Bob Mac and Singh the Younger headed in that direction too, he became very interested. Was this the mysterious event Evelyn had hinted at?

He and Rupert picked their way through the tarpaulins, rush mats, and old coats that people had out to sit on, stepping carefully over sleeping children, picnic baskets, and shawl-wrapped festival goers. Ethan pointed out the three wizards to Rupert. "They're all fairly powerful and fairly sociable for their kind. They might even come to the festival for the music. I heard Bob Mac sang in music halls back in the 1890s or something."

"That can't be right," said Rupert. "Can it?"

"Old May's with a coven in Devon, if I remember right. The other two come up from London. They're here every year, as far as I know."

The three had reached the edge of the tents and parked cars. "We'll lose sight of them if we don't hurry." But they seemed to be fairly clearly headed towards the intersection of two nearby roads.

There was a large campervan coming up the A303. It was moving slowly and its lights were dimmed. Old May stood out in front of it and pointed it in the direction of a plausible park. Ethan couldn't see where the other two had got to.

The campervan pulled up obediently. Its interior lights were on, but you couldn't see what was inside because of tinted plastic stuck to the windows. A party of six people stepped out: four men and two women. They wore jeans, t-shirts and wooden beads. One of the men wore a bandana. They'd freeze their tits off in this weather.

"I think I know what this is," said Rupert, without taking his eyes from the distant group. Ethan watched, fascinated, as Rupert slipped into a sort of fighting stance. He was reaching for something in his pocket.

Then Bob Mac stepped out from behind the campervan. He had a bucket and a garden sprayer. He squeezed the trigger and sprayed the new arrivals. They screamed. They smoked. They clawed at their wet arms and faces. What the hell was going on? Was that acid? One of the men fell to the ground and Bob Mac poured the bucket over him. There was more screaming.

The other five ran towards the cover and safety of the rows of tents and caravans. Straight towards Ethan and Rupert, in fact.

"Get back," Rupert told Ethan, "for God's sake." He was holding his cross in one hand and his lighter in the other.

As the five running figures came closer, Ethan could see that there was something very strange about their faces. He finally realised: they must be demons.

Bloody hell.

He wanted to run. He wanted to see them up close. He wanted to hide. He wanted to find out what Rupert would do. He wanted to know if he could tell their nature through senses other than sight.

He stepped behind a tent, pulling out one of its poles to grip in his hand. When he peered around the corner, the demons were almost upon them, and Ripper was still in their way.

Singh and Old May appeared then, Ethan could not say from where. Between them sprang a wall of fire.

Ethan heard two shouts. The wall of flame disappeared and now there were only three runners. Two headed west and one northeast.

The wizards followed the two demons, Singh fleet of foot, while Old May took slow steps while muttering a chant. The two demons tripped and fell.

And meanwhile, dear Ripper was running after the third demon.

Ethan hefted the pole, which had not turned out be as solid as he might have hoped. He had to think of something. What could he do?

Well, he was a wizard.

He pulled his kit out of his pocket and made a circle of stones and candles. But he needed to be calm and he didn't feel calm at all.

He glanced up and saw Ripper catching up with the demon. There was a flurry of movement.

Calm. He had to be so fucking calm. An animal. He could conjure the image of an animal. Something large enough and strong enough to worry a demon. And it had better be fucking fast.

An amorphous blob of a creature materialised just outside the circle. Ethan made it large and sleek and cat-like. It wasn't any particular species. It was the size of a tiger and jet black. It ran at the demon.

Rupert fell.

The demon lent over him, but looked up as another flash of fire came from the direction its two comrades had run in. Then it saw the big cat, running for it.

The demon started to back away.

And then it practically tripped backwards over Bob Mac. There was a final burst of flame and the demon disappeared.

Ethan grabbed his kit and ran towards Rupert. The big cat vanished like the Sussex Puma. He could hear Rupert speaking with Bob Mac, so thank God, he was alive.

"I'm sorry," Rupert was saying.

"That was very dangerous and very stupid," Bob Mac said. "We know what we're doing but I don't think you do. A cross and a lighter, lad?"

"It's all I had on me."

Ethan reached them. He asked Bob Mac, "Did you know what they were from the start?"

"Aye," said Bob Mac.

"Can't you toast them while they're still in the van then? Start the flame wall from the back door so they can't use it for escape?"

Bob Mac walked off without answering him. Ethan couldn't tell if it was because he'd asked a stupid question or a smart one.

He knelt then to look at Ripper, who was half-sitting and half-lying on the drying mud of the ground, propped up on an elbow. He was still gasping for breath.

"Your shoulder's bleeding," Ethan said. There was thin cut near Ripper's collarbone.

Ripper looked down. "I suppose it is. I have a first aid kit back in the car."

"I'll help you there."

Rupert made a waving gesture. "Give me a minute?"

The bleeding didn't look too bad, so Ethan didn't insist. Instead he went to pick up Rupert's cross. He looked about for the lighter, which turned out to be twenty yards away. On his way back he paused at the scattering of grey dust. He scooped some up in his hands and ran it through his fingers. It was much finer than sand but not as fine as talc, like some sort of dry clay. He wondered if vampire dust had any magical properties or uses.

"I'm ready," said Ripper. Ethan came over and helped him to stand.

"Thank you for the cat," Rupert said.

"Don't mention it," said Ethan.

They had some trouble navigating back to the car, because of the poor light and the many rows of vehicles and tents which had accumulated since they first arrived. Ripper was still very shaky; it might be shock. Ethan supposed that if he'd ever been a boy scout he would know what to do.

They found the car eventually and Ethan sat Rupert in the back seat, taking the car keys to unlock the glove compartment. The first aid kit was there, along with a number of other things, including a sheathed knife and a wooden stake. Returning to Ripper, he unzipped Ripper's jacket and unbuttoned his shirt to get a better look at his shoulder. He wiped away the blood, applied antiseptic, and taped gauze over the wound. That part, at least, he knew. Then he went out to the boot to rummage through Randall's trunk. He found a packet of Jacobs Club biscuits, a bottle of whiskey, and a bottle of what might even be water.

Rupert was crying. He had his head turned away and his hand over his face, as if that would hide it.

Ethan said, "You weren't properly equipped, that's all." He passed Rupert a box of tissues, the bottle of water, and a couple of biscuits. Ethan sat on the back seat next to him, with the door open to let in some air. He had a swig of water and a biscuit himself.

"Do you have my lighter?" Rupert asked after a while. He was still puffy-eyed but at least he'd stopped shaking. He lit himself a cigarette and Ethan decided it was time to start sharing the whiskey. Then he unzipped Ripper and gave him a blowjob: there was no-one around to watch them anyway.

By the time he'd finished, Rupert looked a lot closer to normal.

Rupert said, "I suppose I should tell you what that was."

"A vampire?"

"Yes," said Rupert, sounding a little surprised. "Had you seen one before?"

"Never," said Ethan, " but... crosses. Although they didn't look as I expected."

"They don't always look like that," said Ripper. "That's their true appearance, their battle-face. They can easily disguise themselves to look like ordinary people."

"Is there any way to tell?" asked Ethan.

Ripper waved his ugly ring. "Mirrors," he said, "they don't show up in mirrors. They're injured only by crosses, holy water, sunlight, fire, a stake through the heart or decapitation."

"Are there many things that stand up well to having their heads cut off?"

Rupert smiled. "Only a few."

Ethan leant over and kissed him on the mouth.

"You're a very strange man," Rupert told him. Ethan smiled uncertainly, hoping that might be meant as a compliment for once. It probably was, as Rupert kissed him back for quite a while.

During a pause, Ethan saw something glint under the driver's seat. "Here's your watch," he said. "Look, the strap's broken."

Rupert took it from him and groaned. "It's really quite late," he said. "I suppose we should get back to the others. They'll be wondering where we are."

"I think they'll have made a few assumptions," Ethan said. But he pulled back anyway, because he was getting a bit cramped in the awkward space.

They had no difficulty in finding the rest. Randall and Diedre were visible even from across the crowd. The current band on stage was starting a singalong for "House of the Rising Sun".

Stan moved over to let them sit down and this time Ripper didn't shuffle over when Ethan leant against him. After a couple more songs, Ethan started to feel very sleepy. He closed his eyes.

He woke to the touch of a hand on his shoulder. He turned to find Evelyn standing behind him.

"Hello, Randall. Hello, Diedre. I'm here to borrow Ethan for a while." She looked down toward him. "Bring your friend if you like," she said.


Evelyn led them through the cars, tents, caravans and doused campfires. They crossed the empty edge of the field, heading towards a line of trees: the wood of Salisbury Plain. Ripper had seen people hunting there for firewood earlier.

Ripper had no idea where they were going, or why. Given Evelyn's alleged preference for sex magic, he wondered if they were being taken to an orgy. What would he do if they were?

The canopy obscured the moon, and after the first few yards, he could no longer see the stagelights. He couldn't see anything at all, in fact.

Evelyn recited a chant he knew, and a stretch of light sprang up around them, no more than a few yards wide. She moved on. They stepped over tree roots and through spiderwebs. The air smelt damp and green.

They walked for a long time. Surely the wood couldn't be that large? It was hard to tell if they were headed in the same direction, always, because of the darkness and the constant need to turn this way and that around the yews and oaks. He could still hear the festival music, very faintly, below the sound of the wind in the leaves and, just possibly, the waters of a nearby stream.

Ripper hadn't looked at his watch before they left. He didn't know how long they'd been walking. He glanced at it now and saw that dawn was not too far off. How were they going to get back to the Henge in time for sunrise?

At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, but as they got closer, he became more certain that he saw pinpricks of light ahead.

Evelyn abruptly cancelled her spell. She turned to face them, becoming a silhouette in front of the lights.

"Don't embarrass me, OK? Do as you're asked, chant when you're asked to chant, don't say anything else otherwise. And for God's sake, don't try and change or distort the spell in any way. This is dangerous. If we get this wrong, not only will I never invite you to any other event, but we'll probably be dead. Ethan? This is absolutely not the time for you to start playing around."

"OK," said Ethan, a bodiless voice a couple of yards to Ripper's left.

"And you, Ripper," she said. "I don't know you, so if you do anything untoward, I'll just flatten you. Completely. OK?"

"OK," Ripper said.

"Be good boys," said Evelyn.

Ripper's eyes adapted just enough that he didn't trip too much on the final couple of minutes of walk. They reached a clearing where many white sheets had been laid out on the ground. These were covered in a complicated series of pentagrams and circles at least ten yards wide. The pattern was laid out with candles, chunks of volcanic rock, and small animal skulls. Ripper had never seen anything like it.

There were maybe fifty people there, of varying ages and modes of dress. Ripper tried to spot the three wizards who had killed the vampires earlier, but couldn't see them.

There was a bald man, fortyish maybe, built like a wrestler and wearing a robe. "It's time now," he boomed. "Form the circle."

Evelyn sat down cross-legged, just outside the painted pattern. She motioned for them to sit down. Then she produced a small knife.

"Make a small cut in the centre of both your palms."

"What?" said Ripper.

"Make a--"

"I, I heard, yes, ah--"

"Or you can leave," said Evelyn, smiling. She sliced into her left palm with a grimace. "The blood has to mingle all the way around the circle."

She passed the knife to Ethan. "Can you do my other hand? I'm very right-handed."

Ethan did so. The knife looked very sharp. Then he cut into his own hands, with only a flicker of hesitation. He wiped the knife on his trouserleg before passing it to Ripper.

Ripper didn't feel that he had fully informed consent. "What is the spell exactly?"

"Rupert..." said Ethan.

"Flatten you completely," said Evelyn. "Are you in or out? We're summoning a presence."

"A demon?"

"A genius loci. We're summoning the spirit of Salisbury Plain."

Ripper cut into his hands, with rather more difficulty for the second one. It hurt quite a bit. He found a clean handkerchief to wipe the blade with before passing it back.

"At least I'm not stoned this time," said Ethan.

The circle was almost formed. A few people were hurrying to their places. Ripper sat between Evelyn and Ethan, who held his hands palm pressed against palm, sticky and wet and warm in the cool pre-dawn air.

The wrestler-wizard had yet to sit down. He paced around the circle with a torch, checking that every pair of hands was held in the proper grip. Then he went back to his place in the circle and took out a large curved knife to cut his own. He started to recite something in a language that Ripper not only didn't know, but didn't recognise. That was surprising.

He glanced over at Evelyn. She looked nervous. Ripper suddenly felt very scared. He could feel Ethan's blood -- or was it his own? -- dripping down his wrist.

The head wizard picked up a wide, flat bowl of some metallic-smelling substance and flung its contents into the centre of the circle. It was a dark liquid that splashed widely, hitting Ripper's face and clothes. He felt Evelyn grip his hand even tighter.

The wizard finally sat down and reached out to those on either side. Perhaps it was Ripper's imagination, but he thought he felt something like an electrical jolt run through him as the circle closed.

The main part of the spell began then. This part was familar: a call-and-response between the leading wizard and the rest of the circle. The words were now in cod-Latin, clearly of no antiquity, although possibly translated from an older language, or modified from a related loci spell of---

Bloody hell.


It was well past sunrise but Ethan couldn't remember having seen the dawn. In truth, he was having trouble remembering all sorts of things, such as his name. He thought he might be lying on his back. He kept having to blink; everything looked like a series of still photographs. None of it really seemed to connect.

Evelyn: "You two look trashed."

Tree branches, dark cloud.

Evelyn, looking very pale.

A mouse skull sitting on blood-brown splashed paper.

Rupert: "Geologically old."

Fat drops of rain falling on his upturned face.

Two men walking past, carrying a dead goat.

Ethan (himself): "Mox ubi ridendas inclusit pagina partes, vera redit facies, assimulata perit."

A woman, picking up pumice.

Scabs in the centre of both his hands.

Rupert, lying on his back with his knees bent, looking muddy and yet somehow very attractive. He should try to crawl towards him.

"It's starting to rain. I'm walking back."

Ethan felt the return of cause and effect: it slammed him in the back of the head. He stood up and tottered over to Rupert.

"Rupert," he said, shaking him. "Rupert. Evelyn's leaving. We should go." Rupert looked up at him. He was wearing his glasses. "We have to go."

"Yes, right," said Rupert. "So we should."

The walk back seemed much quicker than the walk they'd had last night. They mostly walked in silence, although Evelyn asked him, "What did you say back there?"

"What did I say back there?" asked Ethan, struggling to recall.

"The farce ends, the smiles come off, revealing the true face below," said Rupert.

"All right then," said Evelyn.

The rain suddenly became very heavy and they sheltered under an oak.

"It's ten o'clock," said Rupert. "Why is it ten o'clock already?"

The rain died down, then stopped altogether. They tromped through the mud. Evelyn paused at the edge of the wood. "Well, don't thank me or anything."

"Thank you," said Ethan.

"Thank you," said Rupert.

"I'm going that way now," she said, pointing, "back to my tent. You guys should go back to your friends."

"OK," said Rupert.

"OK," said Ethan.

"You two take care," she said.

Ethan and Rupert walked towards Stonehenge and towards the stage. Yet another band was playing now, but the crowds of last night were starting to disperse. There was a lot of frustrated traffic, trying to find its way out past clumps of standing and sitting people.

"You called me Rupert back there," said Rupert.

"I looked at your driver's license," said Ethan. "Why wouldn't I want to know your name?"

The others weren't back where they'd left them and Randall was, surprisingly, not immediately visible. Ethan thought they should go and ask the Wallys if they'd seen him.

His hunch was good, and they found Diedre and Randall curled up together in a corner of a Wally tent.

"The sunrise was awesome," said Randall. "Clear sky just long enough, the dawn light reflected on the gathering cloud and ancient stone... Mind-blowing."

"Mmm," said Ethan.

Rupert polished his glasses, looked surprised to be holding them, then put them in his jacket pocket.

"When do you want me to drive you back?" Rupert asked.

"We're not going yet," said Diedre. "We're staying on."

"The Wallys have kindly offered us a place to stay for a few days. We've got more people we want to catch up on."

"How will you get home?" asked Ethan.

"Hitch," said Diedre.

"And where's Stan?"

"He made a new friend," said Diedre, "and has gone back to her tent."

"Teepee," said Randall. "She said teepee."

"Well, how long is he expecting us to wait for him?" Ethan asked.

Diedre shrugged.

"We could kip here for an hour or two before the drive back, see if he turns up," Ethan suggested to Rupert.

There was just enough room in the tent for the four of them to lie down. Ethan found he couldn't sleep, his mind still struggling to cope with the aftermath of the spell. The khaki ceiling of the tent was too close and he was uncomfortably aware that the rough ground underneath him was a continuous part of Salisbury Plain. When he glanced over, Rupert had his eyes closed but his breathing was in his waking-tempo, not his sleeping one.

"Maybe we should just go," said Ethan.

"Avoid the rain," said Rupert. "It looks like it's going to bucket again."

"Stan will be fine," said Diedre. "He can hitch-hike back like the rest of us. He might not even realise you're waiting on him."

"We should get some things from the trunk before you go," said Randall. "And I've got Ripper's guitar."

It took an age for them to get back on to the main road, as Rupert took excruciating care to avoid running over dogs, small children and people's worldly goods. The clouds grew darker the whole time.

"Are you sure you're all right to drive?" Ethan asked, a little tardily.

"I haven't had anything to drink for hours," said Rupert.

"I was thinking more of the vampire attack, the communing with a genius loci and the fact that you haven't slept for thirty-six hours."

"I'll be fine," said Rupert. "My hands hurt a little on the wheel, but it's only a two hour drive or so."

"I could drive some of it."

"No," said Rupert, firmly. "But if you want to do something, then just talk. Keep me awake that way."

Ethan thought. "All right then," he said. "I'll tell you a story."


Ripper finally got the car onto the A344. It wasn't a mass exodus yet from the festival, as many people were staying on for the longest day of the year, but it was still pretty crowded. Plus, there were some more standard sorts of tourist arriving in buses and family cars. Who knew what they'd make of the site right now.

Ethan was looking out of the passenger window. "Right," he said, "I've got it."

"Your story."

"Yes," he said. "This is my version of the story of the seven intelligent species to arise on Earth."

"Can I make the obvious joke?" asked Ripper.

"No," Ethan told him. "We'll presume that there have been some. May I start?"

"By all means," Rupert said.

Ethan began: "The first of the seven intelligent species to arise on Earth were the Ethereals. They had no physical form at all but existed only as pure mental energy. They couldn't eat or smoke or have sex or play music. Nor did they have any stories, as they didn't have anything really to tell stories about. So they spent all their hours devising ever more abstruse mathematics until they'd discovered and created every last possible theorem. Then there was nothing left to distract them from the indifference of the universe, so they killed themselves.

"To date, no-one has worked out how.

"The second of the seven intelligent species to arise on Earth were the Hyperboreans. They lived in the Arctic in the days when the Arctic was as warm as the tropics. They were asexual and reproduced by budding. Their lives were very dull, but not as dull as the Ethereals'. On wet Sunday afternoons, they could eat cycads and bud as much as they wanted. But they budded and budded and budded until the entire land was covered with them: they ate every last cycad and then they took to eating each other.

"So the last of the Hyperboreans awoke on a pile of cannibal bones, in a landscape denuded of edible plants, and with nothing to eat except its own newborn offspring. It decided to swim south in search of a land it had not yet eaten, but it drowned upon the way.

"Although another legend has it that the Hyperborean was met and befriended by dolphins, who taught it to eat fish. But when the dolphins saw how vociferously it budded, and how much its offspring ate, they caught and killed every last one of them."

"Wait," said Ripper, "that would make dolphins the second intelligent species."

"Yes," said Ethan. "That's why that part of the story is usually considered apocryphal."

"The third of the seven intelligent species to arise on Earth were the Lemurians. These were huge creatures, sixteen foot high, with feet that extended both forward and backward so they could never tell if they were coming or going. They were hermaphroditic and so were seldom bored at all. But they were not very bright, and they were plagued by the dreams of the species which had come before. They wanted, like the Hyperboreans, to travel south, and they wanted to dance the complicated geometrical patterns of the Ethereals. So they danced and danced, always southwards, through the forests and marshes of Lemuria, through the grasslands to the deserts, where they died of exhaustion and thirst. The winds of the desert wore their bones into dust.

"Even now, when the sunlight is at the right angle, you can see their motes still dancing in the air.

"The fourth of the seven species of intelligent life on Earth were the Atlanteans, who looked very like us. They had two sexes and reproduced in much the same way we do. They had music; they had art; they had magic. They built great cities and ran machines through the power of their will. They were, in short, fantastic. But they were too powerful in some ways and they were even more distracted by sex than we are. They devised whole new species of animals and animal-Atlantean hybrids to have sex with. Eventually everyone was too busy fucking their own metamorphosed animals to reproduce and the species died out. But they did die happy.

"This is where the story of Titania and her donkey-headed lover comes from. Titania was an Atlantean."

"Ah," said Ripper, "an apposite touch for midsummer's day."

"Exactly. Now, the fifth species of intelligent life on Earth are the humans. Humans remember that it's not good to stay all in the mind, so they smoke and drink and eat and have sex. They don't usually eat each other, or cycads, and they don't completely trust dolphins. They dance, but they know not to dance all the time. They mostly pretend that they can't remember magic and they prefer to have sex with each other, generally speaking.

"They are quite dull."

"Hey," said Ripper, "that's us you're talking about."

"Not necessarily," said Ethan. "It is said that the sixth intelligent species will arise from the fifth, and that some members of the sixth may be alive even now. Homo novus, if you will. Don't tell Randall, but they're supposed to mainly arise in California."

"What about the seventh species?"

"Nothing is yet known," said Ethan. "But it gives us something to aspire to."

Ripper laughed. "That's amazing rubbish, Ethan."

"Your turn."

"Me? No."

"What then?"

Ripper thought about it. This might be a good time. "Can I ask some embarrassing questions that I should know the answer to but don't?"

"Is this Truth or Dare or Latin declensions?"

"What's your surname?"

"You're kidding me," said Ethan. "You've been living with us for months now. And you could have looked at my driver's license."

"I'm still not convinced that you have one."

Ethan snorted. "It's Rayne. R-A-Y-N-E."

"How old's Diedre?"

"The same age as Adrienne," said Ethan, "give or take a couple of months."

"Don't make me hit you," Ripper warned.

"Twenty-two. But I think they're both coming up to twenty-three soon. Diedre's family always have a garden party around this time of year."

"What's Tom's surname?"


"Is 'Randall' his first name or surname?"

Ethan laughed. "Neither. He's an American -- it's his middle name."

"Did his parents really move all the way to London to keep him away from magic?"

"I imagine they were at least as concerned with his eligibility for the draft," said Ethan, "but he doesn't really like to mention that part."

"Is he sleeping with Diedre?"

"Randall doesn't sleep with anyone."

"That's why she's got Tom as well?"

"Yes," said Ethan. "Got any difficult questions?"

"Where did you grow up?"

"That's dull," said Ethan. "Ask me something else."

"How did you first get into magic?"

"I found a book, or, really, it found me. I was in a bookshop, and I could hear it from across the room. I'd never heard anything like it. So I stole it."

"What does a magic book sound like?"

Ethan took some time to think about this before he replied. "Like that scene in 2001 when they find the monolith on the moon."

"That's quite disturbing," said Ripper. "How old were you then?"

"Ten or eleven."

Ripper was surprised. "But you didn't start practising magic until much later, yes?"

"No," said Ethan.

"Did you have anyone to show you how to do it?"

"No," said Ethan.

"Bloody hell," said Ripper. "Do you have any idea how incredibly dangerous that was?"

"No," said Ethan, "and I don't recall having any difficulty."

"At that age you'd have no control whatsoever of the entities working through you."

"If that's what your grandmother taught you," said Ethan, "she was a timid old fishwife."

"I just mean," said Ripper, "that you're lucky to have got through that at all. It's fantastically dangerous."

There was a long silence.

"I think there's a Little Chef coming up," said Ethan. "Maybe you should get a cup of coffee."

As Ripper parked the car, he became acutely aware that he looked like he'd slept in a muddy field. However, that turned out not to be a problem, as almost all of the other customers looked that way too. There was a lone family of conventional neatness hunkering down at one of the back tables, but otherwise it was wall-to-wall tunics, head-bands and really wide coats.

They picked out a table and Ripper went to the counter. He was very hungry now, so he ordered a coffee and a large breakfast. Then he found he had less money than he thought he had. Enough, but not much.

"I forgot to ask Randall for the petrol money," he told Ethan when he came back to the table. "And I won't get paid again until Saturday."

Ethan looked mildly sympathetic.

"Aren't you having anything?" Ripper asked him.

"I have fifty pence left in the entire world," said Ethan. "And it's not going to be a good afternoon for busking."

"Can't you borrow money from the household kitty until you can make some?"

"I suppose so." He came back with a cup of tea and a plate of gammon and eggs.

"I have to give you an apology," said Ripper, around a mouthful of bacon and toast. "All this time I've been thinking you dress like a common or garden hippy."


Ripper waved in the direction of man wearing a buckskin shirt and a hat sporting a small pair of antlers. "Now I see that in fact that you dress like a conservative hippy."

"And who are you supposed to be?" asked Ethan. "Marlon Brando?"

"I'm aiming more for Mick Jagger."

"Then you're bit wide of the mark."

Ripper looked down at the mud and blood on his jacket. "Do you think we could do something similar?" The loci spell, I mean."

Ethan raised both his eyebrows and looked out the window.


"Sorry, I was just trying to imagine what the genius loci of Camden Town would be like."

"Of course, we wouldn't want to do something that large, given that one took fifty people and rather more goat blood than I'm comfortable with."

"I don't know. There's nothing in Spivak even vaguely like that. That owl's about the largest entity I've ever summoned."

"Would be good though."

"Yes," said Ethan.

They finished their meals. Back in the car, Ripper asked, "Why don't you normally go to midsummers?"

Ethan grimaced. "The complex web of obligation. I have to work out who's there, who's not there, who's not speaking to whom, who expects me to drop by, who would rather I didn't, and who's going to be mortally offended if I don't. I mean, it's interesting hanging out with the more powerful wizards, but why would they want you there with them? You're either irritating them or treated like a pet. You spend the whole time wondering what their hidden motives are. It's just easier to stay at home."

"You wouldn't go for the music?"

"No," said Ethan, smiling.

"But last night's spell--"

"I've never been invited to something like that before. And I don't think Evelyn has either. She looked almost as bad as you did this morning. I think she told the others we were her apprentices to get us in."

"We're not, though. I mean, not remotely."

"She does play things fast and loose."

"Who was the man leading the spell?"

"Never seen him before," said Ethan. "You?"

"No. That was really something though, wasn't it? You know, I've really enjoyed this trip."

"Well then," said Ethan, "we'll go again next year."


They got back to the house around two, after half an hour of steady rain.

Ripper went upstairs to get washed while Ethan made himself a pot of tea. He drank it in the kitchen, listening to the rain and the sounds the pipes made as Ripper filled the bath. The rest of the house was empty. He checked the kitty and found exactly five pence. He wondered what bastard had taken the rest.

When it was his turn, he had a long bath, washing mud and blood and who knew what else from his skin and hair. He took particular care cleaning the palms of his hands. His clothes were stained, probably permanently, which was rather a pity for the coat. Maybe he could pick up another cheap one, or dye this one a colour that didn't show up the blood.

He went upstairs in his dressing gown, and found Rupert in his room, kneeling on the edge of the mattress. He had a piece of chalk in his hand and was drawing on the floorboards, sketching out the complicated pattern used for that morning's spell. He was wearing a clean pair of jeans and an unbuttoned shirt.

Ethan fetched another colour of chalk and went to sit next to Rupert. "That isn't quite right," he said, pointing to one section. "Not all of the circles were concentric. Two interlinked." He reached over to correct this.

"Can you remember what happened over here?" Rupert asked.

"No, I don't think we could see it from where we were sitting."

"Perhaps we could work it out from analogy?" He drew a smaller pattern on a separate section of the floor. "I've seen this one before, I think." He frowned. "I'm afraid I didn't bring any of my books with me. I'm having to do this all from memory."

"Why didn't you bring them?"

"They didn't really belong to me," Rupert said. "On loan."

"Your family's?"

"They didn't really approve of me going into music."

Rupert's expression was of happy intellectual engagement, tinged with wistful regret. The combination so moved Ethan that he had to turn away in case Rupert saw his expression too clearly. He went to the locked steel box where he kept the items he most valued. He pulled out a copy of Ogata and passed it to Rupert. "There might be something in that."

Rupert fetched his glasses from his room and then Ethan looked over his shoulder as they flicked through it. "That's the one," said Ethan, pointing.

Rupert rotated the book upside down, to better match the pattern in front of them. "Standard invocation to a major power, modified to indicate that no material manifestation is requested."

"Did you recognise the language our lead caster began in?"

"Absolutely no idea. And you know, I can actually recognise quite a few. Did you?"

"Not at all. I did memorise most of the Latin though." He reached over for a pad of paper and pencil and started to write.

Rupert watched as Ethan wrote as far as the bottom of the page. "That's rather impressive," he said.

"Well, it was my best subject at school."

"What else was there?" Rupert pondered. "The skulls were all from species native to Britain. No rabbits, for example."

"Yes," said Ethan. " I hadn't noticed that. I wonder if that's due to conservatism among the spellcasters though. You'd think Salisbury Plain would have got the hang of rabbits by now."

"Did it have to be goat blood?"

"I understand that it depends on the invoked entity. Some are rather traditionalist while others will settle for any kind of ruminant or any kind of blood at all. I even heard a story where a trickster god settled for Heinz tomato sauce, but I don't know that I believe it."

Rupert laughed. He looked down at their hour's work. "I do think we're rather good at this."

Ethan had thought he was both too tired and too wired for sex, but he was beginning to change his mind, especially when Rupert lay back on the bed.

"But what entity would we summon?" Rupert asked.

Ethan leant over him. "We don't have to decide that right now, do we?"

"I suppose not," said Rupert.

Ethan thought he agreed with Rupert's Watcher family on at least one thing: music was not really Ripper's vocation.


Ripper woke when he heard the back gate open. He pulled himself as far as the window ledge and saw an umbrella below. "I'd better go and see who it is," he said, yawning. He found his jeans and shirt; Ethan scrambled for his clothes too and followed him downstairs.

They found Tom in the kitchen, standing near the fridge with a bottle of cheapish champagne and a raw chicken on the table next to him.

"How was the festival?" Tom asked, as he pulled off his wet coat and boots. "Did the rain hold off?"

"Like magic," said Ethan. "But it started to pour on the way back."

"Dee's still up there," Rupert said.


"Only Ethan and I came back this afternoon. Everyone else has stayed on at the festival. We don't know when they'll be back."

"Well," said Tom. "I was going to celebrate. I got the job I wanted."

"We'll help you celebrate," said Ethan, looking at the chicken.

They cooked it with some difficulty. Tom had to go down the street to call his mother for advice. It was still a bit raw when they took it out of the oven the first time, but after another twenty minutes it looked edible. By the time it was ready, the champagne was well and truly gone and they were on to Diedre's stash of white wine. There was no sign of Adrienne at any point: she'd been going straight from work to her political meetings in the past couple of weeks. Ripper had barely seen her.

"What's the job?" Ripper asked.

"Graduate trainee," said Tom. "Royal Bank of Scotland. I still have to complete my degree, but if I get the marks I should, the job's mine."

"Congratulations!" Ripper said. "I didn't realise they had many staff down here."

"They don't," said Tom. "The job's in Edinburgh. My mum's not been so well, so I'd like to move back."

"I thought your parents were here."

"That's my dad and my stepmother. I am the unholy product of an Englishman and a guid Scots lass, as my mum likes to remind me every time I call. Now I've got the job back home, she may now forgive me for going to England to study."

"These mixed marriages never work," said Ethan, sufficiently deadpan that Tom looked at him askance.

"What does she think of Diedre?"

"She hasn't met her yet," said Tom. "But how could anyone not like Dee?"

Ripper wanted to ask him if Diedre intended to move to Edinburgh with him, but could think of no polite way to ask. He looked at Ethan, willing him to ask the question, but Ethan did not oblige. Perhaps he already knew the answer.

Ripper finally started to fall asleep again when they were eating icecream. He made his excuses and staggered upstairs. As he reached the second floor, he paused to look up at the final section of staircase ceiling, which Randall had only recently finished painting. He'd included many of the symbols that Ripper had suggested and he'd used glow-in-the-dark paint. Symbols of friendship, long life and goodwill glowed faintly above Ripper's head.

He went to Ethan's room. As always his eyes were drawn to the nearest pile of books. Ethan always had a very odd collection next to his bedside and Ripper wondered if he ever actually read them. The current miscellany included a history of the Hapsburgs, a travel guide to Madagascar, three paperback novels (one of dubious sort), and an encyclopaedia of snails: Ripper tried to imagine a spell that might combine any two of the titles. And then, at the very bottom, and looking rather dusty, was a copy of Living Magicians. Ripper prised it out. There was a piece of paper in it being used as a bookmark.

So when Ethan came back upstairs, Ripper was asleep with the book open on his chest to the life of Eusapia Ciccarello. He woke up as Ethan took it from him and pulled up the bedcovers.

"Why have you got a bookmark with 'Ciccarello, 131 Esplanade' written on it?" Ripper asked him sleepily. "Is that her address?"

"Might have been once," said Ethan, as he went to turn out the lights, "but she's been dead twenty years."

"She's not," said Ripper. "She faked it. She's living somewhere or other."

"Well then," said Ethan, "that might be her address after all."

They looked at each other.

"Let's get some sleep," said Ethan. "And we'll think about this tomorrow."


Ethan got up at the unheard-of hour of nine a.m. and went downstairs. He made tea and toast and then sat on a kitchen stool, yawning, until Adrienne came out of her room. She was dressed for work and was putting on her watch. He passed her the toast.

"You're up very early," she said, before taking an appreciative large bite.

"God, yes," said Ethan, "but I wanted to see you and I fell asleep too early last night to catch you."

"How was the festival?"

"Unexpectedly excellent." He was unable to stifle a magnificent series of yawns. "I might tell you about it when I've recovered. But how have you been? We've barely seen you."

She looked very tired herself. "It turns out that I've been working with people who are very good at talking but who couldn't organise to get out of a telephone box."

"So you're doing all the work then?"

"Let's just say that any time you'd like to volunteer for the revolution, I'd be glad of your help."

"Actually, that's why I'm here. I'm flat broke. I've been wondering about that job you mentioned."

"It's been delayed," she said, "because some other people have been very stupid. I can't tell you when it will happen yet."

He looked out of the window, where it was still pouring with rain. "It's not really good June weather at all, is it?"

"The English winter," said Adrienne, "ending in July--"

"To recommence in August. How am I to earn my honest living?"

"I'll ask around and see if anyone's got any odd jobs."

"I'm not handing out leaflets again," Ethan said.

"Any odd jobs that might require your specialist expertise. They'll pay a lot better, for a start."

"Thanks," said Ethan, meaning it.


"I'm going burgling," said Ethan. "There's no need for you to become an accessory."

Ripper had just got back from work. He'd put his guitar case down next to the bottom of the stairwell and was peeling off his jacket when he found Ethan in the rarely-used front hallway, pulling on a pair of boots. He already looked soaked through.

"No luck busking then?"

"I walked," said Ethan, "all the way to Covent Garden, entertained punters for two hours and made exactly enough for lunch. Then I walked home." He wrapped a large scarf around his face and picked up an umbrella. "So now I'm going burgling." He stepped out of the front door.

Rupert felt compelled to follow him at least as far as the porch. "There's enough food in the house for dinner," he told Ethan. "I looked. Baked potatoes, beans, that sort of thing."

"I want to go the pub," said Ethan, walking into the pouring rain.

Ripper went back into the kitchen to pick up his own umbrella and to lock the back door. He had to run to catch up with Ethan, who had marched as far as the postbox before pausing.

"Which way do you think I should go?" Ethan asked.

"Well, you probably want somewhere fairly prosperous," said Ripper.

"But not too prosperous. No nannies or maids who may still be in the house." Ethan made a decisive turn left and continued marching. "You shouldn't have brought that jacket," he said. "It's the most conspicuous thing about you after your height. Hunker down under your umbrella."

"You've done this before, have you?"


"Surely you've been this broke before."

"Not really. My expenses have recently gone up."

They walked another few streets as the rain continued without let-up or weakening. There were very few people out on the streets. A few cars went past, making a slooshing sound through the water.

"What do you think of that basement flat?" Ethan asked.

Ripper appraised it. "No car out the front," he said, "but there are children's toys on the windowsill. There's too high a chance of finding a housewife at home."

"But the ground-floor one, that looks better? Model ship in the window, no other sign of life. Let's go around the back."

"There's a sign saying 'Beware of the dog'."

"Even better," said Ethan. "It may not have any other defences."

"You're not worried about the dog?"

"We took on a vampire the other night. I am not worried about the dog."

"That vampire almost killed me."

"Then stay out in the street and give me a yell if the pigs come."

Ripper followed him as far as the laneway that led around the back of the terraces. He watched as Ethan approached the gate and stepped through. He crossed a small lawn and went up the few steps to the back door. Then he paused. Ripper wondered if he was having trouble with the door.

Rupert quickly crossed the laneway and garden to stand next to him. Ethan had an unlit candle in his hand. "Hold this, will you?" Ethan asked him. "It's hard to light this in this weather." Then he fished in his coat pocket for a lighter. Once the candle was lit, Ethan said a few words and there was an audible click from the door.

"That's quite a good trick," Rupert said.

They stepped into a small kitchen. It was generally tidy but showed clear signs of recent occupation: breakfast dishes sat in the sink and there was a basket on unfolded laundry on top of the washing machine. Ethan went straight to a row of storage tins on the countertop next to the stove. "There'll be some cash in here, surely?"

"Wouldn't you get more for a television?"

"I'm not carrying a television around in the pouring rain," said Ethan, "and who would I sell it too? I want pub money, not a retirement fund." He shook his head. "Nothing but Nescafe and sugar in these. Maybe the cutlery drawer?"

There was a snuffling from the doorway then: the dog appeared. It was a large and elderly Pekinese. It shuffled into the kitchen. Ethan bent down and scratched it behind the head.

"No luck here," he said. "The hall?"

The hallway had brown wall-to-wall carpet and walls painted a faint blue. Ethan started with the cupboard, which turned out to be full of old coats, boots, and a vacuum cleaner. He fished around in the pockets and was rewarded with a single pound note. The dog sniffed at the boots while Ethan headed to the telephone table.

"Aha!" said Ethan, opening the drawer. He held up a roll of notes, secured together by a rubber band. He peeled off a few. "He might not even know we've been in here," he said.

They had a bit of a look at the rest of the flat. The living room had red patterned carpet, dark wooden furniture, and more model ships. Ripper looked in the drinks cabinet and found some very good bottles of scotch. He put one of the fuller ones inside his jacket.

Ethan took his coat off and sat down on the sofa. "What sort of a man do you think he is? Divorced, do you think? Or never married? Older, obviously."

"He doesn't seem to have many hobbies," Rupert noted.

"And no books," said Ethan. "I always find that very strange."

"He likes scotch," said Rupert.

"Does that count as a hobby, though?" Ethan asked. He reached down to pet the peke, who had followed them into the room. "Maybe we could take the dog with us. I always wanted one as a child. My grandmother had a black and white collie."

"I thought you were worried about your expenses," Ripper said. "Having a dog wouldn't help with that."

Ethan sighed. "Yes, I suppose. Did you have a one, growing up?"

"A black lab," Rupert told him. "She used to chase the horses."

Back in the kitchen, Ethan looked out of the window. "Coast looks clear."

The kitchen linoleum was covered in their muddy footprints. That bothered Rupert more than the actual burglary. "Wait a moment," he said, grabbing a mop from next to the fridge and giving the floor a quick wipe. Then they were back on the back porch and Ethan was relocking the door.

They walked out across the garden and down the laneway.

"Far too easy," Ethan said.

Diedre and Randall arrived back in the early evening, having hitch-hiked their way to Reading and then caught a train. No-one had seen Stan since Thursday morning, but everyone seemed convinced that there was nothing to worry about. Rupert thought of the vampires they'd seen at the festival and was rather less sure, but couldn't think of anything to be done.

Diedre evinced excitement at Tom's news. "But it's not for a year, though, isn't it?" she said. They all went to celebrate in the usual way, by going to the pub. Ethan paid his rounds with somebody else's money and an ostentatious flourish; Rupert paid for his with the petrol money Randall had just handed to him. It was difficult not to feel a little resentful that night of Randall's small inheritance and Diedre's allowance. It was what he'd chosen, though.

Adrienne joined them an hour before closing time. She looked exhausted. Rupert wanted to ask her what going on, and whether he could help, but he wasn't really sure how to talk with her any more. He still felt mortified by their misunderstanding.

"Eleven," Adrienne said, waving an envelope at Diedre. "In the post this morning."

"Eleven what?" Tom asked.

"Babies born to our classmates," Adrienne said.

Diedre asked, "Is there a photograph? Is it Gollum or non-Gollum?"

"Gollum," said Adrienne with finality.

Diedre was sitting next to Rupert, so he got a good look at the photograph. It was, in fact, rather an ugly baby.

"Do you think they grow out of that?" Diedre asked.

"Must do," said Ethan, "or half the people in this pub would still look like that." He looked around. "On the other hand..."

After last orders they made a series of toasts.

"To Tom's victory," said Adrienne.

"To harmony," said Randall.

"To success," Ethan said.

And after that, they had to go home.


The Saturday post brought an envelope addressed to Ethan the next day. This was almost unprecedented, at least since his mother had given up writing to him. He found it on the kitchen table, next to a letter from one of Stan's sisters, and an electricity bill that someone had already marked up with "Diedre - please pay." He did not recognise the handwriting, which was elegant and old-fashioned, and when he flipped it over, it had no return address.

Inside was a letter from Mr Grey in Oxford with a rather strange offer of work. There were errands that Mr Grey needed done, it read, that he was unwilling to explain via Her Majesty's post. If Mr Rayne was interested, he need only walk to a specific telephone booth near the British Museum where he would find a pound note and another request. If Mr Rayne was not interested, then he need do nothing at all: Mr Grey would presume this if the pound note was still there in a week's time. He thanked Mr Rayne for his time.

It all sounded highly suspect, but Ethan hadn't expected anything different from one of Adrienne's contacts, and it was good of her to find something for him so quickly. He'd probably follow it up tomorrow.

In the meantime, he had housework to do now that the rain had stopped. He renewed the various wards and anti-scrying spells on the building. He also embedded some new protection and warning spells that he'd only recently learnt from the Spivak, adapting them as needed. Then he saw that one of the Watcher cars was skulking around again, so he went to the telephone box and called the police with an anonymous tip-off about a drug-dealer pestering people on the street, hoping that Stan didn't choose this precise moment to return. Later, as he was making himself some lunch, he was rewarded by the sight of uniformed officers making enquiries of the besuited young man in the car. He was having quite a good day so far.

He turned the radio on and nodded his head along with the music as he made himself some tea.

He went upstairs then and paused on the first floor landing to pick a fresh book from the volumes piled high under the window. Narrative of the Expedition to the China Seas and Japan? Agatha Christie's At Bertram's Hotel or Official Rules of Cards Games? Lessing's In Pursuit of the English? Kenneth Clark's Civilisation? Bachelor Summer. Mog the Forgetful Cat. There were several hundred others he hadn't yet read and a hundred more he already had.

What he really wanted was a book that would tell him what to do next about Rupert. Maybe one of them could, but he was hard pressed to tell which one.

He was aware that there were certain social conventions that one could ordinarily employ to indicate an increasing level of serious interest, but these did not seem to apply to their situation. They were already sleeping together, going on holiday together and living in the same house. And yet Ethan was still far from certain that Rupert viewed this as anything more than a temporary liaison, despite the late-night conversations and enthusiastic sex. Perhaps there were useful conventions among homosexual men, but there wasn't anyone Ethan knew well enough to ask, and Rupert wouldn't know those conventions anyway.

Ethan would just have to figure it out for himself, as he always had.

He wondered why he didn't have many friends to ask. Why, in fact, did he have virtually no friends outside the immediate household? He'd had such early, easy successes meeting Randall and Evelyn, but since then, perhaps, he'd been coasting, content with whoever happened to turn up at the house, given that the people Evelyn introduced him to were contacts rather than potential friends. And why hadn't he realised that before?

He picked up a copy of Love-starved Hellcat, flicked through a few pages, and then threw it down the stairs. It ricocheted off the stairwell wall in a pleasing fashion. He sat on the floor and had a sip of his tea. He looked through a few more paperbacks and then Nurse Turner Runs Away followed its sister publication into the air. Lost Horizons made it all the way around the stairwell corner.

Diedre came out of her room. "What are you doing?"

"I'm throwing books down the stairs," said Ethan.

She sat next to him and started to weed through the stacks, picking out only the most mildewed and dog-eared volumes. A copy of Kipps sailed into the air, hit a step and could be heard sliding down all the way to the ground floor. Ethan gave her an appreciative nod for her artistry. He picked up an extremely well-read and tattered copy of The Price of Salt. This proved so fragile that its cover came off on landing.

"What was it like when you first met Randall?" he asked her.

"Why are you asking that?"

"I'm just asking it. Pass me the Rohmer?"

She shrugged and handed him the book. "He was the most magnificent man in the room. I knew I had to talk with him. So I went and asked him about books, and what life was like in America, and we just talked and talked and talked and talked until Paul dragged me away from him. But I had already decided that we had to run away together."

"Had he decided that too?"

"No. I had to persuade him over lunch the next day." She threw an elderly The Way We Live Now after the Rohmer.

"Does it have to be a crowded room, do you think?"

"No," said Diedre, decisively. "But it is statistically more likely." She looked at him shrewdly. "After you after stories of true romance, today?"

"We don't seem to have any of those here," he said, waving at the piles of books.

"But surely your mother told you glorious stories of how she met your father."

Ethan grimaced. "He was a human paragon the like of which shall never walk this earth again. But it still took her six months to get over his accent."

"You don't have an accent."

"Not any more, no. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain."

"Can you still do your old one?"

He shook his head. "It sounds like a parody now, even to me."

"Say something anyway in it."

"No," he said. He threw a Ladybird book on Birds and Their Nests rather harder than he'd meant to.

"Is this about Ripper, then? Has he got a nice arse?"

Ethan looked at her. "What's got into you?"

She wriggled her shoulders. "Randall's talking about leaving here. He wants to go on a trip around the country, staying with all the people he knows from the festival and so on."

"But he'd come back, surely?"

"He's talking about months, Ethan. Months! I'd have to go with him. Sleeping in other people's back bedrooms on air mattresses."

"You'd have to break up with Tom," said Ethan. "He won't like that."

Diedre looked away. "His mother's sick. I can't break up with him now."

"If you leave it much longer, he'll propose."

"Oh God," said Diedre.

"Just make sure that the rest of us are in the house when you tell him. Then we can throw him out if we have to."

"Oh God," she said, again, burying her face in her hands.

The back door opened downstairs. Ethan could tell who it was from the tread in the kitchen. "That'll be Rupert now."

The footsteps came closer and then a sort of spluttering started, loudly enough that Diedre looked up and wiped her eyes.

"What, what has happened here?" demanded Rupert, as he came around the stairwell corner. He was clutching the books to his bosom and looked very angry.

"We've been throwing books down the stairs," said Diedre, rather less helpfully than Ethan might have liked.

Rupert looked speechless.

"It's all right, Rupert," said Diedre. "None of them are any good."

"Actually, some of them are," said Ethan. "And some of them aren't."

Ripper looked rather menacing now. "And where do you think this will end? Will you be throwing people down the stairs next?" He grabbed the other injured tomes and took them upstairs.

"That's not a fair argument," Diedre shouted after him.

Ethan sighed. He threw another few books down the stairwell, just for the sake of it. One of them chipped Randall's paint.


Ripper locked his bedroom door with a ward. He put the books down on the windowsill and inspected the damage. Most of the volumes seemed to be all right, although there was a bent Trollope and a Nurse Turner Runs Away which had lost its back cover. He might have to admit that no great crimes against literature had been committed, but it was the principle of the thing.

Besides, he had to get some decent guitar time in anyway. He had a full day rehearsal with The Grins tomorrow and he hadn't been practising as much as he should. Their first gig together was Tuesday. He'd been far too distracted lately and the time off for the midsummer festival had not helped.

He started with a couple of songs he'd mastered some time ago, just to get his fingers warmed up. Then it was on to The Grins songs, which weren't technically all that complex, but did have some rather rapid stretches. He was determined to get the pieces right and thus vindicate their decision to hire him. He played for a couple of hours, taking short breaks here and here but without leaving the room.

Late in the afternoon, he heard Ethan come upstairs and pause outside the door, going away without knocking. Ripper fumbled the fingering and had to restart.

After a couple more numbers, Ethan's footsteps returned. A piece of paper slid under the door. It was too far away for Rupert to read. "I'm rehearsing," Ripper shouted.

A minute later, a second piece of paper was slid under the door. Rupert paused his playing and pulled out his glasses. In large letters, the second paper read, "I can tell."

The first piece of paper was headed, "Some English towns with Esplanades". Underneath was a long list of seaside towns. Rupert was surprised to see how many of them were on the Isle of Wight.

He wrote on the back of the paper, "What about Scotland and Wales?" and slid it back.

Soon after came the written response: "Won't know until Monday. Library now shut."

Rupert put down his guitar and put away his glasses. It was probably time for dinner anyway. He came out into the hall, clutching the pieces of paper.

"How are we going to narrow this down, exactly? Call up every town on the list and say we're hunting witches?"

"A witch-hunt?" said Ethan. "I suppose it is. But it's your turn to contribute. You think of something."

Rupert heard a noise from upstairs that rather distracted him. "Was that a scream?"

"Tom's watching Doctor Who," said Ethan. The television had been moved into the attic to prevent people wandering in and out of Adrienne's room at all hours. "Pub later?"

Rupert had a bit of time before the household set out for Saturday night at the pub. He decided it was time to call his parents.

The phone box was empty, apart from an empty beer bottle and a container of sherbet that had powdered the handset, making it sticky. He rang the number and fed in some change when he heard the pips.

They were at home, of course. His mother picked up the phone, but he could hear his father in the background, fussing with the dog. Every time Rupert said a sentence, his mother repeated it so his father could hear.

"Everything's going well," he said. "I was up at Stonehenge for midsummer." This started a maternal anecdote that he was loathe to interrupt, despite his dwindling change. "I've got my first gig with the new band on Tuesday. What? Ah, well, I mean that would be very lovely, but not this time, if that's all right, I'd be twice as nervous. But another time, of course. How are you both doing?" He put some more coins in. "Of course I'll be back for Christmas. That's months off though." Then, as an afterthought, he asked, "I don't suppose, I heard that, well, Eusapia Ciccarello was possibly in London, and-- No? A hermit. Really? Where? Well, the rumour I heard must be wrong then." He put his last coin into the machine. "And how's everything else? Right. No, really, I am sure, this is the right decision for me. I'm sure. I will. I do. You take care too."


Ethan sat in the remarkably ugly cafe of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Tan-and-white Corinthian columns stretched up to gilt arches and a painted ceiling. Ethan tried to concentrate on his piece of cake and the letter in his hand.

He'd started out at the British Museum around noon, following Mr Grey's instructions regarding a message left in a telephone booth. Of course, with the Museum being the size it was, there was more than one booth next to it. Ethan had annoyed quite a few tourists as he'd examined the one closest to the Great Russell Street entrance. Then he'd methodically walked the museum's perimeter, checking every telephone until he'd found one on Montague Street. The envelope was there, smelling of fresh magic, tucked into the back of the phonebook. It contained, as promised, a pound note and a second letter. It didn't make sense that no-one had found it before him, unless some sort of illusion had been used. What an odd thing for Mr Grey to do.

This letter was in a different hand. It read, "Clapham Junction, Platform 4. Chalk a cross on the right spot." There was no information about what "the right spot" meant or whether he'd be paid.

The weather hadn't been too bad. He could have decided to go back to Russell Street and busk. But his curiosity had compelled him.

He'd bought a ticket to Clapham Junction and made his way to the specified platform. He'd walked up and down it twice before he picked up a faint aura of magic in one of the further stretches. Feeling around, he found a loose tile on the floor that he was able to wedge up. And there had been the third letter, telling him to go to the V&A. There were two pound notes inside. After replacing the tile, he chalked the spot.

In the V&A cafe there had been an envelope taped to the underside of a table. Unfortunately, the table had been occupied when he'd arrived. It was only once it had become vacant that he'd been able to find the fourth and final letter, complete with a ten pound note. The next instruction was simply to call Mr Grey.

What this charade told him was that Mr Grey was looking for a London errand boy, with some magical abilities, who was able to take instructions without inquiring into the meaning of the whole. This was not the most glamorous self-portrait that Ethan could imagine, but it beat busking.

He finished his cake and found a phone outside. The phone rang out four or five times before it was picked up. "Grey's Gift Shop is closed on Sundays," Ethan heard.

"You'd didn't say that there was a particular day you wanted me to ring," said Ethan.

"Mr Rayne," said Mr Grey, with a note of pleasure in his voice. "How good of you to call. There'll be more work for you, Mr Rayne. I'll send you a letter." Then Mr Grey hung up.

Ethan got home around dinner time. Rupert was out at his rehearsal, so Ethan spent his evening finishing off the spells in Spivak and then starting to read The Glass Bead Game. Sometimes he could hear the television playing upstairs: the theme music from the news, or a rousing ditty from The Good Old Days.

Rupert got home very late and very drunk. He crashed into the room and had to be reminded to put down his guitar before he got into bed. Rupert cringed. "I'll have woken everyone up!" he said, with a cringe.

"Don't worry about it," said Ethan. "Randall sleeps like the dead."


The train took them past Maidstone and Ashford. Rupert looked out of the window, his fingers twitching slightly through some air guitar chords. He really should be at home practising for tonight's gig. Instead he was reading the graffiti written on the wall: "Jenny and Joe" inscribed inside a heart, plus some scrawled initials in another hand. He wished he'd brought a book. It was the late morning, and he and Ethan were very nearly the only passengers in the carriage.

"All I meant," he said, "was that we could have waited until Sunday. I have an entirely free day then. What if we run into trouble? I really have to be back in Chelsea by seven o'clock."

"We can't go on Sunday, we'll be in Hampshire," Ethan said. "Diedre's birthday? And this is just a reconnaissance trip. If she's there we won't approach her. We'll wait until we're more sure of our ground. Don't you want to see one of the country's most powerful witches in her native habitat?"

Rupert reflected that he had, in fact, already seen a couple of Britain's greatest practitioners, albeit not in their "native habitat", and at something of a distance in the Watcher's Council Headquarters: a glimpse in a corridor during the Unfound Slayer Crisis of '69. From what little he'd been able to see, they'd looked old and somewhat eccentrically dressed but otherwise quite ordinary. They'd stand out in a queue in a bank and not at all in a folk band.

Still, he was rather interested, especially if they could see her up-close. "Of course I am," he said.

"She's supposed to have mastered ectoplasm in her early teens," said Ethan. "Able to extrude immense quantities of the stuff and form it into living beings."

Rupert vaguely remembered reading about this. "Sounds rather revolting, although obviously, a remarkable, ah, technical achievement."

"Do you think it was more akin to matter transmogrification or a demonic conjuration in an unusual substance?"

"More the latter," said Ripper. "Evelyn gave you the address?"

"Not 'gave', exactly," said Ethan. "She doesn't like to give me information for free. Or when she does, I have to look like I've been given a treat. She's a patronising bitch, really."

"If we're just looking things over," Rupert said, "could you manage to follow my lead for a while? I have a good idea of what to do." He could employ Standard Investigation Pattern #4 for low urgency and mild risk situations.

He'd need a clipboard.

The train pulled up and they stepped out into a station painted a dispiriting shade of grey-green.

"Folkestone," he heard Ethan mutter. "Who'd retire to Folkestone?"

"It was a bustling seaside town in its hey-day," said Rupert. "It's probably quite nice when you get to know it. Railway stations aren't usually the most attractive parts of a town."

They walked past suburban houses in the direction of the sea. "Doesn't look like much, does it?" said Ethan. "All that power and she decides to move here."

The houses closer to the sea were older. Some streets were mildly picturesque but everything had a rundown look. There were a few obvious holidaymakers, but most of the other people they passed had a weary, local look to them.

By the time they reached the seashore, the town looked like every other late Victorian or early Edwardian seaside town that Rupert had ever been to. Rows of tall and grey-white terraced houses lined the street, looking out over the sea. It was exactly as he remembered Llandudno.

A little further down the road they found their way down to a derelict amusement park on the foreshore. There were boarded-up domed buildings and an entire abandoned rollercoaster.

"Dear God, but this is bleak," said Ethan.

Rupert was thinking the same thing himself, but he was also a little annoyed that Ethan's pessimism had proved to be well-founded. "Can't you say anything nice about the place?" he asked.

Ethan paused and looked around. "I like the colour of the sea," he said.

It was rather lovely: a pale, sometimes glittering blue. They stood and watched the waves roll in for a while. They could hear the cries of gulls and of distant, playing children. There was the sea smell and the wafting scent of fish and chips.

"Let's get something to eat before we go and investigate," Ethan suggested.

Back up on the main road they bought cod and chips and then sat on a park bench, eating from a newspaper. A young family walked past, the children carrying buckets and spades. Then an elderly woman shuffled by. Rupert and Ethan both looked at her intently.

"Doesn't look old enough," Ethan said, finally.

"Doesn't look Italian," said Rupert.

"Still, perhaps we're eating fish and chips from the same shop Eusapia Ciccarello gets hers from. If she eats fish and chips."

They bought a map and a few stationery items from a newsagent. 131 Esplanade was a short walk to the east.

Ripper lit himself a cigarette as they walked. He offered to Ethan, who declined, as always.

"Why don't you smoke?" Rupert asked.

"I don't want to need a fag break in the middle of an hours-long ritual," said Ethan.

"You take magic pretty seriously, don't you?" said Ripper.

"There were years when it was the only thing stopping me from trying to kill everyone I'd ever met."

"I can't always tell when you're joking, you know."

"Good," said Ethan.

131 The Esplanade was part of yet another dilapidated Edwardian terrace. This one had been turned into flats. There was an unlocked door that led to a stairwell.

"She can't live here," said Ethan. "Why would she live here?"

"I'm going to try the ground floor flat first," Rupert said. "Wait outside? If I need you, I'll, um--"

"Scream?" said Ethan. "Good enough."

Rupert held the clipboard in front of him as he waited for Ethan to walk a bit down the street. He tried to look bored and uninterested as he knocked.

A woman in late middle age answered the door.

Ripper switched to his North London accent. "I'm from the Gas Board," he said, tilting the clipboard a fraction. "I'm looking for Mrs Ciccarello. Is that you?"

"Show us your I.D. then," said the woman.

"I don't have it with me," he said.

"Then I'm not letting you in. For all I know, you're a burglar." She shut the door in his face.

Ripper walked back to where Ethan was standing. "That didn't go very well. She thought I was casing the joint."

"I told you, it's the jacket," Ethan said. "My turn for the first floor flat?"


"Come with me anyway," Ethan said, "but let me do the talking."

A woman in her late twenties opened the door this time. Ethan evinced surprise, very nearly convincingly.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said. "I must be in the wrong place. Is this Flat Two?"

"Yes," she said. "Who are you looking for? I might be able to help."

"Mrs Ciccarello? She's my great-grandmother."

The woman looked at them solemnly. "I think you'd better come in."

The living room was freshly painted in light beige. Two small children -- possibly twins -- were playing on carpet tiles. They had a toy train that was chasing a toy car under the sofa.

"I'm Ethan," said Ethan. "And this is my cousin, Rupert. We've been trying to find out about the Italian side of our family. Our gran was estranged from them a long time ago. Around the time of the First World War, of course. We were given this address."

Rupert perched on the sofa, trying to look like Ethan's cousin, and also part-Italian.

"You never met her then?" the woman asked. "Oh, where's my manners, would you like a cup of tea and a biscuit?"

"I'd love one," said Ethan, with a particularly winning smile.

She went to fuss around in the kitchen.

"I think I'm doing better than you did," Ethan said, sotto voce.

"You got lucky," Rupert whispered hotly. "The woman downstairs is a paranoid."

"My name's Sarah," said the first floor woman, returning with a pot of tea and a plate of gingersnaps.

Ethan took a cup. "She's moved, hasn't she?" he said. "We were given the right address."

Sarah sat down. "I'm sorry," she said. "I think your great-grandmother is dead."

Ethan looked genuinely crestfallen.

"We bought the place in an estate sale. It had belonged to a -- it was a funny name -- it began with an E? Looked foreign."

Ethan didn't seem capable of speech, so Rupert said, "Eusapia Ciccarello. That would be her. Is there anything you could tell us?"

Sarah thought. "I don't think there's much. The place was gutted when we moved in -- I think there'd been a fire. There was a bit of smoke damage to the walls. Everything had been stripped out. I'm so sorry."

"A fire?" said Ethan. "But it didn't spread to the other flats?"

"Or just some smoke, maybe, I don't know."

"Have the neighbours said anything to you about her?" Rupert asked.

"They didn't see very much of her," Sarah said. "She kept to herself and got her groceries delivered. Didn't get many visitors, they said. They were always a bit worried she wasn't looking after herself. That's all I can tell you, I think." She shook her head. "I have to go and pick up my eldest from school now."

"Of course," said Rupert. "Thank you, thank you very much for helping us."

"I'm just sorry I haven't got happier news," she said.

They left the flat and took the stairs to the ground floor. Sarah called out from above, "You could ask at the Catholic Church," she said.

"She won't be buried there," said Ethan, not loudly enough for Sarah to hear.

"Thank you," shouted Rupert. "Goodbye."

Outside and across the road, Ethan stood with his hands in his pockets, apparently looking at his shoes.

"She was old," said Rupert. "We knew that."

"A fire?" said Ethan. "Smoke?"

"Maybe she dropped her cigarette in bed."

"A witch of her calibre?"

"Well, what do you think it was? Something demonic?"

"Perhaps. Smoke wouldn't be unusual for any sort of demonic summoning I've heard of. But who stripped out the house? Where are her books? Her artefacts? Her notebooks?"

"Where were her friends and family?" asked Rupert.

Sarah came out of the front door then, struggling with a large pushchair. It wasn't clear to Rupert whether she'd seen them standing there. He didn't think so.

Ethan waited until she was around the corner before marching back to the house. Rupert sighed and followed.

Back up the stairs they went, and Ethan unlocked the door. Then they were back in the toy-strewn living room.

"Sarah seemed quite nice," said Rupert, as he stood there in her living room.

"I thought so too," said Ethan, his hand held in the air as if he were straining to hear distant music. "There must be something left here of her."



Ripper started to tap on the walls and floors, to see if anything sounded hollow. Nothing doing, though.

The kitchen was harder to check, because of all the built-ins. Rupert looked in at tins of tuna and Tommee Tippee sipper mugs. "What if she comes back?"

"Ciccarello?" asked Ethan, looking startled to consider it.

"Sarah," Rupert said.

"She has three children," said Ethan. "We'll hear her coming."

There was nothing in the bathroom or the main bedroom. But in the twins' bedroom, Ethan pointed inside the airing cupboard. "Look in there," he said.

Rupert perched next to the boiler and reached around to the back.

"It'll be near the front," said Ethan. "She was a small Italian woman. She didn't have long arms like you do."

Ripper tapped around until he heard the right sound. "There's a loose board." He wedged his fingers under and pulled.

"There," said Ethan.

It was just a few bookshelves. They were empty.

"There's still something there," said Ethan. "Keep looking."

Rupert groped around a bit and found a small gap in the woodwork, a crack below the bottom shelf. He could feel the edge of a hardback book but couldn't get a good enough grip.

Ethan was peering over his shoulder. "Stand back," said Rupert, and he kicked the bottom shelf in with his heel. Underneath, he found... the front cover of a book, with a few pages still clinging to it. There was nothing else.

"A Book of Dargoth," Ripper read.

"Give it to me," said Ethan.

Rupert didn't.

"I'm serious. You can't read it."

Rupert didn't let go of the book.

Then they heard from outside, the wailing-in-unison of two toddlers, followed by an exasperated cry from Sarah.

"Bugger," said Ethan.

"There's no fire escape," said Rupert, as he replaced the airing cupboard panel. "I already looked."

"It's all right," said Ethan. "We go out the front."

"She'll see us."

"We go out the front now."

They stepped into the stairwell just as Sarah reached the outside door. Ethan muttered a chant and then headed further up the stairs.

"Oh," said Rupert.

They paused on the staircase as Sarah struggled to get her pushchair into the vestibule. "Hello again!" said Ethan cheerily. "Rupert," he said. "Go and help her then."

Rupert had to hand him the fragment of book. Then he went down and helped Sarah carried the pushchair up to her flat while she cajoled the children. From upstairs, they could hear Ethan knock on the second-floor door, and then say, "I'm looking for anyone who might have known my great-grandmother, Mrs Eusapia Ciccarello."

Rupert declined a second offer of tea from Sarah and went outside to sit on a park bench. He waited until Ethan came out of the house to come and join him.

"There was a fire," said Ethan. "A small one, electrical, very contained, but by the time the fire brigade got there, she was dead. An eccentric assortment of relatives turned up within hours and took away boxes of stuff the same night."

"I didn't enjoy that," said Rupert. "In fact, I didn't like that all."

"What?" said Ethan.

"She invited us in for tea and then we broke into her house."

"We got what we came for and we didn't disturb anyone."

"We looked in her underwear drawer," said Rupert. "And I don't understand why you won't let me look at the book."

"Only worshippers of Dargoth can read his works," said Ethan. "I'd be very surprised if you were one of those."

"And you are?"

"Technically, yes. It's Evelyn's fault. Please don't ask." Then his face took on a funny look and he said, "Oh God."


"Evelyn. She obtained her Dargoth book three months ago."

"Not long after Eusapia Ciccarello died," said Rupert. "Do you think she had something to do with this?"

"I don't know," said Ethan. "She might have bought it in a fire sale."

"Nice friends you've got," said Rupert.

Ethan flicked through the few pages. "It's just the introduction. A reminder of basic principles from the first volume, that kind of thing. Easy demons for conjuration."

"No genius loci?"


Rupert checked his watch. "I really need to get back to the train station," he said.

Ethan read aloud passages as they sat on the train. "At one with the darkness, Dargoth is master of many. In world after world he is called to. He is lord, not of the waking mind, but of the dream mind, the nightmare mind, and the mind under trance or wine. Legion are his servants--"

"Do you mind," said the man sitting next to them, waving his copy of The London Mercury at them.

"Not at all," said Ethan. "Legion are his servants--" and the man got up and left for a different seat. "Eyghon the Sleepwalker, Neremsis the Bringer of Bad Dreams, and Leremtip or is that Lemsip, or Pitmerel backwards, Addler of--" Ethan put the book down for a moment. "I can't say much for the prose style," he said.

"Do you think she died alone?" asked Rupert.

"I expect so," said Ethan.

Rupert closed his eyes and tried to remove the vision he had in head, of a frail old woman gasping for air and breathing in only smoke.


Grotesque. Ebullient. Animated. Ethan wasn't quite sure what they were, but they looked like they were enjoying themselves. Against a blasted landscape, they twisted around each other, reaching up towards a gibbous moon.

"Is this the concert poster or the record sleeve?"

"Look at the shape," said Randall. "It has to be the poster."

They were about forty other charcoal sketches scattered over the drawing room floor. The one Randall held in front of him probably was the best.

"What do you do next?"

"I'm thinking screen print. I want to make some mockups, test out the inks. This one should be good for t-shirts too."

"Shouldn't you run it past the band first?"

Randall looked up at him. "Bobbie has complete faith in my artistic judgement." He started to gather up the rejected versions. "Besides, I drew him a sketch up at Stonehenge."

"Well," said Ethan, "congratulations on the commission."

"Thank you," said Randall. "I think I'll start experimenting with the colour now."

"You're not coming out to Ripper's gig?"

He shook his head. "I want to keep going while I have it clear in my head."

Ethan went to find Diedre. She was in her room, surrounded by a circle of stones and candles.

"I'm practising."

"Diedre," he said, searching for the right phrase, "what I said at Stonehenge--"

"I know you think I'm lazy," she said.

He didn't deny it. "You might have talent," he said.

"Well, I'm going to find out."

"You're not going out to the concert either?"

"I'm busy," she said. "And Stan's not back yet, if that's who you'll be looking for next."

"I'll go myself then," said Ethan.

He seemed to spending a small fortune on Tube tickets and trains these days, at least compared to what he used to. Fortunately, Mr Grey had backed up his words on the telephone by sending another letter. This one detailed how Ethan should plant some small stones unobtrusively around a warehouse in Hackney. They'd be material components for a spell cast at a distance, but he hadn't yet worked out what sort of spell. He'd see to it tomorrow.

The pub Rupert was playing at was not as small as Ethan had feared. He'd aimed to turn up half an hour late, and succeeded, but some sort of electrical fault had meant that the band hadn't quite started. He found a seat in one of the darker spots and got himself a beer as they started.

He'd only just sat down when Adrienne appeared. She looked haggard.

"You look haggard," he said.

"Only because I am." She had a long swallow of red wine.

"Tough day at the office?"

She gave a small, slightly hysterical laugh. She said, "You know, I hold our group together. I do the planning. I make sure people know when and where the meetings are. When we have something that needs to be done, I organise the right people to do it. I keep the peace, I make sure everyone is heard, I work my arse off. And tonight some major people, major people, Ethan, big names, men of great reputation, came to see us. And you know what they ask me to do?"

"They ask you to make the tea."

"They ask me to make the bloody tea." She sipped her wine. "The revolution cannot come fast enough."

Someone on the next table over leant towards them. "Can you shut up? We're trying to listen to the band."

They turned their attention to the stage. Rupert was up there, playing guitar and frowning.

"He's fucking this one up," said Adrienne into Ethan's ear.

The song ended, Rupert looking a bit flustered as he swapped places with someone else to sing into the main microphone. He seemed a bit shaky at first, but then he got into it, losing himself in the music. Ethan found it unexpectedly affecting.

"How are you two going, anyway?" Adrienne asked.

"Quite well. We went to the seaside together today."

She looked at him as if she didn't believe him.

The Grins turned out to be one of those bands that do banter between songs. One of the other guitarists kept coming up to the microphone to explain why they wrote the next song, what it was about, and which people in the audience had helped with it. Ethan swivelled around in his seat, trying to work out if there was anyone at the gig who wasn't friends or family of a band member. He thought he spotted a face he recognised.

"That's the drummer from his last band," said Adrienne. "I met him a couple of times."

"I met him once too, I think."

Ethan thought he would have been bored if it hadn't been Rupert up there. But it was good to watch him hard at work, his face full of concentration.

When they announced the last song, Ethan got up to go. Adrienne put her hand on his arm to stop him. "They'll do an encore," she said. "Aren't you going to stay and be introduced to the band?"

"No," he said. "Why would I want to do that? But could you see if you can persuade Ripper not to get paralytically drunk tonight?"

"I can try," Adrienne said.


Ripper was coming home from work when he saw the car. He'd just turned the corner onto the street and it wasn't clear whether the occupant had seen him. He could have just walked back, taken a train somewhere else, and ventured back late at night. Or he could have walked straight past, gone into the house, and barricaded the door: the others would have helped him.

But what he did was walk up to the driver's side door and knock politely. When the window wound down, he said, "I presume you're looking for me."

"Giles," said Dr Chalmers of the Council of Watchers, "is there somewhere we could go for a discreet discussion?"

So Rupert took him to the pub.

It was the mid-afternoon and not very busy. Dr Chalmers bought them a pint each. Rupert hadn't had any lunch yet, but the kitchen was closed. Dr Chalmers persuaded the publican to procure something like a ploughman's lunch.

Dr Chalmers was always very persuasive. He was in his forties, with black hair receding into his hairline and a drooping moustache to make up for it. He always wore rather good suits.

"Now, Giles," said Dr Chalmers, as they took their seats in a booth near the back, "you know why I'm here. What you don't know is why I'm here now.

"The Council's given up on you, Giles. There won't be any more cars dropping by to see how you're doing. They won't be guilt-tripping your parents, as least not officially. Your case will be closed. You're not the first of us to leave precipitously and, if you'll forgive the cliché, you won't be the last. You're a loss in terms of talent and resources but they're ready to write you off."

Chalmers gestured towards Rupert's guitar. "How is your new career going?"

"I'm not sure that you are actually interested," said Rupert.

Chalmers gave a small shrug and a smile. "I expect you're good at it. I can't imagine that you'd deceive yourself about that. If you think you can carve yourself a career in music, I've no doubt that you actually can.

"And music's a great thing. All art is. I have to say I prefer chamber music myself, but there have to be some similarities. I don't know, the connection between the audience and the musician, the wellspring of emotion, and the deep satisfaction of seeing technical prowess transformed into artistry. It's one of the glories of the world.

"But you and I, we know how fragile this world of ours is underneath. We know it's threatened on an almost daily basis. We've seen some of the things which want to bring an end to what we value in life, whether that's chamber music or a pub gig. And, knowing all that, we have to decide how we're going to use our courage and talents."

"I couldn't do it," said Rupert. "I just couldn't."

"You pushed yourself too hard. It's all right to coast sometimes. One of the things every man needs to learn is his own limits, and then how to work around them to achieve what you wouldn't think was possible."

Rupert said faintly, "I'm not going back."

"Well," said Chalmers, "it's still the holidays. You have a bit of time to think. If you do come back, I'll make sure there's a place for you. We can't afford to lose someone of your calibre if we can help it. But if you do choose not to come back, this is likely to be the last time we ever meet."

Chalmers stood up and extended his hand. Rupert felt he had to stand too and shake hands.

"I hope to see you again, Giles" said Chalmers. "And if not, I wish you luck with everything else." He stepped out of the booth and paused. "And you should wish us luck then too."

Rupert sat there, staring at the remains of his lunch. He wanted a drink, except that he also felt rather sick. He wanted to be somewhere else; no, he wanted to be someone else. He supposed that's what he'd liked so much about the genius loci spell: for the duration, he hadn't been himself at all.

It took him a moment to notice that Ethan was sitting opposite him now.

"Who was that?" Ethan asking. "The man with the moustache."

They're going to leave me alone now," said Rupert.

"The Council of Watchers?"

There was no point in wondering how or why Ethan knew that, or anything else. "Yes. That was their last attempt to win me back."

"Well, that's wonderful," said Ethan. "I'll buy you a drink. I'll buy you ten drinks."

Rupert looked over at him. Ethan reached out to grasp his shoulder.

"Don't you see? You've escaped."


Rupert was in a funny mood that night. He'd got fairly plastered at the pub, having taken up Ethan's offer of a drink or two. Then they'd gone home and Rupert had cleared the drawing room of Randall's latest sketches so that he could cover the floor with large chalk circles. He wanted the genius loci spell and Ethan couldn't give it to him.

"Look," said Ethan, "I'll see Terry when I've got some money again. I'll ask him if he's got anything we can use."

"How much busking is that going to take? You had all of five pence a week ago."

It wasn't as if they were alone in the room, either. Randall was listening to his records, leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. Diedre started out leaning against him, but then came over to look at Ripper's chalk sketches.

And then Stan had come home, after more than a week's absence, in a swingeing good mood.

"We were worried," Diedre said.

"You should have written," Randall said, in a rarely-used tone of voice that meant he was actually angry, but Stan was blasé.

"I had a fantastic time in High Wycombe," he said, a statement which cried out for refutation. He poured champagne out into plastic beakers for everyone. "I'm finally with the girl of my dreams."

"Well, that's lovely," said Diedre, because nobody else would tonight. "What's her name?"

"Julie. I knew her years ago, but back then she was dating this complete wanker. And then there she was at Stonehenge, with no bloke in tow. And we get on just as well as I remembered." He went around the room, topping up everyone's cups. "She's smart, she's funny, she's hot, she has three books on the Napoleonic Wars..."

"Surely she must have some faults?" Ethan said.

"Well," said Stan, "she didn't come right out and say it, but I think she has a degree. She's going to expect a lot of me."

"What did you tell her you did for a living?"

"Bartending. I mean, I used to." This latter half of this explanation seemed to be aimed at Rupert, who was, however, ignoring the conversation entirely; he was frowning over a piece of pentagram.

"So when do we get to meet her?" Diedre asked. "She could come along to my party on the weekend, if you like."

"Um," said Stan. "Maybe, maybe a bit later? Little steps, yeah?"

Randall opened his eyes. "You think we're too weird for her," he said.

"No, no," said Stan. "I'm sure she's broad-minded. But you're a lot to take on all at once, yeah?"

In the pause that followed, Grace Slick's voice filled the room.

Then Diedre said, "Of course we are! We're the weirdest of the weird. We're all freaks here. Have we run out of champagne? I'll fetch something else."

"It's going to be a long trip to and from High Wycombe," Ethan said, "if that's where she's living."

"It's not that bad," said Stan. "But I think I might get a car."

"And another job?" said Ethan. "Somewhere to live that's a little closer to her place?"

"Ethan," said Randall, "he's met the right one. Congratulate him."

"Congratulations," Ethan said.


The first thing that Rupert thought of when he woke was the time. It was a Saturday, which meant he had work over lunchtime and the buses weren't very good. He was confused by the light, which looked nineish, but Ethan was awake and reading a book, which would be tenish. Where had he put his watch?

The second thing that Rupert thought of was Ethan's back. Ethan was lying on his stomach, propped up on his elbows, so the covers had slipped down as far as his fourth vertebrae. He had nice skin and Rupert sometimes liked to press down heel of his hand and run along it to feel the bones and muscle underneath. Ethan hardly objected to this either.

The third thing he thought of that morning was about having sex, but then Ethan, without taking his eyes from the book, passed him his watch.


"You're awake early," Rupert said.

"It's a good book."

"I've got forty-five minutes before I need to get up," Rupert said, but then Ethan made him wait until he'd finished the chapter.

Afterwards, Rupert still had a little time. It was one of those mornings when it felt absolutely right that he should be waking up next to Ethan every day, lying on an old but clean mattress, amid piles of all sorts of odd books, looking up out the window at blue skies and waving green trees. As opposed to those other sorts of mornings, when he wondered what the hell he was doing, and worried whether Ethan might not be taking this rather more seriously than he was, and, really, wasn't there something actually quite wrong with Ethan when you thought about it, and what a waste of time this was when the entire world was in absolute and daily deadly peril.

So suddenly it became one of those other, less pleasant sorts of mornings, and Rupert decided he really had to get up.

"Have you packed?" Ethan asked him, waving his paperback. "You'll need to take your bag with you if you're going straight to the station after work."

"It's in my room," said Rupert. "Are you sure Diedre's parents won't mind me arriving so late?"

"If you've got to work, you've got to work," said Ethan. "And it'll go until late. They always pack us onto the last train home."

So Rupert washed and shaved and went to to work and did all the usual Saturday things. And then he took his bag of party clothes and his guitar to the train. He changed clothes in the carriage's lavatory. It had been difficult to decide what to wear for an afternoon garden party that was going to stretch to and past dinner. Randall and Diedre had said they were opting for over-the-top again, but that wasn't a style Rupert was in any hurry to attempt. Instead he'd chosen trousers and a shirt with a smart corduroy jacket.

He regretted this as soon as he arrived at the station, where Diedre's brother was waiting for him in a suit and tie.

"I'm Matthew," Diedre's brother said, shaking hands. "You must be Rupert. She said you'd have a guitar. Pop in the car and we'll get you there."

Matthew was not quite as tall as Rupert, and somewhat broader in the shoulders. He didn't look much like Diedre at all, expect perhaps something in the chin. His BMW smelt of cigarettes and cologne, and there was a bag of fudge on the dashboard.

"I don't think you've been here before," said Matthew, "so I'll show you the sights on the way. We're really just a cluster of farms and small villages here but I think it's just as nice as anything you'd get in the city. We've a fine Norman church, a couple of Victorian monstrosities, and a couple of excellent places for looking for owls. And I'm joking by the way, I know it's nothing like the city. But--" and here he turned a corner "--it has its compensations." Because then they turned onto the top of a hill and could see the fields and roads sloping away from them, a green patchwork dotted with nearby sheep and more distant buildings. Matthew took his eyes off the road long enough to meet Rupert's gaze. "Not bad, is it?"

"Not bad at all," Rupert said, appreciatively.

"So where are you from, then?"

"A few places. Devon, at one point."

"Lovely countryside there too," said Matthew. He pointed downhill. "We're that way, past the village hall and a very good pub. Do you do much walking?"

"Used to," said Rupert. "Near home on weekends or on holidays. We did most of the Pennine Way in bits and bobs."

Matthew nodded appreciatively, then said, "If you don't mind me saying so, you don't seem as weird as the others."

"'The others'?"

"You know, the rest of the crowd Diedre's taken to. All a bit queer."

"She's proud of that."

"I know. But how's she, how's she actually doing? It's very hard for us to tell."

Rupert tried to think of the most positive thing he could say. "She's where she wants to be," he said.

"But why does it have to be that place? It always looks to me like it's about to collapse. Every time I pick up the phone I'm afraid that she's died in it."

"She wants to feel free," said Rupert, realising. "We all do."

"Surely you don't have to live in a squat for that," said Matthew. "Now watch this, we're about to pass into one of our famous sunken lanes."

It took another ten minutes to get to the house, which was a good-sized place near the top of a hill. Matthew drove through the gateway, past a tennis court and a large vegetable garden. "This is the back way in," he said. "The party's on in the south gardens."

He took them down a path along the edge of a potato patch, around a tall hedge and through an archway covered in climbing roses. Then they were on a sloping lawn shaded by pear trees and edged with brimming flowerbeds. The view was as magnificent as before. When he squinted, Rupert thought he could see as far as the Channel.

There were several dozen people standing around the gardens or sitting on lawn chairs. Most of the men were in suit and tie; most of the women were in light summer dresses. But then there was a mob of less conventionally dressed people down near a clutch of apple trees: that would be his lot, Rupert thought.

Matthew led him in the direction of a short, older man who shook Rupert's hand vigourously, said something largely incomprehensible, and then moved on. Rupert wasn't sure if he was Diedre's father or an uncle. Matthew had turned to say something to a waitress, so Rupert headed over to the group of fellow iconoclasts.

Randall was the most conspicuous, as always, resplendent today in royal blue and orange, lying on a picnic rug with his eyes closed against the sun. Stan and Tom sat next to him on the grass while Adrienne and Ethan sat in chairs. Adrienne was wearing some very large and ridiculous sunglasses; Ethan was finishing off a plate of food. And there was another girl, whom Rupert didn't recognise, a petite, fair-haired girl in her early twenties. She was very obviously pregnant.

"Louise, this is Ripper," said Adrienne.

"Pleased to meet you," said Louise. Rupert noticed she wasn't wearing a wedding ring.

"Louise has to sit with us now."

"I've sat with you before," said Louise.

"Yes, you have," said Adrienne, "but now you are able to give us your undivided attention."

Rupert put his guitar and his travel bag down on the lawn next to Randall.

"Get yourself some food," said Ethan, waving his fork. "It's fantastic."

Back over near the house were some tables, where pretty waitresses were pouring out wine and refilling platters. Rupert helped himself to a thick slice of roast chicken, a piece of ham, some potato salad, some green salad, and some shrimp. He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten shrimp. And then one of the waitresses poured him a glass of white wine. She was showing just a little too much décolletage.

Adrienne looked at his plate when he returned. "They are serving dinner as well, you know."

Rupert sat next to Ethan, because that's where the empty chair was. Louise gave him a little wave.

Ethan said, low enough for only Rupert to hear, "I've been thinking about the genius loci spell again." (Rupert nodded, his mouth full of shrimp.) "I think we should start with something simpler, maybe one of the minor demons in the Ciccarello book. I think we can probably piece together one of those."

"Sounds reasonable," said Rupert, in between mouthfuls. More loudly, he asked, "Where's Diedre?"

"Off talking to everyone but us," said Randall. "This is the only time of year she gets to see most of the others."

"Who are they all?"

"Relatives," said Adrienne. "Girls we went to school with and their husbands. A couple of people she met at university. Neighbours. Friends from church."

"Doctors, solicitors, bankers, businessmen and I think there's a psychotherapist," said Randall.

"And their wives," said Adrienne.

"Janine's studying physics and poetry," said Louise. She pointed this girl out and they all stared in her direction.

"Maybe we should wave her over," said Randall, but she steadfastly refused to turn in their direction.

"The wine's very good," said Ethan, as he finished off his glass. "Why do we drink that noxious stuff at home?"

"I think because this kind's ten times as expensive," said Randall.

Ethan stared into his glass. "Maybe we could take a few bottles home?"

Diedre came over then, accompanied by a tall woman and a small child. There was no doubt at all who the older woman was: she and Diedre had the same hair and the same cast of face. The child looked about three and had fluffy blonde hair.

"Rupert!" Diedre said. Rupert stood to greet her; she proffered a cheek for him to kiss. "So glad you could make it. This is my mother, and this is my niece, Valerie."

Mrs Page looked like her daughter but she didn't move like her. There was a stiffness to her that her daughter lacked. She gave Rupert a very formal smile.

"Rupert Giles," he said, automatically, because anything else would have been impolite. "I'm very pleased to meet you."

"How are you enjoying it so far?" Diedre asked.

"Ah, well the food's fantastic. And I've met Louise. And the view here is very beautiful."

"Isn't it?" Diedre said.

Rupert wanted to ask her what Matthew had asked him: how could she go from this back to their slum of a house? How could any of them? (Well, Stan was probably a different case.) He thought suddenly and longingly of the old family home back in Devon, which he hadn't visited in years.

Mrs Page said, "Diedre tells me you play the guitar."

"Ah, yes, yes," said Rupert. "Acoustic and electronic but not, I'm afraid, classical."

"I wonder if you wouldn't mind entertaining our guests after dinner," said Mrs Page.

"Please do," said Diedre. "I've told her you're very good."

Rupert didn't explain that he'd only brought the guitar because he'd come straight from work. Instead, he smiled and said he'd love to.

"Any requests?" asked Ethan.

Mrs Page tilted her head but did not entirely turn to face him. "Ethan, how are you this year?"

"I'm very well."

"Are you working?"

"On a number of enterprises."

"And have you found a young woman yet?"

"Alas," said Ethan, "Adrienne and I have had to call it a day. We realised that while we greatly respect each other's capabilities, we hold a deep contempt for each other's life goals."

Mrs Page glanced at Adrienne, but Adrienne was fast asleep with her head flung back, and in imminent danger of falling from her chair.

"We'd better get back to the rest of the guests," Diedre said, taking her mother's hand.

"I should come with you," Tom said.

"There's really no need."

"I insist," Tom said.

"All right," said Diedre, but there was a noticeable reluctance to her voice.

Much of the next half hour was taken up in helpful and unhelpful suggestions from the remainder of the group as to what he might actually sing.

"What do you think of the waitresses?" Ethan asked Rupert during a lull in conversation.

"Mmm," said Rupert, unsure of what to say.

"I like the one with the curly hair. Not sure why. She's not the prettiest but she looks like she'd go for it."

Rupert turned to look at her. "It's the hips," he said, very quietly. "The hips and the décolletage."

"Yes," said Ethan. Then he started a little as he looked back towards the house. "Bugger."

"What is it?"

"Just someone I'd like to avoid."


"Diedre's cousin. I went to school with him. Well, if he comes over here I'll tell him to fuck off."

Rupert couldn't see very much from this distance, just a young man of average height in a dark suit and red tie. He was clean-shaven and his hair was unfashionably short.

A brown-haired woman came over then. It was the physicist-poet-to-be. "Diedre said I should talk with you?"

So she did.


Dinner was over and Ethan was feeling full and somewhat sleepy. The sun hadn't quite set yet but was getting there and Venus had come out. The lights inside the house looked bright now whenever he glanced over. Rupert was sitting just outside the back door, singing some song or other with an adoring audience starting to form. Ethan decided to go for a walk instead.

It had been a good party, all in all. Good food, good wine, good weather. Last year it had started to rain during dinner, sending thirty mud-footed people inside over the axminster carpets. The year before that it had been windy enough in the afternoon that everyone had had to hold tight to their plates and glasses. Plus, there had been the wasps. The year before that-- well, Ethan hadn't known Diedre then. So this was definitely the best party so far of the ones he'd been to.

Louise had been all right, even if she had told gory stories of hospital casualty patients throughout dinner. Stan and Tom hadn't been too annoying. And he'd been glad to see Adrienne getting some much-needed sleep.

There had been that incident in the early afternoon when a group of encroaching suits had enquired of each other loudly what the cause of homosexuality was and whether it could be stamped out; Ethan had ignored them but Adrienne had not, which led to fifteen minutes of entirely irrelevant dyke jokes. Fortunately, Randall had managed to summon Diedre over to defuse it before Adrienne became homicidal.

Which was almost a pity, because his money would have been on Adrienne.

But then there had been the joy of watching Rupert get all enthusiastic about two topics he didn't seem to know much about, as he struggled to talk with Janine about physics and poetry. A schoolboy knowledge of Wordsworth and a recitation of verses from Beowulf was as much as he'd managed to muster. And he'd floundered very fetchingly over the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics.

There was a bench in the vegetable garden next to where the peas were planted. Ethan took the seat, watching the last gleams of twilight on the hills. On another side of the house, Rupert was singing a song that Ethan thought he should probably know the name of; Randall had a recording of it, he was sure.

He heard footsteps approach but didn't look up: it would be someone searching for the loo. But then the footsteps turned definitively in his direction. And, of course, it was the second last person on earth he wanted to see.

"Rayne," said Gibson. He looked a little less gawky than when Ethan had seen him last. "I have a message for you."

Ethan should have punched his lights out there and then.


Rupert really enjoyed the applause. He'd played through a set not too dissimilar to what he played at the hotel restaurant. He'd started off with an audience of just a couple of people, but a crowd had gathered round since then: not just his friends and Diedre's family, but most of the other guests too. Mrs Page kept having to explain to people that he wasn't paid entertainment.

Mrs Page thanked him. Some random guest brought him some beer. Randall bowed.

"It was a pleasure," Rupert said, beaming. He packed away his guitar and started on his beer. It seemed to be the beer part of the evening. Or perhaps they'd run out of wine.

"Of course, that was carefully selected for your audience," said Randall. "I would like to see what you could do when unrestrained."

"Um," said Rupert, because he didn't think he rocked out much harder than that under any circumstances.

"Is Diedre coming back with us, or is she staying over?" Tom wanted to know.

Randall glanced over to where Diedre was saying farewell to departing guests. "She looks tired, so I think she'll be coming with us."

"If she's tired, would she not be better off staying here?" said Tom.

Randall shook his head. "She finds this place tiring. You should get her bag."

"When do we leave?" asked Rupert.

"Half an hour. We'll get a ride to the station."

"I've got a car," said Stan. "I drove."

"That was quick," said Adrienne.

"What was quick?" asked Louise.

"Him buying a car."

Rupert decided to look for Janine. He'd rather hit it off with her that afternoon and she'd stood nearby throughout his impromptu concert. She was talking with Diedre's brother though, so he had to hover for a bit before he caught her eye.

"I was wondering," he said, "if you had a phone number," which came out a little blunter than he'd wanted, but she didn't seem to mind.

"You sing well," she said, as she rummaged in her pocket book for a pen and piece of paper. Rupert liked the fact that she had pen and paper with her at all times. She wrote out her number.

"We don't have a phone," he said, "but of course you must know where I live as I'm in the same house as Diedre, just on the floor above."

"It must be hard starting out as a musician," she said. "You must be very dedicated."

"Yes," he said. "Yes, I suppose I am."

He put the piece of paper in his wallet and waved her goodbye. Then he wondered whether her comment about his dedication was meant as a compliment, or as a warning that he might not be financially stable enough for her to properly consider.

Diedre came up to him then. "Well done," she said. "My mother approves of you. I think that means we're allowed to get married."

Rupert looked at her.

Diedre said, "Randall's looking for Ethan and then we'll be ready to go. You haven't seen him, have you?"

"Not for a while, actually."

He saw Diedre's cousin though, the one who'd gone to school with Ethan: he was just shaking hands in goodbye with Diedre's father. On a sudden impulse, Rupert strode over, catching up with him just before the front gate.

"Hello," said Rupert, extending his hand. "I'm Rupert Giles."

"The singer," said the man, giving a curt nod. "Gerard Gibson."

"Look, I heard that you went to school with Ethan, and I wondered--"

"Stay away from him," said Gerard. "He's evil." And then he headed out the gate without saying another word.

Rupert stood there, astonished, for a moment, but then he heard his name shouted across the lawn. It was Diedre.

"We've found Ethan," she said. "Come quickly."

He was lying near the back door. Louise was bent over him -- remarkable given her condition -- checking his pulse and rolling him onto his side in a businesslike fashion. "I think he's just drunk," she said.

"We've got to go in ten minutes," said Tom. "Are we going to be able to get him on the train?"

"He's not going in my car," said Stan.

"I'll drive him," said Louise, "if I can have two strong blokes to carry him."

"Rupert and I will go with you," said Randall.

Rupert was not entirely happy with this, but said nothing, now that he'd been volunteered. Louise went to bring her car around to the back, so they didn't have to carry Ethan past the remaining guests.

"I'll tell my parents that he's fallen ill," said Diedre. "I'll pass on your thanks for the party."

"Thank you, Dee," Rupert said.

He and Randall sat on the ground next to Ethan. Rupert leant over to check the position of his head and whether he was in danger in swallowing his tongue. He was breathing OK but smelt strongly of something rather stronger than wine or beer. Rupert looked in the nearby bushes and found a bottle of spirits.

He sat back down, giving Ethan a long look. He didn't look evil, just rather ill.

Rupert said, "I spoke to Gerard Gibson tonight."

"Gerard Gibson is an asshole," said Randall, which rather seemed to preclude other conversation.

Louise came back at last and they carried Ethan to her car, which unhelpfully was a mini. She pulled a tarp out of the tiny boot and spread it over the backseat. "He's going to throw up or piss himself at some point," she said. "So, who else wants to sit in the back?"

Randall and Rupert took turns. At intervals, Louise stopped the car so they could haul Ethan out onto the roadside to throw up or relieve himself. He was semiconscious by then but either unable or unwilling to talk. The whole trip took hours longer than it should have. It was one of the most wretched car journeys Rupert had made in his life.

When they got home, at two or three a.m., Louise went to run a bath while Randall and Rupert carried Ethan up the stairs. Once they got him into the bathroom, Randall said, "I can take it from here."

Rupert was very grateful.

Downstairs, he and Louise found Adrienne and Diedre in the kitchen. Adrienne was lighting them cigarettes on the gas ring. "I've made toast and tea," she said.

"Louise, you should stay here tonight," said Diedre. "It's very late already."

"Can she have your room tonight, Ripper?" Adrienne asked him. "You've got the new mattress. You can sleep with me if you like or on the couch in the attic."

"Ah, OK, yes," said Rupert.

"Thanks very much for helping," Diedre said to Louise. "Beyond the call of duty."

"It was your birthday party," said Louise, shrugging. "And I deal with worse every day at work."

"Has he done that before?" asked Rupert.

"Once," said Diedre. "Randall won't tell me why."

"Randall's good to look after him like that," said Louise.

"They've known each other for years," said Diedre. "And Ethan's a good person to know when you're in a tight spot."

Adrienne flicked her ash into a saucer. "I moved out of here once--"

"You don't have to say anything," said Diedre.

"--and my flatmate's boyfriend tried to attack me. I knew the police would be useless, so I came back here. Ethan knows some excellent hexes." She looked at Diedre, "And you all cast them very well."

"Hexes?" Louise asked.

"I'd better go and get my room sorted out for you," Rupert said to Louise.

It didn't take much to get his room into shape, as he wasn't really using it that much, except as a music practice room. He changed the sheets and gave the floor a quick sweep. Then he helped Randall carry Ethan up to Ethan's room.

The lights were off downstairs when he returned. Diedre must have gone back to bed. Adrienne had her lamp on, but was fast asleep when he came in; she stirred only a little as he sat down on the mattress. He took his jeans and shirt off but kept his underwear on because he wasn't really sure where he was with her.

She made the situation rather clearer the next day, when she woke him before helping him off with the rest of his clothes. They had sex a couple of times and Rupert reminded himself that Ethan was a diversion from Adrienne and not the other way around, besides which neither was a proper relationship so it would be quite all right for him to ring Janine in the afternoon. And then he fell asleep again until it was time for him to get ready to go to his Grins rehearsal.

He headed up to his room for clean clothes. Louise was long gone and the used sheets had been folded up neatly and left on the chair.

On the way past, he knocked quietly on Ethan's door. Hearing no reply, he opened it slightly. Ethan was asleep on his side on the mattress and Randall was dozing nearby on a beanbag. Rupert let them sleep.


The long shadows in the room suggested it was late evening. Ethan still wasn't feeling well.

Randall was sitting in one of the shadows. He was in a different set of clothes from when Ethan had last been awake and it looked like he had shaved. He passed Ethan a glass of water and some more painkillers.

"I'd offer to kill him for you," said Randall, "but he's Diedre's blood kin. We could hex him for you though."

"I don't really think that would help," said Ethan, "or I'd have done it myself years ago." And he swallowed the aspirin.


Rupert thought he should try sleeping alone for once. Besides, Adrienne had said she just wanted sleep tonight and Ethan was still hungover. Really, this was an excellent opportunity to take a break and to work out what he should do.

He put his sheets back on the mattress. He realised he didn't have a lamp, so he lit a candle before lying down. He was tired but a lot less drunk than he usually was after a Grins rehearsal. Seeing Ethan paralytic had rather put him off his beer.

There was a faint sway of spidersilk from the ceiling, he noticed. He stood up, found he wasn't able to reach it himself, and so picked up a chair to bring it down. Then he lay back down on the bed.

He was going to have to talk with Ethan, he thought, just to make sure they were both on the same page. They had certainly started on the same page, but Rupert was now a little worried, from certain looks Ethan had given him, that Ethan might well have turned a page or two, or, God forbid, thought he was nearing the end of a chapter. And yet in other ways Ethan had given no sign. He was quite prone, for example, to wandering off whenever he felt like it, sometimes without waiting to finish a conversation. And he wasn't exchanging the sort of personal information that usually suggested a deepening friendship or romantic interest; in some ways, Ethan was one of the least confiding people Rupert had ever met. There were shopkeepers in Oxford whom Rupert felt he knew rather better.

So, there would have to be a talk.

The mattress was quite comfy, really, better than Ethan's or Adrienne's and certainly better than the sofa back at Jim and Alison's. He wondered how Jim and Alison were doing. He should really give them a ring.

There were a lot of people he should ring: his family, his friends back at Oxford, other Watchers. He missed many of them, but he was too embarrassed to ring most. He wanted to know how they were but he didn't want to know what they thought of him, for dropping his studies and for abandoning his training. He'd run away. He was a failure and a coward and all those people he cared for knew it.

He got out of bed and took a sip from his gin bottle. Then he checked that his sheet music and LPs were all arranged alphabetically, as filing and sorting always calmed him down. The whole world could be going to hell, but he should still be able to find his Disraeli Gears.

He went downstairs for a glass, because it was uncouth to drink straight from the bottle.

In the kitchen he paused outside Adrienne's door, wondering whether he should just walk in on her anyway. Then he remembered her story from last night and felt such a bloody heel.

Back in his room, he leant against the wall, alternately drinking and playing air guitar. He was learning a new song for The Grins. Eventually, he fell asleep.

He woke once in the night, thinking that he heard a scream. But when he staggered to the window, it was only the sound of cats fighting.

This time he managed to fall asleep on the actual bed.


Ethan still felt rubbish the next morning but he no longer felt as if he were going to die. He managed some sort of breakfast and was rewarded with the sight of Ripper looking as bad as he felt. Which meant that it must be a Monday morning after a rehearsal.

After he'd eaten, he cast a couple of small spells just to reassure himself that he could. This was clearly not a day for doing anything complicated. Instead he should do all the things that were annoying on other days, like laundry and shopping. And he should pick out whatever paperback looked least demanding. He'd tried reading the next chapter of a Le Carre over breakfast and it hadn't made any sense at all.

So he was reading a Wodehouse when Ripper arrived at the laundrette. It had possibly been a poor choice.

"Feeling better?" asked Rupert.

"Ambulatory," said Ethan. "Look, would you mind looking after my lot while I go to the shops? I'll be back in ten. Anything you want?"

"Something to eat," said Rupert. "A pie or a sausage roll?"

Ethan also had to stop by the post office for a package from Mr Grey. It was something he was supposed to scatter around a churchyard. He wedged open a corner while he was in the queue at the supermarket and found it to be full of dried beetles.

It was closer to twenty minutes than ten by the time he got back but if Rupert had noticed, he didn't say anything. He'd picked up the Wodehouse since Ethan had left and was now frowning at it.

"What happened to you at Diedre's party?" Rupert asked him.

"Could this wait until after I'm no longer hungover?"

Rupert shrugged, then asked him for some chalk. Ethan put his clothes into a dryer and came back to find Rupert drawing circles on top of the washing machine.

"Not today," said Ethan. "But we could get together to look at it tomorrow if you like."

The woman who ran the laundrette came over to see what they were doing, so Rupert quickly erased it with a wet sock.

After they got home, Ethan went out again, this time to Terry's for some supplies. Since meeting Mr Grey, Ethan had become certain that Terry was a demon, if somehow less demonish. Part demon? A different kind? He wondered if he'd ever know Terry well enough to ask.

He didn't have enough money yet for another book, but he would do soon, what with all the odd jobs for Mr Grey.

Back at the house, he bought a couple of joints from Stan as a present for Randall. Most of the household had gone out to watch the cricket, so Ethan sat and read in his room all afternoon and into the early evening. When he heard Randall going into the room next door, he got up.

He found Randall sitting on his favourite beanbag, looking through a gorgeous library book of art deco stained glass. He looked a little sunburnt. "I need some background details for a poster I'm doing," Randall said.

Ethan held out the joints. "Thank you for helping the other night," he said. "It was very, very much appreciated."

"You should thank Louise and Ripper too," Randall said. He took the joints. "Want to share one?"

It wasn't Ethan's preferred method to get high, but it seemed churlish to refuse under the circumstances. "Sure."

"And the next time you feel like that," said Randall, lighting up, "you come to me first, OK? Because that wasn't fun for anyone."

"All right," said Ethan.


There was a lot of laughter coming from Randall's room that evening, as well as a strong scent of marijuana. Rupert thought they were being quite antisocial, shutting themselves off like that.

Not that he was any better. He was back in his room, pretending to himself that he was trying to go to sleep. Tonight he'd put the bottle of gin downstairs so he couldn't get to it without deliberate effort.

He still hadn't had the talk with Ethan. He'd considered it at breakfast, but he'd been too tired. He'd thought about it a great deal at the laundrette, but that wasn't really a good venue for a private chat. And then, on the walk home, he'd become suddenly certain that the absolutely right thing to do was to kiss Ethan there and then. But it was a public street and there were other people nearby and it was clearly impossible. And when they got back, Tom was in the kitchen and Ethan had dropped off his stuff and then headed out straight away. Besides, what sort of thought was that, when Rupert was wanting to shut this whole thing down?

Perhaps there was no need for an actual talk though. He could just turn Ethan down the next time he came by. After a few refusals, Ethan would understand and go back to Evelyn or whatever other arrangements he'd had before Ripper had moved in.

He was still thinking this through when Ethan knocked on the door and then opened it. He was looking particularly rakish, if that was the word, unshaved and with his shirt buttoned wrong, as it had been all day. He smelt strongly of weed. Dishevelled, perhaps that was a better word. He looked dishevelled.

"You look a sight," said Rupert, more affectionately than he'd intended.

"I'm quite stoned," said Ethan. "I came to see if you wanted some." He held out the stub of a joint. "As a thank you-- As a partial thank you for--" He waved his hand.

Rupert took a toke. He did deserve it, after that bloody car ride. It was stronger than he'd expected and very quickly went to his head. So five minutes later he was taking Ethan's clothes off and, half an hour after that, he realised that they'd forgotten to shut the door, which Ethan thought was very, very funny.

In the morning Rupert woke at-- well, it was a Tuesday, so it didn't really matter what time he woke at. He woke in the morning, of that he was pretty sure.

He got up and washed, went down to the kitchen and was happy to find a pint of milk and some sausage rolls he could take up to his room for breakfast. Upstairs, he sat barefoot on the mattress and leant over the wooden floor, with a cigarette between his lips, and a piece of chalk in his hand. He started again to sketch the pentagram he thought they needed.

Ethan woke then and watched him sleepily for a while before reaching out to grab a different colour of chalk from his own trouser pocket. He wiped away some of Rupert's work with his hand to make some corrections.

"I don't think we're going to go ahead with this though," said Ethan. "I've found the catch." He sketched a symbol out on the floor. "A tattoo. We'd all have to have these tattoos."

"Draw that here?" Rupert said, handing him a piece of paper. Then he went to look for Randall, hoping he hadn't yet left for the cricket.

Randall was in the drawing room, going through The News of the World with a pair of scissors. "Flying saucers over Newcastle," he said, conversationally.

Rupert waved the piece of paper in front of Randall. "Do you know how to do tattoos? Could you do this?"

"I've seen it being done," said Randall. "But you'd really be better off going to a professional. I could find out who--"

"It's a magical symbol," said Rupert. "We'd need it for a spell."

"I could do it," Randall said. "Sure."

Rupert ran back upstairs to his room, where he found Ethan finishing off the milk and the sausage rolls. He'd managed to streak blue chalk dust all up one side of his face. This struck Rupert as enticingly, unknowingly cute. He kissed him, hard. Ethan looked up at him in some surprise and confusion.

"We can do it," said Rupert, still clutching the piece of paper. "We should do it."

Ethan looked a little forlornly at his own arm. "If you really want to," he said.

"How soon could we do it?"

"You're always in such a hurry," said Ethan.


"As soon as we have at least three tattooed people."

"Right. Right then," said Rupert. "I'll round them up." He paused at the doorway. "What's this thing called?"

"The Mark of Eyghon," Ethan said.


Ethan took Mr Grey's box to a churchyard south of the river. It was quite a picturesque place, with overgrown and leaning headstones gathered under trees. He scattered the beetles around with a quick underhand motion and, whenever the church warden approached, he pretended to be terribly interested in the worn inscriptions on the graves. Some of the inscriptions were even worth reading: Here lies the Love family, Jane, James, William and Montgomery. He could think of too many bad jokes from that stone all on its own.

As he worked, he wondered about Rupert. What was it that so fascinated him about the Eyghon spell? The experience at Stonehenge? But the whole tattoo thing was absurd.

He also wondered about the spell which required the churchyard beetles. Some of the other spells Ethan had assisted Mr Grey with had been easy to work out, such as a protection spell for a building, or a tracking spell for a car. Other times he'd been sent to collect soil or fragments of stone and post them to Mr Grey, and he hadn't yet worked out what those were for. And the beetles? Who knew? It wasn't covered in any of the books Ethan had.

He got home at pretty much the same time Adrienne did. She waved him over near the gate.

She said, "The job's on. Next month. You can decide whether to bring Ripper into it or not."

"What do you need?"

"I need you to distract some people at a ferry terminal. There's a hundred pounds up front and another two hundred if it all goes well."

"Bloody hell," said Ethan. "Why is it so much money?"

"We have some generous donors."

"Is it dangerous?"

"Not if it works."

"And can you tell me what you're smuggling in?"

"Of course not," she said.

He thought about what three hundred pounds would feel like in his hands. Did Terry even have any books that cost that much? "Can you get me a plan of the terminal?"

"Of course," she said. "I'll bring you one as soon as I can."

He got as far as the half-landing before he found Rupert, stinking drunk and leaning against one of Randall's more grandiose paintings of hell.

"You do know," said Ethan, "that it's only the middle of the afternoon?"

Rupert held out his arm, exposing puckered and coloured flesh. "It bloody hurts," said Rupert.

Ethan sat down next to him to get a better look. Rupert's hand clutched him rather painfully. "Well, you're dedicated to magic now," said Ethan, "in a couple of senses." He found himself moved that Rupert was willing to go through all that for the sake of a single spell.

He heard a noise from the landing: Randall and Diedre were both looking down the stairwell from the first floor.

"Can you come and watch me tattoo Diedre?" Randall asked Ethan. "I want you to do mine next."

"Because Rupert's too drunk?"

"Because he can't draw," said Randall.

"All right. I'll be up in a minute. I'm just going to fetch some of Stan's painkillers."

Stan kept a stash of prescription meds inside a biscuit tin in the kitchen. Some of them were even things he'd been prescribed, so Ethan sorted out the anti-depressants and the anti-epilepsy medication before hunting through for the extra-strength analgesics. Then he went back to Rupert, half-carrying him upstairs to the drawing room, to keep an eye on him in case he passed out or threw up. He got Rupert to take a couple of the pills and then took two to Diedre. Randall was drawing the symbol on her upper arm with a felt-tip.

"I can't go back to my old life after this," she said. Her expression was defiant, and perhps a little plucky. "A tattoo isn't going to go well at a white wedding."

"I like it," said Randall. "It'll be a permanent symbol of our group."

"Of our little coven," said Diedre. Then the needle went in and she couldn't repress a short squeal.

Ethan watched. After a while he realised, with some misgivings, that he really was going to go through this himself.


At midnight, Rupert sat down next to a makeshift altar of patterned cloth placed over a cardboard box. It was just the four of them, as Ethan had chased Tom and Stan out of the room as he didn't want bystanders for the first casting. Randall and Diedre had dressed specially, in what Rupert thought of as their mock-Renaissance clothes, plus Randall was wearing a headband. Ethan was just in his usual trousers and patterned shirt. He looked calm in the candlelight, but Rupert could spot just a few small flickers of nervousness as he set up the altar and lit the candles.

"Open your shirt," Ethan told him. "We need skin contact for the spell."

Rupert did so, but he had a t-shirt on underneath, so in the end he just pulled off everything above the waist, sitting there cross-legged in just his jeans. He had to lie back, still with his legs crossed, so that Ethan could draw a chalk circle around him. Rupert watched, to check that the circle was correct. It was a cool night and his back felt cold against the bare wood. Plus his arm still hurt like the blazes and he was terribly hungover.

Randall and Diedre were triple- and quadruple- checking the circle. They nodded their heads in approval.

"Sit up again," said Ethan. "I think we're ready to start."

Diedre lit the candles. Ethan drummed his fingers on the floor and then reached over to kiss Rupert inside the circle, resting his hands on Rupert's knees so as not to smudge the chalk. "Ready?"

"Yes," Rupert said.

They stretched their hands over the altar and began the incantations. Ethan, Diedre and Randall gave themselves tiny cuts on each palm as Rupert laid himself once more on his back. Their hands felt very warm on his chest.

"One," said Ethan, "two, three..."

And then Rupert must have fallen asleep. They told him afterwards that he'd lain there for twenty minutes as they'd repeated the chant until they got it absolutely right. The four of them formed a circle, left-hand palms pressed to each other's right-arm tattoos. ("Rather painful," Diedre admitted.)

And then he woke up and it was the most fantastic thing he had ever felt. Eyghon was within him, through him, permeating, diffused. He felt strong and unbounded, one for whom rules were irrelevant and unknown. Unleashed, untamed, unrepentant.

And best of all, just as he'd hoped and wanted, during the whole spell and for several hours afterwards, he felt no guilt at all.

Part 4:


It was a Saturday night and the church was burning. Or, more accurately, it was very early Sunday morning. There were two fire engines, a bevy of police cars, and a small crowd of neighbours and passerby. Ethan walked past them all, towards the graveyard.

He'd heard the news on his shiny new radio as he'd been in his room, working on the second chapter of the Badescu tome. It had become quiet downstairs, so he'd known that the Eyghon spell was over for the week, but it was his bad luck that Ripper had heard him as he was heading down the stairs. "Going out?" Ripper had said. "Then I'm going out too." Ethan had shrugged, because what did it matter, really? And Ripper might be a help if he got in a tight spot.

On the walk over (it was best not to let Ripper drive now on Saturday nights), Ethan had explained about the spell components he'd laid in the cemetery on behalf of Mr Grey. "Doesn't sound like a fire spell," Ripper said.

The graveyard was choked with smoke. Ethan could barely see Ripper, who was only a few feet ahead of him, but he could hear him coughing. It was stupid of them to be here; he should grab Rupert and go. He ran over, beetles sometimes crunching beneath his feet, to seize Ripper by the sleeve of his jacket. But Ripper wouldn't budge. He pointed instead at a patch of disturbed earth under a headstone marked, "Alice Tevis".

They really, truly, had to go. Necromancy was far out of their league, and they had to get out of the smoke. Ethan tried one last time to pull Ripper away, but the damn fool was leaning over the gravesite, examining the soil, even as he started another round of coughing. Ethan left him there, ran to a path that was out of the main plume of smoke. Then he sat on the pavement, pulling out his candles and wishing stones. Wind. He needed just a little breeze to alter the direction of the smoke. Either that, or he could let the blasted stupid bloody idiot die of smoke inhalation. Perhaps he should.

It was a Sunday, he reminded himself. Rupert was always stupidest on Sundays, made reckless from the after-effects of the Eyghon spell. He'd be a bit better on Monday, pretty much perfect on Tuesday and Wednesday, but from Thursday he'd be increasingly maudlin and remorseful until the spell was cast again on Saturday night. The death of Sunday Rupert would necessarily entail the death of Tuesday and Wednesday Rupert, which Ethan would regret, so he summoned the wind after all.

He could see Ripper now that the wind was blowing from a very slightly different direction. Ripper was crouched down away from the grave, running his fingers over the ground like some long-haired, leather-jacketed Sherlock Holmes. He was following a trail.

Leave it the hell alone, Ethan thought. Whatever it is, leave it the hell alone. But no, Rupert stood up and headed determinedly in the direction of a side gate. Against his better judgement, Ethan pocketed his gear and followed.

The side gate led to a perfectly ordinary street of Victorian houses and small blocks of flats. Parked cars lined the road. Up ahead, Ethan could see Ripper. And beyond him, perhaps twenty yards in the lead, was a stumbling figure.

Ripper coughed, very loudly and for quite some time. The shambling figure turned around to look and Ethan caught a glimpse of a skeletal face under the rags of what might have been a bonnet. Marvellous: zombie Elizabeth Bennett. It decided that Ripper didn't present much of a threat and shambled on in the direction of the main road.

Ripper paused on the street for a swig from his hip flask, which helped him stop coughing. Then the moron lit up a cigarette. Ethan hung back, because he thought he could guess what was going to happen next. He watched as Ripper finished his cigarette, ground the stub under his boot, then sprinted towards the zombie as fast as he could.

Ripper rugby-tackled it. It fell, most of its desiccated clothing tearing as it did so. It twisted around, seized Ripper by the shoulders, and flung him against the side of a Volkswagen van. Ripper laughed, got up, and ran after the zombie again.

Ethan didn't know any zombie-dissipation spells. Nor did he know any spells that would increase strength or, more pertinently, increase common-sense and the desire for self-preservation. He could unlock filing cabinets, levitate small objects, and hypnotise rodents. At this moment, none of those talents seemed very useful.

He summoned an owl. More exactly, he summoned any and every owl in the neighbourhood. Two arrived almost immediately; he could feel that others were coming. He asked them to fly at the head of the zombie.

The zombie didn't like it. It paused in its beating-up of Rupert to thrash at the flying birds. Ripper got away, picked up a rubbish bin, strewing its contents over the street, then swung it at the zombie's head. The owls dodged but the zombie didn't. The head tore away and rolled under an elderly Mini.

Ethan thanked the owls then watched as Ripper pulled apart the flailing, headless body. He threw the limbs separately over the cemetery wall. Ethan peered under the mini to find the head still chattering angrily under its bonnet.

Ripper finally seized the last hopping leg, smashed it against a lamp-post to break its knee. The limb went still. He flung it away, then stood exhausted, taking in heavy breaths and wiping sweat from his brow.

Ethan walked up to him, slapped him hard, and then went home.


Ripper's cheek ached. His back hurt. His lungs complained every time he breathed. And he felt fucking fantastic.

It was still early, barely two o'clock, plenty of time to do whatever he wanted. Start a bar fight. Hot-wire a car. Pick up something new for the house.

The record shop was still boarded-up from the last time he'd broken in. He could grab a few more LPs, but they were a pain to carry and he didn't want to go home yet.

He wandered down in the direction of the canal. There were a few barges about, almost touching each other. He climbed on board the first, walked around to the other side, tripping over a rope as he did so. He picked himself up and looked to see if he could step over onto the next barge along. It was a bit of a gap, but he made it. The next one along was impossible to jump to. Instead he stepped over the edge and into the canal.

The waters closed over him. Fuck, they were cold! He swam around long enough to get himself warm, then pulled himself out onto the shore. He walked along the tow-path, soaked to the skin.

There were some couples about having knee-tremblers against the canalside wall. As he walked past, he told them their marks out of ten. Eventually he found he found a couple with a man about his own size.

"Oi, you," he said, grabbing the man by the shoulder and swinging him around.

The man reached for his wallet before he reached for his fly. The girl pulled down her skirt. "Here," said the man, offering the wallet, "take it."

Rupert took the cash. "Strip," he said. "I want your clothes too."

The clothes weren't that a good a fit, but they'd do for the evening. He left his sodden clothes on the canalside, but carried his jacket. His boots were still wet.

He went down to Leicester Square next, for the peepshows and the bars. He got blown in a toilet stall, had too much to drink, and napped on a bench. In the morning, after dawn, he sat next to a girl at a bus stop. She looked all right.

She took him back to her flat.


On Tuesday Ethan waited until the rest of the household had finished their morning routines and then he went to wake Rupert. He paused at the side of the bed, looking down at Rupert's tousled head until his lover smiled sleepily up at him. Then he helped him to the bathroom, where he'd already run a bath.

He went downstairs to fetch a coffee from the kitchen which he brought up for Rupert. Ethan sat on the toilet lid, watching Rupert while pretending to read a paperback novel. Rupert would shampoo his hair, dunking under the water to rinse it off, his knees poking into the air. Then he'd get out, towel himself off, and shave at the sink. Meanwhile, Ethan would have to steel himself from having sex there and then, if only because past experience had shown that they then wouldn't leave the bathroom until one of their housemates started banging on the door, desperate for the loo.

Once Rupert was clean and dressed, they went down to the local cafe to extravagantly order the full breakfast: bacon, eggs, sausage, beans, toast, even black pudding on occasion. Ethan had discovered he quite liked coffee when it wasn't made with Diedre's preferred brand of instant, so he ordered one of those. While they ate, they checked how much money they'd acquired over the past week. Ethan had another ten pounds from Mr Grey, and Rupert had a wad of singles and fives. Not enough for a visit to Terry's yet, but they'd only bought the Badescu last week, and it looked like they'd have enough for another book soon. They had a little spending money.

So Ethan then endured a half-hour in the local record shop, where the owner bemoaned to Ethan about the string of recent break-ins the shop had suffered, while Rupert sifted through the LPs looking for something he might have missed in his most recent theft.

"I'll tell you," the shop owner told Ethan, "he's got a taste for long guitar solos," as Rupert came up to the counter with his Hendrix and Clapton.

The weather was good, so they decided to go the park. Ethan told him about what he'd learnt from the Badescu, and Rupert lay back in the warm August grass and told him how that fitted in with what he knew from his Watcher lessons. He had a fantastic memory; Ethan would fuck it if he could. Rupert had a first-class mind all round, really. He told Ethan all sorts of things that Evelyn wouldn't or couldn't.

They had dinner at the pub with Diedre and Randall, with Adrienne turning up late again. Stan and Julie were there for a while too, before Julie had to catch her train home. She was a sweet girl but she didn't seem to have worked out yet that Ethan and Rupert were sleeping with each other; Ethan still found that faintly amusing. After four or five rounds, they headed home, Adrienne and Diedre singing as they went. Up in the drawing room they stopped to look at Randall's most recent painting. He was painting directly onto the walls now, up for forty-eight hours or more in the wake of each Eyghon spell. It was quite different from his previous style, much more abstract, tactile and visceral, with criss-crossing lines that you wanted to reach in between and floral shapes that looked rough to the touch. He was using all sorts of tools to press the paint on, shaving-brushes, old shoes, even his own body. But the smell of the paint drove Ethan out. He wouldn't work in the drawing room these days if he could help it.

So he took Rupert back upstairs to his room. They laid out the working for the first spell, a small and temporary transmogrification of stone into glass and back. Ethan had managed this sort of thing before, but the method was new to him, far more elegant and potentially much more powerful. Rupert leant over the set-up, pointing out the underlying principles, and asking questions about the specifics he didn't yet understand. He looked up at Ethan with that trusting, enquiring gaze he had and then they'd cast the spell. As always, Rupert would look a little startled at the surge of power Ethan was able to draw in, and Ethan would feel the familiar sensations of connection and control. But now there was also a sense of acceleration, of increasing mastery and cognisance.

It was joyous.

They had sex on Rupert's mattress afterwards and then Ethan laid out another spell. And then it was rinse and repeat until three or four or five o'clock in the morning, when they at last fell asleep, Ethan's arm stretched out over the chalk-strewn floor.


He was fooling himself, Ripper realised, as he stood in the corner of the hotel restaurant, playing "I'll Be Seeing You." There were perhaps twenty diners, mostly businessmen out for their Friday "meeting", plus a few ladies-who-lunch who had come out for lunch. He watched them eating their steaks and drinking their martinis, talking loudly, slapping each others' backs, and laughing drunkenly. Not a single one even glanced in his direction. He might as well be a tape machine.

And this, surely, was what his life was going to be like. He wasn't going to be a rock star or even much of a session musician. He was going to spend his life playing anodyne background music for uninterested patrons, and teaching ill-disciplined schoolboys to play "Aqualung." It would be enough of a living for himself, probably, but how was he going to raise a family on that?

There was something Randall had said to him once that now preyed on his mind: Randall was waiting to hear him cut loose. But when he tried to do that, to reach his inner self and convey that in his music, nothing seemed to be there. There was a void. He couldn't do it. He could fall back upon a mild melancholy and his small amount of technical proficiency. He had nothing else to give.

He had been sure once that he'd find that spark within himself if he only looked; now he was sure it wasn't there.

He packed up his guitar to a very small scattering of applause and headed off to the bus.

The squat was the same as always. The kitchen floor was sticky and filthy. Dishes were piled up in the sink and he could see six spiders on one wall alone. There was the hall to the front door, blocked off by boxes of rubbish and broken furniture that no-one wanted to sort through. Up the stairs past those really disturbing paintings, was the unpleasantly-smelling bathroom, the second flight of stairs, and then his own room. He had a mattress, some records and a single chair. This was his life now.

He had had every opportunity life could afford. Caring and prosperous parents, a very fine education, worthwhile friends. He had good health, better than average looks, a modicum of athleticism, and an able mind. And yet somehow he was here, in this squat, with these freakish housemates, with career prospects that were slim to none and no sign of any sort of sensible relationship at all.

He lay face down on the bed. He wanted to just lie there for the whole afternoon, but it smelt too strongly of chalk and candlewax and sex with Ethan, so he bundled all the sheets together with his washing and took them down to the laundrette. As he filled the machine, he saw the clothes he had stolen from a complete stranger on Saturday night. That's the sort of man he was now, a drunken, fornicating, thieving yob.

He thought of all the people who had supported and encouraged him in his life. There were his parents, of course, who had always expected of him the very the best he could do, and no more. There were the teachers who had given him a little extra time, who had lent him extra books or spoken kindly to him. There was his fencing master. Doctor Chalmers, with his off-hand compliments and his detailed comments on Rupert's work. His fellow young Watchers had almost always said that the was the best of them and that he would go far. How had he deceived them, and himself, for so long? He had turned out to be a different kind of person altogether.

He didn't want anything for dinner and he didn't want to see anyone. Diedre knocked on the door, but he didn't answer. When she opened it, she said, "Are you pretending not to be in?" and then left him alone.

He tried practising his guitar but he was useless at it, all thumbs or possibly toes. He played "I'll Be Seeing You" over and over until Ethan thumped on the door and asked him to play anything else. He looked at the records he'd stolen a fortnight ago and thought he should take them back to Arthur's shop and confess. He'd be arrested, handcuffed, and sent to prison. He'd get out and then never be able to get another job again.

Suddenly his room felt too small. He ran out into the corridor. He smelt pot then and realised that Randall must be having a joint. He went into Randall's room.

Here the walls were covered in layer after layer of dark paint. Howling wolves were half-covered by arabesques of vines which were in turn partly covered by writhing abstractions of lines, circles and squares. Randall sat on a beanbag, his eyes closed, his hands hovering near his demonic record player, which was turned down so low that Rupert couldn't recognise the band. Randall's extravagant wardrobe was piled in a corner; here and there a puffed sleeve or the angle of a hat gave an unsettling impression of life.

Randall opened his eyes and gestured that Rupert should sit on a second beanbag. He lit a joint with a minor fire spell and passed it to Rupert.

Randall closed his eyes again, but after a while, he spoke. He talked about his paintings, how much they meant to him, how he felt the Eyghon spell was improving his work. He talked about the war in Vietnam, that it wasn't really over, and how it intersected with and blurred the lines of duty, beauty and love. He talked about Diedre, his love for her and his knowledge that he'd placed her in a bad position and yet didn't want to ever let her go. He talked about his childhood, his teenage years in San Francisco, and the weird month when he'd first shared a flat with Ethan and they hadn't really known what to make of each other. Rupert knew that Randall was trying to tell him profound things about Randall's life and being, but all the details just slipped out of Rupert's head.

It was almost midnight when he went back to his room. He lay on his bed for a while but couldn't get to sleep. The light from the streetlamps lit the room too brightly. After an hour he got up and went to Ethan's door, but it sounded like he was working. Ethan was never happy to have stoned people visit when he was casting his spells.

So Rupert went downstairs for a glass of water and maybe a gin. While in the kitchen he saw that Adrienne's light was still on, and he went to her room. She was sitting on her mattress, brushing her hair, wearing a short night dress that had rucked up and showed, well, everything.

"Ripper," she said, "I'm too tired tonight, but maybe in the morning?"

"I just want someone to lie next to," he said.

So she nodded and he got under the covers as she leant over to switch off the light. Then he lay next to her for hours, without once falling asleep.


It was Randall who interrupted Ethan as he worked. Ethan had been really enjoying working through the early sections of the Badescu. It was an intricate work, the kind of book that would have been beyond him only six months before. Even now, reviewing the introduction, he knew there were subtleties that he might not fully understand for years. It was a graceful work, and the elegance of its spells was in marked contrast with the pedestrian utilitarianism of something like Stegun and Abramowitz. He felt as if were glimpsing part of a great whole, and Badescu's amused asides left him with the hope that the great sorcerer's mind was similar to his own.

He'd been so enthralled by the second chapter that he hadn't really taken in that everything was too quiet below. Until, that was, he heard Randall's heavy tread on the stairs and Randall's knock on the door.

"The spell's not working," Randall said. He looked rather haggard. Ethan knew he'd been working long hours on his art.

"Take a week off," Ethan said.

Randall considered. This was one of the things Ethan had come to like about him most, that he always considered Ethan's suggestions. Even when Ethan's suggestions were deliberately ridiculous, Randall would consider them with mock gravitas and reply in kind.

"I think it's good for my art," Randall said.

That was good enough for Ethan. They went downstairs. "Couldn't Rupert work it out?" asked Ethan. "He worked on the spell as well."

But when they got to the drawing room, Rupert looked like shit, unshaven and very tired. Diedre was poking at the circle. Stan and Tom were there, wincing over freshly-applied tattoos.

"Is it because we've increased the number of people?" Randall asked.

Ethan looked over the altar, the candles and the chalked-up circle. He honestly considered lying then as he didn't fancy having almost the entire household delirious from channelling Eyghon. But he didn't like lying to Randall. Instead he said, "There's a mistake here in the circle. And you'll need to rearrange the altar a little." It worried him that this wasn't obvious to Rupert. "Who's the lead caster?"

"I am," said Rupert.

"Let Diedre do it tonight."

"Don't want to," said Diedre.

Four somewhat pleading faces looked up at him: Randall and Diedre, plus Stan and Tom, who would want the pain of their tattoos to prove worth it. Rupert wasn't looking at him, though, but was lighting himself a cigarette.

"I'll do it then," said Ethan. "Just this once." He thought with regret of the Badescu.

He set things up and they got into a circle. "Ten minutes each and no more," he said. When Diedre protested, he told her wasn't sure if his concentration would hold out long enough for the expanded group. They took it in turns.

Rupert looked instantly better, which Ethan was pleased to see, as the demon possessed him. Stan and Tom both reacted with a lot of shouting, with Stan's language being considerably colourful and inventive. Diedre was ecstatic; Randall seemed to fill out and glow. Then it was Ethan's turn and he ceased watching the others.

When he was himself again, with the circle broken and everyone running around the room, he started laughing. How funny and stupid everyone looked. How funny and stupid the whole world was. He laughed and laughed and laughed until Diedre came up and slapped him. Then he laughed again, because the thought of Diedre slapping anyone was just hilarious.

Eventually he had to stop because his throat and head and ribs ached from it. He held his head in his hands. Ripper came up to him them, all booted and dressed to go out.

"Let's go," Rupert said.

It was a humid night. Out on the pavement, Ripper lit up another cigarette. Ethan put on his sunglasses. Ripper took the sunglasses from him and slipped them into a shirt pocket.

"It's dead around here," Ripper said. "Let's go where it's busy."

Ethan didn't really keep track of where they were walking. They seemed to be walking a long time. Cars went past. He caught glimpses of the moon, high above. There were more people on the streets.

Ripper flexed his hands. "What'll we do?"

"I have an idea," Ethan said. "Can you find me a place overlooking a crowd?"

"It's two a.m.," said Ripper. He considered. "All right."

After more walking, Ripper brought them to a street where there was a long and impatient queue waiting to get in somewhere -- perhaps a club. He pointed Ethan up a fire escape. They paused on the first landing.

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to test out a spell I'm making for Adrienne. You'll have to help me."


"You'll recognise it in a minute. But I'll need a few drops of your blood."

Ethan sat cross-legged on the fire escape floor. It was very far from perfect as a location: Ripper had to stand a few steps down, as there wasn't room enough for the both of them, and the slatted surface wasn't suitable for a circle. Ethan had to pull off his jacket and draw on the back on that.

"It's the animal illusion spell," said Ripper.

"Blood," said Ethan. "Three drops here, please," he said, pointing.

"Is this going to be fun?"


Ethan calmed himself, concentrated, then cast the spell.

Down on the pavement stood a gryphon.

"Fuck me," said Ripper.

Ethan put it through its paces. It shook its eagle head. Its beak opened and its wings spread. He got it to pace up and down.

Ripper said, still sounding startled, "I thought you had to have help to do that."

Ethan shrugged. "I've been practising." He got the gryphon to walk up and down again. "Bugger," he said. Now he was sure of it.


"It's not walking right. The gait should be more lionish. It's not right at all." He slammed his palm into the floor. "Let's go to the zoo. We'll wake up the lions and I'll watch them walk."

"No," said Ripper.


"The zoo's bloody miles back. It looks fine."

"It looks unnatural."

"It's a gryphon!" Ripper said. "They're not in this dimension any more! No-one can tell!"

"I can tell," said Ethan, hotly.

"It's good enough," said Ripper. "Now what do you want me to do?"

"Take her for a walk," said Ethan.

Ripper glanced over his shoulder towards the nightclub queue.

"Thank you," he said.


They were all up in the attic, watching television and eating fish and chips, when the doorbell rang.

"Ignore it," said Diedre.

"It could be important," said Randall.

"Let Ripper get it," said Ethan. "He likes bounding up and down stairs."

Rupert had to clear boxes out of the way to get to the front door. Adrienne shouted down, "We have every legal right to be here." The empty house next door had a "For Sale" sign on it now, and everyone was worried that the squat might be next. Ripper roughed up his hair and assumed a menacing expression, just in case.

The man standing on the front porch was about Ripper's age. He had a long moustache and sideburns and was wearing a band t-shirt, but his jeans were pressed and he was wearing office shoes.

"Who are you?" snarled Ripper.

"Philip," the man squeaked. "Philip Henry. I've just moved in across the road."

"So you're not here about the squat then?"

"No! No. I mean, I heard it was a squat, but I just wanted to get to know the neighbours." Philip extended his hand, and Rupert's years of proper upbringing meant that he found himself shaking it.

"I suppose you can come in then," he said. "We're all upstairs."

Rupert led him through the box-maze of the hallway and up to the attic. Whenever he looked back, the man was looking about himself wildly, at the paintings on the ceiling and at the dirt on the floor. As they got close to the attic, they could hear the buzz of the TV, and Rupert could hear Diedre saying, "What I love about it is that I feel so free, as if I could do anything," and Ethan's reply, "But you always can do anything, what difference could Eyghon make to that?" As they stepped into the room, the others were all piled together on the sofa or on beanbags at its feet, as if they were a single organism.

"This is a new neighbour," Ripper said. "This is Phil."

Everyone waved. "Hello, Phil!"

"I prefer Philip actually." He had a touch of a Sussex accent underneath, Ripper thought.

Diedre offered a bottle of clear liquid and Randall somehow found a clean glass on the floor, so Ripper poured Phil a drink.

"We're watching Panorama," Diedre said. "Do you watch it?"

He did tonight. Randall moved over a little so there was room on a beanbag for him. Rupert took his seat next to Ethan on the sofa and draped a hand over his thigh. As the programme played, Phil looked around the room, at its remnants of merry-go-round wallpaper, its carpetless floor and curtainless windows. He grimaced at every mouthful of his drink.

"I've just moved to London," he said, to no-one's great surprise, after Panorama had ended. "I've got a job nearby. I've always wanted to live in London." He kept looking at Diedre, probably because she wasn't wearing a bra. She didn't have all that much there, but her nipples were pressed up against the cloth of her sleeveless shirt. "You've got a tattoo." Maybe he'd never seen a woman with one before.

"Yes," said Diedre. "We all do. It's for a spell."

"Shut up," said Ethan.

Diedre leant low towards Philip. There was a good chance he could see all the way down her top now. "I'm a witch."

"Well, this has been charming, Philip," said Ethan, "but I think it's time you went home."

"I'll show you out," Diedre said. Tom was away at his mother's for the week.

When they were out of the room, Randall said, "I should be painting," and left too. The front door shut downstairs but there was no sign of Diedre's return.

Adrienne stood up. "She's still off her face, isn't she? I should stop her."

"She can't be that bad," Ripper told her. "It's not like it's a Saturday night." A couple of weekends ago, Diedre had tried to get Adrienne to go to bed with her: Ripper had had heard Adrienne saying, "We've been through this before, Dee, I'm Kinsey zero."

"She needs to break up with Tom anyway," Ethan said. "This might be a good way to do it." He twisted around on the sofa, and suddenly Ripper's legs were squashed into the seat as Ethan sat on his lap, facing him. Ripper reached up to brush at his lips.

"I need to talk to you both," said Adrienne, "about work." They turned to look at her. "The job's on Thursday."

"No, no," said Ethan. "It can't be Thursday. Change it to a Tuesday."

"I can't change the date. Can you still do it?"

"Yes," Ethan said. "We tried the spell out on Saturday. It worked a treat."

"Good," she said. "This has to go perfectly." And then she left the room before Ethan had even undone one of his buttons.


Ethan looked into the Lion House, wishing he hadn't come. He'd had a headache all morning, the weather was oppressively hot, and there seemed to be an endless succession of screaming small children being dragged around the zoo. Then there was the Victorian horror of the big cat exhibit, cage after cage of apathetic animals lying half-asleep on raised floors. None of the lions stirred more than an eyelid. He wasn't going to be able to improve the way his gryphon walked if none of them moved.

Rupert checked his watch. "It'll be feeding time in half an hour," he said. "Let's come back then."

They bought ice cream at a kiosk and found a bench to sit on. "Have you ever seen a real one?" Ethan asked him.

"Real what?"

"Gryphon. Do Watchers get to see that sort of thing?"

"Not really," said Rupert. "Not often. I think I saw a faun once. We were out camping in Epping and there was supposed to be one around. I went out at dawn and I saw this shape in the distance, a sort of silhouette, and then it ran. Someone tried to tell me later that I'd seen a deer, but it was definitely a faun." He bit thoughtfully into his cone. "I think they caught it later."

"But not a gryphon?"

"No. You know, I'm not supposed to talk about it at all."

"They must have loved you, though."

"What makes you say that?"

"Just that you seem to be good at all the sorts of thing I'd expect a Watcher to be good at. You must have been a real star."

"I did all right," said Rupert. "It was a lot of work."

"It must have taken a lot of courage to walk away from it all."

"No," said Rupert. "None at all." He looked uncomfortable, but Ethan couldn't work out why. Rupert said, "I think it's time to go back to the lions now."

There were two parties of school children lined up outside the lion cage when they got back. Ethan elbowed his way through, ignoring the angry looks of the schoolmarms. The lions were up and pacing already, in anticipation of their lunch. Ethan realised his folly almost straight away. He fought his way back out of the crowd and toward Rupert.

"A gryphon's not going to walk like a lion," he said. "It's got bird claws at the front for self-defence and to cling to perches. The motion's got to be entirely different. I'm going to have to make it up entirely. I've sorry I've wasted your time -- you rang in sick and everything."

"It's all right," said Rupert. "I hate my job anyway. It's the only honest thing I do all week and I still hate it."


There weren't many cars out on the motorway at this hour, a little before dawn. Outside the illumination of the motorway lights, shapes were starting to become visible but were still indistinct. Rupert was following the signs towards the ferry terminal. Ethan was in the seat next to him, looking out of the passenger window. There was a bag of magical gear in the boot.

"Adrienne?" Rupert asked.

"Of course," Ethan said. "Like bunnies for a couple of weeks."

"What about Diedre?"


"Why not?"

"Because I've never fancied her and she's never fancied me."


"Not really."

Rupert decided to let that pass, because it was Randall after all. "Anyone else in our happy household?"

"No, just you and Adrienne. What does it matter?"

"I just think you should have said something."

Ethan shrugged, then said, "Are you going to be able to concentrate on the spell?"

"I think so."


The terminal was opening when they got there. Cleaners were still mopping the floors. The only other people there were security staff and backpackers. There was no sign of Adrienne, which was part of the plan. She was somewhere behind the scenes and they weren't to meet up with her until they all got back to the house. It was probably just as well.

They took seats in one of the waiting areas. They had packed bags and bought foot passenger tickets to Amsterdam, in case anyone wanted to know why they were there. He supposed that if things went horribly wrong, they'd have to use them.

"Do you speak Dutch?" he asked Ethan.

"No, but I don't think you have to in Amsterdam. Why, do you want to go? We could, after the job's done."

"We'd be sleeping on park benches."

"Adrienne gave me a hundred pounds up front." Ethan considered his ticket. "We'd be back in a week. We wouldn't have to hostel it, we could be in a proper hotel or rent a flat."

The idea seemed absurd but it was undeniably possible -- nothing about it violated Adrienne's plan, as far as he knew. He might lose his job, but only if he failed to convince the hotel manager that he'd had a bad flu. He supposed that by this evening they could be staring down at their reflections in Dutch canals and buying postcards of windmills. Or, more likely, he'd be following Ethan around to every magic shop in Amsterdam.

But he could see that it would change things. It would make it impossible for him not to admit to himself that he was running off for an overseas holiday with a boyfriend. That would not lead to the sort of future he wanted, in which he repaired his relationship with his parents, got a sensible job, and started a family. He could not and should not pretend otherwise.

"No," he said.

"Suit yourself," said Ethan, who appeared unconcerned. "I'll get more work done that way. I've done bugger-all this week." He put the ticket away. "The Badescu's getting dusty."

They still had ten minutes to wait before they needed to start the spell. Rupert spent it all looking at the hall clock. He had an uncomfortable knot in his stomach as if, against all common sense and reason, he'd just made a bad mistake.

Five minutes before the arrival of the first ferry, they walked up to the deserted counter of a hire car company that wouldn't open until nine a.m. Ethan sat behind it and started to pull out his magic gear while Rupert took a nonchalant slouching position to keep watch. Glancing over, he could just about see Ethan chalking up the circle and setting up his stones and candles.

"Ready?" Ethan asked.

"One more minute," Rupert said. He had started to hear the voices of a crowd from the ferry, coming up to the hall.

"Ten," he said, then, "five, four..."

The gryphon took shape. And oddly, for almost a minute and a half, nobody noticed.

Then Rupert ran forward, shouting and waving his arms in the air wildly. "Aaaah!" he shouted. "Lion!" and the gryphon followed him forward as he ran in the direction of the arriving crowd.

Of the ensuing chaos, he would remember only glimpses of things, plus a few sounds and two smells. There was the scent of the gryphon itself, its lion-sweat and the dust it swept up every time it spread its wings wide. There were tableaux of people running, and of parents snatching up children. People shouted, but there weren't many screams. Then there was a soldier, in army fatigues, his arm extended, about to fire a gun in his direction.

Rupert dropped to the floor. He was pretty sure afterwards that he heard the shot fired through the incorporeal gryphon and the scream of the woman who was hit on the far side. He saw the grubby vinyl tiles of the floor and smelt his own vomit as he threw up.

When he was able to look up, the gryphon had gone and the woman was surrounded by people, including one in a uniform. He staggered forward, meaning to offer help, but the WPC seemed to be doing a good enough job with first aid. The woman had been shot in the thigh; she had lost a lot of blood. He looked around but could not see the soldier anywhere.

He willed himself to breathe more normally and walked back to the car hire counter, towards his luggage. Ethan was just standing there, chalk-dust on his knees as usual. He looked so calm and unperturbed that Ripper punched him, very hard. And then he punched him again.

Ethan retreated, holding his jaw and side. "What the hell was that for?"

"Someone was almost killed!" Rupert shouted. "She might still die."

"We have to go," Ethan said.

There wasn't anything else to do. They walked out into the carpark. There were knots of shocked people standing everywhere. One of the knots was Adrienne, who was standing next to two tall, dark-haired men. Rupert knew they should pretend not to recognise her and walk on, but then she ran up.

"Ripper," she said, grabbing him by his shoulders. "Do you have your car?"


There were five of them in the car: Ethan sat next to Rupert in the front, with Adrienne and the two strangers in the back. Neither of the strangers had yet said a word.

"Pull up over there," Adrienne said. "I need to use the phone."

They were in the outskirts of some small town that Ethan hadn't taken in the name of, parked outside a shopping plaza of damp concrete and long shadows. It was still too early for any of the shops to be open. He watched Adrienne get out of the car and step towards a telephone box.

It was so quiet in the car that Ethan started to count the seconds ticked out by Rupert's watch. When he reached sixty, he got out of the car, shutting the door behind him with a slam.

The door to the telephone box wasn't quite closed. He caught snatches of Adrienne's side of the conversation. "You yellow-bellied cowardly prick," she shouted down the phone. After hanging up, she visibly made an effort to breathe deeply before she turned and caught sight of Ethan.

"And what the fuck did you think were doing?" she said to him. "That was your diversion? You couldn't have picked something a little more low key? You couldn't manage a swarm of bees or a rubbish bin fire? Something that wouldn't get us onto the front page of News of the World? You vain, selfish, self-aggrandising git." She started to shove at him, so he moved out of the way.

Ethan didn't say anything as she stalked back to the car. His jaw and ribs ached and he didn't actually feel capable of speech. He briefly considered walking into town and getting a bus back to London, but it was starting to rain, so he got back into the car.

The rest of the drive back was punctuated by Adrienne's bouts of vociferous swearing. When they got closer to London, she said, "They'll have to stay in the attic until I can sort something out." She seemed to expect someone to argue, but nobody did. The two strangers turned to look at her silently. Ethan didn't see if Rupert reacted because he was refusing to look at him.

Traffic slowed to a crawl as they reached the edges of the morning rush hour. Rain slid over the car windows. Ethan got angrier and angrier with every passing minute. When they paused near a zebra crossing he got out of the car. A Royal Mail van almost ran him over.

A few streets away, he found himself near a school. Mothers with pushchairs guided their damp older offspring towards the gates. A parcel of less supervised children thronged outside a nearby sweetshop.

He'd done everything that he'd been asked to do. He'd done a good job of it. He'd been so fucking pleased that the gryphon had walked exactly as it should. He'd done everything right.

He found a block of flats overlooking the school playing fields. He unlocked a door that led onto a balcony and summoned the gryphon. He got it to clamber over the grass, its eagle claws and lion's feet in an awkward rhythm, and then he beat its wings. How much more graceful it was in flight than on the ground. It soared and circled. He lost track of the time and he did not really hear the shouts and screams of the people below and those who looked out from the windows of the flats.

The rain had drenched him by the time he ended the spell; he was soaked to his underwear and with his socks squelching inside his old leather shoes. He felt calmer, but not very well. He hadn't slept since the night before last and his reflection in the window now sported a darkening bruise. He should go home.

He found a flat that looked empty and cast the spell to unlock its door. Inside he found some dry clothes that fit him very badly and a pair of boots that fit him rather better. There was an old raincoat but no umbrella. He also grabbed a plastic M&S bag to carry his wet clothes.

When he got home, there were muddy footprints all over the kitchen floor and arguing voices coming from the attic. Randall's door was ajar but he wasn't in. Ethan decided he might as well wait there. He sat on a beanbag and instantly fell asleep.

When he woke, it was evening and Randall was just placing the needle of his demonic record player onto a copy of Pearl. Randall had this ghastly interest in the last records of famous musicians who'd died. He'd play them sometimes for days, over and over: The Cry of Love, L.A. Woman, King and Queen, and arguably Europe '72. Ethan had started out liking all of those albums but now he hated each and every one. He wondered sometimes if sharing a flat and then a house with Randall had forever killed his mild interest in music.

Randall looked awful. "I've had a bad day too," he said.


After Ethan left the car, Rupert drove Adrienne and the two strangers towards Camden. He glanced at them in the mirror. They looked pale, foreign and thirtyish. One was cleanshaven and one had a beard. Their eyes flickered but their faces were closed down and almost expressionless.

"What went wrong?" he asked Adrienne, who had taken the seat next to him.

"Two fuckwits," she said. "One fuckwit didn't turn up in the carpark with the van. The other fuckwit summoned a fucking gryphon."

"It was the illusion of a gryphon, strictly speaking."

"You couldn't have talked him out of it?"

"I didn't know what you'd asked him to do."

"God," she said.

Rupert kept thinking of the woman who'd been shot. She'd looked older, maybe forty, and had a thick plait of pale hair to her waist. She'd been wearing a seagreen dress. The inside of her mouth had been very pink and her blood very red. The WPC's arms had been soaked. Perhaps the bullet had hit the femoral artery?

"They can stay in the attic until I can sort something out," she said. "Thank you for not asking who they are."

No-one was in the house when they got back. They took the two men up to the attic and Adrienne gestured for them to sit on the elderly sofa. It was only then that Rupert realised that the men did not have any luggage.

"Can you get them something to eat?" she asked him. "I have to make some more phone calls."

He didn't like leaving them in the house alone, for Diedre or Randall to stumble upon, but he didn't seem to have much choice. So instead he ran to the nearest open shop, a bakery, where he bought hot pork pies, and a pair of iced buns. He took them up to the attic, where the men ate them, albeit without much enthusiasm. He had the distinct impression that he shouldn't speak with them at all. He wondered if they even spoke English.

He fell asleep sitting on the attic floor. He woke when one of the strangers started tapping him on the shoulder and, through a series of rather obvious gestures, indicated that he needed to be shown the loo. It was lunchtime, well past the hour when he should have rung in sick; he wondered if he would lose his job. Adrienne still wasn't back and there was no sign of anyone else. He wondered where they all were. It was pouring with rain, so it wasn't as if they'd be out at the cricket.

Diedre and Randall came home first. You could always tell when it was Diedre as she was the only person in the house who ever wore heels. Her footsteps made an unmistakable clack-clack sound on the wooden floor and stairs. Rupert endured twenty minutes of listening to her move around the house, from kitchen to bedroom to bathroom to kitchen again and then to the drawing room. Randall had his record player on and Diedre was talking. All the while the strangers did nothing and said nothing. Their expressions were without curiosity.

Where was Adrienne? Why wasn't she back?

Diedre came upstairs to the attic. She had a glass of gin and a paperback novel with her. She took one look at the sofa and recoiled. "Who are these people?" she asked.

"I don't know," Rupert said, truthfully. "Adrienne brought them home." As Diedre's expression was somewhat disbelieving, he added, "Ah, not like that."

"Are you friends of hers from the shop?" Diedre asked them. Her smile evaporated when they did not reply.

Adrienne arrived home then. She was sopping wet from the rain, her normally curly hair flat and straggling. "They're going to have to stay here for a couple of nights," she said.

"What?" said Diedre. "Adrienne, who are these people?"

Adrienne looked at Rupert. "I haven't said anything," he assured her.

"Sind Sie aus Deutschland?" Diedre asked. "Ich kenne ein paar Worte."

The two men looked at each other.

Adrienne grabbed Diedre and Rupert and pulled them out of the attic and onto the stairs.

"I can't tell you who they are," she said. "It's safer if I don't. None of you are supposed to have met them."

"Safer?" said Diedre, sagging down onto a stair.

"They have to stay here a couple of nights, but after that they'll be gone, I promise."

"Just what have you got yourself into?" Diedre demanded. "What exactly are you doing?"

"Only a couple of nights," Adrienne repeated. "Dee, how could you tell they were German? Had they said anything?"

"They look German," said Diedre. "It's the face, particularly the chin, and the way they're dressed. When we went on holiday in Trieste, we'd always play Spot the German, or Spot the Italian or whatever."

"If anyone asks, say they're hitch-hikers from Alsace. Tell Tom that and Stan. Randall-- I'm not going to ask you to lie to him."

"Randall's not going to care today," said Diedre. "Randall's not going to even notice that they're here."

"He's not well?" Rupert asked.

"He got some bad news. It's old news, but he only just heard. A couple of his friends died last year."

"That's terrible," said Rupert, sincerely. "How did it happen?"

She shrugged. "'In the line of duty'," she said.


Randall turned the record over.

"But it's not your fault," said Ethan. "You didn't draft them or send them away. You weren't one of the people who killed them. You had nothing to do with it."

He was floundering, and he did not understand why. He knew of these friends of Randall's, of course, albeit second-hand; back when neither he nor Randall had any money at all, there had often been little to do but sit up and talk all night. He had a hazy idea of what the two dead men had looked like. He knew the name of the school they'd dropped out of, and an anecdote about them running amok in Golden Gate Park. He thought that one of them might have slept with an ex-girlfriend of Jerry Garcia, but perhaps he was confusing him with someone else. He knew these people as if they were characters in a novel he'd reread. And he understood about bereavement, how it could floor you. But Randall's reaction was different.

"I should have gone with them," Randall said, nonsensically. His head was turned away and his face was half-hid by his long hair. "I should have been with them."

"So you could have died too?" Ethan said. "For fuck's sake."

Randall ran his hands through his hair. "You should go now," he said, with an edge to his voice that Ethan had never heard before.

Ethan left. He went back to his room. One of Rupert's books and a t-shirt of his were lying on the floor, so Ethan threw them out into the hallway. He locked the door by means both prosaic and mystical.

What a shit day.

He thought about having a drink or a little hash but his eyes kept been drawn back to the Badescu. He'd got no work done at all this week, for the sake of all these selfish people. He might as well make up for that.

He started with the simple but highly satisfactory spells at the beginning. A vanishing coin, two interlocking hoops, then a small stone passing between three cups. Next up were spells for summoning elements, different versions from the ones Ethan had known before. After those were a series of increasingly complicated transformations of substances -- that was the chapter he'd worked through last week. Those were good: he'd been a bit shaky with them he first time he'd tried, but tonight he was executing each and every one with brevity and precision. When those were done, he decided to plunge on into the next chapter. This one was on the manipulation of the senses: heat and cold, touch and taste. He worked through those with an ever-growing sense of surety.

When he finally stopped for the night, he realised that it was, in fact, morning. Dawn had been and gone. He yawned and stretched.

It was only when he was washing up in the bathroom that the events of the day before came back to him. There were purple-black bruises on him and he was still wearing the clothes he'd taken yesterday afternoon.

He had to go down to the kitchen then, because he was hungry. It didn't sound as if anyone was there, but when he went in he found Adrienne, Rupert and Diedre sitting around the kitchen table, which was covered with newspapers. They all looked as if they hadn't slept.

Ethan stepped around them to make himself some toast.

"The woman's not dead," said Rupert, and it took Ethan a few moments to work out who he meant. "She's in a stable condition in hospital. She's a mother of three and works in a post office."

Adrienne said, "But you did make the front page of The News of the World. Also, pages two and page four, thanks to your stunt at the primary school."

"There's a blurry photo of something that made it into the London Mercury," said Rupert.

"Ethan," said Diedre, "what happened to your face?"

Ethan decided not to wait until the kettle boiled. He smeared some marmalade over his toast and poured a glass of milk.

He went up to Rupert's room then. He put his breakfast down in one corner and then picked out all of his own stuff. There wasn't much, as he wasn't an untidy person: his dressing-gown, a pair of sandals and a record he'd lent, one that Randall had bought for Ethan's birthday last year, of pieces by Ligetti, including the moon-monolith one from 2001. Then he went through the pages of Rupert's notebooks on magic, tearing out any pages in his own handwriting. Finally, he rubbed out a sketch chalked on the floor with the heel of his foot.

He longer felt like eating when he went back to his room. He smoked some hash which, firstly made him hungry enough to eat, and then let him sleep. When he woke he was disoriented because it was dark, not morning at all, with a moon near to full that made monochrome sketches of all the objects in the room. He looked at how it limned his trousercuffs and the backs of his hands. The lights didn't go on when he flicked the switch -- Diedre must have forgotten to pay the bill again. He was thirsty and unwashed.

He went out and knocked on Randall's door but all he got was a "Go away" and the strains of The Cry of Love in reply, so he fetched his dressing-gown and a candle and went downstairs for a bath. The water was cold, as their heater was electric, but Ethan had long ago worked out a spell for that. In the tub he listed off all the people he was angry with, which was everyone. Adrienne still hadn't paid him. Didn't she know how much time he'd spent getting the spell right? He was very nearly behind on his work for the transparently-named Mr Grey, who was someone Ethan was anxious not to disappoint. Randall was being uncharacteristically useless. Rupert-- well, Ethan had honestly considered pissing on all of Rupert's records, but he expected that Randall would be angry with him if he did.

There were flickers of candlelight from the drawing room as he went past, so he glanced in the open door. Diedre, Tom, Stan, and -- what was his name, the neighbour? -- Philip were sitting on the floor, eating and drinking. Ethan recognised it as a powercut picnic, a hasty meal of whatever would otherwise go off in the fridge. There was bacon, sausage and a jug of the noxiously sweet cocktail that Diedre always made out of the milk. He'd better join them and get something to eat now, because there would be nothing but beans in the house by tomorrow. There was no sign of Rupert or Adrienne.

"Before you say anything," Diedre said, spotting him, "I did pay the bill. I have the receipt! I'm going to call them first thing Monday morning."

Ethan went to the window, to see whether the lights were on elsewhere in the street. They were; it was just their house without electricity. "It's very quiet out there," he said.

"Well, it is four a.m."

"Have a drink," said Stan. "We're celebrating!" He poured Ethan a glass of the milk cocktail.

"You're getting married?"


"Married and moving out and getting a proper job?"

"Yeah," said Stan. He frowned up at Ethan in the candlelight. "Hey, who clocked you?"

Ethan swallowed down the cocktail and then poured himself another. Philip seemed to be eating all of the bacon. Diedre looked trashed. Tom was possibly asleep.

"Living the dream then?"

"Yeah. Can't stay here forever."

"I suppose not. What's the job?"

"I'll be working for Julie's uncle in real estate."

"Bit of a step down then for you, isn't it?"

"Ethan," warned Diedre.

"I'll find you another supplier, if that's what you're worried about."

That wasn't what Ethan was worried about at all. He drank down another cocktail. "Dear God, what's in this? Creme de menthe?"

"And a lot of vodka," Diedre said.

He snatched the bacon away from Philip and made a sandwich. Philip had his sleeve rolled up, exposing a freshly-made tattoo.

"Why does Philip have the Mark of Eyghon on his arm?"

"It's spell night," said Tom.

"Did anyone ask me if he could join in?"

"It's not up to you," said Diedre. "There's others here who can cast spells."

"No-one else bloody could last week."

"Ethan," said Diedre. "We're celebrating tonight. We're celebrating for Stan."

Ethan stood there, feeling unwell. He wanted them to throw Rupert out of the house, but what if most of them decided they liked Rupert better? Rupert was a likeable sort of person. What if they threw Ethan out instead?

"Diedre," he said decisively, "we're going upstairs. We need to talk to Randall."

"Randall doesn't want to be disturbed."

Ethan went upstairs anyway and he could hear Diedre's more hesitant footsteps behind him. He slammed his arms against the door. "Randall! Randall, open up!" When the door didn't open, he opened it himself and walked in. A Janis Joplin record was singing "Get It While You Can." Randall was sitting on a beanbag, looking as drunk and forlorn as Ethan felt. Diedre stepped into the room.

"We have to leave here," Ethan said. "You and Diedre and I have to go on that trip you've been talking about. We'll travel around and visit your friends. You can keep painting and I'll keep learning about magic and we can all see the country."

Randall continued to stare bleakly. Ethan wasn't sure he'd even heard, but Ethan tethered his impatience and waited out the standard length of time for one of Randall's more considered replies.

"OK," Randall said.

"What about Rupert?" Diedre asked.

"It hasn't worked out," Ethan said. He realised he might not have mentioned this to Randall, so he added, "I was hoping it might, but it hasn't." He turned then to Diedre. "Are you coming?"

"Of course."

"Then it's your turn. You have to break up with Tom."

She squirmed. "Can't we wait a little bit longer? At least until the Germans are out of the house?"

Ethan said, "What Germans?"


Adrienne was washing her hair in the bathroom sink. This was quite a production, given the sheer volume of her hair and the frothiness of the shampoo. She cursed every time another dollop of suds fell to the floor.

Rupert leant against the doorjamb. "If they're going to be staying here, then people have to know who they are."

"Hitch-hikers from Alsace," Adrienne muttered as she rinsed her hair.

"Are they from East Germany? No-one could object to escapees from behind the Iron Curtain."

Adrienne stood up suddenly, her wet hair swinging back. She wrapped it up in a faded towel. She was wearing blue jeans and a yellow bra, and her red top was draped over the edge of the bath. "If you like."

"They're not from East Germany then?"


"Austria? Or the, um, German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia?"


She plugged her hairdryer into an extension cord. Over the white noise of the dryer, she mouthed, "West."

Then why did they need to be smuggled in? He didn't want to shout it, so he tried to convey the question with his hands.

She turned the dryer off briefly. "We'll go for a walk in a few minutes. Could you fetch Diedre?"

Diedre was downstairs, slouching around in her dressing gown, looking seedy. By the time he persuaded her upstairs, Adrienne was fully dressed and looked ready to go out.

"Could you ask our guests what they might like to eat and drink?"

Diedre sighed. "Essen und Trinken. Naturlich."

On the way to the supermarket, Adrienne said, "You do know that West Germany is still run by Nazis?"

Rupert considered this. "I think it's fair to say that, no, actually, I didn't."

Adrienne said, "The entire political and administrative infrastructure served the Reich. There was no-one who was not implicated by it. During the reconstruction it was impossible to find enough untainted people to run the government, especially given how the Reich dealt with its internal opposition. Many of those in the new German hierarchy are genuinely committed to national reform, and there are many others who know which side their bread is buttered on, but there remain Nazi ideologues, both covert and overt, with power within the government. Their influence should not be underestimated."

"What exactly did your German friends do?" he asked. They were walking down the main street, past a newsagent and a shoe shop. Ordinary English people were out posting letters and walking their dogs. The whole conversation felt surreal.

Adrienne said, "They did what had to be done. No-one innocent was harmed -- I wouldn't condone that. Well, not in most circumstances. I wouldn't tell you any of this except that it was hinted to me that you were once involved in another organisation."

"What?" It took him a few moments to work out what she meant. Then he said, "Ah, well, we're dedicated to fighting literal demons rather than metaphorical ones. I don't think it's at all comparable."

"Demons?" Adrienne asked. "Like Terry at the magic shop?"

"Terry's a demon?"

"So Ethan says." They were just outside the supermarket now and she showed him the shopping list. "We're not going to able to find all this. I don't think Hovis make pumpernickel."

He helped her pick out bread, cheese, tinned fish and fruit. She said, "I wouldn't have agreed to help if it hadn't been so clear-cut."

Rupert wasn't sure that it was.

Back at the house, she gave him a wodge of cash. "That's the two hundred pounds for you and Ethan."

He was very tired now, so he went to his room. As soon as he entered, he saw that someone had been through his things, but he couldn't see anything obviously missing. He lay down and slept.


Ethan lay in the grass of the back garden, looking up at the sky. The grass smelt warm and it made him sleepy. He had a headache again, his bruises still ached, and his body clock had no idea any more of the time, but he felt remarkably content. A decision had been made and his friends were sticking by him. He supposed he should be paying special attention now to the house and to Camden, savouring these last few memories before the big trip. He should cast into his memory the squat's peeling paint, its crumbling chimney-pots, and the shapes and pattern of its windows. He should learn to recall the routes of the half-buried garden paths and the types of weeds and wild-run garden plants that he lay near. And he should remember the sounds too, of traffic and neighbourhood televisions and even birdsong from among the trees.

The house had done him well. It had been a lot of work at first, clearing out the rubbish left by less scrupulous tenants, and washing down the worst of it with bleach and water. They'd started with the kitchen and bathroom, then cleaned up the other rooms as they'd needed them. Back then, Randall was still practising magic fairly regularly and Diedre was just starting to learn, so some of the cleanup could be done by magic, much to Adrienne's scepticism and subsequent consternation. There was a spell to repel rodents and another to flash-fry spiders (Randall was a little phobic). Adrienne was still arguing with the power company, so it was more like camping indoors than anything else. It was just the four of them then, trying to get everything half-sorted before winter properly started. Diedre would heat tinned food on her portable stove, Randall would pick out records by candlelight, and Ethan would show off cheap magic tricks to try and impress Adrienne, who in turn tried to convert him to her kind of politics. He had very vivid and tactile memories of sex with her on top of her campbed. That was back before they got bored with each other and Ethan moved into the second floor. Then Diedre gave up on sleeping with Randall and brought Tom home. Adrienne moved out, then moved back in. Stan was invited into the basement, Rupert took the last proper room, and now they had two Germans living, however temporarily, in the attic. The place was crowded: it was time to move out.

He heard the back door open and saw that it was Rupert. He decided to feign sleep but that didn't prevent the footsteps from getting closer. There was an ant crawling on Ethan's ankle and the red glow behind his eyelids darkened as Rupert's shadow fell over him, but he still didn't move.

"I've got the money Adrienne owes you," Rupert said, which meant that Ethan had to open his eyes after all. "It's two hundred pounds between us but you did most of the work, so here's a hundred and fifty."

"I still have the first hundred pounds," said Ethan, stupidly. "Just give me another hundred." He had to sit up then, brush the ant from him and take the money.

Rupert said, "The woman who was shot is still in hospital," as if that was Ethan's fault.

"Go and find the person then who shot her then," Ethan said, and laid back down on the grass as if to go back to sleep. Rupert hovered for a while, then went mercifully away.

When the kitchen door opened again, it was Adrienne. He wondered what she was going to berate him for now, but she was carrying a basket of washing on her hip. The house had a small washing line that was only ever used for the sort of delicate clothing that wasn't safe in the laundrette, usually Randall or Diedre's homemade pieces. Adrienne's handwashing only ever consisted of bras. She hung about six up on the line.

"Did Ripper give you your money?" she asked. When he nodded, she came over. "You know, there's been nothing in the papers about two missing passengers or anyone smuggled in, so your chimera trick did its job. I shouldn't have shouted at you but I was just scared shitless when nobody turned up to meet us in the carpark."

"I'm glad it worked," said Ethan, "but when are they leaving?"

"Tomorrow or the day after," Adrienne said. "Ripper and I are going to meet someone this afternoon."

As she walked back into the house, Ethan realised he might miss her a little after all. He could send her postcards, he supposed.

He thought he fell asleep for a while. He woke to the sound of the back gate opening. This time it was Randall who walked over. He was looking much better than he had last night, although he still looked very tired. He'd bathed and shaved, trimmed his moustache and washed his hair. He was dressed formally, according to his own principles, in his favourite purple tunic, a pair of wide trousers and a cavalier hat. He sat down next to Ethan, cross-legged, with his hands on his knees.

"Went for a walk?" Ethan asked.

"I decided I wanted to buy something," said Randall. "So I went to get some money." He passed Ethan a fat manila envelope.

Ethan wondered why people were suddenly all handing him large sums of cash. "What's it for?"

"A van," said Randall. "I think we'll do better travelling in a van. We'll have our own space and we won't have to travel as light. And Diedre won't have to sleep on people's sofas."

"Where'd you get the money?" Ethan asked, riffling his thumb over it.

"I sold my record player," Randall said, "to Terry."

Ethan handed him back the envelope. "Go and buy it back. I've got some money. Don't be stupid. I'd rather hitch-hike."

"That part of my life's done," said Randall. "I'm moving on to the next part." He stood up. "We'll go and look at vans tomorrow, or Tuesday maybe."

"They have four wheels and move," said Ethan. "I'll be happy with whatever you pick."

"And tonight, can we do the Eyghon spell? I think Diedre will need it to talk with Tom."

"If you like," Ethan said.


"This isn't a good neighbourhood," Ripper said to Adrienne, as he pulled the car over. "In fact, it's a very bad neighbourhood." It was the late afternoon, but here tall buildings shadowed narrow streets and it felt much later. There was a main street lined with peep show establishments and headshops, but since then they'd turned down a series of streets, each one of which had looked less savoury than the last. They were now in an alleyway off an alleyway off an alleyway.

"This is definitely the right place," she said, consulting the map on her knees.

Ripper didn't like leaving his car parked on the street, but he liked even less the thought of letting Adrienne wander through the place alone. He muttered some locking wards as he shut the doors. The back of his neck prickled.

There was a burly tattooed man standing outside the door to 181a. "I can't let you in unless I search you," he said.

"I'm here to see Marty," Adrienne said. "Is he here?"

The man shrugged. "I still have to search you. No weapons are allowed inside."

Adrienne held her arms out and gave a brief twirl, letting Ripper and the bouncer see exactly how skin-tight her clothing was. "Where am I going to be hiding anything?"

The bouncer searched Ripper though. He confiscated his wooden stake. "You'll get this back when you leave."

Through the door was a concrete corridor which led to a staircase going down. There were no windows or doors and the place was lit only by low-level red bulbs. An unwell-looking man passed them in the opposite direction. His complexion looked poor in the dim light, although perhaps that was because of his unpleasant high-collared mauve shirt.

The stairs led down to a sort of cellar hung with red and purple draperies. Low velvet couches lined the walls and there was a three-piece band playing, who weren't any good. A short woman with a face much older than her hair approached them.

"Have you any money?" she asked them.

Ripper showed her a flicker of the cash he was carrying for Adrienne.

"Please come this way," she said. She led them down another corridor, this one lined with doorways. There didn't seem to be any doors, as such, just more of the thick velvet hung as curtains.

The first two doorways had their curtains shut. The woman paused at the third doorway, asking, "Separately or together?"

The curtains were drawn back at the third doorway. Behind it was a small room, which held a mattress, an old sofa, and a woman of about forty years of age. The light in the room was even dimmer than in the corridor, but Ripper could see that she looked very unwell. She had a deathly pale complexion and he could tell from the way the folds of her skirt fell that she was missing most of her right leg.

"Together," he heard Adrienne say, but he was already racing up to the next room. There was a young man in that one, with wild curly hair. He also looked ill and was missing half a leg. He was also, Ripper noted, chained to the floor.

"What is this place?" Ripper demanded, pulling wide the curtain at the door opposite. Here also was a pale, ill-looking amputee -- but this one had her fangs in the arm of a well-to-do middle-aged man. She looked up as he disturbed them, pulling out her fangs and staring up at him in game face. She licked her teeth.

The man turned to look at him as well. "Fuck off," he said, with a City sort of voice. Rupert pulled the curtain back and stood there shaking.

"We're here to see Marty," Adrienne said.

"Oh," said the short woman. "Along to the end here then." She pulled Ripper away from the doorway as she passed.

At the end of the corridor was an office. It had better furniture than the other rooms and a window to a lightwell. The woman asked Adrienne and Ripper to please take a seat. The guest chairs were rather modish-looking and covered in orange velour. They could still hear the band playing from the other end of the corridor: they were playing a Beatles medley now and were struggling with their rendition of "Strawberry Fields Forever".

Marty, when he arrived, was a dapper businessman in his late forties with a thick moustache and collar-length brown hair, now going a bit grey. Rupert checked with his mirrored ring, but both Marty and the woman had reflections. They looked quite human.

"Sorry about the mixup," said Marty. "You're Adrienne, yeah? I've been expecting you but forgot to tell Mrs Aimes. It's the passports you're after?"

"Yes," said Adrienne. "We have the money."

Marty pulled at a gold chain he wore around his neck, which turned out to have a key on the end of it. He leant over to unlock a desk drawer. "Two British passports, excellent forgeries, for two West German born naturalised citizens." He pulled them out of the drawer, relocked it, and then moved around to lean against the front of his desk. Mrs Aimes had long since gone back down the corridor.

"They told me to expect a looker," Marty said, handing her the passports and eyeing her up and down. He nodded towards Ripper. "You could do better than him for a boyfriend."

Ripper bristled, whether he was her boyfriend or not, and Adrienne said, "I'm not here for your advice." She handed over a wodge of cash.

"Plus ten percent," said Marty, "for making me work on a Sunday."

"That's all the cash we have," she said.

"A kiss then," Marty said.

Ripper stood up, wearing his best snarling grimace. He was ready to step in between them, even though he wasn't sure to expect from this man, who might have maimed and chained up a dozen or more vampires. Adrienne got up too: she turned towards the door and walked out back along the corridor. Ripper followed her. She looked calm, but when he touched her back, he could feel she was trembling.

"Is he following?" she asked, facing straight ahead as she walked.

"No," Ripper said.

"What are those people doing in the cells?"

"They're just vampires," he said. "Look, we need to get out of here."

Back in the underground lounge, Mrs Aimes was talking with a couple of young men in tie-dye t-shirts. The three piece band lurched into a rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside". This time Ripper checked and found they had no reflections; what's more, they seemed to be chained to the floor. The grey-haired, bearded old drummer looked up at them as they passed and there was a baleful yellow tinge as he blinked.

"Up the bloody stairs," whispered Ripper.

It was almost night now, up in the alley. The burly tattooed man had been replaced by a wiry young West Indian; Ripper was a full head taller than him. He gave Ripper his wooden stake back, without ceremony or comment.

His car was still there. No-one had got past the magical locks, but someone had thrown up on the bonnet. Rupert almost didn't care.

"Got what you wanted?" he asked Adrienne, after twenty minutes of silence during the drive home.

"Yes," she said. "Thank you for coming."

"You're absolutely, completely insane," he said.

She started to cry.


Ethan unlocked the gates to the park with a wave of a candle. He thought there might be a good site near the zoo. He wanted a place where they wouldn't be disturbed but which was close to an exit, where they could lie flat and still be comfortable. It was good weather for a night's outing, warm but not too humid. There was a thin layer of cloud that the moon shone through and occasionally escaped.

The site he'd thought of was indeed as he remembered, but tonight it was downwind of the zoo. It would do, but he still had half an hour to find a better one. He headed south, roughly parallel with the fence, crossing cricket lawns and walking paths as he went.

He found what he was looking for near a children's playground: a grassy expanse in a slight dip of the ground. He tested it out by lying on his back, and it proved neither too damp nor too stony.

He'd spent the evening packing for the trip, not that he had many belongings to pack: just clothes and magical gear stuffed into his duffle. Half of the time it took was spent on the first floor landing, picking out an M&S bag's worth of paperbacks. Then he'd stood in the last of the evening light, looking at what was left in his room. He'd decided to leave his trunk behind as too cumbersome, and he'd have to work out with Randall and Diedre which mattress they should take, or whether they should take more than one. That was pretty much it, really.

Then he'd sat and drafted a letter to Mr Grey, carefully thanking him for the opportunity for work, but explaining that he was setting off travelling and would be difficult to reach for some months at least. He wished Mr Grey luck in finding another London associate.

He didn't post it, of course: despite his enthusiasm, he was aware that before they left Diedre would have to deal with Tom, a task she'd been putting off for a long time now. He really hoped it would only be a day or two. If she really couldn't face it, she could leave him a note and they could just leave when he was out of the house.

Randall had said they'd be going to Cambridgeshire first, where he had quite a large number of friends, followed by a trip in the direction of Ely and the fens. Ethan had seen a copy of The AA Touring Guide to England somewhere in the house, if only he could remember where. If he could find it, he could start to read about the places they were likely to visit.

Evelyn would know of interesting places. He should send a couple of letters to the post offices where she sometimes picked up mail.

So it was "Farewell, London" tonight. He wanted to do something a bit special and he'd be damned if was going to cast any major spells in the house while the unwelcome visitors were still up in the attic. They would start as they meant to go on, with just Randall and Diedre and himself tonight. It was time for him to go and meet them at the gate.

When he did step out of the park, he did not like what he saw.


Rupert got Adrienne home and into her bed. He lit candles in her room as the electricity was still off, and made her a cup of tea and some toast and jam. He couldn't run her a bath because one of the Germans was using the bathroom, so he went instead to Diedre to ask her advice. She came downstairs with him, bringing a large coffee-table book which she placed in Adrienne's lap. It seemed to be a book of trees.

"Breathe deeply and look at the trees," Diedre said, as she took a seat next to the bed. "Look, a Japanese Red Maple. A Japanese Red Maple in the autumn, scarlet leaves against a blue sky. Breathe, Adrienne."

Adrienne rubbed at her face and managed a ragged breath. "I've just been so tired."

"I don't think anyone's got much sleep lately," Rupert said, standing in the doorway.

Diedre turned a page. "Cypress trees. Cypress trees in an Italian garden. With a fishpond!"

Adrienne took another breath. "I have the passports now. Someone will be around to take them tomorrow. It will all be over tomorrow. I'm so sorry I--" and then the rest was unintelligible as she wept into her sleeve.

Diedre leant over to hold her and Rupert suddenly felt that he was surplus to requirements. He stepped out into the kitchen and made himself a bite to eat on the gas stove. It was awkward, with the lights off, having to hunt around the cupboards with a candle for tins of edible food. And there was something not quite right about the house -- it was the sounds. He could hear his footsteps, the screech and thump of the waterpipes, and Diedre's soft tones from the next room. He almost fancied he could hear the restless Germans, all the way up in the attic, pacing their room. But the kitchen radio wasn't playing and there was no music from Randall's room and no voices from the television in the attic. He was so used to these sounds that the silence felt eerie.

He took some of the heated pork and beans through to Diedre and Adrienne. Adrienne was sleeping now, so they left the bowl next to her and shut the door behind them. Rupert and Diedre sat together in the kitchen, eating their dinners in near-silence.

"She'll be all right in the morning," Diedre said. "And then the Germans will go and she'll be able to have a proper holiday and rest up."

"It'll be good to get the bathroom and the attic back."

"I'll say," said Diedre. "Good thing we'll be distracted tonight."

Rupert looked at her inquiringly.

"Spellcasting," she said. "But outside, because Ethan doesn't want to be casting that sort of thing in the house while they're here."

"Where outside?"

"In the park," said Randall, as he came into the room. He went to the stove and poked the remains of the pork and beans with a spoon. "Want to come?"

"Sure," Rupert said.

"We should invite Stan too," said Diedre. "Would you mind going to ask him?"

So Rupert walked out of the house, around to the front and to the entrance to Stan's basement flat. Stan was in, sitting on an armchair, with a paraffin lamp on the table next to him. He was reading a book.

"Tell Ethan that I don't want any fucking thing to do with him while he's having a fucking snit."

"I might paraphrase," said Rupert. "What's he done now?"

"I've just had enough of him," said Stan. "He's a mean-spirited tit. I don't know why any of the rest of you put up with him. Also, I'm getting married."

"Oh! Congratulations! You both must be very happy."

"See?" said Stan. "You know the right thing to say because you are not a mean-spirited tit. You really need to find someone else, mate."

"Um," said Rupert.

"You should go and ask Philip if he wants to join the spell," said Stan. "He was looking forward to it last night. He got the tatt and everything."

"All right," said Rupert. "Which flat is his again?"

Philip had the basement flat in the house across the road. He answered the door in his pyjamas, and Rupert realised that it was quite possibly after eleven, which was rather late for the sort of people who worked in offices and had ordinary kinds of day jobs.

Philip looked a bit disturbed to find him on his doorstep, until Rupert explained about the spell.

"I would absolutely love to join you," Philip said. "Just let me get dressed."

Rupert sat in the living room and waited. The room had actual carpet. There wasn't much furniture, all cheap stuff and brand new: a sofa, a coffee table and a television. The olive-coloured walls had crushed and cut white tissue paper hung from the wall as a decoration.

"Ready," said Philip, after five minutes of the sounds of cupboards and drawers opening and closing. He was in jeans and a fringed denim jacket. "Will it go late?"

"Very," said Rupert.

"I might have to ring in sick then," said Philip, which reminded Rupert that he'd missed his rehearsal with The Grins. At his rate, he was going to lose both his jobs.

"Will the spell hurt at all?" was Philip's next question, as he locked the front door behind them.

"No," said Rupert, slightly baffled, but then he said, "Ah, apart from the bit where you cut your hand."

"Diedre said there wasn't anything, you know, dirty about it."

Again, Rupert had to think for a bit before he worked out what Philip meant. "No, it's not that sort of spell at all." In case Philip was interested, he said, "But I think Ethan knows some people into that sort of thing."

There was a small group waiting for them in the squat's back garden: Diedre, Tom and Randall. Rupert and Philip joined them, and then they set off to look for Ethan.

"We're meeting him at a park gate," Randall said. "I'll show you which one."

"Did anyone remember to feed the Germans?" Tom asked.

No-one had.

"They'll have leftovers from last night," Diedre said.

"They'll be gone tomorrow," said Rupert. "Everything will be all right then."


Ethan laid out the spell, but he was very, very unhappy. Why wasn't it just Randall, Diedre and himself? Tom he could understand, perhaps, but who the hell had invited Ripper? And he couldn't even remember the name of the chap from next door.

"I should cancel this," he said to Diedre.

"No! Don't!" said Diedre. "Randall's really been looking forward to it."

Randall was sitting next to her, looking very, very tired. Everyone looked tired.

"You look trashed," Ethan told Randall, as he laid out the altar cloth.

"Time to go to sleep," said Randall.

"Not yet," said Rupert. "I go first in this, remember?"

Why was Rupert here? Had Ethan not made it perfectly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with that man? Actually, it was possible that he hadn't; he was not unaware that sometimes he thought things very loudly in his head but forgot to say them. If he'd actually said that out loud in front of Randall, then Randall would have made sure that Rupert wasn't there. That was the sort of man Randall was.

Ethan tried to focus on the thought of the van trip. They could take turns driving. Or perhaps Randall and Diedre could drive while Ethan sat in the back, practising smaller magics. Or if Randall was driving, then Diedre would be a very welcome captive audience and trainee. It was really about time he took control of her training, as she lacked the willpower to stick to anything herself. He laid out the candles.

The next-door-neighbour was clearly trying to manoeuvre his way next to Diedre. That was a laugh - was he going to squeeze in between her and Tom, or her and Randall? And he didn't seem very keen on sitting next to Ethan.

"Does anyone have something to drink?" the next-door-neighbour asked. There was a bit of an embarrassed murmur, as no-one had remembered to bring any drink at all. Rupert had his hip flask, which he passed around, but everyone was stone-cold sober.

Diedre was in some sort of dress tonight with lace sleeves. Randall had changed into one of his lower-key outfits. Rupert was in his stupid fucking jacket although it was warm enough for shirtsleeves.

Outdoors, he couldn't mark out the circle in chalk, so he used sand, pouring a thin stream from a bag around them all. He asked Randall to finish off the circle around Rupert as he didn't want to get that close, especially when Rupert opened his jacket and shirt in readiness for the spell.

"No," said Ethan, suddenly. "Randall first." Rupert last. He didn't want to lay his hand on him. In fact, he'd end the spell before it was Rupert's turn.

Diedre poured the sand around Randall. Ethan turned his attention to the new boy. "You can't play if you don't know the chant."

"Dee taught it to me yesterday," New Boy said. He repeated it passably enough.

"You do realise we're summoning a demon?" Ethan said. "Make a mistake and we'll all be fucked over."

He looked around the circle then and saw that everyone looked about ready. They were all sitting on the grass, looking pale and washed-out in the moonlight, with trees silhouetted behind. Randall still looked like he was falling asleep.

"Wake up," said Ethan, poking him with a foot, and Randall smiled.

They cast the spell. And then everything went horribly wrong.

Part 5:
Way Back


The demon had made it as far as the chemist's, a few streets from the park. It didn't match anything he could precisely remember from the bestiaries and almanacs of the Watcher's Council. It was clearly superhuman in strength, and possibly in speed, although it had yet to demonstrate that clearly. No sign as yet of other magical abilities, but so far, it hadn't needed them.

It had burst through the locked gate of the park, rather than say, leaping over the fence. It had paced down the street, pausing here and there to take in deep breaths and to stare at itself in windows. Possibly it wasn't innately humanoid, or its shape depended strongly on the seized host. Was that something they could use against it? Would it be clumsy in its new body? Did it have any senses that it was unused to and that they could trick?

There was some kind of vibration, some kind of hum in the air, that followed the demon around.

At least it was late, with few civilians wandering the streets. The demon had spent a couple of hours inside the park before realising it was walled in.

Philip was across the street, also watching the demon. He'd turned out to be quite fleet of foot. Diedre had had to stop half an hour ago, her feet bleeding from from unsuitable shoes; she and Tom had gone back to the house to fetch her walking boots, but hadn't yet caught up. Rupert didn't know where Ethan was.

He needed a weapon but there was nothing obvious that he could see. It was a shopping street at night, with everything locked up or put away. Somehow he didn't think that throwing empty milk bottles at it would suffice. Perhaps he could break into one of the shops? But to steal what? And what if the demon heard the breaking glass and came after him?

A car turned down the street, swerved around the demon, and drove on. Its horn tooted belatedly, as if in disbelief.


Ethan grabbed a bag and shoved in a handful of books. The Stegun and Abramowitz, the Ogata and the Badescu. Fistfuls of candles and matches and chalk followed. A bag of sand. Herbs. Then he broke into Rupert's room and added what he could find there. The bag weighed a ton.

Diedre was downstairs, tying the last of her laces. "We'll take my bicycle," she said. "It'll be faster."

Outside, Ethan put the bag of magical gear in the front basket, which visibly bent. "We can't both ride on this," he said. "You get the magic books to Rupert. I'll follow as fast as I can."

He looked around but Stan's car was gone, and he didn't have the keys for Rupert's. He'd just have to run.

He noticed, as he ran to the main street, that Tom hadn't followed them out of the house.

He lost sight of Diedre near the laundrette. Where would Randall be headed? How much control did Eyghon have? Could he access Randall's thoughts? Would he know that the others would try to quell him using magic? He tried to work out what Eyghon might want -- a bit of a stroll after a thousand years of incorporeality? Would he try to keep Randall permanently possessed, or could they trade Randall for another body? Could they buy it off -- with money, with magic, with blood, with anything else Ethan might possibly possess or be able to acquire?

He paused at the crossroads near the supermarket. There was no sign of Diedre or of anyone else at all. He paused to listen and closed his eyes. He could hear distant traffic and voices coming from the south, then a faint sound that might have been a car horn from the north-east. He ran towards it.


The demon had started to break things. It began with a motorbike that it picked up and dropped, listening to the sound with a cocked ear. It punched through the door of a barbershop, then examined its hand. It pushed over a streetlamp.

That woke the neighbourhood up. A man in the flat above the barber's opened the window and shouted down. "What the hell are you doing, mate?" Other people opened their windows too.

Eyghon looked up at the man.

"We have to draw it away from here," Rupert told Philip. "We need to get it away from people."

Before he could make a suggestion as to how, Philip darted forward. "Hey," Philip shouted. "Come and get me!"

The demon had already started to climb towards its heckler, but it paused now to look at Philip.

Rupert's heart sank. Philip was going to die.

"Hey!" shouted Philip again, running along the street, not at the demon, but certainly not away from it. "Hey!"

The demon climbed back down. With a puzzled look, it walked towards Philip.

Philip ran ahead, paused briefly, then ran ahead. Again, the demon followed.

Rupert then heard a squeaking behind him. He turned and found himself almost crashed into by Diedre on her bike. "I've got the magic books!" she said. "Ethan's coming." She gestured towards a large bag that threatened to topple the bike. "There must be a spell we can use in there." Then she said, "What's Philip doing?"


Ethan caught up with Diedre and Rupert a couple of streets away from the towpath. As he stood to catch his breath, he saw the possessed Randall chasing Philip.

"Dock leaves," Ethan said. "I've just remembered a spell that might work. We need the dock leaves in the bag. He gestured towards Diedre. "Can you fetch them?"

"The Canterbury exorcism spell?" Rupert asked. "You need a human fingernail for that."

Ethan had already pulled out his knife. He placed the tip under the nail of his left pinkie and gave it a sharp twist.

The pain was indescribable. When he was able to see again, Philip and Randall and Rupert were a block further along. Diedre was standing next to him, with her hand on his shoulder.

"Come on," she said, softly.

They ran to catch up with Rupert.

Then, just before they reached the canal, a car turned the corner, very fast. Diedre grabbed Ethan by the shoulder and pushed him out of the way. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rupert leap backwards too. But Randall-Eyghon just stood there, looking at the car without comprehension.

The car hit Randall and he fell. The car reversed, turned and retreated.

"Randall!" Diedre shouted and raced towards him. Her bike fell over.

They gathered around. The demon's head was at an odd angle, but it was still breathing.

"He'll regenerate, won't he?" Ethan said. Diedre was weeping. "He should be able to do that in demon form." He hoped it was true.

"Pick it up," said Rupert. "We should get it off the road. There's an empty yard over there."

Ethan grabbed Randall's feet while Rupert took the head and shoulders. Diedre opened the gate. They carried Randall into the yard, a concrete slab stained with engine oil and smelling strongly of petrol. Philip went to fetch Deirdre's bike.

"Now for the spell," said Ethan.

"Not yet," said Diedre. "Not until his neck's healed."

She sat next to Randall. Ethan sat next to her and took her hand. They looked at Randall, at his elongated features and mottled skin. They watched his chest rise and fall and the small movement of his lips.

Rupert didn't join them. Instead, he paced and paced until it started to drive Ethan to distraction. So Ethan grabbed the bag of books and went through them with Diedre. They found three exorcism spells, but the Canterbury one was definitely the most powerful. They rehearsed it, sotto voce.

"If we wait until its neck has healed, it will awaken and destroy us," Rupert said.

"Then have a Plan B ready," Ethan said.


Randall was dead. Randall had been dead for hours, but none of the others wanted to know that. Rupert wasn't sure why he was playing along. He was going to let them cast their spell and then they were going to have to kill Eyghon anyway.

He searched the yard and the abandoned garage behind it, but couldn't find much that he could turn into a weapon, apart from a small and rusty screwdriver. He went back outside and spotted the bicycle. He took it out of the others' line of sight and used the screwdriver to remove the handlebar. It was an old bike and heavily built. The handlebar felt like a proper weapon in his hands.

He heard Ethan and Diedre starting their chant.

When the spell failed, he came around the corner with the handlebar.


"We could bargain with it," said Ethan. "We could trade something to get Randall back." In fact, he wondered where Philip had got to.

"You don't bargain with demons," said Rupert. "They only agree when you've made the situation worse than when you started."

"And you're the expert?" asked Diedre.

"Actually," Ethan had to admit, "he is."

"Call Evelyn," said Diedre.

"She's on a boat," Ethan snapped. He turned back to Rupert. "Call the Watchers," he said.

Rupert said, "I need to stay here, in case it wakes. One of you should go."

"I'm not leaving him," Diedre said.

So Ethan wrote down the number. "There's a phone box near the bridge," he said. "I'll be right back."

Someone had thrown up recently in the phone booth, but Ethan barely noticed. He put in his coins and dialled the number.

It was picked up on the first ring. "Yes?" asked an elderly female voice.

"I'm calling on behalf of Rupert Giles," Ethan said. "We have an unconscious man possessed by Eyghon the Sleepwalker. We want to know what to do."

"One moment," said the voice. It was quite without any trace of emotion.

He waited, looking at the graffiti and not really taking it in.

The voice returned. "We cannot give you a specific recommendation at this time. It would take us a couple of days to ascertain the information."

"Then what should we do?" Ethan heard himself shout.

"Kill it," said the voice.

Ethan hung up. He waited there for a moment, thinking, then he called Mr Grey. The phone rang out eight, ten, then fifteen times. He gave up and went back to the yard.

He should make something up, he realised, but by then Rupert and Diedre had read his expression.

"I thought so," Rupert said.

"No, wait, I think we should--"

But then Eyghon started to move. Just the fingers, a little twitch. Diedre shouted and pointed.

Rupert swung the handlebar. It made a kind of a thick cracking sound as it hit Randall's head.

Ethan held Diedre as Rupert swung. She had her face buried against Ethan's shoulder, so she couldn't see, but Ethan watched. He saw Randall's face -- already unlike him -- cave in piece by piece, then steadily become more pulpy. It seemed to take a very long time. The twitching stopped and so did Randall's breathing.

Then Rupert stood there, panting, with his hands on his knees to hold himself up. His shirt and jacket were still open to the chest, as they had been since the start of the spell.

The sky had that first faint lightness of dawn in it. Ethan felt that his shoulder was wet where Diedre was crying onto it. He saw that one of the shoulder straps of her dress was torn, exposing most of a breast. He reached over to tie up the strap and realised that his hands hurt. The wound was still oozing from where he'd ripped out the nail and he'd burnt his palms putting out the candle flames when the spell had started to go wrong. He left a bloodstain on Diedre's shoulder as he tied the strap.

He was suddenly very thirsty and very tired.

Rupert had got enough of his breath back to say, "We need to take its head off so it doesn't re-form. The spinal cord's going to be difficult."

Diedre let go of Ethan then. She turned and marched towards Rupert, and started to hit him. It was just slaps, nothing with much force behind it, but Rupert was off-balance.

"How could you do that?" she shouted. "How could you kill Randall?"

Rupert seized her shoulders and held her away from him with his long arms. "That wasn't Randall anymore," he said.

"Not Randall?" she gestured towards the corpse, which was still unmistakably wearing Randall's clothes. "You're not really like the rest of us, are you?" she said. "You're inhuman."

She turned and left the yard.

"It's not Randall any more," Rupert told Ethan, looking almost bewildered. Ethan felt a stab of pity.

"Does it have to be the head?" Ethan asked. "What if I deliquesced the whole body?"

"Well, that would stop it regenerating. You can do that?"

"Yes," said Ethan. "Go home. I'll see you there."

Up until now, Ethan had only tried this spell on dead mice, the ones brought to him incidentally by summoned owls.

It took a lot longer to decompose a human-sized body than a mouse.

All that time, he had this niggling idea in his head that he should rescue Randall's clothes, as if Randall were waiting at home or somewhere else, and would miss his stolen shirt and trousers.

Ethan couldn't really be doing this, of course. He couldn't be sitting there, casting a spell to rot Randall's body in a yard near the canal, with the sky turning blue overhead and the dawn birds singing. He couldn't be watching skin sink into flesh and then into bone as he waited there.

He was never up that early, for a start.

Once the body had been reduced to a thick stain on the concrete he went to look at the bicycle handlebars. The stain on that didn't look human either; it was the wrong colour and too thick. Demon blood, he thought. He'd just throw it in the canal to be sure.

He watched the waters close over it.


Rupert walked home. It had ceased to be night some time ago and was now becoming properly morning. He passed postmen and milkmen on early rounds. He walked past a frowning woman at a bus-stop and realised he hadn't done up his shirt. His arm ached with the force of the blows he'd given. He was so tired that at one point, he just sat on a park bench and watched the sky lighten until he realised he was in danger of falling asleep.

Back at the house, Diedre was pouring herself a very large gin and tonic with shaking hands. Her makeup had run halfway down her face and dried there, blue and black. She cleared enough room on a kitchen counter for her to sit.

Rupert poured himself a drink and sat on a stool. Neither of them said anything. After a while, Ethan came back. He also had a gin and sat there silently. Tom came to the hall doorway at one point, looked at them all, then went back upstairs.

Ethan made toast that nobody ate. Deirdre poured them all more gin.

At nine o'clock, the Germans came down the stairs. Adrienne came out of her room to greet them. "We're away," she said. "We're meeting someone at the train station and then they'll be gone. Say auf Weidersehn."

Nobody did, although one the Germans gave a small wave and said, "Danke." Rupert could not tell if he was being sincere.

By ten o'clock, Diedre was weeping silently. Ethan looked as if he was about to pass out. Rupert's arm had ceased to be an ache and was turning into a searing pain.

He was going through Stan's kitchen cupboard, looking for painkillers, when Adrienne came back.

"Well, that's them away," she said. "Now tell me what the hell happened to all of you."

"Randall's dead," said Ethan.

"Rupert smashed his head in," said Diedre.

"The demon Eyghon possessed him and we were unable to get the demon out," said Rupert.

Adrienne stared at them all. Eventually, she said, "Who else knows this?"

"Philip next door," said Rupert. "Tom."

"Where's the body?"

"Deliquesced," said Ethan. "I dealt with it."

"Stay here," said Adrienne, as if anyone were moving.

They watched and listened as she went upstairs to fetch Tom. He came back down, carrying a bag.

"I've packed for us," he said to Diedre. "We can go and stay with my father for a week or two, if we have to."

Meanwhile, Adrienne had stepped outside. They could faintly hear her knocking on Philip's door. When she came back with him, he was wearing dark blue pyjamas and a dressing gown. His hair was wet.

"Do we call the police and tell them the truth?" asked Adrienne.

"Demons are little recognised under modern English law," said Ethan.

"That it was an accident?"

"It's culpable homicide," said Tom.

"We should just report him missing," Rupert heard himself say.

"Then they'll want to find him," said Tom.

Rupert said, "People go missing all the time. They're rarely found. It happens much more often than most people think, especially here in London."

"He just walked out and never came back?" said Adrienne.

The back door opened again. This time it was Stan. It was getting quite crowded there in the kitchen.

"So," he said, "is that the Krauts gone? Hooray. Now everything can get back to normal." He took in everyone's expressions. "What's happened?"

For a moment, no-one said anything. Then Diedre stood.

"Randall and I had an argument," she said, very calmly and firmly, "about Tom. He hasn't come back to the house since."

"Oh," said Stan. "Should we look for him?"

"We'll give him a day," she said. "If he isn't back by then, I will call his family and see if he is with them." Her voice wavered a little. "I'll call Paul."

"OK then," said Stan. "I'm sure he's all right."

With that, the compulsion to stay in the kitchen finally evaporated. Rupert took some more painkillers and went to bed.

He woke in the dark, unknown hours later, to the sound of screaming. He ran downstairs and found it was Diedre. She was throwing everything in the house that belonged to Tom out of the first-floor window.


Ethan felt unwell but also restless. His mind wouldn't let him go to sleep. He wanted to see Randall, get a few words of reassurance from him, feel calmer and then get some sleep. Instead he was tense, awake and weepy.

There was shouting and screaming from below: Diedre throwing Tom out of the house. Ethan thought it was a little too late for that.

The electricity was still off, so he sat in the dark, trying to work out what had gone wrong. The spell had been fine; he was sure of it. It had been just like all the other times they'd cast it, apart from being outdoors, and having the new boy there, and starting with someone other than Rupert. The chant was the same, the pentacle was the same. Being outdoors shouldn't have made a difference. Philip had been surprisingly competent. And what difference should it have made, who got to be possessed first?

Ethan tried to think of something he could do to relax. He didn't feel like sex at all, or hash, so he pulled out a pack of cards. He did the simplest, calmest spell, a pick-the-card illusion. There was nothing to it, except the small, low link to the magic, that sense of warmth and connection. He drew a card and got the two of diamonds. He drew another card, cast the spell, and again got a two of diamonds. He kept drawing cards and kept casting the small spell until he was able to sleep.


Rupert wandered around the house, a little before dawn. It was quiet now, apart from him. Adrienne would be fast asleep at that hour and Ethan, who might not be, wasn't answering his door.

In the drawing room were the remains of the night-before-last's party. All the food had been cleared, but there were still a few empty and half-empty bottles. Rupert felt ill just looking at them.

From the window he could see the moonlit garden and the scudding clouds above. And he could see the long, black car parked opposite the house.

He pulled on his boots and his jacket and went across the road. It was Stockton.

"We got a call last night," said Stockton, through the wound-down window. "We wondered if you needed any help."

"It's done," said Rupert. "We, we took care of it."

"We have a file here, if you need it." Stockton poked a manila folder through the wound-down window. "Looks like quite a monster. We're on standby." When Rupert didn't take the folder, Stockton put it back down. "I'm on standby."

"It's gone," said Rupert. "We didn't need your help at all."

"Well, good for you," said Stockton, although his expression was one of surprise. "Are you sure--"

"Quite sure," said Rupert.

When he got back to his room, he found Diedre trying to open his locked door. She backed away from him a little.

"I want you gone too," she said. "I want you out of here."

"No," he said.

She looked afraid. She looked afraid of him. She went back down the stairs.


It was probably day, but it was hard to tell in Randall's room when the curtains were drawn. Ethan stood there, looking at all of Randall's things. Randall's paintings, Randall's clothes, Randall's records: Ethan could tell you which items had been brought over from San Francisco, which had been acquired while they were in Cricklewood, and which had been bought since. There were a couple of books and a few photographs older than the rest, from when Randall had lived on the east coast of America.

There was a beanbag lying between the mattress and the wall, because Randall liked to smoke sitting up in bed. A brass Mexican ashtray sat on top of a Moroccan cushion. Next to the bed was a small pile of books -- a beat poet anthology, a coffee-table art book, and an introductory guide to cricket that an old boyfriend of Ethan's had given to Randall. The pile of records were next, too many titles to think about, but there was a space on the floor where the record player used to be, encroached upon already by the slow avalanche of his clothes. His weed and gear were in a biscuit tin under the window, and his long-neglected magical paraphernalia was dusty next to it. Then there was an easel, paints, and various art-type tools that Ethan had never bothered learning the names of.

There had been nothing wrong with the spell.

Down on the first-floor landing, Diedre was packing. Adrienne stood next to the window.

Adrienne said to him, "Tell her not to go back to her parents."

"Don't go back to your parents," Ethan said, automatically. Then he thought about what he'd said. "Of course you don't want to do that. Why would you do that?"

"I don't want to be here any more," Diedre said.

"What about us?" he said. "Do you want to leave us alone?"

"What went wrong with the spell?" she asked him.

"Nothing," he said.


Rupert put on his second-best set of clothes and picked up his guitar. He was going to go and beg for his job back, at the hotel. He was going to say that he had been very ill, hospitalised even, and he had been unable to call. He was better now and able to work and it would never happen again.

He rehearsed the speech in his head as he sat on the bus. He really wanted to keep the job. He had some money now from the ferry terminal fiasco, but a lump sum wouldn't last. He needed a regular income and it would be best if he could say on at the squat, so that he didn't have to pay rent. He hoped very much that Diedre would feel better soon, although he would quite understand if she didn't.

He found the hotel manager in the corridor leading to the kitchens. He straightened his jacket and assumed his most trustworthy expression.

"Feeling better?" asked the manager. "That's good. We had people asking after you last week. Go on in."

"Right," said Rupert, his speech unspoken, and feeling a little flustered.

He didn't play particularly well that afternoon.


Nothing had been wrong with the spell. Ethan went through the steps in his head as he spent the afternoon running errands for Mr Grey.

He came home along the canal path but there was no sign of Evelyn. He stood at the water's edge, looking along the line of moored boats. It was a warm day but there weren't that many people out. He struggled to remember what day of the week it was.

Had it been that they weren't drunk? The spell book indicated that Eyghon was to be summoned at bacchanals, but it hadn't explicitly said inebriation was required.

Maybe it was because they'd changed the order of possession. Rupert should have gone first. He always went first. If it had been Rupert rather than Randall who'd gone first, then things wouldn't have been so bad. Everyone would have been a bit sorry, but really he was a newcomer to the household, without close ties. Ethan, Randall and Deirdre might have found a way to stop Eyghon, or if not -- did it have to be their problem? A demon, rampaging around Camden Town, someone would have stopped it eventually, perhaps the police or the Watchers. Then Randall would still be alive and Deirdre wouldn't be upset and everything would have been fine. So it was Rupert who should have been turned into a demon.

The stain was still there on the concrete in the yard. It looked a different colour under full daylight, but it didn't look human at all.

So that was Randall now. What a pig's arse that was. That's what the universe did, though; it killed off perfectly good people and left the ones you didn't like behind.

He was there for a while, and when he next looked up, he realised it was getting dark. He didn't really want to go back to the house. Instead he went for a walk, over to a pub near the Tube station where he'd used to go with Randall, years ago. He hoped to get dinner there, but the kitchen was closed, so he had to settle for a packet of crisps and a beer.

The pub was a block away from where he and Randall had first met. Back then, Randall had worked in a head shop where Ethan would sometimes stop by to get candles, on his way to busk in the park. On Saturday afternoons, Randall was the only sales assistant and, if it was raining, Ethan was often the only customer. That's what Ethan remembered most clearly, those rainy afternoons, water bucketing down and the bright colours of the shop walls muted by the grey light, as he stood talking with Randall at the counter. It was the first time Ethan had really had the chance to talk properly with someone about magic, in a conversation in which he didn't feel patronised. And Randall had real contacts, people who were in touch with the scene in San Francisco that Randall had been part of. He knew people.

Ethan counted the number of empties in front of him and realised he might not be able to walk. He needed to sit there a while longer.

He wondered what had gone wrong.


So Rupert still had a job and he still had somewhere to live. He rang the drummer of The Grins, who told him he was still in the band but wasn't to miss any more rehearsals. All good.

What he didn't have was the full use of his right arm. The muscles in it, and in his shoulder, neck and back, only got worse over time. He could play the guitar with difficulty, and drive not at all. Stan gave him some industrial-strength painkillers that made him space out.

He'd promised Stan that he'd help look for Randall, so he did. What he mainly did was sit in the passenger seat of Stan's car while Stan drove in ever larger circles around Camden. Rupert looked out at the evening streets, then night streets, as if he might somehow spot Randall.

Stan got more and more worried. "He'd have let us know if he'd gone to a friend's." Then he got angry. "You think he'd have left us a fucking note."

That night, well after midnight, Adrienne came to Rupert's room. "Ssh," she said. "I don't want Deirdre to know." She lit a candle, then pulled off her nightgown. The candlelight over her body reminded him of the night she'd first taken him home.

She was a bit too rough that night and it took him longer than usual to come. As she pulled her nightgown back on, he asked her how Diedre was.

"Terrible," said Adrienne. "She had to call his family today. She spoke with Paul, who's her ex-fiance, if you remember. She lied convincingly, but she's been drunk since she got back home. She keeps saying you killed him and she wants you out of the house."

"Eyghon killed him," Rupert said. He was shirtless and sitting against the wall. He searched himself for any trace of doubt, and found none.

"It'll take her some time to believe that."

"I can leave," he offered.

Adrienne shook her head. "Just give her another couple of days."


Ethan was tired but he couldn't fall back to sleep. He was hungry and thirsty but didn't want to get out of bed. He felt quite sick. It was the middle of the day, probably.

Randall would have checked on him, if Randall had been there. Randall would have knocked quietly on the bedroom door and offered Ethan some tea, or an aspirin. Ethan wondered if anyone would check on him now. Maybe, in a week's time, one of the others would say, "Has anyone seen Ethan?" Or maybe someone would complain it was his turn to do the shopping.

Actually, Diedre would remember him, eventually. She was just a little distracted right now. And Adrienne wasn't stupid.

The thought comforted him, and he decided he felt well enough to sit up. He found that he'd left a glass of water next to his bed. He drank from it and felt a little better.

He was still in the same clothes he'd worn yesterday. The skin of his palms was peeling where they had been burnt. The skin under his missing fingernail ached.

He really needed to work out what had gone wrong with the spell. Firstly, he would have to rule out obvious things. He'd start by checking his memory.

He cleared a large section of floor by piling up his clothes and pushing the mattress towards the wall, leaving a broad expanse of wooden floorboard. He pulled out some chalk and drew the pentagram and subsidiary circles on the floor. He was pleased by his lack of hesitation -- there would be nothing wrong there. Then, next to it, he wrote the words of the chant, again from memory, and with confidence.

So what more was there? Now he wrote out the order of the casting and its components. That was all of it then.

He felt better just looking at it all written down. He went downstairs and washed, then breakfasted, or possibly lunched. He put on some clean clothes and noted that he'd need to go to the laundrette soon. The thought was so normal that it surprised him, then filled him with pain. Things weren't normal -- Randall was dead.

He sat back down with the fucking Dargoth spellbook that he now wished he'd never owned. He wished Ripper hadn't known where to find Eusapia Ciccarello. He wished he hadn't found the article about her in the newspaper clippings. He wished he'd never gone snooping around Evelyn's things and had never heard of Ciccarello.

He opened the book and went through the spell. The pentagram he'd sketched was correct. So were the circles. So were the lines of the chant. He checked the order of the spell and the list of components. All correct.

Then what the hell was it? What had killed Randall?

He read through the text of the spell again, and worked it out.


The police arrived just as Rupert came home from work. They rang the doorbell at the front door just as Rupert came in the back. He and Adrienne cleared a path through the hallway and let them in. Adrienne took them up to the drawing room while Rupert went to warn Stan.

Stan was blase though. "They need a warrant," he said. "And I've not got much around the house any more. I'm shutting up shop and moving to High Wycombe, yeah?"

Up in the drawing room, the police sat on the only two chairs while everyone else stood around. Diedre looked miserable. Ethan looked sick.

"Did he seem agitated?" the police asked. Then,"What's his means of employment?"

"He's an artist," Deirdre said.

"What's his main source of income though, love?"

"He has a small inheritance," said Deirdre, "and he made some money painting."

"Does he have any unsavoury friends?"

Only us, thought Rupert. Stan said, "He has a lot of friends. He's a very popular guy."

"Is there anyone you can think of who might want to harm him?"

"No," said Ethan, with some vehemence. "No-one would ever want to harm him."

"And, apart from the argument you mentioned, had he shown any other signs of distress or agitation?"

"A couple of his friends in America died recently," said Deirdre. "I mean, two of his friends from when he lived in America, but they didn't die there, and it wasn't recently, but he only just found out."

"Oh?" said an officer, looking genuinely interested for the first time.

"In service in the army," she said, and then police officer looked almost disappointed.

"Where did you get that bruise?" an officer asked Ethan.

"Outside a pub," Ethan said.

"Can we look in his room?" they asked.

Rupert stood in the doorway of Randall's bedroom while they looked around. They picked up clothing and opened boxes. They found his pot but didn't say anything.

"Did he take his wallet?"

"Yes," said Diedre.

"What about clothes?"

"A suitcase," lied Diedre. "He just left his fancy dress."

They spoke to Diedre some more after that, asking about their relationship and the whereabouts of Tom. Then they were gone.

Rupert went up to the attic. He wasn't worried about the police looking for Randall, for they would find no living trace of him. He was a little worried though about the illegal Germans and whether any sign of them could be found in the house.

He searched the attic, but found nothing obviously incriminating. He went to look out the window, at the summer sky and the garden far below.

He could see the police car pulling away. He could see Ethan, Diedre, and Adrienne standing near the gate. He saw Ethan say something to Diedre. And then she scratched him in the face.


"You hobgoblin!" shouted Deirdre, as Adrienne pulled her away. "We should never have trusted you. You--" she was clearly at a loss for words. He watched her search through her memory for terms foul enough. "Putain de merde! Vas faire foutre a la vache! Arschgeige!"

"Get out of here," Adrienne told him, as she struggled to hold Diedre. "Get Ripper."

Ethan did one of those things.


By the time Rupert reached the garden, Ethan had disappeared. Adrienne was holding Deirdre, who was sitting on the grass, sobbing.

"Ripper," said Adrienne, "can we borrow your car? Just for a couple of days. I want to take her to Louise's for a while, until she feels better. Louise would like help with the baby."

"So she had it, then?" Rupert asked.

Adrienne rolled her eyes. "Of course."

Rupert went to fetch his car keys. When he came back to the garden, Deirdre and Adrienne were taking bags to his car. Deirdre was still weeping.

"Have a good trip," he said.

Diedre spat at him.


There was quite a good shop on the other side of town. You had to catch a train at Euston, then change at Waterloo. From there you took a train out for half an hour into the London suburbs, watching out of the window as office blocks and factory buildings gave way to terraces and then to houses with gardens. It was one of Ethan's favourite places to go when he felt like an expedition. By the time he stepped from the train, he was among icecream vans singing to schoolchildren and comfortable semi-detached homes.

The shop looked like a run-down bric-a-brac shop, mostly because it was. Four years ago, when he was still getting to know London, he'd worked his way through a guide to shops selling magical paraphernalia. But the guide had been old and out-of-date, and by the time Ethan had first come here, it had changed hands.

It sat between a shop selling second-hand furniture and a women's clothing boutique. There was a bow window at the front, through which you could see books piled on the windowsill, and perhaps the dark grey hair of the proprietor as he sat at his desk.

Inside, the walls were lined with mismatched shelves. Tables stretched from one end of the room to the other. A dog sat on a rug in front of a heater that the owner kept on year-round. There were a couple of cats too; you could smell them but it usually took some time to catch sight of one.

And everywhere: books. On the shelves, on the floor, in boxes perched on top of other boxes, in piles on top of the boxes. Ethan stopped at one pile to read through the titles: Kipling's Actions and Reactions, Donnelly's Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, Gardner's Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, the Autobiography of John Stuart Mill, a desiccated Things Seen in Northern India, and Hereward Carrington's Psychic Oddities. He picked up a copy of Heyday of a Wizard with a foreword by Harry Price.

There were signs up here and there purporting to indicate thematic contents, but in practice you were as likely to find a guide to Japanese etiquette filed under "Military History" or "Poetry" as "Travel". One had to have a strong sense of serendipity to appreciate the place. On one shelf, he skimmed his hand over 1930s children's books -- cloth-bound and rough to the touch, next to crumbling copies of farmers' almanacs and a notebook of tidal gauge observations from Semaphore, South Australia.

Then, down a steep and narrow flight of wooden stairs, was the basement, which had grubby whitewashed walls lit by naked tungsten bulbs. Here were boxes of knick-knacks and gewgaws, unlabelled and without pricetags. There were no tables here, so he had to sit on the rug-strewn concrete floor to rummage through broken china, old dolls, and plastic jewellery. On past visits he'd found the odd useful thing down there, like an antique scarf for Deirdre or half-decent shoes or cheap eggcups. Perhaps once a year he'd find something genuinely magical as well, such as a cursed Matchbox car or an ensorcelled string of amber beads.

Really, the shop wasn't much like the one where he'd found his first magic book (or where it had found him). That shop had been heady with fresh new-book smell and crisp minted pages. There had just been a single box of tattered used books, perhaps not for sale at all, being used to hold open a door at the back. His mother had stood near the counter, looking through the children's books to pick one out for him. He can't remember now what she chose -- something by W.E. Johns? -- but he could recite from memory everything he found in that hand-written journal.

He left the shop only when the proprietor called out that it was closing, and the cats came downstairs to roust him out. He bought a few books, one of which was slightly magical, and a box of Victorian photographs he thought he could use in a spell.

He had fish and chips for dinner, sitting at a table outside a pub. It was a warm night and there were many families out walking their dogs. A small girl rode past on her red tricycle.

On the train back, he watched the others passengers: the ones in the carriage, the ones who crowded in, and the ones who crowded out.

He felt light-headed and expansive. He felt like a hot-air balloon, with everything falling away.

Outside the station, he paused to watch the hundreds of others who stepped out into the grey streets, under the purple evening sky and the bright streetlights. He watched their faces -- pale or dark, male or female, smooth or weathered. He took in their expressions, of fatigue or happiness or worry. How different he was from them all.

Not one in a thousand men was capable of killing his own best friend.


Early the next morning, Randall's brother came to the house. Rupert opened the front door and brought him in, just as he had the police officers the day before.

Paul was a few inches taller than Randall, clean-shaven and some years older, in his mid-twenties at least. He had the same colour of hair. He was slightly better-looking than his brother, Rupert thought.

"I can't stay long," Paul said. "I'm needed back at the hospital." His accent was the same as Randall's. Mid-American? Transatlantic? He looked incongruous, standing there in his suit and tie amongst the piled-up rubbish of the hallway. Who owned the stuff in those boxes anyway?

Rupert took him through to the kitchen to make him a coffee. He had to find a mug to wash first, as the housework had rather fallen to the wayside in the last week. As the water boiled, he looked for a spoon. And then for the coffee. There wouldn't be any milk, as the power was still out and the fridge was empty.

"I hope you take it black," he said. "Sugar?" He watched Paul tip in half a cup and stir.

As he sipped, Paul's eyes flickered over filth of the kitchen floor and the unwashed dishes, but he didn't say anything about it. Instead he asked about his brother, Randall's recent moods and preoccupations. What drugs he was taking and whom he might have been sleeping with.

On the way upstairs, Paul paused on the stairwell to look at the paintings. He didn't ask whose they were. He spent some time staring at a copulating threesome of gibbons before giving a light shake of the head.

Up in Randall's room, he poked at his brother's things with a foot: his books, his records, his tubes of paint.

"He wastes his life," said Paul. He wasn't talking to Rupert, but to himself.

Rupert wanted to defend Randall. He wanted to say that Randall was generous and very probably talented and that his brother would be proud of him in time, but he couldn't.

"And how's Dee?" Paul asked. His expression then and his tone of voice were so horribly, horribly like Randall's that Rupert's skin crawled. He couldn't look Paul in the eye.

"She's desperately unhappy," Rupert said. "She's afraid he's gone for good."

"She's not here?"

"She's at Louise's," he said, then wondered if he should have. Paul nodded as if he knew who Louise was.

"He's done this before," said Paul. "Wandered off, gone AWOL. Back when he was in high school, I had to go look for him. He'd be passed out, pot-smoking somewhere. Out in the Park, or in someone's basement."

On the way back down to the kitchen, Paul asked, "So what do you do?"

Rupert found himself unwilling to admit to a doctor that he was a guitarist. He heard himself say, "I study history at Oxford."

Paul nodded, with a faint indication of approval. "Could you talk to him then, if you see him? Maybe he'd listen to you more than us. He needs an education and a vocation. Can you tell him his life's going nowhere right now?"

Rupert saw Paul to the front door. Then he spent the evening getting drunk.


Ethan came home to a silent house. He stood in the kitchen for a moment, trying to listen for any signs of life, but there were none. No shuffled feet from upstairs, nor chink of mug, nor refrigerator groaning, not even a gurgle of pipes.

He went into Adrienne's room first, as this was the one which opened onto the kitchen. Her leaflets were still there, and her mattress, but her clothes and her personal things were gone. She'd left the curtains almost closed. Their thin green cloth let in enough sunlight for the room to glow as if underwater. Dust motes swam in the air.

He went up the painted stairs, his footsteps sounding out on the bare wood. He paused on the landing to note the holes in the teetering piles of paperbacks, where someone had seized fistfuls while hurrying away. Tom and Deirdre's room was empty, little left in it now except the mattress and the torn bits of newspaper that Deirdre liked to use as bookmarks.

Up in the attic, no-one was there either, apart from the blind blank eye of the television set. Only Ripper's room looked recently occupied, with cigarette ash in a saucer and his clothes piled on the floor.

Ethan's hand shook as he turned the handle to the drawing room but it wasn't until he was inside that he realised he'd somehow expected to find Diedre there anyway, sitting on a chair next to the fireplace, the way his mother used to (and no doubt, still did). No, the drawing room was empty too, of everything bar beanbags and rugs. He went to the window and saw that neither Ripper's car nor Stan's was in the street.

It was just him, then. It was only to be expected.

It had been a long time since everything had felt so simple and clear. But how normal and right and real it felt: the stars had snapped back into their true alignment.

He took all the magical books and gear from the dead man's room. He prised open the couple that Randall had kept nailed shut, works of chaos magic that Randall had been given but had never wanted to use.

Ethan sat in his room then, surrounding himself with a circle of bought and scavenged tomes. He was happy to be there.

Then the clarity left him and his head and joints were filled instead with a thick, black mud of a feeling he could neither recognise nor name. He could not think of a way to make it go away.


Rupert felt a little better by Sunday morning. He lurched his way downstairs to wash and then have breakfast. The sight of the kitchen sickened him though and he started work on the washing-up. But once the dish drainer was full, he had nowhere to put the clean dishes, so he set to work on cleaning the countertops. Half an hour later, he had a teatowel out and was eyeing the horrible, ghastly floor, trying to remember where he'd seen the mop. Was it one of the things piled in the hallway?

He paused for some toast, then hunted out the mop and a bottle of bleach. At first all he managed was to detach the larger pieces of dropped, dried food from the linoleum and send them skidding around his feet. It was only after many, many rinses of water he succeeded in turning the blacker bits of the floor a smeared dark grey.

It was almost time for him to head out to his rehearsal. He went to fetch his guitar, and on the way back down, he saw Ethan standing in the bathroom, in front of the mirror. Rupert wondered if anyone else was at home. Adrienne had yet to return his car, there had been no sign of Diedre or of Tom, and Stan had driven off to High Wycombe on Friday night.

The Grins rehearsal went well. He played his part accurately and was complimented for it. He showed great restraint and only got slightly drunk. He got to try out some gear that Andy had brought, some new guitar pedals.

He got home around midnight. No lights were on in the house's lower floors. He stumbled upstairs and saw a flicker of candlelight from under Ethan's door and heard some light chanting, so there was nothing unusual there, then.

He had a strange dream that night, an Arabian nightmare, in which he woke and opened his bedroom door. There, on the landing, were Randall's dancing clothes, doing a kind of waltz with each other, to no music other than the rustle of their cloth. He closed the door and dreamt that he went back to bed.


Ethan walked to Terry's shop to buy some supplies. He stood on the customer's side of the wooden counter, listing off materials that Terry wrote down on a pad. The counter was of old wood, scuffed and scarred, and quite possibly hundreds of years old. He wondered how long the shop had been there; he supposed he could look it up in a library somewhere. He stared at Terry's hands, thinking that both the shop and Terry could have been here for centuries.

Ethan found it surprising now that he'd ever mistaken Terry for human. He had that unwashable, inky scent of magic about him, and his skin had a very slight greyish hue. And his fingers! Now that Ethan looked at them properly, he could see that the nails started to curve sharply under at their tips. Besides, Terry's walrus-brown moustache was surely stuck on with glue.

"Is that the lot?" Terry asked him, before stepping into the back storeroom to fetch the goods. He came back with a multitude of small paper-wrapped parcels in his large hands. He did some sums on his pad and told Ethan a total that would have caused panic six months ago. Now Ethan could just peel pound notes from his shirt pocket and smile.

"I heard there was a ruckus," said Terry, fixing Ethan with a stare, "in Regent's Park the other night."

"Yes," said Ethan, gathering together his purchases into his canvas knapsack. "That was me. I've been learning a few things lately."

"I see," said Terry, with a flat inflection. "You're coming along then."

It was the only conversation Ethan had had in days. A perfectly ordinary lunchtime conversation with a demon of indeterminate age.

He spent the afternoon and evening running errands for Mr Grey. He'd got rather behind lately, what with one thing and another. He had fetishes to bury in people's gardens and dust to sprinkle over schoolyards, but he didn't know what any of it was for. He supposed that if he had been born a different sort of person, he would have cared.

Mr Grey, a demon of Oxfordshire, will send him money for the work, which he will then add to the notes in his shirt pocket. He will spend the money on the necessities of life, and on candles, chalk and small paper parcels bought from Terry, a demon of Camden Town.


Monday really should have been a day of rest for Rupert. He had no rehearsals and no tedious lunchtime hours at the hotel. He wasn't even particularly hungover. He should have been able to spend the day in bed, catching up on his sleep, or lying with his eyes closed, listening to Tangerine Dream.

The first person to show up was Tom, some time in the mid-morning. Rupert heard a scuffling downstairs and found Tom in his old room, poking at the mattress as if he might find something under it. He had a large bunch of flowers with him and a box of chocolates.

"Is Diedre gone, then?" he asked.

He was dressed as he usually was for his summer job in the City, in a dark suit and tie. He looked like he hadn't slept well either. Rupert told him that Diedre was with Adrienne, but did not mention that they were with Louise.

Tom left his father's address and telephone number pinned to the fridge. "Please tell her I want to see her," he said. "I just want to know what it is that I've done. I know she's upset but she needs me now."

Adrienne came by in the early afternoon; Rupert could distinguish the sound of his own car from streets away.

"How are you?" she asked. Then: "Oh my God, it's so quiet in here. Thank God. Back at Louise's it's either the baby or Diedre wailing."

"She's not good, then?"

Adrienne shook her head. "Look, is Stan here, or Ethan? I was hoping to get something to calm her."

"I haven't seen Stan in days," Rupert said, "and I think Ethan's avoiding me."

They went up to Ethan's door anyway. Adrienne knocked loudly, saying, "It's me, it's Adrienne, are you OK?" but there was no answer.

"Randall had some pot," said Rupert. "You could take that."

"I want to borrow your car again," she said, once they had ducked in and out of the dead man's room. "I'd like to take my television to Louise's."

"You think you'll be there for a while, then?" Rupert asked, rather alarmed.

"At least a couple of weeks," Adrienne said. "She still wants to kill both of you."

"Both of us?" asked Rupert.

Up in the attic, Adrienne sat on the sofa and rolled herself a joint, which was something he'd never seen her do before.

"You can't drive my car if you're stoned," he said.

She spent the afternoon up there, either asleep or watching children's television. She sang along with both Play School and Blue Peter. Rupert sat on a nearby beanbag, often dozing himself. He wasn't sure if he wanted to have sex with her or not.

"Did you find university hard?" she asked him.


"Well, you dropped out, didn't you? But you're pretty smart."

"I was doing the equivalent of studying for two degrees at once," he said. "There weren't any hours left for me."

"But was the work particularly difficult? If you were just doing one degree at a time, I mean."

"Some of it, but by no means all. And if it's something you're genuinely interested in, that makes it easier." He looked at her. "Are you thinking of going?"

She sighed. "The thing with the Germans -- I'm not sure any more that was the right thing to do, or the best use of my will, you know. I think there's three overlapping strands to reform. There's the front-line fix-it-now soup-kitchen-and-first-aid strand, there's the strand which changes the viewpoints of others through persuasion, and there's deep systemic change. The first strand is necessary and yields the most immediate results, but it's the third we need to reach." A note of bewilderment had crept into her voice. "I don't know how to get there from here."

"I don't know that you'll learn how at university," Rupert said, "Besides, there are some things that can't be changed. And then all you have is the front line."

"Like what?"

"The sun always rises," he said, waving his hand vaguely. "And the sun always sets." One girl in all the world, he thought. The Slayer.

Adrienne pulled out a pack of cigarettes and handed him one. They smoked together in silence until the news came on.


It was an old theatre, closed for repairs, its outside face pinned in place with scaffolding. The side door had been unlocked, just as Mr Grey had said it would be, and soon Ethan had found himself in a hall, the main foyer, with marble underfoot and a grand stairway that led up to blocked-off doors. Afternoon sunlight shafted downwards from high windows. The air was thick with dust but his footsteps fell loud and distinct. The walls were hung with mirrored tile and purplish-red damask wallpaper. Innumerable Ethans moved when he turned his head.

He was not alone there. There was a girl, of about thirteen, sitting on the bottom step, dripping blood from a thumb-wound into a saucer. She had greasy dark hair that hung like thin leaves over pale skin. In the poor light, Ethan couldn't make out the whites of her eyes. She held out the saucer and Ethan pulled out a knife to add a few drops of blood of his own. She had an envelope with her, from which she poured a pale blue powder, mixing it in with the kind of wooden stick you found inside ice lollies. She daubed the paste onto his cheeks and hers, and then they went into the main theatre, to touch every seat in the stalls whilst reciting a chant in a language Ethan did not know.

They finished near the edge of the stage, almost overlooking the orchestra pit. The girl passed him another envelope, which held twenty pounds and a final instruction from Mr Grey. He took a pen out of his pocket and wrote down a ritual for making dancing lights. She took it back from him greedily: that was her payment.

As a parting gift, she held aloft a Hessian bag. "I found it myself," she said, her tone proud. "I came through." It contained a single hedgehog, wrapped around itself into a ball.

A memory came back to Ethan, unbidden and unwanted: a bucolic day under a warm sky, spent running around the fields and woods near his grandmother's house. He'd disturbed a hedgehog in its nest and followed it around the underbrush until it had circled home. He must have been quite small then, if his grandmother had still been alive. He pushed the memory away.

He went back to the house first, to fetch a few things, then walked through the streets to the concrete yard where Randall had died. It was the late afternoon now. The weather was restless: clouds scudding over the sky, sunlight alternating with brief showers.

The yard was just as abandoned in daylight as it was at night. The garage was unused and empty. The only signs of habitation were mouse droppings and spiderwebs.

But the floor was an unbroken concrete slab, a perfect surface for chalk, blood and salt. He set to it with a broom, sweeping away brick dust and iron filings. As he worked, he thought to himself there was no reason to hold back any more, and there never had been. It seemed unreasonable to him now that he had ever done so. What had he ever cared of other people's opinions? Everyone had always known what he was.

The dust made him cough; he had to go outside for some air. He ventured in a second time, and managed to finish clearing a large area, if not the whole garage. He could do the rest of it later, but now he had a place to start.

He'd brought with him his satchel, heavy now from his books and a selection of magical supplies. The concrete was cold to sit on, even on such a mild day, so he pulled off his shirt and sat on that too. Then he considered the books he'd brought with him.

The evening light was starting to fade, so he lit a lamp. He thought he might as well start with the spell that required a live hedgehog.


Stan came by after dinner. "How's everyone, then, yeah?" He looked around the kitchen. "Someone's cleaned up the place."

So Rupert had to explain that there was no-one else currently in the house. Tom was at his father's, Diedre and Adrienne were at Louise's, and he hadn't spoken to Ethan in days.

"And Randall?" asked Stan. "No sign of him yet?"

When Rupert shook his head, unable to meet Stan's eyes, Stan said, "That's not like him. I'm really starting to get worried there, yeah."

So Rupert endured another couple of hours as Stan's offsider as he drove around Camden, popping into pubs and clubs. Some of the places were behind unmarked doors on residential streets, behind which were purple and orange walls and flashing lights. Stan would walk into the middle of a party, where wasted-looking girls and young men sat on low sofas next to improbably large loudspeakers. He'd shake his head at would-be customers and then ask about Randall. No-one ever asked who Randall was; they all seemed to know.

Rupert would watch this for a little bit and then go outside. Each time he was amazed at the silence outside and the fresher air. He'd have a cigarette and wonder why he wasn't supposed to tell Stan what had happened. He felt a fool, and a duplicitous fool at that. He hung around in the doorway, looking up at the sky. There wasn't much moon visible through the clouds, but there seemed to be a few bats about.

Stan drove him back to the house about one a.m. "I can't keep doing this," said Stan, "I've got work tomorrow. I should be moving out of here for good."

When he parked the car, he opened the glovebox and handed Rupert an envelope. "Can you pass this on to Diedre? It's a wedding invitation. I know I should invite you as well, but it's only a small wedding, close friends only."

"How are things up in High Wycombe?" Rupert asked.

"Good, yeah," said Stan. "We've found a flat. I'm starting this job. There's a wargamers club that meets at the church hall, and that looks like a good way for me to meet people. And Julie's just great."

"You're a lucky man," Rupert said, feeling genuinely envious.

"Yeah," said Stan. "Look, I'll be round later in the week to pick up my stuff. See you then."

After Stan left, Rupert poured himself a glass from the dwindling stock of gin. He sat on the back steps of the house, looking out over the thicket of garden that Diedre had rather failed to tame. Only a portion of the garden was lit by the streetlamps, as the rest was shadowed by the rest of the terraces. When the light started to flicker, Rupert looked up.

There was nothing wrong with the streetlamps, which shone on steadily. Rather, their light was occluded by a stream of bats.

Rupert stepped out onto the street. He thought at once of the animal-illusion spell, but it was soon clear that these bats were real -- one fallen specimen crunched underfoot. He started back to the house, thinking he should wake Ethan, who would surely want to see this, when he remembered that they weren't on speaking terms now. So he headed off alone, following the direction of the bats, which was roughly north-west. Perhaps there was something going on at Primrose Hill.

The density of the bats increased as he walked on. There weren't many people about in the small hours of a weekday night, and what few there were seemed keen to head inside. But a car pulled up beside him as he passed a pub. It was Stockton.

"Any idea?" asked Stockton, as he stepped out of his car.

"None," said Rupert. "What do we know?"

"No unusual vampire activity," said Stockton. "There's a demonic coven on Jamestown Road, but according to our sources, they've gone to a convention in Brighton. We're still investigating other local demons and sorcerers."

Rupert said, "Why would anyone want to summon thousands of bats?"

In truth, it looked more like hundreds of thousands of bats: every bat in London seemed to be on the move. There were so many of them now that the sound of their massed wings was quite audible, a rustling of leather leaves. The air was starting to reek of ammonia.

"Numerous species," noted Rupert. "It's a broad-range summoning spell, not terribly specific."

They were not far now from the canal. They paused on the bridge, which afforded them an excellent view of the massed bats, who were now following some intricate circular flight pattern, like the start of a whirlpool.

Stockton had a bulky camera with him. He raised it and took photo after photo of the whirling bats. With each flash, Rupert saw a black-and-white tableaux of wings, frozen for a moment in the glare.

Then, without warning, the bats dropped put of formation, started to thin and disperse.

"Where do you think was the epicentre?" asked Stockton.

Rupert shook his head. "Difficult to say. We should see if there's any radar information."

"And you should let us know, too," said Stockton, "if you hear anything." They walked back in direction of Stockton's car. "You know, I think this could work out. You, out in the field, gathering information. It could be useful."

Rupert said, "If you want something to do, try looking into this place--" and he gave him Marty's address. "There's a nest of vampires there and an unsavoury owner to clear out."

"Thanks," said Stockton, shaking his hand. "I'll look into it." Then he said, "Did you really kill Eyghon?"

"No," said Rupert, "but he'll be gone for a while."

Stockton dropped him back at the house.


Ethan woke on the cold concrete. He was chilled and sore, having slept on his back, partly over a candleholder. He had to start with some stretching before he felt able to try standing up. He was unsteady on his feet as he gathered his gear together. His head felt full of cottonwool and his eyes didn't want to open properly.

It had been a long time since he'd left the brakes off like that.

The sun was high in the sky when he stepped out of the garage, but he was too giddy to take in whether it was before noon or after noon. In the yard he paused for a moment next to Randall, before heading back towards home.

He got most of the way there before he decided that what he really wanted first was a meal. He changed course slightly to head to the cafe where he used to have breakfast with Ripper. They made a decent coffee. He thought coffee might help.

Of course, the bloody bastard had to show up just as Ethan was starting on his egg and chips. He was carrying his guitar, so perhaps he couldn't stay long.

"We have to tell Stan," said Rupert, for no apparent reason, as he pulled up a chair. "I know you're avoiding me, but we have to talk about this. It's unfair and it's simply untenable. I was out with him for hours last night, simply hours, and I couldn't say a word to him. He's very concerned, Ethan."

Ethan chewed a bit of egg.

"You look terrible," Rupert said. "Are you drunk?" He peered at Ethan's pupils. "Or something else?"

"I'm hungry," Ethan said, pointedly.

Rupert let him eat for a moment, but then said, "So should we tell him?"

"Tell him what?"

Rupert stared at Ethan and then shook his head. "You're unbelievable," he said. "You are simply unbelievable." He stood, then leant over the table. "Your friend, your supposedly good friend Randall, has been dead for what? Ten days? And you're sitting there, eating lunch, and asking me what I could be talking about. What else would I be talking about?"

"Tell Stan," said Ethan. "Why should I care what he thinks of me?"

Rupert got up then, gave him a look of disgust, and went out the door. He'd left an untouched coffee on the table that Ethan drank.

Back at the house, he slept for a while, feeling almost numb with exhaustion when he woke. It would be some days before he could stand to cast anything that strong again.

It was late evening. He wouldn't mind watching some television, but someone had taken the TV out of the attic in the last couple of days. He lit a couple of candles and flicked, rather listlessly, through a paperback novel.

He wondered how Diedre was. He wanted her back in the house. He was perfectly sure that Adrienne would be fine, but not Diedre. She should come home.

When he heard a car up outside the house, he looked out of the window, in case it was her. He was disappointed to see that it was, in fact, someone he didn't know. He went back to bed and to his book.


Rupert left Ethan back at the cafe and headed into work. There was a rowdier than usual crowd for a Wednesday at the hotel restaurant as there were two separate tables farewelling colleagues quite drunkenly and at great length. They were ordering another round of cocktails even as he packed up.

He spent the afternoon on quotidian tasks: grocery shopping, picking up a pair of boots that been resoled, and returning a library book. He had dinner at the pub, where the barman asked after Randall, Diedre and Ethan. Rupert gave a reply that was much less honest than, "Dead, crazed with grief, and psychopathic, respectively." He'd taken his usual seat in a booth that was much too large for a single man eating alone. It had always been very crowded and rather uncomfortable when the entire household had been there.

When Rupert got back to the house, he found Stockton in the kitchen with a cup of tea.

"Hope you don't mind," said Stockton. "It gets a bit dull just sitting in the car."

"There's supposed to be a ward on the door," Rupert pointed out.

"Well, yes," said Stockton, "but it's a pretty trivial one." He took a sip of tea.

"Have you been assigned to Camden Town now?"

"Just for a few weeks. The raising of Eyghon rather worried people, so I'm on temporary patrol. I've been wondering if you know how that came about."

"A local coven," said Rupert, "since disbanded."

Stockton said, "I brought some biscuits."

Rupert brought over a couple of stools and made himself some instant coffee.

"That tip of yours paid off," said Stockton. "The 'suck joint'. We cleaned it out this morning. Very easy job, in fact. The vampires were actually chained in place."

"What about Marty," asked Rupert, "the man who runs the place?"

Stockton shrugged. "I think he got away."

"Any news on the bats?"

"Not unless you have some. I spoke to a couple of wizards around Kentish Town, but they both disavowed all knowledge. And we have Penelope Jones and Archie Walters knee-deep in cards going through the prophecy and portent index." He passed Rupert a chocolate digestive. "Could it be the same coven who summoned Eyghon?"

"They've disbanded," Rupert said firmly. "And their lead caster hasn't enough power on his own; he's still doing card tricks. Pretty good card tricks, but not the sort of thing we saw last night."

"Hm," said Stockton. "Look, Giles, there's something else I wanted to talk with you about. It's just an idea, and I haven't mentioned it yet to anyone else, but... I happen to know that Dr Chalmers has a small pot of money for special projects. I know you don't want to come back to us, but you could still be part of the fight. You could be pretty useful here, keeping an eye out, letting us know what's going on outside HQ. Your guitar business, that would be an excellent front. I could talk to Dr Chalmers about getting you a stipend. You could be one of our fellows on the outside."

"I'll think about it," Rupert said.


Diedre came by on Friday afternoon. Ethan had been half-asleep, curled up on his mattress, when he heard someone at the back door. He padded down to the first floor landing and caught a glimpse of her dark hair in the stairwell below. He wished now that he'd washed and shaved.

She was dressed tightly in black, with a long skirt and a short jacket, and her hair was tied back. Her face was clear of makeup, monochrome and indistinct in the hallway light. She didn't respond to Ethan's approach at all. Instead she reached into a large leather bag and pulled out a Polaroid camera. Ethan sat on the landing, watching as she loaded it with film.

At the bottom of the stairs she raised her arms as high as she could and pointed the camera at the wall. The flash went off and Ethan blinked, and there was a whirring sound as the photograph came out of the camera. Diedre put it carefully on the hallway floor, then raised the camera for another photograph.

Ethan stepped behind her, to better see the developing picture. From a yellow gloom appeared a pair of crows who gazed towards a red and swollen moon. It was a piece of Randall's stairwell-spanning painting.

"If you're planning to photograph the whole thing, it's going to take a long time," Ethan commented. He found that the leather bag was full of Polaroid film and hinged photo albums.

Diedre kept on saying nothing. She would not look at him at all. She carried on taking photographs. When he sat on a step immediately in her way, she just stepped around him and photographed a different part of the stairwell.

"Diedre," he said, "Diedre, it's me, Ethan. I'm the one who killed Randall. I'm right here." He saw her hands waver a little, but she carried on. "Sand and not salt for the pentagram. It was me."

She still didn't respond, so he went to make her a cup of coffee that grew cold on a windowsill. After a while, she sat down on a step to rest, rolling her shoulders and stretching her arms as if they ached.

Ethan sat down next to her. "I killed Randall," he said. His face was a few inches from hers. "I'm the reason he's dead."

She leant over and pressed her face to her knees. When she lifted her face up, her skirt was wet with tears.

He followed her in her slow progress up the stairs for hours. Polaroid after polaroid was taken, placed on the steps to develop, then put away in the albums. The batteries died in the camera, so she put in more. She spoke not a word and she gave him not a glance.

Sometime after four, the back door opened again and Ethan realised he was running out of time. He stood next to her and shouted, "It's me! It's Ethan!" and a few seconds later, something like a freight train slammed into him.

Rupert Giles slammed him up against a wall, with enough force to make Ethan's head rebound. Rupert's face was tight and cold with anger.

"Leave her alone," Rupert said.

And Ethan knew then what he had to do.


The set list was sellotaped to the floor between Rupert and The Grin's lead singer. The band was set up next to the pub windows and near the door. Rupert was distracted every time someone came in, in case they tripped over the amplifier cables.

They were doing mostly covers tonight. They had an audience of about five who stood a yard away, alternately nodding their heads and sipping their beer. The rest of the packed room were just there for a drink and a chat: sometimes they looked up, but mostly they talked very loudly and kept their heads down. In quieter moments Rupert could catch snatches of conversation about football, someone's tight snatch, and a train trip to Blackpool.

"Right now," said the lead singer, "Cherry Red." After a couple of bars, he launched into the vocals. This was definitely one of the harder ones for Rupert, even if he was sometimes playing simplified licks.

But he still couldn't help but notice that there was a girl stalking through the crowd in a very familiar way. She wore a long dress in a patterned brown and her dark hair swung almost to her waist. Rupert watched her inviting herself to take a seat next to a lone drinker.

He had to concentrate hard for a solo or two, and when he next caught sight of the couple, the man had his hand on her thigh. He was not a good-looking man and Rupert doubted that women approached him often. As the song came to end, the couple rose from their booth.

Rupert was pouring with sweat from his effort. He put down his guitar and shouted, "Give me five minutes?" He made a motion with his hands to indicate a beer glass.

"We're having a short break now," said the lead singer, sounding a bit pissed.

Rupert picked up his jacket from against the wall. He ducked down a corridor as he groped in his jacket pocket. The girl was leading the ugly man into a disused back kitchen. Rupert's mirrored ring showed what he'd already guessed: that she was a vampire.

"Do you mind?" said the girl when she saw him.

He pulled out a stake.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," she said.

She showed her true face then and her erstwhile paramour backed off. Rupert thrust at her but missed, and with a casual backhand she slammed him into a counter. He dropped his stake and fell to the floor.

"Look, I'll just kill the both of you," she said, shutting the kitchen door and pushing a refrigerator in front of it.

Rupert rolled over and grabbed his stake. The other man was trying the rusted lock on the windows.

"I think I have to kill you first," the vampire said to Rupert. "You're going to be a bit harder than Frankie here."

Rupert pulled out a crucifix and held it in front of him.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," the vampire said, rolling her eyes. She ripped a cupboard door from its hinges and threw it at Rupert. It slammed into his midriff and he doubled over in pain. The vampire shook her head in bewilderment. "So what would you do if your bacon tried to bite back?"

Rupert scrambled around the room, as she bared her teeth and followed him. He ended up next to the ripped-open cupboard. He grabbed a container of Ajax cleaner and threw as much of it at her face as he could.

When she shrieked and rubbed at her eyes, Frankie launched himself at her, knocking her to the ground. He kept her there just long enough for Rupert to slam the stake home.

"Thanks," said Frankie. "Hey, aren't you in the band?"

He got back to his guitar. He was panting, even more sweat-slicked, and was smeared with dust from the kitchen floor and the dying vampire. There was a fine white powder of Ajax on his shirt sleeve.

The Grins' lead singer gave him a look. "The Other Side of This Life," he said, tapping his foot on the set list.

After the gig, Rupert grabbed himself a beer and then went to stand outside in the cool night air, his back pressed against the pub wall. His shirt was soaked and he needed a cigarette. He looked down the night street, thinking.

This is what his life could be, he thought: day rehearsals, evening gigs, night kills. He could get his own digs with a stipend from Chalmers and call up Stockton whenever he was in over his head. He ought to be able to manage that for a couple of years, until something killed him.

But what was the alternative? Living his own life, playing at pub shows, and staying on in the squat until he could find better-paid work as a session musician? Forever getting glimpses of the demonic world in the corner of his eye, and drinking himself under every night because wasn't doing a damn thing about it?

A group of girls came out of the pub then. Most of them waved goodbye and tottered in the general direction of a bus-stop, but a red-headed girl spotted him and hung back.

"Hey," she said. "You're in the band."

"Yeah," he said, stubbing out his cigarette with his foot.

A few minutes later, he led her through the pub to its unused kitchen.


Ethan was already largely packed, of course. He had meant to join Randall for the trip in the van, some terribly long time ago. He still meant to join Randall, in a way.

He took his notebooks, tomes, and clothes to that yard of the abandoned garage. The afternoon had turned sunny and Randall's remains were quite clear in the sunlight. He took a seat next to them, pulling some notebooks out to read. Poor Randall, the hippie fool.

In an old manila folder were the hexes he wrote in his schooldays. How crude they looked to him now: cobbled together with teenage clumsiness. Key concepts had been misunderstood, unnecessary features over-elaborated; they were convoluted where they should have been simple and were showy in ways that diminished their overall power. There were sections that he could only wince at now. Yet here and there was a well-executed flourish or a genuine touch of originality.

He'd told Randall that he'd only used these spells in self-defence; perhaps he had. But as he'd grown in skill, his retribution had grown in strength, until it was only the new boys, friendless and seeking to impress, who'd knocked him down. No-one had ever actually died.

The loathing he'd inspired must have had a cause. He'd always been unliked and unlikeable. Only the doting and the hopelessly naive had ever thought otherwise.

One of the hexes looked salvageable. It had a solid central idea and he thought he could combine it with part of an Ogata spell to increase its potency. It needed only an accomplice and an incontrovertible clue for Rupert, and Ethan thought he knew what to do for both.

An hour later, he made a telephone call from a booth near the zoo. It proceeded satisfactorily.

An hour after that, he knocked on Philip's door. Philip looked like he'd just got home from work: he was shoeless but still wearing a shirt and tie. "Ethan?" he said.

There was a note of fear in Philip's voice. Ethan thought that would make everything a little easier.


"The real problem," said Stockton, "is that there's no reward for initiative. I think they actually try and stamp down on it. You've got your paper pushers, who've played it safe all their lives -- and live a long time because of it -- but do they listen to those on the ground? No, they act like old women. Now, men like us, who've seen a thing or two, and who can recognise a vampire without a list of plate illustrations, we've a great deal to tell them. It's not as clear-cut as they like to think... Oh, is it my round?"

"I'm afraid so," said Rupert.

It was eight o'clock in the evening, at Stockton's favourite pub. Apart from Stockton, most of the other clientele appeared to be students. Stockton said he went there to look at the girls, some of whom were definitely worth looking at. So were a couple of the boys, although Rupert thought he might try to ignore that from now on.

"Now, what was I on about?" Stockton asked as he returned with a third pair of pints.

"Old women of the Council."

"Oh, yes. They're too stuck in their ways. They fail to take a proper look at the world around them. It's changed, Giles. They need to give that some serious thought."

Rupert sipped his beer. "So what would you do differently?"

Stockton leant back in the booth. "Demons aren't our worst enemy anymore. We should be turning our sights on Russia and the Chinese."

A man stumbled into the pub just then. He was weeping. When he got to the bar, he tipped out the contents of his wallet and pointed at a bottle of gin.

Rupert tapped Stockton on the arm and pointed.

The man said, "I didn't mean it. I hit him harder than I meant to. He was only a little boy."

From outside there was a scream. Rupert bolted out the door.

An older woman stood there. She said, "The bombs were raining down and I said, no, you can't come into our shelter. There wasn't room and she looked that common. First thing I saw when I came out in the morning was half her arm."

A car had slewed to a halt and now blocked traffic along the street. Rupert and Stockton walked up to the car. The man inside said, "Every night, before I went to bed, I prayed not to have a baby sister. I prayed and prayed until she caught measles and died."

"What the hell is going on?" asked Stockton.


Ethan had come to London in 1968. He had a bag of clothes and a bag of books and his birthday money to tide him over. He hadn't really known anyone in London, at least, no-one he'd wanted to see again, but it was the best place he could think of for finding out more about magic.

He'd spent his first nights in a youth hostel dormitory, saving money when it was warm by sleeping in a park. Some of the people in the hostel had been like him, newly arrived and looking for somewhere to stay, so he was invited to sleep on a living room floor, which he did for a month until the landlord found twelve teenagers in his one-bedroom flat and threw them all out. By then, Ethan had met a queer in his fifties who claimed to have brought back spellbooks from Europe, so Ethan lived with him for a while, copying the spells out into his notebooks while the man slept, until they were all copied out and Ethan realised the man wasn't otherwise all that interesting. He'd dossed then on another living room floor -- or had that been later? -- and there had been the couple of months with a drug-addled would-be coven in Battersea. After them, it had been a relief to follow the scent of real magic back to Evelyn's; she was living in a borrowed flat off Ladbroke Grove at the time, so he had three weeks fucking her there before she'd swanned off back to her barge. He spent that December in an overcrowded squat where five of his housemates were in a Heinleinesque group marriage, but in January he met Randall, so then there had been the Cricklewood flat and the Camden squat. There'd been Adrienne, then biddable Pete the electronics and cricket enthusiast who'd eventually left to marry his fiance. After that, Ethan spent six months celibate to see if it helped him concentrate on his magic; as it didn't, he amused himself the following year with casual arrangements and infrequent pick-ups, which had suited him very well until the arrival of the magician-guitarist.

And all the while, Ethan had been learning about magic. When he'd first arrived, he'd thought his best bets were the major institutions like the British Library, where all the knowledge ought to be stored; perhaps it was, but if so, it was out of the reach of people such as himself with ordinary Reader's Tickets. He had had to look for magic elsewhere, in old bookshops and in boxes stored in the back of wardrobes. He picked up tricks from watching street performers and self-proclaimed psychics. He consumed all the magic he could find and then he would search for more.

There were footsteps outside from the concrete yard. Ethan braced himself, but it was only Philip.

Philip looked unhappy, which was hardly surprising, given the circumstances. He was pink-faced and sweating. "I did what you asked," he said. He hovered next to the garage doorway, as if reluctant to get any closer.

"I could tell," said Ethan. He sat in a chalked circle, surrounded by lit candles. "The connection lets me sense whenever someone becomes ensorcelled."

"You'll remove the spell from me now, then?"

Ethan looked at him, wondering what sort of flashy trick he could cast to reassure Philip without endangering the main spell. He couldn't think of one, so he said, "It'll wear off tomorrow, unless I renew it. Run along, now."

Philip ran.

Sometimes Ethan bumped into people from his old, pre-London life, and not just at Diedre's parties. It was usually on public transport. Most of them pretended not to recognise him, but Barton had been a couple of years ahead of Ethan at school and hadn't apparently heard of Ethan's later reputation. He recalled a rather surreal conversation on the train between Brighton and London where Barton, a banker, had quizzed him on his life choices, as if Ethan would ever have chosen the life Barton had.

But you found those sort of people in the cold-water flats too: intoxicated by their own supposed daring, shocked at even minor deviations from the norm, as if the norms were anything more than a historical quirk. Ethan frankly blamed it on the unimaginative way history was taught in schools.

No, there was only ever one path Ethan had ever desired or considered. He closed his eyes now to immerse himself more fully in the magic, feeling it warm him down to his bones. Magic: his hymn, his science, his dance, his joy. It was his life.

He sat on the concrete and waited.


Rupert looked around. There were other people coming out of the pub and from the tube station who looked as bemused as Stockton. "Not everyone's affected," Rupert said.

"Are they coming from any particular direction?"

"The shouting does seem to be coming more from the west."

"I'll take a look," said Stockton. "Can you call HQ?"

"First bats, now this," said Rupert. "Got any change?"

It was Mrs Edwards on the phones tonight. That threw him a little, as she'd once taught him Document Preservation. Still, he stumbled his way through a description of the situation.

She cut him off halfway through. "Giles," she snapped. "Go and speak to your friend. I've been through the likely magical mechanisms and remedies with him already."

"Friend? Has Stockton called tonight?"

"Not Stockton, no, and it was this afternoon. Giles, has the security of this number been compromised?"

"What? No! No, I should just go and speak with this... friend of mine. I'll call you back when we're done."

Rupert closed his eyes. There was only one person that could possibly be. He'd given the number to no-one else.

When he left the telephone booth, he could see Stockton down the end of the street. Rupert took care not to be seen by him as he jogged away.

He went first to the house. Ethan's door was locked both magically and physically. Rupert chanted a likely counter-spell and then slammed his shoulder into the door. The wood around the lock gave way.

Inside, the room was almost bare. There was a mattress and a chair but everything else was gone. The place had been stripped.

So where else could he be?

Downstairs, on the kitchen table, someone had left a note: "Come to the canal? Evelyn." Perhaps he was working with her.

He had to run back then, parallel to the high street and towards the moorings to the north of the park. As he ran, he wondered: did anyone else have the Watcher telephone number? Could someone have taken it from Ethan? Rupert simply hadn't thought Ethan had this level of power. If he was working on his own, why would he be doing it?

But there had been the card-tricks in the railway station and the gryphon in the schoolyard. Sometimes Ethan just liked to play tricks on people. And he could be a cruel man; Rupert grimaced at the thought of how Ethan had recently behaved with Deirdre. And after all, how well, in fact, did Rupert know him? He still did not know Ethan's age, his place of birth, or whether he had any family. Rupert would be the first to admit that he'd been far from clear-headed in the last few months and he could well have missed many clues. He should focus instead on the feeling in his gut, that there was something very wrong with the man.

Rupert realised he had helped to bring this about. He'd taught Ethan some magic, provided constructive criticism on spells Ethan already knew, aided and abetted him in money-making schemes, and had even trusted him with the Council contact number. Rupert felt revulsion at his own complicity and blindness.

Ethan could have been playing these sorts of tricks the whole time, growing in arrogance all the while. Now he had made a mistake and Rupert was going to catch him.

He reached the moorings. He ran past a dozen barges and realised he had no idea which one was Evelyn's. He slowed to a walk, turned back, and peered in the windows as he passed. In the three which had any lights on, Evelyn was not to be seen.

Of course, if Ethan had gone to Evelyn's, wouldn't he have picked up the note?

Where then? He tried to think as he walked back along the towpath. As he turned off onto a side street, he realised he was near the abandoned garage where he'd killed Eyghon. Ethan might just be callous enough to use that as a base.

As he stepped into the garage's yard, he saw a flickering light within.


It was cold now in the garage. Ethan's legs were going a little numb on the concrete floor and his finger was aching where the nail had yet to grow back. The warmth from the candles was quite distinct.

Was that a sound, outside? He tensed and waited. When it did not repeat, he remembered to breath.

Rupert would be here soon, though, he was sure of it. Rupert was a smart man when he was sober.

It was the waiting that was tedious. He couldn't immerse himself properly in the magic now that he was trying so hard to listen for footsteps. Perhaps he should have brought a book.

How long had he been waiting? It was night, of course, he could see that through the open door. But was it ten or midnight or two a.m.?

Another sound: footsteps with a recognisable cadence. Rupert, now, standing in the doorway, silhouetted by streetlamps. He said something, but Ethan couldn't take in what. He didn't have to. The question would be: How do I cancel the spell? Or: Why did you do this? Or: Did you think I wouldn't find you? Did you think I couldn't tell?

It didn't really matter what the question was, of course.

"No," Ethan said.


There was a narrow sink along one wall of the garage; the tap was rusty but Rupert got it to turn. He sluiced the blood from his hands and rinsed the sweat from his face. He put his glasses back on.

Ethan lay on the floor on the other side of the room, breathing heavily. It had taken longer than Rupert had expected and he'd had to break several bones. It had felt good to do the right thing.

Now he would have to go and find Stockton and tell him what he'd learnt: the spell was inflicted with a tiny spot of paint applied to the skin. All one had to do was find the spot and remove it. The caster had been an estranged housemate, one Ethan Rayne. The Council should open a file on him, if they hadn't already. Their contact number would need to be changed.

Rupert dried his hands on a corner of his shirt and walked over to Ethan. "I could call you an ambulance."

"No," said Ethan, weakly. He'd said that a lot in the last quarter-hour.

"Your friend's moored along the canal," Rupert told him. "You might be able to make it there."

Outside, he paused briefly at the spot where Eyghon had been killed. It seemed strange now, that he had ever been there or done that. He could still feel in his hands how the bicycle handlebar had felt when it crushed into the demon's skull. The memory made him uneasy and queasy.

He should hurry on. There were people that he had to rescue.


Ethan waited for the worst of the pain to subside. Eventually, he knew, it would dull to a throb, though he would still have to be careful of his ribs. But already he felt clearer in his mind and heart.

He should be able to walk to Evelyn's, he thinks, if he takes it slowly. She'll take him in for a little while.

She owes him a favour, after all.



Giles got his old room back, on the first floor, overlooking a small lawn. The furniture was as worn and solid as he remembered. Doctor Chalmers had made the arrangements: Oxford could be more forgiving when the Council intervened. They were both old institutions, long intertwined.

It was still a week before term started, but Giles had been there a fortnight already. With the last year lost to London, he'd wanted to review and reconsider his studies so far. His ostensible work -- the degree in history -- still interested him, much as it had done before. It was his other, Watcher, studies that he found himself reinterpreting. He sifted through his old notes, seeing now which ones were of obvious immediate utility, which were theoretical underpinnings, and which were of dubious application. He was motivated for the first time by the class on spellcraft nomenclature, which now seemed to him essential for understanding the deconstruction and adaptation of spells. He saw now how demon taxonomy, with its insistence on the importance of minute variations by fingernail shape and eye colour, was a remarkably practical course of study. But his most surprising enthusiasm was for library cataloguing: how else could one research, at inevitably short notice, which particular malevolent entity one needed to control or destroy?

The calm and clarity of his last days in London, his refound purpose, was with him still. He worked long hours, into the early morning, dining in college three times a day. In the last hour of the evening, before bed, he'd allow himself a beer, a couple of cigarettes, and some time on his guitar.

As he sat there then in the lamplight, London seemed like a mirage. He'd wonder sometimes how Adrienne and Diedre were, and maybe Tom and Stan. He tried to not think too much about Randall, because that made him want to get drunk. And Ethan? Clearly just as bad as Diedre's cousin had once warned, and not nearly as intelligent as Giles had once thought. Anyone clever wouldn't have got caught.

It was autumn, and he felt autumnal. He decided to play a selection from the works of Nick Drake.

FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The Jackanory story is Tove Jansson's Moominsummer Madness. Diedre sings lyrics from The Who's "Magic Bus" and The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour." Ethan's Latin quotation is from Petronius's Satyricon and Giles's translation is that of William Arrowsmith (1959). The stories Ethan tells on the drive back from Stonehenge are very loosely based on Theosophical writings. All of the books mentioned except Love-starved Hellcat and Nurse Turner Runs Away are in my personal collection, although some of the magic tomes are not magical in this dimension. My thanks to D for answering my guitar band 101 questions, although I have no doubt I made errors there anyway. This novel was partially inspired by Doyle's short story about Ethan and Tara in the Wishverse, The Same Rainbow's End.

FACTUAL NOTES: The magical practices are based on Buffyverse examples rather than on those used in our universe. I have played around with the timelines of the Stonehenge festivals somewhat. Folkestone is actually quite nice.

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