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This story is No. 3 in the series "Once More with Demons". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Her first star flight, her first vampire - and the first time she meets a Watcher she can believe in ...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Action/AdventurepythiaFR1518,0197172,0706 Mar 106 Mar 10Yes
DISCLAIMER : The concept of the Slayer is the property of Joss Whedon , Mutant Enemy, Sandollar Productions, Kuzui Enterprises, 20th Century Fox Television and the UPN Television Network. This particular version of that universe is mine. The story is written for the pleasure of the author and readers, and has no lucrative purpose whatsoever. Please do not reproduce this story anywhere without the author's consent.
SPOILERS : ‘Chosen’ Sort of.
TIMELINE : Far, far future
NOTES : This is a story set in my ‘Once more with Demons’ universe, in which, a thousand years after the events of ‘ Chosen ,’ the Slayers still pursue their ancient war. It was originally written as my contribution to the ‘Watcher’s Firsts’ ficathon . The words I chose were; First Staking, In-Flight, and Pride



This is not good , Brittany decided as she pushed her way through the frightened crowd. It was also not fair; there was no way the rumours of a vampire incursion on the central deck could be true, but there’d been the little red light flashing on her wrist comm , and the order to report, so here she was, trying to make her way down from the upper observation lounge while everyone else was fighting to get to their assigned life pods.

It’s a drill. Has to be .

The panic was real enough. A swirl of semi-hysterical humanity – along with a few of the more alien passengers – clogged the accessway , forcing her to shove and wriggle as she tried to get by. Some of the people she was passing recognised the insignia on her ident badge and made an effort to step back and let her pass – but most just pushed and gave her sour look or angry glares when she was forced to push back.

Should have worn my uniform …

She hadn’t as yet. Not the real thing, despite the fact there were the three regulation variations of it hanging in the closet back in her cabin. The last time she’d been in uniform had been the dress whites she’d worn to her graduation ceremony, and those had been assessment centre whites, not full service issue. She’d wanted to enjoy the flight, to maintain that last illusion of being a free soul before taking up her posting as a cadet aboard the Giles.

Some illusion.

Okay, so once she’d reported in to the duty Watcher charged with escorting new recruits from her home world he hadn’t actually been demanding. Just insistent that she wear the wrist comm at all times, and report for exercise training once a day - which wasn’t that hard a duty, despite all the temptations of the luxury liner which had been the only transport heading in the relevant direction. But she’d woken every morning to another download of instruction manuals and demon recognition charts, and she was beginning to realise that signing up for the service meant signing up for life, which wasn’t quite what she’d been planning on, back when she’d been first enrolled at the Academy.

“It’s just a drill, isn’t it?” someone was asking, their voice tainted with fear. “It can’t be true. What they’re saying. It can’t be.”

“I heard there were three dead already.” A different voice, fuelling the terror of the crowd.

“They only have to touch you,” someone else was sobbing. “Just touch you …”

It was hopeless. She was being swept back along the passageway, despite best efforts and the benefits of enhanced strength. She didn’t want to hurt anyone, but if she couldn’t get through any other way …

“Please,” she requested somewhat desperately, concerned that she might have to channel her own growing panic into positive action. “Let me through. I’m a Slayer. I’m been told to report … Damn it!” Her frustration raised her voice and got her the attention she need. “Slayer coming through!”

Magic words. Not the demand, but the reason for it. The crowd parted as if they were Turok-han confronted with sunlight; she found herself facing expressions of hope and relief and grateful realisation. Several people cheered.

“You go, girl!” someone exclaimed encouragingly.

“Thank the Powers,” a woman murmured. “Bless you, child.”

Brittany was thanking the powers – not for sending her, but for getting the crowd to step back. She pressed forward, trying to ignore the hands that reached to touch her as she passed. Some were wanting blessing, others offering it. She shrugged them all off, knowing she had no power for the former and not really wanting the latter. What she wanted was to get through. She’d been ordered to report ten clicksets ago, and if she took much longer she’d probably end up with a whole bunch of demerits on her file. That would be a bad thing, no matter what her first posting might be, but to arrive aboard the flagship with a black mark against her … She shuddered at the thought and hastened on. Karelle had warned her; the best Watchers only picked the best, and if she didn’t match up to the standards expected, all she would ever get was a lackwit or a martinet Watching her.

Brittany wasn’t really sure if she wanted anyone to Watch her. Not on a permanent basis, anyway. She’d been vaguely disappointed by those few members of the corps that she’d met; old men, wizened women with tired eyes, or bumbling bureaucrats for the most part. Nothing like the Watchers in the heroic tales, and nothing like the figures that had haunted her ever since she was old enough to read the histories. The slayer may stand strong, but when her Watcher stands beside her, she can move the world …

It sounded good, but then so had the idea of being chosen, of being gifted with the speed and the strength of her calling. Being a slayer wasn’t anything like she’d ever imagined. Life at the Assessment Centre had been one long grind of training and testing and endless education; she’d rarely had any time of her own, and even when she’d had, she’d usually been too tired to do anything with it. You must be prepared, Karelle had intoned day after day, driving her pupils to deliver textbook perfect performance in everything they did.

And if it hadn’t been for the wonder of flight, for the freedom Brittany had found in mastering the mysteries of dancing through sky and space alike, she might well have requested de- enhancment long ago.

She could hear the crowd whispering behind her as she headed deeper into the ship. Words that had haunted slayers since time began. “Such a little thing.” “So young.

She grimaced to herself, embarrassed by the awe that her calling seemed to invoke among those she was sworn to protect. She might look a little like the Last and the First, but she was just a greenhorn, an untried cadet. She’d never even seen a vampire – not a real one.

All the demons she’d ever fought had been imasphere simulations, and not particularly good ones at that.

The passageway spilled her into the walkways that skirted along the belly of the ship; the deeps of space glittered on one side of her, revealed by the parade of steelglass windows that curved up above the promenade. Normally the place would be humming with activity, the walkway occupied by strolling passengers and the shops and café areas of the promenade doing a roaring business. Now the spaces were eerily deserted, the lounging seats unoccupied, the tables empty and the entertainments abandoned. Some of the lights seemed to have failed; the space below the walkway rail seemed filled with flickering shadows and an air of menace rose up from the lower levels.

Brittany felt a sudden shiver run up her spine and she reached for the reassurance of the impulse pistol tucked into its holster at her hip. This was no drill, no exercise, or even a panicked false alarm. There was evil loose on the ship. She could feel it.

She could also see her three fellow cadets, gathered at the top of the nearest spiral descent, along with Maryn Greenway - codename ‘Shepherd’ - the Watcher who’d been assigned to escort them to their designated postings. He was a war weary man, grizzled in face and figure and with a grumpy manner that discouraged close acquaintance. Brittany wasn’t sure if she liked him or not, but she had decided she could – and would – respect him. He had the air of someone who’d seen a lot of gravedust , and gave the impression that he’d honour the oath, no matter what it cost.

She’d taken half a step forward to join them when a second Watcher – unmistakable in his black uniform jacket with its silver grey trim – stepped back up the ramp.

Brittany ’s heart skipped a beat.

Last and first , she swore to herself. That’s …

It wasn’t. It couldn’t be. But for one brief, startling moment, she could have sworn that the man at Greenway’s side was the Second Founder himself. He certainly looked the part; he was tall – taller than the compact Watcher beside him, that was certain – had a distinctive, rangy build, with broad shoulders and a well proportioned frame, and he’d been blessed with an angled, square cut face - one with chiselled cheekbones and a high forehead rising above them. His hair looked dark in the subdued lighting, but there seemed to be a hint of grey nestling at his temple.

The new arrival turned to gesture out into the depths of the promenade and Brittany blinked, realising that she wasn’t looking at a ghost, but at a man who could probably claim close, if not direct descent, from the Second Founder’s line. The silver flash at his temple was not grey hair but a cyber implant – and his hair might be cut short on top, but it was pulled back into a fashionably long tag-tail at the back.

Even so …

It wasn’t just the physical similarity. There was something about him. Some quality that echoed the complex virtues of the man he resembled. Brittany couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was definitely something – perhaps an intimation of intellect and personality kept carefully in check, a whisper of inner power, or a hint of strength that was more than it seemed … Whatever it was, it spoke to her – and when it did, it awoke a shiver, deep inside her soul. A shiver of both fear and longing - although longing for what she couldn’t exactly say.

“You’re late, Miss Morris.”

That was Shepherd; he’d been eyeing the world around him with wary, anxious glances and must have caught sight of her, lurking by the archway.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Had a little difficulty getting past the lifepod stations.” She strode across the mosaic floor tiles as she spoke, trying to look both calm and in control. Every step took her closer to the unidentified Watcher, and he was now looking at her. Watching her, in fact, with slightly narrowed eyes and an unreadable expression on his face.

She tried to resist the impulse to look back, tried very hard to focus on Shepherd’s stern expression as she joined the rest of the cadets– but something tugged at her like a magnet, and she found her head turning despite every effort to prevent it. Her eyes met those of the stranger – warm, hazel green ones that widened a little as their gazes locked – and that something become something more. Awareness. Anticipation. Recognition.

Brittany had spent long hours when she was younger, pouring over the images that had been preserved from the Darkened Ages. She’d studied every image of the Last and the First, her Watcher and her friends - all that had ever been found - dreaming of the day when she, just like them, would join the crusade against the forces of darkness and give her life in the service of the light. She’d entered the Assessment Centre with a head full of dreams – dreams about what being a Slayer meant, about what it would be like to find that one perfect partner, the one who would Watch her to eternity and back –and then she’d had most of them knocked out of her by the harsh realities of training and logistics and tales of war.

Knocked so far, in fact, that her reasons for staying in the service had become matters of mere duty and determination; after graduation, and in the weeks leading up to her first posting her sense of destiny had been busy warring with what threatened to become cynical disillusionment.

It can’t have been too desperate a war; one look into those eloquent eyes and she believed. Believed in fate, in destiny, in the rightness of the cause, the truth behind the oath – and the meaning behind the Slayer’s prayer.

May we always be Watched over – with love.

Her breath caught in her throat, and she looked away with sudden embarrassment. This was no time to go moony-eyed over a seasoned warrior, Watcher corps or not; for all she knew every field Watcher inspired those sorts of feelings in a Slayer. A quick sideways glance at Mel, Saran and Kim suggested that they were having equal difficulty in not staring at the stranger – except that he wasn’t staring at them. Just her. With an intensity she could practically feel.

“The passengers are panicking,” Shepherd was saying gruffly. “Can’t say I blame them, really. You don’t expect this sort of thing aboard a ship like this.”

“I do.” The unidentified Watcher’s voice was as mellifluent as she’d expected. Mellow, measured tones, backed with a touch of steel and the distinction of an old Earth accent. It also held the barest hint of a stutter, as if his words were being processed much faster than his lips could accommodate. “Half of the incursions that reach the core have been seeded by legitimate traffic. But they usually keep a low profile when travelling; try and avoid being seen. We’ve either got a very bored Master looking to acquire the ship, or a newbie that doesn’t know what it’s doing. My vote’s on the latter. A Master would have started their campaign with a little more discretion. Especially with Slayers on board.”

“All right.” Shepherd had been nodding at this assessment. According to his rank badges, he was the senior Watcher of the two, but the stranger was sporting the book, sword and stake insignia of an officer aboard the Giles – and the Watcher’s Eye pinned to his collar was rimmed with purple and gold. Brittany had already noted the katana and wakizashi hanging from the sword belt at his hips. The man was not just an experienced field Watcher, but a senior weapons-master and a ranking cybermage as well. She grimaced, swiftly killing the thought that had occurred to her before it became an impossible daydream. A Watcher with those kind of credentials would already have a slayer to Watch over, and if he didn’t then it was almost certain that he’d had one, and the last thing he’d be looking for was a raw cadet with no experience to her name.

“For the benefit of those that have just joined us, Miss Morris - ” Brittany barely avoided the guilty jump Shepherd’s bark was intended to elicit and swiftly returned her attention to what he was saying. “ – we have a tricky situation here. Three crewmen and two passengers have gone missing in the past two days. About two hours ago, a steward on C deck discovered the body of one of those passengers – sporting severe neck lesions and totally drained of blood. We have a vampire aboard, ladies. At least one, possibly as many as five. The indications are that something was brought aboard when we stopped at Ryal three days back. The ship took on cargo as well as passengers, and it’s likely that part of that cargo was infected; Ryal rates a level three contamination index – meaning, Miss Carter?”

Kim straightened a little self consciously. “Past evidence of incursion, sir. Some indication of potential demonic residue, although not regarded as a high threat.”

“ Mmm .” Shepherd didn’t sound particularly impressed, although he’d got the textbook answer. “Miss Talisar ?”

“They’ve got vamps.” Saran was trying – and failing – to keep a tremor from her voice. “Not many. But enough to warrant a guardianship assignment. Two slayers minimum. Do we maintain a lodge on Ryal , sir?”

“We certainly do. But it’s mostly low profile work. Routine pest control. Looks like one of the rats slipped through the net.”

Brittany shuddered. One of those kind of ‘rats’ could kill thousands if left unchecked. They carried a plague that had tainted half the galaxy.

“Fortunately,” Shepherd said, “this ship has us to protect it. I appreciate this means you ladies seeing action a little earlier in your careers than you might have expected, but this kind of hunting is just as important as the fancy flying you’ve been trained to do. We fight this war where we find it – and today we’ve found it here. This isn’t going to be easy. None of you have any field experience, and we don’t have all the intel we need – but you’re Slayers. You’ll get the job done.”

“Yes, sir,” the cadets chorused dutifully, Brittany among them. The as yet unidentified Watcher smothered a quiet snort.

“We’re doomed,” she heard him mutter, although the assessment was mellowed with half smile and an indulgent shake of his head. Shepherd shot him a filthy look.

“Warlock, here,” the senior Watcher continued, barely keeping a snap of annoyance from his voice, “came aboard at Ryal too. He’s a seasoned field officer, so I expect you to listen to him as closely as you do me. We don’t have time for formal introductions, so all of that can wait for later. You’ll find no-one uses birthing names out in the field, anyway – too many damn Smiths and Lees around for that to make sense. Save ‘ em for friends and family. For the purposes of this mission, and from then on until anyone tells you any different, you lot are my Angels, and that makes you Angel One, Two, Three and Four.” His finger jabbed at each of them in turn, starting with Brittany and moving down the line to his right. “Got that?”

“Yes, sir.” The chorus held a little more enthusiasm this time round. Every cadet knew about the service's conventions around using codenames. But a Slayer’s codename was usually picked by their assigned Watcher, and was rarely determined until well into basic training. Most didn’t get one until their first real foray into the field.

Brittany’s moment of pleasure at having been unexpectedly gifted froze inside her chest. This was her first foray into the field – and she was about to be sent out with a minimum of training, practically no intel and nothing but her innate gifts to defend herself with. Rather like the slayers of the First foundation. The ones that rarely made it past their eighteenth birthday …

“Angel Four, I want you to stay on the upper walkways. Keep a visual sweep on all the levels and make sure nothing gets up into the heart of the ship. Angel’s Two and Three, you’ll be with me on the main promenade. Angel One – you go with Warlock. Check the lower entertainment decks. We’ll rendezvous on the far side, and if we haven’t found anything, we’ll head down through the crews’ quarters and move into the cargo decks. Any questions?”

“Sir?” Britanny lifted her hand. Thoughts of those original slayers were now dancing through her head.

“Yes, Angel One?”

“The passenger decks will be pacified, sir. Aggression dampeners are standard fit on a vessel of this class. How can we kill vampires if we can’t fight them?”

“Good question.” Shepherd grinned. “The Captain assures me he’s negated the primary dampeners on all decks – although the safety features mean that the secondaries can’t be disabled if the primaries are off line. So, we can’t use energy weapons, and I think I’m the only one with any kind of projectile unit …” He unlimbered the piece in question as he spoke: it was a slim barrelled sliver gun, the kind that fired a barrage of hardwood needles with the force of single crossbow bolt. He was wearing a fully loaded ammo belt under his jacket, which would give him at least another twenty shots – provided he had time to re-load the gun. “As for the rest of you … ” He glanced at Warlock, who twitched back his jacket and tugged something from his sword belt.

“The rest of you,” the taller Watcher announced matter-of-factly, tossing the object concerned in Brittany’s direction, “are going to have to do this the old fashioned way.”



A stake. Brittany found herself staring at the offending item as she followed the black clad Watcher down the access ramp. They’re expecting me to face down a vamp – possibly five of them – with nothing but a stake in my hands?

It was, she felt, a legitimate protest. But she didn’t quite know how to voice it. She’d handled primitive weapons before, of course she had. She’d had basic training in sword, crossbow, axe, quarterstaff – even nunchucks and throwing daggers. But Karelle had dismissed the stake as an archaic throwback, an over glamorised piece of nonsense that didn’t need time wasting on it. Hefting it now, Brittany thought she understood what she’d meant.

“The Last and First used one on a regular basis.”

What?

“I-I didn’t say anything, sir.”

“No.” She couldn’t see his face, following him like this, but his voice suggested he might be smiling. “But you thought it. There’s a school of thought that dismisses the stake as an outdated and unnecessary weapon. But I’ve found – on many occasions – that it’s still one of the most effective methods of slaying the common vampire.”

He didn’t just look like the Second Founder. He spoke like him, too.

Or had he just been quoting something?

“I’m not sure I – “

He came to an abrupt halt, spinning on his heel so that she found herself staring straight at him. The slope of the ramp put her eyes level with his, and for a moment she could have sworn he was looking through her, so intense was his gaze.

“Yes,” he said firmly. “You are. You will be sure, or you will fail. This is not an exercise, and it’s not a simulation. There are demons down there. We are going to find them, face them – and then you will slay them. Because you are a Slayer, and that’s what you’ve been chosen to do.”

“With a stake,” she countered, a little shakily. She half expected him to frown and tell her not to be insolent. Somewhat surprisingly, he smiled.

It was a rather nice smile, too.

“With a stake,” he confirmed. “Here.” He reached up and pulled the length of wood from her fingers, giving it back the other way up and closing her fingers over it so that she grasped it firmly, point down. “Like that. The plunging attack is more certain to penetrate. You can flip it – “ He demonstrated with a flick of empty fingers. “- and then stab up, like a dagger, but you don’t get as much force that way.”

“Oh,” she said, tentatively trying – first one and then the other action. “Oh.” Something instinctive clicked into place and she flipped the weapon back, lunging forward so that the point came to rest, right above his heart. “Like that?”

He hadn’t so much as flinched.

“Just like that. Except – um - you’ll need to push it deeper if there’s a vampire on the end of it.”

She thought about that for a moment, feeling the weight of the weapon and the way it now sat so comfortably in her hand. “Right,” she nodded. “B-but – you’re not a vampire, so …” She suddenly realised that she’d made a threatening move towards a superior officer, and she hastily pulled back, not at all sure what to say. “Sorry, sir,” she managed to gulp. “Didn’t mean to …”

“Yes you did.” He frowned at her for a moment, measuring her up with thoughtful assessment. She half wanted the ramp to open up and swallow her. She’d really wanted to make a good impression on this man, and here she was, about to earn herself a lecture about respecting ranks and following orders and not joking around …

“You look a lot like her, you know.”

“Sir?”

“The Last and the First. And for her sake, just stop the sir, will you? I know Shepherd up there expects it, but I don’t. Not on a hunt anyway.” He tipped his head to indicate they should continue their descent and, somewhat bemusedly, she fell into step beside him.

“Let me let you into a little secret, Angel One. One my family figured out years ago. Up there - ” His upward gesture wasn’t referring to the literal levels of the ship, but the concept they somehow represented. “- you and I are soldiers. Warriors dedicated to a war that most people fervently pretend takes place on the outer rim and in the depths of space. In public, and in combat we perform our duty according to a well defined and managed dance. Officers give orders, lower ranks obey. We salute and we defer to our elders and our superiors. That’s what we’ve been taught and that’s how we behave. But down here – “ He gestured into the darkened spaces, pointing at shadows – and the things that might move within them. “Down here, I am a Watcher and you are the Slayer. This is your world, and my job is to help you survive in it. I don’t expect you to obey me just because I have a shiny rank badge and several decades of service in the field. I expect you to listen to me, because you trust me to do my job – and I expect you to listen to yourself, because your instincts are going to be far, far better than mine. I am here to Watch, to guide, and to protect your back if you need it. But you are a Slayer, and on a hunt, you are in control.”

“Unless, of course,” he added, with a more flippant note in his voice, “you have a senior Slayer on the team, telling you what to do.”

Brittany stared at him, not entirely sure if she’d heard him. Memories of Karelle challenged his words, echoed with the certainty of endless repetition. Out there you’re just a grunt. The muscle. You won’t need to think, and only a fool asks questions. Be a good girl, follow orders, don’t make waves and you might survive long enough to prove you’ve more than a pretty face to your name …

I’m in charge?” she managed after a moment and he shot her a look that managed to be both pained and amused all at the same time.

“No,” he said patiently. “I said you were in control. I’m not your master, nor am I your servant. I am here as your Watcher, and that makes us partners in this business. You take the flight harness, and I’ll navigate. With a - little backup on the weapons systems if you need it.”

“Oh. Right.” She could work with that analogy. Flying was her thing, and she’d learned to love it. Besides – wasn’t this the very thing she’d dreamed about when she was young? Wasn’t that the way the whole Watcher/Slayer thing was supposed to be?

“Is that how you … work with … your slayer?” she asked warily, tightening her grip on the stake as they reached the lower decking. The space below the ramp was shadowed and dark, with only a flicker of red emergency lighting illuminating the entranceways to the games suites and the imaspheres . It also felt cold – colder than it ought to be on a ship where air was constantly recycled and the atmosphere was filtered and scrubbed and lightly perfumed.

Underneath the hints of heather and sandlewood , she could taste the faint stench of decay.

“Don’t have one.” Warlock had walked out into the main atrium and was busy slowly turning on the spot so that he could assess the layout of the place. “Never have. Not on permanent assignment anyway. Sense anything?”

He doesn’t have …

Brittany grimaced and gave herself a little shake. This was no time to daydream, and the fact that a Watcher with the amount of field time as this one seemed to have, didn’t have an allocated Slayer suggested that he probably wasn’t much of a Watcher in the first place. Although that wasn’t what his service pin implied.

Focus, she chided herself firmly. He asked you a question.

She wasn’t sure she could answer it. Karelle had always talked about them needing to hone their senses, about a Slayer being able to feel the demons before she could see them, but she’d never explained –

Hellfire!

A sudden, savage cramp had seized her, a fierce tightening in her abdomen that made her gasp and clutch at her stomach. Barely a second later something lunged out of the dark and grabbed at her, long clawing fingers clutching at her jacket. Brittany reacted instinctively, jerking upright to block the lunge with her forearm and then throwing her assailant away with a determined push. The cramp shifted in her belly and adrenaline surged through her like fire; she’d thought she was alert and focused before – but suddenly everything clicked into focus, including a level of night vision she’d not realised she possessed.

“Hostile at twenty degrees,” she reported with a growl, watching the vampire pick itself up off the deck.

It was an ugly thing, with gnarled brow ridges and lurid red-gold eyes. It was also wearing a steward’s uniform, which suggested it was still a newbie.

Rather like her, really.

“Ah,” Warlock noted. “ Yes – um – that’s exactly the sort of thing we’re looking for. You see anything that looks like that, and you … um … have my permission to slay it.”

“I wasn’t asking for permission,” Brittany ground out, lashing out with a furious kick as the creature hunkered down for another leap in her direction. The vampire took the blow and struck back, seizing her ankle and pushing up with unexpected strength. She cursed and threw herself backwards, turning the misbalanced moment into a perfectly balanced backflip and scissor kick. Her opponent was jerked upwards by the impact, and staggered back, seeking the support of the nearest wall. “I think it’s trying to slay me.”

“Almost undoubtedly. Keep moving. Don’t let it get hold of you.” Warlock’s voice was measured and even, offering quiet advice from the sidelines.

She danced around a pillar and slammed her fist into the thing’s face, following up with a spin kick that sent it flying into a concession stand.

“Don’t I need – “ Another spin; her foot slammed it sideways, spilling candy bars across the floor. “- to be close? To use – “ She punched out and missed, the point of the stake ripping through the sleeve of the vampire’s jacket. “- this thing?”

It wasn’t anything like the simulations she’d suffered through under Karelle’s impatient eye. The illusionary vampires had been much slower – and jerky, uncoordinated in their movements. This one was fast, and savage and came back from blows that would have hospitalised a living man.

When it hit her, it would hurt.

“Wait for the right moment. Watch for the right opening. You have speed and agility on your side. A little more training probably wouldn’t go amiss, but …”

“You volunteering?” Brittany was in the moment, doing just what he’d told her to do - listening to her instincts. Right then they were saying: Slayer, Vampire, Watcher, in tones that translated into hunter, prey, and guide. Nothing about seniority or rank, nothing about rules or regulations; just primal certainties that put her in the flying harness and him on monitoring duty. Gathering intel , plotting the wider course, warning her of hazards and outlining available options. It felt right. In fact it felt familiar, as if the two of them had been doing this for centuries.

“I might.” The banter – the conversation that danced around his instruction and advice – felt equally familiar. Part of the dance. “If you live that long.”

Hah!” she exclaimed, ducking down as the vampire charged in her direction. His impetus carried him straight over her shoulders, and she twisted as she threw him off so that he landed in a heap barely a metric from Warlock’s feet.

Which was a mistake.

The vampire scrabbled round and made a lunge towards the Watcher. Her Watcher. Brittany snarled and dove forwards, a lightning fast flip and bounce that put her briefly onto one hand and then almost immediately back on her feet. She didn’t stop to think, didn’t hesitate or calculate. Her hand punched down, the stake sank home – and then she was staring, somewhat breathlessly, through a slowly settling cloud of dust.

“Not bad,” Warlock assessed, eyeing her up and down for a moment. “Not bad at all. You missed a couple of opportunities, but … unfamiliar weapon, uncertain environment … “ He gave a thoughtful nod of satisfaction. “You’ll do.”

It wasn’t exactly glowing praise – but somehow Brittany knew that coming from him that simple assessment meant a lot more than any amount of congratulations or compliments.

“I can do better,” she said, and meant it. She could and would do better. She’d be ready for the cramps next time, would understand what they meant – and she wouldn’t spend so long getting a feel for her opponents speed and strength. But her first kill … the pleasure in it lifted a grin to her face. One that froze as the cramps came back – and a pair of evil eyes loomed out of the darkness.

“Warlock!” she cried in alarm. “Behind you!”

He spun at the cry, his hands – which had been folded across his chest – dropping to the hilts of his swords. He drew and struck in one smooth, elegant motion, the crossing blades lifting the head of the second vampire cleanly from its shoulders. The head flew up, the lunging body lurched forward - and then both dissolved into dust, showering the two of them in a flurry of detritus.

Brittany’s eyes had gone wide. They stayed that way as he ceremoniously spun the weapons over in his hands and, just as ceremoniously, re-sheathed them. The gesture was just as fluid, just as certain as the initial draw; the swords danced in his hands like slivers of light, like an extension of his will.

“Wow,” she said. “If I knew you could do that …”

He turned and smiled at her, a warm companionable grin that held a hint of embarrassment at her praise. “You’re the Slayer, Angel One. But … it never hurts if your Watcher knows how to defend himself. That’s … um … one to you and one to me, I believe.”

A sudden staccato bark of sound echoed from the deck above them. A sliver discharge. It was followed by a startled scream.

“And hopefully one to Shepherd. Come on!” Warlock was running before the scream came to an end, loping back up the ramp with a hasty, long legged pace. Brittany was barely a step behind him; she passed him on the curve and by the time she reached the top she was well ahead, running at full pelt.



There was a little more light on the promenade. Not much, but enough to see the tableaux that awaited them. Shepherd was backed up against a support pillar fumbling to reload his sliver gun; Saran was lying on the floor with a vampire hunched over her; and then there was Kim, kicking furiously as she dangled from the up-raised arm of yet another vampire, his fingers clenched around her throat.

Kimmy !” Mel was racing down from the upper deck, only to be seized and dragged onto the decking by a third creature as it emerged from beneath the ramp.

Hellfire!

Brittany didn’t know which way to turn. Kim was choking, flailing for air. The vampire leaning over Saran was opening his mouth ready to strike – and Mel was yelling, kicking and struggling as her captor pulled her head back to take a bite of his own.

Lumos solari !

The exclamation was packed with power; a sound that punched through the air and resonated off every surface that it touched. The vampires had time to look up in startled synchronicity …

… and then the sun came out.

Well, strictly speaking, a sun blossomed in the upper reaches of the deck. A small one, probably no bigger than a clenched fist. But it blazed with a sudden brilliance that had Brittany hastily shutting her eyes and turning away. She could feel its heat wash over her like a caress, after images dancing red and gold behind her closed lids. The solar shutters were triggered along the upper walkways, their ruffle of clicks and locks running in staccato rhythm behind the agonised screams of the dead.

A moment later the extinguishing systems cut in; she pulled in a lungful of suppressant gases and gagged, reflexively opening her eyes as she did so.

The light was fading back to normal. Kim was standing on the deck, gasping for breath and staring at the crumpled, burning heap that had been a vampire only a few clicks earlier. There was a similar heap lying next to Saran’s unmoving form – and Mel was backing away from the underside of the ramp, shaking and scrubbing at her arms, trying to brush away the embers that clung to her tunic.

The sliver gun slipped from Shepherd’s hands and he dropped to his knees beside Saran, reaching to touch her with gentle, tentative fingers. Kim turned and hastily dropped to her other side, helping the Watcher turn her over; Brittany let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding as the dark skinned Slayer stirred and tried to struggle up.

“Easy, Angel Two,” she heard Shepherd say. “There’s a good lamb. Fight’s over. Fear no evil.”

Oh, thank the powers …

She started to turn, intending to share the thought with the man who’d been at her heels, her lips curving into a smile at the sight of the older Watcher gathering up his injured charge as if she were made of china. The smile froze before she’d completed it; Warlock was standing right behind her – but he was staring straight up at where the sun had appeared, and his face was as white as a sheet. “Warlock?”

He blinked, lowering his gaze and focusing on hers with bemusement – and unexpected effort. “Ah,” he registered, flashing her the barest of smiles. “Angel One … ” His knees gave way and she leapt to catch him, offering him a shoulder to lean on. “Forgot to … compensate,” he explained wearily. “Minimal source. Secondary dampeners …”

Her glance towards the heavens was involuntary. “You did that? The sun thing?”

“Yes,” he confirmed, sounding even more embarrassed than he’d been about his sword play. “Overkill, I’m afraid. Should know better …”

Instinctively, impulsively, she reached round and hugged him. A quick squeeze of gratitude and relief. Hardly the expected behaviour from a cadet to a senior officer, but then – just for that moment, they were nothing but a Slayer and her Watcher, celebrating the defeat of the dark.

“You wouldn’t have had to,” she whispered. “If we were trained …”

His hand closed over hers, his eyes twinkling despite the fatigue that filled them. “You will be,” he promised softly. “Well done, Angel One.”

“Brittany,” she told him, proud that she’d been Watched – even if only for a moment or two – by this man, this worthy descendent of the Second Founder’s line. “My name is Brittany.”

The twinkle deepened into an equally proud smile. “I know.”



Six days later, Brittany was beginning to wonder if the whole experience had been a dream. She’d only seen Warlock once since the incident, and that had been across a fairly crowded room, when the passengers had been throwing a party for their protectors and she hadn’t had a moment to do more than catch his eye and share a wry smile at the exuberant fuss. The Ryal Princess had arrived at the Cordesta Hub the day after that, discharging Shepherd and his flock into the welcoming arms of the service processing centre. Saran had been released from life centre with a clean bill of health, but she and the other Angels had been posted to other ships; the girls from Deneb had shared a fairly tearful farewell as they parted to seek their respective destinies. Brittany had found herself bunked in with a dozen other cadet Slayers assigned to the Giles, most of whom had scoffed at the idea that she’d actually staked a vampire, especially that close to the core.

She’d kept her temper and refused to argue about it. She knew that the incident was logged on her service record, as was her code name. She didn’t really care that the other Giles cadets didn’t believe her. Nor did she care that they joked behind her back when she appeared in uniform with the regulation impulse pistol at her hip – and a stake tucked into her belt. It had been Warlock’s parting gift before he staggered away to rest – a replacement for the one that had vanished into dust with her first kill. She didn’t care because she knew – knew that they might call themselves Slayers, but that she truly was one.

She might never see her first Watcher again. But she was going to make him proud of her, all the same.

The Rupert Giles arrived in the Cordesta three days after Brittany did; practically the whole of the Hub station lined up on the observation deck to see the Council’s flagship drop out of hyperspace and make its stately way up to the docking port made ready for it. It was , she had to admit, a big ship. She’d been told there’d be room in its cargo decks for the Ryal Princess, and it would still have space left over to shelter a whole flock of smaller transports. Seeing it, she could believe it. It wasn’t as big as the Hub, of course, but the Hub didn’t have its escort; a whole darting squadron of slay-fighters. Nor did it have a sleek and deadly warcraft cradled lovingly beneath it, ready to be unleashed at its pilot’s command.

A day after that, the new cadets were ordered to report. Shephard had left with the Princess, heading out to collect more of his lambs, so they were escorted aboard by two other Watchers, the senior administrative officers posted to the Hub. In full dress reds, no less; Brittany lined up with the rest, feeling extremely self conscious in the distinctive red leathers, despite her pride at being able to wear the Giles badge on her shoulder. They marched through the station and they turned heads, a dozen new young warriors, going to war. Their boots echoed on steel as they strode through the docking ring, and then again as they emerged into an arched reception bay, where the Captain and her Watcher waited for them.

There were others gathered around the edges of the chamber, but Brittany eyes remained fixed – not on the Captain, whose career as a Slayer was practically legendary, but on the man standing at her side. He was silver haired and as distinguished as any Watcher had a right to be; his square cut, patrician features echoed his ancestry as clearly as Warlock’s had done. It was common knowledge that the Senior Watcher aboard the Giles was a direct descendant of the Second Founder. She wasn’t the only one staring.

There were speeches - welcomes offered and advice freely given – and then the assignments, names called out and positions assigned. Brittany already knew she’d been placed as a junior in the second squadron; she’d requested fighter duty and her flight record spoke for itself. She waited for her name and the instruction that would direct her to one of the growing groups of trainees gathering for assessment – and started to grow a little nervous when the obvious place for it to be called seemed to be missed.

The Captain went on calling out names. Some of Brittany’s recent bunk mates sniggered when she was skipped over a second time. They were down to admin and service allocations by then; the secondary assignments for crew transferring from other ships. All the Slayer cadets had been called and Brittany was still standing there, a lonely figure in red leather, left in an unexpected spotlight while unsympathetic peers murmured at her abandonment. When the Captain reached the end of her litany, Brittany was practically ready to weep. Had she been left off the list? Had she reported to the wrong ship …?

“ M’am ?” That was one of the Hub Watchers, her face creased with puzzled concern. “You didn’t assign Miss Morris to an assessment group. Has there been some kind of mistake?”

“Hmm?” The Captain had turned to speak to the Watcher beside her; she turned back with a questioning smile – and he winked. Right at Brittany, who was busy wishing the deck would open up and swallow her. “Oh – you mean Angel One. She’s already been assessed. Her Watcher should be here to collect her.” She glanced around the room, and smiled. “Ah, yes. There he is.”

Heads turned, Brittany’s among them. Warlock strode through the gathering, looking knife edge smart in Watcher’s dress greys, a cybermages ’ purple stripe running through his ranking braids. His long hilted swords still hung ready at his hips, and there was a third blade dangling from his hand; a shorter one, with a red wrapped hilt and a single gold band running down its scabbard. The ex-bunk mates, who’d been nudging each other and sniggering, sobered abruptly.

“It is customary, aboard this ship,” the Captain was announcing, “that a Slayer’s first kill is a matter of celebration. Brittany Morris, hereafter code-named Angel One, has distinguished herself in single handed combat, dispatching a full blooded vampire with nothing but a stake in her hand. She arrives among us tested, bloodied and proven to be a true Slayer.” She nodded to Warlock, who stepped forward to slide the sword belt over Brittany’s shoulders and settle the blade at her back. It was his turn to wink at her; she didn’t know if she should laugh or cry.

“We have three gifts to give you, Angel One.” The ship’s Senior Watcher had stepped forward to join his Captain, who smiled at him as he spoke. “A place and a home aboard this ship, which will guard and protect you as we know you will help guard and protect it. This blade - which was my gift to your Captain when she and I chose to seal our life bond – and the company and guidance of the most gifted Watcher aboard this ship – who seems to think you might be worthy of his attention. The powers help you both.”

“Amen to that,” the Captain laughed. She drew herself to attention, and the crew followed suit, settling into formal array with well practised discipline. The cadets quickly mirrored their stance, knowing what would be coming next.

“When hell and harm and horror seek to claim us,” the Captain declared reverently.

We will hold fast,” the crew responded, packing the words with equal respect.

“When the darkness rises, when the hunger comes - ”

We will defend the light.”

“When all seems lost, when we can bear no more – ”

We will give our all, and more.”

“As long as one stands, we all stand – for we stand and serve as one. For the Last of the First and the First of the Many …"

Brittany added her voice to the final line, staring at the Watcher beside her – at her Watcher – with a flare of pride that threatened to overwhelm her heart. "… may we always be Watched over – with love."

The End

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