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It slid up behind Nihad silently as he hurried through the streets trying to get home; a seasoned hunter easily stalking its prey. But maybe it made a slight rustle of air, or maybe Nihad had sharp senses, because he turned and drew a sharp intake of breath as he saw the beast crouching in front of him. He looked around desperately, looking for a way out. There was nothing. It had stopped, tense, waiting for Nihad to make a move. When it saw that he was helpless, it straightened and a ghastly smile slid across its face, like a freezing wind promising snow and rain. Nihad saw his death in that smile.

Suddenly, a flicker behind the beast caught his eye. The beast must have felt or heard something as well because it whirled around, just as the girl dropped out of the sky and confronted it. She didn't wait for it to react but somehow a wooden stake appeared in her hand and she lunged forward, driving it into the beast's chest with incredible strength and skill. There was a sickening crunch as it went through its ribcage straight into its heart. The beast let out a wail of hate and pain and sank to the hard ground before turning to dust before Nihad's eyes. He barely registered the fact that the stories were true: vampires turned to dust when killed; he was still alive! The girl picked up her stake from the pile of dust on the tarmac and turned and started walking away.

"Wait!", shouted Nihad, desperately trying to think of something to say as he ran up to her. The girl turned. "Thank you." It didn't seem enough but he couldn't think of anything else. The girl nodded and started turning away when he blurted out "Could I at least know your name?"

She hesitated, turned back towards him and said "Buttercup". It was then that he noticed the wings protruding from the jacket that she was wearing.

"You're a fairy!" he said in amazement.

Buttercup smiled sardonically at him. "What gave it away?" she asked in a mocking voice, "Was it the wings or the Wand?"

"What Wan..." He stopped in mid sentence. The object that he had taken to be a stake was the other end of a Wand.

"Useful, really," she mused in that same mocking tone as she followed his stare at the Wand. "Like a Swiss-army knife."

"But..." Nihad was dumbstruck. She had mutilated a Wand! Looking at him, Buttercup seemed to relent.

"Come on kid," she said, in a kindlier tone, "I'll walk you home, just to be sure."

That tone, more than anything else, roused him, "I'm twenty-five, y'know, hardly a kid." But he started walking down the road that would take him home.

"So then, you've got the advantage on me," Buttercup said conversationally as they walked down the street, "you know my name, I don't know yours".

"Nihad", he replied.

"Nihad," she repeated, "nice name. What's a nice guy like you doing out at this time of night? You know it's dangerous."

"Yeah, I was trying to get home when," he paused, "when you saved my life." He stole a glance at her sideways, "I can't thank you enough, what you did back there,"

"Forget it," she interrupted, "it's what I do".

"If it's not intruding, may I ask why?" He continued quickly, in an attempt to cover up his embarrassment, "I mean, fairies aren't usually, um, violent."

"My parents were killed by one of those things," she said shortly. "I was lucky," she snorted, "if you can call it that. I wasn't there. I had taken the Wand to be laid at the Stones with the others. I never got there. I turned back as soon as I felt the cry for help. I was too late..." her voice trailed away. Nihad stole another glance at her. Her face had become expressionless, like she was holding back some terrible emotion. "They were defenceless!" she said, her voice trembling, "I had the only means of defending ourselves that we had. Abruptly, she stopped speaking, and her voice was level again. "There's no point in dwelling on the past, it's over".

By this time, they had reached Nihad's house. It was a small bungalow, of the type that had been popular before the Invasion. She guessed that he couldn't afford somewhere better protected. Nihad was hesitating as well, "Look," he said awkwardly, "um, do you want to come in for a coffee or something?" He had to admit that it sounded like an incredibly lame come on.

Remarkably, she looked around and said, "well, it's been a quiet night and I could do with something to keep me awake," and followed him through the door into the scrupulously clean house. She looked around, "do you live alone here?" she asked.

"Yeah," he replied as they went into the kitchen, "I know it's not exactly what you might expect from a human guy living on his own, but I've always been quite tidy." He handed her a cup of coffee and made himself a cup of Lady Grey as she sat at the kitchen table.

They sat there for several hours, talking, now of the Invasion, now of the Stones, now of their own lives. Nihad told her about his own life as a student before the Invasion. He had been studying Wand theory, hence his strong reactions at seeing hers. When the Stones failed and the Breach occurred he went into hiding - they would want people like him dead. His sister was already dead and he had lost touch with his parents, who were still on Earth. Several of his friends and colleagues had been taken away and returned as whimpering shadows of their former selves. Turning people into vampires was a haphazard business here and failure almost always resulted in the victim's mind being permanently shattered.

"Look," Nihad said at last, "I want to help. I hate those b-" he hesitated, "beasts as much as you do. Most of my friends are dead, I've lost my family, I've almost died. I don't have a lot left worth living for, other than driving them back."

"You're tired, you've had a long day. What can you do?" Buttercup tried to dissuade him. "I mean, I've enhanced myself. I've got my power, and the Wand, but you're just a normal human."

"Yeah, I'm not a fighter. I think this evening's escapades have proved that, but I can help in other ways. I can think my way around things, I'm good at that. And I probably know as much about the Wand as you do and I probably know the Stones considerably better. That's got to be the first target, the Stones."

"The Stones...", for a minute Buttercup didn't follow and then she gasped, "you want to try and close the Breach."

"It's theoretically possible. I know that. And you've got possibly the last instrument left on this world that can do it. We've got to try."

She shook her head. "I already have." she replied, "That was the first thing that I did after my parents was murdered. I was half mad with grief. I barely got out alive. I spent almost a year recovering after that. There were just too many of them. They were everywhere." Her face was tight with the pain of remembering.

"But that was three years ago," argued Nihad, "they'll have become complacent by now. There's hardly any resistance any more, not since the Council fell. We do have a real chance, with the Wand. We've got to use it."

She had needed remarkably little persuasion Nihad thought to himself as he lay on the sofa, having offered Buttercup the bed. Were they on a suicide mission, he wondered to himself as he fell asleep and dreamed of fangs and stars and Stones. He awoke with a jolt, with sunlight streaming in the window to find Buttercup rummaging the cupboards as she looked for something. "Morning," he yawned as he stumbled towards the bathroom.

She looked up sheepishly, "oops, looks like I woke you after all. Sorry." He grunted at her not to worry about it as he reached the bathroom. By the time that he came back out again feeling vaguely human, she had found the coffee and milk and pushed a cup towards him. He took it unresistingly.

After the coffee and some real breakfast, they discussed how they would get to the Stones. Nihad reckoned that the area around the Breach wouldn't be well guarded, since the humans, who were regarded as the major threat, were scattered or dead. The non-human races knew, for the most part, that they wouldn't stand a chance against the vampires. Afterwards, Buttercup gave Nihad a small stick that had been in her family for generations. "Family history has it," she told him, "that this was a Wand that fell untimely from its place and that my ancestors found it. It has power. Nothing like a full Wand, but it should give you enough time to escape if nothing else."

They waited until sunrise the next day, to give them the maximum amount of time that they could move with impunity, and then started the three day trek that would take them southwards to where the Stones lay. Remarkably, they had very few incidents. It seemed that word had got around and that the vampires were avoiding them, without realising where they were going. The few times that they did have bother, Nihad marvelled at the efficient manner in which Buttercup would dispose of each beast, although he did once have to use the stick that she had given him to save himself. Rather than using it in a defensive manner as Buttercup had suggested, he wrenched the beast's head from its shoulders. That was enough to make even the seasoned vampire hunter pause for a moment and review her estimate of the fragile-looking man.

Eventually they reached the site of the Stones. It was eerily deserted. Before the Invasion, this site would have been packed with humans and non-humans alike, moving between the worlds. Both Nihad and Buttercup felt the desertion of the site weighing heavily on them, and unconsciously moved closer together. They walked up to the Stones themselves. "Well," Buttercup took a deep breath, "it's up to you, youngster." Nihad flashed a smile at her and took the Wand that she offered him. He was going to say something when he caught his breath as he looked past her. She turned and her heart sank as she saw what seemed like a multitude of the beasts apparently appearing out of nowhere, walking slowing, arrogantly towards them. It was a trap! She knew it had been too easy.

"Good luck!" They clasped hands and each turned to their respective task. Buttercup didn't wait for the beasts to come to her. She launched herself at the closest one and staked him before he had a chance to do anything other than look confused. Now the full extent of her power, grace and training became obvious, as she danced between the beasts, never standing still long enough to be hit, using her wings to adjust her weight and balancing her inertia. All the time, she was driving them away from the Stones, trying to give Nihad more time.

Nihad didn't see any of this. He was focusing his entire mind on the Wand and the Stones. Everything else went out of his mind entirely. He threw his mind deep into the Wand, awakening its sleeping soul. This was a dangerous thing to do, if it was startled, it could overthrow his own mind, but his touch was light and it awoke gently. He didn't have time for gentle introductions. He told it that Buttercup was in desperate danger and it must help him close the Breach. It was confused but obeyed him. Its loyalty to Buttercup's family was absolute and a Wand would know if he meant harm. Together they manipulated the space-time energies around the Stones, knitting broken matter and energy, the Wand lending Nihad its enormous power, fusing the Breach and pouring energy into the Stones that would guard it. Finally it was done. Nihad sank to the floor, all his strength drained, only the Wand keeping him alive as he recovered. He awoke to see Buttercup standing over him looking worried. As he opened his eyes, a radiant smile spread across her face. "I was afraid you weren't going to make it. That was a dangerous thing you did."

He raised an eyebrow at the irony as he rasped his tongue across his dry lips. "Did we do it?" he croaked as she helped him to sit up.

"You bet!" You should have seen the look on the vampires' faces when you closed the Breach. I got two of them as they stood there, gaping. The rest didn't seem to have much heart for it after that and just ran away." Nihad became aware that she was bleeding from at least three different places.

"You're hurt," he said, "let me take a look at that."

"It's nothing, I've had worse," Buttercup replied, but she let him dress and bind her wounds with strips torn from his shirt. "Y'know, they're not going to be happy with us now," Buttercup said thoughtfully. "I reckon that we'll be their number one target." She looked far too happy about this.

"So I guess we should be getting out of here before they come back then."

Buttercup grinned, "well, there's a safe house near here, run by some gingerbread men," she frowned briefly, "or was it gollywogs?" She hauled him up and smiled at him, linking her arm around his, "come on partner, let's go."

– December 2002