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                  CHAPTER  ONE
 Father Adam silenced the sob that framed in his  throat by clenching his jaw.  He felt cold in side, still unable to comprehend the depth and scope of Cardinal Alba's crime.  The Cardinal, his one time mentor and close friend, had left the Church.

Crouched underneath the dirty wooden counter, Adam tried to understand the why of it all. He failed miserably.  So, instead, he wrestled with his tears and grief.

The Cardinal's speech on immortality had driven a huge spike of hurt and pain deep into his chest.  The look of avarice Alba wore as he spoke of "eternal life" was a monstrous betrayal. Within the young priest warred two images, one of younger kinder Alba who lectured on the eternal nature of God's kingdom and an older man who unashamedly announced his embrace of darkness.

Now on the sticky floor, it felt like the most ironic thing in the world to be in a bar, abandoned though it was.  His one great lapse in his vows had been at a pub.  Eleven years ago, he'd almost gone home with a prostitute, his head clouded by drink and lust.  Alba had found him then, on his way down the street staggering as he leaned on the woman.  Not condemning or chastising, he'd simply held out an arm and taken him home to his small room in the monastary.  Reckoning had been paid in the morning, of course, in the form of a wicked hangover that turned his face an awful shade of green and in a dissapointed lecture from Alba.

Now another time of crisis had appeared and here he was again, in a bar with the Cardinal waiting outside; only this time it wasn't for him the cardinal was waiting and he wasn't going to offer comfort or even a tongue lashing.

Guito breath roughened for a moment and tried to muffle the sounds of his harsh breathing underneath an outflung arm.  He didn't want to bother, but despite the urge to just wallow in misery he did what was neccesary.  Who knew how acute vampires, or more accurately Valek's hearing was.

After a while, as he lay there, he felt a heat seep through the cold miserable haze.  First faint and unrecognizable, it grew into a hot deverish of anger. With each beat of his hammering hear a storm of hurt and anger pulsed behind his underneath his wide eyes.  The heat emanating felt as though it should melt the cheap linoleum of the floor beneath his body.How dare the Cardinal deny the Church, how dare he join forces with Valek, how dare he betray HIM.

As the anger rose so did his resolution to set things right. Waiting there angry and miserable at the same time made him impatient. For an hour or so he gnawed on his fingers consumed with the desire to bring retribution down on Alba's head.

Finally, the light from the window on the floor bcame that of an approachng dawn.  He then scurried out of the abandoned bar crouched almost double as he made his way towards a higher vantage point. With the gun in his right fist he scaled the side of the slayer van, praying that he wouldn't be noticed. Despite his anger, there was still enough sense left in him to feel fear at every noise his ascent made.  Hopefully, he was forgoten and with a large amount of God's help no one would notice him.

He reached the top and slid forward on his stomach over the corrugated metal surface, careful not to let the shotgun scrape against it.  He crouched low for what seemed an eternity while the vampires cleared the area for the ceremony.

There at the top of the van, he anxiously alternated between watching the Jack and Valek and searching for the familiar shape of Alba, who was missing from the scene.When the dawn's light begin to peek just barely over the horizen, the Cardinal glided into view.  Alba bit down hard on his lower lip at this sight and his hand spasmed over the shot gun barrel as Alba entered shooting range.

Forcing himself to loosen his grip he reminded himself that he could not shoot the cardinal then.  Doing do would mean that Valek might have time to find another priest for the ceremony.  He would lose Jack, Valek, and his chance for venageance.

So, Father Adam continued to watch, shivering in the cool pre-dawn air. Trying not to let his teech chatter with either the cold or shock. Patience, patience, patience, he litanied as they tied Jack to the cross. Wait for sunrise.

After a few minutes it grew slightly lighter and the vampires circled the cross/stake in unison.  The clearing grew quiet as everyone waited. >>
Cardinal Alba, with beads of water on his forhead from where he'd freshened up, began the intonation. Lifting his hand with a censor, he read from a small book in his left.  Every word was elegantly pronounced, refined by decades of Church life and practice from a young age. The beauty of this ritual was lost on Adam.  To a man who'd sat at Alba's feet as a teenager, each gesture was a hellish mockery.  The names and words repeated in Latin and the elegant refined gestures of a lifelong priest were all profaned by their context.  In an obscene kind of parody, the gleaming faces of the vampires took on a cast like a church's parishoners, eagerly awaiting their chance for communion.

Adam, trying to ignore the emotions this scene raised, lifted himself slightly.  When Alba pulled a dagger and sliced through the fabric of Crow's faded jeans, he slowly and silently slid up to his full height.

He aimed the shotgun and sighted the Cardinal down the  barrel.  He waited a moment to ensure him aim and his trigger pulled slightly on the trigger. Goodbye, he thought, joy, anger, and sadness churning within.

Then Adam hesitated, ever so briefly and in that moment his ankle twisted slightly underneath him.  Stiff from having laid still so long and sore from his encounter in the jail elevator, it refused to support his weight.  The world shifted and Padre Adam fell to the side of the van.  His body hit the top like a lead weight and the surface resonated with the impact.  In shock he finished pulling the trigger and it went off like a clap off thunder in the hushed clearing.

The shotgun fell to the ground with a sickening clatter as the clearing's inhabitants' heads whipped around.  He scrabbled desperately to regain his balance before falling beside the gun on the ground.

For a split second Adam lay there, numb and aching from the fall. Then he regained his sense and reached for the gun.  Maybe there would be time for one more shot before they got to him; just enough time to wipe that awful smile from the Cardinal's face.

His hand curled around the stock and the gun was making its way towards him when a foot stepped on the barrel. Adam stopped breathing and he followed the black boot up to a cold and amused face.

"How nice to have you with us," Valek spoke looking down at the now terrified priest. The Cardinal, coming up to Valek's side looked down on him with an almost benevolent and openly affectionate smile, one Adam remembered from his years as a young man.

"My dear child, I am so pleased to see you. It is good to know I will have the pleasure of my favorite student.  Both eternal life and suitable company is more than I hoped for."

Padre Adam looked up at the Cardinal with an disbelief and horror.  He was doing-THIS and all he could talk about was suitable "company" on his way down to hell. The hot rage rushed through him then and he lunged up at the Cardinal.  His reach was rendered futile, though, by Valek's boot in his chest. He hit the side of the van with a thump and slumped bonelessly down the side.

Realizing the position he was in he started to laugh.  Silently at first,in dry heaves, then in full throated hysteria.  Valek watched for a moment,as if to insure he was no longer a threat and then walked back to where Jack was busy bleeding. The view of what his white hands were doing was lost by the shape of Cardinal Alba's body leaving along with him.

"Don't worry my child, I will not forget you," he called back to Adam who was left behind.

The area around Padre Adam cleared for a moment as the vampires shuffled back to the scene of Valek's triumph. No desire to see a failed attempt at heroism, Adam thought bitterly to himself. They have better things to do. Padre Adam's laughter eventually subsided into silence. He sat there cursing himself.  If only he'd waited until later to climb on top of the van..if only he'd....  the endless list of self recriminations continued on and on.  In the background Cardinal Alba's voice droned on.

Adam was almost convinced he was to be left alone when a pair of feet stepped into view. They were the backless, strappy pair of heels that belonged to Katrina. Padre Adam didn't bother looking up at her face.  He knew her once beautiful and relatively innocent features would be covered in the same feral grin as the others.  He continued to look down at the ground even when she slammed him against the van and hungrily grasped at his his throat. His head involuntary rose and turned with the aid of her hand and he looked for the first time since his fall at the proceedings.

Valek knelt with a look of solemnity on his face, the blood of a crusader making twin lines down the sides of his face. Cardinal Alba then raised his censor twice and motioned at a nearby vampire with a shake of his head.  The vampire, a rather dirty citizen of the town, picked up a torch and held it to the wood surrounding Jack's feet.  Father Adam gazed in a kind of detached horror as the flames begin to catch on the dry sticks.  He looked the last Slayer left of the band in the eyes as the fire rose higher.  Jack grinned sardonically at the priest as if to make a final sarcastic comment on his fate.

Surprisingly, despite the conflicting emotions of humor and pain on his face there was a profound amount of pity. Padre Adam wondered at this.  A lock of Katrina's hair then brushed the side of his neck and he understood.  Completely.

He started to struggle as he looked into Jack's eyes.  But it was of no use, his strength was that of a child's to hers. Katrina bit down hard then and all thoughts of fear faded.  The mix of cold pain and seething hot rage and the bitterness of his failure all faded. He sunk into a world of voluptous red, colored neatly by the flickering flames he of Jacks funeral pyre. They rose higher and higher around him as he grew weaker and strangely he could have sworn he still saw them as his world turned empty.


It was a well lit room, light from the three overhead fixtures reflecting off the furniture and filling each square inch of space with an unremarkable luminesance.  It made the sunlight streaming through the sheer draperies almost unnecesary, an overindulgence by some careless painter's hand.

Even with the glow, there were the usual dim spots in the room; imperceptible places sensed more than seen that hid in the corners and came out when you least expected them.

If someone were to ask of this, they'd laugh at the thought.  How can there be darkness in a such places?  But hands held across their mouth cannot disguise the fleeting start of fear.  They will titter in amusement while at once wondering about yesterday when they suddenly shivered in the middle of a busy office floor.

A draft, no doubt.

In this room there would be no chills in the middle of walking to the bathroom or hall. They kept to their corners and spots under the bed as if to give the room's occupant some space.

A single person sat at a vanity.  Small and delicate, it was lost in the big rrom, occupying no more than four feet wide and two feet deep.  The round mirror, showing traces of spotless glass cleaner, was busy existing simply by reflecting the reversed universe in front of it.  A universe, which consisted at this moment of a young woman, also small and delicate.

Matilda looked in the mirror and lifted a hand to her face. The world rotated a bit, as she turned her head, and it once again refocused on smooth skin of her right cheekbone.

Flawless, now.  But, two days ago, there had been a scar. Small and narrow, and visible only it from a certain angle, but it had been there. She turned straight foward and looked at herself, seeing a girl of fifteen or so with red hair and dark eyes and white white skin.

Her hand, as she lowered it, did not tremble.  In fact, when she thought about it, she hadn't made any irrelevant movements in almost four years.  Every step she took, every turn of the head, was a graceful economical placement, almost orchestrated.  Somewhere in the years, she had lost the freedom of useless gestures.  She never caught a glimpse of herself in a window, with her hands running through her hair.  She never tripped over unseen objects or shrugged with the uncomfortable fit of clothes.

Matilda was encased in someone else's flesh

Smitten with the sudden idea of fidgeting, she tried sweeping her hand accross the vanity surface.  First picturing the clumsly check for dust, she drew her fingers across the cherry highlighted wood.  Unsuccesfully, it might be added.  The clumsly planned sweep turned into a graceful dip of her hand when executed.  Viewed by someone other than the mirror, it would have been a elegant notation to illustration of some no doubtedly charming and witty remark.

Trying suddenly for the unexpected, she tossed her head  and laughed, an attempt to alleviate the quietness around her.  It didn't help.  Instead, it echoed hollowly in the room, filling the corners with a horrid falseness. The shadows lurking there, shivered foward for a moment; closing in on Matilda with an awakened hunger before returning to their perches.

Matilda didn't shiver at the eerie sound she made.  She just stood there staring into her own eyes.  "That's the last of it," she whispered to her confidant, her reflection.

She wanted to touch her reflected cheek, thinking to capture some of her lost self.  Instead, she placed a hand over her stomach. Laying her long fingers over the flatness.

It had been two years since she woke up to find herself empty.  Matilda opened her eyes one evening and felt...still.  Lying there on nearly unrumpled sheets, there was a certain quiet inside that she'd never felt before.  It was as if her body was turning itself off. Placing her hand on her stomach, she felt a gradual slowing of something that paused and died as she pressed her fingers in deeper to look for it. She knew what was happening.

Within each person an invisible thread humming with life vibrated.  With each tremor, it emitted a pulse which said

She'd hadn't known there was such a movement. With the obliviousness that accompanies life, she was aware of such movement only as she was of air; never missing it until it was gone.

She felt that night the deadness inside.  That pulse of life had dimmed and slowed until it finally stopped. With it was gone the power to grow and divide, to create within one's self.

Matilda spent the rest of the wee hours staring at the ceiling, as sterile as the white sheets she slept on. And now, as she watched her smooth face, the same changes which had taken her children had swept away the last sign of her humanity.

The scar, which had formerly stretched across her right cheekbone, she had gotten as a three year old girl playing on a swing, the result of a sharp out thrust edge.  It had grown less obvious as she'd aged, but it had been the first thing she'd seen whenever she'd looked into the mirror.  And, as bits and peices of her self were taken, it became the only thing she would allow herself to see.

She had successfully ignored the changes until now, when she finally allowed herself to SEE.  Without the small blemish on her face for distraction, her face was disturbing..  White skin lay over high cheekbones and around too bright eyes.  It wasn't the pale skin of a redhead, but the the colorless perfection of marble.  It also seemed tight, as if it had been stretched smoothly until it was nearly translucent. At the edges, towards her hairline, blue veins could almost be seen.

Her mouth, strangely enough, was pretty.  It was a deep red in the center and faded to a paler pink at the corners.  Almost kissable, until the would be lover looked in eyes.  It was those eyes that moved people, away that is. Originally a soft brown, they had darkened and emptied until they were portholes in which people feared to look.

The windows of the soul and all.

Rising from the vanity, she sat on the edge of the bed.  Matilda disliked sitting that way, as it formed an indention, but she didn't want to get a chair; just more of that damnable glide she did instead of walking.

Even so, she felt uncomfortable.  Sitting on her bed seemed almost improper when chairs were made for sitting and beds for sleeping, the proper order of things. Not that she slept in her bed anyways.  Nowadays she didn't sleep at all.  Coming back from where ever, she'd lay herself down and curl herself into the soft sheets and blankets.

Her empty eyes would then remain open, blinking occasionally as she stared out her window with her body around a big pillow.  Always, she lost time in that position.  After lying down for only a few moments, she'd drift off into the emptiness she created within herself. Undisturbed by carcadian rythms or even hunger pangs, time flowed a smoothly as water.

Matilda closed her eyes and lay back into the cradling softness.  She wanted the comfort that smooth flowing river offered.  Forgetting she had awakened only a few moments earlier, she would spend the day in bed and forget for a while more.  Forget the stillness, forget the smoothness of her skin, forget the emptiness, forget.....everything.

And so she drew the blankets over her bare legs. She briefly thought about sleep, she missed the soft embrace of unconsciousness and of dreams.  Instead, all she had left was the impersonal hard touch of forgetfullness. yet another thing stolen.  Her head nestled into a pillow and her dark eyes locked themselves onto a passing cloud.

Her form, outlined in bedclothes, was strangely vunerable as she lay there. A small bundle of white skin and gleaming red hair she was a parody of child with huge open eyes.  Or maybe she was a doll, broken and shaped by hands she did not see, the dark empty gaze left to watch her destruction.  Her thought, as she watched, grew slower and farther apart until they stopped.  Finally it was as if no one was there to watch that passing sky.  The quiet of the room set in as the last remnants of her laughter left and there was no motions of breath which marred the almost perfect bed. In that quiet the dim corners bled out and towards, settling around Matilda as if to look the windows of her eyes.

Matilda drifted, cold and silent.

Not moving, not thinking, merely letting herself float amidst the emptiness.

It wasn't comfort, exactly, to be like this.  It was just some thing that had to be done, like seeking refuge from a wild animal in a hedge of thorns.  Unpleasant and normally frightening, but better than the alternative.

She really missed sleeping but that was a notion not allowed here.  Nothing was.

The calm sleep of the dead.

Then a hand had reached in and pulled her out of her thorn's nest. The calm tore open with a scream and the resting rolled over in their graves with a shudder at something's passing.

Thoughts, as light and swift as the clouds before her empty gaze, tore into her big empty.

Stones shattering glass...flesh ripping exposed beating heart....

The black rippled as colors shoved through, taking on a clarity found only in nightmares as they came past her consciousness at a dizzying speed.

Scenes flashed through her head: first her parents faces.  They were laughing, their dark eyes and light heads together as they giggled endearments. And then the looks of joy melded into a single face.

Kara laughed helplessly against a wall holding her sides in pain as she fell over. The look of merriment became a scream of pain and the open eyes shut into greater blackness than the void.  A deep roar of rage filled the world until nothing could be felt but hate and loss...then there was silence again.

In that brief repreive Matilda's head spun dizzily with desperate happy thoughts, hoping to keep the darkness at bay.  Her silence before hindered her, though. Before she could hold on to grasp something tangible, the calm rushed through like water laced with shards of glass, slipping through her fingers, leaving only bitter and bloody traces in her hands.

The world tilted and the velvet backness grew small pins of light.

 "the stars.." Matilda whispered to herself as she found herself on her back in a desert.  Mesas dotted the horizen.  Breaking up the straight lines and clear views with their rugged hulking shoulders.

She looked to her right, knowing what she'd see; several figures rolled up in sleeping bags, lying against the dim outline of a tent.

The whisper of the wind as it brushed against the sides of her sleeping bag tickled her nose and the low hum of her voices hushed carried over the flat hard ground to her ears.All was right in the world.  And then it wasn't.

Something howled in the distance...and a dark shape crouched at the edge of the encampment outlined by the incandescant glow of the moon.
The glow of two eyes fastened themselves to Matilda and they narrowed.  Teeth gleamed bright and profane in a shadow as the shape lept towards her,  the open mouth a hollow which filled her head with the scream she'd heard before.

Matilda shot up in her bed and clawed out of the sheets wrapped around her.  Desperately she crawled onto her floor and crouched with her fingers clawed into her chest. The nighmare warred with the pain from her fingers for a moment then retreated with a hiss.

Shivering, she let the sounds and smells die down in her head, the images bleeding slowly away like a picture being dipped into water until finally, they were gone.

Helpless she dipped her head to the floor and hit against the wood.  With each blow the pain intensified blocking out the hurt from her "vision". Keening she hit the floor again with her fist as frustration and anguisgh bored through her chest. It never left her no matter how much she hurt.  Unable to weep, unable to tell anyone, unable to do anything except huddle on the floor and remember.

She slammed her head harder against the floor.  Something cracked and a curtain of red pulled across her vision. She paused for a moment and then stopped. Lying of the floor she placed her entire body flat and felt the smoothness of the laquer over the boards. There wasn't anthing else to do, slamming her head into the ground wouldn't erase the past and it wouldn't change the present or future. There was nothing left in her life except to watch her outspead fingers remain still and to feel the growing wetness pool around her face.