Chapter 2 : Airborne Hunting

Publish Date: 14 March 2002

The Vampire War Series
"Childe of the Blood"
-- Airborne Hunting --

Angel was hungry.

His hunger was not just for human blood, but also for the Hunt itself -- and this strange desire for the chase had been building up inside him all day. He'd even snapped at Giles this afternoon -- something the Watcher hadn't deserved -- and although he'd apologised, Angel still felt mildly guilty and had avoided the other man afterwards.

He knew the Watcher suspected something was wrong, but he also knew that Giles would very politely *not* ask him about it. It would shock the poor human to know that *Angel* had decided to join the Hunt this year, so Angel had decided equally politely *not* to tell him. After all, Angel and his Sire were the only two vampires in all the world who both had *human* souls, and -- usually -- felt no need to dine on human blood.

When dealing with humans, both he and his Sire tended to let the souled part of themselves guide their interactions. When dealing with other vampires however, they let their demonic natures out to play. It amused them both that the humans assumed they were 'acting' like demons to maintain their domination of the vampire race, while at the same time, the vampires assumed they were 'acting' like humans in order to keep the dumb mortals from figuring out that they were nothing more than walking dinners.

The truth however, was that the two vampires -- who together made up the entirety of the royal bloodline -- were *equally* demon and soul, and they enjoyed exercising both sides of their natures to the fullest whenever they could.

Tonight, it was Angel's demonic side that was pushing him. //*Out*// it was screaming at him. //Out, out, out...// He could *feel* the blood-craving twisting in his gut. Angel sighed. He *really* needed to Hunt.

But in the meantime, it was not yet sunset, and he also needed to avoid Giles' questioning eyes for a few more minutes until he was free.

In an effort to calm himself, he mentally reviewed the reason he and Giles had come to LA in the first place.

His Sire, Prince Blackwolf -- or the 'vampire king' as mortals called him -- had sent Giles and himself to America because the Watcher's Council suspected there was a dormant Hellmouth about to awaken in that country. So far, it seemed they'd been correct, as Giles could read and interpret the signs quite well once they were that much closer to the elusive dimensional portal. However, they still didn't know *exactly* where the wretched thing was, and Giles was occupying himself with reading musty old tomes, trying to find an indication of its precise location. So far, his best guess put it somewhere in, or near, a sleepy little town called 'Sunnydale'.

---- oo00oo ----

It was shortly *after* sunset when William left the Melles house, cradling a stolen camera as if it were gold, and congratulating himself for having the foresight to pack several vials of holy water and a couple of stakes in his coat *before* leaving his current bolt-hole. The Bitch and Co. had taken a bit longer than expected to get home, and it was now well after sundown on the first night of the Hunt. He was definitely glad he'd thought to pack the stakes.

---- oo00oo ----

Evening.

//Finally!// thought Angel. //Hallelujah! I am *so* gone!// But not fast enough, apparently, because on his way to the door Giles -- book in hand -- just *had* to speak to him.

"Oh, Angel, there you are..." and Giles moved to intercept him, "I think we might actually have lead on the latest Slayer!"

Angel stopped in his tracks. Well, *this* he would listen to. The last Slayer had been killed a few months ago while committing various acts of mayhem on a rogue European demon. The crazed Adshuk's death throes had toppled large chunks of masonry and brickwork, which the tired Slayer had not been fast enough to avoid. It had been sheer back luck that the poor woman had died. Her Watcher had dutifully reported it, and brought her collar back to his Sire.

Unfortunately, nobody seemed to be able to find the *new* Slayer. Anywhere. It was causing quite a bit of unrest in his Sire's court. Slayers were -- naturally enough -- very dangerous to vampires. For this reason, Vampire Law stated that only the Royal bloodline was permitted -- *required*, in fact -- to be personally responsible for them -- sort of like keeping a very dangerous pet. Like Watchers, they were collared and kept close -- sent out only to do his Sire's bidding by slaying demons and other supernatural beings who broke Vampire Law. Each Slayer was, in effect, his Sire's executioner whenever there was a supernatural problem that was too big for local law enforcement to handle.

"You know where she is?" he demanded, "How? *Where*?"

Giles smiled up at him. "Well, you wouldn't believe it, but -- Sunnydale!"

"You're kidding!"

"Nope. Not a bit of it." and Giles was practically bouncing -- well, he would have been, if conservative British Watchers ever bounced. "It seems that Slayers are actually *drawn* towards the places they're needed most," he said, "which means that when the last Slayer was killed, the new one would have been chosen because of her proximity to... well, to wherever she was needed most."

"But that was several months ago," Angel protested, "and what does that have to do with the Hellmouth?"

"Well, you see, the Hellmouth is very likely to become the worst trouble-spot on the planet, correct?" Angel nodded. "So, the Slayer will be drawn to it -- if she isn't there already!"

"Not if she's a goat-herder in Tibet, she won't."

"What?" Giles looked surprised. "Oh, yes -- but she isn't, I can assure you. No, she's probably already there."

"And you know this... how?" Angel asked.

"Ah... well, you see, I just happened to go looking for trouble spots that were festering at about the time the last Slayer died." he paused for dramatic effect. "Did you know that there was a rogue Master vampire in this very city several months ago? One who had been gathering Power and Hunting illegally -- creating a small army of Minions while he was at it?"

Yes. Actually, Angel *had* known. That sort of thing was immediately reported to his Sire and had the highest priority for 'correction'. Prince Blackwolf didn't put up with *that* kind of challenge to his authority for even a second. "But they were all dusted -- a fire I heard."

"Yes," and Giles arched his eyebrow significantly, "a fire -- in a locked highschool gymnasium where nobody else was injured, and the police believe arson was involved."

Oh.

"You think the new Slayer was involved."

"I think it highly likely."

Angel studied the Watcher for a moment. There was something he wasn't saying. "What else, Giles? You're hiding something."

"Ah..." Giles stuttered a bit, and pushed his glasses higher, "Well... that is..."

"Out with it, Watcher." Angel growled.

"Well..." and Giles had now turned an interesting shade of embarrassed red. "Well, it seems as though a rather... significant... Watcher report went a bit... astray... at about the time of the last Slayer's death."

Angel frowned. Watcher reports were not customarily sent to the vampire court *unless* they were significant. If one had gone astray... "What, exactly, was in this... stray... report?"

Giles winced. "It seems that one of our... less reputable... field Watchers reported that he *might* have seen a Slayer here in LA."

"WHAT!" Angel roared. "A report like that, and it went ASTRAY!?"

"Well," Giles defended his profession, "the fellow wasn't considered to be quite... all *there*, if you take my meaning. Poor chap never wanted to be a Watcher anyway -- his father *forced* him, as I understand the matter; and then of course, he was collared, and it was all too late..."

Angel cut him off, "You mean the *Council* didn't want to embarrass itself if this fruitloop turned out to be imagining things."

"Well, I do think 'fruitloop' is a bit harsh..."

"Never mind -- my Sire will deal with the Council later. Right now, find this man and bring him to me."

"Ah... that could be a bit of a problem."

"Why?" Angel asked bluntly.

"He's dead. Shortly before the fire."

Angel pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned. He *really* needed to go Hunting. To work off the frustration, if nothing else. "So we have *no* idea who this girl is."

"I wouldn't say that," Giles reassured him, "We know she's an American this time. We know she's a teenager, and very likely to be enrolled in highschool. We know that the inherent magic of the Slayer will draw her to the Hellmouth, even if she doesn't wish to go."

"All we really have to do," Giles continued, "is go to Sunnydale -- which we were going to do anyway -- and find a girl who has recently arrived from LA. The local highschool would undoubtedly be our best chance."

"*If* Sunnydale is where the Hellmouth really is." Angel reminded him.

"Oh. Yes, quite. I'll... uh, get back to the books then." Giles began to turn away, then stopped. "Would you care to assist me?"

"No," and this time it was Angel who shuffled uncomfortably, "I, um... have to go out tonight." and before Giles could interrogate him further, he was out the door.

---- oo00oo ----

William was not having a good time. Wholly aside from the threat of having a vampire -- who could look perfectly human until the last second -- leap out at him; he was also having to deal with the rampant paranoia of his fellow humans.

The bus driver had refused to let him on the bus!

Apparently, he was 'too dangerous' for ordinary humans to associate with during the Hunt, even though *he* was the one being Hunted -- and even then, only *if* he was active -- which none of them could tell just by looking!

It was ridiculous!

He eventually managed to talk a taxi driver into believing that no vampire was going to leap into a moving vehicle -- and by promising the cabbie an *enormous* tip, he finally convinced the man to take him back into downtown LA. He actually paid the ridiculous tip too, on the assumption that someday some other poor sod in the same predicament might actually get a ride when he or she needed it, which they might not if he stiffed the cabbie this time around.

Once back on the street, he felt both more and less vulnerable. More, because he was far too exposed outside the cab -- but less, because he was back on familiar ground. Trying to look nonchalant about it, he calmly made his way back to the first of his hideouts and prepared to wait out the night.

---- oo00oo ----

Angel made it to the roof in record time. The expensive and elegant hotel that he and Giles were staying in wasn't the tallest building by any means, but it would do. Angel had booked out the entire top two floors because he liked his privacy, he liked his space, and he definitely liked the hassle-free access to the roof.

It had been far too long since he'd been flying.

It was a little-known fact that Prince Blackwolf had two supple black bars of 'something' lying parallel to, and on either side of, his spinal column. His Sire's few lovers knew it, of course, but they seldom had any idea of what they were actually looking at. If you touched them, they were soft, like velvet. But if you struck them, they were hard, like steel. In their compacted state, they acted like twin bars of armour, protecting his back from attack. But when released...

When he chose to, Wolf could explosively free his wings, and they would burst outward behind him to display their full glory. They were a vast expanse of black -- soft yet strong, and with a razor shape leading edge -- devastating weapons if he chose to use them as such; and even though they were not even *close* to the shape of a bat's wing, Angel had always been strongly reminded of the laughable human myth that vampires could turn themselves into giant bats. His Sire had threatened to beat him black and blue if he *ever* made jokes about giant bats during Court.

Blackwolf had developed his wings spontaneously when he died and became the very first vampire. In that, as in a great many other things, the Prince of Darkness was truly unique. Another aspect of that uniqueness was that there had never been a time when Wolf had been without his soul.

Which was *not* the case for Angel.

Contrary to popular belief, Wolf had not willingly spread the vampiric condition across the globe; and he had most assuredly not created more vampires so that he would have others of his own kind to play with. In fact, Wolf really didn't even *like* the soulless vampires he ruled all that much. He said they reminded him too much of the 'unpleasant situation' that had surrounded their creation in the first place.

It was a darkened and twisted version of himself that had been ripped from Blackwolf's body millennia ago; and the circumstances had more closely resembled a rape than the willing birth of a new demonic species. Still, if it hadn't happened, then Angel would not currently exist; and the presence of his beloved Childe had done much to blunt Wolf's disdain for the rest of vampire-kind.

Angel himself had been killed, and then turned, by a Master vampire named 'Darla'. At that time, Wolf had been absent from his fellow vampires for many centuries; so much so that the younger vampires thought him nothing more than a myth. So Wolf hadn't known, or cared, when Darla first laid eyes on a 28 year-old mortal man named Angelus whose life, up until that point, had been nothing special; and who was in fact, really rather pathetic when compared with those around him.

Darla hadn't seen anything particularly promising in him beyond a beautiful face. However, she thought he might look good on her arm, and his body held the promise of being good in her bed. Basically, he'd been created as a fashion accessory.

Nobody had been more surprised than she, when he turned out to be a remarkably promising Childe. Beauty, power, strength, even a bit of magic -- he had it all. He was a Master vampire in less time than any other Childe in history; and his love of subtle and painful mental and emotional torture quickly became legendary. He was the apple of his Sire's eye -- until the day he surpassed her; and *that* had been both his arrogance and his downfall.

She knew quite well how much he loved the taste of Romani blood. The magic of the Gypsies made them sweet to the vampire tongue. But as such, knowing they were Hunted, the Romani had made themselves into dangerous prey.

Seeing a threat to her own status in the vampire court, Darla had lured her Childe to Romania, and in an off-hand comment let slip that there were Gypsies camped nearby. She had *not* told him that they were the most dangerous Gypsies of all -- those who still harboured knowledge of the 'old powers' among them.

So he'd gone, and he'd drunk deeply, intoxicating himself on the blood of a pure young girl. It had been wonderful, delicious -- and ultimately came with a price tag so high, he almost wished they had simply staked him and been done with it. But they hadn't.

Instead, they'd returned his soul.

For years afterward, he wandered aimlessly -- lost in the world, feeding on rats, filthy and alone. Sometimes he considered greeting the sunrise or staking himself, but mostly he was too far gone in misery and guilt to remember to do it.

What he had done as a vampire was unforgivable. What he *was* was an abomination -- a monster. He was, without doubt, the most pathetic vampire that every scrabbled though the dirty back alleys of the night; and so it might have continued if the Vampire War hadn't come upon the world.

For Angel, the first indication that something strange was going on was the rioting -- the mobs of people dragging demons and vampires out onto the street and then killing them -- sometimes swiftly, sometimes not. Later, Angel realised that the only reason he'd survived that time in his unlife was because he *was* so pathetic. No dead humans turned up with bite marks in the neighbourhoods he inhabited -- he preferred to stay away from other vampires. He looked human to a cursory glance; and most of all; nobody believed that a vampire -- a demon -- would look so much like filthy human trash -- just another homeless bum among many.

Once or twice he was even told that he should be grateful that honest, upstanding citizens were making the streets safe for worthless scum like him.

Surreal.

The War continued to escalate, and for Angel, it brought a whole new sense of guilt and hopelessness. The humans wouldn't want his help -- they'd just as soon stake him as look at him; but neither he could he bring himself to assist the other side in killing human soldiers and civilians.

But eventually, even *he* couldn't stand by any longer. He watched as whole families of harmless demons and other supernatural innocents were slaughtered. He listened to the whispers of experimental labs and horrifying tortures. He saw human women and children screaming in agony before his own eyes, and finally, something inside him just couldn't take it anymore.

He began to organise small pockets of hope. Places and people where it didn't matter whether you were human or not, so long as you were sick of the killing.

At first, it worked remarkably well. The hidden places were an amazing mix of peoples and types -- all working together to save themselves and their families. A demon mother pretending there were no humans in her house -- a human boy sharing his toys with his non-human friends. So many instances of proof -- proof that the War was oh, so *wrong*. If only he could make the rest of the world *see*.

But he couldn't; and instead the rest of the world finally caught up with *him*.

Eventually, his organisation was infiltrated by the demonic side of the conflict. He and his assistants discovered this fact almost too late to save the majority of their people, but Angel managed to create enough distraction and mis-information at the last minute to save almost all of them. Some were lost, but the greater number were saved.

It was enough.

Of course, it would have been much worse if he hadn't carefully baited the demon commanders with the certainty of capturing the one person they wanted most -- himself.

He was put on trial as a traitor in a very public and messy way. Because he was a vampire, nobody could see him on television, or hear his voice on radio. That didn't stop them -- they simply used a large vaguely human-shaped cut-out to represent him -- he had to stand next to it at all times -- and someone else stood behind him repeating all the things he said, so it could be faithfully recorded.

Only sometimes, the guy behind him didn't repeat exactly what he said. For some strange reason, "This war is a pointless exercise in stupidity," was recorded on tape forever as, "I'm a fool and I'm guilty. I throw myself on the mercy of the court." Angel couldn't believe afterwards that anyone thought he'd actually *said* that.

A fool? Well, okay -- going up against *both* sides in a war wasn't the smartest thing he'd ever done. Guilty? Of helping humans -- yes; and of helping non-humans too. He could even agree with that. But asking for mercy? From *them*?!

Please.

It was, of course, a foregone conclusion that he *was* guilty. Even his Sire, Darla, had refused to appear in his defence. Not surprising, since it might have come out that she had indirectly been the cause of it all when she'd tricked him into going after that particular set of Gypsies.

So, they stood him up in court, next to his only friend -- the cardboard cut-out -- and prepared to read out his sentence. 'Torture before Dusting' seemed a pretty safe bet. It was then that he pulled off his only sweet moment of the entire trial. While the judges were muttering amongst themselves -- pretending they were actually considering the verdict -- Angel casually slung an arm around the cut-out's 'shoulders' and turned it around to face the cameras and the gallery.

It was the first time he'd ever heard *tittering* coming from a group of demons. The noise worked itself up into an all-out roar of laughter, and the solemnity of the courtroom was well and truly destroyed. Order could not be restored, and he was eventually sentenced in private a couple of hours later -- it was to be 'Torture before Dusting' -- what a surprise.

They tried to suppress the footage of course, but they'd already broadcast it on live television, so it was *way* to late for that.

*Everyone* had seen the smiley-face with fangs that he'd drawn on his cardboard 'twin'.

Angel usually tried very hard to forget what happened after that. Being tortured and drained of blood to within an inch of his unlife wasn't the kind of memory he wanted to hang on to. But he often thought very fondly of the last few minutes before sunrise -- the first time he'd heard his new Sire's voice.

Barely conscious, Angel had been roughly dragged from the torture chamber just before dawn, and flung down onto hard concrete. His arms and legs had been chained down to four rings set into the ground, and then he'd been left *blessedly* alone. They really hadn't needed to chain him down -- he certainly wasn't going anywhere under his own power, and as it turned out, the chains weren't much use against the one who came to rescue him.

Face-down, his blood soaking into the cool cement, vampire hearing gradually registered the sound of a very quiet and deadly fight somewhere nearby. One of Angel's eyes was too blackened to open, but the other still worked -- sort of. When he made the huge effort to prise open his one working eyelid, he eventually managed see... a pair of boots standing in front of him.

"My poor Childe," a man's voice whispered somewhere above him, "What have they done to you?" and then he passed out.

---- oo00oo ----

He awoke several weeks later to a very strange reality. The voice he'd heard before passing out had, of course, belonged to Blackwolf -- the *first* vampire; the most powerful of their kind; a legend who hadn't been seen in centuries; a vampire who -- like Angel -- still harboured a human soul.

Angel had been a bit shocked by that last bit of information, to say the least. *The* Blackwolf -- progenitor of *all* vampires had a *soul*?!

Apparently so.

After *that* little piece of news, the rest of what had been done to him hadn't been anywhere near the shock that it otherwise would've been. For one thing, there was no longer any sign on his body of what had been done to him by his torturers; but there *were* some very subtle and profound signs on and *in* his body of what *Wolf* had done to him.

In a nutshell, Wolf had made his first -- and only -- 'true' Childe.

As a result, Angel's face no longer morphed into the heavy-browed visage that he'd come to hate -- although his eyes still changed colour, and his fangs were unaffected. He was a bit stronger, and a little faster, but most significantly, his ability to wield magic was vastly improved. He'd been a fair mage before, but now he had the potential to surpass even the best of them.

His *favourite* change, though, was the wings.

Being able to fly was a miracle! To *feel* the muscles pulling, and the air swept away beneath him -- to swoop and soar -- Gods above and below, how he loved it!

Of less significance to him was the loss of his connection to Darla. His new Sire assured him that he hadn't dusted her -- he'd simply altered Angel's body -- and in particular his blood -- so much, that the connection had just... fallen apart. He was no longer tied to his former Sire in any way, shape or form. He belonged solely to Wolf; and the new connection that had formed in the wake of the old one's loss, was deeper and more powerful than anything Angel had previously imagined. Better yet, he could feel directly, how much his Sire truly loved him.

He knew happiness then, in a way that he'd never known before -- not in all his human and vampire years put together. When he declared this fact to his new Sire, it led to another minor, but interesting, revelation.

"You know that curse you used to have..." Wolf casually mentioned.

"*Used* to have?!" Angel had almost panicked.

"Mm..." Wolf agreed absently. He seemed distracted by the motion of his hand running gently over his new Childe's cheek. "It had a flaw in it -- would've been broken if you'd experienced a moment of true happiness."

"Oh..." Angel digested this. It wasn't much of a flaw as far as he could see. Since he'd been cursed, he couldn't really say that he'd had too many moments of *ordinary* happiness, let alone a moment of *true* happiness.

"Don't worry," Wolf told him, "I fixed it for you. Now your soul and your demon are completely merged, just like mine. No need for pesky curses." and then Wolf had leaned in close to nibble on Angel's neck. They'd both become a bit distracted after that, but sex with his Sire tended to fire all of Angel's nerve endings at once, and left him barely coherent enough to speak, let alone ask questions.

As a newly-made Childe, Angel *needed* both his Sire's blood and his Sire's touch. All Childer were especially vulnerable during their first few years, and required the presence of their Sire to ensure they developed to their full potential. It took time and effort to successfully sire a Childe -- which was one reason why most Master vampires didn't bother. Instead, they generally preferred to create Minions.

Creating a Minion -- unlike a Childe -- was easy. You only needed to bite a human, and then drain them to the point of death, while at the same time feeding them on your own blood. Then you simply had to wait. Three nights later -- instant vampire.

A Minion was 'born' complete with vampire instincts and the ability to drink blood -- *any* blood -- right away. But they had drawbacks. They were never as strong or as fast as a Master vampire, and they were mostly limited to minor magics, if they had any ability at all. Once in a while one would be created with the potential to become a mid-level Mage, but that was a fairly rare occurrence.

Oh, and they were inclined to be a bit... slow... with their thought processes -- not *stupid* exactly, but not great thinkers either.

A Minion generally trailed around after its Sire, or whichever Master vampire decided to keep it, if its own Sire didn't want it. They were useful servants and smart enough for most things, so every Master vampire had at least a few of them kicking around. They made up the bulk of the 'common' vampire population, but since they *were* vampires -- that is, the ruling species on the planet -- other races still accorded them special rights and status. This tended to keep them happy, regardless of the fact that they were at the bottom of the vampire social structure.

For Childer, it was a different story. They alone had the potential to become Master vampires -- the elite of the ruling race. But whereas a Minion was born knowing all it needed to survive, and with a fully-formed metabolism, able to digest any kind of blood, a Childe was not.

Angel -- having been a Childe once before -- did not need to be taught about avoiding sunlight and stakes. He knew about holy water and decapitation, as well as not needing to breathe or eat solid food. In that, he was a step up from other Childer. However, he *did* forget from time to time that his newly 'reborn' body could no longer metabolise any blood but his Sire's. This would change, of course, as he grew older and stronger. Eventually he would be able to drink animal blood -- like cow and pig -- and some time after that, his system would be mature enough to once more consume the most powerful blood of all -- that of humans.

But for now, he had to remember that drinking from anything except his Sire's veins would make him very messily sick.

Added to that, it took a lot of magical energy for a Master to *create* a Childe; and while this was especially true of the actual process of killing and turning a human; it was also true *after* the Childe was created. This was why Angel craved Wolf's touch on his body so ardently. Physical intimacy facilitated the 'bleeding' of magical energy from his Sire to himself. His reaction to that influx of energy manifested itself physically, and the sex between a Sire and their newly-made Childe was always amazing.

It didn't bother Angel that he and his Sire were both male -- technically speaking, vampires had no gender anyway. The demon that came to inhabit a dead human was just as likely to take up residence in a male as a female, and it only took a single vampire to create offspring, regardless of gender. The act humans called 'sex' had very little to do with the creation of vampire 'children', and it was generally used simply for physical pleasure, or for the domination of another.

A vampire was customarily referred to as 'he' or 'she' depending on the human body they inhabited, but 'it' was also used -- although that was considered mildly insulting in formal situations. Only in the creation of Childer did physical intimacy take on any deeper meaning -- and even then it was more about providing a new Childe with magical energy, and cementing the bond between Sire and Childe, than it was about physical pleasure.

Not that anyone *complained* about the physical pleasure, mind you.

The more energy a Master invested in a Childe's creation, the greater the Childe's potential to become a powerful Master in their own right. So a Master planning to create a Childe, usually feasted on human blood for several nights, before killing and turning their chosen human. That way, they had plenty of power available to feed into their Childe's creation.

Wolf hadn't needed to go so far as to hunt down and kill humans, because not only was he *normally* powerful enough to create Childer, but Angel was already a vampire anyway. All Blackwolf needed to worry about was fine tuning Angel's body to resemble his own more closely.

That, and keeping his Childe properly fed afterwards.

Until Angel's new body could consume animal blood on its own, Wolf's blood -- pre-filtered through Wolf's metabolism -- would have to sustain him. But once again, *human* blood was still the purest and most powerful. This was in spite of the fact that Blackwolf's body -- like any vampire's -- altered the blood he drank to suit its own needs. As a result, Blackwolf ideally needed to drink enough human blood to keep them *both* fed.

But since the blood didn't have to come directly from a human's veins, Wolf easily kept up with Angel's needs by simply stealing bagged blood from wherever he could find it.

And believe it or not, once Angel's people found out that he wasn't dust, Wolf even had *volunteers* to donate blood.

It was nice to be loved.

Much later -- after the War -- Prince Blackwolf enacted a Law *requiring* human hospitals to supply free blood to Master vampires with Childer. Refusal to supply blood was the only situation where a Master vampire was exempt from Vampire Law and free to Hunt humans outside the seven nights of the Hunt; but even then, he or she was only free to Hunt amongst the hospital staff -- which encouraged such staff not to argue about supplying the blood in the first place.

At the time though, Angel remembered thinking it was a wonder any Childer *ever* got created, considering all the effort involved. He initially had *no* idea why Darla, his first Sire, had gone to all the trouble of creating him as a Childe instead of a Minion. Although, when he considered it, Darla had always been *very* selective in her choice of companions. She probably felt it would be beneath her to associate with a mere Minion.

But in reality, the whole Childe/Minion question could be reduced to a simple trade-off. An instant vampire Minion -- slower, weaker, with limited magical ability -- or a longer, harder creation process that would eventually result in a superior Master vampire.

Angel, having experienced the process before as Darla's Childe, knew exactly how *little* time he would have, to enjoy being in his Sire's constant care; and he made the most of it by indulging himself in *not* having to be in charge of anything or anyone. He was a Childe again -- totally dependent on his Sire for survival. Therefore, he didn't *have* make life and death decisions.

His Sire would do it *for* him.

He did not, of course, abandon his responsibilities completely -- he was far too involved with the people he cared for, to just forget about them; but he *did* ask his Sire to help, and Blackwolf -- who had seen it all before over the course of a *much* longer lifespan -- pretty much ran everything, and usually did a better job of it too.

Sometime towards the end of the Vampire War, Angel finally got around to asking his Sire why he hadn't made any true Childer before. He knew Wolf certainly would have, if he could -- and a few more powerful and souled vampires would have made some things much easier.

"My Childe," Wolf replied, "for some reason that still escapes me, I seem to be completely unable to wield any of the magics that can bind or affect souls. Until you turned up -- soul inclusive -- there wasn't anybody out there I *would* have claimed."

Angel considered that. "But," he objected, "you said you 'merged' my human and demon selves together. How could you do that if you can't affect my soul?"

"Because I *could* manipulate your demon." Blackwolf replied. "I didn't *need* to affect your soul -- it only had to sit there. It was the demon I changed -- merging *it* into your soul."

This led Angel to his next question. "Does that mean we're the only two? The only ones who'll ever be like this?"

Wolf had looked troubled for a moment. Then slowly replied, "We're the only two *now*, but there is the possibility that there may be more of us later."

"You're not going to have Gypsies put souls into *other* vampires, are you? Gods, Sire -- they'd be better off dusted!" Angel was horrified.

Wolf grabbed him in a fierce hug, projecting love and reassurance at him through their bond. "No, no, my Childe," he soothed, "I would never do that to anyone, knowing how much you suffered when it was done to you." When Angel had calmed down a little, he elaborated, "I meant, that there is the possibility that *you* may create more of us when you present me with my grand-Childer."

Angel experienced a strangely blank moment. When it passed, Wolf was looking at him with a vastly amused smile.

"I don't mean *today*, Angel," he chided, "Just... someday. When you're ready."

Angel's mind was looping a single thought over and over again -- //Me?! Childer?!//

It was a very peculiar thought.

---- oo00oo ----

It was also the furthest thing from Angel's mind at the moment. Right now, he was standing on the roof of a classy uptown hotel in LA and thinking about how long it had been since he'd been able to *really* stretch his wings.

He walked over to the middle of an open area -- away from the stairwell and air conditioning towers, then raised his arms up and out, in a huge stretch. He knew he was about to put holes in the back of his shirt, but he didn't feel like flying around half dressed, and it was *only* a t-shirt, not one of his good silk shirts.

//What the hell,// he thought, and with that, he suddenly pulled both arms down across his chest and snapped his body forwards, bending at the waist as his wings exploded up into the air behind him. Two tidy holes were punched into the back of his shirt -- the exact size and shape of the twin bars that usually appeared on either side of his spine. He straightened and sighed -- a sensuous, slow "Aaaahh," breathed out in appreciation of the *feel* of them -- the movement of the long dormant muscles -- the sudden increase in his body's perception of itself. He was literally larger now -- there was *more* of him to keep track of and control -- and his balance was different too.

He continued to stretch and turn, remembering the correct way to move and react when his wings were extended. It had taken a lot of practice to make these things instinctive, and for a moment he feared he'd lost the knack, but it all rushed back to him after a little practice, and he quickly judged himself ready to go.

Confidently, he stepped up to the edge of the roof. He looked down, visually gauging the strength of the winds and their likely flow. Vampire eyesight allowed him to see far more than a human ever would -- motes of dust and bits of trash caught up in the air provided clues for his consideration. Finally, he decided it would be a good night for flying.

Then the hunger rose up in him, and he was reminded that it would be an even *better* night for Hunting. Angel closed his eyes and opened up his *other* senses. He listened to the 'flow' of the magic around him. His nostrils flared in sympathy as he mentally tried to pick up the magical 'scent' of an actively marked human. After a while, he opened his eyes and then leapt silently into the wind's embrace.

---- oo00oo ----

William had no idea what time it was. He had deliberately not permitted himself any clocks or watches. If you thought sunrise was near, then you might relax too soon -- giving in to weariness just that bit too quickly. Better not to know, and to stay alert until you could see the sunrise for yourself.

//Bloody hell,// he thought, //the nights have *never* been this long...// But objectively, he knew it wasn't that tonight was any longer -- it was just that tonight *seemed* longer. //Time flies when you're having fun...// and apparently dragged on forever when you weren't.

He had food and stimulants at his current location, as well as a number of 'vampire-traps' involving holy water and crossbows scattered around the warehouse -- which was neither old, nor deserted. Will had broken in, and set up his hidey-hole, on the upper floor of a busy storage facility, and he hoped that the bright lighting and mingled scents of all the other humans would help throw off any vampires. Dark, deserted places were for idiots and suicides -- of which he was neither.

Either it was working, or the vampires had decided there was easier prey to be had somewhere else -- either way, the larger portion of the night had already passed when a sudden crash somewhere off to his right brought him instantly to attention. He had the best view in the warehouse, and easily spotted the human figure that had leapt in through a skylight some distance away. There was, of course, no skylight anywhere near *him* -- Will had been very careful about that.

His heartbeat sped up as he locked eyes with the man, and his brain registered the heavy brow, glowing yellow eyes, and the pointed teeth showing through a hungry snarl. Distantly, Will noted the cries of alarm from below, and the foreman's call to evacuate the building.

The vampire moved with blinding speed, but didn't see the tripwire Will had strung across the walkway. It pulled on a small catch and released a crossbow bolt from behind. But the aim was off, and the bolt lodged in the vampire's side, bringing a howl of pain and a flow of blood. Still, the arrow had done its job, slowing the thing down long enough for Will to grab a small bucket of holy water and run towards it.

William had decided very early on, that running away from a vampire just *wasn't* an acceptable solution. He was just as likely to run *into* another vampire, and even if he didn't, the one behind him -- who now had his 'scent' in its nose -- was unlikely to give up. Actually, the vampire would probably *enjoy* chasing him. Fuck that for a joke.

So William ran *towards* the vampire, and had the satisfaction of seeing those yellow-gold eyes widen with surprise. The shock made it hesitate just that moment too long. It was a moment Will used to his very good advantage as he threw every drop of holy water right into the thing's face.

The vampire screamed in agony and stumbled around, while William grabbed a stake from his coat pocket. He was just psyching himself up to get close enough to the smoking mess to stake it, when it suddenly reached out and grabbed him. He panicked and tried to jump backwards, unbalancing them both, and they fell heavily against the guard rail, breaking the thin metal. Together, they tumbled over to the level below.

It wasn't too far for a human to fall, and somehow Will managed to end up on top of the vampire -- it's undead body cushioning his landing. Luckily enough, Will also fell with his stake in position -- both hands hanging onto it for dear life, and pointing outwards from his own body. A scant second after he felt the cool softness of the vampire beneath him, there was a sudden silent explosion, and Will was left sneezing in a cloud of black dust.

It took him a moment to realise that he'd actually killed it.

---- oo00oo ----

Angel swept silently along, tracking other, less powerful Master vampires throughout the city. The Minions were all inside -- they'd be dusted instantly if their Masters caught even one of them looking at prey that belonged solely to the vampire elite. Angel knew his presence overhead was distressing several of the ground-bound Hunters. They seldom caught even a glimpse of him, but they could all sense him, however distantly, through the magic. Some of them were *quite* nervous. Angel smirked to himself. //Good.//

Suddenly, his head snapped down as he caught the scent of an active mark. He noted that no-on else seemed to be Hunting this one. Swiftly, he circled back and dropped lightly into a dark street around the corner. He compacted his wings, folding them silently back into his body, then strolled casually towards that compelling 'scent'.

It turned out to be a woman -- or perhaps 'girl' might have been a better term -- possibly as old as eighteen, certainly not yet twenty. She was dirty and tear-streaked, obviously terrified. She screamed at him when he came near.

"Get away! Stay away from me!" It was a wonder no other vampire had heard the screams and killed her before now. "I've got a stake! You're dust! You hear me?! Dust!"

Ah, well that explained it. She had apparently got lucky and staked someone. There was a part of Angel that applauded her success, while there was another part of him that was even now working out the best way to get the stake away from her.

"I'll kill you! I'll kill you all!"

Angel noted clinically that her eyes were wild, and spittle was forming at the edges of her mouth. Many humans believed that being Hunted was an instant death sentence. The fact that this child had actually managed to dust someone, coupled with her overwhelming fear, had obviously unhinged something in her mind. Some vampires believed it was dangerous to feed from an insane human -- as if the craziness could be caught from their blood. It did, however, explain why she had been left alone. For tonight, at least, there was easier prey elsewhere. But that would not be the case by the *end* of the Hunt. As the available prey were Hunted out, those who were still hungry, or who had yet to make a kill, would ferret out the last of them, and then even this girl would not be spared.

But by the time they got back to her, she would have spent several more days and nights in this condition -- screaming and terrified.

It would be kindest to kill her as swiftly and painlessly as possible, putting her out of her obvious misery.

Moving faster than the human eye could follow, Angel sped around behind her, and snapped her neck. The feel of her warm body under his hands, and the smell of her blood from various cuts and abrasions, were enough to trigger his demon's blood-lust. Eagerly, he buried his fangs in her neck and sucked her corpse dry. It wasn't the same as having a *living* human under his hands -- there was no pulse; no heart pumping the blood out to his waiting tongue. Instead, he had to work for it -- pulling every last drop from her reluctant veins.

But still, it was *human* blood. The blood only Master vampires were permitted; for it was human blood that was the strongest -- that fed a vampire's magical reserves until they could work the most powerful spells. Great Workings could only be fuelled by human blood.

His thoughts drifted idly in the aftermath of the woman's taste, and Angel wondered vaguely what he might choose do with all the power he would have by the end of the Hunt.

---- oo00oo ----

After William had managed to dust his first vampire, he found that he had a rather unusual problem. It turned out that the human population of the warehouse was a bit put out with him for holing up in *their* place of work!

"What the fuck do you think you're *doing*?!" was the least insulting thing they said to him, and "Get out," was the most consistent.

Well, he certainly hadn't expected *this* -- although realistically, he should have, after his wonderful run-in with the bus driver the day before. Still, William did feel a bit let down that *nobody* seemed to be cheering for *his* side of the fight. He got the message loud and clear -- they didn't want a vampire-magnet hanging around.

Well, too bad.

It turned out that the gun he'd taken with him to the Bitch and Co's house would also come in handy tonight. He used the foulest language he knew to stun them into silence and then proceeded to let the lot of them know that not only was he staying until sunrise, but that he also had a lot of nasty traps scattered around up there, and it was no skin of *his* nose if any of them got caught in one. He pulled out the gun while he was yelling all this, and by the time he'd finished waving it around, he was the only one still on the walkway.

He entertained himself after that by listening to the foreman promising huge bonuses to his staff if only they'd stay and finish out their shifts.

---- oo00oo ----

Angel walked tiredly back into the hotel lobby shortly before dawn. Silently, he rode the elevator back up to the top floor and let himself in. He could hear Giles' steady breathing and relaxed heartbeat from the room the Watcher had chosen for himself. Good -- he was asleep and Angel didn't have to worry about questions until later. Preferably much later. Right now all Angel wanted was a shower and then bed.

Once in the shower, he let the steaming water sluice over him, while reflecting on the evening's events. Although he'd located and Hunted a second human, he'd only drunk from the first -- the crazy girl. The other one... Well, Angel seemed to be having some sort of moral crisis about him.

After the first kill, Angel had felt too sated and comfortable to return to the air -- his 'edge' was gone, and with it, his taste for the intensity of air-borne hunting. However, he still felt energised enough for a ground pursuit. So once more, he'd headed off in search of prey.

Unfortunately, he'd made the mistake of giving his next kill time to talk to him. It seemed that Angel's soul just couldn't handle the thought of killing something -- some*one* -- who could talk back, no matter how loudly his demonic side screamed at him. It irked him somewhat that he hadn't had this problem with the girl -- but then, she'd been in obvious distress, and it had more or less been a mercy killing.

The *man* had been a different story.

He knew it didn't matter whether *he* killed the human, or someone else did. The mortal *was* going to end up dead before the Hunt was over -- there was no doubt about that. Yet, when Angel had finally cornered the solidly-built Hispanic man, the mortal had turned to face him, standing there in resignation, and said "Make it quick, man. I'm tired of runnin'." And suddenly the marked human wasn't some nameless prey in a back alley, but a real *person* who'd been pushed and cornered by something and someone he had no control over.

Angel knew what that felt like.

And at that moment, he also knew he couldn't do it.

So he'd turned and walked away, wondering how the hell he was going to satisfy his need to Hunt and drink if he couldn't finish a kill when he caught one. It didn't help matters that some part of him suspected that the man he'd just left behind was probably going to die in a lot more fear and pain, than if Angel had been the one to end it for him.

Angel didn't know how he was going to resolve his dilemma. But for now, after a night spent Hunting, followed by a long hot shower, he really just couldn't think about it anymore. Instead, he reflexively checked that the heavy curtains were closed against the sun, and then collapsed onto the king-sized bed in his suite, and quite literally slept like the dead.

---- oo00oo ----

For William, sunrise had never looked more spectacular. He waited until he was *sure* the sun was well and truly above the horizon, before packing up his gear and departing the warehouse for his next hideout. He didn't bother informing anyone that he was leaving, just like he didn't bother disarming any of his remaining traps.

//Let 'em figure it out for themselves,// he thought with a touch of vindictiveness. //Hell, there's only one more crossbow anyway -- all the rest of it's holy water. No biggie if they get water all over the place.// He'd briefly debated trying to take some of the water with him, but didn't particularly want to be seen carrying buckets of water around. With the mark over his eye, it wouldn't take people long to put it together. He had enough problems, thank-you.

So off he went, grabbing breakfast along the way, when he suddenly remembered the camera. The one he'd stolen from the Bitch and Co. The one with *that* film in it. The one in his backpack.

Although nobody in their right mind was going to try to kill him -- and there was a certain aversion to having him around at the moment (even in a police holding cell) -- there would be no problem with contacting the police and reporting stolen property. The Melles were definitely going to want their camera back. They were *especially* going to want the film in it.

By day, the cops would have no fear of running into vampires, and it wasn't as if they were likely to take him into custody -- who'd want him at *their* precinct? No, they'd simply grab the camera *and* the film, and then turn him loose.

He needed to get rid of the camera. He needed to get the film developed. He especially needed to avoid the cops. If he got caught up in accusations and interrogation, he wouldn't get any sleep today, and he wouldn't have the chance to get set up in his new location. Both of those things would be bad.

//Right then,// he thought, //camera first.// He could've just thrown it into the nearest dumpster, but if anybody saw him, they would undoubtedly wonder why someone dressed like him was throwing an obviously expensive camera into a rubbish bin. It would be remembered. *He* would be remembered. And the less the Melles and the cops had on him, the better it would be. He could've tried to sell it -- but he'd never had managed to find any organised thieves, which meant he didn't know anybody he'd trust to fence it for him -- and again, he'd be remembered. So, that left only one option.

He slipped into a busy cafe -- the sort where people who dressed in black fit right in -- and ordered a coke. He didn't want coffee because he was going to need all the sleep he could get very soon, and coffee kept him awake. Coffee was for the evenings.

He dumped the backpack on the seat next to him and -- under the tabletop where nobody could see -- rummaged around until he found the camera. He carefully removed the film, and then put the camera down *under* the backpack. He drank his coke, did nothing at all out of the ordinary, then picked up his bag, paid for his drink, and left -- with the camera still on the empty seat.

With any luck, whoever found it would be greedy enough to keep it, and even if some honest soul *did* turn it in, there was no reason for anybody there to remember him. He would be just one face among many. It would have to do.

The film was even easier. A quick-printing place not too far from his new hideout, and he would be able to pick up the prints tomorrow -- if he was still alive.

Then he made fast tracks to his new home, and settled in to sleep the day away. The only thing that niggled at him as he drifted off, was his irritation with the jerk in the film shop.

The asshole had taken one look at his mark, and made him pay up front.

---- oo00oo ----

Angel awoke shortly before sunset. His internal awareness of the sun's position convinced him that there was no point in getting out of bed just yet. He could hear Giles moving about somewhere in the suite of rooms beyond the bedroom door -- the kitchen, perhaps. Absently, Angel noted the same clamouring in his veins for human blood that he'd felt last night. He was hungry again. His desire to Hunt had not abated. If anything -- it was worse.

//This is ridiculous!// he thought, //I haven't Hunted in over eighty years, and now I can't bear to miss a single night?!// He rolled over onto his back and took stock of himself. //I don't *feel* sick.// he thought. //I just feel... really, really hungry; and I want *human* blood.//

//Maybe I should call my Sire...// he considered. But no, what was he going to say? 'Hello Sire, I'm a vampire and I want to drink human blood -- what's wrong with me?' It sounded silly, even in his own mind. No, more than likely, it was due to the aborted Hunt he'd had last night, when he'd been unable to kill the second human. Denying himself that kill had probably just heightened his original hunger. If he could just bring himself to *complete* his kills tonight, he'd be fine.

He lay there and thought about that for a bit. He couldn't rely on finding more crazy girls -- or anyone else he could justify to himself as a mercy killing. The only solution he could think of was to make sure his prey didn't have time to identify themselves as *people*. If he could just make sure he took them by surprise, then they'd be dead before they could do or say anything that would cause him problems. Better yet, that meant they wouldn't have time to suffer. They wouldn't even know what had happened, and *that* was a damn sight kinder than the treatment they'd receive at the hands of any other Master vampire. The others all preferred their blood spiked with the taste of fear.

It wasn't much of a plan, but all things considered, Angel thought it might be a workable solution. He *hoped* he wouldn't have a problem with killing prey that didn't have time to protest.

Ultimately, of course, he'd just have to try it and see.

Which is what reminded him to get his lazy carcass out of bed and get dressed. The sun was just going down and after another quick shower and a change of clothes, he'd be ready to go.

Angel was feeling clean, refreshed and energised. He was already headed for the door, and then the roof, when Giles caught sight of him.

"Going out again tonight, Angel?" the Watcher's tone was mild and innocuous, but Angel thought he could hear a faint tone of accusation. Then again, it might have been just his guilty conscience.

"Yes, as it happens." Angel refused to feel intimidated. Nonchalantly he asked, "How's the search coming?"

Giles eyed him thoughtfully before replying, "Quite well... quite well, indeed. I really am almost positive that the Hellmouth will prove to be *in* Sunnydale itself."

"Good, good." Angel said. "Let me know when you're sure." and he turned back towards the door.

"You seem to have damaged your shirt." Giles mentioned from behind him.

Angel -- who wanted to go air-borne Hunting again -- had decided that the t-shirt from last night could stand another night's use. He didn't want to destroy any more shirts than he had to. "Um... yes, well... I uh, went flying last night. It's... well, it's been a long time since I *could*, you know?"

Giles face immediately looked sympathetic. "Yes," he agreed, "I know it has. You and your Sire push yourselves much too hard. I believe that if *I* had wings as you do, I might very well *never* return to the mundane trials of everyday life -- or, er, *unlife* as the case may be." Then Giles made a small self-depreciating smile, and waved him off. "Have a pleasant evening, Angel," he replied, and returned to his books.

Try as he might, Angel couldn't figure out why Giles sometimes made him feel like a young Childe in front of his Sire. The mortal didn't remind him of Blackwolf at all -- and *certainly* not of Darla -- but somehow he still managed to project a kind of 'fatherly' interest in Angel's wellbeing. Which was weird when you considered how much older than Giles he really was. Oh well, at least it was a kind and *approving* fatherly interest. He would survive it.

But he really needed to find that Watcher someone *else* to 'watch' over. Maybe if they found the new Slayer...?

Swiftly, Angel exited the hotel suite. He didn't pause when he reached the roof, but released his wings on the run. Last night had shown him the shape of the wind's currents around the hotel -- and the sheer joy and power he put into his final leap brought him a great deal of satisfaction -- an auspicious beginning to his Hunt.

Tonight, he decided, he would head out in a new direction over the city, and see what he could find.

---- oo00oo ----

William awoke from a nightmare shortly after dusk. That was bad on two counts: first, that he'd actually been *asleep* after sunset, and second, that he'd been dreaming about suffocating in clouds of poisonous black dust after hundreds of vampires had thrown themselves on him while he was sitting in a park in broad daylight. He *knew* vampire dust wasn't poisonous, but the fact that he'd dreamed about dying even *after* all the vampires were gone, didn't say much for his confidence in his own survival.

Also, he was now sweaty and itchy, and his heart was going a mile a minute. He needed a shower and a change of clothes.

Fortunately, he was in just the place for it.

William's second hideout was in a hospital -- a *big* hospital. He was quite literally surrounded by thousands of other humans -- their smells, their heartbeats, their voices -- all helping to mask his own; and that was before you took into account all the blood and antiseptic in the place.

He'd nicked the appropriate uniforms for a doctor, a nurse, and a cleaner some time ago. There were showering facilities available for hospital staff, so William simply donned the nursing uniform, and slipped out of the little-used cleaner's room where he'd been sleeping. The room was tiny, but it was large enough to sleep in if Will tucked his legs up. It's size was of secondary importance when you realised that the real cleaners almost never stopped by, even to see what was *in* there. The room -- little more than a large closet -- was almost always deserted. Perfect for William's needs.

His first stop after waking was the nearest loo, where he pulled out a stick of base makeup -- the stuff women used on their faces -- and went straight to the nearest mirror. Some judicious application of the skin-coloured stuff over his left eye, and nobody would notice the mark unless they were looking for it. Then, bold as brass, he headed for the showers.

Fortunately, he was 'late on-shift' as he'd been told by another bloke who was also late, and just leaving when Will arrived. Thus, William had the showers all to himself. He lathered up in a hurry -- feeling exposed and unprotected without his stakes and holy water. He needed to re-apply the makeup to his mark before somebody saw him, but most importantly, he was *not* going to be caught by a vampire while he was naked in the bloody bath for god's sake!

Afterwards, and very conscious of the fact that he should've been awake to do this *before* sunset, Will nipped round to a couple of the medical labs until he found what he was looking for in an unoccupied doctor's office -- a medical dummy. The plastic thing didn't *look* very human, but Will didn't care. What was important was that it could simulate a human heartbeat and human breathing. He'd mask the smell of the thing by dressing it in the smelly and sweat-soaked clothes he'd slept in, and then simply bundle it up in blankets until *nobody* could tell what it looked like. Then all he had to do was stay close to it while remaining out of sight, and -- with a bit of luck -- a vampire would go for the dummy first.

He carted it back to the cleaner's tiny room, and stuffed it inside. Next, he completed the most dangerous part of his plan, and actually spoke to one of the nursing staff. He deliberately picked the busiest-looking one, and spun her some story about a visiting doctor who might need an operating theatre at some unspecified time during the night. As stories went, it was pretty weak -- Will didn't know anything about hospitals and doctors -- but the nurse was too busy to care *what* he was saying, and simply gave him the floor and room number for an operating theatre that didn't have any scheduled activity for tonight.

Then, William returned to his hideout once more, grabbed the dummy and the rest of his gear, and went in search of the unoccupied operating theatre. When he found it, he set the dummy up on the operating table and made it look as if it was sleeping. Then he went back outside and up round to the observation room. Now he could look down and see everything in the operating theatre, and because the door to the to the theatre was a lot larger and more noticeable than the door to the observation room, a vampire *should* be tricked into going into the theatre first.

Next, Will carefully freed one of the big plate glass observation windows from its frame, and slipped it sideways over the next window along. If a vampire came in now, he could not only see it, but he could also throw holy water on it and shoot crossbow bolts at it. Like fish in a barrel -- or so he hoped.

William settled in to wait out the second night of the Hunt.

---- oo00oo ----

Angel was in great spirits. He'd already found and drained his first prey for the night. The man hadn't known what hit him. Angel had dropped to the ground behind him and snapped his neck before the mortal had even registered his presence. The blood had been sweet and full of power -- magic embodied in rich red warmth -- filling his stomach and dancing heat along all his nerves. It had been *almost* perfect. The only niggling annoyance was when Angel realised that he wanted a *live* human under his fangs. He wanted to feel the heart pumping blood out *to* him, instead of having to suck the blood from lifeless veins for himself.

He had crouched next to the bloodless body, brooding over why you could never get *exactly* what you wanted out of unlife, when it suddenly occurred to him that he only had to render a human unconscious -- not kill them right away -- to spare himself, and them, any unpleasantness. A little pressure on the carotid artery -- and *every* vampire knew how to find that -- and he would have a live but unconscious meal.

Perfect.

Unlike the previous night, this time Angel's first kill did not leave him too sated to return to the air. He *was* however too lazy to claw his way up off the ground. So he found the nearest high-rise, and rode the elevator up to the top floor, then let himself out onto the unfamiliar roof. A quick reconnaissance of the air currents, and he was once more on the Hunt.

But it seemed that, yet again, he was destined to be a frustrated vampire. Not too long after taking to the air for the second time that night, he heard screaming coming from a rather expensive-looking restaurant. Lots of screaming. Normally, Angel would expect the mortal police to handle mortal problems -- but hell, he was *there* and he couldn't just fly on past and pretend he hadn't heard anything. At the same time though, he didn't want to barge in if he *wasn't* needed, or if the situation was dangerous, even for him. You never could tell, and he wasn't stupid enough to just leap into an unknown problem that might be nothing more than cockroaches in the food.

So he landed on the roof of the single storey building, and swiftly pulled his wings back down into their compacted state. Then he leapt to the ground in the alleyway behind the restaurant, and made his way to the back door. //Alright, it probably isn't cockroaches,// he thought when he saw the cooks and waiters scrambling off into the night. Cautiously, he entered the kitchen. It was deserted. He proceeded towards the dining room, and peered though the doors. //What the fuck?!//

There was a Minion -- a *Minion*! -- drinking from a woman's throat while the rest of the diners cowered against the opposite wall. There were smashed tables and chairs blocking the restaurant's exits. This was plainly *well* beyond the police's jurisdiction, and just as plainly, well *within* Angel's.

He burst through the door into the dining room, pulling himself up to his full height, and demanded, "What the *hell* do you think you're doing?!"

The Minion immediately dropped the woman -- blood spurting out of the twin holes in her neck -- and spun around to face him.

"What we should *all* be doing," the Minion snarled, "drinking mortal blood as we were *made* to do!" and then he smiled at Angel, "Come brother, you know you want to -- who's to know *what* happened here if they're *all* dead?"

The Minion was still too close to the injured woman. Angel needed to draw him away, and at the same time get closer to the rogue vampire himself. He let his eyelids drop, giving the Minion a dangerous glare. "You idiot," he sneered, "a room full of bloodless corpses, and you think the police won't figure it out? These people aren't marked -- they are not lawful prey -- the police will appeal directly to Blackwolf!" and Angel moved forwards to stand in front of the unconscious woman. "Do you really think you could hide *this*," and he gestured down at her, "from *him*?!"

The Minion backed off, suddenly looking unsure. Then his stance firmed, "The Prince is at Court," he replied with surety, "in England. That's a *long* way from here! He won't care about a few measly humans!"

//Fool!// Angel thought. "But you're a *Minion*," he replied, "*No* human is your lawful prey! You are forbidden to Hunt by Vampire Law! By doing this, you're challenging his authority directly! He'll find you no matter where you go!" Angel stepped aggressively towards the other vampire. In response, the Minion retreated from the woman's side, just as Angel had intended. "And by the way," Angel growled through his fangs, "don't call me 'brother'!" and then he launched himself at the other vampire, smashing him to the floor.

The Minion was no match for Angel's strength and speed. He was unconscious in seconds, though he did manage to rake bloody scratches across Angel's chest. The t-shirt was well and truly destroyed now. Angel debated dusting the minion immediately, but decided that he needed to find out who the idiot's Sire was first. And then, of course, there were the humans to consider.

He turned his golden-eyed stare towards them, and reflexively, they huddled back. Angel saw that one man had already rushed over to the woman and was even now applying pressure to the artery that was trying to pump out her life onto the restaurant floor. With some effort, Angel got himself under control, and his eyes faded back to their normal dark brown. "You there," he pointed to a well-dressed middle-aged man, "call an ambulance, and then the police."

"A-a-am-ambulance?" he squeaked.

"Yes, an ambulance!" and he gestured towards the fallen woman, "She's not dead yet! I can still hear her heart!"

The man pulled out his mobile 'phone and dialled 911. He spoke rapidly and clearly, quickly summarising what had happened and what they needed. Angel approved of his practicality -- even though he'd had to remind the shocked mortal of what he should be doing.

Angel looked down at the unconscious Minion and judged that he'd be well and truly out of it for a while yet. He got up and went over to the man working on the victim. "Are you a doctor?" he asked.

Surprised, the man looked up, but didn't flinch away from Angel's presence. "Yes." he replied tersely.

"Will she make it?"

Sharp eyes looked back at him, judging him. "If the ambulance gets here soon enough." came the reply.

The police arrived seconds later -- they'd already been summoned by the initial reports of screaming and murder. They were obviously shocked by what they found, and cast angry glances at the unconscious vampire on the floor.

"Don't even think it," Angel told them clearly, "He may have broken the law, but it was Vampire Law he broke -- not *your* law. You are humans -- you have *no* jurisdiction over us -- not even over a rogue like him."

The officer in charge agreed, but looked unhappy, "I know that, uh... sir. I'm well aware that our handcuffs probably wouldn't even hold him if he woke up. But, well... it just doesn't seem right, you know? These people didn't do anything wrong -- they were just having dinner. Now a woman might die, and you're telling us we can't touch him. I *know* it's the law, but..." and the man shrugged to indicate how he felt about it.

Angel decided that he needed to be very clear about this. "Officer," he said kindly, "I understand how you must feel, but humanity lost the right to judge us when it *lost* the War." Then Angel's voice turned hard and cold, "We are *not* allies -- we do not have 'agreements' in our laws with humanity -- you are a *conquered* species; and the only reason that you lost so totally, is that you turned upon your *own* people when you imagined *we* were no longer a threat. That is *your* shame -- not ours. We could easily have destroyed your entire civilisation. In fact, it was argued long and hard that you *deserved* to be reduced back to the level of animals. That you were not, was -- and continues to be -- *our* choice. Remember that."

There was silence in the destroyed dining room. Several people had downcast eyes, while others looked frightened, but here and there one or two still looked angry. In a calmer tone, that carried to all who were present, Angel added, "If it brings you any comfort, I can assure you that the laws regarding our own kind carry far harsher punishments than those that apply to humans." Glancing down at the rogue Minion, Angel's lip curled in contempt. "I promise you, he will *not* survive to see the next sunset, and his remaining hours will very likely serve as an extremely graphic example to others who might share his beliefs. Our Prince intensely dislikes those who challenge his authority."

"And just who are *you* to be handing out promises?!" said a well-dressed young man with a strongly British upper-crust accent.

Angel faced the youngster down, "And you are...?" he challenged.

"Melles," the insolent puppy replied, "*Lord* Melles -- of England, where I believe *your* Court *also* resides."

Angel couldn't believe the arrogance of the boy! This jumped up little pipsqueak was trying to imply that he had some influence with the Vampire Court. The cheek of it! "And what -- 'Looord' Melles," Angel drawled insultingly, " -- does any of this have to do with *you*?"

The young man blushed at Angel's tone. It was obvious he wasn't used to being spoken to in such a way. The police officer looked completely out of his depth. "Uh, sir... er, Lord Melles," the cop began, "I really don't think you should..."

"I shall say what I like," the Englishman cut in, "*I* am not marked -- and as this... 'person'... has stated, I am well protected -- by his *own* laws." The irritating little man turned his attention back to Angel. "As it *happens* I *was* having dinner with the lady who was so disgustingly attacked -- so it is very *much* my business what happens to that... that... *monster*! So, I think that..."

Angel had heard enough. He grabbed the pipsqueak by the front of his Armani shirt and jerked him up off the floor until the mortal was eye-to-eye with a very irritated vampire. "And *I* think that you should get your facts straight, *boy*." Angel growled. "Vampire Law forbids us to *Hunt* unmarked humans, but so long as I don't drink a drop of your precious 'blue' blood, it doesn't say *anything* about inflicting damage on assholes who provoke us."

Holding the mortal up close like this, tickled something at the back of Angel's mind. Something... the human was 'not-prey', but... still... 'almost-prey'... 'escaped-prey'? Angel flicked his eyes to the spot above the human's left eyebrow. No mark, just as the idiot had declared. So, what was this niggling sensation? Still annoyed, Angel dismissed it for later consideration.

For now, he gave the currently terrified young man a hard shake, then added, "And before you start sounding off about how *important* you are 'Looord Melles', I would like to remind you that you are not among *your* people now. This is America. *These* people fought a War of Independence to get rid of idiots like you. And as for *my* Court -- even if you *were* associated with it -- in any way, shape, or form -- you would *still* not be my equal -- in anything!"

Having said all he intended to say to the upstart human, Angel casually tossed him to the floor and turned his attention to the ambulance officers, who'd finally arrived. Absently, he noted that his little speech had inspired the policeman in charge, and the cop was currently giving the stuck-up Englishman some advice of his own.

"Listen, buddy," the cop said quietly, "I don't know how they do it in dear old England, but in *our* country you don't go throwing your weight around until you've got your facts straight -- and even then, a *real* man would be more concerned with whether his date was going to be okay -- and how he was going to break it to her family -- than with a pissing contest he couldn't win."

After that, Angel tuned out the rest of the conversation. It no longer interested or concerned him.

The stricken woman was being loaded into the ambulance. At the doctor's instruction, they had already started an IV. The doctor was still applying pressure to her neck, and issuing orders to the driver to 'get moving'. As the back doors of the ambulance were closing, the blood-spattered doctor glanced up and caught the look of concern on Angel's face. He seemed startled for a moment, then gave Angel a sympathetic half-smile and a thumbs-up. Then the doors were closed, and the ambulance screamed to life.

Angel was relieved. The doctor had indicated that the woman would be alright. Good. Then Angel's face hardened and he turned back to the unconscious Minion on the floor. //Now I just have to deal with *this*,// he thought in disgust.

---- oo00oo ----

It was a pleasantly surprised William who knew that dawn wasn't far away. He'd had a quiet vampire-free night and now it was nearly over. He wasn't
*quite* ready to claim two nights of survival in the Hunt, but he was cautiously optimistic about it. Unless a vampire came in during the next half hour, he was home free until the next sunset.

He *almost* felt disappointed.

He was, however, very glad that nothing had happened for *another* reason besides his immediate survival -- he hadn't actually planned to leave the warehouse of his first hideout *unless* he'd been found out. The fact that he'd been discovered on the first night meant that all his traps and careful planning for that location had been used up in a single night. He'd had to move on to the hospital before he'd really intended to.

There were, after all, only so many places he could think of, that he could hide out *in*; and there were *not* seven of them. His criteria for a good hideout made them a bit thin on the ground. They had to have a lot of humans in them to mask his own presence. They should preferably be noisy and well-lit; and somehow offer him the opportunity to set up traps or a warning system. They had to be busy, and occupied *all* night; and most important of all -- he had to be able to get *in* to wherever it was, and hide amongst the regular humans without anybody knowing who he was, or that he was marked.

A lot of the places he might have chosen had security that was too good for him to breach. Some of them -- like nightclubs -- were only open for half the night. Still more, such as other warehouses and hospitals, would be alerted as soon as he was discovered in the first place of that type. There just weren't that many places that he felt were suitable.

But since nothing had happened in the hospital *this* time, he was okay to come back again tonight.

Very good.

---- oo00oo ----

It would be dawn very soon, but Angel had one more stop to make.

He'd found the Minion's Sire and verbally torn strips off the Master vampire. Then he'd torn a couple of physical strips off his hide as well. Once he'd made his point to the Sire in private, the Sire made his point to the rest of his Minions in public.

True to his word, the rogue Minion was now dust, and had suffered through some nasty torture before being favoured with the release of dusting. Angel hated torture -- it reminded him of his own suffering during the War -- but with vampires, you couldn't make a point unless you backed it up with something nasty and painful. That's just the way it was.

But he still hated it.

The Minion's Master, on the other hand, had thanked Angel for punishing him in private, and also for allowing him to punish and dust his Minion himself. It let him save face in front of the rest of his Minions, and helped him retain his position of authority over them. His status in the American community of vampires would not be diminished.

All Angel cared about was that it wouldn't happen again.

After that, Angel had flown over to the police station where the officers from the restaurant were stationed. He'd done them the courtesy of making a statement about what happened and letting them know that the Minion was now dust. He left Giles' name and number as a contact, but refused to give his own name because he didn't want a media circus when it came out that Prince Angelus was staying somewhere in LA. While it was true that people were afraid of vampires, it was also true that everybody (including many demons) loved to read about the rich and famous -- especially royalty. Even vampire royalty.

On more than one occasion Angel had been truly grateful that it was pointless to try taking photographs of a vampire. However, that didn't stop the media from trying to discover -- or invent -- as much gossip about his Sire and himself as it could. They even went to the trouble of getting artists to *draw* pictures of him. He'd been sorely tempted to strangle one or two journalists over the years. Unfortunately, the media tended to send demon or part-demon journalists to interview vampires. They were harder to kill, and their relatives actually *could* kick up a stink in the Vampire Court, whereas the death of a human wouldn't have worried anybody.

By the time he'd finished at the police station, there wasn't much of the night left, but he still made a very quick stop at the hospital where they'd taken the woman. He just wanted to make *sure* she was going to be okay before he wrote off what little was left of the darkness and returned to his hotel.

When he entered the hospital, he was immediately aware of the fact that there was an actively marked human somewhere inside. He noted it, then decided to ignore it. For one thing, it was too close to dawn, and for another, if the human was in hospital then he or she was probably sick. Although weak prey was easy to Hunt, the blood of the sick tended to taste... off. Because of this, the hospitalised human would probably remain unmolested for most of the Hunt. Only in the last few nights, when prey had become scarce, would a Master vampire lower themselves to drinking blood tainted by illness.

Unless, of course, a young Master vampire -- not yet sure of themselves or their power -- decided to Hunt the human first, just for practice.

Angel soon discovered that the woman -- a Miss Julie Everness -- was recovering well and would be fine in a few weeks.

He left quickly, and only by flying as fast he was able, did he make it back to the hotel roof before the first rays of the sun.

Once inside the relative safety of the hotel suite, he slumped bonelessly into one of the plush sofas and closed his eyes.

"Cutting it a bit fine, aren't you?" Giles asked. "And what in heaven's name happened to your shirt?"

Angel sighed. "You have *no* idea," he replied. "It was just..." and he trailed off, before opening his tired eyes to see Giles sitting on the edge of the opposite sofa, looking concerned.

"Do you require medical attention?" the worried Watcher enquired, looking at the blood-encrusted scratches under what was left of Angel's t-shirt.

"No, it's already healing," Angel assured him. Then he paused and let his eyes fall closed again. His head fall back onto the sofa's soft cushions. "Giles," he said slowly, "tonight was a write-off -- an absolute write-off. I can't begin to describe to you how much I did *not* enjoy tonight." Which was not entirely true, since it had started *out* well, but he wasn't about to tell the Watcher about his second kill of the Hunt.

Giles looked at him curiously.

"Let me grab a shower and at least a couple of hours sleep. I'll tell you about it after that -- if you haven't seen it on the news by then."

Giles merely raised his eyebrows, and offered to warm up some blood for him.

He accepted the offer with heart-felt thanks, but didn't remain awake long enough to actually see the proffered drink. After the relaxing shower, he didn't even make it back to the sofa. Instead, Giles found him sprawled out on top of the bed, wearing only a loose-fitting pair of track pants, deeply asleep.

The considerate Watcher located a spare blanket in the hotel cupboards and quietly covered him up, then left him to rest.

---- oo00oo ----

Shortly after sunrise, William gathered up his weapons and the medical dummy, and hid them all back inside the cleaner's room. Then he got changed into his street clothes and slipped out one of the hospital's public exits.

He treated himself to a luxurious breakfast, since he was going to go to sleep as soon as possible anyway, and a full stomach wouldn't matter. Then he went round to the film shop to pick up his photos.

The girl currently behind the counter gave him some really strange looks, but considering what was on the film he'd come to pick up, he really couldn't blame her. Instead, he leered at her and had the pleasure of watching her turn bright red. He gathered up his pictures and returned to the hospital to enjoy his photographic revenge in private.

Once he was back in the tiny room at the hospital, he curled up on the floor with a blanket and muffled his laughter into his stolen pillow as he joyously flicked through each and every print.

Then, happy, fed, and relaxed, he shoved everything into his backpack, and went to sleep.

---- oo00oo ----

Angel woke late in the afternoon. He was still damnably hungry and desperate to Hunt, but this time, because of the disaster that last night had degenerated into, he was expecting the feeling, and wasn't the least bit surprised.

He could hear the television out in the main room, so he rubbed his sleepy eyes, and made his way out to find Giles. That cup of blood he'd been offered before sounded pretty good about now.

Yawning, he found Giles riveted to an afternoon news report about the restaurant and the rogue Minion. Looking up, Giles acknowledged his presence by moving to the end of the sofa and providing Angel with enough room to sit down. "That was you, I take it?" the Watcher enquired.

"Mmph," Angel grunted in agreement, watching what was left of the report curiously. //Amazing,// he thought. //They actually seem to have gotten most of their facts right.//

"When you said your evening had been a 'write-off'," Giles commented, "I had no idea..."

"Yeah, well -- now you know."

"But not everything," Giles replied, "I came in half way through the report." Lips pursed thoughtfully, Giles considered Angel's rumpled and half-dressed state. The vampire Prince was usually very particular about his appearance, even in front of Giles, who'd known him a long time -- well, a long time from a *human's* perspective. "Would you like to talk about it?" he asked.

Angel considered the offer. The Watcher was curious, and truthfully, the Minion's torture still disturbed him. It probably wouldn't hurt to tell Giles what had happened and see whether the human could help him get some perspective on the situation. "Yeah, I guess I would -- but could I get that cup of blood first?"

"Of course."

Angel ended up drinking three cups of warmed blood before the story was finished. He attributed his hunger to his continuing desire to Hunt; and tingling with anticipation, he could almost imagine that the pig's blood Giles had stocked for him tasted more like human blood. Three cups was unusual for him first thing in the evening, and he hoped Giles was too wrapped up in the tale of last night's activities to notice.

Angel was right in his guess that re-telling the events would help him put some perspective on them, and for once he was happy to have Giles' 'fatherly' approval of his actions. Angel was now reconciled with what had happened to the rogue Minion, and there was really only one thing that still bothered him.

"But why," he asked, "did that annoying little blue-blood give me the impression that he *should* have been marked?" Angel had considered *not* telling Giles about his thoughts in this regard -- he really didn't want Giles associating him and the Hunt, in the same thought -- but the question still bothered him, and after all it *was* part of the restaurant debacle, and he'd already related most of it to the Watcher.

"Yes," Giles nodded wisely, "I do believe I can account for that." Angel listened attentively. "He probably has a Substitute," the Watcher revealed.

"Of course!" Angel agreed. "That would explain it," and then he frowned, "I sometimes wonder whether my Sire should have allowed that particular bit of magic into Law."

"The reasons for it were sound then," Giles argued, "and they are still sound now. There are some people whose loss would be greatly mourned by humanity if there was no way to save them. Great musicians and writers for instance -- scientists -- wise leaders: and god knows there are few enough of *those*!" Giles ended humorously.

"Yes, but..." this issue had always bothered Angel, "I still think it isn't fair to the Substitutes. They were never supposed to be marked, and as babies it's not like they can refuse, or change their minds afterwards."

"And in turn," Giles said gently, "I remind you that the only infants even *considered* for Substitution are those whose situations are the *most* impoverished and unhappy. Yes, their lives are considerably shortened, but the *quality* of that life is beyond compare. They have only the finest of everything, and want for nothing..."

"Meaning that only the rich have access to Substitution," Angel added angrily.

"Unless a community or government supports them," Giles refuted, "Which *has* happened once or twice." He paused for a moment, "Angel, this is not a new argument for you. Is it the fact that this 'Lord Melles' has a Substitute that's causing you such distress?"

After a moment's silence, Angel acknowledged Giles' insight with the rueful answer, "Yeah, I guess so." But that wasn't enough. In agitation, he added, "Giles, you didn't *meet* the man -- or *boy* I should say -- he couldn't have been twenty yet!" Angel looked unhappily at the Watcher. "I just don't understand how someone like *that* could be 'Lord' anything! Let alone be deserving of a Substitute! It may sound cruel... but I personally think he's the kind of human your species would be better off *without*."

//*My* species?// Giles blinked, //Oh dear, he really *is* upset.// Then another thought came to him. "Not yet twenty?" he asked. Angel nodded and it was Giles' turn to frown. "That doesn't sound right. I know I'm not much involved with politics, but I'm sure I would have heard something from the other Watchers if a man as young as that had been accepted into the House of Lords."

Angel reflected that this was probably true. Having once been betrayed by the very humanity they tried to protect, some Watchers were still -- even centuries after the War -- very nervous about mortal governments. A young man -- particularly a young and *stupid* man like 'Lord Melles' -- would have put many of them into an uproar for months. Giles would have heard about it. "You think he *lied* to me?" Angel asked.

Giles mulled it over. "Yes," he decided, "I think he very probably did."

Angel growled.

"Although, I suspect he may well be someone who stands to *inherit* the position when the current Lord Melles passes away -- a son, perhaps, or a nephew," Giles speculated. "After all, if the young man *does* have a Substitute, then he is obviously important to *someone*, and is hardly likely to be a mere con-man passing himself off as English nobility." Angel nodded in agreement, but still looked somewhat displeased. "Would you like me to find out for you?" Giles asked politely, ignoring the vampire's dark scowl.

Angel considered it for a few moments. "That depends," he said finally, "How's the Hellmouth/Slayer situation looking? That's a lot more important than my dislike of an arrogant mortal."

"It's looking quite good, as it happens," and Giles immediately became more animated as he warmed to the new topic, "I have sent away for a small piece of information from the Watcher's archive. Once I've received it, we shall know for certain." Then Giles smirked, "Although, I must admit, I am very confident *now* as to what the answer will be."

"You're a positive genius," Angel laughed. "Who are you going to rob this time?"

"I do not 'rob' people," came the dignified response. "I merely assist my fellow Watchers in seeing the error of their ways by laying small wagers."

"It's not very sporting when you know you're right," Angel needled him.

"Of course it isn't," Giles agreed amiably, "You'd think they'd learn, wouldn't you?"

Angel laughed outright.

---- oo00oo ----

The sun had just set on the third night of the Hunt and William was in trouble. *Big* trouble. He'd just gotten set up again in another vacant operating theatre when a vampire burst in and attacked the medical dummy. Will had barely *reached* the observation room -- much less set himself up in it -- when the vampire realised she'd been tricked, and looked up to see him through the overhead windows. William managed to throw holy water on her after she burst through the observation room door, but the crossbow was useless in such close quarters, and he'd been forced to resort to a hand-held stake.

The female vampire *could've* simply leapt up and smashed her way into room through the overhead windows. The fact that she didn't suggested to William that his 'trick' with the dummy had made her cautious. On the other hand, she'd burst through the door without a care in the world, so perhaps she was just stupid -- or inexperienced.

But the reason for her choice was destined to remain a mystery -- the holy water had done its job, and the smoking vampire had obligingly turned to dust when he'd staked it. Unfortunately, however...

The hospital was in an uproar. Dazed and in shock, Will could nonetheless hear distant screams and yelling. Remembering the reaction of the people at the warehouse, William knew he needed to get out before someone found him.

//How did she get here so *fast?// he thought as he staggered away from the operating room. //It's only just past sunset!// Perhaps she'd scented him *last* night, and thought she could surprise him by being so early. //Tunnels... sewers...// he speculated. But it didn't matter now.

The hospital staff would easily find the destroyed dummy -- and then the black dust scattered around the observation room. It wouldn't be hard to figure out what happened. They would be looking for someone with the mark on them for the rest of the night. He couldn't stay. But he hadn't prepared anywhere else -- he'd planned on spending the night *here* -- and the sun had already set.

He was in *so* much trouble.

---- oo00oo ----

End Part II