Dervish refused to be admitted to a hospital. If demons attack him and Bec again, he doesn't want to be in a public building, where innocents might catch the crossfire. So the team set in place by the Disciples swiftly established a temporary medical base in a derelict building in a rundown part of the city where he, Bec and the other survivor were taken.

Antoine Horwitzer's soldiers are waiting for me when I arrive. They line the corridor, heavily armed, exchanging dark glances with several troops in different uniforms who are working for the Disciples. The air bristles with tension when I walk in. The commanding officer of the Lambs' group steps forward and runs a cold eye over me.

"Where's Horwitzer?" he growls.

"Dead," I say bluntly.

"You killed him?" the officer snarls.

"No." I whistle and the werewolves lurch into view. "They did."

The officer's face blanches. His men raise their weapons defensively. The other soldiers raise theirs too, even more alarmed than the Lambs.

"You have a choice," I say calmly. "Fight and die, or lower your arms and walk away. Horwitzer's reign is over. The Lambs are back under the thumb of Prae Athim. Surrender now and we'll call it even."

The officer licks his lips. "I'd want safe passage for my men," he mutters. "And I'll have to confirm it with-"

"No time for confirmations," I bark. "Drop your weapons and run, or stand, fight and die."

The officer studies the slavering werewolves and comes to the smart conclusion. He lowers his gun and gives the order for his men to follow suit. I growl at the beasts behind me and they part, affording the humans safe passage. Once they've filed out of the building, I bring my werewolves in, line them up in the corridor and ask to be escorted to Dervish's room. The soldiers are uneasy-I can smell their fear-but they do as I request. One takes me, while the rest remain, eyeing the werewolves anxiously.

I find Dervish relaxing on a bed in a large room, clothed in a T-shirt and jeans, no shoes or socks, hooked up to a drip and monitors, staring reflectively at the ceiling. Bec's in a chair nearby, head lowered, snoozing. She's also hooked up to a drip. In a bed further over, another man, swathed in bandages, is sitting up and entertaining a gaggle of wide-eyed nurses. A couple of fingers on his left hand have been cut or bitten off, reminding me of Shark.

"-but I wasn't afraid of a few stinking zombies," the man-it must be Kirilli Kovacs-is saying dismissively. "I laid into them with magic and fried them where they stood. If there hadn't been so many, I'd have waltzed through unscathed, but there were thousands. They overwhelmed me, and the others too. It looked as if we were doomed but I didn't panic. I gathered Dervish and the girls and ploughed a way through."

"You saved their lives," a nurse gasps.

"Pretty much," the man says with a falsely modest smile.

I clear my throat. Dervish looks over and beams at me. Bec's head bobs up and she studies my twisted body with a frown. Kirilli Kovacs scowls at me for interrupting, casts a sheepish glance at Dervish, then lowers his voice and continues his story.

"Sorry I didn't bring any chocolates," I tell Dervish, walking over to the bed and taking my uncle's hands. He squeezes tight. I squeeze back gently, not wanting to hurt him. He squints as he studies me.

"There's something different about you," he says.

"I've started styling my hair differently," I laugh.

"Oh. I thought it was that you were a metre taller, a hell of a lot broader, look like a werewolf and are naked except for that bit of cloth around your waist. But you're right-it's the hair."

"There's something strange about yours too," I murmur, staring at the six punk-like, purple-tipped, silver spikes that have appeared on his head since I last saw him. "The tips are a nice touch. Very anarchic."

We grin at each other. Dervish looks like death and I guess I don't look much better. We must make some pair.

"How's the heart?" I ask, letting go and taking a step back.

"Fine," he says.

"It's not," Bec disagrees. She stands, taking care not to dislodge the drip. "We heard about your transformation. Meera said you'd be bringing others with you."

"They're waiting outside. What about his heart?"

"I need a transplant," Dervish says. "Care to volunteer?"

"He needs to return to the demon universe," Bec says, ignoring Dervish's quip. "The doctors have done what they can, but if he stays here..." She shakes her head.

"Can you open a window?" I ask.

"Not right now. I'm not operating at full strength." I formulate a quick plan. "Juni knows you're here. A window's being opened somewhere in the city. Demons will pour through. The air will fill with magic. I want you to tap into it, open a window of your own and get him out of here."

"Don't I have any say in this?" Dervish asks.


My uncle chuckles, then lays back and smiles. "I won't go," he says.

"Take him somewhere safe," I tell Bec. "If I survive, I'll come-"

"You didn't hear me," Dervish interrupts. "I won't go."

"Of course you'll go," I snap. "You can't stay here. You'll die."


"Don't," I snarl. "We haven't time for this self-sacrifice crap. You're hauling your rotten carcass out of here and that's that."

Dervish's smile doesn't dim. "I've been thinking about it since we were rescued. Do you know that Beranabus and Sharmila were killed?"

"Yeah," I mutter.

"We're not sure about Kernel," Dervish continues. "He disappeared. There was a lot of blood and scraps of flesh, but they mightn't have been his. Maybe he's dead, maybe not." Dervish shrugs, grimaces with pain, then relaxes again. "I want to choose my place and manner of death. Beranabus and Sharmila were lucky-they died quickly, on our own world. But they could just have easily suffered for centuries at the hands of the Demonata and been butchered in that other universe, far from home and all they loved."

"Those are the risks we take," I say stiffly.

"Not me," Dervish replies. "I'm through. I served as best I could, and if this body had a bit more life in it, I'd carry on. But I'm not good for anything now. I'm tired. Ready for death. I'll fight when the demons attack, but if we repel them, I want to find a peaceful spot and give up the ghost in my own, natural time."

"Don't be-" I start to yell.

"Grubbs," he interrupts gently. "I think I've earned the right to choose how I die. Don't you?"

I stare at him, close to breaking. Dervish is all I have left in the world. I think of him as a father. The thought of losing him...

"I reckon I'll last a few months if fate looks on me kindly," Dervish says. "But that's as much as I dare hope for. My body's had enough. Time's up. The way I've pushed myself, the demons I've faced, the battles I've endured... I was lucky to last this long."

"But I need you," I half sob.

"No," he smiles. "The thought that you might was the one thing that could have tempted me to return to the universe of magic and struggle on. But you don't need anyone anymore. I saw it as soon as I looked at you. You've found your path, and it's a path you have to travel alone. Beranabus was the same. Kernel. Bec too."

He looks at Bec and winks. "Grubbs isn't the only one I'll be sorry to leave," he says, and the pale-faced, weary girl smiles at him warmly.

I think of things I could say to make him change his mind, but the horrible truth is, he's right. I can see death in his eyes. Every breath is an effort. He's not meant to continue. The afterlife is calling. It will be a relief for him when he goes.

Sighing, I sit on the bed and glare at the dying man. "If you think I'm going to start crying, and say things like 'I love you'-forget it!"

"Perish the thought," Dervish murmurs. "In your current state, I'll be pleased if you don't start eating me before I'm dead."

"I'd never eat you. I have better taste."

We laugh. Bec stares at us uncertainly, then joins in. She sounds a bit like Bill-E when she laughs, and for a few happy moments it's as if me, my brother and uncle are together again, relaxing in Dervish's study, sharing a joke, not a care in the world.

We spend the rest of the time chatting. Dervish and Bec bring me up to date on all that's happened since I left them at the hospital, locating Juni on a ship full of corpses, finding a lodestone in the hold, the Shadow using it to cross, Beranabus destroying the stone and expelling the Shadow but losing his life in the battle.

"He went heroically, in the best way," Bec says with a mournful smile. "He wouldn't have wanted to go quietly."

Then Bec tells me the Shadow's true identity. It's death. Not a chess-playing, suave, sophisticated Death like in an old, subtitled movie Dervish made me watch once. Or the sexy, compassionate, humorous Death in Bill-E's Sandman comics. This is a malevolent force. It hates all the living creatures of our universe and wants to cut us out of existence.

"How do we fight Death?" I ask. "Can we kill it?"

"I don't think so," Bec says.

"But it has a physical shape. If we destroy its body of shadows, maybe its mind will unravel. You said it didn't always have a brain?"

"From what I absorbed, its consciousness is relatively new," Bec nods.

"So if we rip it to pieces, maybe it'll go back to being whatever it was before?"

"Maybe." She doesn't sound convinced.

"I can be the inside man," Dervish says, only half joking. "Once Death claims me, I can work behind the lines and try to pass info back to you."

"Perhaps you could," I mutter. "Do you think it preserves everyone's soul, that the spiritual remains of all the dead are contained within that cloud of shadows?"

"No," Bec answers. "It's using souls now, but from what I understand, it wasn't always that way. It was simply a force before, like the blade of a guillotine-it ended life. Finito."

I scratch my bulging, distorted head. "This is too deep for me. I don't think I'll ask any more questions. I'll settle for killing or dismembering it."

"You believe that you can?" Bec sounds dubious.

"Of course." I stare at her. "Don't you?"

She shrugs, but says nothing. I see defeat in her expression. She thinks we've lost. She's convinced our number's up.

"Hey," I huff. "Don't forget, we're the Kah-Gash. We can take on anything. If Death was all-powerful, it wouldn't need the help of Lord Loss and his stooges. We can beat it. I'm sure we can."

I look from Bec to Dervish, then back at Bec again. "Remember what Beranabus preached? He thought the universe created champions to battle the forces of evil, that we weren't freaks of nature, but carefully chosen warriors. I used to think he was loco, but not anymore. Look at me."

I flex my bulging muscles and bare my fangs. "You can't tell me this is a fluke. I didn't turn into a werewolf by chance, when the chips were down. I was primed to transform. The universe gave me a power it knew we'd need. You probably have dormant powers too. We'll change if we have to. Adapt to deal with whatever we're up against. The Shadow doesn't stand a chance."

Bec looks at me sceptically. "What about Kernel? The universe didn't prepare him. He's dead."

"You don't know that," I contradict her. "Maybe he transformed like me and turned into a panel of light."

Bec giggles. I smile but it's forced. I feel like a hypocrite, offering her hope when Juni's prophecy is ringing in my head.

I start telling them about my experiences, Shark's dirty dozen, Timas Brauss, Antoine Horwitzer, the trip to the island. I'm about a third of the way through my story when Dervish's fingers twitch and he lifts his nose. A second later I catch the buzz of magic. A window has opened and the air's filling with magical energy.

"I'll tell you the rest later," I groan, getting to my feet and smiling lazily as magic seeps through my pores, charging me up.

"If there is a later," Dervish grunts, unhooking himself from the drip and the machines. He stands. A couple of the nurses with Kirilli Kovacs hurry over, scolding Dervish and demanding he get back into bed. "Peace!" he roars. "Demons are coming. Do you want me to lie here and let them slaughter you all?"

The nurses share a startled glance, then back off. Dervish wriggles his bare toes, checks that the tips of his spikes are stiff, then cocks an eyebrow at me. "Awaiting your orders, captain."

I prepare a cutting reply, then realise he's serious. He's looking to me to lead. That's a first. I've always followed, bouncing from my parents to Dervish to Beranabus to Shark. Now I'm being asked to make the decisions, issue the call to arms and lead others to their deaths. I should be unsure of myself, but I'm not. Dervish was right. I don't need a guardian anymore. I'm ready for leadership. More than that-I want to lead.

"We'll hit them hard," I growl. "We'll take the werewolves and soldiers. We don't know what they're going to send against us-demons, armed guards, maybe the Shadow itself. So we'll go prepared for anything."

I start for the door. Dervish and Bec trail close behind. In the bed across from Dervish's, one of the nurses says brightly, "Good luck!" But she's not saying it to us. She's saying it to Kirilli Kovacs.

I pause and look back. Kovacs is lying with his sheets pulled up to his throat. He looks like he's about to be sick. I think he was hoping we'd sweep out without noticing him, so he could pretend he didn't know we'd gone.

"Well?" I grunt, amused. Dervish told me a bit about Kovacs and his less than avid love of fighting, but even if he hadn't, I could have seen with one look that this guy's chicken, Disciple or not.

"Aren't you going, Kirilli?" a nurse asks, frowning.

"Of course I am," he puffs. "I just thought... I mean, I'm still recovering..." He waves his injured hand at me, smiling shakily.

"I got up from my deathbed," Dervish murmurs. "Surely you aren't going to let a few missing fingers hold you back?"

"No!" Kovacs cries as the nurses glower accusingly. "I just meant..." His face darkens. He shoots me a look of pure spite, then recovers instantly. With a breezy smile, he turns to the nurses. "What I meant was, I have no desire to go to war in a dismal state of attire. I know my suit's a touch the worse for wear, but if you good ladies could fetch it for me, so that I might cut a dashing figure as I stride into battle to save the day..."

The nurses like that. They quickly bring Kovacs his suit, which turns out to be a natty, badly shredded stage magician's costume, with faded gold and silver stars stitched down the sides. But I must admit he wears the rags well. Pats dust away, tuts at the blood, then tips an imaginary hat to the nurses. "Later, ladies," he purrs. Then, to a murmur of approving coos, he slides ahead of me, flashes me a reassuring smile-as if I needed encouragement-and exits like a politician heading off to settle an important affair of state.

I bark at the werewolves in the corridor, leaving Dervish to round up the human troops. With a few simple grunts, I let the beasts know we're going to fight. They howl happily in response.

I'm excited as we step out of the building. I don't care what the enemy sends against us. According to Juni, I'm the worst threat to mankind in any universe. I've only myself to be afraid of really.

Dervish, Bec and Kirilli edge up behind me, backed by about fifty soldiers. Kirilli's teeth are chattering, but he stands his ground and lets magic gather in his hands. I don't plan to rely on him, but he might prove useful.

Bec looks more resigned than afraid. She's trying hard to believe we can win, not just this fight but all those still to come. But it's hard. In her heart she feels we're doomed. She'll give it her best, but she doesn't think we can triumph, not in the end, not against Death.

Dervish is smiling. He figures he's going to be dead soon, one way or another, so what does he have to worry about? He's picked his spot and chosen his fight. If he dies, it'll be on home turf. That's all that matters to him now.

The soldiers are nervous, though some hide it better than others. They know a bit about demons, that they can't kill the monsters, only slow them down. They're not in control of this situation, and I know how frustrating that can be. But the Disciples have chosen well. This lot will stand, fight and die if they have to.

And they will.

I look around at my misshapen pack of werewolves and smile jaggedly. Of all those with me, these are the ones I'm counting on to cause the greatest upset. If our foes don't know about my lupine retinue, they're in for a nasty surprise. Demons are used to having it easy on this world. Most humans can't kill them, and they rarely have to face more than a couple of Disciples at a time. Thirty-seven savage werewolves are going to make for a very different experience!

I sniff the air. I hear horrified screams coming from several streets away. I'm eager to get stuck in, but I delay the moment of attack, thinking about Juni's awful prophecy. Then, wiping it from my thoughts, I roar and let the werewolves break loose. As they race to confront the demons, I pound along in the middle of them. Dervish, Bec, Kirilli and the soldiers lag behind. I'm grinning wolfishly, no longer worried about prophecies. Let the world end. Hell, let me be the one to end it!

What does it matter? Nobody lives forever. If mankind's destined to bite the bullet, let's bite and be damned.

We turn a corner. I see hordes of demons running wild, humans fleeing the monstrous creatures. With an excited yelp, I lead my misshapen troops into action. As I zone in on the demonic army, I smile and think there's at least one guarantee I can make. If Juni's right, and it's my fate to destroy this planet, the poet got it wrong. The world won't end with a bang or a whimper. It'll end with the death screams of a thousand demons and a defiant, carefree, savage, wolfen howl.