Dust By Dawn

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It was close. She could hear the rushing of the wind in her right ear, alerting her to it closing in. She swept her balled hand up just as it halted an inch away, an ice-cold hand landing on the bare skin of her neck. But he wouldn't bite her; he would never bite another mortal again - she made sure of that. Grinning, she drove the stake enclosed in her hand into its heart. The shock on its unblemished face was the last expression it was ever to make before it disintegrated into-

"Caelyn, pay attention please." Ms Harper's sharp voice sliced through Caelyn's daydream, causing the seventeen-year-old to gasp. "This is one of the most important lessons you will ever learn and I don't fancy repeating myself, so I suggest you listen to what I am telling you."

Recovering from the shock of being jerked back to reality, Caelyn sighed and placed a hand over her chest to feel her heart racing. "Sorry Ms Harper," she murmured, glancing up at the English teacher standing in front of her desk.

Ms Harper pursed her lips, looking at Caelyn over the top of the thin-framed glasses that perched on the bridge of her long, straight nose. Everything about Ms Harper was long and straight: her feet, her legs, her back, and even her hair although she was over fifty. She was quite possibly the oddest teacher in the school, with her old fashioned clothes and glasses and teaching methods, combined with a hairstyle usually sported by younger generations, and her height was rivaled by none. Not to mention how she would turn a blind eye if you ran in the corridors or swore in front of her, but if you daydreamed in class you'd be fortunate to escape a detention. "As you should be - after all, it's your future that's at stake here, not mine," she said stiffly after a long pause, addressing not just Caelyn but the whole class.

Caelyn nodded meekly, and as Ms Harper turned away to click back over the old floorboards to the front of the classroom the girl who shared Caelyn's desk leaned over to whisper in her ear: "If only she knew just how much of our futures are at 'stake' - or rather, hinging on a stake." Caelyn snorted loudly, and instantly regretted it.

"Detention Caelyn," Ms Harper said without looking round. Caelyn stifled a groan. "Now, I know this is something which I say a lot, but since only a few of you seem to have understood it I am going to go over it again...Actually, can anyone tell me what I'm talking about?" Her keen eyes swept the class like a hawk circling its prey, and Caelyn shrank back in her seat, shifting uncomfortably against the hard plastic back. Fortunately for her, there was a willing victim who raised his hand. "Yes, Aaron?"

"We need to keep focused on our essays and not go off on tangents." Aaron sat on the opposite side of the room to Caelyn and Robyn, but neither girl missed the quick glance he shot Caelyn as he gave his answer.

"Exactly right," Ms Harper praised, turning to write 'STAY FOCUSED' on the whiteboard in thick black marker.

"Showoff," Caelyn muttered as the sound of the squeaky pen filled the air. "Like staying focused in an essay is going to help us."

Robyn raised an eyebrow suggestively. "He's only trying to impress you and besides, in our line of work staying focused is definitely something that could mean the difference between a saved life and a lost one," she pointed out.

Caelyn frowned and looked back towards Aaron, but his attention was fixed on Ms Harper now. He wasn't bad looking, she supposed, and he was nice enough. But he wasn't exactly exciting: with short brown hair, brown eyes, an average height, and straight A grades he was almost the definition of ordinary. Not that it mattered what she thought of him; whether she liked him or not, being in a relationship just wasn't a luxury she could afford.

As soon as the bell rang to signal the end of the day Caelyn and Robyn jumped out of their seats and shot towards the door like bullets from a patient canon - until Ms Harper's harsh voice brought Caelyn to a swift halt.

"Well," Caelyn said mournfully as all around her the other students were beginning to flock past her, "my taste of freedom may have been short but it was definitely sweet."

Robyn rolled her eyes. "If you call being out of your chair for two seconds 'freedom' then you must really hate school." Drawing closer to her friend, she added in a low voice, "I'll tell the others why you got held up and we'll meet you outside the school gates - text me as soon as Ms Harper's done with you." Caelyn nodded, and Robyn added in a louder voice, "Bye then, hope Ms Harper doesn't harp on at you too much!"

Caelyn watched her friend scamper out of the room before Ms Harper could catch her, amusement glimmering in her eyes.

"Sit down, Caelyn." Ms Harper's order was followed by a resigned sigh. The teacher was sitting straight-backed in the chair behind her heavy oak desk, the place she always retreated to at the end of the school day to keep out of the way of the student mob rushing to the exit. Caelyn hastily obliged, returning to her desk at the side of the room. "Do you know why you're here?" Ms Harper asked.

Caelyn put her bag down by the legs of the desk. "Because I was daydreaming?"

"Yes. You cannot expect to pass your exams if you do not pay attention in class..." As Ms Harper began the lecture Caelyn had heard a hundred different variations of, her gaze began to wander around the room. It was an odd classroom; different to every other room in the school. All of the desks were single old-fashioned ones with lids that lifted so books could be placed inside, and Ms Harper's desk looked ancient with feet carved in the shape of animal paws to match her large, creaky chair. The wallpaper was peeling and covered with posters that had to be at least ten years old, and there was a hole in one of the floorboards at the back of the room where a mouse had gnawed at it to make a home. Despite being bored to death of spending what seemed like half her life inside, Caelyn had become strangely fond of the room. It was different and unusual, and-

"Caelyn," Ms Harper snapped. Caelyn's eyes sprung back to her teacher apologetically. "Did you hear a word I just said?"

Caelyn's silence was the only answer the teacher needed.

"Very well." Ms Harper's eyes narrowed dangerously, and for a moment Caelyn was afraid she might be kept in detention for the whole of the Christmas break. But then Ms Harper heaved another sigh and stood up, her chair scraping over the floor with a grating noise of protest. "You may go."

Caelyn blinked in surprise. "I can go?" It had only been ten minutes.

"Go, before I change my mind. But I want an essay on why it's important to stay focused when I see you after Christmas," Ms Harper added, looking at her student over the top of her glasses.

Not needing to be told again, Caelyn grabbed the strap of her dark blue schoolbag and swung it onto her shoulder as she got up. "Thank you Ms Harper," she said gratefully, hastening to the door. But she hesitated as she pulled it open, glancing at the teacher over her shoulder. Ms Harper was standing by the whiteboard with her arms folded over her chest and a strange expression on her face that Caelyn couldn't quite work out. "Merry Christmas Ms Harper," she chirped at last, offering her stern teacher a smile.

Ms Harper looked surprised. "Thank you Caelyn... You too," she responded, and Caelyn brightened as she slipped through the door and closed it carefully behind her. It never cost anything to be nice, Caelyn thought to herself as she hurried through the empty school corridors and pulled her phone out of her pocket, sending a quick text to Robyn.

The streets of Tenmer were bustling with people either heading home after a long day at work or hitting the town for a bit of late night shopping (even though technically it was only early evening). There were only one and a half weeks left until Christmas day which was to fall on a Saturday that year, but Caelyn was a bit too preoccupied to think about buying presents.

"Come on," she muttered under her breath as she narrowly missed colliding with a man wearing a suit who was striding towards her. The watch on her wrist was flashing to let her know she had an unseen message but it wasn't letting her view the message, and she was becoming rather frustrated with it. "And they say you're the latest technology that no slayer is complete without," she told it sarcastically.

"Caelyn?" A familiar voice made her freeze, and she looked up to find the same brown eyes that had been darting glances towards her in class earlier staring at her now. "Are you talking to your watch?" Aaron asked, amusement making his tone light.

What's he doing here? Caelyn quickly swept the area and saw that they were on a street corner with traffic crawling past at the pace of snails. She wasn't too far from the base now, but Aaron was a long way from his home - he'd told her he lived near the center of town. Did he follow me? The question reverberated around her mind. "Hi," she said brightly, not wanting him to see how much his appearance had surprised her. "What are you doing here?"

Aaron chuckled. "What, you're not pleased to see me?" he joked.

Caelyn flushed. she hadn't meant it to sound like that! "It's just that it's not safe out at night," she mumbled, glancing down at her watch. It had stopped flashing now, but the screen seemed to be frozen.

"Yeah, yeah, because of the killings, I know, but - and I mean no offense when I say this - I think I'm more capable of defending myself than you are. Besides, there's safety in numbers right?" Aaron sounded casual as he responded, as if he didn't quite realise just how patronising the unintended insult was.

Caelyn barely stopped herself from telling him that if either of them was incapable of looking after themselves it was him because he hadn't had the training of a vampire slayer. "So why are you here?" she pressed, feeling slightly less friendly towards him now. As he answered she folded her arms, drawing her jumper closer around her to try and fend off some of the nipping cold.

"I was running an errand when I saw you so I thought I'd come and say hi... and maybe walk you home since you're right, it's not safe out," Aaron explained. The offer sounded innocent, but after his earlier comment Caelyn decided that letting him walk her home was the last thing she wanted (and besides, she couldn't exactly lead him to base - it would raise too many questions).

"No thanks, I'm meeting Ro- Did you say killings?" Caelyn asked, having let his words sink in.

Aaron frowned. "Didn't you hear? It was all over the news - two men were found dead in an alley last night with most of their blood gone and puncture holes in their necks. At first they thought there was some kind of snake on the loose but this morning they announced that it looked more like a human who had used some kind of torture method on them."

Caelyn digested this information. She knew those deaths weren't the result of a snake, nor a human being. How come I didn't know about this before? she wondered, suddenly keen to get back to base. "Sorry, I have to go," she muttered, walking forward.

He grabbed her arm as she passed him, stopping her from going any further. "Hang on, it's not safe," he reminded her.

Not for you, no, she agreed. "Look, I - oh, there's Robyn," she said, relieved to spot her dark-haired friend waving frantically at her from across the street outside the cafe they had agreed to rendezvous at before heading back to base together.

"Oh, okay." Aaron looked disappointed, but Caelyn didn't notice. She was already crossing the road, weaving through the slow traffic to get to her friend. "Guess I'll see you later then," Aaron muttered, turning away with a sigh.

"Caelyn," Robyn said before Caelyn could say anything. "We have a situation."

"I know, the men-" Caelyn started, but Robyn cut her off.

"It's Lil; she's in trouble."

Dread pierced Caelyn's heart like an arrow. "What kind of trouble?"

Robyn grabbed her hand, pulling her down the pavement. "I'll explain on the way."

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