The old house stood, lonely and desolate, surrounded by darkness and trees bent almost double by the strong winds. White flakes of snow, the first of the winter, were being driven before the wind, not quite a blizzard but certainly with potential.
Out of the darkness two figures appeared, as if they had materialised out of the thin, frosty air. But that wasn't possible, was it? A man and a woman, they walked soundlessly up the gravel drive, which was just starting to disappear under a white blanket.
The man paused, sniffing the air. He was imposing without being overly tall, with a stern expression and light brown hair just starting to turn grey. As if to complement his hair, he wore a dark grey suit and lighter grey shirt and tie.
"Its definitely here," he said aloud, though not turning to his female companion. "And I think it knows we're here too."
The woman smiled slightly. She was a total contrast to her colleague, having a pleasant, friendly face and demeanour. Her shoulder length blonde hair fell loosely and her blue eyes sparkled with humour and deep intelligence. Like her companion, her clothes matched one of her features, as her knee length dress was the same blue as her eyes.
"Looks like it isn't the only one here," she commented, indicating the flickering lights of candles visible behind a few of the dirty, cracked windows.
"Humans!" the man said with disdain. "Why can't they keep out of our way for a change?" He turned to the woman for the first time. "You can handle them, you're so much better at it than I am."
"Fine," she replied easily. "Now, shall we get inside before the snow gets any deeper?"
He grunted in response as they set off once again towards the house. Anybody watching them would have found it odd that while they had been standing still for some minutes, no snow had gathered on their hair or clothing. Their footsteps didn't seem to make any impression in the white carpet forming quickly now in the grounds of the house. And strangest of all, they didn't seem at all bothered by the wind, which was now whipping up into a gale. But there wasn't anybody around to see these things, just an owl sitting in the branches of a tree, hooting softly.
"To Christmas," muttered the ragtag group around the two pushed together picnic tables, raising their beer cans in salute.
"It’s nice to be home," said Anthony Sherman, who had proposed the toast. A well built man in his late twenties, he looked fondly around the dark and dismal hall, with the graffiti on the walls and the grime on the windows. The main fireplace had been forcibly removed at some point in the past and some of the floorboards had been broken. A once fancy moulding where the ceiling met the walls was now damaged and cracked.
"You never even lived here!" retorted a woman in her mid-twenties, bundled up inside her fleece jacket.
"This place has been abandoned for decades," added a tall, scrawny man of similar age sitting to the woman's right. "Ever since the last of the Haversham's died."
"Don't talk like an idiot, Daniel," Anthony replied. "I'm the last of the Haversham line. So Mum always told me."
"I've got blue blood in my veins I have," Daniel quoted, putting on a fair impression of Sherman's voice.
Anthony banged his fist on the table, making the cans and curry treys scattered across it jump. "Look, when Gran was in service here, she fell pregnant and never registered who the father was. But she told Mum when she came of age that it was Clarence Haversham, then the eldest son of the Lord, later the last Lord Haversham before the house fell into ruin."
"We've heard it all before," the blonde woman said with a fake yawn.
Anthony scowled across the table. He gestured around them. "All this could be yours Tracey, if you want it."
"I wouldn't!" stated a short, redheaded girl, slightly younger than the rest, before Tracey could even reply. "Place looks ready to fall down around our ears at any moment."
"That's what I love about you Angie," Daniel laughed. "You always look on the bright side."
Angie stuck her tongue out in return, but didn't make a further contribution to the conversation.
"So remind me why we're here?" asked the last person at the makeshift banqueting table, a scruffy dark haired man wearing a dark brown leather jacket and jeans.
Anthony sighed. "We're here, Gordon, to celebrate a traditional Christmas at my ancestral home, just as the family used to do years ago."
"Curried chicken and lager isn't exactly traditional for the elite, you know," Daniel said, mimicking a posh accent.
Suddenly an icy wind blasted through the hall, stirring the flames of the candles dotted around. Some of them were snuffed out. The five friends shivered.
"Damned door must have blown open," Gordon growled. "I'm not surprised, given how the wind has picked up since we arrived." He pushed back the beer crate he was sat on. "I'll see to it."
"Don't worry, the door is closed now," said a new voice from the shadows. Everybody jumped, jerking their heads towards the newcomer.
Standing in the doorway were two people, a man and a woman. Both carried themselves with an air of confident authority.
"Who the hell are you?" demanded Anthony.
"We're your best hope of getting out of this place alive," the man replied calmly.
"First impressions, Sapphire?" The voice echoed slightly inside her head.
She considered a moment. "Five young adults, all between twenty three and twenty nine, all healthy, though one of the women will develop a flu virus before the week is out. It hasn't touched any of them yet, it seems to be waiting for now."
"I hate young adults more than any other type of human," his mental voice scowled. "Anything else significant?"
"Nothing yet, Steel," Sapphire replied. "I think we should get back to them."
"If we must," he grumbled, shutting down the mind link between them.
"Where did you come from?" Tracey challenged the newcomers, who were now looking around the hall with mild curiosity.
The blonde woman smiled dazzlingly. "Where do you think we came from?"
"Outside?" Angie ventured, earning herself a glare from Anthony.
"Don't be stupid! Do they look like they've walked through a blizzard?"
"They could have driven up to the front door," Angie shot back defensively.
"We would have heard or seen the car," Daniel told her gently, gesturing through the dirty windows at the empty, snow covered drive outside the house.
Anthony had walked over to the male newcomer, who was examining the ragged hole where the fireplace had once been. He laid a hand on the man's shoulder.
"Look, I've already asked you once. Who the hell are you?"
The man turned, locking eyes with Anthony. Something dark and powerful passed across his face, causing Anthony to step back, removing his hand as if stung.
"I'm Sapphire, and my grumpy friend is called Steel," the blonde woman announced. "We're here to help."
"Help with what?" Gordon wanted to know. "We don't need anybody to wash up, but I suppose the place could do with a bit of a clean, while you're here."
"We're not cleaners," growled Steel, who pushed passed Anthony and strode over to the far wall. He placed a hand against the tatty wallpaper.
"Do you own this place?" Angie asked Sapphire. "Because we didn't know you were here, honest. We can go if you want."
"We want," Steel said from his position, still with his hand pressed to the wall.
"Hey, I own this place if anyone does!" Anthony protested, recovering his composure after his encounter with Steel.
"Do you indeed?" Sapphire inquired, gliding over to where he stood. "I must say, you're not looking after it very well, Mister...?"
"Sherman. Anthony Sherman." He straightened his wax jacket and pulled himself up to his full height, which wasn't that impressive. "And I don't actually own the house, but my family did."
"Here we go again," Tracey muttered, causing Daniel to giggle.
But Sapphire was very interested. "Well, Mr Sherman, do tell me all about it."
As Anthony recounted his tale for the second time that night, Steel moved on from his position, placing his hands against the walls at random now. Anthony's four friends stood together in the middle of the room, watching the newcomers cautiously.
"Then when Clarence died before he reached thirty, and even before he married, that just left Mum as the sole heir. But nobody recognised her claim and when she died, I became the unofficial heir to this place."
"That's fascinating," Sapphire told him, making his chest swell with pride. "So how did Clarence Haversham die?"
"Murdered, I heard," Gordon piped up. "They say his ghost still haunts this place. Or is that you, Tony?"
The rest of the group laughed at the comment, but Anthony frowned at them. "You're just annoyed because I'm being taken seriously at last!"
"Seriously?" Tracey scoffed. "We don't even know who these people are. They could be anybody."
"But we're not just anybody," Steel said from right behind her, making her jump.
"Maybe not," Daniel conceded. "But you've still told us nothing bar your names, which could of course be false."
Sapphire favoured him with a smile. "We are investigators, looking into strange phenomena."
"Investigators?" Angie echoed. "What are you investigating?"
"There is a creature loose in this house," Steel announced, causing a murmur among the young people. "It is something beyond your limited ability to comprehend, something that only we can contain and defeat. The best thing you could all do is leave, and let us get on with our job."
"Not a chance!" Anthony responded hotly. "I'm not leaving you two here until I know exactly what is going on."
Steel glanced at Sapphire and sighed. "Then it is going to be a very long night."
Elsewhere in the house, something stirred.
In the kitchen, long unused, a light pulsed. A ball of light, floating three feet off the floor. The pulsing began to quicken and as it did so, things around the kitchen changed. The overturned table righted itself as if by magic and was suddenly covered with dishes and plates of varying sizes. Fresh vegetables lay sliced on the chopping board.
Over near the door, the rusty old range was transformed into a shiny black, with pans bubbling away merrily on the top. A kettle whistled as it came to the boil.
The dusty windows overlooking the barren, snow covered wasteland behind the house suddenly became sparkling clean. The view changed too, as the vegetable garden reappeared and the winter night gave way to a glorious sunset.
The only things missing from all this activity were people. Not a single person was to be seen in the newly remade kitchen and garden.
Then the ball of light slowed its regular pulsing and the kitchen reverted to the grime and debris of before. The table was once more on its side, the range was rusty once more and the garden was an overgrown wilderness.
The light floated across the kitchen, towards the faint sound of voices raised, and disappeared through the wall.
"Creatures loose in the house!" Tracey scoffed. "I've never heard such absolute rubbish in all my life!"
"Then you've had a very sheltered upbringing," commented Sapphire from behind the young woman.
"I wish you two wouldn't creep about like that," Tracey complained. "And it is nonsense. Who do you think you are, Mulder and Scully?"
"What's she talking about?" Steel queried.
Sapphire's eyes flashed deeper blue for a moment. "A popular cultural reference. Fictional supernatural investigators."
Steel grunted. "I'm surprised they can manage any type of culture on this backwater world." He went back to his examination of the walls.
"You talk as if you're not human," Angie said with a nervous laugh.
Steel just raised an eyebrow and Sapphire smiled enigmatically.
"Anyway, what are you doing now?" Anthony demanded of Steel, though he stood well away from the man while asking the question.
"Checking for residual energy traces," Steel replied, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
"What sort of energy?" Daniel wanted to know.
Steel sighed deeply and turned to Sapphire. "Could you...?"
"Psychic energy leaves a very definite trace," Sapphire explained. "The creature we're looking for has a strong psychic fingerprint."
"This is just too bizarre," Gordon decided. "You seem to believe it all though."
"That's because its all true," Sapphire said mildly. "You might not believe us, but it doesn't make any difference what you do or don't believe. If the creature manages to break free from this house, then anything you think won't matter anymore. To anyone."
The five young people looked at each other with trepidation. Steel had reached the far corner of the room, while Sapphire stood close to the humans, her hands clasped in front of her.
That was how the seven of them were when a wave of light passed through the room, leaving almost everything in its wake changed.
The fancy wallpaper was restored to its former glory, all hint of graffiti removed. The large chandelier was no longer a broken mass of metal; instead it was shining brightly above the long oak table that had replaced the two plastic picnic tables the five friends had been using.
And they had been changed too, but in more subtle ways. A smart Saville Row suit had replaced Anthony's wax jacket and corduroy trousers. Tracey had lost her fleece and jeans in favour of a flowing red dress, while Gordon was now dressed in similar fashion to Anthony. Daniel was dressed in typical footman's attire and stood beside the newly restored fireplace, awaiting orders. Of Angie there was no sign.
The only one's that had not been changed were Sapphire and Steel, who were still standing where they had been when the changes had occurred. Steel now walked swiftly to his colleague's side.
"What happened?" he demanded of her.
"We've been taken back in time," Sapphire said, confirming Steel's worst theory. "The youngsters are taking on the roles of those who were here at the time."
Anthony, who was seated at the head of the oak table, raised his glass of wine to Tracey and Gordon, who flanked him. "To Christmas."
"To Christmas," they echoed, with more enthusiasm than they had done an hour before, in the tatty version of this very room. All three downed their wine.
Now Anthony turned to the still form of Daniel standing beside the fire. "Vickers, see what is keeping Mary with our dinner."
"Sir," Daniel/Vickers replied instantly, snapping to attention and leaving the room quickly.
"Damned girl, I don't know why I keep her on," Anthony muttered.
"Neither do I," Gordon admitted. "She may be a pretty little thing, but since she is now an unmarried mother, I think it's more than generous of you to still give her employment."
A shadow passed over Anthony's face at the mention of Mary's status. "She has been in our service for quite some time," he said weakly.
"Still, I would have fired her as soon as she became pregnant," Gordon told him. "What do you say, darling?"
This last was addressed to Tracey, who had been trying hard to keep to herself. Startled into making conversation, she looked down at her lap.
"I agree with you, Henry," she muttered, not meeting his eyes.
"See?" Gordon/Henry said to Anthony. "Even Nancy would have fired her. You really are too soft with the servants, old chap."
The door opening halted further conversation. In came Daniel/Vickers, holding a silver trey with a cover over it. He held the door open and Angie followed him, pushing a trolley bearing similar dishes.
"About bloody time girl!" Gordon/Henry exclaimed. "We're starving here. What kept you?"
Angie, her eyes fixed on her trolley, glanced towards Anthony, pointedly ignoring Gordon/Henry. "Begging your pardon, sir, but cook had some trouble with the pudding."
Anthony frowned across at Gordon/Henry. "That's alright, Mary. Did she get the pudding sorted out?"
"Yes, sir," Angie/Mary replied, starting to lift lids from the dishes.
"Excellent," Anthony beamed. "Christmas just wouldn't be the same without cook's pudding and custard."
Having watched this whole scene, Steel drew Sapphire to one side, away from the table.
"They can't see us?"
"It would appear not," Sapphire responded. "We obviously were not here when this sequence originally played out."
Steel frowned. "I assume Sherman has taken the role of his ancestor."
"That would be my thought," Sapphire confirmed. "And considering the way the conversation went, and the reactions to it, Angie seems to have been placed here as his Grandmother."
"I don't know how you pick up these subtleties," Steel commented, shaking his head.
Sapphire smiled slightly. "You just need to be more observant."
Steel looked over the five people grouped around the table and scowled. "I would rather not." His tone grew serious. "Now it seems to be playing its hand, what do you suggest we do next?"
"What I do best," Sapphire suggested. "Watch and observe."
While they had been in discussion, three plates had been filled with food. Daniel/Vickers had resumed his position by the fire, while Angie/Mary was about to leave with her trolley.
"More wine!" demanded Gordon/Henry, raising his empty glass for all to see.
Daniel/Vickers started forward but Gordon/Henry held up one hand to stop him in his tracks.
"I want her to do it," he said, pointing at Angie/Mary as she reached the door.
A tense silence descended on the room. Tracey/Nancy concentrated on her meal, while Anthony watched Gordon/Henry carefully from the head of the table. Daniel/Vickers reluctantly returned to his place, while Angie/Mary left her trolley and moved to the sideboard, where the wine decanters were kept.
Selecting the correct one, she walked over to Gordon/Henry's side of the table. He placed his glass on the white tablecloth, his hand close by, as Angie/Mary poured. As the wine reached halfway up his glass, his hand flicked sideways, knocking the glass and the wine all over the clean cloth.
"You clumsy bitch!" Gordon/Henry roared as he surged to his feet, causing Angie/Mary to stumble backwards, dropping the decanter to the carpet. His fury boiling now, Gordon/Henry slapped her across the face with the back of his hand.
As Sapphire and Steel watched from the outside, the light faded and the scene dissolved, returning everything to as it was before, five young people and two strangers standing amid the dark and the grime that had once been the dining hall of the old house.
For a few moments, everyone remained frozen, though more through shock then anything else. But it didn't last.
"What just happened?" croaked Anthony, sounding stunned by the entire experience.
"You hit me!" Angie accused Gordon, who in turn hung his head in shame.
As the young people started chattering all at once, Steel decided it was time to impose some authority onto the situation.
Everybody stopped talking and turned towards him. Even Sapphire gave him her full attention.
"That's better," Steel said in a lower voice. "Now, what you all just experienced was a slippage in time. You were playing out roles in a drama, but one that really happened, right here, at some time in the past. The creature we have been sent here to deal with subverted your subconscious minds. So now you know how much danger you're all in, will you now leave this place and let us do our job?"
Angie was already moving towards the door. Daniel rushed out of the room after her. Anthony just stood where he was, his mouth moving but no words coming out. Tracey and Gordon exchanged glances, but didn't speak or move.
"Steel's right," Sapphire said gently. "You would all be much safer if you just went home and left things to us."
"Very well," Tracey replied with obvious reluctance. She nodded to Gordon and together they each took one of Anthony's arms and led him towards the door out into the hallway.
Before they reached it though Angie dashed back through, tears running down her cheeks and Daniel once again in her wake.
"We can't get out," she told the room. "The door is locked and we can't get it open!"
"This is ridiculous," Anthony decided, finally finding his voice. "This door hasn't been locked in years. Boarded up perhaps, but not locked."
"Did you do this?" Gordon asked suspiciously, levelling his gaze at Steel. "You two were the last to enter the house."
"We don't know that," Tracey chipped in. "They could have been hiding here when we arrived."
"We did arrive after you," Steel told them. "We did use this door to enter. But we didn't lock it. Sapphire?"
At his unspoken question, Sapphire glided forward, the humans parting before her like the Red Sea. She placed her hand against the wood of the door and closed her eyes.
"Well?" Steel demanded after a few moments.
"It has been sealed by time," Sapphire replied. "I suspect all the points of entry are the same. It doesn't want any of us to leave."
"It?" Daniel repeated. "Just what exactly is this It you keep referring to?"
"The creature," Steel said. "The thing that turned you into a docile footman and your friends into players on a very dangerous stage. Now it seems we're all trapped here together, while It sets the rules for the game."
"I don't like this," Angie complained, standing as far from Gordon as she could. "Are we going to have our minds taken over again?"
"Possibly," Sapphire reluctantly admitted.
"I thought you two were supposed to be the experts," Tracey sneered. "Isn't it about time you got on with sorting this creature out, so we can all go home?"
"We need you to do something for us first," Steel responded.
"Oh yeah?" Tracey challenged. "What's that?"
"Shut up and keep out of our way!"
The five friends had moved to the dingy kitchen, well away from the two weird investigators. Tracey and Daniel were smoking near the back door (which, like the front, was firmly secured) while Anthony and Gordon stood near the inner door, straining to hear anything from elsewhere in the house. Angie leant against the rusty old range, her arms folded, shivering slightly.
"I still don't understand what happened earlier," Daniel complained, blowing a smoke ring up towards the ceiling.
"None of us do," Tracey snapped back, instantly regretting her harsh tone. "It could have been an hallucination," she said more softly.
"You think someone at the Star of Bengal slipped magic mushrooms into the chicken curry?" Daniel replied with a grin. His comment was enough to make Tracey laugh lightly too.
"This isn't a joke," Angie complained, moving closer to them. "Don't forget, Gordon hit me." Her hand moved to her face, where despite there being no bruise, she was sure she could still feel the sting of the slap.
"Sorry," Daniel mumbled. "We were just trying to lighten the mood a little."
"Quiet you three!" Anthony commanded. "We can hear something."
"What?" Tracey wanted to know.
"Them two," Gordon replied, making a pointing gesture at the ceiling. "They're talking."
"Can you sense it Sapphire?"
Her eyes were tightly closed and her body rigid, standing in the centre of the dining hall where they had first encountered the five humans. Anybody looking on would have had difficulty in telling whether she was even breathing.
"Its just out of reach of my mind," Sapphire replied, her lips barely moving. "I keep getting glimpses of it, lurking in the shadows, but it won't come out. Not yet."
"Can you locate it?" was Steel's next question.
"No. It keeps moving around, trying to stay one step ahead of us."
Steel frowned. "Well it is certainly managing that!"
Sapphire relaxed, her eyes opening just as a blue glow faded from them. "Don't worry Steel, it can't hide for long. Sooner or later it will have to reveal itself."
"It's not the creature I'm worried about," he admitted. "It's them."
She smiled slightly. "Humans are far more resourceful and capable than you give them credit for."
"They give me headache," the responded with a scowl.
"I thought it was only Jet that gave you headache," Sapphire teased. Steel's scowl deepened, as did Sapphire's smile.
"How do you suggest we flush it out?" Steel asked, changing the subject.
"I'm not sure we can," Sapphire admitted. "We may have to wait until it makes its next move."
"Unacceptable," Steel growled. "We need to go on the offensive."
This time he didn't respond, just started pacing the room like a caged tiger waiting to spring on its next meal.
Out in the hallway, the light drifted over the dirty and tattered wallpaper. Occasionally it illuminated a lighter patch, where a picture had once hung.
After a few moments it stopped on one of these patches and in the instant it halted, a picture appeared back in its original position.
It was a black and white photograph of a young man in his late twenties, smartly dressed and obviously posed for the photographer on the front steps of the house. The man was smiling, and he bore an uncanny resemblance to Anthony Sherman.
Having done what it wanted to do for now, the light faded, saving its energy for the next time it would appear.
"What are they talking about?" Gordon whispered.
"I don't know, they're talking too softly," Anthony replied quietly, his ear pressed to the door of the dining hall. "It's almost as if they don't need to talk out loud."
"Don't be ridiculous!" Tracey exclaimed, a little too loudly.
Anthony frowned. "They're not talking at all n..."
The door opened suddenly inwards and the rest of Anthony's statement was cut off as he fell through the opening, landing at Steel's feet.
"If you're all that interested, you had better come in," he said gruffly.
Anthony picked himself up and the five friends sheepishly entered the room. They stood grouped around the picnic tables, most of them looking down, though Tracey and Gordon looked defiant.
"Don't be too hard of them Steel," Sapphire said mildly. "It is just human nature to be curious, especially in these circumstances."
"Human nature," Steel grunted, surveying the young people. "One of the most dangerous commodities in the universe."
Anthony met Steel's gaze, for the first time in hours. "Look, I'm sorry we were eavesdropping, but how do you expect..."
For the second time in a short period, Anthony was interrupted, but this time it was by a wave of light crashing through the room. Everybody snapped back to the positions and clothing they had occupied when time had changed before.
Angie/Mary reeled back from the slap that Gordon/Henry had delivered. Daniel/Vickers moved forward to help her was she fell backwards onto the carpet.
Gordon/Henry glared at the footman. "Leave her!"
"Henry!" Anthony/Clarence exclaimed, getting to his feet. He moved quickly, interposing himself between his friend and the maid. "There really is no need for this."
"Little bitch needs to be taught a lesson," Gordon/Henry argued, trying to get passed Anthony/Clarence. Angie/Mary was being helped to her feet by Daniel/Vickers, in defiance of previous orders. Tracey/Nancy remained meekly at the table, pushing her dinner around her plate with a fork.
Sapphire and Steel were once again outside the action. They stood by the windows, watching the action unfolding.
"Can you sense the creature?" Steel asked.
Sapphire closed her eyes and concentrated. "It's trying to remain hidden from me," she said. "I know its here somewhere. Give me a moment?"
Steel paced, needed an outlet for his frustration. After what seemed an age, but was probably only seconds, Sapphire tensed.
"What is it?"
"I've located it Steel," Sapphire whispered. "It's hiding in the clock."
He glanced across the room at the ornate Grandfather clock beside the door. "Very appropriate," he commented. "Now, can you stop time for me?"
Sapphire opened her eyes. "I should be able to hold everything for a short time," she decided. "What are you planning?"
Briefly outlining his idea, Steel took a moment to check the action in the room. Angie/Mary was running out of the door, Daniel/Vickers in tow. Gordon/Henry and Anthony/Clarence were having a heated discussion, while Tracey/Nancy was doing her best not to be noticed.
"On my word then," Steel suggested.
"I'll be ready," Sapphire confirmed.
Steel moved across the room, avoiding the argument developing between the two friends. He paused before the Grandfather clock.
Everything in the room froze except for Sapphire and Steel. She was barely breathing though, her eyes fixed open and a blue glow pulsing from them.
Steel reached his hands upwards, placing them on the glass covering the clock face. As they made contact, a white light appeared through the dial. It moved forward slowly, as if being drawn outwards. As it moved through the glass, Steel cupped it in his hands and brought it down to the level of his chest. The glow coming off the ball of light almost overwhelmed him.
"I can't hold it back much longer," Sapphire gasped from across the room.
"You must!" Steel exclaimed. The glow was starting to die down as he held onto the light.
Sapphire was now swaying on her feet, the blue of her eyes starting to dim also, back to its normal shade.
"Hold on Sapphire!" he said desperately. "I've almost got it contained!"
But Sapphire couldn't hold on any longer. One hand going automatically to her forehead, she stumbled forward, only remaining on her feet because her other hand caught and held on to the table.
Steel wasn't so lucky. Reinvigorated, the light burst forth. For a moment he disappeared into the white glow, before it fled the room through the ceiling. Steel fell slowly backwards, his body stiff as a board.
The room had returned to normal after the light vanished. Regaining her strength, Sapphire managed to stumble over to where Steel lay on his back, staring at the ceiling.
"Is he alright?" asked Anthony, still looking a little stunned by what had just happened.
Sapphire looked up at him, her expression grim. "I don't know."