It's been an eventful year for Our Heroes and somehow they've learned to live
more comfortably with each other. There
are fewer extra slayers now, but they seem to be nicer people for the
experience. Oh, and wait. Earthquakes in Wessex, and things like
that? Have we seen the last of
those? Surely, it's all over bar the
shouting... Will our trio be able to pack
up their bathing gear and have a relaxing summer holiday? What do you think.
with a start. He'd fallen asleep at his
desk. The ring binder he'd been working
his way through was sticking painfully into his cheek. Too much research, too much terror, not enough
sleep. As he straightened up, wincing at
the stiffness in his spine, a letter on his desk caught his eye. It was the letter from Nadine to her parents. His throat clenched.
something else: something he'd been dreaming.
Something he'd dreamt he was telling Buffy, something about the slayers,
and it was important. He knew it was
important, and he cudgelled his brain to try and remember, but the more he
tried, the more the fragments of memory faded.
It lay there, in his subconscious, like a toad in a stone, and he
couldn't get it out.
in just then, carrying some breakfast on a tray. Orange juice, porridge with cream and honey,
toast and marmalade and, thank the gods, coffee.
"John saw Miss
Faith safely to Heathrow. She's on her
way. She says to send Miss Cali on to
her as soon as things are better here."
in relief. Faith's flying visit had been
welcome, when she'd thought that things here were worse than things there, but
she'd seemed to carry the apocalypse with her.
Things had become so much more...ominous, was perhaps the right word, with
plagues of locusts, earthquakes and bleeding walls, all seemingly centred
around this house. And let's not forget
the tornado that had taken Nadine, just like the one that had taken
Dorothy. He was pretty sure there
wouldn't be an Emerald City for Nadine, though.
The stone yawned, and another toad settled in to a hole. What was it about that particular
thought. Not the one about Dorothy; the
one about plagues and earthquakes and blood and Faith? And what was it that he had dreamt he had
told Buffy, here in his study?
Later. When he could think. Another synapse fired.
thought you and John were leaving. I
distinctly remember saying..."
"Well now, Mr
Giles, you know you can't go making decisions for people. Nothing good ever comes of that. John and I have talked it over, and we're
agreed. Fine friends we should be if we
cut and run now. There's cooking and
cleaning..." She hesitated a moment. "Well, clearing at least, and that's
something I can do for you all while you fight the bigger battles.
"John's had a
good look round, and he says the house is in fine shape. The cracks are just to the rendering. He says there's a few days' work inside, but
it will be good as new."
She rushed on,
as if she didn't want to acknowledge the fact that things might never be fine
"Oh, and the
horses. He says it's plenty warm enough
to leave them in the field now the stable's gone, but he doesn't think it's
safe. So, he's taken them to that livery
stable on the Trowbridge Road. Where
they went when he was in hospital that time.
They know it there."
anxiously at him.
"I hope that
was all right."
He smiled for
her. He knew the owner of the stable,
although not well. Lisa would take care
of his horses.
wonderful, thank you."
She turned to
go, leaving him to his breakfast.
"Martha. Thank you both. Thank you for wanting to stay. But, if you want to leave, please... don't
worry about it, just go."
anywhere else be any safer? At least
things seem to have quietened down a bit, here."
And then she
was gone. But she was right. Things were quieter. For now, at least.
By the time he
got to it, breakfast was largely cold, but he did at least eat it all. Before he did that, he wrote to Nadine's
parents. It was a letter that told a
different truth about the young girl, a truth about her bravery and heart. He wrote to Sarah and Rona's parents, too.
leaned back in his chair, sighing in frustration. Soft paws landed on his lap, pulling him from
his abstraction. Zillah rubbed the side
of her face vigorously against his stubble, marking him as property. He had to smile. Ella had asked him to care for her cat for a
few days. She was spending all her time
with the Coven on something deep and dark and mysterious, but which he
desperately hoped was connected to the problems he faced. He'd asked her about it, outright, and for
the first time in their relationship, she had refused to answer. She hadn't just been evasive. She had simply refused, wrapped in all her
Celtic dignity. To his surprise, he had
left it there, just as she had left the cat.
He ran his
hands down Zillah's sleek sides. She was
jet black and finely boned. Svelte, that
was the word. Just like her owner. She looked the perfect familiar for a witch,
and he might well have indulged a fancy that she had been conjured up for that
very purpose if he hadn't been at the local Cats' Protection Shelter when Ella
came in to choose a new cat. She had
been instantly taken by a litter of kittens, all as black as night, and Giles
had been instantly taken with the svelte redhead with eyes as green as the
cat's. He knew the Coven, of course, but
he hadn't known this latest member, hadn't recognised her as a witch to start
with, a witch come to take the place of Esme, who had finally allowed herself
to descend into old age and then death.
It was almost as if the Coven had deliberately kept her from him,
although in fairness he'd been away for all those years with Buffy.
Ella had had
trouble persuading herself not to take the whole litter of kittens, such was
her compassion, and he had surreptitiously watched her debating with herself
until the lady running the shelter had told her that other families were coming
for the remaining babies. They would all
be gone by the next day.
And so Zillah
had been picked out, and so had Giles.
An older, ginger tom had stared at him until he could almost hear the
cat speak. Although, ‘ginger' didn't
begin to describe this cat: neither did ‘marmalade', another common name for
this colour. This cat was burnt marmalade,
if he was marmalade at all. His coat was
patterned in a deep, figured silk sort of pattern, in shades of mahogany, his
eyes as amber as a vampire's. Zillah had
gone home with Ella, and Aristotle had gone home with Giles. Silly name, really, now always shortened to
Ari, but it had seemed appropriate at the time.
Ari had picked
him out, and so had Ella. He was
profoundly grateful for that. At the
time, he'd only been back from California for a few weeks, and the
companionship of a cat had been a comfort.
The companionship of Ella had been something else entirely. And he wanted it to become something else,
something more. He hadn't told them yet,
but he was putting together plans for the slayers, plans that would station
them around the world and out of his home.
He was almost ready to talk about it to his old friend Benny, the new
head of what was left of the Watcher's Council, to find suitable candidates for
Watchers for them. They would be
happier, doing what they were born to do, mistresses of their own territory. Now that he had given Buffy and Angel the
full time occupancy of his flat in Bath, for as long as they chose to stay, his
own home would be a lot quieter. Quiet
enough, perhaps, to invite a bride to share it.
That was for
the future, though. This was now. Zillah was being kept indoors, so that she would
not run home, and with all the slayers coming and going, and leaving doors
open, the safest place was the study.
Ari, currently exiled to the rest of the house and the demesne, was not
at all pleased by this, and met everyone with a hiss and a flash of fangs. Giles strongly suspected that he was the one
being punished, not Zillah. On their
only meeting, although Ari had growled, Giles had seen him eye up the slinky
and beautiful newcomer. Neutered he
might be, but he'd still got an eye for the ladies.
cares, Giles smiled again. That little
scene had so forcibly reminded him of Angel and Buffy, before they had learned
that the Coven had cured him of the happiness clause. Unneutered him, so to speak, but in the
broadest sense. Silly, really.
back again to bringing the cat home from the shelter in Bath. That seemed so long ago, before all of this
had started. He'd had a few surviving
Sunnydale slayers - and Andrew - to house, and that had been all. Strange what could change in two years.
slayers had been found, activated thanks to Willow's spell, before the Coven
had had time to step in and stop the propagation of the magic, although he'd
never known exactly why they'd done that.
He just knew that they disapproved of what Willow had done. But one thing of which he was as sure as he
could be was that all the activated slayers left alive by the First were here;
now, only Faith was watching the Hellmouth in Cleveland. He thought about Faith, as he had seen her
yesterday. She'd looked a little like
Buffy, tired beyond belief. He'd worried
about letting her go back alone, but with all the events centred around
Westbury, he'd not felt able to spare any of the younger girls just yet, and
she had insisted on leaving Cali, to help.
Still, there seemed to be a lull just now (the lull before the storm,
said one of the toads in his mind). Perhaps he could think about sending one or
two. Pre-empt his bigger plans. His mind drifted back to Sunnydale.
At the end of
the Sunnydale nightmare, Buffy had promised to show Dawn the world, and so they
had gone travelling, finishing up in Rome.
He'd sent Andrew with them, partly to get the pompous ass out of his
hair, and partly because two women travelling alone, even if one of them was
The Slayer, the original slayer, was never a good idea even in the modern
Kennedy had also gone travelling, but much further. Having exhausted some of this world's wildest
places, they'd gone visiting places that were wilder still. Other dimensions. He'd no idea where, and he was starting to
worry. There were more imminent things
to worry about just now, though, and so he put Willow and Kennedy out of his
mind. For the moment.
Giles out from time to time, helping find and bring back the new slayers, for
instance, but Giles was happy to keep it at a distance. Especially since... since Angel's return from
final death, which had proved not to be so final after all. The phone calls from Connor had brought Giles
and Buffy to Los Angeles to find the resurrected vampire - and who knew now
whether Connor was alive or dead, whether he'd given himself up to death to
bring his father back? When all this was
over, Giles would quiz the Coven more carefully on that. Connor didn't want to be found, if he lived,
but Giles would be happier if he knew, and he suspected the Coven knew
irritation wasn't the reason for keeping Andrew in Rome, though. Andrew was there to keep an eye on Dawn, now
a boarding pupil at the English School.
Wherever it was decided her education should finish, Andrew would
follow. Dawn, Key to the dimensions made
flesh, would never be entirely safe. And
Buffy wasn't there to guard her. Buffy
was here. She'd stayed to help bring
Angel back from wherever his resurrection had left him - and Angel would never
talk about that - and then she'd just stayed.
They were a
couple, here, and they were his muscle, in an ever-dangerous world. All three of them had been left with issues
in their dealings with each other after the Sunnydale years, but these last
months had seen them manage to put those behind them, to learn to work together
again, to trust each other again. The
wounds were scabbed over now, and he hoped the scars wouldn't be too deep. Buffy no longer treated him as the absent
father that she had missed so much, but rather as an ageing family friend. That was probably appropriate, but he regretted
it, and still thought of her as his daughter.
He'd never stop. Just as Angel
would never stop loving her, and Giles would never stop seeing Jenny dead on
his bed. But, that memory no longer had
quite the same power over him, as he watched Angel struggle with the demon
within, opening himself up time and time again to maiming and death, or worse,
to protect those who couldn't protect themselves. And bringing with him a wisdom born of long
experience and bitter pain.
thoughts of those two, of Buffy and Angel, that finally broke him from his
reverie; those thoughts, and the sharp jab of claws from the cat on his knee,
as she circled to make a comfortable space before lying down.
Buffy was ill,
Giles had no doubts about that. Not ill
in a let's-go-to-the-doctor sort of way.
Ill in a much more serious way, in a way that made him very afraid. Some of the young slayers had died, here in
his care, and although he knew that it was part of the natural order of
slayers, it still hurt him deeply. It
hurt Buffy even more, though. Looking
back, he could see that each time a slayer had died, Buffy had been brought to
her knees. And each time was worse. The last had been Sarah and Rona, and who
knew what had happened to Nadine? He'd
told her parents she was dead, because that had seemed best. But he wasn't certain. Dead as could be, though, were Lucy, who had
been the first, then Hoshi, then Vi and Sadie.
been able to say much about what had happened in the woods with Sarah and Rona,
because she'd been senseless much of the time.
Angel had been loath to talk about the battle down in the sinkhole, but
Giles had been insistent. When an
anthropophagus bit Vi's head off, Buffy had screamed in agony and then fallen
to the ground unconscious, an even worse manifestation than had happened when
Lucy and Hoshi had died. She'd still
been unconscious when Sadie had died.
When Sadie had been drained.
No, that was
unfair. It was bad enough that Angel was
still beating himself up over that. He'd
been helpless, gutted by a fallen stalactite.
Sadie had been as good as dead.
All the anthropophagi weren't yet dealt with, and Sadie, with a courage
beyond her years, had offered him her blood to give him strength to save
whoever he could. Angel had said he'd
only taken enough to get him sufficiently mobile to save the girls, hoping
against his own knowledge and expectation to get her back to the surface,
alive, with Buffy; trying to take only blood that was already pouring from
ruptured arteries into her own body; but no-one recovers from being crushed by
a boulder that size. He'd known that,
and Sadie had known that.
Now, Buffy was
on her feet, but that was about all you could say. It wasn't far off all you could say about
Angel, either. Both of them were
damaged, physically and mentally, and needed a respite. Giles doubted they would get it. He looked at the reams of notes on his
desk. He was starting to get a
picture. He didn't like it.
He left his
study, carefully holding Zillah back with his foot as he closed the door behind
him. Coffee, that was the thing. He'd review what he'd seen in that picture
after he'd made coffee. Tea didn't seem
to have quite the zing he needed just now.
He'd prefer a few glasses of a good single malt under his belt, but he
desperately needed to remain sober. The
picture was bad enough as it was, without any alcohol-induced fancies.
It was late,
gone midnight, and he expected to be alone.
He wasn't, though. Buffy and
Angel were in the kitchen. She was paler
than the vampire was. As he watched from
the hall, before they noticed him, he saw a tiny trickle of blood at the corner
of Buffy's mouth. Angel bent over and
kissed her briefly. When he lifted his
head, the blood was gone. She would
never know it had been there.
was in his brain like a stoat in a henhouse, before he had time to censor
it. So was the notion that Angel might
like having a weakened Slayer, with tidbits of Slayer blood to snack on. Then Angel turned towards him. By the time he
had turned, that handsome face was bland and controlled. Just for an instant, though, out of Buffy's
gaze, the expression had been one of such anguish and pain that the
uncharitable, uncensored thoughts were driven out.
"I... I, erm,
came for a cup of coffee. Do you want
her head, but whether it was a negative gesture, or simply to clear her
thoughts, Giles wasn't sure.
thanks. I'm going to bed. We just came back from the White Hart."
"You've been drinking?"
Giles! We've been debugging."
forgotten. The owner of the local pub,
the White Hart, had asked weeks ago for help with some strange
manifestations. What with one thing and
another, he'd put it to one side and then he'd forgotten about it.
you sure you should have been out slaying...?"
Giles. It wasn't physical. It was an exorcism. Angel debugged, Nureen and Elaine looked
menacing, just in case it got physical, and I sat with the landlady, drinking
tea. No alcohol or slaying involved."
his confirmation, but his smile was tight and hard. With a word of goodnight, Buffy got up from
the table, and Angel made to follow.
"Um, Angel, if
you have a minute, I'd just like your opinion on something..."
at Buffy uncertainly, and she gave him a tired smile and a hug.
"Go. I can get across the courtyard all by
myself. I'll see you later."
Then she was
gone, off to the garage flat that was still reserved for their use. Giles made coffee for two, and led the way
back to his study. Because Giles had his
hands full, it was Angel who caught the would-be runaway cat. He seemed unwilling to put her down again,
and she seemed content to stay in his arms.
Giles fussed around finding a coaster for Angel's coffee, as a cover
while he tried to formulate his question.
In the end, he settled for the direct route.
into his chair before he answered, allowing the cat to curl up against his
good. She... she tries to hide it from me,
but she's weak and disoriented, and in a lot of pain. She has headaches, and perhaps other hurts as
back to those final minutes with Sadie before he continued, and Giles didn't
interrupt him. He knew that the guilt
and shame that he felt were unnecessary - the brave young girl had done the
practical thing, when all other hope was gone.
He still felt them, though. But,
he also remembered her look when she was beyond words. Companions at arms, that was how she'd
thought of him, at the end. Not as a
vampire, despite the fact that he was drinking from her, and that gave him
comfort. His thoughts flew back to
Buffy, and there was little enough comfort to be found there.
don't quite understand it, but whatever has happened to her is related to the
deaths of the slayers."
down at the mug almost burning his hands.
"I know. I don't understand it either, but it *is*
He put the mug
down, and gestured to the mass of papers on his desk. As he did so, the house shuddered. Britain suffers from many earthquakes each
year, all of them small and insignificant and rarely felt, almost always no
more than the tremor when a heavily laden vehicle passes by. However, there had been two serious
earthquakes in Wessex in the last week, following the one in which Sadie had
died. They weren't just aftershocks,
they were getting more serious. The hot
springs in Bath, tamed and venerated over thousands of years for their healing
properties, were now the boiling sulphur springs, heated and despoiled, and
made lethal by growing volcanic activity.
And it wasn't just in Wessex. As
the ground shook, the house creaked, but stood.
The two men heard voices upstairs.
The slayers were awake.
"You check on
them, I'll go see to Buffy."
back when you've seen her. I want to
talk this through with you."
damage had been to crockery and the roof.
When Angel returned to Giles, he reported that there were a few fallen
slates. He would fix the gaps before
retiring for the day, make sure the rain didn't get in. Giles smiled tiredly.
" ‘April is
the cruellest month...'?"
Eliot. There's a man who knew what he
was talking about."
Giles ran his
hand through his hair.
"I wish I
did. But look at this, Angel. I've compared all the incidents we've had
since you and Buffy came here..."
As he said the
words, another toad slid into the stone that seemed to be his brain, and he
almost missed what Angel said. Buffy and
Angel. Here. Buffy, Angel and Faith. Here.
any before?" Angel interrupted.
incidents," Angel prodded, patiently. He
could see that Giles had been distracted for a moment.
things that you expect to see. A few
ghosties and ghoulies and even the odd long-legged beastie - the sort of thing
that I expect will keep the agency running.
Something has changed, I think."
mouth gaped open, as if it were trying to force out words. He almost didn't hear Angel's question.
possibility, but let me show you."
through his papers, and started to talk Angel through them.
here, with the Chalice Well at Glastonbury.
I had a phone call that there were strange things in the water, if you
remember, and almost instantly, the Nanteos Cup, thought by some to be the Holy
Grail, disappeared, and you had to retrieve it."
for a moment, his expression reflective.
suppose you'd like to tell me..."
remembered the feel of it in his hand.
the real thing? No, Giles, best not."
you're right, of course. Anyway, those
two events are linked because both are to do with Arthurian legend. Arthur's knights are said to have sought for
the Grail, although only Galahad was pure enough to find it; and some say that
it was placed in the Chalice Well. It's
all so wrapped up in myth that if there were any truth in any of it, it's lost
now. The point, though, is that as soon
as a problem was known amongst us, a linked problem arose."
through some of Giles' notes.
half a dozen incidents like that."
"Yes. I didn't see the pattern at first, but it's
there. And then there's Buffy. Every time a slayer dies, she gets some sort
of agonised concussion, which proves to be more debilitating each time."
there's a connection?"
"Yes. It could be several things, but I wonder if
one of the girls is psychic in some way; they are all adolescents, and that can
result in psychic disturbances. If one
of them is susceptible, perhaps their subconscious brings things about."
his lip doubtfully.
"I don't know,
Giles... You think someone magicked up the
demon to steal the Cup because they heard about the problems at the Well? That's a pretty tall order."
was the other way around? If someone was
sensitive to what was happening at Nanteos, perhaps sensitive to a summons from
Brother Simeon, maybe the manifestations at the Well were the product of that
looked sceptical, but Giles pressed on.
"If we have a
psychic who is upset by the death of a sister slayer, perhaps she lashes out
mentally, and that's why Buffy is ill."
"I... I don't
think so, Giles. She'd be recovering
better, if that were it, surely? And
besides, why wouldn't the others feel it?
Why only Buffy?"
think it's only Buffy. You saw Faith,
when she was here? She's starting to
look ill, too."
in silence. Giles pressed on. The toad peered out of its stone.
"Things got a
lot worse when Faith arrived. It was all
around here, nowhere else. The lost
legion on the march; blood running from the walls; plagues of locusts;
supernatural tornadoes. All things that
a young girl, like one of the slayers, might conjure up if they wanted to
frighten people away. Things that a
slayer can't affect."
that one of the girls just wants to go home, and is powerful enough to bring
things about that look as if they are things for exorcism, rather than
slaying? Wouldn't Ella have noticed
someone that powerful?"
his head, and this time it was Angel's turn to press on.
"When I drank
from Sadie, I..., well...I've... drunk from..."
words trailed off into silence as he turned away, abashed.
Angel, if you have something to say, just say it. I've read whatever the Watchers had about
you. There was never any proof that
Angelus had killed a slayer, but there were strong suspicions that he was
involved in the death of several. That
wasn't you: not the you that you are now.
So, we need your unique experience.
Just say it."
reflected on what Giles would think if he'd seen the thirty-five filing
cabinets full of information on him that Wolfram and Hart had had. He tried not to reflect on the differences -
or lack of them - between himself and Angelus.
There was no time for that now.
from a number of slayers, and each one is different. But with Sadie, there was something about her
blood, something about the power of it.
It wasn't like Buffy's..."
He trailed off
again, remembering who he was talking to, but Giles just nodded encouragingly
for him to continue.
"It felt like
a living thing, trying to escape, twisting away from me."
"No. I didn't have chance to think much about it
before - I was too badly hurt to do more than be grateful for the strength, but
it was strange, and I don't understand it."
pretend to misunderstand.
strange. As if something has sunk its
claws into her." He paused, then added,
defensively, "I haven't taken any blood from her while she's ill, just...just if
she's bleeding anywhere, I... I check her out..."
"I know. I saw you in the kitchen. It's good that you check."
Angel shifted in his chair a little, and Zillah objected. She stretched out a paw, her claws going
through the thin material of his shirt.
He gave a sharp hiss of pain.
"Let me see."
"Let me see."
He looked over
the top of his glasses, and even all these years later, Angel was forcibly
reminded of a certain disapproving schoolmaster. Obediently, he unbuttoned his shirt. It was Giles' turn to give a sharp hiss. The entire front of his belly was a red and
ragged scar. Giles didn't need to look
to know that there would be a similar scar on his back. The miracle was that his spine had stayed
have healed by now?"
over. Another couple of days and it will
be healed. I wish I could say the same
his shirt back up again, wondering at this new ease with Giles, and the two men
turned their attention back to the papers spread on the desk in front of them,
trying out different solutions to the puzzle they had been set. Once or twice, they got up to make more
coffee, and once they stopped to look at the ever-brightening aurora from the
study's north-facing window. Colours lit
up the sky, shifting curtains of blue and red and green, the dance of a solar
storm that had lasted for weeks now, but had never been as bright as this.
"Do you often
get northern lights like that?"
Angel. Never this far south, and never
as bright as that in this country. I'm
not sure I've ever heard of them being as bright as this anywhere."
Giles added it
to the notes, and they talked on.
the other people who must have been watching the display in the sky, two of
them were witches. Hilda and Ella were
taking a brief rest. Even witches working
the most powerful magicks needed to rest sometimes. The Coven were taking it in turn, two by two,
but it had been a long time since any of them had snatched more than a catnap
of sleep, or a quick bite or two of sandwich.
As they watched, the aurora shimmered and danced, and then, all at once,
seemed to spread itself on the moonlight to cover the whole sky. The moon, the stars, they might as well have
been gone, because they could no longer be seen from Earth; there were just the
dancing curtains of cold light.
"They must be
told. It's time - almost past time,
that her words had drifted unheard into those streamers of light, as Hilda
continued to watch, saying nothing. Then
the older witch nodded.
"Yes. You're right.
But not everything."
anger surge through her. She had done as
instructed. She knew that she had upset
Giles by refusing to talk about the thing uppermost in his mind, but she had
understood why Hilda had made that decision.
Time - and their strength - were running out, now.
everything? They deserve to know."
deserve are two different things, Ella.
We have so far left them free to concentrate on dealing with the
fallout, and they have done that better than anyone else could. They have not been dragged down by other
fears and other knowledge, by the things that we have taken responsibility
and turned away from the deadly beauty of the night sky.
"Come and sit
a moment, Ella. We can't stay away much
longer, but I'm feeling tired tonight."
They sat at
Mildred's kitchen table, a heavy piece of comforting, homely, elderly and
well-scrubbed pine. Hilda poured another
cup of tea for them both.
"I've been too
long away from young people, and I handled Willow badly. I should have been able to stop her from
spreading the Slayer magic. Having
failed there, we... I ... should have been able to stop her from casting the spell,
or stopped the magic from propagating, should have acted more quickly."
Ella cut in to
are thirteen of us. The responsibility
lies with all of us."
her hand affectionately.
"You're a good
girl. But I know where the fault
lies. If we cannot find a way to reverse
Willow's spell, or if we cannot find Willow herself, then I suppose it won't
matter much. I shall spend some time
today contacting other magic users, or even people who know about magic. They can all contribute strength if not
expertise. I'll start with the
"I suppose she
must already know something - she's not slow on the uptake, is she? Will she help?"
"Ella, when I
talk to her, I very much doubt that I could beat her away with a stick. I'm going to have a busy time - there are a
lot of groups, and I must find as many as I can who will help. Now, go to Rupert, and tell him some of
it. As for the rest, the part that we
must deal with, none of them can do anything about it, and knowing the worst
will not help them to accomplish anything.
It will merely interfere with what they could otherwise achieve. They don't need to be pulled down by that
particular dread. Give them a problem
that they might be able to solve, even if we have failed. Do you agree?"
silently, because it was true - Rupert and the others could do nothing against
the enemy that the Coven faced - and they talked then of what could be told,
and what must remain unsaid. When they
had finished their talk and finished their tea, Ella stood to go. Just then came a judder, not of the earth but
of the mind. Both witches paled a
little. It was Hilda who broke the
"Quickly! Rupert must wait a little while. There's been a breach. Something has come through."
They ran back
to their sister witches, and took their place in the circle, knitting back up
the rent in the walls of this dimension, keeping back the creatures from that
outer darkness. Except, of course, for
the ones that had already come through.
happened long after the newspapers had gone to press, but the morning news
programmes had some reports, buried among the also-ran items at the end. Some dangerous creatures seemed to be on the
loose. There were already reports of
casualties. Do not approach.
Angel and Giles still in the study.
Neither of the windows faced east, so the vampire was safe there. Safe he might be, but both men looked
exhausted. Silently, she went off to the
breakfast room, where the first meal of the day was in full swing, and brought
back more coffee for them. They were
listening to the radio.
like some sort of incursion."
Giles, trying to look scientific, but barely able to conceal his fear.
"Yeah. I'm out of it until sunset, but I think it
too tired to find the right words.
whatever's happening is fairly local.
Giles can take some of the girls to check it out. If I'm going to be effective tonight, I need
to get a few hours sleep, at least, and it needs someone here to listen to the
reports and arrange for the rest of the girls to check out any new ones. The best person for that is you. Sometimes, leaders need to stay in overall
control rather than in the front line."
And so it was
arranged. There was a buzz of
apprehension among the girls, remembering the fate of their friends, but to the
young, even a week is a long time. So,
there was also a buzz of excitement at the prospect of some action - of getting
their own back - of at least getting out and seeing something other than this
house, and in their enthusiasm, they had to be reminded that daylight slaying
was perhaps better done with discreet weapons rather than large axes.
selected band had left, there were no new incursions, and Angel felt able to
snatch a little sleep by mid-afternoon.
Cali shyly suggested that he take Sadie's bed in the smaller
bedroom. The windows there faced east. He would be safe for the afternoon. Everyone else continued to monitor radio and
The four girls
who had gone with Giles were full of it when they came back. The strangest creatures, like no demons they
had ever seen before, either in the flesh or on paper. Giles looked grim. Elaine had a stab wound through the ribs,
where an appendage - there was no better word - had caught her. She had seen a creature go for Nureen's
unguarded side, and had put herself between the younger girl and what would
have been a killing blow. Buffy had to
smile as she watched the wound being dressed.
If anything happened to herself and Faith, this girl would be the
There was a
great deal of chatter over dinner, speculation about the creatures that had
been faced and slain, about what they might be and where they might have come
from. They'd been... thin... slender to the
point of emaciation, but very strong; not constructed along any of the body
lines currently indigenous to Earth; no bilateral symmetry, not even five-point
symmetry like a starfish. There were
some with more arms than teeth, and some with more teeth than you wanted to
shake a stick at. Not all of those teeth
had been in the mouth. Or mouths. And they had been very, very hard to
So, over the
navarin of lamb with minted new potatoes and buttered carrots, followed by a
pink and gold rhubarb crumble with custard, the slayers who had faced these
demons passed on their information to those who had stayed behind. Whilst everyone else ate, Angel drew. He sketched what they described, and the
results made everyone else sombre. When
the girls carried off the washing up, Giles took Buffy and Angel back into his
"I don't think
these were from any of the normal dimensions..."
Rupert. They weren't. And I have something for you."
Ella stood in
the doorway, grey with fatigue. Angel
recognised something else.
"When did you
She waved away
the question, which gave him the answer he needed. In moments, he was back with a small bowl of
stew, hot from the microwave, and the last remnants of pudding. Giles stood holding the open envelope that
Ella had brought with her. From the size
and the creases, there had originally been more in the envelope. He could see that it was addressed to Hilda, an
this is all the food that's left..."
She took the
sent us some information from whatever records the Watchers have left. They haven't got much, and most of what she
sent was things that you already know.
But there are a few pages in there that should be useful. We knew most of it, and so do you, but we've
put what Benny has, and what we had, together.
It isn't encouraging reading."
She took a
spoonful of stew and ate as she talked of what they now knew, together. She talked of the magic that had created the
line of Slayers, and the compromises that had had to be reached. The magic used had been the magic of men, and
it had conflicted with the magic of Earth, the magic of women. Only one Slayer at a time could be allowed,
then, or the forces that operated within the Earth would be disrupted. Then Buffy had died - the first time - and
there were two Slayers. The Earth had
shuddered, magically speaking, but, almost miraculously, an accommodation had
"When you were
in Sunnydale, did you never wonder why there was so much supernatural activity
- far more than had been seen for centuries - all at once?"
It was Giles
"I... I assumed
it was the Hellmouth, and the approaching millennium."
Ella put down
the empty bowl and, licking the spoon clean, turned her attention to the
rhubarb crumble, one of Martha's specialities that was much enjoyed by the
yes. But it continued, and got
worse. Earth had two slayers, and it
gave her indigestion. Then, the Powers
roped Angel in as well, another Champion for humanity. There was no extra magic there - Angel has
his own magic - but the supernatural balance slid even further out of
true. You won't forget that we had a
series of apocalypses such as most Slayers never have to worry about? And possibly even the real, prophesied
Apocalypse, at the end, for Angel? So
long as there are two chosen Slayers and another designated Champion, then you
can certainly expect enough normal paranormal activity to keep the agency in
business in perpetuity."
questioned her use of the word ‘normal'.
They knew exactly what she meant.
She chose her next words carefully.
She knew how the additional slayers had been created. No sense in upsetting Buffy more than
necessary. What was done was done, and
what was needed now was a solution, not recriminations.
of the extra slayers has put too much strain on what's left of the
balance. The magical conflict is too
great. They need to be unmade, and as
quickly as possible."
The stone in
Giles' mind gaped open, and the toad hopped out. The magic of the slayers. Of course.
So slow. He'd been so slow. How many might have been saved if only he'd
Ella put the
second bowl down on top of the first.
That was more than she'd eaten for days.
the question before Giles could.
what is the relationship between the death of one of the young slayers, and the
effect it has on Buffy?"
"We think that
Willow knew that she shouldn't carry out the spell - Hilda had said no - and so
she seems to have put in a piece of magic that, on death, transfers the power
to the nearest properly chosen Slayer.
Buffy or Faith. Returning
everything to status quo, perhaps. What
she seems not to have understood was that she wasn't dividing your powers,
Buffy - that would have produced a lot of very weak slayers, but would not have
affected the Earth's balance more than the existence of two Slayers had
done. She multiplied it. As the First killed off the newly created
slayers, the power that created them will have reverted to Buffy, or Faith,
whoever was closest. There's a price for
that magic, though. After all the deaths
in Sunnydale, both chosen Slayers were probably at saturation point for how
much they could absorb. Now, it's too
whether she should say how much too much.
That more would kill Buffy, who had taken a far greater share of this
raw magic over the last months than Faith, who had been safe in Cleveland for
most of the time; but what good would it do?
There would be breaches in the dimensional walls before all this was
over, and the slayers were needed to protect humanity from what came
through. They would protect each other
as well as they could, and the three around her now would protect them to the
utmost. They would let none die where
the death could be prevented. Hilda was
right. They would only be paralysed if
they knew all of it.
critters last night - were they caused by all this?"
Ella nodded at
Buffy. She'd watched the Slayer shrink
into herself slightly as the truth of her mistakes had hit her, and then she'd
watched her pull herself together again.
Careful now, she thought. Only as
much of the truth as suffices... There's
no need to tell them of the really huge thing out there, the creature
that was the size of a solar system, perhaps, if there were solar systems in
the dimension it inhabited, and wasn't a creature at all in anyway that any
human could understand. Some entity
drawn here to feed on the power released by a planet in self-destruct
mode. Something occupying most of the
power and time that the Coven had at their disposal. Something with a particular taste for the
tangy magic of the slayers.
"The walls of
the dimensions are fraying. I don't mean
the Hell dimensions - they are really associated with the Earth - Earth's alter
egos, if you like. Matter exists in much
the same state across all of them. There
are small differences - in some of them I hear that you can go out in the sun,
Angel. No, I mean the dimensions beyond
that, where things get really freaky.
well as trying to reverse Willow's spell, the Coven has to try and keep the
dimensional walls from collapsing, and that is getting harder. We cannot do both as well as we need to. You can't deal with keeping the walls intact,
so we need help with the other."
down his anger that he hadn't been told before, that he hadn't been astute
enough to see for himself before; that he'd asked her what was happening, and
she had refused to say. There would be
time enough for anger and recrimination later.
He couldn't stop himself from asking the question, though.
didn't you tell me this earlier, when I asked you?"
She looked sad.
that we could deal with it. But,
Willow's magic is unique to her, and unlike many witches, she doesn't need any
aids. No spell books, no crystals to
store the spell. We can't find a way
into it, and we can't find her. We hoped
that if we could bring her back here, perhaps she would be able to undo it, but
wherever she is, we can't find her."
She looked up
at Giles, who was now pacing along the length of the room.
witches suffer from hubris, too, you know.
We really thought we could deal with the magical side, if you would deal
with the fallout, as you have."
helped him, but not much.
"You want us
to start researching ways of taking back the slayer power?"
"Yes. I have put into the envelope, with Benny's
notes, a record of all the things that we have tried."
"And you want
us to keep on dealing with the added extra demons?"
"Yes. We have managed to keep the worst localized
to Wessex. But, if we are to keep the
outer boundaries intact, we may not have the ability to always keep the inner
ones solid. That means that there may be
demons coming through from the Hell dimensions from time to time, but we hope
there won't be any more of last night's horrors. We mended the rift before more than a handful
got through, but there are... many..."
into silence as she remembered the pressure on the rift, the sheer weight of
them, trying to press forward into new and fertile hunting grounds. The terror they had all felt at the touch of
those cold, inhuman intelligences. And
at the sheer power of the thing with which those creatures travelled, like
small fish around a shark: the thing that was clawing at the wall to feed on
the Earth's magical fallout, reaching for the power of the slayers like a honey
badger ripping into a nest of bees.
And so it was
agreed. They would each use their own
methods of research, trying to find a way to make the slayers into ordinary
human girls once more, to undo what Willow had done. As well as trying to soothe the Earth's
hurts, to save as many lives as they could, the Coven would shore up the
dimensional walls, and the slayers would take whatever forced its way
through. And they would all pray that
the Earth's paroxysms didn't kill too many people in the meantime.
They all knew
that a reckoning was coming: that Giles was angry at being excluded from this
information before, and that Angel and Buffy echoed that anger. Personal issues would wait until the
aftermath, though. There was no time for
When Giles and
Angel and Buffy gave the young slayers a severely edited version of what they
had learned that night, there were mixed feelings. They had pined for a normal life, and yet
here they had found companionship beyond any they could normally have expected;
and they had found a purpose. And now
they had guilt that the Earth was trying to be rid of them, even though the
fault had not been their own.
None of them
felt as guilty as Buffy, though, but she said nothing. There would be time for that later. If there was a later.
into May, almost unnoticed. Giles had
taken out a contract with a local car hire company. There were enough rented cars to allow groups
of slayers to operate independently.
They were busy every night, thanking their lucky stars that all they had
to deal with were common demons from the Hell dimensions. No matter how bad they were, they weren't as
bad as the others.
slayers had died in the course of their duty, for which Angel thanked his lucky
stars. Buffy was no better, but neither
was she worse. Ella came round
occasionally and they all compared progress.
There was none.
becoming frightened. The aurora filled
the sky each night, a harbinger of doom.
Each night's news broadcasts included ever-greater loss of life from
what, up until now, had only ever been natural disasters. Floods, and earthquakes of unprecedented
severity. Rivers running red. Plagues of things. Doomsayers walked the streets of cities and
towns, their sandwich boards demanding that everyone repent, for the end was
pretty damn well nigh.
twenty hours a day researching, begrudging every second spent in eating and
sleeping. He had combed through every
resource at his disposal, and had consulted with everyone he knew who might
have more. As the days went by, he found
himself more isolated, as increasingly he found himself unable to make contact
with others. Even the remnant of Jenny's
techno-pagan group went silent. He knew
that some of his contacts were helping the Coven, but he wondered if that were
the only explanation. The Watchers, such
as remained after the First, had not answered to him at all.
Buffy did everything they could. Angel
divided his time between helping the slayers and helping Giles, pooling his own
wide store of knowledge. Buffy trawled
through the news, and co-ordinated the slayers in their work. On this night, they had all met together for
one of Martha's dinners - she cooked every night for them now, making sure they
had at least one good meal a day, ‘to keep their strength up', she would remind
them. They always ate with the
television turned on to News 24.
made a huge salmon and prawn pie, topped with mashed potato crusted with
breadcrumbs and cheese. Dishes of sweet
corn, mushrooms and French beans filled the centre of the table. The scents of apple and cinnamon pie with
local creamy vanilla ice cream held the promise of afters. They never got as far as desert, though. Breaking news showed Salisbury Plain. Something was stalking the Plain,
something that walked straight through Stonehenge, as they watched,
appalled. Not around it, not between the
uprights. Through it. A journalist just happened to be visiting on
a family holiday. He'd grabbed some
quick footage of the beast, and then got his family the hell out of Dodge
before phoning his network with the pictures.
This wasn't quite live, but it was something that had happened perhaps
half an hour ago.
No one needed
to say anything. The slayers started
grabbing weapons and car keys. Angel
also grabbed a blanket. Sunset wouldn't
be until about 8.30. It should be dark
when they got there, but it wasn't dark now.
Giles brought his car as near to the door as he could, and opened the
back door to allow Angel clear passage.
Then they were off.
The Coven were
exhausted, and they knew it. Their
circle had been ripped apart, and must be reconstituted as quickly as
possible. Whatever was clawing at the
dimensional walls now had a toehold. Not
even as much as that, perhaps, but it would be only the start. Hilda and Ella, the two most powerful
witches, helped their fallen sisters, ashen from fatigue and shock.
was back in the circle, Hilda, with great deliberation, took Gladys's
hand. Ella's place had been between
must stop the slayers from getting near it.
And then, you must do what you can from outside the circle."
"I can't leave
must. You know what has to happen
now. We all know. We've all seen. Have you?"
She knew what
Hilda meant. The older woman smiled at
her, a tired smile, but one that would never know defeat.
child, you have more power than most of us put together, although you won't let
yourself understand that. You must
survive. You must at all costs be the
one to survive, to carry on and build a new Coven. Go and live your life with Rupert, and carry
on our work. This won't be the last
terror that they face. But go. Now!"
Ella rose to
her feet. She understood very well what
Hilda was saying. But she wasn't done
"If I have so
much power, you will need some of it."
her head in acknowledgement, then took what she needed.
covered the twenty miles or so as quickly as possible, although they were
hampered by the thrill seekers. These
were the rubber-neckers at accidents, the women who had knitted at the foot of
Madame Guillotine, the people who would dance and hold up welcome signs to
ET. Well, guess what. ET was alive and kicking. And here.
ET was also on
the move. It was following the southern
line of the Army's training estate back towards Warminster. Or back towards Westbury. Damn.
They found it north-west of Chitterne, off the B390, in the middle of
nowhere. For the moment, they were alone
with it, but it couldn't be long before Army helicopters, and the world and his
wife caught up with them. They'd got
there so quickly that the sun wasn't quite down yet, and Angel was forced to
stay in the car, sheltered by the blanket, which didn't obscure as much of his
view as he could have wished.
It had reared
up against the setting sun, which was sinking in an entirely appropriate sea of
fire. Or blood. What did they say? ‘Red sky at night, shepherd's delight'? Not many shepherds were going to be delighted
with this. The first strands of colour
from the ever-brightening aurora were starting to dance in the dusky sky.
see the head. Not because it was too
high in the sky, although it was, but because he couldn't recognise anything as
a head. Most things died when you hacked
the head off, so it was good to pay attention to that. It looked like a scaffold, but created by
someone who had only ever heard of scaffolds, who might know vaguely of their
macabre use, but who had never seen one.
Nevertheless, they'd designed a scaffold big enough for a lot of
executions to be carried out in new and interesting ways. There were legs. Maybe they were legs. Everything else was just attached
pieces. Which bit did you cut off to
kill it? He'd no idea. Neither had Giles, or Buffy, or the slayers,
but the girls went bravely into battle anyway.
Giles made Buffy stay a little back, to keep an overview, to watch for
the killing spot. She understood that,
and stayed, even if reluctantly.
Nureen was the
first to strike out at it. Her sword
went straight through, without any apparent effect. Elaine followed, striking at the same place,
with the same result. It was as if it
were there, and not there. Then a
filament of some sort whipped out towards the girls, who sprang to one
side. Angel had a feeling that if there
had been contact, there might well have been an effect.
mercifully, the sun went down. All the
girls were fully engaged now, still finding that their weapons had no
discernible effect, still mainly avoiding the lashing filaments, although some
carried great red weals where the creature had caught them a glancing
blow. The ones who had been hit seemed
weaker, and the creature seemed to be growing stronger by the moment.
scrambled from under his blanket, axe in hand, just as Ella raced onto the
scene, red hair flying in the evening breeze.
no! Get them away!"
panting, out of breath from her run across the heath, and for a second or two,
could manage no more, but Giles called them back. He turned to Ella, his tone cold.
"What don't I
know now, Ella?"
kill it. This isn't a creature that you
can slice and dice. This is a
manifestation of the tiniest part of something bigger than you imagine. Something from beyond the walls. An avatar.
And it's feeding on their power.
It's what the Coven have been facing (it's what is killing us,
she wanted to say). You have no idea,
Rupert, of the amount of magic the slayers have between them. If the creature clawing at the walls feeds on
them, nothing on this earth will be able to hold it back. We can barely do so now."
you tell me?"
"Could you have
done anything about it?"
He had the
grace to remain silent. Or perhaps his
stony silence was from righteous anger.
Ella turned to Angel.
"You must be
the one to send it back. Do you see that
area at the top, brighter than all the rest?
That is the place to strike. It's
a sort of energy centre. You can hurt it
there, send it back to the other side of the wall."
word, Angel took a stronger grip on his axe.
Buffy put her hand out to him, and he squeezed it reassuringly.
Angel. That isn't the way."
doubtfully at Ella.
"It has to be
magic. May I?"
expectantly at him. He had no idea what
she meant, but he trusted her, and he nodded acquiescence to whatever she
wanted. She reached up to him, placing
her hands on either side of his temples.
Much of her power had gone to Hilda, but there was enough for this. In any case, this was an old landscape here,
with untold reserves of power locked up in it.
It was replenishing her as she stood on it. Concentrating hard, she gave him what he
needed, then reached out to him for the axe.
He took a
moment to raise his bowed head, and then a scream split the air. Calida - Cali - the Spanish slayer, newly
come from Cleveland, who had picked up so little English that she hadn't
understood the instruction to fall back, was wrapped in one of the
filaments. Ella took his hand.
Angel. You can still save her."
Then he was
gone, with vampire speed. When he
reached the apparition, he found that climbing would be easy. It was a long way up, but whatever Ella had
done enabled him to get a grip, to hold on to the skeleton of the thing. He leaped the first thirty feet, and then started
to climb. All the while, her magic
fizzed inside him, sparking and buzzing.
Alive. He couldn't help but smile
at the image that came to mind. It was
like a whole body sherbet.
Near the top,
he came level with the glowing patch of brightness. Unsure what to do, he thrust his fists into
it, and wished it gone, wished it dead, wished it back in its own
dimension. He felt a shudder run through
it. When he looked down, it had dropped
Cali. She was on all fours, so she must
still be alive. He concentrated
harder. And then it was gone, as if it
had never been. It was a long fall back
to the ground but, catlike, he managed to get his feet underneath him before he
hit bottom. As he crouched there,
slightly stunned, half a dozen girls were helping Cali to stand up. When he looked for Buffy, she was sitting,
her head in her hands, on the edge of a car seat. Ella was gone. So was the fizz of her magic, and he missed
both of them.
She'd had her
heart in her mouth, watching Angel climb up the thing. She felt a warm hand on her shoulder. Ella.
disasters increased in number and intensity, but they couldn't do anything
about those. They hadn't heard from
Ella, but they were certain that the Coven were now concentrating their efforts
on the beast outside. They seemed to
have less strength to spend on soothing the Earth. Now, it was as if the Earth was trying to rid
herself of parasites, to shake them off, burn them off, cauterise her
skin. The planet was destroying itself
in the process. As if that weren't
enough, the walls of the dimension that surrounded this part of the Universe,
protected it from the horrors around it, were stretching and thinning. Soon, everything out there would have free
knew the slayers were the problem, the excess of slayers and the magic that had
created them. They just didn't know how
to stop it. So, each night, while the
other slayers went to deal with the demons that had come here from the more
familiar Hell dimensions, and while Ella and the Coven followed their own
methods of research, Buffy and Angel met with Giles in his study, and tried to
find an answer. They'd wondered whether
to share everything they knew with the girls, and decided that it would be
better not to do so. The girls probably
knew too much already. They couldn't
change what was, and just now they needed to be on top form to deal with what
was coming in. Considering his simmering
anger with Ella for not revealing all this to him earlier, Giles had the grace
to be a little ashamed of that decision.
discussed every idea, no matter how stupid.
about sending them to Martin's enclave?
Giles. That is still part of our
dimension, and the slayers' magic comes from themselves, not from the
Earth. It would change nothing."
could send them to another dimension - get the Coven to open a portal..."
Buffy. If we could even find a dimension
where they could survive, that would only do to that dimension what they are
doing to our own."
about splitting them between the Faerie Courts.
Aren't you the Faerie King, Angel?"
seriousness, that often-used jibe, a reminder of his duel with the King, still
caused some smiles.
"No, Ella said
the faerie are part of our dimension, and necessary for balance. It wouldn't stop what's happening, and might
make it worse."
be a spell to remove their slayer powers."
there is, neither us nor the Coven have found it. But, we'll keep looking."
the time machine that Cornwell built... Oh, right, you killed that demon, Angel..."
And so it went
the courtyard door shut softly.
Ella. He could tell, now, how she
closed a door. It was done gently, as
she did almost everything else. His
hands were clenched on the edge of the worktop, and he allowed his arms to take
his weight, as he leaned forward and let out the breath he'd been holding. He wondered if he'd ever breathe easily
again, whether he'd ever be free of the sounds and scents of a world breaking
apart. Of course, he might not have very
long to worry about that. Then Ella was
in the kitchen with him, her face grey with too little sleep and haggard with
too much fear. She moved up behind him
and wrapped her arms around his waist.
He'd missed this, missed her, so much... He let go of the
worktop, the only thing that had been keeping him on his feet and allowed her
warmth to support him, just for a second, before turning to face her.
stop it, can you?"
She knew that
he meant the Coven, not just her.
"No. We can barely hold it back, now."
off, but she knew what he didn't want to say.
What are you doing here? I
thought it needed thirteen of you?
taken as much of my power as she could.
It's as if I were still there, for a little while at least. The Coven are still strengthening the Earth
and holding up the dimensional walls, but they can't do it for long, now. And they haven't the strength to do anything
remembered when the Coven had lent him magical power to face a very dark
Willow. They could borrow like this, but
it didn't last long. It sounded as if
nothing else would last long, just as he had feared.
come here just to see me, have you?"
always brilliant, now had an extra sparkle from unshed tears. As they threatened to spill over, she dashed
them away with her hands. She started
love you. No matter what else, I love
you. Remember that when I tell you what
I've come here to say. We wanted to
spare all of you if we could, but there isn't any time now. The groups that have been feeding their
strength to us are all but gone now..."
down at her feet, and shook her head.
was more eloquent that any words would have been.
She looked up
at him, and placed her finger over his lips.
"Afterwards. We can mourn them all afterwards, if we're
still alive to do it. They've given
their lives for this world, and we mustn't fail them. Rupert, the strength of the Coven is almost
gone, and whatever has to be done must be done tonight. Tomorrow...well, tomorrow, we die."
known. He'd known that it was this bad,
this close to the end. That's why he'd
done what he'd done, before Ella came tonight.
Just then, a
shudder ran through the house, and the earth beneath them, the solid earth of
England, groaned. A glass jar fell from
the worktop, and they were surrounded by the spicy scent of cinnamon.
nothing, then, to help us?"
He shook his
head. He started with what she already
knew, but he hadn't seen her for a while, and for the moment, couldn't recall
exactly what she did know of their research.
"We know the
unnatural existence of the extra slayers is causing fractures along the Earth's
energy lines. I'm no student of
geomorphology, but these fractures are reshaping the Earth, physically and
chemically. The magic isn't stopping
there. It's reshaping the Sun's magnetic
field. The flares may be the least of it
- the sun could shift to a new phase; it could become a red giant, or a white
dwarf, we really don't know. Just to
help it all along, the dimensional walls of this part of the Universe are
tearing, and whatever's out there is going to come in here. Whatever, humanity won't survive, even if the
for ways to stabilise the energy fields, and we can't; we've looked for ways to
remove from the girls the power that makes them slayers, and we can't. We've spent weeks looking, and we've failed
completely. We... we hoped you'd done
He was silent,
staring out of the kitchen window. The
sky was painted with sheets of colour: green and red and purple. It was almost as bright as day. Ella added a new cataclysm to his list of
supervolcano rising under Brussels. It
will destroy the whole of Western Europe, and the Balkans. It might do worse than that, if the planet
doesn't shake itself apart first. Where
are the Slayers now?"
nodded. It was no less than he had
expected, really. The Earth had a lot of
molten magma, and the fractures were starting to let it through in new and
interesting ways. He turned back to the
worktop, ashamed to look her in the eye.
sorry that we have left it so late. The
Coven talked about telling you weeks ago, but we thought that it would be better
to stick with your suggestion that we both try to solve the problem
independently, working with different approaches: you with your research, and
Buffy and Angel to back you up, and we with our magic..."
stiffened. More secrets. God, not more.
down again, unable to meet his scrutiny.
slayers. The only way to stop it is for
the slayers to die. Or for Willow to
remembered. Decapitation of a witch
reverses her spells. They'd been willing
to do that?
looking for Willow?"
She sighed as
she nodded her reply.
now. When Willow asked us to help her
spread Buffy's power, we told her that we wouldn't and forbade her to try. That was... not the right approach, even though
it was the right decision. She did it
anyway, and when we knew that, we blocked the spell as soon as we could. Not soon enough, though. We've been trying ever since to find a way to
reverse it, and I'm sorry we didn't tell you long ago what the price of failure
would be. We hoped that, coming to it
fresh, without any influence from what we had tried, you might succeed where we
been in this dimension for a long time.
We can only assume that she and Kennedy are still - elsewhere. We've spent a lot of magic and a lot of
energy to find her, in the hope that she could reverse her own spell."
"But you still
can't find her?"
is, either it's cloaking her magic, or she's somewhere that she can't use
it. We could track her magical signature
anywhere. It simply isn't there. Rupert... you should know this... If we'd found
her, and she couldn't or wouldn't undo what she'd done, we would have taken her
head if we had needed to: if you, too, couldn't find a way."
He didn't seem
shocked, for the moment, but then a spasm of pain crossed his face.
would have reversed every spell Willow ever did? That means that..."
"That I'd have
gone back to the grave."
turned abruptly to meet the newcomer.
held her right hand up to silence the witch.
Her left hand held a crossbow.
She'd clearly come through the breakfast room from the weapons cupboard.
"No, don't say
you're sorry. It...it would have been the
right thing to do. But, you can't find
her, so let's not go there."
"How long have
you been there?"
some funky flying things on the roof.
Angel's up there. I came to get
some more ammo. So, the slayers have to
die, do they?"
There was a
challenge in her eye, and her expression was frozen into a look of
contempt. The contempt was reserved for
herself. She had asked Willow to do
this. She had sacrificed them the moment
the idea had come to her, back iSunnydale when she had despaired of otherwise
defeating the First Evil. They'd been corpses from that time, and now they just
needed to stop walking. She'd always
known, really, deep down. This was all
She let go of
Giles' gaze. She didn't need any more
convincing. They'd tried everything
else, and she'd heard Ella say that they only had tonight. There was no more time, and no more
possibility that a million to one chance might save them. All her fault.
"I'll do it,
then. These girls are my
responsibility. I created the mess, and
I'm the one should clean it up."
Ella was about
to say something but Giles forestalled her.
pale, turned as white as a sheet.
"What? Rupert, what have you done?"
rooted to the spot, speechless. Giles
reached behind him and took a rounded blue bottle from the worktop, holding it
up in his hand.
"I knew we'd
reached the end. So did the girls,
really, although we didn't speak of it.
They were all here together, for dinner, for a last supper, if you like. They understood that you and Angel would want
to be together, so we went ahead. It was
a curry. I don't like curry, so I had an
omelette. I put this into their
meal. It was the only thing left to
do. It...it was them, or the world. They won't know anything about it."
the empty bottle from him.
"What was in
here? Tell me!"
A new voice
came from the hall, from the direction of the stairs. Angel.
henbane. The girls are dead to the
world, and I can smell it on them."
"Oh, dear god,
let them not die! Rupert, what have you
his hands in his pockets, and looked defensive.
what you said had to happen. We're out
of time, and I knew that. Valerian to
put them to sleep, although there might be enough to kill them by itself. If not, the henbane will do it. It will be quick and painless."
to...what? Rage against him for doing
something that she'd resigned herself to do?
Decry the manner in which he'd brought about their deaths? Rage at herself, for making all this
necessary? Rage at Willow, for doing it,
or the laws of the Universe in general for not being strong enough to stand up
to a few magically imbued girls?
It was Ella
who broke Buffy's internal rant of self-recrimination. Moaning, the witch seemed to lose any
strength remaining to her, and sank to the floor. Angel got to her first. Crouching next to her, he took her hand in
his, and she turned her woebegone face to him.
Since the time that they had spent together in Dee's Duat, there had
been a rapport between these two, something that sometimes seemed to exclude
Giles and Buffy, who watched them with not a little rancour.
bent down and helped Ella to her feet.
Her eyes remained fixed on Angel, though.
A little blood
seemed to return to the witch's face.
aren't too late. Rupert, that's what I
came here to tell you. If humanity is to
live, it's Angel who must kill the slayers.
It's what he was brought back to do."
was hard and sharp as a knife, and then it was severed by Angel's self-mockery.
"I see. There's only one mass murderer here, and it
should be me?"
He was looking
at his hands as he said it, and the others knew he was remembering the feel of
Jenny's neck breaking in those hands.
Perhaps he was remembering the feel of many others, too. He swallowed convulsively and then looked
difference does it make if they are already dying from what Giles has given
difference between life and death, Angel.
They cannot die like that. You're
a vampire, with special strengths. It
will only work if you drain them, and take their slayer strength into
finish for the objections of the other two.
Buffy had taken the few steps to Angel's side, and had wrapped both her
hands around his arm. Ella, that kind
and gentle witch, showed that she had a backbone of steel.
"Quiet! Both of you!
Angel needs to hear this, and there is no time for useless outcries."
stiffened, his face frozen, but he fell silent.
Buffy continued to protest, but Angel placed his hand over hers and
what Ella has to say. I'm sure the Coven
didn't send her here on a fool's errand."
subsided, and Ella continued.
killing the slayers will release their power.
It will return to Buffy and it will kill her. Whatever magic is released by her death, and
the power she couldn't take from the others, will return to Faith. Faith, too, will not be able to take it
all. So, both of our main slayers will
die, and there will be a huge amount of power looking for a home.
will all try to go to the next girl in line, and it will keep killing them and
moving on until we all run out of time, or it will break up and seek out as
many slayers as we started with, as many as Willow originally created. In that case, we'll be no better off than we
are now. The magic *must* be safely
dissipated, not allowed to seek out other slayers. We have found no way of doing it except
through Angel. Angel has
certain...qualities and strengths... that's perhaps the best way of putting it,
imbued into his blood from the last days in Los Angeles. You know what I mean, don't you, Angel?"
indeed. Hamilton's blood. He'd taken some from Drogyn, too, in case it
gave his death a little more meaning.
That it had looked good for the Black Thorn was incidental.
power is carried in their blood. I'm
right, aren't I, Angel?"
the taste of slayer blood, the rush that it had given him, the unbelievable
feeling of invulnerability. He also
remembered the way that alien power in Sadie's blood had twisted and coiled,
trying to get away from him. His reply
was a whisper.
qualities mean that you can take that blood, and transmute it - a sort of Angel
alchemy. No one else has the same
qualities, and no one else has that power.
No other vampire, no other demon, and certainly no human. It's a product of Angel's unique path. It's the only thing we know of that Willow
didn't allow for. The thing is, there
are so many of them. Angel..."
She faltered a
bit, but no one offered to fill the silence, least of all the one she was
"Angel... I... I
don't know whether there are too many, even for you. It's risky... You could die..."
than not doing it?"
His tone was
sour, and she had the grace to remain quiet for a moment. Buffy broke into the silence.
"No! There has to be another way. There must be!"
It was Giles
who answered her.
looked for weeks, and we have nothing.
If Angel doesn't do this, we're all dead anyway."
know. ‘We only have fourteen hours to
save the Earth' sort of stuff. Well,
newsflash Giles. This isn't Flash
Gordon. It can't all come down to one
vampire... one *man*..."
imploringly at Angel, driving a shaft of pain through his soul.
isn't any choice. If you trust the Coven
- and I do - then there isn't any choice."
"We could look
some more. There's still time..."
Buffy." Ella was firm. "We have to get on with it - if the girls
simply die, then there is nothing to stop the destruction. We couldn't find the new girls in time." She meant that they couldn't kill them in
time, either. She felt inside herself,
reached out to her fellow witches.
"We've delayed this moment for as long as we possibly could, in hope of
another way. Do you think we wanted this
to happen? That we haven't done everything
we could to avoid it? Do you really
think we would ask this of Angel if there were any alternative, any at all, no
matter how dreadful? That we would
lightly sacrifice all these girls? But
we're out of time. I can tell you that
the Coven aren't going to last much longer.
Some of them are fading even now."
to Buffy and took her in his arms. For a
long moment he gazed at her, as if he wanted to remember her just like
this. Then he kissed her forehead and
let her go. Without a word to any of
them, he headed for the stairs. Buffy
would have followed, but Ella held her back.
She struggled for a moment, and then all the fight went out of her. Giles took her into his arms as Ella ran from
the kitchen, and together they wept for what was to happen. They wept for the slayers, they wept for
themselves, but most of all they wept for Angel, and for what this would do to
his soul. It was a long time before Buffy
asked a question that neither of them knew the answer to.
will valerian and henbane have on a vampire?"
thoughts were dark and bitter as he climbed the stairs. No matter what he did, or how he tried,
everything came back to killing. It
seemed that that was all he was good for.
So good, that he'd been brought back from the dead for this
massacre. And the demon gibbered with
A soft voice
called him from his thoughts. Ella
mounted the stairs behind him. She put
her hand to the side of his face.
"You only do
as the Powers wish. Remember that. Remember that they asked us to bring you back
for this, not as a murderer, but as our only road to life."
her other hand up to his face, and he felt something... something of warmth and
brightness slide into him. Then it was
the dark times ahead. It will help you
when you need it.
Please tell Rupert to remember what happened here with Faith and Buffy in the
same place. It may never be safe to
allow them to come together again. He
needs to understand that."
She turned on
her heel, and was gone. He listened to
her car race down the drive before he himself turned and climbed the rest of
the stairs. Just then, it didn't occur
to him to wonder why she couldn't tell Giles herself.
He stood on
the landing for a moment, listening to the heartbeats. Fourteen slayers up here. Four behind and to his left, four behind and
to his right. All slower than they
should be, but still steady. Three dead
ahead, also steady. Of the three in the
room to his left, the smallest bedroom that had once been Buffy's, one was
starting to flutter. He'd better start
room was packed with two sets of bunk beds and all the paraphernalia required
by four teenage girls. The fourth bunk
had belonged to Sadie, and her things were still here, just as if she might one
day come back for them. Elaine lay in
the lower bunk, immediately in front of him, and he knelt by her side. It was her heart that was starting to
waver. He remembered that she loved
curry. She might have had a second
had tried to save his life, once, out in the courtyard when Giles had fired his
crossbow at something he'd believed to be Angelus. Elaine, who was becoming a leader amongst
this group of champions; who so recently had stood between Nureen and a killing
blow. Elaine, that bluff Yorkshire girl
who had taken the change in her fate more stoically than any of the others;
she'd been full of life and now she was as still as death. That was something he knew a lot about. He moved an errant curl on her cheek,
smoothing her hair back with a gentle caress.
As he knelt on
the floor, he felt the tears come. They
were tears for these innocent girls, robbed of life by magic, so that the world
would be spared an apocalypse, and now about to be robbed of life again by a
vampire's fangs so that the same world would keep turning, and the sun would
come up every morning. They were also
tears for his own fallen, for whom he'd mourned, but hadn't yet cried. Spike, Wes, Fred, Gunn, Illyria. Lorne, whom he might just as well have shot
anyway. And they were tears for himself,
because this would be a stain on his soul that he could never wash out.
again of his own friends, fallen in combat, and of how they had fought together,
demons and humans alike, to save the world.
They had never even considered involving innocents in their fight, and
for a brief moment, he felt a surge of resentment for Willow, who had done
this, who had made these girls into slayers without any consideration for the
consequences, and without any thought as to whether they would have consented
if asked. Now, they wouldn't get a
chance to consent or refuse anything ever again. If he didn't do this, they were poisoned, or
annihilated along with everyone else.
All because Willow could, but hadn't reflected on whether she should.
Champions - true champions, such as his friends had been, even Spike - stood
between the danger and the innocents they were protecting, albeit at cost of
their own lives. They didn't ask the
innocents to lay down their lives, too.
It shouldn't be like this.
around at the three girls in this room - Elaine, Nureen and Laura, and at the
empty bunk that should have held Sadie, and he thought of how they had changed
as they came to accept their responsibilities, how they had fought the
multiplying horrors over the last months.
He thought that perhaps, if asked, they might have offered to exchange
their lives for the safety of the world.
They *were* champions, and if they couldn't have life, they deserved a
better death. The house gave another
shudder, but he ignored it. The world
could wait for a few minutes while he did these girls the honour that they
And so, he
knelt on the floor and bowed his head in supplication to any deity that would
listen to a vampire. He prayed that
their sacrifice would win them a fitting afterlife, that this would, indeed
save the world, and that he could survive, with his wits intact, long enough to
Then he pulled
Elaine a little onto her side, to give him easier access, and turned into the
demon. Hanging on as tightly as he could
to his self-control, he sank his fangs gently into Elaine's neck, and started
they broke apart at Buffy's question, Giles and Buffy, by common and unspoken
consent, hurried into Giles' study. He
knew which book he needed - it was one of Wesley's, a compendium of the effects
of various drugs on various demons. It
that the valerian will make a vampire drowsy for a while, but no more than
that, even in large doses. The henbane
is a different kettle of fish, though.
It induces hallucinations in humans, and they're worse in vampires. Manic hallucinations, even in small
doses. They're like a bad trip on
LSD. Oh, god."
Giles got to
the door before Buffy did, and leaned against it. The Slayer would have to physically move him
to get through it, but she looked as if she might do just that.
"Buffy. Don't you think he knows? Will it do him any good at all for you to
rush up there and see what he has got to do?
To blurt out to him that he's probably going to have to be chained for a
bit when he's finished? *If* he
finishes? We don't even know whether he
can drink that amount of blood... Leave him, Buffy. He wouldn't want you to see."
forward to wrap his arms around the stricken slayer.
Angel was asking himself much the same questions. He could feel the slayer power as Elaine's
blood slipped down his throat, twisting and coiling as it tried to get free,
and he could taste the slightly bitter tangs of the two drugs. He tried to push his concerns aside, to
concentrate only on this girl, and on what he was taking from her. The questions wouldn't go away, though. How much of their blood would he have to
drink before the power was gone? Could
he take the blood of fourteen slayers, in terms of volume and in terms of
power? Could he do it before the
valerian made him too drowsy? Before the
henbane kicked in? And what would the
slayer blood do to the hallucinations?
Fight them off? Or make them
He'd once told
Ella that vampires were practical experimentalists. Well, he was going to have to find out by
At last, he
felt Elaine's heart fluttering to a stop.
As death took her, the flow of power ceased, and her blood became just
that. Blood. Rich and tasty, but the magic was gone. Withdrawing his fangs, he dropped a brief
kiss onto her forehead and then gently moved her to the far side of the bunk.
above her, a gentle and shy girl from the borders of Afghanistan. Learning to live in the West had been a real
ordeal for her, but she had worked hard at that as she had worked hard at
everything else. He reached up and
lifted the girl down, laying her tenderly next to Elaine on the narrow bed,
smoothing her hair and holding her hand.
Then, already flying on slayer's blood, he started to drink.
Laura lay on
the bottom of the opposite tier of bunks.
She was older than most, boisterous, and loud. Always the first to complain about the
cramped conditions in which they lived, but always the one who worked out
hardest and longest. In training, she'd
almost felled him to the floor a number of times. He held her hand as he moved aside her blonde
hair to reveal her long, pale neck.
When he left
that room, he could hear Buffy crying.
He could hear the whispered nothings from Giles that were meant to
comfort her, and he could hear the rustling of insects taking shelter in the
attics. His senses, already
preternatural, were supercharged. His
skin felt too tight for his body, and he was *hot*, the new blood racing
through his veins, bringing unaccustomed colour to his alabaster skin.
In the next
room he found Cali, Chantal and Malu. He
performed the same small ritual that he had before, praying for the girls whose
lives he was about to drink, remembering their deeds and their strengths as
well as their frailties. There was an empty
bunk that he knew should have held Hoshi - he could sense her very individual
scent on the bed, and he included her in his prayer. He'd once thought, when he was first brought
here, that he couldn't distinguish individuals amongst the mass of teenage
angst and hormones, but he found he knew everyone by name and deed and scent,
even Cali, who'd only come with Faith for a brief visit. He'd never be able to forget them now.
Cali, who had
almost died because she couldn't understand enough English; Chantal, from
France, an elegant, doll-like girl with an acute sense of fashion; and Malu,
from Hawaii, her constant smile like a ray of sunshine on the darkest English
day. Never again.
disobeyed Hilda now, as she had disobeyed her before. But there was no point in doing other. She had seen what it was normally only given
to witches to see.
She drove back
to Mildred's house as quickly as possible.
More quickly than possible, really.
The earth magic was good to her, as if it knew that she would bring
help. When she ran inside, she didn't
bother to close the door. There was no
need. They were all just where she had
left them earlier. None of them were
dead yet, but none of them were close enough to life to ever make it back,
except perhaps Hilda and Gladys. She
took her place in the circle, and then put her hands over Hilda's. It was as she thought. They still had not enough power to do what
they needed to do. But they were so
close to it; so close. They would have
She drew a
deep breath, and then she called on those whom Hilda had deliberately not
sought aid from, and those with whom perhaps only Ella could succeed.
first. She remembered the anxious
teenager who had been imprisoned for four hundred years. She called out to him, and he answered.
"Is that you,
my lady Ella?"
Martin. I need your help. Are you willing?"
and right well. What do you need?"
him. He was silent for a moment.
"And shall I
die of this?"
"Might I speak
with the others?"
but be quick. We have little time."
himself up to her, and she saw that he was seated on his jewelled pleasance, a
stretch of neat grass that was studded with brightly coloured flowers, their
beauty muted in the moonlight. That
strange and sullen sky was shot through with faint threads of lurid colour, a
reflection of the Earth's aurora. At his
feet, a half dozen demons of various species lounged in aspects of relaxed
enjoyment. She heard him explain her
A demon that
physically owed a lot to the snakes, its skin green and gold and the colour of
blood, lisped a question.
"If we do
this, we die?"
"But if we do
not do this, then the world dies, and we die with it?"
"What of the
wild ones, out in the scrublands?"
"I am troubled
by those, since we cannot ask them, but if we fail, or if we do nothing, then
they, too, will die."
"Then we must
join the witch."
There was a
chorus of Ayes. She could have cried for
them, but he saw the thought and soothed her, reassured her that she had done
right to come to them. And then she felt
the power of Martin's cul-de-sac dimension as he opened it all up to her,
making it over for her use, bringing with it the magic of the creatures within
it. There was far more than she had
expected, until she remembered that it had been created by a master, by Dr John
Dee. A magician. She panicked for a moment. Had he used male magic, magic that could make
matters worse? She tested it out
cautiously. No. He had made it for a witch, and he had been
careful. She wished with all her heart
that the men who had made the line of slayers had been half as careful. That they had been half as worthy as Martin
and his demons.
She was sure
that her next call would be more difficult, the call that Hilda had refused to
make. These creatures were notoriously
fickle and full of malice.
The Queen sat,
surrounded by her court, nursing a huge belly.
She was almost ready to give birth.
The young leaves of new summer were giving way to the darker greens of
the high season, each branch and leaf silvered by the long, slanting light of
moonset. Her green gown was limned with
the same silver.
"A witch! What do you want, little witch?"
The faerie was
in a good mood. Ella told her, hoping
that the mood would hold. When she had
finished, the Queen stroked her swollen belly, her head bowed in meditation. She sat for a long moment, caressing what
would soon be her newest infant. If she
lived. Then Ella found that she had been
wrong to doubt.
what you ask. Our borders, too, are
under attack. If you die, so do we. I shall not sacrifice myself or my court,
though. Nor will I allow the sacrifice
of my King and his court. Short of that,
I shall give you what you seek."
Ella felt the
surge of power as the Queen opened herself up to the witch. There was a hint of cervine musk. The King had joined, too. Ella discovered something she had not known
before, and she acknowledged it appropriately.
busy gathering her attendants, grimaced.
"Less of the
‘Grandmother', if you don't mind."
"What should I
call you, then?"
reviewed her options. She had been known
by many names. Some she had liked, some
she had...not. And she felt an
uncharacteristic warmth for this grandchild of hers.
‘Grandmother' is not so bad. Are you
strong enough now?"
I know that Angel won you in fair combat, but his future doesn't lie with
you. Afterwards, you won't come to claim
him, will you?"
not there to stop you,
was what she meant. There was a
tinkle of laughter, but it held no malice.
"He would make
a fine mate. He could give me many
babies. Why should I not?"
another destiny altogether."
This time it
was the Queen's turn to hesitate. She
child, I know. Release me from my pledge
to the vampire. I gave him my word that
we would not trouble humanity for at least a century."
"Why should I
release you from that? It was a pledge
that was won fairly."
stroked her belly again, and hummed a little to the sleeping infant inside.
slowly and we are never numerous. Some
of us, perhaps many of us, will die tonight.
We will need to replenish our numbers."
It was true.
"A new Coven
will be needed."
"I know, and I
shall not forget, child."
something else. So much of Willow's
magic remains locked up in the two chosen Slayers. If she cannot eventually be found, or if she
cannot or will not reverse her magic, that will need to be dealt with. It threatens you as much as us. You will make sure that it is... made
safe? That at the end, what needs to be
done is done?"
wrapped her arms around her unborn child, then lifted her head. She seemed to Ella to be looking directly at
"My word on
release you from your oath."
And so, buoyed
up by the magic from Martin's tiny dimension, and from the magical realms of faerie,
Ella sought out her sister witches. She
reached out for the moonlight that had been hidden by the curtains of cold
solar fire, light reflected from land that had once been part of Earth itself. When she found it, she opened herself up to
its gentle power, sorting the silver strands from the poisonous colours of the
aurora. When she had a web of light, she
spread herself on it, felt herself thinning, stretching, flying apart, becoming
one with the Earth and everything on it.
It was there that she found them.
her for her disobedience, and then wrapped herself, or what was left of her,
around her favourite sister in an embrace of joy. The others clustered around her, clucking in
disapproval, but stroking her, embracing her, loving her.
Hilda's voice, could never be a voice at all, and yet she heard it plainly
needed me, and you needed what I bring with me.
And because I saw it. There can
be no changing that."
true. A witch always sees her own death.
girls, time to save the world..."
Ella hung back
a little, allowing the energy of her web of moonlight to flow through her,
adding its charge to her own. And
telling her things. Hilda sensed those
things, too, and the essence that was her seemed to smile sadly.
"He does it
even now. He will not allow himself to
It wasn't a
question. They could all feel Angel's
pain, and had already mourned for him and for these innocent girls.
that there was no other way. Let's make
sure this sacrifice isn't in vain."
souls of the Coven, the sparks of magic that had made them different to other
women, stood at the tattered barrier and faced down the enemy. They still sparkled and glowed with the power
they had been given by all those others who had willingly sacrificed themselves
for this moment. In that last tick of
time, Ella looked around the Earth, seeing sickly light pouring like pus from
its many wounds. But there was still
more beauty than ugliness, and she picked out from all its many brilliances
those particular glints that marked users of magic. They were few now, and weak. Even with the Queen's help, it would be a long
time before that part of the balance recovered.
Then, she and
her sister witches gathered together, a crystalline brilliance of the
mind. As they tasted the scent of the
beast in the ether between them, Ella detected the faint tang of slayer. Not Nadine, so it had found Kennedy. There was no trace of Willow, and there was
no point in worrying about that.
power, they embraced the beast, and they poured themselves into, through and
around it, neutralising it with bonds of love.
They took it apart, piece by piece, atom by atom, incorporating it into
themselves, into the matrix of magic that represented so many others. Then they gave themselves, the power of the
beast, and the power of their magic, back to the Earth, calming and soothing
the world's wounds as their consciousness faded. The Queen had promised another generation of
witches. They would find the Earth's
energy replenished, when they were ready to use it.
thought was for Angel, for Buffy and for Rupert, and it was tinged with regret
for the sorrow her death would bring, and for what could now never be.
entered the third room, he was in serious doubt that he could perform the task
for which he'd been returned to the world.
As if to remind him of the urgency, there was the sound of explosive
decompression outside. That would be the
sinkhole, he thought, the pressure of water spouting from it ensuring that the
hole disgorged its freight of dead and dismembered demons. There would be interesting things in the
fields tomorrow, if they lived to see it.
There were two
empty bunks in here, once the property of now-dead slayers. Lucy and Sarah. He recognised their lingering scent. The four girls here were sinking fast, and so
he carried out his ritual as quickly as he decently could, still determined to
give them dignity and honour in death.
Here were Venetia, from the English shires, Neala, from his own Galway,
Irene and Elizabeth from America. He
hesitated over Neala, wondering for a moment if she could be a descendant of
someone he knew. She couldn't, of
course. He'd left none alive. She didn't have the red hair and Celtish complexion,
but her hair was a mass of natural curls.
He stroked them back from her face as his gorge threatened to rise and
undo them all, and as his demon still gibbered.
After the third - Venetia - he felt that he'd reached his limit. How many had he managed to drink, back in the
day? Usually one or two a night. What was his maximum count? He remembered it well. It had been a contest, he and Spike, under
the indulgent gaze of Darla, and with the excited Dru egging them both on. He'd managed eleven, fully and completely
drained in accordance with the impromptu rules.
These were ordinary humans, of course, not slayers. Spike had only managed nine, and had resented
that ever since. Still, he had to do
better than that now. His skin was
blazing, and he wondered if it was peeling off.
He looked at his hand, but it looked normal enough. Just the hand of a serial killer. He moved onto Elizabeth, lifting her gently
down from the top bunk, and dropping a brief kiss onto her forehead.
As he withdrew
his fangs from her neck, the earth gave a particularly violent paroxysm, and he
heard chimneys and slates falling. The
floor rippled beneath him, and he went to all fours from his kneeling
position. It rippled again, and his
gorge started to rise. His stomach, full
to capacity, answered, and he felt the vomit rising. Dear god, no!
Who knew what would happen if he couldn't hold it down? Long minutes passed as he fought to retain
the precious, fatal fluid he'd taken from the girls, and when the convulsions
were over, he'd kept down all but about half a pint, now a pool of scarlet on
the beige carpet. He prayed that it was
Just one more
room to go. Bryony, tiny and defiant,
like the Gibraltar enclave that was her home.
Olivia, the svelte Italian who hated the chilly dampness that was
England, but who had slain her first demon with easy disdain and then almost
fainted at the thought of what she had done.
Lorna, the tall, black Zulu girl who met every new experience with
wide-eyed wonder, and who thought of England as the new Jerusalem; no-one could
pronounce her name, and so she had settled for Lorna. Phoebe, the mousy New Zealander whose soul
was as beautiful as her name, and who sighed in pleasure as he drained her,
causing him to almost choke on his grief.
And the ghosts of Rona and Vi, who had survived Sunnydale, but who had
not survived their fellow slayers.
they heard the chimneys and slates falling.
When they heard the explosion from the sinkhole, they raced across the
hall to the dining room, for a better view.
The column of water stood two hundred feet in the air. No one wanted to speculate on the strange
shapes they could see in its eerily glowing depths.
for a long time, allowing this phenomenon to distract them, to fill in the time
during which they could only stand around, useless, waiting. Then the water column fell back, and the
earth ceased to shake. The howling wind,
which had been a feature of life for days, suddenly ceased. They looked questioningly at each other, and
then Buffy ran for the door.
She met Angel
coming down the stairs. He had blood on
the front of his t-shirt, and a little on his chin. She frowned, because he wasn't a messy eater,
but then she really saw him. His skin
was flushed, and she could almost feel the heat radiating from him. It made him look vitally alive, fevered,
even. His eyes, though, were dark and
dead. She thought that if she fell into
those eyes, as she often imagined herself doing, she would be lost in a Hell
dimension forever. She felt the spasm of
disgust that flickered over her face: disgust that she had brought this to
him. Disgust that she hadn't been strong
enough in Sunnydale to trust the amulet that he had brought, to trust the axe
that had waited for her for a thousand years, but instead had chosen to ask
Willow to share her unwanted Slayer's power amongst all these unknowing girls -
and all the others who had already died.
minutes, she stood before her lover, unable to wipe the guilt and remorse and
self-disgust from her face, her revulsion at her own weakness.
He didn't need
that, though. He needed her love just
now, and so with an effort she wiped away the evidence of her guilt and reached
out a hand towards him. He turned that
flat, dead gaze on her and then without a word, walked through the courtyard
door and into the night.
seen enough. He'd seen the disgust on
her face when she looked at him, murderer that he was, covered in vomited
blood. Her disgust was only a pale
reflection of his own self-hatred, and he let that flow through him
unopposed. He already had enough to
fight. He was fighting the power of the
slayers' blood within him, gallons of it, enough to glut even the
once-insatiable appetite of the demon; and he was fighting the stupor of the
valerian and the gathering images that were the gift of the henbane. The real hallucinations wouldn't be far
behind, and he had no idea how he was going to try to deal with the power that
seemed to threaten to tear him apart if he was out of his mind as well as
befuddled by the growing drowsiness. He
wondered whether the world would be safe if he simply curled up under a
hedgerow and allowed the rising sun to sear him to ash. It was an attractive proposition. But, he didn't know, and so he wouldn't do
One thing he
did know was that he couldn't stay here.
Her disgust, his self-hatred, would be enough to send him away, and
would forever stand between them, as unpassable as Hell itself. But, what if the war within him made him lose
control? The strength he had taken
tonight flooded through his muscles. He
could never be confined here - they had nothing that he couldn't break. No. He
had to go, to keep everyone he loved safe.
Those who still lived, anyway.
Once back in
his flat, he started throwing clothes into a bag, unable to either see or care
what he was packing. He was just closing
the bag when he heard her footsteps outside the door. He remained bent over the bag as she opened
the door. She took in the picture in one
"Angel? What are you doing?"
"No! You can't..."
Grabbing the bag,
he started to push past her, unable to find any more words from the tempest
that was his mind, but as he felt her soft, warm skin, he was weak enough to
bend over and kiss her hair, a last memory to take with him.
he was gone.
outside, but there was no sign of him.
He was on foot, and she thought that he couldn't have gone far, but
there was nothing to tell her where to look.
her. He'd vowed that he would never
leave her alone again, and now he was gone.
She sank to her knees in the courtyard, heedless of the sharpness of the
gravel, trying to keep down the searing, screaming pain of loss.
house, Giles still sat in his study, numb.
For the moment, the earth remained steady around him, though, and he
wondered whether it might now be all over.
Zillah leapt onto his lap, and mewed loudly. Absently he stroked her, as her cries of
distress grew more and more piercing.
Then, to his surprise, Ari leapt up to join her, licking her face, and
then patting her gently with his paw.
Even more surprisingly, Zillah allowed the demonstration of
companionship. Giles wondered why.
Mildred's, the door stood open, waiting for someone to enter. In the light and airy room in which the Coven
had conducted their final magics, the chairs sat in a perfect circle around the
table, but the witches were gone. There
would be nothing left to bury. There was
simply a manuscript, in an envelope, addressed to Rupert Giles. Those who lived there afterwards would
always describe it as a happy house.
long time, when neither Angel nor Buffy came to find him, Giles left the
study. He went upstairs and found the
slayers dead and drained, each one lovingly laid out, their faces free of pain
and fear. Innocents, lost in a war that
was older than time, but given the kindest death that had been possible. Giles was sure that their spirits would
forgive Angel, and hoped that he knew it.
Buffy would tell him, make him understand, and he thought she must be
doing that now. If not, surely Ella
would. He would go to Ella as soon as it
was light. She would be at
Mildred's. He would find her and he
would deal with all the things that lay between them. They would have a life together, just as
Angel and Buffy now could. It would be
sunrise in an hour or two. Time enough
to deal with the aftermath in the light of a new day.
Sherbet: This is not the palate-cleansing water ice
that Americans call sherbet, and Brits call sorbet. Sherbet is a tooth-rotting confection much
loved by kids when I was young. It's a lemon-flavoured powder that you try to
suck up through a liquorice straw, and its particular properties mean that when
it dissolves on the tongue, it instantly produces carbon dioxide, giving a
wonderful fizz. The chemical reaction also absorbs heat from the surroundings,
and so you get a wonderful cooling of the tongue. After too much, your tongue
goes numb. That's sherbet. I have a recipe.