Rites of Spring
Summary: A very weary team
is called out on a new mission that has roots in an old legend.
Rites of Spring
The trio was exhausted,
and the trip back home was made mostly in silence. Rosy fingers of dawn began
to peek over the horizon, and Giles stepped on the gas, urging the car along
faster, trying to beat the sun. He reflexively looked into the rear-view mirror
to regard the vampire in the backseat, momentarily forgetting he would see
twisting around to speak to Angel. "Where'd you learn sign language, anyways?"
They had spent
the night in Norwich, fighting off a particularly brutal pack of Vontak demons
who had been making battle robes out of human skin The case had been brought to
them by one of the former captives who had just managed to escape. He had been
forced to abandon his younger sister, who was deaf. After defeating the demons,
the girl was so terrified and distraught she had been unwilling to move until
Angel was able to explain that they weren't going to hurt her. Buffy knew the vampire's cadre of language
skills was impressive, probably rivalling Giles', but his urgent signing to the
scared girl had touched her.
Sisters of Cornwall." The answer had been automatic, and as soon as it left his
lips he regretted speaking. There were just some things he didn't want to have
in understanding. "They take a vow of silence, yes?" He glanced back towards
Angel who nodded in affirmation. He looked back at the road, wincing slightly,
the implication of what that meant exactly finally hitting home.
between them in confusion. "A bunch of nuns taught you sign language?" She took
in Angel's expression. He was clearly grappling with the memory of something,
and she could see guilt and self-disgust warring on his face. She finally
caught on, remembering what he had done in convents in the past. "Oh...this is
one of those things I really don't
want to know about, right?"
sounded miserable and just looked down at his hands. He glanced up again once
he felt Buffy's hand on his knee.
"Hey, you used
something you learned from when you were evil to do something good. There has
to be a big karmic cookie for something like that, right?" She grinned at him,
trying to ease him back from the precipice of an impending brood session. He
took her hand and returned the smile just as Giles rounded the car onto the
A small woman ran up as the car approached,
frantically waving them down. "Here we go again," Buffy muttered with a sigh.
The young girl
felt heady, every fiber of her being infused with a frisson of anticipation.
The elders had spread the word that a worthy sacrifice had been found, a young
virgin girl. She smiled and placed her hand on her swollen belly, feeling the
life within responding to her touch. She glanced at the other young pregnant
women near her; they were all wearing similar blissful smiles. They were
standing near the wide fields, hoping their own fertility would influence the
crops and bring forth a strong harvest.
had been erected in the middle of the square, as was the custom for the coming
Beltaine. Adolescent boys were unfurling the long ribbons, setting them free.
They caught in the slight breeze, almost seeming to dance in lazy circles. She
heard one of the young women start to hum a tune for the dance, and soon the
others joined in the chorus, swaying as they sat.
She knew that
work had begun on the other most important project as her Ian had left with the
dawn to lend his carpentry skills to the task. She saw farmers choosing the
best of their livestock, penning them away from the others. She finally turned
back to her own important task, braiding flowers into a crown to be placed upon
the virgin's head. The other women were knotting together corn dollies by
weaving straw into circular patterns. They would be hung on all of the houses,
urging a good harvest. She sighed happily. It wouldn't be long now.
Giles made the
tea for Mrs. McCully almost tripping over the two cats who apparently didn't
think the hour too unseemly and were eagerly awaiting their breakfasts.
was a slight woman, looked like she was in her early 40s or so by the grey that
had just begun to lighten her blonde hair.
She hailed from a small town near Glasgow, and the others were amazed
that she had been able to make the journey as she looked like she was going to
collapse into tears at any moment. She must be desperate. Buffy sat across from
her, holding her hands, trying to assuage some of her fears and coax the story
out of her. Angel sat in the shadows, as was his typical fashion. Most times,
being big and intimidating came in rather handy, but not when trying to calm a
woman who was clearly near hysteria, and he wisely left Buffy to that task.
Giles nodded at him before sitting near the women, handing over the tea. "Why
don't you start at the beginning?"
took a few deep breaths, cupping her hands around the mug, calming a bit at the
warmth. She looked between the two kindly strangers, seeing real compassion in
their eyes. Maybe they wouldn't think she was as crazy as the police had. "They
took her." She gulped, a sob threatening to slip out. "My Rose. They took her."
She was aware her voice had taken on a shrill quality.
scrunched in confusion. "Who took her?"
Edith took in
another wavering breath. "They. I just know they lured her there." She closed
her eyes, trying to stop the tears from falling. "The ones who took the other.
That Howie man."
Buffy shot a
look of utter bewilderment to Giles. "Wait, someone took Rose..."
daughter...and they also took someone guy named Howie? Have you called the
in exasperation. "They didn't believe me, either."
forward now and laid his hands on his knees. "It's not that we don't believe
you, it's just that the police usually deal with missing person cases." He sat
back and licked his lips, trying to pick his words carefully. "We usually deal
with more...unusual cases."
That's why I came here. A friend gave me a flyer of yours when she heard my
story." They weren't understanding, she needed to bite the bullet and spill
everything that she knew, even if it made her sound like a complete lunatic.
She took in a deep breath and began. "They took her to Summer Isle." The two
seated near her shook their heads in incomprehension, but then the young man
who had faded into the shadows finally spoke. She had forgotten he was there,
and was a bit unnerved as he moved soundlessly to stand in front of her.
His voice was rich and velvety, and now that he was in the light, she could
tell he was quite good-looking. Beautiful, actually. Not someone to be hiding
in the shadows. He gave his companions a knowing glance before crouching down
in front of her.
"Angel, do you
know of this place?" Giles removed his glasses and was wiping them with a
handkerchief, knowing he was just feeding into Buffy's mental image of stuffy
old Brit but habit could not stay his hand.
Angel gave the
woman a quick smile in an attempt to pacify before turning to answer Giles.
"I've heard a few things. Rumours, mainly. It's an island off of the West coast
of Scotland. A big pagan ritual takes place there yearly, Beltaine. He hoped
they would be able to get something more from this woman. As it was, they had
almost nothing to go on.
nodded, hoping the young man would understand.
scrunched up her nose. "What's Beltaine?"
forward, hands dangling between his knees. "It's like a May Day celebration in
the States, Buffy. It's a pagan festival that welcomes the spring. Children
dancing around maypoles, sometimes there's a parade and usually some sort of
sacrifice of fruits and vegetables is made to urge a plentiful harvest. Nothing
terribly out of the ordinary, though, especially for the region. What sort of
rumors did you hear?"
back on his heels. He wasn't sure how much to reveal in front of this woman.
Technically, she had come to them for an ordinary run-of-the-mill kidnapping
case, but he suspected there was something more. There was a reason she had
been referred to them. "Summer Isle is located right off the West Coast of
Scotland, and is known as an unusually bountiful place. Even when other areas
suffered droughts and famines, Summer Isle always flourished." He glanced at the
woman, decided to press on. "Rumor was, the Lord of the Island has his roots in
Summerisle?" When Angel nodded, he continued. "The name strikes a vague
recollection. He is thought to have eternal youth, yes?"
word was, the good harvests had coincided with his instalment on the island.
That, and people started going missing. Virgins, mainly." Angel knew the story
he had heard wasn't remotely trustworthy, as it had come from a demon who had
been trying to curry Angelus' favor by amazing him with the tale. He hadn't
even been vaguely interested at the time. One virgin missing every couple of
years in some pagan ceremony really didn't tend to attract the curiosity of the
Scourge of Europe. He had killed the demon slowly and inventively for his
insolence. He now wished he had paid better attention. History tended to repeat
itself. Especially his.
Rose." Edith knew her voice had taken on a harsh and desperate tone. She
wrapped her hands around the cup so tightly that her knuckles were turning
"How do you
know she was taken there?" The vampire was tired, and the weak sunlight that
began to filter in through the windows alerted the demon inside him that it was
time to sleep. He was trying hard to fight his internal clock and remain
focused on the woman.
"It was like
it was with that Neil Howie man." The young man shook his head in confusion.
She sighed. They hadn't heard the tale. "A few years ago, a policeman from our
town was lured to the island by the tale that a child had gone missing. He went
to the island to investigate the disappearance, but never returned. This was
big news in our town, as we are small and everyone knows everyone else. His
sister searched in vain for him for almost a year, never discovering exactly
what happened. But, she did find some interesting things happening on Summer
Isle. Pagan things." She wrinkled her nose in disgust. "We are a devoutly
Christian people. We do not look kindly upon such ungodly ways."
across to Angel and Giles, wondering what Mrs. McCully's people thought about
the likes of witches and demon fighters. Probably not too kindly, either. "That
doesn't really explain what that has to do with your daughter's disappearance."
She was trying hard to keep the defensive edge from her voice, but she knew she
was failing when she saw Giles' slight admonishing headshake.
at the young woman again, surprised at her harsh tone that seemed to come from nowhere.
She realized how exhausted she was and considered that maybe she had said
something unseemly. She sighed again. "It was that boy. I knew he was trouble
from the beginning. But, Rose seemed so taken with him."
Giles tried to
soothe the tension and smiled at her. "Children aren't always known to listen
when it comes to matters of the heart." Buffy's mouth fell open in disbelief,
thinking the comment was aimed at her, but calmed when he winked at her.
"Neither are adults, for that matter."
told me that she had seen him before, that he was from the island, the son of
the inn keeper there. MacGregor. She believed MacGregor was somehow involved in
her brother's disappearance. I tried to talk to Rose, to warn her, but she
wouldn't listen. Then, two days ago, I wake up to find she had left in the
night. As did he. She left no note, just took a few clothes and things. I know she is with him, that he took her
to that island."
moved over to the big desk and rifled through some papers there, finding a map
of the British Isles. He brought it back to the others, laying it on the floor
between them. "It looks like it will take a little over 7 hours to drive to Glasgow from here, then we'll
have to find a way across the islands beyond." Giles nodded in agreement. Buffy
tried to stifle a yawn behind her hand, her eyelids heavy with sleep.
call me Edith."
"Edith. I do
apologize but my colleagues and I were just returning from a work trip when you
saw us this morning. We all need to get some sleep, but we can head there this
evening." Giles knew the vampire would appreciate this as too often he was
relegated to crouching under thick blankets in the backseat of cramped cars.
Edith's face betrayed the disappointment she felt, so Giles tried to allay some
of her panic. "Beltaine is not for another couple of days, so we should have
some time before anything happens. You are welcome to rest here with us in the
meantime. We have plenty of extra rooms we can put you up in."
gotten the better of her as well, and Edith was surprised how welcome a bed
sounded. She had been running on adrenaline for days now, her fear spurring her
onwards. Now that she had finally found someone to help her in her search, her
body was registering the fact that she had been on the go for almost 48 hours
straight. "Sleep sounds heavenly, actually."
They all said
their good nights, (or more accurately, good days), and Angel took Buffy by the
hand, leading her to their small apartment, leaving Giles to settle in the
Scotswoman. Just another day at the office.
Rose had never
been so happy. Summer Isle was just as beautiful as Stuart had promised.
Flowers were blossoming all over the island, festooning the trees and gardens
with bright flashes of color. The islanders were preparing for some spring
festival and were hard at work decorating the square with beautiful wreaths and
sun shapes woven from straw. Young people were practicing songs for the
festival, their light voices providing a soundtrack to the celebratory vibe in
She had never
met such welcoming folk before. It almost seemed that they had been waiting for
her, which she knew was impossible, yet the thought warmed her heart just the
same. Mr. MacGregor had made her instantly feel at home, placing her in the
biggest and best room in his hotel. She gazed out the window down into the
square, watching a group of young women join hands and dance in a circle. One
of the women caught her watching and smiled and gave her a small wave. Mother
had been wrong about everything. This place could not possibly be a place of
Angel stir behind her and knew that they would have to get up soon, which she knew
they were both loath to do. The light in the room began to take on the faint
purple hue of the coming dusk and she knew the vampire was reacting to the call
of the hunt, even in sleep. She was still achy and sore from the battle last
night, and knew Angel would feel the same. After returning to their room she
had discovered that he had received quite a deep gash across his back, courtesy
of a Vontak claw. Some of the claw had broken off in the wound, and she had to
spend the next hour fighting sleep while carefully picking out the pieces with
tweezers, not wanting the wound to heal over the top of them. Some had lodged
quite deep and she knew she had hit some sore spots when he hissed and jerked
in pain. Sometimes their lives sucked.
He nuzzled her
hair, lightly kissing the top of her head and pulling her in closer to his
chest. This wasn't one of those times.
She yawned and
stretched her arms above her head, letting out a little whimper with the
movement. Strong arms massaged her shoulders and she relaxed into his touch.
"We should get moving before that woman has a hissy fit."
like her, do you?" Angel had been confused at Buffy's sudden hostility towards
the woman last night. "She's just scared, Buffy. Her daughter is missing."
around to face him, rewarded with a kiss on the nose. She looked into his eyes,
losing herself in their deep brown for a moment. "I know. But the whole
Bible-thumping, anti-pagan thing kinda hits close to home for someone who was
almost burned at the stake as a witch."
in understanding and gave her a lopsided grin. "Oh yeah. Benefits of a
Sunnydale education, huh?"
under his chin. "I should just cut her a break, but I was tired and crabby."
leaned back and shot up a challenging eyebrow. His face broke into a big grin.
"Yeah, guess you get a pass, considering."
She tapped his
chest with her forefinger. "And, on top of that, we had just returned from
fighting demons that were looking to make some Buffy-sized coats."
refrained from pointing out they were looking to make some Angel and
Giles-sized coats as well, not wishing to raise her ire further. He brushed her
hair from her forehead and kissed her gently instead. He pulled back. "Guess we
should probably get ready. Giles thinks we should be there for at least a
couple of days."
"Oh joy. A few
days in the land of Scrooge McDuck?" She had sat up and swung her legs over the
side of the bed, pulling back her bare feet as they hit the cold floor.
"From what I've
heard Summer Isle is quite beautiful, actually. We might have a nice time, you
sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling her socks onto her feet. She smiled
back at him then, loving Angel for trying to make her feel like this could be a
vacation when she knew good and well they were just going to end up slaying
some nasty demon. "So, pack my bikini, then?"
beside her, pulling on his own socks. "Don't let me stop you. Might get a bit cold,
though." He smirked at her. "I'm just sayin'."
She shoved him
playfully then and he caught her arm, pulling her into his lap. He began
kissing her passionately, slipping his tongue into her mouth, and she responded
in kind. He broke the kiss just long enough to whisper directly into her ear.
"They can wait just a little bit longer." He allowed her to shove him back onto
the bed then, making up for what exhaustion and injury had prevented them from
doing the night before.
They had left
just as the sun dipped under the horizon, Angel at the wheel. The trip to the
coast did take almost 8 hours, mainly because they had to drop Edith at her
home along the way as she refused to set foot in such a "depraved place". Buffy
hadn't been sad to see her go. They had been able to secure a boat and made the
short trip to the island in less than an hour. Still, it was the middle of the
night before they reached the island proper.
They all felt
it immediately after setting foot on land. The place was so thick with magics
that they were almost choking on it, and they could hear its steady thrum on
the air, almost like a low buzz. The islanders were clearly preparing for some
kind of grand fete, but had all bedded down for the night, leaving their half
finished decorations behind in what looked to be the town square. Angel
wrinkled his nose, sensing something else. The smell of sex was almost as thick
as the magic; he could feel the place was almost throbbing with a heightened
sense of wanting and anticipation. And overlaying everything was the
sickeningly sweet and cloying smell of jasmine. God, how he hated jasmine.
his displeasure and placed an encouraging hand on his arm. "You ok?" He just
nodded in response, eyes scanning the night for things she couldn't see.
weary from the trip and was looking around for anyplace that looked like they
had accommodations. He figured the MacGregor Arms would probably not be an
option, not ready just yet to walk into the belly of the beast, as it were. They
found a small inn on the outskirts of the town proper, luckily catching the
owner before she headed for bed. The rooms were small but clean, and he left
the vampire and his Slayer to explore whilst he collapsed onto a surprisingly
soft bed, bone-tired and weary.
Buffy was sleepy, he could sense it on her, but he felt hyper-alert and awake,
equal parts a reaction to the magics in the air and to his own instinctual
desire to go on the hunt. He offered to go and explore the island a bit himself.
Buffy had reluctantly let him go, making him promise to come back before long.
He met the
night with a bit of ardor. He had to admit, it felt good to be moving. He knew
he would be spending the better part of the next day trapped inside, so he
wanted to make the best of his time outdoors.
quickly, long legs carrying him over the land unnaturally fast, and soon he
left the town center behind. He intuitively knew that the power center of the
magics was located somewhere in the thick patch of woods located behind the
large house on the hill. As he passed the house he felt the pull of something
dark and evil, a siren call to his demon. He would file that away for later
The woods were
dark and foreboding, but, then again, so was he. The trees seemed to sigh in
anticipation as he entered, branches opening their arms wide, welcoming a child
of the night. He needed to be careful here. He was all too aware that his demon
was vibrating with excitement, reacting to the malevolence that surrounded him.
In the scant
moonlight he could just make out the tall structure that dominated the center
of the clearing. He judged it was about 40 feet high, and as he neared, saw it
was in the shape of a large man. It was unfinished, and he could see a series
of chambers exposed in what would be the chest area. The whole thing looked
like a giant representation of the boxes that had held the Judge. He knew
instantly what this was, what was to happen here. So, that demon had been right
all those years ago. The Wicker Man.
back to the inn as fast as he could, eager to tell his friends what he had
found. He entered the inn silently, finding all of the occupants asleep. He
figured that he could save the news for the morning, knowing that Buffy needed
the sleep. He slipped under the covers and spooned her, burrowing his nose into
her soft hair. He smiled when he heard her sigh of contentment.
Man? Are you quite sure?" Giles knew his voice held a bit of the exhilaration
that he was feeling. This was a classic! Buffy just blinked up at him from her
position on the edge of the bed, clearly bewildered. "It's an old legend,
actually. I believe Julius Caesar mentioned it in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, yes?"
Angel nodded and
gave him an amused smile, clearly enjoying the fact that the former Watcher was
so enthused about what amounted to human sacrifice.
translates to what for us mere mortals?" Buffy looked at Angel for support, but
he clearly understood. "Or, this mere mortal, at any rate?"
Caesar, the Wicker Man is a large wooden statue made into the shape of a man
that was used by the ancient Druids in Gaul for human sacrifice. Historically,
it was burned in effigy, a representation of a human without actually burning
one alive. But, reports had always circulated that actual humans had been
placed inside before it was being set alight. Caesar claimed that if real
people were used, they were mainly criminals and other ne'er do wells, but this
was never substantiated."
people alive? Always a bad option." Buffy felt Angel's hand on the small of her
back, laid there in an attempt to placate her. She leaned back into the
"Well, if the
tales about missing virgins are true, looks like they stepped up from using
just criminals since then." He began tracing small circles with his thumb on
they're virgins who just happen to be crime lords?" Giles looked at her, agog,
and she just winked at him. "It could totally happen."
at her with a bit of irritation. "A young girl's life could be at stake here,
She stood and
stretched, giving Giles a chagrined smile. "I know, I know. Jeez, just thought
I'd try to mix in a little humor to go with the usual side dish of murder and
broke a little, and he tried hard not to let her see him smile. Leave it to
Buffy to infuse even the most dire circumstances with a bit of levity. Was one
of the main things that he loved about her. He surmised that anyone who had
faced as many ugly things as she had in her young life would have to maintain a
sense of humor in order to survive. "Well, we should probably set out soon, and
try to locate the whereabouts of the McCully girl. If her mother is to be
believed, she may be under some sort of thrall and we may have a hard time
trying to convince her to leave."
in his seat, feeling deflated. "Anything I can do from back here?" The sun
would keep him prisoner of the inn for most of the day, as he had expected.
"Maybe I can try and question the woman who owns the inn, see if she's heard
anything, knows anything?"
"That would be
most helpful, Angel." Giles knew the vampire hated the circumstance of being
hamstrung indoors for several hours and unable to aid in the search.
in and gave Angel a quick kiss. "My guess is they will probably be on the look
out for any interlopers. Be careful."
She smiled at
him, squeezing his chin. "Always am." She winked at him before joining Giles at
remembering something else, catching them before they left. "There is a house
just outside of the clearing in the woods. I sensed something when I passed it;
that may be the source of what is going on. Something ancient and evil. I
wouldn't suggest going in with guns-ablazing, though, I felt like the house had
been calling to me, or something. I would tread lightly."
Buffy flashed a smile at him from the doorway and Giles nodded at him before
heading out into the day.
Rose had woken
feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. She stretched lazily and gazed down from her
window. More people had flocked to the square and the preparations were already
again in full swing. She hugged her arms to herself, remembering her dream from
the previous night.
come to her, offering himself. She had been ready, opening herself to him, not
feeling sinful as she knew she should, but instead feeling a sense of
completeness she had never experienced before. Her body remembered the feel of
him inside her, moving so gentle and yet so full of a passion she didn't think
possible on this earthly plane. She knew with complete certainty she would
offer herself to him, that it was right. It was her right.
She dressed quickly,
pulling on one of the pretty white dresses that had been left out for her. She
smiled in satisfaction at her reflection in the mirror, smoothing her hair into
place and winding a ribbon to hold back her bangs.
She ran to the
door when she heard the soft knock, revealing Stuart behind. He looked so
handsome, dressed in his own simple white tunic and pants. She pulled him
inside and wound herself into his arms, molding her eager body against his and
devouring his mouth with kisses. She moaned with disappointment when he pulled
back from her.
He chuckled at
her impatience. "Not yet, my love. Not yet. But, soon. I promise." He leaned in
and kissed her forehead, taking her hand into his and leading her downstairs
are you getting a real ‘Stepford Wives' vibe here, or is it just me?" Buffy
wended her way through the throngs of people who dotted the square, taking in
their insipid grins and glassy eyes. The people seemed to move as one organism,
swaying in unison to a song that only they could hear. Arms reached out to
caress them as they moved through, unvoiced invitations to join in the love
fest. Buffy declined.
was quite uncomfortable, in fact, having to constantly wrench his arms away
from the men and women who were giving him looks of unmistakable lust and need.
"They appear to be under some sort of a spell."
pulled her arm away from the grasp of an over-eager adolescent boy.
"Far as I can
tell. We should probably defer to Angel on that one, though."
in agreement. "So, where do we start?"
thinking the MacGregor Arms. Edith seemed to think that Alder MacGregor was
involved in her brother's disappearance, and it is likely that the boy would
have returned to his family's home."
The pub looked
as normal enough from the outside, thatch roof covering a squat white
structure, a small chalkboard sat near the door advertising haggis and several
beers on tap. A large orange tabby lounged lazily on the small bench out front,
stretching its limbs at their approach before curling around itself again.
Enticing aromas wafted through open windows, luring passers-by within.
"Oh man, that
smells good." Buffy's stomach grumbled, she realized they hadn't eaten since they
left last night.
know if we should trust the food, Buffy. Could be what is putting them under
the trance." Giles own stomach grumbled in protest. "Oh...but that does smell
was here to do a taste test; let us know if it was magic free."
sure he'd rather be here with us as well." He gave Buffy a small smile.
approached, the door to the pub was thrown open, and a teenaged girl stepped
out towards them, beckoning them inside. "Welcome, travellers. We have a lovely
spread out this midday."
his stomach (and Buffy's groan of disappointment) and turned towards the girl,
all-business. He pulled the photo of the pale, blonde Rose that her mother had
given them, holding it out for the girl to inspect. "Have you seen her?"
"Why, yes. She
is just inside enjoying her luncheon. Why don't you come and join her for a
spell?" This was far too easy, and warning bells were clanging loudly in
Buffy's mind. She could tell Giles felt the same by the way he tensed beside
her. She threw him a knowing glance before following the girl inside.
seemed just as ordinary as the outside, bursting full of patrons enjoying their
breakfast, happily engaged in small talk. They seemed to turn as one to smile
and welcome the strangers, thoroughly creeping them both out. Ok, maybe this
place was not so ordinary. Buffy impulsively took a step backwards, bumping
into Giles. He gave her a gentle nudge forward, indicating a table at the back
with a tilt of his head. Buffy saw the young woman they were looking for,
seated across from a handsome young man. She was staring at him with what could
only be described as complete and total adoration. "Uh oh." Buffy voiced their
led them towards Rose's table, the young woman so enraptured with her companion
she didn't even turn at their approach. Buffy pulled a chair from the table,
placing it between the two love birds. Giles finally relented to mortal needs
and ordered up two lunches for Buffy and himself, noting that the food looked
standard enough, and took a seat opposite.
back in her seat, bothered that this woman would dare sit between her and her
love. "What do you want?"
the young man soothed, "is that any way to talk to a guest?" He knew his voice
would appease her, but it belied the turmoil he was feeling inside. These two
clearly did not belong here.
forward and twisted his shirt front in her fist, pulling him towards her. "Look
Romeo, how about you drop the act and release your girlfriend from whatever
trip she's currently freaking?"
He tried to
bat her hands away but she was surprisingly strong. "What are you..."
Casanova. How about you tell your girlfriend here how you plan on making her
into flambé de Wicker Man?"
"What do you
mean?" His look of utter confusion threw her a bit. Either he was a pretty good
actor or he really didn't know the score.
She twisted the
shirt again. "We know, ok. About what you do with the Wicker Man. You tell her
about the burning alive thing?" She heard the girl gasp behind her.
He glanced back at Giles, looking for help and finding none there. "Yes, we
burn the Wicker Man. It's all part of the Beltaine celebration, the big finale.
Put some of the harvest inside. But not...people! We would never do that!" He
tried to coil around Buffy, get a better look at Rose, to reassure her. She
looked terrified, but one smile from him was enough to restore her serenity. "I
love her. She is my fiancée. I would never put her in danger like that!" The
girl loosened her hand a bit, he knew he was winning her over. What is it with
these people? He thought the elders would be more careful in selecting this
year's sacrifice, after all of the mess they had after the Howie man and his
meddling sister. He knew it would be trouble to select someone from the same
town, but no one listened to the youth.
him then, turning towards the young woman. She grabbed for her arm, pulling her
to standing. The woman predictably reared back, trying to move away. Just then,
their waitress appeared, placing steaming food in front of them. Buffy eyed the
food longingly. She sighed and forced herself to look away. She tried hard to
keep her voice soft and even. "Look, Rose. We're just trying to help you. Your
mother is very worried about you. She just wants you to come home."
Rose spat out the word as if it were venomous. How dare she? "She doesn't
understand. Never gave Stuart a chance. She's just jealous! How can I be to
blame for Father leaving? She can't keep me with her forever."
and turned, trying to pull the girl along with her, but she remained rooted to
the spot. Buffy knew all too well how powerful and dangerous love spells could
be, having had personal experience of being under one. She felt the other
patrons of the inn closing in, reacting to the girl's distress. She was sure
they weren't going to let her get past them. This was going to be tougher than
Giles moved to
stand near her, placing a hand on her arm. "Buffy, maybe this isn't the wisest
course of action. Perhaps we can try other avenues, find a power center of some
sort." The patrons all wore the same glazed expressions as the people they had
seen on the street. He suspected that the problem was much larger than just the
girl. "Maybe we should try looking elsewhere. Maybe the house that Angel had
seen." He glanced down at his food. "And perhaps get this wrapped to go."
Talking to the
innkeeper had been a complete waste of time. Clearly she was under some sort of
enchantment, and she made almost no sense at all. To say she made Angel ill at
ease was a bit of an understatement, as she kept smiling seductively at him,
trying to reach out and touch him any place her hands could find purchase.
Worse, her young daughter stared silently from across the room, her big brown
eyes taking in the scene in front of her. The woman told Angel next to nothing,
other than they were all very excited for the coming celebration. She freely
admitted the burning of the Wicker Man, utterly denying anything amiss,
revealing nothing of an evil plot.
decided he had reached a dead end, and glancing out the window figured there
was a few hours left of daylight, so reluctantly headed towards the stairs that
led to their room. He was about to step up when he felt something tug lightly
at his hand. When he turned, he saw the small innkeeper's daughter gawking up
at him. He guessed her age to be no older than six. He squatted down, bringing
himself to her eye level. "Is everything ok, sweetheart?"
She smiled at
him, and placed a hand on his forehead. "Why can't I hear you?"
He just gaped
at her, mystified for a bit, before figuring out what she was talking about. He
chuckled. "Because I'm special. You're special, too, aren't you?" He dropped
his head to catch her eyes, kept his voice soft to keep her at ease. "You can
hear people's thoughts."
eyes large, staring at his face. "Can you stop what's going to happen?"
went wide with surprise. "Do you know what's going to happen?"
again, and her eyes filled with heavy tears, remembering the last time. She had
known it was going to happen, then, too. Everyone's minds were full of nothing
else for days before. She couldn't forget the man's screams she heard in her
head. She hadn't been able to sleep for a long time after that. "The Wicker
Angel reached out
and took her hand. "Listen to me. We can stop it. Do you know how?"
at the quiet man, unsure whether to trust him. Mother had told her not to talk
to strangers, but she had sensed this man was different, like her. She had felt
him come in last night, knew he would be able to stop it. He was strong enough
to face Him. "I know where He hid it."
"His sword. It
gives him his power. He hid it in the caves near the cliffs. You can use it to
stop Him." She dropped her gaze, fat
tears running down her face. "Please, don't let it happen again."
her small hand. "We will. I promise." He was a bit shocked when she collapsed
into his chest, pulling him into a hug. He rubbed her back soothingly before
pulling back. He still had a few more questions. "This man, who is he? Does he
live in the big house on the hill?"
tell the name frightened her, and rightly so. He had felt the power this man
wielded over the town emanating from the house last night. He looked in
frustration at the window and the offending sunlight, knowing that Buffy and
Giles were probably headed there right now, unaware of how to defeat the man.
He reached out and pulled out his cell phone, no service as suspected. He held
both of the girl's hands in his own. "What's your name?"
smiled at the name, and he returned it reflexively. "Just one more question,
Sarah. Do you know when it will happen?"
her hands and stood, patting her lightly on her head. "Thank you, Sarah."
Giles were making their way towards the large house that loomed on the hill
when they were overcome with the masses moving towards them in a giant parade.
All of the celebrants wore flamboyant costumes, some even sported large heads
that bobbed and weaved as they moved. Musicians were playing an atonal melody
providing the beat for the dancers who were careening through the crowd. And in
the center, hoisted high on a litter sat Rose, a crown of flowers atop her
head. She wore an expression of utter peace and tranquillity, unaware that this
was her death march.
can't be good." Buffy turned to face Giles. "Thought you said we had a couple
of days, here?"
"Yes, well, apparently
I miscalculated when the islanders celebrated Beltaine. They're early." He let
out a long breath. "In the absence of Angel, I think the best course of action
will be for us to split up."
"Agreed. So which
one do you want? The psychos or the big scary house?"
"When put like
that, neither choice sounds rather appealing." Giles tiredly rubbed a hand over
his face. "But you should follow the throng, Buffy. You may need to use your
strength to overpower them. Make sure nothing happens to the girl, but don't
forget that these are still humans."
"I know." She
sighed, glancing towards the sun as it made its slow journey towards the
horizon. At least another hour now. "Be careful, Giles. Remember what Angel said
about that house?"
grimly. "Tread carefully."
As soon as the
sun disappeared, Angel burst through the doors of the hotel, moving as quickly
as he could towards the caves. He had heard the festivities begin over an hour
ago, and he had to try very hard to keep from running into the sunlight, his
desire to get out there and stop it so great.
The caves were
small but deep, and smelled of the sea. He stretched out his senses, trying to
find any other creatures inside, but found himself truly alone. His keen
eyesight picked out a sharp gleam embedded in the wall. Lord Summerisle had
merely shoved the sword into a crevice, and it slid easily out into his hands.
He guessed you didn't have to work too hard to hide it if you kept everyone under
your thrall all of the time. Angel felt the power of the sword wending its way
through his body, as if it were an extension of him. He shook his head to clear
it, trying to shake off the effects of the dark power. He ran out of the cave
without further thought, aiming towards the great house, knowing Buffy and
Giles could probably use his help.
exasperated. She had followed the mob into a big clearing, waiting while they
encircled the large Wicker Man which stood in the middle, dancing around like
it was some big love-in. She could hear the bleating of several animals that
were already kept inside. Then, everything came to a grinding halt as a wedding
ceremony began. A full-on wedding ceremony, complete with bridesmaids and
groomsman and a celebrant who actually began reading a long script about life,
rebirth and fertility. Turns out, Rose and Stuart were to be married after all.
Kinda took the shine off the whole romance thing when you considered his
honeymoon plans. So, Buffy sat back and waited, watching the whole thing play
out, not wanting to rush in until necessary. They were only human, after all.
feel the odious nature of the house as he neared, and figured that must have
been tenfold for the vampire who was far more in tune with demonic forces. He
found the door unlocked, and figured one wouldn't have to keep people out if
you controlled their minds.
The house was
large, decorated strangely in the early Victorian style, ornate and almost
sterile. He pulled a small knife from his back pocket, and was ready to make
his way into the interior of the house when he felt a hand on his arm. He
jolted in fright, turning to find himself face-to-face with Angel. With a
Angel gave him
an apologetic smile and whispered to him. "Sorry about that." He looked around.
girl. The ceremony has begun." Angel just nodded at him. Giles gestured at the
sword. "What's that?"
center." He grinned at Giles, clearly proud to have found it.
"Where did you
"Had a little
help." He gestured towards the back of the house with the sword. "He hid it,
afraid someone would use it against him. Come on. We need to stop him."
along behind Angel, trying to remain as silent as the vampire, but knowing that
was a lost cause. "Who is he?"
Summerisle. Turns out the rumor is true."
sense another's presence in a room off to the right. Heard one heartbeat, could
feel the slight temperature change that came from body heat. He inclined his
head towards a closed door, nodding towards Giles. Giles gave him the go-ahead,
and he hefted the sword in a battle stance and kicked in the door.
The man turned
in shock to look at them. He was average height, and there was nothing too
remarkable about his appearance other than the fact that he had to be hundreds
of years old and looked barely 30. He didn't know that fact wasn't bound to
impress either of the men who had come into the room. He was dressed in
ceremonial robes and had gathered up what looked like a sort of staff, probably
used to lead the proceedings. His hard eyes belied the benign smile he had
plastered on his lips. "Ah, I see you found my sword. How very thoughtful of
you. I do tend to misplace it at times."
back the sword as the man made to grab for it. "Not so fast." He had to steel
his mind from the iniquity flowing from this man, fight back the demon that so
wanted to emerge. He could feel the evil roiling from his every pore.
"What do you
want with my sword? It belongs to me." The man tapped his hand on his chest.
"You can't even begin to comprehend what kind of power it has."
"Got an idea."
Angel's tone was conversational, but he knew his posture was menacing by the way
the man was keeping a safe distance. He wouldn't be surprised if the man knew
what he was. He swung the sword in a large circle before levelling its tip at
the man's neck. "Know what it will do, too." He moved the tip back, ready to
deliver the final blow.
The man arched
his neck, then, offering it to Angel. He rolled his eyes to meet his gaze.
Angel drew the
sword back, ready to strike, only to stop with a gasp. "You're human!"
walked towards the other two, closely scrutinizing the man. "How can he be
human? Long as he's lived?"
the sword back completely, giving it a contemplative look. He let out an
incredulous little laugh, waving the sword at the man. "This is how you're
doing it, isn't it? This is your power center." The man was trying his best to
remain impassive, but Angel could smell the fear coming off of him in waves.
"This is what gives you eternal youth, brings a good harvest. But it is linked
to a demon power, isn't it."
"You struck a deal
with a demon?" Giles finished the thought for Angel, knowing they had hit the
mark when the man gasped in surprise. "A demon that requires an offering of
some kind to keep you in its benevolence,
doesn't it?" Giles almost spat the word out. He couldn't believe that another
human being could have sent so many people to such a grisly end.
will happen if I do this?" Angel placed both hands on the blade, bringing it
down over his knee. A blinding light of energy shot out of the broken sword, sending
everyone to the ground.
"NO!" The man
fell to the ground and began to writhe in agony, the years quickly catching up
to him. His body decomposed before their eyes, and all that was left behind was
a pile of dust under the heavy robes.
changed. Confusion reigned as the people were milling around aimlessly, trying
to figure out where they even were. Mothers were calling out for their
forgotten children, frantically trying to round up their young ones. Farmers
were shepherding their precious livestock from inside the Wicker Man's chest.
Buffy ran into the crowd, not a single person even registered that she was
there. She found Rose slumped on the ground in front of the big statue, crying.
Buffy knelt before her.
going to kill me." Her voice hitched with sobs.
Buffy took her
hand. "You knew?"
shook her head. "I knew. It was just like I didn't care. Thought I had to do
this; that I wanted to let them kill me." She began openly weeping.
her to standing, allowing Rose to wrap an arm around her waist to steady
herself. "Come on. Let's get you home."
help but notice all of the plants seemed to be withering and dying at a rapid
pace. Fruit was rotting on the vine and falling to the ground which was already
littered with the petals their flowers had released.
Buffy, Angel and Giles returned a very contrite
daughter to a very thankful mother that same night.
them profusely, and offered to forward along a small sum to their Westbury
address as soon as she could afford. She sent them on their way laden down with
buns and cookies, finding it odd that the young man had refused any at the
house. She was known for her pastries throughout the town.
They were all
completely done in and heaved a collective sigh of relief as their house
finally came into view. Their relief was short lived, however, when they
noticed a car sitting in the driveway, and beside it a young man waiting.
"Here we go
Thanks to Dark Star, Jo and Ares for
all of their help in beta-ing and patience in getting me through my writing.
The Wicker Man
is a seminal horror flick made in 1973. It has been voted #45 on Bravo's
scariest 100 movie moments of all time. It has taken on a cult status, there is
even a fanzine published about it. The movie is pretty trippy, with naked go-go
dancers, erotic seduction attempts through closed doors (gotta see it to
believe it) and a truly horrific ending. (From what I've heard, the 2006 remake
with Nicolas Cage is not very good.)
To read more
about the movie, check out: