From The Ivory Gate
Summary: Dreams, nightmares or truths? Hard to tell the difference, sometimes.
Dreams From The Ivory Gate
in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
we have shuffled off this mortal coil...
suddenly, crossing from one state to the other in the shadow of a second. She's in suffocating darkness. Something thin and sharp pricks her fingers. She lets it go and tries to raise her hands,
but she can't. She tries to move, and
that, too, she cannot do. Although
she's suffocating, she doesn't realise that she hasn't yet taken a breath.
right. She knows she isn't right, but
whatever is wrong seems to be mending itself, as her strength returns. But she must move, and quickly.
upwards as hard as she can from her cramped position, pulling her fist towards
her face, and there's a rotten, tearing sound above her. Earth pours in through the hole that she's
created, falling into her eyes, and into her nose. It fills her mouth, and she tastes her own corruption.
punching and clawing, ripping her way out of this cold womb, but as she
struggles upwards, she's enveloped, entangled from beneath, soft fingers
wrapping around her to suffocate her once more. At last, though, her fingertips find a smooth, hard surface above
her, and she reaches for it, pulls herself up to it, tries to break
through. Again and again her fist hits
the barrier, but it doesn't so much as bend.
realises that she needs air. All she
has in her lungs is soil and that won't serve.
Frantically, she reaches around herself, feeling along the hard surface
and at last she finds the edge of the thing.
She tunnels upwards, away from the dusty darkness that has birthed her,
pulling those clutching fingers behind her.
And then her
hand breaks out of the solid sea in which she's swimming. There's cool air on her skin. The rest of her follows, shouldering aside
the constricting earth, yet she still cannot breathe. When she's emerged from the ground, emerged all but her feet,
still caught in the grasp of whatever it is that holds her back, she's on her
knees in a darkness almost as great as the one she's just left. She can see nothing.
It's then that
she coughs, and vomits up the soil that's lodged in her mouth and nose, in her
belly and her lungs, dust that she has metamorphosed into mould with the
essence of herself. Bitter
blood-stained bile spills onto the ground in front of her, full of the choking
dirt. More streams down her nose, clogging
Her eyes are
full of it, abrading the sensitive membranes, blocking her sight. She hopes.
Her eyes feel... flaccid, and she prays that she hasn't been blinded. Tears come now, although she doesn't hold on
to the thoughts that lie behind them.
Not now. She'll do that later,
and then there will be many more tears.
For now, she just needs enough tears, enough to wash away the soil and
her sins with it.
When she stops
retching, she rolls over on to her side, like a dog. She's exhausted, but there's no time. She wipes her eyes with her sleeve, and then pushes herself to
her feet, levering herself up against a thing that's rough and hard and
solid. Now she has some sight, vague
and watery, lines of interference wavering across the shadowy landscape. It's enough, though, that she can see the
thing that lay on top of her.
It's a large
slab of stone, unworked except for something on the top. She squints, trying to bring it into focus.
It's a cross,
roughly carved into the centre of the slab.
heaves again, and she stands still until the spasm passes. Now she can see the ruin of her hands. She's torn the skin from her knuckles in her
struggle to free herself, but even that can't explain the scabrous state of her
skin, or the areas of raw, yellowing flesh.
She doesn't want to look at the rest.
eyesight improves, so does her flesh.
In a minute or two, she's whole and unharmed, with just the taste of her
own corruption still in her mouth. She
sees that something greyish-white is wrapped around her feet, and she bends
down to free them.
It's a linen
cloth. As she grasps it, she pricks her
fingers. Caught in the folds of the
shroud is a single decayed rose.
threaten again, as she remembers.
They're all dead. Her
family. Her friends. Her lover.
Although, not her lover's alter ego.
At least, she doesn't remember him being dusted. She was the one who died. He killed her, with his own hands. Perhaps it was always meant to be that way,
that he would be the end of her.
who would have done this. Who would
have wrapped her body so carefully, and given her the rose? Who would have expended the effort to place
this slab over her, so that animals - of any kind - couldn't dig her up? There's no one to give her an answer of
course, and the answer, if there is one, won't be found here.
round to get her bearings. On the floor
behind her lie scattered earthenware shards.
They are drenched in blood. From
somewhere in the distance come the sounds of fighting, the bright white sound
of swords, and voices shouting, followed by the rumble of thunder and the flash
effort, she raises her head to see. It
wasn't lightning. A gaping wound in the
midnight sky now bleeds dragons and flying demons. The sounds of battle grow louder.
She takes her
first real breath, a deep, burning lungful, and she starts to run towards the
holding her. She tries to free her
arms, and can't. Other arms, strong
arms, a man's arms, hold her tightly.
"Get off me!"
she screams to him. "Let me go!"
doesn't. Instead, he whispers to her,
words that she can't hear. She manages
to loosen his grip, just for a second, and then she's facing him and beating
her fists against his bare chest, raking her nails down the flesh, scoring him
me! You killed me, you bastard!"
And then she
really does wake up.
Buffy awoke, she could still taste the rancid grave dirt on her tongue. She was two people, one laid over the other
and, for a finite period of time, she couldn't fathom who was real and who was
She was still
held tightly, but it was long seconds before she knew whose arms these
were. Oh, not the flesh. She could never mistake this flesh for
another. But whose spirit?
Angel? Or Angelus?
as she started to disentangle herself from her dream, and the dream began to
thin and fade. The man behind her
nuzzled at her neck comfortingly.
and stiffened against him.
Angel never - never
- used that as a term of endearment.
They both remembered too well when he'd used it before.
sharply. He seemed unaware of what he'd
said. His eyes, still soft with sleep, were full of worry, and... She gasped
again. His chest was purpling from
where she'd punched him, and he bore deep scarlet furrows from nipple to navel,
too fresh to have started to heal yet.
He followed her gaze down.
"You did it in
your sleep, Buffy. Don't worry. It'll be gone soon."
He lifted her
chin with his finger, so that she was forced to look him in the face.
"I... I don't
know whether it was real, or just a dream?"
"No... no... I..."
always tell." His voice was coaxing,
gentle. This was Angel, she reminded
know. I really don't know."
"Tell me about
she say? She thought of the broken
figure of the other Angel as he'd walked back into his own time and space. Had he...?
"Buffy." Her own lover called back her wandering
She put her
hand up to his cheek, running her thumb over his lips. He nibbled at the soft pad of flesh and then
gently kissed it. She would die for
him. And she would live for him. She would give up heaven and live for him,
if she had to choose. She knew that cut
both ways. The thing was, did it cut
the same way everywhere? In every
him..." She trailed off. How fair was it to tell this Angel, her Angel, what
she'd done for another Buffy's Angel?
How fair was it not to? He
waited patiently. He would wait for as
long as it took, and he always got what he waited for. Almost always...
"When I said
goodbye to him, I told him..." She remembered how she had whispered into that
other Angel's ear, and she heard again the words of denial that had sprung to
his lips. The protestations of ‘Never'... "I told him that if the fight was too
much for one person to handle, to find Osiris's pot."
"The Urn of
Osiris." The correction was automatic,
but the words died even as Angel said them.
"You said what?"
"Tell me about
the dream." He was insistent now. He would have this, she knew.
She told him.
When she had
finished, his face was closed and hard.
"You think he
did it?" he asked, his voice harsh.
"You think that rattle-brained drivelling... that, that lack-witted
dizzard would actually do it?" Angel
was showing his age, but she got the drift.
He wasn't pleased.
"I don't know
Angel. I really don't know. I don't know whether it was a dream of
something that's happening, a dream of something that might possibly happen, or
a nightmare about what happened to me.
I have no idea!"
shouting now. She was afraid, because
she didn't know. He understood her, and
put his arms more tightly around her, murmuring soothing nonsenses to her and
pressing kisses onto her tear-wet face.
It was sometime before he spoke again.
She felt his soft exhalation cool against her cheek, and some of the
tension left his body. It seemed to her
like resignation, and his words confirmed it.
are some things that have to happen, if a world isn't to break."
She nodded in
"Come on, my
love," he said. "I think we should tell
Giles. Just in case."
He led her in
to the shower where, with absolute care, he attended to her every need, his
very touch a solace to her soul. By the
time he'd finished, his own wounds were healed, and they set off to beard Giles
in his den. As it turned out, they
bearded him in the kitchen.
Buffy's narration of her dream in silence.
He didn't appear to be listening.
He sat at the table, a mug of coffee warming his hands as he stared out
of the window at the bright yellow digger, excavating trenches. Services were being laid on to the site for
the new building, and the trenches were needed for drains, water pipes,
electricity and gas. They were making
good progress, despite the mud.
fooled, and neither was Angel. Giles
took in every word. When she'd
finished, she poured herself another cup of coffee.
this wasn't a Slayer dream, Buffy?"
Giles had turned his full attention back to her, with his question.
Giles. Wash your ears out," she said
impatiently. "I've no idea whether it
was real or a nightmare, or wishful thinking."
suppose there's nothing to be done.
You're right, it could have been anything. It is the first dream like this that you've had, yes?"
told him, wearily. "Definitely the
first of its kind. And the only."
Angel laid his
hand over hers and squeezed gently.
Giles smiled to see it.
he said, "we shall just have to wait and see whether you get any further
dreams, or whether there are any other signs or portents. But perhaps this was just a dream from the
Giles. There was definitely no ivory
gate there. Or was that a movie? Or a book?" she ended, plaintively.
Now it was
Angel's turn to smile. "It's Virgil,"
he explained. "In the Aeneid, he tells
us that there are two Gates of Sleep.
The gate of horn allows true spirits to pass, but the gate of ivory
allows only false visions and dreams."
you two are up now, shall we see what the postman has brought us?"
postman had delivered to Summerdown House for years, missing only holidays and
an occasional day's sickness. And a
fortnight, when a new dog in the village had almost taken his leg off. He'd done his rounds with a walking stick
for a good two months after that. Mick
was made of stern stuff. It was a good job, Giles reflected, because he'd
brought some pretty strange things to Summerdown House. Today was just another example.
There was a
battered African mask inside a clear plastic bag that had been rolled over at
the top and stapled. A white sticky
label was hand-printed with an address that only Mick could have interpreted,
and another declared in red capital letters that the item was FRAGILE. There wasn't a shred of protective
A note inside
asked whether this mask was the same as the one reported on in the
attached. ‘The attached' turned out to
be a barely legible photocopy of an article from one of the more lurid red-top tabloids,
with a story about a ‘genuine' African mask that had stuck to its owner's face
when he tried it on, and could only be removed with the help of a ‘genuine'
African witch doctor, whose services had generously been paid for by the
The note asked
that the mask be returned with Project Paranormal's answer. There was no return envelope or postage.
finished reading out the missive, there were chuckles around the table. He handed the package to Buffy. She would write to the sender and tell them
that goods could only be returned with prepaid postage, and no, they wouldn't
be able to research this item. Unless
it actually stuck to someone's face.
The mask would go into the cupboard full of things to be returned if
ever the owner sends the wherewithal.
The next envelope
was a small one, in a soft baby pink, the handwriting rounded and girly.
"It's from a
Joanna Theakston. She's on a sandwich
course, and wants to know if she can spend her six months' work placement here."
sandwiches? Is this to do with Martha
maybe having to go away for a week or two when she becomes a Gran?"
contain his amusement. Sometimes it was
just so tempting to bait Buffy...
"No, no," he said,
soothingly. "A sandwich course is one
in which students have work placements in between periods at University. Like the meat between the slices of bread."
shook her head, and held her hand out for the letter. "That'll be a no, then?"
Giles left the
letter on the table. "Well... You know, there's always so much work to do
here. They must be desperate for
placements, because she says she'll work for no pay, just expenses."
Off the two
astonished expressions, he hurried on. "You know, there's no one to answer the phone when we're all on a
case, and Buffy has to do all the secretarying because, let's face it, Angel,
you and I aren't up to much in that department. And we've got absolutely heaps of books and artefacts to
dangerous artefacts," Buffy muttered.
this girl is reasonable, it's another female in the household for Buffy."
look that he got almost made him quail.
"It might not
be such a bad idea," he finished, defensively.
identities, Giles, secret identities."
Buffy's scowl was still threatening.
"And besides, how can working here help a college student, even if she's
not learning to cut sandwiches?"
back at the letter.
"She's doing leisure
and tourism. Well, there are ghostly
tourist attractions, I suppose... We'll
talk about it later, shall we?"
He hurried on
to the next letter, trying to deflect the scowl. But there really was always so much to do.
All that was
left were bills, and junk mail invitations to spend money on new window blinds,
on a flashy new coat of cement rendering for the house, and on two-for-one
offers from the most down-market of the local supermarkets, on food items that
Martha would be hard pushed to give to the dogs' home. And there was a flyer for a car auction with
some unbeatable prices on ex-showroom models.
at that one with interest. "I need a
new car," she declared. "Miss Mini is...
what's the word you used, Giles?
in real amusement. "Clapped up means
put in jail. I think you mean clapped
too. I need a new car. A NEW car.
One that comes with a guarantee and stuff like that. And that doesn't need me to be a mechanic."
over to the telephone as it started to ring.
"We'll start looking round," he told her, knowing that she spoke the
"Oh, yes. Hello, Sergeant Lincoln."
There was a
long pause as Giles listened to the policeman.
"Right. We'll go and look now."
up. "He says he's sending us something
interesting by e-mail."
Buffy followed him into the study, and he stood back to let Angel switch the
computer on. Giles was better with the
thing than he'd used to be, but he was happy to let other people do the work on
As the screen
lit up, he told them what Lincoln had said.
something he'd like us to have a look at, something a police officer can't
tackle. Oh, and when Ian gets back
tomorrow, he'll see whether there's a fee in it, although quite how he'd enter
it up in the books I really can't imagine.
"He said that
yesterday there was a photograph, an image, or whatever you call it,
circulating through the police station.
They all think it's a joke, one of those manipulated e-mail things. Lincoln says that last night, he had
particularly strange dreams about that image."
Buffy shot a
glance at Angel. She hadn't been the
only one with dreams, last night, then.
doesn't seem to be the imaginative type," Angel observed mildly. "I mean, not a man given to fanciful
Buffy gave him
an old-fashioned look, and Giles thought back to their discussion earlier. He shook his head.
"No, he's much
too feet-on-the-ground to lightly indulge in flights of fancy. This morning," Giles went on, "he asked a
specialist colleague to take a look at it, and the upshot is that there's no
sign of tampering or image manipulation.
And it seems to show a dragon."
groaned. "Not another dragon."
shrugged, stoical in the face of repetitive adversity. "The bigger they come, the harder they
"I wonder how
big this one is." Buffy thought about
the dragon whose dead bulk had protected Angel's ashes back in that Los Angeles
alley. And about that dragon woman down
in Devon, where the female of the species had definitely been deadlier than the
as big as the ones we've already seen off," Angel told her. "Ah.
Here it comes now."
He seemed so
matter of fact. Buffy asked herself
what he was really thinking, as he opened up the attachment.
silence as they viewed the image that Gavin Lincoln had sent them. It showed a black figure against a pink and
gold sky. Unfortunately, what light
there was came from behind the figure, which made it hard to see details in the
dark bulk. It had huge, outspread
wings, and although the body showed few features, there was a long, forked
tail, and a hint of talons on the feet.
The head was almost facing directly into the camera. Almost, but not entirely. What they could see suggested a snout and
long, whiskery appendages.
enough," said Angel, laconically. "How
come this hasn't been on all the news bulletins?
should think." Giles sat against the edge of the desk. "People thinking it's a hoax. I'd better call him back and ask where this
us," Angel replied, reading the e-mail.
"Martin Mere? Where's that?" Buffy was already psyching herself up for action.
"It's a bird
sanctuary, I think." Giles frowned in
recollection. "Wildfowl and Wetlands
Trust, I seem to remember. We need to
check it. I think it's on the northwest
coast... Lancashire? Yes, Lancashire, near Southport. Erm... It couldn't actually be a bird, could
Buffy let out
the breath she didn't know she'd been holding.
at the on-screen image. "Lincoln was
clear that there's been no manipulation?"
"Then it's not
Buffy made her
mind up. "It's my turn for the dragon,"
"No!" Angel's reply was forceful. "We'll go together. I'm not leaving you to face that by
"I need to set
off now. If this thing has just
arrived, there's no telling when it might start to feel peckish."
his mouth to remonstrate with her, but was interrupted by an imperious banging
on the front door.
Giles sighed, and went to answer the summons.
It was the
aged Ivy Grittleton and her elderly beau, Walter Satterthwaite. Ivy sat in a wheelchair, her walking stick
raised, ready to rap on the door again.
Giles got the impression that he'd only just escaped a broken nose.
Grittleton! Are you alright?" He'd never seen Ivy Grittleton in a
"Of course I'm
alright." Ivy was her usual testy self. "It's my ankle that isn't particularly
alright. Now, Walter's brought me all
the way up here to see you, young Rupert, so perhaps you'd let us in?"
Giles and Walter got Ivy out of the wheelchair, helped her to hobble into the
kitchen and settled her at the table.
Giles smiled inwardly as he realised that she'd called her companion
Walter, instead of Mr Satterthwaite.
The relationship was definitely progressing. They'd be naming the day, the next thing anyone knew. She rapped the floor with her stick.
"Where are the
other two? I want them here."
the study. I'll fetch them."
"No need. Walter's nearer the door. You'll go, Walter, and get them here now." She noticeably softened. "Won't you?"
for the door to the hall. "On the
left," Giles called out to him. In
response to a pointed look from his irascible guest, he put the kettle on.
on the study door and went in. He got
the impression that he'd interrupted something. A lovers' tiff maybe. His
thin cheeks creased up into a smile.
"Me'n Ivy ‘ave
come to visit," he announced. "Ivy says
will you come and join us."
It wasn't a
question, and Buffy felt a dart of irritation, but she followed Walter and
"Good. You're here," Ivy began, before they'd even sat
down. Giles was still on his feet,
setting out cups and saucers on the table.
Angel smiled to see that Giles had chosen to use the good china, rather
than their everyday mugs.
have been here earlier, except for this wretched ankle. It was the dream that did it, do you see?"
see at all.
"I had this
dream last night," she explained, her irritation levels rising. "And I knew it was one of my special
dreams. I don't get them often, but I
know them when I do, and they can't be ignored. They have to be taken care of.
And I knew it was urgent, so I hurried to get out of bed, and I slipped
and broke my ankle.
that Walter, here, had to get me to the hospital, and we came as soon as we
could. But there's no time to
waste. You've got someone to save,
She stared at
the three people she'd come to see, her gaze sweeping from one to the other.
"What? Why are you all looking at each other like
that? You lot shouldn't be surprised at
strange dreams. But they're proper
foretelling. My mother had them, too."
"No, we understand
dreams," Buffy assured her.
"Truly. But I'm sorry, I've already
got a job to rush off to. Someone else
will have to do it."
"No!" Ivy was emphatic, and punctuated the reply
by banging the floor with her stick.
"No. I saw it in my dream. It has to be you."
her mouth to refuse, but Giles interrupted.
"Why don't you
tell us a bit more, Ivy?"
"What is it,
Rupert? You don't believe me, think I'm
a foolish old woman who's losing her marbles?"
not, Mrs Grittleton, but we always need as much information as possible."
conceded the point as he filled her cup with tea. "It's on one of those country roads between Glastonbury and
Street, I can't say more than that, but there's a lass being held there who's
going to die, or worse. By something
that don't belong here. You deal with
those sorts of things. I know
that. Tonight, tomorrow, I can't say,
but it's happening at night and it's happening soon, and you're the one to stop
it. That is what you do, isn't it? Save people?"
Angel and Buffy looked at each other.
They couldn't ignore this new omen from last night's cluster of dreams.
"It's close to
home," Angel said to Buffy. "It can't
be more than twenty miles. Even Miss
Mini should manage that. I'll take
Martin Mere. That might be something
sensible, and Buffy knew it. She nodded,
unhappy, but with no option but to agree.
"I'll go with
Angel," Giles told her, to make her feel better.
was emphatic. "I really get the feeling
that someone should be here. It was a strange
night, last night."
Now it was
Giles who felt that he had no option but to agree.
"Is there any
more tea in that pot?" Ivy asked, accepting victory with magnanimity. "I'm that parched, I could really do with
It had been a
long journey up from Westbury to Martin Mere.
Even though the reserve closed to visitors - other than the feathered
kind - at five-thirty on winter's evenings, getting in presented no problem to
Angel. It was more of a problem to his
beloved Porsche, though, which had to stay outside. He glowered at the surrounding countryside, daring it to cough up
some vandal or thief who might interfere with the car.
he soon found an information map table.
He could have wished that one of the numbered landmarks was for ‘exotic
dragon', or similar, but no such luck.
There were a number of hides for visitors to use, and it seemed a good
idea to find one of those. Eventually,
he settled on the intriguingly-named Harrier Hide. It was on the opposite side of the reserve, as far away as
possible from all the other buildings and attractions. If there was a secretive dragon anywhere,
that looked like a good place to start.
was a maze of ponds and pools, connecting streams, wetlands and made-up
paths. The Harrier Hide was a surprise,
when he found it. It faced onto reed
beds, and the path to it led through a grassy, terraced bowl in the ground,
presumably where people could picnic on sunny days.
reared up at the back of the bowl, a far cry from the cramped little shed that
he'd imagined. It was certainly wooden,
but the tall central tower was flanked by two huge outspread wings. He smiled.
Hence the name, he imagined. It
looked like a raptor taking flight.
Frowning suddenly, he pulled out the print-off of the dragon. No luck.
It definitely wasn't a picture of this hide, manipulated or not.
The door, at
the base of the tower, was unlocked, and that surprised him. In stealth mode, he started into the
spent all afternoon checking out the roads between Street and Glastonbury, and
now she was resigned to spending half the night, too. There was only a mile or two between the two towns, at least on
the main road. Half a dozen country
lanes took more circuitous routes.
She'd recently seen a poem about the rolling English drunkard building
the rolling English road, and she could really identify with that, she thought,
as she tramped around those lanes.
The lanes were
too narrow, and a car too conspicuous, for stealthy slaying, and so she was on
foot. The February night was cold and dank,
and she was well wrapped up in a thick fleece jacket, with several layers
underneath that. The tight-fitting
jeans were nicely stretchy and, for a wonder, she'd found a really comfortable
pair of boots at the Westbury market.
She was still
cold, though, and tired of tramping around in the dark. And she wished she knew what she was looking
for. Ivy had readily admitted that her
dream hadn't been detailed, just snatches and impressions. So far, all she'd found had been fields and the
odd farmhouse, and a bed and breakfast or two.
that Britain was a different slaying ground to Sunnydale. In Sunnydale, it had often seemed impossible
to move without tripping over a demon.
Her senses - her Slayer senses - had been on permanent active duty, and
often on permanent overload.
Britain, there were still demons, but they were thinner on the ground. No Hellmouths here, no gatherings of the
demon clans, or at least, none that they'd found. That meant that her senses were alerted by a demon presence with
much more accuracy. Nothing so far.
She pulled the
fleece a little tighter around herself, and decided that a fleece wasn't
sufficiently windproof on a night when there was a sharp north-easterly
breeze. And she was walking straight
times in the English winters when she could wish herself back in
California. Or anywhere warmer than this. An hour after sunrise, she admitted defeat
for the day and set off back to her aging car, to find a local bed and
breakfast, and to get some sleep.
There was a
human in the tower, and a strong smell of whisky. Angel turned to leave unnoticed, just as a second man emerged
from a doorway, fastening up his flies.
man said to him. "Not seen you before. You here for the beavers?"
"Um, no, not
the beavers. A foreign, er, bird."
"Ah," said the
man. "There's a fair few of those here.
The migrants. Some lovely pink-footed geese. You here to see them fly off to feed at
"Yes." It seemed to be the safest answer, although
Angel fervently hoped that he wouldn't be asked too many questions. His new companion nodded his understanding.
four thousand just now. They're
regrouping on the way from Norfolk, back to Iceland and Greenland. Nice sight."
He hitched his
trousers up, making himself more comfortable.
Angel, trying not to get lost in the conversation. "Anything more, erm, exotic today?"
"Last week a
hoopoe got blown up from the Mediterranean, but it was so knackering cold it upped
sticks and buggered off again. You're
not here for that, are you?"
Angel had no
idea what a hoopoe was, and wondered whether it had been the thing in the
photograph. Perhaps he was here for that. He should have thought to bring a bird book. But how many birds looked like dragons? And how many birds were the size of
dragons? None that weren't extinct or
mythological, he'd bet.
The man was
moving further into the hide.
"I'm Rick, by
the way. Coming?"
"Ah." Rick nodded sagely. "A twitcher's handle, eh?" Angel didn't argue. Rick stopped at a dark huddle in a
corner. "This is Dunlin. He uses a twitcher's handle, too."
said, "Hi. Come and sit."
"He's after vagrant
"Missed out on
the bloody hoopoe, then. Still, no need
to miss out on the hoopoe's gift."
There was a
clink of glass and Dun held out a bottle to him. It was a full bottle of whisky.
Rick told him. A guy called the Elder
Twitcher, he comes here a lot. He was
here last week on his sixtieth birthday, hoping to see something really good to
celebrate the occasion, and he saw the hoopoe.
He left a case of whisky hidden here for those of us that ignore opening
hours to get some good sightings. There
aren't many of us, so there's a lot to go round."
thanks." Angel slid down the wall until
he, too, was a huddle on the floor. A
quick drink wouldn't hurt, before he found a place to watch from. Rick walked over to a table, and then he,
too, sat down.
record of what's been seen this winter."
He handed a
book over, and then lifted his own bottle up for a drink. "Ah!
Keeps out the cold a treat..."
The book was a
sort of photograph album. Subscribed
beneath each picture was the name and description of the bird and the date of
sighting. There was a note whether it
was resident, a regular visitor, or just passing through.
through the book, checking for something that might resemble the image that had
brought him here. Rick nudged him.
"Here. Borrow my torch."
right. Thanks." Angel took the torch, to seem more like the
flamingos and Hawaiian geese and the pink-footed geese and several different
swans. There were marsh harriers,
surely the model for this building, and a whole other panoply of feathered
life. There were even pictures of the
hoopoe, a striking pink bird with a tall crest in black and white and pink, and
black and white wings. It didn't look
at all like the dragon picture. And
there were the beavers, distinctly unlike either birds or dragons. There was nothing that in any way resembled
the image in his pocket.
Rick and Dun
stood up. "We're off to watch the
beavers again for a bit. They're only
really active at night. Push the case
of booze back under there when you've finished," - he pointed to a small hiding
place behind a pile of boxes - "and good luck."
back the torch, and then he was alone.
It was just him and a bottle of whisky.
Grinning, he wandered around, checking out the viewing windows, watching
for something strange in the sky.
he'd seen nothing, except a few owls.
He'd planned for that, and he hadn't expected to see anything. The pink and yellow sky in the image had
been a sunset, not a sunrise.
draining of the last of the day's light from a sky that had been full of sun looked
quite unlike the moment when those first rays broke the cold stellar darkness
of night. Even in a picture, vampires
could always tell sunset from sunrise.
It was a life and death thing.
If the dragon came again, it would be at sunset, not sunrise. He was certain of that.
He kept up his
solitary watch until visitors started to trickle in, and then he made himself
inconspicuous. For the rest of the day,
he was just another twitcher, albeit one without notebook, binoculars or
camera. And he wore his long wool coat
instead of an anorak or other waterproof jacket. One of those would never have covered up the three-and-a-half
foot broadsword that was tucked inside his coat.
up at a rather down-at-heel bed and breakfast, partly because it stood on a
corner on the northern outskirts of the town of Street, the edge of her hunting
territory, and partly because there were strange, graunching noises coming from
the rear of her car, the sounds of tortured metal. She was afraid that if she didn't stop now voluntarily, Miss Mini
might call it a day before much further.
As soon as she got back to Westbury, it was going to be new car
time. Either that, or she was
commandeering someone else's car.
who ran the B&B, was nice and homely, but essentially an elderly lady who
had been untouched by the changing world of the last thirty years, and whose
clothes were showing signs of being mended and darned. Her establishment looked exactly the
same. It was a three-storey, red brick
Victorian house, with steeply-pointed gables and a grey slate roof. Inside, woodchip wallpaper and magnolia
paint predominated, but at least it was clean.
Her room was
spacious, if draughty, and occupied a corner of the building so that from one
window she could watch the traffic on the main road, the A39, and from the
other, she could see the houses across the narrower side street. Those, too, were large, red brick Victorian
houses standing in substantial gardens.
She could also see Miss Mini, looking lonely in the tiny car park that covered
what would otherwise have been the front garden.
bother unpacking her small overnight bag, apart from a pair of warm pyjamas,
hardly worn. The bed was comfortable,
the duvet a warm winter weight, and she was asleep almost as soon as her head
hit the lacy pillow. She tossed and
turned enough to finish up with the duvet in a rumpled pile in the middle of
the bed, but if she had dreams, she didn't remember them afterwards.
Giles felt that there were a lot more than three people in Summerdown
House. Well, yes, there were definitely
times when there were a lot more, but what he meant was normally resident. Even
though Buffy was so tiny, she was so very alive, and that meant that she
occupied a space quite disproportionate to the size of her frame. Likewise with Angel. He was the master of self-effacement, and
yet, once you got to see through that, he too occupied a space that was much
larger than even he was. Giles had been
about to think much larger than life,
but that, of course, was inappropriate.
And anyone who
has lived with cats knows just how big their personal space can be. Just now, Zillah was winding herself
sinuously around his naked ankles, standing on his slippered feet, and whisking
at the hem of his dressing gown with her tail.
It was only her way of saying good morning and isn't it time I was fed,
but she seemed to fill the entire room.
Aristotle looked on indulgently from the top of the fridge.
when Buffy and Angel were away, he was pleased to have the house back to
himself. This wasn't one of those
times. He missed his companions. He smiled to himself. He'd started to think young companions, and he didn't know whether Angel would have been
flattered or insulted to know that.
straightened up from putting down the dishes with the cats' breakfast on -
leftover salmon from last night - just as Mick the postman drew up on the
on the door. Another parcel of unmentionable things, Giles thought,
wearily. But it wasn't. Mick proffered just one slim letter.
Giles took the
pen that he was offered and scrawled a spidery signature on the computerised
handset thingy, or whatever it was, and he wondered grumpily how on earth anyone
would expect a recipient to be able to actually write on that. With a wave of his
hand, Mick was back into his red Royal Mail van and off to the rest of the
looked down at the envelope, he saw that the writing was about as spidery as
his signature had been. He carried it
back to the kitchen, and slit it open with the knife he was about to use on his
toast. The same spidery scrawl covered
two pages of lined paper, pale blue to match the envelope, and slightly scented
with lily-of-the-valley. This was an
elderly lady's missive, laboured over with much care.
was in the Southbourne area of Bournemouth, a place much-favoured by the
elderly. The letter came from a Miss
Eileen Jepson, and had been posted first class yesterday.
Dear Mr Giles
I am persuaded to write to you by my
sister, with whom I am now staying, and we have your direction from friends at
the Methodist church in Westbury.
I dare not go home. I have been hounded from my house by a great
evil that I feel sure has taken residence next door, and that has spread its
vileness into my sitting room. I have
lived with it for months, with the growing terror, and the spectral chill
whenever it walks abroad, but last night, I had a terrible dream that caused me
to flee to Lilian's by the first train.
I dreamed that if I stayed, I should
finish up as a rotting and dismembered corpse, and that my soul would forever
be denied eternal rest because I had done nothing to oppose this evil.
Please do not think me a fanciful old
lady who starts at every shadow. I am a
retired nurse, and I have seen more than my fair share of horrors.
I need help, and I am assured that you are
the one to provide that assistance.
Lilian and her son, Anthony, will bring me back to my own home tomorrow,
to collect some of my belongings, and it would be my hope that you could attend
me there at two o'clock in the afternoon.
The address is given above.
I thank you in anticipation
nurse? From the old lady's manner, she
was a retired matron, at the very least.
And then the
facts laid themselves out for consideration by a brain that hadn't yet had its
first cup of tea.
The letter had
been posted yesterday. Tomorrow was
today. There were certain sorts of elderly
lady who were supremely confident that their instructions would be adhered to,
that they merely had to say something for those around them to make it
happen. Miss Jepson seemed to be one of
those elderly ladies. She wanted to see
him at two o'clock, and it would never occur to her that he might not come.
And he might
not have gone, except for one thing that she had said. ‘Last
night, I had a terrible dream...'
That would now be the night before last. The night of Buffy's dream.
The night of Ivy Grittleton's dream, and of Gavin Lincoln's. Angel hadn't mentioned any dreams of his
own, but Giles had had one. He hadn't
mentioned that either. It had been full
of horror and hope, hope that had been all the more terrible for being entirely
He had dreamt
that Ella was returned to him, as alive and beautiful as she had been before
that never-to-be-forgotten day when she and the rest of the Coven had given
their lives and their very souls for the Earth. Ella was completely gone.
Even Orpheus couldn't have brought her back. It had been a dream from that beautiful and vicious ivory gate.
He looked down
and saw his knuckles white, his fist gripping the handle of the knife hard
enough that he might bend the metal. He
put the knife down. That had been a
night of dreams indeed, and so Giles would go to see Eileen Jepson, and see
whether her dream had come from the beautiful but lying gate of ivory or the plain
but honest gate of horn. And to see
whether there really was a dreadful evil to be expelled in sedate Bournemouth.
He checked his
watch. The journey from here was just
over fifty miles. An hour and a half,
perhaps. There was plenty of time for
breakfast, and then for finding the things that he might need for an exorcism.
on the front door at one minute past two.
The house wasn't on the sea front, but it was only one street back, and
certainly had a sea view. It was a
typical seaside villa, next to the end house in the terrace, with three
storeys, a ground floor, a first floor, and the second floor evident as dormer
windows in the red tiled roof. The exterior was cement-rendered, and painted
white. It was pretty, and well cared
for. Miss Jepson might be elderly, but
she was clearly not penniless, and he was pleased about that.
man, slightly portly and probably just under fifty, came to the door. Unconsciously, Giles sucked in his stomach
as he handed over his card. The man,
Anthony, Giles assumed, inspected the card, and then stood back to let him
in. So far, Anthony had given no
indication of whether he approved of Giles or not.
The two ladies
were in the conservatory, at the rear of the dining room, with a fresh tea tray
on a glass and wrought iron table, apparently confident that he would be there,
and on time. They were as alike as two
sisters could be, but the one who turned to face him, who had had her back to
the door, wore a look of calm placidity, whereas the other looked harried and
She stood up
to greet him, and indeed proved to be Eileen Jepson. She looked to be in her late seventies, and despite her careworn
expression, she held herself very upright.
Stiff-backed. Probably stiff
upper-lipped, too. She wore a pale violet-grey
dress, of crepe de chine, he thought, a sort of old-fashioned half-mourning colour
and fabric, but elegant nonetheless, and he wondered whether she had recently
lost a loved one. Her concession to
modernity was a lavender pashmina wrapped around her thin shoulders.
Giles, sit down. Will you take tea?"
Her hand shook
a little as she poured, and he couldn't decide whether it was a nervous
reaction at being back in the house, or something even more devastating, such
as Parkinson's disease.
When the tea
was poured, and the biscuits offered, he asked her to tell him what had
It had started
about six months ago, she said. It was
her habit to sit on one side of the fireplace in the drawing room, with her
television set on the other side.
Against the wall where she sat, a full-height bookcase occupied almost
the whole of the fireside niche.
On that first
night, last July, a chill had seeped out from the wall behind the bookcase and
up from the floor. The weather had
certainly been cool, then, with so much rain last summer, but this draught had
been icy. And so it had remained. It didn't appear every night, but when it
did, it was impossible to sit in that corner.
She'd lived in
this house for twenty-seven years, and she had never known anything like it.
And there had
been the smell. Not a physical smell,
she said. At least, there was nothing
she could relate the odour to. It was
the scent of evil, the coldness of the grave, and she couldn't make any more
sense of it than that.
reflected that some of their cases had started from much less than this. "Shall we have a look at the sitting room?"
stood up, but her reluctance was clear.
Lilian took her sister's hand.
dear, I'll come with you."
Eileen's arm though her own, and they walked together through the dining room,
across the hall and into the sitting room.
Like its owner, it was a spare and elegant room, in soft blues and
stood exactly as she had described it, but her heavy, upholstered armchair had
been moved to stand on the Chinese rug, in the centre of the floor, giving the
room an unbalanced look that must surely be alien to it. The imprint of the chair's feet still marked
the thick carpet where it had once been.
over to the bookcase, a substantial piece of furniture, in a blonde wood that
might have been maple. It was glazed,
with glass doors on each shelf, each piece of glass carrying a spray of lilies
etched into its substance. Giles
thought that it would be the very devil to move. He reached out, and found that there was just enough space to
slide his hand between the side of the bookcase and the wall. He felt the chill in the air, before his fingertips
touched the back wall. It was icy.
he sank his fingers into the deep pile of the powder blue carpet. When he'd reached the jute backing cloth,
the cold was penetrating despite the thick, springy underlay. It was like putting a hand in the freezer.
He moved to
the other side of the fireplace, and knelt behind the television set. There he repeated his exploration. There was nothing abnormal.
He went back
to the bookcase. As he did so, he saw
the two sisters exchange meaningful glances.
The chill was real. There were
no apparent sources of entirely natural draughts, and in any event, the weather
outside was mild and sunny, with a real feel of spring in the air.
"Did you buy
this bookcase recently?"
"No. I've had it as long as I've lived here."
never noticed anything odd about it?"
"You think the
bookcase is haunted?"
Did he really
think it was the bookcase? He
remembered the sensation as he'd slipped his hand down the side of the
wood. The chill hadn't come from there.
"No. Not really.
But it's best to check everything out."
"Do you have a
cellar, Miss Jepson?"
"No. None of the houses here do."
He knelt on
the floor again, trying to test the air in that unpleasant chill. He decided that the flavour of corruption
came from his mind, and from what Miss Jepson had said. But he wasn't entirely certain of that. This might perhaps have been a job better
suited to Angel, with his nose for death and for whatever was tickling Giles'
flight or fight responses. Still, he
was the one here, so he'd better deal with it. He looked around the room, at the placement of the windows.
"This is a
party wall, isn't it?"
"Yes. The end terrace house is on that side."
spoken to your neighbours? Do they
experience any of the same problems?"
glanced at her sister again, a hopeless look of pleading.
Giles," Lilian told him. "Eileen hasn't
spoken to her neighbour. He's a single
man, and when he first moved in, Eileen went to welcome him, to see whether he
needed anything. It's always so chaotic
on moving day, isn't it? You can never
find the kettle, or a cup, or the sugar..."
off, but Giles didn't hurry her.
"He called her
an interfering old biddy, and told her to clear off and keep her nose out of
Just the sort you want as a neighbour, Giles thought. Especially
if you're a lonely old lady.
could go and make some enquiries of him?"
eyes took on that haunted look again, and Lilian covered her hand with her
own. "You have to tell him, dear. He can't help if you don't tell him."
hesitated before she spoke, as though she were trying to gather her thoughts
into some semblance of order. Or,
perhaps, into some semblance of rationality.
After that first day, there seemed to be no difficulty. I never saw the young man, and he never made
his presence known to me in any way.
And I do mean in any way. There
was no loud music, such as you expect from all young people nowadays, no
visitors came to his door, no sounds of him arranging his furniture or putting
up shelves, or any of the things that you expect when someone has just moved
houses... they're very well built, and the walls are thick enough to prevent
you living in your neighbour's pocket, such as I've observed in more modern
properties, but even so, you expect some sort of disturbance, no matter how
small, when someone comes into a new home.
nothing. It was all as silent as the
that she'd regretted using those words as soon as they were out of her mouth,
but she was in some way defiant, too.
she said, that same defiance in her voice, now. "I don't wish to speak ill of anyone. But it was all so morbidly unnatural. And then, after a few months, this... this phenomenon began, and I truly came to believe that it was something
to do with that unnatural young man."
finished, she burst into tears. She
fumbled for her pocket, but Giles was faster, handing her his
handkerchief. She nodded her thanks,
unable to speak, as she dabbed at her eyes.
normally out at this time of day?" he asked.
"At work, perhaps?"
It was Lilian
who answered. "Oh, no. He only goes out at night. He leaves at sunset, and he's always back by
dawn. When he goes out at all, that
Her sister saw
Giles' expression, and blushed. "I...
Like most old people, I don't sleep well," Miss Jepson explained.
The chill from
behind the bookcase seemed to be running down Giles' spine. A vampire?
A werewolf? One of those
uniquely rare demons that seemed to lie in wait for them round every
corner? Suddenly, the case took on an
entirely different complexion, looking more like a case for the Slayer or for
Angel than for a retired librarian.
Still, he was the one here, so he'd have to be the one to deal with
it. He couldn't leave this old lady
living in fear any longer.
But, what to
do? If some evil had been raised, it
would be better if he didn't try to face both it and its guardian
together. And if the occupant of the
house was the only evil, then perhaps it would be best to reconnoitre while he
was out. Try to get a better
how do you know when he's gone out?"
realised how tired she'd been when she finally got to bed that morning. It didn't help, of course, that her body
clock had so adjusted itself to Angel's nocturnal rhythms. It was gone four o'clock when she woke up,
and it was nearing sunset. She was
Once she was
washed and tidied, she asked Mrs Grayson where she could get a decent
meal. Mrs Grayson sized up her slim
frame, and pointed to the breakfast room.
only guest today. Shall we have
something to eat together?"
It would save
a lot of time. Buffy nodded, and
thanked her. It seemed that the meal
might have been cooking for a while, or perhaps Mrs Grayson had anticipated the
offer, because it was only ten minutes or so before a steamingly-fragrant stew
It had been
served into plates that were more like large, shallow soup plates, and proved
to be pork, with chunks of root vegetables in all the colours of the rainbow, pieces
of sharp apple, and fluffy suet dumplings, all in a rich cider sauce. Buffy wasn't entirely certain about slaying
on a diet of suet dumplings, even ones as light as these, but she was so hungry
that she fell on the food like the wolf on the fold.
As they ate,
she asked Mrs Grayson about the area, more for something to talk about than in
real expectation of learning anything useful for the coming night.
It seemed that
Mrs Grayson didn't approve of half the newcomers to the town. Upstarts, she called them, with no care for
their neighbours. Not like families in
the old days, where you could leave your door unlocked, or where people looked
out for each other. Newcomers now, you
never saw them from one day's end to the next.
They rushed in from work, did nothing but watch TV and sleep, and then
rushed out to work again, knowing nothing of what was going on around them.
warming to her theme now. Take all
these lovely old houses. They'd mainly
been converted into flats, and who knew how many people were living in one
building? It brought the area down, so
building on the opposite corner?
Likely, that was the worst of the worst. There were men coming and going at all hours, not in the day,
admittedly, but all night long. She was
sure that whatever happened there, it was illegal, or ought to be. It was this lap-dancing thing, in all
probability. Or worse. She'd thought of reporting them because, as
sure as eggs were eggs, they weren't licensed for anything they were doing, but
suppose it came out that she'd been the one making the complaint? That sort of person could make her life a
been listening to the litany of complaint very closely. She'd stopped listening somewhere around the
1970's. But now, she paid
attention. Could it be as simple as
that? The reason why Ivy Grittleton had
seen her, and no one else, dealing with this was because of Miss Mini, and the
need to stop somewhere, anywhere? And because
that particular somewhere was right across the street from where it was all
No. It couldn't be that easy. It never was. But, when the sun went down, it would be a good idea to take a
look around, just in case. If not,
she'd just have to continue the hunt.
darkness came, she strolled across the road and walked up the side street,
checking out the access as she went.
The house she was interested in didn't have a perimeter fence, or
anything of that sort, just a low stone wall, blackened by age, and an
assortment of mature shrubs. But there
were security cameras and lights on the house wall.
over the wall into the next door property and, under cover of the old Victorian
laurels, scrambled over a rickety fence and back into the overgrown
shrubbery. It was no effort for the
Slayer to reach the complex arrangement of annexes and extensions at the rear,
but she was grateful for her nice stretchy jeans as she started to climb the
drainpipes on her way up to the roof.
It was a
matter of moments before she'd reached the nearest of the dormer windows, and
it took her even less time to open it, catching the wrenched-off lock before it
tumbled down over the roofs. She
climbed in to what looked like a store room, and pulled the window shut behind
As she looked
around the room, she understood what sort of house this was. It would have been so much more Giles' thing
- not that he got involved in this sort of thing, she thought hurriedly,
although how did she really know? - but at least it would definitely have been
easier for him to get in and have a look around, as part of the house's normal
business. A man like Giles would
probably be welcomed with open arms... And other limbs, she thought, grinning.
This was a cat
house, or whatever Brits called them.
Somehow, conversation around the breakfast table had never got around to
that particular topic. Giles should
have had this case.
Angel was once
more alone in the Harrier Hide. He
hated to admit it, but he'd rather enjoyed the day. Even though he hadn't been able to get too close to the windows,
that hadn't mattered much. On this cold
weekday morning, visitor numbers had been limited, and for a good part of the
time, he'd been on his own. He'd been
able to watch what was happening outside.
most of the geese had taken off in a spiralling explosion of wingpower that had
shadowed the skies. But, of the many
types of bird left behind, most had decided that it was time to find a partner
for the year, or to find partners not seen since last autumn. Those that were already paired up were
cementing their relationships. Hundreds
of them seemed to be having sex, either with their mates, or in secret,
When he came,
he'd thought that being here for the day would be a waste of his time, but not
a bit of it. He smiled at some of the
memories, of sharp-billed birds offering silvery little fish from the sea to
prospective partners as proof of their hunting prowess, of long necks entwined
in affection or in battle, of the incredibly raucous noise that accompanied
every stage of the mating game. It had
been a pageant of colour and activity that was quite alien to his nocturnal
Now, he was waiting
for the last segment of the westering sun to sink below the horizon. He didn't have much longer to wait. As the red line of fire finally winked out,
leaving only the rose and gold afterglow that had been apparent in the image in
his pocket, he looked out at the skies.
Now was the time.
twilit stillness there came a great beating of wings, from the east. Angel ran to another window and saw a black shadow
in the watercolour sky, a cloud of uncountable individuals. He recognised them, although they circled
into the west, and their features became indistinguishable, even to his
eyes. They were the pink-footed
geese. Having them here had seemed to
be a big deal to the visitors. He
didn't know about that, but he liked watching them as they came into land,
mates finding each other again after their separation in flight, touching beaks
tenderly to reassure themselves.
Billing and cooing, he supposed, as much as a goose could.
The geese were
spiralling down from the sky, more and more of them landing on their roosting
grounds for the night, but something else caught his attention, something half
hidden behind the flock, something dark in that rose and gold sunset. He watched it soar in fast from the west,
losing height as it came. He stood in
the shadow of the Harrier Hide and then he ran out to meet it, dropping his
sword, but leaping high into the air as the creature veered away from him,
until his hand gripped its scaly flesh.
difficult for Buffy to stay hidden, despite all the opulent hangings and nooks
and recesses in this house of pleasure.
And she'd no idea what it was she was looking for. Each room that she saw was tasteful and
private, and would undoubtedly be fully occupied later on that night. Judging by the equipment in the store rooms
on the top floor, there weren't many tastes that couldn't be accommodated. She'd have to ask Angel to identify some of
the things that she'd seen up there.
A flurry of
soft footsteps on the plush carpet sent her scurrying behind a black and gold
velvet drape as a pretty young girl in an almost non-existent black and white
maid's outfit passed by. Buffy had no
idea which particular category of serving staff she might be a member of.
flight of stairs, and she found herself surrounded by blue and silver. The floor décor was clearly themed. She wondered whether the activities were,
too. And then her slayer senses kicked
in, briefly. There was a demon,
somewhere here. As quickly as it had
come, it was gone. She only had a vague
sense of its direction.
make it right into the heart of the house without being seen. Sighing, she retraced her steps towards
where she'd last seen the parlour maid.
scales, but it wasn't a dragon. There
was no fire, for one thing, and for that, Angel was truly grateful. There was also the matter of size. It was strong, as he wrestled it to the
ground, its wings flapping desperately, but it wasn't what you'd expect in
terms of dragon-size. It was more,
well, flamingo-sized, although its wings were very long, well-suited to
travelling great distances. As he
tucked it underneath an arm, he felt like Alice's Duchess.
There was also
the matter of the expletives.
wilya! Get the (bleep) off me! Put me down, you (bleep) bastard. Gerroff, I said!"
It was a
demon, of that there could be no doubt, but a demon the like of which Angel had
never seen before. It did, indeed, have
a similar body plan to a flamingo, except for those vast wings, with its long,
sinuous neck, plump body, and long legs.
Its head, though, wasn't that of a bird, but of a lizard, with an ornate
crest, raised now in anger, and long, trailing plumes around the face that he'd
mistaken for whiskery appendages in the image.
It had a forked tail, part of which was real flesh and blood and bone,
painful as the two parts beat against Angel's thigh, and part of which was long,
And it had
scales, but each scale covered the base of a down-fringed feather. It was black, but not a black that could be
got from any man-made dye. Even in the
fading light, it was a black that was shot through with dark pearlescence,
every movement producing the glint of ruby or emerald or sapphire.
his grip around the body and wings of the demon, and grabbed the flailing neck
below the head, just as the fanged jaws snapped at his cheek. The mad yellow eyes glared at him.
When it lay
quiescent on the cold and muddy ground, ground that was also making Angel
muddy, he thought ruefully, he put on his best glower.
"What are you
doing here?" He looked at the bared
fangs and thought of all those birds distracted by thoughts of a mate. "Come to feed off the local wildlife?"
mad? Do you think I get dressed up like
this for feeding?" it lisped. "This is
breeding plumage, mate."
it sniffed, and an oily tear ran down its scaly cheek.
have to go so far as to strip the maid's outfit from the girl that she'd seen,
although Buffy had mentally been sizing her up. And there had been plenty of restraints in the store room on the
top floor. Instead, on her way to find
the girl, she'd found the steel door, with the padlock on.
A quick flick
of the wrist, and the padlock's shackle came free. There was no other lock on the door. As quietly as possible, Buffy pulled it open. The light from the corridor did little to
illuminate the windowless room, and it took her a few seconds to see what was
in there. An almost naked woman,
chained to the wall. No, she
thought. Strike that. An almost naked demoness. She had a shackle on her leg, and a chain
that was fixed to the floor, and an iron ring around her neck, with another
chain attached to the wall behind her.
She must be in
the right place after all.
had barely spoken a word since Giles' arrival, sat in the kitchen, looking like
a man who desperately wished that he were elsewhere. Giles and Eileen and Lilian stood in the darkness of the sitting
room, watching the street through the net curtains. Giles would never have considered Miss Jepson to be one of those
nosy old women whose net curtains were continually twitching, but he could
quite understand why she would want to reassure herself that her sinister
neighbour was out of the house.
And there he
was, a man who might be the neighbour from Hell, pulling the door closed behind
him. So far as Giles could make out, in
the false colours cast by the yellow sodium street lamps, he was pale skinned,
with straggling black hair, and wearing dark blue denim jeans and jacket.
the options again. Vampire? Possibly.
Werewolf? Maybe. It wasn't full moon tonight, so he didn't
have that for diagnosis. Any one of a
hundred other sorts of humanoid demon?
It was impossible to tell from here.
judged that her neighbour was out of sight, Miss Jepson let Giles out of the
back door, and he pulled himself over the fence into the next-door garden. Her soft whisper called him back.
"Do you have
some means of defence, Mr Giles? A
cudgel? Or a...a blackjack?"
Jepson. There's no need for anything
like that." He made his voice sound
confident, more confident than he actually felt.
"Wait there a
moment," she whispered. He did, feeling
She was back almost
immediately, and passed him a walking stick over the fence.
"It's the best
I can do," she told him apologetically.
"I keep it by the bed, just in case."
He took it with
a word of thanks and hooked it over his arm.
Then he surveyed the rear of the house.
A backwards jab with an elbow smashed a small pane of glass in the door,
with only a muffled oath from Giles, at the pain. As he'd hoped, there was a key on the inside of the lock. In seconds, he was in the house.
In the kitchen,
his first move was to check the refrigerator.
There was no blood. If the man
was a vampire, he seemed to be getting his blood fresh from the source. But, vampire was extremely unlikely, looking
at what was in the fridge. A half-eaten piece of pizza, milk, butter,
some cherry tomatoes, an open jar of mayonnaise, some cheese that was growing greeny-blue
mould, and a pack of mixed green salad.
further into the house. The place could
never be described as neat and well-kept, but there was nothing that was
unusual for a young man living alone.
And there was no sign of anything occult, or even seriously
strange. Nothing, that was, until he
got to the sitting room, the equivalent room to Miss Jepson's, and the room
that adjoined hers.
In the fireside
niche that backed onto Miss Jepson's bookcase, a large, walk-in freezer had
been installed. It was whirring away as
he opened the door to the room, and it was the first thing he heard, even
before he saw it. Other furniture in
the room was sparse, but the single armchair sat facing that freezer, as though
it was the focal point of the room, or a television.
Giles felt the
chill as soon as he approached the freezer.
He didn't want to kneel on a nondescript carpet that looked as though it
had only had a passing acquaintance with a vacuum cleaner, but he bent down to
examine the lower part of the door. The
rubber seal was distorted on the lower corner of the door, and frozen air
leaked out. Could this possibly be the
source of the chill in Miss Jepson's sitting room?
Smiling at the
simplicity of the solution, he straightened up again. Even so, why would someone have a freezer - and such a large one
- in their living room, especially when the refrigerator had so much space in
it? Out of curiosity, he tugged one of
the doors open. For a split second, he
was unable to process what he saw, and then he fell back in horror.
at the demoness, and there was a lot to stare at. She was wearing only two pieces of cloth that were hardly large
enough between them to tie a bow with.
She was startlingly beautiful, with coffee-coloured skin, large
almond-shaped eyes, and long pink quills instead of hair. A sinuous, leonine tail waved over her lap. A dish of fruit stood on the floor beside
her. Someone had just brought her a
certainly wasn't welcoming of this new interruption. "What do you want?"
"Erm... Do you
turned to stare at her. "And how do you
think you'd be able to rescue me?"
the room to her and took hold of her leg chain. The demoness gave a short, bitter laugh.
"Yeah. Watch the little girl pull out the great big
exactly that. Then she pulled the neck
chain from its moorings.
follow the little girl out of here?"
was on her feet with the speed and agility of a dancer. Buffy led her into the store room, and then
down the sprawl of annex roofs and into the shrubbery. Waiting until the street was clear, she
pulled the demoness across the road and into the tiny car park of Mrs Grayson's
bed and breakfast.
"Get in the
Miss Mini's door and started to bundle her in.
The demoness was reluctant.
car? It's a roller skate!"
"Maybe. But it's the only car we've got! Now get in, before someone sees you. And duck down," she instructed, eyeing the
quills. "I'll be back in a minute."
She ran into
the house. Mrs Grayson shouldn't have
to be out of pocket, and she needed the rest of her things, anyway. She was back in ten minutes, in a welter of
and put this on." She tossed over a
started first time, but, as she pulled out of the car park, the loud rumbling
from the rear didn't bode well for the journey.
"You are joking?"
bother to reply. She just pulled out
onto the street, heading for home, as her passenger struggled into a jacket
that was a little too small for her. As
Buffy made the turn, another car came in the opposite direction, its headlights
falling onto their faces. A second one
followed. As the first one passed them,
she saw that the demoness had frozen, looking at the other car through the side
window. And the passenger in the other
car was staring in shock at the demoness.
He wasn't human, either, and he looked extremely angry.
"We've got to
get out of here," the demoness said.
"As fast as you can."
They sat on
the grassy terrace outside the Harrier Hide, and were on their second bottle of
"'S not easy
bein' the only one of your kind 's left in the world. You wanna try it sometime."
"Know what you
mean," Angel agreed.
all this breeding plumage every year, whether I want it or not... It's just plain cruel. Do you think Fate's cruel?"
"Sometimes. ‘S hard to say."
another drink of whisky and passed the bottle on. His lips felt numb now, but there were still questions to ask.
"So why'd you
"It's all the hormones,
man. I come to see whether, you know,
it's attracted one of my kind. All
these years, I've been everywhere.
Never stopped looking. But if
she's anywhere, she's going to be drawn to a place like this. She's never there."
but Angel didn't fill the silence.
"I mean to
say... I mean... ‘S been seventy years since I had any... you know..."
"I know. Know about that, too."
"And you need
someone to cuddle up to on those cold winter nights..."
"Yes." Angel took another swig from the bottle,
before handing it over. Kezar followed
parky up in the Arctic Circle, let me tell you. You need a red-blooded woman..."
haven't found another one like you in seventy years?"
reply. He simply shook his head and
wiped the edge of a wing over one eye.
tried any other dimensions?" Angel ventured.
"You are joking," the demon spluttered. "You don't go tinkering with space and time,
do you? Are you trying to annihilate us
replied, although he'd have liked it to be a bit more forcibly. "No.
It's just that..."
opened at exactly the moment that Miss Mini's back axle sheared into two
pieces. The rain bucketed down, an
instant opaque glass curtain that even the Slayer couldn't see through. The car finished up slewed across the hard
shoulder, her back wheels at rakish angles.
There was no going any further in her.
Two pairs of headlights veered out of the traffic towards the stricken
Buffy yelled to her passenger. "Run!"
didn't argue. Her owner had turned the
car round in a screech of burning rubber as soon as he saw her. He, and more of his people, were only seconds
behind. They ran off the road, but they
weren't quick enough. They could see by
the headlights that the two cars had pulled off the road, and by the sounds of
pursuit, the occupants knew which way to come.
was badly hampered by the weight of her chains. Buffy urged her forward, lagging a little behind to protect
her. Four demons came out of the
darkness at her. They weren't at all
like the one she'd rescued. These were
all warriors, and ugly-looking sons of bitches, too.
Time for her
to go to work. She just wished she'd
got a weapon. A stake even... She thought of her sword, hidden behind Miss
Mini's back seat. Still... She launched herself at the first. As she did so, another grabbed at her, and
she felt her jacket tear. Damn. Slaying was so damned hard on the wardrobe.
The freezer contained
the bodies of young women, laid out on shelves as though they were
sleeping. Or as though they were dolls
truly understood the chill that sometimes came through so strongly to Miss
Jepson's. The man who had done this
would open these doors, sit in that armchair, and look at his prizes. Admire them. Fantasize about them, and Giles really didn't want to think any
more about that.
five of them, all in their late teens or early twenties, all blonde, all very
pretty. All naked. And all without an apparent mark on them. Sleeping beauties, although not even a
prince's kiss would ever awaken them again.
his grip on the walking stick, wishing that he had something more deadly for
the demon that had done this. Reluctantly,
as though by leaving he would leave them alone and defenceless, he closed the
freezer and started back across the room.
The police would have to be notified.
front door slammed shut, and footsteps sounded in the hall.
Buffy had felled
the four demons, but because she hadn't got so much as a stake, they were only
unconscious. She dragged the demoness
as far from the road as she could, into the swallowing darkness. At last, she found shelter for them in some
ruinous stonework. It was no more than
a niche, where they could both huddle, but it would keep off the worst of the
driving rain, and be something solid against her back when the demons came
again. And the clanking of the damn
chains wouldn't give them away to their pursuers.
And now she
knew where she was. These were the
ruins of Glastonbury Abbey.
"I'm going to
phone for help," she said.
stared at her as she reached for the phone in her pocket. "You didn't look as though you needed a lot
of help back there. You're the Slayer,
"Yes, but just
now I'm rescuing you, so stop looking at me like that." The demoness was looking at her like a calf
might look at a cougar.
Her hand found
her pocket, and that told its own story.
The pocket had been ripped away, when the demon had grabbed for it. Her phone was gone. So was her money, and her car keys. The car keys weren't much good, although now
she remembered that the house keys were there, too. The phone and the money were a different matter. She could neither call for help, nor get home
She turned to
the demoness, showing her the ripped pocket.
"I don't suppose you've got a phone or any cash on you, have you?"
looked down at her two small strips of clothing. "Does it look like it?"
behind the door, hoping against hope that whoever had come in - and he was
reasonably sure just who that was - would go straight upstairs so that he could
make his escape through the kitchen door.
No such luck.
carried on to the kitchen, and there were the homely, and entirely horrific,
sounds of crockery and pots and pans.
Gradually, Giles sidled around the door jamb, hoping to make it to the
front door unnoticed.
simply wasn't with him. The dark haired
man walked out of the kitchen with a knife in his hand. A large carving knife. As soon as he saw his intruder, his
expression turned ugly, and he advanced slowly, in a fighting stance. Giles backed into the room, where there was
more space to avoid that knife than he would have in the hall.
charged at him through the doorway, one hand reaching out to grab him, the
knife gripped firmly in the other.
Giles found time to wonder whether he, too would end up stuffed into the
freezer, and then he remembered the walking stick. Quickly, he sidestepped and thrust out the crooked handle, neatly
catching an ankle. The man went down
heavily, but he didn't make a sound.
could get up again, Giles was kneeling on the back of this entirely human
predator, wrenching the knife from his hand.
He stayed there while he dialled 999, and he still stayed there until he
could see the flashing blue lights outside the front window.
policemen forced the front door, he hoped that, what with five bodies in the
freezer, he wouldn't be charged with breaking and entering.
Lina," said the demoness softly, as they sat together in the darkness, waiting
to see what would come.
"No problem. Were you in danger? Or just in the middle of some serious
before answering, then she shrugged as though it didn't matter anymore. "They were going to kill me."
Lina looked at
her rescuer, her eyes perhaps seeing more than Buffy would have wanted,
assessing how much of her world this young woman could understand. She shook her head, more to herself than to
Buffy. "Well," she said, slowly, thinking
through what she was about to say, "I suppose since we're going to be here for
a little while, I might as well tell you."
She spoke in a whisper. They
were both still listening for sounds of pursuit.
dimension, we hear secret stories about this land of milk and honey and
American dollars. Like some others
before me, I decided to come and make my fortune, then go back home and live
better than the dirt-poor life I lived before.
"It started in
LA - Los Angeles..."
"I know Los
"Right. I was owned by Madam Dorion..."
"Owned?" Buffy almost spat the word out.
Lina said, pityingly, "it isn't all milk and honey when you first get
here. The passage is expensive - very
expensive - and you have to work it off.
Until the debt is paid, you are owned. Understand?"
"It was good
at Madam Dorion's. I made a lot of
money. But, I was greedy. I made some mistakes."
silent, but Buffy didn't fill the hollow space between her words. Then she spoke again.
"One of my
regulars was a very rich man, a man with quite a lot to lose. I let someone I knew take some pictures, and
we blackmailed him. Madam Dorion found
out..." Her next words were still low,
but savage. "If it hadn't been for that
Buffy said nothing,
but she was hard pressed to keep quiet.
"He was hired
by the client to get the pictures back.
So, when he told Madam Dorion, she sold me on. The place I went to wasn't nearly as nice. It's been downhill from there. The money I had saved is all gone. Bribes... redemption money... I've had a few
they were going to kill you?" Buffy's
voice had hardened at the thought of Angel and Lina, and she so wasn't going to
sink to asking him about whether anything had happened between the two of them.
amusement. Entertainment. They told me that some people called the
ancient Romans had some games, and they used to promise freedom to female
slaves who would agree to be humped by an ass.
I don't know what an ass is, because I don't think it's just a damned
fool, but I don't think I need to see a picture. They took a lot of pleasure in describing what a two or three
foot long dick can do inside a female body.
Mine's not so very different to yours.
going to use an ass. They were going to
use some demon that was even bigger.
They were going to film it all, too.
Make a lot of money from it."
"They won't be
doing that now, will they?"
"If they catch
us, they might have two subjects for the snuff movie."
shuddered. Not if she could help
it. A high-pitched whistle cut through
the beating of the rain. Buffy clenched
her fist in readiness, but she could only wait.
"Have you got
somewhere you can go?"
"Yes. I've got friends who've got their
freedom. But I'd need money to get
clothes. You can't run around England
looking like that."
and some jeans would do it."
"I've got some
jeans in the car you can try, if we live through this, but not so much of the
money." She decided there and then
she'd rather beg for some cash than take Lina back to Summerdown House. Or than ask Angel to come and help.
Just then, the
rain slackened off, and Buffy could see a solitary light at the far end of the
ruins. She was about to urge Lina away
from their hiding place when a voice called out.
"Buffy! Are you there?"
She breathed a
sigh of relief. "Here, Gavin." Then she looked at Lina with concern. Detective Sergeant Gavin Lincoln was about
to have his education severely broadened.
trotted over the grass to find her.
alright? We got the report of the abandoned
vehicle, and I recognised your registration number, so I came myself. Are you hurt...?"
He trailed off
as he got close enough to see Lina.
Buffy let him
look for a minute, before she intervened.
your Mom tell you it was rude to stare?
This is Lina, and we're kinda stuck."
himself together with a visible effort.
He answered Buffy, but he couldn't stop looking at Lina.
"Um... Is Lina... I mean..."
"Gavin! Stop stammering."
take his eyes off the demoness.
"What are you doing out here, Buffy? Why didn't you stay with your car?"
people," she put heavy emphasis on the ‘people', "chasing us. Are they still there?"
one. Well, except a couple of
The arrival of
the police must have driven them off.
Gavin was still staring at Lina.
erm... called your place, and no one's there.
Um... Do you need a lift
back? We can get your garage to come
and pick the Mini up."
Gavin. I really need to borrow fifty
pounds for Lina to get to her friends in...?"
She looked the question at the demoness.
"Chelsea. I have friends in Chelsea."
"You can't go
running round looking like that," he said, forcibly.
"That's what I
Lina got up
and walked over to him. She brought her
tail forward around her hip and suddenly Gavin gasped, and his eyes widened.
"He's a pretty
one, isn't he?"
the policeman alone, or he'll arrest you - I'm sure he can find a reason."
shocked, and Buffy knew that he was imagining taking Lina into the local police
"Um. Buffy, I can get the uniforms to take you
home if you're okay with that. I'll
take Lina to Chelsea. And I can lend
her fifty pounds."
"If you take
her to Chelsea, she won't need the fifty pounds," Buffy grumbled, but one look
at his face told her that she was wasting her breath. "Just bring my jacket and jeans back with you! And you'll need to find a blacksmith for
those chains!" She looked at his
wonder-struck expression. "And a portal
would be good, too," she muttered.
monster. Whichever way you look at it,
‘m a monster. In all the dimensions."
there." Kezar made an effort to put a
comforting wing around the shoulders of the stricken man, but he'd drunk so
much whisky he finished up almost falling into his companion's lap. "Just because you're a vampire... You don' seem like a monster to me."
"Am, too. Worst vampire ever."
"No, no. I bet you can be a really good vampire, you
know, all those fangs and lurking in dark places, and the running and
about that. Not what I meant. Worst.
Baddest. Evilest ever. Blood everywhere. ‘Member them all. Never
enough to make up for it. Can never be
his legs up and cuddled into the vampire's lap, mainly because he wasn't steady
enough to get off again. He kept his wing
around Angel, and then folded the other one around him, too.
"Seems to me,"
he observed sagely, "seems to me that forgiveness is given regardless of the
size of the sin. You're either forgiven
or not. Once and for all thing. Nothing to do with how much you've
done. Don't get forgiven a bit at a
Angel stroked the sleek plumage on Kezar's breast. The demon shivered.
said, to stop thinking about that finger running down his breastbone, "even if
your alit... alty... eggo... that other one in the other universe, even if he's
as bad as you say, he's not anymore, is he?
Going to do the right thing now."
"But he killed
my girlfriend! I mean, his girlfriend,
but it's all the same thing."
"No! It's not!
You're you and he's he and she's she.
And the other she's another she. Did you kill your girlfriend, here?"
his head. "No. She killed me. Sent me to Hell."
you are, then. Different
altogether. What did I tell you?" Kezar seemed quite pleased with his rather
"Maybe not so
diff'rent. I told him... told him..."
"Yes? Told him what?" Kezar encouraged.
"Told him that
everything was a balance. That he'd
done things like I had, and if he was to keep the balance, he would prob'ly
finish up in Hell. Not just Hell on
Earth. An actual Hell. Like I did.
Not sure I could have gone back, like he did, with that to look forward
at him shrewdly. "You don' think he
might have realised that if Fate had him slated for Hell, he was goin' to go
there whether he was here, or in his own reality?"
looked down in silence.
"You mean he
really came over here? To this
Universe? And... and... we didn't
imp...imploy..." He stumbled over the
words again. "Implode, or anything like
implosion. That's only if the two
Slayers meet again. Mustn't forget that
right. Implosions not good. But, he was here for weeks, right?"
"Yeah. Looking like me, stealing me."
But Kezar was
on a different tack now.
"The Old Ones
always taught us that we couldn't go from universe to universe or reality to
reality, or terrible things would happen.
Do you think it might be safe if I just popped over there? Just for a look? Just in case there's anyone there who'd come back with me?"
safe. Never safe. Big war going on. Or I'm dead and it's still Hell on Earth."
whispered, his voice full of hope, "but no one cares about a little demon like
me. And I can soar very high..."
there. ‘S closed."
"Oh, I can get
there, no trouble. Don't even need to
click the Ruby Slippers to get back.
All up here." Kezar tapped his
forehead with a wing joint. He shivered
again as the stroking finger now caused his chest to inflate, just as his
mate's loving caresses would have done.
jumped, but had had far too much whisky to stand up and face the human who'd
spoken behind them. Angel didn't need
"Hello, Ian. Want a drink?"
thanks. I'm driving. Can I sit down here?"
Chief Inspector Collins sat down by the two.
The bird thing still had its wings around Angel, and Angel now had his
arms around the bird thing, as though protecting it from possible harm. Ian shook his head at the unexpected sight.
"Only a good
drinking session, if you don't join us.
What are you doing here?"
answer immediately. Instead, he asked a
question of his own. "This is the
dragon, is it?"
at him. It sounded like one of the
geese they'd had at home when Angel had still been Liam.
"Stop it," he
admonished the demon. "He's a good
friend. No, Ian, as you can see, Kezar
isn't exactly a dragon. He's a
demon. And he causes no trouble at
all. He lives up in the north, in the
arctic lands. Mainly eats fish and
cushion of the whisky was falling away now, as Angel had known it would, as
soon as he started to concentrate.
nodded, as though he was listening to David Attenborough talking about some
perfectly normal wildlife wonder.
"I'm glad," he
said. "When I got back from holiday and
Gavin told me he'd sent you after a dragon, I was rather more afraid you might
find one than he was. I thought I'd
better come and help out, if I could."
He looked at
don't actually seem to need any help.
You've been busy, the three of you."
"What do you
his first demon - knowingly, I mean - courtesy of Buffy, and Giles has found a
serial killer. Oh, Buffy's fine, but
her car has a broken axle, and I think you and Giles are going to be in such
trouble if you don't get her a new car pdq.
A couple of uniforms are taking her home now."
alright?" That was Angel's main
fine. Some men were sent to check out
the address she'd, er, raided, but it's shut up and empty. Buffy was cross about that."
"If it's a
case for us, we'll get them, don't worry, Ian."
smiled. "Wouldn't doubt it for a
"Tell me about
long-legged, half-naked prostitute with a tail, and quills for hair, called
Lina. Buffy rescued her. Gavin is taking her to find some friends in
Chelsea. I imagine he'll be a new man
when he gets back, from the sound of it."
out for the Scotch and took another swallow.
It might be more than the car that he'd be in trouble for later. He disentangled himself from Kezar.
"Time to go
home, I think. It was nice meeting you,
Kezar. If I see anyone, you know, like
you, I'll tell them about you. Perhaps
they'll come looking."
nodded. "Thanks. I might pop over there, you know? Just for a
bit of a look?"
"Be careful if
you do. Stay high."
"I suppose my
car's still there, is it?"
grinned. He knew how much Angel loved
that car. "It certainly is. I'll come and visit. I want to know more about what's been going
"So do I!"
down the path, watched by Kezar, who had roosted, none too steadily, on the
wing of the Harrier Hide.
It was late in
the day before they all met in the kitchen at Summerdown House. There was Buffy, who'd been sleeping the
sleep of the just; Angel, who'd been sleeping the sleep of the dead; Giles, who
thought he might never sleep again; and Ian Collins, who thought he'd probably
laughed out loud during his dreams of Gavin's predicament.
Giles had been
the last one in, because of the statements he'd had to give to the police, and
because afterwards, he'd taken the time to go back to Miss Jepson, and let her
know that the evil she'd felt had been an entirely human thing. It was safe for her to go back home whenever
had a word with the local force, and Giles could be reassured there would be no
breaking and entering charges laid against him.
Buffy had been
sparing with details of the demoness she'd rescued, and Angel had glowered at
Collins when he'd opened his mouth to ask the wrong questions. Collins had closed his mouth again. But Gavin Lincoln was now back from his
jaunt to Chelsea, Collins told them, with a silly smile on his face and a
puzzled look in his eye. He'd found a
whole new world that he never knew existed, and now he was going to have to
learn that it could bite him.
they'd remembered that they should let Ivy Grittleton know that all was well,
and Buffy did that. They would
certainly be hunting down the brothel's demonic owners. They shouldn't be too hard to find. Collins and his sergeant would keep an eye
out for gossip. The team would use
their other sources.
They talked on
into the evening, until it was time for dinner. Collins stayed for that.
Who would willingly miss a Martha meal?
When he was gone, they talked about things that they hadn't felt able to
talk about with him there.
identity was never mentioned, although Angel caught Buffy glancing at him from
the corner of her eye when the demoness was mentioned. She knew something, then. At least he had nothing to blush for there,
but he'd have to talk to her when it was just the two of them.
And then there
was Miss Mini. She'd been transported
to Darryl's. Darryl, or his sidekick,
Martin, did all the work on the cars from Summerdown House. Miss Mini was only fit for the breaker's
yard, Darryl had said.
all went to bed, Buffy waved a flyer at them.
It was for the car auction.
here, or to a new car showroom.
Tomorrow. Angel, your car is
mine until I've got a new one."
have sworn Angel whimpered. "Tomorrow,
Buffy," he reassured her, and got a grateful smile from Angel. "You and I will go hunting tomorrow, and
we'll take my car."
brightened both their hearts.
She's running towards
the din of battle, her legs strengthening with every step she takes. A flight of demons circles overhead and a
solitary crossbow bolt takes one in the chest.
It plummets to earth behind her.
She runs faster...
And then it's
all gone, the sound, the scent of fire and blood, the weeping wound in the
heavens, and she sinks into normal sleep.
dank cold of February, it was warm in their room. The very first winter they'd been there as a couple, Angel had
taken his pride in both hands and spoken to Giles. Privately. The central
heating tradesmen had been called in to make the necessary adjustments. After that, despite the added household
cost, the heating stayed on in their flat twenty-four hours a day in the cold
months. True, Buffy had difficulty
adjusting to English winters, but that hadn't been the major problem. The major problem had been Angel.
couples, the arguments in bed might be about what one party should do with
their cold feet. He was just cold. Maintaining ambient temperature was fine,
when the ambient temperature wasn't two degrees away from an icicle. He took a hot shower and fed before they
went to bed each night, but it was dead blood, heated up in a microwave. It warmed his flesh, but not for long. Not like the real thing.
He could revel
in the heat of her body, but if she woke up for any reason, she was in bed with
a man who was no warmer than a corpse.
It was a humiliating reminder to him of how unnatural he was. The practical answer had been to change the
ambient temperature in winter, at least in their room. As for the rest of it, well, he'd have to
learn to live with it, like so much else.
He gazed down
at her, her skin still flushed from lovemaking. She was asleep, but the uneven rhythm of her heart told him that
she had been dreaming. He didn't know
whether it was a continuation of the dream he thought it was, but he'd have
been willing to take a bet on it. His
jaw clenched, as he remembered that night.
Like her, he had no idea whether her dream had been a slayer dream,
linking time and space, or a horror story straight from her subconscious, or
something conjured out of pity for that most pitiable of creatures. There'd been a rash of dreams that night,
and maybe it was all part and parcel of the same thing.
forward, watching the way her eyelashes moved as she dreamed.
"I love you
more than I can ever tell you," he whispered, knowing she wouldn't hear, but
she snuggled back against him, and her face relaxed into a more peaceful
sleep. Her dream, it seemed, had
passed. Perhaps she had heard him after
all. Wherever, and however, they knew
that their future lay together. They
were bound together, somehow. He would
follow her and love her through eternity, and she him, or at least so she had
told him, and he believed her. Did
matters lie so very differently between them, in other planes of existence?
What he hadn't
told her - or Giles - was about the dream he'd had, on that night of
dreams. They didn't need to hear about the
pain and despair, about the struggle to turn a losing war around. The
battle-weariness. The grief. The self-despite. The sheer soul-destroying need.
They'd seen it all before. So,
he'd kept his own counsel.
He hadn't told
Giles or Buffy of how, in that dream, he'd hated that alien Angel whose Buffy
was still alive and beautiful and inspiring, and how much he'd hated them all
for what they'd done. Not to him,
because he'd deserved everything that happened to him, but for what they'd done
to his world. They'd sent him back a
soul-broken monster, when they should have sent back the warrior best suited
for saving the world.
In that dream,
he'd lain in the shelter of broken buildings, resting while his wounds healed
in the final hours of daylight, trying to draw on the strength he'd had as
Angelus. Like that other Angel
he might have had a hundred years to come to terms with himself, but after what
he'd done this second time as Angelus, he might just as well have been back in
Romania, in 1898. He was as broken and
desperate as that. He hadn't had an
hour of preparation, once back through the portal, before the first attack had
come, and so he'd tried to remember the plans he'd had, when he'd had the
mental strength of the vampire. To be
Angelus, just for a little while. And
to pray for help.
And then he'd
woken from the nightmare, and Buffy was in his arms, surrounding him with her
scent, and she'd beaten him and scratched him as she tried to make him let go,
and she'd cried out "You killed me! You
killed me, you bastard!"
Which he had,
in oh so many ways.
And then he'd
woken up again, really woken up, and, for an instant in time, he didn't know
whether he was the broken Angel from the broken world, or the Angel he
remembered from before the dream. Or
Angelus. Three people overlaid into
one. It had taken all the strength of
his soul to find himself.
Like Buffy, he
hadn't understood what had happened, hadn't known the meaning of the dreams, and
so he'd said nothing.
And after all,
none of it might be anything more than dreams from the Ivory Gate.
1 The Ivory Gate
From Virgil's Aeneid.
‘There are two gates of Sleep, one of
which it is held is made of horn and by it easy egress is given to real ghosts;
the other shining, fashioned of gleaming white ivory, but the shades send
deceptive visions that way to the light.'
Virgil (70 -
Aeneid bk. 6, l. 893
in that sleep of death...
Act 3, sc 1, William Shakespeare.
3 Urn of Osiris
Used in Season
6 of BtVS to resurrect Buffy.
dragons quoted are from ‘Consequences' and ‘Nemesis'. We've had others, though.
5 The rolling English road
From a lovely
poem by GK Chesterton. Here's an
Before the Roman came to Rye or out to
The rolling English drunkard made the
rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that
rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the
sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as
we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way
of Beachy Head.
The Rolling English Road (1914)
a bit more to it, and all worth a read.
6 Martin Mere and the Harrier Hide
Martin Mere is
a reserve under the management of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Here's the address for Martin Mere:
And here's a
picture of the very real Harrier Hide at Martin Mere:
it? For namby-pamby bird watchers, is
what the real twitchers say. I haven't been inside it, nor could I find a
description of the interior, so I made that up. But such a posh hide is
bound to have a proper toilet, isn't it?
And other amenities?
7 Bird Watching
I crave pardon
from bird watchers (affectionately known as ‘twitchers') everywhere.
I hope I've been kind to you in this story, or, at the very least, accurate
about the birds.
The hoopoe is
an occasional summer visitor to Britain, especially on the south and east
coasts, which are on the opposite side of the country from Martin Mere.
hoopoe, on the RSPB website, and a pretty thing it is.
on the south coast, is certainly very much favoured as a place to retire
to. Occasionally referred to, unkindly,
as the geriatric capital of Britain.
10 Alice's Duchess
Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
I know that in the book, we actually see the Queen and Alice, rather
than the Duchess, playing croquet with the flamingos, but it's a while since
Angel read it...
Here's an 1865
Alice and the Duchess
colloquial word for ‘chilly', and especially ‘teeth-chatteringly chilly', when
it might be called, with typical British understatement, ‘a bit parky'.
12 Glastonbury Abbey
Once one of
the most powerful abbeys in England, it fell victim, like so many others, to
the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid 1500's. Before that, though, in 1191, the monks found two skeletons,
which they said were of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. Oddly enough, at the time, they were in
financial difficulties, and in need of a few tourist, sorry, pilgrim,
groats. Nothing changes...
From Angel Season 1, War Zone