Summary: Angel's a wanted man, and Giles is having
tea with a banker called D'Eath. Is
this a good thing? Will Buffy have to
face their enemies alone? And who are
End of Days Part 1 :
The Court of Hundred
The speeding Discovery
pulled up in the lay-by with a squeal of brakes, and two men scrambled out of
it. The third exited from the driver's
door rather more quickly but with a distinctly inhuman grace. In grim silence, Angel locked the car, then
walked round to the back and opened the tailgate, reaching into a cardboard box
to retrieve something metallic, before shutting and locking it again.
"Are you sure
about this?" Giles' voice was as steady
as his expression, but even in the darkness, Angel could see the shadow of fear
lurking in his eyes.
"Yes." Angel's reply was terse as he clipped the
iron shackles around his wrists. He
turned and held his hands behind his back as Giles stepped forward and fastened
them securely together.
unarmed, Angel," he said softly. "If
things go badly..."
understand. Let's get on with it."
The two men
glanced at each other, and then followed the bound vampire to the end of the
lay-by. A stile in the fence led to a
faint path over the fields. Angel
shrugged off their offers of help, leaping the stile without a stumble and he
strode off into the darkness, towards the looming bulk of the hill ahead.
tracks joined the one on which they walked, like tributaries to a river, tracks
from the east and from the west, long-time relicts of travellers gathering from
all directions. By the time the path
steepened into an uphill climb, it was broad and clear, even in the
moonlight. They made the ascent side by
side, DCI Ian Collins on Angel's left, Rupert Giles on his right.
curved off to the right, following the base of the ancient earthworks, but they
had been instructed to continue straight ahead, and so they did.
embankments were forbidding, even millennia after they had been erected, a
difficult climb, especially for a man without use of his hands. Angel, not being a man, took them with ease,
but Collins, unused to such scrambles, found himself slipping on the fine
grasses of the sheep-cropped downland turf.
just before breaching the brow of the hill.
time to go back," Giles offered.
"And leave him
have to exchange your life for his," said Collins, his first words since
leaving Summerdown House. Like Giles,
his expression was set, a man used to hiding his own fear in the company of
others, and yet Angel knew that it was there.
"Don't I? It's my fault he's here, and if that's what
it takes..." Angel gave a small, wry
smile. "We'll have to hope it doesn't
come to that, or Buffy will kill me."
He eased his
shoulders. It was a long time since
he'd last been shackled like this, and his muscles were stiffening
painfully. With a curt nod to his
companions, he took the last few strides to the crest, and they hurriedly fell
in beside him. He wouldn't have to do
moved his chair to one side as a secretary set down cups and saucers, a small
teapot, a milk jug and a sugar bowl.
She left, taking the empty tray with her, and Giles turned back to the man
on the other side of the desk. He was a
small man, dapper in his grey suit, with a primness about the mouth, his
movements neat and precise. He was
exactly what one expected of an old-fashioned banker, and that was just what he
back in his chair, waiting until Giles' cup was filled, and then he cleared his
throat with a precise little cough.
"Ahem. You and your colleagues come very highly
recommended, Mr Giles. Our Chief
Executive is acquainted with a member of your club." At Giles' questioning look, he elaborated. "The Sophists."
So, Mr D'Eath, what can I do for you?"
reached for a file on the corner of his desk, pulling it towards him. It was the only file on this glass-covered
wooden expanse, keeping company with a pristine blotting pad and a tastefully
arranged desk set. Opening it, he took
out the top document, and placed it in front of Giles. It was an estate agent's brochure, a
description of a property. The
photograph showed a large, imposing house, which clearly had a very old
building at its heart. It was called
Clifford Hall, and the asking price made Giles wince.
steepled his fingers, resting his chin on the point of his carefully pared
fingernails, watching as Giles read. Uncertain
of what was expected of him, Giles handed the brochure back. The banker took it, and replaced it in the
file, making sure it was carefully squared up with those beneath. He didn't, however, close the file.
"This is a
very delicate matter, Mr Giles."
discretion is assured." It wasn't
couched as a question.
infinitesimal pause, D'Eath opened a drawer in his desk and drew out a bunch of
keys, which he laid onto the file.
"These are the
keys to the property, Mr Giles. Our
client purchased it some months ago, and has spent a considerable sum on
improvements. It was his intention to
operate it as a wedding and conference venue, as well as being the family
home. His is an extended family and comprises
himself, his wife, their five children, all aged under ten, his parents, and
his brother and sister."
the upside-down photograph of the extensive pile.
said. "I can see that they must have a bit
of a squeeze to get everyone in."
rewarded that sally at humour with a tight little smile.
"It's moot, Mr
Giles, because they no longer live there.
A month ago, our client told us of his decision to stop paying the
mortgage, and he handed back the keys.
He wishes never to see the place again."
so. Now the Bank must decide just what
to do with the property, especially since handing back the keys doesn't absolve
him of responsibility."
"I can see
that you might have administrative difficulties with it, Mr D'Eath, but I'm not
sure what I can do to help. I'm
certainly not in the market for a new property just now."
There was that
tight little smile again.
"I'm sure not,
Mr Giles. I gather you are even now
extending Summerdown House."
Giles sat up
in his chair. "How did you know that?"
made enquiries already, Mr Giles. Quite
exactly what they'd found out, but judged it better not to ask. Whatever they knew, Mr D'Eath had still
asked for this meeting, whether that be despite his knowledge or because of it,
and he presumably intended to offer some sort of business.
"It seems that
what you learned was to your satisfaction?"
I'm pleased to say. And now we come to
the crux of the matter. The reason why
the entire family abandoned Clifford Hall is that they say it is haunted. The Bank wishes you to advise us whether
this is so."
"That doesn't seem
to be a thing that a Bank would put much credence in."
in times gone by, Mr Giles. But in
these modern times, we all have to take health and safety seriously. Besides, our client is a man of some...
reputation and substance. We can't
dismiss what he says out of hand."
There was more
to it than that, Giles was sure, and he had a suspicion how the wind blew. Still, banks paid well... D'Eath interrupted his silent musing.
"Can I assume
that you are interested in the case, Mr Giles?"
"Yes. Yes, we are. Now, tell me everything you know."
Buffy was just
hanging up the phone when Giles let himself in by the door from the
courtyard. He wondered whether that was
another call to Dawn on the phone bill.
They were still almost daily events, after Andrew's gruesome death. And then he felt churlish for thinking in
terms of expense, when Buffy was so worried about her sister.
him. He was going to have to find
someone else to keep an eye on the Key made flesh. Dawn had made it quite obvious what she thought of the suggestion
that she come to make her home at Summerdown House. ‘Burying herself in the backwoods' was the kindest of the things
she'd said. He thought of how lost
Buffy had been when she first arrived in Westbury, and that recollection made
him realise how different it was now, how much she'd become part of the
village, how at home she seemed. How
happy, most of the time. Angel too, in
his own, undemonstrative way.
frown between Buffy's eyes as he shut the door made it a running certainty that
it had been Dawn on the other end of the call.
said, cheerfully, "I'm starving. What
have we got?"
casserole," she replied, her cheeriness as false as his. "Angel's dealing with that, but I need to go
and check his seasoning. He never gets
it right first time." She swung round
to the kitchen, to the noise of pots and pans, and Giles let her go.
So, when they
sat down that evening, Buffy and Giles had chicken casserole
and Angel had
blood still warm from the slaughterhouse.
Giles told them what he'd learned from Richard D'Eath.
"Nottingham?" Angel said, meditatively.
up from her plate. "Robin Hood and
not, Buffy. I suspect it's going to be
much more boring than that." Giles
applied himself to his chicken, but then paused and pointed his fork at his
companions. "Of course, it might not be
boring at all. There might be entirely
too much excitement. Screams in the
corridor, blood in the beds, and silent doppelgängers. That's what we're promised. Better than a book at bedtime."
"Might be an
infestation of demons, or a poltergeist," Angel suggested, putting down his
empty glass and wondering whether he would seem greedy if he had another. He was hungry tonight. He'd almost got used to feeding with the
household. Almost. But there were times when he wanted, no, needed, to glut himself, and he didn't
like to show that to anyone. Tonight
was one of those nights.
Giles replied, non-committally. He was
still exploring his own thoughts.
"Do we leave
tomorrow?" Buffy wanted to know. She
would be glad of some activity. A new
case would be just right.
"No, I need to
do some research first. I told D'Eath
we'd go on Sunday night. A housekeeper
will be there to meet us, and she'll stay while we're there, so we shan't be
We'll be back for the following Friday, won't we?"
"Hmm?" Giles was abstracted as he surveyed the
orange and Cointreau trifle that Martha had left for them.
"Giles! You haven't forgotten?"
"Forgotten? No, of course I haven't forgotten." His eyes took on the hunted look of a man
who's certain he's overlooked a crucial birthday or anniversary, and has no idea
pity on him. "The formidable Ivy, and
Walter the dark horse."
course." Giles hid his discomfiture
behind a large helping of trifle. Ivy
Grittleton and Walter Satterthwaite had finally named the day, and the day was
next Friday. Evening, actually. Oddly, they had decided on an evening
wedding, conducted by Janet Alder, Westbury's Humanist minister, and all of the
Summerdown House contingent were invited.
A thought occurred to him.
grimaced, but Buffy's smile was sunny.
"It's all done, Giles. Unless
you want to go out and get something sharper than tweed?"
brought research. Improvements
estimated to cost four million pounds had been made at Clifford Hall, and that was
on top of the eye-watering purchase price.
It had its own website, marketing it as a wedding and conference venue,
but when Giles flicked through the file that D'Eath had given him, he could
find no record of a licence for such activity.
He wondered what the terms of the licence were, and who had issued it,
and he dashed off a quick e-mail to the local planning department. You couldn't be too thorough. He didn't think that Jason Carter would have
sold the soul of one of his children for a successful business venture but you
just never knew. After all, there were
five of them, and the man might have reasoned that he could spare just one.
The owner - or
perhaps he was now the ex-owner - was a self-made man, with a personal fortune
assessed at twenty-five million pounds, mainly from gambling and night
clubs. His wife had been the senior
croupier at one of his casinos, before their marriage. Perhaps there were some aggrieved punters
looking to make the family's life a misery?
He made some notes around that thought, to follow up later. Perhaps Ian Collins could help.
Carters, the Hall had most lately been a private school, run along fashionably
liberal lines, and had come to a predictable financially sticky end. Lots of room there for psychic leftovers of
angst and teenage hormones, then.
made and equipment readied.
Martha, to make Sunday lunch, and a visit from Ian Collins.
"Ian! Haven't you got a home to go to?" Giles asked, as he surveyed the dark coat that
he knew Collins normally wore for work, but his welcoming voice belied the
"He must have
smelled the dinner." Martha's cheery
voice wafted down the corridor from the kitchen.
Ian. You'll stay to eat with us? Take your coat off, it's a filthy day out
out of his dark blue overcoat, the wool pearled with beads of moisture from the
didn't come over to cadge a meal..." It was said with some regret. Martha's Sunday dinners were legendary.
not," Giles soothed, "but now that you're here, and at just the right
time... Angel, set another place,
Buffy cast her
eyes heavenwards, but with a smile, and went to fetch some more cutlery.
embarrassed. "Actually, I'm here on
"It can wait
until after we've had lunch," Giles told him firmly.
suppose I'm not actually on duty..."
Collins allowed himself to be persuaded, as much by the delicious odours
emanating from the kitchen as anything else.
And he did need to get help.
Giles led him through to the dining room.
presence of others, Angel was still used to having his blood camouflaged as a
tasty red soup or similar, but there was no time. A cut glass ewer of premium Charolais already stood steaming on
the table next to his place setting, with a matching tumbler, and Martha was
ready to dish up the starters. He laid
the cutlery that Buffy silently handed him, and then picked up the ewer, intent
on returning it to the kitchen. He'd
Ian summed up
the situation with one quick glance.
"Put it back
down, Angel. Just tell me it isn't
someone I know. Or used to know."
you knew those big white bullocks that were frisking down in Otterhole field
until Friday morning," Martha said briskly, as she brought in the pumpkin
soup. "And if you did, we won't make
enquiries about that."
She took the
tureen and soup bowls from the tray, and then turned to Angel, who stood
indecisively, with the ruby ewer still in his hand.
"Put that back
down will you, and stop being a baby.
He knows you've got to eat.
Besides, that fight you had with the Mesmari demon the other day...
well, you need to eat as much as you can, and these were reared totally
organically so they must be good for you."
She turned to Giles and Buffy.
"Make sure he doesn't just play with his food, will you?"
fell in dismay as she realised what she'd said, but the others couldn't hide
their laughter, even Angel. It was the
necessary ice-breaker, and it was Ian Collins who took the ewer from Angel's
hand and put it back down on the table.
And so, they
sat down together to pumpkin soup with crusty white bread and lashings of
Somerset butter, followed by roast pork with all the trimmings, rib-sticking
food for this dank late autumn day. At
least, three of them did, and when the fourth had emptied his glass, there were
willing hands to refill it until the ewer was empty.
"Tell me about
a Mesmari demon," Ian asked. It was
Buffy who gave him the graphic description of something that looked human until
it was recognised, but which then turned to its true appearance of a serpentine
body, with the teeth of an alligator, a muscular tail that was equipped with razor-edged
scales and long bony extensions from both wrists that were as sharp as
"And he only
had a stake on him," Buffy finished, with a glower at her hapless lover. "He just wouldn't wait until I got there."
camouflaged itself so well that it had a job and friends," Angel shrugged
apologetically. "They never last long
with a Mesmari. It drains their energy
until they no longer have the will to live.
They fade and die."
shaken. "Are there... are there many
unrecognised demons living among us?"
to shrink in on himself, but it was clear that the policeman meant no
offence. Buffy put her hand on Angel's
"More than you
might expect, Ian," was Giles' quiet reply.
"Most of them are just trying to get by. We deal with the ones where co-existence is impossible."
as though he might say something else, but the door opened just then.
"I'll be off
in a few minutes," Martha said, as she delivered the sticky toffee pudding.
"That was utterly
delicious," Collins told her as he leaned back in his chair, eyeing up the
steaming pudding. "Thank you." Giles smiled to see Martha preen at the
compliment. She bustled out,
unfastening her pinafore as she did so.
shrilling of the telephone was cut short, and there was a short exchange of
voices in the hall before Martha's head reappeared around the door of the
dining room. She was ready to go, her
hat pinned in place.
she told Giles. "She needs to talk to
Giles took the
call in his study, and he was glad he had.
Alice's news was confusing.
not sure what to do. I've had a
"Are you hurt,
"No, no, I
good thing, then. Is there a great deal
window. They found a spade in the shed
and threw that through the glass."
that Alice, a Silarri demon who was having more trouble passing for human as
she aged, would be loath to call in human help.
"I'll get John
to come over this afternoon and fix it for you."
Rupert. That's very kind."
"Did they take
nothing, and that's what worries me!"
"I'm afraid I
There was a pause,
and Giles knew that she was gathering her scattered wits
"They took the
housekeeping money, which wasn't hard for them to find. But they only took one other thing, and that
had been put away out of sight. Rupert,
they took my directory."
The words came
out on a near sob.
directory?" Giles was bemused. "Your telephone directory?"
"No, no, of
course not." His old teacher sounded
irritated at his slowness. "My demon directory."
directory?" Giles felt particularly
stupid, but he'd no recollection of Alice ever mentioning a demon
directory. He wondered whether age and
too many knocks on the head had addled his wits. He often felt as though his brains were leaking out of his ears
but her next words reassured him on that point.
"Oh, Rupert, I
should have told you. I... I wanted to
find some more people of my own kind.
You can understand that, surely...?"
o...of course," he stammered, overcome by the sudden confidences.
"So, I started
putting together everything I could remember from my parents, and from my
Just how long
had Alice been separated from her people, Giles wondered.
"And then I
did some research, and I started to find where many of them were, at least in
this country... N...not exact addresses, but territories, and where to start
looking. You understand?"
"And then, I
discovered that I'd a real talent for tracking the clues down, and I wanted to
repay you for all your help, and so I started to compile a demon
directory. Where the different clans
are, where their main strongholds are, their tribal strengths, who the leaders
are, their customs and habits... I
intended to give it to you for Christmas."
that... that's a wonderful thought!"
might have been, but I think it's going to be a great deal of trouble for you
now," said the old lady, with some asperity.
"Don't you see? Apart from a few
pounds - oh, and my bus pass - that was all
they took. It's as though that's what
they came for. You should ask yourself
silence, she added, "And whatever they want to do, they've got a bus pass and
some travelling money to do it with."
over later, when I'm free," he told her.
"And if you can give me a description of the directory, I'll try to put
the word out quietly, just in case you're wrong, and it's found somewhere. Although," he added conscientiously, "from
what you've told me, I don't think you're wrong."
As he put the
phone down, Giles really wanted to talk to Angel and Buffy as soon as
possible. Privately. Ian might know, now, just what Angel and
Buffy were, but he was clearly still rattled a little by the thought of demons
living hidden amongst humanity. It
wouldn't do to overload him. Giles,
however, had underrated serendipity.
the others in the family room, led there by the aroma of fresh coffee. As he poured his own from the pot, Ian
Collins started to speak of the business that had brought him there.
short staffed around here," he said.
"Some people have the current epidemic cold, and others have got the
sickness and diarrhoea, as well as the usual crop of drunken arrest-related
injuries. So, it's all hands to the
pump, so to speak."
silent, and Giles sat forward in his chair, encouragingly.
"I'd gone in
to catch up with some paperwork, and to check a few things out that had been
bothering me. The desk sergeant,
though, was trying to find someone to answer a call that had been sitting
around since the early hours of the morning.
It was on my way home, so I said I'd go..."
He drank some
of his coffee before continuing.
"I talked to
the old man who'd reported it, first, and he told me that his neighbours had
only moved in a few weeks ago, and they were very quiet, keeping themselves to
themselves. But, he thought he'd heard
an intruder early this morning, raised voices, and loud noises. And then a scream. He'd heard nothing since.
He's about ninety, so he clearly was too frail to go and investigate,
and he called us."
silent again, and rubbed his hand over his face.
"The door was
on the latch, so I just walked in when no one answered. There was an elderly woman kneeling on the
floor. She wasn't crying, or anything
like that. She was just silently
cradling the body of an old man. I
could see he was dead, straightaway."
He grimaced. "There's something
about a dead body, isn't there?"
himself another cup of coffee, and no one interrupted him.
He looked up
at Angel suddenly.
Angel. I just think of you as... you."
smiled. "None taken."
continued, "I called for an ambulance, but when I tried to get the woman to
come away from the body, she... she, well she went berserk. She kept clinging to him, in hysterics. In the end, the paramedics, when they
arrived, gave her a sedative so they could take the body away.
"If she hadn't
done that... If I'd seen him more
He fell silent
again. Giles gave him a gentle
nudge. "Yes, Ian?"
"It was as
they were putting him in the bag. The
light wasn't very good in there, and I don't think they noticed. But I'd been there a while, and my eyes were
accustomed to the gloom. There was a
band of scales around his neck. Pink
scales. And on his hands. He had a thick mane of long hair, but I think
there were some in the hairline, too."
Giles sat back
in astonishment, thinking of Alice.
Could this be another Silarri?
If so, what a pity it was too late.
But the woman...
"The woman had
those scales, too?"
his head. "No, not that I could
see. She looked perfectly..." He gave a sharp laugh. "I was going to say ‘normal', but I'm
beginning to wonder what normal is anymore."
"You want us
to check it out?" Angel asked, gently.
Collins nodded. "Yes.
And let's face it, if he wasn't human, he probably doesn't belong in a
morgue, does he?"
And there was
the crux of the matter, thought Giles.
There was no doubt that Collins was affected by what he'd seen, but he'd
clearly come to the conclusion that the world might not benefit from knowing
that non-humans lived amongst humanity.
That had made him think things that weren't at all in keeping with his
job as a policeman, and he was very uncomfortable about that.
to going to Nottingham, but I think that Angel could look this lady up, talk to
"I'll do it,"
to her in surprise, and then decided that he really should have expected
that. Buffy had spent a lot of time
with Alice, and must have recognised the description that Ian had given. Who knew what confidences had been exchanged
between them? And besides, Buffy must
be a good choice to talk to the grieving woman. Perhaps she and Alice together...? Yes. There was one other
"Buffy, if he
was S... a demon, you might need to break into the morgue."
done that, no problem."
been there and done that, I think," said Giles with a grimace.
something I'd rather not know about?" Ian asked sternly.
"You don't get
out that easily," Buffy told him, with her most winning smile. "If that's what I need to do, I'll be coming
to you for back-up."
Collins gave a
groan. "I had a feeling that knowing
you three would be the end of my career."
"Oh, it won't
be that bad," said Giles cheerfully.
"Besides, you'll probably end up dead or in prison before you get
comforter," Collins grouched, but he didn't refuse. He pulled out his notebook and tore out a page, handing over the
address for Mrs Elder. Buffy tucked it
into her bag.
"I'll go over
now," she said, as she got up. "Just in
case she decides to move on."
got her to bed," Collins told her. "The
sedation should still be effective." He
looked at his watch. "But not for much
longer. They didn't want to give her
much because there was no one with her."
"She won't be
alone for much longer," Buffy said firmly.
"You two go and find out about this haunted hall. Call me when you get there, you hear me?"
grinned. "Yes, Mum."
And she was
Giles got up,
too. "I'll pop over to Alice's before
we go, Angel. Shan't be long." He'd tell Angel what was wrong on their
"Ian, we're going
up to Clifford Hall in Nottingham, I'd be very grateful if you could tell me
whether there are any odd things about the Hall, or its owners."
nodded, and Giles scribbled the details into the policeman's notebook. An afterthought made its presence felt. "Oh, and if you should happen to come across
a handwritten book, a directory of demons actually, it's been stolen in a
break-in and might turn up if someone catches the burglar." He hoped he'd sounded nonchalant enough, but
it was sensible to tell the policeman.
an eyebrow, but said nothing.
frowned. "It was Alice who rang just
now, wasn't it? Your old teacher? Has she had a break-in?"
Damn. Giles silently cursed the policeman's acuity
and his own big mouth. Still, no use
crying over spilt milk.
"It's of no
real consequence. Nothing much was
taken, and John will be over there shortly to repair the damage. I'll just go over and check that she's
you're going to Nottingham tonight, you really ought to get off. You'll need to detour. Some idiot loaded his wagon wrong, and when
he had to slam on the anchors, he lost the load. He had drums of steel cable, up to 2 tons each, and they simply
rolled off the back and bounced round the motorway. The M1's closed just south of Nottingham until they can get a
forklift out there to pick everything up.
It'll be mayhem on all the surrounding roads. I'll go and see Alice.
She's out on Green Lane, isn't she?"
need, old man," Giles said hurriedly.
was already out in the hall, reaching for his coat. "It's no trouble at all.
I'll get a description of the missing book, and I'll see that she's
okay. I'll keep an eye on her while
you're away. A shock like that can affect
an old lady badly."
swallowed hard. "Y...yes, of
course." And then he muttered, "But I
think that Alice might be hardier than you expect."
With a wave,
Collins walked down the hall. Angel
mouthed ‘Phone Alice' to Giles, who nodded.
But serendipity took another hand.
As Collins pulled open the door, a matronly woman, accompanied by a
lanky youth, had her hand raised to knock.
sorry," she said, covered in confusion, "I was looking for Mr Giles."
Whitelaw," Giles acknowledged, from behind Collins' shoulder. "And Ricky.
What can I do for you?"
slipped out. As he left, he heard Mrs
Whitelaw say, "Ricky insists that he's got an important message for you, Mr
Giles. I'm really sorry to bother you,
but he's been very upset, until I said I would bring him to see you."
"Please. Come in."
And then the
door closed on the new visitors.
grinned at Giles, and motioned having a telephone to his ear, then slipped into
the study. He was going to call Alice
and warn her that Collins was on his way.
Giles took his visitors to the breakfast room, where there were fewer
distractions for Ricky. The lad was a
good-hearted youth, always laughing, always likeable. But, he was someone who in simpler and unkinder times would have
been called the village idiot.
That was not
only unkind, but also unfair. Although
he would always have the mind of a child, Ricky had his own sort of
intelligence. It was just different,
less connected to things of this world.
Giles made a
cup of tea for himself and Mrs Whitelaw, and for Ricky he hunted around the
larder until he found some lemonade in a glass jug. Mrs Whitelaw sat with her knees together, her elbows tightly
pressed against her ribs, both hands clenched on the top of her handbag. He thought that she might be trying to
intrude as little upon this alien space as possible. Not for the first time, he wondered about the difficulties of
this widow's life.
He handed the
lemonade to Ricky with a smile, and sat down with them. He knew Ricky, of course. Everyone in the old village knew Ricky. The youth had helped John to clear up the
autumn leaves, as he did every year, and although his work rate was low, he was
diligent, and loved to be working with other men. At the end of winter, he would help with the hedging and
ditching. And he made himself useful at
Lisa's, willingly mucking out the horses, all of whom welcomed him into their
Ricky. Tell Mr Giles what you came here
to tell him."
happily. "Pretty lady told me."
his mental expectations. "Pretty lady?"
"Went to High
Oak yesterday." Ricky nodded sagely.
High Oak was the
tree out at the start of the downs, for which the lane outside was named. The gnarled and ancient oak had been there
for centuries, and there were many tales about it. Giles knew that there would be some sense behind this apparent
non sequitur. He just had to find it.
pretty lady was there?"
tutted, and looked sharply at her son.
He sat with downcast eyes.
"Tell me about
High Oak, Ricky."
"I like High
Oak. I fell out of it once."
"So did I."
at that shared experience. "Go there a
lot. I fell asleep yesterday."
been a tiny Indian summer, warm and hot, and the turf at the base of the tree
was especially soft.
I saw the lady with the fire on her head."
Giles frowned as
he tried to interpret this. A demon of
fire? Or a flaming redhead? But Ricky was warming to his theme.
"She had nice
tilted the scales more towards a redhead rather than a fire demon? Ella?
Could it possibly be Ella, his lost love?
"Did she tell
you her name?"
no. But she said that you should
remember the tree. She made me repeat
that lots of times so's I wouldn't forget."
Tree? Could it be Willow? Willow? Or Ella?
Or a figment of Ricky's imagination?
"She was glad
the wolfman got here, with his bits of paper."
Giles, and he leaned forward onto the table.
Ricky copied him, his elbows all askew.
"She told me
to tell you that bad things are going to happen. You need to be ready.
It'll be Mr Angel first, and then really bad things. And the people who look all funny. And then it's Mr Angel again."
you. Every one of the friends. You have to help him, both of him. Or we won't be doing the hedges again. It's all blood and dirt and fire, she said,
and she made me remember that."
"I beg your
pardon?" Both of him? What does Ricky
mean by ‘both of him'?
obligingly started to repeat himself, verbatim.
baffled, but when Ricky had finished his repetition, he asked, "When is this
going to happen, Ricky?"
"Not yet. A little while to go, but you must watch for
it, she said."
But watch for
what? Blood and dirt and fire? They were normal occupational hazards, but
this sounded apocalyptic. End of the
world stuff. And Oz's pieces of paper
had been scorched and burned. What did
any of it mean?
look all funny? Vampires? Clowns?
He asked the question.
screwed up in concentration. "You
know. Almost like people, but not
exactly. Different people." He sat back in his chair, humming to
"Did the lady
say anything else?"
Ricky scowled in an agony of effort, and then shook his head. "No, except I have to go back and she'll try
to come again."
"What did she look
The young man
smiled broadly. "Pretty!"
going to get anything else. "Thank you
for coming, Ricky. And thank you, Mrs
Whitelaw, for bringing him. If you see
the pretty lady again, young man, come and see me straight away, will you?"
happily. "Certainly will, Mr Rupert
a five pound note into his hand as he left.
up at the small Victorian terrace house in the back streets of Trowbridge. The house was neat, and newly refurbished. Its warm red brick and bright blue door
seemed too... normal... to hide demonic secrets. The tiny front garden had been gravelled over. She recognised the single plant growing in
the centre. It was a red cordyline, and
she knew that because Giles had some in the courtyard planters. He'd been angsting with John about whether
to move them under cover for the winter.
The front door
was locked, and no one responded to her knocking. She retreated back down the path a little way, and scanned the frontage
of the building. No conveniently open
windows. Not that she could get in that
way as long as it was still daylight.
Perhaps there would be something round the back... And it would be dark
by about half-past four. That was less
than an hour away. She was almost in
the act of turning round when the red door of the neighbouring house slowly
opened, revealing an old, old man in the threshold.
looking for Mrs Elder, Miss?" His voice
sounded as ancient as he was, nothing more than a creaking whisper.
called out to him. "Yes, I am. I was sent by the policeman who was
here. To make sure she's alright." She gave him a winning smile as she jogged
from one path to the other. Up close,
he smelled of milk, and shaving foam, and, very slightly, of urine. It was the smell of age, and she shuddered,
as she wondered whether she would come to this. Well, not the shaving foam, perhaps.
trousers were held up by a tightly cinched belt, his hips as narrow as his
shrunken waist. When he stuck his hand
into his pocket, it seemed to Buffy that he must push the trousers off their
precarious perch on his scrawny hip bones, but the belt held, and his hand came
out clutching a key.
lass gave me this. It's Mrs Elder's front
door key." He eyed up Buffy's large
bag. "I'll take you in."
locked his own door, and stepped slowly onto the path. Buffy held out her arm, and he took it with
a smile of thanks.
"I'm Len, by
"Nice to meet
you, Len. I'm Buffy. I'm a... counsellor."
suddenly suspicious. "You're from the
Council? Hasn't she got enough
"No, Len, I'm
not from the Council. I'm here to help
He looked hard
at her, his faded, rheumy eyes seeming to take in more than they should. "Aye, I reckon you are."
He stared down
at the postage stamp lawn, with its fringe of faded red geraniums and white
petunias. "Gary Elder used to do that
bit of garden for me. They were new
here, but straight away, he said he'd do it.
Don't get many like that nowadays.
Mind you," he scratched his half-shaved chin, "he always did it with a
muffler on, and gloves. Said he felt
cold, even on hot days."
"Muffler?" Buffy looked confused, thinking of car
grinned. "Yeah. You know, those white silk scarves we all
had, when I was young." He peered at
her again, and sighed. "No, I don't
suppose you would remember."
Elder - he was an old-fashioned sort of guy?"
suppose you could say that, but I'm probably the wrong person to ask. Don't think so good any more."
you're as sharp as a tack, Len. Come
on, let's go and find Mrs Elder."
parchment-skinned hand, no more than a fistful of knuckles and blue, twisted
veins, was firm on her arm as he shuffled down the path, and she saw that he
still had his worn and frayed house slippers on. At last, they reached Mrs Elder's blue front door. Len put out his arthritic right hand, the
key trembling in his grasp as he fitted it into the lock.
house was sparely furnished, Spartan, even.
Len levered himself down into one of the two armchairs. "I'll wait here," he told her.
at him. She liked him. He might be old and frail, but he was going
to ensure that some stranger didn't make off with Mrs Elder's non-existent
knickknacks. Buffy made her way
upstairs, where the rooms were equally spare.
In the second one, a woman lay asleep, but restless, her hands clutching
spasmodically at the blue eiderdown that covered her. Buffy walked softly downstairs and made all of them a cup of tea,
then she sat down by Mrs Elder, to wait.
By car, the
journey from Summerdown House to Alice's cottage on Green Lane took only a few
minutes. Collins pulled up outside the little
house, its bright, white walls and natural oak woodwork lit up by the warm
earthen pots of bright red geraniums.
There were other plants that he didn't recognise, but he knew a geranium
when he saw one.
was at the end of the lane; at least, it was at the end of the lane as a
highway down which a car could travel.
After that, it became a deeply rutted green road, running between high,
unkempt hedges that overhung it, making a dark tunnel even now, when most of
the leaves had fallen. In that moist,
pungent air, the cottage looked like the last homely house before the places
where there might be dragons. Or even
He pushed open
the wooden gate that hung loose on its hinges.
Now, closer up, he could see a few small signs of neglect. Still, Alice was in her eighties. It was to be expected that she couldn't do
bounds of the cottage, vegetation hung, lank and yellowing in the clinging
November mist. The trees had mostly
lost their leaves, and their black, reaching branches dripped silently. In the garden, though, autumn colours still
reigned, with flowers in yellows and reds and bronze, and foliage in brilliant
scarlets and oranges and all the other colours of flame, culminating in those
fiery geraniums. It was as though the
cottage occupied a different time frame to the world beyond it. Two or three weeks behind, perhaps.
He smiled at
such a fond and foolish notion, as he trod up the seven steps and knocked on
the wooden door. Association with
Summerdown House was clearly making him fanciful.
was talking to Angel on the phone when she heard the car draw up outside. With a brief word of thanks, she rang off
and hurried into her bedroom. She had
no time for preparation. Giles' creams
and potions had helped for a while, but her Silarri nature was reasserting
itself. She opened a drawer and pulled
out a long velvet scarf in rich, deep reds, woven with black and gold threads. Quickly, she wound it around her neck, its
fluid lines hiding the bands of new, pink scales around her throat. Then she pulled on a pair of black lace
fingerless mitts, covering the scales on her hands.
And then there
was a knock at the door. She glanced in
the mirror, and primped her hair with her fingers to make sure that it hid the
scales around her hairline. Yes, that
would do. She glanced into the living
room, to make sure there was nothing... incriminating...
Drat. She'd forgotten. When Angel called, she'd been revisiting the past, a futile waste
of time, but occasionally she couldn't help it. She gathered up the scrapbook, mementoes from her younger
days. Despite the man at the door, she
couldn't help but pause at what she'd been reading.
It was a
well-worn piece of paper that she'd carried since she was sixteen years old, a
mere infant in Silarri terms. Her
mother had started to tell her some Silarri secrets, and this had been the
first lesson in a really important secret, a lesson that had never been continued. Her parents had been beaten to death the
next day, in one of the disturbances following the Moroccan civil war, and she
had only escaped by luck and speed.
And she had
never learned the rest of that lesson.
The first part was how to make that first change to human form by her
own abilities, rather than by her mother's.
The next part would have been how to maintain and renew that form. The third part would have been how to change
it. Or at least that's what her mother
had told her. It all seemed like a
fairy tale now. Without those vital
lessons from her mother, she was condemned to gradually lose this form of
humanity, and to revert to that of a Silarri.
The reversion might take a hundred years to finalise, especially if
Giles found another effective lotion, but it was inevitable.
A voice called
out. "Miss Yeo! Are you there?"
With a stern
mental shake, she put the book away in a drawer, and hurried into the hall.
behind the door and assumed the demeanour of a very elderly lady. "Yes?" she called out, in a quavering voice.
Miss Yeo. The policeman. I'm a friend of Mr Giles." Collins had briefly met Alice on a couple of
occasions, but he wasn't sure she would remember him.
came the uncertain voice behind the door.
"The Detective Chief Inspector.
So kind of you to call, but I don't need a policeman, thank you."
"I wonder if I
might come in for a few minutes, Miss Yeo.
I shan't keep you, I promise. Or
I could come back, if it isn't convenient just now?"
Alice sighed. Another time might be even less
convenient. She opened the door.
"Ian," he said
as he stepped over the threshold. "I'm
not on duty."
She took his
mist-pearled coat, and showed him into the living room. Perhaps, if she didn't offer him
refreshments, he would go more quickly.
It went against the grain, though.
He waited for
her to choose a seat, at the end of the chintz-covered settee, and then sat
down in one of her armchairs. He was a
tall man, and he stretched his long legs out in front of him, seemingly quite
me you've had a break-in, Miss Yeo."
stupid. I had to go out for a very
short time." She didn't tell him that
she'd taken advantage of the fog to go for a brisk walk down the lane. "Posting a letter, you know."
"Then you were
very lucky that they'd gone when you got back.
Are you sure that you're alright?"
thank you. So kind of you to ask."
like me to look round and check your security?"
"Oh! Oh, I wouldn't dream of asking you to do
that! John will be over later, and
he'll mend the window, and check everything else. Thank you so much."
"Well, if you
change your mind, just let me know." He
handed over his card and Alice put it on the table beside her. "Now, Giles wants me to look out for a book
that was stolen. Can you tell me what
to look for?"
learned early that the best lies were those that were closest to the truth.
"I can show
you. Did Rupert tell you that I was doing
it as a surprise for him, for Christmas?
I found I couldn't get it all into one book, and I was about to start a
second one." She got up and disappeared
into another room. When she came back,
she had a thick book in her hand. She
handed it over to Collins. It was A5
size, about an inch thick, bound in soft green leather. There was a diamond-shaped lozenge in the
centre, made of small opalescent squares of mother-of-pearl. Golden filigree corner guards, each with an
emerald in the centre, sat on the corners, and there was an ornate golden lock,
with a key in it. The fittings might
have been gold, but he suspected they were pinchbeck, and the emeralds
paste. Nevertheless, he could see what
would have attracted a thief.
On the front
cover, hand-blocked gold lettering read The
Lesser Domesday Book, Volume II.
She felt the
blood rush to her cheeks. "It... it was
just a conceit, a fanciful notion, really."
He opened the
book. It was blank inside.
"I hadn't started
it yet. This was locked in a cupboard
in the other room, and the one that was taken was in that drawer, by my
computer." She pointed to a neat
across at the computer. It wasn't the
most up to date piece of equipment, heavy and bulky, not like stealing a
was information on demons?"
Miss Yeo. I know about Giles, and Angel
and Buffy, and what they do."
He did, did
he? She wondered whether he knew all
there was to know. Not all the truth,
then... "Well, then, yes. It was simply a hand-written record of where
most of the major settlements are, and related information about customs and
"Can you think
why anyone would want to steal it?"
really. Demons are quite secretive, of
course. Perhaps someone found what I
was doing, and didn't want me... erm... spilling the beans."
"Yes, I expect
it's something like this." It might be,
of course, but he suspected that an opportunistic housebreaker had snatched it
up thinking it might be worth a bob or two.
If Alice had only been out briefly, she might well have disturbed them,
which would explain why so little else had been taken. Still, he had to bear
the more sinister possibilities in mind.
He closed the book
and looked more carefully at the cover.
"This is beautiful work. Was it
done by someone in the village?"
detective through and through, thought Alice.
"Thank you. But no one else knew
about it. I did it."
There was that
quirky eyebrow again. Unaware that she
did it, she fingered the bracelet on her arm.
It was a circlet of silver and deep blue lapis lazuli, shot with spidery
veins of gold, and it had been given to her by her mother for her sixteenth
birthday. She had the other matching
pieces upstairs. She didn't wear those
often, but it was a rare day when she didn't wear her bracelet. She played with it when she was nervous, or
deep in thought.
"I learned to
bind books when I was young," she declared, feeling defensive. "It isn't so difficult, and you don't need
complicated machinery. I haven't done
any for a while, but I have everything necessary for this sort of work."
He handed the
book back. "It is beautiful." He sat back
in his chair, and then nodded towards a photograph on a side table, framed by
silver Art Nouveau. It was of a young
woman. "Is that you?"
lied, and said that it was her mother, but remembered her mantra of the closer
to the truth the better. Besides, she
had perhaps been quite pretty then, and she was proud of that. Worse, she wanted him to know it. Older doesn't necessarily mean wiser. "Yes.
I was in Paris for a while."
Collins got up
for a closer look. Alice was elegant
now, but she had been beautiful then.
When he looked at her, he could still see the remnants of that ravaged
beauty. He turned back to the
photograph and smiled as he felt a faint stirring. She'd been just the sort of dark-haired dasher who really turned
"You were a
real eyeful, weren't you," he said with a smile that robbed the words of any
Once more, she
felt that unfamiliar rush of blood to her cheeks, and it was difficult to keep
the timbre of an elderly lady in her voice.
"Thank you. Perhaps not such a
mean bit," she conceded, "but that was a long time ago." She kept the photograph there to remind her
of what she had been. Sometimes she
needed that. And sometimes, she put it
away because she couldn't bear to look at it.
He moved back
to his chair, seemingly unwilling to leave just yet, and Alice wasn't
sorry. She got visitors, although not
many. She was accustomed to the
loneliness, but perhaps not entirely resigned to it. A few minutes of conversation surely couldn't hurt, if she were
"You were a
primary school teacher, weren't you?
That was how you first came across Giles?"
yes. He was an unusual little boy. It isn't many who would want to remember me
after all these years."
"It isn't all
that many primary school teachers who would be compiling directories of demons
for their ex-pupils," he replied drily, but with a smile. "What were you doing in Paris? Teaching again?"
"For some of
the time, a little."
There was that
soft smile again.
"Were you born
in Paris? You don't seem to have a
"No. I... I was born in North Africa. Morocco."
"Ah! Your ancestors were white slaved by Barbary
pirates, then! Perhaps they were from
wrinkled in perplexity for a second, and then she had it.
County Cork! The Barbary pirates
cleared it out to the last child in...Sixteen something..." Then her face fell theatrically. "More likely my ancestors were the Barbary pirates."
laughed. "Then you must have been a
and then remembered her elderly persona.
Oh, but she was enjoying herself.
like a cup of coffee, Chief Inspector?"
And yes, very much."
that girlish giggle, she improved on her elderly image. She had a black walking stick, which she
kept handy largely for defence, but which she now picked up and used for its
original intended purpose, allowing her shoulders to hunch a little. Once in the kitchen, she laid the cane down,
and started, carefully, to make coffee.
As she waited for the kettle to sing, she busied herself finding a few
things to put onto a plate - a couple of fresh scones, made that morning, a
chocolate cup cake, some shortbread fingers - and then she made a cafetière of
her favourite Viennese coffee with figs and poured a jug of cream.
She bent down
to pick up a tray and a dark shape leapt past her shoulder. She looked up, to see Poppy, one of her two
black and white cats, stalking purposefully towards the cream. Dropping the tray, she swept Poppy off the
worktop and put her firmly on the floor.
"It isn't your
tea time yet," she said sternly. Poppy
twitched her tail, and looked nonchalant.
Alice went to
the sink to wash her hands, and that was her undoing. She took off her mitts.
Putting the towel back on its hook, she unthinkingly ran her fingers
through her hair, pushing the heavy fall of it away from her temple. And then something made her turn towards the
door. Collins stood there, his gaze
riveted to that upraised hand. She knew
what he could see there, the pinkly pearlescent scales that covered all the
skin from her wrist to her knuckles, and the thick band of scales that ran over
demon, aren't you?" His voice was
answer. What was there to say?
He walked into
the kitchen, and she wondered whether he meant to take some sort of direct
action. Instead, he picked up the tray
that she had dropped, and started moving the cups and the cafetière onto it. She watched him in silence.
"I came to
give you a hand. Do you need that stick
at all, or are you going to bring the scones?"
have long to wait. She'd only drunk
half her cup of tea when Mrs Elder's eyes opened. She struggled to focus, and then Buffy saw her eyes clear as she
fought her way out of the mists of the sedative.
"Who are you?"
Her voice was a parched whisper. And
then she remembered. "Gary..."
Buffy put her
hand out and laid it over Mrs Elder's own.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
The first sob
was soft and stifled, but its successors racked the woman's body. Moved, Buffy sat on the edge of the bed and
put her arms around Mrs Elder's thin shoulders, holding her close. They stayed like that for a long time.
"So you went
straight from Morocco to Paris?"
"No. I went to Portugal first, then Spain and
Italy." She'd dropped her elderly lady
voice, and reassumed her normal thrilling contralto. Alice's lips tightened as she remembered how Italy broke her
heart, and taught her that humans and demons couldn't mix.
If Collins saw
that involuntary reaction, he gave no sign.
"Were you in Lisbon?"
"For a little
Lisbon. It's an incredible city. Is that really you in the photograph, by the
certainly is, young man." Her tone was
"Do you mind
if I ask - how old are you, actually?"
hesitated. Well, why not. "Two hundred and seven."
silent for a moment. "Like Angel,
"No, not at
all like Angel. Besides, he's older
help but laugh at that sign of sharp defensiveness, and they talked
companionably again. Soon, each had a
black and white cat curled up on their lap.
Ah! A Jellicle cat, Collins had greeted Daisy, much to Alice's
delight, and possibly to Daisy's, because who knew, with cats? They talked of art and opera, of poetry and
places, of books and theatre. What they
didn't speak of was the fact that Alice was a demon.
steady the cup as Mrs Elder picked it up.
she whispered, as she tried to sip the hot liquid.
Len looked on
from his chair. "Will you and the lass
do, now, Mrs Elder?" She nodded her
reply. "Well, then, I'll be getting
along and leave you to it. You know
where I am if you need anything. My
granddaughter will be round tomorrow to do my shopping. I'll ask her to knock and do yours, shall
the woman whispered again.
manage?" Buffy asked him. "Shall I come with you?"
you stay here. I can hang on to the
fence if I have to."
across to the door. "Nice to meet you,
Buffy," he said, as he let himself out.
turned back to her, Mrs Elder's face was white with fear. "Buffy?" she asked. "You're Buffy? The Slayer?"
Alice. "No, Buffy isn't at all like the
other Slayers. On the whole, they used
to be just as vicious and merciless and uncaring as the creatures they
slaughtered. They were raised by the
Council, largely a gaggle of old men, isolated from the real world, trained to
become killing machines, so what could you expect?"
wasn't?" Collins was genuinely
"No. They overlooked her until she was actually
called. That made her very different to
the institutionalised teenagers that the others were. I was terrified when I knew what Giles had brought home. I knew how implacable a Slayer can be. I'd heard about Angel, too. Well, word gets out about two such champions
of humanity, doesn't it?"
"Not to some
of us," said Collins with a grimace.
"It came as a shock to me. But
you sound as though you'd come across a Slayer before?"
"Yes. She was in Paris. That's why I left. She
didn't care who she killed, and she nearly got me. She was so close..."
"She must have
been lucky to single out a primary school teacher."
how much to say, and then gave a mental shrug.
It was so... liberating... to be able to talk about her past. "I wasn't a teacher then. I was dancing at the Folies Bergère. I was at the Moulin Rouge, later."
widened, and then, involuntarily, he looked back at the photograph. Yes.
Tall, willowy, a sultry beauty.
He could see that.
Alice saw his
glance. "It wasn't me she came for, at
least not initially. She came for the
vampire who was also a dancer there.
Now, that one was definitely an eyeful, but the Slayer got her."
his head slowly. "I'm new to all this,"
he said. "It's hard to take in."
Ian?" Alice asked.
Mrs Elder was
still fearful, but Buffy had managed to convince her that she wasn't here to do
any slaying. It seemed that the
presence in Westbury of the Slayer and Angel the vampire was well known in
demon communities now. Not that Buffy
had found it easy to get Mrs Elder to admit to the presence of demons. It was mention of the mortuary that did it.
was his name, wasn't it? Gary's been
taken to the mortuary. What do you
think will happen, on Monday, when they come to do an autopsy? What will they find?"
Mrs Elder buried
her face in her hands.
pressed her point. "He was Silarri,
"How did you
"I have a
friend who's Silarri. I recognised the
description of the scales."
looked up at her, tears gleaming on her cheeks, but she said nothing.
"How did he
die? Heart attack? He was quite old, wasn't he?"
Elder spat out. "No. He was young, for a Silarri, and he did not
die a natural death. He was murdered!"
instinctively put her hand out, almost drew it back, and then reached out again
to take Mrs Elder's hand. "Tell
me. Tell me what happened. If it's something for me to deal with, I'll
deal. If it's a human who did it, you
can be sure that the policeman who came this morning will catch whoever did it. He's a friend of mine, too."
It took more
reassurances, and gentle prompting, but Buffy got the rest of the story from
her. Gary and Mary Elder had lived in
Spain for many years, but had recently moved back to England, and settled, for
now, in Trowbridge. All had been well
until last night, when an unknown demon had knocked on the door, burst in, and
It had been a
single stroke, a blade almost as fine as wire, and it had been plunged directly
into his heart.
"There was no
blood," Mary whispered. "Not a
drop. He just died in my arms."
"Do you know
who did it?"
"No. No... He was hooded when he came in, but his
hood came off. I'd never seen anyone
like him before." Try as she would,
though, to give a description, she became tangled and incoherent. Buffy decided that she needed Angel to take
up a new job as an identikit artist.
"We need to
talk about this again, when you feel you can handle it," she told Mary,
"because whoever did this isn't going to get away with it, but right now I need
to know whether to get his body from the mortuary. Because if I do, I need to do that tonight. Tell me, if they do an autopsy, will they
know that he isn't human?"
nodded. "It's all my fault." It came out almost as a wail. "All my fault. He stayed as he was, for me.
Because he was married to me, because he loved me, and because I was
getting older..." Her breath hitched in her chest. "He was
going to visit his family and do something about the appearance of the scales
next week, but because of all those things, he put off peshcalo. Without that, he
could have passed..."
"I thought you
said you had a Silarri friend?"
"Then ask your
friend about peshcalo. Renewal."
very dangerous lives, Ian. But Buffy
has more compassion and empathy in her little finger than ever an ordinary
Slayer does. That's partly because of
her family upbringing, and partly because she's got Angel. That man bleeds for everyone that he kills,
they were both pretty implacable, Alice.
They can certainly notch up a body count."
"Yes, but I've
learned that Angel feels he should have been able to save everyone, that they
should all get a chance at changing their ways, as he has."
"Bit of a
Messiah complex, then?"
Alice gave a
short laugh. "Hardly." She nibbled at
another scone. "Shame about Ella,
you didn't know Ella. She and Rupert
were... an item. She died saving the
have thought that Giles would involve the general public in the things that
wasn't general public. She was a very
powerful witch. Very powerful. She was part of the Coven."
"We've got a
Coven?" Collins knew he was a good detective,
but he felt as though he'd been walking around with his senses closed off.
anymore. They all died. About three years ago, now. Left a lot of vacant houses in the area."
"Did no one
wonder why there were so many bodies all at once?"
her head. "There were no bodies. They were... assumed. Is that the right word? Assumed into the Earth, I suppose. The aftershocks of all of that were...
"I remember a
lot of strange happenings, around then.
I'd been seconded to work with the Met, in London, and we had our hands
too full to worry about anywhere else.
But I'm surprised I never came across the reports of such a number of
missing women, when I got back."
"Oh, no, they
would never have come to the notice of the police. That's part of the magic of a witch's house - a feeling that all
is well, that nothing is amiss, for neighbours or passers-by. And none of them had close family. No one will have reported them missing. And even if they had, there were deaths and
disappearances all over the county."
wondered whether he was absorbing too much information too fast to make any
sense of it. He fastened onto one,
small understandable item.
houses were just left unoccupied?"
no. There was a woman who could have
been a member of the Coven, who was invited to join over fifty years ago, but
who turned it down for a normal life, to have a husband and a family. She was left the guardianship of their
properties, awaiting the rise of new Coven members. This region is the place in England where the Earth has most
power. They'll be attracted here. And I expect she'll be on the lookout for
the small and understandable move away from his grasp. "Who is this?"
at him speculatively, and picked up her cup.
"Ivy Grittleton," she told him.
it's a good sign that we haven't had a call from Alice?"
a non-committal reply to Giles' question.
He was driving, and the closure of the M1 had left surrounding routes in
chaos. He was irritated by the idiocy
of some drivers.
have called if anything had gone amiss, wouldn't she? Or Ian would?"
"Who on earth
would break into Alice's? And is it significant
that they took a book about demons?"
"I wonder how
Buffy's getting on with Mrs Elder?"
when she's able. Stop worrying,
Giles. Now, tell me about this place
we're going to."
and gathered his thoughts.
saw their children on staircases, in corridors, sitting in rooms, and playing
in the hall, but the children didn't respond to them in any way, and were later
found to have been in entirely different parts of the house."
fetch?" Fetches were ghostly doubles,
harbingers of death.
certainly seen those before."
foretellings?" Giles chewed the leg of
his glasses. "Hmm. Or reflective mirages? Shadows of the past?"
"Maybe. What else?"
the corridors. Blood-curdling,
according to the notes. Mainly, but not
entirely, in the wee small hours."
poltergeist? No, wait, the eldest child
is nine. That seems a bit young to
prompt a poltergeist." In Giles' experience,
on the whole poltergeists seemed to be the result of teenage hormones.
else? Damn." The latter was aimed at someone who'd cut Angel up badly, almost
taking the Porsche's front bumper off.
Angel drummed his fingers on the wheel.
over the beds. Oh, and great smears of
it down the walls."
or, um, spectral blood?"
you're going to be able to determine that."
grinned. "I'll see what I can do."
"And you have
no contact with any other Silarri?"
Collins tried to imagine the isolation of not knowing any others of your
"No. There aren't many of us. We're hard to find. That's what I was researching, when I had
the idea for the book for Rupert. I
wanted to find someone other than me..."
And I wanted to find whether there
truly are other parts to Silarri magic, whether there can ever be renewal, she wanted to say, but she held her
peace. She didn't know why she was
talking so freely to this man. True, he
was young and personable, and he was very interesting to talk to. True, he was a good listener, encouraging
her to talk, but she'd met enough people with that skill; she'd learned to keep
her own counsel, and she was normally as close-mouthed as they came. But this man made her feel like a person again, not just another old
woman. In that respect, this man was
like Rupert and Angel and Buffy.
"How long have
you been alone, Alice?"
"Since I was
sixteen..." She said it in a
whisper, Oh, not all the time, but alone enough. Alone too much.
She never knew
why it happened. She was a two hundred
and seven year old demon in a body that looked eighty, and she was old enough
to know better, to have better control.
But that simple half sentence, ‘Since
I was sixteen', brought with it its own mental baggage, an image as sharp
and as real as if it had only happened that morning, of her parents' bodies
hanging from the trees in the dusty square.
Not for being demons. No one had
ever known about that. They had died
for living in the wrong time, in the wrong place, in the extended hostilities
that always followed civil war.
glistening tear slid down her wrinkled apple cheek, then another and
another. A tiny sob escaped her, as she
struggled to find a handkerchief. A
large, man's handkerchief was pressed into her hand, and a strong arm encircled
her thin shoulders.
there," said Ian Collins, a man who looked as though he would run a mile at the
sight of a feminine tear, rising to the occasion. "There, there, never mind," rubbing her back as though she were
an infant with wind. He held her while
she cried, his position bringing him almost face to face with the photograph of
Alice as an enchanting young woman. It
was a pity that he was never to know her in her youth, but he knew that if she
had been that age now, with just that tilt of her chin and sparkle in her eye,
such platonic comforting would have been so very much harder in every sense of
He stayed like
that until Alice's tears started to dry, and then his phone trilled a demand to
be recognised. He still had one arm
around her shoulder as he answered it.
"I'm not used
to being stealthy," Collins grumbled in a whisper. "If I break and enter, it's normally in a very public way, and with a very big key."
to herself. She was glad not to be
doing this by herself, and she knew that if they were interrupted, Ian was
resourceful enough to get them out of it without arrests and paperwork.
A mortuary was
a mortuary, whether in California or Wiltshire, and she knew how to find her
way around one. It didn't take her long
to find Gary Elder. He was lying on a
trolley, covered by a green sheet, ready for autopsy - or post-mortem as they
called it here - on the following morning.
She pulled the sheet back and started to unbutton his shirt.
"What are you
doing?" Collins hissed. "We need to get
out of here."
"You want me
to do this in front of his wife?"
subsided, and came to stand beside the Slayer.
He pointed to a tiny red mark on the breast, and then pulled at the
flesh to reveal a small laceration.
"That's the killing blow. And
hardly a drop of blood. Very
professional. Why him? Who needed to kill him and why? We need to talk to his wife again. She must have some information that would
help us catch the killer."
Buffy put her
hand out to the concentric circles of pink scales around the base of his
throat, pearlescent even in the feeble light of a torch with failing
batteries. They were bigger and bolder
than Alice's, more colourful. She
didn't know whether that was individual variation, or a male/female thing. She traced them with her finger, and looked
up at the policeman by her side.
going to be involved. The whole point
of breaking and entering is so that Gary Elder doesn't come to the attention of
the authorities. The police won't be
investigating his death, because he's a demon.
You don't do that."
He picked up the
corpse's hand, and ran his finger over the scales there, feeling the cool
smoothness of them, like tiny plaques of pink mother of pearl, his skin
tingling at the touch. "There's a first
time for everything," he said.
"Besides, he was a person, and he deserves justice. So does his wife. Even if I have to do it off-duty."
scrutinised his face, but his expression gave nothing away.
"Do you need
to see anything else?"
He shook his
then." Wonderingly, she rolled the body
in the green sheet, and hefted it over her shoulder.
"Here! I say!
You can't do that!"
She was about
to say that he was past minding the indignity, and they really had to go now,
when Collins finished his thought. "I
mean, you're a girl. Let me carry him."
She heaved a
sigh and set off for the door, trying not to trip on the trailing ends of the
Slayer," she told him. "I can toss you
from one end of this building to another.
You can get the doors."
They crept out
of the side door, Collins shutting it carefully behind them, when there was an
unwelcome intrusion from behind them.
"Sir? What are doing here? Is that a body? I saw your car... I mean... I say, sir... Is that a body? And why is
Buffy carrying it?"
Collins turned round to face his sergeant, Gavin Lincoln.
Angel drew the
Porsche up in front of an imposing house.
It had a central building flanked by two huge, identical wings with a round
tower on the end of the wing on the left.
The whole thing was softened by broad flower borders along the length of
the building, now faded with the season, and standard roses, with a few late
blooms. Giles surveyed the building
"Parts of it
date back to the Conquest. That tower,
does, I expect." He looked across to
Angel, with a grin. "It's even older
but grinned back. Then he pointed to
the opening door. "Looks like we're
hope so. In fact, I sincerely hope
there's some supper forthcoming. Don't
worry, I'll eat yours."
housekeeper waited on the threshold for them as they retrieved their bags from
the back seat. "Good evening," she
greeted them. "I've let Cook go home,
but she's left you a cold collation in the Yellow Dining Room, and there is hot
soup, and I'll make you some tea and coffee."
fine. Thank you. I'm sorry we got delayed." Angel gave the housekeeper his sunniest
smile, and her very correct demeanour unbent a little. Giles saw what he was doing, and dug an
elbow into his ribs, with a scowl. It
had paid off, though, because later that evening she brought them a tantalus of
decanters, brandy, port and two sorts of whisky.
though, she took them into the house, and up a broad staircase. "We have seventeen bedrooms," she told
them. "I can make up beds for you in
any of them, but I thought you might prefer rooms in the family wing, close to
where Mr and Mrs Carter saw the apparitions."
"That will be
fine. Um... Did you see them, Mrs
She shook her
head at Giles' question. "No, but my
rooms are at the opposite end of the house.
The family lived here, with their main reception rooms in Clifford's
Tower. That part was built by Ralph de
Clifford, twenty years after the Conquest.
Here we are."
open a door and stood back to allow Giles to enter, then she opened another a
few feet further down the corridor, on the opposite side. Giles' room was themed in grey and lemon. Angel's, as luck would have it, was rose
pink and dark blood red.
said, "Come downstairs when you're ready, and I'll show you the Yellow Dining
need to wait around for us," Giles told her.
"I'm sure we can find our way to it."
"There are ten
reception rooms, a gymnasium and a cinema.
It might take you a little while," she said, drily. "I'll meet you at the bottom of the
"Why are you
stealing bodies, sir?"
"Do you think
you could drop the ‘sir'? I'd probably
better not be on duty right now. And do
you think we could deal with the questions later, and get out of here now?"
Collins moved round Buffy and opened the boot of his car.
him in here, Buffy. I'm sure he'll
"Look sir, I'm
not sure I should let you do this..."
"How are you
getting on with Lina?" Buffy asked, from somewhere beneath the green sheet that
was gradually sliding away from the body it was meant to cover. Lina was a demoness with a very talented
prehensile tail. Even in the darkness,
she could see that Gavin Lincoln blushed.
"She went back
home last week." His voice was wistful.
Home for Lina
was another dimension. Occasionally,
Buffy had wondered exactly how many dimensions there were, but the thought of
the ones she knew about made her heart ache, and she rarely dwelled on the
actually notice that she wasn't... quite like other girls?" Buffy hefted the body of Gary Elder a bit
higher onto her shoulder as she asked the question, and wished Gavin would get
out of the way.
flushed again, and looked down at his shoes.
He didn't answer, which was answer enough for Buffy, if she'd needed
it. With quills and a tail, Gavin would
have had to be blind not to notice.
like Lina. Well, not exactly like Lina,
but he doesn't belong in there, for sure.
Now, will someone give me a hand before I drop him?"
led them to the Yellow Dining Room, which was definitely yellow, although that
didn't spoil Giles' appetite. He fell
on the food like the wolf on the fold.
Angel had already eaten, in the privacy of his room. Once they were fed and watered, they asked
if the housekeeper had time to show them the rooms in the house where the
incidents had occurred.
All were in
the family wing. A corridor outside the
Pink Drawing Room, where disembodied men's voices had been heard; the main
staircase, where there had been ghastly screams; The Nursery, where drops of
blood had been scattered on the white lace counterpane of the youngest child;
the Rainbow Room, where the older children slept, and where gouts of blood had
been smeared among the rainbows on the walls; the Cinema, where the children
had been seen watching a film, unresponsive children who had neither
acknowledged nor spoken to anyone else, and who subsequently swore they had
never been there.
said that there had been other apparitions in this wing of the house, but these
were the ones where she could identify the location clearly. So far as she knew, the other wing was
now, if you no longer need me," she said, with a small bow. "What time would you like breakfast? Eight o'clock? Or later?"
"Eight will be
fine," Giles told her. "Thank you."
She turned to go,
but Angel called her back. "Mrs
Horridge... Do you believe in these sightings?"
answer immediately. She stood looking
down at the floor, her hands tightly clenched together. Her mouth opened, but then she shut it
again, without speaking. Eventually,
she looked up at Angel.
"Well, I know
the blood was there, because I cleaned it up myself. But I haven't seen or heard anything else. I haven't felt cold chills or seen shadows,
or any of the other things that are supposed to go with a haunting. I don't know. But the blood was there.
I can't tell you anything else."
accepting her answer. "Do you have the
bloodied counterpane, still?" he asked.
"Yes, but it's
mind. If you could find it for us? And if you could show me where your rooms
are, so that we don't disturb you?
We'll be prowling around tonight, checking things out."
sniffed. "Of course. I'm sure that Mr D'Eath - and you, of course
- know what you're doing."
Angel gave her
that winning smile again, and she almost smiled back. She led Angel to the linen cupboard, where she pulled out a small
white counterpane for him, and then she led him to the far end of the other
wing, showing him her suite of rooms on the upper floor.
Mrs Horridge. We'll try not to make too
much noise. If you get worried by
anything, just shout and we'll hear you."
They took the
body back to Summerdown House, laying him carefully in the store room by the
Gavin asked. "Do we have somewhere safe
to dump the body?"
of the sink hole at the bottom of Giles' Golden Acre Field, where so many other
demon corpses had gone.
"No!" She raised her hand a little, emphasising
the single word.
"No. The Silarri have their own customs. Mrs Elder wants to involve his family, and
to give him a proper funeral. I'm
thinking that perhaps Alice should help?"
nodded, understanding. It might help
Mrs Elder, and it might also help Alice if she could finally contact some
people of her own species. Remembering
the bright and sparkling humanity of the elderly lady, he decided that
‘species' sounded like an odd word to use, no matter how technically accurate
"Yes. That would be a good idea."
They were back
in the Yellow Dining Room with a snifter of a rather fine brandy each. Angel examined a new area of the
"But I can't
get a proper sense of it. The scent is
overwhelmed by washing enzymes and bleach.
But there's definitely blood.
I'll take the Nursery and the Rainbow Room. And the staircase. Do you
want to take the Pink Drawing Room and the Cinema?"
a mouthful of the brandy. "I'm getting
a bit tired of the poncey room names."
grinned. "Me too. But they are
interrupted by his phone, which trilled the Danse
Macabre in tortured tones. He
groaned as he reached into his pocket.
"She said she'd find a way to make me pay..."
what?" Giles asked, interested. But
Angel answered the phone, leaving Giles' curiosity unfulfilled. The one-sided conversation that he heard
left him even more bemused.
"Slow down... Say
"Alice? He did?"
"He stayed how
long with her?"
"Yes, yes, I
think that's a really good idea."
just about to set to work. Tell you
When he'd rung
off, he updated Giles, who goggled at the fact that Ian Collins now knew that
Alice was a demon, and almost choked when he knew that the policeman had still
found her interesting enough to spend a couple of hours with her in
conversation. He was seriously
disturbed to find that Buffy and Ian had been interrupted when they'd recovered
Gary Elder's body, and only a little mollified to find that they'd been
discovered by Gavin Lincoln. Giles knew
And Giles was
thoughtful to find that, in the morning, Elder's family would send a vehicle to
collect both his body and his widow; and he actually smiled to learn that Alice
had introduced herself to Mrs Elder and was staying with her overnight. And then he goggled again when he learned
that by some magic that Mrs Elder had never seen, and that apparently both
Alice and his books were blissfully unaware of, at least some of the Silarri
were able to renew the human form that they wore.
Both he and
Angel could see the potential there.
It was with a
lot to think about that they set about their appointed tasks.
first to the rooms where blood had been seen.
He found nothing unusual in the Nursery, not counting the fact that it
was a room full of giant teddy bears, fluffy sheep and tinkling mobiles. Here, it seemed, the blood had been confined
to those drops on the bedspread.
He moved to
the adjacent Rainbow Room, used by the older children. The blood had been found by the door, Mrs
Horridge had said. The smell of it hit
him as soon as he walked in. This time
it hadn't been washed and bleached to near extinction. Instead, ordinary soap and water had been
used to remove it from the painted wall.
It might be invisible now to the human eye, but it was very discernible
to the vampire nose. And what he
smelled made him frown, a puzzling scent that he couldn't rationalise in this
He cleared his
mind of that conundrum, and then he sat and closed his eyes, listening,
testing, trying to locate any trace of anything else unnatural. There was nothing.
He was still
turning over the puzzle as he headed for the central staircase. There, he stood on the galleried landing,
looking down into the marble-tiled hall beneath, extending every single
sense. There was nothing.
And then, he
felt someone walk over his grave as a shiver ran up his back. He looked back over his shoulder, and saw a
sliver of movement from the corner of his eye.
He whirled round, and stood, transfixed. A large, ornate French-style mirror hung on the wall. In it, he saw himself.
Giles could find
nothing amiss in his assigned areas, the Pink Drawing Room and the Cinema. He was too tired to use all the methods of
detection at his disposal, but he'd do that after a good night's sleep. He was almost sure that he would still find
nothing. When he got back to the Yellow
Dining Room, Angel sat at the grand mahogany table rolling a brandy balloon
between his long fingers. The glass was
half full. Giles took one look at
Angel's closed expression, and wondered how much had already been drunk from that
"Did you find
any evidence of blood, Angel?" he asked, his voice nonchalant.
"Yeah. In the Rainbow Room. Very clear."
human. It was lamb." Angel's gaze was riveted on the contents of
hand slapped down onto the table. He
was exultant. "I knew it! This is all a scam! We get the credit squeeze, and he's spending
a lot of money on this house. Then he can't get a licence to operate it as
a business. He's losing money hand over
fist, he can't keep up the payments...
It's like the Amityville Horror - he thinks he'll either make money
because people will flock to the haunted house, or at the very least he can get
rid of the debt by handing it over to his bank. Hah! I knew it!"
Angel said patiently. "You don't
understand. It was a lamb. A newborn lamb."
still, a fresh glass in one hand, a decanter in the other. "I don't know what you mean."
the brandy around before taking a drink.
"It's November. It'll be weeks
before there are any newborn, skippy lambs ready to have their throats slit in
blood?" Giles asked, after he'd taken that in.
his head. "No. There's a difference between fresh and
frozen. It's subtle, but it's
there. This was fresh."
Giles sat down
opposite the vampire who was possibly his closest friend. "That isn't all, is it?" he asked, sagely.
There was a
long silence, and Giles started to worry about that blank, closed expression on
Angel's face. He didn't prompt an
answer though, and his patience was eventually rewarded.
that big mirror at the head of the staircase?"
nodded. "About eight feet high, five
feet across? French, Louis Quinze pier
glass, carved gilt wood? Oh, yes, with
griffins on top. I remember."
buying one?" Angel asked, with the ghost of a smile.
"I used to
have a relationship with an antiques dealer.
Long time ago."
Angel took a
mouthful of the fiery spirit.
I saw myself in it."
shocked to the core.
"You saw your
For the first
time, Angel looked up. "No. I saw myself." He took another long swallow of brandy.
"I seem to be
incredibly dense just now. I think
you'd better explain it to me."
showed me me, but it wasn't the me of
here and now. It... it was a strange,
gangrel thing. Thin, with tattered
clothes, bloody, it looked as though it hadn't slept for a month. Worn leather trousers - no, Giles..." He
gave a small, grim smile. "Not
Angelus. I was wearing them as
protection against weapons, I think.
Those, and a leather jacket...."
silent again. He could see it again, in
his mind's eye. The bloody half-healed
wound, where someone had tried to slice off his cheek. His knee had been broken recently, and
wasn't quite mended, and so he was favouring it. His clothes and skin were smeared with muck and blood, and his
right hand was burned, still painful, and so he carried his sword in his left
hand. His taut, alabaster skin spoke of
weeks of starvation. And he'd looked
straight out of the mirror at Angel looking in.
"You think it
was a fetch?" It was the first thing
that came to Giles' mind. Blood and dirt and fire, was what he
genuinely worried. A fetch, or
doppelgänger, was the ghostly double of a living person, some evil form of
bilocation. True fetches were
harbingers of bad luck, and seeing one's own ghostly double was said to be an
omen of death. Angel might already be
dead, but Giles didn't want him any deader.
"I don't think
"Because I saw
as tired and thin as Angel had, her hazel eyes huge in her pale face. She was still human, but she didn't look as though
she'd seen the sun for a long time.
She, too, was bruised and bloody.
And she, too, had stared out of the mirror at the Angel of this here and
now, then put up her hand in a warding gesture, as though to fend off an evil
Both of them
were bloodied up to the elbows.
He could see,
but there was nothing to hear, not even the sound of his own breathing. In absolute silence, they sank to their
knees, scrubbing at their bloody arms with the dry, sandy dust. And then they held each other, clutching
desperately at each other, but kissing tenderly. And the image had gone.
back a full inch of brandy.
"I think it
"The one from
the other dimension. He had Buffy with
Buffy there is dead!"
was dead, too. For a while."
"You think he
was using an Urn of Osiris to bring Buffy back?" Giles was incredulous.
"I think he'd
already done that. She'd been back for
a while, I'm certain. I think they
sacrificed the lamb for another reason, maybe to bring someone else back from
the dead. You, maybe, or perhaps
his forehead in perplexity. His brain
seemed to consist of nothing but fog.
"But Angel, if all this is real, then it can't have anything to do with
the lamb's blood in this house. That
happened more than a month ago!"
shrugged. "Don't ask me about the
vagaries of space and time. I don't
know whether it was real. It just felt
real. Besides, even if it's real,
there's nothing we can do about it."
up Angel's glass and took both of them for a large refill.
"No," he said,
as he put the half-full glass back in front of Angel. "No, I don't suppose there is."
After a pause,
Giles asked, "Did... erm... did it look as though they'd succeeded? With the Urn of Osiris?"
attention was once more focused on the brandy, but all he could see was the
despair on their faces.
hot milk onto the chocolate in her Stonehenge mug. She'd driven past it many times, but she'd never been back to
visit the ancient henge after the terrible happenings her first year here, but
Kevin had given the mug to her last Christmas.
She sat down at the kitchen table to drink her hot chocolate; it was
late, she'd had a tiring day and she missed Angel. She wouldn't be long out of bed.
Just as soon as she'd had a hot, milky drink...
missed Angel. She missed Giles as
well. In fact, she missed having
company in this big, echoing house. It
was rare for her to be here alone, at night.
Even Aristotle and Zillah were out, doing whatever cats do on a
miserable night like this. She glanced
out of the window, but in the murky darkness she couldn't see anything of the
new wing that was now almost finished.
Every step of the way through choosing fittings and furnishings, Angel
had either moaned and whined, or maintained a stoical, manly silence. She smiled to herself as she sipped the
cracked as she yawned. Bed was looking
really good just now, even if it was an empty one. She wasn't going to walk across the courtyard to the flat over
the garage. Sleeping during the day had
been impossible there, with the noise from the building work, and she and Angel
had shared their time between the main guest room here or the flat in
Bath. She'd stay here tonight.
She picked up
her mug to finish the last of her chocolate, and then checked her watch. Just short of the witching hour. Not that there were any witches around here,
not to speak of. Not anymore. Definitely time for bed, if she was getting
maudlin. Then came the knock on the
door, a heavy knock, speaking of heavy business. She opened a drawer for one of the stakes that she kept behind
the cutlery tray. Demons and vampires
didn't generally come knocking on the Slayer's door, but you never knew... She
tucked the stake into the back waistband of her jeans. Only then did she go and open the door.
The demon at
the door gave her a deep bow.
He wasn't much
taller than she was, and humanoid in form, but his skin was a shiny rich
mahogany colour. She was reminded of
polished cherry bark. He wore
drab-coloured slacks and a dark woollen polo-necked shirt beneath an Italian
leather jacket. He looked as though he
would have been at home in any cosmopolitan city, apart from that interesting
skin effect. Over the jacket, though,
and quite out of keeping with his modish dress, he wore a broad golden sash
from shoulder to hip. In his hand he
carried a stiff tube of red, embossed leather.
She stood with
her hands on her hips, the stake in easy reach.
the advantage of me."
"I am Alvaric,
and I wear the golden sash of the messenger."
"I can see
you've got a sash, okay. So, what's the
again. "I regret, Slayer, that I must
ask to speak to Angelus. My business is
She cocked her
head to one side and looked at him, consideringly. "There's no Angelus here, and never will be."
"Please do not
play word games with me, Slayer."
want, you can talk to me. We all work
together here. What's the trouble?"
"I must speak
to the vampire, Angelus."
again at the dignity and gravitas of him, and relented. Perhaps, sometimes, a demon only felt
comfortable speaking to another demon.
And this intrigued her.
nothing, but his body language tsked.
"He'll be back
in a couple of days."
"Then I shall
return two nights from now."
He made her
another formal bow, and melted silently away into the thick, misty
darkness. Which was strange, she
thought afterwards, as she prepared for bed, because that gravelled courtyard
definitely came with an underfoot crunch factor. Even Angel had difficulty being totally silent just there, at
least to her ears.
She stood on
the doorstep, chilled, for several long minutes, her arms wrapped around
herself, as though she only had to wait for the answers to appear. Then she thought of the other person who was
alone in this house tonight. She slipped
out towards the front of the house. The
rose garden there still had a few late blooms, despite the weather. Regardless of the thorns, she broke off the
best of them, an old-fashioned yellow rose, crammed with petals, and then let
herself into the store room.
body lay on the floor, covered by the green sheet. Carefully, she put the rose on his swathed breast.
she told him. "We'll find who did
it. I promise." Then she wondered whether tonight's visit
had anything to do with this.
trouble falling asleep, with this new puzzle to chew over, and with an empty
space beside her. When she finally did,
it was to dreams of pain and tears and betrayal, and a blessed sword through
afternoon, as Buffy sorted through a bag full of clean but battle-damaged
clothes, finding those that were worth mending and those that would never again
serve for anything more than cat blankets and dusters, a vehicle crunched into
the courtyard. It was a silver people-carrier,
and it had four occupants. Buffy went
out to greet them. Alice helped Mary
Elder, dressed head to foot in black, to get out of the car, while two men got
out of the front seats.
Mrs Elder, "let me introduce you to my brother-in-law and my father-in-law."
to greet the two men. Neither of them
had so much as a suggestion of scales.
One was tall, with a mane of silver hair. His manner was grave, and she could see the pain in his
eyes. He looked about sixty, but Buffy
was well aware that looks were deceptive with the Silarri. The other was younger, with thick, brown
hair, stocky and strong. He looked at
her with suspicion.
"I'm sorry for
your loss," she told them both.
"Did you kill
him?" the brother blurted out.
took his arm. "No, David. I swear that she did not."
He said no
more, but didn't look mollified.
like to come in?" she asked them. "I
can make coffee... Or tea?"
Edward, shook his head. "Thank you,
no. We need to hurry. Where's my son, please?"
She took him
to the store room. It was cold in
there, and the rose lay as fresh as when she'd picked it. He looked at her in surprise.
to you," he said, "for your care of my son."
"I'll help you
They laid him
carefully in the back of the vehicle, and then disguised him with a covering of
blankets. The men got into their seats
with nods of farewell, but Alice and Mrs Elder came over to Buffy.
"I'm going to
stay with the Elders for a few days," Alice told her. "Would you ask Martha if she would be a dear, and feed Poppy and
Daisy for me?" She wore a serious
expression, but beneath it, Buffy sensed suppressed excitement, and
"Where are you
going?" she asked, suddenly worried at what could happen to the old
teacher. Giles would never forgive her
if she mislaid Alice.
would you believe?"
What's that, like fifty miles away?"
they should be so close, isn't it?"
Alice gave Buffy the address and her cell phone number. "You won't forget Poppy and Daisy, will
"No, of course
not. Call us, or we'll worry. Giles will have chewed his fingernails to
Alice gave her
a hug and, to her surprise, so did Mary Elder.
And then they were gone.
No matter what
they did, Angel and Giles couldn't find any sign of an unnatural presence, or
activity, at Clifford Hall. On Tuesday,
Giles spent most of the day, and Angel spent most of the night, surveying every
inch of the place. They had potions,
powders, meters, gauges, and Angel's preternatural senses. There was nothing. The mirror, now, was just a mirror, and as blank when Angel stood
in front of it as when no one stood within its reach. The scent of the lamb's blood was fading, and they heard no
screaming in any of the corridors. Not
the Cinema, and not any of the other rooms, showed any sign of
was just a house.
about what Angel had seen in the mirror.
At least, Giles talked and Angel listened. Angel had become as introspective and brooding as Giles had ever
known him. He was also making serious
inroads into the brandy.
clear that he hadn't seen an hallucination; at least, as clear as anyone could be,
when there is only one witness. When he
tried to sleep on Tuesday, though, his dreams were full of formless fears, and
then full of all-too-well-remembered horrors from his time in Acathla's Hell. His breakfast that day was blood and brandy,
and then he decided that he really needed to pull himself together.
It was a sad
household that greeted Alice. The house
was a small two-bedroomed end of terrace, perhaps thirty years old, and
situated in an area that was packed with recent immigrants from Eastern
Europe. Groups of young men were living
in single rooms, and families lived in converted garden sheds and garages, all
of them trying to earn a living, all of them dreaming of moving on to better
things. They were largely Polish, but
there were so many other nationalities, in an ever-changing population, that
the Elder family could pass unnoticed.
In their case, they owned the whole house, but it seemed at first to
Alice to be sublet several times over, because there were so many visitors,
come for the obsequies.
to be an unnecessary outsider, but she was greeted with dignified warmth by
Gary Elder's mother and sisters, with brave smiles and trembling lips, and then
by the rest of his family. The men
gathered around the car, to bring in the body of their kinsman. The women ushered her and Mary into the tiny
house, to the front room where refreshments were laid out, the usual cold
funeral meats and other foods that were less recognisable.
carried Gary Elder into the room on the other side of the hall, where the
dining table had been made into a temporary catafalque. Alice joined the women, with their cloths
and bowls of hot soapy water, as they closed the door of the room, and set
about washing the body, and then anointing him with scented oils and
unguents. Finally, they wrapped him in
a winding-sheet and laid him onto the catafalque.
The women took
Alice upstairs, to the tiny bathroom, where they took turns to cleanse
themselves after the cleansing of the corpse, and then they joined the
men. Each person was given a plate,
heaped with food from the funeral feast, carrying them into the crowded room
where the corpse lay, and where the men had set out all the chairs in the house.
Sarah, one of
Gary's sisters, leaned across to Alice.
"Now it's time for the story-telling and the songs."
told stories, or chanted songs, of the life of Gary Elder, bringing the dead
back to vivid life once more, even if only in memory. They spoke from their own knowledge, of experiences and
adventures shared, starting from his birth.
It was left to Mary Elder, speaking from her place by the head of the
corpse, to deliver the encomium to him as a husband, to tell stories of their
life together, and then to tell of his death.
When she was
done, Mrs Elder asked Alice to speak of what had happened afterwards, of the
people Mary didn't know, but who had helped her. There was consternation and suspicion in the room at first, at
the involvement of the Slayer but, as Alice continued to speak, there was
surprise and there was interest. But
there was still suspicion.
life had been long, and the story-telling lasted well into the night. Some parts of it were surprising for
Alice. Gary Elder had been elected as
head of the tiny clan of Silarri, despite being married to a human, which was
why they had moved back to England from Spain, and he would now be succeeded by
his father, until a new election was held.
Alice wondered how she could ever have missed the existence of members
of her own species so close to Westbury, no matter how well they had blended
As she spoke,
Alice looked around at the Silarri gathered in that room. They were of all apparent ages, from late
teenage onwards. Gary's parents were
the oldest, somewhere near Alice's own apparent age. Not one of them showed signs of scales, or of any reversion to
the Silarri natural appearance.
When it was
all over, there was sadness and anger at his death, but there was joy in the
memory of everything he had been. He'd
been a good man.
withdrew back into the room where the funeral feast was laid out and the men
busied themselves with the body. As
Mary's mother-in-law pressed a cup of tea into her hand, Alice heard the front
door close, and then the car pull away.
him away for burial," Cecilia Elder told her.
"It isn't far away, so we'll be able to visit when we want. Mary says that your own parents are dead. I'm sorry, my dear. Where are they buried?"
Alice saw once
more those sad, battered bodies hanging from the trees in the central
square. They hadn't been alone, but all
the others had been their human neighbours.
And then the bodies had been cut down and tossed over the town walls,
for the dogs to feast on.
filled with pain, and she couldn't speak, but she managed to swallow it down,
although not until her hostess had noticed her distress, and laid a comforting
hand on her arm.
"They have no
grave," was all that Alice could say.
"Where... where will they take him?"
Now it was
Cecilia who was almost overcome by her grief, but at last she gave a tiny smile
through her tears. "We have a small,
private burial ground. It passes
unnoticed, because funerals are so rare for us." At first, Alice thought she wouldn't say more, but then she gave
that tiny, self-deprecating smile again.
"It passes as a Victorian pet cemetery."
Her sob was
audible, and Mary Elder, tears now falling down her cheeks, held her
mother-in-law close. The women wept
Angel drove back from Nottingham on Wednesday night, having failed to find any
further supernatural activity.
"Ian says that
there's really nothing against Jason Carter.
He had a few minor offences as a young man, and he sometimes sails close
to the wind nowadays, in his line of work, but nothing to suggest he'd engineer
a scam like this." Giles scanned
through his notes. "From what I can see
here, I think I'd agree. And he's been
very protective of his children, so it seems unlikely he'd involve them in
enemies?" Angel pressed the Porsche
forward past a lumbering tanker on an uphill stretch.
recent. Carter settles his debts, and
deals with aggro as it arises."
"So all we've
got for sure now is the blood and the mirror?"
"Yes." Giles rubbed his forehead. "And Alice is staying with some
Silarri. How strange..."
nodded. "Yes. Living so close... There's a lot more demons living unnoticed
among humanity than anyone might think.
Buffy's really pleased that Alice has found some... well, I suppose you
could call them relatives, of a sort.
Did Ian have anything to say about Alice's Lesser Domesday Book?"
guess at the moment is that someone took it because of the fancy fittings that
Alice used, thinking they were real, and that the book might be valuable, or at
least that they could rive off the fittings and sell those. Bit like the Vikings, really."
an eyebrow in question.
"The Vikings used
to raid monasteries on the coast.
They'd steal all the treasures, including the books, but often they just
ripped the valuable covers off the books and threw the contents away. Couldn't read, of course. Mind you, I expect many modern burglars
can't read either."
"You go with
the opportunistic house breaker hypothesis?"
but for Alice's sake, let's pretend we do."
Angel seemed about to say more, so Giles stayed silent. "What did you say about the mirror?"
Louis Quinze. Pier glass..."
"What's a pier
houses and mansions, they were mirrors that were mounted on the piers of the
building. They sat between windows..."
mourners had gone, and an exhausted Alice spent the remainder of the night in a
room that she shared with Mary Elder.
As she climbed into bed, Cecilia Elder came in, and sat on the edge of
"Mary will be
staying with us for the foreseeable future, Alice, but we would like you to
stay for a little while, too."
"No." Cecilia held up her hand in negation of
whatever Alice was going to say. "No,
don't refuse until you hear me out.
Edward and I are in agreement."
Alice's hand in her own.
"I'm a lot
older than you, Alice. You could be my
daughter, or my granddaughter. You lost
your parents far too young, and your mother was unable to teach you the things
that you should know. For those things,
I want to stand to you in place of your mother. I want to show you the things she would have done."
"There are few
enough of us, Alice. We should all help
each other. And you were kind to my
"Yes. She was.
You have good friends. Stay with
us for a little while."
"I would like
to, Cecilia. But a friend of mine is
getting married on Friday, and I want to be there."
on her hand tightened. "You should be
back here before the thirteenth. Before
full moon. It's important. Will you do that?"
excitement mounted. She had no doubt
what her answer would be. "Yes. Yes, I will."
she was, sleep was a long time coming for Alice. As she tossed and turned, she looked over at the equally
exhausted Mary Elder, who at least had managed to find sleep, and she decided
that she would talk to her about a marriage between a demon and a human, and
how it had worked.
"So what else
did Buffy say about that messenger?"
"That was it,
"Well, I must
say, it's all very strange."
"Are you sure
she didn't say anything else?"
sighed. "You'll be able to ask her
yourself. We'll be back in ten
definitely said he'd be coming back?"
"Yeah. Tomorrow night."
"The golden sash
of the messenger. Hmm. I've never heard of that before."
neither. Must be an English thing."
tutted. They'd carefully avoided
further discussion of the idea of mirrors and windows, until they had time each
to mull over their own thoughts. The
messenger was more pressing, though.
say that he was threatening, in any way?"
his head. "No. All very correct and polite."
"I'll see what
I can find, then."
Angel slept that night in their flat over the garage. At least, they slept some of that night. They'd been apart for three days, and needed
to become reacquainted in a way that would be better without someone else in
she lay curled up against Angel's breast, her finger tracing gentle paths
around his navel, Buffy asked, "Do you think we should worry about this mirror
Angel took her
hand in his, imprisoning it to stop the sweet torment. "What does your Slayer sense tell you?"
"That would be
"And is there
anything we can do about it?"
sighed. "That would be a no, so far as
towards her, to take her in his arms and hold her close. "Then we have to trust that they can handle
it. If it's true, and not an
hallucination, then at least they're both alive. And if it's untrue, then anything could be happening. But that's there, and this is here. And remember, the Queen said that the walls
between dimensions were still thin.
They'll strengthen in time, but I guess we have to expect some bleeding
herself up against him as she felt his interest burgeon once more. "And this messenger?"
out about that tomorrow night...
Tonight, technically... Now, my lady,
there's something else you should be worrying about." That last was whispered to her, his voice husky and, in common
charity, she turned her attention to the cause of concern.
He was tired,
but Giles spent the larger part of the night researching messengers with
sashes. He wanted this out of the way
so that he could concentrate on mirrors and windows and fetches. Not for the first time, he silently
inveighed against the loss of so many books with the destruction of the
exhausting the volumes in his study, he sat back and thought deeply. Something was niggling at the edges of his
mind. He put Aristotle down. The cat had been curled in his lap for the
last hour, and he stalked out in high dudgeon when dislodged. With a smile for his pet, Giles climbed the
stairs to the secondary library in the bedroom behind his. He pulled a small trunk out from under the
bed. Inside it were bits and pieces of
books, scrolls and parchments. None of
them were complete.
He only had to
scan through thirty or forty book fragments, before he found what he was
looking for. It was part of the
notebook of an eighteenth century antiquarian, a gentleman scholar called John
Cleveden. A resident of Bristol, he had
been to County Durham, and this notebook seemed to be his record of that
visit. Only a few intact pages
remained. Giles had found it in a mixed
box that he had bought cheaply, at an auction.
The rest of the book - and others in the box - had been chewed by
rats. The leather cover, almost in its
entirety, had been eaten away, and so had most of the outer pages. All that was left was the inner core, and
even there, not all the pages were complete.
hired men to dig holes in interesting-looking hills, and one of those had been
the hill of Sadberge. He had found some
bones, and close by those bones had been a crumbling leather artefact, a roll
of some sort, now rather squashed.
Cleveden had sketched the thing, making the best guess he could at the
embossing that had once graced it.
sketching left much to be desired, and a rat's teeth marks still showed quite
clearly, where it had chewed off the end of the drawing. But, if he squinted hard and used his
imagination, Giles thought that he could see the embossed torso of a humanoid
figure. It seemed to be wearing a sash.
At the bottom
of the page, Cleveden had added a post script.
On the way back home, his pack horse had bolted into the River Trent,
and had been overcome. Its load,
including the leather artefact, had never been recovered. Cleveden hadn't examined it properly before
its loss, and this record was all that remained. Like so many antiquarians, with so much of the remnants of the
past, he'd attributed it to the Romans.
Giles carried his find down to his study, and began to rummage around in one of
the desk drawers.
Buffy asked as she reached for the coffee pot.
"Doesn't sound very English."
flat-topped hill," Giles said, around a mouthful of toast. Angel pushed the coffee pot across the
"Viking?" Buffy seemed to be pursuing Giles for
information before he'd even got to his second cup of tea. She was unbearably bright-eyed and
bushy-tailed this morning.
"Big, hairy warriors
with horns on their helmets. Went
berserk a lot."
said, with forced patience. "What I
meant was, what are the Vikings to do with any of this?"
"I doubt they
had much to do with anything... although, Sadberge was a wapentake."
"Wapentake? Now you're definitely yanking my chain."
It had been a
long night for Giles, and he hadn't had enough sleep before he was woken by
Buffy's cheery attempts at making breakfast.
The only bright part, he thought with a stab of guilty gratitude, was that
the lovers had spent the night in their own quarters. The house was solid and soundproof, but not that soundproof. He didn't feel up to this inquisition, at least
not on an empty stomach. He buttered
another piece of toast and made her wait.
counties - Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and so on - were divided into wapentakes,
in much as the same way as the more southerly counties had hundreds..."
Angel gave her
a quelling glance. She stuck her tongue
out at him, then subsided. Giles cast a
grateful glance at the vampire.
"A hundred was
a Saxon administrative division, and was the amount of land required to feed a
hundred families. A wapentake was much
the same. The word ‘wapentake'
evidently means ‘weapon take', and comes from the fact that land was held in
return for military service to a chief.
Well, either that, or the warriors would take their weapons to meetings,
and signify assent by clashing the weapons together, although how you would
ever know whether they were in the majority with all that racket going on beats
Now it was
Giles' turn to get a quelling glance from Angel.
"Sorry, I was
bit." Buffy's grin took the sting from
the words. "Now, is there anything
special about this Sadberry place?"
"Sadberge. Only really that it retained its autonomy
for quite a long time after all the other wapentakes and hundreds, by a sheer
fluke. And it might or might not still
be oddly placed... It changed hands
between the Scots and the Earls of Northumbria and the Prince Bishops of
Durham. There was a bit of heraldic
tidying up in the reign of Victoria which uncovered the fact that the wapentake
still existed as an entity. Apparently
that made her Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Empress of India,
and Countess of Sadberge. They've got a
marker stone to that effect in the local village."
"Heralds? Messengers?" Angel asked with a frown.
that's coincidence. The article that
Cleveden found seems to relate to the leather scroll tube that our visitor had
- did you see any of the decoration,
She shook her
head. "He held it in his hand all the
"But the hill
of Sadberge was significant. As with the
Hundreds, the court met in a prominent position, on top of a hill. If you were going to hang a man, you wanted
everyone in the wapentake to see. So,
if demons used the same location, it's possible that the scroll tube was a
message from another area to their equivalent of the Sadberge Wapentake, all
those centuries ago."
bones?" Angel asked, gently.
"Got in the
way of all those clashing weapons," Buffy replied, with an impish grin.
"Hmph. I've no idea. If it was the messenger, he could have been there for
centuries." Giles reached over to an
envelope at the end of the table. "I
haven't been able to make any sense of these fragments that Oz brought to us,
either. And there may, of course, be
many more scattered across the world that we shall never know about. It's as though someone had written letters,
and they'd been thrown into a furnace, and a few small pieces had drifted away
on the heat and the smoke."
He shook his
head dubiously, and sorted through the small pile of fragments.
"But look at
this." He pulled out a tiny fragment
and placed it in the centre of the table.
The edges, like all the other pieces, were charred, and just a single
syllable was legible.
"An erg is a
unit of work - or an area of shifting sand dunes in the Sahara. Or, it could be part of the name Sadberge. Any one of them might be right, or it might be something we
haven't yet thought of."
Buffy brightly, as she pushed her plate away, "as long as it isn't the
Sahara. Angel doesn't do so well in hot
sunny places with no buildings, no shade, no nothing but sand." She stood up. "And I prefer my boyfriend the way he is, and not sunburned."
She headed for
the door. "I've got a list of dodgy
places from Ian. I'm off to look for
Alice's book. See you later."
himself another glass of blood. He was
still hungry. "I'll take the research
shift, if you like, Giles."
"Thanks. I've got to go and see our current
employer. I'm not at all sure what to
say to him, though."
Tea was served
with the same gentle ceremony, and the banker sat behind his desk with the same
"You say that
the house is haunted, Mr Giles?" he asked, with some small indications of incredulity,
once the secretary had closed the door behind her.
"No. I do not say that. I've discussed this at length with my colleague..."
colleague called Angel?" Mr D'Eath
asked. "An affectation, perhaps?"
his words carefully. "Some of us are
afflicted for a whole lifetime by the appellations that our progenitors bestow
up on us, wouldn't you say, Mr D'Eath?"
There was that
prim little smile again. "As you
say. Please. Do continue. I
interrupted you, I believe."
"Yes. Well, we've discussed this at length. It may be possible that a... a rival, or an
enemy, has, um... has had access to the house, and Mr Carter's family, is,
er... triggering certain, um... let's call them hallucinatory booby traps,
although that doesn't quite describe it... that have been left behind."
jokes, you think?"
the blood would suggest something more serious. But we believe that Mr Carter definitely saw and heard the things
that he reported to you."
the bunch of keys over and over in his hand.
"I see. And is the property
suggest not immediately. We'd like to
go over it again. Some of the erm...
devices... might be... er... time-dependant."
his tea in silence.
"Very well, Mr
Giles. The bank is grateful for your
services. Keep the keys for the next
little while. In any event, it would be
foolish in the extreme for us to try to sell the property now, when the...
erm... bottom appears to have fallen out of the market. It might almost be disappearing into another
dimension, don't you think? I'm sorry,
did that mouthful go down the wrong way?
Do have a biscuit - they're Rich Tea, I believe. Yes, keep the keys. But the housekeeper should be present
whenever you're there. Is that
should invoice the bank for the work undertaken so far, and thereafter on a
monthly basis. Yes?"
"Thank you, Mr
Replete with good
tea, and promises of timely settlement, Giles made his way to some lesser-known
book shops, those with private rooms that didn't involve the dirty mack
brigade, to see what he could find.
Forewarned was, after all, forearmed, but he was terribly afraid they
were going to be winging it if they got a visit tonight.
D'Eath made a phone call.
sir. Yes, he was very cagy, very cagy
indeed, but I'm certain they know what's going on. Mrs Horridge is sure about that, too. I do believe they are the most appropriate people to deal with
"Yes, I have
sir. I'll keep you posted, of course."
When he'd hung
up, Mr D'Eath poured himself another cup of tea, and wondered whether he should
have been more forthright with Rupert Giles.
He didn't want to colour the man's actions with his own beliefs, though,
nor those of any other member of Project Paranormal. They were most resourceful.
Most resourceful. And he could
shrugged out of his damp overcoat and threw it over a kitchen chair. He pulled open the refrigerator door to
reveal half a loaf of sliced bread, a jar of mayonnaise and chunk of cheddar
cheese that had grown hard and cracked on the outside and had been sweating
badly at some point. He really was
going to have to get down to the supermarket sometime soon, but he was too
tired to face it just now.
shrugged back into his coat and headed for the fish and chip shop, where he was
a regular customer. Too many working
hours, too few leisure hours, and an empty house to come home to, did not make
for a good diet. They were factors that
didn't make for a lot of other things, either.
A comfortable home life for one.
Long-lived relationships for another.
As he washed
up his plate, he thought of another evening in a cold house. It would be two weeks before he'd see the
children again, and that was the next planned highlight of his social life.
put the coat back on again. On his way,
he stopped off at the local garage and bought a bunch of white, single
daisy-flowered chrysanthemums, and hoped they'd be acceptable.
By the time
they'd gathered for their evening meal, they'd all admitted defeat for the
day. Buffy had found no trace of either
the book or the showy fittings from the book.
Giles hadn't found anything useful about the messengers, but he'd
brought home a box full of uncatalogued books that one of the shops had put
aside for him. Angel had found nothing
useful, either about the messenger, or about Clifford House.
dominated their discussion over dinner, together with consideration of the
charred fragments that Oz had brought, and Ricky's dream beneath the High
Oak. But, for all their discussions,
they came no closer to understanding events, and whether they might in any way
be connected, or be related to the demon who'd come calling.
It seemed that
they had no option but to simply wait for the arrival of the messenger.
Giles, polishing his glasses, "someone simply wishes to offer us a new job?"
said Buffy, doubtfully.
nothing. He was waiting for the knock
at the door.
"You have to
remember that the European powers were intent on exterminating the Barbary
pirates, and the Barbary pirates were still taking slaves. Algiers was a haven for them until about
1830, when the French moved in." Alice
frowned at her recollections.
never taken?" Collins sat forward in
his chair, a glass of claret in his hand and an intent expression on his face.
goodness, although I had a few close scrapes.
I couldn't stay in Morocco, but I had nowhere else to go. It was a difficult time. I knew that my parents had been to
Egypt..." Alice paused, with a shy
little smile. "I was conceived there
during the Battle of the Nile.
Afterwards, my parents watched the explosion of the French flagship,
L'Orient, and they always told me that was why I loved fireworks."
smiling at that charming confidence, dredged through his memories of his
history lessons. "So, that was when,
1798? And you were born in 1799?"
"Naughty! And wrong.
Pregnancy for us lasts a lot longer.
Anyway, I made towards Egypt, but I had to stick to the coast. It was a long and difficult journey for a
young girl, alone. And Egypt wasn't
what I had expected, so I kept going east.
I was glad when I eventually fell in with the Queen of Palmyra."
refilled both their glasses. "The Queen
of Palmyra? That rings a bell, but I
can't place it... Oh. Zenobia?"
silly! I'm not that old. Lady Hester
Stanhope. The niece of the Prime
Minister, William Pitt. She went to
live among the Bedouins."
"She was very
interesting. Demanding, and probably as
mad as a hatter, but definitely interesting.
I actually liked her. I was
sorry to hear that she'd died alone and in poverty."
"It was among
the tribes that you learned to dance?"
"Well, I did,
but not so much as later, when I reached Paris. Work was hard to come by there, honest work at least, and so I
finished up at the Folies Bergère. You
absolutely had to be able to dance, there, and to dance for long hours. The next time I was in Paris, I went to the
Moulin Rouge, and that was just as hard, but the dancing was different. The can-can, you know."
A mental image
formed in Collins' mind, and he had to work hard to shake it off, especially
when the photograph of Alice as a young woman caught his eye. "How long did you do that for?"
"Years. There wasn't much work for someone like
me. And I had to keep moving on
in sympathy, not needing the end of the sentence. When you didn't age, or aged only slowly, you'd have to move
on. Angel would, eventually...
woman in Kent gave me a job as governess to her daughters, but then I had to
move again, and I went to the English Hollywood, Shoreham-by-Sea. Bungalow Town, you know. That was terrific fun. And in the winter, in those days, it was
very popular among the rich to go and visit Palmyra. I got work as a tour guide most years, since I was so familiar
with the area..."
Cook's Tour?" he asked with a smile.
"Oh, no. I did those as well! Bungalow Town was swept aside at the start
of the Second World War, though, because of the fears of invasion. They simply bulldozed the beach clear. That was terribly sad. So I went to be a Land Girl - in the Land
Army you know. I loved working on the
"How on earth
did you get to be a primary school teacher?" he asked in amazement.
war, they were desperate for people.
And I enjoyed it, so I stayed.
And I stayed long enough to get older."
Chief Inspector Ian Collins looked at the elderly lady with whom he was sharing
the evening. She was no longer
affecting the stoop of the frail ancient, but she had the pale skin, the
whiteness, of the very old, barring, of course, the pink scales that she hadn't
felt the need to cover up in front of him; her hair was white, and fine, with a
pinkness showing through from her scalp; her eyes were an indeterminate colour,
a sort of pale hazel; and her skin was wrinkled, like the last stored apple in
spring. But intelligence and humour
shone through in everything she said.
He thought he might be half in love with the woman she had been, a woman
who was now dead and buried under the weight of all those years. He condemned himself for a fool, always
wanting the unattainable.
surprised that she never seemed to have married, or had children, but then he
supposed that, in terms of permanent relationships, being a demon might be a
bit like being a copper. No one else
was prepared to put up with it.
He wanted to
know more about Alice's stay with the Queen of Palmyra, about Paris, about
Bungalow Town. About everything.
The knock came
at midnight. Both Buffy and Giles rose
from their chairs to answer, but Angel was before them.
here. Just in case."
Buffy seemed inclined
to argue, but Angel looked hard at her, and then glanced towards Giles. The message was clear to her. Look
after him if things go bad.
He pulled the
courtyard door open, and the man - the demon - who stood there was exactly as
Buffy had described. Short, very
human-looking except for that tree-bark skin, impeccably dressed, and with a
golden shoulder sash. He carried a red
leather scroll tube in one hand.
Angel." It felt like defensive
pleading. The messenger didn't argue, but
his face told its own story. Sophistry,
cocked his head, as though listening.
"Walk with me," he said.
"No one will
walk with me, please."
detect no other scents on the sharp November breeze, and so he acceded, pulling
the door shut behind him. They
strolled, side by side, across the courtyard and onto the drive, the gravel
crunching underfoot. At last, the
messenger came to a halt, and turned to face the other demon. He held out the red leather tube.
"I carry a
summons for you from the Court of Hundred, where you are called to appear to
answer charges that will be laid against you."
explains the charges and the process."
me." Angel had not so far taken the
scroll from the messenger. The little
demon shrugged, and tugged the end off the tube, pulling out the scroll inside.
summoned to answer for the murder of two envoys from the Court of Hundred. The process to be followed..."
"Enough! I don't know about any envoys, and I'm not
responsible to your Court for my actions.
I'm responsible only to my own conscience. Take that answer back to them."
on his heel, but the messenger called out to him. "If you do not answer this summons, the next one will be more
exigent." He received no answer, and
watched the vampire stalk silently back into the house.
distinctly put out, but tried to hide it, although not very successfully. Buffy was furious, and made no bones about
even find out who they were and what they were talking about?" she raged. "Now we don't even know how they're going to
come at us, or who will do the coming!
And who are these people you're supposed to have killed? A normal slaying? Or something else? Did we
make a mistake? We can't even check out
nothing. He didn't need to. Buffy was saying it all for him. Angel took all the anger that she chose to
heap on him without complaint, and more infuriatingly, without explanation.
All he would
say was, "I'm not playing their games.
If there's something to come, it'll come."
She was still
angry when they went to bed. Her anger,
of course, like Giles' indignation, sprang from fear: fear for him, fear of the
unknown threat to him, fear that he knew something and was shutting her
out. She turned her back on him. It took her a long time to fall asleep, and
only when she did, did he put an arm over her hip. And only then did she nestle back against him with a sigh.
herself for most of the following day, searching for Alice's book, and
incidentally, looking for anything out of the ordinary in the local area.
The day was
one of the rare November days when the sky was cloudless and the breeze balmy,
blowing up from the south. Giles
decided to go riding after days of seeming incarceration. The horses had already been sent for the
winter to Lisa's livery stable. There
was never much time for riding nowadays at Summerdown House, and they were
useful to Lisa for her winter events.
Lisa went with him, on Giles' second horse, Celoso. Whether by accident or design, even Giles
perhaps never knew, he guided Windsor on a path that led past the High Oak and
onto Summer Down.
was curled up beneath the ancient oak, his jacket rolled up as a pillow beneath
his head. He was fast asleep. Giles' immediate reaction was to dismount
and wake him up. Instead, he tugged
Windsor's head around and dug his heels in, cantering away over the springy
turf. He didn't see Zillah curled up in
the crook of Ricky's arm, her black coat no more than a shadow under the tree.
He stayed at
Lisa's for a cup of coffee.
"We've not seen
enough of you recently," he told her as he leaned back in his chair with his
mug in his hand. "What's been keeping
you so busy?"
thoughtfully at him before answering.
"Divorce," she replied, eventually.
"I beg your
He put the mug
down on the table forcefully enough to splash a little of the coffee. The reaction pleased her, although she was
careful not to show it. The torch she
carried for him still burned even though it was only fed by the occasional
companionable dinner out, or a show.
nisi arrived yesterday. I didn't really
believe it until I saw that. Another
six weeks, and I'll be free of him."
that very quiet."
been around much, either."
He gave a
little nod but said nothing. She could
give me a divorce, so Ian helped me to find out what he'd been doing. He's fathered three children since we split
up, so the rest just followed... He'll be excommunicated now, I imagine. He probably thinks that means he's going to
grimaced. People wouldn't so lightly
think of themselves as destined for Hell, if they really believed. Or if they really knew...
Then he took
Lisa's hand across the table. "I'm so
glad for you. So you and Ian...?"
Lisa thought, screaming simply wasn't enough.
scoffed. "Good heavens, no. We're very good friends, but not a couple."
thought. Of course they weren't. He'd surely have noticed that. An occasional companionable dinner, or a
show, and that was all he remembered between Ian and Lisa. Besides, Nick had seen quite a lot of Lisa,
and Ian had been there some of the time.
Not very couply behaviour. Just
three good friends, as he himself was, with them.
himself a mental shake. Sometimes he
imagined things where nothing existed.
Like, occasionally he would turn his head and imagine that he saw Ella
from the corner of his eye. Love was
so... fleeting. Friendship. That was something you could count on.
He said all that
was proper to Lisa, and felt it in his heart.
He was her friend, and he was happy that a line had at last been drawn
under an unhappy part of her life. Then
she walked with him to where his car was parked. As he said his goodbyes, Aristotle strolled up the drive. Giles watched him in astonishment.
doing up here? He didn't hitch a lift
in the car did he?" He had visions of
the ginger cat clinging in fear to some part of the engine compartment.
laughed. If Giles had thought about it,
he'd have said it was a brittle laugh, but he didn't. "I doubt it," she said.
"When Windsor and Celoso are here, he pops up regularly to see them,
probably to check that they're being treated right."
"Really?" Giles looked down as Aristotle leaned in
towards his boots, pressing himself against the rubber, circling round and
round. He bent down to stroke the cat
just as Ari moved away. Then, with
studied deliberation, Aristotle turned his back on his owner. His tail quivered, and a stream of urine hit
Giles' boot at calf level.
all! He started doing that a few weeks
over to the edge of the paddock and snatched at a handful of grass, cursing
again when a nettle smarted against the palm of his hand. As he swiped the vegetation over the wet
patch, he saw Aristotle turn to give him a solemn stare. One eyelid slowly closed, and it seemed to
him that the cat deliberately winked.
you!" she crowed. "Good boy,
Aristotle." Then she took pity on
Giles. "I wonder who he thinks needs to
know that he's around? Is there a stray
tom in the area? Or is he marking you
against something else's interest?"
anyone else he does it to," Giles grouched, only half listening, "only me."
they're rubber," she consoled him.
He grunted and
gave her a peck on the cheek before getting in his car and driving off.
him go, her expression inscrutable, then she strode over to the stable
block. The straw rustled in an empty
loose box as she passed. Lisa leaned
over the door, picked up the pitchfork that was propped against the wall, and
hurled it at the unfortunate rat. Her
aim was true, but it didn't relieve her feelings.
A measure of
harmony had been restored to the Summerdown household by the time they arrived
at Ivy and Walter's wedding. It was to
be held in the village hall, with the local humanist minister, Janet Alder,
officiating. The hall itself must have
taken hours to deck out. Despite the
season, it overflowed with flowers of all sorts, from simple white daisies to
regal white lilies, all garlanded with foaming greenery. Holly branches, heavy with berries, added
brilliant splashes of red. Great bouquets
of autumn branches in flaming colours perhaps symbolised this wedding in the
autumn of their lives. Drapes of satins
and laces and voiles, tied with elegant knots of ribbon, hung from the walls.
stood at the back of the hall, laden with plates and platters and dishes of
food, all currently swathed in shiny cling film. Giles grinned to see it.
Between them, Ivy and Walter had a bevy of children and grandchildren,
and they had all been busy. He knew
that Alice had made cakes, and Martha had made heaven-knew-what, but everyone
had pitched in.
Giles knew most
of those gathered in the hall by name, and all of them by sight. So did Angel and Buffy. Martha and John knew even more of them, and
had done so for most of their lives.
Alice had taught most of them.
group, Giles and Angel and Buffy, Martha and John, Lisa and Alice, circulated
among those gathered. Perhaps in
defiance of the season, most of the women had elected to come in outfits of
soft, ice-cream colours. Martha looked
resplendent in a powder blue floral dress, and a powder blue linen jacket. John couldn't seem to bear to let her go,
his hand on her elbow and a smile on his face wherever they went. Buffy had opted for a mossy green dress but,
unlike Martha and John, she and Angel moved separately. Their rift wasn't entirely healed yet.
consensus of the villagers in Westbury had been that Ivy Grittleton would never
actually name the day. She had kept her
elderly beau, Walter Satterthwaite, dancing attendance on her for over five
years, and most people believed that it would stay that way. And then she had surprised them all,
possibly including Walter, although when she walked in on his arm, he wore a
broad and genuine smile.
now moved to the table that had been set up at the front of the hall, and
everyone took their places, before the doors opened to admit the happy couple.
Ivy wore a
long crêpe dress in a flattering dusky pink, an ashes of roses colour. She had a long, loose coat in a matching
figured lace, and a matching frothy hat that would have been perfectly at home
at Royal Ascot on Ladies' Day. Walter
wore a rusty black suit that might once have fitted him, and a silver tie with
a huge Windsor knot held his shirt collar up against his wattled neck.
over to Giles, who was standing in front of him. "He looks as happy as Larry, doesn't he? Her, too."
Indeed they did. Behind them
walked the Reverend Templeman, vicar at St Cyprian's church. Janet Alder might be officiating, but a
humanist wedding had no legal standing, and therefore, the happy couple's first
stop had been at the local Register Office.
The Reverend Templeman had been their witness.
took a breath, and started to speak.
miles away Nick Hunt, surgeon par
excellence, sat alone at his great walnut dining table, his long legs
crossed in front of him, and his dark blond hair fallen untidily over his
eyes. He pushed it aside angrily and
contemplated broaching the second bottle of brandy.
He'd seen off
a rare visitor that morning, and he'd been drinking ever since. His godfather. His godfather had turned up yesterday, and with all the
ruthlessness of a Mafia godfather, that gentle, studious cleric had got him by the
balls and twisted hard. Figuratively
speaking, of course.
The old man
had always taken his godfathering seriously, but in a way that appealed to a
boy. The occasional five pound note
during his incarceration at the school of his father's choice; in the run up to
Christmas chocolate liqueurs that he'd shared around the dorm; a fine Swiss
army knife that the other boys had truly envied, and that he'd had to fight to
keep. All the tokens had been small
things, but memorable things. Nick's
mother had died when Nick was young, and after the death of his remaining
parent, a decade ago, his godfather had been in touch from time to time, with
kindly words and a sharp eye to which way the wind blew.
Who would have
thought that a bishop could be so worldly?
last night, they'd been talking about life, the universe and everything. After a while, the old man had stared at a
painting on the wall, Samson and Delilah,
by one of the minor members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His gaze passed over that to a painting of
two-hundred year anniversary, this year," he remarked, scratching his ear
thoughtfully. "I was watching some man
talking about it on television the other day.
He said that he was proud that every single one of his ancestors, right
back to the first piece of DNA, had survived to reproduce. That was a good thought. I liked it.
Although, the same can be said of every single living creature, of
course. Including you.
Nick had felt
a chill in the pit of his stomach, and had taken a deep swallow of brandy to
try and dispel it.
And then, that
thoughtful, compassionately ruthless man had given Nick The Talk. Indulging oneself to the top of one's bent
was fine in one's salad days. Young
bucks should kick over the traces from time to time, and young men should eat
their wild oats. Or something like
But men had
responsibilities, he had said, and grown men had to live up to them. He'd said a lot more, too, all of which Nick
knew to be true, in his heart and in his genes.
would see yet another year in Nick's dish, and he was feeling the pressure of
every one of them. He looked around
him, too much in drink to see anything of the here and now very clearly, but
seeing the last two hundred years in stark detail. This house, and the small estate that went with it, had been left
to him by his father, and by his grandfather and great-grandfather before
him. There was the clear expectation
that Nicholas would leave it to his son, and his son's son. His family believed in the generational
thing. So did the bishop.
And there was
no one else. He had no brothers or
sisters, no aunts or uncles. His
ancestral line was very direct and very linear, as straight and as sharp as a
sword. He had no children, so far as he
knew. Oh, yes, there had been
women. His lips twisted into a
sneer. He'd slept with some very
beautiful women, also as sharp as a sword.
The men he'd loved hadn't often been much better.
cards, unlucky in love. That's what
they said. He didn't gamble much, but
he always seemed to be lucky at bridge, so maybe that was the price. Maybe he should give up bridge.
With a sharp
bark of laughter, he unscrewed the new bottle.
He hadn't quite sunk to swigging it from the bottle, but there was no
time to wait for it to be carefully decanted.
He poured a glassful, sloshing some of the dark amber liquor onto the
table. He didn't notice that his shirt
cuff mopped up the spillage.
He was in
love, of course. How could he not
be? But then, he was in love with a
vampire who could give him more than a couple of hundred years, and who was
irrevocably in love with the Vampire Slayer, and she with him. How could anyone not know Angel and love
him? His mind's eye conjured up for him
an image of the unattainable.
What he saw
was tall and deceptively lithe, with muscles that rippled beneath a skin of
alabaster, and eyes that drew you down into the abyss with him. And a smile that swallowed you whole. A being with the beauty of a fallen
archangel, holding inside him the soul of a gracious warrior and the spirit of
an unredeemed demon from the darkest pit of hell. How could such a one ever be satisfied with the love of a normal
This was a
love that definitely was never going to see results, and Nick was lonely. Despite his profession and all it brought,
his friends and acquaintances, his clubs, societies and associations, his
charitable activities, Nick was lonely.
And there was
still the issue of, well, issue.
passing. He was wearing his years well,
but they were still passing, as the bishop had gently reminded him. The bishop was right. There was no more time for dalliance. And yet, he would rather slit his throat now,
sitting at his dining room table, than leg-shackle himself to any of those
beautiful, hungry women.
In a few days,
he'd be spending some time in Westbury, visiting his contemporary, Rupert
Giles, and that selfsame vampire and slayer.
And celebrating a birthday.
The humour of
it penetrated the brandy fumes.
Angel would never tell Buffy either the date of his resurrection as a vampire,
which was a date he said should be forgotten, or the date of his human birth,
which he deemed to be a date not worth celebrating. After years of trying, she had declared that Angel would be like
the English Queen. He would have an
official birthday, and it would be a different one each year.
Nick had been
with them when Buffy had made this decision, and she'd picked on a date there
and then. 23rd November, she
said. Giles had asked why that date, and
she'd said it just popped into her head.
It seemed like a good date. Only
Nick had noticed, because only Nick had been looking at Angel at that very
moment. If a vampire could blench, this
one had. The date obviously had some
significance that he wasn't prepared to declare. He'd covered it up straight away, but Nick had seen, and he
wondered at the time whether Buffy had accidentally hit on that very date when
Angel had had his humanity taken from him.
So, Nick would
go to Angel's official birthday dinner, and be his usual jovial self, and then,
wallowing in the genial misery of watching the happiness that Angel and Buffy
found in each other, he would perhaps find the resolution to decide which of
the ravening wolves he would throw himself to.
himself another half glass full, but he didn't put the bottle down. He turned it around to look at the dusty
label. It was one that had been laid
down by his grandfather. It hit the far
wall with the bright sound of shattering glass, but even that didn't afford him
It was Angel's
turn to go and get some drinks from the bar.
Considering that it was the village hall, it was relatively well
stocked. Tony and Andy from the Boar's
Head were responsible for that. He
ordered a whisky for himself. He was
the designated driver, but a few glasses of whisky - and a bottle of two of
beer, and a few glasses of wine - were no match at all for the demon, as had so
often happened when he'd tried to get drunk.
It took a lot.
himself next to Walter.
have thought the bridegroom would have to queue for drinks," Angel remarked
grinned. "Aye, lad, but this getting
wed is hard on the feet." Walter had
been much in demand, and had been dancing most of the night, so far.
It was Angel's
turn to grin. Walter turned and gazed
meditatively at him, his mouth pursed.
lad, the quickest way to make up with a lass is on the dance floor, but I
thought you'd know that."
"What?" Angel had been sure that the mere frisson of
chilliness at their table hadn't been noticeable to anyone else.
to making love to her."
"Oh, I don't
mean one of these modern things where they throw themselves all over the dance
floor. More one of those smooch
ones." Walter smiled, apparently in
memory. "Go on, Twinkletoes, dance with
your young lady."
both the drinks and the advice.
Pressed up to
him on the dance floor, Buffy simply couldn't maintain her aloofness. It wasn't just the scent of him, so unique,
so distinctive, hitting straight at her libido. Nor was it just the feel of him, the solidity, the tenderness, or
the fact that he needed her, borne out by the hardness that was so evident
between them. It was the knowledge
that, at any time, one or both of them might die, and their time on Earth would
be ended. Tonight, tomorrow, next
month. It could be any time. Each day should be lived as though it were
into his embrace. She needed to know
what was going on with him, but there was more than one way to skin a cat. She'd find a different way.
Also out on
the dance floor, John held Martha closely, tugging her in to him. She pushed him away a little.
fool," she said fondly. "I can't
breathe." It must have been the wine
he'd drunk, she decided later. They
didn't drink very much themselves, and he wasn't all that used to it. But she needed some explanation for why
John, that most undemonstrative man, should lean into her again so that his
words would be heard only by her.
"I don't ever
want to lose you. I don't know what I'd
do if I lost you."
in no danger of doing that, unless you squeeze me to death right here and now."
across at Giles, talking to Alice.
"They get involved in some dangerous things, love. Let them do the heroing. You stay in your kitchen, so that you can
come home to me."
She looked up
at him and smiled a loving smile.
"They'd never let me get hurt.
You're as daft as a brush. Now,
you get yourself off to Shellard's tomorrow - they shut at noon, mind, and you
get that security camera for Alice."
and the mood seemed to pass. "Yes,
Missus." But he still held her tight.
Giles walk over to Mrs Brewster, the postmistress, who'd been temporarily left
alone. She saw couples dancing, slowly
circling round the floor, holding onto each other like a drowning man clings to
a spar. There was something fey in the
atmosphere tonight. And then she
wondered what it would be like to share your life with someone as completely as
some of these people did. To have no
secrets. To allow yourself to love
someone so much. She'd tried it once,
and she'd crashed and burned. How did
they manage it? Why did they keep
coming back to try again?
Ivy and Walter. She thought that Ivy
had softened, mellowed, and that was entirely Walter's doing. People changed each other. Was that always a good thing? She looked at Angel and Buffy. Perhaps it was.
how the village would feel if it knew that tonight, under this small roof, it
was harbouring a Silarri demon, a Watcher, a vampire, a Slayer, and...
back at Ivy and Walter. ...And a might-have-been
witch and a might-have-been magus, both of whom, decades ago, had given up
their callings for the sake of love.
She thought about the atmosphere in the air tonight, and wondered
whether perhaps their callings had yet given up on them.
And then she
looked at Lisa, talking to dour old George Laverton, who had inexplicably taken
in a weakly Hereford calf and raised it to be a strapping young... she wasn't
sure what the word was, because George hadn't had it gelded yet, and it wasn't
old enough to be a bull. He'd called it
Handsome Norman, which told her that his pet bullock, CiderBoy, might now be
long-eaten pies and sausages and steaks, but he wasn't forgotten. Handsome Norman was an almost-lost variety
of cider apple from Herefordshire.
Lisa moved on
from George at the same time that Giles moved on from Mrs Brewster, and they
bumped into each other with smiles.
Alice wondered how Giles could be so blind.
passed quietly, as the household caught up with essential jobs, and essential
research into the problems besetting them.
obediently bought a security camera and fitted it at Alice's. While he was there, she asked if Martha
could look after Poppy and Daisy for a few days, perhaps as long as a week,
since she had to go away again.
sure and get back for Angel's official birthday, won't you?"
it for the world," she assured him.
They both chuckled. Buffy's
exasperation had amused them.
Ivy and Walter
went to Yorkshire for a honeymoon, and the bets were that Ivy would terrify
Walter's family into total submission.
The betters would have been taken aback by the level of harmony that
Remembrance Sunday, and they gathered with the people of Westbury to remember
all the dead of all the wars to save humanity.
War dead were war dead, no matter what species had killed them.
turned, and its turning brought them to Monday.
as peaceably as the weekend had been.
The weather was fair, and even the post simply brought its normal load
of the weird and the wonderful, and the merely irritating. Dave the postman handed the bundle of
letters to Martha, and then gingerly offered her a large, bulky and heavy Jiffy
bag that squished unpleasantly when squeezed.
The postmark was Leicestershire.
the letters first. There were a few
strange happenings that might mean work, the most interesting being a possibly
haunted toilet in a pub in Sheffield.
There were the usual number of circulars from various charities asking
for direct debit donations, most of which seemed to assume that a hundred
pounds a month was an affordable sum for the average family to give. There were leaflets offering vertical blinds,
garage doors, and weatherproof coatings guaranteed to smarten up any
building. And there was yet another
letter seeking work placement, this time from a student at Hertfordshire
University, who seemed to assume that Project Paranormal was somehow akin to
Santa's Workshop, devising Halloween goodies for that once a year festival.
He carried the
Jiffy bag into the kitchen, where Martha brandished a vegetable knife at him,
and warned him of dire penalties if the contents caused any damage. It was with some trepidation that he
borrowed the knife, and carefully slit the padded bag open. Inside, hermetically sealed and in a
splintered wooden box, was a badly flattened Stilton cheese. The post had not treated it well. When he'd fought his way into the wrapper,
he could tell from the aroma that it had once been a perfect cheese, to be
enjoyed with port and nuts, or with a moist plum loaf.
gathered up the injured thing. "Don't
worry," she soothed. "I can find some
wonderful recipes that include Stilton cheese."
"But to cook with
it!" he moaned.
"Do you want
to scrape it off the cheese board?"
that he might have whimpered, and then a thought struck her. "Who sent it? It isn't enchanted, or poisoned, or demoned, or anything, is it?"
around among the wrappings until he found a card. The cheese came from a client whose dairy had been badly
afflicted by a sullen supernatural presence that soured the milk and made the
cheese rancid. They'd dealt with the
problem for her, some months ago now, and she had promised them the first
mature cheese when she got back into production. This was it, a half size one especially made for them.
still bemoaning the Stilton, and stealing spoonfuls of the cheese crumbs, as he
and Angel and Buffy worked their way through the remainder of the post. The business that the delivery had brought
for them consisted of small, simple jobs, and they welcomed that, as a
distraction from the bigger things that hung over them. Angel offered to take the exorcism of the
Sheffield pub toilet with an unspoken notion of calling in at Clifford Hall on
the way. Of looking once more into that mirror.
understood this, but Buffy did not, and so she didn't argue, and it was
arranged. But events conspired against
them. The sun sets early in November in
northern latitudes, and it was gone by about 4.15pm. Angel had stayed for dinner, but would be gone within an hour.
Half an hour
after sunset, a knock came to the courtyard door. It was the messenger. Or,
the Messenger, as all three of them were starting to think of him. Again he asked Angelus to walk with him.
Out of earshot
of the house, he proffered the same red leather tube.
"You will wish
to open it this time, Angelus."
said nothing, simply stood there with the scroll tube held in his outstretched
hand. Angel repeated his question.
told you that the next summons would be more exigent."
Angel took the tube. He removed the cap
and pulled out the scroll. Something
rattled inside it, and the vampire in him started to rouse. He tipped up the scroll and an arrow fell
into the palm of his hand. Part of its
length was covered in blood. The blood
was fresh, and he knew from the scent whose it was. Anger, an anger more akin to wrath, uncoiled within him, and the
He turned to
the Messenger with a snarl. The demon
had gone, and no amount of searching revealed any sign of him.
It was Buffy
who came out to find him. By that time,
he'd read the scroll, and he stood there with the scroll and the tube in one
hand, and the bloodied arrow in the other.
"We have to
call Ian," he told her, briskly.
this?" She tried to take the arrow from him.
He wouldn't let her, and walked back to the house.
"We have to
call Ian," he repeated.
"Is that Ian's
blood?" she demanded. He shook his
head. She ran after him, and took hold
of his arm, pulling him back.
"Angel. You have to stop this! What is going on?"
both of you," he told her after a tiny pause.
"But only once I've spoken to Ian."
was still at his office. Angel switched
onto speaker phone.
"Ian, is Gavin
"No. I sent him to interview a couple of people
in connection with the murder of Gary Elder.
He should have been back by now."
"Has he got a
cell phone with him?"
"Cell...? Oh, yes."
"Please. Try him.
See whether he's okay."
have heard if anything had happened to him."
"Please. Just humour me."
"Okay. I'll call you back."
Less than five
minutes later, he was on the phone again.
"I can't raise him. His phone is
out of range. There's absolutely
nowhere round here that's out of range."
swallowed down his guilt. "I think he's
anyone want to abduct Gavin, for heaven's sake?"
"To force my
hand. It's all my fault."
"I'll be there
in half an hour. Don't start without
They did, but
had to go through it all again when Ian arrived. As the Messenger had said, the scroll was a summons requiring
Angel to appear before the Court of Hundred on the following day, to answer for
the murder of two previous messengers of the Court. The Messenger would return for his answer, and would give him
instructions on the process to be followed and where to appear.
understood the references to the murdered messengers, and their names meant
nothing to anyone. Giles knew a bit
about Hundreds, though.
"I told you
about wapentakes and hundreds when we were talking about Sadberge..."
tell me." Collins looked confused, so
Giles repeated what they'd already talked about."
"See? I told you those Mr Whippy things were
important." Buffy crossed her arms
Giles smoothly, as though he hadn't been interrupted, "it would seem that
demons copied the Anglo-Saxon hundreds... Or maybe the Anglo-Saxons copied them?
How would we know?"
"I'm not sure
that's the important thing," said Collins brusquely. "Forgive me, but the important thing here seems to be to get
Gavin back safely."
said Angel, his voice grave. "That's
why I'll go."
"I don't like
this," Buffy said, her voice heated.
"These stupid century things don't pretend to do any real law stuff, do
"Buffy, I know
nothing of demon hundreds. I'm certain
there are no references to them in the books I have. They're clearly very secretive.
But, the Anglo-Saxon hundreds and the Viking wapentakes were stripped of
their final powers in, I think, 1836 by the Church Commissioners. Before that, their authority had been
diluted, certainly, but at the height of their power, they raised taxes and
administered the King's justice. They
literally had the power of life and death over everyone living in their
isn't what this is about, is it?
Killing Angel?" No one answered
returned a little before midnight.
Angel strode across the threshold and wrapped his fist around the
he? Is he dead?" He shoved the demon hard across the expanse
of gravel, thrusting him backwards against the low courtyard wall, bending him
until it seemed that his spine must break.
Then he let go of the throat.
"Well? Is he dead?"
"Of course he
is not dead. He is simply the means of
persuading you to answer to the Court.
Although, I cannot answer for his safety if you do not attend. That is part of my message." The demon spoke with as much dignity as was
possible, under the circumstances.
"Then tell me
what you've done with him. Where is he
"I have done
nothing, and I cannot answer your question."
back his fist.
will serve no purpose. I will tell you
whatever needs saying without that."
"It might make
me feel better," Angel growled.
"Will it? Perhaps so.
I cannot answer your question because I am only the Messenger, a servant
of the Court. Other servants will have taken
"Then tell me
what I need to do to get him back."
"Let me up, and
I will do so. But I may speak only to
back to the doorway. Buffy and Giles
stood behind him, with Collins a few feet away.
"No. You're going to break the habits of a
lifetime and speak to us all." As Buffy
spoke, she stalked up to the captive demon.
She was about to say more, but she caught Angel's slight shake of his
head, and she bit back the words. This
was Angel's show, and she had to let him run it. She gave him a short nod, and stepped back.
listen to the lady," Angel said to the Messenger, but he allowed the demon to
stand upright. He stayed close up and
threatening, though. The demon seemed
prepared for that.
"This is your
choice, then, Angelus. You will be
ready at eight o'clock tomorrow night.
A different messenger will be here to tell you where the Court will
sit. You will please oblige me by
respecting the messenger's status. You
should bring one person with you, to speak for you, one person and no
more. Both of you should be unarmed..."
As he continued
to give his instructions, Angel became aware that Giles had taken Buffy's arm,
and Collins had his hand on her shoulder, reinforcing her slim self-control.
Gavin Lincoln be released?"
"As soon as
you have presented yourself and are securely within the Court."
until eight o'clock tomorrow night, then, to prepare yourself, you and the one
who will speak for you."
policeman go now. Tonight. I give you my word I'll come."
"You do not
admit the charges. The Court will not
find it possible to trust you to hold to your word. He will be kept safe."
"I'll go with
you now, if I must."
"No!" The Messenger was shocked. "You must have time for preparation. I must go now, to take back your answer."
but unsure what else to do, Angel stood back to allow him to pass.
"If you won't
take Angel, exchange Gavin for me, instead."
Everyone looked at Ian Collins.
"He's my responsibility, and I know more about what's happening here
than he does."
do you honour, Detective Chief Inspector, but the Court has made its decision."
He bowed, and
walked off into the darkness.
their room, Buffy sat down on the edge of their bed, her head bowed in
worry. "I guess," she said quietly, "if
I hadn't been here, if I'd decided to go to that exorcism, you wouldn't have
told me that the Messenger came back?"
Angel sat down
next to her, and took her hand in both of his.
He smoothed a fallen lock of hair back from her brow.
"I would have
told you. I've got over keeping things
like that from you. We're a
couple. We have to share." He regarded her shrewdly. "Just like you've got over needing to front
everything up yourself."
She pressed the
palm of her hand against his cheek.
night, we'll deal with this Court together.
It's a coupley thing."
He dropped a
kiss onto the top of her head.
"No. We won't.
You know the Messenger said that was one of the conditions. ‘Not the Slayer,' he said. ‘This is not a matter for the Slayer.' You remember that - I thought you were going
to pull Giles' arm out of its socket. I'm
taking Giles with me."
Buffy. I need you here, not there. If it all goes wrong, I need you free to
ride to the rescue."
She looked up
dubiously, and he tried to lighten the moment.
"What?" he asked, playfully. "You don't think you're up to it? You'd leave me languishing in some demon
himself when he saw her stricken face. She'd
sent him to Hell and left him there, and while he didn't blame her for it in
any way, it was one of those memories that time could never soften, for either
of them. He tried never to remind her
of it, even when his sufferings there occupied his darkest nightmares. Now, he'd laid it out in the open to
lacerate her conscience again.
He took her in
his arms, and tried to make amends with soothing reassurances. "There, it's alright, no, no, don't cry..."
In bed, he
held her as though she were the most fragile thing in the world, and then he
made love to her as though she were unbreakable.
welcomed back warmly to the house of Gary Elder's parents. Mary Elder was still there, and Alice had a
moment of panic when DCI Collins telephoned to speak to the widow. He didn't know Alice was away from home,
though, and no one enlightened him.
Alice didn't want anyone to know what she was doing. It might, after all, go so very wrong.
her through to the privacy of the small, lean-to conservatory.
Alice," she told her, after giving her another embrace. "I'll fetch us some tea, and then we can
have a comfortable talk. There is so
much for you to know before the full moon.
Gary would have been so pleased that you found us. He used to say that he was sure there were
so many lost souls of all species, separated from their heritage."
reminds me," Alice said, digging into the leather tote bag that she
carried. "I found this, years ago, in a
market in Portugal." She handed a
carefully wrapped parcel to Cecilia. It
was an oblate sphere of jet, slightly flattened at top and bottom. It was the size of a large man's fist, and
it had been carved with layers of closely-fitting writhing snakes, all
identical in form and size. It was a
beautiful piece of art, and anyone seeing it could be forgiven for thinking
that it had, at the very least, been inspired by the work of MC Escher and
carried out by a lover of Art Nouveau and the ancient Celts.
knew the truth, or at least part of it.
Her parents had owned one very similar.
It was possible that this was the very one, since she'd been unable to
carry away anything but bare necessities when she fled from their home. It was Silarri work.
"I want you to
it out in the palm of her hand, her expression inscrutable. "Do you know what this is, Alice?"
"No, but I
know that it's Silarri. My mother had
one like it on her dressing table."
"And you were
drawn to it, in that market?"
feeling like a schoolgirl who'd overlooked some important lesson.
"Then that is
good," said her hostess with a smile.
"Thank you, Alice. It's
beautiful. Now, I'll get that tea."
had spoken to them of preparation, but since they had no knowledge of the two
dead Messengers, there seemed to be little that they could do, without more
information from the Court.
find no reference to murder victims wearing golden sashes, although he was
surprised to find that there were separate references to five bodies with
strange physical characteristics. In
each case, the body had been stolen from the mortuary before autopsy was
possible. Remembering his night-time
bodysnatching episode with Buffy, Collins didn't have to ask himself whether
these might be the bodies of demons. He
passed the information to Summerdown House, but it wasn't much help.
nor Buffy had any recollection of slaying a demon such as the Messenger, either
deliberately or accidentally, and so a specific defence was impossible. It seemed that, once Gavin was free, Angel
and Giles would have to play it by ear.
gathered around the table in the breakfast room. Angel got up and walked through to the utility wing, to the
weapons cupboard. He came back carrying
a cardboard box that rattled as he set it down. Buffy lifted up a flap to see a couple of large and deadly bowie
knives, a short-handled battleaxe, a knobkerrie, a selection of stakes, some
chain and a pair of shackles.
"This is your
version of unarmed, is it? I definitely
approve. I thought for a while you were
going soft in the head. I thought it
might be old age." She gave him a
puckish grin. His answering one was
"Sorry. You'll have to go with old age."
"My word... my
honour... seems to be important to these people, so I guess it's a general
thing with them. If we don't meet their
conditions, I think we're all...in trouble."
He was going to say ‘dead', and she wasn't fooled by his change of words. "This is just in case."
could answer, a knock came to the door.
early!" she protested. "It should be,
like, another twenty minutes!"
But it wasn't
a messenger. It was Ian Collins.
"I'm coming with
you," he said, as he stepped into the hall.
several minutes of bedlam, with Buffy's strident indignation dominant. If anyone else was going, it was her. Angel withdrew from the argument and carried
his cardboard box out to the Discovery, tucking the box out of sight in the
Ian said, when he could make himself heard.
"I need to go to get Gavin out of there, and make sure he's okay. He's my responsibility. If they won't let me go with them, I'll
simply follow along behind."
still wasn't settled when a second knock came.
It was the messenger.
gravely to Angel and handed him a folded and sealed piece of parchment. Angel examined the seal before breaking
it. It was a five-petalled flower,
maybe a rose. Sub rosa, he wondered. He
read the note with surprise.
"Do you have
"No. We'll be there."
nodded, and was gone.
called, briskly. "We're on in fifteen
hell can we get to in fifteen minutes?"
breasted the final rise of Bratton Camp, a set of Iron Age earthworks a few
minutes' drive from Summer Down. The
Westbury White Horse had been carved into the hillside below it, obliterating a
length of embankment. The earthworks
were extensive, encompassing the whole hilltop. Even Angel couldn't see into the heart of the hill fort, though,
because of the veil of mist that had now become enshrouding fog, swirling
around them as they walked.
three men materialised out of the fog around them. Each held a large sword.
"Why have you
brought two companions, Angelus?" the first one asked. "The conditions were that you might bring
just one to speak for you."
answered before Angel could. "Angel
didn't bring me to speak for him, although I would if he so wished. I am Detective Chief Inspector Collins, and
the man that you hold hostage against Angel's appearance is my man, my
subordinate. I have come for him. He is my responsibility."
warrior hesitated, and said, "The judges will decide. Follow us."
And then they
were through the wall of fog, and the inner fort lay in a clear, moonlit night.
sat on folding stools.
Giles whispered to no one in particular, as they were ushered forward.
judges stood a small crowd of warriors, each with a sword in his hand. A further group stood to one side. Angel had the incongruent thought that it
looked like the wapentake weapons theory had it. The Messenger, still wearing his golden sash, stood next to the
Two of the
warriors ahead of them snapped up their swords, blocking their path and forcing
them to halt. The third continued on to
the nine seated figures, bending over to them and whispering. When he'd finished, he stalked back.
"I must search
you all for weapons or other threats."
"We were told
to come unarmed, and we have," Angel said with quiet dignity. "You have my word."
shrugged, and held out his arms. The
warrior patted him down very thoroughly.
The Messenger signalled to one of the men standing behind the judges,
who crossed the broad expanse of turf to escort Collins closer to the seated
The judge in
the centre of the nine addressed him.
"Detective Chief Inspector Collins, we understand that you have come for
your servant. This does you
credit. If we allow you to remain, will
you observe the rules of this Court?"
"If you tell me
what they are, and if they are just and fair rules, then yes. Where is Gavin Lincoln?"
time. Please stay there."
was searched and taken forward to stand some yards away from Collins. Only Angel remained. Something different awaited him.
looked him in the eyes. "I need to take
your clothes. Now."
seemed excessive. Either they were very afraid of him, and wanted to
examine every stitch and seam, or this was about wrong-footing and humiliating
him. If that was the case, they were in
for a disappointment. He'd never been
uncomfortable in his skin, not in that way.
Still, there was a problem.
difficult, shackled like this."
will not be released if you resist."
warrior moved behind him and unlinked the manacles.
and without haste, Angel took off his leather jacket, and his black linen
shirt. Then, he toed off his shoes, and
pulled off his socks. He offered all
those up to the warrior, who took them in stony silence.
"More?" The only reply was continued silence.
With the same
deliberate lack of haste, he uncinched his belt and unzipped his flies, pushed
down his black jeans and stepped out of them.
After a momentary hesitation, he stripped off his boxer shorts.
search anywhere else," he asked his guard, who silently shook his head.
then, a pale figure in the moonlight, clad only in two steel manacles but
wrapped in his own powerful dignity.
Giles and Collins
stared at the tableau, Collins in pursed-lip disapproval, Giles in growing
anger at this treatment of his friend.
But Giles' warrior-escort had to restrain him because of what happened
confronting the naked vampire gestured to him to step forwards, even as he
handed the discarded clothing to someone else.
About halfway to where the judges sat, two turves had been removed, and
Angel was told to stand between them.
Giles was appalled to see heavy chains pulled from beneath where the turves
had lain. One end of each was anchored
to something buried deep in the chalk, and he wondered how long these
restraints had been in use.
prepared for something like this. More
swiftly than the eye could follow, his hands shot out and grasped the ends of
"Do you treat
everyone like this?" He didn't wait for
an answer. "Not until I see Gavin
Lincoln. I've gone along with you so
far, but I want to see him. Now."
looked to the panel of judges. The man
in the centre gestured to the group of demons standing to one side of the
court. They moved apart to reveal a
dark figure lying on the turf.
With a small
cry of anger, Collins made towards the figure, but he was restrained. As he struggled, the judge called out to
"Then let me
go to him."
nodded, and Collins ran to his sergeant.
The man was barely conscious, his eyes closed, his skin ashen. He pressed two fingers to the pulse point on
Lincoln's neck. It throbbed strongly,
but Collins' eyes were drawn to a dark stain on the blue shirt, surrounding a
ragged hole. The whiteness of a
dressing showed underneath.
shot in the shoulder, Angel," he called out, "but he's alive. His heart's steady."
remembered the bloodied arrow and his fists clenched around the chains. There was going to be a price paid for
this. He'd make sure of that.
medical attention!" His voice was a
snarl, and it was an effort not to show his demon face, and perhaps it wasn't
an effort worth making.
"He is not in
danger," said the judge who had spoken before.
"We made sure of that. The
sooner we proceed, the sooner he can have that attention."
the chains down to the grass, and held his arms out compliantly. His expression, however, was
forbidding. The chains were locked onto
the manacles, lengthy enough to allow him to stand, short enough that he could
neither move from the spot nor reach the attachments to free himself, and heavy
enough to be a burden.
up at the prisoner from where he knelt by his sergeant. He's
chained like an animal, he thought, or
a wounded but defiant colossus, a personification of shackled power. More, there was something about the
moonlight on that bare alabaster skin.
He knew that vampires were creatures of darkness, of course, but as he
looked at Angel, it was as though the solid creature of flesh and bone that he
called friend became something else.
Something that faded in and out of the moon shadows, almost transparent
at times and then coalescing again, the pallor of his body becoming one with
the silvery light, as a stalking tiger becomes invisible in the tall
grass. Then Collins shook his head. He was an ordinary copper. He'd got no business thinking such fanciful
meanwhile, had to be held back as he protested the treatment of his friend.
"What the hell
are you doing," he shouted indignantly.
"How can you treat him like this when he's here willingly?"
willingly," said the judge who seemed to be acting as spokesman.
"Giles." Angel's voice was pitched to command. "Let's get on with this." Giles subsided, but reluctantly.
summoned you here, Angelus..."
Giles, "you go too quickly. Who are
you, to think you can summon Angel like this?"
nodded his head in acknowledgement. "Of
course. You have been called before the
Commonwealth of Clans, and we represent all those clans in England, Wales and
Scotland who have chosen to live peaceably in the world of Men. The nine most populous of the clans are
represented here. I am Estes, and I act
as Speaker for this gathering, here on the moot mound of my clan, within the
Hundred of Whorwellsdown and Westbury.
"Also here as
your judges are the Speakers of the Hundreds of Harbledown, Amounderness,
Powdershire, Bedlingtonshire, Applebyshire, Hallamshire, Halfshire and
Sedberge. These men behind us are their
escorts, and those..." He gestured to the demons around Lincoln and Collins,
"are my officers. You have met Alvaric,
all eyes were upon him, but not self-conscious about it, Angel regarded the
demons ranged around the Court. They
could almost all pass as human. They
would have no difficulty in working or mixing with humanity. And for those who were a little more
different, he guessed that the internet would make running a business
easy. They probably went by different
names than Estes and Alvaric, too.
He didn't make
the mistake of supposing that any of the clans were particularly populous. Demons were always few and far between. A ‘hundred' no doubt meant something
different to the Saxon hundred, or the Viking Wapentake. If it meant the area supporting a hundred
demon families, which might be the entire nation of a particular species, the
hundred could take in the whole country.
And a significant proportion of the menfolk of these nine clans were
He looked back
to the Speaker. "And what do all these
clans want of me?"
sat straight and tall, his voice authoritative. "Last year, we had just such a meeting as this, at Sadberge. There had been... killings... in other
countries, and then the same killings started here."
Slayers? Could there be unrecognised Slayers, Angel
wondered. Is that why they didn't want
Buffy here? They said it was a charge
of murder. Is someone going to kill
Buffy while I'm shackled here?
help himself. He yanked at the
chains. "What's happening to Buffy?" he
shouted. "Is that why you're keeping us
Estes said, shocked. "The Slayer is
quite outside these proceedings." He
paused, and then resumed his judicial opening statement. "We wished to speak with you about these
killings, and so, thirteen months ago, we sent a pair of Messengers. They disappeared. Not even their bodies have
been found. And so we sent people to
find them. It took our investigators
some time to uncover what had happened."
months?" Giles interjected.
Giles. A long time, but not that long. The rest of the time has been spent in
meetings such as this, agreeing a common solution. It is no easier for different clans of demons to work together
than it is for nations of humans."
"And this is
that solution?" Giles' lip curled
Speaker replied with dignity. "When you
removed your shirt, vampire, we all saw the mark of Angelus on your back. Do you deny it?"
He waited for
Angel to answer, but none was forthcoming.
What, indeed, could Angel say?
well. So you acknowledge that you are
silent, but Giles denied it on his behalf.
"No. No, he isn't Angelus. Not anymore. Not for a long time now, and certainly not thirteen months ago."
shrugged. "What's in a name? Because what our investigators found was
that our Messengers had been killed by the person they were sent to find. By you, Angelus. We have witnesses."
He gestured to
the Messenger, who walked off into the wall of fog.
Commonwealth Messengers are sacrosanct.
They wear the golden sash of their office to give them protection in the
sight of all nations. Killing a
Messenger in the course of his duty is the most heinous crime."
killed demons, it was because they were harming people," Giles declared
hotly. "If they weren't harming people,
then Angel did not kill them."
Angelus would baulk at slaying a couple of peaceful demons? It wasn't hard to discover what happened,
once we found where to look. The crime
was perpetrated in public." Now it was
the Speaker's turn to be contemptuous.
"Here are our witnesses."
walked in a line behind the Messenger, demons of all sorts and sizes, parading
in front of the captive. Each stood and
looked at Angel, looked long and hard, and then moved on to make way for the
When it was
over, the Speaker asked each of them, "Is that the man you saw killing the
Commonwealth Messengers." Each answered
with a firm ‘Yes'. The line of
witnesses started to move off.
protest!" Giles was indignant. "I say, stop there, all of you. How do we know who you are, and whether
you're telling the truth? I want to
question each of you."
Giles." Angel's voice was quiet, but
unmistakeably determined. "No. You forget.
They're right. I'm responsible."
"You admit it
now?" The Speaker leaned forward with a
"I... Angel, I
don't understand. What are you
saying? You never killed these men."
Giles, to just over a year ago."
There was no
time for him to say more. A long,
black-feathered shaft flew past Angel, past Giles, and struck the Speaker in
the chest. A second arrow cut down the
judge at the left hand end of the arc, and a third took the Messenger in the
shoulder. It was done in the blink of
"Down! Everyone get down! NOW!"
cut through the shocked silence, and then there was pandemonium. There was not a scrap of cover on that bare
hill top, other than the natural unevenness of the land, and the encircling
fog, and that was little enough against unseen assailants.
dragged their Speakers onto the ground or into the clinging fog, as another
flight of arrows sped past Angel. He
saw men fall.
Lincoln behind the slim cover of the stools, but these had been set on a slight
rise in the ground, and he lay flat behind that tiny ridge, his own body
shielding his sergeant's.
the wounded Messenger, his hand beneath the demon's armpits, and dragged him
him," he gasped, "I'll see what I can do for Angel." He stood up into a crouch, bending as low as he could, as a third
and a fourth volley raked the fleeing judges.
More men fell. The assailants were
nocking their arrows with inhuman speed.
A fifth volley flew by, but one of the three arrows came too close. It pierced Giles' tweed jacket, and his
shirt, leaving a shallow but painful wound along his ribs, and he stumbled back
to the ground.
seconds had passed. Words rang out, in
a harsh, guttural voice, and the mist thinned into gauzy tatters, exposing
small knots of warriors surrounding the remaining judges. The wounded and dead were scattered around.
who was straining at his bonds, stood three demons armoured in dark green
leather, their faces grey-skinned and sharply angular with large, faceted,
insectile eyes. They wielded short
compound bows and there were sheaves of arrows stuck into the ground at their
"I knew that
fog barrier was magical," Giles muttered to Collins, and then he pushed himself
back to his feet and started to sprint towards Angel. A firm blow from behind knocked him onto his face as the warrior
who had first greeted them ran past toward the prisoner, his sword raised.
Both of them
were too late.
As the first
arrows sped past him, Angel knew that he had to help himself. Immobilised here, like a bull for gelding,
he was at their mercy. One well-placed
arrow in the back would dust him.
There was just
enough slack in the chains to allow him to take a firm grip on each of them,
just below the shackles, but they were thick and heavy, and to break either of
them with one hand seemed an impossible task.
Still, he had to try.
his fists around the chains, and with a grunt, he heaved, his muscles bunching
and flexing as he exerted all his strength.
As he did so, he saw the fleeing men fall to the arrows. He saw Collins protecting Lincoln, and Giles
trying to find cover for the wounded Messenger, and then he closed his eyes and
heaved again. The tendons stood out in
his neck, and his straining muscles burned like fire. Still he pulled. He heard
tendons cracking in his arms and legs, ready to snap with the effort, and he
slipped unnoticed into game face for that extra strength. Even then, sweat ran down those knotted
muscles, and he thought that they might burst.
The iron links held firm.
count of the number of volleys that had been loosed, although he'd felt the
wind of passage of each one. He
wouldn't be ignored much longer. He
cursed that thought when sudden fiery pain welled in the small of his back as
an arrow struck just below the kidney.
He let go of the chains, now bloodied from his abraded palms. With a deep breath, because old habits die
hard, he bent his knees, ignoring the sting as he took up a grip on the chains
again, this time lower down. And then
he put the demon to the final test, and he heaved. With every last ounce of his accumulated power, he heaved at the
chains, slowly straightening his knees, feeling the strength flow from thighs
to back, to shoulders and arms. The
skin ripped from his palms as the rusted links slipped through his grasp, but
he shifted his grip until his fingers were jammed into the centre of the links,
and he continued to rise from his crouched position.
overtaxed muscle, every ligament, every tendon cracked with the supreme effort,
but he clenched his jaw and continued to rise, Collins' chained colossus
determined to be free. His body felt
consumed by fire as suffering flesh tried to obey an indomitable will. Veins throbbed as the demon drew on the
mystical power of the blood, and of everything that had gone to make him what
he was now.
chains were well-forged, and the iron was stronger than even this vampire's
flesh. He thought they might be
enchanted. But chains are only as
strong as their weakest link. Or as
When it seemed
that something inside him must break, it was the chains that at last gave
way. On his left side, iron grated
against concrete deep in the earth as the attachment point groaned and pulled
free. On his right side, a sharp
ringing snap sounded, as the concrete broke in two. With the weight gone, he fell forward onto his knees, leaving
bloodied handprints on the chalky turf.
That saved his life. In the act
of falling, an arrow speared into the top of his shoulder, in the space where
his heart had been, only a moment before.
scrambled to his feet, he saw Giles run towards him and then fall to the ground
as the warrior shoved him from behind.
Giles hadn't seen the arrow aimed at him, but the warrior had, and his
deft swing of the sword batted it aside.
Giles' life, too, had been saved by a fall.
More men were
now running towards the archers, but the arrows were picking them off too
quickly. Angel turned to the attacking
demons behind him, on the path that he himself had followed up to Bratton Camp,
to the Court of Hundred. The trailing
chains slowed him down as he sprinted over the turf, hampering him when the
assassins understood his purpose. The
demon in the centre began to fire directly at him.
arrow he deflected on one of the manacles, but he was too clumsy for the second
one, and it scored a bloody wound on his forearm. The next buried itself deep in his groin, but he was almost on
the group now, and he ignored the searing pain as he reached down to the right
hand chain, on which a lump of concrete still dragged. The charging Clan warrior had reached the
assassin on the left and Angel aimed for the one in the centre. Whirling the concrete like a crude
morningstar, he crashed it into the archer's temple. As the demon fell, Angel didn't need to see the caved-in skull to
know that it was dead.
could take out the remaining attacker, another arrow sliced into his lower
chest, buried almost to the feathers in his ribcage. The assassin then took to his heels, sprinting to the embankment. Ignoring the pain, Angel leapt with a snarl,
slinging forward the chain on his left wrist.
It wrapped around the demon's neck and, with a sharp jerk, Angel dragged
the creature back towards him, taking it in mid-leap, and crashing down to the
ground, the demon beneath him. The shaft
in his ribs splintered, but that wasn't the only sound he heard. The demon's neck had broken.
round towards the third demon, yelling to the warrior not to kill it. He was too late, turning just in time to see
its head bouncing over the turf.
Exhausted, he knelt with bowed head.
Now they had no chance of interrogating these demons, of finding out why
they had attacked this gathering.
walked over to him.
"You were very
Syroh. Thank you." Syroh looked at the embedded arrows, then
held out his hand. "Can you stand if I
manage." But Angel let Syroh pull him
up. "Secure the bodies, will you? We'll need to find out what we can, since we
can't talk to them."
"You want to
specific wounds in the overall pain, Angel shrugged, then winced as the
arrowheads shifted, causing more damage.
"Can't have assassins wandering around the lanes of England."
Syroh made no
comment as he helped Angel back to where the Court had been gathered, and where
now men were picking themselves up and checking those still on the ground. Angel saw Collins moving amongst the
stricken, feeling pulses, turning men over, just as the others were. Giles walked towards him, on the phone. He ended the call, and held out his hand to
Angel, grasping his arm wrist to wrist, a warrior's clasp.
"I can't tell
you how glad..."
Giles." He pointed to the darkening
stain on Giles' shirt. "Just a flesh
Giles nodded. "Better than many."
had gathered up the dead, and the dying and the wounded. There were nine dead, six warriors and three
judges. A fourth judge, Estes the
Speaker, was gravely injured, the Messenger only a little less so. Seven warriors were wounded, five of them
seriously, two to the point of death.
"Shall I pull
those out, Angel," Giles asked dubiously, surveying the bristling arrow shafts.
his head. "Break them off at the
surface. I can manage with that. It'll be easier to get the arrow heads out
later if the shafts are still there."
He dug his nails into his wounded palms to stop from crying out as Giles
complied. Then he turned to Syroh. "I'd like my clothes, please. And these chains off."
away, and Angel thought that he would refuse, but instead he signalled to a man
with a bag slung over his shoulder.
"No!" The voice was weak and thready. It was Estes. The warrior who knelt by him helped him to sit up. "No!
This must be attended to now, as soon as wounds have been bound up, and
someone sent to find the healer."
"I've sent for
a healer myself," Giles told him with a frown.
"Everything else can wait."
"No! It becomes more urgent."
Syroh took a
step forward. "Speaker, are you certain?"
"Yes. It will not take many minutes. I have not enough strength for it to take
before I die."
In a gesture
that might be exasperation, Syroh unclipped the chains from Angel's wrists. "You can take the manacles off," the warrior
told him. Angel did so, and dropped
them onto the grass, before kneeling by Estes.
madness," he said to the Speaker. "We
can reconvene later. I'll return, I
Speakers gathered round, pale and nervous.
"Angelus. You admitted the murder of our
Messengers?" Estes' voice was no more
than a whisper now, blood running from the corner of his mouth.
"Angel..." Giles couldn't think how to stop Angel from
taking onto his shoulders sins that truly weren't his.
Giles. I didn't say I murdered
them. I said I was responsible. Giles, please tell the Court..."
his throat. "Um. Just over a year ago, the Angelus from
another dimension broke through to this one.
We, um, dealt with him, and he went back to his own dimension, but not
before he'd done a lot of things that Angel would be blamed for."
"Show me your
wrist." The words bubbled from Estes'
throat. Angel didn't pretend to
misunderstand, and he held out his right wrist.
"Syroh..." The warrior took the place of his fellow
demon, taking the weight of Estes' shoulders easily. Estes opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Syroh understood, though. He spoke quickly to the man he had replaced.
who came was tall and handsome, a woman in early middle age.
Court understands that you saw the man who murdered our Messengers, and that
you saw him naked."
true. He was bedding three women in the
club where I work. I was serving them
at the time. Wine and whisky," she
added, hastily. "The Messengers called
for him to come out to speak with them, as a matter of urgency. I took the message in to him. He left the women. I followed him out and saw him greet the Messengers and then tear
out their throats. As they died, he
told them that he would listen if they could get their message out now. Then he laughed, and left them in a pool of
their own blood in the vestibule, and went back to the women. They were dead, too, when he finally left,
but he paid compensation for them, and so my employer took no action."
"Is this that
man?" She started to answer him but
Syroh continued, "Be absolutely certain.
You know what depends on this."
"Ask him to
stand where I can see him."
to Angel, who rose from where he knelt and took a pace towards Arriyah. Her face paled, and she stepped backwards.
sorry." His voice was soft,
apologetic. He moved a few paces to one
side, wincing as the arrows moved within him.
Her simple narrative had affected him more than he wanted to show. He knew she was telling the truth. He could feel those soft throats squeezed
between his fingers, the tough cartilage ripping, the hot spurts of
blood... And he could taste the blood
of those whores, spiced with sex and honeyed with repletion. Angelus must have made a killing somewhere,
if he'd bothered to pay compensation.
slowly around him, taking in every detail, from top to toe. She finished by standing in front of him,
and staring into his face. She picked
up his hand and inspected his wrist.
Then, she surprised him, and every other living soul at the Court. Her hand went out to him again, lower,
coaxing, teasing, expertly rousing him despite the chill of the November night,
and heedless of the agony in his groin.
When she had what she wanted, she bent to examine him. More than anything else that had happened
tonight, this inspection made him want to blush.
She moved back
to where she had been standing, but he remained where he was, embarrassed.
exactly the vampire," she said, in her clear voice. "And yet, there are differences.
His eyes, his expression, the tone of his voice. All those are...different. He has the tattoo on his back, and yet he
does not have the tattoo of an A within a circle that I saw on that one's
wrist. Also, that one had an unusual
piercing," she pointed to her handiwork, "a serpent in the form of a ring that
was threaded into a version of the tattoo on his wrist."
at the thought of that. When he looked
across at Collins, he could see that the policeman had winced, too.
"I can see
neither the piercing nor the tattoo.
And there are no marks where they would have been."
feel Acathla holding him down while that was done, relived it as he writhed in
pain, although after those centuries of self-annihilation in Hell, he didn't
know whether he relived it in memory or imagination. "The piercing would heal completely if the ring was taken out,"
he said to Estes.
at this assistance of the prosecution case.
the tattoos?" Syroh asked.
shrugged, but managed to stop himself and avoid the pain of those moving
arrows. It was just tolerable, if he
kept quite still. "So far as I know,
the tattoos would be there for good.
This one is. At least, unless
"I have told
you all I can," Arriyah said. She
stepped aside, but no one asked her to go, and she stayed, watching carefully.
Syroh's hand. "And this is your
defence," the warrior asked, "that another Angelus came to our dimension and
committed these crimes?"
hesitated, and Giles wanted to beat him.
At last, the accused said, "He did things that I would have done, if I
were still Angelus. I can feel them,
taste them, know that they would seem absolutely right to him. What do you want me to say, except that I
didn't do them? Not these things. But I've done plenty like them, when I was
nothing other than Angelus."
that perhaps he should beat him, if
they got out of this.
next, then, was a surprise.
to Syroh, then felt for his hand, as though he couldn't see it. "Is it still Martinmas?" he whispered.
"Yes, yes it
is. We haven't been here long."
everyone is agreed..." Estes couldn't
said, hurriedly, "he needs medical attention, badly."
"He needs this
finished," Syroh responded fiercely, "and besides, the healer is on her
way. You think we should call one of
your ambulances for him?" He looked up
at the remaining judges. "What say
The first one
said, "Aye." The others all nodded, and
repeated their assent.
All very well, Giles thought, but aye what?
Syroh began. "We accept your defence in
respect of the murder of our Messengers."
glanced at Giles, and knew that he felt the same relief that he did. Angel's face was impassive.
warrior continued, "you feel a certain amount of responsibility in the matter,
and that may be pertinent to what we now have to say, on this Martinmas
investigators have learned of the work that the three of you carry out, at the
house of the Watcher. Now we have seen
your fighting skills at first hand, and we are grateful for your help on this
terrible night. But, this is not the
first time in recent times that assassins have been sent to kill us. That was why our Messengers went in search
of you in the first place, and had we known then what we know now, they would
have been safe. But, they followed the
wrong trail, and found the wrong vampire.
Commonwealth of Clans wishes to swear you into their service, to hire you, for
a period until the next hiring night, and beyond if necessary, to find out who
is trying to kill the leaders of the demon clans, and to stop them."
hold himself in check no longer.
Outraged, he turned to Syroh with venom. "You mean that this is a Martinmas Hiring Fair with only one candidate? This whole charade could have been accomplished in my study,
without bloodshed, or kidnappings, or any of this malarkey?"
out again to Syroh, his fingers feeble.
it. We'll all do it." Angel was emphatic.
"We have not
yet spoken of fees." Syroh seemed
"We don't do
everything we do for money," Angel told him, with quiet dignity.
"But a hiring needs
a bargain, a contract."
is that you need help, and we can provide it."
Angel gestured around him. "The
contract seems to have been written in blood.
You'll pay us what you can, when you can. When we've dealt with the cost of this night, you will tell us
everything, in the safety of Giles' study.
Now, can I please have my clothes?"
started into wakefulness with a gasp, her hands clutching at the rough bed of
reeds beneath her back. She exhaled
deeply, ridding her lungs of the fragrant, intoxicating smoke that she'd
inhaled. It was long moments, though,
before she opened her eyes, as she tried to hold on to what she had seen in her
dream, as she tried to understand it.
again. There was a different scent
still in her nostrils, an acrid smell of chemical corrosion, mingled with the
sweeter scent of burned flesh, and the stench of sweated fear. Her ears still rang with harsh, guttural
cries and the clash of metal. And her
mind's sight was filled with a large eye, liquid gold surrounded by bronze
scales, the upper lid drooping down into the sleep of death. Alien thoughts had driven out all others, and she didn't understand what it was all
started to slip away, like the dragon that had gazed into her heart, and the
thoughts became no more than torn wisps of November mist.
over and pushed herself up, onto her hands and knees, weak still from the
visions. At last, using the windowsill
for leverage, she found the strength to stand.
she cleared away the ashes of her herbs, and the stubs of the candles and swept
the rushes out of her new summer house and onto a plastic garden sheet, to be
carried to the compost heap. Never use the same herbage twice, her
mother had told her. Not because it loses its virtue, but because
it gains in potency, absorbs your working, becomes unpredictable, and who knows
where that can lead you.
What had the
dragon been trying to tell her at the moment of its death? Why had it chosen her? In her dreams, she'd once been granted an
audience with a basilisk in need, and the people of Project Paranormal had
helped it. Then it had gone back to its
normal plane of existence, where all the other dragons and their kin now
dwelt. That wasn't where this
golden-eyed bronze dragon had been. She
didn't know how she knew that, but she did.
Perhaps the dragon had told her.
up the corners of the garden sheet, bundling up the rushes, and carried it down
the brick path to the heap at the bottom of the garden. As she brushed past the last of the
lavender, and the overhanging stems of lemon balm, their mingled fragrances
refreshing her, she wondered about the dragon.
It was a reptile, and reptiles shed their skin, didn't they? Snakes shed their tired old skin and came up
bright and shiny and new. That was why
the snake was so often used as the symbol of eternity, because it kept renewing
itself. Did dragons do the same? Was this dragon shedding its tired, worn out
body, ready to slip into another plane of existence with a bright, shiny new
life? So why would it need her? What was its message?
past the reed bed, where her sewage waste was harmlessly broken down and
emptied her bundle onto the mouldering compost heap. Should she contact Project Paranormal again? And tell them what? That she'd heard the clangour of Hell in
some forsaken alley, and she'd seen a dying dragon? That it had tried to speak to her across space or time or
dimensions, she'd no idea which? No. She would try again another day, when her
body was more receptive. It didn't feel
like a satisfactory decision, but it was the best she could do. She wondered whether her ancestress, Maud of
Mordiford, would have been able to do better.
The bent and
crooked form of the elderly healer limped towards them in the darkness. A tall warrior followed behind, carrying her
still trying to dress, but the pain of movement decided him to stick to jeans,
shoes and his jacket. He looked around
at the losses as he tried to get his wounded shoulder into the jacket. It seemed that each judge had brought two
warriors with them, and there had been half a dozen officers of the Court. They'd been caught by surprise, and few
enough remained alive and unhurt.
Radermach's hairy armpit is going on here?
Why aren't the wounded being tended better?" the old woman called out as
she stumped up to the knot of survivors.
exactly what I've been saying," Giles muttered, but even as he did, he heard
the breath rattle ominously in Estes' throat.
over him, as the older man lay in his lap.
pushed him aside. "Let me work."
you?" Syroh looked up with concern at
manage." Then, to Giles, "Did you mean
what I thought you meant about summoning a healer of your own?"
"You did. He said he'd set off straight away."
Angel, with a great deal of relief.
With the numbness of battle gone, he could barely move without
screaming, and he wasn't going to be much good here. "What are we going to do with the dead and wounded?"
"Let's talk to
Syroh with his father and the healer, and went to talk to the other
Speakers. They were from all over the
country, staying in boarding houses, and cheap hotels, or dossing down with
friends. The one remaining warrior from
the local Whorwellsdown Hundred delegation told them where Estes and his family
lived quietly in Westbury. When he
mentioned the street, Giles and Angel recognised it as being part of the newer
village, but run down, crowded and cheap. There would be no room to make that
house into a virtual hospital, and Giles couldn't imagine carrying a mortally
wounded man into one of the local B & B's.
Carrying a demon into a hospital was out of the question.
"The ones that
aren't local had better come to Summerdown House," Giles told them. "The dead, too. We can find some place for them to rest until their own people
can collect them."
nodded their assent and moved away to make the arrangements.
"Where are you
going to keep almost a dozen bodies?"
Collins asked, intrigued.
"If all else
fails, we can lay them in the sinkhole.
That's where we put all the dead demon bodies."
goodness. Words fail me."
"Good. Bring Gavin, if he's conscious. Come on, Angel; let's get you back to the
wasn't yet conscious, but the healer took time to rummage in her bag for a
small capsule while Giles gave Syroh directions for the walking wounded. He'd send transport back for the rest.
the capsule under Lincoln's nose as directed, and the sergeant came to with a
sneeze. He was groggy, and took a few
minutes to find his feet. "Don't start
asking questions," Collins warned him.
"There's no time right now.
We'll explain it all later.
How's your shoulder?"
"It hurts like
the devil, sir."
"Hmm. Well, the devil's certainly been in it
tonight. Come on."
It took them a
lot longer to get back to the Discovery than it had to come from it, and
Collins and Giles had to help both Angel and Lincoln on the way. Giles supported Angel as he eased into the
passenger seat. He tossed the keys to
Collins and got into the back with Gavin, a phone held to his ear.
"Lisa. Sorry, I know it's late. Can you help us? Is your horse box clean...?"
arrived at the courtyard, Nick Hunt was before them. His Bentley was drawn up by the garage, and a chauffeur stood by
the bonnet as Nick talked to Buffy by the door, full of his usual bluff
geniality. He'd clearly just arrived,
but Buffy rounded on them as soon as the doors of the Discovery opened.
happened? Who's hurt?" Her voice was sharp with anger and
fear. Nick leaned thankfully against
the door frame. Buffy stalked over to
Angel, still sitting in the car.
He smiled at
her. "I could do with a hand
here." He saw a tirade threatening, and
said softly, "Not now, love. We've got
more wounded coming."
hard at him, then nodded, and held out her arm. He slid out with a groan, letting her take some of his weight.
Giles held his
hand out to Nick. "Thanks for coming,
Nick. But a chauffeur?"
happily. "Drunk as a wheelbarrow when
you rang, old boy. Jimmy Parke helps
out on the estate from time to time.
be happier not knowing what's going on tonight," Giles observed sagely. "The Cedars, perhaps?" That was a local hotel, not far away.
nodded. "Jimmy," he called, "bring that
box from the boot, will you, then take the bus over to the Cedars? Rack it up to me, of course, and you'd
better book an extra room. They might
not have accommodation for me here."
you're going to have time to sleep?" Giles asked him with a knowing look.
He left Nick
to set everything up and went back to Bratton Camp. This time, he used the much handier car park just behind the
hilltop. Lisa was already there.
Buffy didn't stay
with Angel, or try to look at his wounds.
She'd deal with him later, when there was time. Instead, she put her jacket on and took up
station outside in the courtyard, waiting for the expected arrivals. Collins went with her.
Nick had set
himself up in the kitchen. Angel could
detect the lingering fumes of brandy, but if Nick had been drunk earlier, it
didn't show, apart from the occasional unsteadiness if he turned round too
quickly. Nick grinned uncertainly at
him. "I never drink when I'm working. Stop me if you think I'm messing up... Now, let's look at you..."
insisted that he was fine, and could wait until the others had been seen
to. The first arrived as Nick was
checking over the wound in Gavin's shoulder.
"I'll wash it
and redress it later," he told the sergeant.
"It looks good, though. I think
it'll heal cleanly." Then he turned to
the new arrival.
The night was
spent stitching and splinting and bandaging.
And laying out bodies as carefully as possible, even when nothing was
known about the post mortem practices of the individuals concerned. The healer came in with the last of her
patients, by which time Nick had scratched his head over some fundamentally
different anatomy, consulted with Angel, and asked some basic questions of
anyone of the same species as the patient.
Nick was never
happier than when immersed in the puzzles that were his patients. What he'd also realised in recent times was
that he never felt so alive as when he was involved in the wildly wonderful world
that Rupert Giles had reluctantly shown him.
And now he was to meet a demon healer.
Excellent. If only so many
people hadn't died this night...
who introduced herself as Asha, was at first nonplussed that a human surgeon
would exert all his skills to save her people, and then frosty that he might
try to overshadow her. But, he deferred
properly to her, and before long they were working comfortably together.
patient was Estes, carried in by Syroh.
Whatever the healer had done for him on that hilltop had kept him alive,
but he still had one foot over Death's doorstep. As Syroh laid him on the kitchen table, he exhaled gently. It was his last breath. Nothing they did could bring him back.
sorry for your loss," Angel told his son.
down at the pale face of his father, marred by the golden blood that he had
coughed up. "He has worked tirelessly
for a year to try and bring about our safety.
You gave him hope by showing him that his belief was not misplaced. You will live up to that for him, won't
"We will. You'll have to tell us everything."
"When the dead
are buried will be soon enough. But we
will not wait upon the mourning, before we meet. There will be time enough for grief later." He picked up his father's body in both arms,
lifting him from the kitchen table. "I
should like to sit alone with him for a few minutes."
Angel told him. "Giles is out there
somewhere, but if you can't see him, take your father into that small room next
to the garage. I think they'll be using
the flat above for the wounded. They've
already used the bedrooms in here."
and Asha held the door for him. "I'll
see to the proper rituals for the dead," she said. "At least, the ones that must be done now. I shall be back later. You," she nodded to Nick, "You should see to
this young man here." She smiled a grim
and toothless smile at Angel. "He's in
a lot of pain."
"If you need
help with your rituals," Nick replied, "give Rupert a shout. He'll be only too willing. And if you see Ian Collins out there, send
him in here, please. He can give me a
helping hand with a reluctant patient."
into the kitchen to see Nick hand a large glass of whisky to Angel.
"I've no more
anaesthetic," he said. "Get that down
"Yes, you do,"
Collins interrupted brusquely. "Don't
forget, I've seen what's what."
and took a gulp of whisky, felt its burn as it slid down his gullet.
Nick, "I'm a doctor. Tell me where it
a little. "Tell me where it doesn't..."
stalked over and pointed to the approximate positions of the four arrows. Nick pursed his lips and sucked in his
"Ouch." He held out his hand for Angel's
clothes. "On your side, I think, to
obeyed. The arrow in his shoulder
didn't take long, and the wound was soon cleaned and dressed. Nick surveyed the one below his kidneys for
a full minute before turning to his bag and pulling out a different pair of
whisky," he said, "because this is going to hurt," and then he started to dig.
If the first
two were bad, the other two were worse.
The arrow in Angel's chest had slid in deep, between the rib bones,
almost to the fletching. Nick carefully
felt around the back of the ribcage, then he found Martha's sharpest vegetable
knife, and cleaned up the splintered end.
hold Angel up a little. Yes. Just there, and if you could move your hands
apart a little? Perfect. Angel, close your eyes, please."
doctor told you to. Thank you."
by Ian Collins, who seemed inclined to protest, Nick picked a small metal dish
off the draining board and pulled a wooden meat mallet out of a pot of
utensils. Quickly, he placed the
inverted dish over the end of the arrow, and hit it hard with the mallet.
and his eyes flew open, but he didn't move.
Once again Angel felt Nick's warm fingers, slippery with blood this
quick." Deftly, Nick grasped the
protruding arrow head, and pulled the shaft through.
Angel lay with
his eyes closed, and his fists clenched while Nick finished cleaning and
dressing the wounds. "Got any more of
that whisky," he asked, eventually.
the chink of glass and smelled the whisky.
He really needed this. And there
was still one more to go. He felt the
glass pressed into his hand. Only then
did he open his eyes.
"Right. Have a good slurp, then make yourself
comfortable on your back. Nearly
and closed his eyes again. He could
wish that vampires didn't feel pain, but the fact that he did gave him a... a
connection to humanity. It was to be
treasured, but not now, not in the middle of it. Instead, he allowed the whisky to flood his senses.
out touch the final wound. It was
inches - no, millimetres - away from what might be a disaster even for a
vampire. And that vampire's lover. "Buffy's a lucky girl," he remarked, to no
one in particular. Carefully, he moved
the essential Angel out of the way.
When he saw the results of his touch, he added, "In more ways than one."
through his instruments. "Ian, would
you mind pressing here... And here...
Now, just pull the lips of the wound apart a little... That's fine. Angel, this is really going to hurt."
It really did.
remembered that Tuesday was one of Martha's days. John, carrying two bags of shopping, bumped into her back as she
pulled up short at the kitchen door.
She took in the mayhem at a glance.
Her largest Le
Creuset casserole bubbled gently on the hob.
Towels and tea cloths, stained with the sorts of colours normally
associated with the jellies at children's parties, were heaped by the side of
the deep stone sink. Bloodied bandages
hung from beneath the lid of the pedal bin.
Someone had made an effort at clearing up, but the work surfaces were
soiled, utensils badly in need of a good wash were scattered around, and
nothing was where it ought to be. And
on the table lay a neat array of black-shafted arrows, each with a
wickedly-barbed flint arrowhead.
"John, put the
bags in the pantry, would you, love?
This kitchen will need a good scrub before I put anything down it that
we're going to eat."
over Martha's shoulder. "Where is
everyone?" He turned as a small sound
from down the hall caught his attention.
"Wait here, sweet." He dropped
the bags onto the hall carpet, and quietly opened the study door. Giles was curled up underneath an old
eiderdown on the floor, snoring softly.
John shut the door again just as quietly.
crossed the hall and peered round the drawing room door. The curtains were tightly drawn, and Buffy
and Angel were curled up on the Chinese rug in front of the hearth, covered
only by Angel's long woollen coat.
into instant wakefulness. "Sorry about
the mess," he said softly.
that all three of them looked exhausted.
"Breakfast can wait," he said, and backed out.
meanwhile, had tried to go upstairs, a pile of clean towels and bed linen in
her arms. A man with a sword stood at
the top of the stairs, denying her access.
Martha glared at the man.
"I'll have no
heathen getting underfoot while I'm going about my work," she declared with a
sick people here," the man said.
better let me put these away," said the irate housekeeper, "and tell me what they'd
all like for breakfast!"
nodded, with the ghost of a smile, and let her pass.
When she got
back downstairs, John had started to scrub up the kitchen. She picked up the lid of the Le Creuset dish
on the hob. Simmering gently inside it
was an array of surgical instruments.
She audibly ground her teeth.
softly around her until the kitchen sparkled in its customary way, the kettle
was singing, and the smell of frying bacon, sizzling eggs and some strange,
bubbling porridge wafted around the room.
household gathered around the breakfast room table.
"I think those
instruments are cooked now," she remarked, the snap of frost still in her
be Nick's," Giles remarked, reaching wearily for a slice of toast.
a little. Nick was a great favourite of
hers, and that had little to do with the shameless flattery he lavished upon
her. "Will he be up for breakfast?" she
"He's gone to
stay with Lisa. He was going to go to
The Cedars, but he was so tired, he just fell into her car and went with
her. Ian took Gavin home with him, and
I think everyone else is here. I
believe their relatives are coming for them today, but Nick has said not to let
them go until he or Asha has seen them again."
healer. Where did she finish up last
his position. He hurt all over, and he
was packing in the blood again. This
morning, he'd broken into their slender supplies of human blood. "Last I saw, she was sitting over the bodies
in the store room. Their equivalent of
a wake, I guess."
there," Buffy observed, as she sliced the top off her boiled egg. "I went to look while you were all fighting
over the bathroom."
"Hmph," said Martha
as she stalked out to find the healer, and see whether she wanted to be fed.
Cecilia climbed the loft ladder, into the roof space. Edward pushed the ladder back up and closed the trap door behind
them. Alice, expecting cement dust,
spiders and layers of fibre glass insulation, was surprised to find that the
loft had been boarded out, carpeted, and comfortably, if sparely furnished.
wall hangings lined the sloping roof.
They depicted what Alice first identified as mythical scenes, although
afterwards she wasn't so sure. Two
futons lay side by side, with a white flokati rug on either side.
Alice by the hand and led her over to two piles of soft floor cushions
separated by a small, ebony cube of a table, the top carved with strange,
reptilian shapes. They seated
themselves, Cecilia putting down the small, lidded basket that she had brought
with her. Then she took Alice's hands
between her own, in a gesture that mimicked prayer.
"Alice, let me
ask you... Are you artistic?"
me." Cecilia squeezed Alice's hands.
so. I do some decorative bookbinding,
and I decorate cakes. People seem to
think they're pretty."
women can make beautiful things. You
will see why. What I am about to tell
you is passed down from mother to daughter.
I stand as your mother in this, and you as my daughter."
help but smile at that. Cecilia looked
at least thirty years younger than she did.
Cecilia let go
of Alice's hands and reached into the basket.
The object that she pulled out seemed to be the sphere that Alice had
given her as a gift, but when Alice looked more closely, she could see that the
edges of the carvings were less sharp, more worn.
"This is the
Orb of Peshcalo, the sphere of renewal.
A mother will carve one of these for each of her daughters." She held it out for Alice to see. "It is always of the finest jet, and it's
layered with the serpents that represent the birth of our people. We will have time later to explore our
mythology, which is as rich as anything on this Earth. A mother will perform this ritual with her
daughter when she attains adulthood, at the age of twenty-five. Only women can do this, and only in certain
conditions. Just as menstruation in
human women is ruled by the waning of the moon, so peshcalo in Silarri women is
ruled by the moon as it waxes to the full, but only when it is in a proper
alignment with Venus. I will show you
the calendar for this later.
"The Orb has
no magic of its own, but it will allow you to focus your own abilities. No Silarri man can do this. For renewal, a man must depend on his
mother, his sister, his lover. If he
has none of those, a man must continue to age, until he can find a woman to
share her power with him."
for a moment. "And no human can benefit
from it. My son was due to come here,
to me, for this night, not to become younger, but to maintain the human appearance
that he had. His scales were appearing,
just as yours have, and Mary could not help him. Nor can I help Mary."
a small sob, and then recovered herself.
"The power is in you, Alice, and I will show you how to find it and use
up, graceful despite her apparent age.
She put a small bowl of frankincense by the side of each futon and
sprinkled a mixture of herbs and spices over the smouldering pieces.
"Now, do as I
laying her clothes carefully aside, and Alice did the same. Then, she lay down. When Alice had done that, too, Cecilia
placed the Orb between them.
said, "place your hand on the Orb, with me.
Make your decision, and then focus your will into the Orb. All your will."
up a picture in her mind, the picture of herself that Ian Collins had seen, and
tried to follow Cecilia's instructions.
House was empty now of all but its human complement - well, its normal
complement plus human friends might be more accurate. The day had brought a steady stream of quiet strangers collecting
their kin, alive or dead. Now, they
were all gone, but it was a sombre gathering that met in the family room.
Nick had set
out in such a hurry the night before that he hadn't brought a change of
clothes. For now, he'd borrowed jeans
and a shirt from Angel, to replace his own bloodied garments. He accepted the glass of wine that Giles
poured, and then waited for another, which he carried over to Lisa, and sat down
next to her.
make you look like Angel," she murmured, with a smile, as she sipped her wine.
tease," he chided, and then they both relapsed into silence.
up in an armchair, her fingers wrapped around the bowl of her glass, her
thoughts a long way off. She needed a
lot more information than she currently had to make sense of what was
happening, and she wasn't at all pleased that she felt so much in the dark. It didn't help that none of the others knew
a great deal more than she did.
arrived to collect Martha, and now stood shyly to one side of the room as
Martha came in, rolling down her sleeves.
John was always shy in company, but Giles had almost frogmarched him in. Giles poured another glass of wine for Martha
and cast an enquiring glance at John, who shook his head. With a knowing nod, Giles disappeared into
the kitchen and came back with a glass and a bottle of beer.
sat on the opposite settee to that occupied by Nick and Lisa. He gave a tentative smile to Angel, as he
sat down next to him, leaning back comfortably into the arm of the couch. The policeman in Collins automatically
checked Angel's glass. Its contents
were the same colour and consistency as his own, and so he assumed it was the
rather good burgundy that Giles was dispensing.
watched, as Giles filled his own glass, and tipped it towards the room in
general. "Another day, another
disaster, I think one might say."
Collins couldn't disagree.
Neither did anyone else.
for representatives from the Court of Hundred - or perhaps the Commonwealth of
Clans, I'm not sure what the difference is, yet - to come on Saturday night,
when their funeral rites are over," Giles continued. "Hopefully, we'll have a better idea of what's going on, but I
can see that we're going to be busy for a few weeks. I anticipate that we'll have to track down the assassins and,
perhaps, provide some protection for vulnerable leaders. It might be a few weeks before we're all
together in the same place, so a drink together seemed appropriate. And whoever wants to stay for dinner...?"
up. "Just a minute, Giles. We all have a date together soon..."
confused. Angel looked across at Buffy,
his expression inscrutable to any but her.
‘Leave it,' was what he silently said.
she said, with determination. "We're
doing this." She looked round at
everyone. "Angel's birthday dinner. It'll be the first one he's celebrated in
centuries, and we're having it."
the birthday celebrations with Darla, Angel didn't correct her.
Martha, quick to speak in her support, "why don't we bring it forward? Say, to Friday night?"
and looked at Angel. "I think everyone
could do with a convivial evening. What
do you think?"
Angel, agreed that it was so.
watched the people he now thought of as friends as they wound down a little
from the tensions of the day. He almost
hadn't come. He'd taken Gavin Lincoln
back to the sergeant's own flat, to get some sleep and start to
recuperate. He'd preferred not to go
back to an empty house and worry about what might be happening at
save-the-world central, and so he'd come back to see what more he could
He'd come back
via Alice's, though. With all this talk
of demon assassins, he'd worried about the old girl, and wanted to check that
she was all right, especially after the break-in. She hadn't been there, and the house had had that indefinable air
that spoke of temporary abandonment. He
wondered what she was doing, and whether she was safe.
Alice said to Cecilia. "I really am
trying, but I can't seem to find the depths that you're talking about." Cecilia had told her to reach deep down
inside herself, to feel her body carrying out its everyday functions, and then
to go beyond those. To find a whole new
level of self. She'd patently failed.
"Don't worry, Alice. I hoped that you'd be in touch with your
Silarri nature, but you've missed out on so much, for so long, that I more than
half-expected this. Once you've learned
how to do it, you will never forget.
But for now, I need to help you pass the gateway of your conscious
She sat up, and
reached out for her lidded basket. This
time, what she took from it was a small dull-coloured snake.
girl has venom that's lethal to humans, but it's mildly psychoactive for
us. We use it often for young Silarri
women who have difficulty finding themselves during their first peshcalo. It's more common than you might imagine,
although for different reasons. Are you
afraid of snakes?"
her head. She really wasn't. Cecilia held out the little snake to
her. "Her name is Bera. She knows where to bite."
wrapped herself around Alice's wrist, and, as Alice drew back her arm, Bera
rose up, her eyes bright and unblinking.
Then she struck, burying her fangs in Alice's breast.
at the sudden sting, but the pain passed almost as soon as Bera withdrew her
fangs. "Seems a bit Cleopatraesque,"
she observed breathlessly.
replied Cecilia, with a gentle laugh.
"Cleopatra wasn't a Silarri.
That was one of her attendants.
That's why the asp was handy at the time."
Alice faintly. She felt light-headed,
as the toxin took effect, and she lay back against the pillows. The slight weight as Bera curled up around
her navel was a comfort. Cecilia's
voice came to her, sometimes distant, fading and then growing, carried to her
on the beating of her heart and the throbbing of her blood, talking her through
gradually returned to normal wakefulness, she knew instantly that something was
different. Apart from the snake curled
up on her belly, that was. She'd never
felt old, even though she'd looked
it. Take away the mirrors in the house,
and she'd have felt just like... Alice.
Now, though, she understood the meaning of the word peshcalo. Renewal. She felt like the Alice who ran along the
beach with her mother and father, who climbed trees, who raced her friends
bareback on feisty Barbary ponies. She
opened her eyes, heavy lidded, long-lashed, and raised her arm from the bed. Lost was the pallor of age, the liver spots,
the wrinkled folds of empty skin. The
scales on her hand. Instead, the skin
was smooth, completely unmarred, a dusky rose, glowing with youth and vigour. Her gasp hid the first notes of Cecilia's
"Not bad. Not bad at all, for a first peshcalo."
"What do you
mean ‘for a first peshcalo'?
difficult process, my dear, and practice makes perfect. Look in the mirror. But it's very good."
handing Bera back to her mistress, and stood in front of the tall mirror. What she saw was a slim young woman,
sloe-eyed, long limbed and graceful, with a flawless cafe-au-lait complexion
and long, curling hair, dark with a rich chestnut glow. She was a true child of the Barbary Coast. What had amused Cecilia was that she looked
making Cecilia laugh again. "What were you aiming for?" she asked.
or so, like you." She turned to look at
Cecilia. "You look perfect."
did. She was an English rose, with a peach
complexion, blue eyes and silken blonde hair.
Alice knew that this woman was considerably older than she was, and yet
you'd swear that, despite her mature poise and self-possession, she wasn't a
minute older than twenty-five.
"Come and lie
down again, dear. You need to rest
until the change is settled. I'll make
us a cup of tea."
listening to the background chinkle of teacups, dared to ask a question.
Cissy. Everyone else will."
about your neighbours? What will they
think when they see you?"
Alice. I've already left here, as far
as they're concerned. We're handing
this house over to our daughter. Our
actual daughter, although we have pretended to be the next generation,
sometimes. She's getting married
shortly, and she and her husband will live here. We're moving to a lovely new house down in Glastonbury. We wanted to be in the West Country for a
really looking forward to having a young bimbo as a wife..."
stricken with guilt. "You'd have done
this with him, if I hadn't been here, wouldn't you?"
"No, it would
have been Gary. But we talked it over
thoroughly, I assure you. And it will
answer very well. It will be something
new for us, and we'll both enjoy it.
There isn't another good peshcalo
date for a couple of years, but unless you need to remake yourself, then I
shall, so far as the neighbours know, be trading him in for a younger
model. It will be such fun."
the tea over.
about your neighbours? And friends?"
told anyone..." She thought she'd
understood what she was doing, but the excitement had veiled the enormity of it
from her. "I... Well, I'm sure that some
of my friends will be fine with it...
No one else need know."
"My advice is
to move. Or pretend to have died and
left your property to a young relative."
As she spoke,
a phone trilled. It was Alice's. When at last she answered it, a message had been
left. Angel's birthday party had been
brought forward. She would still be
coming, wouldn't she?"
do? Especially since she'd overshot her
age target... And the man she'd set her sights on, the good Detective Chief
Inspector, didn't look like a man to go in for cradle-snatching. Drat.
Angel had only
agreed to Buffy's idea of an official birthday with reluctance. For one thing, vampires didn't set much
store by celebrating birthdays. They
celebrated the fact of their existence every single day, in someone else's
blood. They didn't need birthdays. Darla had been different. She had indulged in any excuse for celebrating,
and she'd done so with birthdays to the top of her bent. His birthday had always been special for
her, and there had always been something - someone - different. His
birthday as a vampire had been a true red letter day, drowned in the blood of
those who were special.
special present had been a certain gypsy girl.
Her people had added their own contribution, of course, with the
restoration of his soul. He could still
taste her, if he tried, still remember how he and Darla had celebrated. And he would never be able to forget the
pain that had followed.
the day that had seen him born into that welter of blood would be...
blasphemous. Celebrating the day his
soul had been reborn into a legacy of pain and horror was... well, there just
didn't seem to be any words to describe that thought. He'd told Buffy about the gypsy girl, but he'd never mentioned
the fact of his vampire birthday. He'd
tried to be quelling when she'd raised the whole issue but there were other
the day that Liam had been born seemed futile.
What other days were left, that were worthwhile? The day he'd been reborn from hell, as feral
as a beaten dog? The day he'd been
reborn from his son, Connor's, blood, and for all he knew, at the cost of
No. Just... no.
The only day
he might have thought worth celebrating was the day he first saw Buffy. That was true rebirth for him, and the truth
about it was, he didn't remember the date.
He remembered every single detail of that day, but he'd been disconnected
from the world for a long time, and although he could never escape the
precision of sunrise and sunset, and the slow changing of the seasons, the rest
of the calendar had passed him by for years, decades. He supposed that Whistler might know, but the little demon had
been conspicuous by his absence, and so Angel couldn't offer that date to her.
chosen 23 November, the pain had been almost too great to bear. For one
fleeting instant, he'd wondered whether she might remember the day that never
was, but a glance at her face had assured him that she didn't. For the world, that day had never existed,
and even a detective as good as Ian Collins would never find a trace of
it. It was just another broken dream
for Angel. He had more now than he ever
could have expected, but all-in-all, he was glad that, in the end, events had
conspired to bring this night forward.
reason that he'd been reluctant was that he hated being the centre of
attention, hated it as much as Angelus had loved it. Hated it, perhaps, for that very reason, because the demon in him
craved it. Vampires loved being the
centre of attention of their own particular circle, but otherwise they
generally preferred to stay in the shadows, unseen until that last, dying
He didn't mind
at all being the centre of Buffy's attention, but that was different. With Giles, he'd learned to be a full and
contributing member of the team. John
was as shy as could stare, and so Angel felt comfortable in his company, and Martha
was so matter of fact, treated him so much like any other person, that no one
could feel uncomfortable with her. The
others who were invited tonight were becoming, in different degrees,
friends. And some of them were almost
didn't care about friends. Close family
was different. They were blood. Everyone else was a rival. But, he'd found a mostly human family in LA,
and now he wondered whether he could have a mostly human family here, in
the reason he'd agreed to Buffy's absurd suggestion, though. He'd agreed because he knew how desperately
she wanted normal. Having birthdays was normal. And there were so many normal things he
could never give her. Marriage,
children, growing old together... He
loved her to the point of madness, and so he'd been mad enough to agree.
insisted on, not a party, but a small dinner with people he felt comfortable
with. These were the people he'd chosen
to come; people he ought to be able to drink a glass of blood in front of, and
not feel shamed. Buffy and Giles, of
course. Martha and John. Nick.
Lisa. Ian. Alice.
He'd been uncertain about inviting Alice because he guessed that she
didn't get out much, and she might feel uncomfortable. He could relate to that. But precisely because she probably didn't
get out much, he was glad she'd accepted.
And Gavin, who'd been the last to be included. Angel didn't know him as well as the others, but he'd seemed
withdrawn since Lina had gone home.
Having a demoness with a prehensile tail as a girlfriend had probably
spoiled him for other girls for a while, and Angel thought that there might be
merit in reminding the boy that the world wasn't entirely human, and it could
be none the worse for that.
shrugging himself into a change of clothes.
Buffy had, with clear exasperation, sent him to change into something
less black. He'd obliged with charcoal
sight of the full-length mirror, empty of everything except the room
itself. He felt a catch in his throat,
as he remembered the day when he'd been warm and breathing and in love, when
he'd had a reflection in a mirror, and could watch himself shave, and when he
had decided to die again for her sake.
He prayed for the mercy of never having to make that sacrifice again.
Taking a deep
breath to steady himself, a very human need that he never seemed to put behind
him, he moved quietly onto the landing, and then he smiled at what he saw
All the books
and fragments of scrolls and other tools of Giles' trade had been firmly relegated
to the study. Martha shut the door
behind her. A brief inspection had
revealed a couple of codexes and an armful of encyclopaedias on one of the
dining room chairs. She had instantly
confiscated them and added them to the heaps in the study.
She ducked her
head out of her pinafore, careful not to disarrange her hair. A noise behind her alerted her to Giles'
approach. When she saw him, he had his
nose in another old and musty book.
Glaring, she opened the study door again, and pointed inside.
here in a few minutes. Books - in
up, startled. "But... but it's
"I'm sure it
is," said Martha, grimly, "but it's also Angel's official birthday. Party now, read later." She took the book from him and added it to
one of the piles on the floor.
done most of the work."
Martha walked together into the kitchen, where Buffy, too, was stripping off an
apron, and where pots were bubbling and the aromas were mouth-watering. Giles stretched out a finger to a
particularly tempting citron tart, only to have Buffy rap his knuckles. He was saved any further punishment by a
knock at the door.
them, said, "I'll get it."
It was Nick
and Lisa. Angel's nose twitched, but he
kept his face impassive. He, better
than anyone, understood keeping secrets.
to the birthday boy!" Lisa leant forward and gave Angel a kiss on the
cheek. Angel gave her a hug.
"Me, too?" asked
Nick, in mock invitation.
"Get away with
you." Angel stood aside to let them in.
guys!" Buffy came up to greet them, and
they both handed gift-wrapped parcels to her.
Angel said, plaintively, then grinned.
presents, but after dinner," Buffy told him firmly. To Lisa and Nick, she said, "John's already in the family
room. He's got the booze. We'll be there in a minute."
"Be still my
heart," Nick said with a flourish, as they went down the hall.
almost closed the door, when he heard the approach of another car. It was Gavin. He was nervous, fingering his tie, but Angel rationalised that
perhaps he wasn't in the habit of socialising with his boss. He'd surely got over Lina's pillow talk
exposés, about vampires and slayers and watchers. That was another reason for including him - he knew too much to
stand apart from the group of friends.
By the time
Ian drew his car into the courtyard, Martha had discovered that the bottles of
white wine were still in the storeroom by the garage. Buffy went with her, and Angel sauntered after them, to greet the
new arrival. Giles, standing in the
doorway, wondered whether Buffy would be more offended if he offered to act as
pack pony, or if he failed to offer.
Slayers or females could be strange that way.
Back in the
house, John had also noticed the lack of the white wine and, unaware that his
wife and Buffy were on the same errand, set off for the store room, to remedy
the omission. So it was that these five
saw what happened in the courtyard.
It took Ian a
few minutes to manoeuvre his car into place in the unusually crowded
courtyard. As he climbed out of the
car, a taxi drew up. Angel thought,
with a brief pang of guilt, that this would be Alice, and they really should
have thought to go and collect her.
Well, he'd make sure that he took her home.
And then Angel
stood and frankly gawped. The taxi
driver helped his passenger out. She
was a lovely young woman, dressed in a simple but low-cut dress of midnight
blue crepe de chine. Her dark hair fell
in waves down to her shoulders, highlighting the silver and lapis necklace that
lay cool against skin the colour of warm honey.
cat's paw of breeze played around the courtyard, bringing her scent to
Angel. The perfume that she wore was
patchouli, but it didn't disguise the essential her, at least not to a demon's nose. He turned his head slightly, so that he could see Ian Collins in
addition to everyone else. Suddenly he
grinned, from that same sense of whimsy that marked Angelus. This was going to be so much fun.
Ian stood with
a furrowed brow, as though trying to pull something important from his
memory. Giles and Buffy and Martha all
looked to the amused Angel in bewilderment, seeking clues about this extra
stock still, rubbing his chin, as the woman, half girl, half grown-up, walked
confidently towards them on her high stiletto heels.
she said, her voice as smooth as dark chocolate.
before he replied. "Hello, Alice," he
replied, in a voice that everyone could hear.
"Alice?" That was Martha, repeating what John had
said with incredulity. "Alice?"
She stared hard, and then her hand came up to her breast. "Oh, by the merciful saints, is it really you? That bracelet..." She pointed to the bracelet that she'd seen so often on Alice's
wrist, a perfect match for the slim pendant drops in her ears, and the elegant
silver choker necklace with its long rod of lapis hanging almost to her
Angel began to
laugh, softly, as the others gathered around this new and vibrant Alice. Except for Ian, that is, who stood
stupefied, like a man just poleaxed.
Oh, this really was going to be fun.
Best birthday present ever.
"How did you
know it was Alice?"
heard the story now - or as much of it as Alice chose to reveal - and,
fortified by the soothing application of alcohol, had largely recovered from
the shock. And, just as everyone had
hugged Angel - except for those who settled for manly handshakes - everyone had
hugged the rejuvenated primary school teacher, recognising that beneath that
confident exterior she was wearing a worried frown. It was Martha who quizzed her beloved, the man who had first
John blushed a
little. "Well," he told them softly, in
his strong West Country burr, "t'were that snap that she keeps in that silver
frame. I did see it when I were over
there after the burglary, and I remember remarking on it. She's the spit of that, ‘cept maybe a tad
younger. And you know, not much
surprises me now."
"Not much gets
past you either," Martha said, proudly.
That made him blush a little more.
He leaned over and kissed her cheek, and, unused to even small public
demonstrations such as this, the flustered Martha declared that everyone must
be positively famished, and it was surely time for dinner.
As the company
filed out of the room, Buffy pulled Alice to one side.
really amazing, Alice," she told her.
"Whatever we can do about the practical stuff - you dropping sixty years
under the noses of everyone else, for instance - well, you just have to
say. You know that, right?"
"I can't get
over it. That's a hell of an
anti-wrinkle treatment..." Buffy hugged
Alice again. "I really envy you."
her with sympathy. She understood only
too well how Buffy would age, and Angel would not. "You've got the possibility of your own anti-wrinkle treatment,
Buffy. I'm sure of that." She pinched the Slayer's cheek, and then led
her into the dining room.
Dinner was one
of the most companionable that Angel could remember, full of excitement and
laughter and animated conversation. He
leaned back in his chair, watching the others, his chest aching with contentment. If ever there was a moment for losing his
soul a second time, this was it.
It wasn't lost
on him that, from time to time, Ian Collins would fall silent, sipping from his
glass of wine while staring across the table at Alice. Angel rather thought he knew what Collins
might be thinking.
hardly take his eyes off her. He would
never be prepared to admit to himself that he'd fallen in love with the idea of
Alice from a photograph. In his mind,
that beautiful woman had merged with the fascinating pensioner, a mélange
spiced with the knowledge that she was a demon, an exotic alien. And now here she was, as utterly exotic as
that romantic dream, and yet utterly real.
And apparently less than half his age.
He ran his
fingers over the deeply carved glass, shimmering with ruby wine, feeling the
texture of it on his skin. What he
would really like to do was run his fingers over that honey-coloured cheek. Now, he truly began to grasp what faced
Buffy and Angel. Buffy would age, and
Angel wouldn't. How would they deal
with that? Did they have a plan? Mary and Gary Elder had dealt with it
because Gary Elder had grown older with his wife. If she would even consider him, Alice would be a woman in the
prime of life when he was a creaking old man.
looked at him, her eyes seemed to glow with warmth and life, but then she would
turn that same warm look on any of the others at Giles' table. He decided, shrewdly, that the power that
burgeoned within her was perhaps a product of the renaissance she had
undergone. Whether that remained with
her, or gradually faded to a more normal level, she was larger than life
tonight, and she was quite beyond his touch.
He would have to be content with admiring her from afar.
He knew that
Angel was watching him, and gave an inward smile at the irony of it all. If he could have foreseen this, a couple of
years ago, he would have pronounced himself certifiable. Totally certifiable.
He rubbed at
his ear, at some undefined irritation in the eardrum, not unlike the change of
pressure in an airliner. Across the
table, he saw Angel look away sharply, his attention riveted somewhere outside,
across the courtyard. Alice, too,
faltered in what she was saying, her gaze following Angel's. Buffy swivelled in her chair, and looked
backwards. As the irritation grew, the
others round the table fell silent.
heard the irritation as a buzzing sound, not unlike what can be heard very
close to electricity power lines. It
grew until it was like a nest of wasps heard through a veil of cotton. Then there was a soft thump, an implosion of
air perhaps such as might be heard if the Earth said ‘b'. And then a grinding, cracking noise, and the
shuttering sound of sliding masonry.
the company stood, pushing their chairs back in haste, but it was Angel who was
first to the double doors out to the hall, with the courtyard on the other
side. He dragged the doors open and
strode across the hall. Through the
outer door, he could see the courtyard, and the buildings beyond - the garage,
with their flat above, and their new home, which had been planned as the first
wing of a second courtyard, and was almost ready to move into.
All of them
lay in ruins. Two figures moved through
the courtyard, each with a hand raised, something glowing against their open
palms. As their raised hands were swept
around in an arc, all things in the path of that white glow crumbled and fell. Cars corroded into rusting wrecks, slumping
to the ground as their tyres rotted.
Masonry fell into dust and shards, wood blew away as dust on the
breeze. There was only the main house
reached for the door handle, but the sound of shattering glass back in the
dining room warned him of a nearer danger.
No one in there was prepared, no one had seen what he had seen.
He ran back in
to see a dark-clad figure straighten itself from the leap through the window,
glass sliding off its shoulders. An
ominous white glow leaked from its clenched fist. There was no time to take in any more detail.
the heavy table, one of Giles' prized possessions a Jacobean antique in dark
oak, the crockery and glassware clattering to the floor, and in the same
movement he threw it across the corner of the room, creating an enclosed space
in front of the far window. And then he
was across the wreckage of dinner before the intruder could raise its hand, his
fist clenched around its wrist, trying to stop whatever it was going to do.
"Buffy, you can't
fight this," he gritted out. "Get them
all out. Get them to safety. There are at least two in the courtyard. Don't go that way. Everything's gone.
Everything..." And then there
was no more time for words as the demon drew a knife, and slashed it down into
Angel's arm, to make him let go. He
responded by trying to break its wrist.
understood little of what was happening, and less of what Angel had said about
everything being gone. But she
understood very well the message in Angel's voice. This wasn't some macho thing.
This was something he was sure even a Slayer couldn't fight
empty-handed. And he'd given her the
responsibility of keeping their friends safe.
She didn't even need to think about it.
She trusted her lover, and started yelling for everyone to get behind
It wasn't a
moment too soon. The demon was very,
very strong. Even against his great
strength, it had managed to force its arm upright. Angel could now see that the glowing object was the heel of its
hand, and that glow was brightening. A
swathe of food on the floor mouldered, decayed and became no more than a dark
stain in a second. In another second,
the carpet beneath the stain crumbled.
He tightened his hold around its wrist with his left hand and punched it
in the midriff with his right. It
barely flinched, and its hand opened, raking across the ceiling. Timbers creaked and plaster sifted down.
room, more glass broke. The demons from
the courtyard were in the house.
Desperate now, Angel stood on tiptoe, for the advantage of height, and
brought his forehead down hard on the demon's face. It staggered slightly, and with both hands, he yanked at the arm,
trying to break or disable it. Buffy
had opened the window behind the shelter of the table, checking that the escape
route was safe. The demon tried to
target her with its palm, raising its knife again to slash at Angel. He yanked at its wrist again as he lifted
one hand to knock the knife away, giving the demon the opportunity to swing its
hand further round the room.
Furnishings crumbled and walls cracked.
It let out a bird-high keening cry that could only be a summons to the
And then the
two others were in the room, fists upraised.
his strength, Angel punched the demon on the temple as hard as he could. The punch didn't kill it, but felled it to
the floor, the glow in its hand dimming.
He turned to the other two as Aristotle ran into the room, his tail
fluffed out in a feline battle cry. The
ginger cat flew at the face of the nearest demon with a yowl of anger.
That act of
heroism gave Angel one opponent rather than two, for just the briefest
moment. As he leapt across the room,
the second demon turned its hand onto him.
He saw Aristotle, heard him scream in fear, and then the cat fell to the
floor, no more than a dried and twisted scrap of skin and bone. And Angel felt a chill, an icicle tingle
spear through his own flesh, as he reached to grapple with both demons.
had passed since they had been laughing and enjoying each other's company. As she pulled back from checking outside the
window, Buffy turned to Angel, to see his clothes start to rot and dissolve
into rags, although his body seemed untouched, and then she started shoving
people out of the window. John went
first, pulling Martha through as Buffy pushed, and then Lisa.
whispered. "We can go round the back,
try and get to the weapons cupboard."
whether they'd get that chance, as stone cracked around them and the ceiling
sagged. She looked round quickly again,
as she forcibly ejected Nick into John's waiting grasp. The first demon was clambering to its feet,
shaking its head, its palm starting to glow again.
yelled. "Behind you!"
But Angel was
unable to react, struggling with two demons both of whom were almost as strong
as he was. Buffy put a hand on the
table, intending to join the fight with him, but Giles pulled her back.
fight these," he started, but she couldn't afford to listen. Another hand pushed her away, though. Beside her, Alice vaulted over the table,
performing a perfect cartwheel across the floor. Buffy watched with horror as the handspring took her into the
path of whatever power these demons were using, but then her foot connected
with the demon's chin, and it went down.
stopping to think, leapt over the table, following Alice. He snatched at her, one arm round her waist,
and pulled her through the shattered door into the garden, turning them so that
he stood between her and the house.
have been killed," he hissed.
"We might all
be, tonight. I'd rather go down
fighting," was her terse reply.
caught it on the chin."
scoffed. "I was a very good dancer. I can put a high heel exactly where I want
it. Exactly. Now, come on." She kicked
off her remaining shoe.
the wall, Gavin was the last to scramble out of the window. A hurried backward glance showed that the
two demons had thrown Angel off. He'd
landed hard several yards down the room.
Now, he was stalking up to them, in the open line of fire of whatever
weapons they were using, just soaking it up as the glow in the demons' hands
grew to near-incandescence. His clothes
were gone, leaving him clad only in glorious barbaric nudity.
Her face pale,
Buffy pulled Gavin away. "Giles, John,
get everyone up to the garden. I'm
going for the weapons."
"Not me," said
John, his face set in the stubbornness that they rarely saw but knew to be
absolute, when he so decided. "I'm
coming with you."
murmurs of all-round mutiny.
interrupted. "They're using time as a
weapon," he offered. "They're sucking
time out, or feeding time in, I can't tell which, yet. That's why Angel sent you away. A Slayer will age and die as quickly as
anyone else. Only Angel... he's
changeless, eternal. It won't affect
"Giles!" Buffy almost screamed it. "Run now, theorize later!" Images of the Master, with his dreadful
fruit-punch mouth, filled her mind. Was
Angel really changeless? Were vampires
truly eternal? She so didn't want to
find out the hard way...
her. "You'll need the crossbows."
dangerous," she snapped. "I might hit
Angel. I want a sword or an axe."
Giles took her
by both arms, gripping hard. "Then
you'd better make sure your aim is good.
You'll never get near enough for a sword, before you're no more than a
pile of grave dirt on the floor." His
voice was harsh, to match his words.
worked, as she swallowed her anger, and then she turned and ran for the
courtyard. The others followed. As she rounded the corner and saw the utter
devastation, she understood what Angel meant by ‘Everything's gone.' And at the far end, the utility wing, with
its precious weapons cupboard, was no more than a pile of flinders. She had to do something. Angel was buying them time, but it didn't
look as though he could defeat them all without weapons. A serving spoon wasn't going to be any good
must have survived," she whispered to herself.
"A sword..." She looked up at
Giles. "Swords last a long time, don't
reply as they ran forward to search.
And then the house groaned in final pain. Grey slates showered down, threatening to decapitate anyone
beneath, as roof beams cracked and buckled.
Cast iron guttering, rusted to red lace, fell and shattered into
flakes. The chimney stacks twisted, and
movement at her feet, and bent to scoop up Zillah, cowering behind a faded
terracotta pot. "RUN!" she screamed at
the others, as, with stony reluctance, the solid wall of the house finally gave
way to the ravages of time and began a slow collapse. The roof above sagged.
It was all too
late. With the sound of an earthquake,
the house fell around them.
John heard the
grinding scream of tortured stone and then the shuttering sounds of sliding
slates. He couldn't see a place of
refuge. There was no time for thought. He pushed Buffy, with Zillah still in her
arms, towards Giles, trusting to them both to run. But Martha had stumbled in the darkness, and was down on one
knee. As the first of the slates hit
the courtyard, preceding the avalanche of limestone blocks, John pushed his
beloved wife to the ground, and covered her with his body. If the stone hit him, broken ribs would
mend, but she must be kept safe.
toppled, and the roof slid down to the courtyard.
picked himself up from where he'd been tossed, like a rag doll, by the combined
efforts of the two. They were strong,
and seemed to be getting stronger.
Briefly, he wondered whether they were drawing strength from what they
were doing, or whether they were sapping his.
But now was no time for wondering.
They were sweeping their open palms around the room and up into the
ceiling. He thought the stones cried
out in pain.
teeth, and stepping over the corpse, he stalked across the floor, his very
clothes rotting off his back. The two
stood side by side, holding up their glowing hands, incandescently bright. There was nothing else to see, no beams, no
rays, nothing to connect those palms to what was happening to his body. But he could feel it. He was walking against a river of time,
power washing against and around him, a wall of current trying to hold him
The chill of
ice ran right through him now. His body
felt like marble, not like flesh. He
might never experience warmth again.
Still, he pushed on.
seemed frantic to stop him now, ramping up the power even higher, but what they
had done had already changed him. He
was... old. With a vampire, that only
meant one thing. He reached out to one
and snapped its neck with consummate ease, as the other one pressed its palm
against his breast. That one he dealt
with in the vampire way, leaning in to its throat, his fangs gaping, tearing
their way through solid flesh until his mouth filled with thick and sour blood,
as he pulled the hand from where the demon had laid it over his heart, and
broke it off at the wrist.
There was an
explosion of white light, blinding and silently deafening, and then there was
nothing but darkness.
Alice up from where he had thrown her, behind the wreckage of his car, pressing
her backwards towards the shadows of the garden until he knew what was
happening. They were covered in stone
dust and bruises. Alice's dress was torn,
exposing a long length of thigh. As he
helped her to her feet, the moon, still at full, rode out from behind a bank of
cloud, bathing the scene of disaster in a clear silver light. And it illuminated Alice.
The Alice of
now was not the Alice of a few minutes ago.
"Giles was right," he said softly.
She cocked her
head slightly, looking for explanation.
What he saw
was a svelte, voluptuous woman of about thirty. Despite the bruises and smears of blood, and the covering of dust
and dirt, she was infinitely desirable to him.
Perhaps putting off for a few precious seconds the task of searching the
wreckage for his friends, and casting his fate at her feet, he leaned in and
kissed her. Her hand came up to his
head, to pull him closer, and then she pulled away.
said, her voice husky.
He nodded and,
with a deep breath, turned to see who else needed help.
He found Nick,
blood running from a shallow cut on his forehead, crouched by the stumps of the
courtyard wall, cradling Lisa in his arms, sheltering her with his body. He looked up as he saw movement.
"Come on, old
girl. Looks like it's safe to get up."
They shook off
masonry dust and pieces of brick and stone as they struggled to their
feet. "Ian," Nick called, as he checked
Lisa over for hurts, "how is everyone?"
Ian shook his
head. "Don't know yet."
words, they heard a cry of grief from further in the courtyard. Martha knelt among the rubble, heedless of
the sharp shards cutting into her knees.
In her lap, she cradled the head of her husband, and even in the
imperfect light shed by the moon, it was clear that he was dead, a piece of
roofing slate still stuck in the side of his neck.
There was no
blood coming from the wound. There
could be no blood left in his body, considering the amount of blood that had
soaked into the ground. Martha was
weltered in it.
have been me," she moaned, silvered tears running down her face. "He... he pushed me, but we couldn't move
fast enough. He saved me. Oh, John..."
down by her. "Martha, we have to get
out of here. Give me your hand." But Martha didn't seem to hear her. Lisa knelt by her and put an arm around her
moving at the far end of the courtyard had Ian reaching for a baulk of timber,
which crumbled under his touch, but it was Gavin, pulling pieces of wreckage
aside. When Ian and Nick got there,
they saw that it was Giles that he was uncovering.
unmoving, and deathly pale. The blood
on his forehead and the blood-stained chunk of masonry by his side told their
own story. Nick knelt down by him. Giles' pulse was thready and weak, his
"We need an
ambulance," he said, simply. No one
to Gavin to follow him, and stepped carefully over the remnants of the house
wall. As he did so, he called out for
She was in
what was left of the dining room, the external walls gone, the floor above
fallen, the ragged bits of roof canted drunkenly over the space beneath. Tears brimmed on her eyelashes, but she
swiped the back of her hand across them, refusing to let them fall.
"I can't find
Angel." They saw the breath hitch in
her chest. "I've looked everywhere, and
I can't find him." She looked around
the ruins. "How would I know whether
any of this dust was him?" she whispered.
A small sob escaped her. "How
would I ever know?"
have listened to him. She should have
fought side by side with him. She could
hear his voice. Then we'd both be dead. At
least we'd be together, she thought. You can't know that, Buffy. Oh, Angel, ever the doubter. Of course we'd be together...
"Buffy." Ian's voice, breaking into her silent
reverie, was calm, reassuring. "Buffy,
if he's not here, you have to come away.
This place could fall any moment.
We need you. Giles needs
you. He's hurt."
With a small
cry, she ran towards them, and even that small movement caused an ominous
cracking from overhead.
Buffy." Ian reached out towards her,
grasping her hand and pulling her over the rubble. "Come on, Gavin!" The
three ran, as another piece of roof fell down behind them.
They took her
to the living, first, to Giles. Nick
had checked him for further injuries, and straightened out his curled-up
body. He stood up when he saw the three
of them approaching. Buffy stood,
biting her lip, and then crouched where Nick had been.
called the ambulance, yet," Nick told her, "but I must, and quickly." Everyone knew why he'd hesitated. There was no way to explain any of this to
"Do it," she
said. "Just... do it. I'll stay with him." She'd lost Angel. She wasn't going to lose Giles, too.
She looked up
at Nick, confused. He crouched down
facing her, gripping both her arms in unconscious mimicry of Giles such a short
"We have to
play to our strengths. You know
that. John is dead." Her face paled even more. "Martha is in shock. Giles has a bad head injury. Angel..."
He looked up at Ian, who shook his head. Buffy made a warding gesture, but Nick held on to her. "I must deal with Giles and Martha, with
help from Alice and Lisa. Ian and Gavin
must deal with the, ah, temporal matters.
You must deal with matters spiritual, if I can call them that."
inclined to argue, but Nick didn't let her speak. "Buffy, you are the Slayer.
You are our Champion. More of
these assassins might come. We need you
to be the Slayer." He lifted her to her
feet, and held her close. "The time for
grieving can come later, and we will all do it together. But, you know Angel. More lives than a cat."
away from him. "Call the emergency
services. And I need help to shift the
bodies of those demons. They have to go
somewhere safe. It's all we have to go
on, to find who's responsible." Now it was
her turn to grip Nick's arm. "I'm
taking the war to them! I'll need all
pulled away and ran into the building again.
She'd forgotten Giles' cat. She
hadn't seen what happened to him. Some
small, hopeful voice whispered that if she could find Aristotle, perhaps she
could find Angel with him...
reached for his phone. "I'll do it," he
said to Nick. "I'll be the
investigating officer. It's irregular,
since I was here, but we're so short staffed, and the whole situation might be
inexplicable, but at least the deaths aren't suspicious, if the demons are
removed. No one will argue with
me." He punched in the number, as Nick
bent over his patient.
stood by the table that had saved their lives, the solid oak that had survived
and hardened over four hundred years, now pulverized into tinder. Scanning the tumbled ruins, she saw a tiny
scrap of orange fur. When she found him,
there were a few decaying bones and untidy scraps of fur, and nothing more. There was no Angel, and nothing that she
recognised as vampire dust.
the remains out carefully, as though they had been the remains of her
lover. These would get buried, even if
she had nothing of Angel to bury. Then,
before the sirens arrived, she helped the men carry out the demon bodies. One of the demons had the high stiletto heel
of a silver strappy sandal rammed up through its lower jaw and into its brain.
wailing of sirens in the distance echoing the screaming in her heart, Buffy
looked around at the ruin of her life, her love, her home, her family. Clenching her fists she raised her face to
the coldly smiling moon.
"ANGEL!" she screamed, at the top of her
lungs, as though he might hear her. "ANGEL!"
Then she knelt
by Martha, and her arm joined Lisa's around the stricken woman's shoulders.
done this, whatever they were, she would find them. And she would Slay them.
Vengeance might be best served cold, but she'd take it at any
temperature she could get. Angel. John.
Giles. Even the cat. Angel! They would not go unavenged. She squared her shoulders and stood up to
make her plans.
The End(But to
still pay well? This story was started
in September 2008, before banks began falling like ninepins, so let's pretend
that this particular Bank still has a bit of money to share with Giles and
variations on it, are unusual English surnames, but do exist, and date back to
1208. It might be derived from a
gatherer and seller of kindling, or dethe. So don't get carried away... Or then again, you just never know, do
This is based
on a true story from 2008. Names were
changed to protect the innocent, and what you read is a very little fact and a
lot of my imagination. Having said
the true story.
succession to the Moroccan throne resulted in several princes fighting over it,
and an inevitable civil war that ended in 1795. I've probably stretched the duration of the ill will following
the end of that war, but these things can go on for generations.
There was a
Great Domesday Book and a Little Domesday Book. So, Alice is just adding to the oeuvre...
and the Barbary Pirates
pirates from the North African Barbary Coast sacked the Irish village of
Baltimore, carrying virtually every villager off to a life of slavery.
England, and Spain each lost thousands of ships to the Barbary pirates, and
long stretches of coast in Spain and Italy were almost completely abandoned by
their inhabitants. Pirate raids discouraged settlement along the coast until
the 19th century. The Barbary pirates
were such a menace that the European powers eventually got together to
why there are a lot of light-skinned blondes and redheads on the North African
The cats that
inspired TS Eliot Old Possum's Book of
Practical Cats, which most of us recognise from the show Cats, and which he called Jellicle Cats,
were a feral group living around the hotel where he was staying. They had developed a particular look, with
black coats and white paws. Some years
ago, well-meaning people from Cats Protection, trapped and neutered them, so
there will be no more Jellicle Cats.
mirror (well, as long as it remains unsold)
the roots of what would eventually become archaeology can be found in the
studies of 17th- and 18th-century antiquarians such as John Aubrey (1626-97)
and William Stukeley (1687-1765). They observed ancient sites, speculated about
their age and function, collected artefacts and even carried out basic
excavations to try and prove their theories.
The Shire and
Whorwellsdown Hundred is still an electoral division
of the Nile and L'Orient
One of Horatio
Nelson's famous victories
and the Queen of the Bedouins
Stanhope, niece of a Prime Minister, was a fascinating woman, and a true
Minister who introduced income tax in 1798 to pay for the Napoleonic Wars. He's got a lot to answer for.
on Sea. Shame it didn't last.
I made the
picture up. Sorry. But they did some lovely, romantic ones.
wonderful little birds from Galapagos, that gave Darwin his ideas for
Queen's Official Birthday
Yes, the Queen
gets to have two birthdays.
some of these ancient varieties of cider apple is an unsung hero.
took place twice a year, and the contract lasted until the next fair. There were no resignations in those
days. Martinmas falls on 11 November.
dragon and the alley
This story is
only consistent with the TV shows, and takes no account whatsoever of the