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Portent

Project Paranormal

Author: Dark Star

Season 2

Part 1

 

**

Summary: Should you believe everything that's foretold?

 

**

 

Portent

 

The hot sun warmed her skin as she made her way from the garage to the kitchen, but did nothing to warm her inside. She felt empty, cold and alone. It was not a new sensation for her; being the chosen one had been a burden she had gladly shared with the other girls, only to wonder later if she had been selfish in her desire to spread the power. Had she only done it to make her job easier?

 

"Hi Martha," she called to the housekeeper, pulling out one of the chrome chairs and sitting tiredly down on the white cushion. A mug of hot coffee appeared magically in front of her, and Buffy took it gratefully. The housekeeper must have heard her car pull into the yard, and Buffy thanked her for the drink.

 

"You should sleep," Martha told her. "You'll make yourself ill if you don't try and rest."

 

Buffy shook her head. She didn't need to explain to the older woman, but there was so much still to do. Not only sorting out the aftermath of the near apocalypse, but there was still no sign of Angel and she had searched everywhere…

 

"Do you want something to eat?"

 

"No, thank you, Martha… I'm not hungry." She saw the frown appear on Martha's face and she knew a lecture was forthcoming. She stood up, her mug in hand, and said, "I'm going to see if Giles has any news. Thanks for the coffee."

 

Martha started to say something, but changed her mind, and Buffy made her way down the hall to Giles's study. The house was the same as it had always been, if a little bruised by the recent onslaught of the paranormal, but now it felt rather surreal because it was so quiet and empty. The door to the study stood open and Buffy went inside.

 

"Anything?" she asked hopefully, already knowing what he was going to say.

 

"I'm sorry," Giles replied, and Buffy felt a pang of compassion for him; he looked as though he hadn't slept at all in the previous week, and in fact, she doubted that he had slept much. Neither had she; they had tried every lead they could think of to locate Angel, but he seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth. She knew Angel well enough to know that if he didn't want to be found, it wasn't going to be very easy. But at least they had found no reports of a crazed vampire on the loose, so hopefully he hadn't hurt anybody. Else.

 

The study was a complete mess, and it was that as much as anything else that worried her. Books and papers piled the desk, scribbled messages, newspapers, a half-drunk cup of tea. Not only was Giles helping her to find Angel, he was doggedly keeping busy so that he wouldn't have to cope with his feelings about Ella. He needed to be busy, and he was also helping - somewhat unofficially - the local services, who had some downright strange things to deal with, and no idea how to explain to their superiors what had been going on.

 

Work for the Project was beginning to trickle in as word got round that there was somebody local who knew what to do about all the odd stuff that had been happening, and Giles embraced the extra activity eagerly. For Buffy, it was an unwelcome distraction that just got in the way of finding Angel.

 

Messages were pouring in from round the world asking for help, suggestions and explanations. People had been frightened of the recent phenomena at first, fearing that the end was nigh, but when things began to die down they hid their fear and tried to rationalise what had happened. The papers had a field day, with all kinds of explanations from meteors to freak weather, and in some quarters dire rumblings of ‘military experiments’ abounded.  The Global warming brigade had been vocal with grim warnings of the effects of Greenhouse gasses on the planet. If Buffy had not already seen in Sunnydale how often denial set in after some major calamitous event was unexplained, she might have been surprised at the lack of public enquiry.

 

For another two hours Buffy sat in the study with Giles, keeping him company and helping him search, until fatigue finally drove her to retreat back to the flat. She hoped, as she did every time that she returned, that Angel had somehow managed to find his way back home again and would be waiting for her.

 

She collapsed on the sofa bed and laid her head on the cushions. Where was he? Was he still alive? Oh, Angel…

 

Something rubbed against her left leg, and the gentle pressure made her smile. "Come on, then," she smiled, and the ginger cat jumped up on the sofa and rubbed against her thigh. She scratched the back of his neck and let him curl against her. Before Angel left, Aristotle had been an infrequent visitor to the flat; but ever since… that night… he had been coming much more often. She liked to think that he was keeping her company, but she had the uneasy suspicion that there was something uncomfortable about the house and he just preferred to stay away from it. She knew she was being silly, and suspected it was probably something more mundane that drove Ari to visit her. The arrival of Zillah had confused him, and as a neutered male he had been unsure of how to deal with the interloper on his territory. Giles thought it was likely he was just staying out of her way.

 

"You miss him too, don't you boy?" she asked, more to break the silence in the room than any other reason; slowly, the cat's gentle purring worked its magic, and she drifted into a shallow, restless sleep.

 

****

 

"Oh, Buffy…" Giles appeared at the door of the flat early the next morning, showered and smart. Buffy, still groggy from her fretful slumber, blinked at the apparition, and hope surged through her.

 

"Angel?" she asked hopefully.

 

Giles looked uncomfortable. "I'm afraid not. I have an urgent case to take care of, and I need to go to Hereford. The address is in the study if you need me." He hesitated, "I suppose you wouldn't want to come with me?"

 

"Somebody should stay here in case Angel… in case somebody needs us," she told him primly. She was a little put out that he was running off to sort out somebody else's problem. As if reading her mind, Giles soothed, "We could do with the money, Buffy. This is a big place to run, and with the extra expenses lately… well, I can't really afford to turn it down."

 

"You have to get your priorities right," she replied irritably.

 

"Quite so," Giles agreed amicably. "Now, I really must be off. Will you be all right?"

 

"I'm a big girl," she replied. "I don't need a babysitter."

 

"That's good," Giles replied distractedly, already backing out of the flat. "I should be back in a day or so."

 

"Well," Buffy muttered as she heard him hurrying down the outside steps. "And then there was one."

 

Realising she had slept in her clothes, again, she headed for the bathroom and turned on the shower.

 

Twenty minutes later, showered, refreshed and dressed, she found herself seated in front of her laptop looking for clues on Angel's whereabouts.

 

She spent another fruitless morning looking for the missing vampire; no news, no emails, no leads of any description. Martha’s husband John visited the flat and asked for her assistance. Buffy suspected that he was attempting to keep her busy while Giles was away, but it was good to feel useful and it was true that John had a lot of repairs to do on the house. At least it felt as though she was being of some help to somebody.

 

*

 

The drive up to Hereford was an unpleasant experience for Giles. He had far too much time to think; too much time to mourn the loss of another woman close to his heart. Too much time to think about twenty innocent girls that he would forever regret not being able to save; too much time to wonder what had happened to the vampire, and speculate on what might have happened if Angel had not done what he’d had to.

 

Giles swallowed down a rising sense of nausea and concentrated on the drive. He had been called in for some happenings at a new house that was being built at a place called Ross-on-Wye. The workers were unhappy because a local legend foretold that anybody seeing a specific ghost would die very soon after. Two of the workers on site had seen the ghost, and had, in fact, both died within three days.

 

The house faced a beautiful river, and according to the legend, was very close to the believed location of the haunting. The building was quiet for the weekend, and the workers had been sent home early. He’d been asked if he could exorcise the ghost over the weekend so that work could restart on Monday. The only person on the site when Giles arrived was Matthew Barker, site foreman, and he had only stayed behind to show Giles the general area of where the ghost had been seen – though nobody knew exactly.

 

After Mathew made a retreat fast enough for Giles to wonder if he too was worried about seeing the apparition, he began his search for the apparently spiteful spectre.

 

After a lengthy walk along the beautiful riverbank without any sign of anything untoward, Giles sat down on a rustic wooden seat and placed his bag down next to him to go over what he knew about the legend.

 

The woman was seen coming down the river in her little boat. She always travelled fast, no matter what the current was like, and her boat seemed to skim across the water. She got out of her boat at a place that used to be an ancient village but is no longer there; she would then be heard wailing in distress, before returning to her boat and carrying on down the river.

 

Giles had seen several places that might fit the bill of what he knew of the story, but without evidence he had no option other than to perform a ritual of exposure. It would do no good attempting to do an exorcism in the wrong spot – it had to be precise.

 

Delving into his bag, he pulled out his bag of ready-prepared herbs and spices; a small packet of newts’ eyes and a jar of his own homemade powder, especially created for a ritual such as this.

 

Five times in different places he performed the ritual, and five times he had no response. Maybe there was nothing to see? Maybe somebody thought they had seen the ghost, and the other workers had picked up on that? He bent to get another bag of herbs from his bag, and saw… something in his peripheral vision. His head snapped up, and there she was… the woman he was looking for. Somehow he had expected her to look… ethereal, transparent but she looked solid enough. Transfixed, he watched the little boat skim across the water and stop at a place on the riverbank about a 100-feet from where he stood. He could hear her heart-wrenching wails of despair, and his arms came up in sympathetic goosebumps. He watched her laboured return to the boat and subsequent sad journey down the river. He caught his breath as she passed him, his skin buzzed with her presence, so close that he could clearly see her face. Her expression was so anguished that it disturbed him, and he wondered what it must be like to spend eternity forever reliving such a horrible experience. He liked to think that what he was about to do would finally give her some peace.

 

Just after she had passed him, he saw the spirit fade gently away. There was a vague shimmer as she vanished, and he was somewhat relieved when the buzzing on his skin disappeared alongside her. It was a moment before he could make himself walk toward the spot on the bank where she had alighted, and he felt strangely lethargic. He was aware that ghost sightings sometimes left the onlooker with physical or psychic symptoms, so was not unduly concerned.

 

By the time that Giles had finished his ritual, it was heading for late afternoon. He had been a little disappointed that nothing much had happened on completing his task, a nice bit of ghost retaliation would have been a pleasant change of pace. Still, he had seen the ghost, which was an achievement in itself; he was looking forward to getting home and writing it up in his diary.

 

Finally, packed and finished, he headed back to the car.

 

*

 

“So you saw her, then?” Buffy asked him curiously as she perched herself on the edge of his desk.

 

“I did, yes,” he replied.

 

“What was she like?”

 

Giles carried on unpacking his bag as he talked with her. He pondered her question, and said, “Sad. And beautiful.”

 

“Scared?”

 

At first, Giles thought she was referring to the ghost, but then he looked up in curiosity. “Of what?”

 

“According to the legend, you’re now going to die horribly.”

 

Giles gave her a reproving glare. “It said nothing about horribly,” he reminded her. “And that is just a myth.  The workers died only because they believed in it – I do not.  We’ve seen far more than this in our time, Buffy.”

 

“I guess,” she gave him a sleepy yawn. “You must be tired, so I’ll let you turn in.” She got up from the edge of the desk. “Night, Giles.”

 

She yawned again as she passed by, and Giles said innocently, “Thank you for thinking about my well-being.”

 

The smile he received was sugar-sweet. “You know me – always thinking of others.”

 

And it was others that she thought about on the short walk back to the flat. Where was he?

 

Another restless night saw her back at the house first thing in the morning. John’s car was in the yard, so it was surprising that Martha wasn’t in the kitchen. Buffy went down the hall toward Giles’s study, and found the housekeeper coming down the stairs. She was about to say hello, when she saw the worried expression on the older woman’s face.

 

“What’s up?”

 

“Hello, Buffy,” Martha replied, her expression changing immediately to a more cheerful one. “I’m sure it’s nothing, but Mr. Giles is unwell this morning.”

 

“Unwell?”

 

“He seems to have a bit of a fever. I’m going to see if I can get the doctor out.”

 

Martha went through into the study to make her call, and Buffy bounded up the stairs to see Giles.

 

She found him in his bed, propped up with pillows, and looking very sorry for himself. He looked up when she entered, and gave her a weak smile.

 

“You know you’re only doing this to get out of doing any work,” she teased him. “Where did this come from?”

 

“I expect I’ve just picked up a summer cold,” he told her, wheezing painfully. “Or possibly flu.”

 

Buffy sat herself on the edge of his bed to exchange idle talk, but after a while Giles could see that she was growing restless and fidgety, and he sent her off to get on with her tasks. And anyway, he reasoned, the last thing he wanted was for her to get this nasty strain of flu – the last time she’d had flu, she’d ended up in hospital.

 

Buffy busied herself with helping John with his heavier repairs, cleaning her flat, searching the web for clues of Angel’s whereabouts and answering any phone calls meant for Giles. She even offered to do some shopping for Martha, because she didn’t want to leave Giles unattended. The doctor had clucked a lot, and declared Giles had a ‘particularly rampant strain of influenza’ and said it was really a matter of letting nature take its course.

 

Some of the goods had taken longer to track down than she had anticipated, and when she returned there was nobody in the kitchen. Keen to help, Buffy put away all the goods where she hoped that they went, and then made her way upstairs to see Giles.

 

She smiled at the sight of Zillah sitting, washing, under the table on the landing. The elegant feline was paying meticulous attention to her grooming, and hardly even glanced at Buffy. As she stepped onto the landing, Martha popped out of Giles’s room and it was obvious that the housekeeper was worried.

 

“I think you’d better take a look at this, Miss Buffy.” Buffy needed no second telling, and quickened her pace to his room. She could hear Martha saying behind her, “He’s delirious. Keeps asking why.”

 

That’s a good question, Buffy agreed mentally as she arrived at Giles’s bedside. He was feverish and clammy, and Buffy had an unwelcome flashback to Angel, and how he looked when Faith had poisoned him. She was brought back to the present when Giles started mumbling again, and she listened carefully – slayer hearing a definite bonus.

 

“I’ll call the doctor back,” Martha was saying with concern.

 

“That won’t help,” Buffy replied. “This is a mystical illness.”

 

“How can you be sure?”

 

“Giles isn’t asking why, Martha. He’s saying Ross-on-Wye.” At Martha’s incomprehension, she added, “He’s fallen victim to the legend.”

 

Martha stared at her in horror. “Well, what do we do?”

 

I don’t know! She wanted to scream, but her leader instincts were pushing themselves forward. “Well, I have to research this and find out what I can about the legend. There must be a clue somewhere.”

 

As she returned to the study to start her research, she couldn’t ignore the irony of the situation – that she was their sole means of information and the fate of her ex-watcher was in her hands. She was now research gal.

 

The task ahead of her looked monstrous. Where to start? She tried to remember which books she had seen Giles bring back from his trip – presumably, they had reliable info in them. She dug them out of the bookcase, and sat down to read.

 

Hours later, Buffy rubbed her eyes, the words of the Black Chronicles blurring away to nothing. This was hopeless. How was she supposed to do this on her own? She didn’t know where to start, and she needed Giles. She pulled the book closer, trying not to think about what it would be like if something happened to him; and she couldn’t stop her thoughts straying to Angel as well, and it was just too damn much. So much had happened recently, and here in England she didn’t even have the comfort and support of her friends. What was she going to do?

 

She let her head droop down on her hands and made no effort to stop the tears. Nobody was going to see them after all, and she dearly missed the companionship of two men she loved most in the world.

 

The study door pushed open. “Here you are…” Martha was saying. “I’ve made a nice cup of t…” She paused at the sight of the weeping girl at Giles’s desk, and Buffy sat up abruptly, unsuccessfully tried to hide her distress from the older woman.  “Oh, my dear,” she said as she instinctively moved toward the distressed girl. Hesitating for barely a moment, and normal English reserve completely forgotten, she wrapped the slayer in a kindly hug.

 

Buffy tried to pull back, but somehow she couldn’t find the strength, and finally allowed the kind-hearted woman to comfort her. “There, there,” came the soothing noises. “Don’t take on, so…”

 

When Buffy managed to extricate herself, Martha handed her the tissue box and said, “Things will work out.”

 

Buffy gave a grim smile. “I doubt that. The survival of Giles relies on me. Demons I can cope with… but research gives me the wiggins. I can’t ask my friends to help and I don’t even have the Coven. I don’t know what to look for without Giles.”

 

“Well,” Martha said slowly, clearing a space on the desk and pulling a chair up next to Buffy, “It seems to me that the task will be easier with two.” The bemused slayer blinked as the housekeeper selected a book and asked, “Have you read this one?” 

 

Mutely, the slayer shook her head and Martha sat down with her chosen book and began to read.

 

The rest of the day passed slowly away, and still it found Buffy with her head buried in a book. She found a dozen accounts of things that caused mystical illness, and yet more accounts of how people died after seeing some nasty herald of doom, but nothing seemed to coincide with what was happening to Giles.

 

Martha divided her time between helping Buffy and looking after Giles, and Buffy was grateful for her help and support; at least this way, she didn’t feel so alone.

 

“You know,” Buffy was saying to her thoughtfully, it seems to me that there is nothing here about how a death omen actually causes an illness like this. Usually, they just fall down dead or have an accident.”

 

“You think his illness is caused by something else?”

 

“I’m thinking that I should go to Hereford and see the site for myself. Maybe… there is a poisonous plant in the area or something. I’m going down there in the morning, have a chat to the foreman.”

 

With something positive in mind, Buffy felt more optimistic. She noticed that the housekeeper was looking very tired, and she said kindly, “Thank you, Martha, for helping here. I can finish here, if you like.”

 

Martha stretched her arms to get some feeling back in them. John had left to get her some things from home, because she’d wanted to stay the night to keep an eye on Giles.

 

“I have the supper things to wash up, and then I’ll just pop upstairs. You’re sure, now?”

 

“I am,” Buffy confirmed. “Thank you.”

 

She intended to carry on researching as long as she could  - she might still find something to help. How could she sleep while worrying over Giles and Angel anyway? She heard Martha clearing up in the kitchen softly singing something that sounded like a lullaby, and Buffy smiled.

 

Buffy rubbed her eyes, and wondered anew how Giles managed to spend hours upon hours researching, alone, and still manage to absorb something.

 

“Miss Buffy…?”

 

Buffy turned, intending to remind Martha not to bother calling her ‘miss’ because it made her feel like a maiden aunt, but was surprised to see her standing there with a bowl. “What is it?”

 

“I made a broth to tempt Mr Giles,” she was saying, and Buffy nodded, remembering how delicious it had been. “And I was just about to wash his bowl, but… there’s something in it.”

 

Buffy frowned, getting up to have a look at the offending bowl. She’d been expecting to see a fly, or an insect of some kind, but saw instead some tiny orange lumps floating in it.

 

“Maybe it’s something they added to the packet?” Buffy suggested.

 

“I do not use packets,” Martha huffed, sounding vaguely offended. “Nor do I add strange things when I don’t even know what they are.”

 

“Martha… “ Buffy began thoughtfully, “Are you saying that you definitely didn’t put them there?”

 

That’s what I’m saying,” Martha replied.

 

“Then who did?”

 

The women looked at each other for a moment, until the solution struck them both at the same time.

 

“Somebody has been in the house with us.”

 

“Are they still here?” Martha asked, her voice trembling slightly. Buffy shrugged.  “Let's find out.”        

 

An inspection of the house revealed nothing untoward hiding there. But, they did discover that a window latch on one of the en-suite bathrooms had been snapped off, proving that something had broken in.

 

Buffy surveyed this new evidence thoughtfully. “Martha – when John comes back, ask him to keep an eye on Giles for me. I don’t want you alone until we know who – or what - got in here. Give him a weapon – he might need to protect himself. I want you to help me look up what this thing might be. We’ll leave the lights on – if John needs help, I can be upstairs in seconds.”

 

The orange bits in the broth turned out to be Ikha seeds, which Martha found in a reference book of Demon cookery. While a tasty morsel for many demons, it would prove fatal if ingested by humans over several meals. Martha was righteously annoyed that ‘things’ should mess with her meals, and at that point, Buffy didn’t fancy the chances of whoever had tried to poison her mentor if Martha got hold of him.

 

Buffy went out into the hall, concerned because something had got into the house this very evening, and she didn’t like that notion at all. She took several steps up the stairs – she could still see Martha in the study, and called softly, so as not to disturb Giles, “Everything all right, John?”

 

“Just fine, miss. Don’t you fret.”

 

Buffy nodded, and was about to go back down the stairs, when she stopped. Zillah was again under the table, but she was crouching down low, her ears pulled right back, and staring at a door down the hall. Her tail appeared to have trebled in size, and all this was enough for Buffy. She vaulted over the banister, and sprinted down the hall.

 

Kicking open the door, she was grabbed by a humanoid demon with four arms that heaved her against the wall. John came running from the bedroom with a small axe in his hand to help her.

 

But this was Buffy’s world; this was something that she knew how to fight, and she used it, transferring all her hurt and anger into her assault on the demon.

 

Two minutes later, the creature lay flat on the floor, all hands raised in surrender, with one severely pissed off slayer sitting on him.

 

“What’d you do to Giles?”

 

“Frrddebddd,” the demon responded, but Buffy was in no mood for that, and took John’s axe.

 

“You’d better learn to speakie the English, buddy, or you’ll be in little tiny pieces. Got it?”

 

“Yes,” the prone four-armed creature replied, his voice a dry rasp. Buffy almost wished he’d talk gibberish again.

 

“What did you do?” she snapped, waving the axe for emphasis. Four-arm eyed the weapon warily.

 

“Poison.” At Buffy’s alarmed expression, he added hastily, “If he has no further doses he will recover in a few days.”

 

Buffy lowered the axe a little but kept herself on alert. “Why? What has Giles done to you?”

 

“He has visited our sacred place. It cannot be allowed.”

 

“Sacred place?” This came from John, who had moved closer in case he was needed.

 

“He means that Wye place,” Buffy said, looking at the demon for confirmation. “Right?”

 

“He trespassed on our land. The legend was meant to keep intruders away. I am the last of the chosen, and it was my duty to protect what is ours. I showed him the lady and then had to fulfil the prophecy.”

 

“There was no lady? It was a fake?” Buffy scowled at him. “But, how? What did you do?”

 

“The woman was genuine. Her people trespassed on our land, so we eliminated them all. When she discovered their remains she fled the village, and we allowed her to escape – but we captured her image to scare away others who would infringe on our domain. “

 

“You couldn’t share?” Buffy reasoned. “Wasn’t there enough for both?”

 

The demon growled. “Parasites. All of you. Our sacred place is not to be shared with the unclean.”

 

Buffy moved so fast he hardly saw her arm in motion. The axe sliced straight threw the sinewy neck and something green and icky spread across the carpet. “Then share this,” she growled.

 

Much to Buffy’s embarrassment, Martha spent hours trying to get the green stain out of the carpet and it now looked as good as new. Giles had recovered his equilibrium and was now up and about and trying to restore order to his ravaged study. He told her that while he was recuperating, he had decided to put much more effort into paranormal investigations, and he had begun advertising in earnest. They all needed something to occupy themselves and he felt that they should channel their expertise to where it would do most good. Buffy liked the idea of having something positive to fill her time with, but she currently had questions about their recent adventure.

 

“How did it know where to find you?”

 

“I suspect that the original… projection of the ghost contained a tracer aimed at the recipient. I did feel very disorientated for a while.”

 

“Did the demon poison the two workers?”

 

“Actually, I believe the second death was due to heart failure – though it’s entirely possible it was brought on by fear of what had happened to his colleague. He was murdered, in my opinion.”

 

“So,” Buffy was saying impishly, “’fess up… you weren’t scared?”

 

“Of course not,” he smiled back. “I have faith in you, Buffy.”

 

Buffy grinned. "But still…."

 

Buffy broke off as the phone rang and Giles reached to pick it up. She restlessly paced around the room as Giles talked to his caller, and she tried not to eavesdrop on his call.

 

"Thank you, Alexander," Giles was saying and Buffy's ears pricked up. Was he talking to Xander? "You've been most helpful."

 

Giles looked thoughtful as he replaced the receiver. "That was Alexander Powell," he informed her, and Buffy's heart sank.

 

"Oh," she responded with what she hoped was an interested smile. "He's lost his cup again?"

 

"Nothing like that. He's been in Cardiff for a few days with his fiancée. Apparently, he met somebody he knew when he'd taken her out for the evening, and was… worried about the demeanour of the person concerned."

 

"And this is relevant to us… because?" Buffy queried, wondering why Giles was telling her all this.

 

"The person," Giles replied quietly, "Was Angel."

 

End.

 

 

 

 

Fact and Fiction:

There are differing accounts of what the lady on the river is doing there. I have chosen the ancient village scenario because I found it the most interesting. Here is another account of the legend:

http://www.lilylane.co.uk/spec.htm

 

And I also include a web cam of the general area where this is set to show you what it looks like:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/herefordandworcester/features/360/hereford/ross.shtml

 



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