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Vampyre

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Ares

Season 2

Part 16

 

**

 

Summary:  A vampire once again walks in Croglin Village, but there is more than one kind of monster that stalks the night.

 

A special hug to Jo who put up with me and my queries, and straightened out my work.

 

**

 

Vampyre

 

 

A Shade walks his nightly Kingdom,

Feasts warm, and cold, and bloody,

Unclean, Undead, Unforgiven,

Dread and Terror slides Eternal in Beauty.

The Killing Sword, shines bright and burns the Soul,

Warrior that delivers all, Remains

Under Lady Moon, who waxes and wanes,

Salvation, Damnation, Lies deep in a Name.

 

 

It is incongruous to think of a vampire behind the wheel of a car, or any vehicle. They are mythical creatures, preternatural and able to perform wondrous feats of the superhuman. One thinks a vampire should in all probability fly. They leap rooftops, and virtually command the law of gravity so why should they do something mundane like drive? It is convenient, efficient when travelling in company, less taxing on the undead energy levels, and for Angel, it is because he loves driving, he enjoys being in command of a car. Any car will do, although Angel has a particular love for classic cars. Of late it is his Porsche, and before that a large black convertible took pride of place in his automotive heart. It doesn’t have to be black but it does have to be shiny.

 

Angel was behind the wheel of the Discovery. It was not something a man did, giving up control of a beloved vehicle, but Giles had. To Angel, it was very welcome. He had spent the first three hours of the journey curled beneath blankets in the back. Angel looked in the rear view mirror to see the Englishman asleep. A glance to his left showed him Buffy, head lolling slightly to the rhythm of the car’s movement. He smiled. They hadn’t been on the road twenty minutes. His family - he thought of them as such - deserved the rest. The days were longer now - it was spring - which meant a vampire was confined indoors for more hours than he cared for. So it was reasonable for Giles to suggest that Angel drive them home through the night, his eyes and reflexes superior to any mortal’s. Giles’ suggestion had come through necessity. Buffy was tired of the cold. To a Californian girl, Scotland in spring was winter at the Arctic, and their accommodation hadn’t been up to the advertised promise. Buffy wanted “Home. Now!” so home it would be.

 

**

Then.

 

Buffy, Giles and Angel had crossed the border from Northumberland to Berwickshire, Scotland, to investigate the sacrifice of a young man to a water monster that lurked in the River Tweed. The sacrifices which had taken place, supposedly on a yearly basis, had died out long ago. Unfortunately, the ritual appeared to have resurfaced again. It was a job for them all; a monster in the deep meant something big and fearsome.

 

Angel was to examine the body in the morgue of the Kelso Hospital. The remains were yet to be transported away to Edinburgh, and Buffy and Angel took advantage of that fact. Buffy insisted she come along, promising she would act as lookout. Said lookout had her head over the drawer as Angel pulled it from its cavity in the stainless steel wall. It wasn’t a body she stared at but several pieces of what had once been a human being. Buffy didn’t flinch even though this was bordering on the obscene.  She was saddened by what she saw and her throat closed up when Angel’s pale hand gently prodded the dead flesh. She couldn’t avert her eyes from his fingers as they carefully turned the mutilated torso. She could not help but notice his flesh bore a remarkable resemblance to the thing that lay there. Buffy looked up into dark eyes. Horrified, she thought he knew what she was thinking. Buffy’s smile was shaky, not because of her treacherous mind, but because she did not want to add her own brand of injury to his generous soul. Angel had feelings, and he allowed everyone to trample them. She refused to be counted in that number. Buffy nodded over her smile and was relieved to see understanding in those brown eyes. 

 

“You need to get out more,” he said, attempting humour, but the smile did not reach his eyes.

 

“This is out,” she insisted, and reached over to squeeze his hand. The look he gave her made her want to hold him tight and never let go.

 

Buffy forced her eyes back to the once-human thing on the slab. The body had been hacked so that it resembled dog meat. The teeth marks – Angel peered into the macabre tissue – yes, he nodded to confirm that, indeed, it was teeth that had rent the skin and chewed bone.  Angel hesitated.

 

“What?” Buffy couldn’t see anything amiss that wasn’t already evident.

 

Two furrows lined his brow. He lifted the arm – the hand no longer attached - for a closer look. He probed the flesh and examined the exposed bone. His mouth tightened into a thin line.

 

“What is it?”

 

“This was made to look like an animal attack.”

 

“Or demon?”

 

“Or demon,” he agreed.

 

“It’s not.”

 

“No.” His voice was barely a whisper.

 

Buffy shivered. She knew what he implied.

 

He leaned in and inhaled deeply. Truth be told, the body’s immersion in water – two weeks - made a vampire’s ability to scent anything extremely difficult.

 

“A tool was used,” he said when he lifted his head.

 

“It still could have been a demon,” Buffy replied, knowing full well a demon with teeth and claws wouldn’t need an implement. Angel’s silence refuted her statement. A cold sick feeling settled in the pit of her stomach.

 

With utmost care and reverence, Angel put all that was left of the young man back into place and closed the drawer. They left the morgue in darkness and made their escape.

 

While Buffy and Angel scoured the area for further clues, Giles investigated and interrogated possible witnesses. They came to the same conclusion as the local constabulary.

 

The sacrifice had been a murder, plain and simple. The murder suspect, a psychopath by all accounts, was yet to be apprehended. The police had information that would lead to an arrest - they hoped. Giles was happy to leave them to it. Human killers were not their concern.

 

**

Now.

 

Buffy whimpered in her sleep. Angel peered at her and caught the grimace that marred her sleeping face. Sweat beaded her brow. A groan sounded behind, and looking in the mirror, Angel could see Giles clutching his stomach as he woke.

 

Angel slowed the car. “Are you okay, Giles?”

 

Giles swallowed heavily and burped. “Does it look as if I’m alright?” he snapped.

 

Buffy jerked awake at that moment and squeezed her belly.

 

“You have to stop, Angel! I’m going to be sick.”

 

The road was fairly quiet. It was a route that was used by several small villages to travel to the larger towns, and not one of the major arterials that heavy vehicles and tourists roared along. Angel slammed on the brakes and slid to a stop. He really didn’t want the smell of vomit permeating the air inside the enclosed space. True, he didn’t breathe, but predator that he was, he had a very honed sense of smell. It would get up his nose whether he liked it or not. Buffy’s and Giles’ mad dash from the Discovery would have been comical if not for the heaving and retching that followed. Angel left the motor running, lights blazing, and came round to see if he could help.

 

Buffy’s hair hung over her face as she vomited onto the grass. Giles stood, hands on knees a few feet away, emptying the contents of his stomach. Angel made smoothing motions across Buffy’s back as she heaved. He felt useless.

 

“What is it?” he asked.

 

“Food poisoning I think,” Giles managed to gasp.

 

Buffy straightened and wiped her hand across her mouth.

 

 “Euw!” Her nose wrinkled.

 

Angel popped back to the car and rescued a bottle of water.

 

“Here.” He thrust the bottle at her. Her wan smile told him she was grateful, but her next words were cross and meant for Giles.

 

“Oh, let’s stop at Brampton, it’s not far off the beaten track. There’s a magic shop I have heard about and we need a few supplies.” Buffy imitated the Englishman’s voice. “There is a fine little restaurant there that provides excellent fare.” Buffy rinsed her mouth and spat. She swallowed a few mouthfuls before continuing, “Excellent fare with a side dish of - heave your guts out!”

 

Giles straightened, his handkerchief at his mouth. His tone waspish, indicating how unwell he was. “Sorry. Again, it’s my fault, this need to eat. If you hadn’t insisted on returning home in one fell swoop, perhaps this wouldn’t have occurred.”

 

“Maybe it was the ducks’ eggs at breakfast,” Angel said.

 

Buffy’s glare had the ability to dust. “Not helping!”

 

Angel stepped back from his miserable slayer fearing for his safety. To his dismay, two stomachs growled at him.

 

“Let’s get going, I think we need to find a place that has a bathroom,” Buffy said, confirming his fears.

 

“Please!” Giles almost begged.

 

Rubber was left on the road as an anxious vampire raced through the night, hoping that Buffy and Giles could hold on.  Fortunately for Angel and the afflicted humans, the farming village of Croglin loomed out of the night, and the sign, The Robin Hood Inn, was a welcome sight.  Angel pulled in and barely had the key turned when the two desperate people beside him leaped out and raced towards salvation. Angel wrestled their bags from the back and headed indoors.

 

The interior of the 17th Century inn was typical of its like. Plush nylon stools sat before the well-stocked bar; panelled wood, dark and well polished, added to the olde worlde feel. Beams criss-crossed the ceiling against stark whitewash and the small windows matched the pattern in leading. Cumbria was one of the areas claiming the legend of Robin Hood. Angel briefly wondered about his own legend as he hurried over to the innkeeper.

 

The man, grey-haired and craggy-faced, jerked his head in the direction of the hall.

 

“Up the stairs, One and Two,” he chuckled. “See to them and sign in when you’re done.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

Door 1 had its key hanging from the lock. Angel knocked softly.

 

“Buffy? Giles?”

 

He inched the door open and called again. A male grunt from the bathroom answered him. Angel wanted to be anywhere else.

 

“I’ll just leave your bag on the bed.” He placed the key on the bedside table, left the bag and quickly backed through the doorway. Outside, he sagged in relief.

 

Door 2 offered up its key to the vampire. He gingerly ventured inside.

 

He eyed the bathroom door as he put their bags down on the double bed

 

“Buffy? Are you alright?”

 

Sounds another person should never hear assailed his ears.

 

Angel leaned against the bathroom door. “Buffy?” he whispered.

 

Buffy’s voice was roughened by the vomiting. “Go away, Angel. I’m not alright! I’m gross and disgusting. I’m sitting side-ways on the toilet so that my head can reach the basin. How’s that for a Kodak moment? I don’t want you here. Just go!”

 

Angel stood, fists clenched, hurt that she didn’t want his help. Part of him wanted to escape this all too human frailty, but he couldn’t do that to Buffy. She needed him.

 

He heard running water.

 

“I know you’re still there,” she said roughly.

 

Buffy’s voice softened. “It’s not because you’re a vampire and you can smell me, and let’s not forget the sensitive hearing. Well, it is, but it isn’t. I wouldn’t want you here if you were human. Let me be gross and horrible and barf-worthy in peace. Go! Be a creature of the night, and don’t come home till dawn. Please.”

 

Angel relaxed, she was right. She needed space. There was nothing he could do.

 

“Shall I go back and eat the chef?”

 

He heard a snicker. It turned into a whimper. He left her to it, closing the door softly behind him.

 

**

 

Angel filled out the forms, Rupert Giles, Buffy Summers and Angel. The man didn’t bat an eyelid.

 

“I take it you won’t be wanting dinner.”

 

Angel looked at him.

 

“It’s a bit late but I could get the wife to fix you something?”

 

“No thanks.”

 

Angel looked around the room. The centre table was occupied. Three men sat, beer foaming in glasses within reach. A binoculars case rested on the table. Angel noticed another case on the floor beneath a chair. The men wore thick jumpers and parkas. Their hats lay in a pile on the table.

 

By the window, an elderly couple nursed small glasses of something, perhaps sherry.

 

“Something they ate?”

 

He turned back to the publican.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“You’re not sick.” The man raised a glass in question of a drink.

 

“Scotch and, no, I’m not.”

 

The whisky was good and went down smoothly. Angel nodded his appreciation.

 

“I’m Alan by the way. Glenda is my better half. She’ll look after you.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Will you being doing some bird watching while you’re here?”

 

“I’m kind of a night owl myself.”

 

“Vampire.”

 

Angel tensed, his fingers tightened around his empty glass. The murmurs of the three drinkers died away. The room paused.

 

“Vampire.”

 

He turned to look at the old woman by the window. His keen eyes found her grey-eyed gaze focused on him. A finger pointed in his direction but he did not see fear written on her well-worn face.

 

“The Croglin Vampire. The legend is famous in these parts.”

 

The vampire Angel, lifted a brow, smiled and asked, “Where?”

 

“It were terrorising a young woman up at Croglin Grange, years back.”

 

“Centuries, ma.” The old man’s hand plucked at his wife’s sleeve.

 

She ignored him, as she must have done for years now.

 

“The village folk found the beast in a coffin, at the churchyard. The creature was a dry husk, a corpse and yet it had a fresh wound in its leg. A wound inflicted by one of the Cranswell brothers. They dragged it out into the light of day and burned it to ashes.”

 

“It burned in the sunlight?”

 

“They burned it, the villagers burned it. It was an evil thing.”

 

“Where is this graveyard?”

 

The old man squeezed his wife’s arm and managed to get in a word. “St John the Baptist Church was destroyed in Cromwell’s day. The present church was rebuilt in…” the old man paused trying to retrieve the memory, “1878 I think. If you believe the vampire story, you will find no sign of the crypt. Some say, however, the story is younger than that. Others believe otherwise.”

 

“Nonsense.” The woman pulled her arm away with a glare at her husband. “Go see for yourself, young man. The church is a sight to be seen. It’s pretty by day.”

 

“Where is this Grange?”

 

The old man coughed and took up his glass. Angel could practically see through the man’s papery skin when he swallowed.

 

“It’s not where you think.” He winked at the vampire. “Many believe The Baptist is the church of the legend. It’s not, never was. Mavis likes to play this game.”

 

Mavis shut her mouth with a loud tut.

 

“Come join us, and I’ll tell you more.” A gnarled hand patted the chair beside him.

 

Angel motioned with his hand for another round of drinks for the couple. The innkeeper snorted, shook his head, and grinning, complied. Angel made his way to the village folk.

 

 

A vampire once again stalked the village of Croglin. It was a small place and it did not take him long to walk the length of it. A huddle of old stone buildings hugged the paved road that led in and out. His sense of déjà vu lessened with each overhead telephone wire he passed. Angel could smell Croglin Waters as it meandered down from Black Fell; the river was cloaked beneath trees nearby.  Modern roofs showed their faces at the edge of town, unwelcome by their older neighbours no doubt. The vampire kept walking, turned at the cross roads until he came to the sad little church of John the Baptist. A stone wall hemmed in the large grounds of the church. Houses sat on either side, rammed tight at the boundary walls as if to claim the church their own. Beyond the houses, open ground and farmland ran free with a wild beauty. The graveyard had a somewhat neglected lawn. A single tree sat sentinel amongst marble which angled this way and that, like drunken sailors frozen in a swell. Through these Angel wove, scenting the air, not really expecting anything other than natural death. He peered through the dark but clean windows. The pews stood silent. Royal purple led the way up tiled floor to a stained glass and cordoned altar. The church had worshippers still. He was glad.

 

Following the old man’s advice, Angel ventured further up the narrow road. He passed a farmhouse he was told was once the Croglin High Hall, saw nothing unusual about the place and continued on. A row of trees led the way up the rise to the farm once known as Croglin Low Hall. Angel knew that he was unable to enter the old fortified farm but his interest was piqued. He would see what he could from any vantage point. The house that presented itself was two-storied, and yet the old man had told him that at the time of the vampire attack it had been a single. Angel’s preternatural senses kicked in telling him the house was empty. The owners’ absence did not allow him access, however.  Angel walked round the house and spied a gate that beckoned, and when he pushed it open, he saw a paved courtyard in need of some care. A creeper climbed a wall, its flowers closed for the night, and obstinate weeds were pushing up between the flagstones. He stepped into this haven of tranquillity and paced the area, finding nothing out of the ordinary.

 

Returning to the front door, Angel contemplated the window that stared back at him with a blind eye. Several windows, five in all had suffered the same fate. The glass had been replaced with brick and his spider senses were tingling as Cordelia would have said. Flexing his leg muscles, he pushed his centre of gravity down and flew upwards, landing gracefully on the roof. He ran along the tile as sure-footed as a cat. He stopped when he reached the pele tower, the top floor ending there. Standing at the battlements that had thwarted invaders of centuries past, Angel looked out into the nightscape, able to see quite well. He was beginning to think this had been a wild goose chase when something tugged at him, something familiar. He looked into the crisp, cool night to gather in that feeling. There!

 

The leap he executed was exhilarating. He liked nothing better than to move his body, expend the energy he had curled inside. Without missing a step he landed beyond the house on to the long grass. He did not tarry; his long legs carried him away in an easy lope until he came to a field that for some reason bade him stop. He hesitated. The ground had been sanctified and then defiled; it was something a vampire knew. A church had stood here once upon a time, a bastion against evil, and then it had not. Angel could feel the earth beneath his feet as he paced, and stone and space where there should not be. An odour, the taint of unclean, wafted to his nose. He lay prone on the cold ground; the long grass tickled his nose when he inhaled again to be sure. 

 

Putting aside his jacket and wishing he had brought an axe, his sword, anything that would spare his efforts, he began to dig through the turf and down into the earth beneath. His vampire strength a blessing, it took him little time to reach the stone hidden below. The mound of soil beside him threatened to spill inwards as he grasped the ancient slab, half of which was still buried. His fingers found purchase because the slab, heavy as it was, was not aligned perfectly. There was a gap, and from this rose a faint but unmistakeable scent. He exerted pressure, and the stone lifted slightly. Another burst of effort and the earth released its hold. The slab moved slightly to the left when he gave another shove.

 

Angel peered into the partially open space and darkness yawned below. The vampire went to work on the rest of the earth until the entire stone was revealed. He pushed and pulled at it until it moved enough to give him the room to slide through the opening. He found himself in a crypt, or the remains of a crypt. Subsidence had occurred a long time ago, burying whatever tombs had been at the far end of the vault. One sepulchre remained untouched by time, and this Angel approached. The lid slid aside with a sharp scrape. It was empty. He hadn’t really expected anything else. The bodies would have been removed by the devout: it wouldn’t do to let the dead lie in desecrated ground.

 

The lack of light inside the grave was almost absolute. Even so, Angel could see to some degree, but it was his sense of smell that prompted his fingers to move. He crouched low and withdrew the remnant of cloth lying rotting in a corner of the coffin. Bringing it to his nose, he inhaled. His posture did not betray the feelings the scent instilled. His gut twisted, however, in trepidation, and anticipation. He had work to do.

 

Angel replaced the slab and returned the earth to some semblance of order. The grass came last and he could do nothing about the crushed stalks and flattened leaves. He hoped that the field was not in use. It didn’t appear to be. Angel picked up his coat but did not put it on. His clothes were soiled and wrinkled, and he did not want his precious coat to suffer the same fate.

 

 

The vampire quietly slipped into his room at the inn and found his love asleep on the bed. She had showered sometime in the night; her hair was damp, and her pyjamas so child-like with their animal faces. Angel carefully covered Buffy with the quilt that lay on the floor before divesting himself of his ruined attire, changing into fresh clothes after a hurried wash. That the slayer did not wake told him that she was exhausted. He leaned over and breathed a kiss on to her cheek before silently closing the door.

 

The Discovery burst into life. Angel turned the vehicle and headed north once more. Carlisle was his destination. Cumbria claimed a link to King Arthur by way of the young king’s father, Uther. It wasn’t a king that drew Angel north, it was something else, someone who thought himself a king.

 

 

**

The morning after.

 

“Let me get this straight,” Buffy said brushing hair back from her eyes so she could look at both men. “The beast, creature, vampire, whatever, climbed in through the window and bit her.”

 

“That’s right, miss. Miss Cranswell lay bleeding, and it was touch and go for a while whether she would survive.”

 

Buffy’s glance slid to Giles. He did not look at all well but his wits were still about him. His eyebrow rose and she knew he was thinking the same thing she was.

 

“It can’t have been a vampire.” Buffy shut her mouth with horror. Did she just say that out loud? She had.

 

“Why do you say that?”  The innkeeper leaned forward, his arms on the table.

 

“Um…”

 

Giles came to her rescue. “Vampires are myths, legend. They’re not real. Bram Stoker made them up,” he added for good measure.

 

Buffy swallowed a giggle and picked up her cup of tea. The hot liquid seared her battered throat but she welcomed the heat. Lightly buttered toast followed it down and her empty stomach growled with protest while absorbing the much-needed sustenance. Giles, too, had tea and toast set before him, his second helping in fact. Buffy would’ve been annoyed if not for his pallor. Giles had suffered along with her even though she suspected his English stomach should have survived the onslaught of tainted British food better than hers. He grew up on black pudding, cottage pies, Cornish pasties, toad in the hole, Yorkshire pudding, which wasn’t a pudding, and the like. That said it all. What people named their food with such ridiculousness?

 

“I don’t know about this Bram Stoker, but hereabouts we believe in vampires.”

 

Buffy choked on her tea, burning her tongue when the liquid splashed back.

 

Giles’ hand gently patted her back, his smile enigmatic.

 

Buffy surveyed the small dining room trying desperately to control her cough. Buffy and Giles were the only diners. They were late for breakfast, so late that lunch was a bite away.

 

 

Buffy was worried. Angel hadn’t been in their bed when she had opened her eyes, and after another shower she had discovered his pile of muddied clothes. A quick look out the window showed the car park minus the Discovery. Where the Hell was he?  She dialled his number, but was unsurprised, and a little vexed, to hear it ring from within his bag. Buffy invaded her Watcher’s room, and his pasty and not too happy face scowled up at her from tangled sheets when she insisted he wake. She tuned out his indignant protests and insisted they interrogate everyone they could find. Giles’ question of where they had spent the night added to her anxiety. It highlighted how incapacitated they had been, how ill. It hadn’t really mattered, because Angel had her back, had their backs, and now he had up and disappeared. 

 

Unsteady on her feet, her stomach still queasy, Buffy had ventured down the stairs to meet Alan the innkeeper and his understanding wife, Glenda, who insisted on a light meal to settle their systems. Glenda rattled pots and pans in the kitchen while her husband sat entertaining their guests with tales of vampires and unholy goings on back in some dark century.

 

“The vampire, the one that got into the house and attacked Miss Cranswell - what happened to it?”

 

“It disappeared, ran into the night.”

 

“The brothers spirited their sister to Switzerland, did they not?”

 

Buffy stared at Giles. Of course he knew the story. It had probably been required reading at the academy for up and coming Watchers.

 

Alan blinked, astonished. “Yes, they did. They came back in the winter to kill the creature. There was some talk of a little girl from the other Hall that had strange bite marks on her neck. Miss Cranswell decided she was going to be the bait. One of the brothers managed to shoot the beast as it made its escape.”

 

“They found the vampire in a crypt in the church grounds, I believe.”

 

Alan nodded. “The villagers found bones and such-like inside a vault. The creature lay inside a coffin. It was a corpse, all withered and dry. A fresh wound was found on one leg. The vampire was burned to ash.”

 

Giles returned his nod, popped another piece of toast into his mouth and chewed. His colour was improving, as was his mood. “Fascinating,” was all he said.

 

“You’ve spent too much time with Andrew.”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“Giles! Mr Spock you are not.”

 

“I fail to see…”

 

Buffy crossed her arms in frustration. “Forget it. Between you and Angel, I waste my time with pop culture.”

 

The proprietor pushed back his seat and rose. The mumblings of the pair were beyond his ken. He left them to it.

 

“God! Can you believe it?” Buffy leaned forward; her words were for Giles alone. Her whisper was quite hoarse.  “They believe in vampires, Giles. Vampires!”

 

“A vampire. Long dead.”

 

“You and I know that it wasn’t a vamp they burned.”

 

“No. I suppose you are right.” Another piece of toast, raspberry jam coated, went into his mouth.

 

“Hello? The demon – it was a demon – didn’t need an invite - prime requisite for a vampire - it broke into the house.”

 

“There is the biting though.”

 

“If it was a vampire, it had to have had an invitation. My bet is still on the demon.”

 

“I agree. The Watcher’s Council have always discounted the legend of the Croglin Vampire. There are too many anomalies.”

 

Buffy swallowed more tea before continuing. “The body was withered, dry, a husk. A real corpse – you know what I mean – not a walking talking vampire corpse...” Buffy paused. Angel was a vampire and therefore a corpse. She and Angel made love – frequently. What did that say about her? She shook her head. Angel may be a corpse, but he was a handsome one, and for a dead man he did some amazing things.

 

She continued. “The vampire wouldn’t have been sitting still while they burned it either. It would have been fighting to get away.”

 

“Mmm. The wound in the leg may have been a ruse, placed there to fool the wannabe Van Helsings.”

 

The slayer blinked. “I didn’t know you had seen the movie.”

 

“Movie? Oh, you mean Dracula?”

 

“No! The one with Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing. What was it called? Van Helsing!”

 

Buffy grinned at Giles’ look.

 

If it was possible, his frown deepened. “Did they make a movie about Van Helsing?”

 

“Never mind! Giles, it was something else that attacked that woman. It got away by giving them what they wanted, a dead body.”

 

“It never appeared again. The case was closed, the vampire vanquished and all’s well,” Giles mused.

 

“Except that Angel’s missing.”

 

“Except for that, yes.”

 

**

 

Earlier.

 

He leaned against the wall as still as the stone against his back. Ash stirred at his feet, dust scurried with the breeze and was gone. His questions had gone unanswered, the questioned: dispatched. A moment no more, the flash of steel safely hidden within cloth, wood snug inside silk-lined pockets, he stepped out of the alley and continued his search.

 

There were hundreds of places to look and Angel intended to see every one. He found two vampires huddled over a young woman. He dusted those, foregoing the interrogation. The girl was cooling, her brown eyes fixed forever in fright when he leaned in. There was nothing he could do for her. He wouldn’t move her, the best he could do was call the police. He patted his pockets and cursed. He left, promising her she would be found.

 

Angel continued his quest moving through the city of Carlisle. As he passed through The Lanes he thought that Buffy would love to shop here. The Border city offered very good shopping for locals and tourist alike it seemed, not that he was eager to shop. It was late, far too late for anything to be open. He could see, however, the window dressings were pretty. The Lanes was silent, and his senses keen, informed him the street was empty.  The centre of town was wide with cobbled streets, and there were trees planted here and there to give one the feeling of space and well-being. As he walked past the flowering plants of The Citadel, he ignored the figure of the Earl of Lonsdale standing frozen forever, looking over the city. He wasn’t here to sightsee. The many buildings surrounding the fortress offered promise though. He would work the perimeter and flush out the ones he sought. He ignored the terraced houses and the apartments, if he couldn’t get in; neither could they. The Carlisle Railway Station was a good place to start, there was bound to be a demon or two lurking in the large and imposing structure.

 

He worked off his anger – brown eyes foremost in his mind – by clearing out the neighbourhood. The vampires he interrogated swore they were ignorant, but he continued his crusade anyway. A couple of Grappler demons dared to stop by and take him on. It looked as if the one vampire he had allowed to escape was spreading the word. Angel welcomed them with a sneer. The larger demons tried to stay out of reach of his sword, unsuccessfully. The first went down quickly, clutching its gut, cursing him.

 

“Too late, I’m already cursed,” Angel retorted as he whirled to fend off the other.

 

The demon’s rush threw him back, and his sword clattered to the ground. He felt as if bones were broken; the brick wall certainly was. Hell, he’d fought the Beast and survived, this Grappler was nothing compared. His side stabbing with pain as he fought to avoid a crushing blow, he didn’t quite manage it, and a leathery fist glanced off his ribs as he spun. He grunted into game face, and rolled, lashing out with his foot as he went, and felt a satisfying crunch. His hand curled about the hilt of his sword, and as he came to his knees his arm flicked out, power behind the graceful motion, his blade sliced through tendon and bone. The head rolled off and away, the body followed in a sickly slump. He smiled through jagged teeth. This was more like it. There was nothing like a spot of violence to get the blood moving, or in his case, bloodlust. He should be ashamed, repulsed by what he felt. He had, for a long time. He got over it. He used his abilities to do good, to protect, and if he felt a wicked pleasure?  It was one he kept to himself. He was a vampire. That was never going to change, it was who he was, what he was. Angel caught a movement in his peripheral vision, and his smile widened.

 

**

Later in the day.

 

“This is a bust,” Buffy grumbled. She leaned against the odd looking monument in the grounds of St John the Baptist, her blue jumper in danger of getting dirty.

 

“Not really. There is no sign of anything untoward.”

 

Buffy eyed her Watcher. His jacket was no longer tweed, and the jeans he wore made him look younger and less Librarian-looking.

 

“You mean there are no mud holes about that he could’ve fallen into.”

 

She snorted. It wouldn’t be the first time Angel had fallen into a hole. She put a hand over her mouth to stop giggling. That had been a sight to see, Angel down a well.

 

Giles smiled back. They were both feeling better. Breakfast and fresh air had invigorated them both and it was good to hear Buffy laugh.

 

“Quite! Although, you say his clothes are in state…”

 

Buffy gave Giles the Look. It was a glance that only women seemed to have perfected, he thought. Giles tried it himself in Sunnydale, and he had been ignored, woefully. He removed his glasses, polished them on the hem of his jumper, squinted at the sky, and replaced them.

 

“Filthy is the word I would use. You know Angel. He hates getting his clothes dirty.” She kicked off from the stone. “We might as well check out the Grange and see if he has left any clues.”

 

“Lead on, Miss Scarlet.” Giles grinned as he followed her down to the road.

 

“Huh? Giles, what?” Buffy turned to look back at him.

 

“We are following clues.” At her blank look, Giles sighed. “Never mind.”

 

“Miss Scarlet?” Buffy stopped, comprehension dawning. “Oh… the game. I wonder if Angel has ever heard of it. Couldn’t the man at least leave a note? No. We have to follow clues to find out what he is up to.”

 

Giles tried to reassure her. “He’ll be okay, Buffy. Angel is not exactly helpless. He knows his own strengths.”

 

“I know, but I bet he is having fun!” she pouted, trying to push aside her own fears.

 

**

 

Earlier.

 

“Well this is fun.”

 

Angel was spattered with blood and gore and dust. He didn’t mind at all. That some of the blood was his never mattered. He would heal, and fast. In his journey about the city, he had left reminders of his visit. There were demon carcasses hidden in dark corners for the rats to feed on, or for clan members to retrieve. The rest had blown away, a handy thing for a vampire slayer, no bodies, no evidence. He looked up at the sky. Clouds scudded across the expanse blotting out what little of the moon there was; it was only a couple of hours till sunrise.

 

A stir in the air brought Angel’s head down. A figure stood there, not close, a safe distance from him. They eyed each other through the darkness. Angel waited. The other stepped back with hands held palm up. Angel waited some more.

 

“Come.” The voice hinted of sharp teeth.

 

He did not move.

 

“You have amnesty. He wants to see you.”

 

Angel felt as if air had left his lungs, which was impossible. It had been a gamble, a whim to travel here, to test the waters, to see what came to the surface. He hadn’t really expected to be rewarded. After all it had been a very long time. The tension in his shoulders eased, he hefted his sword, twirled it in that wrist action he loved so much, and readjusted his shoulders as another load of weight settled there.

 

The other waited, impatient, but not enough to insist he hurry. He did add, however, “It’s no trap.”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Angel said, finally stepping forward.

 

The vampire backed away, an eye on the sword, before turning his very vulnerable neck to lead the way. Angel followed, aware that, yes, this could be a trap, and no, he wouldn’t be caught napping. Each building they passed, every alley and wall, he scanned. There was movement ahead and another shadow disengaged from a wall and joined the first. Better ahead than behind, he thought. The two led him through narrowing streets of Cumberland stone, and suddenly they were in a yard wide enough for several trucks, the entrance at the far end. He glanced up knowing that there were sentries looking down. Never one for backing away from a fight, a fight he had instigated, he used his speed and was beside his escort with his arm about his neck and the sword slicing the neck of the other. The door opened as the dust was settling and he pushed his way through using his new shield for insurance.

 

“That’s not necessary,” the shield panted from a constricted throat.

 

The demon who opened the door straightened from hitting the wall, Angel’s push had flung him back from the entrance. Angel kicked the door shut and pushed the vamp away. It fell against the yellow-skinned demon and they both staggered against the wall. Angel turned while they were sorting themselves out and shot home the very sturdy bolt to secure his back. The door looked reinforced to stop an army.

 

He lifted his sword to indicate they proceed and the minions obliged by taking him deeper into the building. They passed several rooms, large and well furnished, obviously a living area for a group of beings. The rooms were notably bereft of windows and there was no sign of their inhabitants. Angel wondered if all the occupants were up on the roof and if not a few were waiting for him ahead. A familiar tang tainted the air and his fangs itched to elongate.

 

The pair led him through to where an empty kitchen waited. To the left a stairway beckoned. The carpet was new he noted; plush and red, it ran up the stairs.

 

The vampire said, “You go up alone.”

 

“If you say so.” Angel threw the stake he had in his free hand, dusted the vampire, and he ran the demon through with his blade. The demon slid to the floor with a look of surprise and it garbled a curse at him as it died. Angel did not dwell, his booted feet stepped over the body, and he headed up.

 

A voice he recognised, but thought to never hear again, spoke when he arrived at the open door at the top.

 

“Some things never change, Angelus.”

 

**

 

Later in the day.

 

The farm was a working farm, they could see that, and yet there was no one about. Giles left off knocking on the door and joined Buffy at the foot of the steps. Both Watcher and Slayer stared at the bricked-in window.

 

“It doesn’t look as if anyone is home,” he said.

 

“You think?” Buffy bit her lip. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m…”

 

“…Worried. I know, Buffy. It’s alright, I understand.”

 

Buffy threw Giles an apologetic smile. “It’s not as if Angel would have been seen by anyone even if they had been home. He can be pretty stealthy when he wants to be.”

 

Giles nodded. “Shall we continue to look about? He may have left signs of his visit, if he had visited, that is.”

 

“If we see a window smashed in, or a door, you mean? That would tell us that this place is abandoned.”

 

“Angel doesn’t always smash in doors to gain entry.” Giles defended the vampire in his absence.

 

“You obviously haven’t been with him on enough cases.” Buffy grinned, her spirits lifted for the moment.

 

They both spied the gate that led to a courtyard. Giles opened it and they trooped in.

 

“The plants need pruning,” the Englishman muttered, surveying the inner sanctum.

 

“Not much on the weeding either,” Buffy rejoined, eyeing the plants that were underfoot. They continued on. The pair had circled the house twice before admitting defeat. Of Angel there was no sign.

 

Giles stomach had definitely settled and was telling him it was time for another meal.

 

“Are you hungry?” he asked Buffy, hoping that yes, she was, and yes, they could go back to the inn for food.

 

Buffy was feeling a lot better, and peckish, but she wasn’t out of the game yet.

 

“How about we search the farm?” she asked, ignoring his question and his downcast look at her suggestion.

 

“Where do we start? It’s a big area to cover; we could walk past a clue and never notice.”

 

“Okay, Professor Glum. We each take one side of the house and meet here in the middle. We know the front faces the road, so we’ll ignore that for now. We’ll repeat at…” she looked out towards the fields, “…how far is that?” She pointed at a tree stump.

 

Giles squinted. He pursed his lips, refusing to be baited. “Twenty yards?”

 

“Twenty yards. I mean a hole or at least an area of mud isn’t likely to be small. We should see it from that distance.”

 

“How far do we go?” Giles stared out at the farm. There was a lot of it. He had no doubt that Angel was fine. He would turn up. The vampire had the knack. He was willing to do this for Buffy’s sake though. She needed to do something to stop herself from worrying.

 

The Slayer didn’t answer.

 

“And if we don’t find anything?”

 

“I’ll kill him.”

 

**

 

Earlier.

 

“I should kill you. Probably will. Come in, don’t mind my guards.”

 

Angel did not falter. He strode through the doorway as if he owned the place. His eyes were drawn to the armchair in which sat a man – no, vampire. Angel flicked his gaze to the two vampires standing behind the chair, each stood to one side and each held a crossbow. The crossbows followed his entrance, unwavering, his chest the target.

 

“You can try,” he said, as if there were no bolts aimed at his heart.

 

The other barked a laugh - it held no humour - it was as dry as the dead man he was.

 

“A drink for old time’s sake?” the other asked, and with a wave of his hand, another emerged from the shadows. The young man arrived with a silver tray on which sat a decanter of Scotch and two crystal glasses. The tray went down onto the polished table that sat between the chairs.

 

Angel did not move. He studied the man in the chair. His hair was light, long, and tied at the back, probably in a tail. It had been near two centuries since he set eyes on the other. The man hadn’t changed. The face was large, the nose broad, rugged, not unpleasant to look upon, except for the eyes. They were dead, almost colourless pits of emptiness that stared out at one. Angel knew that his eyes had once held that same emptiness.

 

“Varian. It’s been a lifetime or two.”

 

“Oh, much more than that.” Varian gestured to the wingchair. “Sit. I promised amnesty and you repay me by killing my servants.”

 

Angel refused to answer. He wasn’t at all worried about the vampire’s servants. The minion stood by, motionless, waiting for Varian’s guest to sit. The glasses glowed amber from the liquid within. Angel shrugged. What the Hell! He sat, settled his sword, his hand never leaving its hilt, and accepted a glass. The minion went away. His eyes though, scrutinised the room, and the goons, who had not lowered their weapons. His eyes continued to roam until something curious - almost heart-stopping, if it beat – caught his attention. He did not allow the smallest flicker of emotion to paint his face. His gaze wandered on and back to his host.

 

Varian waited for Angel to speak. He waited some more, swallowed another mouthful of whisky, before, “What brings you here?”

 

“You did.” And then Angel tasted his drink. The whisky was old, smooth and fiery. It slid down his throat and warmed his belly for a moment.

 

“Well, you found me. What do you want?”

 

Angel deliberately ignored the guards and looked into Varian’s dead eyes.

 

“I’m surprised to find you here,” he said.

 

The other’s eyes narrowed. “You slaughtered the denizens of this city to attract my attention.”

 

“Yeah. I didn’t know that you were actually here.”

 

“And if I wasn’t?”

 

“No matter.” Angelus would have been proud of the boredom in his voice. And yet, Angel thought as he peered over the rim of his crystal, he was Angelus, wasn’t he?

 

Varian crossed his legs at the ankles. His dark pants stretched against powerful thighs. The red brocade jacket, screamed affectation, or was it nostalgia, as did the ruffles at the cuffs that peeked out when he moved.

 

“I was told that you would seek me out here. I thought you were dead. Unfortunately the rumours were unfounded.”

 

If Varian thought he would get a reaction from his visitor, he was mistaken. His guest accepted the statement without blinking. Varian tensed, as did his guards, when Angel placed his glass on the antique table and put his hand in his pocket. Fingers on triggers tightened. His hand came free holding a scrap of cloth. Angel placed that on the polished surface before taking up his unfinished glass.

 

Varian reached and picked up the scrap. He held it to his nose, and smiled. The vampire’s eyes regained a measure of life. A spark ignited in those pale orbs, and Angel knew that he had been right to come here.

 

“It’s been a long while since I caught the scent of Him.” The eyes shut down again with his next sentence. “You killed Him I recall.”

 

“I didn’t. I was there, and I didn’t.” He wished he had, now.

 

“Where did you find this?” The spark was back, a glimmer, no more.

 

“Croglin Village.”

 

Varian threw back his head and laughed. “That place! He toyed with those who lived there.”

 

“I thought so. There were monks?” Angel asked.

 

“You know how He liked to deceive, Angelus. He had no choice up here above ground. A habit can hide many sins.”

 

“His were many,” Angel agreed. “He didn’t go back?”

 

“He could have taken the village,” Varian said.

 

The words resonated within Angel. He swallowed his last drop of Scotch. A cool customer was Angelus.

 

“Clever, no, the outcome? The peasants were fooled and a legend was born. It was all a game. And then He left, I never saw Him again.” He stared at the Scourge of Europe with hate.

 

“You could have visited. You knew where to find Him.”

 

“The New World has never appealed, Europe is my hunting ground.” A hand waved, imperious. “Once was yours, what did happen to you? I heard something about an evil law firm and that you were running the place. I thought, how typically Angelus.”

 

“Lawyers, what can I say?” Angel cradled the glass on his lap, his sword still clasped within his fingers. “How long?” he asked, finally.

 

“Three months ago. Vienna. It is a maddening gift she has. I nearly didn’t come but she insisted.”

 

“You’ve made yourself at home.”

 

“I come and go every decade or so. Carlisle is a bit of a backwater. Stefan looks after things for me.”

 

“Stefan?” Angel waggled his fingers. “Green shirt, black jeans? He fell apart the last time I saw.”

 

The other vampire’s lips pressed into a thin line. Angel could feel the hatred stab at him. He stood abruptly, making the bowmen twitch. The sneer that crawled across Angel’s lips was worthy of Angelus. He turned his back and paced to the chest of drawers against the wall. Curls, lace, porcelain and glassy eyes peered up at him from a corner of the chest. His heart squeezed tight and he turned, without reaching out to touch, to face his enemy.

 

Angel said, “He named you well.”

 

“We’re all fickle, even you. You spat in His face, walked away. I did too.”

 

“I never went back.”

 

Angel moved sideways as if to examine the painting on the wall, and he ended up doing just that. It was a landscape by a long dead local artist, William James Blacklock. Once upon a time a painting of the countryside was the only way a vampire like Angel could see the colours of the day. That was before the advent of movie theatres, television, and necro-tempered glass. Angel sighed. He missed necro-tempered glass.

 

“I don’t feel her near,” he said when he turned back. He wasn’t dust, and he was surprised. Never hesitate; never give your enemy an edge.

 

“She got bored, she left, and she isn’t happy with her Daddy.” Varian leaned back in his seat. He added, “You with a soul and all. She says that you’ve changed.”

 

Angel shrugged. His body was bruised, his wounds smarting; he moved a step closer to his chair and the low table. Sword and crystal dangled from each hand, his arms relaxed, and his stance easy.

 

“It must be abhorrent, a soul.” Varian tilted his head to look up at Angel. “It hasn’t affected you as I was led to believe. You’re still the same bastard I knew back in the day.”

 

Angelus’ smile formed on Angel’s lips. “It took a while to come to grips…Darla…”

 

“Sire. You killed her.”

 

“Long story - she came back.”

 

A calculating gleam came into those pale eyes. “A soul isn’t all it’s made out to be. The man in my cellar has a soul. He wants to become one of us. It is tempting...I haven’t made up my mind.”

 

Angel’s foot struck out hitting the table. It spun into the air towards the two armed men. He threw himself sideways as he launched his crystal missile at Varian. The twang of the bows and the thud of bolts hitting wood sounded. Angel sidestepped back and removed the head of one of the bowmen. Varian launched himself from his chair, tackled him as Angel’s fist smashed into the other bowman’s temple. The guard toppled as Angel and his attacker flew backwards, both landing on the floor. Varian was enraged, his forehead connected with Angel’s in a vicious blow and his hands circled Angel’s throat.

 

“Is this the way you repay my hospitality?” he snarled, his eyes narrowed with pure venom.

 

“Well, you did say I haven’t changed,” Angel bit back between gritted teeth. His ears were ringing and there were holes in his vision but it didn’t deter him.

 

Angel brought his knee up and hit the vampire in the gut. Varian did not let go, instead his grip tightened. Angel knew that the demon was going to rip his head off. A movement over the other’s shoulder warned him that someone, the waiter or the other guard, was waiting. Angel manoeuvred one of his hands until he gripped the other’s hands. His other hand, sword still wrapped in his grip, came up and he thumped the hilt against the blonde head. Varian grunted, Angel used his leg and brought his knee up again, this time he hit a sensitive spot, and the other vampire howled in agony. Once again Angel banged the hilt against a temple, hard, the body collapsed boneless on to him. Angel brought a leg up beneath the inert vampire and kicked out. The body sailed in the air towards any wood that was aimed his way. Rolling quickly, Angel jumped up and found the bowman fumbling to hold his master. The vampire who had served the drinks never stood a chance when he lunged towards the former Scourge of Europe. The minion’s stake tumbled to the carpet as his head left his shoulders. Angel rescued the wood, sank the stake through Varian’s heart and on into his minion as the vampire dusted.

 

The room was silent and the vampire with a soul resisted the urge to pant with the exertion. He did not need the breath; it was habit only, one that he used when he was exhausted beyond vampire endurance. He wasn’t done yet, and truth be told, the fight had been exhilarating, the light of battle still bright behind his eyes.

 

**

 

Much later.

 

Buffy was getting nowhere. She looked about at the stark and yet beautiful countryside, and sighed. The house, when she turned her head, was still visible. Giles was approaching in his quest for clues and she knew that he had come empty handed. It was time to call it quits. Buffy sighed again and focused her gaze ahead once more.  The field before her was overgrown, unused by animal or man, and all of a sudden, it was…inundated with sheep. Where had they come from? The flock had appeared at a run, frightened lambs were calling for their mothers and the ewes were not stopping. The poor things were desperately trying to keep up.

 

“What is it?” Giles asked her as he finished his arc.

 

“The sheep. Something has them spooked.”

 

“A dog perhaps?” Giles gazed at the frantic sheep as they ran by. “It is lambing season. The county warns visitors to keep their dogs under control, but some never do and there are always incidents.”

 

Buffy had that slayer tingle that informed her that that wasn’t the case. Damn it! She didn’t have a weapon other than the stake she carried in her pocket. Her sword and weapons were with Angel, wherever he was, in the back of the Discovery. Mind you, she thought as she ran to the drystone wall that was prevalent in the English countryside, she wouldn’t have been carrying a sword about the village in the middle of the afternoon.

 

“Buffy?” Giles called after her.

 

“It’s not a dog, Giles. Try and find something to defend yourself with.” Buffy scrambled up and stood perfectly balanced on the wall.

 

“Try and find…?”Giles looked about at the nearly barren field. “Not a lot of that going round,” he muttered as he followed Buffy’s orders. He looked about for something long and sharp, a branch or two would be nice. Not finding anything suitable, Giles stood and watched Buffy balancing on the wall.

 

Of course! The wall! Giles wondered for a moment if he had acquired brain damage along with the food poisoning. He searched the disturbed grass and found a rock embedded in the earth. He pulled it free and felt the weight. It would do. Another caught his eye and he plucked that up as well.

 

“Can you see where the sheep got in, Buffy?” he asked as he placed the rocks on the wall beside her.

 

Buffy glanced down and nodded her approval of his choice of weapon. She picked one, hefted it, threw it in the air and caught it one handed. It was a start.

 

“It looks like a breach in the wall down the hill a bit. I’m not sure, but the trampled earth leads up from there.” Buffy stood on her toes and still couldn’t see any further. Why did she have to be so short?

 

“Can you see the demon?” Giles was back with three more rocks.

 

“No, but it’s there.” When her friend turned to go, she said, “Stay here. Use the rocks if you have to.” With that she was gone - slayer speed - off the wall and heading towards the break in the wall.

 

A flash of dark fur hurtling from shrubbery alerted her to impending attack. She spun as she kicked out letting her movement add force to her blow. A growl, and the solid smack on flesh, told her she had hit her target as she planted her feet and straightened. Buffy’s eyebrows rose in recognition. The thing before her appeared awfully familiar. Its jaws opened wide – my, what big teeth you have – and it sprang for her throat. The slayer threw her stone missile with supernatural strength at the airborne demon. The rock hit the demon in its hindquarters and it glanced away. The Hellhound, she was confident it was related to that species, yelped, turned from its attack, and ran past her to pursue its previous prey.

 

“Oh no, you don’t!” she shouted as she chased after it up the hill. Buffy could run fast, she was the slayer, but the demon was faster. It was heading towards the sheep and it had to run past Giles.

 

“Giles!” she yelled, concerned for him, her fright spurring her on, her arms pumping as she tried to outrun the demon.

 

She saw the demon flinch and duck and weave. Giles was throwing his rocks at the creature, slowing it down. It danced around the human as it dodged the next few missiles. That gave Buffy enough time to catch up. Without breaking her stride, she tackled the hound to the ground, punching the monster in the ribs, chest, head, wherever she could land a blow. It tried to turn its head to bite, but the slayer hung on, riding its back as she delivered blow after blow. Finally, sensing it weakening, Buffy grabbed its head and yanked hard. She heard and felt the bones snap as the spine gave. The demon shuddered and lay still in a tangled mass of fur, teeth and claws.

 

“What were you saying about dogs, Giles?” she puffed as her friend helped her to her feet.

 

“Well done, Buffy!” Giles said, his heart still racing from the excitement. He peered down at the dead demon and frowned. “Doesn’t that look like…?”

 

“The Hellhounds that tried to ruin the high school prom? Yeah, I think so.”

 

“Not quite.” Giles stooped for a closer look. “The snout I think is longer and the legs too. The fur is thicker, maybe for the cooler climes, and its colour is a muddy brown, not at all the grey-black of the Sunnydale demon.”

 

The slayer brushed at her jeans. They were filthy. She pulled at her jumper and grimaced at the stains marring the blue.

 

“Mud…all over my clothes. Maybe I should wear brown now and be done with it,” she muttered.

 

Standing close, Giles barely heard her complaints above the sheep that were huddled in a circle and trembling with fright. Little black faces bleated loudly for mothers’ milk as ovine hooves trampled the pasture leaving a mess of dirt and grass. Any clues were sure to be obliterated underfoot.

 

“Nonsense. It’ll wash.” Giles cleared his throat. “I think we should hide the body under the brush. The foxes will do the rest.” He pointed to a line of trees at the bottom of the gully.

 

Buffy’s shoulders slumped. “Great. More dirt.” She toed the dead carcass and voiced the question bouncing around in her head. “Do you think Angel ran into one of these?”

 

“He may well have done, although it doesn’t explain why he disappeared in the Discovery.

 

“Oh, he’ll be explaining alright, when he gets back.”

 

Giles ignored the vague threat in his slayer’s voice; he knew that she was only worried. He hoped that the vampire showed up in one piece and with his car intact.

 

 “Let’s get this done shall we?”

 

Giles crouched and grabbed the back legs of the demon. Buffy lifted the body by holding onto the shoulders. The head lolled grotesquely back towards her knees. She eyed the tongue that threatened to lap at her legs with every step she took.

 

“That is so gross. I hate my life!”

 

**

 

Earlier.

 

“I hate my life,” Angel muttered as he surveyed the ruin before him.

 

Angel stood inside a room that harboured terrible secrets. The cellar was beneath the city, underground where evil lurked and evil did. Blood lust, strong and unyielding, reached out and filled him with unrelenting need. The life force, spattered on every surface, begged to be sipped, lapped and tasted. The blood was congealing, cold, and yet he still wanted to partake. He forced the primal urge down, buried it as deep as he could, knowing that his cravings still simmered, refusing to be denied.

 

Overhead, there was a distant pounding. The sun was rising.

 

A man stood backed up against the farthest wall. His hands and arms dripped viscous red. Angel couldn’t help but track the drops as they fell towards the putrid floor. The dismembered person was beyond recognition. The face had been peeled away, eye sockets empty and staring wetly. Instruments of torture lay haphazard, used. He recognised the similarity to the wounds he had examined on the body in Scotland. He brought his gaze up to the thing standing before him. Human, maybe. A monster, no question. Beyond redemption? He would find out.

 

The man moved and Angel could see he wore protective clothing. A long leather apron, butcher-like soaked red, squelched a little as he pulled away from the wall.

 

“One shouldn’t hate such a gift. Come, taste. Why do you hesitate?”

 

Okay, the man guessed he was a vampire. Considering where he stood, it was a logical deduction. Angel studied the open face, it was fair, hardly the face of a killer. The brow hugged a fringe of light brown hair, longer than fashionable, but then what was in fashion these days? Large hazel eyes looked back at him in all openness as if the question was ordinary. Angel could see freckles dusting cheeks where blood spatter had not flown.

 

Angel waved his hand to encompass the room. “Why?”

 

“Why not?” The man glanced down at the carnage at his feet. He looked up again, his face calm. “Do you think I’m mad, a raving maniac? Do you think I know not what I do?”

 

“Do you?”

 

The killer dared to step towards him. The vampire eyed the saw that dangled from one bloodied hand.

 

 “Being what you are, you must understand what it is to maim, to kill. I bet you consider torture an art form.”

 

Angel’s voice was flat, emotionless, as he said, “You consider this, art.”

 

“It’s a beginning. Practice, if you will.”

 

Angelus would have called it butchery. It lacked finesse, and he should know. He had practised the art and had allowed himself to be carried away on occasion. Many occasions.

 

“The claw marks?” The vampire raised a brow.

 

“I wanted to see the difference between an animal attack and a demon’s. I have learned that it depends on the demon.” The man chuckled and it would have raised the hairs on the back of Angel’s neck if he had been human.

 

“Clever use of the ritual,” Angel admitted.

 

The man smiled. “It was, wasn’t it?” He pointed one bloody finger. “You got that, clever you.”

 

“Who was it?”

 

“Nobody, a backpacker. No one will miss him.”

 

Angel did not like the way the victim was dismissed so callously. “You will not become one of us. You get to go to prison,” he promised.

 

“Why do you care?” the killer cried with disbelief, and as Angel watched, the man’s face crumbled. The eyes filled with tears, the gaze grew distracted. It was not the same man standing there.

 

Voice manic, the killer babbled, “I was following the Word of God. He told me to cleanse the world of unbelievers. I will join him in Heaven because I am His disciple.” The face straightened, the eyes cleared and the gaze chilled. “Do you think an asylum for the criminally insane will stop me?”

 

Angel’s voice was a whisper that only a dead man heard. “No.”

 

He brought up the sword that he held against his leg. The human killer tried to ward off the strike but Angel was preternaturally quick. The hand flew away and fell with a clang, the saw still held in death’s grip. The sword of Angel pierced the man’s gut. It was a mortal blow.

 

“Why?” The butcher stared at his killer as he sank to the floor.

 

The vampire stared back at the man who believed in evil and wanted to embrace it, had in fact become evil. There was no saving this one, but by killing him, Angel would save the others this one would prey on.

 

 “It’s what I do,” he whispered to the dying man on the floor.

 

Angel killed the two sentries guarding the sewer exit beneath the cellar. Day had dawned, the pounding on the door had desisted, and cover had been found for those creatures of the night outside. He supposed the demons with them had gone to ground as well. He hoped, as he left behind a blaze burning inside the vampire nest - an old landscape rolled up inside his coat - that the cellar and its stone walls would survive the inferno and leave evidence of its gruesome guests to the authorities.

 

As he ran through the rat-infested tunnels, looking for a place that he could rest and hide for the day, he thought of the girl in the alley and the two young men. All three had fallen prey to two different kinds of monsters. They would not be forgotten. He would leave a note and the painting outside a Police station when night fell. Angel found a nook that led to nowhere. It smelled of human effluent and rat, as did everything, but the surface was dry and dusty. The vampire settled down to sleep, not minding the dirt for once, his clothes were ruined anyway. He chuckled wryly at his fate. Here he was, in a confined space and having to endure the smell of the sewers. As he drifted off, he thought of Buffy. Heaven knew what reception he would get when he returned to Croglin village. He sighed. He had a fair idea Buffy would not be happy.

 

**

 

Now.

 

Buffy wasn’t happy. She had been watching the road from her vantage point at the small window in the pub. Giles had left her to her gloomy thoughts and sat chatting with Alan the owner. There hadn’t been that many cars, but still, there had been one or two. They were both feeling a lot better, their stomachs had demanded food, and she had eaten a light meal with Giles just before sunset. Now she sat and waited. There wasn’t a lot that they could do other than wait for her vampire’s return. If he did not show up soon, he was a dead man! Or deader than he already was.

 

Buffy sighed, her chin rested on her hand as she looked out at the area reserved for cars. The slayer prayed to whoever was listening, that her love was, any minute now, about to arrive in Giles’ vehicle. If not, then they were in trouble. They had no car and no idea in which direction Angel had gone. There was Penrith in the south, Brampton to the north of them and Carlisle to the North West, let alone all the many small villages in between. Damn him and damn his not taking the phone!

 

The slayer sighed again and moped. An engine growled as a car drove up the road. She straightened and started to rise in anticipation. It passed by. Her shoulders slumped and her chin hit her hand once again. They had given up the search for Angel after she had killed the beastie in the paddock. A shower and change of clothes had led to a quiet snooze and here they were, fed, with nowhere to go.

 

She heard Giles’ voice and she turned to see him looking at her, a patient smile in place. Why wasn’t Giles worrying about his precious car? Angel was sooo dead!

 

She almost missed the familiar purr of the familiar vehicle in her funk. She looked up and saw the lights swing into the parking area. Buffy flew from her seat and raced out the door. She pulled up short just outside and waited. He had better have a good explanation. She wasn’t worried, no. She was mad.

 

 

The car’s lights swung across the doorway of the inn catching the slim figure of a woman standing there. The woman had her arms crossed. It was Buffy. He swallowed. She was mad at him and had full reason to be so. He would have been frantic if she had disappeared like he had. He was sorry but he had good reason. She would understand. He hoped.

 

Buffy watched as Angel parked the car. She felt Giles’ presence behind her and shooed him back. He fled, wise man. Buffy tapped her foot and stared at her boyfriend as he walked towards her.

 

Where have you been? Giles has been worried.”

 

Angel knew she meant she had been worried. He opened his mouth…and shut it again.

 

“Would it kill you to take your phone and carry some money? What were you thinking?”

 

Buffy bit off her tirade when Angel stopped in front of her. Now that he stood near the light of the open door, she could see his dishevelled state, not to mention, he smelled. Angel never smelled.

 

“Are you alright?” She reached out and fingered his shirt. It was torn and sticky. “You’re hurt. What happened to you?” She looked up at him, sorry she had snapped. She had been worried.

 

“I’m sorry. I had money but I didn’t have a phone,” he shrugged sheepishly, “…thing. Are you okay? Are you well?”

 

“Angel!” She nearly stamped her foot. He was the most exasperating individual.

 

“A shower first, Buffy? I promise to tell you everything once we’re on the road. We are on the road, right?”

 

Buffy wrinkled her nose. “A shower is a must, I agree, but enough of the cryptic crap. What had you stealing Giles’ car to go haring God knows where?”

 

He hedged, delaying the inevitable. “It’s taken care of.”

 

Her foot tapped once more and her frown deepened.

 

“It’s a long story.”

 

“Shorten it!” she demanded.

 

Angel stared down at his love, knowing that his next few words would bring back painful memories. It had been a difficult time for Buffy, she had suffered nightmares and had had trouble coping. He and her friends bore the brunt of her pain all those years ago, not realising the source and how deep her anguish ran. Angel had gone to deal with the problem hoping to spare his girl, hoping he would be able to tell her knowing that she could finally put it behind her. The past never rested, it always came back to bite you in the ass. His past was extraordinarily long and his family had a long reach. His family had been the cause of so much destruction, he had been, and the consequences ranged far and wide. Family was too strong a word. That implied love, care and sacrifice whereas his previous family had not. Buffy was his family now, Giles too.  No, his other family had been all about blood, violence, the thrill of the kill, and pain, so much pain. He was about to inflict more on the woman he loved.

 

He let two words slip from his tongue and watched her carefully. “The Master.”

 

The End.

 

 

A.Ns.

 

I apologise for any inaccuracy in my descriptions of Croglin Village or Carlisle.

I have gleaned what little information I have from the net and have included below a couple of the sites I found useful.

 

The Robin Hood Inn is real and can be found in Croglin Village. The name of the owner has been changed.

 

The very brief reference to Human Sacrifices located on the River Tweed can be found here.

http://www.paranormaldatabase.com/lowlands/borddata.php?pageNum_paradata=1&totalRows_paradata=39

 

Croglin Village

http://www.thecumbriadirectory.com/Town_or_Village/Croglin/Croglin.php

 

The Pennine Villages including Croglin.

http://www.visitcumbria.com/pen/penninevillages.htm

 

The Legend of the Vampire of Croglin Grange.

http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/legends/croglin.html

 

Research into the Croglin Grange Vampyre.

Contemporary view.

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2242/is_1673_286/ai_n14817147/pg_6

 

Pele Tower

http://www.visitcumbria.com/pele.htm

 

St John the Baptist’s Church, Croglin.

http://www.visitcumbria.com/churches/croglin.htm

 

Carlisle

 http://www.visitcumbria.com/car/carlisle.htm

 

William James Blacklock 1816 – 1858. Blacklock is one of Cumbria’s most important landscape artists. He painted the scenery of Cumbria, the Lake District and The Borders and favoured remote areas. His painting, Catbells and Causeypike; The Rookery, can be seen at the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle.

 



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