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Sacred Ground

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Garnigal

Season 3

Part 6

 

**

 Summary: Something strange is going on at an ancient Roman ruin in London and only Giles can make it stop.

 

**

 

Sacred Ground

 

 

The book fell to the carpet and the light shone on the slumped figure on the bed. His brow was furrowed, and his restless body shuddered without reason. Trapped in a dream, hovering between waking and sleeping, the figure remained silent, though the release of a scream might have been a comfort.

 

Hours passed and the figure continued to struggle with his dreams. Just before dawn, twin beams crossed the walls as a car pulled in the drive. The figure stilled, waiting. Voices, too quiet to be understood, crossed the courtyard. A light girlish laugh, followed by a deeper chuckle drifted to sleeping but attentive ears. A door closed, nearly too silent to be heard. Giles finally fell into a deep dreamless sleep, assured that his friends were home and safe.

 

+++

 

Late morning found Buffy and Giles discussing the previous night’s battle over tea.

 

“You should have seen this thing, Giles! It was huge and all brownish grey. It was easily ten feet tall but it blended perfectly with the rocks up there. It’s a good thing all that bulk slowed it down; if it was fast as well as strong and big, we’d never have slayed it.”

 

“So it was exactly as I warned you it would be?” Giles asked ironically.

 

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Yes, your research was very helpful, thank you. But until I actually laid eyes on that thing… it’s hard to imagine from the book, you know.”

 

“The book had pictures.”

 

“Little ones! And no colour – just a drawing.”

 

“A woodcut.”

 

“Either way, it didn’t exactly convey ‘ten feet tall, six tons and made of stone’.”

 

“That is a direct quote from the book.”

 

“Aren’t you pleased I was paying attention?”

 

“Ecstatic.”

 

Buffy suddenly laughed. “I feel as if I went back in time. You being all condescending, me being all…”

 

“Impertinent? Disrespectful? Over-confident?” Giles suggested.

 

“I was going to say witty.”

 

Angel’s entrance derailed the good-natured bickering before it got too heated. “Did you tell him how huge that thing was, Buffy? And you left the axe in the car.”

 

Angel set a large steel double-bladed axe on the table, or rather, what was left of a large steel axe. The blades were both chipped and dulled beyond re-sharpening, and the head dangled off the splintered wooden handle.

 

“I was kind of working up to the axe, Angel.”

 

Giles groaned as he looked at it. It was obviously destroyed beyond repair, which was unfortunate, given its rarity and cost. A weapons quality medieval axe wasn’t exactly something he could pick up in the village.

 

“You paid enough attention to be able to quote sections of the book back to me, but you forgot that the stone demon couldn’t be damaged with conventional weapons?”

 

“I really didn’t like the idea of Angel going in without a weapon. I had that troll hammer you sent us after, which worked like a charm, you’ll be happy to know.”

 

“And once you realized that conventional weapons wouldn’t work, just like I told you before you left, what did Angel do?”

 

Buffy looked down at her teacup to hide a smile. It was up to Angel to recount this aspect of the battle.

 

“Well, need is the mother of invention as you well know, so I… threw rocks at it.”

 

Buffy couldn’t stop her snicker this time. “They were really big rocks, honey. More like boulders, in fact.”

 

“It was a very clever idea, Angel. Rather like cutting diamond with diamond – it would be damaged by being struck with the same substance it was made of.”

 

“Thank you, Giles. I was impressed with how well it worked. I wasn’t so impressed with Buffy describing the image I made, heaving rocks at an enormous demon.”

 

Buffy was laughing outright now. “Like a little David and Goliath, right in the middle of Wales, Giles. You should have been there.”

 

Giles tried to keep a straight face as a mental picture formed, but Angel’s sharp eyes caught every twitch.

 

“Tell me Buffy – did he throw them overhand or underhand?”

 

Giles’ and Buffy’s laughter followed Angel out the door as he headed back to the apartment to read in peace.

 

+++

 

Later that day, Giles was busy in the study, finding homes for all the books and supplies from the Marchman’s attic. Too many of these arcane objects required special storage; soon he himself could end up with an eerie attic filled with ominous glass jars and dark wooden boxes. He shuddered at the thought.

 

The cheerful ringing of the telephone pulled Giles from his dismal contemplations. He briskly greeted the caller, hoping it was something simple that would let him get back to his project. Soon, however, he was taking notes and asking probing questions, all thoughts of shelving books banished by the intriguing situation he was learning about.

 

The grey sky faded to black as he pulled websites up on his laptop and books from his shelves. By the time Buffy came looking for him at tea-time, he’d covered five pages with his meticulous notes.

 

Over Martha’s delicious chops, Giles told Buffy and Angel about their newest client.

 

“How do you two feel about a trip to London?” Giles asked between bites.

 

“Considering the last time I went to London we all got kidnapped, not so good,” Buffy answered.

 

“But this time I’ll be there to watch your back,” Angel murmured.

 

Buffy smiled gently at him, but it was Giles who convinced her.

 

“Besides which, Harrods,” Giles said. “Sorry Angel, even you can’t compete with shopping.”

 

Giles and Angel both laughed at Buffy’s delighted, and somewhat mercenary, grin.

 

“So is it all just shopping, or is there something to look into as well?” Buffy asked.

 

“Since you asked, there is something. I got a call today from the Museum of London which manages the Temple of Mithras historic site in Temple Court (link). They’ve been having some issues with property damage. At first, they assumed it was teenage vandals, though they couldn’t work out how it was done. They hoped to catch the perpetrators in the act and hired a security company to patrol the area. Despite the ever-increasing number of guards, the damage continued. They were considering closing the site entirely when the young man who called us, a Mr. Fellows, had a flash of inspiration. He’s obviously got quite the imagination, since his idea was to investigate the original site of the Temple.”

 

“What did he find, Giles?” Buffy asked.

 

“The property damage involves missing stones. The Temple is merely a ruin,” Giles lectured, “a ruin made of stones mortared together to form the surviving foundation. The stones have been disappearing from the site in Temple Court. Fellows found the missing stones, carefully set up as they were in the Temple Court. He tells me that it appears as though someone is trying to rebuild the Temple of Mithras in its original location.”

 

“It’s never a good idea to go messing with historic sites. Especially sacred historic sites,” Angel said seriously.

 

“You think it might be Mithras himself?” Buffy asked worriedly. “I’m not a fan of godly enemies.”

 

Giles shuddered at the thought. As interesting as the case was, he suddenly wanted to let Fellows sort it out on his own. Despite his emotional reaction, logic won out. “I doubt it’s the God himself, Buffy. It would be out of character for a God to resort to such pathetic tactics. Currently, Fellows is going to the old site every morning and returning the stones to their proper place. Surely a God would do something that can’t be undone so easily.”

 

“Do you have any ideas what else might be causing this, Giles?” Angel asked.

 

“Ideas aplenty, Angel. But until we actually investigate the phenomenon for ourselves, I think I’ll keep my hypothesis to myself.”

 

“You just don’t want to admit that you haven’t got a clue, Giles,” Buffy teased. “Should we head up to the city tonight, or is there more research to do?”

 

“I think I can be prepared for the journey by this evening. Hopefully we’ll get this sorted out early enough to be home in time for Bonfire Night.”

 

“You’re just excited about this year’s batch of cider.”

 

“I’d hate to miss the local cider,” Angel put in.

 

“You two reminisce about the alcohol; I’m going to pack.” This time, it was Buffy who left the room muttering.

 

+++

 

It was almost 7:30, and well after sunset when they set off. Martha and John had already gone home, so Giles locked the big front door while Angel locked the kitchen door. Buffy was still bringing the last of her baggage down the stairs from the flat, so she locked up the garage as she came down.

 

Eying her luggage, Angel commented “I hope we are coming home after sunset. I’d hate to have to avoid the sun with all your bags taking up the space.”

 

“Think of it as extra cover, honey,” Buffy said sweetly. “We’ll just pile them on top of you.”

 

The routine was well established by now. As long as they traveled by night, Angel drove. Buffy took the back seat since she usually fell asleep, and Giles sat up front, ostensibly to navigate, though Angel generally didn’t need a navigator. Eventually the older man would slump into sleep himself, and Angel would drive silently through the darkness.

 

It only took a couple of hours to get to London and it was still early, so tonight was atypical. The drive was spent in discussion, Giles telling Buffy and Angel what he’d read about Mithras.

 

“The cult of Mithras is what is know as a ‘mystery religion’. Only initiates to the religion knew the methods of worship. In fact, all that is known of the religion today has been extrapolated from archeological knowledge and examination of the remaining artifacts; the temple art and the temples themselves.”

 

“Wait, cult?” Buffy asked. “Like ‘drink the purple Kool-Aid and the spaceship will come take you to heaven’ kind of cult?”

 

“Actually I was using it more in the general sense of religion. However, the use of the term ‘cult’ in reference to Mithras worship probably has something to do with the competition between Mithraic worship and Christianity. As Christianity drew more and more adherents, other religions, pagan religions, were weakened, attacked and finally driven into extinction. Mithraism in particular was assailed as it was incredibly popular in the Roman Empire in the first to third centuries.”

 

“Attacked in what way, Giles?” Angel asked, glancing away from the road. “Are we dealing with a history of bloodshed?”

 

“It wasn’t a true religious war, not like the Crusades. I’m sure there was some violence involved, though that didn’t figure into my reading. Mostly the books discuss ways Christianity absconded with Mithraic tradition. For example, the most important day for Mithras worship was December 25th. Obviously Christians also used that date as a holy festival.”

 

“And the religion eventually disappeared,” Angel said.

 

“Leaving only a few ruins and objets d’art to tantalize future generations,” Giles agreed. “Hopefully Mr. Fellows can tell us more about the actual Temple in London and its archeological value.”

 

With nothing case-related left to talk about, the group discussed local village gossip until the lights of London brightened the horizon.

 

+++

 

The next morning Giles and Buffy took the tube to Bank station and followed Mr. Fellows’s direction to Queen Victoria Street and the current location of the Temple of Mithras. They were supposed to meet him at the ruins, a potentially daunting prospect in the middle of London. However, the streets were nearly deserted in the dismal dampness of early November, so Mr. Fellows was easy to spot. As they got closer, it became apparent that Mr. Fellows would have been obvious anyway. Despite his youth, he wore an ill-fitted brown suit with ink stains and dust on the sleeves.

 

“He looks like he could be in a movie – the eccentric but brilliant young archeologist who cares for nothing but his work. He’d be taken advantage of by his older, less accomplished colleagues, but at the end he’d get the girl and the recognition from the academic community,” Buffy muttered.

 

As Mr. Fellows approached, Giles shushed her, even though he couldn’t help but agree.

 

“Mr. Fellows, I’m Rupert Giles and this is my colleague Buffy Summers. Thank you for meeting us so early and on such a miserable day.”

 

“It’s quite all right, Mr. Giles. I’d have to come down here anyway to return the usual mislaid stones,” Mr. Fellows said, indicating the duffle bag at his feet. “Besides, I have great hopes that you can solve this problem. The early morning trek while carrying a stone of stones,” Mr. Fellows grinned at his own witticism, “is getting more than wearing.”

 

Giles grinned politely at the weak pun, and then asked Mr. Fellows to retell the story of the paranormal happenings, a request Mr. Fellows was only too happy to fulfill. His version of the events was so filled with drama and excitement, mystery and brilliance that it reminded Buffy and Giles of the weak movie plot Buffy had cast the poor archeologist in. However, they both managed to remain professional and keep their eyes from rolling and revealing their boredom in what was run-of-the-mill for them, but Remarkable Events for Mr. Fellows.

 

Eventually, Mr. Fellows story wound down, and Giles was able to question him about the specifics of the events as they followed the archeologist beyond the fence and into the ruins of the Temple to return the stones to their appropriate places.

 

“Tell me, Mr. Fellows, did the night guards mention paranormal phenomenon while they were guarding the site? Any cold spots, moving lights, odd shadows or sounds?” Buffy asked.

 

“I never heard of them seeing or noticing anything. But they didn’t strike me as a very sensitive lot, you know. They were rather stolid and single-minded. Not the sorts of types to be receptive to supernatural events. And please, Miss Summers, call me Robert.”

 

As distasteful as the man’s odd combination of flirting and arrogance was, they still needed his information and his access to the sites. As Robert led them on foot to the original location of the Temple of Mithras, he fortunately changed his topic from the psychic deadness of security guards and told them about the discovery of the Temple.

 

“The Blitz did a real number on London. As much physical damage as there was, it seems like the emotional impact on the populace was even worse. People left town themselves, or if they couldn’t leave, they sent their children out of town. However, as a Mithraic scholar, I can’t help but have some fondness for the Blitz. The Temple was discovered during reconstruction of a building damaged by German bombs. The new building was a high rise and required a much deeper foundation, which uncovered the Temple and the Tauroctony along with some other figures.”

 

“Tauroctony?” Buffy questioned.

 

“It’s a relief carving that is central to Mithraic worship. It shows the God slaying a bull, along with some other astrological details. It is on display at the Museum of London, if you are interested, Miss Summers. Or may I call you Buffy?” Fortunately, before Buffy had to respond to that question, they arrived at their destination.

 

It was a tall grey building with an imposing front entrance that Robert walked right past. He led them down an alley to a small grey door, nearly invisible against the concrete walls. He pulled out a key card and swiped it over an electronic pad. Pulling the door open, he ushered them down a dingy, dimly lit stairwell. Three floors down, he pulled open another door and revealed… a parking garage.

 

“We find the stones lined up over there,” Robert said, pointing to an area in the corner of the garage. “When we first investigated the site, stones had been disappearing for a few weeks, so there were enough stones to make an obvious pattern and enough to have a few stacked on top of each other. Now that I’m checking here every morning, I usually find only five or six stones.”

 

Buffy walked over to the area of the garage that was indicated while Giles finished talking to Robert. With the archeologist sent on his way, Giles watched Buffy pace out an area similar in size to the ruins in Temple Court.

 

“Sorry, Giles, I’m not seeing anything here. I think we’ll have to come back tonight with Angel and see if he senses anything. He’s far more attuned to ‘psychic vibrations’.”

 

“Thank you for trying, Buffy. And you sound like Sylvia Browne – please stop.”

 

“At least we learned more about Mithras and this site in particular. It still all seems rather vague, though.”

 

“The joys of mystery religions. And meeting Mr. Fellows was helpful for more than his ‘expertise’ in Mithras and the Temple of London – I have his keys and access card to both these sites. We’ll be able to come back here this evening without our eccentric little guide.”

 

“Darn. I was looking forward to his attempts to flirt with me while Angel glowered at him.”

 

+++

 

Angel sat patiently reading in their hotel room. The sun was just setting and Buffy was due back any moment. Buffy and Giles had returned from their daylight visit to the original and current sites of the Temple of Mithras to tell Angel everything they’d learned from Mr. Fellows and their plan to revisit the locations by night. Then they’d both gone out to enjoy the city, leaving Angel to sleep through the day alone in the hotel. Just as he finished another chapter, Angel heard the sound of Buffy’s key in the door.

 

She tossed her shopping bags on the bed and collapsed beside them.

 

“Good day?” Angel asked with a smile.

 

“Exhausting day. I went shopping.”

 

“I could tell.”

 

“I took advantage of being alone in the city to do my Christmas shopping for you and Giles, so no peeking. Oh, and I saw Giles in the lobby as I was heading up here. He said we should relax for a while. He doesn’t want too many people on the streets when we head out so he suggested leaving around 10.”

 

“It’s London; there’s always people on the streets.”

 

“Do you really mind spending a few hours with me?” Buffy asked slyly.

 

At the look on Buffy’s face, a slow smile spread across Angel’s face. “I suppose it depends on how you want to pass the time.”

 

+++

 

It was nearly 11 by the time Angel, Buffy and Giles returned to the Temple of Mithras on Queen Victoria Street. Giles quickly and quietly unlocked the gate protecting the site with the key he’d borrowed from Robert Fellows and led the way down among the ruins. They stopped in the area Robert had pointed out as having stones disturbed most frequently. Giles and Buffy watched Angel anxiously; he was far more attuned to the paranormal energy of a place than either of them. His senses would tell them if they were in the right place.

 

With a sigh, Angel shook his head. “Sorry, folks. This isn’t the place.”

 

“Nothing?” Giles asked, disappointed.

 

“Oh, I can feel how old these stones are. I get a sense of weight, darkness and dampness, like they were originally underground. But that’s not something that can make changes to the existing environment. It’s too… inactive, inanimate.”

 

“Uh, are you sure?” Buffy asked. “Because I’d love to hear you explain that.” She pointed at the stones rolling past her feet.

 

“Fascinating,” Giles murmured. His eyes were trained on the stones, which continued to roll, even uphill, under the fence and out of the site. Buffy, Giles and Angel exchanged surprised looks, then began to follow the stones before they vanished into the night.

 

The stones traced the same route Robert had led Buffy and Giles on in the early morning. The grade of the road didn’t seem to impact their motion; nor did the closed and locked door of the building that was built over the original Temple location. Instead, the stones simply vanished when they reached the door.

 

Giles quickly pulled out the key card and opened the door. They knew where the stones were going to end up, but they wanted to keep the moving rocks in sight as much as possible. The trio hurried down the stairs and into the empty parking garage. The stones were already rolling into place in the far corner of the garage that Robert had pointed out to them.

 

Again, Buffy and Giles watched Angel. This time, they weren’t disappointed.

 

“The power is definitely coming from here. The power is in this place, in these stones, but it’s all channeled through a single spirit. I don’t get any real sense of evil, though. Whatever this ghost wants, he’s all about protection.” Angel swallowed hard as he remembered Lynnette Marchman’s plea to protect her son.

 

There was no time to say anything more. Giles watched in disbelief as Angel and Buffy were knocked to the ground, pushed away, driven out of the garage and the door slammed behind them.

 

Then a light flashed, briefly blinding him, and when Giles could see again, he wasn’t alone.

 

+++

 

The force that pushed them out was implacable. They both fought with all of their considerable strength, but despite their struggles, they weren’t released until they were standing in the alley with the door to the building closed and locked behind them.

 

Buffy was breathing hard as she stared at the door. “You okay?” she asked.

 

“Yeah. You?”

 

“Fine. Not a bruise, not a pulled muscle, not even a broken nail. Just… surprised.”

 

“So, how do we get back in? Giles has the key.”

 

“We have superpowers. We break it down.” She smiled grimly.

 

Fifteen minutes later, neither of them was smiling.

 

“This is crazy. This door isn’t that strong; we should have been able to get through easily.” Buffy’s worry for Giles was starting to show in her voice.

 

“Whoever kicked us out is serious about keeping us out,” Angel said.

 

Buffy just kept pulling at the door, trying to get back to Giles.

 

+++

 

Giles stared at the figure in front of him. It was male, dressed in robes of an ancient style and stereotypically ghostly - transparent and floating a few inches above the ground.

 

Giles felt slightly out of his depth. He was used to taking action – doing research, performing a spell of banishment or an exorcism to remove a restless spirit, or helping Buffy and Angel physically slay the corporeal demons they faced. This silent staring contest wasn’t teaching him anything and certainly wasn’t helping get rid of the rock-stealing phantom.

 

Feeling foolish, Giles cleared his throat and spoke to the apparition. “Uh, hello. I’m Rupert Giles and I’m here to help you.” Giles braced himself for another attack by the angry force that removed Buffy and Angel. Instead, he got a slow, see-through smile and a whispered “thank you.”

 

Giles blinked in surprise, but managed to question the spirit. Eventually, the story was revealed.

 

“I am Antonius, the last follower of Mithras. I was the priest of this church and pledged my life to the worship of the Bullslayer. The numbers in our Temple were small, though we were zealous. Only the most devoted worshippers came here. Sadly, despite our fidelity, our lives were limited and the God fell out of favour, obscured by worship of Christ.”

 

“Except you remained with your temple.” Giles said, fascinated by the story.

 

“I remained. Despite my death, I remained. My loyalty was rewarded – my God set me here to guard this holy place. Years I passed in darkness while the world moved on outside my precincts. Until one day…”

 

“Your temple was discovered.”

 

“Yes. Our revered art, our treasures were revealed to the sun. The sacred ground was trampled by non-initiates. But I still remained, silent and watchful. Mithras bid me guard, and I did as I was bid.”

 

“But the Temple was discovered in the 1950’s, several decades ago. You’ve been guarding this location for centuries; why did you suddenly start changing things?”

 

“As long as one single stone remained in place, the Temple of Mithras was intact. Despite the removal of our foundations, our God still remained in this place.”

 

“They missed something when they moved the foundations to Temple Court,” Giles said wonderingly.

 

“Yes. One stone remained, embedded in this new building which surrounds us. But then it was removed.” The priest pointed at a place in the wall that Giles hadn’t noticed. There was a deep gouge in the concrete. The tale was obvious – someone had crashed into the wall with their car and when the damage was cleaned up, the last stone, along with the broken pieces of concrete, was disposed of. “I feel torn in two! This ground is still sacred, still sanctified by Mithras. But the stones call out for the touch of the God, this land cries for return of the Temple.”

 

“And every night, you try to rebuild the Temple, stone by stone.” Giles was touched by Antonius’s story. The priest was patient and mild – until Angel revealed the presence of a spirit, the priest had avoided interaction with the people who constantly trampled through his Temple. His work was constantly undone, and still all he did was unwearyingly start over. Ideas of how to help flitted through Giles’s mind, but he discarded them all until he was left with only one suggestion.

 

“I could go and get one of the stones and try to hide it here so it wouldn’t be found. Would that let you return to your guardianship?”

 

“Please, Rupert Giles. I wish to be truly at peace. When you came, I knew I had found a way.”

 

Giles eyed the suddenly anxious priest. He had a feeling Antonius’s plan would involve a lot more investment than hiding a stone, but he didn’t think the priest would hurt him. “Please, tell me how I can help.” Giles said, squaring his shoulders.

 

“This ground is sacred. The ground the Temple has been resurrected on is not. I cannot bless the Temple; I am tied to this location. However, if there were a living priest of Mithras, a priest who could rededicate the Temple, the God would permit me to rest.”

 

Giles stared. “And you want me to be this priest? But I’m not a worshipper of Mithras! Surely Mithras wants someone… dedicated to his cause. And shouldn’t I be a soldier? Wouldn’t Buffy or Angel be better?”

 

“Your friends are unacceptable. The female, while strong, is a woman. The male is a champion, but how could a being of darkness revere the Bullslayer, a being of light? They are anathema.”

 

“They weren’t hurt when you removed them?” Giles asked. Their safety was always on his mind, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask until now.

 

“The God removed them. And, no they weren’t hurt. They struggle to reach you, but Mithras will not let them pass.”

 

“Buffy won’t be happy about that,” Giles muttered, a slight smile on his lips. But the thought was fleeting, the idea of becoming a priest of Mithras overrode all other concerns. “If I agree to your plan, what does the God demand of me? I cannot dedicate myself to him as freely as you have done.”

 

“Mithras requests only the consecration of his temple, and your acknowledgement of his existence. Any other service you offer to him is of your own free choice.”

 

“And that will free you and stop the paranormal activities?” The priest inclined his head in a nod. There was no entrapping loophole that Giles could see. Slowly, he too nodded. “I accept.”

 

+++

 

Angel had gone on a frustrating prowl around the building. Besides this small door to the parking garage, there was the main entrance which was too well lit and public to use for break and entry, the delivery bays which were currently in use, and the car entrance to the garage itself, which was protected by the same entity which was keeping them out of the small doors. He returned to Buffy just in time to see her let out an ‘oof’ as the door she had been pulling on for the last thirty minutes finally opened.

 

“Giles!” Buffy and Angel exclaimed together. “Thank god you are okay! We’ve been trying to find a way in to rescue you.”

 

“I’m fine and I’m so glad to see you are too. Antonius told me you were okay, but I told him I needed to see you myself and explain the situation.”

 

“Who is Antonius?” Buffy asked.

 

“What situation?” was Angel’s question.

 

Quickly Giles explained everything Antonius had told him about the Temple and his own origins. Buffy and Angel were fascinated, but when Giles told them Antonius’s plan to initiate Giles as the next priest and keeper of the Temple, they both started trying to talk him out of this.

 

“At least let us come with you, Giles! You don’t know what this initiation is. You need someone down there looking out for your best interests,” Buffy urged.

 

“If you are determined to go through with this, at least let us come and protect you,” Angel added. “This type of power usage can attract some nasty characters.”

 

“I’m sorry, I can’t. Antonius was quite clear on this. The rites of Mithras are a secret and must remain that way. Imagine. I’ll be the only living person who knows the true secrets of Mithras,” Giles mused. Shaking off his contemplation, Giles continued his discussion with his unimpressed audience. “Besides, you are both anathema in the eyes of the God. Despite your martial experience, both women and creatures of the night are forbidden from the Temple, which is why Mithras removed you in the first place. I’ll be fine. I trust Antonius, and we’re protected from harm by a God that is capable of keeping you two out of a place you were really trying to get into.” Giles smiled. “Go back to the hotel. I’ll meet you there.”

 

Buffy scoffed at that suggestion. “Yeah right, Giles. I’ll just head back to the room and get a good night’s sleep.”

 

Angel leaned against the wall, making himself comfortable. “We may not be able to watch the initiation, but we’ll watch your back, even if we are further away than we’d like.”

 

Giles looked at them affectionately. He hugged Buffy and squeezed Angel’s shoulder before heading back down the dark stairs.

 

+++

 

The shadows seemed deeper this time as he descended the musty stairwell. The last flight of stairs even sounded different under his shoes – hollow, like the space had gotten larger. Giles tried to laugh off the idea as an overactive imagination, but the flicker of firelight from the bottom of the stairs wasn’t the effect of his fancies. Just before he entered the parking garage, a voice shouted.

 

“STOP! Who dares enter this sacred space?”

 

Somehow, Giles knew how to answer. “A supplicant, a disciple, a soldier.”

 

“What is your petition, who do you follow, is your sword bloodied?”

 

“I ask for access to this Temple, for I follow Mithras and have bloodied my sword in his name!”

 

“Bind your eyes. Only Mithras grants vision.” Obediently, Giles dug a handkerchief out of his pocket and blindfolded himself.

 

“Step forward to your fate. May Mithras grant you mercy.”

 

Giles breathed deeply and stepped forward, careful to show no hesitation or fear. After twelve steps, the voice again shouted.

 

“STOP! Who dares approach this sacred alter?”

 

“A supplicant, a disciple, a soldier,” Giles answered again.

 

“What is your petition, who do you follow, is your sword bloodied?”

 

“I ask to serve Mithras, for I am his subject and have slaughtered many to bring glory to him.”

 

“Bind his hands. Only Mithras grants strength.” Giles was confused who was tying him, but he felt cold, strange hands wind something thick and sticky around his wrists.

 

“Step forward to your fate. May Mithras grant you courage.”

 

Another deep breath and Giles confidently stepped forward. This time the voice stopped him after only two steps.

 

“STOP! Who dares approach Mithras?”

 

“A supplicant, a disciple, a soldier.”

 

“What is your petition, who do you follow, is your sword bloodied?”

 

“I ask to enter the priesthood, for I wish to lead others to Mithras and will gladly throw myself on my sword should the Bullslayer demand it of me.”

 

“Bind his feet. Only Mithras grants freedom.” Again, the cold hands tied his feet.

 

“Step forward to your fate. May Mithras grant you life.”

 

He tried to step forward. There was a little give in the bindings around his feet, and Giles thought he could manage a couple of tiny steps without falling. But the hands came again as soon as he tried to raise his foot. They shoved him down, giving him no time to get his trapped hands up to protect his face. Somehow the landing was gentle, even without catching himself. He found himself rolling over and over, as if he was being pushed. When it finally stopped, he was dazed. The bindings around his hands and feet were cut off and the blindfold whipped away. Blinking to adjust his eyes, Giles could see stone walls covered in carvings, statues set in niches, flickering torches, wide benches and a very solid and impressive looking Antonius standing in front of an altar.

 

“You’ve bloodied your sword in the name of Mithras, to bring glory to Mithras and offered your own life to Mithras. But Mithras is the God of Light. He demands only one thing – compassion for the dead.”

 

A rushing sound filled Giles’s ears and visions flashed before his eyes. He saw battles; he slayed demons and vampires and the one human he couldn’t regret. He saw deaths he hadn’t caused but hadn’t stopped: Jesse, Jenny, the Watchers, Anya, Ella, the Slayers, the entire Coven. He saw deaths that hadn’t happened; Xander and Willow turned by the Master, Cordelia brutalized by Hellhounds, Faith turned into another Adam. He saw murders he hadn’t committed; Dawn smothered in her sleep to keep Glory from ending the world, a family killed in a drunken car crash as he mourned Buffy. He saw his own deaths; turned into a vampire and staked by Buffy, tortured to death by Angelus, committing suicide out of grief and guilt.

 

Finally, the visions cleared and Giles stood, tears pouring down his face in front of Antonius.

 

The priest’s voice was soft as he spoke to Giles. “You are a soldier. Death surrounds you; death at your hand, your death at the hand of others. But Mithras is always with you. Death need not be a terror. Trust in the God to guide you and you shall be merciful, courageous and free.” Antonius laid his hands on Giles’s shoulders and looked deeply in the living man’s eyes. “Mithras accepts you as his priest. He demands that his Temple stand on sacred ground and thanks you for your service. Let your mind be at rest and your soul be at ease.”

 

Giles found himself comforted. He looked around the Temple – it was filled with spirits, those hands that had led him through the initiation ceremony. Together, the living and dead broke bread and drank in honour of their God. As the bread and wine disappeared, the ghost of the Temple faded around them, until Giles once again found himself in a parking garage with an incorporeal being.

 

+++

 

It started small. At first only Angel could sense it – it felt like a pressure in the ears, a developing sinus cold, not that he’d had one of those in a couple of hundred years. Eventually it built until Buffy could sense it as well. She drew closer to Angel who was scanning the alley carefully.

 

“What is that? It feels… heavy.”

 

“It’s the power, the magic being used downstairs.”

 

“Is this what the Hellmouth felt like to you?”

 

Angel stopped peering into the shadows to consider that question. “Not really. This is far more neutral; I could feel the evil in the Hellmouth. But like the Hellmouth, this is going to draw interest from some very unpleasant characters.”

 

“Like him?” Buffy pointed at the mouth of the alley where a large, furry creature was sniffing the air. “Glad I brought something shiny in addition to something pointy,” she quipped, pulling a long dagger from her boot. The creature lumbered towards them, moonlight glinting off a grinning mouth full of pointy teeth.

 

“Decapitation is our best bet with this guy, Buffy,” Angel said, pulling his own short sword from under his trenchcoat.

 

“Why is always decapitation with the ones with long teeth?”

 

She let the foul-breathed creature get within arms reach. As it swiped at her with claws extended, she launched herself in the air, snapping her foot out in a kick which connected with the thing’s jaw. Angel waited until she landed and danced back a few steps, then swung at its flailing hands with his sword. A gruesome scream split the air as a furry hand hit the pavement. Buffy watched from her position at Angel’s back as Angel kept the sword moving, separating the demon’s head from its shoulders, there being no neck to speak of, in one smooth motion.

 

“Beautifully done.” Buffy leaned in for a kiss. They didn’t have much time to enjoy their victory as another angry roar came from the mouth of the alley. “But I call this one.”

 

Smiling, Angel leaned against the wall and watched Buffy spin, punch and kick the vampire into submission before she pulled a stake and plunged it into her enemy’s heart, turning him to dust in an instant.

 

Buffy grinned at Angel. “I wonder how much fun we’ll get to have before Giles comes back.” She tucked her stake in the back of her pants and pushed her hair out of her eyes.

 

“Well, it’s not a ten feet tall six ton stone demon, but I’m enjoying myself.”

 

+++

 

The demons had stopped showing up an hour before dawn. While they disposed of the bodies that didn’t conveniently disintegrate in nearby dumpsters, they anxiously watched the door, mindlessly arguing about number of kills and best moves. Finally, just before Buffy was about to send Angel running for the hotel to avoid the sun, the door opened.

 

Giles stepped out into the alley, and both Buffy and Angel breathed a sigh of relief. Their relief turned to confusion and concern as he just stood there, blinking at them.

 

“Giles? Are you okay?” Buffy asked tentatively.

 

Giles stumbled forward and pulled Buffy into a hug, his free hand reaching out for Angel. “It was… incredible. An eye opening, traumatizing, life changing, amazing experience. I can’t talk about it.”

 

Buffy and Angel exchanged amused looks and just led Giles out of the alley and back to the hotel.

 

+++

 

It was just after dusk when Giles returned alone to the Temple site at Queen Victoria Street. Despite its ruined state, in his mind’s eye Giles could see it restored to its former grandeur, the way he’d seen it last night: filled with worshippers, lit by torches, voices rising in songs to their God.

 

Again, he somehow knew just what to do. He lit incense and candles, quietly spoke a few prayers and broke bread scattering the crumbs on the ruins. He smiled at the image of flocks of birds that would cover the stones tomorrow. He poured the wine and water on the stones, then picked up the small knife.

 

“I will gladly throw myself on my sword should the Bullslayer demand it of me,” he whispered, cutting a short but deep slice into his thumb. The blood dripped down onto the stones. Smiling, Giles wrapped his hand in the handkerchief he’d found in his jacket pocket.

 

“Rest well, Antonius.”

 

+++

 

He was just drifting off when the low growl of Angel’s Porsche penetrated his room. Vaguely he recalled them mentioning some unusual events in a village a few miles away. He waited for his usual worry. Tonight though, he slipped into a dreamless sleep; his mind and heart eased by the compassion and caring of Mithras.

 

+++

 

Author Notes:

 

Things I learned:

Museum of London link: http://www.molg.org.uk/english/

Some Mithras links:       

                   http://www.ceisiwrserith.com/mith/index.htm

                   http://www.mystae.com/restricted/streams/gnosis/mithra.html

                   http://www.sacred-texts.com/gno/gar/gar18.htm

                   http://www.well.com/~davidu/sciam.html

Some London Temple of Mithras links:

                   http://www.britainexpress.com/articles/London/Temple-of-Mithras.htm

                   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Mithras,_London

 

 



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