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Draggin' Down

Project Paranormal

Author: Garnigal

Season 3

Part 10

 

**

 

Summary: A mystery over 350 years old brings the Project Paranormal team to Anwick.

 

**

 

Draggin' Down

 

 

They kept the flashlights off. Though the new moon left the meadow in near total darkness and they were in danger of stumbling on the uneven ground, not being spotted was worth the risk. Maguire had driven them off twice already; this was their last chance. They’d never gotten this far into the meadow before. From the road, it looked flat and smooth, like most of the county. But towards the back of the field, near the fence line, there was a small hillock. If they could just get to the other side of it, they’d be out of sight and they could turn on the flashlights.

 

She found the small hill first. When she fell down it with a thud and a curse that seemed too loud in the still winter air, the men shot panicked looks back at the house, but there were no sudden lights or shouts. Even the dogs didn’t wake up.

 

Her light was bright enough to let them pick their way down carefully. Once hidden from the road and the house, all three flashlights were flicked on.

 

They may have inquired after her health; they may not have. In either case, it wasn’t long before all three lights played over the snow-dusted soil, looking for some evidence that they were in the right place. They found what they were looking for near the fence row. The winter wind had tamped the long grass down a bit, but it was still noticeable, and it was the first thing to catch their eyes. What held their attention, what they kept their lights trained on was the boulder in the middle of the long grass.

 

Squat and grey, it looked out of place here. It would blend in up in the hills or even in Scotland, but Lincolnshire had once been nothing but marshes and was now flat and fertile.

 

The stone was just the marker though, nothing but “X marks the spot”. Three shovels bit into the heavy soil as one.

 

It took some squabbling, but eventually they settled on a single hole, taking turns digging to fend off the cold and exhaustion. The earth was just this side of frozen, thick and peaty. They were all sweating by the time the stone shifted.

 

With one last strike of the shovel, the dirt collapsed downward to reveal an underground hollow. One of the men reached into hole. It was shallow, but long. He could feel cold, round objects with the tips of his fingers, but he couldn’t get enough purchase on them to pull them out.

 

Frustrated, he pulled his arm out and the shovelling began again. The hole got wider, the stone got shakier until finally it fell over and rolled a few feet down hill to rest against the fence. They didn’t seem to care, tossing the shovels away to reach into the hole, triumphantly grasping the objects within.

 

Maybe if there had been a moon they would have seen the shadow. Maybe if they weren’t breathing so heavily they would have heard the wing beats.

 

Maybe not.

 

It landed heavily, but moved quickly. Its long neck whipped around, knocking them off their feet. It rolled back, slashing with its claws. The two men died silently, but she managed a brief scream before her torso was torn open.

 

They never even saw the treasure they’d found.

 

+++

 

“Days like this that I really miss California,” Buffy sighed. She pulled her scarf higher on her neck, and then buried her frozen fingers in her coat pockets.

 

Giles smiled sympathetically at her as they trotted across the field after Maguire. As they crested a small rise in the field, Buffy and Giles could survey the entire scene.

 

“I’m sorry about the mess I’ve made. I started putting things to rights as soon as the police let me.” The ground was soggy and dark, torn up by the treads of a tractor that stood near the fence line. “I filled in the hole, pushed the stone back into place as much as I could. Just wouldn’t be right without the stone.”

 

Exchanging rueful glances, Buffy and Giles moved downhill towards the stone. There wouldn’t be much left to point them in the right direction. They walked around the stone a few times, and then returned to where Maguire waited nervously on the hill. “Well, I’m afraid there’s nothing much left there for us,” Giles said to the farmer. “Could you tell us what you found when you came down here?”

 

Maguire swallowed hard before he started talking, visibly shaken by his memories. “The dogs had been growling at the door while we were still abed, but we ignored them. They’ll growl if an animal comes into the yard, if a car goes past on the road. But they kept growling while I got dressed and got a bite to eat. As soon as I opened the door, they took off for the back field, barking all the while. They wouldn’t come when I called, so I followed them down. Was a bit of a hike, but there’s not much needing done in the winter. I caught up to the dogs at the crest of this hill.” Maguire paused for a long moment, obviously uncomfortable recalling the things he’d seen a few days earlier. “There were two or three sets of footprints coming across the field. The stone was rolled away and had come to a rest against the fence. There was a great hole dug in the dirt near where the stone should have stood. A couple of shovels were tossed on the ground nearby. One of the shovels had a splintered handle, like it’d been driven over. There was... you could tell something terrible had happened. There weren’t any bodies or even any bits of bodies, but the soil was soaked with blood.”

 

It wasn’t the wind that made Buffy shiver this time. She couldn’t help but sympathize with Mr. Maguire’s traumatic experience. She’d seen far more blood and death than the farmer was describing, but she was the Slayer. Witnessing death and its aftermath was part of the job. Maguire was just an innocent bystander. He should never have had to see his fields soaked in blood. He should never have had to start thinking about supernatural beings killing people in his meadow. Buffy’s brow wrinkled.

 

“Mr. Maguire,” she asked, “why did you suspect there was something unusual going on? I mean, most people try to avoid the paranormal explanations for as long as possible. What made you so willing to bring us in?”

 

Maguire looked at Buffy sheepishly. “I guess I didn’t tell you what this is?”

 

Buffy looked at Giles at puzzlement, and then shook her head at Maguire.

 

“It’s the Drake Stone of Anwick.”

 

+++

 

Buffy let herself into the shadowy hotel room, pausing to let her eyes adjust to the low light. Angel, however, had no problem seeing despite the dimness as he looked up from his book with a smile. “You look rosy and cold.”

 

“I feel like I should be pale as you,” Buffy moaned, stripping her outerwear off. She bent to take off her muddy boots, and then moved across the carpet to kiss Angel and settle into his lap. She smiled at him with a twinkle in her eyes. “You may not give off much warmth, but you do give good cuddles.” Angel chuckled deep in his throat and wrapped his arms around her. Things may have gotten heated but for the knock at the door.

 

She grumbled as she got up, but managed a genuine smile when she opened the door for Giles. The older man was laden with books and came in quickly to set his burden carefully on the bed.

 

“Did Buffy tell you what we learned from Maguire today, Angel?” Giles asked without preamble.

 

“Didn’t get a chance to, Giles.” Buffy smiled slyly at Angel. “I was just starting to get warmed up.”

 

“It was dreadfully windy out there wasn’t it?” Giles said distractedly. His books organized to his liking, he began to describe their meeting with the farmer to Angel, and then moved on to the latter part of their day.

 

“After meeting Maguire, we went to the police station here in town before returning to the hotel. Ian’s friend was extremely helpful, providing copies of the crime scene photos and telling us more about the three missing young people. I can’t imagine what Ian must have told him to make him so agreeable.” He laid two large photographs on the bed for Angel to examine. “Buffy was clever enough to ask Maguire if he had a photo of the location in more ... normal circumstances.” He then laid a smaller photograph alongside the others. It showed children flying kites in the meadow. The stone, surrounded by long grass, was in the background. “I’m afraid this is the best picture he could find, but at least it is something.”

 

“Wide hole, but it seems fairly shallow,” Angel mused. “Did the stone just roll downhill or was it pushed?”

 

“We didn’t notice any marks on it when we were out there, and neither Maguire nor Michael mentioned anything.” Giles bent to examine the police photos more closely. “Have you a theory?”

 

“What if there was something hiding underneath, that pushed the stone out of the way to get to dinner.”

 

“Well, if the police’s guess about why the victims were out there is true, the only thing under the stone is treasure.” Angel looked up at Buffy with interest. “The three missing people, Susan Wall, Tony Underwood and Neil Jardin had a reputation as treasure hunters. They’d found some treasure belonging to some king a few miles from here.”

 

“They found some silver pieces out by the Wash,” Giles filled in. “It was obviously old, so they believed it was some of the treasure lost to the tide when King John was crossing the marsh in 1216. They didn’t take it to a reputable appraiser though, so there’s no telling what they actually found.” The three victims may have been killed tragically, but Giles’s distaste was palpable. He couldn’t approve of their mercenary view of history.

 

“Anyway, it inspired them, and they billed themselves as treasure hunters. They started searching for other old stories about treasure in the area, and came across the story of the Drake Stone.”

 

“Drake Stone?” Angel asked “Ducks or dragons?”

 

Buffy grinned. “Dragons, apparently, although slaying ducks might be a nice change of pace.”

 

“Except if they needed slaying, they would be dangerous killer demon ducks,” Angel teased.

 

Giles smiled at their banter, but quickly got them back on track. “The story goes that a farmer was ploughing his fields when his oxen and plough were suddenly swallowed up by a hole in the earth. The farmer tried to save his animals, but was unable to. Then a dragon emerged from the hole, which just as suddenly closed up behind him. A stone the shape of the dragon’s head appeared on the spot. Rumour has it that the dragon was guarding an immense treasure when it was disturbed.”

 

“These kids thought there was a dragon treasure?” Angel asked in disbelief.

 

“Well, it seems they came to the conclusion that the dragon was an invention to protect the treasure. Scare tactics, if you will. However, they apparently believed the treasure was a reality,” Giles explained.

 

“They went out into the middle of a field that had a big rock in it and started digging for treasure, and then something ate them.” Buffy said.

 

“The police aren’t suggesting they were eaten. They just assume they were killed and taken away. Or one of the three killed the other two. Or two of them killed one,” Giles clarified.

 

“There’s something else bothering you,” Angel said.  “Why all the books? What are you looking for?” He picked up one up and started thumbing through it. It wasn’t their usual fare; there weren’t any demons or paranormal events in here. Instead he found himself looking at a local history book from the town library.

 

“It was Ian’s friend Michael’s suggestion, actually,” Giles said. “There’s no explanation as to why the treasure hunters picked that particular stone to dig under. The stone isn’t visible from the road, so the police don’t even know how the three young people discovered it. They do know the kids were determined to get back there. They approached Maguire to ask for access once and were refused, and Maguire found them trespassing and drove them off a week or so later. The police are hoping we can replicate their research and provide answers to some of these questions.”

 

Buffy picked up one of the books Giles had piled on the bed and settled in with a sigh. “I think I know what Ian told Michael: give them lots of research to do or they’re liable to do something strange.”

 

+++

 

“So the Drake Stones are near the churchyard?” Buffy asked in confusion. They’d been reading for several hours and instead of things becoming clearer, it was considerably murkier. “And there are two of them?”

 

“But that isn’t their original location,” Giles said. “And they were apparently broken when they were moved from a field called ‘Drake Stone Close’.”

 

“And the stone was called the Drake stone because it was shaped like a duck’s head. So it may have nothing to do with dragons after all,” Angel finished with a sigh.

 

“Well, we know why our treasure hunters didn’t start digging up the churchyard,” Buffy said. “I don’t feel any closer to knowing why they chose Maguire’s field, though. The stone was moved – it wasn’t a marker anymore.”

 

Angel looked up suddenly. “What about land ownership? The county office keeps track of all land transfers. If the dragon victims had a name for the farmer who lost his oxen, all they’d have to do is find out where his property was.”

 

Giles was already moving towards the telephone. A quick search of the phone book gave him the number to dial. He just hoped there was someone to take his call.

 

He was in luck. Not only was there someone to take his call, a little bit of polite chatting revealed that it was the same woman who’d helped Susan Wall with her research three weeks earlier. She was more than happy to tell Giles all about the old map on the wall of her office that had ‘Drake Stone Close’ marked in pencil by some ancient unknown hand.

 

“So Susan told your friend in the county office that she was researching historic folk names for landmarks in the area, and easily got the name of the current owner,” Angel said. “That’s actually pretty clever.”

 

“So we know why Maguire and why that field. Why the stone?” Buffy asked.

 

“There was one more bit of information that ‘my friend’ shared with me. The Maguire family has owned that property for generations, well into the early 1600’s. The Drake Stone story dates from about 1651 – I think Mr. Maguire may know more than he is letting on.”

 

+++

 

“I really like winter,” Angel said, pushing the blanket off and following Buffy and Angel from the car. At 4:45, the sun had just set and they had just arrived at the Maguire’s home.

 

Giles’s knock at the door was immediately answered by a short but buxom woman with a welcoming smile. She quickly invited them in, chattering about the cold weather and offering tea. As they all refused her offer, Mr. Maguire appeared in the doorway. He shook Buffy and Giles’s hands with no sign of the upset they’d seen that morning in the field. After Angel was introduced and Mrs. Maguire excused herself to look after supper, Giles came right to the point.

 

“Mr. Maguire, you called the stone in your field the Drake Stone. Our research tells us the Drake Stone was moved into town in the 1800’s. We also know that your family owned this plot of land before the alleged appearance of the dragon. You obviously know a lot more than you are telling us.”

 

Maguire settled back in his chair with a defeated sigh. “I should’ve known I couldn’t keep it a secret anymore, after what happened to those foolish treasure hunters. But the true story of the Drake Stone has been part of our family for over 350 years, and I didn’t want to be the one to spread the tale before it was needed.

 

“The basics of the story are as the books tell it. A farmer, a direct ancestor of mine, was ploughing and watched in horror as his animals were swallowed by the earth. But that horror was nothing to the fear he felt when... something flew out of the hole. He didn’t linger, didn’t watch to see where it went; he just ran for home.

 

“’Twas his wife who returned the next day to find the hole closed and solid, marked by a huge stone. She knew these fields as well as her husband. She knew that stone should not have been there. She hadn’t believed her husband the night before, suspecting him of laziness or drunkenness, but she couldn’t deny the truth of her eyes, the truth she could see in the light of day.

 

“Still, she was a pragmatic woman. She wasn’t about to let the stone ruin a perfectly serviceable field. She insisted that her husband borrow a set of oxen from his brother and drag the stone out of the field. She even followed the two men into the field to ensure he did as she demanded. The three of them fastened the oxen to the stone and started to pull it from the field. It was terribly heavy, stuck deeply in the earth. It had just barely moved when the monster returned.

 

“The oxen panicked, breaking loose from their yoke and running off. The farmer and his brother threw themselves on the ground, hiding their faces. The farmer’s wife stood and simply stared. She was the only one who saw it closely, but she was never able to describe it, for the thing attacked her with teeth and claws, leaving nothing but soil soaked with blood.

 

“The two men told their tale again and again, until the story of the Drake Stone was known throughout the county. No one ever understood where the story of the treasure came from though. Neither man ever spoke of treasure, only of the dragon, the stone and the blood. However, soon the story of the treasure became as much a part of the legend as the stone.

 

“These three were not the first fortune hunters to come looking for the stone, just the first in my lifetime. For nearly three hundred years we’d driven off treasure hunters, protecting their families from the return of the dragon. It wasn’t until my own grandfather was farming this land that a far better plan was devised. In 1913 he built the hillock to prevent the stone from being seen. Then he found another stone, similar in size and shape, and dragged it to town. He told the town council he’d finally removed the stone, and suggested they set up it up in town as a bit of England’s folklore and mythological history. Everyone readily believed that he’d removed the stone, and the story of the treasure died away, until those three young people came and asked for access to my meadow. It may have been a long time ago, but we take our family oath to protect the Drake Stone seriously. And after what happened last week, it seems that we do so for good reason.”

 

“Thank you Mr. Maguire. I know it must have been a difficult story for you to tell. But we can make it so you needn’t worry about treasure hunters any longer. With your permission, we’ll go into the meadow tonight and destroy the creature.  Once that is done, you and your family need not worry about it ever again,” Giles offered.

 

Maguire sat silently for long moments. “There’s more to it than that, and this time I’m afraid it’s my fault. I fear I may have inherited my many-greats grandmother’s curiosity. When I discovered the stone rolled away and the enormous hole those fools dug, I called the police. But as I waited, I couldn’t resist reaching into the hole to see if the story of the treasure was as true as the story of the dragon.”

 

Buffy couldn’t resist a whispered aside to Angel. “And people wonder why we have so much work.” Angel’s lips twitched in response, but he managed to restrain his grin. Fortunately, Maguire didn’t see them whispering as he reached for a cardboard box that had been sitting on the cold hearth in the room. He lifted it to his lap and opened the flaps before he started speaking again.

 

“The hole didn’t go terribly deep before it opened into a long narrow cavern under the stone. It was fairly wide though. I kept expecting the dragon to swoop out of the sky and destroy me as I pulled these out.” With that, Maguire carefully lifted a dark grey oval object out of the box and passed it to Giles. “There were three of them. The other two are still in the box.”

 

Giles examined it closely. The oval was large and heavy enough that he had to handle it with both hands. One end was wider than the other, and the colour which had seemed uniformly charcoal in Maguire’s hands was obviously mottled browns and greys mixed together when seen up close. He passed it to Buffy to look at. She only took a cursory glance before passing it to Angel.

 

“It’s an egg,” Angel said flatly, startling them all. “There’s something alive in there.”

 

Maguire sighed again. “That’s what I feared. When I got them back here and cleaned them a little, they sort of put me in mind of an oversized goose egg. Suppose I can understand why she’s so protective now. It has lead me in circles; a decision I don’t know how to make. She’s dangerous, that’s more than plain. She’s tied my family to this land for centuries, trying to protect people from her. But she’s just protecting her young and she’s probably the last of her kind. The eggs haven’t hatched yet; don’t know if they’ll ever. But it could be some creatures aren’t meant to live in this world. It’s all beyond me. So I’ll grant you permission to go down to the site and do what you think should be done. And you can let me know afterwards if I still need to keep an eye on the Drake Stone.”

 

Buffy, Angel and Giles looked at each other, their own hesitation to make this decision obvious on their faces.

 

+++

 

Since it was dark and there was no need to protect Angel from the sun, Buffy offered him the seat up front, which was far more comfortable for someone of his size. When she offered it though, she hadn’t realized it would mean sitting beside the box of... the box. Her mind shied away from admitting the contents, from dealing with the decision they’d have to make. The silence in the car suggested Angel and Giles were in the same straits as she was.

 

The trip wasn’t nearly long enough, in Giles opinion. He wasn’t ready to have this conversation, to make this decision. But the trip couldn’t last forever, and he gingerly carried the box back upstairs. By unspoken agreement, they all went to Angel and Buffy’s room, the books still scattered on every flat surface reminding them of their earlier research and the pride they’d felt in their success at following the treasure hunter’s research trail.

 

There was no pride now.

 

No matter what their decision was, there were potential side effects. Maguire’s words had made the dragon understandable in the way that any animal, faced with the loss of habitat and threat to their offspring, was understandable. And understanding made it far more difficult to slay.

 

It was Buffy who finally broke the silence. “This isn’t a panda or a tiger we’re talking about. This is a mythological creature which has killed people. Probably ate them. It’s a creature which is nearly impossible for the average person to defend against and definitely impossible to control. We can’t just relocate it and hope for the best.” Buffy took a deep breath. “I vote for extinction.”

 

“It may have killed people, but only in defence of its young. And four people in nearly 400 years? That’s hardly significant,” Giles argued quietly.

 

“But it has only killed four people because generations of Maguires have spent their lives keeping people away,” Buffy said. “The loss of their freedom is probably pretty significant to the Maguire family.”

 

“What about ecological and paranormal balance? Who knows what other animals and forces this creature is connected to? Destroying it could potentially create even greater damage.”

 

“No more Al Gore movies for you,” Buffy muttered. “If this is the last dragon, I think all the ecological damage has already been done. I suspect the world will survive without it. But what if these eggs hatch, what if the world suddenly has to accommodate a new species? I don’t know if the world is ready for that. I know humanity isn’t. Haven’t you seen Reign of Fire?”

 

Neither Buffy nor Giles swayed from their argument, but neither of them wanted to win. No one knew the right answer, so they each took a side and stayed with it, postponing the actual moment of decision. It was up to Angel to break the tie.

 

“I’ve actually fought a dragon.”

 

Buffy and Giles looked at him in surprise. They’d nearly forgotten Angel’s presence, and his interruption stopped them in their tracks. They knew about the dragon, of course. Angel had told Giles in detail about the battle in Los Angeles, and Giles had shared his notes with Buffy. Of course, Angel had kept his thoughts and feelings mostly private. The feelings of loss were still strong.

 

“It was an incredible battle. It was nearly impossible, even for me. It would have been easier without the demon army that was also trying to kill me, of course.” Angel smiled deprecatingly. “But that situation has little to do with this one. That dragon was actively trying to kill me. It was a life or death situation. I don’t think this is.”

 

Angel leaned forward, his earnestness obvious in body and voice. “The Maguire family made a choice to defend the stone. Yes, it was made almost 400 years ago and subsequent generations have felt bound by that choice, but it’s still a choice. They could walk away. They could sell the land, placing that burden on someone else’s shoulders. Maguire could have told us to slay the dragon and destroyed the eggs himself. He didn’t. He is still willing to accept responsibility for protecting people from the dragon. I say we let him continue as they have for centuries.” Angel paused. “Of course, if this dragon starts attacking for no good reason, we take it out as soon as possible.”

 

+++

 

Since a consensus hadn’t been reached until late in the night, they agreed to put off returning the eggs until the next evening. They all slept in the next morning, and Buffy and Angel took advantage of the respite to finish what they’d started before Giles interrupted them for research. While Angel waited out the day by sketching and reading in the hotel room, Buffy and Giles went out for lunch and poked around Anwick for a couple of hours. It was a cute little village, with the streets lined by brick buildings. By mutual consent, Buffy and Giles’s walk took them to St. Edith’s, the church that boasted the false Drake Stones on the edge of the property.

 

The grass around these stones had been closely trimmed, unlike the long grass that had been allowed to grow up in Maguire’s field. There was no sign to mark them, but a passing local stopped to tell them the tale, patting the stones fondly as he bid them goodbye and went into the churchyard.

 

“They certainly seem proud of the Drake Stones,” Giles commented as they headed back to the hotel.

 

Buffy was pretty sure she knew why. “As pretty as the town is, you can see there isn’t much by way of tourist trade. It’s just too small and too out of the way. The Drake Stones are probably the only draw they have.”

 

“Just as well that the locals don’t know the stones are fraudulent, then,” Giles said with a smile.

 

+++

 

They left for the field just after sunset. With the decision made, there was much less tension in the car for this trip. Instead of disturbing the Maguire’s, they parked on the road. Despite having to clamber over the fence and carefully pass the box of eggs across, the walk through the field was much shorter, though Buffy still complained about the cold. It was just as well the walk was shorter, as they were burdened with shovels, weapons and the box of eggs. Though they were returning the eggs to their proper location, Angel and Buffy were still well armed, just in case.

 

“I wonder what the dragon looks like?” Giles mused, hoping to get Buffy’s mind off the cold. “I wonder if the pictures in books are accurate.”

 

“They seem like such magnificent creatures. I know I took the extinction side of the argument, but I’m kind of glad we decided to let it live,” Buffy said.

 

Angel didn’t take part in the conversation flowing around him. Talking about Los Angeles had brought a lot of memories to mind, many of them uncomfortable. He couldn’t regret his choices though; without his past he wouldn’t have this present. He smiled at Buffy as she talked animatedly to Giles. Being here was definitely worth it.

 

+++

 

The ground had frozen and was compacted from Maguire’s tractor. Despite their strength, Buffy and Angel had to take turns digging. Giles offered to help, but they smilingly refused, telling him to guard the eggs and watch the skies, though the lack of moon made that pointless. Instead he watched them dig and listened to their teasing. Each claimed to have a better technique for digging and pointed to the ever- growing pile of dirt as proof.

 

Eventually they got deep enough that the cavern was revealed.

 

“I wonder why the cavern didn’t collapse or fill in when Maguire was moving dirt around?” Buffy asked. She was standing guard, sword at the ready while Angel lay on his chest to return the eggs to their proper home.

 

“It must be magic,” Giles teased.

 

Job finished, Angel pushed himself up from the cold ground. He pushed heavily on the stone to get himself out of the hole... and it teetered. It rolled. It didn’t roll far, but it rolled.

 

And something dropped out of the sky.

 

+++

 

Buffy and Angel sprang into action. Buffy leapt for the beast while Angel rolled away from its slashing claws towards his own sword. Giles moved out of the way, making sure his torch didn’t shine in anyone’s face. The creature moved quickly, and Buffy and Angel needed all their advantages.

 

Buffy slashed at its hide, but the sword bounced off with a dull sound. The dragon spun around, biting at her with its long neck, but Buffy had already gone, vaulting over its back.

 

“The body is pretty well armoured,” she shouted at Angel as he attacked. “We need to find its weak spot!”

 

“Eyes are usually a good bet,” he returned. Faking a strike towards the chest, Angel lured it into lowering its head, and then stabbed at one of its eyes before dancing quickly away. The high-pitched shriek of anger and pain let them know it was a successful tactic. However, the dragon wasn’t beaten yet. It lumbered towards Angel, using its one good eye to watch him. Angel kept moving back, striking out to keep its attention on him. It never noticed Buffy’s attack on its blind side.

 

She struck up from underneath, as if she was batting at a cricket ball. The sword penetrated deeply through the unprotected underside of the neck, sending great gouts of blood into the air. She left her sword embedded in the neck, and twisted away to avoid its death throes.

 

The three of them watched as the dragon flailed and writhed. Finally it dropped to the ground, breathing its last.

 

They looked at it for long moments. Finally Angel spoke. “It looks nothing like the dragon I fought. It looks nothing like any dragon I’ve seen in books.”

 

“It looks like... a dangerous killer demon duck.” Angel and Giles had to grin as Buffy reminded them of their conversation of two nights earlier.

 

The dragon had a squat little body. Its head, now lying at an awkward angle, balanced on a long sinuous neck. It didn’t have a beak, but its snout was long and its mouth was filled with vicious teeth. The feet weren’t webbed, but were birdlike and ended in long sharp talons. The tail was stubby and ended in a knob. The wings were large and very duck-like, right down to the long feathers.

 

“Well, I don’t know what that was, but I think we’d better get rid of it before Maguire sees it,” Giles said.

 

Buffy and Angel grimaced. That meant a lot more digging.

 

+++

 

The following morning, Buffy and Giles made one last trip out to the Maguire farm. Again, they were greeted by the cheerful Mrs. Maguire who settled them comfortably with cups of tea while they waited for an opportunity to tell Mr. Maguire of the previous night’s activity in private.

 

 “I know I put you in a hard spot,” Maguire finally said. “It was a decision I was too weak to make myself, so I appreciate you taking the matter on. It’ll be nice to not have to worry so much about the dragon attacking my family. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on the Drake Stone though, make sure the eggs don’t hatch. Seems the Maguire’s are bound to that rock, even if our duties have changed some,” he mused. “Tell you the truth, I’m glad of it. It’s been part of our family for so long that I’d hate to lose the tradition.”

 

“If anything does happen with the eggs, don’t hesitate to call us,” Giles said, passing a card to Maguire. “We’ll be more than happy to help you take care of it.”

 

They sat a few minutes longer, talking and finishing their tea before Maguire stood. “I’d best be taking my tractor back there to bury the beast. I’ve always wondered what it really looks like,” he said conspiratorially.

 

Buffy disguised her laugh as a cough as Giles assured Maguire that they’d taken care of disposing of the body. It may have been a fierce fighter, but it certainly wouldn’t live up to Maguire’s mental image of a dragon.

 

+++

 

Angel waited at the hotel for Buffy and Giles to return. They’d gone to the police station to give their research to Ian’s friend Michael, carefully couched in terms of tracing the research of the three treasure hunters. There was nothing they could do beyond that; the police certainly wouldn’t accept that the three had been killed by a dragon.

 

While he waited, he thought about the three eggs he’d hidden in the ground the night before. They’d been there for almost 400 years without hatching. Yet he could tell the beasts within were still alive, still growing and waiting for their moment. Who knew how many more years it would be before they emerged, or if they ever would. Still, he suspected a Maguire would still be there, watching and waiting. Needing help. Reaching for a little white card that said Project Paranormal. Who would be available to take that call? Would Giles still be thrusting research on them? Would Buffy still be by his side? Or would it be so far in the future that he was once again alone?

 

The prospect disturbed him. But as the door opened to admit a smiling Buffy, he pushed it from his mind. They were here now, and that was all that mattered.

 

+++

 

Small but avid faces looked up at Maguire as he once more told their family folklore to his grandchildren. Their parents looked on indulgently. They’d heard this story many times before. Today, however, the ending was different. Heroes came from the west to slay the dragon.

 

“We Maguires spent nearly 400 years protecting the world from the dragon, waiting for someone who could rid us of this beast. Waiting to be free of our oath. Today we are free of danger, but we must still be vigilant. For now we know what the dragon was guarding: its eggs, waiting for their moment. Waiting for us to drop our guard. But we are Maguires! We shall remain ever present, ever vigilant! As the dragon’s treasure allows us to protect our home and our livelihood, so shall we guard the dragon’s nest.”

 

And the pile of centuries old gold and jewels glinted from its opened hiding spot: the false back on the cold hearth.

 

+++

 

 

Information on the Drake Stones of Anwick:

 

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/2246

http://www.tc-lethbridge.com/tekhs_journal/?id=78 (scroll down halfway, it begins “At the nearby village of Anwick,...”


 



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