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Basilisk

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Ares

Season 3

Part 17

PG 13

 

**

 

Summary: Project Paranormal has a case to solve in dragon country. What they find is unexpected.

 

**

 

Basilisk

 

 

She was as insignificant in the eyes of the being before her as a speck of dust, and yet, here she was, terrified, and at the same time awed to be granted this audience. She trembled, trying very hard to remain motionless. Brilliant colours, shades the like she had never seen, whirled as the enormous eye blinked and settled into a disconcerting stare. The omniscient intelligence within defied belief. Alien and ancient, the creature of myth studied her. She stood, a supplicant in need of answers.

 

A blast of hot air accompanied a sound similar to that of muted bells. She understood. It was the creature’s mode of speech. She wondered if it breathed fire, and was she safe standing there?

 

Inside her mind an image of a man formed. He was strong and handsome, a shadow upon him marring the great light within him, and a mythical beast at his shoulder. This was the one who would help her. By the man’s side a woman stood. Lithe and winsome, it was apparent she was a warrior also, her sword wooden in her dainty little hands. She sighed. Two it was then.

 

 

Neve blinked, and was back in her body, the world returned to her. She did not move, could not for moments more. Her mind had to clear, and the smoke she had inhaled needed to be expelled from her lungs for her to do so. She lay on the floor on her mat, desperately trying to recall the colours of the eye. The memory of it was dimmed, perhaps by the very creature itself, although she could remember the details of her mission vividly. When Neve could feel her fingers and waggle her toes, she rolled to her feet and with quick determined motions, cleared away the tools of her trade.

 

Once upon a time her ancestors would have thrown bones in the dirt to divine the future, or to unravel a riddle. She didn’t have bones or chicken feet, but she did have herbs that heightened the senses, and not the illegal kind. The fresh sweet branches of ash were hauled away and out near the compost for her to attend to later.  Neve used the ash because the tree was connected to the serpent. The ash provided protection, grounding for her, and the ritual had been used for generations in her family.  Her candles and herbs were tucked inside cupboards, and the windows opened to allow the house to air. She punched the button on her computer, and while it booted up she hurried about making a cup of tea.

 

+++

 

Buffy was catching up with Lisa, enjoying lunch alfresco in the garden centre’s little café.  Before meeting Lisa, Buffy had collected Alice’s two black and white cats and had taken them to the veterinary clinic for their shots. To hear them wailing in the back seat of her mini, inside their cages, one would think they were being driven to their death. Buffy had been thankful the trip wasn’t a long one. She didn’t think she could have stood a minute more of their caterwauling. However, Daisy and Poppy were silent on their way home, making Buffy think that the felines’ only objections were the visit to the vet and not the ride in the car. She was sure that the felines had some cat sixth sense about these things.

 

Buffy was glad that spring had finally sprung; she had had enough of the winter, and early spring had been no better. She shivered as she warmed up in the sun’s glow. Lisa noticed.

 

“You’re not cold, surely?” she asked with a smile, eyeing up the thick jacket that Buffy had on. Lisa knew how it was with Buffy. She thought the day was perfect, herself. Summer could get too warm at times, and besides, she liked crisp sunny days. Horses were her passion, and that meant early mornings, come bitter cold or balmy ones.

 

“Not really,” Buffy replied, shifting in her seat a little until her face caught the sun full on. She closed her eyes, and basked.

 

Lisa chuckled, and sipped her tea. It had been awhile since she and Buffy had had time to catch up. Rupert and his team had been busy of late. She was pleased for him, but she had missed him and his strange and wonderful Americans. 

 

+++

 

Angel and Giles had been discussing Alice’s plight and Giles’ idea of a computer for the woman.  Angel thought it a wonderful idea. Computers were good for keeping in touch with friends and family, especially for one who couldn’t risk being seen in her present state. And for a person like himself who couldn’t go out in the day, it was an amazing tool. One could order practically anything on-line. Angel had chuckled at Giles’ frown when he mentioned e-Bay. Alice had been reluctant at first, but Giles could be persuasive. She had finally agreed to the idea.

 

Angel was still with Giles in his study when Buffy wandered in from her outing. He was pleased to see her and returned her kiss with a smile. Rosy cheeks and shining eyes told him she had enjoyed the sun, and girl time. He shouldn’t be jealous but he was a little. Sun envy, what a load of…

 

Giles interrupted his musings. “Ah, Buffy, how was Lisa?”

 

Buffy lingered a moment more against Angel. He felt the sun radiating off her skin, and his own cool flesh began soaking up her warmth. Maybe the sun wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

 

“She’s good, Giles. Wants to know when we’ll go riding next. I think she’s missed us.”

 

“How was the trip to the vet, Buffy?” Angel asked, quietly.

 

Her hand fell on his shoulder. She gave it a gentle squeeze, and pulled a face.

 

“A noisy one,” she groaned. “I think they knew where I was taking them. Can you do it next time?”

 

“Lisa’s a good sort,” Giles said somewhat absently, his mind obviously not on the conversation.

 

“What’s up, Giles?” Buffy asked, Alice’s cats forgotten for the moment.

 

“Mmm? Oh! I was just explaining to Angel, I had an odd phone call this afternoon.  It was a woman asking if I had anyone fitting the description of you and Angel working for us, and were we reputable.”

 

“And she was…?”

 

“That’s the thing. I don’t know. She said she would get back to us, and hung up.”

 

“She didn’t ask for us by name, did she?” Buffy looked sideways at Angel. Who would know about Angel, she wondered?

 

“No…” A frown creasing Giles’ forehead, he stared at the vampire in question.

“She was pretty accurate describing you both. It’s a puzzle I’d rather not leave unsolved. There was one other thing.”

 

“What?”

 

Angel answered her. “She asked if you knew how to handle a sword.”

 

Buffy moved away from Angel, to his regret, and paced the floor.

 

“Did you do that thing you do with the phone? Caller I.D. It tells you the caller’s number.”

 

“Yes, Buffy. I’d thought of that. The number was a protected one.”

 

Buffy threw her hands in the air. “Well, that’s plain rude,” she grumbled.

 

Giles chuckled. “Quite,” he agreed. “We can only wait and hope that she does call again.”

 

“And…this was when?”

 

“An hour ago.”

 

Buffy sucked in her bottom lip. “So we wait.”

 

Hearing the faintest of hums that presages the ringing of the telephone, Angel said, “Not for long,” when it rang a moment later.

 

Reaching for it, Giles stared at the vampire before putting the phone to his ear.

 

Buffy slipped into the chair that sat in front of Giles’ desk hoping to hear both sides of the conversation. She couldn’t. Angel could, even from where he sat. He watched Buffy watching Giles.

 

“Hello?” he said

 

Mr Giles? I called earlier. I’m sorry about the fuss before. I had to be sure, you see.”

 

“And you are?”

 

“Sorry. Neve Brookes. You specialise in the paranormal, and I’m in need of your services.”

 

“You said you had to be sure. Of what, Miss Brookes?”

 

“You are who you say you are, and that you have the two people I need working for you.”

 

“How did you find us?”

 

“The Yellow Pages.”

 

Giles’ eyebrows went up at that. “I’m sure that my two colleagues are not mentioned in the telephone book.”

 

“I’m sorry…again. I can explain, but not now. Can you come to see me today? Mordiford, it’s…”

 

“Herefordshire, yes I know where you are. What exactly is the problem, Miss Brookes?”

 

“People are dying, and it’s not from natural causes. Can you be here tonight?”

 

Giles caught the small nod from Angel. However, he wasn’t satisfied.

 

“I’ll need more information than that. I may need to consult my books.”

 

“No need. Please hurry.” She gave him her address, told him she would leave a light to show them the way, and was gone. Giles was left listening to the dial tone.

 

Buffy, who had only heard Giles’ part of the conversation, said, “What?”

 

“It looks as if we are going to Herefordshire.”

 

“And that is, where?”

 

“The other side of Gloucestershire. North.”

 

“Wait a minute.” Buffy was perplexed. “She got our names from the phone book? When did that happen?”

 

“No. Miss Brookes found Paranormal’s number in the Yellow Pages. I don’t know how she knew about you and Angel, but apparently she needs the both of you.”

 

“And we trust her, because…?”

 

“She sounded desperate,” Angel said.

 

Buffy rounded on him. “It’s nice to know that only one of us was excluded from the conversation, Angel. That one now has to consider that this could be a ruse of some sort.”

 

“By whom?” he asked, with wide-eyed innocence.

 

She wasn’t fooled by his look. There was no way in Hell that Angel could be called innocent. But his question gave her time to realise she was being silly. Ruse or no, they would be going, if only to find out they were wasting their time.

 

Instead, she said, “Did she happen to mention what the problem is?”

 

“People are dying,” Giles said.

 

Buffy smiled with just a hint of malicious glee. “It looks like you’ll be under a blanket for a while, Angel. We’d better pack and be off before more people bite the dust.”

 

She was out the door and didn’t hear Angel say, “Mordiford. Isn’t that dragon country?”

 

+++

 

 

Evening had fallen, and Angel was sitting upright in the back seat suffering the bumps silently as Giles’s Discovery wound its way through the small country roads, jouncing along the last patch of road, no longer metalled and badly in need of repair. Buffy had fallen asleep early on, Giles having no company but his own thoughts with Angel hidden beneath the blankets. The vampire had been quiet in reflection and Giles had had no idea he was upright until he turned his head and caught his outline from the corner of his eye.  He opened his mouth to speak but on observing Angel’s intense interest in the passing countryside, he closed it without saying a word. He wondered what was passing through his friend’s mind.

 

Suddenly, ahead, a glimmer of light shone. The small cottages they had passed on the way had been the only few for a mile or two now. The fields had slowly given way to scrub, which in turn became woodland. Haugh Wood to be precise. Neve Brookes had left a light – on closer observation one of those solar powered lot that did not need a battery - on her gate to guide them. Buffy was awake by the time Giles came to a stop.

 

“Oh. Just what we need.” She peered out her window and, despite the grime, could see enough of the dark to know it wasn’t exactly friendly. “Trees and other things that demons and what-not love to hide in.”

 

Angel broke his silence. “I kind of like trees.” He was thinking of one particular tree back in Sunnydale. The one that allowed him access to Buffy’s window, and the wonderful moments they had shared.

 

Buffy snorted. “I rest my case. Come on before I freeze. Let’s go see if Grandma has big teeth.”

 

She turned on her torch while Angel gathered a few things. His sword he left with Buffy’s weapons bag. He secreted a wicked-looking knife and a stake about his person. Buffy had Mr Pointy in her pocket.  She waited for him, shivering in her coat. Why did the nights have to be so damned cold? She envied Angel’s ability to not feel the cold change in the weather despite his heavy coat. She knew he didn’t really need it, but he wore it anyway. For a non-human he was such a creature of fashion. She grinned, prompting him to ask, “What?”

 

“Nothing,” she answered, chuckling at his perplexed look.

 

Giles paced over to the gate and rescued Neve’s light before venturing forth. They followed the grassy path for quite a way, and when Angel looked back, the car and the road were hidden from his sight. Miss Brookes did like her privacy it seemed.

 

The path led them to a cottage nestled in a clearing at the edge of some trees. The windows were glowing with light, and Buffy hoped it was a welcoming and friendly one. Giles’ knock had barely sounded when the door swung wide. Miss Brookes stood there, hair dark and bound in a French plait and on her face a smile of relief.

 

“You made it, then.”

 

Neve peered at her visitors. In the doorway stood a mature man, quite good looking, she thought, surprised because she hadn’t imagined him so. The little blonde who had managed to muscle in beside him was very pretty, and wary by the look of her. Neve tried to see past the two of them to catch a glimpse at the person behind but it was impossible against the night. Did he come at all, she wondered?

 

 

 

 

“Miss Brookes,” Giles introduced himself and his colleagues, “I’m Rupert Giles, and this is Buffy Summers.”

 

Buffy said, “Hello,” but it was obvious to Neve that the girl didn’t trust her. She didn’t blame her. Neve had hardly been forthright with them.

 

“Hello, Buffy,” she said back, hoping she sounded friendly-like.

 

“And Angel,” Giles finished.

 

Angel. Well. “Welcome. Please, come in, you must be weary, and in need of a hot drink.”

 

Neve backed away from the door allowing the three to enter. Neve could see right away that Miss Summers was the warrior woman in her vision. She exuded confidence, and moved with a fighter’s grace. Buffy Summers had a power all her own. She could sense it. Rupert Giles held himself well too. She was sure that he could hold his own in a fight. It was the other man she couldn’t take her eyes off when he entered her home though. My! He wasn’t handsome, he was beautiful. And when he moved it was like watching a lion pad across the room. There was an economy of movement, and power, in those long limbs and wide shoulders. And when those dark eyes turned towards her, she knew that this man missed nothing.

 

“Angel,” she acknowledged, her heart racing at the thought that there were real heroes in her home.

 

A small frown marred Angel’s forehead as he shut the door behind him and let Neve lead them into her kitchen. He didn’t smell fear, or nervousness on the woman. The beat of her heart told him she was excited about something. He hoped it was no more than the deaths she had briefly mentioned.

 

+++

 

The Paranormal team had finished tea and poppy-seed cake – Angel the exception - and had retired to the living room. Miss Brookes had managed to evade all questions by asking after some of the Project’s cases, and more importantly she knew a thing or two about paranormal activity. Giles was surprised at her knowledge, and as he couldn’t discuss the specifics of any of their cases, the conversation centred on strange phenomena. Buffy had sat quietly munching on cake, studying Neve. The woman had a sunny smile, and when she did the small lines around her grey eyes crinkled with amusement. She found herself liking the older woman. What Angel thought, no one knew. Neve only had three chairs at her small kitchen table, and Angel had elected to have his coffee standing up. He had wanted to stretch his legs. The back seat of the Discovery didn’t cater for Angel’s long limbs. He thought it a blessing his muscles didn’t cramp, with being dead and all.

 

In the living room Miss Brookes had a map of the area laid out on the side table. Beside the map were newspaper clippings, which she handed over to Giles.

 

“As you can see, it’s a disaster. The land, and people’s livelihoods are being threatened, and the people themselves.  All the authorities can do is dig a few holes and test for chemicals, and declare an unknown poison is the culprit.”

 

Giles regarded the woman beside him. She was dressed for comfort, her jeans were worn and her jumper had seen better days, but Neve was an attractive woman all the same. Her grey eyes and dark hair emphasized her fair complexion. A discreet cough made him realise he was staring. He heard Buffy snicker and quickly brought his gaze back to the news clippings in his hands.

 

“Oh! Williams in Much Marcle was one of the orchards poisoned.” Giles looked up with indignation. “This has got to stop! It’s one of the finest…” he sputtered to a halt.

 

“Who, and what, is Williams, Giles?” Buffy asked.

 

“One of the biggest cider makers in the area."

 

“Oh, then we must put a stop to this, if only to protect your precious cider, Giles,” Buffy grumbled good-heartedly. “Anything else? The dead bodies, for instance?”

 

“Yes. Sorry. Oh, and Brush Farm in Ross-on-Wye too? What?  Are the cider producers being targeted for some reason?” he asked Miss Brookes.

 

Buffy leaned over and snatched the clippings from his hands with a sigh. She handed a few over to Angel to read. They began looking for articles on the two deaths reported there.

 

Somewhat abashed, Giles queried Neve’s earlier statement. “What makes you so sure that the authorities are not correct in their assumptions, Miss Brookes?”

 

“Neve, please.” She tucked a wayward tendril of hair behind her ear. “You know how it is. They don’t know what to look for. They cannot know.”

 

“How do you know, Neve?” Buffy asked from her seat on the sofa. “You’ve showed us the clippings. What else do you know? I think we’ve been very patient.”

 

Neve drew in a breath. “It’s the work of a basilisk.”

 

“A what?” Buffy asked.

 

Giles muttered, “Of course. That would fit.” Looking at Neve Brookes, he asked, “Basilisks haven’t been seen for centuries. In fact they tend to live in deserts. Why would a basilisk surface here?”

 

“Basilisks create deserts,” said Angel.

 

Neve considered Angel for a moment before answering Giles. “That’s your problem, Mr Giles. The basilisk needs to be stopped. “

 

Buffy put her hand up. “Excuse me? Basil whatsit?”

 

“The breath of a basilisk is deadly; a glance is supposed to kill, its touch also.    Plants shrivel and die as well as men,” Angel said, in the longest sentence he had uttered all night. Neve held her breath. There was something about this man…other than the obvious.

 

“And it’s here…according to Miss Brookes.” Buffy said, staring at the woman in question. “Once again I ask. You know this how?”

 

“A basilisk is a creature of legend. There are many misconceptions about its appearance,” Giles interjected, “it being a mythical creature and all.” Giles went into lecture mode, and Buffy rolled her eyes. “Basiliskos, Greek for Little King or royal child. In Pliny’s Natural History, I believe written around 77 AD, the basilisk was a small serpent, mere inches long. Much later the basilisk is compared to, and is in fact called, a cockatrice. It was purported to have the head of a cock - a rooster – wings, and the body of a serpent. Nonetheless, whatever its appearance, it is very dangerous. I would say it is almost impossible to kill. How can you kill a creature that only has to breathe on you to kill you?” he finished.

 

Neve was impressed. The man knew his stuff.

 

“Gas masks, Giles?” Buffy suggested.

 

“We need to find it first,” he answered. “The maps will help give us a place to start.”

 

“It was said that the basilisk feared the sun,” Angel said quietly.

 

“There hasn’t been a sighting of any sort of monster in Herefordshire. Maybe that is true,” Neve said, glancing over to Angel, “maybe it can only go out at night.”

 

Giles agreed. “You’re probably right. We need to find the reason why it is here.”

 

They gathered round the table and scrutinised the map. Giles wrote down the names of the places affected, deciding that he and Buffy could go investigate in the morning, it being safer in daylight they hoped. One of the dead had been found in Paget’s Wood, not far from Neve’s cottage. They could walk there. The two cider orchards were a short distance away but they would need to take the car. Neve said she would go with.

 

When Giles suggested it was time to depart for the lodgings he had booked in Mordiford, Neve insisted that they stay.

 

Not knowing for sure if Buffy and Angel were a couple even though she had spied the lovely diamonds on Buffy’s finger, she said, “Please. I have two bedrooms, and I will sleep on the couch.” If not, the two men could share.

 

Angel looked slightly uncomfortable at that, and Buffy herself wasn’t sure because of it. Giles, reading the situation correctly, said, “Thank you, but no. We couldn’t impose on you.” He eyed the sofa. “The couch must be awfully uncomfortable.”

 

“Nonsense! I’ve slept there many a time. It is quite adequate, I assure you. I’ve already prepared the rooms. The beds have been made up and I’ve put clean towels aside for you.”

 

Giles didn’t know what to say. Neve was a force to be reckoned with, as he and his friends were beginning to find out. Buffy chewed her lip watching Angel regarding their hostess. Giles also looked over to the vampire wondering how Angel was going to cope in the morning, and if he wanted to.

 

Neve went about gathering the news clippings, all the while keeping an eye on her three guests. Buffy and Giles seemed to be waiting on Angel’s nod of approval on her invitation. He seemed reluctant to do so.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said, trying to rectify the unease she had caused. “If you’d rather not, I understand. I’m a bit pushy at times. People will tell you that. I just thought it would be more convenient.”

 

Angel considered Neve Brookes. She was earnest and genuine, he was almost certain, and yet he was sure there was something he wasn’t quite getting about the woman. They could keep a closer eye on her by accepting her invitation. And she did have a point.

 

“The beds are already made?” he said. “Buffy and I will share.” He glanced her way. “I’ll get the bags.”

 

Giles threw his keys across to him, and he left them to do that.

 

Buffy followed him with an “excuse me.”

 

Stepping outside, Buffy couldn’t see Angel ahead. He must have darted away using his preternatural speed. She followed him anyway. Halfway down the path she met him coming back.

 

She frowned. “What’s the hurry?”

 

He handed her the bags, and Giles’ keys. “Nothing…I’m going to look around tonight. There’s nothing I can do during the day.”

 

She knew that that had been his concern. “About that. We don’t have to stay here. What excuse can we use tomorrow when you don’t leave the house?”

 

“I’ll think of something. You go back in. Tell Giles what I’m doing.” He planted a kiss on her lips and was gone. It wasn’t until she was back in the house did she notice that she only had two bags. She dialled his number immediately but he didn’t answer. Refused to answer, more like. 

 

Giles thought it a good thing that Angel was going off to reconnoitre. Neve was somewhat perplexed that he had gone off on his own, and so late when it was the most dangerous. Buffy went to bed worrying about him, hoping that he would be careful.

 

+++

 

Angel carried his bag into Mordiford, making a quick stop there. He continued on his way, circling back to head into Haugh Wood.  Haugh Wood was linked to the legend of the Mordiford dragon. As Angel passed along the paths that meandered through the wood he noticed that he was travelling in a circle. The undulations of the land, and the trees that grew on such a landscape, were not unlike that of a coiled serpent. In fact, one of the lanes was called Serpent’s Lane although he was not on it. There were many unexplained geometric patterns to the land and the paths around. Angel came upon a path with a notice board. Haugh Wood was part of the butterfly conservation scheme the Forestry Commission had set up, using corridors, or rides as they were called, to encourage the growth of wild flowers for the butterflies to feed upon. Even in the dead of night Angel could see the showers of white blossom that were the hawthorn, and hints of what passed for colour in a myriad of other blooms. A little ahead he saw the ruins of the scheme. He paced around the area of dead plants, trees and wildlife. A pheasant lay rotting in the long dead grass nearby. He could smell the stench of other small animals and rodents beneath his feet.  The patch of decay continued for many yards until he saw plant life flourishing as normal. Angel bent down and sniffed at the ground. Satisfied, he continued on his way.

 

The night wore on and, upon visiting Paget’s Wood, Angel found pretty much the same level of damage as in Haugh Wood. The carpet of spring flowers was knee-deep here and he thought they would be pretty in sunlight. It was a shame to see such beauty ruined so. He had forgotten how beautiful an English wood was in spring.  Deep in the woods, he found a small area that the police had marked with tape. Beneath the branches of a beech tree a body had lain. The man had been murdered, viciously attacked, knifed in the throat. Angel didn’t think a human was responsible. In fact, he knew so. Finding traces of a demon large and vicious enough to kill a man, confirmed it. He, himself, belonged to such a species.

 

Upon entering the grounds of the first cider orchard, he noted the twisted shapes of the now dead apple trees. A rope cordoned off the area, and blue and white police tape marked the spot where the body had been discovered. He lingered there for a moment before stepping under the tape and, kneeling down, inhaled the scent of death… and the merest hint of serpent. Other than where the dead man had been murdered in Paget’s Wood, this was very much the same scent he had discovered at the other locations. Looking at the leaden sky, he knew it was time to return. He picked up his pace and headed for Mordiford.

 

+++

 

The phone had barely finished its second ring when Buffy snatched it up. She had slept restlessly waiting for Angel to return, or at least call her. She squinted at the time on her phone. The sun would be up in a minute or two.

 

“Please tell me you’re standing outside with no shelter, waiting for the sun,” she grumbled, in a hoarse whisper.

 

I’m sorry,” Angel breathed, and Buffy relented.

 

“Where are you?” she asked him, her voice gentler now.

 

I’ve got a room in Mordiford. I figured that with Giles cancelling there would be one spare.”

 

There was silence for a moment or two.

 

“Saves the awkwardness, I suppose,” she conceded. “What have you found?”

 

Angel filled her in on his walkabout, and said he would be interested to hear what they could glean in the light of day.

 

Be careful not to touch anything, Buffy. We don’t know if the poison is still active.”

 

“And yet…”

 

Yeah.”

 

She sighed, and snuggled down in her blankets. “Miss you.”

 

Me too,” he said, before hanging up.

 

Buffy looked towards the curtained windows, unable to go back to sleep.

 

 

+++

 

 

Later that morning at breakfast Buffy made an excuse for Angel’s absence.

 

“He covered a lot of ground last night, and has something else he is looking in to.”  Buffy then related all that Angel had told her, leaving out the vampire parts. Those, she confided to Giles when they had a minute on their own. They were enjoying the morning sun while waiting for Neve to join them on their walk. Buffy could see the woman had a green thumb. She supposed Neve had what was called a cottage garden. It seemed appropriate, having a cottage and all. Plants of various shapes and sizes were blooming or beginning to bloom, and Buffy had no idea what most of them were called. The colours were glorious though.

 

“The body found in Paget’s Wood, Giles. Death by vampire, Angel thinks, and he should know.”

 

“That does sound rather normal in our scheme of things, but it still doesn’t explain…”

 

Buffy cut in. “He says there is an odd scent, definitely demon. Reptilian, I think, was the word.”

 

“That narrows it down a bit. This may be a basilisk as Neve has said.”

 

“You doubt her?”

 

“Not really, but I rely on our own observations first and foremost.”

 

“Mmm, Neve still hasn’t come clean on how she knows this is a basilisk. Do you think she has something to do with it?”

 

Giles thought for a moment. “She seems to genuinely want to stop this thing, but I do think she is hiding something.”

 

“I’m worried, Giles. If this thing is un-killable…”

 

“Nothing’s un-killable, Buffy.”

 

“Uh-huh!”

 

Neve joined them in that moment, and they set off through the wood, Giles asking how Neve came to be living on Forestry land.

 

“Technically, I’m not. The cottage has been in my family for generations.”

 

“Still…”

 

“There are a small number of private farms involved in encouraging forest restoration, and as long as we abide by certain rules, I’m one of them.”

 

Buffy pounced on a word. “Generations, huh? Just how many?”

 

Neve managed to evade the question with, “Too many to count.”

 

Giles and Buffy were delighted with the sight that greeted them when they ventured into the wood. A sea of bluebells swept gloriously around and beneath the slender trunks of the woodland trees. Everywhere she looked, Buffy could see blue.

 

“My, I forgot how spectacular the bluebells are,” Giles exclaimed. “We should never take something like this for granted.”

 

Buffy bent down for a closer look. The bells came right up to the path. Their scent was heavenly.

 

“Bluebells? These aren’t just spectacular, they’re beautiful.” She reached out to pluck one up.

 

“Please don’t, Buffy,” Neve warned. “One of the rules is that you don’t leave anything behind, and that you don’t take anything with you. Imagine if everyone picked a bluebell.”

 

Buffy’s fingers curled into a fist. Darn. Miss Brookes knew her way around Haugh Wood, and she delighted in pointing out a patch of yellow star-shaped flowers, kingcup she called them, dock and nettles, and of course the ever spectacular hawthorn with its white blossoms.  It wasn’t long before they stood where Angel had the night before. The large patch of dead vegetation was hard to miss. With spring in the air, and although there were still bare branches to be seen, new life had begun to bloom and the green of new leaves was everywhere. Buffy had seen plants dead and dried-looking, heck she had killed a few herself, but to see everything from trees blackened, wizened and forlorn, to bushes with flowers she had recently admired along the way, brown and drooping, she knew this was far from a natural occurrence. Even the grasses were brittle and dead. Keeping well away from the wilted flora they paced the perimeter.

 

“Angel was right,” Giles said. “The creature must have wings. How else would it get in and out without killing everything along the way?”

 

Buffy had looked for any signs of burrowing and had failed to find any. She agreed with Giles, and Angel’s earlier assessment. The basilisk would have left a trail of devastation in its wake if it had travelled on foot. Buffy noticed that Neve didn’t say much. Buffy watched her walking besides Giles. Did Neve happen to mention she had come across this earlier? Buffy couldn’t remember.

 

From there it was onto Paget’s Wood. They decided to head back and pick up the Discovery. From Paget’s they could continue on to Ledbury, and then Ross-on-Wye. 

 

Paget’s Wood had a display of bluebells that rivalled, if not surpassed those of Haugh Wood. Buffy stared at them in wonder. She felt as if she had stepped into a book of fairytales and half expected to see pixies and faeries cavorting through the flowers. Her footsteps slowed and she fell behind Neve and Giles as she led them along the path.

 

“Keep up, Buffy,” Giles voice floated back to her, and she picked up her pace with reluctance.

 

Buffy noticed a hole dug into the earth, the roots of trees angling in and around the slope of the ground. There was another opening near it. Above the larger of the two, a small arch of bricks held back the earth above. A sign declared it a lime kiln.

 

“Lime kiln? I thought they grew on trees?”

 

Neve chuckled. “Not those limes, Buffy,” she said. “Lime as in quicklime. If you follow that track,” Neve pointed to the well-used track leading away from the kiln, “you’d come to a limestone quarry in Church Wood. We’re headed in another direction.”

 

Buffy scrambled for a closer look and peered into the hole. It was dark, dank and she couldn’t sense or smell anything dangerous. The kiln didn’t look as if it had been used recently.

 

“How long ago did they do the…kiln thing?” she asked, when she had scrambled back to the path and the waiting pair.

 

“As late as the nineteenth century, I think. The kilns operated long before that.”

 

Giles added, “The Romans used lime for mortar and concrete among other things. And you’ve seen the castles and cathedrals throughout Britain, Buffy.  Imagine the demand back then. And that is only one of the uses for lime. Agriculture is another…”

 

“Thank you for the lecture, Giles,” Buffy said, fending him off at the pass. It was great that Giles knew these not-so fascinating facts, and apparently Neve did too, but Buffy did not need to know the entire history of lime. “Just wanted to know if the kiln had been used recently.”

 

They followed Neve along the well-used paths, Buffy eyeing up the slender trees with their new spring growth. She wondered, when the trees were fully clothed with leaves, would they blot out the sun?

 

Neve stopped at the turn of the path, and when Buffy looked past her, she saw a mass of withered bluebells. The beautiful flowers had been poisoned. It was like some one had spilt a bottle of red wine on to a carpet. The stain had spread, contaminating everything within reach. Buffy didn’t care about the rules; she stepped under the poor attempt of some official’s rope barrier and made her way towards the edge of the spoiled flowers. The still-living bluebells were crushed and mutilated, and she couldn’t tell if by human-sized shoes or by mythical claws.

 

“Be careful, Buffy,” Giles warned, echoing Angel’s earlier words. Buffy nodded, chose a few bells that hadn’t suffered damage and pulled them from their place. She wanted to share the flowers’ beauty with Angel later. A couple wouldn’t be missed, surely. Neve’s lips pursed in disapproval, and Buffy didn’t care. There must be tens of thousands of bluebells behind her, dead. These few wouldn’t be missed.

 

“It’s no good testing those,” Giles said, when she reached the path again. “We need the dead ones, and we can’t risk touching them without protective clothing.”

 

“I know,” she said, clutching the flowers carefully.

 

Comprehension dawned, and he smiled. Taking out his clean handkerchief, Giles handed it across.  “I’m sure he’ll appreciate those.”

 

“I think so. There’s water in the car, do you mind?”  Buffy smiled, wrapping the fragile blooms in cotton. “And getting back to the dead and dying over there, I think the poison has done its worst.”

 

“We can’t risk it though.” He threw her a stern look. “That means you.”

 

Buffy smiled sweetly at him – Giles wasn’t fooled - before turning to Neve. “Angel said he found the place where a body was discovered. Do you know where, exactly? He gave me directions, but as this is your neck of the woods…” she was grinning when she finished her sentence.

 

Neve chuckled. “I do know where. I come here often. It’s a lovely walk, and I couldn’t resist when the papers came out about the poor man. Does that make me a ghoul?” she said. “Come on, follow me.”

 

+++

 

There wasn’t much to see, and all three could venture off the path. The land and flora looked pretty normal except for the bloodstains and crushed plants, and the evidence of a police presence. Giles kneeled, after Buffy had had a good look, to see for himself.

 

“What is it?” Neve asked from behind them.

 

Buffy, pacing round the tree, answered her. “I don’t think this was any ordinary murder, if murder can be ordinary.”

 

“What do you mean? They said that the man’s throat had been savaged, and quite badly.”

 

Giles, knees creaking as he regained his feet, said, “It can’t be coincidence that this person was killed in the same area of wood that this supposed basilisk visited.”

 

Neve said, “He was killed because he saw something.”

 

“Now there’s a thought.” Buffy had already come to that conclusion.

 

“What could he have seen?” Neve continued.

 

“I say he saw the basilisk.” Buffy said without preamble. “I bet my new pair of shoes on it.”

 

Giles chuckled. “Which ones?”

 

Buffy rolled her eyes, and headed back to the path.

 

“But how could he have seen the basilisk? He couldn’t survive a confrontation, could he?” Neve asked, puzzled.

 

“He had to have been far enough away not to be affected by its breath.” Giles walked beside the lovely Neve as they made their way back to the car park.

 

“Which means someone else had to do the killing,” Buffy called back to them.

 

And Buffy knew that it wasn’t a someone that had done the deed. Vampires could hardly be called people, unless they were called Angel, of course. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the human wasn’t just food in this most unlikely of spots.

 

+++

 

 

It was well after lunch time when Giles turned the Discovery into Williams Cider Farm in Much Marcle.  Buffy’s stomach growled, and everyone else hid their grins.

 

“They have a wonderful restaurant here,” he assured her. “And there is also a shop where we can sample some of the cider they have in their range. Have you ever tasted perry?”

 

Buffy pulled a face at the back of his head.

 

“Mr Giles, I think we are out of luck.” Neve pointed to the sign that announced that they were closed due to unforeseen circumstances.

 

Disappointment dragged at his shoulders. “Oh well! It wasn’t as if I was looking forward to having a drop.”

 

“The gardens are a pleasure,” Neve offered, instead.

 

Buffy, giggling, escaped the car. Theirs was the only vehicle in the lot. The delicious scent of apple blossom pervaded the air and invaded their nostrils. They were truly in cider country.

 

A man came hurrying down the path towards them.

 

“I’m sorry, we’re closed,” he called.

 

Giles waited till he was able to talk and not have to shout to him. “That is disappointing. However, we’re here about the tragic circumstances.”

 

Reddish hair, hazel eyes, and a freckled-face considered them.

 

“And you are?”

 

“Rupert Giles, and these are my associates.” He handed over one of their business cards.

 

A calloused hand took the card.

 

“Project Paranormal?” He tried to hand the card back. “I’m sorry, the police said not to talk to anyone.”

 

“That is excellent advice, I’m sure,” Giles said, cheerfully. “We’ve helped the police on a few occasions ourselves, particularly when there are unexplained circumstances. The Wessex Constabulary can attest to that fact. We thought if we took a look we might see something the others hadn’t. Sorry, we shouldn’t have bothered you.” Giles turned to go.

 

Freckles creased in a frown. The man hesitated, and, tucking the card into a pocket, gestured for them to follow.

 

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt. I’ll take you to the site. The experts say not to go near.”

 

“Were they dressed in hazmat suits?” Giles asked.

 

“Yeah, they were. Told us they would let us know the minute the toxin was identified, and when it was safe.”

 

Buffy’s stomach rumbled again much to her chagrin.

 

The redhead led them through to the orchards, and another glorious sight greeted them. The trees lined in rows were beautiful in bloom. Buffy found herself loving this country more and more. For all its long, hard winter months, there was a gentle, amazing beauty to be found in the English countryside come spring. And before the man could point out where they were, they could see for themselves the hole where the delicate pink and white petals once were. There was a cordon of rope around the bleak space.

 

“No guards?” the Slayer asked, when they stopped and stared.

 

“No need, Miss. We won’t go near, and as long as folk keep away, we don’t have a problem.”

 

“I’m Buffy, and this is Neve,” she said, gracing him with a smile.

 

The man wiped his hand on his trousers, before offering it.

 

“John Williams.  Sorry about before.”

 

Buffy shook his hand gladly, then did Neve.

 

“You were only looking out for us,” Neve said.

 

“Williams?” Giles asked. “Are you…?”

 

“One of the family, yes.”

 

“This is most unfortunate, Mr Williams. The man who was…” Giles left the rest of his sentence unsaid.

 

“One of the orchard hands.” At Giles’ look Williams added, “Joseph could have been checking for deer. We get them wandering in sometimes, despite the precautions. He must have heard something.”

 

Buffy said, “I’d say you got that part right.”

 

“You have staff living on the premises?”

 

“We’re quite a big concern, Mr Giles. We do have a few of our more valuable people on hand.”

 

“I do appreciate that, Mr Williams. In fact being a lover of all things cider, I do know that you produce some of the best cider in Britain. I hope it won’t be too long before you can…”

 

Buffy left Giles to discuss all things cider, and made her way towards the crime scene. She heard Neve’s “be careful” and waved a hand back at her. The trees were a monstrosity, fingers of blackened branches clawing their way towards the sky. The grass-covered ground below was no better. There were markers left where the body must have been. Buffy couldn’t tell if the man had been running. Any tracks there may have been now obliterated beneath others. Did he drop dead not knowing the cause, or had he a brief moment where he had seen the thing that killed him?

 

The toes of her boots were just outside the rope but she could see that the police had made sure there was more space behind that. She desperately wanted to reach out and touch one of the afflicted trees. Buffy didn’t think the poison was still active, at least not this late in the game. She also believed second-hand transference was not applicable here. There would be more dead and dying animals, if not humans, ringing the lifeless patch of trees, and not just poor Joseph. Still, she had promised Giles and Angel.

 

“What are you thinking, Buffy?” Neve came up beside her.

 

“I can’t see a pattern in this. Is it looking for something? To me, it appears as if the basilisk is just grazing, although I can’t see how dead sticks and bits of grass could have any nutty goodness.”

 

“You mean it’s out there eating our countryside? What about the murder in the woods?”

 

Buffy frowned. “I know. That is what puzzles me.”

 

Giles came near. “Mr Williams has kindly offered us a bite to eat, Buffy. I know that you must be hungry. I know I am.”

 

“And it has nothing to do with you wanting to get inside to sample some of their cider, is it Giles?”

 

Giles had the good grace to look sheepish.

 

Buffy turned to see John Williams watching them. She waved at him. “Thank you.”

 

“What is this creature’s purpose?” she heard Giles mutter as he considered the crime scene.

 

“Maybe it wants to ruin the cider farms,” Buffy teased. “It hit Brush Farm in Ross-on-Wye. That’s next on the list. Come on, I’m hungry.”

 

+++

 

 

A delicious lunch later, not from the restaurant which was of course closed clcl   , but from the Museum shop that sold snacks and refreshments, as well as bottles of cider and perry, and they were on their way to Ross-on-Wye.  Buffy and Neve had learned all about an old tradition called wassail over lunch, Barry Williams, John’s brother, being a gifted storyteller. Wassail, they heard, was a ceremony that took place to ensure a good crop for the following year. All Buffy heard was that it was a good excuse to drink cider on the eve of the Twelfth Night of Christmas, meaning it would be a chilly event. No thank you, she thought. Farmers with shotguns and sticks, and bowls of cider and toast, seemed a bit silly to her. Though in her experience, there was often fact based in legend. She didn’t dismiss it, though. Giles, of course, knew all about it. She snickered at the look of longing he gave the bottles of cider. His look had been noticed because in the back of the Discovery, in a case, a variety of Williams’ stock sat. Buffy noticed that Giles drove a lot more sedately towards their next stop.

 

+++

 

Ross-on-Wye was a mere seven miles from Much Marcle and it wasn’t long before they turned off at Peterstow and sat outside Brush Farm. It was a smaller concern than Williams. Its white three hundred year old farm house stood proud on the top of a rise, and commanded a lovely view over the Wye valley. The farm also offered meals and accommodation in the form of bed and breakfast. When Giles returned from his visit to the farm house he was shaking his head.

 

“No go, I’m afraid. They are closed for a few days, and don’t want us tramping about causing bother with the police.”

 

“They didn’t buy you working for the police like you last mentioned?” Neve asked, looking at him with a wry smile. “Do you actually know any policemen?”

 

“As a matter of fact, I was telling the truth. We have worked with the police on several occasions,” Giles chuckled. “This just not being one of them.”

 

“We could sneak in,” Buffy suggested, not at all deterred.

 

Giles nodded. “We could, but I don’t think we shall find anything more than what we have already. Angel’s account will have to do.”

 

He restarted the car. “Back to Mordiford then.”

 

Buffy had an idea. A really stupid idea. “Can we go to the nearest town first?”

 

“Ross-on-Wye?” Giles asked.

 

“Yes, please. There’s something I want to pick up.”

 

Giles headed in the direction of the town. Ross-on-Wye was a small market town, and Buffy thought it pretty, and to use one of Giles’ terms, quaint. She could imagine Englishmen in their striped jackets and straw hats rowing a lovely young maid down the river Wye. She sighed; this wasn’t the time to ask to sightsee.

 

Looking out the window, she spied the very place she wanted and told Giles to pull up.

 

 

+++

 

Buffy asked Giles to drop her off in Mordiford. He did so, and she waited till the car was out of sight before she headed for the room in the pub that Angel had taken. She had barely knocked when the door was yanked open and she was pulled inside and enveloped in a hug.

 

“No, Angel, no.” Buffy pushed him away as gently as she could.

 

“You’ll crush these.” She held out her poor attempt at a bluebell posy. The flowers were somewhat wilted, no longer their former glory, but the confusion in Angel’s eyes turned to delight, and he carefully accepted the cotton-wrapped damp gift.

 

He held them up towards the window to study their colour. Angel had opened the curtains on the eastern window now that the sun had passed overhead. He could glance out to watch the world go by.

 

He quirked a fine eyebrow at her. “You know you aren’t allowed to pick the bluebells.”

 

“Yeah, well, I figured with thousands dead, a handful wouldn’t be missed. Besides, I wanted you to see them in the daylight.”

 

“For me?” Angel’s eyes went back to the delicate flowers, and she loved the look on his face as he studied them. His was an artist’s soul. Her throat felt tight all of a sudden. This was why she continued to bring him small tokens of the outside world he could not be a part of. 

 

“I’ll get a glass of water, shall I?” she said, and spying a glass on the bedside table went off to fill it.

 

When she got back, and Angel had placed the blooms in the water-filled glass, she was once again enveloped in his strong arms. They tumbled onto the bed. Angel kissed her, and when he released her lips, he murmured, “Thank you.”

 

She kissed him back. “You’re welcome, and just remember to spring me out of jail if someone noticed those when I came inside.”

 

“Tell me about your day.”

 

 

+++

 

Giles and Neve joined Buffy and Angel for the evening meal. Neve had declared she had a headache when she and Giles had returned to her home, and she had retired to the bedroom for a rest, leaving Giles to fend for himself. He had picked up the news clippings and had read them again for any detail they might have missed. His laptop came in handy in his research on the basilisk. Giles had no illusions that the internet had any real facts about such mythical creatures. A lot of what one found on the net was sure nonsense, or conjecture. Sometimes though, he found a pearl of knowledge that his books were unable to provide, and as he hadn’t brought any of those…He had huddled over the computer, a cup of tea going cold at his side.

 

+++

 

Buffy eyed up the Special Diet offer on the menu and guessed correctly that they wouldn’t be catering for Angel. The Moon Inn had the usual pub fare, and it was excellent. Neve had the nut roast for vegetarians and Buffy decided to join her. Giles, opted for the steak pie with cauliflower cheese.

 

“You’re not eating?” Neve asked Angel when he didn’t order.

 

“I ate earlier,” he said, sipping from his glass of red wine. He hadn’t. When he had opened up his cooler of blood the night before, the smell that greeted him informed him there had been a leak. Once upon a time he would have lapped at the inside of the container after draining the dregs into a glass. He had steeled himself, and had poured the blood down the sink. He wasn’t an animal, he told himself. He could go a day or two without. 

 

Over their meal they discussed what they had seen and a few theories were put forward and discussed. By the time they had finished eating the noise level had raised considerably. There were a couple of games of dominos under way nearby, and when the dartboard became free, Buffy challenged Angel to a game. Angel’s eyes lit up, and his grin matched that on Buffy’s lips when he slid out of his chair.

 

“This will be interesting,” Giles’ eyes gleamed with delight. He moved his chair about so that he and Neve had a good view of the dartboard.

 

“Are they good players, Giles?”

 

“I haven’t seen them play, but I imagine that they are. They are excellent marks…people.”

 

They watched as Angel explained the rules to her. Buffy started the play. The pair had picked the game of 301, Giles observed. Buffy’s dart flew true and she scored her first double, and her other two darts hit the treble 20 and the bull’s- eye.

 

They watched as Angel nodded his head and said something to her, before he too, let fly. His score matched hers. Buffy threw her boyfriend a brilliant smile, and the contest was on in earnest.

 

“That is amazing,” Neve breathed, as the game progressed and not one dart was wasted.

 

A small crowd had gathered by the time Buffy was down to her last throw. She won, only because she had the advantage of the start. She bowed to the sound of applause before putting her darts back on the board. Angel followed suit and they headed back to their table. An older man waylaid the pair, asking if they belonged to a dart club, and were they available for a game the following night.

They weren’t. Besides, as Buffy explained to Giles when they sat down, it wouldn’t be fair.

 

They lingered and enjoyed another drink before Angel declared it was time they moved on. Miss Brookes had been wondering why the delay and she was beginning to think that Project Paranormal went about their business in the most relaxed way. They hadn’t seemed to be in any hurry at all. Although, looking at Angel’s complexion against those in the pub, she wondered if he was ill. He looked very pale. She knew that he and Buffy were extraordinary; her vision had told her they were. Now she began to speculate on how extraordinary.

 

Back at the cottage, Angel voiced Buffy’s unspoken fear. It would be he that tackled the basilisk when they found its lair.

 

Buffy began to protest but Angel was adamant.

 

“You know I’m right, Buffy. There is no other choice. It has to be me.” He was sorting through the weapons bag and had claimed his sword.

 

Neve stared hard at him on hearing that. How was Angel going to capture the creature without coming to harm? As she considered him, an absurd thought intruded. Neve blinked it away. It’s not possible…

 

“But…” Buffy knew he was right, but she didn’t like it one bit. “Giles,” she pleaded.

 

Giles had come to the conclusion early on that Angel was the only one who could do this. And being dead didn’t mean that Angel was invulnerable. The beast could still harm the vampire, could in fact dust him.

 

“We haven’t found the basilisk yet. We have no idea where it is going to be, but when we do, Angel will be the one to kill it.” Giles knew that Buffy wouldn’t be able to accompany the vampire, and knew that she wasn’t happy about it. She was the Slayer. It was her job.

 

“Oh, you can’t kill it.”

 

As one, they turned to Neve. She swallowed nervously.

 

“I’m sorry. I haven’t been as forthright as I should have been.”

 

Giles leaned towards her. “I’m sorry?”

 

She licked her lips. “I want you to catch the basilisk and prevent it from harming anyone else, but I don’t want you to kill it.”

 

Buffy was in her face all of a sudden. “What aren’t you telling us?” she growled.

 

Angel was there, pulling Buffy away. “She’s trying to tell us, Buffy.”

 

Neve nodded her thanks, but she shivered at the intensity of Angel’s stare. She swallowed again, knowing that she deserved their anger.

 

“The basilisk is not at fault here.”

 

Buffy snorted. “So it’s not going around killing everything it sees! Yeah, I get it. It’s just a cute little puppy.”

 

“Buffy!” Giles held up a hand. His eyes never left Neve. “Continue, please.”

 

“I – I think the basilisk is being compelled…” she wasn’t explaining herself very well. Neve took a deep breath.

 

“Compelled? Compelled to do what?”

 

“I’m not certain but I think it is looking for treasure.”

 

As one, Giles and Angel said, “The dragon’s hoard.”

 

“The dragon has a hoard?” Buffy asked, confused.

 

“Mordiford has a legend that tells of a dragon…” Giles began.

 

Buffy interrupted. “There are dragon stories all over Britain. Why am I not surprised?” She pointed to Neve. “That doesn’t let you off the hook. If we’re,” and she emphasized the ‘we’, “are putting ourselves at risk here, we need you to come clean.”

 

“I’ll start at the beginning, shall I?”

 

They all stared at her.

 

“I didn’t know it was a basilisk at first. The evidence seemed to point to it, and basilisks, as Mr Giles said, haven’t been seen in centuries. The basilisk has been portrayed as a monster, when it isn’t. It’s a peaceful creature, and it just wants to be left alone.”

 

“And yet, you haven’t actually seen one, because then you would be dead too.”

 

“No I haven’t.” Neve looked at Buffy, then Giles, and lastly at Angel. “If you know the story of Maud and the Mordiford dragon, then you have to know that she was an ancestor of mine.”

 

At Buffy’s look, Giles paraphrased. “A young girl named Maud came across a young dragon, a dragonet, and took it home. She wanted to look after it but her parents objected, and she had to take it back to the wood where she had found it. She did so, but continued to visit with food, keeping it company. Eventually it grew up as all living creatures do, and of course, so did its appetite. The dragon began to eat the livestock from the nearby farms, and the unhappy farmers decided to look for a brave person to kill the dragon. Who that was remains a mystery. The legend varies, but a few do say that a scion of the Garston family was the one who did the deed. Another has it that a criminal, condemned to death, killed the dragon. Whatever happened, the dragon was dead, and Maud was left bereft. ”

 

Neve took over the tale. “Garston thrust his lance into the dragon’s throat but before he could administer the killing blow, Maud came out of the bushes throwing stones at his horse, causing it to rear up, and it carried Garston away. The dragon was dying, but it wasn’t dead.”

 

Giles interjected. “The dragon was seen no more. It must have perished.”

 

“It didn’t. It passed into another plane of existence.”

 

“You say that Maud was your ancestor?” Angel asked suddenly, curious to know if he was the older.

 

He wondered why the others were looking at him strangely.

 

After a beat, Giles asked, “You sound so sure about this plane of existence.”

 

Buffy took a shrewd guess. “The story was passed down by word of mouth, wasn’t it?”

 

There was a trace of sadness in her voice when Neve said, “Dragons are mythical creatures, and yet quite a few were seen over the centuries. All at once they disappeared. They left us, more’s the pity, for somewhere that was more suited to their needs.”

 

All Buffy knew was that they were big and dangerous. Angel had fought one once. And look what happened there. “And that’s a bad thing?”

 

“I suppose not in this day and age. It’s mankind who are the poorer for it.”

 

“And the basilisk?” Giles prompted.

 

“A distant cousin.”

 

Buffy was getting impatient. “And…?”

 

“It would never deliberately harm anyone, unless threatened. I think the basilisk is being forced to do something. May be it is looking for the dragon’s treasure.”

 

“Forced? How?”

 

“I don’t know,” Neve said. “Whoever is doing this has to be impervious to the basilisk’s defences. And, they have to be able to control it.”

 

Buffy looked to where Angel stood. Another vampire. It was the only explanation. She brought her gaze back to the Englishwoman.

 

“Okay. I buy that. Now all we have to do is find it.”

 

“But not kill it,” Neve warned again.

 

“Do you have any clue as to where we may find this creature?” Giles asked.

 

“Haugh Wood is where Maud found and fostered the dragon. The link between this world and the dragon’s is closer there. The dragon was supposedly killed there, and many believe that its treasure is hidden beneath Haugh Wood. It’s a load of nonsense. The dragon didn’t have any treasure. Unless you call knowledge treasure.”

 

“It is perhaps one of the greatest treasures,” Giles agreed.

 

“So why, if the basilisk knows that the treasure is a myth, is it searching all over the place? And why, if it thinks there is a treasure, hasn’t it headed straight for it?”

 

“Perhaps it is stalling for time. I don’t know all the answers, Buffy. Maybe it really doesn’t know what it is doing?”

 

“And where do you get your answers from?”

 

Neve stared at the trio. She hoped that they believed what she was going to tell them.

 

“From the dragon himself.”

 

Buffy, Giles, and Angel, blinked.  Neve thought that went well.

 

“How?” Giles asked, finding his voice.

 

“Members of Maud’s family have leave to ask for help when needs must.”

 

They were all interested to hear how she does that.

 

“Valerian and passionflower among other things.”

 

Giles eyebrows rose. “You put yourself into a trance?”

 

“Slumber, trance, whatever, and it works. Kind of numbs the extremities for a while.”

 

“How close did you get to the dragon?”

 

Neve looked up at the younger man. “It’s mesmerizing. I can’t explain it, but the intelligence of these magnificent beings is beyond comprehension. I cannot believe that dragons were hunted.”

 

“Did it really talk to you?” Buffy asked.

 

“Humans cannot understand dragon speech. It spoke to me in images.”

 

“What did it say?”

 

“It showed me your two colleagues, Mr Giles. Only they could help me help the basilisk.”

 

Buffy turned her eyes to Angel. “Did you hear that? We have to help. We, being the operative word,” she couldn’t help reiterate. Something else occurred to her. She swung her gaze back to Neve.

 

“Wait a minute. Back up for the confused girl here.” Buffy raised her brows at their hostess. “You say you were shown a picture of the two of us, and you found us in the Yellow Pages? Huh? How did that happen?”

 

“It was difficult, believe me. I knew that I had to find two people that were extraordinary and who dealt with extraordinary matters, and, having no names, I had to use your descriptions from my vision. Do you know how many people use the phone book to advertise help with psychic phenomena, ghost busting, and the paranormal?  It took hours to find you. My phone bill is going to be sky high.”

 

They were impressed. Giles asked her, “Have you thought about going into the detective business?”

 

“I like the quiet life,” Neve replied, making Buffy laugh.

 

“Quiet? Talking to dragons doesn’t sound like quiet to me,” she said.

 

Wanting to get back to the business on hand, Angel asked Neve, “Where do you think the basilisk will be tonight?”

 

“I climbed out the window this afternoon and buried some gold for it to find.”

 

“When you pretended to have a headache, you mean?” Giles said.

 

Neve shrugged. Her eyes said she wasn’t sorry, but she said it anyway.  “Sorry.”

 

“Why would the creature come for your gold?” Giles asked her. “I’m sure that not a few households would have jewellery hereabouts.”

 

“I added a touch of dragon’s breath.”

 

Giles opened his mouth in surprise. Dragon’s breath? “How on earth?”

 

 Neve’s smile became mysterious. Giles doubted the woman was going to betray all her secrets.

 

“Are you a wicca? Do you practise witchcraft?” Buffy asked, undeterred, enigmatic or not.

 

Neve frowned. “I don’t consider myself a witch. I don’t do spells. Not really. I use herbs and unguents, simples, for various things. Sick animals, plants, myself sometimes. I do have a connection to Haugh Wood and the land hereabouts. Does that make me a wiccan, a witch?”

 

Giles searched for the right words to describe how he perceived Miss Brookes. “I think you are a remarkable young woman. One who has been gifted with something extraordinary, the calling of a dragon.”

 

“I need directions.” Angel said, rummaging through the weapons bag. He counted the stakes there, and said, “Giles, I’ll need the tow rope from the car, and the tarpaulin.” He put back the axe, and left the crossbow and Buffy’s sword on the table.

 

Buffy’s small but strong hand grabbed at his. She was desperate. “You are not going alone. This needs the two of us!” she said, repeating herself.

 

Angel looked her in the eye and, keeping his voice low so as not to be overheard, said, “How long can you hold your breath, Buffy? How can you fight someone if their very touch can kill you? No, I’m sorry. You can’t be a part of this.”

 

Buffy could see that Angel’s mind was made up. Stubborn vampire! She wanted to scream he was wrong. She wanted to pummel him until he let her accompany him. She knew that she wouldn’t. He was right. She would die, and for what? To prove that she couldn’t listen to reason? Well, she could be stubborn too. She let him go. She felt Giles’ reassuring touch at her elbow. She blinked back her tears, and if her smile was a little shaky, she managed it all the same.

 

Neve could see how hurt Buffy was to be left behind. She could see how much Buffy loved Angel, and knew that the younger woman was worried for him. Angel loved Buffy, of that she was sure. He was the one that had to do this, and she didn’t know quite how, but she did trust what the dragon had shown her.

 

She said, “I planted my grandmother’s gold bracelet near the dead vegetation. If the woods are going to suffer more, I thought it best if we kept it to the one place.”

 

Angel nodded. He lifted the bag from the table, his sword disappearing beneath his coat. His dark eyes went to Buffy’s face.

 

She tried one more time. “What are you going to do with the basilisk once you’ve captured it? Give it milk and cookies?”

 

He opened his mouth to protest. She held up a hand. “I’m sorry. That was mean.” She glanced over to Neve. “Just what are we going to do with the basilisk once we capture it? Did your dragon tell you that?”

 

Neve looked down at her hands. She had no idea. “No. Everything will turn out alright, Buffy. I know it will. You have to believe.”

 

“Buffy, we have no choice in the matter.” Giles headed for the door. He needed to open up the car to allow Angel access to the things he required. “We can’t lose you. And, Angel, if you have to, kill the beast. We can’t let it continue to ruin the countryside.” He hurried out the door.

 

Neve bit down on her anger. Giles was right, of course. She couldn’t expect Angel to die trying to subdue the basilisk.

 

For a long moment nobody moved. Angel stood there looking at Buffy, and she at him. Buffy threw her arms about him and drew his head down for a kiss.

 

“Go,” she breathed when their lips parted. His look spoke of love, determination, and regret, and then he was gone.

 

Buffy turned to Neve. “I need your help.”

 

+++

 

Angel made good time through Haugh Wood. Legend had it the dragon was buried here. Now they had Neve saying it wasn’t, and that there was a thinning of barriers between this world and the other. Angel arrived at the dead part of the wood. All was silent.  Even the insects had stilled their song the closer he got. Nothing moved.

 

Using the axe as a tool, Angel cut a branch from a tree. It would do for a staff. He would use his sword only as a last resort. He chose a tree that had more foliage than most. It was near enough to the spot that Neve had buried her bracelet. She had covered her tracks quite well, but he could tell the earth had been disturbed despite the leaves and twigs she had placed there. He climbed the tree, having secreted the bag of weapons below. Angel settled down to wait. His friends once told him he had no patience, for it had appeared so at times. They had been wrong. He was a predator, and waiting was second nature to him. He didn’t move, didn’t twitch a muscle until he felt the draft of air that told him the beast was on the wing. Its dark shape flew by him to set down on the ground below.

 

Angel looked past the branches and leaves in an effort to spy what sort of creature he was dealing with. He caught the outline of wings furling, a glint of moonlight off scales, and he heard the soft scuffing of claws on grass and earth. A wave of incredibly foul air rushed by him, and the leaves covering him twisted and curled in their death throes. He glanced down at his hands. They were as solid as a dead man’s could be. He wasn’t dust, hadn’t really thought he would be, but it was reassuring all the same to be certain.

 

There was movement on the path. A man-shape flew down the ride. It was vampire fast, and it carried a box in one hand. In the other, Angel could see a device of some sort. He looked over to the basilisk and caught the glimmer of red. It winked at him. He looked back to vampire. The demon had stopped well short of the now withered grass. The basilisk roared and lowered its head. The vampire held up the box and gave it a good shake. The basilisk roared again, its eyes glinting gold in the moon’s light.

 

Angel considered his options. The basilisk was to be captured alive. The vampire he could reduce to ash. He leapt from his tree, the make-do staff in his hands. As a stake, it would do. Angel landed running hard at the vampire. Startled, it ran, yelling meaningless gibberish to the beast. The basilisk answered his shout, and when Angel glanced behind, it was charging at him. The vampire sidestepped and came about. It still had the box in one hand, and now a curved knife in its left. Rather than being caught in the middle, he launched himself at the vampire using the staff like a pole vaulter, only aiming for its chest. The vampire was smart. It dodged sideways. Angel changed his angle of attack at the last moment. Swinging his legs around, Angel’s feet collided with the vampire knocking him to the ground. The box tumbled from the vampire’s fingers, landing a few feet away. The vampire slashed at him, scoring a painful cut across his shins as Angel jumped to avoid the knife. The ground shook with the force of a heavy body pounding towards him. Whirling about, Angel ran towards the beast hoping the vampire wasn’t about to launch himself at his back.

 

The basilisk was not as big as Angel had expected. It was the size of a small cow. And Angel knew that it would be far more powerful than an ordinary bovine. To be able to use its wings would require it to have great strength and stamina. He slammed into the creature.

 

+++

 

Angel needn’t have worried about the vampire. Snatching up the fallen box, it ran back down the path seeking a safe place to hide. The vampire was sure that his creature would make short work of the vamp that had come out of nowhere. How had it known? Was it after the treasure? His treasure? He ran into a fist, and staggered with the blow. He shook his head to clear it, sure that he was dazed. A nightmare stood before him, its face a gruesome parody of human. Huge glassy eyes stared at him, and a slick clear substance covered the creature’s head and body. The lower half of the face was wrapped in cloth, and he was unable to see what passed for a mouth. A gloved appendage swung at him, a stake in its hand. He ducked away, dropping the box he held. Inside the box, something squealed.

 

“Who are you?” the vampire asked. He wondered what kind of demon he was dealing with, and why it hadn’t succumbed to the lethal breath of his creature. He prepared to charge the stranger, when it produced a sword hidden behind its back. The vampire darted away. Muffled laughter followed, and the nightmare chased after him.

 

+++

 

Angel was flung away with a savage flick of the basilisk’s tail. His ears rang with the blow, and blood trickled from a cut on his head. The creature circled around and leaped to stamp him underfoot. The vampire was faster. He rolled out of its way. The basilisk was strong. However, it wasn’t much of a fighter. Its strengths lay in its breath and deadly touch. There would be no need to attack an enemy with those in its arsenal. Some legends told that a glance would also be a death sentence. It was rumoured the basilisk was related to the Medusa. Angel didn’t think so. The eyes were golden like his own when he was stirred to anger. And what would be the point of a poisonous breath if a glance killed its victims? The beast was determined to finish him. It roared, and lunged at him. Angel somersaulted up and, using his staff, hit the basilisk behind the head with considerable force. It staggered but did not go down. A claw swiped at the wood in his hands. Angel let go and vaulted to the beast’s back. The wings unfurled, and Angel felt the creature’s legs tense for a leap into the air. Flight did not come. The basilisk turned in a circle and thundered down the path and into the trees, with Angel clinging to its back.

 

Two clawed feet skidded to a stop. There was a container on the ground. The vegetation withered and died before his eyes. The basilisk, ignoring the weight of the vampire on its back, nudged at the box. Angel peered over one of the wings. A mewling sound could be heard from inside. Angel slipped off the creature’s back and, carefully, reached a hand towards it. The basilisk snarled and snapped at his fingers.

 

The vampire held up his hands, and in a soothing voice, said, “I only want to help. I won’t hurt whatever is in there. Trust me.” He didn’t know if the creature understood him. Animals could be gentled with a calming voice, and music, in his experience. Humans too oft times. The basilisk stamped its feet and snorted. It warbled, bird-like, at him but did not attack. Keeping his eyes on the beast, Angel crouched down and put a hand out. Running his fingers over the container he discovered holes for air. The box squeaked at him. Surprised, he glanced down. It was a cage. He found the latch, broke the lock, opened the lid, and scooted away. A tiny figure crawled from its confinement. A tongue flicked out and lapped at the mewling, miniature basilisk.

 

+++

 

 

“Come back here,” Buffy called, as she scrambled after the vampire. Thankfully, the vamp was heading away from Angel and the beast he was trying to contain. The further away the better as far as she was concerned. The vampire was fast, faster than her. She tracked his progress through the woods, her makeshift protective clothing a hindrance. She dared not discard it: the basilisk could arrive at any moment. Buffy didn’t want to think about that. It would mean that Angel had failed, and the only way he would fail was if he was…She shook the dreaded thought away.

 

Her Polaroid sunglasses darkened an already dark nightscape, and she knew that the vamp she was tracking would have the advantage of her. She kept her breathing shallow; it was hard enough to find fresh air behind the face mask that covered her nose and mouth and a woollen scarf. Her plastic raincoat crinkled as she jogged. Not exactly stealthy, she thought. Clutching her sword, she stopped still, trying to listen. Nothing moved for a long moment, and just when she was beginning to think she had lost him he came out of the trees at her. Buffy tripped when she tried to sidestep. Blasted gumboots, she thought, then she giggled as she rolled. Neve had called them wellies. She must ask Giles about that when she saw him next. Still grinning, she kicked up at the vampire lunging for her, his fangs bared.

 

“Sorry, I’m not lunch,” she said, when he sailed over her and fell in a heap. She had dropped her sword. It didn’t matter. Buffy had another idea.

 

“Who are you?” the vampire growled, scrambling to his feet, lashing out at her with his fists, having realised she was a human dressed up beneath that ridiculous outfit.

 

She blocked both blows, and hit back with an uppercut and a jab. Buffy bobbed aside when he tried to grab at her coat, and when he reached for her again, she clutched at his shirt and with both hands, threw him into the trees. Slamming into the branches of an ash tree, he exploded into dust.

 

“You’ll never know,” she quipped and, coming about, saw Angel standing there.

 

Buffy knew she was in trouble.

 

 

+++

 

 

Both Giles and Neve were relieved to see Buffy and Angel return safe and sound. Giles had been reluctant to let Buffy go. He hadn’t thought much of her plan, and Neve had helped Buffy don her battle armour, hoping it would keep her safe.

 

Coming through the door, Giles saw that Buffy carried her discarded ‘suit’ in her hands. Angel followed soon after, a bit battered and bloody, the weapons bag with him. Buffy was quiet, chastened, Giles thought, when she laid her bought and borrowed gear on Neve’s dining table. Angel was dangerously quiet, angry, Giles knew.

 

The vampire placed a cloth bundle next to the raincoat. It contained Neve’s grandmother’s bracelet.  Only he could detect the faint aroma of fire and brimstone, the dragon’s breath, that enveloped it. It would have made him nervous, not knowing the source.

 

“The basilisk?” Neve asked, in the uncomfortable silence.

 

Angel’s gaze landed on her. 

 

“Gone, and with its baby.”

 

“Baby? There was a baby?” Giles asked, amazed at the thought. Baby? How? Where?

 

 “What?”

 

Never one to be silent for long, Buffy answered him. “There was this vam…man…um…who had the baby in a cage.”

 

“Vampires are real, I get that now,” Neve said, and two pairs of eyes stared at her. Ebony eyes stared past her shoulder. She shrugged. “Why not? Dragons are real. I finally worked it out. The only person that cannot be killed by a basilisk has to be dead already.” She looked at Angel with curious intent, and nodded almost to herself. “That explains quite a bit.”

 

Angel looked away. His voice was deep, almost a whisper.  “The basilisk had a tracking device embedded in its flesh. Once it had its young back it was happy to disappear back to where it came from.”

 

“That’s why the basilisk was behaving oddly.” Neve appraised the young woman. “You were right, Buffy. It was out foraging. I think it had a liking for apple blossom.”

 

“That, and I think it was buying time. The vamp…” Buffy glanced quickly at Angel before continuing, “…pire was using the baby as blackmail.”

 

Giles nodded. “Thinking that the basilisk would be able to sniff out the dragon’s treasure, the vampire was able to track this creature all over the countryside. The vampire was outsmarted.”

 

“By you, and the basilisk.” Neve went put on the kettle. “I think it’s time for a cup of tea.”

 

“I wonder where on earth the vampire found the basilisk.” Giles mused aloud. “Where did you say the beast went, Angel?”

 

“I didn’t.” His answer was clipped. He hadn’t let go of his anger.

 

Giles hesitated, before saying, “We couldn’t stop her, Angel. Buffy is her own person, you know that. No matter what we said…”

 

Buffy crossed her arms, and trembled, wishing Angel would put his arms around her. She was sorry that Angel was mad at her, and knew in her heart that he was justified. She could have been killed in this evening’s skirmish. She had kept as far away from the basilisk as possible, but in her heart of hearts, she knew she had to be there to kill the vampire. She had only hoped that Angel was able to handle the situation, and she had been worried for him. What if he hadn’t been immune close up and personal? What if the basilisk had been bigger and fiercer than anyone realised? What if the vampire had dusted Angel while he was trying to subdue the basilisk? How would she cope knowing that he had died when she had stayed behind? She would do it again. Angel hadn’t said a word to her on the way back. She had trudged along hoping he would get over it by the time they arrived back at the cottage. He hadn’t. She sighed. He would, eventually.

 

Tossing her hair, she dared a smile. “It worked. Angel freed the baby and beast, while I killed the bad guy.”

 

Angel refused to look at her. He was madder than hell that Buffy had risked herself like she had. Her protective clothing had been a joke. It lay there on the table, staring up at him pathetically. He could have taken care of the vampire, and the basilisk. And if the vampire had gotten away, it would have been unfortunate. Not exactly world in peril stuff. If Buffy had been killed by her own stubbornness then that would have been tragic. He didn’t know how he would cope if she had perished.

 

Looking at his two heroic and strong-willed friends refusing to look at each other, Giles suggested, “How about something stronger? I have just the thing.” And with that Giles went out to the car to fetch a bottle of Williams’ finest cider. The Westbury Cider Men could spare a drop, he thought. Besides, the day, er, evening was won.

 

Maybe a drop or three would loosen the vampire’s tongue. Giles had a lot of questions he wanted answered, and he wasn’t above using a little guile to get them.

 

The End.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Notes:

 

I promise to keep them short.

 

Foremost, my thanks to my wonderful friend, Jo. Her knowledge of the English flora has been invaluable, and her talents as beta even more so. Thank you, Jo.

 

Fran, thank you for allowing me to pick your brain about your part of the world.

 

The ash tree is supposed to have mystical uses which is why I used it in this story.

http://www.mystical-www.co.uk/trees/trees_a2z/trees_a.htm

 

Don’t keel over in shock at the price of the ash tree here.

As you can see it is purported to have mystical healing abilities.

http://www.tree2mydoor.com/products/product_details.asp?productid=10

 

And here, the ash tree was supposed to protect against snakes and their venom. And yet, the serpent was said to have been an integral part of the tree.

http://www.the-tree.org.uk/BritishTrees/ash.htm

 

 

For more information on the basilisk I have included these three addresses below. I based the basilisk’s killing powers on these but did not follow the descriptions too closely. My version is exactly that, mine.

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilisk

 

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/basilisk.html

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cockatrice

 

To learn more about the Dragon of Mordiford follow this site. Whether or not there was a dragon remains to be seen. There is a dragon painted on the church at Mordiford.

 

http://www.polenth.com/myth/europe/mordiford.html

 

My understanding is that no one lives on Forestry Land. There are farms that do help in the Forestry Commissions projects.

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-6WFJSL

 

Apparently it is against the law to pick wild bluebells, so please, do not follow Buffy’s example.

 

Here is a site that shows the beautiful display of bluebells in Paget’s Wood.

http://www.wildlifetrust.org.uk/hereford/reserves/lea_pagets.htm

 

There is a Moon Inn in Mordiford. If you wish to see where Angel and crew had a meal, visit here:

http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/s/28/28698/Moon_Inn/Mordiford

 

I altered the name of the two cider farms I mentioned because I based those on real farms in the area. If you know your cider then you will know that Westons is one of the biggest cider producers in the area, if not the UK, and Broome Farm became Brush Farm in my story. Any reference is entirely intentional, and no harm intended. The apple blossoms make a wonderful show.

 

Westons

http://www.ciderroute.co.uk/site/meet/westons.html

 

Broome Farm

http://www.broomefarmhouse.co.uk/

 

 

Ross-on-Wye did not get too much of a mention but if you are interested here is a lovely view of the town.

http://www.wyenot.com/scenic.html

 

 

Valerian:

Valeriana officinalis, or valerian root, is one of the most common herbs used for insomnia. It isn’t smoked, or I hope not. Neve inhaling the herb as smoke is entirely my own idea.

 

Passionflower:

Passionflower is often used to treat restlessness, anxiety and insomnia. Once again I used my own methods for the telling of this tale.



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