After the Deluge Chapter 29

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series After the Deluge
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Yes, more than one chapter in a day. And the final chapter to come, too.

Chapter 29 The Well Calls

The next half-hour was hurried. The group was well aware that anything spoken aloud could easily be overheard by the attendant epitome of badness, whether appearing in the guise of a person or disembodied. The witches facilitated some mental links, but when they tried to join Oscar to the group he started screaming in real agony.

Miss Hartness sighed. “He’s very far gone into its power, I’m afraid, Mr Giles. If we can get him back home to Devon after all this is over, we could try, but I don’t hold out a great deal of hope even then. And for now, whatever he says must be aloud. We can’t help him with that.” She looked genuinely distressed.

Andrew looked even less comfortable. He really didn’t belong there and was a very long way out of his depth. That feeling grew worse as Rupert and Spike explained their separate understandings of where they were and what was needed. After they had finished a heavy silence filled the cavern.

Then an unexpectedly deep voice came from the figure on the floor. “It is my hour. I knew it of old. So old, you mortals can have no comprehension. I must return to the deepest part of the well, fill the space vacated by an Old One. I came to take Drogyn’s place, but I must now in turn be replaced. It must be witnessed.”

Rupert Giles nodded. That filled in some gaps. “Are you an Old One yourself?” he asked.

“In a way, yes. In another, no. I am of Drogyn’s kind, made to guard the portal for eternity. But a portal has two sides, and I am needed at the other, to keep it closed.”

“So, let me get this right,” said Buffy, considering. “You just need someone to hold the fort here? Is that all?”

“’Someone’ is not correct. It must be an individual of special worth. A champion in your terms.”

Andrew had relief written across every inch of him. Nobody, ever, could consider him in that category. He turned to Buffy, expectantly. She had saved the world before. What was one more apocalypse to her?

Spike saw the look and edged towards him. Muttering, audible only to the little geek and himself, he hoped, “Say one thing and I guarantee you go straight down that hole, head first. An appetiser for whatever is waiting down there. Geddit?”

He got it. Enough so that his knees began to buckle and he held a tree root from the wall to support himself. Satisfied that the danger from that quarter, if any, had gone, Spike returned his attention to the main act.

The Guardian of the Well had continued speaking during Spike’s exchange and it took the latter a moment to catch up. Two must stay, not one? Some crap about locks and keys? Please the Powers nobody could be talking about his bit. Dawn looked worried enough, but not targeted. Willing and unwilling? He raised his hand.

“Not wholly sure what’s needed, but sounds a lot like I might need to be your candidate.” He shifted his position to avoid looking at Buffy. He’d expected fury, but that look of hurt and distress was going to take rather more processing. Now was not the time.

The figure on the ground raised itself up a little more on its elbows. “No, Vampire. You have died too many times already to be rendered immortal for this task. That stupid doggerel was correct in that way at least.”

Oscar bridled, but clearly thought better of intervening. Indeed, now might be a good moment to leave. He started to move a foot sideways, but looked down as it pushed against not a lump of stone or a tree-root, but a very determined foot attached to an extremely cross-looking young woman. Ah. Siblings were such a nuisance, whomsever they belonged to. Rethink.

The pressure of the darkness seemed to reduce the space bounded by the walls. Buffy felt her breathing hitch a little. If Spike had died twice, did this rule her out too? If you counted Warren’s bullet, she was still ahead of him anyway.

The dark Guardian shook his head. “No, Slayer. Fear not. You are not called on to make another sacrifice. Not here, not now. There are others chosen beyond you.”

And then Witleof stepped forward. Whatever language he was using in reality, his offer was clear to all present. “I, Witleof, battle hero of Penda, traitor and redeemed, never dead yet not living. It is my geass. I feel it. Do with me as you will and as you must.”

One willing victim. Or was ‘volunteer’ the better word? He had been summoned so recently; he had scarcely lived since, hardly had time to feel the sun on his face before entering this dark and facing the deeper dark. Buffy and Spike shared a glance – how unfair Fate always was. Yet it seemed fitting.

“It is indeed you who must stay here. Dead and not dead, living and not living. Battlebrand of the past and of the eternal future. I have waited for you. Come, join me. The incantations are half-done. And the rest of the sacrifice will show at the moment it is needed.”

The young, bright-haired warrior helped the ancient being to his feet and they moved under his tender care across the lumpy floor to the start of the bridge and the edge of the void.

“Oscar, my boy. Are you really going to let this happen now?” An Irish voice murmured in his ear. No other person present reacted; this was clearly for Oscar alone. “If you want your family safe, now, you have to act for me. Just push a little, at the right time. That’s all I need, and they will be safe.”

The magic users approached the two standing Guardians, those of the past and of the future. The witches bore incense sticks and smudged the air around them all. A low hum arose, shared by the men now on the bridge, building till it filled the entire space, from arched ceiling to boulder-strewn ground. The two Guardian figures began to pulse, as one had before, but now synchronised with each other and glowing, literally, with health and light, more on each pulsation.

And then Oscar acted. He shoved Dawn viciously to one side, dodged round Andrew and propelled himself towards the bridge. He screamed, a thin, high-pitched screech, as he ran, and as he reached the bridge.

And the older Guardian stepped through the rails. They were unbroken, yet his body hovered on the other side, above the Well. “Come, my friend. Join me.” He spoke as Oscar, unable to stop his catapulted progress, landed on the bridge where the figure had been standing. His momentum continued, though. Witleof stepped aside, an odd expression of pity on his sharp features, and Oscar continued his progression, snapping the rails and on, into the body of the figure hovering by them.

A sound like thunder echoed as a blinding flash illuminated every face, every tree root, every stone. As it died away there was a second of silence, then a broken whimper from Oscar. And then he merged with the man he touched. And then, he fell.

There was no scream. Not from Oscar or his now-eternal partner. Not from Witleof, who stood taller than before and strong. Not from the assembled crowd. Even Rupert Giles, now the only man of that name present, made no sound as his brother fell deeper and deeper inside the earth. He gripped the hand of the witch he was holding more tightly before releasing her, swallowed hard, and with his remaining hand pinched the bridge of his nose. Then he took three slow steps to his rear.

Dawn and Buffy rushed to his side but he waved them away, blindly. It was Spike who reached him first, guided him to a stump and, with unwonted gentleness, forced him to sit down. Giles buried his face in both hands.

On the bridge Witleof still stood and now held a bright sword which he brandished over his head. As he spoke the faint echo of his own ancient language chimed with the English everyone there felt they could hear. Past merged with present to form the future.

“Hwaet! Hear ye onlookers! I, Witleof, battle man of the shield wall of Mercia, stand here of my own will and determination. None shall pass into or from this chamber save with my grace. None shall come from this pit save with my aid. The Old Ones are at peace once more, their number restored by one alive and dead at once, in thrall to an Evil which can never depart but must be fought, which can never triumph but must be opposed, which grows but shrinks as the souls on man and monster allow or oppose.”
“Quite a mouthful, that,” Spike muttered to Buffy. He’s no shrinking violet, is he?”

She made a face at him, but her attention was on the man on the bridge. As she watched his tunic transformed into a purple tabard and his limbs changed colour till they seemed clad – or made? – of bright steel. There was definitely a feel of a Mediaeval knight about him now.

“All we need is Indiana Jones and a goblet,” she replied.

“Rupert, son of Giles.” The figure spoke and the Watcher raised his head. “You shall not see your brother in this life again. He is gone, poor fool that he was. But he died not. He knows his folly now and forms part of the eternal fight. He fills the place left by Illyria, demonic God-King of yore, and in doing so restores the numbers to the balance that was decreed. He helps to hold the barrier against the things of darkness. Grieve if you must, but loss is transitory. Instead be proud that your blood stays to fight the dark, as it was ever bound to do.”

A chord, mixed organ and strings, it felt like, filled the chamber. The figure of Witleof of Mercia glowed brighter and brighter, till in mere self-preservation all present shielded their eyes, yet still the brightness pulsed through hands and eyelids.

And it was gone. When they forced their eyelids open once more, the bridge stood empty. With a rumble, the earth around them started to shake. A banshee wail echoed around the space as the figure of Angel – or Angelus – flickered into being, with long, tangled elflocks and filthy clothes. A shaft of light fell from above, cutting somehow through the being’s feet and solidified into a sword. The flickering intensified and the calm, scornful expression on the face of not-Angel changed, first to annoyance, then anger, then panic. Rocks started to fall over and through it, as if they, too, were of more than one form of reality. Clods of soil, roots of trees, more stones cascaded down until it was impossible to see the human figure beneath and within the heap.

Californians know very well what to do when the solid earth beneath them isn’t. Even Giles got the hint sent by the noise and the shaking. Not so much the Brits who had never been outside a country where an earthquake rarely tops 3.5 and is more the topic of jokes than a serious problem.

Between them, Dawn and Andrew hauled the witches up and started to drag them towards the exit. Buffy and Spike towed Giles along with them. The seven were all who remained of the group who had entered, and they stumbled through the tunnel, great lumps of dirt and lengths of tree-root falling on them as they went.

Somehow the last of the group flung themselves through the tree-stump exit just as it closed with a snap. There was a crackling sound, then a thread of flame licked its way up the dead wood, spreading and consuming as it went. That route to the depths within was forever closed to them.

Overhead there were stars in the sky. In the distance the horizon was tinted a faint pink.

The next (and final) chapter is here.

Comments, as ever, very much appreciated.

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