I was amazed and grateful for comments and readers when I posted a chapter of After the Deluge on Monday. Thank you everyone who did either!
Here, as it’s free-for-all-day, is another chapter. No, don’t faint. 1,212 words, PG13.
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Beneath Us.
The moon cast shadows which intersected with the bark of the ancient tree to give it something of an Edward Scissorhands look. Not that anyone really felt the need to point this out. Dawn shivered and stepped slightly closer to her companion. Even Andrew had his uses.
Spike and Buffy stood, alert, poised to resume fighting, but surrounded by the extremely inert demon guards they had just dealt with. In the half-light even the blood looked bleached, and the hacked-about bodies no more than lumps of darkness. A light breeze ruffled Buffy’s hair, blowing wisps across her face, and made scraps of clothing on the demon corpses flutter like defeated flags.
After a few moments they relaxed their stance. It was quiet now. The rest of the group shuffled forward. Dawn wrinkled her nose as she tried to step around the spatters of blood. Andrew grabbed for her hand. She did not reject him.
“Right, you lot. This is where it gets serious. Listen to this. You follow these rules, and you do not choose which ones to follow. I’ve been here before. That’s how come I go first. Used to be a Guardian here, but I know for a fact that one’s dead. Don’t know if he’s been replaced, let alone who or what by. So we take it slowly and steadily. You stay alert, but you attack nothing unless the Slayer here gives the word, or yours truly. Dawn, you stay at the back. No arguing, no heroics, Bit. We don’t want any risks protecting you. History guy, you’re with me. Rupes, listen for your bratty bro. The rest of you? Shut the gobs, keep the eyes and ears wide open and stick in pairs. Understood?”
Buffy stared down Giles and Andrew till they nodded as the others had done. “What he said. Especially the bit about heroics.”
The troupe moved carefully down the hill, between the skeletal trees. Spike muttered to Buffy, “It was about here we met the bloke in charge. Take it slowly, eh?”
There was a whole lot of silence. The crack in the base of the tree gaped wider as they approached. After a few minutes Buffy realised that it really was gaping wider and growing taller; as they reached it there was easily room for them to enter, in their prearranged crocodile formation. The leaf litter and twigs underfoot gave way to sand and pebbles, the crunching sounds to shuffles and sussuration. The arch of the tunnel loomed over them, with sturdy tree roots rippling along the walls.
Still no movement, no sign of life or unlife, no voices or sounds other than those they made themselves. Even their breathing sounded loud and the sandy walls pressed in on them. They felt gritty to the touch, with rough lumps of tree root sticking out to catch at sleeves and trip feet. Andrew was still clinging to Dawn’s hand and squeezed it, hard.
Suddenly the walls stopped, as did Spike. Witleof’s eyes were growing round and his jaw dropped. Ahead, on an oddly rustic walkway across some sort of drop, stood a tall figure, a man with roughly-hacked hair, wearing a tunic very like his own. His form wavered, from as solid as the rock behind him to almost transparent enough to make that rock visible.
“Seo beadwe gléde bist.” The lips did not move, but the voice echoed deeply around the chamber. The translation spell clicked into action a second or two after the sound finished resonating. It was Spike’s turn to look astonished.
“You are the flame of battle?” he murmured. “Would that flame be a brand, now?” On his first visit to this forsaken pit there had been a man with a remarkably similar name. He disliked thinking of him and his fate.
Witleof swallowed and straightened. He replied in the same archaic language, but the spell was working again. “I am no hero. They called me Manswica**. My mother called me Witleof, but her spirit was taken by the soul-sucker many ages ago. Why give you me this name?”
Spike grimaced. It never went well when people started talking like sodding Yoda. Translation spells were far too bloody archaic for his tastes. And if they called him a base deceiver, why in hell didn’t the spell translate that too?
Mr Echo-Voice spoke again, but this time the translation worked at once. “You are the deceiver who must atone, the fighter who must resume the battle, the flame who must light the darkness. Welcome to your final home.”
From the darkness beyond him a second voice threaded the air. “He’s not leaving, that is certain.” A shot reverberated around the chamber and all but the two original speakers flung themselves to the dirt.
Rupert Giles lifted his head. “Oscar. What in hell are you doing?”
The tall figure spoke again, “You have sealed your own fate, little man. Two must enter and not leave. Knew you not that? Why thought you that I permitted your entry and your feeble attempts at concealment?”
“Know a Godking in LA talks like that. Think they might be related,” Spike muttered, more to himself than anyone else.
“You know, I do think you might be right there,” Angel replied. “It won’t do you any good to know that, William me lad. No, no need to turn around. You won’t be seeing me.”
Spike controlled his startled reaction. “You’re not him. No more than when you tried the fireworks in the barn.”
“Ah, but I am him. Don’t be talking so loud. Ye’re the only one who can hear me, after all.”
“Invisible to everyone but me? Not the Peaches I know and love.” Deliberately, Spike turned, glaring. There was a space behind him, and beyond that Rupert Giles was also glaring. At his pillock of a brother or at him? Spike shrugged. “Rupes? Our nasty old friend is back. Not so fiery, but you might want to keep an eye peeled.”
Rupert Giles grimaced. “That’s who you were talking to. Great. The cherry on the proverbial pie.” He shook his head and focused on his brother. “Oscar? You don’t have to be silly here. Guns never work well in this sort of situation, you know that.”
Oscar’s voice broke into a high-pitched giggle. “Big brother, big brother. You can’t always be the boss of me, you know. Actually, from now on, you can’t ever be the boss of me. Step aside and give me a clear shot, or you won’t enjoy the consequences.”
“Are you really threatening to shoot me? You never did do melodrama very well.”
“That’s how you explain it to yourself is it?” Oscar was developing a whine now. “We’ll go with that if you insist. I’m not in the mood for an Evil Overlord speech. I just need to dispose of the surplus body and we’re done here.”
“Oh I like him. Nice reference there. You can tell he’s one of mine.” Angelus sounded quite happy, always a sign that he was at his nastiest and someone was about to suffer. Spike repressed a shudder.
The brothers glowered at each other, a world of childhood rivalry and resentment fuelling the very real and present crisis. And then there was a second shot.
**Manswica – Anglo-Saxon for deceit, fraud, treachery
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/506318.html