Crescendo of Events
I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I own any and all original content, characters and interpretations. No money is being made off of thisA/N:
Overdue and too short, I know. I'm sorry. This chapter was slated to be shorter, from my notes, beforehand so that's what I wrote.A/N 2:
Thanks to Starway Man, my beta.The Prophecies Cycle
Book I: The Red Moon Rises
Chapter 18: Crescendo of Events15 to 21 Days until the Red MoonCastle Maestro
Lordship of Sunnydale
Like a pair of petulant children bickering over toys and unable to stay out of the other child's 'side of the room', the ancient castle where both Darla and Luke had taken up residence was split down the middle. And that was almost in the literal sense - a line of dried blood cut right through the central courtyard and extended vertically over all the levels and areas of the castle, neatly dividing it into two parts. Precious manpower was diverted from patrolling, hunting animals and rebuilding the castle's defenses to keep watch on that line at all points, vampires on both sides taking shifts during both night and day to make sure no violation occurred.
Each Childe of the Master fully expected the other to kill them or to order their death, even though they also knew that it was against their interests to be the one to kill the other...
Still, that was hardly surprising. Luke had no respect for Darla's intellect, thinking her little better than a glorified whore who had risen too far above her station. And Darla, by contrast, saw Luke as a brutish thug who had no understanding of subtlety.
And in all honesty, both of them were as right as they were wrong.
Every night the two undead creatures met, as the moon hung highest in the sky, to plan. Well, more accurately, to bicker.
“The Daughters of Sineya will come before the Master is freed.” Darla said harshly, preparing to lash out at Luke if he kept being so incredibly thick about this. “And your insistence on not preparing for their arrival will only doom our entire purpose for being here. This is our only chance to release the Master for another six hundred years, and I will not let your pettiness and inability to think tactically damn us!”
“I don't know what else you propose we do to 'prepare' for their arrival.” Luke replied sarcastically. “We will not be hiding within the walls of this fortress when the enemy comes, will we? You might be, perhaps, but then you're the coward with insufficient faith among us. We will go out and face the Slayers directly. Our victory has been foretold. The Slayers can assemble fifty of their warriors here, at most. We have over five hundred.”
“And what if you're wrong about how many of them will show up here?” Darla said scornfully. “Still, even if you're right, we'll have at least twenty-five less than that after charging into a hail of crossbows from the Slayers. Then we'll lose Amarra knows how many more to their witches – remember, Luke, they can do this little thing called throwing fireballs!
Listen to me, damn it. We have the superior defensive position, and they must come to us. All we need to do is hold them off long enough to complete the ritual! Once free, the Master will easily be able to kill them all, that much is obvious. But until then, we shouldn't leave ourselves open to any needless risk!”
“You sound like a terrified human, making little plots and plans against the inevitability of death. Our victory is foretold, and assured. It has been written.” Luke replied with an undisguised sneer.
“That the Master will be freed under a Red Moon, yes, granted. But the prophecy says nothing about which
Red Moon it will happen, you thick-witted fool!” Darla slapped him, her sharp nails digging into his cheek, drawing dark, almost black blood. Luke grabbed her hand and snapped her wrist with an easy motion.
“Your cowardice will damn you when the Master rises, Darla. And your followers will not continue to follow a coward. Your nights on this earth are numbered, and I look forward to your upcoming demise.” Luke growled.
“And I look forward to watching the Slayers end you, Luke!” Darla said, gritting her teeth against the pain in her wrist, the bones already starting to set and reconnect.
“The damned idiot. He will damn us all to failure!” Darla hissed as she stormed out of the courtyard, followed by her small entourage.
“Mistress,” A robed vampire interjected as he followed her, “Forgive me, but Luke may be right about your followers. Many of them do not share your prudence or appreciation for subtlety. You will lose some of them; they will defect to Luke's side if he tries to make this an issue.”
Darla cut off an angry snarl that rose to her lips in response. Unfortunately, Severan was correct, and Darla didn't believe in staking the messenger. It sent a bad example about delivering bad news. “How many will we lose?” she asked him after taking a moment to calm down.
“At least a hundred. Not so many that Luke will seek to press his advantage, but enough to upset the balance and increase the strength of his bargaining position. We will have to surrender some parts of the castle that we currently have to him.”
“Arrrgh! He's going to get them all killed, with his typically male plan. Charge in there with a frontal assault, all fangs and fury. He's going to waste the bulk of our forces, and to no worthwhile end. All right, we need to fortify, prepare. Gather all those whom you are absolutely sure of their loyalty, and bring them to the dungeons. We shall fortify there. Bring the rest down to the area around the dungeon entrance.”
“Of course, my Lady.” Severan said. “Your wish is my command. If you will excuse me...” He bowed as Darla dismissed him distractedly, already planning on how to survive the debacle Luke was sure to bring down upon them.14 to 20 Days Until the Red MoonPort City of Kaasricht
Kingdom of Arenso
The man looked over the letter in his hands a third time, then folded it up carefully, making sure to have it just perfect. Turning away from the fireplace, he threw the letter into the roaring flame, which was large and well fed despite the sweltering heat. He looked at his compatriots, and nodded. The three of them had been in this business for years. Handling the more...messy aspects of their employer's interests, here on the mainland. Usually just smuggling, but sometimes they did things which needed a more...personal touch.
“Who's the target, Collins? Who do we kill for the Council?” one of his partners asked.
“Rupert Giles.” Collins replied. “And no, we don't get to do it slowly, Weatherby.” He added to the man who spoke. “We just go in there, kill him, burn down his tower, and then we go after Wyndam-Pryce. Quick, clean, efficient. Then we're headed back to the Isles. Travers said he's going to need us there for whatever he's got planned next.”
“Can't we just burn down Giles' tower while he's in it? Save ourselves the effort of sneaking in?” The last man, asked.
“As long as he's alive, no, we can't. He's got wards against fires going off in the place while he's alive, and none of us are sorcerers.” Collins replied.
“Can we take anything with us from the tower?” Weatherby asked hopefully.
“No.” Collins shook his head. “Travers wants the whole place torched, no stone left unburnt. No souvenirs, no spoils, nothing. Erase it all, and salt the earth afterwards.”
“Then let's get moving. And put the damn fire out, Collins. I'm sweating like a pig in here!” Smith said in annoyance.
“You always sweat like a pig, Smith.” Weatherby replied. “And you need to learn to relish it.”
“No, I need to get the job done and get paid. The sooner I get paid, the sooner I have the money to retire somewhere where the wine is cheap and the women easy.” Smith briefly had a faraway look in his eyes and an evil smile on his face.
“Shut up, both of you.” Collins replied, rolling his eyes as the trio of smugglers/mercenaries/assassins headed for the door.Sunnydale Town
Lordship of Sunnydale
“And here,” duck, “I was,” kick, “Worrying that I'd have nothing to do after the vamps left!” Faith swung her sword like an axe, embedding the blade into the spine of the two-headed dog, severing it. Black ichor spurted from the wound and Faith pulled her weapon out of the Charnel Hound. The dark-haired Slayer didn't bother to wipe the weapon clean, looking for more of the creature's companions.
A skilled scholar of demon-kind Faith was not, but Charnel Hounds were the vultures in her line of work. Wherever vampires, demons or dark magic caused the death of large numbers of people, Charnel Hounds were attracted. Usually in packs of a dozen or so.
“How many is that now?” a familiar male voice said from a nearby roof. Angel dropped down from a roof, bloodstained battleaxe in hand. “I've killed three myself, but saw enough tracks for two packs, at least. And they usually don't arrive to scenes of death like this so quickly.”
“Or come in more than one pack. They’re pretty territorial, aren’t they?” Faith asked. “And I've gotten three more myself. So, if we're lucky, only eighteen more, minus however many Buffy's killed?”
“You don't think Amy will kill any?” Angel asked.
“Her? Fuck, no. She might try to bind a few to her will, though.” the Daughter of Sineya shrugged.
Angel inclined his head a moment later. Not an impossible possibility, the witch might try to do just that. “If I had to guess, I'd say they were attracted as much by the Hellmouth as all the vampire-induced death. Or the Hellmouth amplified the attraction, or something. And this is probably just the beginning. I've got a soul – all the Hellmouth is doing is giving me the mother of all headaches. But for demons? It's like catnip. We're gonna have more to kill before the rest of the Slayers arrive.”
Just then, Buffy arrived on the scene with three Charnel Hounds chasing her, and both heroes quickly swung into action and helped her kill the demonic beasts; before all three of them had to run for it, as roughly a dozen Charnel Hounds came at them them in a berserk fury from another side.Temple of Sineya
Lady Cordelia Chase was, not to put too fine a point on it, completely and thoroughly bored.
It had been over a week now since her entire life had come crashing down around her. A week since her home had been invaded, her servants butchered, her father murdered, her mother utterly traumatized and she'd had to run for sanctuary with the pitifully few survivors of Sunnydale Town. And the worst part was that she owed her life to the only remnant of her former life; the ex-House Chase guard named Xander Harris.What am I doing here?
Cordelia asked herself, and not for the first time. Sure, it's the safest place imaginable right now, and the best place for someone to help Mother recover her senses. But what if the witches around here can't do that? How am I going to restore the Lordship all by myself? I can't appear before the Baron as a penniless beggar, with nothing but a dead father and an addle-witted mother to her name! A woman my age all alone, without even a husband at her side, would only be laughed at...and I know it! It's almost bad enough that maybe...well, maybe I should consider asking Xander to consider resuming his allegiance to my House...
Instantly, Cordelia literally shuddered at that thought. She had known Harris for a long time – daughter of nobility or not, the town was small enough that she knew most others around her age – and gotten a new look at him after everything that had happened. But actually asking him to do something for her...
Ever since her dearly departed father's minions had brought him into the castle a few years ago, Cordelia had sensed that there was something...different about that particular guard. She had known that Harris had disliked her, even though he had made sure to hide that fact from everyone else. But despite that, the man had actually risked his life for her against his former friend! Any other guard would most likely have abandoned her to be raped and murdered without a second thought, Cordelia did not doubt that.
Still, they had gotten away alive with Amy's help, before encountering the Slayers and their handsome friend. And then, that damned trek through the forest! Every moment, that legion of useless commoners had whined and bleated and generally driven her to the point of tearing her hair out. Cordelia knew that if she hadn't been able to distract herself by helping support Xander, and look after her mother...
“Lady Chase?” a somewhat familiar voice asked at the doors to her private room, as Cordelia turned her head in that direction immediately.
“Yes?” the young noblewoman replied imperiously, recognizing the redhead whom Xander had greeted so affectionately when they had first arrived at the Temple; even if she didn't recognize the witch's blonde-haired companion. “Who are you, anyway?” she asked.
“I'm Tara, and this is Willow,” the witch introduced herself and her companion. “We thought you'd like to know the latest, a-about your lady mother?”
“What have you learned?” Cordelia asked. Well, demanded was more like it, but these things had to be taken in context, after all.
“Lady Chase is in pretty bad shape,” Willow replied, staring at the woman's daughter with a peculiar expression in her eyes. “The healers are doing all they can for her, but they're not optimistic about the chances for a recovery. She's been through something so horrible, it appears that retreating away from the world inside her mind, was the only way she could cope...”Why is she looking at me like that?
Cordelia asked herself for a moment, before dismissing the question as irrelevant. “So, when can I see her?”
“Right now, i-if you like?” Tara stammered, before she and Willow escorted the brunette to that part of the Temple. Once they were alone, the older witch said to Willow, “Are you okay?”
“Me? Yeah, I'm fine,” Willow said, shaking her head. “It's just that it's a little odd, you know? Cordelia doesn't remember me at all, back from when we were children.”
“You knew her?” Tara asked in surprise as they walked along, briefly staring back at where they'd left her ladyship.
“Not well,” Willow shook her head. “We met, what, half a dozen times? My parents knew hers, they attended to Lord and Lady Chase for a time; well, before they fell out of favor and I was sent here for my training. I don't know, I just thought...maybe there would be some spark of recognition? But she didn't have a clue we'd ever met.”
“Well, maybe that's not so surprising. I mean, it has been a long time, hasn't it?” Tara said hesitantly. “Fifteen years or so?”
“Yeah,” Willow sighed, before dismissing the subject from her mind. “Come on, I want to introduce you to Xander!”
“Your friend from Sunnydale Town? Well, all right,” Tara said hesitantly, she wasn't very confident around men. Her experience with the males of her family on the other side of the continent was best left unmentioned, before she had eventually run away and been taken in the Coven.
Unfortunately, Xander wasn't in the mood for visitors; after all his injuries had been healed by Janna Kalderash and her white magicks, there was room for only one thought in his mind right now.
Resuming his interrupted war against the undead, who had invaded his home and killed his best friend...