Thanks to Starway Man, my Beta.The Prophecies Cycle
Book I: The Red Moon Rises
Chapter 19: Regrouping10 to 16 Days Until the Red MoonSunnydale Town,
Lordship of Sunnydale
Faith looked out the window of the chapel, and then let out a soft 'yes!' of success. “Buffy, you owe me a crown. You said they wouldn't get here until tomorrow, so pay up!”
Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes as she pulled a golden coin out of her pack, and threw it towards Faith with enough force for the money to sail all the way past the other Slayer. Unfazed, Faith walked over to her prize money. “Is Amy still in the same place? That abandoned mansion, or whatever?” She asked as she bent down and picked up the coin.
“She was when I checked last night.” Angel said. “After we killed those Fyarl demons. Uh, you may want to go out and report to the High Priestess.” He added. “Tell her about the Hellmouth, and everything else.”Sunnydale Town,
Lordship of Sunnydale
A previously snow-white crystal in Janna Kalderash's hand abruptly went solid black. Turning to Nikki Wood, who was walking next to her, Janna spoke softly. “Amy is definitely here in Sunnydale Town, still. I'd best go deal with her.” She turned around and faced the mass of Slayers and witches – mostly Slayers – that was following behind them. “Willow! Tara! With me!” Without waiting to see if they complied, Janna ducked down a side street, following the pull of the crystal towards the dark witch she sought. The two subordinates hurried to follow after and keep up with her.
Nikki didn't spare any more thought for the three magic-users, when she looked ahead to see the Sunnydale Chapel just ahead. Two figures came out of it, and within moments, she realized they were Buffy and Faith. So the black woman turned back to the Slayers behind her. “Attention,everyone! We'll make camp here for the night. Set up the wards, and get both guard and patrol schedules in place. You know what to do, so get to it!” She then turned back to the approaching blonde and brunette Slayers, closing the distance between herself and them quickly.
“Report.” Nikki demanded of them tersely.
“The vampires have moved on, up north.” Faith said, indicating the direction with her right hand. “They've gone to some castle or other, to raise the Master.”
“Yes, so I've been led to understand.” Nikki replied with a grimace. “What else?”
“Angel tried to infiltrate Darla's forces. He was found out almost immediately, but he did manage to learn one thing before he had to run from the enemy. And that is...they're going to finish what the Master started, or so he heard.” Buffy supplied. “Which is to say, they're going to try to bring back the Old Ones.”
“That's impossible! The Old Ones are gone from this reality, and they can never come back. This reality holds no purchase for them any longer.” Nikki replied flatly.
“Really? Well, tell that to the Order of Aurelius. Those vampires seem to think that their boss can do it!” Faith shrugged as she spoke. “Either way, shouldn't we make sure that the undead don't bring their Master out of wherever the hell he's been stuck for the last forever, and he doesn't even get the chance to try to accomplish that?”
Nikki ignored Faith's words. “So what have you two been doing since the vampires left? Surely you've not been waiting around doing nothing, until we got here?”
Faith scoffed. “Hardly. We've spent almost every minute killing demons. They're coming here from all over the place! Charnel Hounds, Fyarls, Glurgs, Hyraks, Drokken beasts,” Faith listed them off, and then looked to Buffy. “Hey, what did Angel call those three-eyed demons with the freaky long tongues?”
“Skilosh demons.” Buffy supplied. “Uh, Amy Madison mentioned...that the entire lordship is on a Hellmouth. Some kind of nexus of dark energy, where the barriers between worlds are weaker than normal. Angel says that that's what is attracting all the demons of so many types and numbers in such frequency, especially in unusual configurations. Charnel Hounds usually don't travel in groups of more than one pack, for example.”
Nikki frowned. “I see. And exactly how did the Madison girl know about this...Hellmouth?”
“How should we know?” Faith threw her hands up in disgust. “It's not like we're her best friends all of a sudden! Maybe because she's such an evil bitch that she can just feel all the evil this Hellmouth puts out? It doesn't matter, anyway. It's here, and it's drawing all sorts of demons from Sineya-knows-where, like moths to a flame!”
Buffy rolled her eyes for the second time in the last hour and resisted the urge to face-palm. “Amy boasted that it was one of the things that she found out, while she was searching the Forbidden Archives. It's why she accepted the job offer from Lord Chase and came here, rather than somewhere that paid better. She wants to use the Hellmouth's power for her own gain...”
“We can't let that happen. Once Janna is done binding her powers, we'll have to make sure she cannot ever be a threat of that magnitude again.” Nikki's tone reflected the murderous mood that had been dominating her thoughts ever since Xander had told her about Spike, and that he was involved in the attempt to unleash the Master. I will kill that monster. Even if it kills me.
Lordship of Sunnydale
“Well, hello there Janna, Tara.” Amy said from the second floor window of Kendall Manor, the fancy house that she had taken over as her own after moving out of the chapel. She smiled broadly when she saw Willow. “And Willow Rosenberg. Little Miss Perfect herself. How are you? Is butter still not melting in your mouth?”
“Shut up, Amy, and get down here.” Janna said roughly. “This isn't the time for your petty issues with-”
“I turned you in for what you were doing, because it was the right thing to do, Amy!” Willow shouted at her former friend, interrupting Janna. “The Forbidden Archives-”
Amy cut Willow off with a wave of her hand, fusing the red-head's mouth shut. “Are forbidden for a reason? Is that what you were going to say, Willow?”Amy laughed. “Of course
they're forbidden for a reason. Pretty much everything has a reason. But you want to know the reason why those texts are forbidden to be read? The real
reason why they're forbidden? Because the coven is full of cowards, and led by the Queen of Cowards herself. Cowards, for being afraid of the power in the archives. Real power.” Curling her hand into a claw-like resemblance, she gestured, combining the motion with a magical utterance.
Nine blood-crimson fireballs appeared in front of Amy and then, thrusting her arm down at the other witches, she directed them to fly at the trio. Below, Tara and Willow frantically raised up hastily made, poorly constructed shields against the attacks, but Janna remained unfazed. With a flick of her wrist, she turned all nine fireballs into blocks of solid ice, which landed on the ground with heavy thuds. Willow's mouth was unsealed with the same gesture.
“An impressive trick, creating and controlling all those fireballs at once. But if that is the best that you can do, I don't think there's much for us to actually be afraid of in the Forbidden Archives. So will you stop your posturing and get down here?” Janna insisted again.
“Why? So you can bind my powers? Sorry, but that's never going to happen.”
Janna laughed, genuine amusement in the noise. “Believe it or not, I'm not interested in binding your powers. In fact, when all this is over, I plan on letting you go on your merry way.” The leader of the Agaden Temple Coven ignored the looks of shock and horror on the faces of Willow and Tara.
Amy looked briefly intrigued at Janna's words. “And why would you do that? Because you think I can be saved from my evil ways, and thus redeemed?' She scoffed at the very idea.
“Redemption is reserved for those who actually want it, a group that does not include you. Quite frankly, you are a greedy, egocentric, cruel, petty, angry and hateful little fool. There's no chance of saving your soul. But I will allow you to retain your freedom and powers when this is all done, because I know about two of the things you found when you raided the Forbidden Archives...and the one thing you managed to get out of the Archives and out of the temple, without any of us realizing it at the time.”
Amy smirked. “I was wondering if you'd figured it out by now, given the current circumstances. Yes, I found the Prophecies of the Dark Oracle while researching the Hellmouth, and that led me to finding this.” She pulled a rolled up scroll from her belt pouch. “The only known copy of the ritual that sealed the Master away, all those centuries ago. And the only way you're going to be able to seal him away again, or strengthen the seals on his prison.” Amy made as if to toss it down to Janna, but then seemed to think better of it. “You know, even if I gave this to you, with what the vampires have planned – it's not going to do you any good-”
“I know.” Janna interrupted. “Which is why I also brought this with me.” She held up a folded piece of parchment. “A copy of a single page from the Devandiré Sibylline Codex. And it's yours when this is all done, if you do the part of the sealing ritual that requires dark magic.”
“WHAT?!” Willow burst out, and then went red with embarrassment as she realized she had interrupted Janna a second time.
The head of the coven turned back to Willow. “The ritual to seal the Master requires a great deal of dark magic, Willow. From what little I've learned from the other texts, there must be a circled square formation with four magic-users, and one of them must be able and willing to use very dark magic. That'll be Amy. Better to let her corrupt herself even further than expose either of you, or any of the others of the coven, to that kind of vile blackness. And granted, it galls me to reward her after all that she's done, all that she's become – but we need to prevent the Master from being released, or else all will be lost...”
“Oh, by the dark pestilent gods, spare me your sanctimonious platitudes!” Amy said from the front door of the manor, having arrived downstairs by this point. She held up the ritual scroll in one hand. “Very well. I'll uphold my end of the bargain; this I swear, by any of the dark gods listening to us right now. But this,” she shook the scroll slightly, “Stays with me until we need to use it. And if I see the High Priestess – or any Slayer, for that matter – come anywhere near this place, then I burn it. Are we clear?”
“As crystal.” Janna said with mock sweetness.
“Good. Then go away, until the time comes for us to conclude our business.” Amy turned on her heel and slammed the door shut behind her, as she went back inside.
“We can't trust her not to betray us!” Willow insisted.
“I agree.” Tara said unusually firmly. “But you heard what Madam Kalderash said.” Her slight stammer returned. “I don't think we really have the luxury of choice, at this point.”
“Indeed. And I don't like it any more than either of you do.” Janna said, putting the parchment back into her belt pouch. “But what I'm liking even less is the idea of telling Nikki about all this, and her reaction after I tell her about the...bargain in question.”Sunnydale Town,
Lordship of Sunnydale
The ensuing shouting match between Janna and Nikki drove most of the Slayers and witches to set up camp for the night – away from the two arguing leaders – in small camps of five to ten people. Most of the women hadn't been out in the field for months, if at all, and Nikki had decided that since the place was attracting demons, they may as well take a few days – given that they had time until the Red Moon came, even by the most pessimistic estimations – to get rid of the majority of them, and get everyone used to live-fire combat.
Especially since the steady trickle of demons invading the town was growing every night.
Faith and Buffy had returned to the Chapel. Angel, even as it grew darker into evening, hadn't left the building, preferring to stay out of the reach of the stakes of jumpy Slayers. They may have known who he was by sight; but in the dark and surrounded by the enemy, it was better not to tempt fate if he didn't have to.
Eventually, the door to the Chapel opened and a somewhat familiar face stepped in. That guard from over a week ago, Xander or whatever his name was, strode past Faith, looking much the better for his absence from Sunnydale. Angel figured one of the witches of the Agaden Coven had healed him of his admittedly serious injuries.
“So, you decided to come back for revenge?” Angel asked, stepping out of the shadows towards the mortal.
Xander seemingly wasn't affected by the vampire's words or the stealth act. He simply said, “They killed my best friend, turned him into a vampire, killed the man I swore my service to, and killed most of the people in my hometown. Not to mention I could have been a permanent cripple if the coven hadn't healed me, after what the undead did to me personally. It's not as if I don't have an excellent
case for revenge. Gods, even the Triumvirate Tribunal couldn't find fault with my case for it.”
“Given that they consider revenge a cardinal sin and that finding fault with revenge is effectively their job, I'm pretty sure the Triumvirate Tribunal could and would disagree with you.” Angel picked up his sword and hefted it around for a moment, before throwing it straight upward, letting it bury itself into a ceiling beam. “But that wasn't what I was talking about. Going into a fight against vampires with revenge on your mind is a recipe for suicide. Revenge blinds you, in my experience. It also makes you stupid, on occasion. It consumes you and makes you careless. I'm not going to stand here and tell you that it's too dangerous for a normal human like you to fight them. You're healed up now, and you know the risks better than most. It's your choice, if you want to fight this battle. All I'm saying is, make sure you fight for the right reason, before the fight even starts. Find another reason to fight than mere revenge. Otherwise, you're just going to get yourself killed.”
“I want revenge, yes.” Xander said softly. “But that's not the only reason I have for coming back here.”
Angel shrugged and asked, “What else are you fighting for?”
“There's a demon wearing my best friend's face, using his body to do gods know what, kill whoever and do whatever it wants. Jesse's soul, his true self, is gone. I want to give him the peace of knowing that the demon inhabiting his body isn't killing people anymore.”
“But you also want revenge.” Angel didn't need to make it a question.
“Of course. Who in my situation wouldn't?”
“Very few people.” Angel agreed. “Good enough, I suppose. Just don't focus on the revenge aspect. Focus on bringing peace to your friend's soul, and you may live through this.”
Xander said slowly, “And there is another reason, I suppose...”
“What reason is that?”
“Lord Chase's daughter, the Lady Cordelia, has also returned here, with the idea of somehow reclaiming the Lordship.” Harris smirked, as if finding that very funny “Something about not appearing before the Baron as a penniless beggar. I suspect she's also planning to seek out a worthy husband, given her father's death. You appear to have impressed her. And I can't wait
to see the expression on her face, when Lady Chase learns her intended consort is the Slayers' pet vampire.” Xander looked out the window for a moment, before turning back to Angel. “We all need to find our amusements somewhere, don't we?”
“So you learned the truth about me.” Angel was unsurprised, and not particularly bothered, not even by the 'pet vampire' crack.
Harris shrugged. “Too many things didn't make sense, once I had the opportunity to think about them. I asked Willow on the way here. She told me all about you, about the vampire with the human soul.” He paused and added, “Your Slayer friends were right not to tell me, back then; I'd have tried to kill you at once, soul or no soul. So tell me. Why side with the Daughters of Sineya? What are you fighting for?”
“Redemption.” Angel said simply. “I've done a lot of terrible-”
“Bullshit.” Xander cut him off immediately. “You're
not guilty of what the demon did, before your soul was returned. I may not have paid that much attention in my lessons right here in this very chapel when I was a child, but one thing the priests make clear is that once a vampire turns you, the person to whom the body originally belonged isn't responsible for anything any longer. And from what Willow said, when your soul was returned to you, the vampire Angelus was no longer in charge. You were, again. The man you were, before you became one of the undead. True or false?”
“I suppose...that's true enough, in some grand theological, cosmological sense, but – I never stopped being a vampire, after the curse was inflicted upon me. I can remember, vividly – vampires never forget – everyone that died when I was evil. Everyone that was tortured. Raped. Murdered. I can remember every debauched sin Angelus ever committed. I remember it all as if I...I did such things personally. Maybe in the eyes of the gods, in the eyes of some grand sense of cosmic justice, I don't need redemption. But I feel
like I do. If I didn't fight the good fight, do what I can to help make up in some small way for what happened after Darla turned me...” He shrugged. “I don't think I'd be able to live with myself.”
Xander shrugged as well. “So to speak, you mean.”
“Enough deep and meaningful talk.” Faith said from her spot near the doorway. “Or at least, do it somewhere where I can't hear it.” She gestured at Xander's sword. “Wanna talk shop?”5 to 10 Days Until the Red MoonSunnydale Town,
Lordship of Sunnydale
“Priestess Wood, Madam Kalderash. The intruders are here.” Vi said, pointing to the four travel-worn new arrivals.
“Intruders implies that you have some sort of claim on the land.” One of them, a tall, thinly-built man wearing a leather coat pointed out.
“I recognize that accent. You're a Watcher, are you not?” Nikki asked suspiciously.
“I was a Watcher, yes, but no longer.” The Britillian man replied. “My name is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, and I am here at the behest of Rupert Giles.”
“How can I know that for certain?” Nikki pointed out. “It's an easy enough claim to make. And a lying Watcher is hardly anything new.”
“He's not lying.” Janna pointed out. “He has some knowledge of the magical arts, but he doesn't have enough power to fool my truth detection spell. Trust me, the man is not speaking falsely.”
“I don't remember asking you
, Janna!” Nikki said angrily. She was still annoyed over the unholy bargain the head witch had made with Amy Madison; even if 'annoyed' was probably too mild a word to describe it properly.
“We can come back later, if you two want to...” Gunn said, gesturing to the two bickering women.
“No. Let's hear it. Who are you all?” the High Priestess demanded.
“Well, that's Wesley, who just introduced himself. I'm Charles Gunn and this is my wife, Fred.” Gunn indicated everyone in turn. “We're independent demon hunters. Never been Watchers, but we're friends of Giles as well.” Fred nodded. “And this here,” He pointed to the last member of their little group, “is Lilah, who is something of an evil bitch.”
“Oh, please.” Lilah said rolling her eyes. “The fact that I'm a bitch and that I'm evil are two entirely separate qualities.” She gave an elaborate, mocking bow. “Lilah Morgan, at your service.”
“Lilah Morgan?” Janna asked, raising an eyebrow. “Your reputation precedes you...though for some reason, I thought you were a blonde.”
“I have no clue how you got that idea.” Lilah said with a smirk.
“You know this woman?” Nikki asked.
“I know of
her. She's responsible for the theft of quite a number of rare magical artifacts and tomes across Arenso, Jarevan and Kourous. Possibly even from Gargan.”
“Now, now. I've stolen in Arenso, Jarevan and Kourous, true. But I've never been to Gargan in my life.” Lilah countered. “Nonetheless, I'm more than just a thief, you know. I'm here on behalf of my employers to help make sure the world doesn't end. I have useful information in regards to defeating the Master. And I can hold my own in a fight.”
“What information do you have?” Nikki asked dryly.
“Oh, if I were to tell you that, then Wesley here would finally have the reason he needs to kill me.” Lilah smirked. “Long story." She added. "I'll tell you when we get to the castle where the Master was sealed away, where his cult is gathering right now. You were planning to assault it, I gather?”
“And Rupert Giles has done a great deal of research both into the magicks the Order of Aurelius is likely to bring to bear in battle, and the ritual they'll be using to free the Master.” Wes produced several sheets of parchment that he'd written the information Giles had given him via the Yherrin
Crystal, and handed them over to Janna. “And as Lilah said, we can more than hold our own in a fight. You have what, a hundred-odd Slayers and witches here with you? You're going to be outnumbered at least three to one, if not more. Can you really afford to turn down help?”
Nikki looked at them and shrugged. “Not really. Very well; you can all fight the vampires alongside our forces. Better one of you die than one of my sisters, after all.”
“I'm touched by your priorities.” Fred drawled.3 to 8 Days Until the Red MoonThe Tower of Rupert Giles
Free City of Kayden, Kingdom of Arenso
Muttering under his breath, Giles lifted several books off one of the many tables strewn around the second floor of his tower, looking for blank parchment. There was still too much variation, despite his best efforts in research, regarding the estimated time until the rising of the Red Moon. And so, Giles wanted to see if he could come up with a more accurate date from the available data.
Dipping his quill into the inkwell, Giles set to work on the calculations. After about an hour or so, Giles looked at his results; and then he grew pale. “That can't be right...” He checked the numbers, checked his math, and even redid a few sections, but the final number was the same. He checked again a third time. The same result.
Scrambling to his feet in a most undignified manner, Giles began to pull books off their shelves, checking each of them in turn.
Finally, he looked up at the location of the sun in the sky through a window. “Oh dear gods.” He had to get to the Yherrin
Crystal and warn Wesley. Now.
It might already be too late.Next Time, on Red Moon Rises: Giles may have found out key information for Wesley, but is that all he has to worry about? And as the Slayers and the vampires marshal their forces for one last battle in the shadow of Castle Maestro, can the rising of the Master be prevented?