Move along now. Nothing to see here. Not mine.The Prophecies Cycle
The Red Moon Rises
Chapter 4: Research Materials22 to 28 Days until the Red Moon
The dark gray walls of the castle loomed over them, a quarter moon hanging in the sky overhead. Wesley double checked his crossbow, making sure it was loaded and prepped properly. Then he turned back to Fred and Gunn. “Ready?”
Fred looked up from her own crossbow – unlike his, which was of a rather simple design, Fred's was customized, and could fire five bolts without needing to be reloaded. As always, he'd long since given up trying to figure out how she'd managed it. “Ready.”
“Gunn?” Wesley turned to the black man, who nodded.
“I'm good to go.” He flipped his right hand, his axe spinning in a broad circle with the motion.
Wesley was about to turn back towards the walls when Fred spoke. “Not to take back my readiness, but shouldn't we be waiting until sunrise? We'd have the advantage of being able to pull back, contain their movements.”
“Under normal circumstances, I'd say that would be a brilliant idea.” Wesley replied. “But it took us two days to get here, and it will take us two days to get back. The world could very well end within the next four weeks or less. We can't afford to waste time. We need to get a copy of the Pergamum Codex and get it back to Giles as soon as possible, so we can determine our next move.”
“Besides,” Gunn said, “We can handle these vampires, day or night. We've faced worse.” Wesley and Fred both had to agree with that.
The castle was not a well-maintained structure. Wesley had no idea when it had been built, but it had to have been some time ago. The walls were worn smooth, the ceilings of the structure's towers collapsed inwards, leaving gaping holes gazing skyward. Cracks wormed their way across the surface of the walls, some wide, some thin, but the how structure was covered in them.
There were numerous doors – well, doorways, the wood that had once stood in them had long since rotted away to nothing – leading into the structure. The main gates, obviously, but also the various side doors, servants entrances, and so on. The issue was, knowing which door was best to enter through. There were far too few vampires to fill the entire structure – Wesley estimated, from available reports about the about ten or so vampires there. There just wasn't enough trade and activity on the road to sustain more vampires, given what he knew about vampire feeding habits, But the castle, in its heyday, probably held at least three or four hundred people.
Wesley led the others towards a side door, which he'd picked at random. When they reached the door, the former Watcher pulled a torch from his pack and murmured a word. He was not an accomplished magic user by any metric of the word, but he had some small abilities, and in particular he was good at manipulating and creating fire. He didn't have the depth of power to use much magic in a day though.
“No reason to try being stealthy, this time. Its just ten of them. He flicked his wrist as they entered the castle, the collapsible sword Fred had made for him extending out from the wrist device.
The three walked through the dark halls of the castle, the light from the torch casting long, flickering shadows on the walls and floor. Their footsteps echoed around the room as the walked on the floor, the hollow sound bouncing all around them, ringing in their ears. The flicking shadows, combined with the total silence apart from their footsteps left a haunted feeling filling all three of them. Wesley was less affected, but still, it was...unnerving, even for him.
Without warning, a vampire rushed out from a room, its demonic face out, snarling with hunger and rage. It tackled Wesley to the ground, the sword and torch dropping to the ground. Gunn raised his axe, looking for an opening to at least injure the vampire, while Fred brought up her crossbow and aimed.
The struggle between Wesley and the vampire as the demonically possessed corpse made every effort to get to Wesley's neck, and the Britillian man made every effort to protect his throat. With a lunge, it almost got to his neck, but instead its teeth sank into Wesley's shoulder, a bolt fired by Fred embedding itself into the Vampire's back, throwing off its aim. Fred had been aiming for the creature's heart, but the constant movement of the two had thrown her aim off.
Wesley grunted in slight pain, but refused to let this opportunity go to waste. Without either of his immediate weapons, Wesley pulled a stake from his pocket and drove it into the back of the Vampire's head. The vampire didn't die instantly, nor did the stake get through its skull, but the damage did what Wesley intended. It fell off him for a moment, rolling to the side. Wesley pulled himself onto all fours and reached for his sword. But he didn't get a chance to use it.
The three of them had fought together before, and like on of Fred's clockwork machines, Gunn was moving in action the moment Wesley was out from underneath the vampire. He was there and swinging in seconds, the axe slicing right through the moving corpses' neck. As always happened, the vampire turned to dust with a scream as its head was separated from its neck.
The vampire dispatched, Gunn reached down to help Wesley too his feet. The other man took the proffered hand gratefully and brushed the vampire's dust off himself. He gingerly picked up the still lit torch and his sword. “Well, that's one down. We should check the room it came from, see if the Pergamum Codex is in there. From what I've read in Giles' books on the way here, the Aurelians like to make their temples in the temples and shrines of human faiths, desecrating and corrupting the original holy sites and symbols to new purpose. It will likely be in this castle's shrine. Still, we should check.”
Gunn and Fred nodded in assent – even if the Codex wasn't in that room, vampires, among all the things they killed, usually had the most valuables, and it was a more than lucrative. They followed Wesley into the room, his torch casting more shadows over the whole chamber. The entire room stank. There was one corner of the room covered in dried blood, a small stack of bodies – in varying states of decay – in the opposite corner, along the same wall. The had obviously been lived in, but maintained about as well as a rats' nest.
Wrinkling his nose, Wesley went farther in. Once this would have forced him to retch, or at least fight back that urge, but he – and to a lesser extent Fred and Gunn – had seen and smelt worse in their time. At this point, Wesley had ceased to be shocked or appalled by the monstrosities caused by vampires and demons. He took it in stride, as more proof – as if more proof was remotely necessary – that such beings were blights on the earth that should be eliminated wherever found.
Handing the torch to Gunn, Wesley opened the small chest at the foot of the unkempt and blood-stained bed at the far end of the room. It was unlocked. Inside it were assorted valuables – coins of copper, of silver and of gold from a dozen lands, small valuable and semi-valuable items, jewelry and even a small silver statuette. Enough to feed a family for a year. Unfortunately, it was far too much for them to take with them while they hunted down the rest of the vampires in the castle, while they searched for the Codex. Wesley closed the chest and stood up. “If there's time when we leave, we'll have to remember to come back here.”
“Definitely.” Gunn said. “But we need to take out those vampires first. Do you have any idea where this castle's shrine might be?”
Wesley shook his head. “No.” If it had been a Britillian castle, he'd know exactly. His people had been building castle according to the same general layout for centuries. Here on the mainland though, the layout of a castle was entirely up to the whims of the architect and whoever was paying said architect.
“Down.” Fred said. “In the basement. Near the dungeons.” Fred said.
“How do you know that?”
Fred answered her husband's question, gesturing to the room, and then out into the hall. “I knew the architecture looked familiar, but I couldn't place it until now. When I was at the Royal University in Charos,” The capital of the Kingdom of Arenso, “I studied architecture, engineering for a while. The way the walls and and ceilings are built- and those0 towers
. If you know your castle architecture well enough, you can tell who built the castle, or at least if two castles were built by the same person, or in the same style, on the same plan. There are these little telltale signs that you can see, if you know what you're looking for.” She paused, “Remember the Castle at Fyrima? Where we fought that cult that was worshiping the Lurite demon?” Before she could go on, Wesley interrupted.
“Technically that wasn't a Lurite, it was a Murite. A subspecies of the Lurite. Its a common mistake but you can tell by the fact that the male sports a small fin just behind the third shoulder.” Fred and Gunn both looked at him. He had the decency to look a little sheepish – his tendency to over-communicate was less of a problem now than it had been in the past, but it reared its ugly head from time to time, and this was one of those times. “That rather irrelevant wasn't it? Sorry, continue.”
“Anyway,” Fred said after waiting a moment to be sure Wesley wouldn't interrupt her again, “I can tell by these little hints, that this castle and the one at Fyrima were built, if not by the same person, then by the same plan and on the same style. The key thing was out in the hall – there's this specific, certain, kind of slight,” she groped for the right words, “vault to the ceiling. If you don't know what you're looking for, you would never notice it. But I've only seen that particular vault in one other castle. The one at Fyrima. I'm at least 90% sure that this castle was built on the same plan as Fyrima. And since the shrine in Fyrima was near the dungeons...”
“Then the same should hold true for her. Brilliant, Fred.” Wesley said, “As always. So...we need to get to the Grand Hall.” At Fyrima, they'd made their way down to the Shrine – which had been desecrated and put to a new purpose by the Murite Cult – from a set of stairs near the Grand Hall. “Any idea how we get from here to there?'
Fred shook her head. “Further in. That's all I can think of.” Wesley shrugged, and they headed out of the room, back into the hall. A few minutes later, Gunn noticed a small bloodstain spreading on Wesley's right shoulder.
“Ah, Wes,” Gunn said softly, “You shoulder.”
“What are you talking about?” Wesley stopped walking and turned his head to look. He saw the blood staining his shirt, which he could see through the tear in his coat. Both had been caused by the bite that the vampire had gotten into his shoulder. No major arteries or veins – or even minor ones – had been hit, so it wasn't that much blood, but it still wasn't a good idea to lose blood like that. Though, on the bright side, it might bring the vampires to us, so we don't have to take the time to find them so that we can kill them...
He chuckled aloud when he had that thought, and Fred and Gunn shot him odd looks.
“Shit.” He muttered. He tore a strip from his left sleeve and quickly turned it into a makeshift bandage. It wouldn’t last for long, but it would do for the moment.
They walked farther down the halls, their footsteps continuing to echo off the floors. They made it to the wide open Grand Hall without further incident. They could smell the stench of death, decay, dried blood, and had seen signs of it all over the halls. The vampires here were, to say the least, messy eaters.
They went to the stairs. Wesley took out two more torches and handed one each to Gunn and Fred. He lit both for them – when fighting vampires, it always helped to have fire to fall back on. Despite the fact that he'd just called fire, Wesley shivered a little. The magic had, in essence, removed some of his own body heat. It came back quickly, but he was reminded one again how limited his reserves were.
As they went down the stairs, torches held high, the sound of chanting drifting up towards them. The chanting was not in any mortal language. The demonic tongue made their skin crawl. Probably intrinsic to its nature. Wesley twitched involuntarily, convulsing a bit as the dark power crackled against his senses. His sixth sense, for magic, was not very strong or sensitive, but the sheer amount of magical static and power the vampires were throwing up was impossible to miss. It set his teeth on edge.
Finally, they reached the bottom of the stairs. Ten vampires were standing in a circle around an eleventh, a larger ring of red candles standing around them. Each of the vampires in the inner circle was holding a different totem, statues of various Old Ones. Wesley could feel the power rolling off them, flowing into the middle vampire. That vampire wore blood red robes trimmed with black on the bottom and sleeves. His arms were raised up in a semi-circle, hands open. His head was thrown back.
“The power. I can feel the power!” The vampire said in a low, gravelly voice. “Continue!” He shifted back into the demonic tongue of before, as the chanting from the others sped up, reaching a fevered tempo. Wesley nodded to Fred, who raised her crossbow. Their footsteps, the flames from their torches clearly hadn’t been noticed. Fred leveled her crossbow at the one in the middle. She fired, then, with three shots still in place, fired at three other vampires in rapid succession. Rather than taking the time to load five more, she flicked her wrist and produced her own collapsible sword, then looked up to see the results of her handiwork.
The priest had survived her attack, the bolt instead embedding itself in the vampire's stomach. But the other three were all dead, piles of dust, taking even their clothing with them. I don't think I'll ever understand why that happens,
she thought idly. Gunn dropped down from the stairs, landing behind another vampire and swinging. The vampire caught the axe blow with his forearm hitting against the haft. But it left him wide open to the torch in Gunn's hand, which struck the enemy in the chest. The vampire screeched and staggered back.
Wesley didn't go in for a dramatic drop down, but he did join into the fighting. Two vampires grabbed swords from a rack on the wall and charged at him, the others who weren't busy also arming themselves. Wesley backed himself against a wall – a wall covered in inverted holy symbols and symbols, sigils and letters from dozens of dialects, ranging from Primordial Sanskrit to Nyazian. Most of them were either nonsense or bastardized words, the kind of things written by eager, but ignorant cultists. Exactly the mindset of those who would be drawn to a cult like the Aurelians.
The two vampires attacked him, and Wesley swung with his blade and torch, managing to avoid their attack and keep them at bay. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Gunn and Fred fighting back to back, surrounded by three other vampires. The priest shouted encouragement to his men, while the last cultist looked between the two fights, as if debating where to go.
Wesley blocked two more attacks, and then saw the undecided vampire move over to him, even as Gunn beheaded another vampire. Ducking under one vampire's guard, he sliced at an opponent's stomach, forcing one to stagger back. He debated using his magic again, but then thought better of it. His reserves on that front were completely exhausted. Pulling himself back up he hissed in pain as he was cut on his arm – near the same spot he'd been hit just under a week ago. Gritting his teeth against the pain he thrust out with his torch, by sheer chance getting one vampire right in the face. The vampire staggered back, his head on fire. Wesley took the opportunity and threw the entire torch at the vampire, who was not only lit more, but knocked back into the ring of candles. Three candles fell onto him as he hit the ground, and he was dead for a second time moments later. With only one opponent left standing – the one he'd hit in the stomach as down for the count for another few seconds, Wesley swept an arc with his leg, attempting to trip his foe, but the vampire was too fast for him, and the former watcher barely managed to avoid tripping. But, in doing so, he convinced the vampire to make the fatal mistake many vampires did when fighting regular mortals. He became overconfident and overextended himself. With a final swing, he neatly dispatched his opponent and followed suit with the one still prone on the ground. And that was when things turned bad.
Gunn and Fred had fared well with theirs. One had swung out at Fred and grabbed her left arm, nearly breaking it. It was just dislocated, but only because Fred kicked out and hit the vampire between the legs. It fell to the ground, and Fred dispatched the last of the vampires, bar the priest.
But before the priest could be killed, it had grabbed gun and held him, arms locked behind his back, and the vampire holding a claw-like hand to the black man's neck.
“You have fought well, humans, but the losses I've suffered are meaningless. I will rebuild my cult – starting with this one, and you, and there is nothing you will be able to do about it. The Master's rising is at hand, and I will be there at Luke's side when he greets his sire. There is nothing anyone can do to save this land – this wretched world will burn with the purifying flames of-” Even though neither Fred nor Wesley had made a move towards the posturing priest, his words were cut off when he suddenly exploded into dust.
“By the dark gods, that man was getting annoying.” A female voice said from the shadows. A woman with long brown hair, wearing a form-fitting black outfit that left little to the imagination stepped into view, an empty hand-crossbow in her hand. Wesley recognized her immediately.
“Lilah.” He spat the name, “What are you doing here?”
The woman – Lilah – pouted visibly. “Oh, come on Wes, don't tell me you're still upset about the whole sleeping with you and then trying to kill you the next morning thing? It was just business, I promise. Nothing personal.”
Gunn stepped forward, away from Lilah, and looked at Wesley, rubbing his neck as if to assure himself that it was still whole and uninjured. “So I take it you two know eachother.”
“Pretty well, by the sound of it.” Fred added. “Care to introduce us, Wesley?”
Wesley sighed. “Fred, Gunn, this is Lilah. She's evil. Lilah, this is Winifred Burkle-Gunn, and her husband, Charles Gunn.”
“You're just going to dismiss me with a 'she's evil'?” Lilah complained. “You're doing me a disservice.”
“You're doing humanity a disservice by continuing to breath, Lilah.” Wesley shot back. “And you never answered my question. What are you doing here?”
“The same think I'd guess you are.” Lilah walked over to the altar, covered in skulls, and grabbed the black-leather bound book resting on it. “Looking for the Pergamum Codex.” She looked up at them. “Don't look so surprised. I may be evil, but neither I nor the Order of the Black Thorn is at all interested in the destruction of the world. We're trying to take it over, after all.”
“And you think we're just going to let you walk away with the Codex, because you tell us you're on our side on this? I don't believe you.” Wesley replied cooly.
“No. I expect you to consider the fact that I just saved your friend's life and let me join you on your merry little quest to save the world!” She made her voice high pitched for that, in some sort of exaggerated dramaticism. She grew more serious. “I don't want the world to end, and neither do you. Believe me, you'll need my help. The Order knows things, and they'll be things of great use to defeating the Master and the Aurelians.”
“Why don't you just tell us, then?” Gunn asked.
“Because then I wouldn't have an excuse for coming along with you. Come on, it'll be fun!” She drawled sarcastically. “And because I don't trust Wesley not to stab me in the back as soon as I turn to leave.”
“Unlike you, I don't stab people in the back,” Figuratively speaking, anyway,
“When I stab you, we'll be facing eachother.”
Lilah smirked. “There are so many different ways to take a sentence, aren't there?Next time, on The Red Moon Rises: Darla and her vampires attack Sunnydale head on, feeding on or killing dozens, hundreds. The initial assault reaches all the way into the castle. Can Xander, Cordelia and Amy survive the onslaught? Can they survive eachother? Find out, on The Red Moon Rises, Chapter 5: Assault on Sunnydale.