The late-afternoon sun sank toward the horizon far quicker than any of them could have wished, dark clouds spilling across the sky with rapidity. They were in for a dirty night of it in more ways than one. Giles prayed they should be able to complete the barrier spells in time.
The chanting came to a climax and finally stopped, leaving the little group exhausted and hungry. A fine blue-green mist sparkled along the edges of the house and its environs, delineating the edge of the spell’s working.
The four of them gathered around the table for a cold collation of pickles, cold mutton pie, and honeyed figs, along with a generous serving of tea and bread and butter for everyone.
“Shall we take our wine in the library,” suggested Willow, “We should rest a while longer before…before it becomes full dark.” She had noticed Xander’s anxious look through the dining room windows.
Giles lifted the decanter and poured for them all, “The sheer audacity of the man. To tamper with the fabric of reality in such a bold manner!” His eyes seemed far-away in the distant, shared past, “But then he always was a bold one.”
Willow was startled, “Father? You sound as though you admire this man.”
Giles laughed and wiped his forehead with a white handkerchief, “How not? We were boon companions for many a year until he turned to the veneration of Janus. No matter, I will sort this one out as well. We must, else-wise the repercussions must be catastrophic!”
Willow turned to her father, her eyes wide, “I shall not fail you father.”
“Nor shall I, sir,” promised Oz. He pressed Willow’s hand and led her to the fire where a small crock bubbled in the coals.
Giles smiled at the young couple, “Then it is settled. Shall I pour you another glass, Alexander?” At the soldier’s negative, he flipped open a thick leather-bound tome and relaxed into his reading chair to contemplate the possibilities of inter-dimensional travel.
The sun was a mere rim of light behind the black storm clouds to the west. Galloping hooves sounded on the path toward the cottage, stopping just short of the brook. The party inside leaped to their feet and rushed to the windows.
“Alexander! Are you here?” A familiar voice shouted and Xander knocked over a chair and upset the port in his haste rush to the door.
“My lord! I am here!”
He turned to Giles, a pleading look in his eyes, “Please sir, I beg of you admit my Lord Asheton.”
Giles considered for a long moment, “I fear I must speak with the gentleman before I allow him entrée into my household. I trust you will understand my reasoning.”
Xander lowered his eyes, thinking of Giles’ poor wife, victim of Angelus previous foray, but then begged, “”Yes sir, I do understand. But I must beg you to come quickly. I fear Angelus may be close on his trail.”
With Giles’ nod, Xander pelted out the door, stumbling over the stones in the near dark, straight to where Asheton stood near a winded gray stallion.
The wizard’s group followed at a more cautious pace, Giles still bleakly considering the wisdom of inviting a dangerous creature such as Asheton past the safeguards. He breathed in and stepped toward the viscount.
“My lord, “ he said neutrally, “You are here. What is it you wish from me?”
Asheton had the grace to look embarrassed, drawing nearer the shimmering barrier. “Sanctuary, “he said plainly, “I fear do we not work together against the fiend, we shall all fall separately.”
“What guarantees do we have that you shan’t slaughter us all in our beds?”
Asheton raised his chin proudly, “The word of a gentleman, albeit whose honour is somewhat tarnished, and for the affection I bear for my country and friends.” He looked directly into Giles’ surprised countenance, “I swear on the sacred grave of my mother, I shall lay down my life for you.”
“You can say no fairer than that, milord Asheton.” Giles smiled a little, “Well-come and well-met. But stay, what is that light beyond the forest? Surely it is not the sun so bright at this late hour?”
“No, good sir, that is Ashewode Manor burning, and with any luck, Angelus with it.”
Xander volunteered to help William unsaddle and groom the gray stallion and as they walked he shook his head in dismay, “Your beautiful home destroyed, my lord.”
“Beautiful to me no longer, my dear. Stained with the innocent blood and pain of those I hoped to spare. I’m glad to see it burn.”
A grim and solemn group gathered again the library where Giles poured them all brandy.
“Sorry I am to hear of your grief, my lord Asheton. My own nearly destroyed me, but together we shall not allow that foul creature to win against us.”
Thunder roared behind a brilliant flash of lightening. “Pray God the rain holds back,” Giles thought. He sank into his chair and re-opened the book he had been scrutinizing earlier. “Would you make a pot of coffee, my dear Willow? I fear the night may be long for us.”
She smiled and along with Oz, retired to the kitchen where the delicious scent of roasted coffee soon drifted toward the company.
“What of that solicitor, Holland Manners?” Xander asked in a low voice.
William turned with a ferocious smile, “He shan’t be delivering those papers to London, I fear. In fact, I think he was rather surprised to see me still amongst the living.” He poured himself another drink and strode to the window, “It seems some horrid highwayman relived him of them, along with that lively grey stallion in yonder barn. If Angelus found him before he made his escape, doubtless he will be quite angry with him.”
It was far past midnight, nearer dawn than dark when Giles felt the barriers being tested. A shocking cry followed by a furious cursing echoed through the woods. Angelus was pressing against the magical restraints that reserved the borders of the property.
Asheton stirred the fire while Giles peered through the glass overlooking the stream. “He is determined, I fear,” Giles sighed, “Even the sting of the spell is not enough to obstruct him forever, I fear.”
“May we brace up the barricade? Is there not another spell to add to the barrier’s resistance?” Asheton asked.
“Not until daylight, I fear. I pray it may not be long coming now.” He glanced over to where the younger members of their small band lay peacefully sleeping.
Asheton looked toward where his dear friend and companion moaned in his sleep by the fire with dismay, “Poor boy, I fear his head pains him even in his sleep.”
“I fear it is part and parcel of this damnable spell cast by the spurious Ethan Rayne.”
Asheton looked surprised.“What do you mean, sir?”
“He was brought to this world through a casting of dark magic, an Egyptian Ka hex and it is slowly killing him to remain here.”
“And these head-aches?”
“Part and parcel,” Giles looked at the viscount critically, “You seem uneasy, my lord. Could it be that you are part of this casting as well? Have you the head-aches?”
Asheton strode away, taking a turn around the room before raising his eyes to the wizard, “I fear it is so. What can be done to put this grievous error to rights for my friend? For myself, I care for nothing other than the utter destruction of Angleus.”
“Find Ethan Rayne, beat him until he tells us how it can be accomplished,” Giles’ smile was cruel. “I will take pleasure in reminding him of the logic in annoying me. Ethan may be a brilliant wizard, but he is no match for me.”
“Let me know how I can help,” Asheton’s smile was delighted, “I shall be happy to be of service.”
Angelus stood knee-deep in the raging water, his hair plastered to his head and his clothing burnt and in tatters.
“Coward! Ye feckin’ amadán! Did you think I couldn’t find ye hidin’ behind the wizard’s coat-tails?”
He paced the perimeter of the property, shouting and pressing hard against the sparkling barrier before settling against the nearest point.
He then began speak quite conversationally in his loud, carrying voice, “Your little bride Jenny was delicious, old man. In oh, so many ways,” he began. “How I enjoyed watching your gypsy lass mewl and beg for your life while I taught her to obey me.” He laughed loudly and strolled along the water’s edge. “Gypsy sluts are all the same, ready to lift their skirts for anything on two legs.”
Giles snarled in a good parody of a vampire’s growl, “Insufferable black-guard thinks he can torture me with Jenny’s memory.” He glanced over to where his daughter slept on, “I am not such a flat as to let him cut up my peace.”
Asheton smiled and joined him at the window, “Come let us have some fresh coffee, Mr. Giles. The devil fly away with him.”
Angelus disappeared for a short time, then reappeared, looming up out of the darkness, his brutal taunts loud in the quiet atmosphere surrounding the cottage.
“I’ll serve that tender daughter of yours out the same way, wizard. But stay, it shall be even more delightful! She’s a virgin, is she not? Perhaps I shall make her into my own Weeping Willow. She looks a prime article. It’ll be a joy to teach her just what I take pleasure in.” He laughed and began his circuit around the house, stopping to press against the invisible barrier as he went. “Then, when I’ve finished with her, I’ll send her to the Master in Paris to use as his dollymop. He liked the last one I sent. What was her name…oh yes, Lady Anne.”
“I’ve always enjoyed the pleasure of breaking a virgin to bridle...isn’t that right, little William? Hiding behind wizards and witches with your blubbering boy.” He leaned forward, causing the barrier to send up a shower of brilliant sparks toward the sullen heavens.
Angelus stumbled back and stood again in the stream staring at the house as though he could pierce the barrier by force of will alone.
“Oh, William, my boy. I just thought you should know you are a widower now. Your beloved wife is no more, I am devastated to report.” William’s nostrils flared and he ground his teeth, “She cried for you while she burned to dust. Poor darlin’ Dru, how could you use a poor lass so?”
Giles stepped toward the viscount as though to comfort him, but was surprised to see the blaze of anger in his eyes. Asheton leapt to his feet and started toward the door. “Wait, milord. He is baiting you. I beg you, stay.”
William paced instead, his circuit taking him in widening circles around the crowded room, finally flinging himself into a chair. “I no longer loved her, my Drusilla. She was mad, poor wicked thing. Driven insane by that fiend in human shape, but still I should have allowed her a chance.”
“Would she have given you the same?”
He shook his head, “Never in life, but I hate to have been the one who destroyed her. I did love her once.”
They watched until the first glow of sunrise sent the angry vampire scuttling back through the woods toward the smoldering ruins of Ashewode Manor.
Previous Chapters may be found in: Spander