Gold and scarlet striped the sky, all the heavy clouds having rolled on out toward the north as Giles and his reluctant colleague completed securing the magical wards surrounding the property. It would be difficult to concentrate on keeping D’Angelus out and ripping open a hole in space & time, but if they were lucky, it could be accomplished. After all, Ethan had accomplished a comparable task while locked in a prison cell with little more than his wits to save him.
Giles looked at the man who wore that dear dead face and sighed, “How like he is to my Ethan the younger. And this is what my particular friend would have become had he not come to grief? Perhaps it was better, but still I regret…”
He stepped to Ethan’s side and drew him by the arm toward the house. “Come now, don’t dawdle. We must make sure my daughter has all she needs.”
“Yes, Rupert,” He seemed befuddled by the kindness he’d been shown after all his villainous exploits. He was frightened, too, of the revenge possible should the powerful D’Angelus break through while they were occupied with the opening. If Ethan knew anything, it was luck had the damnedest way of turning at the worst possible time.
William sat by the fireside with his friend, cajoling him into eating a bit of soup while Miss Giles and Mr. Osbourne were occupied with the spell ingredients at the small table. Simple things: salt, bits of earth and wood, an athame and purified water. She was dreadfully uneasy and Oz was a soothing presence for her jangled nerves. Willow measured and re-measured the ingredients, searching for just the right bowl and the perfect length of twig. Oz merely smiled and agreed with her, giving encouraging pats and words while fetching anything she wished. Her father noticed her apprehension and moved to comfort her as well.
“Come now, Willow dearest, everything is completed as best we can do. You must take a moment and keep up your strength. We are bound to have a long night in store for us.”
“Yes, father, I know. But I just want to be absolutely certain that this is right!”
He sighed, “Of course you do, dear one, but as Ethan can tell you, it is the intent, not necessarily the perfect length of ash or vine.” She finally gave in and chose to refresh herself, still keeping a worried eye on the pile of spell elements.
William strode over to have a quiet word with the wizards, “I fear Alexander’s vigor is waning. He has had a further dream of the other world and spoken to that Willow there. She says we must return him tonight and I agree. We have no alternative. They will be watching for his reemergence and doing what they can from the other side.”
“And what of you, milord? Will you not return with him?”
“I cannot in all honor do so, does Angelus still walk the earth determined to destroy you and your family and anything else in his path. I will stay and protect you and your family. He must not be allowed to devastate the earth as he pleases.”
Giles smiled and shook his hand, “I honor you, my lord. It is a privilege to have known you.”
“And you as well, dear sir.”
“I promise you, if it is possible, I shall return you to your other world.”
Ethan stepped away from the two gentlemen and looked over the spell ingredients, considering them carefully, he slid the athame across his fingertips and added a few drops of his own blood to the purified water and carefully replaced the blade all unnoticed by the rest of the company.
Moonrise and the clear, black sky shone with the pale radiance of stars and a fingernail of moon, unhindered by the few light clouds flying from the east.
An eerie sound echoed through the woods, a low moan followed by a high-pitched screaming that warbled on and on, a wounded animal or something worse. Heavy footfalls came as close as possible to Rose Cottage, tramping just out of eyesight and crashing trees marked his passage.
“Angelus is come,” Willow whispered to Oz, squeezing his hands tightly. He swallowed and moved close to hold her trembling body against his.
“I shall do all I can to protect you, Miss Willow,” he said looking deep into her green eyes.
She pressed her lips gently to his and smiled, “Thank you, Daniel.”
Ethan and Rupert were at the windows, watching the night for any incursions past the magical protections, but D’Angelus had seemingly learned to stay clear of the barrier, using shock and intimidation as his tools.
Asheton stood close-by, “He is nothing if not patient. He hopes to wear you down, frighten you into something foolish.”
“More fool him, then.”
“As you say. Have you weapons?” He looked around the small cottage for something other than the old cricket bat over the mantle.
Giles grinned, “I believe I may have something useful. “ He shoved a mound of papers from an old trunk and pulled it open, revealing a trove of swords, knives and a well-oiled crossbow. “I also have a brace of pistols loaded with ironwood ball. They have a short range, but a deadly fire.”
Asheton laughed at that, “Preparedness is next to godliness! I give you good cheer, sir!” He selected a brace of knives and a heavy saber and passed the pistols to the wizard.
Daniel shook his head. “I prefer to use my own weapons, “ he said, “I am not able to carry them easily during the change.”
“Just as well, Mr. Osbourne, but be aware, D’Angelus knows what you are capable of and may have come prepared for you as well.”
“We shall just have to make sure and surprise him, then.”
“Rupert,” Ethan spoke softly, “We should be getting the fire ready outside and begin laying out the materials.”
“Very well. The timing is crucial. Daniel, you are to watch over my daughter while she works with Ethan. Lord Asheton and I shall stand guard on the perimeter. When the portal opens, we shall get Alexander to the gateway and assist him in returning. It seems a simple enough plan, do you think.”
“Simple is best.”
Human heartbeats were as loud as thunder to the vampires; the pulse of blood beckoning them to fed their endless hunger. Angelus stood just beyond the range of the firelight’s small flicker, still as any marble angel on a tomb, staring, staring.
He began whispering, “Flesh and bone, William. They’re only flesh and bone.” Low, so low only another like him could perceive the sound. Walking around the edges of the barrier, his footsteps light.
Watching, watching. Only his golden eyes glowing lambent and fearsome.
Willow and Ethan were chanting on their knees before a small fire, their voices united and becoming hoarse, “Hail Thoth! Grant, O might of Thoth, that that which the great god Tmu.” Their chants continued, low and intense, giving homage and adoration to the pantheon of Egyptian gods.
D’Angelus laughed, louder this time, “Did you think to escape me, poor William. You’re so weak. Hiding behind these wizards and their useless knowledge. I’ll pull their entrails out and wrap you with them.” He sank back into the darker night and was gone for a long moment. Giles and Asheton looked at one another.
“He’s planning something.” Giles said and Asheton nodded in agreement, determining to be more vigilant.
As it happened, he was. Something unexpected and foul.
A sudden flurry of feathers and blood rained down on them from above, one after another, wild birds fell at their feet dead. A pause, and then the pitiful corpse of a grey hare followed, startling them all and causing the chant to fall silent for a moment.
“Lo, let the knife which cutteth when its name is uttered, and slayeth those who advance toward its flames. It hath secret plots and counsels…” The chant began again, voices stronger and determined.
Giles and Asheton separated, going in opposite directions along the perimeter, vigilant eye trained into the darkness, only Asheton able to hear the soft sounds that told of deadly peril just beyond human perception. Without further warning, there sounded a mighty groan, and an enormous oak creaked into motion, its slow descent bringing a flurry of smaller limbs and spindly beeches with it directly across the stream, crushing the magical wards into dust and ash.
Giles and Asheton ran toward the frantically chanting wizards whose panicked eyes revealed sheer terror. “Don’t stop! What ever you do, do not stop!” shouted Giles.
Asheton could hear D’Angelus’ rumbling laugh.
Then, there he was, terrifying in his arrogance and pride.
“Move away, William. You are the last of my family and I would hate to carve you into gobbets…that is, before I have a chance to enjoy a pleasant evening with your friends, that is.” He carried a broadsword, a heavy weapon that swung lightly in his muscular hand. “You, Wizard Giles. Come to face me, have you?”
Giles swung into an en guarde position with a small sword, but he was no match for the heavier, stronger man.
William grasped his arm, “No, friend. I fear I must dispatch him if it can be done. Protect the others, I beg you.”
Giles nodded and retreated, searching for his crossbow and pistols.
Behind him, the two enchanters continued, “I am the soul which dwelleth in the two tchafi. He that hath two red eyes, the dweller in het-Anes…” their voices growing stronger as something began happening over the small water container.
A flashing light, with a motion like a human heart, “Thou art my ka within my body. Mayest thou come forth in the place of happiness…O, Opener of the Way!”
Wider and stronger, the portal grew and Ethan’s eyes glittered in joy. His voice grew stronger and he nearly shrieked out the final call as the portal snapped open fully.
Willow fell into limp unconsciousness, and was caught in the arms of Daniel Osbourne who bore her away from the fire. Ethan looked to the battleground behind him.
Giles aimed bolts from his crossbow at the embattled D’Angelus while William fought him to a standstill. The younger vampire’s lighter weight allowed his agility and supple sword hand to keep Angelus on the defensive. His bulk was littered with bloody scores while Asheton only wore a single bloody wound.
They separated, panting unnecessarily and stared balefully at each other.
Giles’ next arrow took D’Angelus in the thigh muscle, but it only inflamed his anger, “You’re a fool if you think your tiny pig-stickers will affect me!”
William said nothing, only leapt for the heavier man’s throat, bearing him backward into the ground. He roared for a stake while they rolled and struggled in the muddy earth, but was flung hard against the fallen oak, the blow rendering him stunned.
D’Angelus leapt to his feet and headed directly toward the opening portal, only to be tackled by the flying figure of Daniel Osbourne, half-turned to wolf. Angelus struggled with him, taking him in a heavy strangling hold before flinging his small body into the trees.
“And now, I think I will have your daughter wizard.” He stared at the portal, “I think I shall take her with me into this new world. She’s a luscious little morsel.” He stared at Xander lying corpse-pale beside the portal, “But this one, I shall just gut this coward where he lays.”
He bent to drive his blade into the silent form and was surprised by another bolt from the crossbow, followed by the thud of the ironwood ball in his body. “Feckin’ hell!” he roared, turning back toward Giles, “You’ve provoked me enough! Slaughter is too good for ye!” He charged, bull-like at the figures of the wizard and Asheton.
Ethan Rayne slid carefully from his hiding place and toward the open portal, “Janus is with me again, I see.” And smiled as he stepped into the portal, his body drawn quickly into the silvery depths.
Asheton’s eyes grew wide, “Giles! The portal!”
Giles grasped the situation in a glance and ran for the rapidly closing portal. “Come Alexander, you must go home. Hurry now, lad.”
Xander shuffled to his feet and shook his head, “William. Not without…”
Giles gave him a shove, “You cannot wait, go now. I will do what I can. Go!” With one last shove, Xander tumbled through the portal and home, his last glimpse that of the infuriated vampire standing over William with a stake.