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The Cauldron

By Duncan Johnson

This story is set during the first half of season five.

Prologue

Few people visited Sunnydale's cemeteries after dark. Few living people, that is. Few residents could have told you why that was, however. It was simply the way things had always been.

Ironically, one of the residents who could have explained things was currently flouting this particular unwritten rule.

Rupert Giles, former librarian and current owner of The Magic Box, was crouched in front of one of the headstones. He clasped a single rose between thumb and forefinger, a thorn tearing at his skin. Delicately, Giles set the rose on top of the grave.

The name on the stone read 'Jenny Calendar'. It was not her real name, but it was the name he had known her by, the name by which her friends wanted to remember her. Jenny was the woman to whom Giles had lost his heart and he had never managed to get it back.

The wind picked up, tugging at his hair. The rose rolled off the grave and onto the grass so Giles bent down to retrieve it. A twig snapped.

'Giles, stay down!'

Buffy Summers vaulted the headstone and planted herself squarely between Giles and the approaching vampire. She spun the stake in her hand as an Old West gunslinger might twirl his pistol.

'The Slayer,' the vampire drawled. His voice sounded as if he had a throat full of crushed glass.

'Well, d'uh. Surprised to see me?' Buffy circled left, trying to draw the creature away from Giles. 'Don't you people ever learn? This is my town.'

'Buffy?' Giles said, peering over the headstone.

'What?' she asked, then added, 'Oh,' as she saw the over three vampires approaching. 'They hunt in packs now? Whatever happened to the good old days, y'know, one vamp, one slayer, toast?'

'I think you may have answered your own question,' Giles commented.

'Did I ask for backseat slayage?' Buffy demanded.

The first vampire clamped his hand on her shoulder and spun her around. Buffy jabbed her stake up under his rib cage and watched him crumble to dust.

'Who's next?'

Two vamps, one male, one female stalked towards her like two feral cats. With their pale skin, black hair, green eyes and narrow faces, they looked alike enough to be twins. Buffy did not care one way or the other.

The male lunged at her, all fury and no finesse. Buffy blocked his strike with her forearm and then tripped him. As he fell, the vampire tangled his feet around Buffy's ankles, bringing her down with him. The female dived on top of her.

Buffy tried to roll clear, but the woman managed to land on top of her arm. Buffy's wrist cracked against the hard edge of a grave and her stake fell from her fingers. The male snatched it up. He licked his fangs as he approached the prone slayer.

Buffy slammed both her feet into his abdomen and, when he doubled over, slammed the heel of one boot into his face. As he staggered away, Buffy turned her attention to the female. Having established a firm grip on Buffy's arm, she had bared her teeth as she prepared to tear out the girl's throat. Buffy's free hand scrabbled spider-like across the grass searching for something, anything. The vampire leaned in close and licked Buffy's throat.

'Mmm,' the vamp purred. 'Have you any idea how good you taste? Almost too good to eat.'

'Then let's don't and just say we did, huh?' Buffy retorted. Her voice was flippant, but her heart was pounding. Her hand kept searching, fingers racing until they closed on something useful.

Buffy slammed the rock into the vampire's temple. The pressure on her arm eased and Buffy snatched it back, executing a back flip to get to her feet.

Trying to keep an eye on the two vampires, Buffy examined her wrist. It was sprained, possibly broken. With her Slayer powers it should heal quickly, but the hand would be no good to her tonight. She fumbled with her left hand as she tried to draw her spare stake.

'Buffy!'

She looked up. Giles had his back to a headstone. The fourth vampire was closing on him, muscles rippling beneath its tattered jacket.

'Here, catch,' she shouted, hurling the stake to her Watcher.

Giles caught it one handed and slammed it into the vampire's chest.

The vampire laughed. 'Guess you missed.'

Without missing a beat, Giles grabbed the stake with both hands, pulled it out and then stabbed again. The vampire exploded in a cloud of dust.

'Guess not,' he whispered.

Buffy was unarmed and injured, not to mention outnumbered. The twins circled her, the male darting forward, taunting her with her own stake.

'How's it feel to be on the receiving end for a change, pretty, pretty,' he mocked.

Buffy shrugged. 'If you manage to hit me, I'll let you know.'

'Oh, I'll hit you, my pretty,' the vampire claimed. 'I'll hit you and I'll cut you and I'll leave you here, blood pooling at you feet, food for the jackals.'

'Blah, blah-bitty-blah,' Buffy replied. 'You bad guys do love the sound of your own voices. And do we actually have jackals in Sunnydale?'

'Does it matter?' the female asked, her breath hot on Buffy's ear.

Buffy tried to turn, but the female vampire clamped her hands around her upper arms, holding Buffy in place.

'Game over, pretty,' the male said, stake leading the way as he lunged forward.

Buffy dropped to her knees, using her momentum to flip the female vamp over her head. The stake impaled her in the back, the strength of the thrust carrying it through her ribs and into her heart. Buffy felt the pressure on her arms ease as the vamp disintegrated.

'A word to the unwise,' Buffy said to the sole remaining vampire, 'don't play with your food.'

She smashed the heel of her hand into his nose. Had he been human his face would have been covered with blood, but the demon had none to shed.

Enraged, the vampire charged forward, lashing out with clawed hands. Buffy managed to block his strikes, but found herself forced further and further back.

'Not so flip now, are you?' the vampire said. Buffy could not argue.

The vamp crouched and sprang, launching a flying kick at Buffy's head.

How come all vampires know kung fu, Buffy thought as she instinctively raised her right arm in a blocking move. Is there an all night dojo I don't know about?

The vampire impacted with her arm and the pain shot through her injured wrist. She cried out and failed to react in time as the vampire grabbed her and slammed her against a tree.

'Playtime's over, pretty,' he said as he prepared to feed.

'Got that right.'

A crossbow bolt whistled through the air and struck the vampire in the back. It hung unsupported in the air for a moment as the vampire dispersed around it, then fell to the ground at Buffy's feet.

'Miss me?' Riley Finn asked.

'Next time, could you try to arrive before the nick of time?' Buffy complained, but her actions belied her words as she put her arms around her boyfriend. Riley silenced any further complaints with a kiss.

When she came up for air, Buffy glanced round to see if Giles was okay.

He was standing over Jenny's grave, his eyes fixed on the ground.

His rose was just a red and green smear in the dirt.

* * *

 

 

 

 

Chapter One - Can't Stand Losing You

A storm was brewing, but the sky was clear.

The wind a whisper, bearing tidings ill,

Swept through the dark woods of Broceliande,

Through Arthur's court it danced and spread it's woes

And out it sailed across Tintagel, till

It espied where Merlin lay at rest.

Thus Morgan, fair of eye if dark of heart,

Settled in the branches of a tree

Where swallows nested, and in silence watched

Her mentor, who, in leafy shade,

Waited for his protégé, his love.

In welcome burst the swallows' song as down

The flow'ry path came Nimue

And Morgan wished that in amongst the flowers

Were snakes t'would rise and strike her heel upon.

But free of harm to Merlin Nimue came

And in his arms he took her, though yet plain.

Within her golden hair he planted kisses

As if t'were sweetest earth in which to sow.

This man - a word too small for such as he -

A man who kings had made and unmade both

Who had unearthed the mighty sword of Lugh,

Excalibur, so called by mortal men

Was now engaged in tryst with such as she?

A blade pierced Morgan's heart and that hot pain

Opened up the organ like a flower

Bursting into bloom and yet the wind

Can crush a flower and be free

Of even slightest stabs of conscience.

And to the wind she cast her wordless cry,

Her grief and anger mingling as one,

Even as she watched her mentor give

That tenderest of caress to Nimue's cheek,

She cursed her name and vowed upon them both

The vilest of revenges she could dream

And that in nightmares they might touch upon.

And as she cried into the air there rose

A murder of crows, their feathers black as pitch.

Rising from all trees within the wood

They swarmed until they blotted out the sun.

* * *

'Giles, are you okay?'

Giles was still staring at the crushed remains by his feet. There was a gash in his forehead and blood slowly trickled down towards his eye, but he seemed not to have noticed.

Then he moved.

Savagely, he kicked at the remains of the rose. Then he kicked again and again and again until they were completely obscured beneath the dirt.

'Bastards,' he cursed quietly. 'I'm sorry. I'm so very, very sorry.'

'Giles?'

Buffy took a step closer. She was a bit on edge. Her Watcher's behaviour was freaking her out more than the vampires had. At least she knew how to deal with them.

'Everything's okay now, Giles, so why don't we just get out of here. Riley'll drive you home.'

'Everything's not 'okay',' Giles muttered. 'Every time I try and do something important…'

His voice, already frayed, trailed away into nothing.

'It was just a flower,' Buffy commented when it was clear he was not going to say any more.

'Buffy,' Riley warned.

'Just a flower,' Giles repeated. 'Yes, it was 'just a flower', but it was her flower and they took it away from me. It's this bloody place. It taints every good thing you try and do. We had a real shot at happiness. Do you know how rare that is? Another time, another place we could have been happy together. Here, not a chance, not a bloody chance. If it wasn't for Angel…'

'Buffy, don't,' Riley warned again, placing a hand on her shoulder.

Buffy knew he was right, knew that she should keep quiet, but talk of Angel was like probing an open wound.

'Hey, Angel wasn't himself at the time,' she snapped. 'I mean, okay, he was like his old self, but not like his cursed 'Angel' self. You can't blame him for the curse.'

'No,' Giles said tonelessly, 'I can't.'

Buffy's face collapsed and she stumbled, almost fell, backwards into Riley's strong arms.

'You blame me,' she whispered. 'You do, don't you? You blame me for breaking the curse. You think all of this is my fault.'

Giles looked up, his face a distorted mirror of Buffy's own anguish.

'Buffy…no…I don't…'

But Buffy was not listening.

'All this time…You never said anything, but all this time you've been thinking it. You've been blaming me for what's been happening.'

'I…'

Giles reached out for Buffy. She turned and ran.

'Buffy, wait!' both Riley and Giles cried out in unison.

'Stay here,' Riley told Giles as he raced off in pursuit.

Buffy had not gone far. Her legs would not support her. She was curled up, leaning against the base of a tree, her eyes filled with tears she would not shed.

Buffy, listen,' Riley began. He placed a hand on Buffy's arm, but she flinched under his touch so he withdrew it. 'Look, I haven't known Giles for as long as you have and I don't claim to understand much of what you two were talking about back there, but I reckon I know enough to know he didn't mean what he said.'

Buffy did not answer.

'You could go back and talk to him,' Riley suggested. 'Clear the air. You'd feel better for it.

Still no answer.

'On second thoughts, maybe it would be best if we waited till the morning.'

Convinced Buffy was not going anywhere, Riley made his way back to where Giles was waiting.

'Is she..?'

'She's fine, sir,' Riley assured him. 'Just a little shaken up, that's all. I'm guessing you both are.'

'Well…'

'Listen,' Riley continued, 'things were said which I'm guessing nether of you meant and that you're both regretting already. It happens. You'll get over it. I think the best thing now is for you both to get some rest, then you can both make your apologies in the morning.'

'Yes, that might be for the best,' Giles conceded.

'I was kind of hoping you'd say that. I'll make sure Buffy gets home safely.'

'Thank you,' Giles said as Riley turned away. 'If there's anything I can do.'

Riley turned back.

'Yes, there is. Never, ever, mention Angel again while I'm in earshot.'

* * *

The moon was already setting when Giles parked his convertible. He glanced at his watch. If he was lucky he could still snatch a few hours sleep before he was due in at the magic shop. Maybe he should call in sick. Anya could cope by herself. On second thoughts, maybe that wasn't such a great idea.

He strode across the courtyard trying to pull his keys from his jacket pocket. They had snagged on the lining and he had to use his other hand to pull the jacket taut while he worked them free. The lining tore and the keys leapt up out of his hand and onto the ground. Muttering curse, he dropped to his knees and fumbled for them in the dark. Finally, his questing fingers found them and he drew himself upright.

There was a rose pinned to the door in front of him. His door.

'Hello?' he called out. 'Is this someone's idea of a joke? Hello?

There was no answer, but then he had not really expected one. He was still staring at the rose and feeling increasingly foolish for it. Come on, Rupert, he thought, get a grip on yourself. With more willpower than he cared to admit, Giles inserted the key in the lock and opened his front door.

Music floated out to him from within. Puccini. La Boheme. Once upon a time it had been one of his favourite operas. It had been a love affair built up over several years as his tastes broadened beyond the rock of his student days. It had been shattered in mere moments.

Cautiously, he descended into his home. He had to keep reminding itself that it was his home. Someone else had been in here, had intruded on his private space and everything that had been familiar and comforting was now dangerous and alien.

Someone had left a bottle of red wine on the table along with two wineglasses. Giles was not much of a wine drinker - unless he had company - but he did feel that he knew his wines so he picked up the bottle to see what it was. There was no label, just a piece of yellow paper stuck to it, folded into three. Replacing the bottle, he removed the note and opened it. It contained only one word, written in a flowing script with black ink. 'Upstairs.'

Giles dropped the note as if it burned his fingers.

He should get out of here. Now. Call the police. Call Buffy. At the very least, he should look for a weapon. But he did none of these things. Instead, he crossed to the staircase and was unsurprised to find lighted candles decorating every step. He began to climb, crushing beneath his feet the roses that had been carelessly strewn across the stairs.

He should have been scared. Apprehensive at the least. His heart should have been pounding, blood thundering in his ears, his whole body tensed for action. But he was calm and relaxed. Everything seemed so unreal. It was as if he was wading through a dream and as such had no connection to the world he was inhabiting. He continued to climb.

His bedroom was opposite the staircase. The door was open and he could see into the room beyond. There was a woman lying in his bed. She was lying with unnatural stillness, her body laid out like a statue. Or a corpse. Her face was tilted towards him, eyes closed, and he recognised the puckish, gypsy look framed by the dark hair.

Now, finally, his heart skipped her beat. Her eyelids fluttered and he was across the landing and at her side before he had a chance to draw breath.

Jenny Calendar sat up in the bed.

'Hello, Rupert,' she said.

 

 
[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] Ongoing...