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Chapter Eighteen - Echoes
And so, a bargain struck, the pair did vow,
First to part Merlin from his lady love
Before installing Morgan in her place.
Alas, poor Nimue ignorant remained
Of the dark forces 'gainst her now arrayed.
She rode out with the calling of the lark
Upon her favoured mare to greet the dawn
But she was not alone as was her want.
Lord Bres sat on his throne, outwardly calm,
But in his heart anticipation brewed
Mixed with impatience, for the prize was his,
But not till Morgan was at Merlin's side.
His radiance he turned on those he loved,
His people, those who loved him in return.
And should they not? His eyes were filled with stars,
His skin glowed like the solar disc with warmth.
His smiles were bliss, like that a newborn brings,
His tears could drive a man to madness and to death.
And into Bres' court his spy brought news,
That Nimue was abroad and alone,
Save for the eyes that dogged her every step,
So that their master might be kept informed.
Upon hearing this news, Lord Bres did laugh
And to their knees his people fell, entranced,
But Bres carried for them not, turning instead
With all speed towards Nimue and his prize.
The lady Nimue 'pon the shore did ride,
The rising sun reflected on the waves
Like red blood spilled. And circling high above,
The gulls cried out for her in mournful song.
'Greetings, fair maid,' Lord Bres out to her called.
'Pray what brings you abroad at such an hour?'
The breath of Nimue caught within her throat
As on the wondrous form of Bres she gazed.
She could no longer speak, nor choose to act
In any way 'cept that which he desired.
Thus was Nimue by Lord Bres bewitched.
Lord Bres reached up and too her by the hand
Assisting her to dismount from her horse
And the he led her unresisting to
A cave where deep within the dark he knew
Merlin his lady love could never find.
* * *
Giles ran a hand through his tousled hair.
'No, Buffy didn't come back here last night,' Giles told the person on the other end of the telephone receiver. 'Are you sure she didn't spend the night with Willow. I know they went out patrolling together yesterday.'
He winced at the near hysterical barrage that assaulted him from the phone. It was hardly surprising that Joyce was upset. It was bad enough that one daughter had gone missing, but both Of course Joyce had tried to contact Willow. No one seemed to know where she was either.
'I see,' Giles said. His tone was level and calm, but his mind was racing. 'I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. I imagine that they're still caught up in their investigations No, no, I think it's best if you stay at home, in case she tries to call. I'll go and look for her Yes, I will call you as soon as I find anything.'
Giles put the phone down with some relief, tempered by his now nagging concern for Buffy. He pinched the bridge of his nose. Why did it seem that for every step forward they made they ended up two steps further back? He couldn't help feeling that there was something terribly obvious about this whole business, but the solution continued to elude him. What was the matter with him?
Jenny stepped up behind him and snaked her arms around his chest.
'You look tense, Rupert,' she said. 'I know a way to remedy that.'
Giles managed a watery smile and turned to face her.
'Buffy's missing,' he explained. 'Willow and Tara with her. I need to find them and I believe I'm going to need your help.'
Jenny looked uncomfortable.
'I realise how nervous you are about facing everybody again,' Giles continued, 'but I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important.'
'I know,' Jenny replied. 'Guess I'd better go and get dressed, huh?'
* * *
'I can't believe that you closed the Magic Box,' Anya said to Giles when he arrived to pick her up. He had been forced to phone Joyce again in order to ask if he could borrow her car.
'Anya,' Giles replied patiently, 'I think our friends are rather more important than one day's trade.'
'But what about all of our customers?' Anya protested.
'I'm sure they'll be able to find what they need elsewhere,' Jenny assured her.
'Yes,' Anya said. 'That's my point exactly.'
Anya had never met Jenny, but she readily accepted Giles' explanation that she was a friend from his time at Sunnydale High who was staying with him for a few days. She was rather proud that her assumptions regarding Giles' recent sex-life had proved to be accurate. It also made her bemoan her current lack of the same. And Xander hadn't even phoned.
'Look!' Jenny shouted, pointing.
Anya leaned forward to see what was going on.
'Oh look, Giles,' she said when she noticed it, 'it's your penis extension.'
Giles sputtered, strangely lost for words. Jenny bit her lower lip to prevent herself from laughing. Anya couldn't understand what was wrong with the pair of them, but suspected it might be one of those annoying times when Xander, if he were here instead of abandoning her in favour of a holiday in England, might start lecturing her about tact. Tact, in Anya's opinion, was overrated. Not to mention confusing. Why would someone not want to say what they really meant? Human beings were really bizarre.
They pulled up next to Giles' red BMW.
'No signs of a struggle,' Jenny said as the three of them emerged from Joyce's car.
'No,' Giles mused. 'I imagine they parked here before going down to investigate the caves below.'
'And they didn't come back,' Anya added. 'Do you think that there might have been a cave-in? They could be trapped in there, all alone in the dark, starving and with rats nibbling on their toes with those cute little teeth of theirs. Or maybe the tide came in and they drowned. We'll probably find their bodies washed up on the beach eventually, once the fish have finished with them and you just know that that isn't going to be pretty.'
'Anya,' Giles said with forced patience, 'I don't think it's a good idea to speculate at this point.'
While Anya pouted, Giles handed out torches and then led the way down to the beach.
'Do you really think that this is a good idea?' Anya asked.
Giles rounded on her faster than he had intended and Anya took a step back.
'I was only going to say,' she persisted, 'that if whatever's in there has got Buffy and Willow and Tara then what chance do we have against it? They're Slayers and witches. What are we?'
'She does have a point, Rupert,' Jenny agreed.
Giles took off his glasses and began very slowly polishing the left lens.
'I know,' he conceded, 'but what choice do we have? We can't just abandon our friends.'
'Unless they're already dead,' Anya pointed out. 'What? Someone has to say it. There's a good chance that whatever has got hold of them has already done away with them. It's what I would do. And if they are dead then what is the point of us risking our own lives down here?'
'But what about the possibility that they might be alive?' Giles asked. 'They might need our help.'
'I know,' Anya admitted, 'but I'm scared. I'm scared that I'm going to go and die a horrible messy death and I won't be there for Xander when he gets back from England. And I'm scared that even if I do manage to stay safe that maybe Xander won't and I'll be waiting and waiting and he'll never come back to me and why do I have to feel like this?'
Jenny put her hands on Anya's shoulders, holding her at arm's length.
'Everything's going to be okay,' she told her. 'You'll see. We'll go in there and we'll get Buffy back and then Xander will come back from England and we'll save the world again because that's what we do.'
'I know,' Anya replied, shifting uncomfortably. 'I know all that, but I still feel all icky and off-balance.'
Giles replaced his glasses on his nose.
'This isn't like you, Anya,' he remarked. 'We've faced far more frightening things that this and they've never bothered you before now. What is it that makes this so different?'
'Because I can stop this,' Anya explained frantically. 'I've seen all of this before, I think, and I should know what's going on, but I can't remember. I've tried so very hard, but I just can't remember!'
'What do you mean you've seen this before?' Jenny asked.
'I'm over a thousand years old,' Anya explained. 'I've seen a lot of things before. And this is familiar. I just wish I knew why.'
'And you're sure you can't remember anything that could help us?' Giles asked.
'I wouldn't say I couldn't if I could, would I,' Anya snapped.
'No, I suppose not,' Giles conceded.
'If you want my advice,' Jenny began, 'there's no point working yourself up over it. Let's get in there, rescue your friends and then we'll see about trying to help you through this, okay?'
'Okay,' she said.
'Excellent,' Giles added. Then he snapped on his torch and stepped inside the mouth of the cave.
Water dripped from the ceiling and each splash where the drops hit the floor echoed within the confined space. Anya hugged herself, rubbing her upper arms as she shivered. The drop in temperature now that they were out of the sunlight was marked. Jenny was following behind her and the light at the mouth of the tunnel, which Anya could see over Jenny's shoulder, now seemed very far away.
Giles swore and Anya jumped, startled.
'Rupert, what is it?' Jenny said, pressing forward.
'Nothing,' Giles confessed sheepishly. 'I stepped in a puddle and these shoes aren't as waterproof as I believed.'
He took a few more steps onwards, squelching as he did so.
'I thought you'd found something,' Jenny continued, 'or something had found you.'
'Wrong on both counts, I'm afraid,' Giles replied, the beam of his torch playing further up the tunnel, 'and I don't know whether or not that's a good thing. There's no sign Buffy even came this way.'
'Where else could she have gone?' Anya asked.
'Nowhere,' Giles confirmed, shaking his head. 'They have to be here somewhere. We just have to find them.'
Doggedly, the three continued on.
'This is odd,' Giles said, pausing to examine the walls. 'Look at these gouges.'
'And the beauty of these big scratches is?' Jenny asked.
'I'm not entirely sure,' Giles admitted, massaging the back of his neck with his free hand, 'but they're curious all the same. And they appear to be quite recent, too.'
Anya ran her finger over them, then snatched it away.
'Ow!' she cried as blood blossomed from a narrow cut on her fingertip. She turned to Giles. 'Do you think they might be man-made. Or '
'Or made by something other than a man?' Giles concluded. 'I rather think that's a distinct possibility. See here how the scratches continue across the floor. They're fainter, but now we know what we're looking for They continue all the way back here.'
'So what are they?' Jenny asked. 'Tracks of some kind?'
'Yes, I think that's precisely what they are,' Giles said, crouching down to get a closer look. 'I wish I had my books with me. Anya, do these look familiar to you at all?'
Anya bent down next to him.
'I can think of at least half a dozen demons that could leave marks like that,' she replied. 'Without something to compare it with I couldn't say for sure.'
'Agreed.' Giles stood up. 'Well, if there is some kind of monster down here I suggest we retire for now and return when we're better armed.'
There was a chittering sound from deeper within the cavern.
'Do you hear that?' Anya asked, alarmed.
'Back away,' Giles instructed. 'Quietly. We don't want to attract attention.'
The chittering was building. They could hear the scrape of flesh on stone and shapes were now beginning to form in the darkness, shapes that were almost human, but not quite, twisted at angles that hurt the eye.
The things hissed in unison and then dropped from the ceiling, hurling themselves down the tunnel towards Anya and her companions.
'Run!' Giles shouted. 'Run!'
Anya turned to flee, but one of the creatures leaped out in front of her. It hissed at her, exposing its forked tongue. It was completely hairless and its right eye was swollen, trickling down its cheek. Anya backed away and bumped into Giles. He was in retreat from a larger man dressed in rags. Anya could see the usual two legs and two arms, but the lumps beneath the tatters suggested a more than usual complement of limbs. Another creature slithered closed, leaving a trail of slim in its wake. Scar tissue had hardened over its eye sockets. Clacking its long fingernails together, it reached out to stroke Anya's cheek.
And then its hand was severed at the wrist.
The creatures hissed and wailed. It was like the cats fighting outside of Xander's apartment, only with the volume turned up as high as it would go. Then their attackers fell upon the creatures without mercy.
Anya could not get an accurate count of the golden men. They glowed with such a bright inner light, that she could only watch as long as she squinted. There were at least five, but there could have been as many as twice that number. Whatever, Anya was glad of the way their swords sliced cleanly through the deformed things, glad that was until she realised how easily those same swords would slice through her.
Soon all of the creatures were either dead or had fled, all bar one. That one was cowering against the wall, looking anywhere but at the Tuatha, as if believing that if it could not see them then they could not see it. The tallest of the Tuatha stepped forward and lifted it off of the ground with one hand, a hand that gleamed like highly polished metal.
'Go back to your master, vile thing,' the Tuatha instructed, 'and tell him that I am coming for him. He will pay his debts in blood.'
He dropped the creature to the ground and it scampered away as fast as its legs would carry him.
'Now would be a good time to take our leave,' Giles whispered to Jenny and Anya and the three of them started towards the cave mouth. The Tuatha blocked their way.
'Er, thank you for your assistance,' Giles said, stepping forward so that Anya and Jenny were behind him. 'Much appreciated. However, we really should be going now, if you'd just excuse us.'
The tall Tuatha flicked his wrist and the tip of his sword came to rest by Giles' adam's apple. Giles fought not to swallow.
'I am Nuada of the Silver Hand, King of the Danaans,' the Tuatha announced, 'and I would have words with thee.'
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