Silence. That's all she could hear in the pitch blackness of the night. Grace stumbled along the dirt road that lead back into town. She'd left her mother at Auburn Cole's house with only the butler Rupert for company. It went against every screaming bit of judgment inside of her. She could only hope that Jacob and Cole would return soon and find her mother there.
She also knew she should have waited for Jacob to return herself so he could help her come up with some sort of plan!
But she had to find the Glaive, as dream-Anna had instructed her to. Controlling it was her destiny! Grace's heart sunk. She wasn't sure if she believed that. She hated the long, shining pole-arm now. She would rather have spent the last few hours before sleep comforting her mother. But she still felt with aching certainty that the Glaive was her responsibility. And she still hadn't shaken off that dream she'd had up at Colina del Rey--seeing the Glaive in the hands of that insane female vampire, watching with horror as the stars rained down fire.
Something bad would happen with the Glaive, she knew it.
So find the Glaive she would, and control it she'd... try to. Dream-Anna had said she would know what to do with the wretched thing when the time came. Grace's chest seized up tight with anger. She knew what she wanted to do with it. Control it long enough to stick the wooden end of it straight into that vampire Angelus's heart.
If he had one. Bitter hatred stung her. It was odd, to think of him even having one.
But where to even start looking for the Glaive? she agonized anew, fighting back a rush of frustrated tears. She had no idea where she was even going! She couldn't hear the Glaive singing! All she could hear was the wind, quivering the tree branches.
Panic seized her. What if she was unable to hear the Glaive's song anymore? What if it had been the Stone all along that had sung, the stone that now weighed down her skirt pocket and bounced against her thigh?
Except the Stone wasn't singing. It was only bouncing. Grace reached down deep in her pocket, stumbling slightly, and held the Stone in her fist for courage. It glowed at her touch, silhouetting her hand in her pocket.
It was all she had. She didn't have her father; she didn't have the Glaive; she didn't have Inéz, or Jacob, or her mother; she had only herself, and her Stone.
She forced herself to stop walking. She had to listen. She had to relax. She closed her eyes and let the cool night air surround her. The distant sound of a dog barking; a wagon wheeling by not too far away. No Glaive. Her mind was cluttered, noisy, still tumbling with images and thoughts of everything she'd been through in the past few days.
Listen! she commanded herself.
She listened. Strained to hear above the cacophony. It wasn't working. She stopped her straining. Relaxed. And listened some more. Her slim body rocked slightly in her effort to remain still.
And then she heard it. Distant and surreal, like a long note held through rising and falling scales. It didn't sound like a human voice; it was high-pitched and metallic. Singing out its longing. But it wasn't singing to her.
The realization stabbed her in the heart. It was a betrayal she couldn't bear. The Glaive had been everything to her! She shook off her disappointment. She hated the Glaive now, she reminded herself. And that wasn't the point, anyway. The point here was that she could still hear it! It was still a Neral blade, bound to her through that one connection. Even if it didn't want to be hers anymore.
She could still sense the direction its song was coming from.
Grace's heart beat madly. She turned on her booted heel and started back up the slope out of town again, not towards Cole's, but towards the song of the Glaive.
The two-step was in full swing now, fiddles and banjos twanging heartily. Spike swayed dizzily as he scuffed his high-heeled shoes across the ballroom floor, trying to keep from toppling over. This was insane, he thought impatiently. Whoever had come up with the idea that one partner should dance backwards was off their bloomin' bird.
As he and his partner swerved once more around the bend near the trestle tables, Spike spotted Dru again. She was no longer sitting beside the Mayor. She was out on the dance floor, twirling precariously on the balls of her toes amidst the two-stepping couples. Her arms swayed in the air above her head. Her slow, dreamy dancing was completely out of sync with the jig that was playing, as if she was listening to music that no one else could hear.
The Mayor now swung into Spike's line of sight. His Honor was watching Drusilla out of the corner of his eye with an amused smile, but most of his attention was on the thick-bearded man in the expensive suit at his side who was screaming at him in thunderous baritone, red-faced with anger. Spike could hear snippets of what the man was saying.
"--you've invited the dregs of humanity into my house, Richard!--"
"--vampires should be locked up!--"
"Richard" turned to the man and gave him some sort of calm, composed reply that only made the man even redder.
Clarkson continued to swirl Spike around on the dance floor. When Spike came lurching back to the tables again, the Mayor was no longer listening to his angry companion. He was looking around the room with a bit of concern.
Spike was jostled back in another long circle. He cringed as an exhale of foul tobacco-breath hit his face. He just wanted out of this ridiculous situation. He looked around to find Dru again. But she wasn't where she'd been before. And now the Mayor was standing in the spot where she'd danced, craning his neck to peer over the crowd. Looking for my bollixed-brained sire, Spike surmised. Where the hell had she gotten to now? The Mayor wandered over to a dark corner of the room where a pair of well-muscled demons stood.
Spike was whirled around again. He tried to keep an eye on the Mayor and his demons. He spotted the demons leaving the room discretely through a side door. Going after Dru, he realized. Alarm seized him. To do what? What possible business could two demons the size of bloody Big Ben have with Dru?
Instinct took over. Spike didn't know what the Mayor wanted with Drusilla, or why Dru would allow it; he didn't care. He had to find her. He came to a halt on the ballroom floor. Clarkson, still shuffling forward full steam ahead, rammed right into him. He stared at Spike with a bewildered glare.
"Hey there, honey, the song ain't over!"
Spike ignored him and stalked across the floor towards the door the demons had left through, stumbling on his heeled shoes.
"Hold up!" his dance partner called out behind him. "Now you just wait right there!"
Irritated at the distraction, Spike whirled around and threw his fist square into the man's jaw. "Sod off!" he snarled in his usual male tenor.
Clarkson stared at him, clutching his jaw. His eyes were wide. Before Spike could get any more of the man's reaction, though, he turned around and continued towards the door.
Then somebody grabbed him from behind and landed a stinging blow to the back of his head. Spike growled and went vamp-face, then turned around to let loose.
Jacob was angry. Fool girl. Fool girl! Leaving her mother behind to go off after the Glaive! Rose hadn't said it was the Glaive Grace was after, but Jacob knew Grace well enough. Fool girl! Hadn't she listened to anything he'd told her about protecting herself in this town? She probably thought she could use some half-assed magic tricks to get past those vampires or the Mayor or whoever she was going to have to fight for the Glaive. Fool girl! He wished he'd never taught her those magic tricks; he'd done it with the best intentions. Protecting herself, and all that.
So now he had to go after her, wherever the cotton-pickin' hell she'd gone, and protect her from herself. Rose would be fine, he hoped, on Cole's farm with Rupert. The minute he'd told Rupert that Cole was dead, the even-tempered demon had imprinted onto him, and now would loyally do Jacob's bidding.
Take care of Rose, was what he'd said. Then Jacob headed out into the night.
He wasn't drunk. But he was rather good at appearing drunk. The Mayor sure bought it. As did Darla, who was glaring at him with an annoyance only Darla could muster. She was wearing a gaudy red dress he didn't recognize. He hadn't noticed it until now. It looked like something that Anna would wear. Angelus turned his head and stared at his tankard of ale dopily. It was nasty and harsh, not like the smooth ales of home. Sometimes he really missed home. Every once in a while he treated himself to a nice pint or three of ale-soaked Irish blood in Dublin or Cork--but never Galway--just to shake loose this irritating nostalgia.
But thinking about home helped him act drunk. In reality, he was biding his time until he could figure out a way to get out of here and look for the Glaive. Darla, of course, just wanted to get out of here: this mansion, Boca del Infierno, the United States, all of it. And get out she would. As soon as he had his Glaive and the Mayor was sliced and neatly sewn into some particularly nasty demon realm.
Angelus gazed over the plebian rabble that had packed itself into Rutherford Gleaves' ballroom. They were everywhere, smelling of oil and dirt and blood. No wonder Gleaves was hysterical. But his anger was keeping the Mayor distracted.
And then something distracted Angelus. It was Drusilla, wandering, unnoticed and ghost-like, towards a door near the back of the room. She stepped through it. The door shut behind her neatly, quietly.
A moment later, all hell broke loose. A particularly ugly, bony-looking whore decked her dance partner and stalked across the dance floor, dodging shuffling couples with a lumbersome stride. In anger, her partner thrust his elbow into the face a man who had the misfortune of dancing right into his backside. The second man punched back.
And a melee ensued.
People started running in every direction, throwing punches, or trying to avoid them. Angelus chose that moment to leap out of his chair and push his way through the crowd towards the door where Dru had disappeared. He stepped through it into a dim-lit hallway. Lamp light flickered in intervals down the polished dark wood walls. The carpet was spongy under his feet. He stopped, wondering which way to go. He could feel Dru's presence somewhere in or near the house--the steady psychic blood-pull of his vampire childe--but he didn't know where she'd gone to.
He whirled around. Darla stepped through the door and shut it behind her flouncing skirts. Her hair, pulled up off her face, was in a disarray from the chaos in the ballroom. "Where are you going?"
"To find Dru," Angelus replied with distracted irritation. He squinted down the hallway both ways. It looked as if, to his left, the hallway came to a dead end. "That is what you want, isn't it? To find Dru and get the hell out of here?"
"But Spike's still out there in that brawl!"
Angelus was momentarily confused. "'Still'? Spike? When did Spike get here?"
Darla smirked. "You mean you didn't notice?"
Angelus gazed at her. "He'll be fine, Darla. He lives for a brawl. We'll fetch him on the way out. But right now, we have to find Drusilla." And the Glaive, he hoped silently. Dru seemed to have a special relationship with his Glaive, and he rather hoped she would lead him to it.
He turned and started down the hallway to his right. Darla was right behind him, her skirts ruffling. At the end of the hallway they found a staircase and followed it down into a parlor lit only by one or two tiny oil lamps and large windows that showed the spattering of stars and a sliver of moon outside. There had to be a door here, somewhere, Angelus surmised. He started across the room. The air was thick with the scent of musty books that lined tall shelves.
Then he saw something that made him stop dead in his tracks. It was just sitting there, in a glass case under a single flickering lamp, resting in red silk. An ugly shining armored clawed glove. Fierce-looking. Compelling. He walked over to it, reaching out to touch the glass. His finger bounced off the shield of magicks guarding it.
"I know this," he said with low reverence. "At least, I've seen pictures...." It was it, he thought with excitement. It really was. And it was right here. "The Glove of Myhnegon." He glanced at Darla briefly. "It's Irish." Then he demurred. "O.K., Scottish, perhaps. Gaelic, anyway." He stared at it, puzzled. "But I'd read it belonged to a family named Von Hauptman. I wonder if they live in Boca del--"
"Oh, no," Darla warned, pushing him forward away from case. "Not another one of your toys. Let's just find Dru and Spike and get the hell out of here!" Angelus stumbled forward, grinning like a boy caught in mischief. He made a mental note to come back to this little town someday, just to see what other treasures were hidden here.
The two vampires found a door. It led into another hallway, and that hallway lead out onto a porch at the back of the house. The outside air was ripe with the scent of compost and flowers. Angelus could see the dark shadowed outlines of bushes and hedges spread out before him. A garden. And in the middle of it, dead center, was Drusilla. And his Glaive. She was holding it up with both hands, pointing it at the sky. She swayed, oblivious to her sires.
Darla clucked her tongue in exasperation. "Damn it all, Drusilla!" She started forward. Angelus quickly threw out an arm and stopped her. Darla glared at him. He nodded his head to his left. Darla looked. And she saw what he saw--two enormous M'Fashnik demons stalking Dru.
Darla smiled contentedly. "Well, that outta take care of her," she declared in a whisper.
It was Angelus' turn to throw Darla an irritated glance. Then he returned his attention to Dru. Both he and Darla stood frozen, waiting to see what Drusilla would do. She seemed oblivious to the danger she was in. Then she opened one lazy eye. Then two. Her dark demon-eyes narrowed menacingly.
"That's not proper procedure for a conference!" she proclaimed. She brought down the Glaive and let its end rest on the ground. Then she shifted sideways a step or two until she was facing her approaching attackers dead-on. Raising one slender pale arm, she pointed a finger at them. And swayed. The demons slowed to a halt. Soon, she had them swaying with her.
Angelus smiled appreciatively. Good old Dru, he thought. Those two idiot demons were no match for her. Drusilla snapped out of her reverie. She brought the Glaive up, stepped forward decisively and swung it across the demon's bare throats. Blood splattered everywhere.
No slayer could have done better, Angelus mused like the proud papa he was.
Just then, Darla shot forward across the grass. Angelus watched her, momentarily too surprised to move. By the time he got his body lumbering forward, Darla had snatched the Glaive from Drusilla's hand. Then she shrieked in pain and dropped it.
Drusilla didn't seem to notice she'd lost the Glaive. She was staring down at the demons, mesmerized. Darla bent forward and picked up the Glaive again, this time using her own skirt to protect her hands. She tugged at the cloth, trying to tear free a section of it so she could hold the Glaive freely.
Aggravation rose up inside Angelus. He didn't know what Darla planned to do with his Glaive, but he was damned well not going to let her do it. She'd made her feelings about the Glaive quite clear. He lunged at her, intending to tackle her and pull the Glaive from her grip.
Darla pulled back the Glaive and back-handed him with it, throwing him off-balance. Angelus howled at the searing heat that hit his face. He tumbled onto the grass. He grasped his stinging face for a moment, then rolled over onto his back and lifted his head, looking for her.
A scream of rage escaped him unbidden. Darla was hefting the Glaive, one hand on either end of it, up above her bent knee. She was going to break it in two! Angelus scrambled to sit up.
"Darla!" he cried out. He lurched up to his feet. "Darla!"
Darla brought the Glaive down on her thigh decisively. The pole-arm bounced off her leg. She winced and brought her leg down. She turned around in a circle, limping and favoring the offended leg.
Angelus smirked and stepped forward. "It's not that easy, is it, darlin'?" he cooed. Darla glanced up at him. In the dim glow of the night, he could see the determination on her face. But his resolve was just as strong. Stronger. Darla sensed it and broke into a run. She limped across the lawn, jostling the Glaive, until she approached a thick oak tree. Panic seized Angelus. He raced after her, reaching her just as she raised the Glaive and swung it hard against the tree trunk.
This time, even Angelus expected the pole to sail in one direction while the blade flew in another.
But it didn't. Instead, the whole thing bounced off the tree trunk and flew through the air with the counter-force of Darla's blow. It landed hard, but still intact, against some shrubs on the other side of the garden.
It was patently absurd, when you thought about it.
Angelus laughed. A full-throated, from deep-in-the-belly delighted laugh. And when he saw the frustrated look of dismay on his sire's sweet face, he laughed even more. "Oh, ye meant well, darlin'" he cackled mirthfully. "Tryin' to protect me from myself." He turned and strolled across the grass. "But the Glaive has its own plans, doesn't it?"
Behind him, he heard Darla grunt with displeasure.
Angelus didn't let his relaxed composure fall until he approached the Glaive. Then he sunk to his knees next to it. He didn't touch it; instead, he struggled to remember the design of the weapon. Where legend said the Stone of San Isidro was hidden. He fumbled along the blazing hot blade, searching for catch that would open the hidden chamber. Smoke curled up and hit his nostrils with the acrid scent of his own burning flesh. He found the latch. The chamber popped open.
It was empty. He stared at it in bewilderment. "There's no stone." It must still be where he'd spit it out, on the floor of Gleaves' basement. "So why in the hell is it hot?"
Not that it mattered, he supposed. He'd just use it with gloves.
He heard the soft crunch of boots against the grass. He glanced up, expecting Darla. But it was Drusilla. She gave him a languorous, down-the-nose look. Her face and dress were splattered with demon blood. She plucked the Glaive up off the ground. Angelus only gaped at her.
"The Glaive does as it wishes," she told him, snapping the hidden chamber closed. No smoke rose from her hands at all. "And right now, it wishes to call a conference of the stars."
"A conference of the what-the-hell?" Angelus mumbled, still kneeling on the ground. Daft looney, he thought. He suppose he had only himself to blame for that.
"A conference of the stars," Drusilla explained. "They demand to be named, so the Glaive is calling them here, now. And I shall settle the matter once and for all."
Drusilla raised the Glaive into the night sky again. Angelus looked up slowly. Past her thin body, past her long arms, up past the tip of the Glaive, to the twinkling back-drop of night. The stars shimmered. Then seemed to waver. Then they quivered.
Angelus felt a rising nauseous panic. "Oh, shit!" he exclaimed.
The ground tilted back in the other direction before Grace could steady herself, then another shock of vertigo went through her and she gripped the ground. The connection with the Glaive shimmered in her mind, and now sent a jarring electrical signal to her... such... shifting -- no, it could not be! Surging with a confidence born of desperation, she gathered her skill and pushed once more to find the Glaive's heart, to see its purpose. The connection nearly consumed her conscious thought as a shock ran through her. The universe spun, all points of reference began to move --no, no, it was too much--
She came to on her hands and knees, retching at the ground. This was not possible; the Glaive had no such power! She clutched handfuls of rocky dust, her torn dress damp on her back. Her father had never created it for such a purpose!
Each gasp fogged the night air, and a strange image formed in her mind. A mad carousel was out of control somewhere, spinning around and around, too fast now to hold anyone on, and outward they were all falling -- her mother, Auburn Cole, the Mayor -- demons spun off in every direction like bloody tassels, while in the center a slender shadow danced with a pole arm like a loving partner. Grace could see herself laying at her feet, helpless, unnoticed, as the center spun her slowly, staring upward, a gasping, wretched ghost.
This could not be. This was--
Quite suddenly, Grace had had enough. Her mother was far away from her, but she, Grace, knew exactly where she was. Right here. She would always be right here. In the crosshairs of the carousel Grace set her feet under her and took the center. The Glaive sung in her head and spun her mind. She distanced her mind from it until it was a low buzz in the silence of her head.
She opened her eyes and regarded the starlit ground before her. Her hands were full of soil; she emptied them and sat down. Confluence. She knew what had to be done.
And the brush nearby gave way with an impatient crash.
A brawl was better than a mob tonight. Spike grabbed a bull-headed demon by the horns before he could lower his head and smashed his own forehead into his foe's sensitive nose. Spongy flesh met bone, a roaring howl filled his ears and he quickly faded back, diving in another direction as blood stung his eyes. He rolled head over heels into a three-man knot, driving his boot heels into their midst and striking one knee. This was right.
Except of course he was trying to get to Dru. Bugger it, she had to be somewhere close, ruining his fun. He turned toward the door and grinned as he saw Darla slipping out a side door on the other side of the ballroom. There was still plenty of fight between here and there.
Sweat and blood beaded his brow as he finally forced himself out the door, scratching his forehead on the wood and landing a final kick into the stomach of his ardent pursuer, a sizable cowboy that thoughtfully took out most of the pursuit by landing on top of them. The scent of blood was thick in the air. Good. Now all he had to do was find that beautiful, raving, poetry-hungry bint of his and they would dance in this hell, they'd wallow--
A wire wrapped around his neck and he was jerked backwards onto the grass. His windpipe whistled as he tried to scream in rage, and an attacker sat on his chest, pinning his arms. He threw his feet forward to get up and the wire bit deeply into his neck. His fingers slipped on blood. His head would be severed any second and he'd feel it all crack into dust under his fingers while he discorporated. Instead his head was jerked up and a voiced hissed into his face:
"Do you love her?"
The boy--for that's what Grace realized he was now--stopped thrashing at the question. Of course he would. She didn't let him stop to think, but rolled on into what she had to say. The stone glowed in her bosom where she held it, and as she spoke it was unclear whether he complied to the power of the Stone's will, or followed his own. She did not care. This would work. And if it didn't, his head would roll on the grass before grinding itself to nothingness and another way would be found. The thought filled her with no triumph. Confluence. She spun slowly in the center.
Frozen in wonder, his eyes on hers, the boy listened.
"Burning, dancing, falling, see how they will kiss the ground where they fall... ooooh, Daddy, dance with me." Turning slowly around, Drusilla was oblivious of Angelus' panicked glance. 'Daddy' spun with her now, the Glaive hummed in their ears, feasting on an opening it had never had, a whirling vision to work, a terrible purpose to fulfill. An insectile buzzing filled their ears, their skin prickled and itched as every hair vibrated in sympathy. A black aura began to grow from a space in the center of her spinning circle, and inside of it -- inside --
Darla's arms were around him, dragging him away, when their sight was transfixed by the inky doorway growing in the air. Rules twisted and laws bent. Darla realized she had been dragging her lover towards the hole and was now nearly touching it. She looked wildly into the void and recoiled in horror.
"Why Jacob, how good to see you!" The Mayor spun from his vantage point of the ballroom to where the Gorch brothers stood, holding the hermit between them. A sunny smile lit his face. Things may have gotten out of hand, but it was good to catch up with old friends at last. Oh, this was going to be good. Richard Wilkins always had time for this.
"Evenin', Richard. Wish I could say the same."
"Oh, pooh, Jacob, don't be so negative. True, as soon as I'm finished with the business at hand I'm going to stuff your own liver down your throat, but that's hours away. Try to live in the moment."
"A moment's about all we've got left and you know it, Richard, unless you've lost everything you know about your own second sight. That girl's opening a doorway that could only be opened here, and she's opening it the wrong way."
Jacob could see that the Mayor knew it. The shark came out in his smile, and Wilkins stepped closer. "And I suppose the hero of this story has a pat solution for our wayward girl, hmm? Break in there, try and reason with her, tell her all is forgiven, she's still my little girl? I've got news for you Jacob, there's nothing in my bag of tricks for this kind of problem. I always knew this town would go to hell -- I just thought I would be the one driving the coach."
"This isn't hell, Wilkins." Jacob held his eye. "The bending here has nothing to do with demonic dimensions, only the dimensions of this universe. If the Glaive has its way right now, this world will be swallowed up in its own self." Jacob narrowed his eyes at his old enemy, "Funny, Richard, I been fighting you for years. I never did imagine you was one to just give up."
There was no way that her hands could be holding the stars, Angelus thought crazily. Is she bringing us into her own mad vision of this world, or is she turning the world into her vision? He rolled away from the yawning blackness that stretched around him but was held by Darla. He couldn't see where she was now, his mind no longer identified place and position, but he caught a glimpse of her face, frozen and terrified against the riot of shifting perspective.
Spinning, she was still spinning, and in the terror of an eternal fall that would dwarf the casting of Lucifer they heard her cooing softly to a baby, a hulking beast brought forth from her own Bedlam, not to be born into this world but to take it all back. Spinning, she passed in front of the doorway, spinning, she cooed, never dizzying, perfect as a black ballerina before a black curtain--
Silently as the night itself, two forms launched themselves across the doorway. From several angles in his new, fractured sight, Angelus saw a grey figure following another of black and gold, as it sailed into the spinning magical form and tackled her to the earth in a flurry of black lace and squealing distress. Thumping, end over end, the Glaive flew from the two figures and speared into the ground. It shuddered for a moment before the grey form blocked it out completely, smothering it flat to the ground.
Hidden by her own skirts, Grace drew out the Isidro Stone and slid it home; then, laying hands on the Glaive she pushed her mind to it one final time, as the dark doorway reeled at its loss of control, and the stars inside it began to pull into Doppler rainbows and spin into an idiot void.
Around the corner of the house four advancing figures stopped short. "Well, if this isn't a pretty pickle," muttered the Mayor, "And here I was all ready to repel Miss Drusilla. OK, boys, you can let Jacob go now. Go fetch me that big stick there, and let's call it a night!"
The Gorch brothers were never ones to be asked twice once they had the end of a job in sight. Throwing Jacob into a wall hard enough to crumple him to the ground, the boys ran in an arc around their prey, beginning a circle to keep her from running off.
Spike struck Drusilla hard in the solar plexus and bowled her over. The two rolled over five times before he came to a halt with the woman he did in fact love, wildly, tenderly, with all of his unbeating heart, and as they stopped he came up on top of her, ready to knock her cold if she tried to throw him off. In a glance he took in her glassy expression, her gaping mouth -- being ripped from the Glaive had taken its toll on her. He had no time to worry now. None of them did. He scooped her up and began to circle round the other side of the void, keeping his distance till the time was right, like she'd told him. This had to go right, or --
this had to go right.
Grace did not run. There was no intention of running off. There was only the confluence, the balance of forces in her mind that held her perfectly steady in the heart of the spinning carousel. The fragmented perception did not touch her; everything in her sight was clear, she turned in the center now. The Glaive had ceased its humming, and now a low grind emitted from the dark well that was her connection with her father's gift. Gone was the accord she had had with it before, a friendship destroyed -- now there was only her will, and the Glaive lived within it, a black, traumatized warp wrested from its greatest mission, the hands that guided it no longer controlling the hideous rape of natural law that now threatened to spin out of control. Taking the Glaive in the traditional grasp -- one hand high, one low -- Grace turned neatly between the advancing Gorch brothers, took four running steps, planted the butt of the Glaive into the ground
The intense drone that had filled the air stopped as Grace spun midair to face her attackers, suspended in the black void as the wrenching forces tearing the stars toward this remote place began to disappear. From her vantage above her attackers she instinctively grasped the part of the Glaive over the Stone and swung it towards them. The Gorch brothers had already stopped cold.
Time slowed to a crawl, and Grace set to work. No slicing of physical things yet; first the cutting of perception. With small space to work, she looked into the minds of her enemies. There... and there ...and there. No Rosie ...no Jacob ...no Grace. Good. More would be too hard, and too close to their will. And there was no time. The final cut had still to be done, and the walls of this door would soon close on her and suck her apart.
As soon as Grace cast herself into the mouth of the void, Spike made his move. In three steps he and Dru were under the grinding void next to Angelus and Darla, who stared about them, faces in a rictus of astonishment and madness. Just as quickly his own perceptions fragmented as though the world had splintered into a million shards. Worms fled under the ground as Mayor Wilkins watched on and dancing and fighting continued back in the Hall and Wilkins' two flunkies ran past him, fleeing the powerful sorceress who floated above them. She was trapped, of course, but she said she would -- she said if she could --
He could see her gaze now as she beheld them, the Glaive turning in her hands. Her face held no pity, no fury, no triumph. Human emotion was erased from her face as she raised the Glaive to do what she must do. They would die that was certain, there was no way she'd ever keep her part. What had made him agree--
And the blade flashed into his mind and the world went away.
Through a bloody haze Jacob watched Grace meet her destiny, and as he struggled to make her out in the shattered maze of stars that shrank around her, he made out her voice. It came from just a few feet away, where she would be if she were just standing there. A voice strained with concentration, words torn from a mind filled with horrendous exertion, and thrust out as a final message.
"I'm here, Jacob. I'm always right here."
"I found her on the way to Gleaves' house." Jacob explained. Between them, the countryside swept past the window in an endless display. "I was right mad at her at the time, Rosie. But she had come into her own by that time, and there was no stopping her then. All I could do was make sure Wilkins was nearby when the time came"
"My Grace," Rose broke off and stared at the floor to master herself. "There was nothing that I could feel, Jacob, but we came so close. What happened?"
Jacob stared at his hands, placed steadily on his long thighs. The summoning of stars to one such designated place was within the power of the Glaive, but physics intervened. To have two things --any two things-- in the same space at the same time would have created an explosion that would destroy -- what? The world, at least. But how to explain such a thing without flying off into realms where she could not follow?
"They were ending the world, Rose. Grace stopped them. She picked up her daddy's Glaive and jumped into the opening they were trying to create. She was trapped there, but the forces that had been awakened took time to reverse themselves. She had time where she was to turn on them all and erase any memories of us in the minds of -- of anybody that might follow after." The train clacked on in silence for some time. A soft spat of a tear landed on the floor. "She loved us, Rosie. Everything she finally did, she did because she loved us."
The sound of falling tears. After awhile, he reached over and held her hand.
Four well-dressed and stylish figures stand on the platform for the evening train to Budapest. Steam swirls about them as they prepare to board, the porter with their baggage having already gone ahead to their first-class compartment.
"Well Angelus, I, for one, am just as happy that that silly little stone wasn't there. Isn't it just like humans to worship something that doesn't even exist? Great joke that Isidro played on them. Wonder if he wasn't a demon of some kind," says the elaborately coiffed blonde woman, dressed in a fetching travel ensemble of burgundy bombazine.
"I just hate it when all my plans come to nothing," replies her dark-haired companion. "Didn't come to Seville just to see little William get his arse kicked by a Slayer. Although I did think for minute that he might actually accomplish something worthwhile for once. Useless git."
"He does keep Drusilla happy and, more or less occupied. Which gives you more time for me. When you don't go off all half-cocked on one of your 'quests.' If you're that interested in icons and prophecies and all that mystical poppycock, you'd have done just as well to stay with the Master back when I introduced you to him."
"And have to look at that bat-face for all eternity? I think not." The blonde woman and the dark-haired man climb the few steps up and into the train.
Back on the platform, the other half of the quartet pauses before following. The slender raven-haired beauty in midnight blue velvet gazes up into the sky.
"Spike?" she asks. "Where have all the stars gone?"
"Can't see them through the steam, love. They're still there, I promise," replies her companion, a lean blond man dressed a little less elegantly than his companions.
"But they were just here," she says plaintively. "And they wanted me to do something...."
"If it's important, I'm sure they'll come to you again. Get on the train now, pet. Darla's got her mind set on something spicy to eat and you know how she gets."
Seconds after they board the train, it pulls out of the station, traveling
east. As the steam and smoke clear, the stars, one by one, reappear in the night
sky. Is it our imagination, or do they look just a little closer and brighter
than we remember?