|Navigation: Home About News Fiction Links Email|
Chapter Six: Wesley
Fan Fiction: Never Look Back
Chapter Six: Sticks and Stones
SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2002, 1:37 PM (GMT)
Wesley Wyndam-Pryce slowed for the left turn off the A34 toward Little Compton, grateful for the relative dearth of travellers on the roads. The Council research centre he meant to visit was located beneath a popular megalithic site, its existence thoroughly camouflaged by the heavy tourist trade, but by the same token access to the place was difficult to safely arrange. The fewer witnesses to his presence, the less difficult it would be to gain entrance to the lab complex below.
The small lay-by where visitors to the site were instructed to park was just a few hundred meters further down the road. There were a few cars already present, but he recognised one of them; it belonged to a member of the Rollright Trust, a subsidiary of the Council that managed the site. The number of actual tourists, therefore, was likely to be quite low. Good; his plan would be less difficult than he had feared.
The keys were heavy and warm in his hand as he pulled them from the ignition, and he sat there for a moment, studying the silvery flash of metal in the midday sunshine. It set off a chain of images in his memory-- the quicksilver of her presence in the link when they'd searched for Buffy, the silver of a belt buckle against the black leather of her pants, the silver of the Chi-Rho necklace he had given her against the pale skin of her throat-- and he winced, closing his fingers around them. There wasn't time yet for emotion, not until after he had succeeded. He took a deep breath, focusing on rebuilding his control, then got out of the car.
He dropped the keys into a pocket, then retrieved a small digital camera to support his masquerade as a tourist. Cyril was unlikely to report him-- he was there on the man's advice, after all-- but one could not be too careful, and there might be other Council employees about. The dark glasses he wore helped, as well; with luck, no one would give him a second glance, and he would not have to resort to magic.
It wasn't a far walk to the circle of stones commonly known as the 'King's Men'. It was easy to tell that they had been there for millennia; they were heavily weathered, worn down, and riddled with holes like rotten wood. The stones were accessible, human in scale, unlike the larger features of Avebury or Stonehenge. Like the larger sites, however, they carried a set of legends all their own.
For example, Wesley mused, it was commonly held that the stones could not be counted. Scholars had settled on 77, but it was consensus, not fact; it was rare that two observers ever came to the same number. Legend also held that they had once been actual men, and that, in concert with the King Stone across the road and the Whispering Knights' dolmen to the southeast, they had fallen victim to a witch's trick and been solidified in place.
Both legends, in some part, were true; it was a matter of definition. Where did one stone end and the next begin? Did 'men' apply to demonic beings? The verses that supposedly told the tale were largely inventions of a later culture, but the story had been based in fact. The protectress of the area had stood against an invading army, and raised her voice to their leader in challenge.
"Seven long strides shalt thou take,
The demon had found the promise irresistible. The town now known as Long Compton was just over the hilltop, and he believed he could not fail:
"Stick, stock, stone,
Naturally, he had not succeeded. The witch had called to the Earth for defence, and it had lifted to block his view. Then she had struck, attacking the demons with all her might. Unfortunately, without backup, the effort of fossilising them all had taken more power than she could spend and survive:
"As Long Compton thou canst not see,
The Earth had simply claimed her, giving rise to additional legends about her tree's sap and its effects. Such legends, however, were false, as were as the tales of the faerie caverns under the circle and the stones' habit of leaving their places at certain hours of the night. They were entirely the Watchers' creation, serving as a distraction from what really went on after dark.
A burst of laughter sounded from Wesley's left, lifting him suddenly from his musings. Distraction, indeed. He'd been using history to block out the world again; an old defence, and an effective one, but not particularly appropriate today. He sighed, snapped a few belated photographs, then drifted across the grassy space to the far edge of the formation. There was only one tourist left, a man with a dowsing rod non-descript enough that Wesley's eyes had trouble settling on him; whoever he was, he was probably checking the circle for ley lines.
Enough. Wesley edged behind the largest of the stones, out of the man's view, and knelt to trace a symbol against the earth at its base. A faint ward-field tingled against his fingertips, lock to the key he quickly drew, then subsided as he stood. The next part of the procedure involved a slow, careful amble away from the circle and across the road, where he approached the fenced-in King Stone. The legends said that was where the faeries left their caverns; yet another level of defence. Any observers would think they were seeing things.
Ordinarily, the visit would be approved beforehand and the gate left unlocked. This visit was not ordinary, of course, but then neither was he, of late. He gathered his muscles, thinking wryly of all the acrobatics he'd seen Angel do, and leaped straight up and over the fence. A second key was required there, drawn directly on the surface of the rock; then, with only a soft 'click' as warning, the earth opened beneath his feet and he slid straight to the caverns below.
It wasn't a far drop to the floor; in fact, judging by the sharp lines of incipient bruising on his back, there seemed to have been stairs. He'd just been standing in the wrong place to use them. With a wince, he got back to his feet, shaking the pebbles and dirt from his jacket, and stepped forward to meet his welcoming party. Cyril looked thin and nervous as always, even more bookish than Wesley had ever been, with a weak little chin and dark, nervous eyes.
"Pryce," he said, with a sigh of relief. "I didn't think you'd make it."
"Cyril," Wesley replied, slightly disturbed by the man's tone of voice. "Where's Faith? You did say she was here?"
The other man shuffled his feet and dropped his head a little. "Not exactly, you see..."
"Not exactly?" Wesley's voice rose sharply, and he had to squelch the urge to throw the researcher up against the wall. He knew the man meant well, but in their business 'meant well' usually ranked at the level of a belly-flop in an Olympic diving competition.
Something in his voice must have communicated his mood, because Cyril took a quick step backward and raised his hands in supplication. "Look, it's not that I don't know where she is, it's just that..."
"Just that... what?" a new voice mocked.
The voice was coming from just behind Wesley's position; the roaring in his ears must have drowned out the man's approach. Cyril flinched and paled even further, but Wesley was turning before the words had even registered, reaching with one hand to encircle the intruder's throat. At times, he quite thoroughly frightened himself, but there were occasions when supernaturally swift reflexes were useful. Very useful.
"Rayne," he hissed, as the man's identity sank in.
To his credit, Ethan didn't so much as twitch a muscle. He swallowed once, looking lean and mischievous even half-strangled and covered in dust, and curved his lips in a defiantly smug smile. "You didn't recognise me, did you?" he said hoarsely, then dropped a stick-like object to the floor.
Wesley looked down, loosening his grip, and recognised the object as a dowsing rod. "Bloody hell," he groaned. Ethan had been the ley-finder in the circle; he must have been using some variant of a notice-me-not spell, and Wesley had been too distracted to recognise the effects. "How long have you been following me?" he demanded.
"Long enough," Ethan said, and tugged at the hem of his obnoxiously green shirt. A few pebbles clattered to the floor, and he curled his lip at them in disgust. "I've been having the same dreams you have, after all. At least, the ones involving a certain Slayer in various stages of messy death, and I seem to have developed a belated sense of responsibility."
Wesley shuddered and took a step back. "Angels and ministers of grace defend us," he said, not sure how far to trust him. On the one hand, he was there ... and Wesley was well aware that his 'death' might have activated another Watcher. The third presence in his connection to Faith had confirmed it, several weeks ago at Wolfram & Hart when they had tapped into the Slayers' link to find Buffy. On the other hand, he could not quite find it in him to believe that the Powers would permit Ethan Rayne to play guardian to one of their Champions. Chaos-worshipping, casually immoral Ethan Rayne? The man who had indirectly caused Wesley's death in the first place?
"Do I come in such a questionable shape?" Ethan teased, and it took Wesley a moment to place the comment as vaguely Shakespearian, a response to his Hamlet quote.
"You even have to ask?" he replied sarcastically, scowling in irritation.
"I hate to interrupt, but I have a question," Cyril said, sounding even more nervous. "Who is he, and what's he doing here?"
Wesley had almost forgotten the younger man was there. "Ethan Rayne," he said, rolling his eyes in Cyril's direction. "He's apparently here to help, but I suggest you keep an eye on him; I don't trust him as far as you can throw him."
"Wouldn't that be as far as you can..." Cyril began to ask, momentarily distracted, then took in the muscular shape of Wesley's arms, a definite change from the scholar's build he'd had three years ago. "Never mind. It's just that I wasn't expecting to cover for two of you; it's risky enough to just take one, and if I leave one of you here sooner or later someone's going to notice the door opened when it wasn't scheduled to..."
"Oh, don't put yourself out on my account," Ethan said, smirking, then began to chant something under his breath.
Wesley rolled his eyes, briefly reminded of Jonathan. "Be sure you haven't forgotten the counterspell," he said warily, and reached out to grab Ethan's arm as the sorcerer faded out of sight. The world took on the familiar dimness of a scene viewed through a dirty window, and Cyril gaped in their direction with something akin to shock.
"Oh dear," the man said, wincing. "You're not supposed to do magic in here! Now I'll have to think of something to explain that as well when they check the activity logs!"
"Just get on with it," Wesley growled, trying to ignore Ethan's chuckling. "I need to find Faith, now. Every second we waste is a second of torture, or death, that I might spare her."
Cyril sobered up instantly, as Wesley had intended. "I didn't want to say anything over the phone, but I ran across some information yesterday regarding a restricted Council base in a different part of the country. One that doesn't show up on any of our maps. I can't exactly bring the data to you; it's encoded in a language I don't understand, and I was hacking a rather sensitive account at the time. I don't dare print anything where the system administrator might catch me."
"I don't exactly have the time to sit and translate anything," Wesley warned. "The longer I'm here, over and beyond the danger to Faith, the more chance one of the other personnel will trip over us."
Cyril touched a keypad on the left wall, tapping a specific numeric code, and with a loud 'thunk' the stairs to the King Stone closed themselves off. "That's all right, I have a few screenshots, and I can burn them to a CD. I just needed you here in person to retrieve them. I don't dare send it through the mail, or even by courier. Travers has a good third of the Council in his pocket, now; do you know, he intends to kill her, then chain-resuscitate each of the Potentials? All forty-seven of them are in Council custody."
"Chain..." Wesley's voice trailed away as he followed Cyril down the hall, still gripping Ethan's arm. The idea sickened him-- Travers would actually kill each of those girls, even temporarily, in order to create an army of Slayers? Would that even work any longer, with he and Dawn now among the Chosen? Would the Powers That Be even permit it? Was there a prophecy he'd overlooked?
"Bugger that," Ethan growled. "Even Travers should know that sowing Death will only bring destruction. Will the man never learn?"
"You're one to talk," Wesley couldn't help but reply. Ah, the influence of California teenagers; at least he was swifter with a retort now, if a bit less erudite than before.
"I'm an avatar of Chaos, not Death," Ethan replied, his expression suddenly quite serious. "There is a difference, you know."
Wesley sighed. Ethan's words had the air of an oft-repeated argument, and there wasn't time to deal with it now. "I suggest we complete the mission and worry about the details later. We need to have a serious discussion, but I'd prefer to do it back at the hotel."
Ethan nodded, then shot a glance in his direction and summoned up another mischievous smirk. "Lead on, MacDuff," he misquoted, and began to pick up the pace.
© 2004 Jedi Buttercup.