Return to Van Rosenberg Chapter Three

Van Rosenberg

Author: Alcy
Rating: R for supernatural violence and (eventually) hot, gay lovin'
Disclaimers: I don't own any of the Buffy, Tomb Raider or Dracula characters. This fic is of course AU so no spoilers for any season.

Note: Just a wee note before I embark on the next chapter. Setting this story in 1897 of course means that it is set at a time when lesbians would have been viewed by society as mentally ill or sexual inverts. However, this is a romantic (yes, there will be romance eventually!) adventure and I do not want to get bogged down dealing with this. However, while I chose to ignore the issue altogether in Captain Red which was set in the 1930s, I do acknowledge it in VR, especially in the chapter below, to the extent that it is necessary exploration of Willow's character. Other character's acceptance of Willow as a lesbian may seem unrealistic for the time but I do not think it is unrealistic given the nature of the characters. Thanks very much everyone.

26th November 1777

This should have been one of the happiest days of my life, of any young lady's why then do I feel a melancholia settling over me like a cloud? Right from the very moment Edward stepped across the threshold I knew why he had come. The atrocious weather has kept all other guests away this past week, but not Edward. I knew there was only one reason even he would have braved the weather. He was typical of his sex, mind made up he could wait no longer. I was on the landing when I heard the butler greet him at the door and for some reason I was not surprised to see him. As I moved cautiously down the stairs I saw my father arrive to greet him warmly and usher him into the house proper. No doubt straight in the direction of his study with its roaring great fire. Edward glanced up at me as he passed, with his dark hair whipped across his cheeks and eyes sparkling with the exertion of riding through the rain I could see the man that he is. Tall, handsome to a fault and powerfully built and yet it is all superficial. I know what sort of man lies beneath that flawless exterior, the sort of man that I can not spend the rest of my life with. Most women will not look farther than outward appearances and social position, but I crave companionship, mutual trust built on love and conversation of which I will never grow tired. I have found all that, and it is not with Edward.

Mother summoned me down half an hour later, a half hour which I had spent in front of the mirror composing my reactions to Edward's question. While a simple 'no' came all too easily in just my own company I knew that I could not afford to give such an answer to Edward. I rehearsed surprise and embarrassment but would not let tears fall because I knew they would not be in jest. I was whispering W's name as I rose from the seat at my bureau and made my way downstairs with tremulous steps.

Edward was waiting for me in the blue sitting room, his hair tousled and partially dry. I could tell he was nervous, for all his handsome appearance he is no great conversationalist. I think what happened next unfolded according to every girl's dream. I remember a folded knee, his hands clasping my own and an awkward but no doubt sincere confession of his undying love for me just before the words slipped out of his mouth in a great hurry. 'Tara, marry me,' although it sounded more like one word than three. All my rehearsals before the mirror counted for naught as I reverted to my painful stutter. As I tried to formulate an answer, I was nothing like the composed and elegant young woman I imagine myself to be. I could not, would not, utter any of the simple words of agreement that would have sufficed but nor could I tell him I loved another. Imagining it was W down on one knee in front of me did not improve matters in the slightest and I almost began to weep.

He took my choked silence to mean that I was overcome with emotion. Displaying an incisiveness that I had not previously credited him with, he apologised for expecting a swift answer from me. He then went on to say that he did not expect the fairer sex to be capable of marshalling their wits following such a proposal and promised me time enough to arrive at my decision...adding that he expected it to be 'yes.' I believe he thinks me an insipid fool, incapable of making a decision - the exact sort of wife that all men aspire to obtain. He begged his leave without stopping for tea and I was immediately accosted by my mother demanding an account of what had transpired between us. While I had thought she would be vexed at my lack of a definite answer, she acted as though I had sad yes and was quite beside herself for the rest of the day.

I retired early to write this diary entry and now that the words are on the page I can see clearly what sort of predicament faces me. I do not want to join the ranks of women who suffer in marriages without love, but I cannot see a way to avoid it. If only I could see W.

With no small amount of satisfaction, Willow deposited the wretched little diary back in her office the following morning. Her encounter, or whatever it had been, the previous evening had completely ruined what was supposed to be a relaxing night. It had left her unable to sleep soundly or do anything remotely productive. She jammed the leather book beneath several, much larger volumes and returned to her desk. With a slight exhalation of breath, she withdrew the picture she had drawn yesterday from beneath the scroll. The woman's serene face stared back at her and Willow could not help but think she was mocking her irrational infatuation. With a sigh, she tucked the picture within the pages of a first edition copy of A Treatise on Witchcraft and turned to library catalogue that Faith had retrieved from Tirgsor.

She was still ensconced with the catalogue almost three hours later when Faith burst into her office, chest heaving as she struggled to draw a breath. Willow was about to make a rude remark regarding the number of times she seemed to be interrupted, when Faith reached out and dragged her to her feet by her shirt collar.

"Faith! Unhand me this instant!" Willow demanded, struggling against her friend's firm grip on her clothing.

"You're coming with me, Rosenberg," Faith replied with determination in her voice, "And grab your coat, it's cold out."

Faith offered no further explanation and Willow was forced to lunge backwards and snatch her coat from the back of her chair. She almost stumbled as Faith dragged her out of the room and down the hall in the direction of the exit. When it became obvious that she was following along, she felt Faith release her hold on her garments. Willow straightened her shirt and jacket as they walked, a slight huff escaping her lips.

"We just received reports of something nasty in a warehouse down by the river, the owner was running an inventory when he saw a shape move in the darkness," Faith's voice was as rushed as her walk, she swung open the elevator door with a loud crash and pushed Willow inside the cage.

"That's nice," Willow said sarcastically as she narrowly avoided a collision between her forehead and the cage, "It was probably a thief...since when are we responsible for cleaning up crime?"

"Thieves generally aren't blue with foot long spikes protruding from their heads," Faith gave Willow a calm glance and began checking each of the weapons she had strapped about her body.

"Well, demon or no, I still fail to see why you're dragging me along!" Willow protested as they reached the ground floor, "Would you care to explain."

"Because I thought it would be good for you," Faith smirked at Willow's horrified expression for a moment before wiping it off to show that she was quite serious, "Willow, I have no idea what sort of demon is blue with spikes coming out of its head let alone how to kill it!"

Willow's eyes narrowed in frustration as they passed out of the Employee's entrance and straight into the waiting carriage with its stomping black steeds and drawn curtains. She waited until she was seated in the dark interior to give the woman sitting opposite her a piece of her mind.

"It's a Atramen demon you idiot, it was one of the demon's I listed in a report I filed six month's ago, you should have read it," Willow folded her arms across her chest, tapping her figures impatiently as she waited for Faith to respond.

The brunette appeared nervous, furrowing her brow as though she were trying to remember. Her concentration did not last long and she simply shrugged her shoulders much to the annoyance of her friend. Willow moved to the edge of her seat as though she were about to launch into a lecture but Faith was quick to cut her off.

"Willow, you file a report each week and I simply don't have time to read each one, especially not when I'm travelling. And I don't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday let alone something I may have read six months ago."

Willow's mouth was set into a tight line. Faith had unintentionally managed to dismiss her beloved job as unimportant and bureaucratic and it did not sit well with her at all. However she managed to keep a level head, predominantly due to the fact that she knew her job was without doubt the most important in the entire organisation. Without her carefully conducted and presented research, everything would fall apart.

"You never eat breakfast," Willow stated matter-of-factly, "And my report examined recent Atramen sightings in Glasgow, Brighton and Watford and concluded that someone or something may have several under their control...which is relatively easy if you have mastery of the correct spells of course."

"That's a conclusive report," Faith replied with a wry twist to her mouth, eyes sparkling in the dim light of the carriage, "I'm sorry I missed it."

Willow couldn't help but smile in return at Faith's brazen sarcasm, but she was quite serious as she continued, "Honestly Faith, reading reports could save your life...what if I wasn't around to tell you how to defeat the foes we...or rather you, come up against?"

"But you're always around," Faith noted simply, "So how do we defeat this thing?"

Willow shrugged, "If you had read the report then you would know that I have no idea."

Willow and Faith extracted themselves from the carriage ten minutes later to find themselves in front of a rather non-descript warehouse. There was not a soul to be seen, no doubt the owner had made him scarce after a fleeting encounter with the netherworld that he would be only too happy to deny ever happened.

Willow felt rather under prepared as she glanced across at Faith and saw the vast array of weapons she carried about her lithe frame. Strapped around her waist were two matching, beautifully tooled belts with silver inlays. Hanging from one, on her left hip, was a slender sword with a practical, no-nonsense hilt and leather grip. On her right was a long dagger, also meant for business rather than show. She grasped in her capable hands the self-loading crossbow which Giles had recently invented for her, fully loaded with ten silver bolts. Willow knew without looking that she also had a dagger concealed in each of the leather riding boots that reached almost to her knees. The leather pants she wore clung to her thighs almost scandalously, and the jacket and shirt she wore also left little to the imagination as they hugged her figure.

Glancing down at her own rather drab attire, one of the two three-piece suits she owned, Willow wished she could wear the same scarlet hue of which Faith's jacket was made but at the risk of looking completely silly she continued to wear dependable greys and blacks. As Faith moved towards the building, she knew she ought to start worrying about the Atramen demon and the fact that she was completely unarmed.

"Um, Faith, I don't need to come in do I?" Willow asked nervously, "I mean, what would I do if it rushed at me?"

"Absolutely nothing," Faith replied in a low voice, stealing stealthily inside the door which was slightly ajar, "You can be bait."

"Spiffing," Willow noted in a high-pitched, panicky voice.

Once they were both inside, Faith motioned for her to be quiet and lifted her crossbow to her shoulder as she went down into a stealthy crouch. Willow followed suit, but felt incredibly silly as she inched along behind Faith. As much as she tried to look the part of an intrepid demon hunter, she felt like a fool...and an unarmed fool at that.

The warehouse was eerily silent, and all too dim for Willow's likely. In the gloom of an overcast winter's day, shadows crept between the mountains of crates stacked within. Any one of those shadows could have concealed something sinister, biding its time to do them some harm and Willow imagined shapes moving everywhere.

"Faith!" Willow hissed urgently.

"Shhh!" Faith growled low in her throat.

"I'd feel better if I had a knife or something!" Willow continued.

Faith glanced over her shoulder at the researcher, somewhat amused to see her skin had gone a nasty shade of green, "You wouldn't know what to do with it...anyway, nothing's gonna happen to you with me here..."

No sooner had the words left Faith's lips that an inky black shape engulfed her, knocking her straight to the ground. Her new-fangled self-loading cross bow clattered to the ground and slid several metres away. As she leapt to her feet and drew her sword, she got an eyeful of what it was they were up against. By itself, the Atramen was of similar height and build as a man, however, foot-long spikes added to its height and gave the impression that it was much taller than it actually was. True to the warehouse owner's word, it was a dark blue in colour...almost the colour of ink. Its shiny skin rippled between blue and black as it moved. Willow backed away a few steps as it turned to face her, giving her full view of its massive white eyes and lipless mouth. She almost wet herself when it bared an array of spiked teeth.

"Ahhh, Faith..." Willow whispered, continuing to back up.

With a cry to turn its attention towards her, Faith surged forward with her sword raised. The Atramen turned its attention away from Willow and towards the real threat. They began a deadly dance across the warehouse floor, each slice Faith made with her sword was deftly sidestepped by the lightning fast demon. Her fingers curled around the hilt of her sword and she brought it to bear once more, stepping forward in a determined series of slashing attacks. The demon caught her with several solid punches to her face and she stumbled backwards.

Willow was looking on helplessly before she realised that Faith's cross bow was lying mere metres from where she stood. She scrambled to pick it up and lift it beneath her arm into what she hoped was an appropriate firing position. With very little in the way of aim, Willow jabbed her forefinger on the trigger and absolutely nothing happened. She tried several more stabs but the crossbow remained lifeless in her hands.

Oblivious to Willow's struggles with the crossbow, Faith groggily shook her head and regained her stance. Unbalanced by her quick revival, she caught the Atramen off guard and the tip of her sword sliced through its chest. A thin line of skin burst and spewed forth a thick, blue liquid. Faith was determined to press home the wounding move but as her sword sliced through the air in another stroke, the Atramen seemed to regain its strength and caught her fist in its own. Faith looked surprised for a moment before it wrapped a single hand around her neck and hurled her several metres through the air. Her body slammed into several stacked wooden crates which smashed beneath the weight and collapsed around her.

Willow waited for Faith to exact herself from the crates but seconds went by with absolutely no movement. When the Atramen spun around and hissed, she knew it was coming for her. With no weapons and no clue, Willow could see no alternative but to turn and run like the coward she was. She had barely made several metres when a dark shape passed over head. The Atramen had leapt over her and no stood directly in her path. With no further warning it sprung and slammed her back against the ground beneath its body weight. With one hand, it ensnared both her own and held them above her head even as she squirmed and writhed in disgust.

Trapped beneath the demon and staring up into its white eyes, Willow felt as though it ought to be sightless. However, judging by its reactions to both her and Faith, she knew that was not the case. It had parried Faith's every move and now Willow could not even think about trying to hit it with both arms trapped over her head and the creature's disgusting face hovering just inches above her own. It seemed to be smiling at her discomfort, at least that's what Willow thought it was baring its teeth could have been about to bite her head off. A great gob of saliva dropped from its mouth into her eyes and she squeezed them shut as it burned fiercely. The Atramen hissed in short bursts, a sound which Willow quickly realised was its laughter.

She twisted and struggled as her eyes remained shut, burning fiercely. Something warm and sticky slithered up her neck, trailing a path up over her jugular and onto her chin. Willow tried to wrench her head aside, desperately trying not to imagine what part of the demon was touching her face. She let out a sudden screech that continued until she realised the weight no longer pressed down on her. The demon was gone and her hands were free. Willow urgently scrubbed at her eyes, having to practically claw the sticky substance from her face. As she writhed on the ground she could hear the sounds of a struggle in the background. Then there was the sound of a decidedly feminine grunt, Faith was back. Willow opened her eyes the merest fraction as she lay on her side. She saw a blurry figure standing in front of her but even with her impaired vision she knew it was not Faith. Her friend was wearing red...the figure standing opposite her almost melded with the shadows in black clothing. The only parts of the figure that stood out were a pale face and long, white-blonde hair. It was her...

One word entered her consciousness at that moment, Fire.

"W-who..." Willow tried to reach out a hand towards the shape when a solid object slammed into her body.

Willow was sent flying, rolling over several times before she hit a crate and came to a halt. Someone bent over her, their hoarse breathing sounding loud in her ears.

"Sorry Will," Faith sounded exhausted.

Willow was picked up by the scruff of her shirt and dumped on her feet. She wavered a little but managed to grab onto the crate beside her and remain standing. Her vision had cleared somewhat and she could see Faith grab and wrestle the demon by its spikes. As her senses cleared, she remembered her hazy view of the blonde-haired figure. Something already told her that she would be gone but Willow looked for her anyway. She was gone. The word 'fire' still rang inside her head, and it was only after staring at the fight taking place between Faith and the demon that she realised what it meant. She turned and staggered away from the wrestling pair, searching for something, anything which catch fire. It was a task made all the more difficult by the darkness in the warehouse but Willow spied a kerosene lantern hanging near an exit door. She snatched it down and was patting down her pockets for something to light it with when she remembered she didn't smoke. An image of Faith puffing on one of her disgusting cigars popped into her head.

"Faith!" Willow moved a little closer to the two combatants, "Do you have a matchbook?"

Faith glanced up from where she had the Atramen in a headlock, her expression clearly annoyed, "Of course I've got a bloody matchbook, now's not the time to take up smoking, Will!"

"Stop your whining and give it to me!" Willow snapped, even as the Atramen gained the upper hand and flung Faith to the floor.

As the demon pressed down on her, Faith reached into the pocket of her scarlet jacket and pulled out a small cardboard box. With some difficulty she managed to toss the little box to Willow who scrambled to retrieve it when it landed short of where she stood.

Placing the lantern on the ground, Willow struggled to light it with a match. The first two broke in her trembling hands and the third went out as she lowered it to the wick.

"Bloody heck, get a grip, Willow!" she growled at herself, even as she heard a cry of pain from her friend.

She glanced up to see Faith clutching at her shoulder, her hands bloody. Hands shaking even worse, Willow willed the next match to light. She successfully lowered it into the glass and the wick caught. As a warm glow filled the space around her, she picked up the lantern and loosened all the screws sealing the fuel holder shut. Although the Atramen had been closing on Faith, it suddenly glanced at Willow and its eyes seemed to bulge when it saw the flame. An awful screech tore from its throat and it hurled itself at Willow.

With fuel leaking from the lantern, Willow picked it up and hurled it directly at the creature bearing down on her with a war-like cry. The lantern smashed across the creature's chest and kerosene splashed over its skin. As the flames caught hold, Willow scrambled out of its path. She tripped as she tried to move but Faith was there to drag her to a safe distance. Both women watched the creature burn, its hissing anguished cries doing little to move them to sympathy. As its body burnt, it did not char, rather it melted. In less than a minute the Atramen demon was reduced to an ink-like puddle on the warehouse floor, feeding a spluttering little blaze.

With their foe no longer a threat, Willow disentangled herself from Faith's hold and moved towards the spot where she had seen someone standing moments earlier.

"Was there anyone else in here besides us?" Willow stopped short of disappearing into the shadows that filled much of the warehouse, "I mean did you see anyone else?"

"Just him," Faith pointed at the scorch mark on the floor, the fire had gone out and it was all the evidence that remained of the Atramen demon.

"No..." Willow whispered, stopping short of saying who she thought it had been, a few moments later she shook her head quickly to indicate that it didn't matter, "Don't worry, no doubt it was hallucinations brought about by terror...seriously Faith, were you hastening to my aid or taking your time?"

"Hastening of course! Do you really think I wanted him to rip your head off?"

Willow flexed her neck and realised for the first time just how painful it actually was. Then she glanced down at her front to find herself coated in sticky blue Atramen blood from her shoulders downwards, her favourite grey suit was ruined.

"Great, I have no visible battle wounds to prove just how much mortal peril I was in and a ruined suit...heavens, I think I will have nothing to wear to work tomorrow," Willow groaned at the thought of wearing a dress.

She then glanced across at Faith to see her friend flexing her arm, wincing as the deep lacerations made their presence known.

"Oh Faith, I'm so sorry..." Willow felt ridiculous for lamenting her dirty clothes and lack of wounds when her friend was clearly in pain.

Faith shook her head, "Tis nothing, I've had worse accidents getting out of the bath."

Faith then moved to retrieve both her sword and the crossbow, sliding one back into its sheath and tucking the other beneath her arm.

"That thing's bloody useless, I'm going to give Giles a piece of my mind when we get back to work," Willow muttered, eyeing the crossbow as though it were out to get her.

Faith glanced down at the weapon, she fingered a small lever on the side and then looked up at Willow with a small grin, "Safety latch is still on, Will."

"Oh," Willow flushed a burning red, making a mental note to not mention that little fact to Giles.

Faith slapped her on the back and it was forgotten, "Let's get out of here, I need to report back to Croft and get a team sent here to clean up this little mess."

Willow immediately began to berate Faith for not cleaning up her own mess as she helped her from the warehouse. The thought that there were people in the organisation who ran around secretly cleaning up mess from dead demons was a surprise to her. Faith noted that she would be sure to bring a mop along on her next mission as long as Willow brought a bucket of soapy water.

As the voices of the two women faded from the room, from the shadows emerged the woman Willow had glimpsed earlier as she struggled with the demon. Her pale face was impassive as she strode into the centre of the room and knelt elegantly, directly beside the scorch marks that were apparently all that remained of the demon. She withdrew a small stopper bottle from within her cloak and uncorked it. A smooth, barely whispered incantation flowed from her lips and moments later the scorch marks came alive. The burn seemed to lift from the floor and merge to form a tarred and blackened ball hovering at the height of the bottle. The shape seemed reluctant to move further but a curt word from the woman sent it flying into the bottle like liquid moving in the wrong direction. With the stopper replaced, it appeared to be little more than common ink.

The bottle tucked safely within her cloak, she reached out to touch the empty floorboards where just moments ago Willow had lain, fighting to get the demon off her body. The very tips of her fingers traced the bare boards as though that small touch afforded her some sort of contact with the young woman. Her facial expression slipped for just a moment to reveal an inherent sadness, the sadness of loss and absence.

"Don't tell me you're trying to kill her now?" a cold voice sliced through her thoughts.

She stood, her cloak rustling slightly as she did, and turned to face the speaker. It was a tall, broad-shouldered man with his handsome, chiselled features twisted into an approximation of amusement. His brown hair curled down around the collar of his finely tailored suit. He moved powerfully, taking just a few steps to cross the floor to her side. The woman was forced to look up at him, her white neck craning proudly as she met his gaze.

"Don't be ridiculous Angelus, if I was seriously trying to kill her she would be dead already," her voice was cold and without emotion of any kind, the sadness she had felt moments before was already suppressed.

Angelus let out a mocking laugh before he replied, "After witnessing that little episode, you would have fooled me. You know he wants her for soon as she leads him to the skull, our master is going to split the redhead open and drain her dry...he'll drink his fill of her blood and his wives will bathe in the remnants."

Angelus wrapped his large hand around the back of his companion's neck, stroking the soft skin there as though he were lulling her into a false sense of security just prior to snapping her neck. She tensed slightly as his thumb pressed into her skin.

"That's not going to create a problem for you is it, Tara?"

No one else would dare rest their dirty boots on Lara Croft's desk, other than Lara herself of course. However, as afternoon was about to give way to early evening, Faith sat back in Croft's chair with her riding boots sitting comfortably on the edge of the desk in front of her. She held a fat cigar between her lips and was sending rings of smoke in the direction of the ceiling. The heavy office door swung inwards and Croft entered, her expression remaining unchanged even as she laid eyes on Faith.

The Director of the British Museum was as elegant as ever, clad in an austerely elegant dress of scarlet that matched Faith's jacket. While the garment concealed almost every inch of her skin, it did nothing to hide her luxurious curves. Instead, it accentuated her swaying hips, flat stomach and ample bosom. She did not miss the barely veiled look in Faith's eyes as she limped across the floor to sit on the corner of her own desk.

"What makes you think you can get away with this sort of behaviour?" Lara reached across the desk and, with her thumb and forefinger, grasped the cigar in Faith's lips.

Faith parted her lips slowly, curving them up into a smile as Croft removed the foul smelling cigar and deposited it in a half empty tea cup sitting on her desk. She swung her booted feet down from the desk and slid the chair forward in order to prop her elbows on the desk and bring her face closer to Croft's. The two women found each others eyes and the air around them smouldered with the sensual meeting of two confident gazes. Faith retained the cocky grin and in response the barest smile grazed Croft's lips before disappearing to be replaced by a severity that was entirely false.

The palpable and almost overwhelming tension between the two women was broken when Croft slid from the desk and limped around to the window. Faith glanced down discreetly as she knew it pained the Director to appear crippled in front of anyone, especially her employees. She was now standing directly opposite Faith, with nothing between them. Faith kept one elbow on the desk and swivelled slightly so she could watch the Director as she gazed out on Great Russell Street down below.

"Look at them," Lara whispered softly, eyes on the countless people as they scurried about their business, "If only they realised the sort of danger they were in everyday."

Faith was quick to respond, "Then we wouldn't be doing our job properly."

"True," Lara nodded curtly, she turned to Faith and furrowed her brow as though she were trying to remember exactly why it was she had summoned Faith to her office.

Faith recognised the look and added helpfully, "My report?"

Lara shook her head in response, "Your report can be delivered in writing, I wanted to see you for another reason."

"Oh?" Faith inquired hopefully.

"I need you to keep a close eye on Rosenberg for me," Lara replied quietly.

"Oh," Faith repeated, although this time her voice betrayed disappointment, "Such a request hardly needs be spoken...I sometimes feel as if I live to keep an eye on Willow, platonically of course."

Faith chuckled to herself as she remembered Willow's awkward response to her declaration of love the day before.

"Is it funny, Winters?" Lara had obviously missed the joke.

"Ah no," Faith shook her head, "But I'm not quite sure I understand why you're asking me to do this specifically as Willow's my friend, watching over her comes naturally...and for you to ask me that would lead me to believe she's in some sort of danger?"

"The truthful answer to your question is I don't know, she could very well be and yet at the same time it could all be a ridiculous mistake. However, until I find out otherwise, I'm treating it very seriously."

"That task would be made easier if I had more information," Faith dropped the rather obvious hint.

"That I cannot give you," Lara turned away from Faith and resumed watching the passers by outside, "Just protect her...especially from herself."

"I will," Faith promised, gently sliding the chair back and moving to her feet, she moved to stand behind Croft and lowered her voice, "Is there anything I can help you with before I beg my leave, Lara?"

Lara turned her head slightly so Faith could make out the curve of her lips, "I can think of a number of things...but I have a lot of work to do before the end of today and I must ask that you leave me to attend to it."

"As you wish," Faith murmured, speaking close enough to Lara's neck to allow the hot air from her mouth to fall on it.

Faith slipped out of the room in time to miss the reluctant sigh that escaped Lara's lips.

Myles allowed himself to feel a little thrill at the thought of being the sole person on the basement level of the British Museum. Giles had departed minutes earlier, leaving him to finish polishing the long rack of swords laid out in front of him. There were at least twenty of varying shapes, sizes and metals. Massive double handed broadswords stood next to delicate rapiers with elaborate handles. Some had blades of the finest folded steel, while others were made entirely of silver for the sole purpose of killing vampires...and the thirty-two other types of demon who also had problems with silver. Myles ran through all thirty-two demon types in his head as he worked on Faith's second favourite blade, a rare Japanese katana given to her by a samurai warrior. Her favourite blade, of course, never left her side.

With no one else around, Myles was quite happy speaking to himself as he recited his demon list,

"Fumian, catellus, sicarius...ummm, lemures demon..." Myles screwed up his nose as he tried to remember the book on demonology he had been discreetly reading in Willow's office, "No, they can't be killed by silver - just beheading...Utionis,I think...damn, I wish Willow were still here so I could check my answers!"

Myles replaced the rapier carefully and drew out the last sword in the rack, a short steel baselard which Faith was fond of carrying concealed when she was forced to wear a dress. He whistled happily as he ran his cloth over the stubby little weapon, carefully holding it at the hilt and tilting the blade away from his body. He liked the feel of the sword, probably because it was so small, and it swung easily through the air. His eyes darted around the workshop and in the direction of the door as though to confirm he really was alone before he set aside his cloth and stood. Still holding the sword he moved to a clear space in the room.

"En guarde!" Myles stood in the manner he had seen Faith use many times in training, before lunging forward to make a stabbing motion at an imagined foe, "Ha! Don't even think about trying to get past me."

Myles swung heartily, slashing the air in front of him with what he thought were well timed strokes. His feet moved lightly across the floor as he duelled with his imaginary opponent. His stabbed his blade forward in a finishing stroke and grinned.

"You'll rue the day you met Myles Cavendish!" he announced, flourishing the sword several times.

His foe defeated, Myles reluctantly returned to his polishing. He was about to sit back down on his chair, when every single light in the workroom blinked out in an instant and he was left in pitch black. The sword trembling in his grip, Myles gingerly felt around on the desk in front of him for the object he remembered seeing there just moments earlier. He knew it was somewhere just in front of him. He had 'borrowed' it from Giles' workroom earlier in the day, just to take home for the evening and show his younger brothers. Myles breathed a sigh of relief as his fingers closed around the cylinder and moved the switch forward with his thumb. The space immediately in front of him was illuminated with a weak yellow light from Giles' new invention. Just as his breathing was calming he heard footsteps in the hall beyond, in the direction of Willow's office. A wry smile crossed his face as he suspected it to be the researcher. No doubt leaving early had not agreed with her and she had discreetly returned to work.

Using the beamlight to guide him to the door, Myles made his way through the obstacles in his path. As he approached the door he realised that he was thinking the possibility that it might not be Willow at all. The short sword was still firmly in his grasp and he pointed it out in front of him now. He reached the door and moved the light to his sword hand as he grasped the knob. He could no longer hear the footsteps, all he could hear was the rasp of his own breath. The door opened with the awful screech of un-oiled hinges. Myles winced as any hope of stealth was ruined.

He poked his head out into the dark corridor, keeping both the light and the sword out in front of him. He shone the light first right, and then left, seeing nothing but an empty corridor in both directions.

"Willow, is that you?" he kept his voice low, not daring to speak louder, "Faith?"

Myles moved out into the corridor and in the direction of Willow's office, all the while feeling as though the temperature had dropped several degrees. His hair stood up on the back of his neck. Most irritating was the fact that he could not hold the sword straight without its blade moving in his trembling hands. The flashlight also wobbled from side to side. He made it to Willow's office, the door was ajar and no one seemed to be inside. Standing in Willow's office, he glanced around but everything was such a shambles, he could not tell if something had been disturbed.

His fear gradually became embarrassment. Most likely it had been the caretaker in thinking no one was down here had turned the lights off at the main switch by the elevator. Myles made up his mind to speak to no one about his little episode in the dark. As he turned to leave the office the beam of light in front of him was swallowed by a darkness standing in the doorway. It was darkness with a pale chin protruding from the cowl of a deep hood. The sword and light slipped from his fingers at the precise moment the shape surged forward directly at him. Myles stumbled backwards and the last thing he saw before his head collided with the corner of the chair behind him were a pair of brilliant, burning blue eyes.

Continue to Van Rosenberg Chapter Five

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