"Willow for god's sake stop a moment! Are you sure this is such a good idea?"
Abraham found that even with his lanky legs he had to take the steps two at a time in order to keep up with his much smaller sister. He glanced up at the stately building that towered above them and to the sign next to the front door that proclaimed, Montagu House.
He was grateful that Willow paused when she reached the heavy oak door and turned to actually acknowledge his existence, "Why would it not be a good idea?"
"Because Willow...gentlewoman of your breeding do not go around reading books of the sort I know you want to read, and what makes you think that they will have what you require here anyway?" he nodded towards the door.
"Montagu House is home to one of the largest collection of written works in London...where else would I go?" Willow fired back, clearly impatient to be inside.
"How about nowhere at all?" Abraham suggested archly.
"You would rather I was still at home locked in my room?" was Willow's acerbic reply, at Abraham's frustrated expression she continued, "And it has been two days and no one has come to fix my door after you smashed it down!"
Abraham growled in frustration, he felt very much like picking Willow up, throwing her over his shoulder and carting her straight back to Gordon Square. If he had not been so glad to see her outdoors then he would have only been too happy to do so.
"You locked yourself in your room for three straight days; I thought you'd killed yourself!"
"Why would I do that? I would miss the pleasure of your company for the next forty odd years of my life?" Willow's sarcasm was blatant but underneath was the barely concealed fear created by Tara's death. For all the love she felt for her brother, she could not imagine spending the rest of her life desperately longing for the sort of love and fulfilment she had experienced with Tara.
"Willow, please...you'll meet someone..." Abraham began awkwardly.
Willow held up her hand as a signal for him to stop, "We both know the answer to that, Abraham..." she paused and drew a deep breath, "Look, I'm sorry about that business and for scaring you so..."
"You do not need to apologise..."
"I do, I've been a complete arse..."
"True but understandable," Abraham accepted her apology with a curt nod.
"So I am allowed to inquire about vampires without ruining the family reputation?"
He sighed in a resigned manner that was not without a small element of humour, "The family reputation has been already well and truly ruined...and I care not for what the town gossips might say about the eccentric Van Helsing siblings."
As Willow entered the library she glanced back over her shoulder, "They are calling us eccentric?"
"The politer ones anyway," Abraham replied simply.
The siblings moved into the rather ostentatious lobby of Montagu House. Having been originally conceived as one of the grandest private residences in London, the house had been constructed during the last century; it was now home to the museum collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. In the years since Sloane's death, its holdings had expanded to include a library of almost a hundred thousand volumes.
As Willow moved from the lobby through to the library proper, her jaw dropped in awe. While she had never overly concerned herself with books, she had to admit the sight of thousands upon thousands of them stacked into row after row of heavy mahogany bookcases was rather impressive.
Abraham too was enraptured, almost to the point where he did not notice Willow determinedly marching up to the only other individual that he could see in the library. It was a rather tall gentleman who had his back turned towards them. He was obviously engaged in some form of gainful employment within the library as he was busily re-shelving books.
Willow tapped him rather purposefully on the shoulder, he spun around to reveal a rather distinguished, wise face, etched with the lines of experience that came with middle age. A pair of eyeglasses balanced on the tip of his nose.
"Er, hello," he looked a little startled to actually find people in the library besides himself, especially a rather determined looking young lady and an officer in uniform, "How can I help you, young lady?
"Can you point me in the direction of your books about vampires?"
"V-vampires?" he stammered as though quite shocked, "Well, t-there are several volumes in our foreign folklore section that might suit your needs...just over there."
"Folklore?" Willow interrupted in an annoyed voice, "I'm not looking for fairytales!"
Abraham moved forward to take Willow's elbow in a gentle grip; he could immediately see that his sister was losing her patience and would soon be involved in the kind of public display that was not seemly for a lady of her good breeding. Although Willow had never been overly concerned about her public appearances he did worry that their peers were starting to 'talk' about her having suffering a breakdown. While none outside of those directly involved knew the precise nature of this breakdown, Abraham was determined to save Willow any additional stress through this difficult period in her life. She had lost her lover twice, and did not need the kind of public scrutiny and judgement that went hand in hand with a scandal. As he watched her stare down the poor librarian with her disconcertingly fierce gaze, he was beginning to regret that he had given in to her wishes to come to the library in the first place.
Willow responded to her brother's touch by yanking her elbow away with one swift tug. She did however take note of the caution and concern directed towards her in his gaze and she managed to calm herself, enough at least to stop the librarian from backing away from her any further.
"Please forgive my outburst," Willow began, "I recently lost someone very dear to me...and I do not believe she was killed by a fairytale."
The librarian's expression changed at the heartbroken tone in Willow's voice, shifting from one of mild fright to sincere sympathy.
"Well, perhaps we might be able to talk...um, but not out here, we'll talk in my office over a cup of tea," he offered, nodding towards a door that led off from the main library.
"Tea would be lovely," Abraham smiled graciously as he took his sister's arm.
As the librarian led the way forward, he gave Willow's arm a firm squeeze as though warning her to be on her best behaviour. She glanced up at him and managed a small shrug as if to say she'd try.
A few minutes later, seated in worn but comfortable chairs and sipping warm cups of tea, Willow and Abraham waited patiently for the librarian to begin an explanation. His lanky frame was perched on the edge of his desk as he polished his eyeglasses with a fervour not normally associated with such an activity.
"I think we all started off on the wrong foot," it was Abraham who broke the silence while Willow gulped back her tea, he stood and crossed the short distance to the desk and extended his hand towards the librarian's for an overdue greeting, "I am Abraham Van Helsing...and this is my sister Willow."
The librarian replaced his glasses and smiled warmly, "Pleased to meet you, Rupert Giles...but most people just call me Giles and I invite you both to do the same."
Abraham returned to his seat and his tea and Giles remained sitting on his desk, although with his eye glasses now sitting on the tip of his nose, he studied Willow. She met his scrutinising gaze confidently, almost defiantly.
"Tell me what you know," Giles directed the question towards Willow rather than Abraham.
Willow absently set down her empty tea cup on the arm of her chair, it was balanced precariously and threatened to slide off before Abraham rescued it and set it safely down on a side table.
"We know very little," Willow admitted, "A...friend was attacked and killed while in Austria..."
"Were you present?" Giles interrupted quietly, he noticed the strange way in which Willow seemed to struggle over the word 'friend,' "Did you see the attack?"
Willow shook her head, "No...her...her h-husband told me, it was night, I'm not sure what time exactly but she was outside alone..."
"Her husband let her go outside alone after dark?" Giles sounded as though this little fact angered him immensely.
"Yes, well, he wasn't exactly the ideal husband," Willow replied bitterly, "They fought and she ran...when he eventually went to look for her she was found dead with the only marks on her being two puncture wounds on her neck...a terrified local would only say the word 'vampire' and they then buried her quickly."
"And she remained entombed in her coffin?" Giles prodded.
Willow shook her head awkwardly, "Apparently not...her husband said the grave had been...torn open...I don't understand, something attacks her and then tears open her grave?"
"Not exactly," Giles shook his head, "The grave would have been torn open from within."
"From within?" Willow whispered, having difficulty in comprehending exactly what it was Giles was saying to her, "Are you implying that Tara tore open her own grave?"
As she struggled to retain composure, Willow ducked her head. She did not want either her brother or Rupert Giles to see the tears that were glistening in her eyes. She did not hear Giles reply immediately, and when she glanced up she saw he had turned to face the heavily laden bookshelves that filled the wall behind his desk. He went straight for a particular volume, an extremely large tomb that required both Giles' hands to lift it. When he placed it on the desk and opened the heavy metal clasp, Willow found herself rising from her chair and crossing the floor. She stared at the exquisitely tooled leather cover and the single word embossed there...Vampyre. Without further ado Giles opened the book in front of Willow, he deftly passed the first several pages of text before coming to an illustration. Willow's mouth fell open with awe. In dark, heavily drawn lines was depicted a recently filled grave with an awful, clawed hand emerging from the earth.
"Strictly speaking, Tara did not tear open the grave my dear Miss Van Helsing, but rather the demon that now inhabits her body," Giles explained.
"They are real," Willow whispered, as unlikely as it was her instincts had been correct, Edward had told her the truth about what had happened to Tara...and the truth was more frightening than she could possibly have imagined.
"You are indeed correct Willow Van Helsing," Giles replied solemnly, "They are not myths or folklore...they are real and they stalk the shadows of this world...from the Ramanga in Madagascar to the Kyuketuki of Japan, Vrkolakas in Greece and the Strigoi or Moroi of Eastern Europe...they have many names and there are many local superstitions but they are essentially all the same."
Willow's blood ran cold, "They are...monsters?"
"Demons to be precise, demons that feed on the blood of living creatures...sometimes animals but they always prefer people," Giles continued to turn the pages of the text, showing Willow more gruesome illustrations of dark figures with their fangs pressed to the throats of terrified people, Willow had to eventually avert her eyes even as he continued, "Although unlike most demons they do not have their own form but rather inhabit the body of a human, with a few changes, they retain the form of the person they once were but inside they are pure demon...through and through, corrupt and evil to the core."
Giles paused on a particularly detailed illustration which depicted a vampire of apparently immense size. His face was shrouded beneath a dark cowl that only revealed a pointed chin, dripping with blood. The ground at his feet was littered with dozens of corpses. Beneath the illustration was written one word...
"Dracula," Willow read slowly, tracing her finger over the bottom of the page.
"Otherwise known as Vlad Tepes...Vlad the Impaler...a Wallachian Prince of the fifteenth century who through unknown means rose to become Lord of all Vampires, the Prince of Darkness...one of the most terrifying and dangerous demons to stalk the earth...not exactly someone you would want to bump into for a spot of friendly conversation."
"And he's real...he's out there somewhere?" Willow reached out and turned the page of her own accord, away from the Dracula illustration.
"Yes...although he has not been seen by mortal eyes for some centuries, I do believe he is still 'out there' as you put it," Giles answered in an ominous tone.
Abraham finally stood, moving to stand behind Willow. He put his arm securely around her shoulders as a measure of comfort. It was appreciated, Willow reached up and took his hand in her own, she was struggling to accept what had happened to Tara...in seeking more information she had found it to be far worse than she ever could have imagined.
Willow closed her eyes to shut out the images in the book but instead she saw them flood her mind, although she replaced the unknown victims in the illustrations with Tara and was forced to watch over and over again as a savage being bit cruelly into the tender flesh of her pale neck. Willow remembered how the skin felt and tasted there; in that area below her strong jaw-line...it was smooth and sweet. A shudder ran through her entire body, a shudder which developed into a tremble which would not cease. Abraham held her even more firmly, both arms wrapping tightly around her body but she still could not stop the uncontrollable spasms which held her in their thrall.
"Sister, we should leave," Abraham whispered gently, he looked up to Giles', "Mr Giles...thank you so much for your time but I should really get Willow home..."
"No," Willow opened her eyes, they glistened with unshed tears but her voice was firm, "Tell me what would have happened to her...and spare me no details."
"Willow, no," Abraham began, knowing it would only serve to upset Willow further "There are some things you are better off not knowing."
Willow tried to wrestle free from her brother's embrace, after a few moments of futile struggling; he gave up and let her go. She turned to face him with a defiant expression, "I will be the judge of that...I need to know what happened to her!"
"Mr Giles, do not indulge her in this whim!" Abraham implored the librarian, seeing as Willow was beyond all hope of reason, "She has been through enough already!"
Giles appeared as though he wanted to have nothing to do with the familial squabble and he raised his hands to indicate this. Willow was not to be persuaded otherwise and she stared him down, her fierce gaze burning right through him.
"Mr Giles, think whatever you may of me...but her name was Tara Maclay, and I loved her more than life itself," Willow admitted, hardly caring that Giles was far more likely to react to her 'perversion' as Edward did rather than in the same, accepting manner as Abraham, she continued, "For my own sanity I need to know what happened to her...for the sake of closure...I have no grave to mourn at, please grant me this?"
Giles merely sighed and nodded, seemingly unconcerned at Willow's admission of her love for the dead woman, if anything his gaze was even more sympathetic, "I can only tell you the raw elements of a turning, in each case it varies...in some cases vampires enjoy torturing their victims before they feed but not always, sometimes it is done in haste lest they are startled in the midst of their meal, but whether it was over quickly or not, it would have eventually drank Tara's blood...most probably while she was still alive as they prefer it warm and flowing, she would have eventually died from a massive loss of blood and possibly the trauma of the wound. I...I think that it would have been slow and painful, if she had not fainted initially, then perhaps she would have struggled..."
"She would have," Willow interrupted in a tight, controlled voice, "She was strong...tell me what would have happened following her death?
"Well, according to your brief account, she would have been found by her husband and interred hastily...sometimes local people have the experience and knowledge to cut the hearts out of the dead...although there is no safeguard...sometime later, the demon that was once Tara would have woken in its coffin and immediately fought its way free, vampires have an inhuman and unholy strength you see. The demon that would have emerged from the grave is not your Tara, Willow, it will look like Tara and may even have some of her memories, but the woman you once loved is dead...this creature is a blood-sucking monster that is incapable of thinking anything other than evil thoughts..."
"She's trapped inside her body then?" Willow asked brokenly.
Giles shook his head firmly, "No, her soul would have departed the corrupted form...you can be rest assured that the Tara you know is safely in heaven as she should be."
Willow breathed a sigh of relief at her mind being put to rest on that account but there was one other thought on her mind, Is there a way to bring her back...restore her soul and have her be Tara once more?"
"No, Willow," Giles replied, once more turning through the pages of the book, "You mustn't ever hold out the hope that Tara can ever be saved, if you ever see the demon that was once Tara then there is only one thing that you can do...only one thing that you must do."
"What is that?" Willow asked in a mere whisper, already knowing the answer.
"Kill it," Giles found the page he was looking for which showed a handsomely attired knight driving a wooden stake through the chest of a vampire, "Stake it through the heart with wood or silver, decapitate it, burn it...or expose it to sunlight in the case of most vampires."
"Most?" Abraham interrupted with a puzzled expression, he had been pouring over the page with some level of enthusiasm.
"Some older, more powerful vampires are not constrained to walk the earth during the night...some are immune to the sun's rays and can walk anywhere at will."
"You seem to know a great deal about vampires for a librarian," Abraham commented with a wry smile, "One would say that you almost know too much about them...why is that?"
At that point Giles straightened somewhat and both Abraham and Willow no longer saw the middle-aged, bespectacled librarian they had first met, instead he seemed to be something much more, an imposing, powerful presence, "I am no mere librarian my friends...I am a vampire hunter."
"Perfect!" Willow added immediately, her eyes shining with unrestrained fervour, "Can I be one too?"
Sticking out her bottom lip, Willow directed a jet of air upwards, aimed at shifting a wayward strand of hair out of her eyes. The hair fluttered away immediately but stubbornly floated straight back into the same place a second later. Willow continued puffing out bursts of air several more times in a concentrated effort to put the red locks in their place once and for all. Each time they moved only to fall right back into her eyes again. Her efforts to blow the hair out of her face was not due to any inability to use her hands, both appendages were poised holding open the pages of the massive book in front of her and could have decently been spared for the second or two it would have taken her to tuck the hair behind her ear. Willow was bored...and in her boredom she had discovered that even the smallest amusements could keep her occupied more effectively than the text which Giles had assigned her to read.
Willow finally gave up her huffing and puffing and seized the lock between her fingers. She tucked it securely back behind her ear. Rather than return to reading she slumped forward with a groan, her cheek coming to rest on the page she was supposed to be reading. She had been under the distinct impression that vampire-hunting would be exceptionally exciting and would involve the use of many sharp, pointy objects. However, for the past two weeks all Giles had allowed her to do was read...and read she did, hundreds and hundred of texts. All were equally fascinating of course, dealing with every known aspect of vampire lore and then the wider subject of demonology but the novelty had worn off for Willow a few thousands pages ago. She was a woman of action, not books and her perpetual diet of words was starting to bore her to tears.
Abraham joined her in the evenings as he was going through the motions of resigning his commission in the 18th Regiment of Light Dragoons, although those were periods where they managed very little study as Willow was far too bored to do anything but try and distract her overly studious brother.
On this particular afternoon she was just nodding off to sleep in the main reading room at Montagu house when she heard footsteps behind her. Thinking it was Giles she bolted upright and feigned fascination with the text she was reading on the mating habits of demons.
"I am not Giles, you don't have to pretend to read, Will."
Willow turned to see Abraham striding towards her; she immediately noticed his attire. So used to seeing him in uniform, Willow thought he cut a decidedly odd picture wearing a green cutaway tailored coat over a satin waistcoat and black breeches. She was pleased to see that he still refused to adopt the fashion of wearing a powdered wig atop his mane of red hair, today however it was tied back at the nape of his neck with a black ribbon.
"You make me feel decidedly under-dressed," Willow glanced down at her own simple white muslin trimmed only with a green pastel sash.
"Compared to most of the women in England, you are under-dressed," Abraham smiled, straightening the lapels of his coat as he stood just slightly behind Willow's chair.
"You know me, never much for frippery, " Willow commented, reaching out to take his hand, "You're all un-soldiered?"
"I have officially resigned my commission and have been granted an honourable discharge," Abraham was smiling but Willow could tell that there was some measure of regret there as well, up until the events of the past month, the army had been an integral part of his life, it had to have affected him greatly to sever all ties with the regiment in which he had served for ten years, "Although I think many of my friends may have thought it should be a dishonourable discharge."
"They were not impressed with your decision?" Willow asked, folding her book shut as she turned to face him properly.
"Not impressed would be putting it mildly...I would use words like outraged, miserable...mostly I think they just do not understand," Abraham feigned a measure of gaiety in his voice, "Still, I do not blame them, if you had told me just last month that I would be resigning my hard earned commission in a fine cavalry regiment in order to spend my time hunting down and destroying demons then I would have told you that you were two steps shy of the insane asylum,"
His sister emitted a small snort of disgust, "Your 'hard-earned' commission was purchased for a large sum of money...I'm sure if you don't like demon hunting then you can buy another one."
Abraham smirked, "Not that I told them demon-hunting was my new profession of course...given that I will be spending a great deal of my time here, I told them I was going to be a librarian...imagine that, Abraham Van Helsing resigning his commission in the 18th Dragoons to become a librarian...I do not think they will take me back even for a small fortune."
"Will telling you how much I love you help with the pain?" Willow suggested cheekily.
Abraham stooped to deposit a quick kiss on the top of Willow's head, "That and a very thorough foot rub."
"Okay, I love you but there's no bloody way I'm touching your disgustingly smelly feet!" Willow said firmly, wrinkling up her delicate little nose as though she could smell the offending appendages already.
Abraham's eyebrows lifted slightly at her casual use of foul language, "Willow, since when did you start talking like a sailor?"
Willow shrugged nonchalantly, "Well, since I'm a demon hunter now I thought it rather silly that I would say 'oops a daisy' or 'oh no' or something equally as pathetic while engaged in a life or death struggle with a demon that wants to rip my throat out...I figure that 'bloody', 'damn,' and 'cocksucker' are far more effective...although my vocabulary is rather limited and I would appreciate it if you could teach me some more, equally appropriate epithets."
"Good lord!" the siblings were interrupted by the appearance of Giles, as always he was in the act of cleaning his glasses, he replaced them and implored Abraham, "Please don't teach her a thing...yesterday she used a very unsavoury term when I suggested she might want to re-read 'Demonology in the Ancient World.'"
"I read it once already!" Willow protested in her own defence.
"You could not answer a single question related to your reading!" Giles snapped back.
"Well it was boring enough the first time around!" Willow growled defiantly.
"And besides...neither of you are demon hunters yet...you're in training," Giles added with an air of a satisfaction.
"I would hardly call reading enough bloody books to sink a bloody battleship, 'training'," Willow muttered, folding her arms across her chest.
Giles dumped something on the desk in front of her with a loud thud, Willow jumped in fright. However, when her heart stopped racing she saw that it was a massive battleaxe, its broad blade shining in the weak light filtering through into the library. An eager smile crossed Willow's face as she stood in order to take in its splendour more effectively. She wrapped her fingers around the haft in a firm grip and made to lift it in one impressive flourish. Her grand effort was short-lived however as she found it much too heavy to lift with one hand. Even with two hands she struggled to raise it to chest height. Abraham crossed the floor and took it from her, stepping back so he could swing it freely.
"These will be more appropriate for you, Willow," Giles threw down several much smaller objects that made far less impressive sounds as they hit the table.
Willow picked up one of the foot long objects and held it up for closer examination. Unlike her reaction to the battleaxe, she was not impressed and glanced up to Giles with her feelings written plainly on her face.
"It's a twig!" Willow protested.
"It is a stake," Giles replied in a tight voice, obviously offended, he snatched the one out of Willow's hands and deftly twirled it over the back of his palm, catching it once more in his fist. He glanced up and was rather pleased to see the surprised expression on Willow's face, "In the hands of a hunter it is far more effective than any cumbersome battleaxe."
He set down the last weapon he carried on the table and this too took Willow's fascination, although after her embarrassment with the battle axe she made no move to pick it up. It was a small crossbow that looked light and manoeuvrable, perfect for wielding in tight alleyways. She was still studying it with great enthusiasm when she suddenly felt a strong pair of arms wrap around her neck, in a split second she had her own hands up beneath her attacker's arms to stop whoever it was from choking her. She then drove the heel of her boot downwards as hard as she was able. Her attacker yelped in pain in a masculine voice and Willow was able to wriggle free in order to snatch up the crossbow which Giles had left on the table, in seconds she had spun on her heels and had the weapon levelled directly at a young man's forehead. He very quickly lifted his hands in surrender.
"Ah Willow," Giles coughed politely, "You might want to lower your crossbow."
Willow turned her head slightly but kept the crossbow pointed just in case. When she saw the small grin that was slowly spreading across Giles's face she grudgingly lowered the weapon and turned back to study the young man she had almost impaled with a crossbow bolt. He was as tall as Abraham, but where her brother was pale; he was swarthy and dark with flashing brown eyes. From head to toe he was clad in black, black breeches, high-collared black shirt and a long black leather coat which swirled about the tops of his highly polished boots. He shifted slightly to assume a more relaxed posture and his coat gaped slightly to reveal a sword with an elaborate silver hilt.
Before any further words were said his full lips parted and he flashed a pair of white teeth in a rakish grin. If he had hoped Willow to respond with a blush he was to be disappointed, she merely narrowed her eyes suspiciously and kept a firm grip on the stock of her crossbow.
"New recruits, Rupert?" he asked without taking his eyes off Willow.
"Ah, yes," Giles strode forward and made a pointed gesture of plucking the crossbow from Willow's firm grip before she could do any damage with it, "Although I would be quick to point out that they are largely untrained...Willow, that crossbow is not loaded"
Willow looked at the weapon and her lip tweaked in annoyance; she then set it back down on the table. When she faced the newcomer once more, her expression was still as defiant despite the amused laugh that burst from her brother's lips.
"Untrained perhaps, but spirited all the same," his voice was deep and polished in tone; each sentence departed his lips as though it were some grand and important statement.
Willow was highly unimpressed, "Who the hell are you?"
"Willow, your manners!" Abraham chided under his breath.
Apparently unaffected by Willow's rather rude question, the dark man crossed the short distance that separated them and extended his hand in friendship, "My apologies, I am Christopher Croft, an associate of Rupert's...and I am very pleased indeed to meet you, Miss...?"
"What do you mean by 'associate'?" was her rather curt reply.
"I am sorry, I am so used to meeting people who are not involved in our line of work...you might say 'fellow demon hunter' for the initiated," Christopher replied easily, still untroubled by Willow's complete lack of manners.
Abraham pushed past his little sister, purposefully giving her a firm elbow as he passed. He held out his own hand to the newcomer in order to give him a more polite welcome.
"Abraham Van Helsing," the two men shook, both retaining a firm grip for longer than was necessary as they sized each other up.
"Pleased to meet you, Abe," Christopher flashed another smile, although not half as warm as that which he had obviously marked for the other man's sister.
"Abraham," Abraham corrected quickly and not at all pompously, "I do not go by anything else but I'll forgive you just this once. This rude but usually lovely young lady is my sister Willow."
Abraham gave Willow another sharp poke in the ribs with his elbow and she obediently proffered a hand in Christopher's direction. He took it with a gentle touch, although Willow immediately felt the rough calluses on his palm and fingers. She knew from touching Abraham's hands that this was a result of many hours spent with a sword in one's hand. While she guessed that his appearance was probably not all for show and he was probably quite capable with the sword he wore, she still grimaced when he pressed his lips firmly to the back of her hand. When he straightened once more he was smiling as though the two of them had just shared an intimate moment.
Christopher sighed theatrically. "Usually lovely? I would say she is permanently lovely."
While Willow averted her gaze uncomfortably, Abraham snickered at what he considered to be an extremely amusing comment, "You'll never see her first thing in the morning with her hair still up in rags...she's foul tempered and not at all pretty."
Willow showed Abraham precisely what a foul-tempered expression was and he was distinctly thankful that she could not lift the battleaxe.
Christopher's reply was quick and delivered with a wink in Willow's direction, "Well, one can only hope."
Giles read into the situation clearly, glancing quickly between the adoring expressing on Christopher's face to the stormy one on Willow's and the confused one on Abraham's. He stepped in between all three of them and immediately eased the tension in the room,
"What do you all say to a spot of tea?" Giles kept his tone light, "And then we can talk about getting down to the much anticipated business of weapon training for our new recruits."
Giles glanced to Willow and saw that her eyes were sparkling with anticipation; any trace of hostility towards Christopher had been vanquished. He congratulated himself for this little victory but fervently hoped that this would not be a longstanding issue between his three associates. As he watched the three of them start to move in the direction of the sitting room, with Abraham keeping a close hold on his sister, he made a mental note to drop Christopher some barely concealed hints as to Willow's sexual penchant for her own sex.
Willow swung her arms experimentally, testing the confines of the specially tailored man's coat that she wore. Although she had worn men's clothing previously during training, being outside albeit at night, was another thing altogether.
"Will, you look fine...positively dashing even," Abraham commented.
Willow turned to look at her brother, he was wearing exactly the same clothes as she, the same black coat, worn open of course to allow easy access to the sword belted at his waist, a black woollen waistcoat and black breeches and riding boots. The sibling's had both concealed their red hair with unadorned black tricorne hats.
"That's easy for you to say," Willow stretched her legs and bent slightly so she could run her palms over the thick breeches that covered her legs, "I've never felt so constrained."
Christopher rolled his eyes at their light banter, obviously feeling that they were not showing sufficient gravity for the situation. He was of course wearing black with his trademark leather coat. His dark hair meant he had no need for a hat but for some strange reason he did not have it clubbed back but rather had it worn out, framing his dark face.
"Are you sure you're ready for this, Willow?" Christopher asked the young woman, his voice heavy with concern.
"Surely you jest...I've been waiting for this night for months," Willow replied, lifting her head to meet his worried frown with a calm gaze of her own.
It was indeed true, although Giles had refused to let Willow and Abraham give up their book research completely; most of their time for the past few months had been filled with all manner of weapon training. Willow's boredom had been completely alleviated and she had thrown herself into learning as much as possible from Giles and her brother in terms of swordsmanship and hand to hand fighting techniques. She tended to avoid prolonged contact with Christopher as he had a penchant for using far more bodily contact with her than was strictly necessary when it came to training. Even after Giles had a little talk with their new associate, he still had difficulty accepting the fact that Willow was not interested in him...as though he was at the point of refusing to believe that she could possibly prefer women over men.
Still, for all his faults and unnecessary pomposity, he was a highly skilled and daring hunter. Although his exploits were recounted with additional embellishments, Giles assured the Van Helsing's that much of what he said was indeed true. Willow would have been impressed if only half of it was true and as such she paid attention to what he said...while still avoiding his hands.
Now, with Giles having deemed the sibling's ready, they stood in a particularly unlit part of town in which neither Willow nor Abraham had ever thought to venture, nor even knew it existed. It was on the outskirts of the poorest section of town, Christopher explained, a popular haunt for recently turned vampires, still coming to grips with the fact that they were now bloodsucking demons preying on the blood of humans. Few people actually ventured into the area of their own accord, those that did were mostly drunks or people that would not be missed by anyone...all easy prey for the newer creatures of the night.
"I do not seek to disappoint you, but we may not even lay our eyes on a scion of Dracula this evening, they know I often stalk these streets. Although..." Christopher stopped speaking for a moment as he glanced skyward at the dark night sky, "...no moon, no stars, a heavy foreboding air...it is a good night for hunting."
Willow hefted the crossbow she carried into a more suitable position beneath her arm. Holding it in both hands she could very quickly raise it level to fire the silver tipped bolt. Beneath her coat she carried both a silver sword and dagger and several additional bolts. The night was cold, but it was so dark she could not see her breath misting in front of her eyes. As she walked forward, with Christopher's back barely visible ahead and Abraham silently following behind, she tried to remember Giles's training. His calm voice merely repeated the same information over and over in her head, 'watch the shadows'...Willow tensed her lip, everything was in shadow!
When it finally did come, Willow needn't have bothered struggling to remember every scrap of information she had gleaned from her mentor. As soon as the trio of vampires made their appearance, something triggered inside Willow's head and she allowed herself to be guided by her instincts, instincts which rendered her a vampire's worst nightmare.
Two solid shapes dropped down into the alley just in front of her, heavily cloaked shapes that almost melded with the darkness around them. Both went straight for Christopher, one seizing him around his neck in a chokehold while the other went for his arms. A third set of footsteps came running from the darkness behind; a muffled grunt meant that it had run straight into Abraham.
Despite the situation, Willow found herself grinning. The vampire's had obviously picked out the stronger targets first...it was their first mistake. Willow brought the crossbow up quickly and taking barely a second to find her target in the darkness, she loosened the bolt. There was a dull thud followed a split second later by a piercing scream and a small explosion. Tiny particles of dust spread outwards and were swallowed by the night...all that remained of one vampire.
Rather than reload, Willow tossed aside her crossbow and withdrew a small bottle from the inside of her jacket. Without fumbling, she struck a match on the nearest brick wall and lit the fuse protruding from the bottle. She could not risk throwing it at either vampire as they were grappling with her companions at close quarters; instead she dashed it to the ground. The glass bottle smashed and the liquid within burst into bright flames as it spread. Having created a burning puddle, Willow drew both her sword and dagger and was able to survey the scene in the alley. Behind her, Abraham had lost his hat and his red hair hung about his face as he duelled with a scruffy vampire who was no mean swordsman. He appeared to be holding his own but Christopher however was pinned to the ground beneath an abnormally large vampire, desperately trying to keep his neck protected.
Willow darted forward, at the last possible moment before her dagger plunged downward; the demon sensed her presence and spun, slogging a huge fist in her direction. Although the blow would have removed her head from her shoulders had it made contact, he was too slow and Willow was able to duck beneath the swing. She darted around the clumsy vampire, over Christopher's prone form and leapt in the air. While it was over in about a second, Willow could see each of her actions as clearly as if they had already been planned and executed in her mind. Her right foot hit the nearest alley wall and she sprung backwards, as she did she spun in the air and brought the same foot around in an arc. It came into full contact with barrel-like chest of the demon, the force enough to send him stumbling backwards. His heavy body came crashing down directly atop Willow's puddle of fire and within seconds he was engulfed. Still writhing, his body exploded into dust, this time looking like tiny sparkling embers which floated around her like fire flies.
Breathing heavily with the thrill of the moment, Willow turned to see the last remaining vampire had noticed his companions were no longer with him and had decided that fleeing was his only option. Abraham had turned to pursue his quarry but Willow was faster, hurling her dagger directly into the demon's back even as he was scaling the a side wall of the alley. The flying dagger narrowly missed Abraham's ear and plunged into the creature before he was half way up the wall. Before its body could hit the ground, it was nothing but a floating cloud of dust, drifting down to the alley floor at Abraham's feet.
Eyes wide with appreciative shock, Abraham spun around and confirmed his ear was indeed still attached to the side of his head. Still regarding Willow with a funny expression on his face, he crossed to where Christopher was still lying on his back. Their dark-haired companion appeared ruffled, but in perfectly fine health despite being decisively flattened by the hefty vampire.
"You and I needn't have bothered coming out at all," Abraham chuckled as he helped the other man to his feet with one swift tug, "In future we can remain in bed while Willow single-handedly rids the dark places of London of all manner of nasty creatures."
This little comment did not amuse Christopher in the slightest as he shot Willow a look before attending to his attire. His leather coat was scuffed and slashed in several places with one sleeve almost torn completely off. Abraham could only smirk at his expression, knowing full well just how he felt for he was feeling the same way, although any feeling of jealousy was far outweighed by his amazement at his sister's extraordinary prowess with a sword.
He slapped Christopher heartily across his back, "I know it's scary but just accept it as a good thing."
"Bah! The three were all recently turned...and I was caught off guard by that one's size," Christopher explained with a nod towards the still burning embers at his feet, he lifted his chin defiantly as though challenging Abraham to mock him.
Abraham was too much of a gentleman to do nothing of the sort and he merely smiled as he looked towards Willow who was eagerly scanning their environs as though there were more vampires waiting patiently to be slain.
"I have no doubt that the three were weak...I do not expect all nights will be quite this straightforward...but even so, you have to admit that she is impressive," Abraham continued.
"But she is just a woman!" Christopher spluttered indignantly.
Willow turned to regard both of them with a wry smile on her face. She completely ignored Christopher's shocked expression and incredulous comments and re-sheathed her sword in one swift movement as she crossed the alley to join her brother. He reached out and playfully tousled her hair just to ensure she did not fly too high and remembered her place in the world as his baby sister.
"I don't know about you, Abraham," Willow commented as she brushed the dust off the front of her jacket with a few quick strokes, "But I could get used to this."