Return to Van Rosenberg Chapter Twenty-One

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.

"It is not a very pleasant spot," Willow commented idly as she gazed out over the broad plateau that was Covasna.

Both she and Giles were hidden beneath the thick evergreens that clung to the edges of the plateau. They had only been in position long enough to appreciate the fact that they had arrived just in time. They had ridden hard, barely stopping throughout the arduous trek up into the mountains and had arrived dirty and tired, but in time to stop the resurrection. The dead warriors were still very much dead, nothing more than misshapen piles of bone and rusty armour. Willow could almost reach out and touch the nearest skeleton. Arrows riddled its back and its arm stretched towards the forest as though whoever it was had been fleeing at the moment of his death.

The focus of their combined attentions were the knot of figures standing near the centre of the plateau. As far as they could tell, Dracula and his cohorts were waiting for something, night Willow suspected. She glanced towards the sky; the sun's dying rays still stubbornly clinging to the horizon. There was still enough light to see their enemies in the distance, Willow could count more than a dozen dark shapes, vampires of all shapes and sizes. Although the one vampire she could recognise, and the one she hoped to see, was not there. She could see no sign of her unmistakable blonde hair in the distance.

Willow was about to ask Giles to point out which distant figure was Dracula when she realised that she already knew exactly who he was. Standing at the centre of his minions but somehow apart was a figure that moved as though his feet did not touch the ground. Willow could make out few of his features at such a distance save his pointed face and long, black hair but she could feel his presence coursing through her body. Even at such a distance, she felt his power and in turn was scared by it. How could she have ever thought that a mortal such as her would be able to slay the greatest vampire that had ever walked the earth?

Her fingers tightened around the hilt of her katana. She knew failure was not an option. Whatever the outcome of the evening and the night that followed, Willow knew she had to see Dracula reduced to nothing more than dust on the wind.

"It was never a pleasant spot," Giles interrupted Willow's thoughts as he agreed with her earlier statement, "Although the earth no longer runs red with rivers of blood...and the screams of dying men have faded somewhat."

"We will ensure such a scene is never repeated," Willow vowed, although never having heard the cries of battle herself, she could only imagine them to be gut wrenchingly awful. She silently prayed that she would never have to witness, or be part of such a slaughter.

She was about to discuss their plan with Giles when she felt a gentle touch on her shoulder. In a heartbeat her katana was out of its scabbard and she had whirled around on her knees. Her chest heaving slightly in anticipation, she found herself face to face with Tara.

"You have a penchant for holding your sword to my throat," Tara spoke quietly, her chin nodding ever so slightly towards the katana which hovered mere inches away from her neck.

Willow had only time to smile before anything she was about to say was interrupted by Giles. He turned too; his eyes were bulging for a second as he stared at the strange woman who had joined them out of nowhere, "Bloody hell!"

Moments after his panicked statement, Giles regained his composure and muttered a few words that barely reached Willow's ears. However, she clearly saw Tara's limbs move strangely moments later and she was suddenly whisked backwards at speed. Her body slammed into a tree and she was held fast, apparently unable to move.

Giles stood and advanced with one arm outstretched as though his fingers were wrapped around Tara's throat. The vampire's head tilted sideways as though Giles really was manipulating her by the neck. Moments later Willow seized Giles's arm and dragged it downwards, Tara was able to move her head once more.

"Giles, it is Tara...she is with us," Willow explained as she continued to wrestle with his arm.

Giles relaxed slightly but only because he was struggling to take in this information while staring at the blonde vampire. Willow slowly released him from her grip and he stood, his confusion immediately turning into suspicion.

"Regardless of whether or not this demon has the body of your loved one...she is still a demon," Giles growled, "And therefore not to be trusted!"

Willow turned her back on Tara to give Giles the full force of her anger.

"I trust her!" Willow replied in an angry whisper, not daring to raise her voice lest her words carry to the vampires standing on the plane.

"Tell me what she said to you to make you believe she could be trusted?" Giles demanded.

Willow met his challenging gaze, refusing to look away despite the awful twisting sensation in her gut. She knew full well that now was the least appropriate time to be arguing with the warlock. Each moment they wasted talking was another moment that they could be putting a stop to the resurrection. Giles's flint hard eyes demanded an answer to his question but Willow knew that she could not give him one. She could not explain how it felt to once more feel Tara's flesh against her own, to feel the way their bodies moved together in perfect synchronicity as they fucked. Because of those brief minutes in the alley, Willow felt invincible...and it was Tara that made her feel that way. It was Tara that gave her the strength to come to Covasna and face Dracula...not some soulless demon.

No, Willow could not answer Giles's question, she could find no words to express the way she felt...especially ones that avoided mentioning the naked, sweaty, fucking part. When she did not answer him, Giles let out a long-suffering sigh.

"Whatever she promised you...she will not deliver!" Giles's voice took on a sympathetic tone, as though he knew just how persuasive the body of a dead lover could be, "Willow, I beg you...turn around now and finish that thing...or allow me to do it if you cannot do it yourself."

"I will not!" Willow replied vehemently.

"I understand you both feel strongly about your respective positions...but we are running out of time."

At the sound of the quiet words interrupting their heated argument, both Willow and Giles turned to see Tara had freed herself from Giles bonds without either of them noticing. While Willow appeared immensely pleased, Giles's face began to drain of all colour.

"I apologise for Giles's behaviour," Willow reached out towards her lover.

"It is of no consequence, Willow, I am quite sure Rupert only has your best interests at heart," Tara spoke softly as she advanced towards Willow, she reached out and took the proffered hand but all the while kept her gaze fixed on a rather pale Giles, "After all, you were moments away from destroying me yourself just a few days ago."

Although he gave Willow and Tara a measure of space by taking a few grudging steps backward, Giles's expression betrayed his displeasure. When Willow met that gaze, she instinctively flinched as though she was guilty of a crime. She could not stand to stare at the blatant accusations on his face for long and quickly turned back to Tara, finding sanctuary in her cool blue eyes. There was no trace of animosity of contempt in her expression. Although Willow could not even begin to guess exactly what she was thinking, she did feel oddly reassured. Tara then reached out to cup her cheeks in cold hands, caressing the dirty skin softly with her thumbs. Willow felt somewhat ashamed and lowered her gaze; she was indeed stained from head to toe with all the grit and grime of weeks of hard travel. She felt dirt in her every pore and if she wasn't so used to it, she would have wrinkled her nose at the smell that clung to her clothes.

Tara however was exactly as she had been the night in the alley. Her blonde hair hung perfectly, settling down over the midnight black cloak she wore. Her face was just as perfect, unsullied by grime. Everything about her was perfect...

"We must move quickly to overpower him...I was unable to get close enough to switch the skull," Tara admitted.

"The skull is still real?" Willow whispered, a sinking feeling gripped her stomach as Tara nodded.

"Yes, but all is by no means lost; we still have time until the spell can even be carried out. Before that time is up we will have carved a path of destruction through those that stand with him before destroying Dracula himself," Tara explained fervently, "We have the advantage of surprise...and of your formidable skill."

"Onwards to glory or death then?" Willow suggested moments before she reached out with both hands and encircled Tara's waist.

She felt her fingers brush against the soft fabric of Tara's dress, felt traces of the smooth skin beneath and the ever present need she had carried with her since meeting Tara. It had been intensified tenfold by the night in the alley to the point where she felt as though she could force her hands beneath Tara's skirts and take her there in the forest. It was a raw, primal need that Willow was unaccustomed to feeling. The intensity of it frightened her more than a little until Tara erased her fears with a gentle kiss. It was Willow who deepened the kiss, moving forward so their bodies were pressed together.

Tara felt Willow's heart thudding against her chest, the organ beating so rapidly it felt as though it would burst from her skin. The strength of Willow's heartbeats made the absence of her own painfully obvious and she felt a pang of jealousy. Moments later she had to take a step back before her expression betrayed her discomfort. She smiled quickly to dispel any awkwardness her actions created.

"Who would have ever thought that you and I would have to fight a battle?" Tara added an element of humour to further put Willow at ease, she herself thought of the two young women attired in their finery as they attended a ball or lounged in the parlour at Hagley Park and couldn't imagine anything further removed from their present situation, "Follow me now Willow...and we will be together just as I promised."

"I will," Willow leaned in for a last kiss, even as her lips closed on Tara's she felt them disappear, when she opened her eyes the blonde had dissolved into her misty form.

With a decisive glint in her eye, Willow turned to face the plateau. She brushed past Giles a moment later and he could only stare at her back as she drew her katana with an almost eager motion. She viewed the group of vampires standing on the plateau as though they were mere targets that had been placed there for her amusement. The only one she really cared about was the tall figure at the centre. She was already grinning at the thought of seeing his curly locks flying through the air after separating his head from his shoulders.

"Willow you silly little fool!" Giles snapped at the girl's back as she broke from their cover and started towards the small group standing in the centre of the wide plateau, "Would you walk into hell if she told you to?"

He did not need to hear Willow's reply to know that the answer was 'yes.'

Tara reformed into solidity in the midst of her companions, most ignored her presence. Only William and Angelus and Dracula himself deigned to acknowledge that she was even present. Dracula gave her the barest nod and Tara replied in the same manner, their small exchange was either ignored or un-noticed by their assembled companions.

"And where have you been?" Angelus inquired coldly, looking her up and down as though searching for something out of place.

"Scouting," Tara replied, her own tone just as cool, hoping fervently that Angelus could not detect the lie in her voice, "As I was commanded."

Tara's contempt for the tall, solid, dark-haired vampire was barely concealed. She had spent three years with him in Greece and had hated him from the start. He was arrogant and cruel, hardly rare traits in vampires, but he took them to the extreme. Most significant of all however, he saw himself as Dracula's second in command, just one small step down from the Master himself. Tara searched his face and wondered how he felt on the verge of the resurrection of Dracula's Captain. Although there was an unmistakable hierarchy within vampirism, each individual was out to seize as much power for himself while paying the correct amount of respect to their Lord and Master.

"I cannot see why you should have been brought along at all," William snarled, clearly offended that such a lesser creature in his eyes should be privileged to witness such at event.

Tara ignored the skinny blonde vampire, knowing full well that her Master had seen fit to include her in the party. She turned her attention to the reason for their standing here on this miserable plateau in the middle of nowhere. The headless skeleton of Dracula's infamous captain lay partially embedded in the earth, the only thing to distinguish him from the thousands of other dead warriors was his elaborate armour. Although once undoubtedly fine, it was now pitted and rusted after lying for hundreds of years exposed to the elements. His magnificently horned helmet lay several feet away from his body, where it had fallen after being knocked from his head. Tara looked at his severed neck and imagined the skull rejoined to the body, flesh forming anew and she wrinkled her nose with disgust, having difficulty imaging such a sight.

"Who in the bloody hell is that?"

Tara was interrupted in her thoughts by William's confused drawl. She turned in the direction he was looking to see a single dark figure striding towards them. A small smile crossed her face at the brazen nature of Willow's approach; she had absolutely no need for subterfuge or surprise when she had more than enough confidence to see her through. Moments later a second figure emerged from the forest, this one breaking into a slightly awkward run in an effort to catch up to Willow.

Willow was now close enough for Tara to see the determination deeply etched on her face. Her eyes were narrowed with concentration, one fist closed around the hilt of her sword, and the other around the stock of a loaded crossbow.

"You two..." William barked at a nearby pair of vampires and jabbed his finger in the direction of the intruder, "Deal with that!"

Grins crossed the face of the two vampires William had signalled out, obviously thinking that they were going to receive a quick meal before the night's events. They peeled off from the group and made towards the advancing woman. She seemed small and insignificant in their eyes. The sight of her would be the last thing either of them saw as moments later one had a crossbow bolt planted squarely in his chest.

Willow's aim perfect even from a distance. Before his companion could react other than to drop his jaw in surprise, Willow had reloaded with another bolt and performed exactly the same action. The vampire's scream's faded into nothing at the same time as Willow moved from a brisk stride to a sprint. Following the destruction of two of their companions, several other demons had surged forward, fangs bared as they ran at Willow. She confused them with her speed, moving rapidly amongst them and yet appearing to be nowhere at one time. Her actions were so quick and fluid that none could lay a hand on her let alone stop her.

Although unloaded, the crossbow served as a handy club as Willow slammed its butt into the forehead of one. As he stumbled off balance, she cast the crossbow aside and swiftly drew a stake. With a deft movement, she plunged it into the vampire's chest. She did not wait to see his body splinter into a thousand pieces, she was already moving onto her next target. With each vampire she engaged, each movement and attack she made, she was already thinking ahead to her next movement, searching out her next target. After killing several with her stake, it splintered in the chest of one and was rendered useless. She drew her katana and proceeded to

As Willow carved a path through the hapless demons, Tara made her choice of sides known to her companions. With a slight flick of her wrist and a muttered word, two jets of fire shot from her hand to engulf a pair of vampires who were rushing to intercept Willow. They barely had time to scream before their already dead bodies were completely destroyed.

William and Angelus could not believe what they were seeing, however, after several moments to realise that Tara had just slain two of their own they acted. Both vampires advanced on the traitor, their fangs bared. Even as Tara drew back her hand to hurl another fireball at Angelus, William leapt forward and seized her by the wrist. He held her fast and met her gaze squarely.

"Try and fry me now!" he snarled, savagely twisting her wrist until she cried out in pain, "Angelus, I think our traitorous she-demon needs to be taught a little lesson."

William's fist closed around the cloak Tara wore and ripped it from her shoulders. He cast the heavy fabric to the ground and seized the front of her dress with both hands.

"Not here you fool, it is not the time!" Angelus moved to seize the arm of his companion but found his grip shaken off as William continued to tear through Tara's dress, "What are you playing at?"

He tore a strip of fabric from Tara's dress and used it to bind her mouth, "We don't want anymore of her foul spells here today!"

Tara glared at him as he savagely yanked the fabric as tight as he possibly could and tied both ends firmly. She tried to lash out with her hands but Angelus suddenly moved to aid his friend, twisting her arms behind her.

His lust for the female vampire overrode any rational thoughts, all he could think about was gaining revenge for the many times she had blatantly turned him down as he sought to win her favours. Now she was bound and gagged, helpless in their arms even as their companions died around them at the point of Willow's sword. Angelus ignored their screams and lent in close to Tara's ear, biting down so savagely on the appendage that he drew blood.

"You will regret your decision to deny me in Greece," he whispered as he heard fabric tear in William's hands, he saw one of her magnificent breasts bared in the fading light and his loins stirred hungrily.

Without further warning both vampires were suddenly thrust backwards, the folds of her clothing tore as it was ripped from their fingers. Tara stumbled backwards slightly, her eyes widening as she saw William and Angelus swept from their feet, William turned and held upside down and Angelus with his toes still pointing downwards but several feet above the ground. She turned and saw the warlock, Giles, his mouth moving slightly as he whispered the last words of his incantation.

Tara tore the gag from her mouth before slowly drawing the folds of her ripped gown back up over her shoulder. She held the garment closed with a white fist. Giles watched her from the corner of his eye as he kept the two vampires ensnared in the same invisible bonds he had used on Tara just a short while ago.

"I believe you saved my life," Tara admitted grudgingly, before this moment she would not have thought Giles would be one to lift a finger in her defence, "Or at least my honour."

The look he gave her in response to her words almost negated his actions; it appeared that the warlock still did not share Willow's opinion of her.

Meanwhile Willow had finally reached her goal, she burst through the cloud of dust that surrounded her and faced the one demon she longed to slay above all others. She met his ice-cold gaze with a fierce one of her own, her mouth set in a thin line of determination.

"It seems we meet at last, Willow Van Helsing," Dracula intoed solemnly, the rich tones of his voice carrying easily to Willow's ears.

Willow's features became even more stone-like, she hated the cloying, honeyed tones of his voice, it was almost as though he was trying to seduce her. She could easily see how it worked on other women; she cast a glance over her shoulder towards Tara and wondered for a moment if she had ever been taken in by Dracula's charms.

"I see your thoughts," he spoke and he head snapped back to face him, sword flying up to point at his head, "And I would think you know the answer...after all, what woman can resist the most gifted and attentive of lovers?"

A broad smile spread from his lips to crease his face, his white fangs were bared and Willow narrowed her eyes at the blatant implication in his words.

"You lie scum, you're not a're a monster...and I know that our meeting will be brief...brief enough for me to see you sent back to the dust from whence you came!" Willow growled.

She surged forward, the katana singing as it moved through the air towards his next. A split second before it was to strike, Dracula's body disappeared in the misty form she had seen Tara use twice. She knew that her lover could not perform the same feat immediately but as she moved towards Dracula's reforming body, she swung and missed yet again.

As Willow duelled their Master, William and Angelus snarled and struggle against the invisible bonds which held them, neither showing any fear as Tara summoned another fireball. She did not cast it, instead leaving it hovering above the palm of her hand as though it were a warning. When she glanced from the fireball, up to the trapped demons, there was a smile playing at the corner of her mouth.

"I want you both to remember these next moments..." Tara advised them both in a cruel voice, "Remember them and you will realise exactly why it was foolish of you to ever threaten me...I will never give myself to either of you fools no matter how you desire me," Tara turned her back to them so she could watch Willow duelling with Dracula even as she said her next words, "I will never be yours, for I will always belong to her..."

Tara's voice trailed off as she watched Willow make yet another swing towards Dracula, the sharp sword she carried missed yet again but she noticed that Willow did not loose her temper or make a mistake even though she surely must have been frustrated. Tara snuffed out the fireball by clamping her fingers shut and settled to watch the duel, her fingers remaining clamped together in her anxiety.

"Your weapon cannot touch me, let alone kill me, Willow Van Helsing," Dracula drawled as he reformed several feet away to Willow's left.

However true his words were of the fight up to that point, Willow was not phased in the slightest by his taunt. Her keen perceptions had noticed that the amount of time between his misty transformations was slowly lengthening, each time she was able to get a little closer and he had even begun to resort to moving with his feet to maintain the distance. Each time he reformed she noticed his features start to sag a little more, now she could clearly see the dark bags beneath his eyes, the folds of flesh hanging from his chin as though his flesh was sliding from his bones.

"You're tiring," Willow pointed out, a tired smile slowly curling the corners of her lips, "You're tiring and soon you will falter, my sword will find its mark."

"I think not!" Dracula growled.

He swept back his own cloak, throwing it from his shoulders so it no longer hampered his movements. His hand went to the jewel-encrusted sword at his side and he drew the thick blade.

Although she circled him warily, keeping one eye on Dracula's sword, Willow's other eye was firmly fixed on the leather pouch he wore at his waist. She knew for certain it held the skull. Forcing herself to draw her eyes from it, she continued to circle for a few more moments before making the first strike. Instead of merely lunging forward or making a swing which could have been met easily by the weight of his own sword, Willow made two quick, powerful steps and launched herself into the air. He lashed out at her with his blade but she kicked it aside with one foot even as her sword came crashing down. The katana sliced through the silken shirt he wore and into his flesh.

Dracula arched his back but did not cry out in pain as Willow's feet hit the ground just to his side. Instead he laughed as he straightened and swung his sword in an arc in the air in front of him.

"You think to carve me apart piece by piece?" he cackled as he turned to face Willow.

"Perhaps...for that would serve my purposes adequately!" Willow replied, punctuating her words with a flourish of the katana in her hands.

She surged forward once more, her body moving in a blur as she weaved between his desperate blows, for all his immortality and power, he possessed not half of the skill Willow had with a blade. As Tara and Giles, William and Angelus watched, Willow fought the Lord of all Vampires himself. She felt as though everything in the past four years had all been a precursor to this moment in time, to this infamous battlefield and her one on one duel with Dracula himself. Even as she fought, Willow felt the weight of this occasion bear down on her shoulders. Everything hinged on these moments to come and her success in this duel.

As her katana danced through the air yet again to meet his blade with a resounding twang, she felt a surge of power. As their blades were stuck together for a brief moment, she met his gaze and searched it, while she could reach little into his impassive expression, she could feel his weakness through his blade. He trembled. For a moment, she was close enough to reach down and seize the pouch at his waist but she could not dare take a hand off the hilt of the katana to do so. Moments later Dracula threw himself backwards and the skull was out of reach once more.

She watched his faced and saw her own determination reflected in his cruel features. When he pressed forward his attack once more, his blows were savage and powerful. Willow continue to dance around his swings, knowing all too well if she happened to make a single mistake, the thick steel would slice deeply into her flesh and everything was over. Her lightning fast strokes managed to slip past his guard several times, slicing into cloth and dead flesh but she could not make the one swing that mattered, the one which would slice straight through his neck.

When she lost her katana it was through a mistake of her own, she lost track of her footing as exhaustion began to set in and sweat drenched her vision. Her heel caught the ribcage of some long dead fool and she stumbled, her grip slackening. Although her blade met Dracula's incoming swing, the hilt of her katana was struck from her grasp. It went sailing through the air and landed several metres away. She know at that instant that she had to move fast or find his next swing crashing through her chest. Before he could suppress his elation and press forward the killing blow, Willow darted beneath Dracula's swing and drew a slender knife from her boot. She swung and sliced the leather cords that held the pouch to his belt, they were sliced cleanly and it opened. From the pouch came tumbling a perfectly white skull, its full mouth of teeth grinning in the twilight. It hit the ground and rolled to a stop between Willow and Dracula. As he surged forward to reclaim it, Willow spun on one heel, bringing her leg whirling around. With the weight of her momentum behind it, her foot caught Dracula squarely in his chest and he was hurled to his knees. Several metres away, his minions struggled against the bonds that Giles held them in but they could barely move their limbs let alone escape. Dracula could only kneel, his body battered from his duel with Willow. Willow circled him and came to a stop where the skull lay; she hooked the toe of one boot beneath it and deftly gave it a little flick. It sailed upwards and straight into her hand.

The katana with which she wanted to destroy him lay out of reach but Tara saw it and crossed the short distance to pick it up. A brief thought flashed across Willow's mind, Tara holding the katana given to her by someone who had almost been her lover. Ayako's image disappeared quickly; there would be time to dwell after all of this miserable business was over. There would be time to pay her respects to the brave Japanese woman and to make her peace with her beloved brother who should be standing at her side. Still, she had Tara with her, and her presence was more than enough.

"Tara, you can redeem yourself now!" Dracula pleaded in desperation as he watched Tara pick up Willow's sword, "Strike that whore down with her own weapon and I will welcome you as my equal in all things!"

At the same time she retrieved Willow's katana, Tara also stooped to reclaim her fallen crossbow, discarded earlier after the last loaded bolt had been spent in the middle of the fray. Almost as soon as she had straightened, she drew her arm back cast it in one graceful motion; it went sailing straight into Willow's waiting hand. Willow caught the weapon with nimble fingers at the same time as she reached inside her jacket and withdrew a single silver bolt. Swiftly she slotted the bolt home and with a practiced motion she cocked the bow. In mere seconds she had the loaded weapon levelled at a rather indignant Dracula.

"Tara, I trusted you and brought you into my inner circle and offered you power, is this how you repay me?" he demanded, his voice shrill, "By betraying me?"

"I'm a demon, I cannot be trusted," was all Tara said in reply.

It was all Willow could do to keep from shouting aloud with pure joy at the look on the demon's face, partially terror and partially anger.

"I think it is safe to say she is no longer with you," Willow could not resist saying it, "It appears that love is stronger than death."

"And it appears that you have defeated me Willow Van Helsing," Dracula admitted in a dull voice.

"Not quite," Willow replied, keeping her crossbow arm steady, "I will reserve my celebrations until I can dust what's left of you from my sleeve with one swipe of the hand."

She could not allow herself to let the whiff of victory overwhelm her...not just yet anyway. The whole situation was more than a little surreal. Standing on the pitted plateau at Covasna with a handful of surviving vampires, the Master of all vampires at her feet, her dead lover and her mentor, all surrounded by the swirls of dust from the destroyed vampires, Willow could be forgiven for thinking that everything was a dream. It was when she saw a small smile of victory cross Tara's face, that she did allow herself to feel a small surge of elation. It was soon to be all over...

Willow kept her gaze on the kneeling figure of Dracula but she watched from the corner of her eye as Tara moved around him, the katana still in her hands. Her expression as she stared at her soon to be former Master was one of contempt. She walked slightly behind Willow and disappeared from the corner of her eye but Willow heard her stop just behind her. She felt reassured with the knowledge that Tara was right there with her as she pulled the trigger.

Willow applied pressure to the trigger of her crossbow with the sole aim of seeing it plunge straight into Dracula's heart. The silver bolt would have flown straight and true before something slammed into Willow's back, tearing her apart. Searing pain followed, starting in her chest and shooting throughout her entire body. Her finger jerked awkwardly on the trigger, the bolt discharged with a twang and buried itself harmlessly in Dracula's shoulder. He merely jerked it out with a single sharp pull. Willow stared in disbelief, wondering how she could have missed from such a close distance. Her arms felt heavy and the crossbow slipped from her numb fingers. She tilted her chin downwards to see a familiar steel blade protruding from her chest, a dark stain spreading out over her white skirt. Willow coughed, more blood splattered over her front. After a few more moments standing, the blade impaled in her chest was drawn free with a savage tug and Willow fell forwards almost immediately, dropping to her knees in the soft earth, staring at the now empty wound in her chest.

How could I have been so blind? Abraham...I'm so sorry...

As darkness crept around the edges of her vision, Willow lost control of her body. She fell forward, the skull slipped from her hand and her body twisted slightly so she fell on her side. When her body twitched and she flopped onto her back, the last thing she saw before she died was Tara standing over her with the katana in her hand, its length stained with her own dark red blood.

Willow awoke.

With her heart beating at a million miles a minute, she clutched desperately at her chest...only to find that there was no gaping tear in her flesh and no blood. She drew open the garment she was wearing but found only a light dressing covering a wound which felt as though it was almost healed. With her panic only barely subsiding, she found herself staring into the familiar mirror in front of her. Willow snapped her head around and found she was indeed in her bedroom at Gordon Square; the room was unchanged from the day they had departed. However, when Willow returned her gaze to the mirror in front of her she found that the one thing in the reflection that had changed was herself. The strange garments she wore did not disturb her as much as her physical appearance. Her hair was no longer stained the awful black from Giles's dye, but was as vibrantly red as it was supposed to be, perhaps a little longer than normal, sitting down on her shoulders. With trembling fingers she reached up and raked her hands through the red strands, feeling them to be real.

When she stood she felt exceptionally weak, her muscles not allowing her to make the fluid movements she was accustomed to. Again she opened the folds of the shirt she wore and pressed a shaking hand to the dressing covering her upper chest. While she was certain she remembered the blade piercing the middle of her chest at Covasna, Willow allowed herself to think that she had been mistaken. A small grin crossed her face, she had survived and given that she was safely it home, Giles must have retrieved the skull and stopped the resurrection. Before it could even cross her mind, she immediately repressed the memory of Tara standing over her with the bloody katana...that was something she could deal with at another time...

Almost elated at the turn of events, Willow left her room and went in search of someone, especially Abraham, more than anything she needed to find her brother and take back the awful words that had passed between them.

"Abraham?" her voice echoed down the empty hallway but Willow was not worried, Gordon Square was large and there were only five occupants, she turned towards the stairs that led to the third floor and the servant's rooms, "Sam? Nancy?"

No-one responded. Willow moved down the hallway to the main staircase, only just beginning to get a sense that something was not quite right. There was only one strange coat hanging on the rack by the door whereas usually there was a wide assortment all hung neatly by Sam. Willow sniffed the air for the usual pleasant aromas wafting from the kitchen but smelt nothing. She moved past the empty parlour and library through into the large, airy room. Willow frowned, there was no sign of Cook, the large kitchen table which was usually covered with her pots and crocks and all manner of utensils was fact the entire kitchen was pristine and devoid of absolutely anyone or even any food. The pantry was completely bare, everything from the flour bins to the breadbox looked as though it had been empty for years. Willow's heart began to thump once more; almost approaching the levels of panic with which she had woken just a short while ago.

Even as she was about to have a fit of some kind, she was struck by a sudden thought, she was sure to find Giles, Abraham and even Christopher Croft at Montagu House

"Of course silly," Willow said the words aloud as a form of reassurance as she raced back towards front door, only pausing to grab the one coat that was hanging on the rack, "They'll be at the library, Giles and Abraham, they'll be there..."

Continue to Van Rosenberg Chapter Twenty-Three

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