While sleep was on her mind, Willow could not bring herself to return to Gordon Square when she left the graveyard. Instead she wandered the streets in the hope the she would find other demons to kill in order to take her mind off the one that she could not. However, the streets of London were unusually empty save for drunks and whores. Willow was left alone with her thoughts until the sun's first rays touched the tears on her cheeks. Even then, rather than return home, she found herself headed towards the comforting surrounds of the British Museum.
She expected to find solace in the quiet halls she knew so well but she still found only the despair of her own mind. The only image that played over and over behind her eyes was that of Tara splayed on the ground beneath her, her chest heaving with terror as she steeled herself for her own destruction at the hands of her former lover. Willow still felt the rapid thud of Tara's heart against the palm of her hand. However, all of this added up to very little real information and left Willow confused and desperate for answers. Giles was not in his workroom, the only other soul she could find was a rather tired looking Faith whom Willow found in the training room.
Her friend was engaged in some slow form of martial art, moving in graceful, fluid motions across the practice mats with her eyes closed. Willow paused by the door and watched for a minute. She was about to announce her presence when Faith opened her eyes and looked at her without interrupting the flow of her movements.
Faith performed one last movement before yawning widely and crossing the floor towards Willow, "You haven't slept have you?"
Willow shook her head but came back with an observation of her own, "Neither have you."
Faith shrugged and stretched like a cat, "Well, last night was intense."
Willow felt as though Faith was describing her own night. Meeting Tara again after all that had happened to her had been intense to say the least. She suddenly felt exceptionally weary and realised just how much she needed to sleep.
She leaned against the door frame in an effort to hold herself up, "Intense how?"
Willow watched as a slight flicker passed over Faith's face as though she did not want to say something.
In actual fact, Faith was dwelling on the meeting that had taken place and the information that had been shared. While it was information Willow would want to know, Faith did not feel that it was her place to share it with her. Giles said he would show her and Faith knew that her pale recollections could not compare with the warlock's methods. If she let slip to Willow, then the poor girl would only grow more confused. Faith also did not think that she could keep her personal dislike of Tara from creeping into anything she said and thought it best to keep her mouth shut on those matters. Instead she allowed a gleam into her eye and a wee smirk to cross her face.
"Lara and I made up," Faith purred happily, knowing that particular piece of information could more than justify her sleepless night, "We ended up fucking on the desk in my office...but as a result my back is killing me."
Willow well was accustomed to Faith's blunt manner of speaking and as such she only coloured slightly...although she felt this colour heighten considerably when a mental picture of the act wandered into her mind. Willow shook her head furiously for a moment to clear the picture.
"Remind me not to sit on your desk ever again," Willow commented, the shaking having done little to dislodge the unwanted image. She made a face of mock disgust to hide her discomfort. "I am happy for you both...you deserve each other."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Faith narrowed her eyes but then laughed lightly, giving Willow a playful slap on the shoulder, "Anyway, the sword? One would come to the obvious conclusion that you have been out doing my job...or you are trying to make a fashion statement."
"No, no fashion statements here," Willow tightened her hand around the hilt of the sword still strapped to her waist, "It was my intention to hunt but I ran into an old friend...and the night went decidedly downhill from there, in fact it pretty much hit rock bottom."
Faith's gaze narrowed suspiciously, "This ‘friend' wouldn't happen to have blonde hair and a penchant for wearing black now would she?"
At Willow's small nod, Faith smashed her fist into the palm of her hand and appeared aggravated, muttering something under her breath. However, before Willow could ask her to explain, Giles made an appearance. Willow noticed that his gaze first went to Faith who shook her head quickly as though denying his unspoken question. Willow had not been told a thing...not yet anyway. He then turned to Willow and noted the dark clothes she wore and the sword on her hip.
"I see it is impossible to keep you indoors," he sighed in a resigned fashion.
"I like the night," Willow replied simply.
"You do not," Faith interrupted, "You're afraid of the dark."
Willow frowned, Faith was right...or rather had been right. She searched her memories of the previous night, past all the drama with Tara and realised that at no point had she been afraid of the dark. A small, bemused smile played at the corners of her lips.
"Faith," Giles interrupted Willow's thoughts when he spoke, "I just passed your office and it is a mess, papers and books strewn everywhere, I do not want to know what on earth you've been doing in there but I would like you to go and straighten it out...Willow, I would like you to come with me."
Willow frowned for the second time in less than a minute as Giles ordered Faith about like a father ordering a child to tidy her room. The Faith she knew should have told Giles in no uncertain terms that she would do no such thing. Surprisingly however, Faith merely smirked at the mention of her office and moved to obey Giles's order. As she passed Willow her smirk disappeared and she gave the other woman's shoulder a firm squeeze.
Giles did not say a further word and left the training room with Willow in tow. They did not head for his workroom but instead for the small basement library that housed the books too rare or dangerous to be kept in the Great Reading room in the Museum proper. The smaller library happened to be below the other, and they were linked by a spiralling staircase in the centre of the two rooms. At this time of the morning the library was eerily empty. The shadows between the close shelves of books added to the aura of danger already signified by the thick, ancient volumes on their shelves.
Willow paused at the entrance, Giles turned when he noticed that she was no longer just behind him.
"Did she speak with you?" Willow asked quietly.
"Yes," Giles nodded, needing no further elaboration to know that Willow was referring to Tara, "Earlier this morning...Willow, I have to admit that I was very wrong. I thought I could control everything for your benefit, to feed you as little information as possible to keep you safe but even I could not foresee everything that would happen to you in Europe."
"Nor could you foresee what the mirror would do to me," Willow added.
"Yes, and even then, although needed the whole truth more than ever, I thought with the merging of two personalities that you were..." Giles paused, searching for the right word.
"Unstable," Willow added helpfully.
"Unstable," Giles agreed, "but in the nicest possible way."
"It is an apt description for my state of mind, Giles," Willow admitted, "but after seeing Tara once more, I need to know what happened to her...I need the whole truth or I might do something I later regret."
"Like killing her?" Giles suggested quietly.
"No," Willow replied honestly, "More like forgiving her."
Giles smiled sadly and turned away from her to consult a book he had laid open on a nearby reading table. Impatient to find her answers, Willow followed Giles into the library and immediately noticed that he had made preparations. She thought perhaps she should feel angry that he had made the assumption that she would agree to whatever it was he had planned, but Willow was so hungry for answers she did not care.
Where there was usually a large reading table next to the staircase; it had been moved to create a clear space. The space however was not entirely empty. Someone had drawn a large chalk circle on the wooden floor and lit candles were spaced evenly around the circumference. At the centre stood a small wooden figure Willow recognised seeing in Giles's workroom. It was the carved likeness of an exceedingly rotund little man, his head completely bald, his belly protruding out from beneath the robes he wore. The most startling feature it possessed were a pair of overly large eyes, painted black with some sort of enamel. Willow had always thought it merely ornamental but now, in this setting, she could see that it was some sort of object of power. She started towards the circle to get a better look but stopped just short of entering it.
"It is alright, Willow," Giles said encouragingly, turning away from his book, "take a seat on the floor if you will."
Willow obeyed, first stripping off her jacket and sword belt and leaving them outside the circle. She then gingerly stepped over the edge of the circle and sat, folding her legs beneath her on the hard floor. Giles followed suit but in a strange manner, whispering indecipherable words as he did so. Willow watched him with a wary expression on her face. He then folded his lanky legs onto the floor in a kneeling position and bent low over the idol in front of him.
"Giles?" Willow asked quietly as he moved to complete the preparations necessary for whatever he was doing, "What the heck are we doing?"
Giles straightened his back and looked at her with a calm expression, "Exactly what you wanted...the missing pieces of the puzzle after your death."
Willow frowned and looked from the circle of candles to the idol in front of her, "But the candles? Don't you just need to tell me?"
"Willow, I could tell you what happened after you died but it would be from my perspective...and I of course did not experience everything that you need to know, no, I cannot tell you..."
"But you just said you would!" Willow protested, hearing that he was about to renege on his promise."
Giles smiled kindly at her interpretation, "I cannot tell you, but I will show you...everything that took place, what happened at Covasna after your death and after from the perspective of those who lived those moments in time."
Willow was decidedly suspicious, and for a good reason, "Giles, I can't handle having any more voices in my head...two is already driving me insane...and I do not think I need to be driven any further away from sanity."
"This is not like the mirror Willow, you are not about to be invaded by another consciousness," Giles offered in a reassuring tone of voice, "It will be as a dream to you...and quite safe with me right here with you at every step."
Willow glanced back to the squat idol that sat on the floor between them, its huge eyes seeming to stare straight into her soul.
"My god Giles," Willow whispered, "I always thought that creepy little thing was a piece of junk but it is a memoria alveus, a memory cache, isn't it?"
"It is indeed," Giles appeared immensely pleased at the workings of Willow's scholarly mind.
"They are impossible to find intact," Willow reached out to touch the little figure but stopped short with a warning grunt from Giles.
"You would be surprised the baggage you acquire throughout a life as long as mine," Giles commented, "Are you ready?"
Willow nodded and drew in a deep breath as though steeling herself for what was to come. As afraid as she was, these were answers she desperately wanted and she knew that she would go to any lengths to get them. She looked into Giles's eyes and saw nothing but confident reassurance. Satisfied that he would protect her she gave him a firm nod.
"What do I need to do?" she asked determinedly.
"Nothing," Giles replied in a whisper, ‘We have already begun."
No sooner had he spoken his last word, Willow's eyes rolled back into her head and she slumped backwards and landed with a thud on the floor, bathed in the glow of the candles surrounding her. Giles raised his hands over her unconsciousness body, towards the ceiling, and continued his incantations in a much louder voice. His trembling tones gave way to an intense booming voice that disturbed the books in the slumber, their spines rattled in the shelves and dust was dislodged from every crevice. His was still speaking as Willow's eyelids began to flutter as though she were dreaming.
Two struggling shapes were bound up with cords of air by a tall man but his attention was not on those he restrained, but instead on the body which lay on the ground several metres away from him. A blonde female holding a bloody sword in her hand stood over it in a predatory fashion while a dark-haired male approached with a broad smile on his beautiful, pale face.
"Like I said," Tara whispered as she stood over Willow's body, sightless eyes staring up at her, "I cannot be trusted."
With a contemptuous smirk she discarded the katana in the dirt at her feet and looked towards her Master as he approached. He reached out his hand towards her and she took it with one of her own.
"Tara, you are truly worthy to stand at my side," Dracula intoned solemnly, "I know how much it vexed you to slay this woman but you must understand that I cannot possibly come second to anyone in your life."
"I understand master," Tara's smile faded slightly as she stared down at the body at her feet, almost as though she only just realised the full extent of her actions, however at the feel of a slight squeeze on her hand she turned back to Dracula with the smile on her face once more, "Besides, there are other more beautiful women in the world and I can have my pick of them...in time I will not even dwell on this one skinny redhead...although I would have dearly liked to taste her blood."
"I will ensure you have all the women you could possibly require...but first our attentions must turn to other, far more important matters," Dracula's gaze now focused on the ground at his feet.
His Captain's skull lay where it had fallen from Willow's hand. He allowed Tara to retrieve it for him and she stooped to pick it up with all the reverence in the world. Her master took it from her hands eagerly and held it aloft.
In their fascination with the skull, neither Tara nor Dracula had remembered that Giles stood in their midst. As his attention wavered from his captives, they fell crashing to the ground and lay dazed. He spun and faced the small, pale body which lay at the feet of his enemies. At first he could not take her eyes off the sight of Willow lying motionless on the ground; he felt the unbearable agony that came with such a sight. Giles clenched his fists and transferred his gaze to the two vampires.
"Well, well, well," Dracula intoned softly, "It is none other than Rupert Giles, I believe you played all too large a role in helping that fool Conrad foil defeat my army at Covasna all those years ago...I have waited a long time for this!"
"As have I," Giles answered in a tight voice, "I would see Willow's task finished!"
Dracula laughed and stabbed at Willow's body with the toe of his boot as though she were merely rubbish. He then glanced up with a smile still lingering on his face.
"She was a brave young fool...but a fool nevertheless."
Even as Giles felt revenge fuelled power surging through his body, his arms were roughly seized from behind. He struggled against the bonds that held him to realise it was the two vampires he had held earlier. He roared and tried to wrench himself free, cursing himself for not having the foresight to destroy them both outright rather then leave enemies at his back. A spell was on his lips but before he could complete it Tara barked one of her own and Giles's voice disappeared. Struggling and mute, Giles was helpless in the midst of the vampires. His reactions were slowed by the incredible grief he felt coursing through his body, outweighing even his anger. Willow's death had sapped his strength. Everything pointed towards Dracula succeeding in his plan. The Captain's skull would be reunited with his body and Dracula's army would rise from the earth, its flesh renewed. Giles sagged in the arms of his captors, everything was lost.
Giles's ears immediately pricked up at the sound of a savage, blood curdling war cry. He craned his neck to see movement across the plateau in the distance and the sight he did see gave him renewed hope. It was Abraham Van Helsing at the head of dozens of green uniformed Austrian soldiers. The redhead raised his sabre above his head and gave the command to open fire in a voice which rang out all around them. Giles closed his eyes as hot balls of leads went whizzing around his body, plunging into the soft flesh of the vampires on either side of him.
Giles opened his eyes in the midst of the confusion. Although lead could not kill them it was distraction enough for Giles to wrench himself free from William and Angelus. He saw Dracula standing with a myriad of holes in his clothes. The lead smashing into his undead body had caused him to drop the skull and it now lay at his feet. Risking the being hit by the musket fire himself, Giles dived to the ground, feeling his bones protest as he hurled his body at a pace usually reserved for someone several hundred years younger. As he rolled, his hand closed over the skull and his fingers gripped its eye sockets. Clutching it tightly he moved past the harried vampires and towards the oncoming figure of Abraham Van Helsing.
"The skull!" Dracula roared, seeing it lost once again, "We must have the skull!"
William and Angelus snarled and urged their few surviving companions to press forward ahead of them, but they were all met with a wall of green coated men with one very angry young man at their head, legs pumping as he charged towards the two vampires. William and Angelus both hesitated, as though they could see their destruction in his flashing green eyes and allowed lesser vampires to attempt to take on his fury. Abraham did not slow and nor did the well trained soldiers did not balk at the sight of vampires with bared fangs. Instead they advanced with bayonets fixed. Each sharp point gleamed in the dull light for their bayonets were not made of any mere metal, it was silver.
With a roar, Abraham decapitated the first demon which tried to block his path. Another tried to leap over the heads of the soldiers flanked on either side of him but he was impaled on a silver spike as he flew through the air.
A searing ball of flame struck one soldier and he squealed in pain as his body was consumed. The man dropped to the ground still writhing in his death throes. Tara moved in front of her master, surging towards Giles who held the skull close to his chest. In quick succession, she hurled half a dozen more fireballs in the direction of the soldiers. A few were avoided but other struck targets and turned more men into living infernos. However, even as their comrades burned, the soldiers kept advancing.
Abraham met Angelus head on, forcing the dark haired vampire to draw his own sword to counter the powerful blows raining down upon him. Behind him, William drew his sword and leapt into the midst of the soldiers. His hesitation to throw himself against their bayonets was clearly obvious as they rallied together to form a strong wall opposite him. The clash of steel upon steel once more rang out around the battlefield.
"I think you need to be schooled in the art of magicks, foul demon!" Giles roared, her muting spell unable to maintain its hold on him.
As Tara prepared to face Giles, she found herself hurled backwards, struggling once again against the invisible bonds of air that he threw at her. Although she fought back, it was clear that Giles was by far the stronger magick practitioner. The bonds dissipated as she soared higher into the air and with some glee he saw her drop like a stone. She hit the earth with a thud and a small explosion of dust. He pressed towards her as she laid dazed, intent on doing what Willow could not.
Despite their combined power, it was soon apparent that there was no way for four vampires to take on the small forest of lethal spikes thrust in their direction or the fury of Abraham Van Helsing. With Dracula disappearing first, one by one they shifted into dark mist and fled the scene. Tara cast one malicious glance in Giles's direction as she picked herself up from the dust in which he had dumped her. In seconds the blonde vampire too was gone, leaving only humans standing at Covasna with Dracula's cry of frustration echoing in the rocks around them long after his physical presence was gone.
The soldiers continued to scan their environs as though they feared that more demons still lurked around them. Abraham's attention however was focused on just one thing, the motionless body of his sister. He cast his dusty sabre to one side and rushed to her side
Abraham was a soldier, he had seen death before. However nothing prepared him for seeing his beloved sister lying on the ground, her face stained with the pallor of death. There was no life whatsoever in the green eyes staring up at the grey sky above. He reached out and laid trembling fingers on her cheek to find the warmth had already fled from her flesh. It was only then that he could bring himself to look downwards and see the single bloody hole in her chest. Suddenly he flung himself backwards and away from the body as though he could not bear to be anywhere near it. He scrambled a few feet further away on all fours with tears beginning to stream down his face. When he finally came to a halt he buried his face in his forearm which was resting heavily on his upraised knee. Although damp tears stained his cheeks, the gut wrenching pain he held within his body would not emerge. Instead it boiled and churned in the pit of his stomach. A few moments later he was forced into a kneeling position as his stomach heaved, emptying its meagre contents out onto the ground in front of him. His body continued to retch long after the last of it had been brought up.
When the heaves finally subsided he found his strength drained, his head hung downwards and he was unable even to wipe the stringy trail of spit dangling from his mouth. It was then that he heard soft footsteps on the ground just in front of him and knew it was Giles. He glanced upwards, his expression one of mad hope. Abraham scrambled to his feet in a lurching manner and surged forward to grab his mentor by the shoulders.
"Giles! Come on man, you are a warlock for pity's sake, can you not do anything to save her?" Abraham pleaded in desperation, looking from Giles's grief stricken face to his dead sister and back again.
Giles was reluctant to reply at once, he had absolutely nothing to offer the young man save for pathetic words of sympathy which would offer him nothing of the hope he craved. He too felt Willow's passing keenly and he did not even trust himself to speak the words without letting tears choke his own words. Giles tried to swallow but his throat was too dry.
"I fervently wish there was something I could do, Abraham," Giles ventured quietly, "I'm sorry, she has passed...she is gone."
It broke Giles's heart to see the young man's face fall even further but it was the only truth he could offer. Abraham's hands slipped from his shoulders and he stumbled backwards a few steps, almost falling once more on his shaking legs.
As old as he was, Giles knew full well there were wild speculations of terrible and dangerous long-lost rituals which could possibly restore Willow to some form of life...but he knew he could not suggest such things to Abraham. The grief-stricken young man would go to hell and back to try and save his sister and when he failed, he would lose all hope for living even his own life. As it was, Giles could see he was in danger of fading fast into the pit of despair. He felt the solid shape of the skull beneath the crook of his arm and glanced down at it. The only thing he could do was offer Abraham a purpose.
Giles extended the skull towards Abraham and motioned for him to take it. Obviously unsure as to why he was doing so, Abraham accepted it and ran his hands over its smooth surface.
"It is a skull," Abraham pronounced in a dull voice, "It appears to be no different from others I have seen."
He extended it back towards Giles but the warlock shook his head.
"I would give it to you to protect, Abraham Van Helsing."
"My sister is dead because of this thing!" Abraham whispered in a tortured voice as he held the skull up to eye level for a closer inspection, with a grimace he forced it back towards Giles once again, "You cannot possibly ask me to retain this skull in my possession!"
"I was charged with safeguarding the skull...I failed," Giles admitted, "It is right that the task should now pass to someone else."
"I don't want it," was Abraham's sullen response.
Giles drew in a deep breath and started on a different tact, "Your sister did die because of the skull, Abraham, but it was she thought worth fighting and dying for!"
Giles could already see his words having an effect on Abraham Van Helsing, the young man knew he spoke nothing but the truth.
"No more words old man!" Abraham snapped angrily, already knowing that Willow was the sort of person who would give her life several times over to prevent such a thing falling into the hands of those who would use it for evil, "I will protect it with everything in my power!"
And with that last exclamation, Abraham slumped back to the ground. He cradled his sister in one arm and the skull in the other as he succumbed to great, racking sobs.
Abraham Van Helsing was a broken man. Just yesterday, with the sky dark with thunder clouds, he had buried his sister in Hampshire. The last remaining and most cherished member of his family was gone and he was left alone with nothing but his grief. He had not lingered long at her graveside, not being able to bear the sight of her name etched into the marble and the tragically short span of time between her date of birth and of death. There were few mourners to offer him words of condolence, there were people who knew Willow, Giles, Christopher Croft, their servants and then there were distant family members whom the Van Helsing siblings rarely saw. Abraham stayed long enough for propriety and then slipped away quietly to return to Hagley Park one last time. Willow loved the house so, and it was here she had spent the happiest times in her short life. Abraham did not visit the house to reminisce however, he had just one task to perform and he only stayed long enough to ensure it was done properly.
He had then returned to London and the familiar surroundings. Although he needed to be at Gordon Square to feel close to Willow, he also could not bear to be there. Everything he looked at or touched reminded him of his vivacious sister and he found himself constantly close to tears.
For an entire week following Willow's funeral, Abraham had done little but line in his bed and stare at the ceiling, sleeping only when his eyelids grew too heavy too hold open and eating only when his stomach protested with violent hunger pains.
So it was a very surprised Samuel who saw his employer wandering throughout the house one morning. His greeting was barely returned and offer of assistance was politely declined. He then saw Abraham disappear into the library, obviously heading for the room he and Willow had used more often than any other, their training room.
Abraham's brief interlude with Samuel barely even registered as he moved through the motions of opening the secret door and plodding down the circular stairs. However, once in the training room his dulled senses came alive as though they had been renewed. As always, the room reeked of old sweat, metal and other odours too strange to be identified by one whiff. It was shrouded in darkness save for a single torch burning in a bracket at the centre of the wall beside him. It was in front of this wall that Abraham stopped and knelt down in front of an altar of sorts, a low wooden platform upon which had been placed a low display stand intended for supporting a sword. Mounted on the stand was the unmistakable shape of Willow's favourite weapon...her katana.
Its grip was sweat stained and the steel of its blade no longer gleamed, its once beautiful folds obscured by the rusty dried blood clinging to its length. With shaking fingers, he tentatively reached towards the blade but stopped just short of touching the dried blood. Instead, his fingers folded into a tightly clenched fist which he pressed against his heart. He then bowed his head and closed his eyes; the sight of Willow's blood on her own beloved blade caused his own blood to boil with anger.
Abraham knew exactly what had taken place at Covasna. As his grief had subsided on the battlefield, his mind had cleared enough for him to ask Giles who had been responsible for Willow's death. When the reluctant answer came, he had not been surprised that it was the demon he had once known as Tara Maclay.
Abraham had found the purpose he would live for...but it was not the one Giles had sought to bestow on him by giving him the skull.
"I swear, Willow," he whispered fiercely, hot tears squeezing beneath his eyelids, "I swear that creature will pay for what it did to you...I will use everything in my power to make it suffer so that by the time I allow it to die, I will have extracted the just price for our retribution. I swear it!"