Disclaimer: Unfortunately, the Magnificent Seven do not belong to me. Not making any money from this either. But, for the love of the boys, I persevere.
A lil' note from the author: The idea for this story came after reading 'The Circle Trilogy' by Nora Roberts. There was a vampire in it and by the time I finished the book, I was imagining Ezra as the vampire. After that, everything else just fell into place. This fiction is based on Ms. Roberts' story, but I have taken a lot of liberties with it (not sure now if I should have). My sincere apologies for taking SO LONG with this...real life happened and I could not avoid it. The story was a constant thought; I knew I had to tell it. There were different versions of it in my head...none of them did any justice for the Seven. And here it is, the conclusion of 'Of Demons and Slayers'. It is truly a labour of love. And I thank those of you who kept writing in, asking me about the story. I'm sorry it took so long, but your e-mails kept me going. So, here it is.
And, as usual, feedbacks make my day.
DuskThere had been something bothering Buck since last evening. It had little to do with the threats Fowler had made against him. His whole attention had been focused on the late arrival during the battle; the vampire. Buck never saw the vampire coming, literally. He saw Fowler, perched atop the spire of St. Anne's, not hurting; because there just was not enough faith in Purgatorio to sustain it. He saw the seven ill-fated demons. But he never saw Ezra. And the question had been bugging him since he welcomed him into the group. Looking back, Buck realized that he could have extended the arm of friendship towards Ezra because he truly wanted to know how the vampire had eluded him. There were no such things as exceptions in Buck's vision. He saw evil, in a seventy-seven mile radius of where he stood. And yesterday, he saw all the evil...except Ezra.
Perhaps, he was not as evil as was written down in the great imaginary book of evil and good. Or maybe he just knew a spell...but spells only concealed the true face of evil and Buck's vision, his pure blood (to an extent) as a Seer, saw past all sorts of magic and trickery. The only Ezra could conceal himself from Buck was if he had teleported from outside Buck's sight and straight into the battle.
Ezra had so far not displayed any of those abilities. It certainly would have helped to escape from a bunch of humans with a thing or two against vampires.
Remembering far back when he was child trained by his mother; also a Seer, who coincidentally used to do 'consultation' work for the slaying duo of Michael Larabee and Orrin Travis, Buck recalled one method that any demon of vampire can use to fully conceal themselves from a Seer. But that would mean slow, torturous death for the creature.
The only way a demon or vampire can conceal itself from a Seer was to carry a holy relic. And not just to carry the relic, it has to touch its skin. This was akin to a slow suicide for the demon attempting it. Many cannot last beyond the hour as the skin touching the relic would burn and eventually expose its blood circulation to the relic. The more evil a creature has committed, the quicker and painful death would be.
Ezra does not seem to be dying a slow death. If anything, he just looks plenty miserable for a creature that was renowned for its debauched and materialistic lifestyle. Vampires were the princes of demon world and, with the exception of a few misguided non-souls; vampires usually enjoy the kind of lifestyle comparable to rock stars, if they are adept enough in avoiding slayers, which is rare and known only to have happened in the Continent. Most vampires choose to stay away from this realm; and if they live long enough, enjoy dimension-hopping looking for 'greener' pastures every century or so.
Ezra's designer suit and the complimentary bus he got for them showed the vampire had the financial means, but someone in the vampiric community must have forgotten to send Ezra a memo. There was fundamentally something very wrong with this vampire.
Ezra was all too human to be a vampire. Vampires are not emotive creatures; not that Buck would know, because he only kills them. When confronted with a slayer, they normally get pissed. That's about as emotive as Buck seen a vampire be. He followed Chris's maxim: if it drank blood, kill it. This included mosquitoes and leeches.
There was just one explanation for Ezra's condition that Buck could think of. And he made his mind resolute over his decision when Ezra got on the bus with the rest of them.
Ezra was not evil. It was simple as that. Which was why Buck could not 'see' him. As far - fetched as the idea of vampire seeking redemption might seem it really was not that far-removed from the fact a slayer had played cards with the vampire and considered him a friend.
As quickly as Buck had come to this conclusion, another plan formed in his thoughts. Chris would have killed Buck himself if he heard it, but it was a chance Buck had to take.
Last night's attack at St. Anne's was not to kill the slayer, but to take him alive. The only person Fowler came to kill was Buck and Nathan. Buck was the priority target because it was he who cut off Fowler's hand. Nathan was the surplus for them. The plan was thwarted but the threat remained...and it will remain for as long as either Fowler or Buck was alive. There would be no peace for them until the matter was settled. And the only was to settle it was to take the battle to Fowler.
Buck will go to Fowler...without Chris. And the only person who can help him was Ezra. It was decision, he was sure, his mother would have approved.
Chris, on the other hand, would kill him, but that matter can be settled once Fowler was dead. Either way, Buck knew he was in whole lot of trouble.
* * *
Buck Wilmington was a man whose genetic make-up must have excluded self-preservation. It was a miracle he had survived this long being foolhardy the way he is. Never as far as Ezra could remember a human had actually put his hands around Ezra's shoulder the way Buck had, when he welcomed him into their merry band of men. No one in their right mind would fraternize with a vampire; that was the general rule. That particular rule was slightly shifted half a century ago when he first came in contact with Michael Larabee and his small group of slayers. Buck could not have known about this, Ezra made sure of that. But that still did not rule out the fact that Buck was an idiot.
How did Rosie Wilmington's son turn out this way?
Maybe he took after his father, Rosie's Irish-tinged Midwest accent sounded clear in his mind. It was one of the pleasant things to remember; vampires have a long and painfully clear memory. The sights and sound of Rosie Wilmington always broke through like a ray of sun through the clouds. Ezra was digressing; he focused on the matter at hand again.
"How am I supposed to help you?" Ezra asked Buck. They were standing the chapel's doorway. Ezra pretended to be in pain; it was part of the façade, but if forced to admit, the chapel did give him discomfort. None of its powers have waned in the hundred years it had been built and it is only through decades of sheer willpower that Ezra was able to stand at the doorway.
Buck glanced at the portal and Ezra immediately knew what Buck had in mind. It was not, Ezra was sure, something that the rest of them would approve. And no doubt, Larabee would kill him if he found out about it. It will be an open invitation for Chris to dust him the moment he got to know about it.
Before he could say no, something else crossed Ezra's mind. Why choose the vampire when Buck could have chosen anyone of the rest? Why take the unnecessary risk of forming an alliance with a creature no different than the one he was trying to destroy?
The answer was pure and simple...and it felt like a punch to the gut.
Ezra was a liability. At the conclusion of this battle, the humans would slay him. Buck was probably just putting him to work so that the rest of them can be safe...protected. A vampire might come in handy and should it be killed, there would be less of a worry and a very short mourning period. The realization hurt even worse than standing in front of the chapel. Even worse was the fact that Ezra had, momentarily after seeing Orrin again, allowed himself to think he was among people he could consider as friends.
This kind of lapses into stupidity was very, very rare for Ezra. He wondered how could have...slipped.
"I do not think that is a good idea," Ezra replied, his voice cold. He should never ever warm up to humans...they have a capability of pulling the unsuspecting into their circle and then...they let the axe drop. "Chris will..."
"Kill us. Yeah, I already know that," Buck shrugged it off nonchalantly, confirming once and for all the man was the poster boy for the kamikaze squad. "There are worse things that could happen if we don't do this now!"
"We?" Ezra raised an eyebrow. "Are you asking me to put my head on the chopping board for Chris Larabee? When we walk through that portal, he is going to think I kidnapped you...or had you for dinner! I am not an idiot, Mr. Wilmington! And neither is Mr. Larabee."
"Fowler's hunting for me, Ez," Buck spoke the words softly. His expression was unreadable. "I am going to..."
"Make it easier for him?"
Buck did not appreciate the irony in Ezra's voice. "I am going to end it. He came seven years ago for Chris and he failed. He knows why he failed..."
"His friends..." Ezra's musings were almost indiscernible to the Buck.
"If I got to him, I can spare Chris from the risk," Buck said. He looked straight into Ezra's eyes.
Rosie Wilmington's eyes...
"Chris and Nathan are far more important than...than me. They are the true slayers. I have to make sure they are around to do what they are supposed to do."
"And I suppose I am just dispensable?" Ezra could not help the words that came out of his mouth.
Buck actually looked shocked when he heard that. Then, he became pissed. "Cut the melodramatic vampire crap, Ezra!"
This time, it was Ezra's turn to look surprised. "I..." he began, but Buck interrupted him.
"If I thought you'd look better as a pile of dust, I would have done so at St. Anne's. Hell, I would have asked Nathan to do me the favor! Ezra," Buck looked at the vampire. "The only reason I asked you and not the others is because if I fail...I know you would be able to finish the job. Chris and Nathan could, and that is what Fowler wants but I won't risk them getting hurt. That is why I am asking you...you have the strength and the brains to help me finish this once and for all. You may think you're dispensable or whatever, but to me, you're my best bet."
Bet...one of Ezra's favourite words. He was not sure if Buck was baiting him, but the man seemed genuine enough. And to get his hands on Fowler...
"So, we just walk through the portal and into Fowler's welcoming arms?" Ezra voiced his concern. "Assuming he has not jumped realms already?"
Buck was silent momentarily. Apparently, he had not considered this. Which did not surprise Ezra, since Buck has not been thinking that much. Finally, he said, "He'll be there."
Ezra sighed. "How would you know this?" his voice resigned, wondering if Buck took into consideration Fowler's demon allies. "Buck, I think..."
"No time to think, Ez," Buck said quickly, grabbing Ezra's hand as he dragged him into the chapel. Buck gave Ezra a glance and saw the vampire was in no discomfort. Not that Buck would have known the actual pain Ezra was experiencing. Buck made his way to the altar, stepping up beside the heavy wooden cross that hung from the ceiling of the chapel. Ezra could not help it; he turned his face up to look at it; his vision blurred. Denied, again. Quickly, before Buck could see the blood tears, Ezra turned away, mulling the irony of this situation. Ezra had been the one who had hung the cross in the chapel, forty years ago. The wood from the different realm, a gift from a friend, had been too heavy for the humans to carry. The moment the cross was blessed by a priest and anointed with Holy Water from the Vatican, the sight of the cross had been denied to him. Sometimes, it just angers Ezra when people underestimate the power of holy relics and places. If they only knew...
Buck made his way carefully behind the cross. Then, he pressed the small indentation at on the cross, where the two woods meet. Immediately, the wall behind the cross was engulfed in white, bright light. Buck and Ezra looked at the light. Ezra's instincts remained relatively calm; maybe Fowler would have already skipped realms; that would be welcome for Ezra at the moment. They would just look for a few hours and then get back. In the meanwhile, Ezra would keep Buck safe; indulge him in this hunt.
It was the least he could do for Rosie's son. She would balk at this idea, but she would have never denied her son. So would Ezra.
"Come one, Ez," Buck said, taking a step towards the portal. "You're going to take me to Fowler!"
"I am your prisoner. Do what you have to do..."
This was the plan? This was Buck's idea getting Fowler's attention?
Before Ezra could think of anything to say, Buck grabbed his arm again and pulled him into the bright light. There was light and then, darkness engulfed them. They had crossed over.
And Buck was doubled over in pain, his hand outstretched, his index finger indicating west.
Looking behind him, all Ezra saw was darkness. Even his vampire vision could not cut through the night. There was no way back. The only thing to do now was to go forward.
And then, unexpectedly, Buck reached towards Ezra and yanked the silver chain that hung around his neck.
"What are you..." Ezra began, but his words were cut short when his full vampire strength and senses surged into him. The last time Ezra felt this way was the day he was made. After that, he had yielded to the power of the cross he wore, which he had never taken off since. It felt liberating, as if his limbs had been unbound. Seconds ago, Ezra felt as if every second of his existence was a bane. Now, he felt something akin to pity for every insignificant living and non-living creature around him.
He could not help himself; Ezra smiled as he relished the power within him. Ezra was now truly the immortal he was supposed to be...truly the monster he was supposed to be. The silver chain fell to the ground, next to his feet. Ezra ignored it; his newly-unleashed vampire will to powerful for the small voice begging him to pick it up again. It was easy to suppress the voice, with the smell of Buck's freshly-bleeding forehead wound, invading his senses.
Buck slumped over Ezra's arm, his vision of Ezra serving as unseen punching force.
So weak. So pathetically human.
"He will find you..." Buck gasped before falling unconscious on the ground.
Ezra did not doubt that. Unless, of course, he found Fowler first. Ezra picked up Buck, flung in over his shoulder in a fireman's carry and started walking westward.
* * *
The silver falcon emerged from the shadows of the tree and swooped down to grab the gleaming silver chain. It flew upward, away from the tree line, keeping the impossibly fast-moving Ezra in its sight.
Seconds later, Ezra disappeared from view, and with him, Buck. The falcon soared, screaming, as it headed towards Castle Dara.
* * *
DuskChris was not sure if he was pissed or surprised, but it sure was not a good feeling to have, so on top of all that, he felt like shooting someone. The first person that came to mind was the former slayer, Orrin, now pouring the rest of them a drink at the rundown salon than still serviced as a bar. Josiah and JD looked at the surrounding, not that there was much to look at, as Nathan and Chris took their seat on high stools at the spotless bar.
"What will it be, Josiah?" Orrin called out as he opened two bottles of beer for Chris and Nathan.
Josiah turned from the photo frame he was studying, smiling. "The usual, barkeep."
Nathan looked perplexed. "I don't think we introduced you to Josiah and..."
Orrin chuckled. "If you had been around the first time Josiah came to visit these realms, I would have introduced him to you myself," the old man said, a twinkle in his eyes.
Chris groaned. "For God's sake, Orrin! Can we get over the double-talks and beating around the bush? What the hell is going on here?!" for the first time since this morning, Chris showed signs of lethargy.
Before Orrin could reply, JD gave a shout. "Miranda be blessed! It's...it's..." he was pointing at the sepia-toned photograph on the wall beside the bar.
With his apparent loss of speech, he catapulted to the top of Chris Larabee must-shoot-at-the-moment list. By now, Chris was very sure that everyone is out to piss him off, humans and demons both.
"Yes, John, that's your father and uncle," Orrin said nonchalantly, as he poured a tall glass of milk for the prince.
Chris, Nathan and JD looked at Orrin. Josiah took his seat next to Nathan and accepted his shot of whisky. He raised it to toast Orrin. JD took the photo frame from the wall and brought it to the bar. Chris took the photograph from JD. He was stunned with what he saw.
The photograph had to be at least thirty years old. There were seven people in the picture; six men and one woman. Orrin Travis and Michael Larabee were flanked on both sides by two men that looked remarkably like JD; the smile was unmistakable. On Orrin's right, next to JD's kin, was Josiah, or at least an older version of Josiah. The man was smaller in build, but had the same features as the inter-dimensional priest. He was holding a battleaxe. On Michael Larabee's side, Rosie Wilmington stood next to JD's father (Chris was sure this time, because of the Kells' medallion he wore around his neck). Rosie was pregnant and radiant, even in the fading photograph. She had her arms around the man next to her. He was the only one not looking at the camera; he was looking at Rosie and it was apparent the two of them were in love. The man's profile...
"SHIT!" Chris exclaimed. The beer bottle fell from Nathan's hand. Glass smashed to the floor, spilling the beer.
"Vampires cannot be photographed directly," Orrin explained. "The light would show their 'demon face'. This photograph was taken at dusk, the safest time for them to come out in the open. He did not want to be photographed. Rosie insisted..."
"As did my father," Josiah remarked, setting his shot glass down.
"I thought your father was a farmer," JD said, amazed as he looked at the photograph before him.
"He was in Kells," Josiah replied. "Elsewhere, he was a slayer. Part of the Seven. He trained your father and uncle to be slayers."
Orrin saw the confusion on the rest of them. "Chris, it's a long story..."
"Give me the short version," Chris snapped. He had enough of this.
"We were inter-dimensional slayers. JD's father, John and his Uncle, Carrick, joined us when Michael and I chased a pack of Vishils through the portal. We ended up in Kells, got in a bad spot with some wolves in the forest. Josiah's father, Jacob, helped us and insited on joining the hunt. The King of Kells got to know the presence of strange men in the kingdom carrying 'fire-metal', their name for our guns. He wanted to know what we were doing. We told him, thinking he was going to sentence us to public hanging..."
JD smiled, swallowing. His eyes were bright with unspilled tears.
"King John and his brother took up arms with us," Orrin continued. "We defeated the Vishils..."
"My father took down three on his own," Josiah interrupted.
Chris and Nathan stared at Josiah. Vishils were like rabid dogs, with the strength of grizzly bears and the appearance of slimy humanoid bats. They had no reason for attack; they attacked because they could. They were among the feared of demons, even amongst the dark creatures. To make it worse, these creatures travel in packs of eight to twelve. To take down one Vishils was a harrowing task; sharp claws and teeth, poisonous saliva and the worse breath in the universe. Jacob must have been a hell of a fighter, a natural born slayer.
"I thought my father and Uncle died in war," JD said, his eyes never leaving the photograph.
"It was always a war," Orrin said, his tone gentle. "The King and his brother never wanted the people in Kells to know that their lives were intertwined with monsters and such. War was an apt excuse and closest to explain to what we were doing. When we wanted to head back after killing the Vishils, Jacob, John and Carrick insisted on joining us. Two years after that, Rosie came to us, claiming a demon was terrorizing her wine cellar. She had the gift of sight. She joined us officially when Michael got sick of her following him around town just so that she could alert him the moment she got a vision. She ran this very bar..."Orrin's voice trailed off as the memories came flooding back.
"And I suppose the vampire just came along for a drink?" Nathan remarked, sarcasm heavy in his voice.
"Yes." Orrin succinct answer came as a surprise for all of them.
"Orrin, that's impossible," Chris remarked, shaking his head, as if trying to dislodge all the events from the previous evening until now. "You and my father should have dusted him."
"We did not know he was a vampire," Orrin replied.
"Not even Rosie?" Nathan asked.
"How?" Chris asked, frowning.
As an answer to that, Orrin tapped the picture. All four of them looked at the photograph. Chris and Nathan blinked when they saw Ezra's defense from the sight of a Seer. Visible through the open collar of his shirt was a cross that hung around his neck on a thin chain.
"He wears a holy relic..." Josiah observation was tinged with both disbelief and awe.
"The cross of St. Christopher," Orrin said, raising his own glass to drink his whisky. He downed the shot and explained further. "A neat little trick taught by the one who made him. Apparently, his maker is too evil to pull it off itself, but Ezra has..."
"The will..." Chris spoke almost to himself, as he took in the chaffing marks at Ezra's neck where the chain touched his skin. Even through the sepia, Chris saw the wound a few inches below Ezra's neck where the cross itself touched his skin. It would have been an endless cycle of pain and healing for Ezra if he wore the cross all the time.
"He claims it doesn't hurt him that much," Orrin explained. "Unless he is in a church or any place of worship, when the wound would bleed. Keeps him from Seers' sight, but diminishes his vampire strength considerably."
"Monster's got guts," Nathan remarked, not impressed at all. He has seen the extremes humans and demons and demons would go when they are desperate for something. Michael Larabee, Orrin and a bunch of guys from another dimension might have all been chummy with Ezra, but he is not going to let his guard down. A vampire is a vampire, not matter what. It is an abomination and it will blasphemous on Nathan's part if he let monster continue its parody with one of the most powerful holy symbols.
"Said monster saved mine and Michael's life forty-eight years ago," Orrin explained, his voice hard as steel. "I had never in all my life having known Ezra had ever felt threatened by him. You should ask Rosie Wilmington."
Chris and Nathan glanced back at the photograph. Rosie and Ezra seemed close...intimate was the better word for it. Rosie was holding on to Ezra as if he was her lifeline. And Ezra...Chris never knew the vampire...man...could smile with such abandon. Nothing in the photograph suggested Ezra's true nature; nor the pain he must be going through for wearing the cross. To be in pain all the time, even when the pain threshold is infinite, is hell enough. And to endure diminished strength and powers...it was a miracle Ezra had survived as long as he had.
"How long has he been a..." JD broke the silence. Young as he is, without knowing the destructive capabilities of a vampire, felt a tinge of sympathy for Ezra.
"One hundred and eighty years or so. He was turned when he was thirty-one," Orrin's grim expression changed as he continued. "He was a card shark down south...professional gambler, if there ever was such a thing..." the old slayer grinned as he recalled what little Ezra had told him of his early days.
"What? He lost a bet?" Nathan shot back.
Orrin looked at Nathan, gauging the taller man's expression. It would have been easy, natural even, for Orrin to go on the defensive for Ezra, but if Ezra got to know about it, he would have been...well, angry is putting it mildly. Ezra does not feel the compulsion to explain his nature to everyone he meets. He would have never, even if he was bathed in holy water in a church, divulged all the things that Orrin had told them. It took Rosie almost five years to get the story from him; the rest of the Seven took double that time and not even all them knew Ezra's full story. Orrin was fortunate to know this much because he had out survived them all...he and Ezra were the last of the Seven remaining; although the last they saw each other was a week after Michael Larabee's funeral mass. He had a feeling Ezra never fully left this realm but after three decades of no-show, even Orrin could not remember if Ezra left in the first place. And seeing him now...it almost felt like the old days. There were Seven of them again, fighting the relentless evil. It made Orrin almost hopeful...almost, because not everyone is as welcoming as they had been in the old days with Ezra.
"If you only knew, Nathan, what Ezra is capable of..." Orrin began, but his speech was cut short when his eyes caught a glimpse of a bright light coming from the chapel.
"Someone's crossed over," Josiah remarked, as all of them stood up at the same time, turning towards the chapel.
"Buck," Chris gritted his teeth.
"Idiot," Nathan replied.
"Where is Vin?" JD looked concerned.
"Where is Ezra?" Josiah asked.
"Probably with Buck," Josiah replied, as they hurried for the door.
"You don't think he's gone..." Chris began, but could not finish his statement. Buck could not be that stupid.
On the other hand, Buck can be really stupid at times when his friends are threatened.
"Shit!" Chris and Nathan exclaimed, as they broke into a run and into the chapel.
As Orrin limped his way into the chapel, he only thought of Ezra. 'Keep the boy safe, Ezra," was another line in Orrin's prayer as he hoped Buck had not done what all of them think he had.
* * *
The forests of Kells
DuskShe was hunting when she sensed her favorite tracking her. A creature of habit and meticulous planning, she hated the unexpected. But he was her favourite and since she had a use for him in the near future, she relented in her pursuit of the foolish farmer who did not seem to be aware of the precarious position he was in as he looked for his lost sheep. Fowler was feeding not too far away, half a dozen sheep carcass around him. He had found the evening's meal for them, and as a mark of respect (or to placate), he took the livestock and left the human for her. Fowler was too deep in his feeding to realize another vampire was in the same forest as they were.
"Where are you, my lovely?" she whispered in the wind, as she stood in the middle of a clearing, trying to gauge Ezra's movements. She could sense him coming towards her. Her lovely face lit up in a delighted smile when she smelled the human her favourite had brought with him, the Seer. An absolute treat for a meal. Her favourite certainly knew how to make her happy, though sometimes he can be prone to histrionics. He can certainly carry a grudge too; almost two centuries of denying his vampire nature and wearing a holy relic; all because they killed his mother for his first meal. What was she supposed to do? He no longer needed his mother; she knew he never had, so that made her a liability for him. His mother was the nearest human being; and newborn vampires always have a foul temper...she had been awfully kind to him. And what does she get in return? Her most perfect creation becoming righteous not minutes after she creates him and turns his back on her. Their first century was all about the both of them getting back at each other, which she always won on the account of Ezra's diminished powers. During their last battle, she left him for dead, not really having the heart to kill him. And now, here he was, coming for her, having fully embraced his destiny.
"Took you long enough." She smiled to herself. "Hurry up, little one."
He kept his pace towards her when suddenly he made a sudden change in direction. She was surprised. She knew Ezra knew exactly where she was, but this sudden change was perplexing. Until she realized his new destination.
Castle Dara. Three dozen human beings, battle-weary and frightened, were guarding the portal. Her favorite wanted to get to work immediately.
She laughed as she began to follow in his direction. She knew her favourite would never fail her. She will let him keep all the treasures in the castle for returning to her and for bringing her the present.
* * *
Castle DaraThe white horse leading the sentinels and servants away from the castle did not break its pace as it galloped towards the Temple of Miranda. If any of them had any questions as to why they were blindly following the horse, no one spoke his mind. John of Dara's friend, Vin the scruffy gypsy, had appeared at the castle and demanded to meet the queen. Of course, they could not allow such blatant disregard for protocols, but the gypsy apparently knew his way around the castle. He pushed past battle-weary sentinels and frightened courtiers and marched straight into the queen's private chambers. He gave an exclamation of relief in his native tongue when he saw the queen alive. Queen Miranda had been surprised, but she was more than happy to see Vin. She was hurt; the left arm was bleeding from a wound of an indeterminable length. Instead of getting her wound looked at, she was tending to her handmaidens, some of them who had been hurt during the battle.
The queen had inquired about John anxiously; Vin gave assured her he was fine and then told them to evacuate the castle. When she asked the reason for it, Vin merely replied that their previous battle was mere child's play compared to what was going to happen momentarily.
"This is my home, Vin," the queen was adamant.
"Yes, m'lady. And you are the most valiant of all who stood defending it. but think of these people and get them to safety." It was the longest the queen or anyone had ever heard Vin speak. When she attempted to protest, Vin took her hands; a gesture that surprised both the Queen and himself. "Your home will be safe. As will your kingdom. We have friends who are on their way here as I speak, to help us."
He then told the queen to go to the stables where a white horse would be waiting for her. the horse would lead them to a safe place.
Riding the horse now, the queen wondered where Vin was. She also wondered if she should turn the horse back to the castle. But the horse kept a steady pace towards the temple and in less than the time that should have taken them, they were within the Temple courtyard. As soon as the queen dismounted, the horse reared on two legs and galloped away from the temple. The queen ran after it, but did not pass the Temple gates. And she saw the most miraculous thing.
There was a golden light and Vin stood where the horse had, looking straight at her. another shimmer and a falcon appeared. It circled the gate towers twice before flying in the direction of the castle.
Rain began to fall and the queen experienced the same feeling she had felt the previous evening. She knew everything will come to an end this evening. She just not sure what the outcome would be.
Hurry home, John.
* * *
Castle DaraBuck awoke with a start when his body hit a brick wall. His usual post-vision aches bugged him, but not so much as the impact on the hard surface. He did not move a muscle for the simple fact that for the first time in his life, Buck was actually afraid. He had unleashed a monster and now he was afraid to look at Ezra. He was not sure he would see the man or the monster. He was not sure if he would live long enough for Fowler. Ezra's vampiric craving might have been suppressed when he wore the cross, but now anything was possible. What frightened him more is failing to destroy Fowler. He just hoped even if Ezra does end up killing him, he would still remember that he hated Fowler.
Buck decided to take the risk of looking around, just to assess his surroundings. He opened his eyes slowly and from his position floor, found himself looking at a grey wall.
Buck had never experienced paralyzing fear before and reckoned his unwilling muscles must be a side effect of this emotion. He did not what to expect should he move. And since fear is such a foreign concept for Buck Wilmington, he ignored every screaming nerve and fiber in his being as he pushed himself to an upright position.
It was a large chamber, not unlike throne rooms from medieval castle. It once must have been richly-decorated, but now, it lay in post-battle ruins. The ornate throne was upturned, as was the many seats in the chamber. Tapestries hung askew from the walls, torn and tattered. There were blood stains, remnants of shield, swords and other battle paraphernalia. The bodies, Buck was sure there would have been a few, had been cleared away. None of the huge porcelain vases or the landscapes or the portraits of various men and women in rich clothing were spared. The silence was deafening and the air was too unnaturally chilly.
Where the hell am I? What the hell am I doing here?
It was then he heard the slight rustle of fabric; a deliberate sound, Buck knew at once, to announce the presence of another being in the chamber with him. Buck swallowed. He was alive, which meant that the other person was not Fowler. Fowler, he can handle, because he knew what to expect from that monster.
Buck got up, taking his time, all the while being wary of a pending attack. Buck suddenly felt as if he was waiting by his toaster to wait for the bread to pop. When he was a kid, he had always been startled with the bread popping from the toaster. to overcome this, Buck had stood by his toaster, waiting for the bread. Needless to say, every time the bread popped out, Buck had been startled. It was stupid analogy, he knew, but it seemed like the simplest way to explain what he felt...anticipating, knowing that when the time came, he would be surprised all the same.
"We are in the Throne Room of Castle Dara," Ezra's voice broke the silence. His Southern was more pronounced, and there was a musical lilt to it. but there was no denying the inherent distant in the tone. Ezra was a vampire through and through now and these creatures hated humans with the same intensity they lusted for their blood.
Buck turned, following the sound of Ezra's voice. It came from the ceiling. Buck turned his head towards the ceiling and saw Ezra at the corner of the chamber, standing with his arms crossed. His jacket adhered to the laws of gravity and hung towards the floor, but other than that, Ezra appeared to be casually leaning against the wall.
When he saw Buck looking at him, Ezra uncrossed his arms and pushed himself away from the wall. Half a heartbeat later, he stood on the floor, twenty paces away from Buck. Buck regarded the creature in front of him. it was still Ezra, but it was not Ezra too. While Ezra had looked suppressed while wearing the cross, being liberated from it was far worse. It was as if Ezra was straining himself under the pressure of not launching himself at Buck. Buck found himself unable to speak, though he really wondered what he would have said to Ezra. How's it hanging. Ez, just did not cut it. There was no Vampire Etiquette manual for humans.
Buck was spared the agony of silence when Ezra spoke. "Your plan did not go as you wanted, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said. As he spoke, Ezra drew to his full height, no longer hunching or holding himself back. Though no where Buck's height, Ezra still exudes a raw, animal power that was both magnetizing and frightening at the same time. Even Ezra's facial features looked different; his cheekbones more prominent, his green eyes were almost crystalline. Buck realized Ezra's facial structure looked different because of the fangs which , though still subtle, were more prominent now.
"Fowler's not coming here," Ezra said, as he eyed Buck, almost as if he was assessing him. Ezra's eyes were narrowed and he leaned just slightly towards Buck.
Ezra is hunting.
The realization paralyzed Buck; only his eyes seemed to function at all, locked unto the creature in front of him. Ezra was smiling, but there was no warmth in that smile. It was the smile of a hungry man regarding a feast.
"Something far worse is here for you," Ezra spoke again. Although his lips hardly moved, Buck could hear every word Ezra said because of the silence.
He barely finished speaking when Ezra launched himself towards Buck.
The last thing Buck saw was gleaming white fangs. He heard a piercing scream and everything blacked out.
* * *
NightfallIt was JD's first voluntary portal crossing. The first time he crossed over, it was purely a reflex when he saw Vin in his lion from chase after a demon running into the blinding light. He did not feel nervous or anything. Apparently Chris Larabee and Nathan Jackson had never been through a portal before.
"We have enough to do here as it is," Nathan explained, as Orrin and Josiah approached the altar to open the portal. "we don't really have to cross over anywhere to chase our demons and monsters. When you do what we do, trouble usually comes looking for you."
JD nodded. When the portal opened, he looked at Nathan. "It is all right to be afraid," the young prince said. "Take to heart that all of us are in the same boat and that we are doing this to save our friend."
Nathan looked at JD, frowning. "What the hell, boy? Who says I'm afraid..."
JD looked at Nathan, not shrinking from the older man's glare. Before he could speak, or before Nathan could do anything to harm the young prince, Chris spoke up, "Let's go."
Nathan nudged past JD and stepped up the altar. Orrin was waiting just outside the boundary of the white light. "You could hold my hand, Nathan, if you want to," the old man said, his twinkling eyes belying his solemn tone. Nathan replied by gesturing something that was rude in this dimension and beyond.
Josiah went in first, glee apparent in his face, perhaps because he was returning to his own dimension, perhaps it was because of the battle that waited at the other side of the portal. But Josiah was only glad that he did not have to keep the death of John's father a secret anymore. Queen Miranda had not wanted her nephew to follow the lead of her husband, Carrick, and his own father, so she made Josiah promise he would reveal the circumstances behind their death. War seemed a good explanation. Josiah was glad John of Dara, JD, was no longer ignorant of how his father died...and the path he might have to choose in the future.
Nathan followed next, JD trailing behind him. Chris approached the light and put his hand on Orrin, shaking his head. "Not this time, my friend." Orrin looked as if he wanted to protest, or at the very least, break Chris's nose, but Chris held firm. "Give us three days, at least." Chris's voice was gentle enough to elicit a surprised look from the older man. "Then, you can come and save us."
"Did you rehearse that?"
"It's a bit lame."
"I know. But it is the truth. Come and get us, will you?"
"Christopher Michael Larabee, I'm begging you, please, stop begging! You look ridiculous! And if you think I am going to fall for that..."
Chris grinned. He may not have sounded convincing but Chris had meant every word he said. Having Orrin on his team was the best back up plan Chris could have.
"Now, get out of here and bring that fool back alive," Orrin said, taking a step back from the altar. "Both of them."
Chris nodded and was about to step into the bright light when Orrin suddenly said, "Ezra will never do anything to harm Rosie's son, Chris."
There he goes again. Chris would have loved to give the old man a good shake, but, since lives were at stake on the other side of the portal, old man talking in riddles would just have to wait. He gave a salute and steeped through the bright light.
Orrin stepped down towards the pews and sat down, his eyes unwavering from the cross. In his heart, he asked God to look after all of them. Including the one who gave the chapel its significance by hanging its symbol of power.
* * *
The forests of KellsOne step from the bright lights and the sultry Colorado evening was the darkness and bitter chill of Kells. Nathan found himself alone in a strange place; a large chamber that looked as if a tornado had wrecked it. he looked around to see if anyone else was with him, but apparently he was alone. Nathan had stood facing what looked like the remnants of a throne when suddenly, there was a shift in the air and he was facing another wall of the chamber. He knew then that this was not reality.
Great, I'm stuck in between dimensions. My first dimension-walk and this has to happen...
"You are where you will be soon," a voice broke the smothering silence.
Another shift in the air and Nathan found himself staring at the apparition of a woman. Dressed in a long, flowing white robe, the woman's eyes were clouded over and her mouth was closed. But Nathan had no doubt that it was this woman who had spoken to him.
"You hear the voices of the spirit that had guided your ancestors," the woman's voice had metallic tinkling that was altogether not unpleasant. Apparently, she is also a mind reader, besides being his guiding spirit. Nathan was just thinking of the question of who, or what, she was, when his question was answered.
"Seek your friend who needs your aid..." her voice can be heard again.
"Buck? Is he in danger?"
"Help your friend who needs it," she said. "Danger is not where you seek it. it has sought you..."
She lifted her arms and suddenly there were other people in the chamber. Buck and Ezra were there, as was an unknown female vampire. Nathan screamed when he saw what was happening and tried to rush towards them, but an unseen force was holding him back.
"NO!" he yelled, unable to turn away from the horror in front of his eyes.
Nathan awoke with a start when he heard his name being called. Opening his eyes, he saw Chris and Josiah standing over him, with JD peering from their shoulders. Nathan was lying on his back on the damp forest floor.
"Castle Dara! We have to get to Castle Dara!" Nathan was scrambling to his feet.
"This way," JD said, his determination getting the better of his fears. Castle Dara was his home and he would die to defend it.
There was no chance to ask Nathan what was going on, as they raced through the forest towards JD's home. Whatever it was, Nathan was spooked and that was enough to frighten Chris.
What the hell were you thinking, Buck?
* * *
Castle DaraCastle Dara stood hulking against the dark and the rain, unlit, except for a forlorn light in one of the chambers. JD confirmed it was the throne room. Adrenaline kicked in and Chris found himself heading the men as they ran into the building. He did not have to wait for JD's directions, pure slayer instincts drove him forward, leading straight to the danger.
When he burst into the room, the first thing Chris saw...the only thing Chris saw was Buck pinned against the wall, lifeless as Ezra fed from him.
Chris Larabee had never felt a rage more consuming or as powerful. He drew both his stake and his gun and rushed towards Ezra, intending to kill the vampire with his bare hands.
* * *
Ezra knew Buck was frightened and the man was for once, exhibiting a suitable reaction to the situation he was in. face to face with a vampire is not for the faint of heart. Even more so, when you regard the monster as someone you could trust.
Vampires cannot be trusted. His maker should have known this before she came here, but Buck was too strong bait. She went straight towards him. and Ezra did the only thing he could do, the only thing he had ever wanted to do.
He charged at her. this, she was not expecting. And neither was Buck.
"What are you doing?" her wind chime voice was furious, the illusion of innocence breaking from her façade.
"What do you think?" Ezra asked, as he pushed her towards the wall. She bounded off the wall and landed on the ceiling. Ezra jumped and landed next to her, this time unafraid of what she might to do him. there would no more pittance from her, as she had shown a century ago. This time, she would, no doubt, kill him. Ezra's consolation was that others were coming and it could end tonight. He just needs to delay her. Buck was standing still, barely two seconds had passed since she had come into the chamber.
"Protecting humans? A slayer? Ezra, this is beneath you," she said, smiling, as she regained her composure. "What would be your reward for this charitable act?"
Ezra did not have the time to answer, when she charged at him, bringing him down with nothing less than a mere push. They fell to the floor, but she managed to land on her feet. Her face twisted in a sneer, she cupped Ezra's face as he tried to get on his feet. She brought her face to him, almost as if she wanted to kiss him and then, with a slight twist of her hand, she broke his neck. Ezra slumped to the floor. All of it happened in less than ten seconds.
She turned towards Buck, hungrier now than she had ever been. "Don't mind Ezra," she said, as she approached Buck. "He had always been a handful."
Buck swallowed, knowing that there was no outrunning the creature in front of him. If Ezra had been scary, this female vampire frightened his very core. In that moment of terror, there was a break of clarity in Buck's train of thoughts.
It had been her all this while.
She was their source misery. She was unseen hand that had played with all their lives. She was the one who had been sending Fowler. She was the one responsible for the death of Sarah and Adam.
The realization did nothing to help him as she bared her fangs and rushed at Buck.
There was a hurricane force and then slam unto a brick wall. Buck screamed as her fangs sank into the veins in his throat. It felt as if someone had poured molten steel into the veins in his neck. He could literarily feel his life being sucked out of him and was on the verge of consciousness when he heard a roar. Then, the brick wall was lifted off him and he slunk to the floor, his eyes hazy as he watched a golden lion battle the vampire.
The lion and the vampire were evenly matched; and she hated that. The lion was quick and was able to anticipate her moves. She screamed, the blood-chilling sound of frustration and being denied. She bounded towards the windows and the lion went after her. Silence fell in the chamber again, as Buck lay dying near the wall.
Buck's hazy vision locked on to the prone figure of Ezra, who was stirring as his broken neck healed. One moment Ezra was on the floor, the next he was on his feet, looking around the chamber for Buck.
"Ezra...help..."Buck's voice was a whisper of a rasp.
Ezra stood where he was, not trusting himself to move. If he took one step towards Buck, he knew he would kill Buck. With blood pouring out from the veins in his neck, Buck was a tantalizingly easy meal for Ezra.
"No," Ezra said; the word serving more as a restraining order for himself rather than a denial for Buck.
"Save me, Ez," Buck pleaded, holding out one blood-soaked hand towards Ezra.
"Chris will be here soon," Ezra said, trying not to smack his lips as a drop of blood fell from the tip Buck's finger and on to the floor.
"Too late...you can save me..." Buck rasped, his eyes half-closed, succumbing to the delicious consciousness that was claiming him.
Ezra knew the lifeline that Buck was asking from him. But, how could he condemn Buck to become a monster?
How could he turn a child of Rosie Wilmington, his own personal sunshine, into a dark creature?
The situation brought back all the thoughts buried deep in his mind. It was a collection of memories Ezra had never permitted himself to even think of briefly. And here he was...faced with the same indecision as he had almost forty years ago. It seemed to Ezra as if the Fates were having a good laugh in his expense.
Whatever the Fates had lined up for him today, he will not succumb to it. he will just walk away...
But then, again, a small snarling voice in his argued, Buck is already dying. And he has stated his choice. To be saved.
Ezra closed his eyes and took a deep breath, wanting to clear his thoughts from the voice in his head. He caught a scent of Buck's blood. His blood was dead, the poison from her bite saturating into Buck's blood stream.
Ezra smiled. Buck had asked Ezra to save him. And save him he shall. Before Buck could draw another breath, Ezra was already latched onto Buck, his fangs sinking into puncture she had left on Buck's neck.
Dead blood, poisoned from her bite flowed into Ezra's mouth quenching a thirst he had ignored for far too long. He would have been so easy to just...
There was a guttural yell and Ezra found himself yanked off Buck. Chris Larabee was here. His hunt starts with Ezra, as he swung his arm to stake the vampire.
This time, he would not miss.
* * *
The lion chased after the creature as far as the courtyard when suddenly, it disappeared from view, in a manner that is not much different from the way Ezra melted into the stables at Larabee's Ranch. The lion gave up its pursuit and shimmered into falcon, flying towards the Throne Room. The falcon could hear familiar voices and sounds.
The falcon smelled death and wondered if they had been too late.
* * *
Chris held the vampire with his right hand, strengthened by the amulet of Hanuman, an Indian holy relic that would render any demon helpless. With his left hand, he swung the stake and was about to hit his target...
"No, Chris! NO!"
Every man in the room was yelling and surprisingly, Nathan knocked the stake from Chris's hand.
"Don't do it, Chris!" Nathan held back, Chris's arm.
Chris struggled to free his hand; though never once did his grip on Ezra falter. Not that it would have mattered, Ezra was writhing in pain as the Hanuman amulet touched his skin.
"I will kill you first, Nathan!" Chris cried out, rage uncontrolled.
"Then you are the worst monster there is," Josiah was now trying to free Ezra from Chris's clutches.
"THE VAMPIRE KILLED BUCK!" Chris roared, trying to shake off JD, who was now pushing him away from Ezra.
"NO!" the protest came from two men.
Vin was crouched beside Buck, pulling the taller man into seating position, while Nathan was trying to pry away the stake from Chris's hand.
"Our friend is alive," Vin assured the rest of them, his quiet voice carrying across the room.
"Ezra saved his life, Chris," Nathan said, as Larabee calmed down a notch upon hearing Buck still being alive. "Buck was attacked by another vampire. A female vampire. Ezra saved Buck's life by clearing dead blood from Buck's system. Buck is fine..."
"Still...alive...still smiling..." Buck's voice was weak but there was doubt that Buck looked worse than he was supposed to be. A person does not walk away from two vampire attacks, no matter how brief, with every hair in place. Buck looked as if he had been hit by a few dozen trucks.
"Buck is alive, Chris," Nathan pleaded. "Trust me." A quick glance at Ezra and Nathan saw that he was weakening considerably, as the vampire slumped on Chris's arm.
Chris narrowed his eyes at Nathan, but he did relent on his grip on Ezra. That was all Ezra needed when he twisted away from Chris's hand and then...disappeared. They caught a flash of his jacket near the window, but none of their eyes were quick enough to catch his movement.
The three men holding Chris let him go and went towards Buck. Although his bleeding had stopped, but the wounds remained open. "Hey, buddy," Buck rasped, as his eyes sought Chris's.
"There's a letter for you at home," Chris remarked as he crouched down beside Vin to regard Buck's injury. "The World Association of Idiots wants to make you their honorary Chairman."
Buck grinned. "Good one, Larabee. Portal-walking is good for your humor."
"They have guilds for village idiots?" JD looked perplexed.
They started laughing, not because of JD's comment, but because they genuinely needed it. They had just crossed over less than twenty minutes ago and all of them felt as if they had been battling for days.
"Is there anything you can do for this fool?" Chris asked Nathan, as the Shaman rummaged through his medicine bag for poultices and healing spells. Buck looked as if he needed the whole mother load of it all.
"Honestly, Chris," Nathan said, he wanted a rag each to Josiah, Vin and JD. "Ezra had already done most of the healing."
"What?" all five pairs of eyes were on Nathan.
"This is just an initial observation, but Buck's system is completely healed," Nathan said, amazement apparent in his eyes. "Ezra was not feeding on Buck when he came in. He was..."
"Saving my life," Buck concluded. "Like I told him to."
"You asked him TO CHANGE YOU INTO A FREAKING VAMPIRE?" Chris yelled. JD visibly cringed as the rest of the men leaned away from the furious slayer.
"Ezra would not have changed me," Buck replied, as a matter of fact.
"Yes," Nathan replied. "Ezra is not that kind of a vam...man. I saw in my vision what he was doing and why he did it."
"You are having visions now?" Chris looked at Nathan, raising an eyebrow. "Is that why you blacked out?"
"Probably," Nathan shrugged. "Must be a dimensional-thing. I'll have to consult the books when we get back home." He did not bother explaining more because Chris looked as if he could not handle anymore paranormal or supernatural crap for the time being.
"Sure," Chris did not sound assured. He looked at JD, Josiah and Vin.
"I only have visions of food," Vin told him. Josiah hid his smile, while JD looked almost afraid of Chris yelling at them again.
"And I suppose you are hungry again?" Chris retorted, shaking his head, to which Vin gave a triumphant shout.
"You can read minds now, Larabee!" the gypsy exclaimed.
Chris narrowed his eyes, weighing his options of attacking someone who is capable of turning into a bear and making a meal out of him.
"Besides, Ezra is afraid of you killing him," Buck pointed out, as the rest of the men, started cleaning Buck's wound. "If he was truly evil, then he would not have done what he did. Even without a holy relic, he showed restraint, Chris. Ezra is not a monster," Buck said. Then, smiling, he added. "He's just a sad vampire." he fell silently momentarily, frowning. "And he's headed for the Temple of Miranda..."
"The Queen is there," Vin said, trying not to look worried. He saw the savage creature Ezra had turned into and wondered if he had enough restraint in him still to not attack other humans.
"She's alive?" JD asked, pulling Vin to face him. Vin nodded and explained what he had done earlier, while Chris and Nathan regarded Buck, looking surprised. "You saw him?" they asked, simultaneously, anticipating the hurt Buck is probably going to experience any time now.
"I'm seeing him now," Buck said, his gaze steady.
Chris and Nathan remained speechless. Buck not injured while getting his visions had never occurred before. And sustaining the vision was even more surprising. Buck could only 'see' for a few seconds before the physical injuries manifests.
"Like Nathan said," Buck remarked, smiling. "Ezra healed me."
Chris got up. Just as he was about to turn, Buck spoke again. "He will know that I saw him in my vision. And probably would hate himself more. Tell him...ouch, watch it, kid!" JD had accidentally pressed an open wound too hard. "I'm not Superman!"
"Who is Superman?" JD asked.
"He's a ..."
"Buck?" Chris reminded the injured that he was still waiting for the rest of Buck's message. He put one hand on his holster to assure him that no amount of injury would stop Chris from shooting him if it was deemed necessary.
"Right," Buck turned to Chris. "I see all manners of dark creatures. and that is what he is...no offence. And you should hurry, Chris. Ezra is all sorts of hurt and confused right now; he's planning to enter the Temple. If the Temple don't get him..."
"The sentinels will," Josiah concluded the statement. "It almost as if our misunderstood brother wants...to take his own life."
Chris nodded and turned to leave. Vin got up and came alongside Chris. "I will take you to the Temple," he said. Before Chris could ask how, Vin leaped off the window and there was a golden shimmer.
"You have got to be kidding me!" Chris exclaimed as he saw the dragon outside the window. The dragon gave an impatient growl, urging Chris to hurry up.
"I suppose a horse would have a less dramatic effect for what we're about to do," Chris said, as he looked at the dragon, wondering where he should mount and what he should hold on to.
* * *Thirty - nine years ago...
Michael Larabee, Orrin Travis, Carrick of Dara and John of Kells were seated at a table at the end of the saloon, holding up cards in the guise of playing. Jacob was at the bar, nursing a large glass of beer. It looked more of a pitcher than a glass but in the hands of the large man, it looked more like a small mug. Rosie Wilmington was behind the bar, wiping glasses and setting them in the shelves under the bar. Every thing was quiet; the only sound was the creaking noise of John of Kells' chair, as he balanced it on two legs, swinging back and forth.
A few minutes later, the batwing door of the bar swung open and then closed again. In a blink of an eye, Ezra Standish was standing near the bar, brushing off imaginary lint from his jacket. None of the others showed any signs of recognition, except for Rosie, who frowned at him, irritated because Ezra let in the chilly October wind into the interior of the bar.
"Whisky, my fair lady," Ezra called out, as he approached the bar. "Your best bottle and a newly-washed glass..."
Ezra got no further than that when the attack occurred. The largest of the Jindraks that had been chasing him for the last twenty miles or so broke in through one of the saloon walls and tackled him from the side, the same time as the four other Jindraks broke through the front door. All five men stood up from their seats, wielding weapons ranging from broad swords to battle axes and crossbows. None of them showed the slightest apprehension to the scene unfolding in front of them.
"A little help, gentlemen," Ezra said, as the Jindrak pushed him towards the side wall.
"This is the third time this month we're savin' your sorry behind, Ez," Michael remarked, sighing. The five other Jindraks were following their leader's action...every one of the demons wanted a piece of the vampire.
"The best whisky for my friends, Rosie," Ezra called out, just as he smashed into the wall.
The rest of them laughed and joined in the battle, a little too eagerly if one paid attention. The slayers had received news from Rosie about the Jindrak pack terrorizing a town forty miles of Four Corners. Ezra had been in the vicinity at the time and volunteered to 'herd' the pack to Four Corners. Before Larabee could give his opinion, Rosie saw the vision Jindraks pursuing Ezra; he had apparently killed one of its offspring.
And now here he was, laying waste to the saloon he had lovingly built. Not content with being a vampire hanging around slayers, Ezra has to pick a fight every single demon there is. Rosie tried domesticating him, but she has only gone as far as making him return to her every day.
Carrick and John of Dara took on a Jindrak by themselves; both men's movements a mirror of the other. It was amazing to see the two men, one a king and the other his brother, both in their royal robes and paraphernalia, fight demons as if they had been doing this all their lives. The single demon charging them stood no chance as the two men were relentless in their attack, their broad sword slashing the creature, spilling red pus. The creature went down on its knees and the brother delivered the fatal blow; Carrick cut of the creature's head, while John stabbed and slashed its torso. The creature fell to the ground in three pieces.
Elsewhere, the man who trained the royal brothers to slay, Jacob, was cornered by the smallest of the demons, who had apparently picked his quarry because he was the oldest of the lot, thus the easiest of targets. Stupid demon could not have been more further from the truth, for through Jacob is the oldest, he had a ruthless streak that surpassed even that of the natural-born slayers like Larabee and Travis. The young Jindrak thought he had the upper hand over the man who wielded nothing more than a dagger half the length of his arm. The next thing it knew, it's limbs were severed, as the supposedly old man kicked it away from the corner and right across the room, where it crashed into the two demons attacking Larabee and Travis. Jacob smiled gleefully as he entered that melee. Larabee and Travis were only doing what they knew best, killing off the demons, while trying to at least keep a few chairs upright in the saloon.
Ezra looked as if he was not faring much better with his demon. The Jindrak was now holding him up by his ankle, five feet in the air, with every intentions of dropping him through the floor. Ezra was feigning exhaustion and hurt, the demons had not clued in into his vampiric traits. They just pursued the fast-moving human as quick as they could. Jindraks were ruthless and single-minded, but they are not getting any prizes for being the smartest of the demon lot.
The Jindrak lifted Ezra higher and was about to drop him when the battle swung to the demons' favour. Rosie Wilmington stepped away from her bar, carrying a special - caliber gun, with every intention of shooting the Jindrak holding up Ezra.
"Rosie, NO!" Ezra shouted, but it was too late. The remaining three Jindraks have seen her and she was now their primary target.
In her final weeks of pregnancy, Rosie was not only a delectable meal; the baby she was carrying was fair game now, considering that the humans have killed one of their own offspring.
Jindraks maybe stupid, but they had an unmatched pack telepathy that sometimes gave them an edge over their opponents. Ezra was dropped to the floor, but as he had intended, he turned in his fall and was upright before he was on his feet. By this time, the Jindraks had bounded off their human attackers and made their way towards Rosie.
Ezra was the fastest of the lot, but the Jindraks were a second ahead of him. the lead Jindrak grabbed Rosie by her throat, lifting her towards his face.
Jacob tackled the Jindrak from the side and managed to get the demon down.
Rosie was thrown on the floor, on her stomach. She screamed and then there was an ominous silent. She did not move.
The rest of the men fell back on the demons, this time the battle no longer an exercise, but an all out execution. Ezra was about to charge in, when Travis held him back, indicating Rosie who was still of the floor.
The five men took care of the demons, while Ezra tended to Rosie. She was alive, barely, and the fall had caused an early labour. She was bleeding profusely. She was dead weight against Ezra's arms.
"Baby...," she moaned, her voice a far away whisper that only Ezra could hear.
"What do you want me to do?" Ezra asked, looking down at the woman in his arm, his beloved.
"Save the baby..."
Larabee, Travis, Jacob, Carrick and John of Dara finished off the demons methodically. Five demon corpses lay on the floor, the red pus from their bodies covering the floor in sticky residue. The moments after the last demon was killed, there was a welcome silence. Then, the sound of a newborn baby broke the silence, bringing smiles and worried looks in the faces of the men who still stood around the demon corpses.
They threw their weapons on the mass of bodies in the saloon and went towards the rooms at the back of the saloon; Rosie's temporary private apartment when she became too pregnant to walk up the stairs to her own apartment. The rooms were fully lit, cheerfully decorated to Rosie's taste. But something felt profoundly wrong to the men, as they made their way into Rosie's room at the end of the hallway. They could only hear the sound of the baby. Rosie was silent. And Ezra, who had been with Rosie every step of the way during her pregnancy, could not be seen. They feared the worse when they entered the room...perhaps the demon had done more damage than they could have thought possible.
Rosie Wilmington was alive, cradling a bundle of cloth, crying. The baby in the bundle was cooing; her tears falling on the baby's head. the five men sighed in relief collectively, unaware that they had been holding their breath.
"Where's Ezra?" Michael Larabee was the first to speak.
Rosie looked up, her tear stained face conveying grief beyond herself. "He's gone." Her answer was too succinct.
"What happened?" Travis asked, as they moved closer. Jacob was by Rosie's bed, taking the bundle from her hands. He showed the rest of them the baby who was barely half an hour old. A perfect baby boy, with blue green eyes, a shock of dark hair. And a smudge of blood on his lips.
The rest of them were horrorstruck.
"Rosie..." Jacob spoke her name, beseeching her to tell them what had happened.
"My boy took one breath and then...and then...no more," Rosie explained, looking at the patterns on her quilt. "I told...demanded Ezra to save his life..."
"What did Ezra do?" Larabee asked his voice hard. If Ezra had bitten a human, then, he is to be hunted down, regardless if he wears a holy relic.
"Ezra saved my boy's life," Rosie said, looking straight into Larabee's eyes. "He cut himself and...and fed his blood to my baby."
"Oh God, Rosie..." Travis exclaimed.
"And your child lives," John said quickly, emphasizing the point of the whole ordeal.
"We don't..." It was hard for Travis to find the words to convey his fears of what the baby might have been turned to.
"My baby is as human as you are, Orrin," Rosie's voice held a conviction to it that none of the men wanted to deny. They wanted to believe Rosie. "I have told you before; there is nothing evil about Ezra."
"Where is he now?" Larabee asked, his tone softened just a little bit. He was looking at baby in Jacob's arm, wiping the blood away from the baby's lips.
Rosie looked squarely at Larabee. "do you think he will stay after what I had asked to him to do?" She gritted her teeth, holding back her tears, but grief won and tears spilled down her face.
The rest of the men just stood around her, unable to say anything to the woman who had lost the man she loved for saving her child.
Rosie named her boy Bucklin, after her father. The rest of them were surprised, because when she found out she was having a son, Rosie had wanted to call him Ezra, but Ezra would not have it.
"I have already cursed him enough," were his parting words and he never looked back when he disappeared that night.
To say Rosie was heartbroken was to merely understand the surface of her grief. In the short time she had known Ezra, she had known the wonders of loving beyond herself. Ezra was a contradiction; a man whose own vulnerability had never stopped him from loving Rosie. She needed Ezra's solidity and in return, gave him the love he had craved all his existence. Rosie needed to be independent as much as she needed a man and Ezra needed someone to call his own, as much as he distanced himself from the fact that he too had a chance in a happily-ever-after.
Of course, in the end, none of them had what they had sought for, but for a brief moment, for seven months, everything had been perfect. And that was all that mattered.
Michael Larabee and Orrin Travis were to be Buck's godfathers. Carrick, John of Dara and Jacob declined, citing that a child did not need such complications as having friends from another dimension, alongside with the fact that his blood was tainted with a vampire's.
Rosie tried not to take offence, but she could not help but to blame herself when their fellowship came to an end. After Ezra's departure, there would not be a Seven. Six of them were still strong enough to take on any demon, but it just would not be the same again. The threat of demons were waning in both their dimensions and the time for goodbye had finally come. Carrick and John claimed royal duties;, Jacob needs to work his land, now that his young son chose to enter the equivalent of priesthood in Kells. The gateway in Purgatorio was sealed by inter-dimensional magic and funds were donated anonymously to the city to build a place of worship on the land that belonged to Michael Larabee. The portal in Four Corners was left open, but the gateway in Kells was sealed. Carrick and John vowed not let anything through. They died a few weeks apart ten years after the portals were sealed when a pack of Werewolvens attacked Kells. John's death was attributed to battle wounds sustained during the skirmish to protect their kingdom from pirates at the coast, while Carrick was said to have been gored by a wild boar during a hunting trip. Their wives felt Kells would be safer not knowing the real circumstances of their death. Jacob died of old age; a few months after his son was appointed the High Priest of Miranda. The High Priest and the Queen and her sister were the only ones who knew about Carrick, John and Jacob's slaying escapades.
Christopher Larabee was two and half years old when Michael Larabee introduced little Buck to him. Christopher had looked at the baby once and then ran off to his grandmother, with whom he had been living since he was born. life went on as normal as it could after Buck was christened but normal was never the same again. Their lives have changed and three humans dealt with it by not talking about it. It was the easiest thing to be done at that time.
Travis and Larabee were quite undecided about Ezra's actions; they knew he saved little Buck's life but they just could not bring themselves to understand the means that Ezra had used to accomplish this. Though they understood Ezra's own predicament, they did not what they would say to him if they where to see each other. Ezra's actions, on paper at least, made him the vampire he actually is. Larabee took the conscious decision not to face him, just in case his slaying instincts kicked into gear. This was a sore spot between Michael and Rosie. Especially when Buck has his 'episodes'.
Buck developed his Sight when he was seven, right around the time Chris got his first sword. Buck had been watching Travis training with Chris when suddenly he jerked violently, as if being pulled back by an invisible hand. Buck was unconscious for a full minute before waking up screaming in pain and fear; for his dislocated shoulder had hurt like hell and the vision of the Piraka frightening the little child.
Michael had gritted his teeth and remained grim as Rosie soothed her son.
"His tainted blood is messing with his Sight," Michael said, not bothering to hide his anger. He chose to confront Rosie, while Travis took the simpler task of tracking down the Piraka from Buck's vision (Rosie had the same vision simultaneously as Buck, so she was able to provide more coherent information of the demon's whereabouts) and killing it.
"His tainted blood is helping him heal faster," Rosie had told him.
Arguments with Rosie hardly got anywhere, but that is not to say Rosie did not hurt every time her son had a vision. She instilled in Buck a sense of honor, and humor; every vision would hurt, but the fact he was part of the force that helped make the world a better place for everyone else is more important than a bruise or two. She told Buck that theirs was a far better gift than that of a slayer's. without their sight, these demons cannot be seen or tracked. A slayer is as good as the Seer he has with him.
Fifteen years later, Rosie died in her sleep, smiling, looking as peaceful as she had when Ezra had been around. Travis and Larabee never discussed it in open, but they were sure Ezra had been with her when she died. Ezra made no other contact with the rest of them, though he had, on numerous slaying expeditions, saved both Travis and Larabee's lives. The slayers would feel they were outnumbered when confronting with demons and then, during the heat of the battle, one or two demons would be mysteriously injured or fatally struck.
Just as Christopher was old enough to take up arms against demons, Michael Larabee passed away. Orrin became a father to the sons of his closest friends. Ezra came for the Michael's funeral, but he refused to see Buck or Chris. He did visit once, thirty years ago on a Christmas eve, played cards with Orrin for a while before saving the slayer from a drunken Piraka that had taken a wrong turn on its way to the Four Corners' portal and decided to eat Orrin for its trouble .Orrin had been knocked against the bar and the last thing he saw was Ezra chasing the Piraka towards the portal. Travis never saw Ezra again...
Orrin shook his head, remembering every detail of the past with a clarity that still hurt. Those were not only the good old days, but uncomplicated as well, save for the vampire bit. Things were simple; see a demon, kill a demon, grab a beer afterwards. Now...
It gave him a headache to think about the all the events that spiraled out of their control in the last seven years. The end was near, he was sure. Of whom, that eluded him.
Orrin poured out another drink. He kept his vigil at the chapel. Part of him prayed. Another part of him just waited for the right moment to cross over.
* * *
Forbidden Forests...The dragon flew for about twenty miles before dipping downwards towards the edge of the forest that bordered the manicured gardens of Temple of Miranda. In his dragon form, Vin had been able to track Ezra, following the scent of Buck's blood that probably spilled on Ezra's clothes. The dragon came to a soft landing near a tall tree, folding its wings back, allowing Chris Larabee, who had a grin on his face for no other reason other than he was probably the first human being to ride a dragon, to dismount. Chris stepped unto the nearest branch and the dragon lifted its clawed hands, grabbing Ezra who was about to get away from them. Ezra had been too preoccupied with his thoughts to notice their arrival and when he did, the dragon proved to be the quicker of the two. Chris doubted that. Ezra probably slowed down on his own accord.
Ezra stayed where he was on the account that he did not want Chris and Vin to spend much of their energy tracking him down. The fool of a vampire must have been thinking that Vin and Chris were there to dust him.
Not that anyone can blame him. because that was exactly what Chris had wanted to do half an hour ago.
"Stay as you are, Ezra," Chris called out, as he climbed up the branches towards him. "Don't go black-misting on me."
The darkness was temporarily bathed in light as Vin shimmered down into a dove and flew to the branches above Ezra. another shimmer and Vin was sitting on the branch, legs swinging and a big smile for Ezra. Ezra did not feel so friendly towards them.
"You humans need a good dose of fright...all of you are too courageous for your own good!" Ezra said, as he jumped up a branch. He stood on the branch, laws of gravity be damned, looking down at Chris and Vin. Chris looked uncomfortable, nobody can be fully comfortable having a conversation while hoping the branch they were standing on would not break.
"Some call it courage," Chris remarked, not attempting to climb up another branch. "I like to think of it as trust."
"Or perhaps we have less sense than farm animals," Vin offered his two cents' worth. That, Ezra could accept as a suitable answer.
"Why are you here, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra wanted to know.
"Why haven't you run, Ezra?" Chris asked.
"I have a feeling I cannot over run you, Mr. Larabee," Ezra replied, a small, sad smile on his face. "Must be a Larabee thing."
Vin gave a shout of laughter, whilst Chris looked just plain irritated.
The company I keep...
"We need to regroup, Ezra. and the popular consensus is that you are part of the group," Chris tried to make light of it.
"And Lar'bee is also very remorseful of what he had done," Vin chipped in, helpfully. To which, he earned a glare from Chris.
"I don't know about you, Mr. Larabee, but personally I am sick of all this," Ezra remarked. "I am here and so is Fowler and I intend to hunt him down. I am not here to engage in any sort of human soap opera."
"Well, that's good," Chris said, still looking up at Ezra from one branch below. "We walk the same path, Ezra. Why don't you join us?"
"We have come this far, Mr. Larabee. And so far, my journey with the rest of you, has not exactly been lined with roses."
"For crying out loud, Ezra! You are a vampire and I am slayer," Chris said, exasperated. Of all the vampiric traits, Ezra displays his drama queen mode more than anything. "The fact that you are still alive shows plenty tolerance on my part!"
Vin, not contributing much to the discussion, nodded in agreement.
"You don't trust me one bit, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said quietly.
Chris sighed, nodding, as he looked away. "Of course."
It was an obvious fact, but it stung nonetheless when Chris admitted as much.
It was Vin who spoke next. "And that is what is makes Lar'bee human, Ezra Standish. He wants to trust you and knows that he can, but his human self cannot bring himself to do what he knows is right. You must forgive him."
"For being a slayer?" Ezra asked, enjoying the surprised look on Chris's expression when he heard Vin.
"For being Lar'bee," Vin remarked, his blue eyes twinkling, even in the dark. "I have a feeling our friend is more human than a warrior."
"Thank you, Vin," Chris said, his tone dry. Turning to Ezra, he kept his voice neutral. "We could use your help, Ezra. you know what we're dealing with here."
"You don't know, do you?" Ezra asked. "About Ella?"
"Who is Ella?"
* * *
Castle DaraJosiah, JD and Nathan managed to force feed Buck one of Nathan's potions, so that he would be knocked out when Nathan tackled the worst of his wounds. Buck protested for about five minutes before his voice became slurred and he just dozed in mid-sentence as he complained about the childish treatments he was being subjected to. Josiah and Nathan then started to clean up his wound. JD tried sleeping, but the hushed exclamation of surprise from the two men as the discovered even more injuries on Buck, made it impossible.
And there was the fact that he was worried about his aunt and everyone else at the castle.
Vin had assured him that everyone was safe, there had been no deaths to the immediate royal family, but JD could not help to worry. He knew the Temple of Miranda was the safest place for them now, but he wished he could see them. There were no horses in the stables, as all had been used to take everyone to the Temple. And though Kells was his home and he knew every single rock and tree in the kingdom, he doubted if any of them would be pleased if he stated his intention of walking the twenty miles or so to the Temple of Miranda.
So, JD went walking in the castle, to find out the extent of the damage. To his relief, the worst of it had been confined to the Throne Room and the hallway leading to it from the front gates. The rest of the chambers had been spared. He walked until he found himself outside his aunt's private chambers.
Light spilled from underneath the heavy wooden. His aunt must have left the fire burning in the fireplace. He was about to turn away when he heard someone from inside the chamber.
"John? Is that you?"
JD smiled. Of course, he should have known. Nothing in the kingdom could have made his aunt leave her beloved home. She must have rode back from the Temple sometime during the evening.
He opened the door and entered the chamber.
* * *
Buck awoke with a start just as Nathan was applying a poultice to his forehead. Disoriented, it took him several seconds to realize that he was lying on one of tables in the Throne Room.
"He's having a vision," Nathan told Josiah.
Josiah prepared the weapons they would need. That was when he realized JD was no longer in the room with them.
"Where is John?" Josiah asked, clutching the broadsword tightly.
"Shit." Nathan looked at the arched doorway that led out of the Throne Room. Propped against the wall, beside a torn tapestry was JD's sword and the stakes Nathan had insisted he kept.
Draped around the hilt of the sword was the amulet of Miranda, the one that JD had worn as a child and had never taken off in his life.
A hint of red clung to the image of Miranda on the amulet. It gleamed in the firelight, threatening silently. It was a drop of blood, deliberately, or otherwise, placed on the amulet where it would definitely bee seen.
"She's here," Buck said, not daring to breath.
* * *
Forbidden Forests...Chris was slumped against the tree, drained physically and mentally. There was nothing more he could do, nothing more he could say. There was no strength left in him to think, and yet, his thoughts raced a million miles an hour.
Years of hunting.
Cyclic thought revolved in his head...there was nothing he could grasp. Not after everything Ezra had told him.
Ezra had not told him much. Keeping the details as succinct as possible, Ezra had told him of Ella's obsession with him, her eventual plan of murdering his wife and child and the continuous stalking and hoping that somewhere along the line, Chris would break.
It was all Ella's fault that Chris's life came to a halt. Ella and her petty obsession. Ella who would not come out in the open. Self-preserving to the end...
His line of thoughts had a little coherency now. Ella was the reason for his misery. Just as this thought coalesced in his mind, Ezra jumped down from the tree, landing twenty paces away, facing the direction of Castle Dara.
He took a deep breath and Chris and Vin knew exactly what was happening. Vin shimmered into a dragon, waiting for Chris.
"Is it just her, or is Fowler with her?" Chris asked, looking at Ezra.
Ezra faced the direction towards the castle again. "He's there," was his succinct answer. The dragon reared its head, but before it could do anything else, Ezra disappeared from their side.
"I guess he chose his side," Chris remarked, mounting the dragon.
It was only the fact that transformation requires too much energy that Vin did not shimmer down to his human form. He needs the energy for the battle ahead and wished that instead of transformation, he had the ability to be in two places at once, to save all his friends.
* * *
Castle DaraShe had taken out all the lights, making the hunt easier for her. Nathan knew that she was just toying with her; she was a vampire of immense strength and two men, plus a boy and a wounded man would not be too difficult for her to dispose of. She was playing games with them, making this fun for her.
"She's waiting for him," Buck said, as they stood with their backs against each other in the middle of the Throne Room. Buck had insisted of defending himself, something Josiah and Nathan could not really argue at that moment.
"And John?" Josiah asked, as the many prayers he knew repeated itself in his thoughts.
"Hurt, but still alive," Buck replied. "She's keeping him unconscious."
"Where is she?" Nathan asked, his whisper carrying like a shout in the silence of the stone chamber.
"Close," was all Buck answered. She was actually in the chamber next to theirs, waiting, but for as long as they were safe, Buck did not feel the need to tell this to the rest of them. It was make sure she sticks around until they regroup than any safety measure. One false move and she, Buck had no doubt, would disappear. And JD would be more dead than unconscious if they did anything but to stay where they are.
"Are the any demons with her?" Josiah asked, as he wrapped a rosary made of wooden beads around the hilt of his sword. Nathan doused his stake with holy water. Buck doubted if they would have time to react if she chose to attack them.
"She's alone," Buck said. Then, his voice raised a tone as he continued, "She can bring all the demons she wants...we'll kill 'em all!"
The feminine laughter that shattered the silence of the castle actually brought a chill down the men's spine. The laughter died down when a dragon reared up its head through the Throne Room window and Chris stepped into the chamber.
Simultaneously, the remaining lights in the chamber went off. And JD's scream prompted the men to start running to the chamber where she was waiting for Chris.
* * *
Forbidden ForestsFowler did not know what hit him as he moved through the forest, going towards the castle where his mistress was waiting for him. Unlike the other vampires, Fowler fell with a grace befitting a lumbering grizzly on the first day of spring. Banging headfirst into a tree, however, did not prevent him from mouthing off.
"Taken the cross off, have you?" Fowler taunted, unable to fix the location of the vampire hunting him. "Welcome to the dark side again, Standish!" Fowler stretched Ezra's surname into hiss. And was again blindsided from his left, this time causing him to hit headfirst into a large rock. The rock split into two and as Fowler stood up, the gash on his head, showing grayish-white matter that was Fowler's rarely used brains, healed almost immediately.
Fowler stood upright, waiting, anticipating, and then suddenly, grabbed the air in front of him. the black mist congealed and Ezra appeared fangs bared, aiming for Fowler's neck. The one - armed vampire, however, threw Ezra against a tree. Ezra arched gracefully, almost as if it was a dance movement and landed upright, looking at Fowler.
"She's not going to save you this time," Ezra said, as he launched himself on Fowler again. This was the first time in his vampire existence Ezra was taking on Fowler without his holy relic...somewhat of an even match; although Ezra would have admitted that brute strength sometimes just was not enough to take down a vampire will almost a millennia of experience like Fowler. Not to be outdone, Fowler charged too, drawing a broadsword from underneath the robes he wore. Ezra smiled when he saw the sword; the best it can do would be too scratch him, Fowler really needed to rethink his defensive strategies.
And that was when Fowler turned to his side, plunging his sword to the side of the wolf that was bounding towards him. the wolf must have come in aid of the battle against the foul creature. Ezra's impact on him caused him to miss the wolf by inches, but the sword managed to inflict damage on the creature's hind leg. Ezra caught the sword-wielding arm and with a little effort broke it in three places. Fowler howled in pain, but managed to kick aside Ezra, who slid on the forest floor, coming to rest at a tall willow tree, causing the tree to be uprooted. The tree swayed and fell on Ezra, pinning him on the ground. The impact knocked the breath out of Ezra and the moment he got his strength back, Fowler was already on the fallen tree trunk, standing right above Ezra.
"You cannot defeat me, traitor," Fowler wheezed, his face twisted into a macabre smile. He bent forward, with every intention of decapitating Ezra using his bare hand.
There was a blinding shimmer and a heartbeat later, Fowler's head rolled on the ground next to Ezra. the shimmer died down and Fowler's body fell to the ground. Standing behind fowler's crumpled form was Vin, breathing hard, clutching Fowler's sword tightly.
"I thought you might have needed some assistance," was all the shapeshifter could say before he slumped to the ground, completely drained of his energy.
Ezra lay on the ground, feeling just about the same as Vin.
In a matter of moments, he had been avenged. There is nothing more left for him to do.
"Our friends, Ezra..." It was as if Vin had read Ezra's thoughts. "We have to help our friends."
Ezra lifted the tree off him and turned to Vin, who was on his knees, propped up by Fowler's sword. He was looking at Ezra, holding out a familiar silver chain.
Ezra approached Vin cautiously, his demon side rebelling at the proximity and sight of the holy relic. Vin's eyes widened as he finally caught a glimpse of Ezra's 'demon face'. It was not that much different from the drawings he was shown as a child by the gypsy medicine-woman, warning the children against 'death demons'. But Vin was spared from the worst of it, as Ezra still had a little control of his illusion.
Ezra kept his eyes on the holy relic, but the sight was denied to him. vampiric tears flowed his eyes, as he fought against every nerve and fiber in his being to get closer and closer to the silver cross. And just when he was close enough to take the holy relic from Vin, he swiped it aside. The chain fell on near Fowler's head, which had begun rot.
Vin stood up, unafraid of his friend. He knew Ezra's battle now was within himself and there was nothing he can do to help him. Ezra needs to do this in his own volition, or risk becoming the demon he fears the most.
Vin threw aside the sword he had been holding and shimmered into a hawk. The hawk circled around Ezra twice, before heading back to the castle.
Ezra was left fighting a battle he was both afraid to loose and win.
* * *
Castle DaraShe was sitting on the window ledge, JD unconscious on her lap. She was swinging her legs and stroking JD's hair, as a mother would. She was the most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen; a vision of golden angelic beauty. She was perfection personified.
She was smiling, revealing her fangs, revealing her hunger. And the four men in the room experienced fear they have never felt before. Vampires were conceited creatures, but they had a healthy respect for slayers, knowing very well that this was the only other being capable of destroying them. She, apparently, did not care about these trivial matters.
"Hello, my darling," her voice was the innocence of a child ensconced in the melody of a wind chime.
"Bitch," Chris remarked, charging at her.
To which, she merely lifted her hand and threw the unconscious body of JD at them.
All five men fell as JD's body hit them and before they knew it, she had already grabbed Chris and was about to bound out of the window.
The dragon reared its head, roaring, causing her to be momentarily distracted, which was all Chris needed to break free. He fell to his knees near the window's ledge.
The dragon shimmered and a white lion charged at Ella, knocking her to the floor. The rest of the men scrambled to their feet, to aid the lion that was keeping her pinned to floor...which was not for long, for she stood up, the lion flung aside, as she did with Nathan and Josiah who charged simultaneously at her. she turned to Chris...
Who stood facing her, one hand holding a sword to her neck and another readying the stake.
She smiled at him, her smile both alluring and frightening at the same time. She reached with her right hand for her amulet that hung between her breast and screamed. The amulet was gone...
Buck was kneeling beside the prone figure of JD, who was at last, showing some signs of life. When Buck turned him around, he saw JD clutching something in his hands. He was holding it so tightly that his knuckles had turned white. Buck pried his fingers open and a small wooden disc tied to a long leather string fell out. It was Ella's amulet; the one she had been using for her dimension walking.
Ella screamed when she saw the amulet in Buck's hand. At that moment, the illusion of the angelic beauty fell apart and her demon face was revealed.
"Kid saw the vampire using it when she was in castle delivering the demons through the portal," Buck explained succinctly. "Made a grab for it just before she whacked him."
Chris acknowledged this with a nod. And threw the stake at her, which she easily brushed aside. The stake hit a wall and fell to the floor.
In the moments before she attacked, she must have weighed her options. And she chose Buck as her target; he was the one she had wanted to kill and he was holding her amulet.
She charged at him before any of them could react...
Buck closed his eyes and smiled...
She blindsided from the left by a tackle from Ezra.
Another scream rent the castle. "YOU!"
"The holy water," Ezra shouted, pinning her to the wall.
Nathan scrambled to his feet, hands shaking as he threw the vial at Chris...
Who took aim and launched it at Ella...
Who knew what was going to happen, knocked her head against Ezra's...
Who became disoriented and found himself pinned to the wall...
When the vial of holy water hit him, dousing his chest...
There was a scream...
And then silence.
All six men in the room stared at Ezra, slumped to the floor now, the holy water burning the skin of his chest.
Ella threw back her head and laughed; the humans have been extremely helpful to her in the matter of finishing of the thorn on her side.
The white lion pounced just then, grabbing her throat in its jaw.
And Chris threw the stake again.
This time, he found his target. The stake hit her right on her heart. There was a scream and then...nothing.
The white lion landed on its feet, shaking off the ash that had fallen on its fur.
It gave a roar and Vin stood in its place, both hands on his thighs, breathing as if he had run a marathon all night long.
The sword fell from Chris's hand.
It was over.
* * *
"Do you still remember the first time I met you?" Rosie whispered, her voice the only sound in the darkness.
"You shot me through the skull," Ezra replied, as he pulled Rosie closer towards him. he kissed the top of her head and settled down for a night of reminiscing.
"That was the second time I saw you."
"The first time was when you were playing cards with a bunch of guys in the Saloon."
"My first visit to Four Corners and I netted a nice profit."
"I knew there was something not...not right that night."
Ezra sighed. "I know. I should have won more than four hundred dollars, actually."
"You had not drank your whisky all night..."
"That gave it away?"
"You also stopped breathing a couple of times in four hours you were there..."
"You were watching me all night?"
Ezra could hear Rosie's smile when spoke, "You were wearing that awful purple jacket, Ezra. hard to miss that color clash."
"I suppose lumberjack checks are the norm around here."
"I wanted to call Mike and Orrin, you know?"
"Why didn't you? Not that I am not glad you didn't!"
"Because...when you smiled at the first time, I knew that I'd be seeing you a lot in this part of town."
"Love at first sight..."
"You were in love with me first, Ezra. Or you wouldn't have risked coming here a second time."
"I will not deny that. But, loving you, my dear, is extremely hazardous. You shot me and then I had to fight the demons that detoured into the bar and then save Larabee and Travis and then go through the Inquisition with them..."
"I would not have let anything happen to you!"
"I know." He kissed her forehead. "And that was what scared me the most."
"But they came around, Mike and Orrin..."
Ezra smiled in the darkness. It took another three weeks until they would stop aiming their stake at him. and all that while, Rosie carried her shotgun with her, threatening to shoot Michael or Orrin if they as much scratched Ezra. the basis of the group that became the Seven was also tentatively formed.
"Those were good times..."
"Until you left to hunt Fowler again," Rosie's voice was both overwhelmingly sad and angry. She wished she did not have to deal with this regret. Ezra left her and in her grief, for a short period of time, had a relationship with a man from Denver. It ended as it began, but the legacy of that brief relationship was the greatest thing that has ever happened Rosie...her son.
"I had to. I..."
"It doesn't matter, you came back."
Ezra smiled. He returned and found that apart from the child Rosie was expecting, everything just the same. They never talked about how they were going to do it, but Ezra had wanted to be the child's father. It was something that gave great happiness to Rosie.
And then, everything fell apart. Of all the things Rosie could have asked Ezra for her son, she asked of his cursed blood.
Rosie must have been thinking about the same thing too for she began to cry. Ezra pulled her closer to him, hushing her.
"I drove you away," she sobbed.
"I went on my accord, Rosie," Ezra replied. "I cannot bear to see the life I had des..."
"Saved," Rosie said quickly. "The life you saved."
There was silence in the room again. The candles at the table beside the bed extinguished itself.
"I could still save you," Ezra's voice was nothing more than a whisper.
Rosie laughed despite her tears. "Have you seen how I look?"
"You are beautiful."
There was nothing more he could say; blood flowed from his eyes, dissolving into ash.
"I love you so much, my darling," Rosie said, her voice strained, as the pain came returned.
"I will always love you...for as long I exist."
Rosie took a deep breath. "Ezra..."
And then, there was nothing.
It rained on her funeral.
In one of his addresses that he had given her, she had sent him a silver St. Christopher's cross. She had always complained the wooden one he wore gave her splinters. He never taken it off since. One of his wishes...his prayers, actually, was that if his end came, he would have the opportunity to meet her, without the cross around his neck. He believed in his soul, how else could he have loved her the way he did.
Wearing the cross not only kept his demons at bay, but it served as a physical reminder that he too had once loved. The fact that it made him bleed constantly was apt enough for all the predicaments that he has gone through in his existence.
The cross had protected him all this while...
And now he was dying.
He was pretty sure of this because of all the pain he has experienced in his life, this was the most unbearable of them all. Even the pain of his transformation seemed like a pinprick compared to the burning induced by the holy water. The holy had rendered his healing abilities obsolete and he was at the mercy of Death.
And he was afraid. He had expected light, but everything was dark. He truly had descended into the hell he had been fearing all his existence.
His penance had come to nothing. He had no soul whatsoever to be saved.
Nathan moved Ezra's prone figure on the floor, laying him on his back. Nathan knew Ezra stood no chance against holy water blessed in the Vatican itself and not for the first time, pitied the vampire. he knew holy water was the best vampire deterrent there is. Vampires avoided it like the plague; a drop would paralyze them. Ezra was doused with a whole vial; the equivalent of a thousand different poisons to a normal human being.
But he was going to try to save him. Ezra saved his friends life in the short while he has been with them and he deserved that much.
With trembling fingers, Nathan unbuttoned the front of Ezra's drenched shirt.
He gasped, not believing what he was seeing.
Josiah moved towards Chris, putting a hand on the slayer's shoulder. It was over, but Chris's body language was still tense, as he surveyed the damage of the final battle. Buck was barely able to stand, JD was still unconscious, although Josiah and Nathan had declared the young prince would pull through.
"They will heal in time," Josiah remarked, meaning more than the physical injuries of Chris's friends.
Chris took a deep breath and slumped his shoulder, relaxing at last. He knew a burden had been lifted from his shoulders, although there still remnants of it left for him to carry through his life. That, he could do, he knew, with the help of his friends. But the unfairness of the whole thing overwhelmed him; it was his battle, and yet the casualties of it were his friends.
"Why should they suffer because of me?" he spoke his thoughts without realizing it, his eyes taking in Buck, JD and Ezra.
"Perhaps it is because you would go through even worse for any one of us," Vin spoke as he came to stand next to Chris.
Chris almost smiled, but when Nathan exclaimed, he knew the worse was still to come.
JD gained consciousness just as Chris was kneeling next to Nathan, beside Ezra. Having had a blow to the head, his vision swam and he could barely sit up. The back of his head felt sore and wet. When he touched it, he flinched. There was a cut there, but none he could not handle. He was surprised, however, that no one was there looking after him. Maybe, the battle went the wrong way...
JD tried to get up quickly, but he was held back by a hand to his chest. "Whoa there, kid," Buck's voice was tired. "Just take it easy!" JD turned and saw Buck sitting and leaning against the wall, bloodied as if he had been dragged through the ground by pack horses. Nevertheless, Buck looked well enough to warrant a concern for the prince.
"Vin...Josiah," JD spoke anxiously.
"They're over there," Buck said, indicating to the men, who were gathered in a circle around something.
"What is happening there?" JD asked, propping himself up next to Buck.
"Apparently," Buck said. "Ezra's had a miraculous moment!"
"Nothing," Nathan said. "There's nothing there."
The men were gathered around Ezra, looking down at his chest. As Nathan said, there was nothing. No burning flesh, no exposed wound...just clean, white skin.
"You sure it was holy water?" Chris asked Nathan, crouching down next to Ezra, as he examined the skin.
"You heard him scream," Nathan replied. "That was no distraction, Chris. I know holy water, all right?"
"Then, what the hell happened here?" Chris said, looking worried.
"Is he still alive?" Vin asked, lifting one of Ezra's hand.
"Hard to tell when he doesn't have a pulse or breathes!" Nathan said, the same look of worry crossing his features.
"What is this?" Josiah said, indicating an area right above Ezra's heart. The skin of the area was slightly darkened, puckered up as if healing from a burn. It had a familiar shape...
"It's a cross..." Chris said, as he touched the scar on Ezra's chest. The rest of them fell silent. There was no way he could survived this.
It took a long time, but darkness gave way to light and Ezra did not fell as if he was drowning anymore. In fact, it was as if he was breathing for the first time. He could fell each nerve and fiber in his body...and felt something else very familiar. It was too far away...he thought he was dreaming...maybe it was something the dead experienced...he was not sure until he heard the rhythm again.
Heartbeat. His own heartbeat.
And with realization, came the vision of the woman he had loved all his existence.
She has come to take him away.
There might be redemption for him after all.
It did not feel so bad to die now.
The vision of Rosie stood before him, bathed in ethereal light. She was smiling at him; her beauty so exquisite; his memories did not capture every finite detail of her. her green-blue eyes regarded him with all the love he had known from her. she did not speak, but he heard as clearly as if she was whispering to him.
A gift for His beloved Ezra.
For fighting His fight.
For fighting the temptations of evil.
Choosing to endure pain to remain humane.
And for choosing to be the man he will now forever be.
The only thing Ezra felt he could do was to open his eyes. And saw the cross that hung from Chris's neck. Not just one cross, but all three of them.
"Oh my God!" Nathan exclaimed.
"Please, Mr. Jackson. Ezra would suffice," he finally found his voice.
"How the hell..." words failed Chris, as it did the rest of them, who were more confused than relieved. There was also some fear amongst them.
Ezra found himself looking at Chris Larabee now, as the slayer looked at him, his expression a mix of relief and confusion and irritation. Vin and Josiah joined in the circle and Ezra hauled himself to his feet. He looked down and saw his best shirt torn.
"Thanks a lot," Ezra said, touching his shirt. The sarcasm in his voice did not go unnoticed by the rest of them.
"You should be dead," Chris pointed out.
"I'm alive," Ezra remarked, a smile breaking his lips.
That was when Nathan doused him with holy water again.
The rest of them waited with baited breath; Chris was ready with the stake.
"Whatever makes you happy, Mr. Jackson," Ezra said, sputtering. He threw a glare in Nathan's direction.
"Ezra, you've got five seconds to explain," Chris warned him, making sure Ezra saw the stake he was holding.
"I'm alive, Mr. Larabee," was the only thing Ezra could say.
"I think the word here is blessed, brother," Josiah said, smiling, as he reached out to touch the scar of Ezra's chest.
"I saw the skin burning," Nathan remarked, looking at Ezra. "That much of holy water should finished you off."
"It did," Ezra said. "I guess, I must have healed." As he spoke, he was looking at the cross Nathan wore around his neck and the holy relic he wrapped around his wrist. He threw back his head and laughed.
He could see...again. He could finally see.
"Must have done something to his brains, though," Buck drawled, as he looked at them gathered around Ezra.
"Buck!" the rest of them turned to their friend.
"Still hangin', guys," Buck said, his eyes drowsy as the battle wounds finally took their toll on him. "Gonna take more than a one-armed vampire and a bitch to bring me down..." and he just dozed off.
"So, what happened?" JD asked, looking at Vin. Or in the general direction of Vin, because his eyes were focused somewhere to the left of Vin.
The rest of them just looked at each other and then, slumped to the floor, laughing.
* * *
Three days later..."We are sorry for the destruction on your castle," Chris said, bowing his head as he spoke to the queen. "If there is anything we can do to help you..."
"You're already doing enough," Queen Miranda said, as she watched Ezra hang the chandelier on the ceiling. Apparently, Ezra's still retained his vampire strength, and though had a heartbeat, still needed blood as food and could not walk in the sun. it was a matter small consequence to Ezra, as he found Josiah's cloak could serve as his cover under the sun, though he had now washed it and fashioned it into a cloak for his size. Ezra hung the chandelier and jumped off the ceiling, landing next to Nathan, who was preparing a spell to seal the portal in the castle.
"We thank you for all that you have done for us," Chris said. The Royal Court of Kells have gone all out to help to treat Buck and their own prince, as well as give the travelers the royal treatment.
"And I thank you for looking after my nephew and his friends," the queen replied. "He takes after his father. I'm afraid I have denied of being who he really is."
"He is a brave boy," Chris said, the highest compliment he could give the young prince. "Absolutely loyal to his friends."
"Which is why he is now in his chambers, packing to leave with you and Vin," the queen tried to smile but the tears in her eyes overrode that.
"What?" Chris had known that Vin would be leaving with them; it seems the shapeshifter has finally found something he can utilize his gift for, instead of just amusing himself. Vin had told Chris of his decision last evening; Chris welcomed him, telling him that it would be a lot of hardwork.
"Really?" Vin's sarcasm had been an eye-opener for all of them. "You make it look so...enjoyable!" Chris had rolled his eyes, knowing that between Vin and Ezra (whom everyone knew, without a doubt, would be sticking around for a bit), he could say goodbye to peace and quiet. At the same time, this chaos would be most welcome than the one he had just escaped from.
But JD wanting to join them...this was news to Chris. JD was the Crown Prince of Kells, there was a lot for the prince to do here. Loyalty and courage was one thing, but JD was still young...
"He has chosen his path," Josiah's voice replied, before the queen could speak. The big man entered the Throne Room carrying a broadsword and a bulging sack. Chris knew exactly what the Priest had in mind.
"You too?" he asked the big man.
"Won't your congregation miss you?" Nathan asked, smiling. He could not help feeling glad with Josiah's decision. Josiah had some serious faith within himself and that sort of power could come in handy at any time in their line of work.
"Thomas can take care of it," Josiah shrugged. A grin broke his face. "Someone needs too look after your souls!"
"And then there were seven," Buck concluded. The rest of them turned towards the entrance and saw Buck limping into the room, JD and Vin following him.
"I'm not sure," Chris voiced his doubt. Slaying was a serious business; his life, in fact. "I don't think I can afford to keep all of you."
"I'm sure we can work something out," Ezra remarked, his manner off-hand, though there no mistaken that Ezra had already worked something out.
"You sure want to do this?" Chris asked, turning to JD. "Once we seal the portal, there's no direct connection between you and your kingdom."
To which, JD pulled out a the chain from underneath his shirt. The amulets of Miranda had a new addition, Ella's dimension amulet. "Whenever I miss home, I can just come back."
"Well..." was all Chris could say. He turned to Queen Miranda. "The boy certainly has covered all bases."
"His father would have been proud," the queen replied, as she kissed her nephew on his forehead. "As I am of him." Vin got a kiss too, just because the queen wanted to see how much the gypsy blush in front of his friends.
"Chris, whenever you're ready," Nathan called out from the little alcove behind the throne of Kells. The spell was almost complete now and the portal would seal itself once they had all crossed over.
"My lady," Chris bowed his head and went up to the alcove. JD gave his aunt a hug, promising to visit soon. The rest of them conveyed their thanks and went up behind Chris. Nathan touched three bricks on the wall and the a white light appeared, illuminating the whole room.
Chris took a deep breath and walked through the light. Whatever misery had been haunting him, Chris knew, it was over. A new life awaited him on the other side of the portal. It would not be much different, but it would not be the same either. He welcomed the change...needing it.
The Vishils feasting on the homeless at the ruins of St. Anne were surprised when a bright light appeared out of nowhere. Moments later, the light was gone.
And seven men stood facing the demons, weapons in hand, ready to do what they do best.
--END OF PART THREE--