This part got a more leisurely draft and re-draft treatment, and the writing is stronger. I move into weirder territory, though.
Gray light filtered in through open curtains. Car tires splashed through puddles; rain pattered on the street. Another wet day. Giles sat up and rubbed his face, then slipped out of bed. He pushed the window sash down to keep the wet out, then sat on the sill, yawning. He watched Ethan sleeping: on his stomach, head wedged between the pillows, turned toward where Giles had been. Ethan's bare knee poked out out of the sheets. One hand rested across the hollow Giles' body had left. Slim, graceful, palm scarred from magic. Giles had to suppress an urge to climb back in with him, wake him, spend the rest of the morning sighing under that hand. Writhing under it. Instead he crept out of the room and found the bath down the hall. He washed and dressed in the shirt and tie he'd brought, over his jeans and boots.
Connections between the two of them. Ethan reaching out even in sleep. Ethan loves Giles more than Giles loves Ethan, in the end. Or perhaps it's that Giles feels himself betrayed, and the love turns to hate in him. Eventually.
He walked down to the high street through a drizzle to attend the early service at St John's. He entered the church and stood just inside the door to polish the rain away from his glasses. He nodded to the innkeeper, there with husband and daughter, and tucked himself into a pew at the back. He drew in the scent of churches: incense and wood and dust. Dry and familiar, comforting. But now that he thought about it, he could smell something else as well, something similar to what he'd tasted in Ethan last night. If that was not a sacrilegious thought. But there was something in that frankincense, or maybe in the air itself over the altar. Giles couldn't be sure.
As a child he'd always thought he could see things in the air, something flickering over the priest's head. When he was a teenager, at the Watcher prep school, he'd watched carefully in chapel to catch any hint of that blue shimmer he thought he remembered. But he'd seen nothing. Childish imagination. Until now. Perhaps a sense other than sight? Giles closed his eyes and tried to concentrate, under the familiar sounds of the Sunday service.
He will have this experience in church again, much later in his life. And so will someone else.
"For you, O God, have proved us; you have tried us just as silver is tried."
Did my research here: Giles might have heard these words in the liturgy at the time this story is set. Erk, I forget how many weeks past Easter it was, exactly. I probably fudged a little to get something apropos. The net is amazing for this sort of information.
Giles sighed. Why was he here? This was something he did every week that puzzled Ethan. What had the Christian god ever done for Giles? Ethan could point to a number of interesting things Janus had done for him. Giles had no answer for this. Ethan's paganism seemed to follow different rules than Christianity. Ethan cut his palm, offered blood, and was given power. Giles went to church and was offered what? The Three Powers of Christianity were real; only a fool doubted that. Men proved it fresh every time they raised the cross in the face of a demon. But They were otherwise silent. Giles sat here now, making the responses, because he always had, because his father had taken him and had seemed to think it significant. And because the Council required it of him. That was why he was here. So he could tell his Council tutor that he had remembered his duty, even on his weekend escape. Dutifully, he took communion, head down, kneeling at the altar rail.
The smell of the smoke choked him. He had to restrain twitches, his knee jumping, fist clenching. He needed to get out. Now. A vivid image of himself, flinging the vicar through the great window, then following him in a shower of colored glass and lead. The pub window, smashing. The window in his flat, spraying down onto the garden, his books following. Christ, what was wrong with him?
You're depressed, kid! Your father, whom you adored, died a horrible violent death! The Council is mistreating you for reasons you can't begin to guess at, because you haven't admitted they're mistreating you! Poor woobie. I'm going ot mistreat you some more before I'm done with you. Though there is a reward for you, eventually. There's a moment in Rome when... Ahem.
He left a fiver from Ethan's questionable stash in the collection. He half-ran back to the inn, scrubbing rain from his face, desperate to get back to Ethan. Ethan was awake when Giles returned, and dressed. He was sprawled out on the bed, across the rumpled sheets, reading a biography of Kropotkin. Heh. That tells you what Ethan's thinking. Giles calmed the moment he saw him. He shut the door of their room and leaned back against it, letting his breathing slow. Climb back into bed now and never get out?
But Ethan wound himself around, tossing his book aside and twitching up to a seated position, knees clasped against his chest. He watched silently while Giles changed out of his button-down shirt and tie to t-shirt. He twisted his face in a sardonic smile.
Ethan as corkscrew. This system of metaphors for him is even more in evidence in "Gas-ring Alchemy".
"Did you eat anything?"
"Just the communion wafer."
It's taken for granted between the two of them where Giles goes on Sunday mornings.
Ethan rolled his eyes. "Good. You'll want to skip breakfast, or it'll come up again." He slipped off the bed onto the floor and rummaged in their rucksack. He handed Giles a cellophane bag with something dried. Mushrooms. "Eat these."
"Just like this?"
"Don't be a baby. They taste fine."
Ethan took the baggy back and opened it. He tipped a mushroom into Giles' mouth. He chewed. Not unpleasant. A little sweet, a little almondy, fibrous. Ethan fed him another and brushed his fingers across Giles' lips. Giles kissed Ethan's hand, on cue. Ethan fed him everything in the bag, even the scraps. By the time he was done, Giles was hard, rubbing himself against Ethan's leg, licking his scarred hand. Ethan pushed him away, however, and wiped his palm on his jeans.
A parody of communion.
Giles sat back obediently and looked around their little room. It looked normal. "Is anything supposed to be happening?"
"Give it half an hour. Here, give me your specs. You're not going to want to worry about them." Ethan tucked them away into a pocket of his jacket.
They walked across town, shoulder to shoulder. Late Sunday morning, quiet. Some tourists milled about the abbey car park, but the sporadic rain kept most of them to more sheltered pursuits for the day. Giles didn't mind the rain, now that he had his leather on. It smelled good. Fresh. Clean. It lightened and lifted as they stood looking at the great cross near the entrance to the grounds, leaving the air sweet.
Ethan brushed a hand against Giles', discreetly. "Seeing anything yet?"
"Don't think so."
"You will soon. That was a bit of an heroic dose I gave you."
"What's that mean?"
"It'll be good. That's all you need to know. And I'm here for you."
It means that Ethan gave Giles a hell of a lot, and very soon he's not going to be in consensus reality. Ethan is at least paying attention to set and setting and being moderately smart about Giles' first experience with psychedelics. By the way, I am unlikely to write disapprovingly of soft drug use, at least as far as consenting adults go.
Now that Giles was looking at the cross, he thought that maybe he was seeing something. Colors. Everything was looking more intense. Sparks. Red and green and blue tracers, faintly running over everything. He looked more intently, leaning close and running his hands over the crosspiece. Yes. Definitely something was happening. He grinned at Ethan. "Brilliant!" He led Ethan all over, examining everything, searching for more hints of that color. Decorations on stone caught his attention: the knot-work had his mind chasing itself around in intricate patterns. It was all so vivid and beautiful. Bright figures moved in the periphery of his vision. Animals. Ethan trailed after him, grinning, while Giles wandered across the wet grass, jeans soaked halfway to his knees, questing among ruined pillars, fragments of walls, the remnants of the abbey. Giles followed streams of sparks. Power. This ground was holy. Truly holy. Whatever he'd smelled in church had been nothing compared to this.
Typical psilocybin experience, a bit different from an LSD experience. Less, hmm, intellectual and more grunty. Though I imagine that mileage varies greatly, since the experience is deeply affected by expectations and mood. The spiritual sensations Giles is about to have are also typical, especially for people who are already of a spiritual bent. However, I also mean to imply that Giles is seeing something that is truly there, with senses he has not been able to exercise before now. In the Buffyverse, magic is real and gods are real. And this power is real.
The tourists were more plentiful now, as the day rode on toward noon, and the rain held off. The two university boys were joined by Americans with Polaroid cameras, church groups with pamphlets, a weekending historian from a red-brick university, and one or two other fellow seekers with blown pupils and secret smiles. Giles tried to keep himself composed as he stood near them, gazing at the decorations on a stone arch, to look like he wasn't having the most amazing experience of his life, like he wasn't hallucinating so hard he couldn't tell reality from vision. It was all just the drug, he knew, every bit of it. He knew Ethan well enough to know that he might have made up the business about magical ability just to coax Giles into this. But Ethan had his interests at heart. Giles was grateful. This was wonderful.
It changed when they moved within the shadows of the ruined lady chapel and descended into the crypt. What remained of the walls rippled, breathing. They closed around him. No sun at all, not the cloud-filtered wet sunshine. No streams of power. The crypt was cloaked in deeper shadows. The animals fled, as unwilling to enter as Giles was. He took a few more steps forward across the ruined wet floor. He clutched at Ethan's arm and stopped. Ethan was looking up, at the walls standing on three sides, at the rail over which tourists peeked down, at the grass poking up between wet stones. Giles saw none of this, only shadow. Then forms resolved.
The setting changes, affects Giles' mood, and he starts seeing the things he's been worried about.
Watchers. Men in sober suits and ties. A few women. Dressed as he'd seen them all dress for his father's funeral last year. Giles thought he recognized faces, faces of men who'd visited his father often when he was a boy, less often in the years when he had a Slayer, but he wasn't sure.
Those visits. The men would hang their coats in the hall and lock themselves away in his father's study, and raised voices would leak from around the door. Giles and Angelina would listen, pressed as close to the door as they dared. Angelina with her Slayer hearing would catch more than he could.
"They don't like how he's handling me," she'd whispered to him, grinning mirthlessly. "They're threatening to fire him." Giles had stared.
When they left, his father turned from the door and glared at the pair of them. "You heard everything, I suppose. I am a disgrace to the name of Giles." He grimaced, then smiled a private smile at Angelina. "O felix culpa!" Angelina shrugged slightly and returned the smile. The smile that ought to have made Giles feel left out, but instead made him long for the day his own Slayer would smile at him like that. The smile he could never properly explain to Ethan.
And I give the game away again! Giles' father quotes the Easter mass. This flashback will pay off much later in the novel: Giles will echo the experience in his father's role, and Xander will be in Giles' position.
Giles misses his father, and is still grieving his loss. His mother is still around, but long divorced from his father. Giles' younger brother, who has no trace of the Watcher destiny on him, is with his mother. The Council is uninterested in them, but very interested in Giles.
In the end Angelina had survived Cruciamentum and made it past twenty, unheard of in modern times. Barely twenty-one last year, when something had shredded her. And his father. Bodies so mutilated that the Council mortician had fought him when Giles had demanded to see them. Hellhound pack, they'd told him. They'd talked out of the other sides of their mouths at the funeral, telling young Rupert what an example his father had set for them all.
Hmm! I wonder what this is about.
Those men. Disapproving Councilmen. They were the ones present in the crypt of this ruined chapel.
The Councilmen stood in a tight circle around something Giles couldn't see. Something on a table. No, a bier. Giles did not want to see what it was. He desperately did not want to see it. Not again. But they stood aside, made a path for him. He walked up to it. No choice. Never a choice.
The body of a Slayer lay on it. Giles moved closer. Many Slayers. All dead. A stream of faces flickering, awash in blood, drained white, broken, crushed. Then it changed, and was the body of a blonde girl, a little thing, face bright even in death, in a party dress stained with water. Giles didn't know her. The current Slayer? A Slayer long dead?
Buffy, dead at the Master's hand. Giles is seeing true. He has no idea what he's seeing, however.
"Do you know what to do with her?" The nearest Watcher was speaking to him. "There are rules to follow. You have to know them. Your job is to end up here, with your Slayer right there. You're not following the rules, Rupert. Your father didn't either. It's why he's not here."
Hmm, this gives the game away a bit, too, but I like this manner of doing it. Oblique.
Giles didn't know what to do. Whatever it was he wanted, it was not to end up here, staring at the body of his dead Slayer for eternity. Better never to know one, than this. He fell to his knees in a puddle, shaking.
"How are you doing, love?" Ethan was next to him, arms around him. Giles leaned against him.
"They've followed me here," Giles said, pressing his hands over his face. "They can't even let me take a holiday."
"What? Who, love?" Ethan held him close and stroked his face, pushed the damp hair back from his sweaty forehead.
"Watchers. Men in tweed. And a dead Slayer." Giles let his hands fall. He leaned his head against Ethan's shoulder. The touch helped. Ethan was warm.
"It's just the drug. Just the drug. They're not actually here. You're hallucinating, love."
"But I see them. Dozens of them. They're upset with me."
"The mind is its own place," Ethan said to him, a little amused. "Let's not make a hell of this heaven. They'll have to come through me to get you, love. And they won't. Come on. I think you'll do better away from the ruins." Ethan helped him up.
Ethan quotes Milton's Lucifer, from Paradise Lost.
"It's not ruined, you know. It's still standing. We'll have to go out this way." Giles led the way out of the crypt.
"Holy hell," said Ethan, but he followed Giles anyway, as he threaded through half-seen aisles. "Let's get away from the tourists, then."
Giles paused at the battered doorway, and ran his hands over posts he thought he'd seen chipped, crumbled. "I don't remember the doors," he said to Ethan. Heavy wooden doors, solid, thick, studded with bent-over iron nails. He grasped the ring and hauled, straining against reluctant hinges. Rust flaked. Wood scraped on stone. Giles released the ring, flexed his fingers, gripped again. He strained and the door yielded.
Giles' hallucinations have gone far past the visual. He is now moving half in the spirit world and half in this world. This is another indication that it's not just the drugs. Ethan didn't expect this. He expected that Giles would see something unusual, because this is a site of power, and the location of a portal into another dimension. What he didn't know is that it was once a site where Watchers lived and worked. Giles doesn't know that either.
Ethan was watching him, bemused. He'd already passed through, somehow. He stood on the other side of the threshold, on bare grass in pale light, smiling, holding out his hand. Giles stepped through after him and felt his mood lift. Ethan led him gently away from the buildings, toward the far corner of the grounds, away from the groups of tourists. He did indeed feel calmer the further they got away from the site of the crypt. He kept hold of Ethan's hand, though.
They followed the path of a stone-flagged walk. Though from the sound of his footsteps on grass, it wasn't really there. Giles stood still a moment, tugging Ethan to a stop. He considered the change in his vision. Now it was not so much about the color, and the animal figures moving just out of his view. It was grayer and sharper. Giles knew he was seeing something different now. He was seeing this place as it had once been. The very sunlight was different here. Silver and aged and ageless and from some world not this one.
He turned back to the abbey building, and saw it whole, great walls arching up. It was lovely. He smiled. "The abbey," he said to Ethan. "It truly is intact. Or at least I'm seeing it that way. A vision of the past, I think. Astonishing."
Ethan studied his face. "You seem... together again."
"Mm," said Giles. "It's different now. Power. I can feel it."
Transition complete. Note the diction shift.
Ethan perked up. "Yes?"
"There's power all over," Giles said, dreamily. "Blue and red and green lines streaming all over everything. The holy spirit walks here with us." He followed a trail of something, some spark in motion, toward the sight of water. He led Ethan clear across the grounds, toward the track that led up the Tor. He stood waist-deep in grass at the edge of a pond. It seemed murkier than it ought to be. He wondered how deep it was. He backed away from the edge and worked his way around.
Ethan followed, bemused. "Duck pond, Ripper. A lot of ducks."
"Yes, ducks. And other birds. And there's something underwater." Giles stepped out onto a rock that jutted out a little ways into the pond. He flung himself onto his face across the rock, looking down into the pond. Something gleamed, deep down. It rose, and came into clear view: a pair of swords, crossed, wrapped in leather, the hilts just inches below the surface. A pair? Why was he hallucinating this?
"Two swords," he said to Ethan, who stood just behind him on the rock. "I'm seeing two swords. They're beautiful. No jewels, or any of that rot. All business. I could do a lot with one of those."
Important setup that I will pay off in a much later story. Cough.
"Swords in the lake. Oh, Ripper. You have Arthur on the brain."
"No. Can't think of any legends about this. And Arthur was never here anyway. That's tourist nonsense." Giles reached in, soaking his arm up to the elbow. The water was warm. The swords receded from his fingers, but remained, shimmering several feet underwater. Which was odd, because he hadn't thought the pond was that deep. He pushed himself up onto his knees and looked around. The pond had become a lake. It stretched out south and east, nearly to the foot of the Tor itself. Mist rose from its still surface. Reeds rustled along the edges. A world other than the one Ethan was in had closed over his head. He swam in the deep water of the visions Ethan had promised him, and was far beyond the shallow sparks and colors of the earlier hallucinations. This vision was knife-sharp. He could see the lake and the reeds, smell the scent of the forest below them, hear the cry of the water-birds. The past, the present in another world, pure hallucination? The past, he thought.
Hmm. I kinda like this paragraph, though I wish I hadn't said "knife-sharp". It's a variance from the water language the rest of the graf uses.
Giles stood, and followed the sparks away from the water, around the shore to what appeared to be a trodden path. The power he'd been sensing all morning came from somewhere up that path. Giles followed it away and up.
"Hey," said Ethan, snatching at his arm. He hauled Giles back to his side. "Watch the road."
"I can't see it. You'll have to lead me." Ethan gave him an odd look, but led him with his arm crooked through Giles'. Giles walked when Ethan walked, stopped when Ethan stopped, and tried to keep his wide-eyed gaze at the land around him in check. But it was difficult. It was so marvelous. The modern road obviously tracked the iron age road he seemed to walk upon, but his road led through open fields not a town, then into the strip of trees at the foot of the hill. They emerged onto the slope of the Tor. Cattle and sheep grazed.
"Here we are, Rupert. Should be safe now-- it's just the walk up the hill."
It was steep. Ethan noticed the climb more than Watcher-fit Giles did, breathing freely and sweating. Giles stopped to wait for him more than once, at the crest of the first ridge, beside a cow that existed in both the worlds they walked through, placidly cropping grass. They had a ways yet to climb. He drew Ethan along with him, tugging at his hand. He could see their destination now, somewhere within St Michael's, erupting from the crest of the Tor. The power was streaming out and down from a point inside the ugly walls.
Giles and Ethan could both sense it, and were drawn to it for their separate reasons. As were others on the hill. Even the ones with inner senses stopped up could feel it.
POV pulls back a little bit. I'm not sure I approve. It would be okay if I'd done it consistently throughout the story.
Giles outpaced Ethan again, and reached the summit before him. He stood at the crest, absorbing the view. He turned to look downhill, at the flat plains of the Levels, watching the rain sweep across the landscape toward them. Ethan caught up to him, dark hair plastered to his face with sweat and rain. Giles hugged him close.
"How are you doing?" Ethan asked him.
"This is... it's marvelous, Ethan. Lovely. So eerie. I'm seeing the underworld, I think. The visions you promised me."
Ethan pulled away for a moment to look him up and down. "Can't believe you're so lucid, honestly, Ripper. The dose was..."
"You didn't need to do this to prove anything, did you. You could have just taught me to cast something." Ethan opened his mouth as if to defend himself, but Giles held up a hand. "S'all right."
So Ethan was making it all up. But it turned out he was right.
Ethan turned to look at whatever version of the Tor he was seeing. "I wanted to give you a holiday."
"Mm. Thank you. Ethan. I, you. God." Rather than stammer out something that didn't say half of what he wanted, Giles slipped his arms around Ethan's waist again and snugged up to him from behind. Ethan leaned back against Giles' chest. He was warm. The breeze up here was chilly through Giles' damp jeans.
Awww. More with the affection, though I hope it's not soppy. Giles isn't going to go all hearts and flowers and declarations of love. And I think Ethan would retch if he did.
"Come on, then," said Giles, after a time. "Let's look inside this dreadful church."
Somebody murmured something that Giles couldn't catch.
"What was that, love?" Giles said.
"Didn't say anything."
The voice spoke again, in a language like Welsh, yet not quite. The language he'd been reading earlier in the week, though the vowels weren't quite as his tutor had pronounced them. And it spoke again. This time Giles realized it was coming from behind them.
He spun and nearly overbalanced. Ethan held him up, alarmed. "What?"
A man stood on the path. Grayed out, with hints of color in his tunic, with a faint crystalline gleam over him. A shock of dark hair, a pale face, a thick mustache. He was armed. He wore a torque around his neck and leather bracers on his arms. Giles placed him as a noble. The dagger in his belt would be iron. Giles could rattle off a thousand facts about his people, and where he had lived, and what he had eaten, and none of them meant anything when the man was standing ten feet away from him. Breathing. Watching him cautiously.
Giles' field of study has come alive and is talking to him.
He spoke again, this time impatiently. Giles shook himself, and muttered over what the man had just said, then it fell into place. He'd just asked Giles who they were, that wanted to walk upon the sacred ground.
Giles gave his name, and was given the ghost-man's name in return: Mael the son of Roycol. Giles suppressed a groan, and resolved not to tell Ethan where he'd heard the name before. The catalog of names in the story of Culwych and Olwen, mentioned earlier. He pulled himself together, and did his best to be polite in a language he had only just learned. They exchanged greetings, and small talk about the beauty of the view from the Tor. Giles praised the richness of his torque.
"Who are you talking to, Ripper?" Ethan sounded a little indulgent, still. Giles recalled that Ethan had no idea what Giles was seeing.
"Um, there's a Cornish or Welsh noble standing on the path. At least he's speaking some variant of medieval Welsh."
"Coincidentally, the language you've just been studying. So there's a man here, standing right here talking to you."
"Yes, about ten feet in front of you." Ethan took a few steps up the path and waved his hands. "Yes, just there. He can see you, you know."
"We're being rude to Mael." Giles dipped a shallow bow at the twilight man.
"That's his name. Uh, he's asking where is my killer, my demon-hunter. Oh. He's asking me where my Slayer is."
Giles told Mael that he had no Slayer. Mael laughed. Giles glowered.
"What? What's the imaginary bloke saying to you, Ripper?"
"He's laughing at me. I'm stuck as your companion instead of a warrior-girl's. He, uh, he knows that we're, um, lovers. He, well. I should have a demon-hunter in my bed, not a demon-caller. What? Must have that wrong. And now he's saying... Um." Giles thought the last thing he'd said had been uncomplimentary to Ethan's manhood.
Foreshadowing of two events, one canonical, one still cooking in my fevered brain.
"Tell him to fuck off from me, would you?" Ethan cocked an arm in the direction Giles was looking. Mael seemed to know what it meant, or at least to know that Ethan meant insult.
"Bugger, my vocabulary isn't good enough. Jenkins was right. I need to study more. Let's see..."
Giles apologized, saying that his companion did not believe that Mael was present, since he could not see. He then asked Mael what proofs they could offer his companion that Mael was truly there, speaking with Giles. The man considered for a moment, then smiled. There was something in the smile that made Giles nervous, and it wasn't just the glitter of the ghost-world.
"I have a gift for your lover," he told Giles. He removed a ring from his hand, and tossed it onto the ground. A silver thing, with a watery gem, with the crystalline sheen that shimmered over Mael. Giles bent over it, but his fingers closed over nothing.
Mael laughed. The laugh had begun to wear on Giles.
"Ethan. There's a ring here he says is for you. But I can't touch it."
"Under your hand here? I can't see it at all. Not all the way into this world, then. You can bring it all the way over. If you'd like to try some magic."
"Crash lesson time," Ethan said, a thoughtful finger on his lips. "No time for theory. Here's a, well, a spell for you, for lack of a better word. *Tantum visum, transi et corporasce.* Concentrate on the object, and, um, exert your will on it. And say it."
Latin is the language of magic. glimmergirl translated for me. My theory here is that language organizes the brain. It provides structure. The brain then influences the magical power it has access to, and effects change. If you know what you're doing, you don't need words because you've learned how to structure the energy in a different way.
Giles brought his brows together and considered the ring. "*Tantum visum, transi et corporasce.*" Nothing happened. Mael laughed at him again. He looked down and pressed his lips together, containing his anger.
Ethan laid a hand on Giles' shoulder. "You can do it, Ripper, love. You've got the power and you know it. Find that place in yourself where it lives."
Giles opened his eyes again and met Ethan's gaze. Find the place in himself. Where was the magic? He searched. Profane memory: Ethan's taste in his mouth last night, hot and salty and bitter and sweet and fizzing with something... There. Giles bent his will on the ring, and spoke the command again. He felt something go out of himself, then return. A surge of something, passing through him. Power, in his hand. In his blood. His power. He was strong. He was as strong with this as he was with the sword. With the fist. This was his. He spoke the words again, and this time he knew.
Giles has awakened as a mage. And in this AU, he's strong.
The ring glittered on the grass. It was silver, with a red stone. Giles reached down and picked it up. He nodded at Mael, with savage triumph. He handed it to Ethan, who was grinning at him.
"There's my boy, my Ripper," Ethan said. "I told you." He dug a fist into Ethan's shirt and yanked him close for a moment. They kissed, right in front of everyone. Giles didn't care.
Ethan slid the ring onto his thumb and blinked. "Janus! You've been seeing this all along? There's an entire damn abbey here! And a bloody lake! And a bloke in costume, with a dagger."
Giles shook with silent laughter. "Now you see!"
Mael stepped close to Ethan. Too close. He said something.
Mael took offense earlier. Ethan has successfully picked a second fight for Giles. This one blows up in his own face, though.
"Get out of my face, you!"
Ethan lifted his hands to push Mael away. Giles stopped laughing. Mael shoved Ethan. Ethan shoved back.
The warrior shouted something Giles couldn't understand, then leapt. Ethan dodged. Mael swung a fist and connected with Ethan's jaw. They fell together and tangled in the mud, battering at each other.
"Fucking hell! Ripper, help!"
I discuss this next sequence in the postmortem. My first draft of it was pretty bad. I went off into a digression about Giles' history as a swordfighter and random abstract stuff in the middle. Doh! In the final draft, I'm more concrete and immediate. The sentences are short to keep the pace fast.
Giles snatched at Mael's hair, but his fingers closed on nothing. Ghost. But he was hitting Ethan hard enough, which meant--
"Throw me the ring!"
Ethan wrenched it from his hand and tossed it at Giles. He stabbed out a hand and caught it.
The twilight warrior drew his dirk and slashed it across Ethan's throat. Giles gasped a warning, too late. Ethan didn't seem to notice. He'd slumped back onto the grass, and was rubbing at his barked knuckles. Taking off the ring had saved him.
Giles was angry now.
So angry that he piles into this fight without needing to. He could have just left the ring off and waved goodbye to Mael. But he's furious, and bloodthirsty. He wants to defend his lover. His courage is on display.
He slipped the ring onto his forefinger of his right hand. The world rippled and came into deeper focus. The crystalline shimmer over everything vanished. Giles did not pause to consider this. He launched a kick at Mael's head, and sent him flying across the grass. Before he could recover, Giles was on him, driving him down into the mud. He grabbed the knife hand, fingers wrapped around the thumb and thumbnail digging between the second and third knuckles, twisting the arm like a screwdriver *kote gaeshi* and the dirk flew to the side. Mael spat out a curse.
This really works, and it hurts.
Giles rolled, and came up with the dirk in his hands. He backed a step away, cautiously, watching the other.
Mael pushed himself up and showed his teeth to Giles. He said something Giles couldn't follow, and produced another dagger from somewhere.
"Bloody hell," said Giles.
"Ripper, what's going on? What are you doing?"
"Stay back. Keep out of my way."
They circled each other, feinting, testing each other out. Giles had better reach. But Mael was unafraid. He'd been fighting all his life, in real battle, and he must have known a thousand dirty tricks. Giles didn't know any. No, wait, he knew one. Giles let the corner of his mouth lift. He let the ring slide down to the last joint, holding it in place with his thumb. Next pass...
Giles uses his head. This is smart, because knife fighting is dirty, and Mael has an advantage. Giles has a huge advantage in reach, however. He's probably the better part of a foot taller than Mael.
Mael feinted. Giles allowed their blades to touch, then let the ring fall into his palm. He rolled straight through Mael's body, came to his feet turning. He thrust a fingertip through the ring. Reality shimmered, and Giles struck.
Chain under the shirt.
Mael's counterblow caught his upper arm and sheared through his leather jacket. Bright pain. He staggered. Mael closed for another blow, but Giles had already let the ring slide off again. The Welshman stumbled this time. Giles felt blood trickle down his arm. Not pumping, at least. He might live.
Doesn't work! Injury.
Ring on again, and circling. Mael shifted his feet. Ring off, step inside his guard as he swung at Giles, ring on.
Giles stabbed upward into Mael's exposed armpit, through the gap in the chainmail. Blood sprayed. Giles twisted the dirk viciously, thinking of Mael slashing across where Ethan's throat had been. He ripped the blade out. Mael crumpled writhing onto the blood-spattered grass. Giles howled in triumph, dagger upraised.
Nasty and deadly. Giles has just killed his opponent.
"End it," said Mael, voice thick. "Or would you have me die slowly?"
Giles returned to himself. He fumbled for the words. "Why? Why fight me?"
"To show you what you are. Now end it."
I'm not sure I understand Mael here. I think I was a bit muddled when I wrote this, and unclear on my overall goals. Mael is the gatekeeper who traditionally the hero must defeat on his descent into the underworld, from which he emerges with the knowledge he needs. Mael prevents Giles from ascending to the portal at the top. I wanted Giles to fight, and to win, and to learn something.
Giles hesitated, then knelt in the mire. He leaned forward and opened the carotid with the dagger point. Blood, for a moment, then a reality-shimmer. Mael sat up, whole.
"You're blooded now, young one. You must kill that which she cannot. Remember that."
Slayer can't kill humans. But the Watcher can. Giles has just learned he can kill. Not in a very nice way.
He vanished. Giles stumbled back. His knees failed him and he sat on the grass in a heap. He put his swimming head down and breathed. Adrenaline was still pumping. The smell of blood, on top of whatever it was Ethan had fed him, conspired against his stomach.
"Fucking Council's good for something, eh, Ethan? All that weapons training..." Giles closed his eyes.
"Sweet Janus," Ethan said. He scrambled over to Giles. "Ripper. Ripper! You're covered in blood. Or something. What the hell is this?"
Giles looked down at himself. His t-shirt and jeans were spattered in black. "The blood of a man who's been dead a thousand years. A guardian. A figment of my imagination."
"That's your blood! Shit, Rupert, he got you."
"Not badly. Surface wound. Just needs to be cleaned."
Ethan stripped off his jacket roughly and bent to Giles' arm. He pressed it with his fingers and swore.
"Can't you magick it or something?"
"With chaos? No." Ethan searched out the inevitable handkerchief from the inside pocket of Giles' jacket and tied it across the slash. It was clotting already. That would do until they got back to the inn. Would have to do.
I like that little dialog exchange. Nothing is overly explained. The implication is that with some other kind of magic, maybe the wound could be healed. But not Ethan's magic. His magic does other things.
Giles held up the blood-stained dirk. Iron, as he'd thought. Garnets at the crosspiece-- Mael was indeed a noble. "Can you see it?" he asked Ethan.
"Uh, not really. A moment." Ethan raised his hands, fingers spread. His eyes went glassy. "I can see something faint in your hands. Like white smoke. A ghost-blade. I saw that fucking dagger well enough when I had the ring on."
"*Tantum visum, transi et corporasce.*" Giles said it almost casually. The power surged in him again. The dirk flared bright, then solidified. He wiped it on the grass.
Giles has now well and truly set his feet on his path downward. He has to descend, though. He had to have this experience: he can't fulfill his destiny with his Slayer if he can't use his magical power. Which makes what the Council was up to seem even more fishy, doesn't it?
Ethan took it from Giles and turned it in his hands, ran his fingers over the blade. "Oh, we're going to go far, Ripper, my friend. You and I."
"Brilliant," said Giles, showing his teeth. He took the dirk back and slipped it into the pocket inside his jacket, the one he'd had made for stakes. He put the jacket back on. The ring went into his hip pocket.
Ethan stretched out a hand and lifted Giles to his feet. Giles rose, then swayed. He groaned. The drug was gone from his blood. The second sight had abandoned him. His stomach was uneasy. The anxiety he'd felt in the chapel ruins gripped his throat again. He took an unsteady step. Ethan wrapped an arm around his waist and helped him up the last rise, to the ruins of St Michael's. They passed within the gray walls they'd been climbing toward all day.
Ethan came to a halt and lounged, hands shoved into jeans pockets, just where the altar would have stood. "Here we are. Portal's here. I don't know how to use it."
Giles looked around, and saw nothing. But he could feel it, now. Power and possibility. Potential. The place where the barrier between worlds had worn away.
And again with the portals and windows.
He fell to his knees at Ethan's feet and heaved. Ethan danced aside. Giles tried to laugh. Ethan knelt beside him and held him close until he stopped shivering. Giles pulled away and slumped onto his back on the rain-wet grass, breathing hard. He stared up into the clouded sky. The rain spattered onto his face and slid down. But he smiled when Ethan leaned over him, worried. A secret smile.
"The portal's open," he told Ethan.
And he's surpassed Ethan already. He's looking up and his eyes are open, but he's flat on his back. Contrast with the church scene that opens part 2. From my notes:
- Opening: downward-looking, closed in, myopic. Dry, dust, incense & resin & warmth. We need to go there with Giles & follow him as he thinks about Ethan during the service. We need to see him take communion. (Echoed when he eats the mushrooms.)
- Closing: outward vision, looking up, openness. Wet, grassy, muddy, messy, cold. Giles pukes (purging), but is suffused with energy.
And again from my notes:
Giles is directly experiencing everything he was indirectly exposed to in the beginning. It's raining on him, not on glass that separates him from the elements. His glasses are off. The corrupted beginning is his. He'll be one of the heroes he reads about. Eventually he will sink into dissolution, and then emerge with knowledge of life and death.
Giles will eventually need to return to this place and enter the portal. Not now, though. He doesn't know why he's here yet. I'm not yet sure what I'll do with the ring and the knife.
I'd like to follow up this story with one from their lives afterward, when Giles has fled the Council. Perhaps show the Eyghon event directly, though I don't feel I need to do that. Just show Giles at his most debauched, so the contrast with the Giles in "Welcome to the Hellmouth" is clear.