This is the chapter I accidently wrote two chapters before its time.
Chapter Nineteen - Betrayal
Roger Wyndham-Pryce’s preferred style of management was a tight fist of tyranny. It was a strategy that worked it seemed, for despite the emergency sitting of the Trans-Dimensional Transgression Committee clashing with the temptations of Sunday lunch, there had been an excellent turnout to the meeting.
So far, two hours into his briefing, Wyndham-Pryce had yet to become tired of his own voice. He chaired the meeting in the style of a minor potentate, officious, dictatorial, and absolute, with discussion or dissent discouraged amongst the assembled Watchers as they listened silently to his decrees.
Unsurprisingly, Giles found himself disagreeing with nearly everything that was being said. Wyndham-Pryce’s methods were well meaning but bureaucratic and ultimately heavy-handed, crippling the Council with inertia.
This current disaster was no exception. A portal had opened in the middle of Milton Keynes Shopping Centre on a busy Saturday afternoon, destroying shops and killing anyone that got too close. It was evident that something malicious was coming through, but until they knew just what, discussion was pointless. A day had passed now since the incident the Home Office was blaming on a bomb attack and a town was in crisis, yet no one had done anything but talk.
Giles hadn’t missed these meetings during his time in California. There was something about the upper reaches of English society in its ability to tolerate this special brand of pompous autocrat that really annoyed the part of Ripper still left in Giles. Arrogant people who considered their positions in their institutions their right rather than their duty, they were blinkered by their network of old boys, more interested in preserving their exclusive clubs for their powerful friends than serving their causes.
The Council with its rigid hierarchy based on heredity rather than ability, was little different. Giles had never wanted any part of that, and in his younger years, he’d actively rejected it, refusing to be moulded into the kind of person he despised. Back then, he’d thought he’d been the only one who’d felt that way, but the swell of contrary opinion since the Council’s decimation by The First had disproved that.
People were looking for change, fed up with the Council’s stagnation. They wanted the Council to be great again; it had counselled Emperors and had stood at the side of Kings, amassing great wealth as their influence spread through the emerging British Empire, but that Empire had dwindled to nothing and Governments now fought their own battles with demonkind and the Council’s authority was fading. Yet, in spite of this, with a world brimful of new Slayers, there was an opportunity for the more idealistic and dedicated to seize their chance to change the stuffy inflexibility of the organisation once and for all.
What Giles thought the Council needed now was a new professional attitude. With the hundreds of Slayers called, all needing guidance and support, it wasn’t enough anymore to sit in private clubs swigging sherry while the battle between good and evil was fought on some remote front line. With one audacious spell, the balance had tipped in their favour and it wasn’t going to be long before evil found a way to even the odds. They needed people fast, yet still the old guard resisted the recruitment of capable people without the right family tree. Thus, as support steadily gathered behind Giles’ nomination, Wyndham-Pryce had begun to regard him with deep suspicion, as if he was some kind of demagogue raising the rabble against him. The Board Elections couldn’t come soon enough.
“If I may summarise,” Wyndham-Pryce told them, “this incursion by these beings, whatever they may turn out to be, must be put down swiftly and efficiently. We cannot tolerate the presence of unknown demons in this dimension, particularly near a centre of population such as this. Do you not agree, Home Secretary?”
The Government Minister nodded, but even he didn’t dare interrupt Wyndham-Pryce’s monologue.
“Excellent,” Wyndham-Pryce went on, straightening his glasses so that he could read his notes. “As Mr Giles is due to be in Istanbul this week, I have decided to appoint Miss Tyler-Jones as head of the operational team. Of course, with her er… disability, she won’t be able to take on an active field role, but despite this, I believe she will be more than capable of assembling and co-ordinating the required personnel.”
A few of the older Watchers, those that supported Wyndham-Pryce’s leadership, nodded sagely in agreement, but beside him, Stephanie Tyler-Jones flinched. It was clear that Wyndham-Pryce’s condescension bothered her, even though Giles knew that she would never admit it. A superb Watcher, intelligent with a clear, sharp wit, she’d been mentoring a potential Slayer in Copenhagen when the First had attacked. She’d managed to escape with her Slayer, but not before she’d lost her right leg in the struggle. Despite this, she was still a confident, capable and ambitious woman and she was rising quickly through the ranks of the new Council, as her skills and experience were essential to the reconstruction, but as a vocal supporter of reform, Wyndham-Pryce regarded her as a threat. Such an assignment was a devious move, calculated to put her into a danger he thought she couldn’t handle, but Giles knew what he hadn’t accounted for was that even on her prosthetic leg, she was still a formidable martial artist as capable of defending herself as anyone else in the room.
As the tense silence stretched on, the Home Secretary pursed his lips and nervously patted his Guide Dog. A few of the other Watchers had also caught the discomfort in the room. Several fidgeted in their seats as Wyndham-Pryce continued to talk and some cast glances at Giles, their nominee, in desperation. The need for progressive change was palpable.
“Does anyone have anything else to add?” Wyndham-Pryce asked. He stared at each of the assembled Watchers in turn, daring them to speak. Most found the Gainsborough’s dominating the walls fascinating all of a sudden.
Giles, however, met his eye, challenging him. “Actually, if I could just…”
Wyndham-Pryce cut him off bluntly, “very well, that will be all.”
The meeting broke up with a civilised stampede for the door with only minimal shoving. Giles ignored them as he added the final touches to his notes; he was more interested in watching Wyndham-Pryce as he hovered around the Home Secretary, no doubt trying to garner some extra support from the Minister.
Stephanie leaned over and whispered, “Don’t worry, he can’t live forever.”
“I certainly hope not.” Giles replied. He picked up his files and got to his feet, joining the bustle of people leaving the room. “Don’t pay him any regard.”
She smiled a bright, open smile Giles couldn’t help but return. “I don’t, but thank god this will soon be over.”
“You think he’ll lose?” Giles wasn’t that optimistic.
She quickly glanced at Wyndham-Pryce who was now giving some orders to his assistant. Giles could see her seething. “Good god, I hope so.”
As they headed towards the door, they negotiated the slalom of abandoned chairs left scattered untidily around the vast table, but just as Giles gestured for Stephanie to pass through the doorway before him, Wyndham-Pryce summoned him with an impatient wave. “Rupert Giles, may I speak with you for a moment?”
Giles sighed inwardly and said to Stephanie. “Could you wait for me? I would like to ask you something.”
She agreed and left Giles to the mercy of Wyndham-Pryce, who didn’t offer Giles a smile as he joined him and the Home Secretary. “I was telling the Minister about our plans for the Slayer’s Training Centre. How is that coming along?”
Suspicious of the other man’s motives, Giles replied guardedly, “Buffy left on Thursday. I haven’t heard from her yet. I think…”
“Very good. Of course, whether the facility will open will depend on the forthcoming Board election.” Wyndham-Pryce’s beady eyes, laced with threat, bored into Giles’ own.
Giles held his rival’s stare without emotion. “So I understand.”
“Excellent. Keep me informed.” Wyndham-Pryce curtly turned his back on him, returning his attention to the Home Secretary.
Giles was taken slightly aback by this rude dismissal and he left the room fuming. If he hadn’t disliked Roger Wyndham-Pryce before, he certainly did now and he was more certain than ever that he needed to win this election, regardless of his misgivings.
Outside in the corridor, Stephanie was waiting for him at the water fountain, drawing herself a small cup. “What did the annoying old bugger want?”
“He wanted to know about Buffy.” Giles found her irreverence refreshing, and his mood lightened a little.
“Your Slayer? First time for everything,” she chuckled, offering him a drink as she finished hers off. “What did you tell him?”
Giles declined. “Very little. Actually, I haven’t heard from Buffy in a couple of days.”
Stephanie’s smile faded as she dumped her empty cup into the bin and followed him down the corridor. “I’d watch him, Rupert. He’s up to something. There’s no way he capitulated on the Training Centre without something being in it for him.”
“I’m quite sure of it.” Giles agreed. As they reached the top of the main staircase, he paused. “I am worried about Buffy. She’s not settling in as well as I’d hoped. I don’t really think she’s over all the trauma of Sunnydale and she’s been having Slayer dreams again. I fear there may be more to the Training Centre than we suspected.”
“Anything can I do?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’ll let you know if you can.” He quickly checked that their conversation was private; it was all clear for the moment. “Stephanie, I have been meaning to ask you something.”
“Certainly, just ask.”
“I would like you to keep an eye on certain people while I’m away. Assuming all goes well in Milton Keynes, of course.”
“Of course,” she echoed. She glanced back at the boardroom before whispering, “Are you expecting trouble then?”
“Not as such, but there is a rather ruthless dimension to this election and if we want to see change here then I believe it would pay to be vigilant.”
“I understand.” Stephanie nodded, drumming her fingers against the notebook she clutched to her chest. “Don’t worry, we’ll all be watching him.”
“Thank you. That would be most helpful.”
“Does this mean you’ve accepted you’re ready for the Board then?” she teased.
“Good Lord, no.”
She laughed and started down the staircase. When Giles didn’t join her, she asked, “Are you not coming down?”
“No, I wanted to collect some things from my office first.”
“Okay, it sounds like I’ll be busy for the next few days, I will see you soon.”
“I wish you the very best of luck.”
She gave him a small wave of goodbye. “I’m envying your trip to Turkey already!”
Giles returned her wave and headed towards the back of the building and his office. After that meeting he needed tea, lots of it and he decided to take a little detour. Squeezed into a small alcove off the main first floor corridor, opposite the Artefacts Room and the offices of some of the junior Watchers, was a tiny, basic kitchenette designed for out of hours catering. It shared the tight space with a photocopier and a battered fax machine, which by the look of the charring on its casing, had been salvaged from the bombed out Holborn headquarters, but there was just enough room for a fridge, a sink and a small microwave.
He filled the kettle and dug out some teabags from a cupboard overhead; weekend working meant no tea lady and no fresh brew, so bags would have to do. He dropped the bag into the mug, wishing he had a teapot handy. As he did so he caught the sound of some furtive whispering. He paused and tried to work out what was being said. The bubbling of the kettle drowned out any of the words, but he could tell that there was only one voice speaking and its tone was nervous, acquiescent, grovelling.
Curious, and more than a little suspicious, Giles used the shadows of the alcove to see who it was. He was surprised to see Wyndham-Pryce talking conspiratorially to a tall hooded stranger in rough robes, but still too softly for Giles to hear what was being discussed. Wyndham-Pryce’s body language was tense and anxious, and his gestures seemed to be reassuring the stranger, who nodded slowly and disappeared from view before Giles could catch a glimpse of his face. With the stranger gone, Wyndham-Pryce looked about cautiously. Not noticing that he was being watched, he unlocked the door to the Artefact Room and slipped quietly inside, only to came out only a few moments later, smoothing down the pockets of his suit as if he’d concealed something inside. By the time the kettle had come to the boil, he had gone.
Giles added the water to his drink and considered the scene he’d just witnessed as the tea brewed. Wyndham-Pryce’s actions seemed suspicious, but there was no evidence to prove that anything he’d been doing was actually suspect beyond Wyndham-Pryce’s furtiveness. Yet the presence of the hooded stranger was more troubling. From Wyndham-Pryce’s acquiescence, Giles guessed the stranger could be an emissary from one of the powerful demon Lords that dominated the European sub-terrestrial elite, wealthy demonic nobility that had made their money trading in human Souls and other dubious practices. It was not unusual for the Council to make bargains with creatures such as these, particularly in times of crisis, but those deals were usually surreptitious, underhand, and if he was honest, often reneged on both sides. For a demon to pass through the doors of the Council itself was unheard of, even after hours when the building was largely empty. If the stranger had been such a being, Giles fervently hoped that whatever intrigue Wyndham-Pryce was up to, the truth was of a more mundane variety.
Giles was still pondering this as he reached the refuge of his office. He put his bag down beside his chair and took the opportunity to relax by taking in the parkland view. As he drank his tea, he heard the wheels of a car crunching the gravel of the long drive. A large black saloon, probably sent to return the Home Secretary to Westminster, appeared and halted beneath his window. The Jaguar’s engine hummed quietly with the purr of a finely tuned and expensive engine.
As Giles appreciated its sleek design, a tall, cloaked chauffeur got out and opened a rear door for a pair of figures leaving the building. But neither was the Home Secretary.
Wyndham-Pryce walked out beside the hooded stranger. When they arrived at the kerb, he reached into his pocket and handed something to the demon, receiving a grateful nod in reply. Wyndham-Pryce then turned to go, but the creature gestured towards the car. Wyndham-Pryce wavered, then straightened his jacket and got in. The chauffeur closed the door behind them both and got into the drivers seat, but as it turned its hooded head to do so, Giles caught the distinctive mutilated features of a Bringer.
Disturbed by what he’d seen, Giles watched the car pull away. He turned from the window, trying to decide what he was going to do about these events and barely had time to acknowledge the swing of the curved blade before it slashed across his vision.
Instinctively he dropped his mug and dodged the attack, but not before the cold steel had clipped his jacket and sliced cleanly through the fabric.
Now that the Bringer had lost the advantage of surprise, Giles was prepared for its next lunge and he positioned his desk between them. Caught on the other side of the barrier, the Bringer stabbed wildly and inexpertly, but its reach was too short. It missed Giles by inches, but never got seriously close. After a fruitless onslaught, it hesitated, as if wondering what to do next. The blade flashed menacingly in the weak sunlight from the window as it thought through its options. Then, seemingly exasperated by its lack of success, it dived around the side of the desk to reach its enemy.
Giles easily anticipated this move and kept the desk between them, shoving its heavy bulk into the Bringer’s side. Now pinned against a filing cabinet, it thrust the knife frantically into the air, stabbing the knife into the wood of the desk in its desperation.
As the Bringer yanked the knife free from the ink blotter, Giles looked around for any weapon that might be close to hand. He grabbed the nearest heavy book, a first edition of Carter’s Lost Lycanthropes, and thumped it down onto his assailant’s head. It flailed clumsily, giving Giles enough time to reach for a sword on top of a bookshelf. A deft swoop cut through the rough cowl and the Bringer’s head plopped neatly into the waste paper basket.
Giles collapsed back into his chair to catch his breath. As he rubbed his sword blade clean, he started to shake a little, as the adrenaline continued to surge through his bloodstream. He was getting a bit too old for this. The sword now returned to a bright sheen, he put it aside, but kept it within easy reach just in case. Finally, he checked the condition of his jacket. There was a neat slice that had gone through the tweed and the cotton of his shirt exposing the skin of his shoulder, but fortunately, no blood had been drawn this time - another narrow escape.
He was just reaching for his phone, to alert the caretaker to the headless corpse that was currently oozing dark ichors into his rug, when it started to ring.
It was Angel.
Hee! I teased you with Spike last chapter. He'll be back in the next one, I promise.
Previous parts are here.
This was beta'd so long ago now, I've forgotten who did it. but I believe thanks go again to myfeetshowit.