All of my ideas about strategy were useless now; the only thing I could do was outrun them. They were certainly weaker with Ailil gone, but I wasn't in my best condition. I took long strides, keeping my mind on the location of my duffle bag stuffed under the dolmen stone, and I hoped that Birog was reading my mind. Timing was crucial.
It was the longest ten miles I've ever run. There were arrow fragments in my hips and my shoulder. My chest was bleeding, but it was a very minor wound. My liver hadn't made a recovery and I fought the weakness that surged, abated, and surged again. One of Ailil's soldiers was gaining on me, but it would be useless to cut him down. I deepened my strides, hoping that my strength would last long enough.
The passage began to grow lighter. It occured to me that the most cowardly of them might draw back from daylight, and that only the most vengeful would follow me right to the entrance. They would be strongest. The light grew frighteningly bright and I had to fight my own instincts. By the time I was just a few strides from the entrance my skin had already begun to smoke and I was nearly blind; I had to do it by memory. I ran directly into the pool of sunlight and jumped, my hand searching for the strap I had left there. I missed. I fell, rolling out of the light, and two soldiers were on me. It was ludicrous, because we would all burn, but they had nothing left to lose. I was punched in the nose by one, then in the throat by another who slid a blade directly into my ravaged liver.
"Cheap," I grunted; I drew a stake out of my pocket and dusted him. The first attacker drew a stake of his own and we grappled, rolling; I took a firm grip on his throat and tossed him into the sunlight, holding him there. He writhed, caught fire, and finally burst into dust. I drew my hand back and winced. It felt like a cinder. I made one more try for the strap and found it. I pulled with all of my weight and the dolmen stone shifted, turned, and came down with a shower of earth. It triggered a kind of chain reaction; the ground above the passage folded and sank, then fell completely into the passage itself, sifting softly down. I pushed myself deep under the lip of the entrance and the soil covered me completely. I heard the echoing howls of dozens of vampires as the daylight appeared over them and they burst into dust.
I waited in the soft surrounding of damp earth, prepared to be there until dark.
Then I heard the thunder. Actually, I felt it first. It was a violent crack; lightening hissed in the air, I could smell it.
"You don't do anything half way, do you?" I muttered. I shook the dirt off and looked for a place to climb out. The rain was pelting down in silvery sheets and running through the passage; I'd have to be out soon or I'd be washed away underground.
I jumped. I shielded my eyes, looking up at John and Mark. Mark was on his stomach, extending his hand. We gripped each other's wrists and I awkwardly scrambled out. John threw a blanket over me and we ran back to the estate, or they ran and I stumbled along. Thunder crashed over us in a black sky. It was a magnificent storm. Lightening zipped again, a violet rip in the air, and the thunder made the organs in my chest shake with it's force.
We made the estate at last and I stopped to look up before I was ushered in.
"Thank you," I said. A ray of sun shone through a cloud in the distance; it stung. I went inside.
"Phone," I said.
"Now," John sensed my resolve and he handed it to me. I called Doyle.
"Hey," he said.
"What did you find?"
"We got it,"
"Good, good," I wiped rain from my face, "Did you call that number?"
"I got a government office. Left a message for-"
I swallowed, "Xander. Call again. Tell them it's about the Slayer. They'll tell him. The order has been sent. Did you hear me?" John took the wet blanket from my shoulders and tossed a towel over me.
Doyle was writing. "The order...the ORDER?"
"Not Taraka. The Dal Riada,"
He was silent for a minute.
"When?" he asked quietly.
"Less than an hour ago. Has she shown up?"
"She has, Angel," he hesitated. I waited. "She...she found it,"
"What do you...you mean the Record?"
"She showed up just as I left. I hid it at your old apartment, where they wouldn't bother to look. She came in right as I was out the back door. I didn't have time to stop her, I was being followed,"
"So they didn't find her?"
"Not yet. They will. You know she's not the stay-in type,"
"Where is she?"
"I couldn't follow her. I was keeping them on my trail,"
"Call Giles. Never mind, I'll call him. She's in danger, Doyle. You can't let anything distract you from this,"
"Since when do you think-"
"Ailil made a threat against you. You're not marked, but he said he'd distract you,"
"Angel, don't worry about me,"
I was quiet for a moment.
"I don't," I said.
"I already called Giles," he said, "I told him about what you're doing, and about the Record. I thought he could help,"
"What did he say?"
"Well, he already called her once, to see if she'd found it. But he didn't tell her anything,"
"So, she'll go big-game hunting tonight,"
"Well, maybe not...there's one more thing..."
"Well, I put the Record in a box,"
"I put it in the box with the hidden compartment,"
I looked at the drawing room, the fire, the drawn shades, the quiet worry on my nephew's face as he thrust a whiskey at me. I put my hand over my eyes.
"So, she probably doesn't even know she has the Record yet...Angel?" said Doyle.
"Why THAT box?" I asked.
"Well...it looked the least interesting. I thought if they did go back, they'd leave it. I even wiped dust on the thing,"
"Well, it wasn't terribly personal stuff, was it?"
"Doyle, just tell me you didn't-"
"I'm not the type," he said, "I knew it was your writing, but I didn't read it. I just thought I should tell you-"
"Yes. I'm glad you told me," I took a gulp of whiskey. "Let's just make sure that she's around to never speak to me again. Call Xander, make sure they know it's an emergency. I'll call Giles. She's running out of time, Doyle,"
"We'll take care of it, Angel,"
I called Giles at home, waking him out of a sound sleep.
"Angel?" he sounded astonished. There was a small silence.
"Doyle lost the Record...to Buffy. It's in a hidden compartment in a box that was left in my old apartment. It has some letters in it, that kind of thing. Did she find it? She doesn't know that she's been targeted, Giles. They know she has it,"
"Good Lord. Yes, she mentioned the box,"
"I don't want her to go charging out-"
"No...no...she's in a hotel in LA, looking for you,"
"Doyle told me. I need the number. Xander will get her out. If she knows the Record is in the box-"
"She'll go hunting, I know. Yes...I have the number," he gave it to me.
"Giles," I said, "She'll need you, she'll need everyone,"
There was a silence, during which I braced myself. I was sure he'd have something to say, and he had every right to say it. But he surprised me.
"How many of the Ancients have you defeated?" he asked.
I was stunned.
"And the remaining one?"
"The Mayve will rely on illusion," he said, "She will prey on any weakness your heart may have. Remember that, Angel,"
I swallowed. I was touched and very surprised, but most of all I was frantic about your safety.
"I-I will," I stammered, "But the order has been sent. The Mayve is sending the Dal Riada,"
"I'll be leaving shortly,"
"Please don't go in without coordinating with Xander," I nearly begged, "You're no good to her dead. Wait for his call,"
"Nothing will happen to her,"
I was suddenly out of words.
"Godspeed, Angel," he said calmly, "Defeat the Mayve. She will use illusion, and brilliantly,"
I called the hotel. You were out, and I could only hope you wouldn't be ambushed. I left a message with a semi-consious clerk. Then I called Xander.
"Why didn't I hear about this before?" he said.
"I wasn't able to call from underground,"
"That's too bad, buddy," he said, with mock sympathy, "Feeling better now?"
"This is about her,"
"Yeah," he said, more quietly, "Yeah, I know. Forget about it. What are we looking at?"
We talked civilly enough about strategy; I gave him numbers and locations, and he hung up.
John shoved me into a warm shower. I managed to get dry and wrapped in blankets. He pushed me into a chair.
"A good sight Betina's not here," he muttered, "You'd be in deep then," He winced as he bandaged my wounds.
The injuries are beginning to take over my mind. I'm foggy. I will finish this, and then I will start out as soon as possible to defeat the Mayve. It's small hope, but if I can defeat her quickly enough, it may stop her from sending forces.
If anything happens to you, I will look straight into the sun, without hesitating, without blinking, without any regret. Maybe then Hell would keep me.
And you'd hate that kind of talk. I'm going to take the Mayve out for a different purpous. I came here to save my family, to spare my country the spread of evil, to make some amends to my people, but the Mayve I will defeat for you.
Be safe, please be safe.
I love you. Always.
There was a knock on the door.