To See the Queen.
Duffy walked in with a pile of things that could only be clothes, smiling at the pair of men. "Now that you've become official, you'll be needin' your official robes." He put them on the table beside Philip's stunned form. He glanced over at Philip. "You might want to make sure he's presentable. She can be quite a pushy bit about such things." He smiled and winked. "Don't got nothin' ta say, Father?"
"What is this about?" Philip asked quietly so he wouldn't wake up his helper. "Why now?"
"Because the festival is upon us and she's always been nicer durin' it," Duffy said with a shrug. "Beats bein' there durin' a full moon, believe me." He patted the clothes. "Get into these and I'll see about your others. Hopefully some of the boy's shirts will come clean with enough scrubbing."
"I think they've always been that way," Philip noted. He closed the book he had been reading calmly. "What are we supposed to do about this? I'm not used to being summoned like some common servant."
Duffy laughed. "Common servant? Not hardly, Father. You're the Tower's Cleric. You're no *common* servant of her Ladyship. Your knight, well, he's more common than you are, but you're not a common servant by any means." He turned and walked away. "I'll come get you up in time to get bathed and changed," he called over his shoulder.
"I want to know what this is about!" Philip called after him.
"All in time, Father, all in time." Duffy disappeared into his own house for a bit, leaving him with his misgivings. The truth could be much worse, or much better, than he thought. It all depended on the phase of the moon.
Philip looked over the clothes, shaking his head. Tights, wonderful. Just what he wanted to wear. He glanced at the sleeping boy, then shook his head and went back to his reading. This diary was a fascinating read, but it didn't shed any light on anything, especially not why he was there. There wasn't a hint about why he had been called to this tower. No mention of this other world that he had been called to serve also. Not even what he was supposed to be doing for them. Was he a guardian of the knowledge the Tower contained? Was Xander his guardian? Was anyone *ever* going to tell him anything?
He stiffened up. He had someone to ask questions of tomorrow and she *would* be telling him what he wanted to know. Royal or not, he could out-stubborn the devil himself, just ask him or any of his minions.
Alex looked up as Prince Horatio joined her in the library. "Did you get settled in?"
"Definitely," he said happily, placing a small tin in front of her at the table. "My mother sent me some treats and I thought I'd be generous and share."
"Thank you, Horatio." She looked at the cookies. "What type are they?"
"Nip berries and nut." He sat down and ate one to show her.
"What are nip berries?" she asked as she took one to taste. The flavor exploded in her mouth, tasting like the sweetest wine and she could feel it going to her head. "Ooh, alcoholic," she said woozily.
"Hmm." He finished his and put her cookie down on the table. "I had no idea they would react that way to humans. The humans among us aren't bothered by them." He stood as Derek walked in. "I let her have one of my mother's cookies and I'm afraid it's made her a bit...disoriented," he said at the scowl. This man really did need to lighten up, the world would go as it would and you could only fight the good fight within the boundaries it provided. "She'll be fine, it should not be toxic to her."
"What are they?" Nick asked as he walked out of the control room.
"Nip berries and chocolate. Do your people have problems with chocolate?"
"No," Nick said with a grin. "Not a bit. It's probably where she was raised, around all those spices."
"Nip, like catnip?" Derek asked.
"Dragonnip," Horatio told him, pulling every ounce of 'prince' into his bearing. "It's not harmful to the humans who live with us."
"That's probably because they live with you," Nick pointed out gently. "Let me analyze one and we'll make sure it's fine." He took the rest of Alex's cookie and went down to the lab to start the computer going on the sample, then came back in time to hear Derek grilling their newest helper. "That's right, you weren't here when he showed up," he said. "Prince Horatio, Dragon Knight, this is Derek Rayne, he heads the house." Horatio bowed slightly to him. "Derek, this is Horatio. He's been ruling a small conclave of his people for a while and he's a knight in all but great quest. Rain picked him out personally."
"Very well. Perhaps he can help you and Alex then." Nick nodded, that suited him. He wouldn't have to deal with Karen. "That's fine, let's start this." Alex mewed and reached up to bat at something in the air. "I think it may act like catnip for us," he noted. Nick pulled out his PDA and checked the progress of the lab, shrugging. "It's not done yet?"
"It's breaking down the chemical components." He put it down onto the table so he could check on it. "So far, we've heard from Philip. The tower they sent him to is a split-dimension dwelling. Apparently Xander's gotten really fond of the horses already and there's a four-story library inside. We've gotten the tape from the London house and I've got to say, for being so simple I'm impressed."
"What is the name of this tower?" Horatio asked. "Perhaps I've heard of it?"
"He called it Cleric's Tower."
"Claradon," Horatio said, looking stunned. "My, he is in for a world of delight. That realm was made by a wizard for his own personal dwelling area. He could not conquer Britain while Merlin lived so he created his own kingdom. The horses are very important, they're mythological beasts that joined him there. They're basically unicorns without the horn. They do not like people who are pure and are attracted to those who are less than pure from what I've heard. Also, his daughter now runs it, and she is a werewolf. A strong, but mostly just ruler from what my mother mentioned. We have small diplomatic ties with them. They should be extremely safe there, even if the tower should disappear for a bit and take them fully there. Tell me, this Xander, is he a coutesan?"
Nick chuckled. "No, he's not. He's seventeen and a fighter. Some people say he should have been a knight of his own."
Horatio nodded, looking very smug. "There is much joy in being a knight, the licentious pleasures draw many a young man to try their hand at the ancient and courtly arts. There is also much prestige. Is he the Tower Cleric's knight?" Nick shrugged. "If he went, I'm sure he must be. The knight will protect him from all comers and together they will have to bind to the tower itself. The tower is not only the gateway but it also holds the keystone holding the realm solid and connected together. It was a most fascinating book that I read in Magical History."
"That's interesting. They're not in danger?" Derek asked.
Horatio shrugged. "I would assume that depends on the Queen liking them and if she wanted to fight the tower's will. She has that right and she did get one other expelled. She also nearly died from it."
"Xander will stick up for Philip," Nick said firmly. "Philip's last message said that Xander had faced down the local priest that was giving him evil looks and who apparently now hated him for being an oddity in town."
"As my family's priestess says, the narrower the vision the brighter the road and the duller the scrub brush on the sides," Horatio quipped. Derek raised a brow. "She's an odd person, but we do so adore the old woman. She's from Texas I believe. Brought across by the Goddess personally."
"I see." Derek nodded. "Thank you for that information, Prince Horatio. I tend to worry about Philip when he's not here." He looked at Alex as she moaned and held her head. "Are you all right?"
"That was intense," she grumbled as she slid back into her normal position. "If cats go through that with catnip, we should test them for visions." She looked at Horatio. "This Queen, does she like those who are stubborn?"
"She loathes stubbornness. That's why we only have minor diplomatic ties," he admitted.
"Then she'll love Philip and Xander. Xander was showing signs of having learned how to build Philip's wall of stubbornness," Nick offered.
"There is a test," Horatio said calmly. "If they pass it, then she cannot refuse them. If she does not offer it then her realm may well start to unravel. The tower cannot be unoccupied or the keystone starts to shift. It takes a soul's presence to hold it still. The stronger the soul, the longer they last."
"What about purity?" Nick asked.
Horatio shrugged. "I have no idea. As far as I know it is not necessary. In truth, a more wide- seeing man would be better able to deal with all the strangeness." He smiled at Nick. "Your friend will be fine. If the tower opened to him, it will not give him up without the possibility of destruction, which would destroy everything there. That fact that his knight is also stubborn means that they will last longer if any opposition happens. That young man is probably very well skilled if he's there."
"He's not, he's only begun his training," Alex said quietly, still holding her head.
"Then he must have skills that you did not realize, or experience that counts for much. The tower would not have let him in as the knight protector otherwise. It is sensitive to such things." He reached over to touch the back of her hand, muttering a small healing spell under his breath. "How is that, m'lady?"
"Much better," she agreed, giving him a bright smile. "We need to give Victoria some of this, see if it sparks any new visions."
"Seers are often affected oddly," Horatio allowed. "It can either blind them or stimulate them." He covered his mouth with a hand. "I daresay I forgot to ask, m'lady Alex, are you a seer? Is that why it affected you?"
"I have the sight, but it's random and not very strong," she assured him. "Don't worry about. It didn't hurt me."
"No, but if you saw while taking it then you will probably see more often now," he offered. "I am truly sorry, I meant no harm to you."
"It's all right. The sight comes when it comes and how it comes," she assured him. "That's the way it's always been." He nodded, giving her a pathetic look. "Don't worry so much, Horatio, it was an honest mistake." She gave his hand a little pat and he blushed. "Sorry, some social taboo?"
"Our ladies are only physical with us when they desire our company greatly," he said. "I will try to not misinterpret your gentle touches. You are not like my ladies of court, you do not flirt and coo."
Alex snorted. "No, I gave that up in high school." She smiled at him. "Don't worry, I think you're very cute, but a bit young for me."
"How old are you?" he asked. "If I'm not being indelicate."
"Ah, but you are a mere babe to my race," he said happily. "We reach adulthood at six hundred and twenty-five."
"How old are you?" Nick asked.
"Six hundred-fifty-eight," Horatio told him. "Fairly young still, but I was chosen because I was not so set in my ways. Many of the older knights are very stuck in their mannerisms and thought lines."
"It's good to know that you are experienced," Derek put in. "Alex, did you see anything else?"
"I think their physical maze is a dance," she said, frowning as she concentrated on what she had seen. "If not, it's the entry to the maze." She shrugged. "I don't know. I did see the horses, big grey beasts that seemed to really like Xander. I saw him feeding one through a window."
"I'm sure they'll find him suitable to be around," Horatio told her. "Mistress Rain said I should meet him but she was...rather busy with her husband at that point in time." Nick coughed and chuckled. "Indeed," he agreed with a small smile of his own.
Derek shuddered. "Let's move on, shall we?" He tapped the folder on the desk and looked around. "Have we found anything else in our books?"
"In the books Rain and Philip brought from the Vatican, we've found a few more copies of the prophecy, a short list of what will have to be fixed - though it did say it was only a partial - and another notice about that other tapestry."
"Do you have them here?" Derek asked.
"I've been doing mine in my room on my laptop. I can go get it if you want, but I've got sixteen more books to go through."
"That's fine, I'll want what you have tomorrow. The list, did it look like something that should concern us?"
Alex stood up. "Let me get it." She headed up to her room, grabbing her laptop to unplug it and bring it back down. "I scanned in the pertinent pages," she announced as she walked in. She set herself back up and beamed the pages to Nick's PDA, then let Derek read what she had found.
Nick tapped his stylus on the screen to go down. "Okay, so far we've got Willow's spell. Philip and Xander as the third one?" Alex shrugged, but didn't look like she was going to argue. "Also, we've got a single Legacy notation and a battle." He looked at his boss, who looked a bit more pale. "Derek?"
"The sixth entry," he said, handing it back to Alex. "That was what some people called my father."
Horatio leaned over to look at it. "Ghost Hunter and Spirit Talker?" he asked. "Sounds like a Native shaman to me." He looked at Derek again. "Do we know any of those?"
"Blair is one," Nick said as he reread that entry. "He'd know." He looked at Derek. "Your father's not coming back, Derek."
"It just drew up some old memories," Derek promised him. He stood up. "See what you can make of this list. I'll see you at dinner." He went back to his office to make a few phone calls.
Nick looked at Alex. "He's not coming back, right?" She shook her head. "Good. Now what?"
"Now we look at this list and the books we have left," she said, standing up. She grabbed the table as her sight started off again. "Nick, go get Kat, now," she said as it faded. He was already running from the room, having jumped up at Kat's name. She pressed the intercom button. "Derek, someone's trying to attack Kat, I sent Nick," she said before turning it off again. She sat down with a bit of help from the knight and gave him a smile. "Thankfully I saw that," she told him since he was looking so upset.
"I'll keep my nip berries to myself," he promised, giving her a gentle smile. He winced as a loud noise started outside, going over to the window to look and see what it was. "What is that?" he asked in awe as Nick took off.
"That's a helicopter." She stood up again and walked over to get a small children's book on transportation that someone had donated to them for some reason, giving it to him. "Here you go." She took her laptop upstairs and went back to her reading. She could surf the net up there thanks to the wireless intranet they had in the house.
Horatio sat in a window seat and flipped through the book. It was simplistic but very informative.
Xander looked up as Philip came out of his room tugging at his tights. "You look like one of those dancer guys on PBS," he snickered. Philip glared at him. "Sorry." At least he got pants, even if they were a bit closer to tights than not. He grabbed the bag he had packed and followed Philip up the stairs.
"What's that for?" Philip asked when he saw the horses waiting on them.
"Weapons," Xander told him. "Two books. Notepad. Pen. Tylenol. Bandaids. Portable ice pack. Muscle liniment." He looked at the horse. "Are we riding you?" he asked. She nudged him with her nose then scratched the end of it on his shirt. "Philip?" he asked as he scratched the beautiful, if big, head.
"They're not saddled," Philip explained. "It'd hurt them and us." Duffy came out of the house and the door shut, locking itself. "Will we be able to get back in?"
"Definitely," Duffy told him. "Once you've been to see the Queen." He looked at the horses. "Shoo! We've got to ride there, not be nuzzled ta death." The mare snorted at him, making him shift out of her way. "Shoo!" he said again, waving a hand.
"They only want petted," Xander complained. "Let them stay for now, Duffy. They're not in the way." He heard hooves and looked over, noticing that there was a path. "Was that there before?" he asked Philip. Philip shook his head. "Good. Just wondering if I was losing it." Two horses trotted up and stopped in front of them, bobbing their heads. "Do we ride them?"
"I suppose," Philip agreed, walking over slowly. "Do we take you to see the Queen?" he asked the closest one. She nodded so he walked around to the left side and put his foot into the stirrup, then hoisted himself up and over. He shifted a bit to get comfortable, it'd been a while since he'd done this. "Xander, can you get on?" Xander looked at the high back, then handed him the bag. He grabbed onto the saddle. "Stop." Xander paused to look at him. "Face the mane, put your left foot into the stirrup, and lever yourself up." Xander slowly and carefully put his foot into the stirrup and the horse moved, making him hop since he was kinda trapped. "Push off," Philip instructed.
Xander did so, landing belly first on top of the pommel. "Ow."
Philip smiled at him as he handed the bag back. "Now put your other foot into the other stirrup."
Xander looked down, nudging his foot into the hole provided. "Okay, I think I'm okay now. Duffy, are you coming?" he called.
"No. If'n I wanna go, I can get there my own way," he said, waving as the horses took off. "A knight who can't ride," he said, shaking his head. "What's this world coming to?" He went inside to clean up their rooms and do the laundry for them. It was bad enough he'd had to instruct them on how to put on their new clothes. Now they were trying to ride the horses. He shook his head and went to make sure the water heater was full. They'd need it.
Xander stopped his horse and looked at Philip. "I'm sore," he announced.
"Riding does that to you when you're not used to it," Philip admitted. "I'm a bit out of practice myself." He looked at the boy. "Can you hold up for a bit longer?"
"Probably, but I won't be walking straight. Usually, when I have to straddle something, it's much narrower than this saddle is." The horse knickered and tossed its head about. "Sorry, didn't mean to sound dirty."
Philip patted him on the arm. "Don't worry about it. I expected it from you. Just be careful when we get to the castle. They might take it wrong."
"Yes, Philip." They rode on, Xander shifting every now and then. When they finally got to the castle, he all but fell off the horse in his hurry to get off it. "Ow," he complained, leaning against the warm side. He felt a stroke on his back and looked at Philip. "And we have to go back like that?"
"We could walk," Philip pointed out. "It only took us an hour to get here, that means it'd take about half the day to walk back."
"Never mind. Just let me have a long bath as soon as we get back," Xander pleaded, forcing himself to grab his bag and follow Philip through the doorway.
The queen looked down at her new servants, grimacing. Men, what a problem they could be. "How did you come to the Tower?" she asked politely.
Philip glanced around, then back at her. "Technically, I was asked to come examine it, m'lady." She sighed and nodded. "It let us in."
"Then it must have set this up." She looked at Xander. "Been a knight for long? You're rather young for the position."
"Not technically, but I've done the same job. I worked with a slayer on our hellmouth for two years now." She frowned at him and he shrugged. "Sorry, wasn't going to lie. Are you the sort who hides or who goes to roam during the full moon?"
"She is?" Philip asked. Xander nodded. "How can you tell?" Xander shrugged. "Must be part of the position then," he said, considering it. "We're finding our way around this job as is. I've been a priest for years and involved in the supernatural for far longer. Xander's been involved and lived in it for a few years. The tower apparently picked us since the problems with the wish came forth."
"Wish?" she asked, frowning. "What wish?"
"There was a great sneeze sort," Xander told her. She looked horrified. "Yeah. That one. Hence us getting sent here to look at the tower."
"Fine. That prophecy has come to pass. In that case, I have a task for you both tomorrow. There will be a maze you must do."
"Druscilla said something about that," Xander noted. "She said that there were a few of them."
"She is a seer?" Xander nodded. "Then she was correct. Each maze is for a different keystone to the problem. In your case, it is knowledge. The tower holds all books ever written in all realms. You hold the key to that knowledge. If you pass the maze, then it will be open to you. If not, then you'll still be the Cleric but hindered and having to find it in other manners."
"That's fine," Philip agreed. "We can do that. We've both done our share of problems in the past."
She nodded. "I have no doubt, Father. Tell me, how hated are you by the dark in your world?"
He grinned. "I'm told I'm about third on their hit list. Before me is an organization and a single person."
"Hmm. Interesting. Then the tower chose well. I'll send you to your rooms so you can rest before the dinner and ball tonight. I'll send more appropriate clothes as well." She looked over Xander. "There will be many lovely young ladies who will want to dance with you."
"I suck at dancing and I'm taken," he told her. She snickered and waved a hand. "Thank you." He followed Philip out. "Was she hitting on me?"
"No," Philip said patiently. "That was a nicer way of getting free of them."
"Thanks. I didn't want to really screw things up here for you." He looked in the room first, then went inside to check it for any extra people before letting Philip inside. "It's clear." Philip walked in, giving him a look. "Nick would kill me if I let you get hurt. This should probably be his job."
"It probably should but we'd have fought by now," Philip said. "We should bathe. Was there a bathroom?" Xander nodded. "Running water?" he asked hopefully.
"Nope. Big bucket and strong chain. Fire underneath the tub ready to be lit."
Philip sighed and nodded. "Okay. You get the first few bucketfuls. I'll take the next few."
"Sure." Xander went to do that, finding the trap door easily enough, it was marked. He lowered the bucket, watching as it went down. It had a long drop down to the well. He winced as he hauled it back up, but he managed it. "Philip," he called. "There's got to be a mechanical solution for this," he complained. At least the bucket filled the tub a third of the way. "Come light the fire too."
Philip walked in and pulled out a lighter, lighting a piece of tinder with it. He carefully fed it into the fire, watching as it came to life. Once he was sure it'd go on its own, he looked around the bathing chamber and frowned at a small hook in one wall. He hooked the chain to it and it pulled it up. He released the empty bucket once Xander had gotten out of the way and it went down. Once he felt it get heavier, he hitched it to the spot again and watched as the bucket came back up. "There," he said, smirking at him. The bucket tipped itself into the tub then went still. "Need more?"
"I'd like to soak my sore butt," Xander said, giving him a smirk. "That was not the riding I was used to, Father." He sent it down again and did the hook thing again. He got a tubful of water and swished it gently while the fire heated it. "Do I leave the fire going?"
"That way I can have a warm one too," Philip agreed, heading out to look in their bag of things. He had no idea what the boy had packed. Inside he found a crossbow, two swords the boy had found somewhere, the promised notebooks and hard-sided pen case. He found the first aid kit as well. In the bottom he found a small pot and pulled it out to look at it. Then he looked in the bathroom. "Being optimistic," he said dryly, putting it back. "You'd better get in while it's cooler, Xander."
"Already figured that out, Father. I slid in a moment ago."
"Good." Philip sat down to read the book he had found in there, the diary he had been reading. It still wasn't incredibly helpful but it was something to do while he waited.
Methos looked up from grading miserable midterms as his door opened and a student walked in. "Yes?" he asked patiently.
"Professor, there's something I wanted to know the origin of," she admitted, closing the door behind herself. She pulled out a book and sat down across from him. "This has been in my family for years but I don't know how to tell if it's authentic or not."
Methos put down the midterm and looked at the book, flipping through it. "Who wrote in it with a ballpoint pen?"
"That would have been my grandmother. She just recently died when the people figured out she was a guardian, sir." She tipped her head to the side. "If it is, is it worth anything?"
He looked through it again. "To some it would be," he admitted. "I know someone who might find it interesting. I have no idea where he is however." She nodded, looking miserable. He handed it back. "I'll try to track him down. I'm sorry about your grandmother."
"It's not your fault, sir. It's this 'secrets' thing that got her." She stood up. "Thank you, Professor. Is my midterm graded? I'm in History 203 section 105."
He looked at the marked boxes, then looked at her and shook his head. "Not in the least. I've got two classes before yours."
"Thanks, sir. I didn't figure but I thought I'd try. Let me know if you do find him." She slid out of the room.
Rain appeared and took one of the boxes to grade. "Dad said you were a miserable prick because you were grading freshman essays again," she explained.
"Do we know if Rayne would buy other guardian's artifacts?"
"Maybe. Mostly people donate it to their cause. Why?"
"A student just came in, Lethisa McCullen. Her grandmother was one of those guardians killed. She brought in a book on water magic to see if it was authentic."
Rain looked at him, then suddenly grinned. "Be right back, Prof." She disappeared, going to find the girl and talk to her. She knew someone who would *love* to have that sort of thing.
Methos groaned and went back to his grading. He really did need to get this done, if only so his lover quit complaining to those around them that he was ignoring them.
Xander looked across the ballroom, noticing all the women watching him. "Think we should note that you're Catholic and taken a vow of celibacy," he asked quietly. Philip snorted, taking a drink of his punch before he could retort to that. The boy was keeping him from being bored. They watched as others went out to dance, including some same-sex couples. The feeling was growing that they should be out there. "Philip, do you feel odd?"
"Very," he admitted quietly. "Like we should be dancing."
Xander looked at him and beamed. "That's what I'm feeling too. Since I suck at it, I know it's not coming from my mind, but yours?"
"No, not mine. I've never been that graceful in my life." He stood up and took a deep breath. "Shall we?" Xander nodded and took his hand. "Best get whatever done with."
"True. The sooner done, the sooner we can go sleep and get back to helping with the problems." They went out onto the floor and the last song ended. Another one began, much less formal and stiff sounding. Much more ethereal. "Gee, it's our song," he cooed, batting his eyes at Philip, making him laugh and pinch him. "Sorry. Couldn't resist." They followed the movements of the others and found themselves at the end of the dance line when it was time to form it. They watched their neighbors for cues. They were watching so hard they didn't really realize when the room started to fade around them until the couple beside them faded. Xander looked around at the dark space. "Lights?" he suggested. A few torches lit around them, showing them to be under some ivy-covered archway. They each took a torch and walked out, looking around at the rise. Beneath them was a maze. It looked very hard and complicated. It had some steam coming out from one spot. "Already?"
"Apparently," Philip agreed. He mentally traced the maze, making a route they could follow. He pulled out the small notepad he was carrying with him to make notes on, writing down directions. Then he copied them and handed them to Xander. "In case we get separated."
"Okay. If we do, then I'll work on finding you first," Xander offered. "You stay put and I'll search."
"That's fine, Xander." It was a better solution to them both searching and both getting lost. They headed down the small hill, putting their torches in the holders on the outside of the maze. In front of them was a gargoyle statue, looking quiet fierce. "What was our maze supposed to be?"
"Knowledge." Xander patted himself down. "I've got my small knife and my swiss army."
"I've got a few vials of holy water and some communion wafers," Philip admitted. He said a quick prayer and made the sign of the cross. The gargoyle opened and they walked in together. The path was fairly clear for them but it was carpeted in grass. The walls were shrubs. Overhead a thin, pale light floated down to light their way. This was going to take a while to get through. It had looked smaller from the hill. Philip led the way, heading off with Xander right behind him, checking behind and around them for things to jump out at them.
Derek woke up with a blinding headache from his nap and reached for his bottle of medicine. He found a soft body in the way. "What?"
"It's me," Nick said quietly, handing him a few pills. "It's also mid-afternoon." Derek glared at him. "You've been asleep that long," he agreed. "Were you trapped in a dream again?"
"Nightmares," Derek admitted. "Another of Aphrodite's constructs I think." He sat up and took the pills with the water Nick had ready for him. "Thank you. Has anything happened?"
"A few more attacks on guardians but none are said to be dead yet. Willow's still in the same state. Rupert Giles is still missing. Xander and Philip aren't in the tower right now. The housekeeper there, some short guy named Duffy, said they'd been called to see the Queen and they had already gone when Philip's sister went to check on them. Duffy said he expects them to be back in about six days, our time."
"The other apparently runs different," he said with a small shrug. "It looks like it's their turn to set their keystone. That's what Philip's sister said when she called to report to us."
"How did she know to call here?"
"Philip told her to," he said with a small smirk. "She thinks Xander is Philip's shameful little secret."
"I doubt that would happen, no matter how insistent Xander would be," Derek said firmly. He swung his legs around. "Let me take a shower then we can have a meeting. Has anyone found anything new in the books?"
"Horatio found a few things. He and Alex have been working hard on the list of things that need to be fixed. They've each found a piece of list in a few different books. They're waiting to see what becomes of it."
"Good," Derek agreed. "Anything shocking?"
"We're not sure if the lists are all real," Alex said from the doorway. "We just found one that said we had to wipe all the immortals off the earth along with all the magical creatures, including slayers."
Derek looked at her. "Then we'll bring that up for validity purposes. Let me bathe, I'll be right down."
"We decided to hold the meeting over dinner," Alex told him. "Horatio just found another entry that we're looking at. Something about a third tapestry, a viewing one." She went to help him look it up. She'd never heard of it.
Derek headed into the bathroom. "Thank you, Nick."
"Welcome, Derek." He went back to his own watching. He was monitoring the rest of the world to see if they were in any danger. His book research sucked, he was more helpful this way. He did see the note the girls left about going to see Derek's sister, but shrugged it off. Ingrid could only help them.
Xander petted the big, purring kitty in their way, batting at it when it batted at him. It got up and moved so the doorway was exposed. "That wasn't that bad," he said as they walked out together.
"It wasn't," Philip agreed, looking back at it as it faded and they were back in their room. "Either it wasn't set that hard or it was just a trial for us."
"Could be both," Xander suggested as he sat in a chair and stretched out. "Look, daylight," he said, waving a hand at the window. "You want first bath? You're more dirty."
"Please." Philip went into the bathroom and found a warm bath waiting on him. "Someone anticipated our return." He climbed in with a sigh of pleasure. He could wash his hair and everything with the water this deep. Xander came in a few minutes later with a message. "What's that?"
"The messenger said the queen sent it. We're requested at dinner. He came with clean clothes."
"Good," Philip said, liking that idea. "Did he also come with food?"
"I did ask for a snack. They're bringing it in a minute. It's been a week, Philip."
"It was only one day," Philip protested.
"I think we have proof that time runs differently in different portions of the world." He went back to his seat, finding some minor food on the table. "Food's here."
Philip got out of the bath and came to get something. "Your turn," he offered.
"Sure, make me run clean water and heat it," Xander teased.
Philip gave him a look. "For the longest time, people shared baths. I don't mind," he offered.
"Um, no. The only time I share bath water is when I'm cuddling with someone and hoping for sex." He went to let out the water and drew up some more, noticing the bucket filled less this time. "I guess we do have a water allotment." He ran himself a smaller bath and heated it before getting in and getting clean. By the time he was done, Philip had demolished part of the meal. He walked out and took the rest to eat, liking this idea better. He looked at their new outfits and winced. They were bright and shiny. He looked at Philip, who shrugged. "Lame?"
"It's their culture, not ours," Philip reminded him. "Cultural relativity, Xander."
"Fine. I'll wear shiny stuff," Xander sighed, sitting down to sort out the clothes. "We might need to wash underwear. There's none in here. Not even the stuff we came up in."
"I'm sure they'll appear," Philip said firmly. He wasn't going without underwear. It wasn't proper and his mother would beat him again for it. Even though she was dead, she'd come back to beat him. Someone tapped on the door and he reached back to open it. He was sitting next to it anyway. "Yes?" The girl on the other side curtsied and handed over a pile of clothes. "The things we came up in?" She nodded. "Thank you. Which outfit is which for tonight?"
"The gold is the knight's. The white is yours, Father," she said respectfully. She curtsied again and then left.
"Okay, so I get to be shiny and you get to be pure-looking," Xander noted dryly. "Underwear?" Philip looked, then groaned. "Damn it. I don't want to entice anyone here. It'd cause problems."
"At least you can control that urge," Philip said lightly. He got up and carried their clothes back to put on top of their bags. "A new book," he said, taking it to look over. "Ah, another diary." He sat down with it. This one was much more informative about what was going on. "That was our test to make sure we deserved the tower," he said an hour later. "Not the maze the vampire saw."
"Hell, I had hopes that it'd be easy," Xander said bitterly. "Any idea when we'll get the other one?"
"No," Philip said, shaking his head. "It's not mentioned anywhere that I've seen." He continued to read. The handwriting was precise and tiny but it was readable. This one had been a Jesuit, like him. He had more to say on the religion side of things as well.
Spike woke up to his beloved dark princess howling and clutching the sheets. "Bloody hell, Dru, you only do that when I'm in you," he said in disgust. She was panting and clutching still so he rolled over, looking into her eyes. "What do you see, love?"
"Dragons. Flights of pretty dragons. Unicorns for the impure. The war!" She came down, looking at him. "The battle, it must not happen," she told him, sounding sane.
He nodded. "I'll tell the bloody white lighters that, sweets. They'll fix it."
She caught his hand. "If it does, it would kill all the pretty keys. The mazes will be for naught and the secrets will continue to blush like pretty maidens all in a row. Then the maidens will fall down dead from sores and pustules." He grimaced. "It is coming! They must be in place by then!"
"They will be," he promised, going to call Harris. He trusted him enough. He heard a tired voice on the other end. "Get me Harris." The answer he got didn't please him. "Which are you then?" He looked at Druscilla. "Good enough I guess. Dru had another one. She said the battle between the dragons and the unicorns...." The phone was handed over. "Who're you?" he demanded. He blinked a few times. "Here?" He shrugged. "Fine. My Dru. Harris knows 'bout her, so does Philip." The young-sounding voice on the other end told him who she was. "Right, her. She had another one. Said a battle between your kind and impure unicorns was gonna happen and if it did, then the mazes were in vain, the secrets would continue to blush, then they'd die of pox." The voice went silent. "You still there?" He listened to the quiet question. "I can ask." He held out the phone. "It's a prince of dragons, love. Want to talk to him?"
She took the phone, clinging to it. "Young one. The battle must not happen. The unicorns for the impure must live as your people do. If not, then the maidens will fall of pustules and sores." She smiled a dreamy smile. "Exactly so." She handed the phone back and laid back down. "He will tell them not to fight."
"Good, I'd hate to stay this way," he said bitterly as he hung up the phone. He laid down next to her. "Love, what was that? It made you come."
"Such a pretty battle, all the blood," she purred, stroking his forehead. "I wish you could have seen it but we were dead and dust by then."
He nodded. "Good enough reason to stop it then." He kissed her, rolling on top to get some of her pleasure. Her cries had only made him hornier than usual and now it was his turn to make her make those noises.