Silver Earth – Into The Storm

It should have been a relaxing weekend in the countryside for Rupert Giles, a chance to regain clarity after leaving the States. His plans change when he encounters Del’ Pridwyn, the matriarch of a local weird, feared and slandered family. Something is driving the subterrestrials from their otherworldly home and Del’ needs Giles‘ help to defeat the monster before it devours her friends.

Beautiful Black Night
Precious White Moon
Sacred Silver Earth

The traffic was flowing freely along the A38. Clouds of battleship grey gathered in the west, smudging out the sunset. It was a relief to be driving on the correct side of the road in a car with a proper gear stick; he was in control, connected to the vehicle. Panoramas of flowing vales, farmland, forest, landscapes and seascapes paraded above the rough grass of the retaining banks as the road took him towards his retreat.

Into the sunset
Into the storm

Amber lights, clustered on hills, told of where towns and villages were settling into darkness, houses, churches, trees, pylons perfect shapes as if they were die-punched out of black paper. The traffic intensified as he passed through St Budeaux. He was obliged to use his windscreen wipers as the storm broke above him. Fresh rain washed the tarmac, until in the twilight, the road seemed to be made of obsidian. Ahead of him, the Tamar Bridge, slung across the waters that separated Devon and Cornwall, a skeleton of steel, gatekeeper to the ancient kingdom.

He had forgotten how quickly darkness fell in British winters. He felt a sudden longing for Sunnydale, for friends gone, for friends left behind, for sunshine. He wished that he had not had to send her home to California. He missed her, the bounciness in her voice, her kooky comments and her endearing, if slightly skewered world-view. She had not wanted to leave; and as he had watched the taxi pull away he had, not for the first time in his life, regretted doing the right thing. He had been right, of course; Rupert Giles knew he had a duty to do, even if it was personally perilous. Buffy Summers had known it, although it was love rather than duty that had caused her to lay-down her life. Ever since her unnatural renaissance, she had become more introspective, capable of trusting her own judgement and relying on her own resources. The fact that she had been unwilling to do so was what had prompted him to leave the States in the first place. She was strong, yet wrapped in fragility as bone is wrapped in flesh.

Flesh protects bone

If it is cut
It bleeds
It heals

Bone gives strength to flesh
Blood gives life to both

He passed through a succession of fascinating towns. Low roofed, granite-fronted houses, twisted woodlands, narrowed roads. After living in the States, everything here seemed smaller somehow, discrete and unprocessed. On his right was the sandstone cathedral of Truro, a trinity of spires, ranks of saints, illuminated by the same amber light that settled like a halo around the city. When he had passed the outskirts, the farmland gave way to heath-land, to gorse, to heather, to the cragged remains of the engine houses that had once powered the machinery that took men down and took ore up from the mine shafts deep inside the earth. It was a scarred landscape.

He left the dual carriageway at Scorrier, through a woodland of rhododendrons, past a corrugated-clad industrial estate, up-along the hill to Mount Ambrose and down again into Redruth. He had chosen the town at the suggestion of the Devonian Coven, who had told him that the area was a centre of mystic energy and a good place for ghost hunting. The hotel was set in its own grounds, just outside of the town. It was a pale grey Georgian building, with portico, mouldings and supporting columns white like icing sugar.

He stepped into the porch and rang the bell. He looked down at his feet, at the colourful soggy mush that had once been confetti and was now trampled flat on the slate-tiled floor. His call was answered by a young woman in her early twenties. She was short but well rounded, strong arms, full hips. She was dressed in a polyester suit that had not been cut to flatter her broad figure, barefooted, her shoes tucked underneath one arm. On her left breast was a gold embossed nametag: ‘Del’ Pridwyn’. She had the longest, blackest hair that he had ever seen and unusually blue eyes. She smiled, despite her obvious weariness.

“Mr Giles?” she spoke in a soft West Country accent. “We ‘ad almost given up on you, please do come in.” She held open the door and they stepped into the foyer.

The hotel had a settled look, but it was tastefully decorated with faded furnishings, brass fittings and oil paintings as if it had been furnished once and furnished forever. The girl climbed under the counter hatch and opened the leather-bound register. She handed him a pen with an apologetic smile. “I was just finishing for the night,” she explained, pointing down at her bare feet.

“That’s quite alright,” said Giles, a smile touching his lips. He signed the register and handed over his credit card. “Could you please send up some tea and a cheese sandwich?”

“Most certainly,” said Del’ Pridwyn as she handed him his key. “I’m afraid you’re too late for a morning newspaper. Would you like an ‘and with they there bags?”

Giles was not in the habit of travelling light and since the hotel did not have a lift he was not looking forward to dragging them up the narrow staircase. “Yes, if you would be so kind as to call the porter?”

Del’ gave a wry smile, jumped over the counter, took a suitcase in each hand and the holdall under one arm and proceeded up the stairs two at a time. She turned around mid-step. “Oh sorry,” she said having realised that she had let her professional persona slip. “If you would like to follow me to your room.”

Giles smiled, half in amazement, half in amusement. It was, he thought, just the kind of mischief that Buffy would delight in performing.

The next morning she was at the desk again, signing out the previous night’s guests. She smiled as they exchanged morning salutations. After breakfast she was cleaning the woodwork, yellow duster in hand, a mist of lemon scent hanging about her. She was talking to a youth of about fifteen who leaned against the counter in a most flippant manner. In contrast to her he was fair and lean. He once heard her call him 'Jago' as they engaged in a friendly kind of verbal sparing. Her replacement arrived at half nine, thanking Del’ for covering at such short notice.

“Miss Pridwyn,” Giles caught her as she was leaving. “I was contemplating a drive along the coast. Could you recommend somewhere where I might eat lunch?” Jago and Del’ exchanged glances.

“St Ives has many good restaurants and such like, if you’re thinking of visiting the Tate,” Del’ offered.

“And there’re some pub’s in and around Portreath and Gwithian if…ouch!” Jago started and stopped as Del’ thumped him in the stomach. “What the bloody ‘ell did ‘e do that fur?” Jago glared at her. Giles regarded the pair. He was missing something important. “Just stay away from they mine workings,” Jago finished. Giles enquired why.

Del’ leaned closer, a look of mystery about her face. “Because,” she whispered conspiratorially, “The Pixies might get you.” With a little laugh, she and Jago turned and were gone.

It was mid morning when Giles returned inland from his costal excursion. He has taken the scenic route, through the villages of Bridge and Illogan. Calloused fingers of hawthorn bushes topped the hedgerows that lined the single-lane road. Here and there he passed huddles of houses, their bared gardens, hemmed with bark-chippings and garden centre ornaments that seemed to him to be offensive to the antiquity of their surroundings. The old world meets the new.

Giles was part of both worlds and reconciling the two of them was not easy. Vampires, werewolves, demonic things, in his experience most people thought that they belonged to the dark ages; with all his heart he wished that they did.

The road widened as he drove towards Tehidy, modern bungalows, ancient woods, a housing estate and the river valley of Tuckingmill. He parked in a grit-surfaced car park that had been built alongside a footpath. The valley had been improved over the last few years, drainage ditches had been cleared, reed beds planted, top soil added, dumped cars and domestic appliances had been removed. He paused for a second, taking in the vista, breathing in the frost-pinched air and surveying the skyline. For the first time in a long while he felt at peace with the world.

He climbed over an algae slimmed stile and found himself walking along a gravel path, between reed beds, wild ponds, thickets of brambles and sycamore. Ahead of him was a concreted area, part of a disused structure that had once been part of an arsenic works. In the centre was a group of about half a dozen young people, sitting crossed-legged, listening intensely to a slightly older woman who sat with her back against him. She had long black hair. She turned around. “Mr Giles, have you come to spy on us?”

“Miss Pridwyn, I never…” Giles began.

“Tis’ of no matter now,” she dismissed his explanation with a wave. “Like attracts like. Take a seat,” she pointed to a spot beside her. This was becoming surreal. He sat down, somewhat uncomfortable with his lowly position. “As I was saying, your average otherworldly finds it very difficult to ‘ave a go at you in its non-corporeal form provided you ‘ave a clean conscience.”

“You mean they have no justification for attacking you?” Giles interrupted. All heads turned to face him. Del’ gave him a scolding stare and continued.

“Indeed, which is why we must lead a good life,” she surveyed her congregation with steady eyes. “And as for those that have a corporeal existence, Jago, ‘Melza, ‘Renza and I will be patrolling tonight, you lot continue training in your spare time and I will see you all outside of chapel this Sunday, especially if your name begins with a T,” she addressed the last comment to a group of three siblings, all of the same age. They looked away – the rest of the gathering giggled at their shame.

“If their name begins with T?” Giles whispered to Jago.

“Tegan, Tegwyn and Talek, the triplets,” Jago replied. Del’ jumped to her feet, embracing each of the young people, kissing some, encouraging others, until just she, Giles and Jago were left.

“Those are err, quite deep concepts that you are teaching these children,” Giles said as he cleaned his glasses. He replaced his spectacles. “Tell me, how did you learn of them?”

For a moment Del’ did not respond. She studied him, blue eyes absorbing every detail. She licked her bottom lip as she considered what to say. “To me and mine,” she said measurably, “when you meditate deeply on these matters they are as clear as, as the dawn.”

“As the dawn?” he echoed her strange choice of phrase. “You are more than a girl with a bent towards the mystic.”

Jago stepped between them. “And you sir,” he declared. “Are more than a holiday maker with a bad sense of direction.”

The trio sat in Giles’ car, munching on the home-baked morsels that Del’ had packed for their lunch. The rain was in for the day, Del’ had said, as they looked out over the Atlantic. The ocean was grey, the colour of water in a jar that has been used to wash many colours from a child’s paintbrush. Strong winds punched and rocked the car, howling like a toddler throwing a tantrum. “These pasties, interesting concept,” Giles commented as he considered the bundle of pastry-wrapped meat and vegetables in his hands. “It must be the original food on-the-move.”

“Quite possibly,” Del’ agreed. “The idea is that they should be tough enough to hold their filling even if they get dropped down a mineshaft.”

“’Tis when you make the pastry,” Jago interjected.

“Please ignore my cousin,” Del’ returned. “He’s not as old as he looks.” Giles laughed. Jago opened his mouth to issue a stinging response but thought the better of it. Del’ paused for a moment, stopping, considering, deciding. “Jago, there’s an amusement arcade just down the road from ‘ere, why don’t you go play some shoot-em-ups?”

“Del’, look at it outside,” Jago protested, indicating with his thumb towards the rain-glazed windows. Del’ removed a five-pound note from her wallet and handed it to Jago. “Excellent,” his attitude changed immediately. He opened the door and hopped out.

“And I mean games only, no playing those bloody fruit machines. Jago do you ‘ear me?” she shouted after him. He gave her a jaunty wave and ran, his collar turned-up against the rain, towards the row of single-storey shops.

For a good half a minute they sat still and silent, holding their positions. The wind continued to blow, the rain continued to fall. “Mr Giles, were you sent here?” she let the question hang for a while. “I’m sorry to ‘ave to ask like this but I know because…” they locked eyes as if she was about to share something deeply personal. “I’ve read all your books,” she offered by way of a retraction.

It was as if she was accusing him of some wrongdoing – should he apologise, should he rationalise, should he do nothing? She dismissed his unvoiced concerns. “You may not realise it, but there’s a million nasty things below us, here and now, under the earth. Since the mines were left to flood they’ve been coming to the surface. I could do with an extra person, someone with a different perspective…” she was asking him to join her demon hunting club. “Something’s killin’ the Yemps, you know the friendlier kind of sub-terrestrials?” His quizzical expression told her that he had never before encountered a Yemp. “I owe it to them to find out what it is and to kill it before it gets the taste for human blood.”

They were interrupted by the sight of Jago running towards them, his urgency was not caused by the rain. A gust of cold air filled the car as Jago flung open the door and bundled himself into the back seats. “Del’,” he gasped. “Last night at Gwithian, they found the bodies of two surfers – partly eaten.”

“It’s started already,” Del’ proclaimed. She looked over at Giles. She was asking for his help, but could she really ask such a well-known author on the subject of the supernatural to spend a whole week with them? She need not have feared.

“Well then, Miss Pridwyn, we’d better get started.”

“You mean it, you’re in?” Del’ gasped with glee. She reached forward and kissed him, grabbing the scruff of his neck and pulling him into a rough but friendly embrace. “Excellent, let’s get going.”

The closer one gets to the coast the heavier the raindrops seem to fall, swollen with vapour from somewhere over the mid-ocean, carried by full-bellied clouds, bursting heavily against the high cliffs and hill tops. It was past six o’clock. The party of five stalked the unknown predator. Moody clouds ran past the segmented moon. A tin cross, an armful of stakes, salt, a Geiger counter and a bag of bread crusts, these were the tools of their work. The demons and monsters don’t mind the rain and gales, Del’ had said, they will be out tonight.

In front of them a tangle of bracken in brambles caught their attention. A pressure vent, compensating for the differences in airflow between the surface and the underworlds; there had once been a balance between the two, now it was down to Giles and a handful of Cornish cousins to compensate for those differences.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get a better pair of Wellingtons,” said Del’ as Giles stepped awkwardly amongst the undulations of rabbit burrows, tufted grasses and occasional puddles of mud. She had to confess he looked amusingly out of his territory, dressed in oilskins, thick gloves, face smeared with petroleum jelly to stop the elements chafing his skin. “Are you still feeling cold?”

Giles shook his head, it was better than speaking a lie.

Jago’s sisters panned the area with their Geiger counters. Over the centuries the Yemps had absorbed radiation from the isotopes that leached from the granite. They signalled to Del’, pointing towards the tangle of bracken and brambles. “I think she’s waiting for us over there,” Del’ pointed towards the opening of the pressure vent. The vents were less steep than the shafts, cut from below, not sunk down from above, just a gentle slope, perfect as a means of entrance and egress for the smaller sub-terrestrials.

Giles followed as Jago and Del’ pulled back the bracken to reveal a small, cowering creature. She was half his height, tufts of hair all over her grey body, fingernails strong as horns and an odd habit of twitching like a rabbit or a wagtail. Jago held out the bag of scraps. The Yemp snatched them, secreting them in a fold of her raggedy tunic. “Said I’d be ‘ere, did I not?” Del’ teased with a small smile.

The Yemp tilted her head, gave a squeal that might have been outrage or glee, “North cliff car park, last I saw it, feeding, eating someone, I d’know – Dyw genes!” She uncurled herself and slipped away, chattering as she went.

The moon was setting as they drove into the car park. ‘Renza had driven ‘Melza home, as ‘Renza had to start the night shift at the factory where she worked. Giles had felt that ‘Melza was too young to risk taking part in the final act and Del’ had reluctantly agreed. Jago stalked ahead of them, the Geiger counter chirping steadily. He stopped, crouched down, indicated that they should get close to him and do the same. A horrible shape had its back to them. At its feet were several dismembered Yemps and the lacerated remains of a wetsuit. It was eating with sickening crunches and grindings.

“Mogskenn monster,” Giles identified the beast. “Part pig part…”

“Not important,” Del’ interrupted. “It’s got teeth and it knows how to use them.”

“That’s what matters,” Jago said.

Chastened, Giles sighed as he considered what to do. He need not have considered. Del’ was running towards it. The Mogskenn turned, raised its arms and threw itself at her. Del’ blocked a blow. It swept at her with its other claw. She took it on the elbow, yelped, composed herself and hopped back. It lurched again, heavy breath turning the night air to white vapour. Del’ jumped, tucked her knees, got in close and landed a two-footed kick to its centre chest. It fell, she rolled, recovered, it kicked out, catching her on the thigh. She pivoted against the force of the blow, fell on its chest, snatched the tin cross from her belt and buried it in its heart. It squealed but did not die.

“That’s a shame,” Jago said to Giles. “Tin usually kills ‘em.” She punched it again, one more time. “Don’t you just love the sound that makes?” Jago said with a wicked grin.

Giles regarded his response with some concern. Bracing himself, Giles ran to join the ruckus.

Del’ removed the weapon from its heart and stabbed, this time in the eye, as far as the orbit, no further. Experience had taught her that extracting the blade from a shattered skull was a devil of a job. The creature flailed, beating down on her like it was thumping out bread dough. Giles was on top of them. He landed a knife blow to its snout. It wailed wildly, gurgled and was silent.

“As I was saying, Mogskenn monsters are best killed by a direct blow to the nose,” Giles offered her a hand. “Try not to interrupt me when I’m explaining the nature of the unnatural.”

“I’ll try to remember,” said Del’ as she put her arms around both Giles and Jago. “It’s not daylight for another two hours.”
The group of three walked towards Giles’ car, leaving the bodies for the foxes and ravens.

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