George Thurgood led his friend into the ballroom, with a laugh. "Ladies, William!" he cried. "The fairer sex! Man's better half! Surely, you haven't forgotten them."
William Foster stepped into the ballroom.
And there they all were. An array of some of the most beautiful women in the British Isles, all twirling about in their finery, eyes sparkling and curls bobbing beneath the candlelight. Their limbs swaying in time to every beat of the music.
And still others, on the sidelines, their blushing faces hiding behind fans, their gloved hands slender and delicate.
"Surely one of these ladies could be enough to stir up even your passions!" George said.
William felt his hands shaking, as his eyes searched through the ladies. Searched, in vain, for the one face he knew he wouldn't see. Ears desperately hoping for the one voice he knew he wouldn't hear.
She wasn't here.
She wouldn't be here.
She lingered only in his memory, burning there as brightly as the day he'd met her, six long years ago. Six long years of trying to move on, trying to find someone else, and knowing… there was no one. No one else.
Back in the days when he'd been aloof. Detached. The mild-mannered, 20-year-old accountant who'd let the world pass him by. He'd been walking home from a rather late business meeting, papers and business account books tucked beneath his arm, when he noticed two ruffians lurking in the shadows.
He walked a little faster.
They matched pace.
He began to run, and they raced after him. Chased him into an alleyway, where their yellow eyes seemed to pierce through the darkness, and their visages morphed to be something truly terrifying and monstrous.
Then one of them seemed to start back, in alarm. And dusted in the night air.
A woman stood behind him. Flowing locks of brown hair, pinned back behind her head, radiant blue eyes, her skirts pinned up like britches and a smile dancing on her lips. She held a wooden stake in her hands.
"I forgot how much I totally missed vampires," said the woman. "One stake through the heart, then — whoomp! Dead."
A small laugh. "Dawn," said a musical, lyrical voice, from just behind the woman. "We're supposed to be questioning them, remember?"
"Yeah, getting to that part," said Dawn, turning on the second ruffian, stake raised as she backed it against the far wall. "Okay, fang-face. Where's the alien warp engine?"
And the moment Dawn moved out of the way, William could see… just there, such a short distance away… the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen.
An angel, in a world of demons.
"See that lady, in the green frock?" said George, nodding to a tall lady standing not far away. "Miss Julia, of no small estate. Her dowry alone would be enough to make you a very rich man, indeed. And," leaning in closer, "between you and me, she is wilder than she appears, if you catch her in private."
"A lady of the lower gentry," William sighed.
George raised an eyebrow at William. "Well, of course!" He laughed. "Don't tell me you're looking to snatch up an aristocrat!"
William said nothing.
George's laughter stopped. "You're serious?" He shook his head. "Listen, William, be realistic. Marrying a lady is one thing, but to aim higher than—"
"But I must," said William. His voice shook with the suppressed passion he felt, as he uttered the words. "The most beautiful woman alive. The most vibrant, wonderful lady I have ever met. A lady whose birth surpasses everyone in this room. A lady whose domain is Time itself. I must aim for that."
Her clothing was plain, ordinary, lower class. Her blond hair lying flat and unremarkable against her shoulders, her face not done up, and no effort made to disguise the dirt beneath her fingernails.
But she shone through the darkness.
Her eyes so bright, sparkling even when no light was cast upon them. Her every movement fluid, graceful. Her face sculpted with the features of a goddess, yet kindness, caring, and compassion flowed through her every action.
She had called him "Billy."
They had run together. Raced through the streets of London, her laughter and enthusiasm infectious, words and phrases William couldn't understand bursting from her lips in abundance, her determination and bravery so focused, so intense.
They had battled monsters. Demons and monsters and terrors William had never imagined even existed. And she had protected him, even when he was frightened. Had gathered him up, given him courage, given him strength. Let him feel…
Then, when they'd been chased by a horror from a distant planet, one whose language only this beautiful lady could speak, she'd reached over to him.
And had taken his hand in her own.
And William had known… at that moment… that he was lost.
"You're an accountant, William!" said George. "Rich, wealthy, with an estate of your own, yes. But not particularly charming or handsome or even of high birth. If this lady you speak of is… an aristocrat—"
"Higher than that," said William. "Of more noble birth than even the Princess Charlotte."
"—then you can't possibly hope for this Lady of yours to return your affections!" said George.
William was silent for a long moment. A very, very long moment.
"But… she did," he whispered.
They had just saved the world. And they were laughing, laughing and crying out in celebration and triumph! Her face so brilliant and shining, her eyes dancing with cleverness, her hand still clutching his, so very tightly…
He had grabbed her up, in his joy, and kissed her.
She had kissed him back.
For a few seconds, they separated. Staring at one another.
Shocked at the barrier they'd just crossed.
Then they'd begun, again, more in earnest, their every movements fueled by love, relief, passion and a deep sense of need and longing. Her skin so soft and cool against his own. Her every movement driving him onwards. She had stepped inside his mind, and he — not even knowing what he was doing — had stepped inside of hers, and for a few blissful minutes, they were united. Body. Soul. And mind.
Remembered the way he'd held her, afterwards, looked deep into her eyes. Those lovely, large brown eyes of hers.
"I've never felt this way before," he'd confessed. "With you, I feel… so… alive. So… passionate. I can barely control myself."
And she had returned it with a smile so dazzling, so radiant, it burned away any ounce of self-control inside of him, and he grabbed her to him, once more, pulling her close, kissing her and never wanting to let her go…
But she had gone.
Six years, she had been gone.
The first year, William had hoped that she'd come back. Prayed that he would see her again. Hold her again. Feel the racing of her hearts beneath him, the luminosity of her mind as she drew him to her, the way her lips parted for him…
But she wouldn't.
He'd read the legends of her through the pages of history. She was the bright burst of sunlight that appeared in times of darkness, shone to burn away the evil that lurked in the night, before disappearing, once more, and never returning. She didn't just travel through time, as she'd said. She lived in it. Breathed it. Let it be the very essence of her soul.
And, at the end of that first year, William had realized.
She was a goddess.
He was an accountant.
She would never return for him. Because, in the end, he had nothing he could possibly offer her.
"I've tried to move on," William confessed. "I've tried to forget her. But…" He shook his head. "I have loved a goddess, George. An immortal, a drop of perfection — a Lady of Time, with two hearts racing in her chest. When you've loved a lady like that — how can any other even begin to compare?"
George stared at his friend. Jaw falling open.
"The legends say that a river of time flows through this city of Cardiff," said William, unfolding the note he'd written, upon his arrival here. "If she dwells in time, then this is where I will find her, again. I'm certain."
"You're mad," said George.
William checked the clock. Then the time he'd written on the note. His hands were shaking with… was it fear? Excitement? Worry?
He had to do this.
If only to see her, one more time. To look deep into her eyes, and say the words he'd been a fool not to, six years ago. The words he wished he'd said, the words he felt deep within his soul.
I love you, Seo.
"I have to go," said William, pushing past the ladies and other gentlemen surrounding him. His eyes still fixed on that address, on the page. The home where the river of time came through into this world. William's last desperate hope to see her, again.
He left the ballroom.
And stepped into the night.
"I… don't know about this," said William, when he was led into the basement, where the rest of the cult had gathered. He could feel himself trembling. Hesitation flooding through him.
"Our order seeks to harness the energies of time itself," the cult member explained. "We use the binding force of magic to uncover its full potential."
An even greater hesitation ran through William.
The cult member led him closer to the tendril of time that crept into their world. William could see it, glowing there, in the middle of a circle of chanting cult members — a golden burst of energy spiraling through the air.
And deep down, in its depths… deep in the darkness…
"Can you feel it?" the cult member whispered. "Can you feel it moving down there?"
William tried to speak, but his tongue was stilled by the sudden strong hesitation flowing through him. Had this been a mistake? Should he never have come? Was all this worth it, just to show one woman that he loved her?
"What is it?" William whispered.
From the circle of chanting, a voice rose up above the others.
"Abaddon," said the voice. "The Great Devourer!"
"Cast out before Time!" came another. "Chained in rock!"
"He feeds on life!" came a third. "Will feed on all!"
William stepped back, away from the cult members. He hadn't known about this. Hadn't known about Abaddon. Hadn't known about the Great Devourer.
"You said," the cult member reminded William, "that you knew someone who tread in time's pathways. One with supernatural powers — who lived and breathed Time itself."
"Yes," said William, trying to decide whether to race for the door, or remain here. "But… when we spoke, before, you never mentioned anything about this… beast!"
"It is the price for bringing her here," the cult member replied. "Through us… she will return to you. But in returning, she must first open the gates of Hell."
Such a price!
"No," William decided. Turning on his heel, and marching towards the door. "No. I… I can't go through with this. I've changed my mind."
His way was barred by five large men, each with mystical power radiating from them. Each with muscles far larger than William's own. And William realized… that just by entering this place, just by grasping at the opportunity that had been offered to him… he'd already surrendered himself to his fate.
"No backing down, now, I'm afraid," said the cult member.
William looked back at the mystical time energy, from the center of the circle. "No backing down," he breathed. His eyes fixed on that spot of darkness, deep inside. That flicker of movement in its depths.
They shoved him forwards, onto his knees, by the circle of chanters.
"Oh, my beautiful Seo," he muttered. "Please understand — it's what I have to do."
And it began.