Scenes 121 – 130
121: The Mansion, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale
“We’re dealing with an ancient clan of vampires,” Angel began, his tone serious, his mouth a straight grim line. The weight of this revelation kept his shoulders tense. “A group deep into the occult that will stop at nothing to gain the power they believe has been promised them.”
“Demon-worshipping vampires. How odd.” Giles found it strange indeed. “Your kind tends to be godless. Allegiances are generally made for the purposes of profit and prey rather than submission to a higher power.”
Cordelia reminded him, “The creepy guy with the bone relic was a vampire.”
“That’s right,” Angel gave her credit for making the connection when it had not even occurred to him until now that there might be one.
“The blood ritual was performed by a vampire?” Wesley looked toward Giles with a look of growing fascination on his face. Excitedly, he ticked off a short list, “Demon worship, strange rituals, prophecy. Good Lord, Mr. Giles, could we be dealing with the Banished Ones?”
Having quietly been wondering the same thing, Giles shook his head and looked at Wesley as if the idea was ridiculous. Stunned to have considered it himself, he said, “The Council never proved them anything more than a legend.”
Wesley stuttered a bit while voicing opposition. “The—the references are rare, but—”
“Their legend is as real as mine,” Angel ended their posturing.
Giles adjusted his glasses. “Angelus’ legacy is deeply rooted in historical documents, and Watcher’s Council records, eye-witness accounts. Most of what we think we know of the Banished Ones has been based upon conjecture rather than fact. We think they once existed, but there has been no evidence of such in the entirety of the Council’s history.”
Striding closer, Angel challenged him to respond, “Because the Council knows everything there is to know about vampires?” He was not in the mood to argue about it.
Holding up a finger to request a pause in the debate, Wesley skittered toward the study.
Neither Angel nor Giles questioned his departure. “The Council knows more than you might imagine. However, I concede that we do not know everything.”
Angel though the point moot. “Believe me when I tell you that I know who we’re dealing with.”
“You might also tell me that…that Xander is a direct descendant of Beowulf. Am I to believe that as well?”
Sitting at the card table, Xander looked over at Willow. “Who? A werewolf? Did he say I’m related to a werewolf?”
“Shhh!” Calming him down, Willow explained the literary reference.
“So I’m not Oz’ long lost cousin,” he grinned, relaxing again.
Angel and Giles were both annoyed at the interruption, but it gave the others a chance to chime in with their two cents on the matter.
“So what’s the big deal?” asked Buffy. “Banished or not, they’re still vampires.”
Cordelia had to agree. “And, hello, we have two vampire slayers to banish their butts for good.”
Lifting his hand to touch her cheek, Angel thought about the danger she was in, now even greater than he had first feared. His chest ached from the depth of emotions he felt when he looked at her. Demonic rage swelled within him at the thought that they planned to make her a sacrifice. A thread of that anger surfaced gruffly, “It’s not that simple, Cordy.”
“Why not?” Using Spike and Buffy as her examples, she pointed at each of them in turn. “See vampire. See slayer. Watch vampire run. Watch slayer stake vampire.”
“If only…,” Buffy sighed while tapping Mr. Pointy against her thigh.
Spike took offence at her elementary scenario. “Oy! We don’t always run. Some of us like to tussle a bit.”
“That’s why most of you end up clouds of dust,” snorted Faith. “Let me know when you’re up for a tussle. I’ll be happy to have you at the end of my stake.”
“That’s my line, luv,” Spike smirked back. Beside him, still holding him up, Drusilla’s smile suggested she knew it was all in fun. Until his gaze slid back over to Buffy who was standing next to them and he added, “Unless Blondie wants to give it a go first.”
With lightning speed, Buffy jabbed Spike in the ribs with an elbow. He growled in pain and doubled over which instantly caused Drusilla to vamp out and start hissing. Buffy held her trusty stake at the ready. “Try me,” she bated the two of them. “Go on. Just give me an excuse.”
Holding onto his bruised ribs, Spike glared angrily. “What is it with you Slayers and jabbing me in the bloody ribs?”
Angel stepped in to remind Buffy that Spike and Drusilla were not to be harmed. “I asked you to play nice. All of you. Now stand back and shut up. This is important.”
Gasping, Buffy’s mouth clamped closed, her eyes wide with shock at the tone Angel had taken with her. “He started it,” she tilted her head high and turned away.
A bit cowed, Spike gave a curt nod. “Just having a bit o’ fun, mate. While we can,” he added somewhat ominously.
Drusilla calmly eyed Angel obediently remaining quiet as ordered. She led Spike a few steps back to a safe distance from both slayers, though Faith shifted to keep an eye on them.
“Those you call the Banished Ones belong to the House of Solaris,” Angel revealed to the group once the situation seemed settled. “Their betrayal secluded them from all contact with their own kind. It is forbidden to speak of them.”
“And yet we do,” quipped Xander nervously. After all, anything that made Giles freak out in that Giles-like way of his probably was not a good thing.
Before he got into details, Angel waited for Wesley to reach them. He carried a thin leather-bound volume. “How much do you know?”
“Very little,” admitted Giles, taking the lead. “I believe Wesley has returned with the only known reference in my collection. I recall reading of a division among the great vampire clans. However, there is nothing to indicate why the Banished Ones were, uh, banished. Only that they were believed to pose a threat to all vampires.”
Willow wondered, “Why not just stake them or leave them out for the sun to rise?”
“Evil little thing, aren’t you, Red?”
“Who, me?” Gulping, Willow shook her head. “No.” She thought it was a legitimate question. “If they were some kind of threat…”
Giles concurred, “Willow is correct. If the master perceived such a threat to his clan, it would have been more prudent to rid himself of it permanently.”
Angel did not have all of the answers, either. He had had other priorities during his time at Darla’s side rather than learn about the past, though he vividly remembered all of the stories she shared.
Jumping back into the conversation upon his return, Wesley handed the book he had retrieved to Angel. “This is the Obscurantist Vampyr, which is a fairly accurate translation from ancient Sumerian scrollwork, compiled and bound by Franciscan friars.”
Angel skimmed over the reference material giving him a picture of just how little the Watcher’s Council knew about their enemy. Quoting passages, he read, “Evil battled evil causing a great division of the clans. The master of all vampires cast out the traitor to wander upon the earth, he and his progeny banished forever.”
Raising his head, Angel asked, “Is that it? Hardly a detailed account considering the House of Solaris has existed for more than a thousand years.”
“Now that name is familiar,” Giles admitted, “but there is nothing to connect them to the legend of the Banished Ones. The Solaris Clan originates in Galicia, I believe, a rare breed not usually found in vast numbers or traveling outside their home territory. Known to be protected by the local human population. The Council was never able to determine why.”
“Because the mountain village where they keep their home lair is populated by other demon-worshippers,” Angel thought that much should be obvious to the Watchers’ Council that seemed to make it their business to know everything.
Anger roiled inside him. He felt torn between protecting his own kind and reviling them. Angel reminded himself that he was on the watchers’ side. It was in Cordelia’s best interest to tell them everything he knew.
“Perhaps this line is important.” Standing next to Angel, though nervous about the close proximity to a vampire, Wesley pointed toward the open page. The entire book was written in Latin. He had been prepared to translate for Angel, but noted that he had no trouble with it. Not entirely surprising, he supposed, but mildly so all the same. “The last reference on the page provides a warning.”
Angel had not skimmed that far. His eyes shifted down the page. The words stirred a few rumors, things that were hinted at even in vampire legends, stories Darla used to tell him. Warnings. Her belief that he could protect her from anything.
Having taken too long to reveal the quote, Wesley told the others, “Beware the light-bringer.”
“Is that warning for us or them?” asked Willow peering at the book in Giles’ hands. Upside down, the words looked even more ominous. Gulp. “Maybe it’s telling us to use the sun against them. If we find their lair we could use mirrors to reflect the light.”
Spike muttered, “Red’s not only evil, she’s a freakin’ firebug.”
“Charred vampire,” Faith gave a thumbs-up to the idea. “Haven’t tried that one in a while. I’m in.”
Buffy agreed. “Sounds doable.”
“Except for the fact that we don’t know where to find their lair,” Xander pointed out the hole in their plans. “Is there a listing for crypt and cavern rentals?” Chuckling at the idea, he held his arms up to indicate their surroundings, adding, “Looks like Dead Boy already cornered the market on haunted mansions.”
Angel wasn’t amused. The stare he sent Xander’s way shut the boy up instantly. This wasn’t the time for amusement. The enemy was dangerous and Cordelia’s life was at stake— and perhaps the lives of everyone in Sunnydale. With Nico and Isobel at the center of this, he had no doubt things were going to get much worse.
“What makes you so certain the House of Solaris is involved in this?” Wesley shifted from one foot to the other. “You mentioned a name—Nicolau.”
“Nicolau’s childe was the one responsible for Spike’s capture.” Angel told him before getting distracted by Cordelia’s wandering hand. The foyer light revealed bruises and scrapes on his skin that she had not noticed outside and she started looking for other wounds. “Cordy, I’m fine.”
She pressed on a still-damp spot at his side where her fingers came away red with blood. “You call this fine? Pfft. How would you like it if I went around saying I was fine?”
“I suppose I’d believe you.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes, but kept on with her rudimentary examination despite the fact that Giles and Wesley were trying to figure out a way to interrupt and get back to the conversation.
It did not help Angel’s cause when he winced as she poked one of his bruised ribs. “Cor, stop, what are you doing now?”
“Obvious much? I’m taking off your shirt,” Cordelia started unbuttoning. “You’re hurt and I can’t tell how bad it is. Don’t worry, it’s not like I’m in it for the cheap thrills.”
Faith’s dimpled grin appeared. “I am. Don’t stop on my account.”
Sticking her tongue out, Cordelia told Faith as unbuttoned the last button, “Faith, I wouldn’t want you to get side tracked. You’re supposed to be watching Spike.”
“Cordy, this can wait,” Angel stilled her hands. The last thing he needed right now was the distraction of her soft, warm hands sliding across his skin.
With a sigh, she muttered, “Okay, but this isn’t over.”
Angel got lost in her eyes for a moment. He wished he could will everyone else away. Unfortunately, having Cordelia’s hands on him was too much of a distraction. “Later.” The word hung between them with an unspoken promise of more.
“I-I think I’ll handle getting Spike and Dru settled,” Cordelia decided as she backed away. “Come upstairs when you’re done with the pow-wow.”
“Not going anywhere yet, luv,” Spike refused to budge. “I got a right to hear this just as much as anyone else. How else am I gonna know who to kill?”
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Fine.”
Perturbed, Giles inquired, “May we continue now?”
“Sure,” Cordelia shrugged her permission.
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. “Go ahead, Angel.”
“Nicolau Cibran,” he explained to them, “is a favored childe of Solaris. Every move he makes is calculated toward achieving his master’s goals. Nico thrives on power.”
“Vamp politics?” Envisioning their big bad with ‘Vote for Me’ signs posted around town for the next election instead of ones for Mayor Wilkins, Cordelia doubted that tree plantings, mall openings and kissing babies were high on any evil guy’s list.
“Territorial power,” Wesley corrected, finding the study of vampire history and their social dynamics fascinating. “Vampires equate power to the possession of lands for hunting prey. The more powerful a clan is perceived to be the greater control they possess over selection of prime hunting grounds.”
Giles nodded throughout, adding, “Individual vampires can travel outside traditional territories to find prey, but they face the risk of poaching on another clan’s claim. Exceptions are made for vampires with more impressive pedigrees who supersede the rights of lesser clans.”
“We go wherever the bloody hell we want,” Spike told them with a growl, “and the locals can either join in the fun or go fuck themselves. We pick our prey whenever we want, and wherever it takes our fancy.”
“Not impressed,” Cordelia gave him a hard state. She was not about to mince words even though her boyfriend was a vampire. She reminded Spike, “You won’t be eating anybody while you’re staying here.
Spike grumbled, “Killjoy.”
Ignoring him, Cordelia thought she figured out Nicolau’s power play. “So, basically, Nic and his buddies plan to turn Sunnydale into their own personal bistro.”
Shaking his head, Angel told her there was something else going on. “No one clan rules Sunnydale. This is the slayers’ territory.”
“Beg to differ,” Spike gruffed and then quickly closed his mouth again.
Though he did not like talking about the subject, Angel knew it had to be done. “Nico being here in Sunnydale has a far more sinister purpose. Back in the earliest days of the clans, Solaris used to be part of the House of Aurelius until the master grew tired of his dealings with demons. He wanted power and made sacrifices to a demon in order to gain it.”
“Perhaps the same demon god of the prophecy?” Giles concluded that the timing was suspect.
Angel nodded, “Nico’s childe confirmed it. The demon promised them something so powerful, so tempting, that Solaris broke away from the House of Aurelius settling for exile in order to attain it.”
Eagerly asking, “What was it?” Wes’ eyes glimmered with interest.
“I don’t know. Isobel didn’t elaborate except to say that the benefits pass on to all of their kinsman.”
“Ah,” Giles caught on. “The old blood ties between the two houses. The Aurelius and Solaris clans are essentially one bloodline.”
While Angel started to provide more details, Cordelia nudged him. “Who’s Isobel?”
“Nicolau’s mate. Didn’t I mention her?”
Cordelia folded her arms across her chest. “No, as a matter of fact, you didn’t.”
“Playing naughty games with my Spike. Tempting our Angel.” Drusilla let out a hiss, making cat claws out of her hands to scratch the air in Buffy’s direction. “Another blonde slut.”
Buffy immediately took offence at the verbal barb. “Hey.”
“Oh, really?” Cordelia’s gaze swept back to Angel who looked like he was suffering from stomach cramps. Instead of demanding to know the details of said temptation, she let out a soft huff. “I take it Isobel is responsible for the two of you looking like chopped liver. Never underestimate the female of the species—especially when it comes to finding stuff out.”
Angel was not entirely certain whether Cordy was jealous or just teasing him about it. Clearing his throat, he explained, “Nicolau obviously trusts Isobel enough to— ”
There was that eyebrow again, quirking upward in that I’m-curious-but-you-better-give-me-the-kind-of-answer-I-want-to-hear way. “Run errands. A little kidnapping here. A little torture there.”
“A little seduction on the side,” Spike added causing Cordelia to spin around to look at him.
Snorting, Cordelia looked at Spike’s sad state. “Yeah, I can see she really did a good job of that. Got a little sidetracked with the torture?”
“Still got a lot to learn about what vampires like, pet?”
Torture was sexy? That did not sound right. “What do y—?” Cordelia was interested to know more, but not with Buffy and Xander listening in. “Shut up, Spike.”
Looking her straight in the eye, Spike warned, “Watch out for Isobel, toots. Got the hots for Angelus, she does, and plans to sink her hooks deep.”
“Cor, I’m sure Angel dusted her.” Faith turned expectantly. “Right?”
Angel rubbed at the building pressure at his neck while wishing that he had kept his mouth shut about Isobel. Before he could answer, Spike butted in again. “No, the big poof sent her packing with a message for her sire.”
While Giles and Wesley were formulating questions about Angel’s strategy, Buffy was focused on a more important issue. “Was she pretty?”
Though Cordelia figured it was not Buffy’s business, the question was still legit. “Was she?”
Almost instantly, Angel’s, “No!” emerged as an adamant bark. “I didn’t really notice,” he added with a guilty expression that said otherwise.
Cordelia raised a brow. “So which was it? Either you didn’t notice or she looked like a pug-faced troll.”
When Angel did not immediately answer, feeling like anything he said would get him in hot water, Spike chimed in. “Hot little blonde. Curves in all the right places.”
“Shut up, Spike.” Angel gave him a look that said he was not helping.
“Don’t worry, pet,” Spike winked his good eye at Cordelia. “Next time I see that bitch I’m gonna rip her head off. Won’t be so pretty then.”
Gross, but Cordelia could not find fault with the plan. “Next time Angel won’t be going alone.” She asked Angel, “Did you dust anybody? Sheesh.”
“Blondie wanted him to sign up. Offered him a nice deal, promised him power and a few perks that included her. Thought he was Angelus. Isobel was too busy creaming in her knickers to notice the soul,” Spike revealed.
Giles focused on the first part. “Isobel wanted Angelus to join them?”
Still talking to Cordelia, Spike told her, “Back in the day, Angelus would’ve taken her up on her offer. Don’t worry pet. He said no. ‘Course it wasn’t that long ago that he was into feisty blondes.”
A second later Spike hit the floor after Buffy’s fist connected squarely with his jaw. “That’s the last time you say anything about me and Angel.” She wanted to forget about the relationship and did not need some annoying, loud vampire mouthing off at her every chance he got.
Buffy’s petite form towered above him as Spike struggled into a seated position. She glared down as if daring him to get up and fight. This time he did not find it much of a turn-on. Scowling, Spike gave a low grumble, “Try that again when I’m ready to take what you’re dishing out.”
Rubbing at his sore jaw, he looked at Dru who crouched down next to him. He half expected her to go after Buffy for punching him. Instead, she grabbed his right ear into a tight pinch and dragged him to his feet. “Remember that, naughty boy. Leave the nasty slayer alone.”
Tired of dealing with Spike’s runaway mouth, Angel instructed Faith to take the two vampires up to the vacant room on the third floor next to her own. “That way you can keep an eye on them.”
Unenthusiastic over the idea of babysitting them, Faith muttered, “Great.”
“Hope you’re not a light sleeper, luv,” Spike smirked as she helped Drusilla walk him up the stairs. “We’ll try to keep the noise down.”
As planned, Cordelia headed up behind them telling the vampires where they could find clean linen. “I’ll get some stuff for you to take care of those wounds.”
Drusilla paused, “My Spike needs blood to heal, someone young and vigorous.”
“Sorry,” Cordelia reminded her that was a no-no. “You’ll be on Angel’s special diet while you’re here.”
Looking back toward the foyer, she called out, “Xander, get some fresh blood from the fridge and bring it up.”
“Me?” Xander looked around as if he expected to find another Xander Harris in the room.
Angel reminded him, “You said you were in charge of the food.”
Gulping, he grabbed Willow’s wrist and whimpered.
“Are they going to drink that stuff?” asked Willow prying Xander’s fingers from her arm. “Piggy isn’t their usual diet.”
“It’s a problem,” Angel admitted. Giles and Wesley were still against having them in the house. Both voiced their concerns again, but Angel had made up his mind to let them stay. “Normally, I wouldn’t trust them, certainly not Spike. This way I know where they are and what they’re doing.”
Giles didn’t like it one bit. “This is your house, but I’m holding you responsible should anything happen.”
“Fair enough.” There were no guarantees. Vigilance was necessary. Though Drusilla seemed to be playing nice at the moment, she could turn on them quite easily. Once Spike’s injuries healed, his influence over Dru might prove problematic.
Buffy remained in the foyer with Angel and the watchers. Impatient, she wanted to get on with this, come up with a plan, and execute it. She wanted this over with and wanted out of this house. “What next?”
“We finish securing this place against an attack,” Angel glanced around at obvious vulnerabilities that remained.
Wesley reminded him of the spell Willow cast. “Cordelia is the only one able to invite a vampire inside. As we are dealing with a cult of vampires, that should make the mansion secure from attack.”
“From Nico’s minions, perhaps,” conceded Angel, “but they won’t be alone in this.”
“You mentioned the Galician villagers were also demon-worshippers. They, too, are likely to be involved,” Giles agreed. “Who knows how far their influence has spread. And we have already seen they are not above hiring mercenaries to do their dirty work.”
Angel paced across the parquet floor. “We still don’t know a damn thing about the prophecy itself.”
“On the contrary,” Wesley disagreed. “Now that we know the Banished Ones are part of this, we can call for all available resources from the Council. To this point, all our research has been focused in another direction.”
“Now we have a point of reference,” Giles agreed. “With the Galician involvement, I may be able to call in a few favors from nearby resources. Someone local might be able to determine which demon is being worshipped. If a connection is made with the glyphs on the stone obelisk, perhaps then we can determine a way to prevent this prophecy from coming to its fruition.”
Buffy was getting antsy watching Angel pace across the floor. Tapping her stake in a set rhythm against her thigh, she asked, “What can I do?”
Just then, Xander and Willow happened to be making their way toward the stairs from the kitchen. Seeing them, Wesley had an idea. Having already used Willow’s spell casting skills, he felt certain she would be capable of the level of magic required for another bit of witchery.
“Willow!” He called out to her so unexpectedly that she shrieked nearly spilling the plastic container of blood she carried.
Wavering on her feet, Willow stared at him as she recovered from the shock. “Don’t dooooooo that.”
“Sorry,” Wes apologized. He took the blood from Willow, handed it to over to Xander who already held one container. Telling him, “Do go on. I have an important task for Willow.”
Reluctantly, Xander went on with his own job of bringing cold, congealing pig blood to the vampires upstairs. He knew Angel heated his blood. Or, he’d seen Cordelia do that for him. No way was he microwaving this stuff and spicing it up with cinnamon like that.
“What’s the scoop?” Willow asked Wes as they walked back to join the others. “More spell stuff?”
After confirming her guesswork, Wesley asked, “Have you ever cast a location spell?”
“With Angel’s help, I believe that you can help us find the Banished Ones.”
Location spells required some method of identification. The one casting the spell was required to possess personal knowledge of the individual being located, a personal object belonging to the one sought, or a photograph. Since Willow had none of these to go by, Angel agreed to create a detailed drawing of Isobel.
Buffy wanted to know, “How does this give me something to do?” She looked to Giles for an answer.
“If Willow’s spell succeeds, you can try a little reconnaissance. With any luck, we can bring this conflict to them.”
“There’s one other name you need to know,” Angel told the watchers. He had almost forgotten hearing it. Back at the warehouse while Spike was being tortured by Isobel and he was up in the rafters, Angel caught a bit of the conversation. Just enough to hear her say the name, “Kalesh.”
Giles and Wesley exchanged looks again in that contemplative way. Admitting, “The name is vaguely familiar,” Giles waited for his younger colleague to say something.
“I, too, have heard the name before.”
“They know nothing,” Buffy told Angel. “That look means they’ll have to research and get back to you tomorrow.”
Angel knew better than to say anything.
“Can we get on with that find-the-vampires spell?” Buffy sighed. “I’m tired of being cooped up.”
Willow whispered, “You just got back from patrolling.”
A little whine sounded from Buffy’s throat. Seeing her friend’s face contort into a big pout, Willow stammered as she came up with an excuse to get her away from Angel. Being in close proximity to the Cordy and Angel was not making this any easier on her friend.
“W-We’ll need stuff for the spell. Components,” Willow told the guys. “We’ll go get what we need while Angel draws the picture.”
Wesley provided a list of items they could obtain from the local Magic Shop. The shopkeeper was known to keep late hours. Wes wasn’t keen about letting two girls go it alone, but Buffy reminded him that she was a slayer. They headed out on their shopping mission and the two watchers settled in for a long night of research.
Thinking about Isobel with the level of detail required to draw her for this spell was not pleasant. She might be beautiful on the outside, but there was nothing but ice inside. Just a cold-hearted ambition that matched her sire’s. Spike was right about one thing. In many ways, Isobel was a lot like Darla.
Angel climbed the stairs suddenly feeling every bruise and scrape marring his flesh. He pressed his hand against his injured side and held it there against the stickiness where blood clotted against his shirt. He allowed himself a grunt to acknowledge the pain, and then gritted his teeth against it as he made his way up to the bedroom.
When he saw that Cordelia wasn’t there, he glowered toward the third floor realizing she must still be helping Spike and Dru get settled. It was difficult enough to find a few minutes alone with her and now Spike was getting the attention that belonged to him. Realizing it was unreasonable to be disgruntled about it Angel did not bother to push aside the feeling. Spike might be family of sorts, but he was still a vampire.
Before he did anything else, Angel took the sketchpad he kept in his nightstand out to complete his assigned task. Isobel’s image was still fresh in his mind and he did not want to dwell on it any longer than necessary. Opening it to a blank page, he drew two pictures, one of Isobel looking serene in her human beauty and the other as a vampire.
Angel set the sketchpad down on the bed and tossed the pencil beside it when he was done. He looked toward the door again. Still no Cordelia. For a moment, he considered stomping upstairs to find out what was taking so long, but Faith was there to protect her and he did not relish the idea of coming across as a jealous maniac.
Taking off his jacket, Angel carefully draped it across a chair. He would have to check it for rips and holes later. The leather often protected him during fights, but it was not indestructible. Neither was he, apparently. He winced as he peeled his shirt away from his side where it adhered to a wound.
The smaller scrapes and scratches were already starting to close. Some of the deep bruises would take a little longer. This wound needed flushing out. He headed toward the shower turning the water on hot.
Angel emerged fifteen minutes later in a cloud of steam, a towel wrapped around his hips. His gaze immediately went to Cordelia who was lounging on the top of the bed with his sketchbook lying open in front of her.
“So this is the pug-faced troll.”
This was going to one of those conversations. Steeling himself for what was ahead, Angel walked over to the dresser to pick out some clothes. “I never said she looked like a troll.”
“Were you lovers back in the day?”
Angel denied it immediately. “No. We never met.” He discarded the towel to step into his boxers noting the way Cordelia watched him through her lashes. Even now she remained a little shy about his body.
“But she wants you.”
Stalling, Angel tried to determine how to respond to that. Finally, he opted for the truth. Coming to stand by the edge of the bed, he said, “Isobel wants Angelus. Sounds like a crush of sorts. She does not know about the soul. Angelus’ reputation is pure evil. It’s the thrill of power, the love of torture, the bloodletting.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Yeah, real turn-ons. Oh, and talking about yourself in the third person— don’t think I’m going to fall for that.”
When Angel was not certain what to say next, Cordelia pointed to a mug sitting on the nightstand. “I brought you some blood. Sorry, but that’s the last of it. With three vamps in the house, we’ll have to stock up tomorrow.”
“There’s plenty of night left,” Angel told her after taking a big gulp. “I could swing by Willy’s bar and pick up a fresh supply.”
“No way! You’re still bleeding, you big dork. I’m not letting you go out like that.” She pulled a First Aid Kit from the top of the nightstand and patted the bed.
Glancing down at his side, Angel noted that the wound was still seeping blood. It was almost closed. The blood he was drinking would help fortify him as well as speed the healing process. Angel gulped down the rest and climbed onto the bed taking care not to drip blood onto the covers.
“I thought you weren’t into the Florence Nightingale thing.”
Cordelia bent down to press her lips to a bruise on his shoulder. “For you, I’ll make an exception.”
122: The Master Bedroom, Crawford Street Mansion
Cordelia never dealt with the scrapes and bruises of her cheerleading squad. When an injury occurred, the school nurse was always around to handle it. Other than the inconvenience of waiting for them to be patched up, she never really thought about the pain. It was her job to make them work through it.
When it was your boyfriend who was injured, priorities were obviously different. In addition to the bruises on his jaw, chest, ribs and shoulder, there were several gross looking skin tears. One on his abdomen was almost as large as the palm of her hand. It was superficial compared to the long ugly gash down his right side. The little rip across his swollen cheekbone looked like someone with a ring on his fist had given him a good wallop.
Gasping at the number of injuries, Cordelia felt the sting of tears in her eyes. She had to take care of this. “Does it hurt?” Angel opened his mouth to deny it and she snapped a warning, “And don’t tell me that it’s fine.”
Lying on his side to give her access to the long gash across his ribs, Angel had to rethink his response. “The pain isn’t bad. They’re just flesh wounds. I’ve had worse.”
Imagining something worse made her head hurt. She felt cold all of a sudden. Angel ran a hand up her arm and she shivered, but focused on his concerned face. Noticing her pallor, “You’re not going to faint on me, are you?”
“Cordelia Chase does not faint.”
Shaking off the woozy feeling, she took a look at the first wound. As Angel said, it was not deep. No bones poking out. No big gouges or pokes. Something sharp had scraped across his shirt cutting jaggedly into the skin by the looks of it.
“Not so bad, really. Patching you up will be a piece of cake,” she lied hoping the woozy feeling would go away. She poked at the edges of the wound to see where the worst of the bleeding was located. It was congealed and gooey, the deepest parts of the wound already filling in with red flesh. “What’s a little blood between friends?”
She peeked at Angel’s face to see if he was buying it. Poker face. No fair. From the way he continued to touch her arm in that soothing way, she had to guess he could see right through her. “The good news is that I don’t think you need stitches.”
Angel told her, “It will probably close on its own. My body can handle a lot.”
“Are you kidding? Vampire mojo or not, I’m not about to let my boyfriend fester and rot.” Cordelia rolled her eyes at him. “Pfft. Now shut up so I can give you some TLC.”
“Is that what this is?” Angel plumped the pillow beneath his head. She had her hands on him. First aid was the last thing on his mind.
The oozing wound looked clean, but there was the issue of that red stuff to deal with. Opening up the First Aid Kit, she removed some 4×4” gauze and held it in place hoping that a little pressure would do the trick. If it did not, Cordelia was not sure what to do next. Maybe she should have paid more attention to technique instead of the doctors during episodes of E.R.
While she was thinking hard about her strategy, Cordelia felt Angel’s hand settle on her hip. Just touching her at first, but then his hand moved and his fingers spread out to follow the curve of her ass. He squeezed lightly and smiled wickedly when she looked up at him again.
“How about you just kiss it better?” Angel’s hand swept up to her shoulder blades where a slight pressure brought her down to his level.
Just above his mouth, muttered, “Perv,” but gave him a quick smooch anyway.
Angel’s hand slipped up to her nape holding her there. Not bothering to respond verbally or deny it, he buried his face against her throat, nuzzled her skin and then kissed his way up toward her mouth.
Indulging him, Cordelia leaned in for another teasing kiss, but lingered longer than intended. His mouth was like an addictive drug. Their lips meshed, a flash of heat burning between them, lips soft, sensual, enticing not controlling. His tongue darted out to tease her lower lip, urging her to open to him.
She almost gave in. Nearly forgot what she was doing. With a moan of regret, she pushed him back. “Behave.” A smile lingered along with the buzz of arousal. “I’m trying to stop the blood flow— though it seems like it’s headed somewhere else.”
“I noticed,” Angel groaned glancing down to his tented boxers.
Cordelia’s hands shook as she taped up the second wound with fresh gauze. The tape mangled when she tried to do it too fast. “This tape is evil.” Finally, she smoothed the last piece across his skin covering the edge of the gauze. Grinning in triumph, she saw that Angel resembled a gauze-covered patchwork quilt.
With a little yank, Angel pulled her down into his arms. “No we’re not.” The pain of his injuries forgotten, he flipped her back toward the center of the bed.
His body fell against hers, heavy and male. Before he shifted away, she wrapped her arms and legs around him. “Closer,” she pleaded gruffly against his mouth before it consumed hers in a fiery kiss.
123: The Library, Sunnydale High School, Southeast Sunnydale
Normally the library was a sanctuary of sorts, but today it seemed like a prison. Why was it that other watchers were not burdened by secondary jobs? Today was not the day to call in sick. Principal Snyder was in a rotten mood. More so than usual. To be avoided at all costs.
Fighting off a yawn, Giles covered his mouth with the back of his hand. A headache had been hanging around all morning, the result of pulling a research all-nighter with his younger counterpart. Thinking back to his Ripper days when lack of sleep meant little to his energy levels, he realized might have to admit that he wasn’t as young as he used to be.
Most of his books were at the mansion. He had brought a few files with him. They hald split the work. Giles assigned Wesley the research on the obelisk and the Rites of Tavrok. A fresh eye on the subject might provide some new clue that he had missed. They were close to discovering something. He could feel it. But the truth remained just out of reach.
Giles took everything they had on European vampire clans and the Obscurantist Vampyr. There were more references here in the library that had been left behind, thinking them unconnected with the prophecy. He hoped to find out more details about the House of Solaris.
Before leaving for work this morning he made a call to London to request everything the Watcher’s Council possessed on the Banished Ones. He’d gotten the expected reaction and it took three requests before someone actually took him seriously. They started paying attention when he revealed that Angel was the source of information linking the two houses to a single bloodline. It would take several days to produce copies of the original documents. Most were so old they required special handling and storage.
The delay was expected and not bad timing. With Beverly Quinn’s funeral tomorrow, the day, if not the entire weekend, would be difficult for everyone. All signs pointed to the pause in demonic activity continuing for a while, but it was impossible to be certain just how long it would be.
Before the next sign appeared and another victim was selected as a future sacrifice, it was vital to discover who and what they were up against. Now they knew the who: Nicolau Cibran and his childe, Isobel. Likely, the entire House of Solaris. Potentially, their demon-worshipping thralls. It was impossible to know just how pervasive this cult had become.
On the countertop in front of him, Giles opened the Obscurantist Vampyr to the entry on the Banished Ones. He stared at the words until they blurred before him: ‘beware the light-bringer’. Removing his glasses, he pursed his lips, thoughtfully tapping the tip of the ear piece against his lower lip while considering the options.
The library doors pushed open unexpectedly. Giles looked up to see Buffy, Willow and Xander shuffling in from the hall. He glanced at his watch. This was class time. He was not expecting these three for another two hours.
Buffy dropped her notebooks onto the counter and whined, “Will this day ever be over? I can’t believe Troll Man tried to blame me for the missing stuff from the Chem Lab.”
Interpreting ‘Troll Man’ as Principal Snyder, Giles suddenly understood why the gruff man was especially acerbic this morning.
“Anything that goes wrong around here is automatically my fault,” Buffy’s shoulders slumped and her eyes widened in a woeful plea for sympathy. “What would I want with old Buster Burners anyway?”
He did not have the foggiest idea. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask whether there was something he needed to know when Willow slyly pointed out, “Didn’t you burn down the gym at your old school?”
With an offended gasp, Buffy said, “That was slayer stuff.”
Xander was quick to provide some cheer. “Look on the bright side, Buffster. We got out of that boring chemistry experiment and got to come to the library to ‘study’.”
Finally noticing that he was standing there, Willow waved perkily, “Hi Giles!”
Still pouting, Buffy grumbled a greeting and, for once, Xander just nodded a pleasant hello.
“How’s it going, Library Man?”
Correction. Xander had not undergone any personality changes in the past few hours. Certainly not since serving everyone his ‘breakfast extraordinaire’ consisting of Pop Tarts and YooHoo.
Tapping his watch face, he asked why they were there ahead of schedule. “Skipping classes or were you thrown out again?”
Buffy held her hands up and pleaded innocence. “I didn’t do it.
“Neither did I,” Willow harrumphed breathily.
Giles popped his glasses back into place. “No, no, I was merely asking why you’re gracing me with your presence at this time of day.” Not to mention causing him to wonder if Principal Snyder would be searching for them.
Explaining the situation, Willow told him that some Bunsen burners and chemicals were missing from the Chem Lab, so their teacher decided to cancel class and sent them all off to study. Chirpily, she added, “So here we are.”
“No doubt your classmates were devastated at the cancellation. Fortunately for us, we can use the time to coordinate our plans for this afternoon,” Giles told them. “We have a lot to accomplish before tomorrow.”
He let it go unspoken, but all three knew he meant the funeral. It was unnecessary to remind them to dress appropriately and be on their best behavior. Despite being young, they had been through more than most adults in a lifetime and living here in Sunnydale ensured that black was a standard part of everyone’s wardrobe.
Before his thoughts drifted to another funeral, one not so long ago, Giles turned back to the business at hand. “At the close of school today, I will drive to the butcher shop for a fresh supply of blood. You three can stop at Willy’s Bar.”
Three groans sounded, but no one refused the assignment.
“It is best that our guests be weaned from their regular diet slowly. An immediate switch,” he explained, “might cause cravings we’d rather avoid.”
Xander nodded vehemently. “Definitely gotta agree with that. My neck always seems to be on someone’s lunch menu.”
“Do you think Spike and Drusilla will do what Angel says?” asked Willow putting one of Giles’ own concerns to voice.
There was every reason to believe that they would not considering they were soulless vampires with a past history of defying authority. Though technically, Angel was sire of their line, he was not their acknowledged master. If Angelus had killed Darla to assume leadership of the House of Aurelius, there would be no question, but the curse changed things. Possessing a soul might make him more than just a vampire, but not in their eyes. To them, he was tainted, and their clan in a state of disarray.
Truthfully, Giles did not know what to expect. He could only hope that Angel retained some influence over their behavior.
Buffy seemed certain of her opinion on the matter. “They’ll behave.”
Taking the opposite stance Xander blurted, “Tell that to the crazy lady with the thrall.” The power of which was something Giles completely understood.
“Okay,” conceded Buffy with a shrug, “I’m not so sure about Dru, but Spike knows what’s at stake.”
“But they’re not like Angel. They’re soulless,” Willow argued against trusting Spike so easily.
Giles was about to agree when Buffy snapped, “Having a soul hasn’t stopped Angel from being a jerk. He’s dating Cordelia. Cordelia! Ugh!”
This was not the time or place for having that conversation again. Even Willow and Xander looked uncomfortable with the subject, a wary silence following the short outburst.
Fortunately, Buffy did not skip a beat and went on with her original opinion of why it was safe to trust Spike. “Don’t forget that Spike tipped me off about Angelus’ plans to suck the world into hell. Anyway, it sounds like he really wants to help out against the Psycho Seductress.”
“Speaking of Isobel,” Giles changed the subject, “have you gathered what you need for the Location Spell?”
Willow nodded. “Yup. Last night. Scary.” Her thin shoulders shuddered.
The girls had been gone for several hours. To be honest, he had been so focused on the research and discussing theories with Wesley that the time had gone by without notice. What should have been a short trip to the Magic Shop took a bit longer than planned.
“We got what we needed,” Buffy left it at that. “She’s good to go as soon as we get back to the mansion.”
Xander suddenly got serious, jumping a step ahead. “What happens after we find Isobel? Do we go into attack mode? Search and destroy? Or stick to an undercover op?”
It was too early to determine the appropriate cause of action. He explained, “That depends on the location of the lair. We might find them in a vulnerable position or one that is highly fortified.”
The trio settled into their usual spots at the front table. Giles turned his attention back to the line of text in the Obscurantist Vampyr: ‘beware the light-bringer’. Was it, as Willow had suggested, a warning to the vampires? Was the light-bringer someone, a slayer perhaps, who would bring about their destruction? Or was it intended for any who might oppose the sect of Solaris in their demon-worship? Could the light-bringer be the demon itself? Might it be something else entirely?
Glancing up, he saw his young protégée and her friends looking bored. Xander had his feet up on the table while he balanced himself on the two back chair legs, Willow was pushing a pencil back and forth across the table—without touching it, while Buffy propped her chin in her hand and strummed her fingers against her cheek.
“If you aren’t going to study your chemistry homework, perhaps you three could do something productive,” Giles did not bother to hide the sarcasm.
Neither did Xander. “Chemistry homework or vampire research. Notice we never get to choose between goofing off and taking it easy.”
“We could get our homework out of the way,” Willow suggested and reached for her schoolbooks.
Buffy and Xander gave her the stink eye, overruling her with a dual, “Research!”
Carrying over the stack of books, Giles explained again that their focus was to be the vampire clans. “I left Wesley to review the research on the obelisk.”
Buffy glanced over at Willow, who gave her a look of encouragement suggesting that the two of them had chatted about something. Bolstered, Buffy ventured a question. “Does Wes seem…kind of young to you?”
“Meaning compared to me.” Already feeling less than spry today, Giles suddenly felt like a decrepit old man with one foot in the grave.
A careless shrug followed from Buffy. “For a watcher.”
Willow apparently had some of the same concerns. “Yeah. Shouldn’t watchers be older, mature, know stuff?”
They really had not had an extended opportunity to discuss Wesley’s presence. Things had been moving rather quickly over the past few days. Giles was less concerned about his age and more about his actual experience in the field. From what little he had gathered on the subject, Wesley’s field training included staged scenarios rather than the real thing.
Even that was something they could work with as long as he and his slayer remained in Sunnydale. Tandem training could strengthen them as a team. Considering Faith’s rather strong personality, Wesley was going to need some support. Giles wondered if the Council had truly considered that match before sending him here.
Even Xander could predict the worst. “Faith is going to eat him alive.”
Giles did not want to present a negative picture despite their legitimate concerns, which matches his own. “Ah. Yes, Faith does have an appetite for controversy. Your concerns are noted. I assure you that while he may not be as old and decrepit as I, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce is a qualified watcher and comes highly recommended for our particular cause. As for Faith, he’ll have to learn quickly.”
124: The Master Bedroom, Crawford Street Mansion
A soft glow lit the edges of the blackout curtains indicating daytime. Cordelia blinked and shut her eyes again, nuzzling her head back into the pillow. The heavy weight of Angel’s arm lay around her waist. It tightened, pulling her closer. He was so warm at this time of day, when they were skin to skin.
Cordelia smiled in her sleepy state, thinking about Angel’s hot body draped across hers and the delicious things he had done last night. There was not a millimeter of skin that had not been licked, sucked or stroked like he could not get enough of her taste.
Half the night was spent tracing patterns on her flesh, with his head buried between her thighs, talented tongue dancing pleasures upon her. The other half filled with an almost desperate need to stay connected, his hard shaft stroking deep inside her, and so slowly that it nearly drove her insane. She wondered how many times she could shatter into a million pieces and still crave his touch.
Sometime near dawn, they had showered together and then crawled back into bed. It was not a hardship at all not having to get up to go to school today. Cordelia knew she was stuck at the mansion for the duration. What better way to pass the time than to spend it in bed with her guy?
If only they could.
The shine suddenly started to wear off her morning after buzz. She remembered that Bev’s funeral was tomorrow. There was stuff she had to do today, including the phone call to Mrs. Finkle, her boss, who surprisingly had turned out to be one of Bev’s bingo buddies. She was kindly acting on Cordelia’s behalf to arrange a few last minute details for the funeral.
Then there was Isobel, whose face Angel had carefully sketched, now staring at her from the pad, which had been tossed on the floor during the night. Did her seduction scheme have anything to do with Angel being so voracious? Cordelia recognized the flash of jealousy for what it was, but Spike’s taunts about the beautiful vampiress being Angel’s type were still fresh in her mind.
Behind her, Angel started to stir, his morning erection pressing against her and his hand sweeping up to pull her closer. Nuzzling her hair aside, he kissed her throat. He stayed there with his mouth pressed to her skin, breathing her in, until Cordelia twisted around in his arms. Her leg hooked over his hip silently asking for what she wanted.
When his cock thrust deep inside her, Cordelia clutched his broad shoulders tight. “Harder,” she urged him when the rhythm slapped too lazily, too teasingly to wipe away all traces of what lay ahead. Pushing her sorrows and fears away, she took solace in the moment, feeling only pleasure and the thrill of possessing him.
125: The Study, Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale
Dressed in her blue tank top and casual black pants, Faith stepped into the study to tell Wesley that she was headed to the basement to work out. “Nice little set up Angel’s got down there.”
“Good, good. Go right ahead,” he muttered barely acknowledging her.
Miffed by the dismissal, Faith figured that Giles might have taken a break to spar with her, but she could see that her newbie watcher was bogged down in research. He looked kind of rough around the edges this morning, blue shirt crumpled, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, and his dorky little polkadot bow tie undone and hanging loose. The shadowy hint of beard stubble darkened his jaw. The man looked positively edible.
A crooked little smile tugged at her lips, cheeks dimpling devilishly. Suddenly, she was not in so much of a hurry to work out. At least, not down in the basement.
Moving a little closer, she checked him out from head to toe while Wesley remained oblivious to it. There were legal pads of notes, rubbings from the obelisk and book lain out in organized piles all around. She skirted around the research and finally reached the desk where he was studying a large map of Sunnydale.
Propping a hip on the edge of the desk, Faith leaned in close to see what he was up to. “Find anything?”
Wesley jumped back, his arms wavering, colliding with a stack of books that turned topsy-turvy, and finally flopping over the arm of the couch with one leg in the air. It was the most spectacular act of klutziness Faith had ever seen.
Holy shit. This is my new watcher?
“Was that a seizure or are you just happy to see me?” Faith teased and held out a hand to help him back to his feet.
Wesley straightened up, squared his shoulders and cleared his throat. “I was merely testing your reaction time. There was plenty of opportunity for you to prevent that fall, which I staged, naturally.”
“Naturally,” Faith echoed while trying not to laugh.
As Wes scurried around to set his books back into their little pile, she started to head for the door deciding to go ahead with that workout. He was not catching her vibe at all.
“Faith, wait,” he held up a hand to stop her. “You’ve seen the obelisk. Been to that cemetery.”
What was he getting at? “Yeah.”
A funny gleam appeared in his eyes and Wes started gathering pads and paperwork. When his arms were full, he nodded toward the hall. “I think I’m on to something.”
“On something,” Faith muttered as she followed him toward the front door. “Where are you going? I thought we were on lockdown because of the vamps.”
Wesley paused and glanced toward the stairs. “Their status?”
“Sleeping. Most vampires don’t rise until sunset.” Though, she had to acknowledge that Angel kept strange hours for a vampire. Now it looked like Cordelia was also adjusting to his schedule. It was already early afternoon and there had not been a peep out of them.
“Plenty of time to run a little errand,” Wes headed for the door again. “I forgot for a moment that I need not deal with pure research. The obelisk itself is right here in Sunnydale. There is one rubbing that is not quite clear—a symbol that could provide a clue about the Rites of Tavrok.”
Faith was not opposed to the idea of a short jaunt across town, but it did screw with her plans. “So much for my workout.”
“Oh,” Wes glanced at her clothing, noticing for the first time what she was wearing. “I didn’t realize. Perhaps you can train with Buffy later.”
Having told him what her plans were when she first entered the study, Faith realized that Wes tended to focus deeply when he was thinking. “Whatever. Before we go, I had better check in upstairs. Let Cor know we’re heading out.”
With a nod, Wesley headed outside stating that he would meet her out front. Faith took the stairs two at a time. Reaching the second floor landing, she headed down the hall to Angel and Cordy’s room. A random sound alerted her that someone inside was awake. She grabbed the doorknob planning to pop her head inside to give them the news.
Before turning the knob, Faith heard something else. Squeaky springs. She leaned in close, pressing her ear to the door, unabashedly listening to her friends getting it on. From the sound of things, they were having fun.
Grinning, Faith released the doorknob and turned to go back downstairs. No need to bother Angel and Cordy right now. If Wesley did not take too long playing with his obelisk, they might even be back before they were finished. Feeling mildly horny, she wondered when she would find the opportunity to get laid again.
Wes was seated on a motorcycle at the bottom of the front steps. She knew he had purchased it yesterday, something that had surprised her. He seemed more like the moped type. There was a small storage compartment. He put his papers away and removed another helmet.
“I didn’t bother them,” Faith took the helmet he handed her and swung onto the back of the bike. “They were getting busy.”
“With research? But I have the—,” Wes paused as her meaning sank in. Mortified, he said, “Dear God. Then I suppose we won’t be missed.”
Dear God is right. What an adorable dweeb. Hopping up behind Wesley, she wrapped her arms around his waist. “Motorcycles are hot. All that power between your thighs.” Wes’ spine stiffened as she leaned in close and propped her chin on his shoulder. “Kind of a turn on.”
126: Back in the Master Bedroom…
Each time he took her bound them closer together. Cordelia’s passion and spirit were irresistible and he was too weak to resist taking every advantage to make her fall for him the way he had for her. The love she proclaimed made him happy in a way that proved the curse was broken, but there was something missing. Physical proof. The visible sign that she belonged to him.
Angel could not stop thinking about it last night. Even while they made love, especially then, because it stirred up every instinct he had to claim her. He held back. Kept his urges buried deep. Possessing a permanent soul did not seem to cancel out his demon aspects so much as further integrate them.
As if she sensed his unspoken need, her body responded, movements became frantic, pleading for something more. The alluring pulse of Cordelia’s blood pounded in his ear, the rhythm of her heart, gasping breaths, sounds of pleasure stifled against his shoulder as they moved together, every thrust channeling his feelings deep inside.
127: Trinity Baptish Church Ruins/Cemetery, Eastside, Sunnydale
Wesley had not missed the flirtation in Faith’s voice. However, this was not the time to address it. The council’s file on her was quite thick and included all manner of activities including a defiance of authority figures, the death of her previous watcher, and tendency to push herself to the limits. He hoped her arrival in Sunnydale was a way of reaching out and seeking help.
According to the information he had gleaned from Rupert Giles on the subject, Faith remained a wildcard. They were at disparate odds about Faith’s involvement with the town mayor. If the man was half as corrupt as they believed, the danger to her was significant. Her willingness to walk the line combined with her innate recklessness gave him cause for concern.
“Turn here,” Faith called out to him as they reached the turning at State Street and Jefferson Avenue. He had seen the far edge of the cemetery from the road, but its entrance was actually off Jefferson.
He parked the motorbike in the parking lot next to the church ruins. “Quite a lot of damage from the earthquake,” he observed.
“Cor and Angel were here when it happened.” Climbing off, she removed her helmet and shook out her dark hair. “They’re the ones who found the stone.”
“So I understand,” Wes nodded. Removing his own helmet, he took hers and put both of them down on the seat. He opened up the storage compartment taking out a legal pad covered in notes and a rolled up section from the rubbings Giles had done of the obelisk’s symbols.
As they headed toward the cemetery where the earthquake had opened up a trench, Wesley made an attempt to learn something about the relationships that his slayer had formed. “You have been very protective of Cordelia Chase.”
Faith looked like he had punched her, shock apparent at the unexpected question. “Not protective enough. Bev died on my watch. Cor got kidnapped.”
Cringing inwardly, he tried to soothe her ruffled feathers. “I meant to say that you seem to value her friendship.”
“What kind of fucked up friend am I?” she said sourly, kicking at a hunk of dried mud with her boot sending it hurtling across the pavement. The random violence calmed her down. In a steadier voice, “Cor says things for what they are. Cuts through the bullshit, if you get me. I like that.”
Wes nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
They reached the trench and saw a gaping hole in the ground where the obelisk had once been, but had recently been removed. Faith crouched down to pick up the tattered end of a rope, her gaze following the heavy tracks of truck tires leading back toward the road.
“Looks like someone hauled it away.” Faith dropped the rope. “Think the church folks found it and wanted it gone?”
It took a moment for her words to filter through the silent curses going through his head. Wes needed that obelisk. People were not supposed to cart off ancient objects. He suspected that the church pastor had nothing to do with it. Whilst a man of God might not want a strange stone pillar in his cemetery, there was nothing on it that shouted demon-worship to the ordinary layman.
“No, I doubt this was related to the church. Perhaps the local archeological society or museum,” he suggested.
“You don’t really believe that.”
Wesley did not, but wanted to remain hopeful. “We can verify it with a few calls. It would be considered a significant find. If we’re lucky, I could still arrange access.”
Remembering that Faith preferred to cut to the bottom line, Wesley told her another more likely possibility. “This obelisk is important to the Rites of Tavrok, to the final fulfillment of the prophecy. The ceremony involving the sacrifice of these Pure Ones requires that stone.”
“So you think that banished guy, Nic, had his minions haul it off last night?”
Compared to the other theory, this one made more sense. “The appearance of the obelisk was one of the prophesied signs. We can only assume that Nicolau and the rest of this demon-worshipping sect are doing everything in their power to meet their goals. Chances are that the obelisk is safely hidden in preparation for the rites to be performed.”
They started to walk back to the parking lot. Faith pointed to the mud tracks on the pavement, refusing to give up. “Think we can follow those?”
Back on the motorbike, they turned south along Jefferson Avenue following the muddy trail until it vanished at the crossroads at Thousand Oaks Drive. “Damn.”
Having studied the map of Sunnydale, Wesley realized that the truck hauling the stone pillar could be headed anywhere in town. Since it did not take a northerly route out of the cemetery that ruled out the highway as their destination. Which meant that the obelisk remained in Sunnydale. Unfortunately, Thousand Oaks ran East to West across the entire town. Their destination might be anywhere.
“Does this screw everything up?” Faith’s tone suggested that she already knew the answer.
128: Late Afternoon, Crawford Street Mansion
Cordelia had never seen anyone so upset about the disappearance of a rock. Their new watcher guy was pacing and saying things that were supposedly English, but sounded more like gobbledygook. Frankly, she was getting tired of hearing about it.
No one was going to turn her into a sacrifice. End of story.
With the exception of Spike and Drusilla who were still in their room, everybody else had gathered in the study to prepare for Willow’s mojo. Cordy curled up in one of the chairs having kicked her shoes off. She was eating the scrambled eggs and toast that Angel had whipped up for her after they came downstairs.
“Mmm, these are so good,” she smiled up at him as he sat next to her on the arm of the chair. “Want some?”
Angel brushed at his pant leg. “Watch the crumbs.” He smiled, continuing to watch her eat and dividing his attention to listen in on the watchers’ conversation.
Sitting in front of the fireplace, Buffy looked somewhat disgusted at the sight of her shoveling the eggs in. “What? I’m starving.”
“Guess that workout earlier really revved up your appetite.” Faith winked as she walked by. She stopped at Xander’s side where he was sprawled across the couch, sleeping with his mouth hanging open. Stretching, she whined a little jealously, “God, I could use a good workout.”
Cordelia swallowed the bite of toast she had been chewing. Looking back and forth at Faith and Xander, she realized what her friend was suggesting. She was surprised by the lack of possessive feelings about her former boyfriend. There was just a strong sense of weirdness that Faith might actually want him that way.
Faith answered with a frustrated little shrug. “Actually, I think I’ll head downstairs to the basement. It’s the only place I seem to get any action around here.”
“Wait up,” Buffy jumped to her feet. “This could go on forever and Will doesn’t need me for the spell.”
“Just so you know I’m in the mood to kick your ass.”
“What a coincidence. Me too.”
Though sparring with Buffy was not exactly the workout Faith had in mind, both of them would welcome the escape from all of this prophecy talk. Tuning back in to what Wesley was telling Giles, Cordelia saw they had not missed a beat. The two of them were still hunched over the documents scattered across the desk.
“Without the obelisk, it may be impossible to interpret the rest of the symbols,” Wes held up one of the rubbings for Giles’ examination. He pointed to one shaped like a bunch of wavy lines. “This one represents change. Perhaps a change from one state of being into something new.”
Giles had noted that symbol before, he said, but was not certain of the translation. It was a surprise to Cordelia that there was stuff the new guy could figure out that had stumped Giles. His words caught her attention.
Suddenly concerned, she asked, “Who’s changing into what?”
Both watchers turned toward her, staring at length as if searching for an answer that was out of reach. Finally, Giles gave Wes the nod to go ahead. The way he started to stutter made her nervous. It could not be a good sign.
“W-w-well actually…the problem is…we don’t really know.”
“Oh, well, that’s good.”
“Yeah,” Cordelia sighed. “I thought you were going to tell me that all of the potential sacrifices were supposed to change into something weird. Y’know, demony.”
Wesley and Giles did that creepy exchange of glances again where they looked like they were reading each other’s mind. Again, not a good sign. Oh, crap.
Sensing her concerns, Angel squeezed the bare thigh his hand had come to rest upon. More distracting than comforting, his voice seemed a little far away. “There must be a better interpretation.”
“Unfortunately, there are many interpretations,” Wesley scrolled the obelisk rubbings into a single roll and set it down upon the desk. “That last symbol is the key. It is too smudged to be certain. The human sacrifices play a key role in the Rites of Tavrok. A change occurs, but it is unclear whether the people themselves change or they effect some form of change upon something else.”
Cordelia looked up at Angel. “Huh?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Angel assured her that she was safe. His tone darkened as he looked up at Giles and Wesley. “You will figure this out. There are answers out there somewhere. Find them.”
Behind them, Willow cleared her throat. “I’m ready when you are.”
At the sound of her voice, Xander woke up. “What’d I miss?”
“You’re in charge of the stinky herbs,” Cordelia told him and then scooped another bite of scrambled egg into her mouth.
Willow’s spell took more time to set up than it did to cast. She needed the pictures of Isobel, which Angel provided, a map of Sunnydale, a charm that looked like a cheap bauble, and the requisite herbs. Wesley came up with the words for the spell from an old book he brought with him from England.
The spells in that book, he explained, could be performed by anyone knowledgeable enough to interpret and pronounce the words. However, the effectiveness when those with an innate talent for magic cast the spell was significantly increased.
“I’ve been practicing,” Willow assured them. “Some of the words are kind of tricky. I can do this, though. I think. Pretty sure.”
“Hello, show a little confidence.” Cordelia reminded her that she had managed to re-curse Angelus. “This should be a cinch.”
Willow looked more intimidated than inspired. “Everyone gather around the desk. I’ll start the chant, but I need everyone to look at the drawings and think about Isobel. This spell works by focusing our positive energy upon the person or object we seek.”
Think about Isobel? Ugh. Cordelia could not imagine much else that would cause her positive energy to turn negative. Just looking at the drawings made her want to rip them up into tiny shreds.
The chanting went on for a minute while Willow held her charm above the Sunnydale map, a crystal bauble dangling from a thin red string. Cordelia waved her bundle of stinky herbs in the air as instructed, keeping a hand over her nose to block out the scent. Suddenly, the crystal went from its gravity-dependant position to being pulled at an angle as if by an invisible force. The red string snapped, leaving the glowing crystal charm spinning atop one spot on the map.
Leaning in close, they all looked at the place the spell revealed they could find Isobel at that particular moment. “That can’t be right,” Cordelia saw that the crystal was pointing to City Hall.
“The mayor’s office? And in the middle of the day?” Willow gleeped in dismay. “But I did everything I was supposed to do.”
Wesley scratched his head. “I saw nothing wrong with your spell. Did anyone’s focus lapse? Your thoughts stray to something other than Isobel?”
Raising her hand, Cordelia admitted, “Maybe the vibiness of my positive vibes wasn’t as positive as it could be.”
Then, to her surprise, Giles also spoke up. “Perhaps the City Hall connection is my fault. Though I don’t believe I was thinking about it now, I was concerned about Fa—about some outstanding issues that have been left unattended recently.”
“Like what, unpaid parking tickets?” Xander shrugged. “Talk to my Uncle Ernie. He can tell you how to get out of them.”
“No, Xander. More important issues. However, none which concern this situation,” Giles told them.
Cordelia watched the crystal go dark and fall topsy-turvy to the map. “What does that mean?”
“It means that if Isobel was at the mayor’s office, she’s no longer there,” Willow said.
Angel swiped at the papers on the desk sweeping the map, drawings and crystal to the floor. An angry expletive followed. “Can’t any of you get a goddamn thing right?”
“I-I’m sorry, Angel.” Willow was shaking visibly. “I tried.”
“Hey!” Cordelia whacked Angel on the arm. “Stop being an asshole. She did her best. That might not be good enough, but she tried.”
He crowded her against the desk, still looking like he wanted to take someone’s head off. A nasty tone sounded in his voice. “Defending Willow now?”
Placing her hands on his chest, Cordelia moved them in a soothing motion hoping to calm him down. She saw the conflict in his eyes. The hints of gold that glinted amid the brown showing that the demon within him was wrestling for greater control. No matter that his soul was secure, she was learning that those demon aspects were still part of his nature as a vampire.
“We’ll find Isobel and her cronies,” she promised him. “Maybe we’ll have to settle for the old fashioned way instead of the mojo.”
Angel bent forward to rest his forehead against hers, his arms circling around her. “I want this over with. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you safe.”
129: Trinity Baptist Church Cemetery, Eastside, Sunnydale
The funeral was as unorthodox as Beverly Quinn herself: a midday ceremony under the full California sun at the site of a recent earthquake. Attendees came by the dozens, most because they loved Bev. Churchgoers, bingo buddies, and a few silver-haired men who looked crushed by their loss.
Cordelia did not know half of them, but they all seemed to know her. The funeral went by in a blur. The pastor spoke. The parishioners prayed. Wearing in her best black dress, she kept her expression cool and her eyes hidden behind a pair of impenetrably dark sunglasses.
These people didn’t know how much she had come to love her grandmother in the short time she had known her. They were not going to see her cry. Not now. Not ever.
Numb, she never felt the tears falling.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” the words spun around in her head.
Draped in white lilies and orchids, the coffin slowly lowered into the ground. Cordelia watched it sink down taking a step forward when it descended beyond her immediate sight. Her grandmother was inside that coffin, and she was never going to see her again. It was not right, or fair. She felt robbed of something precious, in a way that was so far beyond the way she felt when the IRS took possession of her car, her family home, her life of luxury.
Faith and Xander flanked her on each side. He held her hand offering silent comfort and support at a time when his usual jokes were out of place. He did not bother complaining when she squeezed too tight.
Willow did not bother to hide her tears. She carried extra Kleenex in the pocket of her dress and snuck one to Wesley who was trying to make it look like the sun was in his eyes. He had never met Bev when she was alive, but he came to the funeral anyway, not only to support Faith’s friend, but because he knew his slayer carried a load of guilt over Beverly Quinn’s death.
Giles stood next to Willow, dry-eyed, but sad in his countenance. His arm was draped across her shoulder supportively. He was lost in thought wondering what kind of woman she was based on the one occasion he met her, her vivacity, the similarities to Cordelia, the responsibility he felt for her death because of Faith’s involvement and connection with the mayor.
Despite all of the support, the one person Cordelia wanted at her side was not able to be there. The daylight held Angel captive back at the mansion. They had planned it like this in order to keep vampires away knowing that some could linger in daytime shade and withstand indirect light. The earthquake had left the church in ruins. Its crumbling walls could not offer enough shade for any daring interloper.
Knowing that vampires were not the only potential threat to Cordelia, and that everyone would have their attention focused on the funeral rather than defense, Buffy volunteered to patrol the cemetery grounds just in case of a surprise attack. These vampires used a demon mercenary to track Cordelia down at the Quinn residence, so there was no telling what strategy they might try on their next attempt at kidnapping her for their sacrificial ceremony.
Fortunately, all was quiet. The service went smoothly. Buffy noticed nothing too out of place. The Sunnydale Gazette had a reporter and photographer hanging out waiting to snap shots of the funeral and its attendees. Beverly Quinn might have lived on the poor side of town, but she had a Chase family connection. Then, there was the whole crazy conflict with the mayor about the Bingo Parlor that had been making waves in senior citizen circles in town. It was enough for a story in the local paper.
One by one the people scooped up shovels full of dark earth. It hit the coffin lid and scattered, weighing down the flowers that had been so beautifully arranged on top. Cordelia watched them go by, shook their hands as they offered their condolences and responded without really hearing herself speak.
A firm hand took hers and a familiar voice snapped her out of the haze that had seeped inside her. “My dear Miss Chase,” Mayor Wilkins clasped his other hand over hers. “Your grandmother was a fine woman. Such a shame. Such a loss for our fair community.”
Cordelia tried to pull her hand out of his tight grasp, but the mayor held on until the news cameras finished snapping their photos. She had mixed feelings when it came to this man. He was Bev’s enemy, her opponent in the Bingo debate. Yet, when asked, he had gone out of his way to cut through the red tape so the burial could take place here next to her grandfather’s grave.
She supposed that she owed him something. “Thank you.” Maybe that would be enough.
He gave her a charming smile. Too charming. As if he believed he had her in his corner. Smarmy political man thought he was earning her vote now that Bev would not be in the race for the mayor’s office next fall.
Mayor Wilkins hung around, although his attention turned to Faith. He pulled her aside, whispering something into her ear. Cordelia would have tried to eavesdrop but she was too busy staring at the man in the mayor’s entourage who stepped up next.
First impressions suggested wealth and power, someone used to being in control. An inch or so taller than Angel, he was dressed in a hand-stitched black suit accented with silver threads. Ostentatious taste, but stylish even if he looked completely out of place. Curling black hair teased his forehead, being cropped shorter in the back to match his neatly trimmed beard. He was beautiful in a dark exotic kind of way.
Cordelia dragged her sunglasses down looking at the stranger without the barrier of the dark lenses. Her breath hitched when he also removed his sunglasses so that his eyes caught hers, intent, and looking so deeply it felt like a caress. It felt a little too personal, yet it was hard to look away. He was not going to offer a handshake and a mere nod of commiseration before moving on, she realized. He lingered moving closer into her space.
Wondering where on Bev’s list of church members, bingo buddies, activist pals, and very close friends and neighbors this man belonged, Cordelia felt her skin tingle as his hand curled around hers. Smooth skin warmed by the sun slid across her palm as his thumb brushed softly across the flesh between her thumb and forefinger. She wanted him to let go, but the only reaction that came to mind was ‘pardon my drool’ as the corners of his sensual lips curled higher.
Momentarily, she seemed to lose the ability to form words, and simply gazed into those darkly lashed eyes like he was the only man on Earth. Swirling around in the back of her mind was the fact that she was in love with Angel and therefore should not be drooling over hot, rich, well-dressed strangers at her grandmother’s funeral. No doubt some code of conduct was being broken, but pfft!
“My condolences, Miss Chase,” he spoke formally. The unmistakably foreign accent was unknown to her. Not French or Italian. Something sexy, though, she mused with a little smile, just enjoying the way his mouth formed words. “Your grandmother had many friends.”
Next to her, Xander challenged him, “Were you one of them?” his voice snapping her out of her study of the stranger’s olive skin and slashing cheek bones. Wait. Xander? It took a moment for Cordelia to realize that Xander had been standing by her side all along. He had asked something about Bev.
Answering by the simple inclination of his head and pursed his lips, told them he had not had the priviledge. “You might say she and I had one common interest.”
His gaze drifted across her skin like crawling spiders, no longer naturally seductive, but almost possessive causing Cordelia to cringe. She quipped, “Bingo?” and tried to take a step back.
Hot he might be, but this was not the time or place for flirtation. Who was this guy? She knew there were no European boy toys in her grandmother’s life, but his words bated her into keeping the conversation going instead of having Faith toss him out on his ass.
Mouth twisting in amusement, he answered, “No. I am but a guest of your mayor. We were conducting business today and he wished to be here to show his respects. I also offer mine.”
“City Hall is a busy place these days,” she said suddenly thinking that Willow’s spell had not gone wrong. Maybe he was a human minion of the Solarian vampires doing their bidding during the daytime hours, although he definitely did not seem like the minion type. “New people coming and going.”
So much for a sunny, midday funeral keeping the bad people away. Sunnydale was not exactly a vacation spot for visiting foreign dignitaries. The odds that he was connected with Nicolau Cibran and Isobel, or at least involved in the plot to sacrifice her to their demon god, seemed fairly good.
Cordelia glanced toward Faith, who was still standing with Mayor Wilkins, expecting her to have pulled a stake or dagger from a hidden leg strap beneath the skirt of her new black dress, but she was too busy staring at the mayor’s European guest. Maybe Faith was close enough to sense the creepy vibes that quickly detracted from his looks and helped Cordelia to fend off the effects of his charismatic charm, but if so, she made no move against him.
Instead, Faith seemed rapt with interest. Eye candy of the tasty variety he might be, but a little attention to her bodyguard duties seemed appropriate. Cordelia nudged Xander with her elbow. He glanced toward Faith, and saw what she did. The slayer looked pale, stunned, and confused. Maybe it had something to do with Mayor Wilkins hand gripping her upper arm as he whispered something in her ear.
Buffy had obviously overlooked the guy on her rounds, although how anyone could miss such a gorgeous man was a mystery. Maybe she had just dismissed him as being a part of the group from City Hall. There was no sight of her at the moment, which meant she was probably on the outskirts of the cemetery during her rounds.
Looking into his eyes made her feel completely at ease. Even though her mind swirled in suspicion that he was only there for her and not as the mayor’s elegantly polite foreign visitor, Cordelia felt no fear. Turned on was more like it. Every word he spoke felt like a little caress.
That was so wrong in so many ways, even if he was a hottie. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong man. Yet, she could not bring herself to make him leave by screeching, “Get out of here, you pretentious bastard!” Not because it was her grandmother’s funeral and the paparazzi hovered nearby, but the feeling that he would not want a scene held her back.
Giving him what he wanted seemed important. Cordelia felt a buzz of excitement as he said, “I will be here for some time.”
Yeah, but why would she want that? This man was out of place. He did not belong here. A neon sign flashing above his head could not be more obvious. Yet, she wanted to jump for joy, even though she knew the feeling was insane. “Lucky me.” It should have come out as a sarcastic stab, but sounded breathy and flirtatious even to her ears.
Still standing next to her, and gaping throughout the whole exchange, Xander did not bother to tell her she was crazy. “I’m getting Giles.” He stalked past Faith giving her a pissed off stare. Muttering, “Stupid hormones.”
Gathered together in a small group, Giles, Wesley, and Willow idly listened in as several locals talked about their favorite Beverly Quinn memories, or gossiped about the Chase family, wondering about the whereabouts of Cordelia’s parents during this sad occasion. Most had no idea of the connection between the Quinn family and the Chases. A few wondered at the nature of her untimely death, and voiced concerns about the murderer who had apparently escaped police custody.
It was interesting to them to hear the reaction to the mayor’s public spin on demonic activity. Whatever deal he had with the editor of the Gazette kept a tight lid on the truth about the Hellmouth.
Left alone, albeit within Faith’s line of sight, Cordelia felt butterflies swirling around in her stomach. Schizophrenic butterflies at that. Part of her was thrilled to have this man’s full attention, but some other part told her it was wrong. So wrong. She had no business being interested in him. He might be hot, but this was creepy.
Some of the sparkle faded from his eyes. “Luck plays no part in your future, Miss Chase. Your fate is already decided.”
A jolt shot across her nerves at those words. The happy little buzz she had found in his presence vanished instantly. Mortified by her behavior, she demanded answers, “Who are you?”
Those sexy lips curled into a hint of a smile again. “Let that be my secret for today, Miss Chase. You will know soon enough, if indeed you do not already sense the truth.”
There were no other people within hearing distance. “I sense a load of crap when I hear it. Don’t play games with me. I assume you’re supposed to be some kind of threat.”
Amused by her directness, he indulged her with an answer. “On the contrary. You are a most precious commodity.”
This guy’s creep factor was getting creepier by the second. Cordelia did not like his tone as he added, “If I wished you harm, we would have no need for conversation.”
“So you’re not trying to talk me to death?” She crossed her arms, eyes smoldering with anger.
“That would be a waste. There are far more exciting methods to achieve that outcome if I were allowed to indulge myself.” Only her defiance prevented her from flinching as his fingers captured a strand of hair to slide down its silken length. “Alas, you must sacrifice all that you are so that my people will reap the rewards promised us.”
Cordelia enjoyed breaking the bad news. “Maybe you should just tell your boss not to waste his time. I’m no longer a virgin.” He was obviously in on the whole demon ritual plan. From the way he spoke, he was probably Nicolau Cibran’s chief human lackey. She figured she could take the direct approach to avoid becoming a sacrifice by telling him she no longer qualified.
Momentary confusion at her statement gave way to amusement. “With Angelus as your protector I am unsurprised, my beautiful Varstrae. Although I would welcome you both to my bed, I doubt he will accept the invitation. He is so possessive of his playthings.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” she quipped, finding it hard to ignore the disturbingly sexy images his words created.
His good humor continued as he confirmed one of Giles’ theories on the matter. “Your virginal state or lack thereof has nothing to do with your status as one of the Pure. I find it quaint that you would think we would require such a sacrifice.”
“Of your sacrifices?” The irony did not escape her notice.
“Precisely,” he nodded her due. Looking at her as though he was trying to determine the reason for his own interest, he commented, “You are quite insightful.”
Cordelia liked to think she had good instincts. Right now, hers were screaming at her to pay attention. Hot Minion Guy was not acting in a minion-like manner. Or, at least, what she imagined that to be, giving deference to his master every sentence or two, invoking Nicolau Cibran’s name like there was no one else on the planet.
No, he was Mister Superior Attitude instead. The extra machismo might be explained by being foreign. If he were not standing in the noonday sun, it would be an easy leap to guess that he was a vampire, not that he was just in cahoots with one.
It was a crazy thought because…hello, sunshine!
Faith had not tackled him to the ground, nor had Buffy appeared out of nowhere to stake him with Mr. Pointy, so it seemed that he was not setting off any Vampire Slayer senses. His weird vampire vibes had to be more like vampire wannabe vibes. Right? Cordelia was not entirely convinced, especially because he would not reveal his identity. She was torn between wanting to find out more, and screaming for backup. The latter was definitely her favorite option, but for some reason she could not seem to remember how to call for help.
“I see no visible marks.” Those dark eyes slid like silk across her skin, focusing on her neck and wrists. The wet tip of his tongue dashed briefly across the seam of his mouth, reminding her of Angel. Asking, “Where does he like to bite you?” as if doing so was a foregone conclusion.
“That is so none of your business, bucko.” It also seemed like a strange question for any man, even one that was a vampire’s minion.
The golden ring on his finger glinted in the sunlight as he pressed his manicured hand against his chest as a sign of his good intentions. “Forgive me. This is not the time to talk of such pleasure, but I look forward to the occasion when we may do more than talk.”
Quivering at the timbre of his voice as he leaned close again, Cordelia was not quite as disturbed by his words as she wanted to be. Not that she would ever want anyone other than Angel. It was just the way he made it sound as natural as breathing, a foregone conclusion. Although, he was confusing her by making it sound like he was going to be dealing with her and Angel directly rather than his master, Nicolau.
Reaching out, he lifted her hand with his fingertips, gave a little bow and briefly pressed his lips to her skin. Once again, Cordelia found it difficult to move away. There was just something about being within a certain proximity that did something to her head. If not for the sunglasses being in her hand, she would have reached up to touch him.
Seeing them, she swiftly slid them back over her eyes. “Enough with the kissing.”
“Your friend returns with reinforcements. I must go.”
Cordelia could see Giles and the others making their way around the gravesite to where they stood. So far, the man had done nothing to cause a scene, and she did not want to create one. Any other time she would be totally up for sending one of the slayers after him for a little information gathering torture session.
Not today. She just wanted him out of there. “Don’t let me stop you.”
Nicolau’s fingers traced her cheek just briefly enough that she had no time to pull away. He tucked his sunglasses back into place covering those mesmerizing black eyes. “Take solace in your lover, Cordelia. When Kalesh is through with you even he will not be able to hold you back from destiny’s reach.”
Long strides carried him across the green lawn toward the corner of the church parking lot where a shiny black BMW was parked. He was already closing the car door behind him when Giles put a hand on her shoulder, nearly giving her a heart attack. “Ack! Giles, you shouldn’t sneak up on a girl that way.”
“We have been standing here for the past twenty seconds trying to get your attention,” he revealed.
Xander stopped snapping his fingers in front of her face, and pulled his hand back to his pants pocket. “What was up with that dude? I didn’t like the way he looked at you.”
“That’s because he was—,” stopping mid-revelation Cordelia’s eyes went wide as her boss appeared right in front of them. “Oh! Hi, Mrs Finkle.”
Giles realized that Cordelia had been about to say something important and he did not want to have to wait to hear the news. He greeted the woman with great brevity, and then suggested the events of the day had been overtiring. “Perhaps it is time we get you home.”
It was too late to come to her rescue now. Shrugging his hand away, she huffed, “Don’t be rude, Giles. I have not even talked to Mrs. Finkle yet.”
“Let me offer my condolences, Cordelia.” Everyone knew Bev, even Mrs Fink. She was part of the whole Bingo Parlour plot against the mayor. If anyone was likely to take up her grandmother’s mantle and continue to fight for her cause, it was probably Mrs Fink. There were real tears in her eyes and just a tinge of anger as her glance slid toward the mayor as he passed by with Faith.
Cordelia had her eye on them, too. They paused near the closest headstone. The mayor tilted Faith’s jaw up a notch with the knuckle of his index finger. “Chin up, Faithy. Keep smiling.”
He made it sound like friendly advice to a young woman whose friend had just lost her grandmother, but there was a hidden message passing between them Cordelia could not interpret. The mayor had been talking to Faith even longer than she had been speaking his guest. She wondered what that was all about and if Faith had any plans to cough up the 411.
Buffy jogged up just as Mrs Finkle strolled away. “The grounds look secure. No signs of trouble.”
“Duh! Because trouble has already had its up close and personal conversation with me before driving away in his car,” Cordelia propped her hands on her hips and waited for an explanation.
Buffy glanced around. “Did I miss something?”
“Creepy guy,” said Xander being helpful. “I think he was hitting on Cordy.”
“Bad timing, but since when is that something new? Guys hit on her all of the time. Even when they’re not supposed to,” Buffy added with a huff getting in that one Angel-related stab as if she could not stop herself from saying it.
“Normally, I would adore gorgeous expensively dressed men with sexy foreign accents flirting with me,” Cordelia readily admitted, “but not this one— or you two, of course.”
Red tinged Wesley’s cheeks as he ventured into the conversation with a query. “What kind of accent?”
“Gali-whatsis, of course.”
“Galician? That man was Galician?” Wesley took a couple of awkward steps toward the parking lot as if he planned to run after him, or fall flat on his face.
Returning just in time, Faith caught him by the arm saving from a nasty fall. “Mayor Wilkins says he’s a foreign dignitary.” Her jaw tightened up afterward as if she wanted to say more, but had to force herself to hold back.
“Here in Sunnydale?” Buffy was instantly suspicious— about ten minutes too late.
“Great observation skills, Slayers. Zero for two today.” Cordelia was pretty certain that Mr. Tall, Dark and Bearded could have tossed her over his strong shoulder and carried her off before either Buffy or Faith had even noticed. Irked, she let them all put forth their own theories before interjecting.
“Maybe he’s a minion!” Willow seemed excited by the idea.
Xander chuckled as he named the infamous minion of Dracula from the movies, “Was his name Renfield?”
“This is not a joking matter,” Wesley admonished him sending Xander’s happy grin into hiding. “If this foreigner was indeed a Solarian minion, he could easily have been here at his master’s bequest. He might have been here to kidnap her.”
Faith blew off the idea. “In broad daylight with the paparazzi here? That would make a few headlines.”
“Hmm,” Wesley thought about it. “Perhaps today was more about gathering information than taking action. If indeed he is connected to the clan or its cause.”
“Who, him? Nah!” Faith told him he was barking up the wrong tree. “He’s just a nutcase I met at City Hall last week. Delusions of grandeur. No one to worry about.”
Buffy seemed to think it was strange that Faith never mentioned it. “How can you be so sure?”
“The mayor said so.”
Stunned, Buffy had to repeat the words just to be certain that Faith had said them. “The mayor said so. And you believed it?”
Buffy was not finished. “We’re supposed to be keeping tabs on the newbies in town. This guy didn’t seem suspicious? What were you thinking?”
“That he was pretty hot for a nutcase.”
Several groans sounded all around.
“Ahem,” Giles cleared his throat. “Whether or not this man has delusions of grandeur, it does not rule him out as a potential threat. Daring to confront Cordelia directly suggests that he is part of an agenda.”
Willow seemed fascinated by the whole subject, as if she was taking notes in class. “So, you really do think he’s enthralled by the vampires?”
“Let’s not talk about thralls,” Xander muttered dipping his head low and scraping one shoe back and forth across some loose dirt in the grass.
“It is relevant,” countered Wesley. “Very few vampires possess the ability to enthrall humans. Like any other skill, it must be practiced, usually over the course of centuries. Or, in Drusilla’s case, the vampire must possess….”
“The crazy factor?” Buffy cut in with a quip.
“Naturally occurring extrasensory perception,” finished Wesley becoming quite used to being interrupted.
Giles was not completely surprised by the notion that Nicolau Cibran might have that ability, or that the human minion acted out of free will. “The Solarians live in secret due to the support of the local people. The human populace also worships demons. It would seem they have sent a representative, whether or not he is enthralled to the clan.”
“Nice theory, but you’re wrong,” Cordelia said quietly having convinced herself that the impossible was true.
“Go on,” encouraged Wesley.
Cordelia merely shook her head turning her attention back to her grandmother’s grave, where the coffin lay half-covered in dirt, and three groundskeepers hovered at its edge waiting to finish the job. The pastor came over to say a few final words before leaving. Cordelia heard him, but the words did not really sink in.
“Give her a minute,” snapped Faith when he would have pressed for more information.
It was all kind of surreal. The drive back to the mansion was the same, mostly a blur. Xander sitting by her side, holding her hand. Willow sitting next to him like always. Giles driving. Buffy riding shotgun. No one talking. Silence.
She got out of the car, anxious to get inside and fall into Angel’s arms, even though her body felt like it was moving in slow motion. Before she could climb the stone steps, the front door opened. Angel was standing there too close to the sliver of sunlight angling in from above, just as anxious to know how things went and whether she was okay.
Wes’ motorcycle pulled up right behind them. “Stay out of my business,” yelled Faith as she yanked the helmet off her head and dropped it to the ground. They had argued the entire way from the cemetery. She looked around at everyone staring in her direction, “Shit,” then darted up the steps shoving past Angel to get inside making a beeline for the basement.
“On the contrary,” Wesley followed right behind her, walking swiftly, his back as stiff as a board, “as your watcher, every decision you make is my business.”
This time, Angel moved out of the way. When Cordelia finally reached him, he pulled her aside to let the others file past. “What’s going on?”
Cordelia sucked in a deep breath, held it for a moment, letting it out as a heavy sigh. “A whole lot of trouble.”
“Some minion dude was flirting with Cordy,” Xander told him as he walked by.
Buffy told him, “No worries. No kidnapping to thwart this time. Just a lot of talking from what I hear.”
Tension twitched in his jaw as Angel clenched his teeth in reminder that he should ask for details before biting her head off. Buffy was supposed to keep Cordy safe. “You let one of Nicolau’s minions get within talking distance?”
Willow patted his arm reassuringly. He flashed her an annoyed look that made her back away with her hands raised. “Sorry,” she whispered and high-tailed it behind Buffy.
“I was patrolling the grounds,” Buffy told him. “Ask your girlfriend for the scoop because she has all of the juicy details and has been holding out so she can tell you first.”
Angel glanced down at Cordelia who had one hand on his chest as he held her close, and the other soothingly rubbing his back. She tilted her face to his and waited until he gave her a quick kiss, smiling at him after he did so. That was just a nice little pick-me-up after a long, crazy day, and she so deserved it.
Plus, it gave her a little thrill when she realized that for the first time, Buffy Summers verbally acknowledged that Angel was now her boyfriend. Maybe it was a good sign that the day could only get better from here on out. Fingers crossed.
“We should probably all be together,” Cordelia said while threading her fingers through his. “Giles and Wes really need to hear this because I really can’t explain how it is even possible.”
Willow whispered to her, “What about Spike and Dru?”
Without hesitation, Cordelia shook her head. “Let them sleep. Angel will have to figure out how to tell them.”
Walking beside them Willow’s brow creased with her frown. “That sounds ominous,” she gulped.
Cordelia paused at the basement doorway where Xander waited for Willow to catch up. Tapping Angel on the arm, she remembered that she wanted to show them something. “Oh, I need to grab a pen and some paper. I don’t need your sketch pad. Just a scrap.”
Angel apparently had no intention of leaving her side until he heard more of what was going on. He signaled Xander to head to the study to get what she asked for.
While on his way, Xander complained loudly, “Why am I always fetching and carrying around here?”
No one answered him. They were too busy following Cordelia down to the basement where Faith was doing terminal damage to a punching bag despite the fact that she was still dressed for the funeral. This was worse than she thought. Her crazy theory would have to wait a minute.
Faith had been acting weird ever since her little sidebar with Mayor Wilkins. Something was going on with her and it gave Cordelia the wiggins. The slayer was not the only one down there. She realized that Giles had gone straight down, following the slayer and his younger counterpart. He was huddled in a corner with Wesley having a very quiet, and seemingly serious conversation. It stopped the moment they spotted her.
“I hate it when people do that,” Cordelia complained. “Are you talking about me or just keeping secrets in general? No, don’t bother answering. Out of my way. I need to talk to Faith.”
The rhythmic beat of fist against leather stopped as Faith turned around looking pissed off, defiant, and somewhat sweaty. This was not exactly the homecoming Cordelia had planned for today. A relaxing bubble bath and sympathetic snuggling were not on the horizon at the moment.
“Go ahead, Cor, but they should hear this. I am their business, after all, so they say. Did I mention that I fucking hate being played?”
Giles lifted his glasses and rubbed his eyes before responding. “There is no need for that tone, Faith. Let me explain.”
“Explain?” Cordelia huffed. The story they had been spinning never seemed legit. “Then tell me what Faith is doing ‘volunteering’ at City Hall. As far as I know, there’s no future for slayers in politics.”
Carefully choosing his words, Giles pointed out, “You have friends at school. Surely you can’t begrudge Faith other interests.”
“But the mayor’s a snake,” Cordelia argued vehemently, her hair flying wildly around her shoulders as she gestured, hands in the air, “a slimy, two-faced used car salesman. Bev knew what he was like, and I trust her instincts.”
Wes drolly commented, “Yours are certainly spot on.” He turned away, crossing his arms in front of him when Giles gave him a stern stare.
Giles asked her, “Are you just concerned about Faith’s choice of friends, or was there something else?”
“The mayor seems to have a lot of new friends. Kind of coincidental after Willow’s spell showed Isobel was at City Hall yesterday.”
Standing with Buffy at the top of the stairs, Willow squeaked triumphantly, “Hah! It knew it worked.”
Buffy took the steps one by one. “Did you really meet him last week?”
“I said so, didn’t I?” Faith dropped her gaze to her reddened knuckles.
“Who the hell are we talking about?” Angel demanded. He had heard the bit about the suspicious stranger, but now it was someone Faith knew from City Hall.
Ignoring Angel’s question, Cordelia pointed a finger at Faith, accusing her, “You’re lying. I can’t believe you would try to keep this a secret.”
Faith suddenly paled. “You know.”
The others gaped in silence, except for Xander who murmured, “She knows what? What does she know?”
“Your new friend is no minion, Faith. He’s a vampire— Nicolau Cibran.”
Although a jumble of denials sounded in the wake of her eye-opener, Cordelia pressed on. She was looking up at Angel now, whose expression was stormy, yet confused. He was the only silent one in the bunch beside Faith who was suddenly as tight-lipped as a clam.
“That is impossible,” Wesley cautioned her not to get wild with her theorizing. “You were both standing in broad daylight.”
Ignoring the nay-sayers, Cordelia asked Angel, “You remember what Nicolau looks like, right?” She received a brief nod before describing him in great detail, not forgetting to mention his charisma. “He even kissed my hand.”
Lifting it, Angel scented her skin mentally prepared to differentiate its subtle fragrances. When he looked into her eyes again, his were filled with rage, having instantly detected the truth. He growled out, “Vampire.”
Angel released his hold on her wrist, curled his hand into a fist, and punched the wooden post holding up the banister. The stairs shook hard enough to cause its three occupants to scream. “How is this possible? He did this to piss me off,” he shouted over the noise.
Wesley and Giles called out for him to calm down, but his anger was suddenly turned on them. “You want me to calm down when you promise me that Cordy will be safe, and yet you let him have a conversation with her, let him touch her?”
“Cordelia appeared to be in no immediate danger,” Giles assured him. “Might I remind you that she has come to no harm. The more important discov—”
Angel was not ready to talk about that, yet. “Nico is playing games with you all. Making you think he is charming and harmless. He’s a killer, and you stood by while he put his hands on Cordelia.”
“Lips, too,” she reminded him of the hand kissing.
Turning around, Angel moved toward Faith with a sudden burst of speed. He wrapped his hand around her throat and pushed her back against the brick wall, raising her up so that her feet barely touched the ground. He moved in close to pin her down forestalling any attempt at escape.
There were shouts in the background, demands to stop, words of caution, but there was nothing going to prevent Angel from getting the information he wanted. “Faith, I want the truth and I want it right now. The mayor’s dirty hands aren’t a secret in this town.”
Faith could say nothing as his hands squeezed a little tighter, fear jarring her from the numb place she had taken herself during the last hour. Angel pressed into her, his hard body an immovable wall. “Cordy’s right about your ‘volunteer’ work being a load of crap. What’s that all about, Faith? Tell me, do you still slay vampires, or is something else going on with Nicolau that we should know about?”
Trying to pry his hands away, gasping for air, Faith tried to speak.
Cordelia hit Angel on the shoulder, “Hey!” making him loosen his hold just enough to let her answer.
“What? No, I swear. Ask Giles.”
“She’s telling the truth,” Giles did not wait to be asked. He held out his hands in front of him. “The only orders Faith has been following have been mine.”
Buffy gasped, stunned by the revelation. “What orders?”
“The mayor isn’t what he seems. Faith has been feeding him false information and gathering intel on his illegal activities. Something big is coming up, but we haven’t been able to pin anything down yet.”
“Faith is a double agent?” Xander ooohed at the idea. “Cool.”
Slowly, Angel lowered her back to the ground. Faith started coughing the moment he released her, catching her knees with both hands as she doubled over. Standing, she looked him in the eye, “Don’t ever do that again,” and punched him squarely in the jaw.
Angel’s head jerked sideways with the impact, but he took the punch without further retaliation realizing that maybe he deserved it.
“I never actually laid eyes on Nicolau before today.”
“Why lie about it?” Cordelia was confused.
Explaining that Mayor Wilkins asked her to smooth things over between Cordelia and his guest, Faith told them she had no choice other than to do what she was told. “He knows things. There is something going on with him that has nothing to do with the prophecy, and he is just as much in the dark about what’s coming as we are.”
“Then why feed him information?”
“To keep tabs on him. He has a hand in almost every scheme going on in this town. He covers up more stuff every day than you can imagine. I’m not even sure that Wilkins is human.”
Wesley still was not comfortable with the subterfuge. Undercover operations were not part of the Slayer Handbook. They had argued about it on the way back to the mansion from the cemetery. “Faith, a slayer should never be forced to lie to protect a vampire. I am sorry that you were pressed to do so.”
“S’okay, it’s not exactly the worst thing I have been asked to do,” Faith said cryptically without divulging more.
Cordelia sort of understood that Faith was working to undermine the mayor’s dastardly plans, whatever those might be. She was less clear about the slayer’s first impression of the mayor’s well-dressed guest. “Did you know right away that Nicolau was a vampire?”
“I knew that he was with Mayor Wilkins, that the sun was shining, and that I felt like wrestling him to the ground.” Faith shrugged and flashed her trademark dimpled smile. “Vampire or not, he’s smoking hot. I thought I was just getting horny.”
Understanding how the other slayer might get distracted, Buffy admitted, “When I first met Angel, I had no idea he was a vampire, but I’ve gotten the hang of picking up on it most of the time.”
“Kind of a kick in the gut,” Faith nodded understanding. “Wilkins is schmoozing him for some reason. I don’t know what he’s planning.”
Angel did not care what their reason were, but this business with the mayor allowed Cordelia to be put in harms way. “Sounds like you’d better find out what it is.”
“Don’t give me that shit, Angel,” Faith wasn’t about to let him bark orders at her. It was more than enough to get it from Giles and the mayor. “I did what I had to do. Cordelia is back safe and sound.”
“That wasn’t a villager, or a thrall performing at his master’s bidding,” Angel ground out. “It was Nicolau returning the message I sent with Isobel.”
Cordelia knew the message had been a warning.
Cupping her cheek, Angel softly caressed it with the pad of his thumb. “Nico is making this personal because I threatened the same.”
“Angel, he never threatened me. Actually, he invited us over for lots of hot sex,” she added cheekily. “Before I meet my fate as a sacrificial lamb, that is.”
“I’m going to kill him.”
“Oh, I can totally live with that, and I’d like to, actually. Live, I mean.”
Wrapping her up in his arms, Angel held on tightly with Cordelia squeezing him back just as hard. She wanted to be alone with him right now, but there was one important detail to be discussed that could not wait until later.
“Anyone want to tell me how it is possible for a vampire to walk around in the sunlight?”
Xander’s snarky suggestion of ‘Sunblock SPF 10,000’ drew a few snickers.
Willow asked, “Could it be magic?” That seemed to make a lot of sense.
Even Angel conceded that it was possible. Strong magic. It would have to be almost as powerful as a curse and as difficult to procure. Otherwise, every vampire on the street would be looking for a spell.
“Do you still want this, Cordy?” asked Xander handing her the pen and paper.
“Oh, I almost forgot about it.” She sketched something out as the others looked on. It was rough. Drawing was not her forte. “I saw something when I was talking to Nicolau.”
Cordelia handed the sketch to Giles. “With my eye for expensive jewelry, I couldn’t help but notice his ring.” It was mostly gold, but inlaid with onyx creating a unique design, one that looked more like a symbol.
Giles turned pale as he looked at it. “Are you certain?”
Before Wesley could take it, Angel snagged it out of Giles’ hand. The sketch was very rough, but not what he expected. Every vampire clan had its own markings, a crest that identified its territories and properties to other clans. Still, considering the nature of the Solarian vampires, it was not entirely surprising.
“This is a demon brand. It symbolizes Nicolau’s allegiance to his demon god.”
“No,” Giles responded stiffly, “I fear it represents something far worse.”
130: The Mansion, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale
Was she supposed to cheer over the fact that Giles had another theory? The sketch Cordelia had made of the insignia ring might be important, but it was still not a way to free her from sacrificial lamb duty. She was more concerned with how Nicolau was able to show up at Bev’s midday funeral. If there was one certain way to kill vampires other than a stake through the heart, it was direct sunlight. This was a whole new level of weirdness.
Wishing Giles would just get on with his big reveal instead of making with the cryptic, she tapped her foot impatiently. He did something better by announcing his decision to take the conversation up to the study. Perfect. It wasn’t that she was so eager to know what he had to say. She was certain the Cliff Notes version would do, and that could wait until she took care of a more immediate problem.
“Follow me.” Motioning them up the stairs, Giles explained that he wanted to confirm his line of thinking by comparing the sketch to one of his watcher texts.
Wesley squawked impatiently, “What precisely is your thinking?”
Stalling at the bottom of the steps, Cordelia was not interested in Giles’ answer as the two watchers crossed the foyer heading down the main hall. The Scoobies filed up one by one discussing a few theories of their own.
“Maybe the ring protects Nicolau from the sun,” suggested Willow as she headed for the basement door.
Xander preferred his super-sunblock idea. “Five bucks says it’s just an insignia to the Secret Society of Demon-Worshipping Bloodsuckers.”
“You have five bucks?” asked Buffy just before turning the corner out of sight.
Whirling around to face Angel and Faith, who were directly behind her, Cordelia held up a hand to stop their progress. “Not so fast.”
“Cordy, we need to get up there,” Angel moved up another step forcing her to shift over to block his path. He motioned to the basement door, urging her to follow the others. “I think Giles has finally put some of this together.”
Propping her hands on her hips, she let out a soft ‘pfft’ that silently asked if he really thought she was going to change her mind. Giles’ theory was important, but it was not her first concern. Between Faith’s double agent deal and the overly protective wacko Angel was turning into, they still had stuff to resolve—the kind that might result in her three-inch heel being shoved somewhere uncomfortable.
Faith just wanted to know the bottom line. “What’s up?”
“First of all,” Cordelia sounded pissed, “I don’t like being lied to. You’re spying on the mayor, pretending to be on his side. Fine. I get the undercover op thing. I just don’t like being blindsided by smarmy evil guys at my grandmother’s funeral, especially when one of them has plans to turn me into a human sacrifice.”
Turning around, Faith stalked back toward the center of the room, stopped to stare blindly at groove in the concrete floor, and then reversed back to the stairs. Cordy knew that Faith and apologies did not mix well, but she deserved a decent explanation.
“I wasn’t expecting the mayor to show up,” Faith admitted. “He hasn’t said boo to me since the night I was thrown in jail.”
“He’s the reason you got out,” Angel finally understood.
Faith nodded. “I’m his pet project. Wilkins has an agenda. I don’t know what it is yet, but it’s going to be big.”
“I suppose it’s tied in with the prophecy,” Cordelia guessed, “considering he’s playing host to Nicolau.”
Angel did not give a damn about the mayor’s illegal activities or his behind the scenes business with the local demon population. You could find someone like him in every town. But it looked like Mayor Wilkins was branching out. “Whatever business he’s got with Nico is bad news. We need to know what it is and how to stop him.”
“I’m on it,” Faith promised wanting desperately to make this right.
“How could you not know that man was a vampire?” Cordelia threw her arms up in frustration. “I thought you and Buffy had some built-in vampire detector.”
Shaking her head, Faith told her, “Not really. It’s just that some vamps are easier to spot than others. After a while you know what to look for and get a general sense of something being wrong.”
“I guess the sunshine might throw you off your game,” Cordelia conceded.
“It also makes him more dangerous.” Angel’s jaw clenched down as he considered the fact that Nicolau was not restricted to moving about in the shadows. “Contrary to popular belief, vampires have always been able to be awake during the day. There’s just not much point of going out if there’s no shade to protect us from the sun.”
Cordelia imagined Angel being able to go out during the day. Picnics, the beach and walks in the sun suddenly seemed doable. If any vampire deserved to enjoy the sun, it was Angel.
“This guy wore sunglasses, but took them off. There was no shade at all,” Cordelia told him. That got her wondering about Willow’s theory. Maybe that ring was magic. “So what’s the big secret? How’d he pull this off?”
“I don’t know.” Angel looked determined to find out. Reminding her, “Giles could be announcing that right now. We should go. That demon sigil is an important clue.”
Important, yes, but not enough to distract her from the other half of this little talk. Pressing a hand to his chest, Cordelia stopped him from moving past her. “Hold it, Sherlock.”
Angel was the picture of wronged innocence as he stared back. “What?” Completely clueless that he’d done anything wrong to end up in the doghouse, his forehead crinkled with his frown.
“Hello, you practically strangled Faith a few minutes ago. You’ve been barking orders at Xander, and generally making an ass of yourself.”
For a moment, Cordelia thought he was not going to respond except by standing there looking pissed off that she called him on it. “Faith is fine,” he said, glancing her way. The slayer shrugged as if it was no big deal. “Things are moving too damn slowly for my liking. We’re stuck here waiting for an attack instead of tracking these bastards down.”
“I’m all for it,” Faith preferred to go on the offensive.
Angel reached down to take Cordelia’s hand, covering it with both of his. “If I seem a little on edge lately, it’s only because you’re in danger. You’re my…girlfriend, Cordy. I’m not going to stand by while anyone puts you in harms way.”
Noticing the way he had hesitated over the word ‘girlfriend’, Angel hoped Cordelia did not hear the catch in his voice. The way he felt about her was making him crazy. Just the thought of Nicolau putting his hands on her, kissing her hand, made him want to rip his arm off and shove it down his throat.
There was no way for Nico to know that Angel was in love with Cordy, but he was far from stupid. One look at her and he could probably guess that she was far more than just the kind of pet some vampires liked to keep. There were no visible marks to suggest ownership, no sign of a claim, yet the other vampire would know they were lovers.
“Can you please try not to strangle my friends?”
Angel could not quite bring himself to feel guilty about it. Besides, Faith could handle herself. She had belted him in the jaw with a right cross and he could still feel it. “Let’s just call it even,” he suggested wryly and motioned for them to head upstairs.
His ears pricked at a sound from above. Another followed, loud enough for Cordelia to hear shouting. “It’s Wes.”
“We can’t be under attack,” Faith ruled that out only to contradict herself a moment later. “Can we?”
Taking the steps two by two, Angel raced toward the ongoing conflict. Raised voices melded into the noise from the far end of the hall. Arriving at the study, Cordelia and Faith behind him, he saw the others in a defensive posture surrounding the fireplace. Buffy held her stake at the ready. Giles wielded a poker. Xander physically blocked the path between the intruder and the only escape. Willow, for some strange reason, appeared to be racing to and fro with armfuls of legal pads, parchments and books.
Pinned prone to the floor beneath Drusilla’s heeled boot, Wesley flailed out of control like a butterfly in its final death throes. Arms reaching. Legs kicking. “No, no, please. You mustn’t do this.” Begging got him nowhere. “God have mercy! Someone stop her.”
Braced against the edge of the hearth and using her strength to keep Wesley pinned down, Drusilla stood with an armful of scrolls, holding a leather-bound book toward the fire. The struggling watcher was trying to protect a pile of legal pads containing his research notes. His plea brimmed with panic rather than pain as Drusilla fueled the brightly burning fire with books and papers.
“Drusilla,” Angel’s commanding voice boomed above the others.
Startled, her red lips formed a circle. “Oh. Come see the pretty fire, Angel. It dances. I like dancing.” Yellow and orange flames flickered high over charred bookbindings, dark black smoke rising up the chimney. The stench of burning parchment and ink filled the room.
“Put the book down.”
After a glance at the book in her hand, Drusilla defiantly sent it straight into the fire. A painful cry sounded from Wesley as he tried to save it, the flames licking the side of his hand scoring the flesh.
Plunging the poker into the fire, Giles dug the book out before the flames consumed it. Embers sparked across the stone hearth. He stomped them out. “Those are important documents, irreplaceable.” Anger left a tremor in his hand as Giles pointed the brass poker toward Drusilla. “Back away.”
Drusilla grabbed the end of the poker despite that it was still hot from the fire and flung it across the room narrowly missing Willow who yelped while ducking low. She vamped out at the pain, flesh and bone shifting, her fangs bared as she hissed at Giles who slowly reached for the small vial of holy water he had taken to carrying in his jacket pocket.
Before he could act, Buffy decided she was not going to let Drusilla harm anyone else. “That’s it.” Maneuvering into a better position, she had every intention of putting her stake through the vampire’s heart.
A strong arm yanked her back at the last moment. Angel spat out, “I’ll handle it. Stay put.” He pushed her none too gently toward the couch where Buffy collapsed into a sitting position.
Outraged that he would stop her, Buffy yelled back, “She’s dangerous. The next time I see fangs—”
“She’s a vampire,” Cordelia shrugged as she walked past Buffy. “Fangs go with the territory.”
“Cool it, B,” Faith put a hand on her shoulder to keep her seated when Buffy made a move to get up. “Angel’s got it covered.”
Drusilla shrunk back against the stone mantle, removing her foot from Wesley’s back and releasing him as she tried to escape Angel’s stern stare. Hugging the remaining scrolls tightly to her reed thin body, Drusilla’s morphed back into human form. “Why are you angry, my Angel? Don’t be angry.”
Cordelia followed behind Angel as he approached Dru planning to help Giles get Wes out of the way. The fact that he had burnt his hand seemed to be the last thing on his mind as he gathered up the legal pads he had been protecting. She held out a hand to him. “This way, hurry.”
Scuttling out of Angel’s way, Wesley reached back to grab one last pad before letting Cordelia pull him a safe distance away. Considering what Drusilla was like whenever Angel was around, she did not think there would be a fight. It was Wes she was not so sure about. If Dru managed to throw those scrolls into the fire, there was no telling how the new watcher would react.
“What’s going on Dru?” Just because he asked the question did not mean there was a reasonable explanation for her actions. The things she did often made no sense. It might turn out that she was burning the books simply because she liked to look at the fire.
Dru scooted as far back as she could get ignoring the rough stone scraping her skin. The top layer of her cream-colored dress, a thin veil of diaphanous material, clung to the stones closest to the burning embers that hissed and spit from the fire. “Don’t be angry,” her voice quaked like a naughty child expecting punishment from her father.
Displeasure, rage, the urge to channel that anger into a physical response ratcheted up inside him. He had dealt with feelings like this after he was first cursed, unwanted urges and thoughts, demonic instinct and desires influencing his every move. Always there, pressing him to act.
He had gotten adept at suppressing those urges. Ever since returning from Acathla’s hell, it was not as easy to distance himself from his emotions like before. The more he let himself feel, the more difficult it seemed to control the rest. Cordelia’s words were still fresh in his mind as was the memory of grabbing Faith by the throat.
Right now, he did not have time to think about it. Angel knew there was a good chance Dru did not know what the hell she was doing. He struggled to tamp down the urge to bare his fangs and threaten the truth out of her. The hint of a ridged brow smoothed out, though his eyes remained streaked with gold.
Holding out a hand to her, Angel felt the weight of several stares upon him. “You’re too close to the fire. Come to me. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Drusilla took the few steps separating them, a frightened sob escaping, and buried her head against his shoulder. “No,” she knew he would not harm her. Her reed-thin frame trembled against his. “No, but he will.”
“He who…Spike?” asked Cordelia even though that did not seem likely. He was still laid up in bed. “If he’s still being a big baby about drinking the pig blood, I can talk to him again.”
Angel doubted that was the cause of this little book burning session. “I don’t think she means Spike. He’d never intentionally harm her.” And that did not explain what Dru was up to by burning their research.
The scrolls scrunched between them as Dru squirmed closer. Angel tried to maneuver her out of his arms, but she was not budging. Something had frightened the hell out of her. Or someone, by the sound of it, and it did not take much of a guess to figure out whom.
Promising, “Nicolau can’t touch you here,” he quietly wondered whether a vampire immune to the power of the sun was encumbered by any restrictions. Would Willow’s disinvite spell keep him out? That meant the mansion defense plans were a whole lot less secure.
Giles cleared his throat to get Angel’s attention. “Might I take those?” indicating the scrolls.
That was fine with Angel, but getting Drusilla to release them without harming them was not that easy. She glanced toward the flames dancing in shades of red and yellow in the hearth. “I see them burning.”
“Yes, quite,” Wes clipped as he too stared into the fire taking a mental inventory of what was lost.
Drusilla laughed in a spine-chilling way that made their hair stand on end. “Dark secrets cast long shadows when they come into the light.”
Behind them, Cordelia’s brows arched at the insane little sound, a frisson shooting along her nerves. “Melodramatic, much? Next time tell us about your vision before you start burning things.”
Angel turned to face her bringing the still clinging vampiress around with him. “Those scrolls hold the secrets that will help us to stop Nicolau from fulfilling this prophecy.”
“What did you see, Dru?” asked Cordelia knowing that the vision Dru had shared with her contained disjointed flashes of a possible future. It seemed unlikely that anyone could make sense of such a thing. No wonder she was crazy.
Holding out one of the scrolls, Drusilla shared her thoughts in a whisper, “I see them burning.”
So she’d said before. That did not tell them anything new or useful. Cordelia took the rolled parchment. “We need this to find a way to stop the prophecy from happening. No more bonfires, ‘kay? Angel won’t let that creep hurt you.”
“The light brings truth and darkness.”
At her sire’s direction, Drusilla handed over the remaining scrolls to Cordy. Giles and Wes stood by to take them. The musty parchments looked pretty much the same to her, but when she handed over one thick scroll, Giles immediately carried it over to the desk for closer inspection. Relief and a twinge of hope suffused his words, “The prophecy wasn’t destroyed in the fire.”
That was nice, but Cordelia thought they already knew what the prophecy scroll had to say. “Does it matter? I thought you had that thing memorized by now.”
Actually, she was all for setting a torch to that particular parchment if doing so would make the whole thing go away.
“Our translation has been providing us with necessary clues,” Giles reminded her. “It may continue to prove useful as we get closer to the individual events leading up to the Rites of Tavrok. The original text may be important.”
“Particular nuances in the language,” added Wes before turning his attention to the reddened flesh on his left hand. A moment longer and he would have been seriously burned.
Cordelia suggested that she get the First Aid Kit from upstairs. Turning toward the door she saw, “Spike! What are you doing out of bed?”
Looking a little less like he had been put through a meat grinder, Spike leaned against the doorframe for support. “Thought the bloody mansion was burning down around our ears. Then there was the screeching. Didn’t know we had any five year old girls running around the place.”
“That was Wes,” pointed out Xander when Spike’s accusing gaze drifted his way. “I don’t screech like a girl.”
“Debatable, but unimportant at the moment,” Angel said as he released Drusilla so she could go to Spike. Their silent greeting was a tactile one. A nuzzle of her cheek against his throat, their hands connecting, fingers threading together followed by Dru settling her cheek against Spike’s shoulder.
When Angel explained what had happened Spike did not offer any apologies on Dru’s behalf. Truthfully, Angel did not expect any. They had experienced the aftereffects of her visions for too many years to bother with that.
“Cordelia, please wait,” Wesley called out to her as she was squeezing by the pair hanging out in the doorway. “My hand can forgo treatment for another few minutes. I think you should be present to hear what Mr. Giles has to say about the ring.”
Letting out a soft huff, Cordelia turned around and walked over to join Faith standing by the couch. “So let’s hear it.”
“One moment,” Giles started sifting through the books Willow had managed to save. He wanted to cross-reference the symbol on the drawing with one in the symbology text.
Spike had no idea what they were on about. “What ring?”
Glowering over the reminder that an enemy vampire had actually touched Cordelia, Angel explained, “Nicolau was at the funeral—in broad daylight.”
“That’s ruddy impossible.” Spike’s jaw dropped open at the thought of possessing the ability to survive sunshine. “The ring protected him?”
Willow hopped up on the edge of the desk being careful not to sit on the parchment spread out across it. “That’s my theory.”
“I want one.”
Everyone stared at Spike.
“What?” he shrugged.
“A ring that protects vampires,” muttered Wesley suddenly taking Willow’s theory to heart, “makes them impervious to the sun, invulnerable.” The idea struck a familiar chord. “No, no, there has to be another explanation.”
Giles looked up from the book in his hands, the one he had saved from the fire. Its edges were charred, pages turned brown. He knew exactly where Wes was taking that particular line of thinking. “Yes, there must be another explanation. Wesley, please do restrict your musings to the realm of the possible.”
Bristling at the tone of disbelief, Wesley suddenly felt like defending the conclusion he had been prepared to disregard. “Until recently the stories of the Banished Ones were thought to be outside the ‘realm of the possible’.”
“You’re talking about the Gem of Amara,” realized Angel with a growing sense of dread. If Nicolau had somehow gotten his hands on the gemstone with its purported limitless power, there would be no stopping him.
Cordelia thought about the ring she had seen on Nicolau’s hand. It was gold inlaid with black onyx in an intricate design. Something had given the vampire the ability to go out in the sun. It might be a one-time thing like a spell or something permanent like a magic ring. “I wouldn’t call an onyx a gem—unless it wasn’t really an onyx. Maybe it was a black diamond. What kind of gems do these Amara people have?”
“Nobody knows,” Giles answered. “The Gem of Amara is the vampire equivalent of the Holy Grail. There was a great deal of interest in it back in the, oh, 10th century, as I recall. Questing vampires combed the earth. They found nothing and concluded that it never existed.”
Just as Wesley had reminded him of the origins of the Banished Ones, legends often had a basis in fact. Pursing his lips, Giles thought about it for a moment deciding to be open-minded on the subject. Discovering that the House of Solaris was comprised of the almost-mythic Banished Ones put a new perspective on things. They could take nothing for granted, nor ignore any avenue of possibility in their research.
“I apologize,” he gave Wes a nod. “We should not disregard any theory that might explain the situation. Assuming that we still have the necessary texts,” his glance slid Drusilla’s way, “you should look into it.”
Wes’ chin jutted up another notch. “Very well.”
“For all we know at this point there could be a connection between the gem and the Sect of Solaris.” Giles was less inclined to call it a true clan, as it was apparently a branch of the House of Aurelius.
Angel picked up the sketch Cordelia had made from the floor where someone had dropped it during the chaos. He stared at the sigil trying to remember if there was some other place he had seen it. Nothing. Standing by his original assessment, he reiterated, “This is a demon brand, and not anything recognized by the clans. The House of Solaris has no true vampiric crest of its own. So this sign of their allegiance to a demon god suffices.”
He tossed the paper down on the desk in disgust.
Most days Angel hated who and what he was, a vampire. Angelus had never honored the Master, never seen him as anything but a rival. Back then he had been more interested in indulging Darla’s whims, and his own, to take interest in the politics of their bloodline.
Vampires like Nicolau were anathema to the rest. Deep down inside him, Angel felt it too. Worshipping a demon was wrong from anyone’s perspective, but to a vampire, it was not only disgusting, but also a perversion of the practice of being answerable only to themselves.
“We have a match,” Giles looked up from the book again. He picked up the sketch comparing it to the ink drawing in the book. “Angel was correct in that it is a demon symbol. However, it belongs to a vastly powerful creature: Amolon.”
Though Cordelia figured this was Giles’ big announcement, she had to ask, “A mole on what? Color me underwhelmed. You’d think these Big Bads would have scarier names.”
Sighing deeply, he closed his eyes for a moment of reflection. Then Giles pronounced it again more slowly while enunciating each syllable. “AH-mo-LON.”
The name with its correct pronunciation meant nothing. “Um, really? Wow.” Cordelia tried to sound enthusiastic about the revelation.
“This is important, Cordelia,” defended Giles taking affront that she was not excited or relieved or—anything other than sarcastic about the discovery. “Now we know which demon we are up against and can tailor our defense more precisely.”
“Great. Go defense!”
Having been lost in thought from the moment Giles uttered the name of the demon, Wesley finally realized why it sounded familiar. He was the only person present other than Giles for whom the announcement meant anything.
“Gah! One of the Old Ones? That cannot be. Let me see.” Snatching the sketch out of Giles’ hand, he stared back and forth between it and the charred page of the book. “Oh, dear God. It does match. Perhaps it’s a fluke. Perhaps Cordelia got it wrong. Oh, dear. We…we should call the Watchers’ Council immediately. They should send back up.”
Trying to remain calm about the situation, Giles reminded him, “You are the back up.”
“Someone tell me why the new watcher is having a power-freak?” asked Xander as Wesley dashed over to his legal pads of notes and started flipping through them at a manic pace.
Since Wesley had mentioned that Amolon was considered to be one of the Old Ones, Angel started to understand the reason for his concerns. Though the prophecy itself suggested that they were not dealing with an insignificant threat, this put things on a whole other level.
“If Nicolau’s sect manages to fulfill their part of the prophecy,” Angel warned grimly, “Amolon will be free.” Fragments of memory flashed through his mind of Acathla’s hell dimension. “You’ve never seen a real demon here on Earth or know the power they possess.”
“We fight demons all the time,” Faith countered and jutted her thumb in Spike and Dru’s direction. “Vampires are just the tip of that butt-ugly end of the iceberg.”
A growl sounded behind her, but went ignored.
Returning to the desk with his research notes, Wesley said, “Vampires and the other creatures you’ve fought aren’t pure demon. If Amolon makes his way here, the Earth is doomed.”
A feeling of déjà-vu hit Giles like he had had this conversation about the Old Ones at a previous time. Faith hadn’t been there yet, just Buffy and her friends, a time when they were still naïve about the Slayer’s role at the Hellmouth. It took him a moment to recall just when the subject had come up—during the time of the Harvest.
“Long ago demons made the world their hell and they ruled the Earth for eons. Over time, they lost their hold on this reality and were forced into exile making the way for mortal animals, for man.”
An icky sense of dread was churning in Buffy’s stomach. “That sounds familiar.”
“I’ve mentioned it before.”
“Oh. My bad,” she cringed. “Guess I failed the pop quiz.”
Willow did not. “I remember that,” she chirped almost excitedly. “It’s the creation myth for vampires. The last demon leaving Earth fed off a human, mixed their blood. A human infected with a demon who fed off another and another.”
“Vamp central,” nodded Xander. He vaguely remembered the conversation back when he’d learned that Buffy was the Slayer and that vampires really existed. That seemed so long ago now.
Cordelia had not been privy to that conversation. This was all new to her. Every time they discovered something new about this prophecy, it seemed to get worse. “So you are actually saying this Mole Guy can actually back up the gloom and doom stuff.”
First, a demon-worshipping vampire cult wanted to sacrifice her to their demon god. Now it seemed that the demon was not some puffed up hotshot with more charisma than power. He was the real deal.
“Amolon is gloom and doom.” Wesley told her. “No wonder Solaris and his sect were banished from the House of Aurelius. Most vampires accept the status quo as long as their feeding grounds are plentiful.”
Xander shuddered, his gaze straying to the doorway where Drusilla and Spike wore identical smirks. “Hey, enough with the feeding grounds talk.”
Ditto for Cordelia who was so ready for that bubble bath she had promised herself. She walked over to Angel who immediately sensed the fear beneath her outwardly calm face. He put his arm around her shoulder bringing her closer.
Angel brushed his lips against her forehead and whispering a promise. “It’ll be okay, baby. We’re going to stop this before it happens.”