|Prelude to Sunnydale: The Vampire and the Good Fight
Author: Niels van Eekelen PM
It is 1996, and Angel has just seen Buffy Summers for the first time. His guide Whistler is sending him to a little town called Sunnydale to wait for her. The thing is, he's not the only Thing interested in the town on the Hellmouth, and Angel's journey might just come to a sudden end before he even reaches it.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Adventure - Angel & Glory - Words: 10,531 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 1 - Published: 10-24-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8637797
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
the Good Fight
Los Angeles, 1996
The blood was still wet.
He could tell by the way the pool reflected the moonlight, by its lively red colour, far from the crumpled brown it would become. Quite simply, he could smell it.
It would probably take all night for a pool that size to crust over. That could be interesting to watch, but it might get boring after a while. The blood on his hands had dried almost instantly.
They had been a pious family, just the way that he liked them best. A father, a mother, four children, ranging from their buxom sixteen-year-old daughter to their adorable toddler son. All this Sunday, the family had helped their Anglican priest with the tedious work of restoring their parish's old church to its former glory. They had scrubbed floors. They had wiped clean the stained-glass windows. He was quite sure the younger children had hated every minute of it—they had been fine with it just before he'd killed them, though. Probably had never been allowed outside after dark before. They had been excited and, despite their older sister's assurances that there truly were no monsters lurking in the dark, scared as well. He'd killed the girl last, to make certain that she knew how wrong she had been. When they were all dead, he had cut open their cheeks, drawing the sign of their God with his demonic claws. There was no God. He proved that by his very existence, and he laughed at the fools who believed.
He hadn't drunk any of their blood. It wasn't that he wasn't thirsty—after all, when wasn't he?—but he had simply wanted to watch the blood flow freely for once. It was a terrible waste, really. And he did it because he could.
The blood's scent permeated the air. To smell it so strongly and not taste it was a sweet torture, but one that he wouldn't endure much longer. It was time for the night's hunt. He was just waiting… Ah, there she was. Darla, his sire. He could hear her soft footsteps on the gravel path. He heard her saying his name…
Angel realised that he was staring at his hands. Their was no blood on them, and for the first time in a very long time, there was no thick layer of filth covering them either. The sadistic pleasure he had taken in the needless death of an innocent family had been gone for a hundred years. And yet it was never more distant than the memory of it—which was to say, only a second away. Angel also realised that it was not Darla whom he had heard speaking his name, in the present, at least.
The vampire with a soul finally looked up. He was in a street in Los Angeles, he reminded himself. It was shortly after nightfall. Angel stood up, straightening his new, black clothes, and turned to the rental car parked at the edge of the street. It looked older than Angel felt. The person in the driver's seat was young in appearance, and wore a bad suit over a loud shirt. He looked like a bottom-ranked mafioso. His manner, like his outfit, Angel knew, was loud and grating.
"Hi, Whistler," he greeted the demon.
"I got you a real beauty, pal," Whistler told him, "top of the line. They don't make them like this anymore."
"And they haven't for a long time," Angel commented quietly.
"Ha ha. You could be the fourth Marx brother, you know," Whistler countered. "Anyway, this fine piece of American engineering'll get you where you're going. Less than a zillion miles on the counter. Won't go well with those clothes, of course, but that's your own fault for ignoring the advice of a fashionmeister." While the demon talked, Angel inspected the vehicle. He was hardly an expert on such things—in his time, a horse had always been fast enough—but he figured the thing would make it. It was only a few hours' drive, after all.
Suddenly, Angel's head snapped up. "Wait a minute, Whistler," he said, "it'll take me? You're not coming with me?"
The man with the demonic clothes laughed. "Me? Going to a Hellmouth? On purpose?" He shook his head. "The world would have to come pretty close to ending before I did that. No, Angel boy, it's your destiny, not mine." Then he sighed. "Truthfully? Going to this Hellmouth isn't sounding so bad right now. A damn lawyer was waiting for me at the car rental. He subpoenaed my ass but good. Ran into a bit of trouble last time I was in town."
"You're going to show up in court?" Angel asked. He wouldn't have figured Whistler for a law-abiding citizen.
He wasn't. "Not much choice, do I?" the demon explained. "The smart chap brought along a warlock to make that subpoena stick. Ah, I knew it was a mistake coming back here, to Los Angeles, but hey, the vampire with a soul has to have his destiny to fulfill, right?"
Angel stayed silent. He didn't know what to say.
Whistler slapped the roof of the car a few times with the palm of his hand. Angel feared for the thing. "Well? Chop chop!" Whistler urged him. "Time to get underway. You've got a long road ahead, and all that stuff."
The vampire opened the door, but then paused again. He wasn't good at this, never had been, but he couldn't just say nothing. "Whistler," he said, "thank you."
The demon stepped back with a jerk. "Yuch!" he exclaimed. "Let's not get sentimental, OK? Get in the car and drive."
And Angel did just that.
Whistler winced as he watched the car lurch away from the curb. Seeing that driving style, he suddenly wondered if the vampire hadn't simply accepted the challenge of the good fight out of a guilt-inspired deathwish. Nah. Whistler'd seen the new Slayer too. If there ever was a reason to live… Also, he started to wonder if the car would hold together long enough to reach Sunnydale. Fingers crossed. It would be a little embarrassing if the world came to an end because its champion had engine trouble.
"Ungrateful lout," the demon quipped. "You could have offered to be my alibi, you know?" He chuckled at his own joke, but he knew that Angel had to follow his own path. Those damn Powers That Be had certainly told him often enough that there was no doubt. Undoubtedly Angel had a lot of hardships ahead of him before—if ever—he forgave himself. All the same, Whistler thought, and shuddered, for Angel's sake he hoped that the vampire would never run afoul of the lawyers that were sueing him now.
Skyler shuffled his feet nervously. He was regretting this deal already, but he liked his life too much to try to back out now. And besides, he really needed the money if he was going to settle in in his new digs in Sunnydale properly, stock up on some goodies to keep business up. That, and who else was going to take two dozen Fyarl eggs nearly ready to hatch off his hands?
So Skyler followed the warty sycophant he had been dealing with so far into the depths of the old manor. They were well outside of Sunnydale proper, but the fact that this demon mistress was staying here didn't surprise Skyler. He could still sense the Hellmouth, even at this distance. He scratched his horns.
"You should be honoured," the filthy-looking thing leading the way assured him, "that Her Most Beautificious One wishes to see you personally." Shaking his head dejectedly, he continued, more to himself than to Skyler, "I tried to tell Her Wonderfulness that acquiring the Fyarl eggs was solely my personal accomplishment, that you just had them lying around, but of course the Glorious One knows best."
Her Great and Mightiness, or whatever, had seen fit to keep him cooling his heels at the manor for three days before finally seeing him, and during that time the warty fellows—there seemed to be almost a dozen of them—had been incredibly nervous. At least now she had called for him, and maybe afterwards they would let him go about his business.
At the door, Skyler froze. Beyond it lay what he could only describe as a throne room. A dark, scary throne room filled with two dozen young Fyarl demons and the remains of the eggs from which they had hatched no more than hours before. But still, a throne room. Warty stopped and waited for him a few steps into the room, grinning sycophantically and drywashing his hands, so Skyler hesitantly followed.
"Ehhh… hello?" he tried.
"Well well well," came a voice from the shadow-cloaked throne up ahead. "Aren't you the most adorable little thing! You look like a tourist in those clothes," the voice added flatly.
Skyler made a half-bow, unsure of what was appropriate. You never knew with all the different demon customs. "Thank you, um, my, um, lady?" The voice certainly sounded female.
A crystal laughter answered his words. "Sweet thing! Can't see me in the dark, can you? It's my little boo-boo babies," the voice explained, switching tone as if cooing the monstrous infants like an adoring mother. "They don't take so well to the light when they've only just hatched. But hey, it's a cruel world!" There was the sound of someone clapping her hands, and suddenly, the room lit up. The Fyarl infants screeched and tried to block the light from their eyes with their arms. They were still hours away from full growth, but nevertheless they looked fearsome enough to send shivers down Skyler's back. This was why he'd been so eager to get rid of the eggs. Amazingly, the scabby minions, who had been tending the creatures, managed to soothe them while backing away to a safe distance at the same time.
Skyler's attention, however, was quickly drawn back to the woman who had addressed him. He almost gasped. She must surely be the most beautiful creature that he had ever seen. She was a human woman, or at least, she looked the part. Blond hair curled down over her shoulders, framing a perfect face. She was wearing a red leather dress that she could never have got off the rack—it fit all those curves way too perfectly for that—and she was sitting casually, seductively, with her legs crossed over one arm of her throne. Skyler felt an instinctive urge to fall to his knees and worship this creature.
"Bow down," Skyler's scabby escort proclaimed, "for you are honoured to be in the presence of Her Most Splendidicalifousness, Your Mistress, Glorificus!" Skyler actually bowed before he caught himself.
Glorificus waggled her fingers at him. "Hiya!" She smiled as if at a cute little five-year-old.
"I, eh…" Skyler began hesitantly, "I'm glad I could be of service. Pleasure doin' business with ya."
Belatedly, and with an annoyed glance at Skyler, the scabby demon stepped forward to introduce him. "This is the lowly demon Skyler, Your—" His mistress cut him off with a sharp gesture.
"I know who he is, Dreg honey. This is the feller that brought my beautiful babies home to mommy."
"Errr." Skyler tried hard not to stare at the woman—whatever she was, woman was part of it—it was too distracting. "I was—am—indeed, milady," he managed. "If I might ask… why did you want to buy… your babies?"
She looked genuinely confused at the question. "Why, to kill, maim and destroy, you silly! What else are those dumb Fyarls good for?"
"But, milady"—he was not going to invent new things to call her each time, like scabby did; frankly, he didn't have the imagination—"who could you want dead so badly?" Twenty-four Fyarl demons would make quite an army, once they were fully grown. In another day or so.
Glorificus blinked. "I dunno," she drawled. Then she shrugged and smiled widely. "Oh, not to worry. I'm sure someone will come along soon enough that needs a good spanking."
Her blood was sweet.
He let the blood go around in his mouth as if tasting a fine wine. It tasted better than wine ever had, certainly better than it would now that he was dead, and his taste buds along with him. Only blood still held any taste for him. Fortunately, blood was widely available to him, in every variety he could wish for.
Tonight was a special occasion, so he had brought the finest drink that he could find. His mug of ale stood untouched on the tavern table before him. He had ordered it only to keep the innkeeper from trying to toss him out on the street. No, he held his drink close to him. She was only eight years old—maybe ten, he'd never been good at estimating children's ages—and to the casual observer it would seem that she lay asleep against her father's chest. If one had looked more closely, he might have noticed how shallow her breath was, or the wound over her jugular vein.
He was keeping the girl alive for the moment, though. Sweet as her blood was, he knew Darla, and how terrible a picky eater she could be—she would never touch anything that was already dead. And tonight would be the first time he'd see his sire in months.
"That's so sweet," a voice sounded above him, and he finally swallowed the blood and looked up. "You've brought me a gift, Angelus?" A golden-maned apparition, Darla smiled down on him. She sat beside him, and he handed the child over to her.
"A peace offering," he told the vampiress. "I did go a little overboard in the mountains." That was an understatement, but as far as he was willing to go to reconcile. Darla drank deeply from the little girl, eliciting no more than a few feeble signs of resistance; the girl was nearly gone now. Darla was a mother hugging her daughter in greeting after being away, and no one was the wiser.
When the child was finished, Darla smiled at him again, a blush on her cheeks sparked by her meal. "Ah, Angelus, you're using understatements now? What happened to the biggest braggart of Europe?" Wisely, she continued without waiting for her lover's reply. "Ah, I'm just glad you've decided to give up on that monastery." She shivered. "I've told you a thousand times—all those holy relics, that's not for us. Honestly, I was afraid that you wouldn't be here, Angelus, that you'd still be there in the mountains, planning and plotting. I—"
"I didn't give up." He had a sparkle in his eye as he told her.
Darla's eyes widened until they were the size of saucers. "You didn't—You killed them?"
His smile was wide. "I killed the monks," he confirmed. "Every pious last one of them." When the two of them had passed a secluded monastery in the mountains just before the first snows, the vampire had taken offense at the monks' pious purity. That they lived in seclusion to guard the world against a demon they had held imprisoned hadn't gone over so well with him either. Massacring innocents on sanctified ground hadn't turned out to be easy, though. He'd tell Darla all about it later. Except maybe the part about how confronting the demon he'd released in the process nearly destroyed him. He played idly with a large gemstone in his pocket. He'd taken it from the monastery and had intended to give it to Darla, but now he thought he'd keep it. "Even caught a group of pilgrims when I came down after the snows melted."
Darla laughed her musical laugh, and gave him a proud smile. As she turned to him to kiss him, her eyes caught the light of the candle on the table and reflected it right into his.
Angel snapped out of it.
The light that was shining into his eyes was far to bright to come from a candle. That had been 1781. It was 1996 now, and over two centuries had passed. Back then, Angel had been a demon, nothing more, and though he was still figuring out the difference that it made after a hundred years, he had his soul back now. Quickly, he turned his thoughts to what he was on his way to do. The good fight, earning his redemption. He'd never believed it possible to earn foregiveness—well, he still didn't, really, but at least now he realised that he had to try. Had to try, if he was ever to be the slightest bit worthy. Whistler had given that idea to him, something to distract him from the nightmares of the things that he had done that plagued him every moment of his immortal life.
An ear-shredding noise cut through his thoughts, and abruptly Angel realised that he was still driving, and that in his distraction he had swerved into the path of an oncoming truck. The blinding lights were the truck's headlights. The noise was the truck's horn. The distance was closing fast.
Reflexively, Angel grabbed hold of one side of the wheel and pulled with all his might. His rental made painful noises like a Skjold Demon's dying screams, but it turned and sped aside, clearing the speeding truck by inches.
Angel was about to sigh with relief when the engine of his car suddenly fel ominously silent. The car was still aimed for the side of the road, and approaching it at high speed. Angel put the brake pedal to the floor—or so he thought. The pedal offering little resistance, Angel's foot went straight through the car floor. The vampire barely had time to assume a crash position before he flew off the road.
Jumping into his Volkswagen, Skyler set full speed towards Sunnydale. He didn't honestly care whether the trusty automobile died from the effort, despite the fact that the two of them had been together for over ten years—as long as the car gave out a goodly distance from that madwoman. Mad! She was insane! Nobody bred Fyarls just for the fun of it. Fyarl demons might have been short-lived, in age as well as because half the time they forgot to look for food until after they starved to death, but the amount of damage they could do in the meantime was legendary. If you wanted to lay waste to a city, you bred a single nest of ten to a dozen Fyarl eggs. And humans didn't even remember the name of the last city that had happened to.
Skyler pushed the gass pedal down a little further. Please please please just let Glorificus take her army somewhere else! Skyler had a three-year lease on his new condo in Sunnydale, and he simply couldn't afford to flee. Not this time, anyway. This time he would just have to cross his fingers, close his eyes and hope it went away. But he swore to himself that he was going to save up some money, and the next time that he found out someone was going to play 'end of the world', he was going to run like hell.
When he sped past the Welcome to Sunnydale sign, the demon breathed a sigh of relief. He was close to the Hellmouth now, and that was a comforting thought. After all, what was the worst that could happen to a demon so near that center of hellish power?
His fingers bled.
The scent of it caught in his nose, strangely arousing, but arousal was really the last thing on his mind now. Blind, animal panic was closer to the surface. He had only woken up a few long minutes ago, in a tiny, enclosed space, in perfect darkness. Surprisingly, despite what he somehow knew was perfect darkness, his eyes could make out enough to see that he was lying in a coffin dressed in his Sunday finest.
He. Was. Lying. In. A. Coffin.
Wildly, like a trapped beast, he had begun clawing at the layer of cloth overhead, then at the wood, and now finally at the six feet of dirt. His fingers and hands felt stronger than they should have, somehow—like a predator's claws—but they were still flesh and blood, so he bled.
Vaguely, the memories started coming back. They had to fight their way through the animalistic bloodthirst clouding his mind, fight as hard as he was fighting to claw through the dirt, but they were coming back. The woman, that petite blonde in the alleyway. She had cut open a gash on her chest, after she had cut him—No! She hadn't cut him, she had bitten him! And he had bitten her back, drinking thirstily from that gash on her breast.
Angel gagged, recalling the taste of that first swallow of blood, before he had begun tasting the adrenaline in it, the life. But he wasn't drinking now. Not ever again. He wasn't even buried, he forced himself to acknowledge, pushing the memory out of his mind.
Angel had been unconscious, though. He remembered the truck. His rental car was a wreck. It was barely recognisable, let alone still able to drive. Angel was stuck in its remains, but thankfully, not seriously hurt. Angrily, he vamped out. This was what happened when he let the past overwhelm him. A single kick sent the driver's side door spinning a dozen yards or more away, and Angel crawled his way out of the vehicle.
He had been unconscious for some time. Angel could smell it in the air. The scent of dawn wasn't in it yet, but it was closer than that of dusk. The vampire doubted if he could make it to Sunnydale before sunrise now, not without a car. A day's delay wouldn't really matter—things around the Hellmouth wouldn't start coming to a head for weeks yet—but this was a pretty deserted stretch of land, and he had better start looking for some cover to spend the day under. The car would never do. Here on the side of the road, it would attract attention as soon as traffic picked up, and someone helpful would come around eventually and want to help him out—into the sun.
There was no possible shelter anywhere in sight, so Angel figured that he might as well continue on in the direction of Sunnydale. Off the road, he could even head straight for the town—or as closely as he could determine where it must be—and cut off some of the distance. He was certain someplace shady would turn up before sunrise. And probably in both meanings of the word.
Angel set a good pace for himself. At first, something hurt inside his chest every time one of his feet jarred into the ground, but that only lasted a little while. Whatever hurt the vampire had taken in the car crash, his unnatural metabolism was up to the challenge of fixing it. No, it was neither his injuries nor the absence of any kind of shelter from the sunlight that worried Angel. He'd lived long enough to learn not to worry about those sorts of things—either they would be solved, or they'd kill him, and there was very little he could do about it. It was his memories that were bothering the centuries-old vampire.
For the longest time, almost uninterruptedly from the year he got back his human soul by way of a gypsy curse on, Angel had been wallowing in guilt and self-pity. Mostly guilt. Bit by bit, he had slipped out of the present altogether. Angel had barely noticed for how long he had lain in the gutter; he hadn't even noticed the rot that had been eating away at his clothes until on one of his rare hunts he realised that even rats were avoiding the stench of him. The vampire hadn't hurt anything worse than the rats he had been living on for longer than most people lived, but to make certain that he never forgot his guilt, he had made sure that the memories remained ever-fresh.
But then Whistler had come along, and despite his best efforts, the friendly demon had dragged him out of his self-pitying rut and given Angel something more worthwhile to focus on. The good fight. Fighting the things that he had been like. Even if he did not believe that the fight would erase his guilt in the slightest, he hoped that it would help him to live with it. Oh, somewhere deep inside, Angel realised that the good fight shouldn't be about relieving guilt—it should be about the good fight, about doing the right thing—but he could only give what he could give. So far, however, his guilty memories were still as vivid as they had ever been. If Angel didn't re-learn to focus on the here and now, he would fight only a single battle in the good fight, and it would end with his ashes being scattered on the wind. He had to start thinking of the people whose lives he could save.
Angel stopped, frowning, and breathed in the air deeply. Faintly, he could make out the elusive scent of the dawn. It was definitely coming, now. Not in the next few minutes, but soon enough. If Angel didn't find shelter soon, he would have to try burying himself in the earth. He shuddered. Every vampire recalled those first moments, clawing itself out of its grave, and none was ever eager to repeat the process.
He had been focusing directly ahead since he began walking, hoping to find the outer edges of Sunnydale despite the odds. Now it was too late for that, Angel looked around him for the first time. Far off in the distance, he could just spot something. The vampire couldn't be certain, but he thought it was a house, an old mansion, perhaps. Out here, it would probably be deserted, but either way, Angel had little choice. He ran towards it.
At top vampire speed, it took Angel less than ten minutes to reach the building. He had been right—it was an old colonial-style mansion. It was enormous. And, to Angel's relief, obviously abandoned. The downstairs windows were all boarded up. Angel didn't even check the door—no doubt it would be firmly locked. If anyone came by during the day, they would notice immediately if he broke open one of these windows, so Angel decided to climb up onto the verandah roof and break one of the first floor windows. He clambered up easily, and with his coat wrapped around his arm, he smashed a fist through a window. Then he removed the remaining shards of glass from the window frame and, putting his coat back on, climbed inside.
It was surprisingly dark in that room. The pre-dawn light outside had appeared slowly enough that Angel had hardly noticed it, but it had been there. It took Angel's eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness.
And when they did, he found himself face to face with the most hideous creature. It was the picture of evil, all covered in more scabs, warts and rot than any natural creature could have survived, as if its flesh couldn't contain the darkness held within it. It was looking right at Angel with dark, too wide eyes. Angel realised that he could smell blood. He braced himself, unconsciously growling as he got ready to defend himself.
Then the dreadful creature yelped, turned, and ran away.
Her Most Excellent And Delicious Beautificiousness, She Whose Name Makes The Birds To Sing And The Lowliest Insects To Dance With Abject Joy, Glorificus—call her Glory—was getting kinda bored. She had tried singing to her little army of Fyarl demons, but they didn't seem to appreciate it properly, so she'd stopped. That was when she had realised that Fyarls were really despicably ugly creatures. Now she could barely stand to look at them. She wished someone worth killing would come along.
Down below the throne, Jinx yelped as one of the Fyarls snarled at him. Glory tch-ed. Just because Kwul got bit off one measly finger when the demons were hatching, they were all so terribly neurotic now.
"Ya spend all your time imprisoned in a human body," Glory complained irritably. "Ya break out once in like ten years. Is it so wrong to expect just the tiniest bit of fun?" She sighed dramatically, putting the back of her hand to her forehead. The world was just so unfair. Things were looking up for a while when Dreg got her her sweet little babies, but the waiting was killing her, you know? And then she'd reverted to him a few days ago, too. She had escaped again, but that had been no fun at all.
Maybe she should have Jinx bring her a mirror. Glory felt like doing her make-up. It wasn't as if she could remember any of it, but she had been trapped in a man's body for so long now that the need to feel make-up on her face was simply overwhelming.
Then Glory heard the pitter-patter of little feet hurrying towards her. It must be Kwul. The rest were all there already, trying to raise her babies to become mindless killing machines. But she had told Kwul to stay out of her sight until he stopped dripping blood all over her pretty throne room. How dare he come back now! Finally, Glory's other minions looked up, hearing the sounds. Glory herself had heard Kwul long before they could, of course, godly hearing and all.
"Mistress!" Kwul called out as he raced in, panting and out of breath. He prostrated himself before her, as well he should. "Oh Magnificent One, One Whose Smile Makes The Sun Cower In Shame And The Stars To Weep Bitter Tears—!"
"Yeah yeah yeah," Glory interrupted him before she fell asleep, "just tell me what's up already, Kwul deary, OK?"
"As you command, oh…" Glory raised an eyebrow at him. "Ahem. There is a man upstairs, a foul intruder, oh Scrumptious-Looking One."
Glory clapped her hands joyfully. "Goody! Someone's come to get themselves killed because I wished it so! I really am a god!" Her sweet minions were all staring at her expectantly, and some a little fearfully. "Well?" Glory asked them. "Are you going to release the Fyarl demons?" Hurriedly they set about to do so. In the meantime, Glory tried to explain her orders to the creatures. With Fyarls, you could never be certain how much they understood, of course, but as long as they understood 'kill' it would be fine. Once pushed off in the direction of the stairs by her minions, the Fyarl demons quickly started running.
"Good hunting, sweeties!" Glory shouted after them. She rubbed her hands with glee. This was going to be so much fun! She just loved this world.
After the creature ran off, Angel very carefully explored the room he was in, as well as the adjoining ones. So far, he had encountered nothing else living or undead. Thinking about it, the creature he had seen hadn't been altogether frightful. It just seemed a terrible coincidence that Angel should run into a demon now—for there was no doubt in his mind that the creature had been a demon—when he was on his way to join the good fight. Angel did not believe in destiny, not really. There were prophecies that came true, admittedly, but the actual prophecies were usually more warnings or how-to manuals for cataclysmic events than inescapable futures. All the same, Angel wasn't quite ready to discount this encounter as sheer coincidence, either. If he didn't believe in destiny, the vampire knew for a fact that there were Higher Powers who could have easily guided him here.
Demons aside, Angel was relieved by what he found. The old mansion would do perfectly as shelter against the deadly daylight. The house had been abandoned a long time ago, and was empty except for the occasional broken table or three-legged chair, but heavy curtains covered every window. He would be able to move freely through the mansion.
Angel's stomach rumbled, reminding him of another problem. Well, that one was easily ignored. He had been feasting the last week, since Whistler had convinced him to drink pig's blood from the butcher's, and now he was used to regular meals again, but in the years before Angel had learnt to go a long time in between rats. He could manage this one night without.
He had more important things he should be concerned with, anyway. Destiny or not, if he was going to share his day-shelter with other demons, he had better find out about it. It could of course be that the creature he had seen was a benevolent demon, or the only one in the mansion. Somehow he doubted either, and his nose seemed to confirm the latter. The demon stank, but even if he'd been living in the mansion for years, Angel didn't think the smell would be this strong thoughout all of the rooms he entered. No, this was the smell of many demons moving about, searching the house just as he was doing.
Following his nose—regretfully, because the creature really stank badly—Angel was led to the stairs. He wondered if the mansion had a large cellar. Many demons would choose an underground lair instinctively. Angel put a foot on the first step, then paused.
An inhuman howl shook the entire stairwell. Angle froze, startled. He recognised that howl, blind with unrestrained, unfocused anger and desire for destruction. He had had a few creatures that howled like that in his employ once, when he was still Angelus, the Scourge of Europe. Fyarl demons.
The Order of Chrezanthus, longtime rivals of the Master's Order of Aurelius, of which Darla had been a member once, had taken his sire captive. Usually Darla balked anytime he had the idea that she couldn't take care of herself and tried to save her, but this time she really was in over her head. The Order of Chrezanthus held an ancient castle in the southern Balkans, and even with the help of Spike and Drusilla, he knew that the Chrezanthians were simply too numerous to overwhelm. So he had bought three Fyarl demons from an aged warlock. The Fyarls were old, with no more than a month of life left in them, but Fyarls only grew more powerful as they got older, right until the day they fell down dead.
He almost regretted the purchase—he couldn't abide creatures so dumb—but he knew that he needed them.
There was the sound of a slap. "Bloody pillock!" Spike cursed. "You keep your wanking paws off of Dru, you hear?"
One of the Fyarls howled noisily.
"You sing so prettily with your toes," Drusilla complimented it. "Ms Edith says so too."
With a tired sigh, he turned away from his study of the fortress of the Order of Chrezanthus. They were supposed to stay hidden until he formulated a plan of attack, but any moron could find them if everyone kept moaning. He was about to tell Spike to stuff it—putting down Drusilla's childe came very easily to him—but it didn't really matter now. He'd seen enough, and decided to send the Fyarl demons in for a frontal attack. The Chrezantians kept a couple of dozen humans as slaves, and the demons' attack would distract those, and with any luck, most of the Order's vampire members as well.
He turned around to give the order, and found himself face to face with one of the Fyarls as it reared up, Spike's belt-knife sticking from one of its eyes, howling like there was no tomorrow.
Angel blinked, and found himself staring into the not one, but two healthy eyes of the Fyarl demon that was storming up the stairs at him in the present day.
That time when Darla had been captured had worked out all right—from his demon self's point of view anyway. His Fyarl demons had gone into a frenzy after Spike had stabbed that first one, and he, Spike and Drusilla had barely had the time to rescue Darla before they tore down the entire place. There had been very few survivors among the Order of Chrezanthus.
The Fyarl demon slammed into Angel head-first, sending him sprawling across the hallway. More followed that first one, Angel noticed dizzily as he staggered to his feet.
Quickly, he stormed forward, returning the attack. When he got back to his feet once more, he winced. Felt like one of his ribs had cracked. Maybe it was the one that had been hurt in the car crash; it might not have had enough time to heal completely. Two Fyarl demons had cleared the stairway now, and Angel could see at least three more of them following. They seemed very young, their exoskeletal armour not completely hardened yet—but in those numbers, that would hardly matter.
These demons were stronger than he was—not something Angel was very familiar with in a fight—and tried to recall the correct stratagem for the situation. He remembered one of his victims, young woman, hardly more than a girl, not a Slayer by any means. She had resisted him effectively despite his strength. He held her arms twisted behind her back and leaned in to bite her neck. Slowly, so that her panic had the time to increase and give the blood that extra something. She wasn't screaming. That surprised him, because he could certainly smell her fear. Perhaps she was a mute. It wouldn't have done her much good anyway, because the only inhabited place for miles around was the inn they were right outside. The building was so guarded with garlick and crucifixes that he couldn't even enter the place. The people here obviously knew and feared vampires.
When his teeth touched her neck, ready to penetrate the delicate skin, she suddenly flung her head against his. The corner of her temple and forehead smashed right into his vampire-enhanced forehead. It must have hurt her more than it did him, but still, he staggered, and she was prepared. While he was still trying to regain his balance, the woman somehow climbed up his body with her feet, in between her arms, until he was holding upside down, her arms in front of her instead of behind. With the woman's full weight suddenly hanging from him, he fell over forward, losing his grip on her arms altogether. Landing with her attacker on top of her, the woman simply kicked out her legs, using his momentum to flip him over her.
He was back on his feet instantaneously, but she was already running inside. Of course, later that night he had put the torch to that entire inn, and there had been no survivors, but up until that point, the woman's tactics had been very effective in using his own strength against him.
Angel, unfortunately, didn't get the chance to try out those tactics. By the time he snapped out of the memory, the Fyarls were already on top of him, knocking him down to the floor and kicking him with their clawed feet. The only thing keeping Angel alive for the moment was that the Fyarl demons were crowding around him too closely to be really effective. None of them—and there were more now than Angel could easily count—had the room to reach down and simply tear an arm from his body, or his head.
Again and again kicks struck him. Angel hadn't hurt like this since—No! he had to focus, had to think about his redemption—his penance and his redemption. He still recalled the last time he had been hurt like that, when the vampire hunter Holtz had captured and tortured him, but at least he stayed aware of the present.
One of those heavy feet came swinging at his head again, and Angel's hands swung up reflexively. Instead of deflecting the blow, though, the vampire grabbed hold of the foot. He grunted when another Fyarl's foot slammed into his stomach, but he held on tight. The Fyarl demon whose foot he was holding moaned confusedly. Angel twisted suddenly, and, moaning even more loudly, the Fyarl went down, smashing over two others of his kind, who in turn hit others. In a few painful moments, everything in the hallway was down, fallen onto each other.
As quickly as he could, Angel extracted himself from underneath the confused tangle. He hurt literally everywhere, but he could still limp, so he headed for the stairwell.
Once there, however, a familiar howl warned him that more Fyarl demons were coming his way from downstairs. With a somewhat frightened thought wondering how many of the creatures there were, Angel did the only thing he could, and fled the opposite way, upstairs.
"… swear to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?"
"I do," Whistler replied absentmindedly. His head wasn't really in the courtroom.
"Mr McDonald, you may ask your questions."
"Thank you, your honour," the slick young lawyer said. "Mr Whistler, could you please tell the court when you first met my client?" Whistler was concerned about the vampire, Angel. He wished that for once the Powers That Be Vague could have gone through a little more effort to explain.
"Your client?" he lied smoothly. "Never saw him in my life before I was dragged into this courtroom." Well, it was actually true in a way. He had never seen the thing in its human form before that day. All Whistler had really understood from the visions was that Angel was supposed to save the world from the resurrection of the demon Acathla, but that wasn't for years yet.
"Then how do you explain that my client was able to pick you out of a police line-up with no trouble?" McDonald probed. If Angel had to be in Sunnydale—on the Hellmouth—already, that must mean that he had a lot more to do before that time. And the vampire just wasn't ready. Even Whistler could tell that. Not after the century Angel had just been through. "Mr Whistler?" He guessed that he had no choice but to trust the Powers, no matter how much it chafed.
"Careful preparation by his lawyer?"
That time when Holtz and his church buddies had captured him, he had ran this hard and far then, but certainly that was the only other time ever. He had been forced up two more floors after that first one, and the most he had been able to accomplish aside from counting his adversaries was give one or two of them a bruise.
Briefly, Angel risked taking a second to look around and take in his surroundings. Inwardly, he groaned. The vampire didn't need the gabled roof to tell him that he was in the attic. There were no more floors above him to escape for another few minutes. Not even any rooms to lose his pursuit in like in a maze—the attic was one big open space. There was more rubbish lying around here than there had been on any of the previous floors, but Angel didn't see anything that would be useful as a weapon. Like maybe a few kegs of gunpowder, or a tactical warhead left over from the Civil War.
Silver. Supposedly, you needed silver to kill a Fyarl demon. Little chance of any of that lying around.
Angel's vampire hearing warned him that the Fyarls were hot on his tail again, and hastily he jumped clear of the stairwell. So far, Angel had been lucky. The Fyarls were so frenzied that they could barely tell Angel from their fellows, and until now Angel had managed to slip away in the ensuing confusion after they started knocking each other over the head.
It was painful to admit, but for all of his decades of experience, Angel wasn't worth a fig in battle right then. He was simply too distracted—or closer to the core of the problem, he didn't really believe that he should go on, after all that he had done. Being torn into bite-sized snacks actually seemed his just deserts. But his just deserts consisted of giving everything he got for the good fight. He just needed to convince himself of that.
A Fyarl demon came roaring up the stairs. Angel reached out and grabbed one of the creature's curved horns, intending to smash its head into the ground, but he missed it when the demon's neck muscles suddenly tensed, and the next moment he was janked off his feet and flying through the air as the Fyarl demon snapped its neck.
Dust clouds billowed up where Angel made his rough landing on the floor. He jumped up immediately because he had to, but he was beginning to wonder why he was bothering. He was only prolonging his agony. There were two dozen Fyarl demons after him, more than he had ever even seen together. And if they weren't exactly cooperating to take him out, any single one of them might be enough to do the job. No! Damn it, the good fight! More people were going to die than he already was guilty of if he didn't live to do whatever it was that Whistler had sent him to Sunnydale for. He couldn't let that happen.
This time Angel didn't even see the blow coming, but he was lucky. It was the kind of blow that sent him spinning through the air, too numb to scream in pain, and not the kind of blow that drove him into the floor, where the Fyarls would be on him again before he could move.
Quickly, Angel drew himself up again, and actually managed to dodge the Fyarl that came at him head-first. This wasn't working. Half believing in a chance at redemption simply wasn't enough to keep Angel on the razor's edge the way that was needed to survive in his dark and twisted world.
He grabbed the wrist behind a fist that had been aimed at him, and twisted it behind the Fyarl's back. But then he recalled how often he had broken the arms of his meals that way, and the next thing he knew, he was on the floor, rolling away as best as he could from the foot crashing down with dazzling force on the spot where he'd been lying. Angel kept rolling, confusing his hunters if nothing else.
Unfortunately, the admission to himself was not going to be any help to him. Not even his wild, uncontrolled side would be enough to get out of this one, even had he dared to release it. He needed a plan, and he wasn't thinking straight enough to make one.
Suddenly, something closed around his ankle. The Fyarl demon that had put his claws on Angel started swinging him around. Around and around. Angel circled through the air, held by one leg, and hit one, two other Fyarls with enough force to send them sprawling. Then the claws released him. Angel flew through the air, and the far wall of the attic came closer and closer. He braced himself, expecting to bounce of the wall hard enough to break bones.
He didn't. He crashed straight through the wall. Angel didn't know whether he had hit a boarded-over window, or simply a patch of shabby construction. He didn't have the chance to see if there were shards of glass. Because the instant he went through the wall, he was bathed in hot, deadly daylight.
Angel screamed in agony.
Smiling, Glory imagined that she could feel the mansion shake as her Fyarl babies stormed through it, no doubt by now trailing blood and guts from their unfortunate victim everywhere. Who knew? Maybe she could feel it. She was so good, she even surprised herself sometimes. A roar of unbridled violence sounded from above, and throughout the throne room, even her minions looked up startledly as they heard it.
Glory rubbed her hands gleefully. This was what she lived for, pain and torture and destruction and death. It was the only thing that made up for being stuck in this hell-forsaken dimension, and the only thing, too, that she let distract her from her long search for the Key that would fit the lock keeping her out of her rightful home. She grimaced. As much as she had the chance to look for the thing, being trapped in a mortal's body almost constantly. Last year, in October, all the signs had been in perfect alignment. If Glory had been free and had had her Key then, if her minions hadn't failed to find it for her, she would be home that very moment, punishing her fellow hellgods like no hellgod had ever been punished before.
A pity, really. She'd had to kill Smeeg for that failure, and he had always been her favourite. Gave her such lovely compliments. Oh well, killing him had still been fun.
She really wished she was upstairs now, overseeing or even joining in the killing. But Glory knew that part of raising your babies was stepping back and letting them do things by themselves. And kill them later if they were a disappointment.
"Dreg!" she called, and her scabby minion came scuffling over. "Prepare everyone to move." She smiled. "When my babies are done upstairs, I want to take them out into the real world immediately—and destroy it."
The sunlight scorched him, and his skin was in flames. He had only a few moments to regret dying, regret letting down Whistler, letting down the world, before the harsh light of day would consume him. Painful as it was, this was not the worst way to go. Like most vampires he had spoken to, losing the sun was the one thing about becoming a vampire that he had regretted even when still a demon.
But to Angel's surprise, his thoughts didn't turn towards his failings, as they usually did. Instead, he could only think of one thing. One image was clear in his mind, clearer than anything had been for as long as he could remember. You could say that he had an epiphany.
Suddenly, Angel came alive—and then he lived.
Back in the days that an entire continent trembled at his name, and called him its Scourge, humans weren't the only ones he had hunted. Oh, Angelus had had no beef with most of his fellow vampires, or most other creatures, either.
It was the so-called full-blooded demons who bugged him. So many of them looked down on vampires for their human heritage, their limitations and what they perceived as little power. And nobody—nobody!—looked down on Angelus and lived.
In the winter of 1780-1781, he had faced down one such creature, perhaps the most powerful demon he had ever met. The Hraec Valgaris, the Soulsnatcher, was one of the few elder demons that had not left the Earth when mankind had arisen. Despite all its power, it had paid a stiff price for that. The Hraec Valgaris had lain in the Earth in captivity since time began, guarded through the ages by mankind. Until Angelus had butchered the guardians, and the Soulsnatcher had finally broken free.
The Hraec Valgaris was free, but it yet needed a fleshly vessel to house its spirit, and Angelus had been handy. They had fought long and hard for the possession of his body, but finally Angelus had been victorious. Not because he had been more powerful, Angel remembered in the present, far from it. But because the Soulsnatcher had grown unused to its own power, and Angelus had tricked it into using its own strength against itself.
What Angelus had done then, Angel could do now.
Angel came alive, because he suddenly knew what to do, how to survive. Angel lived, because one of the Fyarl demons janked him back inside almost the instant he crashed through the wall and into the sunlight, not realising that it was saving the vampire's life in the process. Angel was very thoroughly tanned, but that was all. The Fyarl demon let go of his feet as soon as he was clear of the hole, and it and its brethren stood ready to beat Angel into a pile of ashes.
But when Angel popped out of the hole in the wall, sunlight shone into the dark attic, and with a frightened shriek, the Fyarls covered their eyes. A few seconds later, they had calmed again, reassured that there was only a single narrow beam of the bright light, but it was all the break Angel needed.
In the moment that his adversaries couldn't see, some because they were looking into the light, others because they had their eyes shielded with their hands, Angel darted to his feet. He landed in between two of the monsters, and struck out with the first two fingers of his hands, stabbing each of the Fyarls in one of their eyes. Eyes were always vulnerable, whatever armour the rest of a demon's body was covered with. Immediately Angel half jumped, half let himself fall backwards, out of the way. Snarling in pain, the two Fyarls struck out blindly. They hit each other, and went down in a tangle, determined to get some payback.
Angel had not rolled on back to his feet as he had intended. The cunning that once made him so feared was all back, and any opportunity he saw was only an instant from being taken. Putting all his strength behind it, Angel put his teeth into the leg he had landed next to. Angel nearly gagged at the taste, but he forced himself to ignore it. He didn't quite penetrate the armour, but still the demon yelped in pain and bent over to find out what was going on. Angel grabbed hold of both of its horns and pulled. The Fyarl made an awkward somersault, and landed on its back with a grunt. Angel, still holding on tight to the curved horns, planted his feet on the demon's shoulders, and pulled and twisted. There was the distinct crunch of a neck snapping. A little more strain on the horns, and they snapped loose.
With the momentum the left horn gained when it snapped loose added to Angel's own strength, the vampire swung the weapon up over his head where he lay on the floor, penetrating the chest armour of the Fyarl demon that had come storming in from that direction. When Angel pulled the horn back, the Fyarl did not go down, but it was hurt enough that it recoiled with an ear-splitting groan.
Silver. There were so many species of mystical beings that required one specific substance to kill them. There were the wooden stakes for vampires; only silver could harm a werewolf; it took pure copper to kill the Asian Thookbeast, and it was gold for the African branch of the species; Djin spirits were deadly allergic to alcohol—and they never stopped complaining about it, either. In Angel's—or rather, Angelus's—experience, anything would die if you tore off enough pieces.
One flip, and Angel was in a fighting stance. One Fyarl demon lay dead at his feet. Blood dripping from its claws and teeth, only one Fyarl rose from where Angel had provoked a fight between two of the monsters. The remaining Fyarl demons now all turned towards where he stood, a razor-sharp, broken-off horn at the ready in each hand.
Two down. Twenty-two to go.
Angel's face stretched in a way that he was not accustomed to, forming an expression that he had not formed for over a century.
Watching with horror, Glory felt it when the Fyarl demons began dying. She could not actually see, or feel, or hear, or smell it happening, but she was still a god, and she had godly senses unique to what she was. And, of course, she had been present at the Fyarls births and they were her babies, and that gave her power over them.
The god's first reaction was a sense of outrage. How dare this man kill those demons? They belonged to her! She, Glory, decided who was to be killed, and no one else! Her minions cowered around her as she gave voice to her anger in a terrifying shriek. She stamped one foot, and the throne room shook. The throne itself bounced off a few paces and fell on its back.
Glory's second reaction came unexpected even to her. It was eagerness. Unexpected it might have been, but not inexplicable. Death and suffering was always so much more satisfying when administered with her own two hands.
She would have felt sorry for her so-called babies too, but really, if they had wanted that, they really should have tried not to be such a disappointment, you know?
Glory stepped forward, shaking the room once more, and probably the whole mansion above her as well. Her minions were fleeing into little cubby-holes, closets, or out of the mansion entirely, to wherever they thought they would be safe from the murder—no, the massacre—they saw in their divinity's eyes. Really, she couldn't blame them. She would be surprised herself if she left a single wall standing, and if any of her loyal minions managed to get themselves killed in the wreckage, she'd just have to be cross with them.
Then, all of a sudden, before she could take another step, she felt him coming through.
"No!" she screamed, grabbing her head between her hands by her curly hair and squeezing as if that would stop him. "Not now! I won't let you!"
Her body rippled, and was no longer hers.
A young man fell to his knees. "Let me…"
His body rippled, and it was hers once more.
Glory snarled, pushing herself up to her hands and knees. "I won't—"
Her body rippled.
"… go!" The young man gasped eagerly for air, exhausted as if he had just run a marathon. When he got his breath back, he carefully got to his feet. The short leather dress he was wearing received only a glance and a pained groan. Scary as the thought was, it was better than what he had been wearing the last time. "Where am I?" he wondered. He shook his head. A cellar, particularly an empty one, would not answer that question for him. He would just have to get out of here and see for himself.
God, but he hoped he'd get his hands on some decent clothes before he reached civilisation.
Hours later, when the sun had safely settled beneath the western horizon, Angel stepped out of the now truly abandoned mansion. He had seen the scabby demons like the first one he had encountered there fleeing the place like rats from a sinking ship hours earlier, but that hadn't really concerned him. Without their Fyarl army, it was unlikely they'd form much of a threat to anyone.
His injuries were still there, but he ignored them. The rest he had been forced to take during the most of the day, after his battle had been done, had done him good. The rest of his hurts would all pass in time. As soon as he reached Sunnydale and found a butcher to provide him with blood to replenish his energy, he'd be fine.
He ignored his injuries, and there was a ground-swallowing determination to his step, almost eager as he sped forward towards the place only the most evil and the most foolish wanted to visit once they knew what it was. Angel had found his motivation.
When Whistler had first come to him, when he was still world's most pathetic creature, lying in ditches year-round, burying himself with trash during the day, feeding on the occasional rat, the badly-dressed demon had done everything in his power to convince Angel to give his heart to the cause. And Angel had wanted to. Badly. He had wanted there to be something good in his existence, something that despite everything else, he could be proud of. And quite simply, he knew that it was the right thing to do.
But it hadn't worked. No matter how hard he tried, fighting the good fight was not enough to give Angel a reason to keep on going. Not yet, at any rate. He would get there eventually.
Until that day came, Angel would keep on going for something else Whistler had given him. He could give his heart to a cause when his heart was already taken. Though she didn't even know him, Angel would go on and give everything he had for her. Because when he had thought that a moment of sunlight was going to be the last thing he ever saw, the only thing that he could think of was her face. The Slayer.
He owed her his life already, and whatever it took, he would do the same for her.
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