Historical Note: The action in this story takes place after "Somnambulist."
Author's Note: MY imagination is assuming a lot about Angel. Joss hasn't supplied much physical info on his vampires so I'm speculating to fill in the blanks for my plot. I hope that it comes off as plausible. e.c. 1 feb 00
ON THE ROAD TO DISCOVERY by Evan Como
OK. Concentrate. Linear position. Head and spine in line. Pretend to breathe. Begin.
Stretch right. Slowly. Pay attention. Smooth. That was bright.....seven, eight, nine... There it is. Focus. Take your time. Long, even stroke. Sweep left. Slower. Follow through. Steady. Balance.
Pretend to exhale. Lift. Slower. Extend it. Hold, hold, hold, hold, push away, pushing...
Two, three, four, five, six... Closer this time. Think about what you're doing. Wait. Smoother. Extend, extend. Roll pelvis, lift. Hold and release. Shoulders back. Straighten up. Hips aligned. Legs apart. Step into it. Step away. Sweep right. Slower. Stay focused, Angel. Concentrate, Angel. Twisting from your waist. Only think about this. Concentrate on THIS moment. Pull in. Slower, stronger, let it relax you. I wonder if it's raining in Sunnydale.
Angel opened his eyes and shook away the remainder of his meditative state oblivious to the cascading downpour as it fell over him in sheets. He straightened from his position, taking a moment to look out into the distance. Through the obscuring deluge from his rooftop vantage he could barely make out the line of brake lights glowing red as cars came to a standstill on the nearby freeway interchange.
Another flash brightened the deep charcoal sky as the stormy canopy above him blocked what should have been the late morning sun. The rumble of anticipated thunder echoed finally--farther off in the distance.
He was a solitary figure, seemingly the only thing in motion for as far as he could see.
Los Angeles couldn't function in the rain.
He closed his eyes again, checking for some internal sign that he could meditate without the intrusive thoughts he kept having of Buffy. It was pointless, though. The two of them had performed the exercise so often together that even without actively thinking of her, he was subconsciously aware of her absence from his side.
Through his eyelids, he detected another flash of light. Two sounds interrupted his count--a squeak and a bang preceded the rumble and before the finale, he lost his balance when he was yanked into the stairwell from the tar beach, someone breaking his fall as momentum tossed him against the wall of the roof's staircase access.
Cordelia pushed Angel away, swatting at the water permeating her sweater and jeans. "Are you nuts!" she began to complain, "it's daytime in case you haven't noticed."
She examined him, even though she understood that Angel--being vampire--knew his limitations, for signs of combustion. "Where's your shirt? Why aren't you wearing any shoes? Did you also happen to notice that it's pouring outside?"
Before he could answer, a question of his own came to mind. "How did you know where to find me?" Angel stared at her, waiting for Cordelia to think about what he had really asked.
Her mouth opened to continue scolding him, but the words stuck in her throat as her eyes grew wide with terror. She put her palms on either side of her forehead and screamed--a long, horrified, shriek--before bolting down the stairs.
Angel reached out for her, but she was gone before his effort. "Cordelia!"
Cordelia bounded down the stairs, her long dark hair whipping behind her. Angel, even taking two steps at a time, found himself losing ground to the young woman wearing platform trainers. Finally, he gave up the chase and leapt over the banister to free fall two flights into her path.
She seemed to stop even before his feet landed, silently, on the stair in front of her. Tears welled in her eyes and she dropped to sit on the concrete, defeated by the fate thrust upon her by a singular kiss.
When Angel joined her, feeling helpless over how to remedy her condition, he realized that dry he offered little in the way of a comforting human touch; soaking wet, he was probably worse. Still, it didn't surprise him that Cordelia rested her cheek on the edge of his shoulder, having long ago accepted his state of being.
The office building workers walked up and down on their way to or from lunch, briefly glancing at the forlorn young woman, the perplexed young man she was crying against, or the ornate Art Nouveau tattoo of his namesake adorning most of his bare back. He ignored their whispers, focusing instead on another of Cordelia's increasingly frequent panic attacks.
Over the past few weeks, she had become distraught and more withdrawn. The 'sight' that their late associate Doyle bestowed to her before his death was taking its toll on Cordy as the visions occurred more often with more ferocity. He doubted that she slept much or, that if he didn't cook for her, she was eating properly. It not only seemed that she had aged a decade since becoming connected to the Powers That Be, but she was unaware her youth was slipping away.
"Cordelia," Angel said softly. "You've got to tell me what's wrong or else we'll be here all night, too."
Normally effervescent, she remained atypically tight-lipped. The only sound she created was an occasional long heave as her breathing patterns tried to return back to normal.
"Talk to me," he whispered, pleading for insight into what she was experiencing. She was the only person left in his life that he felt so close to and, through her silence, he imagined that she was leaving him, too. He could almost touch the immense sadness that gripped her--empathy with an emotion that he knew all too well, himself. But, without her input about who or what was making her so sorrowful, he remained flustered.
"It doesn't matter, Angel." She finally said and, without a glance at him, merely rose to continue down the stairs.
"I haven't seen Cordelia around, Angel, what's she been up to?"
Angel sighed. He looked up and away from the book he was trying to study and towards the direction of Wesley's voice coming out of the open library vault. Despite Wesley's promise to keep to himself, Angel had known all along that the man wouldn't stay quiet.
He was obviously lonely; Angel could relate to the feeling.
Wesley emerged from the book room and dropped a volume on the kitchenette table, disturbing Angel's sullen thoughts. "I, for one, would love to take a vacation, but I can't very well do that now that I've found my true calling in life. I was never cut out to be a Watcher. I know that now. Yes, the life of the hunter--that is my calling. I am the adventurer, a spirit of the open road. No longer tied to a desk I seek my fortunes in the great out of doors, on the highways and byways of this great continent, searching for those creatures that would disrupt the life of the good common man or turn a bad deed against their own kind.
"It's a good thing that I found that out while I'm still quite young and able to start a new career." He laughed at his own amusement and continued in his chipper, British accent, "could you imagine if I had waited until retirement? Rogue demon-hunting at 60? Much too old; much too old."
"Please--and don't take this the wrong way--shut up."
"Yes, right. I did promise that I wouldn't distract you, didn't I? I'll just sit here and research just like I said I would. My God, listen to that thunder. You would think that The Great Flood is returning. I thought that it never rained in Southern California."
He laughed again to Angel's dismay, causing Angel to draw his hands up and out, then quickly force them through his hair in an effort to restrain his thoughts. "Cordelia needed some time off so I let her have some. She's been tired--back to back visions have been wearing her down."
Wesley, thumbed through his book. "Oh, yes. Visions. Nasty affliction from what she's told me. I don't think that I could bear to witness one, let alone have one pop into my head and do, only God knows what, inside my cranium. Isn't there some way that you can convince your Powers That Be that a human woman--not even out of her teens, even--isn't the right receptacle for such a horrid demon aspect? It's just really thoughtless on their part. But then, they're demons...what can you expect?"
Angel glared at Wesley, shaking his head at the man's trademarked insufferable ignorance. "We don't know that they're demons, Wesley. We don't know anything about them really. Doyle kind of left us in the dark."
He considered Angel's comments and nodded. "Good point. There's no literature that I've come across to actually describe what they are, just vague references to their omnipotence--or was that 'importance'?" He rummaged for a thought, then discarded it.
"To change the subject, though," he stretched his neck and really took a look around the apartment, "so, this is such a huge place, Angel. Have you ever thought of a roommate? You know, would you consider, perhaps, a roommate? I don't know how much your rent is, perhaps we could work something out..."
"I live alone, Wesley."
"Yes, well, of course. As do I. But, imagine the economy of such an arrangement. We could eventually combine our forces. You know, something like Angel/Wyndham-Price Investigations or something like that. It would be quite the novelty. Don't you think? We could have a lock on everything in the region. Maybe eventually hire freelancers to help with the overflow and such..."
"I'd kill you Wesley. I mean it. And, I'm trying really hard to avoid reverting back to my bad habits."
"So, you mean that by my living with you, you'd begin to feed on humanity again? I had no idea that's why you live alone."
"That's not the only reason why I live alone and I didn't say that I'd feed off of you--I wouldn't want you in my system. No offense."
The side door to the apartment rolled back, much to Wesley's relief. He watched a very ragged Cordelia enter the room; the dark circles under her eyes bore witness to how little sleep she was getting. She seemed resigned to her plight as she absently fingered the hair by her temple. He studied her, captivated by the haunted aura that seemed to augment her dark beauty.
Angel rushed to her side, trying to help her in, but she waved him back and remained in place. "I'm not here to socialize, Angel. Get your things, we have to go." She took short, shallow breaths, as if anything stronger would cause her even greater misery. Her normally wide, hazel eyes were held as slits against the apartment's incandescent overhead lighting.
Wesley watched the two of them. Angel didn't reply to Cordelia's cryptic command--he simply walked into his room to pull a few things together as quickly as possible. He felt wounded by her not bothering to acknowledge his presence in the room as she swayed, ever so slightly, waiting patiently for Angel making Wesley feel like a complete outsider to their business affairs--especially to the grand purpose that had taken over a great part of their lives.
Demon-hunting paled considerably in comparison.
Angel returned with a duffle bag, systematically shutting down his basement home for dormancy as he made his way back into the front area. Satisfied with his preparations, he finally spoke.
"Time to go, Wesley. Library's closing now."
Angel continued Southbound on the Interstate. At some point shortly before entering San Diego County, the rain had stopped and he stowed the car's convertible top. The night air was balmy enough to be comfortable, despite the Pacific Ocean's proximity on his right the humidity level was surprisingly low.
The open air drive didn't seem to bother his companions--Cordelia, sitting shotgun, stared absentmindedly at the stars hovering over the vast black sea and Wesley, who had fallen asleep in the back seat shortly after their excursion began.
Cordelia didn't dispute Wesley's inclusion on their mission, leaving the final decision in Angel's hands. When Wesley had finally confessed that he wasn't busy and needed the diversion, Angel took pity on the man. He didn't doubt that Wesley's life was more solitary than his own, verified when Wesley produced the travel-ready bag that he had carried into Angel's apartment causing Angel to wonder if the former Watcher was ready to have moved in immediately if Angel had given his approval.
"Keep going straight."
And so they continued, on past the desolation of Camp Pendleton's western edge and the nuclear power facility, as Cordelia verbally navigated their path.
"Get off here!" she commanded almost an hour later as they passed into the center of San Diego.
Angel cut across a lane of traffic to exit the near-empty freeway. The almost- right turn roused Wesley from his nap, causing him to bolt upright.
"Try to give me longer warnings," Angel reprimanded.
"No, Angel, not this way. Do a u-ey." Cordelia twisted backwards in her seat, anxiously looking in the opposite direction, increasingly upset. She placed her hand to her temple and whimpered.
"It's a one way street, Cordelia. I'll have to go back."
She twisted front and pointed. "Go right!"
"That street's going left. Just be patient. I'll make it in a second."
"Then go left." She was becoming rapidly more hysterical as they distanced themselves from their destination.
"I thought you wanted me to go right." He raised her voice at her, his patience wearing thin from Cordelia's tone of voice and misguiding directions.
"No, Angel, what I wanted you to do was make a u-ey. It's not this direction!" she screamed.
Angel slammed on the brakes, swerving the car into the curb. His anger flared as he yelled back, "You know what, you drive! I've had it!"
Wesley watched, helpless, as navigator and pilot glared at each other. Cordelia buckled under her frustration. Her huge tears were visible as they rolled down her cheeks, illuminated by the gas street lamp overhead.
"I don't know where to DRIVE," she sobbed, "I just know where to go! Who was the genius that decided to build a city of nothing but one way streets in the first place!"
Angel reached across to brush a tear from her cheek with the back of his fingertips and Wesley witnessed their bond--Angel's wordless apology to Cordelia's unspoken absolution. Angel was obviously torn between understanding why they were traveling and knowing that finding their way was devastating his companion.
"We should probably find some place to rest since dawn will be breaking soon We can continue this later on this evening, especially if we're so close."
Cordelia shook her head. "There'll be shelter, Angel. We have to get there now."
He replaced his hands on the steering wheel and straightened the car. "Tell you what, you just let me get us going back in the direction that we came from and then I'll let you take over again, OK?" He smiled weakly as Cordy nodded her head, both of them forgetting about their fellow passenger until he offered a handkerchief.
Wesley envied their relationship, the way they accepted what they had become to one another and he could imagine that they each helped to fill a void within the other--a void that he wanted filled, as well.
He wanted to belong somewhere, to fit in, to have honest friendships based on trust and mutual respect. But, whether by fate or through some fault all his own, he seemed destined to live his life in more isolation than the demon driving. The unfairness of it all began to tear at him as he further realized that he had been mistaking Angel's acceptance of his company as the beginning stages of a friendship when, in reality, Angel was probably being nothing more than tolerant.
Cordelia motioned for Angel to slow as they neared the great park nestled above the city's civic center. Angel could sense something in the shadows of the place, as if there were spectators waiting for their arrival. But, Cordelia pointed in the opposite direction to lead them down a narrow dead end residential street lined with ramshackle Victorian-styled homes. When Angel finally parked, the first light of the impending sunrise illuminated just where they were supposed to go.
"It's a ravine. Down there?"
Cordy nodded sleepily. She stepped to the edge of the broken sidewalk and looked down into the crevice lined with indigenous shrubbery and eucalyptus trees. Angel reached out for her as she stepped forward, but her footing was firmly planted on a camouflaged platform while she waited for Angel and Wesley to join her.
Gliding downward into the ravine as dawn broke against the opposite side, Cordelia and Angel watched as Wesley, unable to secure his stance, slipped from their transportation and tumbled down the hillside, the vegetative debris making his fall less dangerous than it seemed. The platform came to a slow, even halt and when they stopped, Angel turned to face Cordelia just in time to catch her as she slipped from consciousness.
Angel paced. His strides were long, purposeful, contemplative, his footfall intense against the stone floor of the expansive chamber. Occasionally he would pause for a moment to regard Cordelia laying on a mat against the frescoed wall, worried why she was still asleep after almost an entire day, yet pleased that the rest seemed to offer her some relief from the past few week's suffering.
When he approached her, the young female attendant that had joined them in this space shortly after their arrival would cease watching Cordelia and look, instead at Angel. He came to accept her presence as part of some custom that he did not understand for a culture he did not feel a part of. For her part, the girl, a mute who looked to be about Cordelia's age--it was difficult to judge demon age by eye, seemed touched by Angel's concern.
Kohl, the Temple Leader, had shown them to their quarters and briefly explained what events had occurred that might bring a representative of The Powers That Be to this place. A Messenger, Uli, had slain the Protector, Tavranan. Demon law prescribed that the body would need to be viewed, witnesses interviewed, and--after completing 11 days in solitary confinement--judgement placed upon the criminal.
It seemed to Angel odd that he, of all beings, would be called upon to carry out procedure when he knew so very little about true demon custom; not to mention that he hardly thought his own background gave him any right to pass judgement. At least demon custom provided the verdict assured by no less than 10 witnesses.
Uli would be put to death. A life for a life.
Angel viewed the decapitated Tavranan who was lain upon a pallet of wood shortly after arriving. He examined the narrow slit in the corpse's belly; a sword had initially wounded him before the beheading. There was no sign to suggest that there had been a struggle. After he concluded that Tavranan had accepted his fate willingly, Angel set the pyre ablaze, amazed with the construction of the underground funeral room that the smoke should rise up and completely away.
While Cordelia slept, Angel continued his duties as Wesley helped him with translations while interviewing the witnesses in the forward portion of their quarters. Their reports were as simple as the body's wounds had been: Tavranan knelt in front of his Messenger willingly, allowing Uli to pierce his abdomen and then slice off his head with one stroke of a sword.
"I really appreciate your help, Wesley," Angel said after the last witness left. "It's a good thing you volunteered to come along."
Wesley stared at Angel for a moment to process the praise. In the silence, he watched as various demons exited the room at the very far end. The spectators had stayed during the interview process, exchanging places every so often with others who were equally fascinated by the three outsiders.
"I didn't volunteer, Angel. I begged to come along--made a complete fool out of myself if I remember correctly. I wish you wouldn't keep doing that."
Angel, confused, thought about his comments. "I thought that I was thanking you. I had hoped I was getting better at doing that. Maybe I still need practice." He motioned towards the gallery with a nod of his head. "By the way, what did you make of them? I kept getting the feeling that we were on display."
Wesley, his resentment growing, explained the information that he had gathered from The Greeters as they were led from above ground. The immense underground labyrinth was a demon cultural treasure complete with a Religious Complex, University, and several types of recreational centers. There were a great deal spiritual overtones--most of the beings were here to rest and relax, to be at peace with themselves and other cultures, to study and to learn.
"But that still doesn't explain why they were watching us."
Wesley absently stared at the empty benches. "Well, Angel, it seems that your former associate, Doyle, upon his death, became 'The Promised One'. The action has given rise to speculation that demon prophecy was set into motion. There is a legend that is being circulated and it seems as though you and Cordelia are an important part of it.
"Then, of course, there is the novelty of what you are. Cordelia is wholly human--and female, no less--with access to the enigmatic Powers That Be while you are, more than likely, the first vampire that many of them have ever been this close to. They are awed by your presence, in particular. I guess I never realized before how much more human than demon vampires are."
"Pardon what's going to come off as arrogance, Wesley, but vampires have always considered themselves ABOVE human and ordinary demon," Angel joked.
The humor was lost on Wesley, though. "Is that why, with all of the languages you know, you've barely bothered to learn basic demon phraseology?"
Angel detected the ridicule in the Brit's voice but was having a difficult time trying to define why that was. He replied, his own voice more callous than good-humored, "frankly, Wesley, I learned languages for two main reasons; one, for reading and understanding the black arts and two, for terrorizing my prey. I never considered any demon an acceptable substitute for dinner."
"Or me, either, for that fact."
"Is that what this is about? Did I insult you when I told you I wouldn't feed off you? That's kind of mind-boggling--" a thought quickly ran through Angel's mind and he shuddered "--and really freaky." He frowned. "Or was it when I told you that I don't want to share my apartment with you?"
Wesley rose from his chair, pleased with the annoying sound it made that visibly disturbed Angel. "Actually, it's the belittling way you keep insinuating that we're comrades, buddies, friends, if you will. The way you turn a blind eye to my deficiencies and artificially soothe my ego."
He lowered his rising voice, seething, and placed his nose almost touching Angel's. "Is that what you did with Doyle? Invited him into your life; developed this false familiarity; pretended that he was getting to know you so that you could trick him into sacrificing his life before he realized who you really are deep inside?"
Angel briefly pondered Wesley's words, ashamed that they applied more to his recent estrangement from Kate Lockley than his late best friend. "You weren't there, Wesley. You're assuming facts not in evidence."
The tall, dark-haired human used his newly obtained superiority to square his shoulders and continued his prosecution. "It's obvious from the look on your face that the thought had crossed your mind at least once. So, that makes me wonder, if the demon knows he's a monster does that make him a better demon or a better monster?"
"I object!" Cordelia rubbed the sleep from her eyes then stretched her arms above her head as she approached the argument. "Stop with the blatant conjecture, Wesley."
She looked amazingly well-rested and her focus bored through Wesley. Cordelia put her hand up to stop her attendant's approach, already used to the silent young woman's presence, and met face to face with Wesley who started to cower under her continued scrutiny.
"It doesn't matter what any of us think about why Doyle replaced Angel on the job--his reason was toasted the same time he was. Grief, guilt, guess, whatever... Like Angel said, though, you weren't there. So don't go there now."
She stared Wesley back down into his chair and he sat there sulking until a group of servants approached. They brought Cordelia a meal of unidentified vegetarian origin. When she eyed the dishes with frightened disgust, the servants stepped away and mumbled between themselves. Angel, seeing their distress, examined the meal for Cordy. He smelled the items, then picked out a few morsels from each of the bowls to taste.
"It's completely edible, it's not going to poison you. But, I have no idea if you're going to like the way any of it tastes," he said after spitting the samplings into a cloth napkin.
She smiled and popped what looked like a grape in her mouth. "Mmmmmm. Yummy. But, definitely not a grape. Here, Wesley, have some. There's so much." She offered a bowl to the attendant who shied away from the offer.
Wesley rose and approached Cordelia, more than the food, with caution. He tasted one of the grain dishes and nodded his head. As he did so, the servants mumbled between themselves causing Wesley to blush.
"What's wrong? What are they saying?" Angel stared at their mouths as if doing so would cause their conversation to be understandable.
"They didn't realize that they needed to bring food for me, too."
Angel looked at Cordelia who was grinning from ear to ear as Wesley became more uncomfortable. Her attendant was even trying to stifle a smile. When she couldn't contain her amusement any longer, Cordelia burst out into laughter, causing the servants to join her, snickering.
"Oh, dammit Angel," the embarrassed man began, "don't play dumb! They thought you brought me along as YOUR meal."
Angel stood at the crime scene and surveyed the empty corridor again, looking for any clues missed during his prior examinations. It was difficult to continually go over what facts there were while he waited for a chance to speak to Uli. Still nothing to be had from his examination for the third day in a row; but something wasn't right and he knew it.
He still didn't understand why he had been summoned to such a simple crime. He understood that his role was the same as Tavranan's had been. He was classified as Protector, himself. There was a caste system in place that Doyle had never fully explained. Most Protectors had Messengers, but not every Messenger received orders from The Powers That Be.
Speaking with Kohl, it became more evident to Angel that he and Doyle--and now he and Cordelia--were ranked pretty high in the caste system. Kohl, of course, did not elaborate on the hierarchy any more than Doyle had making Angel wonder if Kohl--even as Temple Leader--knew much more about it. Their conversations had been far from enlightening; Kohl often changed the subject to one of a more secular nature.
The corridor, as it had been on his previous visits, was eerily quiet until he heard a scraping sound in the distance and he focused on it as it neared. When he finally turned in the sound's direction, he watched as Cordelia, dragging a sword, approached with the attendant and Wesley in tow.
"Sancho, here, thought that you might like to examine the murder weapon in the context of the crime scene," Wesley explained to Angel's silent query.
Cordelia tilted the hilt of the weapon towards Angel, curtseying lightly. The pale orchid gown she was wearing was similar in style to the attendant's except that Cordelia's had a braided trim at the hem of her sleeves, a soft golden rope wrapped around her thin waist. She pleasantly regarded Angel as he bowed his head in thanks when he took the offered weapon from her.
"Angel," Cordy glared at Wesley before continuing, "tell him to stop calling me Sancho."
"Don't patronize Cordelia, Wesley." Angel drew the sword's tip off of the stone pavement and examined it for damage. Not only was it unblemished, but the sword seemed as if it had been forged especially for him, designed for his grip, his build, his fighting style. "Why didn't you carry this instead of having Cordelia drag it?"
"Well, it seems as though the weapon is user specific. I couldn't pick it up, let alone drag it myself. I believe that Cordelia's connection to the PTB made her able to bring it along." He looked at her and made a childish face. "Right, Sancho?"
Cordelia swung her belt cord at Wesley, slapping him with it. "I guess I deserve to be called Sancho for bringing the ass with me."
Wesley's shock amused the attendant.
"Take that! With your arcane literary reference!"
"How did you know what I was referring to?" He looked to Angel for help, but Angel's expression matched that of Cordy's new friend.
"Well," she began, "If you spent as much time as I did around the Horror Honor Roll Geek Squad you either learn to swim or get sunk." She turned to Angel. "He's right about the weapon, though. Very Excalibur."
"Alright, Cordelia. I'll accept 'Excalibur', even give you 'Sancho'; but I'm having a difficult time with your use of the term 'arcane literary reference'. Are you feeling OK?" Angel reached out to feel her forehead, but she leaned away from him.
"Yeah, Angel. This place is kinda great. It's no La Costa, but where else--on my poverty level--am I going to get an all-expense-paid retreat, spa, heated mineral spring vacation? All that's missing are the masseuse and pedicurist!"
Wesley, in an effort to recover his ego, replied, "Well, I'd be happy to rub your back, but I'm not touching your toes."
Angel blocked out their bickering as the broadsword vied for his attention. He tested the weight of it and its balance from right to left hand. The cutlass moved effortlessly between his palms. When he returned it to his right again, he swung out as if in deflection of an imaginary opponent's weapon. His feet followed through with the motion and the sword swept upward, arcing high above his head. He thrust forward, sweeping in reverse, arcing downward, stepping into the action.
The blade cut through the air, each effortless move that Angel executed seemed to sing out as his torso moved in synchronous harmony with the weapon. He closed his eyes and listened to it, his instinct sharpened and aware of his position. The cutting edge rose and fell as he stepped into his attacks, finally coming to rest at the base of Wesley's neck...
"OK. I get the message. I'll shut up."
Angel opened his eyes and stared into Wesley's, the look of absolute fright in the other man's face helped him shake off the intoxicated feeling he got from handling the weapon. "This sword is amazing..."
Wesley held the blade with his index finger and thumb and pretended to try lifting it off of his collar. "Well, if you had followed through with your 'execution', you would have extracted the same fate as Uli." He gestured to the 10 beings standing at the head of the corridor.
Angel lowered the blade. "Look at your watch."
"3:45." Angel nodded, causing Wesley to realize just what he was inferring to. "The exact time that Uli killed Tavranan."
"I've been in this corridor almost eight hours and in that time we've been the only people who've come or gone. But everyday, for the past 3 days, like clockwork, these guys appear at 3:45." He looked around. "By the way, Cordy, where's your attendant?"
Cordelia looked around, aware that during her argument with Wesley, her friend had ventured off. She shrugged her shoulders.
"So it looks like Uli timed his execution of Tavranan."
"That's what it seems like. You know, when I met Doyle he said that he had to work off a debt to the Powers That Be. Maybe they did, too, except that they were tired of being on the hook."
"Hmmmmm." Wesley nodded politely as the 10 men passed. "So since most cultures consider suicide unacceptable..."
"...Uli killed Tavranan in front of witnesses so that he'd be caught for sure in order to let someone else take his life." When Wesley and Angel stared at her in confusion she replied, "what, wrong answer?"
"No. That's exactly what I'm thinking. Are you sure you're OK?"
Wesley considered Angel's scenario and looked back and forth between him and Cordelia. "Maybe you're looking at this all wrong. What if Uli and Tavranan didn't want to terminate their service but, instead, wished to fulfill their final duties to the PTB? What if Uli was 'told' to kill Tavranan?"
"That doesn't make sense. They had worked together for almost a dozen years."
"Think about it though, Angel. In the context of how you and Cordelia work together. The other night she came to you and said 'let's go'. You didn't ask why or where. You just got your things and left with her. I presume that's the same way you worked with Doyle. What if Cordelia came to you and said that the Powers told her to take your life? I have no doubt that you would not only kneel in front of her and let her do it, you would probably help her in some way."
"But I wouldn't kill Angel. You're trying to say that the PTB can make me do what I don't want to do. They just talk through me, Wesley; they don't control me. I live my own life the way I want to--just with really annoying headaches."
"And the fact that you've got a built-in homing beacon on my whereabouts."
"Oh, yeah. That too." She patted Angel on the arm affectionately. "So you better watch your behavior, buddy."
Trying to ignore another Angel/Cordy bonding moment, Wesley considered the young woman's concern. She was genuinely hurt that Wesley would think she was capable of murder--by any command. Angel, on the other hand, seemed to weigh his words carefully.
"But, Cordelia, if you knew that you could get rid of the visions, then you'd do it, right? You wouldn't have to worry about the headaches or finding me any more."
Cordelia looked into Angel's eyes. "What if killing you didn't get rid of the visions? Then I'd be farmed to some other demon and I'd be out a friend. It doesn't work that way, Angel. I won't kill you just by the say so of someone else's religion. It's not my religion."
Cordelia's heartfelt confession only served to intensify Wesley's dejection and he struggled to keep it at bay. "It comes down to what you believe in, doesn't it? I mean, Angel, look at it this way. Uli and Tavranan worked together for a long time, they probably trusted each other, would fight one another battles, even. Maybe they believed in The Powers That Be, placed unconditional trust in them. Maybe you do, too."
Angel shook his head. "I don't have faith in much of anything, let alone something that reeks of paying homage to gods, Wesley. I work with them because it seems like the right thing to do."
"Well, Angel, you may be able to sit on the fence for right now, but at some point in time you will have to make a decision about where your loyalties lie. You are going to have to eventually believe in something. I'm convinced you're a hopeless romantic on a search for his own Holy Grail believing, on some level, that you are going to one day even out your Karmic scorecard."
Angel could feel the sword vie for his attention and he fought to ignore its spell. "That's not why I do this, Wesley. I doubt that there's anything I can do that will ever be retribution enough for my past."
"Hey, what's this?" Cordelia walked to the wall, bending down to retrieve something from the crevice of where it met the floor. "Fab! Jewelry! This vacation is getting better and better. Finder's keepers. Hey, Angel, did I show you the really neat bag that my girl gave me?"
Angel, glad for the change of topic and distraction from the weapon, studied the little pouch that Cordelia dangled from her belt. It was a deeper shade of the purple of her dress, with a fringed bottom that looked like it had been created from pebbles and pieces of found glass. There was an odd beauty about it that a human being could not have created.
"I was wondering if it would seem kinda rude if I asked where we could get more of them. We could sell them wholesale to Melrose and make a fortune. I even bet there's little demon sweatshop somewhere around here." She opened the drawstring at the top and shoved the bag under Angel's nose. "I'm thinking they're bath salts or something. Don't they smell great? When we get back I'll let you soak your hand in a little--you know, just to test it to make sure that it won't cause some flesh-eating disorder or anything gross like that."
Angel nodded, more interested in the found object as Cordelia placed it in his waiting palm. He rubbed a substance off of the chain, realizing that it was blood. "Tavranan must have been wearing this when Uli took his life." He handed it back to Cordelia.
She eyed it warily, looking for other signs of the previous owner's remains. Convinced that it was clean, she slipped it over her head. The pearlized stone rested just above her heart, complimenting her complexion. "It's so quiet."
"What's so quiet?" The continual changes in her behavior worried Angel.
"My head, Angel. The buzzing stopped. The necklace made the buzzing stop."
As Cordy twirled, the skirt of her gown billowed and her curls swept around her head like a halo. When she stopped on point by placing her palms on Angel's chest, she grinned contentedly into his inquiring face.
"For the first time since Doyle kissed me, there's nothing going on inside my head! That is soooooo cool!
The light shining through the atrium was bright, filtered but still very bright. Angel squinted as he studied his surroundings. He sat on a ledge overlooking the vast underground cavern and marveled at its unnatural beauty, finding it difficult to fathom the origins were demon-made.
There was a grandeur in the placement of the pine and eucalyptus trees. They rose out of their planters straight into the skylight at irregular but scenic intervals, a tribute to the landscaper who designed their placement. Between slabs of granite and mossy-covered pavers were pieces of semi precious stone and metal. Cacti nestled in between amethyst and copper; creeping thyme meandered over pieces of rose quartz and onyx. The whole of the composition pleased both scent and sight.
He hadn't been absolutely alone once since their arrival, he realized. His body ached for slumber and, although he wasn't hungry, he knew from the feel of stubble on his face that not feeding was taking a toll on his metabolism. He was paying the price for his personal rules--not to sleep in strange surroundings and to feed only in private from his own resources.
His previous days were spent with Kohl as he waited for Uli's quarantine to be completed. Angel had toured the Temple, University, the recreational habitats. As they wove their way through the underground streets they were surrounded at times by masses of beings--all wanting to see The Warrior of myth. They would speak to Angel in languages that he rarely understood, sometimes reaching out to touch him.
The physical contact grew increasingly more disconcerting as his self-imposed deprivation wore on. The constant crowds were tiring, requiring major effort on his part to remain alert, aware. Fear for his safety was beginning to set him on edge, the peculiarity of the surroundings fueling his penchant for paranoia.
Cordelia had been concerned for Angel's 'health', suggesting that he return to Los Angeles to wait out Uli's confinement while she and Wesley remained--they were both having too much fun to leave. Although his initial concern had been for their protection--although he barely saw them during the day--he knew that in reality he couldn't bear the thought of spending a week without their company. Work, of course, would be a diversion; but work was a poor substitute for socialization.
Doyle had tried to teach Angel how to loosen up, to enjoy his 'life'. The half-human had ruined Angel's own attempt at a solitary existence by not only connecting him to the type of work he did for The Powers That Be, but just by being who he was. He compared Doyle's affable nature to that of Cordelia's frivolity or Wesley's irresponsibility, finding all of them a stark contrast to his own overly-serious one.
He had almost forgotten what it was like for Cordelia to be happy. She spent her days hand in hand with her attendant roaming the place, seeing new sights and being entertained by everything she came across. The crowds did not bother her; she relished their adulation and regarded everyone she met with graciousness. The labyrinth had become her realm and her title as The Jewel in Doyle's legend was the key to it.
Wesley, provided with a guide by The Temple, was equally fascinated with his excursions deep within their location or just in the central library. He would amuse himself for hours in the crowds practicing each dialect he knew, refining or learning ones that he didn't. And, each night he would stumble over his words as he spoke excitedly of his activities in an attempt to make sure he didn't leave a moment out.
Angel would listen and feel like an outsider as Wesley and Cordelia explained their daily events to him. The attendant would hang onto the retellings, delight visible in her face as Cordelia and Wesley asked each other questions or made comments based on mutual experience. It seemed to Angel that he was visiting a completely different place than them, his point of view jaded from seeing similar places throughout the world at least twice in his lifetime.
Time. He felt his age. He tried to recall his activities since arriving and everything seemed as if he had done it months ago. It felt to him as if time was in stasis, that he had been sitting on this ledge for days instead of just a few hours--that he had aged another century in the 10 days since their arrival. He tried to fight the dizzy, euphoric feeling that was causing him to feel this way but it was useless.
The waterfall he sat nearby appeared to slow to a trickle; the steady pour then separated into each individual droplet. He imagined each one represented a day spent alone throughout his life. There were too many to count.
But, at least for the moment, the number stopped escalating.
He considered the reasons why he had refrained in the past from initiating personal relationships since regaining his soul. There were too many variables to consider not the least of which was how--or if--to reveal himself. And, then, there was his immortality to consider. He tried not to dwell on the fact that, while his mortal counterparts would age, he would not.
The euphoria gave way to a leaden feeling, weighted down by the inescapable reality that eventually he would watch the people around him die. Angel's intangible restraint drew tight around him, squeezing away what little solace he had found within the peaceful surroundings, making him feel colder than he could ever remember being. As he shivered he tried to regain his composure.
As if to disorient him further, the earth turned too quickly on its axis and the artificial canyon swallowed the daylight. It seemed he was the only being left in all the world until he felt a familiar hand rest on his shoulder.
"Isn't this place just to die for, Angel? I could stay HERE a lifetime!"
He turned around too quickly to her touch and studied Cordelia's face intensely in an attempt to verify that she was still 19.
Wesley, on excursion to Mexico by way of an underground stream, was late returning for the night so Cordelia and her attendant entertained themselves by braiding floral vines through their hair. Angel looked up from his journal to watch them, but they were oblivious to his study.
Until he sensed the attendant looking over his shoulder, he did not realize that Cordelia had gone to bed. She motioned to the tablet in his lap where he had drawn the two women at play, the illustration recording not only their adorned hairstyles, but their contentment as well. He didn't remember capturing the scene but, from the detail-intensive rendering, he had obviously devoted a great amount of effort to it.
The attendant stared at the picture and, as she did so, she moved her fingertips around her face as if to feel what she looked like. She looked at Angel inquisitively for an explanation of some sort, but when their eyes met, his were wide with panic.
Confused, she tried to determine why his demeanor turned hostile. He backed the chair away from her using supernatural momentum to stand up, a full head taller than she. She recognized the aggressive stance, struggling to understand how her actions had provoked him until she saw her reflection in his eyes as he came at her. She knew in that instant he had mistaken her for one of his kind.
She met his striking hand with her own, deflecting his blow to her face. He stepped away from her, confused with what she had expressed during their contact. Thinking she hurt him, misunderstanding the painful expression on his face, it occurred to her that he couldn't understand her in the way that he needed to. Hesitantly she moved forward.
The rapid confusion, fear, anger, and retaliation had taken a toll on Angel's reserves. He tried to relax himself as the attendant neared him; she seemed as unsure as he felt, tentatively reaching out to him. He reached to her and she brushed the back of his hand lightly, nodded her head to him, then silently left the room.
With one small touch she had assuaged his fear. He understood that she meant no harm to Cordelia, but without any type of language it was unknown how she had conveyed that message.
As Uli sat obstinate and uncommunicative, Angel fought the urge to backhand the stocky demon. Uli offered no explanation for what he had done. If he felt any remorse for killing his Protector, he was in no mood to share those feelings.
Angel looked to Kohl for help, but the Temple Leader had nothing to offer either. Instead, he walked to the door of the room when a light knock drew his attention. He opened it narrowly at first, then let the outsiders enter.
"Cordelia is having a vision."
Wesley helped Cordy into the room and pulled a chair for her, helping her take it. He shied away as Angel knelt by the young woman, speaking only loud enough for her to hear as she convulsed.
The tenderness of the scene was touching, the manner that Angel used to help ease the painful intrusions even though he knew nothing would help. Wesley looked away to notice the way the two demons regarded what was happening before their eyes. Kohl had moved closer, interested. Uli stared for a moment, anger causing him to sneer until he noticed Wesley's attention and his face became a blank.
"Can you figure it out?"
Cordelia took several deep breaths as she tried to recall the details of her vision. "I guess I'm out of practice. Give me a couple a secs to try to figure it out."
"If I may..."
Cordelia nodded and Angel rose to follow Kohl outside of the small prison facility that was simply a small room inside of a larger room. Angel considered that there was either very little crime or that punishment probably took place upon apprehension.
"Since Uli does not seem to be co-operating, perhaps we can consider the case closed. You have done everything you possible can. Custom has been upheld and we can proceed from here."
Angel took note of how relieved he felt that he wouldn't actually have to perform Uli's execution as he replied. "You're probably right. As soon as Cordelia defines her vision, I guess we'll be on our way. I just really want to thank you for your hospitality, Wesley's guide and especially for Cordelia's attendant. I'm sorry if my behavior last night offended her in any way."
Holding his hand out to the demon, Angel momentarily forgot that not every culture considered the handshake a polite gesture. It surprised him when Kohl took his hand enthusiastically.
Kohl beamed. "The Temple provides its best for visiting dignitaries. You and your companions are welcome at any time. Perhaps on your return you will feel more comfortable to utilize the amenities." A puzzled look crossed his features as he finished. "The female attendant for The Jewel, I thought that she belonged to you. We do not have such servants available, although it is an idea that I will raise at the next Temple meeting."
The same fear that gripped him the night before caused Angel to turn from Kohl. Before he could step to return to the prison, he heard Wesley call his name right before Cordelia screamed. He reached out to grab Kohl, knowing that their conversation had been a distraction, but the elder had disappeared.
"Wesley, what happened?"
Wesley rubbed the back of his neck as he rose, losing the fight against his emotional outburst, "...when I noticed that Kohl left the door open, it dawned on me that Uli could escape. That's when he hit me and ran off with Cordelia. Oh, God, I am so stupid. How could I have let this happen--what if he does something to her?" He shuddered, filled with self-reproach.
Angel steadied the troubled man, making sure that he wasn't hurt severely. "We're going to get her back, Wesley. I'm going to follow Kohl but you won't be able to keep pace with me. Do the best you can and if we don't meet up, I'll have someone come back for you." Angel waited for a response.
Wesley, consoled by Angel's consideration, nodded in understanding. "But, how are you going to follow Kohl? In your effort to tend to me, I'm afraid that he's long gone."
Angel waved his right hand in front of Wesley's face. "Long gone, but unforgettable."
With blinding speed, Angel followed Kohl's scent trail, oblivious to the excited attention that he drew from the beings that he passed as they watched the mythical Warrior in action. Even without sustenance or rest, his abilities were unimpaired, his body pleased to be called into action as his sedentary muscles responded to his bidding. He closed the gap between them, every vampire sense attuned to his mission. He had not forgotten the thrill of the hunt.
The air in the corridor sang past his ears, the sound much like that of the sword he had wielded. He could feel himself ride wave after wave of desire; the hunger was calling to him, the need for the chase, the want of the kill. He could close his eyes and run, knowing where to go--as if hunting in the darkest field under a starless sky, chasing his prey with skill honed by over a century of bloodlust.
His tongue smoothed the edges of his eye-teeth in anticipation. Kohl would relinquish his information and then he would die for his participation in Cordelia's abduction. Angel could feel the beginning of the transformation as the idea of revenge forming in his thoughts co-existed with those that he had never taken the life of another demon in this way...
He stopped. At the intersection of the path that Kohl had taken, he noticed the attendant leaning down to pick up Cordelia's pouch from the floor. The look on her face spoke volumes for her concern and it occurred to Angel that there was a deeper meaning by the way she regarded the lost gift. She watched Angel as he drew closer to her, her features searching his for an answer.
He could not control his panting, having no reason to, no breath to inhale or exhale. Yet, his chest raised and lowered rhythmically as he drew nearer to the girl. "Is she OK?" he whispered.
When the girl closed her eyes in reply, he felt himself go limp, as if his legs would buckle from under him. Emotional realization of the worst case scenario caused him to lose control.
The girl studied him, searching for understanding of what was causing him to react in such a way. When he sobbed, unable to control his grief, she reached for his hand. He sadly watched her open his palm to place the pouch there. Afterwards, she reached up to his face and placed her hands on his cheeks.
He swallowed hard and accepted the consoling gesture, returning it with his own. As he touched her skin, he marveled at the dichotomy of her presence; she was cold and heat, softness and inescapable discomfort. Yet, he could do nothing less than hold onto her, staring into the depth of her clear blue eyes, eyes the same coloring as Doyle's...
She frowned in frustration, trying to make him understand. She looked away, her face betraying the myriad of thoughts rushing through her mind until her gaze met his again. Her lips parted as if to speak, but she was silent, quiet, still. She inhaled, and smiled softly before she disappeared within a nova of light, leaving Angel in the corridor with his hands placed as if receiving benediction, the purse gently dangling from his wrist.
"She spoke to you?" Wesley, winded, regarded Angel's strange stance, the purse. It was only after the vampire turned to face him that Wesley realized that whatever had happened had affected him profoundly. "Oh, Angel. Cordelia. Cordelia is..."
"Alive." His lips parted as if to say something else, his features twisted against his thoughts, trying to put some kind of perspective on the experience that he had just been part of. "Uli is not the messenger."
Wesley was visibly relieved. "She told you this?"
Angel's face creased as if in pain, his eyes closed tightly, his head bowed and he took a breath, a long deep breath that felt remarkably real. He let it out slowly through his mouth, savoring the sensation of one of the simplest things about life, a reflex his immortality denied him access to. "She couldn't speak to me; she can only speak to the Messenger."
Wesley mulled over Angel's words. "Then, she is one of The Powers That Be?"
Angel shook his head, still confused but sure of his conclusion. "Not one of The Powers, but of them. She is The Sight, Tavranan's embodied sight."
The revelation alarmed Wesley. "Then what you're saying is that the attribute is actually a sentient being of some sort that's living inside of Cordelia. Ooooh, she won't be pleased to know that."
Angel removed the pouch from his wrist, stuffing it deeply into his pant pocket. "I have a feeling she already knows. She's really not the 'freak-out' kind of person that everyone has always assumed that she is."
"Yes. Alright. Well, that still leaves us wondering how to find her. Can you still follow Kohl's path? Perhaps if we find him, he will lead us to Cordelia."
"We don't have to find him. I know where she is."
Angel kept a pace just fast enough for Wesley to follow. When they came upon the gateway to the Oracle they found Cordelia there, being tended to by two young acolytes. She didn't seem to mind that one was furry and the other had ragged teeth. She basked in their attention, making them do her bidding with simple flicks of her wrist.
"Angel. It's about time you got here! What took you so long?" She feined disappointment until she noticed her purse.
Angel gladly handed the bag over to the elated Cordelia who immediately began toying with its fringe and the tassel at the cord's end. "Your companion found it and gave it to me."
"You saw her? What'd she say to you?"
"She showed me who she is."
"I thought, for sure, you'd figure it out on your own considering how much she looks like Doyle. Didn't you notice that crappy hair cut? Anyway, so the killer went into the magic wall there and, much to his surprise and this huge bruise that's developing on my shoulder, I couldn't go in with them so that's why I'm outside. But, you already figured that part out..." she watched Angel bob his head in agreement with her conclusion.
"So, this is the point where you go in and find out why we're really here--you know, use your brain a little, make 'em realize that there's more to you than just good looks and an awesome physique--and then you'll probably have to kick a little demon butt-- do that grrrrr thing you're so good at doing and shed some blood so that they'll know that you ARE Mr. Warrior after all. Oh, yeah, and then save whoever--or whatever--needs to be saved so that we can get back on the road and back home before dawn."
Angel stopped one of the acolytes and turned him to Wesley. "Ask him to find someone who will open the portal for me."
"No need. That's what the vision was for." Cordelia walked over to the pedestal in the front of the portal and opened her purse. "It seems that these aren't bath salts after all. They showed me how to do this for you. It's a good thing you got this back for me, though, or we'd be screwed..."
"I don't think that you're supposed to use that kind of language in this situation, Cordelia," Wesley chided. "You know, this is supposed to be a rather sacred place isn't it?" He looked at Angel and back at Cordelia as they both shrugged to express their ignorance.
Cordelia poured the crystals into the bronze basin, placing two of the rocks from the bag on top of them in some perfected formation. Taking a step back, she threw another two rocks into the bowl and the mixture flashed quickly. The portal opened.
She proudly waved her open hand towards the gateway as a signal for Angel to enter and he caught it in mid-motion, holding it for a moment before bending to brush his lips against her knuckles. "Merci, Bijoux."
Wesley cleared his throat after Cordelia giggled, unable to bear his exclusion from their intimacy any longer. When they both turned to look at him, he pointed harshly at the opening.
"Wesley," Angel began, "I'm placing Cordelia under your responsibility. You better make sure..."
"...that she remains safe, yes, yes, yes, under penalty of death, yes, yes, yes. Yeah, Angel. I got it. Now just go do your job."
The Oracle Chamber was similar to the one in Los Angeles except that it was more ornate, objects d'art gracing its walls. When Angel entered he found three beings huddled together to the side and Uli, with a huge soft case, ransacking the artifacts. The demon turned on him immediately, a sword almost identical to the weapon used to kill Tavranan in in his hand.
"Outstanding piece of weaponry. This one's called The Sword of Profanity. Ironic, isn't it?" He leered as Angel stepped back out of the blade's immediate reach.
"I didn't know you could actually talk."
"Oooooooh. Witty bastard, aren't you? I bet you just love working for these Powers. The whole 'killing for good' business just makes me laugh. I've heard stories about how good you are at it--but, I bet with you being vampire and reborn to kill you don't even flinch when you take a life."
Angel looked to the Oracle beings and back at Uli. "So, what you're inferring is that your job satisfaction is at a low point?"
Uli tested the weight of the bag, pleased with the amount that he would be able to successfully carry away. He ignored Angel's sarcasm and held him at bay with the sword point while he edged towards the chamber portal. He was just about to flee when Kohl, yelling at the top of his lungs, came surging through the entry with the weapon used to murder Tavranan in his grasp.
Kohl took a feeble swipe at Uli. In defense, Uli cut him across the abdomen with a mortal wound. Kohl crumbled to the floor, the sword clattering as he fell.
"Dammit!" Uli released the bag, but held steadfastly onto the sword. He turned to Angel finally, seeing that his opponent now had a weapon of his own. "Then, I guess this means we fight. What's one more? At least I'll get both of these."
He lunged at Angel who was waiting for the attack in full vampire persona.
Move out of distance. Deflect. Arc up and down. Cut in and right. Lunge. Retreat. Deflect. Reverse out and deflect. Right and across. Move out of distance. Cut and thrust. Right foot forward. Deflect and parry.
En guarde. Left and reverse. Move out of distance. Pivot. Deflect. Cut and attack. Arc up and across. Lunge. Lunge. Lunge. Deflect. Lunge. Deflect and arc down. Deflect and sweep up. Watch the flying weapon. Kick this shithead's legs out from under him. Foot on his neck. Point on his throat...
Angel tossed his sword across the room's floor where it slid to rest at the feet of the beings. His face relaxed as he strode to them, kicking his adversary's blade to lay side by side against its twin.
"What's going on exactly?" He glared at the beings as they moved towards him, annoyed when the younger male poked his arm. "How are these two connected?"
The female Oracle looked at her companion. "Without The Auguries, it is unknown what their true connection is." She noticed Angel's confusion. "When the servant allowed that one unauthorized access to the Chamber, the thief removed The Sword of Piety. The channels were breached and caused us to be removed from The Others."
"So then, what you're saying, is that without access to the Auguries, you're clueless."
The older male studied Angel. "He is as They described him--unruly, contrary, arrogant."
A voice came from the floor behind them. Kohl, drenched in a pool of blood feebly rose up on his forearm. "All those years of believing and they never showed themselves to me..."
The female Oracle regarded the dying man, disdain on her face. "For what purpose would we present ourselves to a mere servant?"
"I lost faith, Angel, and allowed myself to be corrupted. I was the caretaker of this place for years but I never knew they existed." He moaned, "If I had only known..."
"Know this, old man!"
Uli kicked Kohl's arm from under him, completing the murder when the dying demon's skull cracked upon impact with the floor. Before his dying breath, however, Kohl was illuminated from within. The light rose off of him, slowly at first before exploding throughout the interior.
The disturbed contents of the room were returned to their places in that instant.
"The Auguries are open!" the female exclaimed.
The light reappeared, softer under the archway of the Oracle Hall. It coalesced into a familiar shape--that of Cordelia's attendant. After her awareness caught up with her form, she stepped forward to Angel, placing her hands again to his face. "You can understand me? I am the first of my kind to make this transition." He nodded and she continued. "You are very weak so I will make this brief."
The female Oracle, not pleased with the turn of events, pulled The Attendant away from Angel. "They are unworthy of explanations. You will obviously have much to learn about this position."
"I am open to acquiring knowledge." The Attendant glared contemptuously at the female. "Are you?" She turned back to Angel.
"You recognized your friend in my appearance. That is from the impression I took from Cordelia. You are unsure of the motives behind his sacrifice and the reason will remain a mystery. When he merged his demon self within the humanity he had forsaken, he became invisible to Us and the truth concealed. His Sight was being retrieved at the moment that he passed it to Cordelia--another first for my kind.
"Within you, Angel, there is immense good as well as unspeakable evil, a duality that your nature causes you to possess. The choices you make strengthen you in much the same ways that Doyle's did. Your path towards a humanity you have never known is a courageous one but not yours to make unaccompanied."
She pointed at Uli, "this one believes in nothing except what he can hold in his hands. That one," she motioned towards the corpse, "found that belief without faith is a hollow exercise. And Tavranan died not in humility and true sacrifice to repair what had been disrupted, but in revenge--to make Uli pay for demeaning his position as Messenger."
"I knew it!" Uli exclaimed. "He baited me! It wasn't my fault that I killed him." He looked to the four Oracle beings and Angel for pity, but his plea was brusquely ignored. His sniveling petitioning finally caused the older male to toss him through the portal with a flick of his fingers.
"I don't know what I believe in, " Angel whispered to The Attendant, his attention focused only on her.
"Perhaps nothing, perhaps everything." She grinned, lifting her palms towards the ceiling. "They want me to be more vague," she whispered back.
Placing her hands on Angel's chest for balance, she stood high on her toes to be as level with him as possible. "You believe in the direction that your life has taken and the people that you share your journey with. For now, be content that is enough. If We can learn to shed Our intransigence, it may be possible for me to see Cordelia again. Please, relate my fondest regards to her."
The last thing Angel remembered was her kiss on his forehead. There was a strange taste in the back of his throat and he tried to clear it and his disorientation, realizing that he was in his car travelling Northward--going home.
"Hey, Wesley, I think ComaBoy is back from the land of Nod." Cordelia, driving, passed the snack container to the back seat. "I can't believe that you've never been on a road trip or eaten cheese puffs before."
"You're eating in my car..." Angel murmured, shivering. He stretched to turn up the heater to high. Every cell of his body ached. "What else am I smelling?"
Swallowing, Wesley attentively reached over the seat to drape a blanket on Angel, tucking it up and around his neck. "I just finished a chicken pot pie; quite delicious even if not exactly traditional. If you'd like a snack, too, we managed to procure one for you."
Angel shook his head, scrunching beneath the blanket and trying to use the car's vibration to massage him as he wedged his back between the passenger seat and door. He fought back a tear when he noticed Cordelia's found necklace was around his neck. "I'll make it. It's just that I haven't fasted like this in quite a while. I'll should get back into practice--I could used to go for weeks at a time."
"And then it didn't help that you and Uli shot out of that Oracle Chamber like a couple of bullets. You really need to talk to Them about treating you like that. You've been out for almost a week. We finally decided to bring you home since there was nothing they could do for you and we finished seeing everything there was to see."
"That explains a lot. I feel like I was folded in time again." He almost sneezed until he remembered that vampires don't. "You mentioned Uli--what happened to him?"
"Finally dead before we left." Wesley popped open a canned beverage and, in doing so, spilled some of it on Angel's back seat. He accepted the napkin that Cordelia instinctively passed his way. "They started the execution the day you two left the Oracle. It seems that Kohl was trying to do him a favor by sentencing him as a Messenger because the higher your position, the more prolonged and painful the death."
Cordy added, "so, not only was he a thief and a liar, he was a wuss, too."
"Then I guess the entire truth was executed along with him."
"Not exactly." Wesley slurped from his can. "In a nutshell, Angel, Uli finally confessed to not enjoying the slaying aspect of his assignments. He and Tavranan had been at each other's throats for years--they HATED one another. It was only by averting a deadly accident that they redeemed their positions allowing Tavranan to receive the Sight that he'd always wanted.
"Tavranan," he continued, "was very devout--almost a religious fanatic--and tried to convert Uli, who was looking for something to help ease his passive conscious. Uli met Kohl through his Temple visits. Both of them, angry for their own reasons at being used by The Powers That Be, started appropriating artifacts in retaliation."
"Until Uli stole the wrong item," Cordelia interjected.
"Which caused the Oracle to be cut off, needing to be restored," Angel finished. "Everything got straightened out, but I still don't understand why they sent US."
Cordelia glanced at Angel, whose teeth were chattering, out of the corner of her eye. "Maybe, Angel, because we always get the job done."
Wesley admired their supportive natures. "You know I was pondering that Kohl's situation was, perhaps, indicative of how all men--no wonder what their make-up--want to touch their gods. When they reject them by losing faith, they try to replace that faith with something solid. In the end, though, it is the loss of spirituality that they have a more difficult time replacing than the god, itself."
Cordy looked at him in the rear view mirror. "And the explanation for those of us who are theologically challenged would be?"
"Turn the car around."
Taking her foot off the gas, Cordy looked away from the road to regard the sudden command. Alarmed, she asked, "what's wrong, Angel?"
"You just used the phrase 'theologically challenged! Obviously we left the real Cordelia Chase back at the Temple."
She re-accelerated then smacked Angel across his arm. "Hey, no one said I didn't know vocabulary. Besides, that's what a road trip is all about, you guys. You learn something new about yourself and the people you're with, you eat lots of things you normally don't eat, sometimes-in-the-car, and at the end, if you don't wind up killing your ride share buds, you may just find that you had a good time."
"True that." Wesley noticed their sudden scrutiny. "I guess I picked up a colloquialism from my guide," he offered as an explanation. "I must say that I really enjoyed myself and I'd love to do this again with you both. Although I wouldn't want you to feel obligated to have to bring me along if you didn't want to..."
"You were part of the team, Wesley. Again, thanks for coming."
Cordelia frowned. "You know, Angel, Uli's death just may mean you're the entire SoCal Evil Ass-kicking Representative now. I know it's not a paying position, but do you think the PTB could throw you a bone for the gas?" She reached over and felt his brow, pausing to scratch the stubble on his chin. "Scruffy isn't a bad look for you. But it would kinda mess up the whole 'face of an angel' schtick you've got going on, huh?"
Angel smiled at her comments, assured that the real Cordelia was, in fact, the one driving his car. He closed his eyes and listened to the road noise, allowing it to lull him into a contented sleep. Just before he drifted off, his thoughts centered on not only how comfortable his life had become but also that The Attendant's words seemed to give him permission to start enjoying it.
Doyle would be pleased, he mused.