Soulworld II
By Philip S.

SUMMARY & SPOILERS: Complete AU. In 1907 the entire Vampire race had their souls restored due to the efforts of Angel and Spike. In 1994 the existence of Vampires became public knowledge. In the present Angel encountered Buffy Summers, the Slayer. Capturing her, he convinced the girl that Vampires were people and deserved to be judged by the same standards as humans instead of just being murdered. In the process Buffy and Angel fell in love. Cordelia, one of Angel's friends, is head of the largest pro-Vampire lobby in the USA, trying to get Vampires legal recognition.
RATING: PG-13, for now.
DISCLAIMER: Most of the characters mentioned here belong to Joss Whedon & Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended, nor do I plan to make profit from this. The alternate universe of Soulworld belongs to me.
ARCHIVE: The original Soulworld is archived at
DEDICATION: To all the wonderful people who gave me feedback for the first episode. I hope you are not disappointed by the sequel.
NOTE: This story takes place approximately eight months after the events of Soulworld.

#

Soulworld II - p1 - The Calm Before the Storm

#

Los Angeles, Winter 1999

Angel sat in his darkened office, leaning back in his large leather chair, hands folded, looking to all the world very relaxed and in a fairly good mood. It didn't fool the two young Vampires sitting on the other side of the desk, fidgeting in their chairs, unwilling to meet the older Vampire's eyes.

Their mood was not lifted by the presence of the person standing behind Angel's chair. Buffy Summers, the Vampire Slayer, leaned against the wall, arms crossed over her chest, eyes never moving from the two of them. Hers was the only heartbeat audible in the room and the steady rhythm sounded like a doomsday bell to the two unfortunate Vampires. No one could possibly miss the wooden stake the Slayer casually carried in the pocket of her jacket.

"Why are you wasting my time, Jerry?" Angel asked after a while, his voice never rising above a level that could easily have fit into a light conversation about the weather. The Vampire called Jerry flinched.

"Angel, you know I ..."

"I know," Angel interrupted him, "that you and your Childe here almost single-handedly caused an incident that could have ruined decades of hard work. Are you intentionally trying to piss me off, Jerry?"

Jerry gulped and would have sweated buckets, had he been able to do so. The Vampire next to him, a young girl called Harmony, who was barely a day older than she looked, studied the floor with interest.

"Angel, man! I didn't intend to cause an uproar. We were just having fun."

"Fun?" Angel asked them. "Please enlighten me, Jerry! Share with me your definition of fun! Does it involve walking into bar full of people, vamping out in front of an unsuspecting female customer, and trying to suck her blood?"

"I ... I thought she was, you know, one of them fang groupies. She was coming on mighty strong and I thought she knew. I never intended ..."

"And you!" Angel addressed Harmony. "When Jerry here was trying to mumble some incoherent excuse to save his skin from an angry crowd you stormed into the bar and tried to rip the girl's head off for messing with your boyfriend. Was that fun, too?"

"It's not like I really hurt her." Harmony mumbled.

"Only because you couldn't hurt a fly without breaking a nail and bursting into tears."

Harmony managed about half a glare at Buffy before she remembered whom she was facing. Buffy certainly wasn't the same school girl Harmony had known when they had both gone to Hemery. Harmony might be a Vampire now, but Buffy was the Slayer.

Angel sighed.

"Jerry, get out of here! If you so much as breathe at a human the wrong way during the next three months ..."

"...your ass is dust." Buffy finished.

"I won't do a thing!" Jerry was quick to assure. "You won't regret this, Angel! I'll be a perfect example of ..."

"Yeah, whatever!" Buffy sighed.

"Get out of my face, Jerry! Now!" Angel added.

Jerry and Harmony quickly got out and Angel slouched down in his chair, rubbing his temples. Buffy pushed away from the wall and dug her fingers into the steel muscles of his neck, trying to ease his tension.

"I hate doing this crap!" Angel sighed.

"I know."

"I don't like threatening them. I don't like using you as some kind of enforcer. Can't they see how important this is?"

Angel forced himself to relax under Buffy's soothing touch, trying to calm his racing thoughts. Three months. Only three months until everything he had worked for these last ninety years might come one giant step closer to fulfillment.

In three months the Vampire Legalization Act, introduced by Cordelia Chase's pro-Vampire lobby, would be put to vote in Congress. All they needed was a majority and then ...

Six months ago he would never even have entertained the notion that the Act would have a chance to go through Congress. He had underestimated his friends, though. Cordelia was a marvel at turning public opinion around and the continued pestering by the Watchers' Council and other hate groups was actually helping their cause.

Cordy had convinced Wesley to openly speak about his time with the Council and how it turned young girls into programmed killers. The interview had scored huge ratings on TV and Wesley had since been seen in the company of several movie starlets. There was apparently something to be said for shy British charm.

Darla, Angel's Sire, was busy working as the poster girl for Vampires, appearing on TV and at numerous public events. She had made the cover of several magazines and rumor had it that Playboy was trying to nab her for a photo shooting with an ever increasing amount of money as the bait.

All of this had slowly but surely turned public opinion on Vampires around. Still, so much could yet go wrong.

"It will work!" Buffy whispered into his ears.

"Not if young fools like these turn public opinion against us. This is a crucial time, Buffy. We can't afford incidents like this. They could ruin everything."

"That's what we are here for, remember?" She reminded him. "I know you don't like doing this Godfather stuff, but it keeps them in line. We only need to keep it down another three months. We will make it work!"

She smiled.

"Besides, I happen to think I've got the icy stare and ominous threat routine down pretty pat by now. Luca Brazi better watch out!"

He looked up at her, marveling how much her presence in his life had changed things for him. Less than a year ago she had been the Vampire race's worst enemy. Now she was on his side, working for the rights of his people, and bringing light into his dark existence. How had he ever managed without her?

"When is Cordelia expecting you for her latest TV interview?" He asked.

"We'll be leaving in another two hours." Buffy leaned over his shoulder, her hair brushing across his face. "Plenty of time."

Angel smiled.


#

Soulworld II - p2 - Show Biz

#

"Welcome to tonight's edition of TWENTY QUESTIONS. I am your host David Weinheim and tonight's topic is one that has held the nation in its grip for the last few months. In three months the Vampire Legalization Act will be put to vote in Congress.

"Tonight we want to talk about the Act itself and the possible consequences for our nation should it go through Congress. My guests for this discussion are, ladies first, Ms. Cordelia Chase, head of arguably the most influential pro-Vampire organization in the nation, 'Vampire Rights'. Thanks for coming, Ms. Chase."

"My pleasure." Cordelia said.

"And my other guest, to my right, is Mr. Ambros Gentry, who represents 'Humans First', a group opposed to the idea of granting legal status to Vampires. Welcome, Mr. Gentry."

"Mr. Weinheim." The elderly man nodded, his eyes resting on Cordelia most of the time. Cordy returned his glare with amused disinterest, knowing full well what Gentry and people like him thought of people that 'socialized' with the undead.

"My first question tonight," Weinheim began, "goes to both of you. If the Act were to go through, what would the immediate consequences be. Ms. Chase?"

Cordelia looked into the camera. The show was going out live and preliminary ratings had estimated several million viewers. She did not feel nervous. She had gotten a lot of practice these last few months and being the center of attention had never been a problem for her.

"Well, David, the immediate result would, of course, be, that several thousand people all over America would no longer be forced to hide from the public. Right now Vampires are living in a legal limbo. It is almost impossible for them to get work, to get a home. All that would change once they acquired legal documentation and the right to work."

"It would also mean," Gentry said, "that the bloodsuckers could just walk around freely and no one would be allowed to do anything about them until they actually attacked the next innocent victim."

"Which is the case with all criminal acts." Cordy countered. "A crime can only be punished after it has happened. Otherwise we would have to arrest everyone, because we are all capable of committing crimes."

"But not everyone kills innocent humans for food, Ms. Chase. Unlike some people most American citizens are unwilling to donate blood to the undead."

Cordelia knew what kind of people he was talking about. Cordy herself had never been bitten by a Vampire, but if rumors were to be believed it was supposed to be an incredibly intimate and enjoyable happening for both Vampire and victim. Until the victim died, that was.

So-called fang groupies were seeking out Vampires to get themselves drained for kicks, not knowing how hard it was for a Vampire to stop short of death once he or she had begun to drink.

Inevitably the hate mongers assumed that Cordelia and everyone else who spoke up for Vampires were fang groupies as well.

"We all kill to eat, Mr. Gentry." Cordy said. "Vampires can live from pig and cow blood, just like we eat pig and cow meat. Most Vampires would no more drain blood and kill a human than a human would kill and eat another human."

"Yet there are Vampires who still do kill humans." Gentry said.

"And they should be dealt with, just like any other murderer." Cordy said. "We just want the same standards of guilt and punishment to apply to everyone. If all Vampires should be exterminated because a few of them still kill humans, then all humans should be killed as well, because we have our fare share of murderers among us."

"Human murderers are not immortal. Neither do they have superhuman strength."

"That is why there are Vampires willing to work with law enforcement."

Buffy stood close to the stage, listening to the ongoing discussion with half an ear. Cordelia was keeping her cool and from the looks of it this would end up as just one more exchange of arguments, neither side willing to listen to the other. Buffy kept her eyes on the rest of the studio.

About two hundred people were sitting in the audience, all of them carefully screened and checked for weapons. The topic was explosive and there had been more than a few incidents during the last few months, both from the hate groups and some overzealous Vampires and Vamp-supporters.

Working as Cordelia's bodyguard kept Buffy on her toes, that much was for sure. Angel had been right to be worried about Cordelia's growing popularity and visibility. It made her a target for every zealot and fanatic this side of the Atlantic, not to mention a certain Council in England that Buffy could think of.

Her former lords and masters had not given up after their failed attack on the Hyperion eight months ago. If anything it had spurned them to greater efforts. The Slayer, their weapon of choice against the Vampire menace, now worked against them. They couldn't let it lie.

That and the numerous hate groups existing in America today made sure Buffy was kept busy. Apart from that she was working as Angel's enforcer and general all-purpose threat in the Vampire community. All of which made her glad that she had quit school. She wouldn't have enough time for it anyway.

All in all she was content with the way her life went. Some nights she still had nightmares about the things she had done in the service of the Council. The many innocents she had killed because some old men she'd never met had told her to do so. The nightmares inevitably lost their grip on her whenever she was in Angel's arms, though. Thinking about her dark lover made her all tingly inside.

Eight months and things were still as amazing and fresh as on day one. She could hardly believe that there had even been a time when she had tried to kill him and he had kept her prisoner in a cell beneath the Hyperion. It seemed like another lifetime.

Her eyes were constantly sweeping across the crowd, looking for any hint of danger. Suddenly one face stood out among the rest, almost lost in the hindmost row. Dark hair framed a face of tanned skin and teenage beauty, dark eyes watching the show with interest.

"Faith?" Buffy whispered.

"What?"

Buffy looked toward the man standing by her side. She wasn't Cordelia's only bodyguard, of course, as Vampire Rights had hired a whole security firm to protect its members from hate group attacks. The man was called Finn, if she remembered right.

She looked back to where she had seen Faith's face, but it was nowhere to be found. There were no empty seats, everything was packed to the rafters. Had she imagined it all?

"Is everything all right, Ms. Summers?" Finn asked her.

Buffy shook her head, sighing. "I thought I saw someone. Tell the others to keep a lookout for a dark-haired girl, a little taller than me, tanned, named Faith. I'm not sure it was her, but if it was we could have major trouble."

Finn nodded, speaking into his throat mike in a low voice. The other bodyguards knew that Buffy was not your average young girl, they had seen her in action. Most of the times they listened to her, or at least they had done so ever since Buffy had prevented a suicide bomber from blowing them all to kingdom come several months ago.

Buffy kept scanning the crowd while her thoughts wandered back to the last time she had seen Faith.

#

Six months earlier:

Buffy was lying against the wall, bleeding from the lip and a cut on her forehead, cradling a broken arm to her body. Faith stood above her, bruised but mostly unhurt, trembling with energy. Buffy had been taken completely by surprise. How could Faith be so strong?

"I knew I could beat you!" Faith yelled and kicked Buffy in the side, being awarded with a pain-filled groan from the downed Slayer. "Now he will see!"

"See what, Faith?" Angel asked.

Faith whirled around, surprised by the Vampire's presence. Buffy took the opportunity and pushed herself up against the wall, trying to see past the spots that clouded her vision.

"Angel!" She whispered.

"What is going on here?" He walked toward them, demon face slipping over his human countenance. "Faith! Tell me!"

"I ... I just wanted ... Angel, I'm strong now. Stronger than she is. You don't need her anymore! We can be together!"

Angel's rage evaporated. He had known that Faith harbored feelings for him that went further than his own, but this ...?

"Faith, stop it! Right now! You think you have to prove something to me by beating up Buffy? You think I love her because she is strong?"

"She ruined everything!" Faith yelled, trembling. "If she hadn't come we would have been together! But she had to come with all her Slayer strength, able to fight by your side. I can do that now, Angel! You don't need her!"

Angel sighed, shaking his head.

"I'm sorry if I gave you any false hopes, Faith. My feelings for either of you have nothing to do with your strength or your fighting ability. I care for you Faith, very much so. But I love Buffy and nothing will change that."

Faith's face warped with rage as she turned toward Buffy again. The blonde had risen to her feet, still a bit unsteady. Faith drew her arm back for a strike, but Angel caught it before she could even begin to swing.

"I will not allow this to continue, Faith!" Angel said, sounding more sad than angry.

Faith just stared at him for a long, long time. Then she brushed him away and ran out of the Hyperion into the night, sobbing.

#

Buffy forced her thoughts back to the present. They hadn't seen hide nor hair of Faith since that night. Something inside Buffy was still irked that Faith had managed to beat her up so easily, even though there had been no way for her to know that the other had somehow acquired Slayer strength.

They still weren't sure how that had happened, though Giles suspected that it had something to do with Buffy having been pretty much dead for a few minutes after the Watchers' attack on the Hyperion.

She shook her head. Focus on the now! If Faith was here, they had to find her. No telling what was going through Faith's mind these days. No telling what she would do.

Come to think of it, Buffy wasn't all that sure what she would do if Faith really did turn up.


#

Soulworld II - p3 - A Very Interesting Workout Sessions

#

Spike walked into the Hyperion, feeling sore and frustrated. Angel had sent him to deal with a small band of Vampires that was stirring up trouble downtown and Spike had laid down the law. Mostly in the form of fists and kicks. Still, a good brawl didn't give him the satisfaction it used to.

To be honest with himself there was little that brought him satisfaction these days. He tried to count the number of days he had laughed out loud since that day in 1976 and didn't think it had been more than a handful.

July 5th, 1976. The day he had lost his princess to the Slayer.

He shook his head. Brooding about it wouldn't bring her back. Spike liked to imagine that Dru would have wanted him to go on and find happiness. For a brief moment Spike had entertained the notion that it might actually happen. That business with Faith ...

He shook his head again, another unhealthy train of thoughts. There were more important matters to think about. If everything worked out he would be a legal citizen in three months and they had to make sure that no one messed things up.

Spike never minded that most people looked to Angel as the mover and shaker of the Vampire race, even though it had been both of them that had worked the Restoration. Spike was more than happy to let Angel do the heavy thinking, he was much better at it. Spike was at his best when it came to busting heads, also he wasn't really enjoying it anymore.

Spike was about to head off to bed despite the night still being young when his cell phone rang.

"Yeah?"

"Spike? It's Buffy!"

"Hi, pet! How did the interview go?"

"It's still running. Just wanted to let you know something. I saw Faith."

Spike fell silent.

"Spike? Did you hear me?"

"Hm? Oh, yeah, I hear you. Faith. She back for more trouble?"

"I only saw her for a second. Just wanted everyone to know. Be careful!"

"I will, pet! Though I think you will be in greater danger if the little psycho girl comes back."

"Just let her come! I owe her a rematch!"

Spike managed a smile. "Be sure to book me a ringside seat for that one!"

"I will. Take care, Spike!"

Spike put down the phone. Faith! Faith was back.

Without wanting to his thoughts returned to a particular day.

#

Seven months ago:

A noise from the exercise room attracted Spike's attention. He knew for a fact that neither Buffy nor Angel were home right now, so that left but one of the hotel's permanent residents as the likely suspect. A grin spread across his face. This was long overdue.

Several months earlier he had gone into that very same room and made fun of Faith during her workout. She had been furious and challenged him to a sparring session. Spike hadn't taken her serious at all, which had resulted in her flipping him on his back and sitting down on his chest.

Wouldn't have been that bad if Angel hadn't come in at precisely that moment. Spike's Sire had exploded into laughter and Faith had teased him about it ever since.

He peeked around the corner and saw Faith standing there in her workout clothing, hitting a punching bag for all it was worth. He had to admit, her moves didn't look too bad. He was surprised by the force of her blows. Little rascal seemed to have bulked up a bit.

"Like what you see, Spike?" She asked him.

Spike almost flinched. How had she noticed him? She stood with her back to the door and he was certain he hadn't made a sound.

"I think the bag would have taken you down long since if it could kick back." He said, overplaying his confusion. Faith turned around to face him, sweat streaking down her face, making her tiny sports bra and spandex pants cling to her body like a second skin.

When exactly had the little girl developed these curves? Spike wondered.

"Think you can do a better job of it?" She asked him, her stance screaming out a challenge at him. Spike smirked and took off his leather coat. Nobody could say she hadn't asked for it.

"Angel ain't here to keep you from getting yours today, Faith!" He growled at her.

This time he was more careful. No tricks, no fancy moves this time. She was but human and he would show her that she had no business playing with the big boys. They circled and Spike waited for her to make the first move. Patience had never been her strong suit.

She lunged for him with a speed that almost took him by surprise. Wild instinct made him move in time to evade her kick and a reflex made him lash out at her in turn with a kick of his own. She whirled around and blocked him. She blocked him? That kick should have knocked her off her feet even if it impacted against her block.

She pressed the attack and Spike had his hands full with fending her off, forced to take several steps back. What was going on here? If he didn't know better he'd think he was fighting the Slayer or Angel. Faith couldn't be that strong or that fast.

Finally rage got the better of him. Vamping out he swatted her latest kick attempt aside and grabbed her by the throat, throwing her into the wall with enough force to crack the mortar. Faith had the breath knocked out of her and Spike's demon face was inches away from her throat.

"Impressive showing, little girl!" He growled at her. "But impressive doesn't mean shit in the real world!"

She struggled against him, but he had too good a hold on her. He felt the strength in her limps and knew that something had happened to her. She was too strong for a mere human. Neither was she a Vampire, though, he could clearly hear and feel her rapid heartbeat.

"What did you do to yourself?" Spike hissed into her face. "Where is that strength coming from?"

"Let me go or I'll kick your ass!" Faith yelled.

"Oh yeah? And how're you gonna do that, pet? With those little love taps from earlier?"

"I'll show you love taps!" She tried to knee him in the groin, but Spike saw it coming and pinned her legs to the wall with his body.

"You think suddenly being stronger means you can mix it up with the bad guys? You don't know thing one about fighting girl."

"Angel taught me ..." she started.

"Angel taught you how to survive. You got the moves, but you can't even throw a decent punch. Strength means shit unless you're willing to hit. You don't try to hit your opponent's face with your fist. You try and put your fist right through his face. That's how you hit!"

He emphasized the last word by throwing a punch that impacted inches from Faith's face and left a gaping hole in the wall.

"And this is how you kick!" Spike yelled and kicked the punching bag off its chain. It flew across the room and exploded into a shower of sand against the far wall.

He let go of Faith and she looked at him with a mixture of fear and excitement in her eyes. Spike couldn't help but notice the way her skin shimmered with sweat, the rise and fall of her ample chest.

"Can you ... can you teach me?" She asked him, forcing the words past her lips.

"Why should I?" He asked her, trying to keep his eyes on her face.

She walked up to him, putting a sensuous swing into her hips, a smile spreading on her lips. Spike found it difficult to continue his unneeded breathing.

"I could make it worth your while." She said as she stood barely a hair's breath away from him.

"Where did you get that strength?" Spike asked, his voice taking on a hoarse tone.

"I have no idea." Faith simply said. "But I have some ideas on how to put it to good use. Follow me?"

#

Spike shook his head. How could he have been so very stupid back then? Cordy always said that men thought with their dicks most of the time and on that day at least she had been right. He had taught Faith how to fight, really fight, in exchange for some wild animal sex and never shed another thought to what she might do with the things he taught her.

One month later he found out, of course. Found out that he had allowed himself to be used. How stupid could one person be? Hadn't he himself told Cordelia that Faith would be a problem because of her feelings for Angel? Why hadn't he listened to his own words?

Faith had attacked Buffy, had hurt her with the moves Spike had taught her. He had never told either Buffy or Angel, his shame too great. Angel would probably have torn off his head had he known and that would have been less than Spike deserved in his own eyes.

If Faith was back then maybe ... maybe he would have a chance to rectify this stupid, stupid mistake.

He balled his fists, growling.

"You got something coming, slut!"


#

Soulworld II - p4 - Murder, Mayhem, and Impolite Questions

#


"We have a very special treat for you now, ladies and gentlemen." David Weinheim said. "To broaden our range of opinions here this evening, we have invited a very special guest star. Please welcome the person who is, without a doubt, the most well-known Vampire in America today, Ms. Darla Chamberlain."

Darla walked onto the stage, accompanied by reluctant applause from the crowd and venomous glares from Ambros Gentry. She was dressed in a simple black pants suit and looked to all the world like she didn't have a care in the world, a dazzling smile on her lips.

Buffy wasn't particularly happy about this. This TV cast gave more than enough imagined cause for a hate group attack without the presence of Angel's Sire. Buffy liked Darla, but her presence here was making her job harder.

Darla sat down close to Gentry, causing the man to edge away from her, and gave him a smile that was more devastating than a slap in the face. For a moment Buffy thought she was going to vamp out on him, but Darla restrained herself.

"Thank you for coming tonight, Ms. Chamberlain." Weinheim said.

"My pleasure." She assured him, shaking his hand.

"We have heard a lot of arguments tonight, both for and against the Vampire Legalization Act. From your viewpoint, Ms. Chamberlain, what do you think about possibly becoming a legal citizen in three months?"

"It is a time of excitement. For hundreds of years we were forced to hide in the shadows and now we may finally get the opportunity to walk in the streets without fear. I am looking forward to it."

"Who'd have thought?" Gentry muttered.

"I know that many people feel ill at ease about us," Darla continued, ignoring Gentry, "and I admit, there is cause. Vampires have done a lot of horrible things in the past. Some still do it today. But we are people, just like everyone else."

"How many people have you killed in your time?" Gentry asked, his voice carefully neutral.

The studio fell silent. Darla looked at Gentry like a cat would look at a mouse, but the old man didn't back down. After a moment Darla answered.

"I have never killed anyone except in self-defense, Mr. Gentry. But I think you were actually asking how many people were killed by the demon that took over my body. The answer is that I have no idea. Many people."

"What many people still don't understand," Cordy added, "is that, until a hundred years ago, Vampires were nothing but dead human bodies taken over by demonic entities. Darla has no more relation to the demon that wore her face than you, Mr. Gentry. She was a victim, just like the people her demon killed."

"You actually expect the people to believe all this nonsense about the restoration of souls?" Gentry asked.

"Do you have a soul, Mr. Gentry?" Darla asked him.

"Of course I do." He said, sounding offended.

"Prove it!"

He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, but said nothing. Buffy suppressed a smile. The poor bigot didn't have a chance against the combined forces of Cordy and Darla, that much was for sure.

"I hope you don't mind the question, Ms. Chamberlain," Weinheim said, trying to change the subject, "but would you tell us how long you have been around?"

"Isn't it impolite to ask a lady her age?" Darla joked.

Gentry muttered something again. Both Darla and Buffy heard him loud and clear, but chose to ignore the comment that questioned Darla's ladyship.

"Just a hint then?" Weinheim asked.

Darla opened her mouth, but Buffy didn't hear the words. Something tingled in the back of her head and her sixth sense kicked into overdrive. Her eyes swept across the room, looking for whatever it was that caused her to react.

The audience was calm from the looks of it. The bodyguards covered the doors. The TV people did their jobs, none of them looked threatening. Nothing seemed out of place. Her eyes traveled upwards and spotted a movement in the shadows on the catwalks high above the studio.

A flash of light reflected off a scope and Buffy saw the faint outline of a rifle.

Instinct took over and Buffy ran toward the stage, reaching into her jacket for her own gun. A Winchester Magnum, Angel and Spike's weapon of choice, a present the bleached Vampire had given her for her eighteenth birthday. She didn't particularly like depending on weapons, but they had their uses. She reached the stage, her eyes never having left the spot where she had seen the rifle.

"Sniper!" She yelled to the other bodyguards, who obviously hadn't noticed the figure up in the shadows. Two of them piled on Cordelia even as Buffy sighted along her arm, the gun aimed at the invisible shooter.

There was a flash of light from somewhere, maybe one of the photographers, and for a frozen second Buffy saw the image of a man up there, rifle pressed to the shoulder, one eye shut, the other squinting through the scope. She adjusted her aim, silently thanking for Slayer reflexes and the many hours she and Spike had spent on the shooting range, and fired.

The sniper looked through his scope and directly into the muzzle of Buffy's gun. Where had she come from? He had time for that single surprised thought and moments later the bullet tore through his eye and exploded out the back of his head. He was dead instantly, but reflex made his finger tighten on the trigger.

The sniper bullet took Buffy in the shoulder and threw her backwards. She crashed into one of the bodyguards, who caught her out of instinct and slowly lowered her to the floor. There was screaming all over the studio and people were beginning to run toward the exits.

Cordy shrugged off her bodyguards and rushed to Buffy's side, kneeling down beside the prone Slayer.

"Buffy? How bad is it?"

Buffy tried to locate the pain that had intruded into her mind only seconds earlier. It seemed to be centered on her right shoulder. Her blouse was torn there and she couldn't move her right arm. Might be connected, she thought with dry humor.

She could see the bullet. It had buried itself into the Kevlar west she wore underneath her blouse. Angel had insisted on her wearing that one during her bodyguard jobs, for Slayer strength was little defense against bullets, as she had learned the hard way. The bullet hadn't penetrated the west, but the impact hurt like hell. Her shoulder might be broken.

A moment later she realized her sixth sense was still tingling. The danger wasn't over yet. She looked up, past Cordy's worried face, forcing her eyes to focus past the pain. Weinheim and Gentry were still sitting on the couch, too shocked by the happenings to move. All four bodyguards were on stage, surrounding them. Three of them carried neutral, professional expressions.

The fourth one didn't. Buffy wouldn't be able to say later on what exactly she had seen on his face, but suddenly she knew that he was in on it. It was Finn and she remembered that he had taken over for another guard only several weeks earlier. The man he had replaced had had a car accident. Accident? Finn had his own gun in hand and started to raise it.

"Gun!" Buffy yelled, trying to lift her own weapon, but was betrayed by her injured shoulder. Finn had his gun lined up on Cordy's face and Buffy began to struggle to her feet.

Darla's hands closed around Finn's neck from behind even as two of the remaining bodyguards raised their guns.

A dry crack echoed through the room, followed a heartbeat later by two echoing gunshots. Finn fell to the ground, his head hanging at a strange angle, his chest a bloody mess.

Darla helped herself to Finn's gun and looked at the other bodyguards present, all of whom looked confused.

"What about the rest of you?" She asked, pointing the gun at one of them. She didn't think any of them were in league with Finn, they had shot him after all, but it always paid to be on the safe side.

"We had nothing to do with that!" One of them was quick to assure, slowly holstering his gun and raising his hands.

"We need an ambulance!" Cordy yelled.

"That's the second time!" Buffy complained, pressing a hand to her shoulder. "Shot twice in a single year. It sucks!"

"You'll be all right!" Cordy smiled down at her. "Thanks, by the way. You know, that saving my life stuff."

"Knew there was something fishy!" Buffy said, trying to ignore the pain throbbing in her shoulder. "What kind of stupid name is Finn anyway?"


#

Soulworld II - p5 - You Don't Like Me, Bite Me!

#

Angel looked down from the catwalk into the now deserted TV studio and shook his head. Close. So very close. If the sniper had been a little faster, if Buffy hadn't worn the Kevlar west he had insisted upon, if the bullet had struck just two inches higher and a little to the left, ...

He didn't want to think about it.

Buffy was only bruised, nothing serious. Her shoulder was strained, but Slayer healing would take care of that in a few days. No one else had been injured. The sniper was dead and so was that fake bodyguard. Only two chalk lines remained, one down on the stage, one up here.

"You all right?" Kate asked, approaching behind him.

"Just thinking." He replied. "What have we got?"

"Nothing much yet. Finger prints are on their way to the lab, might get results back tomorrow. Nothing on either Finn - if that was really his name - or the sniper to offer a clue to who they were or who they worked for. Nobody saw the sniper come in, either."

"Big surprise." Angel muttered.

"You find anything?" She asked him.

"Nothing helpful." He said. "The sniper picked an excellent position to shoot from. No lights, excellent shooting angle. Might have been a pro. I doubt anyone without the aid of supernatural senses would have noticed him."

He didn't miss the tiny frown that passed over Kate's face. Kate had known about his being a Vampire for a long time, but she'd never been comfortable with it. She tried to ignore it most of the times and always seemed a bit angry when he did something to remind her of it.

"A professional sniper is a bit above most of the hate groups we're familiar with, isn't it?"

Angel nodded.

"I thought maybe the Council, but they would have aimed for Buffy, not Cordelia. Must be a group with some well-off backers. Professional assassins don't come cheap."

"Just what we need." Kate sighed. "Three months to go until the VLA and someone starts sending hired killers into the streets. I love my job."

Angel was preoccupied with his own thoughts. On one hand he was glad that Cordy had a bodyguard of Buffy's caliber, for he didn't want anything to happen to his friend, not after all she had done for his cause. On the other hand, though, Buffy was the woman he loved. Knowing that she put her life on the line here ...

"I wish your mommy hadn't killed that Finn guy." Kate said. "We could have questioned him."

"Darla is not my mother, she is my Sire. Besides, he had a gun trained on Cordelia's face. It was the wrong moment for restraint."

"Hey, I won't argue with that." Kate said. "I just wished we had something to go on here."

They made their way down to the studio floor. Several policemen were still around, looking for clues, taking pictures, trying to look important. Angel did not miss the hostile looks some of the men gave him. Working with the police had not become easier since everyone knew that he was a Vampire.

Shortly after the attack on the Hyperion several of his colleagues had tried to get him fired from the PID. That attempt had failed, fortunately, but it hadn't ended the tension. Even without his being a Vampire there would have been more than enough of it, thanks to the unclear status of the PID.

Its members held Federal Marshal status, were to be involved in crimes suspected of connections to the preternatural, but the actual boundaries of their authority in such cases were pretty much undefined as of yet. The PID was a young department and still had to prove itself to many a people.

"Heard the fang broad snapped that poor guy's neck like a twig." Detective Kowalsky said. He was a member of the LAPD. Like many of his colleagues he was not fond of the PID Marshals intruding into their turf and the fact that one of those Marshals was a Vampire seemed to irk him even more. It appeared he had made it his personal goal in life to get on Angel's case.

"You mean the poor guy who tried to shoot someone in the face?" Angel asked in a dry voice. 246 years of existence had taught him patience.

"I was actually surprised to hear that she only killed him." Kowalsky continued. "Thought she'd sink her fangs into his neck and drain him right then and there. Would've boosted the ratings for sure."

"Lay it off, Kowalsky!" Kate snapped at him. She admired Angel's patience with this idiot, but didn't share it.

"Or what? Is he gonna bite me?"

"Maybe you'd like that." Kate retorted.

"Huh?"

"Come on, Kowalsky! No shame in being a fang groupie! I hear there's many people that get off on it!"

"Think we can concentrate on the assassination attempt here, people?"

Lieutenant David Mannheim had come into the studio. Of all the LAPD people Angel had worked with during his time as a PID Marshal, Mannheim was one of the most open-minded.

"I was just ..." Kowalsky began.

"Running your mouth as usual, I know. Try to keep your personal opinions out of your work, will you?"

He walked closer to Angel and Kate, lowering his voice.

"And I would appreciate it, Marshal Lockley, if you would not go into these pissing contests with my people. Things are tense enough as it is."

Kate managed to look properly chided, but Angel knew better. Kate might not be a hundred percent comfortable with him being a Vampire, but he was her partner and she still considered him a friend. Besides, Kate loved dishing out macho shit as much as any male cop, maybe more.

Mannheim turned toward Angel with a frown on his weathered face.

"How is the injured bodyguard?" He asked him. "I heard she was taken to the hospital."

"Only to be certain." Angel replied. "A strained shoulder, nothing serious. I will get her statement as soon as possible and send you a copy."

"We contacted the agency that supplied the other bodyguards." Mannheim said. "This Finn guy came with the best of credentials, it seems. We're checking them out right now."

"Probably fake. Someone put a lot of money into this, I think."

"I think you're right. The VLA is making a lot of people nervous and your friend Ms. Chase is a brightly colored target. On the other hand, though, her death might even help her cause, wouldn't it? A martyr?"

"Are you implying that members of her own lobby might have arranged this?"

"I'm just saying that we can't rule anything out. We'll check out all the hate groups, but I would appreciate it if you were to use your inside track to check out the people on the other side. Just in case."

Angel forced himself to calm down. The thought that some of the people working for his cause might resort to measures like this disgusted him, but Mannheim was right. They couldn't just rule it out. There was, of course, even the possibility that one or more Vampires had arranged this to help their legalization along.

He saw more Godfather playage, as Buffy would call it, coming toward him.

#

The figure watching from the shadows outside the TV studio didn't miss the worried frown on Angel's face as he left the building and climbed into his black convertible. Once the car vanished around the corner the figure approached one of the policemen standing guard outside.

"Can I help you, Ma'am?" The policemen asked.

"God, I hope so." Faith said. "They called me that my sister was injured here. She is working as a bodyguard. Can you please tell me what hospital they took her to?"


#

Soulworld II - p6 - And Here I Thought We Had Problems Already

#


"How are you feeling, beloved?" Angel asked as he knelt down beside Buffy. The girl he loved was sitting on a hospital bed and a nurse was busy taping her shoulder.

Buffy gave him a smile. "Nothing broken, though I'm afraid I'm gonna have to applaud one-handed these next few days. Hurts like hell."

She nodded toward the table standing by the bed, where Angel saw the Kevlar west he had given her.

"I guess I can't really bitch about you forcing me to wear that thing anymore."

"So one good thing did come out of it, at least." He joked.

"Sure, make jokes while I'm here hurting." She said with mock indignation.

He touched her hand and their fingers interlaced.

"I'm just glad you're okay." He whispered.

"I'm fine. You should see the other guy."

"Matter of fact, I did. That's why I'm here. We'll need a full statement from you as well."

She nodded.

#

The former Watcher called Wesley Windham-Pryce walked through the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel and stretched his tired bones. Who would have guessed that being a semi-celebrity would tire him out so much? Not that he didn't enjoy it, oh no.

Ever since Cordelia and Angel had convinced him to go public with his knowledge about the Watchers' Council and their practices his life had changed a lot. Wesley had never considered himself a ladies' man, but apparently his opinion didn't count. No complaining from him, no sir!

"Hello, Wesley!"

He almost jumped and his heart skipped a beat. Turning around he saw Doyle, the half-demon, walk toward him. Doyle managed to hide his amusement, mostly.

"Doyle! So glad to see you here. What would I do without my daily dose of heart-attack?"

"Man, you're new role as TV darling has done wonders for your wit, Wes. Whatever happened to the snotty British stiff I liked so much?"

"He is alive and well, thank you. What are you doing here, Doyle? I thought you were on your second honeymoon with your wife?"

Doyle shrugged, his face darkening almost imperceptibly..

"Harry had second thoughts, or maybe third and fourth ones, I don't know. Anyway, seeing as even a place like Hawaii is not that great when you've been dumped, again, I came back. Maybe burying myself in work will do wonders."

Wesley could see right past the half-demon's jolly exterior. His wife had originally left him because she couldn't handle him being a demon. A few months ago she came back and the two tried to repair their marriage. Apparently it hadn't worked out that well.

"Sorry about that." Wesley said, putting a hand on Doyle's shoulder.

"Can't win'em all, I guess." Doyle replied, shrugging.

Wesley was looking for some more words of comfort, not his strongest suite, when a strange sound suddenly penetrated to his mind. Howling. Dogs? Sounded like a dog concert right outside the Hotel. Suddenly he became aware that Doyle was pressing his hands to his ears.

"What is it?" Wesley asked.

"Ultrasound." Doyle said through clenched teeth. "Don't be surprised you're not hearing it, Wes. Someone tripped an alarm, I guess."

Made sense, Wesley thought. A Vampire's hearing - and apparently a half-demon's, too - was much better than that of a normal human. Most of the Hotel's occupants would hear this alarm, while most humans would be clueless.

"Where is it coming from?" Wesley asked, reaching below his jacket where he carried his gun. Ever since the Vampire Legalization campaign had gone into full swing none of them went unarmed anymore.

"Downstairs!" Doyle said. "I thought I knew all of Angel's alarm systems. Must be a new one."

The two men made their way downstairs into the cellar of the Hyperion, carefully watching for any signs of intruders. Doyle led them to a closed door Wesley had never seen before.

"Where does that lead?" He asked Doyle.

"I have no idea, never been down here before." He tested the door. "Locked."

Wesley spotted a small display close to the door, along with a square of numbered buttons.

"My guess would be you need a code to open this door."

"I just wish the sound would stop. I'm starting to lose my fillings."

Wesley took out his cell phone.

#

" ... and then Finn started raising his gun and ..."

Buffy was interrupted by the buzzing of Angel's cell phone. They had spent the last ten minutes carefully recording all Buffy remembered from the assassination attempt.

"Yes?" Angel answered. "Wesley? What is it? ... What? What room? ..."

Angel suddenly paled, which was quite a trick for a man already dead. Buffy jumped off the bed and was by his side in an instant.

"What is it?"

"Wesley, quick!" Angel said, not paying attention to her. "Go into the room. The number code is 12-7-1720. Yes, I'll hold."

Endless seconds passed, Angel holding the phone so tightly that the plastic casing was beginning to crack. Buffy put her hand on his shoulder, feeling the tension vibrate inside his body.

"What does it say?" Angel asked. "Are you sure? ... Okay. Wes, get Spike! Tell him the message. We'll meet at the Hotel in ten minutes. I'll explain everything there."

He turned off the phone and looked at Buffy. She almost gasped when she saw the expression on his face. She had never seen him this worried before. Never.

"Angel? What is going on?"

"Can I take her with me?" Angel asked the nurse, who had just finished taping Buffy's shoulder. The woman had barely nodded when Angel grabbed Buffy's healthy shoulder and dragged her toward the exit.

"Angel, wait!" Buffy said, aware that she wore nothing from the waist up except her bra and the taping. Angel paid no attention. She managed to grab her jacket from the table - the blouse was ruined anyway - and followed him outside.

They climbed into Angel's car and seconds later sped down the street, speed limits be damned.

Faith arrived just in time to see them leave and cursed the missed opportunity.

#

Angel and Buffy arrived at the Hotel barely eight minutes later and Buffy took a moment to pry her fingers loose from the headboard, the death grip she had held there leaving small dents. Angel had flown through the city and she had seen her life pass before her eyes several times.

He was halfway toward the entrance by the time she caught up with him.

"Angel! Will you please tell me what is going on here? I've never seen you like this before."

"You might see me much worse unless we hurry." He mumbled.

She followed him, frightened by the grim sound of his voice. Angel walked directly toward the stairs and down into the cellar. Spike caught up with them halfway down.

"Wes just called me." He said, falling into step with Angel. "He said ..."

"I know." Angel just said.

The three of them reached the cellar in silence. Doyle and Wesley were waiting in front of a room Buffy had never seen before, looking confused and worried. Angel strode right past them.

Inside the room there was nothing but a desk with a computer and a large monitor. Angel sat down in the chair and stared at the screen, where a single sentence was flashing.

NEWGRANGE HAS BEEN BREACHED

"Newgrange?" Buffy asked. "What is Newgrange?"

Angel never took his eyes away from the screen and looked every bit the dead man he was as he answered her.

"It's a bunker." He said. "It is where we hid it."

"It?"

"The Necronomicon Nocturnum."

Silence spread through the room as the message flashed on.


#

Soulworld II - p7 - The Unusual Suspects

#


Angel left that same evening on a plane for Ireland and returned one day later, looking even more grim than before, if that was possible. Spike had told Buffy that he was going to Newgrange to make certain that the message wasn't a computer glitch. Apparently it wasn't.

While Angel had been away Spike had gathered the gang, as he called it. Everyone was waiting in the lobby of the Hyperion, waiting for Angel to return from his office.

Buffy let her eyes wander across the assembled crowd. After eight months with Angel she knew most of them. Spike and Darla, of course, Angel's Vampire family. Cordelia, Wesley, and Doyle, his closest human associates. Giles had come as well, the former Watcher having worked closely with them these last few months.

Willow and Tara were sitting on the couch, reading a book Wesley had brought along. Buffy had only met the two witches a few times before. She knew the two were also lovers, which was freaking her out a little bit, but she liked them very much. Willow especially was easy to be friends with. Tara was a little on the shy side.

Charles Gunn was a virtual unknown to Buffy. She had met him once before, but they hadn't exchanged any words. Gunn was the leader of a local gang and he and Angel apparently went way back. Gunn had brought some of his friends along, all of them doing their best to look tough and scary. Buffy found it amusing, thinking of all the supernatural muscle assembled here.

Angel walked back into the room after making several phone calls in his office, black coat trailing in his wake. He was bleeding off enough nervous energy to make Buffy fidget in her chair.

"I just talked with Luke, he is taking charge back in Ireland." Angel said. "They will look for clues and question all the snitches and double-dealers in that area, looking to see if anyone has heard something."

"Knowing Luke that questioning will involve a lot of broken bones." Spike remarked.

"As long as it gets results." Angel replied. "Newgrange is empty, the Necronomicon is gone. Whoever took it has a lot of head start. Luke and his people will look for the Necronomicon in Europe, while we will concentrate on North America. I've also asked for a gathering of the Vampirium."

Darla and Spike nodded with understanding, while Buffy was just confused.

"Vampirium?" She whispered Giles, who was sitting next to her.

"I have heard of it. It is the closest thing the Vampires have to a government. Something like a Council of Elders."

"Seeing as the book could be anywhere in the world by now," Angel continued, "we will need the manpower only the Vampirium can provide."

"How much are you planning on sharing with them?" Darla asked. "I wouldn't want every fledgling in the world to know that the Necronomicon is out there. Would only lead to trouble."

"We have a lot of trouble already," Angel reminded everyone, "and it can only get worse. Whoever took the Necronomicon has to be powerful in the magic arts, both to find Newgrange and to get past the many magical defenses we installed. I don't want to think about what a powerful mage could do with the spells contained in that thrice-damned book."

Angel was pacing by now, hands clutched behind his back. He looked at Willow and Tara.

"Any luck in finding a tracing spell?"

Willow looked up from the book.

"We have tried several different ones already. No luck. It could be that an artifact as powerful as the Necronomicon simply can not be traced. Either that or whoever has taken it has gone to a lot of effort to hide it from prying eyes."

Angel nodded. He shared a long look with Spike and Darla, then turned to look at the non-Vampires assembled in the lobby.

"If worst comes to worst," he told them, "our thief or thieves might manage to reverse the Restoration Spell. You all know what that means."

Grim looks were exchanged all over the room and Buffy felt herself growing cold.

"Angel," Wesley said, "you can't possibly know that ..."

"I don't know, Wes, but we have to consider it a possibility. If the Restoration is reversed all the Vampires in the world will turn back into bloodthirsty monsters. Including us. If that should happen it will fall to you to make certain we can't harm anyone."

"No problem," Buffy said, "we'll just lock you up in that cell in the basement and get the book back, right?"

Giles shook his head, sighing.

"Buffy, we are not talking about just Angel, Spike, and Darla. There are thousands of Vampires scattered through North America, hundreds here in L.A. alone. If all of them were to turn bad at once, we will have little choice but to ..."

"No!" Buffy said, rising from the couch. "I won't even consider that! You can't ask me to do that!"

Angel approached her, gently putting his hands on her shoulders.

"Buffy, we will do everything in our power to prevent it. But you are the Slayer. It is your duty to protect the world from evil. Even if that evil should suddenly wear a familiar face."

He looked at her with his dark eyes full of sadness and worry and Buffy thought something inside her would break into tiny little pieces. It wasn't possible. This gentle man couldn't turn into a monster, it just wasn't something that could ever happen. The very thought of having to drive a stake into his heart ...

"We will find that bloody book before it comes to that." Spike said.

"I can but hope so." Angel said, letting go of Buffy after a final, penetrating look. She bit back on the tears threatening to burst free from her eyes and gave him an almost imperceptible nod. It was a promise she was nowhere near certain she could keep.

"Not that I want to change the subject," Cordelia said, "but does anyone think it suspicious that a professional assassination attempt occurs at the same time that Necrowatchamaycallit just up and disappears?"

"You think the two are connected?" Wesley asked. "I can't see how one of the hate groups could possibly know about the Necronomicon Nocturnum."

"Yeah," Doyle said, "it's not like it's common knowledge that the Restoration was performed out of that book."

"How many people do know about it anyway?" Buffy asked.

"Not too many." Angel said, thinking. "All the people present here today, of course. Most members of the Vampirium. The Vampires who were present during the performing of the spell. A few others."

"Which makes for a hundred or more possible suspects." Spike groaned. "Just great."

"Probably more." Darla said. "It's been over ninety years. Who knows with how many people those who were present during the Restoration have talked about it since then. They could well number in the thousands."

Angel was thinking about something David Mannheim had said a few days ago. How the assassination attempt could just as well have been performed by someone who wanted to create a martyr for the Vampire cause. Maybe even a Vampire. Maybe a Vampire who knew about the Restoration.

He shook his head. Just because the two events had happened on the same day didn't mean they were connected. Right now he had to concentrate first and foremost on getting the book back. The damage the spells contained in those ancient pages could do ...

"What about Faith?" Buffy asked.

"What about her?"

"I saw her in the crowd on the day of the assassination attempt. Did she know about the Necronomicon?"

Angel remembered Buffy having mentioned Faith, but in all the excitement of the last two days he had completely forgotten about it.

"Faith knows but the barest details of the Restoration." Angel said. "I never told her about Newgrange or the book."

"Bitch was nosy, though." Spike remarked.

"Even if she did know," Angel said, "Faith has neither the resources nor the power necessary to steal the book. I don't think she has anything to do with that."

"We can't rule it out, though." Doyle said.

Angel sighed. He didn't want to think about Faith right now, there was too much else going on. Besides, he was still confused about his feelings as far as the dark-haired girl went. He was very fond of her in a fatherly sort of way, yet how could he ever forgive her for hurting the woman he loved?

Not right now, he resolved. Not right now!

"The Vampirium will gather later tonight." He said. "Darla, you're with me. Willow, Tara! I want you to keep trying to locate the Necronomicon! Wes, Giles, you have full access to my books and files. They should contain information on just about any mage, demon, and Vampire powerful enough to use the Necronomicon. Check them out! Gunn, keep your ears to the street! It's unlikely that whoever took the book will come here, but we can't rule anything out. Use whatever connections you have in other cities! Spike, make sure that all the Vampires on the street know that something is up, but don't tell them what! If a fledgling anywhere in America so much as whispers about the Necronomicon in his sleep, I want to know about it!"

Buffy rose to her feet and walked toward him.

"I'm coming with you." She stated.

"No, beloved. The Vampirium is a Vampire affair. I can't take you with me."

"But ..."

"No but. Most younger Vampires have accepted that the Slayer is on our side, more or less, but the Vampirium Elders are a bit more old-fashioned. If I bring the Slayer into their midst they will kill us all slowly.

"Besides, I think Cordy has to leave for Washington early tomorrow morning. I want you to be at her side all the time, understand? We can't lose sight of the fact that someone wants her dead."

"Thanks for reminding me." Cordelia snorted.

"My pleasure." Angel said.

"Just promise me you'll be careful!" Buffy said. "I know this is your responsibility, but don't drive yourself crazy over it, okay?"

Angel smiled. How well she knew him already. He forced himself to calm down a little and gathered her into his arms.

"I promise. You be careful, too, beloved. I don't want to visit you in the hospital ever again."

"I don't want that either, especially seeing as I barely survived being driven home by you the last time."

They both smiled and shared an oh too brief kiss good-bye, then Angel grabbed his black duster and walked out into the night, closely followed by Darla.

"Okay, people!" Buffy said. "You all heard the big boss man. Let's be about it!"


#

Soulworld II - p8 - About Vampire Protocol and the Placement of Trust

#


Angel and Darla walked into one of LA's many office buildings and took the elevator to the top floor. If he hadn't been so worried Angel might have smiled. The last time he had attended a gathering of the Vampirium had been in 1908, but a few months after the Restoration, and it had taken place by candlelight in an old castle in France.

"Times change." He murmured.

"But the rules don't." Darla added. "You still remember them, I hope?"

"Don't worry about me!"

"I always do. You know that."

"Just be glad we never had to take Spike along to one of these meetings."

The two Vampires shared a small smile as the elevator arrived at the top floor. Darla and Angel passed inspection by four security guards, all of them armed, and were ushered through into a large conference room.

The room was empty except for a long row of tables arranged in a half-circle. Twelve chairs stood behind the tables, eleven of them currently occupied. Seven women and four men, all dressed in the finest of business attire, all of them radiating enough dark energy to saturate the room. The feeling of age hovered above them all like a heavy blanket and Angel could almost feel the millennia gathered here.

He remembered the protocol, which was a lot older than he was, and remained standing near the door, while Darla approached the table.

"State your claim!" One of the ancient Vampires addressed Darla.

"I am Darla Chamberlain, Eldest of the Order of Aurelius, Childe of Master Heinrich Nest. I am here to take my seat in the Vampirium."

The eleven Vampires nodded and Darla walked around the table to seat herself in the one empty chair. Twelve chairs, twelve Vampire orders, named after twelve Vampire Masters. Only three of the orders were still headed by the Vampires that originally gave the order its name. The millennia took their toll even on the immortals.

"The Vampirium is now complete." Master Jean de Chevallier said. Angel knew that this woman, who looked to be no older than twenty, was actually well over a thousand years old.

"Who has called this meeting of the Elders?" Master Grigori asked.

"I have, honored Masters." Angel said, walking into the half-circle.

"State your claim!"

"I am Liam Angelus O'Connor of the Order of Aurelius, Childe of Master Darla Chamberlain. I would speak to you of a happening of gravest importance."

"Speak then, Angelus!"

"Honored Masters, ninety-two years ago me and one of my Childer performed the spell known as the Restoration of Souls. The spell was taken from a book called the Necronomicon Nocturnum, a volume of dark magic which has, since that day, remained in my care."

"We are all aware of these facts." Chevallier said, the barest hint of boredom penetrating into her ancient voice.

"Honored Masters, it pains me that I have to inform you that the Necronomicon Nocturnum has been stolen from me two days ago."

Angel's words came close to shattering the calmness of even these ancient creatures. The silence that spread over the room was filled with worry and tension. Angel was acutely aware of the stares that centered on his person.

"Elaborate, Angelus!" Grigori said after a minute.

"The book was hidden in a bunker in Ireland, guarded by both magic and technology. The location of the bunker was known only to a handful of people. Nevertheless two days ago the bunker was breached. I was there yesterday and found that the Necronomicon is gone."

Several of the Masters were whispering to each other now. Angel watched them, wondering if one of them might actually be responsible for the theft. All of these were ancient Vampires, who had committed many evils in their long, long lives. They all carried memories of atrocities that made his own 150 years of slaughter and mayhem pale in comparison.

Might one of them have stolen the book to lift the burden of a conscience off him- or herself?

"Angelus!" Master Malya Tushumi rose from her chair and addressed him. "Ninety-one years ago the Vampirium decided that you, as the one who ushered in this new age of Vampires, were to be trusted as the Necronomicon's keeper. Do you now tell us that our trust was misplaced?"

"I can only tell you the facts, honored Masters. The decision on whether I am still worthy of your trust is not mine to make. Yet I feel that the first priority for all of us should be the recovery of the book."

He saw Darla flinch, as his words and tone were certainly lacking some of the respect the Vampirium deserved, or thought it deserved. Angel didn't think much of this ancient body of Elders, who never did much except make themselves feel important. He knew that Darla only took her seat here if it was absolutely necessary, not being very fond of most of the other people on this body.

"Angelus!" Grigori raised his voice again. "What danger does this pose to our people? What could someone do with this book in his possession?"

"Honored Masters, when the book first came into my possession I studied the spells contained inside it. I then decided that they were too dangerous to be tampered with and locked the book away. I would have destroyed it had that been possible, but the magic of the book resisted all my efforts in that direction."

"What of these spells?" Chevallier asked. "What can they do?"

"First and foremost the book contains the Restoration spell. A skilled mage might use this information to enact a counter spell that will undo the Restoration."

None of them should have been surprised by that information, yet Angel could feel the tension inside the room double. No matter how little he respected them, he knew that most of the Elders were decent people. They didn't want a return to the old days anymore than he and his friends did.

"There are other spells," Angel continued, "that might prove just as dangerous. The Necronomicon contains magics pertaining to all the major arcana of night and darkness. With it demons can be summoned, portals can be opened, plagues can be called down upon the Earth. The damage that one using the book could inflict, both on our people and on the world at large, is practically without limit."

There was murmuring among the Masters again and Angel waited, burning with impatience, but allowing no sign of it to penetrate to his face. He needed their help, therefore he had to play it by their rules.

"What steps have you taken to recover the book, Angelus?" Grigori asked.

"With my Sire's consent I have utilized all the means the Order of Aurelius has as its disposal. Members of the Order are scouring Ireland for signs of the thieves. My own people are working here in America, trying to find out whether the book might have been brought here."

He straightened and swept his eyes over all of them.

"The book could be anywhere, though, anywhere in the world. That is why I humbly ask you, honored Masters, to render all the assistance you can provide. The book must be found and quickly."

"And if it is found," Tushumi stated, "will you then bow to the Vampirium concerning the best possible disposition of this book?"

Angel managed to keep his anger from his face.

"I want the book safely locked away from any and all hands." Angel said. "I believe that is the best possible disposition for it. It is too dangerous to be in anyone's hands."

"Yet it was in your hands for nearly a century." Tushumi continued.

"And no one has touched it since the day we locked it away in 1908."

It was obvious that Tushumi wanted to say more, but Grigori rose from his chair and motioned for the Japanese Vampire to leave things for the moment. For a moment the two ancient Masters stared at each other, then Tushumi sat down again.

There was silence for a long moment, then Grigori looked at his fellow Elders.

"Do we have a consensus on providing the Order of Aurelius with all the aid it will need to recover the Necronomicon Nocturnum?"

The other Masters nodded their consent and Angel breathed a silent sigh of relief. He had feared that this might take a lot longer and have a far less favorable outcome.

"Angelus!" Grigori looked at him. "The Vampirium hereby authorizes you to make best use of all the means at our disposal to locate and retrieve the Necronomicon Nocturnum. We will receive regular reports on your progress and expect that you will bring this matter to a quick and successful conclusion."

Angel nodded and gave a short bow. With the resources of the Vampirium added to their own, there wouldn't be a place on Earth where the thief of the book would be safe.

Unless, of course, the thief was here among them.


#

Soulworld II - p9 - Connoisseurs of English Tea and Demon Literature

#

"I must say," Giles remarked, "that Angel has the most complete library of the occult that I have ever seen."

"Yes," Wesley said, "even the Council's main archive in London pales in comparison, doesn't it?"

The two ex-Watchers had spent most of the night looking through Angel's assembled books, looking to put together a possible list of suspects for the theft of the Necronomicon. They were also looking to find out more about the book itself.

"It says here," Wesley said, indicating the book on his lap, "that the Necronomicon Nocturnum is older than human civilization. It would seem it was not written by human hands."

"That would make sense. I went through Angel's notes about the Restoration and here it says that he was unable to decipher the language the book was written in. Only by performing something he described as a 'Judging of Worthiness' was he able to read and invoke the spell."

"So if the book has some kind of inbuilt safety mechanism," Wesley continued the thought, "then the only question is by what standards it judges the worthiness of the reader."

"Well, Angel was able to read it, but he is also the only one we know of who ever attempted to read it. There is no telling which of his ... qualities the book found to its liking."

Giles sighed, rubbing his tired eyes.

"I would kill for a cup of tea right now." He murmured.

"No need to go that far." Darla said, walking into the room with a tray in her hands. Giles' face brightened considerably upon seeing the tea cups on the tray.

"Thank you, Ms. Chamberlain." He said, gratefully taking a cup. "You are a life saver."

"Knowing Wesley's research habits," she smiled at him, "I felt it was certain that you two learned gentlemen would spend the entire night here without a single thought to your health. We can't have that."

"Thank you, Darla." Wes said, also taking a cup.

All three took the opportunity to just recline in their seats and enjoy the taste of the hot tea. For a moment Giles marveled that this young woman was able to make such magnificent tea, only to force himself to remember that the young woman sitting in front of him was actually centuries older than he. And an Englishwoman, if he remembered right. A very beautiful one at that.

"How did the meeting of the Vampirium go?" Wesley asked after a while.

"Quite good, actually." Darla said. "The Elders have authorized Angel to use their every resource to locate the Necronomicon. None of them would admit it, but they are all scared. The power this book has over our people is the stuff of nightmares."

Giles nodded, understanding the fear he could see in the ancient woman's eyes. It amazed how completely his world had changed in this last year. For decades he had worked in the service of the Council to destroy Vampires. Now here he was, sharing a cup of tea with one of them, helping them in their work, wanting to make the fear in the eyes of the woman in front of him go away.

Where had that thought come from?

"Where is Angel, by the way?" Giles asked, as much to distract himself from his own thoughts as anything else.

"I convinced him to go to bed." Darla said. "He hasn't gotten any rest at all since the Necronomicon was stolen. Even Vampires need their sleep, so I pretty much told him to go or I would be forced to knock him out."

Wesley smiled and even Giles could not suppress a slight chuckle. The thought of Angel being threatened by this small woman seemed ridiculous, until one remembered that Darla was Angel's Sire. Giles doubted that a human would ever be able to understand the bond that existed between Sire and Childe.

"I wish we had some more to go on." Wesley sighed, putting the cup of tea away and reaching for a book once more. "According to Angel's notes only four people knew the location of Newgrange and what it contained. Angel himself, Spike, someone called Luke, and you, Darla."

"Luke is a member of the family, Wesley. You might call him my brother, also a Childe of Heinrich Nest. I would trust him with my life."

"If it's safe to say that none of you four revealed the location to anyone, then we must assume that someone has located Newgrange and the book by magical means."

Darla sighed. "Yes, and only a mage could have gotten past Newgrange's magical defenses. We covered that subject a dozen times already. Have you come up with a list of likely candidates?"

"We are working on it." Wesley said. "Angel's books and records contain a surprising number of people who might be capable of the theft. We need to narrow it down somewhat."

The blonde Vampire shook her head.

"I fear I am too tired to think straight. If you gentlemen will excuse me, I will retire for the day. Maybe by then we will have some more to go on."

Darla walked out of the library and Giles put his cup away. He was much too wired to sleep, so he reached for another book, at the same time trying to banish some very un-Watcher-like thoughts about Darla from his mind.

#

Buffy looked up as he walked into the room and her face spread into a smile of delight.

"Angel! I missed you."

He walked toward her, grinning. She came to meet him, full of love and trust, and it was the easiest thing in the world for him to strike her down. His blow hit her full in the face and threw her halfway across the room.

"Missed you, too, lover." He snarled as he stalked after her.

Buffy rose on her elbows, bleeding from the lip, her eyes full of confusion.

"Angel, what ...?"

He grabbed her by the hair and threw her down again. Buffy could not even think of resistance when he pushed her face into the cold floor and straddled her body, laughing.

"I had a hard day at work, honey!" He told her. "Daddy needs some relaxation time."

"Angel, no!" She screamed as he tore open her blouse and brutally ripped the pants from her legs. His tongue flicked out to lick a cold, wet line along her spine.

"Sorry, honey bun! Your lover boy ain't here anymore."

He drew her head back even as he saw the horror of understanding spread on her face.

"Yes, darling!" He whispered as he pressed his face into her hair, the pulsing warmth of her neck just inches away from his mouth. "No more of that soul crap! It's time for you to meet the real me."

"Angel! Please, don't!" She whimpered as one of his hands crept between her legs, the other drawing her head even further back.

"Scream for me, love!"

With a hiss of delight he sank his fangs into her neck and she screamed.

#

Angel woke with a start, covered in sweat and panting heavily. For a moment he still had the wonderful taste of blood in his mouth. Her blood.

"My God!" He whispered. "My God!"

He looked around his empty bedroom, realizing that it had been but a dream. He was alone. Buffy was on her way to Washington with Cordy. Safe. Safe from him.

Angel balled his fists, trying to calm his rapid breathing. He was a man, damn it! A man, not a demon! He had rid the world of the demon over ninety years ago and he would never allow it to return. Never again would a killer wearing his face stalk innocent victims.

"Are you so sure about that?" The demon's voice seemed to whisper in his ear.

Angel sat on the bed, hugging himself.


#

Soulworld II - p10 - Say That You Love Me Enough

#


One week had passed since the theft of the Necronomicon and Buffy returned home to the Hyperion desperately hoping that there was some positive news. She had spent the last five days in Washington, riding herd on Cordy, who seemed determined to make friends with every Senator and Congressman in existence. Sometimes Buffy doubted that Cordy was human. She was the Slayer and completely tired while Cordy seemed as fresh as a daisy.

At least she would be free for the foreseeable future. Cordy's next big appointment was in Washington again, but that was nearly a month from now. She would have to deliver a big speech to a large crowd of movers and shakers and would probably start working on said speech tonight.

Buffy had better plans for the night.

"Hi, Giles! Wes!" She greeted the two Watchers, who were sitting in the lobby in front of a heap of books, printouts, and a laptop computer. That she would live to see the day Giles started using a laptop.

"Hello, Buffy." Giles greeted her. "All went well in Washington, I trust?"

"No further assassination attempts," she informed them, "and apart from that I didn't get much. There was a lot of talk about civil rights and stuff. I think Cordy blew them away."

"Cordelia does have the talent to overwhelm people." Wesley agreed.

"She certainly does." Buffy's smile vanished. "Any news about the book?"

"None I'm afraid." Giles sighed. "Not a trace. I am amazed by the reach the Vampirium has, but whoever took the book seems to be beyond said reach for the moment."

"The good news is, of course," Wesley added, "that nothing particularly malevolent has happened to our undead friends yet, so I think it's safe to assume that whoever has taken the Necronomicon has not figured out how to use it yet."

"Or they're simply waiting to lull us into a false sense of security." Giles said.

"Where is Angel?" Buffy asked.

"In his office. He is online with most of the Vampirium operatives worldwide. If you can, Buffy, you should convince him to get some sleep. He has been working nonstop for several nights and days now."

"I think I can find some ways to convince him." She assured them with a smile and walked towards Angel's office.

Angel was sitting behind his desk, two laptops and lots of paper in front of him, staring at the screens with red-rimmed eyes. He was cradling a phone to his head with one shoulder, while he was busily typing away on one of the computers, all the while talking in a language that Buffy didn't recognize. Sounded a bit like Chinese or Japanese.

Angel looked up and saw her, flashing her a brief half-smile, then returned to his phone conversation and typing. Buffy sat down in the chair in front of his desk, crossing her legs, and waited patiently.

For about two minutes.

"I think you should stop now, Angel!" She informed him. Angel looked up from his screen again and said some indecipherable words into the phone, then put it away. He leaned back with a sigh.

"I can't rest, Buffy." He told her. "We still haven't found a clue about the book's whereabouts. If I ..."

"If you are completely tired out you won't be able to do a thing once the book is found, Angel. From what Wes and Giles told me, you got hundreds of Vampires scouring the entire world right now. Will it kill them if you allow yourself a few hours of sleep?"

He was about to open his mouth when Buffy rose and walked around the desk to straddle his lap. She put her arms around his neck and rested her forehead against his.

"Really, Angel! I love you, but sometimes you're a dummy. Get some rest! You're not gonna be of use to anyone like this."

Again he sighed. "Why is it that I can never win an argument against you, beloved?"

"That's not true." She said with a mock pout. "I always let you win the unimportant ones."

They shared a brief kiss, then Angel nodded.

"Okay, I will go to bed. Come with me?"

She eyed him suspiciously. "You are supposed to get some rest, mister. The two of us in one bedroom doesn't go together with that."

"I promise to be good." He whispered into her ear, brushing it with his lips.

"I don't know whether I'm glad or sorry to hear that." She smiled.

#

Angel had his eyes closed and did nothing but marvel at the wonderful feeling of the warm form that lay sprawled across his body. Buffy's head rested on his chest, her hair spilling down his side and into his fingers, which were softly playing with the strands. It felt so wonderful to have her here like this, alive, breathing, chasing the chill of death away just by her presence.

Once again he remembered the nightmares that were still plaguing him. The nightmares of what Angelus would do to this wonderful girl that rested in his arms. It made him shiver.

"You're brooding again." Buffy chided him, opening her eyes. She turned over until she was lying on her stomach, resting her chin on his chest and looking into his eyes.

"Worrying is more like it." He told her, fingers still caressing her hair. "With the book somewhere out there ..."

"You're doing everything you can, Angel." She reminded him. "So please stop worrying for now, okay?"

He couldn't do that, of course. He had spent too much time doing nothing but worry. Ever since the Restoration there had always been something to worry about. How his people would survive without killing. How they would stay hidden from the humans. How they would find a place among them when hiding no longer worked.

He looked into her eyes. Every day he loved her more and that just gave him something else to worry about.

"Beloved, you have to promise me something!" He said.

"Anything."

"Should the worst happen, should the Restoration be reversed, you will have to kill me."

She rose in a flash, sitting back to stare at him with wide eyes.

"No, Angel! Never! I ... I couldn't ... Never! I can't promise you something like that!"

"Buffy, please ..."

"Don't Buffy me, okay? Angel, I love you! How can you even think of demanding something like that from me?"

He sat up as well, gently grabbing her by the shoulders, feeling the shivers that ran through her small form. It hurt him to demand this of her, but he had to make her understand.

"Buffy, listen to me! If I lose my soul, if the demon takes control again, it won't be me anymore. Just a monster wearing my face. You don't know what that monster is like, Buffy. You don't have the least idea."

"I read all the books on your past, Angel." She reminded him. "I know what you did when you weren't you, but ..."

"Your read about it, Buffy. You didn't see it. I remember it all like it was yesterday." He looked down, trying to shake the memories away. "The demon is still in here, Buffy. He is inside my mind. I know what he will do when he gets free. I know what he will do to you. I have seen it in my nightmares, he whispers it into my ear when I sleep. The thought that he might ... might hurt you ... kill you ..."

"That will never happen, Angel!" She told him confidently. "We will find the book and you and your people will be safe."

"If the worst happens," he insisted, "I need your word. Don't hold back against me, because the demon won't. He will do everything in his power to hurt you. Promise me, Buffy! Promise that you will kill me if it happens!"

Buffy looked into his eyes, filled with desperation, and found herself nodding.

"If ... if that's the way you want it." She whispered.

"I do. I wouldn't want to come back if anything were to happen to you."

"But it won't come to that." She repeated, wrapping her arms around him to pull him close. "We will find that stupid book and this time we will burn it to make sure that it can never happen again."

He relaxed in her embrace, not bothering to tell her that destroying the book was not possible. He didn't know whether she actually would, or could, go through with killing him if it had to be done. He knew, though, that he would do everything in his power to prevent it from happening.

He was a man! And never again would he allow the demon free reign.


#

Soulworld II - p11 - Lift This Burden From My Shoulders

#


The Vampire studied the book lying on the table in front of him with something very close to reverence. This was the holy grail of Vampirekind. Had been ever since that fateful day in 1907. The day everything had changed. The day one of their own had damned them forever.

Angelus, he growled under his breath. Traitor to his own kind. Cursed them all with a conscience, only because he had run afoul of some Gypsies. Even thought that he had done them a favor, the swine.

He contemplated the book again. This small thing held the power that had changed them forever. Its black leather casing, strange and disturbing symbols etched into the cover, seemed to glow with an inner light.

Carefully he reached out and undead fingers slowly caressed the book, trying to get a measure of the danger it posed. The temptation to just flip it open and unleash its power was almost too much to bear.

"What a wonderful world," a voice made the Vampire flinch back from the book, "that has such wonderful power in it."

He looked up to see the approaching shape of the sorcerer, making not a sound as he walked through the corridor. The sorcerer's shape was clad in flowing black robes that hid everything but his face and hands from view. He seemed to float rather than walk, though it was hard to say. A chill seemed to precede him as he came into the room.

The Vampire knew that he needed the sorcerer, needed his skill and power if he wanted to achieve his goals. Yet at the same time he loathed this creature he was dependent upon. The sorcerer was not human, neither was he a Vampire. He was something the Vampire did not understand and that irked him.

"Can you hear its beautiful song?" The sorcerer asked, coming closer. The light of the candles flickered across his face, but the floor behind him was empty. He cast no shadow. He left no footprints.

"Yes." The Vampire said, observing these disturbing details. "Who could not?"

The sorcerer walked closer and reached out with his own hand, dark-skinned fingers hovering a hair's breath above the black cover of the Necronomicon. The barest shimmer of magic played across the back of his hand, tiny sparkles of energy as he tasted this thing of blackest sorcery he now called his own. He could feel the dark power that was seeping from these ancient pages and he relished it.

"I have dreamt of this moment for a long, long time." The sorcerer said.

"I hope you won't need that long to figure out how to use it." The Vampire said.

"Patience, my friend. The power of the Necronomicon Nocturnum is not something to be taken lightly. We need time and lots of preparation."

The Vampire snorted.

"Angelus worked the Restoration but minutes after he found the book, with more than a hundred Vampires about to rend him to pieces, and he was not even a skilled mage."

"Angelus was ready to sacrifice everything in order to fulfill his dream, he did not care for his own survival. I certainly do."

The sorcerer touched the book.

"Powerful magics bind these pages. To open the book is to subject oneself to them, to put oneself at their mercy. The Necronomicon itself decides who is worthy to work its power and we need to be sure that we are worthy, otherwise death by fire awaits us. I am sure neither of us is too anxious to have that happen, especially when we are this close to fulfilling our dreams."

The Vampire sighed, understanding but not liking it.

"One would think that an immortal such as yourself," the sorcerer said, "would have perfected the art of patience long ago."

"Who has the time to be patient when Angelus is scouring the world with the resources of the Vampirium behind him? Despite his youth he is not an opponent to be taken lightly. The Order of Aurelius stands with him, as does the Slayer. I want to get this over with before they find us."

The sorcerer chuckled softly, amused by the almost stark terror the mere mention of the Slayer invoked in Vampires. He was not worried about a little girl with superpowers. On the other hand a hundred or more Vampires led by a fanatic like Angelus did worry him.

"You could have opposed his use of Vampirium resources."

The Vampire laughed. "What? And be the only one to do so? I could just as well have stood up and confessed the thievery of the book. No, Angelus must not suspect my involvement, not yet. As long as he works with the Vampirium, I know what he will do. Should he find a trace of us, I will be prepared to face him."

"If that is so, then why are you so worried?"

"Let me worry! It is your job to get that damn book to work, spend your time with nothing else!"

The sorcerer's face showed no amusement.

"I will. Just don't forget that I am not one of your lackeys. We are partners in this. I will unlock this book and reverse the Restoration for you. After that the Necronomicon is mine to do with as I please."

The Vampire growled.

"I remember our deal, do not worry. Now get to work!"

The sorcerer nodded, his face neutral and still. It disturbed the Vampires that he could not read this man. More than a thousand years on this world had taught him how to read and understand the motivations of humans and other creatures by observing the tiniest nuances of face, speech, and body movement. None of it worked with the sorcerer. His thoughts and motivations were closed to him, he kept his own council.

He remembered what Angelus had said. The book contained more spells than just the Restoration. Spells of dark power that could summon demons, call down plagues. Until this moment he had not given any thought to what the sorcerer might do with the book once the Restoration was reversed, but now ...

The Vampire shook his head and turned around to leave the sorcerer with the book. Inside he was burning with impatience. It had taken him decades to find Newgrange, Angelus had hidden his treasure trove well. It had taken him even longer to find someone who could help him breach Newgrange's magical defenses, someone who would unlock the book's secrets and make them work. He did not know what the sorcerer wanted to do with the book once the Restoration was reversed and he did not care in the least.

Soon, he calmed himself. Soon this curse would be lifted from him. The memories of the past would no longer haunt him, the simple pleasures of hurting and killing would no longer chill him down to his soul, for that soul would soon be gone.

To be able to live again, truly live. Taste the blood of mortals without pain or regret, live in a world without worry or despair. To be free of this curse that Angelus had laid upon his people. Soon. Very soon.

Master Grigori smiled. Soon he would live again. Soon!

Behind him the sorcerer smiled as well, for reasons all his own.


#

Soulworld II - p12 - Sometimes You Just Need Faith

#


"We gotta run, Buffy! Call me, okay?"

"Sure thing, Xan!"

Buffy remained seated at the table as Anya and Xander took off from the café. It had been good to see her oldest friend again, she mused, even if his new flame had to be one of the most superficial girls she had ever met. A bit like she herself had once been, she admitted.

Ever since becoming the Slayer, and especially since becoming involved with Angel, she had had too little time for her old friends. She and Xander had gone to High School together and this had been the first time they had met in months.

With a sigh Buffy resolved to do more of this catch-up work once she had a bit more time. Yeah, like that would happen anytime soon. The Necronomicon was still gone, not a trace to be found in more than two weeks. Angel was working with superhuman effort and seeing absolutely no return for it, which was slowly driving him crazy.

She would have to do something about that, she smiled to herself. Something to relax him a bit. Something that had nothing to do with Vampires, magic books, assassins, ...

Someone slid onto the chair on the other side of the table and Buffy froze.

"Hi, Buffy!" Faith said.

Faith! Buffy had almost managed to forget about her with everything else that was going on. Now Faith was sitting right in front of her and Buffy was speechless.

Faith looked unchanged from the last time she had seen her. Last time having been the night Faith had beaten her up, broken her arm, and then run off when Angel wanted no part of her. Buffy felt white-hot fury flood through her veins and started to stand up.

"Sit down, Buffy, please! No need to turn this café into a battleground."

Buffy looked around. There were at least fifty people close by, enjoying their drinks and meals, chattering, reading. People who could get hurt if she and Faith started fighting here. Reason won out and she sat down again, glaring at Faith instead.

"What do you want, Faith?" She asked, her voice trembling with fury.

"You're a hard girl to catch up with, Buffy." Faith said. "I've been trying to get you on your own for weeks now and it never worked."

"If you want to finish what you started six months ago I'll have to warn you. I will not be taken by surprise again."

Faith looked down, looking embarrassed. Which was about the last thing Buffy had expected. Now that she was taking a closer look, Faith didn't look at all like she was here to start a fight. She was dressed in a long skirt, carried no weapons that Buffy could see, and there were dark rings under her eyes, as if she hadn't slept properly in weeks or longer.

What was going on here?

"I'm not here to fight you, Buffy." Faith said, looking up again. Buffy had trouble reading the look in her dark eyes.

"Why are you here then?" Buffy asked, unable to keep the hostility from her voice. She owed Faith one for beating her up like that. She was the Slayer, damn it, and Faith had beaten her to a pulp. Intellectually Buffy knew that it had been due to the fact that she had not expected Faith to attack her, and certainly not with Slayer strength.

Emotionally though, Buffy wanted nothing better than to beat Faith's face into the ground repeatedly.

" Buffy, I ... I wanted to say ... fuck, I'm not good at this. I ... I am sorry. I spent a lot of time thinking these last few months. Thinking about what I did and, more important, why I did it. I .. I wanted to ... explain to you ... explain what happened."

Faith balled her fists under the table, shaking her head.

"When ... when the Watchers attacked the Hyperion all these months ago, I ... I watched the fight from upstairs. I saw how you and Angel fought together. Fuck it, I'd been in love with him since I first met him and not only had he never so much as noticed it, now he had found you, someone as strong as he was, someone who could fight by his side.

"I was furious, disappointed. And then ... then I saw the Watcher aim his gun at you and I ... I said nothing."

Buffy didn't say a word, her face a frozen mask. Faith didn't meet her gaze.

"I didn't even think about it. I saw him aim his gun and the warning died in my throat. Then he shot you and ... I don't know how, but ... but suddenly I felt so strong. It was like someone had poured liquid fire into my veins and I felt great, reborn. I realized that I was as strong as you now and I ... I sort of convinced myself that it was meant to be this way. Now, if I could only beat you, Angel would get together with me."

Faith gave a brittle laugh.

"Stupid, I know, but ... I don't know what was going on in my head. I just don't know. I kept my power secret, I trained, and when you and I were alone in the Hyperion I used my chance and jumped you. Well, ... you know what happened then."

Buffy was still silent as a statue. Faith found her courage rapidly dwindling.

"When Angel brushed me off, kept me from ... from hurting you, I ... something inside me snapped. Suddenly I realized that he didn't love me. That he would never love me. It was, it was like my whole life just broke into pieces at that moment. I had always been certain, completely certain that Angel and me were meant to be together, especially when I had been given that power completely out of the blue, but then ..."

Finally she looked up again and into Buffy's frozen eyes.

"These last few months I realized just what I had done. I ... I never thought I would be capable of something like that. Trying to intentionally hurt someone, to ... I'm scared, Buffy. Scared of what I have become. I tried to get a grip on it, but ... I can't. I just can't. I ... I am sorry, Buffy. I know that doesn't really cut it, but I'm sorry."

Buffy could clearly see the desperation on Faith's face, but something like a red haze had descended over her mind. She had hated Faith even before that little revelation about the day Buffy had nearly died from being shot. Faith actually had the nerve to come here and expect ...

"I know I don't have the right to ask you for your forgiveness, but ..." Faith began.

"You certainly don't." Buffy interrupted her. "Honestly, Faith! You come here, tell me your little sob story, and expect that everything is well between us? What did you think I would say? Faith, glad that you're back. Don't worry about your beating me up or your letting me be shot at! It's all forgotten, I don't hold a grudge. Is that what you expected?"

"No, I ..."

Buffy jumped to her feet, the chair falling to the floor behind her with a clatter that sent ripples of silence through the restaurant. Everyone was looking their way now.

"Stay away from me, Faith! Stay the hell away from me, Angel, and the others! If I ever see your face again I will tear it off, understand?"

Buffy stormed out of the restaurant, trembling with anger, trying to get her pulse down to normal again. The nerve of that bitch! To come here and ... and ... Buffy screamed in frustration and started toward the Hyperion. She needed to let off some steam.

#

Faith looked after Buffy as she left and sighed deeply. This had gone just wonderful, but what else had she expected? Buffy had every right to be angry with her after all that had happened. Maybe she should have left out the part about not warning her of the bullet coming her way.

No, she resolved. If this was to work she needed to be honest with them. She had tried to do this on her own and failed miserably. She needed them.

Every morning she looked at herself in the mirror and saw the face of a person she wouldn't have wanted to know. Someone who had stabbed her friends in the back. Someone who had tried to hurt the girlfriend of the best man she had ever known. Someone who had been given the power to make a difference and had abused it in the most terrible way.

She couldn't handle it. She just couldn't handle being this person. She had hoped that just staying away from them, away from the people she had hurt, would heal the wounds, but it hadn't. In her dreams she saw Buffy, lying on the floor, hurt and beaten, looking up at her with confusion in her eyes. What had Buffy ever done to her to deserve this?

She saw the deep disappointment in Angel's eyes. Not hatred, not disdain, not even rage, just a look of disappointment so deep that it had chilled her down to her soul. He had cared for her, she knew that, though never in the way she had wanted him to, and she had let him down. Worse, she had betrayed him, stabbed him in the back.

Then there was Spike. Spike whom she had used for her revenge plans. Bought him off with her sex like a cheap whore. She had fooled him in the worst way, made him an accomplice in her insane plan to steal Angel away from Buffy.

She had to make this right somehow, whatever it took. Angel, Spike, the others, they were the only real friends she'd ever had. Even Buffy, whom she had never gotten close to because of her jealousy. They were the only family she had left since that night over six years ago when she had lost her parents to the monsters.

The monsters. She saw one every time she looked into the mirror. Saw it behind her eyes, waiting to burst free. She felt the abyss close to her, felt it breathing down her neck, waiting for her to fall down into it. She didn't want this to happen, didn't want to become a monster, but without even noticing she had come so very close.

She needed to get away from the abyss. She had to prove to them that she was sorry, that she wanted to be a better person.

The only problem was that she had absolutely no idea how to do that.


#

Soulworld II - p13 - Cryptic Answers and Awkward Reunions

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The boos of the patrons accompanied Angel off the stage. He had sung the song "Walking in Memphis" and actually thought that he had managed it quite well. At least if one compared it to the other times he had sung here in the Caritas. Which wasn't saying a whole lot, of course.

The Host was waiting for him behind the stage, smiling gently and shaking his head.

"I wish I could read auras without the singing," he mused, "at least in your case."

"Skip the funnies and tell me what you saw!"

Weeks of searching for the Necronomicon had worn away Angel's patience and he was all out of it right now. The Host looked at him for a long moment.

"I wish I could tell you more details, but I'm afraid there is no clear course visible. I can tell you some of the things I can see in your aura, but I don't think it will be of much help to you."

"Even a little bit would be more than I have right now." Angel said.

"Very well. I see blood in your aura, much of it. Blood is the key to dreams, yours and those of others. You will find the book or it will find you, I am not sure. You must have faith. An old one will try and use you for his own gains. A door will open and it will lead to death and worse. In the end only blood will remain, the blood of one you love more than life itself."

The Host sighed. "I wish I could tell you more, handsome, but everything is muddled."

He reached out with a hand and moved it a hair's breath over Angel's chest, as if brushing over an invisible barrier.

"There is much power here, dark power. It surrounds you like a shroud. The book, yes. The Necronomicon is here, with you. The two of you are connected. You worked its magic and it will not let you go. That is why you will find it. Unless it finds you first."

Angel frowned at the strange words of the Host, but the green-skinned demon wouldn't say anymore. Walking out of the Caritas he tried to make sense of the words his friend had told him.

The blood of one he loved more than life itself? Buffy's blood? No, he wouldn't let it come to that. An old one would try and use him? A member of the Vampirium?

He also remembered that Buffy had seen Faith a few weeks ago. When the Host had said "You must have faith" had he meant "You must have Faith"?

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Buffy stormed into the Hyperion, still trembling with fury, looking for someone she could either beat up on or subject to furious rant. Considering that only her friends lived here it would probably be the latter.

There were sounds from one of the doors. The room behind it had started out life as a dining room, but Angel had converted it into a large library. Library equaled Giles, Buffy thought. He was always good at listening to her rants, good meaning that he was normally too flustered to interrupt her.

She walked in and stopped as if she had run into an invisible barrier. Giles was inside, true, but he was not reading a book. Giles in a library without reading a book? That alone might have sufficed to make her world view collapse in on itself, but not only was Giles not reading, he looked to be having a good time chatting with ... Darla?

„... been years since I saw a good performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream." Darla said.

„I hear one of the local theaters gives a very good accounting of it, though they are probably ruining it with their American accents."

Darla laughed and Buffy stared. When exactly had Giles and Darla gotten so chummy? One could almost think they ... no, don't go there! That way was madness and ugly thoughts about older men doing ... don't go there!

Buffy quietly retreated from the room to the sound of more laughter from Darla and decided to make her way to the training room. Some physical exertion was needed now, yes. Maybe if she pounded the punching bag into little free-floating particles she might feel better.

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The sun would rise in a few more minutes and Spike approached the Hyperion, having spent most of the night beating up local snitches and informants. None of them knew anything about a magic book or who might have hired an assassin to go after Cordelia. Spike had worked all night and all he had to show for it were a few broken bones - other people's bones - and a need for sleep and blood.

He was about to go in when he smelled something in the air. Something ... no, someone he knew. Someone who's scent was all-too familiar to him. Spike balled his fists and smiled. Maybe this night wouldn't be a total write-off just yet.

He made his way around the Hotel without making a sound, his form melting into the shadows, and soon found his prey. She was leaning against the wall, spying through a window, and was oblivious to his presence.

Spike sneaked up behind her and cleared his throat.

„Hello, Faith!"

The girl spun around and threw a kick his way, but he easily blocked it, still smiling.

„Spike!"

„Nice that you still recognize me, pet!" He half-smiled, half-growled. „I see that you still haven't developed much of a brain, though. Coming here instead of running to the ends of the Earth doesn't say much for your smarts."

„Spare me the smart-ass remarks, Spike!" She snarled at him. „I'm not here to get into a fight with you."

Spike threw a glance through the tiny window she had looked in through and saw that it showed the inside of the training room. In the far corner Buffy was pounding away at the punching bag like there was no tomorrow.

„From the looks of her I wouldn't go in there," Spike said, „unless you're planning to get yourself pounded into powder. The Slayer looks pretty pissed."

„I saw her earlier today." Faith said. Spike couldn't quite keep the surprise off his face. „I wanted ... I wanted to apologize to her. For what I did."

„And what, she wasn't interested in your apologies?" Spike said with mock surprise. „Who'd have thought that? She certainly knows how to hold a grudge against people that break her arms and beat her bloody."

Faith almost winced at his words, which surprised Spike more. Something had changed about her, that much was for certain. He wasn't quite sure what to make of this new Faith yet.

„She has a right to be angry with me." Faith said, then looked up at him. „So do you. Spike, I ... I'm sorry that I ... that I used you the way I did. I ..."

„This is not a good topic, pet!" He growled at her.

She looked down again and Spike fumed. He had taught her the moves, the moves she had used to hurt Buffy, and he had been dump enough to let himself be bought with a few wild nights of sex. It made him want to beat her into a pulp right here and now.

„I have to say this!" Faith insisted. „I am sorry, Spike! I never meant to ... I don't know what was going on in my head at that time. The only thing I could think of was that Buffy had stolen Angel from me, never mind the fact that I'd never had him in the first place. I just wanted to get back at her and you ..."

„I was just a dumb fool in the right place, is that it?" He growled.

Her eyes met his again and he was surprised by the amount of pain and sadness he saw in them.

„I never meant to get you involved in this, Spike. It was only when you showed me how little I yet knew about fighting that I realized that I needed you. And ... and that pretty much was all there is to it as far as my messed-up brain was concerned. Spike needed to kick Buffy's ass. So I ..."

She sighed, stopping her babbling.

„For what it's worth ... I'm sorry Spike. I'm truly sorry. We never much liked each other. I remember how much I used to tease you and how often you almost tore my head off. Especially after our first bout in the gym."

It almost brought a smile to her lips, but Spike was not amused. That had been when she'd still been a normal human, no stronger than any other teen girl out there, and she had provoked him into a sparring match. Overconfidence on his part had resulted in him being flipped on his back with Faith sitting down on his chest. Moments later Angel had come in and exploded into a laughing fit.

„Bringing up those good old memories is not the way to get on my good side!"

Faith quickly vanished her smile and looked at him again.

„What I'm trying to say here, Spike, is that I'm sorry. We didn't much like each other, but I was wrong to use you like that. I made a mistake, I messed up. I don't know what else to say."

Spike didn't know exactly when he'd slipped into demon face and he didn't care. He surged forward, pressing Faith into the wall, holding her by the wrists, growling into her face.

„And you think that makes it all well again, vacuum-brain? You think you can just turn up here, go on about how you're sorry, and everything's forgotten? You're even more of a fool than I thought."

„I'm not asking for everything to be well again." She yelled back at him, but not making a move to pry herself loose. „I'm just asking you to give me a chance to make it up. Is that really so much to ask?"

The words took the wind out of his sails. Second chances. He remembered how, just eight months ago, a Slayer that had killed many of his people walked into the Hyperion, looking like she was going to her own execution, and reached her hand out to him. Reached her hand out to Spike, who hated all Slayers ever since he had lost his princess to one of them nearly a quarter century earlier.

He remembered thinking how anyone deserved a second chance. After all, if someone like himself had gotten one, than everyone else had just as much claim to it.

Still, this was Faith. Faith, who had fooled him into betraying his best friend. Who had hurt the girlfriend of his best friend. Who had used him like a dumb puppet.

„And how exactly to you plan to make it up, pet?" He growled.

„I don't know." She yelled at him. „I don't know, are you satisfied now? I don't have the slightest idea. I only know that I have to do it."

He stared at her for another minute or so, then slowly let her go. He believed her, which was probably very foolish of him, considering how she had fooled him before, but he believed her.

„So what now?" He asked her. „You plan on just going in there and say sorry to everyone you meet? Won't work with Buffy from the looks of it. And I'm not sure about Peaches. Seems to me that he'd be swaying between giving you a second change and tearing your head off, depending on where the mood swings."

„Well, I was sort of hoping to talk to Angel alone first. Since I made such a mess of things with Buffy."

„Gotta warn you, Angel is not in the best of moods right now. What with the Necronomicon and assassinations ..."

„What about the Necronomicon?" Faith asked.

Spike swore under his breath. Why was he telling her all this? He didn't trust her, not in the least, and here he was, his mouth one step ahead of his brain again.

„Nothing. Not your problem. If you want to get back into our good graces you got your work cut out for you without worrying about anything else."

He sighed.

„Give me a phone number where I can reach you," he said, „and I will talk to Peaches. He'll call you."

Faith gave him a thankful smile and scribbled her number on a piece of paper.

„Thank you, Spike, I ..."

„Just get out of here before I regret it."

She nodded and walked away into the approaching dawn. Spike looked after her for a moment, then quickly went into the Hyperion to escape the first rays of the rising sun.


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Soulworld II - p14 - Let's Not Forget About the Hate

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Cordelia leaned back on the couch, sighing, trying to stretch the wariness out of her aching bones. These last few months she had been on the road almost nonstop and it was starting to take its toll on her. Not that she would ever allow herself to appear tired in front of the others, no way. She might not be the Beauty Queen of Sunnydale High School anymore, but she still had her pride.

She checked her time planner. Nine weeks to go until the big day. Nine weeks that were still filled with a lot of work, but mostly local stuff. Some more TV interviews - everyone wanted one after the assassination attempt had gone out live and in color - some meetings with senators, an interview for an article in Time Magazine.

There was, of course, that big final speech thing. It was a great honor, she knew that, to be allowed to hold a speech before the assembled Congress, and right before they would decide on the Vampire Legalization Act, too. Everyone would look at her and the words she spoke would help shape the future of an entire race.

She was not daunted by the prospect. Okay, maybe a little, but she had known what she was getting into the moment she had started working with the pro-Vampire lobby. Granted, she had never in her wildest dreams imagined that she would become the head of it, but Monica Chase's daughter would not let herself be intimidated by a bunch of dusty politicians or nation-wide fame. No way.

She still had to write that speech, though. Cordelia was good at improvising and did most of her speeches pretty much spur of the moment, but this was much too important to mess up. Some of her lobby colleagues had wanted to hire a professional speech writer for that one, but she would have none of it.

Darla had once told her that the reason for her success was that everyone who listened to her quickly realized that she believed every word she said. Which was true, Cordy did believe every word of it. Vampires were people, everyone who'd just spend a little effort on getting to know them would realize it. They deserved to be treated equal to everyone else.

With a chuckle she remembered the day she had spent watching Angel talk to Buffy when the Slayer had been a captive here in the Hyperion, still convinced that all Vampire's were the spawn of Satan. Angel had told her his story and she had made an offhand comment about how he wanted his poor little Childer to live in a nation where they would not be judged by the lengths of their fangs, but by the content of their character. Cordy had almost exploded into giggles.

Not that she'd be able to use something like that in her speech, sadly. Politicians were, for the most part, not very humorous fellows. So she would have to go to the heart of the matter. Gunn had been kind enough to loan her his records of Martin Luther King's speeches and she had gathered some more material from the net. Never hurt to let oneself be inspired.

Refilling her cup from the large coffee can standing on her desk, she began to scribble some notes.

#

In the workout room of the Hyperion Buffy put the coup de grace on the abused punching bag, kicking it off its hinges and making it fly halfway through the room. She had pounded on it for nearly an hour and didn't feel better in the least.

Her thoughts were still spiraling around the topic of Faith. Faith, who had beaten her bloody. Faith, who had tried to take Angel away from her. Faith, who had the nerve to just show up and ... she forced herself to calm down.

No, calming down didn't work. She looked at the pitiful remains of the punching bag and decided that she needed something else to beat up. Thankfully she heard a noise as someone passed by the gym and stormed out through the door, coming face to face with Spike.

"Spike!" She greeted him. "Just the man I was looking for."

"Who? Me?" He looked confused for a moment, almost like a kid that was caught doing something stupid. Maybe he'd been out drinking again? She couldn't smell any alcohol on him, thought that might just be a result of him not breathing.

"Yes. I'm still too worked up to go to sleep. I need a good sparring. You up for it?"

Something very much like relief spread across his face and Buffy was too wired to give it more than a passing thought. He accompanied her back into the gym and took off his coat, falling into a fighting stance.

"Don't hold back, okay?" She told him as she prepared to attack.

"Okay, but you keep Peaches off my back if you get too bruised for smoochies!"

"Deal!"

Moments later she was upon him, kicking and punching, drowning herself in the thoughtless action of combat. Spike matched her blow for blow, moving with the same inhuman swiftness she herself had. Both of them were sweating mere minutes into the fight.

Buffy felt the knots in her brain slowly loosening as the fighting helped relax her. This was actually the first time she had ever fought against Spike, they had never sparred before.

Something about his fighting style was very familiar, though. Her body seemed to remember fighting someone who moved just like him. Angel? No, Angel fought a different style, as did Darla. Spike, he moved almost like ... nah, couldn't be. Spike of all people ...

All that thinking about Faith must have screwed her up worse than she thought.

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Marshall Kate Lockley sat behind her desk and stared at the mountains of paper that had descended upon it like an avalanche. She liked to think of paperwork as a tangible force of evil, trying to bury her in order to keep her from catching the bad guys.

It didn't help that she was essentially working without a partner right now. She didn't know exactly what was keeping Angel so busy these last few weeks, but it didn't take supernatural insight to see that it worried him tremendously. From what she had been able to gather he was neck-deep in arcane Vampire shit and she certainly didn't want to get involved with that.

That meant, though, that the solving of the assassination attempt on Cordelia Chase was left to her. Seeing as Cordelia was one of Angel's closest friends, whatever kept him away from this case had to be even more important than Kate imagined. He had just told her that he would not be able to devote much of his time to the investigation and that he trusted her to handle it.

She made a mental note of what she already knew.

The sniper's name had been Kyle Taylor, a gun for hire of the best caliber. His price had ranged somewhere in the six to seven digit range and he was wanted for questioning in several other cases of assassination, though no proof had ever been able to link him to any of these crimes.

The fake bodyguard's real name had been Graham Marks, not Riley Finn, and he was almost a blank page as far as criminal records were concerned. A few years ago he had been questioned in connection with a terrorist incident in Iowa, but never even been accused of anything.

Searching Marks' apartment had produced a large amount of cash in a nondescript envelope that held no fingerprints save Marks' own. If one added the sum paid to Marks to the average cost of hiring one Kyle Taylor one got a very, very large amount of money. Much more than your average hate group could possibly pay.

The FBI had managed to find one of Taylor's bank accounts, one which had received a large payment shortly prior to the assassination attempt, and followed a paper trail that led through at least three different dummy corporations and ended up in a country that, as Kate knew, was the home of an organization that was able and certainly willing to dish out this much cash for such a purpose.

Twenty minutes later Kate pulled into the parking lot of Los Angeles state prison and flashed her badge to the guard at the reception desk.

"Marshall Kate Lockley," she told him, "here to see Quentin Travis."


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Soulworld II - p15 - Where Is a Worthy Vampire When You Need One?

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The black-clad man was shivering with fear, sweat staining his brow, his hands shaking badly as he approached the table and the object lying on it. He was acutely aware of the eyes watching him from the twilight of the room, only the occasional flicker of candlelight allowing him to see their demonic visages.

With trembling fingers he reached out and touched the cover of the book. It felt like ice, sucking the warmth out from under his skin, drawing him down into a cold abyss. Reciting prayers under his breath he flipped open the first page and stared at the strange and disturbing runes he could see there.

The air around him filled with an eerie light as the book awoke under his fingers. The runes shifted and changed, power pouring out from them, surrounding him, probing deep into his mind and soul, looking for something.

Moments later there was a flash of blinding pain, an agony so terrible and all-encompassing that he did not even have time to scream.

The book fell shut again.

Master Grigori shook his head in disappointment as he beheld the pitiful remains of their latest attempt to open the Necronomicon. Someone worthy, it said. Someone the book found worthy of opening it. Apparently this one had not been worthy.

"He was a priest," Grigori growled, "by all accounts the most virtuous man around. And yet the book burned him."

"I guess virtue is not the answer then." The sorcerer mused, also looking at the heap of ash that had been a man just seconds ago. Eldritch flame was still playing across the remains and threw strange shadows on the walls.

Grigori threw his hands into the air and stalked around the room.

"These experiments of yours have gone on long enough, sorcerer. You have set how many people on this book yet? A dozen? More? It wanted none of them."

"If you are so impatient you are welcome to try and open it with your own hand, Grigori. Maybe the Necronomicon will take a liking to you."

The ancient Vampire stared at the black book lying peacefully on the table and cursed loudly. Weeks had passed and no progress, none at all. They had tried it with Vampire fledglings, humans, demons, priests, sinners, pregnant women, innocent children, none of it had worked. The Necronomicon had burned them all and the pages had closed once more of their own accord, what brief glimpses they had seen of its interior showing nothing but indecipherable runes and writings.

"It is difficult," the sorcerer said when Grigori made no attempt to touch the book, "to extrapolate what qualities the book is looking for in a worthy reader when all we have to go on is Angelus. I have searched records of the Necronomicon that go back thousands of years, yet Angelus is the only one we know of who was ever successful in opening it."

Grigori continued pacing the room while the sorcerer reclined on his chair, deep in thought. Grigori did not like being in the presence of this creature and his patience was running thin. The sorcerer seemed unimpressed by both his impatience and the continuous string of failed attempts.

"Maybe it is not so much the person who opens the book," the sorcerer mused, "but rather the intent behind it."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that all the people we brought here opened the book because we told them to do it under threat of death. They were full of fear. Angelus, on the other hand, is a fanatic. When he opened the book he was thinking of nothing but his holy quest. Maybe that is what the book is looking for. Someone who approaches it with no fear and holy intent. Or what he himself thinks of as holy intent."

Grigori thought about that. His hatred for Angelus and what he had done to them all was an almost tangible thing, but he managed to look past it and approach things rationally. Angelus. Hounded by his own kind. Filled with a desperate need to spread his own curse among his brethren. A hundred Vampires on his heels with murder on their mind. The power to change the world in his hands. What had he felt at that moment? What had been going on inside his head? What had the Necronomicon seen in him?

Grigori considered his own state of mind. His was a holy intent as well, he did not doubt that for a second. To free his race of the curse of conscience. To kill the pain that assailed them all night and day. Yet was he without fear? Was he a man who had nothing left to lose? He stared at the Necronomicon and knew that it was not so. He feared what would happen should he touch it, he feared for his own existence, and that fear might well mean his doom.

"So what we need," Grigori said, "is someone who wants to open the book, is not afraid of dying in the process, and has a holy intent on his mind, is that what you are saying?"

"In essence, yes." The sorcerer said.

"Great. Where do you think we can find such a person to do it for us?"

The sorcerer gave Grigori a curious glance, maybe having expected that Grigori thought himself to fit into all these categories.

"Then again," the sorcerer said, "maybe we are approaching this entire thing all wrong."

"Yet a new idea?" Grigori snorted.

"All this time we have been looking for someone who can open this book for us. Yet why are we looking for someone new? Why not look to the person that we know is capable of opening the book?"

For a moment Grigori was confused, then he understood.

"Angelus? You want to make Angelus open the book for us? I think you are going insane, sorcerer. As you yourself said, Angelus is a fanatic. He would rather kill himself than do anything that might endanger his precious Restoration."

The sorcerer rose in a swirl of black robe and his inhuman eyes seemed to glow in the candlelight.

"There are ways to bend even one as strong as Angelus to our will, Grigori. Every man can be broken."

He approached Grigori and the Vampire felt the slightest trickle of fear run down his spine.

"Bring me Angelus!" The sorcerer said. "Deliver him to me and I promise you, I will make him open this book for us, Grigori. He will beg me to let him open it for us."

Grigori considered this idea and found it to his liking. It would be irony worthy of the drama. To have the same man that had laid this curse upon them be the one to take it away again. Grigori closed his eyes and imagined Angelus on his knees, begging for the pain to stop, begging to open the book for them.

It was a beautiful image.

"Besides," the sorcerer added, "once we have persuaded the Necronomicon to open to us and found a spell to reverse the Restoration, we will need someone to test it on. Can you think of a better candidate than the Scourge of Europe?"

Grigori smiled broadly. That was an even lovelier picture.

"Very well." He said. "It will not be easy, but I will deliver Angelus to you. You should better be able to do what you say, though, sorcerer. I know Angelus and I know the people who consider themselves his friends and comrades. Once he is in our hands they will move heaven and hell to find us and the forces allied against us will be terrible indeed."

"I will break him." The sorcerer said. "Just make sure he comes here!"

Grigori nodded, the beginnings of a plan forming in his mind. To capture Angelus out of the midst of his allies. Difficult, but not impossible. They would certainly come after him with all the force they could muster, maybe with the aid of the Vampirium behind them.

Then again, if he just played his cards the right way ...


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TO BE CONTINUED