The rain had stopped some time ago. The alley was drenched, and not only with rain. Demon blood, and worse, mingled with the rainwater, was spattered up the bare walls. The last of the demonic army sent against them by the Senior Partners had been slaughtered moments before. The four of them simply stood there, gazing in silence at the carnage before them. Gunn sighed softly and folded, blood bubbling between his lips. He had survived much longer than Illyria had thought possible. Not only had he survived longer than ten minutes, he had spent seven hours battling beside them. Now the others moved, Illyria stepping forward swiftly to scoop him up into her arms.
'He will not last long. He is stronger than I gave him credit for, but he is still mortal and this wound is serious. He requires urgent medical attention.' she stated, an uncharacteristic weariness colouring her tone. Angel and Spike both nodded, exhausted.
'There're some bandages and stuff back at the Hyperion.' muttered Angel. She nodded, and led the way out of the alley.
'You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine,
You make me happy, when skies are grey,' The voice was familiar to him, he doubted he would ever forget it. Fred. Although he did not seem to have any body, he struggled towards the sound. He had believed her, in the end, trusted the being that had taken his Fred from him. Trusted the being that had killed her...
'Please don't take my Sunshine away.' He knew he shouldn't have, felt that it dishonoured her memory. But she had shown remorse, in the end, had regretted it. And he had died in her arms, watching tears fall down his Fred's face. He knew, somehow, that those tears had been Illyria's as well, knew that she had grieved at his passing, just like the woman whose face she wore. He hoped, perversely, that she would not care too much, the thought of one like Illyria brought low somehow intrinsically wrong. He remembered her face, then, iced-blue eyes and blue toned skin. So like his Fred, but so totally different.
'My bonnie lies over the ocean,
My bonnie lies over the sea,
My bonnie lies over the ocean,
Oh, bring back my bonnie to me.' A different voice, singing a different song. Illyria's voice, this time. He remembered how Fred had suffered, had begged him to let her stay. Remembered her tears as her insided liquified and her skin hardened into an impenetrable shell. He remebered other things the, random images of her scatterd throuought their shared history. Fred, luring a bestial Angel with a blood-soaked hand. Fred, struggleing to restrain her giggles as Spike fought a puppet Angel. Fred, eating tacos in the lab...So many memories, blurring faster and faster until they stopped on one last image. Fred's face, nothing else. He marveled at how different it was to Illyria's, so much softer but with that same strange inner strength.
'You are my Sunshine,
My bonnie lies over the sea
You make me happy,
Oh bring back my bonnie to me.' Both songs, now, both voices, building, building, until they reached a deafening roar. There was the stereotypical flash of bright light. Then - silence.
She could feel the grief, like a living thing, eating her up from inside. She should not feel such things, she was Illyria! God-King of the Primordium, Shaper of things! Grief was for weaklings and fools. Or so she had thought. But now, in this age of Champions, it seemed that she was mistaken. Here, now, emotions were not derided, not ignored, they were accepted, known. And now she realised that she would not give up her newly-discovered emotions either. Whatever pain they caused her, they were a part of her now. And she would not have it any other way. When she had first awoken, she had thought their emotions were their greatest weakness. Now she realised they were their greatest strength. A power more potent than any magick. In that moment, when her whole world–view changed, she found she had a new reason for existing. And her will to accomplish this goal matched her implacable determination to destroy Vail. Vail had killed a Champion, of that she was sure. Now she would become a Champion in his stead. A snippet of a poem Spike had once read to her came back to her.
'Take up our quarrel with the foe,
To you from failing hands we throw,
The Torch; be yours to hold it high,' She would hold his torch high. And she would hold Fred's high too. The torch she had snuffed out.
With this new determination, she left the room she had taken refuge in, and returned to the lobby, where Angel was tending to Gunn as best he could. Spike was lying on the only unoccupied sofa, ignoring the blood soaking into the upholstery.
'I go to be alone. I may be some time.' She was not surprised to get no answer. The others were too deeply occupied by their own personal pain to acknowledge anything not absolutely essential. So she simply shrugged and went out the door. Once upon a time she would have railed against it, threatened to make trophies of their spines for their insolence. Not so now. She strode steadily down the dark street. She had errands to run.
In a dark, empty alley, the air rippled, as though a pebble had been dropped in a still pond. Out of this disturbance a figure stepped out. It stepped forward, into the faint light of the lone street light at the end of the alley. It was a woman, with amber eyes and black, black hair. She was dressed from head to foot in black leather, and moved with a catlike grace. She blinked once, and smiled.
'Long time no see, sister mine.'
Wesley opened his eyes slowly, then sat up with a jerk, eyes opening fully. He shouldn't have eyes! He was DEAD, for crying out loud! And last he remembered, he hadn't had a body. So how the hell did he have one now? He took in his surroundings, more than a little surprised to find himself in the middle of a wooded glade.
'Um, hello, anyone? Anything?' he called nervously, wondering if he would get an answer. He did, but it brought it's own set of question marks. A little girl appeared, walking between the trees. She was dressed in an amber tunic, and seemed to be glowing. Okaaay.
'Greetings, Champion. You have fought well and bravely, and…Oh, I give up! Hi, Wes. Yes, you are a Champion, yes you are dead, and yes, you do deserve a reward. I know what you want, but I can't give it to you as you never actually lost it.'
Illyria was angry. She had returned to the dwelling place of the sorcerer Vail to retrieve Wesley's body, only to find it gone, a large bloodstain and Vail's crumpled corpse the only signs that a Champion had died here. The Wolf, Ram and Hart had obviously taken it for some unfathomable reason. This infuriated her beyond belief. There was nothing left for her, here. She had hoped that honouring his body might ease his passing. She would never know, now. She turned away from the bloodstain. She had two vampires and a human to deal with.
The lone figure strode along the street, casting a long shadow behind her. Some of the ethereal grace had left her, whether this was a disguise on her part or not was impossible to tell. Moments later she had reached an abandoned warehouse. 'These things are everywhere.' She thought to herself, beforeshe pushed one of the doors open. Inside, smoke wreathed the air, along with the occasional *snick* of a pool or snooker ball. It could have been any seedy bar in town, were it not for the clientele. Every vampire in the room turned to the door as she entered. Almost instantly the air was filled with catcalls and wolf-whistles. She rolled her eyes, supremely disinterested. She had more pressing matters to attend to.
'What? Wha, wha, what?' he spluttered in shock. The girl simply grinned.
'My, that was coherent. OK, basically, your Fred's soul wasn't destroyed when Illyria turned up. Which is impossible, frankly. Not many souls could have survived the holocaust of an Old One. Impossibility two, she's still sane! Any souls that had survived that, should by rights have gone insane sharing the same head as an Old One, especially Illyria. As it is, she's not only sane, she's woken up her Nehima!' Wes was now officially lost.
'Wait, Nehima?' he asked, not recognising the term
'Yeah-huh. Every Old One was spawned with a Nehima and an Orranis. Nehima – soul, conscience, capacity to love, etc. Orranis – all the negative versions of same. But, it turns out that the term Orranis is in itself misleading. Basically, before the Old Ones even existed, there were these beings called the Bright Shiners. They were even more powerful than the PTB. They were the forces for good, and in those days, there weren't any forces for evil. Their names, the original Shiners, that is, were these. Ranna, Kibeth, Mosrael, Dyrim, Belgaer, Saraneth, Astarel, Yrael, Lirael, Nehima, and Orranis. Well, Orranis went bad, wanted more power. So Ranna, Kibeth, Mosrael, Dyrim, Belgaer, Saraneth and Astarael bound him. By now Lirael was diminished, and Nehima was fighting her own battles. Well, Orranis realised that he was basically screwed, so he sent out an Imprint. Imprinted everything he was at that point – namely evil – into every living being on the face of the planet. Nehima was the first to discover what he had done, and she knew there was no reversal of an Imprint, so she did the only thing she could to counter him.' She said quietly. Wesley knew what she meant.
'She did the same thing.'
'Uh-huh. But she was weakened from her recent battles, and Orranis fought her on the plane they were now on, and sent her into an endless sleep. One that even the others, when they found out, couldn't break. Now you see why your Fred's so impossible? She broke a spell eight Gods couldn't!' Wesley sank down to the ground in shock.
'How?' He whispered. How could she have done that?
'Love. Fred possesses a capacity for love to rival Lirael's.' He noticed a flash of darkness flicker across her face at that. Then it was gone, and she was shaking her head and grinning.
'She said it'd happen, but I didn't believe her. "The Age of Champions" She said, "There will come a time when humanity is protected by a legion of Champions. Champions such as the world has never seen. No matter the race, creed or colour, pasts as white as the driven snow, pasts as black as New Moonthyme. Champions thought to be broken will rise up. And they will burn. Burning with a fire that has not been seen since before the Charter. The stars will sing, and the seers shall sing with them. And Nehima shall wake, and Gods shall walk amongst the mortals as equals. The road will have been hard and rocky, the woods will have been dark. But they will step out of the darkness and into the Sun. And the Gods and their sisters will make the Sun all the brighter. And one who never knew how will laugh. And one who knew only hostility shall find love. And one who was ever lonely shall find company. And two shall be freed from their darkness. And one shall forgive themself for something forgiven long ago. Old feuds shall be replaced with alliances, and old friendships shall be renewed with trust. Blood will have been spilt, but more will have been saved. And Orranis will sleep for eternity. Nehima will rise, and the Seven shall join her. Yrael will awake and all will be well." That's what she said. It seemed too good to bet true, and now it's happening. I mean, up to this point, there's only ever been one, two at most, Champion defending humanity. Now we have Buffy, Willow, Xander, Faith, Angel, Spike, Gunn, Anya, briefly, Cordy, Doyle, for a while, Gunn, Fred, Darla and Drusilla, verrry briefly, Dawn, Connor, Giles, Lorne, several thousand Slayers, you,… the list's endless. And, from what I gather, this is just the beginning.' Wesley just gaped at her. Hang on, hang on, did she say Darla? And Drusilla? And – him? She smirked slightly at his gobsmacked expression.
'There's another one waiting for you, but I'm keeping it a surprise. Off you go, now, there's someone down there to get you your Fred back. I don't know who, soul magick is kinda tricky. Anyways, bye now.' She waved, and there was another bright flash of light.
Illyria strode quickly into the lobby of the Hyperion, her arms full of blood and medical supplies. She had detoured to a nearby hospital to collect what she needed. Now she dumped the blood onto the floor beside Spike and stepped over to Gunn. Angel was there, trying to keep the two sides of the gaping wound together. He wasn't having much luck.
'Angel. I have brought medical supplies for Gunn. There is also an abundant supply of blood. Go and feed. I will tend to the human.' Angel looked at her strangely for a moment, and looked about to argue when she interrupted his unspoken refusal.
'You are injured and weak. This makes you tired which affects your healing skills. I am not injured and am therefore better equipped to do this job. Feed. Now.' He sighed and nodded, biting back a growl as standing up aggravated his numerous wounds. She watched him make his way slowly and carefully to the blood, before turning back to the bloodstained mess in front of him. The sh-Fred- had some knowledge of healing, and she drew on it now as she ripped a pre-threaded surgical needle out of its packaging. She had lied to Angel when she said she was uninjured, but she was capable of running on far less health than the vampire. Gunn was obviously badly injured, mainly from the gaping wound in his gut. She set about hurriedly stitching him up. Stitching finished, she washed all the blood off she could and wrapped a clean bandage round his middle. She continued in this way for about half an hour, until he was all patched up. He had drifted off to sleep at some point, and now she left him to it. Angel and Spike were both asleep as well, having downed nearly four gallons of blood between them. They would sleep for a long time, long enough for Illyria.
She took the rest of the medical gear upstairs, and began to tend to her own wounds. The gash on her neck from Hamilton had reopened, and, just as she was about to put a dressing on it, she was struck by the memory of Wesley doing it for her, just last night. Then the sobs came. Not the silent tears that had rolled down her face as she said goodbye, but proper, wracking sobs. All she could hear was her own breath hissing in her ears. She struggled to stop it, but she could not stem the tidal wave. All she could do was ride it out and hope she was not pulled under.
Finally they stopped. She was tired, drained in a way that did not seem possible. She did not know if this was her own grief, or the sparks that were all that was left of Fred.