Disclaimer: Please see Part 1 Chapter 1...

SHADOWED SOULS Part 5

Chapter 1

"Illyria?" Wesley questioned, approaching the demon, which turned immediately to regard him.

"That Slayer is not one of ours." Illyria commented as it stepped back inside their suite, followed by Wesley who closed the door and locked it. "She did not come with the Slayer-Queen to this place from the Hellmouth."

"No." Wesley admitted cautiously. "She was not created by Willow last year."

"How did she come to be, if the Slayer-Queen's Mahju did not bring her forth?"

"Justine is successor to Fallon Mady. She lives here in LA. I know her from when…I met her last year." Wesley answered, feeling his scar itch – a psychosomatic response if ever there was one.

"Last year…" Illyria stopped and tilted its head over to one side so its ear was almost touching its shoulder as it looked at Wesley, a gesture characteristic of the demon when it was absorbing some new knowledge and accessing Fred's memory cortex to establish context. "The female…Justine…fought with you against the haikahwa'ah you call Jasmine?"

"No. She was involved in…another Angel Investigations case." Wesley answered before her comment registered - "Wait, you know what Jasmine really was?"

Illyria shrugged. "She was not rare amongst her kind. Many of the haikahwa'ah were determined to end the endless wars and slaughters that raged across so many, many dimensions and realities. The insectoid race of Tu'iq'Nhva were known for their ferocity and internecine wars, that is why she picked them to experiment upon before she came to your world hidden in the body of your vampire-king's Visionary love…"

Of course - if Jasmine could pull off her plan with a species as ferocious and violent as the Two-eek-whatevers, she could be confident of pulling it off with much less vicious species – relatively speaking – like ours –

"…She turned them from war to peace in worship of her, the price was only the flesh of a dozen or so Tu'iq'Nhva a year." Illyria finished.

"Yes, I saw their world. Terrible place," murmured Wesley as he went and poured himself a glass of the rather good whisky Spike had apparently left at some point, "all that calm – what it needed was a good bloodbath to liven the planet up."

Illyria was suddenly much closer than it had been, its expression clearly showing a lack of appreciation for his sarcasm. "It was not truth. They were not truly changed, merely enslaved. She took away their will so they had none of their own, so how could their peace be anything but a hollow sham?"

"That's…an enlightened view." Considering what you are. "Are you saying that if given the opportunity you wouldn't have simply chosen to have entire worlds devotedly worshipping you, unencumbered by that pesky free will thing?" Wesley challenged somewhat recklessly.

"I did have opportunity. It was unnecessary. I am Illyria. I was beloved without need to resort to enslavement to obtain the devotion of my worshippers." Illyria responded without arrogance, simply stating the facts. "Though I did not fully understand, only he did."

"He?"

"The being that made your kind. We paid no heed when he made the human plague. Weak and unshelled, soft and wormlike you were, crawling blind across our world, feeble and easy prey. He always had a fondness for this dimension, this world above any others, yet it was the least of the wonders he made, the glorious beauty he forged in the stars."

"How could…He…It…have any real power before having any worshippers? Without worshippers, a god is nothing?"

Illyria laughed out loud – a startling and unnerving visual. "Nothing? What conceit your kind has, so pitiful yet so arrogant. Any creature is born with as much or as little power as is natural for its species and nothing can take that away – nor increase it. His – It's – power was beyond the comprehension of all but even a few of the Old Ones, and your regard or lack of it meaningless to him."

The idea that Illyria had met, had been casually acquainted, in fact, with God-capital-G, was a notion that Wesley had to take a moment to assimilate.

The demon explained, "But he realised, where as we did not, that his might would be made even greater by those who chose to worship him, instead of subjugation or…"

"Brainwashing?" Wesley suggested, as Illyria seemed to grope for a suitable word in the limited modern English.

"Yes, that is appropriate…brainwashing, like Jasmine chose to do. So he forged the human plague…and allowed them to worship him or not as they chose."

"Not an approach favoured by you and the other Old Ones, I take it." Wesley murmured, talking another gulp of his whiskey.

Illyria frowned. "Folly, to our kind, we destroyed anything that was not utterly ours, served nothing but our own ambition. We warred and conquered and had worlds at our feet as we did before, it mattered not to us that the vermin spread across the worlds or his ridiculous largesse to his creation – those that genuflected to him he blessed, but even those that would not, He allowed to feel the sun and rain, to plant grass and eat vegetation. Then there came a day when, suddenly, we were few and they were many. Your kind crawled into all the places where we strode as gods to gods and pushed us out. They gathered together against the Old Ones and though we dashed to pieces hundreds in a single stroke, there were thousands and hundreds of thousands still there. They cried out in a single voice from a billion throats to him and he gave them his power. The lesser ones amongst us were destroyed, and we who reigned supreme banished to sleep forever in the Deeper Well."

"Except for you." pointed out Wesley. "Let's just hope no more of your fellow Old Ones were also smart enough to rig an escape plan."

Illyria narrowed its eyes at him, "Why are you hostile? You have been angry ever since you returned from the Ghost Roads. It is in your posture and your eyes and your voice. Why do you risk provoking me, who could kill you with a single blow? You are trying to distract me from the Slayer who is not part of the Slayer-Queen's group."

"My, you are a lot brighter than most demons." Wesley allowed full-on sarcasm to infuse his voice. "As a matter of fact, yes, I am angry. It's never easy to travel the Ghost Roads at the best of times. Not only did I have to relive in graphic detail some very unhappy memories, I had to watch in Technicolor and Surround-Sound my nightmares play out as if they'd come true and I was shown how I inadvertently committed the greatest Watcher crime of all – I harmed my Slayer. I told her things that weren't true, that I didn't even believe, and now those things are haunting her mind and possibly putting her unborn child at risk. As for Justine Bloody Cooper, she's a twisted, sadistic bitch who helped her boss trick me into betraying Angel, after which, she slit my throat and left me to bleed to death on the sidewalk, and now she wants me to be her Watcher. In short, I'm not in the best place right now, and all I wanted was to have a quiet night's rest with Fred, instead of which, I get up here and for some reason find I'm babysitting the Psycho-Smurf."

Illyria's eyes flashed. "I am here because the Fred-human is distressed. She is upset over something I do not understand, and she is unnerved. All these Slayers and other humans make her nervous. She does not feel safe. You are her mate, it is your task to protect her, but you are being angry and frightening, so I must protect her. I will not leave until Fred feels safe again."

"Fine. You do that." Wesley turned and made to leave.

"Where do you go?"

"Somewhere where I can get some bloody peace and quiet. Being nagged by a hell-demon is not how I envisaged spending the night."

"I do not permit you to go."

"And I do not give a damn what you permit..." Wesley snarled, driven beyond prudence as he reached for the door.

He gasped as Illyria grabbed his forearm in a crushing grip, and he instinctively tried to push the demon away, but the chitin-like armour rendered Illyria virtually impervious. Wesley abruptly realised just how dangerous the moment was, since Illyria, if angry, was quite capable of killing him without actually meaning to do so.

Hissing through its teeth, the crystalline blue eyes glowing with anger, Illyria caught his other arm, it's grip increasing with an exponential strength that was on the verge of crushing Wesley's bones.

Incredibly, it was Angel's bite-mark that broke the confrontation - when Wesley's head arched back exposing his neck when he was unable to prevent himself crying out in pain against it's grip.

Illyria released one of his arms, raising its fingers to brush against the bite marks. "The vampire Angel bit you…" It frowned as it sensed the other mystically healed bite marks, checking the other side of his neck where Spike customarily fed. "The vampires have bitten you before, yet they have not killed you. What is this?"

"Let me go…" Wesley grated out. "Illyria, release me."

Pushing him away from the door back into the room proper, Illyria demanded, "What is this, that you let the vampires bite you?"

"It was necessary." Wesley rubbed his arms, wincing at the pins and needles as circulation and pinched nerve endings began to come back.

Spotting the bedside clock's LED display that said 12:04, Wesley gave the edited highlights in the hope of being able to wrap things up quickly. "I allowed Spike to feed because he was in danger from an enemy when he tried to hunt, and we needed him to fight on our side. As for Angel, there is an enemy in Wolfram & Hart – someone is poisoning Angel's flask of blood with Luaric. We don't know who it is yet, so we're pretending Angel still has that blood, but I feed him…Fred knows this."

Illyria's eyes went slightly vacant as the demon reached into its central cortex to access Fred's memories of events. "Yes, she remembers…you and your leader had a great confrontation in your lair because you allowed the blond vampire to shelter in your lair and feed from you. Your leader was jealous over this."

"No kidding." Wesley agreed before he could censure himself. "You must keep it a secret, Illyria. The poisoner doesn't know we're onto him, and if he finds out Angel is no longer being dosed with his Luaric-contaminated blood, we may never catch him, so nobody must know that I feed Angel and Spike."

"They cause you no harm?" Illyria pressed.

"None."

Starting to nod its head in reluctant acquiescence, Illyria paused suddenly. "But not the female."

"Eh?"

"The vampiress." Illyria clarified, moving closer again and gently stroking Wesley's injured neck with its fingers, over the bite marks and the faded scar left by Justine. "I have accessed Fred's memories of Angelus, last year. It is only their souls that keep the two males from killing you, but the female vampire has no soul. Besides, she is very pretty, and Fred will not have that blond strumpet biting you."

His lips twitching involuntarily as Illyria revealed so openly what Fred would never have said, Wesley hastily agreed, "No, no, no blond strumpet, absolutely not."

"And this Slayer…Justine Bloody Cooper." Illyria frowned. "She tried to kill you? I will destroy her."

"No!" Wesley snapped with more force than he intended, causing Illyria's stance to stiffen with renewed aggression. Wesley went on, "What Justine did…was bad…but she was following the orders of her leader, Holtz. He tricked many people into believing he was good, and that Angel was evil. Justine didn't know what was really going on. She thought she was doing the right thing."

There, half-truths to disguise outright lies. Wesley kept his face straight and his respiration steady as Illyria regarded him. While initially gulled, Justine hadn't been fooled for very long, and had known, deep down, what Holtz really was – the way she had followed Wesley after one of his meetings with Holtz had proven that she knew what was really going on. Unlike Aubrey and the others, she hadn't remained blind to Holtz's real agenda, but just like Rupert Giles and Robin Wood with regard to Spike, she had wilfully ignored the truth, for the simple reason that Justine hadn't cared.

Angel was a vampire, so therefore any atrocities perpetrated against him were justified in her view – and ditto those 'degenerates' who 'associated' with Angel. That was how she'd rationalised away 'murdering' Wesley Wyndham-Pryce while kidnapping, or re-kidnapping to be technically correct, Angel's son – Wesley certainly wasn't under any illusions that he'd been supposed to survive her attack; the knife had been too sharp, the wound too deep and too severe, the attack too well aimed at his jugular. Wesley hadn't been supposed to survive to let Angel know who'd taken Connor and thus spoil Daniel Holtz's intended "dead-end" plan – Angel left with nothing but the body of his traitorous lieutenant exsanguinated on a suburban sidewalk by persons unknown with his baby son vanished into thin air – no clues, no leads, no suspects.

During those weeks of taking Justine out in the boat searching for Angel's tomb on the seabed, nothing had changed her embittered, fanatic worldview, despite how she and her fellows had been abandoned utterly by Holtz the instant they were of no more use. It was probably a classic example of bitter irony that only now Justine had become a vampire slayer was she gradually losing the blinkers she'd donned upon the murder of her twin, forced increasingly to acknowledge not only that she'd been on the wrong side, but the good guys were led by a vampire.

"If that it what you wish…" Illyria said reluctantly.

"Yes." Wesley reinforced and mustered up a smile. "It's late, we should go to bed."

Performing his ablutions as quickly as possible and wincing as he came back out to see that it was nearly one o'clock in the morning, Wesley climbed into the huge old bed where Illyria already lay, staring at the ceiling where the faint lines of old ceiling carvings could be seen. Wesley had a sneaking suspicion that this had once been one of the hotel's honeymoon suites, for some of the faint lines seemed to detail risqué decorations. Almost as if it were reading his mind, Illyria stretched out an arm, and placed it's hand on his chest, as if wondering anew at the warm softness of his human skin…Wesley went still – this action usually heralded Illyria's decision to mate, and doing the beast with two-backs with an uninhibited, and still irritated, hell-demon in a hotel full of people with supernaturally enhanced hearing was not Wesley's idea of fun.

However, after a moment, Illyria merely moved next to him, drawing him close into the tight embrace that Wesley privately termed 'the body-lock of doom'. With vague surprise he realised that Illyria was feeling insecure, so Wesley consciously forced himself to relax and close the tiny gap Illyria had left between them, laying his head on its armoured breasts and closing his eyes…

To be continued in Part 5, Chapter 2…

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