"Sounds unpleasant," said Spike. Because really, what else does a fella say to a statement like that?
"It had its moments," the Immortal acknowledged. "Sometimes it was akin to being… I believe you are familiar with the notion of the 'crazy cat lady', are you not? I was alone but surrounded by primitive companionship, if I wanted it. However, you could just as easily say that I was surrounded by companions yet ultimately alone. My perception varied, and I coped at some times better than at others."
"You're not loony now," Spike pointed out.
"No. Fortunately, humankind evolved over the eons. Learned to speak, discovered clothing, developed cultures and music and spiritual beliefs; that sort of thing."
"Fire, the wheel…"
"Actually the use of fire predates human beings as we recognize them," said Aurelius, "but yes, in essence. Little by little, humanity became a species with which I could have companionship, though still crude and primitive compared to the degree of intellect, the power, to which I had been accustomed. Even so, it was better than nothing."
"You said 'crazy cat lady'; Illyria claimed once that she was going to make me her pet," Spike said in distaste.
The Immortal chuckled. "It's favor, of a kind," he said. "In its courts you would have had no real influence, of course, but you would at least have been protected, your needs attended to."
"Oh, sure, and what's a little dignity compared to a soft bed and kibble, and treats every Sunday?" said Spike. "Christ, make it sound like she'd be taking me out for walkies, or something just as revolting."
"Considering that Illyria recognizes you as a half-breed, a relatively unimpressive demon inhabiting a human corpse, to have achieved that degree of regard from it is actually remarkable," said Aurelius. "You'll note, it has never offered as much to Angelus."
"Well, with his soul –"
"You are the souled vampire," said the Immortal. "Liam has an exceptionally well-crafted facsimile, in his curse, but the witches who cursed him were just that. Witches, not gods. They could no more place a soul into an already-inhabited body than they could… tuck the moon into a pocket of their skirts."
Spike coughed. Reached for his drink. "All this prophecy rot, about a vampire with a soul… Angel's always thought it was about him. Was a bunch of mystical mojo, happened a bit ago, once I got cured of my ghosty phase and came over solid again. Everyone said it was 'cause there were two of us now."
Aurelius shrugged. "They were wrong," he said simply. "Most of what I am told occurred was simply part of the setup for your fight with Angel, which you already know was a hoax. Those who were not mistaken about its significance had a vested interest in misleading both you and him."
"Okay, just – no," said Spike, a bit desperate. "All I was going to say was that Angel's soul makes him a fair bit different than when he's without it, and mine didn't change me all that much, so maybe Illyria didn't want one or the other side of him but didn't care enough about mine to let it bother her, so that's why she did the pet thing with me but not him. Now you're telling me…" He blinked hard, tossed back his whiskey. "Actually I've no idea what you're tellin' me, but I don't really care to hear it either way."
"Fair enough," said Aurelius. "Just remember that most of Liam's behavior is a sham – one you've seen through already – he is just as manipulative, and just as much a waste of my time, with his curse as without it. Remember also that he has made a bargain of some kind with Wolfram and Hart and is now trapped by it, and knows it. The redemption he claims to seek, he has nearly thrown away, repeatedly; not only that, his desire for redemption is itself a sham, because the curse he bears has compromised his free will. Consider what he wants, what he chooses to pursue every time the curse is lifted, compared to when it is in place. If your soul were somehow to be taken away, would you change so drastically?"
Spike looked away, poured himself some more whiskey rather than answer. He was pretty sure he wouldn't change all that much, with the exception that he might start thinking he was a better than he really was; but most of what the Immortal was saying right now implied too many things he didn't want to explore. The notion that the Shanshu might be about him was just the appetizer. The idea that Angel not only didn't have a soul, but never had; the idea that only a god could put a soul back into a man – what did that say about Spike himself? Did he really have a soul? He had to or that amulet wouldn't have worked, or at least that was what they'd all been told. Was that demon in Africa really a god in disguise – and if he wasn't, where had Spike's soul come from, or had it never really left?
Too many questions he wasn't sure he wanted answers to. And none of them had to do with the Immortal's story… he hoped.
"We're not meant to be talkin' about me," he said finally. "We left off with you goin' a bit barmy from the solitude, once it was just you and humanity here on Earth. When did you come out of it? How?"
Aurelius didn't answer at first; instead he looked at Spike searchingly, as if debating whether or not to pursue the topic Spike was trying very very hard to ignore. Spike just looked back at him, no wavering even though God he wanted to look away, anywhere else – just met his gaze, and waited. Finally Aurelius nodded minutely, and Spike thought he saw a flicker of disappointment pass over his face before he spoke.
"As I mentioned before, I am uncertain how long I spent alone, speaking to trees and listening to the vibrations of mountains – they resonate, you see, but too slowly for any but an Old One to notice. In any case, I eventually began to attach myself to tribes of human nomads here and there, just for someone to talk to. Unfortunately they age so quickly, and I… don't. I was never able to stay with any one group for long. I made that mistake only a few times."
Spike could well imagine what would happen, if he'd ever had to stay with people who didn't know he was a vampire. They'd grow old and die, their children and their grandchildren growing to adulthood, the years flowing past like a river; while he would just maintain, perpetually in his mid-twenties.
Wouldn't even have to do anything to bring out the pitchforks-and-torches crowd, once they caught on. Once they realized that he was something unnatural. Just existing for too long would be enough.
Aurelius sighed. "But I suppose that is neither here nor there," he said. "You asked what happened next. Near the end of the last Ice Age –"
"Ice Age." Spike shook his head. "Sorry. Din't mean to interrupt, it's just – still wrapping my lobes around the time scale you live by, is all."
"Of course," Aurelius nodded. "As I was saying, there was a specific type of mushroom that grew in the very shadow of the great glaciers," he said. "It's extinct now, so far as I've been able to determine. But the old tribespeople with whom I was living at the time used to use it as both a test, and a rite of passage: when you came of age, along with the expected feasting and dancing round the bonfires, you ate this mushroom; and if it killed you, then the ancestor spirits or old gods must have spotted some flaw in your character, something that made you unworthy to remain a part of the tribe. If you didn't die, if perhaps the mushroom only made you violently ill, then clearly, they believed, you had been favored by the ancestor spirits, and you went on to be initiated into adulthood. And if by chance the mushroom gave you visions, well. You were snatched right up for training to become a shaman, a seer for your people."
Seer, thought Spike. Visions.
"The Aurelian Prophecies," he said.
"Precisely," said Aurelius. "The mushrooms couldn't kill me, and I don't seem to be susceptible to illness, or poisoning in general. But there was something about them that extended beyond the biological, and as it turns out they did permit me, to a limited degree, to see into the future."
"Is that where this Pure One stuff came from?" asked Spike. "You got stoned on 'shrooms some twenty thousand years ago and came up with the idea for a cult?"
The Immortal chuckled. "You're not far off," he replied. "Primarily, they showed me that I would not be alone forever, that there would come a day when I might have companionship I would not outlive in the blink of an eye. The visions showed me that there was hope, and that in itself was sufficient to give me the strength to endure, and to fully reclaim my sanity." He paused, frowned a little. "Of course, it was also sufficient to prompt me to try and speed up destiny, if you will. It wasn't long afterward that I began to try and create that companion…"
"You mean like you created vampires?" asked Spike slowly.
Aurelius nodded. "I tried to create friends for myself, and succeeded only in creating new demons to afflict humankind."
With apologies for the delay in posting, here is a slightly longer-than-usual chapter. I'd meant to move a bit farther forward in the story I have planned, but the Immortal decided to spring some new information on me midway through this chapter, so instead you get to learn some intriguing things about Spike.