This chapter is dedicated to calove - feel well and come back to us soon.
A never-dying soul to save
The fog had returned to Los Angeles, first to the bay, where it flowed under the pier across the eddies, and swirled on the remains of the ebbing tide; into the docks, where it rolled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollution of the dirty city. It lay out on the yards, hovering in the stacks of the cargo ships, drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. It crawled into the eyes and throats of the matelots loading the last of the containers onto an ocean bound carrier; streamed into the stuffy cabin of the skipper, asleep on his bunk, the afternoon siesta a preparation for the long night-watch ahead. Fog everywhere, searching, probing, slithering towards the city on the humid air, hunting an enemy, driving the daylight before it to a premature dusk.
The oppressive heat squeezed itself between the thin cracks of the window blind of the hotel room, the last beams of sunlight reduced to thin slivers in the dust-laden air. Illyria watched the motes glimmering in the shafts of light as they made their way towards the motionless figure seated in the armchair. Even on a stifling, unhealthy afternoon such as this, the blinds were closed and the room lit by candlelight until the electricity could be reconnected, no necro-tempered glass here to protect those for who the sun was a lethal weapon.
Spike lay sprawled on the small bed beside the wall, his arms across his eyes. Whether he was asleep or not, the other occupants of the room couldn’t tell. He'd arrived earlier for 'a little chat with The Green Man' who watched him anxiously for further signs of the instability he'd displayed in the hotel lobby. Throughout their conversation, Illyria and Wesley remained silent; each locked in an internal discourse of their own.
Illyria reached out and placed a hand in the stream of shimmering specks filtering through the blinds. She watched as the beam disintegrated, scattering glistening atoms across the surface of her leather clad arm, light sensitive particles travelling along the neural pathways, stimulating electrochemical activity inside her head.
"I am constrained by this shell, and yet I still perceive that which beyond the cognisance of the swarm of misery that is humanity." She stared into the space between her and Wesley. "Wretched vermin parasites breeding in these ruined shelters that are no more than prisons for ones such as I. You shut yourselves inside . . . in cages of bone, in rooms of brick, with mere slats of lense and glass through which you attempt to discern reality. "
“You lied to me.” Wesley spoke for the first time since Spike had entered Fred's old room.
“Is that not what you asked?”
“You said we’d be together . . . that I’d be where she was . . .” Wesley stopped, his voice breaking into a soft sob.
“ You returned to her place here. Surely this is where she is to be found?” Illyria crossed the room and contemplated the wall beside the bed. "These walls confine you, just as this bag of sticks stifles the glory that was once mine." She frowned in concentration as the thin mist obscuring her vision cleared. “There are hieroglyphs, impenetrable and meaningless to me, a web designed to deceive and entangle." Her head twitched, so imperceptibly that Lorne, watching her as closely as he did Wesley, missed it. "Hypermassively parallel-processed by human neural nets, causally dislocated by the logic paths that must traverse Ant Country, and therefore cannot be mapped."
Wesley's eyes opened wide and he looked at her for the first time.
"Illyria?" He rose from the chair and joined her beside the bed, peering into her eyes, searching for evidence of what he’d heard in what she’d just said. "Fred?" Wesley narrowed his eyes and turned from her to study the wall instead. "What do you see?"
Illyria swung angrily on Lorne, still seated in the chair opposite the one Wesley had vacated. “How can I be restored to where I wish to be when you have returned my guide to me unable to help himself,” she asked, her normally icy tone replaced by one that struck him with the ferocity of the thunder lurking outside the window in the oppressively humid air. “Humankind evolved from vampire-like parasites, insects that feasted on beings greater than they, their senses centred on blood and taste and feelings.” She turned to Wesley once more. Your sensory experiences confuse and conceal, just as the fog that moves towards us screens and filters, denying you clear sight of what you seek."
At the word 'vampire', Spike sat up and watched the fog, slipping into the room along the fading rays of sunlight, the luminous grains twirling like a movie projector, whirring in undifferentiated phosphor-lit blankness, performing their destiny. The image transported him to another place, another time. There a calculated nostalgia engine discharged its contents, memories of an earlier media era, one of bright bulbs, photochemical emulsions, reflective surfaces, and dust motes swirling into life, into light. There, where Drusilla made him, before the first film projector ever created the magic, his destiny was revealed.
"I see you. A man surrounded by fools who cannot see his strength, his vision, his glory. That and burning baby fish swimming all around your head."
Spike turned his head away from the ghostly figure of Drusilla forming in the mist gathering in front of the window. He scanned the wall, his face contorted with the effort of trying to catch a memory just beyond his reach. Something about Fred and these walls.
"No, not these walls, the other walls!" Spike vocalised the flash of intuition, to capture it, record it in the memory of the others so that it might not be lost again.
The first roll of thunder struck the window, causing it to rattle in its frame. All eyes turned from Spike as a second percussive shock shook the walls. The sound of raised voices, swiftly followed by the crash of a door slamming in the lobby below drove Lorne to his feet and out onto the landing outside the room.
"That was close. Too close. One more red light on Wilshire Boulevard and I'd've been the main course on Big Bad Wolf's dinner table," gasped the slight red-haired figure leaning against the entrance doors, hugging a backpack to her chest.
"This one brims with power." Illyria's appraisal carried a note of envy. "She will rend in two the curtains that cloak my Wesley's vision.
Willow glanced up at her, giving Lorne a small smile of recognition as she did so. "Hi all," she said shyly to the crowd that had gathered on hearing her dramatic entrance. She handed Buffy her backpack. "You should lock the doors," she said rapidly, "and the windows. 'Cos I'm pretty sure I was followed from the airport, and whoever it was that was after Angel . . . they're really pissed at me."
At a signal from Buffy, several slayers hurried to do as she'd asked. As the final bolts slid home on the main doors, there was a thunderous hammering on them from outside.
"Let me in! Let me in!" a voice shouted.
Willow pursed her lips. "Oooh, I know this one," she quipped. "Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin," she yelled at the door. She raised her arms and began a defensive spell, "Enemies, fly and fall. Circling arms, raise a wall . . ."
"I'm not the enemy." The frantic response interrupted her spell. "Tell Angel, I got down off the fence."
Angel appeared at Willow's side and began unbolting the door.
"What are you doing?" Buffy grabbed his hand to prevent him opening the final deadlock.
"It's Whistler," replied Angel. "He's on our side - usually."
Buffy raised her eyebrows and held her hands up in surrender. "Your house, your decision," she said evenly. "But if he starts with the cryptic comments again, I get first shot at him, right?"
Angel gave her a lopsided grin, opened the door and dragged Whistler inside. " Willow, you can carry on," he said, keeping a firm grip on his unexpected visitor.
" You mean start again," grumbled Willow. " The spell's been interrupted." She raised her arms once more. “Enemies, fly and fall. Circling arms, raise a wall. Caerimonia Minerva, saepio, saepire, saepsi.
The bolts flew back into position as the first wave of the hail struck the windows, washing the fog away, but leaving the air only marginally less humid.
Illyria made her way to the foot of the stairs and regarded Willow with a slight tilt of the head. "Why do you persist in this deceit?" she asked. " You have no need of words. The barrier was raised even before you spoke. Your power lies beyond speech, beyond thought."
Willow glared at her. "TMI," she said stonily. She gestured at the young slayers. "The children need the illusion of the ritual."
"You would resort to riddle to confuse me, just as the walls are beyond my ability to decipher them." Illyria moved to stand in front of her, their faces mere inches apart. She reached a hand to touch Willow's head but withdrew it as if stung by something invisible to all but the two of them. "This power. It is that which protected the one called Buffy in the mighty battle that should have been our last." Illyria bowed her head slightly. "In this time, in this place, truly, you are what is needed."
Whistler gave a slight cough. "You going to introduce us?" he asked, shrugging Angel's hand off his shoulder. "Name's Whistler. Some weather we're havin' huh?" He removed his fedora and scoured the lobby. "You got any coffee?" he asked Angel. "I could murder a dog."
Angel shot Buffy a warning look as she moved towards Whistler clenching her fist.
"You didn't come here to sample the 'cordon bletch'," Buffy snapped. "So why don't you tell us why you're here and I won't have to punch you on the nose."
Whistler ignored the threat. "You done good," he told her. "And you," he turned to Angel, "you ain't doin' so bad either, all things considerin'. Nice recovery from the mess Holtz left you."
He swaggered over to Spike, who had joined Lorne and Illyria. "But you - you traded the one thing you had goin' in your favour."
"We don't need this," Buffy's voice cut across the flow of Whistler's monologue. "You got somethin' to say - say it. Fast. Willow . . ." she made a door opening motion.
Whistler grinned at her. "You're still really mad at me for being right about Angelus and the sword, aren't you?" He turned to Angel. "You gonna let your ex throw me out and risk losing a lead to the one person who can make a difference in all this?" He walked around Angel and Buffy, glancing at the others as he did so. "Gotta say. Not the smartest move setting up camp here. Didn't take too long to find ya'. How long d'ya think it'll take The Forces to send in Quroroß?"
"Never heard of him." Spike spoke for the first time since Willow's arrival.
"Keeper of the Gate, he who will open that which is Pulon Odoß. ‘Then the Old Ones will walk once again, where we walk now. When the stars are right’ or, more precisely, 'when the spaces between the stars are more wide' and chaos will prevail." Wesley made his way slowly down the stairs, an open book in his hand. “We must find the other Keeper, the one who was charged with closing the Gate here on earth." "Willow," he said nodding at her. "I believe we have need of your considerable talents."
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