Chapter 7. Soul unto Soul Glooms Darkly
Buffy was taking a coffee break, having temporarily given up trying to find Whistler in the labyrinth of the Hyperion’s corridors. She sat alone in the hotel entrance lobby, listening to the young English slayer who had disappeared into the kitchen earlier in the evening, to ’do a spot of baking’ to satisfy her sugar craving. As she worked, the girl was singing along to her CD player, with a sweet, pure, but untrained voice. Buffy caught snatches of songs, none of which she recognised, each time the girl passed near the doorway.
The smell of warm baking wafted into the room as the kitchen doors swung open with the final words of another obscure piece of Brit Pop.
A plate bearing pieces of moist cake, a strong scent of lemon drifting upwards from the gleaming icing along the inner edge of each slice, appeared on the table in front of Buffy.
“Lemon Drizzle, courtesy of Jane Asher – and my Mum’s Red Cross parcel,” said the young woman, with a tinkling laugh. “Thought you’d like some with your coffee.” She indicated the pot Buffy had made earlier.
Buffy smiled up at her and, noting the CD headphones still firmly clamped in place, just nodded her thanks.
“You girls mind if I join you?”
“You sure your name’s not Wimpy?” Buffy asked without looking up. “You do that appearing thing anytime there’s food.”
Whistler grinned at her and poured himself a mug of coffee, its comforting aroma mingling with the tang of lemon. “Been called a lot of things in my time,” he chuckled. “Wimpy ain’t one of ‘em. Don’t know as I see myself as side kick to no guy wearin’ a sailor suit and eatin’ leafy green stuff.” He gestured at a small potted plant standing beside the crockery and wrinkled his nose. “That,” he shuddered “gives me the creeps.”
Buffy followed the line of his outstretched arm. One of the slayers had placed the plant there to ’brighten the place up’ before the evacuation of the injured had begun. It seemed innocuous enough; a few delicate lilac flowers, purple-streaked at the centre of each of the five petals, perched precariously atop a multitude of tooth-edged leaves. Buffy pulled the triangular label from the compost and peered at it. “Pelargonium citrosum. Water regularly. Do not overwater,” she read aloud. “Leaves may be used to add flavour in baking, beverages and salads.” Buffy shot Whistler a questioning look.
“Salads,” he replied by way of explanation. “One of the Dark Side’s inventions.” He helped himself to the largest slice of cake and settled into the armchair beside her.
In the gloom of Civic Hall, Drusilla waved away the minion offering her a tray bearing a crystal decanter of blood. “Take it away,” she said stonily. “Got no use for blood when there’s seeing to be done.”
She turned away from the window, leaving the view of the darkened city streets and moved back to the table upon which the Celtic cross of tarot cards, five of them still face down, lay. “What will the future hold for my boy now that his love’s been taken from him?” She selected three cards and held the first to the lamplight. “Three of Swords. Sorrow. Poor Spike, I can feel his loss, it aches and burns inside like hunger.”
In the square below her, Angel, Illyria, Spike and Lorne emerged from one of the many underground passages Buffy had marked on the map. Spike paused and narrowed his eyes as he searched the mid-floor windows of City Hall.
“Spike?” Angel stopped walking and turned to face the younger vampire.
Spike shook his head. “Nothing. Thought I felt . . .” He shook his head again. “’s nothing.” He stared at the fountain in the centre of the square. “Why’s this called Dandelion?” he asked peevishly, gesturing at the centrepiece.”
Lorne stepped beside him. “The patterns it makes when it plays,” he explained. “Like a giant seedhead.”
“Yeah? Well, looks like someone knocked the head off now,” Spike retorted, his eyes drawn back to a window as a shadowy figure moved deeper into a room and an unseen hand drew the blinds. “Dru had one of those fly-catchin’ plants once. Kept it as a pet. Lived longer than anything else ever did.” He dropped his gaze from the fourth floor offices. “Why dandelion?” he asked, returning to the topic of the fountain. “Why not something – I dunno, less weedlike?”
Lorne noted the increased agitation in his voice. “Someone wiser than me once said that ‘weed’ is just a word for ‘plant in the wrong place’.”
“Words!” spat Illyria. “They spew from your mouths like vomit, pouring from your very entrails filth that conceals true meaning.”
Spike turned his head and frowned at her. “Thought you’d all done with the muck metaphors, Blue. What brought that attack on?
Illyria surveyed the buildings surrounding the square, lifted her head and sniffed the air. “My nostrils are filled with the scent of reeking dung hills and puddles of piss.”
Spike surveyed the surrounding buildings. “Got that right,” he snorted. That’d be the seat of government over there, where they’re full of it.”
Angel shot him an irritated glance and scanned the deserted street anxiously. “Let’s get movin’. Less time we spend out in the open, the better.”
“Not much further,” Lorne added, folding the map and putting it in his pocket. That way.” He pointed eastwards across the square.
“Time is not our ally,” agreed Illyria, moving swiftly ahead of the others in the direction Lorne indicated.
Buffy reached out and touched one of the geranium leaves, crushing it between thumb and forefinger, releasing a barely perceptible odour of fresh citrus.
“What did she mean?” Buffy asked, bringing her fingertips to her face and breathing in the scent.
Whistler looked up from his plate and tilted his head at her. “Pardon me?”
“Illyria. She said Connor binds Angel to this world.”
“See,” Whistler took another bite of lemon drizzle, “so long as the kid is safe, Angel’s willing to go out fightin’.” He considered the statement for a second “If he knows the kid’s in danger, he’s gonna stay put.”
“What’s he like - Connor?”
Whistler swallowed the remaining mouthful. “Better ask the man himself. Ain’t my place to say.”
“Where is your place?” Buffy held the cream jug out to him.
Whistler shook his head. “The big shake-up happenin’, forces gatherin’, Dark Alliances bein’ made like you never seen before.” He reached out for another slice of cake. “Decided to even the odds for the Light a little.“ He paused and watched as Buffy poured herself more coffee, added cream and stirred it slowly as she waited for him to continue. “Your guy knows all about choosing sides.”
“Your other guy. The one who don’t know why he made the choice in the first place now.”
“Is he still my guy?” Buffy asked ruefully, watching the cream swirling in spirals on the top of the dark aromatic liquid.
Drusilla turned the next card. She gasped at the image; fire crowned a tower crumbling from the force of a lightning strike. Two figures hurtled to the rocks below, falling from the disintegrating keep. “My poor boy’s world is turned all upside down.” She began to croon softly to herself, her hand worrying her brow. “Poor little lamb who’s lost his way. Baah, bahh.” She raised her head, looked towards the window, and lifted her eyes to the sky she knew was there behind the drawn blinds. “Princess will help you, my darling. Help you find your way back to what you really are.”
“He’s still who he is,” Whistler told Buffy, “but with a chunk missing from his memory, all bets are off about who he chooses next time. This is a whole new ballgame and I ain’t seen no rules posted.”
“How about you, Whistler, whose rules are you playing by?”
“I don’t play by no rules. Strictly freelance. Always have been – ‘til now.”
Buffy stared into the remaining dregs at the bottom of her coffee mug, now cooled to murky mud coloured sludge. “Then why hide what you know – about the one we need to find?”
“Gimme a break. I ain’t used to this, I’m usually the one doin’ what you’re doin’.
Buffy raised her eyebrows at him over the rim of her mug.
Whistler wiped the crumbs from his mouth with the back of his hand and gave her a small sheepish smile. “To keep me safe, I guess.”
Buffy rose to her feet and crossed the room to the window and gazed out into the darkness. She stood for a moment before turning and looking steadily into his eyes, folding her arms as she did so.
“C’mon,” said Whistler anxiously. “How long you gonna keep me around once I hand over the goods? Guy like me – short, no negotiable skills? What else I got? There ain’t no place for me.”
“We could find you a place,” said Buffy, returning to the table and plucking the remaining cake from Whistler’s plate. “Mmmmm,” she murmured, biting into the icing, “lemony.”
Upstairs in Fred’s room, the aroma of peppermint with sharp, more acidic undertones, pervaded the air. Willow, seated beside the window, her laptop open in front of her, closed her eyes in concentration. She’d placed candles beside Wesley, coloured lights, crème de menthe darkening to deeper blue, yellow gold paling to lemon, resonating the soothing perfume emanating from their depths.
“Are they working?” asked Willow.
“What?” Wesley looked up from his books; tiredness etched across his eyes which were deep in shadow.
“The candles”, Willow indicated with a flick of her head, her eyes firmly closed.
Wesley ran a hand through his dishevelled hair. “I do seem to be feeling a little less . . .”
“Angry?” Willow supplied the word.
“Conflicted, I was going to say. But as to deciphering the book.” He sighed heavily. “I seem to have lost . . .”
The computer gave a single beep. Willow scrutinised the monitor and smiled. “I kinda missed this,” she said, glancing over her shoulder, “hitting the research with a Watcher.”
“Have you found something?” Wesley asked, rising to his feet.
“Only the Wolfram and Hart LAN,” beamed Willow, unable to keep the pride from her voice.
“How on earth . . .” Wesley strode across the room and peered over her shoulder.
The monitor screen was empty, save for the intertwined letters WRH forming part of a logo, a crest bearing a Yale rampant on a black background.
“Easy as nailing jelly to a tree,” grinned Willow.
Wesley raised his eyebrows quizzically and examined the screen. “I’m not familiar with that page. Can you go in deeper?”
Willow’s fingers flew across the keyboard. “Shouldn’t take too . . .”
“Wait!” cried Wesley. “Go back. Let me see that image again.” He returned to the table, picked up the Watcher’s Diary and carried it back to Willow. He studied the logo carefully, then flicked through the pages of the book. “There,” he said, showing Willow a page upon which was a drawing of the same mythical creature as the crest on the webpage. “Ram’s horns beneath a pair of antlers, body of a stag, the head and feet of a wolf. “It’s like no Yale I’ve ever seen before.”
Willow studied the page, scanning the ancient text for signs of Wesley’s translation. Faint pencil marks in the margin indicated he had at least made a start on this section of the manuscript.
“Where’s your notes?” she asked, anxiously.
Wesley rifled through the loose sheets stuffed into the back of the book. “Yes,” he smiled triumphantly. “Let me see . . . many armed powers . . . alliance . . . ah, here it is. ‘Oh accursed letters, combine in one all ages past, and make one live with all. Make us confer with those who are now gone. And the living dead unto counsel call.”
“A Super Power? Like Super Buffy.”
Wesley gave her a quizzical look.
“The – uh - adjoining spell,” she stuttered excitedly, “when me, Xander, Giles and Buffy made a combo-Buffy to fight Adam.
“Seems like,” agreed Wesley. “But that’s not all. There’s worse.”
“Worse than combo-evil?” Willow paled and smiled bravely. “What could be worse?”
“I’m not exactly sure about some of the references in the next paragraph,” Wesley confessed. “I’d like to work on it a little longer. In the meantime, try going deeper into the new website and see if you can find any personnel lists.”
Angel stared up at the gleaming blue glass tower. He’d stopped so suddenly that Spike careered into the back of him.
“Watch it!” Spike snapped “Hand signals next time, Gramps.” When Angel didn’t respond, Spike followed his gaze upwards. “Well,” he said, eyes opening wide. “Looks pretty upstandin’ for something you said was fallin’ down round your ears.”
Angel frowned and searched the front of the building. The entrance doors sported new glass, etched with what looked like a family crest. He moved closer and examined the shield, tracing the lines forming the Yale rampant; ram’s horns, antlers, wolf head, and claws, with his fingers.
“New tenants done a spot of renovating already?” asked Spike peering into the darkened atrium.
“New improved old ones.” Angel replied, pointing at the crest.
“Looks like they used up all their energy on the bodywork,” said Spike. “Inside’s like a war zone.”
“Any sign of life?” asked Lorne nervously.
Spike rattled the doors and cocked his head, straining for sounds of alarm from within. “Nope. No way in, either. Back door?”
Minutes later, they emerged from the empty underground car park into the ruined interior of the reception area. They picked their way gingerly across the rubble, probing forward by torchlight. Fallen masonry cast long shadows ahead of them, magnified in the arc of their beams.
Lorne looked around nervously and flinched at a sudden noise from beneath the pile of splintered wood and plastic that had been Harmony’s desk. He relaxed slightly as a rat skittered out from beneath the debris. “I thought they were the first to leave,” he joked.
“That’s ships, not evil corporate headquarters,” replied Spike, squinting into the gloom. “Besides, this one isn’t sinking. Not if the quickfit job outside is anything to go by.”
Angel paused and sniffed the air beside another heap of fallen plaster and wall cladding. “D’you get that?” he asked.
The slightly sweet smell of decay that permeated the room was stronger now. Illyria stooped and picked a broken flowerpot from the pile, a broken geranium head clinging stubbornly to the jagged edge of earthenware. Bright splashes fell slowly to the floor, drops of blood-red petals drifting across the grey grime. “Men’s lives are as brief as the flowers,” she mused, “destined all too soon to putrefy into the stink of flesh.”
Lorne clamped a hand over his nose and fumbled in his pocket for a handkerchief, overcome by the stench of faeces and urine; and something worse. “I think I’m gonna be sick,” he moaned.
“You ’d think they’d clear the rubbish in here before waxing the bodywork,” observed Spike. He heaved a chunk of the Wolfram and Hart sign clear of a pile of twisted metal, revealing Hamilton’s body beneath.
The foetid smell of rotting meat stung Lorne’s eyes and he moved swiftly away, fighting the bile that rose in his throat.
“Go see if my spare coat’s still in the training room,” Spike called to him. “Air’s prob’ly fresher in there.”
“I shall accompany you, Green Demon,” declared Illyria, striding after Lorne “There is something I also wish to find - for my Wesley”
Spike crouched down beside Hamilton’s body and turned the head to one side to examine the neck. “Took a good chunk out of him, Peaches. ‘S that how we got ‘supercharged Angel the dragon killer’?”
Hamilton’s eyes flew open. “Only temporarily,” he sneered. “Whereas with the Senior Partners, it’ll be a permanent arrangement courtesy of Management.”
“You say something?” Angel called from his old office doorway.
Spike recoiled at Hamilton’s words. He staggered backwards as Hamilton’s body rose from the floor and stalked away into the dark.
“Spike?” Angel hit the security lighting switch and hurried back to where he could see Hamilton’s body lying motionless and silent.
Spike looked around wildly. “He spoke to me. He’s not . . .” His eyes focused on the corpse beside him.
Angel swallowed the knot of concern forming in his gullet. “Shadows. Your mind playing tricks.” He held out a hand and hauled Spike to his feet. “Stay close.”
He led Spike back to the CEO’s office and cleared a space on the sofa, brushing rubbish and dust aside with a sweep of his hand.
“It never ends, does it?” Spike said morosely as he stared at the dirt. “Is dust immortal, then?”
As he spoke, the few remaining airborne particles began spiralling upwards, swirling and glinting in the glow of the subdued lighting, taking shape, solidifying into a slender female form.
Drusilla’s voice floated from the dusty mirage, twirling a bright yellow dandelion flower between her fingers. “Golden lads and lasses must, as chimney sweepers, turn to dust,” she sang.
Spike leapt to his feet and grabbed at her. “You’re not her!” he snarled, as his hands passed through her laughing image.
“No! I’m really not.” Drusilla giggled. “You know who I am, William,” she growled, morphing into vamp face. “Don’t you remember?”
“No, I don’t!” Spike yelled. “I don’t remember.”
Angel gripped his arm. “Spike. Concentrate on my voice. There’s no one here.”
Spike yanked himself free from Angel’s grasp and sprinted from the room into another office. He stumbled over an obstacle lying just inside the doorway. Angel, following close behind, steadied himself against the door at the sight of Eve’s corpse.
“I thought she’d left,” he murmured crouching beside her.
“She’s real? She’s not another . . .?” Spike asked shakily.
Angel examined Eve’s head and neck. Her engorged face, the eyes bulging, was tinged blue, the eyelids sprinkled with showers of tiny red pinpricks. Angel raised one of the lids; the lining was similarly marked. “Real,” he confirmed. He gently lifted Eve’s chin and studied her neck. “And strangled.”
Spike stepped closer and tilted his head, narrowing his eyes as he tried to recall Eve’s features without the discoloration of the beginning of putrefaction. He shrugged, sniffing loudly in an attempt at bravado he no longer felt. “Beady little rat-eyed snake caught in her own trap. No loss. However she snuffed it, we’re well rid of her. ”
“Wrong again, Champ.” Eve’s voice grated inside his head. Her battered corpse rose in front of him. Spike shrank away from the hand that reached for his face. “I’ve still got my eyes on you. You’ll never be rid of me. I will never leave you.”
Eve’s form faded, dissolving into a transparent phantasm that regenerated into that of another. Spike closed his eyes, shutting out the image of the woman he’d once loved for so long.
He could not block out her voice, despite clamping his hands over his ears, nor the chilling message it carried. “I will never, ever leave you, my darling, deadly boy.”
Angel pulled Spike’s hands from his head and dragged him out of the door. “We’re leaving. Now!” he barked.
A gaudily coloured angel, cheeks bulging with the effort of sounding the last trump, called the souls of the world to judgement on a scrap of card on a table in the dark.
“Choose my side, my William,” Drusilla chanted into the black of the night. “This time, choose me.”
Previously on Soul Searching