This chapter is dedicated to ramses_2_w who gave invaluable help with the search for Sanskrit terms and meanings and stayed with me through discussions about 'becoming' and the use of metaphor and myth.
Disclaimer: the usual. None of the characters is mine.
Chapter 8. The Soul of the World is Abroad Tonight
Angel hurried through the ruined reception area, pushing Spike in front of him, barely keeping them ahead of the vibrations that accompanied the creaking and groaning emanating from deep inside the the building. As they raced along, the debris at their feet dissolved into puddles of ooze and slime, which, in turn, evaporated on the waves of fiery darkness that swept behind in the vampires' wake.
"Stop shovin'," Spike snarled as they reached the elevators.
The buckled doors of the nearest compartment shuddered as a ripple of energy shook the steel back into place and the doors swished apart.
Spike jerked his head in the direction of Angel's old office. "What was all that about?"
"A warning," replied Angel.
Spike indicated the lift. "And this?"
Somewhere in the depths of the infrastructure, the girders shrieked their complaint as the wreckage was replaced. A new company sign, bearing the same crest Angel had pointed out at the entrance, materialised over a refurbished reception desk. The walls bulged and heaved, rippling and rolling as an unseen force twisted its way through the building.
Spike stepped through the doors and held them back to allow Angel to enter. "Warning? Of what?" he asked.
"You should ask from whom, not of what, William. But then you always were a little slow on the uptake." Darla's honeyed voice slithered out of the dark corner of the newly restored elevator.
Spike caught Angel's slight intake of breath as he felt his way along the side walls, tracking a spattering of minute droplets, to where Darla stood watching them, a small mocking smile twitching at the corner of her mouth.
Angel fingered a small, red sticky patch with his fingertips. "Blood," he said. "Fresh." He rubbed his index finger and thumb together and lifted them to his lips. "Connor's."
The dim emergency lighting faded for a second and was replaced by the full dazzle of the spots recessed in the ceiling.
Darla smiled and stepped towards Angel. "Well done, my love."
"Where is he?" Angel demanded.
Spike raised his eyebrows. "You can see her?"
Angel ignored him and moved closer to his former lover.
Darla smiled once more and disappeared through the closing doors. "My darling boy. I told you I had nothing to offer him." Her voice hung in the air. ". "I trusted you to take care of him. But you're too busy protecting everyone else."
Angel leapt for the doors but the lift was already in motion, moving upwards towards the Training Room. He smashed his fists into the metal and slumped back against the wall.
Spike ran a hand over his hair and sighed. "I don't know what the buggery is going on." He paused as another tremor shook the building, and the lift slowed. He waited; expecting Angel to prise the doors apart before the automatic device had time to activate. Spike tried the glass half-full approach. "But he's probably OK," "I mean, you'd've known if his body was down there."
Angel stared glumly at him. "Maybe," he said finally. "Let's find the others and get out of here."
"That's your answer to most of your problems." Darla fell into step beside them as they raced along the corridor. "Leave them behind." She turned towards Spike. "Whereas this one . . ." She left the sentence for Angel to fill in the "he never knows when to quit," for himself.
An undulation in the floor ahead of them forced Angel to slow the pace and he allowed himself a glance at Darla. She rewarded him with a simpering look from beneath her lashes accompanied by a stream of whispered accusations. "You could have tried harder," she complained. "Our child - he's the one good thing we ever did together. The only good thing." She laughed. "And he'll destroy you."
Spike growled. "Knock it off, Grandma,"
Darla sighed and smiled condescendingly at him. "You were nothing but trouble since the day Drusilla brought you home; with your grand ideas and poetic notions. And what became of them?" she asked softly, morphing into Spike's sire. "You're as lost as Daddy is now."
Drusilla gazed up at the night sky. The glow from the city lights all but obliterated the narrow sliver of the moon, a silver crescent of the waxing goddess of love. The penultimate tarot card lay on the table beside the others; a wheel suspended on the back of a demon, riding in the heavens; at each compass point the four elements: earth, water, fire, air.
"The battle isn't over!" she exclaimed.
"Tell me something I don't already know," Sirk sneered. "How do we persuade him to come to us?"
"Hmmm." Drusilla whimpered as she made her way back to the table. She drew a card from the deck to clarifiy and frowned. "The Sun. I see another standing in our way. Chosen."
"The Slayer?" Sirk asked.
Drusilla shook her head and closed her eyes. "The sun kills our kind. But this one doesn't judge. Angel uses it. It holds the power of life, of the earth." She rose to her feet and swept towards the door. "I must go to Spike. This one blocks my boy's way and confuses him."
"I was rather hoping you'd be here when we took delivery of the package," Sirk remarked.
"Don't open it without me. We'll have a party when I get back; a party, with cake and dollies." Drusilla stepped into the corridor and clapped her hands together, summoning a group of vampires from the adjoining office.
"Ta ta," Drusilla called, as she glided towards the elevator. "Such a pity you don't want to come. We're going to have such a lovely game. 'Boys and girls come out to play, the moon does shine as bright as day'," she sang as she waited for the elevator to arrive.
The door to the Training Room swung open and Lorne peered out, looking nervously up and down the corridor. He clung to the door post as another convulsion shook the building. The walls realigned themselves as he watched, acquiring a new cladding of composite material to replace the damaged décor.
"That was some weird trip up here," he called to Angel. "Did the whole building just regenerate? Or was it just the elevators?"
Angel shrugged. "Find anything?"
"This," replied Lorne, holding out a leather duster for Angel's inspection. "And it's not the only one." He stared at the walls, shuddering as they completed another bout of twisting and bulging. "I don't know much about the cloning of office blocks, but this coat's sure been busy breeding. There's a whole pile of them writhing about in there."
Lorne held the duster out towards Spike. "Uh, mission control to Blondie Bear," he called in response to the vampire’s blank stare.
"So lost," whispered Drusilla's apparition. "And cursed. Like Angel."
Spike growled softly at her. "Nothing like Angel. Fought for mine."
"The Angels whisper to me, my William," replied Drusilla. "Angels with tongues of dark flames . They tell me to bring you home."
"Spike!" Angel gripped Spike's elbow. "Don't listen. It's not Dru."
Spike wrenched himself free and swung the duster over his shoulders plunging his arms into the sleeves in one savage movement. "Think I don't know that!" As his fingers emerged from within the coat, Drusilla faded and disappeared. "Well." Spike blinked. "If I knew that was all it was gonna take . . ."
Angel interrupted him and addressed Lorne. "Where's Illyria?"
"She headed for Wes' office," Lorne replied, "right after she picked something up from the observation room floor." He held out a hand towards Spike. "She said it's yours."
Spike frowned at the wristwatch Lorne offered him. "Don't recall ever having one of those," he said peering at the face. "It's cracked." He slipped it over his right hand, fastening the leather buckle tightly. Spike shook his arm, in an attempt to revive the mechanism. "Reckon the battery's dead."
The building shook once again, rocked by a surge of power that tore its way through the electrical system, killing the lights.
"Everyone OK?" Lorne asked anxiously.
A grunt from Angel, followed by Spike's incredulous gasp, reassured him they were.
"Look." Spike's voice rang with a note of wonder.
In the corridor ahead of them, a shape was forming, a silver light covering the unmistakable frame of a woman. Her body, clothed in phosphorescent light, danced to some unheard music, leading the way, guiding them towards the staircase.
Lorne was the first to speak, his eyes misting with tears, his voice choked with emotion. "Fred."
Fred's lithe form moved gracefully towards Wesley's office, twirling and pirouetting in time to the music only Lorne could hear. He hummed the tune for Angel.
Angel gave a small smile. "Copellia. Dance of the Hours."
Willow yawned and slumped in her seat.
“Damn!” cried Wesley.
“Did I yawn at a bad time?” asked Willow. “Because I don’t think my body’s taking orders from my brain any more.” She gestured at the monitor. “Timed-out.”
“No, no, it wasn’t you,” Wesley reassured her. “I think I’ve found the reason this passage didn’t make sense when I first translated it.
Willow scooted her chair closer to the table.
“See. Here. ‘ekarAj' a Sanscrit term. It means ‘alone visible’, or ‘shining alone’. But, it can also refer to the ‘only king or ruler’. ’And in the age when the dragon is slain, time shall be no more.’ I think that’s fairly self-explanatory,” Wesley explained.
Willow nodded her understanding.
Wesley continued. “Thus begins the final battle. The fight will be terrible for the soul of the Whole World is at stake.’ I’m reading that as worlds beyond the confines of this one.”
“Another Apocalypse? Pffft – easy peasy. We can do those with our eyes closed.”
“This one will be worse,” said Wesley grimly, staring at the text. “And all the beasts shall be as one and shall rise anew when the darkness sweeps over the realms of the earth."
"But that's just repeating the super-combo-evil thing," said Willow.
"Not quite. There's more," Wesley said patiently. "The Forces of Darkness will use any weapon; the ekarAj - or dark Prince - will form an alliance with them to retrieve that which was stolen.”
“How is that worse?” Willow asked.
“Illyria.” Wesley ground the name between clenched teeth. “God King of the Primoridium, whose power I stole to save her life.”
The final card of the tarot reading lay face uppermost. Sirk peered at it. "The lovers," he read. "Love." he said wryly, "The root of all evil."
“See, that didn’t hurt at all.” Buffy gave Whistler one of her most beaming smiles and poured him some freshly made coffee.
Whistler cringed. “I ain’t felt this bad since I had my wisdom’s pulled.”
“So, let me get this straight. The Gatekeeper – he isn’t really dead?”
“He’s dead all right. Angel snapped his neck. But he’s The Keeper. The Battlebrand. Immortal. Still got a job to do.”
“And Spike’s the key to finding him.”
“That and other things.”
“That for one.”
“And the other?”
“Illyria. More specifically, her body’s previous tenant. The Warrior who holds together the worlds of science and magic.”
“But why . . .?” Buffy paused and considered her choice of words. "If Drogyn's immortal." She flushed slightly, then continued. "Why Spike for the student exchange programme, if this guy's still available for work?"
“Why’d the Powers choose Spike?" asked Whistler reaching for his coffee. "One word. Passion. His love’s total. It’s what drives him.”
“I remember the passion,” Buffy said softly. “I missed it after the soul.”
“Lose the memory of his love for you, there’s a void screaming to be filled.” Whistler picked up a knife and began cleaning under his fingernails with the blade. “He loved Fred – not the same way as you, " he added hastily. "‘It’s what drove him to agree to the exchange."
Whistler shook his head. "For Wesley.” He looked Buffy in the eyes for the first time. “The Powers don’t care much ‘bout the love. They play by their own rules. Spike was the price. Only they know why, but The Forces of Darkness are gonna be mighty interested in . . . .”
"Illyria," said Willow breathlessly.
"Huh?" Buffy swung her head towards the staircase that Willow had descended at reckless speed. Wesley followed at a more measured pace, carrying the manuscript and translations.
"Buffy, you have to go and warn Angel. Illyria's in cahoots with the other side." Willow grasped the arm of Whistler's chair for support and bent forward to ease her laboured breathing. "Guess I'm a little out of condition."
"Stay here," Buffy ordered. "I need you to protect the hotel." She sprinted towards the door. "You'll slow me down," she yelled in anticipation of Willow's protest.
Illyria stared into Fred's face as she sank down into the classic pose of the ballerina signalling the end of a dance. "The shell. She unravels the mystery of time with the dance. The steps guide the way to that which my Wesley bade me seek."
Illyria followed the direction indicated by the outstretched leg and arms to Wesley's open office door. She stepped inside just as the others reached Fred's disappearing image, and made her way towards a box stowed underneath a pile of books in the corner of the darkened office.
Spike was the first to arrive at her side as she plunged her hands into the cardboard container. "Time?" he asked, squinting down at her as she brought out various objects scrutinising and discarding each one in turn. "Got anything to do with this?" he held his right wrist towards her.
Illyria gripped the two items she'd selected from the pile and gazed at his watch. "Probably," she said. "But only my Guide to this contradictory world may tell us of the significance of a stuffed fertility symbol and a box fashioned of plastic and glass."
Spike peered at the two items she held out for his inspection; a soft toy rabbit and video camera. He bit his lip in concentration then looked again at the box. "Fairly sure Wes stashed some of Fred's things away, but don't recall her ever having a camera . . ."
The office gave another heave. With it came new sounds; voices calling greetings to one another; the familiar swish of elevator doors opening; the staff returning to the office block.
"Time we were leaving," Angel called from the doorway.
Previously in Soul Searching