79: Meanwhile . . .
“This isn’t the way to the police station,” Faith noticed that the cop passed the turn-off continuing on down State Street. They hung a left at Maple Court leaving her no idea where they were headed. “You guys got a craving for donuts?”
The driver snapped, “Shut your trap.”
Faith knew she had hit a raw nerve and bet it had nothing to do with donuts. The guy’s partner glared at her through the thick mesh divider. Giving her the once-over, his leer accompanied a look of disgust.
“You got friends in high places.” He said it in a way that shed doubt on it.
Flexing her sore jaw, she glared back. “Maybe,” she shrugged casually wondering how he knew that. “What’s it to you?”
A casual shrug followed. “It ain’t my job to ask questions.”
The conversation was over. Faith turned her attention back to the window where she saw that they had driven past the mall. They entered a maze of alleyways that connected several old warehouses and came to a halt a few yards away from a black limousine.
Somehow, its presence did not surprise her. There was only one person it could be. Faith did not struggle when the cop hauled her out of the car and led her to the open door of the limo. The familiar face of Mayor Richard Wilkins smiled back at her from within.
“Good evening, Faith,” he gave her a cheerful greeting that seemed at odds with the whole situation. Glancing at her handcuffs, he teased, “Is this a new fashion statement?” chuckling.
“I could do without the jewelry.” Faith held her hands out toward the cop who was still standing there, but the mayor waved him off.
When they were alone, Wilkins looked her over, tut-tutting as he went from head to toe taking in the numerous bloody scrapes and dark bruises. “What have you been up to tonight? Surely the old biddy didn’t put up that much of a fight. I don’t like seeing my girl hurt.”
Faith told him it was nothing, “Just a demon,” but her clipped explanation roused his interest.
“Slayers do seem to attract them.” He paused, hands propped on his knees as he gave her an expectant look, waiting for more.
Faith could not tell him why the demon had busted into Bev’s house without telling him about the prophecy, only that he did. “Guess so. He must’ve been after… something.”
The mayor frowned in a way he rarely ever did. Even when he was angry he managed to keep smiling. Doing so now told Faith that he was not buying her bullshit explanation. “Beverly Quinn didn’t have two cents to rub together.”
“Maybe he just had a thing for old ladies.”
Wilkins pulled out a manila folder from a seat pocket flipping through the pages. Faith caught sight of some glossy photographs: a black & white one of Bev and her husband, a recent photo, and one of Cordelia. The latter seemed to draw the mayor’s interest.
“Now where have I seen that girl before?” Suddenly, it occurred to her that he already had the answers. The mayor was testing her and Faith recognized the fact instantly.
“That’s Cordelia Chase,” she said as nonchalantly as possible. Adding, “Buffy’s friend,” she failed to point out that Cor was her friend, too.
Nodding, Wilkins let out a slow, “Ahhh. Now I see why Miss Summers and the gang were at the scene. Tell me, Faithy… were they there for you or Cordelia?”
Faith sat stunned by the implication as if an electric current shocked her into silence. Both of us, she wanted to say— and Bev, but she was forced to say nothing as he spun his web of lies and doubts. “It was her, wasn’t it? Yet here you are beaten and battered. Did they defend you when the police came?”
“No,” the word came out harshly. Faith remembered the accusing looks sent her way by Buffy and her pair of slack-jawed sidekicks. For a moment, she forgot the reason for this clandestine meeting and that the mayor had countless ulterior motives.
“They may not believe it,” he chuckled, “but it’s a good thing that demon crashed our little party. You can pin the rap on him. As far as the police are concerned, it was just a burglar.”
She could see the set up coming a mile away pointing out, “The cops have the dagger with my fingerprints on it.”
“Things go missing everyday,” Wilkins shrugged, “but just to be safe, I’ll make sure that the evidence comes to me. I wouldn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands.”
Faith licked at a clotted cut on her lower lip. There was a threat to his words, but that was not what was making her nervous. She did not want him to see the truth. That she had not killed Beverly Quinn as instructed. It was her assignment, the first serious task he had given her, one where loyalty was the key. All because Bev pissed him off by picketing City Hall over the damn bingo parlor, and someone suggested she should run for mayor at the next election.
“You’re the real power in this town,” Faith told him trying to stroke his ego. “Why would I want anyone else watching my back?”
Relaxed and smiling again, Wilkins laughed. “You don’t think I’d let my Faithy rot in a prison cell. You’ve got too much potential. Far too much to waste behind bars.”
He sounded so utterly sincere that Faith’s stomach twisted up in knots. Wilkins never let the façade slip. She wondered what things would be like if she had not caught on to the fact that he was trying to put a wedge between her and the others. The attention he had given her had been nice at first, but Wilkins grew covetous of her time, questioning her about her whereabouts and whether she was a friend or rival of Buffy Summers.
If she hadn’t gotten to know Giles during the past few weeks as they had teamed up to search for signs of the prophecy, Faith might not have trusted him enough to mention her suspicions. Wilkins was up to something serious that had nothing to do with politics.
She had been easy prey for the friendly mayor with his seemingly harmless attention and ways of making her feel like she was worth something. He treated her with respect, not as a sex object or an incompetent troublemaker. When he told her that he knew she was a Slayer and what that meant, Faith thought she had found someone to open up to, like Buffy with Giles.
Though she would never admit it to their faces, Faith envied their close relationship. It was the close kind of thing she had never had. Not with her last Watcher who had got himself killed and certainly not with her drunk mother or deadbeat dad.
Now it looked like she had been assigned a new Watcher. A dark laugh escaped at the thought of their first meeting. Not exactly a way to start off on the right foot, was it? The nerdy guy looked like he had not seen the outside of a library in the past ten years, so it wasn’t likely to be what she had imagined anyway.
As for Mayor Wilkins, she now knew that he had ulterior motives for befriending her. The reason for it was still up in the air, but he had fixed it so she would be under his thumb. Nobody played her and got away with it. Nobody. Considering what she was taking the heat for just to please him— the mayor was going down. Now that he was arranging her release, she would not have to do it from jail.
“Y’know, it’s nice I’ve got you looking out for me,” Faith’s dimpled smile appeared despite that her split lip stung with the effort. Finally, he grinned back. Both of them understood that he had control of the situation.
“When the going gets tough,” Wilkins clapped his hands together and held them in a show of mutual support, “we can always count on each other. Isn’t that right, Faithy?”
Trying not to grind her teeth at the annoying nickname, Faith nodded agreeably. “About these handcuffs.”
A Cavern, Subterranean Sunnydale
A perpetual slime clung to the stalactites on the vaulted natural ceiling of the lair. Below, riven forces had shaped the rocky surface of the limestone cavern creating the Altar of Amolon. Shimmering upon the wall behind it, a vertical pool of incandescent light shone. Its constant glow provided the only light necessary in the chamber.
Only the importance of this gathering induced Nicolau Cibran to come to this intolerable place. Dank caves were better suited to the lowest of Amolon’s many followers, not for a vampire prince of his exalted status. He could feel the thick air seep into his formal suit, handcrafted by a dozen Galician tailors, and resisted the urge to sneer.
Standing motionless as Amolon’s high priestess made her opening statements, Nicolau made an effort to listen, but he had heard the same fodder from his sire many times over during the past two hundred years. Coming from Kalesh herself made it trivially more palatable. Although, her habit of pausing for a breath every second or third word irritated him to the extreme.
“Thousands of years have passed since Amolon became attuned to the powers of this Earth, since the elements responded to his whims,” announced the golden-robed high priestess standing between the stone altar and the glimmering light.
Kalesh was outwardly withered and wrinkled with her untold years. She looked human despite her demonic origins, an old hag whose diminutive body stooped with age. Yet, she radiated power. No one in her presence could consider her a weak target. Even the sound of her voice left palpable tremors along their nerves.
Addressing the gathering of three, the old demoness gestured grandly, “He wanders the abyss, but reaches out to you across the dimensions.”
There was something timeless in her gaze at it connected with his, and a feeling of being swallowed up by it. Almost as if their demon god was staring back through her eyes.
Under his cool veneer, Nicolau was imagining a number of ways to put the demoness to death. Something he would never do, for he was truly a follower, and understood her position as the god’s right-hand of power. It merely amused him to contemplate what it might take to kill such a being.
“The great one has granted you a taste of wealth, of power, a stake in this world. Terror shall follow in his wake,” Kalesh promised. “Those who do not bow down to him shall perish.” Then she pointed her overly long finger in their direction. “Amid the chaos only the loyal shall attain power and prominence.”
The pre-ritual gatherings were a bore, just as he had predicted. Nicolau would much rather be back home in Galicia than in this backwater excuse for a town. Hellmouth or no, it was hardly the place for a vampire of his standing. As a master vampire of the House of Solaris, he found it quite vexing to be placed at the same level as these two walking blood bags.
He flicked a glance to his left where the muscle-bound biker stood cross-armed and legs braced as if he was making an effort to look tough. Garbed in leather with metal studs, Mike Mooney reminded him of a collared bulldog. Known as ‘The Undertaker’ he ran a gang in nearby Los Angeles.
“Those who prove their loyalty when Amolon crosses from his dimension into ours shall know his true power,” Kalesh droned on forcing Nicolau to consider the rest of the competition.
With the casual flip of his formal great cloak over his right shoulder, Nicolau afforded himself the opportunity to peruse the other human in his midst. This one, at the least, appeared civilized dressed in grey Armani, Italian leather shoes and accessories, and wore a Rolex glinting from his wrist. Unlike their biker comrade, Jake Devries was just an underling, a lowly middleman representing the Senior Partners at Wolfram & Hart.
Now they were worthy adversaries, Nicolau conceded. Though in this case, at least for the moment, they were technically not his rivals, but also followers of Amolon. The law firm was positioning itself for the eventual arrival of Amolon and obviously knew what would happen if the god looked upon them and their Senior Partners with disfavor.
Nicolau detested such falsehood, but he knew he would say nothing to Kalesh. Devries might only be a workhorse for his superiors, but he brought with him their influence & real world knowledge. The Hellmouth and its environs were new to all of them. For the Rites of Tavrok to open the dimensional gate and bring Amolon to Earth, all necessary elements were required.
It was to discuss the details of that particular necessity that Kalesh had called them together. Kneeling before the altar, head hanging low and arms open in supplication was the crosathnam mercenary assigned to recover the human sacrifices described by Kalesh as the Varstrae, the Pure Ones. He was battered from a fight with dried blood, both human and his own, covering his clothes. Once again, his prey had eluded him.
Kalesh’s breathy voice grated as she turned her attention to the demon at the base of the altar. “You have failed to bring the next sacrifice. The Rites of Tavrok cannot succeed unless the Varstrae stand as one. They alone can unlock the gate,” she gestured toward the lights shimmering on the wall.
“The girl is special, my priestess,” the demon prostrated himself even lower on the floor. “The one who guards her is a Slayer.”
“A Slayer?” That finally caught Nicolau’s attention. Perhaps this meeting was not going to be such a bore after all. “You are still alive. Did you kill this Slayer?”
The crosathnam demon kept his eyes on the ground knowing better than to look in his direction. “No, I was forced to leave before finishing her off.”
Nicolau sneered until his fangs showed. He glared at the lawyer, Devries, blaming him. “This incompetent fool was your idea.”
“It was not known that we would be dealing with a Slayer,” Devries defended harshly, while still looking a little nervous.
“What’s a slayer?” asked Mike ‘The Undertaker’ Mooney with a shrug. “We got demons out the wazoo in LA, but I ain’t never heard of slayers. Unless you’re talking ‘bout that gang o’ street kids.”
Oh, the degradation of it all. Nicolau felt like he had found the cesspool of the world and it was swallowing him whole. If it were not for the power granted the leaders of his clan by Amolon, he would be delighted to be rid of them all.
Turning his attention back to the crosathnam mercenary, Nicolau demanded to know what possessed him to leave an injured Slayer behind. The answer came swiftly, “The Pure One was taken.”
“Taken?” Kalesh herself posed the question, a sense of alarm setting in. The air itself seemed to crackle.
“Yes, priestess,” he nodded shamefully. “It was a vampiress.”
All eyes in the chamber suddenly turned toward Nicolau who pressed widespread fingers against his chest. “Why do you stare?” He morphed back into the softer human features that drew the envy of men and the sighs of women. Knowing his pleasing looks provided added charisma, he used them to his advantage.
“Kalesh, my priestess,” he bowed graciously. “The House of Solaris is not involved in this abduction. I assure you that my entourage remains ensconced within our quarters.”
At Nicolau’s insistence, the crosathnam provided a description of the one who dared to steal his prey. Afterward, there was silence as the master vampire let his words sink in. “Pale as moonlight,” he mused. That could describe anyone. As did ‘long hair dark as the night’, although Nicolau had to admit, “You’re rather poetic for a demon assassin.”
It was not until he pictured the dress the demon described in surprising detail— not bad considering that he was in the middle of a fight when he caught sight of the female vampire absconding with their sacrifice— that it struck a chord. For a moment, Nicolau forgot about the others, a sound of malicious delight pouring forth from his chest reverberating around the cavern.
“Sunnydale must be ripe for some attractive new faces. I think it is high time my childe and I made ourselves known to the community.” A wicked smile spread across his face. “Leave your missing sacrifice to me, Kalesh. It will be my honor to recover her for you.”
Kalesh nodded. “This you may do, Nicolau Cibran, but first there is one thing I wish you to handle.”
Their eyes connected, the image of the priestess’ wishes made instantly clear as she shared the powerful thought. Even before the crosathnam could fully sense the danger, Nicolau was behind him using his speed and strength to wrap an arm around his neck. Two powerful sharp twists cracked his neck. Releasing him just as quickly, the demon fell lifeless across the stone altar.
“Hey,” Mike Mooney walked closer to point out, “he’s supposed to be looking for the other Pure Ones. Whose gonna do that now?”
There were five sacrifices required by the Ritual of Tavrok. This troublesome one had managed to elude capture, but it would be done. Others remained as yet unidentified.
“That is your problem, human,” Nicolau had already reached his limit of tolerance. Now that he had killed, he was starting to get hungry and damned if the Bulldog did not look tasty. “I shall get mine. You two can play with the rest of them.”