Season of Solace. 130

130:     The Mansion, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale

Was she supposed to cheer over the fact that Giles had another theory? The sketch Cordelia had made of the insignia ring might be important, but it was still not a way to free her from sacrificial lamb duty. She was more concerned with how Nicolau was able to show up at Bev’s midday funeral. If there was one certain way to kill vampires other than a stake through the heart, it was direct sunlight. This was a whole new level of weirdness.

Wishing Giles would just get on with his big reveal instead of making with the cryptic, she tapped her foot impatiently. He did something better by announcing his decision to take the conversation up to the study. Perfect. It wasn’t that she was so eager to know what he had to say. She was certain the Cliff Notes version would do, and that could wait until she took care of a more immediate problem.

“Follow me.” Motioning them up the stairs, Giles explained that he wanted to confirm his line of thinking by comparing the sketch to one of his watcher texts.

Wesley squawked impatiently, “What precisely is your thinking?”

Stalling at the bottom of the steps, Cordelia was not interested in Giles’ answer as the two watchers crossed the foyer heading down the main hall. The Scoobies filed up one by one discussing a few theories of their own.

“Maybe the ring protects Nicolau from the sun,” suggested Willow as she headed for the basement door.

Xander preferred his super-sunblock idea. “Five bucks says it’s just an insignia to the Secret Society of Demon-Worshipping Bloodsuckers.”

“You have five bucks?” asked Buffy just before turning the corner out of sight.

Whirling around to face Angel and Faith, who were directly behind her, Cordelia held up a hand to stop their progress. “Not so fast.”

“Cordy, we need to get up there,” Angel moved up another step forcing her to shift over to block his path. He motioned to the basement door, urging her to follow the others. “I think Giles has finally put some of this together.”

Propping her hands on her hips, she let out a soft ‘pfft’ that silently asked if he really thought she was going to change her mind. Giles’ theory was important, but it was not her first concern. Between Faith’s double agent deal and the overly protective wacko Angel was turning into, they still had stuff to resolve—the kind that might result in her three-inch heel being shoved somewhere uncomfortable.

Faith just wanted to know the bottom line. “What’s up?”

“First of all,” Cordelia sounded pissed, “I don’t like being lied to. You’re spying on the mayor, pretending to be on his side. Fine. I get the undercover op thing. I just don’t like being blindsided by smarmy evil guys at my grandmother’s funeral, especially when one of them has plans to turn me into a human sacrifice.”

Turning around, Faith stalked back toward the center of the room, stopped to stare blindly at groove in the concrete floor, and then reversed back to the stairs. Cordy knew that Faith and apologies did not mix well, but she deserved a decent explanation.

“I wasn’t expecting the mayor to show up,” Faith admitted. “He hasn’t said boo to me since the night I was thrown in jail.”

“He’s the reason you got out,” Angel finally understood.

Faith nodded. “I’m his pet project. Wilkins has an agenda. I don’t know what it is yet, but it’s going to be big.”

“I suppose it’s tied in with the prophecy,” Cordelia guessed, “considering he’s playing host to Nicolau.”

Angel did not give a damn about the mayor’s illegal activities or his behind the scenes business with the local demon population. You could find someone like him in every town. But it looked like Mayor Wilkins was branching out. “Whatever business he’s got with Nico is bad news. We need to know what it is and how to stop him.”

“I’m on it,” Faith promised wanting desperately to make this right.

“How could you not know that man was a vampire?” Cordelia threw her arms up in frustration. “I thought you and Buffy had some built-in vampire detector.”

Shaking her head, Faith told her, “Not really. It’s just that some vamps are easier to spot than others. After a while you know what to look for and get a general sense of something being wrong.”

“I guess the sunshine might throw you off your game,” Cordelia conceded.

“It also makes him more dangerous.” Angel’s jaw clenched down as he considered the fact that Nicolau was not restricted to moving about in the shadows. “Contrary to popular belief, vampires have always been able to be awake during the day. There’s just not much point of going out if there’s no shade to protect us from the sun.”

Cordelia imagined Angel being able to go out during the day. Picnics, the beach and walks in the sun suddenly seemed doable. If any vampire deserved to enjoy the sun, it was Angel.

“This guy wore sunglasses, but took them off. There was no shade at all,” Cordelia told him. That got her wondering about Willow’s theory. Maybe that ring was magic. “So what’s the big secret? How’d he pull this off?”

“I don’t know.” Angel looked determined to find out. Reminding her, “Giles could be announcing that right now. We should go. That demon sigil is an important clue.”

Important, yes, but not enough to distract her from the other half of this little talk. Pressing a hand to his chest, Cordelia stopped him from moving past her. “Hold it, Sherlock.”

Angel was the picture of wronged innocence as he stared back. “What?” Completely clueless that he’d done anything wrong to end up in the doghouse, his forehead crinkled with his frown.

“Hello, you practically strangled Faith a few minutes ago. You’ve been barking orders at Xander, and generally making an ass of yourself.”

For a moment, Cordelia thought he was not going to respond except by standing there looking pissed off that she called him on it. “Faith is fine,” he said, glancing her way. The slayer shrugged as if it was no big deal. “Things are moving too damn slowly for my liking. We’re stuck here waiting for an attack instead of tracking these bastards down.”

“I’m all for it,” Faith preferred to go on the offensive.

Angel reached down to take Cordelia’s hand, covering it with both of his. “If I seem a little on edge lately, it’s only because you’re in danger. You’re my…girlfriend, Cordy. I’m not going to stand by while anyone puts you in harms way.”

Noticing the way he had hesitated over the word ‘girlfriend’, Angel hoped Cordelia did not hear the catch in his voice. The way he felt about her was making him crazy. Just the thought of Nicolau putting his hands on her, kissing her hand, made him want to rip his arm off and shove it down his throat.

There was no way for Nico to know that Angel was in love with Cordy, but he was far from stupid. One look at her and he could probably guess that she was far more than just the kind of pet some vampires liked to keep. There were no visible marks to suggest ownership, no sign of a claim, yet the other vampire would know they were lovers.

“Can you please try not to strangle my friends?”

Angel could not quite bring himself to feel guilty about it. Besides, Faith could handle herself. She had belted him in the jaw with a right cross and he could still feel it. “Let’s just call it even,” he suggested wryly and motioned for them to head upstairs.

His ears pricked at a sound from above. Another followed, loud enough for Cordelia to hear shouting. “It’s Wes.”

“We can’t be under attack,” Faith ruled that out only to contradict herself a moment later. “Can we?”

Taking the steps two by two, Angel raced toward the ongoing conflict. Raised voices melded into the noise from the far end of the hall. Arriving at the study, Cordelia and Faith behind him, he saw the others in a defensive posture surrounding the fireplace. Buffy held her stake at the ready. Giles wielded a poker. Xander physically blocked the path between the intruder and the only escape. Willow, for some strange reason, appeared to be racing to and fro with armfuls of legal pads, parchments and books.

Pinned prone to the floor beneath Drusilla’s heeled boot, Wesley flailed out of control like a butterfly in its final death throes. Arms reaching. Legs kicking. “No, no, please. You mustn’t do this.” Begging got him nowhere. “God have mercy! Someone stop her.”

Braced against the edge of the hearth and using her strength to keep Wesley pinned down, Drusilla stood with an armful of scrolls, holding a leather-bound book toward the fire. The struggling watcher was trying to protect a pile of legal pads containing his research notes. His plea brimmed with panic rather than pain as Drusilla fueled the brightly burning fire with books and papers.

“Drusilla,” Angel’s commanding voice boomed above the others.

Startled, her red lips formed a circle. “Oh. Come see the pretty fire, Angel. It dances. I like dancing.” Yellow and orange flames flickered high over charred bookbindings, dark black smoke rising up the chimney. The stench of burning parchment and ink filled the room.

“Put the book down.”

After a glance at the book in her hand, Drusilla defiantly sent it straight into the fire. A painful cry sounded from Wesley as he tried to save it, the flames licking the side of his hand scoring the flesh.

Plunging the poker into the fire, Giles dug the book out before the flames consumed it. Embers sparked across the stone hearth. He stomped them out. “Those are important documents, irreplaceable.” Anger left a tremor in his hand as Giles pointed the brass poker toward Drusilla. “Back away.”

Drusilla grabbed the end of the poker despite that it was still hot from the fire and flung it across the room narrowly missing Willow who yelped while ducking low. She vamped out at the pain, flesh and bone shifting, her fangs bared as she hissed at Giles who slowly reached for the small vial of holy water he had taken to carrying in his jacket pocket.

Before he could act, Buffy decided she was not going to let Drusilla harm anyone else. “That’s it.” Maneuvering into a better position, she had every intention of putting her stake through the vampire’s heart.

A strong arm yanked her back at the last moment. Angel spat out, “I’ll handle it. Stay put.” He pushed her none too gently toward the couch where Buffy collapsed into a sitting position.

Outraged that he would stop her, Buffy yelled back, “She’s dangerous. The next time I see fangs—”

“She’s a vampire,” Cordelia shrugged as she walked past Buffy. “Fangs go with the territory.”

“Cool it, B,” Faith put a hand on her shoulder to keep her seated when Buffy made a move to get up. “Angel’s got it covered.”

Drusilla shrunk back against the stone mantle, removing her foot from Wesley’s back and releasing him as she tried to escape Angel’s stern stare. Hugging the remaining scrolls tightly to her reed thin body, Drusilla’s morphed back into human form. “Why are you angry, my Angel? Don’t be angry.”

Cordelia followed behind Angel as he approached Dru planning to help Giles get Wes out of the way. The fact that he had burnt his hand seemed to be the last thing on his mind as he gathered up the legal pads he had been protecting. She held out a hand to him. “This way, hurry.”

Scuttling out of Angel’s way, Wesley reached back to grab one last pad before letting Cordelia pull him a safe distance away. Considering what Drusilla was like whenever Angel was around, she did not think there would be a fight. It was Wes she was not so sure about. If Dru managed to throw those scrolls into the fire, there was no telling how the new watcher would react.

“What’s going on Dru?” Just because he asked the question did not mean there was a reasonable explanation for her actions. The things she did often made no sense. It might turn out that she was burning the books simply because she liked to look at the fire.

Dru scooted as far back as she could get ignoring the rough stone scraping her skin. The top layer of her cream-colored dress, a thin veil of diaphanous material, clung to the stones closest to the burning embers that hissed and spit from the fire. “Don’t be angry,” her voice quaked like a naughty child expecting punishment from her father.

Displeasure, rage, the urge to channel that anger into a physical response ratcheted up inside him. He had dealt with feelings like this after he was first cursed, unwanted urges and thoughts, demonic instinct and desires influencing his every move. Always there, pressing him to act.

He had gotten adept at suppressing those urges. Ever since returning from Acathla’s hell, it was not as easy to distance himself from his emotions like before. The more he let himself feel, the more difficult it seemed to control the rest. Cordelia’s words were still fresh in his mind as was the memory of grabbing Faith by the throat.

Right now, he did not have time to think about it. Angel knew there was a good chance Dru did not know what the hell she was doing. He struggled to tamp down the urge to bare his fangs and threaten the truth out of her. The hint of a ridged brow smoothed out, though his eyes remained streaked with gold.

Holding out a hand to her, Angel felt the weight of several stares upon him. “You’re too close to the fire. Come to me. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Drusilla took the few steps separating them, a frightened sob escaping, and buried her head against his shoulder. “No,” she knew he would not harm her. Her reed-thin frame trembled against his. “No, but he will.”

“He who…Spike?” asked Cordelia even though that did not seem likely. He was still laid up in bed. “If he’s still being a big baby about drinking the pig blood, I can talk to him again.”

Angel doubted that was the cause of this little book burning session. “I don’t think she means Spike. He’d never intentionally harm her.” And that did not explain what Dru was up to by burning their research.

The scrolls scrunched between them as Dru squirmed closer. Angel tried to maneuver her out of his arms, but she was not budging. Something had frightened the hell out of her. Or someone, by the sound of it, and it did not take much of a guess to figure out whom.

Promising, “Nicolau can’t touch you here,” he quietly wondered whether a vampire immune to the power of the sun was encumbered by any restrictions. Would Willow’s disinvite spell keep him out? That meant the mansion defense plans were a whole lot less secure.

Giles cleared his throat to get Angel’s attention. “Might I take those?” indicating the scrolls.

That was fine with Angel, but getting Drusilla to release them without harming them was not that easy. She glanced toward the flames dancing in shades of red and yellow in the hearth. “I see them burning.”

“Yes, quite,” Wes clipped as he too stared into the fire taking a mental inventory of what was lost.

Drusilla laughed in a spine-chilling way that made their hair stand on end. “Dark secrets cast long shadows when they come into the light.”

Behind them, Cordelia’s brows arched at the insane little sound, a frisson shooting along her nerves. “Melodramatic, much? Next time tell us about your vision before you start burning things.”

Angel turned to face her bringing the still clinging vampiress around with him. “Those scrolls hold the secrets that will help us to stop Nicolau from fulfilling this prophecy.”

“What did you see, Dru?” asked Cordelia knowing that the vision Dru had shared with her contained disjointed flashes of a possible future. It seemed unlikely that anyone could make sense of such a thing. No wonder she was crazy.

Holding out one of the scrolls, Drusilla shared her thoughts in a whisper, “I see them burning.”

So she’d said before. That did not tell them anything new or useful. Cordelia took the rolled parchment. “We need this to find a way to stop the prophecy from happening. No more bonfires, ‘kay? Angel won’t let that creep hurt you.”

“The light brings truth and darkness.”

At her sire’s direction, Drusilla handed over the remaining scrolls to Cordy. Giles and Wes stood by to take them. The musty parchments looked pretty much the same to her, but when she handed over one thick scroll, Giles immediately carried it over to the desk for closer inspection. Relief and a twinge of hope suffused his words, “The prophecy wasn’t destroyed in the fire.”

That was nice, but Cordelia thought they already knew what the prophecy scroll had to say. “Does it matter? I thought you had that thing memorized by now.”

Actually, she was all for setting a torch to that particular parchment if doing so would make the whole thing go away.

“Our translation has been providing us with necessary clues,” Giles reminded her. “It may continue to prove useful as we get closer to the individual events leading up to the Rites of Tavrok. The original text may be important.”

“Particular nuances in the language,” added Wes before turning his attention to the reddened flesh on his left hand. A moment longer and he would have been seriously burned.

Cordelia suggested that she get the First Aid Kit from upstairs. Turning toward the door she saw, “Spike! What are you doing out of bed?”

Looking a little less like he had been put through a meat grinder, Spike leaned against the doorframe for support. “Thought the bloody mansion was burning down around our ears. Then there was the screeching. Didn’t know we had any five year old girls running around the place.”

“That was Wes,” pointed out Xander when Spike’s accusing gaze drifted his way. “I don’t screech like a girl.”

“Debatable, but unimportant at the moment,” Angel said as he released Drusilla so she could go to Spike. Their silent greeting was a tactile one. A nuzzle of her cheek against his throat, their hands connecting, fingers threading together followed by Dru settling her cheek against Spike’s shoulder.

When Angel explained what had happened Spike did not offer any apologies on Dru’s behalf. Truthfully, Angel did not expect any. They had experienced the aftereffects of her visions for too many years to bother with that.

“Cordelia, please wait,” Wesley called out to her as she was squeezing by the pair hanging out in the doorway. “My hand can forgo treatment for another few minutes. I think you should be present to hear what Mr. Giles has to say about the ring.”

Letting out a soft huff, Cordelia turned around and walked over to join Faith standing by the couch. “So let’s hear it.”

“One moment,” Giles started sifting through the books Willow had managed to save. He wanted to cross-reference the symbol on the drawing with one in the symbology text.

Spike had no idea what they were on about. “What ring?”

Glowering over the reminder that an enemy vampire had actually touched Cordelia, Angel explained, “Nicolau was at the funeral—in broad daylight.”

“That’s ruddy impossible.” Spike’s jaw dropped open at the thought of possessing the ability to survive sunshine. “The ring protected him?”

Willow hopped up on the edge of the desk being careful not to sit on the parchment spread out across it. “That’s my theory.”

“I want one.”

Everyone stared at Spike.

“What?” he shrugged.

“A ring that protects vampires,” muttered Wesley suddenly taking Willow’s theory to heart, “makes them impervious to the sun, invulnerable.” The idea struck a familiar chord. “No, no, there has to be another explanation.”

Giles looked up from the book in his hands, the one he had saved from the fire. Its edges were charred, pages turned brown. He knew exactly where Wes was taking that particular line of thinking. “Yes, there must be another explanation. Wesley, please do restrict your musings to the realm of the possible.”

Bristling at the tone of disbelief, Wesley suddenly felt like defending the conclusion he had been prepared to disregard. “Until recently the stories of the Banished Ones were thought to be outside the ‘realm of the possible’.”

“You’re talking about the Gem of Amara,” realized Angel with a growing sense of dread. If Nicolau had somehow gotten his hands on the gemstone with its purported limitless power, there would be no stopping him.

Cordelia thought about the ring she had seen on Nicolau’s hand. It was gold inlaid with black onyx in an intricate design. Something had given the vampire the ability to go out in the sun. It might be a one-time thing like a spell or something permanent like a magic ring. “I wouldn’t call an onyx a gem—unless it wasn’t really an onyx. Maybe it was a black diamond. What kind of gems do these Amara people have?”

“Nobody knows,” Giles answered. “The Gem of Amara is the vampire equivalent of the Holy Grail. There was a great deal of interest in it back in the, oh, 10th century, as I recall. Questing vampires combed the earth. They found nothing and concluded that it never existed.”

Just as Wesley had reminded him of the origins of the Banished Ones, legends often had a basis in fact. Pursing his lips, Giles thought about it for a moment deciding to be open-minded on the subject. Discovering that the House of Solaris was comprised of the almost-mythic Banished Ones put a new perspective on things. They could take nothing for granted, nor ignore any avenue of possibility in their research.

“I apologize,” he gave Wes a nod. “We should not disregard any theory that might explain the situation. Assuming that we still have the necessary texts,” his glance slid Drusilla’s way, “you should look into it.”

Wes’ chin jutted up another notch. “Very well.”

“For all we know at this point there could be a connection between the gem and the Sect of Solaris.” Giles was less inclined to call it a true clan, as it was apparently a branch of the House of Aurelius.

Angel picked up the sketch Cordelia had made from the floor where someone had dropped it during the chaos. He stared at the sigil trying to remember if there was some other place he had seen it. Nothing. Standing by his original assessment, he reiterated, “This is a demon brand, and not anything recognized by the clans. The House of Solaris has no true vampiric crest of its own. So this sign of their allegiance to a demon god suffices.”

He tossed the paper down on the desk in disgust.

Most days Angel hated who and what he was, a vampire. Angelus had never honored the Master, never seen him as anything but a rival. Back then he had been more interested in indulging Darla’s whims, and his own, to take interest in the politics of their bloodline.

Vampires like Nicolau were anathema to the rest. Deep down inside him, Angel felt it too. Worshipping a demon was wrong from anyone’s perspective, but to a vampire, it was not only disgusting, but also a perversion of the practice of being answerable only to themselves.

“We have a match,” Giles looked up from the book again. He picked up the sketch comparing it to the ink drawing in the book. “Angel was correct in that it is a demon symbol. However, it belongs to a vastly powerful creature: Amolon.”

Though Cordelia figured this was Giles’ big announcement, she had to ask, “A mole on what? Color me underwhelmed. You’d think these Big Bads would have scarier names.”

Sighing deeply, he closed his eyes for a moment of reflection. Then Giles pronounced it again more slowly while enunciating each syllable. “AH-mo-LON.”

The name with its correct pronunciation meant nothing. “Um, really? Wow.” Cordelia tried to sound enthusiastic about the revelation.

“This is important, Cordelia,” defended Giles taking affront that she was not excited or relieved or—anything other than sarcastic about the discovery. “Now we know which demon we are up against and can tailor our defense more precisely.”

“Great. Go defense!”

Having been lost in thought from the moment Giles uttered the name of the demon, Wesley finally realized why it sounded familiar. He was the only person present other than Giles for whom the announcement meant anything.

“Gah! One of the Old Ones? That cannot be. Let me see.” Snatching the sketch out of Giles’ hand, he stared back and forth between it and the charred page of the book. “Oh, dear God. It does match. Perhaps it’s a fluke. Perhaps Cordelia got it wrong. Oh, dear. We…we should call the Watchers’ Council immediately. They should send back up.”

Trying to remain calm about the situation, Giles reminded him, “You are the back up.”

“Someone tell me why the new watcher is having a power-freak?” asked Xander as Wesley dashed over to his legal pads of notes and started flipping through them at a manic pace.

Since Wesley had mentioned that Amolon was considered to be one of the Old Ones, Angel started to understand the reason for his concerns. Though the prophecy itself suggested that they were not dealing with an insignificant threat, this put things on a whole other level.

“If Nicolau’s sect manages to fulfill their part of the prophecy,” Angel warned grimly, “Amolon will be free.” Fragments of memory flashed through his mind of Acathla’s hell dimension. “You’ve never seen a real demon here on Earth or know the power they possess.”

Xander gulped.

“We fight demons all the time,” Faith countered and jutted her thumb in Spike and Dru’s direction. “Vampires are just the tip of that butt-ugly end of the iceberg.”

A growl sounded behind her, but went ignored.

Returning to the desk with his research notes, Wesley said, “Vampires and the other creatures you’ve fought aren’t pure demon. If Amolon makes his way here, the Earth is doomed.”

A feeling of déjà-vu hit Giles like he had had this conversation about the Old Ones at a previous time. Faith hadn’t been there yet, just Buffy and her friends, a time when they were still naïve about the Slayer’s role at the Hellmouth. It took him a moment to recall just when the subject had come up—during the time of the Harvest.

“Long ago demons made the world their hell and they ruled the Earth for eons. Over time, they lost their hold on this reality and were forced into exile making the way for mortal animals, for man.”

An icky sense of dread was churning in Buffy’s stomach. “That sounds familiar.”

“I’ve mentioned it before.”

“Oh. My bad,” she cringed. “Guess I failed the pop quiz.”

Willow did not. “I remember that,” she chirped almost excitedly. “It’s the creation myth for vampires. The last demon leaving Earth fed off a human, mixed their blood. A human infected with a demon who fed off another and another.”

“Vamp central,” nodded Xander. He vaguely remembered the conversation back when he’d learned that Buffy was the Slayer and that vampires really existed. That seemed so long ago now.

Cordelia had not been privy to that conversation. This was all new to her. Every time they discovered something new about this prophecy, it seemed to get worse. “So you are actually saying this Mole Guy can actually back up the gloom and doom stuff.”

First, a demon-worshipping vampire cult wanted to sacrifice her to their demon god. Now it seemed that the demon was not some puffed up hotshot with more charisma than power. He was the real deal.

“Amolon is gloom and doom.” Wesley told her. “No wonder Solaris and his sect were banished from the House of Aurelius. Most vampires accept the status quo as long as their feeding grounds are plentiful.”

Xander shuddered, his gaze straying to the doorway where Drusilla and Spike wore identical smirks. “Hey, enough with the feeding grounds talk.”

Ditto for Cordelia who was so ready for that bubble bath she had promised herself. She walked over to Angel who immediately sensed the fear beneath her outwardly calm face. He put his arm around her shoulder bringing her closer.

Angel brushed his lips against her forehead and whispering a promise. “It’ll be okay, baby. We’re going to stop this before it happens.”

Scene 131

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