Season of Solace. 140

140:     The Study, Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

Blood.

His name was written in blood.

Dark red letters scrawled the name Angelus across the envelope suffusing it with an unmistakable scent. Not the sweet, coppery tang of human blood even in dried form. This was tainted by death.

Vampire blood.

He had noticed the subtle scent upon Faith’s arrival, but it was not until she handed him the envelope that he was hit with the full effect. Nicolau. It was as if a rival vampire had entered the mansion uninvited.

Reacting instantaneously, white-hot anger shot along Angel’s spine building into a latent roar that tangled up in his chest. A rippling sensation raced across his brow as it always did just before the visible traces of his humanity slipped away. The demon within him clawed for release eager to pave the way to hell with the enemy’s body parts, all in a split-second reaction.

Only the startled look on Faith’s face made him realize what was happening before he fully vamped out. For an instant, he was caught halfway between his human mask and vampire features. Golden eyes stripped of the limitations of human sight took in the shadows, the way the firelight danced on the exposed skin of her throat.

The piercing release of fangs had just begun when…

“Down, boy. Don’t kill the messenger.” Trust Cordelia to notice, too. He felt her hand slide up along his back, warm, melting away some of the tension in his tightly corded muscles. “It’s just a letter. Right?”

Somehow, Angel pulled it together. With a reflexive shake of his head, he was human again, at least on the outside.

No one else had noticed his brief struggle. They were all focused on the envelope in his hand trying to guess at the nature of its contents.

Even before opening the envelope, he knew that they would be wrong.

“It’s a challenge,” Buffy sounded almost eager for it. “Setting the time and place for a showdown.”

If only it was.

Letters were safe, easy, civilized. That is what this was even though it was written in Nicolau’s own blood. Well, Angel did not want civilized. He wanted a fight.

He knew he was not going to get one.

Not yet, anyway.

Isobel would have passed on his message to her sire. If Nicolau had any intention of responding in person to his demand for a face-to-face meeting, he would have shown up on his doorstep. This was just supposed to get his attention.

Well, it worked.

This was no ordinary letter. Still, he was tempted to toss it unread into the fire and watch it turn to ash.

“Cheap ink. It’s all crumbly.” Cordelia’s observation included that ‘eew’ tone as if she suspected the truth, but would rather believe otherwise. The lettering flaked in spots across the parchment envelope revealing the ink’s true nature and creating imperfect streaks in the carefully penned letters.

Though standing ten feet away, Spike noticed it as he finally paid attention. He vamped out not bothering to hide his reaction to the enemy’s scent. “Blood.” A growl rumbled in his throat. “Not fooling around, is he?”

Gritting his teeth, Angel managed a curt, “No.” The method in which it was written revealed the letter’s intent. A truce. The idea was beyond belief. Ridiculous.

Cordelia shuddered and ran her hands over her crossed arms as goosebumps appeared. “Could that guy get any creepier?”

Xander did not think so. “Chock-full-o-nuts vamp is just trying to scare us.”

The boy was looking a little green around the gills, Angel decided. “It’s not what you think. This is Blood Script.”

“I’m pretty much thinking,” Xander used air quotes, “‘Psycho Vampire’ covers it.”

Nicolau’s obsession with prophecy notwithstanding, he was not completely psychotic. This was not a crude threat. Blood Script served as an oath between equals. Its use was deeply traditional amongst vampires, considered elegant, and to Angel’s mind, overly dramatic— much like Nicolau himself.

Both watchers confirmed they had heard of it.

Giles tapped his glasses against mouth before commenting. “I was unaware that the clans still used Blood Script to communicate.”

“We don’t,” Spike scoffed loudly.

“Ah, but you do,” countered Wesley. “Or perhaps I should say the more sophisticated vampires do.”

“Oy!”

Still vamped out, Spike leaned closer to Wes who scrambled to clarify his statement. “It’s a very old practice. Not at all popular with the modern minded. Quite outdated now that you mention it.”

Used only by the oldest of the clans and rarely by anyone other than their leaders, it was proof that the letter came from the one writing it. Vital information was shared by spilling what was ultimately vital to oneself. It came with an expectation of trust.

A concept apparently lost on the messenger.

Cracks in the red wax seal on the back of the envelope indicated that Angel would not be the first to examine the contents. Looking to Faith for an explanation he watched as her jaw set and her chin jerked up a notch.

“You opened this.”

Standing cross-armed, she shifted her balance from one leg to the other. Not denying it, she simply shrugged one shoulder.

“Duh, of course she opened it.” Cordelia rolled her eyes at him before asking Faith, “So what’d it say?”

There was no use getting angry at Faith. Even before getting to the letter, Angel had a feeling the slayer’s curiosity had gone unsatisfied. He was right.

“Wish I could tell you, Cor, but it’s written in some kind of vampire code.”

“Well that sucks.” Cordy pouted in an adorable way that had him staring at her lush lips, remembering their softness and the warm depths of her mouth. The memory of their last kiss nearly made him miss the concern weighting down her otherwise airy words. “I guess he didn’t want anyone reading your mail.”

Indulging her with a brief smile for her ability to lighten any situation, Angel met her gaze and held it. The others might not recognize her true feelings, but he did. Worry pooled in those hazel depths as he stared into them. Love and concern for what the letter might reveal, fear for him, for herself.

Were they reflecting his fears instead of hers?

There was no reflection, of course, just the flickering firelight and— impatience. Matching expressions of mild annoyance made him wonder just how long he had been staring. Wesley somehow managed to sneak up on him to get a closer look at the envelope and was craning his neck at an odd angle in order to see the details of the inscription.

Angel glared at him until he backed off a couple of steps.

Pushing up the glasses that had slipped down his nose, Wesley excitedly explained to them, “Coded communiqués between vampire clans were in vogue back in the days when only clergy and certain levels of society could read. There are several popular ciphers. Decoding them is something of a hobby of mine.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes at him. “Eager much? Try not to drool on it.”

“I am merely attempting to offer my expertise,” defended Wes with a harrumph. “I am highly rated by the Council, I’ll have you know.”

Standing to Angel’s immediate right and facing Wes at the opposite side, Cordelia let out a rude snort. “Oh, I think you’ve mentioned it…like a dozen times.”

“Certainly not. You exaggerate.”

“Pfft!”

In the middle of a combat zone where verbal barbs shot back and forth, Angel nearly told them to shut up. Then, realizing that their little tiff allowed him to scan the first paragraph of the letter without interruption, he said nothing and started to read.

There was no code, but he could see why Faith was not able to understand a word of it. He got no further than the opening statement when Willow asked, “Is it written in blood, too?”

Angel was too caught up in the contents of the letter to answer. Her question was apparently enough to make Wesley realize that bantering with Cordy was pointless because he stopped mid sentence to respond. “No doubt. However, it’s the nature of the blood that conveys a particular message to the recipient.”

“You lot got nothing better to do than study vampires?” growled Spike.

Faith did. “Stake ‘em.”

“Know thy enemy,” Wes quoted Sun Tzu applying the art of war to humanity’s long fought battle against demon kind. “The Watcher’s Council has a few samples of Blood Script letters preserved in the special collections section of the archives.”

“Speaking of the enemy,” Xander gulped heavily, “and blood— I’m getting this whole serial killer with fangs vibe. Was that his latest victim?”

Angel felt Cordelia startle at the question. Without taking his eyes off the letter he slipped his hand down to hers and threaded their fingers together. She squeezed his hand when he simply confirmed, “It’s not.”

“The use of human blood is a threat, a taunt or a display of power,” Wesley informed the group that he had studied such details in addition to viewing the sampled letters. “Vampire blood or demon blood have quite different meanings.”

Giles added, “The council uses a special chemical reaction test to determine the type of blood.”

Now muttering, Spike added, “Can’t even mind your own bloody business.”

Ignoring Spike, Buffy came up with a game plan. “We could get what we need from the Chem Lab. I’m already on Snyder’s hit list. He blames me for the last break in, so what the hey.”

Willow was not willing to let Spike’s comment go taking offence on their behalf when neither watcher bothered to respond. “Vampire business is their business.”

Moving closer to Angel now, Spike glanced toward her long enough to smirk. “Well it’s a bloody stupid one, Red. Bunch of grown men letting little girls fight their battles for them.”

“Watch who you’re calling a little girl,” Faith scowled at him beating out Buffy by only a second.

With an irritated huff she reminded Spike, “Then I guess it was a little girl who beat you the last time we crossed paths at the cemetery.”

“That was a standoff, slayer, and it was just a fun tussle. Gotta admit you didn’t feel much like a little girl when I had you—”

A cry of pain suddenly cut him off as Buffy yelled, “Ow!” Reaching for the back of her head and whirling around to face her assailant, she found Dru holding a few strands of blond hair.

Her dark black eyes flashed from Buffy back to the doll in her arms. “Miss Edith, you naughty girl.”

The hand holding the hair whipped behind her back.

Buffy’s skin crawled as she realized she had been so caught up in Spike’s stupid little game that Drusilla had taken the opportunity to sneak up behind her. Next time it might not be a childish hair pulling. The crazy vampiress might have slit her throat as easily as she had Kendra’s.

“Get away from me,” Buffy warned her through gritted teeth. All her instincts told her to reach for Mr. Pointy and put Drusilla to a dusty end. Angel would not like that. He had ordered her to leave Spike and Dru alone. That still grated on her nerves.

Having tuned most of it out Angel glanced up from the pages of the letter only when Cordelia’s fingernails dug into his arm. He was not in the mood to deal with Drusilla—or Buffy for that matter. “Cordy.” An almost imperceptible nod in their direction was all it took to convey concern and his wishes.

Cordelia gave him a ‘who me’ stare before her astonishment was replaced by a look of pure determination. They had shared concerns about Angel’s childe living in close proximity to the slayers. Right now Angel had enough on his plate with decoding the letter.

Though she wanted to stay at Angel’s side to ask him about it, she needed to distract Drusilla before she forced Buffy’s hand and they ended up with vampire dust all over the rugs. It was not like they could pay a housekeeper to come to the Crawford Street Mansion, not with its reputation for being haunted.

No way was she going to be the one to clean up the slayer’s mess. Stepping between them, Cordelia put on a brilliant smile. “Say, wasn’t it great that Faith rescued Miss Edith? Slayers aren’t so bad once you get to know them— even Buffy. And, hey, isn’t that a new dress?”

Drusilla forgot all about her little tiff with Buffy and focused on the fact that someone had gotten quite personal with her favorite doll. Miss Edith’s dress was scarlet velvet with matching silk ribbons at her waist and in her curly-cued hair.

Urging Buffy into a cooperative response, Cordelia hissed at her, “Say something.”

Still irritated, but not stupid, Buffy realized what Cordelia was trying to do. She let go of her grip on the stake tucked into her waistband. “My grandmother once gave me a porcelain doll like that. She had hair like mine.”

“Bottle blonde?” Cordelia’s response came on autopilot before she remembered that she was supposed to be settling things down, not stirring them up.

Drusilla giggled. Buffy did not.

Having a difficult time concentrating on his own more serious thoughts, Giles sternly turned his gaze upon the three of them. “Now, girls, this is hardly the time for hair pulling and trading insults.”

Willow nudged Oz with an elbow as they leaned against the desk side by side. “Like there’s really right time for that?”

“Oh, there is,” Xander propped his head on his hand while leaning over the arm of his chair, “but it usually involves tiny bikinis and a mud pit.”

Drusilla was not impressed. “Hmph!” She and Miss Edith returned to their waltz in the most shadowy corner of the room.

“You wish,” mouthed Cordelia to Xander. He looked a little dejected when Buffy also scowled at him and then shared a look of disgust with Cordy whose mistimed insult was now a thing of the past.

Laughing aloud, Faith ruffled Xander’s dark hair with her fingers as she walked past him. “Sounds like fun to me. I’ll play if Wesley volunteers to referee.”

“Good heavens.”

Angel glanced up after fully scanning the letter twice just in time to see Wes turn an interesting shade of red. The constant distractions and interruptions, not to mention Xander’s inappropriate eyebrow waggling at the girls, was aggravating. “Maybe you two could leave the mud wrestling for another time and pay attention.”

“Guess that makes you the stick in the mud, mate,” Spike guffawed and slapped him on the back.

Turning swiftly he thundered, “Cordelia’s life is at stake. Get your heads on straight. All of you. Either you’re going to help with this or you can get the hell out.”

While his head was spinning from the details of Nicolau’s letter, they were just cracking jokes. He wanted to pound a few skulls together to get their attention, but Angel suddenly had enough.

“The situation is no laughing matter,” Giles spoke with an air of caution. After all, he had asked for an end to the arguments. “However, it can’t hurt to ease the tension a bit now and then.”

Angel did not want them relaxed. He wanted them ready. “The blood isn’t human.” He held up the letter to get their focus back where it needed to be. “It’s vampire blood. Nicolau’s to be precise.”

Pointing out that vampires were hardly known for their morality, Wes recommended, “Considering the source I suggest we take that with a grain of salt. Still, to actually see a blood letter first hand…” his words failed him.

“It serves as an oath of sorts if my understanding is correct,” Giles deferred to Wes who had more extended study on the subject. He remained reservedly subdued in his own interest while his younger counterpart could barely contain his enthusiasm for it.

The Council had several language experts whose talents extended to interpreting a wide variety of ancient tongues and decoding rare forms of script. Wesley was one of them. That was part of the reason he had been chosen by the council to come here.

The practice of written codes had fallen out of favor over the past century thanks to modern communication devices.

It surprised him that Nicolau would bother.

“It’s not written in code,” Angel commented having scanned the entire document. A groan of disappointment sounded from Wesley who recovered quickly enough to ask why Faith would think that in the first place. “It’s Galician.”

Feeling a little impatient herself, Cordelia huffed, “I don’t care if it’s Galactic, Greek or Gobbledygook. What’s it say?”

“Galician?” Wesley’s enthusiasm suddenly deflated a visible notch. The language was not exactly on top of the Watchers Council syllabus. “Like most European languages its roots stem from the Latin. Though it is a rare dialect, Galician is very similar to Portuguese. I should just manage it.”

Giles’ attention had remained mostly on Angel during the past few minutes. From his observations, he was not certain that Wesley’s assistance was necessary. “Angel, as the letter was written to you in that language might I assume that you can interpret it?”

Staring down at the pages in his hand, Angel decided he needed some time to think about what was written there. Though it had been a while since he read anything in that language, he had not forgotten it. Admitting that would only force him to reveal its contents before he had more time to think about them.

Maybe if he suggested the watcher take the letter away for a detailed translation it would give him time to consider Nicolau’s words without the distraction of so many other opinions. Everyone would have something to say on the Nicolau’s offer when it was ultimately going to be up to him to choose how to respond.

“Angel, how is your Galician?” Wesley looked stunned by the concept that he would know it.

Angel supposed the watcher would be horrified to discover that his knowledge of the language had been obtained in the name of seduction and ultimately led to the death of a beautiful Galician girl. The memory of it flashed in his mind as fresh and vibrant as any he experienced. Some things were better kept to himself.

“Rusty.” That was truth enough for the moment.

Advising that they get an accurate translation, Wesley asked to use Willow’s laptop. “It will take a few minutes to access the translation matrix of the Council database. Unlike some of the more ancient languages Galician is fully documented there.”

Angel held out the letter to Wesley. “Go ahead.” His expression gave away none of the satisfaction he felt at achieving even a minimal delay. By the time the watcher finished his exactingly accurate translation he would have some means of providing Cordelia with some reassurance.

So he hoped.

Spike snatched the letter before Wes could take it. Roaring his name, Angel’s calm mask vanished instantly. He growled, “Read it or give it to Wes. This isn’t a game.”

Moving out of arm’s reach, Spike almost looked hurt that his actions were questioned by his own kind. “No need to bother with that tosser. Dru and me spent a bit of time in Portugal back in the 40’s. Recon that’s close enough.”

Not for Wesley. “Close might mean the difference between a truce and a blood bath.”

Fully aware of the contents, Angel ruefully realized he was not going to get much of a chance to let Nicolau’s words sink in. The truth was going to come out sooner rather than later. Fine. Maybe it was better that way after all.

Taking a seat on the couch, he motioned for Spike to get on with it.

Despite Wesley’s distrustful scowl, Angel decided it would be interesting to find out if Spike would provide an accurate translation or skip over the parts he might not want the watchers—or Angel—to hear.

“What do you think it says?” Cordelia curled up next to him and trustingly leaned her head against his chest, her spreading warmth an instant reminder that her life was the most important thing to consider here.

Her curiosity came with a hint of fear. “I suppose he wants you to hand me over.”

It scared him how accurate Cordy’s instincts could be. Knowing what Nicolau had to say did not provide him with any reassurances. He reached up to tangle his fingers through her hair gently pulling her head back. Forgetting all about their audience for a moment, he placed a soft, lingering kiss across her mouth, a silent promise that he would never let Nicolau’s plans for her come to fruition.

The uncomfortable clearing of Wes’ throat broke them away from the hazy warmth of the kiss. Angel noted the disapproval in the brief glance before he looked away. Wes would have to forgive him his momentary lack of decorum. Apparently embarrassed by what he had seen, he stumbled over the words as he asked Giles, “Do you think it wise to trust Spike with such an important task?”

Giles was not even looking at his younger counterpart or Spike for that matter. It was Buffy whose stillness was so complete it took his other senses to determine she was even there. The rapid beat of her heart was quickly diminishing to its normal rate. It had not been his intention to hurt her while comforting Cordelia.

There were some things Buffy was going to have to work out on her own.

Behind them, as if her attention had been on the ongoing debate all along and not on the kiss, Buffy snorted, “Spike can read?”

Spike dramatically clapped a hand over his heart. “Do I look like an idiot?”

Her answer was lightning-quick. “Yes, now that you mention it.”

Giles finally gave Wesley an answer. “Spike has a vested interest in defeating our mutual enemies. Isobel tortured him at her sire’s behest. They attempted to kidnap Drusilla. I see no reason to deny him the opportunity to contribute.”

Even Spike looked surprised. “What he said. At least somebody around here trusts me.”

The brows arching above Giles’ glasses suggested he would not stretch it quite that far.

“If somebody doesn’t read the letter soon, I’m going out for pizza,” Xander sighed.

Put out by the consensus to let Spike get on with it, Wes sat down on the couch next to Angel and Cordelia looking quite vexed by the decision. “Well don’t blame me if he spins a yarn a mile long.”

“Oh, keep your knickers on. I’m on your bloody side,” Spike reminded him. “After I take a crack at it you can go play with it and your little matrix all you want.”

Warning him, “Bet on it,” Wesley sent Angel a firm nod assuring him of getting an exact translation.

“Now if everyone would shut the hell up so I can read…” Spike eyed Buffy to see if she would say anything further. “Let’s see what this ponce has to say.”

Angel tried to relax, but sensing Cordelia’s tension only increased his own. He knew what the letter revealed. She suspected the truth of it. They both had to wait Spike out as he muddled through Nicolau’s scripted handwriting.

“Says here he thought Angelus was dead. Claims he’s not our enemy.” Spike let out a cough of disbelief. “Bloke’s got a funny way of showing it by letting that icy bitch of his carve me up.”

Giles closed his eyes for a moment and then asked, “Please keep the commentary to a minimum.”

“Read it word for word.” Cordelia told Spike. “Don’t leave anything out.”

Taking a look at the second paragraph, he smirked a bit before agreeing. “If you say so, kitten. Just remember not to kill the messenger—or go after the family jewels.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He smirked. “You’ll see.”

Angel was already starting to regret his decision against tossing the letter into the fire. That would have given him plenty of time to prepare himself for what was to come.

Cousin,

Long years have passed since last I heard the name Angelus—

Angelus?” yelped Xander the moment he heard the name. Realizing, “The envelope was addressed to Angelus.”

Spike growled for silence. “That’s his name lackbrain.”

“I think Xander’s trying to say that Nicolau thinks Angel is still evil,” Willow offered helpfully. “He doesn’t know about the soul. Um…So, why doesn’t he know?”

She looked toward Oz as if he had the answer to everything. Oz could only shrug.

“The Banished Ones have likely been isolated for some time,” suggested Giles. “It may be that he is unaware of Angel’s curse.”

“Former curse,” Cordelia emphasized that it was not an issue any more.

Angel listened to their theories with quiet interest. As they would discover, Nicolau was far from ignorant on the subject. His influence with the local demon population was already growing. For the moment, he simply did not believe it. Though any face-to-face meeting between them would instantly reveal the truth to Nicolau, who would not be distracted as was his childe into missing the presence of his soul, Angel had to wonder whether he might use their assumptions to his advantage.

Long years have passed since last I heard the name Angelus. Rumors of your final death spread across Europe over a century ago. Perhaps that was wishful thinking on the part of your enemies. Do not count the House of Solaris among them for we are of the same blood and will soon share in the same fate.

Cordelia’s head lifted up from his shoulder. “What fate?”

“A promise tied to the prophecy.” Angel had told them what Isobel revealed to him. Even though he did not know the details he worried that the temptation of such power might tempt Spike into betrayal.

“But—“

“Pet, I’m about to get to the good part.” Spike smirked at her and then got back to reading.

Since Angel couldn’t tell him to skip down a couple of paragraphs without revealing that he had been able to read Galician he closed his eyes and gritted his teeth to await the resulting explosion.

My darling Isobel provided me with news of your encounter at the warehouse. As you know by now, my childe is quite enamored of you and your legend. She has regaled me time and again with a recounting of your fight against our minions. I grow weary of it and so encourage you to bed her soon. It is the only thing that will shut her up.

While the rest of the room was deadly silent Cordelia snorted with laughter. “Pfft! As if.”

To Spike’s apparent disappointment she sounded amused by his potentially jealousy-invoking revelation rather than threatened by it. The bastard should have known better than to leave that line in. Maybe she was laughing now, but what if that was just to hide her true feelings?

One big block of tension as he tilted her face up to his, Angel started to deny that he would ever consider the kind of deal Nicolau was offering. He wanted to assure her of his love. “You know I…” Conscious of the others’ presence he paused before sharing sentiments that were not meant for their ears. Picking up where he left off, he simply said, “I have no interest in Isobel.”

Cordelia pulled his hand into her lap giving it a gentle squeeze as she threaded their fingers together. She believed him. When her laughter faded, there was still a spark of curiosity in her hazel eyes. “So it’s normal for vampires to share their girlfriends?”

“Uh—That’s complicated.” Angel really did not want to have this conversation, but he could see that he was not going to get out of it. “Under certain circumstances it’s… it’s…”

Spike helped him out by finishing up: “Expected. It’s just sex, pet. Told you Izzy was a looker, didn’t I? Wouldn’t mind a go myself if I didn’t plan a little payback.”

Their previous conversation about Isobel had not covered the ins and outs of vampire sex. “So you’re saying that Dru would let you?”

Angel felt Cordelia’s shoulders stiffen with tension. He did not like the direction of the conversation sensing that it was something better left to the two of them behind the privacy of their bedroom door.

But if Spike caught his cautionary glare he ignored it in favor of looking toward his own sire who was busy smoothing the little folds of Miss Edith’s skirt. “Depends on her mood,” he told Cordy truthfully.

“So Nicolau expects me to let Isobel have Angel? Over my dead body.”

Groaning, Angel could see that this was only going to get worse if he did not put a stop to it. Unfortunately, he could not get a word in edgewise.

“Don’t be r—“

Spike said, “I think he’s planning to oblige you, luv.”

“I don’t—“

Not wanting to hear anything more about Nicolau’s plans for her, Cordelia was still focused on Spike. “Urgh! You know what I mean.

“You’re not a vampire. In his eyes, you’re just Angel’s pet. You don’t have the right to object.”

“Says who?” she demanded petulantly.

Finally, Angel blurted, “It’s you I want. Isobel’s fantasies are never going to happen.” He traced the contours of her face and stared soulfully into her eyes.

“Duh!” Cordelia nuzzled his hand with her cheek and pressed her lips into his palm causing Angel to relax instantly as he realized Cordelia was just making a point.

“Perhaps we should move onto the next section,” Giles said before Spike stirred up something else. “Now.”

“Spoilsport,” Spike muttered before reading on.

Join us, Angelus.

“See!” Xander shouted. “I told you.”

Let the lines of Aurelius and Solaris reclaim their true heritage. The offer Isobel made to you was quite genuine. Our bloodline will soon possess that long promised us. With our two Houses united nothing on this Earth can prevent us from claiming what is rightfully ours.

“Does it say what that is?” asked Wesley sitting on the edge of his couch cushion and eagerly hanging on to every word.

Spike stopped translating when he got to the next line and kept reading ahead on his own. “Cheeky bastard! I’ll bloody well show him what to do with his apology. Oy! You lot listen to this.”

It disturbed me to spill Aurelius blood to further our cause, but as you know I will do anything to ensure my master’s plan succeeds. Isobel can be quite vicious when she wants to be. Please convey my sincere apologies to Spike and his lovely sire. We have taken the liberty to provide Drusilla’s beloved Miss Edith with a velvet gown and hair ribbons. Perhaps this will soothe her ire, as I know she remains vexed with me.

Drusilla hissed.

The past two days have led to many interesting discoveries about you, Angelus. The mayor of this backwater American town is quite a knowledgeable host in regards to local resources and history. He was most informative about you. Isobel has sworn to take Wilkins’ head for spreading such dreadful rumors and I would have allowed it if he was not so damned congenial. 

“If we let her it’ll save me a load of trouble,” Faith said as she paced past Giles. “Let one problem solve the other.”

Buffy reminded her sternly, “The mayor is human.”

With a laugh, Faith asked, “Is he? There’s room for doubt. He smiles way too much.”

I found the tale quite amusing. The great Angelus cursed with a soul and in love with a slayer. Where do people get such ridiculous notions? Such a liaison would certainly be doomed from the start.

“This guy should write an advice column,” Buffy muttered sourly.

It was almost as disturbing as the news that you destroyed your sire. I look forward to hearing the truth on these matters. As I now understand it, Master Aurelius, and your sire, Darla, were defeated in a glorious battle by the slayer, thus giving you the sole right to assume leadership over the clan.

Why have you not?

“Because he lost his bollocks when he got his soul.” Spike answered the question and stared straight at Angel while doing it. He was not one to let an opportunity for an insult pass by, especially when he thought it was the truth. “You lost what it takes to be master of our House when you started feeling sorry for having an appetite. You’re a vampire, Angelus.”

Refusing to be bated, Angel remained seated. “I know what I was, Spike. Yes, I’m a vampire, but I’m still finding out who I am.”

“You’d better find out fast, Peaches. Sounds like our boy Nic just figured out that you aren’t in charge.”

Any master worth the illustrious title would have already claimed a foothold here at the Hellmouth. Your minions would be everywhere. Instead, there are none who claim you as their sire. Perhaps your glory days are long over. If you do not wish to claim power that is rightfully yours then perhaps I, in the right of my master, Solaris, will do so. For he is of the same blood and possesses as much right as you, if not more, to lay claim to the House of Aurelius.

Angel growled reflexively. The rumble in his chest caused Cordelia to stir from her comfortable spot. He pressed a kiss against her hair to sooth her. Spike’s words had stirred up something that reading Nicolau’s letter had not. While it was true that he did not want the title or anything that came with it, he was not willing to let anyone else supersede him.

He did not know if it was instinct, demonic aggression or plain old human pride that made him feel that way. “Just so you know your place in the pecking order, Spike.”

“I don’t answer to you anymore.”

“For the moment you do,” Angel reminded him of their deal. If Spike wanted to stay the course and reap revenge on Isobel, he couldn’t do it alone. Drusilla wanted him here. He answered to her, and Dru, when it served her purposes, answered to Angel.

The letter started to crumple in Spike’s hand. His lips pursed. Finally, he said, “For the moment.”

Angel felt the tension in the room dissipate when Spike returned to his task reading the letter.

Come cousin. Do not delay in claiming what is yours. For I assure you that you will want a part of what is promised us. This is the challenge you must face. Those who do not have power in the new regime will be slave to it.

Join us.

One more thing must be made clear. Your beautiful pet must undergo the Rites of Tavrok. Cordelia Chase possesses that which will secure our destiny. Having met her so briefly at the funeral of her grandmother, I see why you would be drawn to such beauty. It is quite easy to picture her in your bed as you take pleasure in her warm golden flesh.

“Um, what’s with the staring?” Cordelia demanded when all eyes focused on her.

Spike smirked before continuing. “Nic’s not the only one with an imagination, pet.”

Considering the passion of your threat against me and mine, I sense the human is important to you and I find it curious that there is no visible mark bearing your claim. If you planned to sire her and keep her at your side as I do my darling Isobel then I grieve for your loss. That future will never be hers.

Accept my offer to join us and I will ensure you the freedom to enjoy your pet for as long as possible. Though our allies will continue to seek out the other Varstrae like your Cordelia it is my duty to bring her before Kalesh so that the Rites of Tavrok may be performed upon her. Give her to me at the rising of the next full moon and I will ensure that my master acknowledges you as the heir of Aurelius.

In the new world Amolon creates, you will have all the power you could ever desire. Surely, the sacrifice of one human, no matter how beautiful, is worth the price.

N

The moment Spike finished, he handed the letter over to Wesley who began to look over it word for word. Having no real need of the Council’s translation matrix, he used this opportunity to determine Spike’s trustworthiness. Surprisingly, the vampire had provided an adequately accurate translation. Wesley had initially intended to test Angel’s veracity on the matter when he questioned his knowledge of Galician, but this worked out even better. Angel might be given the benefit of the doubt in this situation because he prioritized Cordelia’s safety. Spike was something of a loose cannon.

It was a good thing Giles had played along. For if anyone knew the extent of his full resume regarding languages it was he. As casually as possible, he skimmed over the second to last paragraph wherein Nicolau mentioned the Rites of Tavrok.

“Inadvertently, Nicolau may have given us another clue,” Wes let one particular line echo in his head again and again as he made a connection to something the Galician vampire had written with what little he knew of the history of that area.

Since Giles had been focusing on researching the House of Solaris and its connection to the Galician villagers, Wesley figured he would understand. “Tell me if you come to the same conclusion. Galicia was associated with the name of an ancient Celtic tribe known as the Gallaeci. In Latin…”

“That translates to Callaeci.” The moment he spoke the word aloud, Giles started to catch on, pronouncing the word with a hard ‘k’ sound.

Wes nodded and took it one step further. “Kallaikoi in Greek.”

“It’s just Greek to me,” quipped Xander who was unable to follow any of what they were saying as usual.

Next to him, Buffy whispered, “Me too.”

“Me three,” chirped Willow tagging along.

Oz gave them an odd look and remained silent.

Giles reached for the Compendium of Demons and Demigods in one of the piles of books on the study floor as he came to a sudden understanding. He flipped through the book until he reached the page he sought. “We wondered at the ties between the demon-worshipping vampire sect and the human population living in Galicia. Angel revealed the fact that they too worshipped demons which was the reason they have protected the secrets of the Banished Ones.”

“That’s Nicolau and the House of Solaris,” Willow whispered to Oz who was still a bit fuzzy on a few of the facts.

Oz squeezed her hand in silent thanks and listened on.

Using a finger as a bookmark, Giles held the aged book up for them to see. “Their origin goes back to the 5th century B.C. when the Greek historian and researcher Herodotus mentioned the tribes in his writings. They received the name Callaeci because they were identified to worship a Celtic goddess called Cailleach.”

“Oy, didn’t our boy Nic mention that name in the letter?” Spike held out his hand to Wes who already knew what he would find there. The spelling was different, but the pronunciation was too close to ignore.

Angel searched his memory and found what Spike was looking for: “Kalesh, the one who performs the Rites of Tavrok.”

Next to him, Cordelia shivered in nervous reaction as she realized Kalesh to be the one who was supposed to sacrifice her to Amolon. She huddled closer to Angel. He nuzzled his cheek against her hair as they listened to Giles paraphrase the section of the book dedicated to Kalesh.

“Like many Celtic legends Cailleach is bound to nature. She is the ancient earth, the dying winter, a death goddess in the form of the ugliest of hags, and guardian to the ultimate life force. She stands on the cusp of Life and Death eternally linked to the essential powers of the earth.”

“She’s a demon,” Buffy understood that much.

“Kinda hoping she’ll be a dead demon before the Spring Fling,” Cordelia hinted with a painful smile. “I’m thinking I’ll look much better in my gown alive, breathing and not as a demony sacrifice.”

Scene 141

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