Dana carefully patted her hair and
straightened her royal blue sundress (She smiled again at the
irony... it was why she had bought it in the first place) before
she softly knocked on the door. His scent filled her nostrils,
making her grip the Chinese take out bag a little harder.
She sighed. `Like a bloody schoolgirl', she thought...
Angel opened the door, regarding her with undisguised distaste.
"What do you want?" He snarled.
She smiled brightly at him. "Hello, Sunshine. I thought we might have some dinner," She held out the bag to him like an offering, "and talk awhile."
Angel stood staring at her for a moment. He wasn't at all certain that he wanted to spend any time with this woman. But in the days that had passed since her first visit, he had been unable to think about anything else -- his worry pre-empted even thoughts of Buffy, which had almost been a sort of relief. He had prowled the streets for days (nights...), looking for signs of the society Dana had described to him, and obsessing over what she had said about his destiny. He didn't think she meant him any harm, but that didn't make him any less nervous. What he needed was some answers... and she, apparently, was there to provide him with some.
"Fine. Come in." Not that he could have stopped her, anyway.
She *was* rather a spectacular looking woman -- dressed elegantly but without presumption, and with obvious wealth and taste. Long, thick auburn curls flowed easily around her shoulders, and sparkling royal blue eyes seemed to laugh even when she did not. She entered the apartment with apparent confidence, and looked immediately comfortable among a century's worth of artifacts. To think, she was older than the eldest of them...
He motioned her to the couch, where she sat, and moved to the kitchen. When he returned with a fancily bottled quart of blood and two glasses, she was arranging a heaping plate of General Cho's chicken, fried rice, and egg rolls on the coffee table.
"General Cho's..." he commented, "My favorite."
"I know," she replied, "There was no General Cho, really... this dish was created by a servant woman name Po, long before even I was born..."
He blinked, unprepared for small talk. She patted the seat beside her.
"Sit," She invited, smiling flirtatiously.
He chose to sit in the chair directly opposite her, and filled his plate. Dana was amused by his childish refusal, but held her tongue. Angel ate slowly, in silence. She mostly watched him, sipping on the goblet of blood she poured for herself. She always found the affectation of eating by vampires to be sadly pathetic and funny at the same time. Many of the souled did it, perhaps as a means of assuring themselves that they *were* somehow still tied to their humanity -- literally, comfort food. Some, of course, did it for social appearances. Some just enjoyed the taste. Whatever their reasons, Dana found it a waste of time and energy, and very rarely ate.
She took another sip of blood wine and commented on its quality. "It's very difficult to get a hold of stuff this fresh and rich... is it pig?" He glared at her, unanswering. "I bought a farm a few hundred years ago for this very purpose. Although, I understand it produces a hell of a sausage, also. But anyway, this is nice."
"Thank you," he replied with forced sincerity.
Dana set the goblet down and watched him with continued interest, waiting for him to be done pretending to be fascinated by the rather ordinary meal. He finally was, took a sip from his glass, and set the goblet and plate back on the table.
"I imagine I'm safe in assuming that you didn't rent a movie..."
She laughed, "Touché! You assume correctly!"
"Then you must be here for something...else..."
"I am. You must have a lot of questions... concerns... and in due time I will do my best to address them all. But my primary purpose is to invite you to an event."
Angel frowned. "Event?"
"Yes!" She chirped brightly, "The Spring Ball! Every year the council holds an *enormous* revel, where everyone dresses up in the costume of their mortal time-period and dances and drinks and just generally raises hell -- so to speak -- until dawn. I thought you might like to go."
"What made you think that?"
She pouted a little, "Now Angel, don't be such a brat. I know you are dying of curiosity, and the Ball is a perfect opportunity to introduce you to our society and to the Council. It would be an opportunity for you to see that I'm not just making this all up...Besides..." she took another sip from her glass, "When's the last time you got to wear a frilly cravat?"
He remained un-amused. Who *did* this woman think she was, bombarding him with cryptic messages about his fate, then inviting him to a fancy dress party?
"I don't miss cravats. Or breeches, for that matter," he informed her.
"Oh, don't be silly, my sweet. You don't have to miss them to wear them! It'll be fun!"
He thought for a moment, watching Dana carefully as he did so. The opportunity to see what this society she spoke so highly of was all about was difficult to pass up. But he had become suspicious by nature over the centuries, and thus was forced to consider the possibility that by accepting her offer, he could be wandering (dancing?) into a trap... for himself, and perhaps for Buffy as well.
"Maybe," he finally replied, "But I'm wearing a tuxedo."
She grinned widely, a mouth full of perfectly straight white teeth. "Wonderful! You've made the right choice, I promise! Now..." she patted her lips and wiped her hands with a napkin, "As a reward, I will tell you all about me -- if you are interested."
"I was born over 500 years before the turn of the millennium... the first millennium, that is... to a house of nobility in what is now Scotland... well, as noble as the people in the Highlands of that day ever got... My mother was a clan healer -- what now would be called a Witch -- and my father, its War Chief. I had more or less a normal life, training to take after my mother as priestess, marrying the man that I loved and..." She hesitated for a moment..."having children. I lived like every other Highland Witch lived in those times until I was 27 years old; an old lady, by the standards of the day.
Then, a plague hit my village... some precursor to the Black Death, I imagine. With all of my power, all of my knowledge... despite all of my will, the entire village was wiped out, save me. I have no idea why I was spared, and you can imagine my pain, then. I was not dead, but I might as well have been, as sick as I was in spirit. I had lost my faith in the powers of the Goddess and nature...I renounced my vows as priestess. I left Scotland and traveled to Great Britain, which was still mostly Roman at that time. I wandered the streets of Londonium, mumbling and cursing and smelling horribly... just generally making a nuisance of myself.
That was when my sire found me. Albianat was a spectacularly fancy and exceedingly evil gentleman. He took me in off the streets and made me his personal chemist and sorceress. He brought me volumes of ancient books from around the world; exotic spell-makings of which I had only barely read; he fetched wizards and witches to be my tutors, and hired storytellers, who wove tales I could barely understand, let alone believe. But Albianat made me learn them all... experiment, read... And I was merely a ghost in the world; in no condition to question. Quite frankly, I didn't care to what end all of this work he foisted on me was for. That was when I first encountered the Books of Be'lheran. They read like incredible fairy tales... albeit pretty dark and dismal ones... They were full of miraculous spells, stories of knights and ladies and all manner of evils, not the least of which were vampires, (I didn't know until well after then that Be'lheran himself was a vampire; one of the First Ones) as well as goblins and demons and fairies of all stripes. I was immediately obsessed with them... all 175 volumes. Of course, Albianat intended that to be the case -- he himself was obsessed with their magicks, but possessed neither the skill or the patience to study and make use of them.
I never spent much time thinking about how odd my master's life was... believe it or not, he did not turn me for nearly 3 years while I lived in his house. He slept by day and reveled like a true glutton by night -- debauchery doesn't BEGIN to cover it. I knew prostitutes and travelers came to his palace and never left. I saw courtiers day after day for weeks...months... then one day they would disappear without fanfare or further comment. But I never wondered why...I didn't care about his parties or his friends -- I usually sat in some dark corner of the room with a candle, or next to the fire, with one of the Books... deciphering them, for they were in an ancient, archaic language...memorizing them, experimenting with some small magicks and glamours from their pages..."
And in that time a new day will rise upon the race that
unites the people of the blood and the people of the sun...and
their leader shall be a mortal god... a man of both races and
neither...the issue of a reluctant ancestor; neither dead nor
undead, but yet not of the living...
She remembered the first passage clearly. Of course, speaking
it to him was out of the question.
"I accepted his gifts and sometimes his embrace...I felt I had already lost my soul, and so cared little for its vessel. When he turned me -- a gift for my 32nd birthday -- it was of little consequence. We traveled the world together for 5 centuries... more marvelous butchers you have never seen... and I am well aware of your reputation, Angelus. We traveled, studied and hunted in all the places Be'lheran wrote about, including the "New World", which hadn't even yet been discovered by European mortals. We were in the Middle East in the time of the Great Exodus, and made a home in the land of the Goddess Inanna... The priests and priestesses there were more advanced than any magickian today can imagine... it was the home of Be'lheran himself, one of the First Ones, now seen by these people as god of the underworld... the one who brings eternal life...eternal bliss..."
She chuckled at the irony.
"The first vestiges of the Souled Council resided there... they were children of the First Ones... the Second Ones, I guess...
They possessed magicks like none I had ever even imagined... they knew the true nature of the Be'lheran Scriptures; what the soulless would unleash upon the world... they developed curses and blessings and spells that could eradicate evil with a simple touch. They hunted the soulless, taking them into their society and restoring their souls, if possible, killing them, if not. They soon learned of me and my master... we were the cruelest of hunters, after all, killing all species, often times for sport. We stood trial before the Elders, and were found guilty of atrocities beyond bear by a tribunal of our "peers"... They executed my Sire straight out. Sent him to eat daylight, as it were. But one of the Council thought another punishment more suitable for me... one that would make better use of me than to turn me to dust...
They restored my soul."
Angel's eyes grew wide. She knew, then. She must know the pain.
"As I said, such magicks were common, then... I learned that there were actually more souled vampires than demons, at that time, thanks to the work of the Council. And they were incredible scholars -- they had the missing volumes of Be'lheran's prophecies...fifteen or twenty of them, I think... I took vows to study the volumes and help the council better understand what was to come... of course, riddled with guilt as I was..."
Angel wasn't convinced she was "riddled" with anything...
"I felt it was my duty to save the world. I thought Be'lheran knew how to make that happen. I became a priestess once more, spending my days in the catacombs studying the verses, and my nights watching the revelry and soul-work of the Oldest Ones.
It was then that the Slayer Prophecies came to my attention. Be'lheran wrote extensively about what he called the Days of the Bloody Sun... at least, that's the closest thing to a translation I could ever come up with. Anyway... they were days when many things that were taken to be normal or true would suddenly end or change... Revelations kind of stuff -- lakes of fire, babies with two heads..."
She looked hard at him. "Vampires loving Slayers and vice versa... All hell would break loose, and all heaven would come forth to battle it.
That's where I first read of you... I was fascinated with the story of your deeds, yet to be done -- heroics still a millennium in the future. The story of your life moved me -- brought me to tears more times than I can count -- inspired me. I helped to found the new society and the first official Council -- I worked to build a world worthy of what was to come... of what you would bring forth.
But, as in all things, great evil grew alongside our great good, and in the 8th or 9th century, the temple where we resided was sacked by an army of demons, vampires and otherwise. The Council Elders were murdered or scattered to the winds. Much of their knowledge lost or destroyed..." Dana smiled sadly. "I was again lost in the world, alone. But, you see, Now I had the books in my head," She tapped her temple. "And I knew other devotees of the prophecies existed in the world, so I spent the intervening six centuries looking for them... studying, practicing, seeking out more answers... I found the sect, ironically enough, in my homeland. I lived with them, studying, for three hundred years... we worked to rebuild the temple of the Souled. Of course, it became much less religious during that time, changing with the same secular tide of the rest of the world. Our numbers grew... and grew...
It seemed the Soul Magicks were not as lost as we had once thought. Shamans in every culture possessed them, as did some tribes of Gypsies, some ancient orders of Witches and sorcerers, even a few High Magicians and Spiritualists. And they all seemed quick to restore souls to vampires and other soulless beasts. Quite a mess sometimes, actually... Plus, as years went by, we discovered there were other ways a vampire could regain... or retain, her soul.
It's interesting. It seems that the blood-bourne virus that carries the demon into the vampire's victim is *absent* from some lines of vampires. That is, a vampire never *loses* its soul to begin with! These, of course, are rare because, as you can imagine, there is hardly a souled vampire who bites live humans...
In other types, it seems that there is a resistance, in the victim, to the demon virus. The demon tries to possess the shell, and fails. Most of these victims die, but some do survive and become people of the blood -- vampires -- without ever losing their soul...
And of course, there were hundreds of spells, curses, blessings and rituals that allowed the soul to be tossed about like a baseball. As the ages passed, the knowledge was once again mostly lost except to those of my order. You are the last Souled vampire, transformed through magick, that we are aware of... the rest of the magicks not in our possession died with the orders, families and clans that practiced them. Even the curse that restored you was lost."
"But Jenny..." Angel objected... pain shadowed his face as he remembered... the sound of the snap of her neck... it was loud, sharp, and fresh, as if it had only just taken place. Jenny had found the magick.
"Was *given* the magick. It's rare that such a thing is done... we have discovered over the centuries that such a thing as restoring a soul to a monster, is cruel punishment, fraught with difficulties and unreliable, to say the least. We only give the magicks under extraordinary circumstances."
Angel blinked at the realization, "You?" he asked, "You gave Jenny the spell?"
Dana nodded. "Much to the consternation of the Council. I am forbidden from interfering with your destiny." She snorted disdainfully, showing exactly what she thought of that stance...
Angel held her in his penetrating gaze for several minutes. How is it, why was it, that this ancient woman was so concerned with his fate?
"But I digress," she continued, "Eventually, there was a sub-council in every major city in the world, and millions of souled ones... I moved to Los Angeles before it was even called that... I came here and became a Cattle Rancher and a rather successful Madame."
Angel looked surprised and more than a little amused, in spite of himself.
"Don't look so shocked. There seem to be more souled vampires among prostitutes than any other demographic, for some reason... like every other blood-bourne disease and variant... a street walker is easy prey for a hungry vampire."
He knew all too well... he saw their faces, by the hundreds, in the tortured recesses of his memory. The last... the smoking hooker in that Sunnydale alley...
Dana looked at him with great sympathy, reaching across to gently pat his knee, then went on.
"I have been the Prelate of the West Coast council for one hundred and some-odd years. I have been here waiting for you... waiting for the events to come to pass that would put all of our destinies in motion. And so they have, with some exceptions, and so we are here... in the first days of the Bloody Sun."
She sat back, crossing her legs, satisfied. When Angel said nothing for several minutes, she rose.
"Well, it's late. I should be going." She waited for him to move... to get up, to look at her, something... but he did not. "I'll send my tailor around tomorrow night. The ball is on Friday. I will send my driver to fetch you, if you decide you want to go. I'll see myself out." She said, and left.
Story and Mangled Graphics by Ducks, ©1999. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org