Disclaimer: Illyria owns the universe, through her loyal minions Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox, and a few others. Bow down to her; it is inevitable.
Between one heartbeat and the next, the world went mad.
The sapphire galaxy vanished, and he was assailed by a tri-tonal scream that sent him reeling backwards, away from the three seers.
The woman, the glorious, golden, beautiful woman, stared at him with insane, terrified eyes… and then she shriveled in an instant, shrinking to an emaciated form, then a mummified one, then a skeleton, to end as dust, all before he could do more than register the start of it. Twelve thousand years old
—was all he had time to think, before the pool exploded, much as the well had exploded in Fred’s Pylea memory. This time, though, gobbets of slimy flesh rained down along with the water, and he twitched violently away when he saw that even those were dissolving into some manner of acidic sludge. The rude, confrontational shimmer-being, on the other hand, met her end quite peacefully. A fine white dust seemed to precipitate from within the invisible mass, drifting quietly to the floor, and ultimately leaving no trace at all of the barely-there turbulence that had marked her presence. Something’s killed all three,
he thought, somewhat redundantly. Perhaps they triggered some sort of autonomic response, Illyria’s version of psychic white blood cells, something that attacked the intruder once it caused enough damage to be noticeable?
Whatever it had been, he couldn’t stay there while he mulled it over; the room was shaking, and violently. Their power must have sustained this place, with them dead, the entire complex may come down at any moment.
He lunged for the door before the thought was even complete, aware that his life might only be measured in seconds unless he could get clear. Pebbles rained down on him as he crossed the floor, and then larger stones, and when his hand closed upon the door latch something very large indeed caught him a glancing blow on the head which threw him down into darkness.
* * * * *
Illyria was caught by surprise when the cliff began a slow, sequential collapse, though in hindsight she supposed that was foolish. What matter, the state of affairs after one was dead? Why not allow your stronghold to implode, once you were no longer among the living?
It seemed that matters of life, and death, and how to manage their many permutations, was something to which she would have to devote much thought, in the days to come. Now, however, at this particular moment--
She threw herself into the large entrance, smashing through fading wards and jammed doors alike, always following the faint, unmistakable tugging that led her to Wesley. She found him, half-buried beneath a pile of rubble, unconscious yet still very much alive. Shrugging aside a multi-ton stone block that came crashing down on her, she shielded him with her own body, and turned towards the entryway. Something, she didn’t know what, exactly, made her pause, though, and then take three difficult steps into the room. Bending down, she thrust one arm into the gravel and rubble, and then drew forth a small, stuffed rabbit. It had seen better days, and she didn’t know why it had seemed so important.
Another shudder when through the mountain, and the steady rain of debris increased perceptibly. Illyria made haste for the exit, sheltering Wesley’s vulnerable form and doing her best to get him clear before they were completely entombed.
She managed it, too, though by the end she was nearly reduced to swimming through the chest-deep pieces of fallen stone. When she turned to look back, she saw that the cliff was completely collapsed, and even the ties that held this bubble universe in phase with Earth’s larger one were unraveling. Arranging Wesley more carefully in her arms, she cradled him against her as she strode down the passage that would take them both back.
* * * * *
When he regained consciousness, he was sitting on the street, propped up against the side of his car. His head hurt abominably, and there was a minute or two when he was sure he was going to vomit. That feeling passed, eventually, leaving him with something worse; the knowledge that he had failed.
Something of Fred existed, that much he knew. Whether or not her soul had truly been destroyed… the jury was still out on that. Even so, the three seers had been the only ones with the ability to locate her, to possibly help him extract those bits of her from within Illyria, and now that he’d seen the sheer scale of what he faced…. I don’t see how it could have worked
, he admitted to himself. Not the way we were going about it, gathering up the memories one by one. Even if every one had come away intact, it would have taken them years, maybe decades, with no guarantee that it would ever really be
He levered himself to his feet, slowly and painfully. No, that way will never work. You might just as well put a single drop of water into the largest ocean. Wait a year, then try and get that drop back, that same exact one, molecule for molecule; it could never happen. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop looking, though. Not if there’s a chance I might get her back.
His car door opened to his key, and he tossed Fred’s stuffed rabbit into the passenger seat. That’s odd; I must have managed to hold on to it when I got out, even if I don’t remember anything after that stone hit me.
He got in, and started the engine. His vision seemed to be all right, and his hands were steady. Hoping he hadn’t been too badly concussed, Wesley pointed the vehicle back towards Fred’s apartment.
Far behind him, Illyria stepped from the shadows, where she’d been watching over him as he lay helpless. With a last glance around, she created a portal and stepped through.
* * * * *
Alone in the dwelling, Illyria was again looking inward. It was a simple thing, setting a portion of her awareness to the task of sorting through her memory. Yes, it was vast, even to her; with the help of the detection key she had copied from the entities, and all the mental resources she could spare, it would still take some time to locate and assemble every one of the Winifred… of the Fred fragments. Days, possibly, perhaps as long as a week or two. No matter; it would be a worthwhile accomplishment, given what she might learn from those traces.
When Wesley entered a short while later, she looked up from the item she had been examining. The various shelves, nooks and crannies of the dwelling held all manner of interesting artifacts, most of which served no purpose she could determine. Sometimes he would answer her when she asked him about one, more often he would not. This would probably be one of the latter, so she tried commenting on something more neutral.
“Some of your blood is on you,” she noted, wondering as she did so how much he could lose and still remain viable. “Do you require some manner of aid or healing to prevent your dying?”
He very carefully avoided looking at her, and went directly to his supply of liquid poisons.
“All I require
is some of this,” he said, his voice harsh. Pouring himself a large glassful, he sat in his chair and leaned back slowly. When he had drained roughly half the liquid, he gave a sigh, and closed his eyes. “This, and your silence,” he added. She said nothing, and he proceeded to ingest the rest of his liquid in slow stages, before refilling the glass and beginning the process again. A loss of consciousness occurred before he finished, however, and she was left to wander the tiny string of rooms with only his nose-sounds for company.
There was one incident of note, when she came across a shelf-object she had seen before, but dismissed out of hand. This time around, the artifact was unchanged, though her perception of it was vastly different.
She lifted the seashell, held it before her face, and examined it carefully. “Can you hear it?” he had asked, leaning in close so he could listen too.
Illyria placed the shell against her ear and listened intently.
“Yes, I can hear it. As clear as—“
Wesley stirred, in his chair, and slopped some of the liquid from the glass he clutched so tightly. She regarded him, and brought her fingertips to her lips; the same lips she remembered him kissing, as he and Fred had stood beside the sea. When he returned to his noisy sleep, she set the object back on its shelf.
While Wesley dreamed his poison-induced dreams, she stood there, and waited, and all the while she worked at remembering.
* * * * *