See Chapter One for Disclaimer
This was her first time riding in a car, at least it was if she discounted Fred’s memories of having done so. It was interesting, although placing herself so completely in the power of another being made her somewhat uneasy. Wesley need only suddenly direct their vehicle into the path of a larger, oncoming conveyance, and she would surely sustain at least minor damage. It was not as if he had not tried to destroy her before, either. She looked over to where he sat behind the wheel, the headlights of passing cars casting every-changing patterns on his face.
“Now that I can no longer gate from place to place, I will require one of these ‘cars’ for myself,” she informed him. At that moment a vehicle with red and blue flashing lights sped past; on what errand she knew not. She pointed it out to Wesley. “One such as that, if possible. It travels more quickly, and the other vehicles move aside when it approaches.”
He glanced over at her.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he said, and then reached out to adjust the object atop her head. “Keep this pulled low. I doubt anyone will say anything, since this is
Los Angeles, but I’d rather not attract any attention.”
He returned his attention to the operation of the vehicle, leaving her to deal with the clothes he had obtained for her from the lesser demon called Lorne. Her body was completely wrapped about with a long coat of heavy material. It’s prime attribute was said to be that it gave the wearer protection from harsh weather, especially rain and cold, though she had difficulty imagining conditions harsh enough to inconvenience her. Not only did the shell remain very resistant to such things, but her bodysuit would adjust automatically to shield her from a variety of such minor threats. Even a direct hit by a bolt of lightning would only partially penetrate it; compared to that this ‘trench coat’ seemed quite superfluous. Stranger still was this bizarre head covering, what Wesley had called a ‘fedora’. She tugged at the thing once more, trying to make some sense of it. A quick scan of Fred’s memory showed that she had never worn anything quite like this, though there were references to a cap indicating devotion to a group called the ‘Texas Rangers’. At least the color of the object was pleasing, a deep blue that for some reason had amused Wesley as he had placed it on her head.
She had tolerated all of this since he seemed to wish it, and the matter of her return to Vahla Ha’nesh was too important to risk any second thoughts on his behalf. If her temple was to be sealed away, she had
to access it before it was placed beyond her reach. Otherwise, everything she had managed to salvage when the—
“Was that you?” Wesley asked, disrupting her thoughts. She was about to ask him what he meant when there came a most peculiar sound, and a disturbing sensation, both emanating from within her body’s midsection.
“…I think it was,” she said, distractedly, while staring down at herself. A moment spent probing her various biological systems (some of them only hours old) revealed the source of the sound, as well as the mild discomfort she was now experiencing. “I require raw material, something with which to replace the body mass I used when reconfiguring this form.” She shouldn’t have been surprised; she’d known at the time that switching to biology as a substitute for the more advanced structures she could no longer maintain would have certain drawbacks. The first of those was this; since she had used part of her mass to create blood and other necessary material, she must now replace those expended reserves. She was repelled by the crudity of such an arrangement, though there was simply nothing to be done but see to the need as efficiently as possible. When she glanced at Wesley, she found him giving her a puzzled look. “Your weapon, the one which shunted my power to another dimension, also made my previous physiology unviable,” she explained. “I now require food, though hopefully not with any great frequency.” As there were any number of humans roaming the streets through which they drove, she gestured towards one at random. “Stop the vehicle, and I will take blood from that one.”
For some reason Wesley momentarily lost control of his car just then, and the abrupt back-and-forth movement forced her to grab hold of the doorframe in order to keep her place.
“’Take blood from that one’?!” he exclaimed, sparing her only a moment’s attention before returning to his driving… and he did not do as she had asked, and stop to allow her to feed. Illyria found herself growing irritated at his denying her requirements, especially as it had been his
actions which had brought her to this pitiful state.
“You cannot object to this,” she tried, and very reasonably in her opinion. “Several of those you associate with are vampires. Surely you know that they must ingest blood to survive; I seek only to do the same.” It occurred to her, then, what his objection might be. “I will do my best to leave the human alive afterwards, though I am very hungry. It may be better if I spread my feeding among two or three of them, that will increase their chances of survival.”
Even before she finished he was shaking his head back and forth in the gesture of disagreement.
“There will be no feeding upon humans, Illyria. Not even the cautious sort of feeding.” He sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose with the fingers of one hand. “The vampires at Wolfram and Hart do not feed on human blood; we consider that a criminal act, and punish them if they attempt it. They drink animal blood.” He put his hand back on the steering wheel, and his lips twitched slightly. “I expect the gentle souls at PETA would raise holy hell if they found out about that, but at least we can say that no sentients are harmed or killed by the process.”
Illyria wrinkled her nose in disgust; was there no end to the degradations she must now suffer?
“I doubt I could force myself to ingest the blood of animals; that of humans is already so polluted as to be repugnant to me.”
“So you’ll be one more anorexic in California; congratulations, you’re doing very well at fitting in.” She cocked her head and waited for him to clarify, and eventually he spoke again. “Does it have to be blood?”
A good question; she wasn’t entirely sure of the answer.
“I don’t know. Blood seemed easiest, since there are so many humans here.” A great many humans indeed; they must have passed by thousands already, and their journey to the location of her temple was only half complete. Wesley considered this for a moment, then turned the vehicle at the next intersection of the roadway.
“We’ll try a little experiment, and see what that body of yours can handle.” He made another turn, and then directed the car into a brightly-lit open area that lay alongside a small, glass-walled structure. “And here we are.”
She peered up at the towering sign that glowed gold and red, and wondered if there really were ninety-nine billion humans living on the earth. That in itself seemed farfetched, let alone the boast that every one of them had journeyed to this place in order to be served.
* * * * *
When Wesley emerged from the McDonald’s and headed back to the car, he suffered a moment of sheer horror: Illyria was nowhere to be seen. The passenger-side door was open, the dome light showing all-too clearly that she was no longer within the vehicle. He hurried across the parking lot, scanning the area as he went, and all the while he berated himself mentally for his carelessness. What was I thinking? She’s never been alone here without someone to guide her, either Nox or myself. And when she found her temple in ruin, she immediately returned to Wolfram and Hart, to ask for my help.
He sat the paper bag on the car’s hood, along with the drink he’d gotten for her, and looked around in a near-panic. A single incident is all Angel will need. He’ll order her killed, and then the last bit of Fred will be gone forever--
The pair of small ice-cream cones he held in one hand were on the verge of being tossed away, when he suddenly caught sight of something just beyond the front of the car. The grassy area there had been meticulously landscaped, with attractive patterns of flowers and low, neatly-trimmed shrubs. Sitting amongst them, and nearly invisible from any distance, was a brown-clad figure wearing a dark-blue fedora.
Wesley breathed a deep sigh of relief.
“Illyria. What are you doing?” He stepped over the row of shrubs, and knelt down beside her. She’d discarded the black trench coat he’d given her; it lay in a heap on the ground. She ignored his question for several seconds, remaining as she was, with both hands cupped around a single white blossom.
“Their voices are so faint,” she answered eventually, raising her head to reveal a stricken expression on her normally impassive face. “Wesley, my senses are failing me, along with my powers.” She fell back awkwardly, landing hard on her bottom with both legs splayed straight out like a child. He touched her arm, thinking to offer some sort of comfort, but she pushed his hand away. “The greensong was the one bit of beauty I’d found here, and now it is taken from me.” She looked around at the plants surrounding her, shoulders slumped and eyes forlorn. “How much more of myself must I lose to this place?”
Again, almost against his will, he found himself empathizing with her.
“There is always more to lose, always. And….” He could only shrug. “And all we can do is endure, and try not to surrender to despair. Anyone can surrender; to surrender is the easiest thing in the world.”
She gave him a sharp look, then nodded slowly and drew herself up straight.
“Yes. You are….” A deep breath, and a rare moment of those eyes being closed, and her face was once again an expressionless mask. “It was only that I had not expected this,” she said, trying to recover her dignity.
He decided to let her recover it; there were no points to be gained by mocking her pain.
“I’ve brought you some things to try. They’re not a nutritious as blood, perhaps, but you might find something you like.” He held one of the little cones out to her. “Here, start with this.” She reached out and took it, cautiously, and he demonstrated how to go about it by taking a lick from his own. Hopefully it would cheer her up; Fred had loved ice cream. Illyria tasted hers… and immediately spat it out on the ground in front of her.
Wesley frowned. So much for that.
He watched as she hurled the cone away, sending it sailing off into the darkness beyond the lighted parking lot. Hm. It would seem that she’s not dependant on Fred’s memories for every part of her human behavior; she can form her own opinions. Or maybe her taste buds are configured differently now.
He climbed to his feet.
“If you’re going to behave like that, I suppose we should eat here. I don’t want ketchup sprayed across the upholstery of my car.” He fetched the bag from the hood, along with the coke he’d bought for her. “Here,” he said, handing the beverage to the still-sitting demon. She looked blankly at the covered cup, and it occurred to him that she would never have encountered a straw. Taking it from her for a moment, he demonstrated its use, then gave it back. I wonder how complete those memories are, anyway? Surely she could find some reference to drinking through a straw… although I certainly don’t bother with flipping through an encyclopedia every time I tie my shoes or turn on a lamp, and that may be the equivalent of what she has to do, to access what Fred knew.
Illyria tried to take a drink, then broke into a series of gasping coughs, as she’d inhaled through the straw instead of properly sucking through it. With apparent fury she raised the container to hurl it a few hundred yards… and then paused as she considered the traces of liquid in her mouth. Slowly, and with more caution this time, she sipped through the straw.
“Does that one suit you better?” Wesley asked. She didn’t reply, just kept drinking steadily until every bit was gone and she was left with only ice. Sitting the cup aside, she looked around expectantly.
“That was a pleasant experience; bring me more of those.”
He shook his head as he opened the paper bag.
“You can’t live on only Coca-Cola, no matter what they would like you to believe. Also, the usual procedure is to space the liquid out, to help with the eating of the actual meal.” He handed her a plain hamburger, and then a large order of French fries. “These are what many people consider a basic meal. See if this suits your nutritional needs.” He also had a large order of chicken nuggets in the bag, as a sort of backup plan. That, and there was also the fact that he was a little hungry himself.
When he looked up at her again she had removed the paper wrapping around the hamburger and was eyeing it suspiciously. She looked at him, but he just licked at his ice cream cone, content to let her work it out on her own. After a cautious sniff or two, and much turning of the burger over and over in her hands, she took a tiny bite of it.
By this time he really had no idea of what to expect. She might love it, she might leap up and proceed to level the entire block in a fit of outrage. What actually happened, though, was the demon goddess giving him a disgusted look, and, with difficulty, swallowing it down.
“This is shredded, burned animal flesh,” she informed him, accusingly. “And it is not even pure shredded flesh; other substances have been added to it, for reasons I do not understand.”
“Preservatives, probably,” he ventured, still working steadily at his cone. “And possibly something to add to the flavor, though I’m certainly no expert.” When she made as if to set it aside, he held out a hand to stop her. “Illyria, if you are hungry then you must eat something.
Perhaps if you keep at it then you will become accustomed to the taste.” She looked at him, then at the burger, and sat there for a minute or so thinking it over. Eventually she settled for peeling it apart, discarding the meat patty, and then nibbling her way slowly through the bun. That seemed to be decent progress for now, although he was left wondering if perhaps she would have liked a salad better. Maybe. With the way she loves communing with plants, though, it might seem like cannibalism to her.
He watched as the tried one of the French fries, made a pleased little sound, and ate two more. Or maybe not. Unless the grease in those is masking the fact that they used to be a vegetable.
When she found a packet of salt nestled in among the fries, she examined it carefully, read the tiny printed directions (she paused, and he could almost see her consulting the Fred memories in order to decipher the words), and broke it open.
“Salt,” he supplied. “A seasoning, to put on the French—“ She poured it directly into her mouth, considered the result, and began looking through the rest of the fries in search of another. He gave her a sideways look, while wondering what the reaction would be at the local emergency room if he had to rush her there to have her stomach pumped. “Are you feeling all right?” he asked her. “Since this is all new to you, you should probably go slowly.”
She took another small bite of bread, and followed it with a fry before turning her head to regard him.
“I feel quite well; if any of these substances prove toxic to me I can alter their composition to render them inert.” He nodded reluctantly, somewhat reassured.
“If you’re certain. Let me know if you start feeling ill, though, and we can return to Wolfram and—“
“There are demons there,” she interrupted, and he gave her a small frown.
“Of course there are demons there; it’s a law firm that’s owned and operated by demons.”
She turned her enormous eyes on him, and spoke again, more slowly this time.
“No, there are demons there,
behind you, right now.”
He deliberately paused for a beat, to control his reaction and not sprain his neck with a sudden whipping about of his head that would also give him away to anything sneaking up on him. When he did turn and casually look around, he saw only a pair of tall, athletic-looking young men emerging from the establishment and heading towards their car.
“Where, them?” He looked back at her and she regarded him with faint curiosity.
“Yes. Can you not see them?”
He half-turned himself around, so that he could look at the two without craning his head back.
“I can see them, yes….” He raised one hand, centered himself, and cast a brief spell. “You’re right.” With his vision enhanced via the appropriate enchantment, he could see past the glamour which shielded the two from mundane eyes. “Sarynn demons. Quite formidable, though usually not aggressive unless provoked.” They had paused when he cast his spell, and now both of them turned their massively-horned heads to look in his direction. “Oh,” he added, only then recalling something else concerning Sarynn demons. “They’re also quite sensitive to certain magicks.”
They strode forward with angry scowls on their dark red faces; apparently having their disguises penetrated was all the provocation they had needed. Wesley gathered himself, ready to spring up and lunge for the car, and the pistol hidden beneath the driver’s side seat. Before he could move, however, both of the towering demons halted, as suddenly as if they had struck an invisible wall. They stared, wide-eyed, and then dropped heavily to their knees. As he watched in amazement, they leaned forward to press their foreheads against the asphalt, and then froze in that position, waiting. When he glanced over at Illyria, it was to find her staring intently at the artificially-lit grass before her.
“Begone,” she said softly, to no one in particular. Instantly the two large, powerfully-muscled demons scrambled back to their feet and backed away, never raising their eyes until they reached their car. With what looked like long-practiced movements, they folded themselves down to squeeze into the large sedan, and within seconds they had it started, and driving quickly away. As for Illyria, she was quite occupied with eating another French fry.
* * * * *
Wesley was staring at her, so steadily and for such an extended length of time that eventually she had to acknowledge him with a questioning look.
“It seems that you could still raise an army to serve you, if you so wished,” he said, and she gave a single dismissive shake of her head in reply.
“Those only knelt because they did not know how far I have fallen from my former glory.”
He rubbed thoughtfully at his chin, considering.
“And yet they knew you. I doubt they are old enough to have seen the Primordium… genetic memories, perhaps?” She did not bother answering; these ‘fries’ were quite appealing, if one ignored the complete lack of constructive food content. She ate another, and wished for more of the salt to accompany them, but there was none. “And no matter how much you’ve been weakened,” Wesley continued, “you could certainly force them to obey. After all, you could easily slay five Sarynn demons at once.”
Illyria, offended, gave him a stern look.
“I could kill a hundred
Sarynn with no effort at all!” she snapped, although after a moment’s consideration she was forced to amend that statement. “Or… fifty Sarynn without effort, given my present form. Perhaps sixty, depending on how they were armed,” she said grudgingly. “More of them than that would be… difficult.” She took another bite of the bread that had accompanied the mass of animal meat. The texture was almost pleasant, and the taste had proven to be at least inoffensive. “Slaying them, even in great numbers, would not make me their ruler.”
Wesley was delving into the small bag which had held her food; he withdrew a box and opened it to reveal many small, irregularly-shaped objects. He popped one into his mouth, and began chewing.
“Really?” he asked after a moment. “I would think killing some of them would make the rest fall into line quickly enough.”
At that she cocked her head and regarded him with some disappointment; she’d thought him wiser than this.
“A true monarch rules not because she can bully the less powerful, but because it is self-evident that she is
a monarch. Because it is plain that the very world spins on the axis that is her will, and to question her law is as foolish as questioning the pull of matter upon matter, or the coming of the dawn.”
He ate another of his food lumps, and gave her a speculative look.
“And yet your reign was ended. At the height of your power you were betrayed, were you not? Murdered by your rivals.”
He had a way of rousing her anger, despite all she could do to armor herself against his words. It might yet bring about his end, unless he grew more circumspect.
“Yes,” she said, after only a brief hesitation spent mastering her ire. “I was slain. It required the power of many, working together, to best me, and even then they succeeded only because of trickery and surprise.”
Wesley nodded sagely, as if he could truly comprehend that of which she spoke.
“You were their Caesar, and many were the bloody daggers which came together to bring you down.”
Again, he referenced events of which she had no knowledge.
“No, such puny things as knives and swords would have been beneath my notice. They tore a quantity of matter from the core of the sun, and teleported it into direct contact with my body.” The human stared at her without comment for some time following that statement, so she ate the last of the fries and then, out of curiosity, leaned over and took a food lump from between his unresisting fingers. “Such a feat required several of them to exert themselves greatly, and even such a blow as that would not have succeeded if a number of my trusted allies had not combined their power to suppress my personal shields for the instant needed for the attack to strike home.”
“Would that not have….” His voice trailed off, and she noticed that he seemed suddenly somewhat paler. “Even with a tiny ‘quantity of matter’, wouldn’t something like that have ended all life on a good deal of the planet?” he asked in a strangled whisper.
She nodded, oddly pleased that he had managed to grasp something of her meaning. He really was quite clever, for a mere mammal.
“The earth was deeply wounded, and much that had endured for eons was destroyed. Many of those who conspired against me were slain by their own weapon, and in ending my reign they also brought about the end of the First Age. The Primordium passed away, and the rule of demons soon followed.” She looked around, at the world which was so very different from the one she remembered, and mourned again all that had been lost. “I did not realize the full cost of their folly until I awoke here.”
He sat, unmoving, and she took another pellet of his food. Yes, it too was animal flesh, but this was less repulsive than the other. Or perhaps she was learning to… adapt. She hoped that Spike would not learn of this; he was far too smug already.
* * * * *