The next few days passed pretty much the way they usually did in Sunnydale – all sorts of extremely odd, supernatural things happened, and only the people directly impacted by the events acknowledged that they'd occurred. And in some cases, even *those* people pretended that the weirdness had never happened.
As far as the Scooby scene was concerned, Buffy and Angelus had both somehow managed to get possessed by a pair of ghosts who had been haunting the high school for the past forty-odd years.
Apparently, the possessions enabled the two ghosts involved to manifest themselves in the bodies of their victims, with the aforementioned manifestations allowing the two estranged lovers to reenact how a student named James Stanley killed his teacher, Grace Newman, for trying to end their affair, before then shooting and killing himself before the police could arrest him for her murder.
But this time around, after reenacting the murder and subsequent suicide – since Grace's ghost had possessed Angelus and James' ghost was controlling Buffy's body and vampires can't be killed by bullets –the ghosts were finally able to reconcile the turbulent emotions which had led to their deaths and they could now move on to learn their ultimate fates.
Or at least, that's how Willow phrased things after watching the aforesaid events unfold, courtesy of a pair of deluded, angst-filled teenaged female eyes.
I swear, I always knew that lacking a Y chromosome seriously skewed a person's perception of reality and what was happening around them, but I never realized before that moment just exactly how insane women could be.
I mean, really? Two ghosts repeatedly possessed innocent people over the course of four decades, in order to reenact their doomed relationship, thus ensuring that at least one person would die, and that any survivor would then be hunted down by the authorities and be arrested for murder during each of these possessions. And Willow had thought that that was somehow *romantic *?
I don't know who originally said it, but whoever it was, he or she was right on the money when they declared that hormones turned a teenager's brain to mush. Well, either that, or else Willow must have gotten smacked on the head with something large and heavy, quite a number of times, within the past couple of days.
For someone who was so smart when it came to schoolwork and book knowledge, Willow can definitely be incredibly stupid when it came to a heaven-sent opportunity of staking Deadboy in the back, while he was busy making out with the Buffster.
In any event, I wasn't around to witness any of the previously mentioned pathos because I was busy with my own series of life-altering events.
Giles had contacted a couple of old friends of his, people who weren't affiliated with the Watchers Council, and who were currently in L.A. on business. He'd asked about any texts they might be familiar with, which contained any sort of references to people coming back to life after being killed – especially if it had happened more than once – and he'd arranged to borrow everything the guys had access to, for 'research purposes.'
And since I was the one with the most overriding interest in learning anything and everything I could about such things, I had elected myself as the person who should go to L.A. and collect all of the reference material in question.
After all, I wasn't about to take any chances on Giles possibly 'forgetting to mention' anything he discovered that he might consider the slightest bit doubtful or debatable, as far as me not being some sort of demon went. I could remember, quite clearly, the expression on his face when I suggested that with Buffy being the Slayer, she might not be entirely human, and it obviously wasn't something he even wanted to consider, let alone debate with me.
I also knew that my making that observation in Buffy's presence moved my name to all of the top three slots on his shit list.
In any event, I had decided that an opportunity to spend a little extra time in L.A., talking to either Robert Crucian or this Judson guy (who Giles had described as being some sort of super-duper uber-librarian type guy) about anything they might know about anything dealing with my particular set of circumstances, was well worth the four or so hours I'd be spending driving up to, and then back from, the so-called City of Angels.
It didn't take a while lot of effort to talk Giles into letting me make the pick-up, so I borrowed my uncle Rory's car and headed on down to the City of Angels the next morning, arriving in town about ten o'clock in the Aye Em.
My first stop was with someone Giles had described as 'one of his various research correspondents,' a guy named Robert Crucian, who was staying in a small hotel near the outskirts of the city. It turned out that he was only in L.A. to pick up some fairly ancient texts his employer, the University of New Mexico's Zimmerman Library, had bought at an estate sale earlier in the week.
After meeting the guy, I was definitely wondering exactly how and where he and Giles could ever have met, let alone become friends, since this guy was almost the exact opposite of the type of person you'd think a stiff-upper-lip type like Giles would know, even for a librarian.
First off, Crucian was about as American as your traditional Mom's apple pie. He was also about my size, but more solid and fairly muscular, with a build more like a hardworking farmer than any kind of librarian I've ever seen; hey, he looked like he'd be perfectly at home stacking hay bales on a farm, and easily carrying a bale in each hand as he did so. And apparently, from what little he mentioned about his past life, I gathered he'd spent several years in the U.S. Army, and had never left the States, even for a vacation.
After a couple hours of discussion with him and making Xerox copies of some of his reference books, I quickly figured out (or at least, fervently hoped on my part) that anything that he might know about beings who could resurrect themselves after being killed wasn't all that relevant to my case, since pretty much all of the things he mentioned were either, (a) 'cave-dwelling humanoids', or, (b) 'formless polymorphic entities made of black goo', to use his descriptions.
So, I thanked Mr. Crucian for his time and then took off for my meeting with Mr. No-First-Name-Given Judson, who I was supposed to meet at one of the reading tables in the central tower of the Los Angeles Public Central Library.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm definitely not a library-type person. But I have to say that the sphinxes, snakes and all of the different mosaics that decorated the building definitely make it a cool place to at least visit, and I'll mention that it's one that I've visited quite a number of times in the intervening years since then.
But I'm starting to get away from the story I was telling you, so I'll just note that there's a lot of interesting things about the Central Library than most people would suspect and leave it at that, for the time being.
Anyway, getting back to what I was saying – I was scheduled to meet this Mr. Judson guy that Giles knew in the tower section and I was basically killing time sitting at a table by one of the windows in a deserted section of the top floor, staring out the window at the plaza outside. And then, all of a sudden, I started feeling this sort of throbbing, not-really-a-headache-y kind of sensation in my head.
I figured that it was just the same kind of migraine I'd had a tendency to get a few years previously, which Nurse Greenleigh had said was just some sort of allergy, so I got up to get a bottle of water from the drink machine in the snack machine alcove, so I could take some of the antihistamine I still carried with me. As I turned around, though, I was surprised to see this balding, middle-aged-looking guy standing about a dozen feet away, staring at me while he also casually let his raincoat and a small courier bag drop to the floor.
The fact that he was staring at me with an expression that most people would probably describe as a combination of outrage and annoyance, with maybe a dash of homicidal and mad-dog vicious thrown in, wasn't what bothered me. Not in the least.
It was the Roman gladius he was holding in his right hand that bothered me.
"Did you really think that I could be fooled so easily, boy?" the guy said to me, as he leveled the sword in my direction. "I've been playing the Game for over two millennia, now, and quite frankly, I'm *insulted* that you'd think that I could fall for such an obvious ploy as this."
"Look, buddy," I told him as held up my hands in front of me, "I've got no idea what it is you're talking about, but I'm not here to play any kind of game. I'm just here to pick up a book from someone named Judson, as a favor for a guy I know.
"If you just put the sword down, I'll walk out of here and leave, and we can both forget that anything happened, okay?" I suggested.
"I don't think so," Balding-sword-guy shook his head as he sneered at me. I gotta tell you, it was the kind of sneer that any old-fashioned big screen villain would have been proud to call his own, and I suddenly had this sinking feeling in my stomach that things were about to get messy, real quick.
"Look, man –" I started to say, when all of a sudden, Balding-sword-guy jumped forward, thrusting his gladius at my heart, and at that point, my Hellmouth-trained reflexes kicked in.
Time abruptly seemed to slow down a lot, the way it had started doing for me recently when I was fighting a vamp, and I dodged to my right at the same time I threw my bottle of water at Balding-sword-guy's head as hard as I could, trying to stun him long enough for me to get out of there without getting sliced or diced.
As the bottle bounced off his face, Balding-sword-guy's head snapped back, like he'd been hit with a rock or something, and I felt the blade slicing into my left side. And all of a sudden, it was like I was feeling the knives Angelus had stuck into me, repeatedly, all over again – back when I was chained to the wall of the mansion he and his minions were staying, last week. And in the next moment, I felt the same mix of fear, pain and rage surging through me that I'd felt while a captive of that damned bloodsucker.
The difference this time, though, was that I wasn't chained to a wall, and I could actually fight back.
So, feeling more than a little pissed off at being stabbed yet again, I let that combination of emotions act as fuel for the punch I aimed as Balding-sword-guy's face, and I felt a smile stretching across my face as I watched his nose and cheeks sort of cave in around my fist, right before his head bounced off the wall I'd smashed him into.
The rage was completely in control of me by that point, and seeing and smelling all the blood that was currently pouring out from my attacker's smashed-in face made instincts I didn't know I had kick in. I felt my incisors lengthening inside my mouth, and then I was biting into Balding-sword-guy's throat, and I couldn't remember ever tasting anything that was as delicious as his blood as I gulped it down.
Sure, afterwards I knew better.
But at that moment, I can't begin to describe just how refreshing and invigorating Balding-sword-guy's blood was, and since I could literally feel the slice in my side healing as I drank, I continued draining him until he was empty, and I can also remember feeling disappointed that there wasn't any more blood left in him.
I came to my senses a moment or so later, and found myself holding my former attacker's now-bloodless body. Naturally, I started freaking out as I realized that Giles hadn't been lying about the retractable fangs thing, and I abruptly realized *why* I had woken up on Buffy's porch, where Angelus had left me lying, the week before.
But then I somehow managed to calm down, and I reminded myself that I had been walking around in the sunlight for several days now, so I couldn't really be a vampire. I hadn't turned into dust after being staked, I didn't have a bumpy forehead and I *certainly* didn't have any desire to wear leather; therefore, I was still me. I was just... different enough to successfully fight off some crazy sword-carrying person, who'd attacked me without any reason at all.
I calmed down a bit, then, and decided that the best thing I could do at the moment was get rid of the dead body I'd just made, so I grabbed Balding-sword-guy's body and tossed it over my shoulder, picked up his gladius, the courier bag and the raincoat he'd been obviously been carrying to conceal his sword. After a moment's thought, I also grabbed his wallet and stuffed it in my back pocket, figuring that I could use any money that might be in it, since I figured where he'd be going, everything he'd be carrying would be turned to ash, anyway.
Imagine my surprise when I looked at his driver's license and saw that his name was Emmanuel Judson! The guy I'd been waiting to see was the very same guy who'd just tried to kill me, for no reason at all!
Shrugging off any questions until I had more time to consider the situation, I checked the fire escape stairwell for any possible witnesses before carefully starting down it. I took my time and was as quiet as I could be as I navigated the stairs, since I was intending to hide Judson's body in the library's basement and then get the hell out of Dodge as quick as I could.
I had made it down to the basement level and through the access door to the garage without being seen by anyone when, suddenly, the dead body I was carrying started moving around, and the gladius I was holding in my left hand was yanked away, and agony abruptly exploded in my left kidney.
I collapsed to my knees from the unexpected pain, and Judson fell off my shoulder and onto the concrete floor. His face still wasn't entirely normal where I'd punched him, but it seemed to be almost visibly healing, and he was practically snarling at me as he lifted the gladius above his right shoulder and headed towards me.
"You didn't take my head. Are you that new, or just that stupid, boy? You should have finished me off when you had the chance," he declared. "Because now, you're not gonna have a second chance!"
I was more than just a little pissed off by this time, having been attacked and stabbed – twice, now! – by some guy I'd never even met before. So this time, when what I now recognized as my vampiric instincts kicked in, I embraced them completely.
As time slowed down around me again, I launched myself up off the floor at Judson, but this time, I wrapped my right hand around his throat as I grabbed his shoulder with my left.
In the heat of the moment, and because I was so furious, I didn't consider that, since I apparently now possessed some degree of superhuman reflexes, I probably also had some degree of superhuman strength to go along with it. So, I inadvertently ended up literally tearing Judson's head completely off his shoulders.
Seeing what I'd just done, I was so surprised that I just stood there for a moment, staring in disbelief at the surprised-looking head now dangling from my right hand. Just before I learned – the hard way, of course, since Mr. Murphy really seems to delight in fucking me over, every chance he gets – the most basic facts about exactly what kind of being I actually was.
As I stood there, glancing back and forth between Judson's head and the rest of his body which was now lying at my feet, a glowing bluish fog began to flow out of the stump of his neck and it started accumulating in a slowly swirling cloud above the rest of his remains.
Trying to figure out what was going on cost me a few more seconds, and by the time I decided that the small, bluish-white lightning bolts flickering through and around the fog cloud weren't exactly something I wanted to deal with, it was too late.
A crackling, bluish-white bolt of lightning abruptly shot out of the fog and hit me square in the chest, and I instantly felt as though I'd had grabbed hold of a high-voltage power line. Surges of virtually unbearable pain and almost indescribable ecstasy seemed to shoot through me, and I dropped to the garage's concrete floor as I momentarily completely lost control of my body.
At the same time, centuries' worth of memories I'd never lived ran though my mind like some whacked-out movie marathon. Visions of the Roman Coliseum, of a tribe of angry Visigoths, of Popes and kings and even coming to the New World (as it was then known) aboard the Mayflower...
They say you never forget your first time. Usually they're referring to your first time with a woman, of course, but the saying applies equally well with the first head you take. It's like losing your virginity, in a way; you can never be the person you were before. The knowledge, the abilities, even the habits you pick up from the Quickening see to that. I'd had to fight quite frantically, inside my head, to prevent Judson's personality from talking over, and I'd finally ended up walling a lot of those memories away for later examination and review, a lot like I'd ended up doing with Soldier-Guy's memories after Halloween earlier this year.
Which reminded me, I'd have to find Ethan Rayne, first chance I got, and thank him personally, for that particular little bit of fun – preferably with a dull, rusted knife.
Anyway, I'm not really sure how long I lay there on the garage annex's floor, but once I came back to my senses, I realized that I had to get out of there as fast I could. Because I definitely couldn't afford to be caught by either the police or the campus security patrols anywhere near Judson's body. After all, if somebody saw me here with the corpse, exactly what could I say that could explain the decapitated body, that wouldn't make me sound like a total psycho?
So, I pushed myself up to my feet, grabbed Judson's gladius, the courier bag and his raincoat off the floor and emptied everything still in his pockets into mine. I then managed to not-quite stagger out of the basement garage and into the plaza outside, where I slumped down on a convenient wooden bench and took a couple moments to catch my breath and to try to make sense of all of the new memories I currently had trying to bounce around in my head, courtesy of what I now knew had been the absorption of my first Quickening.
What's a Quickening, you ask?
Well, basically, it's all the power and knowledge an Immortal (which is the term used by non-Immortals to describe people like me; note the capital 'I' that's used when spelling it out) has obtained throughout his/her life, and it transfers to the nearest Immortal in the area, when any Immortal dies their Final Death.
And before you ask me any more questions about Immortals and what they are, let me give you the cheap seats version of what an Immortal is, and why we're here walking the earth.
Basically, we're people who are immune to disease and who stop aging after becoming Immortal, which happens the first time that we suffer a *non-natural* and *violent* death.
So, dying because of bubonic plague or any other kind of nasty disease you can think of, won't turn you into an Immortal, and neither will dying from a heart attack or stroke.
Nope, if you want to live forever, you have to go out *violently*. Which explains my awakening on Buffy's porch and still being me, instead of ending up as a deadite, actually. Angelus was never one to let any opportunity to inflict pain or suffering on someone else pass him by, if he had any choice in the matter.
But, that's neither here nor there, I suppose. I was telling you about Immortals, so I should also mention that we can rapidly heal from any injury we receive, and we can only die if we're decapitated. Yeah, and as long as we don't let that happen, we have the potential to literally live forever.
Something else that's of more than passing interest to any Immortal who wants to maintain an ongoing lifestyle is that there's this really neat concept some idiot came up with thousands upon thousands of years ago, that's called 'The Game.'
The idea behind 'The Game' is that every Immortal has to eventually seek out and then fight every other Immortal, to the death, until there's finally only one of us left, and that winner will get 'The Prize.' Unfortunately, however, no one knows what 'The Prize' is.
And there's a set of rules concerning 'The Game,' which are referred to 'The Rules,' naturally enough, and which outline exactly what sort of things you're allowed to do while playing 'The Game.'
And have you noticed the capital letters I used when I was telling you about 'The Game' and 'The Prize'? That's because apparently, it's very important to follow The Rules (see, more capital letters!), even though no one really knows who first thought up The Rules' for 'The Game, or why there are any 'Rules,' at all.
Although the idea that everyone involved in a group, whose ultimate purpose is to kill each other in the ultimate blood sport, will agree to abide by a particular set of rules is either stupid or ludicrous
In any event, the only rule I intend to follow, if and when I do ever meet up with another Immortal, is the first rule of Slaying. Which as Buffy has expressed it, is 'Don't Die!'
Well, that, and no killing on holy ground. Apparently, the last time that happened, Pompeii was destroyed when two Immortals fought to the death in one of the temples there. Judson had vivid memories of Mount Vesuvius erupting and destroying both Immortals and the rest of the townspeople back then, so just in case it wasn't a coincidence, I think that it's better to be safe than sorry.
Also, while I was sitting there, pondering on what I was going to do with my life, I also decided that I'm most definitely not gonna tell Giles that I killed his old friend, Judson, even if it was arguably self-defense.
I might be Immortal and heal really, really quickly, but I also don't want to find out how inventive the G-man can be, if he should decide that Judson's death needed to be avenged.
As far as the story I'm telling G-Man is concerned, I waited in the library for six hours, and his old buddy just never showed up.
Driving back to good ol' Sunny-Hell gave me a lot of time to think – and having had all of the power, memories and knowledge of someone who was, judging by Judson's own opinion and his professional estimation, probably somewhere around two thousand years old, forcibly transferred into my skull – let me tell you, something like that puts an entirely different slant on how you look at things.
One of the more interesting things I'd learned from the knowledge transfer was that a fair number of Immortals had additional abilities, aside from their healing and immortality. There had been one guy, who been known as the Guardian, who had superhuman speed, while another possessed the power of illusion, and a third was clairvoyant.
Judson had possessed his own power, the ability to scan and absorb the contents of a book by holding his hands over the text and causing the pages flip through at high speed, thus imprinting the information on his mind. And sue me, but I was kinda eager to get back to the library so that I could pick up a book and see if that ability had transferred over to me, along with his knowledge and memories.
I was also curious about whether it was possible that I had my own power now. I mean, one different from the sort-of-undead power and the fangs thing, of course.
It seemed to me, when I thought back and considered how much faster I was able to move than Judson was moving during our second fight, that I was also, maybe, moving a good bit faster than most of the vampires we usually faced off against during patrol.
Yet another thing I would have to check out, once I got back home.
Although that would definitely be something I'd have to check out by myself, initially. After all, if I was superfast now, I certainly didn't want Buffy or Giles to find out about it before I was ready to tell them. Slay-gal was already hinky enough about me hanging around her and Willow, after seeing me come back to life last week.
Although whether that was because she was worried that I was some sort of demon, or because she was truly upset because Angelus had managed to kill and Turn me, was still up in the air, as far as I was concerned. The fact that she'd been able to stake me so quickly, unlike her precious Angel, was something that was always present in the back of my mind, though.
Of course, keeping something secret from Buffy meant that I'd have to keep it as secret from Willow, too, since there was no way she wouldn't tell Buffy anything as soon as she found out about whatever it might be, and regardless of whether I'd ask her to keep it a secret and not tell anyone.
I hated to admit it – but the more thought I gave my situation, the more it seemed like I really couldn't trust my best friends, anymore. And the only thing was worse than dealing with the fact that I'd always look like I was seventeen for the rest of my life, was acknowledging how I was only slightly less likely of being staked by the Chosen One than I was at risk for getting drained or eaten by the demonic element in town.
Hmm. This was definitely going to require a whole lot more consideration than I'd initially thought it might.
On the other hand, it looked like Judson had quite a number of interesting items in that courier bag I'd picked up, so that would give me something to do to fill in the time I probably wouldn't be spending with the Scooby Gang anymore.
One way or another, it looked like the next couple days and weeks were going to be pretty interesting.
An unknown location
A time outside the conventional perception of time
"Shinnock's get clearly thinks himself quite clever, old man," the tall, dark-skinned man with his long white hair bound in a waist-length braid commented, as he observed the various scenes unfolding before him. "Should he manage to sufficiently corrupt your child, he will have ensured himself of a body which will endure far longer than any other he has previously gained."
"True, Wind Lord," the older-looking figure dressed in white robes and a straw hat calmly agreed with a nod of his head. "The Scarred One's plans are daring, indeed. There can be no question about that, at all.
"The question remains, though, is whether it can not only overcome the will of the one it would possess, but then completely snuff out every vestige of his soul and eradicate every scintilla of self-awareness and personality, so that it need never worry about itself being absorbed by the one it sought to replace," the second being stated as flickers of lightning swirled around and jumped between his fingers.
"Success offers the possibility of nigh-unimaginable power, while failure consigns one to non-existence," he offered sagely.
"It will be interesting to see how my son fares."