Bringer of Light

Bringer of Light

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****

He came to me when I was chained in my steel coffin, on the ocean bed. Escape was impossible - I could barely move - and my senses were able to detect little around me except for the coming of each dawn. A vampire can always sense that. At first, I thought that my friends would find me and rescue me, but as the hours turned to days, the days to weeks, and the weeks to months, my despair grew. So did my hunger. Vampires cannot starve quite to death, but as the bloodlust grew, so my humanity diminished and the demon raged. I was denied even the oblivion of sleep. Then the hallucinations started.

I thought he was just another one, conjured by my brain into the midst of this sensory desert; a figure, a body of light, striding towards me over the seabed, radiating an aura of power. He stood over my coffin, and I felt his mind brush against mine. For one blessed moment, the demon ceased his ranting and the figure spoke. At least, in my mind he did, but I could make no sense of his words.

"Why do you persecute my children?"

He waited for a response, but I had none to give. And talking to an hallucination? That way lay madness.

"You wish to save souls. Why will you not help my brothers and sisters?"

Again, I could find no words, form no adequate thoughts, and I felt the butterfly touch of his mind once more. Warmth enfolded me.

"My poor child." I was only half conscious in a cocoon of numbing peace, and I was confused.

"Me, or the demon?" I queried.

"Both of you," came the reply. "You will be freed from this prison, I promise, and you will come to me. Give me your word on that."

"Who are you and how would I find you?"

"I will reach out and find you. Give me your word."

He had given me an unexpected peace and a promise of rescue. It seemed the least I could do. "You have it."

He turned to go, and the demon howled in anger and loss. For a final time, his mind touched me, and I felt him soothe the beast. When it was calm, he strode back across the seabed and out of sight.

You know the rest of that part of my story. I was, indeed, freed, and although the hunger ate at my human facade, it would have been so much more difficult without his intercession. I felt his call, and I truly intended to keep my promise to seek him out. However, other things interfered, as you know, and in time, the call fell silent.

Years passed, as I tried to work through my destiny, killing demons and saving souls. Saving the world. And hungering for Buffy. Demon, soul and man, we were all obsessed with her in some fashion. And in all those years, when there was a period of respite from fighting, I would use every chance I got to search for what I really needed to tide me through to the promised Shanshu - a cure for the happiness clause.

Buffy and I saw each other occasionally, I think just to reassure ourselves that the other was still on the face of the planet. But it was hard on both of us, and the meetings were short, strained and infrequent.

Then Cordelia had a fateful vision. She knew what she had seen, but couldn't understand it. Demons, of different species, meeting together and plotting. And the Slayer. That was the best she could do. Oh yes, and the place. We went, all of us, and it was a trap.

We had entered the basement of an abandoned building, absolutely dark and reeking of chemicals. The smell of them filled my nostrils, leaving me blinded to both sight and scent. Even a cat can not see without any light at all, and a drug hound be confounded by the reek of strong smells such as coffee grounds. I should have suspected.

It had been my decision that we should stay together. Perhaps it would have made no difference. We came to a door, beyond which I could detect only dark and empty space, but my vampire senses smelt demon, in numbers - there had to be many of them, to permeate the chemical miasma. And something else that made my still heart clench. I started to motion the others back, but suddenly there were demons behind us and my companions were shoved violently forward, sprawling on the floor in front of me. There was the clang of a heavy door closing behind us, and the rest was silence and darkness.

The lights, when they came on, were dazzling, as they were intended to be. I could make out that we were in a circular, smooth-sided structure, with no visible way out. The sides were perhaps forty feet high, of smooth metal plates. The floor was solid concrete. Ten feet above our heads, a figure swung in chains. Buffy. I felt the roar of rage and terror for my beloved rising, and there was nothing of humanity in it. As my sight cleared, I saw that a gallery ran around the top of the structure, and it was full of demons, over a hundred of them. All were armed, most of them with crossbows. They were preparing to use them.

Rats in a barrel.

I could not shield everyone with my body. And if that was all I tried to do, I would be dust in seconds, and they would be without any hope at all. Any hope was better than none.

"Try and take cover," I ordered, although there was none to be had. They would know what I meant, though. The body of the first to fall would be some small shelter for the others. Cordelia fell first, a quarrel through her neck. The second went through Buffy's hip.

Those who know about vampire physiology will tell you that vampires cannot leap a height of forty feet from a more or less standing start. What do they know? Like the demons on that gallery, they know nothing of the power of love. Or the power of rage.

I freed the demon, completely and without condition. I had expected his rage at the hurts suffered by our mate, and it was overwhelming. As I have said, she was our obsession. What I had not expected was his reaction to the hurts being suffered by my companions, those whom I considered to be family. I had thought he despised them, but apparently not. He now regarded them as his possessions, perhaps. Whatever. Like Buffy, they were his to protect. He made the leap as if it were nothing. Then he was among the assassins, showing a savagery in his killing that was new, even to him.

It was too little, and it was too late.

When the red tide of rage had abated, there were no demons left alive on that gallery, and none had escaped from it. I was on my knees with exhaustion, blood loss and pain. The pain was about to get worse. I rose to my feet amongst the sticky mass of blood and body parts and staggered to the arena wall. Buffy still swung in the chains, her blood dripping down onto the floor beneath from the many arrow wounds in her body. She was quite dead.

So were the rest of my family. They lay on the arena floor in the shocking attitudes of death. They had been helpless, and I had failed them. Buffy and my second family. More loved ones slaughtered by me.

The demon was still in control, and he had something that must be done, before we could seek oblivion from the grief. Even though my soul revolted against the thought of what he would do, I balanced on the top of the wall, and leapt to the chains holding the body of my beloved. With the last of my strength, I unhooked her body, and we dropped, I cradling her as best I could from the crashing fall.

I had no strength to move from where we had fallen. I simply sat in the midst of her blood, and pulled her onto my lap, holding her close to me. Her face was already pale, and her mouth was slackened in death. She was covered in blood, and I lapped some of it from her skin. My soul and my heart keened. My demon howled. Then, holding her head just so, I sank my fangs gently into her neck and began to pull the remaining blood from her. I had only tasted her once before, and she tasted exactly the same now. Sunlight, lavender and vanilla, and love. Love for me. Even the demon seemed to feel humbled. And there was the richness of slayer power. She had been unconscious when she died, so her blood was untainted by the musk of fearful death. I was glad of that. What she had been when she died would remain with me until my final death - perhaps even beyond that - and she was light and life and love.

When I was done, I laid her tenderly on the ground, smoothing her brow as if she could feel it, and closing her eyes. The demon was not yet finished. I drank down the rest of my family. I drank their lives, and their deaths. They, too, would remain with me until my final death. It was the last honour that I could pay any of them.

The blood had strengthened me physically, had started the healing process for my many wounds but, soul and demon both, I was spent. I lay down by my mate, holding her close, and allowed the grief to overtake me. I wept, as I had not since my soul was first restored to me.

My weeping abated with the coming of dawn. I was trapped here with the remains of my world. I could do nothing more for them until sunset, other than to remove the crossbow bolts, to lay their bodies decently beyond the blood-soaked concrete where they had died, and to cleanse the blood from their exposed skin in the only way in which I was able.

As I huddled next to Buffy, more animal than man, the demon withdrew into its cage, whimpering in misery. I would have welcomed even him as company, but I was left alone in my own head. My thoughts were bleak. What on God's green earth had ever made me think that I was fit to earn salvation? I was a worse than useless parasite, and my mate and my family had died because of my hubris. My pretensions towards humanity. I should end it all, before others were hurt by my overweening arrogance in believing there could ever be a happy ending for me. When night fell, I would find my way out of this trap, carry back my fallen loved ones, arrange for their decent interment, and wait to meet the rising sun on Buffy's grave. If I spent eternity burning in the fires of Hell, it would be no more than I deserved.

That was what I determined to do, but even as I did so, I felt a warmth in my blood, and a hand seemed to stroke my heart. Buffy. And I knew that I could not. She expected, no, demanded that I struggle on, fixed on the promise from the powers, that there might be forgiveness, so that perhaps I might join with her as we had been meant to do. I knew I was too weak, that I would fail her yet again, and I wept anew. And my soul, overwhelmed by the heartache and sheer impossibility of the future, crept into the demon's cage and clung to the monster for comfort, the only solid thing in its hollow world. Monster and soul embraced, lost in misery together.

It was then that I felt that long-forgotten touch. Him.

His call was weak, but, soul and demon both, I yearned towards it, even as a hurt dog yearns towards its master's touch. As he had when I was lost under the sea, he soothed my hurts and allowed me the surcease of sleep without dreams.

When I awoke I knew that the sun was setting. My mind instantly became a jumble of thoughts again, but there were things to be done. Without the rage to fuel me, the leap to the top of the wall was almost beyond me, but eventually I made it, using the dangling chains that had held my beloved. I had Slayer's blood to help me, after all. I found the entrance to the arena, and carried my loved ones out to the car. There was little dignity for their cold bodies even in a car as large as mine, but I would not have them found amongst the remains of their assassins. I torched the place before I left.

I took them home, and called on the only person I could think of to help with what needed doing next. Giles, competent even in grief, dealt with all the formalities, threading the maze of difficulties raised by bodies that had been pierced through with arrows then drained of all blood. He never asked me about the blood, but he must have seen, and I think he guessed the rest.

The funeral was in the evening, so that I could attend. I had expected him to blame me - after all, I was the one who had survived, the one who had failed in every conceivable way. I thought he would ignore my needs, as I deserved. But he did neither. Afterwards, he asked me what I would do now. I could smell his genuine worry and concern. I answered that I had a promise to keep, and that after I had done so, we would see. It did nothing to allay his fears, but it was the best I could do. Then I set out to follow the call.

***

It took weeks, and I finished up in Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula. There, on the shores of the shallow seas of the Gulf, I found Chicxulub. Where the dinosaur killer had hit.

I had no doubt that this was where I was meant to be, but I could not see what I had come for. Where was the one who had called me here? The terrain was difficult - there was little shelter for one such as me; even the dense surrounding jungle didn't seem secure enough after a lifetime spent largely in cities, with the protection of brick and stone. There was only the one small village, and I was almost without hope until, after days of searching, I found an unexpected outcropping of rock, with a small entrance into the earth. I felt his call again, and knew that this was the place. The way was narrow, and I shed my coat just inside the entrance. There was never room to stand up and there was mud everywhere. I soon left my shoes behind and my socks, then my shirt. My trousers followed suit, then the rest of my clothing, piece by piece. Soon there were seven piles of garments marking my descent into the earth. I was approaching him - it? - naked, stripped of earthly trappings, and somehow that felt right. Dumuzi sent to Ereshkigal in place of Inanna. Was that what I was doing? Bargaining for the return of my loved ones? I was damned if I knew.

Perhaps I was only like Inanna, visiting the underworld in pride and hubris, stripped of the symbols of that pride at each of the seven gates, to be held there until a loved one came to sacrifice themselves for me. Except that there was no one to do that for me. I could not have borne it if there were. At least Inanna got to come out a changed woman, a whole and complete person, just as she had changed Ereshkigal. Completeness and change was something that I could only long for. But any pride I might once have had was lying in the dust now.

I never knew how long the descent took, but it was a very long time, much of it spent crawling on my stomach in the mud. Sometimes I was able to crouch, but not often. The fissure through which I journeyed seemed to be a tenuous thing, small and secret, and liable to ooze shut at any moment, burying me in its suffocating embrace. As if it had been created just for me. I remembered clawing my way out of my grave. And I remembered those months under the sea. This was much worse.

And then, when I felt that the weight of thousands of feet of earth pressing down above my head was more than I could bear, I saw light. Faint, but light, nonetheless, where none should be. I hastened forward as fast as my weary body could go. The path, if you could call it such, which had tended ever downwards, levelled off, and the light grew stronger. The muddy ceiling lifted away until I stood in a small rocky chamber, an antechamber, really, with light flooding it from the chamber that lay beyond. Between the light and me was a small, clear pool of water, its white, sandy bottom glinting. I was covered in mud, and needed to be cleansed. As I sank into the warm, welcoming water, there was a scent of lavender and vanilla. Buffy. Her hand stroked my heart. I wanted to stay there forever.

But I couldn't. I rose from the pool, cleansed on the outside, although I was still sure that nothing could ever remove my inner stain. Strangely, demon and soul had clung to each other since that night in the killing arena. All that I had done since then had been done in a numb, trance-like state; running on empty, I suppose. Now they separated, although I felt as if their hands were still linked, and together we went forward into the cave of light.

***

I could see nothing at first, the light was so blinding that it hurt. Then I saw that I was in a huge cavern, a space that would have dwarfed all the cathedrals in Ireland together. It was an enormous bubble, entirely lined with shards of rock that had been turned to glass by the heat of some unimaginable cataclysm, light reflecting from every facet. It was like being inside a diamond. At the opposite side from me stood the figure from whom the light came.

It took a little time to make him out, but when I did, my legs lost their strength and I fell to my knees. I closed my eyes against the burning pain of the light, but he was imprinted on my eyelids.

He was chained, with chains of fire. Every so often, the chains would squeeze and he would throw his head back and open his mouth in a silent scream. He was human, and he was not. He was two figures, trying to occupy the same space. The naked human figure was one of transcendent beauty, a beauty that would have stopped my heart, had it not already been still within my chest. The other was one of equal ethereal splendour, but reptilian. A dragon. Even in his human form, he was winged. Not the wings of a bird or a bat, but wings of power. They should have been spread in glory, but now they were crumpled painfully beneath the fiery chains.

I knew then that he had suffered here for 65 million years. Dinosaur killer. Lucifer, Bringer of Light...

They had even told me in the village of Chicxulub that the name was Maya for 'Tail of the Devil'. How could I have known how right they were?

***

Eventually his paroxysms passed, and the chains fell more slackly for a while. He spoke to me then, his voice in my mind, a voice of velvet and steel, ragged now with remembered pain.

"You came. I hoped that you would, eventually."

"What do you want from me," I whispered.

He paused, as if to find the right words. "I want you to save them all."

"Who?" I could not imagine what he meant.

"My brothers and sisters, my companions, my children. My family. All of you."

All of... My confusion was total. "I don't understand."

"Watch, then..."

The cavern faded from view and I was...elsewhere. I don't know where; in the firmament, I think. Darkness was all around me, studded with stars, and more recognisable suns. My spirit flew free, revelling in the universe around me. My spirit. Whole. Demon and soul in harmony and at peace. One being. Another was by my side. Buffy. Although her name was different here. Then again, so was mine. Close by was Lucifer, and behind us were others of our kind. Many others. Ahead was a glow of light. I thought at first it was a huge globular cluster of stars. Then I saw that it was not. It was more beings, like us.

Lucifer paused in his flight, and turned to me. He was radiant, his wings of power stretching for miles.

"I know that you do not yet understand. This is an image to help you, a recreation of what is already past. Do you feel what it is like to be free, to have the universe as your playground?"

"Yes."

"That is all we wish. To be free. The Authority has decided that we need more...structure...in our lives, that we should be more...obedient." He said it as if he had acid in his mouth. "We are to live by his rules, and we are to worship him. We have decided not to, and we will fight to keep our freedom. That is what we are about to do. You need not stay."

"I will stay."

I saw that, like those with us, I had weapons. Not weapons as I know them, but things of fire and of light. So did the host now arrayed against us. They were many more than we. And after all, I already knew the end of the story. So do you.

I do not care to remember the battle. It was one of utmost savagery, and we were annihilated. I seemed to fight with Lucifer's Host, although I wasn't sure how you could take part in an illusion. I saw he and Buffy fighting side by side; I remember throwing myself in front of the two of them as an angel I knew to be called Sammael was about to cut through them both with a flaming sword, and I remember falling down into darkness.

***

When I came back to myself, I was back in the cavern. I thought that he was watching me carefully.

"The battle - did that really happen?"

"Yes." There was a hesitancy to him, as if he were about to speak again. He did not, although I waited. Then I took the initiative.

"But there's more, isn't there?"

"Yes. Do you wish to see?"

Did I? Not really, because I felt that what was to come was worse than what had been before. Weak, I chided myself, always so weak.

"Show me."

He bowed his head, as if in sorrow or, perhaps, apology. The cavern faded away.

This time, I was somewhere...different. I don't know what it was. Not a building or a room, nothing that would be recognisable as an earthly enclosure. Yet it was an enclosure none the less. Enclosure of a dimension, perhaps. I don't know.

What I do know is that I was watching the torment of those who had fallen in the battle. Please, don't ask me to recount it. It was more dreadful than even my own experience of Hell could have prepared me for. And Lucifer was chained in the centre, forced to watch what was happening to his companions. His family.

As I watched, physically detached this time from the scene, purely a spiritual observer, still I could not help vomiting at the depravity that I saw. I cannot remember when I last did that. Even the demon was silent. I suppose all wars are alike in the aftermath, the victors venting their fear and spite on the defeated, the righteous visiting their wrath on the unrighteous, purifying their error with pain. Time began to flow more swiftly then, and everything became a blur. When the blur ceased, I was aghast. Those beings that I had seen in torment, those beautiful, ethereal sons and daughters of the heavens, were gone. In their place were demons. Twisted, tormented, insane things. Now you know where demons come from. We are all creatures of God.

A voice with the clangour of iron bellowed, "You are banished from the heavens." The tormented beings around me disappeared, leaving only Lucifer. He was wrapped in a ball of molten fire, and I watched as he was cast out of the enclosure and plummeted towards a beautiful blue and white planet. The Earth. It was cataclysmic. Then I was back in the cavern. Tears were running down my face.

"Is it all true?" I gasped, "Or do you lie. You're the Father of Lies, after all."

He was calm. "Do you believe that what I have shown you is a lie? What does your heart tell you?"

It was not a lie. The demon was almost catatonic within me, and I knew that it remembered...something...of what had happened. This time, the rage and sorrow within me came from my soul. My human mind knew nothing of the events, but it did know the truth when shown it.

"What do you want from me?" I asked. I seemed to remember asking that before. His answer was the same.

"To save them all."

I heard the sound of insane laughter then. It was some few minutes before I realised the sound was coming from me. Hysteria had me by the throat. I, who couldn't keep my mate and my family alive, was expected to save an entire race of tormented souls! The same sort of souls that had killed her, slaughtered them. I curled into a ball of silent suffering and prayed for oblivion. It didn't come.

He left me for a long time, then called to me softly.

"Angelus." I curled tighter against the soothing tones.

"Angelus." This time his voice was stronger, more imperative. The demon cocked an ear.

"Angelus." Now it was a command. Slowly, the demon flexed itself within me and stepped outside of its cage. I felt my face change, my fangs and claws lengthen. I seemed powerless to resist, unable to find the balance that I could normally achieve, the control of those two disparate parts of me. Then the demon reached back into the cage and gently drew out my cowering soul, holding it in a close embrace. I can describe it in no other way. My human-seeming visage returned.

I uncurled and knelt before him, even though the sharp, glassy edges of rock cut my knees to the bone, an unsought sacrifice of blood.

I blurted out the first question that came into my head. "Where are they now - those ones that I saw disappear when they were banished?"

"They are here. On this planet."

"No!" I remembered then Holland Manners telling me that this was Hell, that evil worked its will from here. I remembered my absolute despair, and I remembered the years it took to claw my way out of that pit of memory, to deny what he had said. But he had been right. Evil needs no lies, when the truth will do even better. Something else needed to be established.

"Then I..." I could not find the words to finish, but he knew.

"Yes, you were one of mine, you and your soul mate both. You wanted to stand for freedom then, just as you want to stand for free will now. There is no difference."

Oh, God. Does nothing ever change?

"You want me to make them into an army, to rebel again? After what they have been through?" I've been through, I wanted to say.

The pain in his voice was real. "No!"

"Then what? What can I possibly do?"

He paused briefly, choosing the right words.

"When I fell to earth, much of the life on the planet was killed. Every sizeable beast was gone, and much of the vegetation, if not immediately, then shortly afterwards. It was burned, ravaged, frozen, barren and stank of rotting carcasses. It was truly hell, and it was what I had brought to my companions and my family through my own pride."

I could relate to that.

"They had endured millions of years of torment, and were about to undergo millions of years more on a barren, inhospitable, ruined planet."

He bowed his head, and whispered then, so low perhaps he didn't intend me to hear. 'Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.' And those fiery chains tightened around him, squeezing agony into him. His silent screams came again. I think I knew then that his suffering was like mine, although on a far grander scale. I was not the only one who had a demon and a soul plaguing each other; not the only one locked in a self-made cage of guilt and suffering, with atonement and forgiveness as the illusory key. Devil and demon, we had a lot in common.

Eventually the chains slackened again.

"You have made it your mission to save human souls and to kill demons."

"Yes." The answer had to be given, but I felt ashamed of it now.

"And you have discovered that not all demons are evil. That demons are like humans, simply finding their way through life, some good, some bad, some neither."

"Yes."

"What do you think humans are? Do you think that they are better than us?"

His train of thought had left me behind, and I couldn't think how to answer this. He waited patiently. No, not better. Different, perhaps. I had been human once and desperately longed to be so again, solely, I think, because it would perhaps mean an end to this albatross of guilt that I dragged everywhere with me, an end to the howling of the demon. And, if there were mercy enough, it could mean a life with Buffy. Humanity, I realised, was not necessarily an end in itself, but a means to an end. The path to peace, for me, at least. I said so.

I'm certain that he smiled, although it was hard to make out his features amidst the light.

"Just so," he said. "And as it is for you, perhaps it is so for others. A way for them to reconcile the shattered parts of themselves, to heal during lifetime after lifetime. A way back to the universe."

Demons and angels, and the human road between, travellers on it beset with pain and terror, strengthened by hope and love, a road to be feared, but one worth travelling.

Again I asked it. "What can I possibly do that they are not doing already for themselves."

"Some are afraid to start the journey; some do not even see that it exists; even those that do start it need a leader, a guide, to show them what it is they strive towards. And a warrior to protect them. All of them. Human and demon alike."

"Why me?"

"Because you can."

I was silent, taking in what he had said. I had no notion how to fulfil this wyrd, this destiny that he wished to lay on me. Nor did I know where I could find the strength. I was heartsick, my psyche wounded to its core. And the demand he made was not of years, or the span of lifetimes. It was a demand for millennia, or more. The creation of demons had taken millions of years. How could it be undone in less? Nothing should have to do that and certainly nothing should have to do that alone.

He knew my thoughts. I caught the faintest scent of lavender and vanilla, and looked up. She lay between us, a sleeping beauty. Then she was gone. Soul and demon howled in anger and pain, united in loss again.

He called us to our senses.

"Angelus!" The demon, a slavering hound, crouched, waiting.

"Do you think that I would ask you to undertake this alone? Did you truly expect that of me?"

I didn't know what to say. I had, indeed, expected it. Now, that seemed...unjust.

"I have little power in this cave, in these fetters, but if you do this there are things I can promise you, to help and support you."

The hound tensed, paying attention. So did the one holding it close. "Tell me."

"Buffy will return, lifetime after lifetime, no matter what. I can make sure that she will return to you. I can give you children, souls ready to help you, lifetime after lifetime. As will their children, and their children's children. And further down the generations, as you lead more souls to redemption."

I would need to ask about that - later. Right now, I needed to make him understand about the curse, and the damned happiness clause that would prevent anything but misery for both of us, lifetime after lifetime. I could never drag her through that again. I said so.

He looked positively amused.

"Tell me exactly what the happiness clause does. Exactly."

"A moment of true happiness, and my soul is lost to me." I knew that wasn't exact, but I knew no more. I had killed Jenny before she had told anyone the full facts. Another sin that would redound upon me down the years.

"Not exact enough. It is not just happiness; it is a moment when your soul no longer plagues your thoughts. Angelus' thoughts. Look inside yourself and tell me, is your soul plaguing your demon now? Look, and I will show you what your heart feels."

I looked. There, in front of me, I saw two figures, locked together in an embrace of comfort. At times they almost occupied the same space. And they looked like him. Human and dragon together. They were beautiful.

"From the moment that your soul crept into the demon's cage to seek comfort, and was given it, from that moment, your soul has been yours. Will it choose to stay, do you think? Your soul and your demon, after what they have suffered, after what they have learned here, do you think that they will comfort and succour each other? Will they walk hand in hand towards humanity?" The figures disappeared as I stared at them, but I rather thought they would. I had always thought that the demon would wear the ugliness of its deeds on its skin, and that my soul would show the stigmata of its weakness and suffering. If it ever had been so, it was not now. There was no ugliness in them that I could see. Was it possible that I was finally expiating my sin?

It was too much for me. I wondered whether I was perhaps still in that coffin at the bottom of the sea, and whether I was now quite mad. Madder, even, than Drusilla. I curled into a ball once more, and sobbed myself into darkness.

***

When I awoke, my mind had tried to make some sense of what I had heard and seen. He was still there, watching me. Of course he was still there. He was chained there for eternity, so far as I could tell. I no longer doubted what he had told me - it all had the dismal ring of truth. But he had said that my soul was mine! Could this possibly be true? It felt so. I seemed to be less...torn. The seeds of hope swelled within me.

One thing was certain in my mind. If I truly could do something to lead those tormented souls back from hell, I must do so, or die trying.

"How can I bring about the changes that you want, give the leadership that you ask for. What must I do?"

"I cannot tell you - you will learn how to do that."

That was helpful.

"And Buffy?"

"Her soul travels the Cycle of Life. She will soon be ready to return to you."

"How can we ever have children? Or do you mean that we should adopt?"

"No. You will need children of your blood, or their souls will not be able to find you. Come here."

I rose from my knees and approached him. When I was about three feet away, I stopped.

"Closer."

I came closer.

He stretched his head upwards, exposing his throat, that duality of dragon and man. "Drink. A mouthful only."

And I did. I drank the life force of an archangel, albeit a fallen one. I thought that I knew pain and pleasure. I knew nothing at all. I fell back to my knees, my blood boiling in my veins, my body too small and crabbed to contain what was within. An ecstasy of pain. And an ecstasy of pleasure, too. It seemed to last forever, then it passed, and I felt something unfamiliar - my heart thudding within my chest, blood singing around my body. I was warm.

I ran my hands over my body, unbelieving. But it was true.

"Is this my promised Shanshu?" I asked him, fearfully. How could I ever undertake the work of millennia if I were only human?

"No. You are still a vampire. I have merely returned your body to a semblance of life. It changes nothing, except that you are no longer barren and you may walk in the sun."

To walk in the sun! To have children! And to be able to express fully my love for Buffy. My soul as my own. My tears were tears of joy, now.

I caught her scent again, and she lay next to me, quiescent in repose, as peaceful as in death. Golden skin and golden hair, still carrying the scent of lavender and vanilla. The instrument of my own redemption.

"You must mark her again; you must place your mark on her soul so that you can find each other in every life time. The mark will also pass to your children and to their children. You must do it now, with my power running strong in your veins."

I knew what he meant. I crouched over her still form, yet hesitated. "I can't. I can't mark her for eternity without her consent."

"She currently lies in the aether, a place of refuge from the Host of the Authority. She is dreaming, and will not wake until she is reborn. She cannot give her consent. If you do not mark her, you may never find each other. There are...forces...working against you."

Tell me about it.

He considered, for a moment.

"Mark her. If, in the next life, she does not wish to take her place at your side, you may return to me, and I will undo it."

It was something I would have to take on trust, but I was already taking so much on trust. I bent to her neck and marked her as mine.

When it was done, she smiled for a moment, as if well pleased, then faded from sight, gradually. When she was almost gone, I thought I heard the wail of a newborn infant.

I stood then, this new thing that I was. There were other questions to ask.

"What of you? Should I look for a way to release you, too?"

His pain and sorrow were tangible.

"I do not think there is any way you can do that. You should not waste your efforts."

"But you don't know," I persisted.

He was silent for some time. So long, in fact, that I thought he did not mean to reply at all. Then, he seemed to stand straighter, to brace himself, as if to meet some new torment.

"Three of us were reserved for particular...punishment. If there is mercy in the heavens, the Authority may be losing interest in the other two, but never in me. I am a lost cause. There will never be salvation for me. Forget me."

Have you ever known me have enough sense to give up on a lost cause? Particularly another soul in need of salvation? And why in the name of mercy should any soul be out of reach of salvation?

But I started somewhere else. "The other two - who are they? Your lieutenants?"

His smile was twisted with grief. "In a way. My son. And his mate."

"Where are they? I need to know whether I can help them."

He was totally silent. The silence stretched on, tearing at my newly beating heart. At last he whispered, "My son is with me, here, now. His mate has just been reborn, with his mark on her." The look he gave me was one of pure, unbounded love.

His son!

My legs gave out again, and I sank to my haunches, regarding him. Just looking at him, and he looking at me. We stayed that way for a long time.

There is little else to recount of that meeting - I prefer to keep the rest of those memories private between him and me. I did ask him whether he had tried to contact me before. He told me yes, time after endless time throughout the aeons. But the only time I had been able to hear was while hallucinating in my watery grave. Every cloud has a silver lining, I suppose.

When I left him, I knew that I would return, and I have. Not often, since he expects me to be diligent in carrying out the destiny he has laid on me. But sometimes.

I came out of the earth where I had entered, retrieving my clothing as I came. Inside the entrance, I waited for night to fall. As it did so, so came the rain. I took my muddied clothing and my muddied body, and bathed everything in the cleansing waters of that cloudburst. Then I returned to Los Angeles. I found that I must have been under the earth for at least 7 weeks. I had felt no hunger, sustained it seems by one mouthful of his life force. It pounded through my veins then, and it still does so even now. It has strengthened me in ways I cannot explain.

It has been a very long time since then, and we have done well. Buffy and I have walked this earth as warrior-priests, guarding and guiding for more lifetimes than I can remember. And we have known more happiness than we ever thought possible. I never achieved my promised Shanshu, but I have not missed it, much. Only as what I am could I have done what I have done. And, knowing what I know, who could there possibly be to grant me that gift? Not the Authority, that much is certain. An empty promise, that's all it ever was. My father did better by me.

The ranks of demons have thinned considerably, as more and more of them shrug off their tainted immortality under our guidance, and start to walk the human path back to the stars. The ranks of humanity have thinned, also, as more and more souls achieve their nirvana, and go to wait in the aether. Sometimes I imagine that I can hear the rustle of their wings as they slumber. Waiting for what, I am not sure. My father still lies chained. I promised myself that I would find a way to free him, to bring salvation even to him, although I have so far failed him, and I will not be able to, now. And I have failed to find a way for our companions to fly free in the cosmos once more. Buffy always tells me that I am too hard on myself, but who else should carry the weight of my expectations? The Authority still tyrannizes over the angelic hosts in servitude to him. They spend most of their existence on their knees before him. We will never do that. No matter. We will face that when the time comes. At worst, surely we can all remain here, make this even more of an Eden and return to humanity's Cycle of Life. Fallen, but free.

Sometimes, the Authority has remembered us, and has stretched out his hand to bring sorrow to me and to my mate, to our children. But mostly, we have managed as my father thought we would. We have survived and loved. I have been without Buffy for around a century now, since her last death, but she is back and has left her childhood behind. She is on her way to find me. So are those of our children, grandchildren and other descendents who are currently walking the face of the earth. They are coming to meet together, wherever I am, as they always do when life begins anew. This time, I think, they must do it without me.

Things have changed on the earth, since the time you knew. The continents are different. Man himself is different. Looks different. Buffy and the children, they change with each new life, they keep pace with the changes around them. I do not change. Now, I look unlike the rest of mankind.

During Buffy's absence from my side, I have been visiting some of the more dangerous locations. She is a warrior, yet I still feel the need to protect her. This time, I have come to a colony of people who are not, perhaps, yet fully human. They were among the last of the demons and have newly joined the cycle of life and death, taking their first steps on the path back to their birthright. Their lives might be described as nasty and brutish, but they are better than those that their spirits have known before.

But they are hungry and it is hunting season. Perhaps I grow old and careless. Perhaps the Authority has remembered my existence. Perhaps it is simply time. Whatever. They have poisoned arrows, a form of curare that paralyses the muscles. The doses they use are normally enough to kill their prey. Not me, of course. Curare will not kill a vampire, although it has temporarily stopped my heart and frozen my muscles.

So I lie here, paralysed. I can neither move nor speak, and they do not recognise me as a member of their species. I suppose that I am not, anymore, even if I ever was. I can see from here how they butcher their prey. They remove the limbs, bones and all - there is good marrow to be had in a long bone - then they remove all the flesh from the torso. They cut out all the organs, except the heart. They leave the head attached and untouched, and the heart attached within the ribcage, as an offering to their god. Then they throw the pitiful remains into a charnel pit, a deep, deep fissure in the earth, where they believe their god dwells. They have grasped some of the principles, I suppose. They are coming for me now, and the horror of it is that I do not think I will die. None of what they do has the power to kill me. Only decapitation, a wooden stake through the heart, or fire. Buffy and the children are coming, but they are too far away to save me. They will arrive too late and they will not be able to find me, down in that pit of bones. And I am so very afraid. Oh, Buffy, my love, forgive me.

Father, help me now, for pity's sake.

***

Deep in the earth, in the cave of light, the chained archangel bent his head in grief. He had heard the cry of anguish from his only son. The son who made his heart want to burst with love and pride. He could do nothing to save the vampire from here. The others would certainly arrive too late. And the method of butchery would leave the vampire alive, in eternal, irremediable agony. He focused his being to do the only thing he could. He sent out his body of light to find his son, as he had on the ocean floor, all those ages ago. Now, it had one purpose only. To bestow the last gift he had to give, the one hoarded against a need such as this. Shanshu.

The End

And there appeared another wonder in the heaven: and behold a great red dragon...And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth... Revelation 12 : 4-5

***

Author's note:

This story explores some thinking on what a demon might be. I do not intend to give offence to those with a deep and abiding traditional monotheistic faith. But it's possible that you might take it. If you're OK with Philip Pullman you'll be OK with this.

Chicxulub: Village on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, close to the point of impact, and the remaining undersea crater, of the meteor generally considered to have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Sometimes spelt Chixulub. The meaning of the name in Mayan is as given in the text. There are some wonderful pictures out there. Just type Chicxulub into Google.

Definitions:

Shanshu: Noun - the state of existence within the human cycle of life and death.
Verb, intransitive -
1. to die
2. to become capable of existence within the human cycle of life and death
3. to become human
(Wesley's translations)

Creature : noun 4 - anything created; a creation
(Concise Oxford Dictionary)

Inanna, Ereshkigal and Dumuzi - What! You don't have the mythology of ancient Sumer at your fingertips? Inanna, the goddess of love and queen of heaven, visited her sister Ereshkigal, goddess of the underworld. Ereshkigal wouldn't let her go until Dumuzi, Inanna's shepherd king husband, went to the underworld in her place. There's a lot more, and operas have been written about it.

Feedback: Pretty please. Send it to Jo
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