Duty of Dust ~ The Crow part 2

Giles searched the cinders of the mansion. It was gutted with little of value except shelter from the rain, yet something held him there. His companion, the crow, scampered along the floor, keeping careful watch over his charge.

"There's nothing left," Giles spoke quietly to the bird. Its only response was an agreeable squeak. "I half expected..." he stopped and turned toward the night garden, "I don't know what I expected."

The black bird pecked at the toe of his dress shoe and Giles nodded.

"I quite agree, hardly a wardrobe meant for clandestine undertakings." He examined the muddy suit and smirked helplessly. "Buffy despised this tie. I wonder whose idea it was to bury me in it. Remind me to ask her."

The bird yelped a sound of objection and Giles nodded, somehow understanding the tone.

"They mustn't know." He sighed. "It's for the best."

The bird took flight, sailing across the room and into a dark closet space. Giles followed along and pulled back the frayed remains of a velvet curtain. Sitting atop a heap of rubble, the bird pecked to draw Giles in. He knelt and began to clear the debris, uncovering a bundle of fabric. He pealed back layer after layer until he reached a somewhat unmarred center. It was clothes, a black sweatshirt with hood, a black leather jacket and a pair of worn in jeans. Most likely, it had belonged to one of previous inhabitants. The sizes suggested Angelus. Beneath sat a pair of heavy boots, scuffed black with steel toes and reeking of Spike. Giles grit his jaw as he wrapped the final item of his new wardrobe around his neck. It was a blackened locket with a shattered ruby. It was empty inside, as hollow as the vampire who'd once possessed it. The crow cawed its approval.

"It will have to do."

The bar was packed with demons of all varieties. A haze of smoke settled low, hanging dense and creating a stagnant atmosphere complimenting the stink of fur and rotting flesh. In a far corner, a rambunctious gang of vampires grew louder in celebration. Not one noticed the tall, darkly clad figure come in from out of the rain with a crow perched on his shoulder. He bolted the door locked behind him as the crow flew across the room to claim the neon sign above the bar.

"I'm telling ya, the Slayers days are numbered." One vampire boasted loudly over the others.

"Yeah, as in 666." The crowd broke into raucous cheer.

"How many times we gotta suffer through your bullshit. That was over a week ago, Francis?"

"For the last time, it's Frank. You're just green 'cause you weren't there. It was a thing of beauty, how Angelus and Spike got off on it. Fuck, *I* got off on it, jerking off to his screams."

"Premature, I'll bet." One teased from the back.

"Why don't you ask your Mamma? Gave her something to remember me by." The audience hooted and hollered at the exchange. "They held the funeral today," the drunken vampire continued. "Wanna know what was on the headstone?"

"What was it, Frank?" Another vampire egged him on.

"Yeah, tell us what it said," a shapely female joined in. The crowd hushed to a dull murmur, waiting eagerly for the punch line.

"In loving memory of a loyal friend..." The crowd grumbled their disappointment but Frank interrupted with a gesture, advising them to wait for it. "Blood suckers bitch and cock swallower extraordinaire." The vampires burst out in glee, pints of blood clinging together in a toast.

The hooded figure moved through the hordes of beast, making his way to the bar.

"What'll it be pal?" the mousy human behind the counter asked, glancing up only for a moment as he polished a red stained cloth along the rim of a chipped glass.

"There seems to be a celebration underway." The mystery man spoke softly, his face shadowed beneath his raggedy seamed sweatshirt hood.

"Got that right, bub." A squawk from the crow drew the bartender's attention above the mirrored display of exotic potions and fluids. He gestured uncertain. "Hey, mister, 's that your bird?" He had a slight lisp that offered a comical delivery. "Not that this isn't a pet friendly bar, it's just I've had permit troubles with the Department of Health ever since..."

"Don't mind him."

"If you say so." He shrugged. "But I'll have to charge you extra."

"Is it always as busy as this?"

"Naw, I'd long since unloaded this place for the good life if it was. Sort of a demon holiday, actually. Big buzz around town."

"Really? Do tell."

"Commemorating a death of unimpressive proportions. They buried the Slayer's Watcher today. I never met they guy. No beef with him personally. Still, cause for celebration in the underworld means a running tab of drunken, wealthy demons being generous with the ladies in hopes to score. And everyone's here, a real who's who of demonkind. Looks like I can go to Maui this year after all." The bartender grinned. "So, what'll it be pal? Got some type O left. A special vintage. Kept it hidden in the back. You want I should..."

"Nothing for me. Thank you." The stranger turned to watch the vampires rejoicing across the way.

The bartender's suspicions rose. "So... you're just here for the classy social scene or what?"

"Absolutely. This rather shady establishment has become a haven for the wicked, a sanctuary of filth and corruption."

"Yeah, well, pays the bills, don't it? What's it to you, stranger?"

The figure turned back but remained masked in shadow. "It's about time you try to redeem yourself, Willie."

"You don't say. And how do you suggest I do that, wise guy?"

"Retire." The stranger retrieved a small package from within his jacket and placed it upon the counter. It took a moment for Willie to notice the object. It was a chaos of wires weaving through a block of grey, clay-like substance. And then he saw the small digital readout with declining red numbers ticking away a menacing tempo. The stranger leaned in allowing the light to slowly unveil his smile. Piercing green eyes stared out from under the hood, promising destruction. "I suggest you leave."

"Oh shit! Oh shit! Fuck me!" Wide-eyed and hysterical with panic, Willie tucked tail and scampered out through the back door, not bothering to warn his patrons of the impending threat. The masked Watcher threw off his hood and turned to face the carousing vampires.

"Ladies and gentleman," Giles announced.

"What?" A vampire heard and glanced over.

"Huh?" Another finally noticed the stranger.

"I have a message for you from your employer." Giles spread his arms wide to draw everyone's attention to him.

"Who's that?" A lady whispered to her companion.

The crowd hushed to a low rumble as all eyes shifted to the man.

"That's the guy." Frank barked.

"What guy?"

"The Watcher."

"The dead one?"

Giles smirked. "Angelus regrets to inform you he will not require your services any longer."

"Who the fuck are you?"

"Consider me his personal Human Resources Relations Officer. And this…" Giles stepped aside to reveal the package, "…this is your pink slip."

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean, human?"

"You're fired."

The mass of vampires scurried off in all directions, bowling over each other to escape. Some tried the entrance, panicking too much to work the lock. Others rushed after Giles. He swiftly vaulted over the bar as a hail of bullets shattered the glass beyond him. He caught a string of rounds along his back, sending him crashing into the liquor display. More bullets riddled his arms, sharp hot pains forcing him forward as he righted himself. The shelving collapsed behind him, hindering the pursuit as Giles desperately followed Willies route. He rammed hard against the back door, sending it smashing open. The beasts were gaining. A large nearby dumpster provided the best opportunity to barricade the door. With a determined shove, the metal container began to roll down the gentle slope, coming to rest across the exit. Instantly, there was hammering coming from within but the blockade held.

The explosion rumbled the earth, sending bricks shooting from the walls, flaming embers and wood raining down, and the dumpster driving right towards Giles. He barely managed to dive out of the way, colliding into a heap of cushioning garbage. The container plowed into the wall, scattering rubbish everywhere.

Giles tumbled, slapping down onto the wet pavement with a grunt. That's when he felt the pain and realized how severe his wounds were. He clawed at the plastic bags and propped himself up as comfortably as he could within the trash. He reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved a crumpled pack of cigarettes and matchbook. Coaxing one out from the pack with a slap sent a bolt of agony along his spine. With a wince, he slipped the smoke between his lips and after a few unlucky attempts, managed to strike a flame. The cigarette glowed to life and he slumped back, admiring his work.

A caw echoed through the roar of the blaze. Giles watched, strangely satisfied, as the crow swooped down, coming to land at Giles feet.

"So much for an encore, my friend." Giles chuckled weakly, sucking in a thick breath of smoke. "At least I dented their numbers."

The bird hopped forward, squawking angrily.

"What would you have me do?"

It responded with more caws, impatient and commanding.

"If you hadn't noticed, I was shot. Numerous times."

As the crow continued to bicker, Giles felt the burning in his back wane and the pain dissolves away. He pinched the cigarette between his teeth and peeled back the blood soaked jacket. The wounds were closing, flesh mending before his very eyes. The bird cawed as if to say 'I told you so'.

Giles spit out the cigarette, threw his head back and laughed.

part 3...