ImMortal part 15: Compromising Minds
“Chemical composition is the same as any common crystal. Nothing spectacular to report there, I'm afraid,” Fred shrugged and fell back into the couch. “Though spectral analysis picked up an anomaly that suggests the crystal is practically a newborn while the sarcophagus itself is registering as predating recorded history.”
“So what does that mean?” Angel prompted, pacing behind his desk chair.
Wesley sat motionless, staring intensely at the mysterious gem.
“Well? Anything?” Angel asked impatiently.
”Time…” Wes concluded. He gestured to some scribbling on a ragged scripture before him. “These markings refer to a series of concussively timed intervals. This gem must have been a focal point for the sarcophagus.”
“Well that would go a long way into explaining the newborn crystal enigma. Being the focal point to Illyria's power, a power somehow tied to or conductive of time, the carbon dating or lack thereof could… well, it could be all wonky,” Fred shrugged.
“You're suggesting that Illyria might have some control over time? Oh this is getting better by the second,” Angel grumbled.
“That would explain why an all-powerful institution hardwired into the pulse of most known dimensions wouldn't be able to track or even locate her,” Wes sighed, resigned to the suggestion.
“So how do we find a time shifter who doesn't want to be found?” Angel grunted in frustration.
“If Illyria failed to drain it entirely, the crystal may be useful in that respect. I'll bring it with us.”
“Where are we going?” Fred queried.
Wesley splayed a text across his desk, opened to a page with an illustration of a temple housing with a gigantic statue at its center. The effigy was massive, reaching as high the temple's ceiling. The likeness had multiple appendages, a body composed of snaking creatures coiled around a torso, having dozens of snake-tails where feet should be. The statue held an alien sort of bladed weaponry and in the background, thousands of dots filled the temple floor.
“This is where Illyria was supposed to be resurrected,” Wes explained, waving a hand over the page. “I guess an unscheduled change of plan landed her here.”
“And that's Illyria,” Angel leaned over the desk, pointing to the largest figure in the drawing.
“In its native form, yes. It's taken Dawn's form to remain bound to this realm.”
“And what are all these little speckly thingies?” Fred asked.
“That would be her army of doom,” Wesley read evenly from the text and shrugged. “Never a good title.”
“So if this illustration is a historic account, they were entombed with her?” Fred deduced.
“Apparently so, awaiting her return.”
“Not envying that degree of job security.”
“Awaiting her return to LA?” Angel crossed his arms in disbelief. “I would have thought we'd seen this enormous temple sometime in our years here. Kind of a standout landmark if you ask me.”
“This is where her temple was millions of years ago, Angel, and it's still here. But as the sarcophagus and its etchings suggest, it's out of phase with our time stream. Only Illyria can open the gateway crossing into the proper thread. Lucky for us, Wolfram and Hart prefer such happenings to occur on their schedule and with their consent. I've found various mentions of security measures taken to ensure no armies of doom would rear their influence unless sponsored by Wolfram and Hart specifically.”
“Well, before Giles saw it fit to tear out his throat, Knox admitted knowing Wolfram and Hart's predilection for control. He'd been playing through the red tape all along. Perhaps in his own research and workings to prepare for Illyria 's coming…”
“He might have uncovered something helpful. Like the location of the gateway,” Fred concluded, already hurrying around to take the vacant seat at Wes' desk.
“Fred, use my authorization code to run a detailed data log listing every file Knox accessed since he'd been hired on by WH. While you're at it, check to see who else might have been snooping around. If you get any hits, have Lorne read them,” Angel ordered.
“On it.” She quickly started typing at Wes' laptop and after a fury of keystrokes, stopped. “As I feared, being the techno geek he was, he kinda covered his tracks. I mean, while the file access is all here, he didn't create any files of his own under his logon. His stuff must be somewhere else.”
“It could take a while to weed through all these files trying to find what he already knew,” Wes sighed.
“Time we don't have,” Angel grunted.
“And that Illyria has in abundance.” Wes shook his head.
"So, while we have a vague idea on who and what, we're out of luck with the where. Any idea how we stop her?”
“Hey, wait,” Fred perked up, jumping excitedly to her feet. “Knox was a gizmo junkie. I'm betting he's got some juicy things on his wacky hacking PDA. I'll be right back.” She hurried off, leaving Wes and Angel to exchange amused smiles with her optimism.
“Any word from Buffy?” Angel asked hopefully.
“Not a single thing,” Wes responded with a frustrated sigh. “It's like she doesn't want to be found.”
“You think Wolfram and Hart might of…?” Angel let the question hang, not wanting to voice the bothersome suggestion.
“To be honest, the thought has crossed my mind. Be it for insurance to keep us in line or to rid themselves of a likely conspirator.” Wesley's gaze shifted suspiciously around the room. “I'll give them this much, it's like they are always one step ahead.”
“Sucking up, now?” Angel had also realized the higher ups were most likely listening in.
“Couldn't hurt,” he responded with a grin then his expression fell somber. “Perhaps with the recent loss and heartache, Buffy decided it was all too much. She's suffered much more than anyone should, Angel. With the pregnancy, the revelation of you and Cordelia, with Giles justifiable refusal to commit into a doomed relationship, Dawn's apparent death and now Giles less than noble behavior… maybe she simply gave up.”
“You better not be suggesting suic…”
“No. Not Buffy. Besides, suicides tend to leave evidence of their passing. No, I'm suggesting Buffy gave up on us, on this. Maybe she left for a fresh start for her and her coming child?”
“I don't know what to think anymore, Wes. Just when I think I have it all figured out, something happens to confuse it all up. But one thing is for certain, I'm sure as hell not going to sit back and wait to read a Jane Doe obituary that fits her description. She deserves more than that. We'll find her, make sure she's safe. Then if she wants to walk away, she can.”
“Boss…” Harmony interrupted as he leaned in through the office door. “Just got a location of Smurfette over the police band radio. Looks like she's making an early withdrawal from a local savings and loan.”
“Illyria must be making her move to open the gateway,” Wes suggested.
“They're playing our song. Looks like we'll have to figure out how to stop her the hard way.”
“Um, guys,” Fred's voice sounded over the intercom.
With a push of a button, Wes responded, “What is it Fred?”
“You're never gonna believe this but Knox left us a toy surprise.”
Illyria stood at the center of a large hall, her form freshly armored in what appeared to be a dual toned red and black leather suit shielding most of her body, leaving only her hands, neck and head exposed. Three armed guards laid dead at her feet, heads twisted unnaturally backwards and bodies broken. She cocked her head as she lifted her hand out before her. A gust of wind sent her blue streaked hair flowing as her eyes shut in concentration.
“Sorry, changed the locks,” Angel marched forward with Wes and Fred in tow.
“Another vampire reeking of a soul. Are all Halflings in this realm infected so?”
“Just the lucky ones,” Angel growled.
“You're too late. My army will rise and this pitiful world will be mine once again.”
“Not if we can help it.”
“You think this meager barrier will keep me from my kingdom? You're idiocy knows no bounds, vampire.”
Angel charged forward and once he was in range, he spun quickly on his heels in an attempt to land a kick to the blue figure's head. Illyria easily blocked and with an effortless nudge, sent the vampire flying across the room. Angel crashed into a marble pillar, cracking a deep fissure up its length. He collapsed to the floor, bleeding and barely conscious.
Wes stepped forward, lifting up a large gun-like apparatus that whirred and buzzed with energy. Illyria turned unconcerned toward him and upon noticing the weapon, released a pulse of atmospheric distortion that encased the room, slowing everyone to move at a fraction of her speed. She refocused on the gateway, concentrating on breaching the barrier.
A slit formed in the fabric of space beyond her and with a booming echo, the barrier fractured and dispersed. As the resulting flash of light radiated outward, those who had been slowed by Illyria's influence where suddenly jarred free.
“She's done it!” Fred yelled, immediately rushing to access files in Knox's PDA, watching helpless as Illyria entered the portal. “Angel…”
“Nothing gets out!” Angel hollered as he leapt through the gateway after the creature. Wes glanced hesitantly over to Fred.
“Based on Knox's notes, I should be able to regulate the gateway into remaining open for a short while,” she said, rushing to set up bone and twig entwined sigils in a pattern before the tear. “But I'd strongly recommend making this quick.”
“You know what to do,” Wes said in a stern but regretful tone, readying the awkwardly sized gun.
“With the first sign of trouble, seal it,” Fred nodded grimly, returning her attention to Knox's PDA and manipulating the screen with a few presses.
“No matter what,” Wes urged gently.
“No matter what,” she repeated. “You better come back. Both of you.”
With a fleeting grin, Wes went through to catch up with Angel.
The Watcher stumbled through only to find Illyria and Angel standing side by side staring out into a great expanse of uncharted ruins. Familiar chunks of her enormous effigy lay crumbled on a crater marked landscape littered with the skeletal remains of her once great army.
“No,” Illyria gasped as she fell to her knees with the sight. “It can't be.”
“I take it your temple has seen better days,” Angel said with a sigh of relief.
“It's gone.” Her blue stained hand combed through the sandy remains of her realm. “My world is gone.”
“Tough break,” Angel mumbled, receiving a weary glance from Wesley. The vampire gestured toward the weapon in Wesley's hands then to Illyria, utterly crushed and grieving. “Do it!”
Wes took aim and fired.
Giles stood at the end of his chains, straining to reach out toward a nearby counter within his cage. If he'd still had his magicks, he'd evoke a wind or perhaps a tendril of energies to do his bidding but it was gone. And though it was a relief, it angered him, the feeling of uselessness and emptiness. He let the anger fuel his task and pressed on until his wrist began to bleed from the metal edge cutting into his flesh. Finally, one cuff creaked as its weld weakened and separated, releasing one hand and allowing him to gain a few feet further. His hand stretched out to try and capture his prize, a small stuffed animal cow, complete with miniature udders, resting near a monitor.
“Why do you seek that fabricated idol? Does it hold concealed value?”
It was Dawn's voice but not, so cold and indifferent, like the color that tainted her features. Giles ignored the question and continued on, feeling the digging of the unforgiving metal as it bit into his wrist. He'd felt this before in punishing his brutal deeds inflicted on the very girl he grieved for now. Every ache and pain helped deaden the sorrow that much more.
“Or is it that the item holds her scent, a remembrance of what this carcass once was.”
Giles fought to keep his eyes on his futile prize as Illyria walked stiffly into his view. But it was useless to ignore the sight of her, watching his struggle with fascination; Dawn's face stained an inhuman hue. She looked more alien than she had upon her arrival, wearing an amour of dark crimson and black. If it were possible, her hair seemed a deeper shade of blue, matching the striking cobalt of her inquisitive eyes.
“You held power before when you challenged me, Halfling. Insignificant to my own but still enough to obtain that which you seek. Why do you not wield it now?”
“They took it.” He found himself speaking. Though his heart demanded otherwise, his mind failed to obey. Like some curious scientist, the Watcher in him required that he carry on.
“They attempted to strip me of my power as well, only succeeding in extracting a portion. They claimed it was unavoidable in preventing my inevitable self destruction. I did not trust their deceitful excuses but I can feel this frame straining still to contain me. This unworthy shell is too fragile to support my greatness. Humans provide such frail skins; I'd have fared better with a form fashioned from a beast of burden than these scant remains.”
“Then go possess a bloody bull and let Dawn rest in the proper peace she deserves.”
“It is beyond my choosing, the form I take. That is for those who worship to assemble.”
“So you're one of the disempowered lot? Good show Fred.”
“The thought of this pleases you? That I would be reduced to merely above your kind?”
“No… what would please me is to know my friend is laid to rest. You disrespect her now in assuming her likeness.”
“I respect only those who earn such reverence. Death alone does not warrant the effort.” Illyria came through the warped bars and approached the stuffed cow. She reached out and took it up in her hand. “However, your bold and unequivocal loyalty to an expired human, one you should plainly view as nothing more than nourishment, inspires my curiosity.”
“I couldn't care less what you think of me.” Giles sighed, watching with frustration as Illyria examined the small toy.
“They deem me unworthy of their world. An ancient one doomed to a plane that shuns its existence. But I am not so much a contradiction as you, vampire.”
“Why are you here?” Giles growled, his hand forfeiting his goal and falling uselessly at his side.
“I do not know.” She began to wander along the bars, exploring her surroundings. “I seek a place of comfort and solitude but fail at every turn. I was… drawn here, to this place… to your company… it was familiar to the shell.”
“Her name was Dawn.”
“Titles are significant for you, vampire. Every thing must carry a name. This shell was labeled Dawn... Dawn Summers.”
“She addressed you as… Giles.”
“The one you call Dawn cannot return to you. All that she was is now gone. I could no more change that than I could my temple's misfortune, even if I wished it.” To Giles surprise, Illyria handed the small toy to him. After a moment of apprehension, he accepted it and returned to his seat in the darkness.
“Would you wish it, to bring Dawn back, if you could?” He asked, his wounded and raw fingers brushing along the soft faux fur of the toy. The gentle motion sent the familiar perfume airborne.
“I am… confused. Fragments remain. Though the flesh was rotted through in preparation of my return, the electrical synapses were channeled into my function system... I believe you define them as memories.”
Her face shifted, the blue stains washing clear, returning the beauty Giles remembered and she spoke with such a memorable inflection, “Heroes... all of them. My heroes. I walk with heroes."
“W-what?” Giles rose from his chair and rushed with a clumsy jerk to the ends of his chain, staring in disbelief, his eyes shimmering in awe. “Dawn?”
Illyria's blue returned and her voice hardened, “I grow weary of this repetition. The one you call Dawn is dead, beast. Those were but a few of her final words.”
“My God…” Giles choked back a sob as he tried to overcome his insistent sorrow. “Is there more? Can you… show me more?”
“To what purpose?”
“I need to know… Christ, I don't know what but there must be… something.” He had a million questions all demanding answers but none would come. Only one word seemed able to fall passed his lips. “Please.”
Illyria's head cocked sideways, displaying her curiosity in the strange plea. A moment later, Dawn's gentle features emerged and she said with a soft, labored breath, "Tell Giles I love him."
There was a brief release of emotion; a few tears, a gasp and sigh, then Giles buried his emotions. And as quickly as Illyria had reclaimed the face of the carcass she infected, Giles' cold reserve regained control.
Confused by his response, Illyria stepped forward to try and recapture the vampire's attention. “I have questions.”
“Get your answers elsewhere.” He returned to the shadows, sat slumped forward in his chair and buried his face in his hands.
“I've nowhere to go. My kingdom is long dead, destroyed. All that I know died with it. I'm left alone to face this chaotic realm where insects rule and superior beings cower in shadows. There's so much I don't understand. I've become overwhelmed… unsure of my place.”
“Your place is with the remains of your people, dead and turned to dust.”
“Then why am I here? What fates desired my return and bent the will of time to bring me forth.”
Giles chuckled faintly, shaking his head within his hands. “You're not the first to ask that, you won't be the last. Good luck with finding the answer. Few rarely do.”
“I have a purpose, though it remains a mystery from me. I must learn to walk in this world until I discover why I've returned to it. I require your help, vampire.”
“I refuse your refusal.”
For some strange reason, that brought a smile to his face that faded quickly. “Why me?”
“You amuse me with your contradiction, killing the Qwa'ha Xahn in defiance of your leader as well as one of the men that served under him. You threaten the lives of many you care the most for in grieving the passing of one.”
“There does seem to be madness in it. I would kill you had I the chance.”
“You were given the chance and failed.”
“Failure is the one thing I succeed in,” Giles chuckled again, raking his fingers through his messed hair. He leaned back in his chair, staring up at the leather clad goddess before him. “I don't serve under any leader. My actions are mine alone to judge and I'm the worst choice to teach you how to get by in a world I scarcely understand myself.”
“Acting as my guide would give your existence purpose, vampire.”
“I suppose it would,” he mumbled.
It was cold again, unforgiving and hollow. Suddenly he felt so tired, weighed down with the fatigued of his anger, his sorrow, his loneliness. Nagging questions remained as his guilt slowly ate away at his gut. Though it refused to beat, his dead heart weeped still, useless tears for the friend he'd lost, knowing she'd never have the peace that she deserved. Not as long as she haunts him still. A ghost but not, looking like Dawn but not.
“Show me again. I want to see Dawn.”
“You ask for lies.”
“Lies don't hurt as much as truth.”
“Then you will help me, if I abide by your wishes.”
“Because I look like her, like this Dawn Summers?”
And with the bargain, she returned.