Drain Brameged Inc. Proudly Presents
For a long time I watched the crows flying,
Black, all equal, they told the tragic story.
A cry, bursting with passion, tore the night.
I shivered. I felt at that moment
Ashes, Ashes, They All Fell Down
Ironically enough the bus pulled into the LA bus station early in the morning. It was the beginning of a lovely day. A cool breeze had been blowing across the city all night and, while making the morning somewhat chilly, most of the ever-present smog was cast away. The sun beamed down, with only a few sparse clouds marring it's omnipotence and soon the cold would be gone.
So not only was the weather just fine, the temperature just fine, the city, just fine and the timing just fine, but it was also a Saturday. Which meant that just fine family's could spend this just fine day together and get along...just fine.
And climbing down the steps of a bus, the last person to disembark it was a girl, a redhead, who was not 'just fine.' It lept out an open window, took flight briefly and landed on the edge of the bus depot roof.
For the first time in centuries the dead walked the streets of LA.
It is a mistake to classify vampires and other similar ilk as 'dead'. They are the undead. They go through the pantomime of life. Satisfying needs, answering the calls of desire, loving, hating, feeding and resting in a twisted mockery of the human existence. But it's still living.
She had none of this. She did not rest, nor feed. The dead have no desires but she did have one, this made her no less dead though. The living exist off of desires, once one is satisfied another takes it's place and a another waits for that one to fall before springing up itself. She had only the one and when satisfied she would have no other and no longer be.
She stepped out from under the canopy of the bus terminal into the full, blazing sunlight of an LA morning. The crowds of people parted before her, those who noticed her face visibly blanched and backed away hurriedly. Those that didn't though also moved out of her way; an instinct in their minds telling them that something terrible was behind them and that they had best move perhaps.
Either way she made her way through the crowds easily and turned onto the sidewalk.
She had spent the ride from her grave to this dead city trying not to feel, rather she had tried to think. A difficult task but by the time the bus arrived she had a basic course of action. Based on what little she had seen and been told by the witches Faith had disappeared into the depths of LA.
'If anyone knows where a slayer is, it would be her prey,' she had decided. 'And all I have to do is find a something that might tell me where all its little something pals go to have a drink. There has to be a place like 'Willy's' in LA.'
However, the bus having arrived in the City of Angels during the day meant she had several long, empty hours to do away with before she could begin. She walked the streets of the city, she did not bow her head, or look away from anyone who stared at her but met their questioning eyes with her own and any who did look upon her, either out of curiosity or with lecherous thoughts found themselves captured and their day, so warm and friendly seconds before, was now tinged with pain. Their feelings would always change at that. Some would remember loved ones lost, others would feel old wounds of their own fight to the surface but none, not one dared look upon this girl with pity.
Either way, she did not care. Eye contact is a form of communication. A sharing of some intangible human quality, or, in the opposite spectrum, a challenge. Any who she looked upon, as she walked the streets of LA, felt neither touched or challenged. Most had the unwelcome and unpleasant sensation of being examined, like a specimen on a petrie dish and then passed over.
Eventually the redhead found herself in a small park. Green grass soaked up the welcome rays of the sun while stirring slightly in the breeze. Trees there, finally, not of the palm variety, spread their canopies of they sky creating large areas of cool comfort to any seeking to escape the intense rays. A green, growing, living cul de sac in stark contrast to the overwhelming grey of concrete and hard steel plated fists of the surrounding city. It even had a little pond.
She though she could hear a few frogs too.
Around the pond a small playground was built. With a swing set and a jungle gym. All in bright shades of green and blue that worked well with the surrounding green of the park. Near them were several green benches. Surprisingly free of graffiti or desecration of any kind. Here parents sat and chatted while their children did expand copious amounts of youthful energy chasing each other around and bout the playground. Possibly a futile attempt, by the parents, to exhaust their children before taking them home so the little ragamuffins wouldn't go on a wrecking spree in their own homes.
Having nothing else to do, and nowhere else to go, she leaned against a tree and watched.
She let her legs give way slightly and slid down the bark, peeling away pieces and chunks as she did so till she was seated on the ground, legs bent slightly, arms crossed over her chest.
She watched the children.
She watched their parents.
She watched people walk on the gravel paths that wound through the trees.
And she let all this living touch her. She opened herself to everything that she could have been a part of but wasn't, all because of the actions of another; a thief in the night, a killer in the dark. The agony still was wrapped around her silent heart. It pumped through her empty veins acting now, instead of tormentor, but that of ally. Crisscrossing through flesh, over and in organs, ducts, and capillaries. Taking on the role of blood as she had none living. She and her pain had come to an agreements of sorts. They would work together.
"You have puppies?" A child's voice stirred her from her observations.
"Yes," said the tall man holding the hand of a small child. "And if you're a very good girl and hurry along you can have one."
"Mama says I can't have a puppy," the girl griped.
The man chuckled. "Well, we won't tell her will we?"
"Nope." The child grinned, flush with the idea of being victorious over tyrannical, parental oppression.
"You are a good girl." the man complimented her while the child beamed.
They quickly began to move out of earshot. Without a word the redhead got to her feet. With quick strides she caught up the man. As she closed with him she became aware of...a stench of sorts. A corrupting miasma in the very air about him.
'Defialer,' her mind screamed. She quickened her pace.
"Darling." The man spun around at the voice over his shoulder. A short, redhaired girl stood behind him, dressed in grey and red. Her face was adorned...
"Jesus!" He exclaimed taking a step back. "Wh...what are-"
"You're missing your birthday party," the redhead purred, stepping closer. "Our poor baby will be so disappointed if you miss it."
"Look...lady..." The man swallowed nervously as she caressed his face with one, ice cold, hand.
"But...but he was going to give me a puppy," the small child wined.
The redhead sank to her knees and 'beeped' the girl gently on the nose with the tip of one finger causing the child to giggle.
"I'm sorry honey, but we have no puppies to give. We could give you one but it's for our son. It's his birthday you see. You wouldn't want to take away his birthday present would you?" The redhead asked gently, stroking the child's brown hair.
"I guess not," the child pouted. "Are you a clown?"
"Right now?" the redhead replied. "I suppose, for the moment."
"I like clowns." The child giggled again. Behind them the man fumed, fists clenched, grinding his teeth together. The redhead glanced over her shoulder.
"Temper, temper...darling." She smiled with a wink. She turned back to the child. "Where's your mother dear?"
"Over there," the child said, pointing. "Do you think she'll be a clown for my birthday?"
"Who knows?" The redhead shrugged. "Anything's possible."
"Well..." the child mumbled. "Will you be a clown on my birthday? I think I'd like that."
The redhead felt her eyes widen just a bit. Her ally was rebelling inside. She could feel cold water making its way behind her eyes, ready to spill out at any second and that was something she was no longer willing to abide.
"I'd like that too baby," the redhead said in a hushed whisper. "I'd like that very much." Her arms screamed to take this child into her arms. To hug her and hold her close. To tell her fairy tales and stories of princesses and dragons and hero's that always saved the day. No matter what reality said in contrast. But she didn't.
It watched from its perch in the trees. This wasn't quite what It had had in mind, in fact this was a flagrant violation of the rules but it didn't matter. They always did this one way or another. Maybe something like a baptism. A message would have to be sent. As always.
"Go to your mother," the redhead murmured quietly. "She'll let you have a puppy."
"Really?" the child squealed joyfully.
"Someday." The redhead nodded.
"Okay..byyyeeeeeee!" the child called, running in the direction she had come. She stopped, turned and waved crying, "Tell your son happy birthday!!" Then scampered away back to the lands of warm sunshine.
"Now 'darling,'" the redhead drawled getting to her feet. "We have a matter to discuss."
"You bitch!" the predator snarled. "I don't give a fuck what you think you're doing I'm going to gut you."
She tried to stifle the laugh, a hard, sharp one but she didn't. "Sorry," she spoke around her snickers. One hand pulled up the bottom of her red shirt revealing before the predator's startled eyes a tortured field of puckered, scarred flesh. "Somebody beat you too it."
"Jesus," he said again. The knife he had pulled out his pocket hanging loosely in one hand.
"Has nothing to do with it," the girl finished grabbing his wrist in a vice like grip. "This is a far cry from 'love thy neighbor.'" And with a heave she effortlessly tossed the startled man into a thick wall of bushes.
"Anyway," the girl said brushing her hands off. "I'm Jewish." And she dove into the leaves after him.
Trees swayed in the fresh air, sunlight filtered between the canopy of leaves making interesting patterns of light and shadow on the grass below. Birds sang sweet songs and the people listening didn't care if the chirping were actually meant to warn off intruders or attract a mate. They were bird songs that pleased the ear of humans and went well with this beautiful, sunny day. Small children, ignoring natures music so caught up were they in their own laughter and fun, darted from tree to tree having a swell old time.
"Ozzy Ozzy, oxen are free!" one child called loudly, mangling badly the traditional saying usually associated with 'Hide and Seek'.
And a few seconds later a redhead, in grey and red, black lips in a permanent smile with tears of also an eternal nature stepped out of the bushes, brushing a few errant leaves off her clothing. She walked easily back to her tree and took her seat, and watched the children scamper for the safety of 'home base'.
Nobody else came out of those bushes.
Overhead, in the branches of Its tree, It found a bug and ate it.
Time passed. The crowd of children that had played together, and sworn eternal vows of friendship that would be forgotten in the morning, had been taken home by their parents. The lunch crowd came and went. A horde of unlucky ones, or ambitious ones, willing to work on a weekend yet still enjoying what moments of freedom they could. The men dressed in business suits, the women in blouses and skirts. Though most men had their jackets flung over one shoulder and their ties loosened.
She watched them as they sat and talked, plotting finances or discussing workplace gossip. Then they rolled up their brown bags or fast food garbage and carefully placed them in the appropriate receptacles. And then they left.
She still sat and the park was, for the moment, mostly empty. Here a man was walking his dog, there a young woman on roller skates had stopped to feed the ducks.
Still, she didn't act too surprised when someone sat down next to her. Turning her head a fraction of an inch she saw that it was the young man she had 'met' earlier. Well, almost. He was dressed the same, casual tan slacks, with a darker brown turtleneck. Of course the rest of him had looked better.
His head was was now a weather-beaten, discolored skull with a few loose strands of hair hanging limply. The eye sockets were almost empty, with a few clinging shreds of flesh still sticking to the inside. Broken, yellow teeth were there in a grin. On it's head it wore a dirty, dingy, cowboy hat.
"You took his body," she said.
"You made it available," It said with a shrug. Bone clicked against bone under the loosely fitting turtleneck.
"Yes." She nodded.
"Broke the rules," It said. Its voice was dry and vapid. Like the final gasp of a person as their life support is shut off.
"So?" Now it was her turn to shrug. She looked away from the messenger, watching instead, far away, the girl feeding the ducks.
"Broke the rules," It said again. "Bad move."
"What rules?" she asked not caring.
With a terrible tearing sound and accompanied by a devil's choir of screams the pain blasted across her mind. She hunched over gagging, both hands pressed against her stomach. Her fingers came away wet. With a shriek she pulled her shirt up to see the layers of scar tissue peeling away like an onion. A crimson stream belched forth from the wound, staining her pants and the grass around her in a crimson pool. She awkwardly fumbled to her hands and knees, fighting off the nauseous waves of agony as her flesh spilled open.
The other girl, by the pond, fed the ducks some more bread. The ducks were very grateful for the free lunch.
The redhead pulled herself up, staining the side of tree with her life, trying to get to her feet. To...just go...get gone. Find somewhere and something.
"Buffy..." she croaked. A familiar coppery taste was rising in the back of her throat. "Help me..."
Then with a smile and a wink, the Universe snapped back. She was sitting again at the base of the tree, the ground clean and fresh. A wave of wind made the blades of grass flutter. The messenger stood over her, its skull still smiling, empty sockets still seeing.
"Broke the rules." It groaned. "You're here to avenge the Dead. Not save the living."
She gritted her teeth at the memories of the 'warning' and the echoing pain in her gut. Glaring at the messenger through her tears she choked out her response.
And she lurched to her feet, her fist whipped around and caved in its grin like a melon. Her blow carried her hand through the front and back of it's skull. What remained slid down her wrist only getting caught on the material of her jacket. It jerked and jittered about, its dry bones making a quiet, terrible noise as they trembled.
With a disgusted snort she shook her hand free of the messenger's remains. It collapsed on the ground with a clatter and small rising cloud of dust.
She moaned and slumped again to the ground, resting her face in her hands. As she sobbed the skull slowly reformed. Fragments of bone skittering across the earth to work their way up the shattered face, find the right spot, and become sealed in place.
"Broke the rules," the voice called. She jerked away from the grinning skull that now swiveled in place from the ground to leer up at her. "Not gonna get your puppy you keep that up."
With a shriek she sat bolt upright. There was no torn shriveled skeleton on the ground, nothing to indicate that it had ever been there. An old couple, sitting on a nearby bench looked about frantically before scowling at the 'goth girl' sitting beneath the tree. Shaking their heads and muttering they went back to reading the paper together before being bothered by that 'very disturbed young woman.'
"God," she sobbed into her hands. "God...God...God...God..." she moaned over and over again.
She didn't stop till she felt a light touch on her knee. It stared at her. The black feathers gleamed in the fading light but It's eyes did not. They absorbed the fading rays of the sun like a void. Like two small encapsulated shards of Entropy, everything went in, and nothing came out.
"Yes," she whimpered, "I understand."
It spread Its wings and cawed loudly over her shoulder.
She swiveled about and looked. Behind her the sun was setting. The orange glow reached from end to end of the horizon.
It was time to go.
She stalked across the park, orange light filtering through the leaves of the canopy, making, the now black grass appear as on fire. As she stepped past a specific place in the bushes she could hear birds inside, fighting over a juicy piece of dead meat.
The sun had set hours ago. How long she wasn't sure as she didn't wear a watch. She had been stalking the back alleys and dark corners of LA. Looking for a certain type of predator. Actually she had been trying to get the predator's too look for her. An hour or so back she had even gone so far as to tear an aluminum can in half and use the sharp metal to make small incisions in her wrists. She had hoped the smell of blood would attract a certain type of 'something.'
Other than causing a few seconds of mild discomfort it hadn't been a very productive experiment. Her skin had sealed itself seconds later giving the wound little time to bleed. She had wiped her wrist clean with a muffled curse and decided not to repeat the exercise. She wasn't too comfortable with self mutilation, even under the present circumstances.
So she had spent the time since then just...walking. She kicked aside empty cartons, crushed broken glass under her heels. She ignored the homeless and the lost. Remembering the words of the lesson. 'Not the living.' She changed in her own head. 'Can't help the living.' Though she couldn't really label anything anyone else did in this darkness as 'living.'
'So,' she thought to herself, 'I must fit right in.'
And she must have somehow done so. She was universally ignored by those living in the dark. Humans living in the dark at least. She hadn't seen anything that didn't fit the bill of Inhuman but there had been a few times when she wasn't sure.
As she walked through the filth, sliding from alley to alley, by one Goth club where she had received a few compliments, to another Rave party where she had been propositioned, she could always feel It overhead. Drifting on night winds or resting on the edges of the surrounding black buildings. It was always there. Watching her hunt. She did her best to ignore It.
Finally, in an extraordinarily rotten corner of the city, tucked not so far away from where the five dollar whores plied their trade as best they were able, she found what she was looking for.
"So. Now I'm wondering, what with me and my friends here being surrounded by crack addicts and wasted flesh that is just simply unsafe to snack upon, what brings a yummy looking thing like you into our territory."
The leering, guttural voice had come from behind her. It sounded like someone with half a mouthful of strawberry jam and broken teeth. She didn't turn around but did her best to sound weak. It wasn't that hard, habits like weakness usually come to the fore when you don't want them too.
"...I'm...I'm...lost." Her voice quavered and she squeaked when she spoke. Just the thing to get a hunter all hot and bothered. To make its stolen blood get all burning in it's undead veins.
She heard the footsteps stop just behind her but she still didn't turn around. A cold, heavy hand fell on her shoulder, she could feel the chill even through the jacket and the shirt; compared to the winter around her heart it was a balmy spring breeze.
"Yes, you are," the guttural voice snarled. "Lost little lambchop never to be found. Except maybe as a statistic."
Two other course voices laughed behind the speaker. 'Three of them,' she thought.
She wasn't surprised when her perspective changed. She seemed to be standing on the edge of a roof looking down into the ally. In the dim light she could see herself standing with three other...things...behind her. One directly behind her, the other two on either side of the leader. Ready to flank her if needed.
'Neat,' she thought.
The leader's other hand whipped around, grabbed her head and yanked it to the side exposing her throat. Playing the role to the hilt, she let out a gasp of 'fear'. She knew what they liked to hear.
"God I never get tired of this," the leader chortled. He bared his fangs and sank them into the redhead's neck.
It ruffled its feathers and watched the goings on with interest. Something new was actually happening, this didn't occur often.
She felt a sharp pain, but nothing unbearable. Twin pinpricks really, and then there was a moment of peace, sort of a warmth spread from the wounds in her throat, not far and not a good warmth either. Like the warmth of a rotten dead thing that's been decomposing in the sun too long but has actually forgotten to wither away. After that there was a particular tugging sensation, on the inside as if someone had dropped tiny hooks within her body and were now trying to gently, but irresistibly pull those insides out. All in all it wasn't that bad.
Then ...whatever that was part of her that had made her what she was now...and kept her from being what she had been, it exploded. Silence is not the opposite of noise, it is merely the absence of it. This sound, this anti-scream poured from her into the parasite hanging onto her neck bringing with it infinity. Vampire's say they are immortal, they say they are eternal but in truth they're just very, very long lasting. This was infinity now, the endless be all, end all cycle of absolutes infecting the vampires core; and it's demonic mind snapped like a chicken bone. It's not a very nice thing to be shown just exactly where you fit in everything else.
With a gurgle it stumbled back a few steps, hands clasped to it's throat, choking, and coughing. Trying to dislodge a shard of reality with physical endeavor. Vengeance, primal absolute vengeance warred with its demon host. Not exactly a fair fight. Screaming, or at least trying to, it continued to back away, lurching this way and that, bouncing off disposal bin it collapsed against a wall and beat its head against the bricks savagely, once...twice...three times. Then, with a garbled cry, it flung its arms outwards, forced up on the tips of its toes. The image was a sort of caricature of a crucifixion. Undead lips pulled away from yellow, sharp teeth in a sickening grimace and, in the grey, darkened gloom the witnesses could see a solitary tear work its way down a wrinkled, deformed, vampiric cheek.
"Beautiful," It breathed...
...then the dead flesh peeled away from a smoking skeleton, that a split second later exploded like a dust filled vacuum cleaner.
One of the other two vampires had been smoking a cigarette while its boss had taken first dibs on the redhead. The red tip of burning ash tumbled slowly from numb lips as it stared at what was left of its leader.
"The fuck?" the third one said.
The smoker didn't bother saying anything. It ran. Not far, but it tried. The redhead leaped to the side of the garbage bin and gave it a vicious kick. It was a big one too. Overflowing with garbage and flies, it had not been emptied in years as no garbage men were stupid enough to come this part of the city. Its iron sides had become pitted and rusty with age, only a few scraps of paint were left to show it's original color of pea green. From the Redhead's kick it screamed across the ally, slammed into the vampire and then impacted with the wall on the opposite side crushing the undead between steel and stone. Didn't kill it of course, but it wouldn't be going anywhere for a very long time.
The final vampire turned to face the girl. It finally got a good look at her face. It being paler than its own and the darkened smile...something about it made it uneasy. As if it could get any more bothered by one friend imploding and the other being crushed.
It snarled. Twin forces raged across it's face. One of fear and the other anger that this slight girl, this nothing, this...this...snack did not only not fear it and its ilk but was also kicking their collective asses. "What are you?!" It demanded to know.
"Curious." She smiled at him.
"Let's say," she began as she walked toward him slowly, "that I was looking for a certain someone. Where would I go, in this city, to get that kind of information?"
"What?" It said again backing away.
She blurred across the space separating them and, despite being a good foot shorter than it was, hoisted it off the ground, one hand wrapped around it's throat. It really liked that particular move, it did it whenever it was about to feed. It liked watching its meal scrabble madly for purchase, their feet flailing about and hands clawing at its grip. Choking, gasping, eyes rolling in stark terror. Wasn't as much fun being on the receiving end.
All semblance on control was cast away. "Where do you go!" the girl shrieked, slamming the vampire against a graffiti encrusted brick wall. "Where do you go after a hard night's feasting huh?" She slammed him again. The bones in the back of its skull cracked. "After you've had your fill of death where do you GO?!" If it noticed how tears were running down her face it didn't say.
"To cool off!" Crunch.
"To take a breather." Crunch.
"To get a cold beer!" Crunch.
"Where do you go to be with your own kind?" she said more quietly.
"Caritas," It burbled through a mouthful of broken teeth. "Caritas, Caritas...neutral territory. Caritas, no fighting...all welcome. Caritas...please...please...Caritas."
She sniffed a few times, wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve. Bending down she snapped off the side of packing crate, making an impromptu stake.
"No," she said still sniffing quietly. "No Caritas for you."
And she pinned him to the wall. Briefly; before he burst into ash.
She walked to the garbage bin, still embedded in the wall and pulled it away. The shattered remains of the other vampire soon added to the dirt coating the cracked pavement of the streets. Some of it blew away in the evening wind. Flakes of dust, formally demon, skittered across the now empty, dark alley.
Caritas was not that hard to find. It took a nearly an hour to walk back to that part of the darker half of LA but that was about the only problem she had. She eased through the entranceway. She worked her way through the various clientele, intent on reaching the bar. That was until she heard a specific voice.
"It's been three years!"
"I know. I know and I wish I could help, but you've come here and sang and sang and sang and I still see nothing. You could probably sing a karaoke version of 'The Three Tenors' and nothing would change."
"But she has to be somewhere!" the first voice spoke again.
'Angel.' The name flashed across her mind and instinct took over. She darted for a dark corner and tried to get lost in the crowds.
"Maybe. Maybe not." The Host shrugged. "I don't read the future Angel. All I can tell you is what I see. And every time you come here, sing a song and then ask about finding Faith all I can tell you is that I see the same thing over and over again."
Angel slammed his fist onto the bar cracking the top. "I'm adding that to your tab." The Host pointed out.
"What does the image of 'black feathers' mean?" Angel snarled ignoring the slight chastisement.
The Host reached for a glass and began polishing it, it didn't need it but it was something to do. "I don't know Angel. I've asked around y'know. I don't just stick to this aura reading stuff. True, it's a definite bonus but..." He sighed. "I'm just the messenger, not the message."
"Fine," Angel said in a clipped voice. "She kills them, butchers them and all anyone can tell me is 'That she's in LA' somewhere. From you I get 'black feathers' and from every other source of scrying and 'third eye' mumbo jumbo is 'the sound of wings'."
"And the number three," The Host added.
"It was Three. Two days ago, third anniversary of...of.." He rubbed his eyes.
"Yeah. Yeah I know. You told me. I heard too. Man, what that dark slayer did. Gave even some of my demonic clientele the creeps." He set the glass down.
"Look." He leaned on his elbows moving closer to Angel. "I'll ask around again. Maybe something's come up, I've gotten a few more contacts in the last few weeks, maybe one of them heard something."
"Sure." Angel nodded. He examined his drink carefully. It was orange with a tiny umbrella. He picked up the decoration and carefully closed his hand into a fist, crushing the fragile paper and snapping the wire thin pieces of wood. Then opening his hand he allowed the crushed umbrella, now pulped into a splintered lump, fall to the floor. He ground it underfoot.
"Feel better?" the Host asked with a raised eyebrow.
"No," Angel replied.
"If I let you kill every demon in this place and pull my bar down around my ears, think that would make you feel better?"
Angel shook his head. "Probably not."
"Go home Angel." The Host sighed. "Be with your friends. I'm sure this anniversary is still hitting them pretty hard."
"Cordy hasn't come out of her room for days," Angel said. "This time of year, she just vanishes for a while."
"If anything comes up I'll be in touch," the Host said.
"You won't be too offended if I reply 'I won't hold my breath'?" Angel asked.
"You don't breathe," the Host pointed out.
Angel gave a short nod and, without a word, spun about and worked his way to the exit.
She watched him leave from her corner in the dark. A slight weight settled on her left shoulder and she could feel Its talons sinking into the material of her jacket. She began to shoulder her way past the other 'people,' steadily moving toward the bar. It never lost Its balance.
The Host had his back to the rest of the bar, he had just received a large list of rather exotic drinks and was rushing to gather the required ingredients.
"Just had to have Wallaby Eye, didn't you," he grumbled. "I don't see the point. An olive is just as good but do these demons ever listen? Nooo...it's always something fancy." He heard a familiar 'squeak' behind him.
"Aha," he said aloud without turning around. "You must be new here, or you have a problem."
"How can you tell?" the redhead asked softly.
"Easy," the Host said, pushing some bottles out the way. "Everybody who knows this place knows that's the 'I Want to Sing Next Cause I Have a Problem So The Host Will Read My Aura And Help' stool."
"Long name," she answered.
"Well the abreviation 'IWTSNCIPSTHWRMAAH' doesn't really flow of the tounge either." He paused. "And I think it's very insulting thing to say in Thornian. Not sure. First and last time I used it a Thorn demon overheard and broke down a wall."
"So you think I have a problem?" she said.
The Host was now on his hands and knees poking about a cupboard under the sink still looking for ingredients. "I know you do."
"And for your help I have to sing so you can read my aura?"
"Yep," he said. "Aha! Found you." He pulled the bottle of Wallaby Eyes from its place deep in the cupboard.
"What if I have no songs?" she asked, more to herself than anyone else.
"Don't be silly." the Host said climbing to his feet. "Of course you..." He finally looked at her. At her white face, black smile, and her black tears.
"... have songs," he finished lamely. With a quiet sound of wings It hopped off the redhead's shoulder and landed on the bar. The Host involuntarily took a step backwards. He glanced from the black bird to the girl, and back the the bird. His jaw worked a few times but no sound came out.
"Ch'Hio Kai'CsKkull!" he gasped finally. "Gods. Ch'Hio Kai'CsKkull, I should have known."
The redhead cocked her head to one side and It, in sinister symmetry did the same, two sets of black eyes peered at him curiously.
"You know of us?" she asked quietly.
The Host nodded, nervously grabbing a rag and began wiping down the spotless bar. "I've heard stories. Even where I'm from we have tales of..."
"It's a Crow," she filled helpfully.
"No." The Host shook his head. "It's Ch'Hio. Many Faced Dancer. Trickster, carrion eater, dead lord, judge..." He shrugged. "Ch'Hio Kai'CsKkull." The Host tapped crossed his arms and appeared to be thinking furiously. "I suppose something is lost in the translation," he finally admitted with a shrug.
"I'm looking for someone," she replied; she no longer cared about who or what her master was.
"Your kind always are." The Host replied. "Who are you seeking? Who wronged you so terribly that Ch..it," He nodded in Its direction. "Came for you?"
It was just one word, a name. Five letters, nothing threatening. Yet the host's normally green skin became a unhealthy shade of pastel, the red of his eyes bleeding away to a dull, ugly rose pink. He leaned on the countertop but never took his eyes from his newest 'guest.'
"We..Angel...er..." He tried again. "You're looking for Faith? That would mean..." His eyes, became even more pink as the fresh revelation rocked him. The Host was not easily distressed, always there with a quick jibe, a small piece of advice. He was a bartender as well as the Host. It takes a lot to shock those types. This one time the situation warranted it. And Horror and not a small amount grief.
"You?" he finally managed to wheeze.
She nodded slightly, changed her mind and gave her head a tiny shake. "Once upon a time."
The Host rested his head on one hand, the fingers of the other drumming on the table top. He remained this way for a while and she didn't say anything in the interim.
"I can't help you," he said at last.
"Because I have no songs?" she asked.
"I believe that." The Host sighed. "I didn't two minutes ago but I believe that now. Not a good thing to learn this late in life. But even if you could sing... I wouldn't read your aura."
"Why not?" Again the quiet voice of someone lost.
"Because I'm terrified of what I might see."
"I had a song," the redhead said. "She was..beautiful. She had long, pale hair...blue eyes. A work of art, capable of many things." Her eyes glazed over as the familiar torture of memory worked through her. She was used to it by now. "A voice...well, not like an angel's. His was deep and quiet. Hers was...just like the rest of her. Caring. She cared so much, not like anybody else. Why, why not...was it part of what she was or was it part of who she was...I don't know."
The Host said nothing, just hearing the girl speak. He was a bartender, they're very good at that but this time it was different, this time he was also listening.
"She was strong...and fast. A protector and she had to pay and pay and pay simply because she wanted to live. She wanted a life, good times, bad times, tears and laughter and for these things, stuff everybody else expects, she had to pay. That's what made her...like..." Her voice faded away.
"She danced." The redhead said after a moment of silence. "She danced and spun and laughed when she could. Cried when she had too. But she never stopped...except for once and after that never again. We were happy you know? Despite everything we were happy. Lots of people told me that I couldn't really help her, that I should have gotten out of her way but I didn't listen, I didn't care I just had to be around her. She was addictive like that."
She again drifted off into silence and without a word, or even looking what he was doing, The Host made a quick drink and set it in front of her. She ignored it but gave him a nod of thanks. It did not ignore the offered beverage and, hopping onto the rip of the glass, dipped its beak into the concoction. It lifted its head and clicked its beak together a few times, as if considering the taste. Then it bent back over the glass and gorged Itself.
"Then one day, something wonderful happened." The girl sighed. "And the next thing I knew we were dancing, together. Not only was I welcome but needed, like I had always needed her. And it was we who danced, and spun...and laughed." She rubbed her eyes with one hand. "And at it's height, the crescendo of the music, when we thought the paying was finally over...Well. Then it ended. She was my song. I don't have any more."
"Yes." The Host nodded.
"But I came back."
"But you can't help me." The redhead sighed. She quietly chuckled to herself. "May your threads never be cut." She chuckled again, an empty sound. "False hope flesh."
The Host couldn't meet her eyes any longer.
It finished with the drink and clambered off the edge of the glass. Extended one wing, it shook the limb once, and a single black feather fell out to fall, without a sound on the top of the bar.
"Your payment I guess." The girl shrugged. "For the drink."
The Host eyed the feather like one would a large, nasty looking, snake.
The moment was shattered by the Karaoke machine being cranked up to full power and a drunken gang of demons clambering on the stage. She and The Host both ignored the caterwauling. With a mumbled, "What the hell," the Host snatched up the feather. If either of them were expecting some sort of reaction from the universe they were in for a disappointment.
The Host held the feather up before him, studying it closely. He turned it over and over under the harsh glare of the overhead lights. "Looks normal enough," he muttered. He moved his hand through the air, sweeping it back and forth and the air around the feather began to thrum and beat with every pass.
"The sound of wings," the Host still muttered. His knees then buckled as his head snapped back as if someone had just shot him between the eyes. He tried to keep himself from falling, one elbow awkwardly snagging a tray of glasses that followed him to the floor, splintering into thousands of shards as they collided with the concrete. The commotion drew the attention all the people in the bar and the usual dull roar of a thousand conversations fell silent, even the 'persons' on stage stopped singing, letting the music track play on without them, now sounding foolish without a voice accompanying it.
The girl didn't do anything, didn't react in any way to the stares of many eyes upon her back. What did she have to be worried about anyway? Not like they could kill her.
A chair scraped across the floor as someone pulled away from their table, maybe bent on finding out what this stranger at the bar had done to everybody's favorite Karaoke demon.
The Host popped up from behind the bar looking none the worse for wear and sporting a huge grin. "Whoops!" he said loudly. "Gotta watch those slippery spots. Seems even I can have a bad day eh? Sorry about disturbing all you fine people. Next round's on the house."
The resulting cheer banished any thought of violence or feelings of misgivings and as a few clientele made their way to the bar to receive their free drink The Host hastily scribbled something on a pad of paper and pushed it across the bar toward the girl.
"My advice? Go to that address. Now, no offense but...could you leave please? I had good reason to say I was terrified of what I might see...and I was right." He set the feather on the table. "Take that with you too."
"On one condition," the girl replied.
"Don't tell anyone. Not Angel, or anybody. Please."
"Fine." The Host nodded. "No, no explanations why or why not, I. ..just can't care right now. You want it, you got it."
She nodded, scooped up the feather and piece of paper and crammed them into her pocket. It alighted on her shoulder and she turned to begin forcing her way through the growing throng of people moving to the bar. From behind her she could hear the Host's final words. "Ch'Hio Kai'CsKkull be kind!"
She ignored him. The Dead didn't need kindess. All they needed was time.
The sun would rise in a few hours. This much she knew even though the exact time was beyond her concerns. The night felt...heavy, bloated. Like a beast that has fed too much and needs to rest. Heavy the LA Night hung upon the city, ready to sloth off to a corner and rest while the day went about it's doings. Then to spring upon the city again after the light had fled. But that was okay. Night...day...the environment didn't matter, the timing didn't matter. All that mattered was the goal.
Most people argue that it's not the end of the journey, but how you got there that's important. Well. She had died. And here, on the other side of a dingy, dirty, apartment building that should have been condemned a long time ago...on the others side of the door she stood in front of, was, in theory, the ending of her journey.
She didn't give a damn about how she had gotten there.
The single naked bulb was the only illumination in the entire hallway. Waste, human and animal, crusted the cracks of the hall, and either end were shrouded in darkness. She had had to pick her way past more dregs of humanity while climbing the stairs. They lay scattered about the floor like flecks of rotten flesh. Sleeping in corruption, feasting on corruption and adding to, while becoming, corruption. At one time she might have sympathized. Now she was no longer able too. This close...this near...to the end, the driving, pulling, screaming inside had clouded out all other thoughts. She thought she had known need before, she thought she had experienced hunger and desire on hot nights before; in the arms of another, in the arms of friend, wife, lover... but this. This cry from deep echoes made everything before pale and vapid in comparison.
There was no anticipation though. No tiny thrill at waiting just a little bit longer.
A little bit longer.
There was nothing, just the pushing. From inside.
Far away, at the end of the hall, standing on the sill of a broken window It watched. It always watched.
Her foot lashed out, impacting with the apartment door and blasting it clear off it's hinges, across the room, now revealed to her, and impacting with the far wall. She stalked through the now broken doorway. She was ready for disappointment. She was ready for an abandoned place, a ramshackle, run down 'home' long left behind by the dark slayer, leaving only slight clues which would lead the redhead on and on and on.
So, she wasn't quite ready when, crossing the threshold she found exactly what she had been looking for.
Compared to the hallway the apartment was paradise. The plaster was fresh and white, not rotting and covered with garbage. The rug was clean, the windows intact. The furnishing looked old but comfortable. All in all, it was, somewhat pleasing if a small home. In the middle of the far wall, just missed by the flying door stood a television. It was on. It was playing the news. An easy chair sat centered in the room, directly across from the television and anyone who sat in it would have their back to the door. A fold down table was on the right side of the chair, covered in take out Chinese food boxes. On top of the television was a mirror.
She was sitting in the easy chair, and watching the television. Her long brown hair was done up in a loose scraggily bun that fell down, twisted and curled, over her shoulders.
"Faith," the redhead said in a flat voice.
It flew through the open door and across the room. It landed on the television set, beside the small mirror.
"Nice bird, red," Faith said without getting up. "I should be terrified. I think. Coming back from the dead a three whole years later. You're not a vamp...that wouldn't be much fun anyway. But I should be terrified. Oddly enough, all I am is not very surprised."
"Okay." But Faith remained sitting. She was looking in the mirror, watching the redhead from her reflection. The Dark Slayer's reflected eyes met the girl's. She could see the brown eyes crinkling around the edges, she knew the Slayer was smiling.
"Nice look, Red. Wow. That is rather disturbing."
"Get. Up." The voice expressing barely restrained hate and bloodlust. A hate and a bloodlust strong enough to deny death itself...and she was holding it back.
"Alright, alright...don't get your panties in a bunch..." Faith chuckled. "You are wearing panties right? God, I hope they're not the same ones they buried you in...cause...yuck."
Faith shut off the television with her remote, rested her arms, thin, strong, pale arms, on the rests of the chair and awkwardly pulled herself to her feet. She didn't turn around for a moment. She just stood there.
"Turn around," the redhead snarled.
She was not her best. Dark circles ran under her eyes and the bright, fiery passion, the brutality of life on the edge, that had lit up her eyes in years past, before becoming all consuming madness, was less so. Her shoulders were a little more bent and she looked rather pale. Her hair, before so dark and luxurious, was now stringy and thin. What little of it was actually hanging free.
She was wearing blue sweat pants and a white tank top. Pale grey racing lines went up the sides of the pants. One time they might have been white, but time and too many loads of laundry had changed them. The tank top was also a bit dirty. Not filthy, but definitely not fresh off the shelf. A few stains of various sauces dotted the upper half, probably from the Chinese food.
All in all, Faith wasn't looking too good.
But that was not what made the redhead gasp. Faith's appearance had nothing to do with the incredible rage that had sustained her for so long, edged with hate, and boosted by pain just sliding away leaving an empty void inside the redhead. One that was quickly filling with sorrow.
No, what caused the girl to lose all sense of her goals, her mission on this earth; made her muscles weaken and begging to tremble; made tears of grief begin to pour over, and threaten to wash away her bloody black tears of rage, was how the tank top fit the dark slayer. Or...more exactly how it barely fit. How it rolled up and couldn't quite cover Faith's navel, because it was too small, and Faith's swollen, fat, pregnant belly...was too big.
"What can I say, Red?" Faith smiled patting her large stomach. "I guess one of my 'Get Some, Get Gones' left a little something behind."
* * * * * *
Author's Notes: Caritas is Latin. It means 'Charity' or 'Mercy'. Also I made up the name 'Ch'Hio Kai'CsKkull' (Chee-Heeio KySSSssKULL)