Playing Dead part 8
"Today." I set down the small heap of old manuscripts and texts next to Ethan on his currently favored bed.
"That would be the day sandwiched between yesterday and tomorrow, Rupert? Well done."
Ethan smiles and rolls onto his back, flaunting his bare form for all to see. Unfortunately, it takes me a moment too long to lift my wandering eyes, a moment he'll be sure to use against me. Jacobs marches in to stand at my side, working to remain indifferent to my relentlessly exhibitionistic associate. I notice the faintest of smiles cross the young man's lips as Ethan salutes.
"What about today?" Ethan finally asks.
"The spell, I need it today."
"Just like that?" Ethan asks with a perturbed chuckle, propping up on his elbow. "I've never performed a spell of this magnitude and you want me to throw it all together in a single day?"
"By noon , if you will."
"Would you like a side order of apocalypse to go along with it?" Ethan sighs as he sits upright. "For fucks sake, Rupert, this isn't child's play."
"The Council will send more troops. I can only hope they won't arrive before midday . And now that Buffy is here, things have become a great deal more complicated."
"I had a first row seat at that slaughter of yours, if you'll remember. Don't know why you're worried. It was a successful massacre of biblical proportions." I could see a hint of revulsion there, hidden beneath his cool exterior. "And as for your former prodigy's arrival, correct me if I'm wrong but you gave me the impression you were prepared for that eventuality. You knew they would send her. What makes this spell so critical to be completed now?"
"Part of that preparation involves blotting out the sun to gain the advantage." He sounds nervous though he's trying to look unconcerned. "You can do this, Ethan. I know you can."
"Not fishing for a rousing pep talk coach. I would simply prefer some time to look over the details."
"I've studied the incantations, translated the proper verses and acquired the requisite ingredients. The casting location is secured and the necessary precautions are in place."
"Precautions?" Ethan lifts a suspicious brow. "Not liking the sound of that. What sort of precautions."
"In order for the spell to work, it must be cast in direct line to the sun."
Ethan's laughter interrupts me from continuing.
"In full sunlight? Enlighten me as to how you intend to avoid the inevitability of my certain dusting with the first rays of sunlight that touch me?" Ethan shakes his head. "You of all people know that vampires tend to dislike direct sunlight, Rupert. On account of that whole bursting into flames allergy they suffer from."
"That is what this is for," I say with a confident smirk and display a ring from out of my pocket. "Do you know what this is?"
"I'm touched, Rupert, I really am. But we've only just reunited, I think it's a rather impulsive idea to make any sort of nuptial commitment…."
"The Gem of Amarra," I interrupt him in as serious a tone as I can manage, watching the smirk wash off of Jacobs face with the revelation.
"Never heard of it. Bit tawdry, really. You could have at least considered something a bit more tasteful, Rupert, like Tiffany's or perhaps Cartier."
"It renders the vampire who wears it invincible, Ethan. Safe from stakes and holy water, safe from beheading, and safe from sunlight." I give the ring a gentle turn, capturing his imagination with its glimmer and satisfying his assumption with the conclusion, "In essence, it makes it's bearer a god."
Ethan stares at the ring, engrossed by it. "Handy little bauble to come by. And by some miracle you just happened to scrounge that up?"
"It was unearthed in Sunnydale and delivered here, to LA. It was mistakenly thought to be lost."
He studies my face for a moment, skeptically. "You know it works?"
"I've seen it work. Tried and true, tested assurance that you'll remain unharmed during the spell." He is captivated and reaches out to take the ring. I pull back, wrapping it securely within my fist. "But I'll hold on to this until you're ready. Can't take the risk of having it fall into untrustworthy hands. After all, you could see the temptation that lies with such an artifact."
"Indeed." He thinks I don't trust him. Perhaps that's for the best for now. He stands and hurriedly slips into his black jeans, showing more than a little aggravation with doing it. "Well then, looks like I have a spell to learn. I'll just gather up the class notes and hurry along to the local study hall." He takes up the texts and manuscript and begins to walk away, still barefoot and half dressed.
"I'll be waiting, Ethan. When you're ready, we'll head out." He doesn't bother to stop. Once he disappears around a corner, I turn my attentions to Jacobs.
"Are you sure the charm will work? Can it protect him from the sun?" Jacobs asks me.
I glance down at the ring, smile and toss it to the young soldier. He catches it as if it were a rare treasure. "What do you think?"
Jacobs examines the ring carefully until he notices what I'd hoped he'd see. " ‘To Donald, with my undying love.' " He's surprised. "This is nothing but a wedding band, Sir."
"That it is."
"Then you're sending him to his death, Sir?" I can see the disappointment in Jacob's eyes. Has he taken to Ethan so quickly? I can understand entirely, he had me in five minutes.
"We'll see," I say softly. "File the engraving down until smooth and return it to me."
Jacobs salutes then after a moment of hesitation, agrees. "Yes, Sir." He turns and wanders off.
I move toward the bed, carefully lowering upon in the sunken spot Ethan lay a moment before. I can still smell him here, that intoxicating musk of magicks entangled with sex. I nuzzle into the pillow, forcing a deep breath to take his scent in further.
I look at the grassy knoll and have to stifle a laugh. It's blocks away from cover of any kind so not only will I be a target for the sunlight but also for any stalking Slayers about. Can this plan be any more disastrous? Still, I look at Rupert, his green eyes paying me the honor of an occasional glimpse as he orders his men to remain underground.
"All the things you require are in the bag." Rupert nods to Jacobs who sets a duffle bag at my feet.
"Good luck, Sir." The soldier sounds genuine. I'm doomed yet manage a gracious smile.
"Luck will have nothing to do with it." I turn my attention back to Rupert. "If this works, I'll be collecting on the debt you owe me tonight."
"You mean * when* this works," he corrects me with such confidence, it's infectious. He takes out the ring and I hold out my palm, waiting for him to hand it over. Instead, he gently takes hold of my hand and slips the ring on my finger, smiling all the while.
"I intend to get that back," he says, unwilling to release me yet. I see appreciation in his stare as I feel a tender squeeze of his hand to mine.
"I'll do my best."
I step up to the shadows edge and hear voices whispering nervously behind me, like a gaggle of geese gossiping. I glance over my shoulder at Rupert who's deathly serious. Jacobs remains at his side, hands fidgeting with his belt, his pockets, his shirt, anything to distract him from the situation. They are a vision of contradiction.
I take up my bag of supplies and toss it over my shoulder. Completely born of habit, I take in a deep and unnecessary breath and slowly raise my ring ornamented hand out into the light. I wait. All discussions hush to silence as the small army of vampires witnesses nothing. It's fascinating and the suspicious mutterings begin again. A minute passes and there is no sign of even the slightest burning. I decide to go all or nothing and march several paces out into broad daylight. The mutterings stop again as I stop, lifting my face to the bright orb blinding me from the sky. It's beautiful, embracing me with warmth I've missed in the short time since my death.
I can't believe the bloody ring is working. I look back to see Jacobs' mouth fallen open, astounded beyond words. Rupert's confident smile has returned only broader as he ruffles his fingers through the stunned youth's hair and gives him a playful nudge.
There is work to do and I focus my attentions on doing it, marching off toward the small, lone patch of greenery on the concrete block. I scout out the flattest area I can drop the bag to the grass.
"What's that?" Buffy wipes at the taped up and soiled glass and motions down to the street. I squint to try and see what she's pointing to.
"I don't see anything." I respond.
"There, over in that tiny park." She directs me again and I search some more.
"It's moving. Maybe a survivor?" Xander suggests.
"Could be a diurnal demon of some kind," I suggest. "This place is a refuge for all kinds of demons now."
"Let's go find out."
Buffy hurries off down the stairway before I have a chance to object.
"Be ready," I order my men but my gaze never leaves Ethan. "Keep a sharp look out."
Ethan's set up the circle to the manuscripts specifications, positioned the talismans at the eight points along it, connecting them with lines of sand and herbs. He retrieves the pivotal ingredient, holding up the large jar to get a better look. I watch his reaction as he confirms his suspicions with a check of the manuscript. He pales, brow creasing with distaste as he looks back to me. My eyes narrow for an instant, trying to communicate without communication that now is not the time for squeamishness.
"What's in that, Sir?" Jacobs asks.
"Hearts…" I say softly, "…from eight newborns."
Jacobs watches Ethan return to his task, setting the jar aside but finding it difficult to keep from looking at it. "He seems bothered by it, Sir."
"That he does," I say coolly, "Probably disappointed he wasn't in on the collection." I smirk, knowing better.
"Does he know what he's doing, Sir?"
"He's a master of his craft, Jacobs, as well versed in magicks as I am with dead languages. He will get the job done."
From off in the distance, I hear the faint thunder of helicopters growing louder and Ethan glances up to search the sky. He looks nervously to me and I nod, encouraging him to continue.
"Your orders, Sir?" Jacobs urges, eager to do something, anything. I know the feeling. But all is in Ethan's hands now.
"Leave five men, take the rest to the rooftop they target as their descending point. Trap them to the sky until the spell has been cast."
"And if they choose to land on solid ground?"
"Tell the men to blanket themselves and charge. Sunlight or no, they must not reach Ethan. Is that understood?"
"Yes Sir." He hurries off to do my biding but I couldn't care less. My thoughts, my hopes are with my sorcerer. Ethan is our unlikely savior.
I can't keep from looking. The red syrup is both repulsive and inviting as it glistens brilliantly in the sunlight. I understand the severity of such a spell, the price paid to defile nature. But the flesh of innocence so abundant and tidily captured in a glass coffin… processed lives extinguished before given a chance to live.
The roar of approaching helicopters reminds me of my mission. I look to Rupert. He's urging me onward and I obey like one of his minions. But there's more to my obedience. He smirks and there it is… my damned inspiration.
I reach inside and feel metal at my fingertips. When I pull it out, I flinch with the realization I'm holding a cross in my hands, a perfectly ornamented golden crucifix and it has no affect on me. My gaze falls to the plain band of silver on my finger. Rupert is right, this is a prize unequalled in his world. My world.
I hear the sound way before it registers in my mind what it is.
"The Council is coming, Buffy," I hear Xander call to me as I stumble to a halt and glance back at him.
"Didn't expect backup…" I say with more relief than I wanted to show as my eyes look to the sky, "…at least not so soon."
"Guess the evil dead chorus line last night did the trick," Xander puffs breathlessly. "The big wigs are on the rampage."
"That's not Council. It's the Initiative." I can see the military decals from here.
"It's… it's Ethan," Willow gasps, eyes closed but facing the direction of the mysterious figure.
"In the helicopter?" Xander asks, confused until he notices Willow is facing the other way.
"No, over there… that person." She gestures.
"What?" I turn back around to see the distant figure moving. "But it's broad daylight."
"I know." Her eyes narrow to a squint, trying to get a better look.
"I thought you said the he was turned."
"I did. But it's him. I can feel it. But there is something…"
"Will, extreme wiggins here." Xander admits. "Vampires in daylight? What the hell is going on?"
"I… I don't know."
That makes the two of us.
"I don't care." I take off running full on towards Ethan. I intend to find out.
As the seal spins off from the jar, a current of air wafts the perfumed scent of blood to my eager nostrils. I take it in and it drives me on, the beastly instincts besting my disgust for the miserable contents within. I begin to chant as I scoop out a palm full of the ruby molasses, capturing a single heart within the soup. Carefully, I position it over the first talisman and with the incantation, crush the slippery flesh, releasing a spurt of blood to speckle the soil below. I can feel my magicks surge as the drops stain the hair bound herbs, wood and oils. I repeat the process again, painting the grass, the dirt, and myself in doing it. By the fourth heart, I'm practically drooling with the feel of the tender meat between my fingers. I'm fairly certain if a child stood within my reach, I would gladly rip its still beating heart free for a single taste. What a merciless beast I am, from miserable to malevolent in seconds flat.
The sixth heart ruptures and pours to the soil and I feel the raining warmth suddenly grow cool. I look up to see the sky beginning to turn, black storm clouds billowing out from nothing and collapsing in like a mouth closing to swallow the sun whole.
My chest thumps a deafening beat that rivals the pounding in my mind. My nerves crackle with erratic static, charged with energies I never called upon. He's casting another spell… a very powerful…
My Goddess… he can't be!
My heart lurches with the sight of the graying sky closing in on the sun. He is… Ethan is doing this. I feel the frenzied energies pulsing out from him as light does from the sun he's trying to extinguish above us.
"We have to stop him!" I scream, already searching my mind for a spell, any spell to interrupt what he's doing. Buffy is too far ahead of me, already blocks beyond Xander and I as we all rush as fast as we can towards the sorcerer.
Gunfire erupts, echoing through the slowly shadowing, twisted framework of cement and metal ruins surrounding us. Xander slows to catch a glimpse of the battle waging stories above and behind us. I continue forward, remaining focused on Ethan. If I cast even the slightest of…
The final heart weeps its blood to the earth, soaking the talisman through. I take pleasure in licking my fingers clean of the blood and meat in-between the closing stanzas. It tastes stale but with flavor enough to crook my brow and elongate my fangs. I curse the accidental prick of the double daggers to my bottom lip as I complete the casting. I'll never get used to that.
All that's left for me to do now is…
What's this? I sense power… familiar and deliciously potent.
"Ripper, your pet witch comes to play." I smile as I turn to see the rascally trio running towards me. When I glance over at Ripper, he's already spotted them as well. "So much for minding your elders."
I just manage spitting out the terrain enchantment as a bolt of searing light erupts from the distant witch and heads right for me. As it comes, the soil boils beyond the circle and rises up in time to absorb most of the strike. I don't wait for a follow-up attack, hurrying to position myself dead center of the sigil. I glance through the hail of dirt returning to the earth, hoping for one last look at Rupert before the conclusion. He's tensed at the very edge of the shadows, ready to charge, eyes wide and severely beautiful.
I smile, I wink, I unsheathe the blessed blade from its leather casing and slice it swiftly across my wrist. The pain makes me wince but I watch vigilantly as the skin separates and my blood pools from the wound. The first drops drizzle down to mark the center of the circle and with them, the spell is cast. My body seizes as it rises from the ground. My energies are torn from me and thrown skyward. I howl with the agony of the separation, watching my magicks collide with the shattered sky.
And as the sun goes dark… I follow…
The sun begins to shrivel and I move, racing out as the edge of light narrows to an infinite point. Ethan's face is bent with pain as he suspends yards from the ground, arms stretched out as if lashed to the sky by the light discharging from each of his hands and chest. I can hear his anguished cry over the bluster of gunfire nearby and the heavy boots marching out alongside me. The light vaporizes and he succumbs to gravity, falling lifeless to the burnt earth below.
When I come upon the scene, I find the Slayer hovering over my unconscious Ethan, jagged stake set firm in her hand and without a thought, I attack. More ferocity than finesse; now is not the time for strategy or statement. Ethan will not fade away this glorious day.
Unaware, she pivots just as I dive, leaving herself wide open as I plant a solid tackle to her midsection, taking us both down with the strike. I tumble off and leap to my feet, charging again as glistens of mystical energies reflect from her hardened features. Prepared now, she dodges skillfully and surprises me with a swift kick to the back of my neck that sends me to the ashen circle.
I turn over to glimpse her driving down with the wooden stake, not even attempting a clear shot, just praying it somehow finds its mark. I capitalize on her reckless action, grasping at her stake and pulling her hand in tight, continuing to roll. I tug, leveraging her under me. She hesitates to escape and I pin her, straddling her upper body with my weight. She watches wide-eyed and gasping as I slowly wrench her wrist, turning her own stake on her. The pointed end sinks, preparing to silence her drumming heart.
I don't see the bolt of magicks but certainly feel it, striking like a blistering battering ram to my back and sending me sailing from the Slayer. I skid to an awkward halt yards from her but struggle quickly to my feet, intent on attacking again.
"Any closer, he dies," Xander warns, his modified firearm aiming to the center of Ethan's chest. I know that weapon, liquid light rounds.
"And the sun with him," I bluff. They won't know the difference. I stay hunched forward and ready to attack as a smile spreads along my lips. I scan the scene for my men. All are gone. The children have done well for themselves, a better man would be proud.
"What have you done?" the Slayer demands.
"Really, Buffy, you disappoint me. I hardly think it a mystery."
"Reverse it," Willow interrupts, hand outstretched and ready to blast me with her exhilarating energies. I offer only a patient smile.
"Then he's chimney scum," Xander threatens again, inching the pistol closer to Ethan.
"She begged for death," I say softly in a disappointed tone.
"What?" Xander asks, nipping at the obvious bait and I can't help the devil in me.
"That lovely elder Slayer of yours. Your first, wasn't she?" I ask. "Never read of a Slayer begging for death. In all my years reading account after account in the diaries, not one Slayer ever pleaded for it. Then came you and your girl and the scriptures suddenly need revision."
His hand begins to tremble as his fingers tense around the trigger. That's it… show me your other face, boy.
"Tell me, Xander, was suicide something you taught her or was she so eager to be rid of you and that botched abortion of hers?"
The pistol swivels towards me as Buffy screams out a belatedly order to the contrary. I dodge as quickly as I'm able as shots are fired. A single bullet catches my forearm, but fails to discharge its cargo as it passes, leaving a burning tunnel through my flesh. I keep moving, smelling my men returning from battle. We have the advantage now.
The Slayer charges and I am pleasantly surprised as she rips into me with punch after punch. My beautiful savage. Illumination flickers off of Buffy's body as I wrestle her to the grass. Willow 's throwing caution to the wind these days, evoking such powerful magicks with ease. Ethan would delight in her if he were able.
Xander rapidly fires, bullets blazing toward my army of vampires as they come to claim their captain. Such loyal beasts. A foot to my gut, an elbow to my cheek, a knee to my groin and I am roaring delighted at Buffy's skill. I haven't tasted her damage since… since we last trained. She is resourceful, devastating and deliciously cunning.
"More Slayer, give me more. I've earned it!" I provoke her and lunge.
Buffy hesitates to defend and I exploit it, teaching her another lesson in second guessing her opponent. My fist connects solid to her chin and she stumbles backward as I shuffle forward to punctuate the pain with a leg swipe. She's caught off guard and falls back with a thump, the air forced from her lungs with the descent. I follow through with a heel hammering down toward her face. Good girl, she blocks and with a spinning leg, manages to propel herself upright as I clumsily fumble forward.
"You've learned patience, Buffy."
There she stands, all proud and ruthless and efficient. My well fashioned weapon ready to strike out against evil. Well, here I am.
"You'll not touch him," I warn sternly as take up position defending my fallen sorcerer.
"I wasn't planning on touching him, just introducing him to Mr. Pointy, here."
"I thought I told you to take them home, Buffy. Then again, you failed to listen to me in life, why break with precedent now, eh?"
More of my men come out from nowhere and everywhere and the children are surrounded.
"Bring it back!" Willow orders me.
"What's that, love?" I ask, knowing full well what she means.
"The sun! Undo it."
"It's not for me to release."
"Then wake up sleeping beauty and get it done," Buffy demands. "I'm not going to ask twice."
"Take a good, hard look at the odds. I trained you to win, Buffy. You can't possibly stand victorious in the end. You haven't any army of Slayers at your disposal here, Chosen One. This is certain suicide. And regardless of Xander's curious Slayer training techniques, I don't approve of such tactics." My men move in closer, ready to attack at my command.
"I'm going to kill you so dead!" Xander spits out his venom of words. He would make a wonderful soldier.
"I'm not going anywhere," Buffy says, so easily damning them all.
"So be it." I smile. I bow graciously. I give the order. "Kill them."
With a stampede, my men charge, a wave of vampires ready to shred the children to ribbons. I turn away from them, paying them no mind as I kneel down and take Ethan up into my arms. He is motionless as I cradle him closely and begin to walk away. I hear Willow above the ruckus and have to smile as long shadows are cast along the ground and buildings with flashes of mystical light.
She's improved. "Pity magicks die with the turning…"
I look down to Ethan's slumbering face.