Chapter 9 – Of Men and Monsters (The Animal Within)
“There’s something different in the way you smile
Behind those eyes you lie.”
- 3 Doors Down – Behind Those Eyes
Deidre hadn’t moved from her spot in front of the bookshelves for the last fifteen minutes. Rupert was surprised how quickly she had gone from contemplating how difficult it would be to kill him, to trying to wrap her head around his problem.
“I think it’s tricky, but not impossible. How long did you say it had been alive? Or, not alive, so much as… well, you know what I mean.”
Rupert had sat down after the first five minutes.
“Something like three millennia.”
“It’s pretty powerful then, too.”
“Powerful, animalistic, deadly and intelligent. Tends to avoid killing when it feeds, at least these days. That probably has a lot to do with how it’s flown under the radar for as long as it has.”
“Rupert,” she looked back at him, “do you even know what you’re doing?”
“So far as I was aware I wasn’t doing much more that talking.”
“You sound as though you’re trying to justify yourself,” she turned back to her perusal of the shelves, “That’s something that you don’t need to do.”
“Why shouldn’t I have to, though? Considering I almost gave up and rolled over like a good little dog,” his voice became bitter on the last few words.
“It’s intelligent. It’s obviously a hell of a lot more intelligent than you or I. I don’t think it asked nicely as you put it, either.”
Rupert snorted, and she turned to look at him again.
“Well, for a vampire, it probably did ask nicely, actually.”
She took a couple of steps towards the bookshelf, and ran her finger over a couple of spines, then pulled one out a little way, “Did you try Salve’s Treaquis?”
“Name me one Council family that probably doesn’t have that title on the shelf.”
She pushed it back in.
“So, you want something that is powerful so probably something older than it, but not too powerful, or either we won’t be able to control the power behind it, or the thing manipulating the power behind it. The gods wouldn’t take any notice either; I’ll give you that one as well.”
“It’s a disciple of Janus. Gods are more likely to take notice of it.”
“Hmm. Maybe… just maybe you’re going about this the wrong way. Something that’s powerful, which you can control. But… just maybe,” she pulled out another book, and stared at the cover of it. Rupert couldn’t see the title from his seat, “Maybe you don’t have to control it. Perhaps you could make a deal, instead.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Perhaps,” she threw the book over to him, and he snatched it out of the air, “you could make a deal with a demon. A sort of ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ thing. That way you’ve got power on call, and you don’t have to worry about finesse or control.”
He looked down at the book that he was holding. It was bound with thin leather that had been dyed black, and there was no title on it, but Rupert still recognized it for what it was. Thandor’s Mastery was one of the oldest grimores known. It was a book that a lot of people would have killed to get a hold of. In certain circles it was infamous, and here it was in his lap. He wondered how much the Council would be willing to pay to get it back, or whether they had another one of the three copies that were rumoured to be in existence.
The leather was far too thin, too delicate to have come from any animal that he knew, apart from one.
It was said to contain summons for some of the most powerful demons to touch this realm, some of them written in the blood of the demons themselves, or written in the caster’s blood for added potency. It was easy to believe, with the way that the book felt, too. It was heavy, like it contained the knowledge of hundreds of worlds, and it almost seemed to hum in his grasp.
“That’s all well and good,” he fought to keep his tone calm, “but it is a demon itself. What demon would have power enough to control it that might accept a deal from a human?”
“Lothos, for one.”
“The King Vampire?” he kept himself from scoffing.
“It’s not a vampire, though. It’s simply a King of Vampires. Rumour has it that it can manipulate any vampire that it wants to.”
“Ever heard any more than rumour about it? Perhaps there are a few drops of its blood in this, or what it likes for lunch?”
Slowly she shook her head, “Balthazar?”
“Powerful, but wouldn’t be interested. Also, dead, last I heard, although for some demons that’s like no more that a step out to change clothing. What about Mary DeBussie?” he bounced back, feeling excited for the first time in ages. He couldn’t believe that he hadn’t thought of something like this before, when it seemed so obvious, now.
“DeBussie can only control females. Kathnar?”
“Too powerful and more than a little insane. Kathnar would be able to do it, sure, but then I doubt there would be enough pieces of us left to pick up the pieces of London that it left behind.”
“Eucarrus?” Deidre suggested.
“I’m not sure that I’ve heard of Eucarrus,” Rupert finally admitted, after trying to slot the name to some of the countless facts that he had memorised.
“Sorry. Common name is Eyghon.”
“The Sleepwalker?” This time Rupert couldn’t keep the derision out of his tone.
“Don’t knock it before you think about it,” Deidre pulled the footstool back and sat down on it, “Sleepwalker isn’t just a master of normal sleep, but the deepest sleep; namely death. Our vampire is dead, isn’t it? Maybe something like it would be able to sever the bond. It’s weaker than a lot of those higher-level demons, too. It would probably more readily accept a deal. You would have to set free anything that you used, to walk upon this earth, but with something that’s weaker, well, relatively speaking of course, the damage should be easier to contain.”
Silently he thought about it. It was scary how much sense that made. A beast such as Eyghon would be hard work to summon, and even harder work to put back into its box afterwards, but so would anything with the sort of power that he needed, and the more he thought about it the more certain he was that they were up to the challenge.
“That’s a critter that’s listed in my white pages,” Deidre nodded towards the book that was in his hands.
He felt almost reverent about it as he opened the book, and gently turned the yellowed pages, until he came to one near the end that was written in scratchy, slightly faded brown. It looked like all of the rumours about this volume were true.
Brushing a light finger over it, he wondered who had died to make the hundreds of tiny lines, spread across several pages and the symbols that were on the last page and scattered throughout the instructions. There was far too much here for the contributor to have survived. Had it been someone who had been killed in a fucked-up summoning, or someone that the demon had possessed, or simply some nameless, faceless victim? He would never know either way, of course.
“So, how’s your Etruscan, Rupert? I’m afraid I wouldn’t know any better if you told me that it said we had to live with wolves for a week. Never really did get the hang of other languages, aside from Latin, and who doesn’t know that? Such a disappointment to Watcher-dearest.”
“I could read it with my eyes shut,” then he frowned, thinking over what he’d just said, “Well, apart from the fact that I couldn’t see the words with my eyes shut. Deidre, I could just about kiss you.”
She laughed lightly, “Save it for after we’ve broken this sodding bond of yours, yes?”
“I can do that. Did you have any piss in the fridge? It looks like I’ve got my work for the night sorted.”
“I might have a few bottles. Did you want a spliff as well? Got more of that then I do booze. I don’t have a Slayer’s metabolism, after all.”
“I don’t really smoke. Dealing with something like Ethan, I prefer to keep my wits about me. I think I’ll make an exception tonight, though.”
“Good man, Rupert,” she grinned at him. Tonight he was beginning to understand, better than ever, why she had left her Watcher.
The night opened up to him whispering its secrets like a lover under the cover of darkness, as the stars fell into place. Ethan had covered miles before he had settled down in a place that he felt was far enough from Sunnydale that things would be normal for him. Or as normal as they would be on this night, anyway.
He could smell blood on the air, warm and still flowing. Growling he tested the air again. There were so many warm bodies around, so many waiting for him, with no idea that tonight would be their last night on this earth.
He couldn’t think beyond the kill, couldn’t imagine anything sweeter than the blood that he would soon be spilling, or the terror of the people who would count his face amongst the last things they would see.
He knew that he had shifted fully, could feel the power, so much more than what it usually was, rippling through him. He felt like he could tear bodies in half with a single flex of muscle. He knew that he would be able to, but wouldn’t, because of the waste that that would be.
He could remember the last Feast, when he had run and hunted with a pack of seven others. The usual rules were suspended for this night; vampires that were usually defensive and prickly, and spoiling for a good fight amongst themselves, threw that all to the wayside. Tonight was one night that was all about the kill.
The only competition last time had been who could kill and drain the most humans. Between the eight of them they had wiped out close to fifty over a period of just over four hours. Some of the younger vampires had snapped the occasional neck, or torn out a heart to suck it dry. Such games were only for the children, though. For he, and the other two older members of the pack it had been all about feasting, drinking deep, and about making sure that the younger five didn’t lose their heads completely. Vampires tended to be drawn towards packs for things like this, youths to elders.
That was another reason why Rupert should have been here with him. You couldn’t get much younger than still being mostly human. There was too much of his blood in Rupert’s veins already, for it to ever be fully counteracted. He should have been here, preparing to take a kill himself. Rupert wasn’t human after all, not for the last sixteen years, no matter how much he denied the facts.
Ethan calmed himself, forcing the shift back to human morph. The yard that he entered was wide, and sparse. Weeds grew up between dull orange bricks which were set into a path, and the rest of the ground was gravelled. An oil-stain was in the middle of the driveway, but there was no car that he could see. The walls were flecked with white, peeling paint.
There were at least seven in this home , from what he could smell, two adults and three that were almost adult, and the other two just inside or younger than the age of puberty. There were also two dogs, German Shepherds by the smell of them. He’d always had an affinity with dogs. He could feel these two shivering and whining in their kennel, afraid to come out and meet a predator that was so much more dominant than they were tonight.
Reaching the kennel he grabbed the chain of one of the dogs and dragged it out as its claws scrabbled on the wood. The other dog laid his arm open to the bone with a single bite, but he knew that it would heal within minutes, once he started feasting. He snapped the chain off from around the dog’s neck, and then snapped its neck, careful not to kill or paralyse it. Holding it with one arm under its chest he climbed the steps to the front door.
He pounded on the door, and listened to the sound of a shotgun being pumped before the door was opened.
“What the hell?” A male asked. His eyes were brown and bloodshot from sleep, and his thinning hair and beard were a sold grey.
“This your dog?” Ethan lifted it slightly with both arms, being sure to look like it was a struggle, “Found ‘im out on the street. Still breathing, but I think there’s something seriously wrong. Skid marks on the middle of the road, too.”
The hard look on the man’s face was softened by fear.
“Thank-you. Please, can you bring him in; lay him down on the table? That’s Sheba, my son’s dog; prize winners on both his dam’s and sire’s sides. He’d be devastated if anything happens to him.”
There were the words he’d been looking for. Please, can you bring him in? With a smile that went unnoticed Ethan stepped over the threshold.
“Sorry for coming downstairs with the gun, but you never know what you’re gonna find these days.”
“No, you don’t do you? The world isn’t what it used to be.”
“Damn right about that,” the man swept several piles of paper off the kitchen table without giving then a second glance. “How that damn mongrel slipped its chain, I’ve no idea. Lay him down here, would you?’
Ethan gently lay the dog down.
“You some sort of weightlifter? Last time that dog had to be carried it took two of us.”
“Just a lot stronger than I look,” Ethan smiled faintly, and found some amusement in the way that the man’s unease spiked at that expression, “and the world is never same, not even from one century to the next.”
“What the hell?” The man took half a step back.
“Haven’t seen hell in a long time, my friend.”
Ethan morphed, and it was the work of seconds to pin the man and sink his teeth deep into his throat, grazing the artery under the surface so the blood pumped down his throat with every heartbeat, hot and sticky, and like a hit of caffeine to him. The man thrashed wildly, gasping and sputtering, and pounding against Ethan’s back with the strength of someone that knew they were going to die. It was the work of less than a few minutes to drain him dry, letting the heart do all the work for him.
“Michael, what’s going on down there?”
Ethan smiled slightly, as he recalled the inflictions that were in the man’s words. Clearing his throat, he called out, in a perfect mockery of Michael’s voice.
“Come on down, would ya? Have to talk to ya.”
He cocked his head, listening to the tread on the stairs. This one he would take with ease, too, swift and silent as her husband.
She came into the room and froze, seeing her husband’s dead body in his arms. She drew herself up, and to his surprise tried to rush him. He tossed the body at her, and the weight of it slammed her back into the ground and knocked the wind out of her. He could hear her heart pounding, a constant rhythm in his ears, as loud as the beat of a drum. Even with no breath in her lungs she fought like a wildcat, shoving her husband’s body off her, and attacking him with tooth and nail, hitting every part of him that she could reach. Her teeth sunk into his arm, just above where the dog had bit, and he hissed as her hands went for his face and she tried to blind him.
He caught a wrist with each hand, and then locked them together with one. He raised both hands above her head and forced them to the ground. Her eyes were wide with terror, as she tried to kick out at him and he easily twisted to the side, out of the way.
“Run, get out of here!” she yelled at the top of her voice, and Ethan held her in place as he listened to the sound of scrabbling from the other rooms, the startled cry of a baby as it was disturbed from its sleep, and the sound of footsteps down the hall, before the door slammed open.
He also heard the sound of footsteps behind him. Twisting his head, he looked at a young man who couldn’t have been much older that eighteen, pointing a pistol at him with shaking hands.
“You leave my mother alone, you monster! You fucking coward! Let her go, or I swear I’ll shoot you!”
Ethan turned his head fully, so that the child could see his face and snarled. His voice was distorted by his fangs.
“Don’t you think you should do as she says?”
The woman under him was sobbing in loud, animalistic wails. Yet she still managed to speak.
“Go, take care of the others for me.”
The boy dropped the gun, then turned and ran. He twisted back to her, licked at a tear.
“The smell of terror. There really is nothing sweeter.”
“I…I…I…I’ll give you anything you want. I don’t care who you are, or what you are, I… I’ll never say anything, just please leave my children alone.”
He growled, as he lowered his head towards her throat. If this had been his last hunt, then he would have taken her, while drinking. But her body held no interest for him now, only her blood.
“You only have one thing I want, and I would take it even without your permission.”
He sunk his teeth into her neck, but not as deeply as with her husband. This one had a fire in her that he so rarely encountered amongst the people of this day and age. So few of them tried to fight him, unless they were on death’s door. This time he took his time, draining her to the point of consciousness.
“One time offer, sweetheart. Do you want to live with the potential of living forever?” He gave her the choice, and he meant it. Her blood had a spice to it that hinted at magic somewhere in her ancestry, and that made it almost bittersweet.
“As a thing like you? Never.”
“Very well, then.”
He pushed his teeth in a little deeper, and she was dead in another few seconds. Letting go of her, he stood and stretched, rolling his shoulders back. It was time to hunt the children, although might let a couple of them live.
Rupert could smell the blood around him, heavy on the air. Nothing could stop him from picking up the scent, or his teeth from aching, or the bloodlust welling inside him. He didn’t just want to fight, he needed to. It was some primordial predator’s instinct, from when man knew that there was a reason to be afraid of the shadows. He needed to fight, and craved not just the scent of blood, brought to mock him by some distant wind, but the very taste of it.
Blood was about power, about holding mastery over someone’s life and death, about making the decision and then reaping in the reward, drinking someone’s life in, and it wasn’t just someone else’s any more, but yours and yours alone, your life, your power. He understood that with a clarity that he hadn’t had in a while.
Even over the rumbling, full-throated roar of the bike he could still hear screams in the night, sounds that seemed almost painfully loud to him, but to a normal person would be nothing more than murmurs. He didn’t need the bike’s headlight to see where he was going, either. His own eyes, and the streetlights gave the night the appearance of daytime, when everything was in shadows, but it was still bright enough to see. To a real vampire it must have been like noon out.
He didn’t know or care where he was going. All that mattered was that it was away from the High School. He followed one of the blood-trails on the breeze, and stopped the bike at the corner of a street towards the outskirts of town.
Even away from the streetlights there was still more than enough light for him to see by. The vampire that was in the middle of the street, holding a person up against the wall stood out like it had been painted in neon. As he watched it finished with the man, dropping him to the ground like an empty wrapper, and turned towards him.
Reaching into his jacket pocket he tugged a stake free, and squared off against it as it approached him slowly, like a cat stalking a mouse. He had his magick, of course, but that wouldn’t satisfy the blood in him screaming for a fight.
He met it halfway down the street, and the fight was short, but brutal. It was clearly young, and had no idea of how to control its strength, or about the level of power that it possessed. He took a couple of blows to his side, and its teeth scraped along the neck of his jacket, although there wasn’t enough pressure to split the leather. On its second charge he stepped to the side and slammed an elbow into the back of its neck, knocking it down to the ground, and then he began to thrash it, kicking and hitting for all he was worth.
Its blood was cold, but it was still blood. It could still be spilt.
When he finally slammed the stake through its back it was cringing away from every touch, and its face had sunk back to human. It was spitting blood, its cheeks were swollen, and part of the side of its head was caved in. He knew that he wasn’t imagining the look of relief when he finally dusted it.
He didn’t get back on the bike, but instead walked, following another blood-scent, this one sweeter and fresher.
This time the person was still alive and kicking. The vampire that drew back from her had hair that was white with age, long and curled and flowing around its shoulders, and a face that was softened by the more feminine aspects even with the protruding brow and razor fangs. Her eyes that were a sharper shade of amber than he usually saw, more wild and animalistic. Then again, he hadn’t exactly stopped to look deep into the eyes of the last vampire that he’d dealt with.
The only reason he didn’t instantly set upon this one was because there was no challenge in the way that it raised its head to look at him. This vampire had probably been someone’s grandmother once upon a time, and it must have been extremely skilled at dealing with the youth. He could see that in the way that it reacted to his presence, drawing back a little, making itself less threatening towards him. The dust on the ground around her told him that this one had also probably fought off a couple of intruders tonight.
He watched coolly as it sniffed at him, pressing its hand down on the wound that it had made in the neck of its prey, even as it spoke, “Not quite one of us, but not quite human either. Come out to play with us for the night, have you?” Its voice was rough, like it didn’t often speak. It held out a blood-red palm towards him, in an offering, and again that unbelievable scent of power and life caught him. He was breathing heavily, deeply, as he stared, mouth watering. The beast in him was urging him to drink deeply.
The old vampire smiled at him, “I could make tonight particularly memorable for you, young one. If you’re already paying penance to the devil, then why not explore his home?”
He shivered and took a single step forward, unsure of what he, was going to do. The blood, Ethan’s blood told him to kill. He could smell the fear of the woman at the vampire’s feet, and it wasn’t just fear but that intoxicating blend of outright terror. He wanted her blood, wanted to drain her and finish her life. That smell, blood and terror was going straight to his head, and he couldn’t think straight as he dropped into a crouch, and heard her begging, breathless plea for him to help her. He didn’t know what she thought she was going to get out of him. He breathed in deeply, and grasped her chin with his hand, tilting it back.
Her eyes caught his, so young and yet so old in the face of her death. She couldn’t have been older than sixteen. Her eyes caught his, and in her place he saw Buffy, determined yet terrified of her own death, and still prepared to face it.
He forced himself to let go and stand on shaking legs. The old vampire’s hand caught his shoulder, and its voice was soft in his ear, the notes in it more woman than beast, “It gets easier, child. After the first kill you won’t look back.”
He turned to face it, face her. The face had already settled back into the human mask.
“I did, though,” his teeth ached and his head was swimming, and the bloodlust wasn’t any less overwhelming than it had been. It was his will that had been strengthened. He had already done one thing that he regretted tonight, and he didn’t want to add another to the toll, no matter how right the idea may have seemed at the time, “and I’d look back on tonight even more so, because I would be able to say that this was where I truly gave up on my humanity.”
It looked at him as though he were spouting rubbish, eyes a shade of blue that were so light they were almost grey. He got that. To her, a pure demon, it would have been crap. Humanity didn’t matter to a demon, and courage didn’t count until you could count. Well, he could count both the mistakes that he had made and the number of ways that he could end this vampire’s existence.
He still wanted to fight, and he was no reason to deny that part of his nature, even if he didn’t want any of the rest of it. She fought with all the skill of several decades’ worth of experience, and by the time he finally bested her, his muscles were aching and every breath he drew burned his lungs. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could have lasted.
As he limped back to the bike, he felt every blow that she had landed. He wasn’t sure of what the time was, but he was fairly sure that the stars were beginning to move out of that crucial position. Blood wasn’t all that mattered any more.
Now he was more concerned about getting back home in one piece. This time he put the helmet on, and used the headlight, even though his eyesight could still cut through the shadows and would be able to for at least the next hour. He rode back home as slowly as possible, caring a lot more for his own health than he had on the way out there, and after parking the bike and letting himself in he staggered upstairs to the bed and crashed down on it, closing his eyes and dropping off to sleep before he had even removed the jacket.
It was after ten the next morning, when he woke up to the blazing heat of a Southern Californian morning, made that much worse by having all the windows closed and wearing leather. After ten minutes of deliberation he managed to pick up the phone and ring the High School to beg a day off because he felt sick.
Well, it was true to a point, he thought, as he closed his eyes after finally making the effort to strip off before he cooked. He was nowhere near as bad off as he had been after Ethan’s spell on the night of The Disparity, but he did still feel off-colour. The bruises and scrapes that he bore from last night looked off-colour, too.
Stretching out naked, on top of the bed, in the lovely darkness of the house, he drifted back off to sleep.
It was six days out from that night, and Ethan wasn’t back yet.
Rupert had avoided checking the papers, although he couldn’t help but overhear the rumours of carnage in a town a good day’s travel outside of Sunnydale, and he couldn’t stop his mind from making the leap when he heard it mentioned.
One version of the story had it that a family of five had been killed in their home, and found the next morning drained of every last drop, and another person had said that it was five families across several neighbouring farms.
He didn’t know the truth, and that was the way that he preferred it. Even if it was the work of vampires, or a vampire, it hadn’t necessarily been done by the one that he lived with. If he didn’t know then he wouldn’t have to feel guilty for its possible actions. Then he could live with in his ideal world, in which it had spent the night resisting the tug of its own nature, when even he had came a hair’s breadth from ripping some person’s throat out.
In reality, a little voice that sounded a hell of a lot like Xander mocked him from the safety of his head, if it had been that hard for him, then something that was as old as Ethan wouldn’t have stood a chance resisting its nature and probably wouldn’t have wanted to, either. But if he didn’t have to feel guilty about Ethan, then that meant that the only thing he had to feel guilty for were his own actions.
No-one else may have noticed it, but it was painfully obvious to him that Xander was still doing everything within his power to avoid him. It wasn’t really that obvious though, he supposed. It wasn’t like Xander had stopped coming by the library, it was more that he only did it with either Buffy or Willow or even Cordelia. He didn’t hang around on his own, and he didn’t come along with the others when he caught up with them outside of school hours.
On the occasion that Xander was there beforehand, then the boy would make some excuse to leave, and when he couldn’t invent one then he simply kept a wary watch on Rupert out of the corner of his eye, and stayed over the side of the room.
He didn’t have a clue where to start with trying to mend things, not after what the boy probably saw as an attempted strangulation, like any regular human would. If he had pushed the point with Ethan like that then he would have been grateful if something like that was the only repercussion, but the boy wasn’t him, and he wasn’t Ethan.
Those two deaths at the school and the one he’d witnessed had been far from the only ones around the town. His own two fights may not have done anything to slake his bloodlust, but it wasn’t the first time that he had shoved that back down below the surface.
The human had that already been bleeding out had been on the border of death when she was offered to him. She had died while he had been going hand to hand with the creature that had shown him what was, in a vampires terms, a lot of generosity.
Did that make the death his fault? He wasn’t sure. The other question was did he care? He couldn’t lie to himself and say that he did. There wasn’t a hell of a lot in this world that he actually cared about. That was something that he could blame on Ethan’s influence all he liked, too, but it didn’t change the fact that the seeds for it had already been there.
Digging into the kitchen drawer he pulled out a packet of aspirin and dry-swallowed a couple of them, a pre-emptive attempt to ward off the headache that he knew was building, although he doubted it would do much. Almost two weeks had passed since Ethan had left. That was why he was beginning to sicken. Mundane methods had never done a lot for him, at least as far as this was concerned.
He wished he knew where to start, but if Xander kept avoiding him then he could hardly talk to him, and if he couldn’t talk to him then he certainly couldn’t protect him.
Maybe that was for the best, though. The boy would have to learn to stand on his own two feet and face his own life, whether that was beside Willow or Buffy. No matter how painful that life might be he knew he couldn’t do a thing to stop it from coming to pass. The sooner Xander found his own confidence the harder it would be for it to be destroyed. Maybe it would be a fruitless exercise, but he had to hope that it wouldn’t be. If he came back in his own time, then that would be better than forcing him to sit and listen.