Authors: Doranna Durgin
“I was trying to stop him, not kill him,” Angel said, emotion thrumming against his soul like the heartbeat he no longer had. Once released, it didn’t ease…didn’t ebb into the night as it should have. No respite here.
Gunn ran to where the demon had been, grabbing up the ax. “Doesn’t look like you did
. If this particular demon had one of those odd stone things, it doesn’t have one anymore.”
“That’s what his companion was after?” Wesley asked.
“If it had anything to be after at all—besides us,” Angel said, and shrugged, so much more casual on the outside than on the in.
“Well, we can’t
him, can we?” Wesley said. “We can’t ask
Angel stopped, blocking Wesley’s path. “Let it go, Wesley,” he said softly. Dangerously.
Close to the Ground
Stranger to the Sun
The Longest Night, vol. 1
Angel: The Casefiles, Volume 1—The Official Companion
The Essential Angel Posterbook
Available from Simon Pulse and Pocket Books
Historian’s Note: This story takes place during the third season of
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
First Simon Pulse edition February 2003
Text copyright © 2003 Twentieth Century Fox Inc.
All Rights Reserved.
An imprint of Simon & Schuster
Children’s Publishing Division
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New York, NY 10020
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
The text of this book was set in New Caledonia.
Library of Congress Control Number 2002113626
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ith thanks to many people, because one never writes a book in a vacuum. Jennifer didn’t let me get away with anything, and Amy applied her Angelometer, and Lisa and Micol put up with me on the editorial end. The SFF gang cheered my snippets, and Ruth, Kevin, and Kristina offered up demon names (Veroscini, Khundarr, and Slith, respectively). Tom and my family were cheerleaders (I love e-mail), and Google was my first research stop. (I love the Web!) The Los Angeles Zoo was kind enough to send me an entire PR kit full of info, so if I got anything wrong it’s entirely my fault. And of course the dogs all did their best to be as distracting as possible, which is their job. This book is for all of you!
n one reality…
A young Tuingas demon moved respectfully through the special pocket universe it was his honor to maintain. He was slightly small for his clan, but endowed with the usual assortment of limbs and quite a masculine long-nose that he liked to drape back over his shoulder in an affected habit. He said it kept his long-nose out of the dust he often raised while tending the less frequently visited family shrines, but in what served as his heart even he knew that he merely liked tossing the long-nose around.
The demon moved from one family shrine to another within the pocket dimension created and sustained by his people. At this shrine he checked his protective amulet, buffing it slightly against his leathery skin. Only family members and highly trained priests could withstand the presence of the deathstones without amulet protection, and this particular deathstone was newly arrived, potent not only in its freshness, but because of the demon from which it had come. One of their warriors, and a great hero. His deathstone was a handsome one, a solid fist-sized oblong with unusually consistent color and texture. A stone the outside world could never fully appreciate…or even survive.
Reassured by the amulet’s icy response to his touch, the demon entered the marble-walled shrine, pulling a little red wagon liberated from the human world. As fresh as it was, this shrine would need little in the way of maintenance; he rummaged through the contents of the wagon and withdrew a bright yellow feather duster. Humming a nasal tune through both face-nose and long-nose at once, he applied the duster with enthusiasm, sweeping clean the empty stone nooks and crannies that would hold future deathstones for this now-exalted family, and working in toward the single occupied central pedestal. With the wagon trailing behind him, he bent over to pluck a gum wrapper from the plush shag rug, not the least bit annoyed when his long-nose fell forward. After all, it merely offered him another chance to toss it back over his shoulder.
But he neglected to put aside the feather duster when he reached for his long-nose. In fact, he all but jammed the feather duster up his long-nose in a painful collision that at first seemed to have no particular consequence. He stood mildly stunned, long-nose smarting, his dull black little eyes watering, when he felt the first tingling warning way at the back of both noses. Frantically, he patted down his broad waist belt in search of tissues, horrified at the thought of a sneeze—a
—in this quiet, sacred space.
The doublesneeze rose in an inevitable wave of nose-spasm, violent enough to bend him in half. He lost his balance, staggered backward, and—
—found himself caught in a second spasm, a double doublesneeze right here in the hero’s shrine. He fell, kicking the wagon in one direction while his arms windmilled in the other and his head fetched up against something hard.
He lay stunned.
After a moment he whimpered, opened his gummy little eyes, and pulled himself upright. His wagon and his supplies had tipped over, but to his great relief the red paint had not marred any of the marble walls. He heaved a great thankful sigh and crawled over to it, set it upright, and reached for the spilled supplies.
Only then did he realize that the lump on the back of his head had been raised by the warrior’s deathstone pedestal.
Only then did he realize the deathstone was gone, propelled by a conjunction of magics never meant to make physical contact with one another. Gone from its pedestal, from this shrine, from this pocket dimension. Gone to the outside world, where it would wreak destruction.
Gone to Los Angeles.
In another, more familiar reality…
A small rat-like demon clung to the edge of the roof, leaning out over the five-story drop to peer down at the rattling fire escape. “Here!” it squeaked, accidentally spitting in its fear—although its extreme overbite made a certain amount of spitting inevitable in any case. “Take the purse, take it!” It flung a floppy crocheted purse down at its pursuer on the fire escape. “You don’t have enough problems in this city, you gotta pick on a little guy like me?” And with an agitated twitch, it scampered off across the flat roof.
The man on the fire escape caught the purse neatly in one hand, never hesitating in his pursuit. Dressed in black topped by a sweeping leather duster, moving with purpose and not satisfied with the simple recovery of the stolen purse, he jogged up the noisy metal stairs and leaped onto the roof, landing in a graceful crouch and hesitating only long enough to spot the fleeing thief. Crunching steps on tarry roof gravel traced his pursuit, the duster flapping out behind him as he gained on the creature. Dark hair, pale skin, the hint of a fang…
The little demon gave a squeak of fear and redoubled its scuttling efforts, heading straight for the opposite edge of the roof. “It was only a purse!” it cried back over its shoulder. “Gimme a break here!”
But they both knew that wasn’t going to happen. And they knew which of them was faster—he who closed on the demon with such intent, prepared to make sure this particular creature menaced no more of Los Angeles’s unsuspecting tourists.
Except the demon reached the edge of the roof a few precious steps before its pursuer, and launched itself out into the darkness—with no strength or speed inherent in its scrabbling flight, but not needing those things. It spread its arms and legs, revealing a flap of skin running from scrawny elbow to knobby knee, and sailed lightly down to the next roof barely one story below.
It wasn’t such a big jump, not for a vampire running full speed and full strength. But the black-clad pursuer put on the brakes, stumbling to an abrupt halt that left him teetering at the edge. His coat billowed around him, his silhouette barely visible against the night sky.
On the roof below, the ratty demon cavorted, dancing his victory and flinging all manner of rude gestures at the hero somehow stymied by the narrow space between the buildings and the minor drop between roofs.
The hero turned away from the display. The swirling duster revealed a lanky form not quite at home in the sleek black clothing, not quite as muscular or athletic as the image his clothing conveyed. His dark, spiky-moussed hair had no highlights, a bad dye job here in this city where the inhabitants were finely attuned to such things. And even with the glint of fang at his lip, his forehead remained perfectly human…at least, to those who would know the difference.
He resettled his glasses on his nose and went to return the purse.
ngel’s bedroom lay swathed in a false twilight created by drawn curtains. Angel himself lay swathed in twisted bedcovers, restless…frowning in his sleep. Marginally aware that something reached into his privacy, touching him. Whispering to him.
Nebulous dreams of uncomfortable passions. Exposed throats, warm pulses, an angry young man once named Liam now made powerful. Touched by those things familiar, Angelus stirs. Caressed by gentle waves of dark power….
Pencil in hand, Cordelia Chase put aside her magazine and leaned over the lobby desk of the abandoned—
abandoned—Hyperio Hotel that Angel Investigations called headquarters and that Angel himself called home, greeting him as he came down the lobby stairs with his not-an-early-evening-person face on.
Barely twilight and he’s up already? Not likely to be cheery
Just the time for some distinctly cheery news. “A woman came by. She wanted to thank you again for getting her purse back from some rat-thing.”
He lifted a hand in acknowledgment and shuffled past to the fridge behind the front counter, evidently ready for a second serving of breakfast blood. Definitely not all there, with the cuffs of his black jeans dragging below his boot heels and his gray sweater rumpled. Cordelia was willing to bet he hadn’t even fastened the snap to his jeans, and she was never wrong about Things Clothes.
Men. They’re all alike, even the vampire versions
After a gulp, he said, “Didn’t see any rat-things last night.”
“She sure seemed to be full of appreciation.” Cordelia retrieved her magazine and filled in one of the five-letter words of the painfully simple crossword puzzle. “Considering that her appreciation came with a check attached and all. I don’t understand why she kept muttering about not being able to find the main office, though.”
He merely grunted, and she gave him a sharp look. “You’re not having trouble sleeping again, are you?”
Except she didn’t mean trouble
she meant trouble with dreams, like when Darla had invaded his nights, luring him back toward the Angelus side of his nature and driving a rift between Angel and the gang at Angel Investigations. And maybe he hadn’t let Angelus out, not really…but Cordelia could still feel the hurt of his inexplicable rejection, and that was bad enough.
I don’t really mean trouble
Angel flinched ever so slightly. He, too, remembered. He lowered his cheap plastic tumbler and gave her a look with more thought behind it. Thought, and perhaps a little bit of guilt.
“Not a great expression,” she told him bluntly.
He hesitated, then said, “It’s just a mood. Isn’t a guy entitled to a mood now and then?”
She drummed the pen against the counter and considered him. Yes, a definite hint of guilt. And Angel was a take-charge, do what had to be done,
had to be done kind of guy. Lots of remorse over things he couldn’t change, things he’d done, lots of regret…but the guilt? Guilt meant something he was afraid he might
. Time to worry. “Nope,” she said decisively. “No moods. Not for you.”
He looked a little hurt, but Cordelia held firm. There were some luxuries that a guy walking around with a wantonly evil vampire personality lurking beneath his soul just couldn’t take. Flirting with darkness…that would be one of them.
But then he realized what she’d said a moment earlier and latched on to it with not so subtle relief. “A check? We got money?”
She retrieved it from the computer desk and waved it at him. “Money,” she confirmed. “Think paycheck! And I’m going to go right over to her bank and cash it.”
He drained the tumbler and left it sitting on the counter. “Cordy…the money’s not ours. I was
last night. No rat-things. The woman’s mistaken me for someone else.”
She gave him an incredulous look. “And how likely is
He shrugged. “How likely is anything that happens in this city?”
She had to admit he had a point there. She looked wistfully at the check. “I suppose I could hold it for a couple of days….”
Wesley Wyndham-Pryce wandered out of his office—once the hotel manager’s office, with a huge window between office and lobby and a solemn decor of dusty green and dark wood. He was in his rare rugged look today—a day’s worth of seal brown beard, a flannel shirt with rolled sleeves…a year ago Cordelia would have bet he didn’t
a flannel shirt. But the refined features of his face were as serious as ever, as were gray eyes that often seemed to turn dark with the solemn wisdom of someone who knows all the things that can go wrong with the world.
of them. There was always something new and improved going on.
Wesley jammed his spiffy new black lacquered chopsticks into the contents of a Chinese take-out carton with finality as he swallowed a last mouthful.
Angel winced at the stabbing gesture. “Kind of rude, don’t you think?”
Unaffected, Wes barely glanced at the utensils. “They’re hardly up to the standards set by Buffy’s Mr. Pointy. I think you have nothing to fear. Now what’s this about money?”
“We have some,” Cordelia said, and waved the check again, giving Angel an accusing look. “
wants me to give it back, as if anyone could possibly mistake him for somebody else. Plus, he’s all moody, which as we know never bodes well.”
Angel stood at the end of the counter and said with exasperation, “Cordelia, I’m just—”
The main lobby doors burst open—an event that should have happened with much less frequency. A man ran into the lobby, stumbling over the step as he tried to take in all directions at once. He wore an old rumpled coat over a hound-stooth sweater-vest, and polyester pants that should have been burned a decade earlier, and Cordelia mentally assigned him to the clothes Fashion Police for the day. The man raked a frantic gaze across them, looking and not finding. He hesitated upon reaching Angel and almost imperceptibly shook his head in rejection.
“I need to find Angel,” he blurted.
The young Tuingas demon hadn’t waited for the priests to ponder his punishment; he hadn’t even waited for them to find out about the missing deathstone. The sneeze, the fall, the physical touch-chain of his amulet to the deathstone—only two degrees of separation!—he’d known what had happened. He’d known he was responsible. And he’d known what had to be done…and what would happen to Los Angeles if he didn’t do it.
He took it upon himself to leave the peaceful pocket dimension where his particular branch of the Tuingas clan spent most of their time, and he entered the human world to find the deathstone.
Tracking the stone hadn’t been hard at all. Their pocket dimension was anchored in Los Angeles; anyone or thing emerging from it generally found themselves in one of the unfathomable concrete river channels veining the city. This fact combined with the seasonal floods made the Tuingas clan very much a set of look-before-you-leap demons.
Look-before-you-leap wasn’t a luxury that the young Tuingas had had. So he’d leaped, and he’d landed on hard concrete, and he’d followed the stone’s distinctive emanations, knowing he had very little time.
He might not be a priest, but he was in the shrines on a daily basis. He’d learned well enough what would happen should an exposed stone not be recovered. Removed from its protective shrine and its protective pocket dimension, the stone’s emissions—normally experienced only by prepared visitors under priestly supervision—would flood this city’s demons with the very impression left on the deathstone. In this case, by a warrior, fighting at peak emotion for a just cause. A warrior who’d left impressions of his death fury, his intent to avenge the cause…all the passions and motivations of a warrior in his last fight…moments before it became his last fight.
the young demon moaned to himself. This potent new stone, so strong that it had tasteful warning signs inscribed upon its pedestal. So potent that no unprotected demon would be able to resist the wave after wave of emotion it emitted. And the deathstone itself—activated by the warrior’s death, kept in the shrine for its own purity and protection—would be just as sensitive to the resulting mood of the city.
The young Tuingas didn’t even want to think about that. He wanted to be gone from here long before the feedback became strong enough to express itself in the city. And so he’d been heartened to track the stone as easily as he had, from the one who’d found it and the next day put it in a suburban garage sale as a unique garden stone, to the one who’d bought it for a paltry sum, having no notion of the pricelessness of the deathstone but just savvy enough to think that his friend, a collector of odd artifacts, might be interested in it.
For an equally paltry sum and with a determinedly casual expression, that friend had indeed acquired the stone. With just as much determination but no opportunity, the Tuingas lurked and waited and stalked and…
And the collector had known. The young Tuingas could see by his actions, how he carefully and quickly packed the stone up in its odd, oversized bag. But the man’s admiration for the stone had nothing to do with its intangible value to the Tuingas…the lingering presence of a hero and loved one. There was no respect in his face. There was only greed. To judge by the man’s other such transactions, he would keep the stone only long enough to find a wealthy buyer, either not knowing or not caring about the consequences. Or figuring, as many humans seem to, that somehow he would be the exception to the rule.
The young Tuingas grew frustrated. Limited to hiding in shadows and waiting for opportunity, he followed the man to a temporary cluster of dwellings…and there he ran into
trouble. Where the unfamiliar nature of L.A. had not deterred him, where his lack of sophistication had not discouraged him, the man’s wise precautions—including no doubt a newly minted amulet of his own—stopped the Tuingas short.
The young demon couldn’t enter the building. Not from the roof or the windows or the so obvious door. He tried and he tried again, and found himself inexorably repelled. The man had visitors…people bearing food and messages and then another man, younger, all dressed in black and awkwardly keeping to shadows. But for the Tuingas there was no entry, so he waited. He watched. He wondered what the priests had said when they found his crudely scrawled note of intent to reclaim the deathstone, and he wondered what would happen to him when he finally returned. He’d already lost weight. His long-nose hung limp and unhappy.
But eventually the man had emerged.
The young Tuingas had followed him.
“I need to find Angel,” the man blurted.
Cordelia decided at once, and applied her politely-interested-but-really-not face for him.
“I know I’m not supposed to come here, that he likes to keep his street people under cover. But he’s not at the main office address he gave me and
I need to see him
“Calm yourself,” Wesley said, glancing at Angel with wry bemusement as he set aside his take-out carton. “We’ll try to help you, but—”
Angel looked at the man who had so decisively and unexpectedly dismissed him, and then down at himself. He straightened his sweater, surreptitiously tugging his jeans up to fasten the snap.
I knew it.
But Cordelia savored the private triumph only for an instant. She gestured at Angel. “But this
The man waved a hand in vehement denial. A bowling bag weighed the other hand down, a battered old thing with handles that barely seemed to be attached. It seemed heavy in his hand, but its slack sides looked empty. “I know all about the look-alike he sends out on the street to confuse those who might be following him,” he said. “Don’t try that charade on me. I need the
Angel, and I need him—”
The doors crashed open. Really crashed, as in right off the hinges. Even Angel blinked at that, and at the distinctly inhuman creature that bounded through them, heading straight for the desperate man and his bowling ball.
” cried the man, his voice raising an octave. Maybe two.
“I’ll fake it,” Angel muttered, and put himself between man and demon as the man dove for one of the lobby columns, clinging to it from behind. The creature hesitated, long enough to offer a brief impression of alligator skin, a flexible fifth appendage swung neatly over its shoulder, and beady black eyes focused entirely on his prey.
“Hey,” Angel said, annoyed. “I’m right here in front of you. And I gotta tell you, it bothers me when demons forget to knock.”
It saw him then. It reached for him with every apparent intent of tossing him aside, and Angel responded with every apparent intent of holding ground. The demon used its weight to shove Angel back and back again, up against the column behind which the man quivered—and not so incidentally beside which Cordelia had been standing. It pushed Angel right off his feet—and up—to dangle against the column.
Cordelia’s anger flared. Was that any way to behave in someone else’s hotel? She hauled back and kicked the demon. She kicked it in the shin—or what she thought was a shin—she kicked it in the thigh—ditto—and she kicked it in the groin—
definitely not sure about that one.
It didn’t appear to notice, and, panting, she staggered back to reconsider.
At the far lobby wall, Wesley flung open the glass-front door to the weapons cabinet and grabbed something sharp at random; he tossed it to Cordelia. She made no attempt to catch it—not until it clattered to the floor and she could identify the not-sharp parts of the short curving sword. Then she scooped it up and slapped it into Angel’s open hand.
Just like a scrub nurse,
Perfect for a guest role on
That is, if they could lure George Clooney back.