Prologue Ė The Letter
Liam walked as if in a peaceful dream. He looked above at the forest canopy as the sun peaked in to touch his face and smiled. His steps were light as the leaves and twigs cracked under his weight creating music that complimented the soft sounds of the birds.
He was growing closer to the riverbank. He could hear the water rushing over the smooth, ancient pebbles. She would be waiting for him. He knew it.
She was Maira. Her family wandered from town to town selling their wares and services to the people of Ireland. Some of her clan were tinsmiths, others worked as healers and fortunetellers. They were The Travelers of Ireland and, like the Gypsies, they brought magick with them wherever the roamed. Maira's clan visited Galway once each season and twice every summer to offer their services to the growing port city.
Liam's feet carried him out of the depths of the forest and into the brightness of the clearing that lay before the river. The sun had begun to set now and a chill was crawling over the land. Liam felt the cold wind caress his bones and take his breath away as his eyes moved over the area in front of him. The tall field of grass was empty of the half dozen covered wagons that had been there the day before.
A mixture of emotions swept through him as he wandered through the field looking for some sign of the Travelers that had inhabited it. The wildflowers were flattened in large areas and fires were still smoldering. Beside one of the dying fires Liam found an old tin can which contained a yellowed piece of parchment. His name was inscribed on the paper in familiar handwriting. He opened the folded letter with hesitant hands. A braided lock of dark hair fell to the ground with a whisper. He picked it up gently, pressing it to his face to inhale the comforting scent. His hands began to shake as he read.
My mother has suddenly taken ill. She has decided to return to the land of her birth to live out the rest of her days. I do not know when next I shall return to Galway, if ever.
During these past years I have always looked forward to moving through this town if only to see you. We have grown together through the seasons and I shall never forget you. You will always hold a special place in my heart.
Accept this token as a reminder of the times we have shared.
Liam looked to the rising moon and felt a stinging behind is eyes. He stared at the perfect ripe circle overhead hoping to find an answer that might quench his desperate confusion. He turned back towards the forest and began to make his way to the local tavern where he would drown his sorrows and forget the girl who had always believed in him.
Chapter 1 Ė Mutual Madness
Sunnydale, California 1998
Paint on her hands and face, the colors indistinguishable one from the other. Patterns and shapes swam together, as she became lost in her own reality. The piece was dark, never contrasting by more than a shade, all connected by one common color, one common purpose. And there within the strokes, hiding from conscious perception, the streaks and pools of the deepest red. She had mixed that one color for an hour or more trying to achieve the perfect tone and texture. She wasnít aware of how much time had passed. All that mattered was completing it, achieving that which had haunted her mind since the rising of the moon.
He watched her now, through the foggy glass of her apartment. She seemed entranced, so intent on her task, focused. Moving furiously, cigarette in one hand, brush in the other, she would talk to herself, to the painting, or to nothing. Like some kind of animal, she slid from one spot to the next, scraping the canvas with the wrong end of the brush, rubbing paint in with her fingers. She was crazy. He had always liked the crazy ones. He smiled, and the demon leapt up and burst from inside him changing his Angelic face to that of a monster. He had waited long enough.
A knock sounded on the door of Ellen Gardnerís apartment, but she was too lost in the canvas to hear it. Washing the brush, soaking up the color, arching the strokes. There, that perfect shade of red, infinite hue, striking balance within the whole. Another knock and her mind began to surface. She lay down her brush, wiped her hands on her shirt, and walked to gaze through the peephole. Nothing. Ellie began to unbolt the door, metal clicking and squeaking as the lock turned, then a clang from the chain as she unhooked it to fall upon the wall. Stepping out onto the maroon carpet of the dimly lit hallway, peering down to the right then the left, she saw no one, nothing. Her shoulders arched up in a shrug and she turned to continue her work. A flash of black and the sound of leather, and Ellie was caught off balance as a hand moved over her mouth, crushing it with brutal force. Her feet came off the floor and the arms around her were hard as stone, ice cold.
"Invite me in," Angelus demanded.
The woman tried to speak through the hand over her mouth, muffled noises coming through.
"If you scream, you will be dead before anyone hears you," he hissed.
She nodded, eyes wide, and he removed his hand.
"Now invite me in."
"ComeÖin." Terrified, she did as she was told.
He pulled her inside her apartment, threw her down hard onto her sofa, and stepped away to look into her face. When she looked up at him, he heard the tiny scream bubble up from her throat and stick there, choking her. He knew he was hideous, inhuman. His brows were mangled, and his teeth sharp and jagged. He was evil and he liked it.
"Oh, come on. Do I look that bad?" Angelus laughed sadistically. He walked around the room for a short time, looking at her work on the walls.
"Now this one, pure crap. Do people actually pay you for this?" He pulled the canvas from the wall and ripped through it with his fist.
The girl lay still, saying nothing, barely breathing. She avoided even looking at him.
He could smell the fear coming from her, saw her shaking beneath the paint stained tee shirt. What a tasty snack she would make.
"Iíll say one thing about your paintings. They certainly stimulate the appetite."
He pounced on her like some beast of fairy tales and nightmares. He held her head, forcing it to one side. Her heartbeat, he could hear it, the blood coursing through it with unrivaled force. Sharp fangs came down to sink into the soft flesh of her throat, and the shock of the pain stole the breath from her lungs. Sounds escaped her, whimpers, painful moans, and whispered words. Angelus could barely hear her, and he didnít care.
"I remember you now," she whispered.
Angelus paid no attention.
"Look, there, within the darkness. There you are." She lifted her arm to point to the painting she had been working on.
Angelus looked up briefly, not releasing his grip on her throat. It was then, out of the corner of his eye, that he saw something within the dampness of the strokes. He removed his teeth with a jerk to look at the crazed woman. He was all at once confused and angry with her for making him so.
"Once loved by the lightÖ now forgotten by the night." his victim's voice came in gasps, her life fading. She lay there, holding his gaze for an instant before her eyes fell closed.
Angelus had heard enough. He could kill her now, but suddenly he was full and wanted to leave her to die in her madness. She wasnít worth it, at least thatís what he told himself. As he left her there, lying in her own blood, he stopped to snatch the unfinished painting from the easel. Back into the shadows he went, with hardly the flutter of a footstep.
Chapter 2 Ė Light and Chance
2 years later: Los Angeles, California.
Waking from a dream, or had it been a nightmare? The light streamed in from the cracks of the blinds, touching her eyes. Reluctantly, Ellie flipped the blankets over and forced her body to get up and out of the warm bed. On her way to the bathroom she passed the window and forcefully pulled the blinds down in resentment.
A half an hour later Ellie was standing in the middle of an L.A. morning. Cars zipped by her. The people she passed were anxious, eager to start their days. With directions in hand, she began her journey toward The Wiseman Gallery, her new place of employment.
"My mother was right. I have no sense of direction." Fifteen minutes later Ellie huffed in frustration as she flipped the street map upside down then back again. She stopped to lean against the closest building to light a cigarette. Pushing her short, unkempt hair from her face, she enjoyed her first puff with closed eyes.
From inside the building her back was against, came the distinctive sound of a nagging woman.
"No, put it over here. Left, now more to the right. Can you hear me?" A man tried to defend himself to no avail. The woman gave him no chance to speak, interrupting him every time he opened his mouth.
She liked the blend of the two voices. The female voice was high and distinctly filled with frustration while the male voice was rather soft and very British. After another moment of listening, Ellie stamped out her cigarette and stepped inside.
A leggy brunette, cardboard box in arms, was barking orders and complaining to an intellectual looking Englishman whom pushed up his glasses and faced Ellie as she walked into the building. The brunette quickly jumped in front of him.
"Can I help you?" she asked with a winning smile.
"I was hoping you could help me find The Wiseman Gallery," Ellie stated, glancing around the room. It was an old hotel with a massive and beautifully built lobby.
The Englishman spoke up first, as it seemed the girl had lost interest and gone back to what she had been doing. "I think thatís on fourth."
He walked over and Ellie shared her view of the map with him. The man talked in a refined accent that Ellie found rather soothing. She listened intently to the instructions, vaguely aware of the young woman moving around. Behind them, came a sound of undeniable frustration.
"Wesley, are you almost done. I need some help here," said the girl.
Ellie and Wesley both turned to look in time to see a box fall causing a sheet of muslin fall to the floor with a whisper. Ellieís breath caught in her throat at the sight of what was under the sheet. It was a painting that she herself had created.
The map fell from Ellieís hands and she began moving toward the painting. The brunette and the Englishman looked at each other, exchanging puzzled glances.
"Forgotten by the nightÖ" Ellie whispered, her hand trembling as she touched the strokes of paint with her fingertips.
"Iím sorry. What did you say?" asked Wesley.
Ellie snapped out of her thoughts, and quickly ran out of the hotel, stepping on the wrinkled map of an unfamiliar city.
Angel walked slowly up the stairs from the dark basement where he spent most of his time. He walked like a man, broad strides, firm steps. He ran his fingers through his hair with a sigh, and stepped out into the lobby of the hotel. He found his friend and coworker, Cordelia Chase in front of her desk, chewing on a pencil as she manipulated the mouse of her computer. He noticed the piles of boxes littering the floor.
"Whatís going on?" he asked, gesturing to the pile.
"Hmm, oh. I was trying to clear out some clutter. I thought it might brighten this place up if we minimized the piles of dust covered junk around here."
Angel looked slightly stung and as boyish as a 250-year-old vampire can look. "Well, itís not all junk. Some of this stuff is really nice. Like this," he picked up what looked to be an old, rotted twig with the tooth of a demon embedded in the tip. "This is a great, uhÖstick,"
Cordelia would have laughed, but it wasnít in her nature. She simply walked past him and towards the coffeepot as though he hadnít said a word.
Angel continued to rifle through the mass of things. "Iíve been looking for this." He held up a miniature skull with stringy hair.
Cordy gave him a sideways glance, but otherwise continued to ignore him.
It was then that Angel came upon the painting. He didnít know why he had kept it. She was long dead, his unwilling victim, though he could still see her and her pleading eyes. He picked up the picture, started towards the basement.
"You know, some woman came in here today looking for directions," Cordelia said when she saw Angel carrying the unframed canvas.
He stopped to listen.
"She was really freaked out by that picture."
Angel said nothing.
"She said something too, but I canít remember what it was. Oh, "forget about the night", or something like that."
Angelís brain began working. He could see the artists face, heard her voice as she lay dying. "Forgotten by the night," he whispered.
"Yeah, thatís it," Cordy said with enthusiasm.
Angel continued toward the basement without another word.
Angel found himself sitting in his chair and staring into the darkness. He had thought the woman was dead. He had drained her life from her that night. Could she have lived? Her last words had come to haunt him as they had in dreams. Those words and that painting had meant something to him years ago, but now he couldnít remember why they had been so important. He could no longer see what had once been so clear in the dark shades of paint.
He heard many of them in sleep. The men, women, and children whom he had killed in his lifetime never gave him a momentís peace. If he could make sure that the young woman was still alive and see that she stayed that way, then he would have one less voice to haunt him. Instead of helping total strangers, he could actually make right something that he had once done wrong. He stood and walked to the foot of the stairs.
"Cordelia." He called. "That woman from today, where was she going?"
Angel stood in front of The Wiseman Gallery, trench coat blowing with the wind. The sun had gone down an hour before and the building seemed practically empty except for one car in the parking lot. A middle-aged man stepped out from a door on the side. He walked directly to the lone car and started the engine. As Angel began to walk away, she was suddenly there, coming from the front entrance of the gallery.
She lit a cigarette, started walking and he followed.
Moments later Angel was standing in front an old apartment building not far from his hotel. He watched the woman, her short hair bouncing as she walked up her front steps.
Now what, he thought. As he turned to leave again, she stepped from the building wearing a different pair of shoes and a sweater. The heavy door of the building closed behind her as she lit yet another white tipped cigarette. She seemed nervous as she stepped to the sidewalk and peered to the left.
"Donít get lost Ellie," she said under her breath, but Angel heard her. Ellie, that was her name.
Ellie began walking, taking the occasional puff from her cigarette, her boots making a loud clopping noise on the pavement. Angel wasnít far behind.
After a few blocks, Ellie stopped in front of a bar called OShaneís. She walked inside without pause, leaving Angel to wait in the night. He didnít want to go in, but he also knew a few Vampires who frequented that pub. A few minutes passed when he breathed a rather heavy sigh and stepped up to the door of the tavern.
As Angel moved inside he felt the air around him change. There was a band on stage playing a song he didnít know but the melody was something familiar. A haze of blue smoke wafted throughout the room, while people talked over the sound of the music as they drank. His gaze moved around the room to settle on Ellie. She sat in the back corner of the room, a single candle on the table lighting her face with a red glow. She almost faded into the brick wall behind her, barely noticeable. She sipped her wine and smoked another cigarette, her foot tapping to the rhythm.
"Can I get you something," the bartender asked Angel.
"Merlot," Angel said tossing money on the bar.
He took his wine when it came and moved to the farthest end of the bar, avoiding the mirrors hanging on the wall behind the numerous bottles of liquor. He watched Ellie steadily, as he had done on the night he had attacked her. She lifted her arm, rubbing the side if her throat with the palm of her hand.
Many glasses of wine and countless cigarettes later, Ellie was smiling, her cheeks flushed. She loudly sang the words of the Celtic tunes floating around the room. She felt good, happy, saved from the awful memories of years gone by. When a young man sat down at her table and began talking to her, she laughed and flirted without a second thought. Soon they were dancing around the room, both drunk and stumbling around on each otherís toes.
Two dances later, Ellie didnít look well. She sat back down at the table, her dance partner close behind, trying to coax her back out on the floor. Angel watched as her head bobbed a bit and eventually hit the table as Ellie slipped into a drunken sleep.
The man who had been dancing with Ellie laughed wholeheartedly when she passed out. His hands went to her shoulders as he tried to shake her awake. When she didnít respond, he looked quickly around the room to see if anyone was watching him. Satisfied that he was safe, he started sliding his hand up Ellieís shirt to grab her breast.
"Tell me," came a voice from behind the drunken man. "Is this the only way you can get chicks?" The man removed his offending hand quickly and jumped to his feet to meet eyes with Angel.
"I wasnít hurting her, I was onlyÖ"
"Assaulting her while she was helpless to defend herself," Angel said flatly. "Get out of here before I find someone who is willing to do the same to you." Angel watched as the man ran away, making sure he left the building, then turned to Ellie.
"Ellie," Angel said lifting her head off of the table. There was no response from her. Angel bent to lift her from her chair. She stirred in his arms, a laugh floating out of her mouth.
"I donít think I can dance anymore, Bill," she giggled, glancing up at Angel. "Youíre not Bill," she said laughing again, this time harder, "Who are you,"
"Letís get you home."
"I donít particularly want to go home," she said seriously, pushing away from him,
"Iíll be staying here for now, thanks."
"Thatís not a good idea. Youíre in no condition to be drinking anymore or being by yourself."
"Oh, and I suppose Iíll be safe with you. I would rather not take my chances with complete strangers."
He couldnít argue with that. She had no reason to trust him, nor should she.
"Iíll be fine on my own," Ellie slurred, screwing a cigarette into her mouth and reaching into her pocket for a lighter. She fought with the lighter, shook it and tried lighting it again. Finally, a flame burst from it and she lit her cigarette. "See, Iím fine."
No less than a second later, Ellie stumbled and began falling to the floor. She wouldíve had a large bump on her head in the morning if Angel had not been quick to catch her.
"Thatís it. Iím taking you home," he said, slinging her over his shoulder.
Chapter 4 Ė Touched
Nearly a week went by before Ellie found the nerve to return to the hotel that held her painting. With a bit of anxiety, she pushed open the front door to the old building and walked inside. Immediately Wesley, turned speckled eyes to look at her.
"Oh hello," he said.
"Hi. Listen, that painting you have, I would like it back. Iíll buy it from you, whatever. I just need to have it." She said the last with force.
"I have no problem with that, except itís not mine."
Ellie said nothing, waiting for the dramatic pause to end.
"It belongs to a friend of mine."
"No. Cordelia isnít exactly an art collector. The painting is Angelís. I can get him if you like, and you can continue your negotiations."
"That would be fine. Thank you."
Wesley disappeared down a hallway, his shoes clicking on the tiles. He didnít return. Instead, an all too familiar face stood in front of her.
"Ellie," Angel said in surprise as he approached her.
She remembered him as her Good Samaritan from the pub. She felt her body tense at the sight of him.
"Well, this is an uncomfortable coincidence. I have some questions for you. You see Iíve been remembering a few things from the other night. For starters, how did you know my name? How did you know where I lived? Why did you helpÖ"
"You told me your name. Donít you remember? You also helped me find your apartment. You werenít passed out the entire time." Angel smiled, showing perfect teeth.
Ellie thought for a minute then shook her head lightly. She decided to think about that situation later. Right now all she wanted was her painting.
"You can have the painting," Angel said, making Ellie look up at him. "Wesley said that was why you were here."
He walked to the other side of the room where the canvas was rested against the wall. "It doesnít have a signature on it, but if you say itís yours, Iíll take your word for it."
"How did you get it anyway? It was uh...lost over three years ago."
"I bought it at an estate sale." He seemed to avert her gaze, looking instead at the floor.
He held out the painting to her and she took it. Ellie immediately removed the sheet of muslin to lay eyes on the last painting she had ever created. She touched the strokes again with her fingertips. It was so dark. None of her other work had ever been so dark. She propped the painting up against the counter of the lobby, then stepped back to take in the whole of the composition. This action was completely natural to her, being how she did it hundreds of times a day at the gallery. As she gazed into the colors, something began to happen. The shapes within the artwork took on new form, the form taking on life. Her head swam with images she didnít fully understand.
Angel watched Ellie analyze her work with a reflective expression. After only a moment, Ellie turned to him. She looked strange, but she was softly smiling.
"Hello again, my love," she said taking on a tone and accent that were not her own.
"Itís been a very long time." She was walking towards him, her eyes brimming with sorrow and loss. Her hand extended to touch his face. "Youíre so cold. What has become of you?"
"Who are you?" Angel said sensing the change in her.
"Itís so hard to wait for the next time, like being lost."
"Who are you?" he said again, this time louder.
"I am Ellen and Ellen is me." There was a nonchalant way to her words. "But she doesnít remember you. Yet." In the next instant Ellie fainted into Angelís arms for the second time in less than a week.
Chapter 5 Ė Lavender
Liam lounged in the soft grass along the edge of the forest, casually watching the curvy bottom of his lover as she bent to gather wildflowers. Her worn and mended skirts were tied up around her knees making it difficult for Liam to keep his eyes from admiring the flesh of her exposed calves and ankles.
He had been with more desirable women. The tavern girls were far more beautiful with more enticing figures, but Maira had something that touched Liam in places that were not physical. As if she had heard his thoughts, her head suddenly spun around sending the thick braid of dark hair flying behind her. She looked at him with eyes the color of green olives and smiled brightly. She had poked a few flowers into her hair along the braid and behind her ears, making her look like Queen Mab of the Fairies.
Liam felt the familiar stir of desire and told her so with the look in his eyes. Maira walked towards him in bare feet, bunches of wildflowers still in her hands. She plopped down next to him on the grass, their hips touching ever so slightly.
"Whatís this one again?" Liam asked plucking a sprig from her hair.
"Yarrow," she smiled, "It wards off sorcery and demons."
"And this one?í"
"Ah, my favorite." She held the stem in her hand, bringing it to her nose. "Lavender. The flower goes into love sachets and aids seers in their work. Not to mention it smells lovely."
Liam took the plant gently from her hand and sniffed its fragrance. "It smells like you," he said.
"Donít you mean I smell like it?"
Liam laughed softly and leaned closer to her. She looked into his eyes and let him push her down into the grass with his body. He kissed her mouth with more tenderness than he had ever touched another woman. She responded in a way that told him she wanted more, arching her body up to meet his. Liam pulled away to look down at the woman whoís body he knew so well.
"What does the Lavender help you see?" he asked.
She spoke without hesitation. "Your father is wrong. One day you will be someone of tremendous importance. The greatness of you soul will last centuries, Liam."
Liam suddenly realized why this plain looking girl had more of his heart than the dozens of beautiful women he bedded. She saw only the goodness in him, and that made him want to be a better man.
He kissed her with fire and easily parted her lips with his tongue. His hands moved along the curve of her thigh and trailed down to her knees. Liam loved the little sounds Maira made when he touched her, as if his touch were sustaining her life.
As the sun began to set and the stars rose high into the night, the sounds of their lovemaking could be heard throughout the trees. The moon smiled down upon them and the forest herself gave them her blessing.
TO BE CONTINUED...