Part 3

I was pretty sure Shaugnessy was holding out on me about the ensoulments. The way I figured it, he was scared. That’s why he brought me in, somebody he could cut loose without raising suspicions, someone he could have eliminated without getting on the bad side of the Slayer Units. Lots of guys on that team would pay to see me take a bullet.

I didn’t think he knew who was behind it all, but he probably had enough to go on to be reasonably sure it was someone or something with a long reach and a lot of money. But he couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. The key to power is knowledge. He had to find out what was going on if he was going to keep his grip on the Slayers and by extension on the city itself.

He wanted to know the who and why. The solution to that equation could be solved in any order, but it would sure help narrow down the list of suspects if I knew the motive. The fact was, you didn’t ensoul vampires just so they could beat Fushima-Broeder tests. Demons could usually be controlled with wards and containments and compulsions. But you went and layered human emotions on them — especially sociopathic ones — and you ended up with a very volatile mix.

At the most basic level, magical controls often had trouble distinguishing man from demon, and sometimes those controls would destabilize and break down. On a more complex level, people did things for more convoluted and sometimes contradictory reasons than vampires, reasons less amenable to external controls.

Vamps act out of hunger and self interest. They are the ultimate incarnations of selfishness, spoiled children with the appetites and strength of demons. Nothing matters to them but survival and the fulfillment their desires of the moment. And yet in their complete liberation and freedom from the constraints of the human society they so despised, they’ve entered a slavery far worse, one based on a strict hierarchy of fear where strength becomes the only virtue. That was inevitable. Giles once told me that freedom absent accountability and responsibility always ends in the enslavement of the weak by the strong. And controlling a slave is a simple enough thing. Slaves of any kind respond to power and fear, be it the power and fear of the overseer’s whip, or the power and fear that comes from not getting the next heroin fix in time to stave off withdrawals. They are simple tools, and effective if wielded without conscience

The problems start when the slave decides not to be a slave anymore, regardless of the personal cost. Vampires don’t have that choice. They are slaves to what they are by their very nature. People are a different story. We aren’t slaves by constitution, so we’re much less predictable than demons. Love gets mixed in with hate, self-loathing turns outward to destroy others, minor fixations grow to all-consuming obsessions that remain unchecked by fear or the instinct for self-preservation. You mix the often self-destructive, rebellious, contradictory psychology of people in with demonic appetites, you never know what the hell you’re going to get. Sometimes you get an Angel or a Cordelia. Or maybe you get a walking nuclear bomb.

Oh, Cordelia. Right. In this world she became a vampire a long, long time ago. It was back in Sunnydale. My alter-ego didn’t make the finals and a lot of people died: Giles, Xander, Angel, almost everybody else. Willow survived, but she’s a different story. Cordelia survived, too, if you can call it surviving.

She has a soul now. I saw to that decades ago.

Which brings me to the next stop on the tour.

*                              *                              *

The original Inferno and its two sister clubs, Purgatorio and Paradiso, had gone the way of almost everything else in L.A. after the Big One. You might even be able to see them on one of the glass-bottomed boat tours.

The Inferno’s latest incarnation is in Manhattan, and Cordelia somehow manages to reinvent the place often enough that it’s an almost perennial hot spot. Cordelia Chase is nothing if not attuned to the latest fads and stylings. She’s also attuned to the undead underground and nearly everything going on in it. Comes from catering to a clientele both alive and undead, creatures of the night on either side of life looking for a little taste of the dark side. That’s why I was here. I always came here first.

Inferno’s current persona was a sort of retro 2020’s place, a throwback to the halcyon days of almost-normal weather patterns and reasonably abundant oil supplies. I liked it. It worked in a nostalgic way without being trashy and insulting, and the whole thing evidenced a keen eye for detail that made it more than just a shoddy copy of the past. But then, Cordy and I knew more than a little bit about the past. We’re both from it, after all.

I’m not sure why I went through the trouble of getting her ensouled, except that I thought I owed it to her somehow, owed it to her because my other self had so thoroughly failed her. Maybe it would have been kinder just to kill her, but then again the selfish part of me is glad I didn’t. After losing everyone I ever cared about, then watching their surviving doubles in this world grow old and die, Cordy, even this parallel universe facsimile, is a last reminder of who I was. And if I’m as much of an eternal creature of the night in my own way as she is in hers, at least in that respect we have more in common now than we ever did in my world.

Yeah, me and Cordelia Chase, best friends. Go figure. The universe is really twisted sometimes. All the universes are, I think. One, big cosmic joke. Played on me.

“That better be synth,” I said as she poured the thick, red liquid from the bottle. We were in the empty second floor lounge. She was behind the bar and I was sitting on one of the vintage barstools.

Cordy looked offended. “Of course it’s synth. I don’t trade in the illegal stuff. Besides, in case you haven’t been paying attention for the last couple of decades, the blood supply in this city isn’t exactly Grand Cru quality. I mean, God, just thinking about what those people put into their bodies is enough to give me the willies.”

“Sorry. I should’ve known better. I’m just getting hard and cynical in my old age, you know?”

“You’ve always been hard and cynical. You just have less of a sense of humor about it lately.”

“I don’t need a sense of humor. I have a gun.”

“I’m sure that made sense to you,” said Cordy.

“It means you don’t have to charm anyone when you can beat cooperation out of them.”

“That’s not a very other-directed approach to life. Not in the nurturing, constructive sense, anyway.”

“Nurturing and constructive. Were those adjectives ever actually applied to me?”

Cordy paused and gave me one of those looks, one of those infrequent ones, that told me there was a lot more going on in that head of hers than she usually let on.

“Sometimes I think I liked the original Buffy better.”

“Where I come from, I am the original. And let’s be honest, Cordy, yours didn’t exactly end up with a Superbowl ring, did she? Didn’t even make the playoffs.”

“Now we’re speaking ill of the dead, huh? What’s eating you?”


“I’d heard you were on the Slayer payroll again,” she said.

“Geez, Cordelia. That was fast. What, you have Shaugnessy’s office bugged or something?”

“When you’re a vampire, it pays to keep tabs on vampire killers. I didn’t think you’d be playing that little game again.”

“We’ve been through this. I don’t hunt ensouled vampires, not unless they’re dangerous. You know me better than that. Even Shaugnessy knows better than to try to push me over that line.”

Don’t get her wrong. Cordy didn’t have a problem with killing vampires. Like Angel before her, she probably hated them more than I did. The problem was when outfits like the NYPD’s Slayer Units got into the act. They tended to make fewer moral distinctions between ‘ensouled’ and ‘soulless’.

“Just promise me you’ll let me know if Shaugnessy gets it into his head to do more than just let you run around doing your Sam Spade routine.”

“There was never a question that I wouldn’t,” I said.

She smiled. We might have been uneasy friends sometimes, but when push came to shove we’d always come through for one another.

“So, what’s the story? Why’s Shaugnessy so keen to have you back in the fold? I didn’t think they liked you very much over at police HQ,” she said.

“Someone’s been ensouling vamps, enough of them that it’s gotten certain people very nervous. I’m supposed to find out who, and why,” I said. I conveniently left Spike out of it. He was her sire, and there was little love lost there. Cordy gets … unpredictable … when Spike shows up on the scene. No sense getting her all worked up about a guy who wasn’t going to be around much longer.

That’s when I realized I was enjoying the idea of running a stake through Spike’s heart, and I took a long drink of Cordy’s black market Scotch to kill the impulse. You start to like killing, even if it’s just killing demons, and pretty soon you’re as bad as they are. Then somewhere along the line the distinctions between demon and human start to break down in your head. After all, I’ve seen people who were as evil as any demon I’ve killed. It can be very tempting to keep redrawing the boundaries to include more and more things in your circle of acceptable targets.

I should know. I’ve been there. Done that. And when I finally crawled out from under the mountain of corpses, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of me that was human anymore.

I left Slayers and Slayer behind that day, and never went back. Until now. And damn if I didn’t feel the old thrill of the hunt come back, the sick urge to watch a vampire turn to dust at my hand.

When did I lose my soul? It was an old question for me. I didn’t have the answer. It’s usually a slow process, and you don’t notice it’s gone until it’s already far too late.

“Uh, oh. You’re getting into one of your moods again,” said Cordy.

“I’m always in one of my moods,” I said.

She shrugged a so-be-it shrug and asked, “So what do you want from me, exactly? This ensoulment wave sounds like a good thing, so why not let it ride, see where it takes us?”

“There’s a problem with that,” I said. “If outfits like the Slayers start getting too nervous, they’re going to come down on all vamps, soulless or otherwise, like a pile of bricks. They’ll declare war, and neither you nor I want to see that happen. Plus, I don’t know what the motives are behind these ensoulments. If there’s something sinister behind it all, I need to know so I can put a stop to it.”

She nodded reluctantly. “You’ve definitely got a point on both counts. Okay, first thing you should know is, these ensoulments weren’t exactly what you would call voluntary.”

“Never is. Your demons don’t exactly like sharing the apartment.”

“Okay, so that one was a no-brainer. But try this one — Shaugnessy’s a day late and a dollar short. It’s not just about ensoulments anymore.”

“How do you figure?”

“The Slayers only know about the high-profile vampire killings, the ones that made a noise. But there’ve been several dozen others just in New York City. And lately, some of the vampires being killed weren’t known to our network.”

“I’m not following you,” I said.

Cordy gave an exasperated shake of her head and downed a sip of synth. She wiped away the crimson stain on her lips with a napkin and said, “Vampires don’t bring people over to the other side routinely. When they do, the whole vampire community generally knows about it. My sources tell me that there have been at least half a dozen vampires who have been killed recently who no one knew about until after the fact. There’ve probably been a lot more. We don’t leave behind a lot of trace evidence when we’re killed.”

I pondered that one. None of this was adding up. “Okay, so someone’s turning out vamps, but whoever it is, they’re a rogue, not part of the local clan structure.”

“That’s what we figure,” said Cordelia. “But it’s more than odd that so many mystery vampires would earn their final reward so close together like that.”

“Almost like someone’s trying to cover their tracks,” I said.

“Yeah, almost like that,” Cordy agreed. Despite appearances, Cordy’s bright. Sometimes she gets impatient with me when I don’t follow her thinking right away.

“This thing makes less sense the more I learn about it,” I said.

“There’s one more thing,” she said, digging out a small, old-fashioned business card from under the counter. “I don’t know if it means anything, but one of the recently dead vampires that the Slayers don’t know about was sort of the soulless vampire version of a private investigator slash Slayer. He was tracking down an ensouled acquaintance of mine at the time. Something about a very old blood feud — you know how well the soulless and ensouled get along, truce or no truce. Anyway, this particular tracker got himself killed Slayer-style, like the others, and my acquaintance found this on him.”

She passed the card to me and I looked at it. It was a gray business card from Bartoli Body and Fender with an elaborate glyph inside a circle penciled on the back of it. Whoever had made the sketch had put some effort into being neat about it.

“It might not have anything to do with what you’re looking for, but it is strange,” said Cordelia. “I’ve asked around. Nobody I trust knows anything, and I didn’t want to draw any unwanted attention my way, so I dropped it. Maybe you’ll have better luck.”

“Thanks,” I said, pocketing the card. It was something. Maybe not much, but something. That was a lot more than I had when I walked into the Inferno.

“Something big is going down, isn’t it?” asked Cordy, biting her lower lip.

I finished off my whiskey and said, “Yeah. I think so. Real big. Scary big.”

She was silent for a few moments and I got up to leave.

“Buffy?” she asked.


She fixed me with a gaze that said an awful lot. You know someone as long as I’ve known Cordy, you don’t need a whole lot of words sometimes. Even so, she put it in words.

“Good luck,” she said. “I know it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, but you’re my only real friend. You’re the only one I really trust. I need you. Don’t get yourself killed.”

I didn’t know what to say. I’ve had a lot of trouble with feeling things since I came here. Too many feelings in the last world, too few in this one. No, that’s not really true. I just keep my feelings buried so deep these days that sometimes I forget I have them. It keeps me from getting hurt, but it also keep me lonely and isolated.

But Cordelia was my friend, the only one I had left in this world. And she could tell by my sudden hesitation, by that distant and wistful look I sometimes get, that her kind words were not unappreciated, nor were her feelings unreciprocated.

I left the Inferno, emerging into the heat and humidity of a city on the edge of a mad abyss, and I wondered for the ten thousandth time why I continued to fight the darkness.

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