|Revenge of the Queen: Chapter 3: Five Words
"Zaknafein!" Constantine called, a little too cheerfully.
The panther bounded ahead towards two figures, the smaller of which, a child, laughed and hugged it. Walking closer, Willow saw that the taller one was around Constantine's height, though his posture was straight and proud. His skin was midnight-black in hue, and his long hair was so white as to be nearly silvery, like the moon's light, his ears tapering to points. Dark-colored eyes of indeterminable hue glared at Constantine as the magus approached.
The elf - and elf it was - wore a dark blue cloak attached with a silver brooch of a snarling wolf, and a jacket of black leather that looked as supple as the material of Spike's duster, open to reveal chainmail armor wrought of some dark metal. The jacket was caught at the hips with a belt, from which hung two unadorned leather sword-scabbards. The hilts of the swords were also free of any carving or decoration, not that it made the elf appear any less menacing. Black leather pants ended in high black boots, all in all, combined with the elf's hunter's grace, made him appear like some strange incarnation of the black panther. Willow thought him quite the most handsome creature she had ever seen - handsome and strangely remote, like something quite unattainable, a dark jewel through a shop window that one could idly dream of having but would never practically consider it.
The elven child's features rather resembled the adult, and it was quite obvious that they were related in some way. The elf moved forward to stand between Constantine and the child, one hand casually on the hilt of a sword. "Constantine. What do you want?" As he spoke, Willow was certain that he wasn't actually speaking in English, but for some reason, she could understand it - as though the atmosphere itself was translating the sounds en route to her ears.
Constantine stopped and grinned impishly. "Why is it whenever I see you that's the first thing you say, elf?"
"Because your visits are usually never social," Zaknafein replied coldly, then the hard mask seemed to slip into quiescent amusement. "Saw Jarlaxle in the Heart of the Dreaming. Heard you made him a Demon Prince."
Constantine nodded, and Zaknafein sighed. "Jarlaxle - any Jarlaxle - would have been my choice for a Demon Prince, if I wanted Hell to win over Heaven in the Final Battle. Did you know he got all the demons in his Plane to turn themselves into the appearances of dark elves?"
"What for?" Constantine blinked.
"Loyalty, I would think," Zaknafein shrugged. "His arguments were quite clever when the Dream King questioned him diplomatically on this - but like most of his arguments, I care not to remember their substance. He can make you believe that darkness is light and light is darkness if you listen to him long enough. The other Princes would do well not to underestimate him like his mother had."
Constantine thought about this for a while. Though it would indeed show which demons were actually 'loyal' (as far as demons could be loyal), or apparently loyal to him, it could also create a lot of bad feeling amongst the demons who resented the forced shape-change. Was this an act of true caprice, or was there a deeper reason for it that Constantine couldn't begin to guess at? Some strange form of aestheticism, perhaps? He decided he couldn't be bothered, and inside his mind, the phoenix laughed at him with fond merriment at his attitude.
"What are you here for?" Zaknafein asked again, irritably though his hand slipped off the hilt of his sword.
"I needed a bit of a translation, since I think you dark elves speak the same language in most of the worlds," Constantine said, deciding not to banter any longer. "There's a suspected dark elf on the bit of the world I'm in. Mage. Does 'Mzild del dos' mean anythin' to you?"
Zaknafein frowned, but the child behind him, who had always been secretly fond of Constantine, spoke up helpfully. "It means 'More of you' in dark elf." He ducked his head quickly, pretending to be absorbed in playing with the panther, when Zaknafein shot him a glance.
Zaknafein sighed, but did not say anything else, only stared at Constantine with a cool, unrelenting intensity.
"Right, so it's possible that the thing was a dark elf," Constantine muttered. "Great. And I'd just bet all the cigarettes I'd ever smoked that it was a Do'Urden."
"Why so?" Zaknafein's voice seemed disinterested, but with dark elves, one would never actually know.
"I seem to run into variants of your House every-bloody-where I go, that's why."
Nalfein looked at the sunlight filtering down into the damp darkness of the sewer from the opened manhole above with distaste. The vampire had fled, and out of instinct he'd conjured a Wizard's Eye - invisible to all save Nalfein - to go after him, a useful spying spell that created a fist-sized, floating eyeball that would project images into his mind. It was a surfacer spell that had been gaining vogue amongst Menzoberranzan mages since early this century. The Eye had followed the vampire up and out into the sunlight - the fact that the vampire had voluntarily gone up into the sun was strange enough, but the fact that the vampire had sought - and found - help from the humans in the magic shop was even stranger.
The gabbling of the humans in their coarse, unmusical speech was just about nonsense to Nalfein's ears, and he dismissed the Eye - it no longer being of use to him since he didn't want to waste energy casting a spell of Understanding Language on something that might have nothing to do with his task at all. It was evident that he could not go into the shop in this form any longer, now that the vampire had set them on alert, and Nalfein idly considered illusions - and the problem that though he would understand the humans, he would not be able to speak their language.
Perhaps if he walked in the shop at night, when they slept? That would be a better option, except for its main flaw - from what he had seen of the shop and all its trinkets, it might take some time for the spider pendant to locate the Key, if it was even in there. But no matter. If the humans attempted to attack him, he would simply show them the power of a Mage Lord.
Resolving to return later, Nalfein retraced his path in the sewers, took a wrong turning, and was attacked by a pack of demons as he neared the entrance of their territory. He sighed deeply as he raised his staff against them, drawing his power to him.
Would this world never tire of violence?
"So how do I slay it?" Buffy asked immediately when Constantine stated what they had found and Willow had finished gushing about the Dreaming. Their visit there had taken a few hours as Constantine had taken Willow around on a bit of a tour, then they'd bid the panther farewell and returned to find the others relieved and studying books a little fruitlessly. The only dark elf thing they had found that was related to this was a lot of information on Lloth, the Spider Queen, evil goddess of the dark elves, and Constantine definitely didn't want to think about her.
She had a grudge against him, and had been trying to kill him for a while - and he had a bad feeling that this dark elf incident had something to do with her, which meant that it was quite likely that he was the source of the problem, though he had not thought her anger at him had now extended to pursuing him across worlds when she should be concentrating on the new, possibly hostile Demon Prince.
"Have you ever considered going for psychiatric help?" Constantine asked, with mock concern.
"Well, if what you say of dark elves is correct, then it's most probably evil, up to no good, and so, if it hatches some dark plot, I thwart it, then I slay it," Buffy ticked off the list on her fingers, ignoring Constantine's jibe. "If it's not, and it's just going around using vampires for target practice, then I find it and thank it."
"I have no idea what it's up to, or why it'd be here, luv," Constantine decided to withhold some of the truth. "Dark elves don't like the sunlight or the surface world as a rule."
"So, we ignore it." Buffy said, then turned to Willow, remembering something. "Who's got the eighth ticket, Will?"
Willow smiled nervously from where she sat, and looked involuntarily at Spike.
"What?" Spike asked, bewildered. "What ticket?"
"Dawn asked me to get a ticket for Spike," Willow said
defensively. "I told her what you'd think of it, but she insisted."
"Argh! When I get my hands on her... " Buffy growled. "Can you cancel it?"
"You've technically paid for it already, but she said she's willing to repay you." Willow smiled a little sheepishly. "I'm sorry, Buffy... "
Giles sighed, and got up to go and mind the customers, not wanting to see yet another verbal battle between his Slayer and Spike. He hoped she wouldn't break anything this time. Constantine, however, stayed put, his delight in watching discord commanding him to.
"There's nothing to it then... " Buffy continued to ignore Spike. "But he's not going to sit next to me. God knows what he does when he watches movies."
"Movie?" Spike grasped, then smirked. "The Lord of the Rings movie you lot are goin' to watch today? Aww, the Nibblet shouldn't have."
"That's exactly it!" Buffy glared at him. "She is so going to get it from me. I go for three hours of peace and Legolas and Spike has to come along."
"You like Legolas?" Spike couldn't help but sneer, although he knew better than to try and antagonize her further. "C'mon, Slayer... "
"He's extremely cute," Buffy retorted, folding her arms. "And I can't believe I'm discussing this with you, Mr. Peroxide."
"'sides, he's got such a pansy name. "Greenleaf", indeed."
"There's nothing wrong with his name," Willow protested quickly.
"And you suppose 'William the Bloody' is the epitome of cool, yes?" Buffy closed ranks with Willow on this issue.
"There's nothin' wrong with it, Slayer." Spike said blandly.
"Of course there's wrong with it! There's... there's a lot of wrong with it!"
Spike, recognizing a circular argument when he saw one, tried another tack. "And he sings in the books."
"So does everyone else," Willow replied, rather surprised that Spike had implied that he'd read them.
"It's a bleedin' choir. Load of pansies."
"No one said you have to come anyway," Buffy said coldly.
Spike stared at her, and when he finally spoke, his voice was weary and soft. "If you don't want me to come, Slayer, then I won't go."
"If you want me to die, Slayer, then say the word. Sun's outside, and I'd fry nicely in minutes. You'd be rid of me forever. That'd be what you want, innit?"
There was the sharp scrape of a chair as Willow got up hastily and dragged Constantine away from a scene that was patently private. She all but pushed him at the customers, then went to hide with Anya behind the counter, glad that the ex-vengeance demon was too happy counting money to notice the confrontation. Privately, she felt that Buffy's relationship was her own affair, but sometimes others got caught in the crossfire, especially if she decided to get violent.
Buffy and Spike gave no indication that they'd noticed them leaving.
"I'm gettin' tired, Slayer, very tired of runnin' after you like some bleedin' spaniel for you to kick at for your amusement. It's been a while since I've been helpin' you with patrols and protectin' the gang for you, and it doesn't seem to have done much, does it?" Spike continued, as if he hadn't heard. "When I was the Big Bad - and we fought - I could see the respect in your eyes, Slayer. Respect, even if it was for an opponent, and it's all gone now, innit?"
"Because what I see now, Slayer, is disgust, and I'm gettin' tired of that too. I don't understand why," Spike said, his voice still close to a whisper, looking away from Buffy, who seemed to be frozen onto her chair, her expression a mask of calm. "When I fight against you, I get respect - when I fight for you, I'm to be some whipped sod you call when you want some backup but you toss away later without even a word of thanks. I'm not just some weapon you can use and put away, luv... " Spike took a shuddering, unnecessary breath, suddenly aware that he was on the verge of declaring his love for her, and in public as well, aware that he was whining, but the words had just burst out like summer floods. Bloody hell.
If he knew her, she'd say something suitably cutting that'd rip up all his words to shreds, and if he knew himself, he'd still stay by her, unable to leave, to get up and walk off first and save the remnants of his dignity. Maybe he deserved this treatment, or was indirectly the cause of it, the way he debased himself this way in front of her with his words, his eyes, his actions. Maybe...
"I know that, Spike," Buffy said finally, rather neutrally. She felt a sudden, overwhelming urge to leave the Magic Box - slip out of it without a word of substance like all her past lovers had slipped out of her life. Allowing her life to turn into a real-time metaphor for the self-destructive loneliness of what it meant to be the Slayer, though she was not the only one now, was she?
Spike looked in her eyes, and his expression frightened her - because she could tell there was love there, and a yearning so strong that it was on the brink of consuming him totally, that could just reduce him into a shell that had only one thought - a craving for her - the same look of relentless addiction that Buffy always saw on Willow's face nowadays whenever her best friend used, or saw, magic. In her shock at this revelation of what she had always only vaguely known about Spike she jumped to her feet, preparing to escape, and his face expression just seemed to shut down and turn grim.
"That all you'd say then?" he murmured.
Buffy felt a sudden and totally unanticipated burst of compassion, and she smiled slightly, if hesitantly, but to Spike, with whom Buffy was his world, the smile was like the glorious sunrise after a cold winter's night. "See you at the movie."
With that, she fled, past her friends who had been, ostensibly, not listening - past Constantine, whose quick smile was strangely sympathetic, as if he understood her and what she had done, past uncaring customers and out into the harsh light, and she ran on, giving in totally to the pure physical sensations around her - the warmth of the sunlight, the hard concrete, the sounds of traffic and pedestrians, and the beating of a heart that now seemed quite unfamiliar.
Behind her, Spike stared at the open door of the Magic Box, his mouth comically open in shock that quickly turned into euphoria so intense, at those five words, that he found he was afraid of it. "Look what you've done to me, Slayer," he murmured, too softly for the rest of them to hear. "The whipped dog's willing to forget everything - going to forget everything - just for five bleedin' words. Five words. Bloody hell."
From the shelves, Constantine shot one more glance at the vampire, then returned to trying to charm the current girl he had latched on to try and buy something useless, since it amused him to do so. He had the feeling that Meri had enjoyed the interaction between the vampire and the slayer very much, and he wasn't quite sure why. It was probably perverse.
Strangely enough, that thought hadn't gotten any answer. Deciding that he'd never be able to understand females, even females that were actually burning birds of flame, he turned his attention back to the girl, and managed, after many smiles and 'accidental' touches and honeyed words, to get her to buy an ugly statue of a bear that had no actual arcane value at all.
"Bloody hell," Constantine muttered when yet another bugger's handphone went off somewhere close behind him with an annoying ring tone. The normal shrill rings of 'phones were aggravating enough, but ring tones were a lot worse, in his opinion. The tinny sounds that were often crude copies of actual music seemed to defile the music. Gah.
"If I didn't have the bleedin' chip in my bleedin' head, " Spike growled softly next to him, "I'd find all of them after this and rip off their heads slowly."
Spike was seated between Constantine and Dawn - Constantine next to Willow, on the extreme left of the line, and Buffy next to Dawn. Giles was next, then Xander and Anya. Spike, to his surprise, was enjoying the movie immensely, especially the violent scenes, although he felt a niggling irritation that they had cut a lot of scenes from the book and replaced them with needless ones.
He was also gratified that he was sitting close to Buffy, though listening to Buffy, Dawn and Willow sigh or make soft exclamations whenever Legolas appeared was a bit torturous. Spike irritably wondered why she found Legolas so 'cute' when she didn't seem to see anything in him... then he realized that he'd found the root of his problem. He was jealous of Buffy's infatuation with an imaginary character! "Pathetic," he muttered under his breath.
Constantine was also enjoying the movie, even though cigarettes weren't allowed and Tolkien reminded him of agonizing hours in his schoolboy days spent trying to glean meanings from the songs in the books. He also didn't understand why the girls were so crazy over Legolas, but he decided that it was because they'd never actually seen a real elf before. He was beginning to wonder if a Silence-radius spell on the theatre would keep the handphones quiet, but he decided that it'd probably cut off the sound as well, which would most likely cause Buffy and her friends to kill him.
Another handphone went off, during the tense scene of Gandalf's showdown with the Balrog on the bridge. Beside him, Spike growled again, more deeply this time, suggesting that chip or not, the vampire was beginning to lose patience.
: Meri, can you lend me a bit of strength, luv? Normally I can only do this when I'm face-to-face. :
Meri paused, analyzing what he was proposing to do, then her answer was positively gleeful. : I like you. :
John concentrated briefly, then he smirked to himself. "Done."
Spike looked at him curiously, and John's smirk grew. "Tell you later," he mouthed.
On the screen, the Fellowship, minus Gandalf, got out from the Mines, and somewhere to their right a baby began to cry. Spike began growling again, muttering something about "What kind of a git brings a damn baby to watch a damn movie?" Unfortunately, Constantine could only agree with him, wincing as the baby's cries grew in volume and pitch.
When they emerged from the theatre, Spike raised an eyebrow at Constantine as several people could be seen sprinting out in front of them, shoving through the crowd, their eyes wild, mouth working, clawing at their throats, though no sounds came out. "What did you do?"
Constantine told them. Spike whistled appreciatively when he got to the bit where he described making the handphone-wielders think that they were inserting their handphones into their throats while it played Britney Spears ringtones.
"Why not up the... " Spike made a graphic gesture. Giles rolled his eyes.
Constantine snickered. "That was for the bugger behind me whose 'phone went off near me ear." He pointed at one of the moviegoers who was staggering, whimpering, for the nearest toilet.
Buffy blinked. "Giles, is it wrong for me to actually feel satisfied that he did that?"
Giles adjusted his glasses. "I think in this case it was quite justified. You'd er, remove the spell in time, won't you?" He paused. "But take your time."
Spike smirked. "S' even better than rippin' off their heads."
"Thanks," Constantine mirrored the smirk.
"Did you do anything to the baby?" he asked curiously.
"Naw, but the parents'd get a nice shock when they get home and see what their bundle o' joy just changed into." Everyone, with the exception of Spike, turned slowly to stare at him with horrified expressions. He spread out his arms and grinned. "'ey, only kiddin'."
"Okay! Now we go to the Bronze," Willow chirped happily. "And eat dinner. I'm starved."
"Ahn says she left something in the Magic Box, so we'd have to stop by there for a bit first," Xander said.
"Housekeys," Anya clarified. "I got a bit distracted by all the business we had today."
As they fell into step, walking with the slightly dazed gait of people just out of a movie, Spike considered going to walk next to Buffy and Dawn, but wondered if it would be pushing his luck. In any case, the two of them - plus Willow and Anya - were all arguing about whether Legolas or Aragorn were 'cuter'.
"He spoke nineteen times," Willow was telling Buffy happily.
"Will! You counted?" Buffy grinned at Willow. "I wonder if I can use the bow and arrows during Slaying. It looks way cooler than stakes, and did you see the bit where he used the arrow like a dagger to kill that orc when the orc got too close? Giles? Can I?"
"Er, maybe," Giles said quickly, knowing better than to get involved in these sort of things, and trying to make it seem as though he was deep in conversation with Xander so the girls wouldn't try to make him take sides. For conversation, Spike found that left only Constantine, who was smoking and lagging a little behind the girls, so Spike joined him for cigarettes and also in an attempt to get on the magus' good side.
After establishing that they both liked about the same kind of music - especially when Spike admitted that he'd heard and liked the single 'Venus of the Hardsell' that Constantine's band, 'Mucous Membrane' had done. Down to beer, places in London, the underworld of magic...
"I think you like Legolas partly because he's blond," Anya told Buffy.
"Blond? What's that got to do with it?"
"Well, I read somewhere that girls like guys blond and blue-eyed." Anya grinned.
"You got Xander." Willow pointed out with a grin.
"Hey, nothing wrong with being dark," Xander protested from in front. "Blond and blue-eyed, just look behind you, ladies."
Spike and Constantine exchanged a glance that spoke volumes about what they felt about this particular conversation.
"They smoke," Buffy wrinkled her nose.
"So does Orlando Bloom - Legolas," Anya pointed out. "Though he's not blond and blue-eyed in real life."
"Well, I liked Legolas, not Orlando Bloom," Buffy grinned. "Did you see his hair? It stays so neat even after... everything!"
Spike privately thought Buffy's hair looked a thousand times better than Legolas', in any situation. He wondered what it'd look like in a wanton drape of golden threads on his black pillows, then had to pull his mind away from the link between 'Buffy' and 'bed' before his body threatened to betray him.
"Spike's hair stays the same after everything," Dawn said, a little loyally.
"Yeah, with the amount of things he puts on it - sometimes I think he glues the strands in place," Anya said critically, looking at the peroxide blond. Xander grinned; not warning his girlfriend against frank observations when said observations involved Spike.
"Nothin' wrong with my hair, demon-girl," Spike said mildly.
"It's the same problem he has with wearing the same sort of clothes every day," Buffy smirked.
"Well, there was that time about the Hawaiian shirt," Xander pointed out maliciously. Spike winced at the memory.
"Hawaiian shirt?" Constantine looked at Spike, then grinned as the mental image came up.
Spike was saved from having to make a reply as they neared the Magic Box, and he saw the same black-robed magus leaving it unhurriedly, closing the door conscientiously. There was a click as the door seemed to lock itself.
"Hey!" Anya yelled. "You thief!"
The magus froze when he saw them, then let out an audible gasp, one hand pulling out a spider pendant from inside his robes that had begun to glow with a red light. "Vel'uss mirar l'Mrim'ol?" he said coldly, the dark hood turning as if he was looking at them one by one.
"I have to admit, he does look like those ring wraith things," Buffy said, stepping forward to stand between the magus and the group. Constantine debated with himself for a moment, then remembered he had an obligation to Willow, at least, and walked up to stand deliberately next to Buffy.
"One moment," he told Buffy, then turned to the magus, recalling one of the translations that he'd asked Zaknafein for. "Humor me. Phuul dos da'l'Qu'ellar d'Do'Urden?"
"What did he say?" Xander murmured behind him.
"He asked if the elf was from the House of Do'Urden," Willow told her friend helpfully. "It's some private joke, I think."
The magus seemed to start in surprise, then he pulled back his hood to reveal an extremely handsome, elven face - not as comely as Zaknafein, Willow thought, blinking, knowing her heart was, for some reason, beating faster - but with a trace of possible dry humor in the half-smirk and the wicked amusement that made the eyes glitter.
"Rivvin ghil xuil zhaunil d'Ilythiiri?" his musical voice fairly dripped contempt, as the keen eyes looked all of them over with the confident arrogance of one that was powerful and knew it. "Xas, usstan uil d'Do'Urden."
"Bloody hell, I wish I had me music box," Constantine sighed. "Didn't understand a friggin' word. Okay, we're probably going to get into a fight, since most of them like killin' humans. When me and the elf here start with the fireworks, go somewhere far, far away. I'd try not to set fire to the shop."
"I'd help," Willow stood next to him resolutely. "Buffy can take them away."
"Well, luv, if he gets away from me then you'd be their next hope, innit?"
"But I can help!" Willow insisted, wondering why she seemed to feel the urge to show off her magic in front of her mentor - and strangely enough, in front of the handsome elf. Besides, she'd come across a book on translation spells only last week. "Like I can get him to speak in English!"
Before Constantine could stop her, she began to chant:
"Aphrodite, Mother of Love,
Hear your servant's plea,
Grant him learning of heart's words,
Grant him understanding of soul's truth."
"Not Aphrodite!" Constantine barked, but it was a bit late. There was the sound like a singing of a hundred nightingales in different notes that somehow managed to weld into harmony, then far-off, fading girlish laughter that was somehow mocking.
The elf stood transfixed, suddenly breathing heavily as if from some mental exhaustion, and then he turned a horrified look at Willow, who flinched guiltily, aware that something had gone wrong - again. When Willow moved, it seemed as though restraints had been pulled off the elf as well, and he spoke a word and planted his staff on the ground firmly, though with hands that visibly shook. Immediately, he vanished.
Notes and References:
Zaknafein: I never seem to be able to leave him out of my stories, despite best efforts to do so. Ah well. For a full history of his involvement with Constantine, go look at the story Rebel Heart.
Mucous Membrane: Unfortunately, I am not kidding about this. He did have a band named Mucous Membrane... 'why', I don't know. What kind of name is 'Presidents of the USA' anyway? Or that ant farm group? Or 'Arrogant Worms'? (Actually, I rather like the funny songs... 'Carrot Juice is Murder'...)
Vel'uss mirar l'Mrim'ol: Who has the key
Phuul dos da'l'Qu'ellar d'Do'Urden: Are you from the House of Do'Urden [the 'House' here, Qu'ellar, refers to a noble House. Non-noble Houses are known as el'lar.]
Music box: During his adventure in Rebel Heart, Constantine possessed a music box that, when wound up and playing, allowed him to understand other languages and for others to understand him. It was taken away by the Dream King Daniel after Constantine fulfilled his quest.
Rivvin ghil xuil zhaunil d'Ilythiiri: Humans here with knowledge of drow (language)
Xas, usstan uil d'Do'Urden: Yes, I am of Do'Urden
Aphrodite: I was heartily tempted to translate this further into Ancient Greek, but decided I was too lazy.