There used to be darkness. Now there was eternal light, drying out his eyes, never letting him hide, but he remembered there used to be darkness, and sleep. He would cry, but there wasn't enough water in his body for tears. Singing echoed in his ears, but he didn't listen anymore, because the anticipation of what was to come could only add to his misery. //Lousy singers anyway. All howls and holiness.//
Ripper was in charge now. Rupert Giles was too meek, too na´ve, and he was cowering somewhere deep inside, crying. Giles was too newly formed, trying to tie together Ripper and Rupert, trying to create a man unbound by either black magick or Watchers. But Ripper was strong, fueled by anger, and pride would keep him from breaking. Ripper understood pain, had even enjoyed it in those dark nights with Eyghon and Ethan. When he screamed, it was as much a scream of rage as of torment.
His skin rippled, began to itch.
The spell bound to his throat had deep roots, and kept him from singing, but he played music in his head, using it to blot out reality, trying to compose a spell from bits of Cream and Pink Floyd.
"I am just a new boy,
Stranger in this town.
Where are all the good times?
Who's gonna show this stranger around?"
Ethan didn't answer. The music in his head didn't work anymore, although even with this binding spell it must have been stirring up something, for the choir had marched in once and held him down and sang their dominance, making the grip on his throat tighten. After that he couldn't touch the magick at all.
But he knew Ethan was out there, and Ethan knew magick better than anyone. He'd find a way around not being a musician. He'd find a way into the Hall without endangering himself. All Ripper had to do was wait, and plan, and let the rage grow.
He gagged, trying to breathe. Blisters were forming on his skin, red creases dappled with pus. //Good one, that. They've made me allergic to myself, haven't they?// Though effective, it seemed a cowardly assault to Ripper, making the victim torment himself instead of dealing out the pain to him.
Writhing against the stone floor made it worse. This agony came from within, couldn't be escaped. The skin wanted to peel away from his body, but that wouldn't help, for the organs and muscles didn't want to be there, either. His body was swelling. His fingers clawed away strips of skin, splattering the floor with blood, and Ripper screamed.
All these years, and he'd never talked about it. His father, enraged by his only son's outrageous rebellion and seeing no visible wounds, seemed to view what happened as a just punishment. Still swamped with guilt over Randall's death, Giles was inclined to agree. A year or two later, alarmed by the way he buried himself in their library, the Watcher psychiatrist recommended using drugs, hypnosis, or magick to erase his memories of "the trauma," but Giles had flatly refused, preferring to deal with his fears himself. The traditional stiff upper lip did interfere with talking.
Admittedly, it felt somewhat...not soothing, exactly, but certainly a release. He'd been sitting here for hours, brooding in silence, and it hadn't done anything but make him feel worse. Telling Willow a bit about what had happened at least got it out in the open.
Of course, all he'd talked about was the torture...he'd not told poor little Willow about the real horror. Not yet.
"The kids said it was bad," she said, and sniffled. "But I thought maybe they exaggerated. You know, to make it more gory and dramatic and interesting."
Giles put a finger under her chin to tilt her face up, and smiled at the sorrowful green eyes. "You're crying."
"No, I'm not," she said, and scrubbed at her face with both fists. "Go on. Finish telling me about--about it."
"That's all there is to tell. I surrendered. I wept, cravenly begged to serve, and vowed to do whatever they wanted me to do."
She was thunderstruck. "You did not!"
"I did, too."
"Giles, Angelus tortured you for hours and hours, and I thought that was unbearable, but these guys spent weeks--"
He shook his head. "Oh, it was worse the second time. It always is. Every time he touches you, you think, 'Now he's going to do this,' or 'Now he's going to do that.' Every time there's a pause in the torture, you replay what was done to you before, reliving the pain, and thus do his work for him. You torture yourself. At least the first time, you don't have any idea what's coming. You keep telling yourself, 'That's it, then. It can't possibly get worse than this.' It does, but you never anticipate it."
"So it was worse with Angelus, and you didn't break then."
"This was a very believable total emotional collapse, I'll have you know."
She blinked. "You lied to them?"
"I effaced myself magnificently. Whenever anyone raised a voice, I trembled. I was frequently seen lurking in corners, weeping. Whenever I spoke, I stammered. For several days I buried myself in studying their use of magick. I answered openly every question they asked me, stammering away. Although I couldn't sing or even play an instrument--the spell made it impossible to get the directions from my brain to my fingers, somehow--I studiously wrote out sheets of music from our world, giving them everything they wanted."
Willow swallowed. "Is that why you're so upset? Because you're remembering how you helped them?"
"Not at all." He gave her a Ripper grin, sly and arrogant and malicious. "I gave them exactly what they wanted...because the dying man is always granted a last wish."
His Eminence was always elaborately dressed. His wizard's robe and cap were ornately embroidered in abstract designs employing every color of the rainbow, for he ruled all. If Giles winced upon viewing him, it was no doubt read as awe rather than offended fashion sense. Sitting in his solid gold throne, the wizard peered down at his underlings, craggy eyebrows lowered over a hooked nose gone slightly purple from over-indulgence. Rupert Giles quailed under that stare, although somewhere deep inside Ripper jeered, //Gotta have a sore bum, cold chair like that.//
"I'm told you have seen the error of your ways, infidel."
"Er, yes. Yes, Your--Your Eminence."
"And you come to me on your knees to plead for what?"
Looking flustered, Rupert promptly dropped to his knees. "Yes, I, um, come to you on my knees...to plead for...that is to say, I--"
"You seek permission to serve Me."
"Yes, exactly!" He smiled with relief at having the words provided, then hastily bowed his head.
"What surety have I that you are sincere?"
The kneeling figure quivered. "I--I don't want to be hurt any more. Please."
"And?" the bass voice roared.
"And...I ask that you, um, give me my companions to do with as I please. When--When you find them."
His Eminence understood vengeance, and lust, and the need of the oppressed to have someone lower than themselves to oppress in turn. That was what Giles had counted on. He waited on sore knees as the sorcerer stroked his matted white beard. It was quite impressive, reaching past where his belly button must be beneath those gaudy robes.
"If you prove worthy, I will grant your request."
"I--thank you, Your Eminence, I--I will work very hard. I'm writing out the melody to an opera now. An opera is a--"
"Your handlers report that you are obedient."
"Yes, sir. Your Eminence, sir."
"You are aware that there are those who defy me?"
"Not--not I, sir."
"There are those who defy my rule and seek to work magick without my guidance."
Rupert contrived to look shocked, although he had spent weeks in the torture chambers doing exactly that. "Why, Your Eminence?"
"Because they are foolish rebellious children who do not know what is good for them!" the old man roared.
"Oh. Of course. I mean, I see."
"Some even claim to work magick without the use of holy music."
Now, there was interesting news. Instead of futilely trying to cast spells the way he would have done in his own world, perhaps he should experiment. If there were a way to wreak havoc despite the 'necklace' that choked off songs--
"This insolent pup claims to be a mage, yet neither sings nor plays an instrument."
Still on his knees, Rupert craned his head back for a look. His 'handler' still stood near the door, prepared to punish him for the slightest infraction--since Rupert was scrupulously obedient, sometimes the handler made up infractions, apparently bored with his guard duty. Behind him, two men dragged in another prisoner. This was one of the blue-skinned natives; if his eyes were golden, it couldn't be told through the blindfold he sported. He was quite young, perhaps a few years older than Giles.
"Are you going to p-punish him, Your Eminence?" he ventured.
"You will kill him for me, Rupert Giles."
"Oh. I, uh, see." He squared his shoulders. "Very well. Has anyone a knife?"
Casually, his handler flipped a black dagger. It drove through the edge of the brown satin pants he'd been given and imbedded itself in the floor. Giles stared at it, watching the green-and-black striped handle quiver. He hadn't known a knife could cut into stone like that. Was it the metal, or a spell? No matter. Drawing the dagger from the stone with a grunt, he rose and walked across the hall
"Should I disembowel him, or...well...cut out his vocal cords for Your Eminence, since he refuses to use them in your service?"
"That is an excellent offering, Rupert Giles." The old man seemed surprised. Well, perhaps it had been out of character for Rupert Giles. He snapped a phrase, and the tall slender brunettes who had been prone on either side of his throne rose, humming. They had no magical talents; they were his background chorus. His Eminence was the star. "Your first act as my mage will be to use your talents to kill this blasphemer."
It took everything he had not to smile. "I beg your pardon, Your Eminence, but I can't--the spell--I can't sing."
The back-up girls raised their voices. His Eminence rumbled a few lines of basso that might have done well with an operatic piece when he was a few years younger. Giles felt the cords around his neck melt into a greasy film, and vanish. There was no longer an oppressive weight hanging from his vocal cords.
His eyes flicked back to the bound blue man. No doubt he, too, had been an honored guest in the Sorcerers' Hall's lower regions. It was a pity, but everything he'd endured had led to this moment, and this prisoner was in the way.
I'm a sleepy time baby, a sleepy time boy.
Work only maybe, life is a joy.
We'll have a sleepy time time.
We'll have a sleepy time time.
The blindfolded prisoner collapsed bonelessly to the floor. Giles knelt beside him, slashed downward hard with the knife, rose, and handed the knife, blade dripping blood, to his handler. His handler looked disgruntled. //No more playtime in the dungeons for us, wanker,// Ripper noted without sympathy. //Have to find some other way to entertain yourself.//
Turning, he prostrated himself before the throne, offering up the sacrifice.
The beam on His Eminence's grizzled face gradually faded. "What is that awful noise?"
Eyes closed, lost in the music, Giles summoned the magick. He had spent every second of torment preparing for this moment, rehearsing the marriage of memory and magick and music that he couldn't create when locked by the binding spell. Despite that constant repetition, despite what he had learned since his release from the cell to augment what he'd already planned, he was surprised to hear the guitar chords reverberate around him, echoing off the walls, not just in his mind. It seemed that if you were willing to pour out your life, you didn't actually need an electric guitar.
"We'll have a sleepy time time.
We'll have a sleepy time time.
Sleepy time time.
Sleepy time time all the time.
Asleep in the daytime, asleep at night.
Life is all playtime; working ain't right...."
No one in the inner sanctum was affected, but they weren't his targets, not yet. This was a very big castle, but a very great hate makes a wonderful amplifier. No one was going to interfere before Ripper was through here.
The guitars hardened. The lyrics weren't very good, but he was a singer, not a songwriter. At least the intent was clear.
We don't need no breathing monsters,
We don't need no hearts to pound.
Behind him, the handler and the two guards were choking. Giles opened his eyes and rose, focusing on the foul old man who had led them. His Eminence was singing, trying to drown out the magick with his basso profundo cry, but Ripper just smiled up at him, raising one hand like an imaginary gun aimed at where his heart should be. There was blood on the edge of the 'gun,' produced by sleight-of-hand for the 'slaying' of the prisoner, because Ripper intended to shed no innocent blood. There was plenty of guilty blood to go around.
No dark thoughts form in the castle,
Monster, crumble to the ground!
Hey, Monster, leave these kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.
It was rather an artistic death, because Ripper hadn't been willing to settle for anything mundane. An evil old man crumbling to the floor should do so literally, flaking away in pieces like a stale cookie, shrieking as fingers, teeth, ears, a nose piled up at his feet. His body rocked beneath the onslaught of loud, hard-driving chords, and broke down, making a low wall of organs and bones and rainbow-colored cloth.
//I'm still alive.// This had not been part of the plan. The guitars whined, quieted a few decibels. Ripper shook his head. //No. Not done yet.//
The blindfolded prisoner still slept, although it had been a very weak spell--Giles hadn't wanted to waste the power on more. No need to waste time and magick awakening him; lying on the floor here was probably the safest place to be, now that his guards were dead. Ripper swerved around him. Perhaps through a last surge of magick, the handler was still breathing. In passing, Ripper stepped on his throat, crushing it, and strode into the hall in search of more victims.
He went to the cells first, tearing down the bricks in the wall, killing the torturers, most of them sleeping serenely as the spell had directed. He had only prepared the one verse, since he didn't expect to succeed so completely, but the repetition seemed to give it strength. Their deaths weren't a rerun: they died of suffocation, of self-strangulation, of coronary thrombosis, or simply crumpling to the floor in less dramatic re-enactments of their leader's death. Between verses, in guitar solos, Ripper simply pointed, and they died, some in flames, some impaling themselves with their own instruments of torture.
The first throat-chain he saw, he melted away, but Ripper didn't have time to waste on mercy. That mage freed another, and together they freed still more. Prisoners fled, or stopped to help those too badly hurt to rise...but others marched behind him, gradually picking up the melody, humming when they didn't yet know the words. Instead of weakening from the massive expenditure of power, Ripper grew stronger.
When the cells were empty, he moved on to the courtyard. Hordes of people were there, some streaming out through the entrance gates, others running to join the crowd massed behind him. It appeared that many of the sorcerers in Sorcerers' Hall had been there against their will, but unable to fight back until now. All fell back in terror when Ripper strode by.
He swept through the Hall, and people died, heads exploding or bodies turning to liquid. A few survivors staggered aimlessly around the buildings, their minds apparently scraped clean. He didn't even have to choose victims; all he did was swirl the magick into one impassioned verse, repeated endlessly, and the army behind him directed the weapon's blow when he didn't recognize a target. Ripper cut loose without hesitation, because Giles had worked hard on the spell, making sure one line aimed it only at evil thoughts formed within the castle. Even so, there seemed to be an endless supply of viable targets.
//Why doesn't someone stop me?//
Someone did try, on his eventual return to the courtyard. When the screeching madman on the fire-breathing horse galloped at him, leveling a spear at his heart, Ripper stopped short, lowering his arm, waiting for the blow. But a knife soared past him, buried itself in the rider's chest, and when the body toppled to the ground at his feet, he blinked at his handler's green-striped knife grip. It didn't make sense, and he was still not dead. Turning, he saw the blue-skinned prisoner, fully awake now, the blindfold yanked down to discreetly mask his face. His eyes were indeed golden, and glowing.
The flood of people running for the gates rolled back, like a tide turning, and the people scattered, no longer a single united mass. There were horsemen forcing their way in, but they weren't a formal army, just a dozen men and women in everyday garb. Not a target, then. Ripper ignored them, still singing, although no one could hear his hoarse croak beneath the roar of the wizards following him.
//Not done. Not done yet. Too many left.//
"TURN THAT MUSIC OFF RIGHT NOW, RUPERT GILES!"
"All right, Mother," he said crossly. He was sick of his parents always complaining about his music. He turned the volume way down, hoping she wouldn't hear it continue.
Hands gripped his upper arms, shook him. "Rupe? Look at me!"
His head hurt awfully. He blinked, and her face came into focus, tense and worried and even frightened. "Lissa?"
"It's over, Rupe. It's all right."
His army marched on without him, still singing Pink Floyd's masterpiece with Giles's inadequate lyrics, seeking out more offenders, leaving Ripper behind. As they left, the blue mage stepped forward, bristling, apparently feeling the need to protect him. Melissa snarled at him, drawing a sword. Where had Melissa gotten a sword? Rupert smiled weakly.
"It's all right, he's a good mage, even if he can't sing." To the blue man, he said politely, "Melissa Steinmetz, my dear friend." To Melissa, equally civil, he added, "I'm sorry. I believe I'm going to die now."
Fulfilling this prophecy, Rupert Giles and Giles and even Ripper finally collapsed.
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