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Posted October 12, 2004
Series: The Edge of a Knife
Title: Look On My Works, Ye Mighty
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.
Summary: Angel, LoTR. In a world where Sauron won, Wesley discovers that demons weren't the first sentients to inhabit the Earth. 1400 words.
Spoilers: Set after Angel 5.20 "The Girl in Question'; AU for Lord of the Rings.
Notes: Set after Angel 5.20 "Time Bomb", and inspired by Illyria's line in 5.19, 'You were pretty at night. You sparkled and you stank.'
I met a traveler from an antique land
And on the pedestal these words appear:
Wesley frowned down at the massive leather-bound book spread open on his desk, tracing a finger down one densely-written page. He had been searching for hours, hoping to shed some light on the identity of a mystical object he'd found references to in Knox's files. The deceased scientist had apparently considered, then discarded the possibility of locating and using the object in question to facilitate his mistress' return to the living world; it was reputed to grant both magical power and perception, in keeping with the strength of its bearer. However, it was also rumored to be linked to a dark and bodiless Power that inevitably corrupted the object's owner to its exclusive service. Knox had undoubtedly been reluctant to risk chancing Illyria's wrath on that point whilst other options were still available.
The list of those reputed to have possessed the object over the years was shorter than one might expect, broken up by vast spans of time in which Knox had been unable to trace its movements. Despite its brevity, however, the list still made for uneasy reading; the former Watcher in Wesley knew a tale for every name, and combined they represented centuries of darkness and oppression. He had shown the list to Angel that morning, and the souled vampire had agreed; the sooner they could locate the thing and, by implication, make certain that it was out of general circulation-- the better.
The only description of the object in Knox's papers was a brief reference to a small golden band, and what seemed to be a name-- "Ash nazg". The linguistic origins of the title were a mystery to Wesley, unfortunately, and very little help in selecting possible entries from the vast index of enchanted jewelry the template had provided him.
He sighed, lowering his forehead to the text in frustration, then straightened again and slammed the tome shut. He had been through four major reference works already, and found nothing. But perhaps he was going about it the wrong way; if the object itself proved elusive, perhaps other mentions of the culture that produced it could be found, and so he might locate it under another name.
"Any and all linguistic references containing the phrase Ash Nazg," he declared, and then opened the template book once more. The pages filled immediately with words in a language he did not recognize, surrounding a hand drawn image of a circle inscribed with flowing runes. Immediately below the image, a pair of lines were set apart from the rest of the text:
Ash nazg durbatulśk, ash nazg gimbatul,
"A description, then, and not a title," he sighed, then began the task of copying both image and text into his notes. One great drawback of the template book was that the pages blanked automatically when shut, and a reference work called by description rather than title was not always easy to located again in future.
Wesley had just finished copying the last of the strangely formed letters when a prickling at the back of his neck announced Illyria's presence. He had not seen much of her of late; his displeasure with her imitation of Fred, and her own desire to test the limits of her reduced form, had led her to spend more time in the company of "her pet half-breed" than with him. He had been grateful for the reprieve, but slightly worried about what she might be getting up to in his absence.
"Good afternoon, Illyria," he said mildly, glancing up from the text.
He had guessed correctly about her presence, but for once her intent stare was not focused on him. Instead, she seemed captivated by the image on the page before him, her expression a mix of consternation and fury. "Sauron's Bane," she growled, reaching across the desk with a red-gloved hand to touch the surface of the book.
Wesley flinched in surprise as the black shapes of the text melted and ran under her fingertips, shifting into another language entirely around the static central shape of the ring. He'd never seen the text behave in such a fashion before-- but then, this was Illyria. Ordinary rules need not apply.
The new words forming under her hand were no more decipherable than those they had replaced, but there was an air of familiarity to them that hadn't been present in the original. Was it a translation, then? He couldn't quite pin it down, but there was something about the second language that reverberated in his subconscious mind, shadowing his thoughts with an impression of incomprehensible, ancient beauty. He allowed it to captivate him for a moment, hoping to jog his memory, then shook off the vague images and refocused on his guest.
"Sauron's Bane?" he said, repeating her words, wondering at the ominous tone in which Illyria had spoken them. Clearly, if she recognized this ring, it was far older than humanity had any record of-- and yet it had been made of a Terran metal, and shaped for a human sized hand. Curious. "You recognize it, then?"
She lifted her hand from the page and laughed, a short, humorless bark of sound that sent chills down his spine. "Do not mock me," she said, lifting her unnaturally blue eyes to glare intently at him. "I know what it is you seek. You think to use the Ring of He Who Ruled Before to expel me from this shell and return me to the Void my kind were called from."
For one frozen moment, the accusatory words seemed to hang in the air between Illyria's lips and Wesley's ears, as ominous and indecipherable as the words on the page. It did not quite surprise him that she had jumped to conclusions about his intentions; she had done the same when he had been searching for a way of stabilizing her form, trying to prevent her from turning California into the world's largest crater. No, it was the word "Before" that caught in his mind; the word "Before," and the implications of the phrase "my kind" that came after it.
All of the texts ever collected by the members of the Watcher's Council, a library that encompassed ten thousand years of human history and hundreds of thousands of years of various demonic habitations, cast the world in the same light: the demons had ruled the Earth in the Beginning, and the humans had come after. Even the few extra-dimensional texts they'd procured put forth the same history of events. The demons were the Beginning everywhere. Humans, and similar beings, had only managed to triumph once the majority of the magic bled away, leaving the world unable to support the enormous variety of supernatural creatures that had flourished when the entire surface had radiated as much energy as an open Hellmouth. There was no such thing as Before.
Then the rest of her sentence made impact. Expel her from...? Did that mean Fred...? "Is it possible?" he blurted, voice rough, matching her furious ice-blue gaze with all of the intensity left in him.
She snatched her hand back from the text as if burned. "No," she said, voice quieter than before but no less fierce. "Nothing you do to me will restore this shell to what was. Nor would any imitation you could produce with the Bane bring you any satisfaction. It is an eater of souls, an instrument of corruption..."
"Sounds like your kind of toy," a third voice interrupted her.
Wesley jumped in his seat, startled, and looked up to see Angel slouching against the doorframe with an expression of disapproval on his face.
"Ah, Angel," he said, taking a deep breath in an effort to clear his mind and adjust to the suddenly shifted mood of the room. "I was compiling a report for you on the information I've discovered on the ring Knox mentioned, and Illyria had some additional knowledge to contribute."
He might as well have not spoken. "Tell me later," Angel shrugged dismissively. "You were supposed to be in a meeting fifteen minutes ago." The souled vampire gave Illyria a measuring glance, then left the office without another word.
"Well," Wesley said, glancing down at the text as he carefully shut its pages. "I suppose I shall have to continue my research another time."
When he looked up again, he was alone in the office.
© 2004 Jedi Buttercup.