When the Sun Never Rises
“Children, children,” Nest chided. A sadistic smile lit his gnarled features. Unrest always amused him so, especially among the High Court. “The corpse isn’t even cold yet and we’re already fighting about next year’s sacrifice. What way is this to spend the Feast of St. Vigeous? It’s supposed to be a celebration.”
Across the enormous circular stone table, Lindsey glowered sullenly. “The Drakuhl are already bringing in next year’s potentials. I cannot think of a better time to debate the subject.”
Though he rolled his eyes, Nest motioned with his hand for Lindsey to continue. Court life for the immortal inevitably spiraled into tedium if a certain amount of tension and intrigue were not fostered. Thanks to the recent headaches that Lindsey’s Nosferat party was giving the ruling Drakuhl, things had been quite interesting - lots of backstabbing, both metaphorical and literal. Nest was reluctant to bring it to an end.
“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted,” Lindsey growled, his golden eyes focusing menacingly on Willow’s equally contemptuous countenance, “it demeans all of the High Court, Drakuhl and Nosferat alike, to continue with these archaic rituals.”
“You demean the High Court with your stupidity,” Willow replied, her boredom with the subject obvious. “And you’re wasting my time.” On either side of Willow, both Lilah and Penn shifted subtly to give her more room. It was common knowledge that violent deaths were a side effect of Willow’s boredom and though the cavernous meeting chamber was filled with no shortage of political foes, they didn’t wish to be within easy reach if she felt compelled to entertain herself.
“Humans are vermin,” Lindsey spat violently. “By continuing to allow these warm blooded bitches to occupy such an integral position in High Court, we are lowering our own status, tainting our pure blood with their living stench.”
“The sacrifices of the Chosen have been done this way for a thousand years,” Lilah noted, her voice rife with condescension.
“Precisely my point,” Lindsey countered vehemently. “Our most exalted ancestors may have had their superstitious reasons for instigating the practice, but surely in our infinite enlightenment we can admit that it is absurd. The idea that the ritual sacrifice of a Chosen human girl is what prevents some unimaginably bright mythical star from burning all vampires to dust is nothing more than a fairy tale born of ignorance. By continuing to bring these vile creatures into our midst and bestowing upon their families a Renfield rank almost on par with our lowest layers of society is nothing short of heresy.”
“Don’t be dramatic Linds,” Lilah replied with a smirk. “The Renfield are not equals to even our lowest caste.”
Shaking his head, Lindsey pounded his fist against the table in frustration. “But you can’t honestly insinuate that the Renfield are normal humans. We have laws protecting the damned beasts for fuck’s sake.”
“It’s not illegal to kill a Renfield,” Willow said dryly, idly toying with her favorite knife, “merely frowned upon.”
“Which should be an affront to all of our pride,” Lindsey bit out. “Have you no respect for our sacred bloodline? Humans are food! Even by merely frowning upon their deaths, we are weakening our own race.”
“Enough!” Angelus roared, rising to his feet. Turning, he grabbed a cowering Renfield servant girl. The girl pounded impotently on his chest, trying to twist free, but he paid her no mind. “Unlike some of you insolent whelps,” he growled, his vision fixed on Lindsey, “I was around a thousand years ago when these archaic rituals were born of ignorance.”
Lindsey swallowed harshly, but held his tongue. Nest smiled broadly. The bickering was wearing on his nerves and his most prized Lieutenant, Angelus, was more than able to put a few pups in their place.
“This is the celebration of St. Vigeous,” he rasped around his fangs. “The potentials will be brought before the High Court and assigned Masters. So has it been done for a thousand years and so shall it continue for a thousand more.”
He looked down at the struggling servant girl, her eyes streaming with tears of terror. He grinned wickedly. “As for the Renfield ...” he said quietly. He lowered his head slowly, rubbing his ridged face against the girl’s. She whimpered, but ceased her thrashing. He made calming noises and her sobs abated. Lifting his hand, he gently ran a finger along her jaw. He smiled and a slow, tentative smile crossed the girl’s still frightened features. Before she had time to panic, his grip turned to iron and his fangs tore into her flesh, ripping out her throat in one clean move. He tossed her still squirming body onto the center of the table. He looked around the gathering, blood dripping from his lips and chin. “The potential sacrifices are off limits. Every other human is merely food.”
Angelus stalked through the grounds of the High Court and to his chambers to prepare for the celebration of St. Vigeous. He purposely had left the Chamber of Officials with blood still streaming down his face, staining his impeccable clothing and leaving them all gaping in his wake. He grew tired of the Nosferat party and Lindsey’s band of imbeciles tramping all over their sacred traditions.
He grinned at every Renfield servant he passed, allowing them to take in his blood smeared face. He was known for his vain ways, so he was certain that everyone he left in the meeting would have been well aware of his point even if he hadn’t tossed the servant’s twitching corpse in the center of the table.
Angelus, the Master and the elder vampires of the Drakuhl knew that the “mystical star,” as Lindsey referred so indifferently to the sun, was a real threat and a memory that twisted inside his empty heart. He, unlike the fledgling whelps of the Nosferat, remembered seeking shelter from the burning rays and squinting in the too bright light. He would kill every one of them before he would allow the sun to return.
As he reached his chamber, he knocked aside the Renfield servant girl that stood in the hallway near his rooms to serve him if he needed assistance. Her teenaged head cracked against the wall and he smiled as he opened his door, enjoying the sound of her sobs. He was feeling better already.
He washed and changed before heading to the Feast of St. Vigeous, dressed in his best attire for the event. He lived for this sacred night, when he could rest assured that another year of darkness would reign. Taking his place next to Nest at the ruling table, he felt his Master’s eyes on him.
“They’re ignorant fools,” Angelus growled, “If it were up to them, we’d be feeding upon the Renfields while we hide underground like rats!”
“Until they become too renegade,” Nest crooned with a smile, “they’re but idle amusement.”
“Course,” Angelus snapped, falling silent as he saw the great doors opening and the potentials, being dragged across the marble floors. The Harkers, as they were known throughout the High Court, were all attired in the same puritanical white robes, which were loosely fitting, covering them from shoulder to toe. Most of them were screaming and crying, trying desperately to escape, some were just sobbing silently as they were forced along.
Despite whatever differing beliefs the vampires had, all enjoyed the fear rolling off these young women. They were even better than the cages of humans lined along the walls who were to be the food and entertainment for the night.
As Angelus watched the young women, all of them under the age of twenty, trembling and screaming with fear, he was prepared to settle back and enjoy when he noticed one girl walking in of her own volition. He honed in on her, certain that the stoic look of acceptance on her face was a front, but after a moment realized that no fear whatsoever emanated from the girl.
The guards seemed to ignore the petite blonde, almost as if they knew that she would not run and hide. The longer he looked at her, the angrier he became. The outrage filled him as he sneered in her direction. What human would have the audacity to come before this court with no fear? Snarling, he stood, intending to head over and make sure she knew just what exactly fear was, when Nest clucked his tongue.
“Angelus, be calm,” Nest said in a quiet voice that was not devoid of amusement. Few things about this sacred night did not fill him with a sense of pride and almost glee for his superior race. “She is a new Harker and her mother is dying. She has no fear of death because the child has nothing left. She will embrace the end visited upon her in a year’s time and I look forward to seeing such a sacrifice.”
Buffy took her place with the other girls, trying to block out the sight and sound of their terror. Watching them scramble away from the guards, clinging to the bare stone walls and to each other, she envied their passion and appetite for life. She felt nothing but the continual cold numbness that infected her since the healers pronounced that her mother would die. She knew that enduring her own inevitable death would be nothing next to watching her mother waste away. And Buffy’s death would indeed be inevitable. Though a dozen girls were pulled before the High Court each year, only one was Chosen. But being passed over did not grant the potentials reprieve. They too would die for food or amusement once they reached the age of twenty-one. Only the Chosen would be spared the indignity of being made sport.
“Go!” one of the guards barked, brandishing a gleaming spear point.
Buffy pulled one of the sniveling girls to her feet and pushed her along. She knew it was forbidden to touch the potentials, much less stab them, but one didn’t get far relying on the self-control of vampires. “Come on, Chloe, move,” Buffy muttered under her breath to the hysterical girl.
Chloe finally complied, managing to take a few stumbling steps before she collapsed into another heap with the rest of the girls, all of them crying and shivering with fear. Buffy looked down at them with pity, but found herself unable to offer any reassurances. She wouldn’t buy their calm at the price of lying.
Almost in unison the other potentials let out a sharp yelp of terror. Buffy followed their panic struck gazes to the high table. One of the Lords stood snarling, glaring right at her. She met his gaze passively. He broke eye contact first, turning to look at his Master. With another snarl and a curt nod, he resumed his seat, though he continued to openly glower at her.
“I give you this year’s crop,” announced their Keeper, a hideously scarred Drakuhl named Rack. Aside from a few appreciative rumblings, most of the room fell silent.
“Tempting group,” the Master noted, his mouth twisting into a sadistic grin.
One of the girls broke free from the cluster, attempting to run for the door, her long brunette hair flying wildly about her shoulders. The guards were there, barring her way. They didn’t grab her, instead trying to herd her back to the others. Undaunted, she grabbed one of the spears, wresting it out of the guard’s grasp. Before he could react, she plunged the handle through his heart and he dusted into nothing.
Not wasting a moment, the girl turned, heading straight for the Master. The other guards were too slow, too taken by surprise to react as they should have. She was mere yards from the Master when Angelus stepped forward, arm extended. He used her own momentum to clothesline her and she tumbled to the ground, choking for breath. Angelus stood over her, one boot planted firmly in the middle of her back. He growled at the guards.
Cowering, they retrieved the dazed prisoner and threw her back into the circle of potentials. Slowly, Angelus took a seat. The Master clapped slowly. “Lively bunch,” he said, his voice full of mirth.
Angelus settled back beside the Master and watched with obvious enjoyment as the twelve Harkers, the sacred sacrifices of the High Court, were ritually chained to pedestals along the far back wall. Long chains attached their manacled wrists to the square piece of stone they stood upon. The fear coming off of the girls was increased as they were chained down, all fearing that they would be the next Chosen.
All, that is, except for the infuriating blonde. In the centuries past since this ritual began, Angelus had witnessed every girl who had ever been chained for ritual display. Never had any of them dared to look so uninvolved, if not completely bored by the events. Angelus bit down the urge to roar in frustration before beating the bitch into submission only because it was forbidden to harm the Harkers or taint the sacrifices in any way. Their purity was like a sickness forced upon them in exchange for eternal night.
As Rack slammed his staff against the floor in front of the girls, they all met his eyes, sniveling and filling the chamber with the sweet scent of fear. A chant that started with Rack, spread out to his two assistants standing behind him and then reached the entire High Court until a black whirling tempest broke free from an ancient box at his feet. All of the Harkers, save Buffy, began screaming more loudly and pulling at their chains with more vigor. Almost all of them had been through this ritual before, but all of them knew what happened next.
Time froze in the air and nothing moved but the sly curling black smoke of the fiend as it wrapped itself around the young, trembling bodies of the Harkers. Every vampire in the room grinned freely, enticed by pure human terror. The power nearly stretched the stone walls and screeched out its allegiance to the moon above their heads in the ceilingless room.
The Harkers felt the power of the beast lapping at them, finding the girl would be the next to sate the demonic powers that blocked out the sun. Tension rose to a fever pitch and the power nearly made Faith’s hair stand on end as it chose her, striking her body with full force and knocking her unconscious.
“It is done,” Rack announced ceremoniously, turning to face his Master with his eyes turned toward the floor in submission.
As was tradition, Willow rose and walked over to Faith’s prone body. Gently, she brushed the hair back from the girl’s face, speaking to her gently until Faith’s eyes finally fluttered open. Faith was dazed for a moment, but as she looked up at Willow, you could see the force of the knowledge hit her. She tried to skitter out of the way, but there was nowhere for her to run once her chains were pulled taut.
Willow grinned malevolently, creeping closer. “You know the ritual, Harker,” she cooed. “You’re the Chosen.”
Faith struggled, but Willow ran her fingers through Faith’s long brown tresses, fisting her hand at the back of Faith’s head. Caught in Willow’s grip, with her hands and feet chained, Faith couldn’t get way.
With an expression of purest joy, Willow forced Faith’s head back and sank her teeth into the girl’s throat. Faith grunted in pain, her teeth grinding together as Willow drank with hungry, grunting noises. After what seemed like an eternity, Willow pulled away.
Buffy could not help but look at the rent flesh of Faith’s neck. Blood was still oozing out of the wound, staining her white robe.
“The Chosen has been marked,” Willow snarled with satisfaction.
“As it has been,” Nest said, looking pointedly at Lindsey, “And ever shall be.” The Master stood and held his arms out before the Court. “The Solstice celebration is complete! Before we all share in our feast of celebration for our good fortune,” he snarled triumphantly, “the dutiful sacrificer of this year’s Chosen will share in his bounty.”
The room stilled as Angelus stood up and turned toward the Master, cocking his head to the side to bare his throat. The power coming off the lieutenant from the years he had been rightfully picked to take the Chosen was palatable.
“Kendra’s blood in my veins,” Angelus stated clearly, “strengthens us all and it is yours for the taking, Master.”
Nest released a savage snarl and greedily dug into Angelus’ throat, glutting himself on the powerful force in his lieutenant’s veins. Nostrils flared and appreciative growls flowed through the room, drowning out the whimpering Harkers’ sobs. As The Master continued taking long pulls from Angelus, the high ranking vampire grinned in the pleasure of the act, feeling stronger, not weaker as the blood was sucked from his body. The Chosen’s power did not bleed away with the sipping of one other vampire. Her strength remained charging through him.
The feast was a grotesque affair befitting the High Court. The Harkers whimpered as victim after victim was brought before the court to sate their hungers for blood and violence. The first deaths were mercifully quick, serving no purpose but to appease physical appetite. But after hungers abated, the feasting continued. Buffy turned away, not in fear, but in disgust and pity as the night wore on, the human murders ever increasing in sadistic glee.
Even as the language formed in her mind, Buffy knew her thoughts were fundamentally wrong. It was not murder. It was well within the rights of the High Court to dispose of Renfield and human alike as they saw fit. Her mother could be brutalized like this were it not for Buffy’s sacrifice. The only thing protecting Joyce, ensuring that she was under the protective care of the healers, was the fact that Buffy willingly acceded to answer her call as a Harker. Nothing could have prevented Buffy from being pulled before the High Court for this ritual, but her compliance made her more attractive. Kakistos, the Court official who found her, assured her that her willingness would make her a far more powerful sacrifice. Buffy swallowed thickly, watching as the High Court raped and tortured their victims before bathing in their blood. At least her death would be quick.
The night wore on, though the passage of time was discernable only by the moon’s trek across the sky. But as always, the moon eventually sank beyond the horizon. The festivities tapered off, the High Court so glutted on blood and spirits that they could barely move. The Master, his face stained with death, finally clapped his hands, drawing the High Court’s attention.
“With moonset, the feast of St. Vigeous has come to an end,” he said contentedly. “It is time for the Harkers to return to their quarters.”
Buffy watched as Rack unchained each of the girls. Their terror had abated now that they knew they would not be the next Chosen, leaving behind a deep exhaustion. Only Faith still seemed alert, though she stared blankly at the wall. Buffy could read the tension in her form. Faith would be the next to die. Buffy shivered.
Willow rose from the table and sauntered over to Faith, taking in the dried blood smeared down her neck. As with all Harkers, the wound was healing, but this one would never do so completely. It would scar, proclaiming to all that Faith was the Chosen. Faith didn’t meet Willow’s gaze so the vampire lifted a hand, running it along her cheek. Faith flinched and Willow smiled. “You don’t have to be afraid. Just to please me,” she said in a singsong voice.
Faith twisted backwards out of her grip and spat in the Willow’s face. Willow screwed her eyes shut, grimacing as spittle dribbled down her face. She slowly opened her yellow eyes.
“Willow,” the Master chided, “remember that the Chosen must not be defiled.”
Willow smiled wickedly. “Yes, Master,” she complied. She leaned in closer to Faith. “Let his words comfort you, child,” she whispered. “It will make it all the more sweet when you learn that rules are not absolute.”
Faith swallowed audibly.
“You can’t even begin to imagine all the different ways I can break you without defiling your purity,” she said, her face locked into a hard, sadistic smile.
Willow grabbed the chains between Faith’s still bound hands and pulled her from the room. One by one, other members of the High Court approached the Harkers, each of them taking a girl and leaving. Finally, Buffy was the only Harker left. She looked around the room nervously. There were still a good number of vampires watching her, but none so intently as the one called Lord Angelus. Buffy shifted uneasily under the weight of his gaze.
With an unearthly grace, he rose from his seat and slowly walked over to where she stood. Buffy was filled with a sense of impending doom. She looked up at him through her eyelashes, warily meeting his demonic countenance. “Yes, my lord?” she asked penitently.
He laughed. “My Harker was the Chosen,” he explained. “I sacrificed her earlier. Which means I am now owed a replacement.”
Buffy’s blood ran cold. Not him. Anyone but him. She had seen his look of absolute disgust earlier. He didn’t like her. He wanted to hurt her, she knew it.
“You’re mine,” he said smugly, tugging on her chains, causing her to stumble against him.
It took all of Buffy’s self-control not to jump back at the contact. But she knew that would only please him more so she rested against him, trying not to breathe. He stank of blood and death.
“Don’t worry, little one,” he crooned. “You won’t be like the others. You won’t live in this protected life until your twenty-first birthday only to be stripped of your Harker status and thrown in with the rest of the Renfields. You will be the Chosen.”
Unable to stop herself, Buffy looked up and met his gaze quizzically.
He ran a fingertip from her forehead down to the tip of her nose. “Power calls to power,” he explained. “Other members of the High Court are allowed to keep Harkers. Every now and then one of them is even Chosen. But year after year, it is Willow and myself. Our Harkers are the ones Chosen. The fate that Faith found tonight awaits you in a year.”
Buffy trembled and he smiled. “My Master was right. You will be a glorious sacrifice.”
Without another word, he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder, whistling jauntily as he strode from the room.