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And No Good Thing Ever Dies

Hope is a good thing,
Maybe the best of things.
And no good thing ever dies.
--Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption

Chapter Nine

Wes and Lina were about to join Angel and Cordelia, but between one step and the next, the parking lot turned into an obstacle course made up of Lethe and her vampire cadre. Lethe had arrived for her nightly feeding of souls. Suddenly, the entrance to the Emergency Room was in the direct line of fire, no longer a portal of safety. Lethe wanted to gain entry to the hospital, and only Lina and Wes (and a few plants and herbs) stood in her way.

Angel and Cordelia came to their rescue. Assessing at once the danger that Lina and Wes were in, Angel leaned on the horn of the Plymouth, momentarily distracting Lethe. Wes and Lina did not waste the opportunity, and ran to join Angel and Cordelia, taking the steps two at a time. They stumbled to a halt by the convertible. With the pairs’ departure, the entrance to the hospital was left vulnerable. Lina watched Lethe with a sense of dread and helplessness as the deity approached the double doors. Her vampire cadre milled around her, as if they had no will, or memory of their task, until Lethe fed it to them. Lethe seemed hesitant to go through the doorway, perhaps sensing the rosemary and pansies and the other herbs that were her natural opposites. She gestured to one vampire behind her and he surged to action, his long stride chewing up the distance between Lethe and the entrance to the hospital. Angel reached into an inner jacket pocket, drawing and throwing a stake in one continuous maneuver. Flying true, the stake scored a direct hit on the target; heart pierced with wood, the vampire exploded into a satisfying cloud of dust. The team gained Lethe’s undivided attention. She turned, and her cadre turned with her, but still she seemed hesitant to attack.

"Why aren’t they attacking?" Cordelia asked Angel.

Angel glanced at the crowd of vampires, and at Lethe. No one had moved since Angel struck the lone attacking vampire, though the vampire cadre had increased in numbers. "No time to waste on questions we can’t answer, Cordy. We need that drawing."

Cordelia pulled a crumpled piece of paper from her jacket pocket and smoothed it out using Angel’s arm as a table. Checking the instructions they had written there earlier, Cordelia dug out a piece of yellow chalk from the same pocket and knelt on the pavement. Glancing at the instructions again, Cordelia began an intricate drawing - a Line of Invocation, a device used in summonings as a focal point. She sketched as quickly as possible without making a mistake and Angel was satisfied that Cordelia was well on her way with the first part of the summoning.

"Wesley’s turn." Angel turned to Wes and shoved another well-worn piece of paper into his hands. "Here’s the Invocation, Wes. We had to improvise but I think it’ll work." Angel watched Wesley’s eyes track across the Greek passage; Wes nodded to Angel in agreement.

Cordelia had finished the drawing; she looked it over and added one last curlicue. She rose and dusted her hands off on her jeans. Wes looked over her shoulder at the design on the crumpled paper and compared it to what Cordelia had drawn on the pavement. He nodded his approval.

Lethe had been hanging back, watching the events unfold. When Cordelia stepped away and revealed the drawing, Lethe stirred at once, and directed her minions to attack. Every time Lethe took a step, another vampire or two joined the fray, as though the river running through her body swept any loose vampires her way like jetsam. The further the vampires were from Lethe the less they moved, only bobbed along in the currents of her power. The nearer vampires had more will of their own, and they edged closer to the team. Angel moved to intercept them. Cordelia pulled out a long stake and joined Angel; they stood back to back, blocking Wes from view.

Wes placed his body squarely over the Line of Invocation, and began to chant in Greek. The first of the vampires reached their position. Angel snapped out his arms, releasing the twin stakes strapped to his wrists, and dispatched two vampires. Cordy took out the third that came through as the dust cleared. Three more inched up to take the place of their fallen comrades. Lina joined Angel and Cordy, a sports bottle filled with Holy Water and a cross with a pointed end in either hand. The three encircled Wes, protecting him as he chanted. Wes read through the passage aloud in Greek at a rapid pace. The Line of Invocation pulsed with a weak blue light. Wes switched to English. Angel could sense the added power as Wes put more feeling into the words, more of himself, and gathered his strength.

Wes chanted in a voice filled with supplication but imbued with authority. "Mnemosyne, Mother of Muses, hear my plea. All-knowing, seer of all that is past, present and future, appear here before us. Memory personified, the basis of all life and creativity, come to us here, combat your natural foe. ‘Come, blessed pow’r, thy mystics’ mem’ry wake to holy rites, and Lethe’s fetters break.’"

Wes repeated the mantra one more time, switching to Greek for the final iteration. The Line of Invocation shone blue-white and dazzling, and Wes fell back as an impossibly high doorway opened before them. The fighting came to a sudden and complete halt. They all stepped back and looked up and up and up. Angel shielded his eyes from a light so bright it was like lightning viewed from the inside. Out of the glare stepped a Titan: Mnemosyne appeared. Her form was distinct, solid. Her voice was like distant thunder and it echoed like sound in a canyon, rippling on the wind. She moved forward from the portal and the door closed behind her.

"Who summons me to this place?" Mnemosyne demanded in a voice rolling with clashing air masses.

"We who are in dire need," Wes called up to her.

She looked down her mighty nose and sneered, "What have you to offer?"

"Vengeance," he replied.

Mnemosyne regarded him with more interest. "What is your wish?"

"There is Lethe," Wes pointed out, "your natural opposite. She does not belong on this plane. Take her through the doorway. This is what we ask."

The appearance of Mnemosyne was a temporary distraction. The battle was rejoined within the minute. Angel felt rather than heard Cordelia’s intermittent grunts of effort as she thrust her stake into several vampires. Cordelia’s voice carried over the din of the battle. "Talk, talk, talk. Get moving, Wes." Angel caught a glimpse of both women’s faces and he could tell they were in total agreement, but he had only seconds to spare to watch the action before he was pulled back into the battle. Lina ducked a punch and jabbed her cross up under the vampire’s ribcage. The business end of the pointed cross found its way into the vampire’s heart and he exploded into dust.

Cordelia called, "Look out!"

A burly vampire was charging. Lina fell backwards and scuttled out of range. Cordelia threw herself aside. Wes was left exposed but Angel nabbed the vampire by the scruff of his neck and his belt and managed to throw him off-balance. They exchanged a series of quick blows that brought more than one grimace to Angel’s face; Angel was staggered by the other vampire’s strength. Outweighed by almost 100 pounds, Angel began to use the large vampire’s size against him. Bobbing and weaving, Angel kept his opponent unbalanced and confused. The vampire found himself on the wrong foot and before he could recover, Angel plunged his last stake into the vampire’s chest. He fell to the ground in a drift of ash. Cordelia and Lina joined Angel; there was safety in numbers.

Once Wes finished reading the summoning spell and entreating Mnemosyne for aid, he stuffed the paper into his pants pocket. Popping the trunk of the Plymouth, Wes pulled his favorite crossbow from a large duffel. He climbed up on the hood of the convertible to gain the high ground, and began picking off the vampires one by one. Cordelia tossed her stake to Angel just as another vampire charged; Angel caught the stake and plunged it home in one smooth maneuver. Cordelia fished a sword out of the same duffel. A vampire leaned in and Cordelia slammed the lid down, separating the vampire’s head from his body. Ash coated the trunk in a wide swath. Yet another vampire, this one dressed in stereotypical Lost Boys garb, rushed Cordelia. Swinging her sword in a practiced arc, she dispatched the Keifer Sutherland wanna-be. The cloud of dust joined several others spread in a crime-scene pattern of ash.

Lina splashed three approaching vampires, who were doing their best imitation of the brides of Dracula, with Holy Water from a sports bottle filled to the brim. The three Brides screamed in pain and covered their ruined faces, skin already sloughing off as though doused with acid. In a well-choreographed effort, Cordelia separated the left-most vampire from her head, Wes shot an arrow through the milky white breast of the right-most vampire, and Lina darted in to plunge her cross into the heart of the center vampire. The three exploded into dust; the resultant large cloud hung in the air and dissipated slowly. Cordelia and Lina moved out of the sphere of ash, Cordelia whirling to cut the throat of a petite female vampire coming up behind her, and Lina once again darted in to stab the female’s partner through the back. Both Cordelia and Lina rushed their aim and missed the target, but Wes released two bolts in rapid succession and the vampire couple joined their brethren in the pile of dust littering the pavement.

Angel drew Lina’s attention and gestured to her weapons. She tucked the cross and the bottle of Holy Water into her messenger bag, which had somehow remained anchored to her body throughout the mêlée. Angel pulled Lina away from the center of the battle, putting some distance between them and Lethe’s sphere of influence. Lethe was well occupied with Mnemosyne at the moment but Angel didn’t know how long that grace period would last. He reached a hand to his back and slid a sword fashioned of wood from a scabbard fastened down along his spine.

"Li, do you have any of that tea left over?"

In answer, Lina pulled the last hospital carafe from her bag. Angel held the sword flat on his palms. Lina unscrewed the cap. "I knew this would come in handy for something," Lina said. "After all, turnabout is fair play, or payback is a bitch, or some such pithy saying." She doused the wooden sword with Remembrance, emptying the carafe in the process.

The lines from Hamlet that prompted Angel to the action came to his tongue. "’...for that purpose/I’ll anoint my sword/I bought an unction of a mountebank, so mortal that, but dip a knife in it/Where it draws blood no cataplasm so rare, collected from all the samples that have virtue under the moon, can save the thing from death/That is scratch’d withal...’" The sword gleamed from within and Angel and Lina shared a look of surprise and accomplishment.

Angel turned back to the battle raging between the two mythic figures. Lethe had grown in size to match Mnemosyne, drawing water directly from the river flowing just beyond the portal. As Mnemosyne struggled against Lethe, a fair battle since the two deities tended to cancel each other out, Angel harried Lethe around the edges. The ground jumped beneath their feet and several cracks opened in the concrete pavement. Lethe swatted Angel away like a harmless gnat and he hit the ground hard several yards away. He lay stunned.

Lina was on her way to help Angel but she was intercepted. She discarded the carafe still in her hand and only narrowly brought out her special cross in time to dust a vampire determined to end her life. Wes reloaded the crossbow and fired to cover Angel until he could regain his feet. The ranks of vampires were considerably depleted; with Lethe concentrating all her efforts on defense, she called no new vampires to the offense. The few who still ranged behind Lethe had come to a stop, outwardly bereft of will to move. Angel took full advantage of the lull and gave himself the luxury of an extra minute to recover. Wes jumped down from the convertible and joined Lina and Cordelia. Angel climbed to his feet. Mnemosyne took control of the battle and gained the upper hand for the first time; she pressed her advantage. Using all the skill and power at her command, Mnemosyne compressed Lethe to her former size, dimensions a mere vampire might engage and hope to be victorious. Lethe went down on one knee, and Mnemosyne forced her ever lower. Angel took the opportunity Mnemosyne offered. He’d never get a better chance.

Lethe threw a punch at Angel but it lacked power and Angel dodged it with ease. Mnemosyne levered Lethe into prime position for a strike. Angel pivoted on the balls of his feet, planted his back heel to support his thrust and lunged with perfect form, driving the sword through Lethe’s midsection. Her eyes widened in shock, indignation and finally, fear.

Angel completed the quote, "’I’ll touch my point/With this contagion, that, if I gall him slightly,/It may be death.’"

Angel withdrew his sword from Lethe’s midsection. The Remembrance acted as a catalyst and the molecules holding Lethe in human form lost their cohesion, first around the point of entry and then moving outward in widening ripples. When the ripples reached the edge, Lethe fell to the ground in a deluge. The water flowed across the pavement. Mnemosyne directed the stream of water; it flowed through the doorway and was swallowed up and dissipated by the bright blue light. Cordelia raised a fist in triumph and taunted, "And stay out!" Wes and Lina gave twin cries of victory.

Mnemosyne bent to peer at the rag tag group, nodded once and boomed, "Your service was adequate."

The team showed their respect and bowed to Mnemosyne, who stomped upon the few remaining vampires in reply to their homage. She backed through the doorway. The portal folded itself until only a thin blue line remained, and then that too was gone.

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