Canto IAs my skiff tacks her sails towards the waters where souls suffer in angst and eternal change, longing for that distant land, “Oh, Grow Up!” I call upon the muses. Let poetry rise again from the dead. May Calliope(3) and Melpomene(4) breathe life into my words that they may be something quite similar to art.
Terspichore(5) do the dance of melancholic angst.
After gazing rapturously upon the face of the Divine, like a child whose eyes flutter and then slips into sleep upon its parent’s lap, smiling, I closed my eyes.
When I awoke, it was night time and I was once again alone in a dark wood, the true way nowhere in sight.
What fear was mine. What terror. That after all that I had been through and seen, to be returned to the place from whence I came seemed the greatest of cruelties and a tear came to my eye.
But then I heard a familiar voice and felt a familiar hand upon my shoulder. With my heart leaping in my chest like a salmon swimming mightily up the broken rapids of the river Po, I turned to the right. It was my Teacher. “Fear not my son,” he said, “This is not the dark wood in which you first lost your way, but rather a different place through which we must pass before I can guide you safely home.”
“Oh, my Master,” I said, “I feared that I would never see you again. In fact, when last I saw you, did you yourself not tell me to no longer expect word or sign from you?”
My master merely pointed to a great sign that said,
“Through Me the Way into the Sunnydale
And when I had done reading it aloud in letters of Roman Capitals, he said, “Do not fall back a step, some wise guide will appear for us.”
As my eyes adjusted from the light of heaven to the darkness of the world, before me I saw a monstrous sight, the memory of which chills me yet. Two creatures struggled upon the grass. The first was a mighty beast. It had the muzzle of a wolf, the mane of a lion and a spotted leopardous hide(6) .
The other, at first seemed to be a man, no taller than myself, with the white hair of extreme age, and wearing a strange black cloak of leather and a shirt which was flaming red like blood that spurts from a vein(7) . However, his face, upon inspection, was terrible to behold. Twisted and wrinkled into an inhuman shape. His eyes glowed yellow with a demonic fury.
Each time the not-man landed a blow upon the larger beast, the not-man would cry out, “Baby want a nap.”
I grew pale at his words and turned to my Master, “What manner of beings are these? Are they truly father and son?”
Just as I asked the question, the not-man picked up an axe that had fallen into the green grass and cut the creature’s head from its body with a mighty blow.
“No.” said my Guide, who had moved forward between me and the not-man. “They are not related, except in that they are both soulless demons. Although, in point of truth, they both have demonic souls and thus to be philosophically precise could not be called soulless.” The head rolled to my feet and I started back a step, that the creature’s blood would not stain my robes.
With my mouth open, like the carp that swims to the surface of the Arno, I said, “Huh.”
The not-man placed a small tube in his mouth and calling forth fire from his hands, breathed smoke from his mouth and nose. He struck the creature’s body with his foot in a dull thud, “Why weren’t you bloody harder to kill?” He paced back and forth and spoke to a large block of cement that lay upon the grass in a falsetto voice. “Do you love me Spike? Do you need me Spike?” and then in a more normal tone of voice, “And then when I bloody well answer her, she’s all fully poseable Slayer of Denial, and get away from me. It was the music. It was Giles. It was the tequila. It was the newLaurell Hamilton(8) book. Though I can understand the last one.” So, saying he sat down on the block of cement and gave it an affectionate pat with his hand. “Women, who needs ‘em.”
I was oddly overcome with a sense of the not-man’s emotional connection with the block of cement(9) and yet, he had just decapitated a fearsome beast. Oh, what horror and confusion was mine. I clutched my Master’s arm and said, “Can it harm us? Is its nature good or evil?”
“No.” said my Teacher, “he cannot harm us. For not only are we protected by the power of the Almighty Emperor of All Things, but he has been chained by a magical device which prevents him from harming citizen’s of the empire. As to the last question, the answer is such that reason alone cannot fathom the truth.”
The not-man, who had begun searching for the creature’s head, turned to us at last. His face had transformed from that hideous visage into a face of unearthly sharp cheekbones and pale, like the beauty of an ice covered mountain top momentarily calm between storms and glistening in the moonlight. “Where the bloody hell did you come from?” said the not-man.
“Indeed, I have but this last Good Friday journeyed through the gloomy and sorrowful lands of the dead.” I said, “However, on Easter Sunday, at the completion of my climb through Paradise, I was blessed to gaze upon the face of Love.”
The not-man breathed out a plume of smoke, “Yeah, we’ve been getting a lot of that around here. Which I notice doesn’t really answer my question.” The creature spoke very slowly, “Who? Are? You?” and after a pause, “And how much of that did you hear?”
I paused, for by some strange compulsion in all my travels, I never gave out my name, “I am a White Guelph(10) and a citizen of the fair and beautiful city of Firenze to which I am returning with my guide, who lived in Rome under Augustus, in the age of the false and lying gods, as a poet and sang of that just son of Anchises. Alas, he lived a rebel to God’s law, as he died before the coming of our savior.”
At the word poet, the not-man’s face darkened, “Great, an artistic ghost and a Florentine.” He tilted his head to one side, as a dog eyes a bone which it has already gnawed and now wishes to bury, “Much as I like Italian, what with the deadness and the humanity of it all, don’t suppose there’s much point in trying to kill you.” The not-man put his axe over one shoulder and turned to walk away.
“Wait stranger.” I said, “Please tell me your name and relieve my mind as to why, if you are a souless demon devoted to the service of the Evil One, do you fight your own kind?”
“Name’s Spike. Not in anyone’s service. I’m my own man. I fight because I like it.” Spike puffed out his chest out like a bantam cockerel scratching in the dirt.
I wilted a bit at the simplicity of this statement and I was as unsatisfied as if I had remained silent. My Teacher smiled down at me, “There are many theories about this creature and this is the simplest. That he likes to kill things and that is the end all to him. However,” he turned to Spike, “since we did in fact hear all of your conversation with the large block of cement, have you more to add?”
Spike for a moment seemed about to attack us. However, wincing, he subsided and spoke, “It’s cause I love the Slayer.” Spike paused, “Why the Hell am I telling you this? Who the bloody Hell are you?”
My Teacher nodded like a wise oak tree rustling in the wind, “That is the Love’s Bitch theory , which holds that this sad creature is being reformed into the Emperor’s service by love of a beautiful Lady.”
My heart burned in my chest and my knees grew weak at the thought of a being reformed and redeemed by love for a fair and virtuous Lady. I leaned forward slightly and was only supported from falling by my Teacher.
“Sod off.” said Spike, “I am not reformed. If I didn’t have this sodding chip in my head, I could bloody well kill you if I wanted to, which I would, cause I’m evil. Evil.” Spike flicked a glowing ember from the end of his paper stick, which fell through the air like blazing Phaeton(11).
“That is the theory which says that this creature is by his nature un-redeemably evil. Capable of understanding the form, but not the content of love.” My Teacher paused, as if puzzled, “This is also called the Love’s Bitch Theory”
“Hey, I’m standing right here.” said Spike.
“Ah, yes. That is the theory which holds that this creature is neither redeemable to the law, nor truly evil, but rather here to enforce change through his mere presence.”
“That’s a right depressing way of lookin’ at things.” Spike and I sighed in unison. My breath steamed like smoke in the night’s cold air. “Prolly, this Emperor bloke just keeps me around for my stunning good looks n’ clever witticisms.”
“That is another theory.” said my Teacher. “However, the evening thickens and the darkness grows and our way is long. We seek the Slayer.”
“Not going to tell you where the Slayer is.” Spike flicked away the last of his burning paper stick and I watched it fall to earth. It pulsed for a moment, like that planet which inspires some to thoughts of war(12) and then was dark. “So, happens I don’t know where the Slayer is.” Spike gestured to the left with his axe, “So, you can just run along now.”
My Guide drew Spike to one side and spoke quietly with him. Spike shook his head several times, before my Guide sighed and handed him several green papers. This filled my heart with sadness, because bribery is both sinful and wrong. However, in as much as my Master was, through no fault of his own, damned and Spike was, after all, a demon, this might have no ill effects.
Despite my Master’s presence, I was also filled with horror and dread that we should seek any creature called a Slayer.
When my Teacher returned, I pulled at the edge of his robe and said, “Oh my dear father, if you will pardon my ignorance, what is a Slayer?”
“No pardon is necessary.” said my Teacher, “Once each generation, although that is not precisely accurate and requires a longer explanation than I have time for exposition, the Emperor chooses a worthy girl to defend the citizens of the Empire from barbarians. In particular this girl kills humans infected with demons, like this creature here,” he gestured at Spike, “which is of course the conundrum of his loving her.”
“Yeah, yeah, one girl in all the world. You two coming. I don’t have all night.” said Spike.
My Master whispered, “We’ll talk about Angel later.” and indicated that we should follow Spike, who strode off into the deepening darkness.