Chapter 18: Blood Calls to Blood.
Six anxious faces regarded Wesley silently as he stood before them with his back to the viewing window. Beyond him, down below in the training room, they could see Knox making the preparations for the Summoning.
Spike and Angel flanked Connor. Spike had forgone his favoured against-the-wall-slouch position, his stance grim faced, arms crossed. Whatever Wesley had to say, it didn't look good. Watcher's been keeping somethin' to himself. Looks like he's about to share.
Angel's unease about the deal he had done with Wolfram and Hart, the mind wipe and its effects on the others, threatened to overwhelm him. I'm not gonna be able to do anything about it.Iwon't remember any of this. He placed a hand on Connor's shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze, more for his own sake than for his son's. Connor swung his head to look up at him and gave him a small smile.
Lorne forced his attention down into the training room. Fred clung to his arm. She'd slipped, once again, from the confident Head of Science of that morning, to the helpless and fading girl of yesterday. If he allowed himself to look at her, the visions threatened to overpower him. He could make no sense of them; the knowledge they offered was beyond anything he'd ever experienced through his readings. He'd had to force himself to stay, even as his instinct told him to leave; leave Wolfram and Hart, LA, the dimension if necessary. Lorne felt his hands start to shake and sweat rolled down into his eyes. He bit his lip and reached for the handkerchief in his pocket with one hand, holding onto Gunn's arm for support with the other. "To keep me from running," he muttered by way of explanation.
Gunn looked down at the hand gripping his arm. Must be something bad comin'. "Thought it was keep on runnin'," he said, lightly.
This was the cue Wesley needed. "Lorne is right to be afraid," he began. "There is a part of the spell which is extremely unpredictable." He turned and gestured at Knox. "The Circle of Summoning," he explained, as Knox drew an almost perfect circle of red sand on the floor, "is just the beginning. Knox will draw the mark of Illyria inside this to keep her bound when she first appears." He paused and turned back to face the others. "There are two parts to the summoning spell. The first is an incantation that will call to her in the dimension she inhabits now."
"What'll make her pick up?" asked Connor.
"The blood," answered Spike. "Am I right?"
"Yes. Fred's blood must fall on the cruciform of Illyria's mark."
Wesley glanced at Spike, whose eyes had narrowed as he considered the call of blood to blood.
"At this point, Illyria has the power to distort matter and reality," he explained. "Should anything interrupt the spell, she will be able to subvert the binding power of the mark."
"Better make sure nothin' goes wrong then," said Spike, turning to Angel. "P'raps one of us should be in there . . ."
Angel glanced at Wesley. "Wes's call," he said.
"I don't think that will be necessary," replied Wesley. "The fewer people are in there, the less likely it is that anything untoward will happen." He turned once again to the window and watched as Knox put the final touches to the symbols he'd drawn inside the circle. Knox placed five gems, similar to the one Wesley held in his hand, around a pinwheel-shaped Iris segmented like a piece of fruit. Below this he drew two partially open circles, joining them at their bases with an inverted cruciform. "The summoning is completed when I smash this crystal in the iris, opening a portal through which Illyria will rise." Wes held out a pale purple gem, naturally cut in rough crystal form.
"Then what?" Connor broke the silence.
"Then we explain . . ." Angel began.
"Oh, not with the explaining again," Spike interrupted. "You've never really gotten the hang of that."
Angel shuffled his feet and glared at him.
"No one here needs explain anything," said Wesley diplomatically. "Illyria will recognise Knox as her Qwa'ha Xahn. She will be drawn to him. He will be her guide." Wesley held out a hand towards Fred. "Fred, it's time," he said gently."
"Time? It's time?" Fred stared anxiously at Knox who had risen to his feet and was gazing up at her. "No! It's the wrong time. I haven't figured it out yet. I'm not ready . . ."
"Shhh," Wesley soothed. "It's all right. You can work on it later, when you get back to the lab."
"I'm going back to the lab?" she asked. "When?"
"After the ritual. You remember what we talked about earlier? You're needed – now. You'll help us all get back to where we should be."
Fred swung her head and looked at each of them in turn. All, save Lorne who could manage only a grimace, gave her an encouraging smile.
"We can't do it without you, Princess," said Spike, opening the door for her. "You hurt her and I'll knock your bloody block off," he added as Wesley passed him. Wesley shot him an appreciative smile and followed Fred down into the training room.
"You can go now, Harmony," said Wesley. "We shan't be needing you any more."
Harmony left the chair she'd been sitting in while guarding Ethan and crossed the room. "Can't I just - you know -stay with you guys? I'd be no trouble, honestly."
Wesley looked up at Angel who shook his head. "Sorry Harmony. But, thank you for all you've done. You've been a great help."
Harmony walked dejectedly towards the door. As she turned the knob, Wesley called, "Harmony! You won't remember anything. You'll be back at your desk when we all return."
"You're sure?" asked Harmony turning and flashing him a smile. "'Cos I'd hate not to be – you know – part of the team. I don't think I could stand being back in the typing pool."
"I'm certain," replied Wesley. "Oh, and one more thing. Would you lock the door when you leave? I don't want Ethan slipping out when my concentration's elsewhere." He glanced over at Ethan, who sat bolt upright in a straight-backed chair, studying the room for an alternative means of escape.
"Okie dokie," replied Harmony brightly. She bounced out of the door and Wesley listened for the click of the lock before he turned his attention to Fred.
"This is the house of death," she said, bitterly as he settled her onto a cushion Knox had placed on the floor beside the summoning circle.
Wesley could feel her trembling as he helped her lower herself into a cross-legged seating position. She gave him a look of pure trust. "I'm not scared," she whispered. "I'm not scared, " she repeated more loudly.
Knox handed Wesley a canvas bag out of which he pulled a short scabbard, a pouch laced with leather, decorated with faded runes worn thin by centuries of hands, and a piece of parchment, flaking slightly from its edges and brown with age.
Knox lit the candles he'd placed around the summoning circle and dimmed the lights with the remote control. He stepped back into the shadows and watched as Wesley prepared himself beside Fred.
The former Watcher removed the knife from its sheath and held it over the flame of the candle beside the iris. "Shades of the Summoning, purify this blade that it may do thy bidding." Opening the leather pouch with his free hand, he sprinkled some of its contents into the flame. It leapt towards the blade; smoke curling round the edge in swirling patterns that echoed the runes on the pouch. Tendrils snaked upwards, seeking the Mage who called upon their power, entering his nose, ears and mouth. Wesley threw his head back in a rictus of pain and opened his eyes wide.
"Illyria, I name thee Ruler of worlds, Warrior and Destroyer of Enemies. Illyria, beloved King, Master of All – come, restore your most impious servants to their proper time and place." Wesley grasped Fred's hand. "From the blood of the innocent, she is risen. From the blood of the innocent, she shall rise again." He pulled the knife swiftly across Fred's palm, opening a shallow gash.
Fred breathed in hard, wincing at the cut. Knox handed Wesley the remaining crystal as Fred placed her hand over the cruciform.
With a final glance at the observation window, Wesley raised his arm. At Angel's slight nod, he held the crystal higher and began the downward sweep. Knox began humming the chorus from 'Zadoc the Priest' to himself, providing a background to final part of the incantation.
"Old One, Majesty, Unknown Spirit, we seek your guidance. We beseech that you commune with us and move amongst us, here."
"God Save the King, Long Live the King," Knox sang softly.
The blood in Lorne's veins turned to flowing lava, burning his entrails, searing his lungs, as the vision took his breath away for just an instant. Illyria! Oh my God, Fred! He leapt to his feet and hit the intercom switch. "Stop! Wes!" he shouted. "It'll kill Fred."
Wesley paused at Lorne's warning, his arm frozen in mid arc. Knox hurled himself towards the crystal, knocking it out of his hand, pushing Fred out of the way as he dived for it. Fred curled into the foetal position and moaned. She held out her hands to Wesley. "Don't let them take me," she whimpered.
A millisecond before Lorne moved, Spike watched the blood dripping from Fred's wound. They needed Fred's blood. He still couldn't square the whole idea of Fred being the only innocent one. Something's not right "Shit! We – he said we. That's what he meant!" Spike launched himself at the window.
"Meant? We? Who we?" said Angel watching him in amazement.
"He's a bloody Qwa'ha Xahn! That's what he meant back at the hotel, about needing Fred!" yelled Spike. He crashed through the glass, the ensuing explosion sending a myriad of lethal shards cascading down onto the training room floor below.
Angel hesitated. Making the right choice. Spike said it all boiled down to that. Fred or . . . Angel was only a heartbeat behind Spike through the broken window.
Spike shook the glass from his hair, scooped Fred in his arms and carried her out of the circle. He placed her carefully on her feet beside Ethan and reached out to grasp the waistband of Ethan's pants.
Ethan's eyes widened. "I don't think we know one another well enough," he smirked. "And I don't – not on a first date."
Spike growled and yanked Ethan's shirt free, tearing a strip from the bottom. He began binding Fred's hand, his eyes fixed on Knox, who was grappling with Wesley for possession of the crystal.
Ethan fingered the edge of his torn shirt and opened his mouth to protest, then thought better of it. A distraction is just what was needed, he decided, inching his way round the edge of the room towards the door.
Angel picked up Knox and flung him against the wall. The crystal flew from Knox's hand in a graceful curve, smashing on the ground beside the iris. Thousands of splinters erupted from its centre, sending rainbows of multi-coloured light flashing round the room. Connor, Gunn and Lorne burst in through the door and slewed into slow motion as the colours hit them; the air darkened and thickened.
"You're too late," cried Knox triumphantly. "You can't stop her. Nothing can stop her. She's . . ." He struggled to his feet and pointed at the iris, " . . . here." The pinwheel cracked open, its segments turning, separating, and folding back into the edge of the mark. A leather-clad figure rose from its centre, blue hair obscuring the face. Graceful hands swept the curtains of blue aside, revealing ice-cold eyes staring at Wesley from within Fred's features.
"What just happened?" Wesley asked groggily, staggering to his feet. He stared at the apparition. "Fred?"
"It wasn't like this . . ." Illyria stepped forward, tilting her head quizzically at the group gathered around Fred. "How did you worms accomplish it? You ripped me out of linear progression, my time line is torn into shreds and chaos is stitching it back together.
Fred sank to the floor and Lorne dropped to his knees beside her in concern.
"She – is here?" Illyria's voice cut through the rainbows, shattering them into glistening particles that floated to the floor. "How is this possible? You!" Illyria grabbed Wesley by the throat and hoisted him into the air with one hand. "Why have you summoned me here? You cannot save her. Nothing you toe-dirt and half-breeds can do will save her."
"'S that right?" Spike charged towards her.
Illyria dropped Wesley and deflected Spike's attack, flicking him aside and into the wall behind Ethan. Angel followed Spike's example and drove himself low into Illyria's knees. She barely flinched at the impact and threw him effortlessly through the door, smashing it off its hinges and sending a shower of splinters raining down on Connor and Gunn.
Illyria gazed disdainfully down at Wesley. "It impresses me, the power of your Summoning. What is it? Magics?" She turned her gaze on Fred. "Whatever you have done, it cannot save her. To do anything other than bow to my will is inane. And yet you conspire . . ."
Knox stepped into Illyria's line of vision and bowed. "I knew you would come – Highness."
Illyria stared coldly at him. "You are my Qwa'ha Xahn. Yet you would join with these maggots in their attempts to destroy me?"
"Oh, I'm not with them, Majesty. I am your priest. I am your servant. I am your guide to this world. I'm the one made all this possible," Knox grinned. "I had the sarcophagus teleported here, but would you believe it got stuck in customs. It wasn't supposed to do that." he pointed at Ethan slipping out of the door. "He caused all this. He changed things." Knox watched as Spike picked himself up and staggered to his feet, gathering his strength for another attack, and Wesley crawled painfully across the floor towards the summoning circle, reaching for the purple crystal beneath the iris. "And – um – I think you'd better do something before . . ."
Illyria drew the cruciform mark in the air with her hand. She took hold of Knox's collar and hauled him past Spike, now frozen in mid-charge, through the debris of the shattered door, across Angel's still prone body and down the corridor.
"You will show me," she commanded.
"I knew you would come to me," gasped Knox as Illyria dragged him down the corridor. "My life is yours, I worship you."
"Yes, I know." Illyria slowed her pace, allowing him to catch his breath. She cast a disparaging glance over his body. "My last Qwa'ha Xahn was fit for the role."
"Um – yes . . ." Knox looked down at himself. "I've been meaning to work out more, but what with the delay in your arrival and arranging things so that Wesley . . ."
Illyria ignored him. "The Meddler, he too is weak and feeble."
"He is," agreed Knox. "But what he lacks in strength, he makes up for with extraordinary sneakiness."
Illyria focussed her gaze on Ethan as he rushed towards the exit. She held up her hand, creating a whirling portal. "Show me what he did."
Spike landed on an empty space. "What the bloody hell . . .?"
Angel appeared in the doorway, rubbing the blood from his face where the splinters had gashed the skin. He surveyed the wrecked room and moved quickly to Wesley's side. "Wes? You okay?"
Wesley's anguished face told all.
"No, guess not." Angel turned to the others. "How's Fred?"
Lorne stood up slowly and approached Wesley. "I'm sorry," he said, lowering his head. "I should have known. I could have stopped it if – if I'd known."
Wesley brushed aside the hand he offered to help him rise and crawled over to where Fred lay motionless. "Fred?"
She opened her eyes and gazed at him, tears spilling unchecked over the lower lids. "Wesley," she whispered. "Why can't I stay?" Her eyes glazed and rolled back as she slumped, lifeless, into Wesley's waiting arms. He buried his face in her hair, his shoulders shaking as sobs wracked his body.
Spike broke the silence that followed. "Well, what're we waiting for?" he asked unable to watch any more. He appealed to the others as they too looked on in horror. "Let's go get the bitch." He yanked at Gunn's arm. "C'mon Chuck. Payback time."
"Spike!" Angel's cry stopped him before he reached the door. "You're not going anywhere." He turned to the others. "No one makes a move 'til I say so. This isn't over yet."
"This is all my fault!" cried Lorne. He joined Gunn and Connor beside Wesley who sat rocking Fred's lifeless body in his arms.
"It's not your fault," said Angel sternly. "It's no-one's fault. It's what was meant to happen. Illyria came back from our proper time line. That means it's already happened. Ethan's meddling pushed us here – where is he?" he added, his eyes sweeping the room. "Ilyria's gonna get us back . . ."
"You bastard!" Spike swung at him.
Angel caught Spike's fist just before it connected with his jaw and held it in a vice-like grip.
"You're willing to let Fred die to save your precious destiny!" said Spike through gritted teeth.
"She's already dead," Angel said quietly. "Nothing any of us can do will change that. We have to stay together. I'm not losing anyone else."
"What – you want us to just stand here and all hold hands?" Spike fumed.
"This isn't a seance, Spike," snarled Angel releasing Spike's fist.
"We should stay put," agreed Gunn. "We don't know what Illyria's going to do; we don't know where she went and we sure didn't plan on her pulling a Barry Allen."
Angel looked at him uncomprehendingly.
Gunn checked the others blank looks, "Jay Garrick? Wally— Like she was moving really fast."
"Or we were moving very slow," added Connor.
Lorne put a hand to his head and rubbed his horns. "I really messed up big time, didn't I? That's what always happens with Comeback performances. So now she's unbelievably strong and she can alter time."
"Nothing we can do about that," replied Angel, still holding Spike's gaze.
"So, what do we do?" asked Connor.
Wesley lifted his tear stained face. "We wait."
"For what, exactly?" exclaimed Spike. He pushed his face into Angel's. "You gonna click your heels together?"
Angel stepped back from him and slumped against the doorpost. "We wait," he repeated wearily, "for Illyria to make the next move."
Knox gazed at Illyria. "I've been waiting so long for this. I've loved you from the moment I saw you. I was eleven. You were timeless, pressed between the pages of the forbidden texts. I would stare at you for hours, locked in my room. My mom thought I was looking at porn."
Illyria stood motionless, staring across the city, scanning the rooftops. "Be silent."
Knox bowed low, touching the glowing mark on his forehead. "Sorry, my bad."
"I once travelled dimensions as I pleased, sailed ships of white vision on platters of air, rode silver wings of storms and light, swam the oceans of nowhere." She turned the glacial eyes to Knox. "And now I am bound to this plane . . . but not this time." Illyria examined her hands and ran them along her arms, her neck, and up to her face. "The Meddler . . ."
"Deserves to be punished, Majesty?" Knox interrupted eagerly.
"Do not presume to know my will," said Illyria icily.
"No, no presuming here, Boss . . . King." Knox stammered. "Making a suggestion, no presumption intended."
Illyria turned her gaze on Knox. "He shall be rewarded."
Knox's face fell. "Rewarded? He messes up, I straighten out and he gets rewarded?"
"He has provided a means of escape," replied Illyria. "I am no longer bound to a single time within the confines of your linear one."
Angel and Spike faced one another across an uneasy silence. Spike finally dropped his eyes from his grandsire. He pursed his lips and nodded his head, slowly formulating an opinion in his head. "S'pose you did make the right choice – when you came through that with me." He glanced upwards at the shattered viewing room window. "You're still a right bastard though."
"Thanks, and you're still an impulsive idiot."
A face peered round the doorframe and surveyed the mayhem in front of him. "The Hell God wouldn't play ball, then?" asked Ethan mischievously. "Oh well . . .win some, lose . . ." He disappeared, winking out before finishing the sentence.
Some of the dialogue in this chapter is taken from Origins and Time Bomb.
The Epilogue will follow shortly.