The lights flickered in the darkened room. Giles looked up from the book he was reading and eyes searching the room cautiously. There had been no sound but the atmosphere had changed. Slowly, Giles reached over and grabbed the large battle axe that was resting against the side of the table where he sat. Silently, he stood and caustiously made his way across the room. The floor creaked and the Watcher froze. After waiting a few minutes to listen and hearing nothing, Giles continued forward. Just as he was reaching for the door, it burst open and knocked him to the floor.
"I don't think you'll be needing that, mate," grinned the vampire.
"Spike," growled Giles. "Don't you know how to knock?"
"Sure, but where's the fun in that?" Spike continued to smirk as he flopped lazily onto the leather couch. It was a large leather couch and even laying flat out, Spike did not fill the length of it.
Giles disgustedly brushed himself off and returned to the table and his book. "What did you find out?"
"Not much." After a pause, Spike admitted, "Nothing actually. Something big is up but nobody's talking."
"Yes, well, I doubt any of us are on the best terms with the demon population."
"Speak for yourself. I happen to have made a few contacts - they just seem to have disappeared for the moment."
Giles shook his head and returned to his reading.
"What about you? Anything in those old books of yours?" challenged Spike.
"Nothing specific," admitted Giles. "Just more questions really. Is Angel back as well?"
"Yeah. He's checking on the others. You know tall, dark and broody. Always expecting the worst."
Giles nodded. He did indeed know Angel. Giles supposed the vampire blamed himself for their current predicament, which was partly true. The assault on the Black Thorn had pushed LA into hell. It was surreal. After all the saves that had been made by Buffy and the Scoobies, and by Angel and his crew, this one they had lost.
It was just over a year ago and sometimes -actually most of the time- Giles cursed his decision to 'check out the mess in LA'.Willow and Xander had tried to talk him out of it. They had a bad feeling but he had chosen to ignore their warnings. Even Buffy had tried a last ditch effort to dissuade him but in the end, his 'English stubborness' as Buffy had put it, had won out. He had barely unpacked at his hotel when the world had started shaking. Worse yet, Faith had insisted on accompanying him and she too had ended up in the mess that was now LA.
The city had quickly been thrown into chaos. It was only a stroke of luck, or perhaps fate, that they had run into Angel and crew -or what was left of them anyway. Giles hoped there were other humans who had survived but so far, they hadn't found any. Their small band consisted of two souled vampires, one Slayer, one Watcher, a former blue goddess and a green empath demon.
They had taken up residence in what had been a high-end assisted living facility. They had found the place completely abandoned shortly after The Fall. If not for the circumstances, it was a nice place to live. There were individual apartments, an infirmary, a library, and a dining hall. Giles thought perhaps some higher power had led them there.
Giles shook those thoughts away. There were more urgent matters to address. For the most part, the demons had been solitary...until recently. Something had changed and now the vampires had started to organize. Giles knew they could fight the demons one at a time but if they started to form alliances, their strength and numbers would be insurmountable. Even the protection spells and charms placed on their residence wouldn't be able to save them. Hence the reason for the research and patroling. Giles sighed and shook those thoughts away. He needed to concentrate on finding something...anything...that might shed some light on what was happening.
The door to the library opened and Angel walked silently thru. He sat down in the chair opposite to Spike's couch. Tiredly, he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. They remained that way for some time. Both the vampires resting quietly as Giles continued to scan the numerous books that lay before him.
An hour or so later, the door opened again as Lorne walked in. "Angelcakes?" Lorne stammered somewhat.
Angel turned his head and opened his eyes. Since Lorne's arrival to their small band, he had interacted very little with Angel. There was a distance between them. Spike was the only other one to sense it. Angel was glad the others didn't seem to notice. Their situation was hard enough without adding history to the mix.
Spike and Faith had dragged Lorne back with them from a patrol several months after The Fall. The green demon had been wasted and rather foul-smelling - looking nothing like his former dapper self. It was touch and go for awhile but eventually Lorne had dried out and regained his strength. Angel knew Lorne had thoughts about leaving but so far they had been able to convince him to stay. He wasn't the Lorne of old, but he was an improvement to the shell he had been. Angel hoped the urge to leave would eventually disappear.
"What is it, Lorne?" Angel could see how tense Lorne was. Surely he wasn't thinking of leaving again. Angel refused to entertain that thought. He wanted things to get back to the way they had been. He had taken for granted the friendship and guidance that Lorne had given. He could only hope that someday they would regain their footing. Their friendship had been faltering ever since Fred's death, but the final blow had been Lindsey. Killing the former Wolfram & Hart lawyer had severed their friendship completely. It had been too much to ask of the genteel demon. It had broken him.
"I think I might have a lead," Lorne tentatively spoke.
"Finally, a break." Spike levered himself to a sitting position, obviously not as asleep as he had pretended. "Well, come on then. What've you got?"
Angel was anxious to hear, as was Giles. The Watcher put his books aside and removed his glasses, giving his full attention to Lorne.
"Not completely sure how it all fits, but I think it's got something to do with what's going on." Lorne fidgeted nervously, looking around the room without settling on any of the occupants.
"Is the information reliable? Where did you get it?" Angel hated his suspicious nature but lately nothing had come easy. To have learned valuable information without a high cost...well that was almost unheard of these days.
"You aren't going to like it," stalled Lorne.
"And why's that?" questioned Spike.
"Lorne?" prodded Angel.
Lorne nervously looked from Angel to Spike and back again. "Weaver. Now I know what you're thinking..."
"Do you? Seriously?" interrupted Angel. "Because if you did, you wouldn't have brought it up."
"It's good info. I'd stake my life on it."
"And what about the rest of us? You willing to stake our lives on it too?"
"Yes," Lorne answered without hesitation.
"Weaver cannot be trusted," argued Angel. "He damned near got us all killed."
"He did apologize for that," offered Spike.
Angel glared first at Spike then back at Lorne, who remained stubbornly silent, staring hard back at Angel.
"Perhaps we should all calm down and at least hear Lorne out," suggested Giles. "Angel?"
Angel finally broke the eye contact. "Fine," he reluctantly agreed. "What did Weaver know?"
Lorne withdrew a piece of paper from his jacket pocket. He carefully unfolded it and handed it to Angel,who took a moment to study the symbol that was drawn on the page then handed the paper to Giles.
"What is it?" asked Angel.
"Don't know exactly but Weaver told me the vampires were all excited about it. They found a book with that symbol etched on the cover. Said something about it helping with the plan...whatever that is, he didn't know."
"Giles, look familiar?" Angel went to the desk where Giles was seated, studying the paper.
"Some of the writing looks slightly familiar. I'm pretty sure it's extremely old and very rare."
"Well that can't be a good sign, can it." stated Spike.
"No, Spike, I definitely don't think it's good for us. I'll have to do some research but at least it's a start." Giles continued mumbling to himself as he put away some of the books he had been looking thru and replaced them with new volumes. He even handed each of the others a book.
"What's this?" questioned Spike. "I don't do research."
"You do now," corrected Angel. "Just look for the symbol. There's bound to be a diagram in one of these."
Spike mimicked Angel behind his back but reluctantly started thumbing thru the pages.
They all found a place to settle and started looking thru the books handed them. The books in the library had been accumulated on various patrols and supply runs. The books that formerly occupied the space had been boxed up and taken to the basement to allow room for the research books that Giles referenced.
Several hours later and no new information had been found. Only Giles continued without thought of time. The others didn't have the patience for research. It was times like these that Giles truly missed Willow's tenacious research abilities. Spike had dozed off on the couch and Lorne tried to maintain his concentration but found his mind wandering. Angel paced back and forth across the room trying to scan the book he held but this was not his strength. Wesley, Cordelia, and later Fred, were the ones who were good at research. Thinking of his friends, lost to the fight, still caused him pain.
Sometime in the previous hour Faith had also been drafted into the research. She casually flipped thru the pages of the book before her. "Bingo!" she enthusiastically called. Instantly the others, including Spike, were crowded around her.
"Here, let me see," motioned Giles. Faith handed the book to him. He compared the symbol in the book to the drawing Lorne had been given.
"Well?" asked Spike. "What's the verdict?"
"It appears the same..."
"But?" questioned Angel.
"There's really not much information to go with it. It references another book..."
"Just tell me where it is and I'll get if for you," Lorne eagerly responded, ready to help.
Giles hesitated before replying, "London."
"Oh." Lorne deflated, as did the others.
"Come on, Giles. Surely out of all these books, you've got a copy..." Faith could tell from Giles' expression that he was positive he did not have the book they needed.
"Damnit," swore Angel.
"What?" It was chorused by them all.
"Giles?" urged Angel. "There's another copy?"
"Well, I'm not sure but a thought just occured to me."
"You going to let us in on it or just keep it to yourself?"
Both Giles and Angel threw Spike an annoyed look.
"What?" Spike innocently asked.
Angel shook his head in aggravation then turned his attention back to Giles.
"Is it possible your former employers would have a book that could help us?"
"Wolfram & Hart? The building was pretty much destroyed when LA fell into hell."
"Yes, but perhaps there might be something left. I would think that a valuable book would be kept secure. Perhaps in a vault or protected library of some kind?"
"That place is under tons of rubble. There's no way we could dig through it all," argued Lorne.
"Where was the vault or valuable books kept?" prodded Giles.
"Basement," answered Angel. "The vault is in the basement."
"I know it's been awhile since we've had natural sunlight but I do remember how vampires moved around in Sunnydale during the day."
"The sewers," supplied Faith.
"It might be possible to access Wofram & Hart from the sewers. Start at the basement and work our way up as needed."
"It's possible," confirmed Angel. At their questioning gazes, Angel continued, "I did it that way before. There were securities in place then but that won't be a problem this time." He thought back to the time he and Lindsey had worked together against Wolfram&Hart to save a trio of blind children. Back when things had been clearer to Angel.
"They have a lot of books," Lorne sounded doubtful.
"To find the right one could take awhile," agreed Spike. "Sure could use Wes about now. He'd be able to find it in no time."
They didn't often mention their fallen comrades but no one could argue with Spike's statement. Wes had often used the books from the vault when they had all worked for Wolfram&Hart. Some info could be found just by commanding certain books, but other information had to be found 'old school'. Wes would have known where to look immediately.
"Well, folks," Lorne clapped his hands together, "let's get started." It was the closest Lorne had seemed to his old self in a long time, Angel noted.
Access to Wolfram&Hart went suprisingly well, but the place was a mess. It took two long days of searching before they finally found a book with the markings. They all settled back into what was considered Giles' library. The Watcher was focused completely on the book. He could be heard occasionally muttering to himself. After several hours they were becoming impatient.
"No, Angel. Not yet. There are hints but I haven't found the right passage yet."
"Maybe you don't have the right book," countered Spike.
"No, no...it's the right book but the text is very ancient. Translating is quite tedious, I'm afraid."
"That's a fact," muttered Spike as he went back to the card game he, Faith and Lorne were in the middle of. Giles took a moment to look up and glare at Spike, who just smirked back. Angel was also getting annoyed with Spike. Inaction made both vampires edgy.
"Let's go," Angel declared. Everyone looked up, surprised at the sudden order.
"And where are we going?" asked Faith.
"Yeah, because that has really helped us so far."
"I hate to agree with blondie here," teased Faith, "but Spike's right. We haven't learned a thing by patroling."
"I did," volunteered Lorne, "sort of. Only it wasn't really patroling exactly. It was more of just right place, right time-"
"Lorne," interrupted Angel. He hadn't meant to get short with the demon but his patience was pretty much spent. His gut was telling him that something big and bad was coming and they were running out of time to stop it. "Let's just see what we can find out."
The others nodded and got up to leave.
"We go in pairs," ordered Angel. "No one patrols alone. Faith and I will check west. Spike and Lorne, check east."
Without further discussion, they headed out, leaving Giles alone to study the text. The Watcher barely even noticed they had left.
Spike and Lorne had been out for several hours and had yet to run into any being, vampire or otherwise. It was unusual and they were starting to get edgy...especially Lorne. Fighting was not his thing. He simply hadn't the stomach for violence...even more so since the Lindsey incident. He refused to think of it any other way. It was 'the incident'. That was the only way he could look himself in the mirror. He had murdered the young man but that went too much against who he was, so he called it an incident instead. Some days even that wasn't enough. He lost track of how many times he tried to punch out his own reflection before he had been able to control his anger and self-hatred. He had lost who he was. He was not one of the good guys anymore. Not after what he had done.
"Lorne?" Lorne was pulled from his thoughts by the tug on his sleeve. "You with me, mate?" asked a concerned Spike. The green guy had been too quiet since they had left. He seemed a world away. Considering their current world maybe Lorne had the right idea but he didn't seem to be in any place better. If anything, Lorne seemed more depressed now than he had been for quite some time.
"Sorry?" asked a distracted Lorne.
"I asked if you thought Weaver would be about. Maybe he'd have more info."
Lorne shrugged. "Worth a try. We don't seem to be getting anywhere out here." Lorne scanned the area and realized they were just outside of Weaver's lair. He looked back at Spike, surprised.
Spike simply nodded toward the entrance. "Figured we were wasting our energy wandering around aimlessly. Might as well have a destination in mind."
Lorne smiled slightly. Spike was sharper than he was given credit for. Considering how long he had lived, that shouldn't be a surprise. Being underestimated had its value. Lorne proceeded cautiously thru the door. Almost immediately Spike had pulled him back. One look at the vampire and Lorne realized something was wrong. Spike was on full alert. The vampire moved in front to lead the way with Lorne following closely behind.
What they found reminded Lorne of the one day he was trying to forget. Weaver was laying in pieces around the room. "Now their chunks," echoed thru Lorne's mind.
What?" asked Spike distractedly, as he surveyed the room for any threats.
Lorne hadn't realized he'd said the words aloud. "Nothing - just reminded me of something."
"Reckon somebody didn't want the bloke talking with us?" Spike asked distractedly not really paying attention to Lorne's reply.
"You think this was because of us?" The idea made Lorne blanch.
"Don't know. Maybe." Spike took a couple more glances around the room. "Let's get back."
Lorne was all too eager to agree to that. This place was giving him the creeps.
Giles met them at the door, appearing concerned. They had been gone for so long he thought something might have happened.
"Angel and Faith back yet?" questioned Spike.
"Not yet. I hope they haven't run into trouble."
"Don't worry," assured Spike. "Those two can handle themselves."
Several hours later and the two had yet to return and everyone was starting to get concerned. They were seated around the great room area. Spike had begun to pace while Lorne played solitaire with little conviction. Giles had brought the book from the library and was attempting to concentrate on translating it, but failing miserably.
"It's been too long," stated Spike suddenly, shattering the tense silence that had permeated the room. "I'm going to look for them."
I'll come with," offered Lorne.
"Is Illyria back? Perhaps she should-"
"She ain't here, Giles," interrupted Spike. "Too bad 'cause we just might need us a blue meanie."
"Maybe you should wait for her return."
"She's been gone for days. Hell, we aren't even sure she will return and we can't afford to wait."
"Can we afford to lose you too?"
"Ahh, Giles. Didn't know you cared so much."
"Spike," growled Giles, frustrated.
"What's that?" Lorne asked apprehensively, interupting the impending argument between Giles and Spike.
"What's what?" Giles hadn't heard a thing.
"There it is again. Did you hear it?"
"Yeah, Lorne. I did."
"What is it?" asked Giles. It appeared the noise wasn't loud enough for humans to hear.
Spike held his hand up to silence them. Slowly he made his way down the hall and on thru to the kitchen, stopping at the basement door. As quietly as possible, he opened the door and silently descended the stairs. Lorne and Giles waited at the top of the stairs. The noise was more noticeable now. Finally Spike tracked it to an old chute. Carefully he unlocked, then opened the chute. The bodies falling from the chute caused him to startle, instantly going to game face and ready to fight.
Underneath the larger body came Faith's voice, "Hey, guys. What's going on?"
Spike pulled the body off of Faith. It was Angel and he appeared to be unconscious. Faith looked like she had been in a ferocious fight and was barely hanging onto consciousness. A second glance at Angel and he also appeared the worse for wear.
"Need help down here," Spike called to the others. "Easy, pet. Don't move. Help's on the way."
Faith gave a slight nod to Spike then slumped to the floor unconscious.
"Good Lord," exclaimed Giles. "How bad is it?"
"Well, if she wasn't a Slayer and Angel here wasn't a vampire, then I'd say pretty bad but since they are who they are...it looks worse than it is."
That didn't comfort Giles completely, but it did help.
Carefully they set about getting the injured into the infirmary. Soon they had their patients resting as comfortable as possible given their injuries.
"What do you think happened?" asked Lorne.
"Reckon they ran into someone or something that wasn't too friendly. Won't know which until they wake up," Spike stated matter-of-factly. "Almost forgot." Spike pulled something from his pocket. "Faith had this clenched in her hand. She wasn't wanting to let go of it either...even unconscious."
Giles took the amulet that Spike held out. His eyebrows rose when he saw the symbol on it.
"It mean something?" asked Lorne.
"Maybe," murmured Giles as he turned the necklace over in his hands. "They'll be asleep for awhile and I think we could all use some rest as well," Giles added absently as he continued to study the amulet.
"What is it?" Lorne asked after a moment of silence.
Giles held up the necklace with the symbol showing.
Lorne whistled softly. "What does it mean?"
"I'm not certain yet," admitted Giles.
"Obviously it's important if Faith was holding that tight to it," Spike commented.
"Yes, indeed," agreed Giles.
"What do you mean you lost the amulet?" growled the vampire. "Do you realize how important it is?"
"I'm sorry," trembled the terrified younger vampire. "It was Angel and a slayer."
"Angel? Should have known."
"Do you wish us to go back and try to pick up their trail again?"
"Won't be possible. They'll have covered their tracks by now." The lead vampire knew Angel well enough. He wouldn't make it that easy unless he was setting a trap. They weren't wasting their time on finding the two intruders.
"They were both injured. Perhaps they were careless."
"Do not question me or you won't be long for this world. Do you understand?" threatened the lead vampire.
"Yes, Sire...I'm sorry, Sire." The timid vampire groveled before his leader, who waved the pathetic creature away. He doubted this one would survive long. Not in his world.
"I know it's difficult to put up with ineptitude but right now we need numbers if we are to pull this off. This type of ritual takes a grand sacrifice. Humans would work better but they are few in numbers and hard to find."
The vampire looked at the man now standing beside him. He was ugly even by human standards. Short and squat witha pinched face and receding hairline. In fact, the man had more hair in his bushy eyebrows than on top of his head. If the vampire leader hadn't need the human, he would've snapped the man's neck. As it was, he needed him to perform the ritual. "You're human," the vampire taunted.
"And you can't perform the ritual without me. Besides, I am part demon as you well know."
"Only a very small part and it was by choice."
"Of course by choice. Would you choose to be human again? To give up your strength and your superior senses?"
"Neither of which you have."
"I still choose to be demon, don't you?"
The vampire ignored the question. Who in their right mind would choose to be a weak human. "They lost the amulet."
"So I heard. No matter. I can adjust the ritual. The brand will be stronger anyway."
"You have the brand?"
"Not yet but I can create it once we have the vessel. A slight delay is all."
The vampire nodded. "Has the vessel been found?"
The man smiled. "Right where you said it would be. Took some time to confirm which vessel was the one needed. Time has not been kind."
"I'll bet not," smirked the vampire. "I'm still not sure why you chose this particular vessel, Marsoff."
The man just shrugged, "I have my reasons."
"Angel has gotten wind of it, you know. Weaver talked to the kareoke clown and now they have the amulet. They'll figure it out."
"Maybe. But I doubt it will be in time. Even if they do try to stop it, they can hardly succeed. They are so few in number and we are many."
"I know Angel. Don't underestimate him," cautioned the vampire.
"And don't you give him too much credit. He has lived as human for so long he practically is one. And as you know, humans are weak."
The vampire nodded but they were not in agreement on this point. Angel was a danger to their plans. Marsoff was too confident in believing that Angel would be powerless to stop them. He had seen Angel succeed many times in stopping the unstoppable.
"Now then, let us see if the vessel has arrived." Marsoff led the way and the vampire followed...for now.
The vampire had his own plans once Marsoff had completed the ritual and it didn't involve him playing second fiddle to an arrogant wanna-be demon. He would bide his time.
Angel could hear muffled voices in the distance. Groaning softly, he opend his eyes. He recognized the infirmary. In the bed next to him was Faith. Her heart rate was normal so it appeared she was only sleeping. There were a few bruises marring her face but they appeared to be fading fast, thanks to her slayer healing powers. And thanks to his vampire healing powers, Angel was feeling pretty good too, all things considered. How they had made it back was fuzzy and at the moment he didn't feel like trying to push it. Angel attempted to sit up but the sharp pain and spinning room made him rethink that move. Maybe he wasn't healing as fast as he thought.
"Must have been a hell of a party."
Angel rolled his head towards the voice. "Spike."
"Well, no amnesia then."
"Then again..." Spike got up from the chair he was sitting in and stood beside the bed. "We were hoping you could tell us."
"We ran into trouble."
"Yeah, well, that much we figured out. Was hoping for more of a play-by-play. Any chance of that?...Angel?" Angel had drifted back to sleep. Spike sighed dramatically and sat back down in his chair.
The vampire leader watched as Marsoff supervised the handling of the vessel. The human was becoming quite intolerable with his demands and the vampire couldn't wait to be rid of him. This ritual couldn't happen soon enough to suit him.
Harmony came and stood beside him. She was his. Even though she had been a vampire longer, she called him 'Boss'. He liked when she called him that. Together the two of them would rule. Angelus & Darla, Spike & Drusilla. They would be forgotten by future vampires. He and Harmony would reign down destruction. Not just in LA Hell but on the entire world...as long as Marsoff's ritual worked. It galled him to have to submit to Marsoff's whims but only a human could perform the ritual. The part of Marsoff that was demon was such a small percentage that it didn't disqualify him to perform the ritual.
Marsoff had worked for Wolfram&Hart for years. He wasn't high up in the ranks, constantly being passed over for promotion, but he had always been sneaky; secretly biding his time before he made his move. Unfortunately, Angel had made his suicide run first, but Marsoff had learned a thing or two and planned to use that knowledge to his advantage. He intended to raise Hell on earth -not just Los Angeles. Right now they were cut off. They couldn't leave LA. It had fallen into Hell but the rest of the world moved on without them.
Marsoff had found the ancient book and with unexpected luck and help from the vampires, he had found a way to translate the ritual. Soon he would possess not only the body but also the additional knowledge of his chosen vessel. With that knowledge, he believed he could outwit any opponent.
The vessel's downfall had been trusting the wrong people. Marsoff wouldn't be making that mistake. He trusted only himself. The vampire leader had plans of his own, of that, Marsoff was sure. And those plans wouldn't include him. He would have been more worried except for one important piece of information he had conveniently forgotten to tell the vampire leader. Once the ritual was completed, he, Marsoff, would be virtually invincible. He would no longer have need of his vampire army and the leader would be the first to go.
The vampires had left the bodybag containing the vessel laying on the altar. Marsoff dismissed them and once they were gone, he carefully unzipped the bag. Little remained of the vessel except for the slightly mummified bones and the tattered clothing he had worn in death. It wasn't Marsoff's style but he had seen this vessel dress in much nicer attire. When he had full possession of the vessel, they would once again be appropriately dressed. He carefully removed the bodybag completely. Once that was done, he took the manacles and secured them onto the wrists and ankles of the skeleton. He almost laughed out loud at the absurdity of it but it would be necessary once the ritual was begun.
Marsoff was anxious to begin but preparations had to be completed. The most important being the creation of the brand. It wasn't something he had done before but he had the book to guide him. He just needed a piece of the vessel to start the creation of the brand. Taking a knife from his inside jacket pocket, he scraped the arm bone and collected the shavings in a small pouch. Tucking both the knife and pouch safely back in his pocket, he looked at the vessel once again. Soon the flesh would be reborn and the skeleton that lay before him would become the handsome, young lawyer he had glimpsed at Wolfram&Hart. The knowledge the chosen vessel had possessed in life would also be bound in the ritual. Marsoff would be able to absorb that knowledge as he took control of the vessel. He could immediately kill the vessel once it had been bound but its knowledge would be lost. To obtain the knowledge, Marsolf would have to allow the vessel to live until the knowledge could be absorbed.
The knowledge the vessel had possessed was the main reason Marsoff had chosen him but he also harbored feelings of resentment for this particular former employee. The vessel had only worked the mailroom for a few months before being promoted. Worse yet, when Wolfram&Hart had offered him the chance to move further up the ladder, he had thrown it all away. Quit. Just like that. Walked away. Marsoff never really understood why.
Marsoff would have given anything to have been in that position. He had toiled in the mailroom his entire Wolfram&Hart employment. For twenty years he was constantly passed over for promotions. It happened several times but none so blatant as with the vessel. Holland Manners had practically guaranteed him the next promotion until this new employee had started in the mailroom. Marsoff could see the writing on the wall. Holland Manners never came down to the mailroom before but he had made it a point to converse with the vessel every single day. Marsoff smiled slightly. He would have his revenge.
The time was coming soon where he would have unimaginable power and knowledge and look good while wielding it. He only had a few more preparations to make. He performed a quick protection spell over the bones and then left to complete the needed preparations.
The next time Angel woke, he could hear voices talking quietly outside the door. With his superior vampire hearing, he could have listened in but at the moment it didn't seem worth the effort. He turned his head to the side and noted Faith watching him from the other bed.
"You sure know how to show a girl a good time," she teased but then grimaced slightly as she tried to raise herself up to a more comfortable position.
The edges of Angels lips turned up slightly and he gave an almost imperceptible nod. "It's a gift. Wait until you see what I have planned for our second date."
Faith flashed him a smile. "Can't wait."
Giles came thru the door followed by Spike and Lorne, all with pensive looks.
"You found something." It was a statement, not a question. Angel had no doubts based on the troubling looks each of their faces held.
"Yes, indeed. It's quite dire."
"Come on, Giles. More dire than what's happened so far?" questioned Faith. She occasionally thought Giles had a tendency towards exaggeration.
"I'm afraid so."
"Oh, goody," she snarked.
"Run it down for us."
"It would seem-"
"After we get dressed," interupted Angel. "We'll meet you in the library in five minutes." Angel grimaced as he threw the sheet aside and started to get out of bed.
"Maybe we'd better make that ten minutes," Spike noted as he watched Angel's slow movements.
"Shut up, Spike," both of the injured growled.
The others left the room as Angel drew the curtain between the two beds to give Faith some privacy.
"I'm really not that bashful...but thanks." Faith really wasn't used to Angel's gentlemanly treatment or the others' either, for that matter. She didn't usually attract that type of behavoir. She tended to put people off.
Close to ten minutes later, Angel and Faith entered the library. After everyone was settled, Giles cleared his throat and then proceeded.
"It appears the vampires have found an ancient ritual..."
"Is there any other kind?" interupted Spike.
"As I was saying," Giles glared at Spike, "an ancient ritual that will bring Hell on earth...the entire world, not just Los Angeles."
"Wow, you start out with the big guns," Faith stated.
"Yes, well, it seems time may be an issue."
"Go on," prodded Angel.
"The ritual creates a virtually invincible being with unimagineable powers. Just being invincible is cause enough for concern, but the power that would be wielded could cause utter destruction -Hell on earth."
"How do we stop it?" asked Angel.
"If the ritual is completed, there will be no stopping it. We have to make certain that this ritual doesn't get finished."
"And we do that by...?" questioned Spike.
"The ritual is very specific. It is a three-step process. The first step is to raise a soul from hell. A human soul. The second step is to bind that soul to oneself. The amulet that Faith brought back? That was to bind the soul."
"Then we've already stopped it," Lorne stated hopefully. "We just keep the amulet safe."
"Unfortunately it won't be that easy. The soul can also be bound with a brand."
"How do you brand a soul?" asked Lorne.
"The soul is brought back along with the physical body. Once the body has solidly manifested, then-"
"It can be branded," finished Angel.
"The third step?" Faith doubted they wanted to hear this but they needed to know.
"The soul from Hell, including it's physical body, is then taken over by the person performing the ritual. That cannot happen until the raised body dies."
"So they raise the body and then let it die?"
"Yes, but the physical body is not harmed, it just has a new resident. The former occupant no longer exists. His essence, spirit, soul, -whatever you want to call it, is gone. To make things worse for the original owner, the person performing the ritual can sift thru the mind of its victim and steal any knowledge or memories it wishes. The stolen knowledge and memories would remain with the newly created being."
Giles carefully surveyed the room to see the reactions of the group. "I will use myself as an example," Giles continued, in 'teacher mode' as Faith liked to call it. "I've died and because of one reason or another, I end up in Hell. My physical remains are needed first, so my body would be dug up or my ashes could be used. I am raised from the dead and restored to my physical state before I died. Then I am bound either by this amulet around my neck," Giles held up the necklace, "or by a brand to my body. As soon as I am bound, I start to die. My memories and knowledge can be absorbed by whoever binds me. I simply fade away and the person binding me takes up residence in what used to be my body."
"Sounds a lot like Fred," Lorne softly noted.
"Yes, I guess that would be a close example," agreed Giles. He had heard the story of Fred and Illyria from Spike. "This newly created being is virtually invincible and could reign down complete destruction if it so chose. It could bring hell on earth and there would be little chance of stopping it."
"Then we stop it before it gets that far." There was complete confidence in Angel's voice.
"If the person performing the ritual successfully binds itself to the hell soul, we have only a limited amount of time to kill him or her before the original owner ceases to exist. The amount of time would depend on if the new owner wants to absorb from the old one and if so, how much the former owner fights it. It would be best if we could prevent the raising altogether."
"How do we know where to start?" asked Faith.
"Well, the raised being must be human and so must the person performing the ritual."
"Where do the vampires fit in then?" questioned Spike.
"I'm not certain. Vampires and humans don't work togther-"
"Excuse me?" interupted Spike as he motioned between himself and Giles, Angel and the others.
"You are souled vampires. There is a significent difference."
"Which was evil. Doing evil's bidding. Even they didn't work with vampires unless absolutely necessary."
"Maybe that's the answer." Everyone looked to Angel. "Maybe the ritual guy and the vampires have some kind of deal made. Maybe the vampires are his army."
"He wouldn't need an army," countered Lorne. "You said he will be almost impossible to stop."
"Only once he has complete ownership of his new body." Angel continued, "Up until that moment, he's only human. He would be vulnerable and need protection -so an army of demons would make sense. Why not vampires?"
"There is another reason he needs a large group to serve him."
"And that would be?" asked Spike.
"A sacrifice?" guessed Faith.
Giles nodded. "A ritual like this would require a large sacrifice."
"Vampires wouldn't willingly sacrifice themselves so that a human could become all-powerfull."
"No, Lorne, they wouldn't...unless they aren't aware of what's to come."
"So if we could convince the vampires that they are being led to slaughter, maybe we can stop the ritual from ever happening."
"That's a lot of wishful thinking, Green Jeans" countered Spike. "What vampire, if we could even track any down, would believe us...any of us?"
The vampire leader watched as Marsoff oversaw the final preparations. If vampires could feel guilt, he would. The poor fools that he had helping Marsoff, part of his own vampire family, would soon be sacrificed. The ritual would reduce the vampire ranks to almost nothing, but in the end, the power he himself would gain would be worth it. When the ritual was finished, he could replenish his family with all the unsupspecting humans currently living above Hell. As he continued to watch, Harmony came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist.
"Guess who?" she teased.
He turned in her arms to face her. He smiled down at her before placing a passionate kiss on her lips. She moaned and moved closer. Finally they broke apart. If vampires could be breathless, they would have been.
"Wow, Boss. I could get used to that," exclaimed Harmony.
"Let's continue this somewhere a little more private," he whispered in her ear. It sent chills throughout her body.
Marsoff watched as the two vampires melted away into the darkness. 'They might as well enjoy it for now,' he thought. The vampire leader's days were numbered. The blonde vampire he just might keep around...if she pleased him. He turned back to the work at hand. The idiots working like ants before him were sealing their own fates and they didn't even know it. They had created the barrier that was to hold them for the sacrifice. He simply needed to add the final touches. He dismissed them and began his final preparations. He glanced back at the bones laying on the altar and smirked. It was actually going to happen. Nothing could stop it now.
"Ok, so the plan is to stop the ritual from being completed," stated Lorne.
"Hopefully from ever being started," corrected Giles.
"Sounds great," added Faith, "but where do we begin? Do we have any ideas where to look?"
"I doubt they've left a sign stating 'Rituals performed here,'" commented Spike.
"No, I'm sure they haven't," agreed Giles.
"It's a good bet it's somewhere in the area Angel and I were attacked."
"That's a big area, luv. I don't think we have time to search it all."
"Spike's right. It is a big area but maybe we don't have to search it in its entirety."
"What are you thinking, Giles?" Angel could almost see the wheels spinning inside the Watcher's head.
"I'm thinking a locator spell, of sorts."
"We don't know who we need to locate. How's that going to work?" argued Spike.
"Not to locate a specific person but to locate a surge in activity...in magicks."
"But we want to stop the ritual before it begins. Wouldn't that be like shutting the barn door after the cows have amscrayed?"
"Lorne has a point," agreed Faith.
"Magicks will be used in preparations for the ritual," Giles calmly explained. "I'm hoping the increase can be found with a locator spell set for that purpose."
Giles was surrounded by doubtful looks. "To create the brand to bind the soul would take magicks -a considerable amount of magicks, I would imagine. To keep the vampires corraled for the sacrifice, they will need to be held. I can't see them just walking into a cage to wait."
"They'll trap them with magicks."
"I think that would be the most effective and efficient."
"That doesn't give us much time to find them. Once the brand is made and the sacrifice is ready, they're going to start the ritual."
"I agree, Angel. It's not a lot of time but if anyone has a better idea -" Giles let the sentence hang. No one volunteered a better solution. "Alright then, I suggest we get moving."
"Move to where? Aren't you doing the spell first?" asked Spike.
"I think we need to make the assumption that Angel and Faith were indeed attacked in the right area."
"Whoa. Hold up there, Giles," Angel replied. "That's a pretty big assumption. There could be other reasons for the vampires being in that area."
"Maybe," agreed Giles, "but we have to have a little faith here. We don't have the luxury of time and the locator spell will work better the closer we are to the vicinity of the activity."
While still doubtful, the others agreed it was probably their only chance.
**NOTE: as you can tell, I don't have this fanfiction writing down yet. Working on getting a program that will keep my formatting.