So with no further ado, here it is, ready for obscurity:
Chapter Six – Forgotten
Two days later
The head office of Morrow Enterprises Inc rose before them like a cliff suffering from coastal erosion after the fury of a wintry tempest. The building looked fit only for demolition. An earthquake or two, and years of general neglect, had left the old structure crumbling and careworn, cracks spider webbing across the stonework under the dirt of decades. Creeping hands of bare vines, and hairy tufts of sickly grasses, drooping as they browned, picked away at the shabby rendering; the life clinging to the holes in the surface fading in slow death as each day passed.
Angel looked at the uninspiring façade before him. Maybe it wasn’t a surprise that a mysterious death cult had taken up residence here. The block was anonymous, and had blended into the landscape over time, fading into the fabric of the city. If you weren’t looking for it, it barely attracted a passing glance.
“Wes, Are you sure this is it?” he asked.
Sharing Angel’s doubt, Wesley checked the address again. He’d scrawled it in biro on an expensive sheet of Wolfram and Hart’s handmade headed-paper. “This is the address I was given.”
“Sure looks creepy enough,” added Gunn, tightening his grip on his axe in anticipation.
Angel wasn’t going to disagree with that assessment. He nodded and led the two men up the overgrown steps to the thick wooden door. The grimy brass plate mounted beside it confirmed that this was indeed the building that contained Mr Morrow’s shipping company - amongst a variety of other enterprises. He gave the door a shove. Its timbers were rotten and sun-bleached beneath the flaking white paint, but it resisted his push.
“Ah, Angel.” Wesley produced a key from the pocket of his jeans.
Chagrined, Angel took it without comment.
The door opened into a dim, unlit lobby; which, once Wesley had found the light switch and the strip lights overhead had sputtered to life, matched the exterior of the block with its tatty, faded décor. The three men fanned out, searching the room for any clues to what was going on here. There were several, firmly locked, doors that appeared to open into ordinary, cheap office space for rent. From what they could determine through the thin walls of frosted glass and wooden boards, the space was occupied by several small businesses, and none of them looked like they harboured a religious group of any sort. Otherwise, apart from an abandoned reception desk and some planters of dead shrubbery, their dry trailing foliage like skeletal fingers brushing the surface of an underworld river of dirty tile, the lobby was bare.
“The client said these people were downstairs, right?” Gunn opened a service door that led through into a darkened stairwell.
“Yes. Mr Morrow was quite adamant that these people were in the basement.” Wesley said as he joined him. He flicked on his flashlight and gave the stairs a cursory scan.
Gunn did the same, their joint beams illuminating a flight of bare wooden stairs that spiralled upwards to the two floors above and descended into a mouth of ominous darkness, where the only light came from the murky glow of the green neon Exit sign above the fire escape. Nearby, a stained metal door could just be seen, its dead iron sheen black with age. This seemed to be what they were looking for.
Angel had finished his search of the reception area and he descended the stairs first. He cranked open the stiff door, forcing a squeal of complaint from its old hinges as it scraped heavily across the floor.
As he entered the basement, his eyes, enhanced by his demon, swept over the bare, grubby walls. The extremities of the room were lost, even to him, in the shadows, but it appeared to be vacant. What couldn’t escape his notice was the overpowering stink, the air heavy and rotten with evil.
But the smell was all there was. After a careful search, even of the darkest corners, there was no indication that anyone had been down here for years. It was dusty and cobwebby, and dirt, full of unknown horrors, crunched under their boots. Satisfied that the room was empty, they passed through another door and into another barren space, where the rank stench was even stronger and intense, laden with menace. At the foot of set of steps on the furthest wall, a body lay sagged and forgotten, face down in the filth.
“I think we have some of their handiwork.” Wesley said, gravely.
Angel knelt beside the corpse. It was too hard to see, just a jumbled shape in the dark. He reached out, and with great concern and reverence, rolled the body over so they could see its face.
He grimaced when he realised who it was. “Great. It’s Spike.”
“I thought he was off to England?” said Gunn, as he ran his flashlight across the rest of the room.
“Not quick enough.” Angel started to pace angrily. He frowned as Wesley crouched in his place beside the unconscious vampire. “He’s probably just drunk, Wes. Drunk and stumbling into my basement.”
Ignoring Angel, Wesley checked him for injuries. “I agree there is a distinct odour of alcohol, but I’m not sure…” He leaned in closer, focusing the flashlight onto Spike’s chest. It was difficult to see in the gloom, but there were some unusual scorch marks on his T-Shirt. “Angel, come and look at this.”
Angel returned; reluctantly looking at the burns Wesley was gently prodding. “What is it?”
“I’m not sure.” Wesley inspected the residue on his fingers and gave them a sniff. There was blood and plenty of it, yet something else, stringent and nasty. Sulphur. “It appears to be magical in nature.”
“So he’s pissed someone else off again, there’s a surprise. What’s he doing here?”
“I suggest we take him back and ask him.” Wesley suggested. “There’s nothing else here.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” said Gunn. “Look at these. Someone’s been up to some spooky mojo in here.”
He panned the flashlight across the walls. Sigils drawn in blood, dried dark and flaky, stained the brick on all four walls. Even to Wesley’s trained eye, they appeared arcane and unusual. Contorted and scratchy, the primordial hieroglyphs seemed to recoil from the light as they watched. Wesley rose and started to examine each one, flicking out a small notebook from his pocket so he could sketch his observations.
With little to contribute now, Angel sniffed one of the symbols. It was pig’s blood, tainted with the foul reek of powerful dark magic and the dry malt of beer. “It’s Spike’s, I recognise the alcohol content.”
“That would explain his blood loss, certainly. I think we can demonstrate from all this,” Wesley gestured to prove his point, sweeping one hand in a wide arc, “the existence of this cult. The question is who are they?”
“And where have they gone to?” Gunn added. “I don’t like the idea of these people loose in L.A. Y’ know what I’m saying?”
An hour later, Spike was still unconscious in Wolfram and Hart’s extensive medical unit, a cadaver laid out for inspection. There had been no change in his condition at all, but he’d been cleaned up and his wounds treated and dressed. Several medics with specialities in demonic medicine were fussing over a tangle of monitors and drips, trying to ascertain what was wrong with the stricken vampire. He’d lost a lot of blood, but not enough to keep him comatose. Under the scorch marks and some superficial burns, whose cause was yet to be determined, there were some deep, nasty cuts, made by the blade of a long, sharp knife.
Fred was hovering around the medics, helping to theorize the problem and suggesting possible metaphysical causes, but Angel wasn’t sure that Spike warranted all the effort. He’d never been that easy to get rid of before, and he probably wouldn’t be now - unfortunately.
Fred reluctantly pulled herself away as Angel beckoned her over. “How is he, Fred?”
She looked down at her clipboard, absently pushing her glasses up her nose. “We’re just finishing up the tests. Apart from the burns and some blood loss, there’s nothing we can find that would cause coma in a vampire. Once we’re done we’ll move him into a private room - maybe he’ll wake up after some rest.”
“Do you know who might have done this to him?”
“Not yet. Wesley is looking into any demons that he might have run into.”
Before Angel could ask another question, an intern handed Fred a report. She glanced at it, skimming its contents quickly. “There are very high traces of magic around those burns. Look at these.”
Angel took the proffered sheet. A series of incomprehensible figures swam before his eyes. He nodded and handed them back to Fred. “Just get him awake.”
When Spike opened his eyes again, it wasn’t to the bare beams of the basement ceiling, nor was it to Hell or, if he was wishfully thinking, Valhalla - just the sterile tile of Wolfram and Hart’s medical bay. Unfortunately, the busty valkyries with Buffy’s smiling face would have to wait their turn again. This time he’d awoken to an Angel, but not one of the right sort.
At the sight of the disapproval on his grandsire’s face, Spike pulled himself upright on the bed with an effort. He’d underestimated the strength of his hangover. His head pounded. It felt like his brain was expanding, too big for his skull.
“How the bloody hell did I get here?” He groaned.
Angel straightened from where he leaned against the wall. “We found you. Do you mind telling me what you were doing in our client’s basement?”
Why did his chest hurt? Holding a hand to his aching head, Spike absently rubbed the sore spots on his bare chest with the other. “No,” He snapped back. “Leave me alone.”
“I don’t remember, okay?” Spike interrupted him. The last thing he could recall was leaving the bar. After that there were impressions, dreams, hallucinations... Nothing he was sure of. Not really. “I went for a drink.”
Angel frowned - at least Spike thought so, it was often hard to tell. “I thought you were going back to Buffy?”
“Changed my mind, dint I?”
“Why? I thought that was what you wanted.”
“She doesn’t bloody love me, is all,” Spike sighed, resigned. “Happy now? Piss off.”
Angel looked surprised, but chose not to comment on that confession. “Spike. Basement. How?”
“Gimme a sec.” Spike lay back, sinking into the pillows. He closed his eyes and tried to remember.
Down in the school basement, during his summer of madness and hell, running through the inventory of his guilt, the First Evil had fed him numerous lies and deceits, all interwoven and contradictory. He’d no longer known what was the truth or what was false; and, when he couldn't trust his own mind, he’d lived out of it. This jumble of feelings, twisted memories, felt like that. Not memory loss exactly, but an inability to distinguish the reality from the whisper of lies.
When he shut his eyes and followed his thoughts back, there were faces; normal human ones, vampires, demons, twisted Bringers with features of wax and rough stitches; streets, bars and basements… Grasping the memory, he tried to focus on that one basement; the one Angel was so interested in. There were so many, what made this one different? Drawn there. Didn’t even know they’d hooked him. Thought he was right clever avoiding Wolfram and Hart. Dark depths, then candlelight, air smoky with incense… Incense - that was the key that smashed all the locks. Incense that reeked of evil plans and defilement, incense designed to summon the First. They’d been expecting him.
New memories now, that pungent smell being the hotline to memory. Magic, sulphur, a pain in his chest, Bringers faces crowding in too close, their hands grabbing at him all at once, pawing him with scabby hands with broken yellow nails, the dystrophy of his limbs submitting him to their horrors. It’d felt like being ripped apart. Not the burning, boiling, exploding pain of crumbling to dust in the Hellmouth; this felt less physical, deeper, more akin to the sensation of being rebuilt in Fred’s wonderful machine, but with blinding white agony added for good measure.
“Spike!” Hands on him again, shaking him. He woke with a judder of fear so primal he roared into game face.
Fred squeaked with surprise and rougher hands – Angel’s - pinned him down until he was quiet. Fred injected Spike with something he couldn’t see before he could object. Soon he felt calmer, saner, himself again.
“Spike?” Fred ventured. “Are you okay?”
More composed, Spike replied with a moan. “Yeah. Feeling right peachy. What happened?”
Fred gave Angel a concerned glance and he nodded his agreement. “Spike. You’ve not been well. You’ve been hallucinating for three days.”
“On and off.” She reached out and held his hand. “Has this happened to you before? You said some things. Something about The First.”
He gripped her hand tightly, drawing strength from her support for a moment before snatching it away. “They ripped it out of me.”
Angel straightened. “What?”
“The First. It was in me. Became a part of me in the Hellmouth. We were trapped together in that bloody amulet. They took it out of me.” Forgetting the fuzziness of his head, Spike started to disengage himself from the monitors hooked up to his body. What they were meant to monitor, he had no idea. He was still dead after all. “I’ve got to find them before it all starts again.”
“Spike,” Fred looked concerned. “You should rest.”
He got up and grabbed his jeans from a pile of clean clothes by the bed. “Been resting for too long, Luv.”
Angel snorted. “You have no idea where they are.”
The look Spike gave him as he buckled his belt defiantly was one of pure determination and made it clear to Angel that he wasn’t going to back down. “Then I’ll find them.”
“Spike, think about this.”
He slipped a T-Shirt over his head and stuffed his feet into his boots. “Can’t. Got to get out there, track them down before they start on the Slayers.” He picked up his coat and swung it on dramatically. “If I don’t, those girls will die.”
“They aren’t potentials anymore. There’s a whole army of Slayers out there. They don’t need you.”
Spike glared at Angel, still angry, and not willing to accept that his grandsire had a point. “You just going to leave them to it? That right?”
“We can help,” Fred interjected diplomatically. “There has to be something Wolfram and Hart can do.”
“Fred…” Angel started, but she ignored him.
“Research! We have no idea what The First wants now the Hellmouth has closed.”
“Oh yeah, stand around yapping while The First kills the lot of ‘em.” Spike snapped at her, but looked back at Angel. “Is that what you do now?”
“You can’t take them on alone, you know that.” Angel warned him.
“At least I be out there…”
“Wandering around in circles!”
“Spike, Angel.” Fred’s soft voice undercut the anger in the vampire’s voices. Angel stopped fuming and Spike looked at her; the temperature of his glare cooling by about 100 degrees as it pooled in her eyes. “Research. It’s the only way we can know what to do. Then maybe you boys can go and aim your testosterone straight at it.”
Spike thought for a moment. Now he was calmer he was more rational. “Research? Right, get the watcher reject onto it.”
Fred frowned at that description of Wesley, but put it aside. “I’ll ask him to…”
“Wes has better things to do,” Angel growled.
Spike scowled at him, annoyed with Angel’s attitude. “Then I’ll do it myself.”
Previous parts are here.
Thanks to calove and hesadevil for betaing.