It was near to her now.
Morghane could feel its overwhelming stench enveloping her, smothering her, and she didn't even care. In fact, she preferred it that way. Face her arch-nemesis one last time. If she had to be tortured, she'd rather it was by a familiar adversary - not some nameless vampire. If you couldn't pass away in the caring embrace of a friend, better to die in the arms of an enemy. And not disappear in indifference.
Death... Was the freedom from destiny worth it? Would there be rest for her? Or yet another unending struggle tied to Lisandra's soul? It might be better if she just let the spell run its course - and fade quietly into nothingness.
No. She couldn't do that to Angel. Wouldn't. Not in a million years.
The little lines around her eyes tightened in shame.
She had to fight.
< When has life become nothing more than an endless struggle not to give in? >
She opened red-rimmed, deadened eyes to survey her surroundings. She was still alone, had been for a while. She felt numb. Disconnected. Lisandra had left at some point after she lost consciousness and now Morghane could hear nothing but the sluggish beating of her own heart.
Yet the First wasn't far. She could tell. She had no doubts now as to the identity of the mastermind behind this little plan. Then again, she never really had any in the first place.
She wanted to curl up tight to comfort and protect herself, but Lisandra had left her hanging in the chains. Her knees couldn't support her and she slumped forward. The steel pressed into the shallow gashes the vampiress had gouged along her sides, but she didn't care. She could very well remember being in that much pain several times before. Nothing new there.
That didn't help at all.
She could feel Angel hovering at the edge of her consciousness. He was coming - and there was nothing she could do to dissuade him.
It was just as well. Spike would accompany his Sire, she was sure of it. She wouldn't ask Angel to kill her. It would be more than the souled vampire could handle. But Spike. Spike was another matter entirely. She would have no qualms about demanding that of him.
"Hello, sister," murmured a soft, Celtic-accented voice to her left.
Morghane did not blink, did not flinch. She had expected as much.
"At last. It's been a long time."
"Considering... the dimension I usually... inhabit," answered Morghane, haltingly, "it hasn't been... nearly... long enough."
"Come on. Is that the proper way to welcome your sister after all these years?"
"Fuck you, First," growled the Guardian between clenched teeth.
At last, the figure entered her field of vision, but Morghane already knew what face would great her. Despite the control she had mastered centuries ago, she couldn't help but shiver.
"My sister had... a soul. So don't bother... fucking with my... mind."
"But it's so much fun."
The red-head standing in front of her pouted comically, but the Guardian didn't feel like laughing at all.
The young woman lifted a gracious hand. Her fingers glided almost reverently along Morghane's naked shoulders, down between her breasts to her waist and tugged lightly on the chains securing her to the block of concrete.
The Guardian bit the inside of her cheek to keep from groaning.
She tasted blood.
"I'd like to apologize on behalf of Lisandra. She wasn't supposed to be so... rough with you. She shouldn't have beaten you like that in Sunnydale."
"Only because... it hastened the outcome of the... spell. Wouldn't want me to die... quickly, now, right?"
The thing that wore the face of her sister giggled. "No, wouldn't want that." She quieted. "She almost messed up my plan, and for that she'll be punished, have no fear."
"You won't get... Angel," Morghane ground out, with more confidence that she felt.
The young woman shrugged, undaunted. "He's too noble for his own good. He's coming. Can't you tell? And he's bringing your new pet along. What's his name? Spike."
"Yes. And the Slayer too."
"You can't take them... both. You tried that already... remember? You failed... then. You'll fail now."
The First smiled wolfishly. "But this time I have you."
"I'll be dead... soon."
"Not soon enough." She shook her head. "You should have let him die in Sunnydale, Guardian. He's more trouble than he's worth."
"Speak for... yourself."
"A soul is so strong - and so fragile at the same time. But I don't need to tell you that, now, do I? Angel could loose his so easily. You know as I do that the demon incarnated in Angel is among the great champions of our side. His cruelty coupled with Angel's sophisticated mind make him one of our best weapons in this world. Does Angel know that?"
Morghane didn't answer.
"Of course not. He would kill himself rather than let such threat live inside of him. We've seen that already."
Morghane's eyes flashed dangerously. "Angelus is insane. He's been... driven mad... by a hundred years of forced cohabitation with Angel's... soul. There's nothing left of your... champion."
The First snarled. "That may be the case. Yet, if Angelus returned, the synergy between Angel and the Slayer would be forever lost to the ethereal community. That makes for a weaker Guardian. Much weaker. And you know I will just as soon destroy Angel than give them the chance to strengthen humanity."
The Guardian's expression hardened.
"Angel may still be a risk as long as his soul is not... anchored. But I wouldn't destroy him... just because of a... remote possibility. If only because that would make me too much like... you."
The First laughed openly.
"You always believed Angel would be your redeeming grace just because you said so, Guardian. And your arrogance will destroy you."
Morghane smirked. "I have two words for you, First. Pot... Kettle."
Enraged, the First slapped her, but the Guardian barely felt it.
"Even the Watcher Council have forsaken you, Guardian. They have had the counterspell all along. Do you see them around?"
"I told them not to try. I knew that... if Angel and Buffy learned of the counterspell they would rush to help me... and fall into your trap."
"But you hadn't predicted the fact that Lisandra could be discovered and turned, had you?"
Morghane refused to rise to the bait and waste precious energy. "They'll find a way to... destroy her. They always win, First. Haven't you... realized that by now?"
"Keep on deluding yourself, Guardian."
The First trailed a questing hand between her thighs.
Lisandra had divested her of all but the ragged remains of Angel's black shirt.
"Even if Lisandra is destroyed, you still die. You still lose. Your knowledge is lost. The Council keep on acting like the morons they are. They continue to sacrifice the lives of their Slayers because the situation is so desperate that they lose all common sense... Their idea of instituting this stupid test on the Slayer's eighteenth birthday had me in stitches for centuries, by the way."
"Things will change... when they realize that Buffy's incredible strength and unprecedented longevity stem from her ties to humanity. Her friends."
The evil smile that twisted what looked so much like the face of her long-dead sister made Morghane shudder with distaste.
"I intend to remedy this situation."
"Angel won't let Buffy take... the risk of coming... here."
"Ah. But, my dear Guardian, they are already on their way."
Spike had spent a significant portion of his life roaming the sewers in the four corners of the earth, but it didn't mean he had to like it. His every senses were on full alert - but so far there had been nothing to report but rats. Lots and lots of rats.
Oz led the way, flashlight in hand. Angel followed in his footsteps, Buffy behind him. Spike brought up the rear. They had taken the tunnels all the way to Falson street and the Watchers' sanctuary. The werewolf reckoned he would have an easier time tracing Morghane from there. The army of vampires that had escorted them to the warehouse had left an unmistakable smell.
They hadn't crossed the path of anything more threatening than a colony of rodents so far - yet Spike felt uneasy. Something was amiss.
It might have been the fact that he wasn't used to moving around so much during the daylight hours. Although no rule forbade vampires from traveling during the day as long as they kept out of direct sunlight, it still felt slightly unnatural. Each movement seem to require just that much more effort.
Spike felt a bit sluggish.
Daylight and lack of rest. It didn't make for a reassuring combination.
Still, something was nagging at him.
The Slayer called it her spider sense. Spike called it plain old-fashioned experience.
Oz stopped ahead and Spike almost ran into Buffy's back. Not that he would have minded. The Slayer was a pretty tasty morsel. But he didn't think Angel would let him cope a feel so blatantly. And for some reason, pulling his Sire's leg just didn't have the appeal it used to.
Spike's vampire hearing allowed him to pick up on Oz's murmur.
"Just another rat."
Buffy jumped, startled.
"Sorry, pet. I just hate rats."
The Slayer threw an amused glance over her shoulder but didn't call him on it. She brushed his arm lightly, and her considerate gesture took him somewhat by surprise. He crossed his Sire's gaze over the Slayer's head. Angel was smiling knowingly and Spike wondered for a minute if the older vampire had guessed his earlier thought.
He didn't have time to consider the matter however, since Oz started walking again - more determinedly than before.
Angel noticed the werewolf's newfound urgency too.
"Morghane's scent is getting much stronger. That way." He pointed to his left. "It's just..."
"I can't seem to pick up on the vampire pack's smell anymore."
Spike couldn't see his Sire's face, but he knew the frown was there.
"That's odd." Angel turned to consult his lover and his Childe. "What do you think?"
Buffy shrugged, at a loss. "Maybe they moved her?"
Spike chewed worriedly on his lower lip - a nervous tick that had disappeared around the time he had taken up smoking. But he couldn't very well light one up now and announce their presence.
"It's possible. I don't see another explanation. And whatever it means - we still have to go after the Guardian. Oz' nose is still our best guess."
Angel nodded curtly. "Let's go then. But if anything happens, you two" - he looked pointedly at both werewolf and Slayer - "run for the closest manhole. The sun's still up. You'll be safe."
He didn't need to add anything and voluntarily ignored Buffy's rebellious stare.