A silence had fallen over the room as the five looked incredulously at Carrie.
Angel crossed his arms. "We told you who we were. I think it's time for you to return the favor."
She took a step forward. "Name's Carrie. I'm looking for Isabel, but I guess that doesn't surprise you," she said.
"That much was clear, if nothing else," Angel said.
"Cool. Well, I found her, I'm pretty sure."
Gunn was incredulous. "What? How? We've been chasing a dead end."
She ignored his comment. "I followed one of them to an abandoned factory. I think that's where they're keeping her."
Faith looked towards the book in Angel's hands. "Then we need to go right now," she exclaimed. She headed for the door, Gunn following behind.
Carrie's eyes widened as she turned towards them. "What's gonna happen!?" she said, frantic in an instant.
The ones remaining in the room exchanged uncomfortable looks, but none of them said anything.
Carrie grit her teeth. "What's. Gonna. Happen?" she asked again.
"Nothing good," Angel said matter-of-factly as he walked past her. "Come along."
She seethed but didn't answer and made her way to the front of the group.
Faith gestured for Carrie to pass her. "Lead the way," she said.
They were running by the time they reached the lobby. Carrie grabbed a hold of the door, when Angel called from behind her.
"You wanna run there?" he asked.
"And what's your bright idea?"
Angel nodded towards the elevator, then started moving towards it. The group followed him inside and huddled together to fit. When they exited a moment later, Carrie's eyes widened as she stared out at the sea of cars.
"Better than running, right?" he said with a smile as he passed her.
Gunn rushed to an expensive-looking black car on the right. "I'll take the wheel, let's roll!"
Angel frowned as he made his way to the passenger side.
"Shotgun!" Faith shouted from behind him.
He ignored her and climbed inside, looking back to see the others huddle together in the backseat. He felt a weight land on him and with a jolt he turned to see Faith having placed herself on top of him.
"I called it, A," she said with an audible smile. She pointed to Gunn. "Vámonos, señor!"
The car whirred alive as Gunn backed it out of the lot and they raced through the streets. The city was alive with lights, from street lamps, windows, and the sparse stars that could be made out from where they drove.
"Turn here!" Carrie exclaimed, the latest in a long line of loud commands, and Gunn obliged. "Stop!" The car ground to a halt as all eyes turned to her. "We're here," she said, turning her gaze pointedly to the right, and the others followed her eyes to the factory.
"No lights," Faith said from the front seat. "Sure somebody's home?"
"I'm sure," Carrie said, opening the door and stepping out into the cold fall air.
The others followed suit. They walked with careful steps towards the building, stopping by the wall just to its side. Carrie rushed to the door, trying gently to get it open. With a slight shrug, she grabbed tighter around the handle, steeling herself.
Angel turned to the others. "Remember, we're dealing with humans. We're not killing anyone."
"Aye aye, cap'n," Faith said, cracking her knuckles.
Wesley looked like he was about to say something when the group froze. The sound of the door being broken open echoed through the street, and in an instant, all eyes focused on the it. It swung open with a harsh creak.
"Alright, they gotta have heard that, let's go!" Gunn said, and the group rushed inside.
Inside the room were cracked walls, dust-covered floors, and the bits of old machinery one could see from the outside. On both sides of the room were stairways down, both slightly illuminated from below.
"Let's split into two groups and find her quickly," Angel said. "Fred, Carrie, you're with me."
The two shared a quick glance.
He continued. "You three take the left staircase, we'll take this one."
Faith nodded and ushered her group away.
When he turned back, he found Carrie sitting on the railing of the staircase, then followed her as she swung her way directly down to the lower floor. He rushed after her, hearing Fred close behind. His footsteps echoed as he sped down the stairs, and he could already hear the sounds of conversation and creaking of doors.
At the bottom of the stairs was an intersection, with two hallways to his left and right, and one straight ahead. As he tried to figure out which way Carrie had gone, he heard a voice coming from the right hallway.
"You!" came a voice, sounding almost offended.
He turned to see two figures standing in the hallway. He recognized the one that had spoken as Dave, the bulky man they'd faced in the alley. The other, a young woman he didn't know, was pointing a taser straight at him.
In one swift motion, he ripped off his suit. Just as she fired, he threw the suit forward. It fell to the floor with the electrodes tangled inside and he rushed at the two. Dave got into a fighting stance as the woman ducked to the side and moved down the hallway.
"Nasima!" he called in frustration, then focused back on Angel as he closed in..
Angel caught a punch and grabbed the man's arm with both hands to lock it in place. He saw a brief flash of white pass over his view, then felt himself get dragged back by the neck. As he strained to look back, he was struck in the face by a well placed punch from Dave and fell backwards.
He felt the strain on his neck loosen, and could just make out the blurred figure of Fred struggling with Nasima, then flinched as Fred let out a yelp of pain and stumbled backwards. Dave moved down to his level to continue the assault. In a frenzy, Angel grabbed unto him and with the help of his foot, slammed the man into the wall beside them. Dave moaned in pain and frustration as Angel rose to his feet and rushed over to Fred.
"Are you alright?" he asked, looking over her shoulder to see Nasima disappearing around a corner.
"Fine, fine, don't worry. Let's focus on finding Isabel."
He nodded, but the concern in his eyes didn't go away. He put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it caringly, then looked to where Nasima had gone. "Let's follow her. She might lead us there."
Faith stopped, and Gunn and Wesley turned to look at her. Somewhere in the hallways, they could hear the sounds of struggle.
"Sounds like Angel's found them," Wesley said.
Faith nodded. "I think we should-"
"I hear something that way," she said, pointing at the wall the trio stood next to. "You go left, I'll go right, we'll corner whoever's over there."
The two didn't argue, and the group split. Gunn and Wesley watched Faith leave on hurried steps, then made their way down the hallway in the opposite direction. They turned the corner and headed towards where Faith had heard the footsteps. They reached the next intersection, and Gunn has about to head to where Faith was running when he saw Wesley, having stopped dead in his tracks.
"What's up?" Gunn asked.
He didn't respond.
Gunn follow Wesley's gaze, turning on his heel to see Leon standing in the hallway he was looking into. Next to Leon lay the unconscious body of Carrie, bound in softly glowing magical chains. His face was scarily neutral as he stared down the two.
"I must say I'm somewhat surprised you found us here. Though I'm not surprised it's you, of anyone," he said. "Did she assist you?" He gestured towards Carrie.
"What did you do to her?" Gunn growled through gritted teeth.
"Caroline is fine. I don't intend to hurt anyone."
Gunn scoffed. "Oh that's rich. You're not getting away with one bit of this." He clenched his fists and shifted his body to a running position.
He ran at Leon, and within seconds, he felt his body being grabbed by an invisible force and pushed against the wall with a hard thud.
Leon walked towards him with slow, deliberate steps, then stopped right in front of him. Gunn realized how tall the man was, their faces equally matched, even with his body magically suspended in the air.
"You're done for," Gunn spat.
Leon formed a fist and Gunn felt the air tighten around him. "I don't mean to sound callous, but I really do doubt that. Our organization won't be deterred by just-"
Leon reeled backwards, clutching his stomach. "You- you-" he sputtered. He rested his back against the opposite wall, blood streaming down his body underneath his desperate hands. Gunn fell to the floor and close by, Carrie's chains vanished into thin air. Out of the corner of his wide eyes he saw Wesley approach, gun drawn. He rushed forward and grabbed the gun.
"Woah, dude. I'm not gonna let you murder this guy!" Gunn forced the gun from Wesley's hands and clutched it tight out of his reach.
"You know what he can do. What he's going to do if we leave him alive. You're just too-"
Wesley looked behind him to find an empty wall, with only a small bloodstain to suggest Leon had been there.
The two stared in silence for a few seconds, then Gunn spoke up.
"I'm gonna go help Faith," he said, his tone as icy cold as the hallways.
The door swung open and Faith stepped into the room. Unlike the other hallways, the walls were covered in pipes and wiring, leading to the boiler room at the end. Faith flinched as the door opened, and watched as Ben stepped out, wielding a baseball bat in his visibly shaking hands.
She sighed. "You don't have to do this. We both know you can't beat me, step aside and nobody gets hurt."
He stared at her, defiant despite his obvious anxiety, and shook his head slowly. "You wanna get to Alex, you gotta go through me."
Faith strode forward, unphased.
"Stay back!" he said.
"Alright, if you come one step closer, I'll have to-"
She snatched the bat from his hands in one fell swoop, then bumped his forehead with the handle. "Have to what?" she asked with a sly smile.
He ran into her, trying to tackle her to the ground. She rolled her eyes at the thin air then pushed him off her and down to the floor, then threw the bat to the ground.
"Good effort, kid," she said, then opened the door to the boiler room.
What met her inside was more than she had been ready for. Various tribal-looking artifacts adorned the pipe-covered walls, and in the middle of the room was a pattern of black circles on the floor, at the center of which lay Isabel, unconscious, but seemingly unharmed. Behind the circle stood Alex, hair unkempt, cheeks covered by blood markings from an unknown source, and piercing eyes aimed directly at Faith.
"What. The. Fuck," she said.
Alex sprung into action, sending a translucent tentacle flying towards Faith, which she dodged in the nick of time. Before Alex could react, Faith leapt towards her and planted a punch in the witch's gut. She let out a big puff of air pushed up by the strike. She was about to retaliate when Faith kneed her in the crotch and pushed her back onto the ground.
While she was disabled, Faith rushed to Isabel's side. Finding her out cold, she moved the girl away from the circle and towards the door. Getting out wouldn't be easy alone. She turned back to the moaning witch, cracking her knuckles and she moved towards her, ready to strike.
"Alright bitch, playtime's over," Faith said.
She knelt down and grabbed the scruff of Alex' neck, readying a punch, when she was knocked down with a massive pain searing through her skull. In a mix of confusion, anger and agony, she looked up to see Ben standing above her with the bat she'd tossed aside. Alex rose to stand beside him, then looked down at her with a scowl. She moved her hands forward, pushing Faith towards the middle of the circle.
"What are you doing?" asked Ben. It sounded so faint…
"What needs to be done," came the reply.
Just as Faith felt unconsciousness creep in on her mind, she felt something stir deep inside her. It was as if some being inside her was pushing out against her skin, clawing to escape. With a jolt of pain unlike any she had ever felt, it pierced through. First in one place, then in every molecule of her body. It seemed she should have passed out, and she would have welcome the relief, but she was kept harshly, cruelly awake as her very being was torn asunder by forces beyond her understanding. And then, just as quickly as it had come, the pain left her, and all she felt was emptiness. Finally, her consciousness let go.
Harsh sounds, coming from somewhere far away.
Hands closing tight.
The first thing she felt was the asphalt beneath her fingers. With some effort, she opened her eyes and found herself staring up at Angel. As fast as lightning, he hugged her close, sinking his face into her shoulder.
"You're awake. Thank god you're awake." He sounded breathless, every word barely a whisper.
The light from the streetlamp above was harsh against her eyes, and as she woke up bit by bit, she started to feel a pit in her stomach. A soft rain pitter pattered against her face.
"What…" she started.
"Don't worry," he said. "You're safe. I'm here. We got her. Everything's alright."
That was good, she supposed. She tried lifting her hand from the asphalt and started shaking uncontrollably. Angel loosened his hug, worry obvious in his face, even as blurry as it was to her. She forced herself to a sitting position, and immediately wished she hadn't. The world was so real then. The wind felt like it blew straight through her, and the light—
"Hey, hey, slow down. You're okay."
She winced, then shook her head. "I- I don't think I am." The emptiness was back.
"I'm not that. 'Okay'. I'm not. She did something."
He furrowed his brow and softly lifted her face to his. "What did she do to you?" She knew him well enough to recognize the quiet, seething anger in his voice.
"I… I feel so empty. I'm weak."
He shook his head. "You're the strongest person I know."
She was getting exasperated. "No, you don't get it! They did it. I don't know how but- I- I'm not a slayer anymore. I feel it. I'm so empty, Angel."
He didn't respond. Not at first. Not that she expected him to. Tears welling in her eyes, she put her head to his chest, feeling him embrace her as the rain grew wilder. She shut her eyes and the light disappeared.
So. It's been a little longer than intended. I've had a lot going on lately, but I should be back on the writing horse (knock on wood). This chapter marks the end of the first bit of the story, but there is a lot more coming, and I'm personally very excited for what I have planned. I hope you're enjoying the fic and that you'll stick around for what comes next.
Until next time.