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Chapter Eight: Ethan
Fan Fiction: Never Look Back
Chapter Eight: Magic Word
SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2002, 2:02 PM (GMT)
It occurred to Ethan Rayne, roughly thirty paces from the stairwell, that the complex they had entered was unlike any Council property he had ever seen. Between his early familial contacts, his antics with young Ripper, and his attempts to woo his old friend back after the debacle of Randall's death, he had visited more than a few of the Watchers' outposts. They invariably stank of nobility, money, and power, accessorised with antique furniture, thick burgundy carpeting, and vast libraries full of artefacts and ancient tomes. This place, by contrast, was less 'Imperial pedigree' and more 'industrial laboratory'. The difference was disquieting, to say the least.
"It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Travers has been in contact with the Americans," he muttered, frowning as sense memory brought back echoes of the years he'd spent in captivity.
Wesley's grip tightened briefly on his arm in a wordless rebuke for disturbing the silence, then abruptly slackened. He shot Ethan a sideways, questioning look, then removed his dark glasses with his free hand and scanned their surroundings more thoroughly. The walls were white and smooth-- or would have been, without the visual interference of the invisibility spell-- and devoid of decoration; the tile underfoot was smooth and polished, trailing echoes of their footsteps behind them. There were discreetly placed cameras everywhere, and the open doors they passed exposed offices and labs full of humming equipment.
"The Initiative?" he inquired, an unexpected flash of sympathy in his eyes.
Ethan shook his head, dismissing the younger man's concern with a grim little smile. He hadn't lived over twenty years as a Chaos Mage without being a survivor; the last thing he needed was a dose of the White Hat concern for broken things. "Never mind. Have you been here before?" he asked, redirecting the whispered conversation.
Wesley blinked at him, blue eyes open and vulnerable without the shield of his glasses to obscure them. "No, although I know my fath-" He swallowed, then began again, careful to keep his voice down. "Richard Wyndam-Pryce came here often. He made frequent mention of the depth and breadth of the research they undertook here, discoveries they made that took decades to filter out to the Council at large, but he never discussed them in detail. When Cyril and I completed our training and word came that he was to be sent here, I thought he would make a more reliable contact--"
"So he isn't actually a chum of yours?" Ethan shot another look at the mousy little man scurrying ahead of them, and the uneasiness his felt in this place eased upward another notch. Interesting, that Wesley had been thinking of strategy even at his most useless... but not particularly applicable to the matter at hand. Perhaps it was just the setting putting him on edge, but his instincts had yet to fail him in matters of survival, and they were telling him that something was very wrong.
Wesley frowned. "He was a friend, yes, although not a close one. Why do you ask? He has never given me any reason to mistrust him."
Unlike you, he didn't say, but Ethan knew the sentiment was there. He glanced up at the ceiling again, letting his gaze linger on the dark eye of the camera placed at the next juncture of hallways. "How do you think he planned to sneak you in here, before I intervened?" he asked.
"A disguise, perhaps? Or he may have diverted the camera feeds." Wesley's tone was dismissive, but his eyes followed Ethan's to the camera, and the grip on Ethan's arm tightened.
Ethan winced. He forgot, at times, the changes Wesley had undergone in the past month; apparently, there were times when Wesley forgot, as well. There would be bruises down to the bone by the time they left this place. "He said 'risky for one'," he continued, "but no matter what disguise he intended to use, the cameras would have caught you. You know they'll have a Watcher on the feed if a significant project is underway. If he's afraid of the system administrator discovering his use of a printer…."
"Then he can't have adjusted the cameras." The frown marring Wesley's features tightened momentarily into a scowl, then melted into a frighteningly blank intensity. "Very well. If he meant for me to walk into a trap, then by all means, let us not disappoint him."
"Us?" Ethan objected. If the younger man was going to play martyr, he did not want to be involved in it. His personal concept of responsibility might stretch farther than it used to, but that was a bit more than he was prepared to give. "You'd better be bloody sure that we'll make it out again; I didn't follow you here just to end up in a cell again."
"No, you came to help Faith, didn't you?" Wesley murmured, a trace of sarcasm in his tone. "I'm still not quite sure I believe that... but don't get your knickers in a twist. I doubt anything the Council could plan would be able to hold me, anymore. They have no idea what I'm capable of."
Ethan blinked, feeling the echoes of history pressing on him again, this time from a different era. "You sound very much like Ripper did, once upon a time. And he was back in the fold within the year."
"You'll just have to trust me," Wesley said blandly, and then closed the conversation with a dismissive frown.
An uneasy silence accompanied them down a few more maze-like passages, until Cyril came to a halt before a door labelled with a plaque that read "419". There was a passcard reader on the wall next to the door knob, and he swiped a small rectangle of plastic through it while Ethan stared at the plaque in amusement. Someone had scribbled a series of foreign characters beneath it, and despite the obvious signs of a thorough scrubbing and repainting, the message was still clearly legible.
"Does that honestly say..." Wesley whispered, his attention also caught by the graffiti.
Cyril was close enough to hear them, now, and threw an irritated look back over his shoulder at the space of air they occupied. "Bloody Americans. Travers had several of them over for a collaborative project several months ago, and they were a bit fond of practical jokes. They used some sort of magically durable ink, and I haven't found a way to negate it yet."
"They wouldn't have been from the Initiative, would they?" Ethan asked, his good humour dissipating into suspicion again. "This entire setup has their stamp all over it."
At the name "Initiative", Cyril swallowed and went suddenly pale; at the word "setup" he flinched visibly, and took a hasty step backward toward his desk. "Ah, actually... I was only peripherally involved with their project; I can't say for sure where they were visiting from..."
His hip connected with the desk. He looked down at its crowded surface, then grabbed at a stack of jewel cases and began hastily sorting through them. "Oh! Ah, um, I think I put it... Yes, it was this one. Just, just take it and go, all right?" The little researcher was starting to sweat, and something in his eyes looked a little wild. The cautious, helpful man he'd been until Ethan had mentioned the Initiative was gone, subsumed by fear.
"I thought you said you still had to burn it for us?" Wesley asked, sharply. He did not move to take the CD from Cyril's hand; instead, he took a slow step backward, pulling Ethan with him back out into the hallway.
Cyril drew in a sharp breath; it almost sounded like a sob. "If you knew, then why did you come? I didn't want to do it, you have to believe me, but... this is the CD, I could have brought it to the surface, but if I didn't get you to come down here..."
"Cyril, what have you done?" Wesley hissed.
The other man threw the CD toward him, suddenly, and lunged for something under the lip of his desk; a button, probably, like the security alarms at banks. "Just go," he replied, staring desperately through the doorway in their direction.
The CD hit the boundary of Ethan's spell and abruptly disappeared from Cyril's view, joining the two men in the light-bending bubble that hid them from the cameras. Ethan made an abortive grab for it, but Wesley was already in motion and quickly tucked the thing inside his jacket.
Without further discussion, they both backed further from the doorway and turned to face the direction they'd come from. It was-- Ethan checked his wristwatch-- 2:17, and it had taken them fifteen minutes to get there from the surface. How long would it take the security teams to locate them? There were ways of finding intruders who couldn't be seen, and he had no doubt the Watchers would use all of them...
As if aware of his train of thought, the invisibility shield flared wildly and dissipated in a sudden prism of colour. It wrenched sharply at his stomach, filling him with an abrupt sensation of loss. It was disorienting and alarming... but not as much as the sound he heard immediately afterward. Somewhere in his vicinity, an electrical force field had just gone up.
"Wesley," he began to say, by way of warning... but somewhere, someone obviously believed he hadn't enough to deal with yet; Wesley's fingers slipped from his arm and the man went down like a ton of bricks. The colour had all fled his face, leaving him an unhealthy shade of grey, and his eyes had rolled back in his head. Whatever magical effect had wrenched at Ethan had felled Wesley like a tree. So much for trusting him to get them out.
"Bugger!" With electrical fields between him and any ordinary exit, normal escape would not be possible, even if he were still invisible. He could not drag Wesley all that way. If there were ever a time to invoke Janus in his later incarnation-- the Roman god of doorways and of transportation, rather than his earlier manifestation as Chaos-- this was it. It had gotten Ethan out of the compound in Nevada once the drugs had ceased to affect him, though at great personal cost; this would be worse, but he could survive it. It would be better than being imprisoned again.
Swiftly, he knelt beside Wesley's fallen form and pulled a small knife from his pocket. He made a quick slash across Wesley's palm and then his own, and began sketching symbols on the floor around them as he chanted furiously. The full ritual was meant to take several minutes, but if he worked as fast as he could...
In mid-symbol, with one-quarter of the spell complete, he faltered to a stop. He was using blood magic, potent magic, and he had yet to feel the pressure of it rising or the faint feeling of being watched that always hailed the attention of his patron deity. Nothing was happening. Nothing. In a place like this, under a prehistoric worship site and surrounded by centuries of mystical research, that should have been impossible.
"Null space. They've mastered bloody null space!" That would be a far more effective containment of the magically gifted than any drug. And for those whose magic was their nature... He had only to look at Wesley to see the results of that. The man had wilted like a plant cut off at the root. What would happen if they brought a potential Slayer to a place like this? Or Faith herself?
What would happen to him if he couldn't get out?
A cluster of footsteps approached, echoing along the smooth, tiled floor, promising him the answer to that question. A spike of fear washed through him, followed by fury, and he wished again that he'd heeded his instincts at the beginning of this little jaunt.
"Sir, put down the knife and move away from Mr. Wyndam-Pryce."
Well, there was one consolation about this mess; they hadn't been expecting him. They didn't know him. And he hadn't survived all these years with only Chaos as his defence.
"You didn't say the magic word," he said mildly, and looked up at the security team with his most calculating smile.
© 2004 Jedi Buttercup.