She considered trying to fob him off with a non-committal answer, but what would that accomplish? Lorne's talent might require his subjects to sing in order to see their path, but she'd lay odds he was damn good at reading body language without the song. "Yes."
"And you're pretty certain it's someone in our happy little family." At her hesitation, he added, "I'm not asking for a name, but I have my own theories. Just wanted to see if we're in the same neighborhood."
"I think we are. I'm convinced that the moment you lift the spell, they're going to make their move."
Lorne neatly folded the paper he'd been reading with his breakfast and reached out to take a final sip of orange juice. A pat of the napkin to his lips and he was on his feet. "Let's get cracking."
Cordelia had to be planning something, Buffy figured. She hadn't been seen for most of the morning since her conversation with Willow, apparently, closeted in her room. The best they could hope for was that she'd stay there for a while longer. Kennedy was keeping Connor busy, or so Willow said; Buffy was glad just to have those two out of the way.
Wesley hadn't returned by the time the group assembled in the basement. Fred had remained in the lobby, ready to bring him downstairs when he returned. Gunn was there, though, ready for action after only a few hours sleep, with the axe Buffy was beginning to think was welded to his hand. Spike still hovered near the cage, where Angelus had been uncomfortably quiet since Willow had begun to assemble her components. "How's this supposed to work?" Buffy asked, watching as Willow made some final adjustments.
"Kind of like the standard locator spell, except we're looking for a specific object. That's why I need Angel; it's supposed to pick up on the traces of the soul and use that as a scent to help track where the Mou-ping is."
"I keep telling you guys, this kind of magic never ends well." Angelus looked toward Gunn. "You remember what happened last time; you really think this is going to work? Even if it does, how can you be certain the soul's back and it's not another trick?"
A flicker of doubt flashed across Gunn's face. "We're not trying to restore his soul at the moment," Buffy said, hoping to reassure him. "We're just trying to find it."
"Okay, we find it. Then what?" Clearly Gunn had more doubts than he was voicing, one eye planted firmly on Angelus.
"We transfer it into here and I do the Ritual of Restoration." Willow lifted orb from its holder so Gunn could see it.
Lorne stepped forward to get a better look. "That's an Orb of Thessulah, isn't it? I've seen a few; they're very hot right now as object d'art."
"Uh, yeah. I know."
She started to return the orb to its place, but jumped as Angelus suddenly yelled, "Don't drop it!" accompanied by a rattle of the bars.
There was a heart-stopping moment when Buffy thought Willow might do just that. She didn't, though, and the orb was safely put back in its holder. "To bad," Angelus said with a sigh. "They make such a pretty crash."
Buffy was about to tell Angelus to be quiet (for all the good it would do, but stopped when Gunn started to chuckle. "Okay, now I'm convinced it could work. If it makes him nervous, it's got to have some power."
Willow smiled at the words, made a few final adjustments to her supplies and settled herself more comfortably on the floor before nodding to Lorne. Clearing his throat, he began to read from the paper he held. "Spirits of peace and harmony, we bid you not to depart but to rest, no longer to bind our hands against those who stand against us. Lift the protection which you have blessed us with and know our thanks as we take up arms once again."
He lowered the sheet and looked around. Everything seemed the same. "Well, that was exciting," Angelus said. "I at least expected fireworks or some sparkles."
"Well, nothing much happened the last time," Lorne said, folding the paper up and slipping it into the inside pocket of his light blue suit jacket. "We need to test it, have someone take a swing at someone."
"I'd be more than happy to...oww!"
Angelus jerked his hand away as Spike danced back out of reach. "I think it worked."
"What did you do?" Buffy asked, a bit of exasperation in her voice.
"Bent his finger back. Nothing too nasty, but definitely violent."
"You'll pay for that, William," Angelus growled.
"Promises, promises. Looks like you can go, Red."
Willow picked up the lighter and touched a flame to the fuel in her fire bowl. It took a moment, but the flames soon began to glow steadily. Picking up the first object, Willow began to chant, tossing each item onto the fire as she went. "Seek we that which has gone beyond, trapped neither in the ether or housed within its form. Show us where that spirit dwells trapped by means unknown and unclean. Guide us to it that we may free it from its prison and rededicate it to that purpose for which it was chosen."
The fire grew brighter, sparks beginning to climb and swirl. Buffy could feel a tingling along her spine and a quick glance toward the others showed they felt something too. Most distinctly uncomfortable-looking was Angelus. He'd begun to back away from the bars, as if he felt the need to put distance between himself and the spell Willow was weaving.
"It is no ordinary soul we seek, but that of a champion, a protector. Not dead, yet not of the living, he dwells between. Bring him back to us. Take what you need to show us where Liam dwells."
At those words, the sparks began spin furiously, spiraling up and out. For a moment, they looked as if they were heading straight for Spike, but they only circled his head before homing straight in on Angelus.
He kept moving backwards until the wall stopped any further progress. The sparks kept after him, moving and swirling, dancing over his body. Then, they suddenly coalesced into a single bright point and slammed into his chest.
The scream was horrible and he dropped to his knees as the sparks flew out again, heading back toward Willow. "Show us our quarry," she said in a voice thrumming with power.
Once more the sparks danced, circling the Orb of Thessulah before coalescing a final time and sinking into the crackled glass surface. The orb began to glow slightly, emitting a steady hum. Willow's shoulders slumped slightly as the spell released her. Then she glanced at the globe and smiled. "It worked."
"What next?" Buffy asked as Willow cradled the globe in her hands.
"This will lead me to the Mou-ping. I can feel a tug already. The traces of Angel's soul are calling to the rest of it."
"So it's a soul GPS?" Gunn asked. "Cool."
Buffy glanced toward the cage. Angelus was still on his knees, leaning forward so far his head almost touched the floor. No, it hadn't been a gentle spell. "Let's move out, then. Spike?"
He gripped the axe he'd used on their first foray after Angelus, the one Wesley had claimed was one of Angel's favorites. "Anything shows up and tries to let him out, I slaughter it."
Buffy would have preferred to have Spike with her, but he was the only who might be able to stand against whatever might come for Angel. "We'll be back as soon as we can," she promised.
A grin from him saw her on her way, taking the lead as they made it up the stairs. It'd be easiest to simply follow Willow, but they couldn't risk that something might be lying in wait. Besides, since Willow hadn't indicated the tunnels, the only other way was up.
Wesley must have just come in as they arrived in the lobby. "Fred said you were..." His eyes fell on the dully-glowing orb in Willow's hands. "Have you already found it?"
Buffy shook her head. "Just started. Keep watch with Spike, will you? I don't want anyone taking advantage of this to set Angelus free."
As he set out for the basement, Buffy turned back to Willow. "Where to now?"
Willow shook her head. "I don't know. The orb seems confused, as if someone's trying to block the signal or hide the Mou-ping, keep me from finding it."
"Any way you can up the power?"
Even as she asked the question, Buffy saw the uncertainty in Willow's eyes. "Yes, but..."
Buffy stepped closer. "This is big stuff, Willow. I don't think there's any other way. You were called back home from England for a reason. This is one of them. This isn't running wild; this is keeping demons from destroying things. Do what you need to do."
Willow stared at Buffy for a moment then nodded, closing her eyes. Her lips moved in silent words, calling the power from somewhere. When her eyes opened once more, they were black. "This way," she said in voice that was not quite her own.
She started for the stairs and Buffy followed, motioning to Gunn he should follow. Fred tagged along, too, whispering as they went, "Did you see her eyes?"
"Yeah," Gunn said. "Freakin' scary. What the hell do they do up in Sunnydale?"
What we must to survive came the unbidden thought in Buffy's mind, but she didn't voice it. Now she needed to be ready for the fight that was coming.
Not surprisingly, the orb led Willow to the second floor of the hotel. "That's Cordelia's room," Fred said as they stopped in front of a door.
"Wait a minute. You think something happened to Cordelia when the Powers that whatever whisked her off to another dimension or higher plane or wherever the hell she spent her summer vacation?" Gunn said. "She's the one who stole Angel's soul?"
"Higher..." Buffy was going to kill Wesley. "You didn't tell us she had vanished over the summer. It might have been helpful to have that knowledge."
"I thought Wesley told you. After all, he was playing the big man here."
"Guys," Willow interrupted, "can we stick to business? We do have a soul to find."
"Buffy asked me to help you keep watch," Wesley said as he came down the stairs. "They're tracking the soul. What's wrong with him?"
Spike glanced back toward the cage. Angelus had sat up, but he was breathing hard, eyes closed and head tilted back. "Red's spell had an interesting side effect; when she dug inside to get what she needed to trace his soul, apparently hurt like the dickens."
"I'm so terribly sorry. Mind if I sit?"
"Knock yourself out. A little too antsy to do so myself."
"Nervous about Buffy?" Wesley settled himself on the stairs.
"A little, naturally, but she can take care of herself. Prefer to watch her back myself, but I've got to trust Gunn to do it this time."
"Good man, Gunn. We were friends, once."
Spike considered Wesley. He didn't particularly feel like a maudlin conversation at the moment, but at least it would pass the time. "So does the girl actually have feelings for you, or are she and the boy just going through a rough patch?"
Oh, there was a pretty hardness about Wesley's eyes at those words. "I'd rather not talk about it. Besides, with Lilah's death..."
"Word of advice from one who's been there. Sort out your feelings for Lilah before you try to make any moves elsewhere. One of the big stumbling blocks between Buffy and myself? Dear old Angelus. He buggered off to LA 'for her own good' and she's been trying to sort it out ever since."
Wesley looked toward Angelus. "I remember. I was there during her last year of high school. His decision upset her greatly."
"Yeah, well, he's great one for making decisions for other..."
"If you really wanted to help me, you would have kept them from doing that!"
Angelus' voice was raw with hurt and Spike spun around to find the other vampire staring up at the ceiling. "Not going to be much use to you right now, given the way I feel. By the way, they're coming after you."
"Bloody hell!" Spike dug into his pocket and grabbed Willow's cell phone. He punched at the buttons, hoping Buffy didn't have hers turned off.
Buffy had just put her hand on the door handle when Fred said, "You can't just go bursting in. It's not polite."
"We can't wait." With that, Buffy turned the handle and burst through the door. Cordelia was off the bed with a shriek, looking for all the world as if she'd been surprised. "What the hell are you doing?"
"It's here," Willow said. "I can't tell exactly, but it's here."
"Buffy and Willow think you have Angel's soul hidden somewhere."
Cordelia curled her lip in a sneer. "Oh, I've hidden the Muo-ping in my box of maxi-pads in the bottom drawer. Get a life, Buffy."
Willow looked up. "I know. I saw. You can not hide from me."
She was in full-on scary Wicca mode, glowing black eyes that were enough to make almost anyone back up, which was precisely what Cordelia did. She looked frightened, and for a brief moment, Buffy felt her conviction waver. Behind her, Fred whispered, "Are you sure about this?"
It was at that moment that Cordelia stepped forward unexpectedly, her hand moving in an arc to sweep the orb from Willow's hand. The delicate glass orb flew across the room, shattering as it impacted the wall.
Cordelia breathed a deep sigh of relief. "You don't know how long I've wanted to do that."
Continued in Chapter Nineteen