1933 CE Iraq
Jeremiah Washford was not happy.
It was over a hundred degrees and he was excavating what he considered the most boring dry lakebed ever. Sitting back on his haunches, wiping the sweat from his brow, he took a long swig from the nearest water flask before reluctantly getting back to the task in hand. He continued to scrape haphazardly at the ragged topsoil until his trowel unexpectedly hit a solid mass.
He pushed down his mounting excitement as he slowly started to clean back the surface and was eventually rewarded with the sight of four identical brass pots lying on their sides. With trembling hands and aided by some water from the flask, he cleaned up the sides that were exposed from the earth.
As the seals were revealed to him, he whispered in awe,
Two hours later, both the pots and Jeremiah were presented to Lord Walsingham in his tent.
“Capital, capital!” Walsingham said, shaking his hand. “This is just what the University needed. Well-done lad, well-done. Now, lets see if we can open the blighters, shall we?”
Jeremiah could only nod his agreement as one of the other dignitaries in the tent broke the seal on the first pot. Everyone in the tent collectively held their breath as they all took a small step forward, impatient to see what the treasure was; only to jump back slightly at the hiss of 3000-year-old air escaping. Looking sheepishly at each other, they continued to move and surround the table even as a bright light started to emerge from the vessel. It grew in brilliance, eventually forcing them to look away. At the same time, a strong wind blew up from nowhere.
It was then that the screaming began.
Natural History Museum, Los Angeles
The discussion during the trip to the museum had consisted of planning a logical and systematic plan of attack on the layout of the building. Only then had they decided that whatever they were looking for was going to be a new addition or part of a visiting tour. Arriving at the new Mesopotamian/Near East collection, Wesley was in hog heaven. Eyeing the display cases in quiet wonder, he unleashed quite the biggest smile to grace his face in a long, long time. Fred looked up at him, watching his face in something akin to bewilderment and surprise.
Rapidly collecting his thoughts Wesley turned to Fred. “Right, what were we looking for again?”
“POTS!” She shouted, making him and a few of the people walking past them jump. “Sorry.” She continued, covering her mouth with her hand. This dimension still had her a little freaked. Suddenly, her arm darted out and she pointed to a cabinet about three down from where they were standing.
Making it to the display case, Wesley proceeded to take a long hard look at the objects inside. He was pleased to note that Cordelia’s vision had on this occasion been concise and accurate, even though she had still to recover fully from it. ‘Four brass vessels… check,’ he thought, managing to push that Cordelia train of thought far away for the moment.
He glanced at the display case again, noting on closer inspection that one vessel was mangled beyond recognition. He frowned, leaning in to obtain an even closer view, finally noting the seals and the scratches along the sides of the three complete pots. Taking his pad from his jacket pocket, he made notes and drew copies as best he could of everything he saw.
Fred meanwhile, was reading the board that was next to the cabinet. ‘Four brass vessels found in a dry lakebed in ancient city of Babylon, one damaged during excavation, blah, blah, blah…’
“Hey!” She said, pulling on the arm of Wesley’s jacket.
“Hmm?” He replied, still focused on the pots.
“Look at this.” She started. Putting his pen and pad away, Wesley straightened to see what Fred was referring to. “We have a curse.”
Wesley read the board for himself. It began by describing the location of the excavation and all the material found during the dig. Most interestingly of all though, it stated that after the pots were discovered, everyone who had visited the tent they were stored in had mysteriously died and one of the field archaeologists had simply vanished. Superstition being what it is; the vessels had been proclaimed cursed. Re-reading the text, Wesley was aware of a small pulling at a corner of his brain. This was familiar, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember why.
Turning to Fred he said woodenly, “I think we have everything we need for now, let’s return to the hotel. I need to start researching.” He paused momentarily distracted, still unable to piece together what ever his brain was trying to tell him.
Her eyes lighting at up at the word ‘research’, Fred started to head for the exit, with Wesley walking hazily behind.
As they left, a man swept in through the opposite doors and came to a stop at the exact same spot they had just vacated. His face reflected on the same case that housed the four brass vessels; noting with some smug satisfaction that one of the vessels was almost unrecognizable, twisted and bent into a most unnatural state. If anyone had been paying close attention to the reflection being cast upon the case, they would have seen it distort and reveal its owners true face.
With a smirk, the demon addressed the pots… “Hello, lads, long time no see.”
Spike was having a very good day. He’d been able to wind the Slayer and all her little Scoobies up, score some free blood and manage to not have one bolt of electricity run through his noggin. But for him, his piece de resistance was his afternoon bout of Passions. As he settled in for the last twenty minutes with a mug of blood, his supernatural senses suddenly went into overdrive. Hearing the door to the crypt open, he rolled his eyes and stood up
“Bloody-hell, Slayer! Can’t you just leave it alone for one…?”
He stopped as he saw who was at the door. “Jesus.” He whispered. “It can’t be…He told us…How did you…Why are you…I thought he’d killed you.”
The person at his door calmly waited for him to finish, before stating,” He didn’t and I need your help.” The door closed with a bang.
By the time Gunn arrived at the hotel, the lobby looked as though the Pylea episode was happening all over again. Books and paper were strewn across every available work surface, not one inch was spared. The only person in sight was Fred, who had conscientiously stacked the remains of any fast food containers into a fortress, which she was now currently hiding behind reading some ancient tome.
“What’s goin’ down?” He enquired to the near deserted hall.
Fred stuck her head over the top of her fortress and waved as Wesley suddenly appeared from behind the counter.
“Ah, Gunn,” Wesley started “We require your help in the…”
“Let me stop you,” Gunn wryly replied “What we researching?”
“These markings” Angel said, walking from the office and plunking himself down on the sofa.
Wesley handed Gunn a copy of his drawings taken earlier at the museum. Gunn turned the piece of paper slowly in his hands, raised his eyebrows and sighed as he took the book Wesley was holding out for him. Looking around for a safe place to perch, he again caught sight of Angel.
“What’s with the face?” He whispered sideways to Wesley
Wesley briefly glanced at Angel before pointing at the stairs as Cordelia descended into the lobby. “Girls Night Out – one of her parties,” He whispered back.
Angel overhearing their muted conversation, chose to ignore them and sunk deeper into his apparent sulk.
Gunn managed let out a strangled “wow”, as he took Cordelia into full view.
“I think I’ll have to second that,” smiled Wesley looking up from the moldy parchment in front of him. “You look fantastic!”
“You guys…” she admonished. Cordelia grinned like a Cheshire cat and twirled around for good measure, starting to giggle.
Three mouths dropped open in complete male appreciation, as her movements flaunted the dress to its optimum. The demure front giving way to an almost non existent back. Thin straps over the shoulders held the black chiffon over the gold underlay, making the dress semi-opaque. Both of these layers were only just held in place above her eye-catching tattoo by a sparkling crystal clasp. The bias design allowed the floor length materials to flow gently over her gorgeous curves. Her unadorned hair, along with the minimal make-up and jewellery completed the timeless beauty of the woman in front of them.
Coming to a slightly staggering halt, Cordelia collected herself. Opening her eyes she found Wesley and Gunn still staring, apparently fixated on a certain part of her anatomy. She followed their gaze, rolling her eyes in mock irritation before dryly commenting, “Geez, look at that, all three of us looking at a pair of boobs.” Her subsequent glare left Wesley and Gunn in little doubt that they were the other pair in question.
As she had come into the lobby, Angel had stood and turned to face her. The air he didn’t need had caught and lodged in his throat, forcing him to clear it. Cordelia turned and gazed upon him expectantly as she heard him.
“You look…. nice,” He finally ground out, mentally berating his two- hundred year old lack of imagination.
Cordelia had an exasperated look on her face but placed a kiss on his cheek before making her way to the door. “I’ll see you all tomorrow,” she said as she rummaged through her purse.
“You’ve got your phone right?” Angel asked.
Cordelia turned about-face waving said phone at him, having already second-guessed his question.
“Bye, “ Said Fred finally appearing from behind her cardboard fortress. “Have a good time!”
“I will.” Replied Cordelia as she left the hotel.
“Bye. “ The others shouted in unison.
“Be careful,” Angel whispered to the now vacant swinging door before resuming his former position.
“Are we sure she should be going?” Wesley asked delicately. “Less than four hours ago she was still in a bad way.”
“You know Cordelia, man. She takes it all, visions won’t back her down. An’ besides, when was the last time she got to go out lookin’ that hot?”
Wesley sighed. “I suppose so. It’s just that I’ve never seen one cripple her quite in that way before…” He trailed off as his eyes locked with Angel’s; unconsciously noting how the vampire’s eyes appeared to have narrowed to slits during Gunn’s little narrative.
“We’ll discuss this later. Let’s just figure her vision out first.” Angel’s tone indicated that the subject was closed for now. As everyone returned to his or her book, Angel switched on brood mode.
Four Seasons, Beverly Hills
Cordelia was ecstatic. After arriving at the Four Seasons and showing her invitation, she was escorted to the function room. Advancing inside, she was instantaneously transported back to her earlier years in Sunnydale. The whole place was decked in splendor, a splendor that she used to take for granted. Looking around her, she saw suits and dresses that today made her salivate and a little green around the gills. Finally locating her friend at the bar, she took a breath and went to join her.
Angel looked to be deep into the papers he was holding, but Cordelia preoccupied his mind. His frown deepened. These visions were… he hesitated to even shape the words, let alone allow them to be thought. He rubbed his face trying to re-concentrate on the papers he held in his hand.
It still wasn’t happening so he pushed them aside. He also tried to push down those feelings. Oh yes, he knew the ones. The butterflies and nervousness, they were all good signs of it. The feelings that he had for Cordelia were beginning to alter. They still had their crazy, rollercoaster ride of friendship, but he was starting to perceive her as more. He was starting to perceive her as a woman, with girl parts. And that was just not good at all. And besides, even with this slow awakening all the same old insecurities still rang true. They were the best of friends and Cordy meant everything to him. She had to know that, but friends don’t do friends right? And what about the whole curse thing he had going on? He sighed, as a man had once said, reason and love were keeping little company today.
The others were aware that the relationship between him and Cordy had shifted slightly since the return from Pylea. He himself wasn’t entirely sure what exactly this shift entailed; these feelings were still too new. But he could just picture Wesley’s face if they told him that they had on occasion been sharing a bed, even if it wasn’t in the biblical sense. As the thought took form he happened to glance at Wesley.
What he saw made him immediately rise to his feet. Wesley had just drained of all colour and was shakily reaching out for the nearest chair. Angel’s first thought was that he had voiced his contemplation out loud, but his original source of dread subsided when he noticed that Wesley’s gaze was fixed on the parchment clutched in his fist.
Fred and Gunn sensing Angel’s agitation looked to Wesley. The trio met and stood at the counter together, looking at the Englishman anxiously.
“Holy shit.” Was all they got.
Cordelia was out on one of the balconies overlooking the gardens. The air was cool and she took a moment to enjoy the quiet and solitude whilst awaiting her friend to return with fresh drinks. The friend in question was none other than her old school buddy Aura, who through ‘Daddy’, had procured a job working for the man in whose honour they were all here tonight.
He had been elected as Governor of California and the room she had just left reverberated with the power of the political and famous. Cordelia vaguely wondered if this were a path that she may have finished up on, if her parents had just been a little more exacting with their taxes. She sighed, her reverie interrupted by a small, girly squeal.
“Cordy, there you are!” Aura exclaimed as she handed Cordelia a fresh glass of Champagne. “Come with me, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
“Wes… Wes… Wesley!” Gunn almost resorted to slapping him as he came around to Wesley’s side of the counter. Quietly and solemnly he asked “What’s the deal man?”
None of them quite knew what to make of it, never had they seen him react quite like this.
“It’s bad isn’t it?” Angel asked.
“No shit ” Gunn mumbled, still staring at Wesley and therefore completely missing Angel’s subsequent glare.
“How bad?” Angel reiterated.
“I should have remembered in the museum, it was all so familiar.” Wesley berated himself.
“The curse!” Fred suddenly squealed.
“Curse… I… What? Wes, help us out here!” Angel entreated.
Focusing in on Angel’s voice, Wesley leapt up from his chair to the counter, moving anxiously behind it.
“There is a legend, “ He began, “from Babylonian times of four chief demons being imprisoned in a vessel of brass by the magic seal ring of King Solomon. Solomon also managed to scrape each vessel with the demons mark.” He pointed at his papers, showing the matching marks from the books to his drawings.
“Okaaay,” Said Gunn. “We have four demons and four pots… first off; who or what are the demons?”
Wesley turned his pad around. “Belial, Bileth, Asmoday and Gaap.”
They took a minute letting the names hang in the air around them when Fred spoke up. “The museum has all four pots, but one of them was really damaged.”
“Damn!” Wesley said, slapping his hand in frustration on the counter. “That means…”
“That one of them is free.” Finished Angel.
“And it explains the so called curse and mysterious deaths from the 1933 excavation. They must have broken the seal to look inside, mistakenly believing that they held treasure!” Wesley exclaimed.
“So which one is out?” Asked Gunn.
Wesley fumbled around for a few moments, holding his drawings to the open books covering the surface of the counter. Finally he answered, “Belial.”
“Right, what do we know about it?” Angel asked as they all turned their attention back to the bookcase.
After a short pause, it was Wesley who delivered the goods. “ Well, apparently very little.” He began as he threw yet another book onto the counter. “It will need to take over a human body in order to survive in this dimension… speaks well and distributes preferments of senatorship… favour of friends and excellent familiars…” Wesley trailed off from the disjointed text. He stopped to think before turning to Fred and asking, “Didn’t the display board at the museum, say that one of the archaeologists from that dig disappeared?”
“Yep.” Fred replied.
“You’re thinking that the missing archaeologist is hosting our friend.” Angel surmised.
“Any way of finding out who it is?” Asked Gunn
“I think a trip to the museum’s records is in order.” Said Angel; starting towards the office for his coat.
Gunn headed for the door. “Game on”.
“Wesley; you and Fred stay here. Keep researching the legend. Find out what it was that they were originally after.” Angel shouted back into the lobby as he followed Gunn through the door. ”The vision just showed us the way in, we need the rest…”
Wesley, taking his glasses off placed his head in his hands. “I already know,” he whispered. He watched as Fred settled in at the computer before going back into the office. He made sure the door was closed and picked up the phone…
‘It needs to take over a human body in order to survive in this dimension…
Making their way back through the crowds, Cordelia noticed that they seemed to be heading for what could only be described as a stunning looking man. A little perplexed that maybe Aura was trying to set her up, Cordelia resolved to be firm but polite, after all she had…Well actually, there was no-one in her life right now. Groo was a cherished but fading memory and let’s face it, she thought. Trying to introduce a new man into her little group was nigh-on impossible; someone had still yet to pass Angel’s full on Gestapo act. All the vamp needed was a spot lamp to complete the look. Cordelia snorted in derision, what was up with that anyway? Still, her thoughts of Angel brought a small smile to her face and she vaguely wondered if they had gotten anywhere with her latest vision.
‘Favour of friends and excellent familiars…’
Reaching the mass of people surrounding the gentleman, Aura dove in to grab the man’s attention. As he turned around in Cordelia’s direction, she seemed to lose most of her coherency and was only dimly aware that she was being introduced to him.
‘Distributes preferment’s of senatorship…’
“Cordelia Chase, I’d like you to meet the Governor of California.”
“Such formality.” He joked giving her friend a mock frown. “Ms Chase.” He began, holding his hand out and looking her straight in the eye. “My name is Jeremy, Jeremy Washford.”