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Elemental, My Dear Angel

Chapter Three

A wordless discussion passed between Angel and Wesley. They were more attuned to each other since the fire-sharing. A raised eyebrow asked the obvious question: what were the five hell-creatures doing at Wesley's apartment? And the obvious answer was pressed between the pages of a dog-eared mystical reference book: The Scrolls of Aberjian. Wolfram and Hart wouldn't rest until they had exhausted every means of retrieving their stolen property. Further speculation would have to wait.

Worried about Cordelia, and Wesley's mortal neighbors, they both realized they'd have to confine the battle to the interior of the apartment. In order to do that, they'd have to invite the vampires in. Angel didn't like that fact any more than Wes, but what else could they do?

Wesley helped Angel to rise, then put his mouth against Angel's ear. "Shall I drop the fire wall?"

"Think I can walk through it?" Angel asked in return. "We may need it."

Wesley shrugged helplessly, wincing as Cordelia shrieked in outrage and pain. Angel knew Wes wanted to be outside helping Cordelia as much as he himself. That need was written in the tension of muscles and the readiness to spring into action that Angel felt from his own body as well. There was no time to waver. Neighbors would be coming out any moment to investigate the noise. They couldn't afford to have the police show up, especially Kate, with her newfound antagonism.

Angel had to answer his own question. He reached out and touched the wall of flame. The flames clung to his hand and his skin started to blister. He snatched the hand back, putting the fire out with the hem of his pullover, his question answered.

"Drop it," he requested, voice harsh. "Or can you reshape it?" he asked right on the heels of his first query.

Wes seemed to know what he was about. He turned immediately and took up the grimoire. He flipped hurriedly through the pages. His lips moved silently as he memorized the cantrip. He placed the book at his feet and, as he murmurred the cantrip, he bent to blow out all but the candle facing the doorway. The circle of fire winked out behind them and to the sides, but a formidable wall of flame remained intact before them. Sensing a change in their prey's defenses, the vampire and demon released another volley of arrows into the room. Angel and Wes ducked down, but the bolts whistled harmlessly into the flame and dissolved.

"You're not the Avon lady, so don't even think about ringing the bell," Angel heard Cordelia taunt the vampires just as he issued the invitation.

"What?!" Cordelia screeched as she was shoved roughly through the door. She immediately moved to a minimum safe distance.

The vampires spilled across the threshold in her wake, the tallest bringing up the rear, and spread out. The demon, though, crashed into an invisible barrier. Growling its frustration, it slammed its clawed hands into the wall beside the door. Eight furrows were dug into the wall and plaster dust rained down on the demon, but it couldn't gain entry. Obviously the wards the white witch had erected would not allow demons to enter. Judging by the the determined look on its face, a white barrier would not block it for long. The vampires were momentarily stymied by the loss of their leader. Their confusion was a gift that couldn't be wasted. Angel knew the three of them couldn't handle four vampires and a demon. They had to work fast. Demon first, highly dangerous from the look of it, or the more immediate threat of the vampires?

An idea came to Angel and he caught Wes' eye. "Do you think the Salamander would like to make more friends?" he asked, tipping his head meaningfully towards the demon in the hall.

"I'll be happy to introduce them," Wes responded, catching on.

Angel acted to distract the demon, sliding over to camouflage Wes' activity. "So, fancy meeting you here. Get lost on your way to the butt-ugly family reunion?"

"Your smart-ass tongue will not protect you, vampire. We seek the Scrolls, and we will have them. We will flay this one," it began, pointing at Cordelia, "and grind her skin and your ashes into a paste of supplication to the Dark Lord." The demon rubbed its hands together melodramatically.

Cordelia rolled her eyes and muttered, "As if," though she couldn't quite disguise a shudder of revulsion.

During this exchange, Wes closed his eyes briefly and concentrated. The Salamander reappeared on his open palm and danced impatiently. Quickly and without even consulting the grimoire, Wesley chanted a short song, directing the Salamander towards the demon standing squarely in the doorway. "Salamander, I adjure thee, enter his body, make his blood boil and his body burn!"

The demon held its ground, probably certain such a tiny spot of flame could do it no harm. That assumption was a grave mistake. The Salamander rose from its place on Wesley's hand and shot through the wall of fire. The flames seemed to attach themselves to the small body and trailed behind it like the curl of a comet. As the flames arced directly for the demon, the vampires scattered, instinct forcing their bodies to move rather than stand and protect their leader. The Salamander penetrated the demon with an unnatural clap of thunder. Subsumed by the white hot flames, the demon stood for a moment, his hideous face set in stunned lines, before he exploded into great gouts of flame. They fell to the floor and were quickly reabsorbed by the Salamander, which flew directly to the hearth and settled itself contentedly beneath the andirons.

Freed from the artificial restraint of abstinence, the vampires ranged into position. Their coordinated moves told Angel they had hunted together before. Faces morphed with anticipation as they realized they would feed after all. Wanting to dine in privacy, the tall vampire backed up and closed the door, pressing a shiv between the door and the remaining frame to keep it wedged into place.

Shouting "Kiai!" the black-clad vampire exploded into activity. Spinning around his own center of gravity, he landed lightly then jumped back into the air, his leg snapping out into a roundhouse kick. He barely landed again before flipping over into two tight somersaults that brought him within striking distance of Angel. Yet when he regained his feet, he didn't attack but dropped into a relaxed fighting stance, calmly assessing his opponent.

"Didn't I see that in a movie once?" Cordelia riffed. "There's nothing original anymore."

"Really, Cordelia, do you think it's wise to antagonize him?" Wesley cautioned.

"Oh, please. Should I make him a pot of tea instead?"

Angel ignored the barbed exchange and regarded his opponent in return. The black-clad vampire looked eerily like a Ninja, and his skillful moves more than justified the label. During his long years, Angel had studied various forms of martial arts, but while he had skills of his own, he had not immersed himself in one type of training. Still, the "feel" of the black-clad vampire was relatively young, and Angel was confident he would emerge from the fight victorious. Still, best give his opponent his full attention. He'd spare a glance at his friends when he could, trusting they could hold their own.

The fight began with little warning. The Ninja spun into a high kick. Angel braced himself for the blow, but gripped the approaching ankle at the last moment. He twisted the Ninja off-balance. With his left ankle still in Angel's grip, the Ninja flipped over and brought his right leg to bear, boxing Angel's ear with the side of his boot. Angel staggered back beneath the vicious blow. His foot caught the edge of the rolled carpet and he went down hard, momentarily stunned. A change in air pressure alerted him to the Ninja's attack. Angel rolled aside as the end of the bo made contact with the floor, the force of the blow driving it into the floorboards scant inches from where Angel's heart had just been. Angel rolled back over, breaking it off and trapping the bo beneath his body. Reaching around, he caught the bo in a practiced grip and flipped to his feet. The tables turned as Angel was now the one facing an unarmed foe.

The black-clad vampire backed up, not in retreat, but only to make room to deploy a weapon better used for distance. Reaching into his jacket, the Ninja pulled out four throwing stars, which he promptly distributed two to each hand. He threw them with deadly accuracy in rapid succession. Angel sidestepped the first easily enough, but belatedly realized he was set up. His move brought him into the path of the second star. Bringing the bo up abruptly, he deflected the star from its path towards his face; it dropped soundlessly to penetrate his thigh. Angel grunted as he ripped it out of his muscle. His pant leg was soaked through in a moment. The third star forced Angel to jump awkwardly out of its path, but the fourth cut a deep and ragged swath through his right cheek. The core of the star was steel but the five jagged points were razor-sharp mahogany. The wounds burned terribly and blood climbed to the surface in a heady rush.

Unable to keep control of the demon any longer, Angel allowed his features to morph into his true face. With a snarl of rage, he rushed the Ninja, who responded with a backflip. Angel followed, rage muddling his thinking. From the table top where he landed, the Ninja kicked out, catching Angel in the face. Blood splattered from a split lip and gushed from his nose. The wound in his cheek reopened, making his face a bloody mess. He wiped the blood from his eyes, agony flaring anew as he pressed the cut on his lip. The demon within urged him to attack, but this time Angel used the pain to focus. He was fighting foolishly, the demon making him forget the basics. Stupidity and blind rage would not get it done.

Slowly, he retreated and dropped into his starting kata position, a classic fighting stance with his right foot placed back of his left. Gripping the bo, he spun it lightly, getting the heft and balance. The Ninja watched warily, waiting for an opening, weighing his opponent, judging his prowess. Angel was doing the same as he ran through his favorite kata slowly. He circled to face into the room, the Ninja moving with him. Angel drew himself up, hands spaced shoulder width apart on the weapon, one palm up, one down. He bowed his head slightly, catching a glimpse of his partners' progress over the Ninja's shoulder, as his opponent bowed minimally in return.

Cordelia and her guard circled each other, the vampire merely playing like a cat with a mouse. But Cordelia had a look of confidence melded with a sneer on her face.

"Comon, darling," the vampire challenged. "I don't mind working up a little appetite."

"Listen, overbite, I've used the ashes of better than you to fertilize my Chia herb garden."

Laughing maniacally, the vampire wiggled his fingers. "Let's see what you got, then."

Cordelia reached into her bag, which had remained inexplicably anchored to her shoulder throughout her ordeal, and drew out a large wooden cross. Taking a move out of Buffy's book, she spun, gripping the cross at either end. As she whirled back around, the cross separated with a whisper of wood on wood, a long pointed stake emerging from its hidden sheathe. Holding her arm stiffly, she used the momentum of her turn to ram the stake home. Surprise widened the eyes of the vampire as he looked down to see the stake protruding from his chest. He exploded into a satisfying display of skeleton dissolving into ash.

Cordelia dusted her hands. "Who's laughing now, dust boy?" she scoffed as she went to Wesley's aid.

Angel recognized the look on Cordy's face. Overconfident and riding high on her success against the filthy vampire, Cordelia waded right into the middle of Wesley's battle, unmindful of the danger. The bookish vampire, proving that knowledge is indeed power, slammed a heavy tome against the back of her head. Her knees buckled and she pitched forward, catching her temple on the corner of the bookcase. She tumbled forward, luck guiding her to the couch for a soft but unconscious landing.

Angel started towards her, but he made a tactical error in presenting his back to his enemy, one which the Ninja capitalized on. White light exploded behind his eyes as he was hit with a weighty piece of door jamb. He went careening uncontrolled towards the couch, taking out the bookworm, who hovered menacingly over Cordelia's still form, fangs bared.

For a moment, the tableau froze.

Cordelia lay beside Angel on the couch, breathing shallowly but otherwise unmoving. Wes stood poised, a look of intense concentration on his face, the grimoire open in his right hand. Angel must have missed the Song of Summoning, for the Salamander floated once more over Wesley's left palm. The ex-Watcher's features were set in grim determination, though it warred with an acute fatigue. The Elemental was drawing on Wesley's Will and the strain was beginning to take its toll.

The bookish vampire had regained his feet and approached Wesley, brandishing yet another shard of shattered doorjamb. As he moved in for the kill, Angel saw Wesley's lips move and the softly voiced song resolved into words. "Elemental Lord of Fire, I call upon your power, send forth a torrent of fire to sear and char mine enemies, let them be engulfed in a Fire Storm!"

For a long second there was no response, as Wesley swayed on his feet. Angel breathed, "Please," praying unabashedly for a remnant of the connection he had shared with the Salamander. His prayer was granted by the Elemental gods. A blaze of fire shot out from Wesley's left hand in a guided trajectory, engulfing the bookish vampire and his tall partner. The Ninja, who had come to his compatriots' aid, wisely somersaulted outside the blast radius, evidently choosing to recommence his battle with Angel instead. Angel ducked below the strike as well, though the fire passed close enough to singe his hair and ear. The two vampires glowed brightly for a moment before they winked out like spent flash bulbs, only an afterimage on the retinas to mark their passing.

Released from its fealty, the Salamander returned to its home in the embers of myrtle wood burning in the fireplace. The grimoire tumbled from Wesley's nerveless hand, and he sagged to the floor, Cordelia's discarded cross embedded in his back. Blood pooled beneath him. Angel's nostrils flared and the heady aroma slammed into senses already scraped raw.

The Ninja knelt beside Wesley, and dipped a finger into the blood at his feet. Rising, he licked his fingers clean, the challenge written in his body language. Assured he had his foe's attention, he stepped dismissively over Wesley's inert body. Angel rose to meet him.

Scanning the room for a diversion, Angel caught sight of his duster. Snatching the garment from the couch, he tossed it over the Ninja's head. Angel threw himself into a shoulder roll, snatched up the bo and came to his feet in one smooth maneuver, just as the Ninja freed himself from the duster. Dropping into his fighting stance once more, Angel met the Ninja head-on, his movement nearly a blur as he slid in and thrust at the other vampire's stomach. The Ninja cartwheeled over and reclaimed the piece of doorjamb. He blocked Angel's first thrust, lifting the makeshift quarterstaff just in time to parry another thrust to his face. Stepping forward on his right foot, Angel slid his hands to the end of the bo and struck at the Ninja with a powerful overhead blow. Holding the staff in both hands, the Ninja blocked the bo and turned it aside. The Ninja took advantage of Angel's momentary imbalance and took the offensive, thrusting the jagged end of the staff at Angel's chest. On the defensive now, Angel jumped back and caught the staff with the middle of the bo. The block wasn't quite fast enough, and the sharp end of the staff cut a deep furrow down Angel's torso, piercing his navel before Angel could disengage. Blood poured into the waistband of his jeans.

Angel narrowly avoided another sweeping strike, ducking below the staff, which whistled dangerously overhead. The Ninja was fast, faster even than Penn, and Angel found himself more and more in a defensive stance. He jumped over a low strike meant to sweep him from his feet before he had even finished his last block. Landing on his back with a released whuff of breath, he reached up and grabbed his opponent's weapon. Yanking on it had the desired effect and the Ninja went sailing over his head, helped along by the well-placed foot Angel planted in his mid-section.

They both lithely regained their feet, each finding his rhythm. They moved around each other as if the steps were part of some complicated and choreographed dance. The fight was eerily silent, only the occasional snarl or explosion of air necessary to power through a stike, escaping the combatants.

This time Angel pressed the attack, and swept his bo upward, aiming for the Ninja's groin. The Ninja moved his staff into a horizontal position and with an abrupt downward movement, blocked the thrust. Angel pivoted a full 360 degrees on his right foot, bringing the bo to bear on the Ninja's left knee. The Ninja was skilled at bo fighting and he protected his knee with a textbook block, staff lightly touching the floor at a 45 degree angle to his left leg. The blow was facilely deflected. Angel continued to press, forcing his body to perform to its utmost, eeking out the greatest speed possible. He had to end this now before the blood loss brought his opponent the victory he sought.

Sliding forward on his left foot, Angel feinted an overhead strike. When the Ninja had moved to meet the strike, barely getting his staff in place for an overhead block, Angel shifted his hands and shoved the bo towards the Ninja's unprotected chest. The Ninja, with a feint of his own, had begun a shoulder height swing meant to slice Angel's head off at the neck. His eyes narrowed in grudging respect as he realized he'd been bested. Committed to his strike, he watched helplessly as the bo struck home. As the Ninja dissolved in a shower of dust, the staff clattered to the floor at Angel's feet.

He bent forward, trying to recover, his hands clasped tightly to his knees. A short minute later, Angel straightened and surveyed the damage and casualties. Violence continued to follow him.

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