When Darkness Falls
By L.A. Ward and Sanguine
Author’s note: Sorry,
this has taken so freaking long. Real
life has kept me busy. On the bright
side, I did pass my boards.
Chapter Twelve: Magical Mystery Tour
Willow’s boots made
a metallic clank against the metal deck of the Millennium
Bridge as she crossed over the mud
“Could we. . .”
Reggie gasped. “Stop for a moment?”
Reggie’s panting breath made a frosty cloud in the air as he doubled
over and braced his hands against his knees.
looked mildly impatient as Willow
paused to wait for Reggie. For a moment Willow
wondered whether Lydia
would fiddle with her glasses the way that Giles did when he was upset. She didn’t.
adjusted her black leather gloves.
Reggie’s face remained a flushed, mottled red. “I don’t understand why we didn’t take the
tube to Southwark.”
“We would have had to change trains,” Lydia
He took another gulp of air. “Could have taken the boat from
sighed and drew her gray wool coat more tightly around herself as the chilly
morning wind whipped off the river.
“Honestly, Reggie, it isn’t *that* far to walk and the boats
don’t run until nine.”
“It’s okay. We can wait while you catch your breath,” Willow
“I’m fine.” Reggie
manfully squared his shoulders. “Lead the way, Willow.”
Willow paled. “I
don’t. . .” She laid her hands on the
cold stainless steel railing of the pedestrian bridge and looked at the
cityscape of London. Most of what was in front of her was low and
vaguely modern in varying shades of brick, steel, and glass. It was half a world from Sunnydale
and nothing like the Big Ben and Parliament view that had always been the icon
of ‘view from the Thames’ of the American’s
imagination. For the most part what was in front of Willow
was ordinary, sometimes gray and sometimes brown with the occasional apartment
building having reflective tinted glazing. Although standing at the end of the
bridge, slightly askew of being on axis, stood the impressive the
black-smudged, white-domed, Neo-Classical-to-Baroque edifice of St.
“I’m sort of just following my instincts here, guys. Last summer I—“ Willow
stopped, not wanting to think of the mess she had been before Spike had found
her in the alley. “I heard stories, but
I’ve never actually been to this place.”
“We could take another go at Travers,” Reggie suggested.
frowned. “I am afraid if Mr. Giles and Spike could not extract the truth from
Mr. Travers, we have little hope of doing so.”
tightened on the rail. “Yeah. Without
going Darth Willow I’m not very intimidatey.” And no
magic meant no truth spells.
Reggie rubbed his hands together. “The Mystic it is, then. Shall we go?”
They continued across the bridge toward the looming, stark
edifice of an old power plant that had been transformed into an art museum. It
stood next to the gleaming white exterior of the reconstructed Globe Theater
with its anachronistic thatch roof.
Something caught Reggie’s eye. “Ooh! Starbucks!”
He picked up speed and started toward the coffee shop.
glanced at Willow. “This Mystic, do you trust her?”
and followed Reggie. “She’s supposed to
be very powerful. Maybe she can get a
vibe off the text that I can’t. I’ve
tried, but. . .” =I’m scared.= The text was powerful and accessing it meant
marshalling forces which had overwhelmed her not so long ago. Those forces had made Willow
lose control, had caused havoc and death.
She had stood in the middle of a storm of emotion, need, thrills, pain,
and power. Everything had been in her
control, yet everything had been beyond her.
She couldn’t make it make sense. She had seen, up close and personal, a
world composed of chaos upon which she could not impose order. It terrified her. The thought of ever losing control like that
again had become the stuff of her nightmares.
Reggie walked out of the coffee shop and met them on the
sidewalk. A foamy milk mustache marred
his upper lip. “So, where are we going?”
Willow looked at
their surroundings. Having traveled beyond the Globe Theater and the Tate
Modern, the three of them were now in a very non-descript area of the
city. Most of the buildings looked like little
more than old brick warehouses.
“I. . .uh. . .have to sense it,” Willow
confessed. “It’s a bit like trying to
find Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.” =Or
Rack’s= Willow added silently.
frowned. “Nine and Three Quarters?”
“Harry Potter.” Reggie looked excitedly at Willow. “You can really do that? Walk through walls?”
“M-maybe.” Could she? “But this isn’t exactly like
that. It’s not a real wall. It’s an illusion. It takes power to create it and that power
can be felt.” And that power would
sizzle and hum across Willow’s skin
like the power Rack had given her, like the power she had sold herself to a
demon to gain. “It’s sort of like a portal. “
walking, stretching her senses into the void in an effort to feel the portal’s
energy and hoping that this time she wouldn’t find something awful. Reggie and Lydia
were silent while she searched and that unnerved Willow
more. Everything about the narrow,
cobbled streets, which stood deserted and shadowed even in the morning hours,
left Willow feeling uneasy. Then she touched something. It wasn’t strong at first. It felt distant and small. Instead of a supernatural power plant it was
more along the lines of the charge felt when wearing wool socks and skidding
your feet across carpet. Still, even
then, there came a point where you realized that if you touched the doorknob you’d receive a hell of a shock,
and the more she walked the more Willow
felt the charge build.
She stopped moving.
and Reggie faced what looked like a large expanse of blank brick wall. Reggie and Lydia
glanced at Willow with “are you
sure?” expressions causing Willow
to nod then lift her chin. With the
appearance of more confidence than she actually felt, Willow
stepped through the illusory wall.
Behind her she heard Reggie say, “It *is* just like Harry Potter.”
“In hell,” Willow
whispered as she peered into charcoal gray shadows which surrounded her.
Buffy’s roundhouse kick sent a
minion careening off the pier and into the harbor.
“Nice kick, pet.” Spike observed from his ship deck perch.
He loomed over Buffy as he watched her battle the remaining minions. “But you’re a mite slow.”
Buffy grabbed her stake and shoved it into the heart of the
vampire she was fighting.
“See,” Spike taunted.
“Could’ve taken that minion out five minutes ago.”
Buffy glared up at him.
“Would you shut up?”
Spike laughed. “You
know better than that, luv.” He smirked.
From her position behind a packing crate, Dawn was struck by
the absurd notion that Spike looked like a pirate. Not like a *real* pirate, but like a character in of those old, cheesy movies
that her mom had used to watch on the movie classics channel. In real life, pirates had been dangerous men,
but in those old Technicolor movies they were all bluster, handsome faces, and
dramatic poses. They were swashbuckling
actors putting on a show.
Spike stood precariously balanced on the ship’s rail as he
paced along the narrow beam to remain
abreast of Buffy’s struggle.
“Just going to watch? Why not come down and be part of the
show?” Buffy challenged just before the vampire she was fighting clocked
her. Buffy came back swinging, knocking
the vampire to his knees then executing him.
She looked back at Spike. “What
are you doing here?”
Spike squatted and struck a match against the rail. After searching his pocket for a pack of
cigarettes and coming up empty, he blew out the match, shrugged and said,
“You’re too late, you
know. I got here first.”
“Did you now, and what did you find?”
“Like I’d tell you.”
He gave a bitter smile.
“That’s my girl. Always keepin’ secrets.”
“My girl. Yes, I
remember you saying that once. Care to remind me when?”
Buffy flushed and turned away, attacking a minion with
brutal force. Dawn heard the vampire
scream in pain as Buffy broke its arm then its leg so that it was on the ground
before she dusted it. Some expression
Dawn couldn’t quite define crossed Spike’s face before he stood and leaped from
the ship’s rail. If he’d still had the
duster it would have fluttered around him like Batman’s cape and –oh yeah –
that move just was *cool.* Spike landed with the grace and agility of a
cat. Every now and then he’d do
something that would suddenly bring home the fact that he really wasn’t human.
Dawn looked over at Buffy, who was still in full high-heeled
dominatrix/executioner mode with the minions, while a little further down the
pier Xander’s ass was being thoroughly kicked. Spike circled the outer edge of the two
fights, watching but not participating in either. He stood with his back to Dawn.
Dawn’s hand tightened around her stake. Buffy had told her to stay down and stay
hidden. She was supposed to keep watch
and scream a warning if it was needed.
After all, Dawn was good at screaming.
Spike had once teased that it was her not-so-secret superpower.
His back was to her, and Dawn could take him out. She could dust him. In the month he’d been back, Spike had caused
nothing but trouble. Buffy’s
good mood had disappeared. She had gone
into cold bitch Slayer mode the night Spike had returned and made himself Arch-enemy Number One.
Giles was a pod person too.
Dawn remembered Giles as the amusing fuddy-duddy who was essentially
kind. He didn’t seem very kind
lately. He was distant and he
frowned. He had always frowned but it
used to be possible to tease him into smiles.
Now he *just* frowned. He had become as hard and coldly determined
“Ripper,” Xander had said. “He’s in Ripper mode.”
And Spike was the cause of it all.
Buffy ripped a pipe from the pier railing, flipped it,
twirled it in her hand, and skewered her combatant. Spike cocked his head to the side. “Stole
that move from me, didn’t you, pet?”
Buffy glared. “No!”
She looked ready to charge Spike, but a harried Xander
cried for help.
Buffy ran to save her friend as Dawn struggled to gather her
own courage. She could do this. She could kill Spike. She had a clear
shot. He was only a couple yards
away. All she had to do was remind
herself that Spike was the guy who had harbored demon eggs that would have
hatched critters that would have devoured her and her friends in their beds. He was the guy who had disappeared from her
life the moment Buffy had come back from the dead.
Dawn tightened her hand around her stake and rose to her
Spike was the guy who had slept with Anya. He was the guy who had hurt Buffy. He was the guy…who had been Dawn’s first real
Spike turned and
Dawn’s blood ran cold. For so
long he had just been Spike. Frustrated
Spike. Angry Spike. Heartbroken Spike. But always just Spike. Dawn had never looked into his eyes and seen
hate. Not her. Never her.
She might know that Spike was
dangerous, but where she was concerned Spike had always been a big
fluffy puppy with bad teeth. Dawn had never looked at him and seen death. Now she did, and she was terrified.
Spike’s blue eyes flickered gold, a flat acid yellow devoid
of human warmth or expression. His
muscles tensed a fraction of a second before he charged in her direction. Dawn’s heart leaped into her throat, and she
remembered the story Spike had once told her of a little girl in a coal bin.
=Oh, God. Oh, God.=
She was about to die. She was
about to have her throat ripped out by a vampire. Dawn knew she should run, but her feet felt
glued in place. Spike could run faster
than she could anyway. She was going to
die. Spike reached out and as Dawn
opened her mouth to scream, he caught. . .
Dawn gasped as Spike roughly hauled a vampire from behind
The vampire struggled in Spike’s grip. It protested, “Hey man, I had her dead to—“
Spike ripped the minion’s head off sending a spray of dust
into Dawn’s eyes.
“God. Oh! That
stings!” Dawn rubbed her eyes with the
back of her wrist. But she felt safe,
and when she could see again, she found Spike watching her with concern.
Spike was an open book again, every thought, every emotion
written on his expressive face. There
was fear, then relief, when he found her unharmed. He lifted his hand, reaching for her as if he
meant to touch her, comfort her.
“Dawn!” Buffy yelled
from somewhere beyond Dawn’s field of vision.
Spike’s hand fell and the moment of connection between him
and Dawn was broken. He stepped back,
drawing himself up so that he appeared larger than he truly was. His features hardened before he disappeared
into the darkness.
“Dawnie.” Buffy marched toward her. “I told you to stay hidden. That means *hide.*”
“It’s okay, Buffy.
Buffy’s frown knitted her brow but
after a moment she seemed willing to let the ice bitch routine go. She brushed a strand of Dawn’s hair behind
her ear, and Dawn could *almost*
swear there was a look of approval in Buffy’s eyes.
Xander was breathless when he
reached them. He looked tired and
stressed. “Bastard got away, didn’t
he?” They all knew Xander
was talking about Spike.
“Doesn’t matter,” Buffy said.
Xander shook his head and looked
unhappy. “What do you mean, it doesn’t
Buffy casually tossed a two inch square silver box in the
air and caught it. “I got what I came
for.” She started walking. After a moment, and a disgruntled sigh, Xander followed
Dawn still felt rooted to the spot. She stared at the pile of dust at her
feet. Spike had done that. Spike had saved her. He had *wanted*
to save her. She had looked into his
eyes and seen love.
“Dawnie?” Buffy called.
Something was going on, and Dawn wanted to know what.
Spike negotiated his way through the dimly lit alley between
two warehouses as he left the docks. The
shadows around him were long and deep, deep enough to hide in and almost
disappear. He leaned against a weathered brick wall and pulled a dry, pained breath into his lungs. If his heart could beat, he knew it would be
pounding, not from exertion but from fear.
Dawn had been a hair’s breadth away from becoming O-positive lunch for
one of the Master’s flunkies. Buffy and
Harris had been caught in their own battles.
If Spike hadn’t glanced in Dawn’s direction, Niblet
would have been killed and left lying on the dock with a dead, glassy-eyed
=Bollocks, bugger, and
balls.= What had Buffy been thinking
bringing Bit down to the docks like that?
Reckless was what it was, damned reckless.
Spike paused and leaned against the warehouse, settling for
a deep breath to calm himself rather than the cigarette he’d sell his soul to
The corner of Spike’s mouth lifted in bitter amusement. He’d have to watch thinking things like that
now that he had a soul to sell, now that he knew what a soul meant. It meant he remembered a thousand little
girls just like Bit, girls that he had done in without a second thought. He was no better than the minion he had just
A few weeks ago, when he had revealed his human past to Rupes, the Watcher had wanted to know what the Master could
possibly want with an undead vicar. Rupes’ mocking tone had made his incredulity clear and
caused Spike to laugh. “Nothing,” Spike
had said gruffly. “Not about God or
religion anyways--which is good ‘cause I was never much interested in either.”
Rupert’s glare had been disapproving, but then Rupert’s
glare was always disapproving. Spike had ignored it and answered the Watcher’s
“William was a good boy.”
Spike was keenly aware of his accent changing to rounder and more
precise speech. “Always doing what was
right, what was expected. Taking the cloth was a gentleman’s profession, one
appropriate to my family’s situation. I
believed it all, I suppose, but I had no passion for it. If you’re looking for a fallen saint, you
would do better to look in Dru’s direction.”
The Watcher’s expression had become a scowl. “I knew she had taken vows before Angelus. .
Spike had arched a brow.
“Don’t go squeamish, Rupes. He raped her, tortured her, drove her insane,
and murdered her. “
Giles had grimaced and looked away, causing Spike to wonder
at the innate repression that made Giles reluctant to hear or say what he
already knew to be true.
Spike had made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “But this isn’t about Dru. And I told you, it’s not about God. It’s about knowledge.”
“And you have it?” Giles had asked derisively. “Why do I find that hard to believe?”
“Bloody well don’t care what you believe. You try findin’ a
graduate of the modern American educational system who can read Greek and
Latin. Local vampire ranks aren’t filled
with Rhodes Scholars, y’know.”
Spike had shrugged. “It amused Angelus to corrupt
innocents. He called it ‘education.’”
“I find it difficult to imagine you as innocent.”
“And I find it difficult to imagine you as anything other
than a sanctimonious git swathed in tweed. We all have pasts.”
“Your point, Spike?”
“My point is the Master needs a right-hand man familiar with
subjects a good Anglican boy with a pre-Raphaelite’s obsession for all things
chivalric would know a thing or three about.
Crusades, illuminated manuscripts, holy hand grenade of Antioch. That sort of thing.”
Rupert hadn’t been pleased, but the Watcher was a pragmatic
man. “As unlikely as it may be, you
appear to be of value.”
“Knots your knickers, doesn’t it?” Spike’s bravado had fallen away, and he had
sighed. “I can do this.” He had lifted his head. “Besides, I’m all you’ve got.”
Three weeks and a few-odd days had passed since then, weeks
of lies and pretended subservience to the Master. Now, the weight of a
two-and-a-half-inch square silver box in his pocket reminded Spike that things
were as buggered as always.
It was nothing like Platform Nine and Three Quarters. It was nothing like Diagon
Alley. There was nothing whimsical or
cute to be found here. It was ominous
and dark, and reminded Willow of the gutter where Spike had found her.
“This is the right place?” Lydia
nervously. “I’m pretty sure it is. It was described to me. . .sort of. . .in way
less scary terms.” Willow swallowed
convulsively. “It’s a shadowland. It’s
always here, just. . .”
“Hidden in the shadows.
I’ve read about those.” Reggie’s
voice was as enthusiastic as ever as he examined their surroundings. “Look at these markings. They were left by a Krallock
demon.” It was graffiti which probably
only said “Numfar was here,” but the phosphorescent green scrawl on the cement-parged walls glowed in the shadows. It felt like a warning, and although the
alley walls protected them from the wind off the river, the air seemed colder
why she should be surprised that this hidden place of magic seemed to be like
Rack’s. The air was pregnant with the
same kind of energy. It was just as
unearthly still, and it had the same hostile vibe.
=What did you
expect? Oz and the Emerald City?=
For a moment Willow comforted herself with the memory of an entirely different
Oz and what his deadpan reaction would be to this dark alley. But Oz wasn’t here, and this wasn’t the Emerald
City. There was no harmless doorman or a horse of a
different color. There was no benevolent
Dumbledore. . .and was she mixing her metaphors and
literary references much?
Gathering her courage, Willow
approached the door next to the glowing demon scrawl. The door flew open, revealing an aged woman
whose wild mane that looked like it belonged to Gloria Steinem
on a bad hair day. . . if the bad hair day involved her sticking her finger in
a light socket. Her hair was steel-wool
gray, as were her eyes. In fact,
everything about her was a bit gray.
“Come in and stop wasting time,”
the woman commanded.
“But I. . .uh. . .”
“She hadn’t even tried the door,” Reggie exclaimed. “How did you know we were here?”
The woman arched a brow.
“You come to a seer and expect her not to see?”
“Well, no, but—“
The woman had already walked away, leaving the door open
behind her. Willow
looked at each other, then followed the seer inside. The mystic stood over an old gas stove, where
she put a tea kettle on to boil. “Could
have saved my time by not coming at all,” the seer grumbled. “Could have let me
sleep in. It’s hellishly early.” She pulled a tin of tea from the
and the Watchers were left standing in awkward silence watching step by step as
the seer prepared to make tea.
Finally, Reggie broke the silence to ask, “Are you a mystic or an oracle?”
The woman frowned as she filled a strainer with fragrant
black Darjeeling leaves. “What’s
primly clasped her hands. “A mystic is a practitioner of mysticism which is defined as the belief that
it is possible to experience communion with the ultimate reality through
subjective means such as intuition or insight. An Oracle is someone through
whom gods, goddesses, and fates may speak directly.”
The Seer tilted her head slightly to one side. “Reallly? Hmm. I
will keep that in mind.” She then
shrugged, clearly reluctant to define herself, and returned to making tea.
Reggie continued to press.
“Are you a witch?”
The woman eyed him as she set a celadon Japanese teapot on
the counter. “Awfully anxious to find a
pigeon hole for me, aren’t you, Watcher?”
“How do you know we’re Watchers?”
“You smell like it.
Musty, stuffy--” She sniffed the
No. 5.” She smiled at Lydia. “Very nice, by the way.” The Seer turned, caught sight of herself in
the mirror and yelped. Leaning closer to
the glass, she touched her lined face as if it was unfamiliar to her. “Why have you come at this ungodly hour of
“It’s eight fifteen,”
The woman hrrumphed. “Feels
earlier. I haven’t had a chance to put
my face on yet.”
forward. “We…uh… came for information.
We wanted to know. . .” She searched for the appropriate word. “Stuff
about this…um…prophecy. . . thing.” Willow
silently groaned. She hadn’t sounded
very dignified or commandy.
Still staring into the mirror, the woman said, “If you’re
looking for someone to tell fortunes, try Talia. She’s three blocks to the east and
nauseatingly chipper this time of day.“ Another disgruntled hrrmphf. “Morning person.”
her resolve face. “We aren’t here for
The woman turned her attention from the mirror to Willow. Her gaze traveled from the top of the young
witch’s red head to the toes of her almost-new boots which were ankle high and
laced from bottom to top. “It’s going
to cost you,” the Seer warned.
was the first to answer. “We are willing to pay your price.”
“Oh, really?” The woman arched her brow, then reached out
and snatched Lydia’s
shell-pink Hermes scarf from around the Watcher’s neck.
“That’s a Regina!”
protested, then instantly composed herself and clasped her hands primly. With her chin lifted and her voice full of
forced calm she added, “And it’s
”Pretty.” The seer fluttered the scarf in the air and began humming an artless
tune as she pulled back her wild hair and tied it with the scarf. Another wave of her hand and when the seer
faced her visitors, the lines on her face had been magically, erased leaving
her skin smooth, taut, and curiously ageless.
“I say, Lydia,
a scarf is a small price to pay for a—hey!” Reggie cried out as the Seer stole
his latte. “You’re making tea, why do
you need my coffee?”
The woman licked milk foam from her upper lip. “There’s no such thing as enough caffeine.
“And my price?” Willow
asked, fully aware that the seer was taking a token from each of her visitors.
A flash of light and the amethyst crystal that hung around Willow’s
neck on a leather thong disappeared and reappeared in the Seer’s hand. Willow’s
hand went to her now bare throat. “No,
please. That was given to me by someone
very special. . .someone I lost.”
The Seer gazed into the crystal that now lay in her
hand. It began to giving off a soft, iridescent lavender glow. “I can see that.” She returned the crystal to Willow’s
neck. “She loved you a great deal.”
winced as the older woman tore out several strands of her red hair.
The Seer smiled and wound her trophy around one finger
before sliding it into a small silk pouch that she placed in a cupboard drawer. “Account paid in full. Now, what do you wish
the illuminated parchment out flat on the kitchen counter.
“What is it?” Buffy
asked as Giles examined the box she had taken from the ship at the Sunnydale Docks.
“It’s like the most expensive Rubik’s cube on the planet,” Xander observed.
“And the freakiest.”
The surface of the cube was intricately worked silver,
inlaid with onyx and polished ivory. The
workings of the mechanism were so precise and fine that the black and white
pieces could be moved along delicate silver tracks until they made patterns.
“So?” Buffy’s arms were crossed
and she looked impatient.
Giles frowned. “I’m
not precisely sure what you wish me to tell you, Buffy.”
“Um, sort of looking for ‘what is it?’”
Giles picked up the box for closer inspection as he traced
the symbols etched into each piece of ivory and stone. “It’s a puzzle of some sort. I cannot be more precise until I’ve had time
to do further research.”
“Why does Spike want it?
He had five minions with him and he beat us to the docks. What does that thing do?”
Xander took the box from Giles’s
hand. “Probably something very Wes Craven.” He set it on the table. “And it’s freaking me out watching you mess
with it, Giles.”
Buffy started to pace across the floor of the Magic
Box. “This is *so* not good.” She stopped
moving. “Remember the Judge? Big puzzle pieces stolen from the dock. Put them all together and—presto--Blue Man
Xander shook his head. “Remind me again why we kept Spike around so
long? Should have killed him when he
showed up at Giles’s door. Would have saved us all a lot of trouble.”
A knot formed in the pit of Dawn’s stomach as she slid from
the counter where she had been sitting, and quietly made her way into the back
room. Behind her she could hear Xander going into Spike rant number three million, six
hundred thousand and five. For months
now she’s been all with the Spike hate, but the incident at the dock made Dawn
wonder. Spike had protected her. It couldn’t have been to impress Buffy,
because he was busy pissing Buffy off in a very big way. The only explanation for why he had saved her
was because he had wanted to. Sure, Spike could be a monumentally sentimental
sap – in a cool, rebellious sort of way – but when trying to destroy the world,
rescuing the people working against you was sort of counterproductive.
Sitting at a desk in the far corner of the Magic Box’s rear
office, Anya sighed and muttered to herself as she
reviewed invoices. “I sincerely hope he
is a very good Watcher because he is a very inefficient business man.”
Dawn asked, “Who? Mr.
“Look at this.” Anya waved a packing slip in Dawn’s general direction. “This is the third invoice I’ve found for an Er’Gefrey box, and we don’t have a single one in stock.”
The demon turned and looked at Dawn with a disapproving and
confused gaze. “How am I to make a
profit if Giles keeps paying for merchandise we don’t have?”
Dawn caught the paper that Anya
was waving. “What’s an Er’Gefrey box look like?”
Anya shrugged. “Varies.
But Giles keeps paying for the expensive ones--silver, onyx, and ivory.”
Dawn gasped. She
pushed aside the bead curtain and looked into the main room of the shop where
Buffy and Xander were still talking with Mr.
Giles. “This box thingie,
what does it do?”
asked. “Nothing. It’s like magical gift wrapping. A fancy outer wrapper that contains
“It’s a small package that holds really big things.”
Dawn frowned. “So these little boxes act like Mary Poppins’s suitcase?”
“Who is Mary Poppins?”
Dawn ignored Anya’s question. “If Mr.
Giles is ordering these boxes, he has to know what they are. He’s lying.”
embezzling? Why I—“
Dawn’s hand covered Anya’s
mouth. “Shh!” Anya bit her. “Ow!”
But Anya did keep her voice down
to a whisper when she spoke again. “I am
a vengeance demon, you know. I could
turn you into a stink beetle.”
“Not unless someone I scorned wished for me to be a stink
beetle, and since I’m not big into scorning and never had anyone to scorn
anyhow, you’re out of luck.”
Anya peeked through the beaded
curtain to look at the trio inside the shop examining the Er’Gefrey
box. “Human men are evil. Say what you
will about demons, men are worse.”
“You like men.”
“Well, yes, but I have very bad taste in men.”
“So men aren’t evil, just the ones you like.” Dawn frowned.
“And I thought we were talking about Mr. Giles not Xander.”
Anya flushed. “Yes, well, Giles is the one stealing from
“If it’s any help, I don’t think Mr. Giles is stealing. He’s just keeping secrets.”
“Secrets about stealing.”
“No, I’m pretty sure
it’s about something else.”
Spike shoved the Er’Gefrey box
into the inner pocket of his jacket as he approached the Volkswagon
that waited for him. The street was still
wet from an early evening rain and
light reflected off the asphalt. As a gentle breeze blew, Spike stopped
walking. There was the scent of blood in
the air. With a sudden burst of speed he turned, slamming a minion into the
wall as its human victim fell to the ground.
“Dexter, is it?”
The vamp could only make a gagging sound as it nodded.
“What did I say about snacking?” Spike eased off the
minion’s wind pipe so it could answer.
“Man, just because you can’t bite—“
“That’s right. Got a
chip in my head that means I can’t bite people, which means as long as I’m
around *you* can’t bite people.” Spike smirked. “‘Cause I’m just a selfish bastard that
way. If I don’t have fun, no one does.”
“Man, just because you’re a cripple…”
Spike pushed his forearm harder into Dexter’s throat. “I’m thinkin’ I’m just a nudge away from crushing your windpipe,
Dexter. And while you may not need to
breathe, a smashed windpipe makes it a bitch to talk or sing along with your
Abba 8 tracks. So, one more time. Stop
pissing me off. ” He let the minion go.
Dexter straightened his jacket. “Be cool, man.”
Spike looked heavenward.
“And the seventies are *over!*”
“This coming from Mr. Punk Rock Atti—“
Dexter threw his hands up. “All right, already. You win.” He
looked over Spike’s shoulder. “Where’re
Most of Spike’s energy was focused on trying to hear whether
Dexter’s victim still had a heartbeat.
She did. The rest of his energy
was aimed at reminding himself not to appear as though he cared. “They met dusty ends.”
“That bitch Slayer?”
“Yeah. That. . .
“Damn, the Master isn’t going to like hearing this. Did you at least get what we came for?”
Acutely aware of the weight of the Er’Gefrey
box in his pocket, Spike lied. “Not yet,
but soon. Go back and tell the Master
I’ll have what he wants later tonight.”
“Only reason to have a flat in the warehouse district is the
excess space,” the Seer explained, as she led Willow,
Reggie, and Lydia
out of her kitchen and into expansive, nearly-empty loft with blacked out
windows. She took the parchment they had
brought with them from the Council and laid it on the floor in the center of
the room. Reaching into her pocket, the
Seer withdrew a hand full of sand, which she drizzled into a circle around the
Willow and Lydia
watched the Seer’s movements with great interest as she dragged her fingers
through the sand, drawing exotic symbols, while Reggie occupied himself with
looking around the cavernous room.
Dusting her hands against her thighs, the Seer stood and
took several steps away from the circle and the parchment. She glanced at her clients, then, with a
subtle motion of her hands, she summoned ghostly images which rose like mist from the circle. The images grew life-sized, then larger,
stretching wall to wall, and ceiling to floor.
The Seer’s eyes closed and the ghostly figures began to solidify and
The Seer could not only sense and absorb text like Willow
could herself, but she could also project it. Willow,
Reggie, and Lydia
moved closer to each other and to the pictures. In an odd way, it felt like standing in an
IMAX theater as images loomed large around them. In another way, it looked
eerily similar to the transparent computer thing that Tom Cruise had in
“Minority Report.” The woman, her wild
hair beginning to escape the confines of Lydia’s Hermes scarf, stood in the
middle of a chaotic swirl of images, directing them, ordering them, bringing
one forward while pushing others back.
The imaged that shimmered and then became clearest, was Willow
sitting in the Council Library touching the torn parchment.
“That was yesterday,” Willow
The Seer glanced at Will.
“You have power.”
The squirmy, tentacled monster of
discomfort that, since Willow’s
rampage last spring, had taken residence
beneath her skin, constricted her chest and made it difficult to breathe. “Yes.”
The Seer’s gaze narrowed.
“You can sense the magic and the text.”
“And yet you came to me?”
“I. . .” Willow
gulped. “It wasn’t that easy.”
The Seer’s voice was calm, which made it all the more
disturbing when she said, “It never is.”
And Willow noticed that
though the woman’s appearance was ageless, her eyes looked old. Willow
blinked and returned her attention to the image of herself in the Council’s
library. Pushing that image aside, the
Seer revealed one of Travers in his office staring at the parchment. It was earlier than the image of Willow,
because in this one the parchment was whole.
They barely had time to note that fact before witnessing Travers tear
the manuscript and place the torn removed portion in the flame of a black
candle. In seconds it was ashes.
“That’s an antique manuscript!” Lydia
protested with all the outrage of a historian.
“And it wasn’t his. It belonged
to the Council.”
anxiously at the Seer. “What was on the
paper he burned? Can you go back?”
“This isn’t a DVD, dear. See the candle? It’s wormwood and blackened amber. He knew what he was doing. He erased it.”
Reggie frowned. “What
do you mean ‘erased’? He set it on
“He erased it from time.”
The Seer glanced at Willow. “Knew you were a witch, didn’t he? He did a
“That’s why I couldn’t sense what’s missing,” Will
realized. “He hid it.”
Reggie glanced from the Seer to Willow
to the Seer again. “So how do we find it?”
sighed. “That’s just it. We don’t.
It’s like the missing piece never existed. The part of the manuscript
that we’ve got is all there is.”
“And that’s it?
That’s all? That’s – “ Reggie
looked confused “—my grandfather.”
Willow turned to
see that the image had changed. Now,
Travers was much younger and an older man stood showing Travers the parchment.
“Mr. Claridge was the head of the
council before Mr. Travers,” Lydia
explained. “He must have shown Mr.
Travers the manuscript before he. . .”
“Died,” Reggie finished softly just as the image shimmered
and readjusted. The years seemed to
dissolve as Mr. Claridge changed from old man to
young, and another Watcher-type, probably the Council head before him, stood by
his side. They were no longer in the
Council’s office, or if they were, it was hard to tell. They stood in a bombed-out room which was
open to the sky and Mr. Claridge was wearing a
uniform. “Infantry,” Reggie said. “Grandfather served in the infantry during
Another shimmer, and the image was of another room and another
place. “The Council’s Rome
explained. “I visited when doing
research for my thesis.”
Still in uniform, Reggie’s grandfather stood in the
Council’s Rome office speaking with
another man; there was something earnest and urgent in his gestures and in his
face. The older man followed Mr. Claridge through the streets of post-war Rome
until they found a ruin of a church. Claridge led the Council member down a flight of stone
stairs, going deep into the shadowed confines of the ancient catacombs that run
beneath the city until they reached a room full of red and black clay vases.
The scene dissolved, and it had to be earlier because now
there was fighting, a war--*the* war.
There were Nazis and Brown Shirts.
It was World War II, and British soldiers were pinned against a field
stone wall, held in place by a barrage of fire.
Italian soldiers were advancing and
Reggie’s grandfather busily looked for a path of retreat. He tried a heavy wood door. Pushing his shoulder against it, the door
gave way. He gestured to his buddies and
they rushed into the abandoned church whose windows had been bombed out. There was no sound to go with the images, no
way to hear what fueled the urgency of the soldiers’ retreat, but fear could be
read on their young faces. One of the soldiers found another door that lead to
a flight of stairs.
stepped forward. “They must have found the parchment in the catacombs.”
As the soldiers ran through the ancient manmade caverns, Claridge stumbled,
falling face first into a stack of clay amphorae, shattering them. His buddy
skidded to a halt. Visibly breathing
hard, Claridge’s companion turned and searched the
darkness. Perhaps concluding that they were safe, he slid down against the
wall. Sitting in the dust, he pulled out
cigarettes and, with difficulty, struck a match off the semi-damp floor.
As his friend smoked, Claridge sat
up and kicked away damaged vases to create a clear place to sit. After he had closed his eyes and taken
several deep breaths he opened them to notice a rolled piece of paper half
sticking out of one of the jars. He
reached for it, unrolled it, and began to read.
“My grandfather was the one who found it. He was the one who brought it to the
Council,” Reggie whispered with a bit of awe.
Darkness stretched after that, and for a moment they thought
that this was all the Seer had to show them.
Then firelight flickered and Willow
Master. That’s the Master.”
The Master’s unnatural, Nosferatu-like
visage loomed over a monk who looked just like the stereotype, complete with
brown wool robes and funny haircut. The
holy man, unaware of the vampire behind him, pushed his chair back move to
stand from his seated position behind a desk.
asked as she stepped closer to the floating images, “This must be prior to the 1920s, then. The Master became trapped in the Hellmouth in the twenties.”
With fascination and dread, Willow
watched the Master approach the monk. It
was like one of those slasher movies where there was
an almost overwhelming urge to scream to the imminent victim, “He’s right
behind you!” But it would do no good.
This victim was long dead. The
Master grabbed the monk , who tried to struggle; but it was too late, the
vampire’s fangs were already in his neck. One last gasp and the monk fell dead
at the killer’s feet, leaving the Master to step over the corpse to search
through a sheaf of papers until he found what he was looking for. The vampire smiled, a gruesome image with his
demonic gameface and fangs, and he rolled the
parchment, placing it in a clay amphora.
looked at Willow. “Would you have guessed the Master had the prophecy in his
possession before the Council?”
“It was about the Order of Aurelius,” Willow murmured. “But, wow, it’s scary that the the Order actually knows of the prophecy’s existence.”
The vision flickered as time rolled further back and the
monk sat patiently painting calligraphy on the parchment.
“He’s copying it!” Exuberance almost rolled off Reggie in waves as he looked at Lydia
and Willow, then back at the
floating image. “The information we want
still exists. The monk is copying it
from an earlier scroll.” His dark-eyed gaze
settled on the Seer. “It does still
exist, does it not? Can you access
it? This is what we need.”
The Seer closed her eyes, taking a deep breath as she did
so. After a moment of silence she shook
her head. “I cannot see the older
“Has it also been destroyed?” Lydia
destroyed. Protected.” She opened her tired gray eyes. “There is a hex or spell masking the text
from my sight.”
“Bugger,” Reggie complained and Willow silently agreed as
the images continued going further and further back in time. Before the monk who had inked the translation,
there was another monk who had kept the original scroll, and a monk before
that. There were nine or ten of them in
turn. Then there was a knight, not in
shining armor, but in a mail shirt and leggings. He carried the scroll to the monastery,
handing it to the monks. Before that he
was riding a horse and carrying a banner.
“German,” Reggie said.
“How do you know that?”
“The colors on his banner.
He’s a Crusader.” Reggie’s gaze
narrowed as he stared at the flag the knight carried. “Definitely German.” Silence stretched and Reggie turned to find Willow
staring at him. “What? Medieval weaponry
was the subject of *my* thesis. I’m not a total git,
started, “We never meant to imply—“
“There. That.” Reggie
pointed to the Crusader’s flag. “I’m
willing to wager this knight is part of Frederick
the Second’s campaign, the Sixth Crusade.
That would place him in the early 1200s.
Frederick captured Jerusalem
in 1229.” He frowned, “Though there were
rumors that King Frederick never actually died.”
around Reggie. “I’m sort of out my
element here. I mean, first , Jewish so not all up with the whole Crusading
subject. If it’s more than Robin Hood,
Ivanhoe, or Monty Python, I’m on the clueless side. Although, I did see Katharine Hepburn in a “Lion in Winter” and Anthony Hopkins played. .
. Never mind. Off the subject. What are we talking about?”
“I don’t know. I mean, Anthony Hopkins played Richard the
Lion Hearted in “Lion in Winter”—“
The Seer looked heavenward.
“I believe the witch was asking your point about the Crusade.”
Reggie blinked. “Oh.
. .uh. . .I don’t have one really. I
mean other than dating what we’re seeing.
It was after Richard the Lion Hearted left the Holy Land. It was after Saladin.“
the only one still watching the images as they continued to flicker by,
whispered, “The knight is in Qumran.”
“I love how you guys are like history gurus,” Willow
said. “How can you tell?”
“That was the Dead Sea he passed on
his way to the plateau. Qumran
is the village where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.”
Buffy asked, “Can you
stay here, Dawnie?
Xander and I need to go out.”
The teen crossed her arms and looked petulant. “Go out
where? Giles is already gone. You have to go too?”
“It’s important,” Buffy protested.
“Always is.” At Buffy’s stare, Dawn said, “Fine. Go.
Buffy looked confused by Dawn’s attitude, but after a moment,
she grabbed an ax and left with Xander.
Dawn smiled and yelled to Anya,
Anya came out of the Magic Box’s
rear room carrying an armfull of bottles. “I’m not Willow. I’m no witch.”
Dawn rushed forward and relieved Anya
of some of the bottles before she dropped them.
“But you can do a locator spell, right?”
Anya looked offended. “Of course I can. It’s not that difficult. I turned Olaf into
a troll even before I was a demon. Hand
me the lungwort and the valerian.”
use that stuff.”
spread out a map of Sunnydale and sprinkled it with
the herbs. Then she took a crystal and
suspended it over the map. “Even if he
is very handsome and erudite, Rupert is not allowed to take merchandise from
the store simply because he feels like it.”
“You just called Mr. Giles ‘Rupert.’
The swinging crystal came to an abrupt halt over the play
ground a few blocks to the east of the Magic Box. “There he is. Let’s go.”
Dawn followed Anya out the
door. “You did so call him Rupert.”
“I do not see why that would be so surprising. It is his name. And perhaps you should be quiet now. Stealth is helped by quiet.”
“You’re just trying to shut me up.”
“That would be an attractive side benefit.” Anya’s odd,
toddling gait, which was courtesy of the
three inch high heels she was wearing, slowed their progress toward the park.
“You could just pull those ridiculous things off,” Dawn
Anya sniffed. “They are not ridiculous. They are very expensive, and they make my
legs look quite attractive.”
“But men are evil, right?
So why do your legs need to be attractive?”
“Men may be evil, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to
attract them. They have very nice arms,
they smell good, and they have—“
“Stop before you get to the sex stuff. I don’t need to hear about Xander’s --”
Anya gave a Mona Lisa-like smile.
“Yes, Xander’s penis is very nice, but other men have
“Oh god, no. Not
Spike’s either. Can we just drop
this? Not every conversation has to
revolve around sex or money.”
Anya looked offended. “Well, of
course it doesn’t. There’s also food.”
When she realized that Dawn was no longer beside her, Anya paused and looked back at the teen. “I did live with Xander, you know.”
“Get down!” Dawn hissed in a stage whisper.
Now. They might see us.”
“Who might see what?”
Dawn caught Anya’s arm and pulled
her down behind a bench. “Over there by
the swings. Can’t you see them? It’s Mr. Giles.” She allowed a pregnant pause before adding,
“And Spike, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that Mr. Giles is
surprised to see Spike.”
“They aren’t fighting,” Anya
“In fact, they are talking.”
Anya’s gaze narrowed as she looked
at Dawn. “Do you think Spike is helping
Rupert steal from me?”
“It’s your fault, really,”
Spike’s gaze swiveled toward the Watcher. “What?”
“Things are in disarray.
Your mistake may cost us dearly.”
Semi-shrouded in darkness, Spike struggled with something
out of Giles’s line of sight. “My only
mistake was listening to you. It’s your
bloody overcomplicated plan. “
“Nothing was wrong with the plan. It was the execution that was faulty.”
“I ‘executed’ just fine.
On a scale of one to ten, it was an eleven. I broke into the hold of the ship and
swapped the original little box with your fake and returned with the Master’s
idiot henchmen to give a good show of raiding the ship for a good, old
fashioned ancient artifact. Problem is someone—“ he glared at Giles “—didn’t
bother telling me the Slayer would be there. “
“She took it, you know, carted off the fake like it was some
big prize, no doubt delivered it to you, and left me holding the real
thing.” Spike lifted his hand revealing
the onyx and ivory inlaid Er’Gefrey box he had been
struggling to open. “Not planning on me
delivering that to the Master, now are you?”
Giles eyed the box.
Spike continued his efforts to pry open the magical puzzle.
“Right then, to avoid bollixing things up in the future, keep me in the bloody
loop.” With a growl of frustration he
handed over the box. “Open this damned
“There’s no reason to open it.”
“Yes, there is. I
want to know what I’m risking my neck for.”
Giles asked archly, “Truth, justice, and the good of mankind
not reason enough for you?”
“Sod off. “ Spike
snapped. “Where’s the truth in all the
lies I’m telling? And never have seen much in the way of justice.”
“And the good of mankind?”
“Remains to be seen.”
“Ah, here we go.”
Giles slid a piece of onyx into to a niche framed by silver. A high-pitched whirring sound filled the air
as the box levitated from Giles’s hand and began to spin. The panels forming the cube began to unfold.
Once, then twice, going from a two-inch by two-inch cube to flat plane that,
once it stopped spinning, remained suspended in mid air.
For a moment, Spike’s hand hovered above what remained of
the box, then he reached inside--although there should have been no ‘inside’
since the Er’Gefrey puzzle had turned into a
half-inch-deep slab. Still, Spike’s arm
disappeared all the way up to his elbow as he retrieved what the box had held.
“Nothing had better snap off my hand,” Spike muttered.
“We should be so lucky.”
Again, Spike glared at the Watcher, but after a moment he
pulled a long, curved sword from the pandimensional
space. Light glinted off the intricately
etched blade as Spike tested the weight of the weapon in his hand. “Neat.”
Giles frowned. “It is
not ‘neat,’ and don’t treat it like a toy.”
“But it is one. Has
been ever since some bloke invented gun powder.” Giving a delighted laugh, Spike executed a
move that would have made Highlander’s Duncan MacLeod proud. He twirled the sword in a deadly imitation of
a tennis serve, then, turning on his heel, he leaped onto the center point of
the playground’s see-saw and landed with uncannily perfect balance. The sword made a near-silent whoshing sound as it sliced through the air before Spike
raised it to admire its engraved patterns once more. “Shiny.”
Disapproval lined Giles’s face. “Animals are often
fascinated by shiny objects.”
A muscle clenched in Spike’s jaw. It was his only visible reaction as he stared
straight ahead and took not one
breath. Silence yawned.
Giles gave an exasperated sigh. “This is an artifact of genuine historical
significance.” He took the sword from
Spike. “It belonged to Saladin. Legend says he used it to drive the Crusaders from
Affecting a bored mien, Spike stepped off the see-saw and
took a seat on one of the playground
swings. “So it’s a nifty toy that gives
librarian-types a hard-on. That doesn’t
explain why the Master wants it.”
Giles used a corner of his tweed coat to polish the blade.
“That is unclear. I have found little
connection between the objects we have retrieved thus far.“ He paused before adding, “Although the shield
we found last week and this sword are both relics of the Crusades”
“Sounds like a connection to me.”
“Possibly,” Giles admitted. “But, you see, they are
connected in totally opposing ways. The sword belonged to Saladin,
and the shield to Richard Coeur de Lion.”
“Opposite sides of the same coin.
“Indeed. However, the
talisman you received in the first shipment belonged to Morgan Le Fey.”
Spike arched a brow.
“King Arthur’s sister? The bint into kinky,
“The pagan priestess who was probably a witch, and perhaps a
goddess or fairy.”
“So there’s no direct connection to the Crusades. There’s still that Holy Grail thing. That’s a Crusade of sorts.”
“Of sorts, but not exactly the same thing.”
Spike pushed off and began swinging. “Even if there is some crusading connection,
I don’t see the point of any of it. The
Le Fey bird may have filled her talisman with hocus pocus from Avon,
but the rest of them? Pfft.”
“Fairly dismissive of King Richard for a former British
subject, aren’t you? What happened to
the Pre-Raphaelite obsession?” Giles said in a tone just shy of mocking.
“Pre-Raphaelite movement died and so did the Pre-Raphaelite.
“ Spike flew off the swing, landing
softly in the dirt. “The Master may
prattle about tradition and history but it’s bollocks. He’s more interested in curses, chaos, and
black magic. A sword wielded by the
Sultan of Egypt and a shield from of an absentee British monarch wouldn’t be of
interest to old batface. It’s not a matter of what the artifacts
are. It’s what they do.”
“Which, apparently, is nothing. As far as I can tell, whatever magic the
talisman held dissipated long ago, and the sword and shield are exactly what
they appear to be—a sword and shield.”
“So what now?
Continue as curator of the Master’s private museum collection? Seems
“You have a better plan?”
“Well, yeah. What
about killing him? Can’t very well start an apocalypse if he’s dead, now can he?”
“You would choose that option,” Giles derided.
“’Cause it makes sense and would end things quickly. Got a problem with efficiency?”
“And it would gain us nothing, or have you forgotten that
Wolfram and Hart are involved? From what
I understand they brought back Darla. What would prevent them from doing the
same with the Master?”
“Isn’t there some mojo that would
make it impossible to resurrect him again?”
“Perhaps, but chances are they would only seek out a
substitute. No one is irreplaceable.”
Spike muttered, “A Watcher would believe that.” He kicked the dirt. “So I continue as the Master’s head
flunky. Are we done now?”
“I believe so.” Giles
turned to leave.
Spike looked antsy.
He scratched the back of his neck and clenched his jaw before saying,
“Hey, Rupes, could you do something?”
Giles didn’t look back. “I can do many things. Are you asking whether I can do something for
*you*? That is rather more doubtful.”
Spike snorted. “Hope your arse
hurts from sitting on that high horse.” Shoving
his hands into his pockets, Spike ducked his head and shifted his weight from
foot to foot. “Call the hospital, see if
they picked up a girl on Archer Street
who had neck wounds. Never did hear any
Giles turned and glared. “You allowed someone to feed from a
“I got there a little late to do much.”
“So you did nothing?”
didn’t I? What did you expect? Had to keep the cover you’re so bloody
insistent on.” Spike stormed toward
Giles. “Speaking of, hand over the fake
box and sword. Got to deliver *something* to the Master tonight to make
him forget about all those minions that got dusted. Sooner or later old bat brains is gonna figure out I keep getting newbies
killed. Need to at least look like I
accomplished something for it.”
Giles handed over the faux Er’Gefrey
box. Spike held the small cube and said,
“I’ll convince the Master it’s the real thing.”
“Right, then. And I. . .”
Giles coughed and grimaced. “I
will make an effort to keep you ’in the loop’ in the future.”
Spike stood silently, his pale face and hair separating him
from the darkness that surrounded them as they just beyond the reach of the
park lights. He opened his mouth to say
something, then changed his mind, nodded, and left.
sat at the Seer’s kitchen table finishing up her notes. As soon as the visions had stopped, the
Watcher had pulled a pad of paper from her oversized handbag and begun an
exacting transcription of what they had seen.
“Reggie, do you think you can sketch the banner we saw the knight
“I don’t need to sketch it.
I can remember it. Plus, I have a
copy of it in my thesis notes.”
“Yes, but what if it’s slightly different? You should sketch it first so that you can
then compare the two.”
Reggie looked uncomfortable.
“I draw like a five year old, Lydia.”
“That is still better than nothing.”
Willow felt a
light tap on her shoulder and turned to see the Seer silently motioning for Willow
to follow her into the sitting room. The
swinging door closed behind Willow
muffling Reggie and Lydia’s
The Seer said, “You understand that just because the vision
ended in Qumran, that wasn’t the beginning of our little
“Do you think the rest of it was blocked? You know, like
what Travers did with the stuff he ripped from the parchment?”
The Seer shook her head.
“I don’t think it was mystically blocked. I think it was simply as far
as I could reach. Power is never
infinite, dear. There are some things we
can’t do.” She paused before adding
meaningfully, “And some things we shouldn’t.”
the lump in her throat and nodded.
“You aren’t going to tell them are you?” It wasn’t really a
question. The shrewd look in the Seer’s
eyes more than implied that she knew the answer.
Willow felt cold
and her stomach tied itself in knots.
“Tell who what?”
“Your friends. In
there. You aren’t going to tell them
that what is happening is because of you.”
“No, I. . .No. It. . .can’t be because of me. There’s the
parchment, the prophecy. This. . .
apocalypse. . .thing. It was meant to
be. It had to happen.
The Seer shook her head.
“Nothing *has* to happen.”
“But. . .”
“Don’t fall into the trap of
believing in the inevitability of fate. Nothing is ever inevitable. There’s cause and effect. Throw a ball in the air and it is going to
come back down. Pour a frightful scad of black magic into the earth and watch it spit out
something terrifying.” She walked over
to her desk and started sorting through a stack of papers as she continued
talking in an urgent but somewhat distracted manner. “But cause and effect is no more
predetermination than a total of four when you are adding two plus two.”
“But how could things be different?” Willow
asked somewhat desperately. “I mean, two
plus two is always four.”
“Then add a one or a three instead.” The Seer pulled open a drawer and started
rifling through it. “The future is always
only a possibility while the present. . .?”
She glanced at Willow. “Our present is the sum of our pasts. Every
thing we do adds to the equation. Every
choice we make is factored in. There are
choices. There are *always* choices which effect the outcome. Remember that.” She turned her attention back to the papers
in the drawer. “Now, you and your
friends should go. Just in case the
world really does end, I’m going to enjoy myself for the time that’s
The Seer pulled two brochures out of the drawer, “What do
you think? The Greek Isles or the Seychelles?”
The moment the elevator doors opened to the penthouse, Spike
could smell it. He could almost taste
it—blood. Human blood and it was fresh.
He stepped onto the black and white marble tiled floor and
looked around himself. The place was in
a shambles. Tables had been toppled,
vases broken. Even the limestone fireplace mantle had been damaged. No normal human could put up this kind of
fight against a group of vampires, but Spike was certain that what he smelled
Spike rushed through the doors on the far side of the room
to find Buffy kneeling on the floor over a prone Xander
who was bleeding and starting to moan.
Buffy was bleeding as well, but at a quick glance Spike could see that
it was only a minor scratch along her arm.
Xander, however, was bleeding more profusely.
The Master, in game face, stood looking down at the pair of
humans. He didn’t visibly acknowledge
Spike’s arrival but he spoke to him.
“The Slayer arrived to. . .What did you call it, Slayer? Clean out the vamp nest?”
Buffy glared. “I
think I said something like ‘muck out the slime,’ but whatever.”
“Hmm, yes. I believe
I heard you have been mucking about in slime for quite some time now. I could see where a penthouse would be a
welcome relief after the sewers.”
“Slime is slime no matter where it is.”
Ignoring the riot of emotions nearly overwhelming him, Spike
kept his voice steady and cold as he said, “Looks like I missed a party. What happened?”
“The Slayer has been blinded.”
Spike would have launched himself at the bastard if for one
moment he had thought that was true, but, beyond the scratch on her arm, Buffy
appeared unharmed and even Xander’s wound appeared
non-life-threatening. Although the boy
did sound remarkably like a stuck pig.
“I see just fine,” Buffy snapped. “Like right now I see three empty, soulless
things that are *so* going down.”
The Master laughed.
“See, I said she was blinded, blinded by her arrogance and her
rules. She finds it impossible to see
anything besides her own point of view.
She comes here with a stake, a crossbow, and a useless boy and believes
she can take us down. It’s all that she
knows, all that is useful to her so she forgets we play by different rules.”
“Yeah.” Spike arched
a brow. “What rules would those be?”
The Master looked to something behind Spike. Knowing that whatever it was he wasn’t going
to like it, Spike still glanced over his shoulder. He found the minion Dexter holding a gun
aimed at the Slayer.
“Bullets are no defense against vampires,” the Master said
smoothly. “So she doesn’t carry a gun,
but the same isn’t true of Slayers. “ He
circled the room. “All those fist
fights, all those pointless competitions of woman against beast when, actually,
it is so very easy to kill one little girl.”