parts 69 to 71
Giles jumped when his coat began to ring. For a few moments, he looked baffled, and then he reached over, fishing a cellular phone from the pocket. After a few moments of looking at it as it continued to ring, he flipped it open and sighed, “Buffy?”
Over the phone, his Slayer sounded more emotional than she had been for most of… most of the time since she’d been raised from the dead. Not simply angry – they’d seen angry quite often. But this was angry and confused and perhaps a bit of fear. :Giles, we’ve got some complications. There’s a guy here, he says he’s part of the… of your book club. That somebody’s done some bad, bad stupid bad things and everything might… oh, how’d that show put it? We’re experiencing some problems on reentry, and we may experience some turbulence and then explode. That sort of bad. I think you and him need to talk.:
With a wince, he translated that to mean that there was someone who claimed to be a Watcher talking to his Slayer. That people had been highly foolish and broken rules and traditions – which he’d already known. That Buffy had far too many lines of television dialog in her memory. That his Slayer felt that he should talk to this alleged Watcher.
Rupert Giles found that he no longer trusted someone just because they came from the Watcher’s Council. It should have been an ugly surprise, a painful jolt at his conscience and sensibilities. Instead, it was merely a depressing non-surprise, as if he was finally putting into words something that had been sitting in his mind for some time.
“Can you take him to the Magic Box? I’ll be there shortly, and we can discuss things more thoroughly,” he asked. If she was becoming more the old Buffy, the emotional, energetic girl that he’d firs met in the school library, trying to fight her destiny, then… She might resent being asked to take someone to the shop and act as a child-minder. Might be driving the Watcher into frustration with her irreverence and abuse of the English language.
There was a frustrated sigh, :I can do that. But you’ll have to make the tea – he gave the whole ‘Oh dear Lord’ thing, and every time you do that it seems to mean you need tea, and you can’t stand when anyone who isn’t British makes the tea. :
The words slipped out before he could stop them – “That’s because none of the rest of you know how to make a proper pot of tea.”
:Wait, there’s a proper way? Do you actually have a class in how to make tea or something?: Buffy sounded surprised.
Rupert chuckled, and then dared a joke, “Yes, it’s part of our first year of studies. Including variations for different weather and situations.”
:Seriously?: There was a pause, and then Buffy continued, :I’ll have this book guy over at the shop. It sounds… it sounds important.:
“Of course,” he sighed, suspecting that if what the maybe-Watcher had to say connected with the Dark Devourer, then it probably was important. And that there was a good chance that if Travers was involved, then… well he’d been of the opinion for years that Quentin Travers could bugger anything up into a mess. This was not the proof that he’d been wanting. “I won’t be long.”
Glancing at the rest of the room, he sighed, “Just how much did you hear and how much do I need to explain?”
“The end of the world really is approaching – you made a joke,” Xander replied.
“Buffy found someone claiming to be a Watcher and wants you to go talk to the bloke, and he sounds upset about something,” Spike offered. “Go talk to him, if he turns out to be a problem, then…” the vampire winced, rubbing at his head. “Fine, if he’s a problem, someone else can get rid of him.”
“I appreciate the thought,” he shook his head, and then frowned when he realized that he did actually appreciate the attempted offer to kill the maybe-Watcher if he was a problem. Oh dear. “I’d best head off to the shop.”
“We’ll get to work on the papers when Willow gets back, and maybe send Wes over with a set for you,” Angel assured.
“Thank you,” Giles picked up his coat, dropping the phone into the pocket once again. “This is not the way that I wanted confirmation of my theory about Travers being an imbecilic corrupt political hack…”
“He’s muttering in British again…” Xander complained. “Quick, someone tell me – do I need to worry about that?”
“No,” came from several voices.
“Good. There’s enough to worry about already.”
It was depressing just how true that statement was for the situation.
End part 69.
When Willow returned to Angel’s mansion, she frowned and counted the people again. “What happened to Giles?”
“Slayer called him on his mobile, and he popped over to talk to someone in his shop,” Spike replied.
“When did Giles get a mobile phone anyhow?” Angel demanded. “And how much twisting his arm was needed?”
“We gave it to him last Christmas. And we didn’t manage to convince him to start carrying it regularly until… until this spring,” Willow shook her head. “And it wasn’t by twisting his arm. There was this series of ugly, awful events that sort of made it clear that getting in touch with each other fast could be very important.”
“But on a more cheerful… well, no, not really a more cheerful note. To change… I guess it isn’t quite changing the subject completely either. I have copies for everybody of our let’s hope we can keep the big scary evil thing locked away spell. Here, one for you and you…” Willow began handing people their own sets of papers. Several pages had color diagrams.
“I can take a copy over to the Magic Box. Giles can look over it and I think I’m supposed to be running the cash register for today,” Anya paused. “I keep getting distracted from my normal routine by this horrible thing that wants to kill us all. I really don’t like that.”
“None of us like things like that,” countered Caitlynn.
“Good point. If it turns out that this person is only going to make things worse, does anyone mind if I turn him inside out?” Anya mused out loud.
“That might be awfully messy inside the shop,” Spike commented. “Since you aren’t likely to abandon the place after, try for something that won’t be so messy. Or wait until he leaves the shop and then rip his entrails out, tie him up and apply hot pokers until the screaming stops…”
“Graphic and are you supposed to be able to talk about things like that with your chip?” Xander frowned at the blond vampire.
“Aren’t you lot the ones who don’t like vague threats? And I wasn’t talking about doing the pokers myself, I was talking about her using them. Makes a big difference,” He sighed. “Unless he’s a demon, I don’t think the chip would let me do more than supervise and give advice. Though if one of the witches could magic it away…”
Willow felt the urge to snicker at Spike’s hopeful expression.
“Don’t do it, Wills!” Xander looked at her, and then turned to face Amy. “Don’t do it, Amy. He’s a bad, bad man… vampire, and it wouldn’t end well for us. Unless we can’t stop this thing and then we’re all going to die anyway.”
“I’d be right offended by that if it weren’t mostly true,” Spike mused.
Willow looked at Spike and wondered how much of his big bad and going to kill them all was all talk and habit and how much might really be the desire to see them all dead. He’d helped those girls that were being held in the old factory, but that was a bring them out and then probably never see them again deal. Would he really kill them, after everything? After… okay, some of the things had been scary, and mean, and unkind, and she doubted that being chained up in Giles’ bathtub was the stuff of happy memories for Spike. But… would he kill them?
She’d rather not find out.
“Most of this doesn’t sound too complicated,” Wesley spoke from across the room, leafing through his own stack of copied pages.
“How do you figure that?” Caitlyn asked, frowning at the stack. “It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”
“He means that the magic isn’t that complex on the individual level. The complexities come in with mingling the separate magics, shaping the barrier, and getting everybody to work together to begin with. The part for each caster is not that bad, as far as magic goes. The diagrams show how the energy flows are supposed to be shaped, and some of the higher magical theory about why and how it’s supposed to work. Most casters would settle for ‘you chant this, burn that here, here and here, and stay inside the circle.’ This covers why you chant what you chant and what sort of substitutions could be made, it talks about why this is burned instead of that, and there’s seven pages explaining the protective circles to stand inside,” Angel shook his head. “Very thorough stuff, Amy.”
“So most people will just do their part, some chanting, burn some herbs, send all the power they can to someone who’ll be trying to weave it into the barrier?” Caitlynn asked. “How do they know when they’ve put in enough power?”
“They’ll have to guess,” Amy looked uncertain. “Though on the brighter… less gloomy side, nothing says that everybody has to be all in the same place, or even at quite the same time.”
“If they can sense the barrier, they might be able to tell when it’s reinforced. But it won’t be anyone working alone, it’ll take a team effort. Lots of team efforts.” Willow paused and looked back at the pages. “And if they put in too much power, it could… people could die from putting too much power into this.”
“As opposed to dying if the Hungry Shadow breaks down the barrier and eats us all?” Xander countered. “Does dying from too much magic hurt?”
“Probably not as bad as being devoured by some evil shadow,” Spike sat beside Amy, staring at the pages. “And that’s probably why we can get people to do this. It’s a scary, ugly idea to take part in a ritual that could kill you, but the chance of that thing getting out and eating us is worse.”
“Way to bring on the gloom,” Willow muttered. She hoped Giles’ talk with the guy in the Magic Box was going okay.
End part 70.
Within the office in the back of the Magic Box, Rupert Giles looked at the younger Watcher, a man obviously uncomfortable with the situation. Uncertain about the details, he shook his head and murmured, “Why don’t I make some tea before we discuss things that will undoubtedly be awkward, unpleasant, and perhaps terrifying?”
“That would be…” the other man sighed, finishing with a weak, “Tea would be appreciated.”
Rupert could only nod, understanding that there were times when tea didn’t really make things better, it just helped you try to cope with the awful things happening.
“I spoke with your Slayer earlier,” the man sighed, and then murmured, “But where are my manners? My name is Justin Kimball. My family have been Watchers for three generations, still relatively new to the Council, but established enough that we are considered to possibly have some idea what we might be doing. I am aware that you are Rupert Giles, though your Slayer referred to you as Giles.”
“I blame the American educational system,” Rupert gave a small shrug, and then poured two cups of tea. Bringing the tray over to the desk, he settled it onto the wood and gestured, “This is what those of us here have come to refer to as the potential apocalypse blend. I have sugar, cream and lemon.”
“Thank you,” the man’s murmur had the feeling of habit, and he placed a wedge of lemon and a half spoon of sugar into his cup, stirring it with precise figure eight shaped motions.
“Buffy suggested that you had become aware of violations of protocol and tradition?” Rupert prompted.
“The ones that I had certainty about before arriving in Sunnydale concern misappropriation of funds and invasions of privacy.” Justin Kimball sipped at the tea, giving a thoughtful sound. “A different blend. Strong, perhaps a hint of ginger?”
“Yes, ginger and a few other things, along with Assam black leaves. When you speak of misappropriation of funds, I suspect you refer to Buffy’s Council stipend?” Rupert sipped at his own tea, certain that this would not be an enjoyable conversation.
“Her Council stipend and her father’s child support payments. One of my associates is attempting to retrieve the funds, though he also wants to remain undetected, which is slowing the matter. We only became aware of the financial aspects a few months ago. There are investigators tracking a number of Miss Summers’ relatives, investigations paid for with Council funds. There was surveillance equipment in the school building before its explosion, and there is some in place at her home. One of my other associates has managed to gain influence over what is actually seen and passed on, but…” he sighed, “That does not lessen the invasiveness of the devices.”
“Were surveillance measures placed elsewhere in Sunnydale?” Rupert asked.
“Planned but not emplaced. The agent sent to handle placing the devices in the art gallery ran by the Slayer’s mother and the establishments known as the Bronze and the Alibi… there was a large, hostile demon. Some of the older members of the Council did not feel it worth the effort to place devices in the homes of her friends. They aren’t used to the idea that a Slayer might have such people,” Justin explained.
“That is a slight relief,” Rupert admitted.
“She said something very disturbing, about someone having a Slayer killed?” Justin Kimball’s expression was troubled, and he clutched the teacup as if it held all the answers.
“There was a second Slayer, one who fell under unfortunate influences. Faith was being held in a correctional facility outside of Los Angeles. There… apparently there were a series of signs that suggested she’d been in fights, though never with any of the other inmates. One of the people that assists spoke of dreams… warning that Faith was in danger. That the Council was behind that danger.” With a sigh, Rupert added, “Other events have lent support to that ugly suspicion.”
“How much support?” Justin Kimball asked, his words low and hesitant.
“A contact of mine placed in France learned that Travers had a plan in motion to gain a more malleable Slayer. There is only a new Slayer when one dies. One of our witches mentioned dreams of Faith being attacked by demons inside the prison,” Rupert shook his head. “It wasn’t that much of a leap of logic.”
There was an unhappy noise from Justin Kimball.
“Quite. This was compounded by the news that a new Slayer has been Called near the French and German border.” For a moment, Rupert wondered how much to share. “We have had signs that there is an ancient and terrible power attempting to return to this plane of existence. Something referred to as the Hunter, the Darkness that Devours, the Hungry Shadow… there are other similar and evocative names.”
This noise was unhappy with definite traces of fear.
“Our witches had been researching this since they first had a name. They have found a ritual that we hope will be beneficial, that might let us repair the bindings.” Rupert sighed, now wishing that Willow had returned from her trip to the copy store just a little sooner.
The bell at the front door jingled.
“Do pardon, I should check and see what is happening in my shop,” Rupert tried not to be frustrated.
“I’m here to take money from customers,” Anya gave him a big smile that somehow looked less cheerful and more like a predator baring their teeth. “We need a few customers with money first, but…”
“There have been brisk sales in protective charms and the ingredients for protective circles lately,” he commented.
“Excellent. Here, you can look at these papers that Willow sent over, she has more copies back where everyone is researching.” Anya handed him a roll of papers, secured with an elastic band.
He accepted the roll of paper, thinking that this band looked remarkably like what Buffy called ‘scrunchies’, and thoroughly contrary to what tradition and drama would suggest should be used to contain important documents. “Drama would suggest a ribbon, perhaps one with wax and a signet… Ah well.”
Papers in hand, he returned to the back area, nodding at Kimball who had poured himself more tea. Holding the roll of papers towards the Watcher, he spoke again, “That is what we have. Take it, verify if you want, and then pass it to everybody, everything that you or your contacts can, so long as the contact won’t prove fatal. This is…”
“I have enough of an awareness to know that this is bad. Dangerous on a scale beyond anything that I’ve dealt with before,” Justin Kimball whispered. “I’ll begin sending it to my associates, with identification and a message to pass it along.”
“That…” Rupert couldn’t bring himself to say ‘welcome’. Not with this situation. “That could prove very useful.”
“I think I’ll pass on that Travers has violated his oaths as well,” there was a pause, and then he murmured, “I wonder if the Leopard will stand for that?”
“Should I ask?” Rupert lifted one brow in an expression that he’d never admit he practiced.
“A questionable associate who is not part of the Council. He takes oaths very seriously,” Justin Kimball sighed, “Do you think we can stop this?”
“I… I can only hope that we can. Our second best option is to exhaust ourselves fatally in the attempt, that we may be already dead before the Darkness breaks free,” Rupert admitted.
“Lovely,” Justin Kimball drained the cup of tea. “I’d best get this out to everyone I know.”
“Do,” Rupert nodded. The contacts of this other Watcher could only help.
End part 71.