Disclaimers and Author’s Notes in prologue.In front and behind her was deserted wilderness. She looked up at the hot, Italian sun and winced as she was forced forward by a soldier with his shield. She could have resisted, easily, but went along with it. She went to her knees on the ground.“The daughter of Marcus Sestius Agrippa,” announced a man, “stands accused before you for refusing the sacrifice to the health of the Emperor. I ask again, daughter of Sestius, will you serve the state in a befitting manner and sacrifice to the health of the Emperor?”She looked up again, wincing in the sun. She was starving, and hadn’t eaten in days. Yet...“I will not. God take me, I will not.”“Then you, daughter of Sestius, are found guilty on this charge. Your sentence stands, then. You shall be flogged until death.”
The cheering of a crowd. Bloodthirsty and ungrateful. How many had she saved, at one time or another, in the past two years? Ten? A hundred? A thousand?She forced those thoughts from her mind. Not to us be glory.She closed her eyes and steeled herself. Her thoughts went to her guardian. Her last thought was a hope that he might finally see why. Why she did this.And as those thoughts fled her mind, with a sudden crack, the pain began. Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the impious...
Buffy woke with a start, lifting her head from an open book, and quickly looking back and forth. Where was she? What was she doing here? What had happened to her?
Library. Oxford. Dawn.
It all came rushing back as she got her bearings, thinking about the dream she had. She looked down at the book for a moment, seeing nothing of importance, before slamming it shut. How late had she stayed up last night? And how had she gotten so unused to it? And why was she looking through books without any results?
Where was Giles when you needed him, anyway? In the old days, most research was easily done in a couple hours by the Scoobies under Giles' watch (no pun intended), and they almost always had Dawn back in time for bed. At least, that’s how it seemed. It had been a long time since Dawn had last been kidnapped, way back in Sunnydale.
Now, after over an entire day of research, Buffy and a whole mess of slayers and watchers hadn't even found a single real clue beyond the Democrats' Seal and necklace. Maybe Giles had found something down in London. She hoped so, anyway.
Buffy stood up from her chair, picking up the necklace in front of her and staring at the seal again. What did it mean? Who knew? And why did they want to challenge the Council? There were just way too many questions, and not enough answery goodness.
Eventually, she walked out of the room, looking through the small, homey living area of the Watchers’ house. She wasn’t quite sure how this place, a haven for watchers going to Oxford, was really related to the college or anything, because, honestly, she’d never had to deal with the Watchers’ property and such. Well, yeah, she did because she was technically living in old Watchers’ property in Italy, but other than that.
She didn’t know why she thought about that right now, anyway. It wasn’t the normal kinda thing Buffy thought about. It was just niggling at the back of her mind, why exactly that thought came to her right now.
She’d only been in the room, silently, for a few seconds before the bell rang. Wasn’t a resident, then, she immediately thought. They all had keys. At least, she thought they did. That was the impression she’d gotten before.
One of the girls living here - Laura, Buffy thought her name was - spoke to her from a couch in the same room, where she was studying some Greek text or something like that, “Buffy, could you get the door?”
“No problem,” Buffy said, turning toward the front door and going over to it. Without bothering to check out the window, Buffy opened the door quickly and came face to face with an old man. A priest, Buffy thought immediately to herself. He looked, well, pretty much like you’d expect an old British guy to look like, except wearing all black - though with a tweed (what was with British people and tweed, anyway? Was it a law or something here?) sport coat over it - and a priest’s collar around his neck.
Buffy looked oddly at him. Why would a priest be coming to a student residence? Did someone need holy water or something? Before she could speak, however, Laura interrupted her thoughts by calling out, “Vicar? It’s good to see you. How are you?”
“Hello, Laura,” the priest said, as he looked over Buffy without saying addressing her. There was a glimmer of recognition in his eyes, though, but she couldn’t remember him from anywhere or anything. “I’m doing splendidly. And how are you this afternoon?”
“Doing well, Vicar,” she said. “Are you coming in?” she asked, with a bit of a challenge in her voice.
“Why not?” the priest said. Buffy stepped back from the door in a non-invitation, which he accepted, walking in and past her before she closed the door behind him.
“Sorry if I don’t get up,” Laura said. “Twisted my ankle the other day. Rather not put any weight on it.”
“Of course,” he said, eyeing Buffy again.
“Oh, sorry,” Laura said. “Buffy, this is Vicar Davies, from up at St. Agrippina’s. Vicar, this is Buffy Summers, Dawn’s sister.”
Buffy felt a weird feeling at being identified as “Dawn’s sister”. Even after that last year in Sunnydale, she was generally used to it being the other way around. Not that it was a bad thing, but it just felt weird. Especially since she’d barely seen Dawn in so long. She forced the thought from her mind as quickly as it had arrived, and reached out, shaking Vicar Davies’ hand.
“A pleasure to finally meet you, Miss Summers,” he said. “I’ve heard a great deal about you.”
Did Dawn really talk about her that much? Not just to her friends, but to a priest
“It’s good to meet you, too,” Buffy said, a little warily. She looked over to Laura unsure. Did he know about the supernatural or not, she wondered idly. He hadn’t been surprised by the non-invitation invitation, she thought.
“The vicar’s been working with Dawn on some language stuff for the last few months,” Laura explained, which made a lot of sense to Buffy. Dawn was always interested in languages. Spanish had always been one of her best classes, Buffy remembered.
“Really?” Buffy asked, “What languages?”
“Oh, she’s been helping me a great deal with Hebrew,” he said, “while I’ve been doing what I can with her Greek. Of course, she’s managing it a great deal better than I am, obviously,” he said with a smile, to which Buffy nodded, joining him. Not a big surprise. Dawn was good at languages. In other news, water continues to be wet.
She turned to sit down, seeing a chair nearby and sitting down. She didn’t want to be rude, but it was a little uncomfortable standing up like she was. She felt like she was making the priest stand, and didn’t really want to do that. He wasn’t like Giles, who they once teased constantly about his age. He actually did seem pretty old. She wondered, idly, how long he’d managed to be a priest.
Oh, right, England had that whole priests can get married thingy. Not quite the same, really.
Anyway, as she was thinking, the priest (vicar?) followed her lead, sitting in another chair and turning so he could face both Buffy and Laura at the same time.
“Anyway, the reason I came by,” Davies said, “is that Dawn didn’t come over as we’d planned for last night. I thought about phoning, but, seeing as it’s a fairly nice day, I decided to walk over here and ask. She’s not in classes at the moment, is she?”
Buffy scrambled in her mind to come up with some valid excuse for Dawn’s absence. She was sick. She was out of the country on an emergency. She’d been kidnapped by a pack of wild chickens. Each more crazy than the one before. Fortunately, for Buffy, Laura had beaten her to the punch.
“Yeah, um,” Laura said, “you remember what Dawn always talked about happening every other week or so?”
The reference apparently meant something to the vicar, just as much for Buffy, and he almost immediately spoke, “Good Lord. Do they know why?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Laura said. “No idea whatsoever who did it, or what their reasons were. But they did use vampires to do the deed. That’s why Buffy’s in town.”
The vicar turned fully to Buffy, who nodded in agreement with what Laura had said.
Davies looked back to Laura. “Is that how your leg-”
“Yeah,” Laura said, stretching and stifling a yawn. “Sorry, I didn’t ring you, but, well.”
“Of course,” he said.
There was an awkward silence for a short time before Buffy excused herself while the Laura started filling the vicar in on recent events, up to and after Dawn's kidnapping. Buffy wandered toward the kitchen area, where Willow was standing, peeling an orange. Buffy smiled half-heartedly.
Willow turned slightly, so she could see Buffy. “Oh, uh, morning, sleepyhead,” she said, with an uneasy smile.
Buffy crossed the threshold into the room, and asked, “Any more of those around?”
“In the fridge. There’s a bag,” Willow said, helpfully. “Bottom left shelf.”
“Thanks,” Buffy said, moving toward it..
“So,” Willow said as Buffy opened the door to the fridge, “How are things in, um, Italy?”
Buffy looked where Willow told her, and saw the bag in question. Ignoring a message signed by Dawn promising death to thieves, Buffy took one of the fruits in question and closed the door. “Okay, I guess. No big surprises, really. Not a lot of demons in Brindisi,” she said. She went to the sink, beginning to rinse the orange as she watched Willow swallow.
“Uh, yeah,” Willow said, a bit awkwardly. “There’s not many in London, either. At least, compared to Sunnydale or L.A.”
Buffy nodded as she began cutting into her own orange. “It’s kinda weird.”
“What is?” Willow asked.
“Being in charge,” Buffy said, taking the perfect section she’d cut out of the rest of the orange. “I mean, it’s weird.”
Willow looked at her with the same look in her eyes. “Yeah, it is. When did we go and get all responsible?”
“I dunno,” Buffy said, taking a bite.
“Will?” came a voice from outside. It was one of Willow’s slayers, the Irish one.
“Oh, uh, sorry, er-- Buffy.”
Buffy suppressed a sigh at the interruption. “No problem.”
“Will, could you come take a look at this?” Rina said, gesturing toward the library, “I was sort of reading this book and, well, I think it’s nothing, but there’s a whole magic thing that looks odd to me.”
“Sure,” Willow said, with an apologetic look to Buffy. Buffy waved her off as she took another bite of her improvised breakfast. She wandered out of the kitchen, following Willow and Rina out toward the library, where she looked back down at the book she had been studying herself until she had fallen asleep on top of it.
She picked up the small amulet and stared at the symbol on it. What the hell did it mean? Who the hell were these people, and why did they want her sister? It was old, kidnapping Dawn. They had left one, mysterious clue and seemingly disappeared into nothing. Tracking spells, of course, were useless with her sister, as they always had been. Just one more thing protecting the Key from those who might use it for the bad.
Of course, since most who kidnapped her did so because she was Buffy’s sister, not because she was some mystical key to the planet or something like that, little things like that weren’t particularly helpful. It meant that, as much as enemies could not track a useful victim for kidnapping, that, once she was kidnapped, no friendlies were able to use traditional tracking magic to find her. Even tracking spells based on Dawn’s own things would track to Buffy, rather than Dawn.
And, by the way, monks, Buffy thought, thanks a lot for making herself the target rather than her sister. As if she didn’t have enough stupid demons to worry about, trying to kill her for bragging rights, now she could have the ones who were after her sister, too. Well, then again, she thought, she would rather deal with them herself than let them at her sister, but it wasn’t exactly helpful in her own business.
Buffy almost jumped at the voice behind her. Good grief, how did an old priest sneak up on her? She was really distracted.
“I just wanted to ask, how are you doing?” he said, sounding more than a little concerned. Buffy was surprised. “It can’t be easy, having your sister, er, missing.”
“Oh, this?” Buffy said, deflecting, “Nah, I mean, it used to happen, like, every week. We’re used to it. We’ll find her soon.”
Yeah, that hadn’t even convinced herself. Fortunately, the vicar didn’t comment, when he spoke again. “Well, you might be old hat at this sort of thin, but I’m more worried, quite honestly. I’m afraid kidnapping isn’t an everyday occurrence in church.”
Was that meant to be a joke, Buffy wondered, though she didn’t ask, and went for a different tack. “How well do you know Dawn?”
“Oh, I first met her-- hmm,” he said, clearly thinking. “When she moved into town, before her school began, she started coming to church on Sundays. We formally met a little later, through a mutual friend, when she was looking for help with her Greek, and we came to an agreement to work on it together with my Hebrew.”
Dawn? Going to church? “Every
Sunday?” Buffy asked, trying not to sound surprised. And failing.
“Most of them,” he confirmed. Before Buffy could continue, he spoke again, “Of course, then she started coming over a little more often. She gets along famously with the wife, what with her German being far better than mine.”
Dawn speaks German, now? When did she learn German
? Were there even any demony books written in German? She couldn’t remember anything ever being in German. And... wait, his wife spoke German?
“German?” was all Buffy, said, though.
“My wife is German,” he said, fairly matter-of-fact. “Well, I say she’s German, she hasn’t lived in Germany in decades, of course, but, well, you can take the girl out of Germany,” he said, trailing off the obvious turn of phrase, and smiling warmly.
Okay, information overload, anyone?
Buffy turned away, in as polite a way as she could, and put the amulet down on the book as she replied.
“I’m sorry, I’m not-- well,” Buffy said, “I haven’t seen Dawn in a while. Sorry if I seem a bit--”
“Not at all,” the vicar interrupted her. “I understand. It’s the sort of thing that happens when you get older. You tend to-- grow away from your family. It takes real work to keep it from happening, and it happens to every student who goes off to college.”
Yep, he was definitely used to dealing with college students. Buffy wondered how many college students he had in his normal flock. If Dawn going regularly was any indication, it seemed to be... kinda normal. Though Buffy thought for a second about how one of her grandmothers would probably have burst a vein to find out one of her grandchildren was going to, gasp, Protestant
church services. Buffy barely restrained herself from rolling her eyes at her own thoughts. From where she stood, well, she really cared about was the holy water.
Which is where she had thought Dawn stood too, to be honest...
“Yeah, it’s been-- rough,” Buffy said, after a pause.
He nodded, and then, looked down at the book, seeing the amulet. He suddenly looked back, “May I?” he asked. Buffy gestured positively, and he picked up the amulet, and seemed to look at it closely. He reached one hand into his jacket, retrieving a pair of old glasses, and he held them up to his eyes.
“Miss Summers, I think I’ve seen this symbol before.”
Buffy immediately stood to, her mind fully focused. “Where?”
“One of the books...” he said, trailing off, putting it down. “At the vicarage, or in my private library,”
By now, however, Willow had overheard them. “What is it?” she asked.
“He might have a book with that symbol,” said Buffy.
“Yes. I could use some help looking through my library-- it’s not well-organized, I’m afraid,” he said.
Willow looked up, as two of her slayers stood. “Do you have a car, um, Vicar?”
“No, I walked over.”
Willow looked over, “Rina, Grethe. Take the car, drive the vicar over.”
“I’ve been to the church’s library before, Willow,” said Matt, who was going through a book on the other end of the library.
“You go with them, too. Vicar, I’m sorry for being rude, but--”
“Of course, of course. I understand completely. Wish us luck,” he said, as he went out of the room, following the parade led by the Norwegian slayer.
Willow smiled at Buffy, confidently. “I knew we’d find something.”
“We always do,” Buffy said, returning the smile.
“I’ll call Giles and let him know we have a lead,” Willow said, “While you take a shower.”
Buffy blinked. It took a moment for her mind to switch gears, and realize what she’d been doing until a few minutes ago. And it was only now that she realized that she wasn’t exactly... fresh.
“Right,” she said, turning away from Willow and beginning her trek up the stairs.