Rupert Giles ushered Willow into his home. “Hurry, it's getting dark.” Willow slipped into the house behind him.
“Thanks, Giles. I'm not used to being at home alone anymore. And with both Oz and Xander out tonight...” she trailed off, dropping her books on the bench by the front door.
Giles waved her off, “Think nothing of it. Tea?” At Willow's nod, he went to the kitchen, starting the soothing routine of filling the electric kettle and plugging it in, sorting through the boxes of tea to pick the one he was in the mood for. Once Giles picked tea, a pot, and cups and saucers, he peered under the upper cabinets to find Willow sorting through a stack of papers that she had printed out at the library.
“Apophis was the Egyptian god of chaos, right?”
“Mmm. I suppose, so. The stories are somewhat more complex than that.” Giles answered. “I just wish we could figure out what the chappa'ai is.”
“Well, there are some references here, but nothing entirely revealing.” Willow shuffled through the papers. “There are reports of visiting various sites, which are numbered, and some of the sites apparently have a chappa'ai. It is called 'astria porta' and 'stargate' in other references. Do you think they are really going to other planets, or other dimensions – like Buffy did?”
“Astria porta?” Giles quizzed, running his finger across a high shelf against the dining room. He selected a book.
“There was a Watcher's Council sponsored dig in the earlier part of the century that turned up...” He flipped through the book. “Right. Dr. Nicholas Ballard. He is a watcher who specializes in near Eastern archeology.”
“You think he may know something?”
“It's a start. I'll call in the morning. I see no point in disturbing him over little more than a suspicion.” Giles brought tea over and handed Willow a stack of menus. “Pick whatever you like. We'll call it in.” He sat and poured tea in both their cups, reaching for part of the the stack of papers Willow had set aside in favor of her current folder. “What about your schoolwork?”
“Oh, did it last night. Just tests tomorrow. I'm supposed to read the next chapter in 'Great Expectations', but I read it two summers ago, and again when the book turned up on the syllabus last month.”
“Quite right.” Giles cleared his throat and dove into the papers. He was so engrossed in the reports, both the contents and what clearly left out of the official dossiers – he was so accustomed to editing his own reports, that it was obvious when others were doing the same thing – that he barely registered the doorbell ringing. “You ordered food?”
“Thai. Half an hour ago.”
“Oh. Must be here, then.” Giles rose from his seat, wincing as his stiff muscles protested, and peered through the window. “New delivery lady.” He reached for his wallet as he opened the door.
“Rupert Giles?” The mocha skinned woman with elegant dreads to her waist did not have any bags in her hands, in fact her hands were empty. She wore a long coat over a tank top and black leather pants.
Giles said nothing, but stepped away from the door. “I'm Nichole Forrest.” She cleared the threshold, and offered her hand to the watcher, who took it curiously. It was warm, the nails neatly trimmed short.
“I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage.” Giles removed his glasses, looking the strange woman over.
Willow looked up from her papers, and rose, looking at the stranger. “I know you. I've seen your picture. Nikki Wood. You're Bernard Crowley's slayer. The one Spike killed. But you're dead.”
“Appearances can be deceiving.” Nichole raised an eyebrow. “You are Willow Rosenberg, the Red Witch, friend to the Alpha slayer and the White Knight, and one of the Great Wolf's mates. And yet, you look like nothing more than a sixteen year old girl.”
“Fifteen.” Willow corrected her offhandedly. “Wait. One of?” Willow crossed her arms over her chest, giving the slayer a challenging look. “I better be the only.”
Nichole shrugged as she stepped further into the room. “I don't know. Drusilla doesn't always tell me if her visions are of the past, present or future. I wouldn't worry about it, what will be, will be.”
“And I'm just supposed to que sera, sera Oz cheating on me?” The tension in the room ratcheted up a notch.
The tall slayer gave her a sad smile. “Or you could die, or the other mate could already be dead, or you may eventually be a member of a happy ménage à trois. Werewolves rarely cheat on their mates, are effectively immortal, and prophecies can be slippery things.”
Giles broke in with a placating tone. “Surely Willow's love life isn't what brought you here.”
Nichole gave the witch a small smile and shook her head. “No, Isabella asked me to take up her duties in her absence, and I came to make a report to the watcher. I hope you understand the need to keep my true identity out of the official report.”
“Oh.” Giles sat down on the nearby couch. He gave Nichole a puzzled glance and then studied his hands. He looked at Nichole again. “Nikki Wood, really?” At her nod, he continued. “I take it that you are Immortal.”
“What of your calling, your son? You allowed Bernard and Robin to believe you were dead!”
“I am dead.” Nichole replied calmly. “That life is over. As is Isabella's life as Buffy. Dead is dead.”
“Tell the Red Witch how old I was when I died.”
“Almost eighteen. You had been the slayer for three years. The greatest slayer in many generations.”
“And what would have happened if I had been a slayer for another week? Bernard had already given me the first dose of Cruciamentum serum. I have it on good authority from multiple sources that Yuan Xi, who makes Kralik look like a cute puppy, was already captured and waiting for me.” Giles blanched. “I would have died, and the watchers would have cut off my head to make sure I didn't rise.”
Willow watched Giles as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and knew that the Cruciamentum must be something he knew about. Giles could not help but protest. “But surely....”
“I've seen Drusilla's vision – she shared it with me. Robin would have would have seen the whole thing hiding in a closet. His mother. Tortured, mutilated, raped – and be told that I was 'unworthy'. He would have witnessed by beheading, to 'toughen him up.' They had given Yuan Xi knives, shackles, and an invitation to my home in the middle of the night. What weapon did they give me? After the first warning from Drusilla, I checked. Bernard had begun removing all my weapons from the house. What warning would they have provided me before sealing me and my young son in our own house with that creature?”
“That isn't possible. They wouldn't have done that. The Cruciamentum is a sacred tradition. The slayer must prove herself worthy.”
“Worthy of a curse?” Nichole looked sickened. “You know how many young girls were sacrificed to create that curse? Are continuously sacrificed to it in battle? It was the blackest of a magics. What sort of men need an eighteen year old child to prove themselves worthy of a curse?”
“It is not a curse, it is sacred calling!” Giles stood up. “I don't know what lies Drusilla and Spike have fed you, but they have completely misrepresented reality. You are wrong.”
“You are lying to yourself.” The woman's face turned hard. “And Isabella swore it. She was there. Isabella -- Buffy -- is Sineya. She is the Alpha. The Omega was called two months ago at the death of another eighteen year old 'unworthy' child at the hands of Kralik. After her, the line ends. There will never be another Calling.”
Giles rolled his eyes. “Another lie from Drusilla.”
“Drusilla had a vision of the calling. Cassandra of Troy and Morgana le Fae have both confirmed that hers was the final Calling. She is a child – barely thirteen. Her name is Faith. She is tough, a product of a life on the streets. She acts and looks older than she is. Her watcher, a Dormer, one of the few good watcher families, purchased her from a child brothel in Boston shortly after her calling. The watcher has died. She is on her way to the hellmouth, scared, desperate, confused, with the Greek monster hot on her trail. The council has decided that she is already too unbiddable and 'unworthy' and seek to force another calling. The Omega must live.”