Out Of Africa - Prologue
written by Pythia
Spoilers: Roughly up to ‘Earshot’.
Summary: An ancient Evil comes to Sunnydale.
Thanks: To Michelle, who agreed to read this.
Author's Notes: Some of the incantations used here are paraphrases of actual Egyptian texts – that is, a modern translations of
those texts. They are not, nor are they intended to be, genuine rituals! WARNING: This is a horror story. There are some nasty moments in it …
Feedback Author: Pythia
Author's Website: Warriors And Watchers
The dance of flickering candles and the pattern of shadows painted on old stone.
The sound of running feet, of desperate, breathless steps, echoing through vaulted passageways and down ancient stairways.
Someone is being hunted.
Something is hunting them
Schloss Koenisburg at the turn of the century.
The dead are rising.
And the Slayer is about to die …
"Hurry," Eva demanded, half throwing Gregory into the old banqueting hall and hastily turning to shut the doors behind them both. The Englishman stumbled to his knees, gasping with pain as the impact jarred the wounds that bubbled beneath his hand. The lacerations were deep and his clothes were soaked with blood. If Eva hadn’t staked the vampire which had seized him he’d be dead by now, his stomach ripped wide by feral teeth and claws. The creatures that pursued them were from an older spawning than the kind of undead demon that they’d faced before; they were wilder, more animal like in their actions and their appetites.
And their mistress was the worst of all …
"Hurry," Eva repeated, grabbing a shovel off the pile of
digging tools and shoving it through the door handles to help hold the flimsy
barrier shut. The hands of demons were beating on the wood, surging against
the carvings, scrabbling and pushing with mindless determination. The Slayer
pushed back, her gifts giving her the strength to deny the nightmares and defy
Gregory forced himself to stand, staggering deeper into the ancient baronial hall. The crates from Marcus’ expedition were scattered over the tables and chairs in a state of utter chaos, over half of them not yet unpacked. Straw spilled out across polished surfaces, scattered around the feet of carven idols and weathered stone. It seemed like a lifetime since Marcus had unpacked the statue – a lifetime since the nightmare had begun.
There were still splashes of old blood where the demoness had killed the man that had freed her; the corpses of his fellow servants were currently scrabbling at the door, eager for the kill. If only they had realised what was happening sooner – but his work on the tablet had been slow, and his Slayer had been distracted by the creatures Lilithu had spawned to devastate the village below. She’d grown strong, and they’d run out of time.
The hammering was getting louder. He cursed and stumbled down the length of
the medieval dining table, using the carved chairs to support his effort filled
steps. His hand left bloody prints on the time stained wood. It was his own
fault that he’d been wounded. Eva had warned him they were coming – and he’d
lingered a little too long, fixing the ritual into memory, going over the carving
one more time. There’d been no time to transcribe the final lines. He had
to remember them. The fate of the world depended on it.
"I can’t hold them," Eva was calling, her voice as desperate as her
struggle. She’d never faced so many at once – and never been matched against
a demon as old and as cunning as the beast that directed them. "Hurry,
Gregory. Please hurry." She wasn’t ready for this. There should
have been more time to train her. More time to prepare.
He took a determined breath and forced himself forward, ignoring the pain.
When this was all over, he was going to find time. Time to tell her
how proud he was of her, how privileged he felt to be her Watcher. Hang the
council, damn tradition; she deserved to know that he loved her. That he cared
about her. And that he didn’t want her to die …
He didn’t want to die either. He fell to his knees in front of the open crate propped up at the end of the table and hurriedly thrust his hands into the straw packing that filled its depths. The staff had to be in there. He’d packed it himself, back in Africa. Back before he knew what it was, or why removing it from the statue was such a bad idea.
There was a crash. The doors burst open and Eva was thrown backwards with supernatural
force. She landed in a pile of crates, scattering straw and splinters everywhere.
Creatures that were nothing but hungry, snarling death spilled into the room
– and cowered back as their mistress made her entrance. Lilithu was a dark,
exotic beauty, her presence radiating sensual power – but she came cloaked in
evil, in ancient hungers and older desires. She was darkness and she was domination.
If she got her hands on the staff, the world was doomed.
Gregory scrabbled deeper into the straw, desperately seeking for the carved
ivory and amber that he knew was hidden there. At the far end of the room the
Slayer picked herself up and charged to the attack, a broken shard of packing
case clutched in her hand. A piece of him abstractedly registered how much her
fighting style had improved since he’d persuaded her out of those endless petticoats
and into wearing riding britches beneath the propriety of her skirts. The handbook
insisted that she dress for practicality, not style – and the advice had proved
invaluable, even if Eva had found other ways to express her femininity; ways
that he was sure the writers of the handbook would not have approved of at all.
He didn’t really care about that. He wanted her to be happy as much as he wanted
her safe. Marcus’ cold discipline needed to be countered by something.
Why shouldn’t she be allowed a few pretty ribbons and bows?
Normally he liked to watch her fight, but time was running out on them both.
There were vampires loping down the length of the table, and the sound of conflict
echoing through the room. "Keep them busy, Eva," he muttered, half
under his breath. "Just a little longer." He’d felt something …yes,
yes, it was there. His hand closed over a carved surface and he tugged
the staff out of its hiding place with a sense of triumph. "Yes,"
he exclaimed, grounding the tip against the stone and using its elegant length
to lift him back to his feet. Power was thrumming through the ivory, a soft
whisper of energy stirred by the presence of the demoness. This was her power
and her bane; the sorcerers who had created it had done so by stealing her essence,
binding it to their service and with it, binding her. While it existed
she was vulnerable – and if she ever succeeded in getting her hands on it, she
would be free to destroy the world.
"Eva! I have it …" He turned as he spoke, his eyes alight with hope and excitement – only for terror to tear through his heart. His soul quailed. His voice failed him.
Because Lilithu was standing there, regal and confident in her power.
Eva was kneeling helplessly in front of her, caught and held by the undead horde, struggling and fighting to be free of them.
"No," he breathed, watching the moment play out, the horror
and the pain of it, the way the demoness looked up – and smiled, a knowing,
arrogant smile just before she broke his Slayer’s neck. It was a single,
savage twist; for one unbearable second the sound of the crack was the only
sound in the room. Then Eva want limp and the vampire let her go, her body sliding
down to sprawl, unmoving at her murderer’s feet.
Gregory screamed the denial, a howl of pain and loss that came from the depths
of his soul. She had been so vital, so brilliant, so alive …
The pain in his guts was nothing compared to the gaping wound that her death
ripped through his entire being. He gasped and staggered, only staying upright
because of the support of the staff; he could feel it shivering, feel it pulse
in time with the surge and pound of his wounded heart. A demon – one of the
snarling, feral things that served her – lunged at him, and he struck
at it with instinctive, blind response. Power flared at the contact; the amber
pieces on the staff began to glow – and the vampire staggered away with a howl,
its flesh withering and its skin rippling with unexpected flame.
Gregory straightened, finding strength in the ancient sorcery, in the anger that now surged up to consume him. Grief could wait. Grief was for the living.
Right now, he had to deal with the dead …
"It seems you are worthy," the demon purred, stepping over Eva’s
body and slinking towards him with a cold and calculating smile. "You have
the spirit the staff desires – the wisdom to awaken it at least. Do you have
the heart to wield it? Can you speak the words? Will you have time?" She
laughed softly, waving her servants back with a casual hand. "You are dying,
Watcher." She spoke his title with amusement. He knew she’d been
in his study. That she’d entertained herself by reading the diaries and ripping
pages out of the handbook. If she hadn’t known about Slayers before, she did
now. She seemed to find the concept amusing. "I can save you, you know?
Free me – and I will reward you with life eternal …"
"Get back," he growled, thrusting the staff towards her as she reached out a sensuous hand in entreaty – and promise. She was right. He was dying. The bleeding hadn’t stopped. Blood was pooling out around his feet, leaving him light headed and dizzy. Somehow it didn’t seem to matter. Eva was dead. He’d failed in his duty to protect her. Somewhere in the world, another Slayer would waken. Another Watcher would take her under his wing. The torch had passed. His life’s work was over.
There was only one thing left for him to do.
"Powers of earth, powers of sky," he began to intone, clinging
to the carved ivory, watching the demoness, defying her with all his heart.
"Powers of light, powers of life, hear me." He’d thought
the words would be hard, that he’d struggle to speak the ancient tongue, that
– in speaking it he might misspeak it, and risk her release. But they
came to him like a gift, spilling from his lips with certain ease. "She
that is death, shall be undone. She that is hunger will feed no more."
"Noo," Lilithu hissed, her hungry smile turning into a mask
of anger – and fear. "I will not be bound again! I will not!"
"By the gift of the past, I invoke thee. By the gift of the present,
I bind thee. And that which is to come will be thine undoing!"
She was shivering, wrapping her arms around herself as the ritual turned her
own power against her. Her servants were slinking away, leaving her to her fate.
"You will not finish," she threatened menacingly. "You do not
have the strength. You will fail. And I will come again, I promise…"
"The darkness will be chained. The beast will be silent. The serpent
of the night will gather the hunger in its coils. That which was named will
be nameless. That which was …" He stumbled on the next phrase. The
magic was surging and struggling around him, fighting to be free of both the
words and his will; he fought back with strength he could no longer spare. It
didn’t matter. All he had to do was this one thing, and then he could rest.
Rest forever. Like Eva. Like all the Slayers that had come before her.
Darkness was swirling at the edge of his vision. Lilithu was glaring at him,
her eyes gleaming like amber lamps. Ebony had claimed her limbs, twisting her
back into an intricate statue. The spell was working, binding her will and her
body, chaining her with her own power. "That which was fear will be
feared no more."
His knees buckled. He slid down the length of the staff, the power in it burning his hands, searing the flesh as his strength deserted him. He was nearly there. She was bound. She was helpless. All he had to do was complete the ritual – and she would never rise again.
"Fires of forever…" Pain jack-knifed through him. He doubled
over with a gasp. "Fires of forever I summon thee ..." The
words ended on a cry of agony. His approaching death had betrayed him. The staff
– ensorcelled to be anathema to dead flesh – had rejected him. It clattered
away, tumbling to the stone floor and rolling, with bitter inevitability, to
the feet of the polished wood that held the demoness in thrall. She was bound.
He had given the world that much at least.
He could do no more. Inch by painful inch he dragged himself past the frozen statue, leaving a smear of death on the stone. His last act, his last defiance, was to stretch out, wrapping his burned and bloodied hand around Eva’s cold fingers.
Silence fell over the castle.
The Slayer was dead.
Her Watcher lay silent beside her.
But in the amber eyes of an ebony statue, a cold and angry hunger continued to burn.
* * * * *
Postscript: Sunnydale, California.
One hundred years later. . .
Careful with that, Frank!" The workman hastened over to help his colleague
manhandle a coffin sized packing crate out of the back of the truck. "You
know this stuff is priceless, don’t you?"
"Priceless my ass," Frank muttered, pausing to wipe a checkered handkerchief across his sweaty forehead. "Load of old junk, that’s what it is. Old photos and books and bits of stone. Who’d wanna come look at this stuff, anyway?"
"I dunno," his comrade grinned, propping the box against the one they’d unloaded earlier. "But they pay us to take care of it, so we’d better."
Frank sighed and nodded. "Yeah. Okay. You take that end, I’ll get this. On three."
They lifted, using the rope handles at either end of the crate to carry it through a pair of open doors and into the museum beyond. They’d already unloaded several other boxes, and the curator was busy checking them off against his list. Assistants scurried around, setting up display boards and stands. Workmen were busy hanging a banner over the entrance to the gallery.
‘Unearthed in Eastern Germany,’ it proclaimed. ‘The lost Koenigsburg collection.’ And underneath:
‘One month only.’
Pieces of carved and ornate stone were being unpacked from the crates. The two men carried their load to the very middle of the hall, and the curator hurried over to check it. A quick flick with a crowbar lifted the lid, revealing a striking piece of what could almost be termed erotic art nestled into the straw within.
It was the exotic figure of a woman, carved from a single piece of ebony.
And beside her there lay an intricate ivory and amber staff . . .
Read: Chapter 1