Out Of Africa - Chapter 10
written by Pythia
Angel’s steps were hurried as he made his way though the hospital corridors
and into the depths of the ICU. The place still hummed with subdued activity,
anxious attentions focused on the dying and the desperate; no one bothered to
stop or challenge the determined vampire, since he clearly knew where he was
going and why. He didn’t intend to stay long – just long enough to speak with
whomever had duty watch that evening, and find out what they knew.
Unless it was Buffy, of course.
In which case he’d tell her what he’d found, and they’d go looking for Lilithu
He expected to find the room much as he left it – filled with the soft murmur
of active monitors, the anxious concerns of whomever hovered there, and the
emptiness of an abandoned shell – a living corpse bereft of soul or spirit.
What he didn’t expect was a scene from a Hammer horror movie.
Oz had been lurking behind the drawn curtains. As soon as he’d spotted
Angel approaching he’d darted out, grabbed his sleeve and dragged him in, hastily
shutting the door behind them both. The vampire blinked in bemused surprise.
There were candles everywhere. Perched on monitors, lined up along the side
table, defining patterns across the floor; red candles, blue candles, black,
gold and amber ones. Most of them were lit, including the flickering nightlight
beneath an ornate incense stand which sat at the end of the bed. Willow was
there, wearing a huge wooden ankh, and using a taper to light the rest of the
candles. She looked up as Angel entered, her expression shifting from wary alarm
to relieved recognition.
"Angel? Oh, that’s great. This’ll work so much better with someone
to take the place of the fourth pillar. Can you stand over there? Yes – right
there. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you what you have to do in a minute."
He moved to where he was directed, finding Xander occupying a similar slot
on the other side of the bed, and blinked again, even more bemused. The
young man appeared to be cradling a young tabby cat, which was currently purring
"What’s going on?" Angel asked, keeping his voice low, since the
atmosphere in the room seemed to demand it. Xander – who’d been staring at the
silent occupant of the bed with wide and worried eyes – looked up and found
him a wary frown.
"Counter attack," he whispered, pointing out the narrow strips of
paper which now lay either side of the Watcher’s comatose form. "She snaffled
Giles’ soul. So we’re going to grab it back."
The paper was inscribed with complex symbols, most of which Angel didn’t recognise.
Some of them were also painted on the unconscious man’s skin; patterns of scarlet
hieroglyphics paraded down one bare arm and were echoed on the bandages which
wrapped the other.
"Lipstick," Xander supplied helpfully, seeing the way the vampire’s
eyes tracked their preparations. Angel nodded, looking a little relieved. He’d
known it hadn’t been blood – but there were several other things they could
"Okay," Willow announced, nodding to Oz, who took up a place beside
her. "Think we’re ready now."
"You sure this is going to work?" Xander asked, gently depositing
the cat on the bedclothes and stroking her so that she settled where he’d put
her. Right in the middle of Giles’ stomach as it happened. The animal stretched
and prodded a little with its paws - then curled up and made itself comfortable.
"This is really old magic, Will. Much older than anything you’ve tried
"I know," the young witch frowned, carefully pouring something from
a jar onto the charcoal in the burner. "And I’m not sure. I’m not sure
at all. But we have to try something. Giles is out there being all ‘Night
of the Living deadness,’ remember?" Smoke began to curl up from the hot
coals, filling the room with the scent of flowers and burning honey. "Did
you deal with the smoke alarm?" she asked Oz. The werewolf nodded.
"Totally dealt. In here – and down the corridor too."
That was probably just as well; the incense was drifting up in long lazy curls,
adding to the heat and flicker from the candle flames. If things got any hotter,
they would be setting the automatic sprinklers off.
"Dealt too," Oz smiled, catching Angel’s upward glance. "I’ll
switch it all back afterwards."
"Okay," Willow said a second time, gathering her concentration together.
"Now, there’s three things we have to do. We have to wake up his body,
we have to undo the serpent chains that are keeping it and the spirit apart
– and then we have to call one back into the other."
"Well, that sounds simple," Angel muttered, not entirely sure what
she was talking about. "I mean, you managed to give me back my soul
…" Her frown silenced him. Xander’s was equally intimidating.
"Not simple," the young man said anxiously. "Much worriedness
here. You took two goes. Only got one chance at this."
Willow nodded. "The waking up – the opening of the mouth thing?
That’s easy. Standard Book of the Dead stuff."
"They did that to all the mummies. Daddies too, I guess,"
Xander added with typical defensive flippancy.
"The breaking of the chains is harder stuff," Oz supplied, checking
the heavy tome sat next to the burner. "We think Lilithu’s serpent power
will be strong – and she’s not going to want to let go of him."
"And once we’ve done that?" Willow’s expression wasn’t just
anxious. It was scared. "We have to call him back within four beats of
his heart – or else …"
"Three possibilities," Oz concluded bleakly. "We get Giles,
we get something else – or we get nothing at all."
"Nothing …" Angel glanced down at the silent form on the bed. The
Watcher’s eyes were closed, his face slack, his expression as empty as
the rest of him. They were saying that – if this spell failed – the man would
remain that way for the rest of his life, trapped in a true living death. "You
really want to risk this?"
"We have too," Willow insisted. "It’s the only way. She’s
not going to let him go until she’s ready – and that won’t be until after she’s
used him to get her power back."
"Which is a big no way thing," Xander interjected. "Because
– she gets it, we get it. Buffy – us, whole of SunnyD. Big time."
The vampire shivered, remembering his own attempt to bring about an apocalypse.
Rupert Giles had fought – stubbornly and determinedly – to prevent that, and
Angel knew that he’d choose to fight this if he could, that he’d be prepared
to risk anything and everything to protect the world.
To protect these young souls, who meant more to him than family.
And to protect his Slayer, for whom he would willingly give both life and
soul without a moment’s thought.
"Will – doing this stop Lilithu? Even if – "
"We lose the G-man?" Xander didn’t want to say it, but somebody had
too. "Yeah. We break the chains, she’s got no ritual corpse guy. Buffy
kicks her ass, and Wes does the oops, you’re toast, stuff."
Angel found himself smiling grimly. "Then we’d better get started, hadn’t
* * * * *
The zombie was a macabre thing; a dead man with pale, puffy skin, a slack mouth,
and a blank, staring expression. It moved with drunken, uncoordinated steps,
its arms hanging loosely at its sides and its body swaying unsteadily. The stink
of decay eddied in around it, carried on the remnants of Lilithu’s wind.
Buffy shivered, watching the thing stagger forward. It wasn’t just dead; it
was well and truly dead, something that should have been buried days
ago. Dried blood patterned the ashen skin beneath its torn shirt, flaking,
distorted symbols that echoed the magic used to create it - the same magic
which imprisoned the soul of a living man within its pallid, rotting flesh.
Her stomach churned, and she had to swallow against a sudden surge of nausea.
The whole ‘wrapped in a dead man’s skin’ idea had been gross enough;
the reality was unthinkably revolting.
"What is going on here?" Kalskal demanded, his voice cracked with
fear and horror. "Who are these … people?"
Bad idea; his question drew Lilithu’s attention back to that end of the hall.
Wesley, very sensibly, froze in place as her eyes swept across him. Cordelia
shrank back, pressing herself up against the painted hangings which draped the
rear wall. The vampiress smiled.
"Who am I?" she asked, taking a sensuous step forward. The zombie
shuffled after her. "I am Asha Lilithu. I am life in death and death
in life, the daughter of the endless serpent, the mother of eternal hungers.
These are my children, born from my blood – and you are nothing but whimpering
noise, a slave to my desires."
"Let me translate that," Buffy offered, anxious to regain the demoness’
attention. She couldn’t help grimacing at the arrogant and inevitably over the
top pronouncement. There was something about becoming a vampire that encouraged
the inner drama queen, and the older they got, the more pompous and conceited
they became. The Master had been – well, a master at pretentious speeches. Angelus’
contemptuous taunts and his little mind games had reflected his arrogant self
confidence. Even Spike – who liked to pretend that he had no time for that kind
of thing - was generally smug, condescending and utterly full of himself. "She’s
a blood sucking bitch, and these snarly types are her beasty boys. Who are so
over, by the way."
That did the trick. Lilthu’s eyes swung back in her direction, smouldering
with angry irritation. "I promised you a lesson in manners," she growled.
Her hand gestured, spurring the nearest vampire into motion. "Teach her
Buffy leapt back as the creature charged forward, its eyes glowing and its
face twisted with a feral snarl. "Don’t hurt her too much," she heard
the vampiress say. "Her defiance amuses me, and I killed the last
one far too quickly. I want to savour this."
The Slayer ducked as a clawed hand swept in her direction. Her arm went up
to block the follow through blow and then she went into action. Kick, punch,
twist, throw; she moved with determined fury, focusing her energies and making
every contact count. She had to keep Lilithu’s attention. Had to give Wesley
time to work on the tablet and – she risked a wary glance in the zombie’s direction
– time for Willow to work her magic.
If she could.
* * * * *
"I speak unto the silence, saying ‘listen’ and the word will echo in
the empty hallways of the heart.
I speak unto the stillness, saying ‘awaken’ and the word will stir the
quietness like a rushing wind.
I speak unto the voice and say ‘the way is open’.
The way is open."
The warmth of billowing incense swirled through the chant, filling the room
with a soft fug of smoke and the scents of summer flowers. Willow’s face was
furrowed with concentration as she spoke, her voice struggling a little with
the unfamiliar words. Angel’s hands tightened anxiously on the hilt of the sword
she’d handed to him. He knew that the process was delicate, the ritual complicated,
the outcome uncertain - and he didn’t like the thought of what might be required
of him, should everything go wrong. Of the four ‘pillars’ or guardians required
in the performance of the ceremony, the vampire had the least to do – at least
while everything was still going smoothly. Xander had an easy task, that
of applying the required mixture of lotus oil and honey when the ritual
demanded it. Oz would be occupied in keeping the incense burning while Willow
summoned power and conducted the rite.
Angel’s job was simply to stand guard.
Not to defend the process from external attack or disturbance, but to watch
the Watcher – which would have been amusing if the reason for it wasn’t so significant.
We get Giles, we get something else – or we get nothing at all …
Willow had explained that there would be a moment, a space between those four
vital heartbeats, in which the man’s body – stripped of all defences to allow
his soul to return to it – would be utterly vulnerable to invasion. There was
a chance that some inimical spirit might seize that moment and the body with
it, a chance that something else might awaken within the empty
flesh and take it for its own.
The ritual included innumerable precautions to prevent such an occurrence,
but – if the unthinkable did happen – then Angel was charged with taking
the necessary steps to deal with whatever they awakened.
Up to, and including, separating the man’s head from the rest of him.
Which wouldn’t bother Giles, since in those circumstances the man’s
soul would already have been lost beyond further recall – but it would certainly
bother Buffy, which is why the thought of it bothered Angel.
Bigtime, as the Slayer might say.
"I call unto the senses, saying ‘attend to me’ and the senses will
stir and the endless dream be broken.
I call unto the eyes, saying ‘see.’
I call unto the tongue, saying ‘taste.’
I call unto the ears, saying ‘hear me.’
And I call unto the heart, saying ‘I am the way. I am the light.’
The way is open."
* * * * *
This vampire was just as fierce and feral as the last one had been, and it
took all of Buffy’s strength and skill to keep it from overwhelming her. She
sent it flying several times, wrecking cases, toppling exhibits, destroying
display stands – and it still came back for more. It didn’t help that
the creature was trying to injure, rather than kill her – or that she
was trying to spin out the fight, trying to earn her support team some time
and keep Lilithu’s attention from wandering.
Claws raked across her arm, drawing blood. She cursed and kicked out, blocking
the next blow – and the next. She couldn’t keep this up for ever. She
was tiring, and there were still five other vampires to deal with. Six, if you
included Lilithu, who was watching the dance with hungry eyes.
"She does well," the vampiress remarked, directing her words at the
silent corpse that stood obediently beside her. "A true credit to your
teaching. You should be proud."
If Buffy had needed any further proof of the horrors wrought by Lilithu’s magic,
it was there in those quiet words, in that softly amused observation. Her Watcher
was there – not just in some weird, ritualistic there in spirit
kind of way – but literally there – awake and aware of everything
going on around him. What had the book said? Trapped in a decaying corpse,
using its senses yet being totally unable to influence its actions … Sudden
comprehension of what that meant clenched around her heart with fingers
of ice and made her miss a step in the dance. She dodged when she should have
ducked, caught a glancing blow to the head and went tumbling, spinning back
and round to land, breathless and dizzy, right in the middle of a demolished
Pain cracked through her shoulder and twisted down her arm. She heaved herself
up with an effort – and was caught, seized from behind by the vampire’s eager
hands. Her own hand groped in the debris, discarding unidentifiable artifacts
until her fingers closed around a broken sliver of carved wood; she seized it
with determination and quickly concealed it inside her jacket. The vampire hugged
her in close, its arms wrapping tightly around her, and she let it lift her
back to her feet; let it think that – for the moment – it had control.
Over at the far end of the hall, Wesley had reached his goal. While Lilithu
watched Buffy’s apparent capture with an arrogant smile, he was carefully lifting
the tablet from its cradle and turning it to find the vital lines.
"A worthy effort," the vampiress said confidently. "But inevitably
a futile one. I grow weary of these games. It is time to do what we came for."
Her hand moved in a commanding gesture – and the glass protecting the staff
shattered into a cascade of shimmering splinters. Cordelia and Kalskal both
jumped, and Wesley nearly dropped the tablet. Only nearly. Buffy
heaved an inner sigh of relief as he regained his grip and went back to his
Lilithu turned to the dead man at her side. "Gift me with my destiny,"
she ordered, then added a curt phrase in what Buffy assumed was probably Egyptian.
The zombie began to shuffle forward, heading for the now unprotected staff.
* * * * *
"The stone sinks into the sand and is swallowed up.
The tree takes root and flourishes.
It draws life from the desert, it devours the stone. It spreads its leaves above
the sand, offering its protection.
In the shadow of its branches is the serpent confounded."
Willow had begun the second part of the ritual, slowly dripping wax from a
burning candle onto the shrivelled snake’s skin as Oz carefully coiled it into
a shallow dish beside the incense burner. Angel could feel the subtle crackle
of magic weave its way around him, around all of them, summoned by the incantation,
yet still raw, still undefined – and very dangerous. Xander was looking tense
and worried, his eyes flicking from the chanting witch to the patterns of light
playing across the monitors. There’d been a subtle change in their messages
as Willow had worked through the ritual opening of the mouth; the slow
beat of the man’s heart had quickened just a little, and the bare ripple of
brain activity had begun to take on more definition, more noticeable form.
The vampire could well understand the young man’s anxiety. If anyone back at
the duty nurse’s station noticed the increased activity on the monitors, they
might well come to investigate – and any interruption to the spell would risk
both its subject and its caster. They just had to hope that the nurses
had more urgent things to attend to than checking up on a coma patient that
the doctors had more or less given up on.
The kitten – which had slept through most of the first stage – sat up and looked
around, its eyes wide, bright and reflecting the flicker of candle flame.
"The brightness of the sun lures the serpent out of the shadow.
It uncoils in the light, it offers its belly to be warmed.
I will follow the path of the serpent, I will walk its coils,
Between this vessel and the spirit that is lost, I will find the way,
Seeking the hidden paths, seeking the treasures it guards."
* * * * *
"Buffy " Cordelia’s plea managed to convey both terror and exasperation
all at once. "Don’t just stand there. Do something "
Buffy risked a look in her direction, seeing her lurking behind Kalskal’s shoulder,
all wide eyed and quivering. The German had an equally wide eyed but far more
bewildered look on his face; he was staring at the dark skinned demoness as
if he couldn’t believe his eyes. Close by, Wesley had lifted his head from the
tablet to identify the reason for Cordelia’s demand. He caught Buffy’s glance
towards him and jerked his head towards the zombie with decided urgency in his
expression. She nodded, fixing her own eyes on the tablet with equally urgent
significance. He blinked, then realised what she meant and returned to his study
with anxious haste. Lilithu had also glanced Cordelia’s way, but she’d simply
smiled and returned her attention to her shuffling slave, clearly confident
in her moment of triumph.
"What can she do?" the vampiress taunted. "My children are many.
She is but one."
"Yeah," Buffy agreed, twisting in her captor’s grip so that she could
drive the sliver of wood deep into the creature’s heart. "The chosen
one." Dust exploded around her with satisfying force, she stepped through
it with a look of grim satisfaction on her face. "Don’t you just hate
it when a guy gets clingy?" A twist of her wrist turned the sharpened sliver
into a makeshift dart; she pulled back her hand and threw it with determined
force, her aim both firm and true. It flew through the air and embedded itself
straight between the zombie’s shoulder blades – where it stayed, jutting out
like a misshapen fin. The impact swayed the zombie forward, but that was all;
the thing continued to shuffle across the polished floor, one arm beginning
to lift, ready to claim its intended prize.
"Excellent shot," Lilithu acknowledged, seemingly unphased by Buffy’s
regained freedom. "A slightly pointless gesture – except that," she
laughed knowingly, "someone will have gotten the point."
Oh god …
Buffy’s blood – already cold with horror – froze in her veins. A shudder ran
through her, one almost sharp as the makeshift weapon she’d just used. The corpse
had felt nothing. How could it? It was just a dead thing, a lump of meat and
bone. But she’d forgotten – if only for a moment - that the man it contained
would feel everything that happened to it. Which meant that Giles had felt that.
Had felt the splintered wood sink into flesh, had felt the pain as certainly
as if she’d literally stabbed him in the back …
Buffy threw herself forward with a gulp, grabbing for the zombie’s arm and
swinging it round so that she could look into its lifeless eyes. Except that
they weren’t lifeless. The decaying face might be slack and its expression
vacant – but there was something in the dead man’s eyes that mirrored the soul
the body imprisoned.
Recognition glimmered there, along with disconcerting awareness and an echo
of pain. She was greeted with a warmth of affection that might have been a smile,
had he been able to move dead lips to match the moment - and then the look became
one of determined and stern command.
The Slayer swallowed hard, reading the meaning that lay behind the look, the
message her Watcher intended to convey. "I’m sorry," she whispered,
knowing what she would have to do and already hating herself for it. "Oh
god, Giles. I’m sorry."
Then she locked both hands together and hit him.
The blow sent the zombie flying, in a tumble of uncoordinated limbs and dead
weight. It arched through the air to land with a sickening crunch, right at
* * * * *
"I open the door and the words are spoken.
I call unto the one who is taken, and I send my shadow in search of him.
My shadow goes into darkness, seeking the light, seeking his name.
The coils of the serpent will be loosened.
The chains of the heart will be broken.
The spirit will be set free."
The spell was taking its toll; Willow was shaking as she worked through the
measured gestures the ritual required. Sweat was beading her forehead and she
struggled to continue, her hands moving infinitely slowly, as if she were pushing
them through treacle – or solid rock. Magic shimmered in the air, turning the
dance of candle flame into curtains of light, filling the room with tangible
energy. Angel frowned, feeling the forces the witch had summoned coil around
him – around all of the them – as she fought to find the weaknesses in Lilithu’s
"This is so not working," Xander hissed, catching the look
in the vampire’s eyes. "David against Goliath stuff." He frowned anxiously,
coming to the inevitable conclusion. Willow just wasn’t strong enough to break
through. "We need a bigger rock."
"Or a little help," Angel muttered, wishing he knew a little more
about Egyptian magic – and a little less about what might happen if the
witch lost control. The energies she was working with were powerful ones; unleashed,
discharged without direction or intent, they would tear right through all four
of them. Five, he corrected grimly, glancing down at the comatose figure
There was a serpent coiled around the still silent Watcher – a serpent made
of smoke and shimmering hints of colour. It was wrapped over him, head to toe,
its thick and muscular body wound round like a thick rope, its hooded head raised
above his with possessive menace. There was evil in it, and old power. The
energies of the spell crackled along its coils, seeking a way to push through
them – and the serpent merely tightened its grip, its head rearing back as if
ready to strike.
A flurry of movement lunged through the smoke and the shadows. A blur of grey
and white leapt up in a sudden dance of teeth and claws, the twisting, hissing
form striking through the smoke, through the magic, and through the serpent
beneath. The hooded head writhed back and the cat pounced after it, shredding
its shadowed shape into drifting tatters. Power shimmered into the gaps, sliding
beneath the coils and adding to the serpent’s dissolution. Willow’s head went
back with a jerk, her hands frozen in their last, effort filled gesture and
her eyes turning a deep blood red.
‘I call his name into the dark. I command it.
I summon the spirit from its journey, to the place made ready for its
Let that which was taken be restored. Let that which was parted be made
The way is open. The path is made clear.
The empty vessel will be filled.’
Read: Chapter 11