Out Of Africa - Chapter 13
written by Pythia

It was, Buffy told Willow later, a totally awesome moment. Not just because it was whoa – Giles, or even way to go, Will, although both of those realisations rocketed her out of the depths of despair and went off like soaring fireworks inside her, tingly sparkles and celebrations everywhere. No, there was more to it than that. A lot more. Some of it was the way he did it, all calm, collected and quietly confrontational, his eyes blazing with measured fury and his voice filled with confident authority. Some of it was the way he looked; the dark jeans and the equally dark open-necked shirt – along with his lack of glasses and the hint of tousle in his hair - added assertive presence to his stroll out of the shadows. With the look and the attitude added together, there was Ripper all grown up and scary with it, not just a ‘walking on the edge of the dark side’ kind of guy – but one that had the Watcher in him firmly in control.

Then there was the timing; that whole coming to the rescue at the last minute, just when everything looked totally screwed arrivalness. Cavalry coming over the hill kind of stuff, which Buffy had long since learnt never really happened, only – hey – there it was, and happening, just in the nick of time.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, there was the look that chased across Lilithu’s face, a look of shock and disbelief and wide eyed horror, as if her worst nightmare had just stepped through the door. Maybe it had. She’d been so confident in her plans, in her purpose and her power, so certain of her victory – and suddenly here was the unwilling victim of those plans staring her in the face, armed with the knowledge she had given him - never dreaming that he would be free to use it against her.

Things got briefly frenetic after that; the vampiress launched herself at Giles with a scream of fury, only to find his Slayer getting in her way. Buffy, having recovered from the joyous shock of seeing her Watcher alive, had quickly realised it would be important to keep him that way and had acted accordingly. The two of them went down in a tangle of limbs, Lilthu struggling to get away and Buffy struggling to hold on to her. Her howls turned her children towards her – just as figure in a dark leather coat leapt in through the damaged windows, a stake in one hand, and a sword in the other. Steel flashed, a head rolled, and dust followed it; Angel stepped back with a grin – and then went down himself as the last of the feral vampires threw himself at the new arrival with a savage snarl.

Lilithu started fighting dirty; she elbowed her captor in the stomach, and then slammed her arm up and back, smacking her full in the face. Buffy gasped with pain and let go, blood clogging her nose and her world suddenly filled with dancing stars. The vampiress was on her feet in an instant, lifting her hands and beginning a low voiced incantation, one filled with gutteral rage.

"Now, really," a gently accented voice interrupted from the top of the steps. "Is that any kind of language for a lady to use?"

Giles …

Buffy rolled her eyes with exasperation as she struggled to lift herself off the water slicked floor. She was all for heroic gestures, but – gods sake – he hadn’t even moved. He was just standing there, watching the she-demon as she turned back towards him with a hiss. Buffy wanted to scream at him, wanted to tell him to run, to get out, get away – and then she caught a glimpse of movement on the other side of the hall and realised that he wasn’t watching Lilithu at all. He was waiting.

Oh my god …

Everything happened in that caught back breath – the snap of a vampire’s spine as Angel finally dispatched his opponent; the triumphant curl of the she-demon’s lips as she advanced confidently on her intended victim; Cordelia’s gasp as she regained consciousness and registered the tableaux that awaited her; Albrecht’s muttered exclamation and Wesley’s hasty, almost clumsy step forward in response to it – and the glimmer of amber and white twisting through the air, cutting through the ever descending spray, launched like an arrow of vengeance from one Watcher’s hand …

… to land, safely and securely, clenched in the uplifted fingers of the other Watcher as he reached for salvation and made it his own.

Buffy gulped for oxygen, her heart beating wildly inside her chest. It had all been so close. If the vampiress had moved a little faster, if Wesley had misjudged the throw … but she hadn’t, and he hadn’t, and there was Giles, staff in hand, glaring at Lilithu with steely certainty as she came to a halt barely an arm’s length in front of him.

"I think that’s far enough. Don’t you?"

His voice was soft, but there was no gentleness in it. There was none in his eyes either; they held grim resolution, and a stern implacability that instantly silenced Buffy’s sudden desire to cheer – and clenched a cold hand round her heart. It wasn’t over. Not yet.

Not until the ritual was done …

The fire the rite summons consumes the soul – and without the final words, it cannot be banished again. If he tries to bind me without completing the ritual – this quivering Watcher will burn.

Giles wasn’t quivering. And it was clear – from the look Lilithu was giving him, if nothing else - that he knew the words. But that didn’t guarantee he‘d be able to complete the rite, that he’d have the strength to see it through. Maybe he wasn’t exactly bleeding to death, the way Gregory Webber must have been – but it wasn’t that long since he’d been savagely attacked and had his soul forcibly ripped from his body. Buffy couldn’t measure what that might have cost him – although she knew, only too well, just how much punishment she’d contributed to the experience. He should be taking a timeout to recover from all of that, not standing there with the mystical equivalent of a tactical nuke in his hands.

"Do not be a fool," Lilithu was saying, trying to stare him down, trying to intimidate him by sheer force of will. "You know what you hold in your hands. You know the power it contains."

"Yes. I know." Giles’ acknowledgement was cold – as cold and considered as the expression on his face. Both made his Slayer want to shiver; she knew the man kept his feelings deep and his enmities deeper still, but right at that moment the she-demon was looking into the abyss – and it was looking back at her without so much as a hint of mercy or compassion. "You seemed to think I might be worthy enough to wield it. It’s time, Asha Lilithu. Time for you to face the fire."

"No," she denied, shaking her head, beginning to back away. "No! I will not be bound. Not again. Never again Serve me. Free me. I will make you a prince among men. I will gift you with sorcery - give you every thing and anything you desire. There is so much I could teach you. The secrets of life and death. The mysteries of truth and transformation. Pathways to power and ways to command even the gods. I could give you all those things – and more. Much more."

"Lies and empty promises," the Watcher murmured softly, "buy only what they’re worth. Which tends to be nothing at all." He took a deep breath and planted the staff firmly in front of him, one end hard to the floor, the other tilted in the she-demons direction. Light glimmered around his hand and flickered up the length of the ivory; the staff was shimmering with power, humming with it, like an idling engine waiting to put into gear – or a phaser, set to overload …

"Are we sitting comfortably?" its wielder asked, a sudden – and unexpected – note of humour creeping into his voice. His eyes flicked towards his Slayer and the hint of a smile – the barest quirk – touched his lips. "Then we’ll begin …"

* * * * *

Rain and chaos, a not uncommon combination in Sunnydale, even it was occasionally Rayne and chaos, rather than just simple precipitation. On this particular occasion it was indoor, artificial rain, the soft persistent misting of the automatic sprinkler system filling the air with a curtain of moisture and painting the floor with a geography of shallow lakes. In the middle of all that, a vampire, a Slayer – and her Watcher, the kind of confrontation that had been played out across the centuries, time and time again.

Angel had reached the broken windows barely a moment before Giles had stepped out of the shadows. He’d been in time to see Buffy deal that text book perfect blow – and to feel cold terror ripple down his spine as Lilithu casually ripped the weapon from her chest. Her speech was pretentious – but it was also a chilling, literal truth. This creature, this demoness, had the kind of power for which most of his kind yearned – but very few managed to obtain.

The power to defy their own weaknesses.

No wonder she thought she had nothing to fear from the Slayer. She believed herself to be invincible. She probably saw the age long conflict, the dance between the Chosen one and her primal prey, as nothing but a game – an amusing one, in which the hunter could become the hunted and the inevitable outcome given greater savour by the taste of a defiant soul.

Angel knew better. He’d suffered from that kind of hubris once, playing games and finding amusement in torment and torture. He’d known he was better than the simpering Slayer, tied to human emotions and pathetically trying to save the world, even though anyone could see she didn’t have a hope in hell.

Which was where he’d ended up, of course.

Pride always comes before a fall.

And from where he was standing, Lilithu was about to go down. In style.

The slightly anxious churn in his guts – the one which had settled there right after Giles had announced his intentions to deal with the she-demon once and for all – had turned itself into a shiver of astonishment as the currently black clad Watcher strolled into view. Strolled. There was no other word for it. It wasn’t a resolute stride, nor was it a wary step – it was a confident, easy pace that carried an equally confident, quietly determined figure; one that somehow managed to radiate both dignity and menace in equal measure. Angel found himself swallowing involuntarily. The only thought he’d had in mind when he’d raided that doctor’s locker had been the need to find reasonable clothing that would fit the lanky Englishman without offending his sensibilities. He could have sworn he’d grabbed something casual and unassuming.

And it had been. In the van. In those moment racing through the streets, when the man’s thoughts – much like his own – had been focussed on reaching the museum, and what they might find when they got there. Giles had been tense and anxious the entire trip, the epitome of worried Watcher, fearful for his Slayer and determinedly pushing aside the threatening repercussions of both magical and physical attack.. Something he’d probably pay for later – if he succeeded in what he was about to do. If he survived the experience.

Right now though, right now – he’d somehow metamorphosed into someone much more intimidating than a tweed wearing, academic Englishman ever had a right to be. It was as if – somewhere between leaving the van and walking though the museum door - he’d found time to armour himself in metaphysical steel. A steel he not only knew how to wear and use but which fitted him with disconcerting proficiency. Angel – well, Angelus to be strictly speaking - had glimpses of that side of him before. There’d been steel behind all that fire and passion wielding that flaming baseball bat – and there’d been more of it lurking in the man’s soul, giving him the strength which had enabled him to defy torture and torment.

It was probably just as well that the vampire’s de-souled self had found the process entertaining enough to prevent him from simply draining the man dry and turning him in order to get his answer. Like this – this warrior sorcerer, this paladin of light driven by anger and passion and righteous fury - this version of Rupert Giles was pretty daunting. As a vampire he’d have been utterly terrifying.

That description rather effectively summed up the creature he was facing – and she knew it. Lilithu was only phased for a moment, although it was a moment that gave Buffy time to regain her breath and Angel the briefest of opportunities to assess the rest of the situation.

The hall looked more like a disaster area than a museum presentation; broken display stands and shattered exhibits lay everywhere, covered in a confetti of paperwork and photographs – and all of it slicked and sodden by the persistence of the sprinklers. There were several softly dissolving piles of ashy goo in among the rest of the debris. It was clear that Buffy – and maybe others – had been diligently at work here. Only two of Lilithu’s brood remained, feral creatures pacing through the mist as they tried to circle their intended prey while staying attentive to their mistress’s desires.

The vampire only recognised two of the humans they besieged, but that was enough; Cordelia, apparently a-swoon in the arms of a much older man, and Wyndam-Pryce, defending himself and the rest his little group with an ornate length of decorated ivory. It didn’t look as if it would be much use in keeping the undead at bay, but then looks can be deceiving. Angel assumed – correctly – that this was the ritual staff that Lilthu desired - and immediately realised that it was in the hands of the wrong Watcher.

Which was a definitely a problem.

Realisation was instantly followed by action; as the vampiress recovered from her shock and launched herself forward, Angel charged to the attack. His leap through the broken window took the nearest vampire by surprise – although not as much as the determined sweep of the sword which instantly severed the creature’s head from its body. He’d brought the blade with him from the hospital, and he couldn’t help grinning a little as it made efficient work of its victim; that was a much better use for it than the one Willow had feared he might need .

A moment later the steel went spinning from his hand as the second vampire knocked him flying. He cursed and grabbed as he went down; the two of them hit the floor hard, aquaplaning across the polished floor in a struggling squirm of limbs, teeth and claws. Had Angel been human, he’d have probably been dead in moments. As it was, he morphed into game face, sunk his fingers into undead flesh and fought back like the demon he could claim to be. Somewhere – distantly – he heard Buffy gasp with pain, and then, even more distantly, Lilithu begin to mutter some kind of incantation. That spurred a sense of panic and that, in turn, unleashed angry strength; he and his opponent rolled and tussled like a pair of fighting cats, neither getting the upper hand - until Angel found space to rear back, and used it to slam his forehead hard into his fellow vampire’s face with a snarl of fury.

Which hurt.

But it also broke the creature’s grip on his arms, letting him slide them up so that he could clamp his hand over the thing’s face. Angel hadn’t lived for two hundred years without learning a thing or two – and that included knowing just where to grab and how to twist when you wanted to rip someone’s head off.

Bones broke with a satisfying crunch. The demon in him howled with joy, savouring his victim’s panic and pain. Then there was nothing but damp dust painting his fingers – along with a lingering scream of torn skin and bruised muscles. The thing had left him some uncomfortable souvenirs.

"Damn," he cursed softly, grimacing at the rips in his coat and the sensation of blood trickling down his chest. There was a flurry of movement from the little group in the corner and then something flew over his head; he twisted onto his back in time to see the gleam of the staff as it cut through water and air alike, a javelin of power hurtling straight towards its destiny.

Nice throw, Angel registered, then - nice catch. He didn’t know what to be more impressed by; the way Giles had managed to snatch the ivory out of the air, or the fact that the Watcher had the courage to stand there and wait for it – despite Lilithu advancing on him with murder in her eyes.

There were three decided sighs of relief voiced from his right, a fourth from his left – and a fifth from Xander, watching from somewhere outside the window.

A quick glance reassured him that Buffy – despite being dazed and looking a little worse for wear – hadn’t come to any serious harm. She wasn’t in any immediate danger either; although he didn’t know how long that would last. He had no idea what the ritual would summon, but he knew power when he felt it, and he could feel it now, humming through the room with ominous menace.

It was no wonder Lilthu had started backing away.

Angel flipped himself back to his feet, suspecting that it would be safer if he did the same. He was a vampire, after all.

Non-combatants first, though. "Get them out of here," he hissed, addressing Wyndam-Pryce, who was busy staring at the confrontation with anxiously worried eyes. The younger Watcher threw him a bemused look – and then realised what he meant and nodded earnestly.

"Oh. Yes. Of course," he agreed, half turning to wave Cordelia and the man with her towards the escape offered by the windows. "Time to go, Miss Chase."

"You too," Angel ordered brusquely, trying not to smile at the way the Englishman was trying to direct his companions while keeping an eye on the situation unfolding in the middle of the hall. "Xander’s waiting. I’ll get Buffy."

"Oh. Ah. Right. Yes. Umm - good thinking …"

He was still craning to see, his head craned round while he urged Cordelia on her way. She was trying to linger too, caught in the same wary curiosity, the same desire to witness whatever it was that was about to happen. The older man heaved an impatient sigh, grabbed her arm and dragged her away, muttering something under his breath as he did so. Something about crazy Americans Angel registered distractedly; his German was a little rusty, and he wasn’t paying that much attention anyway. Lilthu’s voice was echoing across the room, making threats and offering wild promises.

"Go," the vampire commanded, loping through the still descending spray to where Buffy was still half sprawled across the floor, her eyes glued to the centrepiece of the drama, watching it play out to its inevitable end. Light was flickering up the staff, power flaring from beneath its wielder’s hand. Lilithu was glaring at it – at him – with a mixture of both hate and desire.

"Are we sitting comfortably?" Giles was asking softly. "Then we’ll begin …"

Buffy was the one sitting. Buffy was the one to whom the Watcher directed that hint of a smile. Angel shivered as he caught it, recalling a time when he’d been favoured with a very similar look. That one had held mocking defiance, a fey mood of almost reckless fatalism. The man hadn’t broken under Angelus’ tender ministrations; he’d embraced them with determination. Accepted them as his fate. Endured them with stoic, stubborn pride.

He was facing fate again right now; choosing to see events through to the end, no matter what.

Buffy probably didn’t realise it yet – but that smile hadn’t been meant as reassurance.

It had been a ‘just in case’ goodbye …

"Come on," the vampire hissed, tugging at the Slayer’s arm. "We need to get out of here."

She was watching her Watcher, her eyes fixed on his face and her heart beating a quiet tattoo inside her chest. Perhaps she had realised how to read that smile – or perhaps she just understood, instinctively, that this might be the last time she ever saw him alive. "I’m not leaving him," she murmured. "I can’t. I won’t."

Angel grimaced with irritation. He loved Buffy with all his heart – but there were times when she just didn’t think.

"I’m not asking you too," he growled, dipping down to lift her bodily from the floor. "Just to … give him a little room to work."

"Oh," she said, then: "Oh." Her arms tangled round his neck and she let him carry her away, her head turning – just as Wesley’s had done – to crane back and watch the figures at the centre of the room. Giles had begun to speak again, shaping the words of the ritual; the ancient litany flowed from his tongue like sacred poetry, reverberating across the hall and filling it with resonant echoes. Lilthu’s retreat was slowing with every syllable, every intonation.

"I will not be bound," she howled – but it was already too late. The power in the staff was unfolding, weaving tendrils of magic through the air. Angel felt them tug at him as he loped away, whispers of fire that seared his soul. He felt them brush through him, felt them catch and tangle in his undead flesh, so that he grunted with pain as he pulled free. He’d barely got away in time. Buffy’s arms tightened around him, reacting to the sound, but she kept her eyes on the scene at the centre of the hall. Kept them there, in fact, even when he handed her over the edges of the broken window and out onto the trampled flower bed beneath it.

Xander was there, helping to steady the still woozy Slayer as she regained her feet and grabbed for the window frame to keep herself upright. The vampire vaulted over the jagged glass and out into the night, feeling one last tug of power as he wrenched himself free. Cordelia found him a wan smile; she was clinging to the elderly German who’d found a seat on a nearby ornamental bollard. It was hardly a casual perch though; by the way he was shaking, his legs had probably given out on him.

Wyndam Pryce on the other hand, was practically glued to the opposite edge of side of the window, staring – just like Buffy - back into the hall with wide eyes. "Oh, good heavens," he was muttering. "It’s in diametric meter. Reciprocate cantillation. I’d have never – not from the translation …"

"It’s like a prayer." Buffy interrupted him with soft spoken certainty. "You have to say it as if you mean it. As if you want it."

Angel knew what she meant. The words had echoed round him, through him, as he’d raced for the safety of the outside world. It wouldn’t be enough, to just speak the litany; it had to be shaped and directed, had to – not just summon the power – but manage it, control it. It was Lilthu’s power, her own energies, that had to be turned against her. To do something like that required an implacable will, an iron constitution, and a very determined spirit. He could only pray that Rupert Giles had the strength to sustain all three.

Read: Chapter 14