Out Of Africa - Chapter 14
written by Pythia
"Powers of earth, powers of sky." The language was long dead,
the dialect obscure and the pronunciation complicated – but Giles spoke the
words with confident ease, measuring the rhythm of them as they were shaped
by lips and tongue. Living lips, and an unswollen tongue; the litany was alien
to them, but the spirit that moved them was word perfect in every way. The long
hours of tortuous practice had branded the ritual into his soul. "Powers
of light, powers of life, hear me."
The staff stirred at the command; the thrum of power grew stronger, and
the ivory quivered under his hand, almost as if it were a living thing.
The demoness’ backwards retreat slowed, then stopped altogether. It wasn’t
that she didn’t want to go on backing away, but the commencement of the
ritual had caught her in a net she could not escape. The power he was summoning
was her own – stolen from her, and turned against her, but still hers
in a way she could not escape.
There was irony in that – and bitter satisfaction. The ancient priests who’d
crafted this ritual – who’d given their lives to destroy the darkness which
had been consuming their world – had more than understood the paradoxical nature
of their work. Death is the antithesis of life and darkness the antithesis of
light; yet here he was, using the power of one to summon the other – with himself
in the middle of it all.
"She that is death, shall be undone. She that is hunger will feed
"No," Lilithu denied with vehemence. "I will not be bound."
The protest was too late. Tendrils of power were already snaking out from the
staff, wrapping around her like bands of steel. She was caught and held by the
net his words were weaving, a net that trembled and shook as she fought to be
free of it.
"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 "
The net tightened. Lilithu was glaring at him with unmitgated hate. He could
feel the magic surge and pulse with the impact of her anger.
"You will fail," she told him tightly. "Just like the one before
you. The words will stumble in your mouth. The power will strip you of your
senses. The fire will claim you. You may bind me – but you will die before the
rite is ended. And I will walk this earth again. I swear it "
He met the glare with one of his own. She was trying to unnerve him, to make
him falter – and she had about as much chance of doing that as she did of stepping
out into the sunlight when the morning came. She was taunting him with the prospect
of death, and right now that was the least of his worries. Besides –
he’d felt this kind of power before. Had ridden it for kicks, surfing the edges
of a demon’s desires in order to experience the kind of intoxication that no
words could possibly describe. Those moments in Egyhon’s embrace had scarred
him – but they’d also toughened his soul and tempered his will. He could do
He had to. The fate of the world depended on it.
"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
The she-demon’s glare held a malignant rage that was almost tangible. She was
struggling like a hooked fish, fighting every moment with fierce and determined
fury. The power surged and bucked around them both, ripping through his senses,
flailing into him like white hot strands of steel. His hand clenched around
the ivory, gripping it tighter, despite the searing pain that lanced though
his palm as he did so.
"That which was fear will be feared no more."
His pronunciation was exact; the net snapped tight, sealing Lilithu within
illusion of ebony. Her struggles became a point of concentrated rage that burned
and festered behind her carved eyes. He shivered, despite his determination
to remain focussed. The she demon was bound by her own power, helpless
to resist the final phase of the ritual; once again trapped and tormented inside
a body that would no longer answer to her will.
The memory of it – of being restrained, of being fettered in decaying flesh
- rose up in him like a wave, threatening to swamp him; each hour of his imprisonment
had felt like a lifetime – and she had endured like that for centuries …
The shiver became a convulsion of pain; his momentary distraction had allowed
the magic to flare and surge, whipping through his senses like razor edged ribbons.
He bit back a curse and fought to regain control. This was the critical moment.
It was here that Gregory Webber had failed, too weak to bring the ritual to
its planned end – and it was here that the first wielder of the staff had failed,
unprepared for the demands of the final section of the rite. Lilithu had taken
great delight in describing that failure – in revelling in the man’s failure,
his inability to endure the energies he had summoned.
"Fires of forever I summon thee."
Heat surged out of the staff, a heat as searing as the flame which had charred
dead flesh. It flared up around him, turning him into a living pillar of fire.
Instinct screamed at him to let go, to step away, to escape the unbearable agony
of it – but he fought against the reflex, knowing that to let go of the staff
was the very last thing he should do. The power was shaped by the staff, but
it was being channelled though him, held and directed by his will. If he let
go, if he succumbed to the demands of his body, he’d surrender himself to the
fire, and it would consume him, not the demoness that watched him so intently.
She had imprisoned his soul, forced him to endure maddening torment - and he
knew he could endure this, despite the way every inch of him was screaming in
"Fires of eternity, give me the purity of thy flame. Cleanse this place
of defilement. Defy the dark. Devour the hunger."
Giles’ voice was trembling. He was trembling. The power was ripping through
him without mercy, threatening to tear him apart.
"Let there be an end to death. Let there be a reckoning of the soul."
Somehow, somewhere, he found the strength he needed to lift the slender
ivory shaft, lift and tip it, pointing it at the unmoving figure in front of
him. There was nothing in his world but flame and ebony; Lilithu’s eyes were
a darkness into which he was falling – a darkness which only the fire could
"The circle closes. The end becomes the beginning. The beginning becomes
The heat and the pain were stripping his soul; a white hot river of energy
was welling out of his heart and flooding every inch of him. There was no escape;
fighting against it was impossible. So he let it take him. Immersed himself
in it, feeling it rip self from self. Agony transmuted to ecstasy; soul and
flame coalesced in a moment of exquisite insight.
And just like that, he became the fire.
"That which is, will return to that which was "
Light leapt from the tip of the staff, a shaft of white hot flame that speared
the silent she-demons’ heart. Her eyes flared with one last howl of anger and
pain – and then her ebony form shattered into dust, exploding outwards with
explosive force. He was flung backwards as the shockwave hit him, lifted completely
off his feet and thrown halfway across the hall.
* * * * *
Buffy’s outcry was practically a primal scream; it voiced a savage denial,
giving expression to the anguish and the terror that had taken root in her heart.
She’d been forced to stand and watch as the ritual played out, her body tense
and her heart pounding in her chest. She’d barely felt the comfort of Angel’s
hand on her shoulder – although she’d felt his hands as he’d caught her, preventing
her convulsive charge as, for the second time that night, she saw flame creep
from around clenched fingers and ripple up a man’s arm. Her breath had caught
in her throat then, choking her instinctive cry of alarm; she’d been frozen
to the spot as the hint of fire flared into sudden conflagration. It had taken
barely seconds - between one and the next – and the moment had pierced her heart
and ripped what was left of it in two.
But Giles’ voice had barely faltered. And the flame hadn’t consumed the figure
within it – not the way it had before. She’d watched with horror as he’d continued
to intone the ritual words, trying desperately not to imagine how it must feel,
fighting to banish memories of flame seared bone emerging from beneath cooked
flesh and charred skin. She didn’t notice how Angel’s grip on her arms had tightened
with bruising reaction – anymore than she felt the pain of manicured nails as
they bit into the palms of her hands. The light from the fire had grown brighter,
etching the scene indelibly into memory; Lilithu’s frozen glare, the gleam of
amber and ivory – and the image of her Watcher, turned into a living figure
A moment later everything went kablooie. Light flared with unbearable
brilliance. A wave of force and heat surged across the hall, scattering the
debris of the exhibition and shaking the whole building with a sound like thunder.
Buffy felt something stab through her – a silent howl of anger and pain, a raging
moment of loss and death – and that was when she cried out, when her
fears finally found a voice.
She matched it with action, tearing herself from Angel’s grip and leaping back
into the now darkened and silent hall. Dazzling afterimages danced behind her
eyes, and she blinked, fighting to regain focus – and to brush away the resurgence
of tears. It just wasn’t fair. She’d faced this loss once tonight – and
for him to be taken from her again, in the same night, the same way …
The roller coaster of her emotions sat poised on the brink of a final fall.
She was suspended over an abyss, and a piece of her wanted to jump, to tumble
into the dark; down there she wouldn’t have to feel, wouldn’t have to deal
– and the world could go to hell, and she wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care.
Except she would. Because she was the Slayer – his Slayer – and, just
like Merrick before him, Giles had willingly given his life to enable her to
fulfill her destiny.
She almost could hear him pointing that out – gently and with some amusement;
telling her that she could and would go on without him.
In fact, he was laughing about it …
She wasn’t imagining his laughter. She was hearing it – a soft, semi-hysterical
chuckle echoing out of the dark. Buffy moved towards the source of the sound,
stepping cautiously through the remnants of Koenigsburg’s collection. Between
her, Lilithu, and the final moments of the rite, there wasn’t a lot left intact;
at least the steady drizzle from the sprinklers seemed to have stopped, although
there were glistening pools of water everywhere.
She found her Watcher lying in one.
He was flat on his back, sprawled out like an abandoned rag doll. His clothes
were torn and charred, and he was soaked to the skin – but he was laughing.
Giggling in fact, his body shaking and quivering from head to foot.
"Giles?" Buffy didn’t know what to make of the sight – which
was utterly bizarre, and utterly wonderful all at the same time. Her
relief at finding him alive was immediately tempered by a mixture of affectionate
exasperation and total bafflement. She dropped to her knees beside him, ignoring
the way water rippled out around her as she did so. She was already soaked to
the skin; a little more wouldn’t do her any harm. "Giles – are you okay?"
It was a rather stupid question, but it was the best she could formulate, given
the circumstances. Half of her wanted to cry with relief and the other half
wanted to join in the giggling. She managed to do neither, although she suspected
nobody would blame her if she did both.
Giles turned his head and grinned at her. Broadly. An I don’t have a care
in the world right now kind of grin. "That," he announced
with confident authority, "was one hell of a rush. Bloody incredible."
His voice held echoes of effort, and his words were slightly slurred;
Buffy frowned at him.
"Uh, Giles … " she started to say bemusedly. He looked a little dazed,
and he sounded - well, drunk. She wondered if he’d hit his head or something.
He lifted his right hand and jabbed in her direction with an authoritative finger.
"Tell me," he ordered firmly, "never - to do anything
like that again. Good lord." The hand fell away, landing with a soft splash
back in the water. "I do feel peculiar."
He is drunk, Buffy realised disconcertedly. Well, not drunk,
exactly. High. High on the magic. On whatever it was that happened, right at
the end …
"I’m not surprised." Angel said, emerging
out of the gloom. "That was … pretty impressive stuff."
"Indeed," Wesley agreed, joining the vampire
in looking down at the prostrate librarian. "We knew that the ritual was
intended to turn Lilithu’s own power against her – but from the looks of things
the priests who created it had severely underestimated the extent of her potency.
The staff unlocked the floodgates - and turned you into a conduit through which
the unleashed energies poured. I’d say you’ve just survived the mystical equivalent
of sticking wet fingers into an electrical power socket."
"Right," Giles acknowledged with
a another quiver of amusement. He was staring up at the ceiling with an odd
look in his eyes. Buffy suspected he was feeling as if he were floating somewhere
up there, rather than lying sprawled on a cold wet floor. "So - you’d consider
the m-moment of perceptual transcendence as merely a by-product of the experience,
rather than a - a fundamental component of the process?"
"Well, ah – " The younger Watcher blinked.
"The moment of what?"
"Transcendence." The giddy grin resurfaced,
wrapping itself around the word with relish. "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, you’re
a pillock. You know nothing about magic and I – " Giles paused to lift
his hand a second time, only to have it fall back again as he failed to find
the energy the gesture needed. "I know too bloody much." The laughter
left him. Almost everything left him as exhaustion finally made its inevitable
claim. His eyes closed and his head rolled to one side; a moment of panic clutched
at Buffy’s heart, one that she pushed away with determined effort. She reached
for his hand instead, feeling the warmth in it, despite the water’s chill. His
fingers tightened on hers, just as they’d done back at the hospital, back when
this all began. "She is gone, isn’t she?" he asked faintly, needing
that last reassurance before he could let go completely.
"Yes," Angel affirmed, giving Xander a
reassuring smile as the young man appeared out of the dimness, anxious to know
what was going on. "Nothing left but dust."
"Slurry," Xander corrected abstractedly.
"In all this water – corpse dust gets to be slurry. Hey, Buff. Is the G-man
"He’ll be fine," she answered, finally
assured that was the case. She leant forward to slide her arm
under Giles’ shoulders, realising that the middle of a cold puddle was not the
best of places for him to sleep. "Once he’s had a cup of tea and a cookie."
"Cookie?" Wesley queried puzzledly, and
"Yeah. I always get a cookie after dealing
with a big bad. It’s traditional. And traditions are so important, don’t
Angel had moved to help her, taking the now unconscious
Watcher’s weight as they lifted him from the floor. Wyndam-Pryce’s mouth
was open – he clearly knew he was being teased but just couldn’t quite
work out how. Xander grinned at him.
"Totally of the important, Buff. Cookiness
and just rewards going together hand in hand."
Buffy nodded, savouring the unexpected opportunity
to wrap the two most important men in her life in a single loving hug. It didn’t
matter that Giles was totally out of it and Angel wasn’t exactly paying attention;
they were there and safe and so was she. It was over. Finally over. Nothing
left to do but pick up the pieces and sweep the floor …
"Mien Gott." Albrecht Kalskal’s voice echoed across the shattered
remnants of his exhibition. "What ever am I going to tell the insurance