Out Of Africa - Chapter 3
written by Pythia





The night was in its darkest hour, indifferent stars glimmered above the rooftops, looking down on seemingly deserted streets and equally deserted car-parks. Asha Lilithu, mother to eternal hungers, daughter of darkness and queen of the endless night, slunk through the darkened streets, making her way back to her chosen lair with a smugly satisfied look on her face. Her hunting had been better than she’d expected, much better. She felt as if the gods were truly working in her favour for once. The old gods. The ones that really mattered.

Ahead of her, the sulphurous shimmer of the street lamps was busy throwing sickly pools of light around the entrance to the Zoo. Silhouettes of animals stalked along the fence and cast stark shadows on the ground; lions and tigers and bears and antelope with spiralled horns, curling pythons and vultures with hooked beaks and outspread wings, a menagerie in black and sodium light etched out across the painted paving stones. She lifted an imperious hand as she approached the gates, smiling as they swung open to admit her. Her magic was strong in this place, drawing on the subtle pulse that reverberated through the stones, through the buildings, and through the very air itself. The city concealed a nexus point, a doorway to the realms beyond. Power whispered through it, the power of the gods, of dark promises and darker desires. That power had helped to awaken her. When she had regained all that was her due, she would do more than just use it. She would command it. Use it to restore her to her true glory.

And after that, the gods would bow down to her

The caged creatures reacted to her presence as she made her way through the maze of pathways that lay behind the fence. Some cringed away in the dark. Some whined and whimpered as she passed – and some greeted her with agitated challenge. She turned and stared at the boldest of those, making the beast cower down and slink back into the safety of its cage. The rest she ignored, continuing on past garish shuttered concession stands, shadowed signposts and helpful maps until she arrived at the entrance to the hyena house. Here she paused for a moment, glancing up at the stars; then smiled and stalked into her chosen lair.

She’d been drawn to this place by the scents of her native land by the rich spoor of indolent lions, by the stinks of wallowing warthogs and by the rancid reek of carrion eaters. The building had enticed her even further, whispering of evil deeds, of agonised death and hungry murder. She felt at home here – and had made it her own, securing her daytime vulnerability behind a stockade of teeth and loyal claws.

The hyenas welcomed her with eager muzzles, nuzzling into her hands as she offered them the titbits she had brought. The derelict had been old and rancid and not fit for her palette – but her faithful hounds squabbled over the strips of his flesh and licked his blood from her fingers with relish. She caressed each one with appreciation before pushing them away with a laugh. Her tongue slid over her lips, seeking to savour her recent meal; she smiled again at the memory of it, at the man’s valiant and useless struggle. He’d been an unexpected feast, given the bitter, insipid prey she’d found since her awakening; had the Slayer not turned when she had, she might well have forgotten her intentions, and drunk every last drop.

Her hand reached to curl around the amulet that nestled between her breasts, and she smiled into the darkness. The Slayer had turned – and she’d remembered just in time. Remembered her plan and the magic she had wrought to further it. The plan was more important than a moment’s pleasure. Much more important.

The amulet was warm against her skin, echoing the essence of the spirit she had anchored there. Her hunger hadn’t betrayed her; the man lived – and because he lived, she finally had a chance to achieve her greatest desire. To be free. To reclaim her true power and, with it, take her rightful place as ruler of the night. That the agent of her restoration would be the faithful ally of the Slayer was a sweet and delicious irony. Her last encounter with the breed had demonstrated only too well how suitable one of his kind would be. This one was stronger than the last, marked by experience, and painted with the wisdom of pain. She’d have done well to have removed him from the game even without her need – but now he would serve her, and that was a perfect way to exact her revenge.

Her smile grew wider as she made her way to the back of her lair and the darkened pens which concealed her hiding place. The keeper had been easy to sway to her will. He no longer saw her in the dark – nor any of her children, either. There were two of them waiting among the shadows, and they greeted her with low growls and subservient grunts of welcome. That was the way she liked it; not for her these wilful upstarts, cloaked in the semblance of the men they aped. Her offspring were dark and dangerous beasts, wild and savage, stripped to basic desires and endless appetites.

Although … she paused to caress the amulet again, feeling the spirit within it flutter and struggle to be free. A queen needed courtiers as well as slaves; voices to praise and advise her. This one had promise – a strength she could use. Perhaps - when his task was completed - she might reward him with a place at her side. There would be a fresh savour to his life the second time around; seasoned with hate and the wretchedness of his despair.

She laughed out loud at the thought of it; at the torment she intended and the prize it would win. Without this man’s fearless wisdom, the Slayer would be no more than a blind child, helpless to unravel the riddle she now faced. A few thoughtful distractions would be enough to keep her occupied while the plan progressed. And if the spell failed, or the man proved unworthy of the task … well, they would send another soon enough. She could always try again …

She dismissed the need for that with an impatient shake of her head. This one was worthy. She could feel it. He had the strength to endure the ritual to its end. If only she could act now – but her magic needed time to take shape, to be moulded to her will. Two nights. Maybe three.

But what was that, when compared to thousands of years in chains?

Lilithu slunk into her hiding place, nodding with satisfaction as she saw that her earlier preparations still lay undisturbed. The dead man was where she had left him, sprawled into the straw with a look of surprise on his face. His death had been quick – a sudden struggle for breath and a descent into darkness untouched by tooth or claw. She’d needed the body to be whole – a clean and empty vessel, ready to receive her wreaking and serve her will. He wasn’t much to look at, but he’d do. She hadn’t dared risk taking anyone that might have drawn attention to her this early in the game.

Other than the Watcher, of course …

She laughed a second time, giddy with delight and anticipation. She’d made mistakes that last time round; spent too long enjoying her freedom, and given her enemies time to prepare. Not this time. This time she’d kept to the shadows, spawning her slaves from among those that would not be so quickly missed. She’d attacked the Slayer where it would hurt the most, and by the time the girl had figured it out, she’d be too late to do anything – except learn the true meaning of fear.

"Time to begin," she murmured softly, reaching to turn the corpse over and lay it out the way she needed. Her slaves had been busy while she’d been away, collecting everything she’d asked for. She lit one of the candles with a click of her fingers and went to work with determination. The dead snake provided the blood to mark out her circle and to daub across the dead man’s skin; hot wax sealed the eyes, the lips and the ears, making the body a prison; and she painted the symbols of the spell in a mixture of blood and dung and rich red earth. Once everything was ready, she carefully lifted the amulet from around her neck and placed it ceremoniously around that of the corpse, whispering the necessary incantations, one after another.

Here lies the silent Heart; an empty vessel waiting to be filled.

Here is the Snake entwined about the spirit and the core of the mind.
Draw him hither in thy coils


Draw him hither, let this vessel be filled.

Behold He and thee are one.

Bound. Chained, body to spirit, spirit to body.

I have sucked out the blood with my lips; I have drained the body of its
sustenance; I have abased him before me; I have mastered him; I have possessed
him, and his life is within me.

Put on the cloak of that life and rise to my will.

I await the awaking ]

She released the amulet; sat back with a smile – and prepared to enjoy what came next.

* * * * *

"Buffy, hey Buffy " Willow practically flew across the hall towards her, her eyes alight with excitement and eagerness. Buffy – who was trudging down the corridor with dispirited steps – looked up and greeted her with a wan smile.

"Hey, Will. What’s up?"

"Oh – you’ll never guess Good news stuff. As in ‘my parents are going to love this,’ and ‘my boyfriend is over the moon …’ Well," she added for accuracy, "with Oz, ‘over the moon’ is a phrase we don’t use much, but he’s happy about it. I’m pretty happy about it too."

Buffy frowned. "You are? I mean – about what?" She couldn’t think of any reason to be happy that morning. There was a new – or rather very old – vampire in town; she’d messed up her first meeting with it – and Giles had nearly been killed as a result. The fact that he hadn’t wasn’t cheering her the way it ought to, and Angel’s suggestion that his attacker had intended him to survive was not helping her deal with the whole guilt thing. It should never have got that far in the first place.

"Oh – " Willow fell into step beside her, trying to look nonchalant. "You remember those essays we all wrote – you know, the ones about ‘my city, my school, my life?’ And I wrote that thing about learning to teach and being able to hand on what I’d learned, remember?"

"I remember." School essays had little meaning at the best of times. This wasn’t the best of times, and the essays Willow was talking about had been a pretty lame idea in the first place. "I wrote – something. I don’t remember what exactly …"

Willow wasn’t paying that much attention to what she said; she was too busy being pleased about her news. "Mr Greenham submitted mine. To the State competition? And I’ve been picked." Her smile was both proud and desperately trying to be modest all at once. Pride was winning, but only just. "Published. I’m going to be an author. In a book. A ‘for sale and in libraries’ book." Her smile grew even wider. "Giles is gonna have a card for me. Stamp me out. Issue me."

"Yay, Willow," Buffy said – without much enthusiasm and with the hint of a shiver running down her spine. Willow babbled on, so caught up in her news that she hadn’t yet noticed her friend’s glum expression or the slump in her shoulders.

"I shall tell him. I’ll go right up to him and say ‘Giles, issue me.’ And he’ll look all bemused and Giles like and say – ‘I beg your pardon?’ And then I’ll tell him, and he’ll be all ‘Well done, Willow,’ and ‘Congratulations,’ and ‘We must get a copy of that for the library …’" She trailed off, finally registering the look on Buffy’s face. Each glib phrase, each affectionate imitation had cut through the Slayer like a knife. Giles was so much a part of their lives; a comfortable, always there, occasionally unpredictable but otherwise totally dependable part. To have lost him would have been like losing a piece of herself.

"Buffy?" Willow was giving her an anxious look. "You okay? Did – did something happen?" She glanced round to make sure they were safe to talk. Students were bustling past them, intent on other things, paying the two of them no attention whatsoever. "Did Angel - ?"

"It’s Giles," Buffy interrupted bleakly. "He’s in the hospital. He’s going to be okay," she hastened to add, seeing Willow’s eyes go wide in alarm. "They just wanted – they wanted to keep him in for a couple of days."

If she kept saying that, if she kept repeating it, it would be true. She’d said it to her mother that morning, using it to dismiss concern, trying to lighten the impact of what had occurred. Her mother hadn’t been fooled. Nor had she been able to keep all of the fear from her eyes once she knew what had happened. Buffy knew that one of the ways her mother coped with her being the Slayer was to have confidence in the people that aided and supported her. Giles was an important part of that confidence, the level-headed, responsible adult who guarded and guided her daughter, who cared for her – about her – almost as much as she did.

And the fact that the two of them had once had wild unthinkable sex had absolutely nothing to do with the anxious concern with which her mother had greeted the news.

She hoped.

"What’s happening guys?" Xander’s arrival was bright and breezy, sweeping them further down the corridor as he gathered them up, one under each arm and gave them a happy hug. Willow looked at Buffy; Buffy looked back with equal distress. Xander’s warm smile slowly faded into a suspicious frown. "Have I missed something? Did someone die?"

"Giles," Willow blurted out, having finally recovered from the initial shock of the news. "Er – no – erm – he- he’s not … He’s in hospital. Right, Buffy?"

"Right," she affirmed with a sigh. She jerked her head towards the doors of the library. "I have to tell Wesley …" She took a deep breath to steady herself. This was going to be easier if she only had to go over it once.

"Do we have to?" Xander grimaced. He had no liking for her newly assigned Watcher, who’d turned out to be even more pompous and stuffy than Giles had ever been. But she had to work with him – and on him, since he had to get the point about who and what she was and how she worked. She wasn’t the Council’s little puppet. She was the Slayer – and that meant she got to be in charge.

Most of the time, anyway.

In her heart – which was the important measure where she was concerned – she’d long since labelled Wesley Wyndam-Pryce as Faith’s Watcher rather than hers. She had a Watcher; it didn’t matter to her that the Council had fired him. She’d known Giles long enough to understand that being her Watcher was a matter of destiny, not pay checks and official memos. He’d been chosen every much as she had been – and she appreciated his continued dedication to her support. Right now though, she needed Wesley – because, even if he wasn’t her Watcher, he was still a Watcher, and there was a very dangerous vampire on the loose.

She was going to need all the help she could get.

"Yes," she announced and led them through the library doors.

She knew something was wrong as soon as she stepped into the room. Cordelia was hovering near the counter with a perplexed expression on her face – and Wesley was on the phone. Looking decidedly grim. He glanced up as he heard them enter and waved them in, nodding – somewhat pointlessly – over whatever the person on the other end of the line was saying. "Yes, yes, I understand. Of course. We’ll be right over. No, no – she’s here now. Yes. Yes, I will. Thank you."

He lowered the handset slowly, placing it back on the cradle with abstracted care. His eyes were flashing with a flare of anger – and more than a hint of fear. "Miss Summers," he pronounced, glaring at her with indignant fury. "So nice of you to join us."

"Well," Buffy blinked at him with bemusement, "I just got here …"

"I have been waiting for you for an hour," he pointed out, and she winced.

"Ah – yeah, well, ah – I – ah – I lost time talking to Mom, and then I had to go to the office and …"

"And when," he interrupted icily, "were you intending to tell me about last night, may I ask? Buffy," he remonstrated, slamming his hands flat on the counter. "I am your Watcher now. You should have called me as soon you could. Let me know what was happening. How dare you leave me in the dark like this "

"How – how dare I?" Something inside Buffy snapped. All the fear and the guilt and the frustration of the past few hours bubbled up with angry force. So, he knew. So what? She hadn’t called him, because there’d have been no point. He had no right to talk to her like that. "What gives you the right to order my life around? I don’t care what the Council says. You’re not my Watcher. You never will be. I didn’t ask you to come here, and I don’t want you to be here. Gilesis my Watcher. And he nearly died last night. Because of me. Because I wasn’t paying attention. Because I got cocky. What do you want of me, Wesley? You want me to call you out and make you a target too? She knew who I was, what he was. She attacked him to get at me – and she left him bleeding to death in my arms, just so that I would know how vulnerable the people I’m supposed to protect really are. There was nothing you could have done last night. Maybe I should have called." The anger was ebbing away, leaving a bleak and empty feeling in her heart. "Maybe I should have called everyone. Hey guys, Buffy here. I just let a vamp tear out Giles’ throat. You wanna be next?"

Xander was staring at her. So was Cordelia. "Oh, Buffy," Willow murmured, her voice filled with quiet horror. "Was it – bad?"

Buffy shuddered. The anger – which had mostly been for herself, and not for Wesley at all – was dying as quickly as it had flared. But the guilt just wouldn’t go away. "Bad. Badder. Baddest. If it hadn’t been for Angel …"

"Angelus was there?" Wesley questioned thoughtfully – and her fury surged back, this time absolutely directed at him.

"No," she snapped. "*Angel* was there. He stopped the bleeding. Saved his life." She stared at the Englishman with sudden suspicion. "How did you know, anyway? All I told the office was that – he wouldn’t be in today."

Wesley’s expression had lost its grim lines, folding down into wary concern. "That was – your mother on the phone," he said. "She’s at the hospital now. Apparently – apparently Mr Giles had some sort of seizure, sometime very early this morning. He’s in Intensive Care."

"Oh my God." Buffy went cold, all the way to her soul. "No … No. He was fine when I left. A little tired, a little confused maybe, but – the – the Doctor said he was going to be okay. He was going to be okay," she insisted, turning to Xander, who just gave her a helpless look.

"He will," Willow stated with a confidence she clearly didn’t feel. "He’s – Giles – you know? He’s tough. He’s all – Ripper ‘n stuff inside his tweed and – oh God, what if – what if he dies? Will – will he – I mean, will you have to …" She made a vague stabbing gesture and then let it go in horror; Buffy grabbed her hand and held it, trying to still the shaking in her own.

"Oh God," Cordelia reacted, having just realised what Willow meant. "You think he might - ?"

"Go all vampy and snarly on us?" Xander capped with a wince. "He might."

"I wouldn’t let that happen," Wesley announced firmly. "There are ways – decapitation’s usually an effective method …"

"Stopit," Buffy demanded sharply. "If it – if it comes to that, I will deal with it. But it’s not going to. He’s not going to die. But she is. Wesley, I – I need you to research this vamp – find out everything you can about her. I got a good look at her last night. There were some very distinctive markings – and she can’t have been in town long. We’d have heard about her if she had."

"You’re right," he agreed. "That’s the only logical course of action." He walked around the counter with brisk intent. "Willow? Can you check out the recent news? See if there’s been any unusual activity we need to be aware of? Xander, Cordelia – will you help her with that?"

"Sure," Xander nodded. "What are you going to be doing?"

"Driving Buffy to the hospital." He waved her towards the door, directing her to lead the way. "You can tell me all about her on the way – and – " He tried to look optimistic. "With luck – Mr Giles will be able to tell us a little more."

* * * * *

Nothing focused. Nothing made sense. Someone was speaking to him, and all he could hear was garbled noise, fading in and was touch, but he couldn’t feel exactly where – all but for the feel of fingers curled into his, and that seemed to come and go without rhyme or reason. Colours danced in front of his eyes. Even his sense of taste and smell was fluctuating, from strong, bitter flavours through overwhelming sweetness to absolutely nothing at all. He’d woken from panicked dreams to this strange, senseless world and a feeling that he was sinking into a bottomless pit, being dragged down, being dragged away.

It took everything he had to fight it. He closed his eyes, shutting out those vague swirling colours, and pushed away all thought of everything but the pressure of the hand that anchored him. Slowly – far too slowly – sensation consolidated into more recognisable perceptions. Not with absolute clarity perhaps, but enough to focus on, enough to make some sense of his world. There was someone holding his hand – someone with gentle, delicate fingers. The same someone whose voice was murmuring at him with anxious persistence. He thought he recognised the voice – but the words were harder to make out; they were muffled and blurred, like the sound from a badly tuned radio.

"Giles? … you … me? Let … know … can hear …"

He fought through the miasma of his fractured self and somehow managed to squeeze the hand with gentle pressure; its owner squeezed back with far greater strength – and he realised who it was with a twisted smile. "Buffy?" he breathed, opening his eyes and watching a blurred blob loom over him in shades of pink and gold.

"Yes. *Yes*. You can … me? See?" Her voice faded away again. "He … hear …"

"Barely." His fight for focus was frustrating. He’d just about get one sense in order, and the rest would just disintegrate around it. There was one good thing about it though. The previous night he’d felt bruised and battered, nursing a crushed and painful throat. Now nothing hurt. He couldn’t get his sensations together enough to register pain.

At least, that’s what he thought - until something suddenly yanked at him from nowhere, something that pulled tight coils of agony through every inch of his existence. It was as if someone were trying to rip him apart, or tear him inside out; it was less than a second of sensation, but it hurt like hell. He gasped in pain and terror, feeling everything he’d fought for dissipate back into disjointed shreds and formless perceptions.

"Giles! Giles!"

He surfaced again with desperate effort. He suspected he’d just clenched his hand hard enough to break bones – had the hand which held his not been that of a Slayer. Even so, it must have hurt.

"I’m – still with you. I - I think …" He wasn’t entirely sure. He thought there might be other people in the room, but they were beyond the confusion of his senses. It didn’t really matter that much. He suspected he didn’t have much time – and he had to warn Buffy, tell her that the vampire had done this to him. That brief moment of pain had been familiar – a match to the feel of phantom fingers digging through his skull. She’d cast some kind of spell over him. Stolen something, just as she’d threatened.

Buffy had to know how dangerous she really was.

There’d been a memory lurking - somewhere in the dissonant world of his dreams; something about an ancient vampire sorceress and a time when she had been unleashed to threaten the world. He couldn’t quite chase it down, but it was there – and he knew it would help, knew it might lead to a way to defeat her …

Buffy was trying to talk to him again; he was hearing only one word in three – or was it four? He pressed her fingers to get her attention, and he sensed her dip towards him as she leant in to catch his effort filled words.

"Spell," he whispered, unable to summon more from his voice than that. "She – did this. Sorceress. Old. Dangerous. Be careful." The reference he’d been wrestling for swam into his mind and he grasped it with determination. "Ask – Eva. Koenigsburg"

The pain surged back, another savage tug at his existence. His perceptions shattered under its impact, spinning him into a whirlpool of sound and fury, a storm that battered at him without respite. He inwardly howled in protest, fighting to hold on, to cling to the hand that anchored him – but even that was swept away.

* * * * *

"I’m sorry, Miss Summers, but we must sedate him."

The doctor was signalling to the nurse, putting out one hand for a syringe while the other pressed down on his patient’s shoulder, trying to keep him restrained. This convulsion was worse than the last. Buffy added her own strength to that of the doctor, holding her Watcher down as his body arched and shuddered under the impact of the sudden seizure. Giles’ fingers were locked around her own, a tight band of pressure that she ignored, instead, focussing her energies on keeping him still, on using her Slayer’s gifts to restrain the worst of the fit. It was a heart-wrenching task.

"Any news on the scan?" the doctor was asking, delicately sliding the point of a needle into the IV tube. The nurse shook her head.

"Not yet," she answered "Want me to chase it up?"

He nodded, his attention focussed on his patient. Whatever it was in the syringe, it worked miracles; Giles went limp, the tension draining away from his frame and his grimace of agony relaxing into slack oblivion. Buffy wasn’t sure which was worse. The fits were frightening, but the empty absence which replaced them was heartbreaking. The doctor seemed to think so too; his eyes betrayed his concern despite an attempt to keep his expression neutral. He checked the soft bleep of the heart monitor and then confirmed its message with his fingers, seeking the rhythm of his patient’s pulse under bruised and darkened skin.

"It’s – bad, isn’t it," Buffy said, reading the look that chased across his face. He looked up at her – and successfully fought for a smile.

"Early days yet, Miss Summers. Don’t look so worried. Soon as we figure out what’s going on, we’ll – do what we can. Tell me," he asked, glancing up at her mother, who’d moved to wrap her hands over Buffy’s shoulders. "If you know. Does he have a history of epilepsy? Anything like this happened before?"

"No." Buffy’s denial was wary; her mind had skittered through past encounters and what little she knew of Giles’ past. She didn’t think demonic possession counted. But it might … "I- I don’t think so."

"I can check," Wesley volunteered from the doorway. "I have – links with his family. Back in England."

"Would you?" The doctor looked relieved. "That would be helpful. If there’s a medical history …"

"I’ll see what I can do. Buffy – I really think we should be getting you back to school. Mr Giles is in good hands and – there’s nothing you can do here. Not for the moment, anyway."

"No," was her immediate protest, her hand tightening on the fingers still curled within her own. "I don’t – "

"He’s right, Buffy." Her mother’s own grip tightened, conveying sympathy, offering her comfort. "Mr Giles knows you have work to do. I’ll sit with him for a while if you like. And you can come back later – if that’s all right, doctor?"

"Yes, yes." The doctor was examining notes, frowning over what they told him. "I think so. It may help," he added, smiling at Buffy’s concern, giving her the whole ‘best bedside manner’ look. "Sometimes – in cases like this – a familiar presence, a friendly voice can anchor the patient. Help them focus, call them back."

"We can organise a rota," Wesley suggested sympathetically, trying to surreptitiously jerk his head towards the exit. He wasn’t quite signalling ‘I want to talk to you now,’ but it came pretty close. Buffy sighed, realising that he was right. Her mother too. She did have work to do. She had to find the vampire that had done this – find her and slay her, before she hurt anyone else.

It was what Giles would want her to do …

"I have to go," she told him, leaning forward to whisper the words, hoping he could hear her. "But I’ll be back, I promise. Don’t go anywhere, okay? Stay with me, Giles. I need you …" She slipped her hand out of his, gently laying it down on the covers and letting go of it with reluctance.

"He’ll be fine, Buffy." Her mother’s lie was oddly comforting; she smiled at her as she stood up, and let her slide into her place on the bedside chair. "I’ll call you if – "

"Thanks." Buffy didn’t want to go there. Nothing was going to happen. This wasn’t happening.

Except that it was, and it was all her fault. If only she’d been paying attention. If only she’d realised

"So," Wesley said briskly as the elevator doors closed in front of them and they were alone for a moment. "Next steps. We really haven’t got that much to go on. Those tattoos you described might get us somewhere, I suppose, but – uh … Did he say anything that might help? A name, a reference, anything like that? We’re going to need some direction here." Buffy, who’d been trying very hard not to think about what had just happened - about the horror of watching someone you love wracked by the throes of a life threatening fit – gave him a look of total disbelief.

"Yeah, right," she reacted. "Just follow the yellow brick road …"

"What?" the Englishman questioned, looking utterly bemused. "I’m sorry Buffy, but – "

"No," she said tightly, rounding on him with determined fury. She wasn’t really mad at him, but he was there, and she had to vent at someone. Anyone. "You’re not. You’re not sorry. This is just – business to you, isn’t it. Giles is back there, fighting for his life, fighting – god knows what – and you – you stand there, going by the manual and working down the checklist … God, don’t you care? Don’t you give a damn? I may not be Dorothy, and I’ve never been to Kansas, but – it seems I’ve got one Watcher with a misfiring brain and the other one without a heart … And we have to find the wicked witch, before she kills anyone else …" Her emotions were catching up with her. She wrestled for self control, feeling the guilt and the anger rip through her, shredding her soul, and clenching her heart with pain. "If he dies," she breathed, finding a point of bleak and bitter calm in the middle of the storm, "it will be my fault. I let her get to him. I was right there and she – she – " She made herself take several deep breaths. She had to use the anger, not let it cripple her. "It’s a spell," she announced. "He said it was a spell. Something she did. He said she was a sorceress. That she was old – and dangerous. And he told me to be careful …"

Wesley was watching her warily; her outburst had clearly shaken him. She wasn’t sorry for that. He had to learn. Her life wasn’t an intellectual exercise, something to be studied in books and discussed over tea. It was real. It was dangerous. And it was her destiny. It had been a lesson she, Giles and the Scoobies had learned together. He had a little catching up to do.

"He was right about that," he said cautiously. "But a spell? That doesn’t make sense. Why go to the trouble of calling on power and then attack your victim anyway?" The elevator doors opened and they spilled out into the day, heading out into the hospital lobby and the car park beyond. "You’re sure that’s what he said?" Wesley asked thoughtfully, once it was safe to speak again. "Was there anything else?"

Buffy shrugged. "Just a name. Eva somebody – Curnings … Curnisbuck … Curnings…"

"Koenigsburg?"

"That’s the one." She wasn’t sure she’d heard it right. Every word had been a struggle …

"He’s delirious." Wesley opened the car door and gestured her in. She climbed into the passenger seat, giving him a doubtful look. Giles hadn’t sounded delirious. He’d sounded desperate. "He must have seen me and – well," he dismissed off handedly. "We were planning to visit the Koenigsburg exhibition this weekend. Fascinating collection. Artifacts from all over the place. India, China. Africa, South America … All collected at the turn of the century and then locked up for decades. Fall of the Iron Curtain, you know?" His smile held echoes of Giles’ enthusiasm for things old and dusty and long forgotten. "Uncovered a lot of strange things in Eastern Germany. But I doubt it has any connection with your mysterious vampire. She doesn’t sound very German."

Buffy frowned, abstractedly massaging her fingers as she thought about what Giles had said. His hand had clenched around hers with decided force – but before that, before the fit had claimed him, his grip had been one of gentle insistence. He’d definitely been trying to tell her something …

"This exhibition," she asked. "Is it at the Museum?"

"Yes." Wesley glanced at her thoughtfully. "Is that important?"

"I don’t know." There was something … oh, yeah. "It might be. The policemen said – last night, the policeman at the hospital – he said there’d been two bodies. Both with their throats torn out. One was near the Zoo – but the first was somewhere near the museum. And we have a vamp with tribal type tattoos, messy eating habits – and an exhibition of old stuff … including stuff from Africa? We need to check that out."

"Well," he allowed, trying hard not sound dismissive, even though that’s exactly what he was being. "I suppose it wouldn’t hurt. I don’t expect you to find anything, but – I could write you and Willow a visit slip for this afternoon. School field trip, so to speak? The rest of us will hit the books." He paused at a junction, taking the opportunity to give her an encouraging look. "We’ll find something, Buffy. And – we’ll organise that rota. Make sure Giles isn’t alone when he wakes up."

‘When’, not ‘if’. Buffy found him a grateful smile. Maybe her tin woodsman had a heart after all.

Read: Chapter 4