Out Of Africa - Chapter 7
written by Pythia

The walk to the library seemed interminable. Life at Sunnydale High swirled around her, filled with eager conversations, carefree laughter and the sound of slamming locker doors. None of it touched her. It didn’t even seem real. Reality was a sterile room filled with muted monitors and a single, silent occupant. She’d sat there for most of the night – would still be sitting there, in fact, if her mother hadn’t come in the early hours and sent her home to sleep.

She hadn’t. Not much, anyway. When she had, her dreams had been filled with exotic vampires who fought like wild animals and painted the world in blood.

"Ah, Buffy." Wesley was infuriatingly bright that morning. He ushered her in, pulled out a chair and motioned with enthusiasm for her to sit. "You’re a little late, but – we’ve been working very hard, and we have a lot to tell you. Um – " he glanced around, and started scrabbling in among the paperwork on the table. "Cordelia? Have you seen that copy of the translation I was working on?"

"You had it over here," Cordelia suggested, going to help him look. Buffy sighed and slumped back against the chair.

Xander, who was sitting next to Willow on the other side of the table, gave her a sympathetic look. "The G-man’s no better, is he," he murmured softly. "Didn’t he wake up when the drugs wore off?"

Buffy sighed. "Not – exactly. Angel was right," she admitted reluctantly. "He’s just not there."

"But he’s got to be there." Willow frowned, leaning in to join the conversation. "I mean – how can anyone be there and not be there?"

"I don’t know." Buffy had heard the doctors trying to explain it to her Mom – and she hadn’t understood a word of what they’d said. She wasn’t entirely sure her Mom had either. "The engine’s running, the lights are on – and no-one’s at the wheel. The doctors are going crazy trying to figure it out."

"I always said he’d wake up in a coma one day," Cordelia contributed brightly. Xander winced. Willow rolled her eyes – and Buffy threw her an angry glare.

"It’s not coma," she declared tightly. Her mom had suggested that – and had been on the receiving end of a whole slew of medical gobbledegook which they’d eventually deciphered as being a confused way of saying ‘no, that’s not it at all …’ "They don’t know what it is. All the tests indicate he’s awake – but he’s not making any response. To anything. He’s just shut down completely. It’s like he’s locked inside his skull; nothing’s getting in, and nothing’s getting out. They seem to think …" she hesitated, recalling the doctor’s words and the worried look in his eyes. "Well, they don’t know, but – there’s something about sensory deprivation and needing to break the fugue because … Because," she concluded with a gulp, "if they don’t? He could go mad. Or just never come back. Or something."

Willow caught her hand and gave it a sympathetic squeeze.

"Sensory deprivation’s not so bad," she said. "People pay to experience it. As therapy. It’s supposed to be good for the soul."

Xander snorted. "Where were you when I rented Altered States?" he asked grimly. "That’s bad stuff, Will. Major wiggage. Head trips and hallucinations. Freaky light shows." He frowned, thinking about it. "You know, for Giles? That might be like re-living the Ripper thing." His frown got deeper. "I so don’t want to go there."

"He might be pretty down with it," Oz offered, coming down from the stacks with a pile of books. "A chance to be centred. All that stillness and stuff."

"I just think it’d be creepy," Cordelia said, handing Wesley a piece of paper. He smiled and nodded, adding it to the sheaf he already had in his hand. "Being locked in your head with no-one but yourself as company. That time – I went blind? That was bad. Darkness and stuff. But – that?" She shuddered. "I’d want out in seconds. You think he’s screaming in there – only nobody knows?"

Buffy echoed the shudder. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what it might be like.

"Giles wouldn’t be screaming," Willow protested loyally. "Would he?" Oz smiled at her, dropping the books onto the table and sliding into an empty seat so he could start looking through them.

"I think that’s highly unlikely," Wesley announced, sweeping the remaining papers to one side and carefully laying out the ones he’d extracted. "Part of a Watcher’s training is in certain – aspects of mental discipline. I suspect his situation isn’t pleasant, but I believe it’s reasonable to assume that he’s managing to cope with it. There are probably a number of things you should be worried about, but I can assure you that Mr Giles’ sanity is not one of them."

Not … Buffy stared at him, feeling an odd combination of hope and fear churn through the cold weight that had settled in her stomach. "You know what she did to him, don’t you," she accused quietly. "Why didn’t you say something?"

"Because – initially - I wasn’t sure." Wesley looked up from the spread of faxes and photocopies to meet her eyes with anxious consideration. "Now, I am. I know what she did, and I think I know why she did it. She is incredibly dangerous, and she must be stopped." He paused, his expression quietly challenging. "No matter what the cost, she has to be stopped. You do understand that, don’t you Buffy?"

No matter what?

Cold icy fingers clenched around the Slayer’s heart. She understood all right. He was telling her that Giles might have to be sacrificed …

"What do you know, Wesley?" she demanded tightly.

"Yeah," Xander chipped in. "Give us the low downage, British guy mark two."

Wesley gave them both a smug look. "She stole his ka."

"No, she didn’t," Cordelia said puzzledly. "I mean – who’d want it? It’s a wreck."

"Not his car," the Watcher corrected with a hint of a scowl. "His ka. His spirit, his soul, his - essence, if you like. She needs it. Or rather, she needs the aid of a living man, and – since it’s highly unlikely she’d be able to persuade a suitable candidate to help her out voluntarily – I believe she’s simply taken steps to get exactly what she needs - on her own terms."

He self-consciously adopted a lecturing pose – which he probably thought carried authority, but simply made him look more pompous than ever. "Asha Lilithu is a very old, and very powerful vampire," he announced. "So old, that she appears in myths and legends pre-dating the early Egyptian dynasties. It’s entirely possible that she is one of the original vampires, one created before the true demons abandoned, or were driven, from this realm. At one time, she was so powerful that she held sway over a great swathe of territory in Northern Africa – and stood behind the Egyptian throne, controlling the priests and their sorcerer kings. She was treated like a goddess. Offered tribute and human sacrifice. It’s said she wrestled the secrets of sorcery from Ra himself – and rivalled Isis in her beauty and her power. Myth, of course – but one that probably holds more than a grain of truth to it. We are talking about a creature who was, at one time, capable of dominating the will of entire nations. Who revelled in slaughter and torture, who commanded armies – and sent them into battle merely so that she could savour the anguished cries of the wounded and the dying."

"Into the pain thing," Buffy acknowledged uneasily, remembering the gleam of golden eyes. "Yeah. I kinda got that."

"And dangerous with it," Wesley went on firmly. "She could control the minds of men, manipulate the elements and summon terrifying power. Her offspring were savage, and her hunger was insatiable."

"Uh – question?" Xander put up a hesitant hand. "If - she’s so sure fire kick assness, how’s Buffy supposed to stop her?"

The Watcher smiled – another of those smug ‘I know something you don’t‘ smiles. "She doesn’t." He paused for dramatic effect. "I do."

"You?" Willow blurted out before she could stop herself. "Uh – I mean – you? Why? How?"

"With the help of some very ancient sorcerer priests." Wesley was definitely in ‘smug’ mode; he couldn’t quite hold back his quiet smile of triumph. "I’ve been studying Webber’s papers," he explained, pointing at the faxes which were now spread across the table. "And it is absolutely fascinating material. I’m still working my way through the translations but – uh – I think I have the gist of it now. You see," he said, launching back into his explanatory lecture with enthusiasm, "Lilithu – while still very dangerous – no longer has the kind of power to which she once laid claim. It was stolen from her. The men that took it turned it against her, used it to bind and contain her – intending, it would appear, to subject her to a particular ritual which was designed to destroy her. For some reason the ritual was never completed. Lilithu lay bound - until Marcus Koenisburg dug her up and she was able to wriggle free of her bonds. Yes, Willow?"

Willow had raised a tentative hand. "Uh – if she broke free back in Germany? How come she’s here now?"

Wesley smiled at her. "Ah," he said, reaching to shuffle some of the papers so that he could bring two particular pages to light. "Well … It’s not clear from the diaries, but looking at the papers the Council sent, I think Webber managed to decipher most of what was on the tablet. It’s a record of how the priests of Isis conspired against Lililthu, bound her ‘ren’ - her name – into a staff they had made and then used it to steal her ‘shuwt,’ or shadow. Once they had that, they had power over her; they intended to bind her and then destroy her once and for all. They explained it all very carefully. Including, I believe, laying out the entire ritual needed to complete the task. Now-" He shuffled a few more papers, discarding one with a frown and then producing a second with a look of relief. "Webber’s work starts out in a very ordered and meticulous manner, but after a few pages it becomes disjointed. Hastily written. And the last two or three are little more than scribbled notes – the originals of which, I suspect, are heavily bloodstained."

He pushed the relevant document towards Buffy, who frowned at it. The fax was blurred and blotchy, a copy of a copy – but there was a spattering of shaded shapes obscuring some of the text, and if they weren’t blood, then someone had very carelessly spilt coffee over the manuscript. The Slayer looked up, catching the glint of enthusiasm that fired the blue eyes lurking behind a studious layer of glass. Webber had been a Watcher. Like Wesley. Like Giles. He’d have been drinking tea. And he’d have never spilt anything over something this important. "Blood," she affirmed with a shiver, remembering what Albrecht had told her. "They ripped him apart, Wesley. Lilithu and her children." She paused, needing to draw in a shaky breath.

"And they killed his Slayer," Willow concluded for her with a wince, knowing it needed to be said and clearly wishing she hadn’t had to be the one to say it.

"Yes," Wesley acknowledged, not entirely without sympathy. "I know. Probably in front of him, but – I believe that Eva’s sacrifice bought him precious time. Time to start the ritual, even if he didn’t manage to complete it. Lilithu was bound, and the only way that could happen was if someone used the staff to turn her power against her. "

"Staff," Buffy said. "Long white thing, made from ivory?"

The Englishman frowned at her. "Ivory? Yes – yes, that would fit the description."

"It’s in the museum." The Slayer shared a look with her best friend. "We saw it. Wait a minute," she frowned. "Sense much? Sunnydale being hellmouthy might wake her up, but – if this staff thing holds her power – why didn’t she just pick it up and walk out with it?"

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "Why leave the major mojo stick behind? Wouldn’t that be the one thing she wanted?"

"Yes, it would be – but she had no choice." Wesley was looking thoughtful again. By now, Giles would have been busy polishing his glasses. "Lilithu cannot touch the staff. It was created to defeat her, and the priests that made it made sure she couldn’t just take it away and use it herself. It requires a certain kind of spirit to wield it. Certain – conditions. One of which," he announced, "is that the wielder has a soul."

Buffy blinked at him. "A soul?" she echoed. "Like Angel?"

The Watcher reacted to that suggestion with a sound half snort and half choke of surprise. "Hardly," he dismissed, looking a little pained. "The staff was designed to reject *any* dead creature, soul or no soul. The rite requires the essence of life, both the presence of the heart – the ‘ib’ – and the ‘akh’. That’s the immortal unification of the ‘ba’ and the ‘ka’. The soul and the living spirit if you like. Your Angel may qualify for one, but the other is sadly missing from the equation." He curled a little half smile onto his lips. "I very much doubt that he can speak Ancient Egyptian either."

"The way you can," Cordelia supplied with a bright smile. Wesley smiled back, no doubt pleased that someone was following his explanation. Buffy’s anxious frown deepened as she tried to understand what he was telling them.

"Let me get this straight," Xander said, his own frown just as deep. "These – priesty guys pull a sneak on the bitca from hell, stuff her own power into this neato vamp zapper – and hang ‘undead do not touch’ signage all over the thing. That’s pretty cool." He looked at Oz for support. "Don’t you think that’s cool?"

"Definite unhotness," Oz agreed distractedly. He frowned at the pages he was looking at, closed the book with a snap and moved on to the next one.

Willow nodded. "Positively polar," she said. Wesley gave all three of them a look of bemusement.

"Yes … Well - that aside, the staff is Lilithu’s weakness. Her Achilles heel, if you like. And since it’s in the museum, then we can seize the opportunity to deal with her once and for all."

"I’m all for that," Buffy said. "But – I still don’t get it. She can’t touch the staff, so she can’t use it. Surely she’d have tried to destroy it or something? So that we can’t. Use it, that is. Against her."

Wesley sighed, turning to lean against the table so that he could give her his full attention. "It’s destruction is the last thing she wants, Buffy. What she wants is for someone to complete the ritual."

"What?" The Scoobies chorused, and he sighed a second time. Heavily.

"There’s a moment – close to the end of the conjouring – when the rite can turn either way. With one phrasing and pronunciation, her power can be used against her and she will be destroyed. Change – oh, two, three words – and instead of turning on her, her power will be returned to her. That’s what she’s going to want. To be what she used to be, to have the world at her feet."

"Figures." Buffy heaved small sigh of her own. "Bad guyage or bad girlness - they either want to rule the word or destroy it. The Mayor would probably give her a civic award."

"You think?" Willow asked. "Freedom of the city perhaps?"

"This isn’t funny," Wesley said sternly. "And whatever the Mayor’s intentions, I can assure you they will pale before whatever Lilithu has planned. If she is freed …"

"Yeah, but – " Xander protested. "That a ‘no way’, right? You just said she can’t touch the staff. And what kinda crazy demento is gonna do this ritual thingy on her behalf?"

His expression suggested no-one – but Buffy’s stomach tied itself into a knot and turned a couple of somersaults for good measure. "Giles," she breathed with horror, colliding with the inevitable conclusion, the final understanding of the irony in Lilithu’s attack. Xander looked at her as if she’d gone crazy.

"The G-man? Not gonna happen, Buffster. Last thing he’d ever do is free something this bad newsy."

"He may not have a choice." Wesley glanced across at Oz. "Have you found that reference yet?"

"Uh – " Oz frowned. "Think so …" He pushed the book he’d been looking at across the table. "Remembered I’d seen this a while back. When we were looking into Angel’s curse" he added apologetically. Buffy shivered, remembering those days only too well. She reached out and pulled the book towards her, scanning the entry that sat on the open pages.

"Tomb guardians and burial rites?" she queried puzzledly. "What’s that got to do … oh." The answer was written in front of her in black and white and Victorian sketched images.

"Yes," Wesley noted, moving to loom over her shoulder so that he could read the relevant passages. Buffy threw him an irritated look. She never minded when Giles did that; his presence was always supportive, reassuring and oddly comforting – but her new Watcher was still, somewhere inside her head, one of them. The Council’s lackey. The bunch of jerks who’d fired Giles because he had the gall and the guts to care about her. She’d lost all faith in the Council that day – and found the strength to put it back where it belonged, in the hands of her mentor, the man currently lying helpless and lost to Lilithu’s power.

Lost heart and soul, if the entry Oz had found really did mean what it seemed to imply.

The Watcher at her shoulder nodded thoughtfully. "This would seem to fit. Not an entirely appropriate use of the process, perhaps, but this is undoubtedly magic that Lilithu would be familiar with."

"Ya think?" Buffy grimaced unhappily. This wasn’t just gross, it was – well, completely in the wiggins zone.

"Spill, Buff," Xander requested, reacting to the look which had crossed her face. "Can’t be that gruesomely gruesome. Can it?"

"It can and it is," she answered, pushing the book towards Willow and feeling slightly nauseous. "Wes – that’s just – sick."

Wesley looked uncomfortable. "Yes, well, I - uh – suppose it is. But it is the most likely explanation. With something like this, Lilithu could fool the staff and still dictate the outcome of the ritual."

"Oh," Willow reacted, having read the entry, "that’s totally gross." A beat later she added: "This is – Giles is – eww." Her nose wrinkled in decided distress, a reaction Buffy could more than sympathise with.

"What?" Xander demanded, dragging the book towards him. "What are we talking about? This stuff?" He ran his finger down the page and began to read the words out loud. "’There were certain priests who, having mastered the rites of Thoth, had the skill to divorce the spirit from the body. To create an immortal guardian for a royal tomb, they would choose a suitable candidate, cast the spells of division over him and – while the strength of his heart and the essence of his spirit lay separate from his flesh – they would embalm the empty shell that remained. Once so prepared, the spirit could be returned to its true vessel, creating a living mummy, no longer subject to the processes of decay. The guardian would be wrapped and bound, and placed within the tomb, ready to rise and wreak revenge on any who disturbed their master’s rest.’ Whoa. Curse of the Mummy’s tomb stuff. They really did this? That’s actually pretty cool. In a – gross me out and remind me not to Indiana any pyramids kinda way."

Buffy frowned at him, jabbing her finger at the rest of the entry.

"Okay – ah – ‘In order to carry out this ritual, the priests would first execute a slave. This would provide a fresh corpse into which the displaced soul could be bound while the guardian’s body was prepared. This corpse provided nothing more than a convenient vessel, one which would be later discarded. Scrolls from this period suggest that the host corpse was ‘not subject to the will of its passenger,’ but had to be ‘bid to behave’ by the priests. There was one acolyte, named ‘the speaker to the dead’ whose job was to keep constant company with the bound spirit, so that the guardian did not succumb to madness during his enforced imprisonment. Since the process of embalming can take several weeks it is likely that this temporary shell would be well rotted by the time the guardian’s spirit was returned to its true body. One can only conjecture as to what such an experience might be like; trapped in a decaying corpse, using its senses yet being totally unable to influence its actions …" Xander’s expression had been deepening back into an anxious frown the more he read. By the time he’d reached the concluding line, his face was creased into disgust and disbelief. "They have got to be kidding, right? I mean – " He glanced up, to catch the look on the Watcher’s face, and went a little pale. "They’re not kidding, are they …"

Wesley shook his head. "I’m afraid not. There is at least one entry in the Watcher’s diaries which details an encounter with just such a tomb guardian – a living spirit which inhabited an embalmed body. These kind of rites would be kept a closely guarded secret; one known only to the most senior and powerful of priests – but this is exactly the kind of magic that Lilithu would have access to. She would also know how to corrupt it. How," he added significantly, "to use it against an unwilling victim rather than a volunteer."

Cordelia had reached across to pull the book towards her so she could take a look. Her expression, which had been somewhat bemused during Xander’s recitation, finally became one of horrified comprehension. "Eww," she exclaimed, pushing the book away. "Too much information. And complete ickyness. This is what she did to Giles? You think he - he’s out there – somewhere …"

"Wrapped in a dead man’s skin?" Wesley completed, since she clearly couldn’t bring herself to say it. "Yes, I do."

Buffy shivered, thinking about how still and pale and how ‘not there‘ Giles had seemed back at the hospital. Somewhere, out there, wrapped in a dead man’s skin … She couldn’t imagine it. She didn’t even want to.

"But why?" Willow asked, seeking the comfort of Oz’s hand across the table. "I mean – why Giles? Wouldn’t just anyone do?"

"I wouldn’t have thought so," the Englishman said, his expression slightly pained. "As I said – the ritual of the staff requires that certain – conditions are met. Particular initiations, mastery of certain rites …"

"Giles is a Watcher, Will," Buffy interrupted the threatened lecture with a sense of impatience. She thought it was pretty obvious why Lilithu had picked the man she had. "My Watcher. Way too good a target to resist. She found out about Slayers facing Eva, right? And it was her Watcher that used the staff and stopped her. So, she wakes up in Sunnydale, and there I am, busy kicking vampire butt with Giles making with the whole ringside commentaryness – she musta thought it was her birthday or something."

"I get it," Xander said. "She needs someone to do the whole ritual on a stick thing. She knows a Watcher can do it. So when she spots the two of you doing the vampy destructo stuff, she decides to snaffle Giles – giving her* a potential ticket to world domination and leaving the Buffster here without a Watcher to figure out what she’s up to."

"Killing two birds with one bite," Oz observed with a quiet frown.

Buffy nodded. "Exactly. Besides," she added, unable to resist the quiet dig at the man still hovering at her shoulder, "know anyone else around here who’s an expert on this kind of stuff?"

Several pairs of eyes swung in Wesley’s direction, and he looked vaguely abashed. "I – uh – may not have Mr Giles’ experience in this kind of thing," he said determinedly, "but I feel sure I am equally qualified to attempt the ritual. Once I’ve completed transcribing Dr. Webber’s translations, of course."

"Of course." Buffy’s earlier sense of helpless despair had been replaced by determined hope. Let Lilithu think the Slayer was helpless and she was calling the shots. She had no idea of the true situation and Buffy had no intention of enlightening her until it was too late for her to do anything about it. Although her Watcher was out of action – and apparently conscripted to the enemy’s cause – the Scoobies were still on the case. Wesley would be their secret weapon, and – with luck – they’d engineer a pre-emptive strike long before the vampire realised what was happening. "Okay, guys. Here’s what we’ll do. We take time out on Giles watch for today, because – well, he’s not exactly there to watch, right? Wes’ll figure out the staff stuff – and the rest of us will hit the books."

"Looking for what?" Xander asked.

"Rites of Thoff – or Thoth, or whatever his name was. Come on, guys. If there’s a spell of division, there’s got to be a spell of reconnection, or something. The book said as much. We just have to find the right rite – and we can rescue Giles. Get him back. Before she makes him do something we’ll all regret."

Read: Chapter 8