Out Of Africa - Chapter 8
written by Pythia





Lilithu sat back on her heels, considering her captive with decided relish. "Up," she commanded, backing the order with an imperious gesture. The corpse – or the magic that animated it – clearly understood pre-dynastic Egyptian, because it immediately did as it was bid, climbing to its feet with awkward, sluggish movements. Giles cursed inwardly, exercising every mental effort to take control and making absolutely no impact whatsoever. He was just an unwilling passenger in this – a prisoner, helpless to act, powerless to interfere.

Now that he had some idea of what had been done to him, the sheer repulsiveness of his situation had begun to register. The body he occupied had been dead for nearly a week. Fluid had gathered in its limbs and gas was beginning to bloat its body cavities. The decay he could taste was his own, the swollen, sticky surface of a dead tongue in a dead mouth. His senses churned at the realisation – and he wondered if, somewhere in the depths of Sunnydale General, his own body was responding to his overwhelming desire to throw up.

A piece of him rather hoped it might. There’d be a certain satisfaction in denying Lilithu whatever it was she had planned simply because he’d choked to death on his own vomit – messy though – and, all in all, not a nice way to die. She needed him alive; that much was clear.

He rather needed that too …

"Good," the vampiress decided, rising to her own feet with sensuous ease. "Very good." She began to stalk around him, studying her work with critical consideration. "Good enough, I think, to do what must be done. But we must move quickly. This vessel will not serve my purpose for long." She paused to run her hand over the dead man’s shoulder and down his arm, a contact that Giles would have jerked away from if he could. "The spell will hold, of course. As long as I wish it. Forever, if I so desired."

He’d watched her move out of the line of his vision, exasperatingly conscious of his inability to affect the body he inhabited. He couldn’t turn the corpse’s head, or even its flick lifeless eyes in her direction. The dead man stared straight ahead, the living man he imprisoned wrestling with rising frustration. He was totally helpless, yet intimately cognisant of his environment. He could feel, see, hear, even taste everything his host was subject to – the rumple of ill-fitting jeans, the pinch of too-tight boots, the feel of dried blood caked on bare skin, the echo of animal dung that lingered in the air – and the bubble of fluids fermenting in a decaying gut.

Lilithu reappeared in front of him, her smile both calculated and cruel. Her teasing, possessive caress slid up the corpse’s bloodstained chest until she could use her taloned fingers to turn its face towards hers. "When you are truly mine," she smiled, speaking to the man rather than the flesh that held him. "I will teach you this trick. Teach you how to steal the hearts of our enemies. How to enslave them to your will and make them do whatever you desire. And when we are finished playing our games, we will bury them in the cold ground and leave them to rot. Awake. Aware. And cursing my name for eternity …" She finished the thought with a laugh that made his blood run cold. The relish in her voice and the amusement in her eyes added further horror to her words. Giles found himself wondering if she’d already subjected some helpless soul to such a fate – and his mind recoiled from the concept with a terrified shudder.

To be trapped – like this – forever

Panic threatened to overwhelm him a second time, and he thrust it away with a determined effort. There was nothing he could do to influence his situation, but he could – and would – choose how he coped with it. Distress and mental dissolution would only intensify the experience; succumb to it, and he would sink, inevitably, into madness. Which was probably what she wanted. Why she was taking such delight in taunting him.

Knowing that – knowing that escape was impossible and that retreat would only further her aims – he chose the only option open to him; that of resolute defiance and dogged endurance. Rupert Giles could be a very stubborn man when he needed to be. He’d demonstrated as much resisting Angelus’ tender attentions, and he’d learned from that experience, had learned something of his limits, his weaknesses – and his strengths. He might be trapped and helpless, but until hope – and faith – utterly deserted him, he had something to fight for. Something to fight with. And even after that, there was obstinate, determined pride to fall back on. He’d be damned – literally damned – if he gave this she-demon the satisfaction of his surrender.

Lilithu was smiling at him, almost as if she’d followed the convolutions of his thoughts. "What do you cling to in there?" she wondered, studying his eyes and finding amusement in what she saw. Defiance mostly – along with angry hostility and a hint or two of hate. "Hope? There’s little of that left to you. Your sweet Slayer is alone and helpless. She knows nothing of your fate – only that I have taken you from her – and without your wisdom to guide her, she can do nothing but stumble in the dark. You are my slave - and when our work is done, I will rule your world. What hope can remain in that?"

Giles didn’t answer her. He couldn’t. But he smiled to himself, knowing full well that Buffy was neither helpless – or alone. His Slayer was strong willed, determinedly unconventional and unquestionably the brightest and best of her line. Wesley might lack experience – and backbone – but he was a trained Watcher, and perfectly capable of unravelling Lilithu’s mysteries. If*he had sufficient information to work with, of course. The two of them had the rest of the Scoobies to back them up, Xander and Willow, Oz – even Cordelia. They’d be busy being supportive and helpful and contributive, the way they always did.

Then there was Angel …

The vampiress was dark, deadly and very dangerous, but she was also over
confident and ignorant of the forces which were working against her. There lay the hope which sustained him, the knowledge that darkness could be defeated and the world saved, despite overwhelming odds. There might well be casualties – and he strongly suspected that he might be one of them, given his current condition – but he was prepared for that. More than prepared, he would willingly sacrifice himself if doing so gave his Slayer the edge she needed.

There was one more thing, one deep seated, confident faith, one without rhyme or reason, and yet anchored so firmly in his heart that nothing would shake it free. In life or death, in hope or in despair, no matter what, no matter how – he knew that Buffy would prevail.

"It is of no account," Lilithu decided dismissively. "Believe what you will, defy me as much as you wish; this flesh will do only what I command, and your fate is in my hands. We have work to do, and little time left in which to do it. Words must be spoken – and the tongue you wear must be able to speak them."

She placed her hands flat against the dead man’s chest and pushed, gently. Trapped air –and other gases – surged up, stirring a quiet groan. "Breathe," she commanded, and the corpse obeyed, dragging cold air back into flaccid lungs. A parody of breath, one that – once again – stirred a strong desire to vomit. The experience was nauseating. And utterly inescapable.

"Speak as I speak," the vampire ordered. "Powers of earth, powers of sky."

"Pouergs ov earf, powgers of shigh," the dead man echoed, mangling the sounds into incomprehensible nonsense. Lilithu cursed, lifted her hand and slapped his face. The blow twisted an unresisting neck and sent a jolt of pain through her prisoner’s senses. Giles hadn’t just felt that. The blow had been hard enough to bring tears to his eyes.

He wondered if it had …

"Again," she commanded angrily, then thrust her hand over his mouth, silencing the corpse’s attempt to speak. "Speak slowly. Master every word." The look she shared with the captive Watcher held knowing irony. "One mistake, one wrong pronunciation – and I will be bound, not free. Yes," she said, "the litany is that close. The one before you – the one that I will curse for eternity – so nearly completed it. He was so much in pain. And so desperate. Her blood was on my hands and he hated me with a vengeance. I had hopes he would misspeak the words. Would give me what I truly desired. But I was wrong. Only his death defeated him; the staff rejected his flesh – the same way it would reject this, were you not bound within it. I cannot trust to chance. This - this is a surer way. Cloaking my desire with a spirit the staff will answer too. And you will gain no profit from that knowledge, Watcher," she purred, reaching to stroke the now damaged cheek. "You will only watch – as I am finally set free."

* * * * *

"Any joy? Anyone?" Buffy pushed away what had to be the eighth or ninth book away from her, asking her question hopefully, but with the distinct feeling that hope was spiralling away from her with increasing speed. She’d wrestled her way through texts on Egyptian burial rites, translations of obscure papyri, and endless transcriptions of hieroglyphs from equally obscure tombs. She’d learnt more about the myths of Osiris and the process of embalming than she’d ever wanted to know, and she was no closer to finding a way of restoring Giles’ soul to its rightful place than she’d been before she started.

Xander sighed, pushing the book he’d been reading away with almost exactly the same despairing gesture. "Nada," he declared gloomily. "I can tell you how to speak to crocodiles, predict the flooding of the Nile, or part the waters of the Reed sea. But nothing of any use. Although," he realised thoughtfully, "I guess the ‘part the waters’ stuff might come in pretty handy next time my basement floods …"

"Zippo joyness here," Cordelia reported, throwing down her chosen text with a grimace. "These Egypt guys were just too weird for words. All this ‘part man, part hippopotamus’ stuff. And they were – like – totally obsessed with burying people. But I found this really neat text about eye make up, you know? So it hasn’t been a total waste."

Buffy threw her an irritated look. It was never worth wasting energy on Cordelia, but she did wish that sometimes the girl could distinguish between the things that were desperately important and those that were vaguely important to her.

"Ooh, ooh " Willow exclaimed suddenly. "I think I got something. Listen: ‘the tomb of Thuth Ut-imshep, high priest of Thoth, held many inscriptions concerning the activities within the temple. When we finally entered the central vault, it was to find that much of the work had been destroyed by smoke, since local farmers had been using the chambers as shelters against the coldness of the desert night …’ Oh," she realised, looking crestfallen. "Not much help, guys. Sorry."

"Wait," Oz requested, moving to peer over his girlfriend’s shoulder. "’Thuth Ut-imshep.’ Wasn’t there something about him in one of the grimoires we looked at earlier?"

"Try the ‘Aurum Principali,’" Wesley offered abstractedly, his eyes fixed firmly on the papers in front of him. "Damn."

"Problem?" Buffy asked worriedly, not liking the sound of such a heartfelt exclamation. Oz patted Willow’s shoulder and headed back up into the stacks. The Watcher sighed, putting down his pen and reaching to run his hand across the back of his neck.

"Unfortunately, yes. I’ve managed to piece together the ritual, almost word for word – but the last few lines appear to be missing. By the look of it, Webber was still working on the final He may have completed the translation – but if he did, it isn’t here."

"Damn," Xander echoed, acknowledging the frustration of that discovery – and possibly that of a whole wasted day, since without the final words the ritual wouldn’t be of much use to anyone. Buffy, on the other hand, felt distinctly encouraged. She hadn’t expected Wesley to get this far, this quickly.

"That’s the only thing that’s missing? The last couple of lines? You have everything else you need?"

"Well," he was reluctant to commit himself. "I think so. But the text is very uncertain in places. And getting this *exactly* right is crucial to the whole process. Besides – without the final lines, there isn’t much point to the exercise. I might be able to bind Lilithu on a temporary basis – but with the influence of the Hellmouth, she’d only break free again." Wesley sighed a second time, looking decidedly disheartened. "I’m sorry, Buffy. I really thought we could pull this off."

"We can and we will," she said, bouncing to her feet with determination. "These missing line things – they’re on the tablet, right?"

"Right."

"And you could read the tablet, now that you’ve got the rest of it figured out?"

"Well, yes but – "

"No buts," she told him firmly, pulling his jacket off the back of a chair and handing it to him. "The tablet’s in the Museum, remember? Along with the staff, which we have to get anyway, so – "

He smiled. "- we just go to the Museum and finish everything there. Excellent thinking, Buffy. I must say, that hadn’t occurred to me."

She grinned at him, refraining from pointing out that – not only would Giles have thought of it, he’d have probably insisted on heading straight to the Museum as soon as he realised that he didn’t have the whole of the text in front of him.

"Got it " Oz’s voice announced in triumph as he emerged from the stacks carrying one of Giles’ biggest and most ponderous of tomes – the kind of book that lived on the floor because it was too heavy for a shelf. "There’s a reference in here to Imshep – and something about empty vessels and recalling a lost heart … I think. I’m kinda out when it comes to Medieval French," he explained apologetically.

"Let me see," Willow said, pushing away the books which she’d been working through. "I do good French. Well – goodish French. The olde-worlde stuff anyway. Giles is teaching me."

"Really?" Wesley looked surprised. Buffy looked relieved.

"Yay, Giles," Xander grinned, helping Oz settle the huge book on the table. "And yay, Will. Hidden depths, much?"

Willow coloured a little at the praise. "I thought it might be useful," she said. "And – hey." She waved at the book. "Usefulness."

"Much usefulness," Buffy agreed, blinking at the close text and all the curlicue letters it was written in.

"Whoa " She grabbed Wesley before he could lean in too closely. "Let’s not mix language and rituals here, okay? You stay in Egypt mode. Will – go French."

"On it," her friend assured her, her smile dropping into a frown of concentration as she studied the intricate writing. "From the mouth of Imshep, master of life in death – spells to waken those gone ahead, ways to speak to departed spirits … No, no … Wait – yes … a sacrament to recall one divided… This has got to be it. Prayers to protect the returning heart … to guide a wandering soul back to the vessel of its life …" The young witch looked up with excitement. "Buffy, this is just what we were looking for. It’s all the counterspell stuff. I think I can do this. I know I can do this. There’s just a couple of things I’m going to need …"

* * * * *

"Better," Lilithu decided, although her voice held a hint of angry impatience. Giles wasn’t surprised to hear it. She’d been working on the ritual for most of the day, repeating the litany over and over again, trying to impress its intricate phrasing into the dead man’s memory. It was clear that corpses – especially magically animated ones – didn’t have much in the way of retention skills. The process had been both slow and increasingly frustrating. For everyone concerned.

He’dbeen word perfect in the recitation by the second or third repetition, and by now could practically quote it backwards. He knew which pronunciations would bind and destroy her, which would release her power, and which would simply destroy the staff. He also knew that, once started, the ritual had to be carried through to the bitter end. The litany focused a great deal of power through both staff and speaker. If the rite were not properly completed – or, for that matter, if the one conducting it was not able to control what he summoned – then there was a good chance that the raw forces it invoked would consume the wielder of the staff along with the demoness it was designed to destroy.

"They were fearful. Desperate," she’d said, speaking of the priests who’d conspired against her. "Sons of desert jackals most of them. Only one was worthy enough to wield the staff once it was made – and he paid a high price for the theft of my shadow. Too high. When the time came to confront me, he no longer had the strength to speak the words through to the end. I was bound – but he failed to destroy me. I survived him. I survived them all. Their ambitions have come to nothing – and soon I will be free again."

Learning all of this – learning the ritual and all its dangerous variations – had given the captive Watcher something to focus on. Something other than his appalling situation that was. Each hour that he endured was worse than the last, an intolerable nightmare from which he could not wake and in which he could find no refuge. His eyes burned, his vision unrelieved by blink or shift in perspective. His skin itched, his clothing chafed and he could do nothing to discourage the flies and other insects which crawled over him, feeding off putrefying flesh – or else laying eggs so that their offspring could profit from his decay. Lilithu did little to discourage them either; she amused herself by plucking fat bottle flies from among those clustering at the corners of his mouth and eyes – and crunching on them as if they were fat juicy raisins.

"Again," she would command, and the corpse would speak, slurring the words, mastering one phrase, only to omit the next. Hour after interminable hour, the need to move, to express *some* control,hammered at his senses, adding to the torment of his captivity. Finally – *finally* – round about the time when every itch, every featherlight, skittering contact, had become magnified to exquisite, screaming torture, the vampire cried enough, and stalked away, into the shadows of her lair. Not that being left alone provided him with any kind of relief from his misery – but the end of the drill, and the fact that even the dim light within the lair was fading, suggested that this part of it, at least, would soon be over.

Giles took the opportunity of silence to mentally step through one of the many meditative techniques he’d acquired during his Watcher’s training – and which he’d long since given up trying to teach Buffy, since the exercises designed to develop the focus and concentration needed to achieve inner stillness almost always resulted in fits of the giggles from her – and inwardly from him, since it was patently clear that she was not yet mature enough to appreciate the benefits of such mental disciplines. He was certainly appreciating them now; the process allowed him to refocus his perceptions, reducing some of those nagging, demanding sensations back to more tolerable levels. When he’d been a boy, and reading lurid adventures in the battered hardcovers his uncle had given him as relief from Latin and Greek texts, he’d scoffed at tales of Chinese water tortures and stories of men driven mad by being chained in dungeons filled with crawling spiders. He was beginning to appreciate that those tales had underplayed the cruelty of such enforced restraint – and at least those victims had been left the luxury of being able to blink.

"Night comes," Lilithu announced, stalking back into the darkened space with confident authority. "My *kingdom* comes. It is time to leave. Follow me."

Dead muscles flexed, and the corpse stumbled into motion, its steps a shuffling parody of a living man’s stride. Giles mentally added motion sickness to his list of afflictions, unable to intervene as his putrefying host staggered after its mistress like a drunken sailor who’d lost his sea legs. The two of them emerged into a larger space, one sculpted with concrete rocks and planted with sparse vegetation. Several curious hyenas slunk across to greet the vampiress and nuzzle at her company. She pushed them away with impatience, and the captive Watcher heaved a mental sigh of relief. Hyenas are carrion eaters, and the body he occupied probably smelt like a banquet to them. He’d had a sudden – and unpleasant - vision of what it might feel like to be torn apart and eaten alive. Well, eaten dead, strictly speaking, but he was still alive and be the one to feel it.

"Later," Lilithu was saying, irritatedly. "You may have it later. When I am done."

Relief turned into a cold twist of terror, one that Giles fought down with difficulty. She was talking about the corpse. She’d already suggested that she had other plans for him – although he wasn’t entirely sure which would be worse; to be taken and turned, used to destroy his friends and betray his calling – or to be trapped, like this, in an eternity of helplessness, subject to whatever torment she devised.

The other inhabitants of the hyena pen did little to encourage him in his choice. There were six of them; bestial, feral creatures, with gleaming red eyes, clawed hands and savage, hungry expressions. Lilithu’s children bore little resemblance to the vampires he was familiar with. They were little more than animals, driven by appetite and desire. His heart sank as they moved to cluster round their mistress, growling and whimpering as they fought to attract her favours. One would be a challenge, even for a fully trained and experienced Slayer. But six?

He hoped – he seriously hoped – that Wesley had managed to unravel the mystery of Lilithu’s appearance and work out what she was after. If his fellow Watcher had realised that the staff was the key to her defeat – and if he had discovered how to use it – then there was a strong possibility that she could be stopped. Could be defeated.

Otherwise Buffy didn’t stand a chance …

Read: Chapter 9