Vulcan's Bane Series
Part 1 - The Summoning

written by Sandra Pascoe


Rating: FRM
Spoilers: Through Season 6.
Summary: When Giles returns to England in S6.
Thanks: To Jules and Julia - cracking betas - especially Julia who beta'd this whilst recovering from a hospital stay... there's dedication for you! Also thanks to Ruth for her valuable input.
Dedication: This fic is for Pam for introducing me to the joys and delights of Ice Hockey (Go St Louis Blues!)and also for any other B5 fans out there.
Author's Notes: The Museum of Ancient Antiquities doesn't exist - I just sort of slotted it into Bath. Oh and the Latin quote will be translated at the end. A few odd references mainly Dr Who. The title of Part 2 comes from the Barry Manilow song of the same name - it's only available on his recent "Ultimate Manilow" album and is from his film "Copacabana". Secret Squirrel - Hanna-Barbera cartoon classic - Secret Squirrel and his sidekick, Morocco Mole! Tufty Club - Tufty the Squirrel taught children road safety via public information films. Children could even join the "Tufty Club" and get neat little badges etc.
Feedback Author: Sandra Pascoe
Author's Website: Realm Of The Tweedy Book Guy


Translation of the single remaining piece of a scroll dating from the 2nd Century AD:

"...found it. Did I do something wrong? Did my ignorance bring death upon my family? I will be the last to die. All is prepared. I have used the remains of my fortune to try and destroy this thing. The sharpest axe, the hottest flame, will not mark any of the segments. So I have sent out riders - each carrying a piece of this "thing". They will hide them well - it is all I can do. Now I must go to my bath - the servants have filled it with water - sprinkled rose petals upon the surface. The knife has been sharpened. I will now let the blood from my wrists and join my ancestors in the hope that they can forgive me."

The original segment of this scroll is currently housed in the British Museum.

* * * * *

'The final piece', he thought, gazing down at the incomplete metal sphere on the table before him. He rummaged in his satchel, pulling out a small, bejewelled, metallic shape and gazing at it with something akin to awe. 'How many years has this taken? My grandfather found the first two pieces, my father the next two, and the fifth and final piece I have here in my hand. Ten years of searching, of begging, of borrowing, of sacrifice.' He swallowed nervously, took a step forward and, with a shaking hand, slotted the final piece into the sphere. He gazed down, watching with bated breath.

"And so it begins," he intoned.

"Someone has been watching WAY too much Babylon 5," came an amused voice from behind him.

"This IS an important moment," he smiled, turning to face the young brunette who stood at his shoulder.

"Sure Alistair - of course it is," she grinned. "I mean, look - a metal ball! Well done, you now have a metal ball."

"My dear girl, this is much more than a 'metal ball' as you so quaintly put it."

"Sure Alistair - whatever you say, sweetie," the smile slipped from her face. "Um, is it supposed to be glowing like that?"

Alistair swung around to gaze at the sphere. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure precisely WHAT it's supposed to do..."

"You're kidding me, right?"

"Um, no," Alistair's eyes never left the now intensely glowing sphere. "Grandfather spent years researching it. All he really found were snippets of legends, tantalising but not terribly informative. Basically, all I know is that it's supposed to be a gift from the Gods." Alistair paused briefly then continued. "Apparently it promises immortality."

"Immortality? Is that what this has all been about? Is that what you want?" She looked at him in disbelief.

"Oh come on, Emma," Alistair scoffed, "you know me better than that."

"Do I?" She remarked. "I'm not..." She broke off, staring at the sphere, which now seemed to be pulsating with energy. "I think we should get out of here."

"Nonsense, my dear girl. Nothing to worry about." The words had barely left his mouth before he was suddenly aware of a change in the atmosphere. Everything seemed to be slowing. He turned to face Emma and it felt like he was struggling through treacle; he tried to speak but couldn't form the words; he couldn't lift his hand - couldn't move at all. Then he felt it - a probing in his mind - something forcing it's way in, thrusting, invading. He tried to struggle, to push it back, but it was like trying to turn back the ocean with a ladle. Nothing was sacred, nothing was private. This Thing was steaMr.ollering through his mind, searching, seeking, hell-bent on finding something - 'but what,' thought Alistair, 'what did it want?' He was aware of blood pouring from his nose and ears and was horrified to see the same happening to Emma. His vision suddenly blurred and a stabbing pain went through his head as the intensity of the search through his thoughts and memories grew and grew. He sensed a quiet desperation from this Thing, there was purpose and method to its actions, but it obviously wasn't finding what it wanted. As it grew more desperate, as the pain in his head worsened, Alistair closed his eyes, his body wracked with silent screams. 'I'm dying', thought Alistair, 'I can't hold on.' He felt himself slipping away - the pain suddenly lessening and a feeling of almost contentment settling on him. A brief surge of sorrow and regret came from the thing in his mind and, just as Alistair's tenuous hold on life failed, two words echoed in his head:

"I'm sorry."

The light from the sphere faded and it sat on the table, appearing lifeless once more. Two bodies lay on the floor - each blood-covered face screwed up in a rictus of terror. A brief pulse emanated from the sphere as it examined the memories it had extracted. 'That's it', it flared with hope 'that's what I'm looking for. I seek The One: The One who was; The One who is; The One who will be.'

* * * * *

'The forgotten man of academia, that's what I am,' thought Rupert Giles as he drove steadily along the small country lanes. 'No - that's what I WAS.' The reaction to his return to England had surprised him and, whilst he expected no fanfares or brass bands, he had found it rather gratifying to realise that he was still remembered. It had only taken a couple of weeks for friends and acquaintances to start getting in touch, putting out feelers, seeing if he was the same man that he was before he left. He had met with a few of them, finding himself disappointed to see that he could no longer relate to them - that they no longer had anything in common. Giles was out of touch with a lot of the gossip and goings-on in the academic and historical worlds and he found it more than a bit difficult to explain where he had been for the last six years - let alone what he had been doing. So he drifted away from them, his friends making little attempt to stop this stranger that he had become. He sank into a kind of despair, alone and out of touch, parted from those he loved, drinking more and more. Soon, there were no knocks on the door, no telephone calls, no letters except bills. He had been well and truly forgotten - or so he thought. Then, six weeks after his return to England, an urgent hammering of his doorknocker had woken him from his drunken slumber. He opened the door and focussed, somewhat blearily, on the figure standing before him.

"Hello Rupert."

"Q...Quentin?" Giles was later convinced that the sight of Quentin Travers standing on his doorstep had sobered him up instantly.

"Well," remarked Quentin evenly, "if Mohammed won't come to the mountain..."

"I have nothing to say to you."

"Wrong, Rupert. You owe the Council an explanation." Travers pushed past Giles, walked into the lounge and sat down on the sofa, looking expectantly at Giles. "Rupert - why are you here?"

Giles folded his arms and glared down at Travers. "I owe the Council nothing."

"Well, that's not entirely correct, is it?" Travers raised an eyebrow. "The Council has a right to know..."

"The Council has no right at all!" Giles snapped, "and neither do you."

"Well I won't dispute the latter," Travers smiled slightly. "I know, Rupert, that you consider me an enemy and, maybe, at one time I was. But I forgot something important - something which you helped me to remember."

Giles looked doubtfully down at Travers, the question clear in his eyes.

Travers sighed. "The Council is in existence to support and assist the Slayer - not to control her. Not to use her as a mere weapon." He looked up at Giles. "For centuries the Council used the Slayer - without thought, without conscience. Of course, whilst the Council's attitude changed after Sir John Aubyn took over in the 11th Century, in recent times we've reverted back to that original definition. And that's wrong - it's very wrong."

"And what brought about this rapid change of heart?" Giles scoffed, dropping heavily into an armchair.

"Recently I had occasion to search through some of the old Watcher Diaries. Something I hadn't done for years." Travers paused and then a smile flickered across his face. "The feel of the pages, the smell, it brought back memories - a lot of memories - and most of them were not good. Anyway, it was what was IN the diaries that was so interesting. Rupert, do you realise that each and every one of those Watchers - and bear in mind that some dated from around the 12th Century - all sounded like you talking about Buffy? Each fiercely loyal and protective - especially towards their Slayer. The big difference though was that the Council worked as a highly efficient support network, backing up the Watcher and Slayer, not trying to control them."

"Oh come on, Quentin. You knew that already - we all bloody did!"

"There's a difference between knowing something and believing that it's the right way to be. For years, I believed that the Slayer was merely a weapon at the Council's disposal. She was not a person - she was an object. I firmly believed that, Rupert, I had no doubts, no questions. I was convinced that I was right."

"And you're telling me after all you've done a glance through some diaries has changed you?"

"It was more than a glance," frowned Travers, "and it was only partly that. One of the other things that convinced me I was wrong was you. You were always rather passionate about your beliefs and Buffy's remarkable achievements only cemented that fact. The parallels between you and those old Watchers were rather obvious and for the first time I started to doubt myself."

"I see," Giles rubbed his eyes tiredly and Travers looked at him sympathetically.

"What's going on, Rupert?"

Giles sighed as he felt all the fight suddenly drain out of him.

"I had to leave her - for her own good." The floodgates had been released then. Giles found himself opening up to Travers, telling him about the hurt, neglect and loneliness of the past few years. He told him how concerned he was about them all - Willow and Buffy in particular - and how, after everything that had happened, he simply could not have stayed. Travers expression never changed and when Giles had finished, he merely sighed.

"Rupert, I trust your judgement on this." Travers smiled ruefully. "Maybe I should have trusted it before."

Giles looked up in disbelief, no longer seeing an adversary but an old, tired man.

"I've made mistakes but then I suppose we all have. I'm trying to make up for it. Yes, maybe I should have listened to you but," his expression hardened and, with a flash of the Travers Giles knew so well, he continued, "you should have tried harder to convince me."

Travers looked around the room and sighed, getting to his feet.

"You are worth more than this. Find a purpose again - don't let 'them' beat you."

Giles smiled, bringing himself out of his reverie as he negotiated his way around Bath. 'That was the turning point,' he thought, 'that was when I put myself out there again - and not long after there had been the phone call from the Museum of Ancient Antiquities.' They had needed some documents translating and heard he might be available. He had thrown himself into the work, earning compliments from the Curator who had offered him a full time consultancy position. Giles pulled into the car park, frowning at the police cars and ambulance at the Museum entrance. 'Not another break in,' he thought, grabbing his briefcase and getting out of the car. He locked the car and walked slowly to the Museum, studying the buzz of activity near the entrance. 'More serious than a simple burglary,' mused Giles as he noticed a couple of journalists taking notes.

"I'm sorry, sir. You can't go any further."

Giles looked up to see a rather burly police constable blocking his path.

"But..." Giles didn't want to let it go without a token protest. "I work here."

"Then you'll have to use the back entrance, sir."

"What's happened?"

The Constable shook his head. "I'm not at liberty to say, sir. Now, please move along."

Giles nodded and walked towards the back entrance, realising he would get no information from the taciturn Constable. Circumventing the police cars, Giles smiled as he noticed a familiar figure leaning casually against a wall and watching the buzz of activity.

"Morning Henry," Giles stopped alongside the tall figure, following his gaze back towards the Museum entrance. "Any idea what's happened?"

"Oh, morning Rupert," Henry Rochester grinned cheerfully, 'looking,' thought Giles, 'for all the world like a recalcitrant schoolboy on a day trip.' "Wonderful isn't it? About time the old place was shaken up a bit."

Giles couldn't help smiling in return. Henry Rochester had an infectious grin and his cheerful nature made him a well-liked Assistant Curator. He was a tall man with a shock of unruly grey hair that refused to submit to any kind of modern styling technique. His glasses were habitually perched on the end of his nose, his short-sighted eyes peering over the top of them giving him a permanently confused and befuddled expression. Despite being a somewhat organised person, his absent-mindedness had become the stuff of legends and various items that Henry was working on had a habit of turning up in the strangest places. Giles smiled as he remembered going to make a cup of tea and finding an original 12th Century engraving in the fridge.

"It's murder, old boy," Henry's eyes gleamed excitedly, "at least that's what those journo chappies say."

'Murder' - Giles felt his heart lurch in his chest, his mind automatically running through a variety of prophecies and demonic curses. 'Do I attract this? Am I some kind of walking Hellmouth?' He sighed, mentally scolding himself. 'Stop it right now - there ARE things in this world that are not caused by supernatural or paranormal means - it's probably just your run-of-the-mill murder. Humanity causes quite enough pain on it's own without looking to the occult for an answer.'

"Any idea who?" Giles asked and Henry shrugged.

"Well I've done a quick head count," he replied, "and we're all present and accounted for, which I admit is something of a relief."

Giles nodded, his attention caught by the various comings and goings at the front entrance. 'It all looks very efficient,' he thought, 'and surprisingly, very normal. Normal,' he mused, 'maybe that's the wrong word, but it's not vampires, werewolves or demons. This is people: ordinary, run of the mill people. Going about their lives, doing their jobs, unencumbered by the more unusual aspects of the world. As it should be,' thought Giles, 'as it SHOULD be.'

"Come on, Rupert," Henry's voice cut into his thoughts. "Our Lord and Master wishes to address his humble minions."

* * * * *

'Chaos - too many minds - too many thoughts. I need time: time to learn; time to absorb; time to process these memories. These humans - their small minds; their petty obsessions - how am I supposed to find the One amongst THIS rabble? Most walk the path between the darkness and the light - seemingly unable to fully commit to one or the other. And yet, amongst this chaos I need to find order. I need to find one who not only walks in the light but has also been touched by darkness; one who has tasted and experienced chaos but emerged from the long twilight struggle and set his feet firmly on the path of light. The task has been set. I will not fail - I MUST not fail - not this time.'

* * * * *

Nicholas Goldsmith, Curator of the Museum, sighed with relief as the two detectives left his office. 'How do they manage to make you feel guilty, even when you've done nothing wrong? Part of their training, I guess,' he thought as he stood and gathered together some papers. The shrill ringing of the telephone cut into his thoughts and he cursed under his breath.

"I told that damned woman I wanted no calls..." he picked up the phone. "Mr.s Jones, did I not tell you that...?"

"I'm sorry, sir," the young, agitated voice interrupted, "but Mr. Travers was VERY insistent."

Nicholas groaned inwardly. 'Great,' he thought, 'that's all I need.'

"Very well, Mr.s Jones," Nicholas kept his voice even. "Put him through."

There was a brief pause, followed by an audible click and Nicholas took a deep breath.

"Good morning, Mr. Travers," he said, continuing quickly, "I really do not have the time to talk at the moment."

"I'm sure you don't," replied Travers, sounding almost amused. "The discovery of two bodies in the Museum must be keeping you remarkably busy."

"How did you...?" Nicholas paused and sighed. "On second thoughts, I don't want to know."

"Well, that's not important," continued Travers. "Now, I want you to listen carefully. I want you to co-operate fully with Rupert should he decide to look into these murders himself."

"But why?"

"Just do as he asks. Give him whatever he wants." There was a pause from the other end of the phone and then a softly muttered, "this could be just what he needs."

"Fine," replied Nicholas, "whatever you want. Now, I really DO have to go."

Nicholas felt a surge of relief as Travers muttered a "goodbye" and hung up. He put the phone down and frowned. 'Why on Earth would Rupert want to investigate murders? I must have another look at his file later,' he thought, 'but first things first: staff meeting.'

* * * * *

"Was that entirely necessary?" The slightly irritated tone of voice caused Quentin Travers to glance up sharply at the old, emaciated looking gentleman sitting opposite him.

"Yes it was," he replied evenly. "You know what Alistair Butler was searching for - there's always the possibility he found it."

"Yes, yes," said the older man, waving a hand. "I do not dispute that it would be best for us all if the artefact were to be firmly under the Council's auspices. However, I DO dispute your choice of using Rupert Giles for this."

"Why? He's the perfect man for the job."

"That's rubbish, Quentin, and you know it. There are people here far more qualified than he is. People who would be loyal - whom we could trust. Rupert Giles is a loose cannon - he always has been."

"People loyal to YOU, Gerald," remarked Travers. "People YOU could trust."

"I see," Gerald Montague smiled. "So you decided to use Rupert merely to stop me? Or did you decide to fight back and use him to boost your waning popularity here?"

"Popularity means nothing," Travers shrugged. "The important thing is who sits in this chair and it will be a cold day in hell before you find yourself here, Gerald."

* * * * *

Detective Sergeant Roberts skimmed quickly through the personnel files of the Museum employees. 'Nothing,' he thought, 'why is there never anything out of the ordinary with these people?' He sighed, put down one file and picked up another.

"Rupert Giles," he read and opened the folder. "Let's see how boring you are."

He studied the file for a few moments before smiling slightly and sitting back.

"Well, well," he muttered. He glanced around, beckoning to a young man who was precariously balancing a tray of coffee in one hand and a plate of biscuits in the other. The young man sighed, managing to put the tray and plate down without incident before wandering over to Roberts.

"Yes, Guv?"

"Here," Roberts handed him the file. "Get hold of the Sunnydale Police Department in California - I want everything they've got on this man."

* * * * *

"You know," remarked Henry Rochester as he and Giles made their way towards their respective offices, "that man is obscenely efficient."

"Isn't that why the Board appointed him?" Giles grinned and Henry chuckled.

"My dear chap, the Board appointed him because he is a quite remarkable bean counter. He really has no interest in the work we do here and he wouldn't know a Pilum from a Gladius. However, I will concede that despite the incredible increase in paperwork, this place is finally paying its way."

"He's certainly a very good negotiator," replied Giles with a wry smile and Henry clapped a hand on Giles' shoulder.

"Got you for a song, did he?" He grinned as Giles nodded. "Yes, he did the same with poor Alistair."

"Did you know him well?" Giles glanced at Henry, who shrugged.

"I don't think anyone really knew Alistair - not completely. Obsessive type - too consumed with his search for that flibbertigibbet to pay any attention to the real world."

"Flibbertigibbet?"

"Some mythological thing that is supposed to promise immortality. It's never been proven to exist but Alistair's grandfather and father both wasted their lives searching for any trace of it and, consequently, Alistair did the same."

"So, he was employed here?"

"Well," Henry frowned, "yes and no. I believe the deal was that we paid him a certain amount and subsequently we had first choice on his finds. You see, he would concentrate on archaeology for a while - until he had enough to sell to raise funds for his obsession. As part of the deal, he used the museum as his base of operations so to speak."

"And the young lady?"

"Oh smitten, my dear chap, positively smitten. Not that Alistair noticed, of course. The man could be incredibly obtuse at times."

Giles stopped as he reached his office door.

"Well, I'll see you later, Henry."

"Have fun, Rupert," smiled Henry as he walked off down the corridor. Giles watched his retreating back for a moment before calling after him.

"Henry? What was the name of that thing Alistair Butler was searching for?"

Henry turned, a frown on his face.

"Oh lord," he replied, "buggered if I know. Never paid much attention to his ramblings. I might be able to find a reference to it though. I'll have a look later."

* * * * *

Travers waited until the door closed behind Gerald Montague before sitting back and throwing his pen onto the desk. 'That man makes my flesh crawl,' he thought with a slight shudder, 'and if he ever gets control here then it will mean the destruction of us all.' A soft knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.

"Come in," Travers sat up and waited expectantly. The door opened and a thickset, middle aged man with greying hair entered. Travers smiled.

"Hello Bernard."

"Well done, Quentin," chuckled Bernard Hodgkinson, "I've just seen Gerald storming down the corridor with a face like thunder. What did you say to him?"

"Oh," shrugged Travers, "we just had a discussion about Rupert Giles."

Bernard grinned and sat down. "That would explain it then."

Travers nodded, gazing down at the desk and Bernard frowned.

"What's wrong? Don't say you're having doubts?"

"Yes," replied Travers, "I am." He looked up at Bernard. "What if we've translated it wrong? What if we're simply reading too much into it?"

"We're not," said Bernard. "In the circumstances, it's the only interpretation we COULD make."

Bernard took a piece of paper out of his pocket and spread it out on the desk.

"Evil will come from within," he read, "and should it reach the highest level the old ways will prevail and the tower will fall. The phoenix will rise from the ashes and the battle between old and new will be joined. Only one shall survive the merging."

"Yes, thank you for that, Bernard," remarked Travers with a slight smile. "I DO know the prophecy by heart."

"Well then let's go over it again," said Bernard. "The first section is obvious: 'Evil will come from within and should it reach the highest level the old ways will prevail and the tower will fall'. The evil within is Gerald - and we all know he wants to return to the old ways - that of seeing the Slayer as a weapon, a tool. 'The tower will fall' is a direct reference to the destruction of the Council that will no doubt follow."

Travers sighed and nodded. "You know ... that is VERY annoying."

"What is?" Frowned Bernard.

"That all these so-called prophets write in such cryptic terms. Why can't they say what they mean? It would make life so much easier."

"But not half as much fun," grinned Bernard and Travers smiled slightly.

"Alright, carry on."

"Right," continued Bernard, "the second section. 'The phoenix will rise from the ashes and the battle between old and new will be joined.' The phoenix is Rupert Giles - rising from the ashes of his old life. He's always been a firm advocate of the 'new' way - that of working with the Slayer, of supporting her, helping her - so it makes sense that he and Gerald will 'face off' so to speak." Bernard glanced up at Travers. "The final part: 'only one shall survive the merging.' That must be a reference to Vulcan's Bane."

"Yes and the problem is that we're not sure whether that should read 'merging' - it could also be a number of other possibilities. Couple that with the fact that we don't know what Vulcan's Bane actually does and we could be sending Rupert to his death or worse."

"Can you think of another way?"

"No, I can't," replied Travers irritably. "We've set the wheels in motion and now there's nothing we can do. I take it you've put a stop to the Police investigation and given Rupert a bit of a push in the right direction?"

"Oh yes," smiled Bernard, "that's all under control."

* * * * *

'So - the age of machinery - where the boundary between good and evil has become blurred and uncertain. Slowly, this time I must go slowly. I have learnt from my mistakes in the past and now I must search for The One. There are a lot of minds here, all engrossed in their work and therefore open to me. A lot of grey exists; there is no - wait - there - there it is. Such a mind - this is what I have been searching for but wait - there is another. One is close - one is far off but they will meet - and from that encounter The One will be revealed.'

* * * * *

Giles sighed and sat back, running a hand through his hair. He glanced at his watch, his eyes widening with surprise.'Is it that time, already?' Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

"Tired, Rupert?" Henry's voice was tinged with concern and Giles smiled slightly.

"I forgot the time," he explained and Henry nodded.

"Happens to the best of us. By the way, thought I'd tell you before I left - I remembered the name of that object of Alistair's."

"Oh?"

"The Romans called it 'Vulcan's Bane' and if I remember right, Alistair mentioned something about it being in bits."

"Well," shrugged Giles, "I must admit it doesn't ring a bell."

"I didn't think it would," replied Henry. "Ah well - excitement over for one day. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yes. Goodnight Henry."

"Goodnight Rupert."

Giles chewed his pen thoughtfully as Henry left his office. 'Vulcan's Bane,' he thought, 'Vulcan's Bane. Time for me to go home and hit the books.'

* * * * *

DS Roberts put down the phone and cursed loudly. 'It had seemed such a nice juicy murder - something to get his teeth into - something that could have meant promotion. Bloody Doctors.'

"Guv?" Andrew Brenton hovered at the door, nervously clutching a file. "I've spoken to the police in Sunnydale and they say..."

"Forget it," interrupted Roberts irritably. "It seems there are 'no suspicious circumstances' and these two just happened to die of brain aneurysms - at the same time."

"But..."

"No buts. We've been ordered to close the investigation." Roberts looked around the large office the Curator had given them. "So pack up the gear and get back to the Station."

Roberts stood up, put on his jacket and walked out through the Museum. He glanced with distaste at the various display cases and shuddered. 'Bloody Museums - full of dead things and dead people. I HATE bloody Museums.'

* * * * *

Gerald Montague tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair irritably. 'He should be here by now,' he thought, 'I don't exactly live in the middle of nowhere.' He picked up his cup and sipped his tea, smiling grimly as a knock sounded on the front door.

"About bloody time," he muttered, putting the cup down and standing up slowly. 'Damn these old bones,' he thought, 'I hope Vulcan's Bane will rejuvenate as well as bestow immortality.' He opened the door and ushered the young, dark suited man inside.

"How are you, Alan?" He smiled and gestured to the younger man to go into the lounge.

"Fine," replied Alan Gough as he moved ahead of Gerald. "Sorry I'm late - had a bit of trouble finding the place."

"Oh, quite alright, dear boy. Please sit down. Would you like some tea?"

"Uh, no thanks," Alan quickly took a seat, keeping a tight hold of his briefcase.

"Now," said Gerald, "did you bring the information I requested?"

"Um, yes sir, I did," replied Alan nervously. "If I may say - this is a most unusual request - far outside the normal procedures..."

"Yes, yes, yes," snapped Gerald, "and you are being well paid for this."

"Yes, but the unusual nature of the request forces me to insist upon an additional payment..." Alan trailed off as he noticed the dark look on Gerald's face. He swallowed nervously; convinced he'd pushed things too far.

"I see," replied Gerald evenly, "and precisely how much more do you want?"

"Another thousand."

'Wait here,' said Gerald as he left the lounge, closing the door behind him. 'So,' he thought, 'the young man is getting greedy. Such a shame - I had further use for him. Ah well, never mind.' Gerald walked steadily along the corridor, unlocking a door at the end. He entered the small, dark room, turning on the light and locking the door behind him. The large, fireproof safe stood against the far wall, the dominant feature in the sparsely decorated room. Its very solidity made a statement, as though it were daring anyone to try and break into it. Gerald dropped to one knee in front of the safe, very aware of the ironic and religious overtones of his current position. A wry smile crossed his face as he carefully unlocked and opened the safe door. He pulled out two sealed bundles of banknotes and then quickly locked the safe as though afraid the contents would leap out and make a break for freedom. He stood slowly, casually dropping the banknotes on the table and picking up the telephone.

"Right, Mr. Gough," he muttered, "time for you to learn a lesson."

Gerald dialled a number, waiting patiently whilst he was connected and then speaking one sentence into the receiver.

"Alan Gough has outlived his usefulness."

* * * * *

Giles sipped his tea as he quickly skimmed through the volume before him. He was trying desperately to stop himself from getting distracted - an occupational hazard of the researcher. 'You start following one thread,' he thought, 'and unless you're careful you end up going off at a complete tangent as other things, other discoveries, take hold of you.' So far Giles had stuck rigidly to his task, searching for references, no matter how obscure. The sheer number of books scattered over every available surface, including the floor, was a testament to his tenacity - not to mention his admittedly chaotic method of research. He sat back, closing the book in front of him with a sigh. 'Nothing,' he thought, 'nothing apart from tantalising possibilities.' He glanced at his notebook, smiling ruefully at the scribbled notes. 'Three hours research and what have I come up with? One reference to an old legend about Vulcan getting careless and letting something fall to Earth - and that's it. Maybe I'm going about this all wrong - after all, if few people believe in its existence then perhaps I should search in the more theoretical volumes?' Giles scanned the bookcases; his eyes drawn to the variety of what could be termed "hypothetical" authors. He stood up, picking his way carefully to the bookcase. He ran his fingers along the spines, smiling as he recalled the times he'd used these books as his last resort - his final hope. He glanced up, his eyes caught by a number of volumes sitting on a higher shelf. He carefully pulled a volume out and smiled as he caressed the cover.

"The Mythology of All Races," he read, "volume one."

'A gift,' he thought, 'the whole set - a gift from Ethan. He knew me TOO well - far better than I know myself. I wish...' Giles frowned and returned the book to the bookcase 'no - no time for wishing.' Giles looked up as the sound of the letterbox clattering interrupted his thoughts. 'Probably another bloody free newspaper,' he thought as he carefully made his way out of the lounge. The small white envelope lying on his mat was unmarked and unaddressed. Giles frowned as he picked it up and carefully opened it. Inside was a key - and a small piece of card with a name and address printed on it.

"Alistair Butler," he read, "4 Clairbourne Avenue, Bath."

He tapped the card thoughtfully against his chin. 'This doesn't really seem Henry's style,' he thought, 'so if not Henry - then who? Travers? The Council? The job DID come along at precisely the right time.' Giles shrugged and pocketed the card and the key. 'Well they can lead me to the right place - but they can't control what I do when I get there.' He grabbed his jacket and car keys and left without a backward glance.

* * * * *

'I did it. I actually bloody did it.' The grin on Alan Gough's face gave the young man a slightly manic look and he gripped the steering wheel hard, trying desperately to stay within the speed limit and not floor the accelerator gleefully. 'The great Gerald Montague - what an asshole. This was as easy as snatching chocolate buttons from a child.' Alan giggled, the euphoric feeling of the banknotes in his jacket pocket threatening to send him into a mental orbit. He pulled into his parking space and then sat for a few moments, collecting his thoughts. 'Hmmm - what shall I spend the money on? A holiday? Yes - I can take Diana with me - somewhere hot.' His mind full of beaches and bikinis, Alan got out of the car, whistling happily as he trotted up the steps to his flat. He paused at the top, frowning as he noticed his front door standing a few inches ajar. Slowly reaching out, he pushed the door open and peered inside. His eyes widened and he cursed loudly.

"Fucking hell! Some bastard's robbed me..."

He stepped inside in a daze - looking around in disbelief at the total mess and chaos to which his flat had been reduced. He didn't hear the dark suited man step up behind him; he didn't see the gun being raised; he didn't hear the soft sound of the silencer but he felt the brief flash of intense pain before he pitched forward. Alan didn't feel the hand searching around and deftly extracting the money from his pocket; didn't hear the soft chuckle or the rapidly retreating footsteps. Alan Gough had died before he hit the floor.

* * * * *

The sphere flashed briefly. 'Death. It surrounds you both - wraps you in its cold embrace. One of you accepts it, beckons it - the other does not. I have killed - with regret, I have had to. Why does it always happen this way? Why, upon my completion, do I hunger SO much? Knowledge completes me - upon activation I MUST consume information or all will be lost. Which of you regrets? Which of you wishes - wishes there could be another way? Calm. I must not probe too deeply yet. Soon you will both be before me and I will strip you bare and force you to confront who you were; who you are and who you will be. You are both marked - you cannot avoid this.

And the rock cried out, no hiding place...'

* * * * *

The large house was set back slightly from the rest of the tree-lined avenue, the streetlights casting eerie shadows over its outer façade. 'Rather different to what I expected,' thought Giles as he pulled up outside. He got out and walked purposefully towards the front door, fishing the key out of his pocket as he did so. The security light flicked on, bathing the doorway with light and Giles smiled slightly.

"Very thoughtful of you," he murmured, unlocking the door and stepping inside. He turned on the interior light and, for a brief second, Giles had the impression that he had mistakenly stepped into a hobbit hole: there was clutter everywhere - books cascaded off every available surface and a host of faces gazed down at him from photographs on the walls. 'And this is just the entrance hall,' thought Giles with a sigh. Careful not to disturb anything, he walked to the lounge, flicked on the light and then audibly groaned. Giles narrowed his eyes as he gazed with resignation and more than a touch of annoyance at the computer sat on a desk in the corner of the room. 'Bloody thing is taunting me,' he thought as he moved across and sat at the desk. 'Please - PLEASE - don't tell me that Alistair Butler kept all his notes on that infernal contraption?' He looked around the room, frowning slightly. 'And what is a life worth? To die - your life's work unfinished and sneered at. Where is your family? Why are your friends not here? Who is there to carry on now? What will happen to all this? The books; the work; the LIFE? Is this my ultimate fate? No,' he shook his head, 'it is not. At least I have the small comfort of knowing that my books, my work, will not lie forgotten, collecting dust in an old family house. One advantage of the Council,' he mused, 'is that it will be taken care of. I may be alone but I will not be forgotten.' Giles took a deep breath, bringing himself back to the present with a sigh. 'Let's get on with this.' He pulled open a couple of drawers, rifling quickly through the contents before shifting his attention to the folders arranged neatly on a shelf behind him. The first folder contained a series of notes and diagrams concerning the various archaeological digs that Alistair Butler had been a part of. 'Fascinating,' thought Giles, as he skimmed through the contents, 'quite fascinating - but not what I'm here for.' Carefully putting the folder aside, he opened another and began looking through the various papers inside. 'Now, this is more like it,' he thought, sitting back in the chair.

"The Immortals," he read aloud, "having set Vulcan his task, retired and awaited completion of the Sphere. Vulcan toiled long and the flames of his forge burned bright until finally, the Sphere was in his hands - complete and serene. Whereupon, exhausted, Vulcan slept. The Sphere, now imbued with the spirit of the Immortals, fell to Earth and was lost in the hands of Mankind."

'Vulcan's Bane - interesting - very interesting...'

* * * * *

Gerald sat at the table and took a sheaf of papers out of the large brown envelope. He looked down at the photocopies and smiled. 'This is it,' he thought, 'the sum total of the Council's knowledge concerning Vulcan's Bane. Poor fools. Centuries of existence; centuries of gathering information and this is all you can come up with?' Gerald sipped his tea, slowly reading through the various highlighted references. 'Again, nothing firm, nothing substantiated - merely legends and the odd oblique reference. Why? Why are there no actual first-hand accounts? Did those who came in contact with Vulcan's Bane actually achieve immortality? Or were they deemed unworthy?' Gerald glanced up irritably as the shrill ringing of the telephone interrupted his train of thought.

"Yes?" He snapped into the receiver, his mind still wrapped in contemplation.

"It is done." The single softly spoken sentence in reply caught his full attention and he smiled happily.

"Very good," Gerald tried to keep his voice even. "Did you obtain your initial payment?"

"Yes."

"Excellent. The remainder will be deposited into your account tomorrow." Gerald paused, his thoughts turning to Rupert Giles. "I may shortly have another job for you. Be ready."

Gerald put down the receiver and sipped his tea once more.'I wonder how much Quentin has told you, Rupert? Not a great deal I suspect. In which case he has made a grave error. I am so far ahead of you, Rupert, that you are not even a speck in my wing mirrors. It is as well though to be ready - just in case your bumbling inefficiency should produce results.' Gerald put his cup down and turned his attention back to the papers in front of him. He started to flip through them and then stopped, his eyes widening in delight. 'Alistair Butler's notes! Dear God, I don't believe it! Quentin guards these jealously - bloody man even had his people watching Butler's damn house. Mr. Gough, I owe you an apology - I may have been a bit hasty.'

* * * * *

Travers put the phone down with a sigh and looked up at Bernard's questioning face.

"Rupert is now at Alistair Butler's home," said Travers and Bernard grinned.

"Good - at least SOMETHING is going to plan."

"And something else isn't," Travers said softly. "Alan Gough is dead."

"Alan Gough?"

"He works - worked - in Records. We thought he'd been passing information to Gerald, but nothing we could prove."

"And Gerald has had him killed?"

"I would say so. He's probably outlived his usefulness. You know Gerald - he never clings onto dead wood." Travers leaned back in his chair. "The clean up operation is underway and why do I get the feeling that there will be more deaths before this thing is resolved?"

"Well," Bernard shrugged, "death does seem to follow that object around. Every time there are rumours of its reappearance you can guarantee a number of odd deaths."

"Three so far," remarked Travers. "How many more, I wonder?"

"At least one," Bernard replied. "You'd better have clean up on standby."

* * * * *

'All is prepared. It is time for you both to stand before me. You both thirst for knowledge - you will find the knowledge you seek in me. You have been summoned. Your destiny awaits. Come: share the secrets of your souls with me...'

* * * * *

Giles shifted uncomfortably in his chair and rubbed the back of his head. 'Fascinating though this is, I need a break. I wonder if I could make a cup of tea? Better not disturb things TOO much though.' He stood up and stretched, dropping the small sheaf of papers on the table. Walking around the desk, he wandered slowly around the room, examining various objects and picking up the odd book. 'Hmmm - Mr. Butler has a similar collection to my own,' he thought. 'I wonder where he obtained them? Passed down through the family perhaps?' Giles felt a sudden shiver as he gazed around the room. 'There but for the grace of God. This could have been me - this could so easily have been me. In fact, the parallels are there. He dedicated his life to finding Vulcan's Bane - I dedicated mine to my Slayer - and the Council, of course. To the spirit of the Council anyway. I guess you could say that everyone has obsessions - the only difference between us is the lengths we will each go to in order to satisfy them.' Giles sighed and sat at the desk once more. 'Back to work - I don't fancy being here all night.' He picked up the papers and started reading again, frowning as a thought meandered through his mind. 'The tone has changed,' he mused, 'the tone of the writing is different. It's more excited. Alistair Butler has returned from Peru - and is writing with what seems to be barely suppressed delight. Of course!' Giles leapt to his feet, scattering the papers as he did so. 'He found it - he found Vulcan's Bane.' Giles quickly ran from the house, barely having the presence of mind to lock the door behind him. His mind was filled with one thought and one thought alone: 'I have to get to the Museum...'

* * * * *

Gerald sat silently, his eyes gleaming as he read through the papers before him. 'Mr. Butler,' he thought, 'you and your family took obsession to new heights. Although I DO understand the driving force behind it - I have felt it myself. Whereas you took the hard road - the road of research, of digging, of kneeling in the dirt - I took the easier road. I merely sat and waited for you to recover the pieces. Yes, I may have walked through the sewers - I may have killed - but we ARE similar, Mr. Butler. I would do anything and I mean ANYTHING to get Vulcan's Bane. There are no limits to my desire. Were there limits to yours? Was there ever a time when you thought 'no, this is too much'? Judging by your notes, I don't think there was. You bribed, cheated and bought your information. No price was too high, was it?' Gerald turned the page, starting the final sheet. He read quickly, his eyes widening with delight. 'He found it - oh dear god - he found it.' With a shaking hand, Gerald picked up the phone and pressed a single number.

"Bring my car around immediately."

He got to his feet and headed for the door, his mind echoing with one thought: 'I have to get to the Museum...'

* * * * *

John Downing drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and sighed loudly. 'I hate surveillance,' he thought irritably; 'it's so bloody boring.' He glanced down at his half-eaten cheese sandwich and grimaced. 'I need something hot. God, I would kill for a double quarterpounder with cheese - large fries - coke and a McFlurry to finish. Biting into the quarterpounder - that moist meat - the slightly dry bun - the cheese - the onion - must take those bloody pickles out first though. Who in their right mind likes those damn things?' John's eyes widened as he saw Rupert Giles dash from the house and fling himself into his car.

"Shit," muttered John as he started his car, "what's crawled up HIS ass?"

John waited patiently with his car ticking over as Giles recklessly reversed out of the drive, barely missing a blue van, which swerved wildly, the driver yelling and gesticulating. John winced in empathy. 'Bloody idiot,' he thought, 'nothing is THAT allfire important.' He watched Giles pass him, waited for a couple of beats and then eased his car out into the sparse traffic. He soon found that he had to drive rather faster than he'd done for some considerable time in order to keep up with his quarry. 'Great,' he thought, 'they've got me following a bloody lunatic.' John spotted the large yellow 'M' looming in the distance and sighed moodily.

"Guess there's no chance of him stopping at the drive-through."

* * * * *

James Hadley held the car door open, inclining his head slightly as Gerald brushed past him.

"Shall I wait up for you, sir?" James tried to keep his voice even and disinterested.

"I don't care what you do," replied Gerald irritably as he slapped the chauffeur on the shoulder. "Come on, come on - get this bloody car moving, you damned idiot!"

"Where to, sir?" The chauffeur exchanged a quick glance with James and then gazed steadily forward once more.

"The Museum - and don't take all bloody night!"

James shut the door and stepped back, watching expressionlessly as the car pulled out of the drive. He sighed and thrust his hands into his pockets, walking back inside the house. 'I'm not cut out to be a butler,' he thought, 'this assignment had better be over soon.' James glanced around and then went into the lounge, closing the door firmly behind him. He took his mobile phone out of his pocket and quickly thumbed a few buttons.

"Yes - could you put me through to Quentin Travers, please?"

* * * * *

'They are close. Good.' The Sphere pulsed and the air shimmered, small bursts of energy coalescing to form a man who stood unmoving in the centre of the room. He was a thin, almost gaunt figure, with piercing blue eyes. He looked down at himself and smiled, taking deep lungfuls of air. He held his hands up in front of his face, wiggled his fingers and then clenched his fists.

"I had forgotten what it was like," he murmured, glancing towards the Sphere. "Despite everything, I can never quite understand why you want to give all this up."

The Sphere was silent and still, no light emanating from it and the man shrugged.

"I didn't actually expect an answer. So what name shall I use THIS time?"

The Sphere pulsed and the man smiled.

"Julian - yes. That is familiar enough." Julian walked over to the table and picked up the Sphere. He glanced around then opened a drawer, carefully placing the Sphere inside and gazing down at it. He reached down and briefly ran a finger over the odd jewels dotted around the metallic surface.

"You said there are two this time. Am I to be guided by you or shall I use my own judgement?"

The Sphere pulsed and Julian sighed.

"It really doesn't matter to you, does it? Who I was? What I did? What I achieved before you?" Julian shook his head and closed the drawer. He wandered slowly around the room, examining various objects before picking up a book and flicking through it. He stopped and gazed at a photograph of a statue. 'And what does history say about me? Am I considered an innovator? A man before my time? Or am I considered a tyrant?' He read the accompanying caption and shrugged slightly. 'Why am I not surprised?'

* * * * *

Giles slammed on the brakes, bringing the car screeching to a halt outside the Museum. Without a backward glance, he leapt out and ran inside. It never occurred to him that the security system had been deactivated - that the cameras were off - he simply continued running, knowing exactly where he had to go. Nothing else mattered - nothing else existed. He slowed suddenly, pushing open a door and stepping inside a large, dimly lit room. Giles stood perfectly still, unblinking, his breathing shallow and even. His eyes were glazed and unfocussed - the heavy grey fog in his mind completely impenetrable. The voice told him to wait - so he waited.

Julian walked up to Giles and casually waved a hand in front of his face.

"So, which one is this?" He said aloud, his head on one side as though listening for something. He nodded and then continued, "he has weaknesses but he also has strength. What of the other?"

Julian paused again and then shrugged. "So we wait."

* * * * *

John Downing slowed up, shaking his head as he watched Giles dash into the Museum. 'I knew it,' he thought, 'a bloody loon.' He parked along the side of the road, opposite the front entrance of the Museum. He rummaged around through the empty wrappers and old papers on the passenger seat, finally extracting a grubby looking mobile phone. He started to dial and then stopped, his attention caught by another car pulling up in front of the Museum. John watched intently as an elderly gentleman got out of the car and, after speaking briefly to the driver, moved quickly inside the large, imposing building. 'What's this? A mother's meeting?' He shrugged and continued dialling, keeping one eye on the other car, which turned around and headed back the way it had come, soon disappearing from sight.

"Yes. He's now at the Museum - yes - and so is Gerald Montague." John nodded. "He's just gone inside. You want me to follow or wait here?" There was a lengthy pause before John smiled to himself. "Certainly, sir," he continued. "I'll report as soon as anything happens."

John's smile widened into a grin and he disconnected the call, tossing the phone casually onto the cluttered seat once more. He settled back into the seat, shifting around and trying to get comfortable, his mind turning to food again. 'Well, McDonald's is out - I can't justify popping back and risking missing something here. What else is there? Pizza,' he thought triumphantly, 'I could get a pizza delivered. Now,' he frowned and looked around, 'where the hell did I put my phone?'

* * * * *

"It's happening now, isn't it?" Bernard gazed intently at Travers, who put the phone down and nodded.

"Yes. They're both at the Museum."

"I could have a team there in fifteen minutes," remarked Bernard softly but Travers shook his head.

"I thought I was the Doubting Thomas," smiled Travers. "We can't do anything now. This is between the two of them. I DO understand how you're feeling - I really don't like the idea of the future of the Council being decided amongst Gerald, Rupert and some mystical whatnot."

"Do you trust Rupert?"

"I trust him to do what HE thinks is the right thing. We knew from the outset that trying to control him was not an option - it's always best to give Rupert his head."

"And hope for the best."

"Well, our other option is Gerald Montague and I think I'd rather trust a soulless vampire over him. If you're a praying man, Bernard, you might want to put a word or two in for Rupert - and for us."

* * * * *

Awareness returned slowly, slipping into his clouded mind like a thief into the night. Giles blinked a few times and took deep breaths, looking around slightly hazily as though waking from a deep sleep. He relaxed his breathing, putting into practice a few almost forgotten mental exercises that he'd learnt in his youth. Within moments, he felt rested and refreshed and he looked around again, starting to take stock of his surroundings. Giles raised a questioning eyebrow as he caught the eyes of a thin, dark suited man who was leaning casually against a table.

"How the hell did I get here and who the bloody hell are you?" The irritated bellow cut in before Giles had a chance to speak and he glanced around to take a look at the owner of such an imperious voice. 'I'm sure I know him,' he thought, 'the face is familiar.'

"How you and Mr. Giles arrived here is not important, Mr. Montague," the firm, almost commanding voice brooked no argument, "and as to myself, you may call me Julian."

'Montague? Gerald Montague?' Giles groaned inwardly. 'I should have known, he thought, dratted man has been a thorn in the side of all right minded Watchers for years.'

"You can't keep me here, you know," Gerald started for the door. "I have important work to be doing."

"And would that work be Vulcan's Bane, Mr. Montague?" Julian's softly mocking tone carried a thinly veiled threat that stopped Gerald in his tracks. He glanced at Giles and waved towards the door.

"This discussion is no concern of yours, Mr. Giles," remarked Gerald evenly. "Please leave us."

"We have both obviously been summoned here for a reason," replied Giles, glancing towards Julian who nodded encouragingly, "and I intend to find out what that is."

Gerald scowled and looked at Julian.

"So what have you got to do with all this?"

Julian shrugged and put his hands into his pockets.

"I believe you could say that I am the representative of Vulcan's Bane. It is my job to ascertain which of you is most worthy."

"Most worthy for what?" Asked Giles softly.

"Oh I do apologise, Mr. Giles," replied Julian. "You are at a slight disadvantage here. Mr. Montague knows rather a lot about this. It has been his life's work to find and use the power that Vulcan's Bane provides. You, however, have barely skimmed the surface."

"Which proves that I am the worthy one," remarked Gerald, casting a glare towards Giles, who merely raised an eyebrow.

"Maybe it does, Mr. Montague, maybe it does. We need to find the right person, in the right place, at the right time. Now, tell Mr. Giles what you have discovered. The salient points only, please." Julian's voice took on a commanding tone and his gaze hardened.

Gerald sighed and cleared his throat.

"The salient point - the only point worth mentioning - is that it promises immortality," replied Gerald.

"Oh it does much more," smiled Julian, "however if you wish to concentrate on that particular point - why would you wish to be immortal?"

"Are you out of your mind?" Scoffed Gerald. "Who wouldn't want to be immortal? To live forever - think of what you could achieve."

"I don't," remarked Giles. "I have no wish to be immortal."

"Then you shouldn't damn well be here! I deserve this. I've worked for this all my life and I am not going to be denied by an upstart like you!"

Julian walked closer to Gerald and smiled slightly.

"Worked for this? As I understand it, you have stolen, bribed and cheated your way to power. You have no morals to speak of. In fact, you are a thoroughly disreputable man and have been responsible for numerous deaths in your obsessive search. Although, to Vulcan's Bane, that is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, we have been most impressed with your dedication." Julian turned to Giles. "You have also been responsible for deaths. You have always tried to do the right thing even though it might hurt you personally. You allied yourself with chaos but now you fight on the side of light. That could work against you in this or it could be the deciding factor in your favour."

"Death got me into this," said Giles, staring at Julian. "The deaths of two archaeologists. Does Vulcan's Bane trade in death as well?"

"That was a tragic mistake, Mr. Giles," frowned Julian. "It had been many years since we were whole. We had forgotten so much - like the sometimes-fragile nature of the human brain. When we are separated, when the Sphere is not complete, we sleep. When we are complete, there is SUCH hunger. Without knowledge we will be lost. Without information, we die. And what we are, what we can do, would die with us. We had no choice. That does not excuse our actions, only explains them. Will you accept our apologies for this tragic error?"

"It is not for me to do that," replied Giles, his instincts telling him to trust his man, "but I will accept what you say."

"Thank you. Now I will ask you both to open your minds and allow us access."

"Access?" Gerald frowned.

"We wish to examine you both. It is essential the right choice be made and this is the only way to be sure."

"I want to know more about this first," said Giles. "You haven't really given me much information and yet you expect me to accept you at face value."

"What do you wish to know?"

"What exactly is Vulcan's Bane? You mentioned immortality and other powers. What ARE these other powers?"

"Reasonable questions," replied Julian, cocking his head to one side slightly and then smiling. "We have no objections to answering. Vulcan's Bane is here for a reason. It is not here to fight on either side - darkness or light. It is here to keep the balance."

"Balance?"

"There is a balance between darkness and light, Mr. Giles. Neither one should gain supremity over the other - the balance is essential. Now, if darkness is in ascendant then naturally YOU would be chosen. However if light is too powerful - then the choice would be Mr. Montague."

"Interesting," replied Giles. "So what happens to the chosen person?"

"They become immortal, you damned fool," said Gerald irritably. "Now can we get on with it?"

"Leaving the immortality to one side for a moment," replied Julian, "the one chosen will merge with Vulcan's Bane. Their minds will be linked together."

"That hardly appeals," frowned Giles. "This thing is rather powerful - I would expect that the one chosen would have his mind...consumed."

"Oh no, Mr. Giles. That is not the case at all. In order to merge with a human, Vulcan's Bane has to give up the majority of its power. That is it's curse - it would not be able to influence minds - it would merely be a presence in your head, imparting knowledge and advice. And believe me, Mr. Giles - it has a VAST knowledge."

"I see."

"And still you doubt, Mr. Giles?" Smiled Julian. "You really have no choice in this. You cannot leave this room. You have, if I may say, crossed the Rubicon and there is no turning back."

Giles frowned and looked closely at Julian. 'His face is familiar - sort of. I've seen it before somewhere. The nose, the balding hair, the eyes, who IS he?'

"We will do this by force if necessary." Julian held out his hands, palm upwards. "Now if you would both place one hand on mine."

Gerald immediately stepped forward, placing one of his hands in Julian's palm. Giles paused, staring at Julian who looked evenly back.

"Mr. Giles. I am quite serious. You really do have no choice."

Giles sighed and nodded, tentatively reaching out his hand. Their palms touched - and Giles was completely unprepared for the sudden burst of energy that surged through him. He felt energised, his blood singing in his veins and he briefly wondered if his hair was standing on end before the energy suddenly withdrew - leaving him feeling bereft and abandoned. Giles tried to pull back but his hand was gripped tightly. He opened his mouth to speak and then stopped, feeling the briefest of touches on his mind. It was gentle - a soft probing - a tentative search. Like a child flicking through a book, it examined every part of him: personality; memory; instinct. Giles was flooded with memories, from his early childhood to recent events. Each memory was held up and examined - the feeling of being judged was overwhelming. 'Is it my imagination,' thought Giles, 'or is this thing lingering on my memories concerning the Council - and Buffy?' He tried to control his reactions but it was all too real. Giles found himself laughing at some memories; crying at others and trying to back off from some. His reactions were important - he realised that - realised that his entire being was under examination. 'And if I'm found wanting,' thought Giles, 'what then? It's too much - I can't take much more.' Giles felt himself being sucked into a dark void - deeper and deeper - no light - no sound - just an overwhelming nothing. Panic started to rise, he struggled mentally, determined to break free. Suddenly, it was gone. The presence in his mind withdrawing as quickly as it had entered.

Giles staggered and would have fallen if not for the firm grip Julian had on his arm. He looked around, breathing deeply, noting that Gerald Montague was leaning wearily against the table and looking almost as bad as Giles felt.

"It is over," remarked Julian, steadying Giles. "Can you stand?"

Giles nodded, not really sure he could speak and Julian let go, moving across to Gerald.

"Are you ready for immortality, Mr. Montague?"

* * * * *

Gerald straightened up and grinned triumphantly at Giles.

"I told you I was the one who was worthy. It could NEVER have been you - you're too weak. You don't have the inner strength for this," sneered Gerald. "Quentin was wrong to have chosen you and he'll learn the extent of his mistake soon enough."

"Well, Mr. Montague, if this 'thing' would choose someone like YOU, then you are both more than welcome to one another," replied Giles firmly. "I want no part of it."

"Gentlemen, please," cut in Julian as he walked over to the table and opened a drawer, "this antagonism is entirely unnecessary."

Julian reached into the drawer and pulled out a metal sphere. 'Beautiful,' thought Giles, 'superb construction, but those jewels dotted about its surface seem just thrown on. There doesn't seem to be any recognisable pattern.' Julian walked over to stand in front of Gerald and held up the sphere reverently.

"Behold," he said softly, "Vulcan's Bane."

Giles shuddered at the expression on Gerald's face. It was desperate, hungry. His eyes were cold and intense, his lips thin and bloodless and his entire face seemed shrouded in shadow - a darkness that emanated from within. In that moment, Gerald resembled a snake ready to strike at its prey. 'This can't happen,' thought Giles as he took a step forward, 'they can't do this.' Julian glanced briefly at Giles and then, with an almost imperceptible shake of his head, turned his attention back to Gerald. Giles frowned, his eyes widening in disbelief as one word, spoken in a soft but commanding voice, echoed in his head: wait. It was a voice that inspired trust and belief, a voice that echoed in eternity. 'Such loneliness,' thought Giles, 'it aches for companionship, it needs this sharing.' Giles let his instincts guide him once again and he stepped back, thrusting his hands into his pockets - watching and waiting.

"Will you accept your fate, Mr. Montague? Do you make this decision of your own free will?" Asked Julian eagerly and Gerald nodded emphatically.

"I do."

"Very well," replied Julian, "then prepare to receive the immortality you so richly deserve."

Julian held the Sphere aloft and it blazed with light, a brightness so intense that Giles closed his eyes and lowered his head. Gerald laughed with delight as the light surrounded him, entered him. It flooded his being, touching every part of him and Gerald felt himself start to alter - to change. The power was intense and Gerald's body started to vibrate, his eyes widening as a burst of pain surged through him. 'What's happening? This doesn't feel right,' he thought. He tried to speak, but had no voice. He tried to pull away, but could feel no body. He was blind; deaf; unable to touch; not breathing. There was nothing. No sound. No light. Just a never-ending darkness. 'Bastards! What have they done to me?' Gerald's silent mental screams of desperation went unheard ... his struggles were ineffective. 'I'm trapped...'

As the glow from the Sphere died, Julian smiled and placed it gently on the table.

"You may open your eyes now, Mr. Giles."

Giles opened his eyes and looked around, a frown crossing his face.

"What happened? Where is he?"

Julian's smile widened.

"Safely out of the way," he replied. Giles glared at him and Julian sighed. "He is still here, Mr. Giles."

Julian pointed to the Sphere.

"Each of these jewels is, or rather was, a person - there is now a new one. You see, Gerald Montague did not serve Chaos and he did not serve Light. He had one interest: immortality for himself. We have learnt over Centuries that Mankind is not ready and that those who seek it are dangerous individuals interested only in personal gain. Oh, he has what he desired - to all intents and purposes he IS immortal." Julian grinned and peered closely at the Sphere. "You know, I thought he'd become a Sapphire not a Ruby."

"Dear god," muttered Giles, unable to tear his eyes away from the sparkling ruby. "So it's a trap. The whole immortality thing is nothing but a clever trap."

"Well not entirely," Julian turned to look at Giles. "YOU have been chosen, Mr. Giles. You will merge with Vulcan's Bane. And whilst eventually your body will die, your thoughts, memories and feelings will not. They will be preserved and your knowledge will be used by those who come after you."

"What if I refuse?"

"You cannot refuse and tell me honestly - do you REALLY want to turn this down?"

Julian picked up the Sphere, moved across to Giles and held it out to him.

"All you have to do is hold it in both hands."

Giles looked up. "As YOU did?"

"Oh yes. A long time ago, Mr. Giles, a VERY long time ago. It was a huge support to me during difficult times. It offered knowledge, advice and company. Believe me, it will be necessary in the dark days that are to come. You will need it. And it will need you. You have a long, hard road ahead of you - do not allow your stubbornness to stand in the way of something that can smooth your path."

"I will admit I'm not entirely convinced," replied Giles with a sigh, "but sometimes you have to simply stop thinking and trust your instincts."

Slowly, Giles reached out his hands and took the Sphere from Julian.

"And what of you, Julian? Who precisely ARE you?"

Julian grinned as he started to fade.

"You can find me in the annals of Ancient History, Mr. Giles," he said and one final phrase seemed to hang in the air as he disappeared completely. "Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt."

Giles frowned; repeating the phrase under his breath before his eyes widened and a smile crossed his face.

"Good lord," he muttered, looking down at the Sphere. "Did he serve Chaos or Light? Never mind - I have my own ideas about that. Well, I'm going to be in interesting company anyway. So, my little friend, what do I do now?"

A soft glow surrounded the Sphere and Giles felt his palms begin to tingle. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation but he still mentally braced himself for the pain he was expecting. The tingle travelled up his arms, soon encompassing his whole body. The first soft touch on his mind was barely noticeable but it grew in intensity and Giles had the impression of being filled - as though a vessel were being emptied into him. 'Which is probably what's happening,' he mused. Tendrils weaved through his mind, linking and merging with him - separate yet one. It embraced him - settling gently into his mind as though it belonged there. 'Not uncomfortable at all,' thought Giles, 'in fact, I think under normal circumstances I'd barely notice it. Welcome to my mind,' he thought, smiling as a feeling of gratitude flooded through him. Giles glanced down at the now dark Sphere. 'Put it somewhere safe,' came the thought and Giles nodded. Moving to the table, he rummaged around in the drawers, finally coming up with an old and somewhat battered carrier bag. Placing the Sphere in the bag, he straightened up and raised a questioning eyebrow. 'Shall we go?' The feeling of anticipation and hope wasn't unexpected and Giles nodded in satisfaction. 'Good - we have a lot of things to think about, my friend.'

* * * * *

The rap on his car window caused John Downing to visibly jump and the soft chuckle from the young man hovering outside certainly didn't improve his mood. Muttering under his breath, he wound down the window.

"What do you want?" He snapped and the young man smiled nervously.

"Um, did you order a pizza?" He held up the box hopefully.

"Yes," John grinned, "and it's about bloody time. What do I owe you?"

"£10.50," came the reply as the box was handed to him. John put the pizza on the cluttered passenger seat and, following a quick trawl through various pockets, held out the correct money.

"Oh great. Thanks." The young man glared as he snatched the money.

"Sod off," replied John as he wound the window back up. Making himself comfortable, he opened the box, deftly extracting a slice of pizza. He inhaled deeply and almost groaned aloud in delight. 'God, this smells amazing.' He took a large bite, ignoring the cheese that dribbled onto his chin. 'Ohhhh wonderful. There are good pizzas; there are bad pizzas; this is a GREAT pizza.' John took another bite and then mentally cursed as the front door of the Museum opened and Rupert Giles stepped out. John dropped the slice of pizza, wiped his hands on his shirtfront and scrambled for his phone, knocking the pizza box to the floor as he did so.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck! You HAD to bloody come out now, didn't you?"

John furiously punched buttons on his phone and glared out of the window at Giles. 'Why's he just standing there? Doesn't he have a bloody home to go to?'

"Mr. Travers? Yes - Mr. Giles - yes, he's quite alone." John paused and then nodded. "Very well, sir."

John ended the call and, glaring once more at Giles, he tossed the phone aside. 'Right, you asshole,' he thought as he started the car, 'you're on your bloody own.'

* * * * *

Quentin Travers breathed a sigh of relief and put down the phone. He looked up at Bernard and grinned.

"Rupert's left the Museum - alone."

"He survived, thank God," replied Bernard, "but what about Gerald?"

"He appears to have lost, which is the main thing," shrugged Travers. "Send in a clean-up team to make sure."

Bernard nodded and stood up.

"What about Rupert?" He said quietly. "What happens now?"

"We let him come to us," said Travers. "I think this time we simply have to trust him - trust his judgement. We don't know whether he merged with Vulcan's Bane - we don't know what effect this will have. We can't go barging in. Letting Rupert do things his own way seems to yield results."

* * * * *

Giles sat in his car and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. He could feel the presence in his mind, learning, absorbing information. It was an exhilarating feeling and Giles realised that, with an effort, he could see things through ITS eyes. There was a surprising innocence about it; a sense of almost childlike wonder and Giles couldn't help smiling.'Upon reaching adulthood,' he mused, 'we lose sight of the child within. We see things from an adult perspective, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes we fail to see the beauty and joy in the simple things of life.' Giles started the engine but made no attempt to move. 'Now what?' The reply that came caused him to grin widely: 'Now we learn about one another. We must become one yet remain separate. We will test limits, discover boundaries. I have much knowledge at your disposal and we will need to learn to work together if we are both to survive the darkness that is coming. Giles frowned. 'What darkness?' The presence mentally shrugged. 'I am unsure,' came the thought, 'I merely know it is coming.' Giles nodded and relaxed. 'Then learn,' he thought, 'everything is open to you.' Giles felt the gratitude from the presence and responded in kind. Reaching up, he put on his seatbelt and then stopped as a thought drifted through his mind 'I am no longer alone.' He frowned - 'whose thought was that? Mine or his?' Giles shrugged and pulled away from the Museum. 'It doesn't matter,' he smiled, 'it really doesn't matter.'


(Latin quote: "Men willingly believe what they wish" - De Bello Gallico, iii. 18 - Julius Caesar)

Read the next part: Who Needs To Dream