By L.A. Ward and Sanguine
Author’s note: Sorry, this has taken so freaking long. Real life has kept me busy. On the bright side, I did pass my boards.
Chapter Twelve: Magical Mystery Tour
“Could we. . .” Reggie gasped. “Stop for a moment?” Reggie’s panting breath made a frosty cloud in the air as he doubled over and braced his hands against his knees.
Lydia looked mildly impatient as Willow paused to wait for Reggie. For a moment Willow wondered whether Lydia would fiddle with her glasses the way that Giles did when he was upset. She didn’t. Lydia adjusted her black leather gloves.
Reggie’s face remained a flushed, mottled red. “I don’t understand why we didn’t take the tube to Southwark.”
“We would have had to change trains,” Lydia explained.
He took another gulp of air. “Could have taken the boat from Blackfriars.”
Lydia sighed and drew her gray wool coat more tightly around herself as the chilly morning wind whipped off the river. “Honestly, Reggie, it isn’t *that* far to walk and the boats don’t run until nine.”
“It’s okay. We can wait while you catch your breath,” Willow offered.
“I’m fine.” Reggie manfully squared his shoulders. “Lead the way, Willow.”
Willow paled. “I don’t. . .” She laid her hands on the cold stainless steel railing of the pedestrian bridge and looked at the cityscape of London. Most of what was in front of her was low and vaguely modern in varying shades of brick, steel, and glass. It was half a world from Sunnydale and nothing like the Big Ben and Parliament view that had always been the icon of ‘view from the Thames’ of the American’s imagination. For the most part what was in front of Willow was ordinary, sometimes gray and sometimes brown with the occasional apartment building having reflective tinted glazing. Although standing at the end of the bridge, slightly askew of being on axis, stood the impressive the black-smudged, white-domed, Neo-Classical-to-Baroque edifice of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“I’m sort of just following my instincts here, guys. Last summer I—“ Willow stopped, not wanting to think of the mess she had been before Spike had found her in the alley. “I heard stories, but I’ve never actually been to this place.”
“We could take another go at Travers,” Reggie suggested.
Lydia frowned. “I am afraid if Mr. Giles and Spike could not extract the truth from Mr. Travers, we have little hope of doing so.”
Willow’s grip tightened on the rail. “Yeah. Without going Darth Willow I’m not very intimidatey.” And no magic meant no truth spells.
Reggie rubbed his hands together. “The Mystic it is, then. Shall we go?”
They continued across the bridge toward the looming, stark edifice of an old power plant that had been transformed into an art museum. It stood next to the gleaming white exterior of the reconstructed Globe Theater with its anachronistic thatch roof.
Something caught Reggie’s eye. “Ooh! Starbucks!” He picked up speed and started toward the coffee shop.
Lydia glanced at Willow. “This Mystic, do you trust her?”
Willow shrugged and followed Reggie. “She’s supposed to be very powerful. Maybe she can get a vibe off the text that I can’t. I’ve tried, but. . .” =I’m scared.= The text was powerful and accessing it meant marshalling forces which had overwhelmed her not so long ago. Those forces had made Willow lose control, had caused havoc and death. She had stood in the middle of a storm of emotion, need, thrills, pain, and power. Everything had been in her control, yet everything had been beyond her. She couldn’t make it make sense. She had seen, up close and personal, a world composed of chaos upon which she could not impose order. It terrified her. The thought of ever losing control like that again had become the stuff of her nightmares.
Reggie walked out of the coffee shop and met them on the sidewalk. A foamy milk mustache marred his upper lip. “So, where are we going?”
Willow looked at their surroundings. Having traveled beyond the Globe Theater and the Tate Modern, the three of them were now in a very non-descript area of the city. Most of the buildings looked like little more than old brick warehouses.
“I. . .uh. . .have to sense it,” Willow confessed. “It’s a bit like trying to find Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.” =Or Rack’s= Willow added silently.
Lydia frowned. “Nine and Three Quarters?”
“Harry Potter.” Reggie looked excitedly at Willow. “You can really do that? Walk through walls?”
“M-maybe.” Could she? “But this isn’t exactly like that. It’s not a real wall. It’s an illusion. It takes power to create it and that power can be felt.” And that power would sizzle and hum across Willow’s skin like the power Rack had given her, like the power she had sold herself to a demon to gain. “It’s sort of like a portal. “
Willow continued walking, stretching her senses into the void in an effort to feel the portal’s energy and hoping that this time she wouldn’t find something awful. Reggie and Lydia were silent while she searched and that unnerved Willow more. Everything about the narrow, cobbled streets, which stood deserted and shadowed even in the morning hours, left Willow feeling uneasy. Then she touched something. It wasn’t strong at first. It felt distant and small. Instead of a supernatural power plant it was more along the lines of the charge felt when wearing wool socks and skidding your feet across carpet. Still, even then, there came a point where you realized that if you touched the doorknob you’d receive a hell of a shock, and the more she walked the more Willow felt the charge build.
She stopped moving.
She, Lydia, and Reggie faced what looked like a large expanse of blank brick wall. Reggie and Lydia glanced at Willow with “are you sure?” expressions causing Willow to nod then lift her chin. With the appearance of more confidence than she actually felt, Willow stepped through the illusory wall. Behind her she heard Reggie say, “It *is* just like Harry Potter.”
“In hell,” Willow whispered as she peered into charcoal gray shadows which surrounded her.
Buffy’s roundhouse kick sent a minion careening off the pier and into the harbor.
“Nice kick, pet.” Spike observed from his ship deck perch. He loomed over Buffy as he watched her battle the remaining minions. “But you’re a mite slow.”
Buffy grabbed her stake and shoved it into the heart of the vampire she was fighting.
“See,” Spike taunted. “Could’ve taken that minion out five minutes ago.”
Buffy glared up at him. “Would you shut up?”
Spike laughed. “You know better than that, luv.” He smirked. “No.”
From her position behind a packing crate, Dawn was struck by the absurd notion that Spike looked like a pirate. Not like a *real* pirate, but like a character in of those old, cheesy movies that her mom had used to watch on the movie classics channel. In real life, pirates had been dangerous men, but in those old Technicolor movies they were all bluster, handsome faces, and dramatic poses. They were swashbuckling actors putting on a show.
Spike stood precariously balanced on the ship’s rail as he paced along the narrow beam to remain abreast of Buffy’s struggle.
“Just going to watch? Why not come down and be part of the show?” Buffy challenged just before the vampire she was fighting clocked her. Buffy came back swinging, knocking the vampire to his knees then executing him. She looked back at Spike. “What are you doing here?”
Spike squatted and struck a match against the rail. After searching his pocket for a pack of cigarettes and coming up empty, he blew out the match, shrugged and said, “Stuff.”
“You’re too late, you know. I got here first.”
“Did you now, and what did you find?”
“Like I’d tell you.”
He gave a bitter smile. “That’s my girl. Always keepin’ secrets.”
“My girl. Yes, I remember you saying that once. Care to remind me when?”
Buffy flushed and turned away, attacking a minion with brutal force. Dawn heard the vampire scream in pain as Buffy broke its arm then its leg so that it was on the ground before she dusted it. Some expression Dawn couldn’t quite define crossed Spike’s face before he stood and leaped from the ship’s rail. If he’d still had the duster it would have fluttered around him like Batman’s cape and –oh yeah – that move just was *cool.* Spike landed with the grace and agility of a cat. Every now and then he’d do something that would suddenly bring home the fact that he really wasn’t human.
Dawn looked over at Buffy, who was still in full high-heeled dominatrix/executioner mode with the minions, while a little further down the pier Xander’s ass was being thoroughly kicked. Spike circled the outer edge of the two fights, watching but not participating in either. He stood with his back to Dawn.
Dawn’s hand tightened around her stake. Buffy had told her to stay down and stay hidden. She was supposed to keep watch and scream a warning if it was needed. After all, Dawn was good at screaming. Spike had once teased that it was her not-so-secret superpower.
His back was to her, and Dawn could take him out. She could dust him. In the month he’d been back, Spike had caused nothing but trouble. Buffy’s good mood had disappeared. She had gone into cold bitch Slayer mode the night Spike had returned and made himself Arch-enemy Number One.
Giles was a pod person too. Dawn remembered Giles as the amusing fuddy-duddy who was essentially kind. He didn’t seem very kind lately. He was distant and he frowned. He had always frowned but it used to be possible to tease him into smiles. Now he *just* frowned. He had become as hard and coldly determined as Buffy.
“Ripper,” Xander had said. “He’s in Ripper mode.”
And Spike was the cause of it all.
Buffy ripped a pipe from the pier railing, flipped it, twirled it in her hand, and skewered her combatant. Spike cocked his head to the side. “Stole that move from me, didn’t you, pet?”
Buffy glared. “No!” She looked ready to charge Spike, but a harried Xander cried for help.
Buffy ran to save her friend as Dawn struggled to gather her own courage. She could do this. She could kill Spike. She had a clear shot. He was only a couple yards away. All she had to do was remind herself that Spike was the guy who had harbored demon eggs that would have hatched critters that would have devoured her and her friends in their beds. He was the guy who had disappeared from her life the moment Buffy had come back from the dead.
Dawn tightened her hand around her stake and rose to her feet.
Spike was the guy who had slept with Anya. He was the guy who had hurt Buffy. He was the guy…who had been Dawn’s first real friend.
Spike turned and Dawn’s blood ran cold. For so long he had just been Spike. Frustrated Spike. Angry Spike. Heartbroken Spike. But always just Spike. Dawn had never looked into his eyes and seen hate. Not her. Never her. She might know that Spike was dangerous, but where she was concerned Spike had always been a big fluffy puppy with bad teeth. Dawn had never looked at him and seen death. Now she did, and she was terrified.
Spike’s blue eyes flickered gold, a flat acid yellow devoid of human warmth or expression. His muscles tensed a fraction of a second before he charged in her direction. Dawn’s heart leaped into her throat, and she remembered the story Spike had once told her of a little girl in a coal bin.
=Oh, God. Oh, God.= She was about to die. She was about to have her throat ripped out by a vampire. Dawn knew she should run, but her feet felt glued in place. Spike could run faster than she could anyway. She was going to die. Spike reached out and as Dawn opened her mouth to scream, he caught. . .
Dawn gasped as Spike roughly hauled a vampire from behind her.
The vampire struggled in Spike’s grip. It protested, “Hey man, I had her dead to—“
Spike ripped the minion’s head off sending a spray of dust into Dawn’s eyes.
“God. Oh! That stings!” Dawn rubbed her eyes with the back of her wrist. But she felt safe, and when she could see again, she found Spike watching her with concern.
Spike was an open book again, every thought, every emotion written on his expressive face. There was fear, then relief, when he found her unharmed. He lifted his hand, reaching for her as if he meant to touch her, comfort her.
“Dawn!” Buffy yelled from somewhere beyond Dawn’s field of vision.
Spike’s hand fell and the moment of connection between him and Dawn was broken. He stepped back, drawing himself up so that he appeared larger than he truly was. His features hardened before he disappeared into the darkness.
“Dawnie.” Buffy marched toward her. “I told you to stay hidden. That means *hide.*”
“It’s okay, Buffy. I’m okay.”
Buffy’s frown knitted her brow but after a moment she seemed willing to let the ice bitch routine go. She brushed a strand of Dawn’s hair behind her ear, and Dawn could *almost* swear there was a look of approval in Buffy’s eyes.
Xander was breathless when he reached them. He looked tired and stressed. “Bastard got away, didn’t he?” They all knew Xander was talking about Spike.
“Doesn’t matter,” Buffy said.
Xander shook his head and looked unhappy. “What do you mean, it doesn’t matter?”
Buffy casually tossed a two inch square silver box in the air and caught it. “I got what I came for.” She started walking. After a moment, and a disgruntled sigh, Xander followed her.
Dawn still felt rooted to the spot. She stared at the pile of dust at her feet. Spike had done that. Spike had saved her. He had *wanted* to save her. She had looked into his eyes and seen love.
“Dawnie?” Buffy called.
Something was going on, and Dawn wanted to know what.
Spike negotiated his way through the dimly lit alley between two warehouses as he left the docks. The shadows around him were long and deep, deep enough to hide in and almost disappear. He leaned against a weathered brick wall and pulled a dry, pained breath into his lungs. If his heart could beat, he knew it would be pounding, not from exertion but from fear. Dawn had been a hair’s breadth away from becoming O-positive lunch for one of the Master’s flunkies. Buffy and Harris had been caught in their own battles. If Spike hadn’t glanced in Dawn’s direction, Niblet would have been killed and left lying on the dock with a dead, glassy-eyed stare.
=Bollocks, bugger, and balls.= What had Buffy been thinking bringing Bit down to the docks like that? Reckless was what it was, damned reckless.
Spike paused and leaned against the warehouse, settling for a deep breath to calm himself rather than the cigarette he’d sell his soul to buy.
The corner of Spike’s mouth lifted in bitter amusement. He’d have to watch thinking things like that now that he had a soul to sell, now that he knew what a soul meant. It meant he remembered a thousand little girls just like Bit, girls that he had done in without a second thought. He was no better than the minion he had just killed.
A few weeks ago, when he had revealed his human past to Rupes, the Watcher had wanted to know what the Master could possibly want with an undead vicar. Rupes’ mocking tone had made his incredulity clear and caused Spike to laugh. “Nothing,” Spike had said gruffly. “Not about God or religion anyways--which is good ‘cause I was never much interested in either.”
Rupert’s glare had been disapproving, but then Rupert’s glare was always disapproving. Spike had ignored it and answered the Watcher’s unspoken questions.
“William was a good boy.” Spike was keenly aware of his accent changing to rounder and more precise speech. “Always doing what was right, what was expected. Taking the cloth was a gentleman’s profession, one appropriate to my family’s situation. I believed it all, I suppose, but I had no passion for it. If you’re looking for a fallen saint, you would do better to look in Dru’s direction.”
The Watcher’s expression had become a scowl. “I knew she had taken vows before Angelus. . .“
Spike had arched a brow. “Don’t go squeamish, Rupes. He raped her, tortured her, drove her insane, and murdered her. “
Giles had grimaced and looked away, causing Spike to wonder at the innate repression that made Giles reluctant to hear or say what he already knew to be true.
Spike had made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “But this isn’t about Dru. And I told you, it’s not about God. It’s about knowledge.”
“And you have it?” Giles had asked derisively. “Why do I find that hard to believe?”
“Bloody well don’t care what you believe. You try findin’ a graduate of the modern American educational system who can read Greek and Latin. Local vampire ranks aren’t filled with Rhodes Scholars, y’know.”
Spike had shrugged. “It amused Angelus to corrupt innocents. He called it ‘education.’”
“I find it difficult to imagine you as innocent.”
“And I find it difficult to imagine you as anything other than a sanctimonious git swathed in tweed. We all have pasts.”
“Your point, Spike?”
“My point is the Master needs a right-hand man familiar with subjects a good Anglican boy with a pre-Raphaelite’s obsession for all things chivalric would know a thing or three about. Crusades, illuminated manuscripts, holy hand grenade of Antioch. That sort of thing.”
Rupert hadn’t been pleased, but the Watcher was a pragmatic man. “As unlikely as it may be, you appear to be of value.”
“Knots your knickers, doesn’t it?” Spike’s bravado had fallen away, and he had sighed. “I can do this.” He had lifted his head. “Besides, I’m all you’ve got.”
Three weeks and a few-odd days had passed since then, weeks of lies and pretended subservience to the Master. Now, the weight of a two-and-a-half-inch square silver box in his pocket reminded Spike that things were as buggered as always.
It was nothing like Platform Nine and Three Quarters. It was nothing like Diagon Alley. There was nothing whimsical or cute to be found here. It was ominous and dark, and reminded Willow of the gutter where Spike had found her.
“This is the right place?” Lydia asked.
Willow nodded nervously. “I’m pretty sure it is. It was described to me. . .sort of. . .in way less scary terms.” Willow swallowed convulsively. “It’s a shadowland. It’s always here, just. . .”
“Hidden in the shadows. I’ve read about those.” Reggie’s voice was as enthusiastic as ever as he examined their surroundings. “Look at these markings. They were left by a Krallock demon.” It was graffiti which probably only said “Numfar was here,” but the phosphorescent green scrawl on the cement-parged walls glowed in the shadows. It felt like a warning, and although the alley walls protected them from the wind off the river, the air seemed colder here.
Willow wondered why she should be surprised that this hidden place of magic seemed to be like Rack’s. The air was pregnant with the same kind of energy. It was just as unearthly still, and it had the same hostile vibe.
=What did you expect? Oz and the Emerald City?= For a moment Willow comforted herself with the memory of an entirely different Oz and what his deadpan reaction would be to this dark alley. But Oz wasn’t here, and this wasn’t the Emerald City. There was no harmless doorman or a horse of a different color. There was no benevolent Dumbledore. . .and was she mixing her metaphors and literary references much?
Gathering her courage, Willow approached the door next to the glowing demon scrawl. The door flew open, revealing an aged woman whose wild mane that looked like it belonged to Gloria Steinem on a bad hair day. . . if the bad hair day involved her sticking her finger in a light socket. Her hair was steel-wool gray, as were her eyes. In fact, everything about her was a bit gray. “Come in and stop wasting time,” the woman commanded.
Willow blinked. “But I. . .uh. . .”
“She hadn’t even tried the door,” Reggie exclaimed. “How did you know we were here?”
The woman arched a brow. “You come to a seer and expect her not to see?”
“Well, no, but—“
The woman had already walked away, leaving the door open behind her. Willow and Lydia looked at each other, then followed the seer inside. The mystic stood over an old gas stove, where she put a tea kettle on to boil. “Could have saved my time by not coming at all,” the seer grumbled. “Could have let me sleep in. It’s hellishly early.” She pulled a tin of tea from the cupboard. Willow and the Watchers were left standing in awkward silence watching step by step as the seer prepared to make tea.
Finally, Reggie broke the silence to ask, “Are you a mystic or an oracle?”
The woman frowned as she filled a strainer with fragrant black Darjeeling leaves. “What’s the difference?”
Lydia primly clasped her hands. “A mystic is a practitioner of mysticism which is defined as the belief that it is possible to experience communion with the ultimate reality through subjective means such as intuition or insight. An Oracle is someone through whom gods, goddesses, and fates may speak directly.”
The Seer tilted her head slightly to one side. “Reallly? Hmm. I will keep that in mind.” She then shrugged, clearly reluctant to define herself, and returned to making tea.
Reggie continued to press. “Are you a witch?”
The woman eyed him as she set a celadon Japanese teapot on the counter. “Awfully anxious to find a pigeon hole for me, aren’t you, Watcher?”
“How do you know we’re Watchers?”
“You smell like it. Musty, stuffy--” She sniffed the air. “--Chanel No. 5.” She smiled at Lydia. “Very nice, by the way.” The Seer turned, caught sight of herself in the mirror and yelped. Leaning closer to the glass, she touched her lined face as if it was unfamiliar to her. “Why have you come at this ungodly hour of the morning?”
“It’s eight fifteen,” Lydia protested.
The woman hrrumphed. “Feels earlier. I haven’t had a chance to put my face on yet.”
Willow stepped forward. “We…uh… came for information. We wanted to know. . .” She searched for the appropriate word. “Stuff about this…um…prophecy. . . thing.” Willow silently groaned. She hadn’t sounded very dignified or commandy.
Still staring into the mirror, the woman said, “If you’re looking for someone to tell fortunes, try Talia. She’s three blocks to the east and nauseatingly chipper this time of day.“ Another disgruntled hrrmphf. “Morning person.”
Willow summoned her resolve face. “We aren’t here for fortunes.”
The woman turned her attention from the mirror to Willow. Her gaze traveled from the top of the young witch’s red head to the toes of her almost-new boots which were ankle high and laced from bottom to top. “It’s going to cost you,” the Seer warned.
Lydia was the first to answer. “We are willing to pay your price.”
“Oh, really?” The woman arched her brow, then reached out and snatched Lydia’s shell-pink Hermes scarf from around the Watcher’s neck.
“That’s a Regina!” Lydia protested, then instantly composed herself and clasped her hands primly. With her chin lifted and her voice full of forced calm she added, “And it’s vintage.”
”Pretty.” The seer fluttered the scarf in the air and began humming an artless tune as she pulled back her wild hair and tied it with the scarf. Another wave of her hand and when the seer faced her visitors, the lines on her face had been magically, erased leaving her skin smooth, taut, and curiously ageless.
“I say, Lydia, a scarf is a small price to pay for a—hey!” Reggie cried out as the Seer stole his latte. “You’re making tea, why do you need my coffee?”
The woman licked milk foam from her upper lip. “There’s no such thing as enough caffeine.
“And my price?” Willow asked, fully aware that the seer was taking a token from each of her visitors.
A flash of light and the amethyst crystal that hung around Willow’s neck on a leather thong disappeared and reappeared in the Seer’s hand. Willow’s hand went to her now bare throat. “No, please. That was given to me by someone very special. . .someone I lost.”
The Seer gazed into the crystal that now lay in her hand. It began to giving off a soft, iridescent lavender glow. “I can see that.” She returned the crystal to Willow’s neck. “She loved you a great deal.”
“Ow!” Willow winced as the older woman tore out several strands of her red hair.
The Seer smiled and wound her trophy around one finger before sliding it into a small silk pouch that she placed in a cupboard drawer. “Account paid in full. Now, what do you wish to know?”
Willow spread the illuminated parchment out flat on the kitchen counter.
“What is it?” Buffy asked as Giles examined the box she had taken from the ship at the Sunnydale Docks.
“It’s like the most expensive Rubik’s cube on the planet,” Xander observed. “And the freakiest.”
The surface of the cube was intricately worked silver, inlaid with onyx and polished ivory. The workings of the mechanism were so precise and fine that the black and white pieces could be moved along delicate silver tracks until they made patterns.
“So?” Buffy’s arms were crossed and she looked impatient.
Giles frowned. “I’m not precisely sure what you wish me to tell you, Buffy.”
“Um, sort of looking for ‘what is it?’”
Giles picked up the box for closer inspection as he traced the symbols etched into each piece of ivory and stone. “It’s a puzzle of some sort. I cannot be more precise until I’ve had time to do further research.”
“Why does Spike want it? He had five minions with him and he beat us to the docks. What does that thing do?”
Xander took the box from Giles’s hand. “Probably something very Wes Craven.” He set it on the table. “And it’s freaking me out watching you mess with it, Giles.”
Buffy started to pace across the floor of the Magic Box. “This is *so* not good.” She stopped moving. “Remember the Judge? Big puzzle pieces stolen from the dock. Put them all together and—presto--Blue Man apocalypse.”
Xander shook his head. “Remind me again why we kept Spike around so long? Should have killed him when he showed up at Giles’s door. Would have saved us all a lot of trouble.”
A knot formed in the pit of Dawn’s stomach as she slid from the counter where she had been sitting, and quietly made her way into the back room. Behind her she could hear Xander going into Spike rant number three million, six hundred thousand and five. For months now she’s been all with the Spike hate, but the incident at the dock made Dawn wonder. Spike had protected her. It couldn’t have been to impress Buffy, because he was busy pissing Buffy off in a very big way. The only explanation for why he had saved her was because he had wanted to. Sure, Spike could be a monumentally sentimental sap – in a cool, rebellious sort of way – but when trying to destroy the world, rescuing the people working against you was sort of counterproductive.
Sitting at a desk in the far corner of the Magic Box’s rear office, Anya sighed and muttered to herself as she reviewed invoices. “I sincerely hope he is a very good Watcher because he is a very inefficient business man.”
Dawn asked, “Who? Mr. Giles?”
“Look at this.” Anya waved a packing slip in Dawn’s general direction. “This is the third invoice I’ve found for an Er’Gefrey box, and we don’t have a single one in stock.”
The demon turned and looked at Dawn with a disapproving and confused gaze. “How am I to make a profit if Giles keeps paying for merchandise we don’t have?”
Dawn caught the paper that Anya was waving. “What’s an Er’Gefrey box look like?”
Anya shrugged. “Varies. But Giles keeps paying for the expensive ones--silver, onyx, and ivory.”
Dawn gasped. She pushed aside the bead curtain and looked into the main room of the shop where Buffy and Xander were still talking with Mr. Giles. “This box thingie, what does it do?”
”Do?” Anya asked. “Nothing. It’s like magical gift wrapping. A fancy outer wrapper that contains pan-dimensional space.”
“It’s a small package that holds really big things.”
Dawn frowned. “So these little boxes act like Mary Poppins’s suitcase?”
“Who is Mary Poppins?”
Dawn ignored Anya’s question. “If Mr. Giles is ordering these boxes, he has to know what they are. He’s lying.”
“Lying? He’s embezzling? Why I—“
Dawn’s hand covered Anya’s mouth. “Shh!” Anya bit her. “Ow!”
But Anya did keep her voice down to a whisper when she spoke again. “I am a vengeance demon, you know. I could turn you into a stink beetle.”
“Not unless someone I scorned wished for me to be a stink beetle, and since I’m not big into scorning and never had anyone to scorn anyhow, you’re out of luck.”
Anya peeked through the beaded curtain to look at the trio inside the shop examining the Er’Gefrey box. “Human men are evil. Say what you will about demons, men are worse.”
“You like men.”
“Well, yes, but I have very bad taste in men.”
“So men aren’t evil, just the ones you like.” Dawn frowned. “And I thought we were talking about Mr. Giles not Xander.”
Anya flushed. “Yes, well, Giles is the one stealing from me.”
“If it’s any help, I don’t think Mr. Giles is stealing. He’s just keeping secrets.”
“Secrets about stealing.”
“No, I’m pretty sure it’s about something else.”
Spike shoved the Er’Gefrey box into the inner pocket of his jacket as he approached the Volkswagon that waited for him. The street was still wet from an early evening rain and light reflected off the asphalt. As a gentle breeze blew, Spike stopped walking. There was the scent of blood in the air. With a sudden burst of speed he turned, slamming a minion into the wall as its human victim fell to the ground. Spike growled.
“Dexter, is it?”
The vamp could only make a gagging sound as it nodded.
“What did I say about snacking?” Spike eased off the minion’s wind pipe so it could answer.
“Man, just because you can’t bite—“
“That’s right. Got a chip in my head that means I can’t bite people, which means as long as I’m around *you* can’t bite people.” Spike smirked. “‘Cause I’m just a selfish bastard that way. If I don’t have fun, no one does.”
“Man, just because you’re a cripple…”
Spike pushed his forearm harder into Dexter’s throat. “I’m thinkin’ I’m just a nudge away from crushing your windpipe, Dexter. And while you may not need to breathe, a smashed windpipe makes it a bitch to talk or sing along with your Abba 8 tracks. So, one more time. Stop pissing me off. ” He let the minion go.
Dexter straightened his jacket. “Be cool, man.”
Spike looked heavenward. “And the seventies are *over!*”
“This coming from Mr. Punk Rock Atti—“
Dexter threw his hands up. “All right, already. You win.” He looked over Spike’s shoulder. “Where’re the others?”
Most of Spike’s energy was focused on trying to hear whether Dexter’s victim still had a heartbeat. She did. The rest of his energy was aimed at reminding himself not to appear as though he cared. “They met dusty ends.”
“That bitch Slayer?”
“Yeah. That. . . bitch.”
“Damn, the Master isn’t going to like hearing this. Did you at least get what we came for?”
Acutely aware of the weight of the Er’Gefrey box in his pocket, Spike lied. “Not yet, but soon. Go back and tell the Master I’ll have what he wants later tonight.”
“Only reason to have a flat in the warehouse district is the excess space,” the Seer explained, as she led Willow, Reggie, and Lydia out of her kitchen and into expansive, nearly-empty loft with blacked out windows. She took the parchment they had brought with them from the Council and laid it on the floor in the center of the room. Reaching into her pocket, the Seer withdrew a hand full of sand, which she drizzled into a circle around the parchment.
Willow and Lydia watched the Seer’s movements with great interest as she dragged her fingers through the sand, drawing exotic symbols, while Reggie occupied himself with looking around the cavernous room.
Dusting her hands against her thighs, the Seer stood and took several steps away from the circle and the parchment. She glanced at her clients, then, with a subtle motion of her hands, she summoned ghostly images which rose like mist from the circle. The images grew life-sized, then larger, stretching wall to wall, and ceiling to floor. The Seer’s eyes closed and the ghostly figures began to solidify and move.
Willow gasped. The Seer could not only sense and absorb text like Willow could herself, but she could also project it. Willow, Reggie, and Lydia moved closer to each other and to the pictures. In an odd way, it felt like standing in an IMAX theater as images loomed large around them. In another way, it looked eerily similar to the transparent computer thing that Tom Cruise had in “Minority Report.” The woman, her wild hair beginning to escape the confines of Lydia’s Hermes scarf, stood in the middle of a chaotic swirl of images, directing them, ordering them, bringing one forward while pushing others back. The imaged that shimmered and then became clearest, was Willow sitting in the Council Library touching the torn parchment.
“That was yesterday,” Willow whispered.
The Seer glanced at Will. “You have power.”
The squirmy, tentacled monster of discomfort that, since Willow’s rampage last spring, had taken residence beneath her skin, constricted her chest and made it difficult to breathe. “Yes.”
The Seer’s gaze narrowed. “You can sense the magic and the text.”
“And yet you came to me?”
“I. . .” Willow gulped. “It wasn’t that easy.”
The Seer’s voice was calm, which made it all the more disturbing when she said, “It never is.” And Willow noticed that though the woman’s appearance was ageless, her eyes looked old. Willow blinked and returned her attention to the image of herself in the Council’s library. Pushing that image aside, the Seer revealed one of Travers in his office staring at the parchment. It was earlier than the image of Willow, because in this one the parchment was whole. They barely had time to note that fact before witnessing Travers tear the manuscript and place the torn removed portion in the flame of a black candle. In seconds it was ashes.
“That’s an antique manuscript!” Lydia protested with all the outrage of a historian. “And it wasn’t his. It belonged to the Council.”
Willow looked anxiously at the Seer. “What was on the paper he burned? Can you go back?”
“This isn’t a DVD, dear. See the candle? It’s wormwood and blackened amber. He knew what he was doing. He erased it.”
Reggie frowned. “What do you mean ‘erased’? He set it on fire.”
“He erased it from time.” The Seer glanced at Willow. “Knew you were a witch, didn’t he? He did a spell.”
“That’s why I couldn’t sense what’s missing,” Will realized. “He hid it.”
Reggie glanced from the Seer to Willow to the Seer again. “So how do we find it?”
Willow sighed. “That’s just it. We don’t. It’s like the missing piece never existed. The part of the manuscript that we’ve got is all there is.”
“And that’s it? That’s all? That’s – “ Reggie looked confused “—my grandfather.”
Willow turned to see that the image had changed. Now, Travers was much younger and an older man stood showing Travers the parchment.
“Mr. Claridge was the head of the council before Mr. Travers,” Lydia explained. “He must have shown Mr. Travers the manuscript before he. . .”
“Died,” Reggie finished softly just as the image shimmered and readjusted. The years seemed to dissolve as Mr. Claridge changed from old man to young, and another Watcher-type, probably the Council head before him, stood by his side. They were no longer in the Council’s office, or if they were, it was hard to tell. They stood in a bombed-out room which was open to the sky and Mr. Claridge was wearing a uniform. “Infantry,” Reggie said. “Grandfather served in the infantry during the war.”
Another shimmer, and the image was of another room and another place. “The Council’s Rome office,” Lydia explained. “I visited when doing research for my thesis.”
Still in uniform, Reggie’s grandfather stood in the Council’s Rome office speaking with another man; there was something earnest and urgent in his gestures and in his face. The older man followed Mr. Claridge through the streets of post-war Rome until they found a ruin of a church. Claridge led the Council member down a flight of stone stairs, going deep into the shadowed confines of the ancient catacombs that run beneath the city until they reached a room full of red and black clay vases.
The scene dissolved, and it had to be earlier because now there was fighting, a war--*the* war. There were Nazis and Brown Shirts. It was World War II, and British soldiers were pinned against a field stone wall, held in place by a barrage of fire. Italian soldiers were advancing and Reggie’s grandfather busily looked for a path of retreat. He tried a heavy wood door. Pushing his shoulder against it, the door gave way. He gestured to his buddies and they rushed into the abandoned church whose windows had been bombed out. There was no sound to go with the images, no way to hear what fueled the urgency of the soldiers’ retreat, but fear could be read on their young faces. One of the soldiers found another door that lead to a flight of stairs.
Lydia stepped forward. “They must have found the parchment in the catacombs.”
As the soldiers ran through the ancient manmade caverns, Claridge stumbled, falling face first into a stack of clay amphorae, shattering them. His buddy skidded to a halt. Visibly breathing hard, Claridge’s companion turned and searched the darkness. Perhaps concluding that they were safe, he slid down against the wall. Sitting in the dust, he pulled out cigarettes and, with difficulty, struck a match off the semi-damp floor.
As his friend smoked, Claridge sat up and kicked away damaged vases to create a clear place to sit. After he had closed his eyes and taken several deep breaths he opened them to notice a rolled piece of paper half sticking out of one of the jars. He reached for it, unrolled it, and began to read.
“My grandfather was the one who found it. He was the one who brought it to the Council,” Reggie whispered with a bit of awe.
Darkness stretched after that, and for a moment they thought that this was all the Seer had to show them. Then firelight flickered and Willow gasped. “Th-the Master. That’s the Master.”
The Master’s unnatural, Nosferatu-like visage loomed over a monk who looked just like the stereotype, complete with brown wool robes and funny haircut. The holy man, unaware of the vampire behind him, pushed his chair back move to stand from his seated position behind a desk.
Lydia asked as she stepped closer to the floating images, “This must be prior to the 1920s, then. The Master became trapped in the Hellmouth in the twenties.”
With fascination and dread, Willow watched the Master approach the monk. It was like one of those slasher movies where there was an almost overwhelming urge to scream to the imminent victim, “He’s right behind you!” But it would do no good. This victim was long dead. The Master grabbed the monk , who tried to struggle; but it was too late, the vampire’s fangs were already in his neck. One last gasp and the monk fell dead at the killer’s feet, leaving the Master to step over the corpse to search through a sheaf of papers until he found what he was looking for. The vampire smiled, a gruesome image with his demonic gameface and fangs, and he rolled the parchment, placing it in a clay amphora.
Lydia looked at Willow. “Would you have guessed the Master had the prophecy in his possession before the Council?”
“It was about the Order of Aurelius,” Willow murmured. “But, wow, it’s scary that the the Order actually knows of the prophecy’s existence.”
The vision flickered as time rolled further back and the monk sat patiently painting calligraphy on the parchment.
“He’s copying it!” Exuberance almost rolled off Reggie in waves as he looked at Lydia and Willow, then back at the floating image. “The information we want still exists. The monk is copying it from an earlier scroll.” His dark-eyed gaze settled on the Seer. “It does still exist, does it not? Can you access it? This is what we need.”
The Seer closed her eyes, taking a deep breath as she did so. After a moment of silence she shook her head. “I cannot see the older scroll.”
“Has it also been destroyed?” Lydia asked.
“No. Not destroyed. Protected.” She opened her tired gray eyes. “There is a hex or spell masking the text from my sight.”
“Bugger,” Reggie complained and Willow silently agreed as the images continued going further and further back in time. Before the monk who had inked the translation, there was another monk who had kept the original scroll, and a monk before that. There were nine or ten of them in turn. Then there was a knight, not in shining armor, but in a mail shirt and leggings. He carried the scroll to the monastery, handing it to the monks. Before that he was riding a horse and carrying a banner.
“German,” Reggie said.
Willow asked, “How do you know that?”
“The colors on his banner. He’s a Crusader.” Reggie’s gaze narrowed as he stared at the flag the knight carried. “Definitely German.” Silence stretched and Reggie turned to find Willow and Lydia staring at him. “What? Medieval weaponry was the subject of *my* thesis. I’m not a total git, you know.”
Lydia started, “We never meant to imply—“
“There. That.” Reggie pointed to the Crusader’s flag. “I’m willing to wager this knight is part of Frederick the Second’s campaign, the Sixth Crusade. That would place him in the early 1200s. Frederick captured Jerusalem in 1229.” He frowned, “Though there were rumors that King Frederick never actually died.”
Willow walked around Reggie. “I’m sort of out my element here. I mean, first , Jewish so not all up with the whole Crusading subject. If it’s more than Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, or Monty Python, I’m on the clueless side. Although, I did see Katharine Hepburn in a “Lion in Winter” and Anthony Hopkins played. . . Never mind. Off the subject. What are we talking about?”
“I don’t know. I mean, Anthony Hopkins played Richard the Lion Hearted in “Lion in Winter”—“
The Seer looked heavenward. “I believe the witch was asking your point about the Crusade.”
Reggie blinked. “Oh. . .uh. . .I don’t have one really. I mean other than dating what we’re seeing. It was after Richard the Lion Hearted left the Holy Land. It was after Saladin.“
Lydia, the only one still watching the images as they continued to flicker by, whispered, “The knight is in Qumran.”
“I love how you guys are like history gurus,” Willow said. “How can you tell?”
“That was the Dead Sea he passed on his way to the plateau. Qumran is the village where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.”
Buffy asked, “Can you stay here, Dawnie? Xander and I need to go out.”
The teen crossed her arms and looked petulant. “Go out where? Giles is already gone. You have to go too?”
“It’s important,” Buffy protested.
“Always is.” At Buffy’s stare, Dawn said, “Fine. Go. Whatever.”
Buffy looked confused by Dawn’s attitude, but after a moment, she grabbed an ax and left with Xander.
Dawn smiled and yelled to Anya, “They’re gone.”
Anya came out of the Magic Box’s rear room carrying an armfull of bottles. “I’m not Willow. I’m no witch.”
Dawn rushed forward and relieved Anya of some of the bottles before she dropped them. “But you can do a locator spell, right?”
Anya looked offended. “Of course I can. It’s not that difficult. I turned Olaf into a troll even before I was a demon. Hand me the lungwort and the valerian.”
“Willow doesn’t use that stuff.”
“Willow’s a witch.” Anya spread out a map of Sunnydale and sprinkled it with the herbs. Then she took a crystal and suspended it over the map. “Even if he is very handsome and erudite, Rupert is not allowed to take merchandise from the store simply because he feels like it.”
“You just called Mr. Giles ‘Rupert.’
The swinging crystal came to an abrupt halt over the play ground a few blocks to the east of the Magic Box. “There he is. Let’s go.”
Dawn followed Anya out the door. “You did so call him Rupert.”
“I do not see why that would be so surprising. It is his name. And perhaps you should be quiet now. Stealth is helped by quiet.”
“You’re just trying to shut me up.”
“That would be an attractive side benefit.” Anya’s odd, toddling gait, which was courtesy of the three inch high heels she was wearing, slowed their progress toward the park.
“You could just pull those ridiculous things off,” Dawn complained.
Anya sniffed. “They are not ridiculous. They are very expensive, and they make my legs look quite attractive.”
“But men are evil, right? So why do your legs need to be attractive?”
“Men may be evil, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to attract them. They have very nice arms, they smell good, and they have—“
“Stop before you get to the sex stuff. I don’t need to hear about Xander’s --”
Anya gave a Mona Lisa-like smile. “Yes, Xander’s penis is very nice, but other men have them. Spike’s—“
“Oh god, no. Not Spike’s either. Can we just drop this? Not every conversation has to revolve around sex or money.”
Anya looked offended. “Well, of course it doesn’t. There’s also food.” When she realized that Dawn was no longer beside her, Anya paused and looked back at the teen. “I did live with Xander, you know.”
“Get down!” Dawn hissed in a stage whisper.
“Down. Hide. Now. They might see us.”
“Who might see what?”
Dawn caught Anya’s arm and pulled her down behind a bench. “Over there by the swings. Can’t you see them? It’s Mr. Giles.” She allowed a pregnant pause before adding, “And Spike, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that Mr. Giles is surprised to see Spike.”
“They aren’t fighting,” Anya observed.
“In fact, they are talking.”
“Uh-huh. All conspiracy-like too.”
Anya’s gaze narrowed as she looked at Dawn. “Do you think Spike is helping Rupert steal from me?”
“It’s your fault, really,” Giles observed.
Spike’s gaze swiveled toward the Watcher. “What?”
“Things are in disarray. Your mistake may cost us dearly.”
Semi-shrouded in darkness, Spike struggled with something out of Giles’s line of sight. “My only mistake was listening to you. It’s your bloody overcomplicated plan. “
“Nothing was wrong with the plan. It was the execution that was faulty.”
“I ‘executed’ just fine. On a scale of one to ten, it was an eleven. I broke into the hold of the ship and swapped the original little box with your fake and returned with the Master’s idiot henchmen to give a good show of raiding the ship for a good, old fashioned ancient artifact. Problem is someone—“ he glared at Giles “—didn’t bother telling me the Slayer would be there. “
“She took it, you know, carted off the fake like it was some big prize, no doubt delivered it to you, and left me holding the real thing.” Spike lifted his hand revealing the onyx and ivory inlaid Er’Gefrey box he had been struggling to open. “Not planning on me delivering that to the Master, now are you?”
Giles eyed the box. “No.”
Spike continued his efforts to pry open the magical puzzle. “Right then, to avoid bollixing things up in the future, keep me in the bloody loop.” With a growl of frustration he handed over the box. “Open this damned thing.”
“There’s no reason to open it.”
“Yes, there is. I want to know what I’m risking my neck for.”
Giles asked archly, “Truth, justice, and the good of mankind not reason enough for you?”
“Sod off. “ Spike snapped. “Where’s the truth in all the lies I’m telling? And never have seen much in the way of justice.”
“And the good of mankind?”
“Remains to be seen.”
“Ah, here we go.” Giles slid a piece of onyx into to a niche framed by silver. A high-pitched whirring sound filled the air as the box levitated from Giles’s hand and began to spin. The panels forming the cube began to unfold. Once, then twice, going from a two-inch by two-inch cube to flat plane that, once it stopped spinning, remained suspended in mid air.
For a moment, Spike’s hand hovered above what remained of the box, then he reached inside--although there should have been no ‘inside’ since the Er’Gefrey puzzle had turned into a half-inch-deep slab. Still, Spike’s arm disappeared all the way up to his elbow as he retrieved what the box had held.
“Nothing had better snap off my hand,” Spike muttered.
“We should be so lucky.”
Again, Spike glared at the Watcher, but after a moment he pulled a long, curved sword from the pandimensional space. Light glinted off the intricately etched blade as Spike tested the weight of the weapon in his hand. “Neat.”
Giles frowned. “It is not ‘neat,’ and don’t treat it like a toy.”
“But it is one. Has been ever since some bloke invented gun powder.” Giving a delighted laugh, Spike executed a move that would have made Highlander’s Duncan MacLeod proud. He twirled the sword in a deadly imitation of a tennis serve, then, turning on his heel, he leaped onto the center point of the playground’s see-saw and landed with uncannily perfect balance. The sword made a near-silent whoshing sound as it sliced through the air before Spike raised it to admire its engraved patterns once more. “Shiny.”
Disapproval lined Giles’s face. “Animals are often fascinated by shiny objects.”
A muscle clenched in Spike’s jaw. It was his only visible reaction as he stared straight ahead and took not one breath. Silence yawned.
Giles gave an exasperated sigh. “This is an artifact of genuine historical significance.” He took the sword from Spike. “It belonged to Saladin. Legend says he used it to drive the Crusaders from Jerusalem.”
Affecting a bored mien, Spike stepped off the see-saw and took a seat on one of the playground swings. “So it’s a nifty toy that gives librarian-types a hard-on. That doesn’t explain why the Master wants it.”
Giles used a corner of his tweed coat to polish the blade. “That is unclear. I have found little connection between the objects we have retrieved thus far.“ He paused before adding, “Although the shield we found last week and this sword are both relics of the Crusades”
“Sounds like a connection to me.”
“Possibly,” Giles admitted. “But, you see, they are connected in totally opposing ways. The sword belonged to Saladin, and the shield to Richard Coeur de Lion.”
Spike shrugged. “Opposite sides of the same coin. Still connected.”
“Indeed. However, the talisman you received in the first shipment belonged to Morgan Le Fey.”
Spike arched a brow. “King Arthur’s sister? The bint into kinky, incestuous trysts?”
“The pagan priestess who was probably a witch, and perhaps a goddess or fairy.”
“So there’s no direct connection to the Crusades. There’s still that Holy Grail thing. That’s a Crusade of sorts.”
“Of sorts, but not exactly the same thing.”
Spike pushed off and began swinging. “Even if there is some crusading connection, I don’t see the point of any of it. The Le Fey bird may have filled her talisman with hocus pocus from Avon, but the rest of them? Pfft.”
“Fairly dismissive of King Richard for a former British subject, aren’t you? What happened to the Pre-Raphaelite obsession?” Giles said in a tone just shy of mocking.
“Pre-Raphaelite movement died and so did the Pre-Raphaelite. “ Spike flew off the swing, landing softly in the dirt. “The Master may prattle about tradition and history but it’s bollocks. He’s more interested in curses, chaos, and black magic. A sword wielded by the Sultan of Egypt and a shield from of an absentee British monarch wouldn’t be of interest to old batface. It’s not a matter of what the artifacts are. It’s what they do.”
“Which, apparently, is nothing. As far as I can tell, whatever magic the talisman held dissipated long ago, and the sword and shield are exactly what they appear to be—a sword and shield.”
“So what now? Continue as curator of the Master’s private museum collection? Seems bloody pointless.”
“You have a better plan?”
“Well, yeah. What about killing him? Can’t very well start an apocalypse if he’s dead, now can he?”
“You would choose that option,” Giles derided.
“’Cause it makes sense and would end things quickly. Got a problem with efficiency?”
“And it would gain us nothing, or have you forgotten that Wolfram and Hart are involved? From what I understand they brought back Darla. What would prevent them from doing the same with the Master?”
“Isn’t there some mojo that would make it impossible to resurrect him again?”
“Perhaps, but chances are they would only seek out a substitute. No one is irreplaceable.”
Spike muttered, “A Watcher would believe that.” He kicked the dirt. “So I continue as the Master’s head flunky. Are we done now?”
“I believe so.” Giles turned to leave.
Spike looked antsy. He scratched the back of his neck and clenched his jaw before saying, “Hey, Rupes, could you do something?”
Giles didn’t look back. “I can do many things. Are you asking whether I can do something for *you*? That is rather more doubtful.”
Spike snorted. “Hope your arse hurts from sitting on that high horse.” Shoving his hands into his pockets, Spike ducked his head and shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Call the hospital, see if they picked up a girl on Archer Street who had neck wounds. Never did hear any sirens.”
Giles turned and glared. “You allowed someone to feed from a human?!”
“I got there a little late to do much.”
“So you did nothing?”
“Called 9-1-1, didn’t I? What did you expect? Had to keep the cover you’re so bloody insistent on.” Spike stormed toward Giles. “Speaking of, hand over the fake box and sword. Got to deliver *something* to the Master tonight to make him forget about all those minions that got dusted. Sooner or later old bat brains is gonna figure out I keep getting newbies killed. Need to at least look like I accomplished something for it.”
Giles handed over the faux Er’Gefrey box. Spike held the small cube and said, “I’ll convince the Master it’s the real thing.”
“Right, then. And I. . .” Giles coughed and grimaced. “I will make an effort to keep you ’in the loop’ in the future.”
Spike stood silently, his pale face and hair separating him from the darkness that surrounded them as they just beyond the reach of the park lights. He opened his mouth to say something, then changed his mind, nodded, and left.
Lydia sat at the Seer’s kitchen table finishing up her notes. As soon as the visions had stopped, the Watcher had pulled a pad of paper from her oversized handbag and begun an exacting transcription of what they had seen. “Reggie, do you think you can sketch the banner we saw the knight carry?”
“I don’t need to sketch it. I can remember it. Plus, I have a copy of it in my thesis notes.”
“Yes, but what if it’s slightly different? You should sketch it first so that you can then compare the two.”
Reggie looked uncomfortable. “I draw like a five year old, Lydia.”
“That is still better than nothing.”
Willow felt a light tap on her shoulder and turned to see the Seer silently motioning for Willow to follow her into the sitting room. The swinging door closed behind Willow muffling Reggie and Lydia’s conversation.
The Seer said, “You understand that just because the vision ended in Qumran, that wasn’t the beginning of our little story. “
“Do you think the rest of it was blocked? You know, like what Travers did with the stuff he ripped from the parchment?”
The Seer shook her head. “I don’t think it was mystically blocked. I think it was simply as far as I could reach. Power is never infinite, dear. There are some things we can’t do.” She paused before adding meaningfully, “And some things we shouldn’t.”
Willow swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded.
“You aren’t going to tell them are you?” It wasn’t really a question. The shrewd look in the Seer’s eyes more than implied that she knew the answer.
Willow felt cold and her stomach tied itself in knots. “Tell who what?”
“Your friends. In there. You aren’t going to tell them that what is happening is because of you.”
“No, I. . .No. It. . .can’t be because of me. There’s the parchment, the prophecy. This. . . apocalypse. . .thing. It was meant to be. It had to happen.
The Seer shook her head. “Nothing *has* to happen.”
“But. . .”
“Don’t fall into the trap of believing in the inevitability of fate. Nothing is ever inevitable. There’s cause and effect. Throw a ball in the air and it is going to come back down. Pour a frightful scad of black magic into the earth and watch it spit out something terrifying.” She walked over to her desk and started sorting through a stack of papers as she continued talking in an urgent but somewhat distracted manner. “But cause and effect is no more predetermination than a total of four when you are adding two plus two.”
“But how could things be different?” Willow asked somewhat desperately. “I mean, two plus two is always four.”
“Then add a one or a three instead.” The Seer pulled open a drawer and started rifling through it. “The future is always only a possibility while the present. . .?” She glanced at Willow. “Our present is the sum of our pasts. Every thing we do adds to the equation. Every choice we make is factored in. There are choices. There are *always* choices which effect the outcome. Remember that.” She turned her attention back to the papers in the drawer. “Now, you and your friends should go. Just in case the world really does end, I’m going to enjoy myself for the time that’s left.”
The Seer pulled two brochures out of the drawer, “What do you think? The Greek Isles or the Seychelles?”
The moment the elevator doors opened to the penthouse, Spike could smell it. He could almost taste it—blood. Human blood and it was fresh.
He stepped onto the black and white marble tiled floor and looked around himself. The place was in a shambles. Tables had been toppled, vases broken. Even the limestone fireplace mantle had been damaged. No normal human could put up this kind of fight against a group of vampires, but Spike was certain that what he smelled was –
Spike rushed through the doors on the far side of the room to find Buffy kneeling on the floor over a prone Xander who was bleeding and starting to moan. Buffy was bleeding as well, but at a quick glance Spike could see that it was only a minor scratch along her arm. Xander, however, was bleeding more profusely.
The Master, in game face, stood looking down at the pair of humans. He didn’t visibly acknowledge Spike’s arrival but he spoke to him. “The Slayer arrived to. . .What did you call it, Slayer? Clean out the vamp nest?”
Buffy glared. “I think I said something like ‘muck out the slime,’ but whatever.”
“Hmm, yes. I believe I heard you have been mucking about in slime for quite some time now. I could see where a penthouse would be a welcome relief after the sewers.”
Buffy shrugged. “Slime is slime no matter where it is.”
Ignoring the riot of emotions nearly overwhelming him, Spike kept his voice steady and cold as he said, “Looks like I missed a party. What happened?”
“The Slayer has been blinded.”
Spike would have launched himself at the bastard if for one moment he had thought that was true, but, beyond the scratch on her arm, Buffy appeared unharmed and even Xander’s wound appeared non-life-threatening. Although the boy did sound remarkably like a stuck pig.
“I see just fine,” Buffy snapped. “Like right now I see three empty, soulless things that are *so* going down.”
The Master laughed. “See, I said she was blinded, blinded by her arrogance and her rules. She finds it impossible to see anything besides her own point of view. She comes here with a stake, a crossbow, and a useless boy and believes she can take us down. It’s all that she knows, all that is useful to her so she forgets we play by different rules.”
“Yeah.” Spike arched a brow. “What rules would those be?”
The Master looked to something behind Spike. Knowing that whatever it was he wasn’t going to like it, Spike still glanced over his shoulder. He found the minion Dexter holding a gun aimed at the Slayer.
“Bullets are no defense against vampires,” the Master said smoothly. “So she doesn’t carry a gun, but the same isn’t true of Slayers. “ He circled the room. “All those fist fights, all those pointless competitions of woman against beast when, actually, it is so very easy to kill one little girl.”