Chapter three
Accessing the Web

"You think that we connect, that the chemistry's correct
Your words walk right through my ears presuming I like what I hear

And now I'm stuck in the web you're spinning
You've got me for your prey

Sorry I'm not home right now, I'm walking into spider-webs,
So leave a message and I'll call you back.
A likely story, but leave a message and I'll call you back.

And it's all your fault, I screen my phone calls
No matter who calls, I gotta screen my phone calls!"
--No Doubt
"Spiderwebs"

Three silent women observed the façade of the community center. They stood tall and
pale, their long hair flowing wild and free in the night wind. Their combined beauty
would cause sane men to weep from a single glance. But they stood unseen in the street,
thanks to the glamour they had cast around themselves. To passersby, they were simply
three nondescript young women, unnoticed in passing and forgotten once they were
passed.

They passed unnoticed through the building's front door, seeing without being seen,
knowing without being known. They witnessed a trail of silk strands that led from the
lobby to one of the furthest rooms. They knew that their quarry was here.

"Oberon will not be pleased to know," Selene, the raven haired one, said to her sisters,
"that the spider has authored this tale of woe."

The silver-tressed Phoebe declared, "We must bring Anansi back to his home, to Avalon
far from this earthly loam."

"But we are forbidden to interfere," golden-haired Luna reminded her sisters. "Events
must play out as foretold, I fear."

"Be watchful and patient, sisters mine," Phoebe reminded the others. "Ours is a vast and
complex design." Luna and Phoebe nodded in silent accord with their sister. For
hundreds of years they lay their traps, they plotted and planned. They still served their
master, Lord Oberon, but they had other concerns.

With the casting of a simple spell, they departed from the community center, slipping
away as quietly as a dream.

========

"Oh, hello," Giles greeted his visitors as they filed into his house. "Please, make yourself
comfortable." Xander took his usual chair, while Willow sat at the edge of the sofa, with
Buffy close by her side. Anya had reluctantly agreed to stay at Buffy's house, to
'babysit' Dawn. The mood was somber as Giles offered tea and crackers to the others.

"Okay, Willow," Buffy nudged her friend's side gently once the formalities were
concluded. "Tell them what you told me." Giles and Xander leaned forward in their
seats, listening attentively to their friend.

"Well," Willow started slowly, worry and fear coloring her voice, "Tara took me to the
community center to meet the guy who was holding this seminar she was talking about.
But Mr. Webb, the guy who Tara was with, he gave me an economy-sized case of the
creeps. I tried to get Tara away from him, but she yanked her arm away from me. Then
these two giant spider-things appeared out of nowhere, and Mr. Webb sent them after me.
I managed to stop them long enough to make a getaway, then headed straight to Buffy's."

"I ran into Webb when I was applying for the community center job," Buffy added. "At
first he tripped my spider-sense—uh, no pun intended, Willow," she added hastily, only
to meet Willow's understanding smile.

"I can't help but wish that you had informed me about Mr. Webb sooner," Giles
commented dryly.

"It was just a passing feeling, Giles," Buffy glared at her Watcher. "If I were to take
down everyone who set off my alarms the first time I saw them, Mr. Snyder wouldn't
have survived his first week at Sunnydale High."

"And that would have been a bad thing how?" Xander quipped, only to be met by three
sets of angry eyes. "It's a joke, guys. I do that."

Buffy gave a resigned sigh, and thanked the gods for Xander's sense of humor, misplaced
as it sometimes was. "Willow," she asked patiently, "is there anything else that you saw,
anything else that you might have forgotten? Any little thing could help us save Tara."

Willow closed her eyes, trying to recall any detail she missed. She fought back the fear
that festered inside her, the fear she had for Tara's safety. She found herself thinking of
Tara, her sweet smile, her soft warm expression, her sexy body, the way she loved simply
lounging in Tara's arms…

Arms…

"I tried to pull her away from Webb," Willow suddenly said, "but she yanked her arm
away from me, like she was in pain. And she had a tattoo on her arm."

"A tattoo?" Buffy asked. Willow nodded. "Is this a tattoo you never saw before, or
never noticed?"

"The only tattoo she has is a little Chinese character meaning 'luck' on her left ankle,"
Willow answered. "This was a new one. Giles, you got a pen and paper?"

"Here," Giles got off of his chair and located a pad of paper and a pencil near his phone.
He handed the paper and pencil to Willow. A few seconds later, she returned the paper to
Giles, saying, "This was the design."

Giles looked at Willow's handiwork. Three concentric octagons connected by crossed
lines. A stylized spider's web.

"Hmm," Giles muttered to himself. "This looks familiar. Excuse me for a second." He
withdrew a large book from a nearby shelf, and placed the book on the coffee table.
Thumbing through the ornately bound tome, he stopped suddenly at one page, which bore
the same icon that Willow just drew. "Oh dear," he murmured, which caused Buffy to
blanch further. "The web tattoo, the spider monsters, Tara's seeming submission to Mr.
Webb…heh, even that name, Mr. Webb, that should have tipped me off in the first place.
It seems that the Cult of Anansi has moved into Sunnydale."

"Anansi?" Buffy asked suddenly. "The spider spirit of western Africa?"

Giles turned his head in surprise toward Buffy. "How do you know of Anansi, Buffy?"

Buffy shrugged her shoulders. "You've seen my place, guys. All those African masks
Mom collected. She was an expert on African culture, and she bought a lot of tribal
artwork for her gallery. When Dawn and I were kids, she used to tell us stories about
Anansi, the trickster. He was a spider who could trick or outwit his opponents, even the
great cats of the jungle. Sometimes he was the villain, sometimes the hero, but his stories
were my favorite bedtime stories when I was growing up." She paused briefly, her eyes
misting slightly as she remembered her mother's soft voice, telling her how Anansi
outsmarted Osebo the leopard, or made a bargain with Nyame the sky god to own all the
stories that existed. "Sometimes I still read some of the Anansi picture books she bought
me as a kid. Kinda keeps her close to me, y'know?"

Giles reached out to pat Buffy's knee sympathetically. "We understand. However, the
Cult of Anansi are not some fairy tale, I fear. They are a powerful cartel of mystics, who
worship Anansi. According to this entry," he squinted slightly to make out the faded text
of his book, "Anansi the Spider is a powerful demon, one who spins his web to trap the
unwary. He doesn't fight on his own, but acts through agents, like our Mr. Webb, to
ensnare people of great power, so their master can feed on their power. I believe that
he's using Tara as a power source, draining her of her magic. And he must have used her
to trap Willow, somehow knowing of Willow's own power levels."

"Does it say anything about how to squash this spider?" Willow asked. Buffy glanced
briefly at Willow, who shivered at each mention of Anansi. She placed a comforting
hand on Willow's arm, recalling her friend's professed fear of spiders.

"According to the text," Giles scanned the ancient pages briefly; "he may be weakened
by cutting off his food reserves. Presumably he would keep those he has ensnared in
some kind of larder, slowly feeding off their mental energies before disposing of the
husks of their bodies." Willow shuddered further as Giles explained what was likely
happening to her lover. "Forgive me, Willow, if this upsets you."

"No, Giles," Willow shook her head. "No big. Besides, that means if we can get Tara,
and anyone else he's got socked away, out of there, it'll weaken him, right?"

"Like removing the batteries from a flashlight," Giles nodded, as he stood up from his
seat and headed to the closet. "Odds are that he's been using the community center as a
hideout."

"So let's stomp some spiders," Buffy announced, as Willow, Giles and Xander followed
her lead. The four friends left quickly, heading out to the center, for their latest battle
against demonic evil.

Buffy had to suppress a smile as they all piled into her Jeep. Less than a month after her
unexpected return from the dead, and already they were about to leap into the breach
once more. It felt strange, almost alien to her. And at the same time, it felt like old
times.

========

All she could feel was the silk.

Silk in her eyes, on her cheek, in her hair.

Silk strands holding her arms to her sides and binding her ankles together.

Tara could barely move her little finger, so encased was she in a cocoon of pure silk. She
was vaguely aware of what had happened, how she had been ensnared by that bastard
Webb, and now was the plaything of the monster Anansi.

And what was worse, she recalled as a tear threatened to escape her eye, due to Webb's
influence, I nearly betrayed Willow. My Willow. May the Goddess forgive me! More to
the point, may Willow forgive me!

The cocoon held her fast, unable to move, but was vented sufficiently to allow her to
breathe. Cold comfort, Tara scoffed. It only meant that Anansi must like his food alive.
She fought back a tide of panic at the prospect. She was still alive, still aware, even if
whatever poisons Anansi's silk strands contained were keeping her weak.

She couldn't move, but she could still think.

She willed herself to calm, despite the trying circumstances of her imprisonment. She
repeated secret mantras that she and Willow created together to aid in concentration. She
allowed herself to forget the silk prison that held her, the monster that threatened her, the
predator who betrayed her. She focused her mind, her being, her energies, into one
coherent thought, a single name;

Willow.

========

Four grim-faced figures emerged from the Jeep and rushed into the community center
building. What they did not know was that their passage was observed. A lone
individual performed a silent vigil over them, watching from his perch at the top of the
community center as they entered the building. He awaited the inevitable moment when
he would make himself known to the Slayer, his eyes glowing yellow in the darkness, his
talons flexing and unflexing in anticipation. He could smell the Spider inside the
building. He knew that Webb and the thing he worshiped were waiting for them. He had
faced the thing, the monster that called itself Anansi before, and knew him to be a
formidable opponent. He marked his time, waiting for the opportunity to strike.

In the lobby, Willow pointed toward one hallway. "That's where the spider-things came
from. They chased me here, but I set up a force field to stop them. They must have
returned to Mr. Webb while I was heading back to Buffy's."

Buffy looked down the hallway, unable to discern anything but the featureless darkness
beyond the lobby. She turned behind her and saw the same darkness down the opposite
hallway. She found herself somewhat disturbed by the darkness; only a few hours ago,
when she had received her new job teaching self defense classes, the community center
was brightly lit and vibrant. If not bustling, then it was certainly active. Now, the
darkness was oppressive, like a living thing.

"Okay," Xander suggested, "Buffy, howsabout you and I head that way, while Willow
and Giles go down the opposite hallway? Cover more ground that way."

Buffy nodded her approval of Xander's suggestion, then turned to Giles. "You have any
idea what we're looking for?" Buffy asked.

Giles considered what they would find, when they noticed a faint bluish glow emanating
from the left-hand hallway. A tiny spark of light flitted from one of the doors in the
distance, illuminating the darkness around it. It seemed to dance down the hallway,
toward Buffy and her friends. The spark grazed Xander's ear, causing him to swat at it.
"Jeez," he muttered, "what is this thing, a firefly? They don't bite, to they? No, they
burn, that's what they do! Get away from me!"

The spark buzzed around him angrily, and then flitted toward Willow's face. Willow
looked at the strangely beautiful light, as it seemed to be speaking to her, on a wavelength
only she could hear…

"It's okay," she assured her friends. "It's Tara."

The light seemed to respond to Willow's identification, jumping around more, and flying
away from them, toward the hallway again. "You heard her, gang," Buffy announced.
"Follow that firefly!" As they ran down the hallway, Xander couldn't suppress the urge
to ask; "So Willow, how long have you known your girlfriend was Tinkerbell?"

Willow regarded Xander's comment with a knowing smile as she led the others,
following Tara's soul spark. She had said before, when she saved Tara's mind from
Glory that she could always find her, no matter how distant their souls were from each
other. She was relieved that Tara had remembered her promise. Now, with her soul
beacon leading the way, the others were able to quickly find her.

They followed the bluish spark to a dark hallway. The spark darted here and there, but
still with a strange feeling of purpose and direction, and Buffy and the others didn't dare
lose sight of it. They followed after it in determined silence.

The spark suddenly passed through the farthest door in the hallway. Willow looked
briefly at the door, her eyes level and almost unreadable. "Tara's in there," she
announced. Buffy looked at her best friend, at the determined slant of her chin and the
calm furrow of her eyebrows, and knew that her friend was correct.

"Back up, gang," the Slayer whispered as she reached for the doorknob. "No telling
what's going down in there." As the others looked on, Buffy slowly turned the knob, and
allowed the door to swing open. Muttering a brief prayer of thanks that the door hinge
didn't squeak, Buffy slowly entered the room, motioning with her left hand for the others
to hang back while she checked things out. Willow looked on apprehensively, as Buffy
entered the room.

Buffy thought she had seen all the terrible things that a demon or vampire could do to a
human. That was before she had witnessed 'The Pantry', as she called it later. It looked
like a normal meeting room, about the size of a large classroom, but the similarity ended
there. A yellow-white gauzelike substance covered the chairs, tables and floor, nearly an
inch thick, obscuring the objects over which it fell. It reminded Buffy of when she and
her mom went Christmas tree shopping one year, and they noticed someone aiming a
flocking gun at some of the display trees. Brass candlesticks supporting squat white
pillar candles dotted the room, their flickering flames casting a dim sheen over the silken
covering. A dozen bundles of that same yellowish silky substance, each measuring about
the proper length and width to contain a human being, were propped up against one wall.
Toward the center of the wall, something stirred. Something the size of a Volkswagen
beetle, bloated and black with long thin stick-like legs curled up around its midsection.

Buffy slowly ventured toward the bundles, careful not to awaken the giant spider. She
had to step through patches of the webbing, which clung to her shoes like chewing gum
in a movie theater. She reached the nearest bundle, and placed her hand on its side. It
felt warm, close to body heat, and it seemed to be moving. Expanding and contracting.
Breathing.

She had to remind herself to breathe. She found herself transfixed, repulsed and
disgusted by what she saw and felt, by what this room represented. At least vampires
tended to be quick about their feedings. This Anansi, or whatever it was, kept his victims
alive, for God knows how long. And Buffy realized with a terrible finality that one of
these bundles contained Tara.

"Buffy?" Willow's voice was strained and distant as she whispered to Buffy from the
door.

"Willow," Buffy answered back quietly, "you got a knife on you?"

"I've got an atheme in my purse," she offered. "It's pretty sharp."

"And I got a jackknife with me," Xander added. Giles withdrew a small Swiss Army
knife he had the presence of mind to carry with him.

"All of you get in here, and be quiet." Xander and Willow gingerly made their way into
the Pantry. Willow had to stifle a gasp at the sight before her. "Goddess," she breathed.
"Tara…"

"Just start cutting these cocoons open," Buffy commanded the others. "Anansi's feeding
on these people. We cut them loose, we cut off his feeding supply."

Before she could carry out Buffy's orders, Willow found herself knocked back hard
against the wall. She tried to pull her left arm back, only to find it stuck fast behind her.
She turned her head quickly toward her hand, and saw a wad of sticky web-like substance
adhering her wrist to the wall.

A smooth menacing voice shouted out, "Back away, Slayer!"

Buffy spun on her heel, turning toward the doorway. Aaron Webb stood in the dim light
from the hall, his lean countenance glaring contemptuously at the interlopers who dared
to oppose him. "Forget it, Spider Man," Buffy hissed angrily at Webb. "You're going
down!"

"I disagree," Webb replied in a tone of quiet malice. He then inhaled briefly, and spat out
another glob of webbing at Buffy, hitting her in the chest, hard enough to knock her back
a couple of steps. She stepped back quickly to regain her balance, to avoid falling into
the webbing that blanketed the floor. "That's it, Web-boy," Buffy growled as she lunged
at her attacker. "First you endanger my friends, now you vomit over my favorite leather
jacket! You've got a royally pissed off Slayer on your hands!"

She threw her body directly at Webb's midsection, throwing him out of the door frame.
She launched a right hook to his jaw, hard enough to dislodge a tooth. She concentrated
her attack on his mouth and jaw, hoping to prevent him from spitting any more of his
webbing. While she kept hitting Webb, she shouted out, "Xander! Cut Willow loose,
then both of you free the others!"

"I'm all over it, Buffy," she heard Xander answer, just as Webb's right hand shot out. In
a fluid motion, his hand captured Buffy's fist in mid-flight, and yanked it away, pulling
her off of him and onto the floor. He stood up slowly, gingerly testing his bruised jaw
with his left hand, as he stared at his opponent. Buffy sprung to her feet, prepared for
whatever he had planned next.

"Impressive display…Slayer," he spoke slowly, his speech slurred by the injuries Buffy
had inflicted on his jaw. "But in the end, futile. I heal faster than you seem to suspect,
child. And I am more than capable of holding out against you in a fight…" He swung his
right leg around in a sudden low arc, slamming Buffy's thigh with a hard smack. The
Slayer lost her balance, but managed to turn forward as she fell, breaking the fall with her
arms. "As you can see. Now, child, I hope you're prepared to die."

"Been there," she spat out as she pushed herself off the floor, "done that!" She now
stood ten feet distant from Webb, her legs apart, her arms at her sides, her stance and
posture now ready for whatever Webb could throw at her. "Bring it, Web-Slinger," she
challenged her enemy.

========

Xander sliced carefully at the web bundle that held Willow's wrist to the wall. For a soft
material, the silk was deceptively strong, having a grip like a handcuff. Fortunately, it
cut well enough, but Xander was not willing to simply swipe at the webbing with his
knife, and risk cutting Willow's wrist. After a minute of short knifestrokes, Willow was
able to loosen her hand, tearing the rest of the webbing away with her arm. "Got it," she
announced, and Xander lowered his knife. "C'mon," she nodded, "let's get to the
others."

Xander rushed to the first body-bag on the left, while Willow took the right. Giles had
already started slicing away at a body near the center of the row of cocoons. They started
picking at the threads on the top of their bundles with the tip of the knife, again working
slowly to prevent cutting anyone within. After a few minutes, Xander was able to peel
away enough of the webbing to peel away the thick layer of silk from the victim's upper
half. The silk strands clung tenaciously to his arms and to the body beneath, but Xander
kept ripping silk away from the victim. As he peeled away more layers of silk, he could
see the figure that was imprisoned in the cocoon. A middle-aged male, thinning brown
hair and slightly overweight. Didn't seem to Xander like the type to practice magic.
"Hey, buddy," Xander slapped his face lightly, just enough to awaken him from his
mildly drugged stupor. "You okay in there?"

The man stirred slowly, shaking his head to dispel the last of his drowsiness.
"Uh…where…where am I…?"

"Sunnydale community center," Xander answered. "Here, let me help you get the rest of
this stuff off you."

The man nodded, as Xander peeled the rest of the silk away from his body. "Some tall
guy," the man started to explain, "said that he could teach me some new kind of
meditation. Supposed to work better than Viagra."

"Yeah," Xander huffed. "Looks like he stiffed you, you should excuse the pun. Hey,
Willow," he called to his friend on the other end. "How far along are you?"

"Xander," she gasped as she peeled away the webbing from her first captive's face. "I
found her!"

"Giles, could you help this guy?" Xander left the gentleman with the retired librarian and
rushed to Willow's side. He looked at the face that poked out of the webbing. Tara. He
started slicing at the webbing, working his way downward, ripping away layer after layer
of sticky silk. Willow took Tara's face in her hand, whispering, "Honey, you're gonna be
okay. Buffy's taking down Webb, and we're getting you out of here."

Tara slowly returned to a fully aware state, and looked into Willow's eyes with an
expression of understanding. "Thanks, Willow. I'm so sorry about what happened with
Mr. Webb. I wasn't in control, I was…compelled to bring you to him…"

"Shush," Willow smiled at her lover. "No one's blaming you. It'll be okay."

"Just remember," Xander said as he pried away the last of the webbing, "silk's out this
year. Stick with a nice cotton print."

"Thanks, Xander," Tara breathed as he ripped away enough of the confining silk to allow
her to breathe more easily. "Wh-where's Buffy?"

"She's outside," Xander assured her. "Taking out the garbage."

"I should be out there with her," Willow muttered.

"No, Willow," Giles said, as he and Xander cut into the last few bundles of webbing.
"Your place is with Tara. She's been weakened by Anansi's venom. She needs you here.
Buffy can handle Webb just fine without us. We have to get these others out of here."
Xander and Giles started to ferry the rest of Anansi's victims out of the room, while
Willow steadied Tara's arm around her shoulder to get her out safely.

A faint rustling caught his attention, making him turn his head toward the center of the
room. A slow but distinct movement of the monster spider's limbs caused the others to
jump. A low moaning became a rumbling, became a roar. "Get the others out quickly,
guys," Willow hissed to the others, "I'll get Tara to safety. Move!"

As the last of the spider's prisoners was being led out of his chamber, the spider stirred in
earnest. Its many eyes trained themselves on Willow, chilling the frightened wiccan to
the core. "Who are you who dares to disturb my slumber?"

Anansi was awake.

========

A swift kick connected with Buffy's jaw, hard enough to knock her against a far wall.
Okay, she thought, now I'm pissed. She scrambled to her feet, without a moment to
spare. Webb pressed his attack, clearing ten yards with each leap in his pursuit of the
Slayer.

Buffy realized her initial mistake quickly enough. With a few exceptions, the opponents
she had encountered before relied on brute strength to fight her. Few of her enemies had
demonstrated any proficiency in the martial arts before. Webb was different. He moved
with a swiftness and deadly grace. His moves were a blur of speed, and his attacks were
direct and accurate. His every move was made with speed and deliberation. He fought
like a spider, and kept Buffy on the defensive. She dodged his blows, pacing herself,
waiting for an opening.

Suddenly, he fell back, grabbing his head and doubling over, as though in terrible pain.
Buffy knew an opening when she saw one. She leapt forward, landing her shoulder hard
against Webb's ribcage. The impact sent him skidding across the floor, until his head
impacted with a doorframe. Webb struggled to regain his footing and threw himself
toward Buffy, his hands stretched as talons, intent on the kill. As she fought off Webb's
attack, she glanced around briefly and saw Giles and Xander leading several others out of
the Pantry room. Good, she thought, get them to safety. I'll keep Webster here out of the
way. "C'mon, Spiderboy," she growled. "You still want a piece of me?"

Webb lashed his head toward the door, seeing the others escaping from Anansi's grasp.
"Foolish child," he spat out as he glanced at the retreating prisoners, but Buffy could
sense the fear radiating off of him. "Do you know what you have done?"

"Uh," Buffy asked innocently as she advanced on Webb, "saved the day?"

Webb flashed a panicked look at Buffy, then threw her against the wall, flying past her.
He rushed out of the lobby and into the night air, uncaring of the Slayer's fate. Buffy
scratched her head over Webb's actions and considered chasing after him.

"BUFFY!" Willow's voice called from the pantry. Buffy turned sharply toward the
sound of her best friend's voice. She'd deal with Webb later. The center of her universe
needed her now.

========

Webb burst out of the community center blindly, neither knowing nor caring which
direction he was going. All he knew was that he had to escape. When Anansi awakened,
and found out what he had done…

He tore away from the crowd that had escaped from the Pantry, fearing their collective
anger if any of them recognized them. Instead he made his way into the darkness of
Whetherlty Park, hoping to avoid crowds. He would lay low, make his plans, spin his
webs again. His 'alliance' with Anansi may be at an end, but he would prevail. Aaron
Webb would rise again…

A sharp jab at his shoulder forced him to turn around. He found himself facing
implacable rage and swift justice, in the form of a towering monster. The monster's eyes
glowed yellow in the darkness around him. The monster's wings spread wide about him,
obscuring the moon behind him. The monster hissed at Webb, his voice like God's
righteous wrath; "Where do you think you are going, servant of Anansi?"

Webb yelped in terror, his plans for conquest forgotten as he trembled before the sight of
this vengeful giant before him. His mind now operating at only a rudimentary level, his
only thought was to get away. Away from the Slayer, away from Anansi, away from the
avenging angel who now confronted him, he ran.

Talons grabbed his shoulders and lifted him off the ground. He found himself borne aloft
in the monster's grip, as the monster flew above the treetops of the park. "There is
nowhere in this world where you can run from me, Aaron Webb," the monster intoned.
He lowered his flight path slightly toward a clearing, and deposited Webb to the ground
without ceremony, causing him to tumble several yards. His entire body became a livid
bruise from the impact, but he was able to walk, more or less, once he struggled back to
his feet.

The monster alighted to the ground, folding his wings around his shoulder like a cloak,
and regarded Webb with a condemning stare. "I will only say this once, fiend," the
monster said in an almost conversational tone. "You will turn yourself in to the police,
confessing to kidnapping charges. You will not argue with the local district attorney over
sentencing, and you will remain in prison for the maximum time your human laws allow.
If we meet again, under any circumstances…" He didn't say another word. Instead he
bared his claws a centimeter away from Webb's face, making his intentions clear most
eloquently. Webb nodded silently, unable to do anything else. At least in prison he
would be safe from Anansi.

Satisfied that Webb would do as he said, the monster slipped behind the trees in the
darkened park, disappearing as swiftly as a dream. For Aaron Webb, however, he would
remain in his nightmares for many months to follow.

========

"BUFFY!" Willow shrieked, holding the weakened form of Tara in her arms. The Slayer
rushed into the Pantry, stake and crossbow at the ready. Although she wasn't certain how
useful they would be in a direct confrontation with a demon spider.

Buffy stepped beside Willow and Tara, prepared to defend her friends against the
monster spider. Its many red eyes seemed to be alit with an inner fire, an ancient
wisdom. It extended its left foreleg slowly toward the three women. Buffy tensed,
fearing the possibility of an attack. "Stand back, Willow," she whispered. "He's huge,
but he could be faster than he looks."

"I doubt that," Tara observed silently. Willow regarded their potential opponent, and
found herself agreeing with her lover's assessment. "With that much body weight, I
doubt he can move with those skinny legs."

"Slayer," a strange voice rasped against the walls of the classroom, interrupting the
whispered conversation. The voice ground against the ears of the three women, like the
vocal equivalent of tinfoil on a dental filling. "You are the one who defeated my minion,
Aaron Webb."

"Yeah," she answered testily. "I'm tougher than I look, so don't try anything."

The spider moved slowly, sliding against the floor, his legs barely able to crawl under the
immense bulk they carried. With effort, Anansi dragged himself away from the center of
the web where he had sat. As he cleared the web, his body started to shift, to contort, to
contract. Before the shocked eyes of the three women, Anansi literally shrank, his
grotesque body diminishing with each step, until he was no bigger than a common house
spider.

Buffy marked the spider as it skittered up a wall, onto the ceiling, and stopped when it
was nearly directly over her head. The spider then lowered itself from a silken thread,
dropping from the ceiling until it was eye-level to Buffy and her friends. The strange
voice spoke again, fainter and higher but still audible to the others; "I thank you for my
liberation."

Buffy blinked in surprise, and a quick glance to the others proved that they too shared her
misunderstanding. "Liberation?" she asked. "We thought you were the threat."

"I was, child, in my way," Anansi's laughter echoed in their minds. "I sought power, as
is my way. I fear, child, that I tend to be greedy. It is my weakness, and one that Aaron
Webb sought to exploit. Years ago, he was nothing more than a foolish dabbler in the
black arts. He summoned me in one of his rituals, intent on using my cunning to his own
ends. I was impressed by his skills, so I struck a deal with him, hoping to use him as he
sought to use me. He agreed to hunt for me, to bring me beings like you, Tara, and you,
Willow. People of great power, power that would sustain me."

"And you seemed to be doing quite well in that regard," Buffy commented, shrugging her
shoulders. "What with the Jabba the Spider routine."

"Oh he kept me sustained," Anansi answered. "Just. He kept most of the power for
himself, feeding me enough to keep me fat and docile. I was his prisoner, Tara McClay,
just as you were. He needed me to control his power, as he needed you to provide his
energy. Which is why I convinced him to seek you out, Tara."

"All those confused?" Willow said, raising her hand.

Buffy raised her eyebrows in thought. "He's the trickster. In all the tales Mom told me,
Anansi was the weakest of creatures, but he got by on his brains, his cunning. His
tricks."

"Indeed," the spider answered. Even despite its inhuman face, the three friends thought
they could see its mandibles upturned in a very distinct smile. "I knew of you, Slayer.
Your name has become quite well known in certain circles. You and your friends. When
Webb chanced upon the campus of Berkeley as a hunting ground, I had the good fortune
to learn that you, Tara, were a student. So I sent him to bring you to me, so that I may
command you to bring Willow Rosenberg. I knew that she would bring the Slayer, and
that she would dispatch Webb. I apologize, great lady," the spider seemed to bow before
Tara, suspended on his web, "for putting you through this ordeal. But it was necessary to
free myself, and the poor unfortunates whom Aaron Webb had ensnared."

"Apology accepted," Tara smiled, squeezing Willow's hand as she smiled. Under other
circumstances, she would find it odd that she was accepting a spider's apology, but as she
learned over the last two years, anything could happen in Sunnydale.

"And you need not fear me again, Buffy," Anansi turned on his webline to address the
Slayer. "I will be more watchful in the future. No conjurers like Webb will ever get the
better of me again." The spider turned on the webline's axis again, surveying the web
debris around him. "And do not concern yourself with my refuse. Without my magic
sustaining it, my web will decompose into a faint dust in a matter of hours."

"That's handy," Willow commented.

"Be well, the three of you," the spider slowly climbed its webline. "I sense a great power
in each of you, a great potential for goodness. I know of things, as I've said. I know a
little of your immediate future, I've seen it in my webs. You shall be tested, of that I am
certain, but if you persevere, you will triumph against all adversity." As he climbed to
the ceiling, his body shimmered and faded. With one last dreamlike echo, he said simply,
"Trust Anansi."

Willow held Tara in her arms, and looked at Buffy as she gazed at the portion of the
ceiling where Anansi stood before his disappearance. Buffy hated prophecies, they never
meant anything good for her or her friends. But at least the promise of triumph was new.

She turned to her friends and said, "Let's blow this silk stand!"

Outside of the community center, the three friends met with Giles and Xander. "No sign
of Webb," Giles admitted. "But his victims seem to be okay, nothing more serious than
some disorientation. Some of these poor people were trapped in Anansi's webs for
months. So, where's Anansi?"

"Dunno," Buffy answered. "But it turns out Webb was the real big bad. He had Anansi
working for him. I'll explain later at the Magic Box."

"And before I forget," Tara left Willow's side and walked toward Xander, "I'd like to
thank you, Xander, for helping get me out of that websack." She took Xander's hands in
her own, then hugged him generously.

Xander gave his famed 'Han Solo' lopsided smile. "Hey," he quipped, "who's the man
who won't cop out when there's danger all about?"

"Xander!" Buffy, Willow and Tara shouted in unison.

"Well, actually, that was Shaft, but since he couldn't make it, I guess I'll have to do."
The others just chuckled at Xander's comments.

"Well, gang," Willow announced, "I'd call this one a win for the home team."

Giles nodded. "Indeed. I just wish that we knew what had happened to Aaron Webb."

"Yeah," Buffy admitted, her tone more subdued. "I just hope that he doesn't come back
and bite us on the ass again."

As the friends left for the Magic Box, they weren't aware of the figure perched on the
roof of the community center, watching them with an approving glance. He was proud of
their victory against Anansi's servant turned master. And he was grateful for the chance
to insure that Webb wouldn't be able to spread his evil any further. He trailed Webb as
he located the first available policeman and turned himself in. Once the officer passed by
the center, and interviewed some of Webb's former captives, he was convinced of
Webb's crimes. Tomorrow morning, the local news would announce Webb's arrest for a
series of serial kidnappings.

The figure spread his wings wide about him, taking flight in the night winds. Goliath
smiled as he flew back to his resting-place. His first efforts in observing and aiding the
Slayer were successful. But this was just the first salvo; he knew that much. Soon, he
would have to shed his secrecy.

Soon, he would meet the Slayer. And hopefully she would not regard him as the enemy.

He looked forward to the meeting.

FINIS