This is set in my non-canon, but canon-esque series following Uncontrollable and Unmentionable. If you haven't read those first, please do, or this won't read nearly as well or make much sense. Unknown begins a few weeks after the end of Unmentionable, around the beginning of season five.
Author's Note: Wordy, maybe complicated, but I promise I need everything I included, and you'll eventually see why.
Dedicated to: Alexiarrose, CavemenFTW, ginar369, Sirius120, omslagspapper, Jewel74, jackiemack916, Cailin Rua, Rosalea12, Illusera, DidiSummers, Annamonk, sbyamibakura,.
Direct Quotes are obviously not mine, but belong to the fabulously talented and creative people who wrote them. In this case, some of season five's dialogue will be used.
Disclaimer: Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.
"I'm fine, Luv." Spike smiled easily, hearing her voice. "Not a scratch. Didn't wake your mum up, did I?" In spite of telling Giles that they needn't disturb Buffy, Spike also figured, the more he thought about it, that Buffy was probably waiting for him to come home, anxious and awake already. Maybe if he called, she'd at least settle for a bit. Ha. Not bloody likely.
Buffy had dozed on and off. She had the phone cradled between her pillow and her head now as she answered. "No... she's been talking in her sleep a lot tonight, but she's been quiet for a couple hours." She paused to listen for sounds. None. "I think she's still out. Are you sure you don't want me to come over?"
"Little break and enter job, I can manage. Giles is on his way."
"You called him? Before me?" Buffy's voice showed disbelief. "What aren't you telling me?"
"Think I've got a lead." Spike muttered, eyes scanning the shop for any signs of movement. "Better not say too much until I see you in person. Safety, y'know."
Buffy's anxiety levels rose, as did her head from the pillow, sitting up, now very alert. "Are you sure you're not in danger now?"
"Dealt with threats enough for the night." Spike blinked once, blonde hair swirling to dust in front of his mind's eye. "Be over by daylight, if you want."
"I can come there!" She insisted yet again. "I'm the Slayer. This kind of falls under my job description."
"You're also a daughter. Stayin' with your mum if someone else offers you the chance, an' you know they won't botch it, is also in your job dscription." She made a noise of pained consideration, clearly at war on what she should do. "You gonna be that bossy little bitch I'm not so fond of, rush over here to be a control freak?"
"You want me to pour a little holy water in your blood next time?" Buffy fired back.
"I called Giles for back up, an' soon we're gonna have to call the police. Dead body here."
"I'll tell you everything soon as I get back to your mum's, which will be pretty damn soon." He sighed and looked around the edge of the boarded up window. Still night, but the shade of blue was fading. Dawn soon. "Trust me."
A swallow. "I do. I love you, too. Which is probably why I go control freak sometimes. It's usually on me to protect the people I love, gotta do it right." Because I fail so much. I really can't fail this time.
"Ah, and you do, Slayer. You're my sword and shield an' all that." And it puts you in the line of fire. Some nasty demon hunting you down- on the way to get my insides on the outside. Least that's my take on it. "Be over soon. Rest a bit."
"Rest? The bleach must have eaten away your brain tissue this time. No way I can sleep now."
"Well... try. Gonna do some very tirin' things as soon as I get my arms around you. See you soon, Baby." After hearing her soft goodbye, he hung up. Nothing to do but wait and worry 'til the Watcher arrived.
"Spike?" A hiss came from the back of the store.
Spike hopped off the counter and strode to the back.
"Spike? I didn't want to come 'round the front, I-"
"I'm here." Spike covered a chuckle with a smirk as Giles jumped and then clutched his chest. "Sorry."
Giles composed himself. "I didn't want to come 'round the front- I- oh good heavens! Mr. Bogarty! I saw him at the Small Business Owners Association brunch with Joyce only a few weeks ago..." Giles bent over the fallen form, and that concluded the small talk.
"Sounds like it's a night just full of reunions." Spike said bitterly. He took out a cigarette, but didn't light it, just twirled it anxiously in his fingers.
"Ah yes, you were going to tell me what in the world happened." Giles sadly straightened up and faced the vampire.
"I was patrollin' an'-"
"Hang on." Giles halted him, looked around, then motioned Spike to the store proper.
"I've been hanging, what took you so long?"
"Shh!" Giles waved him to silence, and then started running from corner to corner in the store, darting glances everywhere.
"No new scents and no heartbeats. 'Cept yours. Which is goin' pretty damn hard. You might wanna slow down, Rupes."
"I assume we're safe enough to discuss the 'problems' you've mentioned?" Giles slowed and tugged on his collar in some embarrassment.
"If we keep it down." Spike's eyes roved over the disordered shop. For all he said, he was still uneasy.
"Can I give you the short version?"
"God, please yes." Giles rubbed his exhausted face.
"Patrolled the good parts of town, then the cemeteries, did a nip through the campus, over to Willy's-"
"This is the short version?" Giles groaned.
"He tipped me off on a gang of new vamps in town-" At the words 'new in town', Giles became visibly interested, but Spike shook his head. "Don't get too excited, bunch of empty-skulled fledges. Killed three, but found out who they were working for." Spike winced as he said the name. "Harmony."
"The one and idiotic only."
"She's hardly a threat, she-"
"She was in here. She killed the owner. She wants to kill Buffy. Her 'revenge'. To make me watch as my girlfriend dies." Spike's insides twisted and turned, cold organs suddenly seeming alive, rebellious. "As if I'd be alive to watch that... Tear myself to shreds before they-"
Giles raised a comforting hand. "I know you would." You'll never see that moment. You'll go together, a blaze of blood glory that you'll be proud of, that your daughter will tell your grandchildren about, I'm sure. Shaking himself back to the present he said, "And while that is a horrid thought to have, I don't think you need concern yourself, considering who made this particular threat."
"I might've... if she wasn't grittin' the sidewalk in front of the shop."
"You killed her?" Giles was faintly surprised. It was hard to kill someone you'd known as a human, in his perspective, and must be harder still if you'd been intimate and-
"I tried to stake the bitch when we were dating. Not much of a shocker I'd tear her head off if she had a plan to kill Buffy. Anyway- I wasn't gonna kill her just then- she zigged, I snapped, poof. World's a little bit smarter."
"I see all that, but I still don't understand how this relates to our 'big problem'."
"I said short, but if I do it any shorter, you'll interrupt me -even more- and make me go back and give details! Jus' shut your hole an' listen."
Giles rolled his eyes. "Do forgive me. Go on."
"Harmony wants her revenge, but as you say, an' I reminded her- she'd never stand a chance against Buffy. Then she starts yappin' about how there's someone in town, right now- someone bigger an' badder than all of us, someone here searchin' for something..." Giles leaned forward and Spike nodded grimly. "Someone she says already plans to kill the Slayer- but Harmony pulls out some little book of mojo and says she can summon this beasty, and force it to do her dirty work."
"Heavens. Sheer stupidity has killed many a foolish dabbler in magic." Giles, personally very passionate about this topic and already unfocused with exhaustion warmed to his tangent. "Even myself, experienced as I am, would hesitate to summon a demon, I've seen first hand- well! The stronger the demon, the harder to bind. Willow and Tara are enormously powerful, but even they shouldn't attempt to bring forth and command a demon! Not to mention the very specific ingredients, the rituals -"
"The name, obviously, as well as the-" Giles stopped speaking abruptly. "Dear Lord. A name? Did she-"
Spike leaned forward, nodding once. "Glory."
Giles frowned, opened his mouth, frowned more deeply, then said, "That isn't nearly as terrifying as I expected."
" 'Buffy' isn't exactly a scary name either, but she packs a lot of lethal under that pretty little face." Spike said with a lustfully proud leer forming.
"Do you think she was lying?"
Spike recalled the stench of fear, that moment of sheer panic that had led to her death. He shook his head. "May have misheard, but not an outright lie."
"Where is her information from?"
"Dunno. Would have asked her some more questions if she hadn't gone kamikaze on me." Spike ran his hands through his hair with obvious frustration. "While you were takin' your sweet time gettin' here, I had time to try and piece things together. I'm the third one in this place tonight. Harm broke in an' must've offed the owner, 'cause you can tell he's done by a vamp, but there was something else in here tonight- something I never smelled before, something not human, something I can't see a nice old man lettin' into his shop."
"So Harmony let them in?"
"Or they were here on their own. Scents all over this little knick knack case up front, but Harmony's isn't one of them."
"You say she wanted to cast a spell? A summoning one?"
"Saw the cover, but it's dust now. Summoning, Binding, and Casting, I think."
"That's a fairly prosaic text. She'd have ended up destroyed even if you hadn't run into her." Giles said by way of comforting Spike. He mused to himself as he looked over the case before them, using his pocket torch to give him some light. "These are amulets. Talismans. Rarities. Not what you'd use in casting or summoning."
"I know that, but doubt Harmony would." Spike gave a scornful laugh.
"I'm thinking two people did some after hours shoppin'." Spike sighed. "Figures. New big bad in town, keepin' a low profile. Hardly come in and mingle with the townies. If they want what I've got, and if they plan to go after Slayer..." His eyes suddenly narrowed. "Harmony said they didn't owe her a favor- she was just going to call up this new nasty."
"So it's unlikely they were here arranging a meeting."
"Bloody little bint." Spike seethed. "Shoulda gone a little easier on the threatenin'..."
"We don't have all the pieces, but we have a name, and we know for certain that there is a threat in town, even if we're not sure that it's the specific threat we're looking for."
"You think we're in the 'end of days' and the new villain in town 'searching for something' and has 'kill slayer' on its to-do list isn't what we've been lookin' for?" Spike demanded. "You're more sleep-deprived than I thought."
"Well, it's a good thing I called for back up, then, isn't it?" Giles gave a sour smile, admitting that the likelihood of this being a mere coincidence was- well, there was precious little likelihood at all.
"You called the police?"
"No... I'm waiting until-"
Spike's jaw dropped. "You called the lady witches?"
"In here, girls!" Giles shined his flashlight back and hurried to meet them.
Spike trailed after, arms spread, hissing out, "Why? Why would you call them?"
"I said at sunrise." Giles protectively ushered the girls in, trying to shield them from the sight of the dead body.
"We th-thought you might n-need help." Tara stammered in fear.
"You said it was urgent- Mr. Bogarty!" Willow gasped.
"I'm so sorry." Giles hadn't wanted them to be confronted by that.
"Damn. That's two owners in three years." Willow shook her head. Tara whimpered.
"Not that I'm not chuffed to see you, but why in the hell did you think inviting them would be useful?" Spike roughly grabbed Tara's arm and hauled her from the back room as she swayed and paled.
"You'll hear all about it later." Giles said grimly. "They're cover."
"Cover?" Spike said skeptically.
"Cover?" Willow and Tara said doubtfully as one.
"Yes, eventually. What Spike has just told me about the shop has given me another idea. Spike- you have about thirty minutes to get home before the light gets too high. Ladies, we have to get your stories straight, and do a bit of hunting."
"I think we have an hour and half at most." Giles saw Spike off and turned to Tara and Willow urgently.
"To do what?" Willow asked wide eyed.
"We're not h-hiding the body, are we?" Tara's skin went from buttercream to vanilla.
"No, although- no, we're not doing that. Spike was here tonight, and-" He paused. Recounting the entire thing would take too long. "Spike has reason to believe that the 'Unnamed' being we're seeking, or its servants, I suppose, were in here tonight. That they may have taken some things from the shop."
"Demons can perform magic, too."
"Yes, but if we knew what kind of magic, perhaps we'd know what they were planning. Aside from killing Buffy. Apparently that's on their list of tasks, as well."
Willow gasped and Tara clasped her hands nervously in front of her, wrapped in a long woolen shawl. "What do we do?"
"Up here, in this case, Spike said their scents were all over it. We need to figure out what they took."
"Well- how are we supposed to find that out?"
"You two frequent the shop. I know you, Willow. You drool over the rare things you can't afford."
"I do not! A-and have you seen the prices?" Willow protested. "Tara, tell Giles I don't do what he said."
"Sometimes there's dripping, Sweeting. But only a little. Not actual drool." Tara stroked Willow's hair with a soft smile. "But Giles, even as much time as we spend here, we don't know everything Mr. Bogarty has in his shop."
"He must have an inventory list someplace."
"It's dark, and if we turn on lights, someone is going to see."
"Um. Unless we make Tinkerbell lights." Tara tugged Willow's sleeve.
"Tinkerbell?" Giles looked lost.
"Lights that only let the people casting the spell see."
"Ah, like a mystical dark-lantern."
"Sorta kinda." Willow shrugged.
"Then that's phase one. We have an hour or so to find the inventory list, find what's missing from this case at the very least, and then you - provide the cover."
"What exactly are we covering?"
"Me. Why my fingerprints are about to be all over this store."
"Ms. Rosenberg? Why did you enter the store? And what were you doing in this area so early.?"
"M-my girlfriend and I were walking to work, and we took a short cut."
"You work where?"
"They work for Joyce Summers. I'm her assistant." Giles interrupted the officer, who looked blank. "The art gallery a few blocks up? I asked them to come in early to help set up a display before the store opened. They chose to take a shortcut today."
"I see. Now Ms. Rosenberg, Ms. Maclay, why did you feel the need to enter the shop?"
"Th-the back door was open, but there weren't any lights on. We come here all the time." Tara haltingly added. "M-Mr. Bogarty was our friend. We knew something was wrong."
The officer's face softened slightly. "I'm sorry for your loss, ladies."
"Thank you." They chorused.
"He told us about the vandalism." Willow looked at the boarded up window. "We saw the back door was smashed open, and we shouted inside, but there was no answer."
"That's when you called 911?"
"We came in. We thought he might be hurt." Willow squeaked. She was not good at lying. She was only lying so well now because Giles said whatever did this was in someway related to the baddie they'd been searching for, Mr. Mind Messer-Upper, who had Buffy on his hit list.
"W-we saw him lying there." Tara's voice wavered.
"Then they called the police, then I was called. The girls thought I might be concerned when they didn't show up for work. They told me they were keeping vigil over the body until help arrived. I couldn't let them wait alone."
"So you decided to come over?" The police officer cast a suspicious look at the rumpled man, clearly not dressed for work. "You left your place of employment to come sit with two of your clerks?"
"They're not clerks!"
"Giles is like my dad. N-not like my dad. He's like a dad to me." Tara's voice, stronger but still quaking, informed the officer.
"To everyone in our store. He was my favorite teacher in high school." Willow took Tara's hand and gave Giles an affectionate look that made him flush under his stubble.
"Right, well..." Something was scribbled on his pad. "No more questions right now. We have the time you found the body, your statement, and your contact information. You can go."
"Where have you been? The coffee timer's all screwed up and we have hot mud for -" Anya stopped speaking when she looked at Giles' haggard face. She started again when she saw Willow and Tara skulking in after him. "What's wrong? You're not supposed to be here yet."
"One cup of hot mud please." Giles groaned and sat down, eyes closed, head back.
"You need a shave. You can't be tweedy British art expert like that. If we want to try Bohemian eccentric, we could-"
"Shut up. Please." Giles held out a hand for the mug Anya was bringing him.
"Mr. Bogarty's dead." Tara murmured.
"Oh no! That's horrible." Anya gasped. "I mean, he was way overpriced and everything, but he always had what you needed in stock."
"Human life, Anya." Willow snapped.
"But-" Anya couldn't make a protest. I know about death. I know about lots and lots and lots of horrible death. I created it. I caused it. I watched it. I even applauded!
What I don't get is being in this life- and then this life ends. How can it happen to someone you know? See a guy every couple weeks to pick up candles or herbs, and then one night- he's a dead body?
I hardly know him. What about Joyce?
She couldn't think about that. Anya mumbled contritely. "Sorry." She became brisk, unable to think about this life and its habit of coming to an abrupt halt.. "So, something was up at the magic shop?"
"There's stuff missing. But I don't know how strict he was about keeping track. Some people keep it all on a computer, but not him. We checked." Willow blew on her hacking fingertips. "It was all in a book."
"We made a list of things that didn't match." Tara held it out to Giles, but Anya snatched it.
"I'm helping." She said in a strained voice.
"We could certainly use all possible help." Giles rubbed his temples and drained his mug. "At first glance, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly extraordinary. An amulet, a stone, a crystal, a-"
"A bloodstone. What kind?" Anya interrupted after a quick scan of the list.
"Uh..." Willow looked at Tara who shrugged.
"A bloodstone is used for dark magic and sacrificial offerings. Either way, it's used for sinister purposes. What does it matter?" Giles tried to sit up, and failed, allowing himself to make a half-hearted slouch.
"It would matter one hell of a lot if the person took the right kind of a bloodstone and this Khul's amulet." Anya held out the list. "If it's runic-"
"It's either Pagan or Sobekian. He had two of each listed." Willow remembered. Giles became more alert as he began to follow the conversation.
"Are all of you stupid or something?" Anya yelped.
"Hey!" Three voices said in varying degrees of offense.
"If you go to all the trouble to make a list, you should at least check what the heck kind of bloodstone is missing! If it's a Sobekian stone this is bad news! Bad, bad news! You never want someone to have these things together. EVER. Don't you know about the Sobekites?"
Willow raised a hand. "Oh! I do. It was an ancient Egyptian cult, heavy into dark magic." Anya nodded.
Tara chimed in, "And the Khul's amulet, wasn't that a transmogrification conduit?"
"Damn straight!" Anya's eyes nearly bulged.
Giles watched the conversation bouncing back and forth before halting it with the voice of reason. "We're jumping to conclusions. We don't know which stone it is, and even if it was of Sobekian origin, the-the Sobekian transmogrification spells were lost thousands of years ago."
"Which would tie in with being used by the creature so old it doesn't have a name." Anya pushed the paper to his chest.
"I have to go back." Giles stood, grabbing the paper. "I have to check!"
"Sobekian has hieroglyphic symbols, Pagan doesn't!" Anya called after him.
"Giles! The police are probably still there! Even if they're gone, they've locked the crime scene up with yellow tape and stuff!" Willow yelped, inserting herself between the flustered man and the doorway.
"Then I- I -" Giles stuffed his glasses into his overcoat pocket, "left my glasses somewhere in the shop."
"It's worked before." Giles muttered and passed her with an absent pat on the shoulder.
"Sir, we haven't seen any glasses."
"I think I may have dropped them behind the register... by the phone. I - was considering calling Ms. Rosenberg's parents, she was so upset at the time." Giles gave his best disarming smile and nudged his way past a protesting officer. "I wouldn't insist except I'm terribly shortsighted. I have so many details to scrutinize today-" he made his way to the front and scanned the shelves where the dangerous stones were stored. Blood stones. Obsidian... One covered in runes. One covered in glyphs. One covered in runes. One ... one is missing. One covered in glyphs. Sobekian. Dammit.
Giles stooped. "Here they are." He slid the glasses into his palm, and the other fatal bloodstone into his pocket. "I'm so sorry to trouble you."
"Sir, could you go out the front this time? We're trying to keep that back area clear."
Giles stopped outside the broken storefront, and squinted. He slid his glasses on slowly.
It was like seeing it for the first time. Bright, crisp morning sky lighting it up, allowing him to notice the second story, take in the dimensions.
No, it wasn't like seeing it for the first time, it was like seeing it again, the same building, but a different shop.
One of those flashes. Boards removed from windows, different people standing inside, a simple gilt lettering on the front...
"This is our shop." He looked down the street eyes scanning down towards the small gallery he couldn't see. They're only a few blocks apart.
First it'll be mine. She'll have hers. We ride to work and park on the street in between. We meet for lunches. She advertises for me, I sell pieces for her. When things settle- this'll be our shop. Hers and mine.
"Sir? Did you lose something else?"
"Hm? Oh. No. Merely thinking about the- the unexpected things in life." Giles stopped having his epiphany-slash-moment of realization and inclined his head to the officer who'd come to shoo him away.
Giles walked slowly to the gallery. It'll be weeks and months before the place is cleared, the estate processed, put up for resale. But then I'll get it. Willow and Tara could work for me part time. Anya and Spike as well. Really, all of them could. But not all of them will. Joyce will still need help. For awhile.
How long is awhile?
How sure are am I about these happy plans? Someone has just stolen the ingredients to unleash a monster, we're living in the end of days, and some hugely powerful entity wants to kill the Slayer and steal Spike's "soul", and without him, apparently the rest of our world is in tatters anyway. I'm a fool to put stock in so much joy, when I know how much pain there is, and I really- really must admit that I do not know.
I know nothing.
But I believe in the best things.
"Well. We'd best call Buffy as soon as we can. I think the shop will have to close an hour or two early today, Anya. All hands to the books." Giles came in and addressed the three anxious women, then walked straight past them to the back door.
"It was the more evil- evil stone?" Willow winced.
"Indeed." Giles took the second one from his pocket and hurled it with all his might at the brick wall facing their shop. It shattered. "And there goes the last one in town. Pity we didn't have both."
"What's this thing going to do? If you put the stone and the amulet together?"
"It transforms, or transmogrifies, if you're using old wizardy words, something animal into something demonic. Something with incredible powers, bound to do your bidding. Sobekites worshipped snakes, so I'd say pretty soon you're going to have someone with a big, morphed snake, ready to-" Anya stopped speaking, smooth forehead creasing. "Ready to do what?"
Search for Spike. Hunt down this Key. Or the Dagon. Or Buffy. Dear Lord.
"Who knows?" Giles lied uncomfortably. "I'll try to get ahold of Buffy before she leaves for class, and let her know to be on guard." He hastily dialed.
"Someone call for a pizza?" Xander came into the Summers' home with two boxes stacked on top of each other.
"Mmm, that's right I did." Anya swayed up to him. "Oooh. But I seem to have left my wallet at the office, Pizza Man. Is there any other way I could repay you?"
Xander blushed. The rest of the room went silent. "Ahn, when I say that home- it's different."
"You never said that was a rule." Anya shrugged and took the pizza boxes. "Mm. Actual pizza. Usually this is just sexual role playing." She explained to the assembled researchers.
"We all got it." Buffy looked pointedly at the books.
"We all really wish we hadn't." Willow mumbled.
Xander closed his eyes and tried to walk it off. "Now that I'm here-"
"And wishing you weren't." Spike snarked from behind a heavy leather bound text.
"Someone want to tell me what in the heck we're doing? All I got out of three frantic messages was, 'Shit. Fan. Hurry. Bring food'."
"That is the short version." Giles combed through an index and then shut yet another book with a frustrated grunt.
"The long version's a lot more scary." Anya said factually.
"How scary are we talking here?" Xander's gut tightened.
"End of the world, impending doom, murder, potentially huge snake, and someone trying to kill Buffy." Willow whispered.
Xander sat down hard. "Is that all?"
"On the plus side, we think we've got a name for the Unnamed One." Spike smiled bitterly.
"Something big and menacing? Unpronounceable?" Xander asked.
"Glory." Spike said tersely.
Xander blinked. "Is it just me, or is that a pretty sucky name for a bad guy?"
"Girl." Giles turned a page. "We believe it's female."
"Yay for equality." Xander reached for books, and they were all startled by a loud cry from upstairs.
"I said no returns! If you dropped it tartar sauce, that's your fault!"
Buffy cleared her throat. "Mom. She's not actually awake, she just- has these weird dreams, I guess."
"Brain is healin'. Few hiccups here an' there." Spike rubbed her back.
"It's side effects." Willow had researched everything Joyce was taking.
"When my mom was sick, she'd spend hours humming to herself, and think it was only a few minutes, or we'd leave the room to get her some tea and she'd - b-be so upset when we got back, thinking we'd been gone for hours." Tara offered empathetically. "B-but that was near the end." Willow took her hand in a comforting grasp. "Not that Joyce is- um. Sorry."
"I get it." Buffy nodded, though her mind did another spiral of worry.
"Joyce isn't near the end. I know she's going to be okay. She came into work this afternoon." Anya soothed herself as well as Buffy.
"For a few hours. She would have done more, but I told her we had some slaying related work to do. She was very tired, and I think she was grateful for the excuse to come home and rest." Giles explained.
"I know. She's always tired now." Buffy whispered. Then shook herself. "Well, if we closed the shop for researching, we'd better find something."
"This is the best you could find?" Glory tossed the black sapphire into the smoking clay pot with a shrug.
"We thought it best to pick a dark stone, even if one of lesser quality." Her minion and errand boy scraped and groveled. "We thought the ritual would be done last night."
"Apparently you need something with venom. Pythons..." Glory shook off a long, muscular coil of yellow, back into its cage, "they just want to hug. Now this time," one petite fist shattered the glass of the zoo's shatterproof barrier, keeping deadly snakes away from the public, "this one has some teeth on him. Don't you, Baby?" Glory caressingly picked up a lashing black cobra. "Chill, worm. I'm gonna make you a star." She dropped it head first into the pot, where the angry hissing crescendoed. "What's next?"
"The amulet itself, my Queen." Dreg presented it to her.
Glory took it and held it above the vase. "Then let's start chanting, boys. I'm finally going to get what I'm after."
"Here it is!" Willow scrambled to her knees, crumbling book clasped tight. "Sobekian Transmogrification."
"A counter spell?"
"All of them are lost." Willow shook her head. "This is just what the Sobekite priests did. 'Once transmogrified, the beast is its master's to command, to hunt, and return."
"So it'll come after Buffy?" Spike said worriedly.
Willow continued reading, squinting at the spidery print. "These vessels were used by the priests to find pure sources of energy, that were - what is that- untapped. Untapped. Energies that had been mystically concealed-" Spike, Buffy, and Giles were now sitting at attention as Willow concluded, "are visible to the third, or mind's eye, of a transmogrified snake'."
"Mystically concealed energy? Like- like Buffy? Is being a Slayer with a radiant power considered mystically transformed energy?" Tara asked, frowning.
"It's not me." Buffy shook her head frantically, getting to her feet.
"Slayer-" Spike gave her a warning growl.
"What's going on?" Anya looked alarmed.
"No, it couldn't be her. If this thing is a demon, sending it after an old power, dark or radiant, would just have it turn on the caster." Tara realized. Buffy wasn't answering her.
Dreg chanted in an ancient tongue, the words meaning, "The form is vessel, rendered new. The base is stone, bathed in blood. The gem is fire and elements rarified..."
Glory spoke over him, hands up, voice almost prayerful. "Sobek, grant the power ..." A pause for a verse of chanting, a pause to tame that magic in her, magic wanting to crack her puny human shell in half as she played with big, wicked fire. "Grant the power that it may mold this wretched creature ... that it may be reborn ... that it may serve ... " Her limbs shook and she threw the amulet into the flame. Dreg yelped. "Dark incantations! Always overwritten!" Dreg stopped chanting, and looked uncertainly at her. "I'm done. I asked for the power. You, keep chanting, I'll come in on the big finish."
"How long would it take to do this big snake spell?" Buffy demanded.
"Oh, the elements have to be procured, and-"
"Elements are procured." Anya reminded them, alarm growing.
"The spell itself is ancient, and would require immense power, and at least a few members to cast. If I recall, the spells used by orders of priests are usually a double or triple layered enchantment."
"We've got power. We've got ancient, and we have a couple at least, few to raid the shop, one calling the shots." Spike paced beside Buffy, eyes beginning to dart around the room, checking doors and windows.
"Will, can't you reverse it, or block it?" Xander demanded.
"It's too powerful, and to know a counter spell you have to know the original spell in the first place!" Willow leafed frantically through the book she had been reading from. "Giles smashed the other stone, but that won't help us fight against the spell they're already casting."
"Why is it coming here? Buffy's not the mystical hidden power thing!" Anya cried.
Everyone was up, everyone was feeling some unspoken hysteria pushing on them, forcing voices higher, until Buffy snapped.
"I can't do this anymore!" She shouted.
The room went still. Upstairs, Joyce's mumblings broke off abruptly.
"Giles, answer me!" Buffy spoke in a voice that allowed no argument.
"It could be done already." He choked out.
Dreg nodded and motioned with his hand that Glory should join him as they neared the end. Behind her, a ring of ostinato chanting throbbed and ebbed.
"Arise!" She commanded. Nothing. "Arise!" The vessel shook. "Arise, already!"
The vessel burst, much too small to hold the beast inside, a mass of muscle and glittering black scales and eyes, swaying uneasily in its new body.
"He has risen!" Dreg finished with a triumphal bellow.
"About damn time." Glory smiled and reached for her new creation.
"If it's already done, then- then everyone needs to get out of here now, and I need to go find that and kill it."
"Rupert?" Joyce's puzzled voice drifted down.
"One minute, Darling!" Giles shouted hoarsely.
"What the hell are we panicking for? I mean, exactly?" Xander said, undone. "It's not coming for you, it can't find you with this snake spell thing."
"It's not me, it's-" Buffy looked at Spike who managed a slight nod. I have to tell them. I have to tell them now, or they'll be snake food. If I tell, I could lose him somehow, and if I don't tell, I could lose him, and everyone else somehow, too. "It's Spike, okay? Spike. Whatever this Glory is- it wants a Key, and-"
Xander gasped, full implications of his dreams smacking him in the face. "The key to your heart. Spike is the key to your heart and he's the-"
"Shut up!" Buffy barked, rushing forward taking his hand, then Willow's, looking around with desperate eyes. "Don't say it, never say it, please, just- do this for me. If anyone knows they can-" Her throat closed.
Spike looked on helpless. This is all my fault. Only I never asked for this. Goddamn, wish I could get rid of it. I have to help her fight, only if I'm not cursed with this thing, what the hell would we be fighting for? Would they have popped this in someone else? Who else is runnin' around without a soul in residence? Only one other vamp who might be called 'cleansed by love' but he's already soul boy. Maybe it'd have been someone just born. A baby.
New person, new soul. Suddenly the idea of a helpless infant on the other end of this deranged demon on an apocalypse kick made him want to keep his gift, or his curse, whatever it was.
I hate this soddin' metaphysical stuff.
"You all stay where you are. I'll lead it off. When it gets close I'll just outrun it, or I'll beat it to death."
"We have to help Spike! And Buffy." Tara looked shocked at Spike's suggestion. "You're the target!"
"I'm the target, but I'm not bloody helpless."
"But I feel helpless without you." Buffy silenced his temper as it flared indignantly. "You have to be near enough for it to come at you, but far enough away so that I get between you."
"No!" Spike shook his vehemently. "You're not takin' my bullet for me."
"You already took some for me. Call it payback." Buffy whispered, eyes suddenly wet and bright.
"Rupert? Is everything okay down there?" Joyce's voice sounded louder, but still confused.
"Oh my God, Mom. She can't run right now, I don't think-"
"We'll stay here. Anya, you're magically conversant." Giles yanked Anya's arm and began taking the stairs two at a time. "Coming, Darling!"
"Damn skippy." Anya charged after him.
"Xander, with us. We're going to put up a ward. Once Spike is out of the house, they shouldn't come here." Giles hissed from the top of the steps.
"Tara, Willow, can you do one of those cloaking glamour things? Like for zits, only a lot bigger?"
"I don't think it'll work. That's outside appearance." Willow followed Buffy as she threw open her weapons chest and took out a huge axe. Spike was beside her, taking out a second one, and heavy mace on a thick chain. "I'm gonna faint now."
"No, we're not. We c-can't do a glamour but we can rearrange the elements around him. But it'll only work for the outside anyway, and we have to do it fast."
Willow frowned, puzzled. "Rearrange the -"
"No time! Move! Out of this house, let's get someplace open!" Buffy nodded to the two camps of her friends and family, and began to run.
"They're breaking ground where the old market was." Spike herded them out the door and took off after her. "Cover for the girls, open enough to take out the beast."
"We're not gonna make it in time." Buffy realized as they cleared the porch, she and Spike already running, halfway down the block, Willow and Tara far behind. "They can't run like we can."
"Might be safer if they didn't, yeah, Baby?" Spike murmured, pain in his eyes.
"I'm not losing you. You didn't ask to leave, and I'm telling you that you can't." Buffy tugged him along, moving at breakneck speed once more.
"If it can see what's inside, a little outside help isn't gonna matter is it? Better this way." He gripped her hand as they sped up.
"Buffy!" Willow watched them run.
"Love you!" Buffy shouted.
"They- they're keeping us out of the way." Tara slowed, panting slightly.
"Oh no they're not." Willow sounded grimly determined. Her eyes went black and Tara blinked. "Remember that book I was reading on transportation and shifting spells?"
"Uh-huh." Tara took her hand.
"Let's hope I read it right."
"Spawn of Sobek!" Glory slid her hands over the massive hooded head. It turned toward her, with something less than human intelligence in its shiny black eyes.
"The power is yours ... to see what is unseen. To find what is shrouded in shadow. Already, you know what I seek. I have given you form, now find for me the Key. Seek it out in the holy places." The creature bobbed its body in a gesture of acceptance. Glory, able to feel its thoughts, understand its unspoken language, cried with enthusiasm, "Yes, yes, yes! Let your vision guide you to its hiding place! And then return to me and tell me where it lies. Only I must retrieve the Key itself." Another slithering bob. Glory's broad smile faded as it stayed still, staring at her.
"Now would be good." The creature slowly turned away. "A couple of you go after Snakey here. I don't want any screw ups. Get me the exact location."
"Maybe we can outrun this thing. We are pretty speedy." Buffy gasped out as they cut through yards and cleared hedges.
"But for how long?"
"Plan A, then. You get behind the scaffolding or whatever at the construction site, I'll keep moving in a circle, stay between you and it."
"I don't like you fighting for me."
"I'm not. I'm fighting for us."
"You're a love, you know that, Slayer?"
"I've had a lot of supportive relationship practice lately."
"Once you get it down, I'm joinin' in, hack and slash. If it gets away, it'll be runnin' back to Mommy Dearest and we'll be screwed."
"Are we alive?" Willow had her eyes screwed shut, and fists clenched.
"I am. Oh Honey, your nose is bleeding!" Tara helped Willow off the ground. "That's too much power to channel at once."
"Well, I only plan on doing it once." Willow got to her feet, wiped her nose and shook off the loopy feeling. "Ow."
"Moving elements around is really hard, too." Tara reminded her worriedly.
"You're my anchor. Buffy- and I guess Spike, are our friends. I can do it." Willow collapsed on the ground, smiling sleepily. "I just have to sit down first."
"You're lying down."
"That's probably even better."
Tara knelt beside her and started scanning the area for signs of attack.
"At least it's going the right way." Buffy risked a glance over her shoulder.
"Sure, if you like property damage."
Sounds of car horns, shrieks, and shattered glass were getting closer all the time, indicating Glory's trace on Spike was working, that they were on the right track. Or more like a collision course. "Go!" Buffy gave Spike a hard shove in the back. "Get under cover!"
"You shout if you need me!" Spike winced, looked longingly back at Buffy who was now standing her ground, axe up and slowly swinging, building momentum. Wanted a woman who'd fight for me. Woman worth fighting for. There she is. She better come out of this in one piece. Joyce'll kill me if she doesn't...
"Ah!" Spike jumped at the sudden voice behind him, and prepared to bash in someone's face, mace raised.
"Don't smash! It's us." Willow was struggling into a sitting position.
"You- how did you-"
"I flew us." Willow grinned.
"Teleportation and transportation spells." Tara explained in a whisper, crouched low.
"We can't let you come out here alone." Willow giggled once, then sobered. "My brain feels funny."
"It's runnin' out of your nose as well." Spike gave her a strange look and helped her sit back up, wiping her nose with the edge of her sleeve. "You got the mojo, Red, lots of it. Careful it doesn't overwhelm you."
"That's why I have Tara. I have Tara, you have Buffy, Buffy has you. Balance." Willow seemed to be getting more lucid the longer she talked. "Elements balance. Stay still. When we see that thing we're going to-"
"Scream?" Tara suggested, and then she almost did.
Buffy was too angry to scream, though she wanted to. It was big. Not Mayor big, but pretty lethal. And it could see right through steel. The snake's eyes seemed to look past her, and lock in on the hiding place. That makes sense, Buffy, if it can se across town or what ever, then through Spike's body into his soul, I'm betting a steel scaffold base is nothing.
"Hey!" Buffy ran in front of the slithering torpedo, but it only flicked its long black tongue and swiveled to the side. "No, you don't! I'm the one you want!"
A long rattling hiss, and another swipe past her, pushing her over like batting a fly, heading straight for Spike.
"Ready?" Tara mouthed.
Spike shrugged, Willow nodded.
Buffy lunged, rolling on the ground, axe slamming down on the tip of the snake's tail. It reared and hissed, sending thick black blood spraying across the grass. "Oh, so gross." Buffy used the imbedded axe as leverage and pulled herself to her feet.
"Now do you wanna talk to me? Huh?" She raised the axe back up and held it at an angle, ready to do some damage.
The snake, though commanded to search out the Key, also realized it was unable to complete its task with this pesky little creature hurting it, screeching away at it. It swung back around, and Buffy suddenly realized that thing could swallow her whole, like an anaconda slurping up a mouse.
"You come over here. That's right." Buffy led it back, still swinging, ducking lunges of fangs and swipes of the wounded tail. "Ever met a Slayer? I've met some big, ugly snake-people before. As far as demon snakes go, you're pretty tiny."
An angry hiss filled the air.
"She's still bantering." Spike was almost incandescent with pride. "Listen to her. God, that's the love of my unlife there." He almost sighed.
"Shh! Hidden things don't talk." Willow snapped. "Not to mention the mortal danger."
Tara intoned, voice picking up speed, one eye on the beast only a dozen yards away. "All is earth, air, fire, and water. All is the same, all forms the same, change the form, be the same, just rearranged."
"What are you-"
"All is the same, all forms the same, change the form!" Tara's voice took on a panicked timbre.
Willow's voice didn't panic. It deepened. Power coursed over her, intoxicated her. "All the same... just rearrange..." She waved a hand lazily at Spike, who seemed to shimmer and bend, then - vanish.
"Did it work?" Tara whispered. Her hands reached out to the air before them- and earned a sharp,
"Oi! Those are for Buffy only, even if you did swing that way."
"Well, it's still Spike. Just all of his molecules are nicely mimicking the air and earth around him." Willow rose unsteadily.
"Baby, get down!" Tara protested.
"But we can help more." Willow smiled confidently.
Buffy would have been grateful for a little help. She managed to get a good slice out of its middle, but the black sludge it spewed coated her hands, coated the axe, and it fell. She dropped and rolled, under its grasping clawed hands, jacket off, wrapped around the handle of the axe, only to receive a mighty swat from the whip-like tail that sent her flying back.
"I'm the one you want! Get back here!" The snake turned, and Buffy was on her feet.
"It still knows he's here." Tara whispered.
"What's going on?" Spike dared not peek over his hiding place, unsure just how 'invisible' he was.
"Air." Willow whispered.
Wind blew, and limbs snapped. Higher up, steel beams creaked and bowed.
Buffy looked up.
"Willow, you'll hit her if you bring one of those beams down on the snake!" Tara rose with her lover, and Buffy saw two women emerge from where Spike was concealed.
"Guys! Get back!"
"I never knew it moved so fast." One minion panted.
"Just down the next hill. Getting up was the hard part."
"Yes, and who knows how many hills after that? We should have asked to take the car."
When the two servants did reach the top of the hill, they gasped. "Someone has injured it!"
"That cannot be an ordinary human." The voice dropped to a quiet awe. "That must be the Slayer."
The other minion was less concerned about the girl, more about where the creature was leading them. "This is not a holy place. This is a construction site. Not for a church, for a Pick Fresh Grocery World!" One trembling hand pointed to the sign adoring the fence surrounding the site. "The Key cannot be here!"
"Something must be wrong with the spell!"
"No, something must be wrong with the snake! Look at how she battles it. She must've diverted it from its course."
"We'll take her out, then follow the trail once it begins to move."
Unable to collapse something onto the snake without risking injuring Buffy, Willow looked around. "Use this!" Willow moved the air around a heavy length of chain off the winch of a construction vehicle, and Tara stabilized its flight as it unwound. Together they succeeded in sending the weapon harmlessly into Buffy's range.
Buffy stopped trying to grapple back from where the snake had flung her, leaving the axe where it was, and seized the chain instead. "Got it!" With a flail, she snapped the chain hard across the demonic snake's face, across the sensitive third eye in the center of its forehead. It reared back with a hoarse, curdled wail.
"Can you help me trap this thing?" Buffy shouted to the wiccas. "I need to get around him!"
"Yes!" Willow shouted. "Just... give me a minute!"
"I'm running out of minutes!" Buffy gasped.
"How are we going to trap it?" Tara looked around. "Last time we moved the earth around we made a giant hole and people fell in! We can't pin it with anything here."
Willow looked around frantically. "We don't have to. Baby, you be earth, I'll be air, and you just hold us both steady."
"What are you gasping for?" Glory, magically transported back home, looked around at her withered triad of unholy men. "Don't worry about the champagne. It's supposed to pop like that." She snapped her fingers. "Jinx, champagne for me, chop chop."
"Majesty, we see it! We see something like it..."
"What? Something like what?"
"Energy. A burst of pure energy!"
"Keys have energy. Duh. Maybe Snakey got a little too close?"
"This isn't the overwhelming burst of pure, ancient energy. This is- this is different. Something is wrong."
"With my Key?" Glory snapped her champagne flute in half.
"If it is your Key- it must be trapped in something. It's blocked. It's flowing through something ..."
Dirt flowed through the air, packing, swirling, layering, until the bottom half of the snake hybrid was cocooned in a muddy prison, thrashing madly.
"I am so gonna win if I ever go into bull riding." Buffy grunted, and jerked the chain around the neck of the beast, looping it across the throat, crossing her arms and twisting with all her might. The snake's small, disproportionate arms reached up and pulled fruitlessly at the chain, then left off, and started reaching back, trying to attack Buffy's legs.
"Hold still and die." Buffy grunted. It didn't listen. She felt her hands bleeding around the sharp edges of the chain and twisted harder. "You think you can just- come in here, and hunt people, and people hide - behind you. Nameless people... messing with hearts and souls and minds. You- you cowards!" Buffy struggled and snapped the chain again, tightening it.
"Hurry up!" Willow shouted. "That thing is strong!" Its tail was slowly bashing free.
"No, it's not. No, it's not." Buffy hissed, still pulling around the grotesquely thick neck. "You think you're strong, but you're just the face of everything that's hiding. You only think you're winning because we haven't had a chance to fight yet. When we do-" Buffy's overwrought emotions had finally found a release. With a savage snap, the chain broke, the creature slumped , its wheezing breath stilled. Buffy fell off, ribs heaving. "We'll beat you. Every time."
"Buffy? Buffy, are you okay?" Tara and Willow were cautiously creeping forward.
"Not yet. Give me a minute." Buffy motioned them back, crawled forward, and reached for her axe.
Glory's servants retreated down the hill they'd just climbed, all thoughts of taking out the Slayer vanishing after witnessing her violent victory. "She'll kill us if we don't have the Key's location!"
"We can't provide it anyway, the Sobekian monster is dead, defeated. And I'd rather have Glory kill me than be hacked to death by that deranged creature and her associates! That was the Spawn of the Mighty Sobek, forged by Glorificus! That little human choked it with a piece of metal and is hacking up its corpse!"
"I imagine she can't risk it 'playing it dead'. Which means- she probably is protecting the Key."
"She's the Slayer. Surely she'd attack any beast of that size."
"Yes- but how would she know it was coming, how would she have intercepted it, how- how on earth do we tell Glory?"
"She'll probably know something is wrong by now. We should hasten back, bring her the news, and hope for mercy."
"Buffy! Buffy, Slayer, easy! Easy, it's dead!"
Buffy turned as she felt Spike's cool hands pulling her back. She turned to collapse into his arms and let out a blood curdling scream. "Where is he?" She slapped at nothing.
"Revert, revert!" Willow said hastily, eyes wide and apologetic expression on her face. Spike appeared.
"What did you- how did- are you okay?" Buffy collapsed, black and bloody against him.
"Shhhh. Yes, yes I'm fine thanks to you and your little reptile removal act, and these good ladies. What the hell did you do? I thought invisibility spells were a crock." He asked the pair.
"You weren't invisible. Really. All humans are made of elements- sort of." Tara explained. "We moved them around, we just- layered them differently so your elements look like the elements around you. Mainly earth and air." She gestured to the night sky and the packed dirt of the site. "It doesn't last long and it takes a lot of power."
"And I already used a lot of power." Willow went wobbly legged, and Tara wasn't much better. In a second Spike had his hands full, one sagging witch on either side and Buffy plastered to him in the middle. "Damn. Anyone know where we can ring for a cab?"
"I'm fine. I'm gunky, but I'm fine. Here, Wills." Buffy took Willow's arm over her shoulder and they started moving at a brisk pace. Buffy cast a lingering look at the carnage behind her. "I'm not cleaning that up."
"Sun'll fry it up real good, Slayer, no worries." Spike hauled Tara along, ignoring her weak protests. "You didn't leave much behind..."
Buffy's eyes met his over black streaked cheeks and soaked red hair. He knows why. That wasn't just one monster, that was- that was everything monstrous. Everything I have been fighting and couldn't hit. Suddenly hittable. So I did.
"Good job, Luv." Spike whispered.
"It's not over. But it won't find us tonight." Buffy whispered back. "Let's get back to the others."
"So... I don't get this. At all." Xander whispered to Giles. Anya and Joyce were upstairs, looking through auction catalogs and discussing the gallery's next showing. Anya, who normally had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, was very convincing at fitting into roles. It was how she'd charmed so many wishes out of so many various kinds of people. Now she was in the role of pretending nothing was wrong, that they weren't effectively locked into the house by a pretty slapdash spell, and that Buffy and Spike weren't running for their lives, with Willow and Tara chasing after them.
"Spike didn't tell us everything from his dream, nor did Buffy. If they did reveal his secret, Buffy was sure something would happen, since in her dream she was warned to keep-hm- certain changes a secret. We're not sure what would happen, but I'm guessing if it were common knowledge, whatever wants this Key would come straight for Spike and- yes, well. You can imagine."
"So- Buff knew? All this time. And you?"
"Much later, but yes."
"Man. Sucks to be you. Everyone tells you their secrets, huh?"
"I can live with it, as opposed to the alternative." Giles drained his second scotch. "I admit, I'm surprised you're not more upset."
"I'm keeping my own secrets, and now that my brain has stopped spinning around and settled into the sheer numbing panic of 'avert apocalypse mode', I kinda get it."
"You 'get it'?" Giles gave him a dubious look. "You're contradicting yourself."
"No, not the big picture, just the Spike part. My dream had a lot of references to this-" Xander looked around furtively, "k-e-y. Makes sense it's not just to Buffy's heart, but some secret power. Otherwise, I mean, why would Spike be the deciding factor between us living in Evil But Happyville vs. Everyone is Dead-opolis?"
Giles stared. "How much have you had to drink?"
Xander gave a rueful smile. "Less than you, G-Man."
"And I'm sure modern day villains can spell, Xander. We mustn't talk about this in any but the vaguest terms."
"Okay, well..." Xander rose and went to the window for the tenth time that hour, "in my vague terms, I don't have the right to get on them for not telling me stuff, I haven't told them everything either, and as for what this thing is, was, or what it does, I get that they don't really know. I can't be mad at people for what they don't know. Buffy and I already kinda discussed the not discussing. I trust her. And man, my teachers were always pulling that 'mad at me for what I don't know' crap. It sucks. You don't read one little textbook, or you skip one measly year's worth of biology homework..."
Giles managed a grim smile, despite the dire situation. "You're a very good friend."
"Also kind of explains why Buff is going for him."
"No. It doesn't." Giles said firmly.
Xander turned from the window, shoulders rising, and the just as suddenly deflating. "It doesn't, huh?"
"I'm afraid not. If Spike hadn't already made his choices to fall in with Buffy and our scrappy little band, he never would have been given this burden. She loved him, and he her, before the enjoining spell and the subsequent dream that affected him."
"Damn." Xander gave a crooked smile. "Not like it matters how and why. He treats her like she wants, and weirdly enough, better than any other guy, human or vamp. I've seen it. Disgusting as it is."
"That's very mature."
Xander got a reflective yet faraway look in his eye. "I already chose my girl, evil background and everything." She's my girl, really my girl. I just want us all to be happy. Happy and alive.
"I suppose we should be productive and continue this research. Staring at the street won't bring them home faster." Giles reached for a book, trying to ignore the burning tension in his stomach.
"Okay." Xander groaned and took the book Giles offered him. "Two burning questions?"
"Only two? Marvelous." Giles looked up.
"One- what does Spike's little friend actually do? Two- it's inside him? How?"
"Oh." Giles scanned a page, stalling. She never said it was a soul, did she. Does that matter? Does that provide some form of secret insurance? "Hm. Beginning with the second question- I'm not sure. Apparently a benevolent force was able to trap this energy source in him. In some way. Some ancient, unfathomable way."
Xander quirked one eyebrow at Giles' somewhat rushed explanation. "Gii-iiles."
"I honestly can't explain it." For multiple reasons.
"So what about part one?"
"What it does? I don't quite know. Obviously a - an object such as we're discussing, has the purpose of opening doors."
Xander frowned. "And keeping them locked."
"Something in my dream. I was supposed to find the- object- to keep Slayer Numero Uno out, not let her in. I think one of my dream people told me about certain doors needing to stay locked. Maybe Spike is supposed to help us keep something out?"
"That may be. But there's always a dual purpose, any power can be used for good or evil, or in this case keeping something at bay, or letting it in. I don't know what the purpose is here. I do know one third question that we should focus on, because it might answer all the rest."
"Whatever it is, it has to wait." Buffy's voice broke into the conversation as the door slammed shut behind the returning foursome.
"Oh dear Lord!" Giles rose and rushed to take the near unconscious Willow.
"They're back!" Xander shouted. "And they're okay! Filthy, but okay. Wow, Buff. Mud wrestling is my fantasy, not yours."
"It's snake blood and it's hardening. I call shower." Buffy passed Willow off and started peeling out of her clothes.
"I'll put the kettle on." Spike put Tara on the couch. "You like it herbal, don't you?"
"Mhm." Tara smiled weakly.
In all the commotion, it was several minutes before Xander and Giles found themselves with a quiet moment.
"What's that third thing we're supposed to look up? I don't think anyone is going anywhere for awhile."
"Oh. Right!" Giles suddenly got a very determined look on his face. "Who is this terrible and powerful 'Glory'?"
Glory was coming down off her emotional explosion. Champagne and blood streaked the floors and walls, the expensive furniture of their stolen home lay in piles, and cracks ran across the floor. Her hair was torn out in clumps, and her "human skin sack" was covered in her own claw marks.
After her blinding rage at hearing she'd lost her serpentine servant, and its trail had led to nothing except a store's building site, meaning once again she had lost her opportunity to find the precious Key, she finally turned her fury into something practical. "What killed my worm, what stopped it, who was there? What did you see, what exactly did you see?" Glory demanded of the unfortunate servants who'd followed the creature on its mission. She took one by the throat and raised him up the streaked wall, putting him at eye level
"O-only the Slayer! She must be protecting the Key, she knew the Spawn was seeking it, and she battled it! She destroyed it! She fought like a woman possessed! I swear Your Magnificence, there was nothing that could be done!"
Glory shook, and her fingers sizzled. There was a scream and a pop, and the minion fell from her grasp, neck and head no longer present, just remains of magically sizzled skin.
Glory turned to the other, who stood quivering behind her, groveling already. "Shut up." His voice died at once. "Try to be more helpful." He nodded eagerly. "What happened?"
"The girl- must be a Slayer. Surely no human could have stood against the Spawn of Sobek."
Glory nodded slowly. "The Slayer. You've seen her. Good. You can describe her, and we'll find her and tear her apart, inch by inch." Glory seethed. "Now, did she say anything, did she have anything on her, with her, something she was protecting?"
"No. No, well she was one of three girls. Two of them were hiding, but they showed themselves as the Slayer finished her kill."
"Yes, young women." He quavered. "All three, just- young women."
Jinx hesitantly interrupted. "Most Beautiful and Vicious One?"
"Jinx! In the middle of killing people here." Glory turned and spat.
"I know, and I hate to interrupt you, Your Hellishness, only, I wonder, could it be the Slayer herself? I know you've said it couldn't be, but our priests did say the energy was bursting forth as she was battling, though the flow was obstructed. Could they have perhaps hidden the power of the Key in her? A Slayer is only called as a young woman, the power could technically be 'new', only made as recently as her calling?"
Glory paused, and gave him a smile. "Always thinking, Jinxy. For once I'm not pissed that you opened your mouth, but you're wrong. A Slayer's already full. She's got a human soul and an ancient power. No, what we need, if it's a human shell- how's that for irony, guys? Me in my shell, my Key in one, too?" They laughed dutifully until she glared them to silence. "No. If it is a human, it'd be one with some freaky energy locked inside, something that makes them more than an ordinary human."
She never considered that maybe what they needed was a demon with an ancient power in him, who'd had room for a soul, pr a power shaped into one, to be put in place.
"We'd need to find a human who's not normal."
She never considered she needed to find a demon who was out of the ordinary.
Glory's face grew thoughtful. "Tell me about these two women in hiding. Anything special about them?"
"Oh. Now that you mention it, I do think they, or at least one of them, had powers. The Slayer struggled and lost her weapon, and yet in moments there was a new weapon in her hand, and I heard her call something to the others, as if they had provided it." He laughed nervously, and shrugged as best he could with her hand around his throat.
"And you didn't think that was worth mentioning the first time?" Glory gave a quick snort of disgust and a snap of her wrists, and a second headless body joined the first.
"How are we supposed to find the Slayer now?" Jinx dared to question.
"Oh. Oops." Glory shrugged. "Hey, Mages? Can you whip me up another Spawning spell?"
"We'd have to go back and get another bloodstone. We will have to scour the cities and shops for a Khul's amulet."
"Dammit." Glory grunted. "Well, if the Slayer is guarding it, and if one of those 'ordinary women' can make things magically appear-"
"She may just be a witch."
"Something that produces that much energy has to be one of hell of a powerful witch."
Or one terribly powerful witch with a second powerful witch, who's already a channeler and conduit for the old powers.
Glory, unaware of that fact, took a deep breath and nodded around the debris and body strewn room. "New plan. Find me the Slayer, and find me anyone she's close to, that she might be protecting. I'll starting popping them open, one by one, until I find who's the human with a delicious Key-filled center." She smiled. "Then I'll rip it out of them."
To be continued...