Continued from part 3.
Something woke him. Giles blinked in the morning glare. Sunlight, slanting in through blinds he hadn't quite closed in the night. The alarm hadn't gone yet. What had woken him? A truck driving past? It still troubled him, but he brushed it away. He rolled out of his mean little bed and into the shower. He dressed in black jeans and a loose white cotton shirt, sleeves turned up to expose skin that had begun to brown. Combat boots on, laced carefully. It was possible they'd be fighting. It was possible they'd be sitting bored at the cafe where they were supposed to meet, drinking au lait and doing the crossword. That would be something of an anticlimax.
Giles is awakened by a minor earthquake, which famously often feels like a truck driving by. This is likely the moment when Buffy's blood is let.
Though that thought was unfair: Buffy would be safe, so he would be content. Or as content as a man could be, when he could not have the woman he wanted, when his body hungered. Giles took a firm grip on his emotions and set aside his desire. He would live as if he believed what he'd told her yesterday.
He put on his sunglasses and carried his duffle bag of weapons out to his car. In the cafe, he sat with a coffee and the morning paper by the window. He ordered breakfast for them both and waited for her to appear.
But she didn't.
When she was fifteen minutes late, Giles asked the waitress for change, and rang her mobile number from the payphone by the door. No answer, and after four rings he heard her cheerful voice asking her caller to leave a message describing the nature of the apocalypse. He smiled despite his worry, and reminded her where the restaurant was.
When she was half an hour late, he rang her again, and hung up the phone before he could be taunted by her recorded voice.
When she was forty-five minutes late, Giles used the phone a third time, this time daring to ring her home. He'd hang up if her father answered. But no one answered, not even the answering machine. The phone rang on and on.
And we're not going to do this again, because now Giles is going to act.
Giles threw a twenty-dollar bill at his table and ran for his car. He drove up the winding roads, through the suburban maze, as fast as the Citroen would go, running stop signs recklessly. He pulled the Citroen to a stop at the curb in front of the house, still dithering about whether he dared introduce himself to her father. He'd taken only two steps up the walk when he saw that the front door was ajar. He covered the last few yards at a dead run. He burst through the door, calling her name, and tripped over a body. He caught himself against the wall.
Hank Summers, unconscious on the entryway floor. Breathing. In pajamas.
Giles stepped over him and ran down the hall. He shouted for her again, foolishly. No one in the room, but the blankets puddled on the floor, the lamp smashed. Signs of struggle everywhere, in broken furniture and dents in the walls. Buffy had put up a fight, but they'd taken her in the night. Someone had. Something.
Out, moving fast, to check on her father. Perhaps he'd seen it.
No signs of injury, or of burning around the mouth and nose. A magical attack, then. Giles laid a hand on Hank Summer's forehead, and explored the spell signature. He'd be out for a few more hours, and awaken with partial amnesia. A simple spell, but nothing Giles could do other than let the man come out of it.
Giles swore. Was this how it was to end? Buffy carried away and slaughtered while her Watcher waited helplessly, miles away? All his fussing about oaths and fate and tradition, his act of defiance, all his love for her, meaningless.
He raised his voice and shouted. "Apollo! A duty is owed to your servant, who has sacrificed all in the service of your Slayer! Where is she? Tell me where she is! If this is to mean anything, I must know!"
Nothing. No sign. No presence. No help.
Turning point 2: the hero's lowest point. He's lost his Slayer and his god isn't answering his call. All his plans were for nothing.</p>
Act 3: resolution begins. Our hero confronts the true antagonist directly. Act 3 is generally distinguished from the others by the presence of "a ticking clock", some kind of time pressure that accelerates the action. In this case, we don't have a literal ticking clock, but we do have another sort of pressure. First off, Giles has to get command of himself and act.
He punched the wall. The god had abandoned him, and Giles cursed him luridly. He stood again, in a near panic. Think, fool. Think. He had no information, nothing to go on, no idea where she was. He felt a whine build in the back of his throat. Giles forced himself to calm down. He'd be useless to Buffy if he stayed in a panic.
There we go.
He did have something to go on. The men who'd talked with Buffy on the beach, who'd given her a flier. They'd twice tried to lure her away from him. They'd had a thrice-damned bull-horn symbol on their shirts. It had been staring him in the face. Blind. He'd been blind. What had been the name?
Giles flung himself into the kitchen. He yanked open drawers until he found what he sought. The yellow pages, ripped through at speed. Thera Collective. An address north of him. Thomas's Guide, also in the drawer where the phone book had been. It was near the airport, near LAX. Giles took the maps with him and drove, through weekend traffic, to the dead streets of an industrial area south of the airport. Air shimmering in the heat from bleak stretches of tarmac, warehouses with sun-bleached paint.
Imagery of death & decay. This is not a living place.
The address was just another factory building, of brick and gray metal. A cluster of cars and a windowless van in front. Painted on the side of the building, directly on the brick, was the name "Thera" and a stylized volcano. The paint was worn. Much newer and neater was a metal sign with stylized bull horns.
The implication is that they've been around for a while.
He pulled around to a side door and parked. He got out of the car and opened the boot. He armed himself for a serious fight: stake in the left boot, combat knife in his right boot. He hung his father's xiphos at his hip. And finally, his crossbow, loaded, slung over his shoulder. He slammed the boot down. The sound echoed off the walls of the surrounding buildings. More than ten million people in the city, and none of them nearby. All of them deaf and blind and numb to the coming apocalypse.
She wasn't a virgin. Sacrificing her wouldn't stop an earthquake, wouldn't propitiate the god. They had to be stopped, before they killed a girl needlessly in their fear. If he could avoid violence, he would. Though they would likely fight him; true believers rarely listened to reason.
Giles has decided that they've made a mistake: they are assuming Buffy is a virigin without checking. They are going to bring about the apocalypse by offering their god a girl who isn't a virgin.
Giles pushed at the door handle; unlocked. He slipped inside, into cool air and darkness. He shut the door behind himself and let his eyes adjust. He could hear men's voices chanting, in a large space nearby. He was in a storage area, behind crates and a mess of scrap metal. Drums of jet fuel. Machinery, chains, motors. The burnt hulk of something that had once run on treads. The air stank of machine oil and hot metal, of diesel fumes and chemicals. He moved cautiously, crossbow down at his side, out and into the main space.
Scene-setting. Getting that fictional dream going in a new setting by giving the reader just enough detail.
There were men in the center of a large factory space. Between him and them was a metal sculpture. Giles moved quickly, and sheltered behind it. He took another glance around. Near him, a pit stacked high with wood for reasons he could not guess. To the side, a forge, door open, glowing red, with heated crucibles of something inside. This was the source of most of the stench. Beyond the fire pit, his quarry.
Showdown is about to begin. But first we have some horror.
Giles took a closer look at what he hid behind. The statues were of skeletal humans in twisted and strained poses, assembled from glass and bronze and other metals. If the figures had not looked so tortured, he might almost have called them pretty. The glass was lovely, shimmering with iridescence. Giles looked within the shifting rippled surface of the glass and saw bone. Human bones. He looked again, more carefully. The skeletal figures all had bones, full skeletons inside, as far as he could see. Human bones, from short slight girls.
There were names and dates in the metal bases.
Edna Rammage, 1906. That was a Slayer's name. She'd vanished, mysteriously, leaving her Watcher Creighton Faust insane with grief. How had her remains ended here?
Dolores Estrellita. 1971. He didn't know the name.
Jennifer Foster, 1989. Giles knew that name, had known the girl's Watcher. She'd been a Slayer less than a year, and yes, she'd been based in San Francisco.
Sarah Powers, 1994. He didn't know the name, but he knew enough now to guess why that year. The Northridge quake. Hundreds dead. There'd been a period of a few months in 1994 when no Slayer had been called. They'd thought. Giles now guessed that a Slayer had been called, and she'd died. Been slaughtered, alone and terrified.
These were dead Slayers. Even the ones he did not know.
Eternity, hung on a wall.
The threat to Buffy is now specific. The tension is ratcheted up.
Did these men believe they were preventing earthquakes? It didn't matter. The horned ones tricked men into doing evil. Deluded, foolish, short-sighted men, who took drugs and summoned the sleepwalker for a night of sex. Or deluded, foolish, arrogant men, who slaughtered girls and summoned demons to avert earthquakes. Death always followed. Death had followed, fire and destruction and blood, and these fools still had not understood. They would call the emissary of their god here, feed Giles' Slayer to him, and then the city would die.
His hands shook. He fought it down. Buffy. Stay focused on Buffy. Giles sheltered behind the assemblage made from the bones of dead Slayers and spied out his enemies.
Eight humans in robes and bull masks, arranged around something that Giles recognized as a summoning circle. A man in a while robe stood in its center. Chalk describing an eight-pointed star; candles and bloody heaps of something at the points. Dead animals. Birds, a small dog, a snake. Other things. They were far advanced into the summoning, judging by the frantic pitch of the chants and the flickering darkness at the center of the star.
Buffy was there. Alive, though how he was so certain of this he didn't know. She was chained naked to a saltire cross suspended in the center of the circle, about five feet off the ground. Inverted. The concrete was stained red underneath the cross. If they had hurt her in any way he would chain them in her place one by one and flay them alive. He held the fury in check long enough to perform a tactical evaluation. Much as he longed to scream and leap at them directly, he knew he'd manage to kill two or three at the most before the others overwhelmed him. He needed Buffy to win this fight. But first he needed a vantage point. Someplace to snipe from with the crossbow.
This threat is not hyperbolic: Giles probably would have carried through on it. He's that angry and he has been trained since childhood to fight.
He moved again, confident that they were completely distracted by the strain of the summoning. Stairs up to a balcony, then a ladder up to the catwalk. He mounted as quietly as he could.
Now begins a sort of mini-plot within the main plot: the fight sequence. There must be no straight lines through a fight, either. The hero's first plan must fail or perhaps even complicate his problem. There should be a little reversal, confrontation, resolution. My husband was very useful in reading through drafts of this and helping me tighten it.
The summoning reached a climax, and Giles heard the sound of ripping dimensions that meant an opened circle. The chanting fell silent. He paused in his progress along the catwalk to look down at the summoning circle.
Within it moved a bull-headed demon that might as well be called a Minotaur. Huge. With the horns, it was ten feet tall. A powerful human chest and shoulders, human hips transforming into animal legs ending in hoofed feet. It was nude, and its genitalia were huge. Giles shut off that thought. He had to find a way to rescue Buffy from that fate. Now.
He moved to the corner of the catwalk, to a spot that gave him a clear shot down at the circle. Buffy was motionless on the cross, the demon directly beside her, its hands on her.
He unslung the crossbow from his shoulder. He whispered a brief invocation to the god of archers. Apollo Aphetoros would likely take his side in this battle: he was no friend to the blood-drunk bull-god of Knossos. He watched the demon moving in the sights for a few seconds. Giles let out his breath, waited two heartbeats, and fired. He spoke a word of power as it flew: πυρου. It caught fire.
Giles invokes Apollo in his guise as an archer, and tells the arrow "ignite what you hit" more or less.
The minotaur had moved. The bolt landed in the firepit, and the magic did its work. The wood caught.
He will bring fire to the sacrifice.
The prophecy again. Giles is now aware that it is being fulfilled and that his every action is contributing to that fulfillment whether he means it to or not.
Giles had no time to curse himself for a fool, for the bull-demon bellowed, and the men swarmed into frantic motion around it. There were words in the cry, though Giles did not know the language. It stamped, and the earth shook. The catwalk vibrated under Giles.
The earthshaker is here. They've successfully summoned him using Buffy's blood.
The bull was bellowing again, and stamping. The catwalk shook, harder than before, and Giles fell to his knees. He recovered his feet. He had to move, now, or die. He ran headlong toward the platform at the end, fixed solidly to a support pillar.
A lighting strut fell, and shot sparks across the catwalk where he'd been. He was safe for the moment, and the circle was nearly directly below him, and the assembly the cross hung from was within reach just over his head. The chain ran through a pulley block, controlled by a motor. Giles couldn't see the control box, but he could unhook the chain. He seized it, unhooked and pulled. The beam swung slowly toward him. Giles grunted, and leaned his back into it. Hand over hand, pulling her up to him. The chain rattled in the pulley block.
One of those paragraphs I sweated over. Describe just enough! Don't get too detailed!
The earth shook again, the narrow span under him flexed and rippled. The crossbow fell over the edge. Giles cursed, but did not stop pulling. A segment of catwalk fell: they would need to bridge the gap to reach him. And he was cut off from the ladder.
The man in the white robes had reached the gap in the catwalk. He raised his hands and chanted something. Giles ignored him and pulled. The chain was heating in his hands. Hotter second by second. It began to sting his palms, then hurt. The priest screamed again, and the chain glowed red in Giles' hand. One more pull, and the cross rested on the platform beside him. The flesh of his left palm had blistered. He curled his hand against his chest in agony. One moan escaped him, then he mastered himself. Checked his Slayer. Uninjured, at least seriously.
This entire sequence was sort of forced by the upcoming image, which inspired the fight scene. But it is also a satisfactory way to torture my character at least a little bit, even if I still shy from truly hurting him. Throughout the remainder of the scene, he's running on endorphins and adrenaline.
"Finally," Buffy said. Her face was red, but she looked more angry than uncomfortable. "Get these chains off me. Can't break 'em."
Giles struggled with them one-handed. They seemed to have no endpoints, no place where they were fastened. "Magic," he said. "Who chained you?"
"That bastard in white."
"High priest," Giles murmured. "He's mine. I want his blood. Buffy. These men have been killing Slayers."
"I know. Just get me off this thing."
A terse business-focused conversation between the two of them. They're mid-battle and they're both concentrating on what needs to happen.
There were angry red marks on her arms, slices that looked like knife cuts. Giles ran his fingers over them. Already healing, but-- "They hurt you!"
"They wanted blood for something."
He removed his shirt and tied it around her hips, to give her some semblance of modesty.
"They'll get across the gap in a minute," he said. He leaned against her side for a moment, comforting her in her bonds. "I'll free you, my Slayer."
I allow them one moment of emotion. Then it's time to fight.
Then he stood. The priest had grabbed the lighting strut and laid it across the gap in the catwalk. Time to fight. He drew his sword right-handed and silently blessed the Council swordmasters.
Giles is left-handed usually.
They met in the center. The priest had a double-headed axe, a labrys. Ceremonial, and probably made from trash metal, but its reach was greater than Giles'. He dodged back from a slow swing, then riposted with a thrust that sent the priest two steps backward. Not his equal, then, and this fight would already be over if Giles' stronger hand were usable. He'd use the terrain: back the man to the edge, then send him over.
Giles is going to kill this man without compunction. The bodies of Slayers in the statues below would be enough for him, but the threat to Buffy pushes him over the edge. If I did my job right, the text doesn't judge him even one little bit for this. It's an aspect of the AU!Giles. Even canon!Giles killed in cold blood when it was the right thing to do for the world. This one is in hot blood and trained to kill by a different culture besides.
The priest spoke. Giles realized it was the man who'd had the camera on the beach, two days ago.
"I'm sorry," he said.
I want you to understand the villains. They have reasons for what they do.
"This is difficult for you. To offer up your Slayer. But please know, she dies for the greater good."
"No! You don't understand. She's not a virgin. The sacrifice will do no good--"
"They're never virgins when they are offered to the god. Artemis's gift is surrendered first. Lay down your arms. We won't harm you."
Giles was mistaken all around. It's not her virginity but her Slayer blood that matters. As he explained to Buffy earlier!
Giles thrust. The priest danced out of the way, but could not get the axe in motion quickly enough to respond. Giles watched and waited for his opening.
"You cannot prevent this," the priest said. "We have already given the god a taste of her blood. He has sent his emissary to take her."
And he's going to be pretty angry if he doesn't come back with the Slayer.
"It's barbaric to sacrifice humans. Evil. It can never be done in the service of life. You'll unleash more evil--"
The priest laughed and the axe drifted down. "Slayers are not human. You know this."
"No," said Giles. "Not human. Divine. And I have been charged by my god to protect her."
"You'll kill her yourself in two years, Watcher. Her life now buys the lives of many."
Oh boy! I love this because it's so true. The Watchers are going to sacrifice her themselves in Cruciamentum, because that's how it's always been done. Giles, however, has already taken his first steps in revolt against how it's always been done.
Giles lunged and struck into the priest's belly before he could even lift his weapon. He screamed. The labrys dropped from his hands, bounced from the catwalk, and fell. He went to his knees, arms wrapped around his gut.
"She will not die while I live. Release her."
Giles spared a glance behind himself. Buffy had gone still on the cross and was watching intently. The high priest raised his head.
The inspiration for the fight scene: a manip that wickedfox made at the same time I was writing this. My description follows.
Giles noted that he took no action to release Buffy. No matter; Giles knew how to release her. His face tightened in grim resignation. He advanced a step closer and pressed the sword point against the man's throat.
"It's too late, Watcher. He is here. The earth will swallow your sun-god, Watcher. The tower falls today." The priest was sweating and shaking from his wound. It was likely mortal. Buffy was still captive. Behind him the cultists dropped a plank across the gap.
Pressure on Giles. A reference to the prophecy, which the cultist obviously knows.
"How many Slayers have you killed?"
The man's face twisted in pain. "As many as we needed. As many as the god asked for."
And that tips Giles right over.
"I'm sorry," said Giles, and drove the blade into his throat. The blood-splash was hot across his chest and belly. The priest collapsed forward onto his face, twitching out the last of his life. At that moment, the binding spell on Buffy's chains unknitted, and she fell from the cross.
Giles threw himself flat. His left palm scraped on metal as he went down, and he hissed. He heard a rattle and a deep metallic thud which mean Buffy had bludgeoned something with the chains. Then a scream, from a man falling. She was in front of him, feet planted. Chains dangled from her wrists. He got to his feet again.
And now the battle begins in earnest. Buffy's freed and about to do what she does best.
Hand out. Giles gave her the sword. She shifted it to her left hand, and climbed onto the catwalk railing. Before he could gasp out a warning, she flung herself into space. Giles' stomach lurched, but she seized another chain on her way past and swung gracefully to a lower catwalk. Giles tore his gaze from her and set his attention on the pair of humans advancing toward him cautiously, one at a time on the narrow catwalk. They had knives, ceremonial athames with ornate swept-forward hilts. Giles grinned. This was going to be easy, even with his off hand. He drew his combat knife from his right boot and moved.
Now he's in battle mode all the way. The violence that earns this story a "mature" rating kicks in.
The first took his blade in the gut and was thrown over the catwalk rail. The second turned to flee, and Giles hamstrung him before he kicked him screaming out into space.
No mercy shown.
Shouts and noise from below meant Buffy was fighting. Giles ran across the plank and bolted for the ladder. Four humans, one minotaur. And the demon alone would be more than a match for a Slayer. He thrust his bloodied knife back into his boot and descended the ladder one-handed, as fast as he could.
The scene on the warehouse floor was chaos. Blood spattered from the men who'd fallen from above. Fire raging in the pit. A circle of men, moving around Buffy. Just three; she'd taken one out already, using the chains on her wrists to bludgeon. Clever Slayer. She was fighting in a holding pattern, concentrating on picking off the humans while the minotaur raged and stomped. Every stamp of its hoofs made the earth shake. Little quakes, 3.0, 4.0. The city must be-- Giles stopped thinking about that. They must kill this thing.
Giles ran behind a blond man who had unwarily focused on Buffy and ignored her Watcher. Alex, the surfer boy who'd attempted to lure Buffy away. He grabbed a handful of shaggy blond hair with his left hand, ignoring the pain from the burns, and pulled his head back. He cut Alex's throat and let his body fall forward. Two left.
Giles's body count is now 4. I doubt Buffy has intentionally killed the person she took out, though she might have. Canonically Buffy killed quite a few people either accidentally or by not interfering with their deaths. (Example: the death of the swim team coach in "Go Fish".) She never sets out to, however.
He was beyond fury. He at last had his wish: brutal violence, battle, a chance to break the bones of the men who would harm his Slayer. Who had kidnapped Slayers before her, had handed them over to demons to suffer and die. There was no mercy in him for men who would summon demons and sacrifice humans to them. Sacrifice girls. Slayers. Buffy.
Any Watcher alive would have done the same.
And I mean that unironically: here Giles's behavior would have the support of this world's Council.
Buffy was more aggressive now, with only two humans to worry about. One of the men peeled away from her and circled Giles. This was the other surfer from the beach. A fit man. And he knew what to do with himself and the knife in his hand. Giles gave him no chance to demonstrate it: he closed the distance between them with utter reckless disregard for his own safety. He kicked the knife out of the man's hand and then kneed him in the groin. When he doubled over in agony, Giles stuck his knife between his ribs and jerked sideways. The man screamed and attempted to curl up around the knife. Giles yanked it out and let him drop. He spasmed on the floor, choking on his own blood.
Probably the most gory of the kills. #5.
Giles stepped over him and moved to help Buffy. The humans were all gone; just the demon left now. He waited in a knife-fighter's crouch, calmer now, and watched the fight progress in front of him.
Buffy had some minor injuries, bloody scratches on her arms, a red hoofprint on her ribs, but was moving freely. The minotaur was unharmed. They had each other's measure, though, and the clashes were growing serious. On their next pass at each other, Buffy scored a touch on its arm and drew blood. She was unable to follow up and had to dance back out of the way to avoid its counterblow.
Giles had an idea. He pulled a chunk of wood from the fire and threw it at the beast. It hit, and the demon bellowed in pain. Buffy took advantage of its distraction and rushed in, sword up. She swung, but she'd telegraphed the blow. It was elsewhere, and then it was on her, punching with a huge fist. Buffy's head snapped back, and she flew backwards.
Plans must never work the first time.
Buffy tumbled and came to her feet gracefully. She'd lost the sword.
Giles had moved behind it and in. He slashed at its legs right-handed. Thick skin, a cow's skin, not a man's. No damage. He risked a second attempt, but was rewarded only with a backward kick. He caught a hoof in his chest. He found himself on his back, wheezing in an agonized breath. A second breath. Ignore the pain. Up on his feet, find the knife where he'd dropped it, move back in range.
He was not going to be able to harm it. It was up to Buffy. The minotaur knew this as well, and ignored him.
Buffy is a big damn hero. And she's the one with the super-human strength. I try not to forget that. The whole fight scene is their relationship in action, now that I think about it. He does the dirty work to support her in the overall goal. She takes on the demonic force directly, with his aid.
Buffy danced around next to him. "Distract it. I gotta get behind it. Gimme ten seconds." Then she was gone, moving fast. The minotaur followed her, closer and closer to the fire. Giles thought he understood her plan.
He made as if he'd stumbled and fell. He bent over his ankle and held himself still, a tempting target. The minotaur saw him and rushed. At the last moment, Buffy sprang onto its back. Giles rolled backwards, desperate to avoid the horns. It kicked him, a glancing blow on the thigh. He pushed himself to his feet with his left fist, and scrambled.
A brief reminder that he's injured. Giles playing bait is something I possibly do too often in my stories, now that I think about it.
She was on its shoulders now, riding it, a hand on the horns to pull its head back. It bucked and spun. She held fast, but for how long? Giles found his sword, discarded nearby, and tossed it to her. Buffy caught it neatly and drove the blade deep into the minotaur's neck. A horrible sound-- a wheezing cry that was more human than animal, and black blood fountained out. It went to its knees, and then pitched forward.
And now we echo Giles's dream, in which he aids her in the bull dance.
Buffy was flung to the concrete. She lay there a moment, and Giles ran to her. But she was whole. She sat up. Another aftershock, hard. Buffy waited until it was over to stand.
"Five-oh, at least. Wasn't killing this earthshaker jerk supposed to stop the quakes?"
A crash from above. Giles looked up to the sound: more lighting struts falling.
"We killed only his emissary. The god is going to take the city anyway."
The god didn't get Buffy; he's angry. We have not quite reached our climax, even though battle is over.
"We gotta get out of here or this place is gonna fall on us--"
"No! Buffy, sacrifice it. On the fire. Heart and head."
Buffy gave him a doubtful look, but obeyed. She hacked the blade at the thick neck as if it were a machete. Blood and flesh sprayed. She took the head by a horn and held it to the sky, dripping blood. She heaved it into the fire. It caught and burned. The stench was terrible, burned meat and scorched hair and blood.
Buffy took his knife from him and dug into the human chest of the demon, undaunted by the gore. "Your heart, not mine, you bastard," she said. She flung it onto the fire.
"Apollo Phoebus! We have slain your enemy." Giles shouted. "We offer him to your honor!"
The quaking stopped. Something shifted in the air beside them, and tore open. Bright golden light shone through, and then the god himself was present. Giles shaded his eyes.
"And so you have."
And now it becomes something that the two gods work out among themselves. Some kind of debt has been paid with the sacrifice and the earthquakes stop. Or possibly Apollo beats him up. I'm not sure how they worked it out. But this is the resolution scene.
The god stepped forward. He was in the form of Apollo Phoebus Chrysaor, in golden armor, bearing spear and shield and sword. Perfect, unbearably desirable, shining in the darkness of the smoky factory. He spoke again, in the clear tenor voice Giles had known once. "Well met again, my brave one. Greetings to you, little Slayer."
A reference to his Watcher initiation ritual.
Buffy was staring straight at him. "Who the hell are you?"
Giles flinched, but the god merely laughed. "The one who made you."
"Not the only one, brother." The gate between the world was still open, and another figure stepped through, silver-bright, modestly dressed. Bow and horn, hound at her heel. Artemis. Giles swallowed and gathered his courage in both hands.
Oh boy, it's getting all littered with immanence here. This is generally not good for mortals.
"What the hell. It's a glowing people party. Can one of you tell me how to get these chains off my wrists? They're not accessorizing."
Oh, I love Buffy.
"You," said the goddess. "You have forfeited my blessing and protection. The night is no longer safe for you."
"Big deal," said Buffy. Giles could see from her face that she had no comprehension of who the goddess was, or what she meant. Or perhaps she did, and was taking a stand. "It's not like the night's been a barrel of laughs to begin with."
"I can claim my due now, mortal--"
Giles stepped between them. "It's not the time," he said.
Our hero is bold as he ought to be, even in the face of the gods. He knows the rules and he can insist on them.
Artemis turned her regard upon him. Giles returned it steadily, boldly. Bite deep. She took a step toward him, but her brother interposed himself.
"He is mine, sister," Apollo said.
"Your oath will be bitter in your mouth, Watcher, when you deliver her to me at last, and you see what your lust has brought upon her. When her time comes, they will not find enough of her to bury."
"My oath will be my shield," said Giles. "I will honor it." His voice was steady. He saw no reason to tell his enemy what he meant.
He means that he swore an oath to protect Buffy and that is what he is holding to, steadfast. He's not going to send Buffy to Cruciamentum.
"See you do," said the goddess. She smiled, a terrible sight on that lovely, perfect face, and was gone.
Apollo remained. He took a step closer to Giles, and Giles went to a knee. "See that you hold to your oath, beloved. Your true oath."
Apollo uses the same term for Giles that Giles used for Buffy.
"Yes, kyrios. I understand."
Giles is carrying out Apollo's wishes. He was chosen for Buffy because he was the kind of man who would do that, who would decide to topple an ancient institution because he loved the girl he was sent to Watch.
"I believe you do. And little Slayer! You please me greatly. You slew the earthshaker's son."
Buffy regarded Apollo with grudging respect. "I didn't like him."
Buffy is semi-divine herself. At some level she knows this and behaves as Apollo's equal. Also I suspect she doesn't quite believe in what's happening.
Apollo laughed. "I didn't, either. I grant you a reward."
The fire of the god descended on them, the heat of a million suns. Giles closed his eyes tight and covered them with a forearm. When the heat had faded, he opened them and saw dancing afterimages. He blinked. Buffy was standing, looking up. She held his sword in one hand, but the chains were gone from her arms. Little else remained to mark their battle. The cultists' bodies had vanished, along with the glass-covered bones of their victims. The firepit was empty as well: not even ash left to mark the place where the minotaur had burned.
Resolution complete: the cultists have been defeated. Buffy lives. We now shift to denouement, the gradual release of all tension.
Buffy dropped the sword. It clanged on the concrete. Giles winced for the sake of the blade. But she was next to him, kissing him. He cradled her with his good arm and kissed her back.
"Did you watch that? Wild. He seemed pissed at those guys. A couple of them were still alive, and he dismantled them. Bad-ass. You've met him before?"
Note the difference between their experiences of the fire of the god: Giles hides his eyes, Buffy watches what happens without fear.
Giles laughed, with some difficulty. His ribs were bruised. "Yes. That was the god Apollo."
"Good for him. I don't see any reward."
"There. At the center of the circle."
Two objects, glittering. A sword and a knife. A gift of arms from the god to the Slayer. Buffy took the sword. A short sword, a xiphos by the shape, in a sheath. The hilt was leather-wrapped horn. The sheath was inlaid with gold and ivory, in designs that showed a girl and a bull. She was shown leaping it, slaughtering it, and consigning it to flame. And also leaping into the arms of a muscular man. A tribute to the fight they had just won, then. Buffy drew it and held it up so they could both see. On the blade was a stylized sun, with rays running its length. It was lovely and deadly. Buffy's weapon. A Slayer's weapon, destined to be handed down from one to the next. An heirloom of sorts.
"Hey, I think this is yours."
Buffy handed him the knife. Giles took it in his right hand and held it up. It was modern in shape, not a makhaira, but instead like the knife he had just used on the cultists. A sharp point and a single cutting edge, curved. Wickedly sharp, of course. The blade had the same stylized sun as Buffy's. It also had the same leather and horn hilt, and similar designs, simplified, on the sheath. It was obviously a mate to hers, and just as obviously his. It felt good in his hand. An heirloom for the Watchers, then, an artifact. Giles felt a pang to think of it waiting out the centuries in that shrine, next to the sword. This was meant to be used, meant to drink sweat and blood.
I suspect that Apollo made the weapons from the body of the minotaur. I'm not sure about all those sentence fragments, but perhaps I can excuse them by saying that they fit Giles's frame of mind. He's about to fall apart physically.
"Lovely," was all he said. He tucked it into his right boot. He would use it, and to hell with the shrine and solemn dust.
"What's wrong with your hand? You're hurt!"
Buffy knelt next to him and took his left hand. She uncurled his fingers. He hissed. The battle fury had faded from him, and the pain had begun to replace it. His palm was a blistered mess. She examined it with no trace of disgust, though his own stomach turned. She eased off his Watcher's ring, the one with his name and hers intertwined, and slid it onto his right hand. The finger had been burned underneath where the metal had been. This would leave scars.
A little bit of review of what he's just been through.
"First aid, now. No arguments. Those are second degree. Where's the car?"
"You need clothes, Buffy."
Buffy looked down at herself, almost surprised. The godfire had cleansed her of demon blood, but not her own. She was almost as bruised as he was. Her injuries would be gone by this time tomorrow, but he was not so blessed. He touched his good hand to the center of his chest, where the minotaur had kicked him.
First she found his shirt where it had fallen to the floor and helped him put it on. Then she rummaged to the side, and found her own clothing. The shirt was torn, but wearable. Giles felt anger rise inside him again, considering how it must have been torn, while they stripped an unconscious girl.
They were dead. Dead, and their bodies burned away by the god. Their souls would wander homeless. Giles smiled through his pain.
He still feels so much hate for them.
He led Buffy out of the warehouse and back to the Citroen. She opened the boot and extracted his emergency kit, which held a complete change of clothes for him, energy bars, and a first aid kit. She coated his hand with antibiotic gel while he gritted his teeth, then wound a quick bandage around it.
"Emergency room," she told him.
Giles was now in too much pain to drive. Buffy gave him no choice, but took the keys from him. She claimed to have a permit, though he was in no frame of mind to verify it.
And now we begin the work of mopping up. Giles is injured seriously enough to need a hospital visit (one of many).
It took them some time to pick their way out of the industrial zone and south to a hospital. The city was in chaos, fire trucks in motion, ambulances, traffic lights out. Citizens stood in intersections directing traffic. Buffy turned on the radio, and they heard the details: a series of quakes ranging from five to just over seven on the Richter scale, though estimates varied. Freeway overpasses fallen. Minor fires. A death toll in the hundreds. Giles wondered how bad it would have been if they had succeeded in offering Buffy to the god. Flame and ash, the entire city consumed?
I think he's right. The cultists never prevented quakes by offering Slayers to their god. They caused them. I draw on my own post-quake experiences for details in this section. I was in the San Francisco area for the 1989 quake.
Prophecy fulfilled. As always. And as always, it had carried the seeds of its own fulfillment. Its words had driven him to go to her, to know her, and to lead her to sacrifice head and heart to the god. His god, at last propitiated. The end times were theirs. Giles laughed through his pain, and Buffy gave him an odd look before returning to the task of driving.
And the tower is going to collapse. Giles hasn't figured that one out yet.
In the casualty ward, he joined a line of earthquake victims with injuries like his. Broken limbs, minor burns, some more serious. It took hours, even with being sorted near the top of the list, and by the end he was worn out by the pain, and giddy from the drugs they'd given him to ease it while he waited. They asked him no questions about how it had happened, simply treated him, gave him scripts for drugs, and released him so they could move on to the next.
Giles's injuries aren't going to cause comment because he's in the middle of a post-quake emergency.
Buffy drove them to her father's home. Giles waited in the car, cradling his hand against his chest. She ran in to fetch her bag. Her father, she said, was awake again, confused. He was content to explain away the mess in the house as earthquake damage. She'd told him she was off to assist emergency services.
I feel I dispensed with Buffy's father clumsily here, but he's not important to this story. I want to get them alone together one last time to talk. The scene that follows is more or less the "tag" in the 3-act structure.
They found the refuge of his motel room. They showered together, to wash off the stench of the incense and the smoke, still thick in Giles' nose. Giles was exhausted. He buzzed from the painkillers. Buffy had put on pajamas, so he did the same, one-handed and awkward. They curled together on the bed, warm and clean and smelling of Giles' sandalwood soap. He pulled a blanket over their shoulders. His hand was wrapped tight in layers of gauze, and it throbbed with his heartbeat. He rested it against his shoulder, careful not to jar it.
Slowing down some more, giving them time to reflect on what just happened.
Buffy had not made any overtures. Giles was content to hold her, to comfort her and take comfort from her. She hadn't yet talked about what had happened while she was captive. He thought about what it had been like for him, and decided to probe.
"How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine. Slayer healing already did its thing. You got it much worse." She touched his left hand, where it rested against the opposite shoulder.
"I meant... emotionally. It must have been difficult to have been, to have, ah..."
"Been chained naked upside down to a cross? Yeah. Difficult is one word."
I tortured Buffy some in this story too, didn't I? Probably not enough.
Her voice shook a little under the bravado. He kissed her forehead. "I understand."
"No. You can't. They touched me. They checked to see if I was a virgin. And when they found out I wasn't they, they-- And then that thing touched me. It was horrible, Giles. A demon had its hands on me."
"Buffy, I do understand. Truly. It was a demon for me, as well."
"You? It happened to you? You said it ended badly, but--"
"Horribly. No one rescued me. I had to do it myself. Eventually. So I understand. It helped that I killed the demon myself, with my own hands, as you did the minotaur. It's dead, Buffy. You killed it. It can't harm you again."
An uncharacteristically long speech about emotions from Giles, but he's trying to comfort her.
"Yeah," she said. "I know."
She was crying. He understood that, too. Bravery and self-command until it was all over, and she was safe. Then she could let go. He held her close and let her weep into his chest. He didn't tell her to hush, or that it was all right. It wasn't, and only time would make it easier to think about.
Buffy got out of bed and went into the motel room's little bathroom. He heard her blowing her nose, then the sound of running water. She came back to him and turned out the light before she joined him under the blankets. Giles could still see her sword where she'd left it, glittering in the street lights that leaked around the curtains. It was a lovely thing. It meant something, though he wasn't sure what. Something more than just a means of ensuring Buffy's absurd name would be forever remembered by the Watchers. The god had plans. This was never a good thing for the mortals caught up in them.
I am setting my hooks for the next story, which probably has to be the Cruciamentum story. (Though I have lots of notes and some writing for the story that immediately follows Giles's initiation as a Watcher, about the 2 weeks he spends preparing to move to the States.)
Buffy moved close to him and rested her head on his chest. "Giles? When I feel better, when your hand is better, can we make love again?"
"Oh, my sweet Buffy. I can't. I'm bound to you, sworn to you. I will never leave you. But I can't be your lover."
"Your age, my position, everything makes it impossible for now, Buffy. You must see this."
He has to end it. His job is to protect her.
"Giles. What about your obligation?"
"I must beg you to wait."
He nuzzled into her hair. "Hush. I will go back to Sunnydale, and you will call me every night until the summer is over. And when you return, we'll train and fight together. And we will be the best and closest sort of friends, friends who were once lovers. And you will date handsome boys, and take the lucky ones to your bed, and live as sweet and as perfect a life as I can arrange for you."
He tells her what protecting her means for him, and it's a little skewed from what you might expect him to want to give her. But she's the Slayer and she can't ever quite live an ordinary life. He describes for her the ideal life from his point of view. He's promising her his emotional closeness as well.
"And when I turn eighteen..."
"When you turn eighteen, and when you graduate, I will be yours again. If you feel the same way."
"I will," she said.
She probably will.
She stole a kiss from him, and Giles returned it. But his stomach was lead. When she turned eighteen. When the goddess demanded her life back. When his oath to her demanded that he stand in open defiance of the goddess and the Watchers and three thousand years of tradition. Giles gathered Buffy tight against him, and wondered what he would tell her. When the time came for them both to die.
And I end on a strong statement about impending doom. The Cruciamentum is coming and Giles will take his stand somehow. He believes they'll both die in it, because he believes he cannot succeed standing against the force of the Council. The secret is that I want to build up to Quentin Travers's "father's love" line and have it be a deliberate lie told in public as a way of doing what he can to support Giles, because in this universe Travers is a good guy. But it's not going to be that easy. And right now, Giles believes it will be impossible.
I am scared to write that story. It will be a lot of work. I'll have to be in the mood for sustained effort for that one.
I have no idea why I do this, though I do it at the end of all long stories. I type it when I have a complete draft at last, as a sort of ritual marking of the moment. Anyway, that concludes "Thusia", one of my personal favorites and one of those stories where I feel my craft was almost up to the job of telling the story I wanted to tell. There was a lot going on here and I think it mostly worked. Tell me what you think!