the bunny warren v. Faith

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Genesis II - Serpent's Seduction

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Willow's spell to restore Angel's soul results in thaumogenesis, and Giles must make a bargain with dark forces to defeat the demon she created. Set between Seasons 2 and 3 of BtVS. Part Two of a Trilogy.
Rating: PG-13.
Spoilers: Up to 'Enemies' episode, Season 3 of BtVS. General foreshadowing up through Season 6.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

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And the Lord God said unto the woman, "What is this that thou hast done?" And the woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat."


Genesis, Chapter 3, verse 13

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Spike: The thing about magic? There's always consequences. Always.

'After Life,' BtVS, Season 6, episode 3

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Prologue

"It's him!"

"You sure?" Willow asked Xander, as he looked out the window of the library.

"Trust me," Xander said, peering through the glass. "If that's not Giles, someone stole his car, and even thieves have standards."

"Is she with him?"

"It's just him," Xander replied. "There's no one else in the car."

"Well...maybe she went home," Willow argued. "Yeah! He found her, he dropped her off at home, what with her mom being at home and all her clothes and...."

"Will," Xander said, turning away from the window, "he's just standing there. It's like he's working up the nerve to come in. No spring in the step. No glimmer in the eye. He's bummed."

Willow's face fell.

"I guess Sacramento was a bust," Xander muttered. "Just like Reno."

"Yeah," Willow said. "I just hoped...this time...."

Footsteps quietly approached the library doors.

"Quick!" Willow exclaimed, then forcing her voice down to a whisper. "He's coming. Look cheerful."

"What?"

"We can't look depressed," Willow explained. "If we act depressed, he'll get depressed."

"He's already depressed," Xander said, approaching Willow.

"He'll get more depressed. Too much depressed leads to giving up. Giving up leads to him not finding Buffy. Not finding Buffy...he'll find her. Just as long as he doesn't give...."

Willow suddenly became silent as Giles walked through the doors.

"Giles!" Willow exclaimed. "Welcome back!"

"Yeah, welcome!" Xander chimed in. "Bring me anything? I mean, any souvenirs. Not anything, like did you bring back Buffy, because, hey! No big if you didn't! 'Cause, you know what they say. You gotta kiss a lot of frogs. Not that Buffy's a frog. And not that you'd kiss her. Because, you know, you're all father figurely and...."

"Xander," Giles dryly interjected. "Please don't feign a positive attitude."

"What?" Xander said. "I can't be happy to see you?"

"Xander, you're taking summer school," Giles replied. "The opportunity to expand your mind and further your knowledge between the months of June and August would leave you in agony, even if I returned with one of those emaciated swimsuit models whose pictures so tastefully decorate the interior of your locker."

"Speaking of which," Xander said, "explain to me again why I'm taking Typing One-Oh-One-More-Quick-Brown-Fox-Jumping-The-Lazy-Dog-And-I'm-Gonna-Die? Especially during what should be my prime veg time?"

"Because we're needed!" Willow enthusiastically said. "I mean, with Snyder not letting students on campus during the summer unless they're taking courses, and with the research books all in the library, and with the library in the school...."

"I'd really wish you'd both take the summer holiday off," Giles said. "I don't like the two of you patrolling. It's too dangerous."

"We're the only ones who can do it until Buffy gets back," Willow argued.

"Sunnydale survived without a Slayer long before Buffy," Giles said.

"We need her," Willow shot back. "And until she's back, Sunnydale needs somebody."

"Giles, she's right," Xander added. "I cruised by Willy's bar while you were gone."

"Oh, wonderful," Giles sighed, dropping his small suitcase on the library table. "I feel much better knowing that you're frequenting drinking establishments before fighting vampires. Perhaps the two of you could start visiting opium dens for Sunday brunch? Then I'd sleep like a baby."

"It was just for information," Xander said. "I gave Willy twenty bucks. He said most of the vamp riffraff took off when Angel went all evil. Word got out that he was looking for a showdown with the Slayer, and nobody wanted to be around for the fallout. That's why Angel was a little short of minions compared to the Master. With Angel and Spike gone, they figure Buffy dusted them. But without any recent Slayer spotting, Willy says the vamps are starting to test the waters."

"I still don't like it," Giles said.

"Not crazy about it myself," Xander said. "Between the life risking and summer homework and the carpal tunnel hazard and...uh, oh. Speaking of which, gotta run."

Xander grabbed his books and started toward the doors.

"See you tonight," Willow called.

"Gotcha," Xander replied on his way out the door.

"Willow...," Giles started.

"Look, I know you're concerned," Willow said. "But we're being safe. Staying in groups. Planning. Keeping our eyes open. Trust me, no one's going to do anything that's even remotely dangerous or...."

"Willow," Giles continued, lifting a book from the table. "Why is my copy of the Aldous Arcanum off the shelf?"

"Oh, um, uh, that," Willow stammered. "Well, I just figured that...you know...seeing as the books get all dusty just sitting up there on those musty old...."

"Aldous studied location spells," Giles accused. "What were you doing?"

"Nothing," Willow retorted. "Nothing. Just reading. And...well...I figured that a locating spell might help you...."

"Willow," Giles said, trying to keep his tone even. "Using magic to locate a person is very much like using a magnet to locate a paper clip. It pulls at the soul. It requires tremendous balance and control to even begin a study of such a discipline without tremendous risk to both the witch and the subject."

"I...I...wasn't going to try it. That is, until I talked with you about...."

"We've talked," Giles said. "And I think we've reached the point where we both agree that you shouldn't investigate such possibilities without consulting me first."

"Um...yeah. There we are."

"Good," Giles said. "Now, I believe you have a class to attend."

"Uh...yeah, I do," Willow mumbled, gathering her books. "I'd hate Advanced Calculus to advance without me. Um, anyway...I should get going."

As she approached the library doors, she heard Giles say:

"Willow?"

"Yes?"

"I'm only concerned for your safety," Giles said. "I-I-I can't bear the thought that something might happen to another...well, you have a class."

Willow continued out of the library.

Damn, Giles thought as he walked over to the shelf to replace the book. He made a mental note to remove the more dangerous tomes and put them in the book cabinet in his office.

As he replaced the book, Giles noticed a powder blue...something...slither across the floor. As Giles focused on the shape, he saw that it was a snake. For a snake to be in the library was odd. For a snake to be blue was unheard of. For a snake to emit a pale flourescent glow was disturbing. Before Giles could react, the snake slithered into the stacks and disappeared.

"Don't bother looking for it, English. There's too many where that came from."

Giles turned to face the unfamiliar voice. A man stood at the library entrance. The man kept his hands in the pockets of his jacket. He wore a dark hat with the rim pushed back, revealing a boyish face.

"Good thing I hung around," the man continued. "The Powers wouldn't be happy if I blew town with an imbalance like this left behind."

"Who are you?" Giles asked.

The man walked up to the library table, took a seat, and said:

"Call me Whistler."


Part I.


"So to make a long story short," Whistler said, "the Powers That Be sent me to get Angel to Sunnydale. I guess they figured that Angel and Buffy would be good for each other."

"Oh, yes, that's worked out wonderfully," Giles sighed. "Of course, the murder and betrayal and near destruction of the world did take a bit of the bloom off the rose."

"No one said it would be perfect," Whistler replied. "Anyway, things have pretty much worked out according to plan."

"According to plan?! Buffy has disappeared! No one knows what happened to Angel! How is that according to plan?"

"All meant to be, English," Whistler said. "But those blue snakes, that's something else. You need to clean that up. Can't have those things running loose."

"Do you know how to find Buffy?" Giles asked.

"No, and that's not what this is about," Whistler answered. "That's gotta work itself out."

"If your lying to me...."

"If I lie to you English, you'll never see it coming. Now, you wanna talk snakes?"

"Fine," Giles said. "What are they?"

"Don't work that way," Whistler explained. "The Powers don't send me somewhere to tell you everything. Just nudge you in the right direction, get you where you need to be when the time comes. Other than that, it's up to you."

"Riddles," Giles sneered. "Lovely. Alright. Nudge me."

"You might want to check out the hospital," Whistler said. "Maybe that room where the witch stayed while she was on the mend."

"She's not a witch," Giles said, walking over to the weapons cabinet, selecting a small dagger, and placing it in the inside pocket of his coat.

"She thinks she is," Whistler shot back. "Maybe she's right. Maybe you oughta think about that."

"Willow's mind is naturally gifted for studies. She's done a few spells. However, to call her a witch is like saying that Xander is a gymnast because he can balance a spoon on the end of his nose."

"She did a spell to restore a vampire's soul," Whistler pointed out. "I'd say she nailed the dismount."

"We have no evidence that her spell was successful."

"Not yet."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm not saying. I'm nudging. Go to the hospital."

Giles walked toward the doors of the library.

"I didn't think you'd be so quick to trust me," Whistler called to Giles.

"I don't trust you," Giles said. "But I think you know more about Buffy than you're admitting, and I'll play whatever game you like if it keeps you around."

"English, no lie, I don't know where she went."

Giles turned and walked out of the library.

"But I know why," Whistler concluded.


Part II.


Giles walked down the hallway toward the hospital room Willow had occupied after the attack by Drusilla and her minions. As he approached the room, he heard concerned voices. He stood in the hallway and listened.

"But there must be some reason, Doctor," a woman's voice said.

"We're checking all of the possibilities," a man's voice responded. "We know that your husband has sustained some kind of an animal bite, but it's difficult to see how that would explain a drop in his body temperature."

"How could he have been bitten? He came in here for a knee replacement. What could have bitten him in a hospital?"

As Giles waited for the doctor's response, he felt a hand tap him on the shoulder. He turned, and saw a woman standing behind him.

"You lost?" she asked.

She was young, perhaps in her mid-twenties. She wore dark slacks and a plain white blouse, with a hospital identification tag pinned to one of the pockets.

"I-I-I...yes," Giles finally responded. "This wouldn't be the cafeteria, would it?"

"Well, given the lack of food and tables, I'd say no," the woman said.

"Ah, yes," Giles said. "Of course not. I suppose I am lost."

"The cafeteria's on the first floor," the woman said. "Right by the gift shop. Follow the yellow lines on the floor."

"Oh, thank you," Giles said, walking over to the elevators.

As the doors closed, Giles pressed the button for the basement. If the creature left the man cold, he surmised, it must require heat. The furnace seemed a logical place to look.

The elevator doors opened, and Giles made his way through the passage ways until he heard the hum of the furnace. He went through the heavy steel door and walked toward the steel structure at the center of the room. All seemed in order, until he saw a blue glow slink into one of the ducts.

Driving the creature out posed a problem. Giles looked about the room, until he saw a wrench sitting on a table against the wall. He grabbed the wrench in his left hand and drew his dagger in his right. He walked over to the furnace, banged on the metal a few times, took a few steps back, and waited.

After a moment, Giles saw a blue snake slither through one of the vents. Giles circled the small snake, and then sank his dagger into its head. The snake writhed for a moment, and then was still. The blue glow faded until it was gone.

"There," Giles said to himself, drawing the dagger from the creature's head. "That was relatively...."

Giles stopped as he saw another snake come out of the vent. And then another. And then another. Giles retreated a few steps as he saw a succession of the creatures emerge from the boiler. The dark room filled with a pale blue glow as Giles retreated backwards toward the exit.

"What are they?"

Giles turned to look behind him and saw the woman he'd met upstairs.

"Get out of here," he warned.

"Not until you tell me what they are," the woman insisted.

Giles looked over his shoulder and saw that the snakes had increased in number, and were advancing.

"Damn," Giles swore. He looked around for something that could be used as a weapon. His dagger wouldn't be much use against the snakes, which at this point appeared to number in the dozens. He saw a fire extinguisher hanging near the door. He grabbed it, and sprayed the white foam at the approaching snakes. They recoiled as Giles pushed the woman back through the door and slammed it shut.

"What the hell was that?" the woman asked.

"The carbon dioxide is cold," Giles explained. "The creatures...that is...well...snakes are cold blooded creatures, so they were naturally repelled by...well, cold."

"Who are you?"

"I'm...uh, yes. I'm from...the zoo. Yes, there have been a number of people who reported sightings of snakes, and we thought that...."

"Don't hand me that! Those snakes glowed in the dark! Just like my kids said!"

Giles blinked. "Your...kids?"

"I'm a counselor in the children's psych ward," the woman explained.

She was going to continue her explanation, but the door behind them vibrated, and a flourescent blue aura emanated from the cracks around the frame.

"I'll explain later," Giles said, grabbing her arm. "We've got to get out of here."


Part III.


"You hear a lot of weird things when you're a child psychologist, especially when you deal with children who have post-traumatic stress disorder. I can usually...oh, thank you," the woman said, taking the cup of tea from Giles.

"Your welcome," Giles said, sitting next to Whistler at the library table. "Please continue, Ms., um...?"

"Shelby. Evelyn Shelby. Anyway, you get the usual nightmares, delusions, and so forth. But it wasn't long after I got to Sunnydale that I realized that some of what the kids describe can't be explained by mere hysterical fantasies. There are too many consistencies. This town's weird, and the strange thing is, a lot of people seem to sense it, but nobody talks about it."

"Well, it's natural," Giles said. "It's a normal reaction for the mind to rationalize what it cannot...."

"Yes, thank you," Evelyn interrupted. "I've read the books, wrote the articles. Look, about six weeks ago my kids started saying that there were snakes in their bed. Blue snakes, and they glowed. I wrote it off to trauma, or at least I did in my reports. But I saw the patterns. Then I hear that a bunch of people on the sixth floor have fang marks on their bodies, and experience a sudden loss in body temperature. Three of them have died so far. The hospital's keeping it under wraps, but I know there's something in there. Today I see you eavesdropping outside one of the rooms, and you hand me some lame story about the cafeteria. I followed you, and I finally got a good eyeful of what's been creeping around."

"Yes, well, you would have done better to have stayed away," Giles said. "These things are dangerous. I appreciate the information, and I assure you that we have the matter completely...."

"You don't seriously think I'm just gonna walk out of here, do you?" Evelyn gasped. "Two of the victims were my kids. I told you what I know. Now you tell me what you know."

"She's right, English," Whistler said. "Fair's fair."

"Stay out of this," Giles instructed. "Listen, Ms. Shelby, these matters require a certain amount of...experience. We couldn't possibly ask you to risk...."

"I'm not asking you to ask," Evelyn said. "Look, sometimes these kids say something, and I don't know what to make of it. Kids are easy to persuade, so I've pretty much just been telling them that the monsters are bad dreams, and that they're not real. And you know what? Some of them aren't. But obviously some of them are, and it's been really hard trying to help these kids when I don't always know the difference. I've read a few books, but I don't know the good ones from the bad. And don't even get me started on the internet. You're the first person I've ever met who actually seems to know anything about this stuff, and I'm not just walking away."

"Again, English," Whistler said. "She's got a point."

"Whistler," Giles said. "Do you know how you said that you're not here to give help? Well, congratulations. You're doing a splendid job of not helping."

"So what are these things?" Evelyn asked.

Giving up on dissuading Evelyn from becoming further involved, Giles said:

"I don't know, really. I've never seen anything like them. There's a mention of heat harvesting demons in Lyndstrom's research...."

Giles got up and walked over to one of the shelves. He grabbed a book, thumbed through the pages, and continued:

"There are references to auras which drain body heat. However, I don't recall Lyndstrom mentioning any corporeal...."

"You won't find these things in there," Whistler interrupted. "In fact, you can look through every book in this place, and you still won't find them."

"And where will I find them? You're games are getting old."

"Look," Whistler said. "Either these things are all over town, or there's a reason they're showing up here and at the hospital. What do those two places have in common?"

"Willow," Giles said. "But why...the spell? The restoration?"

"Gettin' warm, English."

"She must have attracted these creatures somehow," Giles muttered.

"Oooh. Now you're getting cold."

Giles slammed the book down onto the table in frustration.

"That's enough!" Giles shouted. "If you're not going to help, I'd suggest you...!"

Whistler reached over his shoulder and grabbed a thin text from the shelf. He tossed it across the table to Giles.

"Hillerson?" Giles asked as he picked up the book and flipped through the pages. "Hillerson studied the reproductive systems of....oh, my God."

"What?" Evelyn asked.

Giles stared at one of the pages in the book, and then turned to Whistler.

"Thaumogenesis," Giles said. "That's it, isn't it?"

"You got it, English."

"Thermo-what?" Evelyn asked.

"Thaumogenesis," Giles repeated as he skimmed a passage of the book. "I studied the theory during my training. It's basically a side effect of magic. When a spell invokes dark forces, a demon can be created. It's...a kind of...waste product."

"So why is it after people at the hospital?"

"That's where it was created," Giles said. "A girl...a friend...she was in hospital for injuries, and it became necessary to perform a spell. These creatures must have been created by that spell. Some of them must have been drawn here...perhaps because of the Hellmouth...or perhaps they're drawn to Willow. It's difficult to say precisely. The demons that result are new creations. There's a randomness involved. One really doesn't know anything about them other than by trial and error."

"There's got to be more known about them than that," Evelyn argued. "If every magic spell creates one of these things...."

"Not every spell," Giles said. "And not every time. Magic involves a bending of natural rules. Minor magic usually has no perceptible side effect. However, the darker the magic, the more likely that there will be an unintended consequence. Thaumogenesis is a rare occurrence, and only the darkest magics can cause it."

"Sounds like you were messing with something when you should have known better," Evelyn accused.

"Perhaps," Giles said. "But the circumstances were grave. We didn't have many choices. We weren't even sure it would work. In fact, we assumed that it hadn't...."

Giles' face turned white. His expression betrayed his sudden horror.

"What is it?" Evelyn asked.

"Oh, it's...it's nothing," Giles said. "Ms. Shelby, I have some...research...to do. If you would excuse us...."

"I told you...."

"You may return tonight," Giles said. "We should be finished here around ten. At that point we should have a plan formulated. I promise, you will be kept informed."

"I'll be kept involved," Evelyn corrected, rising from her chair. "These kids are my responsibility, and it sounds like these monsters are yours. I'll be back, and we're going to do something about these things before someone else gets hurt. Cut me out, and you'll be sorry. I may not have a lot of answers, but I sure know the questions. I don't think the school board would be happy that their librarian is teaching their students to do witchcraft. Do we understand each other?"

Evelyn waited for a response. When she heard none, she turned and walked out of the library.

"Tough cookie," Whistler observed.

"I suppose," Giles muttered.

"Somethin' eatin' at you, English?" Whistler asked.

"The spell," Giles explained. "At first we thought it might have worked, and that Buffy would return with Angel. When it became apparent that she ran away, we assumed that the spell had failed, and she had been forced to kill him. But thaumogenesis is a price. An unsuccessful spell won't create the demon. It never occurred to us that the spell may have worked and Buffy might have needed to....oh, God, no wonder she couldn't face us."

"I was wondering if you'd figure that out."

Giles sank into a chair.

"Look, English," Whistler said. "I know this isn't a great day for you, but you still gotta take care of these snakes. Maybe you should get your gang together and prepare...."

"I won't involve them in this," Giles said.

"I'd say they're already involved," Whistler replied. "They're a part of this."

"They'll never know that. I have no intention of letting them know any of this."

"You think you're protecting them," Whistler said. "Actually, you're probably trying to protect the witch."

"Stop calling her that."

"Big stuff went down here, English. She should know that. She should know the consequences of...."

"What happened was an accident," Giles said. "Both with Angel and with these creatures."

"Accidents are going to keep happening unless...."

"Listen," Giles interrupted, his tone becoming more and more stern. "You don't know us, and you certainly don't know Willow. There isn't a malicious bone in that girl's body. I am not going to burden her with guilt over the unfortunate results of her good intentions."

"Hey, your call," Whistler said. "After we deal with these snakes, I'm outta here anyway. The Powers are sending me to Mexico, and they got another guy tapped to babysit southern Cal. But sooner or later, the witch is...."

"Enough!"

"Whatever."

Giles began gathering any materials he had related to thaumogenesis as Whistler looked for a magazine.


Part IV.


"According to this," Giles said as he read from one of his texts, "because it's a new species without any evolutionary history, a creature created by thaumogenesis will usually lack something it requires for basic survival. It may merely be the absence of a physical form, or it may need a fundamental element of life, such as salt, or water, or blood."

"Or body heat," Whistler interjected. "That explains why they made for the boiler room of that hospital."

"And why they drain heat from their victims," Giles concluded. "It says here...yes, while the creatures may be temporarily sated by a raw source of the element they require, drawing what they need from living, sentient creatures is more lasting, and brings the creatures closer to a permanent state of being. Unless they can satisfy these needs, eventually they dissipate."

"So they're temporary?"

"Yes, but they can remain on this plane long enough to do considerable harm. We can't wait for them to simply fade away, especially since they may never fade away, if some of them can find enough victims."

"So how do you get rid of them?"

"There doesn't appear to be a great deal of information on dispelling such demons. Apparently any successful exorcism of the demons also reverses the magic which originally created them. The spellcasters who perform such magics are naturally reluctant to see their work undone. Therefore, the research tends to focus on binding the creatures, so they may be destroyed physically."

"So you get these things all together, then start exterminating?"

"Exactly," Giles said. "Unfortunately, that becomes problematic when multiple creatures are created. The author breaks down the incidents of thaumogenesis into two categories. In the first instance, there is a single creature created; it tends to be sentient, and requires some kind of a host to give its ethereal essence a physical body. In the second type, multiple creatures are created, with a sort of hive mind, or group intelligence. They tend to be small, and require something more elemental."

"Since there are a bunch of these little snakes, they seem to fall into that last one."

"It seems safe to assume," Giles said. "There is an occurence of thaumogenesis reported in Kenya approximately fifty years ago. A tribe was attacked by blue carnivorous ants. The tribe summoned a nameless dimensional traveler, whom they referred to as 'The Shaman.' He apparently has the ability to manipulate the spirits of demons, particularly demons that are hybrids, or out of balance in some way. He used a wooden totem created by the tribe, and with it he was able to attract the ants, and then bind them into a physical form which could be killed. He also...oh, dear."

"What?"

"He also demanded that men of the tribe cut off their left ears. Apparently he used the severed appendages to perform the exorcism of an aural fear demon in Singapore."

"Ouch!" Whistler exclaimed, his hand instinctively covering the left side of his head.

"This spirit refuses to perform any service unless a price is paid," Giles read. "It is unclear whether he uses these payments to perform other magics, or if there is some other more...nefarious...motivation."

"Either way," Whistler said, "he doesn't sound like the type you want to mess with."

"Wait," Giles said. "It says here that...yes! The totem was burned as the Shaman performed the ritual. It was consumed in fire, and after the ritual nothing remained but ash. There's a sketch here, based upon the tribesmen's descriptions."

"I don't follow you."

"The totem sounds very similar to the talismans used by sixth century monks to perform exorcisms," Giles said, dashing into his office. "They describe a shape which resembles the Egyptian ahnk. Of course, the Europeans interpreted it as having Christian origins, not knowing...yes!"

Giles emerged from his office with a silver statuette, approximately three inches high and shaped like a crucifix with a loop through the top arm of the cross.

"It's perfect," Giles said, holding the statuette next to the picture in his text. "Fortunately, Watchers are given a budget for acquiring rare artifacts. I found this one at an estate sale. It appears to be in good condition."

"You're not thinking of summoning this Shaman, are you?" Whistler asked.

"That is precisely what I intend to do."

"Humans. Never learn. Look, English, messing with dark magic is what got you into this mess."

"I know what I'm doing."

"Really? And what are you going to do when this Shaman tells you he wants you to start lopping off your pinky toes?"

"I've allowed for that."

"You've got to be kidding me."

"Look," Giles said. "You can either wait here with me while I research other options, or we can get rid of these creatures and you can start your new position fighting the forces of evil and darkness from the beaches of Acapulco. Which would you prefer?"

"Alright," Whistler sighed. "But don't say I didn't warn you."

Giles lifted the book into the air and read:

"Priest of the ether/
Traveler of worlds/
Master of souls/
Tamer of spirits/
I invoke thy power/
I summon thy force/
Hear my command/
Obey my words/
Come forth!"

A swirl of blood-red light appeared at the center of the library. A howling wind knocked Giles to the ground and forced Whistler to grab at the table for support. As the winds died, a man walked through the red mist.

"You have summoned me, Rupert Giles," the man said.

"Uh, yes," Giles said, rising to his feet and picking up his glasses from the floor. After Giles put his glasses back on, he could see that the man was dressed in a dark blue arabic garb, with a turban on his head and a scarf covering his face. From between the narrow slit between the turban and the scarf, Giles could see the man's glowing orange eyes contrasted against his blue skin.

"What do you seek, Rupert Giles?"

"Um...yes...of course. You, I assume, are the Shaman?"

"You may call me that," the man replied. "Again, what do you seek from me?"

"There is a demon," Giles explained. "Many of them, actually. Snake creatures, created by thaumogenesis. We need to bind these creatures, so they may be destroyed."

"You are aware of the totem required to perform this magic?" the Shaman asked.

"Yes," Giles replied. "We have one."

"Then you are equally aware that I will require a payment," the Shaman stated.

"I believe I have something you will find satisfactory," Giles answered.

"I do not allow humans to dictate the terms of bargains, Rupert Giles," the Shaman warned.

"I think you will find my offer fair," Giles said.

After a pause, the Shaman said:

"I will hear your proposal, Rupert Giles."

"This totem," Giles said, lifting the statuette from the table. "It is not carved of wood. It is metal. It will not be consumed by the fires of the magics you invoke. Bind these creatures, and the totem is yours. You will no longer be forced to do business only with those who can fashion the items you require. It will greatly expand your power."

The Shaman considered this, then extended his hand toward Giles. Giles placed the statuette in the Shaman's hand. The Shaman held the statuette before his eyes, then said:

"This is forged of iron. I have never seen such a totem created from a lasting material."

"Neither have I," Giles said. "That's why it seemed a bargain at seventy-five dollars."

"Your terms are acceptable, Rupert Giles," the Shaman stated. "This object is now my property. In return, I shall use it to bring and bind the demons. I will return one half hour before midnight. Prepare yourself, Rupert Giles. I will bind the creature. I will not aid in destroying it."

The body of the Shaman faded until it had disappeared.

"His exits are a hell of a lot more subtle than his entrances," Whistler said. "You sure you want to give a demon like that more power?"

"The totem binds demons," Giles said. "Binding demons is generally a good idea. Besides, I doubt I've given him significantly more power. Those that summon this Shaman are likely to be powerful enough to create their own totems. At worst I may have provided him with a convenience."

"Again, your call."

"Now, we'd best prepare."

"How many times do I have to tell you the rules?" Whistler said, shaking his head. "I don't actually...."

"What will you do and what you will not do seems to be directly related to my willingness to tell you to piss off. Well, I'm telling you now. Either stay and help, or you can tell your Powers to find another man. None of this would have happened if they didn't bring Buffy and Angel together. In fact, there's a lot that would not have happened, including the death of a woman I loved dearly, and a few hours of torture directed at yours truly. So, if The Powers That Be want to see the unsavory consequences of their meddling disposed of, they can either assist or expect no help from me."

Whistler frowned.

"That's big talk," Whistler warned. "You're pretty much daring the higher forces of the universe to put you on their naughty list. Man does that, most often he doesn't live to see another birthday."

Whistler waited for Giles to reply. He didn't.

An impish grin flashed across Whistler's face.

"You got moxie, English," Whistler finally said. "I like guys with moxie. Got an axe?"


Part V.


"Very nice," Whistler said, brushing his thumb against the blade of the axe.

"I've always been partial to that particular piece myself," Giles said, removing a short sword from its scabbard and laying it on his desk. He grabbed a bolt and loaded the crossbow.

"Pretty heavy artillery," Whistler observed.

"We don't know what we'll be facing," Giles replied. "We need to be repaired."

"Is the Shaman ready?"

"He says he's prepared," Giles said. "He's speaking with Ms. Shelby."

"Why? How can she help?"

"I don't think he needs her help," Giles said. "I think they're just making conversation."

"I still don't believe you called her."

"It was hardly my choice. She's an adult. She can make her own choices. If nothing else, an encounter with actual demons may cure her curiosity about the macabre."

"It usually doesn't work that way. But, again, your call."

"We should begin," Giles said, grabbing the sword in one hand and the crossbow in his other. He exited his office. Whistler followed.

As the pair approached the weapons cabinet to gather spare stakes, they heard Evelyn Shelby say:

"So, these demons, they actually do live under kids' beds?"

"They draw energy from the nightmares of children," the Shaman explained.

"Alright, quick question," Evelyn said. "How many eyes do they have?"

"Three," the Shaman replied. "A third eye is on the forehead, slightly off center."

"I knew it!" Evelyn exclaimed. "I mean, a kid says the monster has a horn or a second mouth, and, you know, obvious Freudian delusions. But a third eye? Off to one side? I KNEW those had to be real!"

"Humans," the Shaman stated. "You are very complex creatures. This is why I do not bother with you. Demons have immutable natures. Creating balance in an unbalanced demon is an achievable enterprise. Humans are hopeless."

"Oh, but we're not," Evelyn argued. "There's a lot you can do with a troubled psyche, especially with children. That's why I became a child psychologist. You can really help kids, especially if you get to them early."

"Nonsense," the Shaman shot back. "Humans are constantly changing. They never settle into any set pattern of behavior. Any attempt to balance their natures is at best a temporary solution."

"That's how we survive," Evelyn said. "We adapt. It's our strength. We can be what we need to be. Sure, our problems are endless, but that's only because our possibilities are infinite."

The Shaman considered this. Before he could respond, Giles approached and said:

"We are ready. We should begin."

The Shaman arose, and placed the totem on the table.

"Ms. Shelby," Giles said. "You may observe this from my office."

Evelyn started to protest, but Giles continued:

"You will be able to see everything. However, Whistler and I will not be able to protect you. We expect a rather difficult fight. We have experience dealing with such creatures. You do not. Whatever knowledge you feel you can gain from this will be of no use to your patients if you are dead."

Evelyn considered this, then walked across the floor and into Giles' office. Giles walked over to the door and pulled it shut.

"Ready?" Giles asked Whistler.

Whistler nodded, shifting his axe in his hand.

Giles turned to the Shaman, and nodded.

The Shaman began muttering an Arabic incantation. The totem on the desk began to emit a bright green glow. A low hum filled the air.

Giles' eyes darted around the library. He caught sight of a blue snake slithering toward the table. He lifted the crossbow, fired, and hit the snake, severing it into two pieces. Giles silent congratulated himself on an excellent left-handed shot, and then spied another snake coming from the stacks.

"Whistler!" Giles shouted, gesturing toward the snake with the crossbow.

Whistler ran across the room and hacked into the snake with his axe.

"So far, so good," Whistler stated.

"It's early," Giles replied.

Suddenly, the doors of the library burst open. A sea of snakes slowly moved across the floor. The serpents slithered, one over the other, as they approached the center of the library, saturating the air with blue light.

Giles and Whistler jumped onto the library table. The Shaman remained motionless. The snakes slithered at his feet, but he did not react. His chanting became louder, and the totem on the table grew brighter.

"Keep them back!" Giles shouted, slicing at the snakes with his sword to keep them at bay. He threw his crossbow onto the ground, and the snakes scattered.

"Damn things keep coming!" Whistler yelled, chopping at the snakes as they slithered up the legs of the table.

"Whistler, be careful!" Giles shouted. "You'll...!"

Whistler took a hard swing at one of the snakes. The axe went through the snake, and the blade penetrated deep into the table leg. Giles and Whistler felt the table creek underneath them and sway. They struggled to maintain their balance as the table leg buckled, and then finally gave way. The two men were thrown to the ground, and the totem fell to the floor.

"No!" the Shaman cried. "Not now!"

Giles and Whistler tumbled across the floor, and eventually got to their feet.

"Dammit, man!" Giles said. "That was one of the most foolish, thick-headed...!"

"Hey, I'm a lover, not a fighter," Whistler replied. "Hey, why aren't we dead?"

Giles and Whistler looked down, and saw that the snakes were creeping toward the totem. As they reached the silver statuette, their slender bodies seemed to melt into the metal. The green glow turned a bright blue, and as the last of the snakes entered the totem, the blue glow rose into the air and hovered.

"This doesn't look good," Whistler mumbled.

"What's happening?" Giles asked the Shaman.

"There is no way to know," the Shaman replied. "The ritual must not be interrupted. I cannot tell what will...."

"Mr. Giles?"

Giles turned toward the woman's voice. Evelyn stood just outside the office doorway.

"Ms. Shelby!" Giles shouted. "Get back in before...!"

The blue aura streaked across the room, and struck Evelyn in the chest. The light enveloped her body. She screamed in pain as the blue glow grew into a blinding white light. Giles shielded his eyes against the fierce glare. Finally, a thunderous boom filled the library, and the light faded into an eerie darkness.

In the pale moonlight which seeped through the library windows, Giles spied the desk lamp from the library table laying on the floor. He reached down, turned the switch on the lamp, and lifted the lamp into the air to illuminate the library. Giles, Whistler and the Shaman looked at Evelyn.

At first, all appeared well. Evelyn was standing, apparently unharmed. Then a slithering form seemed to move down her neck. Giles raised his sword, thinking one of the snakes had survived. Then he noticed that the snake-like shape appeared and disappeared quickly. He also noticed that Evelyn's nostrils were...large. Abnormally large.

Giles approached, the lamp still in his hand. He got as close as he could before the power cord was stretched to its limit. Giles stopped as he noticed that Evelyn's skin reflected in the light. Giles thought that some form of explosion had occurred, because scale-like markings covered Evelyn's face and arms. At first, Giles thought that the markings were soot from the blast.

Then, Giles realized that they weren't markings.

"Oh, god," Giles gasped as the sword fell from his hands.

Evelyn looked down at her open hands. Not knowing what had occurred, she focused all of her attention on trying to understand the scaled hands she saw. Reflexively, her tongue shot from her mouth, its pronged ends sending new senses into her mind.

Evelyn screamed, and then collapsed to the floor.


Part VI.


"I-i-is there anything I can...?"

"Oh, I don't know," Evelyn said, an unmistakable bitterness in her voice. "Perhaps some live mice?"

"Ms. Shelby," Giles said, taking a seat next to Evelyn in his office. "There are...things...we can do. We can try to...we can...."

"You don't even know how this happened," Evelyn spat, tracing the scales on her arm with one finger. "You have no idea how to change it."

"I-I-I have seen such transformations," Giles stammered. "Usually, with some research...."

"You're lying," Evelyn said. "If there was a way, you'd be telling me how you were going to do it. I'm stuck like this, aren't I?"

Giles' silence betrayed the truth of Evelyn's statement. She was not possessed. If the change was a glamour or a spell, reversal would be plausible. If her body was occupied by a creature, an exorcism was a relatively simple matter. But this kind of change....

"I work with children," Evelyn said. "I work with SCARED children. What can I do now? Oh, god, what...."

"Ms. Shelby...I...I...I am sorry. If I'd known...."

"You did know," Evelyn said. "You tried to tell me. I'm not...look, could I just have a minute?"

"Of course," Giles said, rising from his chair.

"Did you know that a snake's eyes are different from a human's?" Evelyn asked. "Their tear ducts are inside. They don't cry."

"I didn't know that," Giles said.

"Neither did I," Evelyn sighed, her face dropping into her hands.

After a moment, Giles left the office.

Giles removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes as he walked across the room.

"Rupert Giles?"

Giles put his glasses back on and walked over to the Shaman.

"I...regret what happened to the woman," the Shaman continued. "The incantation was interrupted before it could bind the creature permanently. I should have explained the ritual to you, and warned you of such a possibility. I...apologize."

"It's hardly your fault," Giles said. "This...this was my choice. I am responsible. Look, is there anything you can do for her?"

"Perhaps."

"Can you reverse...?"

"No," the Shaman admitted. "The consciousness of the demons was destroyed in the transference. Evelyn Shelby is Evelyn Shelby. She has changed physically, but her soul is intact. She is what she is. There is no imbalance to correct."

"Then how...?"

"My dimension," the Shaman explained. "It is a dimension of travelers. Those who call it home have no home. No creature is born there. All matter of beings occupy the plane. There is no 'normal.' Evelyn Shelby...may find peace there."

Giles considered this. Demons like Whistler lived among humans. However, he appeared human. There were whole cultures of unusual creatures that existed on the fringes of humanity. However, those demons were born into those cultures. Evelyn, once human, now....

She didn't stand a chance.

"She will not be harmed?" Giles asked.

"No," the Shaman replied. "Violence is forbidden in that dimension. She will be safe."

"What do you wish for me to do?"

"I intend to offer passage to this dimension to Evelyn Shelby," the Shaman said. "She will undoubtedly wish to consult with another human before making a final decision. I wish to know whether you will interfere."

"No," Giles said. "I will not. In fact, if you wish, I will approach her with this option myself. She may be more receptive if she hears it from me."

"Thank you, Rupert Giles."

"I'm the one who should be thanking you," Giles responded. "It is very kind of you to attempt to help. Your reputation for ruthlessness is obviously undeserved. I will be sure to document that for the texts."

"Please do not, Rupert Giles," the Shaman replied. "Fear of consequence is all that keeps lower beings from calling on my power. It would be unwise to encourage men to call on forces that they cannot comprehend."

"Yes," Giles said. "Quite right. I'll approach Ms. Shelby after she's had a moment to compose herself."

The Shaman turned and walked toward the weapons cabinet. Giles walked over to Whistler, who was standing by the window near the stacks.

"Well," Giles said. "I suppose you were right. I had no business summoning the Shaman."

"Oh, I dunno," Whistler said. "The snakes are gone. That's what's important. All in all, when I report back to the Powers, I'm gonna say things turned out...eh, not so bad."

"Not so bad?! How the bloody hell can you say that? Evelyn is horribly disfigured. I've found out that we unwittingly caused the death a creature with a soul. And I'm no closer to finding Buffy than I was this morning. Not so bad my ass!"

"Jeez, English, cool down," Whistler said. "You humans never learn. Look, rough day? Sure. But the thing is, stuff that happens, even the bad stuff, it happens for a reason. You may not know the reason, but that doesn't mean it won't all work out."

"I'll be damned if I'll ever see any good that came out of this," Giles growled, storming off.

Whistler watched Giles walk away, and said under his breath:

"You'll see what I mean."


Epilogue


"Jeez, English. I can't believe you wore a tux."

"It's not a football game," Giles said, adjusting his cummerbund. "I'm not going to apologize for dressing appropriately."

"We're in a gateway dimension," Whistler said. "Most of the demons here aren't even wearing clothes."

"Alright," Giles replied. "If you ever get married, I promise to show up in a loincloth."

"Uh, on second thought, you look good in a monkey suit."

"I thought you'd see it my way. So, how are you getting on in Mexico?"

"Eh, not so bad," Whistler shrugged. "I learned to hablo the lingo. I get to nudge, and work on my tan. How's Sunnydale?"

"Better," Giles said. "Buffy's back. She returned on her own, and immediately dispatched a hoard of zombies. It may take some doing to get her back into school, but if that's the most of our problems, we should be fine. I still haven't had the chance to speak with her about the...circumstances...regarding Angel."

"You might want to let her talk about it. I'm mean, don't force it, you know? Just kinda, well...."

"Nudge?"

"You learn slow, English. But you learn."

Giles and Whistler turned as the Shaman approached.

"Oh, hello," Giles said. "Congratulations!"

"Yeah, Mazel Tov," Whistler chimed in.

"Thank you," the Shaman responded. "Whistler, will you excuse us for a moment? I need to speak to Rupert Giles."

"Oh, yeah, sure," Whistler said. "I'll just check out the munchies. I've always had a taste for Krivoth larvae."

Whistler walked over to a table across the room.

"I hope there's nothing wrong," Giles said.

"No," the Shaman said. "I do need to speak with you, and I find the demon's familiarity to be unnerving."

"I can't argue," Giles said. "Oh, I saw Evelyn outside. She looks beautiful. She's positively glowing."

The Shaman's eyes narrowed.

"There is a witch here from the Or-Teth dimension," the Shaman stated. "I can have her examine Evelyn for...."

"No, no, no! Not glowing literally. It's...a turn of phrase, among my people. It means she looks happy."

"Your people are very strange, Rupert Giles," the Shaman said. "Fortunately, Evelyn and I have managed to co-exist with each other's differences."

"Compromise," Giles said. "The foundation of any good marriage."

"For example, Evelyn agreed that during the ceremony she would hold the traditional severed head of a Q'Inari Mud Dragon. In turn, I have agreed to allow her to throw the head to the guests after the ceremony. Apparently, whoever catches the head will be next."

"Next?" Giles gasped, instinctively putting his hand up to his neck. "I don't think...oh, next! Yes, next to get married, like a bouquet. Yes, it is a custom of our people."

"There is another custom of your people we must discuss, Rupert Giles. At Evelyn's request, a table has been placed at the entrance to the ceremonial chamber."

"Oh, yes. The gift table. It is a custom of our people to give gifts at a wedding."

"It is not the custom of my people," the Shaman said. "You deposited a package on the table. You should not have done this. I owe you a blood debt, Rupert Giles."

Giles blinked. "Er...well...it's only a can opener."

"You brought me together with my beloved," the Shaman continued. "Among my people, to do this puts me in your debt. I cannot rest until this debt is paid."

"Well, I'm sure something will come up. Until then, try to put it out of your mind. Enjoy the day. Or night. What is it when the sky's pink here?"

"Afternoon," the Shaman said. "I must leave now, Rupert Giles. The sacred rites are about to commence. I must meditate in order to achieve the a proper state of mental balance and summon the spirits of my ancestors. Also, I must get my aunt away from the Vurbordian Ale before she makes a scene."

"Right," Giles said. "Best wishes."

The Shaman left. Giles looked for a seat, and silently debated the merits of warning Whistler about the dragon head.

THE END


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