Warning for mentions of "off-screen" rape and gang rape.
Warning for dark Xander and dark Willow.
Warning for torture that some may consider graphic.
For those who wish to avoid, I will summarize the main point on why this part is important with respect to the story's conclusion.
Apologies for not warning about this back at the beginning. I honestly spaced on doing this because it doesn't happen "on screen;" it's mentioned but not described; and it doesn't happen to one of the main characters.
Dave turned his haunted eyes to me. “That’s when everything really went wrong.”
What do you mean?” I asked.
Dave went back to staring at the mudcloth-covered wall. “I heard this clatter. That was Harris dropping his flashlight. He just…I don’t know what happened, but he was scrabbling backwards and somehow landed on his butt. He kept staring at the opening like…like…”
I hazarded a guess. “Liwaza?”
Dave nodded. “I went over to Harris and crouched down next to him. I’m all, ‘Yo! What is it, buddy? What did you see?’ He was just shaking his head and staring straight ahead with that one eye of his. I figured I needed to take a look because I don’t think he was in any condition to even answer.”
At this point, I knew that I didn’t want to hear the end. Yet, as much as my heart stuttered at the thought of Dave continuing his story, the cold part of my mind — the part that wanted a weapon that I could use to wound Mr. Harris to his very core — stiffened my resolve. I would hear this and I would drink in all the details. Then I would craft the correct pointed comment and, when the time was right, I would shove it into Mr. Harris’s heart of stone.
“I grabbed the flashlight and crawled forward, just far enough to stick my head into the opening.” Dave sounded distant, almost lost. “There was…she was…” He drifted off into silence.
I waited, but when it became clear that Dave would not continue without prompting, I reached out to touch his hand. “Dave?”
“Chained,” he said in a whisper. “Chained. Face up. Naked. Covered with blood. Dirt. Human shit. God knows what else. Couldn’t tell if she was alive or dead. She wasn’t moving. Not moving at all. There were drawings on the wall. Graffiti. Not ritual, not like the big room. This was scarier. Drawings of all sorts of these crude…” Dave closed his eyes against the memory. “Shit. It was just…like they wanted her to see…wanted that constant reminder right in front of her face 24/7. Not that she could see anything. No light.” He looked at me with his haunted eyes and added, “It smelled like a slaughterhouse collided with a three-month-old port-a-potty in there. And that’s where they had her. In the dark. Chained.”
The horror Dave described had robbed me of speech. No, I thought, no, I don’t want to hear this anymore. I want this to stop. This weapon, I thought, this weapon is far too cruel to ever use.
Yet, I couldn’t stop it, much as I wanted to at this point. Dave’s story had taken on the tone of a confessional and I, strangely enough, had been transfigured into his priest. I wondered how many nights the memory this moment had kept him awake; how desperately he needed to tell someone of this horror, and yet had been unable to find a confidant even in Mr. Harris.
Dave stared down in his lap. “I heard this noise behind me. A whump. Then a sharp crack. Then this muffled scream.”
“You were under attack?” I whispered.
Dave shook his head. “’S what I thought, so I yanked my head out of there and jumped to my feet. ’Cept there was no attack. Instead, there’s Harris with some kind of heavy wood staff. God knows where he picked it up. It was probably the mage’s. Whosever it was, that staff had to be in the room somewhere where Harris could see it because he got his hands on it too fast. He was standing over the weed and he was holding one end of it in the two-handed-gonna-hit-a-homerun stance. He’d lift it above his head like this,” Dave formed a two-handed fist and lifted it over his head, “and he’d bring it down like this,” Dave mimed bringing those fists down in a hard, fast arc, “there’d be a crack, like another bone breaking followed by a muffled scream.”
All I could do was stare.
“He kept aiming for different parts of the weed’s body. Crack. There goes a rib. Crack. Sorry about the foot. Oh, wait. No I’m not. Crack. You didn’t need the kneecap, did you? Oh, look. You’ve got another one. Crack. Now you’ve got no kneecaps. Sucks for you. Crack. Crack. Crack.” Dave looked at me. “Harris didn’t say a word. Not. One. Fucking. Word. No threats, no promises, no nothing. He was going to beat this guy to death and he was going to take his time. He was going for laying down the maximum pain until the guy gave up the ghost. You could see it. You could see it in the way he lined up those shots. You could see it when he’d connect. He was settling down for the long haul and he wanted the weed to feel every second.”
I began to tremble with dread. “Didn’t you try to stop him?”
“How? There was no stopping him,” Dave said helplessly. He turned to stare at the mudcloth-covered wall. “The worst part, the absolutely worst part, was that there was no expression on Harris’s face. None. That face of his could’ve been made of stone. Or iron. It was just…blank. The brain, she was off, and the soul, she went out to get a pack of smokes, and all that was left was Harris’s body and that staff.”
“And what if you were wrong? What if the man was innocent?” I demanded.
“He wasn’t. That’s maybe the worst part of all this,” Dave said.
“How is it the worst—”
“Ally suddenly ran into the room looking panicked,” Dave interrupted. “Guess she must’ve picked up something from Harris while she and Kavitha were doing the clean-up outside, because she was running like the hounds of hell were after her. He didn’t even look up when she entered, probably because he was so intent on lining up his next shot on the weed, who at this point was looking not at all well. She grabbed Harris right around his waist and yanked him back so hard that both of them fell down.”
“How on earth did Alexandrienne know where to find you two?” I asked. “And what on earth do you mean that she ‘must’ve picked up something’ from Mr. Harris?”
“Distress. Pain. Danger. Extreme emotion. We feel it when our Slayers—” Dave shrugged uncomfortably as if I had stumbled on something quite personal. “Haven’t seen it in reverse, though. Then again, since me and Kavitha became a team, I haven’t really been in over my head because we pretty much stick together. Or maybe it’s the nature of what we do versus what Harris and Ally does. Maybe she has to be on the sensitive side because they’re working together on finding Slayers. I dunno how it works with them.”
Strange as it may sound to you, dear reader, but the more I heard about the connection between these new Watchers and their Slayers, the more I feared it. It struck me as unbearably intimate, if not invasive, for all the parties involved.
Obviously we know better now. One could no more characterize such relationships in general terms than one may characterize a certain type of person in general terms. Everyone involved in such a paradigm takes away from it what he or she needs. For some it’s a friend; for others it’s a family; for others it’s a teacher; for others it’s a lover; and for still others, it’s an overwhelming emotional connection that they’ve craved, but had either somehow lost or never really got for one reason or another. The opinion of what’s proper and what’s correct play not at all into such relationships.
There are days that I truly wonder what Great Power thought it was a fabulous idea to throw two people together who are as fiercely protective, stubborn, and emotional as Alexandrienne and Mr. Harris. Not just protective of the people around them, even if at times they can both be rather insistent — to put it kindly — on that front. They are also rather protective of each other, and neither one of them submits with anything resembling grace when the other party decides that for their partner’s own good they’re going to knock them on the head, drag their unconscious body into a room, chain them up in the corner, and then patiently wait until their partner will stop feeling compelled to put themselves in needless danger and begins thinking with something resembling clarity.
Understand dear reader that I am not at all hinting that Mr. Harris has ever done such a thing to Alexandrienne. Nor am I at all hinting that Alexandrienne has ever done the same thing to Mr. Harris. Nor am I at all hinting that the people around the pair of them have not acted in such a manner and locked them both up until they calmed down.
Oh, bloody hell. I can’t even write the above paragraph without a bit of a giggle and a snort.
Forgive me my moment of levity in the midst of such a tragic tale. This…well, Liwaza’s sad story is very difficult for me to write.
To explain my confusion on the matter of Alexandrienne and Mr. Harris: suffice to say that these revelations were not just new to me, but were also revealed to me under most trying circumstances. What’s more, it was new to every Watcher, every Slayer, and every one of the new Watchers who found themselves with a deep emotional connection to a young girl with extraordinary talents. Heavens, at this point in history we didn’t even have a name for these new Watchers until Miss Summers’s Immortal friend blithely dropped the name “Guardians” in our laps.
So, yes, I understand that Alexandrienne’s sudden appearance and the fact that she was able to unerringly hone in on the location of Mr. Harris is not at all strange to you, but it was passing strange to someone such as myself who was ignorant of how such things worked.
“Ally seemed pretty confused at first,” Dave continued. “Her eyes were just going back and forth between the weed and Harris, like she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Now Harris started hyperventilating and waved vaguely at me, or maybe the walled-off area behind me, I dunno. For whatever reason, he’d slipped into Krahn, so I have no clue what he said to her. Next thing I know, Ally’s lunging for the weed with claws out, and now it was Harris holding her back. Well, not holding her back, more like getting in between her and the weed so she’d have to tear her way through him to get to her target.”
“Now I’m utterly confused,” I said. “You said yourself that Mr. Harris seemed rather intent on killing the man, yet he prevented Alexandrienne from finishing the job that he started.”
Dave chucked, but there was no humor in it. “It was the damnedest thing to watch. Harris and Ally were hanging on to each other for dear life. Both of them wanted to kill the weed, but neither one of them wanted to let the other one get their hands bloody.”
“It seems to me that if Alexandrienne truly wanted to kill the man, she could have easily shrugged off Mr. Harris and be done with it,” I commented.
“Yeah, but she’d have to put the hurt on him to get to the weed and hurting Harris just isn’t going to fly in Ally’s world,” Dave said.
“She does seem rather protective of him,” I remarked.
Dave shrugged. “Hey, Kavitha’s no less protective of me. Nagessa will strip the skin off anyone who looks at Akella the wrong way. Miri will gut anyone who puts a single hair on Jamina’s head out of place. I could go on. Far as I can see, Slayers seem to be pretty protective of their people, period.”
I raised my eyebrows and said nothing. In my admittedly limited experience, I had never heard that this was the case. I had always been told that Slayers preferred standing alone and hunting alone, and I admit that this aloneness was just one of my many terrors regarding my condition.
Then again, came the traitorous thought in the back of my mind, Miss Summers most certainly did not stand alone, did she? Wasn’t that part of the reason why the Council was rather hard on her during their last visit to Sunnydale? And didn’t she defend the fact that her ‘civilian’ friends contributed to her cause to very face of Quentin Travers himself?
What’s more, Miss Summers did ensure that her sister, her closest friends, and her Watcher got out of Sunnydale alive, sane, and reasonably whole. If one stopped to actually think about it, this does not sound like a Slayer who prefers to stand alone, does it? And where there’s one such Slayer…
Dave interrupted my thoughts and continued with his story. “Right about then, Kavitha came barreling in. She was pissed like you wouldn’t believe. She started yelling that Ally had promised to work with her so they could get inside the building to help us that much faster. She stopped mid-yell when she saw the little tableau of Ally, Harris, and the weed. Willow finally showed up, huffing and puffing because she was chasing after two Slayers. She spotted Harris’s deal pretty quick and you can see her face collapse into the ‘What shit is this?’ expression.”
I began to shiver, because I could see how this story would end. One of the most powerful known witches in the world was about to find out about the tortured girl chained and naked in a dark room. Someone was about to have bloody hands, because I honestly couldn’t see how Mr. Harris or Alexandrienne could hope to stop Miss Rosenberg once she saw what Mr. Harris and Dave had seen.
“Harris pointed to the walled off area and he asked, ‘Is that the part you couldn’t penetrate?’” Dave continued. “Willow slowly took her eyes off Harris and squinted at the walled-off area before telling him, yeah, it is. He then told her to take a look. Well, right then I finally broke out of being frozen to the spot and I’m all, ‘Oh, that’s not a good idea. That’s really not a good idea. Trust me Willow, you don’t want to see what’s in there.’”
“An excellent piece of advice,” I volunteered.
It was the tone of my voice, more than my words that gave Dave pause. He studied me a moment before he slowly said, “Considering that you don’t know what happened next, I don’t even want to guess why you said that.”
“Miss Rosenberg can be rather,” terrifying I thought, although aloud I said, “off-putting.”
“Yeah, well, if I didn’t see what I saw, I’d disagree with you,” Dave said. “But like I said, after Malaba? I won’t just drink to that, but I’ll buy the whole damn bar a round so complete strangers can drink to that.”
I didn’t want to ask, truly I didn’t, but I had come so far now that I felt compelled by the need to know. “What did Miss Rosenberg do?”
Dave winced. “She took a look. Didn’t matter that I told her it was a bad idea. Didn’t matter that whatever Harris saw resulted in the mess that was the weed. She knew that what she was going to see would be nasty. None of that stopped her.”
“And?” I prompted.
Dave shook his head. “Still not sure what I saw, really. She had her head in that room a long time. Longer than Harris. Longer than me. I thought that maybe she got stuck, even though she’s a whole lot smaller than either one of us. Then she slowly backed out and calmly handed me the flashlight. I think it was a trick of the light or something, but her eyes looked black. I don’t mean dark. I mean black, as in midnight-and-there’s-no-stars-or-moon black, coal mine black. That kind of black. The kind of black that’s so black that you couldn’t even see the whites of her eyes.”
I shivered. Dave very obviously had limited experience with magic users, let alone witches as powerful as Miss Rosenberg. Otherwise, he would have known that Miss Rosenberg’s black eyes were no trick of the light, but a rather dire warning sign.
“She calmly walked over to Harris until they were standing shoulder to shoulder. They were both staring down at the weed when Willow said, ‘Your call.’ Just like that. Kill him, let him live, torture him, she was leaving it up to Harris to decide what to do.”
I waited on pins and needles, even though I was dead certain that Mr. Harris would order the man killed. I was rather surprised when Dave shattered that expectation.
“Without taking his eye off the weed, Harris told her, ‘I want this guy to talk and I want the whole truth and nothing but. Is that a problem?
“Well, Willow tilted her head and the light, it was doing something really weird to her eyes, because I could’ve sworn they actually got blacker and she said, ‘He’s gagged.’
“Harris then told her, ‘That I can fix.’ He then told Ally, in French mind, to go get the latex gloves.”
“Excuse me,” I interrupted, “but latex gloves? Why on earth—”
“HIV,” Dave answered. “It’s an epidemic in some countries. Harris told me that Ally’s the one who insisted on them carrying around latex gloves and safety goggles as part of their box o’ weapons before they even left her hometown back when it was just the two of them, because he honestly wouldn’t have thought twice about it otherwise. Our girl was covered with blood, some of it her own, and had clearly been raped multiple times. Uganda has a high rate of infection. Touching anyone’s blood at that point was a bad idea. Ally’s now got Harris so well trained that if they come across anyone who’s been hurt, the gloves are out and on before you can blink.”
“Alexandrienne is the one who—”
“That girl knows more about HIV and HIV prevention than anyone I know,” Dave interrupted. “She borders on obsessed about blood safety. Every time she can get her hands on literature from anywhere, she makes Harris read it to her since her reading skills aren’t so great and doesn’t always understand what something says. And don’t get her started about sex tourists who go shopping for virgin girls because they think it’s a magic way to get a cure or stay safe without a condom. You’ll not only be there all day, you’ll be in fear of your life she gets so worked up about it. ”
Well, that certainly explained Alexandrienne’s extreme tension whenever Liwaza went near Mr. Harris. It wasn’t just that the girl was potentially violent, but that she was violent and HIV-positive. If Alexandrienne’s obsession with the dreaded virus was as extreme as Dave claimed, she was most likely wrestling with fears about Mr. Harris’s safety on not just one, but two terrifying fronts.
“Perhaps Alexandrinenne came from an area with high infection rate due to sex tourism?” I hazarded.
“Harris found her Cote d’Ivoire, which has one of the highest infection rates in West Africa, period. The government had to start a full-court press on education and prevention, it’s that high,” Dave shrugged. “I wasn’t saying that her obsession was a bad thing as opposed to a smart thing. She can just be a little scary about it.”
I could hardly blame the girl for that.
“Let me finish this, because this part…this is the part where…” Dave’s voice trailed off.
“I apologize.” I once more reached out to touch his hand to urge him to continue. “Please, do go on.”
“Once Harris had his hands under wraps, he kneeled down and took off the gag. I think the weed had passed out, because Harris checked for a pulse and told Willow the weed was still alive, which honestly surprised the hell out of me because the weed looked that bad. Now, Willow, she was still looking down at the weed. After studying him for a little bit, she said to Harris, ‘You broke his jaw.’
“Harris stood up and said, ‘I knew I kicked him too hard.’ Boom. Not even a hint of being sorry. Then he asked Willow, ‘Broken jaw. That a problem?’
“Now I’m thinking, ‘Hell yeah, that’s a problem. The guy can’t talk, so yeah, I’d sure as hell say that’s a problem.’ Willow, man, Willow obviously didn’t think so, because she finally looked up at Harris and she smiled this real thin, cold smile and she said, ‘For me? No. Is it a problem for you?’
“Harris looked right back at her, stared right into those eyes of hers. Next thing I knew, he had this matching, twin smile on his face and he said, ‘Not a problem.’
“Ally started backing away from the pair of them. She looked flipping terrified, like she knew they were dancing dangerously close to something big and bad and there was nothing she could do to stop either one of them. She managed to retreat all the way to me and Kavitha walking backwards. She didn’t even stop until she backed into me. Kavitha’s all, ‘I think we should stop them.’
“Ally just looked at her and her eyes were huge, she was that scared, and she asked, ‘How?’
“Well right then I knew we were in for a swim up shit creek without a life preserver. Ally was scared out of her mind by whatever was going on, which sure as hell scared me out of my mind because I figure she should know that there’s something very bad going down. Kavitha’s a smart a girl. If Ally didn’t think she could do anything to stop them, she pretty much knew that no one could do anything.”
I believe I may have whimpered at this point.
Dave either didn’t hear me, or chose not to. “Willow then looked down at the weed and she said, ‘This is going to hurt. A lot. No screaming allowed until I say so.’ Then she started talking in Latin. I think it was Latin anyway. Somewhere in the middle of the chant, the weed’s eyes popped open, but Harris and Willow don’t do anything until she’s done doing her thing.
“As soon as Willow was done, Harris started with the questions.” Dave began to shiver. “Christ, the first answer was bad. It got worse the longer they dug. I’m not just talking about hearing the filth that came out of the weed’s mouth. I’m also talking about watching Willow and Harris. You could see…my God, Eva. It was like they were the ones being tortured. Willow started crying. Harris looked like he was a half-a-step away from slitting his wrists. It was…Jesus it was bad.”
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe.
“The weed told the truth when he said he was part of some faith-based charity organization. That’s how he got his plane ticket to Africa,” Dave continued in a distant voice. “But his real mission was to find a Slayer. His dark master — he actually said ‘dark master’ — told him to find a Slayer so he could use her as a tool to make the dark master’s will manifest.”
“What was it?” I whispered. “Who is this dark master?”
Dave held up a hand to stop any further questions. “The weed managed to track down a Slayer in central Tanzania. Our girl Liwaza, except he didn’t know her name. She was just ‘a Slayer,’ so the name wasn’t all that important. Once he found her, he followed his dark master’s instructions to absorb this magic book he had. It gave him all the knowledge he needed to put her under a spell so she couldn’t fight back when he kidnapped her. Then he went AWOL from his job and headed for the Malaba Hellmouth with one Slayer reduced right back down to the strength of a normal girl.”
I shook my head in disbelief. Obviously I knew Cruciamentum drugs could do such a thing, but a spell? I suppose I should not have been surprised that it was possible, yet at the same time I was. I would have thought that if the Council knew of such a thing, it would have used it at least once on a troublesome Slayer in its very long history. Lord knows the Wetworks Team would have appreciated it on those rare occasions when they had to ‘cleanse’ a Slayer who’d taken a bad turn.
“Guess he wasn’t skilled enough to actually hide her from seer sight, because just when he was about to sneak into Uganda with his prize, Harris showed up in the same town with Ally and their new Slayer recruit in tow to look for her,” Dave continued.
I groaned. Oh no, I thought, Mr. Harris’s fruitless weeklong search in an area where the presence of a healing spring led him to believe that the seers had been once more mislead.
Dave swallowed. “You should have heard this guy. His jaw may have been broken, but whatever Willow did ensured that every word — and I mean every single ugly word — was clear as a bell. The weed’s magic wasn’t good enough to block the seers, which is why she kept popping up on their radar, but it was good enough to make them invisible to non-seers. This spell made sure that no one in this village had seen him walk into the neighborhood with this bound and gagged girl over his shoulder or notice when he put a family under a compulsion spell to run full-tilt over the border into Uganda so he could take over their home.”
“And Mr. Harris was not immune,” I murmured.
“He passed that house where they were hiding hundreds of times and he didn’t even look twice at it,” Dave agreed. “When Harris started going door to door during his hunt, he walked right by the front door without knocking. He never even questioned anyone why he never saw anyone entering or leaving that house because the spell made sure that the weed’s hiding place stayed off his and Ally’s radar. On top of that, asking the neighbors didn’t help because they had been as blinded by the spell as he was. They didn’t know there was anything to tell, so questioning them did no good at all.”
“My God,” I whispered.
Dave swallowed, “The weed went on and on how he and ‘his’ little bound-and-gagged Slayer watched Harris running around in circles looking for her. He would even let her look out the window and would whisper in her ear how Harris was looking everywhere for her, and that he’d never, ever find her because she belonged to him and no one else. He’d even do little voiceovers while he watched Harris questioning everyone in sight, like he was doing some whacked out DVD commentary. Then…then…”
“Then,” I echoed.
“Harris stopped looking. The weed made her watch while Harris loaded up the jeep with Ally and the other Slayer. He spent a lot of time describing how ‘his’ little Slayer cried and cried for hours after Harris left her behind.”
“But he didn’t,” I protested.
Dave paused and blinked at me. He seemed rather out of sorts by my interruption.
“Good Lord, man,” I continued. “No one can truly blame Mr. Harris for this. He did look for her. The unfortunate girl was continuously taunted because he looked for her. How on earth can he be expected to penetrate such a powerful cloaking spell when the neighbors couldn’t do it?”
“Yeah, well, if you ever get beyond the point of wanting to rip Harris’s head off, do me a favor and tell him that,” Dave said. “I think it actually might mean something coming from you.”
“I can’t possibly see why anything I say should matter,” I grumbled.
“Because you don’t like him.”
I narrowed my eyes at Dave. I may have been no longer inclined to use Liwaza as a weapon against Mr. Harris, but I was most certainly not willing to reassure him he should not be held accountable for another man’s cruel actions.
Dave looked down, as if sensing he had asked me to be a better person than I truly was. He didn’t try to argue me into it, opting instead of leave well enough alone. “The weed waited a few days, mostly because he had to consult with his dark master — whoever the hell that was — about hiding the girl from seer sight. He got directed to some dicey religious nut in Uganda with illusions of being some kind of Messiah. That was the guy who actually did the spell that was strong enough to block Liwaza and the cubbyhole from Willow and the Devon seers. As soon as Messiah-man was done, the weed killed him so he couldn’t talk.”
I simply couldn’t understand this. The mage was clearly unskilled, clearly unpracticed, and clearly rather new at carrying out such evil schemes. Yet, he still managed to kidnap a Slayer and render her harmless; he still managed to hide her under the noses of everyone who was looking for her; and still he managed to kill a powerful magic user. Whomever this ‘dark master’ was that guided the mage’s movements, he must’ve been a most fearsome foe.
Dave once more stared at the mudcloth-covered wall. “Then the weed said that once he moved into his new Uganda headquarters, his dark master gave him permission to ‘break the girl in.’ That’s how he said it. ‘Break the girl in.’ Jesus. Then he goes even further than that, because God knows bragging about how you treated another human being like a piece of trash isn’t bad enough. The weed rubs salt in the wound. Says hurting his little captive Slayer while she was helpless to do anything to defend herself isn’t what got him off. Oh, no. It was remembering how Harris blindly ran around looking for her; how Harris wasn’t even 10 feet away from his girl and never knew she was there. All he had to do was turn his head once in the right direction and he would’ve seen her, that’s how close he was. He said it was Harris’s face that got him off.”
I began hugging myself.
“That’s when Willow started crying. What made it worse was that she was so damn quiet about it. She just stood there, ramrod straight, arms by her sides, with these tears running down her face. Harris looked like he desperately wanted to die. Ally actually whimpered. Ally does not whimper. Ally will rip her own tongue out before she even admits to being capable of whimpering. She was backed up against me so hard that I thought she was grafted to my chest. Kavitha just hid behind me and she clutched at the back of my shirt so tight that I could hear the cloth tearing.”
I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to watch Dave as the tale of the tragedy unfolded.
“Once he was…” I heard Dave clear his throat. “Once he finished, his dark master ordered him to stay pure. No more sex for the weed, forced or unforced. All that energy was needed for something else. He went out, recruited a bunch of guys to his little cult by promising them power like they couldn’t even imagine. He told them about not bearing the stain of sin while they conducted some kind of ‘holy war’ and how he could guarantee they’d never be hurt while fighting in the weed’s cause.”
“The fetishes that spared them from responsibility,” I said.
“And Liwaza for the supernatural strength, speed, and senses,” Dave added.
I opened my eyes. “How?” I whispered.
“The ritual we interrupted,” Dave said in a dead voice. “A little hocus pocus in the circle, then one-by-one they go in and draw that Slayer power out of her by raping her.”
“Every time they went on a raid,” I said quietly.
Dave nodded. “Right at that point, Ally ran across the room and flung her arms around Harris, like she figured he was about ready to start looking for a gun to blow his brains out. Willow started crowding in on Harris from the other direction.” He shook his head. “I’ll give both of them this. They stood there and took it. They didn’t want to hear it, hell, they didn’t want to know it. But they stood there and took it.”
I knew why, even if Dave didn’t. They both were complicit, albeit in a distant way, in what had happened. If the unfortunate Liwaza had not been a Slayer, she most likely would have been a whole, hale, healthy normal girl and most likely not a target. She was yet another life they had ruined thanks to their actions in Sunnydale. Even if she was the first such Slayer they had come across, she most likely wouldn’t be the last and they knew it.
I meant it when I said that I honestly didn’t blame Mr. Harris for failing to find her, but at this very moment I most certainly did blame him for this.
“Then the weed said to them, ‘She’s not the only one, you know. My master has servants all over the world and some of them have Slayers of their very own,’” Dave continued. “‘And when my master is done with them, when all that’s left is nothing but shells, you’re going to find every single one of them.’ The weed started giggling at this point and he said, ‘And every single one of those Slayers are going to curse the name of Willow Rosenberg and Alexander Harris with their last sane breath.’”
I sat bolt upright. “He knew their names? How?”
“I don’t know,” Dave mumbled.
“They must’ve called each other by name when they were in the room,” I said,
“First and last? And Willow wouldn’t call Harris ‘Alexander.’ None of his friends call him Alexander. It’s Xander, and that’s that,” Dave pointed out.
“But how did this mage know their names?” I insisted.
“That’s what Harris wanted to find out,” Dave answered. “He was all over the guy, trying to get the weed’s name out of him.”
I was utterly flummoxed. “Trying? Didn’t Miss Rosenberg’s spell compel him to answer their questions in a truthful manner?”
Dave waved his hands, partly to show his own confusion on this point and partly to stop my questions. “See, the weed went from giggling to laughing this creepy, gurgling kind of laugh. Then he said —” Dave paused as he shook his head. “I remember what he said, not so much because of the words, but because of how Willow and Harris reacted. It was like God had just struck them dead and their ghosts were standing around trying to figure out what hit them.”
I foolishly said, “I can’t imagine what this mage could possibly say to garner such a reaction. Lord knows they must’ve been already shocked by the fact he knew who they were.”
“Yeah, but this? The way those two reacted, they would’ve been less shocked if the weed called in a nuclear strike,” Dave replied.
“What did he say?”
Dave took a deep breath and said, “‘From beneath you it devours.’”
My reaction was immediate. I grabbed Dave’s hand and hissed, “‘Are you absolutely sure that’s what you heard?”
“Eva, you’re hurting me,” Dave protested in a strangled voice.
I dropped his hand like it was on fire and insistently asked, “Dave? Are you sure? Are you sure that’s what you heard? Can you swear to it?”
“This means something to you?” Dave asked.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to break things. I wanted to charge out of my hut, across the dusty quad, and into Mr. Harris’s hut and demand explanations. Why did he not explain the import of this to Dave? Why did he not immediately contact the Council? Why was I, as head of the Sunnydale Project, which I most assuredly was at that time, never informed?
Oh, I will kill him, I thought. I will kill that mongrel of a man, that poor excuse for a false Watcher, if it’s the last thing I do. If his little bitch of a Slayer tries to stop me, I’ll kill her, too.
“Eva?” Dave asked as he reached out to me. “Eva, you’re scaring the hell out of me.”
I leapt to my feet and away from him. “Don’t you know what that means?” I hissed dangerously. “Didn’t your precious Xander ever tell you? He and his companions spent the last year in Sunnydale fighting the First Evil itself.”
Dave looked startled. “Wait. Are you trying to tell me that Harris and friends were fighting Satan?”
I laughed. Even to my own ears it had a broken, vaguely mad quality to it. This isn’t happening, I thought. This can’t be happening. “Do you think your quaint little mythologies can even hope to match the face of true evil?”
Dave was on his feet. “Now you just wait a second there—”
His poor, wounded religious sensibilities made me laugh harder. “You see it. You see it every night. It’s inside every vampire you stake. It’s inside every demon that ever walked this Godforsaken earth. It lives in your darkest fantasies and thrives on your worst impulses. It tortures us all in this sorry old world and there’s no escaping it, no hiding. It’s everywhere. Worse, it’s everything and everyone.”
Dave looked exceedingly doubtful. “Yet somehow, they fought this and survived? Maybe you’re overstating just how powerful this thing is.”
“It hunted down Potential Slayers,” I harshly countered. “It didn’t matter where they lived, how well they were hidden, or how many of us were around them to keep them safe. It killed them. It slaughtered them. It tore through the world to wipe out even the memory of them. It killed anyone that got in its way. Family, friends, Watchers, none of it mattered. Dead. All dead.”
I stalked closer to Dave with a ghastly grin stretching my mouth. Dave backed away from me, but he didn’t call for help. Lord knows why.
“Its minions attacked the Council. They blew up a building located in the middle of London while the full Council held an emergency session about the crisis. Dead. Whole families gone. Thousands of years of knowledge, gone. Books dating back to the Library of Alexandria, gone. I lost everyone. Friends, family, I’m it. I’m the last,” I ended with something rather close to a wail.
“Oh, God,” Dave quietly said.
“That last year Mr. Harris and his precious friends were fighting a bloody war with nothing more than sticks, a few books, and whatever Potentials Mr. Giles could save from the slaughter,” I snarled at him. “It would appear to them wearing the faces of dead friends. It would taunt them over and over with that evil phrase. It laughed in their faces when it said it. They were tortured with it.”
Dave kept shaking his head no.
I grabbed him by the front of his shirt and drew him down so he was forced to look in my face. “But they won, you see,” I said in a strangled voice. “They won. They closed the Hellmouth under Sunnydale. They did. I know they did. I’ve seen pictures. I’ve read the reports over and over. I’ve seen countless interviews with people who fled Sunnydale before it happened. What they did destroyed the whole town. There’s nothing there but a crater, a crater of bare rock. They won.”
“So how did this mage know—”
“No, no, no.” I gave Dave a shake to stop him from finishing the question. “No, they won. They had to have done. Those girls out there. You. Me. All of us. Every single one of us. They won. They had to have won. Because if they didn’t win, what was it all for?”
I started sobbing. “No, they won. They won. Tell me they won. Tell me you misheard. Tell you me heard something else. Tell me—”
My knees gave out as my sobs became more violent. Dave caught me and soon we were both huddled on the floor. The poor man must’ve been beside himself as my hysteria took root.
“Eva, I’m sorry,” he whispered in my ear.
“Don’t tell me you’re sorry. Tell me you heard something else.”
“Is it me, or has this become a very dark ride?” Dave sounded so distant as he said it.
“You did. You heard something else because they won,” I sobbed into his shoulder.
Dave’s voice was almost gentle as he replied, “No, I didn’t.”
“Lie to me,” I pleaded through the tears. “Please. Lie to me. Please, tell me they won.”