I originally ran errands and came back to an apartment that's a sauna. So, my evil plans (or not so evil, which included answer email, writing email, and Part II of a writercon report) is put off until the sun goes down because...hoooooot.
So, since this is done, I'm posting and running into someplace airconditioned until my apartment cools off.
As promised, due to the warnings on the last part, I'll do a very short summary of Part 43.
Willow arrives and sees Liwaza's situation for herself. Furious about what she sees, she offers to cast a spell on the mage that would make him talk through a broken jaw and force him to truthfully answer his questions.
Under the influence of the spell, the mage reveals that he had kidnapped Liwaza. He further states that he was hidding in a town when Xander arrived to look for a Slayer under the direction of the Coven seers. He further says that he made Liwaza watch while Xander searched for her and then finally gave up and left.
The mage then reveals everything that was done to Liwaza and promises that there are many more like her out there. He then reveals that he knows both Xander's and Willow's names and issues the fateful line, "From beneath you, it devours."
Eva concludes from this that the First Evil is still active in the world and actively using its minions to continue its mysterious mission. Because the First Evil had destroyed everything she holds dear, she collapses under the weight of this revelation.
“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.”
For the first time in my life, my desire to know was not driven by mere infernal curiosity.
“Eva, I really don’t think—”
Nor was it driven by my desire to find information that I may use to my own benefit at a later date.
“You will tell me.”
Nor was it driven by my petty love of gossip and innuendo.
“Eva, with your reaction just now I don’t think—”
Simply put, I needed to know.
“Tell me everything.”
Dave sighed, knowing that even if he walked out of my hut-turned-prison right at that moment, he would still lose. He would be back, and he would tell me. He couldn’t help but do otherwise.
“I can tell you their reaction wasn’t, unh, as emotional. It was more like shock,” Dave tentatively said.
“I can well imagine.”
“No, you really can’t,” Dave grimly said.
I raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
“One second, all you can hear is the weed’s creepy laugh. The next? Chaos. Total and complete chaos,” Dave said.
“I can well imagine.”
“You just said that.”
My smile was cold and thin. “It doesn’t make it any less true.”
“It wasn’t Harris and Willow going nuts. It was everything else,” Dave said. “Suddenly the temperature in the room plummeted. What I mean by that is that is one minute it was sweltering and I was sweating like a son of a bitch, the next my teeth were chattering and my lips were turning blue from the cold. Willow looked up and started screaming that we all had to get out of the house right that second because ‘it’ was there.”
“The First Evil,” I said without surprise.
Dave seemed taken aback. “I, unh, guess. Harris and Willow never did say, but I guess you’d know.”
I nodded at him to continue.
“Harris didn’t even question her. He yelled at us, ‘You heard her! Out!’ I dug my heels in and I argued that we couldn’t leave the girl behind,” Dave said. “Harris was having none of it. He grabbed the girls and shouted at me, ‘We’ll have to come back for her. Out now!’
“I was about to call bullshit on that when I turn around and I see all these shadows swirling around. The source of all of them seemed to be this woman, although God knows where the hell she came from. I thought maybe there was a second mage wandering around and she popped in to save her buddy. Anyway, she was taller than Willow and had long, dirty-blonde hair. Full face. Nice figure. Willow was gasping for breath like she was drowning and she was waving her hands around. Then she started screaming in Latin. This wind kicked up and everything in the room was getting blown all over the place. I had a hard time keeping my feet because the wind was so strong. Her opponent? Didn’t do shit. Didn’t even move. Her clothes didn’t get so much as disturbed. She just stood there and smiled.
“Harris figured out pretty quick that I didn’t follow him and the girls and he ran back to get me to move my ass. He barreled into the room, grabbed my arm, and just as he was about to yell at me for not following orders, he spotted Willow and her opponent and just froze. Then he swore and said this name.” Dave paused to frown. “Began with a T. It was short.”
“Does it matter?” I impatiently asked.
“Hey, you’re the one that wants to hear it all,” Dave said.
“Honestly—” I began my unfinished complaint.
Dave suddenly snapped his fingers. “That suck-ass movie I had to see in college for a freshman film-and-lit class. Gone With the Wind. The name of Scarlett’s big ol’ plantation with all the happy, happy slaves that don’t know nothin’ about birthing no babies. Tara.” He firmly nodded. “Tara. Yup. That’s definitely the name I heard.”
I frowned and tried to place the name. It took me a bit before I could recall where I might have heard or read it before. “I believe that one of Mr. Harris’s and Miss Rosenberg’s compatriots may have been named Tara or something similar. I believe she died a year, perhaps a year-and-a-half, before Sunnydale was destroyed. I’m not entirely certain about the date.”
“Are you sure?” Dave asked.
“I’d have to check my files to be sure that Tara was this woman’s name and the date of her death, since I believe I saw mention of it there.” My cold, thin smile returned. “However, as Mr. Harris has my files at the moment, perhaps you should ask him to be sure.”
“Assuming you’re right, how did a woman who died in California show up in Uganda?” Dave asked.
“I did say the First Evil can appear to the living wearing the faces of people who’ve passed on,” I mildly pointed out.
“Oh, right. You did say that. I forgot.” Dave cleared his throat in embarrassment and continued. “Harris seemed torn between staying put and dragging me out the door. Willow didn’t even turn around. She interrupted her Latin chant to scream at him to get me out of there because she couldn’t shield both of us. Harris still didn’t move. Then Willow screamed that he had to think about Ally first. That’s when he shook a tail feather. He grabbed me and dragged me out of the building with me cussing at him every step of the way.” Dave paused to shake his head. “I really dug my heels in, but Harris is strong like an ox. Every time I tried to hang on to something to get him to stop and go back, he thumped me upside the head hard enough to knock me for a loop for a few minutes. By the time we hit the great outdoors, I was seeing birds and stars in front of my eyes.”
“He may have saved your life,” I stiffly said. “I imagine the sky was quite dark outside.”
Dave shook his head. “Nah, that was the weird part about all this. Everything was perfectly okay. The sun was setting, the birds were tweeting in the trees, and the cult members sitting around and watching us. No surprise on that last item, because their legs were shackled together and there were multiple chains from the shackles to a nearby tree, so fleeing was out. And they were tied together with so much rope, they looked like a bunch of heads sticking out of a rope coil.”
I then recalled hearing stories that the sun was shining and the sky was a perfect shade of blue when Sunnydale fell. This recollection was followed by my own memories of the First Evil’s attack on the Council’s headquarters. On that day the weather was quite fine as I crossed the university grounds, even after my cell rang and I was told to go into hiding because the Council had been massacred.
“Harris started pacing around outside, like someone had slapped him in a cage.” Dave looked furtively around as if he expected to see someone listening to us. He then leaned forward and added in a low voice, “Eva, I swear to god, he was snarling. He sounded like a wild animal.”
“He must’ve been quite furious, then,” I remarked.
“Yeah, well, so was I,” Dave countered as he sat up. “I got right in his face and let him have it about leaving the girl behind. He whirled around and, I swear to God, he had one of his big, meaty hands around my throat. Kavitha and Ally both jumped at him. Kavitha was aiming to rip his head off, and Ally was just trying to get him away from me so Kavitha wouldn’t rip his head off. Thank God Ally was a little faster, otherwise there would’ve been a hell of a fight, complete with bloodshed.
“Once Ally pulled him off me, Harris said in this really even voice, ‘Don’t you think I know what I should do? I know what I should do. But I’m stuck right now with what I can do. Keeping you away from that thing before it notices you and keeping you safe is what I can do.’ Then he shook Ally off and started pacing again. Meanwhile I’m all, ‘What the hell is going on?’”
I shook my head as realization dawned. “That’s why he never told you about Sunnydale.”
“I’m afraid to ask,” Dave remarked.
I chuckled without humor. “It’s some misguided notion that the less you know, the less of a target you’ll be for the First Evil.”
Then I stopped to think about it.
Almost all of the Potentials who’d been murdered were the ones the Council already knew about and had either started training or were about to be approached by Council representatives. Potentials like myself who were unknown to the Council and never had any training were left unmolested by the Harbingers. Most of the Watchers who had been slaughtered in the First Evil’s attack were the most knowledgeable, most senior, and most valued members of the Council. Those who had fallen from the Council’s power elite, such as Mr. Wyndham-Pryce, were absent from the emergency session and thus were spared execution. Those who were considered too junior in rank to contribute ideas for the fight ahead or who had yet to be officially accepted as part of the Council, like myself, were also spared.
Good Lord, I thought, perhaps Mr. Harris’s notion — assuming I had guessed correctly about his motivations — was not so misguided. Could that be it? I wondered. Was that truly the key behind Mr. Harris’s extreme reluctance to discuss his past? Keeping the Slayers ignorant to spare himself real and imagined complications may have been his motivation at first; but I could well imagine that the reasons for his secrecy may have evolved to a far more desperate reason after this confrontation.
If that was Mr. Harris’s thought process, and if my own suppositions were correct, I, with my schoolgirl hints of gossip and my planting the seeds of doubt in Dave’s mind, had almost certainly put Dave in harm’s way should the First Evil again begin killing Watchers. Dave would’ve never thought to confront Mr. Harris had I not fired the first salvo across the bow. My bout of hysteria further ensured that Dave would never give Mr. Harris a moment’s peace until he heard the whole truth and nothing but.
I rubbed my face to prevent myself from once more dissolving into tears. Some bloody Watcher I turned out to be. Perhaps I should just give in to fate and accept being a Slayer. I almost certainly couldn’t arse-up that job any more than I did my current one.
“Well that’s just stupid,” Dave grumbled. “Knowledge is power.”
“Unless ignorance is a shield,” I quietly countered as I raised my head to look at him.
Dave spared me a questioning look.
Until I had a chance to confront Mr. Harris face-to-face — he did promise that we would at least meet before he passed sentence — I didn’t wish to explain myself. Thus, I found myself complying with Mr. Harris’s desire that I say as little as possible about my thoughts about his past. “Just a notion. It’s probably nothing. Please, do continue.”
“Harris went back to pacing back and forth. Ally and Kavitha were squaring off, probably because they vying to be the first to intervene if Harris went nuts on me again. I’m all, ‘Hey, hey, hey, ladies. It’s cool. Let Harris walk it off.’ Not that anyone was listening to me. At some point Harris got sick of the cult members staring at us. Then he did the strangest thing.”
“Went after them with a sturdy stick, I suppose,” I mumbled.
“No,” Dave said. “He walked right over to them, crouched down just out of arms’ reach, or what would have been arms’ reach if they weren’t wrapped in rope like mummies, and glared at them. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t even move. I swear he didn’t even blink. He just glared at them until one by one they all looked away. Some of them took longer than others, but he didn’t stop until every single one of those guys was looking everywhere but at him. When he was done with that, he got up and started pacing again snarling that weird snarl of his.”
“That’s rather odd,” I remarked.
“Ally didn’t think so,” Dave shrugged. “If anything, she seemed to think it was kind of funny.”
“And that is worrying.”
“Why? Harris stared down a couple of lowlifes and made them feel like scum. So what? He hurt their feelings? Why the hell should we care?” Dave rhetorically asked.
I had to admit, Dave had a rather good point.
“Anyway, maybe we were out there 5 minutes. Maybe 5 hours. Hell, it could’ve been 5 days and I wouldn’t have been shocked. Harris’s snarling and pacing would have hypnotized me, except that I was standing between Ally and Kavitha who were competing in the World Championship Slayer Square-and-Glare-Off,” Dave said. “Then Harris stopped and let out this gasp. He ran over to the building and I turned around to see where he was going. That’s when I spotted Willow crawling out of the building on her hands and knees.”
Miss Rosenberg’s sorry condition did not shock me.
“Harris just scooped her up in his arms like she was 5 and carried her a little bit away from the building before kneeling down so he could lay her on the ground,” Dave said. “She was bleeding from her nose, her mouth, her ears. She even looked like she had been weeping blood. She kept saying over and over, ‘I lost him. I lost him. I lost him.’”
I hazarded a guess. “Your mage?”
Dave nodded. “Whatever showed up was there to get our suspect to off himself. While Willow was busy battling ‘it,’ the weed managed to crawl into a corner, dig out a gun, and blow his brains out.”
I shook my head. “How? You said yourself that Mr. Harris beat him so thoroughly that your mage had multiple broken bones. Were it not for Miss Rosenberg’s spell, the man would have been unconscious. How on earth would he be able to move, let alone retrieve a hidden gun, aim, and pull the trigger?”
“And yet, that’s exactly what happened,” Dave said.
My suspicious mind latched onto a reasonable explanation. “Miss Rosenberg may have—”
“I saw the body and what was left of the weed’s head after we went back into the building,” Dave interrupted. “Harris checked the scene himself. It sure looked like this guy managed to roll over onto his stomach and crawl to a corner based on some faint streaks of blood from where he was to where we found him a few feet away.
“But—” I began.
“Eva, he basically deep throated the pistol while he was facedown and somehow got his thumb in the trigger guard,” Dave interrupted. “The back of this guy’s head was blown wide open, which is a pretty good sign that the bullet exited from there. There was this halo of blood and brain bits around him. If Willow did it, she would’ve had to position him just right, make him eat the gun while he was still facedown, and pull the trigger while she was crouching next to him. There would’ve been a break in the halo showing that someone was standing next to him if she did it, and splatter around the body just didn’t show that. Not only that, her clothes would have been covered with blood and grey matter, which they weren’t. She wasn’t nearly bloody enough to have done it.”
“Curious,” I muttered.
“That’s not the weird part, though,” Dave added.
I raised an eyebrow.
“The weird part is that Harris didn’t seem all that surprised once he got over the initial shock that they lost their guy,” Dave said. “When I pushed him, he said that he once saw this guy who looked completely human almost single-handedly take on a raiding party when his headquarters of evil got invaded. According to Harris, somewhere in that brawl, this guy managed kick the ass of one Slayer, play keep-away while a second Slayer tried like hell to slash him with two knives, kill a couple of people in the raiding party, broke one person’s arm, and throw one fighter across the room hard enough to bust up some wooden barrels, all without breaking a sweat. He said it was possible that the weed may have gotten a boost from his boss so he could follow the order to kill himself, but since he wasn’t there in the room with Willow, he couldn’t say for sure that it happened that way.”
“The minions of the First don’t normally look human,” I carefully said, “but I suppose anything is possible.”
“Harris didn’t say this guy he was talking about was involved with the First Evil at all. He just said that he’d seen something like this before.” Dave paused before adding, “I’m curious why you jumped to that conclusion.”
“Your juxtaposition between Mr. Harris’s explanation and your situation at the time,” I admitted. “I honestly don’t know about the incident that Mr. Harris references because it simply wasn’t in my background materials on your man. Nor do I recall reading anything about such an incident, although I confess that none of the files on Sunnydale have survived the First Evil’s cowardly attack or the destruction of that Godforsaken town. The Council is trying to recreate the records about Sunnydale from the point of view of the civilian population, but to my knowledge we haven’t yet interviewed the people who spent years defending the civilians against the evil in that place. I’m afraid you’ll have to take Mr. Harris’s word without any written record to support his assertions.”
Dave frowned. “Talk about your weird priorities. I may not be completely up to speed about the real deal in Sunnydale, but even I would want the story from the people who were on the frontlines before talking anyone else, especially since I get the idea from what little Harris has told me that there weren’t too many people who knew the the truth about his hometown.”
Which was a point I had tried to make once or twice when I was Head Archivist and Statistician for the Sunnydale Project. As I mentioned before, I never had any interaction with any of the survivors who had actually picked up a weapon and fought. Instead, I analyzed and cataloged the thousands of hours’ worth video recordings and interview transcripts with deluded civilians.
“I don’t disagree, but the priority of whom we should speak to first was set by Mr. Giles himself.” I shrugged to underline my own confusion on this point. “Perhaps he feels less urgency on the matter since his people are easily available and would be more likely to honestly share their experiences. The same cannot be said for the civilian inhabitants who survived the cataclysm.”
Dave glanced out the window. “Okay, I guess I can see it. One problem, though. Harris and Willow have pretty dangerous jobs. You’d think the Council might want to move a little bit faster on talking to them before something happens and it’s too late to get their stories.”
“That’s a rather grim notion,” I remarked. “Besides, need I remind you that Mr. Giles was also present in Sunnydale in its final years? Furthermore, Miss Summers, the Slayer responsible for guarding the Hellmouth, is also alive and well and could speak with a quite a bit of authority on what happened there. Mr. Harris and Miss Rosenberg are hardly the only sources of information.”
Dave’s eyes fixed on me. I wasn’t sure, but I could detect a trace of a smile on his lips. That’s when I remembered that Dave not only didn’t know Miss Summers’s name, but that he had been wholly unaware of her very existence prior to my arrival. I silently cursed. Dave’s motivations were now clear. He, like me, was using this opportunity to learn more about Mr. Harris.
“Still,” he added almost innocently, “the more points of view, the merrier, especially when you’re relying on oral history.”
“I’m sure the Council will get to it once our crisis becomes less dire,” I carefully answered.
“I still find the whole situation with the weed’s suicide hard to believe, even though I saw the body with my own eyes,” Dave said almost absently as he returned to the subject at hand. “I just can’t imagine someone managing to do what he did after that kind of beating.”
The statement reminded me that there was still something off about this story. “Didn’t Miss Rosenberg notice her quarry moving away from her at any point during her battle?” I asked.
“She said she was so wrapped up in her confrontation with ‘it’ — and I’m using ‘it’ instead of First Evil because that’s what Harris and Willow kept calling it — that she didn’t know that the guy had moved from his spot until she heard the gunshot,” Dave answered. “As soon as the weed was dead, ‘it’ blipped out and left her gasping and weak on the floor. She figured we had heard the noise and waited for us to show. When we didn’t, she thought that maybe there was something preventing us from getting in and crawled for the exit.”
I snapped my fingers, thinking that I had finally found the issue that bothered me. “You didn’t mention hearing a gunshot.”
Dave shook his head. “That’s because we didn’t, even though we were standing right outside. Two of us were even armed with Slayer hearing.”
I frowned in thought. “Maybe you didn’t hear anything because there was a spell that muffled any noise emanating inside the building? It would make sense if that were the case, especially if they were torturing a hidden Slayer. It could have even been part of the cloaking spell.”
Dave grinned. “You and Harris have the same suspicious mind.”
It took everything I had not to roll my eyes at that statement.
“That’s what he asked Willow — I mean, that’s what he asked her after they got back here and were trying to piece together what happened,” Dave continued. “At first Willow was all, ‘No. No, I would have seen it.’ Then she thought about it. The weed called in someone who was competent enough to cast a spell that could block Liwaza from seer sight. Since that guy cast a spell powerful enough and good enough to block Willow when she tried to see through it, she figured he probably would have been good enough to do a low-key spell that could muffle sound and use the other magic floating around the place to hide it. That’s when she started kicking herself for not taking a second, third, and fourth look at the property.”
This sounded eminently logical, but something still bothered me about Dave’s story. It was maddening.
Dave shrugged and added, “I think she was being a little too hard on herself there. Everything she saw pretty much told her that this guy was no pro. The magic thrown at me and Harris while we made a run for the building was distracting, sure, but not really a problem for her to swat aside because the weed was such a newbie. The cloaking spell was so badly put together that she could easily penetrate it to see what was going on inside the building, Liwaza’s hellhole aside. I can see why she probably thought that what she saw magic-wise was pretty much all there was to see.”
That’s when "the something" clicked into place. I sat bolt upright and said, “The cloaking spell called attention to itself.”
“Like I said,” Dave easily agreed, “this mage had no game.”
“No, no, no. You misunderstand.” I waved my hands. “You said it yourself. The cloaking spell called attention to itself if another magic user was looking for any active spells in the area.”
Dave frowned at me. “Are you seriously saying that this mage wanted to be found?”
I got up and began to pace. “Think about this. The Devon seers suddenly notice a build-up of mystical energy over a Hellmouth on the Kenyan-Uganda border. It just so happens that at the same time Mr. Harris is traveling through Kenya and hears rumors about mystically powerful men who are crossing over from Uganda into Kenya and attacking villages in the area. He diverts from his route to investigate and he hears of a raid that happened mere hours before his arrival. What’s more, this raid is close enough that he can easily travel to the scene and take a look for himself. A few weeks later, he returns, this time to the source of the trouble, with one of the most powerful witches in the world as a part of his cavalry. Such a witch is not used to dealing with amateurs, so upon seeing that your mage is an amateur, she doesn’t think why a cloaking spell would call attention to itself when seen by other magic users. She just assumes the man is unskilled and doesn’t look further.”
Dave stared at me as if he wasn’t entirely sure what I was on about.
In my own mind, the question had become much, much larger than simply whether this mage wanted to be found. A pattern was starting to emerge, but I couldn’t quite make heads or tails of it. I needed to follow this path to its logical conclusion.
“Your victory.” I stopped and stared at Dave. “It was too easy.”
“Tell that to Liwaza,” Dave said in a hard voice.
“I wouldn’t even begin to claim that any of you had an easy time of it emotionally,” I said. “But you did gain entry into the building too easily. There were more than a dozen men on the compound, yet Alexandrienne and Kavitha easily overpowered them. Miss Rosenberg easily countered all magical attacks, as distracting as they may have been. You and Mr. Harris easily gained access to an unguarded building and easily found the mage who could answer all your questions about what had happened in that house of horrors.”
“It was a good plan of attack and we had two Slayers and a very powerful witch backing us up,” Dave argued.
“But don’t you see? There are too many coincidences going all the way back to the detection of mystical energy over Malaba Hellmouth by the Devon seers. Perhaps the coincidences could even stretch as far back as Mr. Harris’s failed attempt at finding the poor girl. After all, he was the one who led the raid on this mage’s compound and discovered that the Slayer who was used by the cult happened to be one he looked for months earlier, but had failed to find.” I crossed my arms and glared at the mudcloth hanging on the wall. “One coincidence associated with a given event, I can accept. People can get lucky or jump to an unusual conclusion that leads to a victory. Two coincidences should be questioned because I find it highly unlikely. According to your own story, we have far more than two coincidences before us.”
“You’re making it sound like this First Evil basically wanted to rub it in to Willow and Harris that it was involved from the get-go and that it planned to do it again,” Dave said. “That sounds like the petty kind of thing a James Bond villain would do.”
I deflated. “It does sound rather foolish, doesn’t it? I confess that part doesn’t make sense. Why tip your hand like that? Why tell two people with experience in fighting your minions that you not only have more minions, but that they are still actively carrying out your orders?”
“Makes you wonder why this First Evil didn’t just order the mage to off himself before or during the attack,” Dave agreed. “The outcome would be the same. The guy would still be just as dead.”
“At least it saved Mr. Harris and Miss Rosenberg the bother of getting blood on their hands once they were done questioning him,” I sighed.
“Unh, they didn’t want him dead,” Dave said.
I whirled on him. “But you said—”
“The fact he knew their names pretty much bought him a stay of execution, at least that’s what Harris said,” Dave interrupted. “Once this First Evil showed, they figured they needed to fight to keep the guy in one piece so they could turn him over to the Council, so execution became a non-option for the rest of this guy’s natural life right about at that point.”
“Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory,” I murmured to myself.
“I just don’t get it, though. Why delay the suicide long enough for the weed to tip Harris and Willow off that this First Evil was the puppet master?” Dave continued. “What’s the point?”
I again whirled around, this time to face the mudcloth hanging. Actually, it wasn’t the hanging itself that had my attention. It was the pattern on the cloth.
“There isn’t one,” I said.
My eyes remained fixed on the blocky black-and-white pattern. Oh, dear reader, I could see it. I could see it so clearly. I could see it as clearly as I could see the patterns of odd behavior in the interviews with the Sunnydale survivors. I could see it as clearly as the pattern on the mudcloth.
In front of my eyes, I saw order imposed on chaos. The self-delusions and self-justifications of the Sunnydale civilian survivors imposed rationality on what was inherently irrational, at least as they understood it. It was much like blocks of wood forcing liquid ink to become comprehensible shapes on a cloth.
It begged the question: What happens if the process is reversed? What happens when chaos imposed on order?
I slowly turned to face Dave. “There is no point. There doesn’t have to be a point. There never was a point and there never will be a point, not to any of it.”
Dave looked at me as if I were quite mad. “So if there’s no master plan, why is this First Evil even bothering with the head games? Why do anything at all?”
“Terror,” I said with wonder. “It has always been about terror.”
Dave shook his head. “Terror is a means, Eva, not an end. Just ask anyone in Liberia, Sudan, northern Uganda, or hell, wherever anyone is playing slaughter games on civilians. It’s always about power, drugs, oil, diamonds, or control of the money. Pick one, and there’s your end.”
I wasn’t about to let go. “I may not know what ‘end’ the First Evil has in mind, but I know I’m right. I just know it. Taunting Mr. Harris and Miss Rosenberg would be the equivalent of putting them on notice that they not only are being watched, but that they and everyone around them are considered legitimate targets for the First’s minions.”
“Which means they’re constantly looking over their shoulders while they’re still doing their jobs on a day-to-day basis,” Dave said thoughtfully.
The tone of his voice, more than what he said, caused me to look sharply at him.
Dave shrugged uncomfortably. “Ever since we found Liwaza…unh…Harris has been pushing himself.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“I’m not saying Harris was a slacker before this,” Dave quickly said. “But at least he’d stop and smell the roses every once-in-awhile, and he made sure to get 3 squares in his stomach and a full 8 hours at night. Since then,” Dave helplessly shrugged. “he’s always on the run. He eats practically standing up, and that’s if he takes the time to eat anything more than a power bar. He maybe sneaks in a few hours’ sleep at night. I know I’ve seen him burning the midnight oil more than once in the few times I’ve seen him since we found Liwaza. The stress is starting to take its toll. Doc landed into him when he pulled back into the village earlier this week about how he wasn’t looking after his health. He should’ve saved his breath for all the good it did.” Dave looked at me with a frown and added in a softer voice, “Jesus, this explains a lot. If what you’re telling me is true, this insane situation is starting to make a frightening amount of sense.”
“What is?” I demanded.
Dave smiled tightly. “Oh, you know, the overwork. A few other things. That kind of thing.”
“Then perhaps Mr. Harris should contact the Council with his concerns,” I sniffed as I once more sat on the edge of my bed.
Dave seemed rather surprised. “Mr. Giles knows.”
“Harris and Willow told him everything that happened when they found Liwaza,” Dave said.
I sat up. “Mr. Giles is knows they encountered a minion of the First Evil?”
“Knows?” Dave seemed rather confused by my question. “He showed up to collect our reports personally.”
All I could do was stare at Dave in shock. My ignorance was not the fault of Mr. Harris after all. He had done his duty and reported it, in person to the First Watcher no less. I was left in the dark because Mr. Giles’s office never bothered to enlighten me before I left for Mali. Even if they regarded my loyalty as suspect, it seemed to me that I should have been told. Had I known, I most certainly wouldn’t have played games and dropped hints about Mr. Harris’s past into Dave’s lap until I had more information regarding this matter.
However, even when Dave first broke the news that Mr. Giles was aware of what happened in Malaba, I could see why Mr. Giles and his inner circle had not yet released information about this incident to the Council at-large. If news that the First Evil was still actively using its minions to carry out its will had become common knowledge, you can be sure, dear reader, that hysteria would take root among the rank-and-file. It could even interfere with the Council’s recruitment efforts among those Watchers and their families that were spared in the initial attack and had gone into hiding.
In many ways, Mr. Giles and his confidents were in a difficult position. They couldn’t afford to disrupt the Council’s ongoing rebuilding efforts, yet at the same time hiding the news was dreadfully unfair to those who were brought into the fold. All they could do was buy time and try to marshal additional facts to determine if the incident in Malaba was a one-off, or if it was the opening salvo in yet another protracted war.
Let’s just say that I’m relieved that I was not in the First Watcher’s position to make this decision. I honestly don’t know how I would have come down on the question, and that’s even looking back with 20-20 hindsight.
“Eva? Hey, you okay?” Dave asked with a worried tone. He perhaps thought I was about to become hysterical again.
I snapped out of my fugue state and shook my head. “I apologize. This information comes as a rather large surprise.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Dave dryly remarked. “So, long story short. Harris told Kavitha to help Willow into our rented 4-by-4, lock all the doors, and then join us in the building just in case. Guess he was still expecting some kind of trouble and thought we might need the extra muscle more than Willow needed protection. Anyway, we went in, Harris checked out the body, and then we grabbed rubber gloves — or fresh ones in Harris’s case. There were only two goggles, and Ally insisted that me and Harris wear them because she figured if there was an HIV monster lurking in Liwaza’s blood, we were more vulnerable than she was.
“Harris then told me to go search the supply rooms we had seen earlier to find something that could cut the chains and a blanket so we could wrap the girl up. I scurried off without arguing. I figured if Ally was with him, he’d be okay. Anyway, I decided to just explore a little bit further a field, maybe see if I could find keys as well as a hacksaw. Took a little bit, but lo and behold, I found a bunch of keys hanging from a hook in private bedroom on the second floor. Good thing, because the only thing I could find that was close to a hacksaw was an axe. Not good enough for cutting chains, but I figured we might be able to chop out where the chains were attached to the walls. Oh, and I grabbed a blanket from the private bedroom since that seemed to be pretty good quality. Guess I took a long time because by the time I got back to where the weed’s body was, Kavitha was there and pacing back-and-forth. She was worried that I hadn’t showed up yet and was just about to search the building for me.”
“Understandable,” I interjected. “You took a rather big chance that the compound wasn’t booby-trapped.”
Dave winced, “Yeah, Harris gave me a little shit for wandering around, but he also figured that he couldn’t argue with success.”
“Indeed,” I dryly remarked.
“Anyway, Kavitha just point-blank refused to crawl into the room,” Dave continued. “I can’t blame her. Harris and Ally were in there with flashlights and, let me tell you, the scene did not improve with the addition of light. Not to mention it was pretty crowded already. Harris was kneeling by the girl’s head and mumbling something about how it was going to be okay. He was trying French, English, Krahn, and pidgin Spanish. He wasn’t getting any response because the girl was just out of it.
“I could see where some of the locks were so I offered to try the keys.” Dave paused to grin. “Paid off, too, since the keys fit. It was just a matter of fumbling around for the right key for each lock. Once we had the locks off, Harris and Ally got the chains off her. That’s when our girl woke up.”
“And how,” Dave nodded. “She went from 0 to 60 in no time flat. One second, Harris was kneeling next to her and unfolding the blanket so he could wrap her up; the next the girl was moving. She sat up, grabbed him by the throat, and threw him backwards against the wall hard enough that his teeth clicked and he bit his own tongue. Ally jumped between the girl and Harris. She tried the same French-English-Krahn-bad Spanish combination as Harris to tell the girl that he wasn’t going to hurt her. Don’t know if she understood, but she did hesitate when she saw Ally. I guess she was taken by surprise because she looking at a girl who hadn’t been abused and was defending this strange guy who’d touched her. In the middle of that, I felt this forceful shove behind me, and next thing I knew I was nose-first on the ground. I looked up, and Kavitha was swinging this staff — the same staff that Harris used to beat the weed with — right at the girl’s head.
“Ally and Harris both shouted ‘No!’ at the same time, which I guess got Kavitha to pull her swing at the last second. Still hit the girl hard enough to not only knock her out, but to crack her skull a good one,” Dave shook his head. “I’m telling you Eva, if that girl wasn’t a Slayer, she’d be dead.”
“You mean she meant to kill her?” I asked.
Dave winced. “No. Kavitha panicked because I was in danger so she didn’t realize how hard she was swinging that staff, even though the rest of us could see it. Like I said, she and I usually work together and I don’t get in over my head as a rule. She does most of the heavy lifting, and I bat clean up. In this case, I was unarmed and I didn’t have room to maneuver, so she was afraid I’d be killed without a chance to defend myself. Believe me, to this day Kavitha still feels bad about it. What makes it worse is that Liwaza doesn’t seem to remember what happened. She’s as sweet to Kavitha as she is to everyone else when my girl comes to visit.”
“I can imagine that it must make her feel even more guilty over her moment of panic,” I said.
“Well, there was a good thing that came out of it,” Dave said. “Harris could wrap her up and carry her out. She even stayed unconscious of until we could get her to one of the better hospitals in Tororo, which wasn’t too far away from where we were.” Dave paused. “Now that was a sad ride. While I was driving like a madman, Willow and Kavitha were trying to cook up a cover story about how we found this girl by the side of the road and we have no idea what happened. Harris and Ally were in the back and telling this unconscious girl that they had her and it was going to be okay. Problem was that everyone pretty much knew that no, it wasn’t going to be okay. We needed a Tardis to make it okay, but since time travel is pretty much out even for Willow, all we had were Ally and Harris basically cooing big ol’ lies at her.”
Given the circumstances, I couldn’t see what more Mr. Harris and his charge could do. The truth was harsh enough.
“Right after we got our mysterious Slayer to St. Anthony’s — that’s the hospital we landed at — and Harris saw to it that Willow got the once-over to make sure she didn’t physically get hurt during our dust-up, he excused himself to give Mr. Giles a shout-out about what happened. Less than an hour later, Harris was back with, get this, Mr. Giles right behind him.”
That piece of information startled me. “Mr. Giles was already in the area?”
“No,” Dave shook his head. “Would you believe he got there by spell? Harris explained that this Devon Coven of yours whistled up the bibbiddi-bobbity-boo express, minus the magic pumpkin and the six white mice in horse drag.”
“Because Mr. Harris told him the First Evil was involved with what had happened,” I murmured.
“I guess. Mr. Giles didn’t say and Willow and Harris weren’t volunteering anything to me,” Dave said.
“Did Mr. Giles have anyone with him?” I asked.
“No. Just him,” Dave answered.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. The First Watcher traveling into dangerous territory alone by means of a teleportation spell? That struck me as not just unprecedented, but also unbelievably foolhardy.
“Mr. Giles said he wanted to interview all of us separately while the whole thing was still fresh in our heads, and waiting to get a whole entourage together would take too much time,” Dave continued. “So he had this coven teleport him from London to some location outside of Tororo where Harris was waiting for him.”
If nothing else, Mr. Giles’s quick appearance showed that he saw the re-emergence of the First Evil from Sunnydale’s ashes as an extremely bad sign for the future of the Council and its Slayers.
“At the time I just assumed he showed up so fast because he took the kidnapping and torture of a Slayer really seriously. I’m not saying he doesn’t, but him showing up the way he did makes even more sense if he was really worried about this First Evil being back in the game.” Dave paused and again shook his head. “You know what kills me?”
“Given the nature of our conversation thus far, I’m afraid to ask,” I answered.
“All the signs were right in front of my face that this whole deal with the Slayers was new,” Dave replied. “Well, not the concept of Slayers, per se. What’s new is that there’s now a whole lot of them running around instead of just the one.”
I frowned. “I’m rather curious why Liwaza’s situation would be seen as a clue regarding that, even in retrospect.”
“Because Harris and Willow had no idea what to do with her, which now that I think about it was kind of weird. I mean, if you guys always had a lot of Slayers out there from the start, you’d think the Council would have at least one restful retreat to help the girls heal up if they tangled with something that put a real hurt on them, ” Dave said.
I blinked. I honestly hadn’t looked it quite in that light. Now that Dave mentioned it, Mr. Harris’s and Miss Rosenberg’s ignorance about what the Council could and should do for a Slayer that had been grievously harmed and badly used really was a rather large hint that they were dealing with a situation outside of their common experience.
“They kept asking whether the Council had some facility where she could go for long-term TLC and treatment, but Mr. Giles kept putting off answering that question because he wanted to hear everything about Malaba,” Dave continued. “Then when the hospital informed us that she was HIV-positive, all hell broke loose.”
I recalled Mr. Harris’s harsh instruction and surprising revelation that Slayers could become ill if they were under extreme stress. Lord knows, given the tale told thus far, Liwaza amply qualified. I bowed my head — partly out of shame for my earlier cavalier attitude and for failing to take even the most basic health precautions — and said, “I suppose she was infected by one of her rapists?”
“That’s not even a bet,” Dave answered quietly. “The theory, at least last I heard, is the ritual the cult members used to steal Liwaza’s power for themselves wasn’t just a physical violation, but also a mystical one and that the flow of energy wasn‘t just Liwaza to the cult members, but also from them to her.”
My hands clenched into fists. “Beyond the fact that she was suffering to a great extreme, which would have made her vulnerable to illness, it could very well be that as her power was leeched from her very person, she would have been as vulnerable to infection as any normal girl.”
“Yeah, that would be it.” Dave scrubbed his face with his hands. “I wish all kinds of evil shit on those assholes, but you just know that with all that power stealing, most of them, if not all of them got infected.”
“At least there’s some justice,” I harshly said.
Dave looked at me. What I didn’t see was agreement, but extreme sadness. “Maybe.”
“Maybe? How can you even begin to say that?”
“Depends. Is it justice if they went home and infected their wives? Girlfriends? Boyfriends, if they lean in that direction? Some prostitute they picked up to blow off steam? Whatever one-night stand they got into after they started the reign of terror?” Dave asked.
My righteous anger deflated.
Dave looked down at his folded hands. “That’s thing about rain, isn’t it? It falls on the just and unjust alike. Somebody was infected. Maybe they knew, maybe they didn’t. He infected Liwaza. She became the disease vector for everyone else. You can bet it rippled out from those evil bastards to whoever was in reach. At least some of those people went off and infected other people, and on, and on, and on like ripples on a lake. Those ripples keep going long after the rock’s sunk to the bottom. So, how many people — people who had nothing to do with what happened to Liwaza — have to suffer before we have to admit that there’s no justice here? Is 1 person too many? Is 10? How about 50? Before you answer, remember that Liwaza is the first innocent victim in this mess.”
Although I thought Dave was being rather heavy-handed in bringing his point home, I couldn’t deny that he had a rather good point. I fidgeted uncomfortably because I simply had no idea what to say. I couldn’t find it in myself to feel sorry for the mage or his followers. It seemed to me only fair that they should suffer for what they did to a girl that was in their power. Yet, there is no denying that Liwaza was most likely not the only innocent person injured.
“Sorry,” Dave apologized as he looked up at me. “You stepped on a sore point. I’ve done a lot of back-and-forth between Yale and various places in Africa during my grad school days. If you ever want to collect sad stories, hit a HIV ward in some country with an epidemic infection rate. Hell, the hospital we took Liwaza to has a ward. There are entire countries where the infrastructure is falling apart under the weight of the healthcare crisis.”
I looked up sharply at Dave. Like ripples on a lake. Those ripples kept going long after the rock’s sunk to the bottom. That’s what Dave had said. How much chaos would happen if a significant portion of a town’s population experienced a fresh wave of infection and eventually fell ill? The more important the town…
“Dave, this Malaba where you found Liwaza. How important is it?” I asked.
Dave grimly answered. “It’s a border crossing between Uganda and Kenya. There’s a huge transient population and it’s a big stop for truckers ferrying cargo between the two countries. They already have a prostitution and STD problem there.”
My breath caught. “So it’s entirely possible that the cult could well be ground zero for new infections that could span—”
“Across several countries,” Dave finished for me.
Dear God, it really is all about terror, isn’t it? I thought. I immediately quashed the foolish idea. HIV was a known specter in this part of the world, so the cult theoretically spreading infection to innocent parties was hardly something new to the local population.
Then again, I mentally amended, HIV is hardly confined by geography or to only certain populations. If enough people, or even just the right sort of people, became infected and then subsequently fell ill, especially if they might have been spared had it not been for this cult increasing the number of infected individuals, chaos could very well ensue.
I concluded right then that I was descending into sheer paranoia. I simply couldn’t see why the First Evil would bother to use a cult to spread a known infectious disease in an area where it was already an epidemic.
What can I say, dear reader. I was young and foolish. I take comfort in the fact that we were all young and foolish back then. Where once the very thought that the First Evil would take advantage of mundane reality in its campaign was incomprehensible to me, now I look back and wonder how the idea was ever dismissed as worthy of consideration. As Mr. Harris is fond of saying whenever he stumbles across yet another example of the First Evil actively encouraging and then taking advantage of human failing or human evil, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”
“I can see from your face that you’re finally getting it. Jail, hell, castration with a rusty knife. That’s justice. People who have no clue what happened, let alone never took part in it, possibly getting infected with HIV? Especially in a countries where antivirals just aren’t available or are too expensive for the local government to start widespread distribution?” Dave shook his head. “I don’t know what I’d call it. But justice wouldn’t be it.”
Obviously Dave misread the look on my face. I thought it best not to enlighten him since, as I said, at the time I thought I was verging on paranoia.
I thought it best to get back to the subject at hand. “You said that when news about Liwaza’s HIV status was revealed, there were more problems?”
Dave nodded with lopsided grin. “And how. Harris’s and Willow’s asking about finding a place for Liwaza transformed into harping on Mr. Giles to give up the information. When he kept saying that he’d tell them later, they moved right on into yelling at him. It finally reached the point where Harris and Willow absolutely, positively refused to talk about what happened until Mr. Giles answered their questions about what they should do about our nameless Slayer.”
I nervously giggled with disbelief. “Are you serious?”
“They clamed up and gave him the hairy eyeball whenever he tried to talk to them. Then the pair of them turned around and ordered the rest of us to shut our mouths until Mr. Giles gave them an answer about treatment for Liwaza.” Dave rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Hell of a spot to put me and Kavitha into, let me tell you. I’d sat in on a couple of Harris’s conference calls to London, so Mr. Giles and I knew each other by name and voice. Loose talk was already starting about getting me in with the Council so I could stop relying on research grants to pay my way, so I really wanted to impress Mr. Giles when I first met him. Here we were, at last face-to-face, and Harris and Willow decided to stage a strike until their demands were met.”
I shook my head as my disbelief grew. I couldn’t imagine any Watcher engaging in such outright rebellion against the First Watcher himself. True, Council history is littered with power grabs, dirty politics, and a few assassinations, but deliberate and blatant insubordination to the face of the First Watcher? Never had I heard of such a thing before that moment.
“Mr. Giles caved,” Dave continued. “He didn’t have a choice, and he knew it.”
I coughed. I sputtered. I even attempted to clean my ears because I couldn’t believe they were working properly. “He didn’t have a choice? He should have ordered them to—”
“Ordered, pleaded, begged, bribed, you name it and he tried it. He all but danced a jig and sang show tunes to get them to talk,” Dave said. “No dice. Lips were zipped and the three eyeballs that existed between Willow and Harris just got hairier the more Mr. Giles tried to get around the subject about getting treatment for Liwaza. It was one hell of a tug-of-war.”
“That Mr. Harris and Miss Rosenberg won?” Yes, I know dear reader. I was being rather thick about the strange interpersonal dynamics that exist even to this day between Mr. Harris, Mr. Giles, and Miss Rosenberg. I simply couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the notion that two Watchers acted like petulant children and publicly treated the First Watcher as if he were a foolish relative that they held in low regard.
“They got what they wanted,” Dave answered softly. “I wouldn’t say they actually won.”