Chapter 2: Depression, Anger, and a River in Egypt
"Kheper comes from the old Egyptian, referring to a scarab - sacred beetle - one of the symbols of the Sun God Ra."
"There's also a reference to a Pharaoh Nub-Kheper-Ra Intef, one of the more powerful rulers of the 11th Egyptian Dynasty. Perhaps there's a connection there-"
"GILES!!!" Buffy screamed. "I don't care, okay? I don't care what the God-damned family tree of this thing is, I don't care if it's the resurrected mummy of King Tut! All I care about is finding this thing. We go, we find Spike, we beat this Kheper's location out of him, then I tear Spike limb from limb and we send Kheper back to his Sun God Ra, okay?!?" She gasped for breath.
Giles snapped back. "Perhaps you didn't notice, Buffy, but the last time you met Kheper, it was a slaughter."
"So this time we slaughter them!"
"No." Giles took off his glasses and looked at her hard. "This time, we learn exactly what we are dealing with. We find out what Kheper is, we learn his weaknesses, we learn what he intends to accomplish by this."
Buffy opened her mouth to argue, but Giles put up a finger. "Once we know what Kheper is about, then we will deal with him. We will find him, we will defeat him, and we will send him to hell." He put his glasses back on. "Slowly."
Buffy slumped in a chair in Giles' apartment, picking up a book of Egyptian mythology.
Giles sighed. Around his apartment, Riley, Xander, Anya, and Tara were all listlessly poring through volumes. He cleaned off his glasses and opened a treatise, then closed his eyes and shook his head.
Tara wiped away a tear. "It just feels so useless. I dug into everything I could find. I ... I ... I must have burned a case of paper printing out everything I could find on the Net about Egyptian mythology at the library." She sniffled. "I told myself it was for Willow ... that we could make it mean something. But it's not going to help. Nothing's going to ... nothing ... nothing..."
Buffy dropped her book and put a reassuring hand on Tara's shoulder. "It's okay. It's okay to cry," she said, rubbing at her own eyes.
Anya dropped her book. "This is hopeless. I'm going to talk to D'Hoffryn."
Five voices as one answered, "WHAT?!?"
"Look, the stories all keep changing as we go through the research. D'Hoffryn's been in charge of vengeance and justice for going on ten thousand years; he was there for all this. I know for a fact he had a beef with the Egyptians."
Xander found his voice. "An, you can't just go summon the Vengeance Demon in Chief and say 'hey, how's it been, miss the old job, and by the way, whaddaya know about ancient Egyptian mad dog killers?'"
Anya snorted. "It can't be any less helpful than all this," she said, and walked out.
"An, wait!" Xander called, running after her.
Buffy slumped again. "Does anybody have anything?"
Tara looked up. "'Parallel Development of Isolated Cultures on the Egyptian Model.'"
Buffy groaned. "How does that help us deal with Old Neon Eyes?"
Riley snapped his head around out of another volume. "What?"
"Kheper. Eyes flashing like the Hard Rock Cafe sign?"
Riley blanched. "Tell me you didn't say that. Tell me his eyes weren't glowing."
"They ... ah ... were?"
Riley shot to his feet. "I gotta get in touch with someone."
"Who? Riley, what's going on?"
Riley turned and looked down to face her. "Graham. He always used to joke about everything we brought into the Initiative: 'at least its eyes aren't glowing'. Like there was something out there whose eyes glowed, and it scared him the way nothing we ever saw in the Initiative could."
"So ... what is it that has glowing eyes and scares the Initiative?"
"Not the Initiative. Just Graham. And I don't know; I've told you everything I know about it."
"Doesn't help us here!"
Riley sighed and shrugged into his jacket. "That's why I've gotta find Graham."
"Riley, take my advice. Grab your honey, pack a bag, and start heading east. I hear Chicago's nice this time of year."
"Graham, she's not gonna do that."
Graham stopped and poked Riley in the chest. "Then she's gonna die. I owe her for what went down in those caves, so I'm saying: it's for her own good. If this thing is what I think it is, you're not going to want her anywhere near that place."
"And what sort of thing is that?"
Graham sighed. "That's ... need to know, Riley. I'm sorry, but I'm not even supposed to officially remember any of it."
"Ri, you know how it works. Dammit, you were in charge down there, you know about keeping secrets!"
"Okay, Graham. You remember Willow Rosenberg?"
"This a trick question?"
"Redhead, short, she came down into the caves with Buffy."
"Yeah. Kinda cute. She was around the UCS campus too."
"This thing killed her, Graham."
Graham sat back.
Riley plunged forward: "This is about blood now, Graham. We can't run; we've gotta shut this thing down. And like it or not, you owe it to Willow to help."
Graham sighed. "Okay, Riley. I'll tell you this much. Before I got accepted into the Initiative, I was ... screened for another program. Makes Top Secret look like public information."
"I can't. Look, Ri, the old joke about 'if I told you I'd have to kill you'? It's like that, only for them it isn't a joke." Graham sighed. "I gotta call this in, though. I still have the number of the guy who screened us, so maybe they can get someone in here who knows about it."
Riley shot up out of his chair. "What makes you think they know anything?"
Graham put out a hand. "You gotta trust me, Ri. Just this once, you gotta sit back and trust me. This shouldn't take long." He got up, snapped open a cell phone, and punched a complicated code.
Riley stayed seated, but he kept his ears open as Graham wandered into the back of his apartment: "This is Master Sergeant Miller, ident code Initiative-three-two-three-echo-nine-nine-two ... Colonel O'Neill, please. It's urgent."
Riley strained, but the conversation grew too dim; then he realized Graham had turned on a water tap to mask it. Son of a bitch.
Two minutes, three, five - then Graham came out, putting the cell phone into his pocket. "We gotta go, Riley."
"They need to talk to you about what happened here. My orders are to get you to Miramar ASAP."
"Yeah." Graham threw on his jacket. "Miramar Marine Air Station, that's what the orders are."
"What the hell do the Marines have to do with this?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's just the closest place with an airstrip and some security. The Air Force is flying someone out right now, Riley. They've got someone in a supersonic jet this minute getting out to Miramar to hear from you what happened last night."
"What the hell does the Air Force have to do with this?!?"
"Riley, we gotta move!" Graham shouted, grabbing Riley's arm and dragging him out the door.
Tara drank listlessly from her tea cup. "Did Riley say when he'd be back?"
"No," Buffy answered, sloshing juice in a glass. "Just that he hoped he'd have more to tell us in a little while."
They had reconvened at Buffy's house after deciding collectively that all they'd managed to accomplish with Giles' research material was to get more and more frustrated. Joyce was ministering as best she could, not pushing the conversation, but trying to keep people supplied with tea, coffee, juice, or whatever she figured they needed.
Buffy was still numb. Xander had called in; apparently Anya was more determined than ever to contact D'Hoffryn, and Xander was worried that she'd gone off the deep end. "It's all she knew for a thousand years," he'd said. "She's in a bad state right now, even if she doesn't show it; if she were offered her old job back, I think she might jump."
Now, Giles was frowning into his own tea cup. "It's odd."
Stony glares met that.
"The way Spike was acting, I mean."
Buffy slammed her glass onto the end table. "Yeah. Vicious, evil, opportunistic. So unlike Spike."
"Calm, subservient, loyal. Three characteristics that Spike not only does not possess, but has violently rejected in the past," Giles countered.
"OK, so he's a little gaga over this Kheper guy. So what?"
"The vampires at the door. They attacked as though they didn't realize there was a threshold. And you may recall Spike didn't have a single snide remark."
"So, what? He's learned to control his mouth? Hope that means he's ready to spill when I corner him."
Giles stood. "All I'm saying is that there may be more to this than we understand. Something that should be clear to all of us by now."
Buffy was about to snap something back when the doorbell rang. She got up, stalked to the door, yanked it open-
-to face Spike, dressed in weird ornamental garb of some sort.
Buffy didn't hesitate. Her arm went behind her back and came out with one of her more intimidating stakes.
"Wait!" Spike shouted. "Wait - wait - I can explain everything!"
Buffy glared at him through hooded eyes, twisted the stake in her grip, and snarled, "No more talking, William."
She was halfway to Spike's heart when Willow stepped out from behind Spike and grabbed her stake arm. "Buffy, wait! We can explain!"
"Out of the way, Willow! I should have done this a ... long ... time ... ago ... Willow?"
Willow smiled, huddling under Spike's long leather coat. "Hi, Buffy."
"Will, how ... I saw ... what ... Willow?" Buffy stammered, and stepped back into the house backwards. She missed a step, stumbled, and would have fallen backward if Willow hadn't grabbed her hand. "You're ... alive?"