Chapter 4: Ancient Truths
"Okay, kids, how about putting away the guns and the sharp sticks?" the crew-cut soldier-type drawled.
Riley let out a breath and holstered his pistol. He glared at Spike, who reluctantly let his shotgun drop down to point to the ground. Buffy waited a heartbeat until the huge dark man raised his staff, pointing the end away from her, then replaced the stake in her belt.
Daniel Jackson, whoever he was, closed the barrel of his bug-zapper and put it away; Major Carter lowered her machine-gun. Crew Cut looked at her and at the dark man with the oval in his forehead.
Carter closed her eyes a moment and shook her head. "They're clean, Colonel."
"I concur, O'Neill."
Riley couldn't help but scratch his head at that; Buffy apparently had the same questions. "Clean from what?" she asked. "And how could you tell just like that? Some sort of 'use the Force' thing?"
Colonel O'Neill ignored that, looked right at Riley. "Agent ... Finn, right?"
"Yes, sir." Riley snapped to attention almost from habit.
"Walk with me." It wasn't a request.
Riley followed; Buffy fell into step with him, but Colonel O'Neill glared at her. "Ma'am, if you'll excuse us."
Buffy stopped short. "Who are you?"
"Ma'am ... take my advice. Go home." He raised his voice a little. "All of you should just ... go home, okay?"
Buffy took a step forward, but Riley held out a hand. "I'll try and handle this, Buffy, okay?" He sighed. "Military thing."
O'Neill led Riley ten paces away and turned to him, glaring. "I read your file, Agent Finn ... what there was of it." He paused a moment. "You know about top-secret clearances, you know about security. So what are you doing involving a bunch of civilians in this?"
"It's not what it looks like, sir. These aren't everyday ordinary people."
O'Neill glanced back at the crowd. "Okay, so maybe they look like they could handle themselves in a bar fight, but this is something else entirely. This is the sort of thing where people get killed if they don't know what they're doing."
Riley didn't answer, just looked at the Colonel.
"Look, Finn, from what you told Carter, this situation is exactly what we're here for. We're the professionals, and we maybe just might be able to contain this. We let civilians into the middle of this, they'll end up dead. Or worse."
"Permission to speak frankly, sir?"
O'Neill blew out his breath. "Spit it out, Finn."
"Colonel, maybe I'm not the best judge ... but if Mister Jackson over there is a soldier, I'll eat my gun belt."
O'Neill blinked, then sighed, then dropped his head. "Oh, for cryin' out loud," he muttered.
Riley tried to smother the small smile crossing his features; he wasn't sure he'd succeeded. "Sir? Should I ... ah ... am I gonna need Worcestershire sauce for my belt?"
O'Neill sighed again. "No, Finn. Doctor Jackson isn't a soldier as such. And how he ended up in this unit is a long story, and frankly, you're not cleared high enough to know why-"
"DOWN!" Riley shouted; he'd only just now seen the swiftly moving shape, and he thanked God that he still had some reflexes - and that he'd healed up after tearing that damn chip out of his chest that spring. His Beretta was up and leveled, and he waited barely long enough for O'Neill to drop to the turf before double-tapping the demon behind him.
It was a vampire, he noted with an inward curse; two bullets to the head wouldn't stop it, but they might slow it up enough to give him a chance to go for a stake - no such luck. The thing was still in the suit it had been buried in, in full vamp-face, brows furrowed, eyes an evil red-yellow color, teeth all over the place - it charged - Riley fired again, one-handed, the gun jerking wide, and the thing was almost on him when O'Neill hit it in the chest with a three-round burst from his MP-5.
It turned to face O'Neill and growled. The Colonel leveled his machine gun; the vampire charged, stumbled as O'Neill hit it with another three-round burst - but it didn't fall, just stepped back once more, then charged. O'Neill didn't hold back; he went to full-auto, rock-and-roll, and poured fire into the thing at seven paces, trying to force it back just from the impacts.
The vampire staggered, but held its balance; Riley finally had a stake out, and was about to charge when he heard a whistling screech and a wet thump. The vampire stopped, stared dumbly at the wood shaft coming out of its chest - and disintegrated into dust with a sigh and a dull metallic clatter.
Riley and O'Neill walked up to the pile of dust; O'Neill hesitantly poked at it with a toe, revealing a pile of deformed bullets. Riley glanced back at the projectile's path and saw Buffy, crossbow at her shoulder. He grinned at her.
Buffy wasn't smiling.
Riley was thinking oh, crap, and was about to say it when O'Neill broke in: "Okay. What in the hell was that?"
"Vampire," Riley whispered, inching back to Buffy and the rest of the gang, pistol holstered, stake in one hand, taser in the other.
"Vampire?" O'Neill responded loudly, far too loudly. "As in creature of the night, Bela Lugosi, dead and loving it?"
"Ssh!" Riley had totally forgotten about rank and authority. "Anything, Buffy?" he asked, his voice a loud whisper.
Buffy had her eyes half-closed, narrowing to slits, trying to listen, to hone. She silently, blindly, handed the crossbow to Giles, who quickly drew back its string and loaded another bolt; she slowly withdrew another stake from her belt. Riley's eyes widened; he recognized that stake. Not your ordinary sharpened wood dowel, this; he'd handled it once, and it was sharp as a spear, wickedly curved, perfectly balanced, carved from oak or mahogany or something incredibly tough. Buffy had said it was a gift from a Slayer named Kendra; she called the weapon Mister Pointy. And if she were bringing it out now, something bad was coming.
Buffy had a very, very bad feeling about this.
The vampires weren't visible, but she knew they were coming. Ever since she and the gang had called on the power of the ancient line of Slayers to take on the cyberdemon Adam, she'd felt the power of her gift like never before. She could spot a vampire with her eyes closed now. She could feel them even when they were nowhere to be seen.
Even while they were still clawing their way out of their graves to the surface.
"Get ready," she whispered to Giles and Riley as she got a firmer grip on Mister Pointy.
The first vampire burst out of the ground with a roar, but Buffy was quicker; the snarl turned into a dying yelp as she plunged the stake into its heart, and the thing was dust before its feet ever got clear of the ground. But four others surfaced almost as one, charging not for Riley, Giles, and Spike, but at the military squad that had encroached on the Slayer's territory.
One jumped at Teal'c, but the huge man was moving before the attacker was halfway there, twirling his staff around so the broad flat end smashed into the vamp's face. The vampire reeled, then tried to charge again, but had only made it one pace closer before Teal'c whirled the staff in a vertical spin, bringing the flat end down on the vampire's skull like a pile-driver, ramming the bloodsucker down to its knees in the newly-disturbed soil. Giles quickly raised the crossbow and fired a bolt into the vamp's chest; dust.
Daniel Jackson was scrambling to get clear, struggling to pull out his bug-zapper; Major Carter and Colonel O'Neill both had machine-guns up and ready. Buffy stabbed at another vamp but didn't hit the mark, as the thing had already been knocked off balance by Teal'c's staff; it shook her off and charged at Daniel Jackson, only to be intercepted by Spike.
Spike swung with his bare knuckles, his feet, and used his shotgun as a club, fighting like a dockyard brawler; the vamp kicked Spike aside, tried to go for Jackson, but was stopped by one of those blue lightning-bolts. It staggered, shook its head, and tried to continue the charge, but Spike stepped right up to it, jammed the shotgun under its chin, and fired both barrels. The vamp's head was blasted clean off its shoulders, disintegrating before it ever hit the ground; the body likewise dissolved.
Carter and O'Neill were firing away, trying to force the vamps back with little success; Buffy had to duck under the line of fire to strike out again and again.
Can't go on forever, Buffy thought. I mean, it's not like they've got an infinite supply of vampires, right? Right? They were making progress, though; only two vamps left.
They were bad enough, but not half as frightening as the creature that suddenly leaped down out of the trees. This one was seven feet tall with a jewel between its eyes, dressed in Oriental-style martial-arts gear, wielding a thin, long, sharp samurai sword in one hand - and one of Kheper's staff weapons in the other.
Buffy leapt out of the way of the sword-strike, lunged with a foot, knocked the sword clear, tossed the stake to her left hand, and grabbed the samurai sword in midair; she whirled around and swung once forward and back, decapitating a vampire with the foreswing and the backswing - whirled to face the demon, but got her feet swept out from under her, and felt a hammer-blow as the thing caught her in the side of the head with a spin of the staff.
She stumbled, fell, braced as the staff's business end split open with a buzz and leveled at her heart-
-then winced as she heard three short, loud pops. The thing dropped its staff, grasped the now-shattered jewel in its forehead - and disintegrated even as the echoes of the three pops bounced back from the hills.
Buffy looked back, wondering who to thank, and saw Major Carter, machine gun still held at the ready, eye pressed against its scope, laser sight still burning. Carter lowered the gun hesitantly, blinking in confusion.
"Nice shooting, Sam," Jackson said, still gasping for breath and brushing dust off his fatigues.
Carter nodded, then shook her head. "What was that thing?"
Giles stood. "It looked like a, uh, Mohra demon. Supernatural assassin."
Buffy blinked. "Mohra - so that's what it was." Off Giles' look, she continued: "Last fall when I went to L.A., one of those things barged in on Angel's office. He kinda hit it in the forehead and it went poof - fastest fight I ever saw." Then she looked oddly at Carter. "How'd you know where to shoot it?"
Carter shrugged. "Body shots didn't seem to be doing much. And the jewel thing seemed to make a good aiming point. But ... demon?"
O'Neill groaned. "For cryin' out loud, there's no such thing as demons, okay? It's ... it's crazy!"
Jackson nodded sagely. "Absolutely. Totally nuts. I mean, come on, Jack, that'd be like saying that the pyramids at Giza were actually landing sites for an alien spacecraft."
"Exactly," O'Neill responded, then stopped dead. Buffy frowned at his look; Jackson's comment was pretty much on target, as far as the world outside Sunnydale was concerned; the two concepts were equally nuts. Perfect supporting argument, Buffy supposed.
So why did Colonel O'Neill look like he'd just lost an argument there?
She heard more rustling, whirled with the sword and stake, only to catch her breath when she saw Xander pounding up the path.
"I heard shooting," Xander said, gripping a fighting axe, looking around.
"Skirmish," Buffy answered. "It's taken care of."
"Oh, thank God."
Buffy couldn't help but smile at that. "Sweet of you to come, though, Xander," she continued. "You're just in time to meet the new government folks."
O'Neill bristled at that. "Look, I appreciate how you chipped in there, but right now the best thing you can do is go home and let us do our jobs."
"Shyeah," Buffy shot back. "Last time a bunch of commandos came to Sunnydale and tried to take charge, they kinda got eaten. This is our home; we know what we're doing."
O'Neill picked up the staff from the disintegrated Mohra, hefted it slightly, then hit a control on it; the split-X end snapped closed. "I think we know a little something about what we're up against."
Giles took off his glasses a moment. "So you are ... what do you call yourselves?"
"Let's just say we're troubleshooters."
"Very well," Giles responded. "I just find it intriguing that a government military ... troubleshooter ... would choose to be branded on the forehead with the mark of the Egyptian serpent god Apophis."
O'Neill opened his mouth and nothing came out. Carter shrugged; Jackson took off his glasses and polished them on his shirt in a very Giles-like maneuver. Teal'c raised an eyebrow almost to the edge of the golden oval on his forehead.
Xander broke the silence. "Anya got something," he told Buffy. "Long and confusing, but I think you'll want to hear it from her."
Buffy carefully slid the sword into her belt, replaced Mister Pointy at her back, and took Xander by one arm while she hooked Riley's elbow with the other arm. "Can you give me a preview?"
"She said it sounded like this Kheper jerk got possessed by a ghoul."
Giles fell into step with them. "Ghouls don't possess people. They may eat fresh corpses, abduct children or unwary travelers and such, but they are not prone to committing acts of possession."
Buffy looked back to the military group. "You guys coming?"
None of them spoke for a moment, trading slightly puzzled looks.
"Information? You know, intelligence?" Buffy asked. "Free of charge."
"Plus snacks," Xander chimed in. "I think Mrs. Summers is making nachos."
Buffy smiled. "You're all welcome to come." She looked around. "Anyone seen Spike?" she asked - then shrugged it off and made for home.
"We have got to get control of this situation," O'Neill fumed as they began to trail the younger generation.
"Perhaps we should confide in them, O'Neill," Teal'c said.
O'Neill stopped in his tracks. "What?!"
"The young woman fought with a strength that rivals the strongest of any Jaffa. And she appears to possess knowledge of the sort of creatures this renegade Goa'uld is choosing for his forces. Both are powerful assets." He paused. "It is also significant that her elder recognized the mark of Apophis," he continued, absently replacing the ski-cap on his head.
Daniel passed them, shaking his head. "Not necessarily, Teal'c. Apophis was, after all, part of the ancient Egyptian pantheon, so that may be the extent of his knowledge. But it may still be worth looking into."
"Carter? Please tell me you have a sensible suggestion?"
Carter shrugged. "Those kids are involved somehow. Our best bet to get them out of the way may be to play along, get what information we can." She smiled as she walked past O'Neill and Teal'c to follow Daniel. "And I could go for some nachos right about now."
O'Neill groaned, put the staff on his shoulder, and looked at Teal'c. "Please tell me you're not thinking nachos."
"I was not."
"But I am amenable to the idea."
O'Neill watched Teal'c pass him, using his staff weapon as a walking stick, then glanced skyward. "Why me?" he asked, before trudging off.
"D'Hoffryn says good luck," Anya announced to the Slayer the moment she walked in the door.
"He said that the sort of demon you're up against is extremely powerful, vicious, cruel, enjoys power and giving out pain, and if you can kill it, you're okay in his book."
Xander looked over. "An, maybe if we started from the top?"
"Okay. Who are they?" she asked, giving a less-than-trusting glare to the quartet in military fatigues.
"We're from the Air Force," O'Neill responded. "I'm Colonel O'Neill, this is Major Carter, Doctor Jackson, and, ah-"
"Teal'c," said Teal'c, answering O'Neill's glare with a raised eyebrow.
"Air Force?" Anya asked.
"They, ah, got hold of some high-tech equipment. Classified stuff. Stuff that isn't supposed to exist," O'Neill said, growing more relaxed as he went on. "You've probably seen a bit of it; the staff weapons are highly experimental, and they may have even more of that."
"That kit didn't come out of any Air Force shop," came the cockney voice from the kitchen. Spike came in, mug in hand, nibbling on a nacho chip. "Not unless you're going to tell me that they made a hyperbaric healing chamber or some claptrap like that with Egyptian scribbles all over it."
"A sarcophagus," Jackson whispered. O'Neill glared again; he seemed to be getting in a lot of practice with that glare, Buffy noted, not that it was doing much good.
Xander broke the tension. "Anya, what'd D'Hoffryn tell you?"
"Basically, when you go back to ancient Egyptian times, and you hear about the gods, Ra, Anubis, Isis, Set, Osiris, Hathor, Apophis, Horus, and so on, they were actually some sort of demons that possessed people. They called themselves ghouls."
"Ghouls do not possess people," Giles interjected.
"I didn't say they were ghouls," Anya responded tartly. "I said they called themselves ghouls. They didn't come from our plane of existence, either; they traveled from some other dimension using some sort of artifact they called the 'Doorway to Heaven'. Although I doubt that they came from the traditional heaven. Anyway, they took on the roles of the gods from the mythology the Egyptians had already created, and they managed to cause a lot of misery. Ra was in charge; the rest of the ghouls were under him, kinda resentful at times. Including our mystery guest, Kheper. He was kind of a small fry."
"The same Kheper?" Giles asked.
"Sounds like it," Anya answered. "D'Hoffryn said you could tell a ghoul because it would talk with a deep reverberating voice, and its eyes would glow. Anyway, about five thousand years back, there was a revolt, and they chased the ghouls away, back through the doorway, and then they destroyed or buried it or something." She took a breath. "He also said that they could take people over, either through mind control or possessing them outright. He didn't know the mechanics, except that one of his vengeance demons got taken that way, turned against him."
Buffy cringed, looked at the Air Force contingent. Nobody was saying a word. "Oh ... kay. How about we get a little food and start with the planning?"
"Would you, ah, excuse us?" Jackson asked, ushering his colleages into the hallway.
"I don't know how," Daniel whispered, "but they know."
"Oh, come on," O'Neill argued.
"You don't think that someone being taken by a Goa'uld could be mistaken for demonic possession? And the interdimensional gateway she was talking about - 'doorway to heaven'? That's the classical translation of 'Chapa'ai'."
Carter's eyes widened. "So somehow, they've got this distorted-but-oddly-accurate picture of the Stargate and the Goa'uld? How's that possible?"
Daniel shook his head. "I don't know. But someone could easily get that picture if they saw the inner workings of the System Lords back in the days of ancient Egypt. And if the Goa'uld we're dealing with is Kheper, we could have a problem."
"There has never been a System Lord Kheper," Teal'c stated flatly.
"Okay, Kheper wasn't a System Lord," Daniel countered. "From what I can gather from the records, he was sort of a flunky, maybe something symbolic. 'Kheper' originally was the name of the scarab that signified Ra, but from the records I could find, he was an aide to Ra himself, but apparently fell out of favor for some reason. And there was also a pharaoh Nub-Kheper-Ra Intef, in the seventeenth dynasty. Could be that was Kheper's first try at grabbing power for himself."
"So we've got a mid-level Goa'uld who wants to become a big-time Goa'uld," O'Neill drawled.
"How do you know?" Carter asked.
"He is a Goa'uld," Teal'c responded, simply and surely, and that was that.
"Okay, that was a dumb question," Carter acknowledged. "But how do they fit in?" she asked, jerking her head to indicate the growing group at the living-room table.
"I don't know, experts on ancient lore, perhaps? Researchers into ancient cults and such?"
"You don't have the slightest idea, do you, Danny?" O'Neill asked with a wry smile.
"Not ... a ... clue."
"Spike, what are you doing here?"
"Enjoying your mum's cocoa, Slayer. Can't a bloke stop by for a cuppa? And maybe these commando types can tell me how to get out this bloody chip."
"They're not the Initiative, Spike," Willow said soothingly. "I don't think they even know about the chip."
"Then who are they? A newfangled demon sets up camp and these wankers show up. Not a bloody coincidence, Slayer."
Teal'c had stepped back in the room; when he heard that, he visibly froze. "You are the Tarith'na?" he whispered.
Buffy blinked. "The whuh?"
"Tarith'na. The Slayer," Teal'c stated. Then he whirled to face the others. "We must tell them everything."
The rest of them spoke up at once.
Carter: "Teal'c, what are you talking about?"
Jackson: "I don't think that's such a good idea..."
O'Neill: "Teal'c, are you nuts?"
Teal'c took a breath, then glanced back at Buffy. "She is Tarith'na, slayer of monsters. Twice she was born on Chulak to raise the people in revolution, only to be betrayed and murdered by the false gods. Now she faces the Goa'uld here; if she does not understand her enemy, she will fall once more, and possibly all of the Tau'ri with her."