Command Tent – Moments Later
Giles, Willow and Rowena stood around the table, as did Kennedy and Xander. Rowena dialed her cell phone and waited for an answer.
“Hey Buffy, it’s Rowena. I’m going to put you on speakerphone, hang on.” Rowena placed the phone down on the table and pressed a button. “Okay, present are Giles, Willow, Kennedy, Xander, and myself.”
“So what’s there to report?” Buffy’s voice filled the tent.
Arms folded, Giles came closer to the table. He still looked pretty peeved. “Much. The structure beneath the Valley is in fact a temple, which we believe to be related to the Guardians.”
A momentary silence filled the tent. “Excuse me?” Buffy spluttered out, surprised.
“We know, but we have evidence to support it. Buffy, there is an incredible amount of information down in the temple. It’ll take a while to decipher, but believe me, and I don’t say this lightly, this is the find of the century, if not of all time.” Giles sounded almost giddy with excitement. “There’s a podium-like device in the center of the main chamber. We’re unsure what it is yet, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s important.”
“Well, don’t go standing on it before you know a hundred percent what it is. Sounds like not my kind of fun down there,” Buffy replied.
“You’re telling me,” Kennedy added. “I haven’t killed anything yet today.”
“Is there anything else?” Buffy asked.
Giles looked at Rowena and Willow and then back at the phone on the table. “No, that’s all.”
“Cool, well, keep the boss-lady updated,” Buffy told them jovially.
Rowena gave Giles a strange look and picked her phone up. “Will do. Talk to you later.” She hung up and turned to Giles. “Why didn’t you tell her about the lawyers?”
“Because there was nothing to tell. They came and we sent them away. That’s it,” he replied calmly.
“But Giles –” Willow began, but Giles cut her off.
“Willow, I know. But what do you think Buffy would do if we told her that they were sniffing about?”
“I know what she’d do, she’d get worried, and for good reason,” Willow shot back.
“Yes, but for the wrong reasons,” Giles countered.
“Okay, enough, you two,” Rowena mediated, stepping between them. “Giles made his decision, and I’m not saying it’s the right one by a long shot, but we’ve got work to do here that won’t get done if we bicker. Now, you two head back down into the temple. I’m going to stay up here and get up to speed with what, if anything, the other watchers have found out. Okay?”
“Yeah,” Willow replied. She moved aside to allow Rowena to leave. Once she had gone, Willow stepped forward again. “Look, I get it, and maybe this isn’t the right time when we’ve got other things on our minds, but you’ve got to tell her.”
Giles stared down at Willow. “You’re right, now’s not the time, but I will.” He smiled, which seemed to quell Willow’s worry. She returned his smile. “Come on, let’s head back down there.”
Temple – Domed Chamber – Later that Day
Yellow rope sectioned off the walls of the temple. The bright flash from Willow’s digital camera spread across the chamber, followed by a short beep to indicate that a picture had been taken. She was busy recording images of the nearest section of the wall. The images automatically fed into her open laptop resting on the stone floor, revealing image after image of obscure text.
Across the room, Giles lay sprawled out across the floor with his reference books and charts and his notepad, deciphering more of the etchings around the base and steps of the podium. Pages upon pages of the notebook were filled with scribbles, almost as illegible as the ancient engravings on the walls. Certain lines of text were written over and over again, each with a slightly different wording and overall meaning, with liberal use of underscores, scrub outs and exclamation and question marks.
The task of deciphering and preserving the knowledge inside the temple looked immense, something that could take months, if not years. Giles sat up, groaning slightly as he willed his sluggish limbs out of lethargy. He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes for a few comforting moments.
As he rested his glasses back in their rightful place on his nose, he noticed that Willow was looking at him with a smile.
He began to grin as well. “Something interesting?” he asked.
“Rowena does that – pinches her nose when she’s trying to refocus. Must be a genetic watcher thing,” she commented.
Giles grinned and his eyes once again fell on a depiction of an ancient battle. With a final struggle to get to his feet, he brushed himself down, took his camera, sans laptop, and walked over to the illustration. His eyes focused on the Ouroboros carved beneath the depiction and an intrigued look crossed his face. He pressed a button on the camera and the optical zoom lens protruded, doubling in length from its slim-line metallic housing. Giles readied the camera and raised the device so that the illustration before him appeared on the large LCD screen on the back of the camera. With a few adjustments to the zoom, more of the image fit inside the boundaries of the LCD screen. Then he pressed down on the capture button, the flash flickering for a second before the picture was taken. Then he turned the camera off and stared back at the image on the panel for a few more moments, before returning to his books by the podium.
Willow took a brief rest from taking pictures and wandered over to Giles. “How’s it going? Any clue what this thing is yet?” she enquired.
“What makes you say that?”
“Well…look at it,” he replied, pointing at the podium. “Not to mention that it’s got that eerie light coming from it, and notice the lack of a light bulb.”
“I’ll give ya that. Eerie light usually equals mystical.”
Willow looked at the podium. Taking a step up, she placed her hand just a few millimeters from the shaft of light and closed her eyes. When nothing happened, she opened her eyes and moved her hand away.
“It’s not giving off any magical emissions. There doesn’t even seem to be any power supply or energy running through it. If there’s one thing the many hours of watching Indiana Jones with Xander and Andrew have taught me, it’s that Indy always took a risk for the golden idol. Just so ya know, you can substitute the search for knowledge for the idol.”
“I’ll take the risk!” Shannon boldly proclaimed, appearing out of nowhere again. She was about to take a step onto the podium.
“Wait!” Giles commanded, pretty much at the last moment. Willow’s protest was also on the tip of her tongue, her hands about to grab the slayer. Luckily, Shannon had only just lifted her foot off the ground. “Please, no heroics today.”
“Yes, please,” Willow scowled. “And there’s another thing that I’ve learned from movies like Indiana Jones, there’s always a Satipo.”
Shannon gave a slightly perplexed look. “A whatipo?”
With a sigh, Willow ignored the girl and turned to Giles. “What is it?”
“There are engravings on these steps. If we weren’t so enthralled by the rest of this structure, we would have seen these first.” He released a breath and wiped away more of the ancient dust, trying to make the text more legible. “Now don’t hold me to this, but it loosely translates to ‘Plinth of Knowledge.'” He read carefully before casting a glance up at his two companions. “It’s a repository of sorts, of ancient, forgotten knowledge. T-to say this find is-is remarkable is an understatement. The discovery of this temple is extraordinary, and it is essential that we proceed with caution and go over everything with a fine tooth comb.” With creaking knees, Giles got to his feet and glared at Shannon. “What is it now?”
“More suits,” she replied nonchalantly.
“You’re kidding?” Willow sighed.
She shook her head. “This time they came in a red four by four. They’re less snotty than the last pair.”
“Shannon, go back up and tell Xander to get Rowena to deal with them.” Giles said.
“Yeah, but she wants you up there with her,” Shannon insisted.
Upon seeing Giles roll his eyes, Willow spoke up. “No, it’s okay. Tell her I’ll be up in a sec, ‘kay?”
Shannon looked between the two of them, then left.
Willow stared at Giles, and he arched a brow in response. “What?”
“I know why you’re antsy about going back to the surface. You wanna stay down here and have all the fun,” she smirked.
“Well I’ve managed to decipher the majority of what was carved on the steps. It’s exactly what it says – an ancient repository of knowledge. There’s a section I don’t understand, though: ‘Apparatus cumu fallatus transtulic menuis mentvas lochus periclitor scientia curuatoros,’” he read off his notes, shaking his head. “But on the final step before the podium, it says that one who stands upon the platform, with intentions ‘Euga,‘ which I believe to mean ‘good’, will be imbued with a great wealth of knowledge.”
“No what?” he asked.
“You know what.”
“If I knew what, I wouldn’t be asking you.”
“I know you,” Willow replied. “You wanna hop right up onto that podium, don’tcha?”
“Well…yes,” Giles answered honestly. “As far as I can tell, it’s perfectly safe.”
“Perfectly safe, huh?” Willow answered. She picked her foot up to place it on the first step, but Giles pulled her back.
“Alright,” Giles conceded. “I’m not sure what could happen if either one of us stands upon that platform.”
“Which is why I should do it. I’m an official Council member and you’re not.”
“Pulling rank, are you?” Giles asked.
“If I have to, yeah.”
Giles sighed in frustration. “You have years ahead of you, Willow. You haven’t experienced nearly half of what I have, and I couldn’t live out the rest of my days knowing that I could have taken away yours.”
“Yeah, but I don’t have a wife and daughter at home that need me. What if something happens to you?”
“You’ve got Rowena, haven’t you?” Giles nudged.
“I-I haven’t had Ro in nearly two months now.” Willow fell quiet for a second. “But more importantly, I don’t have a daughter who will grow up wondering who I was.” She folded her arms and pursed her lips.
The pair stared at each other until Giles broke the silence. “I fold,” he sighed.
Willow smiled and put her hand on Giles’s arm. “Good answer,” she grinned. “Pinky swear you won’t do anything while I’m gone?” she asked, holding out the requisite pinky. Giles rolled his eyes, but took her finger in his. “I’ll take that as a yes,” she answered, before leaving the chamber.
Command Tent – Moments Later
Willow and Rowena walked into the command tent to find a familiar scene. Two more lawyers, again a man and a woman, stood at the back of the tent.
The woman noticed the pair walk in and straightened her coat as she walked to greet them.
“We’re so sorry to bother you.” She offered her hand, which both Willow and Rowena took, despite the reservation showing on their faces. “I’m Ms. McGraw and this is Mr. Black. We’re with Ouroboros Law Offices. You know our associate, Ms. Neel?”
Willow glanced at Rowena, somewhat surprised. “Oh yes, Alex. Well, umm…what can we do for you?”
“As you know, our firm deals in matters such as these, in somewhat of a specialized capacity,” Mr. Black replied.
Rowena quickly glanced at Willow, pouting a little before turning back to the two lawyers.
“Our firm has handled many similar excavations in the past, and we feel we’re equipped to handle the situation at hand more effectively than the Council.”
Rowena nibbled on her bottom lip, arms folded. She glanced at the ground, before looking back up to Ms. McGraw’s inviting face.
“Are you offering us your help in excavating the temple?”
Ms. McGraw, her hands held in front of her, looked at Mr. Black and then back at Willow and Rowena, cocking her head to one side. “No, we –”
“Sorry, but we’re not interested,” Rowena quickly replied.
Ms. McGraw was so stunned at Rowena’s reaction that she was speechless for a moment. “Excuse me?”
“You were going to say that your firm wants to take control of this site, right?” Rowena continued.
“Well, I –” Ms. McGraw stammered.
“We’ve already had our fair share of people telling us that we’re not good enough to do this job. We’ve already had this talk earlier with the Yin to your Yang…”
Hastily, the two lawyers shot one another a rather concerned glance.
“…and we’re not changing our –” Willow put her hand on Rowena’s arm to stop her when she saw the worried looks on the lawyers’ faces.
“What is it?” Willow asked, puzzled.
“There were others here before us?” Mr. Black asked.
“Yes. Two from –” Rowena began, only to be cut off by Ms. McGraw.
“Forgive us, but we have to go. Thank you for your time,” she said. The two lawyers hurried out of the command tent, leaving Willow and Rowena mystified.
“That was…” Willow started.
“Odd?” Rowena finished.
Cuyahoga Valley – Outside Command Tent – Moments Later
Willow and Rowena walked out of the tent. The soothing, warm afternoon breeze blew past them.
“This day just can’t get any weirder,” Rowena sighed, rubbing the back of her neck.
“You’re telling me. And Andrew wasn’t around to cook breakfast this morning. Not that I’m knocking the other chef, but Andrew does this thing with the scrambled eggs.”
“All I want to do is curl up at home with a movie and Marco and Polo. Books are out for me today. Anywho, it’s my turn to head down into the temple now. You rest up.”
Willow stopped and turned to Rowena. “No, honestly I don’t mind. This is kinda fun – a field trip, like the good ole days.”
Rowena smiled. “Don’t punish me by making me go back into the watchers tent,” she pleaded. “So many theories, so many books…”
“So…you want to put me through that?” Willow teased. “Nah, I’m kidding. Go take a break and grab some lunch or something.”
It was then that Rowena’s cell phone rang. “Sorry, one sec,” she told Willow before answering, “Hello…what time is it? Jeez, okay, I will. Thanks so much Robin. See you in a bit.” She hung up. “No rest for the wicked apparently. That was Robin, I totally forgot about my tele-conference with Ayaka Hazuki from the Tokyo branch. Look, I’ve…”
Willow nodded. “No, go. Honestly, it’s fine, I’ll cover for you. Besides, I had an agreement with Giles to help him out with this translation he’s having trouble with.”
Rowena frowned. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, of course, go, go,” Willow waved Rowena off
“Thanks, Will,” Rowena smiled slightly sheepishly, before she turned and paced to her car.
Willow watched as Rowena disappeared behind one of the tents. Once she was gone, Willow headed for the temple entrance.
Rowena walked to the temporary car lot and scanned the array of cars for her own. She looked back to see Xander hook up the last of Willow’s gear, then begin to lower her down into the hole. Rowena smiled softly before she began to weave between the vehicles to her car. She took the keys out of her pocket.
As she was about to put the key in lock, there was the slightest tremor beneath her feet. She pulled back and looked around, but there were no trucks coming up the road. Confused, Rowena went to put the key in the lock again, but this time a tremendous earthquake rocked the Valley, knocking Rowena off her feet and over the hood of another car.
The earthquake violently shook the entire Valley, sending people to the ground and stripping them of their balance. Equipment toppled over and crashed to the earth. The bulbs of the large electrical lights the dig had set up shattered as they connected with the ground.
Beneath the feet of those in close proximity to the fissure, the ground began to dip on a harsh incline towards the entrance of the temple. Some began to slip down the inclined earth, but the hands of others saved them from a deadly fate.
Rowena rolled off of the hood of her car and managed to find her footing on the shaking ground. Over the shaking earth, screams and shouting could be heard coming from the excavation site. Without thinking, she sprinted back towards the epicenter, dodging out the way of the tent poles and other equipment falling around her.
“WILLOW!!” she screamed frantically.
Plumes of dust erupted from the fissure, and as Rowena neared the temple entrance, her eyes darted from one person to the other, trying to sort Willow out from the crowd.
A cable connected to one of the large floodlights snapped out of its socket and flared up, hissing like a snake.
Xander ran from the safety of one of the tents and grabbed Rowena, narrowly pulling her out of the path of the sparking electrical cable.
Together they fell back onto the ground. Kennedy and Vi ran to the pair, helping them get back up to their feet.
Rowena clutched onto Xander’s shirt. “Where’s Willow?” she shouted, struggling to be heard over the earthquake.
“She…she was being lowered down…we can’t get near the hoisting device.” Rowena tried to run, but Xander grabbed her by the waist. “It’s too close to the fissure,” he yelled.
Temple – Domed Chamber – Same Time
As Willow was lowered back down into the temple, the earthquake began to shake the ancient ruin around her. Locked into her harness, she was violently swung about in mid-air. Willow held onto the rope for dear life, the chamber spinning around her. Suddenly, she dropped a few yards. The rope snagged and became taut again, stopping her fast descent with a jolt.
A churning came from above her. When Willow looked up, she saw the rope beginning to snap. She stole a hasty look below, finding herself too far above the ground to land safely.
Her hands groped aimlessly for something, anything. Then the rope gave way, sending Willow free-falling through the air.
As Willow fell, the air whistling in her ears, she screamed out, “Maceros!”
A green, vapor-like cloud erupted out of the ether above the ground directly beneath her. As if a wind had picked it up, the cloud spun and shot up into the air, engulfing Willow and slowing her rapid descent. The cloud gently carried her down to the ground, feet first. When she touched down, the cloud evaporated around her.
Slightly weak in the knees, Willow looked down the shaking hall into the main chamber to see Giles stumbling around the podium.
“Giles!” Her call was drowned out by the wailing of the earth.
It was then that a large pillar broke away from the ceiling and crashed down behind her; the temple was falling to pieces around her.
Willow ran out of the antechamber and down into the hallway, still calling out after Giles.
Cracks in the once perfectly-preserved domed chamber began to show, huge chunks of the stone ceiling falling to the ground. Giles looked at the podium as he tried to stay on his feet. He looked at the circular walls, the knowledge they held now defiled by large gashes in the stone. As his gaze returned to the podium, he took a deep breath and took the steps up, stopping directly in the center of the podium.
“Giles, no!” Willow cried out.
Beneath his feet, the platform pressed down, like he was standing on a pressure pad. A low drone sounded, as rings of lights began to glow on the housing of the needle directly above Giles. The drone continued to get louder, indicating that the device was powering up.
Giles clenched his fists and closed his eyes. Less than a second later, a beam of brilliant white light shot out of the needle above him, washing over his head. Then, the light dissipated as quickly as it had come.
A beam on the ceiling of the domed chamber began to jerk free of its housing. Willow raced into the chamber and headed straight for Giles, who stood perfectly still on the podium. The sound of the beam giving way caught Willow’s attention. The beam came free and plummeted down onto the device above Giles.
Gritting her teeth, Willow picked up speed and dive-tackled Giles off of the podium. Both of them crashed to the hard stone floor mere seconds before the device and the razor sharp needle hit the podium base where Giles had stood.
The roof of the domed chamber caved in, the structure completely collapsing down on top of Willow and Giles. The antechamber lay in utter ruins, and the entrance to the domed chamber was decimated, hidden under meters of stone and rock.
Gorge – Bridge
A grand bridge spanned a vast, seemingly bottomless gorge. The bridge led to a platform, where an enormous pair of doors was set into the rock. On the end of the bridge was a round podium. A beam of white light shone from the podium and, in this beam, Giles’s body rematerialized. As the light shut off, he stumbled forward, only then becoming aware of where he was.
Bewildered, Giles glanced around himself. Above was a starry night sky, thousands of twinkling diamonds casting their starlight down onto the gorge. Carefully looking over the edge, he saw nothing below, just endless black. Ahead of him he saw the bridge and, in the not too far distance, the large doors in the rock face.
“Willow?” he called out, his voice ringing throughout the gorge. Giles stepped off of the podium onto the bridge. “Hello?” he bellowed, his cry filtering into the endless nothingness below.
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?” a voice replied to his calls.
Curiously and carefully, Giles took a step forward and made out the outline of a figure leaning against the railings of the bridge. It was too dark to see clearly who or what it was.
“Hello?” Giles ventured.
“What if you hear the sound, but you don’t see the tree fall? Is it the sound of the fallen tree, or is it just a sound?”
“It makes a sound, regardless if anyone’s present to hear it or if they don’t know what it is,” Giles replied as he walked closer.
“Exactly. But…I heard you.”
“Who are you?” Giles inquired, brow arched.
“Has it really been that long that you’ve forgotten my voice?” The figure stood to its full height and walked out of the shadows, into the starlight, “Hello, Mr. Giles.”
Giles’s utterly dumbfounded gaze fell upon the smiling face of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.
“We-Wesley?” Giles stammered.
“It would appear so, yes,” Wesley agreed.
“Wh-what’s happening? Where are we? What the bloody hell is that?” Giles pointed back to the podium at the far end of the bridge. “And what are you, of all people, doing here?” He placed his hand to his forehead, as if to comfort his brain.
Wesley arched his brow, clasped his hands, and shrugged his shoulders, “Would you accept that I was in the area?” He shook his head at Giles’s less than believing look, “No? Thought that wouldn’t wash. Never mind.” Carefully, he took a breath. “All very good questions, and luckily for you, questions I’m not allowed to answer.”
“Allowed?” Giles asked, taking a step closer.
Nodding in reply, Wesley said, “Yes. I suppose you can say I’m under…new management. And this management is more than a little finicky about who I talk to, what I do and what I know.”
“Wolfram and Hart not working out for you, then?”
“Not really, no.”
Giles walked over to Wesley. The younger man stood formally, about to give his hand in friendship, but Giles continued past him. His eye had caught sight of markings on the surface of the bridge. They were carved in a text that he had seen back in the temple. Wesley’s smiling demeanor quickly changed from one of friendship to deadpan. Composing himself with a slight cough, he turned around and looked at Giles, who was now bent over and peering at the stone surface.
“I told you that place would be the death of you,” Giles finally replied, looking a little surprised at how easily he stood upright.
“Well, you weren’t wrong there.” Wesley let out a slight snort.
Giles spun back to Wesley, confused by his remark. “I’m…I’m sorry?”
“Oh, don’t be. I’m not.”
Words hung from the tip of his tongue, but Giles was having trouble forming coherent sentences. He cocked his head to one side, pursing his lips and staring back at Wesley. The other man didn’t falter in his stance or his expressionless look. Giles’s eyes took on a faint glassy tinge as he took small steps towards Wesley. “Are you…no, you can’t be…”
“Yes, I am. I’m dead.” Wesley exhaled with the slightest curl of his lips, perhaps enjoying his friend’s disbelieving face.
“Bu-but how? When? Why weren’t we –?”
Wesley took a step forward, interjecting. “The fact that you didn’t hear of my death means that I didn’t die in vain.”
“‘In vain? What were you trying –”
“Giles!” Wesley raised the tone of his voice in an attempt to get through to Giles’s racing mind. “Those are questions you shouldn’t be asking, and answers that, as much as I want to tell you, I can’t. Please make this be enough: they’re fine. That’s all you need to know.”
Now even more perplexed, Giles still managed to find his words. “You can’t even tell me if they are alive or –?”
“Yes, I know. Rules and regulations about keeping your mouth shut,” Giles barked.
Wesley grunted, folding his arms. “Oh, so you do know about the rules,” he grated in a sarcastic tone, which was received by a glare from the elder watcher. “Look, you know me, or, obviously, you don’t, but if I could tell you, believe me, I would. My words and actions are bound now, and insubordination really isn’t a good idea.”
Giles sighed, “I can appreciate that, to an extent…Alright then, what are the questions that I should be asking?”
Wesley gave a nod. “Go back to the beginning.”
“What are you doing here?” Giles’s eyes never left Wesley’s face.
“Good question. I’ve been sent by the Powers to help you.”
“Help me with what?” Giles pried.
“To fully understand the choices you’ve made.”
“And what would they be? Because from where I’m standing…well…” Giles folded his arms, his fingers tapping against his jacket as he waited for an answer.
“You’re here because you made a decision, and a tough one at that. Do I, A) cower in the doorway and watch a priceless asset be destroyed by an earthquake, or do I, B) take the risk and brave the unknown for said priceless asset, and for whomever it might save. Noble choice you made, I must say.”
“Now I’m wondering whether or not it was the right choice,” Giles replied.
“Is any decision the right one? There are no absolutes in the decisions anyone makes. That’s what makes it a risk. That’s what can make you noble, or, on the other hand, make you lament. It’s just chance, unfortunately.”
“And was it chance that you died?”
Wesley smirked. “Prying again, are we? There was more certainty that I would perish, considering the circumstances – and don’t ask what they were – but yes, it was chance.”
“And am I to believe that it was chance that we found the temple?” Giles continued.
“If you want to believe that. But if you don’t…” he raised his eyebrows in answer, not daring to speak the actual words himself. “Though the earthquake…not us. I mean, not ‘them.’ That’s the price you pay for shoddy builders.”
Giles shook his head. Taking off his glasses, he rubbed his tired, heavy eyes. “This is…this is…”
“Too much?” A small voice echoed throughout the gorge.
Startled, Giles and Wesley turned to see a petite woman standing further down the bridge, toward the platform. The majority of her body was concealed in a long, olive, velvet gown, with only her head visible under a hood. Her long, flowing brown locks swayed over her tiny porcelain face. There seemed to be a glow about her, radiating through the half-light.
“I’d understand if it were,” she said softly.
Giles looked to Wesley for answers, but he looked equally as surprised. Turning back to the woman, who continued to stand perfectly still ahead of them, the pair walked toward her.
“Realization can be such an overwhelming hurdle to overcome,” she continued as they approached.
Giles and Wesley stood before her, dwarfing her small form.
“If you wish to leave, the choice is yours.” She presented a hand, leading back to the podium.
Giles examined her, but she just smiled plainly. “If I was going to give into fear of the unknown, then I would not have stood on the podium in the first place.”
“Good answer,” she replied.
“Forgive the bluntness, but…who are you?” Wesley asked.
“Yes, of course. Where are my manners? I am Celestas…a Guardian.”
Cuyahoga Valley – Construction Site – Moments Later
“Get some riggings!” Xander shouted to his crew. “We need –” He stopped when he watched Faith casually jump into the dark abyss of the temple hole. “Faith!” he yelled fruitlessly.
Collapsed Temple – Same Time
Faith could hear Xander shouting her name far above. As she hit the ground, she went into a roll to soften the blow. Then she hopped to her feet and grabbed her knee.
“Damn it,” she sighed to herself as she hobbled along. “I’m okay,” she shouted up. She turned to see a wall of rocks piled up where the cave’s main entrance had been.
“Red! Can you hear me?” Faith shouted. “Willow!” She paused for a moment but heard nothing on the other side. “Damn,” she swore again.
Cuyahoga Valley – Construction Site – Same Time
“Faith!” Rowena shouted down. “Can you see them?”
Collapsed Temple – Same Time
“No,” Faith yelled back up. “Looks like the cave-in’s got ’em blocked off.” In a quiet tone, she added, “Or buried.” She looked up to the top again. “We’re gonna have to find another way inside. We can get the slayers down here and maybe start moving some of the stones from top to bottom. It might be tricky, but at least we can maybe pipe some air in there until we can get them out.”
Cuyahoga Valley – Construction Site – Same Time
“We hear you!” Xander answered. “I’ve got more girls with supplies on the way. Hang on!”
Collapsed Temple – Same Time
“None of us are going anywhere,” Faith said softly to herself.
Cuyahoga Valley – Construction Site – Same Time
Rowena already had her cell phone snapped open. She listened for a response.
“Buffy, we’ve got an emergency here at the site. Willow and Giles are trapped in the cave. We need all the girls you can get down here to try to move the stones, understand?…We don’t know yet. Just…get them here quick, okay…a-and call Becca to tell her what’s happened…Okay.”
Rowena hung up and looked back over at Xander. “I need a rigging to get down there.”
“Ro, the slayers are –”
“It should have been me,” she told him, cutting him short.
“Ro,” he tried again, “there’s nothing that says that if you were there you could have stopped it.”
“No, I mean literally. Willow switched to go back down when it was my turn. It should be me down there right now.”
“We’ll get ’em out,” Xander told her.
“Let’s not pull any punches here Xander,” she told him. “We both know damn well there’s a good chance she and Giles are buried under that rock slide and all the slayers in the world won’t be able to help.”
Xander looked taken aback by the comment, but steadied his shoulders. “Will’s pretty bright and pretty powerful. I’m sure she thought of something. It’s just a matter of getting to the other side, and we’ll do that. You have to have faith.”
“Just get me rigged up, okay? I need to get down there,” Rowena insisted, her voice near a sob.
“Okay,” Xander said softly and gently took her by the arm, walking her away.
Gorge – Bridge – Same Time
“You’re a-a Guardian?” Giles asked, eyes wide.
Celestas bowed her head. “Yes.”
“I must say you’re…you’re not what I expected a Guardian to look like. To that, I never thought I’d ever meet one,” Giles waved.
“You expected wrinkles, white hair and liver spots? Oh, you know how to flatter a woman,” Celestas cracked.
“To be honest, I’m not sure what I expected, but I suppose I thought the Guardians would be older.”
“Looks can be deceiving,” she stated.
“And is this a deception?” Giles continued.
“No. It really isn’t,” Celestas answered.
“Pardon the quiet, dense one at the back of the class, but what’s a Guardian?” Wesley asked with a frown.
“A race of women whose sole goal in life was to support the Slayer and ensure the legacy of the Slayer Line remained safe,” Giles replied.
An air of confusion hung over Wesley. “So they’re – you’re watchers?”
“Not exactly. We’re – we were – the watchers of the watchers. Just another layer of this very large lattice work that is life,” Celestas answered.
“Why with the past tense?” Wesley questioned.
Celestas took a slight breath, “Once we were many. We crossed continents, from one region of the Earth to the next. Along the way, we grew, as one does any with experience. The darkness rose from beneath the dirt with such force and numbers that, despite our power, we had no choice but to hide. We constructed temples to keep ourselves and our knowledge safe. All the while, we kept our presence shrouded in secrecy. One of the reasons you know of already: to keep the Slayer’s Scythe hidden from fearful hands. The Shadow Men gave rise to the Watchers Council, and with it paved a new direction for the Slayer. As the watchers’ power grew, our secrecy was in jeopardy. With the Scythe complete, balance began to be restored. The darkness began to pour back into the ground, and the Slayer of the time wielded the Scythe and brought the last pure demon to its knees. For the most part, our goal was done. We placed the Scythe where we knew it would be used once more, we closed the doors to our temples and left. One remained on Earth, waiting for the day to come when the Slayer would come to her. The others moved onto another plane of existence.”
“And you?” Giles asked.
“I was amongst those who left the human world long ago, but my task was far from over. I was appointed to watch over our temples. The others…they still watch, but now lack the means to directly interact with affairs,” Celestas clarified. “To a degree we still have the ability to whisper and influence, but only if it’s truly necessary.”
“I only have more questions.” Giles half-looked to Wesley.
“I’m sure you have, and I’ll be more than happy to fill in the gaps that Mr. Wyndham-Pryce can’t.”
“Won’t, don’t you mean?” Giles snapped.
“Not this again,” Wesley sighed.
Celestas giggled. “Mr.Giles, please; Mr.Wyndham-Pryce does not know all the answers…who does? It’s admirable that, with what he does know, he has a cautious tongue. Balance is vital, after all. You know that he has been sent to guide you, to help you understand your choices, no?”
“Yes, but what for? We all have reasons behind our decisions,” Giles said.
“Yes. That’s what determines the tangent you pick. Isn’t reason why you stood upon the plinth in the temple? To understand, to be imbued with the Knowledge of the Guardians?” Celestas smiled.
“Yes, but –”
“What? You believed that it would be as simple as standing upon the plinth?” she remarked.
“Actually, for a moment there, yes, I believe I did. I know it’s naïve of me, but what I could translate said that those with good intentions would be imbued with the knowledge.”
“It’s never that simple,” she replied.
“It rarely is,” Wesley commented.
“What you failed to translate is that the plinth in the temple is merely a method of transporting the mind to this plane. And that those who choose to stand upon the plinth are to endure a trial of the soul to prove themselves,” Celestas said, almost flatly.
“For what purpose?” Giles asked.
Celestas stepped forward. “You see, this is what you lack – depth.”
“Excuse me?” Giles replied, indignant.
“Some answers you must find out for yourself,” she continued, “otherwise what is the point of wanting to learn?” Giles began to speak, but was cut off by Celestas raising a hand, “Understand is such a complex word. Never take anything at face value. The answers you seek lay beyond connotation. Now, if you wish to pursue this task, then you must proceed. Please, a simple answer to a simple question. Do you accept?”
“Why give me a choice now, after I’ve essentially signed the deed?” Giles replied.
Celestas locked eyes with Giles. “Because everyone has a choice, that’s the point.”
His eyes still fixated on her, Giles slowly said, “I accept.”
Celestas bowed her head and a glowing arch of light appeared out of the ether behind her.
“Wait…what about Willow? What about the real world?” Giles asked.
“Time will proceed as normal, for however long the trial takes you,” Celestas said.
Giles looked at Wesley, who was standing idly to his side, observing the conversation. Celestas moved, clearing a path for Giles and Wesley to the arch.
Releasing the faintest sigh, Giles took the first step towards the arch. Wesley turned to Celestas, who gave a slight nod of approval, and with that he stepped up his pace to walk alongside Giles.
“Giles, are you sure about this? These trials of the soul are sometimes…well, a little extreme. I’ve seen it first hand,” Wesley cautioned.
“As have I, but I’m ready. The good that we can accomplish with the knowledge outweighs my reservations.” Now standing before the glowing, two-dimensional arch, they gazed into the white void ahead of them. “Shall we?” Giles offered.
“After you,” Wesley said.
Composing himself, Giles stepped into the glowing arch. The light blanketed his figure.
Wesley took a deep breath. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” he muttered as he walked into the arch.
The light from the arch diminished, fading back into the ether.
Celestas watched as the last flicker of light disappeared. “Good luck.”
Fade to White
End of Act Two