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Chapter Ten - Riders on the Storm

Buffy blinked.

'You do?'

Xander jumped to his feet.

'Let me get this straight,' he said. 'You know where to find the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail. Y'know, source of eternal life. And you didn't think to tell anybody?'

'Yes,' Anya agreed. 'Consider the marketing possibilities.'

'Anya,' Buffy said, 'I'm not sure that's the point.'

'No,' Xander responded, 'for once I think I agree with Anya on this.'

'Thank you.' Anya said. 'I think.'

'I'm afraid it's not quite that simple,' Giles protested.

'Never is,' Spike remarked.

'About two hundred and fifty years ago, an historian, Antoine de Valliere, discovered a series of manuscripts held in a church in Blois that seemed to describe the history of the Grail post its connection with King Arthur. De Valliere had been a life-long student of Arthurian legend, though he let his studies lapse in the pursuit of his…duties. Now in enforced retirement, he was able to pursue the trail set out in these manuscripts and see where it led.

'De Valliere's route took him from the Welsh hills, through Champagne in France and then south across Europe. For eleven years he pursued his quest, guided by the Blois manuscripts and embellishing their account with clues picked up on his journey. A mistranslation sent him on a wild goose chase to North Africa, but it was speaking to a merchant in Algiers that sent him rushing back to Venice. And it was there that everything finally fell in to place.'

'So your saying the Grail's in Venice, then,' Xander deduced.

Giles shook his head.

'Venice is simply the final resting place of one of the Grail Knights, the Grails appointed guardians,' he explained. 'But it was clues found in his tomb that allowed de Valliere to finally pinpoint the location of the Grail. It's located in Glastonbury. In England. And before he died, de Valliere passed on this information to the Watchers' Council.'

'Back up,' Buffy said. 'He told the Council? How did he even now about you guys? I thought you were supposed to be like the Secret Society of Super-Villains or something.'

'Yes. Quite.' Giles paused, then continued. 'He knew because he was one of us.'

'Sir Valiant was a librarian?' Xander exclaimed. 'Man, you guys get everywhere. Like roaches.'

'You're thinking of the IRS, honey,' Anya told him. 'They're bred that way.

'Actually, de Valliere was a Watcher,' Giles explained patiently.

'Wow,' Buffy said.

'Xander's right,' Willow commented. 'You guys do get everywhere.'

'You said he was in enforced retirement, right,' Buffy recalled. 'So what was that all about?'

Giles removed his glasses.

'His…health…was suffering,' he replied, not looking at Buffy.

'His health?' she asked.

Giles was focussed on a particular speck of dust on the left lens.

'I'd rather not say any more,' he said.

'You'd rather not say,' Buffy repeated. 'What, you think I can't deal?

'Aw, c'mon, Giles, you can tell us,' Xander persisted. 'How bad can it be?'

'His Slayer died,' Giles snapped. 'Are you happy now, Xander? De Valliere didn't cope with the loss at all well and the Council decided that…that it might be better for all concerned if he was kept away from any future Slayers.'

He replaced his glasses.

'I'm sorry,' he said to Buffy.

'S'okay,' she managed. 'It was a long time ago, right?'

But Riley had stood and put an arm about her to support her.

'A very long time ago,' Giles agreed.

'But if you knew where the Grail was,' Willow asked, 'why didn't you, well, go get it?'

'The Grail is an object of immense power,' Giles replied, 'and, if it fell into the wrong hands, that power could all too easily be abused. The shrine at Glastonbury is well-protected, both physically and mystically, and the Council decided that it might be in everyone's best interest if the Grail was left there.'

'Some things are best left undiscovered,' Tara agreed.

'Of course, now we actually need the damn thing,' Anya surmised, 'so the question is: who gets sent to get it?'

'I can't go,' Buffy announced. 'I've got to stay. To look for Dawn.'

'I understand,' Giles said. 'I suspected as much.'

'I'll go,' Riley said.

'I'll go, too,' Xander said. 'Alex at work owes me a favour. He'll cover for me while I'm gone.'

'Must be some favour,' Willow remarked.

'You won't be gone long, will you?' Anya asked. 'You know I can't stand it when you're away.'

Hey, you heard Giles, Ann,' Xander said. He put his hands on her bare upper arms and rubbed gently. 'We go, we get the cup, we come straight back. You won't even notice I'm gone.'

'You really think so?' Anya asked, brightening up.

'Well,' Xander said sceptically, 'it would be kinda nice if you did miss me.'

'So you want me to be unhappy?' Anya frowned.

'Well, no, of course not,' Xander responded rapidly. 'It's just that…'

Riley put a hand on his shoulder.

'I'd quit now, if I were you,' he suggested. 'Or would you like a shovel for that hole you're digging?'

He turned to Anya.

'Don't worry,' he assured her, 'I'll bring him back safe and sound.'

'You'd better,' Xander told Riley. 'She can do nasty things to men she's upset with.'

'So I've heard,' Riley replied. 'Looks like it's just you and me then.'

'Spike's going too,' Giles said.

'No way!' Riley and Xander said simultaneously.

'With Buffy staying here, you'll need his strength to back you up,' Giles persisted.

'We can handle ourselves,' Xander protested.

Giles signed.

'I know you mean well, Xander, but you are hardly superhuman. And Riley's still recovering from a serious injury.'

'But…'

'No, Xander. He's right,' Riley admitted. 'I don't like it, but he's right.'

'Do I get a say in all this?' Spike asked.

'No!' Riley, Xander and Giles pronounced.

Spike folded his arms and leaned against the bookcase.

'I could just refuse to go,' he said.

'You know, those Tuatha things didn't seem too taken with you,' Buffy remarked.

'What was it they called you?' Riley asked. 'A stain?'

'An infestation,' Buffy said. 'Seems to me you could just stay here and then, when they fail, get torn apart by the new posse in town. But at least you'd still have your pride.'

'You know what, Summers?' Spike said. 'Sometimes I really hate you.'

Buffy pointed to herself and the Spike.

'I'm a Slayer. You're a vampire. Go figure.'

'Anyway, how are you going to get me there?' Spike demanded. 'I can hardly fly. What if it's daylight when we land? What then?'

'You get an all over tan and we all live happily ever after?' Xander suggested.

'Just leave the arrangements to me,' Riley said.

'Well, that really fills me with confidence,' Spike shot back.

There was silence for a few minutes.

'If I'm not needed, I'd better go pack,' Xander said at last.

'I'll help,' Anya said. 'You know you'll only forget something if I let you do it yourself.'

'What, like my fourth pair of shoes?'

'We'd better go too,' Willow said. 'That is, unless you need us to do more research.'

'No, you've already done more than your fair share,' Giles told her. 'But if you could stop by tomorrow..?'

'We will,' Willow agreed and, hand in hand with Tara, she followed Xander and Anya from the shop.

'Well, if you won't be needing me anymore,' Spike began, 'I'll be off. See if I can't get at least a couple of hours sleep before it gets dark.'

'Just go Spike,' Buffy said.

The door slammed closed behind him.

'Guess I'd better patrol,' Buffy said. 'I want to do another sweep for Dawn. Wanna come with.'

'You go, I'll catch up,' Riley replied.

'Okay,' Buffy said, looking a bit disappointed as she left.

Riley watched her go and then turned to Giles.

'So what aren't you telling us?' he asked.

'I'm sorry?'

'The others may buy all that 'objects best left alone' stuff, but you and I know better,' Riley continued. 'If I'm going after this thing I deserve to know the real deal.'

Giles considered.

'Yes,' he said. 'You do.'

He sat down and motioned for Riley to do the same.

'When the Council learned of the Grail's location, they immediately dispatched an agent to Glastonbury to retrieve it. He never returned. So they sent three and they didn't come back. Then they sent six and they were never heard from again. And then they sent twelve…'

'Yes, I think I get the picture,' Riley interrupted.

'Yes, well, the point is that for the first two or three decades the Council threw people at this thing without any result so eventually they just gave up,' Giles explained. 'Whatever the wards around that shrine are they are extremely powerful. And deadly.'

He took of his glasses and looked directly into Riley's eyes.

'No one is going to think any less of you if you back out of this,' he said. 'There's nothing to be gained in throwing your life away.'

'This is our best chance of getting Dawn back,' Riley said.

'Yes, I think so.'

'And you think we have a chance?'

'The Council…aren't terribly imaginative,' Giles said. 'Whatever technique they used on the first expedition I suspect they repeated on all the subsequent ones, just with a bit more force. A fresh approach might be all it takes.'

'In that case, how can I not go?' Riley asked.

'Good man,' Giles said. 'I'll see if I can't get you some extra help over there. I may not be part of the Council anymore, but I still have some friends.'

'Thanks,' Riley responded. 'Look, I'd better go. I'm supposed to be catching up with Buffy and I'm not exactly on top form right now.'

Giles nodded and Riley got up to leave.

Giles waited until Riley had opened the door before asking, 'Why do you do it?'

'Do what?'

'Fight the monsters,' Giles explained. 'I do it because my parents forced me into it. Buffy's the Chosen One. And the others - Willow and Xander - they do it because of, well, because of Buffy. But you, you've been doing this since before she came along. Why is that, if you don't mind me asking?'

Riley shrugged.

'I guess it just seemed like the right thing to do,' he said. 'Is there anything else?'

Giles shook his head and Riley walked away. The door clicked closed behind him.

In silence, Giles reached for one of the books stacked on the table and wondered why Riley had lied to him.

 

 
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