The third Buffy adult hardcover fills in a missing link: the Slayer who died to make Buffy the Chosen One. When an old classmate of Buffy's in LA is killed, and Willow is severely injured in a car accident, both in the space of one week, the Slayer must yet again face the vulnerabilities of her mortal friends. At the same time, from a place of nightmares - which Buffy and Faith share - a terrible evil invades Sunnydale, setting off a quartet of disasters. Earth, air, fire and water - each represented in the dreams by a primitive figure carrying a box moulded from skin and bone. Faith thinks she recognises the box. Research leads Giles to the Watchers' Diaries, where he learns that the last Slayer to encounter a similar box was one named India Cohen...Buffy's immediate predecessor. Buffy, who strangely has never considered the Slayer whose death activated her own term, is eager to contact India's Watcher, Kit Bothwell. Kit, in turn, is excited at the prospect of working with two simultaneous Slayers. Over the years, he has honed his sorcery skills, and he thinks he can bring Buffy in communication with India, among others. And this begins a journey through history that forces Buffy to orient herself on a continuum against the evil that predates even humanity itself...
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Nancy Holder has published more than 200 short stories and seventy-eight books, including the New York Times bestselling Wicked series. She lives in San Diego with her daughter, Belle, and far too many animals. Visit her at Nancy Holder.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Arabian Desert, the Past
There are sacred places in the body of the parched desert, which are bountiful gifts from the One Lord, which is Allah, May He Be Praised for His Unending Mercy and Generosity.
When a Bedouin is wandering the sands of the ages, and the sky and the earth are parched and dry; and his soul and his body cry out for sanctuary, Allah provides. He gives His faithful nomad a glimpse of the Paradise that is to come, a miniature window, on Earth.
These tantalizing views are the famed oases, where rounded dunes of velvety sand and the gentle slopes between them promise delights. Sensual and inviting as a houri, luxuriant reeds fan above fresh, sweet water. Succulent fruit dangles from swaying, lacy palms. Cooling shade caresses sunburnt skin.
There are other places much like this also, but they have nothing to do with Divine Mercy. They are lies. And why they exist, no man knows, save that it is said that the evil djinn feed off men's despair.
These lies are the legendary mirages. Where no water ripples, thirsty people on camelback stare at verdant pools. Where no figs hang, miserable nomads trudge hopefully, stretching their arms to pluck sweet fruit.
The skeletons of these deceived travelers are discovered years later, reaching for what was never there.
In an oasis in the heart of the Sinai, a mirage was born, so long ago it was before Slayers walked the world. Good and evil had just begun their endless feuding, and the finger of destiny had not touched a single hero, nor crushed an unlucky martyr. At least, so it was in the Arabias.
The mirage began as a thickness at the bottom of the oasis pool, and where and what it was before then, no one has ever known.
The thickness had no function, but it had a quality: it was pure and unknowing evil. It existed for no other reason than to express its nature. A dark shard of badness, it remained that way for eons. The sands shifted around the oasis, and its evilness endured. Its essence never altered for what men call centuries. Millennia.
Then one day, the tiniest of sand fleas bobbled beside the water's edge. What possessed the nimble creature to venture too close, and fall in? And how did the thickness know it was there, and draw it down, down into the depths, and consume it?
The flea's life energy transformed the thickness into something slightly more than it had been before. Previously unknowing and unaware, now it was dimly conscious. At a very primitive level, deep within its matter, bloomed the vaguest, most unformed sense that it was one thing, and everything else was not whatever it was.
That disturbed it. There should be nothing more than itself. It had always been the center of its universe, though it did not really understand its own assumption, and it should remain so.
Centuries passed. The first Slayer walked. Evil fought back.
Then a brown sparrow happened by the water. How it got there, no one could say. The Hand of God decreed that it should be, and it was not for any lesser being, angel or person, to know.
But when the bird pecked at the sparkling wet diamonds reflected in the surface of the water, the thickness lurking below pulled at the creature, and yanked it in, and sucked it under, and devoured it.
The sense of "self" and "that not yet consumed" grew. Energy galvanized its impulses: it must have more.
As endless time unfolded, the thickness grew into a pasty glob, fuller now, like the fanned head of a cobra.
And then it devoured a cobra, and it knew itself one bit more. It knew itself as a consumer of energy, which made it increase, multiply, thrive. It experienced the sensation of life, and of power.
As is the natural order imposed upon this world by Allah the Most Wise, the thickness wanted still more.
It waited to receive more, and the experience of wanting something that was not itself bestowed upon it more self-awareness. It began to understand lack, and that allowed it to make comparisons based on having and not having.
Ambition was the perfect breeding ground for covetousness, which grew into frustration, which became anger. Anger unanswered: seething rage. And rage allowed it to devise schemes to get what it wanted.
Goats came next, then an antelope, then a camel.
Then one desert night, a foreign man rode there to meet a woman he could not, should not have. He had come from far away, and he had the right to travel. She, a veiled concubine of a ruthless and powerful pasha, did not. If her absence from the harem was discovered, she would be boiled in oil.
If her infidelity was so much as suspected, even worse would befall her.
Of the man, it was better left unsaid what would happen to him.
Beneath the scimitar of the moon, their lives hung by a thread. But their love was stronger than their fear, and they embraced. Lips, arms, sighs; perfumed hair, oils, and scents; languor and ecstasy.
And then hoofbeats shook the desert floor. Fearfully, she looked up, and strained her gaze across the starry night. The pasha's men! She and he were lost!
At her lover's urging, she plunged into the water of the oasis. With the splendid battle-axe at his belt, he cut her a reed to breathe with underwater. She put it to her lips and sank beneath the surface.
What he never knew, as he held the axe in his hand and stood firm for the fight, was that the thing in the water curled around one slender ankle, and then the other. Inexorably, it pulled her down, swallowing her up as she struggled, screaming beneath the water, unable to be heard.
The curved tips of her shoes; the jingling coin bracelets around her ankles. Her gossamer pantaloons, her sash, her blouse. Her veil. Her circlet.
Like the burp of a fat, happy merchant after a feast, the thing disgorged her skull. It had been picked clean.
It bobbed to the surface and floated for a second, empty eye sockets posed as if watching the massacre of the woman's lover. Within seconds, the man was hacked to pieces.
His axe landed at the water's edge. Evil, which had spread into the water from the killing of a human being, licked the blade, and it was tainted for all time. But the pasha's guardsman, who plucked up the axe and hid it in the folds of his clothes, did not know that.
He had three more such axes made, brothers to the weapon he had plundered from the dead man -- one for each of his sons. Singly, they were exquisite; as a quartet, their splendor was unmatched. Proud and acquisitive, rather than gift his male children as he had planned, he kept the four axes together in a beautiful wooden box in his quarters in the city. And how the evil transferred from one piece of metal to the others, no one knows.
That is not the point.
The point is, that it happened.
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