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The Letter

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May 21, 2003
Early morning,

 

Buffy,

I wish that I could begin this with some profound opening phrase that conveys wisdom and direction to you. However at the moment I am most concerned with asking you to forgive the dancing unicorn stationary upon which I write this. My journals are currently at the bottom of the Sunnydale crater and it seems this coven where we’re resting in is an entirely digital operation. I’ve had to borrow paper from Vi’s diary just to write you this letter. Why is it young people don’t write letters? Well, perhaps I really am as old as I feel in this moment.

This new future you have created will be unlike anything we could have predicted or trained for. It will be both beautiful and terrible. It will change the world in ways we cannot yet imagine. There are so many things to begin, so many preparations to make, so much work ahead of us. Even as I write this, you continue your tireless work. The girls – the slayers – rest and heal while you walk among them, assessing their needs and taking stock of the situation. You have grown into a young woman of whom I could not be more proud and such a strong leader it is sometimes hard for me to remember that young girl who didn’t want to get ‘extracurricular’ about slaying vampires.

I have taught you all that I know about being the Slayer and I can’t imagine you will need me on this new path you are about to walk. Indeed, I suspect I may become a hindrance to you as you find your way. But there are still a few lessons I believe I can impart. Lessons not from a Watcher’s handbook but from a life lived.

At some point in time, Buffy, we all find ourselves on a path we feel ill prepared to walk, where our futures seem uncertain and our past experiences seem useless in the face of great challenge. But our pasts are never useless for they make us who we are. Our experiences prepare us for our futures one way or another. What matters are the lessons we choose to learn. If there is anything I have tried to teach you, it is that knowledge is and always will be the most important weapon in your arsenal. Reflect on your experiences and those of others. Let their lessons become yours and you will never walk your path unarmed.

It is in this spirit I share this story. May it help you walk this new path you’ve only just begun.

 

I told you that I was largely raised by my grandmother and that she was a Watcher. I have found myself thinking about her quite a bit these past few days. She was a hard woman, but I believe you would have respected her if not liked her. She was one of a very few female members of the Council, and historically speaking, one of the very few women permitted to train the Slayer.

The second of the two slayers I grew up with was a young woman named Elizabeth. Betty, as she preferred. We were the same age but as different from each other as two persons could be. She was studious where I was rebellious. She was disciplined and driven by purpose while I mucked about drinking, fighting, and doing almost anything I could distance myself from the Council and the rigidity of a Watcher’s life. I resented the way the Council exercised control over everything and I pitied the Slayers who I’d come to see as naïve pawns. I hated how Betty was manipulated into believing she held some grand purpose, how she was used to fight the Council’s battles and to die at their whim. But most of all, I pitied her for whole-heartedly believing in that purpose.

I was brash and arrogant as hell. I had grown up dusting vampires and had developed an absolute confidence in my abilities. I would walk into fights without the slightest regard for others around me… and I loved it. It was fun. It made me feel alive and better than the Watchers who thought they knew so much about the world. With complete disregard for every lesson I’d ever been taught, I would head out to the pubs and then wander through the London demon haunts alone, posing as a drunk (or increasingly not posing) in order to bait them, spoiling for a fight. I was positive my grandmother had given me up as a liability some time before and I relished coming home at night, still alive in spite of her.

It was on one such night I lured a vampire into an alleyway, as I had done on so many other nights. I was a little too drunk and far too confident. I staggered in an exaggerated fashion, drawing him in while reaching for my weapon. I had played out this routine dozens of times with other vampires and I loved the thrill of it. It was becoming too easy for me and I was growing reckless. I would let them draw closer each time before turning on them, trying to create more danger and chase that thrill. I liked watching their eyes in that moment of confusion when they realized I was not the prey in the scenario.

On this occasion I let him make the first strike to heighten the experience. He tossed me across the alley and into the wall behind a rubbish bin. No doubt he wanted to use the bin for cover so no one could see us from the road and that suited me just fine. I’d developed a morbid fascination with ripping the vampires open before dusting them out of I guess you could say a sense of curiosity and I was just as happy as him to conduct my business without spectators.

In my arrogance and short sightedness, however, I neglected to consider that while my vantage shielded me from witnesses, it also prevented me from seeing anything else coming up the way. I had watched the vampire before luring him and I was convinced he operated alone. It simply had not occurred to me that something else might be hunting him and might therefore also hunt me.

I had satisfied my curiosity and dusted the vampire when I felt the demon beside me. I have a most distinct memory of the adrenaline spike that came in that moment when I realized, like the vampire had before me, that I was not the predator in this scenario. I remember his smile quite clearly and the decaying smell that I noticed in that one short intake of breath I made as he drove a bone spike through my chest.

I said I pitied Betty and I truly did. She was a loyal student to my grandmother and took in every lesson with a purposeful dedication that I simply could not understand. I thought it was a horrible way to live and that her adherence to tactic and strategy was a boring way to fight. I’d said many an unkind word to her in my time. With hindsight and age, I can say now that I didn’t pity her so much as I resented her for being everything I wished I was – she was stronger, smarter, better than me in every way. And she never once disappointed my grandmother. I hated her for that.

But then, in that alleyway as I lay bleeding out and gasping for air, she appeared standing above me and was the most angelic sight I’d ever beheld. I don’t know where she’d come from. Lying on the cobble, my face was even with her shoe and I remember noticing blood had trickled down into her sock. She’d clearly just come from some other fight bearing some wound and now, because of my arrogance, she had one more demon to face. She drove it back and away from me with a series of kicks I know she’d practiced until they were as natural as breathing. With textbook strikes, she disarmed him and sent him crashing into the opposite wall. She drove a knife into the demon at least a dozen times and it slumped against the ground.

I still remember the awe I felt in that moment as I watched her move with effortless confidence. She dispatched the demon before he even had chance to raise his weapon towards her. It was the first time I recognized just how poor my fighting skills were, but more shocking to me was that in spite of who I was and what I’d done, all that I had said and done to torment her over the years, she reached down and held my face with the gentlest touch I’d ever known. Her eyes were filled with concern and the way she said my name echoed in my ears.

Before I could do or say anything I heard the demon whisper a single word. A beam of light shot from a talisman around the demon’s neck and lit up the alley in light so blinding all I could see were Betty’s eyes. All else disappeared into the white. Then there was a searing heat and a moment later, she was vaporized into a fine ash.

For that one moment, concern for me caused her to deviate from her finishing tactics and it cost her her life. I cost her her life.

I would later come to understand that the demon had used its last breath to utter a death curse upon her. It destroyed her body and soul, leaving only the fine dust that slowly settled upon me. As long as I live, I will never forget that sensation of her ash falling on my burned skin and there are still times when I close my eyes and see hers staring at me with that look of misplaced concern.

 

My grandmother found me at some point and saved my life, though it was some time before I was healed. I dared not speak a word to her while I convalesced. I knew what I had done and the pain I had caused. So I remained silent and thought about my life and my actions, and most especially about Betty - every unkind word, every torment I’d laid upon her, of the blood trickling into her sock, of her eyes … of her ash on my skin. Those moments changed me and the course my life would take.

The Council removed my grandmother from a position of authority. Her sense of familial obligation to me was seen as an unforgivable weakness and her failure to deal appropriately with me was a black mark against her character. She’d always had a bit of love-hate relationship with the Council as it was and there were members who were quite relieved to see her gone.

I spent quite a lot of time in my grandmother’s library while I was healing. I thought about Betty for weeks and became obsessed with her memory. I read my grandmother’s logs over and over trying to learn more about this woman I’d foolishly pitied.

Some time later, my grandmother sat down next to me in the library. “Rupert, why are you here?” she asked.

“Because I need to understand,” I replied.

“Understand what?”

“Who she was. Her world.” I rambled on about strategy, tactic, weapons, and magic… but most of all, I talked about Betty and how I owed her my life. I needed to understand everything about her world so I could carry on her work, make it up to her.

My grandmother sat and thought for a long while before she finally said, ‘Rupert, you didn’t kill Betty, that demon did. Learning all of those things will neither bring her back nor allow you to carry on her work.”

Then she got up, walked to the bookshelf and pulled down the Slayer Handbook.

“You are not the Slayer and it is not your burden to bear. But you can help her bear it if you are strong enough to let go.”

I learned much from my grandmother in the proceeding months, not only about being a Watcher but also about her life, which I’d never previously bothered to consider. She was a typical English girl of her age. The most adventurous thing she’d ever done was marry a young pilot over her father’s objection. She gave birth to my father and was building a happy life when she suddenly found herself a young widow after my grandfather was killed in the Battle of Britain. Sadly she was not unique in this, but she was rather unique in her reaction to the news.

Her entire world had changed and she with it. She left my father with her parents and went to France to fight. She crossed Europe as a spy, passing Allied messages and, occasionally, slitting the throats of her enemies. Towards the end of the war, she destroyed a vampires’ nest in Eastern Europe, thinking they were German soldiers. She was brought to the Council’s attention and once again, and perhaps more completely this time, her entire world was thrown into chaos.

I grew up with Watchers, Slayers, and the supernatural, so I sometimes have trouble imagining what it must have been like to suddenly realize the path you’ve been walking is far more dangerous that you’d previously realized. Sometimes I wonder if you even still remember that first moment when you learned the monsters under your bed were not only real, but hunting you. It is no secret that one reason Slayers are chosen so young is that they’re better able to adapt to the chaos. The older you get, the more you come to depend on your established beliefs. They can become as important as life itself, sometimes more so.

My grandmother’s world was completely changed in an instant. It shifted from one fueled purely by revenge to one infused with grand purpose and so she had to transition from avenger to teacher. Yet while she came to believe whole-heartedly in the Council’s mission, she believed just as strongly that the Council was wrong in their treatment of the Slayers. She understood that their training needed to be harsh in order to prepare them for the battles ahead, but they were still young girls asked to carry a burden few adults could bear. The Council had lost three slayers during the war and my grandmother would be damned if they’d lose another to outdated training models ill suited to a changing world.

And so she set about to change centuries of Watcher tradition by running off with the new Slayer to not only train her, but fight beside her. The Council tried to bring them back, but my grandmother’s methods quickly proved successful. Desperation and a war-weary world forced the Council to grant leeway to tradition. For some twenty years, she and Eve, the Slayer, would cross Europe and fight those who threatened this world.

But, ultimately, her unorthodox successes earned my grandmother more critics than fans on the Council. In those early years, as she became more and more independent, discussions were had on how to best to rein her in. It was decided that my father, who was making a name for himself as a gifted linguist in the academic circles, would be recruited to join the Council. Bless him, but he always believed his own merits had brought him this new power and he relished trying to upstage his estranged mother. The Council played him for all he was worth and sent him into far riskier situations than he should ever have been allowed into, hoping my grandmother would relent and return to protect him.

She did not relent, but he held his own for some time. I grew up among the Council and understood what my destiny was to be. My father was a disciplined man who took great pains to teach me about responsibility and sacrifice. I was to be a Watcher like him, logical and traditional.

But before long, both my father and mother were dead and I was an orphan. I had to leave my world of structure and tradition and embrace my grandmother’s world of violence and fear.

She told me she had never once questioned her actions until that day. Once again her entire world changed and she found herself on an unknown path. She knew how to train a Slayer but had only the briefest memory of how to raise child. Yet she determined to raise me and train me the way she had failed to train my father. I traveled with them across Europe and learned to fight vampires while others my age were learning to ride bicycles. She did, I believe, everything in her power to do right by both Eve and me. I had a happy if unorthodox childhood. Perhaps her only real mistake was telling me the truth about how my parents died.

My father had uncovered evidence of conspiracy centered on a politician who had somehow gained demonic powers. His evidence was largely circumstantial and dismissed by the Council. His other attempts at inquiry had failed miserably and so, in a feat of humility, he asked my grandmother and Eve for help in uncovering harder evidence of the plot. My grandmother chose to ignore the request, suspecting my father had ulterior motives for political gain. She went so far as accusing him of trying to wrest control of the Slayer from her. And so he proceeded alone, drawing far too much attention to himself in the process. He was made to watch as my mother was murdered in front of him.

I’d grown up with a grandmother who taught me to stand and fight to protect the innocent, yet here she was telling me that she’d abandoned my father not once, but twice. She had prioritized the Slayer and it cost my parents their lives. My innocent parents, as far as I was concerned. I didn’t blame my father in the slightest for his behavior towards her. Frankly, I still don’t. My grandmother’s hypocritical actions had cost my parents their lives and my life had been changed in an instant.

I railed against her and swore I’d have nothing more to do with her world, or her precious Slayer. But I was only eleven years old and there was little I could do, really, but rebel and occasionally, run away.

It was on one of these nights that the Slayer was killed.

I’d run off into the moor again where the remains of ancient stone huts still stood on a hill in the distance. I’d run to these often and there was shelter enough that my grandmother had long since given up chasing me. She’d let me run, hide, and sulk within the stone walls until cold or hunger brought me back. On that particular night, however and unbeknownst to me, the fairies had laid claim to the moor.

Now, I can just imagine what you are thinking, Buffy, and I can assure you that the fairies were not the cute pixies from Disney cartoons, but demons of terrific power and cunning who liked to lure humans to torturous deaths. My grandmother and Eve had been following their movements for several nights and knew their power was amassing. They needed to strike that night and had developed their plans as a three-person operation, in cooperation with a local practitioner. My grandmother was forced to choose – go on with the plans and with the Slayer, or rescue me from certain, horrible death.

She came after me and we narrowly avoided the fairies that had begun to gather near my shelter. Eve, meanwhile, had been forced to improvise a plan, but both she and the practitioner were outflanked and overwhelmed. It is my understanding that she took nearly all of the fairy with her, but in the end she fell and was partially devoured before my grandmother reached the spot and destroyed the remaining creatures.

 

You may think it odd (or perhaps not), but the Council did not hold my grandmother fully responsible, choosing instead to believe in the Slayer’s fallibility. I however, did, and my adolescent anger, confusion, grief, and fear all conspired to push me into that spiteful rebellion that ultimately led to Betty’s death.

And so you see, Buffy, that I was responsible, in one way or another, for the deaths of two Slayers before ever I joined the Council. A further 3 would fall while my grandmother trained me and the Council returned to its more orthodox training methods. You could therefore say that I was responsible for their deaths, as well. Five slayers dead before I became your Watcher. I was possibly the single least qualified person in the entire Council to train you.

I believe that was the very lesson they wanted me to learn – that Slayers were disposable and replaceable. But I had learned my grandmother’s lessons and you, my dear girl, could never be discounted so easily. We proved them wrong again and again. Apocalypse after apocalypse. And, sadly I can think of a member or two who were actually disappointed every time you saved the world.

The point I’m trying to make in all this long winded storytelling, Buffy, is that our paths are never certain or easy. We make plans and see them change. We find our purpose, lose it, and find another. We carry with us the burden of our mistakes, but so too do we carry with us the wisdom of lessons learned. They make us better and stronger and prepare us for the paths we must walk.

But do remember that we rarely walk these paths alone. Rather, we share them with those individuals who love us and have chosen to walk beside us either for short periods or for the whole journey. So too will you walk this new path – armed with experience, wisdom, and stalwart companions. You will lead these new slayers and you will change the world. And we will walk at your side for as long as the path will permit.

Yours ever faithfully,

 

Giles