The year is 1418. In the small Italian village of Cortona the demon Moloch is gathering followers and demanding their love. He summons one of his followers, Carlo, who stands in front of him, in subservience. Just as Carlo proclaims his love, the demon reaches out, and snaps the young boy's neck.
Elsewhere, a group of Italian monks are anxious to stop Moloch from gaining power. The hooded priests form the Circle of Kayless and begin the chant that will bind the demon. Moloch, sensing the monks' intent, grows agitated. As the monks continue the powerful chant, the demon is forcibly sucked into the pages of the book; his essence imprinting words on the once blank pages. "Pray this accursed book shall never again be read," says the monk, "lest the Demon Moloch be loosed upon the world."
579 years later, Buffy Summers opens a box and pulls out the very book the monks prayed would never be read. Led by Ms. Calendar, the computer science teacher, a group of students, including Buffy, Willow and Xander, are working on a project to scan the library's books into the school's computer network. With them are two computers whizzes, students Dave and Fritz. Giles is supervising, ensuring that no harm comes of his precious books.
Unaware of the book's power, Buffy hands it off to Dave, who places it in Willow's pile. Giles says that the book is a new arrival and he hasn't had time to examine it. As they work, Giles and Ms. Calendar engage in a heated debate over the relative merits of the Internet versus printed books. Fritz interrupts with an impassioned speech about the Internet. "The printed page is obsolete… If you're not jacked in you're not alive," he breathes intensely.
Ms. Calendar dismisses the students, but Willow wants to stay and finish up. On the top of her pile is the book that the demon Moloch is trapped in. As she scans the unfamiliar text into the computer, the words disappear from the pages of the book. Suddenly, three words appear on the screen: "Where am I?"
Days later, Willow is walking down the hallway, a private smile playing on her lips. She admits to Buffy that she met someone. Buffy demands details so Willow tells her that his name is Malcolm and that he is extremely sweet and romantic. When Buffy asks what her new guy looks like, Willow just smiles mysteriously and shrugs. "I don't know," she says, moving off.
In the computer lab, Fritz and Dave are both online. Dave mutters something under his breath. "Yes, I will, I promise," he says quietly. At that moment, Buffy and Willow walk into the room. Willow admits to Buffy that she met Malcolm online. Buffy is immediately worried and asks Willow not to rush into things with her online friend. Willow assures Buffy that she has nothing to worry about.
As they talk, the computer webcam captures Buffy's image. Somewhere else in the school, another computer searches through the student database for a match. It stops on the record of Buffy Summers, sophomore. Back in the lab, Buffy's record flashes onto Fritz's screen, and the words "Watch her," appear like magic.
Later, Xander and Buffy discuss Willow's new crush, worried about her online suitor. Their fears snowball as they egg each other on, until Buffy realizes how ridiculous they're both being. Somewhere else, a computer is running through files, one after the other. Fritz is staring at the computer, a slightly manic expression in his eyes. "I'm jacked in… I'm jacked… I'm jacked in…" he keeps chanting. And clutched in his hand is an x-acto knife, slowly carving the letter "M" into his forearm.
The next day at school, Buffy is concerned when Willow doesn't show up for school until fifth period. She's even more worried when Willow refers to Malcolm as her boyfriend. Encouraging Willow to be careful isn't working, so Buffy approaches Dave in the computer lab. She asks him if it's possible to trace an email; to find the exact address of its origin. Dave is all too willing to help her; that is, until Buffy lets it slip that it is Willow's friendship with Malcolm that has her concerned. Dave's friendly demeanor abruptly disappears and he tells Buffy to leave Willow alone. "That's none of your business," he growls. Perplexed by his sudden shift in attitude, Buffy gets up to leave, vowing to investigate further. From behind the other terminal, Fritz stares after her evilly.
Now totally convinced something is amiss, Buffy goes to Giles for guidance. He wants to help but is unsure how to advise her, as he doesn't know anything about computers. He finally suggests she tail Dave.
That afternoon, Buffy follows Dave to a heavily guarded building: the letters CRD are written on the sign. On top of the building, a security camera captures Buffy onscreen and transmits the image to the computer network. Back at Sunnydale High, Fritz watches Buffy watching Dave. "She's too close," he says aloud, "What should I do?" The words type across the screen: Kill her. Fritz is all too pleased to agree.
In the library, Buffy tells Giles and Xander what she learned while tailing Dave: a whole lot of nothing. Xander tells her that CRD is a computer research lab that closed the previous year. Buffy and Xander decide to spend the evening breaking into the lab. Just as Giles is suggesting that they not do this, Ms. Calendar enters the library. Giles abruptly changes the subject, as Buffy and Xander rush from the room.
In the computer room, Willow is online chatting with Malcolm and they agree to meet soon. But when Malcolm mentions something personal about Buffy that Willow knows she never told him, she grows suspicious. She quickly signs off and leaves the room.
Back in the library, Ms. Calendar wonders why the pages of a book are blank. When she asks Giles, he examines the book; growing worried when he notices the image of a demon on the cover. He hurriedly dismisses the computer teacher and rushes off to do research on the book.
Dave approaches Buffy in the courtyard and apologizes to Buffy for snapping at her. He chalks it up to lack of sleep. Buffy warily accepts his explanation. Dave tells Buffy that Willow is looking for her, and that she can find her in the girls' locker room. Buffy thanks him and heads off to find her friend. But when she gets to the locker room, it's eerily empty. Hidden in the showers, Fritz turns the water on. The noise catches Buffy's attention and she heads for the showers. A live wire waits on the shower floor, like a deadly snake preparing to strike. Unaware of the danger, Buffy steps into the shower to turn off the water. Suddenly a voice cries out to her! "Buffy! Get out!" Dave shouts urgently. Just as the water makes contact with the electricity, Buffy leaps out of harm's way. She lands on the ground safely, but not without noticing the smoke curling off the singed soles of her shoes.
Totally freaked out, Dave rushes into the computer lab, switches on a monitor, and starts talking to the empty room. He tells the computer that he can't do it anymore, that he won't. "Buffy isn't a threat to you!" he shouts. The computer echoes the words of the Demon Moloch: "All I want is your love," it says. But when Dave still refuses, the disembodied voice disappears. The computer's word processing program opens on its own and writes a suicide note, supposedly from Dave. He backs away from the computer in fear. But standing in the background is Fritz, a murderous expression on his face.
In the library, Buffy is trying to understand why Dave tried to kill her, only to save her at the last minute. Giles thinks he understands and retrieves a book from the cage. It's the book that Moloch was forced into, so many years before. Giles tells them that in the dark ages, demons were often bound into books and remained there forever… unless the books were read aloud. Giles recognizes the face of the demon on the cover as Moloch, the Corrupter; a very deadly and seductive demon. Moloch's modus operandi is to gain followers with promises of love, power, and knowledge. He preys on the weak and the impressionable.
They deduce that when the book was scanned, Moloch was released into the computer; after all, scanning is a form of reading. Unsure of how to fight a virtual demon, Giles suggests she delete the file. Maybe the demon will be deleted along with it, Giles hopes.
No such luck because when Buffy presses delete, Moloch's face flashes across the computer. "Stay away from Willow," he orders. "It is none of your business!"
When Buffy hears the familiar words, she realizes that Moloch is Willow's Malcolm.
As the group contemplates the implication of a demon loose in the Internet, they decide the most important thing to do is to first find Willow. Xander and Giles call Willow's home but no one answers the phone. Buffy heads for the computer science room, but instead of finding Willow, she discovers the hanging body of Dave, who appears to have committed suicide. She rushes back to share the news of Dave's death. The group realizes that Dave was probably murdered; most likely by Fritz.
Buffy tells Giles to research how to extract a demon from the 'net. While he does that, she and Xander will head for Willow's house.
Meanwhile, Fritz visits Willow at home and abducts her. Shortly after, Buffy and Xander arrive at her home and discover her missing. Fortunately, Buffy and Xander think they know where she would be taken: CRD, the computer research lab.
Back at the library, Giles has called on Ms. Calendar for help. He is shocked to discover that Ms. Calendar is not only aware of the magical world, but she is also aware that a demon has been loosed on the Internet. While both of them come clean with each other, the two head into the library to do research on how to exorcise a demon from the Internet.
Just then, the library phone rings. It is Buffy calling to give Giles an update on Willow's status, and their current whereabouts. Giles assures her that he and Ms. Calendar are doing everything they can to get Moloch off-line. "Hurry," she urges.
Deep in the lab, Willow regains consciousness. She is terrified when she sees a huge green creature: Moloch has taken a robotic form. He calls out a loving welcome to the horrified Willow, who just stares at him in alarm. Off to the side stand Fritz and a computer technician.
Willow is startled when she realizes that this robot creature is really her Malcolm. Moloch comes closer to Willow, speaking of how grand it is to have taken form again – to be able to feel and to touch. He reaches out and gently touches the top of Fritz's head. At his Master's touch, Fritz's eyes roll up in his head in ecstasy. And just as he did so many years ago, Moloch abruptly snaps the neck of his most devout follower.
Meanwhile, Buffy and Xander are breaking into the lab. Moloch hears them approaching. In the library, Ms. Calendar puts out a call to her fellow pagans, asking them to form the Circle of Kayless… online. As they do this, Willow talks to Moloch, trying to understand why he has targeted her. The demon explains that he used the others (Dave, Fritz, etc.) to build him a body, but it was Willow who took him out of the book and gave him life. Moloch tells her he wants to repay her, to give her everything.
Buffy knocks out a security guard and sees Willow talking to the robotic figure on the camera. She and Xander hurry, trying to find them in the vast laboratory. They try to force the door, but Buffy is unable to break through. Just then, the normal lights shut down, the emergency lights come on, and a red gas starts flowing into the room. Buffy realizes that the building security system must be computerized.
As Buffy and Xander try to break down the door and escape the gas, Giles and Ms. Calendar begin chanting and typing the spell to bind Moloch. At the same time, Willow begs Moloch to release her. "But I love you," he says. She tells him not to use those words, that he does not understand them. Her words seem to hurt him, but only for an instant. Seconds later, he reaches out his hand and places atop Willow's head, preparing to snap her neck as he's done to so many others. "I'll miss you," he says. She screams.
"Demon, come!" Giles yells. Moloch starts twitching and grasping at his head, clearly affected by the spell Giles and Ms. Calendar are performing. At that moment, Buffy forces the door open. She executes a flying kick, aimed at the demon's head, but she merely bounces off the metal, landing in a heap on the floor. "Demon, come!" Giles screams. The computer tech grabs Xander, and Moloch flails. Ms. Calendar's computer sparks and she jumps back. Buffy, Willow and Xander rush from the room as Moloch falls to his knees, screaming.
Back in the library, a harsh wind blows through the room and the computer screen continues to flicker. As the wind dies down and Moloch's screams dwindle, Ms. Calendar notices that the computer has gone still. "He's out of the net," she observes, "He's bound." Giles checks the book, but the words have not reappeared. Moloch may be out of the computer… but where has he gone?
Back at the lab, Buffy and her friends are desperately trying to find a way out of the lab. Suddenly, Moloch bursts through a wall. He backhands Xander, sending him flying. A buffy attempt to punch him, but his robotic shell is too strong even for the Slayer. "I was omnipotent," Moloch whines. "I was everything! Now I'm trapped in this shell!"
Buffy is having a hard time hurting something with no vital organs, but an idea suddenly comes to her. She lures Moloch into punching an electrical box and it successfully electrocutes the demon.
It's a new day at Sunnydale High. Giles approaches Ms. Calendar, presumably to return an earring. They talk again about Giles's aversion to computers. He explains to her that the knowledge found in books is tangible. Computers can't offer the same kind of sensory memory that knowledge gained from books can. Ms. Calendar seems satisfied, if not impressed, by his answer. As he leaves, she tosses off a sassy, flirtatious remark, temporarily stunning the conservative librarian.
Outside, Buffy, Willow and Xander soak up the sunshine, lamenting their bad luck in romance. "Let's face it;" Buffy says brightly, "None of us are ever going to have a happy, normal relationship."
"We're doomed," Xander quips in agreement. The three laugh a bit… until the sad truth of his words sinks in.
And then the laughter abruptly stops.