Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]>

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their rightful owners... none of which are me. If their proper owners had the slightest concept of how valuable their characters really were... I wouldn't have to write this stuff.

Summary: When it rains, it pours, as Xander is about to find out. Sometimes the good guys can be almost as dangerous as the bad guys... Almost. Play it again, Xan.

Warning : Crossovers ahead. (Yes Plural.)

Rating : PG-13. For mature themes and all the other fun stuff that rarely makes network TV.

Feedback, It's the coin of the realm.

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Chapter 1

December, 1996

The light faded as the transport was completed and the heavy landing struts of the Hammerhead fighter settled as the full weight of the big fighter eased onto them.

"Ten SHUN!" A voice called as gas escaped from the pressurized cockpit before it opened and the occupants of the busy flight deck all came to attention.

In one form or another.

Alexander Lavelle Harris climbed slowly down out of the plane, eyes roving the area as he smiled slightly to himself.

It was just too easy to pick out the civilians from the military personnel, even thought everyone present had reacted to the call. The Civilian version of attention was either sloppy or so ramrod straight that it looked painful, while the military personal all rode that fine edge that they made look so easy.

His boots rang as they hit the ground, the comfortable interior of the Kine combat wear hidden behind the painfully stiff exterior that rang against the fused rock floor. Xander pivoted on one heel, coming face to face with the man who had called out the order. His hand came up in a easy salute, one not bothered with the absolute precision of the book, fingers not quite touching his temple.

A smile played at Xander's lips as he felt Elan's mild irritation float around inside him, but he didn't make any conscious comments. They'd been through it all before, and while a part of him sympathized with her desire for the traditional salute of the Knights, Xander's own cultural traditions had lead him to bow to the inevitable and adopt the modern salute for the New Knighthood.

"Gunny." He said, nodding to the man in the Marine gunnery Sargent's uniform.

"Sir." The Sargent dropped his own salute as Xander strode forward.

"At ease." Xander said, his voice soft but still carrying through the hanger deck. "As you were people."

The people in the hanger relaxed, some going back to their work, others staring at him, probably wondering who he was. Xander regretted that his current work in Sunnydale kept him apart from Avalon so much. It wasn't the right time to be apart from the place, he thought, but Sunnydale was in such a delicate balance at the moment.

"The General is waiting for you Sir." Gunnery Sargent Maclean said simply, nodding to the far wall of the immense hanger.

Xander nodded and started off, causing Apone to hurry a bit to keep up.

As they walked the Gunny watched the man walking beside him out of the corner of his eyes. He'd heard stories about The Commander, they all had. Some had even heard of him before they'd sighed up. Apone had talked with a couple of the tech boys down in the Autolabs, and they'd both heard stories about the Commander months before the Kine had recruited them.

The Seraphim.

The name would be arrogant, if it wasn't the enemy that had given it to the man.

Apone was glad of the chance to finally meet the man he was working for, though it wasn't this 'Serpahim' that had brought him aboard. Apone was one of Gray's men. Always would be, as far as he was concerned. But it was still good to size up the Brass personally, if one could.

He was young. That was the first thing Apone noticed, of course. Younger then he's expected, though he'd heard the rumors just like everyone else.

He was also armed.

That was strictly against SOP in the base, and one part of the Gunny itched to remind the man, while another part envied him. Since Merlin hadn't commented on it, the Gunny didn't think their was anything he could say about it anyway.

<Stupid rule anyway.> The Marine griped personally as the walked, but shortly thereafter he turned his attention back to the man who was calmly walking at his side, his eyes again going to the weapons the man carried.

They were clean, well cared for, but the Gunny could tell they were all used and not just for show. That made him feel good, the Gunny realized with a shock. The Commander got his hands dirty. He wasn't sure if he would follow this man anywhere just yet, but he felt a little better over it all anyway.

"We're here, Sir." Apone said as they reached a door. He slid into position at the door frame, then passed his hand over the sensor at the side.

It was all strictly unnecessary, of course. Merlin knew that they were there, and who they were. He would have informed General Gray some time ago and could simple have opened the door as they approached, but Knighthood tradition required that a visitor announce themselves, or be announced by a guard.

It was pointless, time consuming, and felt perfectly right to Apone. Somethings aren't meant to be done by anyone other then a human. <With no offense intended to merlin.> Apone added wryly without changing his facial expression.

The Commander waited patiently for the door to open, another point in the man's favor as far as Apone was concerned, then stepped through.

Sargent Alphonse Apone stayed in place as the door closed behin The Commander and slipped into a calm 'at ease' stance as he waited for new orders.


Xander broke his calm facade and smiled, "Please General. Xander."

General Gray smiled in return and nodded, but didn't repeat the greeting with either name or title. "Good to see you again."

"I'm sorry it's been so long." Xander said apologetically, taking a seat in the comfortable chair when offered, hiding his urge to squirm as the chair molded itself under him. "You've done good work from what I've seen."

Gray shrugged, "It hasn't been a walk in the park, but it's been easier then my first base command. Merlin makes an incredible XO."

"Thank you, general."

Both men smiled at the 'intrusion' of the disembodied voice. In any normal military command that intrusion would have been considered out of place at the very least. On Avalon, it was to be expected, and to be hoped for in many cases.

"How's the project coming along?" Xander asked after a moment, leaning back and relaxing.

"Adequately." Gray gruffed. "The Fabricators are still offline, but a couple techs think they should be able to monkey wrench at least one of them online by the start of the new year."

Xander nodded, not surprised since he'd already been through most of the base readiness reports. "And the other project?"

Gray smiled, retrieving a crystalline data plaque from his desk.

The device was almost a foot long and half that in width, made of a clear crystal wafer less then three millimeters in diameter. It's edges were bound by a rubbery material to keep people from cutting themselves on the razor sharp edge. Gray handed it over to Xander.

Xander accepted it, his thumb activating the page as he brushed it.

"Those are the names. All ex military, as you specified." Gray said, "All with some experience in the supernatural, or the conflict with the Goa'uld. Mostly supernatural."

Xander nodded.

That was to be expected, most military personally with experience in anti-Goa'uld operations were highly sought after by the airforce and the NID at the moment. He glanced over the names that were on the crystal page and smiled.

"A lot of US Marines, General."

Gray shrugged, "You said you wanted the best."

Apone kept his face neutral as the door opened, letting the laughter from inside spill out, and kept his inner curiosity from showing on his face.

"Come in here for a moment, Gunny."

Apone stiffened, pivoting on his heel, and marched in at the General's command. "Sir!"

"At ease." Gray ordered easily, nodding to The Commander.

"Well Gunny," The Commander said, standing up, "We have a job for you."

Apone nodded, "Sir?"

The Commander handed him a data plaque, and Apone accepted it. He glanced down at it, noting that it was a list of names. His own was at the top. "Sir?"

"Those people, Gunny. In B Level Training Facility. One hour."

"Yes Sir." Apone nodded, then frowned. "Permission to speak?"


"May I tell them what for, Sir?"

The Commander smiled, his eyes glittering with an almost malicious humor.

"Tell them that they're about to be 'Knighted', Gunny." He said, smirking. "Avalon needs a strong corps of trained Knights to form the new Core of the Knighthood."

He paused, then smiled again.

"Tell them, they've been chosen... Tell them, from now on, they... and you, are all my Cadre."

Chapter 2

"This sucks man." The slim figured, yet almost frighteningly built woman snarled as she bounced a rubber ball off the wall and caught it on the rebound without looking.

"What is it this time, Vasquez?" A tall, well built man, asked with a sigh.

"You know fuckin well what I mean, Hicks." Vasquez snarled. "I'm going stir crazy here, man! Fuckin Loco!"

"Waiting is part of the job." Dwayne Hicks said tiredly, as if repeating something for a child. "You know that."

"Fuck that!" Vasquez surged up, glaring at Hicks. "Listen, Man! You, me, the rest of the fucking squad... We need some payback! We fuckin deserve it! Those madre de puta *monsters* fucking killed our brothers man! I want..."

The door sliding open cut her off in mid sentence as she and the others in the room half turned to see Sargent Apone step in.

They all looked at him for a long moment as he stared impassively at them, sudden discomfort making itself felt in each of them.

Then Apone grinned suddenly, producing a cigar that they all knew he carried at all times, despite the regs that existed even here on Avalon. The black man's teeth gleamed in contrast to his dark skin and he looked around the room, "You babies getting bored down here? Guess it's a good thing I've got some new orders for you."

Before anyone could ask, he just flipped the cigar casually into his teeth and grinned again. "B level training facility. You've got forty five minutes."

Then he was gone.

About three seconds after the door closed, commotion burst into the room.

"What the fuck, Man!?"

"Hey Vasquez! Couldn't you keep your mouth shut?"

"Stuff it, Hudson." Hicks snapped before something violent could happen. "Alright! You heard the Sargent. Grab your gear, Marines... We've got our orders."

"Da?" The thickly accented voice responded to the chime, and the door opened.

"Hey Ruskie." Gunny Apone said bruskly as he slipped into the room.

"Hello Yankee Dog. And how are you today?" The response had little of the bite it might once have had. The speaker had reached an understanding with Apone some time ago.

"I've got some new orders." Apone went on, not bothering to answer the question directly, nor react to the national slur.

"Oh? And they affect me?"

"Your name's on the list."

"Is that so?"

"Yeah." The American Sargent smirked, moving the cigar around in his mouth. "B level training facility. Forty minutes."

Valeri Zuineko nodded curtly as the brash American left, watching the closed door for some time. She considered her position here, for the thousandth time, and wondered what had possessed her to accept the offer to join this band of lunatics.

Then she remembered the fear and rage that had rushed through her when those things had shot her plane down over the pacific so many months ago, and shivered.

Jeremy Gilden, late of her majesty's Special Air Service didn't bother looking up when the door slid open. He'd already figured out how to get Merlin to dedicate a few CPU cycles to informing him of anyone who might be approaching his door.

"Hell Sergeant." Gilden said without acknowledging Apone's entrance physically. "May I assume that you have some news for me, then?"

"Orders from on high, limey." Apone muttered, eyeing the british man, and wondering for a moment what he was doing.

It would be a cold day in hell before he'd give them man the satisfaction of asking though.

It was funny, Apone thought, that he got along better with the Russkie chick then he did with the Brit. But Gilden was the kind of guy that was hard to get to know, and he seemed to make a habit of keeping to himself even more.

Apone wondered how he'd hack the field with the rest of the people on Avalon.

Fairly well, the Gunnery Sargent admitted privately. The SAS were no pansies, even if they weren't up to Marine standards of course.

"Big Boss is in town." Apone said, "Wants a meet with us and some of the others. Level 2 training room. Half hour."

"Very well." Gilden nodded. "I'll be there."

Apone snorted, "No shit."

After Apone had left, Gilden accessed the private terminal in his quarters and called up the available information on the 'big boss'.

There wasn't much, at least not at his clearance level, but what was there was illuminating.

Alexander Harris, American. Knight Commander of The Order. First Knight of the Crusaders.

Whatever that meant. Gilden shrugged, shaking his head. There was a list of accomplishments, most of them blacked out by Merlin, and a list of profficiencies.

Those were something of an eye opener, even if they were also obviously edited for 'public consumption'.

Apparently while Avalon's occupants were encouraged to get to know the people at the top, Merlin was being careful to ensure that they had their privacy as well.

<Nice to work with professionals again.> Gilden thought with a slight smile. <Those bloody twits in London were getting on my nerves.>

It was ten thirty, Avalon time, on the dot when Xander walked into the immense training facility and eyed the motley crew that Gray and Merlin had selected for him.

There were fifty of them, taken from every walk of military life imaginable, all of them sharing at least a single thread in common. Sheer competence, and the contempt of their leaders.

To a man they'd been drummed out of the service for various reasons, mostly bad psych evaluations from desk jockey's who didn't have the experience to recognize fact from fantasy. They were jaded, bitter, and some of the best warriors the planet had to offer. �<A frighteningly BAD combination.> Xander thought grimly to himself. �<Indeed.> Elan said softly, taking in the group herself through Xander's eyes.

They'd already segregated themselves into small cliques based largely on nationality, and Xander knew that would be his hardest task. Breaking them of flag loyalty and turning their fealty to the Knight's and the Earth itself.

"What a sorry pack of wannabe rambos." Xander said finally, shaking his head and glaring at the fifty of them. They looked surprised, then glared at him in silent anger, but he ignored them as he drew in his breath. "Attention!! Rank and fucking FILE! I want you lined up by service and seniority in sixty seconds or I'm going to start cracking heads!"

That got them moving, thought not so well as he might have hoped.

The Marines snapped together quickly, but Xander had expected that. Between Apone and Mcqueen they'd have to be suicidal to slack off so much as an inch.

The other services were a bit slower off the mark, finding each other a tad slower and barely making it under the wire. Xander put it down to the simple fact that, unlike those from the USMC, the Kine had not had much luck recruiting officers or largely intact squads.

When everyone was lined up he just nodded. "Alright. NowI want every second man to take one step forward."

A brief shuffle of feet later, Xander had two ranks of people in the place of one.

"Those of you who stepped forward, take three steps to the right."

They did.

"And one step back."

In confusion, they did.

Xander nodded, then proceeded to give the exact same series of orders again, this time starting with every first man.

By the time he was done, he'd effectively shuffled the people into one massively confused mess.

"That'll do." He said, nodding in satisfaction. "That'll do."

The men and women looked around at each other and at him in confusion.

"In case you're wondering, this is your new formation." Xander said crisply, walking slowly from one end of the line to the other. "I don't want to see Americans only hanging out with Americans. Russians with Russians. Or Marines only with Marines for that matter..."

Xander shot a few of the Marines in the rows a smirk, but kept moving.

"You are no LONGER those things." Xander said simply. "The Knighthood is not responsible to the United States of America, or Russia, or England, or any other country. We have no fealty to the Marine Corps, or any other group. We are the Knighthood. We protect this planet and all it's peoples without exception."

"Now, some of you are Americans... Most actually, though not because we believe the US to have better qualified people, but simply because the US is where most of our recruiters have the strongest ties... In other words, you americans are here simply because you were easier for us to FIND. Don't get used to outnumbering the other nationalities..." Xander went on, moving along the line until he came to a stop at it's center. "In fact, don't get used to dealing merely with humans. Even now, there is a growing non-human population here on Avalon... probably, in fact, more then even Merlin and I am fully aware of."

The Soldiers looked at each other nervously, suddenly wondering what the hell he was talking about.

"That population will continue to grow, if I have anything to say about it... and..." Xander smiled suddenly. "*I* Do."

With that he stepped back from the line and the smiled dropped from his face.

"Which brings me to our reason for being here, in this room, at this time."

Each of the people standing there drew in an unconscious half breath, watching him intently as Xander let the moment stretch.

"I need you." He said simply. "Each and every one of you. The Knighthood needs you and, in time, the Earth will need you too. You're the best we could find, and believe me people... we are able to find some VERY good people."

"Look over the person next to you carefully people... You'll find Doctors, Engineers, Computer Specialists, Pilots... And every one a warrior. I told General Gray that I needed a core force of Knights... people who could shoulder a responsibility that would CRUSH lesser men..." Xander looked them all over. "He gave me you."

Xander smiled once, "All you have to do to prove him right is be *perfect*."

"Welcome to Avalon, Ladies and gentlemen... Your vacation is over, it's time to get to work."

Chapter 3

"Madre de puta..." PFC Vasquez cursed, scrambling for purchase as she started to back slide down the rocky cliff face.

A slim, yet surprisingly powerful hand snapped down and grabbed her wrist, checking her slide and then slowly drew her up the rest of the way to the top.

Jeanette Vasquez grimaced as she brushed herself off, then nodded once to her 'rescuer'. "Thanks."

Her companion just nodded, looking further up the single 'mountain' that towered over the center of Avalon's island home. "No problem... yes?"

Vasquez nodded slightly, looking up the rest of the mountain as she straightened herself up and stood beside her assigned partner. "I don't get this mountaineering shit. Who ever heard of a fucking suck head that liked to climb mountains??"

Kate Keiran shrugged softly, not appearing to notice as Vasquez towered over her. The slim Israeli stood barely five foot one, as opposed to the stately, by comparison, five seven of her companion. "Perhaps it is intended to toughen us up?"

Vasquez snorted. "I'm a Marine, chicky. Tough enough."

Again the Israeli woman just shrugged. "We should be going now. The others will not wait for us."

"Right." Vasquez nodded, her eyes narrowing. "I ain't letting that limp dick Hudson beat me up this fucking mountain."

With that both women set off again, heading up the long trail that lay before them, adjusting their gear as they moved.

"Hey man!" Private William Hudson whined in his 'manly' manner as he tried to keep up with the partner assigned to him by the Commander. "Wait up a second! I got a rock in my shoe!"

Jason Devries paused, glancing back with a look that bordered on, but wasn't quite, contemptful. "Do you ever shut up?"

"Yeah yeah. Easy for you to say, Mr Rock climbing expert!" Hudson muttered, hopping along on one foot as he both caught up to his partner and emptied his boots. "How the fuck you managed to do that rock hopping thing, I'll never know!"

"It's called practice, Private." Devries said coldly, eyes narrowing as he looked up the steep slope before them. "I have done this before."

"Practice. Yeah... right." Hudson shook his head, shifting the como-pack from where it had lodged in his kidneys. "Wha... what are you doing now??"

Jason scratched the ground at their feet and drew up a handful of dirt, letting it fall out in front of him as he stared up the mountain without answering.

Hudson looked around nervously, "Hey man... I've got a wacked out brother back in the states who does that whenever a twister is coming... You ain't picking up no tornadoes or shit are ya??"

"What?" Devries glanced back, confused, then he shook his head. "Never mind. I am merely choosing the best path... considering your... inexperience."


"Let us move."

"Yeah.... sure... Hey!" Hudson broke into a run to catch up as Devries moved quickly away. "Hey man! What service were you with?"

The man half paused, glancing back, then continued on, his voice filtering back. "Joint Task Force 2."

"Who the fuck is that? Man? Hey Man!"

Jeremy Gilden took a pull of water from his canteen and looked down on the island's lagoon that lay almost eight hundred feet below him. He's lost several men to the supernatural before being 'romanced' by the Council of Watchers several months ago, and had done his research like a good soldier.

Vampires, he knew inside and out. He'd killed his share of Werwolves, demons, and other unspeakable abominations that threatened his country.

And yet, through all that, he'd never really lent any time to thinking about the flip side of the coin.

The fact that Avalon existed, and Merlin, and the history of Arthur (which he had now read in it's original, unvarnished, form), was a shocker. Standing on the shores of Avalon, or on it's single 'mountain' was something the Ex-SAS man had never even dreamed of.

Being forced to climb said mountain in tropical heat while wearing a full field pack and carrying a battle rifle made the whole place feel just like home.

"Are you ready?"

Gilden half turned, nodding to the short Japanese man who as standing just behind him. "Yes. Let's continue."


Corporal Dwayne Hicks sighed, refusing to slow down as he paced his partner through the low shrubbery toward the cliff face ahead.

"Look, are you sure about this?" He asked finally, not liking the look of the sheer rock as they approached.

"It is the fastest way to the top..." The trim brunette that he probably outweighed by three to one said, half turning to look at him, her face suddenly concerned. "You did say that you know how to climb, correct?"

"Yeah..." He sighed, "Yeah, I know how to climb. But that's one hell of a rock, Miko... and we'll have to free climb it."

"Free climb?" She looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded, "Ah. Yes. We'll... free climb."

Hicks swallowed, but nodded. If she wasn't backing down, neither was he. "Alright. Let's go."

Miko Lung smiled, almost sweetly, and they were off again.

"I LOVE this shit!" Gunny Apone grinned, battered cigar clenched in gleaming teeth as he reached down and pulled his assigned Partner, Major TC McQueen, up the last chunk of rock that had stood in their way.

McQueen smiled slightly, but only slightly, then nodded. "Let's keep moving, Gunny."

"Yes Sir." The Gunnery Sargent grinned, easily breaking into a ground eating lope that matched the Major's as they headed for the next ridge. "So Major, how come we're the only Marines that got paired up?"

"Just lucky I guess."

Apone grinned as he was wont to do. "Right. You say so, Major. You know, scuttlebutt has it that you and The Commander worked together for a while..."

"Scuttlebutt has it that the Commander worked with a lot of people, Gunny." McQueen spoke easily, no exertion on his face. "What's your point?"

"Nothing. I just wanted to know what you thought about him. I heard some rumors that he's got demons running scared of him... makes a guy wonder is all."

"About what, Sargent?" McQueen asked levelly, dropping the 'Gunny' as his voice chilled.

"Just saying, Major... I've never heard of a human who scared the shit out of vampires, you know?" Apone shrugged, "Course, first I heard of vampires was when they tore up my platoon two years ago. Since then, well, my guys and I have been making them pay. You know?"

"I'm afraid I don't." McQueen replied simply. "And maybe you should save your breath, Sargent. You're about to need it."

Apone glanced ahead at the trail and had to admit that the Major was probably right. It was about to become really rough going.

"If you can't keep up, give it up!" Doug Masters snarled, glaring at the woman who was doggedly following along.

"I will not." Valeri Zuineko snapped, stumbling to a halt where the American pilot had paused to berate her.

Masters' fists clenched involuntarily as she spoke, her accent driving nails through his psyche and he just glared at her until she got her breath back. "Fine. But you are NOT going to slow me down. Got that?"

"Just keep moving, flyboy." Valeri snapped, "I'll be on your 'six'."

A shiver ran down Doug's spine and he spun away from her, doubling his pace as he moved up the steep embankment.

Valeri took another couple breaths, then followed at a matching pace despite the protests of her legs and lungs. She wasn't going to let this asshole of an American show her up.

<Not exactly the smoothly oiled team I could hope for.> Xander sighed to himself as he leaned back against the rock face he was perched on, watching the motions of three of the teams from his vantage point.

<That would hardly be likely, considering the factors you had Merlin use to establish the pairings.>

Xander smirked. <Yeah. Ain't I a Stinker?>

Elan laughed softly through his mind, <I'll presume that to be a rhetorical question.>

"Good plan." Xander smiled, standing up, forcing down the wave of vertigo as he turned and latched a hand into the rock outcropping above him.

He pulled himself up one handed, his free hand reaching for the next grip, and continued along in that way until he reached the top. According to the tracker he was carrying, the next group of teams could be found over the top and around the next bend.

Xander just hoped that this worked.

Otherwise he was going to have to resort to extreme measures to hammer this group together.

Chapter 4

<Don't look down. Don't look down.> Hicks repeated over and over to himself as he hung desperately to the side of the sheer rock face, a hundred feet above the ground.

Above him, Miko Lung was moving with a simple surety that made him envy the fact that she couldn't have weighed more then a hundred pounds, pack notwithstanding.

Dwayne sucked it up and swung out from the rock, his left hand reaching up for a fissure in the rock above him. He slid his hand into the crack, then clenched his fist and pulled himself up another few feet toward his goal.

"I have got to be out of my fucking mind." He muttered to himself as the hefty butt of the M41 Pulse Rifle thudded against his thigh as he swung his feet back into place to brace himself against the rock.

"What was that?" Miko called down, sparing him a momentary glance.

"Nothing!" He shouted back, sighing as he watched her start moving again.

<Totally fucking looney tunes.>

Doug Masters grunted in satisfaction as he glanced back over his shoulder and saw the Russian flyer lagging behind him.

"Told Xander she couldn't keep up." He said to himself, shaking his head.

"Yeah, I guess you did at that."

Doug spun around in shock to see Xander crouched just above him on a jut of rock, idly cleaning his fingernails with one of the cross pommeled daggers he kept in his boots.

"Jesus! Don't DO that man!" Doug snapped, scrambling for purchase as he slip a little on the treacherous slope.

"Sorry." Xander shrugged, not sounding sorry in the slightest. "Don't you think you should give her a hand?"

"What for?" Masters asked, his voice tinged with a bitter tone. "If she can't cut it, we should find out now. Before someone trusts her with their life."

Xander paused, considering that. Finally he nodded, "You know... you're probably right."

Doug nodded in return, "damn right I'm... HEY-!!"

Xander cut him off in mid sentence by idly reaching out with one foot, placing it solidly on Doug's shoulder, and pushing.


Douglas Masters yelled in anger and fear as he tumbled back down the slope, scrambling desperately for any purchase he could find.

The scream and sound from above snapped Valeri Zuineko's head up in time to see her 'partner' in a rough tumble that sending him right at her and, incidently, toward the small rock face they'd just scaled.

It wasn't too high, maybe thirty feet or so, but if he went over it in a tumble... worse, if he took THEM over it in a tumble, it wouldn't be pretty.

As Masters' tumbling form closed on her, Valeri planted herself, her eyes watching his tumble second by second until he was right on top of her. At the last second she dove aside, her hand snagging his pack as he flailed past.

Doug's momentum yanked her off her feet, but her weight and sudden aplication of inertia flattened his tumble into a slide, and the two of them skidded toward the edge at a decidedly unsafe speed.

His uncontrolled tumble stopped, Doug splayed out his limbs, grabbing at whatever he could to slow his descent just as they hit the edge and went over.

"Well..." Xander muttered, shaking his head. "Not quite what I'd hoped."

"Don't let go!" Valeri screamed, dangling over the thirty foot drop as she clutched Doug's pack desperately.

"Don't fucking worry!" Doug yelled back arm wrapped around a rock cropping as he glared up the hill for a second. "Ok... look, can you climb up?"

"I... I think so..."

"Do it." Doug gritted out, bracing himself.

Valeri started moving, hooking her hand up over Doug's shoulder as she pulled herself up. Her feet scrambled a bit until he crooked his leg back to give her purchase and she managed to get herself up over the hump of his pack. "Almost there..."

"Take it easy... don't knock me off!" Doug warned.

Valeri didn't answer as she snagged a hand grip and pulled her legs up, rolling clear from the edge. She panted for a second before flipping back over and grabbing Doug's arm. "Come on... I've got you..."

Doug started to climb then, making it relatively easily to the top with Valeri's help.

As they both lay on the ground, panting from exertion, Doug glared up the hill again, but didn't see the object of his ire.

"Bastard." He muttered.

"What?" Valeri asked, confused.

"Nothing... nothing, it was just..." Doug started, then gave up. He got up and grudgingly offered her his hand. "Look... thanks for the save."

Valeri looked up at him speculatively, but nodded and took his hand, letting him pull her to her feet. "It was nothing."

Doug looked like he wanted to say something further, but just shrugged and looked up the hill. "Come on. We'd better keep moving."


"I'm tellin ya, this is fucking nuts."

Jason Devries sighed, slumping down against the rock they'd paused on, and forced himself to chew calmly on the jerky he'd slipped from his pack as he, again, refrained from making any encouraging sounds that Hudson might construe as agreement.

And, again, it failed miserably.

"I mean, what the fuck are we doing up here anyway??" Hudson complained, "Of all the bullshit dumbass fucked up things to do... why the FUCK are we climbing a freaking mountain??"

"Actually," Jason said after a moment, "It looks more like a Volcanic mound... and it's not nearly big enough to be an actual mountain."

Hudson just stared at him as if HE were the stupid one. "Right. Whatever man. It's big, and I'm hanging off the side of it. It's a fucking mountain."

Jason decided that he wasn't going to get into the differences in geology with the American. Frankly, he was surprised the man had qualified for military service, even in the states. What he was doing HERE was a total bafflement. The man had to be good at *something.


Sweat was pouring off Gunny Apone's brow as he and McQueen stopped at the lip of another ridge and used the time to take a few gulps from the camel-back hydration systems they wore.

"Good GodDAMN but I love this shit." Apone said once more, grinning wide as the heat of the sun beat down on him from above. "How about you Major?"

Major McQueen nodded quietly, "Yeah."

"The Few, The Proud, The Corps." Apone flipped his ever present cigar between his teeth, the thick stogy yet unlit, and then pointed across the ridge a ways. "You think that's one of the other groups?"

McQueen followed his gesture, his eyes narrowing as his pupils dilated reflexively, and he nodded. "That's Gilden and his Japanese friend... Hojiro?"

"Right." Apone nodded, "Good eyes, Major. You think they've got an edge on us over there?"

McQueen frowned then shook his head, "No. The terrain isn't any better there then here."

"Good. I don't plan on letting a Jap and a powder puff from the SAS beat a pair of Marines up this here hill."

<Ten feet to the top.> Hicks' heart was thudding in his throat as he continued his free climb, hand over hand, toward the top of the rock face.

Miko was well ahead of him, already over the top and presumably waiting. He thought about asking for a rope, but pride wouldn't let him do that. If the tiny Chinese lady could handle this, then so could a US Marine.

"Gaaaahhh!!" He ground out, muscles all but popping out completely as he jerked himself up the last couple inches and threw his free hand over the top.

He flailed for a second, then grabbed a solid rock, and pulled.


Dwayne Hicks slowly but surely hefted himself over the rockface by one hand, his other hand bracing his weight and trying to stabilize the motion. When he was over the edge, he reached up with the other hand, seeking purchase further along.

And inadvertently pulled the rock he was holding tight to, clear out of the ground.

"AAAAHHHHH!!" Hicks screamed in sudden heart stopping realization as he began to fall back over the two hundred foot ledge.

"Come on Tojo, I think we've got some competition for the last stretch to the top." Jeremy Gilden muttered, sweat pouring off him as he kept pumping his legs.

Kenneth Hojiro paused, eyes pinning the Englishman with a nearly lethal glare. "Don't call me that."

"What? Tojo?" Gilden grinned, matching his partners stance. "Or what?"

Hojiro's hand snapped out, wrapping around Gilden's throat in a lightning fast move that Gilden never even saw coming.

Luckily, he didn't need to see it. Even as the motion blurred in his senses, Jeremy's right hand snapped up in a block that jarred the iron grip, then pivoted into a nerve hold that deadened Hojiro's arm just enough to force him to drop the grip.

As that happened, Gilden's left hand drove forward in a blow aimed right at the smaller man's solar plexus.

And ran right into the folded knee Kenneth had brought up to his chest in response.

Hojiro reversed Gilden's grip, on his arm, twisting hard to the left, and forcing Gilden to ride with the motion or lose his arm. As the SAS man hit the ground, the smaller Japanese man dropped down hard, his knee landing on Gilden's throat with a barely softened blow.

The SAS commando froze, accepting the fall as it was, because he knew that the smaller man could have killed him with that shot. He nodded from the ground, "Alright. Fair enough. Got any other 'piss off' buttons I should know about?"

Hojiro smiled then, chuckling slowly as he let his adversary and partner up. "None that I can think of... you Limey bastard."

"Holy shit." Dwayne Hicks breathed reverently as he looked down at the twisting ground under him, then back up to where a single slim hand was wrapped around his wrist.

Miko Lung's face was visible, staring down at him calmly, no hint of exertion on her face as she forced herself to her knees.

Hicks gulped once in near fear as she just *stood up*, and lifted him along with her until she had him clear above the lip, her hand raised high over her head. Then she turned easily, and swung him over solid ground.

She let him go, and Hicks fell to his knees in shock and a bit of pain, gasping for breath as his stomach just started to unclench.

Finally he looked up at the tiny slim figure of Miko Lung, then back at his bruised wrist, and over at the drop that had nearly claimed his life.

"What the hell are you, lady??" Dwayne Hicks breathed in disbelief.

Miko Lung just smiled.

"Well." Xander muttered, shaking his head. "That was exciting."

<Indeed. I wonder what Lung will tell him?>

Xander reached out, waving off the holographic image in front of him and grabbed the Field Comp from where it was floating in front of him. "The truth, I hope. That's the point of this, isn't it?"


Chapter 5

Miko Lung looked down at the fear and sudden tension in the man on the ground in front of her, she looked at that and she smiled.

Not out of humor, but rather in anger.

Anger at herself for betraying her self to completely in a single moment of instinct.

<Well what was I supposed to do? Let him die??>

"Answer me, dammit!" Hicks looked up at her, his hand not *quite*reaching for a weapon. "What are you??"

Miko licked her lips, a decidedly human custom that she had picked up over the years. How to answer that question? It wasn't as straightforward as it seemed, in fact is was decidedly complex from her point of view.

And surprisingly difficult as well.

"I... Well, I'm... different." She said softly.

Hicks felt himself relax a bit at her tone, his heartbeat starting to slow as the adrenaline began to back off just a touch. "No shit, lady. How different in what I'm wondering..."

"I'm not a Vampire, Corporal." She said, smiling sardonically up at the beating sun. "I doubt if Merlin would allow any of their type on this Island."

"Yeah, well... I figured that much too... How about we move on from what you aren't to what you are..." Hicks got out, eyes flicking around briefly as he took in the environment with the Warrior's eye. "Are you human?"

"No." Miko said, her voice shifting, changing. The soft tenor of her voice was backed up by a deep bass that rumbled through the entire world. "I am not."

Hick's heart raced again as he fell back, adrenaline kicking into full gear as he felt his body seize up in sheer fear and paralyzed shock.

An echoing scream rocked the island, shaking the ground and lifting dust from the rocks, as Miko Lung changed.

"Shit!" Apone got out as he threw himself to the ground, rolling clear of the Major as they both scattered and grabbed what cover they could, their Pulse Rifle's leaping as if by magic to their hands.

McQueen scanned the sky through the steel sights of his weapon, searching for the source of the sound, but found nothing. "You got anything, Gunny?"

"Not a damn thing, Major." Apone snapped out, rifle sweeping the mountain below them as he did. "Not a damn thing."

"Bloody HELL!" Gilden muttered, sliding fast first into some brambles as he felt himself pushed from behind.

The scream was still echoing through the air as he flipped over into his pack and grabbed for the pistol grip of the Pulse Rifle.

"What the fuck was that, and why did you shove me, Tojo?"

Kenneth Hojiro ignored the slur and continued to scan the skies from where he was kneeling, Pulse Rifle in hand.

"Dragon Call." was all he would say.

"You must be yanking my bloomin leg."

"Madre." Vasquez whispered as she brought the butt of the rifle up to her cheek and swung around, looking for a target. "What the fuck was that?"

"I do not know." Keiran said, her voice tense as he handled her big rifle one handed and swung around in wide circles. "I think we should not be staying here."

"Yeah... good idea." Vasquez agreed. "Let's move."

"What the fuck was that, man!?"

"I do not know. Now be SILENT." Jason Devries ordered, his rifle hanging at his side as he ducked the occasional swing of his companions weapon.

Hudson swung around again, looking for a target as his hands clenched on the pistol grip of his weapon. "Man, don't tell me that was normal, man! I know that wasn't fucking normal!"

"I said be SILENT!" Devries snapped, fist clenching as the muscles in his arm tightened imperceptibly, his eyes fogging over. "It is close... but not too close."

"No shit it's close! Did you fucking hear that, man!? It sounded like a fucking elephant in pain or something!"

Jason reached out and grabbed Hudson by the head, puling the Marine face to face with him. He glared at the other man, snarling, "Now you listen to me. It was probably just a test, but in case it wasn't we're going to keep moving at double time. From now on, no unnecessary noise. That mean no TALKING. Got that?"

Hudson nodded quickly. "Yeah... Yeah, man. Operational blackout. Got it."

"Then let's go." Jason let the Marine go, then headed back up the hill. "We are not far from the top now. We can scout the area from there, and get in touch with Merlin or the Commander."

Hudson just nodded, lifting his rifle to ready arms, and followed after Devries.

"Ohmygod." Hicks said, remarkably calmly, as he stared up at once was someone he *outmassed* by at least three to one.

Now, she clearly outmassed him by at least *twenty* to one, and didn't look to happy.

She stood almost twenty feet above him now, her body still slender but long and sinewy as whatever clothing she had been wearing was long gone. Scales of steel blue and silver covered her body and plated out to the long, leathery appearing, wings that extended to either side of her.

Her teeth were long and her visage seemed angry as she bent down to look at him.

"Are you afraid?"

The sound of her voice caused the ground to tremor but sent a surge of energy through Hicks as the question penetrated. He stiffened, and his face changed as he brought himself under control and matched her stare in equal measure.

"Lady... Lizard... Whatever the hell you are," He said firmly, "I am a United States Marine."

He paused, drawing himself fully up to his standing height of Six foot One, and glared right up at her.

"No SHIT I'm afraid!" He finished, still matching her stare for stare.

There was a long silence as the human and the Dragon seemed to glare at each other, then, slowly, the immense form of Miko Lung began to laugh.

"I like you Corporal Dwayne Hicks." Lung said finally, amusement filling her voice.

"Yeah.. Well, as long as you don't mean on toast with jam."

"Ech." She shook her large head from side to side, a disgusted look on her face. "I think not. Humans taste Very BAD. DO you have *any*idea what all that fast food does to you??"

Hicks' mouth dropped open and for a moment he did a credible imitation of a fish.

Then she laughed again, "I am joking, yes?"

"Joking NO." Hicks muttered. "At least not yet, ok? I can only handle one thing at once. Alright?"

"Alright." She said, almost grudgingly.

Another long moment passed while Hicks studied his companion anew, then, finally, he spoke again. "So... Uh... Now what?"

"Now... I think we finish our task." Miko smiled, showing twin rows of immense teeth. "But we'll go it with *style*."

"Huh? What? Hey! Wait a secOOOOOOONNNNNNNDDDDD!" Hicks screamed out as she plucked him up with one claw, then turned and threw both of them off the cliff face and into the air.

"One down." Xander said, watching as the Dragon swept out from the mountainside below him and began to circle around with the air currents.

Then he turned back around to where he could see many of the remaining groups as they worked their way up the mountainside.

"Only a dozen more to go or so." He sighed, shaking his head.

<Lung will be the easy one, most likely.> Elan said matter of factly. <Dragon's dislike subterfuge, at least as it applies to them. They tend to be arrogant and while they find taking a human form amusing, they dislike being *forced* to do so.>

<Can't say that I blame them.> Xander shrugged, <But that arrogance will add another factor to the group...>

<Of course.>

Xander watched as the steel blue form wheeled below him, climbing, and smiled. "Well, it sure beats algebra. Let's get up to the way point."


Chapter 6

Hicks was almost through screaming, though not quite, when Miko landed at the top of the plateau where they could both see the Commander standing calmly.

"Miharu." Xander said, nodding his head slightly to Miko, then glanced at Hicks. "You alright?"

Hicks was hugging the ground while trying not to appear overly obvious about it, but he managed to nod slightly.

"Good." Xander nodded to the pile of equipment behind him. "There's the next stage in the course. Oh, and Miko?"

The great beast of a dragon cocked it's head curiously toward Xander.

"You might want to change back." He told her, "The others don't know about you yet, and I don't believe we need to test the effectiveness of Pulse Rifles against Dragon Scale."

The steel blue and Silver colored dragon nodded and began to melt and morph into the familiar, and much smaller, form of Miko Lung. Hicks watched in shock, some part of his rational mind wondering where she had managed to hide her rifle and pack in dragon form, while most of the rest of him just gibbered unnaturally.

Miko watched him, face mildly amused for a brief moment, then she reached out and nudged him slightly.

Hicks jumped. "What!?"

"We should continue."

"Huh?" He glanced behind him, noting the pile of packs. "Oh. Yeah. Ok."

They walked over and grabbed one of the packs, then moved to a clear place and fliped it open. Hicks groaned.

"What is it?"

"Comm gear." He sighed, "Not my thing. Ok, let's see... you take this, I'll start with this. We need to get it active to receive our new coordinates."

"Very well." Miko nodded, fingers moving calmly and quickly as they moved over the gear.

Over the next hour, the rest of the teams made their way onto the plateau in ones and twos, each grabbing a pack and setting about to set up the gear.

Somewhere near the last of the pack, Jason Devries and William Hudson stumbled into the clearing and looked around.

"Does anyone know what the FUCK that noise was earlier??" Hudson asked as soon as he noted that everyone else seemed to be talking.

Jason, for his part, just sighed and lamented the loss of silence.

When no one answered, Hudson sighed and looked around. "What's next?"

"Packs are over there." Gunny Apone muttered from where he was working with Major McQueen.

"Huh? Oh. K, let's get this shit done." Hudson dusted his hands off as he and Devries grabbed a pack.

The JTF2 commando frowned as he popped the flap on the canvas pack and pulled the gear out. "What in the hell?"

"Comm gear." Hudson replied crisply, "Pass me the connections for this, would you?"

Devries glanced up at what Hudson had in his hand, then cast about for the 'connections'. "Uhh..."

"The filament things that look like Christmas decorations." Hudson told him without looking up.

Jason spotted it and handed it over, watching while Hudson slapped the pieces together like he'd do with an assault rifle.

<Damn.> The JTF2 Captain thought to himself, <He IS good for something afterall.>

While Hudson slapped components together with ease, Devries glanced up and around to see how everyone else was doing. Amazingly enough, Jason figured after a moment that the group wasn't all that far ahead of them overall, and with Hudson working as fast as he was, they might just make up the time they'd lost.

"Nyet." Valeri shook her head, "Black crystal connects to third fiber optic line... *Blue* connects to second."

"Oh." Doug muttered, then nodded. "Yeah... You're right. Alright, then we just do this and..."

The system hummed to life and in few seconds a waving image of Merlin was floating above them.

"Adequate job." The hologram avatar of the AI said, "The next leg of the course follows in encrypted burst transmission."

A low squeal startled them and Doug felt the nerve tingler built into his field comp go off. He waved hand over the cylinder on his belt and watched as a much firmer holographic display lit up.

"Ok, we've got the directions... decoding now."

"Da." Valeri nodded, watching as the display showed a picture of Avalon. "The cliffs."

"Right." Doug nodded, "Alright... let's pack this in and get moving."


"The cliffs." Hudson said after a moment.

"Alright," Jason looked around, noting that they were probably among the first five actually finished. "Let's get moving."

"You got it, Pard." Hudson grinned, slapping the communications gear together and packing it away with easy motions.

Jason looked at the bulky gear and frowned, "You know, with these fold comms we use, I don't know why we have to train on something that big... Didn't they tell us that these things could communicate anywhere on the planet?"

"Anywhere in the solar system." Hudson corrected automatically. "Fold Comms use the gravity well of any nearby planetary object to create a space time fold, allowing for instantaneous communication over their range. They don't work out in deep space, though, where you don't have any local gravity to fold... unless, of course, you do."

Jason blinked, then shook his head. "Wha... Never mind. I just meant that if they're this good, why use this equipment here?"

"Oh this?" Hudson shrugged, packing up the hefty pack and putting it back on the platform they'd taken it from. "This isn't for communicating within a solar system. It's for long range stuff."

"Long range??" Jason stared. "From here to Pluto isn't long range?"

"Nah." Hudson grinned as the two started to walk off the plateau. "The big stuff uses a HyperFold... same premise, but it creates a fold that works across gravitational barriers. Something about everything in the universe being connected on some level... I didn't get the techno-jargon, but these are used to communicate across the stars."

"Oh." Jason Devries said, shaking his head. <Ask a stupid question.>

As they were moving out of the group, Hudson stopped for a moment and nodded to Gilden and Hojiro. "Hey, you've got the cables flipped... just switch em and you're in business."

The two looked at each other in surprise, then down at the equipment.

After a moment they nodded, grimacing at the simplicity of the error.

"Thanks, Chap." Gilden said, flipping the fibers around.

"Hai." Hojiro nodded.

"No trouble." Hudson said as he shouldered his pack again and glanced at Devries. "We moving?"

"Yeah, let's get out of here."

Hicks glanced over at Miko as the two of them started their down hill march.

At least this side of the mountain seemed to be smoother going, though it was going to be a long hard march to get where they were going. The cliffs were on the other side of the Island, and they had to make time around the large lagoon that made up the center of Avalon.

He glanced to the sky, thinking about the time, then stole another glance at Miko.

"What?" She asked, a little irritably.

<Don't piss off the dragon.> Hicks thought as he shivered at her tone. "Nothing."

"Oh for..." Miko stopped, growling. "Look, out with it, ok?"

"Out with what?"

"Whatever it is that's getting to you." The slight Chinese woman muttered in annoyance.

"Looks, nothing's getting to me! It's just..." Hicks trailed off.

"Yes?" She scuffed her feet.

"Look, it's nothing personal... just..." Hicks licked his lips unconsciously. "Look lady, I just want to know... what do you eat anyway?"

"Oh for..." Miko rolled her eyes and started walking again, leaving Hicks behind.

"What!? Hey! It's a reasonable question!" Hicks yelled, scrambling after her.

"No it is NOT." She muttered. "Do I ask YOU what you eat? No."

"Well..." Hicks caught up with her, matching her strides. "Don't you know?"

"I know what humans in general eat, yes. However that doesn't mean I know what YOU eat." She said flatly, "You could be a Cannibal, for example. Or perhaps you even have a history of eating supernatural creatures... It is rare, but it does happen. The point is that I don't know you, yet I'm not asking questions out of fear, am I?"

"What the hell have you got to be afraid of??" Hicks asked incredulously. "You're a fucking Dragon!"

"And how many dragons have you met?" She asked archly.

"Umm... well... one?"

"Precisely." She told him. "For myself, I have met the same amount. And do you know why?"

"Uh... no?"

"Because humans hunted the last few members of my kind who remained on this planet to the brink of extinction many hundreds of years ago." Lung told him icily. "And that was with swords and spears. You will pardon me if I find your worry over my eating *you* to be somewhat irritating."

"Look, I'm sorry... but..." Hicks strode along with her, trying to figure out what to say. "Look, damn it, I don't know HOW to deal with you... I'm sorry ok, but for Christ sakes... You're a Dragon!"

Miko shook her head, "And you are a human."

"Yeah... but..." Hicks tried again, but couldn't seem to get past the word 'dragon'.

Finally he gave up and just walked along beside the smaller woman in silence.

Xander watched as the last team left the waypoint, and noted the progress of the overall group on his field comp.

<Not too bad.> He thought, making a couple notes on the holograph with a pass of his hand. "What do you think, General?"

General Grey's voice came over his Fold Comm then, serious and calm. "They show promise. Some of them need more discipline, but we can work with this."

Xander nodded, "Agreed. Tell Andy that they should be at the Cliff's by... Oh, eleven hundred hours, local time, tomorrow."

"He'll be ready."

"Good." Xander said, walking over to the equipment pile.

He stepped onto the platform and then reached out and tapped a key on the holographic display.

A few seconds later a trio of rings leapt up from the ground around him and, in a flash of light, he and the gear vanished from sight.



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