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: What do you do when both sides of the war seem determined that a friend is to die?

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

Xander watched as Cordelia moved through her sword Kata, using the wooden Boken he had given her in the place of Maro. Around them, the rest of the Scoobies were doing much the same, each of them basically following the moves by rote as he and Master Lee watched over them.

Jonathon had passed his tests for first level brown belt a week earlier, and Lee considered him to be about three weeks ahead of Willow and Jessie, though both he and Xander considered Jessie to be the superior fighter of the three. Jonathon lacked a certain killer instinct that was vital to a real world fighter, and while his sparring and tournament skills were more refined, Jessie was certainly the fighter of the group.

Xander had asked Lee to the mansion two weeks earlier, when he had returned from New York to find Cordelia in the state of near breakdown that had resulted from both the directed emotions of the various boys at school lusting after her, and the undirected background 'buzz' that ate away at her in more subtle ways.

Explaining the matter to the older man hadn't been quite as hard as Xander had feared, and since then they had worked together to continue the training of the group while shoring up Cordelia's 'defenses'.

Unfortunately, as Xander had explained with difficulty to Cordelia, there was no actual way to defend against what she was feeling.

Emotions were like a broadcast signal from a TV or Radio station, and like such things they could be interfered with, or even blocked using the right tactics, but for one person to do so it required a constant influx of power.

So, while Xander could teach Cordelia how to block out the emotions around her, she would have to focus almost completely on the techniques, which wasn't an entirely practical method. Unfortunately, the cliched 'wall of bricks' concept was as stupid as actually building a wall of bricks against radio waves.

What she needed was two fold.

First, the focus to work *through* the barrage of emotions, and the skill to separate her own feelings from those of others.

And, second, the ability to simply shut off her own receptors so that she simply didn't receive them by times.

Unfortunately, both were far easier said then done.

So, while they had managed to halt the backslide that Cordelia had suffered, they hadn't been able to gain much headway. In school now, Cordelia was all but forced to remain close to Xander, where he could broadcast a counter emote to support her against the barrage of feelings that surrounded her.

It wasn't a practical long term solution, but it had the virtue of exposing her more and more to the 'noise' of the daily world, and allowing her to build up her own natural resistance.

"Your dipping your sword point!" Xander snapped, hand flashing out to rap her wrist.

"Ow!" Cordelia yelped, glaring at him as her sword clattered to the ground. "Damn it, that hurt!"

"Good, you'll remember it." Xander half smiled, kicking her sword up and grabbing it.

"Here," He placed the pommel back in her hand and moved around behind her. "Like this."

Cordelia shuddered as he touched her, and again as his body pressed against her from behind, but as in all cases when Xander got this close to her, he broadcast nothing but pure professional interest in her, nothing even remotely sexual.

Which, was actually starting to feel *weird*, given how everyone else seemed to react when they got close to her, or anyone else. There seemed to be something endemic to the human nature, Cordelia figured, about proximity and sexual thoughts. Even the guys tended to feel things along those lines when they accidently got too close to another guy. Of course, in their case, it was usually followed by an instant flash of guilt or some variation of disgust and a quick departure from where they were.

One of the few moments of entertainment Cordelia got now was by 'accidently' nudging Jessie into contact with Jonathon while the two were dressed in shorts and little else. The ensuing emotional storm was something like watching a Three Stooges Episode in technicolor.

Xander, on the other hand, seemed capable of showing her only what he wanted to show her. A talent that Cordy was grateful for, of course, but also was starting to make her wonder what his real motivation was.

Everyone else around her was an open book now. Too open in many cases, Cordelia shuddered as she caught a flash from Jessie again, but open nonetheless.

Willow actually hated her, despite the girl's actions on her behalf. Which was fine with Cordy, she didn't need squat from the dweebette anyway. Cordy didn't actually hate Willow back, of course, at least she didn't think so. She just couldn't care less about the girl one way or the other.

Buffy was concerned, sincerely, which was surprising, but overall sided with Willow in most things despite that.

Jessie, well Jessie was a dog. Pure and simple. He not only fantasized about her, in detail, nearly constantly if not otherwise occupied, but he did the same for Buffy, Faith and, surprisingly, Tara. Willow seemed mostly immune, though not entirely, because Jessie got guilty flashes for thinking about the redhead. Cordelia had made a note to ensure that those two 'accidentally' bumped into each other at some opportune moment. Preferably on their way to the pool.

Jack Styles, the older man who had taken to being gone for long periods of time lately, was more then slightly creepy, but he tended to stay away from her which went a long way to make up for the occasional appraising glances he'd send her way.

Out of all of them, in fact, Xander was the only one she couldn't read.

And Cordelia couldn't help but wonder what was in it for him? Why was he helping her?

He had to have a reason, and Cordelia couldn't help but feel suspicious about what it was.

For now, though, She let him guide her motions as he swept the sword in a diagonal swipe across the front of them.

"Top left to bottom right," He said into her ear, "Then pivot... remember, footwork..."

Cordelia and Xander moved together, one foot forward, pivot, then sweep the sword back around.

"Horizontal cross, right through the opponents abdomen..." Xander said, "Now block his strike..."

The wooden sword swept up, blocking an imaginary strike.

"Twist and..."

Xander let her go then as Cordelia twisted, turned on her heal, and drove the sword back, under her arm, supported by her other hand as she stabbed it back.

"Excellent." Master Lee said from behind her, his emotional tone supporting what he said exactly. "Directly to the heart."

Cordy looked up at Xander, and he nodded once with a smile.

"Not bad, Chase. Not bad."

"Faster if you please."

Cordelia looked away from Xander then, to the source of the second voice. Wesley Wyndham Price was training Buffy across the room, or at least he was giving it his best effort. The Blond was already dancing circles around him, even as the brit demanded more speed.

Wesley was, if nothing else, a sucker for punishment.

When it came to fighting, though, Buffy was incredible. Cordy had to admit that. The girl moved like nothing human, and had put her own motions with a wooden sword to shame the very first time she laid a hand on one.

Which translated into nothing but pain for Wesley at the moment, as the Watcher tried to get the strike pads into position fast enough to give Buffy a run for her money.

A wasted effort. Buffy's strikes landed long before he even finished landing, despite the constant motion that was part of their training, leaving him with bruised hands, and sore shoulders, long before the training was done.

"Alright.. Alright..." Wesley finally gave up, holding up his hands. "That will be enough for now..."

Buffy grinned, slapping his hands twice more before nodding happily with an all too perky bob of her head.

As Wesley slumped, grabbing some ice packs for his hands, a dry voice spoke up from the other side of the room.

"Faith, help Buffy finish out her training time."

Xander, Wesley, Faith, and Buffy looked up, two of them smiling, two grimacing.

"Hey G," Faith nodded, "You got it."

Buffy looked like she wanted to whine a little, but didn't object as Faith stepped onto the mats.

Xander left Cordelia then, and walked across to where Giles was standing by the door. "How was the trip?"

Giles shrugged, "American's have some truly bizarre occultists."

"Christ Giles, you went to San Francisco... it's not the occultists, it's the city." Xander grinned, clasping the older man's hand.

Giles smiled in return, eyes watching where Faith and Buffy were now openly sparring. After a moment his eyes shifted back to where Cordelia was standing. "How is she?"

Xander sighed, looking over his shoulder briefly. "About the same. She's on the razors edge, and frankly I don't know how long I can hold her in balance."

"Balance must be located from within." Giles said evenly. "From the outside, you can't hope to keep it up for long."

"I know." Xander nodded, moving to stand shoulder to shoulder with Giles as they both watched Cordelia continue her Kata. "I'm just trying to keep her from slipping until she can get her own feet under her."

"I wish you luck," Giles told him, "But you do know what time it is, I hope?"

Xander nodded.

"What are we going to do about it?"

"I'm working on it."

"That's not enough." Giles snapped tightly. "She'll die. You can't gamble on saving her again."

"Giles, you were there, same as me." Xander replied, "If you have a plan, lay it out. But I know that I've got nothing that can penetrate that damned shield... How about you?"

Giles glowered, but finally sighed and shook his head. "No. I have nothing that will both penetrate the white and black barriers."

"Then we don't have a lot of options, do we?"

Chapter 2

Xander sighed, watching as the others settled in to watch the TV for a bit.

That was something he hadn't really done in, well it felt like forever. He'd already seen all the shows, and movies, and pretty much everything else that might show up. So other then a few old favorites, Xander had actually taken to reading, which was a sad testament to how badly his life was screwed up.

For the moment, though, he wasn't doing that either.

He now had two problems on his hands, neither of them easily solved, and both of them potentially tragic.

Buffy's upcoming 'death' was his priority, however it was also the one that he had the least control over. She had to face the master, that was a given. Not because of some moldy prophecy, but because if she didn't, the Master would stay locked up right on top of the Hellmouth.

And that was simply NOT an acceptable outcome.

One did not leave a potentially suicidal enemy sitting on an active nuclear weapon.

If Xander had thought that was a solution, he'd have collapsed the tunnel system long ago, or maybe filled it with concrete or something similar.

Unfortunately, the Master had already shown himself to be far too able to manipulate events from his mystical cage. So imprisonment was out, which meant that he had to be terminated.

And, given the power of the barriers that protected and imprisoned him, Xander was betting that only Buffy would be able to get through.

Which was going to be some trick, in and of itself.

The second problem, only slightly less important on his priority scale, was Cordelia.

Her current dilemma was something he could work with, which he was, but it could also lead to her complete collapse if not monitored very carefully. Keeping her out of school would help, but it would also attract a lot of attention from people that neither he nor Cordelia wished to deal with. Her parents being just the tip of that particular spear.

<There is one potential method to give her some relief that you have not yet explored.> Elan reminded him then, her voice more then a little smug.

Xander scowled, turning away from the group as he clamped down hard on his projective emotions. No way in hell did he want Cordelia catching that thought in any shape or form.

<I told you before, I am NOT telling Cordy to get laid.>

Elan snickered at him in the background, causing Xander to sigh slightly as he headed back to his 'office'.

<It would provide some relief.> Elan smirked. <The untrained release of sexual energies tends to act as a dampener on psionic ability.>

Xander pulled his chair out and settled in, rubbing his temples. <That may be, but that way leads to madness. It's a slippery slope once you start replacing a handicap with a potential addiction.>

<There is truth there.> Elan shrugged. <However I believe that you may want to keep it in mind... Remember, even your own doctors will prescribe Morphine to combat extreme pain. Properly used as a tool, it could help her achieve balance.>

Xander groaned.

That was one conversation he didn't want to be having with Cordelia 'Queen C' Chase.

Psionic Dampening 101, the art of cumming your brains out.

He winced even at the *thought* of it.

<Difficult though it may be, it is perhaps the only way.> Elan reminded him sharply. <If you intend to accept the mantle of a teacher, or mentor, do not be squeamish about doing what must be done to help your student.>

<You know, it's generally NOT considered proper for a teacher to *tell* a student to get laid, let alone in any way HELP her.> Xander sniped back.

<You and your society have some of the stupidest attitudes toward sex that I've ever run across.> Elan returned, unperturbed. <You attach too much meaning to the act itself, and not enough to the people involved.>

"I really don't need to be having this conversation." He said aloud, sighing again.

"What conversation?"

Xander jolted slightly, glancing back. "Hey G. Just talking with my other half about the Cordy situation."

Giles nodded, "Ah. And which potential path is she suggesting?"

"Kama." Xander replied with a sigh.

Giles grimaced, but nodded. "It has the virtue of simplicity, I will admit. However, by it's nature, it is almost as dangerous as the affliction she suffers from."

"I know." Xander replied, "And so does Elan. We're just discussing standbys."

"I see." Giles took a breath, "And the other situation?"

"There we have fewer options." Xander replied. "I'm afraid that we're going to have to play it by ear."

"That's NOT acceptable!" Giles' hand slapped the desk, causing an echoing slap to reverberate through the office.

"Pummeling my furniture won't change the facts." Xander said mildly. "We've done everything we can to mess with that prophecy, and nothing has even dented it as far as I can tell. We even lost track of the 'Anointed One' before we could prevent his death. It's going to happen, there are too many outside influences pushing it forward."

"The Powers." Giles snarled.

Xander half nodded, "Maybe. But if so, they aren't alone. We're looking at an effort by both white and black magic to preserve his life."

"Bloody bastards."

Xander shrugged, "Maybe."


Xander sighed, glancing at Giles. The older man hadn't taken all that well to the departure of Daan'al, and even before that he had been losing a lot of the hard earned discipline that he had when they first met. He was even looking younger now, and dressing rougher, much like Xander imagined 'Ripper' might have looked back in the day.

Xander didn't quite know what to make of the changes in the man. Elanthielle had been a calming influence on him, teaching and imparting wisdom. Their bond was as close to perfectly symbiotic as any Xander knew. And just the fact that he knew the proper *meaning*of the word 'symbiotic' was evidence of her impact on his mind.

Daan'aal had a totally different impact on Giles, and even now that he was gone the traces remained.

Xander took a breath, calling up the endless debates that he had enjoined with Elan, "All we know for sure is that black and white magic are involved in protecting the Master. It's a primal source, something beyond either of our ability to tap, and even Jacks doesn't recognize it. That's a bad sign, G."

Giles grunted, but nodded.

"So we have no evidence that the Powers are directly involved, but even more then that, we don't know for sure if the barriers are actively protecting the Master."

"Surely you're kidding me." Giles gave Xander a look that clearly stated how stupid he felt that statement was.

"Not at all." Xander replied, frowning. "Think about Giles... Like you used to think about things. Use your head, man, not your guts just this once."

Giles glared at him, then his lips curled up in a tight smile. "I must say that I have a hard time imagining you, of all people, advising someone to use their head instead of their 'guts'."

Xander shrugged, half smiling himself. "Times change."

"Right." Giles sighed, leaning back. "I suppose that you are suggesting that the barriers we encountered are holding him IN, and the defense they offer him are a mere side effect?"


"In that case there must have been at least two very powerful mages to ensnare him." Giles pointed out. "One black, and one white. Not a very... amenable teaming."

"When the end of the world is on the line, you and I both know that you can see some strange bedmates." Xander countered.

"True." Giles conceded. "However, the magic types are still a puzzlement. They are, as you said, primal. Older then the oldest that even Jacks recognizes... I presume that you believe that the Mayor is the black mage in question?"

"Probably." Xander nodded.

"That places his power as somewhat more then we believed in the previous iteration." Giles frowned thoughtfully, then half nodded. "Which is possible. An ascension ritual itself isn't as difficult as all that, however it would have taken great power in order to set up the proper circumstances."

Xander just nodded again.

"That would beg the question, however," Giles countered, "Just who was the White mage?"

"That, Giles," Xander said with a twist of his lips, "Is the million dollar question."

They looked at each other grimly for a moment, then Giles shook his head.

"It's immaterial anyway. Even if we knew, the odds are heavily against our being able to drop either of the barriers."

"I know." Xander nodded. "Only one person can."

"She can't go down there!"

"Giles," Xander said mildly. "She has to."

"The Prophecy is at hand." The Master said calmly, looking over to where Darla was leaning against a rock wall. "Ensure that the Watcher gains a copy of the Codex."

Darla nodded. "It will be done."

"And the Contract?" Another voice spoke up.

The Master looked over at the Terakan who waited the final word.

"Is open." He said evenly. "Kill the Seraphim, but leave the Slayer alive."

The Terakan nodded silently, then faded into the shadows.

The Master idly walked over to the edge of his 'domain' and ran his fingers along the barrier, causing a shimmer to appear in the air where they contacted the ancient magic.

"Soon." He said grimly. "Soon, I will be free."

He looked up, "And you, Mayor Wilkens, will not survive the day."

"Be gone from here!" He snapped abruptly, startling the gathered vampires into darting out until only one remained.

"You don't fear me, Child?" The Master asked, not looking back at the anointed one.

"You need me." The child vampire responded, voice utterly calm.

The Master smiled, "Ah the confidence of youth."

Chapter 3

<I *hate* school.> Cordelia thought, shrinking in on herself as they passed a gaggle of football players.

None of them looked at her now, except for a passing glance that had more curiosity in it then anything else. Her new clothing had had the desired impact once the shock of the change wore off, leaving her mostly unnoticed among the more lustworthy targets that surrounded her.

Faith, Harmony, Aura, even Buffy were all higher profile targets then her now, and while it chafed at Cordy to know it, she was grateful for the respite.

All she caught now was the scorn of her former friends, and the wide are broadcast of emotions that she was rapidly learning to endure.

As always of late, Xander was walking at her side in that oddly fluid manner of his. She knew without looking that his back was straight, his head held high, much like hers had once been.

<It's funny.> She thought sadly, clutching her school books to her chest. <How the positions have changed. I used to walk like that.>

She felt a twitch in the emotional tide around her and looked up in time to see one of the football players coming her way. His eyes were locked onto hers and she shivered.

He was angry.

Not at her, at Xander.

Xander must have felt him coming too, because he shifted his stride and moved a full step ahead of her, interposing himself between her and the other boy.

"Back off, Brad." He said in a low voice.

"What the hell have you done to Cordelia, Harris!?" The other boy hissed, his sudden attention causing Cordy to shudder and shrink back before she rallied and managed to just hold her place.

"Not a thing, Brad." Xander put a hand on the boy's shoulder, his voice calm, almost sympathetic actually. "Cordy's just... she's had a hard time lately. She needs time to work through some things."

The boy looked between them, and Cordy looked down at her feet.

Xander didn't waver.

It was the boy who looked away first.

"What happened?" He asked softly.

<Funny.> Cordelia thought numbly. <I didn't think Brad could speak softly.>

"I can't tell you." Xander replied, matching the other boy's voice. "It's private."

There was a surge of emotions from the football player, a mix of anger, frustration and, what surprised Cordelia most, a genuine concern for her. She looked up in surprise, seeing the mix of emotions on his face. Finally he just nodded and backed off.

They continued walking to class.

"I... I didn't know he gave a damn." Cordelia said, a little bitterly.

"Not everyone who is popular is a waste of air." Xander returned, glancing at her, and Cordelia felt an infusion of gentle humor and a little hint of not so subtle poking fun.

She pursed her lips, more in mock irritation then anything else, and even risked a roll of her eyes.

"Now you're starting to look like the old Cordelia Chase." Xander told her then.

Cordelia visible shivered and shriveled up at that comment, hugging her books closer. She didn't WANT to look like the old Cordelia Chase. The Old Cordelia Chase attracted too much attention. Bad attention.

She felt Xander sigh then, and gently bump into her as he opened his emotional floodgates again and she felt him apologize for how the comment made her feel.

"I'm ok." She whispered.

"Glad to hear it. We've got to get to class."

Cordy nodded. "O... ok."

"The target is in the school."

"Hold and follow."

"We can take him here."

"No. Let him get out and away from the others... The Slayer especially. We are being paid to keep her alive, remember?"



Wesley Wyndham Price nearly jumped through his skin at the soft voice as it sounded in his ear. He twisted in mid air and found himself glaring at the Vampire Angelus.

"Damn you!" He snarled, grasping for a cross on reflex. "Don't DO that."

"Sorry." Angel said softly. "I need you to give something to Xander for me."

Wesley glared at him, "And what would that be?"

"This." Angel dropped a book on the table.

"My lord... This is the Codex!" Wesley paled. "How did...?"

"One of my contacts turned it up in LA." Angel replied. "Look, I'm not sure I trust this guy, but I wanted to get this to you guys as soon as I could anyway."

Wesley nodded, barely listening as he opened the book and peered in. "Yes yes... I'll look through it immediately."

"Right." Angel shook his head, "Whatever. Just let Xander know I dropped it off."

"Huh? What? Oh, yes yes..." Wesley muttered, not looking up.

Angel sighed and faded back to the shadows, eventually vanishing from sight.

Wesley didn't pay any attention to the departing vampire as he began to pour through the book of prophecy.

"A pop quiz!" Jessie complained as the group piled into the library. "It's not fair!"

"I thought it was pretty easy." Jon shrugged, grabbing a seat and tossing himself into it.

"Yeah." Willow grinned. "Did you get problem twelve, Jon?"

"Oh sure, Sulfer, right?"

"Right." Willow nodded happily.

"Sulfer??" Jessie paled. "Oh crap."

"You missed that one?" Xander smirked, "Jeez, Jes, even I got that one."

"I'm SO dead." Jessie moaned, "I'm gonna flunk and I'm gonna serve hotdogs for the rest of my life."

"Relax, Jes." Xander smiled, a little less like a smirk, "You'll do fine."

"Right." Jessie sighed. "I'm so dead."

"Hey, just buddy up with Will and Jon." Xander smirked. "They'll beat it into you."

"Anytime." Willow smirked over at Jessie, then slapped a fist into her palm.

Jessie just moaned again, glaring at her. "I *really* liked you better when you were all meek and stuff."

"Would you all might being *quiet*!?" An irate voice came from the office. "This IS a library."

"And thus speaks Wesley, God of the Books." Jessie rolled his eyes. "Master of all that is dusty, musty, and dull as dishwater."

Wesley sighed, shaking his head, and returned to his office.

"So what's up for the rest of the day?" Jessie half turned.

"I've got to study." Willow said instantly.

"What!? Why!?" Jessie demanded.

"We might have another pop quiz tomorrow."

"Again!? That's Illegal!" Jessie snapped hotly.

"Actually I'm pretty sure that law got struck down in congress." Xander said mildly, patting Cordelia on the shoulder as she tried to stay quietly out of the conversation.

"Well it *should* be illegal." Jessie scowled.

"True, true, but I think that they're reserving space in the lawbooks for the important stuff." Jonathon grinned, "You know... Murder, Robbery, Kidnapping, that sort of thing."

"Bah." Jessie threw a notebook at Jonathon, who easily caught it and set it down, then frowned at it.

"Hey... who's notebook is this??" He asked, perplexed.

Jessie shrugged, but Willow looked up and then around, aghast.

"It's MINE!" She shrieked. "Jessie you PIG! Throw your own notes!"

"Hey! Ow! Stop hitting me already!" He ducked away from her, "It was just handy!"

Willow chased after him with one of her softcover textbooks, wacking him around the head with it as Jessie tried to evade her.

"Hey Willow?"

"What?" Willow paused, looking back to where Jonathon was staring at her notebook.

"Where'd you get this?" Jonathon held up a sheet of paper that had been tucked away inside it.

"It's from a college professor my mom knows... he thought I might like to check out the physics lecture."

"What you got there, Jon?" Xander asked, mildly curious.

Jonathon was staring at the paper like it held the holy grail, eyes wide and smile beaming. "This is TODAY!"

"Yeah... so?" Jessie blinked.

"We've gotta go!"

"To a college lecture?" Jessie scoffed. "Come on..."

"Hey, the world's most famous monster hunter is gonna be presenting one of the lectures!" Jonathon grinned.

Everyone stared at him in confused blankness.

Finally Xander spoke up, "Did you say *Famous* monster hunter?"

Jonathon nodded.

"Ok, now THIS, I have to see."

Chapter 4

"Alright, everyone ready?" Xander asked looking around.

Class had let out a few minutes earlier and the gang plus it's auxiliary members had gathered once more in the library.

"I'm going to have to bow out." Buffy spoke up. "Mom wants me to do some extra studying, and I've got to get ready for patrol tonight."

"Ditto." Willow said, "Uh... Minus the patrol stuff, you know? Besides, monster hunters give me the willies."

"Gee thanks." Buffy and Xander muttered at the same time.

"Not you guys! I mean... *other* monster hunters!" Willow protested, "You guys are willy free! Yeah, free willies and all... I just said something embarrassing didn't I?"

"Not if you were talking about a killer whale." Xander informed her, "Otherwise... I didn't hear that."

"Me neither." Buffy shuddered.

"I heard it just fine," Faith smirked, "And may I say, I'm with Wills... We need more free willies..."

Willow, if it were possible, went even redder as Faith sauntered over to her and looped an arm around her shoulder, nudging her head toward Jessie. "Whaddya think... That one worth freeing?"

"Hey!" Jessie objected, grabbing a book to cover his crotch when Faith looked at him appraisingly.

"Nah. Too small, we'll have to throw it back."

"HEY!" The notebook went flying, but Faith ducked it easily.

"Now *there*," Faith twisted Willow toward Xander.

"Don't even *think* it." Xander returned with a smirk. "I get plenty free on my own time, and Natalie would skin us both alive."

"Ugh." Cordelia muttered involuntarily. "I so did not need to hear that."

"Eh." Faith shrugged, "He's right. Nat's wicked dangerous with chains... not that I would mind her chaining ME up, but I don't think you'd go for that Will."

The strangled squeak that came out of Willow sounded a lot like a mouse that had just come face to face with a very large cat.

"Well, there's always Wes."

Wesley simply snapped his book shut, stood up, and retreated to the office.

Faith mock sighed. "What a wus... Ah well,"

She grinned and turned them both toward Jonathon.

"Oh no!" Jonathon sputtered, putting a table and three chairs between them. "You leave me out of this."

Faith rolled her eyes, "Wimps! All of ya."

Willow looked like she was just starting to breath again when Faith shrugged and twisted her around to look at Buffy, "I guess we'll have to switch teams."

"Faith." Xander growled.

"That's it, I'm out of here." Buffy said, "I'll see you guys later, hopefully without the wacko. You coming Wills?"

"Not yet," Faith smirked, "But maybe after you two get home, eh?"


"Oh alright," Faith let Willow go, sighing in disappointment.

Willow squeaked again and scampered out after Buffy, forgetting half her notebooks on the table.

"That was NOT nice." Xander wagged a finger at the dark Slayer.

Faith just shrugged, "I ain't never been accused of being 'Nice' boytoy. 'Sides, Red needs a kick in the crotch."

"She'll get by just fine on her own."


"Look..." Cordelia shuddered, "I... I'm just going to do some studying tonight an... and practice, ok?"

Xander glanced over at her, then nodded. "Alright. Tare?"

"Me too." The blonde girl said, having watched the entire episode without making a sound. "I... have some re... reading to do."

Xander eyed her oddly for a moment. <Weird. Tara hasn't stuttered that bad with me in a while...>

<Perhaps she's afraid Faith might turn on *her* next.> Elan smirked.

Xander snorted softly. <Yeah. Probably.>

"Alright," Xander said outloud. "I'll give Tara and Cordy a lift home, Faith and me will get geared up, and we'll pick you guys up to go check out this so called 'monster hunter' in time for his lecture at four. Alright?"

"Right." Jessie and Jonathon both nodded.

"Good, cya then."

At the mansion, Xander quickly got himself changed into what was his normal garb, that is, he tossed on a silk shirt, black dress pants, three pistols, two daggers, Elanthielle, his Atlantean life stone, and the blessed celtic cross. Then he slid his long coat over it all and checked himself out in the mirror to make sure that nothing showed.

After that he waited almost thirty minutes for Faith to get ready.

"For crying out loud, Faith!" He banged on her door. "How long does it TAKE to squeeze into a pair of leather pants??"

"You wanna find out, boytoy!?" Faith growled threateningly from the other side of the door.

"Ookay," Xander shook his head and walked away.

He didn't live as long as he had by ignoring the subtle undertones of a death threat delivered by a Slayer.

He made his way down to the basement, taking a seat at a desk that had been set up hastily.

"Hey buddy, how's it going?"

"Adequately." The angry voice replied.

Xander sighed. It was hard to tell, sometimes, what KARR was thinking because his voice box was so incredibly hostile at all times. Even when he was actually 'friendly' he sounded like he was about to take a swing at someone, figuratively speaking.

"We've got some plans setup for you, buddy... half a dozen new bodies, plus we managed to track down an old Trans-am if you want to go retro." Xander half smiled. "I figured I'd let you pick."

KARR didn't say anything for a moment, then, slowly and almost hesitantly. "Pick?"

"Yeah, whichever model you like best." Xander told him. "I figure you may as well get a chance to choose your new body, pal. I'll have Merlin shoot you over a copy of all the preliminary ideas we've come up with."

"That will be acceptable."

Xander grinned, "Just say thanks."

There was a long pause.


"No prob, Pal." Xander said, getting up. "I'll see you later."

The AI didn't reply as Xander headed up the stairs.

"You finally ready?" Xander asked Faith when she finally appeared.

"I'm good, BT." She smirked.

Xander turned around and froze for a split second. She was dressed in her customary style, which shouldn't have thrown him, but for just an instant when he looked at her he didn't see young Dana Tasker. He saw Faith, as she'd been that night...

Xander clenched his eyes shut, shaking a bit. Then looked back up at her, "You look good."

"I know." She smirked.

"Let's head out."

They picked up Jon and Jessie a few minutes later, driving in Xander's rented SUV, and headed toward the college and the open lecture that they had decided to attend.

The lot was surprisingly full, leaving Xander parking his SUV on the street almost a block away from the campus and forcing them to walk the rest of the way.

"Damn, there are a lot of people here." Faith said, looking around in wonder.

Jon nodded, grinning. "I know."

"Weird." Xander shook his head.

"Come on, guys," Jon said, "we'll never get a seat if we don't hurry!"

"He is separated from the Slayer."

"When you have a chance... strike."

"He is at the College now... There are many people."

"It doesn't matter. If they get in the way, all the worse for them."


Against the odds they managed to find seats more or less together in the auditorium, which had quickly filled up beyond capacity as people waited for the lecture to commence.

"Wow." Faith muttered, looking over her shoulder. "This guy must really be famous."

"Yeah, so how come we never heard of him?" Xander asked with a smirk.

"Shhh!" Jonathon hissed at them as the lights dimmed and a man walked out on the podium.

"Welcome to the University of Sunnydale presentation on modern day monsters and men who hunt them," The man said, smiling widely. "We're proud to present a modern day legend, a man who by his own admission is just a guy 'Doing what he can with what he has...'"

Chapter 5

"... Mr Burt Gummer!"

The audience applauded like a rockstar had entered the room and Xander put his hands together lightly in turn, watching as an innocuous figure stepped out onto the podium and approached the mic with a military cadence in his step.

He was a relatively tall man, Xander judged, maybe six feet or so. Balding, with a rough look about him, like a man who had been in the elements most of his life. His clothing certainly lent itself to a para-military look, topped with a camouflage ball cap set stiffly straight.

Mr Gummer reached the Microphone and took it calmly into hand, snapping a laser pointer from his pocket like it was a pistol.

"Very well then," His voice cracked seriously as the screen behind him lit up. "Let's get started."

A picture appeared on the screen and Xander suddenly went bolt upright in his chair as he stared at the maw of a hideous monster, tentacles reaching from it's mouth, all the while Mr Gummer went on crisply.

"This," Gummer hit the screen with his laser pointer, "Is a Graboid. It can pull a car underground in fifteen seconds flat, and peel it open in another twenty. In Mexico, myself and two compatriots eliminated over fifty of these monsters... and then things got hairy."

An hour later Xander was still sitting, totally stunned, watching as the presentation wound up with a few anecdotes and stories of 'graboid' hunting. His head was totally mindlocked, and he wasn't the only one.

<Why were we not informed that the Sithlaran had awoken!?> Elan was screeching in his head, going around in circles. <Especially if the Government knows!?>

<I don't KNOW.> Xander told her for the fiftieth time. <I... I just don't know!>

<Contact Merlin!> She ordered, voice sharp and brittle. <This... This insanity must have a cause!>

Xander couldn't argue with her, that was certain, but he was still a little stunned and slow to move.

The idea that a species of demon had been discovered *publically*was just mind boggling. That it had occurred and he'd not heard of it was just... disturbing. Finally he pulled his fold comm from his pocket, watching as Mr Gummer finished his presentation and the crowd began to reluctantly part.

"Come on!" Jon said, grabbing Xander and Jessie by the shoulders. "I've got to talk with him!"

Xander stumbled along through the crowd, working mainly on contacting Merlin while his mind continued to reel.

"Merlin." He hissed through the crowd's noise.


"Merlin, what the hell is going on!?"

The AI paused a moment before responding, "Nothing untoward so far as I know."

"The Sithlaren are awake!"

"AH. That, yes, that occurred just over two years ago in Nevada." Merlin responded, then another pause. "You did not know??"

"Hell no!" Xander hissed.

"Commander, there was a media blitz... for several weeks it was on every channel, most major newspapers..." Merlin went on.

"Damn it, Merlin! I don't *watch* TV anymore!" Xander muttered, "What happened??"

"Well, Commander, put lightly... You did."

Xander tripped, stumbling to the floor and had to batter back a few people who nearly trampled him.


"The Sithlaran egg sacks were nourished by the Temporal energy you flooded the planet with." Merlin responded calmly. "The heaviest areas were, of course, in Nevada, the central locus of your jump."

Xander winced.

Elan winced.

"Oh crap." Xander groaned, "We awoke those things?"

"Well, yes, however it would have happened anyway. Project backstep would have eventually nourished them correctly." Merlin replied.

Xander shook his head, "Shit."

"I had assumed that you knew, Commander." Merlin said. "It IS considered common knowledge, although... to be honest, the majority of the planet has largely ignored the events."

"Why does that not surprise me?" Xander asked bitterly.

"Human's have a habit of distancing themselves from events that do not directly affect them." Merlin replied. "At anyrate, as it turns out, modern weaponry is sufficient to hunt the Sithlaran, so your services were not required."

"Har de har." Xander returned, "And that's SO not the point."

"I can not hope to guess at every thing you do NOT know, Commander." The AI replied, "Or rather, I could, but to inform you of all those things would require more time then I have."

"You mean more time then *I* have, right?"

"No." Merlin replied with a hint of sarcastic humor. "I am only eternal, after all."

"Smart ass."

"Coming from you, Commander, I believe that I should interpret that as a compliment." Merlin returned. "Now, I have other business to attend, if you'll excuse me?"

The AI signed out, leaving Xander standing in the middle of a now nearly empty auditorium. He looked around in annoyance, then shook his head in disgust.

<Arrogant machine.> Elan snapped mildly.

<He's got a point,> Xander sighed. <The world is still here, so I guess someone managed to keep them at bay.>

"Xan! Hey Xan!" Jon was yelling and waving from over near the stage.

<Yes, and apparently this man had something to do with it.> Elan replied.

"Come over here, I want to introduce you to someone!" Jonathon was babbling excitedly, grabbing at Xander's hand. "Come on..."

"The students are almost all gone."

"Good. We strike in two minutes."

"The others aren't here yet."

"Their loss. The bounty will be ours, Sister."

"As you say, Brother."

Xander let himself be dragged over to where the man in the rough clothes and ball cap was standing, signing a last couple autographs and sending the students on their way. He turned and looked at Xander with an odd look.

"You have got to be kidding me." He said.

"Excuse me?" Xander bristled.

The man didn't bother looking at Xander, he just shot a disgusted look at Jonathon. "This kid isn't old enough to buy a gun, kid, let alone have a collection."

"He does! He does! Lot's of them!"

"Jon!" Xander snapped, eyes wide. "Are you NUTS??"

"What?" Jonathon asked, "They're legal, right? You said they were..."

"That's not the *point*!" Xander rubbed his nose.

"So you DO have a gun collection?" Gummer asked, now speaking to Xander. "I like to see what other people collect, if you don't mind..."

Xander rubbed his temples. "I don't collect guns. I own an armory, there's a difference."

Gummer cocked his head back, "Why yes, yes there is. I have to admit, I didn't expect you to know that."

"Look, Mr... Gummer, right?" Xander said, noting the curt nod. "It's nice to meet you and all, but I've got to be going."

"I see." Burt Gummer nodded, "I have a schedule to keep myself."

Xander nodded, glaring at Jon, and turned around just as Faith hit him low in a flying tackle, screaming at the top of her lungs. "GET DOWN!"

They hit the ground hard just as a lightning both struck the dias and blew the podium to shards, and skidded along the carpeted floor, coming to rest just under the first row of seats.

"Assassins!" Faith yelled, reaching under her shirt to drag out her Cold Steel Tomahawks.

Jessie and Jon hid the dirt just behind the stage, instincts honed by patrolling as Mr Gummer flung himself clear over them and rolled under a metal table, kicking it over and ducking well under it.

"What in the holy hell was that!?" He yelled from where he was ducking.

No one answered him right away, Xander was stilling fumbling with his guns while Faith crouched on his chest.

"Damn it, Faith! Get off me!"

"Not quite what I want to hear, boytoy." Faith smirked, rolling clear as she lifted her head to peer through the cracks between the seats.

Xander yanked his pistols then, glaring at her. "Not now, Faith... oh, and thanks."

"No prob, lover." She smirked.

"What have we got?" Xander asked, climbing up to one knee.

"Two assassins, Terakans." She told him, "One guy, one gal. Gal is kinda hot."

"I don't need to know that, Faith." Xander growled.

She just shrugged, "Looks like the guy is into the mojo. Don't know about the gal yet."

"Great." Xander growled, looking over his shoulder. "Jess, Jon, stay down! We'll handle this!"

"Handle what!?" Burt yelled from where he was crouched.

"Nothing Mr Gummer!" Jonathon yelled back. "Just let Xander handle it!"

Burt Gummer grumbled, sinking down to sit with his back against the table as he pulled his .44 magnum Smith from under his shirt. "Let some punk kid handle a firefight. Right. That'll be the day."

"Damnation!" The Mage snapped. "That girl is FAST."

"As fast as the Slayer." The woman replied.

"The blond it the Slayer." The Mage replied. "I tested her for it."

"Well this one is enhanced somehow."

"We must maintain our distance. The Seraphim is well known for his prowess at close combat."

"He's also well known for *shooting* his targets from a distance when possible."

"Perhaps, but it's still to our advantage to remain at a distance. Do you see him?"

"No... He's below the chair line."


Chapter 6

"Damn it!" Burt snapped, ducking back behind the table as something scorched the wall over his head. "What the hell is going on here!?"

"Oh, this is nothing." Jonathon said as he and Jessie scrambled over and ducked behind the table, trying to get out of the line of fire.

"Nothing!?" Burt yelled, poking his head up as he threw up his hands.

A shot that nearly relieved him of both sent him back down behind the table, hissing at his new 'trench mates', "Nothing??"

Jessie sat back against the table, making sure that his head was well below the edge. "Nah. Just a couple assassins. We get this all the time."

"You do??"

"Why do you think Xander HAS an armory?" Jonathon asked with a grin.

"Well, I guess you've got me there." Burt admitted, risking a look around the edge of the table. "I knew I should have packed more then ol Bertha."

"Who's Bertha?"

"My. 44," Burt grinned, holding up the heavy weapon. "Normally I carry bigger guns, of course, but I figured it was a liberal arts college, so... you know..."

"In Sunnydale," Jonathon said dryly, "A preponderance of firepower isn't just a good idea, it's a survival trait."

Burt was about to reply to that when a sudden snarl of machine pistol fire opened up on the other side of the barrier, drowning out anything he could say.

"Moving on three." Xander said in a low voice, inching along the floor toward one of the breaks in the chairs.

"Gotcha." Faith responded, moving in the other direction.

They counted down silently, each knowing the other's timing without thought, and on the three count they both surged out together.

Xander's FiveseveN's blared as he threw himself up and over in a long arc, his senses hypertuned as the twin machine pistols leveled on the first target he saw and his fingers tightened on the triggers. The black mage above them, dressed in an eclectic outfit reminiscent of a bad movie villain from the nineteen twenties, reacted almost as fast as Xander could fire and raised a shield around himself and his sister at the last possible moment.

The bullets slammed into the energy barrier, seconds ahead of the tomahawk that clattered to the ground with depressingly little effect.

"Fuck!" Faith cursed, more annoyed at losing her weapon to a wasted thrown then the application of the energy shield itself.

Xander hit the ground just ahead of a retaliatory strike, not bothering to curse as he slid along the polished floor, dropping the spent clips with a flick of his wrists as the slides on both pistols locked back.

"That's it." Burt growled, steeling himself. "I'm not sitting this one out."

Before Jonathon could say anything he'd jumped up, leveling the big bore of the. 44 Smith on the man he could see up above, triggering off three rounds with impressive speed. The big heavy rounds leapt out from the gun, crossing the space in less then a second, and slammed right into the force field and stopped dead in mid air.

Burt stared, eyes wide as his gun drooped in his hand. "What in the..."

The dark eyed man turned to glare at him then, and raised a glowing hand to point in his direction.

"You can't do that!" Burt objected as Jessie and Jonathon reached up and yanked him down, barely getting his head under the cover of the overturned table as the energy blast fried the wall.

Burt threw himself back up against the table, gun barrel pointed at the ceiling, and looked around. "He can't DO that!"

"Oh yeah? You want to go tell HIM that?" Jessie asked dryly as he looked out around the table.

"Hey Faith?" Xander asked from where he was laying, having just reloaded his guns.

"Yeah, BT?" Faith growled, looking over at him.

"I'm thinking tactical retreat."

"What!?" She nearly blew up, "My Axe is up there!"

Xander rolled his eyes, "I'll get you another one, Faith."

"That's not the point!"

"No, the POINT is that we are seriously lacking in the firepower department to go up against two Terakan assassins in a dangerous public place!" Xander snapped back.

"I still say we can take them hand to hand." Faith mumbled under her breath.

At about that point one of the auditorium's chairs crashed down beside her, nearly taking her head off because whoever had thrown it had taken about three hundred pounds of cement out of the floor to throw with it.

"Or not." She blinked. "Tactical retreat?"

Xander nodded. "Tactical retreat."

"Wow... Uh oh."

"Those are not good words to hear in combination." Burt muttered, looking around the table. "What is it?"

"The lady ripped a chair out of the floor and threw it at Faith." Jonathon muttered.

"What?? HOW!?"

"Does it really matter??" Jessie asked sarcastically.

"Well... No, not at the moment." Burt admitted.

"Right. All that matters is that she looked seriously hot when she did it." Jessie grinned. "Damn, why are all the hot chicks so freaking dangerous?"

"Hey! Joy is hot." Jonathon objected, "And she's not..."

"Dangerous?" Jessie raised an eyebrow. "You do realize that she's a fourth Dan black belt and could kick your ass any time she wanted, right?"

"She doesn't have to be a black belt for that." Jonathon smirked.


Burt shook his head, wiping his brow with his cap before returning it to it's place, and sighed. "Kids. I hate kids."

"Uh oh." Jessie muttered again, "I think that Xan and Faith are gonna make a break for it."

"Huh? Why do you say that?"

Jessie spun around as a sudden flash of fire and blare of gunfire roared through the room, grabbing Jonathon and Burt by the shoulders as he suddenly jumped up and started dragging them toward the door. "Cause their coming this way at a dead run!"

Jon looked over his shoulder briefly, then yelped as the energy blasts started raining down around them. "Can you not say DEAD run!?"

Burt Gummer fired three more shots over his shoulder as he ran, glaring as the heavy caliber bullets slapped into the same invisible shield as the last time, then angrily jammed the pistol into his belt as he broke for the door with the two kids at his side and the other two running hard behind them.

"That's it!" He yelled over the noise. "Next time I go to one of these conferences, I'm bringing my Anti-Materiel Rifle! Damn the school administrators and their mealy mouthed, pansy, 'it's bad for the students' speech!"

"How exactly is a. 44 Magnum 'good for the students'?" Jessie asked breathlessly as they ran.

"It encourages them to mind their own business when I get *cranky*!" Burt yelled back, throwing himself through the big double doors at the far end of the auditorium, Jessie, Jon, Faith, and Xan hot on his heels.

They hit the ground sliding on the other side, the big doors slamming shut behind them, and Xander looked over at Jonathon disgustedly. "You and I need to have a serious talk about the kinds of people you look up to."

"Later boytoy." Faith said, flipping her hair back and out of her face as she hauled him and Jessie bodily to their feet. "If we're gonna do this tactical retreat deal, we'd better do it right the first time."

"Right." Xander nodded, patting her on the back. "Come on!"

The group sprinted down the hall, scaring the hell out of th few braver and stupider students who were still in the general area of the sound of gunfire and explosions, though not any more then the ensuing blast as the doors behind them blew off the hinges and ricocheted down the hall did.

"This way!" Jonathon yelled, grabbing Xander's shoulder and yanking him down a side hall. "It's a short cut!"

"How do you know that!?" Xander asked, frowning as he called up memories of the layout from when he'd gone to UC Sunnydale.

"Did I tour a month ago cause the dean wants me to go here!" Jonathon said as they all raced down the hall toward the big door with the exit sign over it.

"Gotta love geeks!"Faith grinned, sprinting ahead.

"I'd object to that, but I'm kinda all outta breath here...."

Jonathan wheezed as he kept up.

Faith didn't do more then toss a smirk over her shoulder before she hit the door with a flying kick that smashed the heavy fire door off it's hinges and threw it out into the campus quad.

"Damn it Faith!" Xander cursed as they ran through, "We don't need to add to the gratuitous property damage!"

"Aww... why should the bad guys get all the fun?"

Burt Gummer turned around, looking at the door frame, the door, and Faith in shock and confusion. "She... How... I... What..."

"Not now!" Jonathon yelled, grabbing him by the shoulder and yanking. "We don't want to be here when they come out of there!"

Burt barely managed to grab his cap as the pudgy looking kid managed to almost yank him off his feet as they all started running again.

In the parking lot Xander hit the autostarter in his pocket and the SUV roared to life as they all piled in, "Faith! Heavy weapons in the back!"

"On it!" Faith grinned, diving over the back seat and yanking a tarp clear. "Come to mamma!"

"Is that..." Jonathon paled.

"Oh hell." Jessie groaned.

"What in the name of...." Burt asked, but was cut off when Jonathon and Jessie yanked his head down.

"Get down! Faith and Firepower equals bad news!" Jessie yelped as Xander shifted into reverse and hit the gas, spinning the wheels hard on the pavement while Faith opened the rear door of the SUV, letting it ride up on it's pneumatics while she braced her legs on either side of the door, her back on the raised rear seat, and pointed the big muzzle of the Pulse Rifle out the open space.

Chapter 7

"They went through here, Sister!"

"Follow them! The Seraphim is running, we must press our advantage!"

The two Terakan Assassins raced through the broken door and into the university grounds just as a black SUV squealed it's tires against the pavement as it pulled out of it's lot and spun around, rocking dangerously from the maneuver.

"There!" The woman yelled, pointing at the vehicle as it's rear end popped open and turned to face them.

"Get down!" The man yelled, diving for the ground as he caught a glimpse of something he didn't like.

A whining roar filled the air, and ninety-five explosive armor piercing rounds slammed home around the, over thirty of them finding the female assassin in the midst of preparing a spell. The male Terakan flinched as blood, bone, cement, and particles of wood rained down around him.

The black SUV shifted gears then, lurching forward, and jumped the sidewalk as it pulled out onto the road and roared off.

"Right." The Terakan muttered, climbing to his feet and wiping some of the gore from his shoulder. "Don't chase the Seraphim if he runs. Got it."

"Got the bitch!" Faith crowed as she tossed the empty Pulse Rifle to the floor of the SUV and yanked the rear door shut.

"Holy Hannah!" Burt swore, "What the hell was that?"

"The Assassin?" Xander asked over his shoulder, "Just a Member of the Order of Teraka. They're a loose organization of assassins that date back a few thousand years or so, and hire out on..."

"Not them! That gun!" Burt was staring over the back seat, "I've never seen that kind of Rifle before!"

Xander rolled his eyes, "Show the guy a rifle and a magic casting assassin from a millennia old order, and what catches his eye?"

"This old thing?" Faith smirked, picking the Pulse Rifle up and dropping the clip from the reciever. "It's just something we threw in the back of the truck for special occasions."

Burt stared at the young girl who was holding a rifle that looked like it was about two times too big for her, then kept staring as she expertly checked the weapon, slapped another magazine into the reciever, and primed it for action again.

Her mock coyness was gone when she turned her focus to Xander a second later, "We clear, Boytoy?"

"Clear." Xander said, grabbing his Fold Comm and affixing it to his jawline. "Merlin, we've got problems."

"Again?" The voice asked dryly in his ear.


"Oh dear." The advanced AI sighed. "Very well, I'm putting out an all points now."

"Thankyou Mr Wizard." Xander replied, "Inform them that we suffered no casualties and are returning home."

"Confirmed. Would you like backup, Commander?"

Xander paused, thinking about it. "What's the Status on the Cadre?"

"Firming up." Merlin replied, "I wouldn't risk them on a high risk assignment yet, but they're improving."

"Talk to Grey. Give me five men, full load." Xander ordered.

"Confirmed. Expect them in Three hours."

"Thank you Mr Wizard." Xander said, smiling slightly. "Harris out."

Merlin signed off then, and Xander half turned as he drove. "Merlin and Grey are sending five men from the Cadre. They'll be here inside of three hours."

"Cool." Jessie grinned, "We get to see your mystery group in action."

"Yeah." Jon grinned.

"Eh, they ain't so tough." Faith put in.

Burt Gummer stared back and forth between the load of them. "Who ARE you people!?"



"Yes Merlin?" General Gray asked, looking up from where he was overlooking a series of reports from the engineers working on the lower levels.

"The Commander has been attacked by more Terakans."

"Is he alright?"

"Yes General, however he would like five men as backup against further attempts."

Grey nodded, "Alright. Give me Apone and his team, and have them suited and ready for dust off in ten minutes."

"Very good, General." Merlin replied, sending the orders.

Grey frowned, then looked up again. "Merlin... what information do you have on the Terakans?"

Merlin hesitated for a brief instant, "Not as complete as I would prefer. The Order does not use computers for the most part, which limits my penetration of their organization. I can identify twelve Terakan cells, worldwide, and approximately thirty six members."

Grey sat back, playing with the stylus in his hand for a brief moment. "Alright Merlin, Give me the locations of those cells and have the rest of the Cadre placed on standby alert."

"I feel I should warn you that the Cadre may not be prepared for a high risk Mission, General." Merlin warned.

"Not on their own, no." Grey conceded. "But if we wait for the situation in Sunnydale to quiet down then we can recall the Commander and some of his contacts to provide team leaders."

Merlin considered that, then nodded his virtual avatar. "Agreed, General."

"You'd better seen how many Powersuits Andy can prep in the next few hours."

"Hey," Xander glanced over his shoulder, "You! Monster guy!"

Faith snickered.

Burt glared at them both, "What!?"

"Where can I drop you off?"

"Are you kidding me??" Gummer asked, "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me where you got that rifle!"

"What? This?" Faith climbed over the back seat, still holding the rifle. "Boytoy's company makes 'em."


Xander sighed, "Look... Mr... Gummer is it? You can't stay with us, it's too dangerous."

"Ha!" Burt grinned, "Didn't you catch my slide show?"

"Hunting Sloggoth demons isn't the same thing as taking on Terakan assassins!" Xander snapped, taking a turn on two wheels. "Besides, you're a little underarmed."

Burt reached over Faith shoulder and plucked the rifle from her hands before she could react. "I can fix that!"

"Hey! Give that back!" Faith yelled, diving over at him.

Xander groaned, "Dear God. He's as bad as a Slayer."

"Would you relax?" Burt said, dropping the clip and emptying the breech. "A just want to check it out."

"I'll check you out," Faith growled, holding up her fist.

"God damn it!" Xander yelled, half turning around. "Don't make me come back there!"

Faith pouted, falling back into her seat. "He started it."

"I did not!"

"Did too!"

"Did n..." Burt stopped, looked around in disbelief. "My god, I'm acting like Val and Earl. It's got to be something in the air..."

"That's Sunnydale for you." Xander muttered, "Turns everyone into pubescent girls. And you don't want to KNOW what it turns THEM into."

"Hey!" Faith snarled, reaching forward and grabbing Xander by the hair, yanking his head back as he tried to keep the SUV from swerving. "I know where you sleep, boytoy."

She let him go then, and he took the next right into the long drive to the mansion. "Yeah. Why do you think I had my room reinforced?"

"I thought it was cause you and Nat make so much noise the rest of us can't get any sleep." Faith returned sourly.

"'Gnat?'" Burt asked, looking around in confusion.

"Natalie." Jessie filled him in absently. "She's the French teacher, and she's super hot."

"Ex-french teacher." Jonathon corrected.

"Not in my dreams she ain't." Jessie smiled.

"Hey!" Xander glared over his shoulder. "No fantasies about my girl!"

"You gonna stop me?" Jessie grinned.

Xander bared his teeth in a decidedly not nice smile, "You wanna find out what it's like to have Freddy Kreuger chasing you in every dream you have for the rest of the year?"

Jessie lose the smile, and looked worried. "You can't do that..."

He looked around.

"He can't do that, right?"

"If he can't," Faith smirked, "I'll bet that the babe in the chainmail Bikini can."

"Babe in the chainmail Bikini?" Burt asked, now hopelessly confused.

"Hey! There's another babe around here that we haven't seen!?"

Jessie demanded. "Where is she hiding!? I want to see that bikini! I *demand* to see that bikini!"

Xander suddenly burst out laughing, a slightly maniacal bent to it.

Faith looked over at him, then back at Jessie with a big grin. "Oh, I think you just might."

"Good!" Jessie grinned, pumping his fist. Then he paused, looking at the sinister grins on Faith and Xander's face. "That is good, right?"

He looked around plaintively.

Burt Gummer held up his hands, "Don't ask me, I think you're all loony tunes."

Chapter 8

"He is falling back to the mansion."

"Follow him."

"As you command."

The man stared at the blank wall he had been talking to a second earlier, wondering if his very best would be defeated. The Terakan's had never defaulted on a contract in their entire existence, and they would not start now.

This Seraphim would die, if it took the last breath of every Terakan on the planet to make it happen.

Xander kicked the door open as he moved in, pistols out and in hand as he swept the inside of his own home.

"Clear!" He snapped, dropping the FiveseveN's slightly as he noted Tara standing by the living room with Mikki at her side.

"W... what's going on??" A voice demanded from the stairs.

Xander glanced up, noting Cordelia as she came down the stairs, sword in hand. "More assassins."

Cordelia swallowed, face tightening. "Again? Who did you piss off anyway?"

"Don't know. Probably the Master." Xander shrugged, "I've got to suit up, we've got backup inbount from Avalon. Tara, armor! Now."

Tara nodded nervously, but didn't say anything as she immediately headed for the basement. Xander followed on her heels, snapping orders as he did. "Faith, Jon, Jess, same goes for you! Suit up, we've got trouble coming in."

Jessie suddenly grinned ear to ear, "Alright!"

Jonathon just looked a little ill.

Xander didn't say anything, just shoved them on the back as they passed him, and eyed Burt Gummer narrowly. "What size are you?"

"Eh, what?" Gummer asked, blinking.

"Size. Clothing. What do you wear?" Xander said slowly and deliberately, like one would to a person they considered mentally feeble.

"I don't know... Large I guess."

Xander groaned, shaking his head. "Get downstairs. We'll suit you up with whatever we've got. What weapons permits and courses do you have?"

"I'm licensed with the Federal government to handle prohibited weapons, and when I'm out of the country I've picked up training in everything up to light anti-tank weapons." Burt replied instantly, "I was trying to get someone to sell me some of the heavier stuff, but the best I could do was a Quad-AA gun from the Russians."

Burt was still going on as he vanished down into the basement, Xander staring at his back in a moment of stunned confusion.

"I swear," Xander said after a while, "It must be me. I must just attract all the lunatics."

He sighed and headed down, letting the deceptively disguised blast door slam shut behind him.

"Move it! Move it! Move it!" Gunny Apone growled, cigar clamped in his teeth as he grinned at his team as they jogged up to the waiting Orca.

The vehicle they were using was a converted bomber, rather then the standard APC, something that Commander Harris, Merlin, and General Grey had been working on over the last few months. The bomber's had heavier armor, more lift power, and some decent firepower for vehicle's their size.

In the back of the craft there wasn't a lot of room for the team, especially not once their weapons and gear were factored in, but it was a great deal more solid and secure then the smaller, faster APC. For a mass landing, Apone figured the APC was the way to go, but for small insertions like this one, he was happy to be using the heavier Orca.

His team, including Hicks, Vasquez, Drake, and Hudson this time around was loaded up and ready to move out within seconds but Apone paused on the descended plank of the Orca to look around.

The base was in an uproar, men running in all directions as orders came down to prepare for a mission, and it looked good to the former Marine Corps Sergeant. He grinned widely, startling white teeth striking against the dark of his skin, and pulled the cigar from his mouth with a smirk. "I loved the corps, but damn if this ain't a purty sight too!"

Then he grabbed an overhanging brace and yanked himself up and into the Orca, beating on the walls with his fist. "Locked and loaded! Let's roll!"

The Orca rumbled as it began to power up, the plank sealing back up to the body as a young voice came over the comm.

"Settle in boys, My name is Wheeler and I'll be your Captain for this flight. Make sure your tray tables are in their upright and locked position, cause I've never flown on of these before and I'm feeling adventurous."

Hudson looked up sharply, paling. "She's joking right? Sarge, tell me that she's joking!"

Apone just yanked his restraints down hard, until they were almost cutting off the circulation. "Stuff it, Hudson! And hang on!"

The converted Bomber rumbled heavily for a moment, then everything smoothed out as she came off the ground and they were underway.

"Here." Xander said curtly, throwing some gear at Burt. "Put that on."

"What's this?" Gummer asked, catching the soft material in mid air and frowning at it.


"Armor!? Son this won't stop a peashooter!"

Xander ignored him for a second as he pulled his own armored vest on, slapping the clips together, and slid his FiveseveNs into the integral holsters. Then he looked up, "It'll stop a Fifty caliber slug fired from a Barret M-92 rifle. Put it on."

Burt looked down at the armor again and blinked, then noticed that everyone else was putting theirs on. He shrugged, and started fitting the vest. "Alright."

"Weapons!" Xander called then, and the far wall swung open in two places, revealing the weapon cache.

"Wow." Burt muttered, as the array of weaponry came into sight.

The collection was impressive to be sure, certainly packing more punch then his did, though lacking in some of the more eclectic selections that Burt preferred. What it did have, however, was a fine selection of compatible firearms that was obviously intended to see use by an orginization, not an individual.

"Alright, damnit all!" Burt yelled suddenly, holding up his hands. "Who ARE you people!?"

"Faith," Xander said, ignoring the outburst. "Drop the Pulse Rifle."

Faith smirked, slapping the weapon down on the armorer's table and stepping forward to where Xander was holding up a harness. "You're too good to me, Boytoy."

"Yeah yeah, just don't shoot me in the ass." Xander muttered as he fitted her for the Smart Gun.

She smirked as she felt the weight of the energy weapon settle onto her shoulders, and just shrugged. "I wouldn't scar that fine ass, X."

Xander just rolled his eyes and clapped the clamshell helmet around her head.

"Ouch!" She yelped, "Watch it, that's my hair you're yanking out!"

"You'll live." Xander muttered, stepping away and plucking one of the M41's from the racks for himself.

"What do we get!?" Jessie spoke up eagerly.

"A kick in the ass." Burt muttered, shaking his head.


"Here." Xander tossed a pair of small smooth designed items to Jessie and Jon, "Those are military Zats."

"Huh?" They asked, looking blankly at him.

"You tell them, Faith." Xander said, looping the strap of the Pulse Rifle around his head as he turned back to the armory.

"Here's the scoop, J's." Faith said, striding forward, "What you're holding is the Movieland version of a Tazer..."

She plucked one of the weapons from Jessie, flipping the safe catch and letting it extend it's barrel with an electric snap.

"This puppy is designed to take a human down with one shot, without killing the poor bastard." She extended the weapon straight out, pointing it at the far wall. "Firing!"

Faith touched the firing stud, and let the blue blast of power slap into the wall where it dissipated harmlessly. "Second shot kills your man, so don't play tag with the suckers. Got that?"

"Uhh...." Jessie stared at the weapon. "Sure."

"Where the HELL did you people get weapons like this!?" Burt asked, completely stunned by the weapons he was seeing.

Xander shrugged, not looking around. "Stole my first set from an asshole you tried to kill me. Grab a few more from a secret Government base. These came from somewhere else."

"Holy Hannah! The Government has weapons like this!?" Burt stared in shock, blinking. "Big brother is coming... I knew it!"

"Just the Air Force." Xander said, grabbing extra clips for his FN-57s. "But they need them to fight the aliens."

Burt stared at him for a moment, then laughed. "Right. You had me going for a second."

Xander just shrugged, stepping back as he finished with his own weapons. He glanced back, but not at Burt. "Tara?"

The timid blond was finishing with the straps on her armor and had already slid one of the extra zats into the integral holster and was checking a small leather pouch. She looked up, "Yes?"

"Watch Mik and Cor, hang back if they make a move." He said firmly. "If anyone's hurt, we'll need you to stabilize them."

Tara nodded, "ok."

"The little girl is your medic??" Burt blinked. "You have got to be shitting me."

"Tara's tough." Faith snapped, slapping him in the chest and wrapping her hands around the strong fabric. Burt yelped as he was lifted off his feet singlehandedly by a girl that he outweighed by more then two to one. "Trust me."

She smirked, then let him go.

Burt fell the twelve inches to the ground, just barely keeping his balance, as everyone around him starting moving again. He looked around blankly, shaking slightly, and shook his head.

"I thought Val and Earl were nuts." He muttered.

Xander paused, looking at him as they others headed upstairs.

"Listen, pal. You're not supposed to be here, we didn't invite you. I'm sorry you got caught up in my business, but if you keep your head down we'll handle it and you can be on your way."

"Keep my head down!?" Burt retrieved the M41 that Faith had discarded. "I don't think so, pal. Burt Gummer doesn't run from trouble."

Xander snorted, "Then you don't want to move in around here, pal.

You'd be dead inside of twenty four hours."

Chapter 9

The doors to the library slammed open startling Wesley into jumping, sending the book he was reading to the floor, and his tea to his lap.

"Ah ah ah!" He screamed, jumping up, "Hot hot!"

"What the hell is going on, Wesley!?" Buffy demanded, ignoring his prancing as he tried to fan his slacks away from his crotch.

He ignored her in turn until he managed to get the spill cool enough that it wasn't cooking what was underneath, then he glared at her, "Other the you causing me to scald myself!?"

"I meant with Xander!" She growled, "I got another one of those mystery phone calls from that Merlin guy!"

"As did I," Wesley glared, "And I'm certain that you were told everything I was. Xander has attracted some very dangerous attention to himself."

"Who are these Terakan guys!?" Buffy tossed herself down into a chair. "And why are they always after Xander?"

"They are a very old order of Assassins." Wesley said, still pulling his pants away from his crotch, though now because the liquid had cooled enough to be uncomfortably chilly. "It is said that they never default on a contract. It's entirely possible that they will continue to come after Xander until such time as he finally runs out of luck."

She scowled openly at him, but he brushed her off.

"I'm not saying for sure," He shrugged, "The boy appears... disturbingly able to defend himself. However, the Terakans have never failed according to all reports."

"If they're so dangerous how come we get a call to run and hide whenever they're in town!?" Buffy complained, "He needs all the help he can get!"

"I feel quite certain that the reason we're told to hide is because of how dangerous they are. Mr Harris isn't the brightest person I've ever known, to be brutally honest. He's arrogant, over confident, and those two things will most likely be his downfall." Wesley said as he finished patting his pants down with a handkerchief.

"We should be helping him." Buffy practically pouted.

"Would you really want Willow, or Jessie, or Jonathon in the middle of that with him?" Wesley asked pointedly. "Xander, as much as it may pain you to hear it, brought a great deal of this on himself."

"Not making me feel any better." She scowled.

"Yes well, here..." He shoved a book at her.

"What's this?" She looked down at the book skeptically.

"It's a book." He said, deliberately pronouncing each syllable as if for a child. "You read it."

The look she gave him could have melted steel, but he just shook his head and headed for his office. "Now if you'll pardon me, I need to change my slacks. It seems that some dumb twit of a girl made me spill tea over them."

"Yeah I got yer tea right here..." Buffy mumbled, flashing a fist in his direction.

He ignored her, vanishing into his office, so she looked down at the old leather bound book and squinted at the title.

"Hey!" She yelled back a moment later, "What is this!? I can't read this!"

"It's *latin*!" He yelled back, "And you've been reading it all year!"

She looked back down at the text the frowned, "Oh yeah."

After another long moment she looked around furtively, then fanned the pages out with her thumb, "Too bad I was faking it. Ooh! Pictures!"

"The target is within the grounds."

"Have we circumvented the wards?"

"No. They are... impressive."

"That powerful?"

"No, not powerful. Clever. They provide a constant feedback to those within who are capable of sensing them. If they are removed, they will know. If we breach them, they will know. If we cross them..."

"They will know. Got it. Plan B?"

"We do not have the manpower for another futile assault on the target. His people eliminated ten of our brethren the last time, and another one mere minutes ago."

"They had many more people then."

"People are irrelevant. Only the target matters... and he is not to be underestimated."

"What then?"

"Draw back. We will entice them to come out into an area of our choosing. For the meantime, the target is isolated, and removed from the Slayer. That will please the contractor almost as much as closing the contract on this one."

"Any sign of them out there?"

Xander shook his head, not glancing over to where Burt was crouching by a window. "No. They're staying clear this time."

Burt blinked, looking over at Xander. "*This* time??"

"That's cause we SO kicked their ass the last time." Faith smirked. "Ten came in, one walked out."

"We should have gotten that bastard too." Xander grumbled, "I knew I shouldn't have trusted the non-lethals."

"I don't know if I'm in heaven, or hell." Burt muttered, sitting down, back against the wall.

"Hell's doorstep, if you want to get technical."Faith said with a shrug. "They really not coming in?"

"N... no." Tara said softly. "The wards are still in place. They haven't crossed them, or t... tampered with them."

Xander scowled, but nodded in agreement. "They're not stupid enough to come after me on my own turf again."

"So whadda we do, Boytoy?" Faith asked with a shrug.

"I'm..." Xander was cut off by the phone ringing. He crossed over to it quickly and plucked it up, "Yeah?"

After a moment he smiled, "Oh, hey Nat, how's it going?"

Burt raised an eyebrow, and Jessie just smirked. "The french teacher."

Xander ignored them both, "No... No, I'm sorry. I can't make it to LA this weekend. Something's come up. No, nothing earth shaking. How about next weekend?"

"Is he making a *date*?" Burt asked, not believing what he was hearing.

"You're going *where* next week?" Xander asked, confused.

"Whatzikstan?? What the hell is over there? Oh. Nuclear Terrorists. Cool."

Burt gaped while Faith snickered. "Guess he's not making a date."

Xander, for his part suddenly paused. "Hey, wait a second... You're telling me that you *scheduled* a fight with Nuclear terrorists a week in advance?? How the hell did you do that!?"

"The scary thing here is that he's not joking." Jonathon said dryly, shaking his head as e stayed crouched down behind the couch. He trusted Xander and Tara, but truth was he didn't really want to test their ward theory himself.

"Oh." Xander said, cradling the phone against his shoulder as he set down his Pulse Rifle and pulled his Desert Eagle from his hop and racked it. "That makes sense I guess. What? No, that was the TV... No I didn't just chamber a round in my Desert Eagle. No, seriously Nat, there's no crisis here. I'm fine..."

Jessie rolled his eyes as Xander put the big down down with extreme care not to make any further sounds. "Only Xander could possible attract a woman who would recognize that sound over the phone."

Burt Gummer snorted, then shook his head as he smiled a little fondly.

"No, I'm really Sorry Natalie... I wish I could make it. No, It's ok... enjoy your time off, This is just Sunnydale stuff." Xander was saying as he grabbed a chair and fell into it. "I wish I could be there too... Alright, cool. I'll see you, well whenever. K? Bye!"

He hung up the phone and slumped slightly as he tossed the mobile to the couch where it bounced several times. "Damn. That girl can hear a weapon sound from a hundred paces."

"Sounds like my kind girl." Burt replied from where he was still crouched against the wall.

Xander shot him a look, "Don't even think about it, Gummer. Nat's mine."

Burt just held up his hands, "Hey you can have her. I'm not looking for trouble like that. I prefer to deal with things that I can legally shoot."

Jessie burst out laughing.

"SHUT UP!" Every woman in the room yelled at him simultaneously.

"Hey wow!"

"What is it?" Wesley shouted from his office.

"There's a picture in this book that looks a lot like me!" Buffy yelled back.

"What?" Wesley popped his head out, frowning. "You are joking, I hope?"

"Nope," Buffy said, turning the book and lifting it up so he could see. "See? Me."

Wesley frowned, then squinted, but couldn't make it out clearly. He quickly finished tugging his pants up, half hopping out as he pulled the zipper up and started over.

"Hey! Ew ew ew ew!" Buffy snapped, yanking the book up to cover her eyes. "Bad librarian!"

Wesley groaned, quickly finishing doing up his pants, and continued forward. "Let me see this."

Buffy peeked out from under the book and, upon making sure that Wes was decent, handed it over to him. "What's this book thing anyway?"

"It's the Pernanum Codex." Wesley replied, "One of the key articles of prophecy for the Slayer line."

"Whoa... Cool. And I'm in it!?" Buffy grinned.

Wesley looked down at the picture, which he had to admit DID look an awful lot like Buffy Summers. "Well... perhaps. I'll translate this prophecy immediately."

"Cool. You think maybe I'm prophesied to have a car?"

Wesley looked up at her, unbelieving for a moment, then licked his lips slightly as he spoke softly. "Aren't you the one who caused the Driver's Ed teacher's nervous breakdown last month?"

"Oh that was SO not my fault!" Buffy defended herself, "That cement truck was in the wrong! And besides, I think it was, like, a one millionth customer thing anyway! He was due for a heartattack, really!"

Chapter 10

"Heads up, boys!" Wheeler called back over her shoulder. "We're coming down to the deck and the ride could get a little bumpy from here on out!"

"A little bumpy!?" Hudson yelped, looking up toward the cockpit of the converted bomber, "What did she call that takeoff!?"

"A Learning curve!" Wheeler shouted back, grinning.

The pilot dropped the Bomber down onto the deck, flying only a few feet over the top of the waves, and the surface effect of their high speed passage sent a heavy vibration through the body of the big craft. She ignored it, knowing that it was a minor concern and that the overall turbulence would actually be less then flying at altitude.

She didn't tell the warriors in the back that though.

"She trying to kill us, Sarge!" Hudson whined, grabbing onto his hat as the bomber jolted a couple times.

"A quit yer bellyaching, Hudson!" Apone growled through the Cigar he'd tossed between his teeth the second they were clear of Avalon.

Hudson groaned, but simmered down as Wheeler looked back over her shoulder again.

"ETA is in fifteen minutes, boys!"

Apone nodded in response but didn't say anything as the rest of the team went through last minute weapon checks. All except Hicks.

Hicks snored.

"What in the blue blazes is that!?"

Burt Gummer had given up his position at the wall near the window, and had crept back to where Xander was looking at a projection of Sunnydale from space.

"Key hole Sattelite imagery." Xander said without looking back. "We borrowed the NRO's bird."

"What!? Why??"

"Because we don't have one of our own yet." Xander dead panned.

"Fine, smart ass." Burt grumbled, glaring at the projection. "So what are you anyway? Some kind of Men in Black? Government toadies?"

Xander glanced back at the man then, eyebrow raised skeptically.

"Are you for real?"

"More real the you apparently."

"He's got you there, Xan." Jessie smirked, coming over.

"Stay out of this, Jes." Xander growled, but without any real bite. "And for your information, Mr Gummer, no. We're not."

"Oh yeah? So where'd you get all the fancy gadgets?" Gummer pointed to the holographic projection.

"Atlantis." Xander delivered straight faced.

Gummer glared at him, "Yeah. Right. Why don't you just say 'classified' and be done with it?"

Xander shrugged, smirking to himself. "Whatever floats your boat."

Burt gave up, sighing, and looked at the projection. "What do you see there anyway?"

Xander reached up and touched the floating image, causing it to center on the point he indicated. "That's us."

He splayed his fingers out, radiating them from the point he'd touched, and the screen suddenly zoomed in until Burt could recognize the large white house, and even the SUV parked outside. Along the edge, though, a red line was lit up.

"What's that line?"

"That's the extent of our wards." Xander replied distractedly, eyes scouring the display.

"And what are 'wards'?" Burt asked, mock patience straining his tone.

"Magical security."

Gummer rolled his eyes and threw up his hands as he turned away, "You're a real freak, you know that?"

Xander ignored him, "Merlin... Go to Thermal."

"Confirmed, Commander."

The projection shifted then, the majority of the screen going black as the Avalonian computer system accepted the thermal imagery from the satellite. It overlaid the screen with map data, and the outline of the mansion and it's boundaries. In the center of the screen, inside the mansion, several dots of varying degrees of brightness were illuminated, but Xander wasn't looking there.

Out along the edge of the screen, he could see no less then seven dots lined up along various points around the periphery of the magical wards that Tara and Jacks had set into place.

"There." Xander sneered slightly. "They're hiding in that copse of trees to the south."

Burt came back around, frowning at the screen, then he glanced back toward the window. "That's downhill from here."

Xander nodded, "Tara, do me a favor?"

The mousy blond looked over nervously, but nodded. "O... ok..."

"Go fetch me my long rifle from the armory." Xander said, "The Walther I picked up in LA last month?"

She nodded, "ok."

As she ran off, Burt eyed the distance to the trees idly. "That's almost three hundred yards. You think you can make that?"

Xander smirked, "In my sleep."

"Oh my... this is not good." Wesley murmured softly, looking over the pages for the hundredth time.


"This section here says that 'The Master will rise...'" He said, frowning in concentration, "But I'm not done translating yet."

"Oh." Buffy pouted, "So... almost done?"

"No." He sighed in irritation.

Buffy toyed with a pencil, flipping it over and over in her hands, then finally jumped up. "I'm going to patrol."

"What?" Wesley looked up, frowning, and noted that the sky was darkening outside. "I'm not certain that's a good idea... The assassins..."

"Are after Xander, and he's not going to be out saving people from Vampires tonight, now is he?"

"Well, no, I suppose..."

"Sacred duty, remember?" Buffy said, a little too perkily. "See ya!"

"Wait! No, Buffy!" Wesley groaned as she darted out.

He shook his head, "Slayers. American Slayers even."

Still, he supposed that she was right. She had a duty, and the Assassins weren't after her, after all. In fact, if Harris was running true to form, they were probably all involved in some lunatic gun battle by this point.

He looked back down at the book on the table and frowned, leaning in closer.

"The Master shall rise... Now what is the next line? Drat it all, where is my reference material?"

Xander nudged the upstairs window open just a crack, looking out over the darkening grounds that Faith's room overlooked. The room was dark, all the lights upstairs shut off, but he wasn't taking any chances just the same. There were a lot things out there that could see Auras, heat, or just had plain old nightvision, and the Terakan's could be any of them.

He nudged the barrel of the Walther WA-2000 through the crack and flipped on the nightvision optics on the powerful scope as he lowered his head down to rest on the comfortable chestnut stock of the custom weapon.

"Anything?" Burt Gummer asked from where he was crouched, just a few feet away.

Xander didn't look up, but just shook his head. The other man had become a rather insistent hanger on over the past couple hours, but he was starting to grow on Xander as much as he'd hate to admit it.

Gummer's sense of humor was almost as warped as Xander's own, and the man certainly knew his weapons.

Xander pushed the thought from his mind as he focused down range, scanning the trees carefully, looking for any hint of the enemy assassins. The first hint he found was a flicker of movement that edged against the waving background of the trees in the Starlight scope.

"Got one." He whispered.

"Where?" Faith asked, lifting her binoculars to her eyes.

"Three hundred meters, the third Oak from the gate posts." He said.

"I'm looking, but I don't see him, Boytoy." Faith said a moment later.

"Follow the first big branch out toward the left about halfway, then look down."

"I see him." Faith nodded.

"What do you make him as?"

"Looks human... I've got heat on the thermal setting, so it's not a vamp. Mage?" Faith asked.

Xander nodded curtly. "Yeah. He's casting, see the motions of his hands?"

Faith looked, then nodded. "Yeah. You know what spell?"

"Looks like he's setting up an attack, but it'll never work," Xander said after a moment.


"It's a low level bolt spell, if I'm reading him right. The wards are stronger then that." Xander said, musing as he did. "Probably a distraction, maybe he's going to try to bait us."

Faith smirked, "What do you want to do about it?"

Xander's thumb flicked the safety off the WA-2000 and he centered the crosshairs on the Mage. "Taking the shot."

Faith nodded, and covered her ears.

The. 300 Winchester Magnum rifle barked once, sharply, it's sound reverberating through the room like the small explosion it was, but the room itself caught most of it, keeping the sound trapped inside and only letting some spill outside.

Three hundred yards downrange, it collided with it's target and unceremoniously dropped the mage to the ground.

"Shit!" The Terakan cursed as he threw himself away from the fallen mage, a spatter of blood lining his face and neck. "What the..."

Those were his last words as his involuntary movement gave away his position and another. 300 Winchester Magnum ripped through his chest.

"Sniper!" Someone called, and the remaining Terakans quickly put heavier cover between themselves and the house.


Chapter 11

"See anyone else?"

Faith shook her head, "Sorry Boytoy. They're too well covered. Can't you do that voodoo thing with your eyes?"

Xander sighed, pulling the rifle back and setting it aside. "No go. Can't see Aura's through optics, and the trees down there put out too much of their own to see the bad guys from here."

"Well shit." Faith sighed. "I can't believe that we're penned up in here by some two bit assassins."

"Does this happen to you two a lot?"

Faith laughed, glancing back at Burt Gummer. "Second time this year."

"Actually, the first time was more of an aborted assault." Xander corrected as he lifted the night vision binoculars to his eyes. "Looks like they learned their lesson about coming in uninvited."

"Too bad." Faith pouted, "I wanted to see how that new security stuff worked."

"Yeah..." Xander smiled crookedly. "Me too."

"So... what now?"

Xander shrugged, "As long as they stay down there... nothing. We wait for backup."

"Damn it." Faith crossed her arms. "This sucks."

Xander rolled his eyes.


"We're inbound on the dime, Boss!" Wheeler called over the rumble of the Orca as she held the control stick tightly in her grip.

A moment later she winced, then spoke a little softer. "Sorry boss, it's a little noisy here right now. Right. South perimeter. Got it. Right, be there before you know it. Wheeler out."

After signing off she looked back over her shoulder and yelled through the open gap that had been created to the rear compartment. "Get ready people! We've got hostiles on the south perimeter of the Commander's compound! He's got two down, but figures there are more in the area."

"Right!" Apone yelled back. "You get us there, we'll handle the rest."

"That's the plan, Stan!" Wheeler smirked, then turned back to her flying.

Apone in turn looked to his team, "Alright. We've got an insertion in less then five minutes! Hudson, check your gear! Drake, Vasquez, you'd better prep those guns..."

He looked around to another face and grimaced, "And would somebody please wake Hicks!?"

"They'll be here in a second, F." Xander said, lifting the rifle back to his shoulder as he peered down at the copse of trees. "Once the marines land, we'll be moving fast so you'd better get the others ready."

"Check." She tossed him a flimsy two fingered salute and sauntered out of the room quickly.

"Marines??" Gummer asked, unbelieving.

"Former Marines." Xander said without looking up. "They got section eighted out of the corps a while back."

"Oh God. Crazy marines." Gummer groaned.

"You know any other kind?" Xander chuckled, making the rifle jump a little.

"You know, I've changed my mind." Gummer announced, "I don't want to know who you are. I don't want to know what you do. I just want to go back to hunting Graboids. It's easier on the sanity."

Xander snorted, again making the image in his scope jump. "You sure about that?"

"Hell yes I'm sure...!" Burt paused as he spoke, then glared at the back of Xander's head. "Oh real funny wise guy!"

"That's me." Xander murmured from where he was now exercising a calming pattern to his breathing, steadying his aim. "Now shut up for a bit. I want to be ready for any targets of opportunity."

"Merlin, this is Wheeler."

"I'm with you, Wheeler." The calm voice came over her comm set instantly.

"Requesting a patch on the thermal imagery you provided the commander."

"I'm afraid that it's no longer available." Merlin replied, "The satellite has passed out of range."

Wheeler grimaced, "Damn. Alright. Last known data on Hostile positions?"


A panel lit up with an image of the ground ahead as Wheeler yanked back on the stick and everyone in the converted bomber was pushed back into their seats. Five dots colored the southern border of the perimeter marked off by Merlin, and Wheeler sent the Orca into a arcing climb that slammed them all over sideways as she banked the big craft into position.

They cleared the cliffs with a whole five meters to spare, banking to the south as Wheeler twisted the stick in her hand and reached forward to thumb the Orca's sole remaining weapon to power. The forward gimbal mounted cannon jumped to life, it's targeting system projecting an image directly into Wheeler's left eye as she brought the Orca to the apex of it's arcing climb and let it begin to drop.

It lost altitude faster then it had gained it, pulling negative Gees as everyone in the back tried to hang on to their stomachs. In front of them, only Wheeler could see the trees spin as they dropped and she jerked the stick around hard.

The Orca seemed to bounce as Wheeler slammed the counter gravity system hard at the last moment, skimming the treetops as she brought her guns around to bear on the last known hiding places of the assassins.

"We're here!" She yelled over her shoulder, not taking her eyes off the front screens. "I'm gonna clear the LZ. Hang on!"

Behind her she heard Hudson start complaining.

"Hang on!? Now she tells us to hang on!?"

Thermal, Motion, UV, even Radar returns and a half dozen other sensor methods were all painted across the back of her eyeball as Wheeler twisted the stick and turned the Orca in it's mid air hover to scan the area under the trees.

"Got one." She said grimly into the comm. "Going hot."

Her finger tightened on the firing stud of the forward cannon, and the Orca began to rock with the heavy sounds of pulse fire pouring from it's gun.

"Sweet mother of mercy!"

Xander ignored the outburst from Burt, keeping an eye on the scope as he scanned the terrain below. The Terakans would have to be made of pure alloyed steel to stay under cover with that kind of fire pouring down on them from above, and when they moved he'd be waiting for the shot.

Burt, meanwhile, was trying to make out the source of the lightshow that was happening before his eyes, but could only make out the dim outline of something hovering over the copse of trees in time to the flashes of it's gun.

"What in all that's holy is that?" The lanky man asked in shock and confusion.

"Orca." Xander said softly, eyes focusing on something that had moved below.

"Killer whale??"

"Something like that."

"Jesus, it's got to be an assault chopper... a Cobra or something! You buy it from South America? I know that Paraguay has a couple for sale..."

Gummer went on, but Xander wasn't listening anymore. He'd spotted a figure moving away from the fire and was already tracking.

The bark of the rifle startled Burt into silence and he grabbed up the night vision binoculars, quickly scanning for the target Xander had fired on. "You get him?"

"Oh yeah."

"Immediate Area Clear!" Wheeler snapped. "You're good to go!"

Behind her, Apone smiled widely as he clambered to his feet. "You heard the lady! Let's move like there's an air strike coming in!"

The former Marine squad were already on their feet and moving, Hicks grabbing each of them in turn as they got into position and checking their gear.

"Go!" He yelled, slapping the back of each man, or woman, in turn as soon as their lines had been checked.

They each jumped without hesitation, throwing heavy coils of rope ahead of them as they went. Drake and Vasquez went first, both of the crazy smartgunners leading with their weapons as they dove from the craft, fast pulses of fire already pouring from them.

Hudson was next, with Hicks close on his tail, then Apone stood alone for a second before shaking his head and grinning wide through the unlit cigar clenched in his teeth.

"God DAMN I love this shit!"

Then he too jumped out of the Orca and free fell down into the trees below.

Chapter 12

There had been no warning.

At least, nothing any of them had recognized.

One moment the Terakans were surveying the mansion, taking care to stay well undercover from the sniper threat, and the next there was a strange humm from above them that abruptly erupted into a violent orgy of light and death.

Everything just seemed to happen at once, in fact.

Stephan vanished in a hail of fire that simply had to be mystical, and the remaining four Terakan's split for cover.

A bullet claimed the life of B'Kora, a Vorkan demon with armor plated skin, slicing through the gap in her neckplates like a hot knife through butter. Her body hadn't even struck the ground when the blazing traces of fire ripped through the canopy of the trees again, driving the survivors to ground like rabbits before the hunter.

Two fingers crashed through the leaves and branches, coming down headfirst just barely proceeded by heavy coils of rope. They slowed a dozen feet off the ground, flipping upright without even bothering to slow their rate of fire, and landed about ten feet apart as their weapons seemed to track with a life of their own.

Three more followed shortly after, coming down less dramatically on similar lines with more conventional rifles that snarled on autofire that seemed to shred the world.

Drake and Vasquez slid out and away from each other as the other three members of the team landed between them. The two smart gunners were laying down light automatic suppression fire to keep the assassins heads down while their team completed the insertion, not really aiming to kill or destroy anything, just to keep everyone's heads down for a few seconds while not wasting too much power.

Hudson, Hicks, and Apone undid their quick release straps and stepped away from the drag lines, moving into a triangle formation as Drake and Vasquez filled in their flanks.

"Wheeler, Apone." The former marine sergeant snarled over the sound of weapon fire. "We're down and clear."

"Roger that Apone." Wheeler's voice came back. "I'm gone. Call if you need support."

Apone grinned, his white teeth standing out startlingly well against the black of his skin. "Sure will, little lady."

The connection cut, the Sergeant chuckled deeply. "Like that'll ever happen. Alright Jar heads! Clean sweep!"

"Two tangos at nine and ten." Drake announced coldly, prompting Hudson and Hicks to swivel along with him to cover that area. Drake smiled, teeth bared like an angry Doberman as his wrist twisted the power level of his smartgun all the way up.

A burst of energy from a smart gun tore through a tree on full automatic fire, boring a hole over two inches in diameter, and killed a Terakan hiding behind the old Oak tree, while a cypress died a horrible death as two Pulse Rifles emptied a hundred and eighty rounds into it, shattering the wood of tree to a million shards, and finally boring through to kill the figure crouched behind it.

"Looking clear." Hicks said then, ejecting the magazine from his rifle and slapping another into place.

"Y... yeah... yeah!" Hudson nodded, agreeing. "Looks like we nailed this bitches! Yeah!"

"Secure that." Apone growled. "Vasquez, Drake, Establish a perimeter. Hudson, get out the doohickey and do your job."

"Right Sarge." Hudson said, letting his M41 drop on it's sling as he pulled a molded object from his hip.

He held the object up and it suddenly lit up, throwing up a dim sphere of light in front of him as he turned around. "I've got interference on the scanner, Sarge."

"Don't give me that shit, Hudson!"

"Must be that thing... the Hellmouth we were briefed on." Hudson replied. "Hang on, I'm still getting readings..."

The Marine Tech looked around, eyes on the projection as he swivelled from side to side. "Ok... That's us..."

"I *know* where we are, Corporal."

"Yeah yeah, right... just hang on. I've got to adjust for the interference..." Hudson growled, suddenly stiffening. "One tango! In the trees!"

The team scattered automatically then, all of them bringing their weapons to bear on the branches above them, as a scream ripped through the night and something dropped right at Hudson.

"Jesus!!!!" He screamed, falling back as he tried to get ahold of his rifle again, tossing the scanner aside.

The object landed solidly on him, driving the former marine to the ground as he thrashed and struggled under it.

"Get it off me! Get it the fuck off me!"

A few seconds passed as the team rushed in, not daring to open fire on it as close as it was, then one by one faltered to a stop as they started laughing.

"What the fuck are you laughing at!?" Hudson screamed, "Get it the fuck off me!"

"It's dead you wimp." Vasquez grinned, exchanging a glance with Drake.

The two smartgunners exchanged a brief fist to fist salutation, then turned back to their jobs as Hicks grabbed the body off of Hudson and rolled it over.

Hudson was breathing hard as he lay on the ground, "What the fuck killed it?"

"Rifle round." Hicks said a moment later. "Right through the temple."

"What? Who?"

"Nice shot." Burt Gummer nodded as he looked through the night vision binoculars.

"I told you," Xander said, clearing the rifle and packing it away. "Two hundred yards... in my sleep."

He slung the expensive sniper rifle and headed out of the room.

"Hey!" Gummer chased after him, "Where are you going now?"

"Now?" Xander shrugged, "I'm clearing the rest of my perimeter, then I'm checking on my friends in town... and when I'm sure that Sunnydale is secure..."

Xander smiled grimly, "I've had just about enough of the Order of Teraka."

Buffy sighed as she made her way through the cemeteries. The vampire population seemed to be on vacation or something, she'd only bagged a couple newbies all night and they'd been especially dumb.

How was a Slayer supposed to get a decent workout?

At this rate she was going to come up against something really nasty and be rusty.

"This sucks." She said aloud, shaking her head.

Well, she supposed it was time to head back to the library.

Who knew? Maybe Wesley had some good news.

"Good lord."

Wesley stared at the pages as if trying to will them to say something, anything, different.

"What is it?"

The Watcher nearly jumped out of his skin, spinning around in mid-motion and staring in shock at the figure that had just materialized behind him.

"Good LORD!" He yelped, "Don't DO that!"

"Sorry." Angel half smiled, shrugging. "What did you find in the Codex?"

Wesley took a moment to regain his breath, then glared openly at the ensouled vampire. "I fail to see how that is any of your concern."

Angel stared at him, seconds stretching into minutes, until the watcher finally gave in.

"Fine." He snapped, his worry and irritation overcoming his distrust of the vampire. "It's not good."

"Prophecies rarely are." Angel replied evenly. "What do you have?"

Wesley motioned to the book, pointing out a specific passage, and Angel leaned in to read.

"Perimeter is secure, Commander." Apone reported. "Nice shot, by the way."

Xander just shrugged, "Thank you, Sergeant. Your team performed an exemplary insertion. My compliments."

"Thank you Sir."

Xander nodded, looking around. "We probably have more Terakans in Sunnydale, plus the timing is right for something... more serious... so your job isn't over yet."


"In the house you'll find more conventional weapons and armor, Sergeant. I'm afraid that we'll have to keep a low profile until we can identify all the players." Xander told the man, "So secure the Pulse Rifles and Smart Guns and pick up some P90 with Silver AP rounds. Faith will show you where everything is."

Apone nodded, his smile faltering. The former Marine did NOT like the idea of giving up the firepower he and his team was packing.

"Keep your weapons close, Sergeant." Xander said then, "We may need them before this night is out."

"Yes Sir."

"This can't be right."

"It's a prophecy."

"Those can be wrong."

"Others, yes... but this is the Codex... it's never wrong."

"It CAN NOT be right!"

"I'm afraid that there is no doubt. Buffy is going to face the master and die... and she's going to do it tonight."

Buffy Summers fell back from the door she had been standing behind, eyes wide with shock as her breath caught in her throat and her stomach lurched and twisted. She turned and ran, not hearing the voices go on.

"Wait... did you hear that!?"

"Hear what?"

"... Buffy!"

Chapter 13

Apone and his team were shucking their Avalon issued weapons and heavy body armor in favor of the slicker blacksuits they wore underneath as well as P90s and FN FiveseveNs from Xander's armory.

Most of them weren't particularly happy with the downgraded power of their weapons, among other things, but they were keeping their mouths shut about it.

"Man, this sucks!"

Most of them at any rate.

"Can in Hudson." Apone snapped, checking the P90's action before dropping in a clip of Silver Armor Piercing rounds. "We've got new mission specs. Live with it."

"Yeah, right." The Commo-Tech mumbled.

The rest of the team just shook their heads, trying not to smile. Hudson was a pain in the ass, but he was also one of the quickest minds in the business. The fact that he liked to whine about shit that they were all *thinking* about just helped them all get their priorities straight without making themselves look like, well, like him.

"You got the interference jiggered on that damn thing yet?" Apone demanded, distracting the former Marine.

"Yeah, I think so I mean..." Hudson replied, "There's a really wonky radiation floating around here though, it's tough to figure out."

"Radiation?" Drake looked nervous. "Our dicks aren't gonna shrivel up and fall off or something, right?"

"Relax, Stud." Vasquez muttered, checking the action on a FiveseveN, "Not that you have anything to worry about anyway, but do you really think that the Commander would *live* around here if that were a possibility?"

Drake shrugged, "I dunno."

"The correct answer to that question is 'No'."

The team half turned to see Xander Harris walking down the stairs, shaking his head. "And don't worry about the radiation. It's lethal as all hell, but only in that it tends to spawn a ton of vampires that want to rip your throat out."

Drake smiled his 'vicious dog' grin, "Oh yeah? We gonna get a crack at some of em?"

"There's always that chance in this town, Drake." Xander said seriously. "Remember that when you're out and around, and don't rely on Hudson's Sian'Quai to tell you a vamp is approaching."

"Hudson's what the fuck?" Vasquez blinked.

"The Scanner." Hudson filled in.

"Oh." Vasquez blinked.

Apone pulled the cigar from his teeth and jerked it in Hudson's direction, "You telling me that we can't rely on that thing?"

"Not on the Hellmouth." Xander shook his head, "At least not when dealing with Vampires. They have a signature almost identical to the background radiation."

"Oh shit." Hudson said in disgust.

"Nice to know." Hicks said with an easy smile. "Though I'd have rather known about it before this."

Xander shrugged, "Training priorities. We didn't expect to deploy any of the Cadre this soon, especially not to the Hellmouth. Faith will be your liaison while you're here... and just in case that doesn't sink in, that means that she's in command. She says jump, you don't ask how high until you land."

"The kiddy?" Hudson practically squealed. "Oh come on!"

"Watch it with that talk around Faith." Xander advised the other man, "Wrong time, wrong place, she'll string you up by your balls and leave you as vamp bait. She's older then she looks, and really touchy about the kiddy stuff."

"Damn right I am." Faith entered the conversation as she came down the stairs, brushing past Xander with a calm motion. She centered right in on Hudson and sauntered across the basement in his direction.

The Six plus foot former Marine smirked as she walked up to him, coming barely even with his chest when she stopped just in front of him. His smirk vanished when her arm shot out and lifted him right off the ground by the bunched material of his combat blacksuit.

"What the fuck man!" He yelled, his feet dangling off the ground as he tried to look down at the petit brunette that had him hanging there.

She dropped him then, letting Hudson catch his balance as he scrambled backwards.

"First and only warning, If it's female and cute..." Xander grinned as Faith shot him a death glare, "and hanging around this house...

you'd best be polite, cause it's probably able to rip your head off. If you're lucky."

"Yeah... right..." Hudson leaned his back against the wall. "Got it."

"Madre de puta." Vasquez cursed softly, looking at Faith distrustfuly. "What the fuck are you, girl?"

Faith looked over at the, comparatively, diminutive marine. "I'm a Slayer. I kill vampires. It helps if I'm tough enough to take a beating, strong enough to dish one out, and fast enough to stake em when they blink."

A long silence filled the room then, until Apone began a long slow chuckle that filled the room with a steady staccato of laughter.

"She'll do." He said to Xander with a shit eating grin.

Xander nodded and was about to say something when his Fold Comm buzzed. He held up a hand and fitted it to his jawline. "Harris."

They watched as he froze, paling.

"What? No, slow down... Damn it, Slow down! Alright... Ok... I'm on my way." He closed the connection then and looked around. "I've got to go. Faith?"

"Yeah Boytoy?"

"Terakans. Vamps. Hostile Demons. You find em..."

"We frag em. Got it." Faith nodded, "Tonight is a bad night to be a bad guy in Sunnydale."

"Damned right." Xander said as he bolted up the stairs.

"Tonight is a good night." The Master smiled, his grotesque features turning the expression of satisfaction into one with horrifying connotations.

"Yes Master." Darla nodded deeply, her eyes on the child that stood by the Master's side. "But are you certain that the Slayer will come?"

"Prophecy is immutable, Darla. My resurgence has been foreseen." The Master replied with calm confidence. "Tonight I will again breath open air."

"I am glad, Master." She told him.

What else could she say?

"The Terakans are harassing the pest?"

"As they have been paid to do."

The Master nodded, sneering. "I hope that they don't kill him."

"Master?" Darla's eyes widened.

"This Seraphim has been too much of a nuisance to me." He explained. "I want to snap his neck personally. When I am free, he will be the first I feed on."

Darla smiled, but it was a cold smile with no emotion. "Of course."

"Come, child." The Master said to the Anointed One. "We have my return to prepare for."

Darla watched as the two walked away, eyes glittering dangerously in the dark.

"W... what happened?"

Faith looked over at Tara as she and the Marines emerged from the basement armory. "What?"

"X... Xander." Tara said, sounding nervous.

"He got a call." Faith said curtly. "It was important. That's all I know."

Tara nodded shakily.

"Get your kit." Faith told her, "We're gonna start hitting the local demon haunts."

Tara nodded quickly and skittered off, drawing skeptical looks from the Marines.

"Let me guess..." Hudson said after a moment, "Another Slayer?"

Faith laughed, "Tiger? Nah. She ain't got that killer instinct."

"Then what are we bringing her along for?" Apone asked, sounding more curious than challenging.

Faith shrugged, "Short of divine intervention, Tee's the gal you want around if you get hurt."

"Medic." Apone grunted as the rest of the team nodded.

They could get down with that.

Chapter 14

"Are you certain it was her?"

Angel glared at Wesley, "Of course I'm certain. I could smell her."

The British Watcher grimaced, "Thanks so much for sharing that. The words 'too much information' come to mind."

"Would you stop screwing around, we have to find her." Angel growled.

"And how would you suggest we do that?" Wesley snapped back, "Look, I'm as distressed as you are... more even! She's my Slayer, but this is a *Codex* Prophecy!"

Angel started, then froze.

"I know." He finally whispered.

Wesley sighed, looking at the book. "Maybe... maybe if we can keep her from going down to the Master..."

"Why would she though?" Angel shook his head, "She can't be that crazy..."

"She's a Slayer, and a teenage girl. Either are cause to question her sanity." Wesley replied dryly.

"Would you be serious here!"

"I *am*."

Was she doing the right thing?

Buffy didn't know.

She was caught in a moment of indecision, even though she thought she had decided her course already. There was a prophecy, about her! And it said that she was going to die tonight.

God it was too much!

She wasn't ready for this, how could she be??

She didn't want to die.

Buffy closed her eyes as she stood there in the open, under the moonlight. Sometimes, just sometimes, she had to admit that she just wanted it all to end. It didn't matter how, really. Win, lose, live, die. Whichever.

She just didn't want to go on fighting all the time, the feeling itching under her skin like a million fire ants crawling around inside her. The worry of what would happen to her mother, or to Dawn.

How did Xander do it?

"Help me?"

The soft voice startled her, and Buffy looked around. There was a small boy walking toward her, looking at her plaintively.

"Help me?" He said again. "I lost my mother..."

Buffy took a breath.

Decision made.

She dropped down to one knee, looking at him.

"It's alright. I know who you are. Show me where to go."

The boy paused for a moment, then an evil glint appeared in his eyes before he pointed back the way he'd come. "This way."

Buffy nodded and took his hand, letting him guide her.

To her destiny. Her Prophecy.

"We just going to wander the streets looking for vamps?"

Faith shook her head as she sat in the passenger side of the van, glancing over to where Hicks was driving the vehicle through the streets of Sunnydale. "Naw. Xander wants the local badasses in an uproar tonight. And we want to see if we can't find anymore Terakans."

"So what's the plan?" Apone asked from the back, leaning forward so she could catch a glimpse of him.

Faith nodded to a side street. "Turn right here."

Hicks obeyed, turning the van down a dirty street.

"That's our first stop." Faith said, nodding to a building that had a big sing that simply said 'Willys'.

"What's this place?" Hicks asked as he pulled the vehicle to the side of the road and put it in park.

"Willy's place. He's a human scumbag that serves vamps and demons." Faith replied, checking her pistol load. "Anything screwy in town, he usually knows about it."

"Why do let him stay in business then?" Vasquez asked, "I'd have firebombed his ass long ago."

Faith shrugged, "Anything that keeps a few vamps off the streets each night is fine with us. But more to the point, there are some decent demon types even in Sunnydale. Willy's is where they can get what they need without killing people. Normally we don't fuck with the demon bars."

"And tonight?"

"Tonight... is different." Faith smiled nastily.

Cordelia Chase shivered as she sat in the living room of the huge place and looked around. It felt empty suddenly, though there were people there.

The weird old guy, for one, was sitting in the same room with her looking annoyed.

"You kay?"

Cordelia started, looking over to where Mikki had snuck up on her.

She nodded, "Yeah. I am."

Mikki nodded, "Good. Look bad."

Had anyone else said that, Cordelia knew that she probably would have been incensed. Had even Mikki said it a few days ago, she probably would have gotten really snippish with the little girl. She could feel the emotion behind the statement though, and knew that Mikki didn't mean bad as in looks, but as in her mental state.

And Cordelia couldn't argue with that.

"Yeah." She whispered. "I know."

Mikki looked at her for a long moment, a sort of like she was memorizing Cordelia's features, or had found something absolutely fascinating about her.

Then Burt Gummer spoke up and attracted both their attentions.

"I can't believe I got stuck *babysitting*!"

The older man sounded completely disgusted and totally in shock at the situation.

"You misunderstand Xander and Faith." Mikki told him flat out.

"I what?" Burt stared at her.

"You no babysit us."

"Oh? Is that so?"

"We babysit YOU." The little girl announced disdainfully before turning and padding out of the room.

It was dark.

So very dark.

The Anointed One, the child demon or vampire or whatever it was, was guiding her easily through the tunnels though. Buffy could feel the end approaching with every beat of her heart, and yet could feel something else as well.

Was it destiny?

She was going to find out.

They broke out of the tunnels then, into a large cave that was well lit, and Buffy looked up to see the hideous visage of the Master rise from his stone throne.

"Ah," He said, his accent oddly cultured when compared with his physical form. "Welcome my dear."

The child had vanished, Buffy didn't know how or why, but she didn't care. She lifted her crossbow.

"I'm here to kill you." She told the Master, noting that her voice didn't have as much conviction as she'd have preferred.

"Have you now?" He smiled, gesturing to her. "Come in then, and do so."

She walked stiffly forward, into the cavern, and felt a strange thrill run through her as she did. She leveled the crossbow at the Master. "I'm here to kill you."

That sounded better.

The vampire just smiled at her and spread his arms, "Don't let me stop you."

Buffy didn't have to aim consciously, she knew that she was on target. She leveled the weapon and pulled the trigger. The bolt snapped across the cavern, straight for his chest, but at the last instant he moved in a blur and snagged the bolt right from the air. Then he casually snapped it in his hands like a fragile twig, still smiling.

"Is that the best you can do?"

Buffy stared in shock. <Nothing can move that fast!>

Then another thought came unbidden, <I could.>

She blinked then, and the Master vanished in a blur. Then he was behind her, close.

Too close.

"Ah my dear," He rock solid arms gripped her shoulders and she felt herself grow uncertain. Foggy. "Prophecy is so wonderful, isn't it? You came here to kill me in order to prevent me from rising... but if you hadn't come here, I would have the power to rise. It's a hard lesson to learn, Slayer... Unfortunate that it's your last."

She shook her head, "I learned other lessons."

The Master smiled, "Such as?"

"Such as..." A new voice spoke then, clear and crisp and hard as granite, and the Master turned to see a familiar black form appear from the darkness. "When to call for backup."


Xander Harris smiled thinly. "Hello Henrich."

Chapter 15

Willy looked up and lost his trademark sleazy smile as he watched the four figures step into his bar. Three of them were hulking types that looked like they'd seen more than a few bar brawls in their time, each of the men looking hard and dangerous in how they moved and eyed the room, but it was the petite brunette that made him flinch.

"Aw no! No! No!" He held up his hands, "We got a deal! You don't mess around in my place like this, come on! I'm trying to make a living here!"

"Can it, Willy." Faith growled, shoving a vampire off a bar stool and sending the hapless undead sprawling to the floor.

"Hey what the F..." The vampire started to growl, only stop in surprise and shock as a shot rang out and he suddenly vanished to dust.

One of the guys the girl was with lowered his hand, wisps of smoke rising from the barrel of the pistol he'd drawn rising up along his arm, and looked around at the bar with a cold gaze.

"Anyone else have an opinion they'd like to share?" He asked cooly.

Everyone in the bar suddenly found something very interesting at their tables.

Willy just stared at the dust he was going to have to sweep up and whined, "Aw damn it! He was a good customer!"

"Focus Willy," Faith smiled, "Focus on the living. Namely you. Before you're not the living anymore."

"Oh come on! What did ol willy do!?" The bartender sniveled.

"Don't know yet. Let's play a game." She smirked.

Willy looked at her nervously, "What kinda game?"

"It's called, name that assassin." Faith's smile turned nasty as her hand darted out and yanked Willy in by the jacket. "We got attacked by seven Terakans tonight, Willy!"

"I didn't have nuthin to do with it!" Willy proclaimed his innocence practically before she finished talking, only paling and stammering as her words penetrated. "Uh... did you say *seven*?"

"That's right, Willy. Seven *dead* Assassins. Let's talk about how many more are in town, k?"

The Master glared at the figure in black, not relinquishing his grip on the Slayer. "You must be the one known as the Seraphim."

"So they say." Xander Harris shrugged, eyeing the Master grimly. "And you are Joseph Henrich Nest. Introductions over?"

"I don't go by that name anymore." The master said, glaring.

Xander shrugged.

"You can't touch me, you know." The master sneered, "The Prophecy won't let you. Until I break the wards, they protect me as well as hold me."

Xander stepped forward, reaching out his hand and letting it brush the air where the magic turned it into a solid wall. It wavered and shuddered under his touch, "Yes. I know."

"You can't save her," the Master sneered.

Xander looked right at Buffy, eye to eye. "Maybe not. But I can avenge her. You're not coming out of here tonight, Henrich. Or ever."

"You really think that *you* can stop me!?"

"I won't have to." Xander said quietly, nodding at Buffy. "She will."

The Master laughed, "This? She can't even help herself. She's in thrall, she couldn't harm a fly if I forbade it."

Xander smiled thinly, lifting his hand up and closing it around a silver cylinder that appeared from thin air.

"What's that?" The Master asked, suddenly suspicious.

"It's her ace in the hole." Xander smiled, suddenly whipping his arm down and pitching the cylinder underhanded straight at them.

The Master's eyes widened, expecting to see it bounce, but instead watched the cylinder vanish in a sparkle of silver light.

"Where did it go!" He demanded suddenly, eyes falling on Xander.

Buffy looked down as her hand closed around the cool metal that had literally appeared in her hand, and she whispered.

"Right here."


The cylinder bucked in her hand and suddenly Buffy was holding seven feet of battlestaff, more solid then the wooden quarter staff she had practiced with, yet seemingly as light as a feather. Her mind cleared almost instantly as she moved on instinct, leaning to one side as she snapped the weapon in a vicious arc that snapped hard over her right shoulder and across the Master's head.

Darla watched as the entire situation went to hell before her eyes, staring in shock as the Slayer nailed the Master with a blow from the metal staff that set him sprawling back, then spun around while flipping the weapon into a better position.

"Shit!" She cursed, slapping the vampires and demons she had held in reserve on the backs. "Go!"

They rushed out into the cave from where they had hidden, charging the figure in black with the intent of killing him quickly so they could get to the Master, but were met by not one but two.

A bolt of lightning slammed from nowhere, dusting two of the lead vampires, and sent the front line sprawling to the cave floor as Darla and the rest came charging through.

Xander Harris looked back, smiling. "Hey Giles. Thanks for coming."

"I wouldn't have missed it." Rupert Giles said grimly, magical energy still arcing from his fingers as he flexed his hands and glared at the vampires and demons.

Xander looked over his shoulder to where Buffy was hammering the Master with the ancient battle staff, then looked back to Giles. "You know, I think Buffy has things in hand... how about we make sure no one interrupts her?"

"That sounds... like an excellent suggestion." The British Mage said dryly as he rubbed his fist idly.

Xander turned his back on the fight with the Master, knowing that he'd done what he could there, and started walking calmly toward the line of demons and vampires the Master and Darla had been planning on using as 'shock troops'.

"Get them!" Darla screamed then, goading the demons into charging.

Giles and Xander met the line without flinching, and the fight was on.

Corporal Dwayne Hicks, Formerly of the United States Marine Corps, nudged his sergeant's shoulder as something caught his eye.

They had been watching their current 'boss' squeeze the weasely owner of the bar for information, an impressive sight despite the obvious lack of a spine in the case of the latter, so Sergeant Apone glared at his Corporal for distracting him until he caught Hick's look and followed his eyes to a nearby table.

There were three people at the table, all of whom were expressing more outward interest in the proceedings then anyone else in the bar. Unlike the other motley examples of human and demonkind, these three weren't hiding their interest, nor were they disguising the anger they obviously felt.

Apone's eyes flickered over them easily, taking them in, and pegged them as operators in a second. Probably not military, but operators just the same.

"The rings." Hicks said softly.

Apone's eyes narrowed then, focusing on their hands and then he saw what Hicks had caught and nodded imperceptibly. He reached back and tapped Hudson on the arm.

Hudson didn't notice, as he was still watching Faith pull Willy clear over the bar and threaten to do very nasty things to the other man's anatomy.

He did, however, notice the elbow he got in the ribs from Hicks a moment later.

"Ow man! What the hell!?"

"Pay attention." Apone snarled under his breath. "Three tangos at the table over there. They fit the profile for Terakans."

That shut the other man up and he looked over at the three figures just as they noticed that they had drawn attention finally.

The Master hit the far wall of the cave, ears literally ringing in his deformed head, but didn't stop there. He rolled off the wall as the Slayer drove a strike in to the place he had been in, grinding a portion of the stone wall to dust as he barely evaded the assault.

He got himself balanced then, and steeled himself for her next attack.

She swung around, whirling the staff from one hand to the other, and arced it around tightly as she went for his head.

He reached up, lighting fast, and metal met inhuman flesh as he caught the staff in mid air and held it against the Slayer's strength. The force of the blow surprised him, sending shivers of pain up his arm as it fractured his bones all along the entire length of his ulna. His ancient body healed those in seconds, however, and the pain faded to a dull ache that reminded him of better times as he snarled down at the diminutive girl who was trying to kill him.

"You don't have a chance." He growled. "Prophecy is on my side here. My rising has been foreseen!"

She glared back up at him, "Well sorry if I don't take your word for it! You want my blood, you're going to have to work for it!"

"Fine by me." He growled back, almost failing to notice a sudden burning sensation along his hands.

He looked to the weapon startled, as the pain began to flare from his palms, to see smoke rising from where he had gripped her weapon. The pain grew suddenly, and he roared as he let it go and hammered the Slayer with a backhand that sent her sprawling to the floor.

She rolled with the blow, and the landing, and came back to her feet some distance away as the Master stared at his hands, and the burned runic designs etched into his flesh.

"What in the nine hells is that thing!?" He roared, looking up at the Slayer as she cradled the silver weapon in one arm, her stance ready to intercept him if he charged.

Xander slammed his hand into the chest of the lead vampire, pulling earth energy up through the ground at his feet and mixing it with his own Chi, sending it along his arm and into his opponent as his strike hit home. The Vampire was flung back, pain and shock on it's face as it dusted in mid air, clearing a road for Xander to his target.

Beside him, Giles had opted for a more spectacular style, his hands blazing with an eldritch fire that stuck to anything his touched, turning vampires and demons alike into blazing pillars that flailed about, colliding with each other in their attempts to escape the fire. The mage's strikes were cool and calm as he took out one target after another, and Xander knew that Giles' had his back.

Which was good, because he had something else in mind.

Another demon went down under his strikes, crumpling to the ground as Xander stepped over it's bloated body and glared at the figure who was commanding the charge of demons.

"Hello Darla." He said, smiling darkly. "We've got some unfinished business."

Chapter 16

A sudden commotion distracted Faith from her application of fear to Willy, snapping her head around as one of the bar tables was suddenly overturned as it's three occupants rose to their feet violently. One of them was a lizard race demon, vaguely familiar to her but she couldn't quite place it, while the other two looked more or less human.

Beside her, the Cadre Team were already reacting, drawing their FiveseveN pistols as the figures at the table prepared their own weapons.

Crackling energy and a smell of ozone in the air made Faith widen her eyes, "Magic! Down!"

She shoved Willy then, throwing him behind the bar as one of the figures at the table snapped out his hand in their direction. The former marines scattered, avoiding the energy blast that danced along the length of the bar as Faith jumped up and over it. She flipped back once, landing on top of the bar, and pulled her own pistols in a fluid motion.

"Vasquez! Drake! Move in!" Apone snapped over his radio as he knelt around the corner of the bar, his pistol seeking out a target while everyone else in the place hit the ground.

Hudson and Hicks opened fire first, their automatics barking in rapid fire as they both aimed at the magic user and emptied their clips into his body, dancing him back under their fire until they ran out and he hit and table, crashing to the floor.

Two clips struck the floor almost as one as both soldiers pulled replacements from their belts and slapped them home.

Faith's arms were shooting out in a straight thrust from her chest, her eyes focusing on the front sight of her weapons, just as the door to the bar blew in, coming off it's hinges and sliding several feet into the bar before toppling over. Vasquez slid through the open portal as Drake stepped back, her smart gun leading the way as she cranked up it's power level to full power.

The second of the trio at the table dove clear of the table as he produced objects from under his cloak and his arms snapped out. Silver glittered in the air as the twin daggers flickered across the bar, and slapped hard into Apone's chest. The tough soldier grunted in pain, getting off a pair of return shots at the figure, and slumped back out of sight.

"Sarge is hit!" Hudson yelled over the ruckus.

"Tara!" Faith snapped instantly, "Man down!"

"I'm going to eat your heart." Darla promised as she recognized her opponent, hatred flaring in her eyes as she looked on the man she knew to be responsible for the death of her lover.

"Promises, promises." Xander replied coldly, his anger and hatred having been tempered by years of distilling, from long before the time reset, triggered by a crime that hadn't happened.

The faced each other from a few feet apart, both knowing that the other was more dangerous then they appeared and that a single mistake would likely end the battle before it was truly joined. Xander noted that Darla was wearing a pair of automatics, they looked to be. 45 Para-Ordinance 1911's. He could only presume that they had been gifts to her from the SWAT team she had turned, or at least purchased on their advice.

The Para-Ords were heavier weapons then his FiveseveN's, but carried almost as many bullets and the extra recoil would mean little to the Vampiress so he'd have to watch out if she made to draw them from the cross draw rig she wore. His own pistols were armor-piercing, which was a moot point since she wasn't wearing any armor, and loaded with silver rounds based on the new process that Andy had designed to counter the armor problem they'd faced against the SWAT vampires.

His armor could take her shots, but if she got him in the head or throat, it was game over. Likewise he had to get her in the heart or head to end the fight in his favor. Assuming they went for their guns.

He could see it in her eyes, the same calculations he was going through. At the range they were at, either could draw or try to close the range. In close, Darla was stronger and healed faster from damage, but his technique was superior. Without Elan to tap into, he'd be limited in how well he could match Darla's speed and power.

Around them the fight raged, Giles using his magic to handle the rabble while Buffy waged her personal war with the Master, but for Darla and Xander nothing else existed. Their eyes met across the few feet that separated them, and they each cracked their knuckles as they tensed their hands.

Then, on a signal neither gave but both sensed, they went for their weapons.

The Master roared as the staff broke his arm again, it's heavy blow filling the air with a sickly crack of bone. He stepped into it, though, taking the pain as he hammered a fist into the Slayer's face in retaliation and sent her flying back.

His brute strength was superior to hers, but Buffy hit the ground in a roll that brought her to her feet surprisingly quick. The Master's charge was met with metal once again, the staff feeling so light in her hands that it almost seemed to dance of it's own accord.

Three hammer blows to the Master's torso drove him back, staggering him even, until he roared again and swept her attack aside with a backhanded blow that redirected the staff as she swung it overhand.

With the weapon aside temporarily, the Master took advantage of the moment and stepped in close, hammering Buffy with a series of blows to the face and body, driving her back against the wall.

She saw stars then, and tasted blood as she coughed up something from deep in her throat, but remained cognizant just the same. The world seemed to sway for a second, then it slowed to a crawl as she saw his fist driving in for her face yet again.

Tara moved in the wake of the two Smart Gunners, ducking behind the bar as soon as she could, and looked around. "Where is he!?"

Corporal Hicks glanced in her direction, then jerked his head toward the other end of the bar. "Over there! It's the Sarge!"

Tara nodded, quickly moving across the room from behind the heavy oaken bar. She had to move around the cowering form of the proprietor, but she ignored the frightened looks he sent her and quickly arrived to where Sergeant Apone was slumped against the bar with two blades in his chest.

He was pale when he looked at her, but she'd seen that before as sad as that fact might be.

"Hang on." She said, not stuttering in the slightest. "You'll be ok."

He chuckled dryly, blood flecking his lip. "Don't think so, kiddo. Got a blade in my lung."

Tara drew a blade of her own, ignoring him for the moment, and cut away the combat blacksuit he wore. Like most of the lighter Kine issued clothing it was tough, but not impervious to damage. Primarily designed to defend against attacks from Zat and other energy weapons, it wasn't suited as ballistic protection.

It should, however, have done better then it did.

Tara grimaced as she hacked the material away from the wounds and pulled the cloth away from the blood pooling underneath. The one in the lung was the most dangerous, she noted instantly. The other was lodged shallowly, just under the collar bone, and had probably been intended for the throat. He was lucky the assassin missed, she supposed.

"Put this under your tongue." She ordered, shoving a dark colored disk into the former marine's mouth, letting him sputter on the object as he obeyed in surprise. "It'll keep you from going into shock."

The knife in the collar bone came out first, it's damage only superficial, and she packed a gauze bandage over it, laced with some herbal ingredients to prevent infection and promote healing. That done, she turned her entire focus to the other blade.

Xander's FiveseveN's cleared leather a heartbeat behind Darla's Para-Ord's, the vampiress using her naturally enhanced speed to seize the advantage as early as possible. To counter it, he stepped into the fight with a startlingly quick lunge that brought him withing physical striking distance of his opponent.

Darla's eyes widened in shock as she snapped her arms out, the two Para-Ord pistols seeking targets almost of their own accord.

Xander whipped one hand up as Darla's first pistol came even with his head, knocking it up and away just as she fired, the burn of powder and sheer concussion ringing his right ear like a church bell. His other pistol thrust straight out from his chest, aiming for Darla's heart, only to be thrust down just as he fired, wasting it's shot between the Vampiress' legs.

The stood there for a moment, eye to eye with guns straining against guns to reach their respective targets.

And then, in another lighting flash, they moved again.

Faith emptied her two pistols at a table one of the assassins had ducked behind, the bullets chewing up the cheap surface like toilette paper, only to curse as the thing gave way to reveal noone behind it.

"Fuck!" She yelled, "Where'd he go!?"


"What!?" She snapped again, yelling at Tara before she could catch herself.

The blond didn't flinch, "We've got trouble."

Faith stared, wide eyed at the blonde. "Tell me something I don't know!"

Tara held up a dagger with blood on the edge, "These are poisoned."

Faith stared for a moment, then her face screwed itself up and she let out a blast, "SHIT!"

Chapter 17

The world suddenly sped up again as Buffy jerked her head to one side, the Master's fist plowing into the caver wall hard enough to shatter a section of it. He howled in frustration and pain, but was cut off as Buffy's knee came up in a kick to his mid-section that lifted the ancient vampire right off his feet. As he came down she hammered him again, this time with a left right combination, her right fist somehow weighted by the weapon clenched in it, though the staff still felt feather light.

The Master staggered back, stumbling as he struggled to keep his balance, and Buffy pressed the advantage. She lunged forward, spinning off the wall, and dropped into a crouch as the staff in her hands flicked out to nail the vampire just at the knees.

The Master roared, his legs cut out from under him, and collapsed to his back on the dirty cavern floor.

Buffy powered out of her spinning crouch into a jump, arcing high above her fallen foe as she changed the grip on the staff and swung it over her head. Sparks leapt off it as the tip of the seven foot weapon scraped the cavern ceiling at the top of her arc, then Buffy began to fall. She screamed as she brought the staff down with all her strength, stabbing it at the prone figure on the ground.

The Master saw it coming and rolled at the last second, barely evading the strike, and Buffy plowed the staff into the floor where he had been, driving the weapon two feet into solid stone before stopping.

The Master came to one knee, panting in exertion he hadn't felt in centuries as he reevaluated the Slayer who was panting equally a few feet away.

The silver weapon she wielded scraped as she slid it back from the stone, eyes wild as she glared at him, and he knew that this was no simple fight.

This was a true deathmatch, the likes of which the Master hadn't experienced in a very long time.

It didn't matter though. Prophecy was on his side.

He would prevail, and victory would be sweeter for the struggle.

Shots rang out in rapid fire as Xander and Darla dueled, half with pistols and half with hands and feet. Xander's ears had stopped ringing long seconds earlier, numbed by the constant barrage of fire from nearby, and his face burned from the gunpowder burns from Darla's near misses, but still he blocked her shots just as she blocked his.

<Sooner or later one of us is going...> Xander thought grimly, his thought interrupted by the click of a slide locking back on Darla's right handed pistol as he had automatically deflected the barrel away from his face. She automatically dropped the weapon, her arm spinning around and latching onto his wrist as he brought his pistol down for another shot at her. His arm was pulled up and away as Darla's other pistol swung for his leg.

Xander pivoted slightly, lifting his leg to get his thigh up on the inside of her pistol's arc, and caught her wrist on the outside of his left thigh just as the pistol barked again, sending it's deadly payload into the ground below him.

She screamed in frustrated anger, struggling to lift her gun up for another shot, but Xander snapped out his leg and caught her hard in the abdomen, driving the blonde vampiress back from the sudden hammer blow.

As she staggered to keep her balance, the distance between them opened by several feet, Xander leveled both his weapons on her and squeezed the triggers.

"Check fire!" Faith called suddenly, "We need the one who nailed the Sarge alive!"

That call didn't go over so well in the chaos of the bar.

"Are you fucking nuts, lady!?" Hudson asked from where he was covering behind a section of the bar.

"Yeah, that's fucking nuts!" Vasquez agreed suddenly, "That bastard's earned himself a ticket to hell!"

"He poisoned his blades!" Faith snapped, jumping down to cover as a magical blast of energy wrecked the bottles of liqueur above them, sending flaming liquid cascading around and over them.



The warriors quickly slapped the few flames out, not getting burned because the protection of their combat blacksuits were more then up to the relatively cool temperatures of an alcohol fire.

"You've got to be kidding me, man!" Hudson griped, "How are we supposed to take him alive?"

"We'll find a way." Hicks ordered grimly. "Drake, Vasquez... Power those things down to stunner level."


"Madre de puta..."

The two smart gunners didn't like it but they followed orders, twisting the power levels on thir guns down to lower levels.

"Alright," Hicks looked around, "We'll go over the top at the same time. Vasquez, Drake, if it's moving... put it down. Hudson, you and me are going to try to get our man after..."

"No." Faith interjected, "Let me."

"Hey, we've got this. Don't try to be a hero," Hicks said seriously.

"I've got this." Faith corrected him, "Just cover me."

Hicks exchanged weary glances with the others, but didn't know what else to do. She was, after all, in charge.

"Fine." He said after a moment, "You get the knife thrower. Hudson and I will cover you, and back you up if you get in over your head."

Faith nodded, "That's five by five."

"Let's get ready to move." Hicks said then, "On three..."

Darla twisted as Xander's guns barked, one locking back on an empty chamber, evading the shots by moving at the last moment before he fired. She threw herself into the air, spinning around to bring her remaining gun to bear, and Xander matched her move as both of them emptied their last rounds at each other.

They hit the ground hard, the pistol slides locked back, muzzles at each other's heads and both antagonists paused for a few seconds to check themselves and each other.

No injuries.

"Damn." Both said at the same time, spinning from where they lay and rising back to their feet in fluid motions.

Vampiress and Demon Hunter slowly circled each other, eyes narrowing. Darla threw her Para-Ord away, letting it clatter to the ground, as Xander flicked the slide release on his pistols and fit them back into the shoulder leather.

She watched as he snapped them into place, a cool hint of a smile on her lips that didn't touch her eyes. "You're better then even I thought." Xander said nothing for a moment, then stretched his neck out. "You should have killed me that night in Willy's."

Darla's eyes narrowed, a question coming into her face. "What nig..."

They widened in shock, "You. You were that kid!"

Xander smiled grimly, "Yeah. You had me back then... Too bad you didn't go for it."

Her face screwed up into a grotesque mockery of humanity, rage burning through as her demon face came to the front.

"I'll kill you this time!" She screamed, lunging straight at him in a nearly blind rage.


Vasquez and Drake popped up, letting their smart guns do the walking as they sprayed the entire bar down. Anything that moved got nailed as the weapons whined out their pulses of energy.

Faith cleared the bar in a single leap, coming down on the other side and landing in a dead run as Hicks and Hudson came up behind her with pistols in hand.

Across the bar two figures responded in kind, rising to their feet after the smartguns had strafed past them, and both figures shifted into aggressive stances in reaction to the moves from the Cadre personnel.

The two former marines had less then a second to analyze the situation, identify the targets, and act.

They both swivelled automatically and emptied their clips into the lizard man as the shaman prepared to unleash another fireball at them.

That left Faith facing the knife thrower as his hands snapped out, loosing two blades in her direction. She twisted in mid run, leaving the ground as she flipped up over a table, plucking both blades from the air in mod motion, then landed with a snap on the other side and launched them right back at the thrower.

Chapter 18

Xander sidestepped Darla's mad rush, keeping his anger cold as he faced the one who, in his mind, had killed his best friend.

It was bizarre in so many ways, he supposed as he moved with the calm fluid motions ingrained in him by Elan's training, Jessie was alive and yet he still found himself bound to avenge his death. Xander didn't rest on it as his hands snapped out in a flurry of blows that staggered Darla to a shocked halt, her ribs cracking as Xander's ridge hand strikes rained down on her. As she fell back a step, Xander moved in with a lightning move and caught her through in his right hand.

The force of the blow lifted her off the ground, her eyes wide in shock as she only just realized her fatal error, and laid her out like she was laying down in mid air. As she floated there for an instant, Xander let her go and spun around on his heel as he lifted his arm up high. The elbow strike slammed down into the vampire's chest in mid-air, slamming her down into the ground as the sound of cracking bones filled the air.

The world went black for Darla then, the sudden shock of her injuries causing her to black out. When the world around her returned she had only been out for a few seconds, but her opponent was standing over her and calmly looking down.

"You're a murderer." He told her, placing a foot on her arm as she struggled to move. "And one of the most dangerous ones I've ever known."

Darla coughed, blood flecking her face as she did. "Flattery... will get you nowhere."

He smiled slightly, looking down at her as he drew one of his pistols and hit the magazine ejector. He easily caught and pocketed the empty mag, dropping into a crouch that put all his weight on her arm, but she refused to do more then hiss slightly from the pain.

"You want to hear something funny?" He asked her.

Darla glared up at the man, the one who had been ruining her every plan for almost a year. The one that she had at her mercy just two years earlier.

"No?" He cocked his head, slipping a full magazine back into his pistol. "I'll tell you anyway. You know all the murders you've committed?"

She smiled through the pain, "I enjoyed every one."

"Yeah, I figured." He said, shrugging. "Well, you're not going to die for any of them. You're going to die for a crime you didn't even get to commit."

She stared in confusion, not comprehending.

"Funny? No?" He smiled mirthlessly, racking the slide on his pistol and placing the muzzle against her chest.

"Go to hel..."

The report of the pistol cut off her last words as a crushing pain ripped through Darla's chest.

The bar fell silent in an instant, the few patrons still conscious knowing when it was best to stay low and quiet. Behind her, Faith could hear the Cadre team moving out around the bar, their weapons covering her as she sauntered forward with her cocky strut.

The Terakan, the last one remaining alive in the bar, was half slumped against the far wall, his entire weight resting on the daggers that had penetrated his arms as he'd cocked back for another throw, where they had been driven into the hard wood of the wall by a good six inches.

"Don't throw knives at a Slayer," Faith smirked, "We all get that treatment once and we get *real* touchy about it afterwards."

The Assassin didn't get the joke and just moaned as he tried to pull his arms free.

"What? Not talkative?" She smirked, coming face to face with him. "Too bad, cause I'm guessing that you and that poison ain't getting along so well just now. How bout it, huh?"

Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead as he stared at her, unbelieving. "What do you want?"

She looked him in the eye, cocking her head up to look at him, and somehow managed to make her position seem much larger and stronger then her size would imply. "A cure for the poison. You give it to me, or I'll leave you hanging here."

"What do I get?" He demanded through gritted teeth.

She half smirked at him, "You get a head start. Get out of Sunnydale, find a place to hide... You might even get to live."

"You can't escape the Order." He gritted out, "We never give up a contract."

She chuckled in his face, then slapped his chest hard enough to wind him. "Buddy, the Order better worry about escaping US. You've got... oh, until my friend back their *dies* to decide. When he's gone, you're gone."

Then she turned and walked away from him.

The Assassin stared at her back for a moment, mind racing.


The metal staff whistled as it cut the air, Buffy's hands kept it spinning as she rolled it over her head and then crooked it into her arm and spun around with her full weight of muscle and mass behind it.

The crack of metal meeting supernatural bone was masked only by the roar of pain as the Master went down hard, spinning to the ground in pain as blood black as crude oil began to seep down the side of his head.

He kept rolling though, coming back to his feet quickly as Buffy charged, and blocked her follow up shot with the side of his left arm. Bone cracked as the metal delivered it's kinetic energy, but he ignored the lancing pain as he delivered a right hand blow that rocked the Slayer's head hard to the left.

Supernatural healing was already knitting his left arm as he roared and brushed aside the staff with a circular motion, then drove his left fist into the slayer's face, rocking her to the right.

Buffy staggered back, arms flailing back as the power of the Master's blows dazed her, and she found herself slipping again as her world was filled with pain.

The Master didn't stop there, of course, as he pushed forward and kept up the pressure. He slammed his fists into her again and again, driving the Slayer back with every blow, until the thrice damned metal staff was thrown from her grip to clatter to the floor as she was slammed against the cave wall.

"I told you Slayer," He growled out, lifting the tiny Slayer up by her throat as her head hung to one side. "My rising is Prophesied! You can not stop me! You can not even stop yourself!"

He spun around, whipping her out from the wall like a rag doll, then slammed her back with brutal force.

"You are the key! You are the one destined to let me rise!" He laughed, sneering. "Did you really think that you, or your friends, could defy Fate!?"

Buffy's head lolled slightly to one side, her mind barely able to figure where it was let alone keep her neck from turning to a wet noodle.

The Master took her silence for the sign he had been awaiting, and pulled her down from the cavern wall, dangling the Slayer just off the ground as he held her close.

"It's time, Slayer." He whispered, this time almost gently as he bared his teeth. "Time for me to rise, and you to fall."

Buffy's eyes widened as his teeth closed over her throat and she felt the sudden pressure and pain erupt through her system. She gasped, her mouth opening as her eyes did, and stared blankly at the far wall as she saw a figure standing just behind the Master.

He was pale, in a fine black suit, and was watching her with interest as he checked a piece of parchment in his hands. Her head was giddy by then, and she smiled at the man. He noted her gaze and smiled back, nodding his head to her, but didn't say anything as he continued to watch and wait.

"NO!" Giles roared, throwing his magicks against the field so that they spattered off and threw power and energy in all directions.

Beside him Xander was staring in frozen horror, watching the scene that had graced his nightmares so many times.

"Buffy!" He yelled, his fist slamming into the field to no more effect then Giles' magick.

The Master drew back and lifted his head to the roof of the cavern, roaring his joyous rage to the heavens and hells both.

"Like pure liquid FIRE!" He yelled, dangling the Slayer by one hand as he screamed out. "So strong! I can feel the power rushing through me Slayer! Your power! Now mine!"

Buffy lifted her head again, frowning as he stared past the Master to the figure in black who had walked closer. He was moving around the Master now, but the Vampire didn't seem to see him there. She looked down as he passed, and was able to read the top two words on the parchment he carried.

Buffy Summers.

Her eyes widened then, as the Master exulted in the background of her mind, and she looked up at the man again.

"You... you're here for me." She whispered.

He nodded once, smiling slightly. Almost sadly.

She swallowed, closing her eyes.

All for nothing.

She'd called Xander, she'd trusted him. There was no fate, he'd said. She had free will, he said. She didn't have to die here tonight, he'd said.

All lies.

She was bound by the writings in a book written centuries before she was born, her life meant nothing, it was just some tool in some ancient old man's writing.

Give up.

So easy. Just... let go.

Nothing mattered anyway. It was all decided long before she was born and she couldn't change it, so why fight? What was the point, afterall?

Good, evil. There was no difference if there was no choice.

They were all damned anyway.

Buffy slumped in the Master's grip, and the man in black stepped closer to her as she let her life ebb away.

Xander and Giles stared in horror as Buffy slumped in the Master's grip and he turned to grin at them with an unholy glee.

"You thought you could fight me?" He yelled as the cavern began to crack and rumble around them. "You thought SHE could fight me!?"

"You can NOT fight fate, you fools!" He roared in laughter as both men felt a cold wash of evil pass over them, and then a sudden surge of power from the normally nascent Hellmouth.

"What was that?" Angel looked over at Wesley as a crack of thunder or something similar rent the air.

"I... don't know." The British man looked around, a glint of fear in his eyes as the library began to shudder and shake.

Suddenly Angel shuddered himself, and looked more then a little fearful himself. "Wesley... I think..."

A earsplitting crack filled the air as the concrete floor suddenly split in two, and both men fell back from the sudden escaping heat and fumes that rose up.

"We're in trouble!"

Chapter 19


Xander's yell was drowned out by the rumble in the background and the Master's insane laughter. He and Giles were both pressing against the barrier, the energy crackling around them as they yelled.

"Damn it!" Giles cried out, slamming the still intact barrier with a ball of pure force, to little avail.

The Master smiled hideously, turning to look at them both and swinging Buffy's limp body as he did. Her feet swayed from side to side as he stepped closer, "Having trouble? Can't the all powerful Seraphim get through a little barrier like this? I can now."

"The come on out here and fight like a man!" Xander snarled.

"Why?" The Master smiled simply. "Why take that chance? You might even be able to beat me, afterall. But, from in here? I can *end* *your* *world*."

"... end... end... end..."

Buffy shivered slightly, staring at the man in black who was patiently watching her.

"Who are you?" She asked, shivering again as an echo of a word passed around her.

"I'm death." The man answered calmly, shrugging as if it were of no import.

"And you're here for me?"

He nodded.

"Why?" Her mouth was dry.

"... your... your... your..."

The ghostly echo returned, feeling like a chill breeze as Buffy shivered again.

"You're on my list." The man, Death, said neutrally.

She blinked, looking at him. "I don't want to die."

"That's not for you to decide." He told her, "It is your time."

"... world... world... world..." The echo was back gnawing at her as she looked at him.

"What happens now?" She asked.

"You come with me."

"No... to everyone else?"

"That's not your concern." He told her, "You have to come with me."

"End... end... end... Your... your... your... World... world... world..."

Buffy's eyes widened, "No! I have to know!"

"It is not your concern." The man in black became hostile. "You must come with me."

Buffy could feel a numbing pain permeating her body, filling her from all sides, but particularly strong in her face and neck. She tried to push it aside, but the pain in her neck kept growing.

She shook her head. "No."

"You think you have a choice?!?" The man in black was incredulous. "You don't have a choice. It is your time!"

"No." She said again, fists tightening.



Xander and Giles started as Buffy suddenly screamed, her right leg snapping up in a kick that caught the Master unprepared. The ancient Vampire doubled over, letting go of the Slayer reflexively as he gasped in sudden pain, and she landed unsteadily to her feet.

"Buffy!" Giles shouted then, lunging forward against the barrier again, only to be repulsed.

Buffy didn't seem to hear him.

She was swaying painfully, woozily, as the Master straightened and snarled at her.

"Pitiful." He said, "You can barely stand and you think that you can stop ME?"

He stepped forward and backhanded Buffy across the face.

He tried at least.

Buffy grunted in pain as her arm blocked the blow, stopping the powerful punch in mid motion and holding it there as the Master snarled and tried to force against her arm. Finally he stepped back, then swing high and hard for her head with his other hand.

The blow stopped again as Buffy held it on a cross-arm block right in front of her face, glaring at the Master over the 'X' of her arms.

"I have your blood!" He snarled, stepping back. "I have your power!"

He went at her again, this time with a flurry of blows that rained down on Buffy from all sides. Somehow, barely moving, Buffy managed to block them all.

Then she snapped out one hand, fist closed, and punched him in the chest.

The Master roared in pain and shock as he was lifted off the ground and slammed back hard against the cavern wall, sliding to the ground as he stared at the Slayer in frustrated hatred.

"You can't stop me!" He growled, "I am prophesied to arise!"

"Yeah well," Buffy spoke for the first time, stepping forward and dipping her toes into the ground. "Fate sucks."

She kicked up then, launching the metal staff into the air and catching it easily in mid-motion.

"And I'm not in the mood to die today."

She flipped the staff around, then crooked it into her arm as the Master struggled back to his feet.

"I am going to eat your heart." He growled at her as he brushed the dust off himself.

"Yeah, yeah," She smiled suddenly, the red stain along her neck making her skin look all the more pale. "Heard it before. You wanna rise? You're gonna have to come through me to do it."

"With pleasure."

"Was hoping you'd say that."

The Master roared and charged.

"Get the axe! Get the Axe!" Wesley screamed as he dove over the tendril that had tried to take him off at the knees.

Angel didn't say anything in response, just dove for the weapon chest and smashed the lock open. He fished out a heavy axe and sturdy shortsword, then looked around. "Catch!"

Wesley looked up just in time to avoid being brained by the flying axe, and barely got his fingers around the sturdy wooden handle. He twisted it in his hand, then slammed it down against the swinging tendril.

An inhuman scream rent the air, cause Wesley to jump and almost drop the weapon in the process.

"I say!"

"Less talk, Wesley! More fight!" Angel yelled, hacking at another tendril with his short sword.

"It's happening!" Wesley yelled as he fought. "The Hellmouth is opening! That means that Buffy is..."

"Dead." Angel finished grimly, still hacking away. "Worry about her if we live!"

"Uh... yes," Wesley said, chopping down with the Axe again. "Quite."

Chapter 20

The Master screamed again as his attack was frustrated.

Everytime he moved to destroy the Slayer he was met by a flurry of blows from staff or limbs, driving him back step by step until he found his back to the wall and the slight form of the blond Slayer smirking at him as she pushed ever harder.

He fended off a blow from the staff, pushing hard enough to force her back a step, and shook his head.

"This isn't possible!" He shouted, "you can not DO this!"

"I've never been really good with rules." She countered, shaking her head. "Don't like being told what I can't do."

The Master snarled, determined to fulfill his fate, and charged again.

Buffy spun to one side, the heavy staff whipping around as he dove by, and cracked him on the back of the head as he passed. The blow drove the master to the ground, and he roared in anger as he drove into the hard rock.

He twisted around onto his back, intent on jumping to his feet, when Buffy's foot snapped up and nailed him in the head. He fell back, and then felt her weight on his chest as she placed one foot there and looked down at him.

The Master shook his head, "Not Possible..."

She cocked her head, drawing the staff back. "Guess that just makes this my day, huh?"

The Master screamed out an epithet, but was silenced as she snapped the staff down and into his chest.

His skin dried instantly crackling into dust as Buffy looked down distastefully.

"Prophecy Sucks."

The change in the atmosphere was dramatic, as the Master died so too did the earth tremors and the faint scent of ozone in the air caused by the mystic barrier vanished without a trace. Xander and Giles rushed in quickly as Buffy stood there over the fallen vampire, arriving at her side in seconds.

"Buffy, are you alright?" Giles asked quickly.

"I... I'm fine, Mr Giles." She said slowly, wavering a little, then falling back.

Xander stepped into her fall and easily caught her up, hefting her smaller body right off the ground. "We have to get her out of here."

"Quite." Giles nodded, plucking the staff from her hands and holding it up to Xander.

"Hip holster." Xander said curtly as the staff suddenly snapped shut in Giles' hands. "And don't forget the Skeleton."

Giles nodded, dropping the silver rod into the sturdy canvas holder on Xander's hip, then turned to the skeleton on the floor. "We'll have to take it with us."

"You'll have to get it. My arms are full." Xander smirked.

Giles rolled his eyes, but nodded and held his hand out. There was a brief flash, then the skeleton rose slowly from the floor and floated about three feet off the stone ground, laying back with it's arms crossed over it's chest.

"We'll come up in the library."

Giles nodded, "Buffy will need liquids, soon."

"I know. Even a Slayer can't regenerate blood from nothing."

"Well..." Wesley muttered, wiping sweat and gore from his face as he slumped on the steps of the library. "That was..."

"Intense." Angel stepped in tiredly. "You ok?"

"I'll live. You?"

"I won't. But I'll be ok." Angel replied.

Wesley blinked, then looked over at him with an incredulous look on his face.

"Ha!" A dry sounding voice cut into the discussion. "The vampire made a joke. You've been a bad influence on him, Xander."

"Don't blame that on me, G." Xander said, shaking his head.

"Yes, yes." Giles nodded as Wesley and Angel jumped up and spun around with weapons ready, "You couldn't be to blame for that one. It was actually *funny*."

"Good lord!" Wesley paled, spotting the unmoving body in Xander's arms. "Is she..."

"She'll be fine." Xander said, "She needs some fluids. She over stressed herself tonight."

"Right... I... I have some teas and..."

"Water you bloody prat!" Giles snapped, waving his hand and sending the skeleton of the Master to the floor.

"Holy!" Angel jumped back, "Is that?"

"Joseph Henrich Nest." Xander filled in, pronouncing the work 'Joseph' in the old manner, with an 'I' in the place of the 'J'. "Buffy nailed his ass to the cavern floor."

"She... But... How?" Wesley stammered, "The Prophecy?"

"Free Will." Xander said firmly, "Everyone has it, even Champions... though the official line begs to differ. Now get us that water, Wes."

"Huh? Oh... Yes, of course." Wesley said as he hurried off. "I'll be right back." Xander sat Buffy down in one of the library chairs, then looked over the destruction that had been rained down on the room and raised an eyebrow. "Let me guess, big monster, lots of tentacles?"

"How'd you know that?" Angel asked curiously.

"Previous experience." Xander smiled wryly.


Wesley came rushing back with a silver teapot full of water, nearly spilling half of it as he hurriedly set it on the remnants of the table. He paled as he spotted the blood on Buffy's neck, and the wounds on her throat. "My lord. Is that...?"

"The Master fed on her." Xander said, retrieving the tea cup and filling it with water.

"And she still...?"

"And she still kicked his bony ass." Xander confirmed, "Isn't that right, Buff?"

Her eyes fluttered, and she smiled a little. "Do I hear someone talking about me?"

"Yeah, we're talking about what a hero you were, Buff." Xander said, smiling as he lifted the cup to her mouth. "Here, drink."

She took a few sips, then looked around. "What happened here?"

"Wesley decided to redecorate." Xander smiled, "What do you think? I hear that Post Apocalyptic Grunge is the in thing across the pond."

While Wesley sputtered, Buffy just looked confused. "Pond? What pond?"

Xander chuckled and made her drink some more, "Never mind, Buff. Bad joke."

"And hence, my earlier point."

"Shut up, Giles."

Buffy's strength seemed to come back remarkably quickly, and she took the second full cup of water from Xander, drinking it on her own. "Oh wow. I feel..."

"What?" Wesley leaned in.

"Like hell." Buffy said with a grin. "But getting better."

"That's the Slayer boost, it's working to get you back to fighting form." Giles said calmly as he pulled up a piece of broken book shelf and leaned against it.

Xander nodded, but before he could say anything his Comm buzzed and he worked his jaw lightly to open a connection. "What is it?"

He listened for a moment, then nodded. "Alright. Get him back to Avalon, keep the rest of the Squad here and head back to the House. Hey Faith? Good Job."

The others looked over at him curiously, frowning.

"Avalon?" Wesley stared.

"My base of operations." Xander replied, then addressed Giles, "Apone was injured. Poisoned by an Assassins blade. He'll make it, I guess, but I told them to ship him back to Avalon."

Giles nodded. "What now?"

"We can't have the Terakans running around trying to pick me off every Tuesday." Xander sighed, shaking his head. "We're gonna have to blood the Cadre."

Giles nodded again, "Agreed. Do we have targets?"

"About a dozen." Xander nodded, "Plus there's that crazy Necromancer in Paris."

Giles grimaced, "I hardly think that he would be a reliable source."

Xander shrugged, "Beggars can't be choosers. We need all the intel on the Order we can get."

"I suppose."

"Relax, Giles. He did help that girl... that's a point in my book." Xander said with a shrug of his shoulders. "And Amanda vouched for him and the people there."

Giles snorted, "Another find upstanding source of intelligence."

"Excuse me..." Wesley cut in, eyes wide, "What are you talking about?"

Xander and Giles turned to look at the Watcher, both sporting decidedly disturbing smiles.

"We're going to take the war to the enemy," Giles smirked.

"You're going to *what*?"

"We're declaring open season on the Order of Teraka." Xander explained fully, "You want me to paint you a picture?"

"My God. You're both insane."

The End


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