When Titans Clash

Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]gmail.com>

Summary: Worlds apart, the battlefield their common ground, when an invader treads on sacred ground they gather and across the universe... evil shudders.

Rating: 18

Disclaimer: The characters and elements within are, in majority, not mine. They belong to their proper owners.

AN: This is, as you may have guessed, the Wverse crossover fic that I and Steve plotted out a LONG time ago. It's set in the future of the Jverse, at least 5-10 years. I'll set it firmly later. It is NOT neccessarily Wverse Canon. Without Steve to establish that, it can't be... however, it will be Jverse Canon, and IS being written according to the plot and plan of myself and Steve Pantovich.

Addition 26 September 2007

Addition 27 September 2007

Addition 06 October 2007

Addition 21 October 2007


"Get down!"

The scream echoed off the rocks of the canyon as the four people dove for the cover of the rocks that surrounded them. Energy fire tore into the ricks behind them, a flyer flashing past over the top with a scream that chilled them to their bones.

"Watch it Q-ball!" Rembrant Brown yelled again, tackling his friend down to the ground, just ahead of the second barrage.

The two rolled clear as one of their female companions came up to one knee, screaming as she unloaded her browning 9mm into the ship as it passed over head. The bullets ricocheted off the armor of the flyer, doing nothing but raising Maggie Beckett's frustration levels to nuclear proportions.

"Bastards!" The marine screamed, her weapon firing dry as she pivoted to track the flyer.

"Save your bullets, Mags," Quinn Mallory muttered, rolling out from under Rembrant as he patted the black man on the shoulder, "Thanks Remy."

"No problem, Q-Ball." Remy replied, looking over as Wade scrambled up behind them, ducking behind the boulder.

"What's going on!?" She yelled, shaking as she collapsed beside them, "Shouldn't we be in the city!?"

"The timer might be off by more than we thought!" Quinn yelled back, eyes on the skies, "But maybe there's no city to land in here."

"Well at least there's no people for the Mags to slaughter," Remy said, eyes on the sky.

"Except us." Maggie growled, holstering her pistol, "How long are we here?"

Quinn looked at the timer quickly, then grimaced, "Four days."


Leather wings beat at the air, a natural sound at an unnatural volume as the pair adjusted their course and made toward the disturbance.

"The Seers worry to easily."


The two deep, gravelly voices bantered back and forth across eighty meters of air at twenty eight hundred feet, the owners focused well ahead as they scanned the horizon for the threat that had been seen.

"You worry too much." The darker form said wryly, wheeling closer as they saw motion on the horizon.

"And you not enough," The golden one replied dryly. "I think that whatever that is, should not be there."

The dragon Smaug growled low in it's throat. "I believe that you are right, Fragnar, old friend. Do you recognize it?"

"It looks like human construct."

"Not any human construct I've seen." Smaug rebutted. "Not from the home world, at least."

Fragnar had to admit that his sometime adversary had a point.

"You lead, oh Great Fragnar," Smaug said with a smirk, his tone clearly less respecting than his words. "What is your plan?"

"Go high." Fragnar ordered, "I will approach and see if they're friendly."

Smaug snorted, "You remind me of certain suicidal humans we both know."

"Just be there if they choose not to be friendly." Fragnar replied dryly.

"I'll consider it." Smaug told the other dragon as he pushed his wings down hard and rose fast, climbing above the golden form of Fragnar until he was nothing but a dark spot in the sky.

Fragnar shook his head, watching his sometime adversary, sometime friend, rise above him into the clean air of Dragon Valley. He knew that Smaug would be there if needed, the other dragon was many things but coward and betrayer were not among them.

If them time ever came for Smaug to challenge him, Fragnar knew that it would come from the front. So for the moment, he focused on the alien presence ahead of him, and closed quickly as he accelerated to supersonic speeds to close the distance.

Prefect Meglan glanced up when his sensor officer shouted in surprise, frowning. "What is it?"

"Approaching contact, moving at Sek Three from the East."

Meglan frowned, looking over the officers shoulder, "What? Scans indicated no technical progress on this Earth. Where did it come from?"

"Unknown. It doesn't read as technical, Prefect."


"Unknown. Possible, we detected it because of the sonic shockwave... If it is stealthed, it seems strange to approach so openly."

Meglan nodded, "Indeed. Retask the squadron to intercept, we'll circle back for the humans later."

"Yes Prefect," The officer said, sending out the orders.

The three Kromag flyers lifted from the canyon, turning to the west as they focused on on the approaching contact, the scanners quickly locking onto the contact and giving them a visual.

"Impressive." Meglan admitted quietly.

The creature was magnificent, a wingspan larger than his craft, and total mass almost the equivalent. It should never have been able to fly, nothing natural could get that kind of mass off the ground by muscle power alone.

"It seems quite intent on us." The officer said, sounding a little nervous.

Meglan grunted, nodding. "I can see that. Prime the weapons, order the squadron to target it."

Fragnar watched them come, throwing out his wins to bleed off speed as they came closer. He glanced around and picked a hill top situated between them as his place to open contact with the alien ships. They were closing on him quickly, but that was fine, he wanted contact. He had to know their business here in the Valley.

He flared out, bleeding off the last of his speed as he touched down on the hill top, then turned his head to eye the approaching vessels. As they closed on his position, the dragon raised his voice and bellowed loudly.

As the roar faded, Fragnar showed his teeth and spoke loudly.

"Identify yourselves and state your intentions in Dragon Valley!"

"That I wasn't expecting." Meglan admitted, surprised.

"It speaks the human language?"

"Indeed. Obviously the vermin have made inroads here somewhere, though with creatures like that I am surprised they survive." The Kromag Prefect frowned, trying to decide what to do.

The kromag empire's war was with humans, which this magnificent beast certainly wasn't. However in all alternate worlds, it was very nearly impossible for two creatures so different to develop an identical language. The humans must be here, and they had some kind of contact with the beast.

He couldn't allow the beast to warn any local humans of the Kromag presence.

"Kill it." Meglan ordered quietly.

The sudden burst of powerful blasts took Fragnar almost by surprise, his automatic defenses reacting in time to save his scaled hide as he threw himself into the air, wheeling away from the attackers. He roared his rage at the unprovoked attack, circling desperately as he climbed for altitude, energy blasts tearing through the air around him.

One of the vessels made the mistake of getting too eager, crossing Fragnar's snout as the dragon expelled a blast of flame over fifty meters long. As it was engulfed, Fragnar recognized the shimmer of an energy field surrounding the craft and growled in aggravation.

Magic or technology, the Dragon didn't know which, but it would probably... yes, it protected the craft, though the flyer wheeled rapidly away, losing altitude erratically but recovering. The two remaining flyers converged quickly, coming around to catch him in a crossfire, but a blur from the sky rushed down to slam into one of them with a reverberating roar that announced the entry of Smaug into the fray.

"Merciful Gods!"

Meglan couldn't fault his officer's reaction, even he was stunned as another beast slammed into their wingmag, tearing the other flyer to metal shreds with it's *claws*.

"Hard to port! Come around to one nine zero, charge energy torps!" He ordered on instinct, "Target the new contact. Order Sev'n to bring his flyer back to our wing and cover our run."

The order shook his officer back into control, and the flyer swung back around to target the new contact. Shreds of the Mag Flyer were falling from the sky, the dark beast's talons tearing through armor panels like they were paper. Meglan confirmed the target lock, and nodded, "Fire."

Sequential blasts of energy tore through the air, slamming into the beast and knocking it clear of the flyer, sending both beast and machine sprawling to the ground below.

A roar of sound actually penetrated the armor of the flyer, startling the Kormag prefect as much as his officer as they both looked up to see the golden beast flash in toward them. Before it could close, however, another series of blasts erupted through the sky, forcing it to wheel away as the third flyer reentered the battle.

Meglan took a breath, it was time to press the advatage, before the beasts could regroup.

"Target the wounded one and..."

"Three more contacts! Incoming at Sek 7!"

Meglan looked down sharply, mind calculating the numbers as he swore. Three more might actually be able to take them. "Can Krin's flyer maneuver?"

"Barely, Prefect!"

"Open a gateway." Prefect Meglan ordered. "It is time to fall back. We will return with a full task force."

Fragnar roared in rage as he watched the three flyers flash into a portal and vanish. He wanted payback for the damage they'd inflicted, but for now they were beyond his reach. "Smaug!"

"I live." The dark dragon growled as he recovered from his spin and circled back into the sky. "What were they?"

"I do not know, but neither do I believe that they are gone for good."

Smaug smiled nastily, "Good. I owe them."

"Holy crap."

"Keep your head down," Quinn ordered quietly, pulling Maggie down from the lip of the valley.

"Did you SEE those things?" Maggie half turned, expression amazed, "They're incredible!"

"They're dragons," Remy said grimly, "and I'd rather not be lunch, thanks. Listen to Q-Ball, ok?"


"We've run into dragons before," Quinn nodded, "Not exactly the most amiable creatures."

"Yeah well, those two just saved our ass."

"We're just lucky they haven't seen us yet," Quinn said grimly, "Dragons are eating machines. They attack anything that moves."

"That's not what it looked like to me," Maggie shrugged, "The gold one seemed to be holding back until the Mags attacked."

"Yeah, I hate to admit it, Q-ball, but it did look like that."

"Doesn't matter." Quinn frowned, "We're not taking the chance. We've got four days, we'll find some water, forage for food, and keep our heads down until we can slide out."

The others nodded in agreement, even Maggie who gave the two magnificent beasts a last look before they ducked back under the ridge and made their way down the rocky valley.


"Come forward Ilsa," Fragnar said, glancing back over his scaled shoulder. "Speak."

"What happened?" The steel blue drake said as she landed beside the golden dragon.

"We were attacked."

"By who?"

"That," Fragnar growled, smoke curling from his nostrils, "I do not know yet. Summon the Seers to this place, and bring up any of our casters with talent in portal generation."

Ilsa nodded quickly, then leapt into the air and circled away as Smaug limped over, a small healer following him and chattering away in Dracon.

"They will be returning," Fragnar said simply, "Alert the seers to watch for more portals, and summon up the guard."

Smaug nodded, growling and snapping at the healer. "Leave me be, cursed female!"

The healer fell back, and Smaug shook his head rapidly before turning back to look at Fragnar, "It will be done."

Fragnar huffed as Smaug pushed the healer away again, then jumped into the air himself. The dark dragon faltered briefly in the air, losing altitude, then regained control and heaved himself further into the air and flew off.

"And me, Lord Fragnar?"

Fragnar turned to see a young juvenile waiting behind him. Barely forty years old, and certainly not ready for combat, the youth was nevertheless on detatched duty apparently. Fragnar suppressed a smile, "You should be in the Vale, Stephanie."

The youth's muscles rippled as she gazed evenly back at him.

Fragnar sighed, "You are too much like your namesake for my liking, young one. Scout out the area, stay in touch with the guard as they mobilize... report anything unusual immediately."

"As you say, Lord Fragnar," The young drake smiled, heaving herself into the air as her cobalt blue wingtips stretching out thirty feet from tip to tip, then beat down as she climbed high and fast, as only the young are able.

Fragnar smiled as he watched her go, his face pensive as he thought of how close he and the Vale had come to losing her and all her litter mates those few years past. It had been outsiders, then, who had taken them... and outsiders who returned them. Now the Valley had to deal with outsiders again.

It was...


Universe November Hotel 23
RFV Grendlesbane,


"Sir, Mag portal trails have been tracked to sector nine ninety by three eighty one, three marks off the main trunk line."

The man in the black uniform nodded pensively.

Three marks off was a noticeable shift from the prime reality, far enough in fact that it was curious that the Mags had any interest in it. Over Captain Smytheson leaned over his control console and tapped a few commands, bringing up the readings for himself.

"Interesting. Energy readings are quite unique. No technical base, however. Why are the Mags there?" He asked, frowning.

"Unknown, Sir. We tracked three separate gate generations, two in... one out." The Lieutenant replied, "Two were certainly Mag gates. The third is a rough gate, very unrefined signature. Frankly, Sir, I'd be shocked if the travelers made it through in one piece. I wouldn't want to trust it to keep my molecules in place."

"Opinion noted." Smytheson same dryly. "Launch a series of probes into that dimension, set them to scan for Mag signatures and report back. If the Mags are interested... perhaps we should be as well."

"Yes, Over Captain." The Lieutenant nodded, keying in the commands. "But sir..."

Smytson looked back, "Yes?"

"There's no sign of any human habitation on the energy scans," The young officer said hesitantly, "Is it worth our attention?"

"If the Mags are interested, so are we."

"Yes Sir."

Universe Delta Victor

Stephanie Flysfar wheeled over the valley, eyes cooly taking in everything below as she performed the duty to her kin with as much calm seriousness as she could muster, given how excited she was. Her first official mission, even if it was just a post event scout, was a thrilling experience.

Something had attacked BOTH Fragnar and Smaug, something had dared assault the elders of the Vale, and she was going to be there to have a shot at them if they came back. That was precisely where she wanted to be.

A glint from the ground caught her eye, and the cobalt blue drake wheeled sharply in the sky, focusing in for a moment before she swept her wings in and arrowed for the ground like a diving hawk. She flashed into the valley, wings snapping out at the last moment to arrest her descent, and settled into a soft landing along the rock strewn base.

She snorted at the dirt, blowing up dust as she examined the small pieces of metal she had spotted from the air.

<Smells like sulfur flame,> She curled up her lips, exposing three inch long teeth, smirking slightly. <Like Frankie when he's eaten too much spicy fish.>

She turned her head, looking at the yellow colored bits of metal, then picked one up in a claw and tucked it under a scale flap. <Maybe Lord Fragnar will recognize it.>

She took another look around, then leapt up into the air and lifted away with a steady beat of her leathery wings.

After she was out of sight, four figures appeared from a small crevasse they had been hiding in.

"Now that was some freaky shit." Remy muttered, barely believing what he saw.

"Did we really just see a five ton lizard doing the whole CSI thing?" Wade asked with some wonder.

"Looked like it to me, you still think that they're just eating machines?" Maggie asked, shaking her head, "That one sure zeroed in on my brass like a homing missile... and it looked like it was taking evidence."

"That certainly looked... intelligent," Quinn admitted, "but we can't assume that intelligent means friendly. I think we really need to find a safe place to hole up until we can slide out."

"Yeah," Remy nodded, "I'm with Q-Ball. The lizard doing the investigation routine is really freaky, but I just want to get back to a populated Earth, y'know? A suite in the Chandler, hot bath... maybe a little club scene."

"Yeah," Wade nodded, eyes still on the spot in the sky the dragon had vanished to. "I'm with Remy and Quinn. Let's find some water and a hiding place."

Maggie nodded in agreement, but couldn't stop from looking back at the spot the dragon had been. "Man that was just freaky."

Fragnar watched as the juvenile circled the ground before coming in for a fast landing. He snorted blue smoke, watching her scramble to stop without running over his position, but didn't move as she skidded to a stop just feet away from him.

"Yes?" He asked calmly, noting the blue flush with amusement as it ran up her scales.

"Found something." She said, breathlessly, excited.

"Oh?" He asked, smiling very slightly.


He waited, and she apparently waited as well.



"Show me." Fragnar said slowly, deliberately, trying not to show his amusement.

"Oh!" Stephanie blushed a bright cobalt blue again, "Right. Sorry, Lord Fragnar... here..."

Fragnar eyed the small piece of brass as she extended it to him on a single talon and huffed slightly.


"It's from a human weapon." He said after a moment.

"So it was humans that attacked you?"

Fragnar slowly shook his head, "Very strange. The weapons used on myself and Smaug were far more advanced than this. This is very basic human technology, not on the same level at all."

"So it's not connected?" She asked, looking disappointed.

"Perhaps. It should not be here, however." Fragnar said, "There have never been humans out here, we are far from the Vale... this part of the world is still virgin territory. Continue the scout, Stephanie. I will investigate this, thank you."

"Yes My Lord," She said excitedly, leaping up into the air, "As you order!"

Fragnar watched the young female fly off, fondly thinking of her mother for a moment before turning his attention back to the brass cartridge she'd brought him.

<Most strange.>

Universe Mike Eighty Nine

Assembling a task force took two full days, even the Kromag armada had it's limitations after all. However the unusual reptilians, and their linguistic connection to the human vermin that pervaded the multiverse were enough of a draw to get the upper echelons to take a second look at the records.

It was when the unusual energy readings at first overlooked by Meglan's people turned up that the mission gained a priority.

The world was nearly virgin, entirely untapped in fact. Unlike most Earth's, this one was very nearly pure and still replete with raw resources waiting to be pulled from it's bounty. A bounty that included a mineral that was absent on almost all other earths, in fact, and very valuable to the war effort.

Meglan found himself in command of an entire wing, a promotion for his pains he supposed, now under command of Vice General Keirn. The battle group would be ready to move out in just a few hours, and then the reptilians would find that it didn't pay to tangle with a Kromag squadron.

Universe November Hotel 23
RFV Grendlesbane

"Sweet Lord above us all!"

Smythson twisted in his command chair, looking over at the sensor tech who'd cried out. "What is it, Lieutenant?"

"Mag portals, Sir... Dozens of them."

Smythson whistled low, paling as he got up. "Coming here?"

"Negative. Looks like back to that muck hole we've been observing."

The Over Captain nodded, frowning for a moment. "There's nothing in our scanners that show that world to be pivotal, is there?"

"One mo, Sir." The officer replied, calling up the remote probe readings. "It's a virgin world, near as we can tell. Resources are on par with that, basically never been tapped."

"Valuable. But these readings show an entire battlegroup at least."

"Yes Captain... There are the energy readings, Sir."

"Bring them up, then run a profile scan. See if it matches anything."

"We did that, Sir. No response."

Smythson nodded, then paused, "Wait. You meant negative response, right?"

"No Sir. No response, central archive didn't respond with anything other than a confirmation of receipt."

The Over Captain frowned, leaning over his lieutenant, and tapped in a command. He frowned again, quickly putting in command override, then paled when the response came back.

"Sweet mercy." He whispered, "The world is completely virgin."

"I said that, Sir."

"No, I mean it's never been mined. Not even ten million years ago." Smythson replied, "They never mined it out."


"Nothing you need to worry about." Smythson straightened up, walking over to the central communications area. "Put me into contact with Vice Admiral Sigurst. Alpha Red priority, tell him that the Mags have located a prime source of element 183."

Universe Delta Victor

Fragnar twisted when a cry of shock rose up from the center of the war camp, the large dragon sprinting instantly toward it's source, the tents of the Seers.

"What is it!?" He roared, ignoring the shocked trembling of the few humans who had come with the war group.

"They're coming."

The dragon lord slid to a stop, his ears picking out the quiet words, and he turned to look at the old human woman who'd spoke. He thought to question her, but a glance at her milky white eyes told him that she would not hear him.

"From beyond the stars," She intoned, "Death and slavery to humans... death and worse to all others. They both come for us, for our world. They're... here."

Fragnar tensed, something in her final pronouncement chilling his hot blood, only to twist skyward when a clap of thunder roared over them, soon to be followed by a dozen others. Portals filled the skies, and they were disgorging ship after ship of the same design that had attacked him and Smaug... as well as many far larger.

"Guard!" Fragnar bellowed, "Rise up! To the skies!"

He quickly took his own advice, heaving himself into the air as one by one, in couples, and by the dozen, others did the same. The sky over the camp was quickly filled with dragon wings, the sound of leathery sinew and muscle beating against the sky overpowering the thunder of the portals for a brief moment, then they were off.

"Mages!" An armored human Knight called out, "To the front! Prepare your battle magic, healers get ready to receive wounded!"

The human moved swiftly through the camp, his black armor the only one of it's type in the entire war camp, but where he passed the people listened and followed his commands. The sun glinted off the golden cup imprinted on his armor, and where it passed people calmed from their panic and set about their work.

Had they seen the worried look in the Knight's eye, they may not have been so calm, but they didn't... nor did he bring their attention to it. It would not have helped. He wished, though, so very badly, that he could contact his Order and bring them all forward as well.

"Oh my lord."

"You said it, Remy," Quinn muttered, shaking his head. "It looks like the entire Kromag fleet."

"Naw," Maggie shook her head, "Just a battlegroup. Whatever they were able to scrounge up in a hurry. Hope those lizards give em hell."

"Yeah," Rembrandt Brown said, turning around to put his back to the hill between them and the ships above. "Good luck to em. How long until we can slide?"

Quinn shook his head, twisting the timer over so he could see it. "Almost two days."

"Never figured I'd be caught between giant lizards who want to eat me and a Mag armada that wants to kill me," Remy laughed weakly. "The professor would have loved to see this."

Quinn smiled equally weakly, but nodded, "Yeah. He would have."

Wade, who had been watching the skies intently, yelped in shock, "Here come the dragons."

The others twisted back, turning to peer over the crest of the hill.

"Oh wow." Quinn breathed in awe. "Look at them all."

"There has to be dozens of them," Maggie confirmed, "They're magnificent."

"They're dead if they try to meet that Mag fleet head on," Remy ground out.

To punctuate his words the first flashes of energy erupted between the two closing groups, blue and green bolts of power slamming into the Dragons as they closed, sending some few spiraling out of the sky. The dragons weren't going down easily, though, and there were flashes of flame and light in return as the group of Sliders watched the battle erupt into a fury that shocked even Maggie who had seen more than her share.

Bolts of lightning slammed into Mag ships even as energy blasts tore through the dragon ranks. Blue blasts of ice coating smaller flyers with first hundreds, then thousands of pounds of extra weight, sending them crashing to the rocky ground below. In seconds the sky was filled with fire and lightning, and the ground was coated with the bodies and debris of the battle above.

"Focus on the large one!" Fragnar roared out as he and Smaug wheeled together, coming around to strike at the largest of the ships again.

They'd hit it three times already, tearing out large chunks of it's armor and blowing out the shielding it used with their combined breath attacks, but it still flew over the sacred soil of the Mother, and still rained down death upon her head.

Smaug's lightning tore through the ship's systems as Fragnar flooded it's damaged areas with dragon fire, behind them another five of their kin sweeping in to help finish the job.

"Watch your back!" Fragnar called as three of the smaller flyers appeared behind the dragon wing, weapons tearing into them from behind.

Fragnar snarled, digging his claws into the big ship to arrest his motion, then twisted and sprang back into the air, diving right into the middle of the enemy formation. He hit one with a focused blast of dragon fire that melted it to slag in a few seconds, then slammed head on into a second, leading with his talons.

The armor of the light flyer tore like paper, shredding the craft in two as Fragnar kicked off the falling debris and dove for the last one. As he did he caught a glimpse of a shocked and terrified looking ape like creature as it plummeted from it's stricken craft to the unyielding ground below.

<Not humans then. Stranger and stranger,> The high lord of the Dragon Council thought to himself as he latched onto the third flyer and proceeded to rip it panel from panel.

The echoing thunderclaps had brought Stephanie back in a straightline from her patrol route, arrowing toward the sound as she quickly created a sonic boom of her own in desperate need to find out what was going on.

She could see it, in the distance, a battle the likes of which she'd never imagined. Dragon kin were falling from the sky, huge armored chariots spitting fire as they clashed. A rage began to fill the juvenile as she tried to increase speed, but something distracted her almost as quickly.

<Humans?> She frowned, glancing down.

Four of them, watching the battle as they sheltered behind a crest. Had she followed her planned route, she'd have missed them.

<No matter. They matter not...> She began, then paused again, watching the human position approach rapidly. They hadn't seen her yet, her approach was still silent to them, the sound of her terrible speed stil trailing well behind. <What if they are responsible? What if they know the enemy...>

She was a scout, not a warrior. Not yet.

Her duty was to gather information.

Stephanie threw out her wings, bleeding speed and pivoting fast in the air, dropping in a tight spiral as the thunderclap of her approach finally caught up with her.

The sonic boom shocked them all, and the four twisted fast, expecting to see a Kromag ship above them. That sight would have chilled them less than the cobalt blue dragon that was twisting rapidly in the air as it circled their position, dropping fast and hard.

It flared it's wings at literally the last second, plumes of smoke erupting from it's nostrils as it glared at them and slammed into the ground hard enough to crack a boulder it had landed on.

"Who are you and what is your business here!?"

"Holy..." Maggie Beckett cursed, pulling her Browning in a rush, and bringing it level with the dragon that was looming over them. Her finger was actually tightening on the trigger before in sank in that the thing was TALKING.

"Excuse me?" She heard Quinn said, sounded remarkably calm, all things considered. "Did you just... speak?"

The dragon looked pissed.

Seriously pissed OFF. Smoke was curling from it's nostrils as it glared at them openly, and she had to fight to keep her arm from shaking.

"Uh... Mags," Remy whispered, "I don't think that'll do anything more than piss it off."

"Answer the question!" The Dragon roared, head swiveling on it's long neck as it glared at them all. "And hurry yourselves, I have no time to waste with you!"

"We're travelers from... far away..."

The Dragon rolled it's eyes, "I already figured out the portal use, you dimwit. Are you connected to the people attacking my kin!?"

"What?" Remy blurted, "The Mags? Hell no! Those things have been invading countless worlds! We're NOT with them."

"Mags?" The dragon growled.

"Kromags," Quinn said, stepping forward. "They're a different evolutionary development that replaced humans in their home dimension. When they developed sliding technology they found that humans were only almost every other Earth, and they didn't like it."

The dragon snorted, "Many species might agree with them. Why are they invading here? We have few humans here."

"We don't know," Quinn said honestly. "I don't know enough about the Mags to say."

The Dragon stepped past them, looking over the ridge at the battle. Quinn could have sworn he saw pain in it's eyes just then. A second later it swiveled it's head to look back at him, "Remain here. Do not leave."

Before the others could say anything, or the dragon could actually leave, they all heard the whine of a Kromag flyer approaching. Fast.

"Get down!" Maggie yelled, hitting the dirt fast and hard.

The others did the same, throwing themselves to the ground in an attempt to remain unseen, as well as avoid being shot if the first failed.

The Dragon, however, did not.

The huge beast let out a roar that echoed off the rocks around them, then flung itself into the air, kicking up dust all around them as it's wings beat down.

As it lifted off into the sky, Remy looked up, covering his eyes against the dust as best he could, and yelled over the sound.

"It's completely NUTS!"

Stephanie heard the scream behind her as she accelerated upwards, but ignore the sentiment. The enemy was coming, and she intended to meet it. At almost three hundred meters, it opened fire on her, spitting bolts of that green energy that had struck Smaug before, and now injured or killed so many of her kin.

She twisted in the wind, tucking her wings in as much as she could, and rolled clear of the line of fire. She still continued to close the distance, flapping as little as possible while still accelerating into the maw of the flyer's guns.

She screamed as the distance was halved, then quartered, and only then did she summon her breath and spit lighting across the gap between them.

Her breath was no where near as powerful as that of Fragnar or Smaug, but it was enough to flare along the flyer's shields, lighting them up in a crackle of energy, and at least distracted the enemy flyer enough that it stopped shooting.

That was it's fatal mistake.

Stephanie slammed into the flyer without slowing, her mass bringing it's motion to a screeching halt as her form overloaded it's shields and gave her talons access to it's metal armor. Battle steel screeched in protest as it was torn asunder, and in her fury Stephanie ripped the craft into three pieces before realizing that she, and it, were in freefall and she had only moments to get clear.

She jumped away, extending her wings to catch the air, and watched as the flyer slammed into the rocks below, the explosion washing over her with a warming heat just seconds later.

She puffed out a bit of smoke, glancing back toward the humans for a moment, then turned to the battle. Time to give her report, the young scout decided with a fierce grin. Unless she was mistaken, her superior was right in the middle of the firefight.


The battle had raged for several hours by the time Fragnar had a gleam that the tide was shifting, the violence shattering and quite beyond even his ken, and he was an old dragon who had seen many things in his day.

It was like a human war, he decided, horrible in it's sheer devastation. Certainly unlike Dragon duels, or even the battles once fought between human and dragonkin. He had been there, a reluctant ally to the Knights of the Order of the Grail when they moved against the supernatural madness of the one they called Hitler. No normal battles had those been, either... though, somehow, it was the non-battles of that war that had been so much more terrible.

This was similar, though far more...real to him. These weapons were more powerful, more dangerous to his life and the life of his kin, and these things were attacking *him*. He was no 'ally' in this battle, he was one of the prime combatants.

Beside him, the perennial cloud of doom and gloom, Smaug, wheeled at his side as the two teamed to destroy whatever lay in their path. The large flyer was still floating there, in sheer defiance of their will, but under it lay the strewn wreckage of many times a dozen smaller flyers... evidence of what awaited any who stood against the two elders of Dragon Kin.

Even so, they were growing tired and weary. The battle was shifting in their favor, now, in Fragnar's estimation, but only just... and the cost would yet be immeasurably high by their recent standards.

As he and Smaug came back around for another attack, they were surprised by a sudden surge of lighting and fire from the ground, reaching out and cleansing the sky ahead of them like the hand of God himself. Fragnar spared a glance back and understood as he watched the human mages unleash their spells at a ferocious pace, Sir Gregory at their head waving his sword and shouting orders.

He'd held them back, Fragnar realized, saving them for this time, and the Dragon elder nodded to himself as he mentally congratulated the Knight of the Grail for his smart thinking. The unexpected attack was paving a clear run through the air for he, Smaug, and many others and Fragnar intended to take it.

"Take down the large flyer! The rest will wait!" He roared, tightening his wings in and plummeting in closer with Smaug tight in to his side.

Others followed suit and they charged right in on the tail of the devastating spell attack, unleashing their own natural weapons, and equally devastating magics, raking the large flyer from stem to stern with horrifically devastating energy.

Vice General Keirn held tightly to his command post as the mighty warship shook around him. "Status report!"

"Damage to all sections, armor integrity down in several areas.... fires are out of control through sections nine, eight, and six!"

"Weapons energy is dropping off, we must have a short in the relay circuits!"

"Reactor's are holding, Counter Gravity stable!"

"Fighter wings depleted by forty percent! The enemy has moved in ground based reinforcements with counter-flyer capability!"

Keirn grunted, "Order the flyers to pull back and regroup at fall back point Korg. Lay down cover fire to allow them to break off."

The massive interdimensional cruiser shuddered as it redirected it's heavy weapons fire, pounding the ground and laying down a lethal wall of fire in the air as the smaller flyers began to draw back.

The infernal beasts were making another run as the General saw the last of his task force finish breaking off.

"Signal the reserve force to cover our own retreat."

Fragnar roared in rage as another series of thunderclaps signaled the entry of a dozen fresh flyers into the battlefield, their weapons tearing into his ranks from above. He broke from the attack, screaming for the others to do the same, and twisted to repay the attackers in kind.

Even as he did so, however, the new flyers too broke off and began to accelerate away from them, heading west toward the sea.

Every urge in the old dragon's body was to give chase, but he could see that it would be futile. They were fast, at least as fast as the dragon kin, and probably more tireless. He snarled, but called off the chase before it got started.

"Are you mad!?" Smaug raged, "We must hunt them down and annihilate them all!"

"It will do us no good to face them tired and near broken," Fragnar countered, glaring at them in the distance. "We must tend to our wounds and call in the entire Guard to deal with them."

Smaug snorted, landing down beside Fragnar and clawed at the ground in his anger and frustration. "They must PAY!"

"And so they shall." Fragnar swore, "On our terms, and over their broken bodies. By this time tomorrow almost the entire guard will be here, and we will hunt them down and rend them from their little toy ships."

Smaug grunted in agreement, still snorting fire and smoke with every breath.

A flap of wings caused Fragnar to turn, surprising him as he saw Stephanie land near him, looking oddly disappointed.

"Lord." She said, covering whatever she was feeling in that regard. "I beg to report that I located four humans watching the battle to the west."

Smaug wheeled, "Did they set those beasts on us!?"

"They claim not, Lord Smaug," Stephanie bowed her head, "They called them 'Kromags' and have some little information to share at least."

"Why have you not brought them here then!?" Smaug glowered.

"Into battle?" Stephanie looked bewildered by the suggestion.

"No, you young fool, here and now, after the battle!"

"I was coming to join..."

"You're a scout, you foolish female, not a warrior...!" Smaug raged, "Information if your duty! I have a mind to..."

"Enough." Fragnar cut off the other elder sternly, knowing that his emotions were well out of proportion to the event. "Stephanie, take me to them. Now."

"Yes, Lord." She bowed, her normally blue scales a steel grey now as she avoided Smaug's glare. "This way..."

She heaved off into the sky, followed swiftly by Fragnar and, a moment later, a rather irate Smaug.

Universe November Hotel 23
RFV Grendlesbane

To : Over Captain John Smythson
Fr : Admiralty House, Dimension Prime

You are ordered to gather to what units are immediately available within your sector, under our authority, and then to proceed directly to the Virgin Universe, henceforth known as Universe 183 Mark 3. There you will prevent the Kromag armada from establishing a solid base of operations by any means available to you barring, of course, violations of the First Directives. To that end, you are authorized to commission, draft, or otherwise recruit any sector resources you feel necessary to accomplish this end.

A main battle fleet is being detached from Dimension Prime and should arrive within seven days time to establish a fleet base within the system. Keep the Kromag force off balance until such time as they can arrive.

Message Ends

Smythson read the orders again, having already begun the implementation of them in the quick gathering off all military units to his location. There weren't that many, but they would do for what effectively amounted to harassing the 'Mag supply lines and sabotaging their efforts. As for his own, he'd used the blanket authorization to acquire two supply freighters delivering colonial supplies. It would be hard on the colonials, he supposed, but most of them were convicts anyway.

"Task Force status." He said aloud, looking up.

"We're still waiting on the Hades, Beowulf, and Raven Spirit, Sir."

Smythson nodded, "Eta?"

"Raven Spirit is the furthest out, another nine hours."

"Very good," He said, "Latest reports from the probes?"

"They read like there was a pitched battle, Sir. It looks like the Mags run into something there," The Lieutenant said, sounding a little tense.

Smythson could understand that, "Human?"

"No sir. At least not any human tech we've ever seen, and no readings that look like human life signs..."

"Sub human life signs?"

The Lieutenant shrugged, "Certainly non-human, but they could be animals of some kind."

Smythson grunted again, thinking that the lieutenant was being a little optimistic. There *were* a few dimensions out there with animals that could give a Mag task force a beating, but those were incredibly rare. Natural species didn't develop inborn weapons of that type without damned good reason, and on a Virgin world? No. Highly unlikely.

Probably a sub-human presence, then, like the Mags themselves.

Under other circumstances, it would be tactically prudent to let them pound away at each other before moving in to clean both out. Now, however, he had to be certain that the Mags didn't sink their filth onto this world before the Reigen could lay it's own claim.

Sub human presence would invoke the First Directives as soon as his primary mission was in hand.

"Are our stores fully stocked?" Smythson asked out of the blue.

"Sir? We're taking on food and water for the..."

"No. Weapons stores," He corrected, "The Neutronic Devices have been checked?"

The lieutenant paled slightly, but nodded, "As soon as the orders went out, Sir. All check green."

"Excellent, thank you. Inform when the Raven Spirit arrives."


Universe Delta Vector
KIV Korvag

"No sign of pursuit, General."

"Good," Keirn said grimly, "Send the call for reinforcements as soon as we have an open portal. I want damage reports on my panel within fifteen marks, with a priority list for combat vital repairs."

"Yes, General."

The Vice General looked at the playback of the battle as it looped on his screens and shook his head, "Powerful beasts."


He glanced over to see a Prefect approaching and just shook his head, "Nothing, Prefect. Just commenting. They're as strong as you said."

"Yes Sir." Prefect Meglan nodded, having come aboard from his own ship to confer. "I didn't think they'd have that many though..."

"No, nor did we really think they would be able to bring in Counter flyer weapons as quickl as they did. They may not be a technical world by our standards, but they have an effective communication and transport system." Keirn replied gravely.

"Perhaps they live closer than..."

"No. Our best scans indicated a completely virgin world, in this hemisphere at least. We'll have to send long range ships around to try and locate their home, however it's save to say that they moved in from some range."

Meglan nodded, having to agree.

"High impact energy weapons, generation of natural lightning, and some indication of quantum effects," Keirn read off, "Not to be trifled with."

"Are we pulling back then?"

"I think not." Keirn replied, snorting. "This world is powerfully rich in rare elements, not to mention the presence of the more mundane treasures. Besides, these beasts are interesting. Our bio-warfare divisions would like a few to experiment on. Perhaps we might tame them, in time."

Meglan gave a look that effectively communicated his thoughts on that matter, bringing a laugh from the Vice General.

"Not to worry," Keirn said, laughing, "I don't intend to try it anytime soon. For now, I believe we'll have to settle for killing them."

"Yes Sir."

"W should have reinforcements in a few hours, and by then the repairs should be enough for us to take the fight back to them." Keirn said, looking up, "Prepare your wing, we'll reengage in... eight hours."

"Holy shit..." Rembrandt swore as he scrambled for cover, the three dragons actually blotting out the sun as they swooped in.

"Who are you!? Where did you come from!?" The darkest one glowered, tendrils of black smoke curling from it's nostrils as he landed, it's head swinging around to pin each of them with a cold, baleful, glare.

"Smaug." The golden one said quietly, but sharply, in a tone that brooked no argument.

The Sliders watched as the darkest dragon pulled back, not saying anything else, but continuing to glare openly at the four humans.

The golden beast, an immense specimen of his species, pinned them with a less hostile, not no less intense stare that seemed to looked right into each of their cores, then he too drew back and spoke.

"You are in no danger from us, we do not harm unarmed people."

Maggie's thoughts immediately went to the Browning on her hip and unconsciously her fingers began to slide to her belt. The dragon just chuckled.

"I don't consider the pistol to be a weapon."

"You know about guns?" She blurted, shocked.

Fragnar laughed openly, "You can only wonder at what I know, young lady. Now, however, we have business. Stephanie here tells me that you know something of our... problems."

"Stephanie!?" Maggie couldn't help but blurt. "The Dragon's name is *stephanie*!?"

"Maggie!" Quinn hissed, trying to cut her off.

"And what's wrong with that!?" The cobalt blue dragon snarled, jamming her head forward as she pinned Maggie with a glare. "You have a problem with my name!?"

Maggie shook her head quickly, but pointed to the darkest dragon, "Smaug I get. That's a dragon name... but... *Stephanie*!? Who's this, Frank?" She asked, pointing to the golden dragon.

Quinn just groaned, covering his eyes, cause he didn't want to see the foreball coming if Maggie was about to get them all barbequed.

Amazingly enough the golden dragon laughed even as the smaller blue one sputtered flaming drops of liquid from her nostrils.

"No, Frank is her brother. I'm Fragnar." He said, bringing his head down to just a few inches from a rapidly paling Maggie Beckett. "Pleased to meet you... Maggie, is it?"

"Uh... Maggie Beckett." She nodded, scared out of her skin.

"Stephanie was named after a friend to Dragon Kin, as were many of her litter when they grew old enough to choose their proper names." Fragnar told them, "As the men in question are held in quite some esteem, it would be best if you didn't say anything insulting."

"She was named after a man named Stephanie?" Wade blurted unthinkingly before instantly clapping a hand over her own mouth and bleeping out a panicked, "Sorry!"

The cobalt drake hissed flame, even as the golden dragon laughed openly. Behind them, carefully hidden from eyes of both dragon and human, the dark one named Smaug was desperately trying to keep from rolling on the ground in helpless laughter. Even he recognized the slightly hysterical element in it, knowing that his emotions were so close to running out of control that laughter and rage held only a fine line between them, but for the moment Smaug just tried to keep from openly laughing at the words.

"SIR *Stephen* is my namesake, human," Stephanie growled seriously, her head coming within a foot of Wade as the woman fell back onto her ass in fear and shock. "I'll thank you not to mock him."

Quinn got between them, hands up, "Sorry... Sorry, no mocking intended. Wade just has a little problem with the part of her brain that connects to her mouth..."

He glared over his shoulder at both Maggie and Wade, "It's unfortunately not uncommon in humans."

Fragnar smiled toothily, but didn't seem threatening. "Indeed. So I have often found myself. Now then, however, about the attackers."

"Kromags." Quinn said, "They're a technically advanced species from an alternate Earth."

"Yes, I can see that. Not human, however?"

"No. Evolutionary offshoot," Quinn replied, "I believe they developed from Cro-Magnon man, a progenitor of humans."

"Related then," Fragnar replied.

"Not that they'll admit," Quinn replied with a tired kind of smile. "They seem to openly dispise humans and have basically declared an open war on humans where ever they're found."

"We have few enough humans here," Fragnar mused, "I wonder why they've chosen to invade..."

Smaug leaned forward, looking at the four humans in front of him, "Perhaps you four know more than you're telling... hmmm? Something tells me that it's not cooincidence that brings two groups of dimensional travellers here together. Perhaps it's you they want, hmmm?"

Quinn swallowed, but shook his head, "I really don't know why they're here in force. They shouldn't be... The Mags have been after us for a while, but this is WAY beyond what they'd consider a worthwhile effort to capture us."

"No matter." Fragnar decided, "You'll come with us. We return to our camp to regroup and prepare for the next battle. You will continue to tell us what you know."

It wasn't a request.

Gregory Sandoval, Knight Lieutenant of the Order, looked up as the last of the Dragons made it back to camp. He was mildly surprised to see some humans had hitched a ride, then was even more surprised when he saw who they'd hitched a ride with.

<Brave sons of bitches,> The Knight thought, shaking his head, <Especially that poor sucker on Smaug's back. I'm Immortal and I'm sure as hell not stupid enough to climb up there.>

The guy didn't look brave, mind you. In fact he looked like he was hiding his eyes and... singing to himself? Weird.

"Fragnar!" Gregory hailed the golden dragon as he landed, "You're the last ones to return..."

Fragnar knew that he meant the last ones who'd survived, and just nodded, "Casualties?"

"Lot of minor injuries, a few major ones. Looks like we lost at least eight dragons and about twenty people though." Gregory told him as the humans dropped off, the frowned as he looked them over, "I don't know these four."

"They are not from around here," Fragnar said dryly, "Get them fed, watered, and washed up. They have information we need, but they smell poorly."

"Hey," The black man who'd been singing while on Smaug's back muttered defensively, "We've been running around the desert for two days. Excuse me if we're not spring fresh."

Gregory chuckled, helping steady the man, "He don't mean anything by it, friend. Dragon's have very good senses, smell is just one of them. I just showered this morning and I'm probably pretty rank to them by now."

"I wasn't going to say anything," Fragnar said with a toothy smirk, "But..."

"Get out of here before I carve me a suitcase!" Gregory growled, shaking his head.

"In a moment," The dragon chuckled, "They are guests, Sir Gregory, but keep them under guard. I suspect that they know more about the invaders than they are telling... perhaps more than they realize."

Gregory turned to eye the foursome more seriously, "Is that so?"

"Indeed. Interrogate them, that is a task better left to you humans anyway."

Gregory nodded, "Understood. Fragnar, should I send for more Knights?"

"For what?" Smaug growled.


"We have no need of any," Smaug growled, pushing past him and walking into camp. "We can handle this."

Gregory looked back at Smaug, then returned his gaze to Fragnar. "My Lord?"

"Not yet, Sir Gregory. The Guard will be gathered tomorrow and we will hunt them down. Unless something untoward should change, that will be sufficient."

"They'll probably be calling reinforcements as well," Gregory cautioned the old Dragon.

"I am aware. We'll muster our full contingent of battle magic, however. It should be more than required." Fragnar said quietly, "The Valley defends itself, Sir Gregory."

"No one disputes that, Fragnar," Gregory replied, shaking his head, "However you have many favors owed to you by many powerful people who would be more than pleased to clear one or two of their debts to you. Why face this alone if you don't have to."

"It will be over in a matter of days, if not hours, Sir Gregory," Fragnar replied, "Do you believe that your Knights could be here that soon?"

Gregory sighed, "No."

"Then we will handle it ourselves."

The matter was closed, Gregory knew, and he just nodded and motioned to the humans, "Come along you four. I'll get you some food and drink before you wash up. You look like you need it."

"Yeah, thanks man," The black guy said, still shaking a bit. "That was some ride."

"Dragonback is always an experience," Gregory chuckled, "Mess tent's this way."

"Who are you people?" A dirty blond asked, looking around.

"Local Guard, Ma'am. Well, they are anyway. I'm an observer." Gregory replied, "You have information about the hostiles?"

"The Kromags?" Quinn asked, "Some I guess. We've only had limited contact with them, but they're rabidly anti-human... specifically targeting human cultures with sliding technology."

"Sliding?" Gregory asked, frowning as he snapped his fingers, "That sounds familiar... where have I heard that word before..."

"You've heard of Sliding?" Quinn asked, curiously.

"I spent some time in a federal group that deals with weird stuff," Gregory shrugged, not mentioning the bureau by name. "Can't place it though."

"Sliding is how we move from one dimension to another..."

"Oh yeah, I remember. Wormhole tech, I think we buried that tech fast in the secure room," Gregory nodded, "not really dangerous in and of itself, but has some spectacular possibilities for abuse."

He looked them over, "Quinn Mallory, right?"

"You know us?"

Gregory shook his head, "Nah, never met. But I'd guess that one of your alternates has done some work for the Bureau. You and your group are known in the Bureau, even helped out on a few cases that made the newsletter."

"We... work with Dragons?" Wade asked weakly.

Gregory laughed out loud as he lead them into the mess tent and got them seated, waving for some food from the back. "I wouldn't know, I was talking about the FBI. Dragon Valley isn't my home dimension either."

"Your Earth has sliding technology?" Quinn leaned forward.

"Well, I suppose. At least I think that the Bureau got a copy of it..." Gregory shrugged, "Not that we use it anyway. I got here via a rift gate."

"What's that?"

"Magic." Gregory smiled.

"Very funny." Quinn muttered dryly.

"Hey, you just rode in on fire breathing dragons, what's a little magic compared to that?"

"Dragons we've seen before," Quinn said flatly.

"We've seen some stuff that was pretty magical too, Q-ball." Remy reminded him, "Like Vampire world, sleepwalker world..."

"All explainable through science," Quinn insisted.

"Who says this isn't?" Remy shrugged.

Gregory just smiled, "I love you science types. Never believe anything you can see... always has to be theories and math to you."

Remy grinned and chuckled.

The food was delivered, and Gregory watched as the four dug in ferociously. "What can you tell me about their military strength?"

Quinn shrugged, speaking through mouthfuls, "Not much..."

"They've got anti-gravity technology with focused energy weapons," Maggie spoke up, "I'm guessing advanced particle cannons, they don't operate like photon weapons. Power level is impressive, but I'd say that they're not as hard hitting as, say, a stinger. Lots more ammo in the racks, though, which makes them pretty dangerous."

Gregory nodded seriously, not noticing the others looking over at her with stunned expressions.

"Hand weapons are roughly the same... good take down power, but I've seen better pistols. They've got pretty impressive charge packs," She said, chewing thoughtfully, "better than my people were ever able to work out. Gives them a lot more ammo between reloads, which is a nasty advantage however you cut it."

"Yeah, but it's not overwhelming." Gregory replied, "We're not talking about disintegrator rays or anything here."

"Thankfully, no." Maggie replied dryly. "It's their shield tech that makes them really tough, but I haven't had a good chance to see how they stand up against modern weapons."

"Well enough, I'm guessing, considering how many worlds we've seen overrun," Remy said darkly.

Maggie shrugged, "Well the slider tech alone is a major force multiplier."

"Right, they can hit from anywhere, anytime," Gregory nodded. "Against a world that can't detect an incoming wormhole that would be pretty nasty. I think we can work something up... The Dragons here knew they were coming before they did, after all. Unfortunately, Dragon Valley isn't used to dealing with hostile incursions. The Guard is more a formality than anything, I'm afraid. They haven't fought a home turf war in several thousand years... and, frankly, they lost the last one."

Gregory said that last bit while glancing over his shoulder, then looked back, "And they're a little touchy about it. Especially with humans."

"Why?" Rembrandt asked, curious.

"Well, humans are the ones who beat them." Gregory admitted, "Not that it really was that white and black, but that's another matter. I need to know what they're up against, cause I don't want to see them take any more losses than they have to. They're good folk, they don't deserve this kind of heat."

"No one deserves the Mags." Remy said darkly.

KIV Korvag

"Incoming wormholes, General. It's the Kilvan Task Force."

"Good," Keirn nodded, "As soon as we get them integrated, we'll move on the reptilian force again."


Universe November Hotel 23
IFV Grendlesbane

"Raven Spirit entering comm range now."

"It's about time. How long until we get them into formation?"

"Three hours, no more."

"Signal the fleet, begin transition protocols."

"Aye Over Captain."

Dragon War Camp, Universe Delta Victor

"They've been spotted."

Fragnar nodded gravely, "Are the preparations finished?"

"Yes, Lord," The human mage nodded, "We have prepared a full complement of battle magic to augment your own. We stand ready to defend the Vale."

"I know you do," Fragnar said calmly. "Sound the alarm."

The mage nodded and moved away, leaving the large golden dragon standing on the hilltop, looking to the West.


A harsh name, for what appeared to be a harsh people.

They had struck without provocation, and now seemed intent on destroying the guard. Fragnar wondered why, though. Surely it wasn't the small population of humans living on the Valley? That would be mind bogglingly wasteful. Was there something they wanted? Or was the entire species truly psychotic to such a degree?

It mattered little, in the short run. He could see the flyers approaching now, a shimmer in the sky. Their technology caused the air to waver like a heat shimmer over the desert, it was almost pretty.

"They come."

"I see them, Smaug." Fragnar said gravely. "Signal the readiness."

"We should go out and meet them."

"No, let them come into the range of our battle magic." Fragnar replied firmly. "They seem intent on reaching us, let us take advantage of their haste."

Smaug snorted black smoke, pawing at the ground impatiently, but nodded in acquiescence. "My flights stand ready, give the word."

Fragnar nodded, "I know they do."

"They're coming." Maggie Beckett said gravely, looking out at the sky.

The Sliders were standing on a small hill just off from the center of the camp, tents laid out all around them as people prepared for the battle to come. With them stood the Knight, Gregory, and the cobalt dragon named Stephanie.

"Aren't they going to do anything!?" The Dragon asked, talons digging into the dirt as she tensed up.

"Calmly, Steph." Gregory said, "Fragnar is baiting them in, getting them close enough to be hit by the full force of the Guard's strength."

Maggie nodded, "Yeah, I don't know what kind of ground to air you use, but you want to soften those flyers up before you engage them in the air."

The dragon hissed, pawing nervously at the ground. "I should be joining the flight."

"Don't be silly, girl," Gregory shook his head, remarkably comfortable with chastising the creature that had him outmassed by a dozen times. "You're a lightweight compared to battle flights, and you know it."

"It wouldn't stop Sir Stephen." She mumbled, looking for all the world like a pouting teenager."

Gregory threw up his hands in disgust, "The last thing either of our worlds need is a Dragon version of Stephen St Wolf!"

Silence held for a moment, then Gregory shook his head, "Besides, you're wrong. Sir Stephen is a lunatic, true, but he wouldn't risk the mission for personal glory."

The Slider's listened to the conversation for a moment, then Wade leaned over to Quinn and whispered. "How long until we slide?"

He glanced at the timer, drawing it just slightly out of his pocket. "Two hours."

"Gonna be cutting it too damn close," Rembrandt hissed from beside them.

"Too close."

KVS Korvag

"The reptilian host lies ahead."

"Are they in the air?"

"No Vice General. It appears that we may be able to catch them on the ground and end this."

Keirn grunted, not really believing it for a moment. By all observable accounts they were primitives, these reptilians, but it was equally obvious that wasn't entirely true. The had to have a very effective communication and transport system, otherwise they would not be able to bring a force of this magnitude to meet the task force.

Equally obvious, they had some way of detecting intruders into their sphere. Whether they could detect incoming wormholes or had somehow detected the ships themselves after they'd existed was almost irrelevant at this point.

Finally, they had weapons of extremely effective power, and clearly knew how to use them.

No, they would not be caught on the ground by some miracle of incompetency.

"All flyers, full shields." Keirn ordered, "Stand by for contact."

"They're coming within our range, Lord."

"Cast your spells, destroy as many as you can," Fragnar told the mage, "We will do the rest."

The mage nodded seriously, then flashed a hand signal back behind him.

On a hilltop behind the lines, five humans and one dragon watched as the powerful battlemagic of the Vale was unleashed.

"Unreal." Wade whispered in shock.

Fireballs rose up from the ground, slamming into Kromag flyers with unerring accuracy, while lightning descended from the clear skies overhead to dance across the flyer's shields. The flyers began firing back, but some kind of shield had been erected and their bolts splashed harmlessly off it as the Kromag ships began falling from the sky.

"They're almost out of heavy spells," Gregory announced a moment later, shaking his head. "The Vale needs more casters."

The others didn't respond as they watched rank after rank of dragon flights throw themselves bodily into the sky. In seconds, following on the petering wake of the battlespells, the dragons slammed into the Kromag front and engaged them in their own manner.

Fire, Ice, Lightning, and Storm tore apart the sky, sending shards of Kromag flyers hurtling to the ground as they unleashed their fury. The Kromag's struck back, however, and even as the first Mag flyers exploded on contact with the ground, the first of the Dragon casualties slammed into the rocky surface as well.

Wade hid her face in her hands, gasping at the scene, but the others watched without moving.

After a moment it was Maggie who spoke up, "The Dragons are turning them back."

Gregory nodded, "They didn't have a chance, not really, but they're going to make the Dragons pay for it."

In a few moments the others saw what they had, the Kromags were clearly on the losing end of the fight as more and more of their ships began to fall from the sky in response to the Dragon attack. Quinn felt a great deal of relief as he drew his timer out and took another glance.

<Just a few minutes to go... thank god these people could defend themselves.>

KVS Korvag

"We just lost the Sentan!"

Keirn cursed, holding on to his command post as the ship rocked around him. He had know than they were dangerous, but this much!? What the hell had that opening salvo been, anyway? It hadn't been like any kind of weaponry he'd every seen, and there had been no emplacements to fire back on! Just some people standing out in the middle of nowhere with no sign of weaponry among them.

Then the reptilians.

Dear God above the Reptilians...

Ferocious wasn't near enough to...

No, he had to think, had to stay on command, in control.

"Tighten up the formation! Bring the Kenton in under our shields and cover them!" He growled, "Target the lead wing of those reptilians and open..."

"General! Incoming wormholes!"


The Sonic boom was almost swallowed up in the sound of the battle, and for a moment no one seemed to realize what it was.

Then, above the fight, a huge wormhole opened, followed by several smaller ones, and ships began to slide out into the atmosphere.

On board the Grendlesbane, Over Captain Smythe took a moment to examine the real time data he was now getting, ensuring that it matched their probe information. It did.

"Raze the ground clean, and sanitize my sky," He ordered calmly.

Bolts of lightning from the sky rained down, this time on both Dragons and kromags as the ships above them opened fire indiscriminately. Where they struck and dragon, or a Mag ship, would die. And on the ground, they left nothing by craters and dust.

The battle held for a few seconds, then the combatants realized just how much things had changed and they exploded into evasive action as they broke from the killing zone. Fragnar roared his range, twisting around a bolt from above and immediately climbed for the skies with Smaug and his wing of dragons at his back.

"Who are these people!?" Fragnar roared in anger.

"Does it matter!?" Smaug growled in return.

No, it didn't.

The entire wing opened fire as one, their breath weapons tearing into the newcomers as they had the Kromags, and the dying continued. Behind and below them the dragons couldn't know it, but the newcomers smaller ships had already broken past and were closing on the camp.

"Get down!" Sir Gregory yelled as the first strafing fire tire through the camp, killing by the dozens.

"Who the hell are they!? They're not Mags!" Quinn yelled over the sound as he dove for the ground.

"It doesn't matter!" Gregory yelled, "We have to retreat! We don't have the firepower to cover the camp!"

A bolt struck down almost on top of them, throwing Gregory back off the hill as the blast slammed him with dirt. The others looked toward him, but before they could move another wing of fighters wheeled in and opened fire again.

Quinn was tapping his timer as they closed, "Come on... come on...! It's time!"

Four fighters strafed past them, ripping up the ground as he held out the timer and activated it. The wormhole lit up, Remy and Wade being pushed into it by Quinn and Maggie. Maggie jumped in after it, leaving Quinn to look at Stephanie as the dragon shielded them from the concussion of another pass.

"Come with us!" He yelled.

"This is my place!" She screamed in return, "go!"

"If you stay here, you're going to DIE!" He held up his timer, "I can get you back!"

The dragon looked undecided, then a blast from a fighter struck her square on the back and she stumbled forward. Quinn lunged out of her way, intent on now getting crushed, and dove into the wormhole. The wounded dragon glanced back over his shoulder for a moment, then as another wing came down toward her position she let out a scream of frustration and dove in after him.

Fragnar and Smaug were among the few survivors of the wing, and they had left a trail of carnage in their wake, but it weas over and the golden dragon knew it.

"Cover the retreat!" He ordered the rest, "Get our people back to the Vale and warn the others to prepare the defense!"

Smaug howled in rage, "We cannot let this stand...!"

"Silence!" Fragnar roared, shutting the dark dragon down. "Do as I say, you're the fastest flyer we have now. Go down, find a mage, and have him send you to the Home World. You know what to do there."

"I will NOT abandon the fight..."

"Do as I say!" Fragnar roared at his old friend and adversary, then took a breath. "I will cover you."

Smaug glared at him, but after a moment's indecision he nodded and dropped from the skies, heading toward te ruins of the camp below. Behind him he could hear Fragnar turn on the flyers, the crackling power of his fire warming the air to incredible temperatures.

The black dragon leveled out only feet above the ground, closing on the ruins fast and hard as his eyes sought out their target. The survivors were pulling out as best they could, but that wasn't his mission. He found what he was seeking and skidded to a halt, his claws drawing furrows a hundred feet long in the dirt.

"Mage!" He roared, catching the attention of a robed figure.

"My Lord...!?"

"A rift gate to the home world! NOW!"

The mage stared blankly for a moment, then began to cast on memory even as he shook in fear. Smaug howled at the skies as another flyer came forward and struck out with lighting to destroy it, but in the process attracted a half dozen more.

The gate opened as they wheeled on him and the black Dragon threw himself at the gate as a rain of fire eclipsed his position, annihilating everything for a hundred feet, including the mage. The gate flashed white as he fell through, fiery pain lancing through his body, and then both gate and dragon were gone.

Chapter One
A Call To Battle

Universe Juliet Papa Prime, 2007 Local Time

"Incoming Wormhole!"

General William Grey spun around as the alarm sounded, his face tightening in surprise. "Merlin! I thought the gate was off the grid!"

"It is, General. This is not a Gate generated portal," Merlin's avatar responded instantly, "Our Keyhole Probe over California detected the formation of a dimensional bridge. We have incoming travelers."

"Landing point?" Grey snapped, not bothering with explanations. He got enough of the gist to make preliminary decisions.

"Los Angeles."

"Contact Good Knight Security's head offices in Sunnydale, and the Los Angeles Branch," Grey ordered, "Intercept and detain."

"So ordered." Merlin replied cooly. "Shall I inform the Commander?"

"Not until we know more," Grey said after a moment. "Let him enjoy his vacation as long as possible."


"Notify the ready squadron, just in case this is a Goa'uld tactic," Grey said after a moment, "And send out a level two state of readiness alert to the Ticonderoga and the Galactica. Let's not jump the gun, but if this is an attack I want everyone leaning in the right direction."

"Orders sent, General."

The wormhole spat them out rather roughly, dumping first Remy and Wade to the cement, then Maggie right on top of them. They groaned, rolling over, just as Quinn came flying through, bowling them both over again as he landed and instantly began to scramble.

"Get out of the way, get out of the way!" He yelled, pushing at them, "I think she's coming through behind me!"

"She? Who's she??" Remy asked, doing a quick head count, "We're all here and the only other she was..."

On rarely in history had any man as black as Remy turn quite so pasty white as the pieces clicked and he suddenly helped Quinn pick the other two up and hurl them bodily out of the way of the open Wormhole just as Stephanie came barreling through.

The cobalt blue dragon struck the ground rolling, cracking the cement, then slammed into the wall just beyond and blew right through it, sending dust flying back out as the wormhole above them closed, leaving the four Sliders picking themselves off the ground as they coughed from the dust in the air.

"We brought a dragon..." Wade said flatly, "To Los Angeles."

Quinn dusted himself off, looking around, "I couldn't leave her there, the camp was being slaughtered."

"We brought a dragon... to Los Angeles. This is NOT going to turn out well for us." Wade repeated, shaking her head as she looked around.

As was normal... surprisingly so, there were few people around to see their arrival, and most of those who were showed surprisingly little interest in it. In fact, those few that seemed to have seen something were moving away at impressive speeds, all the while pretending not to be looking over their shoulders as they did so.

It was really quite shocking how often they slid into a new world in the middle of a crowd only to be looked at as if they'd tripped over a loose stone or something instead of dropped out of nowhere.

"Stephanie?" Quinn was asking as he peered into the large hole she'd torn in the building. "Are you ok?"

"Do I LOOK ok to you?" the dragon's blue scaled head slowly lifted through the hole, glaring at him as she shook brick dust off herself.

"You look a little... worse for wear," Quinn confirmed with as much tact as he could.

"You said you could get me back. Do so." She growled.

Quinn glanced at his timer, then shook his head, "We're locked into a five day wait."

"Five DAYS!?" The dragon roared, sending what few people had remained in the general area scampering for their lives. "I can't stay here five days!"

"Uh guys," Remy looked around, "I know we usually aren't in a hurry, but with our new friend we may not want to wait around for the cops to arrive."

"Remy's got a point," Maggie said, looking around herself. "Though I gotta admit, I'm not sure where we're gonna hide her."

Stephanie let out a loud sneeze as some of the brick dust filled her nose, then shook her head again as she painfully got to her powerful haunches and looked around. "This is... a human city?"

"Los Angeles." Quinn said, looking around, "Usually we get a hotel while we're hanging around, but this time that might be tricky. What do you think, guys?"

"I don't know," Maggie said, "Maybe the warehouse district? Somewhere with enough room for her to hide out in...?"

"Sounds about right, Q-ball," Remy said, "I don't think we're going to sneak her into the Chandler."

Stephanie shook her head, "Los Angeles... that's near Sunnydale, isn't it?"

The quartet glanced at each other and shrugged.

"Don't know, why?"

"Maybe this is the Homeworld... Dragon Valley has allies in Sunnydale."

"Uh... that's not too likely," Quinn said, shaking his head, "The odds we'd have slid out to a specific Earth without coordinates is... pretty much impossible."

"Anyone have a better idea?" Wade asked.

"Ummm..." Remy shook his head.

"Well let's look up this 'Sunnydale' and see if it's there. Who knows, maybe their allies are there, or maybe they have alternates who know about Dragons." Wade suggested.

Quinn nodded slowly. That, at least, was possible. Sliding tended to bring people between closely related worlds, and if the Dragon Valley homeworld was close to Dragon Valley, it was farily likely that they'd wind up in a similar Earth when sliding out without coordinates preset.

"Alright, let's find a tourist map or something."

Their path decided, the four looked around quickly, then nodded to Stephanie. "Path's clear. Come on, there's a park down the road, we'll get you there, then find a map."

Cadre Trooper Miko Lung growled low in her throat as she surveyed the damage.

"Damn," Charles Gun muttered, shaking his head. "What hit that wall, a wrecking ball?"

Lung was wondering much the same thing herself, though she was more interested in the scent. "Does anyone else smell that?"

The humans on her team frowned, sniffing the air, and shrugged.

"What? The car fumes?"

"No... something else..." She shook her head, "It's... familiar."

"The portal definitely opened here," Rain Robinson said, checking her instruments. "I think I've got a lock on it's originating frequency."

"Good, we can repay the visit if it becomes necessary," Miko told the former astronomer, "dump the data to the network, we're moving out."

"Where to Boss?" Gunn asked as he walked back to the Hummer.

Miko looked undecided for a moment, then slowly turned around and nodded. "That way."

Charles looked a little confused, but shrugged and nodded. "You're the boss."

Miko half smiled, "Yes I am," Then nodded to the other two Hummers that were parked nearby, each filled with armed men. The drivers nodded in return as she and the others climbed into the lead vehicle. "Let's go."

Xander Harris smiled slowly as he rolled over in the deep and soft bed, reaching across Beth Summers to check the time.

"You'd better not be thinking of going out," She growled at him, her eyes remaining closed.

Xander chuckled, "Why Miss Summers, anyone would think you wanted to spend the entire week in bed."

She opened her eyes, the green of them as mesmerizing as always, and pinned him with a mock glare. "You promised me a week of relaxation, hot sex, and good food. I aim to collect on all three."

"I'd like to think I've covered my promises by this point," He smirked, kissing her lips as he finished, "Besides, I was just checking the time."

"Time doesn't matter," She replied, looping an arm around him. "I've got you to myself, for once, and I'm going to enjoy it."

He chuckled, "I don't know if I'm henpecked, or spoiled."

"Trust me, you're spoiled," She told him, pulling him down for another kiss, "You are SO lucky that I'm much more open minded than mini-me."

He chuckled, "Like Faith gave you a choice."

She giggled into his lips, letting herself fall back onto the pillow, "She does tend to desensitize people to the outrageous, doesn't she?"

Xander shrugged, "I wouldn't know, I can't remember a time when I was sensitive to the outrageous anymore."

He frowned, dropping back onto the pillow as he thought about it, "You know, it's ironic I think... but I'm pretty sure that my first step to desensitization, if that's a word, was caused by Willow..."

Beth snickered, covering her mouth, "Oh God, probably me too..."

She slapped him on the arm, hard enough to sound a crack through the room, "and that's so not a word."

"Are you sure? It sounds like a word."

"Yes I'm sure."

"I'm checking with Giles anyway," He told her, sticking his tongue out.

"Ha! He'll look at you with his forlorn 'will these American children never learn' look, and I'm so gonna laugh at you," She told him, grinning.

"I still think it's a word."

"Bet it's not."

"What do you want to bet?" Xander grinned.

"Name it."

"Well, I already have you in bed, so that's out..."

She slapped him again, "pig."

"Oh that's it," He growled humorously, "Ok, I'll bet you..."

His eyes lit up, making Beth nervous suddenly.

"I'll bet you a night where you have to do anything I say. *Anything*." He grinned.

Beth's eyes danced around as she tried to remember if it was a word or not. She didn't think so, but it could be... maybe. No, this was Xander, what did he know about vocabulary? "Deal. If I win, same thing. So there."

"Deal." He grinned, "You do realize that Faith is gonna love this."

"Not if I win she won't."

"It is SO a word."

"Is not."

"Ok... There is a Sunnydale, up along the coast." Quinn said as he laid out the map on the ground, "But getting there's not going to be so easy."

"I can fly..." Stephanie protested.

"Not with all of us, you can't... even if you weren't hurt, that would be a bit much," Quinn frowned, "Besides, we don't want to be spotted."

"I can steal a truck," Maggie offered, drawing out a folding blade knife.

"No stealing trucks!"

The Marine shook her head and rolled her eyes as she put the knife back. "Fine. What then?"

"We'll figure something out." Quinn said, "No stealing. It just causes more trouble than we need."

"We've finished analyzing the Keyhole data from the time the portal opened," Kate Libbey said, holding up a remote, "Once we got confirmation on the precise location we were able to pull the imagery out of the system."

The large screen behind her flickered to life, showing a street in LA that looked fairly normal for a moment until a large blue portal jumped into existence from nowhere. As the assembled people watched three humans were unceremoniously tossed out and hit the ground hard.

"Ouch." Tom Whitmore shook his head, "That looked painful."

"Keep watching." Kate advised.

A fourth person flew out as she did, striking the first three, then quickly began to scramble as he apparently tried to push them clear. After a moment they did dive clear, just as a fifth... entity emerged, hit the ground rolling, and smashed right through a brick wall.

"What was that?" Whitmore asked, leaning forward.

"That was a Drake." Kate replied, "We *think* is an Azure Drake, probably a juvenile female."

"A... Drake. You mean a Dragon, like Lung and Drake?"

"Essentially, yes."

"Oh great." Tom sighed, "I hate to say it, but I think we'll probably have to let Xander know. He'll string us up if we let something like that run around LA without bringing him in."

Grey chuckled, but had to agree. "Let's see if we can't get a team on it first, see if it's hostile."

Tom nodded, "You've tracked it, I assume?"

"Of course, Lung's team is en route now." Kate replied, "Once we knew where it started from, finding where it went was child's play."

"Spread out," Miko ordered the team over the Tac radio. "Don't startle them."

She wished she had a Cadre support team for this, but her duties as the Cadre liaison in Los Angeles didn't generally require a full squad. Mostly she just operated as the field commander of the local Good Knight Security office, and tried to keep the city quiet and peaceful.

On the rare occasion that things in LA heated up to the point that she needed Cadre support, they usually had a few hours warning. That was enough to get a team in from Avalon, or one of the surrounding bases.

This time, however, time wasn't on her side and she was going to have to do with the security teams. Not that they were anything but good, because they were very good. GKS didn't hire rejects, at least not rejects for cause. However if things went ugly, it would be soldiers she wanted... not police.

The Keyhole Probe had the group on realtime surveillance now, though, and they didn't seem to be raising havoc or anything untoward, so with a little luck this could be resolved peacefully.

Stephanie frowned suddenly, as they were planning their next move, and looked up.

"What is it?" Maggie asked, tensing up.

"People." She said, "People and... something else."

Maggie's browning cleared from it's holster, and she quickly checked to see that she was down to her last few rounds. She made a note to pick up a box or two before they slid out, "Where?"

"They're... surrounding us!" Stephanie twisted, ignoring the pain as she spread her wings out to their full stretch as men appeared from the trees, all armed with rifles that were trained carefully on them.

"Hold it right there!" A booming voice called out, "Don't move or we'll open fire!"

Maggie put her back to Quinn as he picked up a loose piece of wood and held it defensively. The others did the same, moving into a tight group as they watched the black uniformed men close.

"Uh... we don't want to fight," Quinn offered tentatively.

"Sounds fine to us," A solidly built black man said, moving in close to relieve Maggie of her weapon. "Just hold real still, we'd hate to have to put extra holes in you all."

"We'd hate to be perforated." Quinn replied in return.

A woman who seemed in command ignored the exchange as she strode up to Stephanie and glared, "What's your name, Drake?"

The dragon looked surprised, then leaned in close and sniffed the air for a moment. "You're like me."

"Name." The oriental woman snapped out in command, startling the group.

Stephanie stiffened almost to attention, then nodded, "Stephanie Flysfar."

Miko raised an eyebrow, "Stephanie?"

"Sir Stephen St Wolf is my namesake," The cobalt blue dragon said proudly.

"Ri-ght," Miko replied, "Don't suppose you'd care to tell me what the hell you're doing in Los Angeles?"

"Wait, wait, wait..." Wade blurted, "You know about dragons? You mean we actually slid to their 'homeworld'??"

Miko glanced sharply over, "How do you know about that?"

"I must go to Sunnydale immediately!" Stephanie said suddenly, "Sir Stephen *must* help us! Dragon Valley is under attack and..."

"If you think I'm letting you anywhere near the Hellmouth, you're out of your mind," Miko cut her off, "We'll discuss what is what after we get you under cover. Wyrm's Sake, child, do you have any idea what a mess you'd cause if you were seen in a human city!?"

Miko keyed open her radio, "ETA on that truck?"

"Five minutes, Ma'am."

"Good. Tell General Grey that we've made contact. They don't appear to be hostile, will inform again when we get them to the training facility."

"Aye Ma'am. Out."

"Out." Miko said, looking them over and shaking her head. "Four humans and a baby drake. Do you five know what a ruckus you kicked up portaling in like that?? If the government had found you... last thing I want to think about."

"We need to speak with Sir Stephen in Sunnydale."

"Later." Miko growled, "Cleanup first."

Universe Whiskey Pappa Prime, 2002 Local Time
B13 Headquarters, Virginia Mass

"Incoming Rift Gate!"

Horace Gordon stiffened in his chair as the call went out, then relaxed marginally. Gates weren't entirely uncommon, it was probably just a visitor from Dragon Valley.

"It's over California!"

The action heated up instantly in the War Room, and Gordon rose from his chair. The gate to Dragon Valley was located over Germany, NOT California. Dimitri was clopping around, growling at people as he pushed in to get a look at the feed from the Kirlian Satellite array.

"Class Five Entity emerging!" Dimitri called out, "The gate is not stable..."

"Get Angel Fish to that location," Horace ordered as he came out of his office. "Anything more on the Class Five?"

"It's Draconian," Dimitri said after a moment, "I think it's Smaug, Sir."

"Smaug? What the hell is he doing coming out of a Gate in California??" Gordon growled, shaking his head.

"Unknown, but his signature isn't as strong as it should be, and he's right in the middle of Los Angeles." Dimitri hissed.

"Oh great." Horace rolled his eyes, "Who's closest anyway?"

"We don't have anyone that close," Dimitri tapped a few keys. "Angel and the Lost boys appear to be a few blocks away."

"Get me their contact number..." Horace growled, "And get the Wanderer on the line! He'll want to know about this."

The semi-formerly undead known as Angel sighed as the phone rang, reaching over for it tiredly. It had been a long night, and when that phone rang things weren't looking like they'd be getting restful anytime soon.

"Angel." He said into the line.

"This is Dimitri, B13."

Yep, he was right. Not restful at all. Angel sighed and nodded as he leaned forward, "Go ahead."

"We've detected a Dragon rifting into Los Angeles, you and your group are the closest."

"Dragon?" Angel paled slightly, "Look, Dimitri, these guys are good but..."

"We believe him to be non-hostile." Dimitri replied, "But it would be best to get him under cover as quickly as possible. He may be injured, by our scans."

"Alright, I'm moving. Location?"

Dimitri told him and Angel hung up, headed for the door, pointing to Gunn, Jaina, and Simms as he went. "Gunn, get the truck... the big one. We've got a little package pickup for the FBI."

Stephen St Wolf rolled over and groaned as the phone rang, Buffy whining by his side.

"No phone calls after a patrol night!" She moaned, still half asleep.

Steve grunted in agreement, but picked up the line anyway. "This had better be good."

"Steve, it's Horace."

Steve sat up instantly, pulling the blankets away from Buffy, who tried to grab them back. "What is it, Horace?"

That name shook Buffy awake as well, and she rose up on her elbows a moment later, looking questioningly at him.

"Kirlian satellites detecting a rift gate into Los Angeles a few minutes ago... frequency analysis indicates that Smaug exited the gate."

Steve frowned, shaking his head to clear it. "That doesn't make any sense, Horace, the gate to Dragon Valley is..."

"In Germany, I know." Horace said, "I think that either he's coming to see you personally, or else something went wrong."

Steve tried to remember what he could about rift gates, but everything that came to mind seemed to indicated that 'went wrong' was putting it mildly. Rift Gates weren't actually geographically fixed, but as a rule when used to move from one reality to another they tended to shift the traveler sideways in time, not space. The only populated part of Dragon Valley was in Europe, well the Europe of that alternate Earth, so for a gate to open here meant that either the mage had specifically sent him to California or...

Steve didn't know the or, actually. It seemed odd that Smaug would be spending time in the unpopulated Americas of Dragon Valley.

"Steve, our readings indicate that he might be injured."

"What!?" Steve snapped, all confusion and fatigue bleeding from his body, "How!?"

"We don't know. I've had Angel and his group sent to check on him..."

Steve's lips curled slightly, his gut reaction to the former vampire still the same. He glanced involuntarily at Buffy as his stomach tightened again in that familiar way, but then relaxed as he saw her looking up at him with nothing by concerned curiosity in her green eyes.

"Understood. I'm mobilizing now, tell them I'll be in LA in a few hours."

"Good. Find out what happened, Steve," Horace told him, "I've got a bad feeling about this one."

"I will," Steve said before hanging up.

"What is it?"

"Smaug just rifted in to LA."

"What?" Buffy covered her mouth in shock, eyes wide.

"Horace thinks he might be hurt," Steve said grimly as he climbed out of bed and grabbed for the closest pair of pants.

"Oh God," Buffy gasped, lunging for her own clothing. "What could have happened?"

"I don't know."

"Oh wow." Charles Gunn muttered, looking at the smoking ruin of a small café as they approached. "Such a damn shame. They had good coffee."

"I'm just happy they hadn't opened yet." Angel shook his head, feeling the heat wash off. "Not to mention that I'm not a vampire anymore, I think I'd be half alight already."

"Too hot for us anyway, bro. You sure you can make in there?"

The man formerly known as Angelus turned back, his flesh turned pasty white as black lines traced down his eyes. "I'll be fine."

A crow cawed from the roof of the truck, as if to echo the statement.

The first sirens sounded in the distance, and Angel looked up, "That should be Randal bringing some cops in the know, Horace said he'd coordinate. Keep them back until I confirm the identity of our visitor."

Gunn nodded, "You got it, deadboy."

Angel grimaced, "I have to remember to kill Xander for telling you that nickname."

Gunn smirked unrepentantly as the black clad man turned and ran into the burning building.

Smaug groaned in pain from where he lay, looking up at flames that licked at the walls around him, and briefly wondered where he was. The images cam rushing back a moment later and he roared as he tried to get up, only to collapse again as his foreleg gave out.

"Cursed animals!" The dark dragon swore, his voice causing the flames to flicker as if in fear, and he tried to get up again.

"Hey," A voice called down to him, "You ok?"

The elder dragon looked up, surprised to see a human perched on a broken wall above him amid the flames. "Go away, pest, I have no time for dealings with you."

"Well, since I was sent here to check on you, I think I'll hang around and do my job."

"And who was it," Smaug growled as he pushed himself up to his haunches, "Pray tell, that told you to 'check on me'."

"Name Horace Gordon mean anything to you?"

"Gordon?" Smaug straightened more, "He sent you? I need to contact him, and the Wanderer as well."

"Oh joy." Angel moaned, "Like I want to have anything to do with that bastard."

Smaug grinned through the pain, showing his teeth, "I see you're acquainted with him."

"Yeah, you could say that. He took my girl," Angel shrugged, dropping from the wall down to where Smaug was still half buried in debris. "Now, granted, I can't blame him... or her, but he's still not on my Christmas card list."

"You are the vampire?" Smaug hissed, drawing back as he caught a whiff of something not human.

"Used to be," Angel said, pulling a piece of a wall off the dragon, "Got killed, had a good lawyer, was given probation."

Smaug chuckled low in his throat, recognizing that the scent was certainly not vampiric, "Must have been a very good lawyer indeed."

"Yeah, kinda weird since I didn't know the gal, but she stood up for me to the guys above," Angel said, heaving another chunk of debris clear, "so now I'm back. Still lost the girl, though."

"For that I cannot say I am sorry, she is good for Stephen," Smaug said, just barely containing a satisfied and smug tone. "And he for her, I think."

"Yeah, well, no comment on that you understand." Angel said grimly, heaving the last chunk clear. "Can you move?"

Smaug nodded slowly, "I believe so."

"We've got a flatbed outside, and a police escort to get you down to the warehouse district. We'll hide you there until we get some help."

"Very well, but I must contact Gordon and St Wolf, immediately," Smaug said through his groan of pain as he reached up and began to pull himself from the fiery pit he'd dug in his impact.

"We've got a hotline. It'll do." Angel jumped up easily, glancing back to make sure Smaug was alright, "I really suggest you don't fall back down there, cause if you do I'm gonna have to use the winch... and that could get a little embarrassing."

The dragon glowered at the smirking figure, "You are far too casual with me, pest. I will exit this place on my own power or not at all, is that understood!?"

As he spoke the dragon heaved himself up and over the wall, stumbling roughly past Angel who nimbly dodged out of the way.

"Sure, sure, whatever you say." Angel held up his hands, smiling as he followed behind. "Hop right up on the truck there, first class transport."

"Just put me in contact with Gordon."

"Hey, believe me pal, he's looking to talk to you too."

Universe Juliet Pappa Prime

The sound of the comm going off broke up the morning make out session as Xander groaned and fell away from Beth, who flopped back and glared at the ceiling.

"It figures, you know," She said, recognizing the source of the sound.

Xander sighed, but nodded as he grabbed his comm. "Harris."

"My apologies, Commander," Merlin said over the link, "However there is a situation of which you might wish to be aware."

"Go." He said, sitting up, reaching for his pants.

Behind him Beth was doing the same, pulling on the silk undershirt she wore against her skin as a matter of habit. Xander, on the other hand, tugged on denim pants and shirt, listening as Merlin spoke into his ear.

"A dragon, in downtown LA?" Xander chuckled, "Well Miko must love that. What's the current situation?"

Beth mouthed the word 'dragon' questioningly across the table and Xander just shrugged back in response.

"Alright, no you're right, I'm interested. Beth and I will be there shortly." Xander said, killing the connection and looking over. "Four humans and a dragon portaled into LA about forty minutes ago, the GKS teams intercepted and have them at our South Cal training facility."

"Cool." Beth said, only mildly surprised, "I take it there was no fighting, cause... you know, a dragon? Nasty when they're pissed."

Xander chuckled, "I've seen Drake and Miko in action, I know. But no, they went peacefully. Merlin says that the dragon wants to talk to someone called 'Sir Stephen' in Sunnydale."

Beth paused at that, frowning, "I don't know any Knight called Stephen?"

"We don't have one, not assigned to California anyway." Xander replied, shaking his head as he grabbed his tactical armor.

"Do we need that?" Beth asked, tilting her head to the armor.

"Probably not, but..." Xander shrugged.

"Right," She nodded, grabbing her mithril armor and sliding it over the silk. "Good point."

"Tye," Xander called out, "We'll be transporting down to the GKS training center in ten minutes."

An apparition of a young woman appeared in the room, having been invited by the use of her name, "Do you have time for breakfast?"

"I'm afraid not, Ty," Xander shrugged, "Better to get this over with."

The avatar of the ship nodded in return and vanished, "Very well."

Dressed, the duo stepped over to the door and beyond as it opened for them, walking past Edward Simmonds as he led two maids into the cabin.

"Edward," Xander nodded.

"Hi Edward," Beth smiled.

"Sir, Miss." The former Navy steward nodded gravely in return.

As they moved down the halls, Beth glanced over at Xander, "How does he always know when you're leaving the room?"

"I gave up trying to figure Edward out years ago, Beth," Xander smirked as they walked through the halls, "Though I did consider assigning him to the intel section a while back."

"Don't you DARE!" Beth snapped hotly, "Remember what a mess the house was in before Merlin found him?"

Xander laughed, "No worries, come on let's get planetside."

Beth glared at him for another moment, but then just shook her head as she followed Xander through the corridors of the Starship Ticonderoga.

"Nice place." Maggie said, approving of the facility as soon as she saw it.

Miko Lung just glanced at her briefly, then looked forward again. "This is our main training facility for GKS."

"You're a private security firm?" Quinn asked, sounding confused.

"Yes and no." She told him, "We also police supernatural occurrences and maintain planetary defense against external threats."

Quinn blinked.

"And you're a *private* firm?"

"The government can't find it's ass with both hands," Charles Gunn said flatly.

A couple of the uniformed guards snorted in mild amusement, but most seemed just as aggravated by the statement as Gunn himself. The Sliders exchanged glances, but they were used to similar sentiments themselves, given some of the things they'd seen from world to world.

"It's not that bad," a young black woman said, smiling as she hugged Gunn. "You know as well as I do it's not the government, just the administration."

"Same thing," Gunn grunted, hugging his sister back.

"Is not, and you know it. Mr Ryan at the CIA, and the people at the SGC are part of the government and they're competent," Alohna said with a patient smile before looking over at the others, "Don't mind my brother, he's got authority problems."

Remy snorted, "I know that tune."

"You must be Stephanie," Alohna smiled up at the cobalt blue dragon, "I believe that Drake is making a special trip to the city just to meet you, it's a pleasure."

"Drake?" Stephanie asked, curious.

"One of our two draconic members," Alohna replied, glancing over at Miko. "Unlike Lung, Drake doesn't shapeshift and has no interest in learning, so he doesn't come to the city much."

Stephanie nodded, but looked distracted and uncomfortable.

"Is something wrong? Can I get you something?"

"I don't think this is the world I believed it to be," She said, "Too many things are unlike the stories I've been told."

Alohna shrugged helplessly, "I don't know what to say..."

Stephanie didn't respond, but looked quite despondent for such an imposing figure. Alohna looked over at the other humans helplessly, looking for any idea of what was going on.

"Her homeworld has come under attack by what looks like two separate interdimensional groups," Quinn explained, sighing. "We barely slid out ahead of a strafing run by one of them."

"Whoa. Interdimensional invasion," Gunn shook his head, "I wish that sounded weird."

Several people chuckled at that, though it was muted.

"That's a big problem around here?"

"It happens," Miko said, gesturing to a large building, "If you're hungry, the cafeteria is there... there's room inside for... Stephanie... inside."

Miko barely stifled a laugh as she said the other dragon's name, shaking her head slightly.

Stephanie caught it and growled slightly, but the slight asian woman didn't look intimidated in the slightest as she simply raised an eyebrow and gazed evenly at the dragon.

"We keep a large selection of, well everything, on hand," Alohna cut in, trying to mediate. "I understand that Mr Harris..."

Gunn strangled a laugh, only to be silenced by a glare from his sister.

"... will be here shortly," She finished smoothly, "He'll probably have more information for you about where you landed."

"You know a bit about dimensional travel?" Quinn asked, curious.

"Not me personally," She smiled, "But we've had some experience."

"I need to get back to my people," Stephanie said darkly, "They are fighting and dying even now."

"Well, we'll see what we can do, I'm sure." Alohna said reassuringly. "The brief I was sent indicates that your portal originated from a known dimension, so there's a good chance we can send you back if that's a problem."

"Not for us," Remy snorted, "No offense, Steph, but running back to a Mag battlefield isn't my idea of a good time."

"I could be persuaded," Maggie said grimly, "But not with only a Browning 9mm."

"We're locked into a 5 day wait," Quinn said after a moment's hesitation.

"What for?" Alohna asked, sounding confused.

He shrugged, deciding to lay it out. "My timer locks us in to a certain amount of time on any given world. We can't slide early or it scrambles the coordinate system in my timer..."

"May I?"

Quinn glanced over to see another woman holding out her hand. He hesitated, then shrugged and handed her the timer. She looked it over, frowning, "This generates your portals?"

Quinn nodded, and she shook her head, "What's the power source?"

"Actually, that's one of the more complicated aspects of the timer," Quinn sighed, "the simple answer is that it draws energy from the state differential between separate dimensions."

"Ah," She nodded quickly, "So that's why you get locked in to a wait... you have to allow time for the dimensional interface to regulate back to it's natural state, otherwise the turbulence would affect your timer's power core."

"That's right..." Quinn blinked, "How did..."

"Oh, Sorry," She smiled, handing him the timer back and smiling as she shook his hand, "Rain Robinson, I'm an astronomer and astrophysicist by trade, I work with GKS as a technical advisor."

"I'm impressed with their advisors," Quinn smiled back. "Have you done any work in this field?"

"I've recently had cause to brush up on my M theory," Rain said with crooked smile, "Dimensional and time travel are something of a private vice for people around here."

"Time travel's not possible..." Quinn said reflexively.

Rain just laughed, "The Commander would almost wish that were true, to listen to him, but I'm afraid it's not."

"You've actually travelled in time? Not just to another dimension with a different rate of temporal passage...?"

Rembrandt held up his hand, "Uh can we head for the cafeteria before the eggheads make my brains try to escape through my ears?"

Gunn laughed out loud and nodded, "Right this man, my man. Anyone else interested in some good food?"

Everyone but Rain and Quinn instantly put their hands up, including Stephanie who raised a talon with alarming alacrity.

"What?" She asked when everyone looked at her. "Listening to them is like listening to mages talk about casting. I don't understand it, and I'm usually half afraid that if I ever DO understand it then I'm probably dead or worse."

Gunn cackled as his sister smacked him, shaking her head as she pointed to the big doors that opened on the Cafeteria.

"Come on, then," She said, "We'll leave the scientists to their fun while the rest of us get some food. Mr Harris should be here shortly anyway, and he usually appreciates a good meal."

The sight of a Dragon chowing down in the middle of the cafeteria wasn't quite as stunning as it should be, Xander supposed as he and Beth walked in, but it was still odd enough to make both of them pause their steps and just watch for a moment.

Beth frowned slightly, which caused Xander to pause. "What is it?"

"Probably nothing," She said after a moment, "but she looks like a Blue dragon, one of the Chromatic breed."


"They're not on the good side of the coin," Beth said, "close ties to Tiamat, one of the dark goddesses."

"Noted." Xander said after a moment, "But from what Merlin's said, she's from Dragon Valley."

"What's Dragon Valley?" Beth asked as they stepped closer.

The question caught the attention of several others, including the large blue dragon, and several members of GKS stiffened to attention when they recognized who was approaching.

"As you were," Xander said, nodding to them, before turning back to Beth, "Dragon Valley is a virgin earth that several allied realities made available to their dragons due to growing tensions between humans and dragons about eight thousand years ago. Roughly seventy eight hundred dragons from here emigrated, almost ninety five percent of our population."

"Wow. So no ties to Tiamat, then?" Beth asked, gazing evenly at the blue dragon.

Stephanie hissed, showing her teeth, "The dark goddess? Never. How is it you know of Dragon Valley and Tiamat?"

"We have records," Xander shrugged, "I understand you have a problem."

"I must return to my world, it is under assault by dimensional invaders."

"That would be a problem," Beth said dryly.

"Getting you back isn't a problem," Xander said, "As long as you didn't bury your Gate."

"Our what?"

"Their what?"

"Who are you?" Xander asked the skinny guy who'd spoke up at the same time as the dragon.

"Huh? Oh, Quinn Mallory."

"Oh, one of the travelers."

"We call ourselves sliders," Quinn said.

"Yeah, I saw the video of your arrive, I can see why." Xander told him dryly.

"What is a gate?" Stephanie asked, confused.

"You don't know what a gate is? What about Chappa'ai?" Xander asked.

The dragon shook her head.

"This might be tougher than I thought," Xander sighed, taking a breath, "We'll have to talk to Merlin and get a record check."

"Merlin!?" Stephanie perked, "He's here?"

"Uh... yeah..." Xander said, confused.

"He can send me back, he's one of the most powerful arch mages ever!"

"Uh..." Xander exchanged glances with Beth, "I think we may be talking about two different... urmmm... people."

"How can there be more than one merlin??"

"You're not really getting the whole alternate dimension thing, are you?" Xander asked after a moment.

The dragon looked affronted, "You mean to say you have someone here impersonating Merlin, and he's not even a mage!?"

"Hoo boy," Xander shook his head, "I'm not touching this one. Miko."

"Sir," The Cadre member said, stepping forward.

"Prepare a security detail, Cadre members only," Xander said, looking the blue dragon over, "And arrange transport to Avalon. We may as well see what we can do to get her back to her own world in decent time."

"Yes Sir, Commander." Miko said, then hesitated, "Sir... about the invasion of Dragon Valley..."

"I understand, Miko, but without more information I can't commit the Knighthood to any kind of operation."

"Yes Sir, I understand."

Universe Whiskey Papa Prime

"What a sorry looking sight you are."

Smaug groaned as he lifted his head, peering darkly at the figures approaching his position.

"Wanderer," He muttered in disgust, "It took you long enough to arrive."

"Well I'm sorry, we don't all fly supersonic under our own power," Steve St Wolf muttered, looking his old friend over. "Damn, who worked you over?"

"Would that I knew, Wanderer." Smaug said tiredly. "Dragon Valley has come under attack."

"What!? By who?"

"Again, I wish I knew. Unknown technology, two separate forces... powerful airships with firepower equal to a dragon," Smaug ground out.

"Shit," Steve said, rubbing the back of his head, "That's not good."

"I believe the expression is... tell me something I hadn't figured out myself," Smaug glared at him, then groaned again and settled back down. "I am a proud dragon, Wanderer... but my people need help..."

"You don't need to ask, Smaug," Steve said, "I've got healers coming in, rest while I make some calls."

The dark dragon didn't have the strength to nod, and just settled back down as Steve St Wolf turned away with Buffy Summers following at his side. As they left the building, Buffy hugged close to his side, her mouth dry.

"I've never seen Smaug look so..."

"I know," Steve said, stopping outside for a moment as he drew in a breath. "Come on, we have work to do."

Buffy nodded and the two headed for the cars.

Steve drew out his cell phone and dialed a number from memory.

"Rupert Giles here," Came the answer almost instantly.

"Giles, Steve." He said, "We've got a mission."

"I'll call in the team immediately."

"I need you to make some more calls, from my office while I drive back to Sunnydale."

"Of course, Steve. Who?"

Steve took a breath, setting his face in determination, "Everyone."

"Everyone??" Giles sounded shocked. "What do I tell them?"

"Tell them..." Steve paused, pulling the door closed, "Tell them that I'm Calling out the Clans."

Giles was silent for a moment, then came back, "What's happened, Steve?"

"I'll tell you when I get back to Sunnydale."


Horace Gordon shook his head, "I have a hard time believing it myself, Dimitri. Dragon Valley is one of the most secure outposts I know of. Anyone who could breach it's defenses..."

"They haven't yet," Dimitri reminded him, "but they have gone a long way to establishing a beachhead outside the perimeter of the valley proper."

Gordon nodded, "We'll have to respond. We can't leave them hanging in the wind."

Dimitri snorted, "With the Wanderer on site to check on Smaug? Do you really believe we even have the *option* of leaving them to twist?"

Gordon had to laugh dryly at that, "Good point. Alright, let's get a jump on it. Call up the reserve units, inform them that they'll probably be activated soon. I think we'll leave most of the work to St Wolf, however."

"That's all we're going to do?" Dimitri sounded surprised.

"No, we're going to prime every team we have and get them ready to cover Earth while the Wanderer drags ninety percent of our allies off on another mission."

The Centaur chuckled dryly, but nodded in agreement, "Agreed. I'll make the calls."

Universe Delta Victor
Kromag War Camp

General Keirn wiped the sweat from his brow as he looked over the badly damaged Korvag and growled low in his throat.

"Those hairless animals," He growled, shaking his head. "Status report."

"The Imperial Reigan forces destroyed two thirds of the task force before we were able to break contact," The officer tagging alongside him said, "Our scouts have found them setting up a standard outpost about three hundred miles north in the mountain range."


"Being readied as we speak."

"Good, the Reigan cannot be allowed to take this world."

"Yes General."

The Kromag Vice General shook his head, thinking about the carnage invoked by both the local reptilians and the Reigan attack. Between the two, the decimation of his force had almost been complete.

"Homeworld says that they're preparing a full invasion fleet, along with a construction unit to prepare our own headquarters base."

"Good. Proper defense emplacements?"

"The convoy leaves home world in two days."

Vice General Kiern grunted.

It would have to be enough.

Universe Whiskey Papa Prime
Fullcroft Sanitarium

"Smith." The lemony faced man said into the phone as he answered it before it finished the first ring.

"Mr Smith, this is Rupert Giles. I have a message from Steve."

Smith straightened in his seat, frowning, "Go ahead."

"I have been told to inform you that Steve is 'Calling out the Clans." Giles said, his voice soft and serious.

Smith shook slightly, but nodded. "Understood. Where is the assembly point?"

"Sunnydale, if you move quickly, I'll send out an update if it changes."

"Remo and Chiun will be in the air within the hour." Smith promised.

Shadowclan Compound, San Francisco

"Yo, what's up?"

"Madam Jinx, Rupert Giles."

The ninja froze, her body language screaming to the others in the room that something was happening. They watched as she nodded a couple times, then simply said, "We'll be there."

Scarlet stepped forward as she hung up the phone, "What is it?"

"St Wolf, Sunnydale. ASAP."

That was all she needed to say, and in an instant the rest of the people in the room scattered, some going for weapons, others going to spread the word.

"How bad?" Scarlet asked calmly.

"Giles said he was running down the list, the *whole* list."

"Sweet Jesus..."

Fort Bragg

Tex Ritter frowned as he looked at the orders he'd received, shaking his head. "What the hell is this?"

"You get one too?" Gunner Sanchez asked as he walked up.

"Does this make any sense to you?"

"Nope," Gunner shook his head, "I take it you've already given the order?"

Tex snorted, "Of course. The entire 5th is mobilizing as we speak."

Gunner nodded, "Ours is not to question why..."

Tex snorted and was about to respond when a secretary stepped out of his office. "Sir, a Mr St Wolf on the line for you."

"Oh hell." Ritter slumped, looking at the orders again. "That explains that."

Gunner chuckled slowly, "Better go find out what we're about to step in, I'll warn the men that it's no joke."

Tex nodded, "Right."

"Cherokee, what the hell is going on?" Tex snarled as he grabbed up the phone.

"Just a heads up," Steve's voice said over the line, "I'm heading back to sunnydale and calling in everyone not tied down."

"I guessed as much, we received mobilization orders about twenty minutes ago. I can only assume that they're connected to you."

"Probably," Steve chuckled.

"What's the mission?"

"Defend one of our allies against interdimensional invasion."

Tex groaned into the phone, "Just once can't you draw one of the normal missions??"

"Hey, if it were easy..."

"Anybody could do it," Tex finished dryly. "We'll be there. Which ally?"

"Dragon Valley."

White House, Washington DC

President Jed Bartlett looked up as his secretary knocked on the door, "Yes?"

"Mr Ryan to see you, Sir. He claims it's urgent."

"Well you better let him in," Jed said with a resigned smile.

"Yes Sir."

Sir John Patrick Ryan stepped into the Oval Office just an instant later, nodding respectfully to the man behind the desk, but Jed could see that he was seriously tense.

"What is it, Jack?"

"I drew the short straw sir," Jack said, smiling wanly, "I was contacted by Bureau 13 with a message for you."

Bartlett straightened in his chair, face going rigid. "What is it?"

"One of our key allies has come under attack," Jack said, "The United States doesn't have a treaty per say with them, but..."

Bartlett snorted, he could already see where this was going. "What kind of allies, Jack?"

Ryan grimaced slightly, "Dragons, Sir."

Jed groaned, sinking into the chair again, "I'm going to have to get them to wipe the records of this conversation, do you know what a pain in the ass that is to do??"

"Don't worry about it," Jack smirked, "I was told that the recorders would be deactivated as soon as I stepped into the room. Freak power surge, or so I'm told."

Bartlett glared at his Chief Spy Master, "That's another little tidbit I could have done without knowing, thank you very much. Alright, never mind. Where the hell did we pick up dragon allies anyway?"

Jack shrugged, "Had them for a long time, from what I've been told, Sir. They live on a different world, but visit quite often..."

Bartlett groaned again.

If the word dragons hadn't made it clear, the words 'different world' sealed the deal.

"How many men does St Wolf want?" He asked tiredly.

Jack grinned, "He hasn't asked yet."

"But he IS going to, I assume."

"That would be the smart money, Sir."

"Just tell him not to leave the country entirely uncovered," Bartlett said sourly, "I have a few hundred million bosses that would be a bit put off if we got hit at home while protecting some allies I can't even tell them about."

"Point Sir," Jack conceded, "I doubt it's that big a problem, though. How many people can he shift to another world anyway?"

"I learned my lesson in that regard, Jack. I'm not going to ask," Bartlett growled, "Cause I probably won't like the answer."



"Duncan, it's Rupert Giles."

Duncan Macleod took a moment to shake his head, "What is it this time, Giles?"

"A 'Calling of the Clans', I'm afraid."

"What's happened?"

"I'm not entirely certain, to be honest," Giles said tiredly, "However I do know that the Dragon Smaug has been injured, and from what I've been told he's not the only one. It appears that Dragon Valley has come under assault."

"What!?" Duncan roared, startling the hell out of Amanda, who was reading a magazine behind him. "When? How!?"

"I believe I already said that I'm not entirely certain," Giles responded, somewhat testily, "I am, at this point, only a messenger."

"I'm booking a flight immediately."

"Don't bother, Iverson Air has a plane in Paris. You can meet up with the other's from that area there."

Duncan nodded, "I'll be there."

As he hung up the phone, Amanda leaned froward, "What was that about?"

Duncan glanced back, "Steve's calling us in. The Dragons are being attacked."


"What are we going to do?" Buffy asked quietly from the passenger seat while Steve drove, clearly violating every speed law in the state.

"They're my friends, Buffy," He said as he put down his cell phone. "I'm going to do everything I can."

"We're going to do everything we can," She corrected.

He nodded, "Yeah. We are."

"Who would attack the dragons, though?"

"A lot of people," He snorted. "Too many to count... but..."


"But I can't think of any with advanced tech like Smaug described," Steve admitted, "Most of those who hate the dragons are demonic."

"That's going to change things," Buffy said.

"Yeah, a lot."

Buffy's fingers tightened around the hilt of her sword, and a flare of blue flashed from under her coat. "Lets get home and get everyone moving."

Steve just nodded and coaxed a little more speed out of the armored vehicle he drove.

Universe Juliet Papa Prime

"Knighthood One has landed."


Two ranks of troopers snapped to attention as a white flash deposited the armored carrier onto the flight deck, the assembled people watching seriously as the extra large carrier opened up to reveal to people within.

Xander and Beth, both widely recognized figures to the gathered people stepped down first, nodding as they did.

"I hate this stuff," Beth hissed sideways as she nodded to the crowd, smiling.

Xander just smiled through clenched teeth, and nodded, "Everyone wants to see the tigers at the zoo."

She snorted beside him, but nodded at the crowd of technicians and families that had gathered, sighing silently to herself. Luckily this time they were at least as interested in the new dragon in town, and Stephanie was garnering more than her share of stares and attention.

"Why are they all watching me?" The young dragon asked as she loped along behind them.

"Not too many dragons around here, just Miko and Drake." Xander said over his shoulder as they walked down between the honor guard. "Looks like Grey and Tom are pulling out the stops to impress you guys too. Full ceremony, I wish they'd cut that out."

"Yeah well," Remy said, smiling at the crowd and waving. "Feels like home."

Xander glanced back, frowning in confusion.

"Remy was a singer on our world," Quinn said, grinning. "This is his kind of reception."

"I'll put him up on stage later, if he's any good." Xander chuckled, "We don't have a USO tour for our people, live acts are kind of rare here."

"Oh I think I could work something out for them," Remy grinned.

"As long as we're back in LA in five days," Quinn said earnestly. "We've got to slide from LA, I don't want to land in the middle of the ocean..."

"Relax," Xander said as they cleared the crowd, "I told you, I'll have you back by then if you still want to slide."

"Of course we're going to want to slide..."

Xander shrugged, "Then I'll have you back. In the meantime relax, you're guests here, especially if you're willing to talk to some of our people about your tech. I'm sure we've got people who'd love to compare your sliding tech to slip drives."

"Slip drives?"

"Just talk to the techies, ok," Xander waved him off, "Stephanie and I are going to check the records in the meantime."

Quinn frowned, but nodded, "Fine. Where?"

Xander glanced around, "hey Kate!"

"Hey Xan," Kate Libbey said, approaching. "What's up?"

"Got an egghead for you to talk to. Bring him down to the labs and see who's up on dimensional theory."

"You got, Boss."

Kate led Quinn away, followed immediately by Wade with a look of set determination on her face that amused the rest.

"Maggie, you're a Marine right?" Beth asked.

"That's right, why?"

"We've got a LOT of Marine recruits, care to head down to the training facilities?" Beth asked, smiling. "I don't know about you, but dimensional records doesn't really do it for me."

"Sounds good."

Xander watched them walk off and shook his head.

"What's that look for?"

He glanced back, noting that Stephanie was close to him, "Oh, nothing. I just know Maggie's alternate from this dimension. She never became a Marine though, different name too. She's a sheriff in Prosperity, one of our towns. I wonder what the split was."

Stephanie did a roll of her forelegs that Xander interpreted as a shrug, "I have little experience in these matters."

"I've got more than I like," Xander chuckled, "Come on, we'll talk to Merlin."

"Yes, I would very much like to meet this... Merlin."

General William Grey half turned to see the Commander walk in, then did a double take when he saw the loping dragon walking behind him with a Cadre guard on either side. He glared for a moment, then casually nodded to the former Secret Service agents standing in the room. They quietly, but quickly shifted Tom Whitmore to the other side of the room as far away from the dragon as they could.

"Sir," the old Marine nodded, "We've retrieved the data on Dragon Valley from the archives."

"How's it look?"

"Not bad, Sir," Grey said gruffly, "We have the gate address, so we can dial it up and get a quick recon of the local area at least."

Xander glanced over at the dragon, "You're sure you don't know what a Gate is?"

Stephanie just did that rotational shrug of her forelegs again.

Xander sighed, "Alright. When's the SGC need the gate next?"

"Next scheduled gate activation is in two days."

"Well no time like the present then," Xander nodded to the General. "You may reengage the Gate."

"Yes Sir." Grey said, turning to the command display. "Merlin, put the Gate room up."

The display flickered, showing a large ring standing in the center of a very large room. As Stephanie watched, the ring lit up and began to turn. It stopped, a light flashing, and something jumped up.

"Chevron One, encoded," A voice from nowhere announced, startling Stephanie into looking up and around.

The ring continued to spin, locking one symbol after another, until it finally stopped and froze for a moment.

"Power draw increasing." The voice said, "Dimensional gap bridged. Wormhole established."

The gate exploded into action, a burst of water rushing out of it and making the dragon jump in surprise, then it quickly coalesced into a vertical wall of rippling water.

"Merlin?" Grey asked, "Recon report?"

"One moment... interfacing with the diagnostic system... Breathable atmosphere, no sign of manufactured pollutants, no advanced technology or sentient life signs in range."

Xander frowned, "Where did they put the Gate?"

Another wall lit up, showing a map of the Earth, with a spot in northern Ireland lit up.

"A little out of the way," Xander said, "I think. Can you tell us where your people are, Stephanie?"

Stephanie looked at the map, then extended a talon to point into the middle of Europe. "I do not believe we have any settlements that far north."

"No reason to, I suppose, not on a Virgin Earth." Xander frowned, "Alright... and what we know of our friends 'sliding' technology, I think we can safely put the dimensional attack on the North American Continent... somewhere very close to Los Angeles."

The area that would be California on most Earths was lit up, marked in a dark red color.

"Needless to say," Merlin said, finally appearing in projection, "That area is beyond the environmental sensors of the Gate system. The local area is entirely untouched, however... I believe that the Gate is overgrown."

Stephanie leaned on close, sniffing at the image, then recoiled, "What is it!?"

Merlin looked down at the juvenile Dragon, then sighed and rolled his eyes. "I am Merlin, young drake. And yes, I am aware that on your world Merlin is a mage."

Then he leaned on closer, causing Stephanie to back off a bit more, "I assure you, however, that my bag of tricks far exceeds any mortal mage."

"You're a wizard?" She leaned in closer, sniffing the air again.

"No, I'm actually powerful." Merlin said, snorting as he straightened up and turned back to Xander. "Are you contemplating involving the Knighthood in this situation?"

Xander frowned, shaking his head, "Kill the wormhole, take the gate off the grid."

"What!?" Stephanie turned on him, "I have to get back!"

"Calm down." Xander ordered, "The Gate isn't going anywhere, and I doubt your arrival is going to change much a few hours, or days, earlier or later. I need to discuss the situation with some of my people."

"Would you..." She hesitated, "Would you help us?"

"The Knighthood has an existing treaty with Dragon Valley," Xander said after a moments thought, "Isn't that right, Merlin?"

"That is correct, Commander."

"I object, Commander," Grey growled, "That treaty was signed ten thousand years ago by an entirely different organization!"

"That is also correct, Commander." Merlin confirmed.

"I'm aware of that, General."

"You can't seriously be considering sending any people there to fight in a war that has no concerns for us," Grey growled, but was cut off a moment later by a quiet word from the other side of the room.


Grey turned, looking at Tom Whitmore, "Sir?"

"That's enough."

"Tom... You can't want to..."

"Would you be willing to play ambassador, Tom?" Xander asked after a moment, "If we send an expeditionary force?"

"Yes Sir, I would."

"You can NOT be serious." Grey growled.

"General, a planet full of Dragons might be worth something as allies," Tom suggested.

"More to the point, I want some hard intel on who is invading alternate Earths using dimensional slip technology," Xander said seriously. "And Why."

Grey fell silent, frowning, "You think they might be coming this way?"

"Don't know." Xander replied, "But I can't say I like the possibility."

"Put that way, I'm not entirely enthused about it myself, Sir." Grey grunted out, "But I'm not convinced it's worth sending a recon team."

"Team hell," Xander shook his head, "At the ass end of that supply line, I'm not sacrificing a team. If we move, we're taking the Gate and securing it against assault."

Universe Whisky Papa Prime
St Wolf Residence, Sunnydale California

The gang was already gathered when Steve and Buffy stepped into the home, each looking grim and set in their path.

"Hey," Xander spoke up first, "What's up?"

Steve ignored him, something distinctly unlike the man they knew, and continued in through the living room and back to his office. Buffy paused, staying with the group for a moment.

"Dragon Valley was attacked."

The group stared, and even Xander had nothing to say in response.

"Smaug was injured getting the message to us," Buffy said quietly.

"We're going after them, right?" Xander asked, standing up. "Tell me we're going after them."

"Of course we're going after them," Shaw said quietly, looking at Buffy, "That's not even in question."

Buffy nodded, "Steve's had Giles calling people since we found out. We're going to Dragon Valley."

"Right..." Xander nodded, "Good."

The group nodded in agreement as Gabrielle rose up, "I'll call in the Amazons."

"Who attacked the valley, though?" Oz asked quietly.

"We don't know for sure," Buffy said, "Smaug said that they had airships, big ones with weapons to match the dragons."

"Whoa." Xander and Oz said together, then exchanged glances and shrugged and said it again, "Whoa."

Someone in the group tittered, but Buffy only scowled. "This is serious."

"Hey," Cordy stepped up, "They're just trying to keep things light, there's nothing to be gained by getting angry now."

Buffy took a breath, then nodded, "You're right. I'm sorry, guys."

"No big," Oz said.

Xander nodded, "We're going to go, and we're going to rip the ever living hell out of these people, Buff, you know that. But in the meantime, what can I say? I just gotta be me."

Even Buffy cracked a smiled at that as she shook her head and walked past, heading for the office.

"Marc, this is Steve."

Marc Le Chevalier looked up, a wry smirk twisting his lips as he saw the face of the other man on the screen. "I know. I've been expecting your call."

"Then you've heard?"

"I have, as have most in the community by now, I suppose." Marc said, holding up a hand to cut Steve's immediate response off, "And before you ask, I'm already mobilizing the Knights. You'll have two full divisions, that's the most I can spare."

"Thank you," Steve nodded, "This one looks bad, anything that could do that to Smaug..."

"It's worse than you know, Team Angel Fish arrived on site after you left and took some more time to debrief Smaug. According to him there are two separate forces involved in the fighting, both very hostile. Up side is that they don't seem to like each other much either." Marc said seriously, "Highly advanced technology, maybe better than anything we have stored in the the Black Vaults."

Steve swore, and Marc nodded in agreement.

The Black Vaults were a series of tightly guarded secrets, even among the community. Bureau Thirteen had one of them, as did the Grail Knights, several other groups had smaller versions of their own. They were where groups like the Grail Knights kept artifacts too dangerous to let into common use.

Plasma rifles, captured from Nazi Germany's experiments on captured alien technology, magical devices that could release untold horrors, they were all in there, and if the enemy really had equipment to match that, it was going to be one hell of a fight.

"You know what it's going to mean, don't you?" Marc asked quietly.

Steve nodded.

He knew. He'd seen real wars before, both from the midst of them and from the battlegrounds long after the fighting had stopped. It wouldn't be pretty, and it wouldn't be as clean as vampire hunting.

"It doesn't matter. We can't leave them to hang."

"I know," Marc Le Chevalier said softly, "God to I know it, Steve... but I wish..."

"So do I Marc." Steve said, reaching forward.

His last words repeated as the screen went black.

"So do I."

Marc Le Chevalier sat back and stared at the black screen for a moment, then a quiet voice from behind him caused him to shift his focus.

"Sir? We have requests for clarification across the board, multiple confirmation requests on personnel and material orders, and dozens of people who want to know what the hell is going on."

Marc smiled tiredly, shaking his head.

"Tell them..." He hesitated, "Tell them that the Dogs of war are straining at the chains..."

He leaned back in his chair and shook his head sadly, whispering, "Let slip the dogs..."

Standing Estate, Curtis County VA


Felicia Standing rose up from her chair, the tone of her son's voice blasting through her like an alarm. "What is it?"

David Standing rushed in, "We just got a call from Gabrielle."

"Well? Out with it, Son, what is it?"

"The Wanderer, Section Seven, The Grail Knights... They all just went to war footing." David said flatly.

Felicia paled, "You mean there's an apoca...?"

"No. Not crisis management, Mother. *War* footing. They're getting ready to make war on someone, and from the sounds of it... it's not going to end easily, or quickly."

Felicia swallowed, hearing the difference in meaning from her son's voice, but she also knew that there was part of her that didn't really understand it. It had been so long, so many years since the Nation had seen real war. They were fighters, warriors all, but their battles had been small ones for thousands of years. Hidden in the shadows as they tried to live up to their tradition, fighting the good fight as best the could, but there was something few women in her family knew.

Something, ironically, that many their sons knew quite well.

War is not the same thing as battle.

Felicia took a breath and rose up, nodding, "Very well. Send out the call, David. Sound the cry."

He looked at her, hesitating for a moment, then nodded. "Yes Mother."

"Call my Amazons to war."

St Wolf Residence, Sunnydale Cal

Steve frowned, pouring over the data that was pouring in. Precious little of it had anything to do with what they were going to be fighting, unfortunately. Contact had been made with Dragon Valley, but the remaining guard had only just received word of the battle hours before, and the remaining population there was more in shock than anything else.

On the home front, things were looking a little better, if only because there was no arguing over whether or not something had to be done.

The 5th special forces group was mobilizing to support them, and Steve had been informed that he had full support of the United States Armed Forces... Within reason.

He smiled grimly, he was going to push that qualification to the limit.

"Giles," He said, turning in his chair.

"Yes, Steve?" Giles asked, looking up from the phone.

"What's the maximum effectiveness of a Rift Gate?"

"Excuse me?"

"How long can it be kept open, and what kind of tonnage can we move through it?"

"I'm not certain, it depends on the power of the caster or casters."

"Giles, if I have to get Merlin himself to cast the gate, how much can I move over to Dragon Valley?" Steve asked sharply.

Rupert Giles swallowed and frowned, his mind desperately working the numbers.

"I... I really don't know." He admitted, "When we moved the forces the last time we were able to shift what amounted to a regiment, with some moderately heavy equipment, but..."

"That was a vampire hunt, Giles. We need more." Steve said grimly. "A lot more."

"I'll see what I can work out," Giles said after a moment. "But we could just move it in multiple castings and..."

"No," Steve shook his head, "What I'm thinking... we'll need to do it one."

Universe Delta Victor
RFV Grendlesbane

Over Captain Smythson frowned as he looked over the reports, shaking his head.

"How many got away?"

"Elements from both scattered our initial assault, Sir. We estimate that we ravaged almost forty percent of the Mag force before they broke, and probably picked off another ten to twenty while they were fleeing. The locals were... surprisingly difficult to kill, considering their lack of technology, and somehow they've managed to elude detection, but we're confident that we inflicted substantial casualties.

Smythson nodded grimly, "Understood. Base preparations?"

"Well underway. Perimeter defenses will be prepared within twelve hours..."

"Excellent. As soon as they're online inform the crews that we're going to start sending out raiding parties to hassle any remaining Mag presence into the ground." Smythson said firmly. "Signal the home universe, tell them the base is ready to receive reinforcements and personnel."

"Aye Over Captain, Sir!"

Universe Juliet Papa Prime


"I'm still not convinced that this is a good idea, Sir."

"Give it a rest, General," Tom Whitmore advised, "This is just preparatory planning."

"Sir, that's bullshit and you know it." Grey growled, "The Commander's already got material orders in for the base camp."

Tom had to admit that much was true, but it wasn't his call. He was a political advisor and sometimes diplomat for the Knighthood, usually sent offworld to talk to various allies. Mostly, of late, his time was spent smoothing over NID transgressions for the SGC... even if they didn't know it.

He didn't make policy for the Knighthood, and honestly he didn't want to.

"This isn't our call anyway, General. A move like this is going to come down to council of war," Tom said, shrugging. "We don't actually have a vote at the table, after all."

Grey grunted, but conceded the point. "That's formality and nothing more. They'll vote the way he votes."

That was another fact that Tom wasn't going to dispute, though it wasn't entirely true. There were disputes at the table on occasion, but normally the General was right, as Harris leaned so did the Knighthood.

"Besides," Tom said, "I'm not convinced it's not a worthwhile mission."

"You have got to be kidding me, Sir."

"Hostile invasion of a sovereign nation by extra dimensional armada... sounds like something a bunch of... what did you call us again?" Tom asked, smiling, "Knights in shining armor?... it sounds like something we'd be interested in stopping."

"First, Sir, we should clean up the crap in our own backyard."

"Unfortunately that's not ours to cleanup," Tom said, knowing what his former military advisor was talking about. "The people have to clean up the administration problems before we can really do any kind of serious repairs to the larger problems. That's how democracy works, until the people set things right on the ground, there just isn't anything we can do."

Grey grunted, choosing not to argue the point. They'd been around in those circles before, many times.

"In the meantime, we have the people, the material, and I think we can afford to split some of them aside for a mission to help potential allies," Whitmore shrugged, "Or actual allies, if you consider the treaty."

Grey snorted, "A ten thousand year old piece of paper no nation in existence was around to witness doesn't qualify in my book."

Whitmore shrugged, "Legally, I'm not sure where we stand on that."

"What law? The nation that signed that treaty doesn't *exist*." Grey muttered, "We can't be bound by anything they signed..."

"Actually, Atlantis does exist," Whitmore reminded him, "In fact, we have quite a population living there now, what with the Colonials and all."

"And none of them had anything to do with rebuilding the Knighthood," Grey muttered, "How many Atlanteans are even ON Avalon at this moment?"

Tom shrugged, "A dozen? Maybe."

"And none of them are even in positions of administration, let alone combat operations." Grey shrugged, "The entire culture is an agrarian society now, you really want to argue that they have any real connection to the Atlantis that signed that treaty?"

Tom shrugged, "I don't know, General. But I don't need to know, and neither do you. We're not policy makers anymore, General. Mr Harris, and the Table, do that. We just carry out their decisions."

The APC landed softly, touching down on the main flight deck almost perfectly in direct defiance of it's appearance. Stephanie eyed it curiously, trying not to be too perturbed by the attention she was getting from the people around her. It was strange to be stared at like that, it was something that had never happened in the Valley.

The side door of the APC slid open as she watched, and a small group of very dirty looking people climbed out. The first one was a woman in armor, a sword strapped to her back, and it was funny how much that made Stephanie feel at home. The rest were hard core soldiers all, she recognized the look from when members of the Order would visit the valley.

They were people who were used to doing hard jobs, she had no doubt.

The woman in the lead glanced back, "Apone, you take Hicks to Med Center, and get the team rested and cleaned up. I'll handle the report."

"Yes Ma'am," The black soldier nodded gratefully in return, chewing on an unlit cigar as he clapped the others on the back, "You heard the Lieutenant, let's hack saw ourselves out of this gear and get some grub and sack time."

The men and another woman smiled and nodded just as tired as the other two as they broke off and headed for the far side of the deck. The woman turned toward Stephanie and had taken a few steps only before pausing to stare at her, raising a single elegant eyebrow.

"Well, unless Miko and Drake are getting along a LOT better than I'd heard, something's happened while we were on mission," She said from where she stood, "You aren't like their love child or anything, are you?"

Stephanie blinked, cocking her head to one side, and stared in confusion.

"I guess not." The woman said, looking over at one of the Cadre guards posted behind the dragon. "Who is this, Ken?"

Kenneth Hojiro shrugged, "A visitor from an alternate reality, Chase."

Cordelia nodded, shrugging, "Sure. Why not?"

She sighed, "Well I've got a ton of paperwork to finish, so have a good time on Avalon whoever you are..."


"Pardon?" Cordy stopped in mid step, glancing back, eyebrow up again.

"My name is Stephanie."

"That's... a really interesting name for a Dragon," Cordelia said, turning around again, "How'd you pick that up?"

"I was named after a Knight who saved many of our people when I was an infant," Stephanie replied.

"Huh. Good story," Cordelia said, nodding. "Here by accident?"

Stephanie nodded, "My world is under attack, I was forced to... flee..."

Cordelia tasted the dragon's emotions, noting the anger and frustration. "Sticking around?"

"No." Stephanie said sharply, "I must return. I cannot... I cannot..."

The Dragon blinked, then looked away.

Cordelia just nodded and stepped closer, putting a hand on the dragon's foreleg. "I understand how you're feeling, believe me."

Stephanie felt a rush of warmth run through her, and she nodded, "Thank you."

"You'll be fine," Cordelia said, wiping some caked dirt from her face. "I've got to go clean up, just got in off a rough one. I'll see you around."

Stephanie nodded, watching the woman walk away with a bit of a stunned feeling.

"Who was that?" She asked, surprised to hear her words spoke aloud.

"That? That was Lieutenant Cordelia Chase." One of the guard behind her said, something almost reverent in his voice. "She's one of the best Cadre operatives around. She'll be a Crusader before she's thirty, or at least that's the smart money."

Stephanie could believe it. She nodded almost absently, then paused and frowned.

"Did you say, Cordelia Chase??"

She felt him coming from a long ways off, and knew that it was a gesture on his part. She responded with an acceptance, and continued shucking off her clothing as Xander walked in the door.

"How'd it go?" He asked, admiring her form openly and not trying to hide it from her eyes or her mind.

Cordy didn't mind, he'd always been honest about it, and as her abilities grew more and more potent she appreciated that from people. "It went. Hicks took a spine from a Crolax in his arm, but he should be ok."

Xander nodded as Cordelia stepped behind a frosted glass wall and into her shower, "I understand you met our visitor."

"Stephanie? Yeah, why?"

"What's your impression?" He asked over the rush of water.

"She's young. A little silly, but that's normal," Cordelia answered, smiling. "She genuinely wants to get back, she's scared for her people."

Xander nodded absently, that was his read as well but he wanted to be sure.

"I'm thinking about sending an expeditionary force to her world."

The water cut off and Cordelia leaned out, "Why?"

Xander shrugged, he wasn't really sure of that himself actually. In some ways he was hoping that Cordelia could ferret the answer out of him. "I don't know. A feeling maybe."

"That's a lot to invest in a feeling," Cordelia said, ducking back behind the wall and starting the shower again. "You want my opinion?"

"That's why I'm here."

"I think you've got that Crusader vibe going again, and you happen to like Stephanie and want to help her." Cordelia answered.

Xander nodded slowly. He knew that could very well be it.

"I suppose the question is, is it worth it to indulge your Crusader impulses if it means committing the Knighthood to a war?" Cordelia asked seriously, shutting the water off again and stepping out.

Xander shook his head, "I don't know. I can't answer that."

"Xander," Cordelia looked up as she snagged a thick towel, "I can't answer that either, but I don't think you're looking for me too, are you?"

He shook his head, smiling.

"I thought so, just someone to bounce the thoughts off of," She said, "Well, My thought is that we're here to help people. We've never limited it to this world, though realistically we have to focus a lot of our attention here... In the end, though, The Knights here exist to fight unwarranted aggression. You decide if that's the case, and I guarantee I'll be with you when the chips come down. All of us will."

"Thanks, Cordy." Xander nodded, smiling, "That means a lot."

"You saved me when I was in ruins," She said, looking at him evenly, "Then you rebuilt me piece by piece when I was nothing but a shaking liability. I'm your woman, Xander... Just like the Knights out there are your men."

Xander didn't answer, he simply didn't know what to say.

The Dragon, Drake, growled as he loped across the Avalon flight deck.

"Lousy pain in the ass..." He mumbled under his breath.

"Calmly, friend," Geoff chuckled.

"He could have told me he was moving them to Avalon," The dragon grumbled, "All that time wasted sneaking into the Los Angeles compound..."

Geoff just chuckled, "At least I scored some beer out of it."

"Oh yes, because encouraging your vices is so important to me."

Geoff started to reply, but paused when he noticed Drake come up short. "What?"


He turned, then saw what Drake was staring at, a blue dragon standing ill at ease across the flight deck, surrounded by armed guards.

"I guess that's the dragon then, huh?" He asked rhetorically.

"She's beautiful." Drake said.

"She? How can you tell?" Geoff asked, confused.

Drake snorted, rolling his eyes, "Idiot."

"What? You all look like overgrown iguanas to me." Geoff shrugged.

"I remember when you didn't know what an Iguana was," Drake retorted, "let alone proper hygiene, so don't get uppity with me, Knight."

"Yeah yeah," Geoff chuckled, "so go hit on the lady so we can get it done and go home."

"Geoff, you have grown into a truly disgusting example of humanity."

"I'm five hundred years old, humans aren't supposed to live that long, Drake." Geoff shrugged, "Gives us a long time to pick up bad habits."

"Why I put up with you, I'll never know." Drake shook his head, walking away toward the other dragon.

"Cause you were stupid enough to give up half your heart to a poor farm boy who dreamed of being a Knight," Geoff chuckled, watching the dragon amble off. "No good deed goes unpunished, my friend."

"That was Cordelia Chase?"

Stephanie couldn't quite believe her ears, and she stared off after the departed warrior woman with intensity in her eyes.

"That's what I said," Kenneth Hojoro said, frowning. "Why?"

"Is she... an Amazon?"

"What? Like on Xena?" Hojiro chuckled, "No."

Stephanie looked disappointed, turning on the Cadre trooper, "Why do you laugh? The Amazons were great warriors... are great warriors even now."

"Sorry, it's just kinda funny when you consider that Kevin Sorbo is one of the founding members of our group."

"Hercules is here?" Stephanie looked around.

"Uh... No, Kevin Sorbo," Kenneth said, frowning.

"Right, that's what I said. Is he here?"

The Cadre officer held up a hand, frowned, then scratched his head. "You know guys... that WOULD explain a lot."

Some of men chuckled, "You're behind the times, Ken. There's been a line going on that for years."

"Oh yeah? What's the payout?" Kenneth asked, curiously. He didn't pay much attention to the bookmaking that went on as a matter of course, but he knew that there were a few in the Knighthood that like to make book on pretty much anything.

"Not great really," Hardy shrugged, "I think it's like even money either way. Started out as a long shot, but you know after that bit back in Prosperity..."

Ken chuckled, "Yeah, I saw him toss that spider over the barber shop."

"And he was one of the only guys there NOT in armor, so..."

Stephanie sighed, rolling her eyes, "So you're saying that this Cordelia Chase isn't an amazon? But she's obviously a warrior, right?"

Kenneth looked at her, then began coughing as he tried not to laugh, "Uh... yeah, you could say that. She's Cadre."

"What's that?"

"That's Us, lady," Thomas Hardy said, smirking slightly.

"Yeah, but Chase is going to be Crusader, mark my words." Hojiro said confidently. "She's that good."

"What is this, Crusader?" Stephanie asked.

"Crusaders are nutcases," Hardy chuckled, "but they're the best too. You don't often see a fighter that can match against a crusader. They all have... something extra to bring to the table."

"And this Cordelia Chase?"

"She's got something extra in spades," Hardy admitted. "You talk like you know her though."

"I know of a Cordelia Chase... from the home world," Stephanie admitted, "She is a well know warrior for the Amazon Nation."

"Huh," Hardy shrugged, "I guess it runs in the genes or something."

"She and her companions are the comrades of my Namesake, Sir Stephen St Wolf," Stephanie said, "along with his love, the Slayer Summers, and their close friends..."

Hardy choked, "Summers? You mean Beth Summers?"

"No, Buffy Summers."

Several Cadre members began laughing.

"What? What is so funny?" Stephanie looked confused.

"You know the woman who came in with you and the Commander?" Hojiro chuckled.

"Yes, what of her?"

"Beth Summers... she changed her name from Buffy a few years ago because of a whole time clone thing, long story." Hojiro said, grinning. "This Sir Stephen must be from Sunnydale, right?"

Stephanie nodded slowly.

"Well we don't have anyone by that name here, but the Commander is from Sunnydale and a lot of his comrades are team leaders here."

Stephanie frowned, "I don't believe anyone told me his name..."

"Alexander Harris."

"Oh!" Stephanie blinked, "He's Cordelia Chase's mate!"

Several more troopers had instant coughing fits, struggling to breath while trying not to laugh.

She looked on in confusion, and was about to say something when motion caught her attention and she turned to see another dragon approaching. She recoiled, surprised to see a dragon here, and as she did the male frozen in place, staring back.

"Hey Drake," Hardy spoke up, "That Geoff I see hiding behind you?"

"Who else?" The Dragon said, shaking himself.

"Geoff! Get your ass up here," The man growled, "You owe me fifty bucks for that Lakers game last week!"

"Drake..." Stephanie said the word slowly, "That is your name?"

"It is," Drake turned his focus back, "are... are you...?"

"Stephanie." She told him.

Drake blinked, then smiled wide as he showed his teeth, "That's a lovely name."

"You're the first I've met to say so," She smiled back.

"Why?" Drake sounded genuinely confused. "It's a very pretty name."

"Most people believe it isn't a 'proper' draconic name."

"Oh." Drake looked a little stunned. "Well... I've never really known any Dragons, only humans... so I like it."

Stephanie ducked her head, "Thank you. I am rather fond of it myself."

"Then what else matters?" Drake said, still grinning as Geoff came up beside him, grumbling as he pulled a fifty from his belt and slapped it into Hardy's hand.

"Take it you leech," Geoff grumbled, glancing over at his friend and partner before slapping the Dragon under his ribs.

"Ow!" Drake snapped, jumping forward until he was almost on top of Stephanie, who jumped herself, eyes wide as Drake curled around and glared at Geoff. "What the hell was that for?"

Geoff shook his head and rolled his eyes, mouthing the word 'hopeless' to the other Knights.

"Pain in the ass." Drake growled, shaking his head roughly, then turning back to Stephanie. "My apologies for my human partner. He's a doddering old fool who's not handling his years well. May... may I ask where you're from?"

"Dragon Valley." Stephanie answered simply.

Drake blinked, "The actual Dragon Valley? I'd read about it, but... I hadn't really believed it still existed."

"Of course it does... or... I hope it doesn," She looked down, shaking her head.

Drake cocked his head to one side, "What do you mean?"

"We were attacked," She told him, "By forces we couldn't identify really. They killed and injured dozens... I was about to be killed when the people who brought me here offered me a way to escape... I shouldn't have run, I should have stayed..."

The blue dragon was becoming clearly agitated, her tail switching back and forth as the Cadre guard jumped clear.

"Hey, whoa... I'm sure it's no big deal... I mean," Drake backpedaled as she pinned him with a glare as hot as dragon fire, "Not the attack, I mean you being here. You're going back, right?"

"Yes." She said hotly.

"Well then it's not running away." Drake said confidently.

"It's not?"

"It's a tactical withdrawal." Drake grinned. "Ask any of the fighters around here, that's not running away... it's continuing the fight at a moment of better opportunity."

Stephanie blinked as the men all broke out chuckling and nodded.

"He's right about that, lady." Thomas Hardy grinned. "One thing we all have in common is that we're alive today because we knew when to fight, and when to fade into the shadows. Dying for your country or cause never saved anyone or anything. Like Patton said, it's making the other poor bastard die for his that's the key to victory."

Universe Whiskey Papa Prime

"But I want to go!"

"Dawn, forget about it." Buffy growled, "You're not cutting class to go to war, and that's final."

"But I want to help the dragons too!" The teenager whined, gripping her chakram, "I can fight, you've seen me fight!"

"Dawn," Gabrielle said gently, "You've been on patrols with backup, this... won't be like that."

"I don't care! I'm old enough, really...!"


Dawn turned to see her mother glaring, "But mooom!"

"Young lady, the very fact that you're whining right now is ample evidence that this is far beyond you," Joyce growled, making her position quite clear. "You'll stay here, with myself and whoever else stays behind to guard Sunnydale. Is that clear?"

"Yes Mom." Dawn folded her arms, sulking.

The group watched her stalk off with a mixture of amusement and bemused understanding. Mostly.

"What a Butt pain," Buffy muttered, glowering after her sister, drawing several chuckles from the group.

"Yes well," Joyce glanced over archly, "As I recall a certain someone else in the room placed more than her share of pains in my posterior when she was that age... and that was before I knew she was sneaking out every night to fight vampires."

"Mom! It's so not the same thing!" Buffy protested as Xander and several others began either laughing out loud, or trying desperately to cover up with coughing fits.

Buffy was busy glaring, as they were busy laughing, and no one really noticed Shaw break away and follow after Dawn.

She found the younger girl in the gym, sitting in the corner where a small shrine existed to the Goddess of war. Shaw smiled sadly, shaking her head.

"They're right, you know."

Dawn jolted, half turning, and glared at Shaw. "Buffy is such a hypocrite. She was fighting demons and vampires when she was younger than me."

"And you fight them now," Shaw told her, "Is it so wrong that she wants you to have more support and help than she had?"

"There'll be lots of support on Dragon Valley," Dawn said petulantly.

"Yes, but that will be a different situation," Shaw sighed as she settled down beside the young teen. "You have never seen war, Dawn. I have, though mostly even my experience was from the sidelines. As a harper I had few causes to enter into the line of battle, and fewer still to see that carnage first hand."

"The Dragons are my friends too," Dawn said quietly, "I *like*Smaug. He's nice when he thinks no one else is watching."

Shawukay Redarrow smiled knowingly, "Yes, I'd noticed that too."

"So I should be going."

"No. You should not."

The new voice startled them both, and Shaw's hand was halfway to her weapon before she recognized the newcomer.

"Lady Goddess..." Dawn bowed her head.

"Hello Dawn," Xena, Goddess of War, said softly as she laid a hand on her acolyte's shoulder. "This war is not for you, take me at my word."

Dawn swallowed, but looked up with a hint of defiance in her eyes, "But..."

"No." The word snapped, the warmth gone from Xena's face for a moment before the goddess recovered and smiled again. "No, Dawn. There will be wars in your future, that is a sad fact that even I can not change, but this one is not for you."

Dawn sighed, but could hardly continue to argue with her patron goddess and just dropped her head and nodded. Xena smiled fondly, shaking her head slightly, and would have continued if a voice hadn't stopped her.

"Lil bit? You ok in... Oh, sorry there, Xena, didn't know you'd dropped by."

"That's fine, William," Xena said, looking over to where Spike and Drusilla stood, looking toward Dawn with concern. "I was just... having a word with my acolyte."

"Right then, well... we'll be going back to the group," Spike nodded, pointing behind him. "Just call if you need anything."

"We will, William, thank you."

Spike nodded, then retreated with Drusilla in tow.

"Someday, you simply must tell me how you managed to derive that much respect from that one," Shaw said dryly, "because short of threatening to bless his beer, I've not managed anything remotely close to it."

Xena chuckled, and shrugged, "Just my special touch, I suppose."

She looked back to her acolyte and sighed, "Remember what I said, Dawn. You are my morning light, the hope after the deepest darkness... but this war is not for you, my favored student. Your time is coming, however, so do not allow your training to lapse..."

She crackled out of the room in a show of lightning, her last words echoing in the gym.

"Because I'll be watching you."

"Great," Dawn mumbled, wiping her eyes clean. "Now I've got an overprotective Goddess to add to my collection of authority figures who want to keep me safe in a padded box."

Shaw chuckled, pulling a handkerchief from nowhere and giving it to Dawn, "I believe you may be exaggerating the problem, Dawn. Just slightly, of course."

"Right." Dawn said sourly, sighing.

Steve sighed, leaning back. "I hope we can shift this much."

Giles shook his head, furiously cleaning glasses he didn't need anymore, "I believe we can, but it will be a stretch... What about supply lines, Steve?"

"That's going to be the hardest part," Steve conceded. "We'll have to shift huge amounts from rift gates in multiple areas. Who's on the list as powerful enough to handle that kind of casting?"

Giles sighed, setting down the glasses and glowering at the computer screen as he pecked at the keyboard in front of him.

"The Lady Mara, if Madam Harkness will part with her for a time..." Giles said after a moment.

Steve smiled, "I'll have Marc get Silas to ask."

Giles rolled his eyes, snorting, "And what, pray tell, did Mr Ryan do this time for you to expose him to that?"

"He's been enjoying my last revenge a bit too much."

"Of course," Giles said dryly, "Moving on... The Charmed Ones in San Francisco..."

"No, I think we'll need them to manage to transferal rift... I'm going to ask them to join us."

"I see, very well..." Giles tapped another key, "The Devon Coven."

"Alright, they're connected through the Council, right?"


"Have Lord Giles approach them."

"I'm sure that dear old dad would be ever so happy to do so," Giles chuckle, "Very well. There is a balanced trinity working for Henri Clay."

"I'll call him and ask," Steve nodded, "I'm sure he'll let us borrow them."

"Well that should handle supplies, at least within proximity to the Valley." Giles said after a moment, "However, from what Smaug has reported, the enemy seems to be located on this side of the world."

"Yes, we'll need rift casters in America... I think Mara can handle that, especially with help from her town," Steve said absently, drawing a snort of amusement from Giles. "See who we can tap in Australia, will you?"

"Hmm? Yes, of course. You think we should approach from that side?" Giles scribbled down some quick notes.

"Maybe. We'll see. I want our bases covered though, let's not get locked into any operational plans until we've got more complete intel."

"Indeed, very well. I'll contact..." Giles grimaced in distaste, "Wally's Spookhouse... immediately."

"I'm going to get on the line to the Navy. I wonder if we can borrow Admiral Chegwidden again?" Steve frowned, "We could use a top flight commander for this one."


White House, Washington DC

"The want WHAT!?"

The explosion of sound from the President's office brought a series of grimaces to the men and women standing around outside, most of them knowing better than to admit even to themselves that they'd heard.

Inside, Bartlett was glaring at the director of the CIA again, for the second time in two days.

"St Wolf is on the line to the director of Naval Operations now, putting in a request." Ryan sighed, "He's serious."

"Jesus, Jack, you're talking about 'losing' TWO San Antonio class ships for an unknown period of time!" Bartlett growled, "We can't cover that up... someone's going to notice that they're not where they should be."

Jack just held up his hands.

Jed sighed, sitting down again.

"Alright, fine. Cut them loose, but goddamn it..." Jed hesitated, "No. Don't. Which ones are we thinking about?"

"The Green Bay and the New Orleans."

Bartlett sighed, but nodded, pressing a button.

"Sir?" His secretary came in hesitantly.

"I need you to clear my schedule," He smiled apologetically, "And book me a flight to..."

He glanced over at Jack who frowned and checked his notes, "They're both in Norfolk."

"Norfolk," Jed finished. "Immediatly."

"Uh... Yes Sir."

After she left, Jed turned back to his director of intelligence. "I'll talk to the Captains, and ask for volunteers. I won't order them out on a mission like this, Jack. This isn't what they enlisted for."

Jack took a breath, but nodded, "Very well Sir. I'll inform St Wolf."

Universe Juliet Papa Prime

"Been busy today, Tara?"

The blond looked up from where she was examining Dwayne Hicks arm and smiled, "Hell Dawn, how are you?"

"I'm good. Just got in from survival training," The darkly dressed young woman said, "Thought I'd drop by."

"You don't mind if she stays, do you, Mr Hicks?" Tara asked, her hand still caressing his arm softly.

Dwayne looked over at what was basically one of the most feared women in the entire organization and shivered. Bad enough he had to come down to medical and deal with Tara, but Dawn Summers too? Still, he wasn't stupid, he shook his head.

"No, that's fine." He said, turning his head away so his face wouldn't give up anything.

He needed have bothered, Dawn's eyes twinkled in amusement as she heard the tone of his voice and she sauntered around the table. "Anything... interesting about this one?"

"No!" Dwayne muttered, "Nothing. Nada. Just a human stuck with a crolax spine. Nothing interesting at all."

"Pity." She said, making her lips pout slightly.

He shivered on the table, between Tara's touch and Dawn's gaze, wishing he were anywhere else.

Tara sighed, "You'd better wait outside. I'll be done in a moment."

Dawn shrugged, winked at Hicks, and walked back around as the Marine slumped in relief.

"She was only kidding with you, you know." Tara said, continuing to gently caress his wounds.

"Yeah, right." Hicks ground out, wanting to be anywhere else, despite how much better his arm felt.

Tara Maclay was the top medical specialist in the Knighthood, having finished four years of modern medical school and training nearly nonstop in ancient techniques, and there wasn't a man in the entire organization who wouldn't lay down their lives to protect her. However, there were very few that actually wanted to be withing fifteen feet of her too. She just creeped most people out, Hicks included.

Granted, Dawn was worse. Far worse, though most of the human members of the organization were only a little creeped out by her. Non-human and 'enhanced' people, on the other hand, had learned a long time ago NOT to owe her any favors. She collected, and she collected in BLOOD. Literally.

It wasn't that bad, but there was still something visceral about a little girl, or young woman, wielding a knife that tended to make most men run for the hills.

Tara finished the ritual, soothing over the lines of chi that had become discolored and distorted, and then bandaged his arm up.

"There," She smiled, "Done."

"T... thanks." The marine muttered, cradling his arm. In truth, it felt great, like always after a visit with the Witch Doc, but he was just as eager to get out of there as he ever was from a doc who liked sticking him with pointy metal objects.

Tara watched the Marine scamper off, trying to walk as fast as he could without actually running, and just shook her head as she smiled.

"Scare another one off?"

She smiled genuinely, turning to Dawn and hugging the young woman, "I guess so."

Dawn hugged her back, going so far as to give her a peck on the cheek. "He'll never know what he missed."

Tara flushed a bright red as Dawn smirked, then grinned openly, at her.

"So, what's the hap?" The younger woman asked, hopping up on the exam table, "Know anything about the new Dragon in town?"

"N... new Dragon?" Tara looked confused.

"Yeah, I saw her when I got in." Dawn said, "Blue dragon, looks young by her aura. I'd say she's just seen some fighting or worse, though."

"I've been here all day," Tara admitted, "Haven't heard anything."

"Ok. I'll check it out anyway, see what's up."

Tara nodded, "How did Mikki do?"

"In survival training?" Dawn laughed, "She's a Primal, how do you think she did?"

Tara smiled, and nodded, "Good. Are you hurt?"

Dawn smirked, "Why, want to lay hands on me? You could just ask nicely, maybe offer me dinner first."

Tara flushed again, closing her eyes and turned half away.

Dawn just laughed at her, "I'm fine. Only you, Tara, only you could still be you after everything that's happened."

The blond sighed, but didn't respond.

"I'm impressed."

The words came unbidden, almost unwillingly, but they were sincere... much to the surprise of Maggie Beckett.

"Thanks," Beth said, "We like it."

They were looking over the extensive training facilities located deep within Avalon, facilities that put the training area back in California to shame, along with pretty much every other training facility Maggie had ever seen.

They seemed to have taken up enough area to house a large town, maybe more considering how long they'd been walking, and cut it up into everything from class rooms to kill houses. Like any major base she'd ever been too, everything seemed to be in use almost constantly. At the moment they were walking over a complex kill house facility that was being used by two squads of soldiers, apparently working to take each other down.

"Small unit tactics training," Beth supplied, looking down through the transparent floor. "They're using stunner weapons in order to improve their reaction times."

"Those things hurt when you get shot?" Maggie asked, curious.

Beth nodded, smiling, "Merlin and Xander seem to think that pain will make people duck faster in the future."

The marine snorted in response, but nodded just the same. "I hate to say it, but you guys have some setup here."

"Well, like I said, we like it." Beth shrugged as they walked on.

"Makes me wonder what you need it all for."

"We've got a lot of... enemies, you might say." Beth said, "You just saw a world with Dragons, right?"

"Yeah," Maggie chuckled.

"Well, we don't have many Dragons here, but we've got monsters. Vampires, Demons... Aliens from outer space," Beth smiled crookedly, "You name it, we've got it."

"And that's what all this is meant to fight?" Maggie waved a hand around.

"Yeah," Beth nodded, "Pretty much."

"Well... I..." Maggie suddenly chuckled, "I just realized that it doesn't sound as impossible to me as it should. Quinn's completely ruined me, I think."

Beth grinned just as quickly, "I know what you mean. Once I started getting hit by this stuff regularly, everything just seemed... normal, no matter how weird it got. I think that there's only so much wonder in a person, and when you run out..."

"Yeah..." Maggie said, losing her smile. "Yeah, that's it, isn't it? When you run out..."

She shook her head, "Huh. Never thought about it before. It's actually kinda sad, if you think about it."

"I try not to," Beth admitted.

"Don't worry," Drake told Stephanie confidently, "We'll help, that's what we do around here. Give us a little while and we'll get some more people in with gear and then we'll..."

"No, we won't."

The dragon spun to stare as Xander Harris approached, looking grim. "What?"

"I can't commit the Knighthood to a war on another world, Drake," Xander said solemnly as he approached.

"You can't leave them to be...!"

"Drake!" Xander snapped, his voice almost literally slapping the dragon down.

Drake recoiled, shocked, as Xander turned to Stephanie.

"We'll send you home, if you like... I'll make sure you have gear, whatever supplies we can find that might be useful, but I am sorry. I just can't ask my people to die in a war for a world they don't even know."

The young dragon nodded, "I understand. I had begun to hope... but..."

"Yeah. Hope," Xander smiled bitterly, "Two edged sword that. I wish I could..."

"You can!" Drake snarled, "You're the commander here!"

"And these people, yourself included, are my *responsibility*." Xander growled, glaring at the dragon. "You think I don't want to help? Well you're dead wrong, Drake! But this isn't a quick mission if what they've told us is true, it's going to be long, and hard, and god damned *bloody*. You want to take responsibility for all those deaths?"

Drake seethed, but that question tool the wind out of him, he slumped back, confused.


"What is it, Geoff?" Xander asked, tired and grumpy.

"Request permission for myself and Drake to accompany Stephanie on her return."

Xander looked over at the young looking man, studying him as Drake looked up in surprise. "You know it'll probably be a one way run."

Geoff just nodded.

Xander sighed, "I'll think about it."

He turned away, shaking his head, then looked back at the young dragon.

"I'm sorry."

She nodded as he walked away, mixed emotions filling her.

For himself, Xander wished he could make the same request Geoff had, just chuck it all and follow the fight wherever it took him.

<Life, Alexander,> Elan said softly, <Is only rarely about what we want to do... and all too often about what we are bound to do by duty, honor, and responsibility.>

<I know, Elan... But I miss the days when I could strap on the armor, wrap my fist around a pistol, and walk into a fight just because it was the right thing to do.>

"You've made the right decision, Sir."

"No, General, I've made the necessary one," Xander replied, "There's a difference."

Grey grimaced, but didn't have a response to that as Tom Whitmore walked back into the command room.

"I'm ready, Xander."

"Ready? Ready for what?" Grey growled, looking around.

Whitmore was dressed in simple Kine fair, a lightly armored body suit with the basic field gear clipped on and a heavy duty pack by his side.

"I said that I can't commit the Knighthood to a war we've no part of," Xander said, "But we still need information on the enemy. What does Marilyn think about your volunteering for this, Tom?"

"She's good with it."

Xander snorted, "She's right, you're such a bad liar. I don't know how you ever got elected. I'm going to send Drake and Geoff with you, they'll be good security. Have you talked to your Agents?"

Tom glanced back at the two agents from his former protective detail that had elected to follow him wherever he went. "They're coming, against my advice."

Xander nodded.

"Are you insane!?" Grey bellowed, turning to Xander, "You can't send him into a warzone without..."

"What? Proper security? He'll be taking Secret Service agents and Cadre volunteers," Xander growled, holding up a hand, "I just cut Drake down for talking back to me when I'd made a decision, General, don't make me repeat it with you."

Grey simmered down, glaring at them both, and noted Tom Whitmore's amused look. "This isn't our concern, and you both know it."

"That's why we're not sending a full expeditionary force, General." Xander said tiredly, "We don't have the resources to pledge to that kind of long term commitment... not without scaling back our available response force here."

He frowned, staring at the displays on the walls intently.

"If it were just supernatural occurances we were worried about, I'd think nothing of forming up some volunteer units and committing them to the fight," Xander said, "The chance at reforming an old alliance alone..."

He shook his head, "But with those mechanical menaces still circling the perimeter, the Goa'uld system lords in chaos after the revolt... I don't know."

He sighed, "General, I am sending a diplomat to Dragon Valley. That is non negotiable, and Tom volunteered."

"You're both nuts." Grey growled.

"Yeah well, tell me something I haven't heard a thousand times."

Universe Delta Victor
KVS Korvag

Vice General Keirn grunted as he watched the base construction settle in. They'd finally gotten decent perimeter defences in place, and the stealth fields were functioning. With the Reigan forces hassling their light probing runs, it was apparent that this world would not be an easy conquest, despite it's low tech roots.

"Sir, we've received another order from the High Command."

"What have they to say this time."

"Same thing, General."

"Idiots. I don't have time for this, and I need all my ships here." Keirn growled.

"Yes Sir." The young officer just agreed, not wanting to annoy the general.

Keirn growled, but sat back. "Fine. Who's earned the most black marks this cycle?"

"Uh..." The officer flipped through a page, "Sub Prefect Malkn, Sir."

"That idiot," Keirn shrugged, then nodded, "Fine. Order him and his wing to do the follow up as designated..."

The Officer nodded, starting to leav when the General held up his hand, "But tell him it's a soft probe, damn it! None of that idiotic bullshit he's known for. He's not to risk his ship, I need it here when he returns."

"Yes Sir!"

"Now if only his ship would return without him," The General muttered after the officer left. "It might be a lot more useful to me."

Universe Whiskey Papa Prime
St Wolf Residence

"The President is going to Norfolk to ask the ship Captains and if they'll volunteer," Giles said, looking up.

Steve nodded, "Good. While he's doing that I want to start gathering forces. I'm thinking somewhere on the East Coast for us, and in Germany for our European allies."

"Very well, shall I ask for suggestions?"

"There's an old Cold war soviet base in East Germany that'll do fine, and I think that we'll use Cecil Field." Steve said, standing up. "How long before our closest recruits arrive?"

"I'm not sure, I'll make a few calls." Giles promised.

Steve nodded, "I'll contact Frank and make sure we have the lift we'll need."

Iverson Air


Frank Scully nee Iverson glanced up from where he was happily working on the connector assembly for his private bird and saw his secretary running toward him with a phone in her hand.

That was a never a good sign.

He sighed and slid out, holding his hand out, "Who is it?"

"Mr St Wolf, Sir."

Frank frowned, then nodded to her and put the phone to his ear. "What's up, Steve?"

"I need to know how much lift you have in the California area."

Frank blinked, "Excuse me?"

There was a pause, "Haven't you heard? Hang on..."

He listened to Steve asking someone off the line if he'd been told.

"Told what!?" Frank growled.

"Frank, Smaug's been injured, and the Valley is under assault."

"What!?" Frank blew, "When? How!?"

"Just hours ago, at least that's when we found out. I'm calling in the clans, I thought you had already been told."

"Well I wasn't!" Frank growled, striding away from his private bird toward the main hanger. "Tim! I need a full report on every bird we've got, starting with those in california."

Frank's site manager, Tim Knight, looked a bit startled, but nodded and quickly started pulling information out of the database.

"Where's the meet?"

"I'm thinking Cecil Field, for our people in country. An old soviet field in Germany for most everyone else." Steve replied.

"Got it," Frank jotted down the notes, "I'll have birds directed to Sunnydale, they'll be there as soon as possible."

"Good, I was thinking of just porting to the meeting, but I don't think a few hours will change anything and I want all our mages fresh." Steve told him.

"Good plan, how bad is it?"

"Advanced technologies, hostile airships able to go head to head with dragons... pretty bad."

"The Order?"

"Two Divisions."

"My guys haven't been called up, I'd know." Frank said, "I'll ask for volunteers."


William S Brady lounged back in the set of his Bell 222, almost absently running through the pre-flight checklist as he noticed the boss coming up.

"Well darn," He mumbled, lifting his cowboy hat with a thumb, "the look on his face does not bode well for my date this weekend."

"Bill!" Frank growled, pulling the door open. "Got a problem, care to be part of the solution?"

"Is there any way I kin answer that that doesn't involve me missing my date this weekend or sounding like a complete pussy?"

"One or the other, Bill." Frank grinned maniacally.

"It figures," Bill said, sighing. "I'll break my date, what's up?"

"Dragon Valley is under assault."

"Whut!?" Bill demanded, his accent deepening as he slid out of the chopper are stared at his employer in shock.

"Just heard, St Wolf is taking a force in to back them up. Interested?"

"Uh Course I ahm!" Bill said hotly, pushing his Stetson back further, "This Order business?"

"The Order is sending a couple divisions, but since they haven't called any of my people... I'm calling for volunteers." Frank grinned nastily.

Bill matched it, "You'll get em, in fact I'll help you get em."

"Come on, Bill." Frank clapped Bill on the shoulder, "We've got work to do."

Bill hated to miss his date with the lovely Diana Standing, but she'd kick his ass if he didn't respond to this. There was a woman after his own sun beaten heart, and she'd never forgive him, let alone let him touch her, if she thought for one moment he'd abandoned friends for something as trivial as dinner and a movie.

That said, she'd also skin him alive if he didn't call her up and let her know he was going to miss it.

"I got one call to make first, there Frank," Bill said grinning sheepishly, "Just to let Diana know I won't be making it this weekend."

Frank grinned, "Good plan. I'll see in the main office in ten."

Universe Delta Victor

Sub Prefect Malkn growled softly as he took his seat in the command deck, looking over his crew as they brought the ship up to power. It was good to be getting out of this sinkhole for a time, even if it was just another probe and not something really useful.

"All systems check out clear, Sub Prefect."

"Good," He told his officers, "Take us up... full thrust."

His second in command turned, eyes wide, "But Prefect..."

"I said, full thrust."

"Y... yes Sir."

Malkn sneered as the ass kisser turned back to his station and punched in the command, causing the ship to whine suddenly and shake in place until it suddenly roared into the sky. Below, the Sub Prefect knew, Kromags were scattering for cover as the ship kicked up enough dust to bury a small city.

<Serves them right, bunch of weak spined technicians,> He smirked internally.

"Command is on the comm line..."

"Later," Malkn smirked, "We have a mission to complete. Calculate the coordinates, if you please."

"But.... yes Sir."

The Officer quickly punched in a series of commands, got a lock on the signal he was looking for, and glanced back, "Ready, Sub Prefect."

"Open the wormhole."

"Yes Sir."

The portal opened up, and Malkn nodded, gesturing the ship forward with an unspoken command. Oblivious to the sputtering curses from the command tent below, the dimensional airship slid out of the universe and headed out on it's probe mission.

Universe Juliet Papa Prime

Xander was quietly watching the displays from the central command deck, slumped slightly in his position as he considered his position and his decision.

"They told me they'd find you here."

He glanced over his shoulder, then nodded, "Hey."

Dawn shook her head and walked over to his position, "Is it that bad?"

"Yeah, but not for us."

"For who then?"

"Dragon Valley is under attack," Xander said seriously, eyes watching the display updates.

Dawn frowned, "I think I read about them. We have a treaty, right?"

"Atlantis had a treaty," Xander corrected, "it's nothing but dust now. We're not bound by it."

"But you want to be, right?" Dawn asked, taking a seat on the arm of his chair and looking down at him with a knowing smile.

"You know me too well. You know what's funny about it though?" Xander asked, glancing up at her.


"I don't know why." Xander shrugged, "I don't know this dragon, I don't know anyone there. For all I know, they're the bad guys in all this."

"You don't believe that."

"No, but I can't prove otherwise."

"That never stopped you before," She said, smirking.

"I was alone before," He reminded her, "Only responsible for myself."

"And now it sucks to be you, huh?" Dawn asked dryly.

"Sometimes," Xander nodded tiredly. "Sometimes it..."

"Incoming Wormhole!"

Xander bolted upright, almost knocking Dawn on the floor, "What? Localize it!"

"It's in Los Angeles, Sir!"

Xander rose to his feet, stepping forward as Dawn stepped up behind him. "Source dimension?"

"Calculating now, Commander," Merlin intoned.

"Correction! It's *over* LA! Traveler coming through!"

"Scramble the Angels," Xander ordered, "put GKS forces on alert, move the Ticonderoga and Galactica to alert status."

"Done. Angels scrambling."

"It's not a dragon, Sir! Definite tech base!"

"Son of a bitch," Grey growled, striding forward as he rushed into the room, glowering at the displays. "That bastards coming in bright and noisy, Sir. He's not even trying to hide... They'll be seeing this on every radar station for nine hundred miles."

"What time is it in LA?" Xander demanded, mind trying to work it out.

"One AM, local time." Merlin replied.

That late. Xander wondered briefly where the day went. Then he was just glad that the visitor was going to be hidden by the dark of night.

"Marine Air Wing out of El Toro is scrambling, Sirs!"

"Shit." Grey muttered dryly. "Those boys don't know what they're flying into... Hell, we don't know what they're flying into."

"Get the Angels in the air." Xander ordered, forcing himself to be calm. "Eta to intercept?"

"Seven minutes at hypersonic."

"The Marines?"

"The Black Knights will be on station in one minute, thirty seconds."

"Damn that's fast." Xander shook his head.

"Too goddamn fast," Grey growled, despite being proud of the Aviators in question. "We don't know who this bogey is."

Lt Colonel Stephen Hiller grinned as the thrust shoved him back into the ACES-II seat, the power of his hornet a comforting thing as the chatter filled the tactical network. He turned his fighter toward Los Angeles and pushed the throttle full open.

The burners kicked in, shaking his fillings out for a moment before the fighter broke Mach and smoothed out.

"Rev, tighten up on me," Hiller ordered his wingman, "bring the squad in closer, and tell everyone to keep their eyes peeled."

"Relax, Colonel," Jimmy 'Rev' Wilder came back.

"This bogey came out of nowhere, Rev, I'll relax when we've got it ID'd clear." Hiller muttered. He'd seen too many ugly situations over the past decade, lived through more than he probably should have, and didn't intend to be suckered this time around.

"Whoever this is, it ain't you know who," Wilder replied cooly, "It's too bright on the screens, those pricks were invisible, remember?"

"So was he until he popped up over LA, Rev. Tighten up already!"

"Fine," Rev sighed, "Pull it in boys, boss man wants to play this by the book."

The Hornets tightened in on their leader, continuing to accelerate to their maximum speed as they broke windows and woke people from a dead sleep as they passed.

Malkn shook his head as he looked over the readings pouring in.

Nothing, just another infested world.

"Sub Prefect... we're not under stealth..."

"So what?" Malkn muttered, "It's not their homeworld, just another pool of filth."

"We were ordered to..."

"I know what our orders are," Malkn growled, "And this is just one more copy of a filth encrusted Earth with no value to the Empire. Just chattel to be used as needed."

"Military response, fighter aircraft incoming."

Malkn grunted in mild surprise, "Faster response than usual, I will give them that. Which class of aircraft?"


Malkn snorted, "That's all? Lock onto them, fire when they're in range."

"Prefect! Our orders..."

"Our orders were not to risk the ship! Those pitiful toys couldn't scratch my ship, follow your orders!"

"Yes Sir."

"Eyes wide, people. Anyone see anything?"

"Glowing lights in the sky over the city, Sir," Came the response. "Never seen anything like... it's moving, turning toward us!"

"Rev, take your people and break right! I'm going left!"

The fighter squadron split apart almost as one moved to flank the UFO, causing it to turn to follow Reverend's team. As they closed on it, it suddenly spat blue bolts of very familiar looking energy.

"Oh shit! Oh Shit!" Rev cursed over the radio, "It's them! They're back!"

"Go evasive! We're coming in!" Hiller screamed in return, kicking his fighter hard over and arrowing straight in for the newly designated Bandit.

"They've opened fire on the Marines."

"Shit." Grey muttered.

"ETA to Angel Flight?"

"Five minutes." Merlin said, frowning, "Incoming signal from Commander Adama, Sir."

"Put him through." Xander ordered.

The Commander of the Colonial Battlestar flickered into appearance on the main screen, looking in. He nodded, but didn't bother with greetings, "Commander, we've monitored energy weapons fire over the population center, Los Angeles. Can we provide aide?"

"What's your ETA to put Vipers on station?" Xander asked, frowning.

"Two minutes."

"Send them."

The action alarms were sounding as Starbuck dropped himself into his Viper and picked up the helmet, glancing across at Apollo, Boomer, and Athena as they did the same. They all shared a brief instant of communication, born from years of working together, then the cockpits sealed and their fighters were loaded into the launch tubes.

"Viper One, you are Go for Launch."

"This is Viper One... Launch," Apollo said, slammed back into his like a hammer had struck him as the Viper was suddenly fired through the magnetic accelerator, the triangular coils flashing past him until they were gone and he was out into space.

Behind him he knew that the others were flashing just as quickly out of their tubes, and hurtling down toward Earth.


It was a legend, a world that didn't exist. Until Adama had led them there, fleeing the Cylons. Tails between their legs, looking for refuge. A world the equal of the Colonies. They hadn't found that, in fact Earth was lower tech than many other worlds they'd passed, but there were remnants here. People like them, in a way.

He shook his head as the blue sphere loomed large, the outer atmosphere beginning to buck at his viper as he dug into it. Apollo keyed in a sequence, then pulled back on the stick. A glance to either side showed the others following suit, putting the bellies of their fighters to the thickening atmosphere in order to protect the less shielded cockpits and instrument sections.

The visuals blacked out, their cockpits going opaque to protect them, and they descended into the atmosphere on instruments only, making micro adjustments as each of the four keyed up for a fight.

Through it all, all the fighting, all the death... they'd found Earth, and yet when they arrived... they found more war.

There was something deep in that, Apollo guessed.

"Wheeee Ha!" Starbuck crowed over the tactical link, "Good to be back in the thick of things."

Unfortunately, Apollo noted wryly, he was too used to swimming in the shallow end of the pool. He keyed open his link, "Cut the chatter and watch for flankers, Starbuck."

"You got it, Bossman."

Jimmy Wilder threw his stick over hard, jinking his Hornet fast into a eight Gee turn, and barely evaded the fire aimed at him, then cursed up a storm as the blasts tore through the city below him in an explosive display of pyrotechnics.

"They're hitting the City!" He yelled over the tactical network.

"Shit!" Hiller cursed, lining up on the target and locking on an AMRAAM. He got tone quickly and flipped open the safety on the weapon release. "Knight One... Fox Three!"

The weapon dropped from it's pylon, then tore off through the night and slammed into the enemy ship. A different, though familiar flash illuminated the dark colored ship just before his weapon detonated, and Hiller paled.

"They've got shields!" He snarled, banking hard to the left to avoid a spattering of energy fire aimed at him.

Fire that tore through LA below him a few moments later, sending fireballs reaching for the skys.

"Shit!" He cursed again, then nodded, "Alright... alright... Knights, let's take this furball upstairs. Get above him! Get above him!"

The Knights put their noses up, burners flaring brightly as they climbed.

The Bandit tipped it's nose up as well, firing fast and catching three of the Knights while they were more intent on getting the city out of the fireing line than evading fire. They exploded into bright balls of flame as the rest of their fellows reached for the skies.

Hiller leveled out at just over ten grand, angrily pushing his hornet through a tight turn, and glared down at the ship that was almost serenely floating there, occasionally firing a string of shots into the air. "God damn it, we have to take that guy down!"

"Colonel, this is General Bates from Miramar." The radio crackled, "We have two advanced birds ready to launch with enhanced warheads..."

"Over LA!?" Hiller snapped, "Pardon my asking sir, but are you NUTS? You'll fry thirty million people!"

"We're looking for options now, Colonel."

"I'll give you one," Hiller growled, "I'll Fox Four my ass into that bastard before I watch you fry LA, Sir."

"I don't believe it will come to that."

"Who's that? I know that voice!" Hiller growled, listening carefully.

"We've never met, Colonel, but we've sucked some of the same bloody sky. You've got backup inbound, eta... forty five seconds for the first wave, three minutes after for the second. Hold strong."

The voice went off the radio, and Hiller swallowed. "Hey Rev... was that who I think it was?"

"I do believe," Jimmy said in his Reverend voice, "That the answer has come from the clear blue yonder."

"Colonel, who was that on the channel?" Bates snapped over the radio, "This is supposed to be a secured..."

"General, if it's who we think it was, there is no such thing as a secured channel. Put those advanced boys back to bed, and start thinking up some options that don't destroy entire US cities," Hiller growled, "We've got help with this one."

The Black Knights curled back around, lining up on the bandit again as Hiller kept a mental clock on the situation.

"Another run, Knights. Get them looking at us, and only us." Hiller ordered.

The Hornets formed up around him, pulling in fairly tight as they closed on the bandit, and as they watched the fire spat through the air again.

"Five seconds. Hold tight!" Hiller ordered.

"You sure they're coming!? I don't see nothing on my screen!"

"Four second! Hold on!"

"Fire is intensifying!"

"Three seconds!" Warning sounds blared even as Hiller's AMRAAM locked on. "I've got tone!"

"Same here!"

"One second! Fire at will!"

The sky lit up with the flash of missiles scoring across the air between them and slamming in groups into the shield of the enemy flyer.

"Time!" Hiller yelled as the Black Knights roared past over the bandit, chased by it's energy fire as they put the burners down.

The almost missed the entry of the four new fighters into the mix as the sleek craft screamed in from above, bottoming out like they'd struck ground, and interpenetrated the Black Knight's formation going the other direction, spitting their own fire right back.

Hiller's head snapped to the right as a dark blur flashed past him, close enough for it's dirty air to put a flutter in his engine.

"Whoa! What the hell!?" Reverend snapped, equally shocked as he looked over his shoulder trying to see what the hell had just flashed past.

"Stay tight, Knights," Hiller ordered, "Come around on me, we're going to back them up."

"Back what up!?"

Malkn swore as the ship rocked hard from the hammer blows of the human's explosives, growling at his weapons officer. "Would you kill them already!?"

"Sorry, Sub Prefect, they're quite skilled." The Officer said seriously, directing the weapons fire after the retreating aircraft.

Malkn cursed again, holding on to the chair as he watched the display, only to frown as something looked... wrong. He leaned forward, "What's...?"

A series bright orange blasts roared out of the black sky, exploding in contact with the shields and the ship suddenly felt like it was being torn apart. The Sub Prefect held on tightly, eyes glued to the display, "What the hell are those!?"

"No match on any database!!"

The sleek craft roared past, slamming their shields with continuing fire that overloaded shield conduits all over the ship in an instant.

"Primary shield couplings are down!"

"Damage control to stations!" He yelled, "Target the new fighters!"

"They're stealthed Sir! Profiles are VERY small!"

"Go full active! Lock them up!"

"Slow bugger," Starbuck said as they ripped past the ship, leaving it in the Viper's wake, energy blasts tracking across the sky as it tried to lock on to them.

"Don't get cocky, Starbuck," Apollo advised him. "It just took a concentrated barrage from all four of us and I don't see much damage."

"Right, so let's give him another," Starbuck grinned under his helmet.

Apollo nodded, "Split right, meet you back in the middle."

"You got it, Bossman. Athena, with me." Starbuck replied.

Athena and Starbuck curled to the right, nimbly avoiding the blasts tracking their course, as Apollo and Boomer circled left. The two groups stayed tight with each other, watching their screens as both the enemy ship and the human fighters began to close again.

"Brave folk," Apollo commented as he centered the enemy ship in his screen.

"Stupid if you ask me," Starbuck replied drly.

"Let's just see if we can keep them from getting torn up anymore," Boomer cut in.

"Right. Fire when ready."

The four Colonial Vipers criss crossed back in, weapons spitting fire as they tore back into the enemy.


"Commander... I am detecting a dimensional carrier wave." merlin said suddenly, sounding a little sheepish. "I only thought to look for such now but..."

"Where from?" Xander growled, tearing his eyes from the displays.

"Here. Avalon."

Xander took a breath, then growled, punching a button. "Security teams. Take our new guests into custody. NOW."

Drake and Stephanie were still chatting when the Cadre guard suddenly spread out, their weapons clearing leather in an instant as they drew down on the female dragon.

"What's going on??" Drake blinked, looking around.

Geoff too, however, had gone for his sword. "Drake, step back."

"What is happening?" Stephanie asked, eyes wide as she looked at them.

"Drake. Back."

Drake had a lot of issues with his friend, mostly about the man's habits as they'd developped over the centuries, but he had a lot of trust in him too. He swallowed and moved back, "Alright, but what the hell is going on?"

"We don't know." Hardy said, keeping his line of fire clear. "Orders just came down to take them all into custody."

"I don't understand!" Stephanie said, shocked.

"I'm sure we can work it out, just don't do anything sudden..." Drake looked over the soldiers guarding her, "Don't hurt her."

"Our orders are to take her in to custody, not harm her," Hardy said clearly. "She'll be fine."

"I'm coming with you."

"We'd appreciate that," Hardy said, looking at Drake evenly. "You can keep her calm, or if she's not what she seems, we may need the backup."

Drake nodded curtly in response.

Rembrandt Brown tapped the microphone, checking the feedback as it echoed in the room.

"Good acoustics," He nodded, grinning at the two men who'd been following him around. "You mind?"

They shrugged in response, not really caring.

Remy just grinned and started crooning out one of his favorite tunes from way back. He only made it about halfway through when the two guards suddenly drew their weapons, pointing them at him, as four more rushed into the auditorium.

Remy swallowed hard and forced a smile, "What? I know I'm rusty, but it's not that bad, is it?"

Quinn and Wade found themselves staring down the business end of more weapons than they wanted to think of, even as the technicians in the room yelped and scrambled for cover.

"What is this?" Quinn demanded through his fear.

"Don't know, Sir." The leader said, "We've been ordered to take you all into custody."

"What happened?"

"I don't know, Sir. Please come peacefully."

Quinn grimaced, but knew he didn't stand a chance against the men arrayed around him. "Fine."

"What's going on?" Maggie Beckett demanded hotly, hands clenched into fists as she found herself facing down an armed squad.

"Ma'am, you're being detained. Commander's orders."

"Xander gave the order?" Beth asked, frowning.

"Yes Ma'am."

Beth turned to Maggie, eyes narrowing. "Don't resist. You'll just get hurt."

Maggie's eyes darted to the closest man, judging the range and trying to determine her chances.

"Don't even think it, I can have you on the ground and out cold before you make it halfway," Beth advised coldly, slipping into fight mode.

Maggie doubted that, but she didn't stand a chance anyway, and she knew it. She sighed and relaxed, "Alright, I'll come quietly."

Malkn hung on for his life as the ship shook itself apart under him, the lethal fire fromt he new fighters blowing out the shields on their second pass even as his own weapons were just barely getting the first target lock.

"Return fire!"

The ship shook again, a sure sign that the weapons ports were out of alignment. Malkn swore again, knowing that it would take several weeks to repair that sort of damage, especially if he kept firing the guns dry.

"Keep firing!"

The pulses of weapon fire reached out into the night, tracking after the departing fighters, only to be thrown off when the conventional human fighters slashed back in and unleashed another salvo of missiles.


With their shields down the missiles tore through the ship's armor, sending shards of metal and plasma exploding through the interior, killing kromag crew members in a single horrible instant.

Malkn stared in shock as the city below reeled wildly under them, and then suddenly began to rush upwards.

"We're going down!"

"Open a portal!"

"Power systems are dangerously unstable, it won't hold!"

"Do as I said!"

The officer reached for the controls and opened the portal ahead of them, bringing the funnel of light into existence from the ether. Malkn could see that it wasn't properly powered, but he didn't care. Better to take the risk of a badly formed wormhole, than crash into a human city.

"Transfer full power to the portal systems! Take us through!"

"Looks like they're trying to bug out on us, bossman," Starbuck said as he and Athena curled back around the enemy. "You want to give them a going away present?"

"I don't know, Starbuck. We don't have much information on who they are... might be best to let them go."

"Looks like the locals don't agree," Starbuck replied.

"Oh no you don't," Hiller growled as he come back around, his remaining wing mates tight in with him. "You come here uninvited, take out OUR pals, mess up OUR city, and you think you're getting away with it!?" AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN!"

A whine indicated that he had a lock on the target, and Hiller slid his thumb over the weapon's release.

"Knight One, I have Tone. Fox Three!"

"Knight Two, Fox Three."

"Knight Five, Fox Three!"

"Knight Eight... Fox Three!"

Missiles burned away from the fighters as the ship began to enter the wormhole, slamming into the unshielded ship as it vanished from sight, wiping it and the strange energy funnel from the sky in a flash of light.

"Knights... any contact?"

"Knight Two, negative Contact."

"This is five... I've got nothing."

"Eight here... Looks like it's gone, did we get it?"

"I don't know," Hiller said in return. "Base, this is Knight Lead. We need a CAP for Los Angeles, Knights are low on fuel and ammo."

"Roger that, Knight Lead. Air Force has a squadron of F16s inbound, ETA three minutes. Can you hold on?"

"Roger. Looks clear, we'll let the Airdales take over guard duty, looks like the action is all over." Hiller said cooly.

"Roger Knight Lead. RADAR indicated that there were more contacts for a moment, are you sure it's clear?"

Lt Colonel Stephen Hiller looked out the port side as a sleek fighter dropped in beside him, the pilot glancing over and flashing him a grin and thumbs up. The Marine Aviator stared for a moment, then shook his head.

"Negative. No other contacts."

"Roger. Return to base as soon as the Air Force gets there."

"Roger that."

"Well, this feels familiar."

Quinn glared at Remy, but only slumped back as he and the others just stared at the walls of their cell.

"What do you think happened?" Wade asked, sounding curious. "I mean... they were pretty nice up until a few minutes ago."

"I don't know, but something sure pissed them off," Remy muttered, "They didn't even let me finish my song."

"Something made them question what we told them," Maggie said after a moment. "Had to be."

"What could do that? We told them the truth," Quinn objected.

"I don't know." Maggie sighed.

Footsteps caught their attention and they looked up to see the guy in charge walk in, along with Beth and a blonde none of them knew.

"You led them here." Harris said grimly.

"They tracked our wormhole??" Quinn asked, swallowing. "But they shouldn't have been able too in that confusion it..."

"No. You LED them here." Harris said again. "Where is it?"

"Where's what??" Remy demanded.

"The tracker. Where is the TRACKER." Harris demanded flatly.

The four sliders looked at each other in shock.

"We don't know what you're talking about." Quinn objected.

Harris shook his head, "Fine. The hard way. Take their timer apart, find the tracker if it's in there. As for them, Tara... they're all yours."

One Hundred Grand over Los Angeles, Blue Squadron could see the curve of the Earth as Flight Leader Cameron Mitchell shook his head and glanced down.

"Looks like we got out of bed for nothing boys," The Air Force pilot sighed, "looks like the jarheads had all the fun."

Mitchell's 302 coughed as the pilot turned it over, the reactor complaining as he brought the fighter back around. "Boss says we stay on station while the Reserve Wing from McClellan close the door on the ground level. So settle in, we could be up here for a while."

The squadron acknowledged the orders as Mitchell frowned and tapped his screen, "Anyone see that blip?"

"No Sir. What blip?"

"Stupid half assed crap," Mitchell groused, slapping the side of his instrument panel, "I'm getting ghosts again."

"These things were put together by the lowest bidder, Mitch, you're lucky we're still in the air."

"I wish they were put together by the lowest bidder," Cameron replied dryly, referring to the latest scandal to hit the current administration, "I've been afraid to ask if the 302 contract was one of the ones Kinsey farmed out to his 'friends' in the industry. I'm almost certain that's why the Prometheus project is still in limbo."

"Can we talk about this when we're back on the ground, please?" Another pilot spoke up, sounding almost plaintive. "I don't want to think about that just at this particular moment, ok?"

Several others chuckled as Cameron rapped his instrument panel again, "Damn it. There it is again. Command, this is Blue One, come in."

"Blue One, Command. Go."

"Are you showing anything in orbit? I keep getting screen ghosts here."

"Negative, Blue One. Screens are clear."

Cameron nodded, "Roger That."

He steamed for a moment, then looked up, "Blue Squad, stay on station... I want to check this out."

"Cameron, what are you...?"

Mitchell lifted the nose of his bird, keying the reactors up, and felt the pressure as he was pushed back into his seat as he felt the scrambling claws of the thinning atmosphere finally give up their grip on his fighter. "Just stay on station, I'll be right back."

"Commander, one of the Terran experimental fighters is coming this way." Colonel Tigh said, approaching where Adama was examining the records from the fight.

"Were we detected?" Adama asked, frowning.

Tigh shrugged, "I'm not sure, Sir. We should be below the detection threshold, according to the specs the Knighthood provided, but he might have picked up a sideband ghost image."

"So... bad luck and a curious pilot?" Adama asked, walking over to the screens.

"Probably." Tigh confirmed, "Should we pull back?"

Adama considered it, then shook his head. "No. We'll recover the squadron as planned. They've seen us before, no reason to hide."

"Yes Sir."

"Holy shit..." Cameron Mitchell swore softly as the big ass ship rapidly grew ahead of him, "Command are you seriously not seeing this?"

"Seeing what, Blue Lead?"

"The huge ass starship hanging in orbit about..." Cameron tried to determine range, but without his instruments registering anything he couldn't get a sense of distance. "Way the hell dead ahead of me."

"There's nothing on the screens, Blue Lead." The voice came back, "Retasking optical telescopes. Hold course."

"Yeah... right." Cameron muttered, shaking his head just as a motion caught his eye. He looked left to see a sleek craft drop in on his wing, then jerked left on instinct to see another one out there. "Uh..."

"Stop tormenting the Terrans, Starbuck," Athena said dryly, watching as Starbuck and Boomer waved at the poor pilot of the Terran fighter. "It's in bad taste."

Apollo chuckled, coming up behind her in his Viper, "Remember who you're talking about, Sis. Just be glad he's not doing something Illegal on Gemon."

"*Everything* fun is illegal on Gemon," Starbuck broke into the conversation, laughing in the background.

"Let's just get back to the Galactica," Apollo said with a smile, "Wave to the nice Terran, Starbuck, it's time to go home."

Cameron stared as the two pilots waved to him, then rocketed past as they were joined by two others.

"Uh... Command?"

"Return to station, Colonel. They're not hostile, and there's nothing you can do anyway."

Cameron blinked, "General?"

General Hammond came back, "You heard me Colonel. You don't have the firepower up there to do anything, and they're not the ones who shot up LA. Return to station, you'll be debriefed when you're back in the barn."

"Yes Sir."

Mitchell looked up at the huge ship ahead of him, then shook his head before turning the 302 around and heading back.

"You have anything?"

Cordelia shook her head as she watched the players, "They're all confused, worried... scared. The Beckett woman is pissed off, she doesn't like being held prisoner... it makes her angry, but there's no hint of guilt."

Xander nodded from where he'd come to join her, he glanced over at Merlin. "Keep them separated after Tara examines them, I want them off guard."

"Understood Sir."

He turned back to Cordelia, "Keep monitoring them before and after the examinations, report to me when it's done."

Cordelia nodded seriously, "I understand."

"Good job, Cor." He told her, "I'm glad to have you around."

She smiled, "I'm kinda glad to be around, all things considered."

Xander smiled sadly, but nodded as he turned and left.

Stephanie curled around as she paced the relatively small room she'd been locked in, growling her frustration as she tried to determine what had happened. Things had seemed ok, like there was a degree of safety here, but then everything had changed and she didn't know what it was.

She considered fighting her way out, but she knew that there were at least two dragons out there in addition to dozens, hundreds, or more soldiers as well. Then, even if she succeeded, where would she escape too? It wasn't her world, it wasn't even the home world. There was nowhere to go.

Outside her cell, she didn't see or hear Drake pacing much the same. The older Dragon heard the door open and turned to see the man he wanted to see come in.

"What happened!?" The Dragon snarled.

"They led a hostile force here," Xander Harris said firmly, "Before you ask, no I don't think she knew anything about it. We've confirmed that the tracker isn't in her."

"Then why is she locked up!?"

"Drake, calm down." Geoff said softly.

Xander nodded to the centuries old Knight, then looked back at the imposing Dragon, not flinching at all. "Protocol, Drake. We had to get all the guests segregated so we could analyze the readings of each without interference..."

"You could have explained..."

"No, we couldn't. I want them all off guard and scared, it makes it easier for Cordy to get a better read," Xander replied, nodding to the guard. "Open the door."

"I'm coming in with..."

"No, you're not." Xander brushed past the Dragon, ignoring the massive differential in mass and power. "You'll wait here."

"Like hell I..."

"Drake." Geoff growled, "Calm down."

Xander again nodded to the Knight, then stepped into the cell that held the blue dragon, not looking back as the door closed behind him. "Sorry for this."

"What happened?" She ground out, angry.

Xander didn't blame her, but he wasn't going to worry about it. "We're assuming that it was a Kromag patrol ship, it followed you here."

The Dragon's scales actually paled to a light baby blue in places, surprising Xander slightly. "Did they...?"

"They attacked a Marine Aviator Wing that was sent to investigate, caused a lot of collateral damage to Los Angeles... We had some allies who intercepted and helped the Marines beat them back. The ship retreated into a wormhole, or at least tried to." Xander said, "It may not have survived the passage."

Stephanie lowered her head, "I am sorry to have brought this to you."

"It wasn't you," Xander said, taking a seat on a bench along the wall. "We've already determined that they had a tracer on one of the people who slid in with you. We're working to find out if they knew or now."

"They...!?" Stephanie hissed, rising up, putting the pieces together.

Xander held up a hand, "Without the whole story it's pointless to get angry, I didn't come down here to talk about them anyway. I was going to send a diplomat back with you to open relations with your people, but that's not going to happen now."

"I see." Stephanie nodded, "You must defend your own world."

"Yes, we must..." Xander nodded, "But we don't have to do it here. I'm going to authorize a full expeditionary force to go back to your world, hopefully we won't be stepping on any toes... not too badly anyway. They came here, shot up my people, my world... That's the one thing guaranteed to get a response from Avalon."

He stood up, the door opening smoothly. "You're free to go, Stephanie. Get some rest, though, because in a few days we're marching off to war."

Stephanie watched him go, feelings of relief, elation, and apprehension warring within her as Drake entered timidly.

Universe Whiskey Papa Prime

Captain Ellen Suarez looked out at the flight deck of her Command, the USS New Orleans, and just glared sternly. Behind her glare, her mind was running in circles as she tried to figure out what was really going on.

It wasn't an easy thing to figure.

The president himself had come to her and her fellow Captain, Anthony Macy, and asked them very *humbly* to volunteer for a dangerous mission. The man could have told them to go, she wouldn't have questioned, and neither would any of her people. It didn't matter if this ally was on the books or off, the mission had the appearance of a fully legal operation, she would have had no cause to question it even if she were inclined to do so.

Of course, she reflected, that was before THEY started to arrive.

The New Orleans, The Green Bay, and there colliers had put to sea several hours earlier with the understanding that they would be fully supplied while underway. The first of the supply choppers had begun dropping out of the sky, a couple of them looking beat up enough for it to be literal, less than an hour out.

The men stepping off the birds ranged from roughly what she expected, to the completely insane. The Black Hawk Helos full of Green Berets she could take, though why they'd be loading that many Green berets onto an amphibious lander, she didn't know. Their mission profiles didn't crossover that much, after all.

That was where the weird began, but it wasn't where it ended.

The black helos, ranging from french to russian models, landed and disgorged men and women in black armor from every nationality she could identify. All of them had the authentication codes, however, and her orders were clear.

Give them every courtesy until their CO landed, at which point she would be more completely briefed.

The New Orleans had been stripped, it's Marine contingent given leave, keeping only the Navy complement. That decision had raised some eyebrows, but Suarez understood the move now. The people coming in were obviously some sort of deniable asset, which meant that the landing crews were going to have to be doubly careful on this one.

She turned away from the deck for a moment, then nearly jumped out of her skin when a roar shook the deck and she turned to look out just in time to see a flight of the most unlikely looking aircraft she'd every seen closing into a hover over her deck.

"What the...?"

"Captain, Air Force Blue and Green squadrons requesting permission to land."

Suarez looked back at the Petty Officer, blinking before nodding dumbly, "Clear them."

She looked back out the large window of the tower and shook her head.

"Air Force has some toys they haven't told us about," Commander Simon Miller said, shaking his head.

"You think?" Suarez asked dryly.

The watched as the large craft settled onto her flight deck, men climbing out of the large two seater cockpits, and Ellen shook her head.

"I'm getting a bad feeling about this one, Simon."

"Wish you'd turned the President down, Ma'am?"

Ellen shook her head, smiling, "Not in this lifetime, Simon. Alright, let's get that deck cleared, we've got more coming in, and I don't want these folk to think the Navy isn't holding up their end of this Op."

"Aye Aye, Ma'am."

Steve St Wolf looked out the side of the Black Hawk helo that had been provided to lift he and his group from the gathering point and deliver them to the waiting ships. He looked across the chopper, noting the others sitting there with varying degrees of calm.

Xander Harris and Cordelia Chase were side by side, something that was no surprise to anyone who knew them. They seemed to feed off each other's strength, Xander's calm keeping Cordelia's common fidgeting in check. The Amazon was a high energy girl, Steve knew, like all her sisters, and sometimes it tended to ruin the uber warrior face she liked to put forward. Harmony sat with them, and while the blond wasn't completely freaked, she could use some of her lovers' calm.

Buffy was by his side, of course, and Steve was proud to see that she wasn't looking worried or keyed up. She'd learned over the past couple years that a calm facade was a leaders mark, it kept the troops from worrying overly, and that could be critical.

Willow and Oz were much the same as the other experienced members of the team, at least once they were averaged out. Steve hid a smile as the laconic werewolf leaned back, an arm around his girlfriend as the redhead just barely kept from bouncing in her seat.

Section Seven was out in force, taking six Black Hawks just for the California contingent, and Steve was grateful for it. Just a few years earlier he didn't know if he'd had been able to respond with a sufficient force to make much of a difference. The Order was incredible, but there were never enough of them to go around.

He leaned forward as the Navy Task Force came into view below, tapping the pilot's shoulder. "Take us to the New Orleans!"

"Yes Sir! We'll be down in five minutes!" The pilot promised.

Steve nodded, slapping the back of the seat as he sat back again. Buffy nudged him, and he looked over at her.

"It'll be fine," She told him seriously, "We're not letting them down."

Steve nodded, smiling as he realized that she'd seen the tension in him that he hadn't even felt himself. It began to melt away as the Black Hawk began to descend. "I know."

"Here he comes," Miller said, approaching his Captain. "Radio confirms it, the Hawk coming in now has the Honcho of his Op on board."

Suarez nodded, "Alright. Let's go down there and see what kind of a mess we're really in. Is Tony coming over?"

"His Gig docks in five."

"Good timing. Let's swing by the ocean dock and pick up him. He'll want to be along."

"Yes Ma'am."

The two officers left the bridge, heading below just in time to see a small craft approaching. It came in, docking softly as the Chief tossed in the line and helped quickly tie it up. Ellen nodded to Anthony Macy as the other officer appeared.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain."

"Granted, Captain." She replied, taking his hand as he stepped aboard. "Good timing, I've been informed that the CO of our guests is due to land."

"I can hardly wait," Tony Miller said as they started to make their way up the decks. "Are your share as nutty as mine?"

"I can only hope you don't have any nuttier," Ellen replied dryly. "I understand you picked up a couple Air Force squadrons too?"

Macy snorted, "VTOL craft should not be that large."

"I'd like to know how come the Air Force developed VTOL fighters that size," Ellen said, shaking her head. "Don't they have all those nice, large airfields to land on?"

"Apparently they've changed their spec requirements a bit from the last time I checked," Tony shrugged.

"I can think of a few Admirals who're going to want some details," Ellen chuckled, "Too bad we can't tell them about any of this."

The two USN Captains strode out onto the flight deck of the USS New Orleans just as a BlackHawk swept around to come in on the deck. As it settled in men ran out to check the chopper as the doors were flung open and people started climbing out.

Ellen was taken back when she saw them. She was used to seeing youth on her ship, Marines joined up young, and that was a fact of life. But young people weren't supposed to look like this, they were supposed to look around with a kind of awe of life when they climbed out of a chopper onto her deck.

These kids just focused in on her for a moment, then automatically took up positions on either side of a pair as they approached.

"Captain Suarez?" The man in the lead asked, "I'm Stephen St Wolf."

Ellen shook herself, nodding on reflex as she took his hand. "Mr St Wolf, I understand you have a brief for my Colleague and I?"

"Do I ever!" He grinned, yelling over the sound of the choppers. "Let me get my team settled, and I'll meet you in the conference room."

"Very well, Chief Carly will show you to your rooms."

"Thank you Captain," St Wolf said with a nod, "I've got more people coming in..."

"We'll see them right," Ellen said firmly.

St Wolf smiled, "Thank you, Captain. I'll see you in a few minutes."

Phoebe Halliwell shook a little as she looked down at the two huge ships below. "This is so awesome."

Prue wished she could agree, and she rather suspected that their middle sister was getting rather annoyed with Phoebe's giddiness.

"We're going to WAR, Phoebe, could you not be so happy about it?" Piper growled, confirming Prue's thoughts.

"We're going to see real dragons," Phoebe grinned, "And besides, we're just the transport."

"Right, if you think we're not getting fully mixed up in this, you're out of your mind." Piper shook her head, "I know you two, and I know our luck. We'll be lucky if all we have to do is fight a war, knowing our luck we'll have to vanquish a few demons in the middle of it all."

"Oh relax, Sis," Phoebe grinned, nudging he sister playfully. "Stop being such a wet blanket. How often do we get out of San Francisco lately? Enjoy the trip!"

Piper had to admit, that was a nice thing. Especially since becoming the Charmed Ones, getting time off for a trip out of the city, let along out of the country, well it wasn't really in the cards. When St Wolf called, though, everything she'd expected went right out the window.

A team moved in to San Francisco to keep an eye on the manor, since they'd figured out that the Halliwell Manor was sitting on a major nexus of power, and they'd even arranged for some top people to manage P3 for her. REALLY top people.

All she had to do, was worry about fighting a war.

Kinda liberating, Piper supposed.

Phoebe must have seen something in her face, cause the youngest sister grinned widely. "That's the spirit, I can see that twinkle in there... come on, Piper, I know you can do it... crack a smile."

Piper rolled her eyes, but shows just enough of a smile to get Phoebe cheering in her ear.

Across the Hawk's interior, Snake Eyes and his Clan just smiled softly at the trio. They'd been on runs like this before, and knew that it wasn't really something to get excited over, but that never stopped even them from experiencing the thrill of a pre-op rush.

That would be gone soon, though, they each knew.

When the bells rang out with the call of war, well the thrill would be gone replaced by some sheer terror. That was something that the Wanderer's Ops all hand in commong. Forget ninety nine percent boredom, one percent terror... The Wanderer never got the boring missions, but he brought plenty of terror along for the ride.

Snake Eyes reached over and took his wife's hand, squeezing tightly as she squeezed right back.

Captain Suarez hoped that the brief was something else, cause if it wasn't she was going to have some choice words for President Bartlett in the improbable event that they ever met again.

The people he'd sent her were insane.

Whoever heard of landing a squadron of Apache Longbow's on a ship anyway? Let alone one led by a lunatic in a cowboy hat? Not one of them in uniform either, not any uniform she recognized anyway.

For that matter, she wished she could confirm that they WERE Longbows. They certainly looked like it, but there was something about them she couldn't quite place. She'd sent a Chief down to see what he could find out, but wasn't holding out much hope as she watched the attack helicopters being towed into the flight operations decks.

She hoped that someone had a plan for arming and rearming all these toys, because she was dead certain the New Orleans and her colliers weren't ready to handle this kind of operation.


"At ease, Chief. What did you find out?" Ellen asked, glancing back at the man as he shifted to a more comfortable stance behind her.

"They're not Apache's, Ma'am." The Chief said firmly, "Army prototypes, code named Dragonfly. One of the pilots didn't mind chattering about it, something about an abandoned project that went down the tubes with..."

The Chief looked behind him, then leaned in, "GI Joe, Ma'am."

Ellen started, staring in shock. "That's just a myth."

"No Ma'am, and if anyone else had asked I'd tell them to mind their own business, Ma'am," The Chief said firmly, "But I like you Ma'am. It's real, and that means that these people are deadly serious. Don't write them off as nuts, Ma'am... or at least not as *only* nuts."

Ellen Suarez stared at the man in front of her, and tried to process what she was hearing.

"If it's the Joes, then it's probably anti-terrorist action," She said after a moment.

The Chief just shrugged, unwilling to say either way.


She turned to see a Steward approach, "Yes?"

"St Wolf sends his regards," The Steward told her, "And would appreciate you joining him when convenient for full briefing."

Ellen glanced at the chief, her lips twisting. "Very well. Inform him I'll be right there."

As the steward left Captain Suarez of the New Orleans let out a breath, "Well. No time like the present, Chief."

"No Ma'am. And Ma'am? Good luck." The Chief told her, his tone serious.

"Thank you, Chief." She replied, her own tone to match.

Ellen Suarez stared at the man as he finished the brief, her jaw hanging a little open as she tried to determine just how serious he really was. The problem was that, as crazy as he sounded, Stephen St Wolf looked damned serious.

"This is a joke, right?" Commander Miller spoke up, his face closed up as he too tried to read the group to little avail. "I know the President told us that this would be a strange one, but this has to be a joke."

"No Joke, Commander." Steve said, shaking his head. "I wish it was, but I never get called in on a joke."

Someone tittered, causing the Navy people to look over at a young dark haired man, who also drew an irate glance from St Wolf.

"Almost never." The tall man ammended, lips twisted up in what might charitably be called a smile of sorts. "And that being the brief, I'll answer questions."

"How are we supposed to get there?"

Steve glanced back to where three women stood, and one stepped forward.

"That's why we're here." The tallest of them said, her eyes a cool blue as she looked over the room. "My sisters and I are Wiccan, we'll be opening the rift to Dragon Valley."

"And then we just sail through?" Captain Macy asked, his tone carefully modulated to be as free of emotion as he could make it.

"That's the idea, yes." St Wolf said, taking over again. "We've been plotting out our avenue of approach, and we're thinking of rifting into the ocean just north of the Australian coast. That should allow us enough distance to make a covert approach on the west coast of America, without having to sail around the entire planet. We'll pick up resupply from the Australian Navy before moving East."

"This is nuts." Miller muttered, pushing back his hair. "You're talking about transporting hundreds of thousands of tons of ships, men, and equipment to a different *dimension*."

"Yes, yes we are. And we've done it before," St Wolf replied cooly. "Granted, this time the scale is a bit bigger."

"Done it before." Miller shook his head, "They've done it before. Jesus Christ."

"Commander." Ellen Suarez snapped, her tone brooking no more from him, "That's quite enough."

"Ma'am." He nodded instantly.

She turned back to the front, "Go on, Mr Wolf."

St Wolf nodded, pointing back to the map on the wall. "We have more forces rifting in to this area, what we'd call Germany. This is where our Allies are primarily located, and my people there will be establishing a fall back base and better anti-air defenses for the civilian population."

"Can we evacuate them? How many are we talking about?" Ellen heard herself ask in a voice that sounded remarkably calm, all things considered.

"Total human population is only a few million," St Wolf said, shaking his head, "But no one ever really took a census of the Dragons. Even if evacuation was possible, it's unlikely any of them would leave. Understand, this is there home, Captain. They've all been run out of their homes before... they won't go again."

Universe Delta Victor

Golden light glittered from the scarred back of the Dragon, Fragnar, as he tiredly landed in the roughly mounted war camp high in the mountains.

"My Lord!"

The greeting brought a nod from the scarred drake, but little else as the robed figure rushed into place.

"My Lord, I bring word from the Order."

Fragnar looked over, then nodded, "Speak."

The mage swallowed as the single remaining eye of the powerful dragon pierced his soul, but held his place. "The Order sends word, they gather."

"So, Smaug survived." the golden dragon grunted.

"Yes My Lord."

"Good." Fragnar looked back, down over the land far below them where they had lost so many good men and dragons. "Have the scouts located the second group's base camp yet?"

"Yes, My lord. Three hundred miles to the north, they've taken up position deep in the mountain range." The mage replied, face darkening. "We lost three scouts confirming the exact location."

Fragnar rumbled as he growled, shaking the air with a living energy. He remembered another scout, young and full of life like her mother, who was also one of the growing list of dead in this war that had come to them.

"We'll lose many more than that in the days to come, Mage," the old dragon said aloud as he lumbered forward.

The mage nodded reluctantly, walking along side the Elder of the Vale as they both headed into the camp.

Universe Whiskey Papa Prime

The Task Force slowed, the diesel engines of every ship dying as they continued forward on momentum alone, almost silent. There was nothing quite like a ship at sea, even under power. They were the quietest form of modern travel one could imagine, and when they cut their engines, there was nothing by the cut of steel against the water, and the gentle roar of the ocean itself.

Captain Ellen Suarez, still half expecting it to be some kind of complex test of her loyalty, watched as the three women stood together out on the bow of the New Orleans as the she led the way, standing in a tight triangle with their hands up.

Nothing happened for a long time, and her heart was just about to calm down, when suddenly everything she knew and believed was thrown into question.

A beam of light jumped from the deck of the Green Bay, lancing across to strike the three women solidly, even as another raced from the deck of the Collier ship, USS Patrick Austin. Then there was light flashing from every ship in the force, all connecting with those three women as they stood on the bow of Ellen Suarez's pride and joy.

As she watched they twisted in place, and for an instant she saw their eyes as they glowed pure white, sending a shiver of fear up the Navy Captain's spine before they turned away and lowered their hands.

Another explosion of light lanced out, tearing the air itself ahead of them, and Ellen grabbed at the console in front of her, just barely keeping herself from ordering a hard to port evasive maneuver. The air tore and folded on itself, impossibly twisting ahead of them, until it was writhing like a living thing.

Ellen just stared, unable to do anything else until a voice cut into her mental fugue.

"Now Captain."

Her hand moved reflexively, her voice working on sheer instinct as she brought the mic up to her mouth.

"All ships, this is Captain Suarez." She said, marveling at how... normal... her voice sounded. "All power to engines, follow us in."

She lowered the mic, jerking her head over to the right. "All ahead."

"Aye Ma'am." Commander Miller said, his own voice sounding a little jerky, "All ahead, Aye."

The New Orleans rumbled to life, surging forward through the leading sea, and was swallowed by the rift ahead of her as the rest of the Navy force followed loyally after.

"Unto the breach," Steve St Wolf was heard to say, a touch of irony in his smile as they vanished. "One more, my friends."

Chapter Two
Marching as to War

"So it begins."

The two figures looked out at the tapestry before them, one silently gazing as a single tear ran down her face.

The second, taller figure, was solemn too as he looked on.

"They'll never be the same after this, you know." He said quietly.

She nodded, looking at him briefly, then turned back.

"I know this isn't what you wanted, but you did give them free will after all." He countered, somewhat dryly, earning himself a sharp glance.

"Well don't get angry with me," He retorted, "It's hardly my work that's set this in motion. I told you a long time ago that we should have simply..."

Her glare froze him in place and he sighed, looking away.

"I'm just saying that we could have put a stop to this a long time ago," He said in a quieter voice. "This wasn't in the plan, I know it and you know it..."

He paused, frowning, "It *wasn't* in the plan, right?"

She glared at him again.

"Well then?" He shrugged, "We should have stepped in."

She tossed him a darkly wry look and he rolled his eyes.

"Yes, I actually agree with the lightbringer on something," He admitted dryly, "And I'm not alone, you realize. That... thing... is a monstrosity, no matter it's parentage. Had we intervened in the beginning..."

Another sharp glance caused him to fall silent and let out a deep breath. "I know. But it's destroyed so much... She has destroyed so much. At what point to we draw the line? There are so many souls between here and there that have been irrevocably affected, eternal though they may be."

The man looked down at the pristine world below them as a new line was woven into the tapestry, dark red in color and so out of place.

"I hope this is all worth it, that's all I'm saying."

Universe Whiskey Papa Prime
South Pacific

Her Majesties Australian Ship Sirius was under full steam as the chopper made it's approach and was cleared to land. Captain Ryan Devon watched with mixed emotions as the bird was quickly tied down, it's occupants climbing out and forming up on his deck.

Occupants who were most certainly NOT members of the R.A.N.

Three women, two men, and not a uniform among them. Despite that, his orders were clear. They were effectively in command of the Sirius, much to Devon's disgust. He steeled his features so as not to give away more than he had to and strode forward onto the flight deck, nodding to them as they saw him.

"Welcome aboard the Sirius, Gentlemen... Ladies." He said stiffly. "I've been informed that you carry orders for me?"

"That's roight," one smiled, stepping forward, his accent that horrible stereotype Devon had spent years polishing completely out of his own speech. "Here now, I know I've got them on me somewhere..."

Devon watched in distaste as the man patted down his leather vest to little avail, apparently looking for the orders. Finally one of the women stepped forward a whispered in his ear and he flushed, pulling his hat off.

"Oops," He said, drawing a sheaf of papers out from within the outback hat. "Here you go then."

Devon closed his eyes as he accepted the paper, counting silently to ten before he opened them again. He found himself looking into the laughing blue eyes of another woman, who just shook her head slightly.

"Don't mind Mik," She advised him, "He puts on that act just to see what buttons he can push."

The man, 'Mik', Devon assumed, tolled his eyes, "That'd be true if you'd let me get away with it once or twice."

She shook her head, extending her hand, "Sue Dundee. We're the representatives of Wally's Spookhouse."

Devon shook her hand limply, eyeing the papers in his other hand. He raised an eyebrow, "Well ma'am, this checks out but I have to say that's not much of a name for a covert operations group."

"Well now, if it were that wouldn't be very covert now would it?" Mik asked, smirking.

"Hush," Sue shook her head, "We're not what you think we are, Captain."

"Yes well, that much is fairly clear." Devon muttered under his breath, examining the orders minutely. "There's not much in here."

"There doesn't need to be," Mik said simply, looking past the Captain to the ocean beyond. "We sail to the rendevous point and make the transfer of supplies, then come home. If it's required, we do it again."

"The... supplies have arrived, and I have to say some of them are quite irregular."

"Mate, you've got no idea," Mik grinned, stepping past him. "Now come on, we've got work to do, right?"

Universe Delta Victor
South Pacific

A clap of thunder tore through the peaceful ocean tapestry, clouds growing from nowhere as flashes of lightning lit them up from inside. As they rolled out across the sea, dark forms appeared within the mist, breaking free in a sudden charge that revealed the ships of the New Orleans task force as they sailed out into the calm waters.

On the decks of the Green Bay and the New Orleans a mash of barely controlled chaos ruled as flight crews more used to prepping choppers pulled craft from the interior decks that would have looked more at home on a space ship. These were rolled into place as the crews rapidly cleared, then one by one they lit up their reactors and screamed from the short decks into the skies.

"Blue and Silver squadrons are providing a CAP, Ma'am." Miller said as Ellen Suarez watched the commotion. "Captain Timmons of the Lake Champlain is requesting permission to light off his SPY-1."

"Denied." Suarez said sharply, glancing over to where St Wolf was watching the proceedings with interest. No actives at this time."

"Aye Ma'am."

St Wolf waited for Miller to leave, then stepped up beside her. "Good decision, Captain."

"I rather thought you might want to make the approach as quietly as possible," She said, rolling her eyes, "Not that arriving in a clap of thunder and lightning matches my definitions of 'stealth', of course."

He smiled slightly, "I wouldn't worry about it. We're far enough out that no one heard a thing."

"I'll take your word for it," She said frowning as she looked at her instruments. "I can't get any confirmation on our location."

"We're right where we intended."

"Just the same, Mr St Wolf," She said, "I'm sending a man up the mast with a sextant. Just to be sure, you understand."

He chuckled, "It's your ship, Captain."

Cameron Mitchell, Blue Squadron Flight Leader looked down at the rolling oceans below for a moment before double checking his stealth systems.

"Blue Squadron, confirm stealth." He said a moment later.

The members of the squad called back immediately reporting all systems in the green, and Cameron nodded.

"Alright, Silver Leader this is Blue Leader."

"Go ahead Blue."

"Stay with the ships, I'm going to take Blue upstairs."

"You got it, Mitchell. We'll hold down the fort."

Mitchell smiled , nodding, "never doubted it. Blue Squadron... with me."

He pulled back on the control of the 302, angling up as he put a little more power to the reactors and began to climb for the heavens. With the rest of his flight group behind him, Cameron watched as the blue of the sky faded out to black and the first stars began to show through the blanket of black.

The familiar sensation of gravity letting go of it's grip grabbed his gut, but Cameron just grinned as he inverted his 302 and looked up at the Earth as it hung there. He reached out, fingers touching the cockpit for a moment, then shook himself as he turned back to his instruments.

"Looks quiet, Cam."

Cameron nodded, not saying anything for a moment, but he didn't see anything to disagree with that assessment.

"Kill nonessentials," He said, "prepare to deploy Keyhole birds."

"Blue squadron is deploying the satellites, Ma'am. We'll have global positioning in ten hours." Miller said quietly from across the bridge.

Ellen shook her head, wondering how long the Air Force had been hiding those 302s and their capabilities. VTOL to Orbit launch vehicles capable of delivering surveillance payloads in a matter of hours? Someone was holding out on the rest of the country, that much was certain.

"You people scare me, Mr St Wolf."

Steve St Wolf smiled thinly, "Captain... you haven't even *seen* my people yet. Proceed on schedule."

"Aye." She said darkly, "We'll reach the operational point in... twelve hours."

"This is some fucked up shit is all I'm saying."

Seth Gekko shrugged as he finished cleaning his gun and glanced over at his wife, "Since when has our life been anything but?"

Faith Standing-Lehane, self declared Slayer Supreme, smirked at her hubby and crumpled up a wad of paper, tossing it at his head in retort. Seth caught it easily, then carefully smoothed it out and set it on the table in front of him as he began to disassemble his pistol onto it.

"Smart ass."

"I married you didn't I?" He asked with a grin, "besides, I wasn't hearing any complaints about my ass last night, now was I?"

"Oh come on, there are others in the room here!" Cordelia Chase pantomimed a gagging action, "That stops being cute when you get married, don't you know."

Faith threw a self satisfied smirk at the Amazon, "I'll be sure to remind you of that when it's your turn."

Cordelia turned red, glancing over at Xander who was quietly smirking himself, then growled and threw a cushion at him. He caught it just before it hit his face and stared at her, shocked.

"Hey, what did I do!?"

"You're enjoying the idea too much." She snapped.

Xander rolled his eyes as he set the cushion back down and went back to cleaning his swords. "You really need to work on the misdirected hostility, Cor."

"Yeah, totally." Harmony agreed, nervously checking her SMG. "You were totally uptight last night too. I was barely able to fit..."

"Hey!!" Cordy cut her off with a wide eyed stare.

"A word in edgwise..." Harmony finished, looking around. "What? What's so funny?"

Steve St Wolf leaned over the computer displays as the satellite imagery began to filter in, his face tight as he critically evaluated the quality of the system.

"Not good." Was his professional opinion.

"I've had some experience with similar systems," Commander Miller said from behind him, "I assume that the birds are pretty small?"

Steve nodded glumly.

"Well, basic physics then," Miller said, examining the images himself. "You can miniaturize a lot of things, but optics aren't one of them. Quality is always affected by size, I'm afraid."

"I know," Steve said, examining the Keyhole system Blue squadron had placed over the west coast. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but the resolution wasn't anything spectacular unfortunately, so they would likely have to do things the hard way.

He traced his finger along the coastline, tapping a point where San Francisco bay was. "We'll approach from the south, come up to the bay area."

"What about scouting?"

Steve nodded, "We'll have the 302 squadrons in high atmo, keyhole birds, and our seers."

Ellen Suarez winced as she came up behind them, "I know I'm going to regret asking this..."

Steve smiled, "mystical eyes. They're not as clear as good hard intel, but our people are very reliable."

Phoebe sat cross legged at the bow of the large ship, eyes focused out ahead of them as she tried to access her power. Unlike her sisters, she knew her own power was subject to the vagaries of events beyond her influence, but since they'd teamed up with Section 7, she'd been given training that simply wasn't available before.

Learning to trigger her visions was one of the things she'd been taught, though it didn't always work, nor did it work as intended every time it did work.

It did, however, work.

She stiffened, her eyes going milky white as she jerked in place, staring out into empty space.

"Phoebe... Phoebe!" Prue caught her as she started to slump to one side, having been half expecting that. It was her shift to sit with her sister while Phoebe tried to peer into the future, just to make sure that her occasionally spazzy little sister didn't pitch overboard or something.

Phoebe groaned, leaning into Prue for a moment, "Oh that sucked."

"Did it work?"

"I think so." Phoebe said, frowning.

"What did you see?"

"It was... weird." She said, shaking her head. "It didn't make a lot of sense."

"And this is new how?" Prue snorted. Phoebe's visions were notorious for being bizzare flashes cut from the cloth of the future, generally without proper reference points to understand them.

"We need to speak with Steve."

Steve and the others had gathered as soon as Prue sent word, and they watched as Phoebe came in nervously. Steve waited for her to calm down and settle into place as best she could.

"It's alright," He said, "Tell us what you saw."

Phoebe nodded, "It came in flashes..."

They all nodded, even the newest members of Steve's inner circle were aware of how visions of the future tended to manifest, so that was nothing surprising.

"There were scenes of fighting, explosions... like something out of a science fiction movie," She told them, looking them over. "I saw Knights of the Order and... things that looked like something from Planet of the Apes... There were humans in advanced ships, killing indescriminately... and..."

She looked confused.

"Go on..."

"Armored Knights..."

"Knights of the Order," Steve said.

Phoebe shook her head, "no. Their armor was different. It... I can't describe it. It was black... unbelievably black..."


"No!" Phoebe snapped, cutting Steve off. "Your armor is... it's real, it's there, you can see it. This armor was like looking into the night sky with no stars. No surface, just an unending... blackness."

Xander shivered, "This just gets better and better."

"They're the second enemy, then." Steve said after a moment.

Phoebe shivered, but didn't contradict him. "I saw them fighting with the Order..."

"Who won?" Cordelia asked dryly.

"It wasn't the Order."

The room fell into silence as the warriors exchanged glances, looks filled with more communication than any words could have been.

Universe Juliet Papa Prime

Maggie watched the preparations from across the area, arms crossed on her chest as she glared.

"You gonna be pissed until we slide?" Remy asked her dryly, chuckling slightly.

"No. There's nothing to be pissed over. Why do you think I'm pissed?"

"Maybe cause you've been trying to fry some of those boys with your eyes all day."

"Alright, so maybe I'm a little pissed." Maggie admitted. "I've got a reason to be, don't you?"

"You said it yourself, they reacted professionally." Remy shrugged, "Can't blame someone for being suspicious."

"I'm not pissed over that!"

"What then?"

"Are you kidding me? That... so called *doctor*..." Maggie clenched up her fists.

"I don't know, I kind of thought it was pretty fun," Remy grinned, then lost the smirk, "Until she found that chip in my shoulder. I could have done without her breaking out the scalpel."

"I wish she'd used a scalpel on me, at least that would have been something a real doctor would do. She was way too touchy for my taste," Maggie grumbled.

Remy smiled ear to ear, "Yes please, I want to hear this again."

She snapped a glare over at him, "That's it, I'm gone."

Remy grinned as she stomped away, then leaned back and pulled out the notes he'd made for the concert he was still planning.

Maggie stomped across the deck to where she could see the familiar actions of marines getting prepped for an Op. As she approached she noted the equipment, and saw some of it was familiar and some certainly wasn't.

"Looking for someone?" One of the troopers asked, slinging a box into the large APC.

"No, just looking. Never seen that kind of rifle before," She said, "Seven Sixty Two?"

"Naw, full Ten millimeters." He answered, reaching up for the rifle. He pulled it down, ejected the mag, clearing the breach, and tossed it to her. "Standard issue M41A2 battle rifle."

The black man watched as Maggie caught the weapon, checking the switches professionally, then turned it over carefully.

"No ejector port?"

"Caseless." He grinned, showing white teeth. "Only thing that ejects is a round right into the target."

"Nice." Maggie said, impressed. "Armor piercing?"

"And explosive. Rated to take down armor right up to battle tank range, not that you'd want to rely on it against a tank." The trooper chuckled slowly. "You know your weapons?"

"I should. US Marine, career path." Maggie replied, "I was rated in harriers, but you know the Marines."

The man laughed slowly, "Yeah. You could say that. You're one of the slider people, right? Led them Kromags here."

Maggie grimaced, "Yeah. That's us, sorry about that."

"Well shit happens. They take over your world?"

Maggie shook her head, "My world's gone. Natural disaster."

"Damn." The man winced, "That's harsh."

"Hey Sarge," Another trooper came up, "You know if we're packing full armor for this run?"

"What the hell is wrong with you, Hudson? We're slated to secure the base site, no engage in a combat op!"

"I still want some armor, Sarge."

"And you'll get some, standard issue kinetics, and you'll LIKE it Hudson."

Maggie watched as Hudson grumbled to himself, walking off. "What was that about?"

"Hudson's a sorry ass excuse for a Marine, but he's a great comm tech." The Sargeant shrugged, shaking his head. "He just wants to play with the heavy armor, but there's no way we'll be wasting that on a non-combat mission."

"If you're going up against the Mags, you'll be seeing lots of combat, Sargent...?"

"Oh hell, Sorry," He said, holding out his hand. "Names Apone. I'm the Gunny for this crew."

"Gunny, Captain Beckett." Maggie shook his hand.

"What can you tell me about these Mags?" Apone asked seriously, "Intel's a little light here."

"Tell you what, Gunny," Maggie said, smiling, "How about you brief me on your gear, you guys have some stuff I've never seen before and I worked R&D for three years, and I'll tell you everything I can think of about the Mags."

Apone frowned, considering, then shrugged, "Hey Merlin, what's her clearance?"

Maggie nearly jumped out of her skin when a voice echoed from nowhere, "There is no issue with a standard brief of field issue equipment, Gunnery Sargent Apone. Miss beckett, would it be acceptable for me to record your brief in case you remember anything you haven't mentioned already?"

Maggie looked around, eyes wide. "Uh... sure."

Apone grinned wide, "Then you've got a deal, Captain."

"Sir, this is a bad idea."

"General, we're going." Xander said tiredly. "The Galactica and the Tico can cover Earth, and I'm sure that the regular military can handle any major ground crisis..."

"Not that," Grey grumbled, "Of course we're going. That's a given since those bastards shot up LA. You, however, shouldn't be."

Xander chuckled, "General, I'm not Rear Echelon, you know that."

"That doesn't mean you need to keep being the first guy in through the breach," grey muttered, "You're needed here."

"No. No, I'm not general." Xander straightened up, "If I'm needed that bad, then I fucked up when I chose my people. If I die tomorrow, I fully expect the Knighthood to continue without me. In the meantime, I am a Crusader. You should never stand between a crusader and his crusade, General."

The General glared at him as Xander finished setting the insertion protocols for the opening stages of the mission. "This isn't how you run a military operation."

"Not a modern one, no." Xander replied, "But our people aren't modern military, none of them are, General."

"That's bullshit!"

"No General, even your Marines aren't Modern military, and they never really were." Xander said, "They, along with every other special forces unit, are the precursors of a future military ideal. An ideal that the Atlanteans knew and understood perfectly, General. I've spent years polishing them to that ideal, Grey. Are you telling me I failed?"

Grey glared at him, hating the fact that Xander had put him in that position, but he couldn't deny what had been said either. Over the better part of a decade he'd watched the Commander take some of the finest soldiers he'd ever known, and make them even better.

It wasn't just the equipment either, though that certainly helped. There was something intangible there, something that Grey had never been able to put into words. Somehow he'd created special forces level responses in even the regular Knights, and what he'd done with the Cadre was nothing short of amazing.

Grey would put any Cadre trooper, unarmed and naked, up against any armed and armored soldier he'd ever known. Even the least of them, physically, had proven capable of insane acts in pursuit of completing the mission.

The Crusaders, those few of them that existed now...

Grey would put them up against a regiment, and spot the regiment a good sized handicap. Crusaders simply weren't natural.

Xander could see that the General wanted to argue, but couldn't, and he smiled slightly. "Face it General, what you've helped build is well underway to making everything you were taught... obsolete."

"This isn't some covert war you'll be fighting," Grey growled, "This is open field conflict. The Main Battle Tank still rules that conflict in my book, Son."

"General, a Crusader can rip an Abrams apart, and you know it. Cadre in power armor make battle tanks look like slugs. Soft, slow, and a sweet target." Xander replied dryly. "We've got highly mobile firepower, air support, and indirect fire support the likes of which the US Army dreams about. Our units are small, tight, and independently operative. They don't need the massive administration and support framework of a modern army, and they don't need me sitting in the back row giving orders they already know enough to execute."

He shook his head, "No General, I'm a Crusader. We lead from the front."

Grey snorted, "Only because you're stupid enough to always be the first one in and everyone else has to rush along to save your sorry ass."

Xander grinned, "That's how we get things done, Grey. Someone has to be first."

"Fine, I can see I'm not going to win this argument, but you're at least taking an overall field commander?"

"I'll have Irwin as my second," Xander said simply.

Grey grunted, nodding. At least the kid wasn't stupid on top of being suicidal, Eugene Irwin was one of the top Tactical Commanders associated with the Knighthood. Possibly the top, though some argued that Xander Harris was in that slot. Harris was a promising strategic thinker, but tactics was where his real strength was, particularly when dealing with the chaos of a mission in operation. Irwin was more solidly based, with superior pre-mission planning.

They'd make a good team.

"At least you're not a complete idiot... Sir." Grey said dryly.

Lieutenant General Eugene Irwin frowned as he looked over the information he'd been sent. The opening moves of the upcoming operation were pretty straightforward. In fact they were basically writ in stone, literally.

Secure the gate was the absolute priority. It was their only short term source of supplies and reinforcements, so until they had it well defended the overall options were extremely low. Irwin didn't understand how the tunneling crystals worked, but he trusted that they would. That meant that he had to work out the defense measures, as well as who went first.

That, at least, wasn't difficult.

He found Brad 'Grandpa' Little where he expected, checking the Orca that had been prepped for the mission. The older man was gently running his hand over the gleaming red rune etched just below his name on the fuselage and looked up, surprised to see Irwin approach.

"She specced it personally?" Brad asked, his voice quiet.

Irwin nodded, "On the Commander's request. All of your team is using gear done over by Rosenberg."

Little whistled silently, shaking his head. "Thank the Commander for me."

Irwin nodded his head slightly, then moved on to more important things. "You've had a chance to look over the brief?"

"Yes siree, Sir," Brad Little said. "We're first through the gate, we'll secure the area for the ground hogs to get things digging."

"That's correct. Keep a low profile, don't use any of your long range systems, we're trying not to attract attention to our location right away."

"Understood, Sir."

"We'll be launching APCs after base preparations have commenced, each going hypersonic with escorts..."

"You want us to handle that?"

"We'll check and see how you're feeling. The North American probe team might run into some action..."

"Preston'll love that," Little grinned, shaking his head. "Dumb kid."

Irwin smiled slightly, "However the Europe team will be commanded by Tom Whitmore..."

Little whistled again, "Big guns."

"You have no idea, Little. Harris is on the North American run."

"Christ does that kid not know anything about preserving the command structure??" Little asked, half smiling as he shook his head.

"He's young, he's able, and I don't think he really knows how important he is around here." Irwin shrugged. "We'd continue, of course, if he fell... but it wouldn't be the same."

"No, I don't suppose it would be." Little nodded, "Alright. I'll get Guthrie and Preston prepped. Well give you a sold Cap while they start digging, then if you can get good backup in place we'll cover the Commander butt while he goes looking for wasps nests to poke."

Irwin nodded, "Ok, I'll have another two squads ready to move to take over CAP duties and escort My Whitmore."

"What about fast movers?"

"We'll begin shipping disassembled Hammerheads through the gate as soon as base facilities are in place for them," Irwin answered. "Figure three days before we can get interceptors in the air. Until then, air to air is your domain."

Brad Little grinned, "Fast movers are fast food for an Orca, Irwin. We'll hold up our end."

Universe Delta Victor

Fragnar settled into place as he overlooked the valley below him. On the high peak of the moutain range there was nothing above him save clouds, and few enough of those. Below, however, there ranged his prey.

Around him perched the battle ready dragons he'd been able to scrounge up, all of them eager for a chance to repay the pain caused by those below, and all of them seething in near bloodlust because of it.

"Do you see them, Gaur?" He asked, glancing down at the sharpest eye of them all, the small black dragon named Gaur.

"There are many, infesting the valley like ants, Fragnar," the dragon said, "Their ships are on the ground, but there are men close at hand."

"Yes. They stand ready to launch." Fragnar supposed. "We must not allow it."

"We understand." Gaur said, "Let us raze them to the ground."

Fragnar nodded, "Strike fast, strike hard. Do not leave a ship intact."

With that he leapt from the mountain peak and his wings beat hard, propelling the huge dragon down into the valley at a rapidly increasing speed. Behind him, thirty others followed suit, blotting out the sun behind them as they quickly overtook their own battle roars and plunged in to find the enemy.

"We've got a heat strike on the California Keyhole."

"What?" Steve St Wolf growled, striding over, "Show me."

"Mountain Valley, up at the extreme range of that birds positioning." Miller told him, "Should we retask?"

"Do it." Steve ordered, "There's nothing out there that should be spiking that hot."

"Alright... I'm sending the commands now."

They watched as the image refocused, centering on the disturbance, then closed in as tight as they could get it.

"Is that... are those fighters?" Miller frowned, trying to make out the profiles.

"No. Dragons." Steve said grimly, reaching for the radio. "Blue Squadron, this is Wolf's Head, over."

"Wolf's Head, Blue Lead, Over."

"We've got a Task for Northern Cali. Anyone upstairs from there?"

"Roger, Wolf's Head."

"Sending Coordinates. Allies engaging hostile units, provide support."

"What are the Allied IFF codes?"

"There are none, but you can't miss them. Just don't shoot the large flying lizards, they're on our side."

There was a long silence from the other side, then Blue Lead came back.

"Roger That, Wolf's Head. I guess the rumors are true about you."

"That depends on which rumors you're referring to, Blue Lead."

"I was mostly thinking about the ones that said you were a sick, twisted son of a bitch, Sir."

Steve St Wolf chuckled, "Yeah, they got that right. Just remember..."

"Don't shoot the lizards, Got it Sir."

IFV Grendelsbane

The alarms went off all through the ship as Smytheson was making his way back to the bridge, causing the Under Captain to break into a flat out sprint even as the sound of battles began to seep into the depths of the combat craft.

"Report!" He growled as he grabbed a hand rail and swung himself up onto the command platform.

"Air strike, Captain!" Came the response, "They came in under stealth, at super sonic speeds! We've lost three ships on the ground..."

"Scramble the survivors! I want everything in the air in thirty seconds or I'll shoot them myself," Smythson snarled, tapping out a series of commands into his console. "It's the locals. They're not under stealth, you idiot, they're biologicals! Adjust your scanning to look for heat sources, and patch the infrared into the defense systems."

The men swallowed, then nodded as they turned to their own consoles.

Smythson looked around, "Why aren't we in the air already!?"

"The survivors are lifting off, Elder!"

"Redirect the attack to them!" Fragnar roared, sweeping around.

As the dragon wing swept around the previously sporadic fire from the grounded ships redoubled and became fearsomely accurate, tearing through the wing as Fragnar snarled in rage.

"Break up!" He ordered, "work in pairs, don't cluster together!"

The wing split apart, devolving into groups of two that came in from multiple vectors, sweeping down into the fire as the dragons returned the lethal attack with rage and fire of their own. Poison gas flooded the air, dropping down onto the camp with leaden swiftness, choking those out in the open as flames and lighting rained down around them.

Two, four, then half a dozen dragons went down in uncontrolled spirals, slamming into the ground. In return another two ships were destroyed as they lifted from the surface, but before the dragons could get them the rest broke through and made it into the air.

"Azures!" Fragnar roared, "Take them in the air!"

The dark blue dragons swept in on command, wheeling in from high above, and proceeded to engage the ships in the air. Bolts of lightning scored the sky, interpenetrating with the energy blasts from the ships as the two forces engaged. The ships were outclassed in maneuvering, the blues wheeling around them as they slammed bolt after bolt of lighting into them. Shields, however, made up for the inconsistency, and the ships air defense systems were vastly superior. Now keyed to lock onto infrared sources, and at such a close range that even passive systems were effective in real time.

The Blues began falling from the sky.

"Blue Two, this is Lead, line up on bandit three, I'm on two." Cameron Mitchell said, throttling up as he tilted the nose down, cracking the sound barrier as the reactors whined in response.

"Got it, Cam." Major Bryce Ferguson replied, "You take em high, I'll take em low."

Cameron smiled, flicking up a bank of switches as a tone sang through his cockpit, "I'm getting good tone. Blue Lead... Fox one."

"Blue Two, Fox One!"

The two 302 pilots led in with the missiles, dropping from orbital space like stones at a rate that almost overtook their own birds. They pulled out of the fast dive as the birds struck home, both pilots only mildly surprised to see the enemy ships take the hit and keep flying.

"They've got advanced shields," Cameron said, "Switching to cannons."

"Roger, Lead. Cannons are go." Ferguson said in response as he banked his 302 around to line up on the target. "Blue Two, Fox One."

"Blue Lead, Fox One!"

Heavy cannons roared from both 302's as they swept up in a climbing arc, firing up into their targets. The rounds slammed into the ships in rapid succession, exploding violently as they tore into the sheilds.

"Remember the brief," Cameron said as they continued into the furball, "No IFF, No radio."

"Roger, switching to PA."

Cameron did the same, his voice suddenly booming out over the atmosphere. "Dragon Valley, The Wanderer sends his regards!"

IFV Grendlesbane

"Those are NOT biologicals!"

"To the abyss with you idiots! Who was supposed to be watching the advanced sensors!" Smytheson snarled, not expecting an answer. "Balance the guns! Shift the feeds from active sensors back to the mainline, equal priority with thermal!"

Men acknowledged the orders and Smythson felt the shift in the air as the guns of the Grendlesbane shifted their attentions, hammering away at the newcomers as well as the sub human biologicals.

"Technology profile does not match Magg ships! We've got another player!"

Smytheson swore.

Another player, that was just what this entire screwed up mission needed. The Maggs were a known quantity, Smythson didn't have any problem with consigning more of their sub human souls to the pits, and these local biologics were just more of the same. But technology meant people, for the most part, and now he was probably killing more humans.

There was a sadness in that.

The Sub Captain sighed, shaking his head, then looked up. "Engage with heavy weapons."

Fragnar finished sweeping the ground with flames as the voice boomed out, and the old dragon wheeled around as he bellowed to call his wing to him.

"The Wanderer is on Dragon Valley and he has come in force!" Fragnar boomed, "To me, and cover the humans!"

The Azures swept around to come in at Fragnar's side as the rest of the wing lifted up to flank him. He led the charge into the enemy, and they all opened up as one, bathing the enemy ships in fire and lightning just as the human fighters swept clear.

Two more ships went down, smoke billowing from them as they crashed to the ground, then the skies suddenly erupted in hammering fire that shocked even the dragons, taking their breath away as the oxygen itself was suddenly consumed from the sky.

Fragnar felt a blistering heat sweep over him, and then the agonized wails of the dying filled his ears.

"Holy shit!" Cameron swore, "Those were nukes! I say again, we have nuclear detonations! Scanners blanked! Rebooting!"

Ferguson swore over the tactical link, trying to control his fighter. "Cam, I'm losing control! I think I've got major damages to the air surfaces!"

"Hold on!" Cameron growled, "Just hang on!"

"Mayday, mayday, I'm going down!"

Cameron swore, banking around as he looked for the sign of his friend's 302. "God damn it, Fergy, report your position!"

"I've got nothing! My scanners are still down! I'm going down Cam... keep your nose in the air, buddy." Ferguson told him calmly. "I'll catch you on the ground."

"Damn it!" Cameron swore, leaning forward and slapping his scanner angrily. "Stupid piece of junk! Reboot damn it!"

The system finally did so, telemetry from the keyhole birds finally feeding back in.

"We've got a man down!" He called, radioing the coordinates quickly, "We need search and rescue, with Radiation gear, and heavy support!"

On board the New Orleans Steve St Wolf paled as he stared at the instrument displays.

"Oh my god." Buffy whispered from behind him, her voice weak and shocked.

"Captain, how long until we're within range of the target area?"

Suarez shook her head, "Hours. Then it'll be a rounds trip of at least three more hours to get a team up there."

"Scramble the 302 squadrons, recall the rest of blue. I want a CAP over those coordinates in ten minutes, and I want rescue teams ready to move the instant we're in range." St Wolf ordered, "Take us to best speed, Captain."

Suarez nodded, "Aye. Miller, Best Speed!"

"Best Speed, Aye Ma'am!" Miller shouted back, "All ahead flank!"

"All Ahead Flank, Aye!"

The New Orleans task group surged into the sea, the flight decks of the Orleans and Green Bay exploding into action as 302s were pushed from the bays onto the open decks, their reactors already warming up. Steve St Wolf watched, his face a set mask as the powerful fighters seemed to lean forward for a moment before exploding into action, roaring off the deck and into the skies.


"Yes, Steve?" Xander said quietly, no joking in his tone as he stepped forward.

"I need a runner."

"You got it."

"Go down, tell the Knight Armorer that we need all the armor readied for a Nuclear Conflict." Steve said softly. "Make sure we have everything we need for that."

Xander nodded, pivoted on his heal, and strode out.

"Ladies," He said, glancing toward Gabrielle and Felicia Standing, "We have a new situation, get me a list of your gear and what you'll need for this situation."

The two nodded, then quickly left, leaving Steve surrounded by the Navy people and the core of Section Seven.

"Steve... the dragons there?"

"I don't know if a Dragon can survive a nuclear blast, Buffy. It's never come up." Steve said dully.

KVS Korvag

"Multiple Nuclear detonations, Sir."

General Kearn turned around, "So the Reigan are engaging the locals with their full weapons. Interesting."

The General took a seat, thinking quietly as he surveyed the readings. For the Reigan to engage the local entities with heavy weapons was... very interesting indeed.

"Increase the priority of monitoring local lifeforms," He said after a moment, "If the Reigan consider them that dangerous... far be it for me to underestimate them."

Universe Juliet Papa Prime
Halliwell Manor, San Fancisco

"Hey sis, how's it going?" Prudence Halliwell smiled as her half sister came into the living room, Phoebe and Piper trailing.

"Oh, you know, it's all good." Paige Mathews grinned, "Just thought I'd drop by and see how the legendary witches were doing."

Prue snorted, pursing her lips, "Yeah right."

"Seriously, I've got a call from Xander, and I'm going out of town for a while." Paige said, taking a seat. "The local Good Knight Security office has been beefed up a little, so if you have any problems you can call them, ok?"

"What's going on?" Phoebe asked, frowning.

"Well it looks like that terrorist attack in LA last night, well it wasn't." Paige said.

"Demons?" Piper asked.

Paige shrugged, "Debatable, from what I'm told. But it's in our line of expertise, and I guess whoever did it pissed Xander off."

"Ouch for them," Phoebe said dryly. "Personally I try not to annoy people who have their own private army."

"Well, these people don't live by your oh so conservative guidelines," Paige said, "So I'm going to be gone for a while."

"Is it going to be dangerous?"

"Do you need help?"

"Yes, and no." Paige said simply, "I'll be fine, but we don't want to pull the Charmed Ones out of San Francisco. We've got enough magical firepower anyway, plus plenty of real firepower to supplement it. Thanks for the offer though."

The sisters nodded, faces somber as Paige stood up.

Their half sister, youngest of the family, yet one of the most powerful witches any of them knew, just smiled.

"See you soon," Paige said, winking as she vanished into a piller of light.

Dawn watched the preparations from the observation deck, idly counting the fighters and armored vehicles being moved into place. She half turned to Tara, who was walking up behind her.

"H... How does it look?"

"Like we're going to war. Again." Dawn said quietly.

Tara smiled sadly, "We see no peace in our time."

"I've seen peace," Dawn said softly, "I... didn't like it."

Tara glanced at her, then nodded in understanding. "Dawn... I..."

"It's ok." Dawn shook her off, then nodded down to the deck. "Is that Willow?"

Tara glanced down, distracted from the quick blinking motion Dawn used to push back the sheen of liquid on her eyes. She spotted the white garbed red head quickly and nodded, "Yeah."

Dawn forced a smile, "Wouldn't it be nice to be her, huh? Everyone in love you..."

"I think y... you're over stating it." Tara smiled, "But she is... respected."

Dawn snorted, "Willow's revered, Tara. Me, I'm almost reviled... feared certainly. You, you give them all shivers... alright, shivers and wet dreams, but me? They cringe when I walk past. Just look at that..."

Tara watched as a crowd of pilots quickly formed around Willow as she approached, the redhead smiling and nodding to them. They gave her a respectful distance, but even from there Tara could see them hanging on every word the redhead spoke.

"How is that fair?" Dawn asked, just a little bitterness in her voice.

Tara just smiled and shrugged, "We chose our paths, Dawn."

"You did."

"You didn't?"

Dawn sighed, "Alright, I did too. But I didn't have many choices on the list, you know."

"I know. Do you wish you were her? Really?"

Dawn looked down at Willow, knowing that every soldier and pilot in the entire base would throw themselves into the line for the redhead without hesitating, and sighed as she shook her head. "No. But I can wish, can't I?"

"Of course. Just don't... let it eat you up." Tara said quietly.

Dawn looked over at Tara, the girl who was one of her best friends in the entire world, and nodded. "I won't. It's just... sometimes I wish I were closer to people."

Tara looked suddenly sad, and Dawn bit her tongue instantly.

"Damn, Tara, I'm sorry I didn't mean..."

"I know." Tara held up her hand, "I know, it's ok. Close... I'm close to people, Dawn... I am. But sometimes... you can be too close. Besides, you have people. You have family."

Dawn nodded, She did after all. Her sisters, her mother, Jacks, Tara... Xander. They didn't flinch when she walked by, mostly. Ok, Buffy did, but that was probably deserved. Her older sisters had born the initial brunt of her manic search for spell components, and even Dawn had to admit that having a wild eyed goth child coming at you with a knife was pretty creepy.

Out of all of them, though, Willow seemed to have drawn the best lot, Dawn thought with more than a hint of envy. Saint Willow of the Byte, or so Dawn had heard whispered on occasion. Patron Saint of pilots and warriors of the Knighthood.

"God what a crock."

"Striker Team, this is Bird Dog One, Systems Check."

"Striker One, All systems Green."

"Striker Two, All systems Green."

"Roger Strikers, Bird Dog confirms. Command, request Go. I say again, Bird Dog and Strikers request Go."

General William Grey leaned in, "You are go."

Striker One, piloted by 'Gramps' Little lifted a few feet off the deck, turning in place as it's pilot carefully manipulated the warbird into position.

"Striker One, Ready for Gate Transition." Little said calmly, not really looking at the mass of people and equipment filling the cavernous area around him. "Engaging automatic protocols."

"Dimensional Wormhole reads steady, Striker One. You are Go to Transition."

"Roger. Here goes nothing boys."

Striker One glided smoothly forward as Little dropped the stick and let the integral systems take over. He watched the standing pool of water, or what seemed to be water, approach with some trepidation. It wasn't his first Gate mission, but it was most certainly the first time he'd taken an Orca into another dimension.

What a life, Little thought with a grin. After being put out to pasture by the army, who'd have ever thought he'd wind up doing something like this?

The event horizon closed, then dissected the nose of his Orca cleanly, disrupting his instruments but not affecting the automatic systems.

"You want to hurry it up, Gramps," Jake Preston's slow draw sounded just as the wormhole intersected the cockpit, "Some of us have a little of our youth left to enjoy."

Smart ass punk. Little was about to retort when the wormhole swallowed him up and he felt a brief charge, then a rush, and then everything went freezing cold as the light from the other side blinded him.

The first thing he saw was tree limbs brushing right up against the cockpit, and Brad Little swore to himself as he kicked in the vertical thrusters and pushed straight up. The Orca rose up, quickly scraping past the branches to the open sky just as he recieved a warning tone from below.

<Preston's not giving me a lot of room,> Little through dryly as he pushed the thrusters open and swiveled out and around.

Preston's Orca rose up swiftly, pausing to hover for a moment as the pilot suveyed the area.

"Looks pretty quiet, Gramps," Preston's voice said after a moment. "Not too much like what I'd expect Ireland to be."

"Ireland with no people, Big Dog," Little replied, using Preston's call sign. "You want to move over and let Bird Dog up for a look see."

"Yes, Please, Jake," Billy Guthrie's voice sounded amused as she appeared from the Gate. "You know how much I prefer being on top."

Jake chuckled as he slid his Orca clear, letting the scout Orca climb up so Bird Dog could get her advanced scanners into play. "A man's got a right to change things up once in a while, Bird Dog."

"And what fool told you that, Jake?" Billie asked, a grin in her voice. "Someone's trying to get you in trouble."

"Bird Dog," Gramps cut in, "Anything on scanners?"

"Nothing, we're clear. Doesn't looks to be anything advanced enough to register within a thousand miles."

"That sounds just fine. Signal the teams that we've got the site covered," Little ordered, "And lets settle in for the wait."

"Yes Sir," Guthrie replied, opening a channel. "Site is clear, send the Engineer team through."

A few moments after she spoke the gate disgorged the first of the engineering team, and they immediately began to spread around and start taking down the trees with chain saws and explosives. Within ten minutes there was a hundred foot radius around the gate cleared, and a new team was in place with tunneling crystals.

APCs rolled through, moving around to the back of the gate with more digging equipment and heavy machinery. Powerful dozers started clearing the trees, piling them up to the side as more teams worked on clearing the site.

On the other side of the wormhole Xander watched as more men poured through the gate. Most of the fighters were still on Avalon's side, the engineering teams working with a minimal security presence, but that was necessary. There was no room for a full military presence yet, and the intial reports were good. Xander just hoped that it stayed that way, at least until they got the base site ready.

"Team Lead reports that the tunneling crystals have cleared out a hundred cubic feet, excess energy has been channeled into the capacitors." Grey said, looking at the flimsy in his hand. They were still receiving nearly real time updates from the other side. "We'll be able to start moving the Cadre and Knights through in twenty four hours."

"Good. Are the two APCs ready, General?"

"Yes Sir," Grey grumbled, still not liking that aspect of the plan.

"Tell my team that we'll be moving out in ten minutes."

"Yes Sir."

Xander stepped onto the flight deck in field clothes, walking immediately over to where an Orca Dropship lay in pieces. He raised an eyebrow in surprise, looking it over, then noted that Willow was the one supervising the work.

"What's going on here?"

She looked up, smiling at him, "Hey Xander. Grey wanted to make sure you had the best support. We'll have the Spooky Too through the gate right after you, with it's boosters, it'll be able to provide fast support almost anywhere on the planet within a few minutes."

Xander tilted his head, looking at the massive boosters that had been pulled off the airframe and laid out on gravplates for transport. "It's... impressive."

And it was, it was no mean feat dismantling one of those large dropships, since unlike the smaller APCs, fighters, and bombers they were never actually intended to be gate compatible.

"We've also got too payload modules for it as backup," Willow said, "and we're preparing more. Tara's checking the hospital module now, and McQueen is looking over the Specter module. I've prepped them myself, Xander."

Xander looked over at Willow, then nodded curtly. "Thank you."

"It's the least I could do, Xander," She told him seriously, "Be safe, ok?"

"As much as I can."

She smiled slightly, shaking her head. "I suppose that's the best I'm going to get, isn't it?"

Xander nodded.

"I'm shifting to the base site as soon as the repair modules are moved over," She said then.

"Willow, it's too dangerous..."

"The base site, Xander." Willow said firmly, resolve showing.

Xander sighed, "Alright. I'll see you on the other side then."

He turned away from the woman half his men considered a miracle worker, and the other half called a saint, then glanced back. "Love you."

"Love you too, Xan." Willow smiled softly, nodding.

Xander turned on his heel and headed to another section of the bay. He quickly found Stephanie standing by the ready position where his primary scout/strike team was preparing along side Whitmore's diplomatic envoy. He nodded to the blue dragon, then glanced over the crew as they finished tossing gear aboard the APCs.

"Are we ready?"

"As we're going to get," Dawn said simply.

Beth nodded in agreement, "I wish you guys could bring heavy armor though."

"Not enough power in the suits for a long term deployment, we'll use them closer in to the base at first." Xander said, "We'll make due with projection systems."

Beth sighed, but nodded in agreement as Faith shrugged off a heavy bag an easy movement. "So we all here?"

Xander glanced around, nodding. "Faith, Beth, myself, Dawn, Cordelia, and Jarod..."

He frowned, "Jarod?"

"Right here." The older man said, ducking his head out of the APC. "We're ready to move."

"Good. Tom?"

"My team is ready, Sir." Whitmore said calmly.

Xander noted that Jacks and Vin were by his side, and Andrea Price had apparently made the trip back from Prosperity. "I didn't know you'd been called in, Andrea."

"I rearranged the shifts," She said wryly, "a benefit of being in charge."

Xander chuckled, but nodded. "Well keep him safe. Stephanie, you'll be with Whitmore's team, provide an introduction for them while my group gets eyes on with where you ran into trouble."

The dragon nodded curtly, "I will do as you ask... What are you intending."

"Soft scout to start," Xander replied, "My team is going to get eyes on the adversaries and report back. We've got heavily stealthed gear, we should be able to sneak in and send back enough intel to start developing a real plan of action."

"I did not believe that scout work was normally the duty of the Commander."

"It's not," Whitmore said, chuckling.

Xander shrugged, "This is more of a... quiet raid. Commanders do raids, right?"

"Someone's been reading too much L Ron Hubbard," Tom Whitmore shook his head wryly. "Just don't get your head blown off."

"I am rather attached to it," Xander replied with a smirk, "besides, I called in Paige. She's coming too."

"Nice to know."

Xander half turned, smiling to see the witch approach. She was dressed in standard field gear, including light armor and weapons, causing Xander to whistle appreciatively, which earned him a slap from Beth, then Faith, and finally Dawn.

"Ow! Hey, what the hell?" Xander glared at Dawn, "I get why Beth hit me, and Faith just likes being abusive, but what the hell is up with you?"

"Didn't want to feel left out." Dawn shrugged, smirking, "Besides, it was fun."

Xander sighed heavily, then slung his bag up to where Jarod was smirking as well. The older man caught the back with an explosion of air, then glared down at Xander.

"Pack my gear, labrat," Xander said tiredly, "I need to get out in the field, where I'm the one dispensing the abuse."

"Raider One and Envoy One show green across the board, request go authorization."

General Grey grimaced, but nodded as he leaned forward, "Granted. You are Go for gate transition."

The Marine General sighed, leaning back as the first APC hovered off the deck and turned into the gate, transitioning smoothly. The second followed, then went the blue dragon, then Drake and Geoff. Grey nodded to the questioning look, and a line of Orca Fighters followed suit.

When they were gone, the gate shut down and Grey shook his head.

"Grey to Ticonderoga."

"Ticonderoga here."

"How are the repairs on the slip drive coming?"

"As per the commanders orders, they now have the highest priority. There is no ETA to completion."

"Thank you."

"Tico out."

Grey sat back tiredly.

Universe Delta Victor

Stephanie shivered as she exited the gate, ice crystals actually forming on her snout as she shook violently.

"Hey move it!"

She snapped around, glaring at Geoff as he dropped of Drake's back, the human just rolling his eyes as he walked under her head.

"You're blocking the path, lady," He said, pointing back.

She looked back at the Gate, then jumped out of the way as another fighter emerged right behind them.

As she and the others moved out of the way Stephanie looked around in shock, seeing the sheer amount of work going on around her. There was actually heavy equipment shoving large tree trucks around, even a heavy flier actually lifting entire trees out of the area as men set up what looked like some sort of small buildings.

"Defense emplacements." Geoff said, noting where she was looking.


"Those are autoguns." He said, "Ground to air systems. Once they've got those hooked up anything that flies within eight hundred miles of here is fresh meat."

Stephanie stared at him in shock, "What?"

"You think we'd setup shop here without putting in full defensive systems?" Geoff shrugged, "It's the Knighthood, lady... Not Suckers Are Us. Come on, we've got to get with Whitmore's APC before they head south."

Stephanie nodded jerkily, turning to follow the Knight and the Dragon as they headed toward the waiting APC. She flinched as a voice echoed over her ear, barely resisting the urge to scratch at the device attached to her scalp.

"This is Envoy One calling Envoy Escort. Check in."

"Escort Lead here, I'm heading over." Drake said calmly, lumbering over toward the APC.

Geoff nodded, "Escort Team, by the numbers."

"Escort Two here."

"Escort Three here. We're prepped."

"Alright, by the numbers Escort Wing. Drake and I will take point, Two and Three flank Envoy One." Geoff said, reaching up to pull himself bodily onto Drake's back. "Envoy One, we're clear to go."

"Roger Escort One, moving out."

The small convoy of fliers lifted off the ground and turned south as another slowly formed up behind. Xander Harris watched them go from the side seat of the APC.

"Good luck, Tom," he said softly before nodding to Jarod in the pilot's seat. "Alright. Let's get moving."

Jarod nodded, lifting the APC up as three Orca's closed around them. They group turned to the East and accelerated away from the camp, climbing rapidly.

"Stealth systems on full... Engaging Orbital thrusters." Jarod said over the tactical channel, "In Three... Two... one..."

Together, the entire group fired their modular thrusters, tipping their noses up as they flashed into the sky.

Behind them, work continued with a frenzy as the gate flashed into existence again and continued to disgorge equipment and personnel.

The Knighthood had come to Dragon Valley.

Beyond the Emerald Iles, lay things they didn't know, but each of them knew one thing with certainty.

Where the Knights, Cadre, and Crusaders walked... War was soon to follow.

They knew that they were not the Harbingers of war, but it's Dogs, and to a man... they were satisfied with that lot in life.

"Hey!" Willow snapped, her face tight and angry, "be careful with that, we don't have any spares on this side!"

The two workmen who'd been transporting the dorsal thruster for the Spooky Too flinched, quickly getting it back under control from where it had been tilting dangerously.

"Sorry Ma'am."

"Xander and the others may need that ship," She growled, "you break it, you get to lug the airframe to where ever it's needed. On your backs, am I quite clear?"

"Y... Yes Ma'am." They both nodded quickly and began to move the thruster unit much more carefully.

"Touchy touchy, Ms Rosenberg."

Willow spun, smiling quickly when she recognized the man walking up behind her. "Oh, sorry you had to hear that Kevin. Are you and Sean ready?"

Kevin Griffen nodded, "We're raring to go, ma'am. How's Spooky coming?"

"I'll have her together and ready to breathe fire in three hours," Willow promised, "You should be able to get into position to support either group shortly after."

Kevin nodded, "We'll be ready, Ma'am."

"Good, now if you'll excuse me..." Willow turned and strode back toward the hulking airframe as it rested on the ground some distance away.

Kevin just watched as she walked, shaking his head.

Times had changed since he'd signed on with this group, he reflected. From scrounging for second hand equipment to fill out the ranks, using whatever they could find in some cases, to this. Kevin looked over the Spooky Too as the teams swarmed over the converted heavy lifter and half smiled.

He'd come a long way too, of course. From flying bombers to fighters, and now full circle again in a way.

He turned back to where the temporary flight housing was located and headed there to let Sean know that they'd be in the air soon enough.

He just hoped that things went as smoothly elsewhere.

USS New Orleans

Steve St Wolf strode into the large compartment that had been claimed by the unit armorer he'd drafted for the mission, ignoring everyone else as he walked right up to the man and stopped in front of the mountain of materials built in front of the woman.

"Talk to me."

"I've got eight suits converted, eight hundred more to go, what the hell do you want, Wolf?" She snarled, irritated to no end.

Steve just smiled, "I'll take the eight, and any Rad gear you recommend."

"I've got nothing here that'll help you," She said, shaking her head. "This wasn't a post-nuke mission."

"Put the order in the message queue for whatever you need," He told her, "We'll pick it up on a scheduled resupply."

She nodded curtly, then pointed to a rack of armor that was the only neat section in the entire room. "That's your armor. Take it and get out of here."

Steve grinned, nodded, then waved to the armor. The armorer watched as the Wanderer's team stepped over calmly and retrieved the gear without comment. When they were done, he just nodded once, and smiled.

"Catch you later."

Then he turned on his heel and walked out.

"Dobrey Viche." She cursed, "What a pain."

She looked around, seeing everyone looking at her, "What the hell are you people staring at? Get back to work, these suits won't take the new Anti-Rad signatures by themselves!"

The Charmed Sisters swallowed as they watched the core group of Section Seven appear, fully armored, on the deck where they'd laid out the protective wards. Steve St Wolf nodded genially to him, but they could see the dark steel in his eyes.

Behind him, Xander Harris was cinching the last connector on his armor as he made sure his blade was solidly strapped to his back. Beside him, Cordelia Chase scowled tiredly as she looked at the Helm she'd been issued.

"This is so going to mess up my hair."

"You want it falling out from the radiation?" Xander asked, smirking.

Cordy shot him a shocked look, then quickly put the helm on.

"That was cruel." Gabrielle whispered while Cordelia was distracted.

Xander just shrugged and tried not to smile, "I can't slap her back, so I'll settle for what I can get."

The Queen of the Amazon Nation just smiled as she leaned back away from the consort of her Warrior Princess. She dearly loved Cordelia, and had no intention of letting up on her own occasional pop to the back of Xander's head when he was smarting off, but at least he was showing some spine and fighting back anyway he could. The helm had no effect on the Anti-Rad signatures that had been coded into the armor, of course, since the effect was spell based. It protected the wearer, weather they had the helm on or not.

Gabrielle made a note to reprimand Cordelia for not having read the specs as she knew Xander must have done. The Warrior Queen of the Nation should know more about the armor she was required to use, after all.

"Are we ready?" Steve asked, not looking around.

The trio of witches nodded, "We can send you there..."

"Good." Steve's cocked an eyebrow as he looked back.

Buffy, Oz, Willow, and Amy were armored up behind him, as was Sonya though he knew that her armor wasn't rad proofed. "Sonya..."

"I'll survive." She said dryly, "And if you think I'm sitting this one out..."

Steve snorted, but nodded. "Fine. Robin, what are you doing here?"

"If you think I'm leaving my Lady to go into this alone, you're quite mad Steve." Robin Goodfellow smirked. "Besides, a little nuke here and there never hurt anyone. Or me, at least."

Steve sighed, shaking his head. "Shaw?"

Shawukay Redarrow was NOT in armor, but she was standing by the edge of the circle with sword in hand. "I am coming, Steven. In my discussions with those of Elfhame I have learned much about the modern world, including the fact that there are certain common spells that protect one against radiation. I will be fine."

"Alright, let's just do this." Steve said, giving up outwardly, though in reality he knew enough to trust his team and take their word for their capabilities.

They stepped into the circle, the three charmed ones arrayed around them, and a charge of power filled the air as the sisters began to chant.

Knighthood Basecamp, Northern Ireland

Lt General Eugene Irwin looked over the rough hewn rock that made up the walls of his Command Center and shook his head. It had taken only minutes to dig out the room, then only a few more to get the basics of the CnC into place, but it would be hours more before they were really operational.

"Report on Positioning." He ordered.

"We have... Three known points now in the EM field," Kate Libby said, looking up.

"That's good for 30 yards, Ms Libby." Irwin said, walking over, "I assume you're using the Poles. Where's point three?"

"Electromagnet scarring of the planet's EM field in California, Sir." Kate rplied, "It's recent, and it looks like nuclear detonations. Bird Dog pinpointed it for us, and that gives us three points to plot from."

"Get me Six, Libby." Irwin ordered.

"Working on it, Sir... Yes!" Kate grinned fiercely. "The Celtic Nexus is right where it should be. That's four."

"That's good for ten feet, I want it under three inches." Irwin replied.

"You'll have it," She promised, "Still scouting."

"Good Girl. Go get em."

Normally, Kate would have chafed, to say the least, under that kind of comment, but she knew that from Irwin is didn't mean anything overtly chauvinistic. He said much the same thing to male techs as well, minus the 'girl' of course. She still didn't like it, but she was willing to cut him some slack, particularly given that the work she was doing was taking everything she had, and then some.

"I need some more data points, Nikon." She growled.

The young black man closed his eyes and began rattling off numbers faster than anyone could have looked them up.

"Atlantis..." He said, along with the coordinates.

"Negative. Not there."

"South China Sea, Lemuria."

"Nada, Nikon. Something natural..."

"Mount Kilimanjaro..." Nikon said, rattling off another set of numbers.

"One sec... ok, it's there. We've got a Ley Nexus where expected. That's point Five!" Kate grinned. "We're down to 2 feet... One more to go."

Irwin settled back, letting them work as he watched the plotted points of the Commander, and Mr Whitmore's, convoys. The Commander was headed right for the nuke detonations they were now using as part of the Knighthood's Positioning database, which Irwin didn't like much but had little to say about.

<Impulsive, Kid.> He thought dryly, shaking his head.

It was strange, having one of the Operators being the guy in charge. At least the kid was willing to listen to oversight, and knew enough to know that the guy watching often knew something he didn't. Still, it was clumsy sometimes...

Orbital Space


"What is Bird Dog?" Xander Harris responded over the fold comm

"I'm reading some strange stuff here."

"Stranger than the nukes?"

"Yes Sir. I think I'm getting radio traffic on USAF frequencies." Billie Guthrie said, surprised, "And I'm pretty damn sure that someone's got a Sat Network in orbit here."

Xander whistled, "Ok... that's interesting. You recognize the birds?"

"No Sir."

"Plot em, send telemetry back to base camp. We'll have to take them out if they're hostile."

West Coast, North America

"Son of a BITCH!" Cameron Mitchell cursed as he wheeled his damaged 302 around, sweeping back in toward the hostile ships as they finished lifting off and began to calmly leave the area. "You think you can just nuke this place and get away with it!?"

Two of them broke off, sweeping in his direction, and Mitchell targetted them quickly. His thumb flipped up the missile release safety, then jammed down hard on the stud and didn't let go. Inside the 302 the mechanism whirred to life, spitting missiles out into the air in rapid fire, emptying his partially depleted magazine in a few seconds and sending five birds down range in a hurry.

The missiles roared away, but Mitchell stayed on their tail as he lined up his forward cannon and blazed in like a gunfighter of old.

They slammed home as his cannon rounds peppered the ship's shields, overloading both in a pyrotechnic display that blanked out the sky. Cameron pulled up hard to the left, banking his 302 away from the explosion as four more ships broke away from the convoy and came at him.

"Great, now I get your attentions..." Mitchell muttered, shaking his head as he keyed in a series of commands. "Missiles... depleted. Cannon rounds... almost out... Airframe is stressed... and I think that nuke did more damage to my control systems than I thought. Cam, you've done some boneheaded things in the past but this takes the cake..."

He fired his reactor to full as the enemy opened fire, pulling up hard, evading the barrage of shots as his 302 swept upward in a hard loop. The enemy followed, actually gaining on him he noted as the pressure of the move pushed him back into the seat. Cameron killed his reactors, hitting the thrusters hard to flip his craft around, then fired the main thrust again. His loop tightened, sweeping his 302 around inside the enemy, and lined them up in his cannon sights.

"Bye bye," He whispered, emptying his cannons into them.

One went down hard, another began smoking, but the weapon fired dry as the stressed metal of Mitchell's 302 screamed around him and the two remaining completed their loop to bring him into their sights.

"Damn." Mitchell whispered, hands already working the controls to evade, though he knew it was too late.

A second barrage of cannon fire, followed by a salvo of missiles fell from the sky in that instant before they could open fire and Mitchell blinked as his radio crackled to life.

"Blue Lead, this is Green Lead. Climb to Angels Thirty and turn to course three two mark twelve to rendezvous with the New Orleans."

Mitchell swallowed, pulling up on the stick. His 302 immediately voiced it's objection in a squeal of metal tearing, and Cam shook his head.

"Negative, Green lead. Blue Lead is declaring an emergency..." Cameron said, his voice knowingly echoing the calm of his wingman's earlier. "Do me a favor, Greens... kick some ass, and get someone up here to pick me and Fergy up, ok?"

Green Lead watched from the cockpit of his 302 as Cameron Mitchell's fighter went down smoking, plowing into the mountainside and grimaced.

"You got it, Blue Lead." He said, shaking his head. "You got. Greens... let's take these bastards to school."

The Squadron wheeled around, turning to meet the ships that were turning to leave the main group on a clear engagement course. "Stay tight, stay sharp. We can take these guys."

"New contacts!"

Green Lead swore, checking his scopes quickly. The new contacts were inbound fast, and looked surprisingly big for being within the atmosphere. "Great. Green lead to New Orleans, we've got more trouble inbound. Status on remaining Blues?"

"Reforming now, they'll be in position in three minutes."

"We might have that long."

"We have an element on the ground, Green Lead. We need air superiority in that area."

"Element on the...? How the F-...!?"

"Need to know. They're there, give them a friendly ceiling to work under."

"Jesus... Fine. Greens, we've got company coming and friendlies on the ground. Roll out the welcome mats, we're entertaining tonight."

Orbital Space

"Someone is wholly and truly pissed off down there, Boss man." Billie said, shaking her head. "I've got multiple nuke detonations, conventional explosions, energy weapon signatures, reactor blow outs, and a whole slew of mayday squeals."

"Any luck breaking the cypher on the comm chatter?" Xander asked, looking over the screens.

"No go on that one," Billie replied, "It looks Air Force, but not our Air Force. Much more sophisticated, and without one of Merl's back doors cracking it will take time."

"Well... We've got... what? Three different tech signatures in the area, plus dragon sign." Xander shook his head, "And I'm pretty sure that pulse we registered was a magical signature. Probably Dragon magic, but it looked almost like a transport spell... just way tighter packed than any I've seen. That makes, what... at least two... maybe as many as four combatant groups down there? Jesus, what a mess."

Jarod looked over at him, "We're going to help them?"

"Help who?" Xander muttered, shaking his head as he looked over the scrolling pages of data feeding from Billie's Orca and it's scout pods. "We're lightly equipped, Jarod... more scout than raid, and you know it. We need more intel."

Jarod nodded reluctantly, leaning over to look at the map. "What about there... that plateau over the valley?"

Xander tapped it, then called Billie up again, "I need a local radiation scan, Bird Dog. How bad is it?"

"Pretty clean, Sir. Nukes are airbursts, and they don't seem to be particularly dirty. Nothing armor projectors can't handle... even without em, you'd survive more than long enough to get back to treatment." Guthrie replied.

"Alright, we're going in." Xander said, "Bird Dog, you get overwatch. Get down around those mountain peaks and tuck yourself in for the duration. Big Dog, Gramps, close air support as needed. Find a hidey hole and wait for orders."

The Orca pilots confirmed quickly as Jarod began to drop the orca transport slowly out of orbital space and back into the atmosphere.

West Coast, North America

The crack of thunder and smell of ozone would normally be the sign of a lightning strike, but this time the sky was clear save for the smoke and fire, and the origin was on the ground. Air exploded outward from the center of the disturbance, kicking up dust and leaves as it was displaced by the arrival of the travellers.

The group found themselves standing at the mouth of a valley, looking north to the devastation that awaited them.

The mushroom clouds still hung in the air, dissipating but still recognizable as they watched, and occasional flashes of light marked the fighting that was still going on.

They stood silent for a moment, then the lead figure spoke.

"Radiation's low here. Looks like clean bombs," Steve St Wolf said, sliding his Helm off and cradling it under his arm.

The others did the same, shaking their hair loose or pushing it back as they too looked North.

"Goddess." Cordelia and Willow both whispered, shocked.

Gabrielle and Sonya were less shocked, but both were sickened by the sight of the clouds. Oz maintained his customary equanimity, though those who knew him... which was everyone present, could see the dark emotions in his eyes and body.

Robin, for his part, looked a little bored at first, then more concerned with Amy's sick look than anything going on to the North. He cradled her tightly, whispering words no one else heard.

Only Steve and, to a lesser extent Xander, seemed unaffected but that was a fallacy anyone who knew them... which, again, was everyone present, could see through instantly.

Steve had seen worse in his time, and had learned that to lead one didn't let the troops see you emotional. Xander, well, he'd seen worse as well... if only in his dreams.

"Alright, we've got to unass this LZ," Steve declared after a moment, "Looks like about... five miles north to where Blue Two went down..."

He paused, head cocking slightly as new information came over the radio. He quickly slid his Helm back on, linking into the tactical network through it's Heads Up Display.

"Great." He said a moment later, "Another one down. We need to get closer and confirm that the Rads are low enough to bring in more people. Let's move guys."

"You heard him," Xander echoed, shouldering his rifle. "Time to move out."

Gabrielle echoed the sentiment as everyone quickly loaded up and followed as Steve St Wolf hopped down from the ledge they'd arrived on and made his way into the woods, heading deeper into the valley.

Fragnar groaned as he moved, the ancient dragon not having felt pain of that nature in hundreds of years or more. He'd actually been *burnt*, something that he had never before experienced. Fire was his friend, his ally, it didn't burn him.

The old drake clawed his way to the top of the ridge he'd crashed into, looking out over the valley below, and nearly wept for what he saw.

Bones of his people, charred flesh of the valiant Blues who'd unleashed their lightning on the invaders. They were not of fire, as he was, and had not fared so well. The greens were gone as well, full ten percent of the entire Valley's standing guard.

They had never had a loss like this before...

Not since the home worlds.

And he, Fragnar, had led them to it.

The ancient Golden dragon wept for the horror of it all, his own physical pain nothing in comparison.

Who were they, these invaders? Why did they do this? Why come here anyway?


The simplest question known, yet often the most impossible to answer.

Fragnar roared into the mountain air, his pain and his rage quaking the ancient stone of the mountains as he did. Then the old drake collapsed to the earth and fell very still as he continued to labor merely to breath.

The transport touched down lightly at the north end of the valley, the mushroom clouds to the south looking horrific even as they slowly broke up. Xander watched them for a moment as the gear was unloaded, then turned back just as Faith jumped back from the transport in shock, cursing.

"Jesus Christ!"

They all swept their weapons up, aiming at the transport as Faith fell back on her ass, then relaxed as they recognized the cause.

"Mikki!?" Xander growled, holstering his pistol. "You're supposed to be with Jacks team! What the hell are you doing here??"

The young woman uncurled from where she'd been hiding, yawning comfortably, and then gazed evenly at him.

"Jacks take care of self. You, need help." She said, shrugging easily as she dropped to the ground.

Xander grimaced at the snickers, and glared at Faith, "Don't. Say. A. Word."

IFV Grendlesbane

"Incoming Magg vessels!"

Over Captain Smytheson swore, lips tight back over his teeth. "Damn those monkeys! Can't they keep their squashed snouts out of human business just one time!?"

Smythson looked over the numbers and shook his head. Against both the Maggs and these newcomers it would be tight, too tight. He had to pull back, the entire situation was getting completely out of hand.

Element 183 was valuable, but enough to fight a three sided war? Perhaps four sided, given the odd technical signatures of the latest comers to the party.

"Begin drawing back!" He ordered, grimacing as he did. "We don't want to be caught in a cross between them."

"The base transports are still in the area, Sir!"

"Tell them to get out of here as fast as they can, damn it!" Smytheson growled, "The Grendlesbane will cover their retreat."

"Aye Sir."

"The General was right. The Reigan have been forced into retreat, we can finish them off now."

"Prefect, Sir, I'm detecting several Non-Reigan craft!"

"Match the profiles."

"There are no known matches in our database."

The Prefect snarled, "Threat level?"

"Medium. Highly advanced powerplant, no energy weapons we can detect. There is evidence of more common human weapons in the area... chemical detection is consistent with conventional human military explosives."

"Very odd." The Prefect said, frowning.

On the one side, the reactor signature were, as his people had said, quite advanced. Those weapons signatures, though... He checked the numbers himself and frowned. Not quite conventional, at least not a perfect match. The chemical signatures was close, but the composition was somewhat more advanced than conventional military usage.

Still, if that was all they were using it would give him a significant technical advantage.

"Mark them as hostile," The Magg Prefect said after a moment, "And continue scanning for more advanced weaponry."

"Yes Sir."

"Boss Man, this is Bird Dog."

"Go, Bird Dog."

Billie Guthrie eased her Orca around the peak of the mountain, keeping just the tip of her sensor pod unmasked as she spoke.

"We've got more bogies inbound. Fast Movers and Big Floaters."


"Don't think so, Boss Man. Different tech signature.... these guys match the one that shot up LA."

"Well, at least we know they're here."

"I'm overjoyed Sir." Guthrie replied dryly. "Orders?"

"Stay masked, This is about intel, bird Dog."

"Singing my song, Boss man."

"Thought you'd know the tune. We're moving south, closest mayday squeal is just a couple miles from here. We'll keep you updated."

Xander closed the connection and shouldered his M41, nodding to the others. "Alright, let's make our way down to the source of that mayday call. Keep undercover as much as possible and don't draw attention. If we can pull a survivor out of this mess maybe we can get some decent intel while doing a good deed."

Faith snorted, "Yeah right, Boytoy. No good deed goes unpunished."

Xander rolled his eyes, "Tell me about it. I took you in once and I've been paying for it ever since."


The group chuckled at Faith's expense and Xander nodded down the valley. "Come on, let's get moving."

They headed out, Faith still grumbling quietly, quickly making their way down the mountainside and into the trees.

Steve St Wolf paused for a moment, nodding ahead. "We'll have to detour, I don't want to walk through Ground Zero."

"I can agree with that," Sonya muttered, shaking her head. "Where are the closest Mayday signals?"

"We've got one about four miles ahead, the other is past that." Steve replied, "Let's keep under cover. There's too much fighting going on in the air still, I'd rather get our men out of there and be gone before anyone knows we were here."

"Why Steve," Xander grinned, "I never knew you were such an optimist."

"Keep it up, smart mouth," Steve replied, "You're on drag. Sonya, take point."

Sonya nodded, moving up front as the group made their way past Xander who sighed.

"Story of my life," He said with a rueful smile, his eyes dropping to the retreating backsides of the many hotties he worked with. "God I love my life."

Xander took up drag then, eyes returning to their previously professional level as he moved in pace with the group.

"We're reading distress signals, Prefect."

The Kromagg nodded, "And the Reigan?"

"They are retreating, Prefect."

"Detach four light fighters to investigate the source of the signals, order them to bring any survivors back for interrogation."

"Yes, Prefect."

"The rest of us will proceed on mission to harass the Reigan convoy."

"It's a 302, alright." Jarod said as Xander kicked over a shattered piece of armor plating. "A little more advanced than our Air Force has though."

"How can you tell?" Beth asked, picking up a piece of something and flicking it over her shoulder.

"The circuitry is based more on Ancient technology than our Air Force uses," Jarod answered seriously, "I wonder how they were able to interface the design into..."

"Alright, I believe you," Beth held up her hands, "I was just saying, you know... it's pretty busted up."

"Huh?" Jarod blinked, looking down at her. "What?"

Beth groaned, pinching her nose. "Never mind. It's more advanced, ok."

Faith and Xander exchanged smirks as they listened in, but were distracted when Mikki appeared from the trees.

"Find anything?"

"Scent stronger over there," She pointed. "Still living. Blood in the air."

"Human?" Dawn asked, glancing up.

Mikki nodded.

"Damn." Dawn sighed, "Alright, I guess we still want to save em?"

Xander looked at her sourly, "You need to stop thinking about spell components so much, Dawn. You're starting to creep *me* out."

She just smiled slightly and shrugged.

"Yeah, right." Xander sighed, "Alright, come on. Mik, scout ahead... Faith you have point. Beth, take up rear guard. Jarod, forget the wreck, we've got work to do."

Jarod nodded, hopping down from the smoldering wreck. "Let's go then."

"Boss man, This is Bird Dog."

The group paused as Xander held up his hand, "Go ahead, Bird Dog."

"The newcomers have detached four smaller craft that are heading your way. Big Dog and Gramps are requesting permission to splash them."

"Negative, hold off." Xander said, "We're under cover here, let's see what they're up to."

"Affirmative, Boss Man. Good luck."

"Thanks," Xander said, cutting the connection. He looked around at the group, "Company coming. Let's get moving. Mik, find me that survivor."

Mikki nodded, then turned and dashed off into the woods as the group followed quickly.

Jake Preston twitched in his seat as he maintained the position of his Orca, actually hovering under an overhang at a sheer cliff face. He was watching the data Guthrie was sending him and wanted nothing more than to mix it up with the bastards who'd shot up LA, but orders were orders.

There were two other groups out there, by the data, and they didn't really know who's side any of them were on other than the ones they assumed were the Maggs. Those guys were gonna fry, Jake knew, but he had to admit he wasn't keen on getting into a shooting fight with anyone non-hostile.

He keyed in the lock anyway, haloing the four birds that were approaching the Commander's position.

On the word, he and Little would turn those bastards into the stuff craters were made of.

"Here maggy, maggy, maggy..." He whispered softly, "Come to daddy you sons of bitches."


The taciturn werewolf nodded at the single word and nod from Steve, loping forward to pass Sonya. He paused a few dozen yards ahead and knelt down, sniffing the air carefully. After a moment he rose up and returned.

"Death in the air." He said quietly.

Steve raised an eyebrow, and Oz just shrugged.

"Someone detonated a series of nukes, Oz," Xander said wryly as he approached from the back. "Death is a common byproduct."

Oz nodded, "Yes. I know."

The werewolf looked distressed, as much as he ever did, and he shook himself slightly until Willow came up. "Are you ok?"

"I'll be fine. It's just..."

"Cold." Sonya said quietly.

Oz nodded, "But hot too. Searing."

Sonya frowned, shaking her head, "I don't feel that. I just feel the cold of so many recently deceased. You only feel it after a massacre... when the spirits of the dead are confused, trapped."

"And on that cheerful note," Cordelia interjected, nodding to the North, "Is it just me or are there a couple planes turning this way?"

The group looked up, peering into the distance, and Buffy was the first to nod.

"She's right. They're not those three oh threes either."

"Three Oh Twos," Steve, Xander, and Oz corrected automatically.

"Whatever." Buffy shrugged, "The point is, they're not ours and they're definitely coming this way."

Steve nodded, "under cover. Now."

The group broke, heading for the trees as the ships began to close.

Faith frowned as she came around a bend and nearly tripped over Mikki.

"Jeez, Kit, what the hell...?"

The young Lycanthrope shrugged, then pointed up.

Faith frowned, then looked slowly upwards. Her face fell as her eyes widened, "Oh hell no."

"What is it, Faith?" Xander asked, appearing from behind her.

"This mountain has a lousy decorator."

Xander followed her gaze, and grimaced when he spotted the man swinging from the tree tops about twenty feet up. "Oh. Paige?"

"On it." The witch said, immediately orbing out and reappearing behind the swinging man above them. She wrapped her arms around him, then they both vanished and appeared on the ground near the group. "He's unconscious and badly injured."

Xander nodded, "Do what you can, but don't overstrain yourself, Paige. We may well need you at top form before this is done."

Paige nodded, her lips forming a thin line as she looked over the man and began to tap her power. At first she drew his pain into herself as her hands began to grow, wincing at the second hand pain, analyzing how badly he was hurt, then she began to heal his internal injuries with careful precision.

In a moment she stopped and sat back.


"I'm fine," She said, nodding to Xander. "He's stabilized, lost a lot of blood... but he'll be ok."

"Guys..." Faith hissed, "Incoming."

Xander glanced up, nodded quickly, then he and Faith moved to grab the unconscious man and quickly dragged him deeper into the trees. A low hum began to fill the air as they tucked in tightly under a couple of the larger redwoods.

The injured man groaned, his eyes flickering, and Xander quickly closed a hand over his mouth as they opened suddenly and he began to struggle.

"Shhh...." Xander held one finger up to his lips and pointed up.

The man's eyes shifted, looking up to see glimpses of something passing above the treetops, and he nodded as he stopped struggling. The group watched, their rifles sweeping in sync with the ship as it passed, and they didn't move until the humm had faded.

Xander let go of the man and knelt back a little after smoothly pulling his service pistol from the thigh pouch, then shook his head before looking down again, "So what's your name, flyboy?"

The man blinked, taking in the odd uniforms and gear and then shook his head.

Xander sighed, rolling his eyes, and grabbed the tag chain from the man's neck, pulling them off sharply.


"Ferguson, Bryce J." Xander said, tossing the tags on Bryce's chest. "US Air Force. You're a long way from home, Ferguson, Bryce J."

Bryce groaned as he sat up against the tree, "Damn I hurt."

"Sorry about that," Paige said from behind Xander, "Healing your internal injuries was the best I could do without tapping my reserves..."

"Which I ordered you not to do," Xander shrugged, "He'll live. It's good enough until we can get more resources into the area."

"What the hell are you people talking about?" Bryce growled.

"Long story flyboy," Faith smirked. "Either you get it, or you don't. We don't got time to tell it."

"That's the story of this entire screwed up mission," Bryce muttered darkly.

Xander stepped back, keying his fold comm open, "Bird Dog, Come in."

"Go for Bird Dog," Billie said immediately.

"What's the status on the fight?"

"Primary battle is fifty miles north of your position, looks like it's mostly breaking up. Got some Air Force 302s mixing it up with those Magg ships, and a retreating convoy of unknowns." Guthrie replied, "You've still got four in your area, looks like they're on a search pattern."

"Looking for the downed pilots," Xander responded.

"Probably, but not only by what I see."

"Lay it on me, Bird Dog."

Guthrie paused for a moment, then came back, "I'm sending you a download, Sir. I think that the convoy must have left some people behind."

Xander frowned, drawing out his field comp and examining the download. His eyebrows raised up, "In ground zero? They nuked their own people??"

"Not all of them, but some from the looks of it." Guthrie replied, "The searchers might be aiming to pick some of them up too."

"Great." Xander closed his comp and shook his head. "Alright, Bird Dog... We're going to head for the second mayday signal, vector us there will you?"

"Hang tight... Ok, you're going to have to detour. I'm reading some mild fallout between you and the signal."

"Got it." Xander said, "We're good."

He rose up, glancing down at the Air Force Major, "You good to walk, Major?"

"Do I have a choice?" Ferguson asked dryly.

"Sure," Faith shrugged, "You can walk, or you can wait here for whoever finds you. By my count, it's about three to one that they won't be your people."

"My people? Who the hell are you people??" Bryce demanded as he regained his feet. "By my count, I've already been found by someone who's not with 'my people'."

"Can't argue with that," Dawn shrugged, "So take your chances with us, or not. We don't have time to argue, right Xander?"

Xander gazed at the downed aviator for a moment, considering. "Major, get up and start walking."

Bryce had been in the military long enough to recognize an order when he heard one, and the Air Force Major just sighed. "I guess taking my chances alone isn't an option, huh?"

"Fraid not." Xander said, "I need intel on what kind of clusterfuck my people are getting involved in here, and right now, you're my only canary."

"Ferguson, Bryce J." The Major replied, "Serial Number Four Oh Five..."

"Can that shit." Xander snapped, glaring, "For now, I'm not asking any questions... when I do, you'll talk, Major. Until then, we've got to negotiate our way across a few more miles of rough terrain to see about another Air Force mayday beacon we've detected."

Bruce froze, "Another... who?"

"No clue." Xander shrugged, "but it's us finding them, or the Maggs."

Bryce glanced up to where Xander had jerked this thumb and remembered the distinctly inhuman look of the craft that had flown over them, and shivered. He couldn't swear that these folk were any better, but if there was another 302 pilot down...

Well, Cam was the only other one who'd been in the area when he went down.

"Alright, fine. I can walk."

Xander nodded, "Mikki, scout. Faith, point. Beth, rear guard. Jarod, help the Major... keep up. Let's move."


The group came to a stop when Steve gave the order, and waited as he examined the area ahead of them for a moment. Finally he sighed and shook his head.

"We'll have to go East."

"What?" Gabrielle demanded, "The beacon came from just over there. We're only a mile away."

Steve shook his head, then nodded to a clearing ahead of them. "Look at the ground."

Gabrielle frowned, looking, but it was Sonya who saw it first.

"The birds."

There were dozens of small bodies on the ground, none moving.

Steve nodded, "And I've been seeing a lot of insects and such dead already. The birds just make it official. Let's not put the armor's radiation protection to the acid test if we can avoid it. We'll detour, it won't add more than a couple miles."

Gabrielle nodded in agreement as the rest got ready to move out again.

"I feel the cold now too," Willow said softly as they began to walk.

"So do I." Amy replied.

"It is the souls of the dead," Shawukay said solemnly, "They mean us no harm, say a prayer for their passage as you walk. They will not bother us."

The Vale

The arrival of the military convoy raised only slightly less havoc than the news of invaders in the West. The Guard scrambled quickly, launching themselves into the air as wizards and witches rolled out below.

"Destroy the invaders!"

"Stop! Wait!"

Stephanie flew out ahead, yelling desperately as the guard closed in an attack formation. Behind her they could see the mechanical ships close together, and another dragon enter into a combat formation to counter their own.

The craft came to a hovering stop, however, letting the two dragons fly on ahead as the dragon formation closed with them.

"Stephanie?" The lead Dragon, a large Blue growled, "What are you doing here!?"

"I'll explain it all in a bit," She said in a rush, circling as the Dragons closed around her. "These aren't enemies. They're an emissary group from someone I... met."

The dragons looked at her blankly, then they were distracted by Drake as he flew ahead and joined them.

"Is everything alright, Stephanie?"

"Just wait a minute, Drake."

"Drake?" The lead Blue glared, "I don't know you."

"Drake, son of Draco." Drake responded cooly. "Head of Security for the Whitmore convoy. Now can we approach the Valley, or do we find out who's got the bigger... guns?"

The Blues stared, confused, as the human on the back of the dragon calling himself Drake just groaned and covered his eyes.

They ignored him.

"Draco didn't come over."

"Yeah, we know that." Drake responded, "and we can discuss ancient history later. For now I have two fully armed and twitchy fighters at my back, and a security detail that wants their primary on the ground in a hurry. So can we speed this up a bit?"

The Blue glared, shifting between Stephanie and Drake as they circled each other, then he nodded his head to the ground.

"Land here."

Drake nodded, then wheeled away as the craft behind him began to descend.

Stephanie glared at the blues, then turned to follow Drake.

"I'm sorry for the reception..."

"Don't be." Geoff said to her over the tactical link. "We'd have had a lot less respect for them if they'd let us right into the valley without any preamble. Making us land here is the smart move."

She stared at him, surprised, but Drake just nodded as he grinned in agreement. "This is fine, Stephanie. We planned for this."

She scowled in puzzlement as she followed them down, the wing of dragons coming down with them as flyers were sent back to the Valley. As she landed she watched the humans pour out of the APC, quickly establishing a perimeter and frowned in confusion as she saw their gleaming armor radiantly glowing in the light of day.

<They didn't have that armor when they boarded...>

Two of the armored Knights carried out a large rectangle of material that they set about three feet off the ground and she had to blink again when it stayed in place with no legs to hold it up. As they did that, the man called Whitmore stepped out in the suit she'd expected to see and calmly walked over to the table just as they brought up a chair for him.

He calmly took a seat and settled down to wait.

"Who are these people?"

"We do not know for sure, My Lady."

The powerful Dragon female rose up, growling as she circled the comfortable lair, lost in thought. "You said that the young one invoked the name of Draco."

"He did. He claimed to be the Son of Draco."

"If that is true... then he is from the world of the Kine."

"We cannot know if he spoke the truth."

"And we cannot know that he did not," She growled, glaring at the younger male.

"Lords Fragnar and Smaug are not here to speak for the Valley..."

"I will speak in my Mate's stead," The steel blue matron Drake said coldly, rising up to her full stature. "Are their objections?"

She looked around the large lair, daring any of those present to speak up, but none did.

"Good," Scilla, mate of Fragnar, smiled coldly, showing her teeth. "Marlella, would you care to join me?"

"It would be my pleasure," The mottled black and red female said, rising up. "If we should find that they are lying?"

"If they are to be blamed for the death and misfortune that has fallen our mates and our people?" Scilla asked dryly, "Need you really ask?"

The mate of the Dragon Smaug smiled in return, "Good. Let us go... negotiate."

Outside the Dragon's Den, the small group paused when they saw humans approach. Scilla smiled slightly upon recognizing the leader of the group and nodded to her guards.

"Duncan Macleod of the Clan Macleod," She said dryly, "Come to pose for more photographs?"

Duncan flushed hotly, rubbing his eyes at the mention of photographs, and sighed deeply.

The two dragon females chuckled between themselves, showing their teeth as they grinned at the Scotsman, but Scilla had more important matters on her mind and let him off the hook relatively quickly.

"What brings you here, Clansman Macleod?"

"I came with the Grail Knights as part of the response group," Duncan replied, "Is it true that they've sent an emissary?"

"There is some doubt as to who 'they' are," She told him, looking down at the Immortal.

"We would appreciate it if we were permitted to accompany you as additional guards." Duncan said after a moment.

"We are perfectly capable of guarding our..." One of the younger males snarled.

"Silence." Scilla growled before looking at Duncan again. "Bring no more than ten Knights, Duncan Macleod."

Macleod half bowed, "Thank you, My Lady."

Scilla snorted in amusement as the Highlander turned to leave.

"Oh, and Duncan...?" She called after him.

"Yes?" He glanced back.

"Wear a kilt, won't you?"

Duncan groaned audibly, holding his head as he continued to walk away.

Tom Whitmore watched as the wing of Dragons arrived, this time accompanied by a Mi-24 Hind helicopter.

"Impressive." He said.

"I wonder where they got the chopper, Sir."

Tom half smiled, "From the model, I'd guess Czechoslovakia, Geoff."

"Don't be a smart ass, Sir."

Andrea Price snorted from behind him, but Tom studiously ignored her.

"They obviously have contact with another Earth," He said instead, "Stephanie told us as much. Her namesake came from there, remember?"

Geoff nodded slowly, "Right, Sir. I'd forgotten."

"I didn't." Tom said, "in fact, it's all in the briefing."

Tom keyed on the electronics in the table, bringing up the file in a holographic image that floated over the table. "Sir Stephen St Wolf, husband... or at least boyfriend of Buffy Summers in his world. Leader of a group that includes, at least, Xander Harris and Cordelia Chase."

Geoff closed his eyes, swearing silently, "That's what they were talking about when Drake and I arrived."

Tom glanced back, raising an eyebrow, and Geoff shrugged, "Sorry Sir. Didn't seem important, and I knew Merlin was monitoring everything. I should have looked it up myself."

"Yes well, for now I suppose we accept that we're likely to see a few faces we know," Tom said quietly as he watched the Chopper land and disgorge ten men in black armor that looked like something right out of arthurian legend. They milled around for a moment, brandishing modern firearms and ancient swords, then joined the Dragon's emissary group as they walked forward.

"Well I'm going to leave you to it, Sir." Geoff whispered, stepping back. "Drake and I are going to see if we can dig out a little more info on the side."

"Be subtle." Tom hissed back, putting his best presidential smile forward as he watched the two large Dragons approach his table.

"Subtle. Right..." Drake said as he followed his human friend, stepping away from the table.

Tom decided to ignore that, focusing his intent on the two dragons approaching, and wiped the data files from the table as they settled in across from him.

"Who are you?" The first, a steel blue drake demanded sternly.

"Thomas Whitmore." He replied, nodding, "At your service."

"You would not like to know what service I have in mind for you at the moment, human."

"Well, obviously not all humans are on your black list," Tom said, keeping the smile in place.

"Allies are well regarded, no matter their race."

"Well, that's good to hear. We'd very much like to be allies," Tom responded.

"Yet here we are, suffering attacks from two separate groups with advanced technology," The dragon spat the word, "And here you are... with some very advanced technology."

"We haven't attacked Dragon Valley," Tom replied flatly, "In fact, we were attacked by one of your enemies. At this point we're still gathering intelligence, but it seems that we have at least one enemy in common."

"Is that so?"

"It is."

Thomas Whitmore stared across the table as the two massive dragons stared coldly back, and around them dozens of armed guards and angry dragons watched... and waited to see what would come of it all.

Knighthood Base Camp, Northern Ireland

The stubborn chunk of machinery whirred and whined, but refused to humm as it should, eliciting a series of curses from the techs working on it.

"Damn it, come on..."

"Hand me your wrench, Stevens."

The tech blinked, jumping as Rosenberg appeared at his side like a ghost and nearly fell off the thruster assembly. "Jesus... I mean... Ma'am."

She spared him a wry smile, taking the wrench from his hand, and glared at the thruster before delivering a swift crack across one part of the casing with the wrench. The whirring smoothed out as the thruster hummed fully to life, spitting blue fire to the ground below.


Willow shook her head and traced a simple knotted pattern in the assembly with her fingers, the lines glowing as they passed, and then finally whispered a word under her breath. The traced symbol glowed for a moment, then faded out until only a red rune was left in it's place.

Willow climbed down off the machine, grabbing a towel to clean her hands off as she saw Kevin approaching.

"It's ready." She said.

"I can see that," He said wryly, "I can't help but admire your technique. I remember using the same trick to keep my own birds in the sky. It *will* keep this bird in the sky, right?"

Willow shot him a sour look, but smiled reluctantly as his tone indicated he was joking. "It has my Mark, Kevin."

Kevin nodded.

That was enough.

"And it's much appreciated, Ma'am."

The mark of Willow Rosenberg was much sought after by any Knight heading into the field if they had to place their lives at the vagaries of any machine more complicated than an M41. She'd first gotten into working for the Commander directly, keeping his equipment running, but when she'd gotten truly proficient she'd come to the attention of Andy and his group.

They'd seen the Commander's gear do things it wasn't technically able to do, and went looking for the reason. They found it in Willow Rosenberg. Self proclaimed Will of the Web, Rosenberg's work had tested out to be consistently ten percent higher than the top estimated capabilities of whatever she was working on were listed at.

And her work never failed in the field. Never.

So, despite his amusement at how she got the thruster assembly working, Kevin wasn't about to question her when she said her mark was on the Spooky Too. He was just going to climb on in and get ready to fly.

"We're connecting the hospital module, Kevin." Willow told him as he walked around, sounding apologetic. "I know we'd planned on the Specter gear, but news from the operation site isn't good. A lot of wounded with radiation exposure, and from the initial reports, quite a few dragons too. The fighting is dying down, so we need to get Tara's team in first. Irwin's orders."

Kevin nodded, "I was told, thanks for making sure I knew though. Just make sure the Specter kit is ready and waiting."

"You've got it," She said with a smile.

Kevin smiled back, then swing himself up into the cockpit to begin the pre-flight.

Outside The Vale

"Talk about Knights in shining armor," Duncan said dryly as he hung back with the Knights of the Order, watching intently.

"Bunch of bloomin peacocks iffin you ask me," One of the Knights muttered darkly.

Duncan was prone to agree, he had to admit. The Security on the other side were geared up in some kind of armor that made very little tactical sense, other than perhaps the psychological edge their appearance might bring. However they were a security detail for an emissary, and it was a good bet that they were there was much for looks as combat effectiveness.

"Don't believe it for one second," Another Knight said, shaking his head, either reading Mac's mind or answering his friend. "Those boys are Pros. Look closer at the armor, boy. Tell me what you see."

Mac glanced over, seeing that the second Knight was, in fact, speaking to the first as he handed him a small monocular scope. The first looked for a second then shrugged.

"What? It's some kind of gloss coat on a polished metal."

"Look at the joints."

"What about them?"

"There are none, that's what about them. You see a single jointed section there? In the elbows? Knees? Even the neck?"

There was a long silence, then the first Knight hissed out.

"Damn. What the hell??"

Duncan had pulled out his own small scope and examined the security for the emissary closer. The Knight was right, there was something distinctly strange about that armor.

"Tis unnatural, that's what it is." The Second Knight said, shaking his head. "There's some kind of magic, or very high technology at play there."

"I didn't notice," Duncan admitted, shaking his head as he softly entered the conversation. "Good eye. I wouldn't have seen it if you didn't point it out."

The Knight shrugged, "Wasn't there armor that tipped me off, Mr Macleod. It was their weapons. Those aren't ceremonial weapons, they aren't there to 'look good'. Those rifles, I've never seen their like, but those are battlefield weapons. Heavier caliber than any assault rifles we're carrying too... all except for those two in the back... them, they're carrying something I *do* recognize."

"What are they?" Duncan asked, noting the large artillery strapped to the chests of the two in question.

"Only see one of them before, but it's in the Black Vault at the Order Headquarters. Combat version of a Goa'uld staff weapon." The Knight answered, "Auto-targetting, almost unlimited ammunition, and rated by the Order to take out anything up to, and past, a main battle tank."

Duncan grimaced. That was just perfect.

"Not only that, Sir," A young squire said, leaning over in their direction, "Have you noticed? There's no eye slits in their helms."

"How are they seeing?" Duncan frowned.

"I'll put my money on some kind of Heads up Display, Sir." The Squire answered, "Which means a battle network at least our equal."

Duncan shook his head, then keyed open his radio. "Are you getting all this, Marc?"

"Indeed I am, Duncan. We're putting it together here in case we need to fight these people. Thoughts?"

Duncan glanced at the Knights.

The second shrugged, "I think we can take them here, General. But not cleanly... We'll pay for the ground."

"I concur," Duncan said, his eyes trying to read body language in the soldiers across from him. He failed miserably in all cases, except one. "I can't read the soldiers, Marc... But this Mr Whitmore is perfectly calm and at ease."

"I can't get anything off the dragons," Andrea Pryce compained bitterly from under her armor, "Reading dragon body language was NOT an elective at Quantico... But those guys in armor are dangerous."

"I can read the Dragons, at least a bit," Geoff replied cooly, "And they're seriously pissed off. Keep everyone calm, don't antagonize them."

"Wasn't planning on it," Andrea said even as she rapidly sent out a priority text message across the network that said just that. "I don't like having Mr Whitmore out in the open like this."

"Relax. We've got the scout bird back there, we know everything moving for a hundred miles. There's no threat to him or us, other than the people right here."

"That's not making me feel any better."

West Coast, North America

"It's too quiet."

Steve paused, glancing at Sonya as the ancient Immortal spoke. "It's the nukes, everything still living has gone to ground."

"Maybe." She said, not sounding convinced.

Steve frowned, thinking furiously. His training said that it was the nukes. It was probably the nukes. He took a breath, "Alright. Oz... Robin... scout."

Oz nodded and loped off as Robin blinked out of existence.

"Power spike." Jarod said quietly.

"Armor." Xander ordered, tapping the shield on his left shoulder as the rest followed suit.

Bryce Ferguson nearly jumped out of his own skin as the people 'escorting' him seemed to shimmer for a brief moment, then were encased in a deep black armor the likes of which he'd never seen. "Jesus...!"

"Shh..." The armored form that had just been a man called Jarod held up a finger.

Bryce tried to snap at him, but suddenly found his throat dry as he tried to speak.

Xander ignored the interaction as he intently studied the HUD displayed to him. The spike was magical in origin, and almost off the chart, which wasn't good. He looked around, noting that the trees were thinning out and they had high ground off to the left. He gestured that way, then nodded to Faith.

She nodded in return and they moved quickly to cover behind the large trees, Jarod dragging Ferguson along with him as the man swallowed hard, still trying to clear his throat.

"Anyone see anything?" Xander asked over the network.

"Nada, boytoy."

"Nothing here, Xan."

"It seems quiet."

"Too quiet," Dawn said softly.

"That's the nukes," Xander said automatically.

"Maybe." Dawn said, not sounding convinced.

Robin flashed back in the middle of the group, turning quickly to Steve. "Armored soldiers, just down over the hill. They appear to have one of our pilots as a prisoner."

Steve grimaced, "Alright, show us. Oz, you better come back."

"On my way."

Chapter Three

History teaches that war begins when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap.
- Ronald Reagan

IFV Grendlesbane

Over Captain Smytheson growled as he looked over the numbers. Pushed out of their base of operation, running from the Maggs, those thryce damned newcomers, and the local biologicals. The Admiral had arrived with the task force, however, and things would change...

"Admiral on Deck!"

Smytheson stiffened to attention, saluting the uniformed man as he stepped over.

"Over Captain." The Admiral said in a gravely voice.

"Admiral, Sir."

"I understand you've had some trouble."

Smytheson swallowed, then nodded. "Yes Sir."

"Was it or was it not made clear how important this world is to the war effort?" The Admiral growled, glaring into Smythson's eyes.

"It was sir..."

"Then what in the hell are you doing, running from the fight!?"

"Sir, we were attacked by at least three separate factions and were out numbered..."

"Did I ask for excuses!?" The man snarled, "We have our orders, *Captain*. This world is OURS. Am I understood!?"

"Sir... Yes Sir!"

"Good. There is a mining convoy arriving in two days, I suggest you make plans to ensure it's safety... otherwise, it's your safety that'll be at risk."

"Understood Sir."

Outside The Vale

Scilla of the Vale found herself, much to her surprise and almost against her will, rather liking the human called Whitmore. Marlella beside her seemed to share the same impression, though the prickly Green Drake was rather like her mate in personality and similar to Smaug she expressed liking someone by refraining from eating them. Anything else was an uphill battle.

Still, Scilla knew that Marlella was a sharp judge of character and in many ways wiser than herself or either of their mates. She would share thoughts on the matter with her later, and refrain from making commitments until then.

"Your Draconic friend," Scilla nodded to Drake, "Claims to be the son of Draco. That name is known to us..."

Tom looked pensive as he recalled what he knew about Draco, which was everything Drake had told the Knighthood. He'd had to read up everything they had on Dragons for this mission, after all.

"Drake never knew his father personally," Whitmore said after a moment, "From what I understand his egg was protected by a small group of humans after Draco was killed during a battle several hundred years ago."

Scilla sighed, crackles of electrostatic power crackling along her jaw. "I knew Draco once. I had hoped he yet lived."

Tom tapped a command into the smart surface of the table he sat at, calling up the story of Draco as it had been scanned from ancient tomes. He twisted the images around and slid them along the table to where the two Dragons watched with interest.

"The story..." Tom sighed, "Is rather tragic, I'm afraid. Draco saw the deaths of those dragons who chose remain coming, and took a chance to prevent it. He... chose the wrong human to trust."

"He was an idealistic fool to trust any human," Marcella put in acidically.

Scilla turned to hiss at her friend, but was surprised when the human shrugged simply.

"That may be right," Tom said, "Though I think he was at a point where he really couldn't make things any worse in the long term. He took a chance and was wrong."

Tom looked over to Drake, "Others have taken similar chances and been right."

Scilla snapped her head over, pinning Drake with a stare. "He...?"

"And Geoff. We recruited them some years ago, but they've been together for... a long time." Whitmore said simply.

Scilla forced herself back to the human, focusing her attention on him. "And who... are you?"

"Your people knew us as the Kine'Iende."

Knighthood Base Camp

"Spooky Too, this is Command and Control."

"Go for Spooky." Kevin Griffin said as he flipped over a bank of crystal light switches.

"General Irwin for you, Sir."

Kevin didn't answer he just waited for a moment, until the General came on the line.

"You're cleared to leave, Kevin. I want you in an orbital trajectory until we figure out where to use you best."

"Understood, General."

"Tom Whitmore is in negotiations with the locals now, hopefully we'll get some better intel from that. Good luck."

"Thank you, Sir. Spooky Too... Out."

Kevin glanced over to where Sean was completing the pre-flight. "Ready?"

Sean nodded, "We've got the SAR team loaded, and the Hospital component is secured and ready to roll."

"Excellent," Kevin replied, keying open the intership comm. "This is Griffin. Get ready for orbital maneuvering, ensure that everything is locked down, we may be making a hot landing."

"This is Maclay," Tara Maclay answered softly. "We're ready."

"Alright, let's light the fires."

"All systems ready," Sean responded. "Firing thrusters."

The Spooky rumbled to life as Kevin slowly throttled up. The large craft slowly ruse up, turning in place as Kevin angled around to the right vector, then he began to shift the heavy thrusters into position and pushed the throttles all the way up.

It roared to life and the massive craft began it's long climb from the Emerald Iles, to the skies.

Outside The Vale

"This is the area in which we determined the fighting is currently being waged," Tom said, calling up a map of the west coast of the north american continent. The Dragons leaned down, looking at it intently. "We've detected evidence of multiple nuclear detonations as well as heavy fighting in the air over this valley."

The Dragons looked confused, but a hiss from behind them attracted their attention.

"Duncan Macleod, does this mean something to you?" Scilla asked, looking back.

Tom watched as a familiar face approached, but schooled his face to keep from giving anything away. He also tried desperately not to let his opinion of his own dimension's version of the man to color his thoughts.

"Aye," Duncan said, stepping up as he stared evenly at Tom Whitmore. "Are ye sure about the Nukes?"

"Quite." Tom said, gesturing to bring up another display that floated over the table. "Indications are that several hundred people and dragons were killed as a result."

Scilla gasped, twisting aside.

"I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news," Tom said, "But for the moment there are other matters."

"Such as?"

"Search and rescue, rules of engagement, joint operations." Tom said seriously. "But the most important, or at least immediately urgent, point is whether you or your allies are the ones using USAF transponders?"

"An why would you need to know what?" Duncan demanded.

"We've rescued one pilot, providing aid, and have detected at least one more downed 302 transponder in the area... there are what we read as Kromagg ships quartering the area, searching... we can only assume that they want prisoners."

Duncan looked angrily aside, swearing in gaelic.

"We have air support in the area, and a mobile field hospital unit en route." Whitmore said, "We just need to know, are the USAF people aggressors... or allies?"

Duncan reached up for his earpiece as it crackled and he frowned for a moment before nodding reluctantly.

"They're with us." He gritted out.

"Understood." Whitmore nodded, "Now, let's move on to the real negotiations."

"What? You're not going to tell your people to help!?" Duncan demanded angrily.

Whitmore smiled, "Mr Macleod... Those orders have already been given."

Orbital Space

"Spooky Too, this is Irwin."

"Go for Spooky Too."

"We have confirmation. USAF transponders are to be considered non-hostile." Irwin ordered, "Fish those boys out."

"Confirmed, Wilco." Kevin replied, keying up the coordinates. "Bird Dog, this is Spooky Too."

"Bird Dog here, Spooky. Go."

"I need a prime piece of real estate, Guthrie. Find me a nice place for a hospital."

"Got just the place, Spooky. Sending."

Kevin looked down, noting the coordinates. "Thanks. Got it. I've got some boys on board ready to pull folk out of the fire, Bird Dog... how much fire are we looking at?"

"Depends on the location. Got some flames around the USAF boys..."

"Do me a favor, put those flames out?"

Guthrie laughed, "Big Dog has been waiting for someone to ask."

"Well Darlin," Kevin grinned, "Let slip the dog."

Marc Le Chevalier growled as he paced the temporary control center the Order had established in the center of The Vale, glaring at the men working around him.

"Do we have access to the satellite network yet?"

"No Sir, I'm afraid not," He was told, "Blue squadron was recalled before it finished floating the birds, Sir. We've got holes in the link, we're not getting through."

Marc sighed, closing his eyes, "Alright. Send a runner."


Marc glared at the questioner, "Find me a witch, and have someone ported to the Task Group."

"We don't know their location precisely enough, Sir."

"Then send them to the West Coast with a bloody radio!" Marc growled, "I want contact with the task group!"

"Uh... Yes Sir!"

The head of the Order sighed, knowing that he shouldn't have snapped, but the revelation that someone out there was using nuclear weapons was enough to shake even his composure. He had friends and men on that side of the world, people who deserved more support than they had to give. The least he could do was find out what was happening to them.

Outside the Vale

Vin Tanner eyed the situation carefully from where he stood, just within lunging range of the APC and his rifle, and wished they'd setup shop somewhere more sheltered.

"This sucks as a meeting place," He muttered, "Any half decent rifleman could take out our primaries from more than a mile in any direction."

"Be calm, Vin," Jacks told him. "They'd have to know we planned to stop here... and how could they? We didn't."

There was some truth to that, Vin supposed. Still, it was hard for a rifleman to find any comfort standing around in the open, and that was a fact. The Secret Service people looked even worse, mind you, not that anyone could tell from the outside. The Holographic armor projectors had that advantage, at least. Anyone trying to read body language was shit out of luck unless they were tapped into the Knight's tactical network as Vin was.

Pryce looked ready to chew nails, for one, and Vin was sure he'd find it all very amusing once they were done here, but until then...

"You know, Snowbird, you always did drag me into the most screwed up situations..."

"Me??" Jacks protested, "I seem to remember..."

"Hey!" Vin growled, "We're not talking about that."



"You made me..."

"Ah!" Vin cut her off again. The last thing he wanted was to be tortured with THAT story again.

Jacks gave up, simmering from where she was watching the proceedings, and Vin counted his blessings while knowing he was going to pay for it.


Knighthood Base Camp

"Operations Center Online, General!"

"It's about time." Irwin growled, walking over to the Op Center board. "Well? Put it up already!"

The large board flickered to life, showing a map of the world with lights in North American, Ireland, and Germany.

"Do we have imagery yet?"

"Nothing realtime. We haven't installed the Ballistics system yet, so we don't have any keyhole probes."

"Great. Show me what we've got around the Commander's position."

"Patching in realtime telemetry from Bird Dog."

The imagery changed, this time showing a computer generated image of the valley in scale, with transponder points for the Commander's team as well as the Orcas, USAF signals, and Bandit craft.

Radiation sources were filled in visually, showing up as red against the generated background, and known survivor locations became blue spots. Irwin studied it for a moment, then frowned, "What's that near the Commander's position?"

"Unknown mystical pulse."

"Pardon?" Irwin turned.

"Haven't identified it, but it was a powerful spike of magical energy. The Commander's team detected it and went tactical three minutes ago, Sir."

"Great." Irwin ground out. "I wish, just once, that the Commander would wait for us to have proper resource in theater before he kicks over the wasps nest."

West Coast, North America

Xander held up his fist, freezing the team in place, then flicked two fingers to the left. Faith nodded instantly and ghosted in that direction as Xander split to the right.

"Dawn's right," He said over the tactical network, "It's too quiet."

"We're being watched," Cordelia said then, "I can feel them."


"I'm not sure..." The Knight admitted, sounding frustrated, "There's some kind of... I don't know... echo. I can't get through it."


"I can't feel anything," The Pretender said after a moment.

"Alright, take high ground." Xander ordered.


Steve nodded, eyes on the black forms moving toward them from down the hill. "I see them. That armor... there's something about it..."

Robin frowned, tilting his head from one side to the other. "Yeah. It's not there."

"Huh?" Xander asked, looking over at the Fey. "Say what?"

"I mean... it's there, obviously... but I can't feel it." Robin said, making a petulant face. "It's unnatural."

"Compared to what?" Xander asked, "The Werewolf at our side, or the Fey who's making the complaint in the first place?"

"Cut it out, you two," Steve growled. "We've got work to do here. We need to extract the pilot, but I don't want any casualties on either side. We don't know yet if we're committed to deadly earnest."

Robin smiled, "Leave it to me."

"What are you planning...?"

The Fey rose up, "Just watch and learn, youngster."

"Power spike!" Jarod said urgently.

"Locate it!"

"It's above us!"

The group swung their weapons up, stocks tight to shoulders as they focused on the figure that suddenly rose up above them, glowing against the sky above.

"Energy's topping out!"

"He's casting!!"

"Watch out!"

"Bird Dog, we've got a supernatural threat on site!" Xander snarled automatically as all of their instruments, and his own sense as well, went haywire. He pulled the trigger on the M41 on automatic as the rest of the squad opened up around him, but was shocked when a compression wave erupted from the figure, blowing the rounds aside like they were nothing as it rushed towards them.

The wave struck like a fist, scattering the team like bowling pins.

Xander lost his rifle as he flew back, instantly calling out for Elan as he twisted in the air. The silver staff shimmered into his hand and bucked as he extended her for a fight, digging on end in the ground to snap his feet back around to the ground.

Faith's smartgun snarled as she too was sent flying, autotracking targets above them as everything went nuts around her. The pulses tore through the hill above them, boring through the cover and blowing an armor clad figure out into the open.

"Bird Dog, Supernatural countermeasures on our location!" Xander ordered. "Jarod! Incoming!"

Jarod looked over from where he'd grabbed a tree to keep from being thrown practically off the mountain, then nodded. "Right."

He dove at the USAF pilot, tackling him to the ground.


"Mikki! Armor!" Xander ordered.

Mikki glared at him from where she was crouched, fingers dug into the ground deeply, snarling.

"Armor!" Xander yelled at her again, his tone brooking no argument.

The tawney eyed girl snarled, but slapped the device on her arm and was covered in black armor an instant later.

"Gramps, this is Bird Dog. Have a tasking."

"About time." Little grinned.

"Supernatural countermeasures required on the Commander's location."

"On it." Little replied, nosing his Orca out and around the cliff side he was tucked in against. He targeted the coordinates, then keyed up the munitions required. "Firing a full spread."

A machine gun fast burst of missiles tore from the Orca, ripping through the air even as he ducked back into cover.

Robin stared down at the figures, blinking as his eyes widened.

"Oh no." He muttered.

"Good reflexes..." He dimly heard Steve say behind him even as the figures began to duck and cover behind trees and rocks, one of them tackling the USAF officer to the ground and covering him with his own body.

Robin, however, was focused entirely on one thing. "Oh Creator, No... Steve, stop it's not what you..."

"Incoming!" Steve suddenly yelled, diving for cover.

"Steve!" Cordelia screamed, "Xander's been hit!"

"Incoming!" He screamed again, "Cover up!"

Robin turned around, blinking, as he tried to speak again only to have the world explode in his face.

The Knighthood Standard Supernatural Countermunition was designed to kill or incapacitate the widest variety of mystical beings that Knights might encounter in the field. It was based around a core of three kilos of military grade high explosive which was surrounded by a sphere of blessed silver segmented into frangible pieces approximately one cubic inch in volume. This was in turn surrounded by pure meteoric iron in a second sphere, segmented into similar pieces.

The result of fifteen of these submunitions going off in the face of most demons and supernatural threats was as close as the Knighthood got to anti-personnel artillery...

As Robin Goodfellow found out in that moment of madness.

Chunks of Iron slammed into his Fey body like the hammer of god himself, the energetic reaction between the metal and his own constitution resulted in a flash of light, and him being thrown back into the mountainside like a cannon ball. As he sunk to the ground from where he'd hit, the Fey could just hear Amy Madison screaming his name far off in the distance.

Steve St Wolf turned over from where he was laying on the ground, puzzled. He'd expected more from the blast of artillery that had rained down, but the impacts had been like a light rain on his armor. He bolted upright when he heard Amy scream and looked in the direction she was running, paling as he realized what had actually happened.

<Mystical artillery. These people know what they're dealing with.> He thought rapidly, head snapping around to where Cordelia was pulling herself off Xander, her voice cracked as she spoke.

"Xander... please... answer me... are you ok... be ok..."

Steve scrambled over, eyes wide as he saw Xander's Grail Armor smoking and *melted* in places, and heard Xander suddenly scream in pain as he gasped in a breath.

"Get it off him!" Steve ordered, crawling over quickly.


"Whatever that was melted his armor! Get it off him!" Steve said, sliding beside them as he yanked the catches off the armor Xander was wearing. "Oz! Gabby, Sony! Perimeter defense! Where are they!?"

Steve winced as some of Xander's skin pulled away with the armor, already reaching out for Willow as Xander screamed. "Potion!"

Willow swallowed, fingers numb as she dropped a potion into Steve's grip, her fist tightening. "They hurt Xander."

"He'll survive," Steve snapped, "Hold it together!"

"They hurt... my... Xander."

"Willow!" Steve snapped, pouring the potion down Xander's slack throat, eyes darting up to the armored form of the red witch. "Keep it together!"

She easily hopped over them, floating slightly as Steve felt a tingle of power run down his spine. "They want to play... I'll play."

Steve grabbed for her, but missed, and found himself looking across Xander's body at Cordelia as she looked up at Willow.

"Don't even think about it! He needs you!" Steve snarled, pushing off the ground. "Willow! Willow! Don't be stupid!"

Willow crested the bank they were hiding behind, eyes black as she glared down. She instantly spotted the black armor and heavy weapon she'd seen fire back and strike Xander.

"Burn..." She hissed, hands flashing out. "Burn!"

Warning. Warning. Magical Energy Spike Detected.

"Yeah yeah, like I can't FEEL that," Dawn growled, rising to her feet as she look up the ridge.

An armored form there rose up, obviously considering the laws of physics to be a suggestion rather than an actual law. Dawn could feel the hair along the back of her neck rise and she instantly reached under her armor for a pair of vials she carried.

As the power peaked, Dawn clapped her hand together, shattering the glass and letting the blood inside mingle with her own. She gritted her teeth as the glass dug into her palm, then snapped he arms out, sending a spray of blood to arc out to either side of her.

A practical wall of flame lanced out, slamming into the prismatic shield Dawn erected, and the young woman grunted, going to one knee from the shock.


"Dawn! What is it!?"

"That one... is.... powerful." Dawn gritted out, keeping the prismatic shield up. "I... don't think I can... hold this."

"Faith! Take him down!"

"On it," The Slayer growled, striding forward as she primed her smart gun. The target was cocky, standing out in the open, but she had to clear Dawn's spell to put a shot through. She bolted left, springing up to a tree, and twisted to fire, only to drop fast and hard to thr ground when the wall of fire came roaring at her.

"Shit!" Faith cursed, rolling to her back and looking up at the blazing tree above her. "SHIT!"

Dawn grunted again as the flames shifted, nailing her shields again, and a trickle of blood began to run down her lip from her nose.

"Bird Dog, I need heavy ground support here!"

"How heavy, Sir?" Guthrie responded, "Gramps is light now, and Big Dog is tending to a few bandits trying to snag some POWs. Gramps can be on site in two minutes with close air support."

"Shit. We'll be fried turkeys in two minutes... Who are these people!? Ok, forget it," Xander growled, dropping to one knee to hold Dawn as the young blood witch began to sway. "Can you move the shield?"

Dawn nodded weakly, "Not far. It'll drop fast once we start moving."

"Beth, Cordy, Jarod... get ready! We're going to have to close the range!"

"Understood!" Jarod called out, shoving the USAF major behind a tree. "Get down, don't move until the shooting is done!"

"Damn it, Willow!" Steve growled, throwing himself to the ground along side Sonya and Gabrielle as they all started putting rounds downrange, for all the good it was doing.

"Goddess," Gabrielle hissed, "That shield is incredible!"

"They've got magical defenses and artillery," Steve growled, going group wide on the tactical radio, "Get ready! We need to close the range before they start hammering us with artillery!"

"Ready," Sonya nodded, getting her feet under her.

"Sonya, Gabrielle, Buffy, and I will lead the charge," Steve said, "We move on my mark..."

Cordelia slid in beside him, nodding grimly.

"You stay with X..."

"No." She cut him off. "He'll be fine. I know he'll be fine. You'll need me."

Steve hesitated for just the barest of seconds, then nodded, "Second wave. DO NOT move until we've drawn their fire. Am I clear?"


"Get ready..."

"Get ready..." Xander growled, dragging his M41 back to his hand and putting it's stock to his shoulder. "Move!"

Dawn surged forward, staggering up the hill more than walking, charging into the wave of unending flames as she pushed her shield forward. With each step the force against her seemed to double, and she went down to her knees more than once, barely able to get one foot under her again as she felt Xander half pick her up, half drag her forward.

It was all about keeping the shield up, but she knew that she couldn't hold it much longer.

"I'm... about... out..." She rasped as the shield flickered.

The instant it went out she felt Xander kick her between the shoulder blades, putting her face into the dirt as the flames swept over, and the whining blare of the M41 roared over her head. The rounds cut through the flames, roaring straight into the face of the witch, pre-detonating from extreme heat only feet from their target.

The directed plasma of the explosions through molten metal and shrapnel into her the face of Xander's target, snapping his head back and dropping the caster where he stood.

"Charge!" He yelled over the tactical link as he and the team surged forward, just as figures appeared from above them and charged down.

"Willow!!" Oz half screamed, half roared as he surged forward, intent on the figure who'd shot his Willow. He shifted in mid motion, his armor vanishing as the Goodfellow's spell let him take on the fully formed stature of werewolf and dive straight into the teeth of the man who'd shot his Willow.

He felt hammer blows tear into his flesh, ripping out huge chunks of bone and muscle, but didn't let it slow him. He healed almost as quickly as he was hit, and within seconds was too close for the shots to be of any real threat. Even if the enemy got lucky and tore away something he couldn't afford to lose, he'd end them with his last breath.

Within arms reach of his goal, however, a coughing roar from the side distracted him, and a blur slammed into him with stunning force, deflecting him from tearing out the throat of the one who'd shot Willow, and as Oz twisted in mid air he felt teeth and claws begin to tear into him even as he instinctively reciprocated.

Xander ducked as Mikki slammed into the Werewolf, his eyes flickering to watch them tumble across the mountain terrain, then he forced them back as the issue at hand demanded his full attention.

They were coming right into them, armored figures in what looked like black full plate. Lighter weight than he'd have thought, but apparently strong enough to take some heavy hits. Xander trained his Pulse Rifle on a pair that was charging Jarod, only to be surprised when a blue glow flashed in his peripheral vision.

He jerked back, narrowly avoiding the blow, only to take it on his rifle and Xander sucked in a surprised breath when what he recognized as a glowing Katana sliced the front end of the M41 clear off, leaving him a useless hunk of metal and plastic. He ducked as the blade reversed, sweeping back, drove the butt of the rifle into the man's armored guts to depressingly little effect, then stepped back and threw the heavy weapon straight into his opponents face.

As the man staggered back, Xander reached out, summoning Elan to his hand, then activated her as the man recovered and lunged back in.

Steel met Steel, Staff to Blade, and crackles of blue and silver lightning erupted in a dazzling display as Xander stared into the Helm of his opponent, and Steven St Wolf stared back.

Sonya and Gabrielle moved together, bracketing their target with precision bursts, only to be surprised when he returned the favor as he rolled clear of their own line, sending roars of explosions detonating all around them.

"Goddess!" Sonya muttered, leaping clear, "What is he shooting!?"

"Doesn't matter," Gabrielle responded, leaping up as she chucked her rifle and drew her blade. "Let's do as Steve suggested and close the range!"

"Gabby, wait!" Sonya yelled, trying to lunge forward, only to be forced back by another burst.

Gabrielle arced through the air, and saw the armored figure looked up as she began her descent, her mind quickly calculating the timing. If he got his weapon up first, this was going to suck, but at least Sonya would be able to get to him while she was recovering from being dead and all.

He almost made it, but seemed to realize at the last moment that he wasn't going to be able to get a shot off. Instead he shifted his rifle up to block her sword strike, and Gabrielle snarled with exultant glee when the weight of her attack forced him down to one knee.



Jarod practically felt his joints pop as the force of the blow slammed into him, and his mind rebelled at it. There was no way that a small figure like that, armor or not, should have carried that kind of weight behind them.

He didn't have time to think about it as he stared at where the sword had bit into the underside of his rifle.

<Damn. I think he bent the barrel. Better not trust it anymore,> He thought, amazed at how much force the soldier must have exerted to actually bend the barrel of the heavy duty weapon with a *sword*.

Luckily, it wasn't the only weapon he carried, Jarod reflected, nor were they the only ones with a sword.

He shifted his weight, trapping the sword in the metal and plastic of the rifle as he twisted it aside, and kicked out at the legs of his opponent. As the soldier staggered, Jarod released the rifle and went for his own blades.

A flicker of motion and an empathic signature warned him as he swung the blades clear, and in an instant he blocked the strike from a second opponent with the inverted blade of the wakizashi in his left hand. He turned his head slowly to look into the black helm of his opponent, looking past the smoky glass that covered the eyes, past the flickering lights that Jarod knew indicated a HUD, and into the eyes.

<Women.> He thought, frowning. <They're both women.>

Not that being women meant anything as to their skill, obviously, but it bothered Jarod to hurt women. Something Xander had once told him, in what Jarod thought was a joking tone, was his innate chauvinistic side.

The choice, however, wasn't his.

The first attacker wrenched her blade clear, snapping a fast strike which Jarod blocked on his right hand Katana, and they glared at each other for a moment before the women tensed and Jarod knew he was going to have to fight. He closed his eyes, reaching out, and in a second became both of his opponents just before they shifted back and came in again.

"Sweet Hera, Zeus, and Artemis!" Gabrielle gasped in shock as she and Sonya were both held at bay by the single swordsman as he became a blur of motion.

Where they sought to strike, his blades were already waiting, they quickly found and as fast and strong as they were it was like he knew what they intended before they did. His blades flashed, dancing from one deflection point to another as he defended, creating an impossibly fast shield of steel that kept both of them from striking through to their target.

On the other hand, they quickly found that his attacks were not nearly so fast, and were dealt with easily by one or the other in turn.

"We have to coordinate!" Sonya said, "We'll never get through otherwise."

"Right," Gabby replied, face setting as she locked her focus on the figure. "Like Prague!"

"Got it!" Sonya replied with a similar force of intent in her voice.

The two split off for an instant, then came in fast and hard, this time with a plan. They moved to distract him, ready to exploit an opening as the fighter was forced to focus more of his attention between them.

That was the idea.

In fact, the swordsman's speed seemed to increase exponentially as they engaged, he even managed to block blows behind his back without looking, like he was following a script.

"Who IS this guy!?" Sonya growled in frustration, driving in again as her anger built.


Shawukay Redarrow skidded to her knees by the fallen figure of her comrade, paling even more than normal when she took in his gaunt and aged look. "Oh no..."

"What's run with him!?" Amy demanded, cradling her lover, her helm on the ground beside them and tears running down her face.

"Iron." Shaw replied, summoning a blessing from Meiliki as she conveyed it to Robin's form. It did little good, but for the moment all she could hope was to keep the poison from killing him. "The weapon must have used an iron casing, Amy. It's poisoning him."

Amy gasped in sobs, trying to get her breath as she looked down at the unmoving form. The assault had shifted him back to his true form, and Robin looked... old and alien, but still the man she loved.

"C... Can you... ?"

"I do not know," Shaw said, shaking her head. "I will do as I can. I swear it, Amy."

Amy nodded, "I know... I know you will."

She looked over to the crest of the hill, listening to the fighting, "What's going on?"

"I do not know," Shaw shook her head, summoning another blessing. "We must trust the others."

"I trust them fine," Amy gritted out, "It's the bastards they're fighting I'm having trouble with."

Buffy Summers eschewed her firearm as she closed the range, preferring to trust Vampire Slayer than any pile of metal and plastic. She moved to help Steve, but was blocked when another armored figure stepped between them, and automatically swept her Katana to eliminate the target.

The figure, about her size, went into a crouch, one hand vanishing literally into her armor, and then swept out a huge sword practically from nowhere in time to block Vampire Slayer ont he downward slice.

Buffy glared, putting her strength into it, and drawing more from the Slayer sword. Vampire pulsed a brilliant blue and she felt the sword under her begin to give, forcing her opponent down to his knees.

Then, however, it stopped.

Sweat beaded on Buffy's face as she felt the direction reverse, Vampire Slayer being forced slowly back.

<No way!> She thought desperately, <He's as strong as me!>

Beth Summers gritted her teeth and got her weight centered over her feet, using all the strength in her entire body to push the blade back up and away. The glowing blue weapon was moving away from her, but it was staggering how much force she was having to put it into it.

By rights she knew she had the advantage. It might seem counter intuitive, but because of her Slayer strength she was more effective with her back to a wall, or feet planted firmly under her AND her opponent. She had the advantage of leverage, and STILL it was taking everything she had to push that blade back against it's wielder.

Still, she managed it, regaining her feet as they crossed their swords and stared at each other across the weapons.

<Who IS this person!?> Beth thought desperately as the advantage of leverage fled, the two facing each other equally face to face, and the sheer power of her opponent throwing up every warning bell her 'Slaydar' had. Oddly, though, it felt almost familiar... Like... like fighting Faith, only Beth had to admit that this person was far stronger, and there was an alien tint to the power... some wild undercurrent that she didn't know.

They held the contest of strength for a moment longer, then suddenly seemed to break on some private agreement as the fight truly began.

Cordelia Chase dropped down the hill, the sound of swords clashing together eclipsing the former sound of firearms, and oddly didn't seem out of place. Of course they'd find opponents who carried swords, they were Section Seven, that's who they fought.

Her own Katana was in her hand as she rushed in, aiming for the closest of the armored forms that wasn't already tied up in a fight. These people had hurt Xander, and they were going to pay for that. She shifted her grip for best power, figuring what she'd need to penetrate the armor of her enemy and hefted the weapon high as she let out a focused breath and yell, powering the weapon down.

*Warning! Warning! Mystical Signature detected!*

<Yeah, yeah,> Cordelia thought, noting the flashing warning on her HUD, but mostly focusing on the opponent that was apparently intent on splitting her in two.

The Katana in her opponents hands was held high, a classic strike pose for the weapon, leaving Cordelia with a fast decision to make. She was trying to get the detection narrowed down, trying to determine what, if any, enhancements the sword held.

It became clear quickly, however, that the enhancements weren't part of the blade. The armor, maybe, or the person inside. Maybe both.

<That makes things easier,> Cordelia thought grimly as the sword swept down, trying to shake off the strange empathic echo that was plaguing her. Her powers had never felt like this before, and she could even feel Kagi's confusion.

She reached up her left hand and stopped it on her palm, the projected forcefield keeping her from becoming an amputee as she closed her grip over the weapon and held it fast.

"A Matsamune," She acknowledged over the open PA, "A Very nice weapon. You should not, however, bring a mundane piece of steel to magical combat."

Cordelia swallowed hard, her weapon locked in the opponents grip, and realized quickly that she'd underestimated the armor.

When the other woman, for woman she was, spoke, the voice was distorted but understandable and Cordelia paled further to see a gleaming Katana slide clear of her opponent's armor under it's OWN power and flip easily into her grip.

<Oh crap.>

Cordelia reacted quickly, dodging the blow sent her way as she let go of her blade and drew her twin pistols, opening fire at point black range as she dove to one side, twisting in mid air. The two magnaported weapons roared as they were designed, but the enchanted silver ammunition merely flattened themselves against the armor as the woman turned toward her.

Cordelia hit the ground rolling, already reloading on the move as she started working on a plan. So far, things were NOT going according to the last one, after all.

Oz snarled in pain as the talons raked at his side, and he locked his jaws into the shoulder of the cat that had tackled him, desperately shifting his weight in a martial throw to pitch the animal off. He was surprised when the cat responded with a weight shift of it's own and pitched him back over onto his back.

<That wasn't an animal reaction!> He thought desperately as they rolled, snapping and clawing at each other.

He broke loose, skidding down the mountainside as he scrambled to get his feet under him, spinning around only to see the black cat already in the air again, flying right at him. He ducked automatically, claws flashing out to rake the cat as it passed, then pitched into a roll to put more distance between them.

He was good, Oz knew, but the cat had just proven to him that it was better at the close in, animalistic fighting they'd just used. He'd have to keep the range open, engage the cat at arms length. He was bigger, with better reach, he'd have to use it.

Mikki's flesh burned, the raked lines that dug into her flanks refusing to heal as fast as they normally would, and she knew for certain that she was facing another Lycanthrope. A cursed Were, if she was right, but much more controlled than any she'd ever seen.

That was bad.

It would have a strength advantage on her, as well as size and mass. Normally her control and intelligence would balance that, but this one was different. It was fighting like a human, keeping her at bay. Intelligently, controlled... In control.

Very bad.

Mikki hissed, twisting slightly, and for a moment regretted the loss of her armor projector. The device never did react to a sudden shift of physical dimensions, no matter how much the lab people tinkered with it. Normally, Mikki was just fine with that, she didn't like the dead air feel around her when the projector lit up, but just now... she missed the protection.

She kept the range open herself for the moment, snarling as her hackles rose and back arced. She and the werewolf circled each other, taking time to study each other.

The wolf was moving too much like a human, Mikki realized. It was beyond controlled, that was a human mind and psyche in charge of the primal body. It's steps were military trained, right out of the Special Operations play book.

Mikki knew how to deal with a Primal. She knew how to deal with a soldier. She wasn't sure how to deal with a Primal Soldier, however, and the young primal found herself at a loss.

Steve stared into the blank face of his opponent, judging the man's stance, strength, and weapon.

<Not good.> St Wolf decided. The man was strong, his stance indicated a familiarity with his weapon of choice, and the weapon was obviously enhanced. Further, St Wolf knew that the staff was probably the worst weapon he could be facing off against with Demon Slayer, assuming all other things being equal.

That, of course, was his single upside. The odds were that, enhanced or not, the staff was not Demon Slayer's equal.

Steve broke, dropping back as he swept the Katana around, and lunged back in with a slash to his opponents side.

His opponent responded automatically, opening the range enough to let the blade sweep by, then snapping the staff in a vicious arc at Steve's head. He ducked, pivoted on his heel, closing in tight, and thrust his blade back in a low stab that aimed to cleave his opponent from groin to navel.

The staff slammed down, driving the blade lower between the man's legs, and Steve continued to spin, coming in tight and snapping up to drive his knee into his opponents guts. The force lifted his opponent off his feet, throwing him back a half dozen feet to where he landed in a three point connection with the ground, then looked up sharply.

<Didn't faze him.> Steve thought, widening his stance as he brought Demon Slayer up. <He's tough.>

<Holy muther...> Xander thought, shocked as he looked up at the figure who'd hit him. <He's stronger than Beth!>

<Ware, Alexander. The magic surrounding this one is formidable.> Elan said softly, her tone sounding confused. <It's intense and layered. He has been touched by Gods.>

<Oh great.> Xander thought as he rose to his feet. <Any idea which ones?>

<No. There are too many Pantheons it could be... even Hell Gods.>

<Lovely,> Xander mirrored his opponents stance and set himself for the fight. <We'll take him down, and hope he's alive to ask when it's over.>

They looked at each other for a moment, across a half a dozen feet of separation, then at some signal only they saw, both moved as one.

The Katana left an arc in the air as it cut in, aiming for Xander's shoulder in a cleaving motion, but he batted it easily aside with Elan, then spun tight and swept the staff at the other man's legs. The armored man jumped over the sweep and they both spun around to strike, clashing their weapons as they exchanged positions.

<he's good,> Xander grudgingly admitted, unable to hold the strength needed to keep the blade at bay. He let the tension go, ducked under the sweep of the blade as it came across, then snapped Elan hard up into the armored midsection of his opponent.

Xander's eyes glowed silver as he put his and Elan's combined force into it, and lifted the man right off his feet and blowing him back a dozen feet to the ground.

Steve rolled as he hit, coming back to his feet as he shook off the blow. His armor had saved him the need to regenerate some internal organs, he was certain, but as he looked down Steve knew that he was facing something different this time.

<He buckled the armor plate.> Steve thought, one hand running over the section of armor that could shrug off a fifty caliber round with only a score to prove it had been struck.

He looked up, nodding respectfully as he twisted his body around slightly to make sure the buckled armor wasn't going to mess up his range of motion.

A burst of fire to his right brought Steve's eyes over, and he frowned to see another of the black armored figures firing bursts into the hill above them, apparently keeping some of his team pinned down with the same cannon that had struck Xander. A quick glance showed him that those of the Section Seven group that were in the open were also tightly intertwined with their opponents, something that would likely keep them from being fired on.

He didn't have time to think about it, though, as he brought his attention back to the matter at hand. He shifted his grip on Demon Slayer, bringing the blade up to shoulder level and readying himself for the move. His opponent twisted slightly, presenting his side as the longer reach of the staff stood out between them. He'd have to get through that to put the man down...

Beads of sweat run down Jarod's face inside his armor as he struggled to keep up his defense. The two he was facing off against were incredible, beyond any skill level he'd ever seen, but that alone would not have been enough. The better they were, they better his defense was... but he had limitations.

Even fully tapping his internal energy, pumping adrenaline as he'd learned under Xander's tutelage, and focusing them all on one intent... even with all that, he was still wearing out and this opponents weren't.

<They're inhuman,> He thought analytically, running through the possibilities as he flipped his Katana over one shoulder to block a shot aimed to run him threw from behind. <Demons? No magical signature... Both have slight mystical hints... nothing innate. Enhancement spells?>

He twisted, neatly avoiding a lung from one, then slammed his elbow into the other to drive her into her friend. They collided as he twisted free, but recovered insanely fast and came at him as one.

That made it easier for him, though, he batted their strikes aside, still running through the probabilities.

<Not human, Not demon, mystical but not innate. Humanoid, possibly alien... Jaffa? No, too small, and Jaffa females aren't this powerful or long lasting in a fight. Incredibly well trained... They're both grandmaster level fighters,> Jarod considered, ducking under a swipe, then leaping into a twisting jump that cleared a follow up kick.

As he landed, Jarod understood.


"Bacha!" Sonya cursed, lunging for the bastard as he dodged again, ducking under her blade, then flipping up and over Gabby's kick.


She'd never faced another fighter this good, and she'd seen fighters who could easily have killed her before she took two breaths.

Which begged the question... why hadn't he?

His defense was... perfect.

There was no other word for it. No attack penetrated, in fact they hadn't even scraped his ARMOR yet. He simply seemed to... know.

She was still puzzling that out when something changed.

She'd almost missed it, the pattern of his fight had been so... perfect up to that point that the sudden slash caught her by surprise, breaking through her defense and glancing off her helm, snapping her head back.

As she reeled back he continued to pivot, his Katana slashing directly for Gabrielle's neck, and she saw Gabby move with contemptuous ease to block. Sonya sucked in a breath of shock as she saw what Gabby didn't.

"Gabs!" She screamed, "It's a feint!"

It was too late, though, and the wakizashi stabbed sharply up, driving in under the body plate Gabrielle wore and sliced up through her flesh and organs.

As Gabrielle stood there, frozen by the blow, Sonya saw red and screamed in incoherent rage as she got her feet back under her and charged.

The primal scream would have alerted Jarod if the sudden psychic venom hadn't, and he let the blade go rather than try to recover it, twisting to respond to the attack.

He linked, tried to link, but as he tried to predict her attack Jarod realized it wouldn't work.

She had no plan, no intent other than killing him, and there was no skill involved in the coming assault.

He staggered back, barely evading the first, blocking a second, then ducking under a third swipe. He could HEAR her feral growl as she pressed the attack, slamming a powerful backhand into his head. The armor took the worst off it, but it stunned him long enough to keep Jarod from seeing the next lunge.

She snarled, throwing her weight into it, and at the last instant Jarod caught a glimpse of the blade as it drove for his heart. He swept his blade up, catching the point as it slide in, and saw the blue lightning dance along the blade.

<She's immortal,> He thought, abstractly pleased with the confirmation as the point of the blade interfaced with his armor and managed to penetrate the defending force field.

His Katana deflected it aside just enough to miss his heart and it dug into the flesh of his shoulder, sending searing pain through his system as Jarod staggered back under her screaming lunge until his back colliding with a tree and the blade went right through and buried itself in the large redwood behind him.

Jarod clenched his teeth, shutting out the pain as he reached out with his near dead hand, grabbing her shoulder hard and locking her there as he slid his Katana up under the armor's pauldron and sliced it through the softer material that covered her neck, stopping the blade when he felt the thrill of shock run through here as he struck flesh.

He held it there, panting through clenched teeth as she panted in front of him.

<Well... this, as Xander would say, sucks.>

<Fuck this,> Cordelia thought, perhaps uncharacteristically as she slapped the AP-E mags into her pistols, rolling along the ground and coming up into a half crouch with both weapons bearing on her opponent.

The Eagles roared, spitting .50 caliber Action Express rounds down range, the armor piercing explosive ammo slamming into the armored Knight and detonating as they were designed. Cordelia's eyes widened as she saw the black armor seem to *ripple* slightly, then reformed exactly as it had been.

<Oh HELL NO!> She moaned internally, continuing the empty the weapons into the target.

<Crap!> Cordy winced, wheeling away as the rounds slapped into her. <Explosive rounds! Shit!>

*Warning! Warning! Armor power levels dropping!*

Cordy swept the blade of her sword up, in an inverted grip, and again reached out for her opponent, trying to link. She got that same strange echo again, but pushed through it, managing to link enough to get Maro into the path of the rounds. The explosive rounds detonated on the blade, those she managed to intercept, but more splashed through and began to drain her armor.

She bolted to the side, fire tracking after her, and threw herself behind a large redwood as she checked the status of the armor.

<Sixty Three percent. Great.> Cordy moaned.

Armor projectors had a lot of great advantages over physical armor, but stamina wasn't one of them. They were fine under most circumstances, giving several hours of protection from regular small arms fire and low level demonics. Explosive and Incendiary munitions, however, send jets of superhot molten metal into their targets, and the damned force projectors had a real hard time dealing with liquids and gasses. The drain on power reserves became rapidly noticeable when facing those, and other high energy drain assaults.

Certainly you didn't want to be standing out in the open while someone with explosive rounds had target practice.

She put her back to the tree, then palmed a sensor package from her belt and tossed it into the air. The small device whirred to life and flitted out around the tree, showing her the other side, and where her target was crouched, waiting for her to come out.

<Alright... you want to play, let's play.> Cordelia smirked, pushing off the tree and spinning around.

Kagi maro flashed, slicing through the tree in a single swipe, and Cordelia through her shoulder into it as the tree began it's slow descent.

The creaking sound was her first warning, and Cordelia frowned as she looked up to see the giant redwood sliding in her direction as it began to topple.

"Oh you have GOT to be kidding me!" She screamed, throwing herself to the side as the huge tree came crashing down, scrambling away from the branches as they slapped at her. She rolled over, crawling clear, and jumped over a boulder as she heard movement behind her.

She hit the ground rolling on the other side, coming back to bring her guns to bear, only to see nothing but air behind her.

"Where are you, you Star Wars fashion reject?" She muttered darkly, guns seeking prey.

Faith growled in frustration, eyes flickering from target to target in her HUD as she kept the rate of fire going to keep some heads down. The closer targets were constantly getting mixed up with friendly signals, and while that normally wouldn't be a problem, she couldn't get a good enough read on their armor to determine it's capabilities.

Without knowing that, she couldn't be sure of what level power she'd need to take down the target without splattering her friends all over the mountainside, and that was a situation she'd rather avoid.

Which really burned her ass, cause it meant she was stuck playing squad level support while everyone else had all the fun.

Faith winced, noting Jarod's signal go red.

Maybe not so much fun.

"J! You ok!?" She growled, twisting to check, but she couldn't see him through the trees.

"I'm fine." Jarod hissed in response to Faith, lying through his teeth while keeping his blade at his opponents neck, toggling open the PA. "You know, I'm willing to settle for a draw here."

The woman snorted, twisting the sword, "I think I'm holding the advantage."

Jarod grimaced, teeth clenched, but forced the pain down. "Really? Because by my analysis your shoulder pauldron should give me just enough leverage to take your head off before you can finish me. It won't be fast, it won't be painless... but it will do the job, Immortal."

She hissed, "How do you...?"

"Fairly simple analysis," Jarod answered through clenched teeth, "You're too good with the sword to be as young and fast as you are, which leaves Alien, Demon, Eternal, or Immortal. Being humanoid narrows down the alien options, plus you use NATO issue small arms. I don't detect any demonic signature, nor any potent innate magics. Only Immortals are that well stealthed, and have the time to become as good as you two are, and maintain the endurance you both obviously have."

The woman cocked her head at him, voice sounding more curious now than hostile, "You talk a lot like someone I know... You knew Gabrielle was Immortal when you killed her?"

"Knew is a strong word, but I had a very educated guess."

"Who ARE you?" She demanded, not moving to withdraw her blade.

"We're the Knighthood."

Elan flashed through the air as Xander spun her over one shoulder in a downward arc, then back around and up over the other shoulder in a continuous loop that he used to push his opponent back. The blue sword flashed constantly, deflecting the staff off each time, but unable to mount a counter offensive as Xander advanced.

<There is something about this weapon, Alexander...>

<Can it wait!?>

<I am not sure... I... feel something familiar... something I should know.>

"Later, Elan," Xander said aloud, teeth gritted as his armored foe gave up blocking, ducking to one side, and came in with a slash.

Xander countered, then dropped in a spin and slashed out at his opponents legs with the staff. The armored man jumped easily over it, reversing his grip, and slashed down at Xander's head. Xander threw Elan up, grunted as the force of the blow put him to his knees, then twisted the staff and pushed, angling the blade away and forcing the man off balance.

As he recovered, Xander rose up, spinning Elan in one hand as he drew his Desert Eagle in the other, and fired the mag dry at point blank range into his targets chest and head.

The .44 slugs rang like a church bell in Steve's ear as the rounds slammed into his helm, and he staggered back. The impacts weren't so bad, but his ears were left ringing, and his balance was shot to hell for a few moments. He dove to the right instinctively, just avoiding a follow up blow from the staff that would probably have caved in his head, helm and all.

He had to admit, that was a good move. Something he'd do if he thought it would do any good. His opponents armor was obviously rated to take small arms fire, however, and seemed oddly... formed. Steve fell back, shaking the ringing out of his head as he blocked a couple blows and kept opening the range.

<This has gone far enough,> He determined grimly, <I have to take this guy down now, before more people get hurt...>

He stopped falling back, his head clear now, and set his feet as the attacker came in again.

It was time to end it.

Brad 'Grandpa' Little cursed as he eyeballed the IFF signals Guthrie was sending back to him. Things didn't look great from where he was sitting and he was still almost a minute out. He'd hesitated when the Commander hadn't actually given him the order to roll in, but as the fight unfolded, Little had decided to take a little initiative.

His Orca was screaming over the tree tops, following the contours of the mountainside. It would take a bit longer to get there, but better than that leaving himself open to long range fire from one of those flyers floating around.

His anti-personnel munitions were light, though he still had some anti-armor that could splatter a group if they were close enough together, but he figured that he'd have to rely on the main gun for this run.

Just a little longer...

Oz pivoted, ducking under the slashing talons, and struck out with one of his own in turn. The cat howled, sounding more angry and shocked than actually hurt, and hit the ground on the other side, scrambling against the loose rock and dirt as it turned on him again.

<Stubborn,> Oz noted, his attention wavering as he wondered what had happened to Willow. He refocused, though, and set himself as the cat crouched for another lunge.

Xander Harris groaned as he rolled over, the pain in his body magnified as he healed. He forced himself up, looking around, and saw ver few of his team.

<Where the hell is everyone?> He groaned, checking his chest and wincing.

His armor was off, as was his shirt, and the skin left... such as it was, didn't look too good. Xander tried to ignore the pain, but quickly found that didn't work, and elected to simply go one despite it. He found Willow nearby, her IFF flickering a SOS signal, and he crawled over to her.

"Wills?" He gasped out, looking down.

Her helm was mess, but it hadn't been penetrated Xander saw, relieved, and he carefully pulled it off her. Willow was breathing, and he sighed, cradling her carefully as he pulled out one of the tough potion flasks they all carried.

"Come on, Will... drink up, it's good for you."

Xander blinked in shock as the attack came in, barely blocking the flurry of blows from the blue glowing weapon. <He's even stronger and faster!>

<Ware! The weapon's power is intensifying!>

<I can feel that thank you!> Xander snarled, twisting away from another strike as he sent in one of his own. The staff was blocked, and they two exchanged blows for a few seconds before the blue blade suddenly skipped through Xander's defense and slashed in an unstoppable arc.

He was dead. Xander knew it then, beyond the shadow of a doubt, as the blade passed through his armor like it wasn't there. The world had slowed, the way it did when hi hypertuned, and Xander noted with a strange detachment that the armor didn't even register the blade as being slowed.

He pulled his arm back, snapping Elan back into her compact form, and made ready to perform his final act as the blade cut through his flesh and began to bisect his torso. Xander stepped into the strike, drove his closed fist up against the man's armor, and gave Elan what he knew would be his final command to her.


The weapon bucked automatically, his will driving it into the man's armor at close range. Armor designed to stop a fifty caliber slug was perforated in a single instant, the staff driving through the armor, through the man, and back out again just as the blue blade finished it's path and exited the other side of Xander's body.

There are moments in life, on the battlefield and off, when something happens that immediately affects everyone in the area, whether they understand it or not.

As Xander stood there, swallowing in shock, he leaned against the man he'd just struck through and took a breath. He heard the man cough beside him, and saw blood filter down through the man's helm to spatter his armor below.

The fighting around them came to a stop, as if time itself was ending, and Xander could feel the eyes of both groups turn to him.

<Strange. Why are they looking at us like that?> He wondered, shaking his head.

He shivered, then broke apart from the armored form.

His opponent slumped in place, falling face first to the mountainside and Xander looked down in confusion.

<Why aren't I dead?> He wondered, a little stupidly in his own opinion.

<Alexander... the blade...>

Xander half turned, looking down at the glowing blue blade that lay on the ground. He shook his head, jerking Elan out of the man's back, and turned toward it. <What about it?>

<That sense I felt... that was the touch of the Creator... He, or one of his archangels had a part in empowering that blade.> Elan said softly, her voice sombre.

"That means..." Xander whispered, looking down at the man on the ground, then back at the blade. "The blade didn't... wouldn't...?"

<The blade may indeed not permit itself to harm a non-evil entity.>

Xander grimaced, looking at the fallen man, "Oh hell."


Beth had paused, like everyone else, turning to see Xander leaning heavily against the one he'd been fighting. They were locked together, and from her angle all she could tell was that the fight was certainly over. Her blood chilled as she watched, noting absently that her opponent had frozen as well and they were both intent on the pair.

Beth's breath hitched when Xander stepped past the man, remaining on his feet as the man fell, and she sighed in relief.

<Thank God.> She thought, even as a female voice screamed from beside her.


Beth spun, her sword coming up, but the rush was so fast it blew through her defense like they were paper. She barely twisted away from the attack, throwing a kick out that her opponent easily hopped over, then threw herself flat to avoid a lethal swipe of the blade.

She rolled on the ground, pushing herself up to be ready for the next rush, only to see that her opponent was entirely ignoring her and rushing straight at Xander.

"Xander!" She screamed, "Watch out!"

Xander turned, seeing the figure charging him, and his eyes locked onto the glowing blue Katana.

<Same weapon?> He wondered instantly, shifting on automatic to meet the charge.

<Perhaps.> Elan replied.

Same weapon. Xander brought Elan up to a defensive position, then charging figure closing. He could read the anger, the sheer fury radiating off the figure, didn't need any of Jarod's or Cordy's empathic tricks to do it either. That was one pissed off figure charging down on him.

Xander let Elan drop.

<What are you doing!?>

He lifted his hands out to the side, and tossed the staff away as the figure closed on him and swung.

<Alexander! This is NOT wise!>

The sword swept through his armor, then through him, though Xander grimaced and clenched his eyes shut for a second as it happened. The blow put the other fighter off balance, from the surprise of not impacting the target, and Xander used that moment to reach out, hook the figures arm.

He caught the warrior up, legs flying out in surprise, then slammed down to the ground and pinned him.

<Strong.> Xander thought instantly as the struggles started. He toggled his PA, "Calm down!"

A foot came up, snapping along side his head, and kicking him free. Xander rolled with it, came back up to a crouch as the figure kipped to it's feet, and they both prepared to renew the fight when a voice that Xander never expected to hear stopped them.


Xander twisted, automatically calling Elan back to his hand as the soldier he'd killed rose to his feet, jerkily plucking the helm from his head.

"Hold yourself, Alexander." The man ordered, his blue eyes glazed and unseeing as he turned and nonetheless looked at Xander. "This fight has gone far enough."

"Who the...!?" Xander blinked.

"Hey!" The other fighter snarled, her voice irate, "Get the hell out of my boyfriend's body! We can handle this!"

"I beg to differ," The man said dryly, reminding Xander of someone.

"I don't see any first circle demons around you, Wartoy," She growled, "So get the hell out."

The man rolled his eyes, "You'll pardon me if I don't listen to an immortal who just lost her cool so completely as to be taken down by HIM."

Xander blinked as the man jerked a thumb in his direction, and realized where he'd heard that voice before.

"Ares!?" He growled, "What the HELL is going on?"

The man he didn't recognize shrugged and smirked in a familiar way, "You just wasted all that energy on a fight, and the actual enemy isn't anywhere in sight. Congratulations, I told my little brother you were overrated."

"Overrated!?" Xander growled, "Look who's talking, you still owe me fifty bucks for that..."

"I told you I don't carry american currency!" The figure snapped back.

"You should have said that BEFORE you made the bet!"

"Excuse me!" The third figure growled, taking her helm off, "Could we get back on topic here, namely about the HOLE in my boyfriends chest and the pain in the ass possessing his body!?"

Xander froze in shock, "Buffy?"

Buffy snapped around, glaring at him suspiciously, "You know me? Who are you!?"

"Oh, I LOVE this part," The God called Ares clapped his hands together.

"SHUT UP!" They both snarled at him.

Xander keyed open his tactical, "All hands, stand down. Cease fire! I say again, cease fire!"

He turned to Buffy, keying off his armor, and saw his earlier look of shock matched in her face and eyes. "I've called my people off, Buff. Do the same."

She nodded, stunned, and keyed open her own radio. "Everyone. It's ok, we're talking here. Hold back until I say differently."

She turned to him, face uncertain. "Xander?"

"I'm guessing not the only one," Xander replied dryly, eyes roving the terrain. "Ares, what the FUCK is going on here, and why are you in that goofy looking body?"

"Goofy!?" Buffy growled, incensed.

Ares just shrugged, "This man is my Immortal Avatar on his home plane. Here, he is the only way I have to communicate as the Gods of Olympus have no worshippers on this world. Otherwise one of us would have warned you before this ridiculous escapade got as far as it did."

"Since when you do bother warning people to *avoid* a fight?" Xander asked, snorting.

"Well, it wouldn't have been ME, I admit..." Ares smirked, "Most likely Artemis would have come in person were she permitted."

"Goddess of the Hunt?" Xander raised an eyebrow, "What's she got to do with this?"

"The Lady Artemis is the patron of many of my friends," Buffy answered, still shooting glares at Ares. "And if you're done get the hell out of Steve!"

"Fine." Ares rolled his eyes again, then leaned over to Xander, "Good luck. You're going to need it."

"Yeah, tell me something I hadn't figured out already."

Ares chuckled as Buffy glared at them both, then the man suddenly went limp and fell to his knees. He groaned as Buffy run over to him, helping him stand, and Xander let out a breath of relief.

"So, Immortal Avatar, huh? Got a great health plan, I see."

"Xander?" Beth Summers approached cautiously, large bastard sword in one hand, pistol in the other, but with her armor down. "Is everything ok?"

"Probably not, but we're not fighting for now," Xander said, eyeing the man, "Right?"

"Right." The man said tiredly. "I'm really not in the mood anymore, anyway. Steve St Wolf."

Xander snorted, taking the man's hand. "I've heard of you. I guess the Dragons got word out to your people too then."

Steve snorted, "Just perfect. Travel all this way and the first fight is screwed up blue on blue.

Jarod groaned as the cease fire order came through, shaking his head. "A little late."

"A little late, what?" The woman demanded, then paused as her own radio crackled. "Oh. I guess you got one of those too then?"

Jarod nodded and let go of her arm, sliding his sword back as he reached for his armor controls and shut them down.

"Crom! Jarod!?"

"Do I know you?" He asked, frowning.

"Jarod, I'm sorry I..." Sonya pulled her helm off, then blinked, "You can't be... of course, a dimensional alternate."

"Ah." Jarod nodded painfully. "That makes some sense. I'm afraid I've never met yours, if you exist in my world."

"Hold on, I'll pull the sword out."

"I'd rather you didn't." Jarod held up his hand painfully. "Paige!"

Sonya jumped as a shimmer of light coalesced beside Jarod, forming into a woman. The woman, Paige Sonya assumed, grimaced as she saw Jarod pinned to the tree, "God, Jarod, you're as bad as Xander!"

"Could you...?"

"One moment..." Paige took hold of Jarod, then they both shimmered out and appeared a few feet away. Paige then quickly healed his shoulder as she looked around, "What a mess."

Michelle Mirri bared her teeth as she hissed at the wolf thing that had again raked her side and tried to work out a way to get through his defense. Unfortunately, everything she tried so far resulted in more scratches along her flanks and, while he was getting some in return, she knew she was on the short end of it.

She tensed for anothe lunge when a voice caught her by surprise.


Mikki half turned, surprised to see Faith standing just above them.

"Fight's over! Come on!"

Mikki turned to glare at the wolf again, the sniffed as she turned away from him, 'accidentally' swiping the ground with her paw and throwing a chunk of dirt into the wolf's face as she padded away.

Oz watched the cat go, shifting back to his human form, and spit out a chunk of dirt after he took off his helm.

"Cats," The werewolf muttered, shaking his head, before starting to make his own way up the hill in the hopes of finding out what the hell was going on.

Xander looked up from where he was holding Willow and blinked.

"Ok... I think I got hit harder than I though," He said, "Cause I'm seeing double here, guys."

The two Cordelia's and Buffy's, glared at him openly as his own spitting image shook his head and responded, dryly. "This is going to get confusing."

"That's the best you can do, man?" Xander demanded, "There's no way you're me, that was lame."

"That was fact." cam the response, "I can joke with the best of them... and I will, when the best of them show up. In the meantime, how is she?"

Xander glanced down, then back up, and nodded. It was him. Well, another him anyway. "She's fine. Just dazed a bit."

'He' nodded, "Good. Paige?"

"On it." a brunette stepped forward, "I can help her..."

"Uh... not to put too fine a point on it, but you guys are the ones who shot her."

"That would have been me, actually," Xander saw his duplicate say, "and in my defense, she was trying to barbeque my team at the time. That was then, however, this is now. Paige can help."

"I vouch for her," Sonya said, as she and... Jarod dragged a limp Gabby up the hill. "She's a whitelighter."

"Half, actually," Paige said as she knelt down by Willow and Xander. "My abilities are innate, not granted."

Her hands glowed, and Willow shifted, and Paige nodded. "She'll be fine in a moment."

"Thanks." Xander said simply.

"How's Robin?" Steve asked, looking further on.

"Robin?" Xander saw his duplicate ask.

"I don't know," Xander shook his head.

"Stay with Willow, we'll be back." Steve said, moving on. Xander's duplicate and the woman, Paige, went with him.

Xander turned his attention to the two Cordelias and leered fondly, "I've had dreams that start right about here."

His Cordelia smirked back, but the other one merely raised an eyebrow as she looked him over.

"Keep dreaming." She said dryly, then snorted and shook her head, then glared at her counterpart, "And go get a room if you're going to start thinking like that, we've got business to deal with here."

"H... How?" Cordy gaped in shock.

The somewhat older version of Cordelia just shook her head and walked over to where Jarod was standing with Sonya, "She going to be alright?"

They looked down at the corpse by their feet and Sonya nodded, "Oh sure, happens all the time. Jarod just got her pretty good with that twist of the blade he pulled at the end. She'll be up in a few minutes."


Xander glanced down when Willow moaned, and helped her stand up as she started to shift. "You ok?"

"'m fine," She said as he steadied her, "Wha happened?"

"You got shot in the face." Xander said, then looked over his shoulder, "By me, apparently."

"Wha?" She blinked, looking over her shoulder at him.

"Long story."

She shook her head, "Oz?"


They turned to see Oz, Faith, and a *Jaguar* climbing the hill toward them.

Xander yelped, dropping Willow, who fell on her ass and yelped in pain.

"Damn it, Xander!" She growled, her head suddenly really clear, albeit ringing, as she glared up at him.

"Sorry! But... CAT!" Xander pointed, "Big goddamn CAT!"

The Jaguar cocked it's head, looking at him, then began to walk toward him as Xander fell back. As it walked it shifted, and a nude hispanic woman was in it's place, and... Xander fell back faster.

"Uh..... hu.... wha...?"

The nude woman stopped in front of him, sniffing him carefully, then abruptly sneezed and grimaced as she turned away from him and glared at the older Cordelia and pointed at him accusingly. "Stinks!"

"Wha? HEY!" Xander objected, "What the hell is that supposed to mean!?"

Amy stared as the people approached, interposing herself between her injured lover and them, even though she recognized Steve and Xander.

"It's alright, Amy," Steve said, "It's over."

"Robin's *dying*," She growled, glaring at the woman she didn't know.

"Paige here is a medic," Steve said, "Let her take a look."

Amy hissed, but Shaw put a hand on her shoulder. "Amy, there is nothing I can do now."

The blond sighed and nodded, letting herself fall back as the woman, Paige, stepped forward.

"Robin Goodfellow!?" Xander growled, "Robin Goodfellow is on your team??"

"You know him?" Steve asked, raising an eyebrow.

"He was at my chief Lieutenant's wedding a few years ago," Xander glared down at the wizened husk of a Fey. "He doesn't use his true form when working with your group does he?"

"No, he has a human form."

"Figures. Explains why I didn't recognize him when he launched that attack," Xander sighed, shaking his head. "Paige?"

The half whitelighter shook her head, "He's not human, Xander."

"Understood," Xander turned to Steve, "How far out is your medical evac?"

Steve checked his watch, "Four hours."

Xander keyed open his fold comm, "Spooky Too, Harris here."

"Roger, Commander, Go for Spooky."

"How far out is the Hospital module?"

"Setting up now, Sir."

"Good. Inform Tara we have a wounded Fey inbound. Iron Poisoning."

There was a pause, "Understood sir."

Xander half turned, "Jarod!"

"Sir!" Jarod called from across the field.

"APC, get it here ASAP."

Jarod waved, then quickly found a boulder to sit on as Xander turned back. "We've got a fully equipped MASH unit being established about four miles from here. Tara's our best Doc, and she's about the only person I know capable of treating a Fey."

Steve looked down to where Amy and Shaw were intently watching the wounded Fey. "Shaw is our field medic. She stays with him at all times."

"Uh..." Xander gently pushed Steve back, leaning in and whispering something.

Steve blinked, stared at him for a moment, then swallowed. "Ok, Amy stays with him."

Xander looked confused, but Steve just stayed firm, "Trust me."

"Alright." Xander said with a shrug, "Your people, your call."

A whine roared through the air, and they all turned to see a sleek fighter crest the tree tops above them, slowing fast as it came into a buzzing hover over their heads.

Steve raised an eyebrow as the large forward cannon swept over the group, tensing to move, when Xander just waved and keyed open his comm again.

"Stand down, Grandpa, we're in talks here."

"Damn. I knew Preston was going to get all the fun."

Sonya walked over to Jarod as he sat on the boulder, hands moving in mid air. "What are you doing?"

"Flying our APC in here on remote," He said, not looking up. "Bird Dog, this is Pretender. Am Advising, APC being moved by Remote."

"Roger Pretender." Guthrie's voice came back, "Confirmed. How'd things go, Jarod?"

"We're in talks now. Some casualties... no fatalities..." Jarod paused, glancing back at Sonya and forced a half smile, "No permanent fatalities at any rate."

There was a long pause.

"Come again, Pretender? I didn't copy that."

"Long story. Explain later."

"Understood. Am showing the APC en route to your location. Be aware, there are potential hostiles in the airspace. Contacting Grandpa to provide escort."

"Thanks, Bird Dog."

Steve St Wolf watched the man with the face of a friend as they waited, trying to get a read on the man and his team. They were professional, that was certain, but Steve would have expected nothing less of a group composed of so many familiar faces.

"Faith, you want to see if you can track down that pilot we found?" Xander said as he walked back, stripping off his combat vest as he did and handing it to Mikki. "And for god's sake, Mik, you're making me cold, put this on."

The young woman shrugged, accepting the black vest, and slipped easily into it with a roll of her eyes. It covered her torso, more or less, but she was still standing there bare assed, and the overall effect was... interesting to say the least.

"See something you like?"

Steve jolted, Buffy's soft whisper in his ear surprising him. He turned to look at her, then snapped back to look at Mikki as he caught her meaning. "What? No! I was just..."

"Relax, I get it." Buffy grinned, "She's a little weird. I can't help staring myself... she doesn't seem the least bit put out by it though."

"Mik, go find your clothes and see if your pants are good, then help Faith find Ferguson will you? If he's running we made need to track him..."

"That's because she's a Primal."

Buffy and Steve turned to look at the older looking version of Buffy herself.

"Mikki spent her childhood with a Primal family, Xander found her after they'd been killed... He never managed to get her used to clothes," She said, extending a hand, "I'm Beth by the way, in case you were thinking about calling me Buffy Two or something. Already did this whole double deal, so I figured I'd just change my name and be done with it."

"So this is normal for you guys too, huh?" Buffy laughed.

Beth shrugged, "I don't know about 'normal', but it's not my first foray into double identity world."

"Ours either, but I don't do it enough to change my name," Buffy told her.

Beth smiled, "Well it was either that or get used to two people answering whenever mom screamed 'Buffy!!'. I don't like catching flack for mini-me's actions, so I went with the new name. Besides, it's much more adult than 'Buffy', no offense, and goes well with the no bleach look."

Steve spared Buffy and amused look, but she shot him an 'I dare you to comment' look that shut him down before he could say anything.

Xander, however, didn't get the message.

"Hey, uh, Beth is it? I've always wondered," He asked, grinning as he moved over, "But pure out of scientific curiosity, did your IQ go up when you went brunette?"

"Well it couldn't have gone down," Cordelia snarked from behind him.


Steve watched them fall into their usual interactions, but kept an eye on the other Xander as they talked and joked and generally tried to break the tension that had grown up. With Robin down, which Steve had to admit was a pretty impressive feat given that power for power, he was one of the top entities around, they had a lot of that tension to burn off.

<Some kind of iron based artillery shell,> He mused, wondering what kind of foes they dealt with on a regular basis to make something of that nature part of a standard load out. The assault craft that had hovered over head following their fight was another eye opener. He was pretty sure that it was at least as advanced as any of the prototypes Stark and Xanatos were playing with, maybe more so.

That meant that this group had resources on the scale of the Order, at a minimum. Nothing standard issue, either, which once he thought about it, was damned strange. There was no pressing reason he could think of not to use standard issued weapons, even NATO standard small arms were effective with the right ammunition. Why the investment in these highly advanced fighters?

<Unless his world is significantly more advanced...> Steve pondered, <If you need gunships, wouldn't a Super Cobra be nearly as effective, and a lot cheaper?>

He shook his head. It was an alternate Earth, who knew how things had turned out there. It was just one of those things he would have to find out about in the process of learning more about these potential allies.

Steve's attention was brought back to the situation in hand when a cry announced the arrival of another piece of the puzzle. It was a clunky looking craft, a definite military design, but it flew fast and straight and came in for a smooth landing just yards away.

"Alright, Paige... keep him stable. Hey, uh... Steve, right?" The other Xander said, nodding to him. "Give me a hand here. We'll get him in and strapped down for the trip."

"Right." Steve nodded, walking over.

They grabbed Robin from either side and hefted, carrying the injured Fey up the lowered ramp into the APC while Paige and Shaw paced them, both putting their magics into keeping Robin from getting any worse.

"Where's that damned pilot anyway?" Xander asked, looking around.

"Faith called in," Jarod said, slipping behind the controls. "He's in the wind, Mikki's on his tail though. We'll pick them up on the way."

"Alright, let's get everyone on board then and move out." Xander said, pulling himself into the co-pilot's bolster and strapping in.

<Bunch of lunatics.> Major Bryce Ferguson grumbled, making his way in the opposite direction of the shooting. He didn't know who they were fighting, but didn't much care anyway. It would be hours, at the earliest, before the task force could land a ground team, so neither side were anyone he cared to meet at the moment.

Besides that, who the hell used a flame thrower that big anyway??

The ground pounder bullshit was for Marines and other lower forms of life. Artillery barrages, flame throwers, machine guns... Christ, why couldn't they man up and strap on a fighter to settle their differences anyway?

A coughing roar caught his attention, but Bryce shrugged it off. Mountain lion, no big deal. Those things didn't hunt humans anyway, especially not in an environment like this. Lots of other food going around, assuming the beasty wasn't keeping low cause of all the noise.

He stumbled, catching a tree to keep himself from falling, then pushed on. How the hell was he going to tell this story back in the O Club anyway?

<Hmmm... Well, heroic crash, captured... subsequent escape... Not too bad, good for some free drinks anyway...>

His train of thought was derailed when another coughing roar startled him, much closer this time, and he turned around just in time to see a large black cat come charging out of the trees.

"Oh shit!" Bryce yelped, stumbling back when the cat leapt straight at him, the wind knocked clear out of his lungs as he and the cat crashed to the ground. <After all this I get eaten by a Panther!? Hey... there are no panthers in California... right?"

The large cat looked down at him from where it was perched on his chest, preventing him from drawing an easy breath, then began to shift and almost melt. Bryce stared, his jaw dropping, as the cat was replaced by a young twenty something hispanic woman who just happened to be naked and... well, rather fetching actually.

As he was still trying to formulate his thoughts she glared at him.

"You stay put." She ordered, then lifted her hand, "Got him!"

He looked to one side as another woman came out of the trees and paused to smirk, "Face it flyboy, you just can't help but have us ladies chase you down. X, this is Faith. Come pick us up, we've got the flyboy."

He quickly recognized them both as part of the group that had found him earlier, and Ferguson's interest in the nude woman fled as he slumped to the ground.

<So much for EVER telling this story in the O Club.>

A low whine she didn't recognize was the first thing Gabrielle noticed when she gasped to life, her instinctive motion checked by something holding her down.

"Sleeping beauty awakes," The familiar, amused sounding, voice of Sonya greeted her.

Gabrielle frowned, looking around. She was in some kind of military vehicle, that much was certain. She'd seen enough of them to know the layouts, but it wasn't any she'd ever seen before.

"Where are we?" She asked, quickly recognizing that her entire group was there, crammed tightly into the space available, with Robin strapped between them on the floor.

"APC," Sonya shrugged, "Turns out the guys we were fighting weren't the bad guys."

Gabrielle grimaced, "I hate it when that happens. Who killed me?"

"Jarod." Sonya smirked.

Gabrielle looked confused, "Excuse me?"

"Jarod killed you, you know... the Pretender?"

The Queen of the Amazon's snorted, "Please. Jarod's good, but he's not THAT good. What's going on?"

"Actually," A familiar voice said, startling Gabby as she turned to see Jarod swivel toward her from the front, "From what Sonya has said, I believe that your Jarod is probably more skilled with the blade than I am."

"Uh..." Gabrielle said, looking flustered.

"Dimensional alternate," Sonya said helpfully, then glared at Jarod, "And aren't you flying this thing?"

"We're on automatic guidance to the Hospital beacon." Jarod replied, shrugging, "And as I was saying, I'm only considered above average in sword use. Of course, given my company that means that I'm actually quite good... still, from what Sonya said, I surmise that your Jarod is quite a bit better."

"Not from what I've seen," Sonya objected, and Gabrielle had the impression that they'd argued this before.

"Uh... how long was I out?"

"Huh? Oh, about seven minutes."

Gabrielle blinked. "Ookay. And how many times have you two argued this point already?"

"Eight." Jarod told her. "I would have convinced her already, but I was busy flying the APC in on remote."

"Ok, I believe that's Jarod, alright." Gabrielle sighed, looking around, "Now who the hell are the rest of... are there two Cordy's and Buffies?"

"Two Cordys, yes," one of the Buffies said, "But I'm Beth. Pleased to meet you."

"Uh... likewise." Gabrielle said, still putting everything together. "Ok... Alternates I get... but running into each other out in the middle of nowhere on an Earth I *know* you guys don't come from... this is getting a bit much."

"We were here for the same reason you were," another familiar voice said, and she turned to see a second *Xander* swivel around to face her. "Mind you, in our case it's a little less altruistic of us. Some of your problem here spilled over into our home dimension... can't have aliens from dimension X popping in to blow the hell out of major cities, it gets folk riled up."

"And another Xander, I see..." Gabrielle muttered, shaking her head. "Who's next? Another St Wolf? Willow?"

"Oh God I hope not," Sonya muttered. "One St Wolf if more than enough."

"Never heard of St Wolf until Stephanie landed in LA," Xander replied, shrugging, "As for Willow... well, we have one of course, but I'd never risk her out on the front... and if I were dumb enough to try it, every man in my command would gladly string me up by my intestines."

He paused as the rest looked confused, then shrugged, "And they'd be right, too."

Jarod chose that moment to speak up, "We're arriving."

"Clear the road!"

Sonya and Gabby threw themselves aside as the door to the APC opened and four men in light blue shoved their way in, unstrapped Robin from the floor, and hustled him out.

"Hey!" Amy yelped, struggling with her own straps as she tried to get loose. "Stop!"

Xander, the one in the co-pilot's seat, reached across and flipped the straps off. "Hurry up. Tara's been told that you're coming."

She spared him a glance, then nodded as she rushed out.

"Don't worry," Xander told the rest of them, "Tara's the best, she'll take care of them."

"You mean him," the other Xander said, "right?"

"Uh... sure," Xander shrugged, "If you like. Come on, clear the APC. We're likely to need it as a mobile ambulance."

They were quickly shuffled off the APC, and walked into the middle of a familiar scene for most of Section 7. Around them men and women were quickly setting up an armed camp, all centered around a large prefab box that they could see Robin and Amy being guided towards.


"What is it, Apone?" Xander said, glancing around.

"We're moving in more men, Sir, but this mess is looking bad. Latest reports shows at least a hundred human survivors and more than a dozen dragons along the perimeter of those nukes," The black man said, walking over, "We just don't have the capacity to handle that kind of load on this side, and it'll take hours to move it through... then hours more to get it here."

"Alright, I'll start looking over some options," Xander told him, "in the meantime..."

"Yeah, yeah... do what we can with what we got," Apone snorted, "Story of my life, Sir."

Xander grinned wryly, then headed for the central box, taking a moment to glance back, "Jarod, coordinate with the DocWagon teams and use our APC as an additional ambulance."

Jarod nodded and backtracked quickly.

"Dawn..." Xander said, pausing when the young woman didn't notice, then sighed and snapped his fingers under her nose. "Dawn!"

"What!?" She glared.

"Stop sizing our guests up for spell components and see if you can't help get material moved in here, we've got injured people and dragons with radiation exposure coming in soon," He growled, shaking his head.

"But have you LOOKED at them!?" Dawn demanded, "They're charged so high I'm surprised they haven't blown up! Do you have any idea what that would do to the..."


"Fine, but I've got dibs on whatever Tara doesn't use when she's done taking analysis samples."

"Just get out of here!"

Dawn left in a huff, leaving Xander shaking his head in her wake. "I've got to have another talk with Jacks about her."

He turned to see several people gaping at him, "What?"

"T... that was Dawnie?" Buffy asked, shocked.

"Uh... yeah."

"But she was so... so..."

"Hot." The other Xander filled in.

"Yeah... NO!" Buffy shook her head, "Dark! And old! What the hell?"

"Actually, that does bring up a point I've been wondering about..." Steve spoke up, "Your ages seem... well, not to be rude, but a little out of wack. Beth here is older than Buffy, but Xander you look the same age as our Xander... Dawn looks to be in her early twenties, Cordelia about the same."

"Actually, I'm almost thirty... a year older than Beth," Xander shrugged, "We have a few things that affect our aging, but it's nothing standard if that's what you're wondering."

"I'm going to regret asking this," the other Xander sighed, "I know I will... but when you told Dawn to stop sizing us up for spell components...?"

"Let's just say that if you see her coming at you with a knife... she's not homicidal, just a little bent." Xander answered dryly. "Dawn is a Practitioner of the Blood."

Willow gasped, "Goddess."

"What?" Buffy turned to look at her, "What is it?"

"That's dark magic..."

"Yeah..." Xander agreed, "Not black, though. Just to be clear... She, mostly, doesn't take samples from unwilling donors."

"Mostly?" Steve asked dryly, raising an eyebrow.

"She makes an exception for her sisters and family," Beth returned in the same tone. "I've woken up more than once to a creepy Goth Girl standing over me with a knife."

Put that way, everyone in the group shivered automatically.

"Given the fact that half of you were touched by Gods," Xander said, "Expect to be targeted when she gets time... and if you're not willing to part with a pint, don't owe her any favors."

Xander and Oz stared after the girl who'd just left them, then both shuddered again.

"I'm never looking at Dawnie the same again."


"She's that obsessed with blood?" Steve asked, walking alongside Xander as they headed toward the center of camp.

"Yeah, but it's not as bad as it sounds. Mostly she cuts a deal with someone and sends them to tara to have a sample taken. Almost all her magic can be done with preserved blood..." Xander shrugged, "As for the high level stuff, well mostly she doesn't do that unless the sky is falling, and at that point people are usually willing to bleed a little if it'll save their ass."

"I'm sure."

"Just be glad that you're only an Immortal," Xander told him, "When Dawn gets a shot at Gabrielle there, well... let's just hope Gabrielle isn't afraid of knives."

"Excuse me?" The blond growled from behind them.

Xander looked back at her, "You've been touched by a God, that's easily readable in your Aura. Dawn's going to go ape at the idea of finding out how that affects your blood."

Gabrielle shivered, then shrugged, "Maybe I'll put her on to Andrea. That might be fun to watch."

"Oh, is little gabby afraid of the big bad goth girl?" Sonya teased her.

"What I want to know," Oz spoke up conversationally, "Is why the Cat there is walking so far away from us?"

Xander looked around and raised an eyebrow to see Mikki, once again dressed thankfully, walking about ten feet to the side of them. "Uh... Mik?"

"They stink," She growled.

"Hey! Again with the stink! I do shower you know," the other Xander objected.

"Is she saying *I* stink too??" Cordelia asked, affronted.

Xander sighed, "Mikki's a primal. If she can't quite pin down a sensation she tends to equate it with smell. She's probably picking up the *massive* amount of magics you people have had cast on you."

"She can smell magic?" Steve asked, interested.

"Not really, that's just the closest way she can explain it... it's like a human telling you they keep seeing something out of the corner of their eye," Xander said, "it's just how her mind filters uncommonly used senses."

"So I'm assuming a shower won't do any good?" the second Xander asked.

His Cordelia leaned over and sniffed, "Don't rush to judgement on that one."


While they'd been speaking the group had made their way to the large hospital module that stood in the center of the clearing, and Xander quickly made his way into a tent that had been set up beside it. He reappeared a moment later with a glowing sheet of something in his hand and frowned as he stared at it.

"What's that?" Steve asked, walking over as the others continued to talk.

"Resource allocation tables," Xander sighed. "We're going to be strapped here, damn it... and... aw man, Hey!"

"Yes Sir?" The woman Xander had flagged down paused.

"What's this priority SAR listing?"

"Pilot Preston was shot down just a few minutes ago, Sir."

"Great. He ok?"

"Unknown. Pilot Kevin took the Spooky and his ground team to pull him out."

"Thanks, Lieutenant." Xander sighed, tapping something onto the sheet. "Got to remember to send a recovery bird to pick up the airframe when things calm down. Don't have enough of those to waste."

"You're in charge of all this then?" Steve asked, leaning against the side of the prefab module.

"For my sins, this is my punishment," Xander half smiled, shaking his head.

Steve chuckled, "I know the feeling."

"Look, I've got a ton of work to do now that I'm out of the field... even if it's only 'technically' out of the field," Xander sighed, "So... look around or something, don't get in the way, and I'll be with you later."

Steve watched the young man shake his head after that and duck back into the tent, then turned away as he himself was lost in thought. The camp was a hotbed of activity, people milling around as they setup tents, dug fortifications if Steve was reading them right, and generally established an armed camp in the middle of disputed territory.

There were large flying vehicles arriving and leaving by the minute, most of them similar to the APC that had transported the group there, or the fighter they had seen flying over them. They were well equipped, motivated, and very professional by his take on things. That meant that they would likely be very good allies, or very dangerous enemies.

He had to decide which, though, and quickly. As professional as these people were, it was becoming rapidly obvious that they were overreaching themselves, at least on the medical side of matters, and if they were to be Allies... well, then it was soon to be time to show just how the Order handled such matters.

Stephen St Wolf, Knight Lieutenant of the Order of the Grail, sighed.

Operational Security was one thing, but there were people dying out here, in dire need of medical attention. He couldn't leave these people to handle it all. He keyed open his radio, "Wolf's Head to New Orleans."

"New Orleans here, Go."

"Have you established contact with the Vale?"

"Satellite network is still incomplete, however we've been contacted by a 'relay' agent with the appropriate codes. Can relay message."

"Good. Send to Marc... Have contacted possible allies, vital need for medical exists. Mobilize the M.A.S.H. units and prepare to receive teleport coordinates. Confirm."

"Confirmed. Message will be sent."

"Wolf's Head out."

Outside The Vale

"That's out of the question." Scilla growled, shaking her head from side to side.

"Ma'am," Whitmore smiled reasonably, "These are the latest intel reports from the field..."

The table lit up, showing numbers and a map of the west coast.

"There is a growing alien power signature here, and another here..." Whitmore pointed to two points on the map. "We've got some direct observation, and we've confirmed that one of them is a fully established base. The other seems to be in the process of being setup, but there are heavy craft all around it with very highly powered weapon signatures."

The two Dragon's hissed as Duncan Macleod grimly looked on.

"We've detected multiple nuclear cores in each craft, only one in each that equates with a power core."

"What does that mean?" Scilla growled.

"He means that each ship contains nuclear arms," Duncan translated, looking over the numbers, "You're sure of these numbers?"

"As much as we can be at the moment," Whitmore shrugged, "There's always a certain margin for error when dealing with alien technology, but physics are physics and nukes and nukes. There's only so many things that give up that rad signature."

Duncan nodded grimly.

"This means very little to me, and I cannot agree to your demands."

"Ma'am," Whitmore sighed, "This isn't a negotiable demand. You need our help, and we want to give it to you, but in order to operate in this AO we *need* that forward base. Our people don't just spring fully formed from the battlefield, they're not the Teeth of the Dragon, pardon the reference. They're soldiers, and good ones, but soldiers need a base to work from and a supply line to keep them fed, armed, and otherwise equipped."

"You're asking us to give up our world again, that will NEVER happen again."

"Ma'am," Whitmore rose up, voice and tone becoming shorter and colder. "The Knighthood never took your land from you. We brokered and mediated a deal between your people and several nation states you had come into conflict with. The deal was entirely yours, and had nothing to do with us beyond our mediation."

Scilla rose up, breath hissing as she glared down at the man in front of her.

"Scilla," A voice from the back called out, deep and serious, startling them all.

"Marc," Duncan hissed, "You shouldn't be out here..."

"This is no affair of the Order, General." Scilla hissed, glaring at the man who was marching forward.

Whitmore focused on the man, noting the new troops that had arrived with him only absently. He'd been informed of their arrival several minutes before they actually showed up, and were of little real interest to the Warrior turned Politician turned Diplomat.

This man, though, he was of serious import. Whitmore could feel the command authority roll off him, and knew that whether it was this 'Orders' business or not, they were about to make some headway.

"Mr Whitmore," The man said, coming to a stop in front of the table. "I am Knight General Marc Le Chevalier of the Order of the Grail."

Thomas Whitmore nodded seriously, extending a hand. "Thomas Whitmore, Ambassador to The Knighthood."

Both men exchanged long stares, each hearing the capital letters in the other's words.

Marc smiled slightly, "It would seem that we have some things in common."

"Apparently so."

Marc sighed, "I've been asked to prepare our medical corps for emergency deployment."

"Yes, by Stephen St Wolf," Whitmore replied, keying on segment of the desk. "He and his team are at our forward MASH unit now."

"Are they alright?"

"There was a blue on blue incident," Whitmore said, "nothing irreversible, apparently, though one Robin Goodfellow was seriously injured."

Duncan stiffened, "Robin's hurt? But he's..."

"Fey, yes," Whitmore nodded, reading the file. "Standard issue supernatural countermeasures include iron shrapnel."

Marc winced, almost imperceptibly, then shook his head. "Your communications system is... impressive."

"I'm linked to our forward bases in real time," Whitmore nodded, "We don't use radio communication, so we don't need a satellite network to stay in contact."

Marc nodded, "We'll be sending in our medical corps within two hours."

"I'll advise the local units to expect them... We can have an area prepared for their arrival, if you wish?"

"That would be fine, thank you."

Tom tapped in a command, then nodded, "it'll be done. Just let me know before you begin actual transport."

"Agreed." Marc said, "Now, as to your demands..."

"They are not acceptable," Scilla growled.

"Ma'am," Whitmore sighed, "What guarantees can I provide..."

"None. We don't trust you, we will never trust you..."

"Scilla, please." Marc said calmly, his eyes focused on Whitmore. "What guarantees did you have in mind?"

"We're willing to sign an agreement that clearly limits any claims we have to the base and the immediate area around, with limited military presence in other areas to be permitted only for active areas of interest," Whitmore said.

"For how long are you thinking, Mr Whitmore?"

Tom Whitmore sighed, "Let's be honest here, Mr Chevalier... This is the opening shots of a war. The odds of this finishing any time soon are not good. We need the base until such time as we can secure this world and prevent either force from regaining a foothold."

"Your interest in this matter still puzzles me, Mr Whitmore," Marc said calmly, not really sounding puzzled. "However you look at it, however, you have come here without an invitation, and are establishing a military base on sovereign land. That in itself makes you a *third* invader here in the Valley."

Tom Whitmore sighed, "I'm sorry you see things that way. Our immediate response was predicated on our policy concerning alien attack on our world. In point of fact, a military assault was launched on Los Angeles, using *this* world as the staging area, and resulted in eight hundred and forty three deaths, three thousand nine hundred and twenty injuries, and approximately four hundred million dollars of property damage."

"This is NOT our fault!" Scilla snarled, smoke curling from her nostrils.

Marlella rested a talon on her friend, "I believe that he is pointing out that had we secured our own world, his would not have been attacked."

"Marlella, please," Marc hissed, not wanting her to add any legitimacy to what Whitmore was saying.

"I'm no diplomat, Marc," The black dragoness hissed, turning her annoyed glare on Whitmore, "I speak the truth as I see it, and while your point may have some validity, Mr Whitmore, it is a talking point and nothing more. Correct?"

Tom half smiled, "A little bit more, perhaps, but essentially you're correct. We don't blame you for the attack on our world, any of you. Even if you had secured your world better, it would have been nearly impossible to prevent what happened in Los Angeles, short of capturing the Sliders who led the problems here in the first place. That said, however, we fully intend to pursue those who attacked our world... and to do that, we require a forward base to operate from."

Marc Le Chevalier sighed as Scilla snorted smoke again, and the arguing continued. He hated diplomatic negotiations.

USS New Orleans

"Another dimension?" Suarez asked, just confused. "Alternate versions of... some of our people?"

"It's happened before," The man called Jarod told her, "In fact we've encountered dimensional duplicates several times in the past."

"Oy, I'm getting a headache." The Captain of the US Warship said, cradling her skull.

"I know the feeling, Captain." Admiral Chegwidden told her from where he was sitting at the head of the conference table. "Believe me, I've had that same headache many times. The important thing to ask now is, can we trust them?"

Jarod shrugged, "Well Admiral, it appears that they are engaging the invaders, and performing search and rescue for our pilots, the abandoned enemy people, and they claim that they intend begin similar operations for the surviving dragons in the area. That would indicate a certain level of good will."

"Agreed," Chegwidden replied, "Did St Wolf have any opinions?"

"None that he was willing to share over the radio, Sir." Jarod said seriously.

"So St Wolf doesn't trust these people," Suarez said.

"Nor should he, not this soon," Chegwidden said quickly, "I'd be very suspicious if he did. As it stands, I'm inclined to give these people a chance."

"That's my read on Steve too, Sir," Jarod said.

"Good. I want you and the rest of your team to deploy as soon as we're within Blackhawk range of their forward MASH unit," Chegwidden said, "Take a full assault team, air support, the works... protect that medical unit while they treat the injured."

"And get some intel while we're eyes on, Admiral?" Andrea Parker asked with a cool smirk.

"That goes without saying."

Knighthood MASH unit

"This is kinda weird," Xander pronounced, leaning against a tree as the others arrayed around him.

"Other than the copies of us walking around?"

"You, you know, I think I've gotten used to being the guys who surprise everyone else." Xander admitted wryly. "But these guys are pretty impressive, you know?"

"Yeah," Willow said grudgingly, "I wonder what kind of computers they use?"

Buffy rolled her eyes, then shrugged, "They're not so tough."

"They fought us to a standstill, Buffy," Steve interjected, "and we outnumbered them."

"That wasn't fair, they had those bomb things."

"If you're ever in a fair fight, Buff, you screwed up." Xander told her with half a smile. "Face it, we should have brought more artillery of our own."

"Never needed more than Robin before," Oz said with a shrug.

"Next time we'll pack heavier," Steve said calmly. "For now, keep your eyes open. If you see anything off about these people, I need to know."

The others nodded seriously in response.

Chapter Four

"Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it. Let me not look for allies in life's battlefield but to my own strength. Let me not cave in."
- Rabindranath Tagore

Knighthood Base Camp

The shiver of compression swept through him as Rupert Giles stepped through the gate and onto the hard stone floor of the newly constructed Gateroom. He paused briefly, then turned and cleared the road for the other Knights coming through. He made his way through the base, finding Central Command easily by following the memorized blueprints, and found General Irwin standing watch over the Command and Control systems.

"How goes the war, General?"

Irwin half turned, then nodded, "Crusader Giles. Welcome."

"Please, call me Rupert," Giles smiled, his robes swaying as he stepped forward.

"The war has yet to begin," Irwin replied, nodding to the displays. "Though the Commander has already managed to find more trouble than the rest of us put together."

"Yes well, he has a talent for that." Giles said, smiling thinly.

"So I've observed." Irwin called up an file, "He was engaged in a blue on blue incident with another team. They were surprisingly well matched, considering the group the Commander had with him... of course, since the other team include the dimensional alternates of the Commander, Miss Chase, Mr Osbourne, Miss Rosenberg, and Miss Summers... I suppose it's not a huge surprise."

Giles raised an eyebrow, quickly reading the file. "My my, they did trip over the proverbial land mine, didn't they?"

Irwin grunted unhappily, "Luckily there were no fatalities, save among a couple Immortal members of the other side. Dawn nearly killed herself from exhaustion, and the Commander should be dead by his own account, but all in all, we got off lucky."

"Indeed." Giles nodded in agreement. "This file indicates... impressive levels of magical capabilities on the other side."

Irwin nodded, not even considering how weird he'd have thought the conversation had turned just a few years earlier as he responded, "It's remarkably high actually. They've demonstrated extremely casual use of teleportation magics, to the point of sending in an entire MASH medical corps in just a few casts."


"Their battle magic is still largely unknown, however," Irwin went on, "Though from Dawn Summer's report, their version of Miss Rosenberg indicates that they have access to fairly powerful combat spells as well."

"Well now," Giles smiled tightly, "That makes things a little more amusing then, doesn't it?"

Combined Forward MASH Unit

Xander Harris stepped out of the Command tent and watched as the men across the field hurriedly, yet professionally, established the second half of the medical base. More than half, actually, if Xander wanted to admit the truth. The Order people were damn good, that was certain, and they had a much more effective method of teleport than the Knighthood had access too.

Dawn could port almost anywhere, and bring a small crew with her, along with some supplies. Paige, could bring herself and a few people with her anywhere within planetary range, even do some short range transport of supplies. The Tyke would transport large quantities of equipment and personnel within her range, but what he had seen here was beyond even her capabilities.

"They're something else, aren't they?"

He glanced to one side, nodding to Beth as she slipped in behind him and wrapped her arms around him.

"Yeah. They're more than St Wolf is letting on." He replied.

"You blame him?"

Xander snorted, "hell no. I haven't shown them half our capabilities. I just don't like it is all."

Beth smiled, her breath hot on his ear, "Poor baby."

"What's your read on them?"

"Their Buffy is a bit of a pain," Beth said, musingly. "She acts spoiled."

Xander snorted, "Gee, a spoiled Buffy Summers? Imagine that."

Beth cuffed him lightly on the shoulder, "Watch it, Buster."

After a moment Xander felt Beth shrug, "I think it's mostly an act, though. I've caught her out once or twice actually sounding intelligent."

Xander struggled to put down the coughing fit, then yelped with Beth nipped his ear.

"Ow! Hey!" He pulled loose, turning to glare at her.

"Serves you right," She told him simple, showing him her teeth in a wide and feral grin. "Anyway, I can tell you this much... She's head over heels for that St Wolf guy, and that's probably the cause of her act."


"That little mini-me is insecure," Beth answered, leaning on a post. "She's worried he'll leave her."

Xander nodded, that kind of pressure could make anyone act more than a little out of wack. "Makes sense. Any thoughts on it from the other side?"

"He's not going anywhere. He's deeper in the muck than she is," Beth smirked, drawing out a cinnamon stick from her pocket and chewing idly on it. "Anyone can see it in his eyes when he looks at her."

"Gee, I wonder how I'm supposed to feel... what with you not acting like a spoiled brat around me... not afraid I'll run out on you?" Xander asked as he walked back over to her, swaggering a bit as he grinned.

"Hardly," Beth looped her arms around his neck, "Where else are you going to find a girl who's willing to put up with what I put up with?"

"Huh... good point," Xander said, cocking his head to one side, "I mean... other than Paige, Phoebe, and you know, Faith."

She scowled in amusement, "Don't count. You still get to play with them while I'm around."

"Too true." Xander grinned, kissing her. "I'm a lucky man."

"No," She said when she broke the kiss, "We just didn't think you were worth fighting over."

Xander laughed, kissed her again, then shrugged, "A rose by any other name."

Stephen St Wolf supervised the outfitting of the armed camp from a distance, mostly thinking about the current situation as his people went about their jobs. They still had one pilot down, apparently in a hot zone, though he was assured that a top flight SAR team was on the job. Interestingly, Steve found himself believing the assurances.

This group, they impressed and amazed him in ways he hadn't felt since he first laid eyes on Buffy, Xander, and Willow back in Sunnydale. He'd been proud to be associated with them, guiding them as they grew up over the past couple years, watching them grow into some of the most powerful and competent soldiers he'd ever fought beside.

What he saw in the others, though, these Knighthood people... well it humbled him in ways. He saw a group that had equaled everything his team had, and they had done it without him.

<Damn, I always knew those kids were going to be great one way or the other,> He thought, smiling fondly.

The familiar chop of helicopter blades began in the distance, causing Steve to break out of his reverie and turn to check the sky. In the distance several moving points grew clearer as the sound increased, and Steve began moving quickly toward the central command tent he'd agreed to share with 'Commander' Alexander Harris.

"Incoming contacts."

Xander and Beth stepped into the tent, glancing over at the board. "ID?"

"United States Military transponders, Sir."

"Challenge them." Xander said, glancing back as Steve St Wolf entered the tent.

"Sending challenge now." The radio operator replied, tapping in a key code. A moment later he nodded, "Challenge response clears."

"Good," Steve spoke up, "Direct them to land in the field we cleared and make sure they report their fuel levels."

"Aye Sir."

Steve turned to leave, "I'm going to meet with my people and get our SAR teams moving. We'll coordinate with yours, of course."

"Understood," Xander nodded, "Good luck."

"Wooo-heeee," The man called Wild Bill whistled over his radio as he spotted the mean looking attack craft on the ground near where he had been directed to land. "Mean looking bastards, ain't they?"

"And those are the ones on our side, Bill," Frank Iverson chuckled back over the link. "I wonder how much it'd cost to get a few for Iverson Air?"

Bill chuckled, "Somehow, Frank, I think you'd have a fun time getting those birds cleared with the FAA."

"Probably," Frank laughed outright, "Alright, we've got our landing coordinates. Down by the numbers, and get unloaded quick. Hawks are to be refueled on a priority basis, we're going to need them for Search and Rescue. Dragonfly's are next in priority, but Bill keep your boys in the air while we refuel the hawks."

"You got it, Frank," Bill said, tapping the fuel gauge. "We're good for a little rough and tumble yet anyway."

"I know it, Bill." Frank Iverson replied with a grin. "Now lets get these birds down... I'm sandwiched in here with a bunch of antsy looking Amazons and I'm starting to get nervous."

Bill laughed loudly over the link at that, "Just keep yor hands offa mine, boss man..."

"I wouldn't worry about his hands, Bill," Cassandra spoke up, "Frank is just slightly smarter than that."

"You shore we know the same guy, Cassie?" Bill asked, grinning as he eyed the approaching field. "Cause smart ain't something most SEALS have been accused of in my memory."

"This coming from an a pilot who joined the *army*," Frank replied dryly. "We're going in, Bill. Just shut up and watch our backs."

The Blackhawk settled in, but had barely even begun to stop moving when Faith hopped out and stepped clear of the rotors, followed by Seth, her Dad, and the Wicked Stepmother.

"Damn," She said, chewing on a square of bubblegum as she looked around. "Mean Machines."

David Standing nodded, eyes shifting to the arched ariframes resting just a few dozen meters away. "Military, certainly... but there's something about them."

"Yeah," Seth Gecko muttered, eyeing the machines distrustfully. "Something not human about them. I feel it."

David nodded, "Alien almost."

Faith just shrugged, "Look about as human as anything we use, if you ask me."

"They're men, Faith hon," Celene Parish Standing said dryly, "They see things differently than sane people."

David chuckled slightly, having a thick skin when it came to subtly, and not so subtle, Amazon snarkiness. "Might be nothing, but something feels off about those fighters."

Faith shrugged, then nodded ahead of them, "I'm gonna get the four one one off Ladyhawke and the others, check in with you guys later."

"Do that," David said, "We'll check in with Command and see what the orders for this thing look like."

"Gotcha," Faith drawled, "See yas."

Faith sprinted ahead, and Seth made to follow but David caught his shoulder.

"Let her go on her own."

Seth raised an eyebrow.

"Report said that the other side had an alternate of Faith, no mention of you... let her filter in with them, maybe she'll hear something from them that they wouldn't say if you were along." David told him, "She'll be fine."

Seth snorted, "Not worried about her. Worried about what I'll do to anyone who fucks with her."

David smiled, "Get in line."

"If the testosterone posturing is quite finished," Celene said archly, "I believe I see the control tend over that way."

Shawukay Redarrow nodded as she saw Faith jog up, "Welcome to the madness, Sister."

Faith smirked, skidding to a stop, "So what's the 411, Redeye? These guys really us?"

Shaw nodded, "So it would appear."

"Wicked," The dark Slayer grinned, "A smack down with the mirror, everyone's ok, right?"

"Robin was badly wounded," Shaw said, shaking her head.

Faith stumbled slightly, looking over in surprise, "Rob? But he's like... invincible."

"No one is invincible, I am afraid." Shaw sighed, "The other team used an explosive that sent out silver and iron projectiles as part of their counter attack. Most were armored, Amy dove onto me, but Robin did not believe he was in danger... Which, I suspect, was something they counted on. He is being treated now."

Faith scowled, "Natch. Which tent? He with one of the Order Docs?"

"No, with one of theirs." Shaw answered, "Tara Maclay."

"T? Blondy's their field Doc?" Faith blinked, "Huh. Wouldn't have thought she had it in her."

"She took Amy and Robin into their main facility," Shaw nodded to a large prefab container sitting in the middle of the other half of the field, "Some time ago. There has been no word yet."

"Well lets go get a word then," Faith growled."

"Faith, no." Shaw put a hand on her Soul Sister's shoulder, "Removing that much iron from his system will take a great deal of time... there is nothing we can do."

"Well nuts." Faith muttered, "What the hell do we do then?"

"We wait, and prepare for the coming battles, as best we can."

Faith snorted, but was interrupted by a voice yelling.

"Miss Tasker!"

She glanced around, then shook her head and turned back to Shaw.

"Miss Tasker!"

<Just answer him already, you dumb bitch,> Faith thought in annoyance, trying to speak again.

"Major Tas... Faith!"

Faith jerked around, frowning, "What?"

"Jesus, what are you deaf?" A black man growled at her as he chewed on a cigar, walking toward them, "We just landed the team in, and we're wondering what you want us to do?"

"Huh?" Faith blinked.

The guy frowned, then cocked his head to one side, "Hey... you change your hair or something?"

"I believe," Shaw spoke up, "That you have mistake Faith Pryce-Standing for your own version."

"Oh shit," He blurted, "You're one of them alternates, huh? Sorry bout that, Ma'am. We weren't told you guys brought one of Faith."

"She just arrived." Shaw replied.

"K, sorry again. I've got to find the Major, though. Need to get my orders." The man said, nodding, "See you guys later, probably."

Faith watched him amble off, a little stunned. "Major??"

"Xander appears to be the man in command," Shaw told her, "Cordelia, Buffy, Dawn, and Jarod were with them as well."

"X is in command?" Faith frowned, then shrugged, "K, I guess that's not so weird. X did ok with those things last year, right? Still, I'd expect B to be the top bitch, y'know?"

"Apparently not," Shaw said, considering. "She seems to be in the upper ranks, but Xander has made the decisions and spoke with Steve as commander to commander."

"Huh. Go figure." Faith said, "And I'm a Major?"

"Quite high in the ranks, as well, from what I've gathered." Shaw told her.

"That's fucked up."

Cordelia Chase watched as the men and women jumped off the Black Hawk Helos, eyeing them with a critical eye and tasting the emotional resonance that rolled off them. The full circuit of emotional keys were there, in powerful waves. Arrogance, Confidence, some Fear... some jitters. Surprisingly few, though.

She could feel that some of them were new, many of the women had never experienced anything like this before, and yet they held the least fear. They were the most arrogant.

"Trouble." She said tiredly, shaking her head.

"Problems, C?" Faith asked, coming up quietly behind her.

Cordelia didn't jump, didn't even flinch. She'd known Faith was there long before Faith had known she was in her path, actually. So she just shrugged.

"The men are mostly experienced soldiers," She said, "The women are fighters... good ones, but they're combat experience is very slim. They're well trained, but not blooded by our standards."

"You think they'll break?" Faith asked, leaning against the refueling tanker the other side had ported in.

"Maybe," Cordelia said, "Maybe not. I think they'll be trouble. Too many rookies at the same time. They're tough, but some will break... some will try to be heros... some will just zig instead of zag."

"We've always got rookies, C." Faith shrugged.

Cordelia watched as another Helo landed, unloading a full load of women in battle gear, and then took off. "Not this many at once."

"I'll bring it up with X."

"Nothing we can do about it," Cordelia said.

"Sure, we can get ready to clean up the mess. That'll help," Faith told her. "You think the problem is mostly with the chicks?"

Cordelia sighed and nodded, "Not all of them, but a lot are new to this level of fighting. I can feel that."

"What do you think they normally do?"

Cordelia shook her head, "Don't know. Fight... they definitely fight. But not like this, that I can feel pretty clearly. They don't fight like this, even if they're trained to."

"That's kinda weird." Faith replied, frowning.

"They're kind of weird, if you ask me," Cordelia said, sighing. "Some of them... you know, some of them just consider this another day on the job?"

Faith snorted, "Like us?"

Cordelia let out a rueful breath and smiled for the first time, "yes. Like us."

Faith clapped her on the back, "Come on, C, let's get back to X. We'll let him know what you spooked out of 'em, so he can figure out how to handle it. He'll probably have some idea how to minimize any problems."

Cordy nodded, and the two of them broke from their position and turned back to the Knighthood center of the joint encampment.

"They're centered here... and here..." Xander pointed to the glowing spots on the map floating in the middle of the tent. "This one is the unknown nuke users, they've got heavy assault craft by our readings, but very few emplaced defenses. We've tentatively identified this one as the Kromagg encampment, based on our reports from the Sliders, and the readings from the attack on LA. They've got a much more developed base camp, I'm afraid."

Steve St Wolf nodded, leaning forward, "Our satellite network shows multiple energy spikes that we think are dimensional portals."

"They're bringing in more reinforcements." Xander sighed, shaking his head. "What the hell do they want?"

"I don't know."

"They're invading, isn't that enough?" Buffy asked, frowning.

"I'm with the new mini-me," Beth shrugged.

"Not even remotely," Xander replied.

"I have to agree," Steve said, "I doubt they just chose to shift their own personal war here for no reason. Figuring out what they want would go a long way to being able to predict what they're going to do."

"Exactly." Xander said, "I'm bringing in more scout Orcas to start bird dogging those bases, maybe we'll be able to figure it out."

Xander glanced up from the holographic display when Cordelia appeared at the door of the tent, waiting in the entrance. Xander nodded his head, "Come on in, Cor."

Cordelia walked in, glancing at Buffy and the man called Steve, then nodded to Beth. "I was just at the airfield, watching the choppers arrive."

Xander nodded, eyes flicking over to Steve and Buffy before making a decision. "Tell me."

Cordelia hesitated, then shrugged, "Two thirds of the troops are extremely well trained, confident, and almost too good to be true. They give off the same feel as a Cadre deployment."

Xander nodded, impressed. He hadn't really expected that much, but that did leave a question to ask, "And the other third?"

"The women," Cordelia said, "mostly. They're trained, over confident, and not blooded in field combat."

Xander lifted his gaze, looking at St Wolf as the other man's piercing blue gaze stared back. "You brought rookies to an open field combat situation?"

"They're Amazons," Steve replied, eyes flicking over to Cordelia as he tried to gage how in the hell she knew as much as she did. "They're highly trained, and used to doing small unit patrols."

"They're arrogant," Cordelia corrected sharply, "Dangerously so. We get the same thing in our recruits sometimes, it gets people killed."

"I vouch for my people," Gabrielle said, appearing at the entrance to the tent. "And the Amazons are my people."

Xander glanced at Cordelia, and she shrugged but nodded.

"Fine. Don't send more than ten percent Amazon personnel on any joint maneuvers with my people," He said firmly. "Rookies are fine, huge swathes of newbies zigging when they should have zagged is not."

"Agreed." Steve said, holding up a hand to cut Gabrielle's angry retort off. "Now if we can return to the matter at hand."

Xander nodded, turning his focus back to the holographic display. "Let's get our people together along with some representative of the locals, and we'll discuss our options."

"That may be a problem," Steve sighed.

"What problem?"

"From what I've been told, Dragon Valley's leadership isn't exactly in contact." Steve St Wolf said grimly. "Smaug is still in my own dimension, and Fragnar... the head of the council, is among the missing. The rest of the council has technical authority, but without Smaug and Fragnar it's fragmented..."

"Great." Xander muttered, "Does anyone talk for them?"

"Only Scilla and Rylah," Steve said, shaking his head, "They don't technically have any authority, but no one on the council is stupid enough to go against them if they team up."

"And they are?"

"Fragnar and Smaug's mates."

"Figures." Xander snorted, shaking his head. "Alright. We go through them..."

Xander frowned abruptly, "Hang on a second. Scilla? Isn't that the name of the Dragon negotiating with Whitmore?"

Steve nodded.

"Oh great. She's stonewalling us on our forward base in Ireland." Xander sighed, "That's going to get in the way of any campaign planning."

Steve didn't comment, only shrugging in response. "I have to talk with some of my people. I'll see if Marc can't get them on board with strategy planning at least."

"That's fine, I'm still working on getting scouting elements into position." Xander replied as Steve turned to leave.

St Wolf grabbed the still irate Gabrielle and dragged her out as the rest of his people followed.

"Of all the *arrogant*..." Gabrielle fumed as she and Steve left the Command tent, her fists reflexively opening and closing.

"He had a point," Steve replied cooly, "The Amazons aren't experienced in open battlefield tactics, and not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of them tend to be arrogant. You know that."

"Of course I know that," Gabrielle snarled, "They're my people, Steve. I know their faults as well as their strengths. I am their Queen. It wasn't his place too..."

"That's not the issue," Steve cut her off, eyes flicking over to her, "I'm more interested in how the HELL he got that intel on our people."

Gabrielle paused, frowning, "Alright, so that is a good question."

"What is?" Xander asked as they walked into the tent they'd set up for Section Seven personnel.

"How that arrogant *baccha* knew what he did about my Amazons."

"Uh... who?" Xander asked, blinking.

"You!" Gabrielle snarled.


"Your alternate," Steve said, taking a seat. "He's got good intel sources on our people already, and they just arrived."

Steve looked up, eyes floating over to Jenny and Willow, "Are our computers penetrated?"

Jenny shrugged, "Maybe. If they are, then these people are damned good though. But there's not a lot on them about our forces. Even the New Orleans doesn't have much digital data on our composition, Steve."

"It was Cordelia," Buffy said thoughtfully.

"Me?" Cordelia blinked.

"You're alternate," Buffy said, "She's the one who gave him the report, and knew that the Amazons weren't experienced."

"What!?" Cordelia shrieked, jumping to her feet. "She said WHAT!?"

"Calm down." Steve ordered, "What she said isn't the point..."

"Oh it SO is the point!"

"No, it's NOT." Steve growled, pinning Cordelia with a glare that shut her down. "The point is how did she know."

"And," Xander said conversationally, "Why did my Alternate let you find out?"

Steve paused, then nodded, "yeah. That's another good point. If he's got a good intel source in our camp already, why blow it like that?"

"How could he possibly have an intelligence source in our camp?" Jarod asked calmly, frowning as he considered the situation. "We've only just met. None of our people had any contact with him for any real duration..."

"What about the pilot?" Xander asked, shrugging. "They had what's his name for a few hours or so, right?"

"Ferguson." Steve said, nodding, "Maybe. But he doesn't know anything about the Amazons."

"It has to be some form of electronic intelligence," Jarod said after a moment, "None of our people could have been co-opted that quickly."

"Not knowingly," Sonya said, frowning. "What about hypnosis, there are some vampires and other demons that can pull information out of people like that."

"Have they had any close contact to enable that?" Jarod frowned.

"Would they need it?" Steve spoke up, "Can we know what kind of limits there would be on that kind of power?"

The rest just shrugged, uncertain how to answer that.

"Alright, pass the word to everyone," Steve said, "Watch out, don't be alone with these people. work in teams of two or more. I don't think that they're up to anything, if they were I doubt they'd have let slide that they had this capability... whatever it is... but let everyone know to watch out just the same."

The group nodded in agreement as Shawukay stepped in, glancing around. "They just sent word, Robin is out of surgery."

Cordelia looked over at Xander after the group from the other universe had left and shook her head, "Why'd you let them know what I was reporting?"

"Other than it being amusing to see how long it takes them to figure out how you did it?" Xander asked with a smile.

Cordelia shot him a dark and skeptical look.

"I think she wants a better reason," Beth said dryly, smiling slightly.

Xander nodded, "Keeping secrets about stuff like that is a good way to blow a alliance all the way to hell and back, but I also have a tactical reason for letting it 'slip'."

"Such as?" Cordelia asked, still not happy about it.

"I want to see how long it takes them to work it out," Xander replied, idly punching in a few commands into his computer. "It'll be a good way to see if they have similar capacity hidden away in their ranks. Keep an open mind on them, Cor. If they stop being confused too soon, we'll have to make sure we have full defenses in place to keep them from doing the same thing you just did."

Cordelia blinked, then nodded, "I understand."

She turned and left, leaving Xander alone with Beth.

"Risky, don't you think?" She asked dryly.

"Maybe," Xander said, "But honestly I don't think these are bad people, Beth. I don't want to get off on the wrong foot with them."

"Should have thought about that before you drove your battle staff through their leader's chest," She replied dryly.

Xander chuckled in agreement, "True, but at least it wasn't a permanent misstep. A violation of trust... well, that's another matter."

"Then why didn't you just come out and tell them?"

"I told you and Cordelia, I want to see how long it takes them to work it out." Xander replied, smirking, "Just because I'm not going to hide it from them doesn't mean I can't get some good intel in return for letting the cat out of the bag, does it?"

"You're getting way too sneaky in your old age," Beth smirked.

"Must be the company I keep."

KVS Stormagg

"Prefect Sinog, We have located a community."


"On the continental mass the humans call... Europe."

"Prepare a strike team... This time, I want prisoners."

Knighthood Forward MASH Unit

Cordelia, Willow, and Buffy led the way to the Medical facility the Knighthood had placed in the center of the growing camp, practically skidding to a stop as four orderlies carried the stretcher cots from the building, and they cried out in shock to see both Amy and Robin laying out on the two cots.

"My god! What happened!?" Cordelia yelped, then focused her anger on the orderlies, "Amy wasn't hurt!"

"No." A voice surprised them, causing them to turn to see the familiar face of Tara Maclay step out, looking flushed and very tired. "She wasn't."

"Then why is she unconscious?" Steve asked as he stepped up, standing ever inch of his Six Foot Two Inches, glaring quietly at the blond.

"She was in a relationship with Robin," Tara said, "So I made use of that connection. It tired her out, but made his treatment much more effective, they'll both wake up in a few hours. Robin will be relatively weak for a few days while the residual iron works it's way out of his system. Don't ask him to make use of any magic for at least three days, am I quite clear?"

Faith chuckled behind them, but Steve just raised an eyebrow, then nodded. "Bring them both back to our tent."

"Yes Sir." The orderlies nodded, "We have a IV drop for both to keep them hydrated while they're out, we'll set up and be out of your hair."

They quickly moved across the field, heading toward the Order tents as Steve paused and looked back at Tara.

"Thank you," He said calmly, eyes flicking up and down as he reassessed his impression of the mousy young woman.

"Not at all, Mr St Wolf," She replied, "It's my job."

He nodded, recognizing a pro when he saw one.

"Mr St Wolf."

Steve turned around, blinking as another copy of Faith stepped up and came to a stop beside his own version of the girl. The two glanced at each other, smirked, then looked back at him.

"Yes?" Steve asked, not rising to the obvious bait.

"X wants me to tell you that he's setting up some kinda planning party," Faith said, snapping gum idly, "Should be online with Base Camp in ten minutes, tops."

"Thank you, Faith." Steve said, "I'll be there with my team."

"Natch." She told him, looking over at 'herself', "So. Me, huh? Working out for you?"

"Always." Faith told herself, smirking. "Good life, lotsa fighting, good friends, and the Hubby keeps me from getting wound up."

The Faith clad in the black form fitting uniform the Knighthood issued blinked, "Hubby? Ya got hitched?"

"You didn't?"

Steve and the others watched as Faith snorted in amusement at herself, "Not likely. Don't need a ball and chain, girl. Sides, I get my regular fun, with some variety on the side."

"Ok, we're moving rapidly into too much information," Steve spoke up, shaking his head. "You said there's a planning meeting?"

The alternate of Faith nodded, jerking her thumb back over her shoulder. "Command tent. You got your people up to speed?"

Steve nodded, "Marc is talking Scilla and Rhyla into shelving the base argument."

"Copacetic." Faith told him.

"Alright, Xander," Steve said, "Get Jarod and Frank and tell them I want them at the planning meeting."

"You got it, boss." Xander half saluted as he turned and jogged off.

"Cordelia, go get Sonya and Gabrielle."

She nodded, quickly heading off in another direction.

"And Faith, your parents. We'll need them."

"You got it, boss man." Faith said, turning to leave.

"You brought Mom and Dad?" The other Faith blinked, "We had to leave em at home, US Government don't much like letting them play with us."

"Yeah," Faith shrugged, "Heck, all my family is here, cepting some of the youngsters and oldsters."

"Cool. I don't see the 'rents all that often, just vacations mostly." Faith told herself.

Steve shook his head, feeling a migraine climbing, and waved at his version of Faith. "Faith... please..."

"Right, bossman. Be right back."

Knighthood Forward Base


General Eugene Irwin turned as his aide approached, nodding and accepting the offered flimsy. "Report."

"We've begun transporting Hammerheads, Sir. Armor units have come through on schedule, however, and we're installing the cat launch systems now."

"Excellent. Power Status?"

"That's the strange thing, Sir..." The Aide frowned, nodding to the flimsy, "Check page three, Sir."

Irwin raised an eyebrow and thumbed through the pages on the digital paper. He read the synopsis quickly, then looked up, "An anomaly? What kind of anomaly?"

"Something in the planetary magnetic field is throwing off a lot of our instruments."

Irwin frowned, "Our locators?"

"Fucked, Sir." The aide replied bluntly, knowing that the General didn't appreciate prevarication. "The only reason we're actually able to find our men on the ground is because everything is fucked to the same degree. We're off a consistent twelve percent on every calculation we've made to date."

"What the hell is throwing them off??"

"The entire planet's magnetic field is almost twenty percent denser than home," The Aide replied, checking his notes, "Which is impressive since there is no electrical grid here, and no local power generation to speak of. You might have noticed that you feel a bit more sluggish here, Sir?"

Irwin frowned, shaking his head, then shrugged, "I've been worn out, but it's hectic..."

"Yes Sir, but the local gravity is also about three percent higher than home."

"What the hell?"

"Heavy metals, Sir. A lot of them." The Aide replied, "We're just doing basic scanning, but we've dug out almost thirty pounds of gold alone while excavating our base. The whole planet is like a candy shop, Sir... gold, iron, silver... all right on the surface in places you'd never expect it. We've had overflights do spectroscopic analisis, and we've even detected significant quantities of Naqueda."

That stopped Irwin dead in his tracks, the experienced field general almost dropping the report as he snapped around and stared at his aide. "Are you certain?"

"Yes Sir, as much as one part per billion in trace dust around the mountains."

"My lord." Irwin said in shock.

"General! The Commander is on the line, he wants to initiate campaign planning with the locals and their backup from the alternate universe."

"Tell him to wait!" Irwin snapped.


"You heard me," Irwin growled, "Tell him I think I know what the Opposing Force is after."

Irwin grabbed his aide, dragging him out of the Command Center. "Who's in charge of analysis here?"

"Doctor Libbey, Sir."

"Burn." Irwin nodded, "Alright, let's go."

The two made their way down the halls of the Knighthood base, going up a level to where the labs had been established. Irwin spotted Kate Libbey immediately, hunched as she was over her computer system, and called out.

"Burn! What the hell is with these numbers? They make no sense!"

Kate looked up, irritated, "You're telling me? I'm trying like hell to recalibrate our positional data, *Sir*, so if you don't mind... respectfully bugger off."

Irwin grinned tightly, shaking his head, "You, young lady, are lucky that it was your beau, and not yourself, who joined the Cadre."

She snorted, "Do I look like a victim of testosterone poisoning?"

"You look like someone who needs to tell me how the hell these numbers are possible." Irwin replied, "This is Earth, damn it."

"It's Earth that was never mined out, General. No industry, no people, no mines. The planet is heavier than home, it's denser. I've detected Naqueda, and at least another three elements not on the charts back home. Those are a lot scarcer, even than the Naqueda," She told him, frowning, "I'm not sure what those do. Haven't had time to look up."

"There's not supposed to be any Naqueda on Earth, Burn."

"Well obviously the ancients were never here, so they didn't mine it out." She told him, exasperated.

"But there's a GATE here."

"We transplanted the Gate, Sir."

"We did?"

Kate sighed, "We, as in the Knighthood, a long time ago. It's our Gate, not local."

Irwin stared for a moment, "So this is a completely virgin Earth?"

Kate paused, but nodded, "That's a good way to put it, Sir."

"Thank you, Burn." Irwin nodded, "You've been an immense help."

Kate blinked as he turned and strode out, then shrugged and went back to her work.

Knighthood Forward MASH unit

"He put me on hold." Xander looked up, face filled with a slight consternation.

Beth chuckled, "It did sound important."

Xander nodded in agreement, "Yeah. Alright, did you send for the others?"

Beth nodded, "Faith and Jarod, and the Alternates."

"Good girl." Xander nodded, smiling.

"Only when we're on the clock, Xan." Beth told him, eyes dancing mischievously.

Xander was about to reply when Faith and Jarod made their way in, followed by a procession of others from the Alternate Earth. Xander noted another Jarod in the group and shook his head. <Either we're going to solve all the world's problems in one sitting, or I'm going to die of my brain climbing downstairs and strangling me.>

"Where are we?" The man called Stephen St Wolf asked as they strode in.

"My field General just put me on hold," Xander answered dryly, shaking his head.

His alternate snickered, "Isn't that always the way when you call 911?"

"Dork." Cordelia muttered, clacking a hand along the back of his head.

Steve sighed, then looked over, "Is this normal?"

"No. He said something about knowing what the enemy was after, then headed for the lab." Xander replied, flipping a folding chair around and sitting down. "If he's right, I'll be happy to listen to the Muzak and wait patiently."

Steve nodded in understanding, grabbing a chair of his own from the side of the tent. "Agreed."

Xander shook his head, it wasn't exactly the form he'd like to show to potential allies, but if he'd been really worried about propriety he would never have allowed Faith to come along.

<Speaking of whom...> Xander glanced over, eyes widening slightly. <Oh lord, there's two of them.>

Elan's mirthful chuckle echoed in the back of his head as Xander took in the sight of two copies of Faith standing side by side. One in the matt black field plate of the Order, the other in the slightly glossy black BDUs of the Knighthood. As usual, Faith had her auto adjusting clothing a couple sizes tighter than optimum for her build, and the color was set to camp conditions without any attempt at serious camouflage. The effect was one of Faith's favorites, and was guaranteed to turn heads.

Both were decked out in weapons, ready to start their own private war, with what would in most places be an eclectic mix of both ancient and modern weapons. In a Knighthood forward base camp, however, it was par for the course.

"Hey Dad," The armored Faith was saying to a man Xander didn't know, "Meet Me. Me, Dad."

The bizarre nature of the introduction kept Xander from keying in to what she said for a moment, about a half second longer than it took the BDU clad Faith, who looked her 'dad' over and frowned.

"You're kidding right?"


"This ain't dad. My Dad has 50 pounds on this guy, easy, and a lot more muscle."

Xander winced as he watched Faith punch her 'father' lightly in the chest, then reevaluate. "Ok, a bit more muscle. You got more going on under there than you look."

"Huh?" The armored brunette looked puzzled, "'course this is my dad. Who else would be?"

"Faith's Dad is Harry Tasker," Xander said, walking over as he looked the guy over. "You ain't him."

"Hey! You're not me!" the armored Faith blurted, "You're Dana Tasker!"

"Uh. Duh." Xander heard Faith say as he rubbed his temples.

"Wait." He held up his hands, "You're telling me that you have Dana... AND Faith in your world?"

"Well Yeah, Natch." The armored Faith shrugged.

Xander shook his head and turned away, looking over toward where Steve St Wolf was bemusedly watching the proceedings. "You have my sincere condolences."

"HEY!" Both versions of Faith snapped loudly as several people from both sides began to chuckle.

The two dark Slayers glared at each other, then blinked.

"So... You're Dana... but you're me too?" The armored Faith said, sounding confused. "That don't make no sense. You a Slayer?"

"Eh. Jury's out on that one," The BDU clad Faith shrugged, "I was the Slayer, back when. Then we had this whole time travel thing and I'm not the Slayer but I still have the powers, so yes but no... or maybe no and yes. Might be a maybe, but we're not really sure if it counts as a technical or just an effective..."

"Guh?" Xander Harris stared in confusion, head cocked to one side. "Can anyone here translate from crazy talk?"

"What she's saying," Commander Harris told his alternate, "is that she has the powers and abilities of a Slayer, barring the dreams. Only Buffy has experienced those since she was called as the 'official' Slayer."

"So she's the Slayer," Xander asked himself, pointing to Beth.

"No, Buffy is."

Xander looked slowly around at the section seven group, then sat down. "I'm lost."

Buffy smiled, "Sounds about right. Don't you remember, Xan? Beth told us that she had a double on her world. Two of me, pretty sweet if you ask me."

Most of the group suddenly looked like they were desperately trying to hold back comments as Buffy planted her hands on her hips and dared them to say a word.

"I don't know," Beth spoke up, surprising everyone. "I can be a pain in the ass. Trust me, not so good living with a Buffy when you're NOT Buffy."

Professional soldiers from both sides broke down in gales of laughter at the shocked look on Buffy's face as she stared over at the slightly older version of herself.

"Hey! You're like... Me! You're supposed to me on our side!"

"It's GOT to be the hair dye!" Xander roared from where he was rolling on the ground.

"Well she HAS been surprisingly insightful since she went brunette," Commander Harris half smiled, "But honestly, I credit the fact that we moved our primary base away from the Hellmouth."

"Huh? What's that got to do with it?" Buffy asked, blinking.

"Please." Beth replied, "Don't you know?"

"Know what?"

"The hellmouth puts out a radiation field very similar to a Vampire," Xander spoke up seriously, seeing that perhaps there was some information that their alternates didn't have. "Hasn't Buffy told you guys how she reacts to Vamps when they get close?"

Steve St Wolf frowned, "Actually while all of the Slayers have been able to feel vampires, it's not reliable..."

"Not on the Hellmouth. I just told you, the radiation floods the area with a practically identical mystical field," Xander cut in, looking serious. "Come on, Buffy, you never told them about what you said when Merrick taught you how to detect vamps?"

Buffy's eyes widened, then she turned pink. "Oh. That."

"Yeah, that." Beth chuckled, less embarrased. "Vampires cause a Slayer to cramp up slightly, and when I was first told about it, I said 'great! My secret weapon is PMS!?"

The group chuckled again, but Xander wave a hand a quieted them down. "So a Slayer living on the Hellmouth experiences that 24/7. You people want to guess what happens to a NORMAL woman who's PMSing 24/7 for several years? Lets just say that we base off the Hellmouth now, and Slayers rotate in for one week assignments, with at least three days off in between."

"You know," Oz said quietly, "That explains a lot actually."

"HEY!" Buffy and Faith snapped, glaring at him.

"Just saying." The Werewolf shrugged impassively.

"I'll have to look into whether it's a similar situation in our world," Steve said quietly, but admitted privately that it seemed likely. Buffy could get quite irritable around Sunnydale, even violent on occasion, but when she was out of the township she reverted almost instantly to the more relaxed woman he'd grown to love. He suspected that even on the Hellmouth, though, there were good days and bad days. "It's something for our Mystics to investigate."

Commander Harris shrugged, "Just some free intel. We found it made for a lot smoother interactions when we moved the Slayers away from the mouth of Hell. We don't station anyone there permanently, just in case, actually... but there's no indication that it actually affects normal people in the slightest. Those who are mystically inclined, however, can be... so keep an eye on your witches and such, there are things in the abyss that wait for them to stare too long."

Steve nodded. "Thanks."


Xander turned to the Comm-Tech, "Yes?"

"General Irwin is back, Sir."

"Put him through."

Outside the Vale

"Ma'am," Marc said calmly, "I understand your concerns, however campaign planning is of vital importance..."

"They are stealing our world, Marc." Scylla growled, smoke puffing into the air. "How can you ask me to stand by and allow this travesty!?"

Marc stole a glance over to where the table floated, and the man named Whitmore sat, and sighed. "Because, frankly, there's nothing we can do about it right now. They're already in place, and judging from the field reports I'm getting, I'd bet you any amount you like against a tenth of Fragnar's horde that they've already begun, if not finished, establishing fortifications. I don't think we can move them, Scylla... Not now, not with two other enemies staring us in the face."

The Dragoness let out an exasperated growl, shaking her head. "This is not acceptable, Marc. I cannot allow it."

"You're not. But you can't stop it either." Marc told the dragon flatly. "Now isn't the time. We need them, at the very least we need them NOT to be our enemies in this... As allies, we can work to save the Valley with much greater effect. To save lives... Dragon lives, Scylla."

The mate of the leader of the Council of Dragons growled her frustration, but finally bowed her head.

"I understand, Marc. And you are right... I... I cannot give in on this," She said, eyes blazing fiercely, but then sighed again, "However I will speak strategy with your council."

"Thank you."

The two turned back to the table and approached seriously.

"We will speak of strategy with your people," Scylla told Whitmore cooly, "However the issue of your base is NOT ended."

"I understand," Tom Whitmore said calmly, nodding. "For the moment we'll merely... put it aside."

"For the moment."

Tom tapped a command into the table, "This is Whitmore. We're ready to talk on this side."

Knighthood Base Camp, Ireland

Rupert Giles stepped into the command and control center quietly, catching the tail end of a conversation Irwin was having, and waited for them to finish.

"... So that's what I think they're after, Sir," Irwin said to the holographic display, "This world is unlike our Earth, and I'm guessing it's unlike ANY populated Earth. It's a near perfect environment with high value minerals practically laying right on the surface waiting to be picked up. Dragon Valley is, quite frankly, one huge horde of incredibly valuable materials."

Giles snorted in amusement as he heard Beth do much the same.

"Fitting." The elder Slayer said from her side of the communication. "Oh, hey, is that you, Giles?"

Rupert stepped forward, smiling, "It is. It's good to see you, Beth. It's been a few weeks."

She nodded, smiling, "Yeah. You get those Skjorn'val demons handled?"

Giles nodded, "The clan will no longer be a problem."

"Good," he heard Xander said, a touch of a smile on the young man's lips as he leaned forward. "In the meantime, I have a really important question for you."

Giles' raised an eyebrow, "Really... and it is?"

"Desensitization," Xander said, drawing a surprised and slightly worried look from Beth. "Is it a word, or isn't it?"

Giles was puzzled, both by the question and by Beth's reaction to it as she suddenly looked at him with a worried hint to her eye. <What on Earth?>

Beth was shaking her head behind Xander, mouthing the word no, and Giles couldn't figure out for the life of him what was going on.


"Huh? What?" Giles blinked, looking at Xander again.

"Is it a word?"

Beth was still shaking her head behind him as Giles frowned and replied, "Of course it's a word, Xander. I would have thought you knew that."

Xander grinned, pumping his fist in reaction as Beth let out a wail.

"Damn it, Giles!" She snapped, "You just sold me into sexual slavery!"

There was a long silence as Giles stared in open mouthed shock, then Tom Whitmore's voice entered the conversation.

"Uh... excuse me, but is this a bad time to start the strategic planning session?"



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