This chapter was supposed to be up more than a year ago. But I think that after the struggle I had to get the last one up, which was at the same time that I was dealing with the boss from hell, I guess that I associated it with a very bad time in my life. Then I got blocked on this, as I just went dry on this section. I then started freelancing, which meant that I didn't have a lot of time for this. My bad. So - The Terran Jedi is back. My writer's block is broken. I will update more often, I promise. Oh, and I don't own these characters.
The problem with being a moderately powerful vampire – not a noob but then not a master – was that you had to pick and choose your targets carefully in the vicinity of Sunnydale. So that was why Alan the Terrible (yes, it was the name that he'd chosen, even though it needed some work) had decided to treat his little pack to some treats well outside the borders of that wretched place.
It was a diner. Not a huge one, but at the same time not a small one either. A front door, a back door, nice and isolated, a fair few cars outside which guaranteed a captive audience – perfect. Alan looked at it with glee and then turned to inspect his crew.
Well, they were mostly a pretty pathetic lot. Gunther was big and stupid and Claude was small and even stupider. Hammer was as sharp as his name, on a good day. Luis was an inveterate crawler. Dominique was a shade better than Luis, which was not much of a recommendation. The only bright spot was Hannah, who was almost as smart as he was, who was almost as vicious as he was and who liked sex. A lot of sex. A lot of very kinky sex. He was all too happy to oblige, whilst making sure that she didn't get too ambitious.
"Emergency exit is jammed shut," Bob grunted as he made a reappearance. Alan the Terrible eyed him carefully, but the vampire appeared to be certain about his facts. That one was slow and stupid. Strong as well, but he had to be told what to do. When he caught a quick nod from Lisa, who had accompanied the idiot, he relaxed a little. Excellent, Bob had done a good job then.
"Ok everyone," Alan the Terrible said with a grin. "Let's eat in tonight!" His quip got barks of laughter from everyone but Bob (he'd probably laugh in about five minutes, once the joke had penetrated that thick brain of his) as they all looked at the diner. And then he led them in.
He could see that there were at least 30 people in the diner. They varied in age from the old foursome at the back who had to be in their seventies, to the three small kids who were running around playing some kind of game of tag whilst their parents tried to catch them. Excellent. A nice variety of starters and main courses.
He could see a waitress coming towards him and he paused for a moment, smiling in a way that made the woman pause and frown, before showing her his true self. His crew followed suit and the now very pale waitress backed away suddenly, her mouth working in terror. He could smell her terror permeating the air and the aroma was sweet.
And then everything went sideways as two people stepped towards him with resolute faces, a man and a woman, both in their very early twenties. "You know," the man said conversationally, "It's a bad idea to drop in without a reservation. It's an even badder idea to drop in when I was about to buy this lady a meal on our first date. I'm not someone who gets angry, but I have been known to get irked. And you wouldn't like me when I'm irked."
"First date implies that you want a second date," the woman said with a slight smile at him. "So?"
"Well, their arrival has kind of cast a damper over this one, so I think that a second date is required," the man said with an easy smile of his own. Then he looked back at the group of baffled vampires. "I'll give you a fair warning – leave now if you want to, for want of a better term, live."
Alan the Terrible stared at this nutjob. He should have been a gibbering puddle on the floor. And instead he was issuing warnings. "You do realise that I'm going to take my time when it comes to killing you don't you?" He said the words with a smirk and a bravado that hopefully hid the sudden feeling of uncertainty that had hit him.
"Last chance. Leave. Now." The woman said the words with a terrible finality.
This was all going so very wrong. "No," he snarled through his game face. "You die. Now."
The man exchanged a glance with the woman – and then she made a pushing motion with her hand that somehow sent three of his crew hurtling backwards through the door. Alan watched them go with astonishment and then he snapped his gaze back – just in time to see something blue and glowing hit him in his nec-
Xander extinguished his lightsabre with a sigh. Well, that was nasty. So much for a nice quiet meal. Instead they'd had to kill nine vampires in order to protect the other inhabitants of the diner, most of whom were now either wondering if they had gone collectively mad (they'd probably find a way to rationalise the whole experience away) or who were now going to try to buy them both a lot of drinks. Their meal was going to be on the house, despite his efforts to pass his efforts off as simply being in the right place at the right time.
And he was right. There were babblings, questions, one accusation of putting on some kind of publicity stunt (swiftly quashed by the ashen-faced wife of the idiot making said accusation) and finally a meal on the house. Plus enough free drink offers to keep them drunk for a week. Not that he took those up, because he was driving.
"So this is going to be embarrassing," he said to Rebecca quietly as their food was delivered by a smiling waitress. "We'll have the most observed date meal ever."
She shrugged as she took a bite of her pasta. "Well, you did say that there would be a second date. Movie perhaps? Anything directed by George Lucas?"
Xander laughed softly and then pulled a slight face. "It's weird seeing those films when I have all these memories in my head of what Obi-Wan saw." His pizza wasn't bad.
She tilted her head to one side. "It must be sad to see parts of Anakin's story that Obi-Wan never knew about."
Another wry smile. "He suspected a few things. But never the whole story. Not that. And Palpatine…" He shivered. "Man was a monster. And Anakin should have been through the Trials properly, not made a Jedi Knight in a hurry because of the Clone Wars. He never really Faced The Mirror."
She nodded. "Well, he did become Vader." Then she looked at him. "So – am I ready to face that mirror?"
He looked back at her levelly. "Yes," he said quietly. "You are. We just need to find a safe way for you to do that. We've been… I guess lucky so far. Oz and I both faced down wraiths that showed us our deepest, darkest fears. Lindsey – he faced down Holland Manners who was grooming him to eventually replace him, who wanted Lindsey to walk down the same dark path. Lindsey had a chance to kill him and he didn't. You… I'm not sure yet what we can do. Maybe another wraith, if we can find one and create safe conditions. I won't put you at risk Rebecca. I won't do that."
She looked at him and then she smiled, and as she did so then something odd seemed to lighten deep within him. "So," she said eventually, "What's the second date going to be like again?"
The room was lightless. No-one had been in it for a decade, partly because it was so well hidden and partly because there was the subtlest of deflection spells on it. People who approached it were distracted by something else just to one side of it. As a result the dust was thick within it. The book however, was clean. Untouched. And if seen in the right light it glowed in an unpleasant manner.
If anyone had been in that room then they would have heard the sound of footsteps, one set normal and one set sounding as if one of the feet was dragging slightly, approaching from some unimaginable distance away. And then there was the sound of a stone door opening with a moan of rusted iron hinges.
The two figures that entered were both wearing dark robes, with hoods that covered their faces and were clutching handfuls of sickly green fire in their hands that lit their way. One did indeed have a limp, along with an air of utter weariness. The other was a little more sprightly. It was also sniffing the air tentatively. "The vermin have been in the passages outside," the figure growled with disgust. "Both humans and vampires. Not in here though."
"What else would you expect from them? They love their trinkets. It's good that they weren't in here though," said the limping figure. It made a gesture and a chair emerged out of the shadows, into which the figure slumped with a sigh. "I need to rest. It's a good thing that Wilkins is dead. He'd never have let us in here without a hell of a fight and the way he set the wards up around Sunnydale he'd have felt us coming. Unpleasant swine he may have been, but he knew his business."
"How long do you need to rest?" The other figure sounded polite but there was an undercurrent of urgency in his voice.
"At least a week. You should go on to New York without me. We need those books if we are to be successful. I will join you once I have slept sufficiently and healed this damn foot of mine."
The standing figure looked at the sitting one with a worried tilt of the head. "Will you be safe here?"
A dry chuckle came from under the hood. "Of course. You've never really seen my spell of protection, have you? No-one will bother me. If anyone comes I will feast on what remains of their souls. Now – leave me."
The other one nodded and then turned towards the door. Just before the figure got there it paused. "By the way, you do know that there's a Slayer here don't you?"
This time the chuckle was a laugh. "Oh that would be perfect – ever had a sliver of a Slayer's soul? It'll keep you grinning for a week."
"If one visits here, save me a piece." The figure strode through the door and it closed with a thump.
The seated figure looked around the room and then seemed to peer through the walls for a moment. "Vile little things," it muttered after a while. "All they ever see are the gems. Ah well, we were all young once." It bowed its head and then started the incantations. Anything that tried to interrupt its rest was going to suffer. Horribly and terminally.
"Please tell me that you've renamed that thing."
Hannah Jeffries blinked at the question from her friend Susan Jeffries, still no relation and please stop asking. "Why would I rename it? It has the perfect name."
"Thaumometer? Straight out of Terry Pratchett? Come on Hannah, we work with the Military. They already think that we're massive geeks and nerds, you don't have ram it home."
Hannah smiled wryly. "Sue, that ship has already sailed. They've known that we're massive geeks and nerds for ages now. Besides, I can't think of another name for it and there's no time. He'll be here any moment now."
"You're sure? No other alternate name?"
"No other alternate name for what?" The question came from directly behind them and they both jumped slightly in their seats. Yes, it was the commander of the Initiative, McDermott, with his deputy, a discreetly amused Riley Finn, to his right. "Dr Jeffries. And Dr Jeffries. I understand that you have something to show us."
Right. Hannah squared her shoulders and then gestured at the screen in front of her, which had a map of Sunnydale on it. "Well sir, as you know we've been trying to get a better idea about the town and what lies under its surface – and that last part covers so many things that it's very difficult to explain. Wilkins seems to have deliberately allowed multiple companies and people and, erm, entities, permission to burrow away under the surface.
"So we've been trying to map the town and mostly failing due to the sheer number of things that are down there. The approach that Susan and I took has been a little different. We've been looking at mapping magic."
"What we've been doing," said Susan hurriedly as she saw the frowns forming on the faces of the two men, "has all been based on the odd readings that we've been recording from HSTs that have been captured for study. We were told from the start that magic is not compatible with science. But if magic follows rules whilst also touching the physical world then there must be some ties to the physical world, so we looked at it from a new angle – what if what we call magic is in fact the manipulation of exotic particles, or energy that science has not yet been able to properly predict, let alone track.
"We looked at all the results from the analysis of HSTs, we expanded the remit of some of our local sensors, we built new, more sensitive, sensors and we recorded as much as we could. Then we started to drive around town during daylight and recording what we found. Finally we set up a series of remote sensors around time, having made sure that they didn't interfere with any local civilian equipment."
"This is what we found," Hannah said, and typed in a command on the keyboard. A complex pattern of colours was overlaid onto the map. "That is, for all intents and purposes a magical map of Sunnydale."
"Whoa," said Finn as the two men both stared at the map. "Interesting. I didn't think that this was even possible!"
"We're just scratching the surface here sir," Hannah pointed out. "We really need a 3-D map to get a better idea of where everything is below ground level. But it's a start."
"What do the colours denote?" McDermott asked with a frown of concentration.
"The lighter the colour the less the amount of magic there. For example, some of the churches have little if any magic. On the other hand the darker the colour the more magic. This area for example," she traced a round feature that was as black as the screen could get, "Well, that corresponds with the old High School. That's the Hellmouth we think."
McDermott and Finn both stared at the blob. "Makes sense," Finn breathed. "My god, look at that thing…"
"And all the other areas are places where magic is being practiced, or is present?" McDermott asked, his eyes narrowed.
"We think so sir, yes. And some of the areas are possibly HSTs with high magic quotients. We saw two very powerful sources cross the screen about an hour ago. One travelled on but one stayed and is here." She tapped the screen. "We've passed the information on. Given the levels we've detected we suggest extreme caution. You have to bear in mind that this is very new to us all. As I said earlier we're barely scratching the surface of this all. The nature of the exotic particles, the way they behave… well we're opening a new area of science here and to be brutally honest we're not really qualified to even start analysing what we're picking up. And given the nature of these particles – we'd really rather not guess."
McDermott and Finn exchanged a glance that seemed to encompass an entire conversation via flickering eyebrows and then they both looked at Susan. "Do you concur Dr Jeffries?"
"I do sir," she said very firmly. "This is something that we need to take very carefully and very seriously. We think that we've also identified the best person to help us. Her name is Jeannie Miller, she's a Canadian citizen who lives in British Colombia, she's a highly regarded theoretical physicist and she once wrote several papers on the possible existence of exotic particles that resemble the ones that we've detected."
Another silent conversation between McDermott and Finn, before the former sighed slightly and then nodded. "Let me make some phone calls. Any thoughts, Agent Finn?"
Finn frowned slightly. "Only that I've love to know if this thing can detect a Slayer. And then again, knowing Buffy, perhaps I don't."
"You're learning, Finn. You're learning. Oh, one final thing – you call it a Thaumometer? From Discworld?"
Hannah blushed slightly. "Best name I could find for it sir. Sorry sir."
McDermott patted her on the shoulder gently. "Don't be, Dr Jeffries, don't be. Mr Pratchett – him diamond." And then he strode off, leaving her gaping after him.
The Tok'Ra sure had some odd instruments to shave with, Jacob Carter thought as he moved the device over his face and then ran his hand over his chin. Best shave ever.
You always say that, said Selmak amusedly in the privacy of his head. It's just a shaving device. Far better than the 'razors' that you remember. They sound so primitive!
"Hey, they work. Kinda. With the odd cut." He smiled at the laughter in his head, before turning to door when it chimed urgently. "Enter."
The door opened and Dartof entered, looking about as rattled as he ever did. "The High Council is assembling immediately, you need to come at once!"
Jacob stared at him and then reached for his tunic, pulling it on as he walked. Do you want to ask or will I? Selmak asked. 'You go ahead, I suspect that you need to drive for this one' Jacob thought and then his eyes closed for a moment as Selmak took over. "What is happening Dartof?"
The other Tok'Ra looked about carefully before replying. "Kandor has returned from his mission."
Selmak/Jacob stared at him in shock. "Kandor has been missing for so long that I thought he was dead!"
"We all did. But he is back – and he needs to talk to the High Council at once."
By the time they got to the meeting room it was already filled with the other members of the Council and Selmak/Jacob nodded and shook hands with various members as he walked to his own seat. Garshaw had the Chair today and he nodded respectfully to her. As the last member sat she looked around and then tapped the gong gently, sending a chime throughout the room and also signalling the closing of the doors.
"Thank you all for assembling at such very short notice. As some of you have probably heard by now Kandor has finally returned from his mission to discover the identity of the new Goa'uld who has been making a push to take over from the System Lords. Apparently he has some rather surprising information. Kandor, please make your report."
A robed figure stood and bowed to the council before pulling off its hood. Yes, it was indeed Kandor. "My thanks. And my apologies to the Council for what will have to be a very short report. If I am away for too long then my absence will be noted and I will be in very great danger of detection. As you know I was tasked many months ago with investigating the reports of a new Goa'uld who was growing in power. I was lucky enough to be able to find this Goa'uld and join his ranks under cover. The most important fact about him is his name. Anubis."
The High Council stared at the operative in collective disbelief. "Impossible!" Someone muttered to one side.
Garshaw nodded slightly. "But Anubis was declared dead by the System Lords centuries ago. Even Ra said that he was dead."
"Then even Ra was deceived," Kandor said grimly. "No, he faked his death and then started to rebuild his power in secret. And… he did more than that. He did something to himself, something that I have not been able to discover. This is an image of him as he is now." He held up a holographic projector and thumbed a switch. An image of a completely cloaked and cowled figure sprang to life and Jacob/Selmak peered at it curiously. Then he frowned. The face of the image contained a void.
"As you can see," Kandor said, "His face is missing. That's because he doesn't have one. There's a… gap there, a void, in the right light a shimmering surface of darkness. But he is Anubis. He talks about Ra with complete contempt – but he is evil in a way that would shock even Ba'al. And he has access to the technology of the Ancients."
This prompted another susurration amongst the High Council. "How is that possible?" Garshaw barked.
"I do not know," Kandor admitted with a shake of his head. "He is building a flagship of a type that I have never seen before. It is like a Ha'tak, but on a scale far greater and with technology that the Goa'uld do not have. I have recorded full details on this data crystal, along with my report in full about Anubis. And although his new flagship is not yet complete I know that he is planning a great attack on the home world of the Tau'ri. He has assembled ten Ha'taks so far, with another two planned to join them. He intends to smash his way back into the ranks of the System Lords by presenting them with the burning ruin of Earth. This will happen in some forty Earth days."
Jacob felt his spine crawl, along with Selmak's horrified shudder. 'We must warn them.' Selmak spoke the words to him with finality.
"I must go – as I said, I have little time before I am missed. But you must warn them." Kandor placed the data crystal on the table and then hurried out. As he left Jacob/Selmak saw that Garshaw was looking at him.
"Selmak, we have need of you."
The walls were closing in. Oh, not literally (although given time the Senior Partners might get all inventive) but definitely figuratively. He was on borrowed time now. One more mistake and… well, it would be the last thing he ever did. Holland Manners shuddered slightly as he looked about his office. Yes, the Circle of the Black Thorn (the two-faced assholes) had made it very clear that they had been watching recent events 'with concern'. The fact that the two of the last three plans to suborn Angel had been dreamt up by them (and had been ludicrously impractical) meant nothing. No, it was his neck on the chopping block right now, he could feel it.
Moreover, he knew who they were favouring right now. Lilah Morgan. Sneaky, devious little Lilah, who always seemed to know which buttons to press. He'd taught her well. Perhaps a bit too well. She'd been placed in charge of the investigation into the demon that had attacked the building, but so far he had no idea how far along she was with it.
Well, at least he had free rein over the repairs and other matters. The bodies had long since been carted away for burial (if they were lucky) or reclamation (if they were unlucky), temporary staff had been rushed in from other Wolfram & Hart offices, recruitment was under way and all the damage was being repaired. In some cases this required a sponge and a bucket followed by some paint. In others it meant total replacement of the drywall. Plus of course all the carpet was being ripped up and replaced.
He looked down at the copy of the autopsy on the demon that Simon Garcia had quietly slipped him, probably because he was keeping all his options open, like the good little minion that he was. Something about it was bothering him, but he just couldn't work out what it was. The team examining the body had ruined three very, very, sharp and ruinously expensive diamond-tipped saw blades trying to cut its skull open and had finally had to use a borazon drill. What they found inside made no sense. The creature's bones were unbelievably dense and hard, its skin was impossibly resistant and its innards, well, they made little sense, even to experienced demonologists. Moreover they'd also found residue that meant that the thing had been submersed in magma. Which hadn't obviously affected it that much.
"So what the hell killed it?" Holland muttered as he glared at the report. Whatever had dismembered it had cut through that skin and bone with impossible ease, cauterising the blood vessels as it did and… Holland stared at the report as that nagging little feeling became a nauseatingly unpleasant swimming feeling in his body. No. It was impossible.
Then he ran through the latest sightings carefully. Yes, Harris had been in LA on the morning of the day of the attack – but then he'd left for his place in the desert. McDonald was there with him, as was Osbourne, and their suspected Padawans. None of them had been LA when the creature had attacked – he knew it and he could prove it.
But the creature had been killed with what was probably a lightsabre. Someone in Wolfram & Hart had access to a lightsabre. The implications were chilling and he forced himself to stay in his chair instead of standing and pacing furiously. Who could it be and where had that lightsabre come from?
Another thought tickled at the back of his head and he leant back in his chair and ordered his thoughts. It was something of a gift of his, even if it did require peace and quiet. There had been… a mention. A mention in a report from a vampire client, about a year or more ago. Something about two men fighting in a graveyard, one with a blue sword of light and one with a red one. At the time he'd discounted it. When Harris had appeared with his damn blue lightsabre he'd been forced to reassess it. From what he remembered Harris had (obviously) won – but what had happened to that red lightsabre?
Then the other penny dropped. Jedi didn't use red lightsabres. Sith did. What if there was a Sith at Wolfram & Hart? That would explain the death of the demon. It still left the question of who the hell (hopefully not literally) had sent the demon, but it certainly explained who had killed it. That left the little issue of the identity of that 'who'.
Holland stroked his top lip with a finger that did its best not to tremble. He needed to do some very careful thinking about his future. And he needed contingency plans. Lots and lots of them. Starting with a safe way to talk to Lindsey McDonald without getting his head cut off. The Jedi had found a way to get away from Wolfram & Hart without any kind of backlash or repercussion, had in fact found a way to do the impossible. Some help might be handy.
So: planning ahead. No. Paranoid planning ahead.
She hated Slayer dreams. They were almost always cryptic, almost always peculiar. She'd once dreamt about a talking fish, there had been the centaur, the dream entire in Latin and of course there was the cheese guy. There was always the cheese guy. But last one had been unexpected blunt and easy to interpret. That left her unsettled and in need of advice from her Watcher.
Buffy found that she actually liked the university library now. It had taken about a year and a vast number of visits to Giles's office (some of the other students probably thought that she owed a huge amount in book fines), but she had finally grown to like the place. It could be… quiet.
She found Giles at his desk, poring over a thick paperback and sipping from a large brown mug that mentioned something about a Marauder's Map. Wow, a Harry Potter reference. Go Giles! As she entered he put the mug down and smiled at her. "Ah, Buffy. Everything go alright on last night's patrol?"
"Meh," she said with a shrug. "It was dull. One fledgling and a rabbit-headed demon thing who asked if I knew the right way to Albuquerque."
Giles wrinkled his forehead. "How… singular. How did you respond?"
"After I saw the Sixteenth-Century Damascus steel knife it was trying really, really, hard to hide behind its back, I cut its head off. Here you go." She rummaged in her bag and then pulled the blade out before handing it over to him. "It's really nice. Great balance."
"My, my," Giles muttered as he looked at it with some glee. "You were quite right Buffy, very well spotted. Made in Persia unless I miss my guess. Hmm-hmm. I'll check it for any spells and so forth, but if it checks out-" Giles looked up with a sly grin. "-then you can have it back. Far be it for me to stand in the way of you and a nice knife."
"Thanks Giles!" Buffy beamed. Then she remembered the dream. "By the way, I had a Slayer dream last night. Odd one too."
"Oh?" Giles asked with a frown. "Sit, please. Tell me all about it."
"Well, it was really blunt. Kind of odd." She sat down in the surprisingly comfortable chair by his desk. "I mean, these dreams are normally bizarre beyond wiggy. But this one… I was walking down a dark corridor. Lots of dust, lots of dusty smells. And then… there was this doorway. I remember feeling surprised because it was a door that was in a place that hadn't been there before. And it… felt wrong."
Giles, who had been taking notes, looked up with a concerned expression. "What do you mean by wrong?"
She leant forwards, trying to express feelings into the correct words. "It felt… as if there was evil there, but hidden evil, like it was waiting for me. Like it had been watching for me and it was…" She paused as she searched for the right words. "It wanted me to be there. There was a mind directing it. Something very bad Giles. Bad beyond words."
"Describe this door," Giles asked softly. "What exactly did you see?"
Buffy closed her eyes to try and fix the image exactly in her mind. "Stone doorway. The door itself was… black. It… shimmered when you looked at it from the right angle. Rippled very slightly occasionally. There was something to one side, out of the corner of my eye. Um… gold. And some colours. Red. Blue. Green? Yes, green. Yellow too."
When she opened her eyes she could see Giles staring at the wall. "That… that rings a bell," he said eventually. "Something I read a long time ago. Travellers. Or was it…?" He looked at her. "I'll research it Buffy."
"Research what?" They both looked at the doorway, to see Riley standing there. "Sorry, I did knock but you were both very intent on whatever you were talking about."
"Slayer dream," Buffy said with a grimace. "Something about a doorway."
"Sounds ominous," Riley muttered with a frown as he entered. "Do you both have a moment?"
Giles gave him that look that said that he needed to dash to the nearest pile of books and then swim through them like Scrooge McDuck, but he nodded. "What do you need Riley?"
Her boyfriend rummaged in the folder that he had pulled out of his bag and then extracted a photo. "I need your views on this."
Buffy looked at it. It looked like a lot of colours, ranging from yellow-y to purple-y to purple-y that was almost black. And there was a map underlying it. Wait. What? "Is that a map of Sunnydale? And is that… is that the Hellmouth? That really black splodge under the old High School library?"
Giles looked at her sharply and then peered over the top of his glasses, whilst Riley smiled at her proudly. "Good god, so it is," her Watcher said wonderingly. "Riley, is this a magical map of Sunnydale?"
"It looks like it. A couple of scientists went around with sensors, looking for what they called 'exotic particles'. They came up with this map. It fits in with what we know about Sunnydale."
"It does indeed," Giles muttered as he ran his eyes over it. Buffy suppressed a grin. She'd never seen Giles so excited about something like this. He must have picked up on her amusement, because he looked at her and then smiled crookedly. "Yes, I dare say that I getting a bit excited Buffy. The Watcher's Council has been theorising for years about detecting magic via science. Or rather certain anti-traditionalist factions on the Watcher's Council." He paused and then smiled sadly. "My mother would be ecstatic at seeing this."
Buffy reached out and rubbed his nearest shoulder for a moment. "I'm sorry she's not here Giles."
"Yes, well," Giles coughed roughly, "I'm here now and I can appreciate this for what it is. Yes, that looks like the Hellmouth. These other areas are also of interest." He traced a small area in the downtown region that was now a mall and which was brownish with traces of purple-y. "That looks like where the old Wolfram & Hart offices were. Only there for a while, but long enough to leave a trail of magical slime around the area. Ah. What's this?" He pointed at a far smaller and very dark blob that was under one of the larger cemeteries and which looked vaguely familiar.
"We're not sure," Riley said with a grimace. "Ever since McDermott came back and took over the Initiative again we've been ramping up the recon, doing more research and really, really, trying to understand what we're facing here. That's why I'm here – to ask advice from experts. That blob was one of two that entered Sunnydale yesterday afternoon at about 4pm. One left, the other stayed, as you can see. And it seems to be very magical. Question is – what could it be?"
Giles straightened up and ran his hand over his chin thoughtfully. "That's a horribly good question Riley. If these, well, readings are correct then there's something extremely powerful there. Hmmm. I think that reconnaissance makes sense. Careful reconnaissance. Buffy – how do you feel about this?"
She thought about and then shrugged. "Fine as long as there isn't a super creepy doorway in the area."
"Doorway?" Riley asked, intrigued.
"Slayer dream," Buffy replied with a wince. "Super wiggy creepy doorway. It means something. We just have no idea what."
"Not just yet, no," Giles said with a certain glitter in his eye that Buffy knew meant a lot of books in the very, very, near future. "But I am confident that I will soon find out. When is this reconnaissance to be carried out?"
"Straight away," Riley replied. "There's something else. That spot looked familiar – it's where all those gems are stored, in those underground tunnels. Where Spike found the Gem of Amara."
Buffy exchanged a grim glance with Giles. "Then you should go at once. I have a sudden very bad feeling about this."
One finger was at a hell of an odd angle and Spike paused to crack it back into place, ignoring the pain as best he could. This place was a complete bloody nightmare. He'd been here for what felt like days. Nothing about it made any bloody sense. Every time he thought that he'd made sense of the maze he'd been wrong. The twists and turns never added up to any kind of coherent plan. Yes, it all seemed to be on the same level (he'd actually peered down corridors at floor level and tried to see if the blood from the latest thing he'd killed was moving in any direction. Nope.
Oh and there were the monsters that kept attacking him on sight to provide that blood. They were everywhere. Little ones, big ones, thin ones, fat ones, bald ones, hairy ones and most disgusting of all slimy ones. The last ones really disturbed him. They reminded him of poor old Dru, who had been last seen heading to that small island off the coast of Ireland, never to be seen again.
The dead bodies were another issue. They were also everywhere, varying from the occasional crumbled bone to entire rather emaciated bodies. The latter worried him. When had they died? How long had they been there? What had they come for?
He looked around again. The thing with the spiked carapace and the easily broken neck vertebrae was still quivering slightly as perhaps some vestigial hindbrain tried to get it moving again. He thought about setting fire to the bloody thing, but that would have used up precious fuel for his lighter. He was down to his last five fags. This was bad. He was getting no-where and he had no idea what to do. So he kicked the bloody thing very hard in its arse. It kept quivering for a moment and then stopped.
"Yeah," he muttered bitterly. "I'm a real Nowhere Man." He whistled the first few bars of the Beatles song and then frowned as something tickled at the back of his head. Nah. That would be too simple. Or would it? He bit off a savage swearword or ten.
"Oh, very ironic," he shouted. "I have to find the centre of the maze, right? What if the maze is centred on me? Where I am is the centre! Right?"
Nothing. He glared at the walls and then he sat back down again. "I am right. I know I am! And you're a sadistic bloody bi-" Light swallowed him whole and then he was back in the cave with the Oracle, who was peering at him with those amazing eyes, this time glittering with amusement.
"I… probably shouldn't finish that sentence, should I?" Spike asked with a gulp. Yup, the fear was back.
"No," The Oracle said dryly, "But that's alright. You should hear what my daughter calls me sometimes when she's annoyed with me. You seem to be somewhat the worse for wear. Let me deal with that." She waved a hand negligently and Spike gasped as various broken bones reset themselves and healed.
"Congratulations," she said after he had finished flexing what previously been broken fingers. "Few are smart enough to work out the Maze."
"Put me under enough pressure and I'm sodding Einstein," he smiled bitterly. "Have I passed then?"
"My tests? Maybe." The aged lips made a moue of thought. "A better question might be: are you aware of what will happen once I grant your wish? Do you have any idea what this means?"
Spike's eyes darted about the room as he thought about it. "I have wondered," he said reluctantly. "I'm not a fool. I do have an imagination."
"Let's not talk about your imagination," the Oracle said disgustedly. "Given your use of railway spikes. No, William, this is the last test. The mental test. A vampire asking to have his soul returned is not something to be granted lightly. Do you have even the faintest idea what this means? What this will do to you? Let me guess, you think that what happened to Angelus – Angel as he is now – when he got his soul back somehow wasn't that bad, given what he does now?"
He stared at her, his mind working furiously. "I'm not…" He paused and then his head went down for a moment. When it came back up again his eyes were hard and his gaze was intent. "If I can be with her – even for a moment – it's worth it. I've got blood on my hands. I'll have to cope with that. I hope I can. But if I don't try, if I don't make an effort then I'm…" He scowled. "Then there's no point. So I have to try. I want to do this. She's worth it."
There was a long moment as the Oracle stared at him intently. Eventually she smiled at him. "My, William, aren't you full of surprises?" Then she looked away in deep thought. "Make me another cup of tea will you? I have some very hard thinking to do."
Spike nodded and then went back to the kettle. Anything for a weird life. So he went back to the alcove, where he brewed up another cuppa. Only, he did his very best to make it the finest cuppa ever. There was a lot riding on this. Well, not on this tea, but he didn't want to jinx it at the last minute by pissing the old bint off. Plus he really liked the tea set. It reminded him of old-fashioned high teas and cucumber sandwiches. That and knee-tremblers behind the gazebo.
Walking back carefully he placed the tea next to her and then stepped back. The statue – sorry, petrified body – of the mad vampire was something that he really didn't want to look at, so he didn't. Instead he looked at the statue that he hadn't noticed before, that of a tall man with a gentle smile and… slightly pointed ears?
"My husband," the Oracle said with such wistful tenderness in her voice. "Now there was a man. I see that you've noticed his ears. Not altogether human, not that I ever cared. He had a heart the size of the Rock of Gibraltar." She sighed. "Heaven above, how I miss him."
Spike smiled politely and then edged away from the statue. This seemed to be the right thing to do, because she directed a glacial smile of her own at him. "I have made up my mind," she said with a terrible finality. "Part of me still wants to kill you, but part of me also wants to help you. It's the love factor you see. That still fascinates me. A vampire in love, actual, real, love. Extraordinary."
She shook her head again, before shooting him a look with her very beady eye. "Sit down," she snapped. "And then cup your hands in front of you."
Spike hastily sat and obeyed orders. As he did so the Oracle sipped from the tea. "Not bad by the way," she said as she placed the delicate china cup back in its saucer. "Now – close your eyes as this bit might hurt a bit."
This frightened him rather more than he was willing to admit, but he obeyed orders. After a moment some bright light flashed in the room, bright enough to make him feel as if the Sun had touched his skin for an instant. He wanted to scream in pain for a moment, but then the sensation went away just as quickly, so he cautiously cracked an eyelid open and peered around. "Is that it? I don't feel any different."
The Oracle glared at him. "Of course that's not it, you half-witted imbecile! That was just to protect you from what I'll be using – white magic of a type that would otherwise reduce you to a small and fetid pile of ash."
"Good. Now – look down."
Spike did so and then damn near wet himself at the sight of the ball of golden light that was hovering just above his cupped hands. "What. The hell. Is that?" He bit the words out and winced as his voice went up an octave or three on those last two words.
"It's your soul William." The Oracle said the words with a certain amount of relish. "The thing that will change you beyond anything you can imagine. Now – once again: are you sure you want this? Because the pain it will give will be excruciating."
He looked at it with some bemusement. This was his soul was it? This ball of golden light? It was almost hypnotic, with ripples of light and swirls of gold. He swallowed hard. She was absolutely right. This would change him. Hopefully he wouldn't need as much hair gel as the poof in LA. "Yes," he said hoarsely. "Do it. Before I change my mind."
"Very well." The Oracle leant back in her chair. "Please remain very, very, still. Otherwise you might need a new skill. Oh and by the way, you won't be needing this any more." She held up a small object. "Filthy little thing. Your tax dollars at work. Well – kind of. Last time I paid taxes Eden was PM. Last time you paid taxes Victoria was on the throne. Plus, strictly speaking you're dead. Ah. I'm babbling. Sorry – too much magic. Where was I? Oh yes – hold very still."
Spike, who had been eyeing her worriedly, looked back at the globe – just in time to see it shoot up out of his hands and slam straight into his brain. He had just enough time to scream before the pain hit.
The Oracle stared down at the screaming vampire that now had a soul again and then gestured sharply. A shimmering curtain of light surrounded the dratted thing, removing it from view as well as muting the damn thing. The screaming had been annoying. Seeing movement out of the corner of her eye she looked over.
"Hello Ianto," she said. "Come to see the fun?"
"Mother told me what was going on," her grandson said as he walked in and peered at the prone figure. "Astonishing. A vampire with a soul. I'll bet that the Powers That Be are about to throw their toys out of the pram."
She beamed at him. "My thoughts exactly. You know what I think about those pretentious little twits. I would have loved to have seen their faces when the Jedi turned up."
"Yes, my heart breaks. Oh wait, it's just gas." He looked at her. "Mother also said that you'd decided something about Ivanov."
"Oh yes, our unpleasant nightlight over there. I've finally decided what to do with him. I'll be dying soon, so I need some entertainment. I'm not sure if we should turn him into a rock garden or stick him on an East-facing ridge and drop the petrification spell a millisecond before dawn. What do you think?"
"Given what he planned to do to you I think that you're being a bit easy on him," Ianto said caustically. He caught her look and then pulled a face. "Rock garden. Put the animal out of his considerable misery."
She nodded and then peered back at the screaming figure behind the screen of magic. "Ah, I see that the physical pain has ended."
"He's still screaming though. Why?"
"Why? Oh, simple – the guilt. He knows what he's done now. That's not physical pain now, for the first time in a century it's mental. He's in torment now." She bowed her head. "The poor creature. Well, we must see how this plays out. Now – bring a sledgehammer. I'm going to enjoy this. Goodbye Mr Ivanov."
Riley and his people tended to go a bit over the top when it came to these patrols sometimes, Buffy thought as they passed down the tunnel. Way too much equipment sometimes, although the stuff they had to keep bats at bay was way cool. Right now though she had to concentrate. There was something down here. Something was setting off her Slayer-senses something bad.
"Riley, something is wrong here," she said softly. "Something is about as wrong as it can be. There's something down here. Something… bad. And we're getting close to it."
Riley looked at her worriedly and then turned to his people. "Keep it close and tight people. When a Slayer says that there's something wrong, then you need to keep your eyes as open as possible." He looked down at the small readout in his left hand, his right hand gripping a large gun. "Fifty yards."
They glided down the tunnel, seeing the opening to each side now, filled with gold objects and a scatter of gems. "Thirty yards. Twenty. Ten. Um. Ten. Twenty?"
"Wait, what?" Buffy asked as she halted. "We went past it?"
Riley stared down at the readout and then looked up, looking confused. "I think we went around it somehow. I'm not sure how."
She walked down the corridor a few yards before closing her eyes and concentrating hard. "There's magic here," she said eventually. "Sneaky magic. It's trying to deflect us away from it. Creepy. Makes my skin crawl, but it's there."
"Okay," Riley said cautiously. "Can you talk us towards it?"
"Yeah. I just wish Xander or Oz were here. They can give another view on this stuff." She closed her eyes and then orientated herself. "Make sure I don't walk into any walls, 'kay?"
"I've got your Six," Riley said quietly.
She stepped forwards feeling for the magic that hung in the air around her. It was… stronger to her right. Two steps. Another. No, wait… half a step more. She could feel something there, something… dark. Subtle, but very dark. This was out of her league in terms of magic and her six, seventh and eighth senses were starting to tap on her shoulder and scream at her all of a sudden. Suddenly there was something there, right in front of her.
"Whoa," said Riley, "Where did that come from?"
Her eyes flew open and she saw it. The doorway. The doorway from her dream and it was every bit as bad as she thought it had been. Every bit as foreboding as it had been. The entrance to it was… wait there was something there. It rippled, like dark black cloth. That hadn't been in the dream. She swallowed. Danger. There was danger here. And some kind of presence. "Riley, everyone, back off. Back off slowly. This thing is… dangerous. And there's something in there. Something powerful."
"You heard her, people, everyone back away from the doorway. Nice and slow."
She felt them move away behind her and she stepped back. Nothing happened. Another step. The danger signals were still going off in her head. Why? Another step. And another.
And then the black surface within the doorway seemed to billow outwards for a second. "Oh no," said an eerie voice, "You don't get to go away, Slayer. I'm going to eat your soul for disturbing my rest." And then a fist of black filth shot out of the doorway, grabbed her by the waist and pulled her straight in through the darkness.