Chapter 6 – Let Me Be Myself:

Disclaimer: Not mine!

AN: I'm sorry for the long wait, but pchem and organic conspired to rob me of any free time I had. Thanks, Illyria for not letting me forget that I am a writer too.

Ethan Rayne wasn't a nice man; he didn't consider himself a bad one, either. Nice just wasn't something he aspired to be. Still, sadism and overt cruelty had never appealed to his taste. If Ethan was a slave to any particular flaws of character, it would have to be mischievousness, or self-gratification, or impulsiveness, or… okay, maybe there was more than one. Simply put, Ethan was a student and a study of chaos. Very few people really understood what chaos was; it was entropy, the breaking down of rules, law, and life. It made things interesting, gave the hope that someday it would all be over. It was laughing was as stars imploded and planets turned to dust.

These were the very traits that made Ethan Rayne such a dangerous foe and a powerful mage. It also had the tendency to make him more flighty than Dru on crack. He was unpredictable and ingenious, just the kind of thing you didn't want in an opponent. Humble, the man definitely wasn't. He was also preoccupied with the ghost in front of him.

As Ethan sat across from the placid brunette, in just another high-priced coffee shop in New York, he couldn't help but remember the girl she had been. Shockingly white-blonde streaks stood with its more red-tinted brethren in an audacious hairstyle one could only find in Californian youth; vivacious green-brown eyes had snapped with more than childish ire. Upon presenting her with a gown fit for royalty, his rather dim opinion was that she didn't fit the role. Ripper's Slayer seemed painfully youthful in the face of her destiny. A blind abandon allowed her to grip long gone school-age dreams. Yet the girl, counter-intuitively, always overcame her foes with a style and flair that was boarder-line over dramatic. Not that he was one to criticize the use and abuse of drama, the follower of Janus thought. He had been one of her dilemma-causing human enemies and former friend of her Watcher. It was delightfully ironic that he was more human than she was. He cared for himself, his survival – the most human of goals, and she went out of her way to risk hers. Divine Providence being what it is, they had ended up as the best sort of enemies, the kind you can always count on.

But then, neither of them were what they used to be.

It was human nature to change, willing or not, and the change was often long and difficult and irreversible for people like them. And Ethan Rayne never thought there would be a day when a white hat, a Slayer – no less, was 'like them'. Or is he like her? Where does the line between past and future lay?

Right here in the present, he supposed, deciding to move this unwanted jaunt down memory lane right along. After all, it was just a friendly chat between adversaries.

"Sugar, my dear?"

It wasn't the words so much as the tone that got her. When pressing her future ally into taking a meeting with her, this hadn't been exactly what she envisioned. Her plan had mostly consisted of vague and outright threats, with a little interspersed physical violence to show she meant business. It hadn't been a fool-proof plan by any means, but there had been a kind of simplistic elegance to it that she'd liked. Especially since Buffy couldn't imagine any kind of world where she and Ethan Rayne were willing to help each other without stabbing someone in the back, the Slayer had changed, but she didn't think the mage would have.

He had, though. There wasn't a sign around his neck saying 'cosmic intervention changed my life' or anything, yet the lines on his face that came mostly from laughing at other people misfortune were bisected by wrinkles of worry and pain. His shirt was still some kind of linen, and it hung loosely around bony shoulders and a thinner frame. He hadn't been large in Sunnydale, but it wasn't hard to tell that he was a man of indulgences. Wine and candy and all the chaos any a man may need. His normal jovial attitude came harder than it used to and didn't sit nearly as well.

Remembering that time did flow just as fast outside her head as inside, Buffy nodded, allowing Ethan to drop an oversized teaspoon of sugar into her cup in a juvenile expression of displeasure and continue his charade of caring older gentleman. It was a mask as fake and rusted as her simultaneous portrayal of carefree young lady. They sat and sipped overpriced and, in her case, over-sugared coffee, watching and being watched, thinking and being thought of, and committing the evaluation to memory and not paper. On the surface, a useless place in her world, everything was normal, another not-presence to her. Although no conversation was exchanged, the two persons faced each other, postures open and focused. Then, if one had eyes at all, beneath the façade, a less amicable picture emerged. Worn fingers clutched sturdy porcelain and tense hands caressed lacquered surfaces. The tilt of shoulders was a hairsbreadth from antagonistic and smiles were covered smirks and snarls. They didn't bother to lie to each other as well as they could, only maintaining the ruse for any outside observers.

His natural expression was a smirk, the layman's smile blatantly out of place. She wondered if smirking was something taught over in England; most British men she'd met had an uncanny ability to say so much with a casual tilt of lips. Okay, she'd never actually met Draco Malfoy, but Spike had definite smirkage, and sometimes her ex-Watcher's smiles had bordered on sarcastic. But, now wasn't the time to be thinking of them.

The problem they were facing was unstated. How did they move past the history between them, the weight of what-I-had-been, and into the future? Neither was particularly happy with the idea of returning to moors long abandoned for purposes of growth and survival.

Ethan's tone grabbed her attention again. This it sounded closer to his real voice, or as close as either of them could get, anyway.

"It seems I shouldn't believe everything I read in your American tabloids: the widespread belief of your demise of slightly mistaken."

She knew the casual way he'd delivered the line was deliberate, calculated to hurt and anger and evoke a reaction. It was a delicate game that she hadn't known the existence of, let alone how to play, once upon a time. Now, Buffy struck back just as hard.

"This must be the same rag that reported your unprecedented disappearance from the supernatural scene."

Both of them hid the flinches and lingering pain of respective mistakes and experiences.

Ethan spoke first. "Rumors rarely cover the horrible beast known as fact."

"Does this mean we aren't gonna share our feelings?"

"Bite your tongue, impertinent wench."

With his sardonic reply, Buffy knew they'd get along just fine.

"So, tell me what you want from me."

"Let me tell you about the bad guys first. Then, you can guess."

!~!~!~!~!~!

"Alright, a group of socially ostracized loners got together, messed around with power beyond their puny imaginations, somehow succeeded in combining themselves into redundant versions of Siamese twins with shape-shifting abilities and a hive mind, and proceeded to commit murder of 'holy' persons to strip away their goodness and in doing so feed their evil demon master." Ethan quickly summarized.

"No."

"Well, good. For a second there I thought you were going to ask me for a miracle."

"I don't know for sure that the killers are social lepers. It's just a guess based on past precedents." Buffy unhelpfully commented.

"And you don't know who these people were or what demon they may be worshipping or what ritual they're using."

"Uh-huh!" Came the faux perky response.

"You know, I was being generous. Miracle was bit understated. Would you like me to cure world hunger while I'm at it?"

"I didn't know you could do that." The Slayer's innocent and impressed reply was accompanied by the type of saccharine smile that sharks used right before they chomped on someone's favorite appendages.

"Bloody comical."

!~!~!~!~!~!

"Get on."

For a long moment no was reply was heard. "No."

There: simple, concise, and definitive. Buffy shot a pointed look at Ethan as he continued speaking. "Let me be clearer. No, not in any of the nine bloody hells am I riding bitch seat on that death contraption! Janus deliver me from Slayers and their death wishes."

With an exasperated air that only the young can truly project, Buffy paused and then spoke. "You done? Is the performance over?"

An acidic glare was sent her way by the chaos mage, but she didn't let that stop her. "Great! You've already prayed for a safe trip, so hop on!"

An imitation smile stretched stretched across her face in the manner any used car salesman would have been proud of. It stayed there even as Ethan did a quick turn about and called back to her, "This city is teeming with ways to transport oneself. I'll just meet you there."

"Ethan."

Huh, the mage never knew his name could contain an entire sentence. His steps faltered and died out as his leather-clad companion finished her ultimatum. "Get on the bike or I will truss you up like the Thanksgiving turkey you guys don't eat and tie you to it."

The man shuffled and glowered, might even have dragged his feet a little bit, but acquiesced. Somehow even the thought of wrapping himself around young, hot brunette wasn't enough to make this indignity worth it.

!~!~!~!~!

The silence really wasn't pervasive. In NYC, it was hard to find any true silence. There were always the screeches and honks of the eternal traffic, the indistinguishable shouts and nattering of human speech, and the various squawks and chirps and barks of local wildlife and technologies. So, quiet was more relative than absolute. Even in this instance, relative silence wasn't making an appearance.

Don Flack could honestly say he'd never been quiet a day in his life. His mother could, and frequently did in a louder and more irritating tone than her son ever hoped to mimic, backed that statement up. Except for those few times he'd been unconscious, passed out drunk, or near death, then the boyish man had been frighteningly silent. Beyond that, the only other thing that could drive Don Flack to stillness was murderous rage. As his anger increased, the cop spoke less and less, not trusting the words in his mouth and trying to remain in control. This was none of those situations.

This situation was three men in an apartment, each not looking or speaking to the others, waiting for the same woman to show up. Really, it was like asking for trouble, especially when all of them work in law enforcement. Egos and tempers were exacerbated by those nice, shiny badges. These three men were not prone to such behaviors, but some things just bring out the worst in people.

"So, we believe this?"

It was less a question and more a way to get the two clams next to him talking. Flack had taken an awful lot on faith and gut instinct, and if someone didn't come clean and give him more 'Monster's are real, they attacked us, deal with it,' he was going to do something crazy or violent or involving his gun. Or some combination of the three and the only people around to deal with his breakdown, caused just as much by lack of sleep and success and over-stress as debilitating revelations, were two men he cared about and who had had a few shitty days themselves.

"As much as I believe anything I can't quantify."

Mac's reply was about what the detective had expected, saying something while saying nothing. The man obviously didn't want to admit to believing in monsters, but evidence to the contrary wasn't letting him get away with denial. It was times like these when Don remembered how limited the scientists he worked with could be.

"Yes."

Sheldon's whispered answer was something of a shock and not much of a surprise. The doc had always been a little different from the rest of the CSIs, capable of faith when they weren't or willing to entertain more arcane ideas. Something about watching over the dead gave him an insight to the world that the others lacked, and the man wasn't afraid to admit it. When he believed something was wrong or right, there was no question that he would speak up about it. It might have taken awhile for the doctor decide he wasn't crazy, but once he knew it was real, his surety on the matter was certain.

So that left Don Flack in the unenviable position of admitting to himself that he was some kind of loony for believing what Mac, Hawkes, and Buffy had told him without anymore proof than a vague memory of something that might be unexplainable. God, he was getting soft in his old age.

This wasn't the way Buffy had envisioned this going.

It wasn't like she meant to bust into the place, guns blazing, and adrenaline pumping. The Slayer had every intention of calmly knocking on the door, conducting various introductions, and having everything proceed in a somewhat controlled fashion. But no, something had to go wrong. Story of her eff-ing life – this was why she worked alone or with other demons. All those human thoughts and emotions and need for 'rational' explanations did nothing but overly complicate her job. Briefly she considered what it said about her that she preferred interacting with demons over humans. Probably not something she wanted to examine too closely. Musing aside, it had all gone pear-shaped, and Buffy had stopped listening after the men had descended into naming calling and yells that sounded more like cavemen grunts to her super-powered ears.

The first part of her plan had gone off without a hitch. She and Ethan had knocked on the door and been granted permission to enter. Mac had even remembered to be nonverbal about it; her teaching abilities must be getting better or her dire predictions of possible consequences were getting worse. Everyone had stood awkwardly around the living room as Buffy had introduced Ethan as their magical go-to guy. Then Don and Mac had to come out with the tandem responses of: "He's supposed some sort of magician?" and "Looks more like a crook to me." It had all gone to shit from there, Ethan insulting the men's intelligence and lineage while the cops insinuated things like arrest and jail time. Even Sheldon had chimed in once or twice! So, rather than waste her breath trying to intervene or kill of her brain cells listening to the drivel, Buffy had sat down on the couch, kicked her feet up, and tried to take a nap. Hopefully, the bad guys hadn't picked out a new victim yet, and no one would die while they argued amongst themselves.

At some point, a warm body had plopped down beside her. The scent of coffee and cinnamon over powered by the tang of antiseptic and bandages let her know who it was, and she laid her head on the good doctor's shoulder. Maybe they would both feel better after some shut-eye. They remained that way until the blusterings had finally finished and the other men had retreated to their separate corners. No one said anything, but the Slayer could feel their gazes on her. Without opening her eyes, the brunette called them out.

"What? Now you want the opinion of the only person who has a slight clue as what's going on?"

Her flippant attitude really pissed him off. He knew, he knew, she was better than that. Yes, they had wasted time by arguing, but it wasn't his fault the man she had brought to them as their hope of catching the bad guys was a little suspicious. To Mac's finely tuned police sense, Ethan had popped up somewhere in the range of 'flaky rat bastard'. So forgive the cops in the room for being a little less than enthused at the help. That didn't mean that Buffy had to sit in the corner and sulk while the men had gone ten rounds with each other. Finally the testosterone had run out, and the fighting stopped. Now, everyone was waiting for the woman to decide to let them in on the plan.

A few embarrassed and slightly apologetic moments later, Hawkes had bitten the bullet and asked what they were going to do. Buffy had smiled at him, cracked her neck, and opened her eyes.

"Okay. This is the deal. You guys are gonna take Ethan to the most recent crime scene so he can scope out the place. See if there's anything you guys might have missed."

Mac interrupted, thinking she was criticizing them. "I run one of the finest crime labs in the country! My team and I don't miss things!"

A sarcastic look passed over the Slayer's face. "Did you know magic existed before a few hours ago? He isn't going to be looking for the same things you do. We are hoping they left behind some kind of magical residue or trace that will tell us what we are dealing with."

"And then what? Even if you know who, how do you think you're going to find them?"

"I know how to find them. That's the easy part."

Mac snorted. He wasn't used to not calling the shots, and it was grating on him more than he wanted to think. "Then what's the hard part?"

Buffy sighed and shared a look with Ethan. Mac couldn't tell what was in that gaze: sorrow, resignation, or pity. "I told you that magic usually means humans, right? And that it was possible to bind their powers."

After three heads had bobbed at her, she continued. "That would be the plan. For Ethan to figure out what sort of magic they are using and keep them from ever using it again."

"I thought you said that you had to know who you were binding before you did it. You needed DNA, names, and driver's license number or something."

Buffy turned to face Flack, but it was Ethan who replied. "Yes, you do. As my rather simple, if attractive, assistant explained, the less you know about the people in question, the more power it takes to bind them. From what this delightful girl has told me, given the fluctuating nature of our opponents, DNA and any kind of facial recognition is out. That means I will need to be close to these people if I am to do my job."

"I'm no expert, but isn't that kind of dangerous? I mean there are more of them and only one of you. Or is it a quality over quantity sort of thing?"

"Very astute of you, Detective Flack, quality is more important. My abilities are probably greater than all of them combined. However, they have the backing of a rather powerful unknown entity on their side. One that enables them to simultaneously hold a concealment spell over at least Manhattan, if not all of New York City, shape shift, and perform whatever smaller magics they need to go about their days. I would rather not risk engaging them in an all out magic war on the streets of your fair city. Not to mention, I believe Buffy warned about the consequences of such a battle?"

Mac watched as Don interacted with the wizard, warlock, whatever. His friend nodded and called back to the arrogant man. "We definitely ain't sinking this city. I can't swim."

The scientist knew Don was lying, but it gave everyone a chance to laugh instead of yell at each other. That was the kind of thing that made Flack a formidable man in the interrogation room, his ability to make people think he was less intelligent than he really was. After his small chuckle was done, Ethan went on.

"That would be the reason our dear girl came to me. I am not so bold or stupid as to fight these people head on. Nope, we will be doing this the sneaky way, something I excel in. I will carefully conceal myself while Buffy handles the distraction and the leader."

Mac was floored by the callous way the man spoke of putting a person that was supposed to be his friend in harm's way and wasn't shy about his opinion. "You have no problem throwing your friend to the wolves?"

"She is hardly my friend."

"We aren't friends!"

A pair of brown eyes blinked in disbelief at the duo's proclamations. "So what, he was just some random guy you met on the street!"

"Of course not. Ethan and I used to be enemies, a long time ago. So really, that's kinda like friends, right? I can tell you he isn't completely worthless in the magic department."

"Thank you the grudging respect, and really, Taylor, the girl is quite durable."

Buffy's strange defense and Ethan's sardonic response echoed in the head CSI's ears. "I don't know what to do with that information, so I'm going to pretend it never happened."

Steamrolling right along, Mac addressed his other concern. "Why is it Buffy's job to take care of the leader?"

And there went that look again. "Stop doing that and just tell us!"

Both of them whipped their heads around and glared at him. It was Buffy who answered. "The leader will be the conduit to whatever is powering their batteries. Take him or her out of the equation and the rest will be easy pickings."

It was Hawkes' voice that broke the sudden stillness. "When you say take him out…"

Ethan interjected. "She means out of the mortal coil. It's really the only way to deal with this sort of situation."

Mac's hands clenched the sides of the chair he was perched on. Stridently, he barked out, "You're talking about murder."

"Well, yeah, if you wanna be harsh about it." The flippant tone he hated earlier was back, but it didn't match the seriousness and sorrow in her eyes. However, it did serve to aggravate the CSI further.

"It's a public service, really, if that assuages your overactive conscience any." Ethan's intervention, although timely, did nothing to secure anyone's shaky opinion of him.

"You can't just go out and kill someone in cold blood! It's against the law, and I won't let you!"

Why was it that Mac was the only one who had a problem with this plan?

Sheldon had seen the horrifying reality of the situation, of people with magic and no regard for life, and knew that it couldn't keep happening. Besides, you'd be hard pressed to convince the doc that there was anything human left those things anyway. For Don, it was simple. Those bastards hurt his friend, threatened his family, and terrorized his city. They had to pay. If it took a little murder, mayhem, and magical elbow grease to make it happen, so be it. He'd seen worse people get away with worse things.

"Don't you remember what it was like, soldier?"

The form of address had Mac standing up straight and his arms drifting towards his weapon, even as the woman talking to him remained seated. Some things can't be forgotten; like reaching for the piece on your hip and the K-bar knife at your ankle, your nightmares and scars and reactions won't let you.

"Kill or be killed."

It was the kind of obscene whisper that excluded everyone except those it was directed to, that searched every corner and crevasse of your memory to drag forth every wretched recollection it could.

"This isn't war!"

He ignored the question no one had any right to ask him: a Marine, a soldier, a Devil Dog, and the goddamned long arm of freedom's reach. This was nothing life the fetid and bloody jungles of Kuwait and Vietnam or the hot and brutal deserts of the Middle East. It wasn't a cold and deserted beach at Normandy or the frozen and treacherous wastes of Russia or the muggy and secret bay in Cuba. This was America, New York City, and it might be a concrete monster infested with crime, abuse, dirty politics, and poverty, but it was no war.

"Of course it is." Came barreling out of the young woman's mouth. Then, more gently, "Of course it is."

"Everyday, beneath your sane and willful world of humanity, there we are, your thankless warriors fighting for the sheep's right to live just one more day. Battles are fought, some lost and more won, and when we die, there's no one to remember our names. They do not build us monuments and memorials, but we linger in every breath you take."

Her face was old, too old. Too old and too worn to be telling anything other than the truth, Mac stared into her ancient eyes and thought, as she once had, that they were soldier's eyes. That didn't mean he was ready to give in.

"It's war like you've never seen, unending and everlasting, on a scale you can't comprehend, with consequences you can't imagine. It isn't about your platoon, your army, your country. It's about all of life as we know it. It wasn't in any of the famous battles, in any of those historical times, because it is always in all places at all times."

And all of a sudden, for all the strength Mac knew she possessed, and more he didn't, the warrior in front of him was just a woman, just a girl who had to make difficult choices.

"When I fail, you'll never know it. You'll be too busy dying by the hundreds and thousands to care. I don't live like you. I can't. Sometimes I have to do bad things for wicked reasons to save the fucking world. And still, it's never enough for people with the luxury of choice."

Now a little more sympathetic, a little more understanding, Mac was able to gentle his tone. "You say these things, initiates, or whatever, are human. That makes this my jurisdiction. You're not a cop; I am. I want these guys brought in alive!"

Inside her head, Buffy seethed. He thought he had the right! She was a Slayer! Destiny trumped anything he could say. It was her fucking right to defend the humans, and nonviolent demons, of the world by any means necessary! Stopping her rant short, the Slayer wondered if she could sound anymore pompous, even inside her own mind. It was that rueful thought that calmed the Slayer down and prevented her causing massive amounts of damage to a certain stuck-up CSI's person.

Mac needed to get with the program or get the fuck out. They didn't have the option of right and wrong; this was all about survival. Down to the wire and everyone wanted to be the last man standing. He knew it, deep down. He just needed to hurry the hell up and accept it.

A new voice decided to break in, stopping the bitch fest that was coming between the two alpha personalities. "You're not the only cop in the room, Mac. I've been at this just as long as you have, and I know sometimes you've gotta bend a little to get a little. Oh, and also, do you think you could manage to not alienate the only person who can help was put a stop to these murders?"

His words had started out reasonably enough, but towards the end Don's natural tendency for sarcasm had shone through. Way he saw it, they didn't have much choice in the matter, and they were wasting time they didn't have. Don could be patient when he wanted; hours would go by on stake-outs while he waited, like wolves and coyotes, for the sight of his prey and the hunt to come. It was the kind of thing the cop thought he was made for, that elusive chase. Now wasn't the time for patience, it was time to get fucking started. Mac just needed to be convinced of that. "Why can't we bring them in? If you do your voodoo crap and make them all human again, doesn't take mean they're harmless?"

"Well, harmless as a human can get anyway." The amendment to his previous statement brought snorts from various people in the room. As if a human could ever be harmless.

"They'll be less dangerous than they were, true," a British voice answered the detective.

"But the binding," he stressed the correct term, "may only work for the lower level followers. If they have any kind of protection against such things, we'll have to break it. That will require confrontation and probably result in someone's, hopefully the right, or wrong depending on your perspective, someone's death. Cut off the head and the snake dies. On top of that, there's no guarantee that any of them will be in shape to be 'brought in'."

There was a subtle mockery in Ethan's voice that everyone heard, presumably of their willingness to follow the rules. Only Buffy heard the distain behind that, for the men's perceived weak-minded leanings towards conventional morality and their inability to leave it behind to protect the things they cared about. He wasn't willing to die for their morals; hell, he wasn't even willing to die for his own. And her eyes let him know she wasn't either. It was a change from how she'd been before, all soft edges and steel fists. Hard to believe one girl could change so much in a quarter-lifetime, from child to innocent to savior to white hat to gray knight in bloodstained armor. But then, hadn't he? There was no use denying that he wasn't the same sorcerer he had been four years ago. Captivity had given him a hatred and bitterness that his previous mischief-minded, frivolous activities lacked. Ironic that they were both more jaded than they used to be.

Buffy took over the reins from there. "Bindings will put them back in their bodies without their power, but it doesn't heal and doesn't make them forget. If they've subsisted on magic for too long, without food or water, they will have to deal with starvation and dehydration when they return to their bodies. And depending on what kind of havoc they've been up to, sanity and culpability are most certainly going to be in short supply."

Don wondered how Mac was going to take this revelation. "So the bindings might kill them anyway? If that's the case, why do you need to kill the leader?"

"Afraid so. We won't be able to bind anyone until the power supply is cut off, and that means the leader has to go. The rest of them will be up to chance."

"So you're okay with murdering someone?" Mac brought the confrontation straight to the Slayer's door.

"I'm okay with murdering someone who has tortured and killed good people, who has access to the types of magic that could wipe out hundreds more, who has given his body and soul over a malevolent being of some sort. Yeah."

While the CSI chewed on that answer, Sheldon addressed Ethan. "What did she mean about their sanity?"

Despite his dislike of anything to do with law enforcement, the chaos mage could see that there was more to this man than most could discern. The doctor needed to know, to try and understand what had happened to him, prepare himself for the future. "Magic can give you the best kinds of high. It makes you feel invincible, like a god you aren't. So naturally, as with any drug, the crash is a killer."

The medical professional inside Hawkes was intrigued. "Is that what magic is like? A drug addiction?"

"It is if you use it wrong."

"Alright. Alright."

The sound of Mac's tired concession made everyone turn to him. "We'll play it your way."

Although internally thinking something along the lines of 'finally', Buffy was sincere in her reply. "I promise not to cause any harm that isn't necessary to protect everyone."

Wiping a hand over his face, the ex-Marine asked when they wanted to see the crime scene, deliberately not thinking about how he was play off bringing in two obvious civilians.

"As soon as possible, before anymore of the magical residues have a chance to fade. Time sensitivity and degradation aren't limited to the fields of science."

Mac nodded and made to stand up. "Flack, you stay here with Hawkes and try to get some rest. I'll take these two down to the scene and go from there."

Before the strange trio could walk out the door, Don asked Buffy a question that had been bothering him. "How are you going to find them?"

The almost sheepish reply was a deliberate contrast to the steely calculation and fierce protectiveness in her eyes as she gazed upon the oblivious doctor. "They are going come to me. It's just a matter of dangling the right bait."

So, they had a plan and people to put said plan into action. Okay, their people were some nervous newbies, a runaway Slayer, and an escaped chaos mage, but it counted. She had fought with worse for sure. It was all just a matter of angles. All they needed now was some information, a little magic, and some bad guys. Not bad for a high school drop-out running on hardly any sleep and itching for a fight.

!~!~!~!

Something was changing. Someone had come. An interloper was on the horizon. They might be blind, yet still they saw her. She screamed war cries to their senses and shone golden to their dark desires. She thought she could stop them! How foolish, how vain, how disrespectful! They were stronger than any mortal girl, stronger than the stars in the heaven. Their god had demanded it and so they were. She was a problem and would die like all the problems before her. They would swallow her down until she was no more. Not now, no, not until it was right. Soon. Soon.