Leaves of Grass
Banquo



Chapter 10

What invigorates life invigorates death,

And the dead advance as much as the living advance,

And the future is is no more certain than the present.

W.W 1881

 

 

Adam and Giles were running side by side. They were few paces ahead of
Riley and Xander. Adam and Giles were talking the entire time. Giles
for the most part was making good time despite the quick pace they were
keeping. For Giles jogging is something that he does to keep in shape.
Training with Buffy was one thing but a good run is something that
really pushes his limits. It also seems that, much to the chagrin of
the two younger men of the group, that he and Adam have much better
stamina. They were only on their fourth kilometer and the two boys were
really starting to loose ground to Giles and Adam. 

Thought slightly winded Giles was still able to have a conversation
with Adam. "So Xander has been with you for almost two years?"

"Yes, give or take a couple of months." Adam answers

"That must have been interesting for you." Giles smiles. "I remember
Xander being quite a handful."

"That he was. That he was." Adam says. "Early on though he had quite a
self esteem problem. The boy had very little confidence in himself."

"Yes I remember that as well." Giles says. "But I thought by being part
of our cause he would gain confidence on his own. He did have his
moments of selflessness though."

"We were able to see that but I think that at that point of time he
couldnít see it himself." Adam says.

"He looks to you for guidance, like a father." Giles states guiltily 

"And I look at him like a son." Adam says simply

"I should have been able to do that for him." Giles says. "Iím sure he
told you about his family?"

Adam nods. "For most of them, Buffy, Willow, Xander, I became the de
facto father figure." Giles says pausing a moment to catch his breath.
"But I fear that I focused on Buffy the most and then Willow." A hint
of sadness can be heard in his voice. "It seems that I had repeated the
sins of my own father with Xander."

"Donít take it to hard. He still looks at you with respect and I found
that respect is something that Xander does not give out easily."

"Thank you." Giles says appreciating the compliment.

Behind them are Riley and Xander who are trying to keep up with the two
older men. "For a couple of old guys they are really in good shape."
Riley says to Xander.

"Yeah, I mean I wouldnít have pictured Giles as the running type you
know?" Xander answers.

"I never really got to thank you properly for the save last night."
Riley says after a momentís pause.

"Donít worry about it, you saved me right after so call it even."
Xander says.

"You know Xander you are not anything like the person that Buffy says
you were." Riley tells him.

"Oh really? What did she say about me?"

"Well for one thing she said you werenít the best of fighters, but I
guess a lot can change in two years huh?" Riley says.

"Well I wasnít the best of fighters but I was a decent one." Xander
says feigning hurt in his voice. "But staying two years with Adam and
Cassandra you tend to pick up on a few things."

"A few?" Riley says with a chuckle, "I think that you picked up more
than that."

"Okay youíre right. But a lot of that also goes hand in hand with
training with a Slayer on a daily basis. Not many can say that they do
that can they?" Xander says to Riley.

"No I guess not. Then again not many can say that they are seeing a
Slayer romantically."

"No they canít." Xander says. "So how long have you and Buffy been
seeing each other?"

"About a year. You and Faith?"

"Well if you count from the first time I met her to now I would say
about three years." Xander says.

"And if you donít count all the time in between?"

"Almost a month. But you know all that time in between I told you
about?" Riley nods. "Well some things happened during that time that
gave us a head start."

Xander and Riley continue running in companionable silence. They were
brothers in arms and now they are part of a very small fraternity of
people who had loved Slayers. They see the two men turn at the next
corner and realize that they were close to the house once more. Xander
looks at Riley who nods and they both take off at a sprinters pace.

Xander calls over his shoulder as they pass Adam and Giles, "Come on
you slow pokes! You guys are getting slow in your old age." 

The two older men see that Riley and Xander pull away and Giles says to
Adam, "Now we canít have them winning now can we?"

"Of course not!" Adam says and they too take off running.

Ö

Buffy and Faith are upstairs in the kitchen getting some water to drink
when they hear voices from upstairs. Faith tosses two bottles to Buffy
and she picks up three. Making their way upstairs they can hear that
the voices are coming from one of the guestrooms. 

Carefully opening the door Buffy and Faith stop short and look in awe
at what they see. All around the room things were floating or rotating
or even orbiting each other. Buffy had known that Willow and Tara had
been able to move things before but this was amazing.

Cassandra looks up at the newcomers and smiles. "Hello ladies, I trust
that your training session went well?"

"Uh, yeah, just peachy." Buffy says. Faith just nods. "So when did you
guys discover the Matrix?"

Willow looks over to Faith and Buffy. "Huh? Oh the floating things?
Well Cassandra showed us some types of meditation to help us
concentrate."

"Yeah it is so awesome weíre able to do stuff now in minutes that
usually would take us hours to do." Tara puts in.

"Nonsense girls. All I did was allow you to concentrate on what you
were doing rather than what you were trying to accomplish. You both
have excellent potential."

"Cassandra how do you know so much about this stuff?" Buffy asks her
handing her a bottle of water. Faith hands Tara and Willow a bottle
each.

"Well I was raised to be a healer first. Over the years Iíve been a
priestess, worshiped as a goddess and have been a witch. So as far as
my track record goes Iíve got quite a bit of experience." Cassandra
says. Moving to the door she motions all the young women to follow her
downstairs.

Once again in the kitchen the girls all sit around the kitchen table as
Cassandra busies herself behind the counter. Cassandra, done with what
she was doing, returns to the table with a large bowl of fruit. She
sits down with the rest of the girls and motions to the bowl saying,
"Help yourself."

They all reach into the bowl grabbing some fruit and Cassandra says,
"Well if you havenít noticed the men and the women are training
separately. Adam and Xander thought that it would be best for both
groups to work together if we were able to mix our two groups in such a
way so that we would have to work with each other."

"So we ended up halving both groups in order to get us to work with
each other." Tara says.

"Exactly. So did the plan work?" Cassandra says looking at Faith and
Buffy.

Buffy seeing that Cassandra is expecting an answer from her or Faith
answers. "Yes, definitely. We were able to work out some things today
and put to rest a few others."

"Yeah we have an understanding now donít we B?" Faith jokes. Turning to
Willow and Tara she says, "Iíll answer any questions you have Red."
Faith could tell that Willow wanted to get some answers from her and
that most of those answers have to do with her relationship with
Xander.

"No questions asked?" Willow says.

"None, it was the option that Xander gave to me so it would only be
fair to give them to you as well." Faith answers back.

"Do you want to do this privately?" Willow asks.

"No, I trust B and Cassandra and B trusts you and Tara. So fire away."

"Fine. What is going on between you and Xander." Willow asks.

Taking a deep breath Faith says, "Jeez, you donít pull any punches do
you?" Pausing she answers. "I love him." Cassandraís hand goes to hers
and Cassandra throws her a questioning look. Faith nods that what she
says is true and Cassandra just smiles.

"Are you sure?" Cassandra asks her.

"Positive. I love him Cassandra. I would die for him. I would be at his
side even though I may age while he stays young, even though I may die
and heíll live forever. Young, old, good and bad I love him."

Willow watches the exchange carefully and asks, "And Xander?"

Faith looks at her in the eye and says, "And Xander loves me too."

"How long have you been together? I mean you disappeared a couple of
months ago, have you been with him the whole time?" Willow asks.
Although Xander had been dead to her for almost two years she still
cared for him greatly and now that he was alive again she wanted him to
be cared for.

"Together? About a month now." She answers quietly.

"A month? How could you possibly say that you two are in love only
after a month of being together?" Willow asks. "Have you guys slept
together?"

"I know because there is something there Red. He makes me happy and he
accepts me for who I am. No one ever has accepted me as is theyíve
always tried to make me into some one else or say you should be more
like so and so. Not Xander, he accepts me, he loves for who I am."
Faith stops suddenly and then adds softly, "He forgave me."

"For what?" Willow asks

"Everything, everything I did to him, his friends, his life-
everything. He doesnít even know the whole story of why I did what I
did and he never pushed me for it, never asked me for it, he just took
my word that I had changed. He trusted me when I had no one to turn to
Red."

"What about the other question? Have you slept together?" Buffy and
Cassandra both start to protest the question when Faith motions to them
to be quiet.

"I said no questions asked and Iím sticking to my word." She says to
the two women flanking her. She looks Willow in the eye and says. "Yes
we have slept together but only once."

"When?" She asks the Slayer.

"The night we closed the Hellmouth. He saved me and we went back to my
motel room. One thing led to another and we slept together." Faith
answers.

"Then what?" Willow asks eager to find out more from Faith.

"She kicked him out of her room." Buffy says with a smile.

"What!" Willow says. Tara and Cassandra are looking at Faith with
disbelief. 

"Excuse me! Thanks a lot Ms. Subtlety! Could I at least tell my own
life story?" Faith says to the blonde Slayer.

"You kicked him out of your room?" Cassandra silent up until now asks
Faith. "Why?" Faith and Xander had always been close ever since she had
met the young woman. The fact that she would kick Xander out is an
interesting fact in itself.

"It wasnít the sex that scared me, that part was greatÖ" suddenly
remembering her audience she quickly covers up and says, "but it was
what had happened afterwards that scared me."

Tara is now also very interested in the exchange and asks, "And that
would be?"

"There was a moment where I felt that I could love him or even want him
to love me back. You know how I was Red I reacted the way I usually
did. I pushed him away." Faith says.

Willow sits back and considers what she just heard. Looking at Faith
intently she sees that Faith is expecting some sort of judgement.
Leaning forward and grabbing a piece of apple from the bowl she asks
Buffy, "So how was your training session?"

"Pretty good, Faith laid me out though." Buffy says reaching for
another piece of fruit in the bowl.

Faith looks from Willow to Buffy who both just continue to eat their
fruit. She then looks at Tara who just shrugs and reaches for a piece
of fruit as well.

Buffy asks Tara and Willow, "So aside from the floating thing did you
guys learn anything else?"

"Oh yeah Cassandra taught us some really great stuff." Tara says.

"I think that most of what I taught them will apply to you and Faith as
well Buffy. It will help you focus your minds enough to get the full
potential of your Slayer powers." Cassandra says.

"Wait a minute! Thatís it?" Faith says to Willow. "I answer your
questions and Iím forgiven?" Faith couldnít believe that was all she
had to do.

"I forgave you a while back Faith." She says to Faith. "All I really
wanted was to get the scoop on Xander and you." She says with a smile.
"I havenít seen him for two years and he comes back alive and with a
girlfriend? I already know about one but the other I thought I would
like to hear from you."

"But youÖ?" Faith couldnít believe her ears. She was about to say
something else when Cassandraís hand on her arm brought her out it.

"I told you forgiveness comes from the least expected places."
Cassandra says to her. 

Faith nods and says to the girls, "So you want to hear some dirt on
Xander huh?" Buffy and Willow nod their heads enthusiastically. "Well
Xander had promised to take me out shopping the day after we met soÖ"

Ö

Outside of the house the four men arrive on the drive way at the same
time. Winded from their long run and tired they stop momentarily
outside before walking inside.

"Not bad for a couple of old Brits eh?" Giles says to the two younger
men who are breathing harder than the older men.

"Yes Xander, I thought you said you were keeping up with your
training?" Adam jokes.

"Well you guys," Xander pauses to breathe, "cheated!"

"Cheated! How could you say such a thing?" Giles says with false
indignity.

"You threw empty garbage cans into our path!" Riley exclaims.

"Is it our fault you guys are so out of shape that you couldnít dodge a
few plastic tubs?" Adam says.

"The youth of America." Giles states.

"Exactly." Adam says. Xander and Riley are about to protest more when
Adam cuts them off and says, "Lets go inside I get something to drink."

Upon walking inside of the house they are greeted by the sound of
laughter filtering from the kitchen. Adam and Giles look worried.
Seeing their looks Xander says, "Isnít that a good thing?"

Riley agreeing with Xander says, "Yeah, I mean they havenít killed each
other so thatís a good thing, right?"

"Of course thatís a good thing." Giles says. "ButÖ"

Adam continues, "But we are walking into a group of women who are
laughing about something. Now you tell me Xander, these women really
havenít seen each other in a long time and they are going to tell each
other stories, right?"

"So?" Xander says not quite comprehending the point that Giles and Adam
are trying to make.

Giles and Adam smile. Giles answers. "Well lets look at it this way.
The only thing they have in common is you. They are laughing about some
stories they are telling each other. So Iím going to ask you this
Xander. Have you done anything embarrassing since youíve been with
Faith?"

Xander pales slightly and quickly walks towards the kitchen. Adam and
Giles chuckle at the youthís discomfort and the rest of them follow
Xander to the kitchen.

Faithís voice is heard saying, "Öand then he changed to the cutest
shade of red ever."

Xander walks into the kitchen with five pairs of female eyes looking at
him with humor. "Uh oh." Xander says under his breath. Xander stares
at
them for a moment before saying, "So how was your work out?"

"Oh fine Xander." Buffy says a smile playing across her face. "But I
think later on today we might need your help with a few errands." She
says gesturing to the girls sitting at the table.

"Really? What would those errands be?" Xander says cautiously.

Willow says. "Shopping!"

His eyes widened and Xanderís skin blanches at the mention of shopping.
Looking at Faith he says, "You didnít tell themÖ"

Before she can answer Tara says, "Yeah, I think there a couple of new
stores downtown. Now what were they?"

Buffy says with her smile now even bigger than before. "I think a
Victoria Secrets just opened up, you want to go Xander?"

Xander can feel the heat rising to his face as he remembers the time he
had taken Faith to the Victoria Secrets at the mall by his home. She
had been able to tease him relentlessly and even gotten the sales girls
to play her game as well. Though it was a funny memory it was still
embarrassing. 

"Thatís the color! Look heís turning red!" Faith says laughing. Her
statement elicits laughs from the rest of the table. Xander tries to
formulate a rebuttal but the sheer amounts of blood rushing to his head
seem to have disrupted his thought processes. 

Before he can say anything Adamís voice stops him. "Better just give up
Xander, youíre out numbered five to one and they smell blood in the
water."

Xander seeing that Adam was right tired his best not to look bothered
by their remarks but his red coloring was still drawing the attention
from women sitting at the table.

"Youíre no fun Adam." Buffy pouts as she sees Xander takes Adamís
advice and walks away.

"Aww come on Xander we were just joking with you!" Faith says.

"Who me? Iím fine, just a little tired from our run, thatís it." Xander
says to her.

Faith makes her way over to him and says, "Well Iíd like to make it up
to you anyway." Reaching up she brings her arms around his neck and
kisses him. The others at the room smile at the action. They continue
to kiss until Adam clears his throat rather loudly.

"Ahem! If you two donít mind you are both blocking the way to my
refrigerator and thus blocking the way to the cold water." Adam quickly
adds, "Not to mention my beer chaser."

Grinning Xander and Faith move out of the way and Adam tosses bottles
of water to Xander, Riley and Giles. With his head still in the
refrigerator Adam says, "Damn! All out of water." Closing the
refrigerator behind him with a bottle beer in hand he says, "I guess
Iíll have to make due with this."

Now that they were all together Giles asks, "Well Adam what do you have
to show us?"

Adam takes a file he had left on the counter that morning and hands it
to Giles. "This is all that we could find on the prophecy I had
mentioned last night. In there is the actual prophecy and the
translation I was able to put together. Also in the back is are copies
of the police reports pertaining to the two murdered girls."

"I see." Giles says flipping the pages looking at the information.
"What about this here?" He says pointing to a document.

"That is all the information that we could find on the Ďawakening.í
From what I can see the ritual is a way to siphon off energy from
anything. But all weíve found is that the ritual can be done at any
time."

"So youíve found no correlation between the murders and the ritual?"
Giles asks.

"None. But both appear in the prophecy. So that is why weíre asking you
to help us, hopefully you will be able to look at it at a different
angle." Xander says.

"The girls all had their eyes and tongues removed. As well as some of
their blood." Adam explains.

"How can you be sure, about the blood I mean?" Buffy asks. Riley had
made his way over to her and was now standing behind her.

"The amount of blood on the scene does not coincide with the injuries
sustained. So either the blood was taken or someone cleaned up after
themselves." Adam says.

"What about vampires?" Willow asks.

"Wouldnít count on it Red." Faith says to the witch. "Since when have
vamps been known to clean and precise when it comes to blood? No bite
marks on the victim, no signs of struggle, each one was killed with a
single stab to the stomach. Not a vamps MO."

"Then what do we have to go on?" Buffy says.

"We know that the killings happen one week apart. At first we thought
it was for the awakening ritual but now we know that they just coincide
within the prophecy. The stopping of the murders will not preclude the
awakening ritual, but it may stop something else, but we donít know
what it will stop." Cassandra explains.

"So can we do?" Tara asks.

"Research." Giles answers. "According to this we have three more nights
before the next murder."

"Anyone have any more to share?" Adam asks.

"Well an hour before the attack at the club we went to see Willie. He
said a pair of people came into his bar an roughed up a couple of
vampires."

"That would have been Adam and me but Adam did most of the roughing
up." Cassandra tells the group.

"Well he also said that a lot of action was going to hit town soon all
because some guy was able to get one of the local vampire-who-would-be-
master to work for him."

"He had told us just as much as well." Cassandra says to Buffy.

"Then we should expect heightened levels of activity throughout the
town until this prophecy comes to pass." Giles states.

"Weíll patrol then." Buffy says gesturing to Riley and herself. "Weíll
widen the area of patrol to get more ground covered."

"We could patrol as well." Faith says indicating that she and Xander
were available to patrol.

"Tara, Willow and I can research more into the prophecy to see if you
may have missed anything." Giles says holding up the folder.

"Cassandra and I will help you as well." Adam says. "Do we all know our
tasks?" Adam asks the assembled group. Seeing that they all understand
he continues, "Good, weíll meet at Mr. Gilesí shop at six oíclock
then."

The group sounds the affirmatives as many get up to leave. Willow,
Buffy and Tara all have class today and need to get back to the dorms
to get ready. Cassandra gets up offering them a ride to the campus so
that she can talk to the two witches and Buffy about training their
metaphysical abilities. Riley also gets up to leave to get back to
campus to prepare for his mid-morning class. Giles and Adam are now
looking over the file trying to point out possible leads and mistakes
in the information before them.

Faith and Xander look on as the group dissipates. Faith looks at Xander
and sees that he is more at ease than she can ever remember. "Youíre
happy that youíre home arenít you?"

"I wonít lie and say that Iím not." Xander says to her.

"But?" Faith knows that he is holding something back.

"But I canít help but think that by telling them what I am that I have
pulled him into a world even more dangerous than before."

"You did that with me." Faith tells him.

"Yes, but you wanted to stay with me and I felt that I at least owed
you the truth. That and the fact that you wouldnít have trusted me
otherwise." He tells her with a small grin.

"We couldnít have that now could we?" Faith says leaning closer to him.
They are about to kiss when they are interrupted by the sound of Giles
clearing his throat.

"Ahem! Do you mind doing that elsewhere?" Giles says.

"Yes, you two are giving us tooth decay with all that sweetness." Adam
says.

Xander looks at Faith and says to her, "Why donít we go back to the
house?"

"Sorry but no can do. Iím meeting Cassandra downtown in about ten
minutes. I already have a change of clothes here and you still have to
get to work." Faith says as she turns away back to the training room to
gather her things.

"That was probably for the best Xander." Adamís voice next to him grabs
his attention. "I donít want you being to distracted today. Youíll
need
you rest and your wits about you for the time being. We are three
nights away from the next murder and four nights away from a potential
Armageddon. Things arenít going to get any easier from this point on."

Turning to look at the area that Faith had once occupied he says, "I
know. I know."

Ö

The Master is walking around his new lair looking at the current
accommodations. "The good thing about old churches is that many of them
have these underground chambers." He gestures to the room around them.
The room was like a sub basement of some sort that the entire church
had been built upon. "Some times they are used mostly for storage or
they are used to hold special items the Vatican has given to the church
for safe keeping." The Master continues to walk around the chambers.
"Think of it as a throw back to early Christianity were the Christians
were forced to practice their religion in secret."

Keith and Aaron look on not daring to question or interrupt the Master
when he is talking. If he wishes to speak they will listen.

"Now when this churchís congregation left for greener pastures and a
bigger church they took the sacraments and the items that they thought
made the church special, a crux so to speak of spiritual energy." The
Master pauses looking at his two followers making sure that they were
paying close attention. "But these men of cloth have long forgotten why
this place was erected here on this spot." 

Taking out his sword the Master begins to draw lines in the sand. "The
world is full of fault lines, physical and metaphysical, the physical
fault lines are where the continents move and slide against each other.
The metaphysical are where the spiritual energies move and slide
against each other. When these lines cross immense power can be found
effecting the land, people, plants and animals around it. Stonehenge,
the Nasca plains, the pyramids certain places in Tibet are all examples
of this phenomenon."

"As is this church. The Hellmouth is not just the portal to hell. That
is only the physical manifestation, the Hellmouth is the sum of all of
its parts metaphysical and physical. However it is very rare when both
aspects of the Hellmouth coincide."

Seeing that he was looking at them to ask why Keith asks, "Why it that
Master?"

"When they both coexist in the same moment the energy that can be
released is incredible. However in order to release the power many
specific things must take place. Much like the hydrogen bomb that
implodes on itself so violently that it causes the plutonium atoms to
separate and release the potential energy hidden within the atomic
bonds." The Master gestures with his hand to the room. "So it is with
the Hellmouth. Many look to the Hellmouth as the opening to the demon
world. I however am a classicist and the Hellmouth is actually the
meeting of all of the metaphysical fault lines in this area. A crux of
dark and light energies waiting to be released and I have waited for
this precise moment in time to occur my friends."

"Three nights from now all the right conditions are finally going to
come into place that we will witness the release of this great energy.
Three nights from now we will become the most powerful men in the
world!" The Masterís maniacal laugh resounds in the small room. He
continues to laugh as he turns to his silent audience a row of jars
sitting on a table. 

Walking over to the jars he reaches out and caresses one with his
hands. "And you my little ones will be there to help me." They eyes and
tongues with in the jars begin to bob up and down slowly as if to
affirm the Masterís last statements. Seeing this the Master grins. So
close. So very close.

Ö

Swing, thump. Grunt, kick. Block, dodge. The night was still young but
the sheer amount of resistance that Buffy and Riley were facing were
much more than they have seen in two months. The Vampires tonight seem
stronger, faster, driven. They were coming at them from all sides and
it was enough to corner her and Riley in an alley leaving only one way
out: through the vampires. The group they are facing is the third group
of vampires that they faced that night.

Riley wasnít fairing as well as previous excursions into the fire zone.
Every time he blocked a punch or kick or even tried to strike out an
opponent he felt a pain in his side. Remembering the particularly hard
hit he had taken earlier that night he realizes that he probably has
bruised ribs. The thought is only in his mind a moment as he ducks
under a right cross and strikes back with a stake to the heart of the
vampire. With it turning to dust he turns to see if Buffy needs his
assistance. 

Buffy as always was in complete auto drive. She had only one goal and
that was to stake the vampires attacking her. She had come up with a
pretty good plan on how to stake vampires over the years. Using her
legs because of their longer reach she initiates battle with a vampire.
The vampire being new and now well versed in the ways of fighting
opens
itself up for a quick stake to the heart. It was a formula that had
worked for her in the past and works for her now. However that was
against small numbers of vampires. Not more than three at once. She
finds that she canít focus too long on a single adversary unless she
would be blind-sided and taken out. When it cam to larger groups Buffy
is more defensive waiting for mistakes that she can capitalize on.

But that wasnít happening tonight. Vampires fight with emotions running
thick. These vampires did not. They were all focused on fighting and
killing. Emotions allow for mistakes, without those Buffy was quickly
tiring because she had nothing to capitalize on. The Vampire she had
been fighting suddenly arches her back as is she wanted to touch her
head with her toes. Suddenly a stake emerges from her chest and the
vampire explodes in a pile of dust. Replacing her is Riley who is
quickly moving to her side to provide back up for her flank.

"So honey, howís your night going?"

"Horrible. Can you believe these guys? All I want is to go out on a
nice quiet stroll with my man but noooo they have to go and try to kill
us. Not once, not twice but three times!"

"I can see how that can put a damper on your mood." Riley says with a
grin as he stakes another vampire. There are only two left and Buffy
was just about to stake hers.

Turing to face the last vampire he winces in pain. Turning too fast his
body protests and he can feel the pain lance up his spine. The wince
is
all the vampire needs to attack. Within moments he was on top of Riley
throwing punches at his head which he was trying to protect as well as
his injured ribs. The stake in his hand was now long gone, dropped when
the vampire took him down. If he was going to die he was going to die
fighting. Using his left hand he throws several jabs to the vampireís
face pushing him back slightly but the vampire catches the fist and
yanks on the arm. Riley can feel his shoulder protest against the force
of the pull. Though not dislocated Riley still feels the pain and
cries
out. Just as he thought that the vampire would tear his arm off it
changes into a pile of dust and Buffy quickly goes to his side.

"Riley are you okay?" She asks him.

"Never better." He tells her.

Buffy tries to take his right arm and lift him up but again Riley
winces in pain. "Whatís wrong?" She asks him full of worry.

"I think I bruised my ribs and my should is feeling like crap." Riley
says to her truthfully. "Aside from that and the multitude of bruises
Iíll have tomorrow Iím fine."

"Weíre going back to Gilesí right now. Weíll fix you up good as new."
Buffy says as they limp to the well lit street. "Weíre not that far off
but I think that weíre done with patrol for tonight." She tells him.

"Iíll second that motion." He tells her as she helps him to Gilesí
shop.

Ö

Xanderís sword sings through the air as a head flies past him before
changing into dust Bringing up his sword for the killing blow he checks
on Faith out of the corner of his eye. She was handling her
adversaries
as well but she was still favoring the ankle she twisted slightly in a
earlier fight. Xander brings his sword across his opponentís neck
severing the head and thus changing the body, like the hand before it,
into dust. Turing around to see if there were anymore vampires close
enough to engage he finds that the only one left was the one Faith was
pummeling. An uppercut and a side kick to the vampireís chest causing
the lung cavity to collapse puts the vampire down hard enough that
Faith can walk over to the vampire and finish the job.

"You okay?" He asks her.

"Yeah, Iím cool." She says but she is still limping from her injury. 

"What about that?" He asks pointing to her ankle.

"Itíll be fine in about an hour." She tells her. Xander just continues
to look at her. "What?"

"I know that you can take care of yourself Faith but I still worry." He
tells her. "I donít want to loose you."

Faith looks up at the man she has come to love with such a passion. She
had never had anyone ever worry about her. She would fight as if it
was
her last battle. She never had anything to return home to but now she
did. It scared her and warmed her at the same time. Walking over to him
Faithís favors her ankle again and falls into Xanderís arms.

"Good thin youíre here to catch me huh?" Faith says looking up at
Xander.

"Iíll always be here to catch you." Xander says back to her softly.

Nodding Xander helps her up and scoops her off of her feet. "Well I
donít want you to hurt yourself anymore than you have already." He
carries her all the way to their car.

"Xander! I can walk! You donít have to carry me the entire way.

"I would be severely lacking in my duties as knight and protector of
all that I survey!" He says with false bravado. "I shall carry my lady
to yon carriage." He says nodding to the car.

Sighing and rolling her eyes she leans her head against Xanderís
shoulders. "Fine. But if you drop me youíre going to have hell to pay
and Iím going to take it out on your armored ass!" She says jokingly.

"Iím not so sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing." Xander says.

"It can definitely be a good thing Xander, just play your cards right."
Faith tells him.

Xander opens the door to the car and sets her down in the passenger
seat. Closing the door behind him he walks to the other side of the car
and gets into the car as well. Looking over at Faith he sees that he
head is resting back on the headrest and her eyes are closed.

"Hey are you there still?" They had pushed themselves pretty hard
tonight. Four groups of vampires in three hours, in those three hours
he had broken his collar bone twice, his nose four times and shattered
his wrist once. He however had his immortal healing abilities to fall
back upon. Faith on the other hand although she had her Slayer healing
powers it didnít even compare to immortal ones.

"Yeah just a little tired is all." Faith says her eyes still closed.

"Donít worry about it. Just go to sleep, Iíll wake you up when we get
to Gilesí shop okay?" He says to her gently.

"Youíll have to take a rain check on that last one Xander." She says in
a mumbled whisper.

"Donít worry about that. You just get some rest." He tells her. Rain
check or no he wants the next time they have sex to mean something. He
doesnít want to have sex he wants to make love to Faith and he wants
her to make love back to him. He wonít settle for anything else, not
this time. 

Those are the thoughts in his head as he pulls the car away from the
curb. The car falls behind the horizon and out of sight. Out of the
shadows a puff of smoke can be seen. Stepping in to the light Jonathan
continues to stare in the direction of the car that had just driven
away.

He had killed the young man. He shot him three times. Yet he is still
alive and killing his vampires. His blood was red and warm and his
heart beats in his chest. The man isnít a vampire or a demon. He is all
too alive. A seraph perhaps, the young man personified the image of an
avenging angel, unstoppable in battle, unyielding direction. Truly a
man to be respected. Jonathan would have to talk to the Master about
his adversaries. 

Jonathan is really starting to rethink his loyalties. To find an enemy
as unstoppable and ruthless as yourself is truly unnerving. Immortal,
unyielding and if the young man was any indication of his kind the
exact polar opposite of the vampire race. Yes he would have to talk to
the Master again, he would have to ask him why he would want to turn
his back on his own race.

Ö

"So according to this you are Death?" Giles asks the man sitting across
the table from him.

Adam looks back at the Watcher and shrugs. Giles chooses his next words
carefully, "Well, itís just that you are not quite one would expect as
the basis of the third horseman whose presence heralds the coming of
Hellís kingdom."

Cassandra snorts at the last comment. Adam glares at Cassandra a moment
before turning to Giles and saying, "Iíll have you know that I was the
scourge of three continents for over a millennia!"

"What stopped you?" Giles asks him.

Adam looks at Cassandra quickly before answering Gilesí question. "I
met someone who helped me begin my path to redemption."

"I see." Giles says looking over the information in front him again.

Cassandra interrupts his thought process as she asks "You arenít the
least bit bothered by what he was?" 

"Quite frankly? No. Iíve done things that I am not proud of that I can
do nothing about." Cassandra and Adamís eyebrows rise at the last
comment. "That and Iíve forgiven individuals who have done much worse
to me personally who have claimed to have reformed or changed. What you
did in the past thousands of years ago has nothing to do with why you
are here now."

Adam smiles at the Watcherís remarks. "I have met so very few mortals
who are as wise as you Ruppert. Those that I have told of my past
usually arenít as accepting as you."

Giles smiles at the man and says to him, "Not many men have been living
on the Hellmouth for five years. Living in this," he gestures around
him, "can age a man."

"Yes we were able to see that when we first found Alexander." Cassandra
says. "He seemed so young but his soul seemed weathered with age."

"Out of all of those who were here I think that Xander, next to Buffy,
had the most taken from him. He was forced to kill his best friend
since childhood to protect himself. He has helped to save the world so
many times but could not receive any recognition from his peers. I wish
there was more I could have done for him."

"You did well to raise him Watcher." Cassandra tells him. "Alexander
still looks upon you with a great amount of respect. I think that your
recognition and recognition from his friends was all he really needed."

"Yes." Giles says quietly. Deciding to change the subject Giles asks
the pair, "Have you found anything more on the awakening ritual?"

"I have found plenty on the ritual, even on the ritual that the
prophecy points out specifically." Adam tells him.

"And what did you find?" Giles asks him

"That the ritual is bound by any time restraints and that it can be
done at any time." Cassandra answers.

Frowning Giles says, "Are you sure? So far the prophecy has been
correct. The portents up until now are all occurring and the murders
have been so precise that they must have something to do with the
ritual."

"Iím telling you what we found in the past hours supports what I had
found over the last few weeks. Something is not matching up here and
Iím not sure why." Adam says.

"Perhaps a mistranslation?" Giles says hopefully.

"At this point Iíll try anything, but I seriously doubt mistranslation.
I proof read the translation myself and compared it with the original.
Iím fairly sure that it is correct." Adam says to Giles.

"Iíll keep looking through the material we have here." Cassandra adds
as the two men take out the copy of the prophecy and begin to proof
read the document again.

"Yes perhaps there is something in the books that we have yet to find."
Giles says. Standing up straight he walks to one of the selves and
studies it a moment. Pulling out a few books he walks back to the table
and places the books on top. "These books deal mainly with the subject
of metaphysical energy transfer. If anything on this ritual exists
then
it would be in one of these volumes."

Looking at the stack Cassandra takes one and opens it. She is about to
read the first pages when Buffy comes into the store helping a wounded
Riley inside.

Giles is the first to help Riley and asks, "What happened?"

"Tough night for patrol Giles. We were up against a lot of competition
tonight." Riley answers weakly.

"Riley donít try to talk." Buffy tells him. "I think heís hurt pretty
bad. He might have some broken ribs and the swelling around his
shoulder is not looking good." The worry on Buffyís face is apparent. 

Adam takes Buffyís place as he and Giles help bring Riley to a chair
where he can rest. After sitting him down Adam reaches into the bag he
had brought with him and takes out a small maglite flashlight. Turning
it on he shines the light into Rileyís eyes to watch their reactions.
See that he was not in shock he starts to examine Riley more closely.

"Now Riley I want you to tell me when something hurts okay?" Riley
grunts and nods. Adam pokes at his ribs and when Riley grunts again in
pain Adam stops looking at the area much closer. Poking and feeling for
any breaks Adam says, "I donít think that his ribs are broken, just
badly bruised. As for the swelling around his shoulder have him take
some aspirin for the pain and for the swelling weíll to put an ice pack
on him."

Buffy looks as Adam gives his prognosis and asks him. "Are you a Doctor
too?"

"I was in a past life. When you live as long as me you tend to pick up
a few things." Adam replies easily. "Riley youíll have to rest all day
tomorrow, no training okay? Iíll take a look at your shoulder tomorrow
to see if you can go on patrol but for right now weíll need to tape up
your ribs."

"I have bandages and medical tape in the back room, Iíll go get them."
Giles says.

At that moment Xander and Faith walk into the shop. Seeing that
everyone present was attending to Riley he asks. "What happened?"

Riley is the one who answers, "A couple of vampires got lucky tonight
and caught me off guard."

Faith asks Adam, "Is he going to be alright?"

"Yes, but he may be out of the game for a good day or two, depending on
how his shoulder feels tomorrow night."

"Damn." Xander curses under his breath. They were already outnumbered
but now they would possibly be short a man. Buffyís voice brings him
out of his thoughts.

"Did any of you notice that he vampires tonight were a little more gun-
ho than usual?"

"I did. They were actually thinking while we fought them." Faith
answers. "It made them incredibly hard to deal with tonight."

"I noticed that too. They were using well-calculated attacks. Iíve
never see that kind of coordination from a group of attacking vampires
before." Xander says.

"Looks like whoever we are trying to stop has decided to up the ante a
bit then?" Adam says.

"It would seem so." Cassandra says.

"We canít let that stop us now. We need answers and we are now two
nights away from the next murder." Giles says. "Buffy take Riley home
and see to it that he gets rest. We should call it a night, Iíll
continue to research here if the rest of you want to join me, but those
who went on patrol tonight are all to go home and get some rest."

Xander and Faith are about to protest when Cassandra tells them, "Go
home. We will be fine here. You two need your rest too."

Faith answers, "Fine, I was tired anyway. Xander take me home." Turning
to Buffy she asks, "You guys need a ride?"

"No weíre cool. Iíve got Rileyís car parked out back and Iíll drive us
back to campus." Buffy says.

Buffy, Riley, Xander and Faith all leave the store. The three remaining
individuals in the room turn back to their books and manuscripts their
efforts now redoubled. Cassandra looking at the stack of books in
front
of her once again picks out a small tome to read forgetting about the
one that she had set down earlier. The page that the book was turned to
was that of a globe with several lines drawn on it. Surrounding the
globe is pictures of the planets in a pattern around the globe.
Cassandra finished reading the small tome places it on top of the open
book. She takes the next book in the stack and begins to read.

From behind the book placed on top of it a single word can be seen on
the page below: Hellmouth.

Ö

The Masterís new lair made Jonathan uneasy. The old building is torn
and charred from the fire that had consumed it some time in the past.
The chamber underneath is cold and dark. The tunnels that lead to the
underground room started first in what was the basement of the old
church and led him down in the darkness for a while before coming to
the chamber. There was one way in or out of the chamber. Jonathan hated
closed spaces and this chamber was as closed as it could get.

The chamber itself was large and spacious and had an altar at one end.
From the mental picture of the church above he believes that the altar
is directly below the one above ground.

The Master is standing behind the altar arranging his jars in a neat
row. Looking up he sees Jonathan walking towards him. "Jonathan! I
trust all is going well?" He says almost cordially. 

"Very well. But I have found an interesting conundrum." Jonathan tells
the Master lazily.

"Well out with it vampire what is it that your feeble mind cannot
comprehend?" The cordial face of the Master is now cold and hard. 

"My people had several run-ins with the protectors of the city and it
seems that my people are fighting a dead man."

The Master laughs, "Funny statement coming from a reanimated corpse."

Jonathan grinds his teeth at the last comment. "Well I had put three
bullets into him myself. He should be dead but tonight he is alive and
well using his sword to kill my people."

"A sword you say?" The Master says curiously.

"Yes, I also had the opportunity to study him tonight and I found
something very interesting."

"Iím in no mood for guessing games, what did you find so interesting?"

"What I found interesting was what exactly did you do to turn your back
on your own kind? The boy feels like you, not as strong but the same
nonetheless. It would seem to me that your kind has sent some one here
to deal with you." Jonathan says to him.

What happens next isnít what Jonathan expects. He was hoping at least
for recognition but what he gets instead is a loud laugh. "My kind are
a unusual beast We, unlike your kind, have a free will to choose who
and what we wish to be. I have chosen this path and I chose it a long
time ago. If there is another of my kind here then it is entirely
coincidental."

"He knows how to kill vampires and how to fight them despite my kindís
considerable strength." Jonathan continues.

"Then that is your problem isnít it vampire? My kind has been around as
long as man has walked the Earth. You shouldnít be surprised that some
of my know how to defeat your kind."

"Then I would ask that you compensate me for my losses in the face of
this resistance."

"I will consider it. Leave now vampire." The Master says to him.

Jonathan leaves the lair. He had gotten all that he could extract from
the Master without angering him. Angering the Master was something that
he could not afford to do. The man is insane and would kill him and
his
brood without hesitation. For a master vampire Jonathan is relatively
young but relying on his mind and common sense allowed him many
victories and the respect of the vampires he commands. The Master is a
wild card that Jonathan does not trust. The Master had caused the loss
of many of his soldiers and many casualties within his ranks. Jonathan
will only support the Masterís madness for so long. Once it became too
much he would cut his losses and leave the Master to his own fate.

Back inside the lair the Master beckons his two minions. "Keith, Aaron
come here. It seems that another immortal is in town and he is fighting
with those who are trying to stop us. Take care when you go out to
harvest. Jonathan tells me he is strong and fast enough to fight
vampires. So watch yourselves. We cannot let this one person stop our
plans. When you go out take care to watch your backs."

"Yes Master." They both say to him.

Although this new information is surprising to him the Master will not
let it effect his plans. He has waited so long for this moment that he
would be damned if he let a single immortal stop him.

Ö

The next day Xander, Faith, Buffy, Adam and Cassandra are all training.
Adam and Cassandra were pretty much cleaning the floor with the rest
of
them but once in a while the two Slayers would be able to get their
shots in. Xander on the other hand was having better success when
facing the elder immortals. He had almost thrown Adam much to his own
surprise. His surprise was short lived though as Adam quickly countered
the throw and Xander found himself getting to know the mat once again.

Riley was not present this morning because of his injuries but the
others decided that after the fights last night some training would
help them that night. Xander is now facing against Adam once again.
Xander hates sparring against Adam. Not so much the fact that he looses
every time they spar but the fact that Adam seems to toy with him. 

Adam didnít live to be five thousand years old just because he is
smarter than everybody, that played a big part of it but it is not the
only reason he lived for so long. The other reason is that Adam was
just that good. Every time he spars with Adam Xander sees a new move or
a hint of the person underneath Adam Pierson: Methos. If Adam is good
Methos is lethal. Where Adam would hesitate a second to allow for
surrender Methos would kill outright. If Adam thought that Xander
needed to learn a lesson of some sort while sparring the lesson would
come from Methos. Adam cultivates his mind while Methos trains his
body. The duality of Adamís personality is unnerving at times but
Xander learned early on to cope with it.

Adam and Xander walk up to each other and bow. Turning to the others in
the room Adam says, "Can everybody please move back against the
walls?"
Turning back to face Xander Adam says, "I have a theory I would like to
test out with young Xander here."

Everyone nods and moves to the sides of the room. Cassandra throws a
curious look to Adam to which Adam just nods his assurance, Cassandra
looks unsure at first but nods her head as well.

"Xander I want you to know that Iím not going to hold back this time
and I want you to do the same. Understood?"

"Yeah I guess so." Xander answers unsure if Adam was just joking with
him or not.

"You shouldnít guess Xander. You should know." The hand that strikes
Xander in the chest throwing him back a few feet is so fast that the
movement barely registers in his mind before he feels the impact. Adam
doesnít let up as a flurry of punches hits him all over his body.
Xander still shocked at the ferocity of the blows can barely bring his
arms up to block the punches hailing down on his body. Even when he
brings his arms up to block the blows he is met by great pain as the
punch he did not see connects with another part of his body. As soon as
the flurry started it stops.

"That should be enough for a warm up right Xander?" Adam says coolly.
"Now you attack."

Nodding Xander walks up to his mentor and assumes a ready stance.
Xander now knowing that Adam was serious about not holding back goes on
an all out offensive. Xanderís foot snaps out to Adamís knee. Knowing
that he would easily avoid such a tactic Xander only seconds after
letting the kick go lets out a punch with his right hand. Adam now off
balance from dodging the kick falls easy prey to the punch that
connects to his jaw. Adam staggers back and stutter-steps and wrenches
his body upright. 

Buffy, Faith and Cassandra watches on as the two men are fighting. Most
men Adamís size would have tripped due to the force and momentum of
the
strike but Adam is able to keep his balance and continue with the
fight. Xander pressing his marginal advantage continues brings the
fight to Adam. For the two combatants the speed of the fight has slowed
to a speed where every punch and every kick can be seen easily. To the
audience the speed of the fight increases to a pace that leaves even
the slayers in awe. The punches become blurs as the two fighters limbs
become streaks of movement.

Xander throws a roundhouse punch at Adamís head. Adam easily parries
the punch pushing the blow off to the side. Xander pivoting on his
front foot turns his body with the direction of the deflected blow and
catches Adam with a spinning backhand. His moment of glory is short
live however as Adam quickly recovers dropping to the ground performing
a sweep catching Xanderís right ankle before he can get his left foot
down to distribute his weight evenly. The result is Xander falling to
the ground.

Adam rising from his sweep brings his leg and around performing an axe
kick designed to catch Xander square in the chest. As Xander falls he
sees Adamís leg coming down upon him. Just before the impact of the
kick reached out and catches the leg like he would a football absorbing
most of the impact before hitting his body. The force of the kick
however is still strong enough to break a few of his ribs upon contact.


The sound of Xanderís ribs breaking reverberates in the room as the
three women continue to watch the two men fight. Cassandraís hand on
Faithís shoulder is the only thing that stops the young woman from
going to Xanderís side. Cassandra shakes her head no and watches as the
young womanís emotions play across her face: worry, anger,
understanding then worry again as she turns back to watch the two
fighters.

Xander having caught Adamís leg twists his body violently causing Adam
to flip over Xanderís body as they both fall to the ground. Adam grunts
as the sound of his knee popping under the pressure and the force of
the throw. Adam rolls with the fall and gets up slowly his weight on
his back leg. Xander too is slow to get up. Both men are now breathing
hard with sweat flowing off their bodies freely. A loud pop is heard as
Adamís knee heals itself. Xander grunts and stands tall as he feels
his
own ribs heal as well. 

Xander looks at Adam and sees that his normally green eyes have turned
a cold gray. Gone is the smile and good-natured mannerisms of Adam, the
being standing before him is Methos, is Death. If the fight was
difficult before it was now going to get a whole lot harder. Then
Xander does something that surprises even him. He grins. Methos sees
this and grins back.

Methos charges Xander at an incredible speed, faster than Xander could
think possible, and hits Xander. The force of the blow pushes Xander
back far enough that he rebounds off of the wall and right back into
Methosí incoming foot. The sidekick Methos performs on Xander should
have been enough to tear him in half, it should have been so fast that
he could have seen it coming at him. But to Xander the kick comes at
him at a speed that is almost unreal. The speeds at which his hands
react are just as unreal as well as he parries the blow off to the side
and is able to back away and put some distance between him and Methos.

Both Faith and Buffy stand agape watching the fight unfold in front of
them. Cassandra looks on without any emotion playing across her
features. Her mouth is in a grim line as she follows the movements
across the floor.

Methos pulls his foot out of the wall quickly and turns to see Xander
running towards him. Not one to back down from a fight once challenged
Adam also charged at Xander. Like two trains crashing into each other
at full speed the three women witnessing the fight can feel the force
of the collision. However the force of the collision isnít felt on the
physical plane but on the metaphysical one. They can feel the energies
of the two men colliding with each other and violently being thrown
away from their bodies. The sheer force of the meeting is enough to
make the two slayers flinch. Cassandra continues to watch the two
fighters but now she is using her second sight to see them fighting.
The force of their quickenings surrounds their bodies like great storms
and Xanderís is continuing to grow just as Methosí as they each let
the
power course through them. Xanderís grows sporadically while Methosí
waxes and wanes to match Xanderís. Xander is doing what is coming
naturally to him while Methosí is using his considerable control to
coax more of Xanderís potential out to the open.

Adam had told Cassandra earlier that he thought that Xander was getting
stronger. She had dismissed the statement but now she sees that Adam
was in fact correct. The plan was to slowly bring out Xanderís
potential while training today to see what his limits really were.
Looking at the two fight it seems Xanderís limits are amazing. She
postulates that the reason for Xanderís sudden increase in power is his
return home. The Hellmouth had added to his latent immortality and now
it seems that it is adding to his quickening every moment he spent
here. Many things learned to adapt to their surroundings and Xander is
no exception. Xanderís quickening adapted early on to allow him to have
a normal life before dying the first time now it seems that now he was
close to the source of power that had helped him survive for so long
his quickening automatically started to bolster his reserves once
again. Though the Hellmouth is now complimenting Xanderís own power it
still couldnít compare to the amount of power Methos had within
himself. She could tell that Methos is still holding back.

Methos and Xander are now grappling with each other like Olympic
wrestlers. Xander brings his knee up to hit Methos in his stomach but
Methos blocks the knee with his own foot and brings his knee up into
Xanderís shoulder. All can hear the wet sounding pop as Xanderís
shoulder is dislocated. Crying out in pain Xander is forced to release
Methos and tries to back away from him to let his arm heal Methos has
other plans however.

"Come on Xander I know you have more than this!" He yells at him as he
begins another relentless attack.

Xander cries out in pain as he feels his body protest against the
beating that he is receiving. His arms ache and every muscle where he
has been hit throbs. He feels his strength being tapped out by Methosí
attack.

"Have you remembered nothing we have taught you Xander?" Methos yells
over his barrage. Xanderís face is a mixture of confusion and pain.
"Youíre muscles arenít the only source of power you have!"

Xanderís mind drifts to an early point of his training with the two
ancient immortals.

Ö

Xander is lying on the floor huffing. He can barely move his muscles
and his body screams in protests against any movement that he even
attempts to make.

"Xander why are you on the floor like that?" Adam asks.

"I canít keep going. Iím not strong enough. My body is too tired."
Xander gasps between breaths.

"The Vikings had a belief that Odin would induce a berserker rage to
aide the greatest warriors in battle." Adam tells him.

"Rage is a source of power as well but most important is will. You have
to will yourself to continue. Look deep into yourself and find that
source of power. Use it to help you continue on."

Xander closes his eyes and focuses on his inner self. Not sure what he
was looking for he opens is eyes and finds that he is refreshed and
ready to go again.

"You see? There is more to power than just muscles." Adam says with a
smile.

Ö

Xander is brought back to the present as another kick catches him in
his side sending him flying across the floor. Closing his eyes again he
focuses on his inner self. This time however he finds his source of
power. His quickening, in his mindís eye, is a blue sphere glowing and
brimming with power. Lightening crackling over its surface. He reaches
out to touch it and a bright white light flares and engulfs him.
Opening his eyes he sees that Methos is almost on top of him once more
but this time Xander is able to take an offensive of his own.

Seeing the renewed strength in his studentís body as well as his eyes
Methos says, "Good. I thought that you had all but given up on me."

"Not quite." Xander says through clenched teeth. He could feel Methosí
presence more than ever now. It matched his and he knew that is was
still greater than what he could feel. In his mindís eye Xander
embraces the blue sphere making it a part of him self.

Cassandra gasps in disbelief as Xanderís power flared even stronger
again. Faith turns to her and says, "Whatís going on? What do you see?"

"Power. Pure power." Cassandra says as she witnesses Methos matching
Xanderís power once more. They are fighting fluidly now movement no
longer confines them as they move through space with such seamless fury
that they could very well be fighting in a room lined with swords and
knives and they still wouldnít even get a scratch. They are fighting on
a level beyond anything she had ever witnessed before in her life it
was amazing. Their blows were now so powerful they were registering
physically, the shockwaves they generate when their blows connect could
be felt in the room.

Xander was movement itself. But even in this state he could not move as
fast as he wants, he still feels confined by the limitations of his
body, which he has far exceeded already. Punch for punch, kick for kick
they trade off never stopping, never pausing. Sweat pours off of them
as they move around the floor coupled in the deadly waltz kept in time
only by the pounding of their blood in their ears.

But like a candle that is about to burn out Xanderís power flares once
more in a flurry of punches taking one last offensive. Methos counters
back but is too late to stop himself when he realizes that Xander had
just tapped his own power out. His backhand connects with Xanderís head
twisting it around the foot he had thrown a split second later
connects
with Xanderís back. Without his focus and power Xanderís body looks
almost like a rag doll being tossed around. His neck turns and a loud
cracking sound can be heard. Before even gravity can take hold of his
limp body the kick to Xanderís back connects and his body almost folds
in half as it flies away from Methos.

Xanderís eyes are open and glossy before he even hits the ground. Adam
is running to his side already straightening out his body so that his
immortal healing can properly align his bones.

Buffy screams at Adam, "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT!!!"

Faith doesnít even attempt to scream as she just tackles Adam to the
ground and proceeds to pummel him. By the time Cassandra pulls her off
of him he too is also dead.

Faith runs to Xanderís side where Buffy quickly moves over to let the
other Slayer get closer to her loved one. "Oh Jesus! He broke him in
two!" Faith cries out.

"Faith itís okay." Cassandra tries to calm the slayer down.

"OKAY!!! Xander trusted him! He is like a father to him and then he
beats him to death? No it is NOT OKAY!"

"I knew this was going to happen Faith. What I didnít know was that
Xander wouldnít be able to sustain the amount of power he was putting
out." Cassandra explains.

Faith stands slowly along with Buffy right behind her. "You better have
a good explanation Cassandra." Faith says coolly her eyes staring
daggers at her.

Just to her side Buffy is also mirroring the look on Faithís face as
she says, "You better do it quickly too because two pissed off slayers
are two things you definitely donít want to see."

Taking a deep breath Cassandra looks at the two and decides that she
doesnít want to be pummeled to death either and says. "Fine but you
just beat the one who has the answers to your questions to death." She
says pointing to Adamís prone figure. "If you really want to know why
we did this Iíd say wait for him to come back and youíll get your
story."

Faith looks at Cassandra then to Adamís body. "Fine. Weíll wait. This
better be good or a swear to GodÖ"

"I understand. Just wait and all your questions will be answered."
Cassandra says.

With that Buffy and Faith tend to Xanderís body while Cassandra tends
to Adamís. It they had to wait for their answers they would wait. As
long as it takes, they will get their answers.

Ö 

Adamís body jerks up as he breathes in deeply. Adam is about to ask
what had happened to him when he hears a growl come from his left.
Turning his head he can see Buffy holding Faith back who is trying to
make her way over to him. Faith finally shakes herself loose from
Buffyís grasp and comes face to face with Adam. 

Looking down at him she says, "Give me one good reason why I shouldnít
kill you right now."

"How about Iíd just get back up?" Adam says sarcastically.

"Donít try to make this any less than it is Adam, plus Iíd probably
just kill you over and over again until I felt better." Faith says
coolly.

"Then I would take over and do the same thing." Buffy adds now standing
at Faithís side.

"If you both did that then you would never find out why a simple
sparring session finished with Xander dying." Adam says. Cassandra
helps him up and assists him over to a bench where a bottle of water
waits. Taking the bottle he chugs the water down in a few gulps.

Looking at the two Slayers Adam begins. "The quickening is a source of
great power. Our kind fight each other to the death in order to gain
otherís quickenings. However for many the power of the quickening is
latent and does not manifest itself until we take the head of another
immortal. However there are a few immortals that have learned to use
the power within."

Checking to make sure that he didnít loose anyone Adam continues,
"Xander has a tremendous amount of power for his age. Power which has
been manifesting itself little by little ever since we arrived here in
Sunnydale." 

"The time of the gathering is at hand and the first ones to die will be
the young immortals, like Alexander." Cassandra tells the girls.
Faithís expression changes from anger to worry as she remembers what
Xander had told her about the gathering. One left.

"But Xander is different than all of the other young immortals in the
game right now." Adam explains. "He has the power to match an immortal
fifty times his senior. If he could learn to tap into that reserve
Xander could very well survive to be the one!"

"But what about you or Cassandra? You are both stronger than Xander,
donít you want to be the one?" Buffy asks.

"No. Two thousand years ago I had resolved myself that I would not win
the game. No matter what I did not want to be the last." Adam answers.

"We have lived for so long and to go on as the last immortal is just to
much to ask." Cassandra says.

"But itís not too much to ask of Xander?" Faith says glaring at them.

"No." Adam answers simply. "We both have lived through some very dark
times." He says gesturing at Cassandra. "Should one of us or the other
ancients win the game we would be tempted to return the world back to
those dark times."

"Xander has great potential and in order for him to survive he needs to
realize at least some part of that potential." Adam tells the two
Slayers.

"To do that you had to beat him to death?" Faith says harshly.

"What you saw there is just a small piece of what he could do. The
problem is though so far the only time he has been able to manifest his
power is when he is under pressure or duress and only then. Something
happens unconsciously to him during that he allows himself access to
his power."

"But this is the most that weíve been able to draw out of him though."
Cassandra continues. "His body hasnít been trained to handle that kind
of overload."

Adam gestures to Xander. "You two should take him upstairs to the couch
or a bed where heíll be comfortable, his bones should have knitted
together by now so it should be safe to move him. Weíll stay down here
and clean up."

Faith glares at Adam still. Sighing Adam says, "Iím sorry I killed him,
it shouldnít have gotten that far but it did. Iím sorry."

Faith is still angry, he can tell, but she accepts his apology and she
and Buffy pick up Xanderís body and take him upstairs.

Cassandra moves closer to Adam and asks, "Why did you tell them all
that?"

Adam looks at the door and the stairs leading up to them and says.
"Because the truth is something I think they wouldnít take very well."


Chapter 11

All parts away for the progress of souls,

All religion, all solid things, arts, goverenments-all that was or is

    apparent upon this globe, falls into niches and

    corners before the procession of souls along the grand roads of

    the universe.

                                                                 W.W
1856

 

Xander wakes up in a dimly lit room. He knows he is lying down as he
stares up at the rough ceiling. Looking down on himself he sees he is
wearing the dark brown robes a monk would wear.

"Franciscan monks to be exact." A gentle voice to his right says.

Xander gets up looking around the room. A monkís quarters he thinks to
himself. As soon as the thought came to him Xander thinks how in the
world would he know what monkís quarters looked like?

"You wouldnít. But lucky for you I do." Xander turns to face the source
of the voice. A man dressed like him with the brown robes. How did I
get here? Xander thinks seeing that there are no doors or windows to
the room.

"Now that question can be taken so many ways. How did you get here as
in the planet? Well I would say you were born. Are you talking in a
philosophical sense? Then I would ask you are any of us really here?"

Xander glares at the man in front of him. He is just as infuriating as
Methos Xander thinks.

"I would say that Methos could be a bit more infuriating than me, but
then again  I hope he can. It would be terrible to know that I am as
infuriating as Methos."

"Would you stop that!" Xander talks for the first time. Apparently he
didnít need to talk but having a not so internal monologue was really
starting to creep him out.

"The whole reading minds part? Or the talking all together." He closes
his mouth and Xander can still hear his voice in his head. "Or if you
prefer we can talk like this." His mouth remains closed.

"The mind reading part." Xander answers. "So Iíll ask again. Where are
we? What is this place exactly?"

"This is a mental construct that you created." The man says to him.

"How? Iíve never seen any of this before." Xander says curiously.

"Well you may have created it but when I arrived here there was
nothing. Guessing that you wouldnít protest I filled in the blanks."
Motioning to the room he says, "This is the result. Not much but quite
homey if I remember correctly."

"You arrived here and you made all of this?" The man nods, "And who
exactly are you?" Xander asks him

"I am Darius."

"Darius?" Xander asks. "Okay Darius why did you bring me here?"

"Donít you remember what I told you? This is your mind." Darius says to
him.

"But you made it look like this." Xander says to him.

"Well I didnít want you waking up floating in the middle of nowhere."
Darius answers.

"I guess that is a good thing at least." Xander says. "Well what do I
now that Iím here?"

"What do you want to do?" Darius asks him.

"I want you to stop answering my questions with more questions for one
thing." Xander pauses to see if his companion is going to say anything.
"Second I would like to know why you are here if this is a construct of
my mind."

"I am Darius." Darius says simply.

"We have established that but why are you here? Iíve never seen or met
you before thisÖthisÖmoment."

"But what you donít understand is that this moment doesnít exist."

"I donít understand. If this moment doesnít exist then why am I here?"

"Methos thought that I should meet you and so here I am. But donít
worry about that now. When you wake up this place and this conversation
will only exist in that place between sleep and consciousness, where
dreams begin to fade away into nothingness." Darius says.

"So Methos told you, a guy who is able to change my mental construct,
to meet me in this place that doesnít exist?"

"Yes." Darius says to Xander as if it was the most natural thing in the
world.

"Why? What purpose could that possibly serve?" Xanderís voice echoes in
the construct.

Darius smiles a mysterious smile and says, "Methos has been sending me
candidates for years. But I must say that you show the most potential
out of all of them." Darius looks Xander up and down. "You could very
well be the one."

"The one what? What am I a candidate for?" Xander asks confused by the
cryptic answers he is receiving from the monk.

"Your destiny of course." The walls around them begin to shimmer as
they start to fade and turn to black. Darius walks over to a large
candle that he never realized was there. "Our time here grows short
Xander. It was nice meeting you."

As the room fades closer and closer to darkness Xander says, "Will I
see you again?"

"Perhaps, but not anytime soon." Dariusí voice begins to fade as well.
The only thing that remains is the steady glow of the candle, the rest
is darkness.

"Why?" Xander yells into the darkness.

From the darkness a whisper reaches him and it tells him, "Because Iím
already dead."

Ö

Xanderís eyes open to the sight of a dimly lit room. He is lying in a
bed and can sense someone near by. Methosí voice greets him. "Good
youíre finally awake."

Sitting up gingerly he sees that Adam had setup a chessboard at his
bedside and is studying it intently. He turns to Xander and asks him,
"How do you feel?"

"Like a truck hit me." It was the truth. He hadnít felt this much pain
since he had woken up from his first death. Looking out of the window
and realizing that it was dark outside he asks, "What time is it?"

"Close to midnight."

"Midnight!" Xander sits up quickly but groans as his body rebels at the
sudden movement. "I should be out patrolling!"

"What you should be doing is sitting back and letting your body heal
itself." Adam says turning back to the board. "Spinal and neck injuries
are the ones that take the longest to heal."

"Spinal and neck? What are you talking about? The last thing that I
remember sparring with you and then something happened and I blacked
out."

"So you donít remember anything about the fight?" Adam asks him. Xander
shakes his head no. "I thought as much. I broke you neck and severed
you spinal cord in two places. You died instantly."

"I remember you telling me that you werenít going to hold backÖ"Xander
says concentrating trying to coax the memory from his mind, "But every
thing after that is just a blur. IÖI thinkÖno. Thatís all thatís there.
What happened?"

"I had tried to release some of your potential but it sort of
backfired. Your body couldnít sustain the amount of power you were
using and you drained yourself. Before I realized it I had killed you.
It shouldnít have gotten that far. Iím sorry."

"Hey donít worry about it. What doesnít kill me makes me stronger
right?" Xander chuckles. He realizes that the other members of their
training party were missing. "Where are the women?"

"Since you were unconscious they went on patrol. Cassandra and I stayed
back to watch you in case you woke up, ."

"How did Faith take my dying at your hands?" Xander asks. "She can be a
bit over protective sometimes."

Adam chuckles and says, "She beat me to death after tackling me to the
ground. If the head trauma didnít kill me it would have been the broken
neck. You better hold onto that one Xander, otherwise Iíd hate to see
you have her as an enemy."

"I plan on doing just that." Xander says with a smile. Turning he says
more seriously, "Adam?"

Looking from the board Adam answers, "Yes?"

"Have you ever loved a mortal? I mean right now you what you and
Cassandra is great butÖ"

"What you have with Faith is limited?" Adam answers.

Xander nods his head. Adam tells him. "Love is an emotion that is not
restricted by time or age. It is something that will come equally from
a mortal or an immortal. The only difference is that the time you have
with a mortal becomes all the more precious. I had loved a woman who
was dying of cancer, rather than focusing on her death I made the most
of our lives together."

"But how can I do that when she is a Slayer? I mean she was never
expected to live past her twenty first birthday!"

"But unlike my situation you can do something about it, you can help
her fight, you can help her with her destiny. I couldnít do anything
other than watch the cancer ravage her body. You have the ability to
make her live longer and if itís only for just a day cherish that one
day that you have gained."

Seeing the logic behind the reasoning Xander nods his head and lies
down and closes his eyes. "Xander?" Adamís voice calls him.

"Yeah?"

"You were talking in your sleep. Were you dreaming?"

Xander thinks back. There was something but he couldnít make any of it
out. It was like he was chasing something just around the corner every
time he had thought that he had caught up it turns around the next
corner. "I think so. But I canít remember what it was about. Why?"

"Just wondering." Adam replies.

"Whatís with the chessboard?" Xander asks him.

"Just something that Iíve done in the past to pass the time. I setup
the board against an opponent that isnít there and I play him. Iím
black and heís white. Right now itís whiteís turn."

"Mind if I make his move for you?" Xander asks.

"Go right ahead." Adam says gesturing to the board.

"Knight takes bishop, mate in four." Xander says before falling back
down onto the bed to sleep.

Adam moves the piece and contemplates his next move. Looking at the
board and then Xander who is asleep on the bed Adam says, "Mate in
four? Are you serious Darius? After all this time have we finally found
what weíve waited so long for?" Xanderís breathing is even and steady.
His peaceful and calm exterior belies the power that lies within him.
It also belies his destiny, which if everything plays out the way it
has been foreseen, will come to pass very soon.

Ö

Buffy and Faith have been patrolling for most of the night and had made
a very good showing for it. Between the two of them they had taken out
twelve vampires and neither of them had so much as a scratch to show
for it. Buffy watched as Faith ruthlessly laid into the vampires that
they came up against. She hadnít seen the other Slayer fight like this
since the first time Faith had come into town.

Buffy is facing off with a vampire of her own and was able to quickly
dust it before it became anymore of a threat. Hearing the sounds of a
continuing fight her attention turns to Faith who is facing off with a
vampire as well. Only the difference here was that Faith was only
blocking, not taking any offensive at all. Buffy is about to help her
when Faith looks over to her and nods her head no.

Confused Buffy holds off her attack and watches as Faith suddenly grabs
the vampireís jab with her left hand and with her right hand strikes
the vampireís arm just above the elbow. A loud crack can be heard as
the vampireís arm breaks at the joint and hangs loosely at his side.
Faithís foot snaps out and hits the vampire just below his left kneecap
and breaks his leg. The vampire screams out in pain as he falls to the
side. Faith brings her foot up and down hard on the vampireís remaining
foot breaking the arch.

Faith takes the vampireís remaining arm and stretches it out to its
complete length. Still holding onto it wrist Faith puts her foot into
the shoulder of the vampire and yanks hard. Another crack and crunch is
heard as bone breaks and cartilage is torn. Faith then takes a stake
out and stakes the vampire in the heart. The look on the vampireís face
is one of thanks as he is put out of his misery.

"You ok Faith?" Buffy asks the other Slayer who is now resting up
against a wall, her breathing a little labored after the fight.

"Iím five by five. I just have a little frustration to work off you
know?"

"You want to talk about it?"

"Honestly? No. But I have a feeling that youíre not going to let it go
until I do." Faith says sighing.

"Well, what is it that has your more aggressive side roaming out and
about unchecked?" Buffy asks. "And donít tell me it was what happened
in the training room today. We both know that Xander is going to be
okay and Adam had apologized before already. So what is it that is
really bothering you?"

"Iíll give you three guesses." Faith says sarcastically.

"Does it rhyme with Xander?" Buffy says.

Grinning Faith answers, "Got it in one." Faith switches to her best
Scarlet OíHara impression, "Now how did you figure out what was
botheriní lilí olí me?"

"Iíve been in the same boat. I remember when I reached a point in my
relationship with Angel where I realized that he would outlive me. That
I would grow old while he looked the way he did for the rest of my
life." Buffy pauses a moment before continuing, "Then I realized it
Angel would probably never get to see me live to be that old. I wasnít
even supposed to live past my eighteenth birthday! So I figure that you
have found Xander but there is a catch. Heís immortal youíre a Slayer.
Heíll live forever while youíll die. Stop me if Iím wrong here."

"Keep going, when you finish Iíll tell you how close you are." Faith
says.

"I think that sometime in the middle of the night when you should be
sleeping you wake up and you think about him. You think about what you
could possibly have and what the future will hold for you and then you
close your eyes and the tears come. Tears for the things that you never
could have and never will share. Just because of who you are and who he
is."

"Jesus B. youíre hitting the nail pretty close to the head you know?"

"Iím not finished yet. Iíd also bet that you think of Xander and you
worry. You worry for his safety regardless of his skills or training.
You worry the person you are will have an effect on his life and effect
that can be deadly. You worry that maybe once you wonít be able to
protect him, to shield him from the harm that we attract naturally. You
worry that one day one mistake you make will cost him his life."

"Damn." Faith says as she slides down the wall until she is sitting
with her back against it. She leans her head forward and then tilts her
head back and lightly bangs the back of her head against the wall.
"Damn, damn, damn!"

Buffy walks over to Faith and sits herself down next to her and waits
for the other girl to begin talking. In the lights coming from the
street lamps she can make out streaks of tears on the other girlís
face. Faith chuckles and tilts her head to face the blond Slayer. "Out
of all the people in the world we probably have the most fucked up
lives."

"íHow do you figure?" Buffy asks.

"We are able to get our lives to the point where we think nothing can
go possibly go wrong. Then something happens that makes us realize how
fragile the balance weíve created really is."

"You mean Xander dying this afternoon?"

"Yeah. I mean I have a guy who canít die and said that he would never
leave me. You know?" Faith leans her head against the wall again. "But
heís part of this game where he has to fight people to the death."

"I thought that you knew all this already though." Buffy says trying to
sooth her.

"I did. But I really didnít really think though that one day he would
go up against someone better than him, someone that would kill him. I
had accepted the fact that he is going to out live me. It actually made
me happy that someone, far from now would be able to look back and say
that Faith lived her life and that she lived it by her rules. You know?
Someone like Xander who would remember the truth making sure that I
didnít live on in some watcher diary as the wayward Slayer."

"But?"

"But I never even thought of the possibility that I might outlive him."

"So when Adam beat him today the whole Ďthere can be only oneí thing
really hit home?" Buffy asks.

"Yeah. Iím the Slayer right? Iím only supposed to live to see my
twenty-first birthday right? Well thatís just around the corner and I
know the odds of me living past that date."

"But what aboutÖ" 

Faith cuts her off. "But what about you B? I know you are not about to
compare yourself to me. It didnít work before and it wonít work now.
Weíre not the same people B. Youíve had so many factors that I never
had. Not that Iím bitter about it B. I was at one point but I got over
it." 

"That may be true Faith but if you get right down to it we have more in
common than you think. Weíre both Slayers. Not many can say that.
Youíre as close to a sister I can get."

"What about Red?" Faith asks. "You two are pretty close."

"Close, yes. Iíd never hold a grudge against Willow. But she canít
understand what it is to have the weight of the world thrown on your
shoulders. She can try but itís never the same. You on the other hand
know what itís like to be plucked out of your life and thrown into the
fire."

"I guess you could say that." Faith says with a grin.

"I know I can say that. Weíre more alike than you think Faith. Thatís
why I know you can make yourself a life with Xander. I made myself a
life here with friends, family and a social life. I even tried out for
the cheerleading team! I know you can make your life be what ever you
want it to be."

"But how! I canít protect him from other immortals! I canít even feel
them! How can we have a life together if I have to look over my
shoulder every moment looking for the one immortal that might take his
head! I just found him B! I donít want to loose him."

"Thinking like that you might as well have already lost him." Buffy
says to her. "Youíre already giving up what you could have because of
what youíre afraid of what could happen."

"Iím not afraid of anything." Faith says with false bravado.

"Right and vampires donít exist."

"Donít start with me B." Faith says.

"Have you ever thought that maybe Xander doesnít need protection? That
maybe what he needs is you to be there for him? If you havenít noticed
Xander is able to take of himself now."

Sighing Faith answers, "I know but Iím a Slayer. You should know better
than anybody that protective streak that comes with the territory."

Smiling Buffy says, "Tell me about it. For the longest time the second
thing on my priority list to make sure that my friends survive to the
next daybreak you know?"

"What happened to change your mind?"

"Xanderís death. I couldnít save him and it killed me. I was supposed
to make sure that they would all live you know? But Xanderís death made
me realize that all my friends do what they do by choice and that there
is nothing I could possibly do to stop them from helping and there is
nothing I could do to save them all. I should have learned that lesson
with Kendra and I had another chance to learn that lesson with Mrs
Calendar but it took Xander to make me realize the cold hard truth."

"So what do you do now?"

"I just sit back and enjoy the time we have together. What else can I
do?"

"When did you become the big sister type?" Faith says wiping the last
remnants of tears from her face.

Buffy smiles. "I dunno, Iíve always wished that I had a younger sister
to share things with but Iím an only child so I never got to experience
that."

"Well youíd make a damn good one B." Buffy smiles at that and pulls the
other girl into a hug and they sit there for a moment. Pulling away
Faith says, "Letís go B. Iím starved."

"Yeah sure and I guess it helps knowing that Xander should be awake by
now huh?" Buffy says eliciting a blush from Faith.

"I told you B donít start with me."

Ö

Buffy and Faith arrive at Adamís house twenty minutes later. Seeing
that the lights were on they walk right up to the door only to find
Cassandra waiting for them with the door open. 

"Xander is sleeping still but he woke up earlier and heís doing fine."
She tells them once they are close enough. "I didnít want you guys to
wake him by accident."

"You felt us approaching the house?" Buffy asks.

"Yes. Iíve already been able to attune myself to you Buffy. Youíre
presence is much like Faithís." Cassandra says simply.

The trio walks to the kitchen and the two Slayers sit at the table.
Cassandra goes to the kitchen to get some food for the two girls to
eat. Returning to the table Cassandra places a plate with some finger
foods onto the table. The two Slayers are able to pick out and eat what
they want to eat. 

Faith asks, "So how is Xander holding up?"

"Heís fine, his body healed itself perfectly just a bit longer than we
expected. He should be up and about by tomorrow."

"Good, that last murder is supposed to take place tomorrow night
right?" Buffy says. "How are things going on the research front? Have
Adam and Giles found anything else on the ritual?"

"Unfortunately no. Their research shows that the Awakening ritual can
be performed at any time and the eyes and tongues arenít even mentioned
in any of the texts."

"Then why go to all the trouble? Just to throw us off the trail? Seems
a bit over kill donít you think?" Faith says.

"Exactly my point." Adamís voice draws their attention to the entrance
to the kitchen. He can see Faith bristle slightly at the sound of his
voice, "Faith I didnít mean to kill him. Our training got out of hand.
But I want you to know that he is like a son to me and I wouldnít do
anything to purposely hurt him."

"I know Adam. It just that itís hard to get the mental image of you
snapping his neck or the way he looked after he hit the ground out of
my head. Iím not holding any grudge against you."

"Youíre just a little uneasy around me, I understand." Adam says.
Continuing on the previous line of reasoning Adam says, "Neither Giles,
Cassandra or myself have been able to find any connection between the
murders and the ritual other than the prophecy we found."

"Weíre running out of time here. Tomorrow night another girl is going
to die if we donít stop whoever is doing this." Faith says.

"But we canít so anything if we donít know what weíre up against. In
order to stop what is going to happen we need a plan, to have a plan
you need information. Information that we just donít have." Cassandra
says.

"So what do we do? Patrol larger areas? We still canít cover the entire
city even if we all patrol by ourselves." Buffy argues. "I donít want
to have Riley or Xander for that fact to patrol by themselves." Faith
nods her agreement.

"I understand what you are saying so Iíll go out on patrol as well. I
think that Giles and Cassandra along with Tara and Willow should be
able to continue the research without me." Adam says.

"We could use the extra help but it still wont cover all the
possibilities." Buffy adds.

"We can only hope to get lucky. Right now Iím all out of ideas for
stopping this. If we donít find something soon we may have find
ourselves facing a very powerful enemy." Adam says.

"Have you looked into the possibility that the two have nothing to do
with each other at all?" Faith questions.

Adam looks at her and says, "Iím not sure that I understand your line
of thinking."

"I mean we know that the Awakening is going to happen and you donít
need any kind of sacrifice for the ritual to work right?"

"Correct."

Buffy catches onto Faithís train of thought, "So what if the parts and
sacrifices are for something else? Something that would either
strengthen the effects of the ritual or help it along faster?"

"I donít think any of had ever considered that. It would make sense,
the Awakening ritual takes anywhere between four to eight hours
depending how much power one is trying to siphon. I need to call
Giles." Adam says and abruptly turns to leave the room.

Cassandra asks Faith, "How did you draw that conclusion?"

"Iím not sure. I guess you could call it a post-slayage insight." She
answers. "But it still doesnít mean weíll be able to stop the murder
from happening tomorrow. We donítí even know if we can find the guys
responsible!"

"That plus all the added vampire activity the past few days Iíll be
surprised if we even get to finish our patrol rounds tomorrow." Buffy
adds.

"So itís a choice between the greater of two evils." Cassandra says.
"One the one hand stop the murders and let innocent people die. On the
other stop the vampires and let another innocent die. Either way people
will die. So what do we do?"

"We do both to the best of our abilities." Xanderís voice draws their
attention to the entryway. "We canít save everyone but we can try to
save as many as we can."

Faith gets up from the table and rushes over to Xander. Buffy watches
as the two share soft words. She smiles as she sees a look of concern
and worry that she had never thought she would ever see on Faithís
face. Xanderís look of complete adoration for Faith does not go
unnoticed as he brings his hand up to her face and caresses Faithís
cheek with his thumb. A gesture of tenderness that she noticed he used
often with Faith. She was happy for both of them. Faith had hidden pain
and so did Xander but together it seems that they are able to cope.

Being the third wheel was something she did not plan on being tonight
so Buffy stood up to leave. "I have class tomorrow so Iím going to head
back to campus. Iíll see you guys in the afternoon so we can plan our
patrol routes okay?"

"Buffy why donít you stay here tonight?" Cassandra suggests. "Itís
already late and Faith can give you a ride to campus tomorrow."

"I donít want to impose." Buffy answers.

"Donít worry you can have one of the extra rooms." Cassandra answers.

"And you can use some of my clothes to sleep in tonight and to change
into before you go to class." Faith puts in. 

Buffy already tired from the nightís work grudgingly accepts the offer.
"I want to hit the showers first though before I go to bed."

"Yeah me too." Faith adds.

Xander stands there with a far off look on his face. Cassandra calls
him but does not respond. She tries again louder this time but still no
reaction. Fearing that he had fallen into another catatonic state Faith
shakes Xander hoping to get some reaction out of him. She is gentle at
first but quickly becomes more forceful when she sees Xander barely
responding. She is about to slap him when she sees him grin widely.

"Xander! What just happened there?" Faith asks him.

"Iím sorry the mental image of both you and Buffy showering must have
overloaded my senses." He says grinning. Buffy giggles at his remark as
does Cassandra. Faith only rolls her eyes.

"If you ever do something like that again I will personally see to it
that you get some sense knocked into you. And you two." She says to
Cassandra and Buffy, "Donít encourage him."

"Sorry." Xander says still grinning. "I couldnít resist. Letís get you
two into bed." Xander says to Faith and Buffy.

Faith looks at Xander curiously. "What about you are you going to bed?"

"Iíve been out of it for most of the day. Iím to wired to get back to
sleep. I figure Iíll help Adam and Giles do some research."

Curious Buffy asks, "Giles is coming here?"

"Yeah I heard Adam asking him to come over tonight to start a new line
of research. Since Iím up I figured Iíd help them out." Xander answers.
He can feel Faithís hand squeeze his ever so slightly. Seeing the look
of veiled worry on her face he squeezes back assuredly. "But Iíll
probably go to bed shortly after that. Researching with Giles usually
put me to sleep before. Think of how it would be tonight! Two British
research maniacs for the price of one!" Xander jokes.

Faith says, "Fine but donít stay up to late." For Xander the words
translate directly to donít leave me for too long, I wonít be able to
sleep without you anyway.

"I wonít I promise. We have a murderer, possibly two, to stop and a
horde of evil vampires to stop from feeding off of the innocents of
this fair town. Iíll need my beauty sleep." Faith and Buffy both snort
as they go up stairs to take showers in the bathrooms up stairs.

Once they are out of sight and earshot Cassandra asks. "Are you sure
you are up to this? None of us expect you to do this."

"I have to Cassandra, itís who I am. I did it when I was a normal
mortal and Iíll do it for the rest of my life."

"Even if itíll kill you? Even if it means youíll be leaving behind
Faith?"

"If it saves her life then especially then." He says walking to the den
where Adam waits with his research.

Ö

Aaron sits in the corner of the Masterís underground lair. Keith sits
across from him doing exactly as he is. Preparing for tonight. He
cleans the knives given to him by the Master. 

"So tonight we bring the last one." Aaron says trying to pass the time.

"Yes. One of us will." Keith says confrontational.

"Keith the Master promised that we would be rewarded equally." The
Master found Keith like himself. Three hundred years ago Aaron had died
after a night of drinking. A group of men who he had insulted in his
drunken stupor took it upon themselves to even the score after he had
left the pub.

He had put up a good fight for a drunken fool. The first one received a
right cross for his troubles. However the second and the third and the
fourth one were able to tackle him to the ground. They held him down so
the fifth one was able to walk up and pull out a dagger. With that
dagger the man gutted him like a fish. The man, a noble, felt slighted
by remarks that Aaron said to him in the pub so he did what any noble
would do in his situation. He defended his pride and in doing so he
gutted Aaron who was a low class nobody.

When he woke up he felt the Master. Looking up he saw his face and his
outstretched hand. Aaron reached for that hand and sealed his fate. The
Master told him of his plan and his destiny and offered him a part of
the grand scheme. For the first time of his life Aaron had a purpose,
meaning and direction in his life. The Master has given him everything
that he has, all that he is and even a chance at revenge.

Aaron grins as he remembers the look on the noblemanís face as the very
knife that gutted Aaron gutted him. A very poetic revenge indeed a
revenge so sweet that it is one of his fondest memories. He remembers
the day that he and the Master had found Keith. His body surrounded by
stones and his body bloodied and bruised.

The Master explained to him that Keith would be a part of his family as
was Aaron. Keith like Aaron would take the same responsibilities and
would reap the same rewards as he. Together they would follow the
Master to their destiny. A destiny now close at hand. He and Keith
would finally get what they deserved for their years of servitude. They
would finally rise to power as the Master had promised. All they had to
do is bring him the last ingredients of his ritual.

Ö

Giles is pouring over his books and assembled notes. The new line of
reasoning had forced him to completely rethink his line of research.
They had spent days trying to find a correlation between the
information that they found in the prophecy and the information they
had found about the rituals mentioned in the prophecy. Yet every time
they had come up empty handed. A promising avenue of research would
always return the same information. Each possibility a dead-end.

Giles growls in frustration. All that wasted time! Now he needs to
start over. A life hangs in the balance and he might not find what they
need in time to save that life.

"You should really take it easy Giles." Giles looks up to see Xander
holding a mug out to him.

"What is this?" Giles asks taking the cup.

"English breakfast. I thought you could use a pick me up and I figured
that you wouldnít want any coffee." Xander explains to Giles.

"Thank you." Giles says as he gratefully sips the tea.

"No problem Giles." Xander says pulling up a book looking through it
hoping to find something that would aid them in their search. Xander
stops a moment and asks Giles. "Giles how can you do it?"

Confused Giles looks up from his book, "I beg your pardon?"

"Day in and day out, research while we go out and fight. I mean when I
realized that I missed patrol last night and that Faith and Buffy were
out there by themselves I was worried out of my mind. How do you cope?"

Giles takes off his glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose. It is a
motion Xander is very familiar with, he knows that Giles uses it as a
stalling tactic as he gathers his thoughts before speaking.

"I wonít lie to you and say that itís not difficult. Every time any of
you went out to fight I thought that it was possibly the last time I
would see any of you. Even when I went out with you I thought it could
possibly be the last night we would see each other alive."

"So how did you cope?"

"I just keep telling myself that what we are doing is something that
needs to be done. If we donít do this then horrible things will happen.
But one of you was ever killed when trying to stop a demon or a monster
I donít know how I would cope."

"What about me? How did you feel when I died?" Xander asks the
librarian.

"I was happy." Seeing the hurt look on Xanderís face Giles quickly
explains. "I was happy that you died living your life. Not at the hands
of some vampire but because of something that happens normally." Giles
pauses a second to reconsider his words, "Iím not sure that came out
the way I wanted it to. I mean I was saddened by your passing andÖ"

With a slight grin Xander says, "I think I got the gist of it Giles."

"Itís just that Iím getting old and I donít think that Iíll ever become
a father and you kids are the closest things I will have to being a
parent. Buffy and Willow are like my daughters and you wereÖare like a
son to me. Even though I might not have said it Xander. I was proud of
you then and I am proud of the man youíve become."

"Thank you Giles." Xander says quietly. "You donít know how much that
means to me coming from you."

"Well I felt that after you had died a lot had gone unsaid. The group
as a whole opened up a lot more not wanting to waste another moment
hiding things from each other. We realized that one of us could die at
any moment and didnít want to have things left unsaid." Giles explains.
"Because of that Buffy and Willow have grown much closer, almost like
sisters."

"I could see that pretty easily." Xander says with a smile. "How about
we get some more research out of the way?"

"That sounds like a good idea." 

Giles and Xander sit together in companionable silence. The only sound
that can be heard is the turning of the pages as they finish one
passage after another. They continue on like that until Xander casually
breaks the silence.

"So how are you and Joyce?"

Without looking up from his book Giles replies, "Well she does worry
that Iím staying up too late researching and not getting enough sleep
but I tell her if I donít do it no one else willÖ" Giles looks up and
sees the grinning face of Xander. "Well that isÖIím sure that is what
she would tell me if I was seeing herÖ ah that isÖ"

"Giles! You are dating Joyce Summers?" Xander says the grin never
leaving his face. Giles had fallen for his trap and true to form the
normally eloquent Englishman is now floundering around for his words.
He would have continued on floundering but gratefully Xander stops him.
"I just wanted to see if it was true or not Giles, calm down."

"Well, yes, but how did you find out?" Giles asks.

"I didnít, Faith told me." Xander says easily looking down at him book
again. "I find it strange for a group that has opened up so much that
you neglect to tell the girl who is like a daughter to you that you are
dating her mother."

"Well you see our relationship is a complicated one." Giles begins.

"Aside from being both parental figures to Buffy?"

"Yes that and we had an interlude of sorts." Giles says uncomfortably.

"An interlude? Iím assuming your not talking about a classical music
piece, correct?"

"If you remember the incident with the band candy?" Giles asks.

Xander remembers the time, "So when you were your younger alter ego you
and Mrs. Summers?"

"I think you get the picture." Giles cuts him off.

"Well I do now and let me tell you I wish I didnít, itís a bit
tooÖweird for me." Xander tells him.

"Think of how Buffy would take it."

"Right. Gotcha. No telling Buffy about the watcher-mother
relationship."

"Thank you. Xander could you look through that book over there and see
if you can find something about tonight or tomorrow night?" Giles asks
pointing to a stack of books.

"Why? I thought we were trying to find more information on the
rituals."

"Well all the information we have says that the ritual does not require
the sacrifices. But we couldnít find a reason for the sacrifices
themselves so they must be for something else right? So the only thing
I could think of is the time frame."

"The time frame?"

"Yes I was able to find with Adam last night that the sacrifices allow
for the Awakening ritual to be accelerated, or in other words the
recipient is able to absorb more power over a shorter period time. So I
was hoping that perhaps some event is going to occur that will give off
enough energy for the Awakening to be worthwhile."

"But we still donít have anything that will help us find that last
victim?"

"Unfortunately no. We only know what weíve known for the last week,
itís going to happen tonight."

"Damn. Anything else that could be helpful?"

"My research has been less than fruitful."

"Iíll be here until the others get here in a couple of hours to patrol.
Adam will be here in an hour or so. When he gets here weíll all
continue to research as much as possible."

"Hopefully itíll be enough." Giles says.

Ö

Jonathan stands before his undead procession. Tonight he would take a
more proactive part in occupying the warriors of the city. His contacts
had been able to tell him early on that the Slayer and her boyfriend
were two of the warriors he would be up against this night. Although
the thought of fighting a Slayer was appealing, she was not the
opponent he was looking forward to meeting. The seraph, as Jonathan had
began referring to him as, was the opponent he hoped he would face
tonight. Tonight was not so much about aiding the Master in his scheme,
it was more for Jonathan to push himself to his own limits. As a
vampire he had been relatively unchallenged to years. Very few could be
considered his peers. At last he would finally be challenged by a true
test of his true strength.

Looking out to the assembled vampires, fifty or so he estimates, he
addresses them, "Tonight we will go out and do what we have all week.
But tonight I too will dirty my hands with the blood of our victims."
Pausing a moment before continuing. "Our quarries will all be in the
same place at once before we attack. We are to contain them to this
general area. I do not wish to loose anyone of you tonight. If you find
yourself on the loosing end of a battle retreat and regroup, do not
throw your lives away."

"You can kill and feed on all those you come across but do not let our
prey get past you. If I find that any of you have let them through you
will answer to me! The man who fights with a sword is for me only. If
anyone of you find him, keep him occupied until I can reach your
position. When I reach your position you will all leave him to me and
me alone."

"Our prey waits for us in town inside a store called the Magic Shop. We
will wait for them to leave the shop and then break into two groups.
One will follow the first pair and the other will follow the others.
Remember your team and remember your targets. Above all else remember
the man wielding the sword is mine. Letís move out!"

The vampire procession growls their acceptance and begins to file out
of the old building. The sun has set and the vampires can feel their
demons cry out for blood. Tonight they would have it, but would be
their victims or their own?

Ö

Giles, Adam and Xander have been researching for hours as Buffy, Riley,
Faith, Tara, Willow and Cassandra enter the shop. Cassandra makes her
way to Adam and quickly picks up a book from the stack next to him. She
quietly asks him if he had gone through the book already. When he
shakes his head no she opens it to itís first page and begins to read.
Willow and Tara follow her lead.

Seeing that Cassandra and the two witches were there to take up his
load of the research he gets up and stretches. He walks over to Faith
and sees that she is dressed for patrol. "Did you bring my clothes?" He
asks her.

Holding up an overnight bag she says with a smile, "Of course, wouldnít
want to you to out their naked now would we? Although I wouldnít
complain much about it but I think itíll be a bit cold out tonight."

"Wouldnít want me to catch cold now would you?" Xander says. It was a
loaded question if he had ever heard one.

Faith not one to back down to any challenge responds by leaning close
to him and whispering into his ear, "I can think of a few ways to keep
you warm."

Xander turns a bright shade of red as al the mental pictures he could
associate with Faithís words play in his mind. Despite all of his
training and the confidence the confidence it brings he still ad
trouble interacting with the females of the species, especially the
incredibly beautiful, strong and confident Slayer branch. Why was it
that all Slayers were incredibly beautiful he muses.

"What no witty response Xander?" Faith asks him.

"No, no witty response." He tells her. Mirroring the movement that
Faith had done earlier he leans close to her ear and whispers, "But
maybe if we can stop the whole end of the world thing Iíll show you
exactly what kind of response I have."

The wide-eyed response of surprise was exactly what he was looking for.
Taking his clothes from he out stretched hands Xander walks to the back
room to get ready for patrol. Faith watches is retreating frame shaking
her head and chuckling. If anything Xander is an equal on the field of
verbal sparing, she may have a few rounds in between but Xander would
always try to get the last punch in.

Faith walks to the table to where Giles and Adam are sitting still
going over books and passages. Cassandra who had entered with them was
spreading out a scroll for Tara and Willow to examine it more closely.
"Should you get ready for patrol Adam?" Faith asks him pointing in the
direction Xander took to get changed and prepared.

"I am ready." Adam says.

Faith looks at him curiously. He is wearing clothes that he wears to
the office. A tailored suit and the with the familiar duster hanging
lopsidedly of the back of the chair. She looks over to Riley wearing
what he calls his work clothes. Dark turtleneck sweater and dark pants,
not unlike what she had brought for Xander, the telltale black straps
across his back told her of a little extra fire power that Riley
brought with him to help even out the fact that his ribs were still
sore. 

Buffy, like herself, was dressed in a way that wouldnít be constricting
to their movements. Buffy had a pair of pants on, though very
flattering to her figure Faith was able to see things that no other
person would have picked up. The pants are made of a material that is
able to stretch. They were also re-hemmed in such a way that would
allow for greater ease of movement especially for kicking. Faith was
able to pick these nuances easily, her old watcher had taught her how
to sew and Faith had altered a few things in her wardrobe in order to
make a life a slaying easier.

"Adam, I think that when Armani designed that suit he didnít have
patrol in mind." Faith points out.

"Iím sure he didnít." Adam says absently looking at the book in front
of him.

Giles looks up and sees Faithís point. "Adam I think that Faith does
have a point. You might want to wear clothes that are moreÖsuited to
fighting."

Sighing Adam stands up and loosens his tie and takes it off. Placing it
on the table he unbuttons his jacket and takes it off as well. They are
surprised to see that like Riley Adam has a harness holding four
daggers close to his body. From his belt hangs another sheath that
holds another knife. Unbuttoning the sleeves and rolling them up they
see that he is wearing wrist guards as well. Looking at both Giles and
Faith he shows them that now without the tie and jacket he is wearing a
dark shirt, dark pants and is indeed ready to fight.

"Never mind." Faith says quickly.

"Uh, yes. Quite." Giles adds.

"Thank you." Adam answers going back to his research.

Xander returns and he too is now ready for patrol. Buffy and Riley move
over to the Xander and Faith who are now standing by the table where
the older members of the group were researching.

"So whatís the plan?" Buffy asks.

"Other than try and save the world?" Faith says jokingly

"Well thatís the easy part. We all know that we need to save the world,
itís figuring out how to do that is the hard part." Riley throws in.

"Exactly. How are the ribs?" Xander asks him.

"A little sore but Iíll get by." He answers.

"Here are your patrol routes." Adam says handing them a map. "Buffy and
Riley you are going to take the east side here by the campus." He
points to the map. "Faith and Xander you both will take the north side
of town where much of the townís night activity takes place."

"What about the south and west sides?" Riley asks quickly falling back
onto his military training.

"Iíll handle the west side and stick mostly to the parks in the area.
There are too many warehouses on the south side of town, not many
targets for them to find. Between the three groups we should be able to
cover all the bases." Adam tells them.

"When do we go?" Xander asks.

"You four should head out right now. Iím going to stay here just a
little while longer to finish the translation that I started. Iíll be
done in about ten minutes."

The four young warriors nod and begin to file out of the shop. They
exchange a few words before breaking out in two separate directions.
Unbeknownst to them they were being watched. In the shadows several
figures look on as the group of four changes to two groups of two. One
of the dark figures points in the direction of Buffy and Riley. Several
of them nod and move through the alleys and shadows to cut off the
pair, the rest of them move off in the opposite direction to head off
Xander and Faith. Tonight would prove to be a difficult night for these
mortals.

Jonathan is about to follow the group chasing after the seraph but when
the door opens to reveal a third person. He is dressed in all dark
clothing. His stance belies what Jonathan can recognize as a predator.
This new man walks off in a third direction. Something about the man
piques Jonathanís interest and instead of stalking his intended prey he
follows this unknown man.

Ö

"Riley donít look back or to your right." Buffy says quietly as they
continue on their patrol route.

"Why?"

"I can feel that weíre being followed. Two behind us and on to your
right."

"Are you sure?" Riley asks quietly

"Of those three yes. Theyíre the only ones in my range. If there are
any others they I canít feel them."

Riley quickly scans the area. "We shouldnít engage them here. We need
to get to an open area."

"By then we might be up against more of them though."

"Better more of them in an open area instead of a closed one where we
could get trapped."

Buffy agrees with them with him as they continue to walk. She throws a
quick glance upwards and sees shadows jumping from building to
building. Looking over to Riley she can see him fingering and unhook
the latches on his shoulder harness. The motion is almost a casual one
allowing easy access to the weapons they hold. She absently pricks her
finger across the point of the stake inside of her jacket pocket. If it
was a fight they wanted a fight they were going to get.

Ö

Across town from them Xander and Faith are having a similar
conversation. 

"There are a whole hell of a lot of them." Faith tells Xander quietly.

"What do you think we should do about it? We canít stop. Weíre supposed
find and stop the next murder."

"I know, but this could turn really ugly."

"So weíll deal with it the same way we did back at the club."

"Uh Xander?"

"What?"

"You do remember that you died that night right?"

"I did? It must have slipped my mind." Xander jokes.

"Seriously Xander, I donít want you dying on me tonight okay? I donít
know if I could handle fighting these things without you."

"Donít worry, I promise I wonít die tonight." 

"Thatís a relief."

Faith can feel them intruding on the edges of her senses. They are
surrounding them. At least five of them at the most twelve if they
decided to attack them at once they would have their hands full to say
the least. She hoped to God that none of them carried guns like the
last time. She didnít want to see herself or Xander get shot tonight.

Ö

Jonathan continues to follow the man as he strolls down the street
keeping an eye out for something. Jonathan chuckles to himself thinking
that the man is looking for one of the Masterís minions Aaron or Keith.
Those two were strong but quite possibly the most incompetent followers
he had ever seen. The Master had plans for them but he didnít know what
and he could tell that those two didnít know either.

He had come out this night planning to confront the young man he had
Ďkilledí at the dance club. However something about this man made him
change those plans. The man was a walking contradiction. His appearance
said one thing while his actions and mannerisms tell a different story.
He doesnít look dangerous but all of his accumulated knowledge and
instinct screamed at him otherwise. In Jonathanís experience puzzles
such as these always proved to always be lucrative sources of
information. So it was from the shadows that Jonathan follows the
walking puzzle.

Ö

Giles picks up another small book and begins to read. Cassandra is
going through her own large tome still trying to find something useful.
Anything at all, something is here waiting form them to find it. But he
didnít know the first place to look. He can hear the front door bell
ring as someone enters the shop. Cursing himself for not locking the
door behind Adam as he left the shop he gets up to dismiss the person
who had entered.

"Iím sorry but weíre closedÖ" Giles says walking from behind some of
the stacks.

"Sorry Rupert but I had to come by after what you told me what was
happening." Joyce Summers says, her voice startling Giles.

"Joyce! Why?" Quickly running to the door and looks out to make sure
that nothing had followed her. Locking the door he turns back to Joyce
and says, "Joyce you know it is dangerous to be out and about at
night."

"I know but I wanted to get here before Buffy left. What you told me
last night made me worry about her and I had to come here." She says
her voice full of worry.

Giles removes his glasses and pulls out a small cloth to clean them.
Replacing the glasses on his nose he says, "Iím sorry Joyce but they
left about thirty minutes ago."

"Is it true though? If they canít stop the murder tonight the world
could possibly end tomorrow?"

"Iím afraid so." 

"Will they be okay?"

"I canít tell you for sure but we can only hope."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" She asks him.

Giles stands there for a second staring at her. "Joyce I donít think
that you really want to get involved with this."

"You donít think IÖRupert I can take my daughter keeping me in the dark
all these years but I will not let you stop me from helping her now.
You of all people should know that!" Joyce yells at him.

"Let her help with the research." A voice calls from behind the stacks.
Cassandra walks out holding another book in her hand. "There is nothing
more tenacious than a female protecting her young Giles. Let her help
protect the young woman you both call daughter."

"Thank you." Joyce says to the woman handing her the book. "My name is
Joyce, as I can see you already know that Iím Buffyís mother."

Smiling Cassandra introduces herself. "Iím Cassandra. Has Giles told
you everything?" Joyce nods. "Then I would be what you would consider
Xanderís mother."

"Nice to meet you." Joyce says. Turning to Giles she asks, "So what do
I do first?"

Seeing that he is out numbered Giles tells her, "Go through that book
and look for any references about the Hellmouth or tomorrowís date."

"And if I donítí find anything?" Joyce asks him.

"Then you pick up another book and go through that one." Cassandra
answers. Nodding all three of them walk back to the table and resume
their research Joyce isnít surprised when she sees Willow and Tara
already at the table. Hopefully between the five of them they would
find something soon.

Ö

Everywhere they tried to go they found themselves blocked. Kill the
first vampires and move to a different position and find themselves
facing a new group of vampires. If they wounded some of them their
brethren would pick them up and pull them out of the fight and replace
them. They were being contained. If they tried to push past a certain
point they would be forced to fall back and regroup. They were being
toyed with. Buffy hated being toyed with. 

Riley was holding up pretty well considering his condition. His ribs
were not an issue every time they engaged any of the groups of vampires
but she could tell he was feeling some pain still. He still favored his
side but while fighting the adrenaline rush allowed him to push past
the pain helped him hold his own.

Despite all that Buffy still worried for him. "You okay?" She asks.

"Yeah." He answers his mouth a determined line. "Iíll be fine." He
tells her. Looking around seeing that they were passing a particular
building for the fourth time he says, "Weíre going around in circles.
We canít even get past Peltason."

"I know." Buffy growls in frustration. As they begin to move again she
can feel more vampires approach their position. "Damn! More of them are
on our the way!"

"Shit." Riley says pulling out and stake and his combat knife preparing
for the next of what seems an endless night of battles. "Iím ready."

"So am I." Buffy tells him as seven more vampires walk into view from
the shadows around them.

Standing back to back Riley says, "This night just keeps getting better
and better."

Ö

Faith can hear the sound of Xanderís sword cutting through the air and
undoubtedly vampires as well. This was their sixth fight that night.
Her clothes were covered with the dust remains of vampires. She had
killed more vampires tonight than she could care to remember and they
just kept coming. 

Dusting her adversary she is able to look over to Xander to see how he
was doing. Xanderís face is a mask of cold determination. The entire
night she didnít see Xander utilize the powers she had witnessed the
afternoon before. If what Adam had told them that he couldnít
consciously call upon the powers as of yet. What they had seen was an
unconscious manifestation of what Xander had hidden beneath. With or
without the power he was still more than match for the vampires they
fought tonight. The last vampire from the attacking group finds that
out very quickly as a four-foot piece of steel severs it head.
Exploding to dust before Xander can finish his follow through the area
becomes deafeningly quiet once more and only sound that they can hear
is that of their heavy breathing.

Xander is the first to break the silence. "They just keep coming donít
they?"

"Like rats from a sewer." She says with a smile. "How you holding up?"

"Iíve seen better days." He says truthfully.

"You and me both cowboy, you and me both." She says walking over to
him. Taking his face into her hands she studies the cut above his eye
as it closes with a few sparks. Wiping the blood away she kisses the
spot where the wound was and says, "There all better."

Smiling at her Xander says, "Thanks, I needed that."

"Weíre not making any head way are we?" She asks him.

Shaking his head he says to her, "No. Theyíve been keeping us contained
to a two mile span. We havenít been able to get past them. Every time
we try to push forward more of them come."

"I hope Buffy and Riley are having more luck than we are." She says
mostly to herself.

"I donít think they are." He says. Surprised she looks at him
questionably, "Theyíre following an attack plan, keeping us busy. When
was the last time you saw vampires attack with this kind of
coordination?"

Faith couldnít think of a single moment. He was right. But now that
they knew this how would it help them? "So what do we do now?"

"I donít know. At this rate we can only hope that Adam is having more
luck than we are."

"What makes you think heís not being attacked like we are?"

"This is his first time on patrol. My bet is that they only planned on
two groups, not three. If that is the case Adam is the only one who has
a chance of stopping the murder."

"By himself? You know that he canít stop them if there is more than one
of them."

"I know."

"Then that would meanÖ"

"The end of the world will come tomorrow night." Even as he says those
words Faith can feel more vampires approaching their position. Low
growling and movement draw their attention. More vampires step forward.
Faith raises her stake to a ready position just as Xander raises his
sword. The steps to her right catches her attention in time for her to
avoid being blind-sided by the vampire attempting to rush her from the
shadows. It was then the vampires attack.

Blocking the first punches and staking one vampire quickly she hopes
that Xander is right and that Adam is having more luck than they are.

Ö

"Are you going to follow me all night or are you going to o come out
and introduce yourself?" Adam calls out.

"Very perceptive, I thought you hadnít noticed me." Jonathan says
stepping from the shadows and into the light of a nearby street lamp.

"Iíve known that youíve been following me ever since I left the store.
I was hoping that you were the person I was looking for and that by
following me you wouldnít be out and about killing innocent young
girls. But unfortunately I find that you are the person Iím looking for
after all."

"Sorry to disappoint you. Let me introduce myself, I am Jonathan." The
master vampire is surprised as he sees recognition on the face of the
man before him.

"Ah the master vampire? Can I safely say that the increase of recent
activity can be attributed to you?"

"Yes, you could say that." Jonathan says as he reveals his true face.
"But I donít even know who you are."

Pulling out his Ivanhoe the man says to him, "I am Methos."

The sword surprises Jonathan, his instincts were right after all. "Now
this gets more and more interesting. I was hoping to face off with a
certain sword wielding individual but you are not the one I had
envisioned."

"Well you wanted to fight the pup but instead you found the alpha male.
I can assure you that I will be much better sport than he would have
been."

"Weíll see about that Methos." Jonathan says reaching for something in
the shadows for something Methos could not see. Jonathan unsheathes his
scimitar and brings it to bear on Methos. "I can tell you that I will
be much better sport than my minions would have been."

"I wouldnít have it any other way." Methos says with a smile.

The two circle each other waiting for the other to move. Taking in
their stance, their amount of tension in the otherís muscles. The
movement of each otherís eyes. For Jonathan he sees a seasoned warrior,
a man not afraid to kill. What surprises him most is the complete and
total lack of feeling or emotion in the manís eyes. Any being would
show at least one feeling. Fear, anger, apprehension but this, Methos,
had nothing. His eyes were devoid of any emotion.

Jonathan grins, it had been so long since someone had challenged his
mettle. Methos grins back and says to him, "I hope you donít think this
will be easy."

"Oh, quite the contrary, I hope this will be as hard as I hope it will
be." Jonathan strikes first and furiously as the scimitar cuts through
the air with a flash.

Methos brings his Ivanhoe to block just as quickly, "I hope I donít
disappoint you." He says slowly forcing the blades down and to the
right.

Jonathan disengages his blade and decides that witty comments were only
going to distract him from the task at hand. He tries again to attack
with a series of thrusts with a slice to the head. All of which were
blocked easily and then parried with a quick thrust to the stomach.
Darting backward Jonathan is only barely able to dodge the incoming
thrust.

"What no witty comment?" Methos says with a grin. "Surely youíre not
afraid of me?"

With a growl Jonathan attacks Methos again this time with more force
than before. Methos brings his blade up again to meet his own blocking
them easily. It was then Methos started his own offensive. The change
is direction and momentum was so quick that Jonathan barely had the
time to keep up with it. Methosí sword came at him with a speed and
vengeance that would have sent a lesser demon scurrying away with fear.
Jonathan, to his credit, is able to stand his ground as the blade came
at him with speed and accuracy he never thought possible.

Strike after strike came at him, Jonathan looks at Methos and his
stance hoping to find an opportunity that he could capitalize on. He
continues to block until the opportunity he is looking for presents
itself, not wasting any time Jonathan goes on the offensive and
attackís Methosí side. As soon as the attack begins he is almost thrown
back by the counter attack. Not willing to give up his advantage
Jonathan continues to lay into the slightly off balance opponent hoping
that Methos would trip or make another mistake that he could capitalize
on. Jonathan was about to smile in triumph but instead he screams out
in pain as his shoulder feels as if it is burning from the inside.

Pulling out a dagger that Jonathan didnít notice was there before
Methos smiles at him and says, "Holy dagger." He points at the smoking
wound slowly beginning to heal itself. "That must itch like crazy."

Jonathan growls at the last comment. He realizes that he canít fight
him until his should heals so he decides to even the score. Reaching to
the holster strapped to his back he pulls out his gun. He brings it to
bear on Methos and pulls the trigger. The hammer clicks into place and
the gunpowder ignites sending the projectile at Methos. The chamber
housing slides back as the shell is ejected from it and replaced by
another. It slides back again and again as two more shell casings are
thrown away from the gun.

Methos stumbles back as the first bullet hits him in the chest. The
second and third bullets push him up against a nearby wall. Bending
forward but not releasing his grip on his sword Methos leans forward in
pain.

"Desert Eagle .45" Jonathan says with a smirk walking up to Methos.
Three shots had put down the other one at mid-range. Three shots at
close range should have torn Methos apart it seems that Methos was a
lot stronger than he seems. "Now you tell me if those three slugs in
your body itch like hell." 

Jonathan is about to shoot Methos in the head when he feels something
hit is gun hand. Looking up and seeing Methos standing tall and upright
with an evil grin on his face Jonathan brings his arm up into view.
Instead of a hand the sight of a bloody stump greets him. Looking down
at his feet he sees his hand still clutching the gun about to depress
the trigger. 

Looking closely at Methos again he sees the three charred holes on his
shirt but he realizes that there is no blood. Seeing that he is
confused Methos decides to enlighten him, "Kevlar." He says to him with
a smirk. "To be fair Iíll only use one hand." Methos puts the sword
into his left hand matching Jonathanís stance.

Growling at him Jonathan backs away. Methos says to him, "Tell me why
is it that your kind likes to growl?"

Finding his voice for the first time since the fight started Jonathan
answers, "Call it instinct."

"Instinct? Then tell me this vampire what does your instinct tell you
now?" Methos says taking a step towards him.

"That I should run away and save my own life."

"And your pride?"

"That I should stay here and face my fate and fight you until I die,
like a master." Jonathan says to him hoping that he can buy himself
enough time to have his body heal at least partially. 

"I know that all of this isnít your doing, so tell me. What, or should
I say, who is behind it?"

"I donít know his name, I only know him as the Master." Jonathan says,
his should almost healed. He just needed to stall him for a few minutes
longer.

"The Master? That doesnít tell me much. Where is his base of
operations?"

"Why donít you go and fuck yourself!" Jonathan screams at him as he
lunges at him with his sword. A Methos side steps the blade and brings
his own blade onto the weakest part of his opponentís sword; where the
blade and hilt meet. As the Ivanhoe connects with the scimitar Jonathan
watches in fear as the blade falls from itís handle and clatters to the
ground. Now holding nothing but the hilt, the vampire over stretched
and off balance falls to the ground unceremoniously after a quick kick
to his side.

"Now you are going to answer all my questions demon." Methos says to
him a low voice. Seeing that Jonathan is grinning once more Methos
says, "Donít you understand that you are beaten?"

"I know that, but apparently you donít understand something."

"What would that be?"

"Itís already one oíclock." Jonathan says. He revels in his only
victory of the night. 

Methos looks down to his watch and curses, he was right. Looking up he
sees that the Vampire had run away. Cursing again Methos takes off in
the direction of the Magic Shop hoping that the others were able to
succeed where he had failed.

Jonathan allows himself a small smile. He had one small victory
tonight, it was a small one and it had cost him hand but it was a
victory nonetheless. Looking at the stump that was now his arm he
begins to think that perhaps now was the best time to cut his losses.

Ö

The Master sits at his altar eagerly awaiting the return of his two
minions. If the vampire had done his job they should both be returning
soon. He could not see the sky but he looked up anyway gazing as if he
could see the stars and the planets above. They were so close to
position. If all goes well he will be able to finish what he had
started all those centuries before in that coastal city by the bay.
Nearly two thousand years ago had passed since he had tried to realize
his destiny. It cost him his student and his life when he realized that
he had mistranslated the scrolls he had found. He could still remember
the searing pain as the ash burned his skin as he jumped into the bay
and how he was literally boiled to death as the heat turned the bay
into a huge pot, killing all those above and below the surface.

It was a lesson hard learned, one that he had to live with in patience
for almost two thousand years. Now he was close once again to his
dream, to his destiny. In the background he listened to the sounds of
Rachmoninovís prelude number two. The sound of the piano, forceful and
beautiful at the same time, much like the power he would gaze into
tomorrow night. As the piece becomes more and more forceful and chaotic
he smiles in anticipation of the chaos that he would release. The piece
mirrors his excitement and emotion perfectly.

As the piece reaches its climax he hears the approaching footsteps of
Keith and Aaron. As the last few chords of the piece die away the
Master asks them. "I trust all went well?"

They both hold up their containers. "Good! Tomorrow you both will share
the power that is coming to me. Together we shall be the most powerful
beings on the planet!"

Keith and Aaron both smile as they place their containers on the altar.
Finally they would receive their payment for centuries of loyalty.
Finally the Masterís plan will be achieved.

Ö

Inside the Magic shop Joyce Summers was starting on her fourth book.
The group assembled hadnít found anything helpful

That is until Joyce opened up her book. Almost halfway through her book
she fell upon a page that had a picture of the Earth along with the
planets and stars in the sky. Below the pictures there were a series of
dates. Thousands of years apart from each other but something caught
her eye. In the middle of the list there was one date that stands out
from the rest. The date written on the page is tomorrowís date.

"Ruppert, I think I found something.!" She says excitedly.

Looking up from their places at the table the other four move to see
what Joyce had found.

"My word." Giles says quickly scanning the pages. "My word." He repeats
as he finishes.

"Well what did she find?" Willow asks him.

Wondering also the importance of the passage Joyce asks, "Yes Ruppert,
just what did I find?"

"You just may have found the break we were looking for Joyce." Quickly
rereading the pages he looks at the date prior to tomorrowís date.
Looking at Cassandra he asks her, "What happened August twenty-third
seventy-nine AD?"

"What?"

"What happened on that day?"

"I donít know I canít just recall days that far in the past!"

"What are you getting at Ruppert?" Joyce asks in confusion.

"Just tell me what happened that summer!"

"AhÖseventy-nine. IÖI canít remember." Cassandra tell him.

Moving over to one of the stacks Giles pulls out an almanac. "August
twenty-third, August twenty-third," He says flipping through the book.
"Here!" Scanning the page he frowns. "That canít be right, nothing
happened that day."

"What were you expecting?"

"A catastrophe of some sort. Something horrible."

Taking the book from him Willow looks at the page. Turning to the next
page she finds what he could not. "Uh Giles?"

"Yes?" Giles asks her.

"Is this catastrophic enough for you?" She says handing him the book.

Reading the date out loud he says, "August twenty-fourth?"

"Read the passage in the middle." Willow instructs him.

"Eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroys and buries the city of Pompeii."
Giles looks at the sentence again and says, "My word." Dropping the
almanac on the table he picks up the book that had pointed them in the
right direction. He reads it more carefully, taking a pad of paper and
a pencil laying on the desk he jots down the information he needs. 

Standing up he goes into the back room leaving the four women behind
confused. Giles returns to the front of the shop with a pair of
binoculars in hand. Walking to the front door of the shop he pauses and
looks back and says, "Joyce in the drawer underneath the cash register
is a map of Sunnydale. Get it out for me."

Joyce nods and walks behind the counter. Through the glass of the door
they can see Giles look up at the sky and bring the binoculars to his
face. Cassandra looks at him with curious eyes. In the city is not the
best place to stargaze. The lights always interfere out shinning the
dimmer stars in the sky. Giles turns back and returns to the pad of
paper he left on the table. 

Looking over his shoulder Cassandra sees the watcher writing down what
she can only call mathematical equations. She is startled when Giles
looks over his shoulder and says to Joyce, "Joyce did you find that
map?"

Walking over to him she says, "Yes, here it is." Giles unfolds the map
and goes back to the back room and returns with a compass and a box of
pushpins. He quickly pushes the pins into the map pinning it to the
table. 

Looking at his calculations one more time he puts looks at the compass
and measures out an unspecified distance. Handing the pad to Willow he
asks, "Do these numbers look correct?"

Willow nods and answers, "Yes."

Pushing the sharp spike into the map he draws out a circle. Replacing
the compass with a red pushpin in the center of the circle he looks at
his work.

"Giles, what exactly did we find?" Cassandra asks him her patience
running thin.

Looking up he tells her, "We found the area where the end of the world
will begin." Pointing to the red circle drawn on the map.

Ö

Adam is running towards the Magic Shop when he sees Xander and Faith
ahead of him. He runs up to them Xander feeling the quickening of his
mentor first turns around. "Adam?"

"Did you two stop it?"

"What?"

"The murder did you stop it?"

Faith answers, "No. We ran up against some heavy resistance."

"Shit!" Adam spits out. "Come on!" He says as he takes off running.
Faith and Xander take off after him trying to keep up. 

Almost at the front of the Magic Shop Adam sees Riley and Buffy walking
from the opposite direction. Running to them he asks, "Did you stop the
murder?"

"No we were knee deep in vampires and then suddenly nothing." Riley
tells him.

"Yeah for the first hour all we did was fight vampires and then
nothing. Whatís happening" Buffy asks him.

"I couldnít stop it either." Xander and Faith were had just arrived
behind him in time to hear his comment.

"What does that mean?" Faith asks. "Does it mean we failed?"

"No." Adam says grimly. Opening the door to the shop he walks in with
the assembled group of young warriors. "It just means we have to stop
whatever it is trying to end the world tomorrow night."

"But we donít even know where all this is going to take place!" Buffy
exclaims. "Finding the site where the ritual is going to take place is
like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack."

"More like finding a needle in a stack of needles that look exactly
like it." Adam says to them.

At that point Giles clears his throat drawing the attention of those
assembled by the door. Looking up they see Cassandra, Giles, Willow,
Tara and Mrs. Summers.

"Mom!" Buffy exclaims. "Giles! Why is she here!"

"You can ask me why Iím here Buffy, you donít have to ask Ruppert." She
says to her daughter with a hint of annoyance.

"Fine, what are you doing here Mom?" Buffy asks.

"Helping you."

"I canít have you helping us Mom, itís too dangerous andÖ"

"How dare you tell me what I can or cannot do to help protect my own
daughter!" Joyce Summers says. To the younger members of the group they
all can see now where Buffyís look of resolve and fierce determination
come from.

"Giles! Tell her that itís too dangerous!"

"NO!" Giles yells. "If it wasnít for you motherís help we might not
have found what we did tonight."

"What?" Buffy looks at her mother who now had a smug look on her face. 

Adam cuts in, "Look you can have your family dispute later!" Turning to
Giles Adam says, "We didnít stop the murder but we can still stop the
person performing the ritual. What did you find?"

Motioning for them to follow they walk to the table where they left the
four researching previously. On it is a map with a circle drawn on it.
Giles points at the circle and tells them, "We just made the stack
smaller."

"What is this?" Adam asks him.

"Joyce found a passage in this book about planetary movements and their
effects on the metaphysical." He says handing the book to Adam.

"So whatís the deal?" Xander asks.

"On this page in particular it states how certain planetary formations
can effect the Hellmouth. Or in particular the position of the
Hellmouth." He points a line out to Adam, "Here it says the distance
the Hellmouth moves is directly related to the position of Neptune to
this star cluster." He points at the picture. "Iíve calculated the
distance to be exactly four miles off center of itís current position."
Pointing at the red pushpin Giles says. "This, is where the Hellmouth
is located. The location of the old high school, and this is the area
of a four-mile radius. Somewhere on this circle is where the Hellmouth
is going to be tomorrow."

"When do the formations come into the right alignment?" Faith asks him
looking from the book on the table to the map.

"Sun down." Giles tells them.

"Thatís over twenty-five miles to cover!" Adam says. "We need to narrow
down our search."

"Well we know that we need to stop whoever it is doing all this from
taking power from the Hellmouth."

"I found out that the person who is doing this calls himself the
Master." Adam adds seeing the curious looks he says, "Iíll explain
later."

"Well what do we know?" Riley asks

"He plans on opening the Hellmouth." Adam says.

"Well what does it take to open the Hellmouth?" Joyce asks curiously.

They all look to Giles who ponders the question. "A spell of some sort
usually." Giles says out loud.

"What does the spell have to do?" Cassandra asks.

"Usually it has to do with releasing a huge amount of power. Remember
when the Master sent Luke out to collect energy for him?" Willow says
recounting the first night they all fought together.

"Yes, the Harvest." Giles says. "The Master was going to use all that
power to open the Hellmouth and release himself from his prison."

"And the last time this happened Mt. Vesuvius erupted." Tara adds.

Adam looks at her intently. "Mt. Vesuvius? Are you sure?"

Giles answers, "Yes the date listed for the last time the planets were
in this formation is the day right before the volcano erupted." Giles
explains. "We assumed that it was a side effect of a failed attempt to
open the Hellmouth." Picking up the pad of paper that had his equations
he shows the group. "I did the math and found that the last time the
formation had occurred the Hellmouth was pulled directly underneath the
volcano."

"How do you know that the attempt failed?" Riley asks the Watcher.

"Obviously because the world wasnít sucked into Hell." Giles says.
"Something went wrong. According to all the information we found. In
order to open the Hellmouth you have to be in the center of it."

Giles can see Adam throw Cassandra glance. "Would you like to share
what is on your mind?" Giles asks sharply. He had not gotten a lot of
sleep lately and tonightís stress was not helping any.

Cassandra is the one who answers his question. "It is somewhat of a
myth among immortals that the eruption of Vesuvius was caused by an
Immortal battle."

"A quickening?" Xander says. "How old was the Immortal that lost his
head? That had to be one hell of a quickening to have caused a volcano
to blow itís top."

"The battle was rumored to have taken place inside one of Pompeiiís
temples." Adam says simply.

There is only one thing Xander could say to that statement. "Oh."

Buffy hears Xanderís comment and asks, "For all of us non-Immortal
people here could you explain what exactly encompasses ĎOh?"

"The temple is holy ground. We are absolutely not allowed to fight on
holy ground. It is a cardinal sin of immortality." Xander explains.

"So according to our own folklore the eruption of Vesuvius has a direct
correlation to the breaking of one of the rules we have been taught
never to break." Cassandra explains.

"For over five thousand years it is one of the few things I have always
followed." Adam says adding to the seriousness of Cassandraís
explanation. 

"Could that be a possible connection?" Tara asks? "I mean itís only
myth and legend right?"

"Well yes." Adam answers.

"Maybe it was the botched ritual that had cased the volcano to erupt
not the immoral fight on holy ground." Tara reasons.

"That would narrow down our search considerably." Giles says, "But we
shouldnít ignore any other location that could possibly house the
ritual."

"I agree." Adam says.

"I thought as much as have looked to see if there was anything that
could possibly be the location for the ritual. Surprisingly enough
though most of them are churches." Giles explains.

Looking down at the map Buffy points at one location and says, "You can
cross this one off of the list." 

"Why do you say that?"

"It was the old church that Spike used to heal Drucilla. After it
collapsed it was one of the buildings that was burned down in the fire
two summers ago."

"Fine that leaves us with nine sites to visit tomorrow." Adam says
after counting up the sites on the list and marking each one with a
pushpin. "One for each of us to visit."

"So tomorrow night we either stop the ritual or we all die?" Tara asks
her hand finding Willows.

"Unfortunately yes." Giles answers.

"There is nothing more we can do tonight. I suggest that we all go
homeÖ"Adamís voice trails off not willing to finish the sentence. They
all understood. If there was something you needed to do, or needed to
get out of the way do it tonight because tomorrow you might not have
the chance.

Willow nods and tells them. "Iíll take this one, I have a gap between
classes so I should have the time to get there and then back without
any problems."

Tara points out the site that sheíd take "Iíll have this one. I just
have work tomorrow but I think that I can get my boss to let me have
the day off." She says looking at Xander.

"That wonít be a problem." He says to her.

Willow and Tara get ready to leave the shop together. Willow stops by
Buffy and tells her, "Iím not going to be at the dorm tonight Buff. Iím
going over to Taraís we want to spend tonight together. So if you want
to use the room you can go aheadÖ"

"Thanks Wills."

"Iíll take this one." Adam points out.

"Iíll check this one out." Buffy points to another.

"I donít have any discussions tomorrow so I can take this one here."
Riley tells them.

Cassandra points to a site. "I have a errand close by I can stop by to
take a look at the place."

Buffy is about to leave when she realizes that her mother is going to
be alone tonight. "Mom Iím going to stay with Riley tonight is that
okay with you?"

Buffyís eyes widen in shock as her motherís arm wraps itself around
Gilesí waist. "Iíll be fine Buffy, I understand. Donít worry I wonít be
alone tonight."

Giles seeing the look of surprise on her face tells her. "If we survive
past tomorrow we promise to explain it to you. But until then just be
happy for us knowing that weíre not going to be alone tonight."

Buffy, although curious of their pairing, nods her head in acceptance.
Seeing that her mother is okay she moves to leave the store. Before
leaving she turns back and faces her mother giving her a wink. Her
mother returns the wink and Buffy and Riley leave the store together.

"Joyce and I will visit this one. It is close to her studio and Iíll
make sure that she is okay." Giles says pointing to the marked spot.

"And weíre going to see the last two." Faith says. Xander is about to
say something about splitting up and saving time when she cuts him off,
"If that is the last day we will ever be able to spend together Iím
sure as hell not letting you out of my sight."

"Fine." Xander says. 

The last three couples leave the store and out front Joyce says the
only thing that can come to mind. "Good night."

The assembled group thinks over the words nodding their heads. This was
possibly that last night could possibly call Ďgood.í If they couldnít
stop the ritual come sundown tomorrow then it would mean tonight is
truly the last night for the world. With those thoughts in mind the
worldís only chance at survival went their separate ways to spend the
rest of the night with the ones that they loved the most.

Ö

The sounds of beating orchestral music can be heard as Wagner fills the
underground lair of the Master. Tomorrow night would mark the turning
point in his life where he transcends his existence as an Immortal and
would become a God. He laughs to himself as he prepares his sanctuary
for the ritual. His time is close at hand. The end of the world is a
small price to pay for Godhood, then again once he became a God he
could create the world in such a way to suit himself! This thought
strikes an odd chord in his mind and makes him laugh out loud. His
laughter soon overcomes the music being played in the room. As his
laughter grows in strength it encompasses everything until nothing else
can be heard. 

As a God no one could stop him. As a God none could oppose him, and as
a God he would rule all. The world would be for him and for his
enjoyment only and nothing could stop him. Nothing.


Chapter 12

Adam is lying in bed next to Cassandra. He watches her as her chest
rises and falls evenly. Her face is peaceful and unmarked by conscious
thought. It is these moments that he had found Cassandra most
beautiful. He could remember watching her sleep when she was his slave.
Even then he could recognize her beauty; it had taken him three
thousand years to be able to see her in this state once again.
Carefully moving out of bed Adam leaves the room pausing one moment at
the door to look upon Cassandra one more time. 

Walking to the den where he keeps all of his accumulated research Adam
opens a drawer and pulls out his original notebook that had all of his
original research on the prophecy. Opening the notebook he flips the
pages until he gets to the point he is looking for. His first complete
translation, everything he had shown to Giles and the others. Turning
the pages to the end of translation he sees the passage telling of the
warrior stopping the beast and closing the passage hell.

Turning the page once more Adam looks upon the passages that he has not
shown anyone, the continuation of the prophecy. 

"A his return shall be but a dream." Adam reads. "And from that dream
he shall fall into the darkness."

Adam replaces the book in the drawer and sits at his desk. Closing his
eyes he can remember Hamlet's first soliloquy in the opening scene of
act three. To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's
the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have
shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.

The last passage of the prophecy does just that, give him pause. Pause
because it points in a myriad of possible directions. Pause because it
refers to the young man he considers as his son. Pause because he
doesn't know how to stop it from happening. Pause because he doesn't
know if he will be there to catch him before he falls to far into the
darkness.

Darkness. It is a word that represents a thousand years of his life. It
is a word that represents that eternal sleep of death. It is a word
loaded with so much imagery and simile that it could mean anything or
nothing at all. Had he made the right decision in keeping this from
them? This information would only hamper the greater need of stopping
the Awakening. It could possibly cause the death of one of the others
and that was something he wants to protect Xander from as long as he
can. But what if there was something he had missed? Something that he
couldn't possibly foresee? No! Second-guessing is something that will
not do anyone any good. 

Turning the light off and walking out of the den Adam walks to one of
the only windows in the house that is facing east. The first rays of
light were beginning to break over the horizon. In the back of his mind
he can feel that Cassandra had just woken up. He could feel her concern
as she found the bed empty. He could feel as she walks out of the
bedroom to stop at the top of the stairs seeing him in front of the
window. Looking up he gestures to her to come down.

Walking down the stairs careful not to miss a step in the darkened
house she makes her way next to him. His arm drapes itself around her
waist pulling her closer to him. She looks out of the window seeing
what he sees. The first crest of the sun now slowly rises above the
horizon in a blaze of brilliant reds, pinks and oranges. The light
reflects off of the stray wisps of clouds only accentuating the beauty
of the scene. 

Cassandra whispers as they watch the sun rise together, "It makes you
pause, doesn't it?"

Adam thinks on the words a moment before responding truthfully, "Yes it
does. Yes it does."

They stand like that until the sun is almost completely above the
horizon and the sky begins to change to its normal brilliant blue. A
new day had begun, full of life and promise. The thousands of citizens
of Sunnydale would soon be up and about going on with their lives as
they did everyday but they would never know that their entire lives
rely on the actions of a handful of people, and the decision of one
man. Adam only hoped that his decision was the right one.

...

Xander's eyes slowly open as the first rays of light filter through the
blinds hanging from the window. The morning starts just as all the
others had started. The sunlight shining through the window, the first
sounds of life, the birds chirping, and Faith lying at his side, her
head resting lightly on his chest. Her hair spread out like a halo of
brown and gold. He feels her breath slightly warming his skin. 

He doesn't remember when his hand started stroking her hair, he just
knows that it is and it is that simple movement he knows true
happiness. He can remember waking up every morning with Faith and
feeling this contentment. This morning is different though. This moment
is different; this moment Alexander Harris feels a completeness that he
had never believed possible. Stroking Faith's hair gently Xander closes
his eyes and remembers what had happened when they had arrived home
last night.

Xander and Faith had avoided a physical relationship despite the fact
that they had already made their feelings known. He loved her and she
loved him. His entire life Xander had thought that love was, to quote a
song, just a word. A word that he could never, even in his own mind,
bring to use in the same sentence as his own name. However he had found
that elusive emotion and in a place that he would have never have ever
thought of finding it: Faith. Faith the young, rebellious Slayer, the
tough girl with the attitude and the power to back it up. His first. It
wasn't exactly how he had pictured his first time with a woman but the
experience itself was something that would always stay with him.

Last night however what he and Faith had shared was something that
would make him all but forget their first time together. Their first
time together was a hormone driven, spur of the lust driven moment in
their hectic lives atop the Hellmouth. They were still wearing the
masks that hid their true feelings and the person behind them back
then. But last night would erase all that. For Xander their first time
was last night. It was the first time Xander and Faith let go of the
faÁade, dropped all the walls and all the pretense and gave in. For
years Xander could remember hiding his feelings, masking them with
humor, a mental slight of hand, misdirection and then poof, his true
feelings were gone and replacing them is the Xander everyone all knew
and loved. 

His thoughts are interrupted as he feels Faith's head tilt up. Looking
down he can see her sleepy eyes looking up at him, he had never noticed
it before but her deep brown eyes had light golden specks. Smiling he
realizes that her eyes were probably the best representation of Faith
he could ever find. Faith behind the tough and dark front truly shines
with a personality and soul that Xander feels privileged to have been
one of the few to have seen. 

"What are you thinking about?" Faith says seeing Xander's smile. "Last
night?"

"I was but right now I'm think how much you can really learn from a
person just by looking at their eyes." Xander softly says his hand
never stopping stroking her hair.

Her eyes soften and she takes a deep breath closing her eyes. Her face
is a contented one as she lightly pushes her ear up against his chest.
"You know I fell asleep last night listening to your heartbeat." She
says with a small smile. "Thump, thump." She says lightly tapping his
chest, "Thump, thump. Steady, sure," she pauses as she relaxes again
into him, "comforting, accepting."

"Faith I..." Xander searches for the words that would perfectly
describe his and feelings the swirl of images that he can feel in his
heart but his mind and tongue fail him. "I..."

"Shhhh. You don't have to say anything Xander. I already know." Faith
tells him. "You know that I never thought that I would find this in my
life? That I would never be in this place."

"What place would that be?"

"Here, in your arms, not scared, knowing that you will be there when I
open my eyes." Faith sighs, her head still resting lightly on his
chest.

"If you didn't know that today would possibly be your last day on Earth
would last night have happened at all?" The thought had been floating
in Xander's head for a while now, was what they shared last night
mutual or was it something that only occurred because it could have
possibly been their last chance to be together.

"Don't go there Xander. What happened last night would have happened
even if the world weren't going to come to an end. You know it and I
know it." Faith slides up the bed to come eye to eye with Xander.

Closing his eyes and sighing he tells her, "I know, I just needed to
hear you say it. Everything in my life I've had to work for, nothing
has ever come easy, accept for now. I was wondering what did I do to
deserve this."

"I think we're finally being rewarded for a tough life."

"You think so?"

"Yeah. Xander, no matter what happens I want you to know that right now
is the happiest I've ever been and if I die today I'm going to die
knowing that someone loves me and that..."

"You're not going to die alone?" He finishes for her. Looking at him
she nods. He continues, "For the longest time the thing I was most
afraid of was dying alone, nice to know that isn't going to happen
now."

"Xander, if we beat this thing tonight, promise to me that you wont
leave me. Promise me that you're going to be there."

"Hey, what did I tell you? You won't be alone anymore, I promise." He
pulls her close to him once again, a movement that is both inviting and
comforting.

Her head tucked in beneath his chin she says, "I'm so afraid that I
might loose you just when I finally found you."

"You won't." He says sitting up and lifting up Faith as well in the
process. He points at the window and says to her, "See everything out
there? See that?"

"What?"

"The world. We got a whole world to explore together Faith and I'm not
about to let anyone take that chance at happiness away from me, I'm not
about to let anyone take you away from me."

"Hold me." She tells him mirroring the words she had said to him so
long ago. Only this time she loved him, only this time he didn't have
to let go.

...

The only light in the Master's lair is provided by the tongues of flame
burning on the torches on the walls. The Master is on the floor drawing
the symbols he needs for the ritual. Using the blood of his victims he
draws a large circle with five smaller concentric circles inside. As
the dirt and dust soaks up the blood the colors and the geometric
shapes remind him of the Indian sand paintings. Drawing a short line he
makes another circle, smaller this time, and draws three concentric
inside. Moving to the side the Master does the same mirroring what he
has done on the other side of the first circle.

He begins to place torches around the design on the floor, nine in all
forming a circle. Stepping away he looks back on his work with a smile.
Everything is as it should be, just as it was two thousand years ago.
Closing his eyes he remembers the dimly lit temple at sundown. The
bodies of the priests and patrons he killed to have the freedom to
complete his ritual unabated, he can remember it all as if it were
yesterday. 

Walking behind the designs and to the altar the Master adjusts the
small cauldron. Next to the cauldron are the various ingredients that
he needs for his plan to work. Among the ingredients are the eyes and
tongues of the young women he had killed. Assuring that everything is
in place the Master walks back to his chair to prepare himself for
sundown.

...

Willow sits in class for once not paying attention to the professor and
his lecture. Instead she is glancing at her watch every five minutes.
As the professor continues to babble on about double and triple
integrals Willow can only think of the nearby site that she must visit
today, the site that could possibly hold the ritual and house the
coming of the end of the world. 

The words of the professor are drowned out in her head as she looks
around at her classmates, each of them not knowing what will transpire
hours from now. She is saddened that each one of the people in her
class weren't privy to the knowledge that she has, otherwise they too
would have spent last night or even today spending time with their
loved ones. Willow looks around and see that it is up to her and her
friends to make sure that these people will have that chance to see
their friends and loved ones again. 

Seeing that the professor had finished with the lecture and was writing
down the homework assignment on the overhead. Jotting down the
assignment Willow puts her notebook into her backpack and makes her way
to the doors. 

...

Riley is trying to focus on the stack of papers sitting in front of
him. As a TA his main job to teach and grade the papers of his
discussion groups. As an ex-covert-ops soldier part of a secret branch
of the United States military designed specifically to combat
supernatural occurrences, Riley can only think about going to the
location he had picked out last night.

Looking at the papers he could care less what his students really
thought about Jungian analysis, after awhile the papers all started to
look the same. The body of the papers all had the same points and it
was once in a great while where he would see a truly stellar paper that
went the extra mile to explain the procedures and the thought behind
them. He would usually at least give his students the benefit of the
doubt and set the bar fairly low. However today Riley was in a less
forgiving mood.

His students were now working on dream analysis. Dreams. For Jung the
symbolism found in dreams form the basis of analytical psychology.
Dreams and the understanding of the creative process point to the
typical modes of expression forming the base psychic patterns common to
human being as a whole. But if he and his friends were not able to stop
the ritual before sundown the dreams that all his students have written
about would amount to nothing. Hopes and actions only accounted for by
the unconscious lost. Nothing.

Maybe just maybe if he graded their papers just a little harder,
instead of analyzing their dreams he would force them to go out and try
to realize them. Maybe then they wouldn't have any dreams that would
die with them when the end of the world came.

Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath he pushes the papers to the
side. Looking out his window he sees that it is overcast today. Getting
up from his desk he walks over to the coat hanger on his wall and pulls
on his jacket. Walking over to his desk and opening a drawer he pulls
out a piece of paper that he wrote down the address of his destination.

Turning to walk out of his office he thinks that if they are successful
tonight, then his students will have more than enough time to realize
their dreams instead of analyzing them.

...

"Grande white chocolate mocha, extra hot." Buffy tells the barrista.
Upon arriving at her location she found that the entire site had been
built upon and a Starbucks now stands on the lot. Not one to pass up
the opportunity for a good cup of coffee Buffy decided to make the best
of the situation. 

Handing the barrista her cash for the drink she walks off around the
coffeehouse to see if there were any potential places the ritual could
possibly take place. The Starbucks isn't that far from campus and she
can see the multitudes of students with their books on the tables or on
their laps as they sit on the various couches and chairs inside. 

There was no way that the ritual could be taking place at this site
Buffy thinks to herself. Too many people were in the area and somebody
would have noticed a guy carrying around missing body parts. At least
she hoped so. When her order was called at the espresso bar she walked
over to it grabbed a sleeve and began to walk around the premise
casually. There had to be at least ten people inside the building at
all times, customers and workers together. There were no stairs that
lead up or down and the only back rooms were storage and restrooms.

Walking out of the store Buffy is able to relax just a bit more. That
was one possible location crossed off. Looking at her watch she sees
that it is only eleven o'clock. Hopefully the others have already
visited their sites or were on their way to visit them, if that was the
case they should be able to find the place long before sundown and save
the world with time to spare. In the back of her mind though Buffy knew
that the chances of that happening were very unlikely. If living on the
Hellmouth had taught her anything it was to never take anything for
granted. 

Sipping her coffee she reflects on all the small things that she now
finds so endearing. Spending time with her friends. Arguing with Giles
just to see him get flustered. Spending time with Riley, even just
going to school. The life of a Slayer is a short one and she plans on
making the most of the life that she has. She had survived the Master,
Collin, The Mayor, The Ascension and countless other things she would
be damned if she is going to let this thing beat her. She still had her
life to live.

...

Cassandra is sitting on the outdoor patio of a restaurant surveying the
square surrounding the location she had chosen last night. The square
is surrounded by a multitude of little stores, a flower shop, an
antique dealership, a vintage clothing store and a small market with
fresh fruits. The square is wide open and there are many entrances and
exits. In the direct center of the square is a fountain shooting water
up to ten feet into the air above a post-modern bronze statue.
Logistically the square was large enough for the ritual, but it was too
open, too susceptible to attack and the fountain in the middle would be
an impedance for the placement of the ritual.

Sipping her green peach tea Cassandra looks at the people as they walk
around the square. Small children running around their mothers not too
far behind, mothers with strollers walking with their babies despite
the cool weather. Men in suits walking from a nearby business for lunch
no doubt. Cassandra sits back and smiles. One of her favorite pastimes
is to sit and people watch. 

As people walk by she would be able to tell small little things about
them. The way they walk, the way the hold themselves, their voices,
their facial expressions and if one would walk close by she would be
able to feel the emotions that they were feeling that instant.
Anxieties, apprehension, happiness, worry, sadness, elation and a
numerous amount of the shades in between. 

If there was one thing that Cassandra would miss other than the close
circle of friends she has established over the years, it would be just
being able to watch people as they go on with their daily routines. The
sound of laughter and squealing draws her attention back to the
fountain where she can see to small children, a boy and a girl are
playing with the water. The girl squeals with laughter again as the boy
playfully splashes the girl once more. The laughter grows even louder
when the girl begins to splash the boy as well. The sight brings a
smile of Cassandra's face watching the innocence of the to youths.
Closing her eyes and reaching out to them she can feel no malice, no
bad intentions, no anger, just pure happiness and contentment with that
moment. Content playing with the water, content being splashed despite
being wet, and content with just being alive. 

Cassandra's smile turns into a chuckle as the boy showing off his
amazing skills of balance falls into the fountain and submerges himself
into the water. Coming out of the fountain he looks like a wet dog, his
hair hanging below his eyes and water dripping off of him. The young
girl shares Cassandra's reaction as she points at him and laughs. Her
laughter turns into squeals once again as the boy pulls her into a bear
hug drenching her with water as well.

Waving to the waiter to bring her bill Cassandra looks upon the
children once more. They have something that was taken from her at an
early age by the harsh times. Innocence. Innocence to laugh. Innocence
to live life without any qualms or worries. Things that were taken from
her first by the harsh environment that was the desert of the Bronze
Age, then again when the Horsemen tore through the desert destroying
her people. A wry smile plays across her lips as she thinks of how it
was a horseman that had allowed her to find part of that lost
innocence. The irony of her situation never ceases to amaze her. As she
counts off the amount of cash for her bill she looks at the children
now being scolded by their respective mothers. She may have lost her
innocence at an early age, but she is only now finding it once again.
Looking at the children Cassandra knows that in order to preserve their
innocence she and the others will have to stop the ritual tonight and
to do that she is willing to give up her own once again.

...

Tara can see that her search is going nowhere fast. She had spent the
better part of an hour looking around the premise of the church she had
chosen last night. She had been walking around the building looking at
the entire lot. The garden outside, hedges neatly trimmed. Small
statues kept clean over the years by the priests who rotate into the
parish every so often. But the priests have been far and few in between
the ones that have remained, or rather the ones still alive have tried
to keep the garden clean and presentable.

The gravel path she walks on crunches beneath her feet. The walls
surrounding the church are overgrown with dark ivy giving the illusion
of nature's protection. Following the path to the front of the church
Tara walks through the open doors into the church. She is greeted by a
smell that she remembers from her youth. A faint sense of lingering
incense and smell of the wood pews almost overwhelm her. 

Walking down one of the isles her hand passes lightly over the tops of
the pews. Pausing at one of the pews she reaches down and pulls up a
book of hymns. She flips through the pages seeing the notes and words
on the page all of them praising God and all his glory. God has not
abandoned this town. Not by a long shot, the fact that Buffy and the
rest were here fighting against all that is evil, but it would take
God's help if they are going to stop the Awakening.

Walking around the outer walls of the church she looks upon the
Stations of the Cross as she passes each. Each one showing a scene as
Jesus is led to his death on the cross. Each a symbol of the pain and
suffering he had endured as he carried the cross to the place where he
would undoubtedly die. She stops and lingers at the station of Jesus'
crucifixion.

"We're lucky for that one." The voice behind her startles her. Turning
quickly she sees that one of the priests, dressed in the traditional
white collar and black had come to stand next to her. 

"Excuse me?" She asks the priest, unsure of the meaning behind his
statement.

"The crucifixion. We're lucky that had happened." He says with an
enigmatic smile.

"I'm not sure I understand where you are going with this. Each station
shows Jesus suffering and in pain. How is that lucky?"

"I thought as much." The priest answers mostly to himself.

"Thought what?"

"When I saw you walking around the garden it seemed like you were
looking for something. I was right, you were looking for
understanding."

"Understanding of what?" Was this priest responsible for the murders
she thinks to herself.

"Of the church. I could tell you didn't go here. I didn't recognize you
from any of the other parishioners." He answers her unsaid question.
The priest points to the stations and then the station of Jesus'
crucifixion. "Yes Jesus felt pain, yes Jesus suffered but Jesus did it
to sacrifice himself. He sacrificed himself to save the rest of the
world. You see it's not about the pain or the suffering its about
willingly sacrificing yourself for the greater good. If Jesus could do
it what is stopping you?"

Nodding in understanding Tara says, "I think I understand now, thank
you."

"Don't worry about it young lady. I'll be outside in the garden if you
have anymore questions." The priest tells her before turning and
leaving.

Sitting down in one of the pews Tara looks up at the statue of Jesus
hanging on the crucifixion. Sacrifice. The priest's words hit home.
Willow, Riley, herself, their lives never even dependant on Slaying or
stopping vampires. But time and time again Tara is able to see the
things that they do to help Buffy and Giles with their quest. Tara is
able to see the sacrifices they make on a daily basis, the chance at a
normal life, school, and a personal life just so the forces of darkness
and evil would take over the world.

Standing up and walking towards the doors she had entered through Tara
glances once more at the Station of the Cross where Jesus is crucified.
Sacrifice. Is she ready to sacrifice herself to save the world?
Thinking about her friends and the brave choices they make everyday
Tara is able to answer her own question. Walking a little taller as she
leaves the church Tara knows that if it came down to it she would
sacrifice herself over and over again if it meant saving the world and
her friends.

...

Joyce Summers is walking down the sidewalk back to her gallery. Walking
next to her is Rupert Giles, father figure to her daughter, friend,
protector and now lover. Looking at him as they walk together from the
church they had chosen to visit the night before Joyce realizes that
Rupert has been more of a husband than Hank Summer ever was. 

She can that he is worried that they didn't find anything at the church
they had spent a good hour searching through the building, looking for
anything that could hold the ritual he is so worried about but came up
with nothing. 

"You shouldn't furrow your brow like that Rupert it doesn't suit you."
She says as they walk.

Giles was looking down at the sidewalk intently as if he was looking
for something, in actuality he is trying to think if he could have
missed something. So when Joyce had finished her question naturally he
didn't have any idea of what she said. "Pardon."

"When you think like that, you tend to hunch over and furrow your brow.
It's a throw back to your cave man ancestry."

Quickly straightening his posture Giles replies, "Well you see it's
just that we didn't find anything at the church and I was going over
the layout in my head, perhaps we missed something a door, or a secret
passage through a confessional..."

"You're babbling Rupert." Joyce tells him. "We went over every inch of
that church, if there was something to be found we would have found it.
The others are going to meet at the shop in an hour, one of the them
had to have found something."

"You're right Joyce, it's just that I was hoping to, what I'm trying to
say is..."

"That you wanted to find the site and put an end to the ritual
yourself?"

"Exactly, that way the others wouldn't have to be put in danger." Giles
says finally able to put his thoughts together.

"And if you are out numbered twenty to one and you die before you can
tell the others where you are?"

"Well if that was the case then I would have let the others help deal
with the situation."

"Rupert whether you like it or not you can't keep taking risks like you
used to do." Joyce tells him as she reaches for his hand. "You have
someone who cares for you deeply and if anything happened to you that
person would be lost."

Giles squeezes Joyce's hand. "I know Joyce but I already told you that
what I do is inherently dangerous." Giles pauses and looks over to
Joyce, "But I will try to keep myself out of too much trouble for your
sake."

Smiling Joyce answers, "I care for your safety a great deal Rupert but
I wasn't talking about myself."

"Then who?"

"Buffy."

"Buffy?"

"Yes, Buffy. Like it or not you are the closest thing she has to a
father. If you were killed or harmed in anyway and if she wasn't able
to help prevent it Buffy would fall apart."

Giles contemplates Joyce's words. His relationship with Buffy had
indeed evolved past that of a Watcher and Slayer. Indeed he had been
there for watch her grow and blossom into a young woman. He had been
there for every major point in her life. Every tragedy and every
triumph he had been there for support and celebration.

"Buffy is a strong young woman Joyce, she takes after her mother. But I
seriously doubt that she would fall apart on my account."

"You didn't see her after my divorce from Hank. I thought that Buffy
would starve herself to death if I didn't force her to eat. Rupert you
are more of a father to Buffy than Hank ever was. If you die or
something was to happen to you...I don't think that Buffy will be able
to live through loosing a father again."

Giles stands there soaking in the words he had just heard. After a
short pause he says, "Joyce I am not a young man anymore. I had thought
that I was past the point in my life where I would have the chance to
raise a family of my own. Buffy has given me that chance, to have a
family, to be a father. Now you have come into my life and..." 

"Now you have a second chance?"

Startled from hearing his thoughts being voiced by Joyce he says, "How
did you know?"

"Rupert you think you are the only one that has been given a second
chance here? Buffy was given a second chance at being a daughter and I
have been given a second chance to be with someone. After arriving here
in Sunnydale I had resigned myself to a life of watching my daughter
grow up and away from me. Now I have someone to watch Buffy and to
possibly grow old with."

"I guess we've all been given a second chance at life haven't we?
Faith, Xander, Buffy, Willow, Tara and now us." Giles pauses in thought
thinking of how to put his next words. "But now it seems that someone
is trying to take it all away."

"Trying Rupert, trying. That's why the others are trying their best to
put an end to this before it can take anything away from anyone."

"But we only get one chance at this Joyce. We miss that chance and the
whole world suffers."

"That's right Giles, WE only get one chance at this, not you, WE. Just
because you didn't find the site for the ritual doesn't automatically
mean the world will end. One of the others has probably found it
already and when we all meet at the shop we'll know exactly where to go
and what we have to do."

"You're right Joyce." He answers her his hand pushing a stray piece of
hair behind her ear. "Let's just hope that we will have more time to
make the most of our second chance."

Nodding Joyce and Giles continue to walk down the street towards her
gallery. It is a street that she knows well. She can name every shop
owner and she can tell you the details of their lives. She can recite
the names of their children, their hopes, their dreams and everything
in between. The man she walks down the street with can say the same for
her. He knows her hopes, dreams and fears. She has been given a second
chance at a happy life and she will do everything she can to make that
last.

...

Adam is not in a good mood. He had gone through that damn church nearly
four times, and each time he came up with nothing. He was hoping to
find the location of the ritual today without the others so he could
deal with the situation expediently with the explosives he had in the
trunk of his car. However that was not the case and he was now on his
way to meet the others to see which one of them had found the correct
location.

Parking his car he recognizes several cars belonging to the others.
Stepping out of his car and walking to the entrance Adam can see
through the window that all of them are waiting inside. Walking up to
the door and pulling it open Adam walks inside. Xander is the first to
speak.

"So what's the plan Adam?"

"Plan?" Adam says confused.

"Yeah, you know entrances and exits, targets and all that good stuff."
Buffy says.

"I know what a plan is." Adam says slightly irritated.

"Then tell us what your plan is." Xander says. 

"To say that I have a plan would imply that I know where the ritual is
taking place. Since I don't and one of you undoubtedly does I cannot
come up with a plan until one of you tells me where the damn ritual is
taking place." Adam is momentarily pleased with the silent reaction he
is getting from the group. That is until he sees their collective
expressions. They range from shock, worry and confusion. Afraid of the
answer Adam asks, "What's wrong?"

"Adam, you don't know where the ritual is taking place?" Xander says
all humor and jest gone from his voice.

"No, my site was a bust." He looks from Xander to Cassandra to Faith.
Each of them holds a very somber look. Looking at Giles and Joyce he
sees a shared look of worry and fear. The others, Willow, Tara, Riley
and Buffy have a look of confusion.

"Your site can't be a bust." Buffy tells him almost sounding desperate.

"It was. I'm sorry but the ritual isn't going to take place at that
church."

Cassandra quiet until now says, "Adam we have been waiting here for the
past half hour. Every time one of us walked through that door the first
thing that we asked them is 'did you find it?' Every time each one of
said no."

"Xander and me were the last ones to arrive before you. Our two sites
turned up empty. So we all just assumed that being the only one not
here that your site had to be the one."

"So we are back to where we were last night? No leads, no direction?"

"Unfortunately yes." Giles answers. "Perhaps one of us missed
something?"

The chorus of protests and explanations the hit him at once. The
garbled noise is enough to give Giles a headache. Holding up his hand
to silence them he says, "Enough!" Removing his glasses and rubbing the
bridge of his nose he continues, "Obviously we missed something, now
what we need to do is find out just what it was we missed."

"I agree." Adam replies.

"Where do we start?" Faith asks them.

"Research." Giles answers.

"But we only have three hours to sundown!" Riley exclaims.

"Then we'll have to find the answer in less than that wont we?" Adam
tells him.

The group finds seats inside the shop as Giles begins to hand out
books. The tension in the room is almost tangible as the sounds of
turning pages and pens scribbling down notes fill the room.

...

The Master is sitting on his chair, eyes closed, head tilted back to
face the ceiling. Through his closed eyes he can see as the planets
move along their slow elliptical paths to a point where they will
ultimately bring him the power he has thirsted for his entire
existence. 

He can picture the moons of Jupiter the last pieces of his galactic
puzzle box sliding ever so slowly into place. Ganymede the cupbearer of
the Gods moves silently into place, ironic now that the large moon is
now the cupbearer for his ascension into god-hood. The last piece that
he can see falling into place is Ananke, goddess of fate. How poetic it
is to the Master seeing that the moon named after the goddess of fate
shall oversee his transition. 

Even now he can feel the rumblings of power beginning to draw
themselves to the underground cavern. He can feel the palpitations of
the Hellmouth's resistance to move from it's anchored spot. They have
been growing in power and intensity as the two moons move ever closer
to their destinations. Flashes of energy fill him with a taste of the
power that awaits him. His pulse beats louder and louder in his ears as
his blood reacts to the familiar sensation he had felt so long ago. His
body craves for the power, his blood sings for it, and his mind wishes
to embrace it. 

His mind begins to backtrack to the last time he had attempted to
release the power of the Hellmouth. He was so close that day but one
small mistake had cost him terribly. He could feel the power coursing
through him, his nerves trembling with raw power, but as soon as he had
felt it enter him it quickly was pulled away. He could remember his
throat becoming hoarse and feeling the tissues within tear and bleed
with the force of his scream. NOOOOOOO!!! He was so close, he could
feel the power taking him but it was stripped from him leaving him
empty and worthless. So close. It was then that the sky turned black
and the sky began to rain down smoldering debris burning those who
touched it to the bone.

By the time his healing had allowed him to recover from the ordeal of
the ritual he could see the billowing cloud floating its way casually
down the side of the mountain with deadly intent. He knew he had
triggered something and that he needed to get out of the temple and to
the docks as soon as possible. Outside a fine layer of ash had begun to
cover all that was exposed to the elements. Breathing in the air he
could feel his lungs burn and the smell in the town was becoming
stronger and stronger and the cloud continued to roll down the
mountain.

Running as fast as his legs could take him he ran to the docks. He ran
past the buildings, the people walking through the streets not caring
who he knocked over, who he hurt. He just ran, he didn't tell anyone of
his responsibility for the cloud of smoke and fire that continues to
descend on the town. He is at the docks when the cloud consumes the
edge of the town, buildings and blocks vanish within the cloud. The
searing heat from the cloud extends far beyond the reach of the cloud
itself as unassuming people feel their flesh melt off of their bones as
their blood boils within their own bodies. They are the lucky ones who
die quickly, the ones who are trapped inside or protected from the heat
are the ones who will suffer, being buried by the ash slowly as the
fumes from the cloud kill them slowly. Causing them to pass out and be
buried alive by the ash.

He launches himself from the docks and into the warm salty water of the
ocean. As his body breaks the surface of the water he can feel the
great heat nip at his heels. It was at that moment he was able to
recall one of the lessons he had learned from his teacher before he
killed him. The ocean is salty, it is for that reason the waters of the
ocean will never freeze. His teacher was right, the salt prevented the
ocean from freezing. But it didn't prevent the ocean from boiling. As
the heat from the cloud reaches the water instantly a layer is
vaporized into the atmosphere. The heat excites the water like a wave
pushing downward claiming his body with excruciating pain.

Pain was his reward for failure. Pain was his reward for not completing
his task and pain was a reminder that next time failure would not be an
option. His opening his eyes he can see the water around turn red as
his blood flows from his nose, ears and fingernails as they tear off
from the heat. His vision too fades as the tissues of his eyes begin to
succumb to the heat.

His eyes opens and once again he is greeted by the cool interior of the
underground cavern. Looking down at his hand he sees his finger nails
long since re-grown. Failure. Looking at the design he had drawn on the
ground he knows that this time there will be no failures. This time he
will finish what he had started so long ago. This time there will be no
stopping him.

...

"Are you sure that you calculated the distance correctly?" Adam asks
Giles for the fourth time.

Frustrated Giles answers, "For the fourth time, yes! After Willow went
over it the first time I thought that you would have thought that I was
correct. After Cassandra went over the calculations and confirmed that
they were right you seemed to accept that. But after YOU went over the
calculations the third time and saw that they were right I thought you
would have shut up and accepted that they were in fact correct. So, WHY
ARE YOU ASKING ME AGAIN!" He screams at him.

"BECAUSE THAT IS ALL THAT I CAN BLOODY THINK IS WRONG!" Adam screams
back at him. The frustration that the entire group is feeling is coming
to a point with Adam's exclamations.

"HEY!" Faith yells over the both of them. "Arguing at this point would
be useless!"

"Not to mention counter productive." Cassandra adds as she continues to
read from her book.

"Completely." Joyce adds.

"Thank you from the peanut gallery." Adam says sarcastically.

"Well at least the peanut gallery is still researching." Buffy rebukes.

"And what good is that doing us? We are less than half an hour away
from sundown, in thirty minutes the world will witness the beginning of
the end. So you tell me what your research is going to get you in
thirty minutes."

Xander trying to be the voice of reason asks him, "Adam, how can you be
sure that the calculations are wrong?"

"I've been through these books with Giles probably four or five times.
You are not going to find in two hours what took us two weeks."

"But you went over the calculations yourself, even you said that they
were correct." Xander tells him.

"I know but we are missing something. I know it." Adam tells them.

"Then why don't we go over it again just to make sure?" Giles says
finally acquiescing if only to try to push forward in their search for
an answer.

Faith decides to help Xander and play the peacemaker. "Well what do we
know about the calculations?"

Giles answers, "When the planets get into a certain formation the
Hellmouth becomes unanchored and it resurfaces at a equidistant
location from the center." 

"So we know it moves off center, so how do we know how far it goes?"
Cassandra asks.

"According to the passage that Joyce had found two moons of Jupiter
will slide into place and their distance from the Earth's moon will
give you the distance the Hellmouth will move from center."

"Okay now we have gone over the calculation three times we all agree
that the Hellmouth will move somewhere four miles off center."

"So what are we missing? We all went to a possible site for the ritual
right?" Tara asks

"Could the center of the Hellmouth be moved into the air? I mean we've
been looking at this from a two dimensional point of view. In three
dimensional world the circle becomes a sphere." Willow says to them.

"No the ritual requires a symbol of some sort to focus the energy on,
it would be to difficult to have the symbol in the air. That plus the
passage doesn't mention anything about three dimensions, just two, it
says it will be a circle off center." Giles quickly dismisses Willow's
thought.

"So the symbol has to drawn on the ground?" Buffy asks.

"Yes, it should be placed at the exact point where the Hellmouth will
resurface. That's why I was able to come up with that list last night."

"What made those places special?" Riley questions the Watcher.

"The open spaces, the easy access and the fact that it was easy to get
to the direct center of the Hellmouth."

"We can all attest to that." Cassandra says, "My site was a open square
of a sorts, but it is too open making it hard to defend an attack if
they knew someone is trying to stop the ritual. And definitely too open
for someone to not notice a man with missing body parts drawing a
symbol on the ground."

"I think that was the case for all of our sites." Riley says. "Either
the space is too open or too public for anyone not to notice anything."

"So what are we missing? Where can we find the ritual?" Willow asks the
assembled group.

"I know I checked every crack in the floor at my location." Riley says
defending himself.

Sighing Adam answers, "As did I, as did we all. But still leaves us
without the whereabouts of our mystery man and his ritual."

"Why can't all bad guys be like the Master? I mean he was easy enough
to find." Buffy says out loud mostly to herself. 

For Buffy and the others the statement falls to the wayside another
statement of sarcasm that has come to be expected from blonde Slayer.
For Xander however it is a lightning bolt of realization and with that
realization he says the only word that he can coherently form.

"Shit."

Faith concerned by Xander's reaction asks, "Xander? You okay?"

Xander's eyes grow wide, as he looks side to side at something that
isn't there as if he trying to take in something the rest cannot see.
"SHIT!"

Xander bolts upright and moves behind the counter. Tearing open one of
the drawers he digs items out in search for what he is looking for.
Another drawer is opened and its contents join the rest of the other
drawer's contents on the floor. He continues to pour through the
drawers until he finds what he is looking for.

Giles seeing the mess he is making says, "What are you thinking
Xander?"

With the item he was looking for in his hand he walks back to the table
and gestures for the others to look at what he has. Unfolding the piece
of paper he is holding they all see it is the map from last night with
the circle designating the search area.

Pointing at the center of the map Xander turns to Giles and asks him,
"This is where the Hellmouth is normally located correct?"

"Yes, that is the exact location of the library." Giles answers.

"Wrong! That is what we've been missing! The library isn't the direct
center of the Hellmouth!"

Giles pales as he realizes his mistake, "My word, you're right it
isn't."

"Then where is it?" Riley asks not liking where the conversation is
going.

Xander turns to him and tells him, "It's about a hundred feet directly
below the library. The ritual is going to be held underground." Xander
looks at the clock on the wall and sees that time is quickly ticking
away. They need to find the ritual before it is too late.

...

The Master can feel a slight tremor as the Hellmouth is slowly loosing
its battle versus the celestial bodies above. He can almost see the
last tendrils of energy anchoring the Hellmouth to its position stretch
and tear as the planets above continue to pull it away. As the last
tethers holding the portal in place begin to snap that amount of energy
flowing within the cavern continues to rise. He needs to prepare the
ritual now or he will miss his opportunity yet again. 

"Keith! Aaron!" He barks out. "Prepare the sacrifices and the ritual,
when you are done prepare yourselves for your parts and wait within the
circle I have drawn for you."

The two Immortals scurry to fulfill the Master's wish. They had noticed
a subtle change in the demeanor of the Master over the past few hours.
His usually calm and cool composure had slowly melted away to reveal
apprehension and an edginess that they had never before seen. His eyes,
when they were open, were wide scanning the room searching for
something, sometimes he would find it and would stare at it for long
periods of time before closing his eyes and muttering to himself. 

Aaron though shaken by the change did not voice his opinion, the Master
has his reasons for everything and opposing him now would be a mistake.
The Master is no longer a reasonable being, he had gone past the point
of no return and all that matters now is his quest. Aaron believes in
the Master and will follow him on the same path, no matter where it
leads. The Master had promised them power and he believes that the
Master will deliver.

...

"Willow, do you think that you can find a geological survey of
Sunnydale on the net?" Adam asks.

"I can try. Give me a sec." Willow responds as she opens up her laptop
and plugs it into the wall jack that Giles uses for the credit card
machine. The tones of her modem fill the room momentarily and then
quickly die out as her connection to the internet is established.

"If I remember correctly a survey of the town was completed two years
ago." Giles tells her.

"Yeah I remember, they were pretty surprised to find that underground
chamber underneath the school." Willow says as her fingers type away at
the keyboard. The images on the screen show that she is traversing City
Hall's web page.

"Good job Willow you're into City Hall!" Buffy says to her.

"Not really it's just their web page." Tara tell her.

"But you can access their intranet through the web page so with a few
code crunching programs here and...presto! You're inside City Hall's
main server." Willow says with a smile.

"Great job Willow. Now can you pull up the map?" Xander asks her.

"I'll try to find it. It's probably in some kind of CAD format it might
take a second or two." She replies.

"Not too long I hope, time is of the essence." Giles says.

"Let the woman work." Cassandra scolds them. "Nagging her won't make
her work faster."

"Thanks Cassandra." Willow says as her search finally pulls up a hit.
"I think I have it." She says as she opens the file.

Joyce leans in and asks her, "Can you zoom in on the section that we
searched?"

"Sure." The picture enlarges and re-centers on the site where Sunnydale
High School's library once stood. The surrounding area is outlined in
blues, greens and reds.

"What does the color code mean?" Faith asks from behind her.

"The blue is for the higher levels, hills and stuff. The greens
represent sea level, which covers most of the area. The reds show
anything below that, the brighter the red, the lower." 

"So this area in the center is the Master's old lair?" Buffy asks
pointing at the map.

"Yes." Willow answers

"Then that area over there on the left is where the ritual has to be."
Faith says.

"I would assume so." Giles says.

"Which site is that? Who was the one that checked it out?" Adam asks.

"It's the old burned down church. No one looked at the site. Since it
was burned down we dismissed it as a site." Riley tells him.

"We can get there in five minutes. How do we get under the church?"
Xander asks.

Willow studies the screen as it pans up and then left. "Here. There is
a passage that leads from the cemetery to the church. Its all
underground."

"Well what are we waiting for let's go!" Xander says as he and Faith
are out of the door. Adam and Cassandra quickly follow.

The rest of the room gets up to leave with Giles and Joyce the last
ones left in the room. "Joyce I think you should head home it would be
safer for you if..."

"Safer! If I am going to die I want to die with my daughter! I want to
die with my family near! That means you, Buffy and me! I am not about
to go to my death alone!"

"Joyce I just want you to be safe."

"I'll feel safe if I'm near you. Now lets go."

"Very well. Let's follow them."

...

Close, so very close. The Master can feel the power beginning to course
through his veins. Keith and Aaron are standing in the circles he had
drawn for them. The cauldron was now ready for the sacrifices. One by
one he opens the jars and pours their contents into the boiling liquid.
As they touch the surface of the liquid the reaction is almost
instantaneous.

The three inhabitants of the cavern can see the ethereal smoke rise
from the cauldron. Like the mist that rises from the headless body of a
fallen opponent the smoke travels around the cavern and surrounds them.
The smoke tries to touch them as if trying to find if it is trying to
discover if the beings in its presence are worthy of what it will give.
As if the smoke approves of the vessels before it, the smoke goes
straight up and begins to circle them above their heads.

...

As the small caravan pulls up to the cemetery the occupants within each
car prepare themselves for battle. Buffy and Faith check their stakes,
the Immortals finger their swords, Riley checks and then rechecks his
weaponry and Tara and Willow go through the exercises shown to them by
Cassandra.

Giles hands Joyce a cross and a stake. "Use the cross to keep the
vampires at bay, if you have a chance push this through their heart."
He tells her gesturing with the stake. Seeing that she is scared he
quickly adds, "Don't worry I'm going to be there with you, but just in
case I wanted you to know how to defend yourself."

...

Jonathan is sitting waiting for the time when the warriors will attack
the entrance to the Master's lair. Unconsciously trying to flex his
missing hand he turns to the last of his brood.

"Leave this place. I will deal with the mortals. Now go." The assembled
vampires are hesitant to leave their leader alone to deal with the
mortal warriors especially in his weakened condition. Seeing this
Jonathan sighs, "You're loyalty is appreciated but unneeded. Now go."

Reluctantly the other vampires leave. Closing his eyes Jonathan can no
longer feel his brood close by and smiles as he hears the sound of a
car, no many cars pull up to the cemetery. He can feel the power
emanating from the group. He can feel the Slayer, stronger this time
for some reason and he can feel the presence of both the man who had
taken his hand and the young man plus one other. He can see them
rushing over to his location looking for the second entrance to the
Master's lair no doubt. Just as they are about to reach his position he
walks out from the shadows. The group comes to a sudden stop.

The sound of metal sliding against metal greets him as one of them, the
one who had taken his hand steps forward with his sword raised and
ready.

"Good, I was wondering where you had run off to. Saves me the trouble
of finding you later."

"Kill me now and you'll never find the entrance to the Master's lair."

"The Master? I killed him years ago." Buffy states.

"Not the vampire master, the Master is like them." He points to Xander
and Adam with his useless stump.

"Like us?" Adam asks.

"Yes." 

"Look I hate to break up this tea party but where is the entrance?"

"Through that crypt, the second and third drawers are actually a door.
Open it and the tunnel will lead you right to them."

"Them?" Riley asks.

"His lackeys are in there as well."

"What are we waiting for? Let's go! We only have a few minutes left!"
Willow exclaims.

"How do we know he's not lying to us, what if it's a trap?" Faith says
eyeing the vampire.

"You'll just have to trust me then wont you? If your red-headed friend
is telling you the truth then you don't have the time to waste on me or
my supposed plans." Jonathan says with a smile. 

Giles grits his teeth before replying, "He's right, we don't have the
time. We'll just have to trust him."

Bowing slightly Jonathan says to them, "Good luck to you all, until
next time." With those words Jonathan disappears into the shadows. His
plan of action is sound, either attack them and die or let them attack
the Master who was more than likely planning to kill him anyway. For
Jonathan it is a win-win situation. Should they survive he would live
long enough to exact his revenge, should they die it is one less thing
for him to worry about.

Back inside of the crypt Giles is in front of the drawers that Jonathan
had pointed out. "Well lets see here, there must be a seam or a hinge
of some sort if this is a door." He says feeling around the drawers.

Buffy gently pushes Giles out of the way, "We don't have the time to
look for the quiet way in, Faith?" Buffy asks the other Slayer. Nodding
the other Slayer stands next to Buffy and readies herself as does
Buffy.

"One three?" Faith asks.

Nodding she tells her, "On three."

"One. Two. THREE!" Buffy counts out and on three both let out with
powerful sidekicks hitting the supposed door at the same time. The door
creaks and protests against the force of the strike as the door bends
at the point where they struck it. The door is rips off of its hinges
and lands with a loud crash just inside of the long hallway.

"Well yes, I suppose that would be the most expedient way inside."
Giles says sarcastically, "But unfortunately you two just alerted them
to our arrival."

"We don't have the time to worry about that now." Xander says hefting
his sword and stepping through the opening.

"He's right, we need to get in there right now." Riley says.

"These are for you two," He tells Faith and Buffy pulling out a Roman
Gladius for each of them, they both take the swords and nod their
approval. "Okay everybody watch your heads, keep low and once inside
expect the worst." Adam tells them as he Cassandra and Faith follow
Xander into the passage.

...

Inside of the chamber the three figures standing within hear a loud
crash. Keith makes a move to go and investigate but a restraining hand
from the Master stops him.

"You leave this circle and you forfeit all that I have promised to
you." The Master tells him with a glare. Keith hesitates for a moment
and then nods re-sheathing his sword standing once again in the middle
of the circle. "It doesn't matter anyway Keith, they will be too late
to stop us."

The sounds of approaching footsteps echo within the enclosed chamber.
The sounds becoming louder and louder as the group approaches the main
chamber. But for the Master it is too little too late. "Prepare
yourselves." He tells Keith and Aaron simply. Like robots unable to
disobey their master the two men snap to attention, backs facing the
Master. 

The Master looks at them and quietly lifts his sword. "Now you shall
finally be rewarded for your dedication. Now you will become the most
powerful being on this planet!"

Keith and Aaron smile as they await for the power due to them.
Centuries of work and dedication, blindly following the Master on his
quest to fulfill his destiny, will finally be justified. Soon they will
rule beside their master as they ascend beyond their Immortal flesh and
bone.

Master continues to talk as the steps come close to the chamber, "You
will become the most powerful beings on this planet by becoming a part
of ME!"

The two Immortals only have a split second before they realize what the
Master meant by that last statement. The realization comes to late as
the Master brings his sword across his body with incredible force
taking both Keith's and Aaron's heads with a single stroke. The
maniacal smile that plays across his lips is evident even as a voice
booms across the chamber catching his attention.

"YOU FOOL!" Methos yells as the two bodies sag to the ground, "This is
still holy ground!"

"I know!" The Master replies without a hint of fear or apprehension.
"The alignment has been realized! Witness the power of the Hellmouth!"

The group looks up at the cloud circling overhead and then at the forms
rising from the fallen bodies of the Immortals on the floor. The
chamber begins to tremble lightly at first and then more violently as
the two clouds of smoke begin to intermingle. The Immortals realize
what is about to happen and are the first to react.

"Everybody find some cover!" Xander yells grabbing Willow and Tara
pushing them to the ground. Giles does the same with Joyce and Methos
and Cassandra move also to find cover.

"Why don't we attack?" Riley asks him, moving towards the Master.

"No! Faith find some cover with Buffy!" Xander tells her and moves to
stop Riley. Xander pushes Riley down behind one of the large boulders
inside of the chamber but is too late to find cover for himself. 

Just as Riley is safe behind the rock a bolt of blue lightening
coalesces from the clouds of smoke that swirl above the Master. As the
first bolt descends a second and third form seconds after each other
and begins to rain down on the Master. The force from the quickening
throws Xander across the room and against one of the walls of the
chamber landing close to where Faith and Buffy had found cover. They
both reach out to him and pull him to safe cover as the quickening
continues to ravage the room.

Joyce hiding with Giles from the onslaught of the quickening looks up
at the ceiling of the room. The power and force of the quickening is
taking its toll on the underground chamber. Small cracks are turning
into large ones and portions of the ceiling and walls begin to crumble
and fall to the floor. If this doesn't end soon the entire chamber will
collapse in on their heads.

Meanwhile Methos and Cassandra are looking at each other with worry.
Cassandra voices her fears, "Something is wrong."

Xander now protected by the shelter found by the Slayers groggily
pushes himself up. Looking at Faith and Buffy he tells them, "The
Quickening doesn't usually take this long, something is happening."

As bolt after bolt hit the Master the energy of the quickening
continues to grow. The foundation of the old church above cracks and
buckles as the power of the quickening begins to be at odds to the
natural energies that are present. The energies begin to fight with
each other destroying almost everything that they touch. However
something changes, the Quickening begins to harmonize with the natural
energies present. Instead of opposing each other the energies begins to
meld into one and like quicksilver snake all around, flowing like
liquid fire rising more and more to its peak. The energy continues to
grow outward causing pavement to buckle and trees to be uprooted until
it reaches its breaking point. Like a star that has met the end of its
days the energy can either explode in a brilliant supernova or collapse
in on itself, its once great light now unable to escape what it has
become; a black hole. The energy slowly begins to recede back towards
its center ever gaining power and fury. Until it collapses onto the
spot which gave birth to its great power.

Inside the chamber the walls are falling all around them, the ceiling
without its support begins to crash down on top of all of them. Tara
looks around and feels a sense loss, they had come so far only to be
stopped by the walls falling on top of them. Buffy looks on and feels a
sense of failure they did not even get a chance to fight against the
madman who started all of this. Xander looks on with a feeling of
uselessness. Years of training, of becoming more than he was amounts to
nothing when it really came down to it. Cassandra looks on with a sense
of dread, one that is mirrored by the look on Methos' face. They look
up and see the ceiling falling down on them. As the huge rocks and
debris fall towards them the group braces themselves for what will
undoubtedly be their demise. Some huddle together not wanting to be
alone in their last moments, others close their eyes making peace with
themselves, but Methos does neither. He looks up to defy the bone
crushing boulders daring them to strike him down. What he sees
surprises him. 

The rocks slowly begin to slow their descent downward turned to a
frighteningly slow crawl. He is about to show the turn of events to
Cassandra when the energies from the quickening collapse on the chamber
with a brilliant white flash blinding all those in the chamber
momentarily. When they are able to regain their sight they can see that
the chamber is gone. The rocks that had once been overhead are now gone
and replaced with the night sky and the stars above. Their awe is cut
short by the frenzied laughter from the man who created all this havoc.


The Master continues to laugh as he screams, "THE POWER! I CAN FEEL
IT!"

Though they are below ground level the open aired room begins to fill
with a strong wind causing all of those present to shield and squint
their eyes against the strong gusts. The light that had filled the room
only moments ago has refocused itself onto a single spot on the ground
before the madman's feet. At first it is a tiny pinprick but, as the
seconds tick by the point grows wider and wider. From the center of the
point of light red lightening spews out replacing the white lightening
of the quickening. From the portal the sounds of moaning and wailing
can be heard, the sound of a multitude of souls crying out for mercy or
respite from their eternity of suffering. 

The Hellmouth, like the universe, is born in a great explosion of
energy and is now continuing to expand destroying all that is in its
way. The Master by using the ritual of the Awakening is siphoning the
power of the Hellmouth like a leech, and like a leech the Master's body
begins to change bulging and expanding as if his body is trying to
contain the multitudes of energy it is absorbing. They look on as the
look of ecstasy on the man's face is replaced by a look of pain and
pure horror. 

The Master doubles over in pain as the power courses through his body.
Something is wrong, horribly wrong. His body won't stop absorbing the
power of the Hellmouth. He tries to search his memories for a way to
stop the power transfer but he can't. It is in that search of a way to
stop the power he had so desperately sought out for over two thousand
years that he finds the reason why his body continues to absorb power
from the Hellmouth. There in the depths of his mind he can feel another
presence, another conciseness is eating away at his own. It like the
Hellmouth is expanding, taking control of his body and slowly eating
him out of existence, laughing at him the whole time.

"NO!" The Master screams as his body contorts once again as his clothes
tear from his body as it expands beyond the confides of the fragile
cloth. As he doubles over again the bones of his spine are visible as
they begin to protrude from his body. His skin stretches as the bones
try to break free of their flesh prison. The sound of tearing canvas
joins the sounds of the wailing as the bones finally break free and
through his skin. His groan of pain blends in completely with the
sounds that already come from the Hellmouth. His body stretches like
putty as the power from the Hellmouth continues to fill his body, his
arms, legs and torso becoming larger to accommodate the bulkiness that
had formed early on from the onslaught of the Hellmouth. 

The hair from his head falls out as he reaches up and claws his eyes
form his head in long and painful swipes. As he throws the lifeless
orbs away he bends over once more clutching at his head where once
again his skin begins to bulge at his temples. His hands and feet grow
once more loosing two toes on each foot and two fingers on each hand.
The nails on his hands and feet grow impossibly long and turn into
talons and the skin on his head finally rips and releases the growth
underneath. On either side of his head are long horns that fall
downward and then forward the points extending nearly a foot in front
of him. Looking up the group can see the once empty and bloodied are
replaced by glowing yellow orbs. Opening his mouth once again to scream
those watching the grotesque transformation can see a piece of flesh
fall from his mouth. His tongue, much like his eyes, falls to the
ground unceremoniously bitten off. His teeth fall out by the handfuls
as they are pushed from his gums by the razor sharp protrusions growing
beneath them.

With one last scream the voice of the master changes to a deep low
roar. It sounds as if several sets of vocal cords are now making the
sounds that come from the monster. Its hands rest on the ground as he
crouches over like some distorted image of mankind's primordial
ancestors. From its wrists a single long blade like bones shoot out
extending its range another three feet. As the entire transformation is
taking place his skin shifts and changes colors like a chameleon;
green, red, purple changing colors slowly fading from one to another
until stopping finally on black. The being now over seven feet tall jet
black from head to toe with the exception of it eyes which now glow
yellow like blazing suns sitting in front of the black backdrop of
space. 

With a final roar the transformation is complete the being once known
as the Master straightens up to his full seven plus feet. Standing tall
it is an impressive sight to behold. Flexing its wrists the bones
protruding from its arms make a clicking sound. Single drops of liquid
form at the base and follow the length of the bones towards the tips
until they fall to the ground with a slight sizzle and a small string
of smoke as the liquid burns all that it touches.

Xander, Methos and Cassandra stand up from their shelters and come out
to the open; Faith, Riley and Buffy do the same. Giles, Joyce, Willow
and Tara are the last to come out and stay farther back knowing that
the six warriors will do the majority of the fighting. The dark beast
eyes them with its glowing orbs and lets out a feral growl, behind it
the Hellmouth growing ever larger. Riley being the closest is the
beast's first target. Moving much quicker than he would have ever
suspected a being of that size to move Riley is nearly caught off guard
by the beast fast attack. Only years of training and pure instinct
allow him to survive the first encounter by leaping backwards at the
last moment. The blade protruding from the beast's wrist is only able
to tear at the fabric of his shirt. What should have been a small
opening quickly turns into a larger one as the liquid that now covers
the skeletal blades eat through the fabric. Quickly removing the shirt
before it can burn his skin Riley pulls out a knife and prepares for
the demon's next attack.

The demon if fast to press his attack again but with Riley more
prepared he is able to duck and counter the beasts attacks. The others
stand back waiting for an opportunity to join the attack to help the
young soldier, at first it seems that Riley is holding his own against
the larger opponent, he even is able to score a solid hit burying his
knife deeply into the torso of the demon. Backing away with knife in
hand Riley smiles triumphantly, perhaps they wouldn't have to much
trouble at all with this one. However they all look in horror as the
Hellmouth flashes brighter momentarily and the wound of the beast
begins to heal like an immortal's would this time however the familiar
blue and white lightening is replaced by black and red. The beasts once
again pulls up to his full height and throws itself at the closest
target once again; Riley.

Riley is prepared once again to go toe to toe with the demon especially
after gauging its strength and speed from their last encounter. Riley
is prepared for another evenly match fight where his strategic
capabilities will allow him to defeat the monster. However what the
demon brings is something that Riley does not expect, the attack is
faster and stronger than before. Riley barely has enough time to react
to the movements of the demon let alone think of any viable stratagems.
As the fight continues to rage on the other realize that something has
changed and that Riley is now on the loosing side of the battle. 

Buffy is the first to react and pulls out the Roman Gladius Adam had
given her prior to entering the passageway. Running at the demon she
hopes to distract it enough to give Riley time to recover and help her
force the monster to fight on two fronts. Swinging the sword with hopes
to blind-side the monster Buffy is surprised when the demon's arm comes
up and blocks the sword with the bone blade attached to its wrist.
Violently knocking Riley into a wall with one powerful blow the demon
turns its head to face Buffy squinting its yellow eyes at the petite
blonde Slayer. Its full attention now turned on Buffy the demon begins
to lay into her as well. 

The fight begins the same way it had with Riley, with Buffy supposedly
having the upper hand in the battle. She would score several hits and
apparently wound the demon severely only for it to heal itself and
become much stronger than it was before.

Methos watches for his chance for an opening when something catches his
attention. Every time the beast is wounded it heals itself and becomes
stronger and faster than before and every time it would heal the
Hellmouth would flare stronger and grow even larger. Suddenly the
realization hits him the beast's power comes from the Hellmouth no
matter how much they could wound it the Hellmouth would only heal the
beast. Methos quickly considered the possibilities and quickly devises
a plan of action.

"Cassandra!" He exclaims grabbing her attention. "I need to get to the
Hellmouth! Distract that thing long enough for me to reach it!"

Cassandra looks at him with incredulous eyes, "What? Are you crazy!
What do you think you are going to do? Close the Hellmouth?"

"No I can't do that by myself, but I can contain it at least for a
little while." He tells her.

"What!?!"

"The demon is getting its power from the Hellmouth. Its power will
continue to grow unless we cut it off from the Hellmouth." Seeing that
she understands Cassandra moves to Faith and Xander to devise a plan of
action with them.

Seeing Cassandra moving to them with sword in hand Faith and Xander
move to meet her halfway. "What's the plan?" Faith questions as they
converge.

"We distract it." Cassandra says simply.

"Cassandra if you haven't noticed that thing is getting stronger as
time passes, so if we are going to do anything we should kill it."
Xander says to her.

Just as Xander says that Buffy scores another devastating hit on the
beast, plunging her sword down to the hilt into the monster's chest,
the tip of the sword sticking out of it's back. The monster screams out
in rage knocking the small Slayer aside the dark beast plucks the sword
out of its body as one would pick a splinter from their palm. As it
pulls the sword out of its body it tears out pieces own internal
organs. Pieces of its lungs and intestines hang from the wound, blood
flowing freely. It flings the sword at stone wall and embeds the blade
halfway into the wall. 

The Hellmouth flashes brighter than it ever has and like some grotesque
movie put into reverse the internal organs slowly climb back into its
body like slow moving molasses. With a brilliant flash from the
Hellmouth and the red and black lightening crawling all over its body
the monster once again heals itself. With another ear splitting roar
and another flash of the Hellmouth the beast is whole again, more than
what it was before. The demon grows in size and stature again the power
and energy of the Hellmouth pulsing in tune with its own.

Cassandra seeing now that its power had surpassed ever her own she
knows now that they need to buy Methos the time he needs before it
becomes too strong for any of them to stop. 

"Faith, you take right. Xander blind side him from the rear." She tells
the young couple.

"What about you?" Xander asks her.

Cassandra pulls out her sword and lets the power of her quickening
flare. Xander is taken aback by just how strong she really is. "I'll
distract him."

Cassandra quickly moves to confront the monster. Sword drawn she goes
after it head on. Xander faces Faith and gestures towards the battle
and tells her, "After you."

"Thanks." She says sarcastically before circling around the demon to
come to bear on its right side. Xander follows suit and circles around
the opposite direction. Through the now open ceiling of the chamber the
clouds above rumble as if Heaven above has finally realized hell had
truly returned to the mortal realms.

Cassandra could feel the monster's power as she approaches it. Seeing
Faith and Xander circle into position as well as seeing that Buffy was
slowly returning to her feet, Cassandra raises her sword against the
beast. 

Cassandra's quickening captures the demon's attention. Planting its
feet on the ground evenly it turns to face Cassandra. She raises her
sword and rushes towards it using the power she had gained over the
millennia to help her deal with the monster. As her sword connects with
the bone blade she can feel the power reverberate in her arms and
shoulders hard enough that she almost drops her sword. 

Faith unnoticed by the demon darts in quickly and stabs the beast's
flank and quickly darts out of the way. The beast roars but as it heals
Cassandra can feel it strengthen. 

"No! Don't hurt it! You'll only make it stronger!" She tells them

Xander nods as he takes the fight to the demon. Being careful to avoid
the razor sharp bone blades Xander is able to distract the demon with
hit and run tactics stunning it for a moment long enough for one of the
others to also land blows on the monster. From the corner of her eye
Cassandra can see Methos quietly slipping by them and towards the
Hellmouth. Whatever he had in mind better work and it better work soon.
If not they will soon be facing an enemy they would not be able to
defeat.

Faith continues on with her hit and run tactics in hopes of buying more
time for Cassandra and Methos' plan. However she can see that her luck
could run out at any time. Every hit they score on the demon the
stronger it gets. Every attack could turn into the last. To her right
she can see Xander darting in and out just like herself, careful to
avoid the blades extending from the demon's wrists. To her left she can
see Cassandra setting up for another attack and just beyond her Buffy
is struggling to stand. Glancing back at Xander she appreciates the
form and grace contained in his frame. No wasted movement, every bit of
energy is used to combat the evil in front of him.

Focusing back on the fight at hand she sees an opening for her to
capitalize on and darts quickly in for a quick jab of her Gladius
underneath the demon's guard. However she notices now that the effects
of her attacks as well as the attacks of the others are effecting the
demon less and less. Backing away quickly the demon barely misses her,
it seems that its speed as well as strength are increasing. 

Caught up in her own thoughts Faith doesn't see the demon's hand reach
back and thrust itself at her. The monster catches her by the neck and
slams it's fist into the cave wall suspending her above the ground by
her neck. Looking down in horror Faith could swear that the demon was
grinning at her as she feels its fingers tightening around her neck.
Her muscles protest under the pressure as her blood begins to sing in
her ears.

Horrified Cassandra rushes to help the young Slayer only to be rewarded
by a backhand that sends her flying into the wall.

As Methos approaches the Hellmouth the screaming and wailing emanating
from the portal grow louder and louder. The screams remind him of his
horseman days, times where men, women and children all would beg him
for mercy and then cry out just before cutting them down. Quickly
focusing on the present looks into the maw of the Hellmouth and can
feel the power flowing through the portal. Power that the other
Immortal so desperately sought out but eventually turned him to the
monster he is now, uncontrollable and evil. If they stood a chance
against that thing he needs to cut off the demon's source of power, the
Hellmouth. 

Quickly glancing over to the battle raging on close by he can see the
demon is unimpressed by the strength of the attacks. It looks like a
giant swatting at mosquitoes. Looking at the Hellmouth once more Methos
closes his eyes and begins to focus. Centering his being Methos reaches
for the support of the techniques that have ingrained themselves onto
his brain. Once ready Methos glances once more over to the battle only
to see Cassandra swatted away like a fly and Faith being held against
the wall by her neck, her face contorted with the struggle to break
free. He can see Xander rushing to her aid with his sword raised to
strike. Methos knew what he was aiming for long before Xander even
reached the demon.

"Xander! No!" Methos yells at him.

All that Xander could see and hear is the sounds of Faith struggling to
break free from the demon's grasp. All he could see is her legs kicking
and dangling above the ground each kick becoming weaker and slower. All
he could hear is the gurgling sounds coming from her as she struggles
to force air through her constricted airway. All that Xander can think
is that he needs to save her. Raising his sword and rushing the demon
he is barely aware of Methos calling out his name. He can barely feel
the blade of his sword passing through the monster's arm. He can barely
hear the sounds of the monster's roar as its arm sags to the ground
held in place only by its tough skin and tendons. Quickly catching the
falling Slayer Xander pulls her out of harms way and next to Buffy who
was able to make it to Riley's side.

The beast roar's out in rage as it holds its nearly severed arm in
place, it blood covering the floor at his feet drenching the dirt
turning it to a dark thick mud. The Hellmouth flashes again pulsing
with power knocking Methos over. The demon's arm reattaches itself to
the bloody stump, red and black sparks traveling up and down the arm
and the rest of its body. The demon's body grows once more but its
physical presence is a mere fraction of what its true power. Now
stronger than ever before the demon looks back and forth for the one
responsible for nearly loosing its arm.

Methos seeing that if he doesn't cut off the demon's power now they
will never be able to defeat it and sets his plan into motion. Closing
his eyes and focusing the power of his quickening he erects a barrier
around the growing Hellmouth. As the edge of the portal hits the
invisible barrier Methos grabs his head and screams in pain and anyone
watching can see a brief flicker as the Hellmouth slows down and then
continues to grow outward.

Willow and Tara who had held back knowing that their strengths wouldn't
help in this battle, but they might be able to help with the battle
Methos is waging against the gates of Hell.

"Adam? What can we do to help?"

Through gritted teeth he tells them, "Help me."

"How? What can we do?" Tara questions him.

Grabbing their hands in each of his Methos once again opens up his mind
and his powers this time using the two girls as support. The both gasp
audibly as they fell their reserves deepen and augment with the added
power of Methos' quickening. For both young witches the power they draw
upon is like water from a well. The longer they practice the more
proficient they become the deeper the well becomes and the more power
they can draw upon. Now coupled with Methos the well changes into an
ocean, vast and unending and in the middle of that ocean is a small
volcano trying to break free of watery depths. Using the water of the
ocean to contain the volcano as it grows the girls understand what it
is they need to do. Opening up heir minds using the techniques shown to
them by Cassandra the two girls open up their minds and throw in all
they have to help Methos.

Once again the barrier flickers as the Hellmouth makes contact with it.
Willow falls to her knees from the sheer impact and ferocity of the
clash her hand nearly sliding out of Methos'. 

"No! You need to stay in contact with me or the barrier will fall!" He
exclaims to both of them. 

"Can we help as well?" A voice calls to them over the roar of the
Hellmouth. Looking over his shoulder Methos sees Giles and Joyce coming
forward carefully.

"Yes. Make contact with one of us, open your mind, and concentrate." He
tells them as Giles puts a hand on his shoulder and Joyce on Tara's
arm. Again the effect is almost instant, as the barrier grows stronger
with the extra power Giles and Joyce.

Xander seeing that Faith and the others are fine turns to see Methos,
Willow, Giles, Tara and Joyce all clustered together near the
Hellmouth. Cassandra who was knocked to the side is now on her feet
making her way to the group near the Hellmouth. Behind him he can hear
Riley stirring with Buffy tending to his wounds. In front of him he
sees the golden orbs of light in front of the black backdrop stare at
him. The beast raises its arm as if to dare Xander to try to hit him
again. 

Xander raising his sword squares off with the monster and prepares
himself for battle. Thinking back to his early training with Methos
Xander remembers what he had learned about strength. Momentarily
fluttering his eyes shut he searches for his power, power he knows is
there, power he will need to fight against the demon. Deep inside the
recesses of his mind he sees a blue sphere crackling with energy.
Reaching out for it he can see a spike of energy jump from the sphere
and onto his hand. Opening his eyes he sees that monster has decided to
take the fight to him.

The beast using its inhuman speed takes a long and powerful swing using
its bone blade as a scythe. Xander using speed equal to that of the
beast is able to block the blade and push it off his guard just in time
to parry the straight stab being attempted by the beast's other hand.
Moving to push his advantage Xander performs a long upward slash
opening the beast's torso from hip to shoulder spraying its blood onto
him.

The Hellmouth flashes brightly but the demon does not heal quickly as
it did previously. Methos' barrier though strengthened by the
additional power of the others falters still and once again the
Hellmouth breaches the barrier. Like a damn bursting the power held
back by the barrier rushes to its intended target, the demon pauses a
moment as the power fills it healing and empowering it. Feeling the
difference in the power flow the demon looks over to the Hellmouth and
sees the small group next to it, recognizing them as a threat to its
power the beast changes tactics and runs towards the small group intent
on killing each and every one of them.

Pulling out his sword Methos tell the others, "Move away I'll try to
keep it away from all of you!"

Xander sees the demon's change in target too late to do anything but to
run after its retreating form. Just as the demon is about to reach
where Methos is standing solitary feet apart sword ready two figures
rush out and tackle the demon to the ground. Faith and Cassandra's
forms wrestle with the beast on the ground long enough to buy time for
Xander to catch up.

Cassandra yells to Methos, "Don't stop! I could feel it weaken when you
put up your barrier! It's still getting stronger!"

"I need more help!" Methos yells back quickly erecting the barrier once
more as Faith is flung from fight landing close to where he is
standing. 

A feminine voice calls out, "What can we do to help?"

Turning around he sees Buffy supporting Riley. Nodding he tells them,
"Just make contact with one of the others while they are touching me."
He drops to his knee as the power building up inside of the barrier
clashes against his consciousness.

Faith picks herself up and goes to the older immortal's side and helps
him up. Once he is standing again she tells him, "I'll do all that I
can do to help."

Nodding he motions to the others to try again. As they add their own
power to his own he can feel his reserves deepen to a point where he
feels that he can contain the power within. But no barrier is full
proof. He can still feel the power of the Hellmouth slowly seep through
his barrier grating against his senses the entire way. He needs more
help or else the Hellmouth will flare once more and break through his
barrier. If that happens he doubts that he can erect a barrier strong
enough to contain the Hellmouth once more.

The demon is able to straddle Cassandra to the floor and raises its
arm, flexing its writs to make the blade stick out even more. As the
blade descends on Cassandra's neck she doesn't close her eyes, she
doesn't flinch, she awaits her fate like a warrior, accepting death.
But her death never comes, instead a blur of motion and a gust of wind
along with the weight of the demon being removed alert her to a change.
Turning her head she can see Xander coming out of a roll after knocking
the monster off of her. 

Sparing a glance over his shoulder he yells at her, "Go! Help Methos!
I'll try to hold him off!" Nodding Cassandra scrambles to her feet and
makes her way over to the group helping Methos. Placing her hand on his
shoulder she too opens her mind and allows her own energy to flow into
the group. The barrier grows stronger stopping more power from escaping
the Hellmouth. However she can see the strain on Methos' face as he
continues his effort to stop the Hellmouth from expanding, beads of
sweat form on his forehead and his brow is creased with determination. 

"Methos, let us help you." She tells him. "You can't do this all on
your own."

"No! They won't be able to handle it!" He yells at her.

"Yes, but we can." Giles tells him. Seeing that the rest are all in
agreement Methos nods his head and opens up his mind. 

Meanwhile Xander has his hands full fighting the monster on his own. He
needed to keep the thing away from the others so they could stop the
Hellmouth from opening further. Duck, dodge, strike, pull back, strike
these are the intricate steps to the deadly dance with the demon. Every
strike becomes stronger and stronger, each one getting closer and
closer to killing him. Whatever they are doing he hopes that they do it
quickly. 

Loosing ground to the monster as it approaches Xander continues to back
away hoping to lure the monster away from his friends. Xander grins as
he sees that the demon is following him away from them allowing them to
complete what they intend to do. His grin fades once he feels the cold
stone wall of the chamber against his back. The monster continues to
press its attack with renewed fury seeing that it has the advantage
over the young man. Xander dodges the fist aimed for his head the blade
sinking easily in the rock behind him chipping away shards of rock that
bite at his face. Blinded temporarily by the pelting rocks instinct
alone tell him to duck once more as he feels the demon's other fist
rush past and bury itself back into the rock behind him. 

Rolling out of the way Xander gains some distance and time for his
wounds to heal. Looking on as the demon rips its hands from the rock
wall Xander knows he is loosing the battle. Reaching deep within he
feels the core of his being, the power of his immortality and embraces
it making it an extension of himself, using it as he would use a sword.


Methos opens up his mind and the power and the visions the Hellmouth
that we're filling him now trickle down to the rest of them. They see
all that Hell contains, they can see all that awaits on the other side
of the portal. They also see Death, they see Methos, they see Adam and
the numerous other identities he has assumed over the years. They see
Death riding with the other Horsemen; they see another vision of Adam
as a doctor. Most importantly they see Adam using all that he is to
construct a barrier to stop the growth of the Hellmouth. They can feel
the pain he feels as time after time the Hellmouth tries to break free,
they can sense his determination as well as his confidence in Xander.
They all sense there is something more but they cannot see what it is,
they only know that Methos' entire being is focused on surviving this
battle. Seeing all these things strengthens their reserves all the more
allowing them to focus their power to aid the old immortal.

"Just a little more." Methos mutters to himself. Reaching deep with in
his reserves he pushes one last time flaring his power one more time
just as he can feel Xander doing as he faces the demon down. The extra
push is enough as it sends a powerful reinforcement to the barrier
locking down the Hellmouth. As the portal pushes and prods the barrier
around it the strain on the group increases at a drastic rate. 

"That should do it." Methos says through gritted teeth. "For now. The
rest is up to Xander."

Xander can feel the sudden change in the room. The energy once pouring
from the Hellmouth is now missing making the room seem maddeningly
calm. The demon roars with rage as it is cut off from its source of
power. Xander reaches out and sees that though cut off from its power
the demon's strength itself remains unchanged. As the demon moves to
destroy the small group standing near the Hellmouth Xander rushes the
monster with sword raised.

Bringing his sword across the demon's arm sliding underneath the
skeletal blade Xander flicks his wrists and arms up and over forcing
the demon's arm to follow suit yanking it back as if its arm were
attached to a leash. Putting himself between the demon and his friend
it is now Xander who presses to attack. Blow after blow, block after
block each one increasing in power and intensity as the two figures
move back and forth across the room. Every time Xander thinks he sees
an opening it closes right away and he is forced to retreat under the
barrage of blows the demon throws at him.

Breathing hard, his clothes in tatters, Xander thinks there is no way
he can beat this demon. Sparing a quick look to the others he sees that
the Hellmouth continues to push against the barrier Methos put up. He
can see the looks of pain and determination on their faces, he needs to
end it, and he needs to end it now. Facing the demon seeing that it too
is breathing hard Xander raises his sword again, closing his eyes he
can see the blue iridescent sphere that is his quickening, spreading
his arms and falling into the sphere he feels it engulf him and at the
same time he engulfing it. Opening his eyes Xander feels a deep calm
and confidence he had only felt in his deepest meditations. Opening his
mouth with a battle cry Xander rushes at the demon, the demon not
backing down rushes at Xander as well. Xander runs with the point of
his sword down and behind him and the demon's arm raised and poised to
strike. As they move closer to each other the demon begins its down
stroke as Xander begins his up stroke. When they reach each other a
loud clang fills the room as Xander comes to a stop his back to the
demon as does the demon its back to Xander.

Turning around ready for another strike Xander grins as the demon
raises its hand once again to strike only to find that the blade is not
there but sitting point stuck in the ground between them. Xander
continues to push his attack and lands a thrust through the shoulder of
the monster. Quickly pulling away he sees something that gives him
hope. The wound closes, but not with the red and black sparks from
before but the blue and white ones of an immortal.

Glancing over to Methos who nods Xander realizes what Methos with the
help of the others has done. By cutting off the demon from its power
source it forces it to revert back to its old source of power, the
quickening. Though it is still stronger than the normal immortal Xander
at least knows how to deal with them. Raising his sword in a silent
salute to Methos he thanks him.

"Hurry!" Methos yells at him. "We can't keep this up for much longer!"
As if to prove his point the Hellmouth once again flashes brightly
causing the barrier to flicker as well as forcing Methos to his knees.

The beast and Xander meet once again in the center of the chamber. The
blows they land are bone shattering and can be felt throughout the
room. Xander is able to land a multitude of small minor cuts slowing
the beast down buying him more time for the beast to make a mistake.
Looking once more over at his friends though he knows he must make his
move soon. The demon continues to swing and punch at Xander who only
moves out of the way dodging the attacks. Both combatants begin to show
the signs of battle. Movements are a fraction slower reactions seconds
late. 

Backing away for a moment respite the two run at each other once more.
Their eyes show that this will be the last time they will meet. One of
them will come from this alive. The group watches in apprehension as
the two figures run at each other full speed. Everything is in slow
motion as the two move closer and closer to each other. Just as they
are about to meet they look in horror as Xander trips and looses his
balance. They see the grin on the demon's face widen as it senses
victory. The demon aims its final blow at the head of its foe.

For a split second they think all is lost as Xander falls and the demon
raises its arm for the killing blow. But in that split second Xander's
look of horror turns into a cold grin he suddenly changes the path of
his fall twisting his body around and bringing his foot back to the
ground causing the demon to miss and pass Xander. Using the foot he had
planted on the ground Xander shifts his weight enough to bring his body
across the back of the demon's body swinging his sword at the same time
he severs the tendons behind both knees of the demon. Screaming in pain
the monster falls to its knees, its legs no longer able to support it's
weight. Rolling with his fall and planting his feet Xander raises his
sword charging and screaming at the prone demon. With a single swing
and a final yell he severs the head of the demon.

Suddenly room falls silent. The demon's body slowly reverts back to its
human form as well as the severed head. Sighing with relief Xander
falls to his knee and takes a deep breath.

"It's finally over." He says to himself.

"Xander!" Faith's voice calls out drawing his attention back to his
friends.

What he sees confuses and horrifies him all at the same time. The
barrier Methos had put up is still there containing the Hellmouth now
threatening to break through the barrier.

"I killed it! Why is the Hellmouth still open?" Xander yells.

Cassandra answers, "The Hellmouth was its source of power not the other
way around! You kill it the Hellmouth remains."

"How do we close it?" Xander asks.

Methos his face pale with the effort of keeping the Hellmouth contained
points to the air and says, "With that."

Looking above his head he can see the swirling smoke of the quickening.
Of course! He killed an immortal demon so there will be a quickening.
"How will that close the Hellmouth?"

"Just like it opened it. This is still holy ground." Methos says
simply.

Nodding his head Xander quickly moves to the Hellmouth. "Open it." 

They all back away quickly as the first bolts of the quickening hit
him. One after another the power strikes him and the Hellmouth. The
power and intensity continues to increase as the quickening now matches
the fury of the Hellmouth.

"The planets have moved out of alignment shouldn't the Hellmouth
close?" Buffy asks above the noise.

"No that would only move it back to its original position. We need to
close it now." Giles answers back. 

They all watch as the power of the quickening grows even greater than
the Hellmouth. Xander while being struck by the lightening runs to the
Hellmouth and jumps rising impossibly above the portal. Right when he
reaches the center of the Hellmouth a beam of light strikes Xander
engulfing him as the winds and noise rise to frightening levels. Soon
the light engulfs them all. They can feel the power of the quickening
forcing the Hellmouth closed the energies battling against each other.
As the Hellmouth closes all those present can feel the Hellmouth reach
out to them and pull something away. Only Methos and Cassandra are
prepared for the onslaught and throw up their personal barriers. The
others however aren't so lucky.

In the middle of the chaos stands Xander, the focus of all the energies
around him. He can feel the energy of the Hellmouth weaken as the
quickening overwhelms it. As the quickening continues he can see the
memories and feelings of the man who had called himself the Master. The
lust for power and the pain of loosing control as the demon took over
his body and mind. But on the outskirts something different hits him.
He sees the time he went shopping with Faith, the times they sparred
and the time they admitted their feelings to each other through Faith's
eyes. He can feel Willow's feelings when she realized he had returned,
he could see how Buffy realized first Faith's return and then his own.
He watched through their own eyes his sparring with Adam. He sees how
he saved Riley in the club, he even sees how Tara spent her days as his
assistant and how she had found out he and Faith would be at his club.
Giles and Joyce's point of view seeing him and Faith at the cemetery,
he was seeing it all and he screamed out.

He is seeing the memories of his friends as if he had killed them like
an immortal. He could feel all their memories of him and his return to
Sunnydale flooding his mind. The last memory he sees from each of them
is the bright light of the quickening and then nothing. Nothing,
exactly what they would remember of him or of his return. His mind
fills with the memories of the love he and Faith share and he cries
out. He cries out with a pain that he never thought possible. When he
was forced to kill Jesse the pain he felt nearly destroyed him. What he
feels now makes that pain pale in comparison. It took him his entire
life and death to find what he had found with Faith and now that was
stolen from him. When the quickening stops he would loose his friends
and his love. He would be back where he started, alone.

Searching the memories as they continue to flow into him he finds that
none of them come from Cassandra or Methos. All of the memories are
from the others. Reaching out beyond the storm of the quickening he can
feel the two older Immortals resisting the pull of the Hellmouth.
Relieved that he isn't truly alone he waits out the rest of the
quickening. 

Bolt after bolt hit him ricocheting off of his own body and onto the
Hellmouth batting it into submission. Xander tries to widen his stance
in order to deal with the force of the bolts hitting him relentlessly
only find that his body is floating off of the ground. Looking down at
his body he can see the burns that are left after each bolt hits him.
As soon as they heal they are replaced by new ones as searing bold
after searing bolt tear into him planting the seeds of power inside of
him.

And just like that, it's gone. 

Xander drops to the ground landing hard and falling over. His body is
spent and his breathing is labored. Methos and Cassandra move to him
and can see his back expand with every intake of air. Xander struggles
to his hands and knees as the two older immortals come to his side to
help him. 

"You did it Xander! You closed the Hellmouth!" Cassandra says to Xander
proudly.

"Thank Adam, if it wasn't for him I wouldn't have been able to take
that thing down." He says his head still down.

"You did the hard part." Adam jokes patting Xander's back. Xander looks
up at Adam and he can see the streaks of tears on Xander's cheeks. 

"They won't remember me." He tells them quietly.

"What do you mean?" Cassandra asks.

"Their memories, all of it, it all in here." He says getting up tapping
his head. "When the quickening hit me I saw it all flash by. All of it,
they won't remember me." He tells them sadly.

"How?" Cassandra asks him.

"Something was different with this quickening it sought out the others,
it took the memories away from them."

"I could feel it probing, I was able to resist it though." Adam tells
him.

"Yes, I felt it as well." Cassandra adds.

"We'll talk more about it later." Xander says waving it off. "Where is
Faith?"

"She was over with the others." Adam says pointing back to the area he
had last seen them standing. Xander looks over to where he is pointing
and runs to the area. Confused Adam and Cassandra turn to see the group
on the ground unconscious.

Xander places two fingers on Faith's neck. Feeling a strong steady
pulse he moves to the others. Seeing that each of them is fine as well
he moves back to Faiths side. As he is checking her over once more he
hears a few of the others stirring. 

Adam moves to Tara and places his fingers on her neck, "Her pulse is
getting stronger," He tells him, "She'll wake up soon."

Cassandra doing the same with Joyce replies, "Joyce will be waking up
soon too."

Turning back to Faith Xander once again feels her pulse. Slow but
steady. The rhythm reminds him of the way the heart monitor in her room
had beeped in time with her pulse when she was in a coma. "I don't
think she'll come around for a while," He tells the other two before
adding quietly, "she had the most taken away from her."

Groaning Tara stirs and her eye flutter open. Closing her eyes again
and opening them she tries to sit up with Adam's help. "Ben?" She asks
the older immortal, "What happened?"

"We won." Xander says his eyes never leaving Faith's face. She looks
just as she does in the early morning hours while she sleeps, peaceful
and beautiful.

"Harry? Is it over?" Willow says as she too wakes up. Hearing Willow
call him by his assumed name breaks his heart and nearly brings Xander
to tears.

"Yes, its over. We won. The Hellmouth is closed." Xander says finally
tearing his eye away from Faith's prone form. The others were waking up
as well and were sitting up. They were all dazed but were fine and that
was what counted. At least that is what Xander should have been
thinking as he looks at the subtle change in his friend's reactions and
interactions with him. He could see it mostly in their eyes, they
looked at him as Harrison Pierce not Xander Harris, and it broke his
heart. At least this way they would be safe from him and his life. No
Immortal would use any of them to get to him, from that at least they
would be safe.

Buffy looks over to Faith's form and asks, "Is Amanda okay?"

"She'll be fine," He answers her, "she's just exhausted from the
fight." Picking Faith up he tells them, "We'll be leaving town soon, we
did what we came here for. We just need to tie up some loose ends and
then we'll leave."

Cassandra and Adam remain silent as they watch Xander pick up Faith and
make his way down the long tunnel to the cemetery to where the cars are
parked. They quietly follow him down the tunnels hearing the voices of
the others behind them talking softly of what had happened. Their
version of the night was that Harry with the help of Amanda and his
parents were able to kill a demon that escaped from the Hellmouth and
with the help of the others they were able to close the Hellmouth. No
Immortals, no quickening, no lost friends returning from the grave,
nothing. Their minds filled in the blanks left by the quickening with
memories that were logical and convincing to them. 

Adam continues to look at Xander a he hears the others talk about the
battle. He can only guess at what is going through his mind right now.
His friends have lost him twice and they won't even know that he
returned to them.

Adam gets in to the driver's seat as Xander places Faith in the back of
the car and sits in the back with Faith's head resting in his lap, his
hand stroking strands of hair from her face.

Looking out the window as Adam starts the car Xander tells the others,
"Good job guys. We'll have to do this again sometime."

Giles smiles and replies, "In all honestly Harry I hope we don't."

A slight grin tugs at the corners of his mouth, "I hope that is the
case Mr. Giles." He looks at them all one last time before the car
pulls away, "Good bye."

The others watch as the car pulls away holding the Pierce family;
industrialists, millionaires and demon hunters. Giles removes his
glasses to inspect and clean them and says, "Quite a group of
individuals."

"Yeah," Willow answers. "But Harry seemed so sad."

As the car falls below the horizon the group feels honored to have been
able to meet the Pierces. The fact that they exist and do the things
they do makes it easier for them to live their lives knowing that there
are others out there fighting against the evil of the world. As the car
vanishes into the darkness they wonder why they each feel an emptiness
and loss.


Epilogue

Faith awakens in a strange room in a strange bed. Her eyes adjust to
the dark as she sweeps her eyes around the room. Finding a lamp she
turns it on to get a better look at the room. The furniture is brand
new, it looks as if has been barely used. Walking to the window she
tests it to see is if it will open. It does easily but looking out the
window she is on the second floor of a house with no easy way down. Her
legs feel weak so jumping is out of the question.

Suddenly she can hear voices filtering through the door. "She should
wake up soon." A male voice says, it is English like Giles.

"Should we go and check up on her?" a female voice says.

"No let her rest. She'll need time to adjust." Another male voice says.
There was something about the voice though that was familiar.

Looking up from the door she comes face to face with a mirror that she
didn't notice was there before. But the face that looks back at her is
different. Her hair normally a dark brown now is streaked with gold and
moving up closer to the mirror she sees that her brown and gold eyes
are gone and are replaced with green ones. She punches the mirror in
horror screaming out. She hears the rush of footsteps up the stairs.
Backing away to the corner where the floor lamp she had turned on
stands she grabs the tall lamp and readies herself for what will come
through the door.

The door opens and a man and a woman walk in carefully. The man is the
first to speak, "Put the lamp down, we don't want any trouble."

"Trouble! Trouble! What the hell did you do to me! What is this some
kind of life swapping brain washing thing?" She yells at them.

"No it's not that, just calm down and we'll explain." The woman says
soothingly.

"And what did you do to my hair! Or my eyes!" She yells. As they move
closer to her she brandishes her weapon forcing them to back, "Back
off! You don't know who you're messing with so you better just back..."

"Let me talk to her." The other voice says from the hallway. The other
two move away as the other figure walks through the door.

Faith drops the lamp in shock as she gets a good look at the man
standing in front of her. He shows no signs of apprehension or fear as
he approaches her. His hair is shorter, his shoulders are broader but
his eyes, his eyes are the same.

"Xander?" She whispers. "Is that you?"

"Yes Faith, its me." He says with a small grin. She give out a small
cry as she falls into his arms, her head against his shoulder, tears
flowing down her cheeks. Just as she did the first time. Xander looks
over his shoulder and motions for the others to leave the room. Hearing
the door close behind him he pulls Faith away from him and looks her in
the eyes and simply says to her, "I forgive you."

"Xander, what's going on?" Faith asks him, "My hair, my eyes..."

"Let's sit down Faith. I have something to tell you. You might not
believe it at first but what I'm going to tell you is the truth. Okay?"

"Sure." She says uncertainly.

With that Xander begins his story. He won't tell her about their
relationship, if he found her once he'll find her again, but for right
now he just wants to have her in his life. So he'll make the same offer
to her as he did before and like before he'll follow the path that
their relationship naturally takes. He remembers the promise he had
made her that morning, that if they beat what ever it was they were
facing, he would never leave her alone. He would keep that promise,
even if she didn't remember making it with him.

At one point of his story Xander remembers one time when Adam handed
him a book to read. "Walt Whitman?" He asked him, "Poetry?"

"Yes Xander, poetry." Pointing at the book.

"Leaves of Grass." Xander reads carefully.

"It is a book about loyalty, patriotism, love, loss, nature, and
journey. It is the story of a man's journey through life. It's a good
book."

Now Xander can see that a chapter of his own life has just finished and
a new one is just beginning. Just like that Xander faces the unknown
unafraid, and confident that his destiny will lead him down the right
path, a path full of loss, loyalty and love. A path on which he gladly
continues the journey that is his life. Looking up at Faith he cannot
help but smile for his journey will be an interesting one to say the
least.


END