Author: Tim Knight

Title: Born to Raise Hellmouth

Copyrighted: January 2000

Category: Crossover

Rating: PG-13, possibly R: Some Language, Lots of fight scenes.

Spoilers: Buffy: Series as normal in Season 2 up until Phases.

Highlander: Up until the Season Five finale, which does not take place. Richie is still alive.

Chronicles of Wanderer: Calling Out the Clan/Slayer Run.

Keywords: Buffy/Highlander (Both movies and the series)/Hellraiser/A few others (Here is the full listing: Forgotten Realms; Ravenloft; Highway to Heaven; Gargoyles; NYPD Blue; Punisher (Marvel Comics, not the movie); Morbius (Marvel Comics); Ghost Rider (Marvel Comics); Lost Boys; Nightmare on Elm Street; Mortal Kombat; Xena; Red Sonja; Serrated Edge (by Mercedes Lackey).

Summary: A warrior escapes a dark realm only to become part of a prophecy that involves Drusilla and her new toy, a certain puzzle box, and the warrior discovers a connection to a Slayerette that neither ever imagined.

Legalese: All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties and copyrights are the property of their respective creators, authors, owners, producers and agencies. These characters are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended or meant, and no money will be made from this story. The story may be copied in its entirety, and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains. The concept of the Ghost Roads is property of Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder, from their Gatekeeper Trilogy of Buffy novels.

The characters Shawukay Redarrow/Shaw Hunter, Enrico Marquez, Maria Martinez, Ulric Johansen, Tobabaird and Maxine are mine. Anyone wanting to use them can e-mail me at doobytim@aol.com.

The characters Steve St. Wolf/Wanderer, Frank Iverson, and Randi Jessup, as well as the universe that this story takes place in, are property of Steve Pantovich, and are used with permission. He may be contacted at: Steve711@concentric.net.

The character Robin Goodfellow is property of Mike Weyer.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Okay, remember that Dungeons and Dragons cartoon where Earth kids become their characters, also seen in the books Guardians of the Flame by Joel Rosenburg, In the Net of Dreams/When Dreams Collide by W. Mark Simmons, and Caverns of Socrates by Dennis L. McKiernan? Well, this is the same concept, but in reverse.
Those reading this story may wish to read the "Chronicles of Wanderer" series by Steve Pantovich, particularly "New Beginnings" and "Calling Out the Clan." This will give you the feeling for the universe in which this story takes place. You can copy this story, send me praise, send me criticism, or copy the story and burn it in effigy (in private of course). I would like any comments that you have.

DEDICATIONS: To Steve Pantovich, also known as the Editor, and Grand High Poobah of the Wandererverse (he hates that) for letting me play in his universe without (hopefully) leaving too much of a mess. To Rebekah, who is Steve's beta reader, and is proofreading mine. Also, to Timbo down under for his help with discussions of Ghost Rider and the Spirits of Vengeance. As well as Mike Weyer, who added Robin into the mix.

Here are the changes from your standard shows:

BUFFY:
1. Buffy is Immortal as the result of her temporary drowning death at the hands of the Master in the episode "Prophecy Girl."
2. Jenny Calendar is alive and well, as Passion did not take place.
3. Angel is Angelus, as Becoming Pts. 1 and 2 did not take place.
4. Kendra is alive and well, for the same reason Angel is still Angelus.
5. Amy is not a rat, a big rat, a dirty rat, or a big dirty rat, and is a full-fledged member of the Scooby Gang.

HIGHLANDER:
1. Richie Ryan is alive and well.

WARNINGS: If you don't like multiple one-liners, be warned. This story contains Spike, Freddy Krueger, the Corey boys from Lost Boys, AND Andy Sipowicz.


Born to Raise Hellmouth

Part 1: Escape

"Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last."
---Martin Luther King

Nharov River
Southwest Barovia
Ravenloft
748 Common Year

As a waning moon was kept rising over Barovia, Shawukay crouched amid a cluster of elm trees along the Nharov River. Scanning from east to west, and back again, the half-elf's infravision allowed her to pick out the forest animals by their body heat. However, her quarry had yet to make an appearance.

<Come on, Drevok. I know you drag a victim here almost every night. Tonight, I finish you off.>

Shawukay started as she caught a strange sound on the wind. To the east, she strained to make out the sounds of some large creature making its way through the woods.

<Hmmm. Not human, too large. Too clumsy. But not an animal. I had better have a look.>

Shawukay exited the cover of the elms and began to follow the sounds towards their source. Seconds later, a lithe form followed her.

Three quarters of an hour later, Shawukay was less than a hundred yards from the band that had produced the noise she had heard.

A group of Invidian soldiers, six humans and a pair of large ogres, heavily armed, were apparently tracking something as she had tracked them.

<Why would Invidian mercenaries be in Barovia?> Shawukay asked herself. <They cannot be here for vampires like I am; Strahd would take them out in seconds.>

Suddenly, Shawukay realized what their purpose was.

<Vistani! They are hunting gypsies.>

<Well, that is not my concern. The vampire is. That is why I am here.>

With that, Shawukay turned and began to return to her previous location.

Shawukay's mind began to wander, as she remembered the reasons she battled the undead, for the deaths of her grandparents. The half-elven ranger-priest had been fighting the blood-drinkers for nearly a third of her fifty-three years, although she still looked in her early twenties by human terms. She had been on this plane for thirteen of those years, since being brought here by the mysterious Mists.

<Thirteen years. Killing, more killing. Vampires, ghouls, undead creatures. All in the name of justice.> Shawukay stopped and reached into the pocket of her jerkin, pulling out a small silver pin in the shape of a harp and crescent moon.

Looking at the pin, Shawukay revised her earlier thought.

<No, not justice, but revenge.> Shawukay's eyes narrowed. <Empty, useless, worthless vengeance. Is this what I am now? All I am? A cold, unfeeling killer?>

Shawukay looked up at the night sky and cried out to her goddess.

"Mielikki! Why has this happened?!? Why am I becoming so heartless?" Shawukay felt a tear trace its way down her cheek. "Is this my destiny, to become as merciless as those I hunt? No longer. Never again. To the abyss with Drevok and his kind."

With that Shawukay began to run after the Invidian party.

*****

Two hours later

Gregor was playing a sharp tune on his fiddle as Tilana danced around the fire, her multicolored skirts flaring, showing off her legs, the muscled legs of a dancer. The rest of the Vistani tribe clapped along, steadily increasing the tempo of their rhythm. Tilana appeared to be up to the challenge, spinning faster and faster as the music's tempo increased.

From her vardo, Madame Selanne, the elder of the Vistani, listened as her clan enjoyed themselves. At nearly eighty years of age, Selanne's hair was no longer the raven black of her younger years, but almost snowy white. Other than this, she had weathered the years in this hard land better than most.

As she sat ruminating over her tarokka deck, wondering at the signs she read, an uneasy thought crept across her mind. Cautiously, Selanne invoked her sight.

As she scanned the surrounding area, she took notice of several auras closing towards the encampment.

<Let us see. Several giorgio nearby. One, a nosferatu, hunting. A servant of the master Strahd.> Selanne focused on the others. <Another, also hunting. A source of light, but fearing the darkness. SHE is the one who is to come tonight, to be sent elsewhere. The others... nothing but darkness. Coming this way...>

Selanne's eyes snapped open. <I must warn the others!>

The old Vistana barely moved before she heard a shout.

*****

Shawukay was near the rear of the raiders, trying to come up with a plan to neutralize the Invidians.

<How do I do this?> She looked at their alignment. <The ogres are too big to be taken out with the longbow. Yes. That one on the right, two arrows, then I charge the ogres. Hopefully, the Vistani can handle the humans.>

As Shawukay began to draw her longbow, a form dropped next to her. Shawukay turned to see her previous prey, the vampire Drevok. Shawukay jumped back, and quickly notched a silver-tipped arrow.

Drevok stood back in a guard position, but made no move to attack. Standing six foot two, the vampire towered over the half-elf by nearly eight inches. His short cropped blonde hair and goatee seemed to accent the paleness of his skin.

"Peace, Hunter." he said. "I'm not here for you. Although I would enjoy taking your life, those weren't my orders."

Shawukay narrowed her eyes at the implication of that last phrase.

"Of course, you were not hunting. You were following me just to pass the time."

She slowly drew back her bowstring. "Give me one good reason not to take you right here and now."

Drevok began to look nervous. "The Master would avenge me. He sent me to follow and observe you, nothing more." The vampire smirked. "He wanted to see if your reputation was accurate."

"I have more important matters to attend to!" Shawukay whispered harshly. "A band of Invidians is about to attack that band of Vistani, whom I believe are under your precious Master's protection. I wonder how Lord Von Zarovich would feel if you failed to tell him that the Dukkar sent raiders into his land, and attacked those under his protection." she finished with a sneer.

If at all possible, Drevok's face grew even paler. "The Master will hear of this." With that he changed into a large brown bat and flew off into the night.

Shawukay turned back and restrung her bow. Seeing that the raiders were about to attack, Shawukay drew the string back so far that the fletching on her arrow grazed her cheek. As the target in her sights stood and began to draw a weapon, she let the arrow fly.

The arrow struck the mercenary's back, sinking into his right shoulder with a sickening thud. Even as he began to cry out, a second arrow entered his skull, silencing him forever.

As one of the ogres turned to see who was attacking the raiding party, Shawukay dropped her bow and charged the ogre, drawing her longsword and screaming as loudly as she could, hoping to alert the Vistani.

Soulreaver, Shawukay's longsword, glowed with a bright white flame along its blade. While the sword was enchanted, its powers were for destroying undead. The flames themselves were faerie fire, totally harmless, but she was gambling that the ogres wouldn't know that. Apparently, they didn't, as they began to look worried at the sight of a warrior charging them with a flaming sword.

One ogre, brandishing a large battle-axe, sneered with his tusks showing over his top lip, attempted to meet Shawukay's charge with a massive overhead chop. Shawukay rolled to the ogre's left, into a forward somersault that left her behind the ogre, and left the ogre overbalanced.

Shawukay swung Soulreaver with a backhanded swing, slicing into the rear of the ogre's left knee, severing the hamstring. The ogre fell to the earth, screaming and clutching his ruined leg.

Shawukay looked around, and saw one of the human raiders charging her. She drew one of the daggers from her belt and engaged the mercenary.

The raider looked surprised to be facing an opponent that knew how to fight in a two-handed style. He attempted a backhanded strike, but a glowing blade intercepted his sword. Before he could recover, a silver-bladed knife found his jugular vein.

As her second opponent dropped, Shawukay was distracted by the sound of a thunderclap, followed by a bright flash, like lightning. She allowed herself a small grin.

<Seems that the Vistani have a wizard among them.>

A bellow brought Shawukay back to the business at hand. As she turned, a large fist clipped her skull, knocking her several feet back. Stars crossed her vision as she dropped her longsword.

"Well, human..." A gravelly, deeply accented voice said to her, "You not good as you thought. Natok make meal of you."

Shawukay's vision cleared enough for her to see the second ogre approaching her. As he bent over, she grabbed the daggers from the sheath on each forearm and carved an "x" across the ogre's throat.

The ogre screamed, and fell to the side, attempting to stem the flow of blood erupting from his neck. Shawukay climbed onto the ogre's large back and drove one of her daggers hilt-deep into the ogre's skull, sending him to whatever afterlife he had earned.

The first ogre was trying unsuccessfully to stand up on his ruined leg. He glared at Shawukay as she picked up her sword and walked over to him. She lifted his chin with the point of her sword. She looked down the flaming blade and into the ogre's black eyes. She then lowered the blade and stepped back.

"Go home. Tell the Dukkar to leave the Vistani alone."

With that, Shawukay sheathed Soulreaver and walked towards the Vistani camp.

*****

Gregor was amazed. No sooner had their been a scream, when several giorgio in the uniforms of Invidia had charged into the camp, weapons waving, when his grandmother Selanne had calmly opened the door to her vardo and silenced every single raider with one lightning spell. The raiders had made not a single attack before they lie dead, charred beyond recognition.

Tilana gasped as someone entered the ring of wagons. Gregor watched as the giorgio woman, an outsider, walked calmly into their midst. Tilana looked suspicious, but not fearful. Madame Selanne stood in front of the vardo, showing no concern whatsoever.

The woman dropped her hood, revealing long black hair, dark as any of Vistani blood, tied back in a braid that fell below her shoulders. The hair contrasted with the white colored skin, tinged with blue on the cheekbones, with an ugly bruise forming on one of her temples, evidence that she had not escaped unscathed from whatever fight she had been part of. Lastly, the woman's ears tapered to a soft point, showing off an elvish ancestry.

She stood about five and a half feet tall, with a trim, athletic body. Her left hand rested easily upon the sword belted at her hip. Gregor could see two daggers on her belt as well.

The woman scanned the camp with hazel, almond shaped eyes, then walked straight towards the elder, Selanne.

Gregor began to move to intercept the giorgio, but Selanne cut him short with a slight shake of her head.

"Welcome to our camp, Hunter of the Harp." Selanne addressed the warrior.

Gregor and Tilana glanced at each other at that name. The Hunter of the Harp was well known in Kartakass, as a hunter of those who walked after death. They both seemed to be thinking the same thing. <What is she doing in Barovia?>

The Hunter bowed her head to the matriarch. "Greetings, Grandmother. I see that you handled the rest of the mercenaries. Two humans and an ogre lie dead a hundred paces outside the camp."

The half-elf looked around. "Did any of your people suffer injuries? I have some spells of healing, if they are required."

"No, my people are unscathed." Selanne looked her visitor over. "But it appears you are not. Come into my vardo, we will talk."

Gregor knew that tone, a request that was actually a command. Apparently, the Hunter knew it, as well.

"Of course. Thank you for your hospitality."

The half-elf followed Madame Selanne into the vardo, leaving Gregor to wonder what was in store for the warrior.

*****

Selanne pointed to a stool, indicating that Shawukay should sit.

"Sit down, Shawukay Redarrow, and let us talk to one another."

Shawukay sat down, and asked Selanne, "You know me, Grandmother?"

"You do not seemed surprised," Selanne grinned.

"No. I have heard the stories of the Vistani," Shawukay stated. "I would be more surprised if you did not know more about me than I do."

Selanne picked up on the ruefulness of that statement.

"Why did you come tonight, Hunter?" she asked.

Shawukay stared at the elder. "What do you mean?"

"You would normally have gone after Drevok." Selanne smiled at the half-elf's shock. "Yes, I knew you were out there. I felt him, you, the raiders. Still, when you had the chance, you let him go. You chose to help those who have nothing to do with your quest for revenge."

Shawukay sighed. "I am simply sick of the killing. I have more contact with the walking dead, killing them, than I do with living beings! I was going to leave you, you know? That vampire's death was more important than those lives that were going to be in danger if I had left."

Shawukay shuddered, and looked back up. "That forced me to look at myself. And needless to say, I was not happy with what I saw. I used to fight to help others, to save lives. Now I kill vampires because I have been doing it so long that it is a habit. Now it is time for a change. I cannot bring back those taken from me but I can decide to begin helping other folk again."

Shawukay looked at Selanne. There was a note of fear in her voice. "Tell me, Vistani. You see what is to come. Am I too far into the dark, or can I come back to where I was?"

Selanne shook her head. "Young one, that is your dilemma. You are the only one who can determine what is in your heart. But tonight, you made a choice, and maybe, just maybe, you took a step in the direction you seek."

"However," Selanne stated, "your time on this plane is short. You did not come here tonight by chance."

Selanne stood and walked over to a small chest.

"You see my death." It wasn't a question.

Selanne chuckled. "No, Shawukay Redarrow, priestess of Mielikki, daughter of Toril. I do not see your death. Your time on THIS plane is over."

"I do not..."

Selanne cut the ranger off. "Understand. Understanding is for later. Here." Selanne handed Shawukay a scroll. "When you read this, you will be taken where you need to go."

"Toril? My home?"

Selanne shook her head, "Not where you WANT to go, but where you NEED to go. Where you are NEEDED. There are other worlds, Hunter, that need sources of light. This will take you to one, where you must fight the darkness, or it will become like the one where we stand."

"I cannot do this alone, Grandmother."

"You will not be alone. You will have allies, as you will have enemies. You must determine which are which at the right time."

Selanne drew Shawukay's eyes into her own, "But know this. The darkness in your soul is still there, but you must fight it if you are to save not only yourself, but others as well."

Selanne turned to the door, "Now go, an old woman needs her rest. And another world needs you."

Shawukay looked shaken. "Thank you Madame. I will not forget this."

"No, you will not. But it is time for you to go."

With that, Shawukay turned at walked out of the wagon and into the night.

*****

Part 2: Arrival

"Welcome to Earth!"
---Steve Harris, Independence Day
(Seconds after knocking out an alien with a right cross)

Nharov River
Southwest Barovia
Ravenloft
748 Common Year

The sun began to rise in the east, coloring the eastern sky in shades of pink, casting light off of the snow covered peaks of the distant Balinok mountains. Watching the reddish orb continue its ascent, Shawukay's mind whirled with the memories of the previous night's events.

<Why me? Why am I the one chosen to save a world? And what world is that?>

The thoughts sped through her mind, flying faster than she could put them in order.

<I will not go to Toril. The Vistana was clear on that. Where else would I be needed?> Shawukay looked at the scroll in her left hand, and remembered something the gypsy had told her.

<Understanding is for later. I hope she was right. Well, if I am going to go, I must go quickly, but not unprepared.> She mentally started tallying up her resources. <Food, water, and spells. Definitely spells.>

Shawukay sat on the forest floor, underneath a large maple tree. Crossing her legs, Shawukay reached underneath her tunic, pulling out a small pendant shaped like the head of a unicorn. Releasing the pendant, the holy symbol rested over the half-elf's heart.

Shawukay rested her arms on her thighs and closed her eyes. Clearing her mind, the priestess called on her patron.

<Mielikki, Lady of the Forest, hear your daughter. See into her heart, and tell her your will.>

Shawukay felt the familiar touch, the same feeling she had felt since first hearing the calling as a child. Spells filled her mind, the ability to tap into the goddess' divine power.

Unlike wizards, who memorized their spells from books and made their magic by tapping into the aura of magic that surrounded a world, priests such as Shawukay received their abilities directly from the gods whom they served. To Shawukay, it was a pleasant feeling.

As the feeling faded, Shawukay opened her eyes. Looking at the sky, she was surprised to see than over a full hour had passed.

<So be it, but now to business.>

Shawukay headed north, along the Nharov River. Eventually, she saw what she was looking for. Along a stretch of oaks, there were numerous marks in the bark. Scrapes, as if something had rubbed the bark continuously.

The half-elf knelt down and searched the ground. Sure enough, dirt had been disturbed, leaving fresh marks to follow. Shawukay started following the trail that she had detected.

As the sun approached its zenith, Shawukay finally spotted her prey, a medium-sized buck, with short, three pointed antlers. The deer was rubbing his antlers against a medium-sized oak, but obviously wary. The animal occasionally stopped and looked around, scanning the area, moving its ears in all directions, flicking its tail up and down.

There was little cover around the buck, so Shawukay began to ready her bow. At a range approaching fifty yards, the shot would be challenging, even for an archer of her skill. Shawukay put on a new bowstring, and drew an arrow, preparing to line up her shot.

As the buck raised its head again, Shawukay fired her shot. The arrow struck home, entering the deer's body at the base of the neck, just above its left shoulder. Startled, the deer took off, bounding into the forest.

Shawukay cursed. <Excellent. Now I have to track it. So much for a clean kill.> Angry at herself, Shawukay walked over to where the deer had been standing when it was shot. On the ground was a large pool of blood.

<Good. At least he will not get far, with a wound like that. He will not suffer.>

Shawukay traipsed into the deeper woods, taking her time every few steps to check the trail for signs of the deer's passage. As it was, the deer made a full quarter of a mile before finally dropping, taking the hunter a full hour to find the body.

Shawukay strung the deer from a tree, and began dressing the deer, saving pieces of the hide as well as meat. As the sun began its final descent, she finally finished the task. Shawukay wrapped the meat inside strips of hide, and started back for her campsite.

Shawukay entered the site just as the sun dropped below the horizon. Starting a fire, she searched her mind for appropriate spells to ward the camp through the night.

<Yes, that will do.> Shawukay stood and began chanting silently, a prayer to Mielikki. An eerie blue light began glowing around the camp, twenty feet in diameter. As Shawukay finished her prayer, the light faded, although the half-elf knew the spell was in effect.

She turned to her pack, and removed the scroll that the Vistani had given her. She reached back into the pack and pulled out a steel headband. Fitting the headband in place, Shawukay unrolled the scroll and glanced through it, taking care not to read it aloud.

<So, it opens a portal to wherever, and it closes five minutes after I pass through.> Shawukay mused. <Seems simple enough.>

Shawukay began to prepare herself for the spell. First, she planted daggers about her person, two at her right hip, one in each boot, and one on each forearm, in sheathes hidden under her sleeves. Her longbow, the bowstring running over her left shoulder down to her right hip. A quiver full of silver-tipped arrows, tied to her back.

Her weapons in place, Shawukay added two items. The first was a pair of wristbands. The bands were heavily enchanted: When on her wrists, she was afforded the same protection she would receive wearing a suit of chain mail armor. Unlike some warriors who stuffed themselves into pounds of metal, Shawukay relied on her considerable agility and stamina in battle. The second item was a ring, gold set with a black star sapphire. Also magical, the ring allowed her to heal at a slightly accelerated rate. Shawukay winced as she touched the bruise at her left temple.

<Should have worn it last night, you fool.> she chided herself.

Shawukay turned and picked up the scroll. As she prepared to recite the spell, a voice came out of the darkness.

"So, Hunter, what are you up to now?"

Shawukay whirled, Soulreaver in her hands without her consciously drawing it. She stared at Drevok, standing just outside the barrier of her protection spell. "What do you want, blooddrinker?" Shawukay asked through gritted teeth.

Drevok was wearing black leathers, and he had a longsword sticking over his shoulder. He gave a sly smile to the ranger.

"My Master sent me. He said to thank you for protecting the Vistani last night. He found great amusement in a vampire hunter enforcing his will."

Shawukay started forward, but caught herself short of the spell barrier. Drevok could see the rage she was famous for almost as heat rising off of her. He taunted her again.

"He also said that you have until tomorrow night to leave Barovia."

That statement got through. Shawukay stepped back, reason returning to her face.

"So be it. Give my regards to Strahd." Shawukay picked up the scroll, unrolled it, and began to read.

<What is she doing?> Drevok thought. He took a step forward, but was stopped by the half-elf's protection spell.

After a full minute, the scroll disappeared and a glowing red oval, seven feet tall, appeared. Shawukay turned to Drevok, a look of surprise on her face.

"Farewell, Drevok. May you die soon." she said as she stepped through the portal.

Drevok was shocked, not working to close his jaw. It took him a few seconds to notice the shift of power in the air. As he realized what had happened, he moved forward. The spell barrier was gone.

The vampire grinned. "Well, I'll be damned." He gazed at the portal. "Why not?" With that, he stepped through.

*****

Great Salt Flats
Northern Utah
12 May 1998

Shawukay exited the portal, and stepped out onto a strange surface in the middle of a starry night.

<What in the Nine Hells is this?> she thought as she kneeled down and touched the strange substance. <It is hard, but is is not stone. Some kind of trade route perhaps?>

Shawukay decided to cast a spell. A quick prayer, and a burst of light exploded over her head. The half-elf jumped.

"By the Goddess!!" she exclaimed.

The light spell, a simple illumination, was two or three times the size it should have been.

Shawukay quickly realized that she was in the middle of a desert. On either side of the weird surface upon which she stood, sand and rocks stretched off into the distance.

<Oh, Mielikki, please tell me that I am not here to save a wasteland.>

Shawukay's thought was cut short by a loud curse.

"By Strahd's blood! Who brought out the sun!"

<No! The portal!> Shawukay thought, horrified. Sure enough, when she turned around, Drevok was in front of the portal, with his hands over his eyes.

"Where did you take us, Hunter?!?" the vampire demanded. "Nova Vaasa?"

"Actually, you bastard," Shawukay sneered, "We are not even on that plane any longer." She quickly put some space between them and drew Soulreaver, the white fire dimmed a bit by the bright orb above their heads.

"WHAT?!?" Drevok looked aghast. "Why are we here?"

"Ask the Vistani, they sent me here."

"Well. New circumstances, new rules." Drevok drew his sword, and threw Shawukay a jaunty salute. "I guess I get to kill you after all."

With that, Drevok threw a wicked slash.

Shawukay easily parried the blow, but the power of his stroke sent shivers of pain up both her arms.

<IDIOT! He is twice as strong as you are! Do not try to match his power. Use your training!> she berated herself.

Drevok tried another slash, meant to take off the half-elf's left arm. However, rather than being parried, the blade meant empty air. As he recovered, his opponent tried a forward lunge, which he had to jump back to avoid. The vampire breathed a sigh of relief; to be cut by that sword was certain death. He threw another attack, which the half-elf avoided, then threw a slash of her own.

When Drevok blocked, the crossguards of both swords became entangled. As the opponents drew close, Drevok threw a punch over the joined blades, solidly connecting with a right to the ranger's jaw.

As she staggered back, Drevok's face grew a nasty grin. When the Hunter looked back at him, his grin died.

<What in the name of...> Drevok's thought trailed off as the stared at his opponent.

Shawukay's eyes were blazed with anger, any semblance of restraint vanished. She raised her sword and swung with the clear intention of separating the vampire's head from his shoulders. Drevok blocked the blow, but was shocked at the power of the strike.

Drevok was forced onto the defensive, as Shawukay threw strike after strike, not allowing the vampire to do anything but block and retreat. He could not believe what was happening.

<She's insane! She isn't this strong! This can't be happening!>

Drevok dodged a strike and was able to land a blow to the half-elf's right thigh. Drevok began to feel more confident; that blow should slow her down.

Or so he believed.

Shawukay turned and charged Drevok, a raging elvish battle cry on her lips. The vampire parried desperately as she threw blow after blow at him.

<I can't believe this! I knew of her rages, but this is ridiculous! Even a werewolf isn't this vicious!>

Drevok backed up again, but tripped off the edge of the surface they had been fighting on. As he landed on his rear end, he stuck his sword out to keep his opponent at bay.

Shawukay narrowed her eyes as she delivered a two-handed swing of her glowing blade.

Drevok felt the impact, and then stared in shock at the ruined stump of his blade, six jagged inches being all that was left of the sword.

Drevok looked into Shawukay's eyes, expecting to see rage. What he did see chilled him to the core.

A total lack of any emotion, whatsoever.

Shawukay drove Soulreaver into Drevok's stomach. The vampire screeched as he was enveloped in a bright white flame. As he grabbed the blade entering his body in a futile gesture, the vampire disintegrated in a flash of light.

As the light faded, the rage slowly drained out of the half-elf. As reason returned, Shawukay realized what had happened. She began to shake as her body's energy drained out of her.

<Again.> she thought tiredly. <It happened again. I lose myself in rage. It does not matter that I killed Drevok, I was out of control! What if he had had a victim? What would have happened?>

As Shawukay returned to normal, the pain in her leg and jaw erupted in a rush. Shawukay collapsed, falling on her side.

"Aaahhh!!" she cried, beginning to realize how much she had been hurt.

Shawukay cleared her mind, focusing on banishing the pain, to attempt a healing spell.

<One spell? Right. This will probably take all three Mielikki granted me.>

As she chanted, Shawukay felt the magic building. She opened her eyes, to see the familiar golden glow envelop her hands. She placed her hands on her thigh, wincing at the pain, but keeping her concentration. The wound began to knit itself together.

Shawukay stared in shock at the wound completely sealed.

<What in the name of Mielikki is going on?!?> she thought. <My spell! What is happening?>

Suddenly, an idea occurred to her.

<First, my light spell, now my healing spell. Are all my spells going to be enhanced? What is it about this plane that is doing this?>

Shawukay stood up, shaking her head at the recent developments. Gingerly setting her right foot down, she tested the leg. Surprisingly, it held.

<Good. Now, I need to figure out where to go.> Shawukay looked at the strange road she had arrived on. <Well, it goes in two directions, but which do I take?>

She looked up at the star filled sky and sighed.

"Of course it is night. Mielikki forbid it actually be daylight." the half-elf muttered. "Fine, let us go this way."

And Shawukay started walking into the night.

*****

Great Salt Flats
Northern Utah
13 May 1998

As the sun kept rising, the temperature began to rise drastically. Shawukay turned around to see the sun off in the distance, as sweat poured down her face.

<Several hours, and not a sign of civilization. Not even a village. What kind of world is this?> She thought, frustration beginning to manifest itself. <I need to cool down a bit. Damn, I hate ruining leathers like this.>

Shawukay moved to the side of the path she had been walking on. Removing her vest and tunic, she drew one of the daggers from her belt. Frowning at the necessity of what she had to do, she pushed the dagger into the seam where the sleeve met the shoulder. Shawukay quickly ripped the sleeve off, and proceeded to repeat the process with the other sleeve. She then put the tunic back on, and placed the vest in her pack.

Shawukay replaced her cloak, donning the hood to keep the sun off of her face. Finally satisfied, she resumed her trek.

Some time later, she saw something in the distance. She raised her hand to her eyes, trying to make out details. It turned out to be unnecessary, as the thing was approaching at an impressive rate of speed.

It looked like a carriage, like those used by rich merchants. It was totally enclosed, but Shawukay could see light reflecting off glass, or something similar. The wheels were strange, not being made of wood, and there were no horses pulling it. How did it move?

Shawukay moved to the middle of the path, and raised a hand in greeting. The strange carriage hurtled towards her, then started slowing down, eventually coming to a stop less than five feet in front of her.

Shawukay's eyes widened a bit as she as it dawned on her what could have happened if the person inside this device had chosen not to stop. Her heart sped up a bit as she realized her mistake.

A door opened, and a male human of advancing middle years emerged. He was of above average height, with greying brown hair, and a beard with much more grey in it. He wore a woven shirt, red with black markings. His leggings were blue, and of no material Shawukay recognized. His footwear was also strange, cloth with strange soles. He wore some type of cap, with some type of lettering. He did not look pleased.

"Are you crazy?!? You don't stand in the middle of the road where any car can hit you! You're lucky you weren't killed!"

Shawukay looked at the human with a hard stare, and snapped back at him. "Well, I apologize for showing you the common courtesy of waving a greeting."

The human looked perplexed, and asked her, "What language are you speaking?"

<Wonderful. He does not speak Common.> Shawukay thought, disgusted. <Wait. I'm the one who does not speak HIS language. The headband is translating his words.>

A younger man exited the carriage from the other side during their exchange. He appeared to be in his early forties, with wavy brown hair falling to his shoulders. He wore clothing similar to the other human, but wore boots instead of the shoes of the other man. The man looked at Shawukay, and then over at his companion.

"What's going on, Mark?" the younger man asked.

The man started to look concerned. "This girl's walking in the middle of the road, in the desert, and doesn't speak English." He turned back to Shawukay. "You look like you've been out here awhile. Let's get a look at you."

Seeing no harm in his request, Shawukay lowered her hood.

The human's eyes grew wide, and his jaw dropped. He looked at Jonathan and said, "Jonathan! It's an alien!"

Shawukay watched the human with some amusement.

<What is an 'alien?'>

The man named Jonathan started grinning. "What's wrong, Mark? I don't think I heard you quite correctly."

The human called Mark stammered, "She's an alien! Look at her ears!"

<My ears?> Shawukay groaned. <Oh, no.>

Jonathan's grin blossomed into a full smile. "You're right Mark, she's an alien alright. I think all aliens walk around carrying longbows and swords." Jonathan said these words sternly, but the half-elf could see the humor dancing in his eyes.

"What?" Mark looked back at Shawukay and took a long look at her, finally noticing the bow on her back and the sword belted at her hip. "Well, then, what is it?"

That comment shortened Shawukay's fuse.

"An 'it' now, am I?"

Jonathan finally let the laughter break out, while Mark and Shawukay both stared at him, watching him laugh loudly.

"And may I ask what it is you find so amusing, human?" Shawukay asked, glaring at the younger man.

Jonathan calmed himself, although it was clearly an effort.

"Sorry, but apparently Mark's watched too many "Star Trek" reruns." he said.

"And what in the Abyss is a 'Star Trek?'" Shawukay asked, before realizing something. "You can understand me?"

"Jonathan, you understand it?" the one called Mark asked, coming to the same conclusion, forcing her to reevaluate his intelligence upward a bit. A little bit.

Jonathan looked to Shawukay. "I can understand you the same way you can understand us." He pointed at Shawukay's headband.

"You mean magic." she said, quickly getting the idea.

"Yes. Who are you?" he asked her.

"My name is Shawukay Redarrow." she answered.

"All right. I'm Jonathan. You've met Mark." Jonathan indicated the older man with a nod of his head.

"Well met. You two are human, correct?"

"More or less. What about you? Humans don't exactly have, well, facial features like yours."

"My father was human. My mother was Elvish. I am a half-elf."

Jonathan smiled. "Fair enough. What are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?"

Shawukay was beginning to get suspicious. "Walking. And trying to avoid being run over by magical carriages or killed by vampires."

Jonathan's eyebrows rose. "Vampires? Where?"

"Do not worry. It is no longer a concern." Shawukay patted the hilt of her sword, leaving no doubt as to her meaning.

Jonathan looked impressed. Mark looked confused, as he could only understand one half of the conversation. Jonathan looked at the sky for a second, then back at Shawukay. He turned to Mark, and nodded his head back to their vehicle.

Mark and Jonathan walked to the door that Mark had exited, and began talking. After a couple of minutes, Jonathan walked over to where Shawukay stood waiting.

"Shawukay, do you have a place to go? Mark and I could give you a lift." Jonathan said, looking serious.

"A 'lift?'" she repeated, not understanding the term.

"A ride. We could take you to your destination." Jonathan clarified.

"I might be willing to accompany you, it you can answer a few questions for me." Shawukay informed him.

"Go ahead," Jonathan said, grinning.

"Very well. First, what is the name of this world?" she asked as she looked at the desert around her.

"Okay, this world is called Earth, this is just a small part of it."

"Earth?" Jonathan nodded. "Simple. Appropriate. Second question: How am I your 'assignment?'"

Jonathan looked surprised. "You heard that?"

Shawukay gave him a wicked glare. "An advantage of my 'unique' facial features."

The man looked embarrassed. "I'll answer that question for you later, it that's all right."

"Perhaps, if you answer the other two questions sufficiently." Shawukay told him. "Third question: Who is 'The Boss?'"

Jonathan groaned. "That's what Mark calls God."

"Which God?" she pressed him.

"God." Jonathan stated. "That's what most of his worshipers call him."

Shawukay's eyes rose at that comment. <But Mielikki must be worshipped here, if I am still receiving spells.>

Jonathan noticed her face. "What's wrong? Are you all right?"

"It is nothing. Final question: What is a 'Santa Claws?'"

With that Jonathan doubled over laughing. After several minutes, he gained control of himself. When he looked at Shawukay, he realized that if looks could kill, he would have been blown to bits.

"Just something to do with elves. It's kind of complicated."

"Jonathan, you may be under the impression that I am easily amused, or distracted," Shawukay told him abruptly. "Let me dissuade you of that notion right now."

Something about this human, something she couldn't identify, made Shawukay want to trust him. But years of fighting night-crawling monsters had made her less than willing to open up to strangers. But Jonathan was different, somehow.

"I am not from this world. I was brought here, by magic, because I was told that I was needed here. Now, I have not even been here for a full day, and I have been attacked, punched, stabbed, sunburned, and nearly run down by whatever THAT thing is you and your friend are traveling in. So please forgive me for my lack of enthusiasm for your sense of humor. I might be willing to travel with you, but I have no idea where I am, where I am going, or where I am supposed to be going. So, if you have information about me from your God, I suggest that you not hold it back."

Shawukay turned and began to walk towards Mark's carriage. Jonathan cleared his throat, and Shawukay turned to see what he wanted.

"Shawukay, may I suggest that you remove your weapons?"

The ranger stared him down. "Why?"

"Because here on Earth, young women generally do not walk around armed to the teeth like an Amazon."

"Why?" she asked again, her eyes narrowing.

"You would probably be arrested, for one thing."

"All right. Here." Shawukay unbelted her sword and handed it to Jonathan hilt-first, tensing as he took it. When nothing happened, she relaxed a bit.

Jonathan noticed. "What?"

"If you were evil, touching that sword would have been a very unpleasant experience."

"How unpleasant?" he asked.

"Like being struck by lightning." she said without any trace of sarcasm.

"So I passed the test?" Jonathan asked, a grin creeping back onto his face.

Shawukay didn't grin back. "For now." She then turned and entered the vehicle.

Jonathan shook his head, grinning the whole while, as he entered the vehicle and it began moving.

*****

Desert Highway
Eastern Utah
Early hours
14 May 1998

Shawukay listened from the back seat as Mark and Jonathan talked about things that made no sense to her. Baseball? Oakland? It made no sense. She passed her time by watching the stars as the vehicle moved. As the night grew, Shawukay began to grow tired. However, despite the fact that Jonathan had handled her sword, her trust only went so far.

Partly, it was resentment over Mark nearly running her over with his "car," as he called it. Mostly it was what her infravision revealed to her.

Mark glowed in shades of red and yellow. Perfectly normal for a human. Jonathan might as well of not even been there. Not red, not bluish like undead. Nothing. He generated no body heat whatsoever. She decided to solve that mystery right now.

"Jonathan?" she asked, somewhat hesitantly.

"What is it, Shawukay? Do you need something?"

Mark glanced into the mirror on his "windshield," then quickly averted his eyes at the sight of glowing red eyes looking back at him.

"I hate to ask this, but could we stop?"

"Why?" Jonathan looked suspicious.

"Well, it has been several hours, and..." she trailed off.

"Oh, sure. Mark, stop the car?" he asked his partner.

"What's up?" Mark sounded even more suspicious than Jonathan.

"Pit Stop." Jonathan said.

"Oh!" Mark quickly moved to the side of the road, and stopped the car.

Whatever a "pit stop" was, it was clear to the men, if not their passenger.

"Jonathan, could you accompany me?" Shawukay asked him.

"Why?" Jonathan looked surprised. "Isn't that a private thing?"

"Perhaps, but you have my weapons in your 'trunk.'" she answered.

"I understand. Let's go."

As the two of them walked into the darkness, Shawukay walked about a hundred yards before whirling on Jonathan.

"All right, I want some answers from you." she stated angrily.

"Such as?" Jonathan asked.

"What are you, 'Jonathan,' if that IS your true identity?"

Jonathan was apparently unprepared for her question. "How did you figure it out?"

Shawukay pointed to her glowing eyes. "It is called infravision. An elven trait. It allows me to see objects in the dark by the heat they give off. Body heat, for example. Mark's body heat. But not yours."

Shawukay raised her hand, cutting off any reply.

"Listen, I know you are not undead. They give off a bluish color, from a lack of body heat. But not you. You do not generate anything. You are dark, like a shadow, a silhouette. Now, tell me. WHAT are you?"

Jonathan sighed. "I'm an angel."

"An angel. A servant of the Gods. Perfect goodness. That kind of angel?" Shawukay's face was unreadable, but she folded her arms across her chest, clearly indicating that she was not prepared to believe his claim.

"Yes. An angel. Is that what you wanted to know?"

"Yes, now prove it." she said sharply, her face now having a look of challenge to it, as she raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, watch this." Jonathan said, grinning at her, which only made her glare more heavily. Jonathan's body disappeared, and became a bright golden glow, and Shawukay's mouth formed an 'O' of amazement.

Jonathan formed his body back, and looked at her. "Now do you believe me, Shawukay?"

She looked down at the ground. "I felt it, Jonathan."

"Felt what?"

"A being such as yourself cannot hide the... essence of good that is at your center. I studied such things on my world. Why are you here, and not at the side of your God?" she asked quietly. "Does your friend know?"

"I walk the Earth, as do a few others like me. We go around and help people. My 'assignments,' as Mark calls them." he said tenderly. "And yes, he knows. He's been my partner for the last ten years."

Shawukay looked up at him again, uncertainty on her face. "What is your assignment concerning me?"

"To give you instruction on Earth, its history, its peoples, among other things. Also, to take you to others who will help train you for whatever
purpose you have here."

"Why did you not inform me of this earlier?" Shawukay asked, the anger at his keeping this information a secret showing in her eyes.

"Would you have believed me?" It wasn't a question.

"Jonathan, angels I can believe in. Goblins, vampires, werewolves, I can believe in." She pointed back at Mark's car. "It's monsters like that thing that I have trouble accepting."

Jonathan laughed a bit at her comment. "What about dragons?"

"Seen, yes. Fought, no. I may be somewhat reckless. I am not suicidal."

Jonathan laughed. "Anything else?"

"Yes." she said. "A 'pit stop,' as you called it, then I need some sleep."

"Of course." Jonathan said. As Shawukay went a bit further into the darkness, he called to her. "Hey, Shawukay. Is this better?"

Shawukay turned around, and saw that he now appeared as a human to her night vision. "Much better."

*****

After finishing, Shawukay and Jonathan walked back to the car. With her questions answered, Shawukay finally let down her guard, and within a half hour the exhaustion of several days' exertion finally claimed the half-elf.

Mark looked at her sleeping in the back seat. "So what took so long?"

Jonathan smiled. "Angel stuff."

Mark almost drove off of the road.

"You TOLD her!?!"

Jonathan laughed. "Mark, she figured it out herself, with those glowing eyes you're so afraid of."

Mark looked at his partner. "How?"

"Apparently, it's an elven trait. In the dark, she can see by way of the heat emanating from different objects, like people."

"Like infrared?"

"Sort of. She calls it infravision."

"But she believed you. About 'the Boss' and 'the Stuff?'"

"Mark, she's half ELF. She's fought goblins, vampires, and other assorted 'legends.' She's not even from this world."

Mark stared. "Then she IS an alien?"

"I don't think so. She comes from another plane. That's her term, not mine."

"You lost me, Jonathan."

"Think alternate universe."

"Ah." Mark said, as if that explained it all. Which it did. "So, why is she here?"

"I don't know. She doesn't know. Something about 'saving a world.'"

"What? She can't be over twenty-five!"

Jonathan gave Mark a sidelong glance.

"What? I know that look, Jonathan." Mark said testily.

"She's fifty-three, give or take a few months."

Mark almost drove off the road again.

"But...but..."

"Mark, according to her, a half-elf, that's what she calls herself, lives about two hundred fifty years. But in a way you are right, at a human equivalent she's about eighteen to twenty." Jonathan shrugged. "Her mission? I don't know. Our assignment is to teach her."

"Teach her?"

"History, people, particularly language. Others will help, later on, but we'll be handling the majority."

"What could I possibly teach her?" Mark asked.

"Well," Jonathan quipped, "she wanted to know the connection between elves and Santa Claus."

Mark stared daggers at Jonathan as he tried, but failed, to keep from laughing.

*****

Denver, Colorado
16 May 1998

As Mark drove into Denver, Jonathan and Shawukay were discussing some of Earth's religions. Shawukay was becoming more confused by the second.

"Jonathan, let me see if I understand. The Catholics and Protestants, as they are called, have been fighting with each other for years."

Jonathan nodded. "Yes."

"Another group, the Jewish, have their own nation, other religious groups say their way is the best, that all the others are wrong."

"Yes, to some extent."

"Then the people of this world are stupid," Shawukay decided.

"I beg your pardon?"

"They are stupid. At least in matters of religion, although I hold out little hope for their modes of transportation, either."

"Don't change the subject." Jonathan said. "Explain your conclusion, with a reason for your hypothesis."

"All right." Shawukay paused, as if organizing her thoughts. "On my world, there are several gods. Each has a separate 'portfolio,' areas of influence. If you know what you want in life, there is an appropriate deity. This world, you have multiple religions that say basically the same thing, have the same message, if you will. The have the same goal for an afterlife, and they worship the same God. All the while, they fight over words, and denounce each other while serving the same deity."

"Perhaps the methods are not perfect, Shawukay, but the people are not idiots. There are many influences on a person's beliefs: parents, wealth, experiences, friends and so forth. But that doesn't make them incompetent."

"Then tell me, Jonathan, which religion is the correct one?"

"All of them, as long as the people follow what they believe."

"All the while arguing over which is the best."

"Like I said, it isn't perfect."

"But very confusing." Shawukay ended that conversation.

"Okay, enough of that." Jonathan turned back to the front. "Next lesson, getting you some proper clothing."

"I do not need clothing." Shawukay answered. "What I am wearing will do."

"No, Shawukay, it will not."

"Why is that?"

"One: It's covered in desert sand. Two: It's ripped to shreds. Three: Earth people haven't worn such clothing for over a century."

Shawukay looked at her self, truly noticing the mess for the first time. "Very well. But only something within reason."

"Agreed." Jonathan turned to Mark. "Mark, find us a store."

"What kind?"

"Preferably a department store."

"What? She's not even here a week and she wants to go shopping?"

"Actually, Mark," Jonathan started grinning, "she seems to be absolutely set against it, but she needs something a little more 'human' looking."

Shawukay glared at Jonathan. "Why do I get the feeling that I will not enjoy this?"

*****

Denver, Colorado
16 May 1998

Shawukay stared at what Earth women considered proper swimming attire. "This is what the women of this world wear for swimming."

Jonathan nodded. "More or less."

"How can you say 'more or less'? There could not possibly be less!"

"You might be surprised."

Shawukay looked nauseous. "Jonathan, that is disgusting."

"Enough of that. Now, listen to me. Don't talk, and let the clerk or I help you. You can understand her, thanks to that headband of yours, but they don't teach Elven 101 in schools here."

"El-VISH." she corrected him.

Jonathan cut her off. "Don't interrupt me. You will need a few outfits, some for working, some for exercise, whatever you do to keep in shape, maybe a dress or two."

Shawukay frowned. "Dresses are not good for woodland fighting. It is too easy to snag, and cause one to fall."

Jonathan groaned. "That is NOT why we are here!"

Mark interrupted. "Let me try, Jonathan. Shaw, what did you do where you come from?"

"First, do not call me 'Shaw.' Use my name properly. Second, I am a ranger."

Jonathan translated, and Mark asked her what a ranger did.

"Wilderness warrior. A combination of warrior, scout, tracker, hunter."

After a second translation, Mark said, "So when you hunt, you just walk up and chop something's head off with your sword?"

"Of course not!" Shawukay blurted. "It takes years to learn the craft. How to track, how to use cover. How to blend in with your surroundings..." she stopped as her mouth snapped shut with an audible clack.

She glared at Mark, and then Jonathan, and walked towards the clothing. Jonathan got up to follow her.

"What happened?" Mark asked.

Jonathan laughed. "Simple. Once she reached the part about using cover and blending in with surroundings, the light went off in her head, and she got the point."

"I don't know about this, Jonathan. I mean, she's hot-headed, stubborn, confrontational.."

"Like a certain ex-cop whose name I won't mention."

Mark stopped in mid-speech. "Now wait a minute."

"Seriously, Mark, you two have been butting heads since you called her an 'it.'"

"So why did she give up there?"

"Because she was outmaneuvered, and realized it. She won't be that easy on you later."

"So we won the first period?"

"More like the first round."

*****

Jonathan steered her over to the men's department. He explained the advantages of larger shirts, which were similar to the tunics she was used to. He helped her pick out two with long sleeves, for her forearm sheaths, as well as several others. She didn't seem to have a problem with blue jeans, which she had noticed were a very common item on the humans she'd seen thus far. Jonathan was thinking that he might actually have an easy time until he took her to the lingerie department.

As soon as Shawukay saw the bras and panties, she turned around, an angry look directed at Jonathan. "I do not think so, Jonathan. I will not wear what these Earth women wear for swimming."

Jonathan sighed. "Shawukay, this is different."

"Only because there is slightly more fabric?" she asked sarcastically.

"No, because.." he began to explain, but stopped. "Shawukay, do you know what telepathy is?"

Shawukay nodded, "Yes, why?"

"I want to use some on you, to learn your language. It will not look right, if I'm explaining this to a female," he said, looking in her eyes for a response.

She looked very reluctant, but nodded. "Yes. But only language, and only the Common tongue. There are things, memories, which you will not explore. Those are my terms."

"You have my word." he said, a short but noticeable distant look in his eyes. After a few seconds, he nodded, and said, "How's this? It will sound like we're discussing things in your native tongue."

Shawukay's eyes rose a bit. "How can you do this without any accent?"

"Angel stuff," he said mysteriously, a grin forming.

"I am not amused, Jonathan. Now tell me why these are acceptable." she demanded.

"They're not bikinis, they're undergarments," he said.

"Like rich merchant's daughters wear?" she asked, looking dubious. "I have never seen anything that.. bare, for lack of a better term."

"They offer support, and are considered normal among Earth women."

"I am not an Earth woman, nor am I a rich merchant's daughter," she pointed out.

"It's part of blending in, Shawukay." Jonathan said, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his right thumb and forefinger.

Shawukay looked at the undergarments, and back to Jonathan. "How am I supposed to know which I am to use?"

Jonathan looked at her for several seconds, and then nodded. He looked to make sure no one was watching them, and quickly moved to grab several items off of the racks. He came back over to her, a blush forming.

"These are your size. Trust me."

Shawukay was red also, but with a trace of anger. "I cannot believe that you, a servant of your God, just did that."

"Well, how else would we learn your size?" Jonathan asked. "And it was bad enough as it is."

Shawukay didn't look convinced. "I will accept your word, this time, Jonathan."

"Now, something else about Earth women," he said, motioning for her to follow. He led her over to a shelf, and pointed out a package of some sort. "These are called maxi pads. You'll need these, if you live here."

Shawukay looked at the picture on the package. "What is their purpose?"

Jonathan sighed. "Can I use a little more telepathy on you?"

Shaw looked extremely doubtful, but nodded. "Make it brief."

After a few seconds, Shaw nodded in understanding. "All you had to do was say so, Jonathan. I understand the purpose of such a thing."

"I was afraid you'd hit me," Jonathan muttered.

"I see," she muttered as she picked up a package and started to walk off.

"Shawukay, we want hit one more location before we leave." Jonathan called.

Shawukay groaned. "What do you want to force me into now?"

"Gear."

Shawukay looked at him. "I beg your pardon?"

"An Earth-style backpack. A watch, or something to tell time with. A pair of sunglasses, as well as socks, among other things."

"Can you explain these, without offending me?" she said, a defiant expression on her face.

"Very easily. Backpack, to carry items in, we can get one with many pockets, to hold all of your equipment so that you don't have to carry it all the time. A timepiece, so that you can tell what time of day or night it is. Sunglasses, to protect your eyes from the sunlight, and to hide that glowing effect at night. Socks, they go on under your boots, to provide extra protection. Is that enough for you?" Jonathan finished, with a sharp breath of air.

Shawukay nodded. "I can see your point on those quite easily. In fact I approve of your arguments on these items. Thank you, Jonathan. I have not considered these things. In fact, all I have considered is 'where in the Nine Hells am I?'"

Jonathan made a face at the mention of "Hells." "Please don't say the 'H' word again," he said, a quirky grin coming to his face.

Shawukay looked at him with a funny look of confusion, and then paled, as she understood his phrasing. "Oh, Jonathan, forgive me. I did not mean.."

"You really need to work on a sense of humor," Jonathan muttered, drawing another look of confusion from her. He explained, "That was a joke, an expression."

"Oh. I see," she said, and turned around. "Is that all we will need?"

Jonathan sighed again. "For now."

Jonathan and Shawukay climbed into the car, and Mark looked at the large amount of items they had purchased. Shawukay still looked somewhat less than pleased with the experience.

"So, how did it go?" Mark asked, a grin on his face.

"Better than I had hoped," Jonathan admitted.

Shawukay followed their conversation, looking at each man as they spoke.

"How did you get her to get certain items?" Mark inquired, beginning to laugh. "And how did you do it without getting slaughtered?"

"Reverse psychology. Shawukay prefers function over fashion, so I explained them in those terms." Jonathan said, grinning at Shawukay rather than Mark.

"And you're still alive, or whatever passes for it?"

Shawukay jumped in at that point. "Jonathan, that remark that Mark made about my being stubborn?"

Mark jumped a bit at the sound of his name, and turned around to look at her.

"Yeah, what about it?"

"Please tell him that he has not seen anything yet." she said, a grin on her face.

Jonathan did so, and Mark gulped as he started the car.

*****

St. Louis, Missouri
20 June 1998

As Jonathan checked in at the hotel clerk's desk, Mark and Shawukay brought their luggage into their room.

It had been a busy month, with the two men teaching Shawukay about Earth, history, customs, and the English language. Jonathan and Shawukay had a long argument over whether or not to let her keep wearing her headband, which magically translated anything the half-elf heard while wearing it. The two finally reached a compromise; Shawukay would wear it while teaching was going on, but in normal conversation she would have to talk in English, not using any magical aid to understand what other people said.

At the same time, Shawukay had helped a bit with anything that came up, such as assignments that the Boss might hand down. The aid she could provide at this stage was limited, but she was apparently more than willing to do what she could.

Mark threw his suitcase on one bed, while Shawukay carefully set her pack and the cloth sack carrying her sword on the other. Mark looked over at the half-elf. She still looked uncomfortable, unused to not having the familiar weight of her sword at her hip, or dagger sheaths on her forearms. Currently, she wore a pair of blue jeans, as well as a white t-shirt under a Levi vest. However, she had refused to give up her calf-high boots. Oddly enough, they didn't look out of place, giving her a "Western" look. Absently, she put her hand up to her hair, still not comfortable with wearing her hair with clips in a way that concealed the tips of her ears.

Mark could sympathize with her discomfort, to a point.

"Shaw, are you all right?" he asked using the nickname he'd given her.

"Mark, please..." she replied, still hesitant using the English. "I am.. all right. I..request? Yes, I request that you not call me that."

"Shawukay," Mark said, not wanting to antagonize her, "it's an alias, to help keep people from figuring out, well, you know.." He reached up, mimicking points to his ears.

"I do not compre-- I do not understand."

"'Shaw' is not a common name, but it does exist here on Earth. Shawukay, however, is a real long shot."

"Long shot?" Mark had slipped one by her.

Jonathan walked in. "It means very unlikely, nearly impossible."

Shawukay cursed under her breath in Common and Elvish. Mark look at Jonathan, who winced, since he could understand her.

"Do I want to know?" Mark asked rhetorically.

"Not really." Jonathan kept his eyes on his student. "Shawukay, think of it as.. a 'use' name, to keep your true identity a secret, perhaps."

Shawukay looked deep in thought, and then glared at Jonathan. "Fine. 'Shaw,' but only outside, in...public. In private, use my...proper name." She turned and stormed into the bathroom.

It was a minor concession, but more than Jonathan had expected.

Mark looked at Jonathan. "So who won that round, you or her?"

"More of a draw, really. It's hard for her, not using magic to understand. She's coming along, but.."

"What is it, Jonathan?"

"I've got to take her to see someone, but I'm afraid it will cause her problems, she'll be receiving training in swordplay."

"Swordplay?"

"Connor MacLeod."

"Oh, that type of swordplay." Then Mark's eyebrows rose. "Shaw and Connor? Oh boy, the sparks are going to fly."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

"When do you leave?"

"Tomorrow. He's in Paris visiting Duncan. We'll be gone about four weeks."

"Flying?" Mark looked worried.

"Yes, why? Is there something wrong with that?"

"No, I just don't envy you sitting next to her on an airplane after seeing her initial reaction to automobiles." Mark grinned.

"Yeah, but the plane won't try to run her over."

Mark's grin died a quick, silent death. "That's not fair, Jonathan."

"Hey, Mark, she forgave you. Trusting your driving skills, that's another matter."

Shawukay walked out of the bathroom, and looked at both men.

"May I.. inquire as to what you were talking about?" she asked.

"You and I are going to Paris tomorrow." Jonathan informed her.

"Paris? City, in.. France." Shawukay's eyes grew distant as she concentrated. "I... assume that this is more history training, yes? Jonathan, you know that I am not, how do you say, comfortable in cities." It seemed a serious admission for her.

"No history, we're going to meet some friends of mine." Jonathan answered.

"And how do we cross this, ocean, the... Atlantic?" she asked, not only about traveling, but if she had gotten the name right.

"By airplane. A large vehicle, with wings, like a bird, that flies at great speed."

"Just you and I?" She looked at Mark.

"You two are on your own," Mark told her.

"Good. You drive like I talk English," She said purposely butchering the sentence.

Jonathan threatened to burst out laughing.

"How did you know what we were talking about from in there?" Mark exclaimed, indicating the bathroom.

Shawukay pointed her index finger along her right ear.

"Unique facial features."

As Jonathan laughed, Mark muttered, "Did the Boss tell you to teach her your sense of humor?"

*****

After dinner, Jonathan went out for a walk. When he returned, he saw that Shawukay's bed hadn't been slept in. He looked up, then nodded his head. He ran out the door.

A half-mile later, he spotted her, standing in the shadows of an alley, watching six men staring at two teenage girls.

As the girls entered a park, the men started after them. Shawukay followed them.

<What is she doing?> He thought as he followed her.

Jonathan watched as the men surrounded the two girls. As they came closer, the women's' faces began to change. Ridges grew on their foreheads, and their eyes started glowing.

As the men started to run off, the vampires grabbed one of the men.

One vampire pinned the man's arms behind his back, while the other approached from the front, preparing to feed.

A savage cry split the night air.

The vampire not holding their captive looked behind her, to see a cloaked figure standing before her holding a sword in a two-handed grip. White flames danced along the blade, but most unnerving of all where the two glowing red eyes inside the hood of the cloak.

"Let him go, now." the figure said in a strange accent.

"Sister, hold our meal while I deal with this... uninvited guest."

The vampire charged the sword wielder. As she neared her target, the figure dodged and threw a wicked two-handed slash into her back. A bright white flame surrounded the wound, and the vampire screeched in pain.

The warrior then turned around and plunged her sword into the vampire's back. She was enveloped in white light, before disintegrating with a bright flash.

The cloaked woman turned back to the second vampire.

"Let him go, or you die."

"If I let him go, you'll turn that sword on me. This pathetic man and his friends are muggers. They beat and rob people. Tonight, we drew them into a trap."

The woman turned her glowing eyes onto the man being held in the vampire's grip.

"Is this true?"

The man nodded, figuring that telling a lie would shorten his life expectancy.

The woman with the hood stood still, talking under her breath.

"Well, what is your decision?" the vampire asked, growing impatient.

Suddenly, a rush of wind blew up behind the vampire's back. When she turned, she saw a small tornado that quickly surrounded her, allowing the man to break free.

He stood there, looking stupidly at the vampire woman fighting a windstorm. A shout brought him back to reality.

"GET DOWN!"

He dropped to the ground just as a pair of daggers whirled through the spot he had occupied. The twin knives flashed end over end into the vampire's back, but didn't appear to do any harm.

The vampire turned and looked at the hooded figure.

"You are dead, human." she promised.

"Who said I was human?" the figure replied.

The vampire charged the warrior, arriving before the sword could be brought into play, and delivered a two-handed blow to the woman. The woman staggered back, than stood straight up, a cold rage building in her eyes.

The vampire charged again, but this time the warrior was ready. She kneeled, and threw a strike that nearly severed the vampire's leg at the knee. The vampire crumpled to the ground, but before she could recover, the warrior threw a second blow that took the vampire's head from her body. The vampire crumpled into dust.

The man just sat at the ground, and watched while the person who had just saved his life walked over and stood over him.

"Give me one reason to let you live." she told him.

The man stammered, but couldn't bring himself to answer.

"You have five seconds."

"I don't think so." another voice said from behind him.

He turned to see a man in his early forties, wearing a brown leather jacket, blue jeans and boots. He had brown hair, and was looking none too pleased.

"Jonathan, do not interfere." the hooded figure snarled.

"Start thinking rationally, and I might consider it. But you're ready to kill this man, just after you saved his life."

The hooded figure considered that, and then slowly knelt down over the man sitting on the ground.

"Who, what are you?" he asked.

"That man over there, he is an angel. One of God's servants. He has won you another chance. Do not waste it. If you even think of ever violating another law, I will come for you. Remember the Hunter."

The man took off running as if his life depended on it.

Jonathan looked at the figure. "Shawukay, what in God's name are you doing out here?"

"What I am supposed to do. What I am... required to do."

"Saving people's lives, then killing them?"

Shawukay dropped her hood. "What do you want me to say, Jonathan? You know what I am. I have to fight people like that!"

"Like who, Shawukay, the vampires you killed or the man whose life you saved, and were prepared to kill seconds later?"

"They are evil, Mark! I am supposed to stop that." Shawukay changed tactics. "Did you hear what the vampire said about the man we saved?"

Jonathan nodded.

"He is a... criminal. He beats others for amusement! What kind of world is this that if I stop one evil, it only frees another to continue his?"

"It's your world now, for whatever reason you were brought here. Everything here isn't in black and white."

"It is NOT my world, Jonathan! Everything is... different! Everything is confusing! And I am afraid!"

"Afraid of what?"

"Of where I am going."

Jonathan grabbed her. "That's not an answer."

Shawukay tore himself out of his grasp.

"Answers. You want answers? Very well, here it is, everything there is to know about me!"

"On my world, I fought evil. You know that much. But what you do not know is that I dedicated myself to it! No matter what kind of evil it was, I fought it, to protect those who could not fight it."

Shawukay turned away, throwing her sword to the ground. She stopped using English, so that she could deliver the facts without any misinterpretation.

"Then, one day, I encountered the vampire that killed my grandparents. And I made the only selfish decision I ever made. I chose vengeance over what was better for others. We fought. We both survived. He was badly wounded, but I was drained of over half my life force. My life force, Jonathan! That is how the vampires of MY world feed. By drawing out the very energy that keeps you alive! It was almost a year before I recovered enough to go after him again. I couldn't see anything but killing that horror, for what he did to me, and to my grandparents. I found him, and again he escaped. Somehow, I was transported to another realm. A horrifying place FULL of vampires, werewolves, and other evil things. Think about it Jonathan. The creatures of the night of your world's legends. Imagine being in a place where they are reality. Bloody, dangerous reality, every day! I spent thirteen years there! Doing nothing but stalking walking corpses out of hatred, no matter what neglecting my duties cost others, no matter what it cost me! Until one night, I finally had one burst of sanity, of clarity, and I took a step on a path back to where I had been. And now, I am here, on this world. Once again, I am on a world I know nothing about. Look at what happened tonight. I swore not to hunt out of anger again, yet I fall back into it. I am scared Jonathan, for I have been full of hate for so long, I do not know my true self anymore."

"A lot of people don't know who they are. It seems to me that you are still willing to fight the good fight, you just got lost along the way."

Shawukay turned back to Jonathan, tears streaking down her face. "What do you mean?"

Jonathan looked straight at her. "For whatever reason, you are here for an important mission. I don't know what it is, but for some reason God selected you."

"But I do not serve your God! Why should he choose me?"

"Perhaps because you look at the consequences of your actions, or try to limit the damage to noncombatants."

"Jonathan, you are not listening. I spent almost a quarter of my life in that hell. My soul isn't clean enough to save a world!"

"No, perhaps it isn't clean." Jonathan shrugged. "My soul isn't perfect, but look at me."

Shawukay just shook her head. "I cannot do this alone, Jonathan."

"That's a lesson you haven't learned yet. You aren't alone. You have friends now. When you realize that, perhaps you can find some of the answers you are looking for."

"Friends? I have not had true friends for a long time, Jonathan."

"I'm your friend, Shaw. So is Mark, if you would be willing to admit it to yourself." Jonathan grinned.

Shawukay's eyes rose a bit as his point got across, and she looked embarrassed. "Thank you. Perhaps you are right. I do not understand a lot of things."

"When you are questioning yourself, it doesn't help. But we can discuss this another time. We have a plane to catch later."

Shawukay picked up her sword, and then looked at Jonathan. "Jonathan, do you truly consider me a friend? Not just an assignment?"

"Of course."

"Thank you." Shawukay switched to English. "But do me one, uhm, a favor?"

"Name it."

"I might admit to myself that Mark is a friend. Do I have to admit it to him?"

Jonathan hugged his pupil. "It'll be our little secret."

"Good. It is hard enough to... tolerate him as it is." she said, a grin coming to her lips.

*****

When the angel and the half-elf returned to their hotel room, Mark was standing in the doorway, angry because he was up at two in the morning.

"Where in God's name have you been? It's two in the morning!"

As Shawukay walked by him, she muttered two words.

"North pole."

Jonathan's growing laughter was the last thing she heard before she collapsed on the bed and fell asleep.

*****

Part 3: Manhunt

"The guy is fish food!"
"Then fetch a cane pole and catch me the fish that ate him."
---Sam Gerard
"The Fugitive"

The Bronx
New York City, New York
22 June 1998

Jack Carlton walked out of the bar, and started down the sidewalk to where his Harley was parked. Keeping an eye out for any suspicious looking characters, he walked, fumbling through his pockets for the keys to the bike.

At six-feet-five, and weighing closer to three hundred pounds than two, the biker cut an imposing figure. The scar along his left jawbone simply added to intimidation factor.

As he reached the motorcycle, a cat yowled in the alley behind him. Jack quickly turned towards the alley, his left hand reaching for the knife he kept hidden underneath his blue-jean jacket. Eyes scanning the alley, Jack didn't see anything out of the ordinary.

<Damn jumpy tonight, ain't ya!> he told himself. <No one else out here at three a.m.>

As Jack sat down on the bike, a figure exited the alley and ran at a full sprint towards the Harley. Just as Jack inserted the keys into the ignition, he was roughly hauled off of the bike, and onto the concrete.

Jack rolled, then rose to his feet with an agility that belied his size. Quickly pulling his knife out, he prepared to defend himself. He saw a young man in front of him, mid twenties, short brown hair and a leather jacket.

"You picked the wrong biker to mess with buster," Jack threatened. "I'll give you one chance to say yer sorry and walk away."

"I don't think that's going to happen, friend." the stranger said with a spreading grin.

Jack started moving forward, but before he could bring his knife up, the stranger ran up and grabbed Jack's throat in a superhumanly strong grip, lifting him off the ground with one free hand.

Jack managed to bring the knife up, and drove it into the attacker's forearm, lodging it between the two bones.

The stranger didn't react at all.

Calmly, the man moved his other arm, and pulled the knife out.

"Nice knife. You certainly know how to use it." the stranger cocked his head to one side. "I think I can use you."

"Who... are you?" Jack croaked, despite the pressure on his throat.

"You can call me Angelus." the stranger replied, as his eyes started glowing.

*****

La Guardia Airport
New York City, New York
22 June 1998

"All right, Mr. Smith, your flight to Paris leaves at 1:30 p.m." The clerk handed Jonathan two boarding passes. "You and your niece will be in row nine, seats A and B."

"Thank you, Miss. Come on, Shaw." Jonathan said to the woman standing next to him. He turned and they headed for a concession area.

Shawukay and Jonathan walked over to a table and sat down. The angel turned to her.

"So, do you want anything to eat before we take off?" he asked.

"No." she snapped. "I want nothing to do with food." She laid her head in her hands and moaned.

Jonathan smiled. "Oh, come on. The flight wasn't THAT terrible, was it."

"No, 'uncle.' The flight was... pleasant. It was the... takeoff and landing that were, as you say, terrible." she explained.

"Huh?" Now Jonathan was confused.

"Takeoff. Landing. Hurt my head."

"What are you talking about? I've flown before."

Shawukay sighed. "YOU are human. Or you were. Or... you know what I mean."

"Explain it to me." he told her. "Slowly, so that I can keep track."

"Ears. Noise. Too loud." she mumbled.

Now he understood. "I see. So, certain facial features aren't always an advantage?"

"You may... repeat that many times."

"You can say that again." Jonathan said the correct phrase.

"I do not wish to."

Jonathan laughed to himself.

"Okay, no food. How about getting something to read on the flight?"

Shawukay considered that. "Perhaps." She looked to Jonathan. "My headband?"

"For what?"

"To read."

"You can read, can't you?" he asked, not believing it.

"Of course I can. But..." she hesitated.

"Spill it, Shaw." he told her.

Shawukay's eyes rose. "I am not drinking anything."

Jonathan forgot she didn't understand slang.

"About reading. You can read.."

"Common. Elvish. Kartakan. Some Thayvian. A little Sithican..."

"All right! I get the point. Yes, you can wear it." he said.

"Thank you." Shawukay cocked an eyebrow. "My round?"

Jonathan sighed. "Mark was right. You are learning my sense of humor."

"So where are tomes?" Shawukay asked him.

"Tomes?"

"Yes. Tomes... for reading?" she clarified.

"Books. They are called books here. And they're located in there," he told her, pointing to a gift shop. "Here's twenty dollars. Get something appropriate."

"Of course." the half-elf took the money and walked off.

Jonathan looked and saw a New York Times that someone had left behind and glanced at the headlines.

VAMPIRE CULT MURDERS CONTINUE IN L.A.

<Uh oh.> he thought. <Better not let her see this.>

He folded up the paper and put it on another table, and sat back down.

After ten minutes, the half-elf came back, wearing the headband and carrying a paperback book. Running behind her was the cashier from the gift store.

<What now?> Jonathan thought, getting up.

"Miss? Miss!" the kid yelled. "Hey, Lady!"

Shawukay turned around. "Yes? What do you want?"

Jonathan walked up. "Is there a problem?"

The kid looked at Jonathan. "Well, sir, she walked into the bookstore, and went over to the bookrack. She looked, picked out a book, and walked out of the store."

Jonathan turned to Shawukay. "Did you steal that book, Shaw?"

"No, Uncle Jonathan, I did not." she answered, clearly angry at the accusation.

"But he said.." he began.

"Uh, sir? She didn't steal the book. She laid a twenty on the counter as she walked by, but she kept going."

"Of course. I paid a fair price for it."

"But you forgot your change."

Shawukay looked confused. "Change? Into what?"

Jonathan intervened. "Sorry, kid. She's from... Scotland. She hasn't used dollars before."

"Oh. I know what you mean. They use pounds, right?" he asked, handing the money over to Jonathan.

"Yeah," Jonathan said, shaking his head and chuckling. "Here, take a five for the trouble."

"Hey, thanks." the kid went back to the shop.

Shawukay had a confused look on her face. "Jonathan, what does my weight have to do with buying books?"

Jonathan sighed. "Later."

*****

15th Precinct
New York Police Department
22 June 1998

Bobby Simone and his partner, Andy Sipowicz, walked to their desks. Both detectives sat down, and went over the notes for the new case that they were working on.

Unlike most of their cases, this was a missing persons case. Some biker hadn't arrived home this morning, and his fiancée had called the police. Sipowicz figured he'd ended up in the drunk tank, until the biker's motorcycle was found, with the keys in the ignition, and a pool of blood nearby. The strange part was, no body was at the scene.

"So, what do you think, Andy?" Bobby asked.

"I dunno, Bobby," Andy said, pulling out his reading glasses and putting them on. "He left about three a.m., alone. What I can't figure, is this guy stands six foot five, and he's built like an ox. What could take this guy out?"

"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing, Andy. It doesn't make much sense."

"Unless the perp had a gun. That would certainly negate a size advantage."

At that point, Lieutenant Fancy stuck his head out of his office.

"Simone. Sipowicz."

"Great. His Royal Highness calls." Andy muttered.

As they walked into the El-Tee's office, they noticed he wasn't alone. Sitting in a chair was a woman in her late twenties. Hispanic, with long black hair, she wore a red jacket over a black shirt and jeans.

Fancy introduced her. "Bobby, Andy, this is Detective Maza, with the 23rd. Maza, Bobby Simone, Andy Sipowicz."

The three detectives shook hands, then Bobby asked, "What can we do for you, Detective?"

"I'm here about the Jack Carlton case. I understand he turned up missing, no body, vehicle left in the open?"

Andy moved closer to her. "Yeah, that's right. You find a body?"

"No, we've had six similar missing persons cases in the last two weeks. Four were large men, like Carlton."

"And the others?" Bobby asked.

"One was a male Caucasian, medium build. The other was a black woman."

"So other than the last two, you have a pattern?" Sipowicz inquired.

"Actually, the last man was a former Army Drill Sergeant. The woman has a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do." Maza replied.

"So instead of size, they had skill." Bobby said.

"Right, We're wondering if someone's hunting people."

Bobby flipped through his notes. "Carlton has been known to carry some type of Bowie knife. According to rumors, he knew how to use it."

Fancy cut in. "It's a possibility that's the hunting grounds are moving."

"Or expanding." Maza added.

"Great. Some wacko's hunting big macho victims, and now he's branching out." Sipowicz cursed.

"I'm proposing that we work together. No jurisdiction, no rivalries. We've got to get this guy off the street."

"Yeah, let's do it." Andy said. "This freak needs to be taken down."

"Good, I'll bring my files down in the morning." Maza told them.

"We might want to check other precincts," Bobby stated. "See if there's any similar cases we don't know about."

"I'll take care of it tomorrow." Maza said. "Let's find this jerk."

*****

"I'll take care of it tomorrow. Let's find this jerk."

The listening device was working well. It allowed him to hear everything.

<So, someone's out hunting. Taking out civilians for sport.>

The listener stood, and picked up a shirt. The shirt was Kevlar weave, which would allow him some protection against small arms fire. He put it on, and saw his reflection in a mirror.

Looking at the shirt, and looked at the skull on the front.

Walking over to the table next to the radio, he checked his weapons.

He selected an Uzi, equipped with tracer rounds that would allow him to hit targets in the darkness with greater accuracy. An M16A2, state-of-the-art, standard military issue, capable of hitting a target at 550 meters. A Para Ordnance .45, with spare magazines. Two flash grenades, to blind targets, and finally, a Marine-issue Ka-Bar survival knife.

Prepared, Frank Castle left the room to search out his prey.

<The hunter now becomes the hunted.>

The Punisher was going to war.

*****

23rd Precinct
New York Police Department
New York City, New York
22 June 1998

Elisa walked up the steps to the clock tower. She heard a rough barking sound, and smiled when Bronx ran up to greet her. She patted him on the head.

"Hey, boy. Where are the others?"

Someone came out of the shadows. A large gargoyle, with gray skin and large wings. It was Goliath, the leader of the clan. He inclined his head to Elisa.

"Hello, Elisa. What brings you here?" he asked her.

"A new case I'm working on." she said. "Someone is hunting people, like a safari. It's got the department baffled."

"What do you mean by hunting?" Goliath asked.

"Someone's attacking large, muscular humans, with only two exceptions. Those two were normal size, but they had experience in fighting."

"I see. Like a predator hunting other predators." he mused.

Elisa nodded. "Exactly. I'd just like you to keep an eye out on patrol. But be careful."

"Of course. I'll inform the others." he promised.

"Thanks. I have to go. I'm working with detectives from another precinct, and I'm going to have a long day tomorrow. Good night." she said as she left.

"Good night, Elisa." he answered, then turned to talk to the rest of the clan.

*****

Apartment, Unknown Location
New York City, New York
23 June 1998

Angelus looked over at Spike. "So what do you think?"

"I think you're assembling a bloody football team, mate." Spike smirked.

"Yeah, right." he grinned. "A deadly football team."

"The question is, why?" Spike asked.

"To go after the Slayer and her new friend." Angelus answered.

Spike's jaw dropped. "What in the...?!? ARE YE BLOODY DAFT!"

"Quite the opposite actually." he said. "Think about it. They slaughtered us the last time out because they had fighters, right?"

"That, mate, is an understatement."

"Whatever. Imagine if we return to Sunnydale with a few 'recruits' with similar fighting skills."

"We will go soon. The stars here are not nice anymore." a new voice added.

Angelus and Spike turned to see Drusilla come out.

"What? You see something, luv?" he asked her.

"Yes, Spike. I see us being hunted. .by skulls and stones. They want to hurt us."

"Can you say that in English?" Angelus whined.

"We are being hunted, mate."

"By skulls and stones."

"I'm not the psychic one."

"I see a hunter. She wants to hurt us too. She will need us. To stop the pin man." Dru said to no one in particular.

"The Slayer." Spike said.

"No. Not the Slayer. The hunter. The fairy lady."

"This doesn't make any sense, Dru." Spike told her.

"Then I'll go play with Ms. Edith. She listens to me." she snapped, then walked out of the room.

"What was that all about?" Angelus asked his partner.

"How the hell should I know? I don't speak in riddles." Spike retorted. "What I do know is, according to her, we're going to have someone on our cases."

"We'll have to be careful. I'm going out to have a look. Don't let any of the new ones out." Angelus said.

"Great. We're being tracked and you want me to play babysitter."

"Just do it, Spike."

*****

TWA Flight 629
Enroute to Paris, France
23 June 1998

As flight 629 neared the Portuguese coastline, Jonathan noticed that his pupil was still nervous. Anyone who didn't know what to look for would have missed the slight narrowing of the eyes or the occasional making of a fist.

<She's really nervous. Can't blame her, I suppose.>

"Shaw, try to relax. It'll be over soon."

Shawukay didn't react. The half-elf sat with her eyes closed, with the small headphones that were attached to the seat inserted into her ears.

"Shaw?" he asked, then reached over and touched her arm.

She jumped like she had been jolted. Jonathan noticed that her first reaction was to reach for the sword that she was used to wearing at her hip, but wasn't there now. After a quick glance around, she relaxed a bit. She looked wickedly at her teacher.

"Jonathan, do not do that again." she hissed.

"Sorry." he told her. "I called your name twice, but you were off in la-la land."

"What?" she inquired. "La-la?"

"Oh. La-la land. A human term meaning distracted; your attention was elsewhere."

"I see. I am sorry. I was listening to some music. It was... relaxing."

"Who was singing?"

"Singing?" she repeated.

"Yes, who was singing?"

Realization hit her. "No one was singing. It was... instruments, many at once. What you call... classical."

"Really. Most kids, well, most young humans prefer more modern music."

"Yes, I have noticed that." she told him. "I do like what you call, easy listening."

"And classical?"

"Yes. It is... enjoyable." she replied. "But you wished to speak with me?" she asked, becoming all business.

"We'll be landing in a while. I was going to tell you to relax, but maybe I should have kept quiet."

At the mention of landing, she tensed up a bit more.

"It is all right." she lied. "It will allow me to... continue with the book I purchased."

Jonathan smiled as he remembered that mix-up. "I was wondering, what kind of book is it? I hope it was worth it after the trouble it caused."

"I believe it is a historical text." she answered.

The angel raised an eyebrow. "I thought this trip was supposed to be a break from history."

"Human history, yes." She smiled as she tapped the book. "This is elven history."

Now Jonathan did a double take. <Elven history?> "Uhm, Shaw, could I see that book for a minute?"

"Here you go." she said as she handed the book to him.

Jonathan took the book, and glanced at the title.

ELVEN BLADE MASTERS

Cassandra Hastings

He groaned to himself. "Shaw, I don't know how to tell you this..."

She looked at him. "What is it?"

"This book? By Cassandra Hastings?"

"Yes." she cut in. "I am... impressed with her skills as a sage... a historian."

"Here," he said, turning to the back cover. "Read this section, 'About the Author.'" He indicated the section.

Shawukay scanned the paragraph. "I see. Perhaps we can visit her when we return from Paris."

"What?" Jonathan asked.

"She lives in New York City." she told him.

"Read above that." he instructed her.

As she read, she began to blush as it dawned on her.

"This is a fantasy. A... fiction?"

"A story. A fable, if you will."

Shawukay closed her eyes and groaned as she leaned back, and Jonathan started laughing.

"I am... glad that I can serve as a source of amusement for you, Jonathan." she said acidly.

"I'm sorry," he said, as he regained control of himself. "I suppose, looking at it from your viewpoint, it was an honest mistake."

"I seem to make... numerous 'honest' mistakes." she said, starting to get a bit testy.

"Actually, you do better than you might think. This trip will do you good."

"Why?" She turned back to Jonathan. "Will you tell me now, what is... purpose?"

"You'll be receiving training in swordsmanship," he told her.

Shawukay looked dubious. "Swordsmanship?" Jonathan nodded. "Jonathan, I have had swords in my hands for over forty years."

"I know. And you're good..."

"Thank you." she said, grinning.

"But Connor's a master. He'll teach you, well..."

"Spill it, Jonathan."

Jonathan barked a laugh. "See, you are learning. To continue, Earth people have numerous fighting styles. Connor will teach you a couple of them, and how to counter styles that use weapons."

She considered this. "So he will teach me in the arts of this world? To help me, as you say, 'fit in?'"

"Exactly. Or, if you can combine what he teaches you with your own fighting arts..."

"It might catch opponents off guard. I see your point." she concluded. "So, what is this... Connor like?"

"He's serious. He'll expect you to devote yourself to your lessons." Jonathan told her. "However, he's also fair, with both praise and criticism."

"Jonathan, what is it you are... holding back? I know you fairly well, now." she pressed.

"You might say his sense of humor is... unique."

"Wait. You are saying that this... Connor's sense of humor is... unique? YOU are saying this?"

"Yes. Why do you say it like that?"

"Because I know you." she said, closing her eyes. "Suddenly, landing does not sound so bad. I think my... problems are just beginning."

*****

Times Square
New York City, New York
23 June 1998

<Ahh, the city that never sleeps.> Angelus thought. <Why did I ever leave here? Prime hunting grounds.>

Angelus walked down the street looking for a proper meal. He spotted a likely target: a woman, about thirty years of age, Italian by the looks of her. Five-eight, slender body. But what attracted Angelus was the way she looked around.

<Hah. I've seen that look. Cop eyes. Either she's out trolling for johns undercover, or...> he smiled. <The cops realize we're expanding.>

"Well, I might as well introduce myself." Angelus smiled as he walked towards her.

The woman noticed him walking up. "Yeah, whachu want, handsome?"

Angelus smiled. "Privacy, perhaps some fun?"

"Yeah, maybe. Half-hour, fifty bucks." she quoted.

<Plenty of time.> "Okay, let's go."

As the two of them rounded a corner, Angelus dragged the woman into an alley, and pushed her up against the wall.

"How about some dinner, first?" he said, showing his game face.

"I'm a cop, asshole!" she screamed. "Martinez, First Precinct!"

"Too bad. I'm in the mood for Italian."

"Get away from her, you punk."

At the sound of the new voice, Angelus turned toward the back end of the alley.

"Who in the hell are you?" Angelus asked with a cocky smile on his face.

The stranger walked into the light, which glinted off of a gun barrel. Both Angelus and Martinez faces registered shock.

"OH SHIT!!" Martinez screamed, ripping herself out of the vampire's grip, and hitting the pavement.

Angelus hesitated just long enough for the Uzi to open fire, pumping over a dozen bullets into his body. He screamed as he felt the fire of the bullets enter.

Staggering more from shock than pain, he took off running, encountering little resistance since the crowds had scattered at the sound of gunfire.

The gunman started forward, but the woman got up and pulled her gun.

"Freeze asshole! Drop the gun!" she shouted.

The gunman calmly looked over at her. "You're welcome."

"What?"

"In case you didn't notice, I just saved your life."

"You almost took my head off with that thing!" she shouted.

"If I had been aiming at you, you'd be dead now." he replied.

"Who the hell are you?"

"Frank Castle."

Martinez's eyes grew round. She dropped the gun.

"Get out of here. I'm going to regret this, but thanks."

"Tell Maza and her friends that I'll take care of their poacher problem."

"What are you talkin' about?"

"You'll find out."

And the Punisher turned and left, leaving Martinez scratching her head.

*****

Spike jumped as Angelus bashed in the apartment door. A quick glance brought his jaw down.

"What the bloody hell happened to you?"

"Let's just say that I figured out the skull part of Dru's vision." he said disgustedly.

Spike started to grin. "And?"

"It was Frank Castle."

"And he would be?" Spike asked, unable to keep the humor out of his voice.

Angelus fixed him with an icy glare.

"The Punisher."

Spike's grin reversed itself. "Please tell me you're joking."

Angelus spread his arms, showing off his bullet-riddled jacket and t-shirt.

"He hit me with a blasted Uzi, Spike!"

"What the hell do we do now, mate?"

"Get a few more recruits, then head for sunny California."

"Oh bloody goody."

"Just a little more time, Spike. Then we leave."

*****

Part 4: Training

"When you can walk the length of the rice paper, and not leave a mark, then, you will be ready."
---Master Po
Kung Fu

Paris, France
23 June 1998

Shawukay and Jonathan walked along the river, looking for the barge that belonged to Connor's cousin Duncan, where they would be staying. The half-elf was badgering Jonathan with questions.

"How will my... training progress?" she asked.

"I don't know. I think he'll determine your level of skill with the sword, then go from there. For non-weapon styles, you'll start from scratch."

"Scratch?" she asked, then raised a hand. "Start from scratch. The beginning, is what you mean?"

"Very good. You got it right. While you're training, we'll continue your English. I hope to have you more proficient when we leave."

"Jonathan? About Connor?" she began.

"Yes, what about him?"

"Did you tell him about me?"

"Of course. He arranged this."

"No. I mean, how much did you tell him?" she said, pointing to the side of her head.

"I didn't tell him that. What I did tell him is that you're my student, and that you needed training. If you want him to know, it's your choice."

"And he agreed, having never met me?" she said, surprised.

"Yes, he's my friend. That was enough." he agreed.

"I wish I had friends like this," she said, and then stopped dead in her tracks. She looked at Jonathan. "Jonathan, I did not mean it that way, I..."

"I know." he laughed. "You really meant it when you said that you hadn't had friends for a long time."

"Yes. My life consisted of hunting, fighting, and surviving."

"Well, you're past that, let's go." he urged her on.

As they neared the barge, Shawukay stopped, and began looking around. Jonathan looked to her.

"Jonathan, I hear... swords. " she stared at the barge. "From the boat."

"Connor and Duncan. They're probably sparring. Training with each other."

"No. I know... sparring. This is combat." she said, moving to remove the sack carrying her sword from her back.

"Whoa, there." Jonathan said, grabbing her shoulder. "Connor and Duncan are both master swordsmen. They train as if they were really fighting." A grin spread across his face. "Want to watch?"

"How?" she asked, looking suspicious.

"I'll use a little angelic power. Put an image of their fight into your mind." he answered.

Shawukay considered that for a few seconds, then nodded. "Do it."

Suddenly her mind was filled with images. Two human males, about the same age, wielding identical swords. One, with black hair, tied in a ponytail. The other had long brown-blond hair. Both men worked to disarm the other, alternating between offense and defense. The speed and skill they displayed was astounding.

Shawukay was stunned. "Jonathan, how old are these two?"

Jonathan started. "What do you mean?" <She couldn't possibly...>

"These two. I have seen Bladesingers, the elite swordmasters of the elven nations. Most of them are four, or five centuries old. They would be... hard-pressed to defeat these two. And they are human!"

"They're masters. I told you that."

"This is beyond mastery. This is... I do not have a term for it. Which one is Connor?" she asked, trying to make sense of what she was seeing.

"The light haired one. The black haired one is Duncan."

Now that she had identities straight, she began to take a warrior's approach, watching their moves and countermoves, cataloging each for reference.

"Jonathan, the swords they are using. What are they?"

"Katanas. Japanese longswords. Used by samurai, which are..."

Shawukay cut him off. "We have samurai on Toril. They are like your knights. Like... Arthur?"

"King Arthur?"

"Yes. Why do they use these swords?"

"Katanas are forged in layers. The blade alternates hard and soft metals, using a process called folding. The result is a weapon that is pliable, yet resistant to chipping. The blade is razor-sharp, and the entire weapon is somewhat lighter than standard swords."

"Are they... enchanted?" she asked.

"Not those ones, but I've heard rumors of Katanas that were."

The half-elf watched as the two men finish their match, and bowed to each other. The image faded suddenly, leaving Shawukay disoriented, causing her to stumble. Jonathan caught her.

"Sorry," he apologized. "I should have warned you."

"Yes, you should have." she answered, shooting him a grumpy look.

Jonathan smiled. "Ready to go in?"

"I do not know, after that display."

*****

The MacLeods were sitting on Duncan's couch, drinking some water after their sparring session. They were discussing Connor's guests while waiting for them to show.

"So, when's this student of yours supposed to arrive?" Duncan asked.

"Any time now. They were due this afternoon."

"So what do you know about her?"

"Only what Jonathan told me. She needs training in fighting without weapons. I can't understand how she can wield weapons, yet have no experience in martial arts." Connor explained.

"What weapons is she trained in?" the younger Immortal asked.

"Longbow, longsword, and dagger. Jonathan says she's good."

"Any idea how good?"

"Remember your little California 'vacation' in February?" Connor said with a smirk.

"Unfortunately, yes." Duncan did a double take. "Why?"

"Apparently, she killed two of 'them' in under three minutes less than a week ago."

Duncan let out a whistle. "Don't tell me she's one of us."

"No. Jonathan was clear about that. She's mortal, also she's not one of those..." he closed his eyes. "What is the girl, Buffy, called?"

"A Slayer?" Duncan offered.

"Right. She's not a Slayer, or an Immortal."

"Where is this girl from?"

"I don't know. Jonathan said she'd tell me if she wanted. He also warned me when describing her personality."

"Which is?" Duncan asked, dreading the answer.

"Two parts you, one part his sense of humor," he answered.

Duncan groaned. "I knew I should have asked you for a security deposit."

Both mean turned as a knock came from the door.

"Come in." Duncan called.

Jonathan walked in, followed by a woman who looked barely twenty. <That must be Shaw.> Duncan thought.

He noticed the hardness in her hazel eyes, which kept scanning back and forth. The tightness in her neck and arms suggested that she was always on guard. She wore black sweat pants, and a short-sleeved black shirt. From her back hung a cloth sack that screamed "sword." Clearly, this young woman was more used to fighting than not.

Connor walked up and gave Jonathan a brotherly hug.

"Jonathan! We were beginning to think you got lost," he said, grinning.

"Sorry. I had Shaw looking in on your practice. Popped the image right into her head. She was very impressed."

Both MacLeods raised eyebrows at that comment.

"Jonathan," Duncan spoke up. "She knows about your... occupation?"

"Heck, she figured it out twelve hours after we met."

"She got you to admit it?" Duncan was impressed.

"Yes. She has good instincts." Jonathan turned to the woman next to him. "Connor, Duncan, this is my student, Shaw..."

"Hunter." she finished. "Shaw Hunter."

Connor extended his hand. "Connor MacLeod."

Rather than take his hand, she clasped his forearm. "Greetings, Connor MacLeod."

Duncan stepped forward. "Duncan MacLeod. My friends call me Duncan, or Mac."

She repeated the armclasp, and nodded. "Very well, Duncan."

Connor looked at Jonathan. "Quite formal, isn't she?"

Jonathan nodded. "Except when hunting vampires."

Shawukay turned, a look of utter shock on her face.

Duncan laughed. "Don't worry, Shaw, we know about vampires. I helped the Slayer take a few down last winter."

"What is a Slayer?" she asked.

"You hunt vampires, but you don't know what a Slayer is?" Connor asked.

"No, Connor MacLeod, I do not."

"Let me explain, Connor." Jonathan cut in. "Shaw, the Slayer is a human girl, gifted with mystical strength, speed, and skill to fight vampires and other evils. Only one can exist at a time, and unfortunately, a Slayer's life expectancy is very short."

"Does this Slayer hunt by choice?"

Duncan shook his head. "It's more a case of destiny than choice."

Shawukay considered this information. "She is... talented? How long has she been hunting vampires?"

"She's very skilled, Shaw. And she's been the Slayer for two years."

"That is all?" she asked. "Two years?"

"How long have YOU been hunting them?" Connor asked, amused.

"Much longer than her. But they must fear her, calling her the 'Slayer.'"

Connor raised an eyebrow. "What do vampires call you?"

She shrugged. "Where I come from, vampires call me the Hunter."

Duncan stared at her. "What? Vampires call you this? They call you the 'Hunter?'"

Shawukay stared back at him. "Yes. I was the Hunter. But that is in the past."

"What do you mean?" Connor asked.

"I no longer wish to hunt. I want to... move on, as you say."

"Shaw," Connor asked, "why did you start in the first place?"

Shawukay sat on the couch. "My grandparents. A vampire..."

"I understand. You wanted revenge." he said.

"Yes. But it was a mistake. I almost killed him, but he escaped. I lost him."

"So you hunted others?" Duncan asked.

"Many. Too many. I had less contact with living beings than the things that preyed upon them. I paid for that mistake. Dearly."

"How so, Shaw?" Duncan pressed.

"I do not wish to talk about it." she snapped. "The memories are... painful."

"Shaw, you can tell them. They'll understand." Jonathan said.

She jumped to her feet. "NO, Jonathan! They cannot... understand. Their ancestors were not killed. They did not lose half their life force. They did not fail to avenge it. Their souls are not dark like mine! I cannot let go... of my grandparents, the hate, no matter how I try! So do not tell me that they will understand!" Tears were streaming down her face.

Duncan stood. "I understand how you feel. I've been there."

Shawukay glared at him. "Please do not... insult me, Duncan MacLeod. How could you possibly understand?"

"Four years ago, I killed the man who had killed my father." he answered.

Shawukay's eyes widened. "This is true?" She looked to Connor, who nodded.

"Yes, and I can tell you, it made no difference. I still felt the anger and grief."

"Grief? I have never felt grief."

"Never felt it? Or never allowed yourself to feel it?" Connor asked gently.

"I never said goodbye." She was crying harder. "I never got the chance to say farewell."

"It's all right." Connor said. "We've dealt with it before."

Shawukay turned to Duncan. "I am... sorry, Duncan. You do understand. I meant no offense, I just..."

"Are used to handling things yourself." Duncan finished. "We can talk later, if you want."

She nodded. "I would... appreciate that."

"Duncan is like you, Shaw." Connor stated. "But enough. I want some dinner. Duncan's going home in a couple of days, so he's treating."

"Oh, really?" Duncan asked with a frown.

"Yes. She's my student, and you won't be here long, so you can treat once."

"And because it's your friend and student, you should treat."

As the two argued, Shawukay walked over to Jonathan.

"Are they always like this?"

"Usually, worse. I think they're being polite for you." he answered. "I'm sorry you didn't trust me to tell me how you felt."

"I do trust you. It is... myself I have trouble trusting."

"You shouldn't. Have you ever lost control with someone who wasn't a vampire?"

"No." she replied. "But I fear that I will. I also wish to know why I am here in the first place."

"You'll find out, sooner or later."

"I hope you are right, Jonathan."

*****

Later that night, Duncan was standing on the deck, enjoying the night air. He heard a sound behind him. Turning around, he saw Shaw standing behind him.

"Shaw, what can I do for you?" he asked.

"You said we could talk. Might we do so now?"

"Of course. Go ahead."

"Thank you. It is... hard for me to trust others. I have lived with death for so long, I am... less than open with others." she said.

"I was that way when I was young. I thought I could do everything alone."

Shawukay shook her head. "It was not a... conscious choice. I... thought I was saving lives by hunting."

"Sounds like you regret it." he offered.

"Yes. I was not doing it for others, but for myself. I am finally back on the path I want to travel, but it is hard... to focus."

"How do you have trouble?"

"Against vampires, I... lose control. Become enraged."

"A berserker."

"Yes," she agreed. "It is... frightening. I almost... killed a man whose life I saved." She shuddered.

"Why?" Duncan asked, amazed.

"He was a criminal. He beats others for amusement."

"You saved him, but he was free to hurt others." he said, realizing her dilemma. "Would you have killed him?"

"I do not know." she replied, starting to cry. "I don't know. Jonathan and I talked, and I feel... horrified about what happened."

"Good." he said, drawing her attention. "If you feel that way, it means that you're still a good person."

"I wish I were as sure as you are, Duncan." she said, starting to calm a bit.

"I'm right. It'll just take time for you to realize it."

Shawukay was quiet for a time. "Duncan, about your father. Do you miss him?"

"Yes, I still miss him, Shaw."

"I miss my grandparents. Very much. Why does it hurt after all this time?"

"Because you love them, and you never grieved for them. Personally, from what Jonathan has told Connor and me about you, I think they would be proud of you. Think about that, Shaw."

With that, Duncan turned and went inside.

Shawukay stood on the deck long into the night, thinking. Finally, she went in.

*****

Paris, France
30 June 1998

Connor awoke with a start. He looked at the watch he'd set on the table, and sighed heavily. <5:30 A.M.? What is she thinking?>

Jonathan had been handed an assignment that morning, so he'd be gone for a couple days, so Connor was stuck alone with his new pupil. Connor got up and dressed quickly, and headed for the deck. He quietly opened the door, and peeked out.

<Sure enough.> he thought, shaking his head. <I need to tone her down a bit.>

Shawukay was near the front of the barge, decked out in sweat pants, a gym shirt, and athletic shoes, practicing the moves he'd been teaching her the past few days. As she turned, her braided hair whipped around, and Connor noticed that she was doing the moves with her eyes closed.

<She's doing it by memory?> he thought, slightly impressed despite his displeasure. <I'm sorry, kid, but I think you need to come inside.>

Connor snuck up behind her, and called her name, "Shaw."

Shawukay immediately turned, throwing a front punch straight at his jaw. Connor caught her fist in his own, and grinned. "Nice try, Shaw," he said.

Shawukay's eyes flashed in surprise for a split second, then in irritation.

"Connor, please do not sneak up on me like that. I could have hurt you," she said, pulling her fist loose. She muttered something that Connor didn't understand.

"What did you say?" he asked her, his eyes glistening in humor.

She caught herself. "I was.. commenting on how I did not hear you approach. I was not paying... proper attention."

"I'm pretty quiet when I have to be," he said with a grin.

Shawukay shot him a dirty look. "I should have heard you."

"And I would say you were concentrating very well." <But you need to relax a bit. You're a potential burnout case if I ever saw one.>

The half-elf considered his face. "Was that a compliment, Connor?"

"Sort of. I don't appreciate being woken up this early."

Her mouth twitched. "I am quiet when I try to be," she said.

Connor frowned at her. "Fine. Since we're both up, we'll start our workout early. We'll stop early, and tonight we're going out."

"We are what?" Shawukay asked, not sure that she heard correctly.

"I'm taking you out, into town," he clarified, his tone brooking no disagreement.

She nodded curtly. "I see. You are.. presuming a type of interest that I do not hold for you."

Connor blinked. Twice. "What type of interest would that be?"

"A romantic one," she answered.

Connor walked over to the wall, leaned up against it, and started laughing. He used the wall to keep himself straight, and tears formed in his eyes.

"By your reaction, I.. assume that I was incorrect in my assumption?" she asked, crossing her arms and tapping her left elbow with her fingers.

"Absolutely, Shaw," Connor said, still shaking in hysterics. "I think you deserve a little time off during your training. You're my student, nothing more."

Shawukay closed her eyes, and took a breath. "Are you saying that.. we are not becoming friends?"

Connor's laughter ceased quickly. He regarded her with a glance. "Do you want to be friends?"

"Jonathan speaks highly of you, and. . . I find you to be friendly, considerate, and fair, if somewhat.. irritating, at times."

"You left out strict," he informed her.

"I was attempting to be polite," Shawukay told him, and he caught one corner of her mouth rising. "I would like to be a friend of yours, it is simply.. not easy for me to make friends."

Connor walked over to her, and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "Of course, we can be friends," he said, then grinned wickedly. "AFTER our workout."

Shawukay let out a very unladylike snort of laughter.

*****

As late afternoon approached, Connor and Shawukay prepared to head into the city. Connor had dressed in a blue sweater, gray slacks, black loafers, and he was donning his trenchcoat when Shawukay walked out of the room.

She had dressed in a pair of blue jeans, a dark blue short sleeve shirt with a collar, and a black pair of tennis shoes. She had her ring on her right hand, as well as her unicorn pendant, hidden beneath her shirt. She had her hair in a thick braid, and had put it over her right shoulder.

"Is this acceptable?" she asked, clearly uncertain about the whole affair.

"Considering the limits of your wardrobe, yes," Connor said in a teasing voice, which drew a glare from the girl until she saw his grin.

"So, what is our.. destination, Connor?"

"I thought we'd take it easy, so I'm taking you to a Scottish pub." he said, his grin growing larger.

"In Paris? Is such a thing possible?" she asked, her face suggesting she thought he was joking.

"Paris is a hotspot for international travelers."

"Yes, it does grow warm during the day," she agreed.

Connor gave her a funny glance. "Shaw, are you a country girl, or something similar? You had a rural upbringing?"

Shawukay looked at him. "Yes, Connor. How did you know?"

"It seems pretty obvious," he said with a shrug. He walked over to the couch, and picked up a small bag. He handed it to her, and she looked inside, taking out a small bottle filled with clear liquid. She gave him a questioning look.

"Perfume," he said. "I thought you might not mind wearing some tonight. You do know what perfume is, right?"

Shawukay raised her eyes skyward. "Connor, just because I do not prefer cities, does not mean I have not visited them." She shook her head. "I do not mind. Would you please give me a few minutes?"

Connor nodded, and she walked back into the bedroom. She came out about two minutes later, a more certain look on her face.

"I like the smell of that, Connor. Thank you," she said. "I do like it," she added, trying to assure him of that.

She started moving for the door, but Connor stepped in front of her, holding out his left hand with the palm facing up.

"Hand it over," he ordered.

Shawukay sighed, and lifted her right pant leg, removing the hidden sheath from inside her sock. Connor tossed it onto the couch, and escorted her out the door.

*****

The sun was setting behind the taller buildings as Connor and Shawukay walked along the street towards the pub. As they walked, Shawukay glanced around nervously, her eyes darting in all directions.

"Settle down, girl," Connor said, trying to reassure her. "No big, bad bloodsuckers out here."

His student shook his head. "It is not that, Connor. These buildings are closer than I would like. Fortunately, there are. . few people around." She shook a bit, and continued. "I prefer more open areas."

Connor started. "It's not the city itself you don't like," he said, in a surprised tone.

"What are you saying?" she asked, trying to get him to elaborate.

"You're claustrophobic, aren't you?" he said, certain of his conclusion. Shawukay spread her arms in an "I don't know" manner, so he explained. "You're afraid of enclosed areas, tight spaces."

Shawukay had a thoughtful look on her face. "I do often feel. . . uncomfortable in rooms with many people, but not fearful."

"Then a form of it," he concluded. "You know, there are treatments for such conditions. You should look into it, Shaw. But you won't have time to worry about it tonight. You'll be too busy."

"Busy?" she repeated. "How will I be busy?"

"It's sort of a tradition that I visit McClarity's when I'm in Paris," Connor said, his eyes crinkling in humor, "And you'll be expected to aid in tonight's entertainment."

At her glare, he laughed. "We don't just sit around. We sing, dance, and have a good time."

"Connor, my voice sounds like felines mating," the half-elf said sourly.

"Can you dance?"

"Not in the manner of. . American teenagers," she admitted.

Connor laughed fiercely. "You don't have to worry about that. I think you'll like our way of doing things."

She gave him another glance, but he just shook his head. They came to a door, and Connor opened it, nodding his head to urge her to enter. She did, and he came in behind her.

Shawukay was immediately hit with an audible wall of music and laughter. She looked around, and saw a large number of people sharing stories over drinks. She looked at Connor, waiting to follow his lead. He motioned with his hand, and steered her over to a small table.

"What do you think?" he asked, for her first impression.

"The people seem friendly enough," she said neutrally.

Connor sighed to himself. <This may be difficult.> "I'm going to the bar, to talk to Moira." At her raised eyebrows, he added, "Moira McClarity, the owner. She and I are old friends."

"Of course, I would not object to that," she said.

Connor walked away, up to the bar. Shawukay saw him go to a tall woman in her mid-forties, wearing a plain plaid shirt with an apron, her wheat-colored hair in a tight bun at the nape of her neck. <That must be his friend.> she thought, then began to look around, taking in the details of the pub.

Connor walked up, and Moira favored him with a look of vague disapproval.

"Ain't she a wee bit young fer the likes of ye, Connor MacLeod?" she asked in a sharp tone.

"She's my student, Moira," Connor said, frowning.

Moira folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. "And since when do you take on mortal students?"

"Since Jonathan Smith asked me to teach her," he snapped, wanting to stop her rising ire. It did the trick, as Moira's face lit up in a big grin.

"So where is the do-gooder Yank?"

"On a short assignment," he replied, "and the girl's enough of a handful as it is."

Moira chuckled. "He is the only one could give you a run fer yer money in the humor, Connor," she said. "What's her story?"

"Don't bother her, Moira. She has emotional wounds, and I won't have you stopping her healing."

At Connor's angry tone, Moira's face took on a positively maternal look. "What happened?" she asked softly.

"Her grandparents were killed by a vampire. And I'm saying too much as it is."

Moira looked at the girl, then back to Connor, fire in her eyes again.

"Connor MacLeod, dinna tell me yer teachin' tha' wee lass to be fightin' those blasted things!" she hissed.

"She's trying to give up fighting them, Moira," Connor said, losing his temper. "And I'll not have you undoing two months of Jonathan's work!"

"Two months?" Moira said with a blink, and looked at Shawukay again. The girl now had her gaze on Moira, and the Immortal woman saw the hardness in those eyes, even from a distance, and that hardness was now focused on her. She also seemed to catch something else in the low light.

"By God, that girl looks ready to take me head if I don' stop arguin' with ye," Moira whispered, grinning back at Connor. She looked over at the end of the bar, and called out, "David, what do ye think?"

"Moira." Connor growled out in a low tone.

David shook his head. "Five to one she doesn't start her fifth beer."

Moira nodded. "Spread the word to the lads."

David nodded, and began talking to one of the patrons.

"Moira. . . ." Connor growled again.

Moira bent in close. "I'm bettin' four hundred francs in the lass's favor." she said, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Connor blinked, and then snarled at her. "What do you know, woman?"

"Nothing, Connor MacLeod. Now, get that lass to enjoyin' herself. The first round's on me," she ordered him, handing Connor two draft beers from the tap. As Connor walked towards his table, Moira chuckled. <Bless Jonathan's bloody Yankee heart!> she thought gleefully. <Connor has NO idea what he's got right under his nose!>

Moira waved to the barmaid, who walked over. "Oui, Madam Moira?"

"Lysette, raise the lighting a bit."

The redheaded Frenchwoman nodded, but moved closer. "What is up, Madam?"

"Seems that Connor's student has a case o' the 'Red Eyes and Ears.'"

Lysette looked over at Connor and his companion, then back to Moira. "Let me guess, he does not know?"

Moira shook her head. "The odds are five to one, she doesn't start her fifth."

"And, Madam?"

"I'll be a richer woman by the end of the night," she said with a low chuckle.

Lysette giggled, and tapped Moira on the shoulder. "Madam, Toby is here tonight."

Moira's face lit up, and nodded. "Perfect. Let him know he's now on duty."

Lysette nodded and went to fix the lighting.

Connor sat down, and set the two glasses on the table. He handed one to Shawukay, and she looked at him as she took it.

"What do you think of the place?" the Highlander asked.

Shawukay smiled slightly. "It seems pleasant, Connor. I. .am nervous, but I will try to enjoy myself."

"Good. Now drink up, it'll loosen you up a bit," Connor said, taking a swig of his beer.

Shawukay hesitantly took a sip. She looked at Connor as she swallowed. She gave the glass a sour look. "This is alcohol, Connor?"

Connor nodded.

"I believe that you should.. demand your money back," she said.

<Moira's going to kill me!> Connor thought in fear. "Shaw, we're here to relax..."

"Anything this weak in not even worth the. . . effort to produce," she said adamantly. <Dwarven holy water is stronger than this.>

"Did you say 'weak?'" Connor asked, staring at her. When she nodded, Connor looked around. Seeing Lysette, he called her over.

Moira and David were watching the scene with keen interest. When the girl set her glass down, David laughed silently. "Told you, Moira."

"I canna believe it," she said in a "Connor is a dead man" tone, her eyes closed. When she opened them again, she noticed Lysette at the table. The barmaid turned and came to the bar, a big smile on her face. She set the Brew in front of David.

"Too weak, eh, Lysette?" David laughed.

"Oui, David," she said. "The girl says, and I quote, 'not even worth the effort to produce.' So, a Scotch, straight."

David's eyes bugged a bit, and Moira slapped the bar with the palm of her right hand.

"I knew the lass had it in her," she said merrily. "Reminds me o' meself."

The barmaid set the glass down, and Connor nodded his thanks. He slid the liquid over to Shawukay, who lifted it and took a sip. Her eyes brightened considerably.

"This is very good, Connor," she said, and drained the entire glass in one gulp. "This liquid is from your homeland?"

Connor just stared for a second, then looked at the bar, where Moira had a self-satisfied smirk on her face, and was already pouring a second round.

Moira personally brought the glass over, and nodded to the small group of musicians, who struck up a fast-paced song. Moira took Connor's hand, and looked at Shawukay, who was watching several couples leave their chairs.

"Connor an' I are gonna dance, then it's yer turn, lassie," Moira said, nodding to a young man. "Toby'll be yer partner."

Shawukay looked at the man, then back at Moira. "I do not know this dance, Moira McClarity."

"Watch Connor an' I, we'll show ye how it's done, then it's yer turn."

Shawukay looked unconvinced, but nodded, knowing she was outvoted on the matter.

"Oh, and go a little slower on the drinks, little one," Moira added in good nature. "The night's still young." She then dragged Connor, who was issuing mock protests, onto the floor. The man called Toby walked over, and sat down after removing an empty chair from the next table.

Toby stood just over six feet tall, with a thin muscular build not hidden by his gray business suit. His head was topped by long, curly brown hair and his sky blue eyes held a piercing gaze.

"Toby Baird, at your service," he said with an American accent, putting his hand out.

Shawukay gingerly took his hand, and introduced herself. "Shaw Hunter."

"Moira is a piece of work, but she's a good woman." Toby said, "So you don't have to worry about Connor."

"I do not worry," she lied, taking a drink of the liquid Connor called "Scotch."

"I see the way you look at him," Toby said with a laugh. As Shawukay's face clouded over quicker than a thunderstorm, he added, "You're protective of a friend. That's good. But Moira thought the two of us should have some privacy."

"For what reason," she said angrily, waiting for his answer.

"Introductions," he said, and then said in perfect Elvish, {Tobabaird of the Tuatha du Danaan, Magus Minor, Knight Defender of Elfhame Fairgrove, and Ambassador to the Folk of France.}

Shawukay sat there with a look of blank shock for a few seconds, but recovered. {Shawukay Redarrow of the Cha'Tel'Quessir, priestess and ranger of Mielikki and agent of the Harpers.}

Now it was "Toby" who was shocked. {The Tel'Quessir?}

{From Toril, Tobabaird.} she confirmed. {Although I am half human.}

"What's wrong with that?" Tobabaird asked, switching to English.

"It has been my.. experience that the People tend to. . .frown upon such unions."

"I'm not one of them," he said firmly. "I work as a computer analyst. You?"

"I kill vampires." Shawukay stated.

"You say that as if you were talking about the weather," the male elf asked. "Why?"

"Revenge. Which I am.. attempting to leave behind," she said, looking away.

"Good. Revenge isn't a pretty thing," Tobabaird said.

"I wish someone had told me this fifteen years ago," she replied. "But I am not here to discuss my past."

Shawukay turned to watch Moira and Connor whirling on the floor, dancing at a pace that not even the younger patrons could match.

"I have seen this type of dancing on Toril, or something similar to it. Why do American teenagers not dance like this, Tobabaird?" she asked, glancing at him.

Tobabaird frowned. "Call me Toby in public, SHAW," he said. "You ARE new here, aren't you?"

"Yes, and I have not stopped.. traveling since."

The dance ended, and Moira and Connor walked back over to the table.

"Yer turn, youngsters," she ordered. Tobabaird stood with a smile, and held out his hand. Shawukay finished her drink, and nervously rose, took his hand, and walked out onto the floor.

The pair had barely set up when the band started the song a second time, and Tobabaird whipped into motion, taking the unprepared Shawukay along for the ride, a surprised yelp in Elvish left in their wake. The half-elf watched her partner's feet, barely matching the pattern, fearing she'd trip.

"Watch me, I'll lead," he said, drawing her attention. "Just relax, and flow with the music."

"You might have given me a warning," she said flippantly.

"What fun would that be?" he asked, a mischievous grin on his face.

She glared at the elf, who simply laughed.

As the night wore on, Tobabaird and Shawukay shared several dances, and switched with Connor and Moira for a few sets.

Shawukay slowly became more comfortable, and near one o'clock, after all but a few diehards had left for the evening, she and the male elf were sharing a slow dance. Shawukay was grateful for the slower pace, feeling tired from the combination of dancing and drinks, having passed the five beer equivalent before the halfway point of the night.

Tobabaird smiled at her. "Enjoying yourself, Shaw?"

"Yes, Toba.. Toby," she said, blushing a bit. "But I am going to.. murder Connor in the morning."

"Why?"

"For the headache I know I will have," she muttered with a grin, her eyes half-closed.

When she nearly stumbled, he chuckled. "Okay, you've had enough for the night."

He guided her to his table, and they sat down. They stared into each other's eyes, and Tobabaird grinned widely. "So, what happens with you
next?"

"I do not know," she said softly. "A mission, which I know nothing about, and then. . .I do not know," she repeated.

"Here," he said, handing her a small card. Shawukay looked at it, but was unable to focus. "My number in America. If you ever want to contact the elves there."

The half-elf stared at him, her eyes watering. "Do you know how much this would mean to me, Tobabaird?" she asked, her voice cracking a bit.

"I do, Shawukay," he said, holding her hand. His other hand moved up to the right side of her head, towards her ear.

She focused suddenly. "No, please." she said, a tear falling down her left cheek. "I. . .am not ready for something of this nature. I am sorry."

The male nodded in understanding. "You have too much on your mind. When you're ready, can I have the first dance?"

Shawukay's face turned a deep red, but she smiled. "I shall.. consider it. I would not mind. . meeting you again."

"Good," he replied. "I have to go. I'll take you to Connor."

The half-elf nodded, her eyes closed by this time. He brought her to the table, with her leaning against his right side. Connor and Moira looked at him, and he nodded with a smile on his face. He said his good-byes, and walked out.

"Enjoy yerself, lass?" Moira asked her, the same Cheshire cat grin on her face.

"Yes, Moira. I. . . did have fun," Shawukay muttered. "But I am.. disappointed in one respect."

Moira and Connor did double takes at each other.

"Why's that, lassie?"

"Because Connor did not have the. . . common sense to place a wager on me," she said quietly, laying her head on her folded arms.

Moira let out a laugh straight from the belly, and Connor soon followed, if a bit more restrained.

"How do you think she found out, Moira?" Connor asked.

"Toby canna keep a secret," Moira answered, wiping the tears from her face. "An' I made two thousand francs on 'er."

"Very funny, rub it in," Connor muttered good naturedly, as he touched Shawukay's shoulder. "Shaw, do you want one more drink before we leave?"

A soft snore was the only reply the ranger gave him. Connor chuckled.

"I do believe that child has reached her limit, Moira."

"Dinna laugh, Connor MacLeod. Ye still have ta get the lass home."

Connor looked at Moira, then to the sleeping girl, and moaned as he buried his head in his hands.

*****

Paris, France
4 July 1998

Jonathan watched as Connor and Shawukay sparred with a pair of wooden practice swords. Connor carried a kendo stick, similar to the katana he carried. His pupil carried a wooden sword with a straight blade, like the longsword she wielded.

After Shawukay's outburst the first night, she seemed to gain a little more confidence in herself. The talk with Duncan had truly gotten through; perhaps having someone with the same experiences was what she had needed. Her temper had settled a bit, although her fuse was still short.

Connor had been impressed with her sword skills. She was no match for the Immortal, but against normal opponents she would be hard to beat.

The main problem Connor had was her style of combat. Rather than strike and parry, the half-elf would dodge and dart around, using speed and agility. Connor had commented more than once on her dexterity, as well as her ability to keep the pace up for long periods of time.

Her martial arts training was proceeding well. She threw herself into her lessons. She picked up basic moves quickly, and Connor expected to start on some of the advanced moves soon. Connor had her cross training, in karate, judo, and tae kwan do. She seemed to be especially adept with various kicks and sweeps.

Personally, she opened up a bit more. She talked more freely about herself, her battles, and her past. Connor was teaching her various exercises that would allow her to better control her anger, lessening any chance that she would lose control again.

Jonathan brought his attention back to the match. Shawukay attempted a spinning slash, which Connor blocked, and brought the blades up high. Jonathan had seen this move before. Connor would spin the blades in a 360-degree arc, leaving the opponent disarmed, with Connor's sword at their throat. The half-elf had fallen victim to it twice already.

<Well, this match is over.>

It wasn't. As Connor brought the swords up, Shawukay tried a tactic Jonathan hadn't seen before.

She released her sword.

The free sword started to fall towards Connor, who instinctively moved to catch it by the hilt. Shawukay used that instant to drop straight down to the floor. She extended her legs, wrapping her ankles around Connor's legs, and violently twisted her body.

Connor crashed to the floor so hard Jonathan winced.

The half-elf performed a kip up to regain her feet, and turned to capitalize on her advantage. And promptly charged and caught the tip of the kendo stick in her stomach. She fell to the floor and coughed, attempting to catch her breath.

Connor stood, and helped his pupil back to her feet. After she stopped wheezing, he spoke.

"What possessed you to try that? If this had been a real fight..."

"You would be dead." she stated.

Connor stopped in mid-sentence. "What?"

"If this fight had been real, you would be dead."

"Perhaps I hit my head. Did I hear you correctly?"

"I believe so, Connor."

"Let's review. If this had been real combat..."

"I would have killed you."

"Let's try again. You release your sword. You execute that maneuver, which I will admit was inventive..."

"Thank you, Connor." she said.

Connor spitted her with a stare. "Be quiet. You jump up, and charge..."

"No. I would not have charged." she corrected him.

"But you did charge."

"Here. In a real battle I would still have had weapons."

"Such as?" he asked.

"Jonathan can tell you," she said, a small grin on her face.

Connor and Shawukay both turned to him.

"She's right, Connor." he confirmed. "She would have had three or four.."

"Six." she intoned.

"Excuse me, six silver-bladed daggers on her body."

"So?" he asked again. "She would have had daggers."

Shawukay's grin widened. "Which I am quite adept at hurling into an opponent's torso from twenty feet away. And I was considerably closer than that distance to you."

Connor looked to his friend, who nodded.

"She's got you there. I saw her put two into a vampire's back. At night."

Connor turned to Shawukay. She simply stood there, watching him.

He shook his head and laughed. "Okay. In a real fight you would have won."

"Yes, I would have." she said.

"Don't get cocky, young lady." he snapped.

"I was not 'cocky,' I was desperate."

"Even better, if you can improvise like that." he laughed. "Well, you've earned a break. Jonathan, take her out for a while. She deserves it."

"Thank you, Connor." she replied. "It is about time." She got up and went into the bedroom to change.

Connor waited for the door to close. "Did she really put two daggers into a target in the dark?"

"At the same time." Jonathan added.

"You are joking. You must be joking."

"Nope. She's ambidextrous. Did I forget to mention that?" Jonathan was grinning from ear to ear.

"Very funny. Is she as good with her bow as she is with blades?"

"No. Not at all."

"Good." Connor said.

"She's much better with the bow."

The Immortal looked like he was going to be sick. "And you said she needed training?"

"Without weapons, yes."

"I'd hate to fight her if she masters those. She's getting good."

Jonathan's grin vanished. "How good, Connor? Truthfully, from the hip, so to speak."

"Alright. Straight. Sword, she's an expert. Given time, she could be as good as most Immortals, better than some. And that duck-and-weave style of hers gives ME fits. Other weapons, you know better than I do."

"Martial arts, she has the basics. She's not ready for competition by any means, but some punk off the street, she could probably handle. Couple of years, she could be black belt level, if she keeps training."

Jonathan nodded. "Drawbacks?"

"Two." Connor said. "First, she's hesitant. Not on defense, but offense. She's reluctant to make the first move. It might be because I'm not a vampire, or her fear of losing it. Second, her patience."

Jonathan held up a hand. "What do you mean, patience."

"With herself. She pushes herself too hard. I've seen her practicing moves on her 'free' time, when she should be resting. Those can be worked on."

"What can't be worked on?"

"Her size. Plain and simple. Against normal foes, she'll do fine. Vampires, agility and skill only go so far."

"She has an edge or two." Jonathan said mysteriously.

"Such as?" Connor asked.

"Her secret. She'll tell you eventually. But if she does, I expect you to do the same. If only to see both your reactions."

"I see. This is about your amusement." Connor grumbled. "Will her bombshell be as big as mine?"

"I'd say the odds are about even." the angel replied. "You should have heard the first question she asked about you and Duncan after seeing your swordsmanship."

"Which was?"

"Word for word: How old are these two?"

"You didn't..." Connor began.

"Of course not. She has no idea. She compared you to masters where she comes from. High praise, if I read her correctly."

"What was her second question?"

"What kind of sword you were using."

"I would answer that question." he stated, relieved. "Go ahead and get out of here. She needs a break."

"Alright. We'll see you later."

*****

Jonathan took Shawukay to see the sights of Paris. She was particularly impressed with the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which she considered a great work of art. She found the Eiffel Tower ugly. As they were walking along a row of shops, Shawukay turned to Jonathan.

"Jonathan, is Connor MacLeod... satisfied with my training?" she asked him.

"For the most part."

"What is he not satisfied with?"

"You didn't hear us talking?" he asked.

"No. I have... figured out that most hu- people prefer their privacy. I tried not to overhear."

"I see." Jonathan said. "That's good. You're learning how Earth people think. Just a month ago you would have confronted someone."

"I am trying. Now will you answer my question?"

"Very well. He thinks you push yourself too hard."

"I am merely trying to learn what he teaches."

"And you are. He just feels you spend too much time practicing when you should be relaxing."

"I do not... relax easily." she said.

"I know. Just be a little more patient with yourself. You learn quickly. And he's pleased with your progress." A wicked grin spread across his face. "You should have seen the look on his face while you were changing."

Shawukay stopped. "Explain." she said, folding her arms.

"We were discussing your skills with weapons. He asked me if you were as good with a bow as you were with the sword. I told him no."

A look of anger crossed Shawukay's face. "You lied to him? The longbow is the weapon I am most... proficient in."

"I didn't lie. I said you weren't as good. THEN I told him you were better."

Now she understood. "And?"

"He looked like he was going to be sick."

Shawukay looked confused for a second, then Jonathan's comments sunk in. She started laughing, so hard that she fell against a building, which was the only thing keeping her on her feet. After nearly a full minute, she finally stopped, tears streaming down her face.

"You are serious. About his expression?" she asked.

Jonathan was grinning. "Quite serious. But don't tell him. He'd try to kill me."

"I will not." she promised. "You may not tell him either. I do have a, what is your phrase? A... reputation to maintain?"

"Cross my heart." he laughed. "It's good to see you laugh."

Shawukay sobered a bit. "It... felt good. In my line of work..." she broke off, and cursed softly in the elven tongue. "Sorry. I still think in terms of... you know."

"It's okay. You're trying. That's what counts."

They started walking again. As they walked, the half-elf looked in windows of various shops. Suddenly, something registered in her vision. She stopped, and stared into a window, placing both hands on the glass.

"I do not believe it."

Jonathan stopped and turned around. "What is it?"

She nodded at something in the window.

Jonathan looked at the sign above the door, then over at the window.

"This is an antiques store." he told her. "What do you see?"

"I see a songhorn." she replied.

An old man stepped out of the shop. He looked at Jonathan and said something Shawukay didn't understand.

Jonathan replied, then said something else.

"Yes. I speak English. A little. You see something you like?"

"Not me. My niece."

"Miss? You see something that interests you?"

"Yes." she said. "What can you tell me about this songhorn?"

The storekeeper looked at Jonathan, confused. "Do you know what she is talking about, sir?"

"Let me see. Shaw, what is a songhorn?"

Shawukay looked at him as if he were stupid. "Right there, next to that chest." She pointed again.

Jonathan looked, and realized what she was looking at.

"Sir, the flute next to the chest. What can you tell us?"

"Ah, that. It is an old flute. It's three centuries old. I believe it was crafted in Ireland."

Shawukay shook her head. "Sir, it is closer to five centuries."

The old man looked at her with approval. "You collect?"

"Collect?"

"Yes. You buy and collect old instruments?"

"No, sir. I play the songhorn. That type of flute, as you call it."

Jonathan looked at her. "You never told me you played music."

"I am sorry. I... have not played for a long time. It never entered into... discussion."

"Are you interested in buying it?" the storekeeper asked, hopeful.

Warning bells went off in Jonathan's head. "How much?"

"Six hundred in American dollars."

Shawukay's head lowered. "It is too much. I am sorry to have... wasted your time. I am ready to go, Jonathan."

"Okay. Sorry, sir. She apologizes." he told the old man.

He shook his head. "It's alright. She impressed me. She knows her history."

As they left, Jonathan asked her, "You really play the flute?"

"I did." she nodded. "As I said, it has been a long time."

Jonathan noticed she was holding something back. "Want to talk about it?"

"My grandmother taught me. On my world. It was... surprising to find something similar here."

"Memories?" he asked.

"Yes. Good ones. Far too infrequent. But it is all right." she said. "It shows that I'm not alone here."

"What? How so?"

She stared at him. "That songhorn was elf-crafted. You did not know?"

"No, I didn't. The elves of this world live in secret, among humans." he explained.

"Like a certain half-breed hunter from another plane?" she asked.

He stopped. "I never thought of you as a 'half-breed.'"

"I know that," she said. "It was just an example."

"But a poor choice of words."

She considered that. "Perhaps. But the example was sound. It does not matter."

"If you say so. It's getting dark. We should head back."

As they walked, Shawukay constantly looked around, not used to doing anything in the dark without a lethal intent. Suddenly, she stopped. "Jonathan? Over across the street, about... forty feet ahead."

Jonathan looked, and saw a man wearing motorcycle leathers standing on the corner, watching everyone pass by. He knew. And was concerned.

"Shaw..."

"I am all right. He is not... seeking prey. He is looking for something else." she said, grimly.

"What's he looking for?"

"That is obvious. He IS a male, after all." she snickered.

"Ah." Jonathan looked embarrassed. "What are you going to do?"

"Give him a chance to leave."

"If he doesn't? You don't have your sword."

"I have an edge. Not counting..." she looked at him. "My... guardian angel?" she finished with a grin.

"Shaw..."

"I will not attack. I will defend myself, that is all."

"Okay, but be careful."

*****

Michel was pleased with himself. He had fed, and now he wanted to have some fun. He kept scanning the crowd for a lady of the evening. He looked down the street, and saw a girl approaching him. Five-five, black hair, dressed in blue jeans and a black cotton shirt. She came straight for him. She was cute; this had possibilities.

He met her partway. "Bon jour, mademoiselle."

"I am sorry." she said in English. "I do not speak this tongue."

<An American?> Michel thought. <Oh, well.> "You are American, no?"

"No. I am from... elsewhere." she said.

<British? That's more fun.> "Would you like to talk?"

She smiled. "Yes. I have a... proposition for you." She nodded towards a nearby alley.

<Well. When in Rome...> "Let us go, ma petite."

As they entered the alley, she suddenly pushed him. Michel turned around, and stared into her eyes. Glowing, red eyes.

"What are you?" he asked, aghast. "What do you want?"

"I have a proposition for you."

"What?"

"You will leave this area. Do not return. And you live."

Michel was miffed. "And who are you that I should follow your orders?"

A trace of a grin appeared. "Perhaps you have heard of the Slayer?"

Michel gasped. "You?"

"No. I am not the Slayer."

"Then who are you woman?"

"Where I come from, blood drinker, your kind calls me the Hunter. Think about that very slowly. YOUR kind calls me this."

<She knows!> "Give me one reason not to kill you, human."

"Very well. One..." she drew a dagger from her back. "Two..." she drew another. "Three, these are blessed. By a priest. Four, I. Am. Not. Human."

"Then what are you?" he said, smirking.

"SHIRAK!" As she said that, a bright light appeared. The vampire got a good look at the woman. He noticed the practiced way that she held the daggers in each hand. He also noticed that she had removed whatever held her hair in place, revealing a pair of pointed ears.

"Merde! You're a Vulcan?!?"

Shawukay snorted. "Why is it that everyone who sees my ears says that! Think, vampire. Magic. Glowing eyes. Pointed ears. What do these suggest?"

Michel looked confused.

"Think Ireland. Or Santa Claus."

He did, and he paled, if that was possible for a vampire. "My God..."

"That is funny, coming from you." she snapped.

Michel narrowed his eyes. "Very well, Faerie. I will leave. But do not let our paths cross again." He pushed by her and walked very quickly out of the alley.

Jonathan approached her, grinning. "Very good."

She shook her head. "Not good. I was ready to jump him, until..."

"Until what?"

"The bastard called me a Vulcan." she said, irritably.

Jonathan started laughing.

"And he called me a fairy! I am not a pixie, or a leprechaun..."

"He said Faerie." He spelled it out. "A full blooded elf, on this world."

"Truly? He thought I was full-blooded elf?"

"Yes."

"Good. It was a bluff."

"Remind me never to play poker with you." Jonathan said.

"Poker? What is... poker?"

"Never mind. Let's get out of here." As they exited the alley, Jonathan looked back at the ball of magical light. "Shaw, turn the lights off?"

*****

Part 5: Revelations

"Who the hell are you?"
"Jacob McCandles."
"I thought you was dead."
"Not hardly."

---Jacob McCandles
"Big Jake"

Paris, France
5 July 1998

"She did WHAT?" Connor exclaimed.

"She cast a spell that lit up the alley, and the vampire freaked."

"And then?"

Jonathan smiled. "She let him go."

"She let him go?" Connor asked, disbelieving. "She didn't attack him?"

"Nope. He wasn't looking for a meal."

"I know I'm going to regret this, but what was he looking for?"

"According to Shaw, it was obvious."

"Don't make me hurt you, Jonathan." Connor grumbled.

"Her exact words: He is a male, after all." Jonathan told him.

Connor's eyes lit up, and he began laughing. He shook his head in frustration.

"If I was you, I wouldn't have known whether to applaud or strangle that girl." he said. "I don't believe this."

"Believe it. I was impressed with her performance."

"It's a good thing she's asleep. I might be chewing her out right now."

"Why? She handled herself well." Jonathan said.

Connor snorted. "She didn't call me so I could sell tickets."

With that both men shared a good chuckle.

*****

As the angel and Immortal talked, the subject of their conversation was tossing in her sleep.

As she rolled over, she heard a voice.

*Shawukay Redarrow.*

Shawukay opened her eyes.

*Shawukay, we must talk.*

The half-elf quickly rolled out of bed, putting herself into a defensive crouch. Standing in front of her was a female human, about twenty years of age, with short black hair, brown eyes, wearing a suit of plate armor. She stood shorter than Shawukay, but not by much.

*Shawukay, I must speak with you.*

"Who are you? How did you get past Connor and Jonathan?"

*I will explain. Look at the bed.*

Shawukay did just that. And saw herself in bed, sleeping. She turned to the human.

"What do you want?" she asked.

*It is time.*

"Time for what? And can you speak?"

"Yes. Is this better, Shawukay?" the girl asked.

"Yes, less unnerving at least. Who are you?" she looked at herself. "I am not awake."

"No. You are in a state similar to what the elves call reverie. Not awake, yet not exactly dreaming." she explained.

"You are..."

"A spirit, if you like. Like your teacher."

"Then I will get him. If you need..."

"No. I am here to see you. It is time for you to learn the truth."

Shawukay's eyes narrowed. "The truth about what?"

"Why you are here. And about your past and future."

"Why I am here and my future I can understand. But my past?"

"You are from this world."

The half-elf shook her head. "That is wrong. I am from.."

"Toril. I will explain. One of your ancestors was from Earth."

"Explain how this happened."

"A wizard from your world visits us. He studies our culture."

"Let me guess. Elminster?"

"Yes. He met a woman here, a witch named Alison. They exchanged information, and eventually Alison asked to be taken to Toril. Your Elminster granted her request."

"What does this have to do with me, spirit?"

"On your world, Alison became known as Alisondra."

Shawukay choked. "That is.."

"Your great-grandmother. Alison met a man, they married, and had a son."

"My grandfather, and the line has continued to my generation."

"Yes. The reason you are here is because you are the First."

"The First? Can you clarify that, please?"

"The First will be the guardian of the Third. Your teacher, Connor, will give you a gift. A sword. It is for you, but not." the spirit said.

"I am not good with riddles, spirit. Please speak clearly." Shawukay replied, her temper growing short.

"I am sorry. The sword was mine, wielded by me six centuries ago. You are to guard it, and give it to the Third when the time comes."

"You are... entrusting this sword I do not have to me?"

"Yes. The sword's history will be known to allies of the Third."

"I shall try to prove worthy of your trust." she promised. "How will I know this Third?"

"Through your past."

"Spirit, do not confuse me any further, please."

"Alisondra had kin on this world. A sister. Her line has continued, witches all, to this time. They will have Alisondra's notes, and will
provide proof of your story."

"Why would they believe..." Shawukay did a double take. "Her line has continued?"

"Yes."

"You are saying I have... kin here?" she asked, amazed.

"Yes, Shawukay," the spirit said softly. "This kin will be able to confirm your story, to those who will be your allies in fulfilling the prophecy."

"I see," Shawukay said, still dazed at this revelation.

"Shawukay," the spirit said, attracting her attention, "she can be a valuable ally and friend in helping you adapt to Earth."

"And what will her reaction be to a half-elven warrior priestess from another world, spirit?" she asked, not willing to accept that things were that simple.

The spirit gave her a demure smile, which Shawukay didn't like. "It will be hard at first, but it will not be terrible, as you are assuming. In time, it will be what you make of it."

The half-elf nodded, still unconvinced. She decided to move on to another subject. "I must know some things. My magic is enhanced here. I worship Mielikki."

"She was once worshipped here, and magic is slightly different. As the only worshipper on this plane, your magic is more concentrated."

"I see." she nodded. "What are the names of this Third and the kin I must find."

"I cannot give you their names, but..." the spirit waved her hand.

Images of two young women, both humans, filled Shawukay's mind.

"The first is the Third. You must guard her. The second is your kin. They are in the area called California. The information you need, where you must go, whom you must meet, is in your mind. You will face a challenge tomorrow, do not ask about it. You will learn the truth about Connor, and you must share the truth about yourself with him."

"I see. A final question. May I have your name?"

The spirit smiled. "The allies of the Third will understand, but my name is Jehanne..."

The spirit slowly vanished from sight. Shawukay looked over at her body in the bed...

...and jerked awake, remembering only talking to someone in a dream.

*****

Shawukay walked out of the bedroom, looking for Connor and Jonathan. No one was there. Looking around, she noticed a letter on the couch. Picking it up, she scanned it, then sighed. She walked back into the bedroom, and found her headband, and put it on. She then looked at the letter again.

Shaw:
Something came up. Connor got a call from a friend in New York. He has to return to New York ASAP. I took him to the airport, will be back this afternoon. We'll talk then.
Jonathan

PS. Connor says to relax. He was frustrated he didn't get to see your performance last night.

Shawukay laughed to herself. <Relax, HA! What am I supposed to do? And I must get Jonathan to teach me to read English.>

She looked around the bedroom in frustration, until she spotted the book she had bought in New York. Shrugging, she picked it up and headed for the couch.

Shawukay read for about an hour, engrossed in the book, until she was startled by a knock at the door. She put the book down, and walked up the steps to the door.

She opened the door partway to see a human male, about thirty years of age and standing nearly six and a half feet tall, with a muscular build. He had reddish hair with copper highlights, and a wiry beard of the same color. He was wearing black leather jeans, and a black shirt collar rose from his dark gray trenchcoat.

"Yes?" Shawukay asked.

"Can ye help me, Miss?" the man asked, with a thick accent not too different from Connor's. "I'm lookin' fer Connor MacLeod?"

"Who are you?" the half-elf asked, and then mentally slapped herself. "I apologize. May I ask your name, sir?"

"Raymond McGuire, at yer service."

"Connor is not here at this time. He will return later, if you wish to return. Or, if you have time, you may wait here." she offered.

A look passed through McGuire's eyes, a look Shawukay couldn't read. After some seconds, he nodded. "Thank ye, lass. I'll wait."

She nodded to him, and turned around as she opened the door, in order to lead McGuire into the barge. As she started down the stairs, her hearing picked up the sound of something sliding against leather. She looked over her shoulder, and McGuire's eyes widened in surprise as she caught him drawing a bastard sword from inside his coat.

The half-elf's eyes narrowed, and she whirled, throwing her entire weight into a right cross that solidly connected with the man's jaw.

McGuire dropped onto his rear, and his head smacked hard against the top of the stairs. As he cursed in pain, Shawukay leapt from the stairs and headed for the bedroom.

McGuire got to his feet and moved towards the bedroom the girl had entered. Before he reached the door, Shawukay came out, a fiery sword in her hands, the flames matched by the anger in her eyes.

"Wha' the bluidy 'ell?" McGuire stammered.

"Why are you here, Raymond McGuire?" Shawukay asked through gritted teeth.

McGuire smiled. "I came to take MacLeod's bluidy head."

Shawukay's eyes became mere slits. "Then you will die, unless you leave immediately."

"You think you can stop me?" the large man barked with a laugh. "I've killed over a hundred of my kind, so ye'll be no match for the likes o' me."

"And you are about to learn how seriously those of elven blood deal with those who threaten their friends."

McGuire's shoulders dropped a bit in surprise. "I dinna believe it. Well, MacLeod always did have a unique taste in lovers."

Shawukay's face grew red, not in embarrassment, but anger. "I will give you one chance to withdraw," she informed him.

"Give me yer best shot, lassie," McGuire snapped as he launched a powerful swing of his sword.

The ranger dodged back, quickly seeing that his power and reach far exceeded her own. McGuire sent an overhead chop at her, meant to split her down the middle. She dodged to her right, and connected, cutting a shallow wound into his left thigh. He exhaled in pain, and backed up a bit.

Shawukay gave him a grim smile. "First blood to me, Raymond McGuire."

McGuire went on the offensive, sending powerful strokes meant to quickly eliminate his opponent. Shawukay dodged most of them, parrying only when she had no other option.

The half-elf quickly realized that she would not have sufficient room to evade him forever, so she decided to take out his limbs.

As McGuire attacked with a neck-level swing, Shawukay ducked and sent a strong thrust into his wounded thigh, just inches above the knee. As she stood to withdraw, he landed a backhanded punch flush on her jaw. She fell backwards, landing heavily. She tried to stand, but McGuire slashed across her forehead, and blood blinded her as it flowed into her eyes.

As she tried to clear her vision, McGuire grabbed her by the hair and smashed her headfirst into the wall of the barge. He rammed her a second time, and let her drop to the floor.

Shawukay tried to clear her head, and heard McGuire chuckling.

"Well, lass," he said, breathing hard, "ye gave me a good workout. I wonder what MacLeod's reaction will be when he sees yuir bluidy corpse, with my challenge note pinned to yer chest."

Shawukay didn't respond as she attempted to regain her senses.

"I've got an idea, little one. How 'bout I use yer own sword on MacLeod," he said, sending an appreciative look towards Soulreaver, which lie on the floor. "A good blade like that deserves a proper wielder, don't ye think?"

<My sword?> Shawukay's mind registered. <Something about my sword.> Her mind spun, an image of Jonathan handling a sword.

<If you were evil...> she thought. <Lightning?> she tried to concentrate. <Lightning, and water?>

Her mind began focusing. She opened her eyes, and saw McGuire bending over to pick up Soulreaver.

She called on a spell, desperately praying, attempting to get the spell off quickly.

McGuire looked at her mumbling. <Wha' the hell is she saying?> She wasn't a threat, she couldn't even stand up.

A loud crack sounded throughout the barge, and it started raining heavily.

"Blessed saints..." he shouted as he wrapped his beefy hand around the half-elf's sword.

A deafening, blinding explosion filled the barge.

*****

Enrico Marquez sat in the trees lining the walk. He had been waiting for over an hour for someone to exit the barge. McGuire had gone in to find whichever MacLeod was in residence, and Enrico had been sitting there ever since. He had seen some type of electrical discharge, so someone had to have lost his or her head.

<Will someone please come out! I need to report!> the Spaniard thought. <Carumba! I'm sitting here while McGuire picks out some kind of souvenir.>

The sound of a door opening cut off his thoughts. Someone was exiting the boat. <Finally!> He took out his camera to get some photos.

And promptly dropped it at the sight of a young woman, bruised, battered, bloody, and soaking wet, stepping onto the deck. She closed the door, and sat down against it, closing her eyes and holding her head.

Marquez picked his camera back up. <Madre de Dios! She looks like hell.> Another thought crossed his mind. <Where is McGuire? Did she...>

Then he remembered the discharge. <That had to be McGuire's quickening! This girl took his head!> he thought, impressed. <She can't be that old, I've never seen her. Better get some photos for the Chronicles.>

He began snapping photos of the girl. <She MUST be new. I've never discovered a newbie before. Maybe they'll assign me to her...> He finished and left to report his find.

*****

Jonathan and Connor parked Connor's car, and started walking down a set of stairs to the walk heading to the barge. When they came into sight of the barge, Connor's heart almost stopped.

Shaw was sitting against the door, bloody-faced, and her eyes were closed.

"Jonathan," he started, then started running towards the barge.

The two of them boarded the boat, and ran over to her. Jonathan touched her shoulder. "Shaw?" he said urgently. "Shaw!"

Shaw winced. "Not so loud. My head hurts."

Connor leaned over. "Shaw, what happened? Who did this?"

Shaw opened her eyes, looking at Connor. "Your visitor."

Connor was taken aback. "What visitor? Who?"

"Raymond... McGuire."

Connor's face went white. "Oh, no."

"Oh, yes." she mumbled back.

"Where is he now?" he said, frowning.

"Inside. But you might not want to..." she never finished as Connor picked her up and moved her over to Jonathan. He burst into the barge.

Shaw nearly passed out, Jonathan held her up. "Shaw, why didn't you heal yourself?"

She groaned. "Two reasons. I cannot concentrate, my head.." she nearly fell over again. "Also, Connor will kill me as it is."

"Why would he do that?" Jonathan asked her.

"Look inside."

He did. "Oh, my God..."

The barge had been ravaged. Furniture had been overturned and destroyed. The telephone was in a broken heap. Shaw's sword was on the floor. And there was a decapitated body laying in about six inches of water.

Connor was shaking his head in disbelief. "Would she care to explain this? My God. Duncan will take my head for sure!"

Shaw's head snapped up, causing her to swoon. "Take your head?" she asked, fixing him with a stare.

Connor caught himself and shrugged. "An expression."

"Yes. The very same expression used by McGuire." she stated. "He was here to take your head."

"What happened, Shaw?" Jonathan intervened.

"He challenged me. We fought." Shaw shook her head. "He was better. He had me, Connor. He decided to use my sword on you."

"Your sword? Uh oh." Jonathan muttered.

"Uh oh, what?" Connor asked.

"Her sword's enchanted. One effect is a literal 'hands off' policy for evil people." he replied with a smile.

"And that is?"

"Electrocution."

Connor winced. "Ouch."

Shaw looked at him. "The cloudburst spell helped."

"Cloudburst?" Connor asked.

"Just like it sounds." Jonathan replied. "Like dropping a radio into a bathtub."

"INSIDE THE BARGE?!?"

"He... declined to step outside." Shaw mumbled.

"What happened then?"

"He touched my sword. He died." Her eyes closed. "Did not stay dead."

Connor's head spun. "Oh no..."

*****

McGuire lay on the floor, killed by the massive discharge. Shawukay stood up, using the wall for support. She looked at the damage, and moaned.

"Connor will kill me." she said, then shook her head. "No. He is too sadistic. He will tell Duncan. HE will kill me."

She tried to stand on her own, and was barely successful. A sound drew her attention. She looked over at McGuire, who was starting to stand up.

<Impossible!>

"Wha' the bluidy 'ell hit me?" he asked, not totally aware.

The half-elf glanced around, and saw the telephone. <I do not know how it works, anyway...>

She picked it up and stumbled over to McGuire's back. From behind, she raised the phone in both hands, preparing to bring it down. She began her downstroke...

...just as McGuire turned around. Still dazed, he took the bulk of the phone right between the eyes. As he fell to his knees, Shawukay grabbed her sword off the floor. Stumbling over, she then lifted it up and ran McGuire through his heart. He stared at her blankly, then pitched over, dead.

"Get up from that, you bastard."

*****

"You ran him through?"

"Yes, I did. It was... difficult to pull Soulreaver out of that fat bastard."

"I can imagine. You did good." Jonathan pitched in.

"No, I did not."

"How can you say that? He was dead."

"Did not stay dead." she replied.

Connor moaned. "Aauugghhh..."

*****

"Never let it be said I have to be hit twice..." Shawukay said. She was standing over McGuire, waiting to see if he resurrected again.

Ten minutes later, he did.

This time she didn't hesitate. McGuire sat up, and saw the half-elf and her flaming sword.

"Ye bluidy wench..." was all he managed before she gutted him. As he grabbed his stomach, she drew her blade against his jugular vein, blood spurting out in a gush.

*****

"Please tell me that's when you cut off his head." Connor pleaded.

"No. The third time he got up." she mumbled, half intelligibly.

Connor put his head in his hands. "Why me?"

*****

When McGuire woke up again, Shawukay raised her sword in a two-handed grip. McGuire saw her standing in front of him, poised to strike.

"I'll kill ye. Rip out yer.."

Shawukay swung, the anger, fear, and a fierce desire to hurt this man, who admitted to over a hundred murders, powering her stroke.

The sword cut cleanly through McGuire's neck, severing muscle, bone, and nerves, the head flying two feet before landing with a dull splash on the water-soaked floor.

Shawukay's adrenaline rush started to fade, and she began to walk over to the kitchen sink to vomit. However, a glow started coming from the headless corpse, and Shawukay began to grow fearful.

<Contingency magics? Oh, no.>

She began to look for a place to hide, and started to head for the bedroom when the first of a series of lightning bolts started shooting out of McGuire's body. A few blasted out windows on the barge, and Shawukay fell to the ground as a bolt shot into her back, and she screamed in pain. She rolled into the bedroom, but not before getting caught by a second bolt, which set her clothes to smoldering, and waited out the electrical storm, which she could hear sending bolts crashing into the walls as the sound and ionization in the air made the hairs on her neck stand on end.

Finally, after nearly two full minutes, the sounds simply ceased without warning. Shawukay slowly and groggily stood up, and stumbled out of the bedroom, and into what looked like the aftermath of a dwarven tavern brawl, the inside, and if the windows were any indication, the outside of the barge were likely nearly destroyed.

<What in the name of Mielikki was that?> she wondered. <If he was a wizard, why did he not use any of his magic?>

She was still wondering when she noticed the body still laying on the floor. She felt the gorge rise in her throat and she began emptying the contents of her stomach.

After finishing, she looked around. <I have to get out of here.>

She began slowly climbing the stairs.

*****

"She needs a hospital, Jonathan." Connor said.

"She can't." Jonathan said adamantly.

"She's bleeding, she may be in shock, and she may have a concussion. She needs treatment!" he snarled. "She.."

"Isn't human, Connor."

"What did you say?" he asked, stymied.

Shawukay stirred a bit. "He is... right, Connor. I am not... completely human." She opened her eyes. "Jonathan?"

"Yes, Shaw."

"Tell him. All of it." she said. "And if he says one word about Santa Claus, break his arms."

Jonathan grinned. "You have my word. Sleep." The last word carried a bit of power. He thought for a second, then turned to Connor. "We can go in now."

"How can..." he stopped. "Thanks."

They walked in, the interior restored thanks to Jonathan. As Connor sat on the couch, Jonathan carried Shaw into the bedroom.

When he came back, Connor looked at him.

"All right, exactly what is going on here?"

Jonathan sat down. "I'll tell you, she said to." He began the story, not leaving out anything. Half an hour later, he finished.

"I believe you. As strange as it sounds. It explains a lot. Like when she said she'd been hunting vampires longer than the Slayer."

Jonathan nodded. "Right. And you see why she couldn't go to a doctor."

"No kidding." Connor snapped. "She's Faerie. Truly Faerie?"

"Half. And elf, not 'Faerie.'" Jonathan corrected. "Her father was as human as you are."

"I have to leave tomorrow, with the situation with Maxine." Connor began, changing the subject. "She's ready. After this, I pity any vampire stupid enough to come within a mile of her."

"Me, too. So what do we do for two weeks?"

"Let her recover. Don't let her train until she heals. I had a gift for her, but I'll wait until morning. And keep up her English."

"Well, alright. But tomorrow you get to tell her your story."

Connor grinned. "Think she'll believe me?"

"Look at that body, and you tell me."

Connor grimaced. "Right. My tale can't be any stranger than this."

*****

Part 6: Firefight

"Hail, Caesar. We who are about to die..."

"Will take the other bastards with us."

---Walter Slovotsky and Karl Cullinane
"Guardians of the Flame"

15th Precinct
New York City Police Department
New York City, New York
6 July 1998

"So what have we got?" asked Andy Sipowicz.

Elisa Maza shook her head. "In the last two weeks, only two more disappearances. It's almost as if they were lying low."

"I wonder why." Bobby Simone said.

A voice came from behind them. "I might be able to explain that."

The three detectives turned to see an Italian woman, standing about five-eight, with long black hair, wearing a police-issue .357 Magnum in a shoulder holster. "You Maza?"

Elisa nodded. "Yes. Can I help you?"

"Maria Martinez, Vice, First Precinct. I been trying to find you for two weeks."

"What's up?" Sipowicz interjected.

"I have a message for you, if you'll let me explain." Martinez said, sitting down with the other three cops. She began to tell what had happened to her two weeks before. Sipowicz and Simone looked at her with disbelieving looks on their faces, but Maza merely raised her eyebrows a bit.

Sipowicz leaned forward on the table. "Okay, this 'thing' grabbed you, then what happened?"

Martinez shuddered. "Someone came out of the dark, and told that, whatever it was, to drop me. Then he pointed an Uzi at it."

"And then?" Elisa asked, suspecting the answer.

"The guy put a dozen rounds into that thing, and it took off running."

Simone stared. "He took a dozen shots, and just ran off?"

Martinez nodded. "Yeah. He might have been wearing body armor, but..."

"You don't believe it." Bobby finished.

"No. That thing wasn't human. If I didn't know any better, I'd say it was some kind of demon."

"So who was the guy with the Uzi?" Andy asked.

"The Punisher." Three jaws dropped. "He told me to give you guys a message: He'd take care of your 'poacher.'"

"WHAT?!? That wacko's hunting our perp!"

"Yeah, he is."

"That could explain the lack of recent activity, Andy." Bobby offered.

Sipowicz shook his head. "I don't believe this. We got a 'demon' hunting people, being hunted by a costumed vigilante. God, I love New York."

"Martinez, what did he say afterwards?" Bobby asked.

"He said, 'you're welcome,' and left. I been looking for you ever since." she said, and then looked at Maza. "Could you use an extra hand?
I owe that thing."

Maza looked at Andy and Bobby, who nodded. "Welcome aboard. Let's try to find this guy before the Punisher does. Guys, I'm going to take Martinez to the 23rd to clear it for her to work with us. I also want to check some sources."

Simone nodded. "We'll see you tomorrow."

"Be careful out there." Andy said. <Whatever she's drinking, I gotta get some of that.>

*****

23rd Precinct
New York Police Department
New York City, New York
6 July 1998

"Why we goin' to the clock tower?" Martinez asked, looking at Maza.

Elisa grinned. "My source lives here. I want you to describe what you saw to him."

"What good would that do? Won't he react like your partners?"

"You might say he's an... expert in the supernatural." she replied. "Let's go."

As the entered the tower, Martinez looked around. "So what's the guy's name?"

"My name is Goliath."

Martinez jumped, instinctively reaching for her sidearm before catching herself. She turned toward the voice, then gasped at the sight of the large gargoyle.

"Blessed Mother of God..." she muttered, then turned to Maza. "No wonder you believed me. Sheesh."

Goliath looked at Elisa. "Elisa, may I ask why you brought this woman here?"

"She was attacked by our 'hunter,'" she explained. "I wanted her to describe what she saw, maybe you'd have an idea what we are facing."

"I see. Do you trust her?"

"Excuse me, big man," Martinez fumed, "you could talk to me, you know."

"Very well. Can you keep our existence a secret?"

"Hell, yes. You know what'd happen if I talked about you?"

"Your kind would hunt us down."

"No, 'my' kind would lock me in a loony bin."

"I beg your pardon?"

"They'd think she was insane, Goliath." Maza added.

"Damn straight. I still can't believe what I saw that night."

"Describe to me what you saw. Every detail you can remember."

As Martinez told her story, Goliath's face was like stone. When she finished, he turned to Elisa.

"Elisa, you have no idea what you are facing. You cannot fight them."

"There has to be a way, Goliath. How do we stop them?"

Goliath sighed. "Sunlight. Decapitation. Wooden stakes through the heart. Holy water."

"Goliath, you sound like you're talking about..."

"Vampires, yes." he finished for her.

"Oh my God." she muttered, horrified. "Is there anything that can be done?"

"Yes. We'll patrol, and if we find them, we will stop them." Goliath promised. "I'll let the rest of the clan know. Be careful, both of you."

Martinez snickered. "You need to be careful too, big man. You got someone else huntin' vampires with you."

Goliath's eyes rose. "Who?"

"A vigilante called the Punisher. He saved Martinez's life a few weeks ago."

"I see. This seems to be getting more complicated. I will keep you apprised of what happens."

After the two women left, Goliath called the clan together. After informing them of the situation, he asked for any questions.

"I have a question, Father." Angela piped in. "What exactly is a vampire? I spent my life on Avalon, so.."

"Of course." Goliath then explained everything he knew about the creatures.

Angela looked worried. "Can we handle this alone?"

"I don't know. Perhaps we could find some help. I could..." he shook his head. "I hope they'll believe me."

Brooklyn raised a hand. "I have an idea, Goliath. Elisa says the Punisher's hunting them too. How about we try to get together, combine our efforts."

"You would ally us with a vigilante? A killer?"

Brooklyn shrugged. "If it'll save lives. These things aren't human, remember?"

Goliath rubbed his chin. "Perhaps you have a point. You can try. But our priority is finding these creatures, and stopping them."

*****

Xanatos Residence
New York City, New York
Early hours
7 July 1998

Goliath landed on Xanatos' roof, and furled his wings. A moment later, David Xanatos walked out of the house and greeted Goliath.

"Hello, Goliath. It's good to see you again." he greeted warmly.

"Hello. I wish my visit were under better circumstances, Xanatos."

Xanatos' grin disappeared. "What is it?"

Goliath explained the situation to him, and waited for a reaction. To his surprise, there was none.

"I've recently been in contact with the Illuminati, Goliath. There are things going on, but I'm somewhat in the dark. I do have my own resources, however, and I might be able to help a little. Is there anything else?"

"Yes." Goliath answered. "I am hesitant to ask this, but I would like Demona's assistance, if you can find her."

"Demona? Why her?" Xanatos asked.

"She has experience with magical creatures. She might be able to provide information that I do not have."

"Alright, Goliath." he replied. "I'll do what I can."

*****

Paris, France
7 July 1998

Shawukay's face was unreadable as she digested Connor's story.

"Shaw?" Connor called. "Connor to Shaw."

"I wish we had... discussed these things before your 'friend' showed up." she said slowly.

"So you could have avoided destroying the barge?"

"No." she said. "So you could have had your face cut with a sword."

"Very funny. What about you?" he said. "Your secrets?"

She shrugged. "You can kill an elf without cutting his head off."

Jonathan chuckled. Connor turned to him.

"Please don't encourage her, Jonathan."

"Why not? She's right, you know." the angel said.

"Unfortunately, yes. Well, anyway, I have to go. Maxine needs my help in New York." He stood and walked over to a trunk. "Shaw, I have a gift for you."

<A gift?> she thought, then remembered. <That dream...>

Connor brought out a sword, moderately rusted, but whole. "This sword was found in an old church. I don't know much about it, but it's a few centuries old. Until you recover from your fight, I want you to try to get this sword battleworthy."

"Connor, I have a sword, one I have used for many years."

"You could always use a backup weapon. You carry all those daggers, after all."

"True enough." she agreed. "Thank you for the gift, if was kind of you."

"It's no problem. I hope to see you again, after you complete whatever mission you end up on."

"I would like that. Perhaps you can teach me more?"

Connor grinned. "If you can keep from casting thunderstorms in my home, maybe I will."

Shawukay laughed. "It is a... bargain."

*****

23rd Precinct
New York Police Department
New York City, New York
13 July 1998

"Well, that was a bust." Broadway complained.

"No kidding," Brooklyn agreed. "Another night, and nothing. It's as if they went into hiding."

"Any idea if Lexington and Hudson found anything?"

Brooklyn shook his head. "No. They aren't due back for a few minutes."

As the two friends settled in, Goliath and Angela arrived. They both had frowns on their faces.

Brooklyn looked at Goliath. "No luck, Goliath?"

"None. I take it your patrol was the same?"

Broadway sighed. "Exactly. I'm beginning to wonder if Martinez was right about what she saw."

"She was correct." A voice said from the balcony.

The four gargoyles whirled around, then relaxed at the sight of a female gargoyle standing there.

"Demona." Goliath coldly greeted his former love.

"Hello, Mother." Angela said, her greeting much warmer.

"Hello, Angela. Goliath."

Goliath approached her. "You received my message?" he asked.

She nodded. "Yes. Xanatos informed me of recent events. You asked for my help, I am here to provide it."

"Thank you. We have been unable to find them on our own."

"And you won't. They know they're being hunted. They're being cautious. However, there are ways around this."

"Such as?" Goliath asked, suspicious of her motives.

Demona sighed. "Magic, of course."

"What did you have in mind?"

"Location spells. They would allow you to home in on any vampire within range. There are limits, however. The range of the spell is only a few hundred feet, and it has to be cast on a person, rather than an object."

"That doesn't sound too bad," Broadway said.

"Unless reinforcements are too far off." Goliath said to him.

Demona smiled. "What if your patrol areas were cut a bit? Xanatos managed to contact a 'fellow hunter.' He replied that he would handle Upper Manhattan and the Bronx."

Goliath looked at her, surprise on his face. "I assume you mean the Punisher?"

"As well as, as he put it, a friend or two."

"Good. When can you cast your spell?"

"That is a problem. It will take me a week to gather the ingredients, and to cast the spell on an appropriate number of people."

Brooklyn grimaced. "That's a lot of time, Demona."

"We seem to have little choice, Brooklyn." Goliath muttered. "Thank you, Demona."

"I'm not doing it for you Goliath." she said. "I worry about the risk you put our daughter into."

"At least you are honest."

"Yes, now tell me how you've been searching for these creatures."

And they went to do just that.

*****

Vampire's Apartment
Unknown Location
New York City, New York
Early hours
14 July 1998

"Angel."

Angelus turned to Drusilla, and was not pleased to see the look of worry on her face. <Oh, no.>

"What's wrong, Dru?" he asked her.

"They are hunting us. They're hunting my Angel and Spike."

"Who's hunting us, luv?" Spike called.

Dru looked off into space. "The skull and stones. They want to hurt us. They want to hurt our new friends."

Spike walked over and hugged Dru. "It's all right, luv. You'll see. We'll be fine."

"Yes," she agreed, nodding her head. "But we will fight the pin man."

"You said that earlier, Dru," Angelus interrupted. "Where are we supposed to fight this 'pin man?'"

"In our Sunnyhell. Where the fairy lady will help us. She wants to hurt us too."

"Spike, does this make any sense to you? 'Pin Man?' 'Fairy lady,' who wants to hurt us and help us?"

"Hell if I know, mate." Spike said, then shrugged. "Maybe she's a fairy lady because she likes girls."

Angelus looked at Spike, who had a grin on his face. His temper finally broke.

"Dammit, Spike, this is serious! Her visions normally come true! That means we're in trouble! And you just sit there making jokes!"

"Of course. If you'd been listening, you would have noticed that she said the 'fairy lady' will help US. As in, we three will make back to the Hellmouth. Not that I particularly like that idea."

"You'd rather have someone like the Punisher on your tail every night?"

"Well, no, now that you mention it."

"Good. A few more days, then we'll make one big hunt, then leave. We'll be okay."

Spike looked dubious. "I certainly bloody hope so, mate."

*****

Unknown Location
New York City, New York
14 July 1998

Frank Castle stared at the two men standing before him.

"Well, what do you think?"

The men looked at each other. One was in his thirties, with long black hair, a pale complexion, and red rimmed eyes. He was dressed in a manner that the other man would call "gothic." The other was a kid, really, only sixteen or seventeen, wearing a leather jacket, blue jeans and biker boots. His brown hair and eyes made him look unremarkable. The same could not be said for the power contained within that body.

The younger man nodded, indicating that the other should speak first.

"I think you are correct," the man began, speaking with a Slavic accent. "They sound like vampires, as you suggest. The police will be unable to stop them. You may count on my help."

Castle turned to the teenager. "How about you?"

The kid nodded. "You know the answer to that, Frank. Hell, after Blackheart, this should be a piece of cake. The bloodsuckers will go down. No offense, Michael."

The older man grinned. "No taken. Frank, do we have any allies in this?"

The Punisher nodded. "Some. I don't know who, or considering our opposition, what our allies might be. I assume they'll be beating up on
vampires."

He handed each man a small headset. "This'll allow you to keep in touch with me. I'll talk to you later tonight. Be seeing you soon, Morbius, Ketch."

As he left, the man named Ketch turned to Michael Morbius.

"Never a dull moment in the Big Apple, right Michael?" he asked.

"Hardly, Daniel." he replied.

*****

Vampires' Apartment
Unknown Location
New York City, New York
22 July 1998

"All right, here's the plan. Break off into twos, and find a good target. Feed, then bring them back here. We'll build our numbers a bit before we leave."

Angelus turned to the young vampires that he, Spike, and Drusilla had turned. He spoke again, slowly.

"Listen very carefully. There are people hunting us. The police. The Punisher, for another." There was a lot of nervous shuffling at the mention of that name. "When you find a worthy target, hit fast and hard, and then get back here. I don't want to lose anyone."

As the fifteen or so vampires walked out, Angelus turned to Spike and Dru.

"I want you two to come with me. I don't want any of us apart from each other."

"Who cares. I just want to get some action." Spike snarled.

Dru smiled. "My Spike is hungry." She looked at Angelus. "Angel, can we have fun tonight? The skulls and stones are looking for us."

"Skulls? As in, more than one?"

"Yes. One of anger, one of revenge. They will hurt our friends."

Spike cussed under his breath. "What about us, luv? Will they hurt us?"

Drusilla got a faraway look in her eyes. "They won't. The stones will fight us. We'll get away, Angel. We still have to fight the pin man."

"Not again with this pin man nonsense." Angelus sighed.

"My Angel doesn't believe me. You will believe me later." With that, she walked off in a huff.

"That, Angelus, is one vampire you don't want mad at you." Spike commented.

"Whatever."

"Ready to hunt, mate?"

"More than ready, Spike." Angelus said, switching to his game face.

*****

The Bronx
New York City, New York
22 July 1998

Jack Carlton and Kaleda Clay watched the security guard wander around the warehouse. He thoroughly checked all the locks, then went around the corner.

"Why'd you pick this one?" the male vampire asked.

"He was one of my students." Kaleda replied. "Brown belt. Not as good as me, but good enough."

"So we add another kung fu freak to our group?" Jack asked sarcastically.

"The master said to pick a 'good' target."

Jack fingered his Bowie knife. "You think he might be trouble?"

"Only if he can pull that gun before we jump him. Not to us, but the noise might draw attention."

"All right, let's take him." Jack said, starting off.

Kaleda nodded, drawing a pair of sai short swords as they went after their prey.

*****

Kaleda finished her share of the meal, then looked at the time.

"We must get back," she stated.

"I'm not worried. Take your time. No one else is here."

"Then may I join you?"

The two vampires turned, their game faces emerging. Standing fifteen feet away was another vampire, wearing Gothic style clothing. Jack relaxed a bit, but Kaleda was still wary.

"Go away. This is our meal." she warned.

"I cannot do that." he said. "After all, I am here to kill you. My friends will be at this warehouse shortly."

Jack looked at the newcomer closer. That was when he noticed the small microphone the stranger was speaking into.

"He's calling for backup!" he shouted as he rushed forward.

*****

"My friends will be at this warehouse shortly."

The tracers in the comm units were working perfectly. The Punisher altered his course and keyed the transmitter.

"On my way, Morbius. Ketch."

"Go ahead, Frank."

"There's only two. We'll handle them. I'm getting police reports of activity in Times Square. You're the big gun. Head over and help."

"Will do. Be careful, Frank."

Two miles away, Dan Ketch turned his motorcycle and shot towards Times Square.

*****

Above Times Square
New York City, New York
22 July 1998

"Goliath. Brooklyn here."

Goliath keyed the microphone that Elisa had provided. "Go ahead."

"Scratch two vamps. They attacked a young girl, but we stopped them. Wasn't easy, but the girl's fine." A pause. "Have to admit, Demona's spell works like a charm."

Goliath looked to his left, where Demona was gliding alongside him, with Angela flanking his other side. "You heard?"

"Yes, Goliath." she said with a smile. "And it's already paid dividends."

Goliath snarled. "You are enjoying this?"

"No. I enjoy the fact that humans are in our debt, even if they don't know it."

"I'm sensing something. This way." Angela reported, banking to the right. Goliath and Demona followed.

They saw three humans, or what appeared to be humans, fighting Lexington and Hudson. Lexington took a sharp punch, and flew dozens of feet into a brick wall.

Hudson smacked one of the two males, a blonde-haired one, who took the blow, and returned it with interest. Hudson staggered, then the other man dropped him by launching a devastating roundhouse.

"I have the one in the middle, Demona take the other male, Angela the female!" Goliath roared as he dropped into a powerful dive.

*****

Morbius dodged another slash of the male vampire's Bowie knife, then worked in close and drove a left hook into the man's gut. An uppercut to the jaw knocked him flat. Morbius looked around for the female.

"KAAAIIII!!"

Stars exploded in Michael's head as the woman landed a jumping sidekick. She followed the kick with a backhanded punch, then reversed the momentum of that arm to deliver a powerful elbow smash. Morbius staggered back, giving the woman enough room to execute a spinning heel kick, the heel of her foot connecting with Morbius' temple.

Morbius sank to his knees, groggily looking up at his opponent. She brought her right leg straight up for an axe kick to finish him. Morbius didn't notice the small red dot on her forehead.

A loud crack split the air, and the woman reeled back, blood flying from her forehead. She dropped, twitching rapidly.

By this time, the male had recovered, and was preparing to attack Morbius when a second shot rang out, taking him in the neck. He dropped, blood gushing out in a torrent all over the ground.

The Punisher walked up, having shouldered his M-16. He held an Uzi in his right hand, and extended his left to help his ally to his feet.

"It is... about time you arrived." Morbius said wryly, blood trailing from his lip.

"Sorry. You okay, Morbius?"

"Yes. Let us finish these vampires, then be off."

Morbius bent down, and picked up the male vampire. He grabbed the man's head, and savagely twisted his neck. The bone snapped with a sick sound, and the vampire was dropped to the ground.

"There. It is done." Morbius said.

Castle stepped before Morbius without a word. He lifted his Uzi and pressed the trigger. He emptied the entire clip into the vampire's head, leaving little chance of a recovery.

Morbius gaped. "What in God's name did you do that for?"

Castle turned back to Morbius as he loaded another clip. "I like to make sure."

Morbius just shook his head. "Let us take care of the other one, then."

However, the woman, as well as the body of their prey, was nowhere in sight.

*****

Outside Times Square
New York City, New York
22 July 1998

Dan Ketch was racing at top speed, attempting to make his way to Times Square. Off to the side he heard a scream.

In an alley, Ketch noticed two men attacking a young woman. Stopping his bike, he ran into the alley.

"Let her go, you bastards!" he screamed. "Try someone your own size."

One of the men left the woman, and started approaching Ketch. Dan could see that the vampire had his demonic visage in place.

"You shouldn't have come in here, mortal." he said, spitting in Dan's face.

Little did the vampire realize that would be the last mistake he ever made.

Ketch reached up and rubbed his face, checking to see if there was any blood. There was. He looked at the demon and smiled.

"Thanks. I needed that."

Dan's body started to glow with a bright light, beams shooting out his eyes and mouth. After a few seconds, his body was enveloped in a blinding flash.

Both vampires attempted to clear the light from their eyes. They heard a small sound in the sudden quiet.

T-CHINK.

As their vision cleared, the vampires saw something that chilled even their blood.

Standing in place of the young man was something completely different. A, something, humanoid, wearing motorcycle leathers and boots, gloves and a leather jacket, swinging a metal chain in circles. The thing's head wasn't human, rather a skull with flames rising to and off of the top of its head.
The vampires' human memories could not recall this being, but the demons inhabiting the bodies instinctively knew the identity of their new opponent.

One of them finally spoke. "OH SHIT, IT'S"

[I AM THE SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE.]

The vampire holding the struggling woman dropped her to the ground, and both turned to flee down the alley. The Ghost Rider snapped his chain forward. The links of the chain separated, flying at the vampires at high speed. The links started glowing and grew points at the corners. They ripped through the vampires, ripping them and their hearts to shreds. Both vampires crumbled into dust before moving thirty feet.

The links flew back towards the Rider, linking back together. He replaced the chain around his shoulder, then walked over to the girl.

She was leaning against the wall, shaking with fright.

"Who... who are you?" she asked in a small voice.

[I AM THE SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE. YOU KNOW ME AS THE GHOST RIDER.]

Recognition sparked in her eyes. "I've heard of you."

[ARE YOU UNHARMED?]

"Yes." she said, her voice growing stronger. "Thanks."

[I MUST DEPART. BE CAREFUL.]

Ghost Rider turned and exited the alley. He climbed onto his motorcycle, now in all of its flaming glory, and sped off towards Times Square.

The girl watched as he rode off, and shook her head.

"My shrink's never gonna believe this."

*****

Times Square
New York City, New York
Early hours
23 July 1998

Angelus was enjoying himself. <It's been a long time since I got to pound someone.>

"So much for your stones, Drusilla." he said.

Suddenly, Dru dropped to the ground. A split second later, a female gargoyle flew through the spot she had occupied. The gargoyle screamed in frustration.

Pain exploded in Angelus' back as a large gargoyle plowed into his back at top speed. The gargoyle flew along the ground, holding the vampire leader around the waist.

<One chance.> Angelus reached up and grabbed an arm, then flipped forward with all of his strength. The gargoyle flipped over, smashing into the ground and leaving cracks in the street.

Angelus climbed to his feet as the gargoyle did the same. The two regarded each other warily.

"Well, friend, you're certainly a big one." Angelus said. "The name's Angelus."

"Goliath."

Angelus smirked. "It fits. How about we just call it even and my friends and I will leave."

"I cannot allow that." Goliath answered. He charged forward with a roar, eyes glowing.

*****

Demona managed to rake her claws along Spike's back. He screamed in pain, and turned to see her winging back.

As she came in for a second attack, he launched a sidekick that caught her in the jaw and grounded her.

He locked her into a half nelson, but she managed to make her feet and back Spike into a wall with enough force to free herself.

She then tried to connect with a roundhouse, claws open. Spike ducked, then backed up towards the street. He spared Demona a smile.

"Well, looks like I lucked out. I got the pretty one, eh?"

Demona smiled back. "I wouldn't consider you lucky, vampire."

Confusion replaced his humor. "And why not, luv?"

"The first rule of nature." she replied. "The female is always the more dangerous of the species."

She launched herself at Spike.

*****

Angela connected with a punch, knocking Drusilla back several feet. She went forward to press her attack, but stopped short at the look of sadness on the vampire's face.

"Please don't hurt me. Don't hurt Ms. Edith." she pleaded.

"What are you talking about?" she asked.

"Please don't hurt me." she repeated.

<What have they done to her?> Angela wondered.

She looked at the female vampire's face, and was caught by the gaze in Dru's eyes. Angela didn't notice that she couldn't move.

Nor did she notice the grin slowly growing on Dru's face.

*****

The police had cordoned off the area, surrounding a square-mile radius. Simone and Sipowicz couldn't believe what they were seeing.

"Andy, do you believe this?"

"This looks like somethin' out of a Hitchcock movie!" he replied, referring to the gargoyles and whatever their opponents were, ducking it out. "I want the snipers set up to take these things out."

"We don't know who the good guys are here, Andy."

"Maybe none of them is."

At that point, Maza and Martinez ran up. Elisa stalked over to Sipowicz.

"Andy, call the snipers off. The guys with the wings are on our side. The things they're fighting are vampires!"

"You gotta be jokin', Maza!"

"I'm serious. The gargoyles saved my life once. I owe them. Call off the snipers!"

Andy looked over at Martinez. "Can you confirm this?"

"Hell, yes. They're on the up and up, baldy."

"All right." Sipowicz keyed his radio. "Listen up. Target the people. Clear shots only. The winged things are on our side."

"Andy..." Maza started.

Sipowicz looked at her. "Your friends ain't gonna fight alone on my watch, Maza."

Surprise was etched on her face. "Thanks, Andy."

Bobby turned back, listening to a dull roar in the distance. "You can say that again, Andy..."

The other cops turned in his direction, then bailed out as a motorcycle with flaming tires jumped over the hoods of two police cars, and headed for the fight.

Bobby was the first to recover. "Was that who I thought is was?"

"If you mean the damn Ghost Rider, then yeah." Martinez uttered.

Andy cursed. "Great, just great. Rod Serling, eat your heart out."

*****

Demona had the upper hand on Spike, having opened numerous gashes with her claws. Spike's clothes, not to mention his face, were crisscrossed wit ribbons of red.

As the gargoyle prepared to deliver a finishing blow, she caught sight of her daughter just standing still, as her opponent slowly rose and approached her.

"ANGELA!!" she screamed.

Spike used her distraction to land a punch, clearing enough room to make a run for it. Unfortunately for him, he went less than twenty feet before he felt something wrap around his ankles, tripping him up.

He fell to the ground, and watched in horror at the motorcycle with its unearthly rider scream by at over ninety miles per hour. He also noticed the chain leading from the Ghost Rider's hand. As he started to move in the same direction, the only thing that came to mind was <OH CRAP!>.

Demona watched her opponent literally be dragged off, then turned her attention to Angela. Knowing she could not cover the distance in time, she muttered an incantation, and stretched out one of her arms.

A blast of pure mystical energy tore through the night.

*****

Dru was pleased that her gaze had worked.

"You'll make a pretty friend for Ms. Edith," she remarked happily.

At that moment, she was blasted fifty feet backwards by the force of Demona's spell. She flew through the air, and landed a block over with a loud thud.

Dru groggily rose and said, "You don't play well with others. I'll find another friend."

And she turned and walked off into the darkness.

*****

Angelus ducked another of Goliath's punches, but Goliath kept in motion, sweeping the vampire with his tail. Angelus landed on his back, and the gargoyle launched a massive overhand right.

Angelus rolled out of the way, the gargoyle's fist making cracks in the cement. Angelus got to his feet, and landed two quick punches that left bruises on Goliath's face.

Angelus smirked. "Well, gargoyle looks like a stalemate to me. You're bigger, stronger, and can take more punishment, but I'm faster, more agile, and I don't get tired. I can do this all night."

Goliath nodded. "But I don't worry about the sunlight."

The two opponents locked up again.

Goliath managed to lock his hands around Angelus' throat and began to squeeze, forgetting that vampires didn't breathe. Angelus kneed Goliath in the stomach, doubling him over. He picked up the gargoyle, and threw him with all his strength. Goliath landed heavily, and was dazed.

The vampire looked around, and noticed that he was the only vampire left in the area. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, he took to the shadows.

*****

Ghost Rider approached the shopping district, screaming down the street. Seeing a place to deposit his "passenger," he hit the brakes, at the same time snapping his arm forward with all his might.

Spike felt himself leave the ground, and the chain around his ankles loosen. The raw pain in his back faded as his eyes widened upon seeing where he was headed.

The front window of Macy's.

"BLOODY HELLLLLlll...." his voice faded as he flew through the window with a deafening CRASH, the glass barely slowing his momentum.

The Spirit of Vengeance waited nearly a full minute, watching for movement. Seeing none, he turned around, heading back towards the site of the battle.

*****

As the dust settled, Goliath walked around checking the fellow members of his clan. Hudson had been hurt, but would be okay in a few days. Lexington would be out of action for several weeks, at least.

Demona had broken the spell over Angela, and the two were talking quietly when Goliath approached.

"Angela. Demona. Are you two all right?"

Angela's face flushed. "Barely. Only because Mother's spell forced the vampire away."

"It's not your fault, Angela. You will learn from the experience."

Demona glared at Goliath. "If she survives, you mean. You were too busy fighting to notice. But I noticed."

"We will not have this argument. I have faith in her, as should you."

"Perhaps. In all honesty, this was a near thing."

Goliath started to reply, but was cut off by the sound of an approaching motorcycle. He turned and saw the being that had helped them.

Ghost Rider stepped off the motorcycle and walked over to Goliath.

[I HANDLED THE VAMPIRE. THE OTHERS?]

"Defeated, and withdrawn." he replied. "My clan might have suffered greater casualties if not for your assistance."

[MY ALLIES DIRECTED ME TO AID YOU. THEY HAVE HANDLED OTHERS LIKE OUR OPPONENTS. I BELIEVE THE FIGHTING IS OVER FOR TONIGHT.]

As Goliath and Ghost Rider talked, Brooklyn and Broadway landed. They looked at the figure talking with their leader and walked over to Demona and Angela.

"What the heck is that thing?" Broadway asked.

Angela shook her head. "I have no idea."

"I do." Demona stated. "It's one of the Spirits of Vengeance. Part of a group of spirit beings who protect, and if necessary, avenge the innocent. I never thought I would see one in the flesh."

"Flesh, Demona?" Brooklyn asked. "Poor choice of words."

A corner of Demona's mouth rose. "Perhaps you're right."

*****

"I gotta lay off the bloody Guinness...."

Spike slowly rose, a virtual shower of glass raining off of his body to the ground. He reached up to touch his head, and pain flared through his back. The pain helped clear his mind.

<Oh, bloody great! Another great idea of Angelus', and look how I end up! One of these days I'm gonna kill the bugger.>

Spike painfully made his way to the street, and started walking towards the apartment. He figured he had about three hours until dawn.

<And I might not make it. I need to find a vehicle.>

He saw a truck sitting at a light, and moved over to it. The driver saw him coming, and rolled down his window.

"What happened to you, mister?"

Spike moaned. "I got mugged by some damn punks, mate."

"Brit, huh?" the driver asked.

"Yeah. Can I hitch a ride?"

"Climb in. I'll get you to a doc."

Spike climbed in, and shifted to his game face.

"Mate, didn't yer mum ever tell you not to pick up hitchhikers?"

*****

Part 7: Travels

"Shotgun!"
---The Spleen
"Mystery Men"

Vampires' Apartment
New York City, New York
23 July 1998

Angelus walked into the apartment, dreading what he might find. He looked around, and saw eight of the new vampires in the living room, plus Drusilla sitting on the couch.

"Eight?!?" he shouted. "Only eight of you made it back!"

He turned to Kaleda. "I'm not surprised you made it back, but where's your partner?"

"Dead, Master."

"How, may I ask?"

"With a head full of Uzi rounds," she explained. "A full, complete magazine's worth."

That image went through Angelus' mind, and he shuddered. "The Punisher, right?"

"And a vampire. He was helping the Punisher."

"One of us?"

"No, Master. He seemed different. I don't know how or why." she told him. "I did find a replacement. One of my former students."

"Is he good?" Angelus asked.

"Very talented," she confirmed with a nod.

"Anyone else?"

One vampire confirmed that he'd brought a man, a homeless person.

Kaleda stepped forward. "Master, where's Spike?"

"The last I saw him, he was being dragged off by a flaming skeleton on some kind of Harley."

*****

Spike pulled the hijacked truck into the garage of the vampires' apartment complex. He parked the vehicle, turned it off, and then looked over at the dead (for now) driver.

"Well, mate, just what were you hauling anyway?"

Not receiving an answer, Spike reached above the visor, and pulled out the shipping manifest. He gave it a quick lookover.

<Hmmm... let's see now. Point of origin, Museum of Natural History.> he thought. <Destination...>

Spike almost dropped the papers. <The blasted Smithsonian? What the hell is this yank haulin'?> He looked the papers over again. <Not due for two days. Well, that might give us an advantage.>

Spike climbed out of the truck, then walked over to the passenger's side and yanked open the door.

"Come on, pal. I think Angelus is gonna wanna have a talk with you when you wake up."

He slung the driver over his shoulder and walked in.

*****

"Angelus? Dru? Where the hell are you demons?" Spike yelled.

A number of vampires walked back into the living room. Angelus walked over to Spike, giving him a dirty look.

"Where have you been, Spike?" he asked. Then he really looked over Spike's condition, blood covering his body, his clothes ripped to shreds. "What happened to you?"

"That flamin' demon, no pun intended, dragged me down the street and threw me through the front window of Macy's." he snorted, then he grinned. "But I found a Good Samaritan to give me a ride home."

"Lucky you. While you were out seeing the sights, I was going fifteen rounds with the biggest gargoyle this side of Hell."

"My Spike is back!" Dru cried as she entered the room. She walked over and kissed him. 'Are you okay, Spike, dear?"

"No, but I'll get better," he said.

Spike turned to Angelus. "You will NOT believe where this yank was driving."

"Oh, really. Surprise me."

"The Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C. And, he's not due for two days."

"And that matters because..."

"Angelus, can you say, 'head start?'"

Angelus looked impressed. "Hmmm. Good idea, Spike. Keep this up, I might keep you around." He sighed. "Let's get some rest. This afternoon we'll see what's in that truck, then we head out. Who knows, maybe we'll find a use for whatever the cargo is."

*****

15th Precinct
New York City Police Department
New York City, New York
23 July 1998

"God, that was some fight, eh Maza?" Martinez asked.

"You can say that again, Martinez." Sipowicz answered instead. He turned to Maza. "Those things were your friends?"

"Yes, Andy, they're my friends. And they're called gargoyles, not 'things.'"

"I'd hate to see what your enemies look like." he muttered.

Simone and Martinez got a laugh, and Maza chuckled.

"So, do you think they'll be back?" Bobby asked, putting forth the question no one wanted to ask.

Maza shrugged. "I don't know. What I do know is that we've got to come up with an explanation for this."

The others groaned. "Don't remind us." Martinez said.

"How about this; a group of 'persons unknown,' perhaps a cult, was kidnapping people for some ceremony. The gargoyles found out about it, and interfered to help save lives." Bobby suggested.

Elisa and the others stared at him. "That almost sounds plausible. Where'd you come up with that?"

He shrugged. "From all those stupid 'end of the millennium' shows on TV."

Everyone broke into laughter.

*****

La Guardia Airport
New York City, New York
23 July 1998

Shawukay and Jonathan made their way through the airport, looking for Mark. Their plane had landed about an hour earlier, and they were anxious to be on their way.

Jonathan looked at Shawukay. "Shaw, can I ask you something?"

She nodded. "Of course. What do you want?"

"The last two weeks, you've seemed distracted about something," he began. "Usually when working on that 'gift' that Connor gave you. Something bothering you about it?"

The half-elf hesitated, as if considering her answer. Finally, she shook her head. "I cannot tell you, Jonathan."

Jonathan looked like he'd been slapped. "Cannot, or will not?" At her look, he continued. "You can tell me the truth, you know I won't be offended."

She sighed. "I. . .have been given much to think about." Before he could interrupt, she held up her hand. "I will tell you what I can, but not here. If you want to know everything, ask your... Boss, as Mark calls Him."

"Okay, I understand. At least, I think I do. Just one question, does it have to do with why you're here?"

She simply nodded her head once in reply.

Jonathan let the matter drop. He looked around again, and finally saw Mark making his way towards them. He waved to Mark, and they came together.

"Jonathan! 'Bout time you made it back."

"Speak for yourself. We've been here for an hour." he said as he gave Mark a brotherly hug.

"Yeah, but you know New York traffic."

Jonathan nodded with a grin. "I do at that. You're lucky you even made it."

"Damn right." He turned to Shawukay. "Hi, Shaw. Welcome back. I hope Connor didn't punish you too much."

A slight grin made its way onto her face. "Hello, Mark. It is... good to see you again." she said as she extended her hand.

"What, no hug?" Mark said, trying to sound disappointed.

"I would, but you are..." she hesitated, looking at his face, "so hairy."

But she moved forward and embraced him, briefly. The trio started towards the exit.

"Connor did not treat me badly, Mark. If anything, Duncan's boat suffered worse than anyone."

Jonathan chuckled, and Mark glanced at him. "I take it there's a story in there somewhere?"

"Yes," the angel agreed. "We'll fill you in later."

"So how'd the training go?"

Shawukay looked at him. "It was... eventful."

"Really. I can't wait to hear about it." he grinned. "Were the fireworks like I expected, Jonathan?"

"Somewhat."

"I hope she didn't take Connor's head off."

Shawukay stopped dead in her tracks, forcing the others to look back at her. She looked at Mark with a look of neutrality on her face, as if someone had flipped a switch, shutting down her emotions.

"Mark, that is... not humorous. I would appreciate it if you... refrained from saying something similar in the future." She then turned and resumed walking.

"Did I say something wrong?"

"No. She found out about Connor and Immortals, the hard way."

An image ran through Mark's mind. "Oh no. Don't tell me she accidentally killed him in a sparring match, did she?"

Jonathan shook his head. "Worse. An Immortal came looking to challenge Connor while he and I were out. Shaw took it upon herself to defend her teacher."

"I take it she won?" he inquired, nodding at her back.

"Yep. But she had to kill him four times before, well..." he stopped, drawing a finger across his throat.

"And she freaked out about it?"

"No, she freaked out over the fact that she didn't hesitate."

Understanding flooded onto Mark's face. "He wasn't a vampire, so she feels guilty about killing him?"

Jonathan nodded. "Yes. She'll be okay, but I wouldn't mention anything to do with 'heads' for awhile."

Shawukay slowed enough for the others to catch up, then gave a Mark a sidelong glance.

"Mark, I apologize. I am not comfortable with what happened in Paris. I..."

"Not necessary. Jonathan explained it."

She nodded. "Thank you Jonathan. And I am sorry, Mark."

"It's okay. But since you're back, and we're in New York, what do you want to do?"

"Sleep." Shawukay said, forcing Jonathan to chuckle.

"And here I thought you were loosening up a bit," Mark said with a sigh.

"I am trying, but since the fight..." she trailed off, pointing at her head.

"What did he do to you?" he asked, then looked at Jonathan. "Well?"

"Face cut by a sword, bruised jaw, slight concussion."

"And you say she WON?"

"You should, as humans say, see the other person," she replied, then started too look sick as she realizes exactly what that entailed in her case. "I cannot believe I just said that."

Mark quickly changed the subject. "So what else did you learn?"

Shawukay gladly answered. "Connor taught me some of what you call 'martial arts,' and Jonathan is... teaching me to read."

"Teaching you to read?"

"Yes. Why do you sound confused, Mark?"

"I just assumed..."

Jonathan laughed. "English, Mark. I'm teaching her to read English. And before you ask your next question, yes, she can read. In five languages, no less. She mentioned it, and I thought it was a good idea. Maybe one I should have come up with earlier."

"Sorry, Shaw. I didn't mean to insult you."

"None taken, Mark. You simply forget I am old enough to be your sister... Old Man." she said, with a perfectly straight face.

Mark groaned. "I see that isn't the only thing she learned from you and Connor."

Shawukay simply laughed under her breath, which drew another look of surprise from Mark. "You actually laugh?"

"Sometimes, when it is appropriate."

As they reached the car, Mark looked back to Jonathan. "So, where are we headed?"

He shrugged. "I don't know, it'll come to me. It always does."

"Very funny, Jonathan."

*****

Vampires' Apartment
New York City, New York
23 July 1998

"Look at this old crap!" Spike told the others.

The vampire group was going through the shipment that had been stored in the truck that Spike had hijacked.

"Actually, Spike," Angelus said, "These European artifacts might catch a decent price on the private market. Let's check the cargo, and we can sell the items after we reach our destination."

The vampires found artifacts from several eras, from all over Europe, from Roman crossbows, to Byzantine crosses (which were quickly repacked), Greek pottery, and Norse rune stones, to Celtic jewelry. As they identified the items, Spike held up a piece of round glass.

Spike called to his sire. "What about this? Number seven dash six four nine?"

Angelus looked at the list. "Hmmm, says here it's an Orb of Thesulah. Why?"

Spike looked at it disapprovingly. "Looks like one of those little snow globe things parents give their kiddies. You really think it's worth anything?"

Angelus shrugged, so Spike tossed it back into its container.

Farther in the truck, Kaleda and Drusilla found another item. A small cube, a puzzle box.

"What is it, Drusilla?"

"Pretty box. I want to show it to Ms. Edith." she said, turning it over in her hands.

"I'll let the Master know about it," Kaleda offered.

"No. It's mine. My pretty toy." Dru told her, clutching it to her chest.

Kaleda gave Dru a strange look, then walked over to Angelus and Spike.

She jerked her head back. "What's up with the basket case? She's got some kind of cube, won't give it up."

Spike gave Kaleda a dangerous look. "You talk about my Dru like that again, newborn, and I'll take you apart, slowly."

Kaleda merely regarded him. "Do you really think that you could take me?"

Angelus broke in. "Shut up, both of you. I don't need this. Kaleda, what exactly is Dru holding?"

"Some kind of puzzle box, I believe." she answered, keeping an eye on Spike. "Gold, maybe bronze."

Angelus looked at the list, and the descriptions for each item.

"Ah, here we are. The 'Lament Configuration.' A puzzle box, manufactured by the finest toymaker in France, believed to be capable of opening a doorway to Hell. I like it. My kind of toy."

Spike snorted, less than impressed. "Oh, let her keep the bloody thing. It can't possibly do any harm."

Kaleda looked at her Master, who quietly nodded. She simply shrugged and left the truck.

Angelus called for everyone's attention. "All right, listen up. We're leaving in ten minutes. Everyone except for Michael, who's driving the truck, and Spike, Dru and me, in the back of the truck. It's sealed against sunlight, and we need to make some ground before anyone misses the truck. Load up."

As the vampires moved to obey, no one noticed Dru admiring her new toy, muttering something about a "pin man."

*****

Part 8: Lessons

"They taught me two things at command school. Rule number one: In war, young men die. Rule number two: Doctors can't change rule number one."

---Henry Blake
M*A*S*H

Breezewood, Pennsylvania
25 July 1998

Zack Davidson was having fun, watching the Pirates beat the crap out of the Mets. It wasn't often that he got to do his favorite pastime, watching his beloved Pirates play while he was working at a local motel. Hell, no one was even registered, hadn't been for almost four days. With higher-class hotels in the town proper, they were lucky to get more than four guests a week. Although one benefit of that was that the bills were low.

The bell above the door to the desk clanged, signaling a possible guest. Zack got up and walked out of the office.

"Yeah, can I help you?" he asked politely.

"I hope so. I've got ten friends and me, we need some rooms." the person replied. He looked to be in his mid twenties, with brown hair and eyes, wearing a leather jacket.

"Alright, five rooms, two people per, thirty bucks a night."

"Damn, that's cheap."

Zack grinned. "Yeah, we got the lowest prices in town. No cable on the TV, though."

The man shrugged. "No problem. And you don't have to send cleaners in, I'll make sure there's no mess, or I'll kick them around."

"All right, suit yourself, just sign in right here," he informed his guest, indicating the guest book.

The man signed in, then asked, "Anyplace to get someone to eat?"

Zack nodded. "Plenty in town, McDonald's, pizza places..."

Suddenly, the man reached up and grabbed Zack by the neck. "No thanks, we'll eat in."

He broke Zack's neck with an audible "snap."

Angelus walked out of the office, with keys to several rooms. He walked over and handed them to Spike.

"Here. Divide the rooms; make sure they won't get caught in the sun. I think we'll stay here 'till a couple of hours after sundown, then move on."

"All right, Angel," Spike said with a nod. "We made good ground thus far."

"Maybe, but I want to cover more tomorrow." he said. "I want to cross into Ohio before the cops find the body."

Dru gave Angelus a smile. "My Angel's being naughty."

Spike laughed in reply. "Yeah, not sharing with everybody. Let me guess: no hunting."

"You got that right. Not in a hick town like this. A few bodies, people go nuts. We'll leave soon enough."

*****

Southern New York
25 July 1998

As Mark drove the car along the forest-lined highway in the late night hours, Jonathan was discussing the information Shawukay had shared with him.

"Can we go over it one more time? Just so I'm sure we didn't miss anything."

Shawukay nodded and looked up from her current project, rubbing oil onto the sword Connor had given her. She was attempting to restore the weapon to serviceable condition.

"I had a... vision, I believe would be the proper term. A woman, a spirit, actually, appeared to me, and gave me some information about..." she paused, then moved on. "myself and my reason for being here. She told me about this sword, and a challenge I would face. That turned out to be my... encounter with McGuire."

She stopped and looked out the window as she remembered the brutal fight between her and the Immortal headhunter.

Jonathan nodded. "Anything else?"

"Yes. The spirit said I would learn the truth about Connor, and to tell him about my history. The rest. . .confuses me, and I have to work it out myself. I am sorry, Jonathan."

Jonathan understood. "Thank you for telling me what you could. I'll discuss the rest with 'You Know Who.'"

"Of course." she agreed. "Jonathan, you know I would tell you if I could. I trust your judgement."

"How about mine, Shaw?" Mark asked, looking at her through the rearview mirror.

Shawukay smiled. "Yes, Mark, yours as well. You are my friend, and I take that friendship very seriously."

Jonathan started. "I thought you wanted to keep that a secret."

"Keep what a secret?"

"That she considered you a friend." he answered with a grin.

"Not a big secret if you ask me."

"Perhaps not," Shawukay answered. "but I--" she stopped, a look of panic coming to her face. "Mark, stop the car!"

Mark was startled. "What?"

"STOP THE CAR!!"

Mark hit the brakes, and the car skidded to a halt, violently throwing Mark against the straps of his seatbelt. Shawukay was almost launched into the front seat. Jonathan stayed perfectly still.

Mark turned to face her. "Dammit, Shaw, you nearly scared me out of the last years of my life! What the hell--"

Shawukay pointed forward with her left hand. "There, Mark. Look."

He turned around, and muttered, "I'll be damned."

Sitting not thirty feet in front of Mark's car, its eyes reflecting light from the headlights, was a massive deer, easily topping two hundred pounds. The deer looked unsteady on its feet, but was nervously pawing at the concrete.

"Jonathan, let me out."

Jonathan looked at her. "You can't be serious."

"Yes. He is wounded. Let me out of the car."

Jonathan looked at the buck. "How did you know that?"

Surprise registered on her face. "I... do not know. I can feel it. The pain, the fear, in my head." She looked at Jonathan. "What is happening?"

"Didn't you say once that rangers have some kind of empathic ability with animals?" he asked.

"Not empathy in the true sense, if I understand the term correctly. It is more a pattern of learning their behavior, or letting yourself see things from the animal's point of view." she explained. "Not empathy in the true sense, which is... exactly what I felt. An enhancement, like my spells, perhaps?"

"I don't know, but if you're sure about this..."

She nodded, so he let her out. The buck snorted nervously, and the ranger started praying.

"What's she doing, Jonathan?"

"Casting a spell, I think."

"Not a rainstorm, please, not a rainstorm." Mark pleaded.

Shawukay finished her prayer, and looked at the buck. "Hello, brother. What has happened?"

In response, the buck answered with a series of grunts.

Mark turned to Jonathan. "Why am I not surprised?"

Jonathan smiled. "She's just doing what comes natural."

"Making us nervous?"

"What do you mean by 'we?'"

Shawukay walked up to the buck, speaking softly. Her hands were enveloped in a golden light, which flared when she touched the buck in the flank. After a few seconds, she removed her hands, then spoke into the buck's ear. The buck turned, and bounded off into the night.

The half-elf walked over to Mark's window. He rolled it down, and saw a look of anger on her face.

"Shaw, what's wrong? What's the matter?"

"Open the trunk, Mark. Now."

Mark was stunned as her tone, but reached for the button that opened the trunk. She walked around to the back, and Jonathan got out of the car and walked back to talk to her.

"Shawukay, what is it?"

She was tying a quiver of arrows to her right hip, and reaching for her longbow. "Poachers," she replied, not bothering to look at him. She hesitated, then handed something to Jonathan. "What is this?" she asked in a cold tone.

Jonathan looked at the small lump of metal. "It's a bullet, from a gun."

"Gun?"

"A firearm. Using gunpowder."

"I see. Those weapons often backfire. This will not take long." she said, starting to walk off.

"Wait a minute. Think. These weapons are six centuries ahead of whatever you've seen. Six hundred years. And probably equipped with
sights similar to your night vision. You wouldn't get close."

The half-elf regarded him. "I cannot simply allow this. And please, do not tell me how different things are here. This is part of who I am. What I am. I know that you understand this."

"I do. Trust me. You can't stop them tonight."

"Jonathan--"

"What if I guarantee that they'll be caught?" he asked. "Would that be sufficient?"

"No one will be harmed?"

"I can't promise everything, Shaw."

She looked at Mark, undecided. "Mark? Your opinion?"

"I'd trust him, Shaw."

Shawukay considered Jonathan's face, the reluctantly placed her bow back in the trunk. "Very well, Jonathan. I will allow you to do this."

"Thank you. You won't regret this." he promised.

"I am allowing you to fulfill my duties. I already regret it." she told
him evenly. She then got back in the car.

Mark looked at her. "I can't believe you said that to him."

Shawukay met his gaze. "Do you remember when I told you what a ranger was?" As he nodded, she continued. "This is part of it. Making sure that the balance of nature is preserved. I am allowing Jonathan to fulfill my duties. It does not, how do you say, 'sit well' with me."

Jonathan got into the car. "The poachers will be taken care of. I hope you'll forgive the interference."

"If Mielikki approves of it, then I will, Jonathan. This is more than a matter of my desires. I hope you know this."

"I do. But you have something more important to do. Just try to remember that. You have no idea what you would have faced here."

"Then teach me this. I will not leave your tutelage unprepared, Jonathan."

"I'll do my best. That's all I can do."

"And that is all I ask."

*****

Breezewood, Pennsylvania
26 July 1998

Two people, a middle-aged man and woman, walked up to the registry desk. They sauntered up to the young man at the counter.

"Excuse us, young man," the man said in a thick Southern accent, "you got any rooms 'vailable?"

"Yes, sir," the clerk replied. "Two rooms left, thirty dollars a night."

"Excellent, we'll take one."

"Okay, I'll get Kaleda to handle your bags." He turned to the office. "Kaleda. We've got guests."

As Kaleda walked out, the man and woman looked displeased.

"Uh, no thank ya, son, we'll take care of our own luggage, thank ya."

The clerk waved him off. "It's all right, no trouble. After all, dinner's on you."

The woman looked flummoxed. "I beg yer pardon?"

"He said," Kaleda interjected, "that dinner's on you." She watched the couple look on in horror as she switched to her game face."

"OH MY GOD!"

"He's busy at the moment." Angelus said as he grabbed the man from behind.

*****

"Alright, let's load up the buffet, and get out of here. I want as much space between us and this motel as we can get."

"I don't know, mate." Spike said. "I like it here. Run our own little motel, with a 24-hour buffet on the side."

"With your little puzzle-loving girlfriend?" Kaleda asked.

Spike growled. "This is the last warning I'm giving you, newborn."

"Try me, Spike."

"Shut up, both of you!" Angelus screamed. "Kaleda, I am warning you. Spike's proven himself, you haven't. So don't tempt MY patience. It's in short supply."

Kaleda reluctantly backed down. "Yes, Master."

"I don't care what your problem is, but you obey him as you would me."

The female vampire nodded, and walked away.

"She's gonna be trouble, mate, you know that."

"Maybe, but she's a good fighter. We need her. For now at least."

Spike grumbled under his breath, but climbed into his car, and the vampires left Breezewood.

*****

Breezewood, Pennsylvania
Early hours
27 July 1998

Jonathan and Mark walked up to the registry desk, and rang the little bell on the counter. After waiting a few seconds, Mark rang it again.

"Anyone here?" Jonathan called out.

Mark walked behind the counter, and looked in the office. The TV was on, but no one was in the office.

"No one's here, Jonathan."

Jonathan shrugged. "Probably using the restroom. He'll be back in a minute."

Suddenly, Shawukay appeared in the doorway. She didn't look well.

"Jonathan, come with me. Quickly."

Jonathan started to speak, but she ran back outside. He followed her, and walked over to where she was crouched over, looking at tracks in the dirt near the end of the rooms.

"Shawukay, what do you want?"

"Do you see these prints, Jonathan?" she asked, indicating tracks all over the immediate area. "Can you see?"

Jonathan shook his head. "Footprints. So people walked here. What of it?"

"Several people, Jonathan. Only a few hours ago. But..." she waited.

"Go ahead. I don't see the point."

"Where are their vehicles? They left, but they left something behind." she answered, then pointed over to a small stand of bushes. "Over there." she said in a tone barely controlling her anger.

Jonathan walked over, a questioning look on his face. He saw what she had found, and shook his head. A man's body, lying face-up without a shirt on, his neck, arms and chest covered in bite marks.

Shawukay walked up. "Jonathan?"

"I know, Shaw," he told her. "I know." He looked at her. "You want to go after them."

"No. It would do no good. I determined six individual tracks, there may be more. That is more than I could handle myself."

"Mark and I would help."

"I will not risk Mark's life like that!" she snapped, then her shoulders sagged. "If I had not been so headstrong last night..."

"You know that isn't true." he said. "We wouldn't have been here any sooner."

"I know that, intellectually, at least." she said, then turned to Jonathan. "Is there anyone who fights these things?"

"Of course. Several. The Slayer and her allies, for one. Others, who you might become allies with."

"Where, Jonathan? Where are these allies?" she asked, her voice growing angry. "Where were they when this human was being treated like a piece of meat?!?"

"Control yourself, Shaw." Jonathan said softly. "You can't blame yourself for this."

She glared at him, slowly reining herself in. With a bit more control, she spoke up. "Jonathan, they ripped him apart. And all we do is pick up the pieces. What more can we do?"

"You can't save everybody. It's not your responsibility."

"I know. But for everything I learn here, there are three more things that I still do not know that trip me up at the worst time. It makes it more than confusing it makes it dangerous to me and those around me."

"I think that's called 'life.'"

The half-elf snorted. "Thank you so much for reminding me."

"You're welcome. Now let's call the police. We need to come up with a story..."


The state trooper looked at his two witnesses. "Mr. Smith, you say that Ms. Hunter found the body?"

"Yes, Officer." Jonathan confirmed. "She saw some flies around, and she accidentally found the body."

"Ms. Hunter?"

Shawukay nodded. "Yes, sir. I am sorry about walking through this area. I know now it was a mistake, that was explained to me. I did not touch the... body. I saw the marks..."

"Okay. I can't imagine what happened to him." the trooper said, shaking his head.

"I have an idea, sir. I have seen something similar..." she stopped at his gaze.

"Go ahead, miss." he prodded.

Shawukay appeared hesitant. "Do you have, what do you call them, vipers? Vipers, in this area?"

The trooper's face lit up as he understood her question. "Are you talking something like rattlers?"

"If you mean venomous snakes, then yes, that is what I am trying to say."

The trooper looked at the body. "Damn, you might be right at that. Might be a nest nearby. Okay, you can go. Mr. Smith, a minute, please."

As Shawukay walked away, Jonathan looked at the trooper. "Yes?"

"I'll be honest with you. I don't like the look on your niece's face."

"What--"

"I've seen that look before, in the Gulf. She found the body, right?"
The angel nodded. "Well, don't be surprised if she has some nightmares over the next few nights. Hell, I might have some. Just thought I should warn you. Kid shouldn't have to see something like this."

Jonathan smothered a grin. "Thank you, Officer. I'll keep an eye on her."

"Thanks for the info." With a nod the officer walked back to his cruiser.

In the small crowd that had formed, Enrico Marquez quietly took photos of the young woman and her two companions. His new assignment had hardly been boring. He had seen the body as they put it into a bodybag, and remembered the stories of what had recently happened in Los Angeles. He could make out the barely controlled rage in the girl from the tenseness in her neck, as well as the fire in her eyes.

<This girl obviously knows about vampires. And she was nowhere near Los Angeles during the battle there.> he thought. <Does she have prior knowledge of them? She certainly isn't horrified like I am. She looks ready to rip someone's heart out with her bare hands.>

He watched as she talked to the younger of her two companions. He noticed that she seemed to defer to his judgement, but also noticed her clenching her fists as she took one last look at the body. She then got into the car.

<Mother of God, I think that is one Immortal woman a vampire does not want angry with him. I'd better get moving. I don't want to lose her.>

Enrico put the lens cap back on his camera and made his way to his car.

*****

Memphis, Tennessee
1 August 1998

Jonathan walked into the hotel room, and saw Mark sitting in a chair, watching TV. He looked around, then back to Mark.

"Mark, where's Shaw?"

Mark shrugged. "She said she was going for a walk. Said she'd be back in a little while."

Jonathan couldn't believe it. "Mark, please tell me she didn't go looking for trouble. Please tell me that."

"Of course not. In fact, she didn't take so much as one dagger with her. She said she wouldn't go far."

Jonathan looked somewhat mollified. "Okay. I've got to talk to her."

Shawukay walked in a few minutes later, and went over to Jonathan. "Jonathan, can I ask you something? It is important."

"Go ahead. I have a feeling I know what this is about."

"As you wish. What do I do when I leave you and Mark? Where do I fit in here?"

"You mean when you get to Sunnydale?" he asked with a grin.

Shawukay sighed. "What else did He tell you?"

"Only that Sunnydale is your eventual destination. It was enough for me to set you up."

"How so? I mean, in what way?"

Jonathan pulled some documents out of a folder. "I have a friend that lives there that you can stay with, as well as set you up a cover identity, with the appropriate records. Connor did most of the work, actually."

Shawukay looked impressed. "Thank you, I hope. May I see these documents?"

He handed them over, and she started looking through them. After a few seconds, she looked up.

"Jonathan, this 'birth certificate.' The names of my parents are incorrect. And... Scotland as a birthplace?"

"Necessary as far as your parents go. Since they're deceased, it shouldn't matter. Scotland was Connor's idea, since that's his homeland. And you'll see why as you continue."

She nodded, then went back to her reading. She looked at a passport, green card, student Visa, then at the final set of papers. Shock registered on her face, and she looked at Jonathan. Mark, who knew what was coming, was laughing under his breath.

"Jonathan, this is not funny. I was being serious. I do not appreciate this joke."

Jonathan looked her in the eye. "No joke. I know Father Johansen, and he's a good man. He's a priest, and he knows about me. I'm sorry if that makes you uncomfortable."

She shook her head. "That is not what I am referring to. I am talking about what you expect me to do when I get there."

"What? That's where your mission is, correct?"

"Jonathan, I am old enough to be these children's grandmother!"

Mark nearly fell out of his chair, he was laughing so loud.

"At least Mark finds this amusing, for I do not."

"Shaw, allow me to explain. I'll convince you."

She closed her eyes, and counted to ten. In English, and Common and Elvish as well. "Do so. Quickly."

"Okay. First off, going to the high school gives your identity a legitimate reason to be in Sunnydale, as they have a program for exchange students, students who aren't from America."

"That is an understatement in my case, Jonathan."

Jonathan sighed. "Second, the Boss tells me that the library has a large selection of books on the occult, magic, and other areas you may be familiar with. Why He gave me this information is beyond me, He must figure you could use it."

He waited for another comment, but she nodded for him to continue.

"Lastly, this will allow you to learn more about Earth, probably better, in fact, then Mark and I can do on our own. It might make your transition to Earth a bit easier, when you complete this mission."

Shawukay considered her words for a couple of minutes, and gave in. "Very well, Jonathan. You are correct. I have not thought beyond this mission of mine. I assumed that it would be made known to me."

He nodded at her. "And you don't have a problem with staying with Ulric?"

"No, as long as he knows the truth."

"He agreed to take you in, Shaw."

"Jonathan, I mean the TRUTH. Me, another world, magic, that truth."

"Do you know how he might react?"

"I will not see him harmed from a lack of knowledge, Jonathan. Tell him." she ordered.

"Okay. Go ahead and get some sleep. We leave early in the morning."

*****

Enrico was three doors down, enjoying a late dinner. Once he'd found out the girl's eventual destination, he'd stopped listening in. He decided to check the database on his laptop. He saw two e-mails waiting for him. He opened the first one.

To: Marquez, Enrico
From: Watcher World Headquarters, France
RE: Current assignment, request for information

Dear Mr. Marquez:
Here is the information on the three persons you have been assigned to:
Subject 1, Unknown female: As surmised, probable newborn Immortal. Keep following, keep apprised of actions. Attempt to discern identity, history if possible. You are now officially assigned to this woman.
Subject 2, Male, 'Jonathan': No match in files, no records known. However, appearance does not match known Immortals. Conclusion: Mortal, possible relation to subject 1 as hinted previously. See subject 3.
Subject 3, Male, 'Mark': Match found. Mark Gordon, Oakland Police Department, retired. Recorded appearances across United States, in company of a 'Jonathan Smith.' (Possible identity of Subject 2?) Often on 'good samaritan' missions.
Conclusion: Subjects 2 and 3 found Subject 1, having prior knowledge of Immortals, introduced Subject 1 to MacLeod, Connor. Determine identity, possible relation to Subject 2.

Enrico finished reading the letter, then typed a quick reply.

To: Watcher World Headquarters, France
From: Marquez, Enrico
RE: Current Assignment

Subject 1 identified. Last name: Hunter. First name: Shaw. Middle name unknown. Subject appears to have knowledge of vampires due to recent event in Pennsylvania (files attached). Subject's eventual destination appears to be Sunnydale, California. Reasons unknown (possible vampires, or Immortals in area?).
Subject 2 identified. Subject is 'Jonathan Smith' noted as appearing with subject 3. Hinted relationship of uncle/niece probable cover for Hunter.
Awaiting further orders and information.

Sincerely,
Enrico Marquez

After sending his first response, Enrico opened the second message.

To: Marquez, Enrico
From: Watcher World Headquarters, France
RE: New instructions regarding assignment

Enrico Marquez:
As your current, and now official, assignment appears to be staying in North America, you are hereby detached from European division, and reassigned to North American division, under direction of Joe Dawson. Report to Dawson with all further reports after confirming receipt of this message.

Enrico reread the message to be sure he wasn't seeing things.

<Dawson? THE Joe Dawson? This assignment just keeps getting better by the second, doesn't it?.

He quickly typed his response.

To: Watcher World Headquarters, France
From: Marquez, Enrico
RE: Reassignment and new instructions

Message received. Confirming reassignment to North American branch. Will redirect reports as instructed.

Marquez then logged off, and went to take a shower before going to bed, wondering what twists his assignment would take next.

*****

Tennessee-Kentucky border
2 August 1998

*Shawukay.*

Shawukay stirred, and found herself in a forest. Standing before her was the spirit, Jehanne.

She nodded curtly. "Jehanne."

*It is time, Shawukay.*

The half-elf folded her arms. "I believe that we discussed this method of speech."

Jehanne sighed. "Very well. It is time for you to begin your mission."

"I see. How am I to get to California?"

"Everything will be taken care of. When you arrive, the rest is up to you."

"And am I allowed to tell Jonathan of this?" she asked, with a touch of sarcasm.

Jehanne frowned. "He will know. May I speak frankly, Shawukay?"

"Go ahead."

"You are headstrong, stubborn, and too suspicious for your own good."

Shawukay smiled, showing teeth. "Yes, I am. Especially towards manipulative, riddling angels who want me to keep secrets from my friends and have not the decency to appear to me in person and stop invading my dreams."

Jehanne looked frustrated. "To be perfectly honest, you remind me of myself when I was alive."

"I shall take that as an insult."

As Jehanne's jaw dropped, Shawukay twisted the knife once more.

"Now kindly leave my mind, so that I might begin this mission."

Shawukay woke up in Mark' back seat, and saw the sun rising in the east. The car was at the side of the road, and Mark was laughing fairly hard. Jonathan's face was unreadable.

"Jonathan, Mark, I have to go." she told them.

Mark smiled. "We know. The Boss showed us the show."

Her face reddened. "He allowed you into my mind?"

"No." Jonathan said sharply. "He put it in our heads, like when I showed you Connor's match with Duncan."

"Why do you sound angry, Jonathan?"

"Do you know who you insulted? Do you have any idea?"

"Of course. The person, and I use that term VERY loosely, who gave me the information that I now have about myself."

Jonathan's face softened. "It was her?"

"Yes," she said. "She said that transportation would be taken care of."

"It will. Mark, can you find the nearest bus station?"

"Why don't we just drive her ourselves?"

"You cannot, Mark. I must do this alone."

Mark looked reluctant, but put the car in gear and started driving.

*****

The clerk did not look pleased. "Mr. Smith, would you please explain to Ms. Hunter why we couldn't allow those weapons onto the bus. We have to put them in the baggage compartment. I'm sure you understand."

Shawukay interrupted. "It is you who do not understand. If I put these into that area, they are likely to be stolen. And they are not weapons."

The clerk looked straight at her. "Then tell me, pray tell, exactly what they are."

"Archaeological artifacts."

"Say that again?"

"They are artifacts. One is six centuries old, and the other is older. They are going to be displayed in a museum, and are entrusted to my care. I will not allow them out of my protection."

The clerk backed off a bit. "I suppose we might be able to make an exception..."

"Then do so."

"You should respect your elders, little girl."

Shawukay started to say something, but Jonathan stopped her with a glance. She walked away.

The clerk looked at Jonathan. "Here are her tickets. She's got changeovers at KC, Lincoln, Salt Lake City, and LA. I hope you know what you're doing, letting her travel alone."

"She can take care of herself."

"She's not the one I'm worried about." he muttered as Jonathan walked off.

Jonathan and Mark joined her outside, where she looked at the bus that would take her west.

"Shaw, before we go, we've got something for you."

Shawukay looked at him. "Jonathan, you and Mark have done enough. You have helped me, you need not do more."

"Well, we wanted to, kid." Mark said, handing her a carrying bag.

The ranger noticed the weight. "What is in here?"

"Some money to get you started." Jonathan informed her.

"What?? Jonathan, why? You could not possibly afford... where did you get this, Jonathan?"

Jonathan nodded upward. "From a Friend."

"There's something else in there for you." Mark pitched in.

At their looks, she opened the bag with a deal of frustration. Inside was a perfect copy of the flute she'd seen in Paris.

"Jonathan, how..."

"It's not the same one, but I thought you might like something to remind you of us."

She could barely find her voice. "Thank you, both of you."

"Well, Jonathan, I win. You said she'd be completely speechless. Not quite."

"Oh, well."

Shawukay smiled. "Very funny, Mark."

Jonathan hugged her. "Goodbye, Shaw."

As they separated, she shook her head. "No, not goodbye. I hope to see you again. I would think you of all people would realize that."

Mark and Shawukay hugged, and he muttered. "Good luck, Kid."

"Keep your luck, Old Man. With your driving..."

He smacked her arm, and she laughed a bit.

"Take care of yourself, Shaw." With that, Jonathan and Mark walked away, leaving her alone.

Any sadness she might have felt was cut short by the announcement that her bus was now loading.

<So it begins.> she thought, as she turned and went to face the future.

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