Author: Tim Knight

Title: Tales of the Wandererverse: The Chosen One

Copyright: October 2002
Rating: PG-13 (fight scenes)
Spoilers: 
Buffy: Season 2 until Phases.
Highlander: Season 5 until Season finale. Richie Ryan lives.
Xena: The episodes involving Dahak, Hope, and Solan.
Chronicles of Wanderer: How Cordelia Got Her Amazon Groove, Destiny Unfolding.

Keywords: Buffy/ Highlander/ Xena/ Hercules.

Summary: In this story we learn how a girl accepted her role and started a proud legacy in this universe.

Legalese: All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties, and copyrights are the property of the 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. This story may be copied in its entirety, and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains.

The character Marius is mine. Anyone wishing to use him may contact me at doobytim@aol.com.
The characters Steven St. Wolf, Marc La Chevalier, and She Who Will Start The Ball Rolling (read the story and you�ll understand), are the property of Steve Pantovich, as is the universe in which this story takes place. Steve can be contacted at steve711@concentric.net.
The character Jac Aynon is property of Harvey

Author's Notes: Much of this story takes place long, long ago, in a Wandererverse far, far away�� and when I start dreaming about writing fanfic, and this story in particular, it�s time to get the damn thing done.

Dedications:
To Steve, for letting me have fun in the Wandererverse.
To Jack, whom I hope will not be humming the tune "Everyone Was Kung-Fu Fighting" during any fight scenes he edits.
To the Big Guy, who sent me the not-so-subtle hint that I should get started on this story. When you DREAM about writing fanfic, you know your dream self has to get out more� yeah, yeah, laugh it up.

Here are the changes from your regular shows:
Xena:
1. Xena didn�t die in the Wandererverse. Instead, after Gabrielle�s disappearance during a war against the Romans around 500 BC (give or take a few B�s�), Xena spent days wandering the battlefield, futilely searching for the Battling Bard. A short while later, Ares (who had known what had happened) came to Xena and offered her godhood. She accepted and became a Demigoddess. She eventually fell in love with Tyr, the Norse God of War (and Forgotten Realms God of Justice <hey, he�s multitalented!>). The two left Earth over a thousand years ago to travel elsewhere.
Gabrielle was in fact killed by a Roman�s spear, as witnessed by Xena in the Wandererverse. However, she didn�t stay dead, she came back as your typical Immortal. She revived and was found soon thereafter by Sonja of Hyborea (Red Sonja). They became teacher/student, then companions, then soulmates.
Apparently Hercules decided to accept Godly status sometime before the end of Xena�s lifetime. By How Cordelia Got Her Amazon Groove, Hercules was already a Demigod by the time the subject of this story was mentioned.


The Chosen One
(Or, How The Whole Gig Of Being "She Who Hangs Out In Cemeteries" Got Started)

Summers Residence
(aka the Slayer House Sorority)
Early hours
4 September 1999

Joyce finished her glass of water and uttered a satisfied, "Aah." She turned the tap on, using the warm water to wash and rinse the glass. Then she set it in the drainer with a "clunk" and started to leave the kitchen.

The tired gallery owner shuffled into her foyer and turned to the right. She placed a hand on the railing and started climbing the stairs. Joyce reached the second floor and stopped to briefly glance at the doorways lining the hall. Then she realized that she�d forgotten to do something and rolled her eyes.

Muttering, she turned around and descended the stairs to do what she normally did every night.

*****

The Lord of Olympus stood over the slumbering form and pondered his reasons for being there. This was not something he did lightly, using magic on a mortal, but it had to be done.

Zeus frowned as the person stirred in her sleep, fearing He might suddenly find himself with an irate target on his hands. As the object of his scrutiny settled down, He wistfully wished He could relieve the troubled nights this little one still suffered occasionally.

<Alas, I cannot. In fact, I must do this.>

The Olympian extended a finger toward the third subject of his magic tonight, wishing He did not have to disrupt the girl�s sleep, and fired a tiny bolt of blue-white lightning into yet another Slayer.

His arcane senses detected the approach of an adult mortal. Knowing from painful personal history the folly of being caught by an overprotective mother in the presence of her daughter, Zeus gave one final glance at the current Chosen One and vanished from the darkened room.

*****

Joyce cracked the door open and peeked in on Faith. As she�d thought while approaching the room, Faith was talking in her sleep. Without pausing to think about it, Mrs. Summers snuck inside to check on her girl. She quietly hurried over to the mumbling Faith and kneeled beside her.

This was nothing new; if the dream morphed into a nightmare, Joyce would awaken her to end the dream. And while Faith�s dreams had become far more peaceful in the last few months, the nightmares erratically returned from time to time.

<Well, tonight I�m ready,> Joyce thought, sadly smiling at her adopted daughter.

When Faith�s voice started becoming clearer, Joyce reached up and stroked her hair, cooing to her, "It�s okay, honey. Don�t be frightened. I�m here."

Faith didn�t react to her assurances, but neither did the dream seem to take a turn for the worse. Instead, her voice simply continued in a strange, foreign tongue that Joyce couldn�t understand.

<What is she saying?> Joyce knew some high-school level Spanish and French; this was neither. The woman wondered if it were some Slayer thing and if she should let the dream play out. <It would probably be for the best. >

Reluctantly, the woman affectionately referred to as the Den Mother of the Scooby Gang allowed her girl�s dream to proceed without interruptions. As she gingerly pulled the bedroom door closed behind her, she decided to check on her other daughters.

*****

Giles/Calendar Residence
Sunnydale, California
Early hours
4 September 1999

As the telephone�s chirp interrupted his slumber, Giles rubbed his eyes and growled. Whoever could be calling at this ungodly time of night? He reached over his sleeping fianc�e and picked up the cordless phone. Clicking the "on" button, he sleepily moaned, "Hello?"

"Giles, it�s Joyce," a nearly frantic voice replied.

Giles was instantly awake. He sat up in bed, disturbing Jenny�s sound sleep. As she was jostled toward the waking world, Giles asked, "What�s wrong?"

"Well, uhm� I�m not sure anything�s wrong, but I�m not taking any chances," Joyce�s disembodied voice replied. "Not with my babies."

The librarian started rubbing the bridge of his nose, barely aware of his lover sitting up next to him. He knew Joyce wouldn�t call on a whim. "Joyce, calm down. Tell me exactly what�s going on."

"All right, Rupert." Giles heard her take several deep breaths to calm her nerves. It comforted him to no end to know that his Slayers had such a wonderful woman who loved them all so much. Her voice regained his attention as she explained, "I was getting a drink of water and decided to check on the girls before going back to bed. I checked on Faith and she was having a dream. It�s not a nightmare, but she�s speaking another language I don�t recognize."

Giles understood the reason for her concern. "Do you believe Faith is having a prophetic dream?"

"If she is," Joyce said worriedly, "then Buffy and Kendra are having the same dream. And I mean, the SAME DREAM."

"Dear Lord," Giles whispered, letting his hand drop.

Next to him, the drowsy Amazon priestess mumbled, "I hate it when you say that when you�re not inside me."

"Shhh!" the Watcher hissed. Then Giles placed the phone back up to his ear. "Joyce, we�ll be right over."

"Thank you!" she gushed with extreme relief. "I�ll be waiting."

Giles hung up and glanced in Jenny�s direction. "I�ll get my casting implements," she said with a low voice. He admired the muscles that played beneath her silky skin as she climbed out of bed, but sighed and firmly turned his priorities to finding out what was happening to his Slayers.

If someone were attempting to harm them, Ripper would make certain there�d be Hell to pay.

*****

1630 Revello Drive
Sunnydale, California
Early hours
4 September 1999

Giles and Jenny pulled up to the house and almost flew out of the car. As they approached the front door, it swung open to reveal Dawn, who had a cautious look on her face.

"Hey, guys," she said, reaching up to wipe some sleep out of her eyes. She was in a tank top and sweat pants, and her brown hair was mussed. "Glad you got here so quick. Mom�s really Wigging out in there."

"Dawn, I am not Wigging!" a shrill voice shouted from inside.

Dawn gave the teachers an exasperated look and they nodded. "Right," they echoed.

Dawn turned around and they followed her inside, entering the living room to find the entire Summers "family" sitting there waiting for them. Although it seemed hollow to him, Giles gave Joyce a reassuring smile. "We got here as soon as we could."

"Thank you," a weary and worried Joyce said. Giles couldn�t help but register that she was the only one in the room with a death grip on a cup of coffee.

<Motherly love. How grand.> He looked in turn at his three Slayers, trying to discern how they were dealing with the situation.

Buffy was wearing her t-shirt that read "Never Trust Anyone Over 300" and a pair of gray sweat pants, and while worry did line her face, it was directed toward her mother. Kendra wore a camouflage green colored t-shirt and shorts and looked unperturbed as usual. Giles felt some envy at how she could look so collected in almost any situation, not to mention how she�d look like she�d been wide awake for hours. And then there was Faith who, in clear defiance of Joyce�s unwritten rule, had her feet propped up on the coffee table. Clad only in an oversized t-shirt that said, "Dangerous Curves Ahead," she was still glued to Joyce�s side, her dark green eyes daring anyone to try and hassle her adoptive mother.

"Well, the J-Giles Band�s arrived," the youngest Slayer quipped. "Sorry to wake you guys up."

"Faith," Joyce said with a tired voice, wringing her hands around her cup, "I�m worried about you. Can you please try to take this seriously?"

To Giles� satisfaction, Faith�s face softened a bit. She took her feet off the coffee table and wrapped an arm around a frightened Joyce.

"Sorry, Slayer Mom. It�s just that if it�s not a nightmare, I don�t think we should worry about it, y�know?"

"I like worrying about you," Joyce countered, stroking Faith�s hair. She looked back to him, a regretful look on her face. "I�m sorry for waking you up Rupert, Jenny."

"No, you did the right thing," the Watcher said, taking one of the few empty seats in the front room. He and Jenny began taking out tools that might help. "So what happened in your shared dreams?" When no answer was forthcoming, he glanced up from his work. "Girls?" They passed uncertain looks around and Giles got the point. "You don�t remember?"

"Well, I was making out with those cute Irish guys from Boondock Saints�"

"Not that dream!" Buffy snapped.

Defensively, Faith shrugged and explained, "Hey, that�s what I was dreaming about when Mom woke us up!"

"And she�s right, they were cute," Dawn eagerly added.

Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. "And for this, I left London�"

"There, there, Rupert," Jenny�s smooth voice assured him. Her hand patted him on the shoulder. With a more determined air, his Gypsy asked, "Girls, you don�t remember anything?"

Buffy and Kendra shook their heads while Faith replied, "If I had, I would�ve written it down in my notebook." Giles joined the others in staring at her. She looked confused before looking back to him. "You mean you never had B & K jot the details of their wacky Slayer dreams down so you could research �em to see if they�re linked to all those �end of everything� prophecies? Linda drilled that into me from day one. She had me do it for dreaming about ex-Slayers, too."

"I�ll have to remember that trick," he muttered.

Buffy rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath, "Thanks a lot, Faith."

Joyce spoke up at that moment. "Rupert, I�" She sighed and pulled a micro cassette recorder out of the pocket on her robe. Clutching it in her hands, she muttered, "I taped Buffy near the end of the dream. It�s only about five minutes long, but I thought you might need it."

Giles watched Joyce with unabashed admiration for her quick thinking. "Joyce, that was brilliant. Good show!"

*****

Buffy glanced at Kendra. "Why can�t we ever get him to praise us like that?"

"Because he is usually sprawled on his backside after we thrash him in training," her second sister noted with a tiny grin. A frown crossed her face. "But I do not feel that all three of us should have forgotten every detail of this mutual dream."

"If it�s not R-rated, Faith wouldn�t remember it," Dawn piped up.

Buffy�s jaw dropped. She glared daggers at Faith. "You�re corrupting her," she accused.

"Hey, lighten up! Sunshine here was the one who got me grounded my first day in Slayer House, B," Faith reminded her.

Buffy couldn�t stay riled up; she laughed as did the others. <Count on Faith and Dawn to try and ease the tension.> She looked at the tape recorder in Mom�s hands. "So, Mom, turn it on and let�s hear what we were saying in our sleep."

Mom looked at Giles first, and he smiled for her to go ahead and play the tape. She put the recorder on the table and pushed the play button. Buffy leaned forward when she heard her voice, but shivered at the weird mumbo jumbo coming from the speaker. <What the heck?>

She glanced around, hoping that someone would make sense out of this, but the odds didn�t look good. Mom still looked Wigged, very Mommish. Dawn and Faith looked lost. But the collective brain trust of Giles, Jenny, and Kendra all had looks on their faces, like they were giving it their best intellectual shot but coming up short.

After a few minutes, the strange Buffy voice faded away and Mom shut the tape off. The Immortal Slayer asked, "Is that when you woke me up?"

"No, Buffy," Mom said, nodding toward Giles. "That�s when I called Rupert and Jenny."

"It�s a good thing you did, or so I believe," Giles said. His hand cupped his chin. He distractedly said, "And this doesn�t bring back any reminders? Buffy?"

"Sorry, Giles, but no," she sighed.

Kendra added a simple, "I do not remember anything, either."

"It�s all Greek to me," her other Slayer sister added with a frown. She and Faith both blinked when Giles and Jenny gave her dark glares. "What?!?"

*****

Giles started to speak, but Jenny beat him to it.

"I think it is Greek, Faith," she said with the same confusion he himself was experiencing.

"Yes," he said, adding in his own troubled thoughts. "But it�s not a dialect or form I�ve ever heard spoken." He squinted in heavy thought. "None of you speak Greek, though. Faith and Kendra learned some Latin from your original Watchers, but�"

"So what you�re saying is, none of us knows what we were talking about," Buffy inserted.

He gave her an exasperated look. "I am not saying that, Buffy. What I am saying is, we need to find out what you were saying in this dream. But as none of us speak this particular form of Greek, if that is indeed what it is�" He frowned and looked at Jenny. "Who do we currently have in town that speaks Greek, Jenny?"

He saw the calculating look in her dark eyes. After all of ten seconds of consideration, she said, "Gabrielle, of course. I�m certain Sonja speaks it as well. Shaw�"

"Don�t bother counting Her Holiness," Faith cut in. "She�s incommunicado for today."

"Why?" Giles asked. Faith shook her head and Giles somehow knew she wouldn�t give him anything further without some major arm-twisting.

Jenny sighed. "Moving on, Amy, Willow, and I speak some, but not this form or enough of what we do know." She turned back to him. "I think Gabrielle is the obvious choice, Rupert. Do you want me to place the call?"

"Please do," the Englishman said gratefully. As Jenny reached into her coat to pull out her cell phone, he turned to Joyce. "Joyce, since none of the girls have been physically harmed and seem none the worse for wear, I think it�s safe to say that you can relax a bit. We�ll get to the bottom of this."

*****

Joyce took the reassurance for what it was. She took a final sip of her coffee and set the mug on the table. "Thank you. I just worry so much."

"Luckily for us," Faith chimed in with a smile.

Joyce beamed at her before turning back to Giles. "Rupert, if you wanted to hazard a guess, what do you think happened?"

"If it wasn�t a dream of the future," he said uncertainly, "it might have been one of the past. But since none present speak the form of language you recorded, and none of the girls remember, I don�t want to engage in futile speculation."

She nodded in agreement. It made sense, even if it didn�t make her feel any better. She bit her lower lip. "Is there anything you can do to help them remember their dreams? Like some spell to help clear their memories?"

She was suddenly cognizant of three sets of daughter eyes staring at her. "What?" she asked in confusion.

"You want G-Man and Calendar Girl to use their mojo on us, in the house?" Faith said on behalf of all three Slayers. Joyce started to speak but her Boston Bad Girl turned her attention to Buffy. "What is she sore at us about?"

"Must be something you or Dawn did," Buffy said and giggled with twinkling green eyes.

"Hey!" Dawn protested.

"Girls�" she said in the warning voice of motherhood. She smiled as they settled down. "I just want to cover all of our bases to make certain nothing bad is happening. That�s all."

"Joyce is right," Kendra said with her usual composure. Joyce smiled at her as Kendra looked around with dark hooded eyes. "We must resolve whatever happened here. If only for her peace of mind."

"Thank you, dear. Now Rupert," Joyce said, getting things back on track, "is there anything you can do to help the girls remember?"

Giles glanced at Jenny, who shrugged, more concerned with talking with Gabrielle. He glanced at Joyce, back to Jenny, then seemed to come to a decision of some sort. He folded his hands on his lap and looked into her eyes. "I could hypnotize them, Joyce. It is really quite simple and completely harmless."

"Hypnotize us?" Faith asked doubtfully. "The whole �look into my eyes, you�re getting sleepy� thing?"

"Yes, Faith," he confirmed with a gentle smile. "There is no reason to be afraid; there would be no danger to any of you, and the subconscious mind can often bring to light things that the conscious mind simply cannot recall. Outside of magical means, it seems like a logical choice."

"I agree," Kendra said easily. "Mister Zabuto sometimes used such techniques on me, although they were more for meditation and focusing. I see no reason we cannot do this. I am sure that Giles would be extra careful with us."

"Watcher�s Pet," Buffy and Faith grumbled.

Joyce smiled primly. "Now girls. I�m sure he wouldn�t do anything strange, like making you bark like a dog or anything."

Dawn added, "Even though that would be funny."

*****

Buffy rolled her eyes. <Great. Mom wigs because of a dream and now I�m going to get hypnotized by my Watcher. > She folded her arms and slumped into the couch. "Giles, are you sure about this? I mean, we had a dream. No harm, no foul."

Giles looked at her and she saw the concern behind the hooded eyes; he was just as Wigged as Mom was. <Great. He doesn�t want to take any chances either.> "You�re sure about this," she said, giving in.

"The choices are yours, Buffy, Kendra, Faith." He fidgeted a bit and looked at her and the others. "I would never force you into anything against your will. Like your Mother, I merely worry about you."

"I know, Giles. I know." The senior Slayer looked at Kendra to get her impressions.

Kendra nodded gravely. "I agree with Giles and Joyce. If this is something important, then it merits every attempt on our part to unlock the reasons behind it."

Buffy just couldn�t argue with the logic, no matter how uncomfortable she was with the idea of being put under. She looked at her other sister. "Faith?"

If anything, Faith looked even more reluctant. She kept her eyes locked on the coffee table and her lips formed a tight, thin line. Buffy could understand to a point; there were things Faith had done on the streets. Ghosts from her past, things she�d had to do, simply to survive from one day to the next. They�d never asked because they didn�t care about her past, they cared about her.

Still, the girl with more ghosts than she and Kendra combined gave a single, jerky nod. "Mom shouldn�t be worried sick. Let�s do it."

Her head suddenly came up, fixing on Jenny. "Just keep an eye on your boy toy, Jenny. Don�t let him suggest anything wild or kinky to us."

"FAITH!!!"

*****

The Queen of the Amazon Nation approached the front porch, feeling a mix of apprehension and curiosity over why she�d been summoned. With Sonja out of town on a mission to meet with a Knight of the Grail who was both Immortal and a former Amazon, the CEO of VAN, Ltd. had been somewhat lonely.

Not to mention bored out of her skull.

So Gabrielle had welcomed the phone call from her Priestess Princess when it had come. Jenny had explained the gist of the situation and Gabbie was happy to help, especially after the intriguing reason behind her request. <Because I speak Greek,> she thought as a smile touched her lips.

She reached up and knocked on the door, gently rapping with her knuckles. She waited nary a second before the door was answered by Dawn, who broke into a big grin upon seeing her. "Hey, Gabbie! Come on in!"

She chuckled. "Good morning to you too, Dawn." She followed the Amazon-to-be inside and took the situation in with one sweep of her baby-blue eyes. Giles and Jenny were dressed as if they�d been in a rush. She approved, as it showed the depths of their emotions for the children. Joyce was still in her robe and pajamas, but she looked well enough, albeit worried about her daughters. Gabrielle understood all too well a mother�s worries. The four girls were all dressed like it was later in the morning, but the Immortal could see that they were still waking up to an extent.

She looked at Joyce first. "Good morning, Joyce. Sorry to keep you up at this hour."

"No, it�s all right, Gabrielle," she said with a wan smile. Gabrielle knew that Dawn�s mother still had great reservations about Dawn�s so dearly wanting to join the sisterhood, and resolved not to drift into the very touchy subject. So she glanced at Jenny. "So what exactly is going on, Jenny?"

Jenny and Giles took turns explaining the situation as they saw it and she listened intently. She found herself glad that they thought she could help. She was happy to do it. "Okay, I think I get the idea behind this." Her eyes flicked over to the coffee table, where sat the tape recorder. "That was quick thinking, Joyce. Very nice."

"Thank you," she said, seeming to be more concerned about what was on the tape than the praise. She reached a hand out and asked, "Do you want to hear it?"

The Amazons� reigning Queen nodded earnestly, sitting down in a seat vacated by Giles. The Slayers� mother hit the rewind button and then pressed "PLAY." Gabrielle leaned forward on instinct, determined to help get to the bottom of this Sunday morning mystery. She jerked when her fellow Immortal�s voice started coming out of the speaker, not because it was Buffy, but because she knew the language.

Her feelings of shock only worsened as she listened to the dialogue playing to her, not because of the unique fact that it was a two-way discussion, but because she knew the discussion for what it was! Her pale complexion became even paler as she realized what the three Slayers had dreamt about, even though she probably knew more about the Slayer�s powers than any living being, even Giles or the most senior members of the Council.

Before she could control her reaction, Gabrielle shot up and said, "Turn it off."

Joyce did so on reflex, but Gabrielle was aware that she�d startled everyone in the room, even Buffy. She folded her hands together as if in prayer and brought them up to her chin. She kept her own counsel before focusing on Joyce. She slowly brought her hands down but kept them linked. "Joyce," she asked slowly, "is that all that they shared? Or was there more?"

"I started recording late," the mortal woman admitted with a sigh, "and there was more after that, but I just couldn�t keep myself from calling Giles. I was�I am worried about them."

"I understand," the Battling Bard said congenially. She sat down and realized that she was probably as shaken as the mother was. She glanced at the Slayers, who were all interested in what she knew. "First of all, I know about the Slayers having these dreams. After all, I helped Xena train the first one. That�s no secret to you." Most of those in the room nodded. "Two things have me concerned. The first is Jenny telling me all three of you had the same dream. The second is that I never expected you to have a dream about this."

"You understand the dialect?" Jenny asked, taking the responsibility of asking for the Slayers, perhaps as one of their mentors. "What was it?"

Gabrielle barked in a bitter laugh. "Part of the problem is that unlike most times I�ve heard people talking in their sleep, Buffy wasn�t talking to someone in a dream. Part of your problem is that what you heard was the dialogue of both people involved in the conversation. It wasn�t from one point of view, but from several." She took a deep breath and said, "Of course, part of what frightens me is that one of the people you hear talking is me."

"WHAT?!?" Buffy, Faith, and Dawn all blurted out.

Gabrielle impatiently waved them down. "Hey, do you think I like coming in here and hearing Buffy using words I said over twenty-five centuries ago? I don�t! Goddess�" She shook her head. "Too bad we don�t have the whole dream on that tape, it might have made this hypnosis unnecessary. But just in case, I think you�d better go through with it."

She looked up at Buffy, who shared a look with Giles. The wielder of Vampire Slayer nodded. "Okie-dokie. Giles gets to have his fun."

Gabrielle smiled despite herself; this could be interesting after all.

Giles sighed, probably from having his Slayers not too thrilled with what was coming. So she just kept her silence as the Watcher moved over and asked for his seat back. Gabrielle gracefully rose and let him retake his chair. She moved off to the side and watched as Giles pulled out a crystal and set it on the table. He seemed to concentrate and the crystal began to glow slightly.

"All right, Buffy," he said soothingly, surprising Gabrielle with the dulcet tone of his voice, "gaze into the crystal and try to empty your mind."

"She�s blonde," Faith said with a snicker, though the Queen heard the strain in the Dark Slayer�s voice, "that shouldn�t be too hard."

"Faith," a miffed Buffy growled, "you�re so not helping." The senior Slayer returned to the business at hand and frowned at the green light in the center of the stone. "I thought you needed a watch on a chain or something like that?"

"Now you�re not helping," Giles scolded, causing Gabrielle to bring a hand up to her mouth to stifle her rising laughter. "Now, I need you to focus, Buffy. Gaze into the crystal and block everything out but the light."

"Okay, okay," she sighed, blowing some hair out of her eyes. She eyed the crystal and stared into it.

Gabrielle could almost see the increased sense of intensity in Buffy�s eyes. At the same time, her body started losing some of the tension in it. Gabbie was careful not to eye the crystal just in case she might get caught in its spell as well.

"Clear your mind, Buffy," Giles spoke softly, so as not to do more than instruct his oldest pupil. "Focus on the light. Nothing else exists but the light and my voice. You�re becoming more relaxed but everything will become clearer to you."

Gabrielle watched the Slayer�s eyes grow dull, but she was glad that for once, Faith (and to a lesser extent, Dawn) was not willing to make a smart remark in case something bad might happen. <They love Buffy enough to know when to back off,> Gabrielle thought with pride. She listened to Giles coax Buffy into a state of hypnosis until he finally told her to close her eyes.

Buffy�s blue-green eyes were blocked by her fluttering eyelids. She didn�t slouch over as Gabrielle might have expected, but Giles didn�t give her the chance to think about it. His voice became more orderly. "Buffy, can you hear me?"

"Yes," she said as if far off in the distance.

"Listen carefully. I want you to go back to the dream you had earlier tonight. The one you shared with your sisters. I want you to go to the beginning and replay the dream. Can you do that?"

Buffy�s head nodded once. "Yes."

"Good girl." Giles leaned forward, just as intent on getting answers like Gabrielle. "Go to the beginning and repeat everything you hear, but translate it into English. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Good. Go to the beginning of the dream and tell us what you see."

Buffy�s face relaxed for a moment, then twitched as if she were concentrating, or trying to find the dream in her memories. Finally she relaxed again and began to speak.

"I see� I see�"

*****

Olympus
Home of the Greek Gods
Somewhere Between Here And There (Although Here And There Can Be Relative)
17 January 504 BC

"So, the bickering has already begun," Hercules noted and sighed resignedly.

His father stroked his beard and shook his head slightly. "Not bickering so much as a few not-so-subtle suggestions as to whom should receive our gift."

"Let me guess," the former champion of Greece said sarcastically, "Ares thinks it should be one of his people."

"And Artemis thinks it should be one of her Amazons, someone already trained in the warrior arts," the Lord of the Olympian Order added. "Athena believes it should be one of her scholar-warriors, a person who can combine strategy with warrior prowess."

"I shudder to think who Aphrodite thinks we should choose."

Zeus spared his son a dark glare for making light of the situation. "Actually, she finds the whole argument quite tedious. She thinks we should just choose someone and be done with it." Off of Hercules� surprised look, he sighed. "Don�t ever let her looks or demeanor fool you, Hercules. Aphrodite thinks we�ve wasted too much time already. She can be fierce in her love when she chooses to be."

"So you�re being pressed on whom should be given the gift." Hercules watched Zeus roll his eyes. "This is why I didn�t want to become a God. Most seem to spend way too much time acting like children."

"Which is why I gave you little choice in finally becoming a God, son," Zeus said with a strained chuckle. Hercules picked up on it, watching his father stop by a scrying pool and looking into it, gazing down into the mortal realms where he�d once had dwelled. "I needed another �adult� up here." Zeus turned back to him. "I need a God who stands outside the structure of the Pantheon and cares more about mortals than how they affect his portfolio. Someone� someone who�d keep this old Eternal from making any more mistakes."

Hercules smiled and put a hand on his father�s shoulder. "Glad to be of help." He paused and looked down into the pool, seeing what his father was observing. It wasn�t something he liked to see. <Bacchus. Making more bloodsuckers.> "We�re falling further and further behind with these delays."

Zeus nodded silently. "Tell me, if you had to make the decision, what would you do?"

Hercules blinked twice. "The last thing I want to do is complicate things any further, Father."

"I know. That�s not what I asked you, though."

The former mortal sighed as he watched the horrifying scene before him. "Personally, I�d consider looking beyond Greece." Zeus turned his head at the surprising declaration. "Father, I�ve traveled the world before. I�ve been to Eire, Rome, and the lands of the Norsemen� I think we need to look at the picture from a global perspective. Why not pick someone who won�t be manipulated by one of us?"

"Because it would open the Recipient to having his or her power manipulated by one of the other Eternals," Zeus countered. He shook his head; his son might be the humanizing influence amongst the Gods, but he could still be na�ve when it came to inter-Pantheon politics. "Don�t you think I�ve already considered that? I�ve talked with Odin, Vishnu, Hachiman, Wan-Ko-Tah�"

"Who?" Hercules asked.

"Don�t ask," Zeus said with a grin that suggested he knew a secret. "The point is, I haven�t been granted permission to invest the power of the Seven into a champion outside of Greece. What little I�ve been given is that some of the Eternals have pledged their support to having their own worshippers aid the Recipient in the future. Among them are your friends Thor and Balder. Apparently, some of them have foreseen what is to come. I even sent an emissary to the Light to ask HIM for guidance."

"You did?" Hercules asked in shock. The last time anything like THAT had happened had been� <I can�t think of when.> "What did HE say?"

"The emissary got as far as Michael, who said that things are proceeding according to HIS plan. Which simply put me back at square one." Zeus sighed, then muttered, "Sometimes HE can be so blasted...cryptic."

Hercules frowned; if the Light wasn�t going to help� "Father, you said that things are proceeding as they should?"

"Yes, son." Zeus started walking again, with Hercules following in his footsteps. "HE and some of the Eternals are looking to the future but leaving us to determine how the whole process will begin."

Hercules smiled and an idea began to take form. "So why don�t you do the same, Father?"

"I beg your pardon?"

The warrior folded his arms and looked upward. "If the other Gods are looking to the future, why don�t we look to the future?" Zeus� eyes flashed in understanding and the Demigod nodded. "Why don�t we ask the Oracles or, barring that, the Fates, who shall be the Recipient?"

Zeus blinked a few times and began pacing back and forth. "And not even a pig-headed Ares would be willing to argue with the judgment of the Oracles."

"There�s that bonus, yes," Hercules said with a grin.

*****

1630 Revello Drive
Sunnydale, California
Early hours
4 September 1999

"Buffy, that�s enough," Giles said hurriedly. Buffy stopped reciting what she�d dreamed about and her face became placid once again. He knew the others simply could not believe what she had revealed.

<Zeus and Hercules discussing how they would choose the first Slayer! My God�> He looked over his other two Slayers first, to see how they handled the things Buffy had said while under hypnosis. Faith was as surprised as he, while Kendra seemed to be caught off her guard.

It was Jenny who finally put it into words for them. "Well, I certainly wasn�t expecting that."

Giles gave her a distracted, "Mmm hmm." He then turned to the business of bringing Buffy out of her trance. "Buffy, when I count to three, you will wake up, feeling totally refreshed, and you will remember what you revealed to us." He paused and then counted. "One� two� three."

Buffy�s green eyes flickered open and she seemed to need a second or two to regain her senses. She spent a couple of seconds looking around before slumping back in her seat and muttered, "Wow."

"Wow, indeed," Giles noted.

"That�s a good word for it," Dawn observed with a wooden voice.

Then Joyce intruded into Giles� private thoughts. "Gabrielle, do you know anything about that discussion?"

Giles felt annoyed at himself for failing to think of asking that question first. He looked to the troubled Amazon Queen, who chewed on her response until she clenched her fists very tightly.

"I don�t know how to answer that. At least, not exactly," she admitted uneasily. She turned to Giles and Jenny, perhaps seeing them as the mentors. "I know such a discussion took place. He said that it was Kevin�s suggestion that He go see the Oracles. But for you to relay the actual conversation�" She shook her head, utter disbelief blazing in her blue eyes. "It�s unbelievable. I don�t understand. It just doesn�t seem possible; dreaming about Alika would be one thing. But something that took place on Olympus itself? I just can�t fathom it."

"Neither do I, Gabrielle," Jenny seconded, sounding very concerned. "I�m now even more convinced that it�s a good thing Joyce did call us, Rupert. This is more than we thought it might be."

*****

Buffy raised her hand and said, "Hello, can those of the Chosen One persuasion get a word or six in edgewise? How do you know it�s not just Slayer Original�s memories we�re dreaming up?"

Her fellow Immortal pushed off the wall she�d been leaning against and prowled forward, every inch the Queen. "Because of the way you talked while you were under, Buffy. Don�t forget, I�ve known Kevin and Zeus for over two thousand years. I know how they talk; their inflections, their formality or lack thereof, things like that. And there�s also the fact that neither Xena nor I ever told Alika how the Gods bickered for months before Zeus consulted the Oracles. So it wouldn�t be in her memories or impressions, because she didn�t know about it."

"Oh," a wide-eyed Buffy said in a little girl�s voice. "Never mind."

Giles tapped the tips of his index fingers several times, silently debating their options. "Gabrielle, what would you suggest?"

"I�d say we should continue unlocking their memories. I don�t think the girls are in any danger, but we should have some healing spells handy, just in case." Gabrielle looked at Kendra and Faith. "Keep in mind, Buffy�s Immortal, so she wouldn�t be at any physical risk. If there�s something else at work, it might be best if she goes under again, rather then you two."

Giles approved of the idea, but to his surprise, Kendra shook her head. "No," she said firmly, her catlike eyes flashing. "I do not want to go on without parts of my memories. I too, wish to learn more about this situation and�" She faltered a bit but plowed on. "I want to learn more, first-hand so to speak, about the choosing of the first Slayer."

"You�re curious," Giles noted. When both Kendra and Faith nodded eagerly, he pursed his lips and considered it. With a bemused smile, he said, "I don�t know whether I should be proud of you for your dedication to finding out what you dreamt about, or to be irked that you�re more interested in learning about the first Slayer than in finding out why all three of you shared this dream."

"Little bit of both?" Faith asked with a smirk.

Jenny and Dawn both snickered, as did Buffy. He�d been conflicted on the proper course of action as he had been many times during his early tenure as Buffy�s Watcher. However, he turned to the one person who he felt should have the final say on the matter. "Joyce, how do you think we should proceed?"

*****

She gazed at Kendra and Faith and saw the eagerness on their faces. <They want to do this.> She knew part of their motivation, because Kendra had said it herself; they don�t want the missing time from their memories. "If they want to do this, then I can�t deny them, Giles. It wouldn�t be fair to them. And I trust them to make the right decisions."

"Here, here!" Faith cheered, giving her a tender hug.

Joyce returned it with interest. "Just don�t make me regret this," she said.

Kendra stood up and traded seats with Buffy. As she sat down, Joyce tenderly reached up and stroked her back. With a soft voice, Joyce asked, "Are you sure about this, Kendra?"

The proud young woman turned her head and Joyce saw the look of determination in her brown eyes. She also saw the gratitude there because Joyce had trusted her to make her own decisions. That was something her first Watcher, the man who�d raised her, had never given her. Not once.

Joyce�s eyes grew misty. "Okay, sweetheart."

Kendra flashed her a smile and turned to Giles. "Let us begin."

"As you wish, Kendra." Giles concentrated on the crystal again and its inner light ignited again. Joyce still felt uncomfortable with subjecting her daughters to something of this nature, but at the same time, she felt her heart bursting with pride for their willingness to unravel this mysterious dream. <And I love them so much for that. >

*****

Giles took a couple of breaths to center himself. The bravery of his Slayers never ceased to amaze him or make him proud. Upon regaining his inner balance, the Watcher began. "Kendra, gaze into the light. Focus your mind and clear out everything but the light and the sound of my voice. You feel yourself becoming completely relaxed and peaceful. The longer you watch the light, the more relaxed you become."

The scholar frowned when Kendra didn�t react to his instructions. Her body remained rigidly still. He leaned forward and looked at her dark eyes, which were indeed focused on the crystal. But they�

A sneaking suspicion dawned in his mind. <Could she�> "Kendra?"

"Yes?" she said in an emotionless monotone.

"Uh, Giles? Why are her eyes still open?" a shuddering Buffy asked.

"I-I�" Giles� own eyes blinked more than once. "My God, I think she put herself under," he dryly stated.

"She did what?" Joyce asked, fixing her eyes on Kendra�s blank face.

"Self hypnosis," Gabrielle stated with what Giles recognized as admiration. "She placed herself into a hypnotic state, like someone trying to engage in deep mediation. It takes a strong, very orderly mind to enter such a state at will."

"I suppose I shouldn�t be surprised where Kendra is concerned," Giles noted wistfully.

"It�s good that the girls can still surprise you once in a while," Jenny purred mischievously. "It helps me keep your ego in check."

"Uhm, can we get started?" Faith asked with a strained voice. Giles looked at her and saw her making a very sour face. "Not that I�m in a big rush to do the hypno-gig, but watching K stare into space like a zombie is really creeping me out."

<She has a point. It is somewhat disconcerting.> Despite his curiosity about this surprising discipline on Kendra�s part, he knew it would be best if they proceeded. "Kendra, can you still hear me?"

There was no hesitation. "Yes, Giles."

"Good. Very good." He decided to cover every angle if possible. "Kendra, I want you to think about the dream you had tonight. Can you remember it now?"

"Yes," she said again.

"What do you see?"

"I see�" Despite her relaxed state of meditation, surprise was very much evident in her voice. "I see Alika. The Slayer."

"How do you know it�s Alika?" a startled Gabrielle asked.

Kendra promptly answered the unintended question. "I dreamed about her the night I was Chosen," she said in a haunting voice.

Giles jumped a bit; she�d never told him that! <To dream about the first Slayer? That must be a rare thing indeed!> "You see Alika now, in your dream?"

"I do." Kendra�s eyes narrowed and Giles became alarmed. "She is fighting someone."

"A vampire?" came a soft inquiry from Jenny.

To his surprise, the mocha-skinned Slayer shook her head. "It is not a vampire. It is daytime. This man is alive." She winced a bit. "He is shouting at her."

Giles reached across the table and squeezed Kendra�s knee in order to calm her agitation. He soothingly said, "It�s all right, Kendra. Tell me what this man is saying."

"He is shouting�"

*****

The Home of Captain Marius
The City-State of Sparta
Greece
10 March 504 BC

"Don�t lower your guard!" Marius snapped, bringing his sword around with a brutal swing. Her blade came up just in time to block her foe�s from striking her, but it still sent brutally painful shivers up both her arms. "If you lower your guard, you�ll never learn how to fight because you�ll be dead!"

The armor-clad man tried to hook the tip of his dull steel blade under the guard of her own sword, but she backed off, having learned years ago not to fall for that trick. However, her foe used the increased distance between him to augment his advantage of reach. The girl dodged as much as she could, warding off blows the rest of the time, but in the end, her father simply blew through her defenses and poked her armored chest with the tip of his sword, right between her breasts to simulate a strike to her heart.

Gritting her teeth at the jab and knowing she�d have an impressive bruise later on, despite the armor and dulled weapon her father used, Alika of Sparta brought her weapon back up. "Again," she demanded, determination in her voice.

A touch of pride flashed through the eyes of Marius, Captain of Sparta, before fading into amusement. "No, child," he said easily, "I think we�ve practiced enough for today."

"But�" she started to protest, but her father held up one hand.

"I said we�ve practiced enough," he said, this time with authority he used on his soldiers rather than his daughter. He placed his practice blade on the rack and started stripping off his armor. "You�re exhausted, both physically and mentally, Alika. That will only lead to you making more mistakes."

"Which is why we should continue," she said, looking at the discussion strategically. "So you can show me how not to make those mistakes."

Marius laughed aloud, a deep bellow coming from his chest. The Spartan girl smiled; it was rare that her father showed that much emotion since� <Since Mother died.> She walked over to the weapons rack and replaced her own sword. "I am sorry I am not better, Father," she admitted sourly.

He favored her with his graying eyes. Even though he treated her more like a son than the daughter she was, she relished that treatment; she wanted to be a warrior like him and her other ancestors. He shook his head ruefully. "Alika, it is not a matter of skill. You learn quickly and you learn well. The problem, quite simply, is your sex." She bowed her head, but she then felt his hand under her chin. She let him lift it up and saw admiration in his eyes, the feelings she saw when he remembered her Mother. "But you are only fifteen, child. You still have a few years to go before your growing is at an end. We have time to work around whatever disadvantages being a woman brings upon you."

"You always know what to say to me," she whispered, flushing like a toddler and hating it.

"I just repeat what my father told me when I was your age," he said casually and with a shrug. "Only with me, he told me when I found out I was to him as you are to me."

Alika knew what he meant, the secret that the elite warriors of Sparta kept from the rest of Greece and even their common soldiers. The secret she had sworn never to tell. Her father�s father, like many of the greatest of Spartan warriors, had been one of those who drew their power from the moon, a man-wolf. Marius had not had the gift passed down to him, and in turn she had not inherited the family trait. Being female and the only child of Marius, she and her father both knew that the family line ended with her, unless Father remarried and bore a son. Something unlikely at the old age of forty-three.

"I see," she said, thinking about her future. <Will I even be allowed to join the ranks?> Marius must have seen the question in her eyes, as he squeezed her shoulder.

"You will find your destiny, daughter. Someday," he promised.

She smiled at him lovingly; they were all the other had. Before she could hug her father, the sound of a clearing throat interrupted their bonding moment. Falling into the habit of a warrior on the alert, Alika spun on the sound, reflexively reaching for a blade but coming up empty.

Father held a hand on her shoulder, and she felt him starting to laugh at her reaction, especially in their own home. She glanced up and saw one of the servants, one of her father�s favorites, standing there patiently.

"What is it?" Father asked, using the tone he used with those servants who were not taken as prisoners in foreign battles.

The old man, who�d worked for her grandfather, bowed once. "Sir, Lady, you have guests."

Father and daughter shared a look and Alika, being younger and expected to be immature, let out an impatient sigh. He just grinned and turned back to the servant. "Who are they, Marcellus? And did they state their business?"

The long time employee of the House of Marius frowned a bit, as if he wasn�t sure about how to proceed. Father prompted him with a nod, so he steeled himself. "They claim to be here as emissaries, but will only state whom they serve, and the reason for their visit, to you and the Lady Alika, Sir."

Alika started at that. They were here to see her as well? "Why?" she asked before she could rein in her tongue. She earned a mock glare from her father; another touch in the old game. "My apologies, Father."

Father simply nodded. Then he glanced at Marcellus. "Despite her lack of diplomacy, her question is valid, my friend. Why do they wish to see my daughter in addition to me?"

"Actually, Sir," Marcellus said, wringing his hands nervously, "I was told that they are here expressly to see the Lady Alika." He paused and then swallowed. "But as you are her father, they wish to speak with you� as well."

Alika�s jaw dropped at that news. This was an insult! <How DARE they!> she snarled to herself. She growled, "May I ask a question, Father?" She caught his nod through the corner of her eye. "Goodman Marcellus, may I ask who is so bold as to think my father, a warrior of the greatest of Greek city-states, a mere afterthought?!?"

The family�s longest serving member, although he was more friend than servant, nearly shrank back under Alika�s withering glare. Still, he somehow managed to announce the names, which in turn shocked Alika to her core.

"They are Xena of Amphibolis and Gabrielle of Poteidaia."

*****

The next hour was an affair of chaos; Alika was rushed off to her room to be stripped of her armor, bathed, and dressed in attire suitable for visitors of such stature. However, being her father�s daughter, she was giving her personal servants a hard time with what they thought was the proper image of a host greeting honored guests.

"But Milady," the red haired, fourteen-year-old girl, taken from Macedonia as a babe and raised in Marius� household, protested, "your father�s prestige will suffer if you insult our� your guests."

"Alexandra," Alika said impatiently, "if you would just put aside your fears about diplomacy and my father�s reputation aside for a few moments, and consider our guests, you will realize why those garments are the last things I want to wear."

The girl servant looked down at the attire she�d selected and frowned, not understanding. She�d selected a white gown of Egyptian make, bought through trade with the people from the Land of the Pharaohs. With gold jewelry common to Greek women of rank added, she would make quite an impression. Or so Alexandra had thought.

Alika put her hands on her hips, unashamed of her nudity. After all, the Hellenes prided themselves on physical beauty above all else and, with her olive skin, black tresses, aquiline looks, and piercing dark eyes, she was a rarity even amongst the Spartans. "You are acting like these are courtiers from Athens or Rome, Alexandra. You�" She stopped at the hurt look on the girl�s face and her ire melted away. "Alexandra, you know I do not consider you a servant. You are my friend." The girl nodded despite the fact that she was technically a slave; Marius had already promised her he would grant her freedom when she came of age or sooner, if she found a man she wished to wed. So it was less slavery and more being kept as a child growing up and she recognized that. Both girls also knew that they were closer than "mistresses" and "servants" should be.

Alika didn�t care about the "line" they crossed all the time. Instead, the Spartan waved tanned arms around. "Alexandra, we�re being visited by Xena and Gabrielle. The Warrior Princess and the finest� well, the only Bard ever to come out of Poteidaia! The legends themselves and the greatest heroes Greece has known for the last thousand years!"

"What about Hercules and Iaolous?" Alexandra asked with a raised eyebrow and a prim smile at the rant.

Alika frowned at her lifelong friend. "They are men."

"So is your father," came the response.

The girl sighed. "Yes, but he is Father." To her, that made all the difference. But her enthusiasm (bordering on hero worship) was not to be denied. "Alexandra, think! The greatest warrior in the world is here to see me and you expect me to dress as some Egyptian flower? I do not think so! Especially in my father�s house!"

Alexandra finally started to catch on. "You want to dress in your armor and be armed."

"If I am going to enter the ranks of Sparta�s warriors, that is how I should comport myself. Beginning now," she declared.

Alexandra seemed to be uncertain as to how to proceed and Alika sighed. "I will tell my father you were left with no choice. After all, I am the mistress," she sighed dramatically. "And what good is having a supposed servant if she cannot take orders once in a while?"

Alexandra smiled at the pressure being taken off of her shoulders and the two shared a laugh. As the Macedonian retrieved the ceremonial armor Alika had stored away for official Spartan functions held by Father, her confident manner dwindled away.

<What can Xena want with a girl child like me?>

*****

Alika did her best not to appear too nervous or anxious to meet the visitors to her house, but she knew she had failed to some extent. She entered the house�s greeting room and halted dead in her tracks upon finally seeing her heroes in the flesh.

She couldn�t believe how, well, TALL Xena was! The woman was as tall as her father! Alika let her eyes wander from the floor upward, taking in the view of the woman who�d come calling on her household; the long, muscular legs, the leather armor which left much of her body exposed (leading the girl to wonder just how confident the Warrior Princess was in her skills, if she was willing to leave so much of herself exposed), her well-muscled arms, the deadly and infamous chakram dangling from her left hip, and that face! The long hair as black as hers, with those piercing blue eyes!

Alika suddenly felt extremely self-conscious about how she looked, both her body and the armor she wore. Xena didn�t wear ceremonial armor; she was dressed for battle! And after how she�d been self-boasting about her own physical attractiveness earlier, she realized she stood humbled before one of the greatest legends of her time.

She gratefully tore her gaze from the Princess and looked to Gabrielle, Xena�s companion and a bard of growing renown. While many of those she knew considered the short blonde woman Xena�s sidekick at best, Alika chose to think differently. After all, Xena wouldn�t have chosen to teach Gabrielle the warrior arts if there wasn�t something to the girl. For Gods� sakes, she was an Amazon Queen! Everyone knew that!

She eyed the woman standing off to the side and considered the differences between her and Xena. Gabrielle�s hair was the color of the sun, much like the daughters of the Norsemen. Her eyes showed an innocence that belied how dangerous she really was, being one of the Royal Amazons. Alika paused to consider her weapons of choice, though; the strange, three-pronged things stuffed into her boots. The hilts suggested a dagger or sword of some type, but to Alika�s mind the important end of the weapons were reminiscent of tridents. She made a mental note to ask about them if she ever got the chance to ask questions of her idols.

Finally, she decided to cease delaying the moment any longer. She started forward and caught the attention of Gabrielle before any of the others. The Battling Bard smiled brightly, giving her even more of the youthful appearance that was a mask at times. Alika fought not to return it or feel like a little girl. She had the reputation of her Father�s house to uphold.

She stopped at a respectful distance and allowed Father and the great warrior to cease their conversation before focusing on her. Father glanced at her with a look that confused her; it was a mixture of pride, awe, and sadness. Xena, on the other hand, favored her with the cool gaze that was the bane of evil warlords the world over.

"Lady Xena, Warrior Princess," Alika said, giving the daughter of Amphibolis a bow worthy of heads of city-states. "Welcome to my father�s house."

When she brought her head back up, the legendary warrior had a twinkle in her blue eyes and the corner of her mouth quirked up a bit. "Hey, kiddo. How�s it hanging?"

The lack of formality caught her off guard, but the she-Spartan was determined to prove up to whatever test was going on here. She came to a position of attention and simply answered, "I am well. But I admit to being curious as to the reason for your visit. It was mentioned that you were sent as an emissary to see me?"

Instead of answering, Xena turned to her father. "You were right, Marius," she said with a chuckle, "she did get right to the point."

Alika fought to keep a sharp retort from shooting out of her mouth. <So that was what she and Father were talking about,> she thought sarcastically. Keeping her temper, and reminding herself that this was perhaps the deadliest woman on the planet, Alika asked, "May I ask why you are here, Lady Xena?"

The tall, beautiful Princess smiled even more widely and folded her arms, giving Alika the once over and appearing to be measuring her against some unknown standard. Finally, she said, "I came for you, kid."

"I beg your pardon?" she demanded. She turned on her father, who seemed to find this whole situation surprisingly amusing. "Father, what is she talking about?"

"What I�m talking about, Alika, is that I�ve been sent to take you and start training you." She turned back to Xena, stunned over what she�d just heard. Xena wanted to train HER?!? The living legend seemed to pick up her bafflement. "Kid, you�ve been Chosen for something special and I�" She paused and nodded to the blonde warrior-bard. "Make that we, were handpicked to teach you what you need to know."

"I seem to be missing part of this explanation," Alika said, glancing between the three adults in the room. She tossed her black hair over he shoulder and asked, "Just who �picked� you to train me for this� something special?"

Xena glanced upward and gave her the last answer she ever expected to hear.

"Zeus."

*****

Xena watched the young girl in front of her for a reaction. She had to fight the impulse to smile, because Alika�s surprise was very understandable.

<After all, it�s not every day you find out the King of the Gods is choosing you for something.>

The Warrior Princess still wondered if it had been a good idea for her to accept this task. Choosing an untried, inexperienced girl to become the champion of the Gods? She still wondered how Hercules could have endorsed such a plan. The blue-eyed beauty waited for this Alika to begin asking the hundreds of questions that must surely be on her mind.

Eventually, the dark-haired fifteen-year-old asked the most obvious one. "The Lord Zeus sent you?" she asked in a dry whisper.

<Well, she shows more composure than I�d expected,> Xena ruefully thought. She nodded and tried to put the kid at ease. "Yeah, Alika, he sent me. Seems that Herc�s old man has a purpose for you. He came to me and told me that you�ve been Chosen for something special."

"How?" the Spartan youth asked her, still visibly shaken. "Why?"

With a disarming smile, Xena walked over and put an arm around the girl�s shoulder like they were old pals.

"Let�s take a walk, kiddo," she suggested easily, "and I�ll tell you all about it."

The girl�s eyes, still wide with shock at the news, lit up in admiration akin to hero worship. Xena stifled a groan. <I was warned about that�>

*****

1630 Revello Drive
Sunnydale, California
Early hours
4 September 1999

Kendra�s voice paused for a moment before her entire demeanor changed. Her expression showed a doe-eyed innocence that caused everyone in the room other than the person who almost always looked that way to gasp.

"Dear Lord," Giles muttered.

Dawn�s voice shook as she trembled. "Jesus�she looks just like�like�" Then everyone turned their gaze upon the woman leaning against the wall.

As the entranced Slayer started to speak again, Gabrielle now realized why the others had stolen furtive glances at her.

She closed her eyes and listened to the words she and her beloved companion had spoken long, long ago�

*****

Somewhere in Greece
Ten days earlier

"Xena, what do you think about the scroll we found?"

With a sigh that wasn�t very convincing, the smirking Warrior Princess sat up on her bedroll. She turned her head and looked down at her beloved companion. She still found it hard to believe sometimes, the changes the years had wrought on Gabrielle. Gone was the eager, na�ve farm girl who didn�t have the vaguest idea of what she was getting into, committing herself to a life as a warrior on the road; in her place was an experienced warrior champion with a heart of gold. However, even through the shared triumphs and tragedies of the last few years, there was one thing that hadn�t changed about her; that core of gentleness in her soul. She didn�t fight to become famous for how many warlords she�d defeated. No, she fought to help others, and to learn the ways of the world and record their exploits for future generations. Gabrielle was still a dreamer for a better tomorrow.

And they were both the better for it.

The time she�d spent watching Gabrielle made her pause in her answer. So the short blonde warrior-bard turned her head, resting on her arms, to ask the question again.

"Xena?" the little Amazon Queen said with a contemplative look.

"I don�t know, Gabrielle," she admitted with a shrug. She looked up at the night sky and pondered what her soulmate had managed to translate from the old script. "You seem to have more theories than I do."

"Guesses more than theories, Xena," Gabrielle idly noted, turning her head toward the sky. Xena waited for the other fighter to air her thoughts on the scroll they�d found in an old haunted tomb. "It could mean so much, if I could just figure out what those clues mean. So much of it I haven�t even heard of, in any of the legends we�re aware of."

"Which clues?" Xena asked dryly; the cryptic prophecy, scrawled down by some nameless sorcerer centuries ago, mentioned events that would lead to the eventual triumph of good over evil.

While the clues made little or no sense to them, one thing the prophecy had done was instill a sense in them that, in the long run, their path might make a difference after all. It was a good feeling.

"Well, that thing about Immortals, for starters." Xena turned her head back toward her partner, whose face was scrunched up in confusion. "I mean, what kind of �Game� do these �Immortals� play that has to end before good can triumph over evil? And just who are these �Immortals,� anyway? If this scroll is real, do you know what that means?"

"A girl would kill to avoid revealing her real age?" she asked with a throaty chuckle.

"Very funny," Gabbie said sarcastically. "Seriously, Xena. If we can figure out what the clues mean, maybe we can help start things along."

She smiled at Gabrielle�s enthusiasm, however premature she believed it was. Xena reclined and watched the twinkling dots in the sky dance their nightly dance against the black stage of the sky. "So you want to see if we can start the final battle against good or evil? Mighty noble of you."

She was aware of Gabrielle rolling over on her bedroll by the shuffling sounds. "Come on, Xena!" she said excitedly. "Think about it! All the suffering, all the pain, gone for all time! And with Hercules on Olympus now, who else would be the natural choice to lead the fight?"

That wasn�t something she�d considered. She didn�t want to consider it, either, and she let her friend know that. "Gabrielle, I don�t think I�d be qualified to lead some �Army of the Light� in battle. And I don�t think that the fight will be fought in our lifetimes."

"What makes you say that?"

She sighed. "How about the fact that the fight will involve these so-called �Immortals?� Why would the forces of good need people who live forever to fight if the final battle was coming so soon?" She closed her eyes. "Besides, I can think of more than a few who are more qualified to lead than me."

Gabrielle�s doubt-filled voice asked, "Like who? Who could possibly be better than you?"

"Well, if we�re starting out talking about people who live forever� Lord Aderron would be a good choice. He lives for this kind of fight." She shivered at the thought of the Atlantean demon hunter. "Hercules might get bored with hobnobbing with the Higher-Ups and return to Earth." Now she did return Gabrielle�s gaze. "I also think you�d be a better leader in this kind of fight than me."

She didn�t know if the surprise on Gabrielle�s face was from her endorsing her or saying she�d be a better leader than her.

"Me? You can not be serious!" the bard protested heartily. "How could you possibly think that I could ever be better as a leader of warriors than you!"

"In the kind of fight I think that scroll you�re so eager to decipher talks about," she stated, making sure that Gabrielle was intent on hearing her answer, "I think it�ll take more than someone who simply leads warriors into battle. It needs someone who fights out of love for humanity. A person whose light places them head-and-shoulders beyond the common warrior. Someone with a touch of�" It took the Warrior Princess a few seconds to come up with the right word. "Purity. Someone whose purity beats the finest sword hands down. Someone like you, Gabrielle."

"Xena, I�" the younger woman sputtered before she shook her head in denial. Obviously she didn�t think of herself as a leader.

<Oh ye of little faith,> Xena thought, knowing in her soul that someday, her little bardic soulmate would truly come into her own as an individual hero. "I take it that you�d like to talk about something else?"

Gabrielle shot her a dirty look before doing just that. "What about those swords mentioned in the scroll? What were they called� the Swords of Destiny?"

Xena shrugged. "I don�t know. There wasn�t much mentioned outside of there being nine of them, as if they�re a matched set, and that they�d be a sign of the Generals in this �Army.� The only ones mentioned by name were called the �Slayer� swords."

Gabrielle perked up a bit. "That�s another thing. The scroll mentioned a �Slayer.� I mean, a Slayer of what?"

"Funny you two should be talking about that," a deep voice, hinting of great power, replied.

In the blink of an eye, the formidable duo was on their feet. Gabrielle reached for her sais while Xena drew her sword out of its sheath on the ground. Any other warriors would have felt embarrassed upon seeing a gray-bearded old man standing there at the edge of their camp, perhaps even apologizing and welcoming in the grandfatherly fellow.

Xena and Gabrielle, however, were not ordinary warriors. In fact, the old man before them only put them further on guard.

With her guttural drawl, Xena snarled, "What do you want?"

With a dry, resigned sigh, the King of the Gods just asked, "Just once, can�t someone I appear to simply say, �Hello?�"

Xena gave Zeus an evil grin. "Hello." Her evil grin vanished. "Now what do you want?"

She had no trouble meeting Zeus� glare, but she was aware of Gabrielle moving up beside her. "Good evening, Zeus," she said amicably, trying to play peacemaker as always. "What brings you here?"

"Greetings, Gabrielle." Xena cleared her throat so that they could get down to business. The Lord of Olympus rolled his eyes but gave up on idle pleasantries. "The reason I came to you tonight, Xena, is because the Olympians need your help."

Xena just knew Gabrielle�s mouth had dropped a bit before she recovered. She, on the other hand, folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. "Okay, Zeus, what�s the punchline?"

The God of Gods blinked before understanding she was being sarcastic. Zeus shook his head in frustration, which made Xena smile.

"Xena, I am quite serious," he tried a second time. He tried to convey something, maybe honesty, through his eyes. "Something is happening here in Greece, something dark. Seven members of the Olympian Order, myself and Hercules included, want to do something to turn the tide. But to avoid any manipulations like those you have suffered in the past�"

"All too often," she noted evenly.

She was somewhat surprised when Zeus sadly agreed. "I know, Xena. But I hope you will not let the past keep you from positively affecting Earth�s future."

"Getting a little melodramatic, are we?"

"Xeeeena�" Gabrielle warned her.

Zeus� eyes grew thunderous for a second before the God regained control of himself. With a tightly controlled voice, he said, "Xena, will you please be kind enough to curb your attitude toward the Gods long enough to allow me to explain?"

"Provided your explanation isn�t too typically long-winded."

"Agreed." She was surprised by that. He folded his hands in his sleeves and glanced at the ground. "Do you remember your encounters with the Bacchae?"

That grabbed their attention. Xena angrily barked, "How could we forget? Gabrielle was turned into one of them and tried to get kinky with my neck!"

"Hey!"

Xena shot a quick, apologetic glance at her friend. "Sorry, Gabrielle."

Zeus rolled his eyes and continued after glancing between the two of them. "Bacchus is up to his old tricks again," he said simply. "He is making new blood drinkers at a prodigious rate."

Xena thought she was catching on. "And you want me and Gabrielle to get rid of them, right?"

"No," the God of Thunderbolts said slowly, "I want you to train the girl who will, as you so eloquently put it, �get rid of them.�" He must have seen the outrage rising in her eyes, because he held his hands up in a feeble gesture of placation. "Please, I think even you know that I would not lightly make a decision like this. Xena, do you truly think me the type of deity who willingly harms innocents? Am I the type to kill newborn infants with one of my thunderbolts, perhaps?"

Despite her past history with the Gods, Xena knew Zeus wasn�t cruel by nature. He�d even restored people to life in the past. She acknowledged the point with a nod. "Go on, Zeus."

"Thank you." The Lord of Olympus started pacing, never a good sign in a God. "Two months ago, Bacchus� activities were becoming extreme, even for a God. So I asked some of the Gods to aid me in finding a way to stem the tide of Bacchae being formed. In all, seven chose to donate a very small portion of their divine power into a single whole, which we would gift to a mortal we chose."

Xena idly joked, "The Chosen One?"

"Xena!" Zeus angrily shouted. "Do not make light of this!"

"I don�t know," Gabrielle snickered, "I think �Chosen One� is kind of catchy."

Zeus glared at the both of them, but Xena couldn�t care less. "Tell me two things, Zeus. First of all, just which Gods were willing to give up some of their power, and second, just how did you come to pick this girl? In case she asks me when I tell her this story."

"Too true." Xena wondered if she was imagining the ruefulness in Zeus� voice. "Very well, Xena, as for your first question, the Seven were myself, Hercules, Ares, Artemis, Aphrodite, Eros, and Athena."

The list surprised Xena to an extent and assumed Gabrielle was similarly surprised. Hercules, Aphrodite, and even Eros and Athena, she could understand. But Ares and Artemis?

The God must have seen the doubts on her face, because he nodded. "Yes, Xena. Ares willingly aided in this endeavor. His gift to the �Chosen One� will be the ability to master any weapon or fighting art. He thinks that being able to adapt as a warrior will ensure that she will survive the battles to come." A dark look passed over his face. "Plus, he knows that if you found out that He helped to create a champion of humanity, you would have to listen to him boasting about it."

"Now that sounds like the Ares we all know and despise," Gabrielle said for both of them.

Xena chewed on the information. She wondered just what "gifts" the other Gods had "bestowed" in this whole scenario. <I�ll ask that later,> she decided. What she asked now was, "How did you choose this girl, then? And does she have a name?"

"She does," He said gravely, seemingly hesitant to give her name just yet. "As for how she was Chosen, I acted on one of Hercules� ideas. I went to the Oracles to ask them who should be the Recipient of the power."

"And what did the Glitter Twins say?" Xena asked. She had to admit, she was surprised, despite herself, that any God showed the foresight to handle this kind of situation correctly. <If this type of situation can be handled correctly.>

"They said that the Slayer, as the young woman will come to be called," Zeus said, looking at Gabrielle in perfect time with her gasp of shock, "will form an unbroken chain of champions throughout the millennia. But it begins here in Greece, with a girl from Sparta."

Xena couldn�t help it; she laughed in disbelief. "A girl from Sparta? Zeus, the only things Spartan girls learn from their warrior daddies is how to be good little baby factories!"

"Not Alika," Zeus replied with a slightly distant look to his eyes, as if he were imagining the girl right now. "She is the sole child of a Spartan captain, the last of a fine line of warriors. Marius, her father, hopes she will find a place in the Spartan ranks or perhaps elsewhere. As you know, there are societies that value female warriors."

"No argument there," Xena conceded. She considered the information Zeus had given her. He was being nothing short of honest with her and Gabrielle. She glanced at Zeus. "Why me?"

The King looked puzzled. "I beg your pardon, Xena?"

"I said, �Why me?�" She shrugged. "Why do you want me to train her?"

Zeus� lips thinned into a tight line. "I chose you because you are the most experienced mortal warrior in the world today. You have seen, encountered, or even learned fighting arts used by mortals from Britannia to Japa. No living mortal is as qualified as you are to teach her what she needs to know, to survive fighting such opponents."

"That�s it?" she asked doubtfully. It couldn�t be that clean and simple. "My experience as a warrior."

"The Oracles also say that Alika has a slight case of hero worship where the two of you are concerned," Zeus admitted with a shrug, which was returned by a groan from Xena and raised eyebrows from Gabbie, probably because she didn�t see herself as "idol" material. "Also, my sons agree that you are the best choice to teach her. It�s rare that those two agree on anything."

"That�s an understatement," Gabrielle muttered, echoing her own thoughts on the matter. Gabrielle asked, "Zeus, does this have anything to do with the prophecy we found on that scroll?"

"I cannot say, Gabrielle," Zeus said, although he kept his eyes on her for several seconds. "Even for the Lord of Olympus, the Oracles� mysteriousness can be irritating at times." He turned back to Xena, a hopeful look on his face. "Xena, will you do this? Will you teach the Slayer what she needs to know?"

Xena found herself actually considering Zeus� request. One thing bothered her, so she pursed her lips and asked her question. "What happens if she dies, Zeus? Will you pick another �Chosen One� to fight the Bacchae?"

To her surprise, the King of the Gods took several moments to answer. "The answer to that question isn�t simple, Xena. My gift, you see, is that when the first Slayer, this Alika, dies, the powers of the Slayer will pass into another. Another girl will be Chosen and inherit the skills and powers."

Gabrielle angrily burst out, "With no idea what�s happening to her?!?"

"No, Gabrielle, not exactly. You see, Athena�s gift to the Slayer will be dreams. Dreams that will give the new Slayer glimpses of her predecessors." Zeus looked up at the stars, as if such an act were novel to a God. "From those dreams, the Slayer will gain wisdom from the past."

"And just how is the next Slayer, and any Slayer after that, going to be Chosen?" Xena defiantly pressed.

She was suspicious when He was suddenly less confident than a God should be. "They will be Chosen by the spirit of the first Slayer."

Xena immediately realized what Zeus was saying, not to mention the implications raised by his answer. She gritted her teeth to keep from throttling the Olympian. She settled for making a show of fingering her chakram. "You�re going to condemn this girl�s spirit to an eternity of picking other girls to fight Bacchae? You�re not going to let her go to the Elysian Fields? What about these girls she will choose to replace her? Will they suffer like that, too?"

"Of course not," Zeus replied, surprisingly calm in the face of her rage. "What will happen is that Alika�s spirit will choose another Slayer upon one�s death. The dying Slayer�s spirit will go to its appropriate afterlife. As for Alika�s spirit, it will only be aware long enough to choose a new host, thereby giving that host the powers of the Slayer. Then, she will approach the new Chosen One in a dream to explain what is happening. Her soul will then go dormant, to sleep if you will, until the time comes for a new Slayer to be Chosen." Zeus raised his hands, probably to prevent any verbal backlash from her or Gabrielle. "And in time, if and when the final battle between good and evil is won, the Slayer�s spirit will ascend to its proper place. And, I can promise you this, from the Oracles themselves, that her reward for accepting this sacred trust will be all the greater."

"Except for the part where you say we�re not allowed to tell her all this," Gabrielle snapped with fire in her eyes that made Xena proud to see.

"If I didn�t want Alika to know what accepting this destiny entailed, I wouldn�t have told you," was his response to the challenge. His eyes became caring, and not a little bit saddened. "I want you to tell her this. I want the girl to know everything that becoming the Slayer will entail. I want Alika to know the burden she would accept upon her shoulders, and how much her acceptance and sacrifice will mean to the world. The choice whether or not to accept will be hers."

Xena shared a meaningful glance with Gabrielle, one filled with a mix of caution and excitement. They had begun talking about a role in the greater whole of the world�s destiny, and here was a chance for them to shape one of those who might play a pivotal role in the fight. The Greek heroines turned back to Hercules� father.

"Is there anything I should know about this �Alika?�" she asked with genuine interest. "After all, if I�m going to teach this kid how to hunt Bacchae, I want to be sure she�s worth my time." She grinned from ear to ear. "So tell us, Zeus; what�s this kid like?"

*****

The Home of Captain Marius
The City-State of Sparta
Greece
10 March 504 BC

Alika just stared off into space, automatically putting one foot in front of the other while trying to assimilate what her hero had just revealed. She slowly turned her head to face Xena, who watched her with the same appraising gaze she�d given her after laying eyes on her for the first time.

With a soft, child-like voice, the young girl asked, "What did Lord Zeus say about me?"

Xena just smiled a little and kept walking through her house. "He said you firmly believe in the superiority of everything Spartan, can be a little stubborn at times, and that you�re more concerned with being a warrior than a kid." Alika winced and flushed; if anything, what the Warrior Princess said was all too true. The tall warrior then said, "He also said that you have a fiery yet compassionate disposition, a desire to learn, and that you�re an all-around good girl. He�s very impressed with you." She leaned in close and whispered, "And between us, Herc�s Old Man doesn�t impress easily."

Alika felt a rush of awe and felt slightly weak in the knees. <The God of Gods said that about me?!? And he wants Xena to train me?!?> "I� I don�t know what to say�" she muttered softly.

"Well, one thing I can say, Alika," Xena�s rough voice said, grabbing her attention. She looked into those blue eyes and saw something that, for some reason, made her think she�d just passed some kind of test. Xena leaned down and brought her face inches away from her own. "I like the way you reacted just now. I didn�t see you get all smiley faced and egotistical about one of the Gods praising you. No, you�re wondering why He did it and why he finds you important enough to personally ask me to give you pointers in hunting Bacchae." She straightened up and Alika gulped. Xena�s smile became more friendly than fierce, although it seemed to be an effort on her part. "You look almost humbled, Alika. That�s good; it means you know that this is something heavy, not carte blanche to act like�" Her smile faded and she sighed. "Well, like I did before I turned for the better."

Alika knew the stories; Xena had been a sadistic warlord in her own right until repenting and changing her ways. "What happened to make you change?" she asked, wanting to get the true tale from the Princess herself.

Xena snorted but cocked her head. She simply said, "I grew up. But this isn�t about me, kiddo. This is about you and what the Oracles see in you. Now, if you do end up accepting this Slayer gig, and if I agree to teach you, there�s no doubt as to what your first lesson is going to be."

"What is that?" Alika asked, her eyes lighting up at the idea of learning from Greece�s premiere female hero. When Xena�s face took on a look of exasperation, she gulped and tried to rein in her enthusiasm.

Xena seemed to take pity on her. "Tell you what," she said, slipping over to the middle of the training area. Alika was surprised to realize she�d lost all track of their path, so engrossed was she in Xena�s tale. She stood in the middle of the practice ring and gave her a slight bow and grin. "Let�s get the first lesson out of the way right now. That is, if you think you can handle it."

Alika felt a tidal wave of conflicting feelings in her heart; awe that Xena wanted to give her a lesson now, before even agreeing to be her teacher, and eagerness, spurred on by the desire to show the Warrior Princess her own skills! She took up her position opposite Xena and nodded gravely, trying to comport herself as a Spartan should. "Will we need practice weapons, Lady Xena?"

"Nope, not for this," the Warrior Princess said with a subtle shake of her head. She lowered her head, eyes peering into Alika�s. "You sure you�re ready to learn this lesson, Alika?"

She smiled brightly and eagerly nodded. "Yes."

"Good." Alika expected her to take up a fighting stance, but was surprised when the legend just folded her hands behind her back and said, "Lesson number one, Alika; I make mistakes."

Alika blinked. She was caught totally off her guard. "W-what?" she stuttered.

"I said, I make mistakes," the Hellene beauty in front of her repeated. She brought her right hand out and pointed a finger at her. "That�s the first thing you�re going to have to realize and get through your skull, kid; I�m not perfect. I�m just as fallible and mortal as you are. If I become your teacher, I�m going to make mistakes just like you or any other mortals do. Believe me, I know from experience; I�ve made some doozies in my time. If you�re going to be my student, Alika, that�s the first thing you need to know about me. I�m not perfect."

The olive-skinned teen took a few seconds to assimilate what Xena had just told her. She swallowed as she realized exactly what Xena was trying to say to her, as well as what she was trying to do to her mindset. <She wants me to think of her as something other than a legend,> Alika realized. <As a person or teacher, not as the great hero. >

She flicked her eyes to glance at the taller warrior, who was watching her just as intently. Their gazes locked and just for a moment, Alika saw the humanity behind the stern visage. In that moment, she understood the truth of Xena�s words. The Warrior Princess wasn�t some invulnerable avenger of the innocent. No, the truth was much simpler.

Xena was a good woman whose path had led her to become the person she was; the warrior who fought for the right reasons.

Alika felt her mind and body settling as she understood a flaw in the Spartan philosophy, and thus in her own upbringing.

<The true reason for becoming a warrior is not about defeating your enemies, nor is it about glory,> she thought to herself. The true reason for choosing this path, and thus taking up a role chosen by the heroes of the past and present. A path she was being offered, even if it came with a tremendous sacrifice. <It is not about killing. It is about saving.>

She blinked a few times as her mind considered the conflict between what she�d always been taught, and what she now knew to be the truth. To her surprise, she found that it was not so hard to accept this new wisdom. She took a deep breath and faced her idol and possible mentor.

With a grave nod and certainty flashing through her eyes, Alika said, "I understand."

"No, no you don�t," Xena said with a tilt of her head. Before her spirits could plummet, something passed through the hero�s eyes. She smiled gently and said, "But I think you just got off to a good start."

*****

"If I might ask," Marius asked her with a quiet, confident voice, "just how did my daughter attract the attention of the Gods?"

Gabrielle turned her eyes onto the Spartan Captain. <He�s different from most Spartans.> Her lips curved into the smallest of friendly grins. "From what Zeus told us, the Oracles told him that she was the right person for the job."

She watched the man�s facial expression for several moments. "You love her very much, don�t you, Captain?"

"Please, call me Marius," he requested. He ran a hand through his short, slightly graying hair. "Yes, Gabrielle, I love her. She is all that remains of my family."

Gabrielle couldn�t bring herself to mention just how dangerous being the "Slayer," assuming Alika did accept the role, was going to be. She just couldn�t bring herself to break the old man�s heart by telling him Alika would likely die without ever having a child of her own.

Apparently, he realized that as well. "Gabrielle, you need not spare my feelings." She started and he gave her a sad smile. "It is the risk every warrior takes. I know that family lines can end anywhere, anytime. I am under no illusions that Alika�s path will be anything but hazardous." He sent a glance around the greeting room and she followed his gaze. "My line ends with Alika, whether she marries or no."

Gabrielle remembered something that Zeus had told her and Xena. Something that, if she put the right spin on it, might give Alika�s father a sense of peace. "Actually," she said, showing her own remaining wonder at this topic, "you might say the line starts with Alika."

Marius froze and whirled on her, sword sheath banging against his hip. "Explain," he demanded.

The Battling Bard did just that. She told him how Alika�s gift would pass on throughout the ages, to new Slayers. She also told him how it would be Alika that would determine who was worthy of the gift the Gods were offering her. His face softened and became filled with wonder as she gave him the true depths of the sacred trust the Olympians thought her worthy of. To finish, she gave him what she saw was more hope.

"Marius, in a way, Alika is being offered the ability to continue your line. She is going to be responsible for forming a �line� of Slayers throughout the ages to come. Those Slayers will, in a sense, be her sisters." Gabrielle paused for breath before going on in a soft, gentle tone meant to soothe Marius� concern for his daughter. "A sisterhood, not by blood, but by sharing a common purpose for the betterment and protection of humanity. And since you are the one who raised her, it will be the example you set for her that will aid in choosing just who her sisters will be." She walked up and placed a warm hand on his shoulder. "If you choose to think of it that way, Alika will keep your line going for centuries to come. You might say you�ll have many, many daughters."

Marius just stared past her for several moments. She lowered her hand and backed away to give him room to think. She could tell that she�d made an impression on just how much Alika�s choice might mean to the future of mankind.

<I only wish I could be there to see it,> she mused with a mental smile.

"This is the role the Gods have chosen for my daughter?" he asked with equal amounts of fatherly love, pride, and concern.

Gabrielle shook her head. "Your daughter is the one the Gods have chosen to fulfill this role," she corrected. < A subtle yet important difference.>

The man she wanted to reassure nodded and she beamed a smile to him. He understood the difference.

"I never thought I could be any prouder of her," he dryly confessed.

"You have to remember, she does have a choice. She could say no."

"Alika does have her faults, as all mortals do," Marius told her, "but she also has a firm sense of what she is capable of, Gabrielle. If she believes that another will be better for this role as the �Slayer,� then I will be proud of her for having the wisdom to pass the duty to another. She is my child, and I will be proud of her no matter what she decides."

Gabrielle found her respect for this man growing by the second. He was kind, open-minded, and obviously loved Alika very much. She also saw how much of what Zeus had said about Alika�s spirit was because of this man�s influence.

"Marius," she said with a smile, "she�ll make you even prouder."

He nodded, not looking at her, but she knew that somehow, she�d given him hope and the peace he wanted.

She heard footsteps and turned to see Xena and Alika returning. Just by the easy way Xena walked, the Amazon could tell that she liked their prospective student. Said student, on the other hand, seemed to be very deep in thought. Gabrielle considered it a good sign.

Marius moved forward and offered a hand to Xena, a gesture of friendship. She grinned and clasped his forearm. "Your kid�s got a good head on her shoulders, Marius. I can see you�ve done good work raising her."

"She is a good student," he responded. Gabrielle noted how Alika was touched by her father�s praise, but she didn�t puff herself up.

Gabrielle smiled and asked Alika, "Xena didn�t scare you too badly, did she?"

Alika�s lips creased into a small grin. "She can be somewhat� imposing. She is very tall."

"It�s the boots," she and Xena quipped together.

Alika giggled a bit, but her humor was momentary. She looked at Marius and solemnly said, "Father, I� I need to be alone for a while. I�" She hesitated and averted her eyes. "May I take leave of the house?"

Gabrielle noted that Marius didn�t hesitate. He walked up to her, lightly gripped her biceps, and told her, "Do as you must, Alika. And know this, my girl; no matter how you choose, I will always be proud of you. So choose as you must, not as you think I or anyone else would have you choose."

Alika�s eyes rose up to search Marius� face and Gabrielle realized that the soldier might be doing more than telling Alika to make her own choice.

He might also be, in his own way, telling her that he considered her an adult in his eyes.

<He�s making it her decision alone.>

*****

1630 Revello Drive
Sunnydale, California
Early hours
4 September 1999

"Geez, K, leave something for me!" Faith whined impulsively.

"Faith!" Giles, Jenny, and Joyce snapped back.

She winced as it dawned on her that snapping at someone under hypnosis might not be the best thing since sliced bread. She shrank back into her seat and muttered, "Sorry."

"Too bloody right," Alfred muttered, almost too quietly for even her hearing to pick up.

She felt upset that he�d chastised her. Before Faith could determine whether or not apologizing again would do any good, a warm hand wrapped itself around her left one. She looked over and saw Mom giving her a warm look. She felt Joyce�s hand tenderly squeeze hers at the same time those Mommy eyes said, "It�s all right, let it go."

Her doubts vanished under that reassurance; sometimes she still felt like the odd girl out in the Slayer Trilogy, because B was Giles� Girl (capital G) and Kendra was the "typical" Slayer, while she� well, sometimes she felt like she was the street girl who they�d taken in from the cold.

But, as was often the occasion, as soon as the word "lucky" came up, she realized just how lucky she was. She�d gotten the breaks, however Twilight Zone whacked out they might be, that had gotten her what she�d always wanted and needed; a family that she loved and loved her to pieces.

Of course, she reflected, she�d gotten enough blessings from the Big Guy to have two Watchers and two Moms who loved her despite her background. Sure, she�d had to, well�

<It doesn�t matter to them!> she reminded herself. She forced herself to settle down a bit and focus on Giles bringing Kendra out of La-La Land.

"Kendra, you�ve done well," Big Daddy G said softly. "When you come out of your trance, you will remember everything about your dream that has been revealed to this point. On the count of three, bring yourself out. One, two, three."

The change was so sudden that almost everyone jumped. Rather than slowly come to her senses like Buff had, Kendra just straightened up like, "BAM!" Faith didn�t gasp, but Joyce and Dawnie did.

Kendra�s lips parted into a smile as she peeked at her. "I apologize for looking like a zombie." Faith rolled her eyes and Kendra laughed before fixing her brown eyes on Giles, looking very smug with herself. "That was somewhat� interesting, to say the least."

"Yes, watching you impersonate Gabrielle was very interesting," Compu-Teach noted with dry humor.

"Laugh it up, Princess, and you just might find yourself getting demoted," Gabbie snarled, although Faith knew she was joking. But she did turn serious. "Aside from the novelty of my being disturbed at having Kendra speak my words back to me, this is still weird. I mean, again it isn�t Alika�s impressions of the talk. It was the actual discussion between Xena, Zeus, and myself. I�m convinced this is more than a simple dream about the first Slayer. It�s wider in scope than that."

"It appears to be the events leading up to her being Chosen," Giles said with that "Elementary, dear Slayer" voice that said he had it all figured out. He glanced at Jenny and she looked like she agreed with him.

<There�s a big surprise,> Faith noted sarcastically.

He nodded and looked back at Mom. "Joyce, I think we can agree that this isn�t anything dangerous. Instead, I find myself thinking it might be, in a sense, a history lesson of sorts."

"Great," Buffy groaned, "it�s four o�clock on Sunday and we still can�t get away from schoolwork!"

Dawn said, "You three are so screwed." The fact that she was grinning robbed her sympathetic words of any credibility.

Mrs. S sighed, "And to think I wanted more children." Faith giggled as she turned back to the older guys. "Gabrielle, Giles, what do you think caused this? Certainly you have some ideas."

"Given what I know of the Slayers," Queenie Amazon started cautiously, "I know that in a way, the �current� Slayer shares a form of psychic link with every past Slayer. It�s something like the link someone who undergoes past life regression shares with their past lives or�" She paused and gave her a meaningful glance, "� the theories of �shared souls or primal psyches� shared by some twins."

Faith knew what she meant, on both counts. "So you�re pretty much saying that this was my fault," she said with a lopsided grin.

Giles looked ready to scold her, but Bottle Blonde sis got the joke. "Isn�t it always your fault?"

The Slayers shared a laugh that G-Man finally joined in, dropping the Old Fogey act for a bit.

"I, ahem, agree with Gabrielle�s theory," he said once he regained his control. "Faith does share the mystical link with Slayers past, through Alika�s spirit in her body. And with two other living Slayers, something no one outside of the Gods or Oracles could have ever imagined, and with all three of you in such close proximity, perhaps it was the link that made you share the dream."

Mom pointed out the flaw in G-Man�s logic. "But you think this is more than that kind of dream. You said it yourselves; this includes events outside of what should be in Alika�s dreams. Discussion between the Gods�"

Yeah, she was keeping track of things just fine�

"So what could it be?" Dawn asked, sounding way too thrilled to be part of something that was making the Slayers into hypno-guinea pigs.

"I�m not quite certain," Giles said, unfortunately. "For instance, this could have been a fluke event, a once in a lifetime occurrence. Or perhaps something is happening in the world that precipitated all three Slayers sharing the dream, so that we can be prepared for whatever�s coming."

"There might be another possibility, Rupert," Jenny suggested, sounding just as uncertain as Giles. "What if Alika�s spirit is the one dreaming? She might be dreaming and, through her link to the Slayers, is making them share the dream."

"I thought her spirit was dormant," Mom said with a Mommy-type frown. Faith saw the surprise on the J-G Connection�s faces just as Mom did. "Giles, I have three daughters who are Slayers. I�ve talked with them all about it, because I need to know these things."

"Besides," Mini-B added with a snicker, "it�s so cool when they talk about some of those old Slayers. When they were alive, who they fought�"

"It gives me more of an idea of the tradition the girls are heir to," Joyce finished proudly.

"Even if you won�t let us tell Baby Sis the juicy parts," Faith added.

*****

Knowing full well what Faith meant by "juicy," and that she was using a defense mechanism against her natural reservations about being put into a hypnotic state, Giles ignored her jibe.

"Faith, if you are ready?" he asked, trying to calm the young woman�s nerves. He waved a hand at Buffy and Kendra. "You saw how easy it was with your sisters. And the sooner we begin, the sooner it will be over with."

"Yeah, yeah. I know." Faith squirmed a bit in her seat but seemed to shake off most of her inhibitions. She looked him in the eyes, allowing him to see her determination to see this through. "Let�s see what �Lika Girl has left to say, huh?"

Giles flashed a smile of pure pride at her. "That�s a good girl."

She let her head lower enough to focus on the crystal. "Okay, let�s get started," she told him, her nerves betrayed by a slight tremor.

<Here goes nothing,> Giles thought with a deep mental breath. He started talking again, this time to the youngest, most fiery of his charges. "Faith, clear your mind of all distractions. Empty your mind and focus on the light. Keep your eyes on it and let it become all that exists to you." Her eyelids started to flutter a bit but the Watcher could see that she was resisting. He somehow guessed that she wasn�t trying to fight it; some people were simply harder to put under. <If I said anything, she�d probably chalk it up to her Irish heritage,> he thought with an internal smile. "Faith, just focus on the light. Let it be your shield against your fears. The longer you stare at it, the more you feel it pushing your fears aside. It is relaxing you and letting you fall into a deep sleep. When I count to five, you will become completely capable of remembering your dream. One� two� three� four� five."

His beloved, if often infuriating, Dark Slayer finally closed her eyes all the way, signaling to him that she was totally under.

"Faith, can you hear me?" he gently asked her.

Faith�s eyelids twitched, like she was in a REM state. "Yeah."

He smiled and leaned forward, folding his hands. "Remember the parts of our dream that Buffy and Kendra have already described. I want you to skip only those parts and begin at the next phase of the dream. Can you do that?"

"Sure." Her face scrunched in concentration and her eyelids started moving faster.

"Rupert, what�s happening?" Jenny asked in worry.

He held a hand up to silence any further questions. "It�s all right. Please be quiet and let this play out," he said warningly. He turned his eyes back to Faith, who was beginning to enter the stages of the dream where she�d start her portion of the narrative. He cooed, "Faith, remember; speak in English so that we can all understand what you�re saying. Can you do that, my dear? Tell us what you see."

"Okay�" the dull New England voice said. "I� I see�"

*****

The House of Captain Marius
The City-State of Sparta
Greece
10 March 504 BC

She slowly nodded in understanding. <The destiny is mine to accept or decline.>

"I understand," she said softly. She knew she meant it in more ways than one.

Father nodded again and she turned and briskly left the greeting room. She fought to keep from running to her room, barely containing herself from breaking into a sprint. She entered her room and found Alexandra waiting for her.

Her friend must have sensed something, because she shot up from the chair where she had sat, green eyes wide with anticipation. "What is it, Alika? What happened?"

Alika laid her eyes on her servant and felt some of the weight on her shoulders lift a bit more. She didn�t smile; this wasn�t the occasion for levity. She sat down on her bed and started removing her armor.

"Let me do that," Alexandra said, moving to remove the leather and metal suit so that she wouldn�t be distracted. "Alika?" She didn�t answer. "Mistress?"

"How many times have I told you not to call me that!" she finally groaned. As Alexandra�s hands did their work, she said, "Xena was sent by Lord Zeus to train me."

Her friend�s hands froze. With an awe-filled voice, she asked, "Why?"

Alika ruminated on how her reaction had been about the same. "It seems that the Lord Bacchus is making undead servants, unholy creatures that drink the blood of the living. The other Gods have chosen me to become their champion to stop them."

Alexandra removed her breastplate and set it on the bed. She knelt in front of her, shock evident on her pretty face. "You are going to be a champion like Hercules or Perseus?"

Alika winced and stood up. She started pacing, which made Alexandra move aside. She tried to think of how to explain it. She finally faced her kneeling companion, who patiently awaited an answer.

"Alexandra, this is not about glory of winning battles," she began with a crack in her voice. "My friend, this goes beyond a single task like Theseus slaying the Minotaur or Hercules� labors. It goes beyond bringing honor to this House, beyond serving the city-state� it is even beyond being a hero like Xena or Gabrielle. This�" She waved her arms around helplessly. "It would be about serving mankind for� a very, very long time."

"I�" Alexandra appeared embarrassed and confused. "I don�t understand, Alika."

"I do not understand, either," she sheepishly confessed. "At least, not completely."

"Will you be leaving?" the fourteen-year-old asked in a low voice.

"I do not know what I will be doing," Alika stammered. "I do not know if I can even do this, Alexandra. The responsibility� I do not know if I am the right person for this."

Alexandra stood up and cautiously approached her. She reached up and gently stroked Alika�s ebon-colored locks, causing the young warrior�s eyes to lock with her friend�s witch-green orbs. "Alika, I am not a priest or philosopher. I do not pretend to know the will or the wishes of the Gods. What I do know is you. And I can only guess that if the King of the Gods believes that you are the only person capable of shouldering this burden, then that is good enough for me." She blushed and regretfully said, "But it would be very lonely without you."

Alika�s heart ached, but she knew deep down that leaving home would be one of the lesser sacrifices she was being called upon by the Gods to make. "I know, but�"

"Duty is thicker than blood," Alexandra muttered, stating the family�s motto.

Alika inaudibly repeated the words. She finally turned around and looked in the silvered mirror, looking at herself; her face, her well-muscled arms, her strong, tanned legs.

Looking deeper, she tried to look inside herself, to see what the Gods saw in her.

"What are you thinking?" her friend asked from the side.

"That dreaming about being a hero is easy." Alika turned her head toward Alexandra. "But being asked to sacrifice so much to be a hero? That is so very hard indeed."

*****

Alika wasn�t surprised at where she ended her hours of wandering the city. After a seemingly directionless journey, she found herself in front of two of the most important people in her life.

Kneeling respectfully, heedless of the stains that the grass might leave on her gown, she whispered, "Hello, Grandfather. Hello, Mama."

She lifted her eyes to gaze at Grandfather�s marker, engraved in Hellenic script. "I suppose you know what is happening. The Lord Zeus wants me, someone only fifteen years old, to be responsible for so much. I� I don�t know what I should do. It is a great honor, or so my mind tells me. But it is so much more important than that." She looked up at the stars and asked anyone who might be listening, "I do not know that I am the right choice. I� I do not know what to do."

She was silent for a few moments, praying that she would receive some sign to solve her dilemma. In time, she sighed in defeat. She noticed some weeds near both markers. With a frown, she started yanking the unwelcome plants out of the ground. She became frustrated when some of the weeds broke off above the roots. She knew that without pulling them up, the weeds would eventually sprout up again. She dug her hands into the dirt, determined to find the scattered roots. She uncovered and threw aside a few, but she knew she�d failed to get them all.

She ran her fingertips across Grandfather and Mother�s markers. "I am sorry, but I am better at swordplay than gardening." She smoothed the dirt over their graves once again and smiled sadly. "I did my best. That is all I can do."

She started to stand, brushing the dirt from her hands as she rose. She suddenly stopped as something triggered in her mind. She wracked her brain, trying to put the proverbial finger on what was itching in her mind. Her eyes darted around until once again, they rested on Mother�s grave.

It struck her then, what she needed to understand. She spent close to another hour sitting there, looking at the stars and considering every nuance of the gift and responsibility that was hers to embrace, should she want it.

Eventually, Alika squared her shoulders and left the cemetery, heading for home.

*****

Xena arched an eyebrow when she saw the dirt and grass stains on what had been a very white gown when Alika had left hours ago. She idly remarked, "Looks like you did more than thinking. You okay?"

"I am well," Alika told her without hesitation. She put her palms together and Xena saw the dirt coating her fingers. "Xena, I do not know what the Gods see in me that makes them think I should become the Slayer. Nor do I see what makes them believe I will be able to choose wisely the Slayers who shall follow." Her hands came down, but her posture was confident without being tense. "What I do know is that whatever happens, I will do the best I can for humanity. I will do my best, because�" She lowered her eyes to look at the ground. "It is all I can do."

Xena smiled at the woman she�d soon be teaching. She walked over to Alika and rested her hands on the kid�s shoulders. "That�s all anyone can ask of you, kiddo." Her grin grew wider. "Now, you understand."

*****

1630 Revello Drive
Sunnydale, California
Early hours
4 September 1999

"Lemme get this straight," Dawn said, her thirteen-year-old face tied in a knot of confusion. "Pulling weeds helped Alika decide to be the Slayer? How lame is that?!?"

Gabrielle felt sorry for her; she wanted to understand, but youth had its disadvantages. "Dawn," she said kindly, taking pity on one of her future sisters, "Alika realized that the Gods weren�t asking her to do the job perfectly. You see, when she became the Slayer, she didn�t have a Watcher from the Council, the Order of the Grail, or any of the groups who help your sisters in the present. She was pretty much by herself. That was what Xena hoped she�d learn quickly; she wasn�t expected to be perfect. She was only expected to do her best."

She gave Dawn a friendly smile. <After all, she will one day be my responsibility.> "Now do you understand?"

She blushed a bit, maybe because she�d needed a grown-up to explain it to her, but to the Bard�s eyes, Dawn�s above-normal intelligence was up to the task. "I get it, Gabs."

"I know," she said with a twinkle in her eye. She shifted her gaze back to Giles. "Giles, I think I speak for Faith when I say that if you don�t let her do the next part of the dream, she�ll kick your ass for bringing her out of the trance too soon."

"What part are you talking about, Gabrielle?" her High Priestess asked, quite serious yet curious.

"If I�m right," the wielder of Purity mysteriously chuckled, "the good part." Before Giles or Jenny could voice any sort of protest, Gabrielle pointed a finger at the entranced Slayer. "Just ask her. Trust me, it�ll be worth it."

"I certainly hope so," Giles muttered darkly.

Gabrielle forced herself not to rise to "Ripper�s" slight threat that she�d heard plainly. She knew what she was capable of, but her rational mind brought forth the discussions she�d had with Willow and Shaw after the Outworld battle to rein in her own sharp retort. <And knowing what those two kids are capable of if they�re pushed too far, it frankly scared me to see how rattled they were by witnessing Giles� and Jenny�s dark sides.>

So she let it slide and waited for the Watcher to "persuade" Faith to go on. As he started giving the Slayer instructions to continue with the story, she noted with interest that said story, a tale about one of the most important and memorable days of her long life, was being told by the one modern teenager that reminded her so much of Xena. She wondered if anyone else had noticed her own eyes becoming distant and misty with the fog of remembrance.

*****

Temple of Zeus
The City-State of Sparta
Greece
13 March 504 BC

Alika�s eyes darted about, but that was the only part of her anatomy she allowed to move. She simply tried to take in as much detail as she could. This was the first time she�d ever entered the temple of Zeus; her family had always worshipped Ares above the other Gods, although they also paid homage to Artemis, dual Goddess of the Hunt and Moon.

The Slayer-to-be swallowed since she knew that she was taking the first steps along a path with no end in sight, but stifled her uncertainty. <You have chosen to do this, because you are the one They have honored with this task. >

She focused on her surroundings, tuning her senses to the present. Her eyes faced straight ahead, watching the door at the end of the hallway, the passage into the inner sanctum of the temple. Her ears registered the sounds of priests chanting, workers carrying out mundane tasks, and the contrast of their footsteps; Xena and Gabrielle�s boots clomping on the floor against the sound of rustling silk as she took each step. She thought again why she�d been told to wear nothing but a long, sleeveless white gown. The coolness of the stone floor penetrated the soles of her feet, contrasting to the warm feeling given off by the fire of the torches lining the walls. Her sense of smell detected the burning incense and smoke coming from elsewhere. The incense soothed her nerves, but she fought to keep from becoming light-headed.

The trio finally reached the double doors and Xena and Gabrielle each grabbed a handle. Alika tensed in anticipation of her entrance, but her new teachers hesitated.

Xena whispered, "Well, this is it, kiddo. No turning back."

"I know." Alika felt a sort of inner peace settle inside her soul. She was ready and willing to serve mankind. She turned her head to Xena. "I am ready, Xena."

"At least I got you to stop that �Lady� crap," she said with a friendly grin. "Let�s go."

Alika solemnly nodded and her mentors pulled the doors open. Her breath caught as she saw who was waiting for her inside. She�d seen artist�s representations of these beings before, so she knew the Gods for who They were.

Zeus, the King of the Gods. Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Strategic Warfare. Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. Eros, the God of Lovers. Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, Moon, and Mother of the Amazons. Hercules, God of Strength and former hero of Greece. And Ares, God of War and Warriors.

Her God.

Before she followed her initial instinct to prostrate herself before these mighty beings, a small voice in her mind reminded her that this was why she was here. The Gods needed her to serve the world and she had embraced the duty, because it was the right thing to do.

That thought, plus her desire to begin her destiny, steeled her nerve and propelled her forward, into the sanctum. She focused her eyes on Lord Zeus, who stood in the center, flanked on each side by three of His fellow Gods. She was dimly aware of Xena and Gabrielle standing to her side and slightly behind her.

Now she did fall to her knees and bow her head. "Lord Zeus, Lords and Ladies of Olympus, I am here to accept the duty you ask me to partake for humanity."

She waited for a reaction. She was surprised when a pair of strong, gentle hands cupped her cheeks. She felt her head being raised and her eyes met those of Zeus himself.

With a voice that reminded her of Grandfather, the Lord of Olympus said, "My child, we will not have you bow to us. For on this day, we honor your sacrifice and courage." He gently took her hands and guided her back to a standing position, smiling at her. She got the strange feeling that he was� proud of her.

"My Lord�"

He shook His head and placed his hands on her shoulders. "You have accepted a burden so great, yet so important, it leaves me in a state of awe, my young one. You are simply one of the bravest souls I have ever encountered."

She bowed her head again. "Thank you," she whispered.

"We thank you," Zeus corrected. She brought her head back up and his manner became serious. "Let us begin," he said, his voice now regal and commanding. "Alika, daughter of Marius, do you accept the duty of the Chosen One?"

Although she wondered why his eyes twinkled at the title, she nodded. "I do, my Lord."

"So be it." Zeus came closer and placed his right hand on her forehead.

"To the Slayer, I grant the power and the ability to pass on your gifts throughout time. Through you, there will always be a Slayer, a Chosen One, a champion against the darkness. You are the first, the one who shall choose all who come after you."

She felt a tingle run through her body. For some reason it reminded her of the crackle of lightning during a storm. The sensation faded to a comfortable warmth encompassing her body, pulsing in perfect time with her heartbeat.

The Lord of Olympus took a step backwards, turned, and strode to his position at the center of the line. No sooner had he stopped then Aphrodite stepped forward to take his place. The Love Goddess virtually strutted sensuously up to her and favored her with a dazzling smile. "Hiya, cutie pie," the lace-gowned Goddess chirped. She leaned forward and whispered, "You�re a cute one. That�s good; a girl should always make a good first impression."

Alika couldn�t help but smile. Aphrodite�s smile faded a bit and her eyes roamed over her body. She raised her head a bit and Alika felt the Lady�s lips brush her forehead. The girl suddenly felt the warmth of all the love she�d ever felt in her life; for her father, grandfather, mother, Alexandra, and for Sparta. But she felt more, love for people, places, and things she�d never be able to identify. Just as quickly, it faded to a quiet hum as Aphrodite�s gift was absorbed by Zeus�.

"To the Slayer," she cheerfully said, "I give love. A love of the whole wide world and all the people in it." She winked at her. "You�ll help the world because you love the people who live in it. And you�ll have the love of people who�ll fight at your side and the Slayers who follow you will have these people in their lives as well, honey. You won�t be alone."

Alika felt a lump in her throat at the promise. <I didn�t realize how much love I truly had.> As the feelings faded, Aphrodite gave her another smile and returned to her place.

Her son Eros was next. The God who spent his time helping couples fall in love graced her with a smile of his own. He reached around and embraced her, catching her by surprise. As she melted into his hug, she felt a warm, seductive kiss on her cheek. Another rush flooded her body, making every nerve of her body shiver with energy.

Unlike the previous announcements, Eros whispered his gift into her ear, his voice warm and rich. "To you, the first Slayer, I give a sense of duty to those you love, whether family or simply your fellow man. You will do your best for them and you will inspire them to follow your example."

He released her and gave her a smile matched by his warm, friendly eyes.

"Fare thee well, Slayer."

Alika gave him a serious nod as he backed away. She kept her eyes on him, refusing to look to see who would follow.

That happened to be Artemis. The Goddess of the Moon was garbed in the clothes of a hunter and carried a stern look that matched this most serious of rituals. The look melted a bit as she held up a hand, palm facing her. A ball of golden light formed and Artemis whispered, "To the Chosen One, I give the skills and senses of the huntress. You will know your prey, their strengths and weaknesses. The Slayer will always be female, so I give her the instincts of a mother, who will do anything to protect her own."

The ball fired from the Goddess� hand and struck her in the chest. Alika stayed still as the latest gift passed into her and permeated her body. She was suddenly aware of everything; her sight increased in acuity, her hearing picked up and sorted degrees of sound she�d never separated, and her nose detected and identified any number of scents. She took a deep sniff to appreciate as much as she could.

Artemis reached out and cupped Alika�s cheek in her hand. The girl heard a purring voice in her head. // Your family has always called my name, daughter of Marius. Although your kin do not worship me, I remember their calls. So for them, I give you my thanks. //

Alika stood up straighter, if such were possible. <Thank you, my Lady.>

Artemis gave her a terse nod and backed away. Hercules, who was clad in clothes a mortal would wear, replaced her. Apparently, ascending to the Heavens hadn�t changed the great hero�s demeanor.

He smiled at her and said, "Hi, Alika."

He held out a hand as if to greet her. She grasped it with her own and he placed his other hand over it. She felt human warmth and he said, "I give the Slayer strength, speed, endurance, dexterity, courage, and healing. She will meet the Bacchae with equal power, but greater heart." He squeezed her hand and she felt a rush of power enter her body. She gasped as her entire frame was suddenly bursting with energy demanding to be unleashed. She squeezed her eyes shut against the pulsing magic inside her and fought to contain it. As her will manifested itself, the first gift given her responded and aided in putting Hercules� gift on a tight leash.

However, the Chosen One felt the physical prowess that was now at her disposal. Muscles rippled throughout her body! She had never felt this energized! But then, Zeus� gift fully acclimated the magic to her body and pulled it under its influence. But as with her newly heightened senses, Alika felt the changes in her. <I may literally not know my own strength,> she thought. The girl knew then and there that her training would focus on more than warrior skills and hunting Bacchae. <It will be learning how to harness these gifts as well.> She hoped she was up to the challenge.

"Sorry about that," Hercules apologized, gripping her arms to keep her from stumbling. He smoothed out her disheveled hair and gave a quirky grin. "I�m still kind of new to this divinity stuff."

<I know how you feel,> she wryly thought. She looked into his eyes. "I will try to use your gift wisely."

His grin widened and he patted her on the shoulder once. Hercules moved away and Ares moved between them, seeming very impatient to her. He stroked his trimmed beard and looked up and down her body.

"My Lord," she muttered, losing a small bit of her composure at meeting her God. "It is an honor."

"Yeah, isn�t it, though?" he said, preening in what she assumed was an attempt to needle her teachers. He cricked his neck twice and cracked his knuckles. "I knew you�d make good some day." He playfully chucked her chin. He reached up and touched her chest with a single fingertip. "I give the Slayer the skills and heart of a warrior. She will be able to learn any warrior�s art, she can master any weapon; ancient, modern, or yet to be conceived. She is the ultimate warrior, a living weapon!" He smirked and she felt a jolt of energy shoot into her. She gritted her teeth and met his gaze. It only seemed to make him happy. "Do me proud, kiddo."

"I will do my best," she said, repeating the mantra of the last three days.

Ares nodded once and moved his head to gaze past her, to Xena. He snarled a bit and said, "You take good care of her or you�ll answer to me."

Xena snorted. "Right...as if," the Warrior Princess snarled back.

He strutted backwards and gripped his leather shirt with both hands. Alika licked her lips but there was no time to think about the exchange, as the Patron Goddess of Athens stepped in front of her. She looked over the Goddess who appeared to be in her mid-thirties, wearing a bronze helm and breastplate, a long skirt made of finest cloth-of-gold, and accompanied by an owl sitting on her shoulder.

Athena gave her a warm, motherly smile. "To you, Alika of Sparta, I give dreams." She moved very close to Alika and put her left hand over Alika�s heart. Her right placed itself over her eyes. "I also give you the gifts of memory and the future. To your sisters, you will pass on the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of their predecessors. From your sisters, you will remember all that they know. Through these gifts, the Slayer will have the chance to learn and grow, and in turn use her wisdom to guide those who need her."

Alika almost staggered at the extent of the gift being given to her by this Lady. All the things that every Slayer ever learned?!? That would be amazing!!! <I� I will be more than a warrior, or a sister to the Slayers to come. I will be�>

"A teacher to your sisters, so that they might learn and live long lives," Athena finished for her. "As you have shown wisdom already, so you can give this gift to others. In the future, your sisters will glimpse things to come. With the wisdom passed down from you, they can move to fulfill the future and make it better for all."

Alika felt her eyes tearing up. The Gods were ensuring that she would be able to do more than simply fight Bacchae. In the centuries to come, she and those who came after would help mankind in more ways than any one person could ever hope to accomplish. She felt an eagerness to see how things would develop, and happiness that she was the alpha of something so great.

Athena backed away and she blinked her eyes a few times, trying to clear her vision. The Lord of Olympus stepped forward once again. "Alika of Sparta, daughter of Marius," he intoned with a great deal of pride in his voice. She watched as a glowing aura coalesced in his right hand. "Let all who stand here bear witness to your sacrifice and courage. Let none here forget what you do for humanity this day."

The glow shaped itself into a thunderbolt. Alika did not flinch as the God of Gods reared back. She did not so much as twitch as the bolt flew from his hand and struck home, hitting her between her breasts. Alika felt engulfed in divine fire but did not burn. Her silken gown was engulfed by the flames but her attention was focused on the harmless, euphoric warmth in her body as Zeus� holy power combined the gifts of the Seven into a single whole, a unity so much greater than the sum of its parts.

She understood the reason for the totality of magic being used for her. It wasn�t just for her; it was for her and every one who came after. She smiled and closed her eyes as the magics gifted onto her flared once more and settled into a single, energizing feeling. As her consciousness faded into a peaceful slumber matched by the expression on her face, she was unaware of Xena and Gabrielle catching her now nude body and gently guiding it to the floor. Her last thought was about the ritual and what it had meant for her destiny.

<It is done.>

She knew it. She knew it was done. Yet it was also just the beginning; the beginning of perhaps the greatest journey ever taken by a single girl.

She was no longer Alika, daughter of Marius.

She was Alika, the Vampire Slayer.

*****

1630 Revello Drive
Sunnydale, California
Early hours
4 September 1999

"V-very good, Faith," Giles stammered. He shook to rid himself of the chills running up and down his spine. The Englishman tried to calm himself and said, "Faith, when I count to three, you will come out of your trance. One, two, three."

The last Slayer�s eyes blinked open and swiftly focused on him. She gave him a nod and a smile, looking calmer than he�d expected. She leaned back on the couch and folded her arms across her impressive bust, tapping her biceps with her fingers. She chewed on her bottom lip before looking at him again.

"Faith?" Joyce asked, examining her to make certain she was well.

The Dark Slayer tossed her brown hair back over her shoulder. "You know something? I never thought I�d live to see the day when I�d say that as far as having the Slayer Gig goes, the three of us have got it way too easy. Hell, livin� on the streets was easy compared to what she had to deal with."

*****

Gabrielle�s heart swelled with pride at Faith�s statement. As someone who�d been present for Alika�s investiture, to have someone realize that was extremely moving. She chanced a glance at the other Slayers to gauge their reactions to the dream and Faith�s remarks.

Buffy seemed to be thinking hard on that comment, her eyes zoned out with the look of someone replaying an event in her mind. Kendra simply nodded thoughtfully, showing her agreement with Faith.

The Queen of the Amazon Nation couldn�t help but feel proud of all three girls, two of whom had started praying to Artemis during the past year. They each had traits that reminded her of Alika, so she couldn�t help but compare them to the originator of their lineage. With Buffy, it was the courage, dedication, the leadership skills, and how she still felt the loss when an innocent couldn�t be saved. Kendra, on the other hand, had the sense of duty to her calling and the firm discipline that had marked Alika as the one to be Chosen in the first place. And Faith�s stand out attributes were her acceptance of the Slayer�s role, her hunting instincts, and although Gabrielle hated to give credit to Ares for anything, it was in Faith that Ares� gift, the heart of a warrior, shone so brightly.

<Yes, Alika was three for three when she chose them in succession,> the Queen thought with pride. Still, while they knew what the dream had meant, the group was no closer to solving the "why." She sighed and said, "Giles, is there anything else you can think of to try and determine what caused the dream in the first place?"

*****

Joyce listened to Gabrielle�s question and her anxiety returned in force. <They still don�t know what caused the dream.> She glanced at Gabrielle�s concerned face before asking, "Is this something that is supposed to help them deal with some coming Apocalypse? Or do you think we�ve found out all we�re going to learn?"

Giles didn�t seem to have a concrete answer, nor did Jenny or Gabrielle. He did look at Faith when Joyce felt her shift forward.

"Here�s an idea," her daughter said with flashing eyes. She flicked a fingernail against the crystal. "Mom said something about �Lika in the Machine�s spirit bein� asleep or something. Why don�t we ask her if she knows what caused this whole dream sequence?"

Joyce and the others stared at the youngest Slayer. Giles, Jenny, and Gabrielle seemed to be surprised at the idea. Joyce, for her side, took Faith�s hand and said, "How would we go about doing that?" She hastily added, "Not that I necessarily approve."

"Why not?" Faith asked. Obviously she liked the idea, as did Dawn, who said, "Yeah!"

"I can give you a reason why not," Jenny offered with a serenity Joyce envied. "It�s not something to be done lightly, summoning a spirit. Spells to call and/or speak with the dead are not as simple as you might think. And another thing; the spirit you call might not want to be called."

"Plus in Alika�s case," Giles added with a note of regret, "her spirit is not in the afterlife. It�s in you, Faith. If we even attempt to summon her spirit, there�s no telling what the consequences would be as to your safety. I have no idea what might happen if two active souls or spirits were awakened within one body. That is not a chance I wish to take with you or anyone else ever again."

Joyce saw both Jenny and Faith�s faces fall a bit. She knew a little about Giles� "Ripper" days and how a bit of nastiness from that time had almost killed Buffy, Giles, and Jenny last year. However, she knew her Boston girl well enough to know that she wasn�t going to give up so easily. "Honey, Giles is right�"

*****

"What if I wasn�t awake," she suddenly blurted. She nodded at the crystal again and looked around. "What if you put the whammy on me again and I let her talk through my body?"

She looked at the others, hoping to find some support or at least someone who thought it might work. Her Royal Blondeness looked totally stumped; so did the Wicked Priestess of the West Coast. It was like they�d never think of letting a spirit take over.

<Well, since Queen G�s Big Bad Red Redhead got demonized last winter and Jenny�d had her little Willow Week when Morgie put the Freaky Friday rip-off on the guys, I can understand. No wonder they�re not big on these things.>

Of all people, it was Mom who spoke first. "Even if you did that, how would we go about it?" Mom looked at Book Guy. "Giles, what would it take to allow the spirit to talk through Faith, if it�s even possible. I mean, would you have to do something like a s�ance? Or better yet, maybe an exorcism?"

Faith groaned in response. "Oh Gawd, B! Can you believe her?!?"

"Nope," the Buffster said, laughing at her expense.

Mommy Slayer really sounded offended. "What?!?"

Faith gave her a sour look. "Mom�here I am trying to figure out a way to let the Alpha Slayer talk to us, and what do you suggest? You ask G-Man if we should call Shaw�s Dad over here to do some Linda Blair type S&M on me!" She didn�t wait for Mom�s reaction; she shot an askew glance at her Immie Sis. "B, make a mental note; we do not let Mom rent videos anymore�she might corrupt ole Sunshine here."

The look on Joyce�s face became totally horrified. "Faith Patricia Reilly Pryce, that is�"

"Disgusting," Buffy finished for her. Faith saw her trying not to laugh, but she wasn�t doing too good. "Well�Faith does have a point, Mom. An exorcism?"

B started laughing and she couldn�t help but join her and Dawnie.

*****

Giles let a smile creep onto his face. <As much as I sympathize with you, Joyce, it�s nice to be reminded that I�m not the only one who suffers through such antics from these girls.>

Unfortunately, it seemed like good humor wasn�t warranted. Jenny evenly said, "Rupert, I don�t think Joyce appreciates your making light of this. In all fairness, we should take what Faith wants to do with a grain of salt. Is this really a course of action we should even contemplate?"

"Actually," Gabrielle�s voice sounded, making his and everyone else�s attention shift to her, "what Faith suggested is possible, if done in the proper manner."

"How?" he asked, taking charge in a paternal defense of his Slayers. "How can this be done, Gabrielle?"

If she caught the protective expression in his words, the serene Amazon gave no sign. She folded her arms and shrugged her shoulders. "In theory, and sometimes in practice, it would be an easy ritual. The subject, usually a medium, would let himself be placed into a meditative state or trance, almost to the point of being able to project astrally. Then another person would call on the spirit to come to them. The medium would allow the spirit to take possession of his body until the ritual was complete."

Jenny squinted in thought but shook her head. "None of us is a medium, Gabrielle."

"No one has to be," Gabrielle said with a smile. "The spirit we would be contacting already has a host."

"That�d be me," Faith said, sounding almost smug to his ears.

He turned back to his junior Slayer, who was earnestly staring at him. "Faith, are you�"

"Yep," she said without hesitation. Giles didn�t know whether to be proud or frightened out of his wits. She must have realized that by the look on his face, because her own fell a bit. "Come on, G-Man. Don�t you think I�ve thought this through? Okay, I�m not a brainy, super-genius like Red or you, but I�m not stupid! I know what I�m asking here." She looked past him to Gabrielle. "Besides, don�t you want to say �hi� to her, Gabs?" she asked the Immortal. "You were like her Watcher and all. If there�s any one of us she won�t go spastic on, it�d be you."

*****

Gabrielle couldn�t speak past the sudden lump in her throat for several seconds. She�d been so caught up in the attempt to solve their little mystery that she hadn�t even begun to think of how seeing or hearing Alika again would affect her. And now, here was Faith, offering her the chance out of simple consideration for her friendship with the Slayer. If that didn�t prove what kind of heart Faith had, nothing would. She felt tears starting to run down her cheeks, but she hardly cared.

"Of all the reasons to be willing to do this," she croaked through her crying, "I cannot think of a more selfless one. Thank you, Faith."

The Slayer didn�t smile back, but rather bowed her head. "Hey, I just thought you might like a reunion, you know? Not every day that you get something like that. I know if I had the chance to talk to Linda again, even just to get to say good-bye�"

Gabrielle walked over and cupped Faith�s cheeks in her slender hands. "You�d take it in a heartbeat. So would I, Faith. So would I."

*****

Jenny smiled sadly at Faith�s offer to her Queen. <Faith�s always worn her heart on her sleeve. I shouldn�t be surprised about this.> She cleared her throat and said, "Gabrielle, just how do we go about this procedure safely?" She just knew that there wasn�t any way this wasn�t going to happen.

She was glad that Rupert understood this as well. "Gabrielle, what do you suggest?"

The oldest of the known Sword Bearers kept her eyes on Faith as she spoke, not even moving to wipe away her tears. "I think the easy way would be to put Faith back under hypnosis, then have Jenny cast a spell for speaking with the dead. If this works the way we hope, then Alika�s spirit will awaken and speak through Faith."

"It sounds simple enough," Jenny conceded, although she still sounded uncertain about all this. She glanced at Joyce. "Joyce? What do you think?"

She had to admit, Joyce put up a brave front. "Just so long as you don�t use anything that smells or leaves a stain," she said jokingly. "I�ve had to replace the carpet twice already this year, thanks to Shaw and Oz."

Jenny graced the older woman with a smile. "No problem."

"Well then," England said with a surprisingly chipper voice, "I suppose we should begin."

*****

In less than ten minutes, they were ready. Faith had been put back into a trance, and laid out on the couch for comfort. Giles was finishing his instructions. She wouldn�t be able to act or interact with Alika�s spirit, but she would hear and remember everything that was said upon awakening.

Joyce looked at the sleeping Faith and her heart nearly broke. <She looks so innocent and sweet like this.> But her lying there also brought back the memory of the day Faith had moved into their house after her arrival. She�d had to put the homeless girl on the couch because with the three daughters she�d already had, they just didn�t have any more room. She remembered like it was yesterday, what Faith had said when Joyce apologized for the lack of accommodations.

With a shrug and in complete seriousness, she had said, "Beats sleeping on concrete."

As a whimper of sympathy crept out from deep inside her soul, Dawn asked Joyce from her side, "Penny for your thoughts?"

Joyce smiled at her youngest. "I�m fine, sweetheart." She returned to watching the slumbering seventeen-year-old. "Jenny, please, please take care of her."

"I will," was the simple, confident response from the teacher. She set out the last of her supplies and softly muttered, "I�m ready."

"All right then," Giles told his fianc�e. "Go ahead but be careful."

*****

Gabrielle held her breath as the High Priestess of the Amazon Nation sat down and crossed her legs. She watched Jenny�s dark eyes close and felt a slight tingle of energy in the air, a sign of the cleric�s impending magic.

In a clear, precise voice, Jenny chanted the spell she knew, because of Artemis� grace and selection of her as her High Priestess, the spell that would hopefully reunite her with an old, dear comrade for a short time.

"Through the mists of time, we call thee.

From beyond the Veil, across the Paths to what comes after

We call thee.

Come to us and be welcome in our place.

Alika of Sparta, the Chosen One, speak to us and

Journey to this world again."

Unlike some necromantic spells, this one didn�t have any spectacular effects that would have an ILM technician salivating like a hungry dog. Instead, the only effect was the hairs on the back of her neck rising a bit. But other than that, nothing.

The Immortal bard, not taking any chances, still unconsciously reached a hand down to where Purity rested against her hip.

Finally, Faith�s body started to shift on the couch. She moaned lightly, like many people do when they awaken from a long sleep. Then her eyes snapped open and she seemed suddenly aware of her surroundings.

She looked around very carefully, taking in each face for several beats before her brown-green eyes finally settled upon Gabrielle. She began to smile in anticipation until her hopes were dashed when Faith�s face made what she thought to be Faith�s favorite expression; that quirky grin with one corner of her mouth turned upward.

"You know what, Gabs?" the teenager asked.

The crestfallen heroine quietly asked, "What?"

"I get to be a teenager over and over again, while you�re a twenty-five hundred year old fart." Then the girl winked at her! "Sucks to be you, huh?"

Gabrielle started as she got the joke. Barely daring to hope, she whispered, "�Lika?"

"Duh!" she cheerfully returned with a full smile. She started to sit up and looked around. Alika�s eyes fell on Giles and her humor was replaced by a gentle emotion. "Rupert Giles, the ole Ripper him bleeding self!" she said in a passable Cockney accent. Then her voice returned to normal. "It is so good to make your acquaintance as well."

"T-thank you," the startled Watcher stuttered. Then he remembered how solemn this occasion was, gave her a chivalrous bow, and said, "Slayer Alika, believe me, the pleasure is all mine."

She smirked a bit but nodded. "Not all yours, but thank you for the sentiment." She stood up and took several deep breaths before she spoke again. "I suppose I should not spend time getting used to having a body again. This is a one-time occurrence." She furrowed her brows and spoke to Giles again, catching his gaze. "I do not know how I can tell you this, my friend, but whatever caused the Slayers to share the events of my being Chosen is also the only thing allowing this spell to work. As much as you might wish to summon me to give long winded speeches on the lineage of every Slayer that has come after me, you are, to use Faith�s terminology, SOL."

Buffy was the first to break into laughter, as did the others. Gabrielle moved up to her and, forgetting that this was normally Faith, hugged her tightly, not wanting to let go. "Well," she muttered into Alika�s ear, "at least I can talk to you again. There is so much that has happened�"

"As if I didn�t know," Alika�s humored voice told her. She backed up and Alika gave her the trademark Faith smirk. "Do not forget Athena�s gift to me."

"Everything known by every Slayer," she recited from long ago memory.

Alika nodded happily and looked at the others again. She walked over to Buffy and held her hands out to the staring Immortal Slayer. "Buffy, it is good to see you again."

"Again?" she asked.

"Forgive me, you do not remember." Alika glanced around at the adults and told them, "One of the gifts as the first Slayer was that I would greet each following Slayer in a dream, in order to allow the Chosen One to know what she had been Chosen for." She then turned to Kendra and smiled. "But as I told Kendra when she was Chosen, I was sent back in time by a Black Mage in 499 BC by the current timeline. That spell somehow interfered with that portion of my gift, so that when I appeared to the Slayers for the first time, they did not remember the dreams." She walked around the coffee table and smiled at Kendra. "But I know you remember the dream when you were Chosen, the one where Xena was training me in a graveyard."

Kendra, surprisingly calm about this momentous occasion, gave Alika a nod of remembrance. "I remember, Alika. I am glad to know that my first dream as the Slayer was of the one to whom I owe my destiny."

"I am glad to know that the three of you who continue to follow the path have made such a great difference. I know that my sleep will be peaceful so long as you continue to do so."

"Alika, as much as I want to talk to you for hours, I�" Gabrielle faltered a bit but moved onto the subject at hand. "Do you know what caused the dream that the girls shared tonight?"

Alika shook her head, her hair flying around. "Alas, Gabrielle, I do not. But if you have other questions, you have time to ask them. Perhaps this is why the magic occurred, so that you could be given the peace you wanted, to have our reunion." She came back to her and the Slayer reached up and ran her fingers through the Immortal Bard�s short, blonde hair. "Once we are done, I would then ask something of you. Something I know you can accomplish."

"What?" Gabrielle asked through her choked voice.

"That can wait until later. For now, I know that Buffy, Kendra, Giles, and you have questions you want to ask." She flashed a prim smile that was not Faith�s, but pure Alika of Sparta. "And I want to answer them."

She moved over to the table and picked up the tape recorder. She glanced at Joyce and some tears started brimming in her eyes. "May I borrow this, Mrs. Summers? This will let them have something to remember me by once Faith is awake and I return to my slumber."

Joyce didn�t know what to make of that request, but just nodded an affirmation. "Of course� uh, Alika."

Alika blinked once and glanced at Buffy. "Buffy, might I have a moment alone with your mother?"

*****

Buffy wondered what the first Slayer would want to say to Mom, but she knew in her heart that she wouldn�t do anything. In fact, Buffy felt ashamed for even thinking it.

"Mom," she said, glancing at Dawn, who nodded way too excitedly, "there�s nothing to worry about. It�s okay." She smiled at the Slayer spirit that had given new meaning to the concept of "invading Faith�s personal space." "Alika, don�t take too long. We really don�t know what might happen if you�re awake too long." She realized that maybe that was so not the thing to say. "Oh Goddess, what did I say? Alika�"

"You told the truth. I cannot stay awake for too long, and I do not want to risk injuring our sister." Alika looked at Kendra and something seemed to pass between them. "And that, my sisters, is something that we simply must never do."

Buffy nodded as she understood the dual meanings of Alika�s statement; she couldn�t stay in control for any length of time, and they were not to try this spell again any time soon, if ever. "Okay. Guys, let�s give them some privacy."

She turned and made sure everyone else was moving toward the kitchen before leaving herself.

*****

Joyce waited until she and Alika were alone before asking the first of many questions whirling through her mind. "So what did you wish to discuss?"

Fai�no, ALIKA walked forward and Joyce immediately noticed that rather than the confident strut Faith normally used, even around the house, the Slayer in control of her girl�s body strode forward with a quiet strength and grace. It reminded her of the jungle cats she�d seen on TV.

The first Slayer gave Joyce a kind smile and leaned in to whisper. "Mrs. Summers, I wanted you to know that if it were not for the Mother they had found in you, I fear for what Kendra and Faith�s fates would have been. For that, I can only say thank you."

Joyce was caught off guard. "I� thank you."

"It is not you who should be giving thanks, but rather me and every Slayer before your daughters." Alika backed up a bit, probably to make her feel more comfortable. And it worked. "You see, the Council made some mistakes that led to some portions of the Slayer�s gifts being neglected over the centuries. Mostly, it was the gifts of Aphrodite and Eros, the gifts of love and duty. The ancestors of the Watchers knew the truth, but as with some things, as time went by these things were forgotten." She lowered her head and shook it, reminding Joyce that this one spirit, this first Chosen One, had all the emotions, positive or negative, of every girl who�d ever died.

<My God, how could she take so much after all those centuries? All those Slayers?!?> she thought with wonderment and sorrow. "You have so much guilt, don�t you?"

"Some, yes." Alika�s head came back up and the pain faded to a look of calm, peaceful acceptance. "But such is my burden to bear, Joyce Summers. But as my time is short, I wanted to say, the neglect of those gifts has ended, in part due to Rupert Giles and the other friends Buffy has, but so much of the reason is your heart. You have taken three of my sisters and given them a love that would rival Aphrodite�s itself." Tears formed in Alika�s eyes and Joyce was reminded of the love she had been given. "And I thank you for letting me experience that love."

Joyce�s eyes grew blurry and she took Alika into her arms, cradling her for a few moments. She whispered, "I only gave them what I could."

"I know," came the soft answer. "It is enough."

Alika broke the hug and glanced at the kitchen. She cocked her head and formed a teeny smile. "Oh, and one other thing. It was Faith who caused the love spell misadventure last winter."

Joyce stiffened, shocked by that little revelation. "She WHAT?!?"

"She accidentally read the love spell aloud while looking for Buffy, Willow, and Amy," the Slayer spirit replied with a chuckle. "She had no idea what would happen, Joyce Summers. She thought they were trying to find a love for Shaw. But since the ingredients were keyed to you, it caused that whole little misadventure." She pursed her lips. "And two days after Valentine�s Day�" She grinned mischievously. "Please do not be too hard on Faith, Mrs. Summers. She meant well."

She strode away, leaving Joyce to stare at the woman possessing her daughter as she entered the kitchen to an irate Buffy, who was snarling something about getting even with Faith over a week of working at the gallery.

<Alika takes after her sister. Great�>

*****

Gabrielle joined Jenny and Dawn in laughing hysterically at what Alika had purposely revealed in order to cause mischief for Faith. She shook her head and cleared the tears from her eyes. "You�ve become evil, �Lika."

"I learned from the best," Alika said with a shrug. The Immortal nodded and watched her friend turn to Buffy. "I assume you plan on evening the score with your sister, Buffy?"

"Damn straight," Buffy growled.

"I will help you," Kendra growled too.

"As much as I enjoy the idea of Faith getting a comeuppance once every now and then," Giles noted dryly, "might we begin the discussion you wished to have, Alika?"

Alika nodded heartily and asked, "Who would like to begin? I think by the level of power that Ms Calendar wields, we have at least two to three hours of time. So I hope you will all field good questions."

"I�ll go first," Gabrielle chirped. She gently squeezed the shoulder of Alika�s body. "How�s it feel to have a body again? Even if we can�t get you one more often?"

"I must confess," the Slayer said, looking said body over, "the first thing I found myself getting used to was the difference in the center of gravity between my body and Faith�s. After all, she has the biggest and best rack in the room�"

At the utter silence that accompanied that observation, the shell-shocked Gabrielle looked at those people in the kitchen and tensely awaited the explosion.

"FAITH!!!"

"Not at the moment," both she and her former pupil chimed simultaneously.

*****

"So what did happen to you, Alika?" Gabrielle asked with a sad face. "I mean, when I heard that you�d been hit with a spell, I thought you were dead. But over the centuries, I heard legends of Slayers going back so far it seemed almost unimaginable. That is," she said slyly, a demure grin on her face, "until Sonja told me she�d met a few Chosen Ones in her time."

"It is true," she said with a flood of quickly sorted memories flashing through her mind. She smiled brightly. "Sonja was deadly every time �I� met her." She and Gabrielle laughed at the discomfort some of the others showed when she spoke about herself in the first person. But, the Slayer decided not to irritate them any more; they didn�t have time for that. "I apologize, but I cannot help it. Dawn has been a good influence on Faith. As my host, I feel that I should honor the standard she sets."

"Great," Buffy said with a roll of her eyes.

"Thank you," Alika cheerfully noted. <I think I like the �90�s.> "But as to Gabrielle�s question..." She became serious and folded her hands on her lap. "In 499 BC by the current calendar, I was on the trail of a particularly vile Bacchi. Imagine the Master without what he thought passed for his sense of humor, and you have a fair idea. Anyway, what I did not know at the time was that I was in fact being led into a trap. The Bacchi had hired a Black Mage to cast a spell on me to send me through a portal, hoping to make me become lost in time."

"That�s how you got sent into the past," Buffy observed. She frowned a bit. "That is, even more into the past."

"Precisely. You see, the Bacchi did not know about the lineage of Slayers. He assumed I was a, how do you say it�" It only took an instant for the appropriate term to come to mind. "A one-time thing."

"It is so eerie hearing a ghost talk like Faith," Dawn said. She saw the girl�s eyes light up with laughter. "Eerie, but cool."

"Like much of our lives," Kendra said with a dignified air. "So are you about to tell us that by sending you to the past, the Bacchi was inadvertently responsible for starting the Slayer lineage thousands of years earlier than it should have?"

"Exactly, sister," she confirmed, feeling great pride in her sister�s intelligence. "But this information was kept from the Olympians at the time, to avoid a temporal paradox. Also, this was why there were no Greek Slayers before I was Chosen. It was then that the Oracles informed Zeus of the truth. As for the other Pantheons, the Oracles and agents of the God of Abraham gave the information and extracted the proper oaths of silence as needed. Of course, the international nature of my Choosing successors aided in that regard."

She looked at those who�d summoned her, giving her that chance to meet those who carried on her heritage. They�d just had an old mystery of the Slayer timeline solved for them, so she gave them some time to absorb it. She smiled at Rupert Giles. "I hope this will explain some of the contradictions between the histories. The information is, of course, yours to give to the Council if you so desire. You and your father are doing excellent work with them."

"Thank you," the Watcher said humbly.

She just graced him with a winning smile before turning to Buffy and Kendra. "If I might make the rest of my awakening fun rather than formal, ask me any questions you might have about my time as the Slayer. Who would like to begin?"

"How �bout me?" Dawn eagerly asked.

"Hey!" Buffy and Kendra protested.

"You snooze, you lose."

Alika gently laughed, an action copied by Gabrielle. She laid a hand over the younger girl�s and asked, "What do you wish to know, young Dawn?"

"Okay," she gushed happily. She shuffled her body to make herself comfortable. "Now I�m sure you already know I�m gonna be an Amazon someday�"

"No, you�re not!" Buffy and Joyce shouted.

Before her sister and her sister could degenerate into squabbling siblings, Alika took one hand from each. "Buffy, if she is destined to become active in the battle, then it will happen. Trust me, �B,� I know all about destiny. It can be�"

"A bee-yach?" Buffy grumbled, getting the point.

"Payback�s less pleasant sister," Alika added. She squeezed Buffy�s hand affectionately. "Please, Buffy, I do not have much time left. Indulge me."

Buffy�s frustration faded. "Okay. Sorry, �Lika."

She grinned and looked back to the girl that Buffy and Faith loved so much. "Please go on, Dawn."

"Thanks! Okay, now I know you met some Amazons back in your time, right? But did you know any of the famous ones, like the ones we see on the show?"

Alika laughed at Gabrielle�s groan about the television show. "I did indeed," she answered, pleased to respond. She drummed her fingers along her knee. "I knew Yakut, the shamaness. She healed some injuries I suffered against a demon sent against them by the spirit of that evil bitch, Alti." She shivered at the memory of that battle. "Alti sent a demon that destroyed souls against the Amazon tribe she�d belonged to when alive. Yakut was still young and inexperienced at the time; she didn�t have the power to banish it. But the demon didn�t count on making war against warriors with holy weapons."

She gave a brief account of the battle, so that they could record something significant. "And that is what happened," she finished. She leaned back against the soft couch and sighed, "Of course, having an Uzi would have made things so much easier."

There was a roll of laughter around the living room. Buffy raised her hand and she acknowledged one of the greatest Slayers of all time. "Please, Buffy."

Buffy smirked at Giles a little and said, "Tell us if you ever had any blooper-type moments when you were the Slayer. Anything that would get a laugh on �Funniest Home Videos,� like your Watcher getting creamed trying to teach you the quarterstaff."

As Giles started to groan, the Chosen One paid Buffy back for him. "Or like being transformed into a ditz and being bailed out by your little �Xena Lite� sister, or�" She gave Kendra a meaningful glance. "Or trying to axe murder a fellow Slayer and killing her Watcher�s lamp with a crossbow? Or Slaying in the nude?"

As Kendra and Buffy started sputtering at the mention of some of their less than stellar moments, the Slayer turned to the Watcher and Amazon priestess. "No, I was not exempt from miscues. That seems to be another trait I handed down."

"Okay, Alika," the Battling Bard laughed. Obviously, she wanted to hear this one. "�Fess up! What moment turned you red with embarrassment?"

Alika crossed her legs and laid her interlocked fingers around her right knee. "I almost cut off Xena�s head when she caught me wearing nothing but my hair and a sword."

She was sadistically pleased to see every jaw in the room, especially Gabrielle�s, fall to the floor.

"W-w-WHAT?!?" Gabrielle finally shouted, aghast since Xena obviously had never shared that little anecdote with her. "WHEN?!? WHY?!?"

Unable to resist teasing her former teacher just once more, the Spartan spirit struck a provocative pose and seductively asked, "What�s wrong? Jealous?"

Gabrielle started to fume and Alika almost expected smoke to start pouring out of her ears. She allowed her old friend to stew before letting her in on the joke. "It was when I first woke up after the Slayer ceremony. And�" As her own memories of that night came flooding back, Alika sighed. <I should not make too light of this.> "Gabrielle, she had her reasons. It involved her telling me about Akemi."

Gabrielle settled down a lot after that. "It�s a good reason," she agreed, her eyes somber.

Alika still thought it would be fun to fill in her sister Slayers on what had happened, so she leaned forward and picked up the cup of coffee she�d been granted. <French vanilla flavored coffee. Yes, this century definitely is the best one yet� well, perhaps except for disco.> She took a long draught, relishing the hot sensations tickling her throat. She set the mug down and focused on Joyce. "I promise, this story is not too sensitive for young ears."

"Coolness!" Dawn chirped. She shrank back at her mother�s glare.

Getting a chuckle at Dawn�s expense before starting, Alika sat up straight and stared into Gabrielle�s baby blue eyes. "It happened just after I woke up�"

*****

Temple of Zeus
The City-State of Sparta
Greece
14 March 504 BC

Alika�s eyes fluttered open of their own accord, then promptly slammed shut. Slowly cracking open her eyelids, the Slayer allowed her enhanced sight to grow accustomed to the changes wrought on her body by the Lords and Ladies. By using that slow but steady method, she soon became used to her increased sensitivity.

She stood up and found herself in a fair-sized bedroom, probably a guest room for important visitors to the temple. Looking around, she saw that some equipment had been laid out for her. Excitement welled inside her breast as she padded over and picked up the suit of armor first. She turned it over in her hands, wondering, <Could these be more gifts from the Gods?>

Almost immediately, she scolded herself. <They have given you enough! It is time for you to repay them by doing your duty!>

Also, the armor was clearly of Spartan make. The girl�s humility and common sense formed a likely scenario; Father, or perhaps her teachers, had bought the equipment so that she would have something with which to fight and defend herself.

Still, Alika couldn�t help but admire the leather armor; it was one of the most finely crafted suits she�d ever seen. Also, for some unknown reason, she knew it would perfectly fit her. The Slayer smiled in quiet thanks to whomever had done this.

She glanced at the other items nearby and carefully placed the armor down on the bed. She eyed the various hand-to-hand weapons laid out on it. She almost dismissed the sharpened pieces of wood until several images flashed in her mind�s eye. <Of course!> The wood would kill a Bacchi if she struck it in the heart! She picked up one of the stakes and jerked her wrist. The stake spun about a couple of times before she closed her fingers around it. < So simple, yet so deadly. I will not forget that.>

Setting the stake back down in a way one might almost call reverent, Alika�s eyes glossed over the other weapons. One was a labrys with a longer than normal handle, into the end of which had been mounted another stake. She gave a terse smile of approval at the effectiveness such a weapon could have against vampires. She almost gave into the temptation to pick it up and execute a few practice swings with it.

That is, until her eyes fell on the strange sword, blade gleaming in the torchlight.

Her eyes alight with curiosity, the Chosen One gleefully reached up and wrapped her fingers around the hilt and hefted the uniquely crafted weapon. As a student of a Spartan warrior, part of Alika�s education had been in weapons of foreign lands. She knew of the wicked, curving blades used by the desert tribes of the southern side of the Mediterranean, but this!

The blade was thinner, curved slightly less than examples of desert blades she�d seen, and the hilt was long enough to be used with one hand or two. And the balance to the blade! Alika didn�t know how, but the balance was perfect!

Giving into youthful exuberance, Alika gripped the blade in both hands and took an experimental swing, careful to retain control of her preternatural strength. Even so, she nearly toppled over when she vastly overextended her reach.

<What in Ares� name did I just do?!?> she snarled to herself.

She cast a sour glance at the sword in her hand and examined it more closely. She considered the way the weapon was crafted and realized that this wasn�t a blade meant for power only. It was designed for skill and finesse. Considering that, she hefted it again and twirled it in her right hand, getting a feel for how it responded.

She closed her eyes and gripped the cloth-wrapped handle in both hands. Using her increasingly sensitive hands, the Slayer went through a series of basic offensive and defensive moves, cataloguing which of those felt right, both in her mind and to the way body and weapon reacted together. As she grew used to the strange weapon in her hands, she began performing more complex maneuvers.

Slowly, the young woman stopped standing in place and began adding intricate footwork to the equation. Alika didn�t step heel-to-heel, what her father called being flat-footed. She moved the way the man-wolves of Sparta did; she used the balls of her feet and her toes, digging in or spinning in her turns, only using her heels for a base or to brace herself.

Her movements grew more complex and she increased her speed, becoming lost in her deadly dance as her senses focused only on her moves. She tuned out all else; her hair flying about in all directions, the chill of perspiration beading all over her body, her feet instinctively adjusting to the rough spots in the stone floor to keep from losing her footing, the sounds of displaced air, a song caused by her whipping blade.

Alika used her instincts to focus on her gifts, attempting to gauge exactly the level where her abilities now lay. She also tried to keep herself under tight control while maintaining the dance of steel she was engaged in.

As she executed a sidekick as part of her routine, holding her blade aloft in one hand, her senses suddenly registered that she wasn�t alone.

Acting on primal instinct, her eyes snapped open and her lips curled back in a wolf-like snarl. She spun around like a whirlwind, bringing the strange sword around in a screaming arc�

� and stopped it dead, less than two inches separating the forged steel and Xena�s neck.

Her teacher arced an eyebrow and primly smiled. "Nice reflexes."

"I-I�" Alika blushed and slowly brought the sword away from Xena�s neck. She gulped and glanced at the floor. "I am sorry, Xena. I�"

"Alika, it�s all right," Xena said with a note of humor in her voice. "You just went through a major change to your entire body. I don�t blame you for wanting to test your abilities. And you just showed me some good self-control. That�s a good sign."

"I� thank you."

Xena gave her a pat on the shoulder. "No problem, kiddo. Glad to see you up and about. You�ve been asleep for almost twelve hours. Now that you�re up, you can get dressed, armed, and fed before we head out."

Alika�s embarrassment vanished in an instant. In its place was a combination of eagerness and regret. She and Father had spent three days saying their good-byes, culminating in a private feast with him and her teachers. She had also ensured that Father would help Alexandra fight the loneliness that was going to strike her. He said he would make sure she was happy. So now, there was nothing left but looking to her future.

"I am ready to begin," she said, feeling that core of peace with her decision coming to the fore.

Xena gave her a friendly smile. "Then let�s begin, Slayer. But get dressed first. Don�t want you drawing attention to yourself for the wrong reason."

Alika gave her a faked youthful frown, but nodded in anticipation. Xena started to leave but she blurted, "Xena?"

The Warrior Princess stopped and turned back around. "Yeah?"

"What kind of weapon is this?" she asked, holding up the sword she�d come close to putting into Xena�s neck. She blinked when an old pain flashed through the older woman�s eyes.

She glanced at the elegant blade. A look of sadness came to her face. "It was mine once. I got it with the help of a student I had a long time ago."

She tried to understand why Xena looked so pained. "May I ask what happened?"

Xena put her hands on her hips and looked at the ground. "Do you remember me telling you I make mistakes?" She nodded. It was a lesson she�d already learned. "Akemi was my greatest."

Alika�s heart dropped. She felt herself caring about this without even knowing what was wrong. "Xena, I am sorry. I� I feel your pain."

Xena�s head snapped up and she apparently saw how sincere the Slayer was. She forced a grateful smile onto her face and said, "Thanks, kid." She sighed and rubbed her face before closing the door and leaning against it. "Akemi was really my first student, Alika, back when I wasn�t the nicest person to be around. I didn�t let myself realize how much she meant to me or� how much I cared. Until it was too late. She�"

Alika waited for Xena to go on, surprised at the soft side Xena was showing her.

"Her death broke my heart," she finished. "It made me sword shy when Gabrielle asked to travel with me. Now I can�t imagine traveling without Gabbie."

Alika�s throat caught as she absorbed the dual meanings behind her mentor�s story. <I can die or worse, be turned, being the Slayer. That is a risk I am willing to take. But she might also be learning as I do.>

The novice Slayer carefully walked over and picked up the sheath, sliding the sword back in. She turned back to the Princess. "I am sorry for touching your sorrows, Xena."

Xena�s lips twitched a bit, betraying her cool demeanor. She walked up to her and ruffled her hair as if she were even younger than fifteen. "Thanks, �Lika." She reached down and tapped the wooden scabbard. "This weapon is called a katana. Believe me, this weapon is special, and not because I�ve seen it literally break sword blades in half. This is a sacred katana, forged by priests from the purest metal mined on a holy mountain."

Alika�s head fell, her dark brown eyes fixing on the sword in her hand. <If this sword is as strong as she says, and sacred�>

Xena obviously knew her train of thought. "Imagine what someone with your strength and skills can do to a Bacchi with it."

Alika nodded quietly, not trusting herself to speak without ruining the moment. She understood the deep emotional meaning behind the gift. She did manage a soft, "Thank you. I will take great care of it."

"Good to hear."

Xena then opened the door and walked out, leaving her to her own thoughts.

*****

1630 Revello Drive
Sunnydale, California
Not so early hours
4 September 1999

"Oh Goddess," Dawn whispered under her breath. She tossed back some errant strands of brown hair out of her face. "What happened to that Akemi girl?"

"She used that neck pinch you practice so often to kill her father," Gabrielle answered her with a low voice and a way serious look in her eyes. "She avenged her family, then committed ritual suicide, what you kids call hari-kiri, for killing her father. Xena acted as her second."

"But�" Buffy said, her eyes mirroring Dawn�s confusion. "Maybe it�s because I�m not Japanese, but to me that makes absolutely no sense."

Dawn looked to Alika and Gabrielle for an explanation. Taking on a look the Dawn thought screamed, "Buddha Master," Alika said, "A system of honor may be perfect. People, unfortunately, are not."

"Does it make sense to you?" Dawn asked with a sly grin.

"Hai," the ghost renting Faith�s bod said in impeccable Japanese. "Or at least my Japanese sisters believed it did."

Dawn rolled her eyes as some of the others laughed. She was about to ask Alika if she remembered the Slayer Shaw had met in Japan during that whole time travel thing, when the Slayer suddenly came to attention in her seat.

Dawn was quick to realize what was up. "The spell�s wearing off," she said dismally.

"I have a few minutes left," she replied, giving an apologetic glance to everyone. "Time enough to say good-bye and ask for a few moments with Gabrielle?"

*****

Buffy stood up and walked over to Alika, who stood up as well. She gave the woman who�d hand picked her for the life she lived a loving embrace. She whispered, "If you ever do get that reward thingy you so rate, stop by and see us, huh?"

"I promise," the warm whisper tickled her ear. Alika tightened her arms, as if she was getting as many sensations as she could before going back to sleep.

<Something to dream about?> Buffy wondered. She backed up and shook Alika�s hand.

"You are a fine leader, Buffy," the Slayer spirit told her with a warm look in her green eyes. "I find myself wishing I could fight beside you."

"You already do, in Faith�s body," Buffy said with a burst of realization. "You�re always with us."

Alika�s face lit up with laughter. "A point well made!" Then she smiled gently at her. "Do not be so hard on yourself in the future, my Immortal sister and count yourself lucky to have found all the love you have with your sisters, your friends, your mother, your man, and with Willow. She is another thing we have in common. You see, she is a very old soul. In my time she was my friend Alexandra. Take care of her for me, will you?"

Buffy nodded, smiled, and backed up so the others could say their good-byes.

*****

Giles stepped forward, standing as tall as he could. He held out his hand and Watcher and first Slayer shook hands. "It was truly an honor, Alika."

"As it was for me to meet the descendant of Sir Henry Giles of Camelot." Her eyes beamed with pride. "I am glad to see the future of the Slayers and the Council in good hands. If they start to stray�" The librarian saw her eyes become fierce. "Give those buggers what fer, Ripper."

Giles returned the evil smile she gave him. "Bloody count on it."

"I will." She looked down at the floor for a second. "Rupert�" Then she reached up, cupped his chin in her right hand and kissed his left cheek. "This is from Buffy for being willing to sacrifice yourself to save her from the Master." Then she kissed his right cheek. "This is from me for saving Kendra from Zabuto and being such a good man with Faith." Then she wrapped her arms around his neck, drew his face down to hers and covered his mouth with her lips, giving him a kiss that was strong, yet tentative, sweet and warm, a kiss he�d believed he�d never experience again.

Dawn gasped. "Wow, G-man swapping spit with Faith�Sunnydale is the weirdness capital of the world."

Buffy blanched. "I think I�m gonna need years of industrial strength therapy."

Then the first Slayer ended the kiss and whispered against his lips, "And that was from Lillian. Rupert, you vastly underestimate how much you meant to Lillian, and how happy she was because of you. Always remember; she loved you heart and soul. You gave her more than most of my sisters ever had a chance to experience."

Stunned into paralysis, a misty-eyed Giles could only croak, "I� I shall."

Jenny�s hand laid itself on her shoulder. His true love. Alika nodded her approval. "Janna," she said with a secret smile, "I believe that the spiritual well-being of the Amazon Nation could not be in better hands. Good fortune to you."

*****

"May the Lady Goddess protect you," Jenny generously prayed, both vocally and silently. She stepped past Rupert and lightly hugged the departing young woman. "Peace be with you, daughter."

"And with you, Mother Superior."

Jenny moaned as they parted, and glared at the smirking Slayer. "As if I don�t take enough of that from Faith."

"I take after the Slayer I reside in," Alika said chipperly. Her eyes brightened even more. "Continue to teach them well, Sister."

Jenny simply smiled in return.

*****

Kendra was pleased when Alika turned to her next. The Jamaican held her hand out. "I wanted to say, thank you."

"For what?" the Slayer asked with a small grin.

"For Choosing me." Kendra blushed a little but steadfastly went forward with her farewells. "You gave me a path that I love. If not for you, I don�t know what I would be doing with my life right now."

"I think you might have become a Watcher, and a fine one. There are dozens of precedents." She brought her forward and placed a familial kiss on Kendra�s right cheek. When she backed up, Kendra could see the unabashed pride and love in Alika�s eyes. "It was not coincidence that, of all newly Chosen Slayers, you dreamt of me, my sister. You see, in this triumvirate you are part of, you occupy a niche of great importance. Whereas Buffy is the soul and Faith is the heart, you are the mind and conscience. You have the experience and lessons of the past because of your upbringing. Where your sisters embrace the duty or the battle itself, you are the one who embraces the traditions I began so long ago. You remember your sisters from ages past and revere them. And because of that, you will always be very special to me."

Kendra didn�t think she could possibly stand any taller yet feel more humbled at the same time. She swallowed the frog in her throat and promised, "I will try to continue that."

Alika�s answer was barely audible. "I know."

They embraced and Kendra moved aside to allow Dawn to talk to the person responsible for making her the woman she was today.

*****

Alika smiled at the youngest Summers woman. "I am happy to see Xena�s heroic legacy borne by one with such a brave heart as you, little one.

Dawn didn�t waste what little time she had. She hugged Alika tightly and said, "Promise me something?"

"If I am able," said the woman rubbing her back caringly.

She smiled into Alika�s hair. "If we get another dead Slayer CPR or defibrillator thing that makes you pick a fourth Slayer? Try to make her remember that �hi there� dream and tell her to get her ass here to join up. Okay?"

"All right," Alika laughed aloud, shaking hard and making her body quake. "I shall do my best, Mini-B."

"Hey!"

*****

After Alika had released Dawn, the teenager silently mouthed, "Be careful."

Since she had already talked to Joyce, who had said the same thing to her, Alika only had one person left to talk to.

The Slayer turned toward the ancient queen whose timeless beauty easily surpassed that of H. Rider Haggard�s fictional She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.

The Slayer looked at her so that they could share what would be their true, final parting. Gabrielle, tears streaming down her face, just held onto Alika for a few moments. A soft groan told her that time was quickly running out. The Queen of the Amazons whispered, "What I wouldn�t give for just a little more time, �Lika."

"We were blessed by the Gods to be given this much. So I am content." Alika rubbed her arms and stared into her eyes, searching them intently. "One of the generals in the battles to come. Xena was right, Gabrielle; you are one of the ones who will lead us to victory."

Gabrielle gave her a weak smile. "And you�ll be there with us in a way. I wouldn�t have it any other way, kiddo."

"Nor would I, crone," she joked.

Gabby growled, "Don�t insult your elders, whippersnapper!"

"All right, truce!" Alika giggled, laying one hand on her shoulder. She looked at the floor for a second before locking her borrowed hypnotic eyes onto her own. "Gabrielle, I need you to do me a favor."

"You said that before. Name it."

"You� heard what I said about Kendra," she muttered softly, the cornucopia of emotions she clearly held for the West Indian ringing a clarion call to the perceptive bard. She took a deep breath and told her, "You have it, yes? In a place of honor in the museum?"

Gabrielle�s breath caught as she realized what her student and friend was about to ask of her. She also understood why. "You want Kendra to have it."

"Buffy has Vampire Slayer. Faith has a weapon once used by a protector of kings." Alika glanced at the kitchen door, which was closed to give them privacy. "I think that the sister who truly embodies the legacy of the line deserves a weapon befitting her love of tradition. What better symbol than it?"

Gabrielle wondered what Kendra would make of that gift when she presented it to her. <There�s no debate. I�m going to do it.> But she had to think of something to tell the Amazons about her decision. Somehow, though, she knew that they would approve. <Especially when I tell them the true story behind the weapon and how Xena gave it up.>

"Done. Now let�s say good-bye before we run out of time. Please?"

She was unashamed of her blubbering. She�d gone through so many years of missing Xena, thinking she was dead, because of Ares� lies. Now, she was about to let go of another comrade from simpler times.

"Gabrielle, for giving Kendra this gift for me, I grant you one as well. Do you remember your sister, Lila?" Gabrielle nodded on reflex, baffled as to what Alika wanted to talk about Lila for. Alika hesitated, then plowed forward. "One of her descendants, a distant yet direct descendant� her name was Isobel Papalonus. I Chose her in 1296."

"What?" the normally soft spoken Greek said, unable to process that confession.

"I didn�t know until I Chose her. Her family was very proud of their history." Alika glanced at the door again before lowering her voice. "In 1301, she became impregnated by her Watcher, one younger than the norm, and she gave the child to her parents after getting them to safety in Dragon Valley. Gabrielle, you may still have some family there. Ask the Wanderer to make inquiries on your behalf, because�" She choked up and Gabrielle knew what she was about to say. "I never forgot how much you loved her. If you still have family, perhaps they can replace some of the loneliness and grief with their love again. You could even tell them the truth."

She wasn�t referring to her sister when talking about "her." She was talking about� "Alika, I�" She turned away, tears running like a swift current.

"I know, Gabrielle. I still feel the rage against him."

Gabrielle�s head began to spin as memories of her training of the first Slayer superimposed themselves into her reality.

*****

Near The Village Of Poteidaia
Greece
26 March 504 BC

Alika grunted in exasperation as she tried to force her way past Gabrielle�s defenses. She fought down the frustration at fifteen straight minutes of failure, as she saw it. The Slayer continued weaving her arms about, trying to find that elusive hole in the Bard�s defensive blockade.

<THERE!!!>

Alika�s left hand shot forward with the speed of a striking asp, shooting for her opponent�s heart. At the very instant the Chosen One felt victory trumpeting in her breast, a flash of three-pronged steel caused the sound of wood "thunking" against metal as her blunt stake was intercepted. She knew her eyes were flashing in indignation as her right hand followed, aiming for Gabrielle�s throat, only to meet empty air as a yellow-haired head ducked in a golden blur.

Alika tried to retreat but she was too late.

"OUCH!" she shouted as a sai tip jabbed into her bared stomach.

Off to the side, Xena shouted, "Hit!"

Alika froze on the spot, not even trusting herself to stand up. She allowed the throbbing ache to hurt for a few seconds, using it to focus and clear her mind of the heady rush of combat she�d begun experiencing in the two weeks since she had been Chosen. As she�d suspected, she and her teachers were spending as much time learning the extent of her gifts as they were training and discussing Bacchae. Alika thought she had possessed a good deal of self-control before taking up her destiny, but in the last fortnight she�d been tapping reserves of willpower and patience she thought only Gods or philosophers could possess.

It had come in handy, although Alika (and her teachers) still pondered why any extended periods of intense training or physical exertions left her so famished and aroused.

"You okay, �Lika?" Xena asked after a few seconds.

Alika nodded and inhaled deeply. She let the air out and shivered a bit. "I am well, if slightly sore."

Gabrielle�s face broke into a big smile and she sheathed her sais. The blonde warrior-bard, dressed in Amazon clothing like Alika herself was, walked over and put an arm around her shoulder. "You don�t have any right to complain. You�ll be healed by sunset."

The Slayer nodded. That was true enough. Still� "Gabrielle?"

The Poteidaian�s eyes twinkled. "Yes?"

With her Gods given blinding speed, Alika grabbed Gabrielle�s wrist with one hand while reaching her right arm around the back of the Battling Bard�s head. She fell forward, pulling the screaming Queen head over heels to crash to the soft earth beneath their feet. Alika flattened her left hand and sliced it across Gabrielle�s throat.

"Xena said �hit.� She did not say �point.�"

The Slayer scooted away from Gabrielle, whose face twisted in futile anger. "XENA!!!"

"Sorry, Gabs," the senior warrior snickered. "I wanted to see if she�d pick that up."

"I will get you for this, Xena."

Alika smiled at her teacher, whose face didn�t reciprocate. "You�re learning, Alika. But don�t get cocky. Got it?"

Her smile faded and she nodded. One thing her training had focused on was that Bacchi and other not-so-nice things fought without adhering to rules followed by civilized folk. So Alika had been learning dirty tricks like gutter brawling and cheating in addition to the combined fighting arts of Greek soldiers, warriors of Chin, and the Amazon sisterhood. Alika was subtly combining the various methods into a single style, which Gabrielle had jokingly named "Slayer Style."

Privately, Alika liked the name.

"Well, that�s enough for this afternoon," Xena said to her. "Let�s get to Gabrielle�s parents� place and settle in. I want you well rested for tonight."

Alika�s eyes narrowed in anticipation. One of the major adjustments she�d been forced to make was switching to a nocturnal lifestyle, the way her eventual prey lived. Xena and Gabrielle had been gradually changing the hours they were awake so that Alika could become acclimated to the hours of the day she would likely be active in. It had helped that she found out she didn�t need as much sleep as she had before becoming invested with the Slayer�s power.

Alika packed her dull stakes in her pack and picked it up. She slung it over her shoulder and started walking with Gabrielle, while Xena mounted her horse and took off to scout ahead. Alika cautiously edged closer to her other teacher and said, "I think we both know she didn�t say, �point.�"

Gabrielle laughed gaily, prompting her to join in. Gabrielle glanced at her with twinkling eyes. "Truce?"

"Truce, my Queen," Alika muttered sotto voce, keeping to her current alias as a teenaged Amazon.

"Stop calling me that, Alika," the bard requested, although she was smiling when she said it. "You did well that round, you know." Alika cocked her head in doubt, but her friend nodded in certainty. "Alika, you lasted fifteen minutes. Keep in mind, I wasn�t trying to penetrate your defenses this time, I was trying to wear you out or thin your patience. You thought you saw an opening and you took it. But you almost got away from my counterattack. Not bad at all."

"I see," Alika mused. She hadn�t thought about it in that fashion. "I have more to learn than combat, Gabrielle."

"You�ll get the hang of it," Gabrielle said easily, coming closer to her. "We�ve got some time to train you, but the main problem we�re going to have is keeping your true purpose under wraps. That�s why we�re coming to Poteidaia. The villagers know I was adopted as an Amazon Princess, so they�ll buy the story of you being one of my �sisters.� You just have to remember to keep in the role of an Amazon and less like an organized Spartan."

"So I am supposed to act disorganized and threaten to beat any man I catch staring at me?" she asked innocently.

Gabrielle shook her head. "I�m going to get even with Xena for suggesting you pretend to be an Amazon."

Alika and Gabrielle shared another laugh before the Slayer, tuning her senses to keep on the alert, asked, "Gabrielle, can I ask you something?"

"Of course. That�s what I�m here for," she replied earnestly. She cocked her head as if in thought. "That is, when I�m not here as your punching bag."

Alika grinned. "You are closer to my height than Xena. But I wanted to ask�" She hesitated before Gabrielle nudged her to go on. "When my time comes, how will the future Slayer be trained? If I choose someone outside of Greece, as you and Xena told me could happen, who will show them the way? That has been weighing heavily on my mind."

"Well, remember the dreams Athena told you about?" She nodded and Gabrielle smiled. "If you think about it, the next Slayer will likely have dreams with Xena or me in them. If the next Slayer recognizes our names or faces, then maybe she�ll seek us out and we can train her, too."

Alika found some measure of comfort in that idea. She thought about it and gratefully smiled. "Thank you."

"No problem. Anything else on your mind? Go ahead and ask, maybe I�ll learn something about this Slayer destiny as well."

The Chosen One thought about the multitude of questions on her mind. She decided on one she had been worrying about. "What about my family? If my nature is discovered, can Bacchus or another God use that against me?"

"That�s why Xena came up with this whole �secret identity� idea," Gabrielle replied. "But that�s part of the reason Marius agreed with Xena that you should travel with us. Not only because of our reputations, but because we don�t want the word being spread across Greece that Zeus has picked a young girl to fight Bacchae. They�d come after you to eliminate the threat you pose."

Alika didn�t say anything, but that wasn�t what she had wanted to know about. She fudged for a moment but plunged forward. "Actually, I was wondering about a future family. Assuming I live long enough for that."

Gabrielle�s face fell. Alika knew it was unlikely, but she was sensible enough to make plans beforehand if the situation ever came up. And her teachers had told her it was better to hope that she would have a family of her own someday.

"It depends on the situation, Alika. I can�t offer every path for you to choose if push comes to shove." The bard slowed down and gave her a serious look. "Xena had a son. To protect him from her enemies, she gave him to someone else to raise."

"That sounds like a sound move for a mother to make," Alika reasoned.

"Really." She stopped when Gabrielle whirled around in front of her. "Alika, think about that. Her son was safe because no one knew he was Xena�s son. But Solan never knew his mother, and Xena never got to experience the joys of raising her child. By Zeus, they barely knew each other before he was killed!"

Alika felt a chill run down her spine. The dread soon changed to anger that someone had harmed her friend�s child. Her eyes narrowed and she coolly demanded, "Who killed Xena�s son?"

Gabrielle, rather than share her sentiment, glanced away and a tear rolled down her right cheek. In a barely heard answer, the golden-haired Queen whimpered, "My daughter."

Alika rocked back on her heels. <Her daughter?!?> She felt remorse twisting her stomach in knots. "I�m sorry. I� I just wanted�"

"To know how to keep your loved ones safe," Gabrielle finished, still looking away. "It�s a good question to ask. You didn�t know."

"But I want to," Alika said slowly, wanting to know more about her new mentors and friends. "If� if you wish to tell me."

Gabrielle searched her eyes for a long minute. She turned around and started walking, leaving Alika to catch up and walk beside her. Gabrielle started talking about the demon Dahak, who had impregnated her with a demon spawn child. Although Gabrielle had known the baby would be the offspring of a demon-God, she had given birth and been unable to bring herself to kill her own daughter, rejecting the belief that an innocent infant could be pre-destined to be a thing of evil. She had hidden the girl she named Hope from Xena, pretending to have killed the baby.

Her act of mercy and motherly love came back to haunt her, Xena, and nearly the entire world.

Hope had grown from infancy to childhood with unprecedented speed. When Xena and Gabrielle had returned to Britannia to visit the centaur raising Xena�s son, Hope�s evil nature became known. At the cost of the life of Xena�s only child.

Alika just kept walking, alternating between horror at what Gabrielle had gone through, grief for Xena�s son and how Gabrielle had had the most important event of her life twisted into a tragedy, and a burning desire to make the now-banished Dahak pay for what he had done.

Alika bowed her head. Her eyes closed but she felt tears streaming down her face. "I wish there were a way to make that demon pay for what he did to you."

Gabrielle�s warm hand lightly gripped her bicep. Alika looked at her with blurry eyes but still made out her friend�s own moisture-filled eyes. "Revenge isn�t the answer, Alika. Trust me on that. Anger only gets you killed a lot quicker."

Alika frowned but she knew that Gabrielle was right. She glanced at the ground as she walked, watching the earth move beneath her feet. "This path is filled with danger, isn�t it? Even for those we love?"

"Always," came Gabrielle�s answer. "But it�s still worth it. Because it means so much for those we love, and those we don�t even know. That�s why we keep at it, Alika. So that people don�t go through what we�ve gone through."

"But we can be happy while still fulfilling our duty," Alika said with hope singing in her heart.

"Absolutely. There�s no reason you can�t be happy. And honestly, Alika," Gabrielle said, speaking from what Alika now knew was personal, painful experience, "it�ll do wonders for your soul. If you get the chance to be happy, take it. Take it with both hands."

"I will do that," she promised. After all, Aphrodite had promised her she wouldn�t be alone. So why not serve her own happiness while serving the Gods? "I will do that indeed."

"Good. You can�t be nothing but Slaying, you know." Gabrielle snaked an arm around hers and pulled her close. "Besides, while you�ve got that gift inside of you, I think you could have done better."

Alika gaggled at her. "Better? Gabrielle, the things I have been given by the Lords and Ladies�"

"I know, I know. The skills and heart of a warrior, a love of the whole world and its peoples, a sense of duty, etcetera. It sounds like a good package, but I just think you could have gotten something better."

The unreadable look on Gabrielle�s face made Alika suspect she was having fun at her expense. "What �package� would you have wanted?" she demanded icily.

"Oh, let�s see�" Gabrielle�s eyes twinkled and Alika knew she was picking on her.

"It should not take that long to answer," she retorted. "You do not even know!" <If she is going to have jokes at my expense, I can have it at hers!> she laughed inside.

"All right. If I could have traits of legends and Gods, I�d want�" The bard rubbed her chin before snapping her fingers. "I�ve got it! I�d keep some of your gifts, but throw out others."

Alika playfully sneered. "What could possibly be greater than each of the gifts the Gods gave to me!"

Gabrielle told her the gifts that she would prefer, with a perfectly straight face. It made Alika stare at her, half thinking that Gabrielle might actually be serious rather than simply joking around. When the scholarly Amazon Queen started laughing uncontrollably at her disbelief, she groaned.

"You must be insane!" she shouted. She shook her head and moaned, "The wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury? Where in the name of Ares did you get that idea?!?"

*****

1630 Revello Drive
Sunnydale, California
4 September 1999

"I�ll look into it," Gabrielle swore, both to herself and her friend. She faced the girl one last time and saw that the look in Alika�s eyes was fading fast. She moved up and locked Alika into a hug born of Amazon strength, although it would prove powerless to stop her from leaving. "I�m going to miss you all over again, Alika."

Her hug was returned with the strength endowed upon this body by Hercules. Her voice, calm and peaceful, replied, "We will meet each other again, Gabrielle. Someday." She paused. "Keep an eye on my sisters."

"They�re a handful already," she snickered, trying to hold onto her for just an instant�

Alika�s arms suddenly sagged and her body went limp. Sobbing softly, the Poteidaian picked up the body and carried it to the couch. She laid her down and waited for the form�s rightful occupant to reassert her control.

It only took a few seconds, but Faith�s eyes opened and the Immortal immediately saw the difference in attitude and intent. Faith�s first action was to say, "I�m sorry you couldn�t talk longer, Gabbie."

"I can�t thank you enough as it is," she complimented the brave girl. "I got to say good-bye."

"No problemo. But if you want to thank me, can you do me a favor?"

"Name it."

"Can you grant me asylum so Mom can�t kick or ground my ass for that love spell fiasco?"

Gabrielle laughed and her laughter grew more and more uncontrolled as the seconds wore on.

"I�m serious!" Faith squealed.

The Amazon bard just shook her head, lost in hilarity as Alika�s final appearance and its consequences begin to be made known.

"Oh, Gawd�" Faith moaned, flopping back into a prone position. Just as Gabrielle began to recover her dignity, the Dark Slayer shouted, "THANKS A LOT, SISTER!!!!"

*****

317 Bryant Terrace
Sunnydale, California
1105 PST 4 September 1999

Gabrielle�s boot heels clacked against the sidewalk as she walked up the steps to Steve�s front porch. Based on long familiarity with Steve and the kids, she knew she didn�t have to knock. She grasped the knob of the kitchen door and walked in.

As she closed the door behind her, the kitchen door jerked open as Duke pushed his way in to investigate the new arrival. Upon seeing that it was her, the Shepherd just sneezed and walked over, wagging his tail.

"Hey, boy," she chuckled, giving him a scratch behind the ears. "The girls are here, right?"

He barked once and turned around to let her follow.

With a grin with the knowledge that the girls weren�t exactly here by choice, Gabrielle strolled out of the kitchen and into the living room, intent on carrying out Alika�s last wishes.

*****

She found them in the computer room, Buffy and Faith working on separate records while Kendra had one of Giles� books out, looking through it. <Yep. Giles told them to write down their impressions of the dreams. Poor kids, stuck doing Slayer things on a Sunday�> She couldn�t help but laugh under her breath at their grumbling. They were still teenagers.

"Yeah, laugh it up, Gabs," Faith said snidely. "Maybe we�ll tell Alfred not to share these records with you."

"He knows better," she innocently responded, eyes gleaming. ""But I was concerned about you. I just wanted to make sure you girls were all right after last night. I know it was different."

"We�re okay," Buffy chirped with a grin. Her joviality vanished as she held up her papers. "But I think Giles could have let us wait �til tomorrow. Yeah, he�s our Watcher but� You know, sometimes he takes the Daddy thing too far."

"It makes up for him going easy on you three," she snapped playfully. She walked over and hugged each Slayer in turn. "Now tell me something; is there anything you three remember differently?"

Buffy and Kendra looked at Faith, who smiled angelically, rather than with the confidence or attitude as was her custom. "Yeah, Gabbie. Seems like �Lika Girl channeling herself through me was cooler than what had happened to B and K."

"Oh, how so?" she asked with an arched eyebrow.

"Well, when we were dreaming the stuff, it was like a dream, or watching the boob tube, right?" Gabrielle nodded, not rising to the bait of Faith using the words, "boob tube." Faith didn�t show her disappointment at the failed trap. "Anyway, when Alika was channeling herself through yours truly, I saw things like I was her. I lived through the whole "I got the power" ceremony; heck, I even felt that lightning bolt. It was so cool!" She cocked her head a bit. "Though I could�ve done without thinking Ares was such hot shit."

"No argument there," Gabrielle fervently agreed.

"Well," Buffy drawled, "I could�ve done without seeing my Slayer sis shove her tongue down our Watcher�s throat, too, but I suppose we all have our crosses to bear."

Faith cocked an eyebrow at her blonde sister�s �Ewww� face. "What�s the matter, Buff? Jealous? You shouldn�t knock it, �less you try it. Although �Lika was running the show, I gotta admit, G-man was a pretty damn hot kisser! I guess incest is best, after all."

Kendra�s face blanched. "You cannot imagine how deeply disturbed I am at this moment."

Gabrielle allowed a smirk to come to her face as she shoved her agreement with Faith�s observation about the Watcher in a tiny corner of her mind. "Leaving Giles aside for now, tell me, Faith; how long are you in the stockade for the love spell?"

She wondered why both Buffy and Kendra suddenly shot wicked glares in her direction. Not understanding, she asked, "What?"

Faith sat back in her chair and laced her fingers behind her head. She leaned back and rested her ankles on the table. "Well, Mom decided that she shouldn�t ground me for it because for one night, she was the hottest number in Sunny D."

"Mommy�s Slayer," the other two grumbled, although the flashing eyes betrayed their plans for retribution.

The bard decided to get back on track. "Well, I wanted to see you girls, to check on you after Alika�s visit," she started, rewarded with thankful smiles from the girls she helped teach. As her heart warmed with emotion, she held up the case and brandished it. "But I�m also here to honor her last request."

She fought down a giggle at the way all three girls perked up, even Kendra. Gabrielle placed the case on the table and started working through the combinations.

"What does she want?" Buffy asked for all three of them. "If there�s anything we can do to help�"

"Actually," she said with twinkling blue eyes, "she asked me to do something for Kendra."

She and the other Slayers looked to the Jamaican, who seemed taken aback. Not because she was shocked, but that the first Slayer wanted to do more for her after what she�d told her last night.

She recovered quickly, though. She set her book down and came walking over to Gabrielle�s side. "What does she want?"

Gabrielle put her left hand on the Slayer�s right shoulder and squeezed if affectionately. "She told me how special you are to her, partially because you embody the traditions of the Chosen Ones. So, as a favor to you and last request to an old friend, she asked me to give you something."

She flipped the case open and revealed Alika�s gift to the Jamaican. Kendra�s eyes lit with surprise at the case�s contents. Lying in the foam-packed bottom was a sheathed blade. Kendra looked to her for an explanation.

"You all know that this blade was Xena�s," she began, getting all three of them to nod in agreement. She reached down and lovingly ran her fingertips over the scabbard. "Well, the thing I never told you was that she once gave the blade up."

"To �Lika," Faith said, getting the point first. She edged closer to get a better look at the katana that had, until today, been part of the Amazon history exhibit at the Cybertronics building. "This is it. I remember from her talking about it." Her lips parted to reveal a toothy smile. "K, do you realize what this is?"

The college sophomore dully nodded, now stunned because of the impact of this gift, and what it had meant regarding Alika�s feelings for her. "Alika�s sword. The� the weapon of the first Slayer," she said slowly. Nothing more needed to be said. She glanced over at Gabrielle. "Goddess, I� I will take good care of it."

Seeing that for once, it was the stoic Slayer who was choked up, Gabrielle took her into a hug so she�d know it was all right to let her emotions run freely. "She thought you would be the proper choice to wield something so intricately tied to her history. She holds you in that high a regard."

Kendra backed up and brushed her hand at her ponytail, acting like a nervous schoolgirl. "T-thank you, Gabrielle."

"You�re more than welcome, Kendra." She smiled at all three of them, especially upon seeing the pride and love in Faith and Buffy�s eyes. She glanced around at the scattered notes and books. "Tell you what. I know there were dozens of questions you didn�t get to ask her last night. So now�s your chance�"

She was stopped when Kendra gasped and suddenly bolted over to the book she�d been studying. Gabrielle strode over, worried about her sudden change of mood. "Kendra, what�s wrong?"

Kendra picked up the book and started flipping through the pages, mumbling in Latin as she did. She finally found the page she was looking for, confusing both Gabby and her sisters as her dark brown eyes flicked back and forth. She started shaking her head and held the book up to Gabrielle.

The Amazon Queen took a quick glance at the title and saw the words, "The Codex." She knew from past discussions with Giles that it was a book full of prophecies concerning Slayers and the final battles. She looked over the page Kendra had found on and read it aloud, becoming more bemused as she went along.

"The First shall speak through the Triumvirate, the Three.
The First, who shall bring forth the others, One of Nine, the triumvirate�s soul.
The Second, one of the Gemini, the triumvirate�s mind and body.
The Third, the Dark serving the Light, the triumvirate�s heart.
The First shall speak through the Third, giving peace and hope to the Queen of the Nine. The Queen shall give the Second the weapon of the First, thus closing the circle."

Gabrielle let her arms fall, rocked by the fact she was mentioned in a prophecy. <Gods, it�> She looked at the girls and saw that they were in various states of surprise and anger.

"Okay!" Faith snapped, looking up at the Heavens in frustration, "what good is the damn book if it doesn�t make us know these things are coming before they go down!!!"

Gabrielle watched Kendra�s eyes furrow. "Well, there is one benefit."

Buffy and Faith looked at her like she was nuts. "Like what?" Buffy asked.

Kendra gave them a smile of superiority. "We did not have to agonize over cryptic prophecies for weeks and it had nothing to do with the world ending."

Gabrielle shared glances with the two American Slayers before they nodded on cue. "Good point."

The three shared a short chuckle before Gabrielle sat down to make herself comfortable. "Okay, girls. Let�s not take too long; I know Giles will want those reports of yours."

As all three moaned, she said, "But I want to thank you for having that dream. It�" For once, the woman that had a way with words found herself unable to properly convey her feelings. She focused on the New Englander and mumbled, "Faith, like I said last night. I can�t begin to tell you how much it had meant for me to talk to Alika again. She gave me something last night, as well."

She told her friends how she might have descendants in Dragon Valley and asked Buffy to talk to Steve about making the proper inquiries. Buffy gladly agreed and said she�d ambush her honey tonight when they had dinner. In return, Gabrielle promised to get Missy Scully to come up with a different idea the next time VAN needed funds for their relief efforts <amid laughs all around because they weren�t very serious>.

The Queen knew that she and the Slayers realized they�d all shared something special, so she decided to try and extend that feeling. "Okay, let�s dish, girls. Is there anything you want to know about Alika�s time as the Slayer?"

"Me first!" Faith snapped to an embarrassed roll of Buffy�s eyes. "Hey, B, you guys got to ask her stuff. I was too busy playing Sleeping Hottie. So let me ask one question, why don�t you?"

Buffy looked at her, and Gabrielle nodded heartily. "It�s only fair, Buffy."

Buffy didn�t object. How could she? She knew what Faith had done and it had been freely, because she had wanted to give Gabbie something nice.

F gave her older sister a quick squeeze. "Thanks, sister." She turned back to the Immortal and said, "Thanks, Gabrielle." The use of her full name hinted that this was going to be a "deep" question. Faith took a deep breath and barreled on with it. "Okay, when I was doing the �I�m the First Slayer� body experience while the spell was on, I realized something and since I couldn�t ask First Sister straight up, I�m gonna ask you." Her eyes shifted to that look of mischief that Gabrielle was all too familiar with. "Since �Lika�s bod was almost as hot as mine, did she ever snag herself a boy toy?"

"FAITH!!!!" two other Slayers shouted at the top of their lungs.

Gabrielle burst out into laughter. <Yes, things are definitely back to normal.> She continued snickering but managed to get out, "Oh, yeah. She found herself a boy toy, all right."

Six eyes turned to her, Faith�s gleaming for details on a Slayer�s hunk, Buffy and Kendra�s in shock for her taking the question seriously. "No joke?" Faith breathed.

"Oh�yeah," the Amazon Queen drawled. "Let�s just say he was�way hubba-hubba."

"Really?" Buffy whispered.

"WAY."

Then Gabrielle began. "It was after she left our tutelage�"

*****

10 Miles East Of The City-State Of Athens
Greece
Late hours
13 November 504 BC

Alika�s eyes narrowed as she watched the pair of well-dressed men walking further away from Athens. As they moved further into the wild, the Slayer�s memory refreshed itself by replaying the images of the drained Grecians she�d found in a mercantile storehouse. She�d had to drive stakes through their hearts to prevent their rising as Bacchae tonight.

<I was still too late to stop their would-be sires,> the Slayer thought with a heavy heart. <Two innocents I could not save. But these Bacchae will not hurt anyone else.>

She would see to that.

The Slayer�s hands roamed over her body, checking to see if all of her weapons were in place. She smiled in grim determination and broke into a run, almost flying across the landscape, so lightly did her feet touch the ground as she pursued the Bacchae.

*****

Jac Aynon�s eyes narrowed as he watched the well-dressed couple lying in wait, probably to make victims of lone travelers walking further away from Athens. As they had moved further toward civilization once again, the African warrior�s memory refreshed itself by replaying the images of slaughtered tribesmen, Egyptians, desert nomads, and Grecians he�d found along the trail left by the vampires since they�d killed every member of his village three years ago. He�d had to put stakes through the hearts of more bodies than he could count, to prevent their rising as soulless ones the next night.

<I have always been too late to stop them before,> the vengeance seeker thought with a red haze in his vision. <Like the people of my village. But unlike three years ago, tonight I will not fail to precipitate your demise.>

He would see to that.

The warrior�s hands roamed over his body, checking to see if his weapons were secure and properly situated to minimize noise. He sent a gaze toward the vampires and started creeping forward, almost becoming one with the earth, so connected to it were he and his people.

*****

Jac hefted his half-spear, moonlight reflecting off of the leaf-shaped blade. Reassured by the feel of the weapon in his hands, the nineteen-year-old man prepared to launch his attack on the vampire.

He began rising from his crouch when two beings appeared. With a soft curse, he kneeled down. The new arrivals� nature was revealed when they greeted the vampires as their "brethren" in the local tongue, which he understood because of a gift from one of his Gods.

He silently cursed again, this time to the God of the Underworld, for making the fulfillment of his quest even more difficult. <No!> he berated himself. <I will not fail! This hunt ends now!>

The vengeance seeker rose and bellowed out a lion-like roar. The four creatures of the night all but jumped out of their cold, lifeless skins. It was the perfect opening.

Aynon hurled the half-spear with all of the impressive power at his command. The iron-tipped missile flew true, striking one of his targets full in the chest. With a piercing, demonic scream, the female vampire disintegrated, leaving the other three frightened out of their wits.

<Of course,> Jac thought with a snarl, <the God of the Sun allowing me to dip the weapon in his divine blood helped.>

But the vampires didn�t need to know that.

Indeed, as Jac burst into the open, drawing his scavenged khopesh and bellowing in rage, one of the Greek creatures bent to pick up the half-spear. He screeched as his hands burst into flame upon touching the shaft.

The African didn�t take the time to savor that or half of his quest being over. He fully expected to meet the Gods tonight, but he would bring the soulless ones with him before the Gods to face judgment with him.

The other target of his three-year vendetta finally shook himself out of his stupor and charged Jac. The vampire�s demon visage appeared, making his eyes shine in that familiar yellow color.

Jac Aynon was unimpressed. Instead, he growled with righteous fury and raised his sword high above his head to strike.

The young warrior brought his blade down with all his might. With its inhuman grace, the demon spun out of death�s way. Jac spun about, wildly swinging with his khopesh in an attempt to keep the demon from taking the offensive. The avenging warrior connected, but it was only a glancing blow. Still, the soulless one hissed in pain and backed away, his clothes ripped in the left shoulder.

"Who are you?!?" the quite frightened demon asked him.

"The last warrior of a village you and your mate exterminated three years ago," Jac replied. His hands wrung around the hilt of his khopesh. "I am Jac Aynon, and I am here to avenge their deaths."

The vampire�s sick eyes widened in shock. "That was three years ago!"

"And I have eliminated every childe you have attempted to leave behind since then," the African assured him. "But the hunt ends here and now."

The other vampires intervened, placing themselves between Jac and his prey. The taller one, a male with hair the color of the sun, arrogantly stated, "I care not what your argument with our guest is, mortal. But be glad that we are well fed this night. If you leave now, we will graciously allow you to live out the remainder of your pathetically short span of years."

"I am not leaving until justice is served by his becoming a pile of dust," Jac responded with dignity.

"So be it, foolish child." The Greek vampire�s eyes glowed yellow, but Jac was unconcerned until the creature literally left the ground and flew at him, fangs bared for the kill!

Aynon reacted instantly, violently throwing himself backward. As he landed on the chilly ground, the vampire altered his course to land on top of him. The African braced his sword at an angle, knowing that this was going to hurt.

His arms protested with agonizing pain as the undead Greek�s body hit him full on. His own pain was mirrored by that of the creature, who now had Jac�s sword embedded in its chest, up to the hilt.

The creature started thrashing, hindering Jac�s attempts to push it aside and get back to his feet before the other two joined in. He heard a commotion and assumed that the vampires were charging into the fray.

He finally shoved the howling flier off of himself and jumped to his feet, despite a number of aching bones. He drew a dagger and stake so that he could attack his prey, but he froze and his jaw dropped when he saw the magnificent sight before him.

*****

Alika�s jaw dropped when she saw the dark-skinned limbs sticking out from underneath one of the Bacchae, who was screaming in agony himself. Her mystical senses screamed loudly at her to notice the unknown blood drinker, but there was something different about him.

That did not stay her hand, though. She was not about to let another innocent die on her watch.

The Slayer pulled out a weapon she�d found useful for hunting a Bacchi. She brazenly stepped out into the open and started reaching for her katana with her free hand. She took a deep breath and shouted, "Get away from him!"

The two unoccupied Bacchae spun around, surprise on their cold, pallid faces. The one she knew about reacted as she expected after three months of Slaying; he jumped into the air and flew right at her.

She also reacted in the usual way, the last way the Bacchi would expect; she ran full speed to meet him. At the last second, Alika rolled into a somersault and let the Bacchi pass over her. She came up into a crouch and spun her weapon around a few times before sending her bola flying.

The heavy iron weights entangled the vampire�s legs and sent him tumbling to the ground in a heap, unprepared for the extra mass.

One opponent distracted for the moment, Alika whirled on the remaining vampire, the one whose presence confused her ability to discern the living from the undead. This one, when compared to other Bacchae� felt vile.

The vampire studied her with those amber eyes, and Alika noticed that this Bacchi had some kind of ridges on the forehead. <Well, a new breed of Bacchi. My duties just continue to get more interesting.>

The creature must have sensed her harmful intent, because it began to charge her in a suicidal rush, not even taking flight. Alika reacted in kind. She jumped and gave the creature a snap kick to the jaw, stopping his progress with a welcome "Crack!" She then gripped her blade in both hands and spun around in a perfect pirouette, slicing the blade through the undead one�s neck with absurd ease.

Alika waited for the blood drinker�s own bodily fluids to begin spilling over her (thus making her first priority after the Slaying to find a river and wash it off), but was caught totally off her guard when this one did something completely different! His body simply broke apart and converted into a foul-smelling ash!

Alika shook her head. While this method of disposal was surely much cleaner and more efficient than the usual way Bacchae died�

<How in Ares� name am I supposed to replenish supplies if there is no body to search!> She didn�t like it.

A ripping sound, accompanied by hostile snarls emanating from behind her, bringing her mind back to business. < Another bola ruined.> Her Slayer attributes returned to the fore and she turned around.

"Bacchi, you are about to die. Do you have any last words for your loved ones, should any of them still be alive?"

"I will kill you, girl child!" he screamed. He ran at her, not taking the chance of being disabled in flight again.

Alika stood her ground, maintaining a defensive position until the last second before dropping to the ground and tripping the vampire�s feet out from under him. The Bacchi fell face-first to the turf. Alika stood up and released her left hand from the hilt of her katana, reaching for a stake.

As the vampire rolled over to regain sight of her, the Chosen One flipped the stake in her hand and flung it at the Bacchi. It punched through his chest, into his heart, and out of his back. As the vampire�s mouth opened in a silent howl of searing pain, Alika simply watched and waited for him to die. It only took seconds, but the light in the Bacchi�s yellow irises faded, and once his eyes closed, the peaceful look of true, human death returned.

"Your soul is at rest, sir," Alika murmured. She turned to the business at hand, meaning the dark-skinned warrior and the other Bacchi. She only took two steps before stopping in order to gain the measure of the man watching her in open awe.

She winced at the uncomfortable stare. <After all, I am not supposed to draw attention to myself!> But still, it was nice to know that she wasn�t the only one fighting blood drinkers. "Are you all right?"

The silent warrior blinked as he realized she�d spoken to him. He winced as he took a step forward, but he cocked his head. "The extent of my injuries seems to be aches and pains that will heal in a few days." His head turned toward the pile of ashes left by the unknown Bacchi. "But you killed the vampire I was hunting."

Alika tried to make sense of her conflicting emotions. She found herself enjoying the man�s rich, humming baritone, not to mention his ebony-hued body!

He was tall, this dark warrior, thinner than a Spartan warrior yet with sleek muscles that brought to mind stories of black jungle cats from the regions to the south of the Land of the Pharaohs. His tightly curled hair was black as the darkest night, his eyes were bright, yet inscrutable. His lips were large and sensuous and Alika was surprised that a part of her wondered how they�d feel pressed against her flesh.

Her eyes roamed over his body and she felt the heat begin to rise in her breast. <Gods, he is handsome�> She forced herself to fight the rising arousal that was triggered by her Slaying and shook her head to regain her control. "I was tracking the Bacchae your prey was joined with."

"Ah." The man nodded and walked over to the Bacchi that had pounded him to the ground. With a grimace, he pulled out a stake of his own and drove it into the thing�s heart. With a shudder and squeak, the other killer from Athens passed into the next life. Her erstwhile ally stood and shook his head in confusion. "This one does not turn to dust. I do not understand."

"But the ones you hunt do?" she asked. This was something new, and she somehow knew she wouldn�t like it.

The man�s eyes, dark brown orbs that matched hers, suspiciously said, "You do not know? You hunt vampires, but do not know about the most common ones?"

Alika bristled at his arrogance. "I have been hunting these Bacchae, which as you experienced yourself, seem to be more dangerous opponents than the weak things you followed here."

The warrior growled and walked over to one of his weapons, a short spear-type thing. She felt something in it, a touch of Power. She nodded in approval. "That is a dangerous looking weapon."

He stopped halfway out of his crouch, examined his weapon, and a smile touched that ebony face. "Yes." He glanced at her. "Your sword is impressive as well. Where was it forged?"

"In Nippon, far to the east, beyond Chin." He nodded in acceptance, not commenting on her answer. "So why were you hunting these vampires?"

She stepped away from his angry glare. He put his half-spear away and snapped, "They slaughtered my village while I was on a hunt. I have been following them for three years."

Understanding struck her like Zeus� thunderbolt had six months ago. "Revenge." He nodded tersely. She looked around the battlefield and realized that perhaps� She tilted her head just so. "What are you going to do now?"

*****

Jac Aynon froze. It was a simple question, but it had the same effect that splashing his face with cold water did; he woke up and became aware of his situation.

"I�"

He looked around the area and realized that his entire reason for being had just been fulfilled. His mouth fell open as he realized that he�d accepted that this course would lead to his death, and that he would be reunited with his family and friends, because�

<I did not expect to be alive.>

He started shaking; he was alive. He was alive and didn�t know how to handle it. The armored girl moved forward and grabbed him. "You are injured," she said, assuming the worst.

He violently shook her off and spitted her with an evil look. "I expected to be dead!" he shouted at her.

Rather than back off in fright like many women would, or take offense and return his anger, she said, "You thought you were a dead man walking." A note of sympathy rang in her dulcet tones. "For three years."

"Yes," he croaked. "Hunting was all that I was."

The woman�s head bowed. "It is not easy, I know."

"And how could you possibly know?"

Her face came back up and he was stricken by the calm, measured look of pride in her brown eyes. "I was Chosen to hunt Bacchae."

Jac recoiled. <Chosen� Is she�> "You are the Slayer?"

The longhaired girl became suspicious. "How do you know that!" she snarled defensively.

He raised his hands in a peaceful gesture. "I heard tales of someone called �the Slayer,� a girl Chosen by the Gods to fight the darker forces. It is a name feared amongst the undead."

"I have only been the Slayer for six months," she countered with a frown that he found strangely endearing. She sheathed her wondrous blade and looked around, perhaps seeking anyone who might have witnessed their battle. "Once we have searched the bodies, I will equally divide whatever useful items we discover. Including coin."

"You are going to steal from those� Bacchae?" he asked, trying the word out.

"Being the Slayer does not pay in gold or silver. I take my coin, thus my source of food, clothing, and shelter, where I can."

It made sense. He went over and started searching one of the bodies, leaving the other to her. He had no problem sharing the spoils of battle, but for some reason, he regretted that their short, temporary alliance would be over.

*****

Somewhere Outside Of The City-State Of Athens
Greece
14 November 504 BC

Alika sighed in relief when the man named Jac Aynon finally awoke. She watched the stiff, aching African warrior slowly come into full awareness. She was glad he hadn�t been hurt severely; keeping to the wilds was the better way to keep any Bacchae remaining in Athens from learning she was about.

His so-dark eyes opened and he started before realizing he was safe. She smiled though, since he was quite alert and had quick reflexes.

"Good morning," she said kindly. Having volunteered to stand watch to allow him to get some needed rest, she crouched as he sat up. "Are you feeling any better?"

"A bit," he admitted, taking some time to gauge his bruises from the night before. He stood up and she rose with him. "So what happens now? Are you going to go into the city and hunt more of these Greek vampires?"

"Actually�" She stopped and glanced northward. She shyly said, "To be honest, I was thinking of heading north. There are people I want to meet, and then I was going to explore the lands of the Norsemen. I know that vampires are not only in my homeland. My duty as the Chosen One extends beyond the boundaries between nations."

The slightly older man grimaced and she knew why; she hunted vampires because it was her destiny. He had hunted out of a vendetta that he had seen completed last night.

"What will you do, Jac Aynon?" she asked, blushing a bit. Why did she want to know his answer?

He seemed to be thinking very hard on what he wanted to do. <Being without a purpose is not good for one�s spirit.> "Perhaps I could rephrase my question. Would you be willing to travel with me for a time, to tell me about the vampires that are not Bacchae? I have only fought them these last three months, so the more I know about the other types of undead, the likelier I will survive to old age."

He blinked several times at her open, brazen invitation. He examined her and she tried to broadcast her sincere desire to learn more. <Not to mention having this man�s company. The duties are lonelier than I thought they would be�>

*****

Jac saw the loneliness in Alika�s eyes. He felt his heart fight between the desire to join her and find a purpose in his life or to return home. The only problem was, he had no home to return to.

That, along with his desire to get to know this champion of humanity better, helped make his decision easier.

"I could do that, Slayer."

She pouted at him and banged her fists against her hips. "Jac, do not call me that. I am trying to keep the knowledge that I am the Slayer secret."

"There is no one about," he said, although he felt uncertain. She had senses he could only imagine.

"That is not the point," she moaned. She shook her head, making her night-colored hair fly about enticingly. "Call me Alika. That is my name. If we are to travel together, we should become better acquainted."

He nodded. "Then when do we leave?"

"As soon as I change into something less conspicuous." With that, the sixteen-year-old who�d saved him last night began stripping off her armor.

He could only watch in shock as three quick, simple releases of buckles loosened the protective suit enough for her to slip it over her head, leaving her totally naked from the knees upward! His eyes became as wide as those of a horse as the Slayer walked over to her supplies and bent over, giving him a full view of her olive-skinned buttocks. She stood up and turned around, unmindful of his stare as she shamelessly unrolled two pieces of fur.

He was treated to a full view of her perfect, round breasts of impressive size for a girl of her age, the slim yet shapely hips, the muscular arms and thighs of a warrior born playing under that tanned flesh, and her tight grouping of abdominal muscles. She placed one piece of fur over her breasts and placed two straps behind her neck, tying them off. She then repeated the procedure with straps running behind her back.

She then put the second piece around her private areas, tying them off over her hips. Two pieces of fur dangled there, one in front and one covering her backside.

He tried to make his jaw clamp shut, both for her willingness to bare herself to a complete stranger, and because with so simple a change, she had hidden the Spartan warrior he knew her to be with someone completely different!

He took in the smile formed by the full, bow-shaped lips and her gleaming brown eyes, set off by her brownish colored face with the high cheekbones.

"What are you supposed to be?"

Her smile vanished and she arched an eyebrow. "I know for a fact that you have Amazons where you come from. You have never met them?"

"No," he said too quickly. "They are too fierce to deal with. I will continue hunting vampires."

Alika broke into laughter and he realized she was enjoying his company. The anger remaining in his heart, despite the completion of his quest for retribution, began to recede a bit. He let the tiniest of smiles form on his face as well.

<This is going to be a very strange partnership,> he decided then and there. "I will make a bargain with you, Alika. If we are to travel and hunt together, and if I am to tell you what I know of the soulless demons, you will tell me how about these Bacchae� and how it is you came to be trained by the great warriors Xena and Gabrielle."

"Well bargained and done," she agreed with a grin. But as she picked up her pack and slung it over her shoulder, she tilted her head and began walking. "But there is something I have to ask you about these demons, Jac Aynon. If they are the oldest and most common of vampires, how is it that I knew not about them? Bacchus forms the Bacchae. How did these vampires, who are worse in depravity than Bacchae, come to exist in the first place?"

"I can only tell the story as it was related to me," he said uncertainly. "I can only say that the God of the Sun told me what I needed to know to fight the soulless ones, but much of the history behind them was of no interest to me in my quest."

"Humor me," she said with a laugh that made Jac�s head tingle with enjoyment.

"Well, as the story was told to me, it goes something like this�" he began as they started walking.

*****

<I will not be alone,> Alika thought with elation soaring in her heart. Already she had found an ally in her destiny, one who might someday become a friend. She glanced at his profile, but he didn�t see her peeking at his attractive, black face, since he was starting the story of these most horrible of blood drinkers.

She wondered what the future would bring, but left it to unfold in its own time. After all, the Oracles had given the Gods all the knowledge of the future they needed to give her the Gifts she now wielded for them.

<I will write the rest of my own future myself.>

She brushed some of her long hair out of her face and kept peering at Jac Aynon, drinking in the man�s looks while he gave her the first lesson she would ever get about vampires that she was learning of her own initiative.

He started the tale of how the soulless vampires came to the Earth, as it had been related to him by one of his own Gods, so that she, Alika of Sparta, might know what to expect. After all, it was her duty, her destiny.

She was Alika, the Vampire Slayer.

The Chosen One.

She repeated that to herself as her new companion finished his prologue and began the actual tale itself.

"The world is older than you know, and contrary to many mythologies, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons, demons walked the Earth�"

End

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